SocraticGadfly: 12/20/20 - 12/27/20

December 26, 2020

Brexit deal: No, Boris, you didn't win

A "Brexit deal" between the UK and EU is now here. Ireland-Northern Ireland appear the big winner overall. The UK is the bigger winner on fisheries issues, but the bigger loser on most other regulatory issues, and a number of things were punted down the road, which means Boris Johnson is lying (shock me) when he says "we have taken control." And, it was symbolic bullshit, as fishing is less than 1 percent of the British economy. Also per that NPR link, the claim that Britain will get some special deal in new trade negotiations with the US or elsewhere? Any new deal with the US will be one that will not harm US-EU relationships.

And, US banksters, knowing the UK is now cut off from the Continent that way, may push to further undercut The City of London's financial power. That — the details of Britain's financial services relationship to the EU — was one of the punts.

There's also still the question of whether Scottish nationalists will plump for another independence vote, and if Johnson would attempt to fight that.

Also contra Boris, the long-term game is much more in the EU's hands than the UK's. The leverage over Britain no longer being in the EU's financial services market is one reason. The European Central Bank and EU member state banks, plus major private banking firms, especially in Germany, will throw new weight around.

Ditto if, on the punted regulatory issues, Johnson or a successor tries to get hardcore on Ireland. Here in the US, a President Biden is ardent about the Good Friday accord, and if Johnson appears to be doing anything to hurt that? Related to Ireland? As Patrick Cockburn notes, there, the EU-UK border was agreed by Boris to shift to the middle of the Irish Sea, not between the 22 and the 6.

December 24, 2020

Coronavirus news: Keep wearing a damned mask, week 38 and beyond

• And, hopefully, in the not too distant future, you and I will know how well it works! NIOSH and ASTM are developing mask efficacy standards. As the story notes, the FDA, post-Scott Gottlieb, midst-Stephen Hahn semi-kowtowing to Trump, could have worked on such standards, and didn't.

• None too soon, either. London went on lockdown last Friday as the result of a new strain of coronavirus evolving, and Canada and many other countries temporarily blocked travel. Meanwhile, yet another new strain, perhaps worse than the London one, has also evolved, primarily in South Africa, and reportedly more dangerous than the London mutation, especially as it's more "aggressive" against younger people. I saw a piece by Outside mag recently speculating on how soon international travel might pick up again. Latest answer? Not very, and it is probably irresponsible of Outside to do any more speculating. That said, Dr. Anthony Fauci (wait a minute, is he an MD or not?) has said he opposes a travel ban here.

• A mix of sad and disgusting here in Texas. So many health care workers in the Valley passed on getting vaccinated (wish ProPublica/Trib had at least a few comments as to why) that it had extra vaccine available ... and ConservaDem Legiscritter Eddie Lucio cut in line, by standards of vaccination eligibility, as pictured at left.

Meanwhile, here's the latest on Chinese censorship at the start of the spread of the coronavirus. It's also yet another reminder not to trust Chinese case and fatality stats. Sidebar: The piece is also a reminder that I take commenters who pooh-pooh the seriousness of China's reported plans for a social media credit system with a grain or three of salt. The bigger question yet? How long before Beijing tracks down these leakers?

• Another reminder that, contra Trump's "reopen America" and Abbott's "reopen Texas" — dead people don't buy anything.

• That includes the 16,000 and counting age 25-44 COVID deaths.

• Reminder: Face shields, by themselves, are not great protectors. They help. But have gaps — literally.

• Texas, weddings, and maskless COVIDiocy. Shock me.

• Deborah Birx: The coronavirus' John Cornyn of (allegedly) talking tough to Trump in private. Oh, also, a big fat hypocrite.

• Bud Kennedy reports small-town Texans are "angry at COVID." From where I live, they're not angry enough to mask up like they should. He notes it's the same in places like Granbury. What this really is? Another form of American exceptionalism. "We're Merika, we shouldn't be getting bossed around by this little bitty V'uh-EYE-russ."

• Merika's expansive definition of "essential worker" and other things means that there's some major medical ethics involved with vaccine triage. (That doesn't stop Andrew Sullivan from playing "gotcha" with professor Harald Schmidt near the end of the story.)

• Reopening schools has had its own round of detritus in "blue" areas, especially ones that also have teachers unions in contract negotiations. Slate has details of how certain blue state considerations can trump science .... kind of like Trump did. Part of the story in Brookline is "blue against blue" .... Berniecrat type teachers vs. neoliberal Hillbot/Obamiac administrators and parents.

• And, schools largely opened up in Europe, for a variety of reasons that included but weren't limited to weaker unions in a few countries to more centralized (as in federalized/nationalized) school control in many.

• Shelley Luther got off scot-free. Had she been non-white and in the Valley? She'd have been arrested

• A guest poster at Skeptical Raptor says she'd like coronavirus vaccine liability cases moved OUT of an emergency use liability limitations court system and into the general vaccine court system. 

Jef Rouner talks to Dr.Peter Hotez about the forthcoming anti-vaxxer backlash.

December 23, 2020

Is China's discussed great social media credit system feasible?

In the latest round of his suggested readings, Massimo Pigliucci mentions it in passing, mainly from the point of view of a Stephen Kershnar, philosophy prof at SUNY, who among other things, utters this:

The problem with Shen’s argument is that people do not have a right to dignity, privacy, or reputation.

Just. Wow.

"Saphsin" in comments, with multiple links, responds vociferously that it taint so. And I, in my last comment on Sunday, countered with this ProPublica piece about China's degree of social media and general Internet control over early days and weeks of coronavirus news.

First, per my comment with that link, I do NOT think there's a huge degree of scalability on the tech side. Also, unlike the US, where an Amazon, if it ever actually developed a corporate conscience, could walk away from CIA work, many of the Chinese tech companies involved with furthering Xi Jinping Thought through censorship of questioning of it, if not state-owned, do so much business with the Chinese government that they can't walk away.

Per Lee Majors speaking the opening to "The Six Million Dollar Man," Xi could easily say: "We have the technology. We have the capability ... "

To the degree there IS anything like a scalability issue? It's on the people side.

Sure, it would take at least an extra 100,000 people to make this truly work. And unlike Hucksterman outsourcing Facebook content moderation to the Philippines, this would have to be done in-house, so to speak.

But, impossible? Μὴ γένοιτο, to riff on Paul; there, it means "god forbid," translated idiomatically, or something similar. Would that there were a god to forbid on something like this! In reality? I look at pre-1989 East Germany. The Stasi reportedly had as many as 200,000 informants on its books in a country 2 percent the size of China.

The REAL issue? It's a philosophical one. A Platonic one. Per "The Republic," who watches the watchers? Who guards the guardians? Actually, per a program this big, in a country the size of China, per theory of other minds, you'd certainly need a third level, that of people watching the people watching the watchers. Per Monty Python, the people watching the watchers who watch the watching the watchers have been sacked from the subtitles.

But, with carrots and sticks, or bread and crucifixions, to spin Caesar a bit, you can get enough spying on the spies to make this happen.

Facebook and Twitter themselves offer ideas. Both allow people to report things like fake news, misleading claims about elections, etc. (Though Twitter, at least in the case of one certain elected official, doesn't actually do anything with that, of course. Not really.)

Let's say that Chinese social media platform Weibo, roughly similar to Twitter, had similar reporting tools. Let's also say that, for each comment by someone else I report and that Weibo agrees needed to be reported auto-tweaks my algorithm to make future comments by me more visible to others. Let us also say that, short of account suspension, the more posts of yours that are reported and that Weibo agrees needed reporting auto-tweaks your algorithm in the reverse direction. (Surprised that Twitter hasn't already thought of this; the cesspool would clean up a fair amount right there.) Let us now say that CCP officials oversee Weibo's reporting system and that, in addition to Facebook and Twitter reporting categories, there is one that is called "Insults Xi Jinping Thought" or similar, and that CCP officials monitor this category of reports most closely.

ProPublica tells us more about how China's paid Internet trolls stage-manaaged making the coronavirus appear less bad in China than it actually was. This, too, should show us how a social media credit system could be controlled. You use fluffers to fluff the subservient.

Sorry, Saph, but your links aside? This shows how that wouldn't be that hard. It's just a subtler, more insidious form of the Cultural Revolution.

Xi could even say, per Mao: "Let a thousand Weibo accounts be shut down!"


More Chinese coronavirus lies, including those by Winnie the Pooh himself, President Xi Jinping, have been exposed. These are again about covering up/ignoring the early days and weeks in Wuhan, including Xi's own lies about how quickly he intervened.

December 22, 2020

Texas Progressives say Merry Christmas, and said Happy 250th Ludwig

And, Splendid Saturnalia, Kozy Kwanzaa and anything else you need greeted.

With that, let's dig into the roundup.

From his arts and philosophy blog, SocraticGadfly offered a hearty Happy 250th Birthday to Beethoven, including YouTube tracks of favorite orchestral, chamber group and soloist performers of some of his music.


"Lesser evilism," intra-GOP version, prevailed Saturday in the SD30 runoff as establishmentarian grifting wingnut Drew Springer beat lawlessness wingnut Shelley Luther.

Grits, looking at the rigor of police training in other countries, wishes we could apply some of that here.

Speaking of, the feds are intervening in Austin policing. Gee, once again, what about states rights etc?


The Bum Steer Awards are out! Top dog? Texas Dems for once again overpromising and underdelivering. Top runner up? The COVID-19. Greg Abbott was top/bottom dog within that. Sadly, Shelley Luther only got mentioned within Greg Abbott's mention. I forgot about Kenneth Copeland saying God would destroy the virus.

Barry Corbin is still kicking.

Texas Monthly is still fellating H-E-B.

The Big Bend's mini-Target outside Marfa is gone.

#MeToo issues in the oil patch? I am shocked! I'm also "shocked" that #MeToo accountability has, for the most part, not even started to happen.


Ohh, more alleged bribery involving Dwaine Caraway.

A federal judge has reinstated the Botham Jean family's lawsuit against the city of Dallas, after amendment.


Steve Hotze's Texas-fried version of the nutter conspiracy theory has led a former Houston PD captain to apparently commit what could wind up being multiple felonies, staging a deliberate rear-end collision to arrest an AC repairman whose van allegedly contained "Texas suitcases" or whatever of ballots.

Off the Kuff analyzed statewide judicial numbers and the trends from the last three Presidential elections in Harris County.

The Texas Signal commemorates Harris County's first election under the new Elections Administrator.


Trickle down economics via tax cuts for the rich is officially a failure. Shock.

That said, trickle to relatives grifting, Trump-style, has hit the Colorado GOP.

Michael Li explains the SCOTUS dismissal of the challenge to Trump's order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census.

Therese Odell contemplates the "Trump is literally dragged out of the White House" scenario.

Texas Monthly takes a closer look at Austin-based SolarWinds, the company at the heart of the massive Russian cyberattack.

December 21, 2020

Solstice star, not Christmas star, at Great Conjunction

Jupiter and Saturn tonight have their closest conjunction in 400 years and their closest nighttime, visible one in about 800 years.

And, fitting for methodologically naturalist science, it's on the winter solstice.

And, I appear to have indeed gotten it, as ragged as it is, on camera, handheld.

That would be Jupiter at left, and I believe Io above and Europa below.

And, per my blog post of several years ago, as far as modern explanation of the development of our Solar System, Laplace is the reason for the season. That's French astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace, who articulated the "nebular hypothesis" more than 200 years ago.

For  latest modern modelings on how the nebular Solar System developed, see this great Nautilus piece. Among other things, it explained why Jupiter and Saturn likely moved out, rather than in closer to the Sun, as they gained mass.

Per two paragraphs above? As a secular humanist, I can appreciate the wonder and joy of astronomy without having to put either Christian or New Age veneers over it. I can also appreciate the wonder of reaching across 800 years of history. But also, unlike some of Laplace's older peers (Diderot, d'Holbach even more) I don't have to act like a Gnu Atheist, either.

After I did editing of pix and an initial wrap on the blog post (I already had the Nautilus and my old blog post in place yesterday) I started thinking about "miracles" of human ingenuity.

First, of course, is the cultural evolution in astronomical understanding that led Copernicus to re-invent the heliocentric theory and for it to gain acceptance. Then came the big step of Kepler's gathering of empirical evidence to establish elliptical orbits. Then, Galileo with Venerean phases giving empirical support for heliocentrism. And so forth.

On the personal side? The camera and lens I used to shoot that photo? Arguably better than ones I would have paid 10 times as much for 15 years ago.

And, per the verse from Proverbs? Not always, but often, with all our new knowing, has come new understanding as well.

I will have some further thoughts in a post on my philosophy blog.

Top November blogging

It was an interesting, and COVID-heavy, mix of what was popular last month, including a couple of old favorites.

Top post? Coronavirus met politics when I said COVID was the only big reason Biden won (other than not being Trump). I stand by that, and will stand by it for the four years of his uninspiring, declining presidency. (It will continue to get worse.)

Actual Flatticus ... in my top 10 all time, and continues to be popular.

No. 3? My first post of the year about the Cardinals hot stove off-season — buying out Kolten Wong.

No. 4? Week 32 of coronavirus posting — the week Texas moved past California on total cases. (Texas remains ahead, and far ahead on death rate, approaching the US average.)

No. 5? My 2018 post distinguishing between DSA roseys and Green sunflowers on Twitter. I'm not currently a Green, either, but an independent leftist.

No. 6? Coronavirus week 31, looking ahead at the winter surge that then seemed likely and is starting to happen.

No. 7? With numerous updates since its original writing in September, the eventual total collapse of Ed Butowsky and his shyster lawyer Ty Clevenger in the face of Rich family lawsuits against Ed, Fox et al.

No. 8? Non-election political news of the week of the election.

Nos 9 and 10? Two Thanksgiving-week snarks. First, suggested new names for the Washington Football Team. Second, a smackdown for the cult of What? A Burger? and for Texans touting it.