SocraticGadfly: 7/4/21 - 7/11/21

July 10, 2021

Top blogging of June — hoops and COVID

No. 1? My ripping a new cornhole for fake journalist Max Blumenthal, specifically related to Nicaragua issues.

No. 2? My semi-takedown obit of 9/11 falser, Tulsi Twerker and Just.Another.Politican Mike Gravel. 

No. 3? My saying STFU to Scottie Pippen for his various stupidities, including hinting he thought he was better than Michael Jordan, his ragging in general on Phil Jackson for choosing Toni Kukoc to shoot that 1994 NBA playoff game-ender against the Knicks, and claiming racism was behind that.

No. 4? My rejection of twosiderism and tribalism between the Georgia Green Party, on the one hand, and the Green Party's Lavender Caucus and allies on the other.

No. 5? My salute to Zeynep Tufekci calling out COVID twosiderism and tribalism by BlueAnon. (A follow-up is coming!)

No. 6? Calling out UFO pseudoscience by Daniel Brito, along with fellow travelerism by journalists who should know better. (A follow-up is coming!)

No. 7? Discussing how it's funny, in a sense, that a Black in a leadership position with the neoliberal Sunrise Movement has discovered half the truth about Sunrise — only the race-related truth, but not class-related and more.

No. 8? One in a series of pieces about the Dallas Mavericks' future, complete with takes on superstar Luka Doncic and then-head coach Rick Carlisle, calling for him to be replaced with Jason Kidd, which eventually happened, though not quite as I would have expected.  in Game 7, the Dallas Mavericks lost Game 7 to the Clippers and have another first-round playoff exit.

No. 9? Related to No. 5 and from earlier in the month — my takedown of BlueAnon COVID tribalist Orac.

No. 10? Related to both 5 and 9, some thoughts on an alleged Chinese defector reportedly spilling some beans on the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

July 09, 2021

Noam Chomsky, intellectual genius? Not so fast: Part 2, linguistics

Is Noam Chomsky perhaps above my intellectual pay grade? Yes.

Genius? No.

The political side, I've already tackled. Shorter take? He's a sheepdogger for the Dem half of the duopoly and has been for quite a long time.

Alleged genius otherwise? As in, alleged genius on linguistics?

Neuroscience has shown the brain is NOT "massively modular," therefore undercutting theories of language of Chomsky, Steve Pinker and others. I first noted this point 15 years ago, Ken, so that part of my critique isn't even close to new. I also noted, per Wiki's take on him, that he was too much of a rationalist on this issue in general. 

Indeed, Wiki's piece on generative grammar notes that no evidence for deep structures has been found, and that Chomsky has shrugged that off by a fallacious appeal to Galileo (who DID have evidence for his claims), showing that not only is Chomsky too rationalist, but also that, in additional to being anti-behavioralist, he's anti-empiricist.

Related? Back in 2010, per Doug Hofstadter and Gödel, Escher, Bach, I said the mind, including on language, was massively recursive, not massively modular.

And, some researchers argue that Chomsky's version of a universal grammar violated Ockham's Razor even if it actually does explain things.

Next, per this review of Terence Deacon's The Symbolic Species, even if a universal grammar does exist to some degree, it might not be the major factor in the origin of language.

Related to that, and also undercutting Pinker to a fair degree, neuroscience HAS shown the brain didn't have a massive explosion 60,000 or whatever years ago. In short, language ability evolved gradually and adaptationally, or even exadaptationally. And "one-tenth of a language" is of as much evolutionary value as a planarium's "one-tenth of an eye."

Chomsky also seems to miss the power and role of cultural evolution in this.
Even more, of course, he ignores the power and role of plain old neo-Darwinian evolution. It's clear that other upper-level sentient animals (other primates and cetaceans coming first to mind) communicate. Per teaching sign language to some primates, it's clear that they have at least rudimentary skills at symbol manipulation and recombination. And,  of course, from that, clear that language of some sort is not peculiarly or solely human.
Those facts all go directly against the claims of Chomsky, a straight humanities guy, that language IS specifically human. From there, to use Dan Dennett's "skyhooks" idea, he seems to have "pegged" without evidence the massively modular brain, etc.
Finally, the end of this Wiki piece on transformative grammar he got some massive signal-boosting on early claims to have invented a new world in linguistic study. Related? He got lucky to be attacking behavioralism with his linguistic ideas just as behavioralism was starting to collapse in general. He admits to getting lucky in being the "somebody" MIT needed to fill the faculty position he was hired for. Remember, Noam is purely a humanities guy.

And, even if Chomsky WERE right? What then? He hadn't shown HOW things like deep syntactical structure evolved, and we still don't know that today, whether the brain is massively modular or not.

To be honest, really, on the origins and development of our original use of language, we now little more today than we did 50 years ago.

And, this may remain permanently unknowable.

And, there ARE alternative, newer, scientifically informed takes on the development of language.
(Update: And, among them, more and more research shows not only that brains are not massively modular, but that the whole old functional diagram of brains, including the alleged primary function not only of the cerebral cortex's different surface areas, but also separate portions like the cerebellum and amydala, is so out of whack it's probably at Paul's Not.EvenWrong. stage. As part of this, just as we know that "one gene ≠ one phenotypic expression" in both that some expressions need multiple genes coding for them, but more to the case, one gene can be part of coding for several expressions in combo with other genes, so, those functional areas of the brain can express multiple mental workings. This Quanta piece has plenty more.)

The Truth about Language: What It Is and Where It Came FromThe Truth about Language: What It Is and Where It Came From by Michael C. Corballis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent book from the preface on.

Many people know the name of Noam Chomsky, but they may not know that, while he dethroned B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist approach to linguistics, his own theory, which broadly falls into humanist linguistics, has itself become largely passé.

Two major newer schools, with a fair amount of overlap but with distinct emphases, are in the lead today: functionalist and Darwinist schools of linguistics. Michael Corballis comes from the later, though he’s conversant with the former. In the same broad train of thought as a Michael Tomasello, he talks in this book about the likely route for development of human language.

Corballis says straight up that he knew he would butt heads with Chomsky, Gould and others. He rejects Chomsky’s massive modularity of the brain (as does most modern neuroscience) and rejects Gould for saltationist ideas about the origin of language.

Corballis says that he sees normal, incremental neo-Darwinian evolution at work.

Early in part 1, chapter 1, he calls out Chomsky for ignoring most of the vast variation between languages in his attempt to posit a universal grammar. He even QUOTES Chomsky to that effect.

“I have not hesitated to propose a general principle of linguistic structure on the basis of observation of a single language.”

This is basically like the old “spontaneous emergence” idea of maggots in rotten meat, Galen’s claiming the human liver has seven lobes because monkey livers do, or similar.

Now, after refuting Chomsky, what ideas does Corballis offer up?

First is that language probably in part evolved from gestural issues. He notes that human babies point to things just to note them as an object of attention, vs chimps who point because they want.

Next, he notes humans’ ability to mentally time travel. Tis true, he notes, that corvids may not immediately revisit seed caches if they think another of their species has been spying on them, but that’s about it as far as looking to the future among animals. Elephants and primates seem to retain some memory of deceased loved ones, but of itself, that doesn’t reflect mental time travel backward, really. Only humans seem to have that in great degree. This, in turn is part of larger “displacement” in language, moving ourselves spatially as well as temporally. Related to that is that, in English at least, many prepositions can have both spatial and temporal functions.

Beyond that, he postulates that humans (and possibly earlier members of the genus Homo) having third-order theory of mind, vs primates (and presumably, cetaceans) having only second-order TOM, and a restricted and species-specific one at that, is probably a big factor in language development. Language recursiveness and nesting would seem to underscore this.

In all of this, though, Corballis notes that primates have some gesture usage, and that even dogs can recognize specific human words.

Next, it’s off to grammar. After a basic look at parts of speech, Corballis notes how and why, in English and other language, some things like “helping verbs” evolved … and then, in some successor languages, devolved again. As part of this, and the idea that languages in general started as noun-verb only items similar to modern pidgins, Corballis notes the role of cultural evolution.

Corballis ends with his “Crossing the Rubicon” of how he things language began. This starts by summarizing some of his differences with Chomsky on things like internal vs. external language and their function in language development, language as a means of expressing thought rather than thought itself and more.

With that, he notes that to the degree there was a great leap forward, speech, not language, was it. Abstraction was not inherent to speech. Related to that, he says it’s an open question as to whether all current languages evolved from one Ur-language, or if instead, they started evolving after modern Homo sapiens started splitting.

Corballis does admit that, without more evidence, he too is telling a “just-so story,” and it’s nice for him to end on a note of epistemic humility.

Side note: many of his “peregrinations” during the book are interesting, but I think he spends too much time, with repeated returns, to the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, when it’s but marginally connected to his main theme.

View all my reviews

Chomsky is also wrong on some philosophical issues, such as claiming humans have universal standards of moral justice. On many issues, no we don't. Even what constitutes "murder" is not 100 percent universal. Per my cultural evolution link above, Chomsky's also surely missed its role and power in development of morals. And, speaking of morals, his actions in the Faurisson affair still raise questions.

Sidebar: Deacon's second book, Incomplete Nature, is way controversial. Here's an interesting review. It defends his invention of a number of new words and generally says "good try, but still not actually explained." Deacon was also charged with plagiarism ... charges that might just be true.

He IS right, very much, on media criticism. I'll give him that.

Oh, and Ken? Noam is on record at having no problem with being blunt in criticizing others.

July 08, 2021

Texas Progressives on 'the wrong Carlos' and more

Allen West is doing it! He'll finish behind Strangeabbott, of course, but will he wind up ahead of or behind the Dreamy Don Huffines? My thoughts on that here.

Anybody who's not a wingnut has good evidence that innocent people have been executed by Tex-ass. The latest? Per both the Observer and the Monthly, a new documentary film about how the state executed the "wrong Carlos."

Danny Goeb booted friend Chris Tomlinson and his co-authors of a a new book about Texicans, slavery and the Alamo ... from speaking at the Bullock Museum. Of course, Goeb is just another white wingnut who has also bashed critical race theory with no attempt to understand it. And, there's additional fun of the Bullock Museum's director trying to spin this booting, as in, "we had nothing to do with it." Bullshit. This IS censorship in its proper First Amendment usage; state officials and a state museum conspired to ban a previously scheduled talk.
As the special session of the Lege approaches, the Snooze had a poll that said a slight majority of Texas voters oppose Strangeabbott, Goeb, et al on a border wall and critical race theory while the same narrow majority agree with sports competition for transsexual (gender?) athletes. More than 60 percent, though? Worried about summer electric blackouts! Rethuglicans are officially forewarned.

More border arrests prove the border is already more secure, contra Abbott's spinning.

One likely mud puddle in Northeast Texas, on Bois D'Arc Creek, isn't enough; Dallas' powers that be are continuing to push another.

What's likely one of the first exposed larger bitcoin money laundering schemes has resulted in a plea deal.

Finally! The feds get a conviction on a White developer in the Metromess, not just the Blacks on the Dallas City Council who took bribes from people like this.

Off the Kuff took a first look at how State Rep districts have changed over the last decade.

The 19th profiles two leaders of the Democratic legislative walkout over voter suppression, Reps. Jasmine Crockett and Gina Hinojosa.

The Texas Living Waters Project warns that we need to stop over-irrigating our lawns.

Texas 2036 has three takeaways from the 2021 STAAR test results.

The Dallas Observer updates us on the latest assault on free speech being committed by Collin College trustees.

Robert Rivard reviews our state's long history of suppressing the vote.

Scott Braddock examines Dan Patrick's deep and abiding convictions about "freedom of speech".

July 07, 2021

What's the future of the Boy Scouts?

Maybe about the same as the future of the Catholic Church, only with a faster death spiral?

The Boy Scouts of America, headquartered in Irving, have settled a massive sexual abuse lawsuit. The details about how pervasive this is have been one factor (but by no means the only one) in gutting the agency, where participation is only 40 percent of its membership compared to just two years ago. (Girl Scouts is down to just 70 percent, and both organizations were dropping before this; COVID accelerated the decline.)

For Boy Scouts, the decline probably isn't over. It's likely that assets like summer camp lands will have to be sold as part of raising money for lawsuit payouts; in turn, that's likely to further undercut urban and larger suburban Scouting interest. Remaining camps will likely be more crowded, and BSA state and national will charge more for camp attendance to recoup some of their losses. That, in turn, will reduce yet more the lower-income urban and suburban interest.

And, that's as the immigrant population increases.

Hat tip D Mag on both links.

What do the Denver Nuggets need to do this offseason?

Really, not much.

They've got the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic.

They had a great midyear pickup in Aaron Gordon.

They saw Michael Porter become who they hoped they were drafting.

Unfortunately, they saw Jamal Murray blow his knee out not too long after acquiring Gordon.

But, seriously, with a week free agent class, all they need to do is decide whether or not to resign Paul Millsap, and at what price, and ditto on Will Barton if he doesn't exercise his player option. Millsap has a lot of heart and still some "enforcer" or "banger" value. But, that's about it and he's getting older. (Update: Barton has opted out, and if it's for money, rather than a multi-year deal, I think you have to let him walk.)

Otherwise? A full season with a largely young, still improving team? A full season of Gordon?

Don't panic.

The Lakers are getting older, especially LeBron James. Anthony Davis is still, to a degree, an injury waiting to happen. Other than that, they're kind of thin.

The Clipps? Who knows what that team will do? Paul George and Kawhi Leonard still partially occupy the same position and theyre weak at the point.

The Jazz? You have more overall depth, still, than what they do behind Donovan Mitchell.

The Suns are most likely your biggest longer-term competition, as Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton both still rise, especially as long as Chris Paul has something in the tank.

Otherwise, a "banger" type guy in the draft would be a good target, IMO. Yes, Murray's injury precludes him from the start of the season. But, Austin Rivers was ... OK (assuming they bring him back), they've got a full season of Gordon, and if Barton walks, they can probably sign some other wing cheaper.

Over at Hoops Rumors, commenters on their story on the Nuggets offseason preview have many soured on Gordon.

July 06, 2021

Jane Nelson's retirement and Texas Senate redistricting

While Danny Goeb was praising Jane Nelson on her announcement she wouldn't run again (and ignoring that she served 28 years while initially being elected because she claimed to back term limits), he ignored one other thing.

This might affect redistricting.

Yeah,  the Trib says "Republican-friendly district." But, is it THAT Republican friendly? Look at the map. Southern half of Denton County and NW Tarrant.

Then look at her election results. Yeah, she took 63 percent in 2020. But, that was after consistent 85 percent in previous general elections.

Yeah, with a 2022 election and Biden likely to slip a bit, she might do better. But how much better? And, would she be primaried? And would that paint her into a corner?

Meanwhile, with her gone, other GOP senators may eye parts of her district to make themselves safer.

Drew Springer in 30 is plenty safe. And, he's new so low on the pecking order. So, his district won't have to dip into Nelson's.

Elsewhere? Angela Paxton in 8 is not safe and also has the Sword of Damocles of hubby Kenny hanging over her head.

Kelly Hancock in 9? Not so safe.

Beverly Powell in 10 is a Democrat who edged out incumbent nutbar Konni Burton.

Nathan Johnson in 16 is a Democrat who won more convincingly against incumbent Dreamy Don Huffines.

Assuming Goeb writes off Paxton, does he try to shore up District 12 for a GOP newcomer who won't have the advantage of incumbency, by nibbling from Springer's district? Does he try to do this AND shore up Hancock, and not just for the next election but for the rest of them this decade? Does he instead try to make Powell's district more Republican?

There's lots of moving parts here, plus what I've previously blogged about, how the mix of suburban growth, and that growth tilting slightly Democrat, mixed with some more Republican exurban growth, but flatness and even decline in truly rural areas, especially in West Texas, is going to put some state House, state Senate, and Congressional Republicans at redistricting loggerheads. And, let's also not forget Trumper vs never-Trumper, or maybe, Trumper vs ultra-Trumper, battles. Again, maybe that's part of why Nelson ain't running again.

So, Nelson got out while the getting was good, and getcha popcorn!

COVID, Week 65

Per Ed Yong, right now, vaccines remain effective against Delta. But, we're still looking at possible further new strains evolving as the separation of vaccinated and unvaccinated, not just in countries with low amounts of or funding for vaccines, but the self-separation in places like Merikkka, continues.

To that end, here in Texas, UT Southwestern expects case numbers to surge again with the start of school. Reminder that Texas is still just barely over 41 percent vaccinated; lower-income minority areas of big cities are lower and wingnut rural areas are lower yet. See the map here.

And, given that rural Texas, and much of the rural US as a whole, doesn't have a higher vaccination rate than much of the rest of the globe, it's probably sensible to follow WHO's advice and still wear a mask, at least in more crowded scenarios, even if vaccinated, rather than St. Anthony of Fauci and the CDC. More here on the split between WHO and CDC. That's even as OSHA has gutted final workplace safety regs and the CDC still says, "don't worry at work."

More on this vaccine divide and possible consequences here. Dr. Peter Hotez says CDC should issue two sets of guidelines, it's concerning enough to him.
The pandemic did have early mental health effects like depression and anxiety for many people, but after that, at least for people not facing pandemic-induced issues like long-term unemployment, resilience kicked in.

SocraticGadfly took a deep and supportive dive into Teynep Tufekci's set of pieces saying we need to look seriously at the possibility of a lab leak in Wuhan.

July 05, 2021

Allen West vs Don Huffines vs Greg Abbott

Yesterday, Allen West officially joined the Dreamy Don Huffines in announcing he was running against Greg Abbott, aka Strangeabbott, for the Rethuglican nomination for Texas gov.

First, neither of the challengers have a shot, IMO, per a Tweet with poll I posted on Twitter:
I stand by that. It's the most serious challenge Abbott has had, but it will not be enough to force him to a runoff, let alone defeat him.

That then said, Huffines and West are NOT the same person, not the same candidate and don't have exactly the same target audiences.

Huffines and West are both wingnut-squared true believers, vs. Abbott, a plain wingnut grifter, hypocrite and Jesuitical lawyer.

But, after that, Huffines and West are different.

In his own way, and to his own degree, Huffines is part of the GOP establishment. Yes, you read that right. Remember, fifth-gen Texas family; car dealerships, construction company, etc.
Yeah, West is a now-former state party chair. But, he was elected by insurgents with no real ties to the Huffines types. Huffines' bro was named to a Strangeabbott "reopen Texas" task force not just to try to buy off Don, but because the Huffines family is connected, GOP political donors, etc. And, had Don not stayed wingnut after going wingnut to boot Carona, he'd still be in the state senate.

West? He and Huffines might agree on the wall and on attacking Abbott on coronavirus, but West is all in on Q and anything else he can be. It's quite possible he'll attract a fair amount of voters who otherwise would stay home next spring rather than vote for either Huffines or Abbott.

West has the additional advantage of being a semi-career military man.

He has the disadvantages of possibly still facing "carpetbagger" allegations. He may face the disadvantage of being Black. Yes, he was elected chair of the state GOP, but that wasn't a vote of rank and file Rethuglicans.

And, he has the potential disadvantage of anti-Abbott Rethugs seeing him praise Abbott for "reopening Texas" at the same time Huffines said he was still too slow.
With a poll taken before West's announcement, the Snooze had Abbott kicking Huffines' butt and having slipped back ahead of Matthew McConaughey, should he run. He's also ahead of a potential candidacy of R.F. O'Rourke. That said, suburban swing voters are anti-Abbott.

The one question that floats in my mind is: Was West shoved out of the state GOP? A new story from the Trib gives us a semi-yes answer, at least, it seems.

And with this, and no Senate race in 2022, the dance card for GOP statewide primaries is filling up. The chance of Sid Miller being primaried is well under 50 percent. Even if Ken Paxton is leaking oil, or bleeding out for sharks to smell, it's doubtful he attracts more than the two challengers he now has. Danny Goeb will almost certainly not be primaried. Dawn Buckingham is already in to replace Pee Bush as land commish. Unless Jerry Patterson wants his office back, she's surely the favorite against any possible challenger.

The only wild card out there is Glenn Hegar. He's the closest thing to a Joe Straus Republican in statewide office, although he's not THAT close.. A third term as the comptroller is his for the asking. Is he eyeing something bigger?

Running to the, not left, but non-wingnut conservative spot against either Strangeabbott or Goeb would be interesting.

I see rather, though, him running for re-election this year, then looking ahead to 2026 and maybe seeing if, for age-related reasons, his minders can't get Big John Cornyn to not seek another term. Carole Keeton Longhorn, Bob Bullock nd John Sharp before him have used the spot for a jumping point, after all. (Bullock was the only one of the three to be successful, that said.)

July 04, 2021

Happy Fourth: How close is America to being a failed state?

As a non-duopoly independent leftist, this is not an idle question on the 245th anniversary of the passing of our Declaration of Independence.

Four main issues lead discussion of this, followed by some others.

The first is climate change, including both the denialism by many wingnuts and the denialism of just JUST how serious it is by most elected-level Democrats, and indirectly, by #BlueAnon backers.

If you included all the carbon dioxide pollution, along with other pollution, despite some tightening of pollution there since the Clinton years, that the US has exported to China, we're still really the world's largest CO2 emitter. And, as wingnuts either still continue to deny this is a thing at all, or else minimize it, even in the face of the latest heatwave, it's not good.

It's also not good that the best Status Quo Joe can even talk about is a watered-down version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's already watered down Green New Deal, the original being stolen from the Green Party by the Sunrise Movement, essentially the youth division of Gang Green neoliberal environmentalist group Sierra Club.

Per David Wallace-Wells, we're already entering a permanent climate emergency. Details from a leaked report at the most recent climate meetings here.

America, as the richest nation on earth, will find it harder and harder to move office towers in places facing more climate change flooding ... places like New York and Miami. Our nation's capital will face more of this in the future. And, the petrochemical industry adding to the problem will face this in southern Louisiana and Houston (and likely expect a bailout).

Second is energy in general. How are we going to get enough energy not only to replace the fossil fuels used for air conditioning, heating and manufacturing, but also to stop building fossil fuel cars? Sorry, some Greens, but I don't see this being possible without nuclear power. And, you carmakers who say you'll build electrics only by 2035, what are YOU doing to make sure your cars will have juice by then? Nuclear power is not perfect. Concrete containment domes and the work of mining are carbon emitters; that said, mining lithium also generates carbon. There is the security issue. Security can be fixed; it will take money, but it can be fixed. On-site waste disposal should be part of the issue. But, this will surely add to tearing America apart.

Second, part 2? To the degree America still depends on oil? Fracking's day is dying and it's back to the Saudis and the rest of OPEC more and more.

Third is income inequality. It's already as bad as Mexico, and likely will slide further.

Fourth is lack of national healthcare. As income inequality increases, and private health insurance, when offered by a job, also increases, this pinches more and more. Three and four combined will probably affect tribalism on the right with neoliberal Dems continuing to refuse to have answers in the center.

So, by the time all-electric car fleets start hitting in 2035, it will probably be too late. Compared to where we're at today, the U.S. will probably be on an irreversible slide to be at least a semi-failed state.

That said, the people who need to be convinced of this — leaders of and voters for duopoly parties — won't be. American exceptionalism reigns supreme.