Links and Notes for June 4th, 2021
Below are links to articles, highlighted passages, and occasional annotations for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.
Table of Contents
- Economy & Finance
- Public Policy & Politics
- Journalism & Media
- Science & Nature
- Art & Literature
- Video Games
US COVID-19 vaccination campaign drastically slowing by Benjamin Mateus (WSWS)
“In a sleight of hand, the more than 60 percent vaccinated figure being heavily promoted by the White House does not reflect the population as a whole but only those over 18 with at least one dose. In reality, 50.9 percent of the population has received at least one dose and only 41.2 percent have been fully vaccinated. Of those 18 years or older, 63 percent have received at least one dose and it is this figure that is being advertised. According to the White House’s calculations, another 20 million more adults need to be inoculated for Biden to reach his goal in the next month.”
The “Wuhan lab” lie and the political witch hunt against science by Andre Damon (WSWS)
“On May 23, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Michael R. Gordon claiming US “officials” said workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in November 2019. The story led virtually the entire US media to declare the conspiracy theory “credible.”
“The corollary of the statement that the “Wuhan lab” conspiracy theory is “credible” is that all the world’s leading experts in infectious diseases, who universally dismissed it after a rigorous investigation, were engaging in a massive cover-up.
“Neither the Journal nor any of the news outlets promoting its report disclosed the fact that Gordon was the author of the discredited 2002 New York Times story that falsely claimed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy “aluminum tubes” to build nuclear weapons.”
“According to the proponents of the “Wuhan lab” conspiracy theory, the United States National Institutes of Health funded research by the Chinese military at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which then genetically engineered and released, whether accidentally or deliberately, COVID-19.”
“In other words, the entire evidence for the “Wuhan lab” theory boils down to the assertion by a promoter of the Iraq war lies that some unnamed officials say some staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had symptoms “consistent with … common seasonal illnesses,” while other, also unnamed officials, question this claim.”
Vaccinating the World, If We Had Grown Ups in Charge by Dean Baker (CounterPunch)
“If the government is paying for research, it can impose the condition that everything must be open-source. If a company doesn’t like the deal, it doesn’t have to take it. That’s pretty simple. This is a big deal with the current crop of vaccines being used, especially the mRNA vaccines. In addition to having already paid for much of the basic research developing mRNA technology through NIH, the government also paid for the cost of developing and testing Moderna’s vaccine.”
“Many people have argued that these sorts of terms would destroy incentives for drug companies to develop vaccines in the future. This claim is difficult to understand. Presumably drug companies undertake investment with an understanding of both risks of failure and expected payoffs. No one is proposing a situation where the drug companies would not be making a profit from the development of the vaccines for Covid. The issue is simply whether they would get a super-bonanza from having developed a vaccine against a pandemic. This path takes away the super-bonanza.”
“It would be an enormous risk for an individual company to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convert a factory to produce a vaccine that may ultimately not be used. However, this risk is trivial for a government spending trillions of dollars to sustain its population through the pandemic. In fact, the purchase and conversion of the Novartis plant actually was funded by the German government.”
“If Pfizer’s production technology had been open-sourced early in 2020, it seems hard to imagine that no engineer in the world could have discovered the route to improve efficiency before February of 2021. There presumably are other ways to make its technology more efficient, which its engineers have not yet discovered. There would be a similar story with the other vaccine manufacturers.
“Also, if Pfizer had open-sourced its technology, it would be surprising if someone somewhere had not discovered it wasn’t necessary to super-freeze the vaccine before March of this year. In fact, the company did not even realize that its vials contained enough material for six shots rather than five (a 20 percent increase), for more than a full month after they were being widely distributed.”
“Really bad policies can survive for decades just because it’s much easier to leave things as they are than to change them. This is clearly true for our system of patent monopoly financing of prescription drugs and vaccines. The pandemic is a full out emergency that should have led us to do everything possible to stem its spread as quickly as possible, coordinating as much as possible with other countries (even Russia and China) in a genuine international effort.”
“Many papers carried out these analyses. Unfortunately, governments didn’t follow these steps. They got addicted to using Hammers, not realizing that they were extremely expensive and only justifiable if your goal was to completely stop the virus with cheaper measures later on. Or worse, some governments, like the US or Sweden, did very little at all.
“Why didn’t they do the cost-benefit analysis? Because it wasn’t straightforward. How do you calculate the value of lives? The cost of closing a restaurant? The collateral damage of sick people avoiding hospitals for fear of contamination? How do you compare the closure of a restaurant to a reduction in privacy?”
“Last example: Long COVID. We still aren’t clear how bad it is. It looks like 50% of people hospitalized (that’s around 7% of all cases) have sequelae, and potentially many more. That is a society-threatening level of impact. With such a massive potential cost, even if confidence is low, you don’t want to gamble. That’s a crucial reason why a Hammer and Dance approach was superior to a Herd Immunity one.”
“Availability bias, unfortunately, is much broader than that. You don’t just pay more attention to what’s closer to you. Also to what’s most recent or what’s more memorable: if cases go down we rejoice (even if they’re still too high), we declare victory when there’s few cases (even if we’re doing nothing to prevent upcoming ones), etc.”
“This illustrates Escalation of Commitment: when people start going down one path, they tend to continue going down that path. It’s intimately connected to Confirmation Bias—trying to find evidence that proves your position and ignore the evidence against it.”
“When somebody is providing arguments against your position, realize your mind is about to play tricks. It will try to find excuses to discount these arguments. Stop yourself and instead assume the arguments are right, and go from there.”
“COVID is bad, but thankfully its Infection Fatality Rate is not civilization-threatening. Many upcoming challenges will threaten the collapse of our civilizations, from Global Warming to low fertility, Inequality or AI. If our governments have been exposed to be incapable of solving even COVID, what will they do about these more important problems?”
Economy & Finance
Inflation on the agenda at Fed and European Central Bank by Nick Beams (WSWS)
“Following the crisis of 2008, the Fed made major asset purchases under its quantitative easing program, and drove down interest rates to historic lows. The rationale for this program, was that lower interest rates would push investors into riskier assets and bring about a rise in economic growth.
“Nothing of the sort happened. Instead, investors took the essentially free money made available to them to devise ever-more complex and highly leveraged operations in financial markets to make profit.
“This meant that when the pandemic struck in March 2020, the financial house of cards, built up over the previous decade, was on the point of collapse. The $21 trillion US Treasury market froze. The Fed was forced to step in as the backstop for the entire system, doubling its holdings of financial assets from $4 trillion to $8 trillion in less than a year.”
“According to Cole, this means that the Fed will restrict credit, when higher inflation is already causing problems for financial markets, and this will feed volatility, making the situation worse.
““The problem here is that if we get inflation—real inflation—it removes the Fed’s monetary ability to support credit,” he said.”
“Regulators pay a lot of lip service to the idea of a level playing field for investors, in which everyone has access to the same information at the same time. But some investors and analysts get to meet with the executives of public companies, and others don’t, and if those meetings are helpful then the playing field is not level. Also if those meetings are helpful then they are arguably illegal: “Helpful” arguably means the same thing as “material,” and if companies are giving out material information in these meetings then they’re breaking the rules.”
“I don’t know what it could possibly mean to give analysts “likely non-material pieces of information that can become material, when taken together, within the context of other public and private information,” but a lot of securities lawyers think they know what it means so that’s good enough I guess.”
I think it very obviously means that they’ve chopped up an illegal action into several individual, legal actions in order to avoid prosecution. Instead of importing rocket launchers, you import the parts individually and reassemble them later. All on the up-and-up, but you still have rocket launchers in a country that tried to keep them out. This is classic case of exploiting loopholes—likely those created by the perpetrators in the first place.
“If I am right, Biden is now facing an impossible task. Because of the way financial markets decoupled after 2008 from actual capitalist production, every level of fiscal stimulus that he chooses will be both too little and too much. It will be too little because it will fail to generate good jobs in sufficient numbers. And it will be too much, because, given many corporations’ low profitability and high debt, even the slightest increase in interest rates will cause a cascade of corporate bankruptcies and financial-market tantrums.”
“When IPOs go up a lot in the first day of trading, issuers are naturally going to say “wait we sold stock at $20 and now it’s at $45, why didn’t we sell it at $45?” And their investment bankers are going to say a lot of sensible and correct things about marginal prices, but to some extent what the issuer will hear is “you sold stock to institutional investors at $20, but those crazy day traders at Robinhood bid it up to $45 the next day.” And so issuers will start thinking, “hmm, we should sell stock to those crazy day traders at Robinhood.””
Public Policy & Politics
“All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.”
So hyperbolic. Just look at the title. It’s such clickbait.
“Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.”
Sounds wonderful so far, doesn’t it?
“Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating.”
Back off just a touch, ok? Did someone hire you at a newspaper but your creative-writing degree is burning a hole in your pocket?
““It becomes a cyclical mechanism,” said Stuart Gietel Basten, an expert on Asian demographics and a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s demographic momentum.””
This is such a bullshit paragraph. It mean nothing. Just filling space with citable pablum that will be retweeted without interpretation or understanding.
“Demographers warn against seeing population decline as simply a cause for alarm. Many women are having fewer children because that’s what they want. Smaller populations could lead to higher wages, more equal societies, lower carbon emissions and a higher quality of life for the smaller numbers of children who are born.”
“The budget proposal is openly directed against China, in the first instance, followed by Russia, Iran and North Korea. Coming in the midst of the orchestrated revival of the scientifically baseless Wuhan lab conspiracy theory on the origins of the coronavirus by the Biden administration and the entire political and media establishment, aimed at creating a causus belli for war with China, the Pentagon budget is a stark warning to the American and international working class. US imperialism is seeking to extricate itself from its intractable global and domestic contradictions by preparing for military conflict against what it deems to be its most dangerous rival.”
“He has gone further than any previous president in undermining the “One China” policy and related policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan inaugurated under the Carter administration in 1978. He has opened discussions with Taiwan, Japan and South Korea on stationing offensive missiles on their territory directed against the Chinese mainland, a move that China has warned it would consider an act of war.”
“The request is driven by our recognition that our competitors—especially China—continue to advance their capabilities. We must outpace those advances to remain a credible deterrent to conflict around the world.””
The missile gap rears its ugly head. It’s still bullshit.
“Austin stressed that the US military had to modernize its forces in line with technological advances in order to maintain “the rules-based world order that we have helped foster for the past seven decades,” (i.e., the rules determined by US imperialism after World War II).”
Wow. That is an utterly shameless way of describing American hegemony. That’s quite a euphemism.
“Iran continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and to support destabilizing proxy groups in the Middle East in an effort to threaten its regional neighbors.”
Sure they do, Austin. Keep pushing for more war to benefit your former company Raytheon.
“[…] when the surveillance state begins to work its magic by calling us conspiracy theorists, and has us double-guessing our own thoughts, we are well on the way to what the East Germans left behind. The authors add, The constant monitoring of a population, [as scholars have noted], “fosters suspicion,” undermines “cohesion and solidarity,” and amounts to “a slow social suicide.” In other words: paranoia will destroy you.”
“But almost heartbreaking is word from Bruder and Maharidge that Laura Poitras was turned down by The Intercept when she wanted to continue working with the Snowden trove of documents. She was told, “First Look Media was asking us to sign an access agreement, stating the company would own all rights to any publication that resulted from our writing about the Snowden archive.”
“And, she continues, “We also learned that any notes we took at the archive would be confiscated for review — and possible redaction — by the Intercept.” And then the killer: “I laughed. The experience felt like something out of Kafka. And it gave me a sense of déjà vu, echoing how the NSA and the FBI had shut down our request to see our files.” The Intercept has since stopped writing altogether about the Snowden archive.”
With only about 10% published.
“Biden went so far as to describe himself as literally too old to have new ideas, saying voters would have to settle for him being a “bridge” a future group of possibly idea-having politicians. “Look, I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else,” he said in March of 2020. “There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country.” When the primary race was down to him and Bernie Sanders, he said he was about “results, not revolution.” And with such pronouncements, he walloped Sanders.”
“There are no accidental choices in propaganda. Transformational is less threatening than revolutionary, but also promises less than sweeping or fundamental. It’s a word the Biden campaign started using a year ago and had surrogates pulling oars every day since to get its momentum rolling.
“By March of this year they didn’t have to row, as pundits muttered it automatically. Then the moment it became expedient, the Biden White House backed off the word and started creeping back in certain expected political directions. Still, they’ll retain the campaign’s PR gains, because none of their pet editorialists will bother outing themselves with a, “Hey, what about that ‘transformative’ thing we talked so much about?” piece.”
“At this point some people blurt out, “But drug users do harm to others! They steal and break stuff.” Well, even if that were true, those activities are illegal. It’s illegal to steal — so, sure, arrest them for the stealing. We don’t need to double arrest them. And if they aren’t committing other crimes, then we shouldn’t arrest them for peacefully harming themselves.”
“[…] it’s an open secret that the stock market is the dictionary definition of a Ponzi Scheme. It’s a giant fraud to extract wealth from the not-so-rich and give it to the already very rich. Then of course there’s the trillions in tax havens, trillions of dollars of wage-theft, the sweetheart deals, insider trading, funny math, tax loopholes, greased palms, shell companies, exaggerated numbers, golden parachutes, and probably some golden showers, too. The “property criminals” or “street criminals” in prison constitute a rounding error compared to the breathtaking theft that goes on by the rich — most of it legally (made legal by corrupt legislatures over the years).”
“Next, the U.S. has somewhere around 60,000 people locked up in immigration detention facilities, which is fucking ridiculous (technical terminology). Locking people up because they crossed a line in a field that you told them not to? What are you twelve? Are we playing tag? Is the floor lava? Grow up.”
“There’s loads of stuff categorized as “normal social behavior” that’s reprehensible, nauseating, or repulsive. In the past slavery was normal behavior, genocide against indigenous peoples was a normal and sometimes rewarded behavior. So was slapping children across the face because they looked at you funny or marrying off your 13-year-old daughter to a strange man in exchange for a couple of goats or locking your wife in a kitchen for 10 to 20 years. Those were all normal social behaviors at one time. I don’t think I like normal social behavior.”
“On any given night in America, scores of people are publicly drunk to some extent — it should only become criminal when they do something bad. But then, that’s the crime. If they beat someone up or stab a guy, that’s the crime — not the drunkenness. So you can get rid of that law against public drunkenness. We don’t need it.”
“First of all, for the truly strange, mental health care is needed — not a jail cell. If you’re caught humping a post office box that you dressed up like Richard Nixon, then prison is not gonna help you.”
“[…] when you lock someone up for years for punching a guy in a bar brawl, you just turn him into a more efficient, angrier dickhead. You basically sent him to criminal university. You’ve actually torn the social fabric more than the “criminal” did by punching someone. Sure, there should be punishments for assault. Maybe it’s a really boring anger management facility. Get creative with it. But locking people up does not have to be the default answer.”
“Prison abolition is truly not a crazy idea. It should be a real goal of an evolved species (if such a thing ever shows up on Earth). If prison abolition is not a goal, it shows we’re no better than the plantation owners who claimed slavery was just the only way things could work.”
“Instead, the Biden administration – like its predecessors – is behaving with arrogance and a sense of entitlement, firing missiles into Syria, blustering over Ukraine, and dispatching naval forces into the Black Sea and waters near China. Since tension over Taiwan presents the most ominous current flashpoint, I would expect it to be raised by Putin out of concern that Russia’s “strategic partner”, China, may find itself in a hot war there, presenting awkward choices for Moscow.”
“[…] a hubris-tinged consensus in the US government and academe continues to hold that, despite the marked improvement in ties between China and Russia, each retains greater interest in developing good relations with the US than with each other. It is far from clear that Biden’s sophomoric advisers can get it into their elitist heads that things have changed – markedly.”
“It’s less true to say that Facebook, Google and other Big Tech platforms “lean left” than it is to say that they push a globalist, neoliberal, corporatist line that eschews any sort of values or ethics other than growth.”
“Mainstream, establishment conservatives have done themselves a disservice by attempting to defend themselves against deplatforming on the basis that “I’m not a Nazi” for two reasons. First, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Nazi or not. All legal speech should be allowed on social media, or else Big Tech is an editorial content curator, which makes it liable for anything that is posted on there. This means that your ex-spouse lying about how you missed Little Timmy’s baseball game on Facebook can be construed as defamation, for which Facebook is liable because they didn’t remove the status update. Facebook’s pretense that it is a content-neutral platform, a claim that is patently false, is what protects it from being sued every time someone lies about someone else on the platform or from being hauled into court every time that ISIS uses WhatsApp to coordinate an attack.”
“To throw the far right under the bus in the hopes of satisfying Big Tech’s blood lust is a strategic mistake – it legitimizes the entire process of deplatforming, which will eventually swallow up anyone who believes in the Constitution and the rule of law.”
“[…] there is every reason to believe that when elected officials talk about “domestic terrorists” they are speaking of people who have not broken any laws and whose only crime is being critical of a corporate-neoliberal regime that now rules America without meaningful opposition.”
“But it’s quite possible that new laws and regulations are not required. What is instead required is a more rigorous enforcement of the laws and regulations that are already on the books. To wit: Are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube content-neutral platforms or are they editorial platforms? If the former, then it would seem that their case for being able to censor legal speech on their platforms is legally flimsy. If the latter, then they are responsible for everything posted on their platforms by every user. Similarly, if Google is intentionally manipulating its results to yield a politicized result, that is likely in violation of existing telecommunications statutes.”
“Israeli warplanes had bombed three houses on al-Wehda street on Sunday, killing 42 civilians, mostly children and women. “They then destroyed the street itself to prevent the ambulances and fire trucks from reaching the destroyed buildings and wounded people,” she said.”
“While progressive Jewish journalists in Israel opposed their reactionary government, the mildest utterer of criticism in Germany was quickly condemned as an anti-Semite!”
“As the polemics against “Palestinian terrorists” increased, whose violent or non-violent rebellion against occupation justified every countermeasure, I turned, always a history buff, to a speech by President Andrew Jackson in 1833, when he asserted that the Indians “…established in the midst of another and a superior race… must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.” They soon did; the U.S. Army moved 60,000 Indians to arid territory west of the Mississippi, with thousands dying in the “Trail of Tears.” Are there no parallels today?”
“In Pontecorvo’s film The Battle of Algiers about the fight for independence after 130 years of French oppression, explosives concealed in baskets kill innocent French civilians. To a bitter rebuke, the Algerian response was: “Give us your bombers and you can have our baskets.””
“Beyond the tragedy of any human loss or maiming on either side, airstrikes in Gaza hit 17 hospitals and clinics, wrecked the only Covid testing laboratory. Fifty schools were damaged or closed, three mosques were leveled and 72,000 Gazans lost or had to leave wrecked homes. Water, electricity, sewage disposal are now almost hopelessly crippled, far worse than before.”
“Long experience also leads to a suspicion that they included, in part, some hastily recruited provocateurs, so at least the closing minutes of what had been a peaceful demonstration would provide the media and the politicians just what they wanted. They did. And the sober, fair description of the event by a journalist on Berlin’s official TV channel was quickly deleted – and replaced by an amazingly abject apology for “biased reporting”!”
“Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate to be next German chancellor, interrupted her attacks on détente with Russia to visit a synagogue and declare that “I am shaken to hear that Israeli flags are being burned in Germany…In these difficult hours we stand firmly at the side of Israeli women and men…Israel’s security is part of German state reality“.
“Armin Laschet, her Christian Democratic rival in the race for top office, not wanting to be outdone, demanded that the flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) be forbidden in Germany – although this secular, pro-Marxist organization rejects anti-Semitism.”
“It was a professor with Palestinian background who noted sadly: “I believe it is time for the people of Germany and the German elite to stop making Palestinian children in Gaza pay for the crimes of the German people against European Jews.””
Social democracy is bound to struggle in a world of nation-states by Chris Bertram (Crooked Timber)
“[…] Citizens of wealthy countries enjoy a “citizenship premium” over the inhabitants of poor ones that exists because they have access to labour markets and welfare systems that their fellow humans largely do not.”
“[…] free movement could make many poor people much better off and might not make the rich world poor any worse off in absolute terms, but it would erode their relative advantage. And people, however misguidedly care about their relative advantage.”
“[…] the division of the world into nation states makes the nation permanently available to people as a source of collective identification and entitlement, and one that too readily trumps class as a focus of solidarity in times of stress.”
“It is clear now that social-democratic parties that put class at the centre of their appeal are going to struggle in nationally-bounded wealthy democracies in a world where nationality dominates class as a determinant of income. So what are such parties to do. Up to now they have largely soldiered on, with their activists pretending to themselves on the basis of a mixture of muscle memory and dogma that it is all “really” about class and that phenomena like racism are epiphenomena of class exploitation rather than also being central to ideas of national belonging.”
That’s actually quite an interesting observation. It really is about class, but nationalism obscures things so badly that the argument can’t possibly get any traction. Focusing on race has been mildly more successful because it evokes guilt among more people than focusing on poverty. This because the propaganda that people are responsible for their own poverty is more deeply embedded and defensible than that people are responsible for their own skin color. That they are responsible for their own nationality and relative disadvantage is not considered either.
Biden: End Your Co-Belligerent Backing of Israeli War Crimes by Ralph Nader (CounterPunch)
“In dire contrast, your Administration has been signaling a diplomatic withdrawal from this conflict to focus on China and East Asia. You’d be well advised to generate some residual fortitude, and empathy, and uphold the legal responsibility to reverse your total support for whatever Israel has done since you began your Senate career in 1973.”
The Iron Dome System Is a Monument to Israel’s Hubris by Rhys Machold (Jacobin)
“With the exception of Norman Finkelstein and Mordechai Shefer, the other chief critics of Iron Dome have fallen silent. The Israeli state’s refusal to supply reliable data on its performance makes it impossible to reach a definitive judgement. To the extent that hasbara efforts on the subject have been successful, they have enlisted foreign admirers who help propagate the misleading arguments about the system’s exceptional success.”
“As China Miéville has argued, the “big lies” of Israeli hasbara are neither believable nor intended to be believed, even if some people do find them convincing. Their real purpose is to “lay out policy” and “muddy the waters.” Miéville believes that such “bullying by absurdity” functions “not as evasion, but as a deliberate and cruel assertion of power, not only over life and death, but, at least in the Gaza Strip, over truth itself.””
Journalism & Media
“But there was another element, turbo-charged by propaganda pieces like the 1619 Project. We now know (thanks to a surreptitious recording of a New York Times town hall that somehow did not become a major journalism scandal) that the Times’s dive into history was part of an effort, following the collapse of the Russiagate story, to “shift resources” into race as a way “to try to understand the forces that led to the election of Donald Trump.”
“This was already ethically questionable, committing to a massive quasi-historical project framing the United States as a nation built around the institution of slavery as, essentially, a plan B for covering Trump after the collapse of Russiagate.”
“First “half” of Trump supporters were deplorable racists, then it was all of them, and then, four years in, the whole country and all its traditions were deemed deplorable.”
“The American liberalism I knew growing up was inclusive, humble, and democratic. It valued the free exchange of ideas among other things because a central part of the liberal’s identity was skepticism and doubt, most of all about your own correctitude. Truth was not a fixed thing that someone owned, it was at best a fleeting consensus […]”
“The plebes don’t get a say on speech, their views don’t need to be represented in news coverage, and as for their political choices, they’re still free to vote — provided their favorite politicians are removed from the Internet, their conspiratorial discussions are banned (ours are okay), and they’re preferably all placed under the benevolent mass surveillance of “experts” and “professionals.””
“Add the total absence of a sense of humor and the inability of “moral clarity” politics to co-exist with any form of disagreement, and there’s a reason why traditional liberals are suddenly finding it easier to talk with old conservative rivals on Fox than the new authoritarian Snob-Lords at CNN and MSNBC, to say nothing of the shock troops at the Daily Beast or The Intercept. For all their other flaws, Fox types don’t fall to pieces and write group letters about their intolerable suffering and “trauma” if forced to share a room with someone with different political views. They’re also not terrified to speak their minds, which used to be a virtue of the American left (no more).”
“it’s difficult to square his scrupulous-sounding rhetoric about vetting counterclaims to ensure that only the “credible and credentialed” get a hearing with his apparent willingness to recirculate widely rejected, even reviled viewpoints because they’ve “been dismissed by the media as ‘conspiracy theory.’”
“The trouble, here, is weasel words like “credible” and “credentialed.” Miller is reflexively skeptical of authorities but seemingly willing to swallow in great gulps the pronouncements of discredited figures like Wakefield and Yeadon and pseudonymous YouTubers like “Dutchsinse,” whose only credentials appear to be a willingness to believe the flatly incredible — for example, that “directed energy weapons” were behind the apocalyptic wildfires in California and Oregon.
“Many of the “reasonable questions” Miller raises are poorly evidenced if not conclusively disproved;”
This is an absolutely fair estimation of the body of Mark Crispin Miller’s blog. I follow it to keep my finger on the pulse of more extreme conspiracy theories. He debunks almost nothing and promotes nearly everything. The more exotic the better. There is no way to distinguish his opinions from those of “true” extremists and irrational thinkers.
“How did we get here? How does a leading light in media studies, known for his trenchant critiques of the role played by advertising and the media in manipulating public opinion, and for sounding the alarm about the threat posed to democracy by the media monopoly — fewer and fewer corporations controlling more and more of our news and entertainment outlets — morph into a lapel-grabbing true believer who fervently believes, on top of everything else, that “the Great Reset” — the World Economic Forum’s rebranding of the pandemic as a historic opportunity to radically rethink society and the economy along more sustainable, equitable lines — is in fact a vast eugenicist conspiracy?”
““Part of what made Miller particularly vulnerable is that in the circles he was most concerned with, there were conspiracies. I mean, you cannot study the CIA without thinking that they were utterly crazy people who were trying to control the world in the strangest possible ways: MK-Ultra, people being fed LSD and jumping out of windows, is true. And this stuff was covered up.
“For people who look at propaganda and government malfeasance, once you start recognizing that some of this stuff is true, you’re going to gather fans who believe even more extreme stuff that isn’t true.” For some, the temptation to see how deep the rabbit hole goes blurs the line between scholarly inquiry and beady-eyed conspiracism. As Seife says, “It’s a small step from MK-Ultra to Project Blue Book and UFOs to Area 51 to Jewish space lasers.” (Now might be the time to mention that Miller believes the moon landing was faked.)”
“[…] their jobs are less about determining fact than about preventing the vast seas of ignorance underlying most professional news operations from seeping into public view.”
“[…] once you get past names, dates, and whether the sky that day was blue or cloudy, the worst kind of misinformation in journalism is to be too sure about anything. That’s especially when dealing with complex technical issues, and even more especially when official sources seem invested in eliminating discussion of alternative scenarios of those issues.”
Science & Nature
“To those who still harbor doubts about the justness of this war, who continue to question the scientific consensus on global warming and the ravages it promises, I ask only that you entertain, if there is a chance you are right, that there is also a chance you are wrong. Let us even say, for argument’s sake, that the virtual certainty of scientists were reduced to 50 percent confidence and the forecasted effects of climate violence were reduced in severity by 50 percent as well. That would still justify the most massive mobilization of human energy and resources the world has ever seen, because the likely outcome would still be far worse than any threat we have faced in the past.”
Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary and the soft, squishy science of language by Lee Hutchinson (Ars Technica)
“Cherryh dwells on the idea that language is at least partially a product of phylogeny. When you and an alien use a word, your individual understanding of that word hinges on a whole host of factors that you share with others of your species, but you and an alien may not have such context in common at all. Both races, human and atevi, were acting logically from their own point of view—and both races, from the other’s perspective, were responding to logical acts with apparent psychotic craziness.”
“Even if I’m speaking to a member of an isolated or uncontacted culture, we both will have similar underlying biological drives. If we can figure out each other’s word for “love,” for example, I don’t have to explain what love is. We both just know. Dig far enough down and we’ll always find some semantic bedrock on which to build a conversation.”
“Beyond syntax, another feature of language is the concept of displacement. “I can talk about things,” she said. “Distance, and time, and place. Your dog can’t do that. Your dog can scratch at the door to communicate that she wants to go outside, but she’s not going to be able to say she wanted to go outside yesterday.””
“Dr. Birner’s own specialty field of pragmatics has its own take on what makes language, language: a thing called the cooperative principle. “The basic notion is that when we communicate we are cooperative in some very fundamental ways,” she said. “We say the right amount. We say things that are relevant. We say things we at least believe to be true. So, we have all these assumptions also about the other person being cooperative, and if we didn’t believe they were trying to be cooperative in all of these ways, communication just couldn’t work.””
This can of course happen with people from the same culture.
“He almost single-handedly killed behaviorism back in the fifties, because in behaviorism the notion was the child is born as a blank slate, and Chomsky said that it would be absolutely impossible to acquire something as complex as human language if you are really a blank slate.“”
“Symbolic representation isn’t necessarily straightforward, either. “A philosopher named Quine had this notion,” she said. “If you’re out in the field with somebody, and they point and say ‘Gavagai!’ and you look and you see a rabbit running through the field, you assume that gavagai in their language means rabbit. But how do you know it doesn’t mean ‘brown,’ or ‘tail,’ or ‘leg,’ or ‘fur’—” “Or, ‘Look at that!’” I said. “Yeah, all of this other stuff is present, but we have this whole object notion,” she said. “We have a notion of what constitutes a distinct object, and we assume that the word corresponds to that whole object as a default. Would the alien have that notion?””
“I brought up something else that would be absent from alien communication, too: “We keep up this constant secondary running communication as we’re speaking,” I said. “I’m nodding at you, and I’m raising my eyebrows, and we have this back channel.” We were doing our talk via Zoom, and as I was talking, Dr. Birner was also nodding along. “You can negate what you’re saying by making your face be a certain way. Well, how the hell do you communicate that?””
“If we can take it as a given that the alien is “friendly” (and if we can also take it as a given that “friendship” in the alien’s society carries along with it the same or a similar set of relationship expectations as it does for humans), and if we can take it as a given that the alien has similar emotional drivers, and if the alien values (or can at least intellectually conceive of) concepts like altruism and cooperation, and if the alien has a compatible sense of morality that places value on the lives of individuals and prioritizes the avoidance of death—if we can take all those things and more as givens, then things might work out.”
“The first of those things, she explained, is a theory of mind. Both parties need to have some reason to believe the other party has a somewhat similar cognition—that there is some basis for even bothering to communicate.”
“This is the notion, as discussed, that words are representative of objects and concepts. The idea that when I show you a clock, for example, I’m showing you a device that measures time rather than just a thing with numbers on it—or the idea that my spacecraft’s instrumentation represents conditions inside and outside the spacecraft, rather than just being a bunch of pretty lights and dials.”
“Rocky, for all his fun, alien bro-ness, is more or less a human mind in an alien body. He comes pre-equipped with cognition that maps one-to-one against dramatically vital human-specific concepts of metaphor, symbolism, syntax, grammar, cooperation, and altruism.”
“I think you could get the concrete stuff really simply, but the abstract stuff would be extremely hard, especially because we can’t assume that we share any of those abstractions. The real trick is, how do you get to understand whether you even share the abstractions in order to talk about them?””
This is a meshing problem within the same species, with similar cultures.
Junk: Mark Bittman’s history of why we eat bad food. by Bill Mckibben (The Nation)
“For Bittman, the central drama of this story begins in the course of the last century, as agriculture and food processing became mass industries, and as we moved from having two types of food (plants and animals) to being overwhelmed by a new third type—one that was “more akin to poison.” These “engineered edible substances, barely recognizable as products of the earth, are commonly called ‘junk.’ ” This junk food has created, Bittman argues, a “public health crisis that diminishes the lives of perhaps half of all humans.” Through its dependence on an agriculture that “concentrates on maximizing the yield of the most profitable crops,” it has done “more damage to the earth than strip mining, urbanization, even fossil fuel extraction.””
“And it has created a new problem: what to do with the massive amount of calories that this commodity-focused agriculture produces. “The system,” Bittman explains, now “delivers a nearly uninterruptible stream of food, regardless of season,” and in the process it has created junk: the processed food that now dominates the Western diet and, increasingly, many other diets around the world.”
“[…] we look the way we do because of the need for the Krafts and Heinzes of the world to keep their profit margins growing by finding new ways to get us to consume their limited line of basic commodities.”
“[…] a fairly stable system of peasant agriculture in Mexico was destroyed by the North American Free Trade Agreement, which dismantled the economic protections that allowed it to persist and flooded the country with cheap American grain. Since it took 17.8 labor days to produce a ton of corn in Mexico, and 1.2 hours to do it on industrialized farms in the American Midwest, the result was never in doubt. Now the United States supplies Mexico with 42 percent of its food, which should give you some idea of why so many people needed to come north.”
Art & Literature
“Patiently, I listened while the boy-man gaily recounted his combat tour. After a time, gingerly I asked about one particular ambush. With certainty he recalled the event, made no mention of the inverted men. Not a single haunted whisper. In those fleeting moments I chose not to express my anger and sorrow. Why, I thought, cause additional harm for what could not be undone? Besides, he was a reverend now, with a Baptist congregation. Why muddy his sacred waters?”
“Local folks worked the road all the way to Bago. Barefoot women carried rocks in wicker baskets on their heads for crushing by big rolling machines. Road work conscripts made 100 kyats (“chots”) a day for six hours of carrying rocks on their heads, a meal included. That was a dollar. I read that up in Mandalay, the public was made to build infrastructure for no pay. Not even a dollar.”
The Whole Parade: On the Incomparable Career of Nicolas Cage by Scout Tafoya (RogerEbert.com)
“There are some actors we watch because we want to see the result of months of internal calculus as they’ve wedged themselves into a new shape; a new person that could only have resulted from this actor taking this assignment. There are some actors we watch because they find stores of undeniable emotion in each character, no matter how small or vile; they will get us to understand that which we might never otherwise. There are some actors we watch because they’ll make a meal out of every performance; tics and affectations stacked like a closet full of board games. We watch Nicolas Cage for all of these reasons and more. We watch Nicolas Cage because there is no one else who does what he does. He can vanish into a character; he can make a character vanish into him. We watch Nicolas Cage to see an animal force unleashed upon lives, to see what form its highly unstable energy takes, to see the demons in him leap out of darkness and into each body he possesses.”
“James Agee wrote that Ray Milland’s performance in “The Lost Weekend” is “debatable at first, but so absorbed and persuasive as the picture moves along …” That became Nicolas Cage’s marching orders. Make choices so absurd that only a fool would think to trot them out for all to see, but stay so fiercely committed that by the end you’ve won over the doubters and scolds. The cinema would become his playground.”
“Personally, this is when I fell most in love with him. Others saw an actor with money problems slumming in DTV crime movies. I saw an artist trapped in a prison cell trying to paint the walls. Or maybe more accurately, his beleaguered paramedic in “Bringing Out the Dead,” begging to be fired but too talented and too unafraid for him to be cut loose. In movie after movie, he’d bring more to the table than you expect.”
“Brando, Dean, Widmark, Toshiro Mifune, Alain Delon, Stanley Baker, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis—pick your actor auteur and try to imagine our culture without them. Cage is in that group. His best was some towering reactor meltdown of all the largest impulses in American screen acting, a man who could be huge and who could be so achingly small but a man who would not be stopped.”
“The internet has become a sort of work/life cloaca, a single portal through which everything must pass. This new monotremous existence of ours leads to many moments of pure surrealism, where, for example, a massive government grant agency requires as a condition of funding that you include a Twitter presence as part of the public-outreach dimension of your research, and before you know it you are fielding feedback on your work in deep-ocean stratigraphy or the geopolitics of natural-gas pipelines from @maoistassplay69. It’s absurd, and unsustainable.”
“I myself have trouble, sometimes, determining whether I am shrinking into nothingness like the Aral Sea, as I say something I vaguely recall having said a week or two ago, or whether rather I am just sharpening the points that matter to me most, again and again until simply to read them is to be pierced by them.”
“The expectation that we defer to specialists is all the more impoverishing when it comes to the humanities stricto sensu, where protection rackets form around the narrowest domains of inquiry, and intimidate into silence everyone who does not wish to dwell exclusively in these domains. Often, in the humanities, the claim that so-and-so “does not cite the relevant literature” is really just a way of asserting ownership of a given cluster of issues, […]”
“I do want to keep this project as far away as possible from the constant Sturm und Drang of disputation, quibbling, and metrics, as if every thought a human being expressed were of necessity an invitation to immediate feedback (which is also why, as a reasoned matter of principle, I keep comments turned off).”
Testing in 2021 by Tim Bray
“Finally, time after time I see integration-test logs show failures and some dev says “oh yeah, those particular tests are flaky, they just fail sometimes.” For some reason they think this is OK. Either the tests exercise something that might fail in production, in which case you should treat failures as blockers, or they don’t, in which case you should take them out of the damn test suite which will then run faster.”
“Since I’ve almost always worked on super-performance-sensitive code, I often end up writing benchmarks, and after a while I got into the habit of leaving a few of them live in the test suite. Because I’ve observed more than a few outages caused by a performance regression, something as dumb as a config tweak pushing TLS compute out of hardware and into Java bytecodes. You’d really rather catch that kind of thing before you push. ”
“But here and there every day, teams lose their way and start skipping the hand-wash after the toilet visit. Don’t. And don’t ship untested code.”
“One story, above all, illustrates this power. At 5am on 18 April 2005, a character known as Mirial, the CEO of Ubiqua Seraph, one of the largest corporations in the game, warped into the Haras solar system, flanked by her most trusted lieutenant. It was a moment for which the members of the Guiding Hand Social Club, a corporation of spies founded by Istvaan Shogaatsu, had long been waiting. A code word went out across the Shogaatsu’s chat channels: “Nicole”. Within an hour Mirial was dead.”
“CCP established the Council of Stellar Management (CSM), an invention unique to Eve, the only example of a game-based democratic organisation designed to represent a virtual society. Each year scores of candidates stand for election in one of the 14 places on the council. In 2015 there were 75 candidates, drawn from across different areas of space. Just as in real life, candidates come with platforms, create propaganda and muster both in the game and out for votes.”
“He commands close to 40,000 players, directing the federation’s battles and actions from his home in Madison, Wisconsin. Gianturco, who used to work as a corporate lawyer in Washington DC, makes his living from the game by running an Eve-specific media empire, reporting the news of events from within the game on his website and YouTube channels. Gianturco regularly boasts that he has not logged into Eve for three years. Instead, he runs the Goons from chatrooms and online forums.”
“Goonswarm came up with this fascinating cultural edict: if you take the game seriously and you bond under the idea that you’re the best of the best, a single loss can unravel the social fabric of the group. So Goonswarm’s rallying cry is: we are terrible at this game. This means that when they lose they are able to laugh about it. But when they win they laugh even harder, making fun of the defeated and bonding over the hubris and misery of their enemy.””
“Last month, the company simplified no fewer than 73 tutorials into seven more straightforward introductory topics, with a hope to entice newcomers who had previously been put off by Eve’s complexities.”
“Eve’s philosophical darkness – its inhabitants are lost in space, engaged in never-ending conflict – reflects something of the dread of Iceland’s inescapable winter. There’s beauty in its vastness and ambition, but it can also feel bleak and oppressive. “That’s the key,” says Groen. “Eve offers us this utopian idea that you can never die. You can resurrect endlessly. But it also poses the question: do we really want to be strapped into the machines, waging war until the end of all time?””