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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Cuckoo for Covid Puffs

Looks likes it's gonna be The Stupid on Steroids Week.

A Facebook friend posted the above yesterday. I cropped out her name. She's a really nice person, an excellent documentary filmmaker. But, she's clueless on this topic.

FB was ablaze with this crap yesterday. It continues today. Oh, the "Freedom of Speech" indignation!

Let's start a new hashtag, "#CuckooForCovidPuffs." Also, recall "Occam's Chainsaw."

I first came into personal contact with medical quackery in 1996 during my late elder daughter's cancer ordeal. I do not suffer these fools gladly.


By the editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton.

...At press conference after press conference, government ministers and their medical and scientific advisors described the deaths of their neighbours as ‘unfortunate’. But these were not unfortunate deaths. They were not unlucky, inappropriate or even regrettable. Every death was evidence of systematic government misconduct – reckless acts of omission that constituted breaches in the duties of public office.

I edit a medical journal, The Lancet, which found itself a conduit between medical scientists desperately trying to understand COVID-19 and politicians and policymakers charged with responding to the pandemic. As we read and published the work of these remarkable frontline workers, I was struck by the gap between the accumulating evidence of scientists and the practice of governments. As this space grew larger, I became angry. Missed opportunities and appalling misjudgements were leading to the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of citizens. There had to be a reckoning.

This book is their story.

Horton, Richard. The COVID-19 Catastrophe (pp. viii-ix). Wiley. Kindle Edition
Just got it. Stay tuned.


Finished the book. Highly recommended. More thoughts shortly.


Former GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain recently attended Trump's Tulsa OK MAGA rally.

He just died. COVID19. No comment necessary.


Okeee-dokeee, then. Just seen on Facebook. SMH.

But, wait! There's more!


More to come...

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Define "normal"


Hang with me here. Goes materially to the prior post. What's the joke? "You only need two things in life: WD-40 for things that need to move but are stuck, and duct tape, for things that need to be immobilized."

"Norm(s), (ab)normal, normative..." My pedantic Jones for key definitions.
Normal: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

Norm: A standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group.

Normative generally means relating to an evaluative standard. Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as bad or undesirable or impermissible.
I'm left-handed—"abnormal" (non-judgmental). In the wake of my 2018 SAVR px, my weight is 160 and BP 120-80'ish, pulse ox .98-.99 ("normal," favorably clinically judgmental). LGBTQ people are "abnormal" (often hatefully judgmental).
"Normative" goes to "ethics." If you want to come off all hiply cocktail party erudite, drop some allusions to "normative."
Below, I've long dug this observation:
If there were only one man in the world, he would have a lot of problems, but none of them would be legal ones. Add a second inhabitant, and we have the possibility of conflict. Both of us try to pick the same apple from the same branch. I track the deer I wounded only to find that you have killed it, butchered it, and are in the process of cooking and eating it.

The obvious solution is violence. It is not a very good solution; if we employ it, our little world may shrink back down to one person, or perhaps none. A better solution, one that all known human societies have found, is a system of legal rules explicit or implicit, some reasonably peaceful way of determining, when desires conflict, who gets to do what and what happens if he doesn’t.

The legal rules that we are most familiar with are laws created by legislatures and enforced by courts and police. But even in our society much of the law is the creation not of legislatures but of judges, embedded in past precedents that determine how future cases will be decided; much enforcement of law is by private parties such as tort victims and their lawyers rather than by police; and substantial bodies of legal rules take the form not of laws, but of private norms, privately enforced.

Friedman, David D.. Law's Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters (p. 3). Princeton University Press - A. Kindle Edition.
WD-40. Duct tape.
Given the practical logistical impossibility of legislating, litigating, or prosecuting every last bit of contentious human interaction, consensus "norms" provide both the mediating lubricants and constraints of civil self-governance.
Back to Hare and Woods:
Even though we are essentially born attracted to people who share our group identity, what constitutes that identity is highly influenced by social forces. Even for babies, group identity is about more than just familiarity. As we grow, it can be defined by almost anything: clothing, food preferences, rituals, physical traits, political affiliation, place of origin, or loyalty to sports teams. While we appear biologically prepared to recognize group identities, our social awareness allows our construction of these identities to be flexible.

This plasticity is what the anthropologist Joseph Henrich argues is critical to the emergence of social norms. Norms are the implicit or explicit rules that govern even the smallest social interaction. They are central to the success of all our institutions, and they must have arisen after we humans had domesticated ourselves, allowing us to identify and embrace humans beyond our immediate families… [Hare, Woods, p. 95]

In 1689, the English Bill of Rights limited the power of the king and gave Parliament free elections and freedom of speech. Other countries slowly followed. Hierarchies remained, but checks on the powerful were being built into the system so that those out of power were never fully powerless. A norm was created for power sharing and compromise. Citizens were not under the direction of a ruler chosen by god or pedigree, but of a citizen representing the needs of fellow citizens.

Political scientists point to the steady rise in democracies since the 1970s to explain the gradual decrease in violence and the unprecedented peace of the last half century…[Hare, Woods, pp. 151-152]

Norms can vary temporally and culturally, as socio/economic/political values "evolve."

Consider the time since 2016:
The presidential campaign of Donald Trump was unique for many reasons, but one of the most disturbing was the dehumanizing rhetoric he used throughout the campaign. Trump had an uncanny intuition for groups his constituents would consider outsiders and was adept at framing these outsiders as threatening. Trump called reporters who insulted his supporters “scum,” “slime,” and “disgusting.” He called Hillary Clinton “nasty” and her supporters “animals.”

After generating a list of outsiders and emphasizing the threat they posed, Trump went on to encourage violence against them. He advocated torture, the death penalty, and deportation for refugees from war-torn countries. Journalists were not safe at his campaign events and had to be contained in pens for their own protection. Even his rhetoric was riddled with violence. He said he wanted to “punch [a protester] in the face,” was pleased that a protester was “roughed up,” and boasted that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and “shoot someone, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

The political system of the United States is based on the democratic principle that every person, even your worst enemy, deserves to be counted as human. We need to work together as a society to shun leaders who dehumanize others and encourage those who, regardless of political party, insist on the humanity of others... [Hare, Woods, pp. 181-182]  
Values and resultant norms change, sometimes unexpectedly quickly. Where are ours headed during this stressful time?

Self-sorting can make life easier for people in marginalized communities, but membership in a demographic group is not what we need to bring the country together, let alone the world. To understand this, we need to turn to the work of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of the brilliant book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam introduced millions to the concept of social capital, the “connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”

Brooks, Arthur C.. Love Your Enemies . Broadside e-books. Kindle Edition.

Another excellent book. Though, many of the Donald Trump references were tough sledding for me.


Five years ago today I posted this on Facebook:
So, Donald Trump supporters, you like him because, as he never fails to point out, he's so "very rich" he doesn't have to take any campaign money, which makes him immune from normal quid pro quo political pressures. He's a one-man personal deep-pockets Super PAC devoted to himself. He can "tell it like it is," and do and say whatever he wants. He doesn't need to kiss any donors' asses.

Did it ever occur to you that, were he to actually become President, he would simply try to continue to do and say whatever he wants, because he has no respect for people who aren't "very rich" like him? That he assumes he could run a nation the way he runs his companies? Simply ordering everyone around, threatening them, and calling them insulting names when they don't agree with him? Whether they're ordinary citizens or leaders of other nations.

I would say "be careful what you ask for." He will neither know nor care that you voted for him. This nation is not his latest acquisition, not part of the Trump "brand."
Well, how have our civic norms changed across the past 5 years?

Off-topic: My late younger daughter Danielle would have turned 50 today.

More to come...

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Survival of the friendliest?

Seriously? In the age of Trumpian hostility?

New book on deck.

Came to it by way of Digby's blog. Stay tuned. I am reminded of my prior riffs on Tomasello.

Also, "Kindness?" And, more broadly, is there in fact a "Science of Deliberation" that minimally necessarily assumes "civility" if not "friendliness?" Again, "nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is not merely so."

Cooperation is the key to our survival as a species because it increases our evolutionary fitness. But somewhere along the way, “fitness” became synonymous with physical fitness. In the wild, the logic goes, the bigger you are, and the more willing you are to fight, the less others will mess with you and the more successful you will become. You can monopolize the best food, find the most attractive mates, and have the most babies. Arguably, no folk theory of human nature has done more harm—or is more mistaken—than the “survival of the fittest.” Over the past century and a half, it has been the basis for social movements, corporate restructuring, and extreme views of the free market. It has been used to argue for the abolition of government, and to judge groups of people as inferior, and then justify the cruelty that results. But to Darwin and modern biologists, “survival of the fittest” refers to something very specific—the ability to survive and leave behind viable offspring. It is not meant to go beyond that...

Hare, Brian. Survival of the Friendliest (p. xvi). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
We shall see.


Finished it. Great fun. Compelling argument.

I am also reminded of my prior riffs on "Tribalism."

More to come...

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Good trouble, necessary trouble

Rest in peace, John Lewis. homepage today.


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Occam's Chainsaw update

My fav is "Population Control & Redution."

One of my Facebook friends posted this graphic. The Stupid on Steroids.

Officials gird for a war on vaccine misinformation
Warren Cornwall

Within days of the first confirmed novel coronavirus case in the United States on 20 January, antivaccine activists were already hinting on Twitter that the virus was a scam—part of a plot to profit from an eventual vaccine.

Nearly half a year later, scientists around the world are rushing to create a COVID-19 vaccine. An approved product is still months, if not years, away and public health agencies have not yet mounted campaigns to promote it. But health communication experts say they need to start to lay the groundwork for acceptance now, because the flood of misinformation from antivaccine activists has surged.

Such activists have “kicked into overdrive,” says Neil Johnson, a physicist at George Washington University who studies the dynamics of antivaccine groups on social networks (Science, 15 May, p. 699). He estimates that in recent months, 10% of the Facebook pages run by people asking questions about vaccines have already switched to antivaccine views.

Recent polls have found as few as 50% of people in the United States are committed to receiving a vaccine, with another quarter wavering. Some of the communities most at risk from the virus are also the most leery…


Is this a great country, or what?


Who/what you gonna believe? (Click to enlarge.)

When you mix science and politics, you get politics. With the coronavirus, the United States has proved politics hasn’t worked. If we are to fully reopen both the economy and schools safely — which can be done — we have to return to science…

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, almost every city closed down much of its activity. Fear and caring for sick family members did the rest; absenteeism even in war industries exceeded 50 percent and eviscerated the economy. Many cities reopened too soon and had to close a second time — sometimes a third time — and faced intense resistance. But lives were saved.

Had we done it right the first time, we’d be operating at near 100 percent now, schools would be preparing for a nearly normal school year, football teams would be preparing to practice — and tens of thousands of Americans would not have died.

This is our second chance. We won’t get a third. If we don’t get the growth of this pandemic under control now, in a few months, when the weather turns cold and forces people to spend more time indoors, we could face a disaster that dwarfs the situation today.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Some thoughts on "Justice."

I'm a decades-long subscriber to Harper's Magazine. It remains primus inter pares among my favorite literary / topical periodicals.

Encountered this online yesterday:

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate
July 7, 2020
The below letter will be appearing in the Letters section of the magazine’s October issue. We welcome responses at

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted…

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.
Read all of it. At the bottom of the letter is a signatory list of more than 100 prominent writers / journalists. The contentious phrase "cancel culture" wafts to mind.

Can we even come to a workable consensus on what constitutes "justice?" Would a "science of deliberation" even help? "Reinventing American Democracy?"
"Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is not merely so."

apropos, from The Atlantic:

…[T]he advent of social media has transformed the way that social and cultural orthodoxies are enforced. But the problem of egregious police killings has been thrust back into the national spotlight by video of the white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man––and the nation now faces complicated, consequential questions about who or what to fight. Americans are protesting not only killer cops, the colleagues who abet them, and the unions that protect them, but also policing itself, Confederate statuary, “white fragility,” neo-colonialism, microaggressions, systemic racism, neoliberalism, and capitalism.

As a hearteningly broad coalition embraces policing reforms, a distinct, separable struggle is unfolding in the realm of ideas: a many-front crusade aimed at vanquishing white supremacy, hazily defined.

That crusade is as vulnerable to mistakes and excesses as any other struggle against abstract evils. Some of the most zealous crusaders are demanding affirmations of solidarity and punishing mild dissent. Institutions are imposing draconian punishments for minor transgressions. Individuals are scapegoated for structural ills. There are efforts to get people fired, including even some who share the desire for racial justice…

UPDATE: "au contraire"
The Harper’s Letter Is What Happens When the Discourse Takes Precedence Over Reality
Civil society is more than the feelings of professional writers and academics.

Tom Scocca

These are dangerous times for dissenters in America. Critics of the government’s immigration policies have been targeted for arrest and deportation. Protesters challenging violent and racist policing have been gassed and beaten and maimed with projectiles by police. On July 3, at the foot of Mount Rushmore, the president of the United States gave a speech denouncing the protesters and those who support them as part of a “left-wing cultural revolution … designed to overthrow the American Revolution” and promised to respond to their tearing down of statues by “deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”…
Ordinary restrictions against protesters would be indefensible if they were applied to the press—if TV stations were temporarily shut down because too many people wanted to watch the news, or newspapers were restricted to distribution in off-site Newspaper Zones when a national political convention came to town, or websites needed a police permit to publish. But these are the standard conditions of protest, enforced by cops in riot armor.

That official violence is not far in the background of the Harper’s letter. And however sympathetic the signatories of the letter may consider themselves to the purposes of the protests, the focus on journalistic and academic rights undercuts the more immediate threats to the protest movement. The most vocal signers of the Harper’s letter, and its most self-satisfied defenders, have made it clear that they regard the resignation of James Bennet as the New York Times opinion editor to be a self-evident case of the mob having gone too far. Bennet lost his job because his section solicited and published, without his having read it, an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for federal troops to put on an “overwhelming show of force” against “rioters and insurrectionists.” The defenders of pure discourse noted that Cotton explicitly said in the article that he rejected “revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters.” People who’d been out in the streets, seeing demonstrators obstruct traffic or violate hastily issued (and unconstitutional) curfew orders, understood that Cotton—who’d tweeted that troops should give “no quarter”—was avoiding the central, material question of what the troops would do about protesters who peacefully refused to abide by the law.

Whose essential freedoms were put at risk by the Bennet-Cotton episode? In the world of the Harper’s letter, the threat that mattered was the one to the careers of veteran editors—not the threat that had bullets and bayonets behind it, a threat that the president himself would offer again in his Independence Day remarks. The promoters of the letter cast themselves as persecuted heroes, putting their names on the line to defend an embattled conception of liberty. The people putting themselves in front of police lines have a more expansive vision of what freedom means, and what risks they’re prepared to take for it.
Hmmm... Read all of it as well. He proffers a serious point.
Notwithstanding Tom's well-deserved props, I guess my only minor quibble would be with the implicit "reality versus discourse" thingy ("the focus on journalistic and academic rights")—though, I doubt that the Trump-despised "rabble in the streets" will be elbowing each other aside, amid the chaos of pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, and rubber (or actual) bullets, rushing to erect barricades in defense of comfy clean-fingernails journalistic / literary elites.
If you're not confused, you've not been paying attention.


A commenter on author Tom Scocca's Twitter feed doesn't share my Jones for Harper's:
“Harper’s is exactly where this letter would land. It’s largely snuff porn for a sector of Boomers who write tendentious pieces about how the good things are ruined and can’t be fixed. Except the people in the streets and in the real world are proving that thesis false.”
LOL. Methinks declaring any verdict from "in the streets and in the real world" at this point might be just a tad premature.

…A forceful and sweeping case for free speech—again, a constitutional principle, not one governing private institutions or Twitter feeds—would require engaging with the history of discrimination in journalism, academia, and literature. But the brief and ambiguous Harper’s letter does not convey the complexity of the forces shaping open discourse today. Who has most often shared their ideas with impunity? Who is discouraged, even banned, from doing so? Who cannot afford to enter the field at all, because legacy publications such as Harper’s still do not pay their interns? Serious grappling with these issues, instead of virtue signaling, would actually help foster the conditions for more vibrant public dialogue. Instead, in their rush to fetishize civil disagreement, the would-be defenders of free speech reproduce the same circular logic that has powered elite circles for generations. Nobody needed an open letter to be reminded of that.
More to come...

Friday, July 3, 2020

#COVID19 Independence Day weekend update: Buckle up, America

Not Good.


This is interesting (below):

And then there's this:

Okeee-dokeee, then.

Prior to January 20, 2017, it was entirely safe to assume that the stupidest person in the country and the president were two different people. But, that was then, this is now.

More to come...