SocraticGadfly: 7/11/21 - 7/18/21

July 16, 2021

Zeynep Tufekci officially calls out COVID tribalism!

And, #BlueAnon probably won't like it even more than what she's said before, as I've blogged.

Public intellectual Zeynep Tufekci has written a long piece at the NYT about the possible origins of COVID. It's very interesting. VERY interesting. She starts with the relative stability of the H1N1 virus and says that, ACCIDENTALLY, the Chinese government appears to have caused that stability.

Next, she notes that social media users in China, before Xi Jinping could institute a Xi Jinping Thought crackdown, were among the first skeptics of the official WIV story. (Orac hasn't told you that in the past, either.)

Apparently, more skeptical than Blue Anon, either in the media or the US science world.

On her Substack, Tufekci then explained the backdrop of the piece and promises a further breakout there.

She then had a SECOND follow-up, and among its hot takes are a specific decrying of the attitudes behind that Lancet letter. 

Biggest takeaway? She uses the phrase "cover-up."

She also thinks that people saying "don't make people mad" were in reality not wanting to talk about lab leaks.

Finally, this, which is DIRECTLY relevant to Orac and others of #BlueAnon. It's a long quote, but needed:

Again and again, throughout the past year, the more unlikely and extreme scenarios get “debunked” and the many actual questions and sensible and factual worries have been treated like… they don’t exist. 
After enough of that faux “debunking” and knocking down of genuinely unhinged stuff and/or strawman versiions of reasonable questions, people have gotten used to treating the entire question of virus-origins as something of only interest to crazies, or of no interest to anyone because there is no question there. 
Any discussion about potential lab/research connections are then deemed to be “conspiracy theories” (used in the sense of extremely unlikely or impossible events being speculated on because of other reasons), rather than substantive discussions we can use as figuring out how to take steps so as not to find ourselves here again. 
In this worldview, just saying there is a cover-up and that there are real questions about the virus origins, can be called a “conspiracy theory,” too, if you define conspiracy theory to mean any scenario in which authorities and people in power are lying, and are potentially coercing and pressuring everyone else, including the scientists. In reality, given this is China, such deliberate obstruction is obviously likely.

And, Orac has posted twice at his site since I first started trolling him on Twitter. (I have no problem admitting that that's what I'm doing, but also have no problem saying that he deserves it.) He hasn't addressed Tufekci at all; he has worried SO much about ivermectin that he blogged twice about it.

And now, a third Substack piece, which directly throws down the gauntlet of tribalism.

She doesn't call out the likes of Orac or the Novella brothers; rather, it's tribalist science writers working for major media outlets.


Update: Since a Chinese defector has apparently spilled the beans about WIV, and since France warned the US about the lab before the COVID outbreak, Orac's tribalism has even less to stand on.

July 15, 2021

Coronavirus, week 66: Brief thoughts

The rate of vaccination in Texas continues to slow even as hospitalizations pick up, the Trib says.

Much of it is the Delta variant, on new cases in general, as well as hospitalizations. But, some of it, per the church youth camp kids, is COVID denialism/minimalism.

Prof. Peter Hotez worries about the rise of COVID in two different parts of Texas.

An old SARS vaccine at Texas Children's could be repurposed for COVID.
Cuba, like Vietnam, did NOT "crush" COVID last year, as the recent riots there are in part over a mushrooming of cases. Claims that it did, as with Vietnam, seem to be parallels to the Aaron Maté / Ben Norton / Max Blumenthal allegedly outside the box stenos looking for anything to America-bash with. In reality, there's enough to realistically bash over without lying.

July 14, 2021

But Aliens! NOT!! Maybe Russia's new "F/A-18"

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about what Daniel Brito wrote about the latest UFO brouhaha, and I of course see him as "representative of a class." (Turns out, contra the initial header, that the Russky plane-in-development that may have triggered some alleged UFO spottings by US military pilots is not an F/A-18 knockoff, but an F-35 Lightning II. Now that we've got Russian air show spottings, see below for why indeed this could be the trigger.)

With that in mind, and since, within that piece, as an addendum, Poynter interviewed some not-so-skeptical skeptics, including, surprisingly for not being more skeptical, Keith Kloor, I'm doing a part two about the social psychology, sociology and related issues as well as physics and more.

First, on the physics.

It would be incredible, simply fantastic, for a civilization to develop astro-ships that could travel at one-tenth the speed of light, or 0.1 c. The energy such a civilization would be expending in general, even with genius-level economies and conservations, would have a massive electromagnetic spectrum "signature" that would surely be visible outside of its home star's spectrum. (Dyson spheres, if real, encompass a star to harness its energy, and would actually make a planetary electromagnetic signature MORE visible.)

Given the variety of telescopes we've had in Earth orbit for 25 years or more, and with none detecting such a signature, I think it's very safe to say no such civilization exists in the 25 light-year range established by that. Period and end of story. (The "25 years" is a round number; I didn't do web searches for the date of launch of every atmospheric telescope in all different portions of the electromagnetic spectrum in which they have been launched.)

Related to that? From Wired, among other things on this issue, Adam Mann talks to actual astronomers! (We'll get back to him below.)

Here's an excerpt:

But before rushing off into such flights of fancy, it might be good to consider that another group of sky watchers, astronomers, rarely report seeing unidentified aerial phenomena. “No one would be happier than astronomers if UFOs turned out to be alien spacecraft,” says Andrew Fraknoi, a retired astronomer and member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), which promotes critical investigation of extraordinary claims. “Imagine getting to talk about astronomy with creatures that traveled through the stars.”

Mann has more in that vein, with further comments from Fraknoi, at the link.

Heck, 0.01 c would be incredible. (In all of this, I'm rejecting Star Trek's warp drive and other science-fiction ideas of trans-light travel as being, well, science fiction and not science fact.) And, per my comments above, a planet achieving this level of development would also, surely, have a visible electromagnetic spectrum "signature."

A planet more than 25 light years away, with this skill level, would take 2,500 years to visit Earth. Or ANY planet 25 light years away from it.

NOW, we're going to get into sociology, psychology, and related issues.

Given that Earth as of this time does not have THAT level of "signature," that this planet does, and given the 0.01 c constraint, given that Earth 2,500 years ago had basically ZERO human-based "signature" at light, infrared or other radiation lengths, WHY would our planet be a target for ANY aliens?

Answer: It wouldn't.

We have zero, zip, zilch, nada, to teach them, from anything I can see. We couldn't even teach them not to be idiots, since a civilization this much more advanced than ours would already have avoided human idiocy. Per the Sargon episode of Star Trek-The Original Series (all future ST references will also be TOS, and normally by generic names, and specific episode titles), while we humans are arrogant, we haven't reached Sargon-level arrogance at the time he and the rest of his species wiped out their planet, in essence. So, nothing to teach them.

So, why else would SO advanced a civilization come?

The "Apollo" or "Who Mourns for Adonis" episode postulated that ancient aliens became ancient human gods. Well, Erich von Däniken was wrong in reality, and besides, we see no "worship me or die" aliens around here any more.

Are they here to teach US something? Well, no aliens have gone to Biden, Putin, Xi or the UN General Assembly and said, here's how you stop climate change: Do it or die.

Nor, to postulate aliens not just ego-hungry, but hungry period, and to change TV shows, have any aliens like those of Twilight Zone's "To Serve Man" dropped in to herd humans into their "cattle truck" UFOs. (And, why wouldn't some aliens be that diabolical? Or maybe, just that resource-exhausted on their home planet? That said, contra Rod Serling, they'd probably dispense with niceties and just put a bunch of humans on dry ice after stunning them.)

So, contra Ralph Blumenthal at Poynter, this idea that aliens would drop in on John Q. Public for a cuppa coffee with a humanoid is laughable. But it IS a sign that, if not mental illness in the narrow sense, "Apollo" level egos among John Q. Public humans on this issue are quite real.

Speaking of "Apollo," let's turn this around to Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11. If we knew the Moon had sentient life, Neil and Buzz wouldn't have gone to John Q. Moon Public. They'd have visited Joseph Moon Biden at the Sea of Tranquility White House. Or, they, per Mann, would have visited the head of the National Moon Academy of Scientists or something.

So, again and now in detail, contra Mr. Blumenthal?

“I’m pretty sure what they are not. They’re not mental illness. They’re not hallucinations. They are not fabrications or hoaxes,” he said. “They’re not publicity-seeking efforts … so when you eliminate that people are not crazy, they’re not disturbed, that they’re not doing it for attention, that it affects people from all walks of life … it’s a universal phenomenon in terms of these sightings. … Where they come from, that’s speculation.”

In the past, hallucinations and fabrications have been part and parcel of UFO reports. Publicity seeking certainly has been. Whitley Strieber presumably has been doing both! Why would anything be different now? And, narcissistic personality order has an official DSM listing, so, if neuroses as well as psychoses are considered mental illness, that's covered, too. (And, per Rational Wiki's page on Strieber, many like him either are true believers in, or grifting peddlers of, multiple types of metaphysical woo and/or conspiracy theories.)

Also, per the Skeptic's Dictionary entry, what is called "Roswell" is actually a conflation of events over several years, with aging-deteriorated memories, other false claims and more.

And, with that, let's again bring in someone else I mentioned in my first piece — Adam Mann.

Mann has several good things to say:

Though it contains no indication that any of its incidents could have been caused by things not of this Earth, it will be seen as a major victory by those who have been pushing for increased government disclosures about strange lights in the skies.

The new report is less a major turning point in our understanding of life in the universe and more a product of our current cultural climate, a time when expertise and authority are increasingly being called into question. The debate over UFOs instead highlights the limits of knowledge and humanity’s continued need to believe in something beyond our mundane experience of the world.

To me, that ties in with the psychological angle of narcissism on those who claim to have actually seen UFOs that must be aliens. People in an America of 330 million and world of 7-plus billion are looking to escape the mundane.

Maybe Ralph Blumenthal is doing the same, not through believing in UFOs, but believing that non-skeptically condoning belief in UFOs also battles the ennui of the mundane.

OK, I said above that you should put a bookmark in that initial physics talk, and now, here's why.

Related to that? The economics of interplanetary manned spacecraft. I mean, in today's dollars, peak Apollo spending was $40 billion a year. And, that was just to send three men 250,000 miles away for a week or so at most.

Let's put that distance in astronomical terms. That was to send people about 1.5 LIGHT-SECONDS away. That's versus an interplanetary alien ship that will have to have come from at least 25 LIGHT-YEARS away.

Let's do simple division for a ratio of differences on length. There's 40 1.5 light-second periods in a light-minute. From there, 60 light-minutes in one light-hour gives us 2,400 Moon-travel distances. Then 24 light-hours in a light-day, which contains 57,600 Moon-travel distances. And, we're not yet at the finish line.

Multiple that by 365 for a light-year and we're at more than 21 million Moon-travel distances, or 21,024,000 to be precise. But wait, remember this civilization has to be more than 25 light-years away, so multiply that by and we're at FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE MILLION, or 525,600,000, to be more exact, times the distance to the Moon.

This is why the likes of Daniel Brito, per my initial piece are either full of shit willfully or full of shit out of ignorance. Ralph Blumenthal's shit is probably astrophysics ignorance. Kloor's, and one other interviewee at Poynter, Denise Chow, who used to write for, are willfully full of bullshit. Maybe they haven't thought this through, but they know the physics. 

OK, so, what the hell would it cost to be able to launch one, let alone more than one, ships with max speed of 1/100 c, to address the more conservative case first?

I'm going to guess, at a minimum, in today's dollars, the current GNP of the entire United States, currently around $6 trillion. Why not? If I multiplied that $40 billion of Apollo costs per year by $525 million, I'd be a shitload higher. Like $200 quadrillion. Let's say that economies of scale and overall economic expansion should really put that in a different light. Whack it by 1,000 and you're still at $200 trillion in today's dollars.

Let's go back to physics.

What if, per Star Trek's "Horta" or "Devil in the Dark" episode, these aliens, if they do actually exist, are silicon-based life forms? Could they even communicate with us? Would we recognize them as intelligent if we saw them? To drop the egocentricity, would they recognize US as intelligent?

If aliens exist, they almost certainly don't have a Roswell-Whitley Streiber semi-human look.

Or, per the "Catspaw" ("Korob") episode, where he and his partner's true life form is roach-sized, would we recognize them, period? Or, a la "To Serve Man," again, what if WE are roach-sized compared to the aliens?

Back to physics in other ways. We know how weightlessness deteriorates bones of Space Station astronauts. Many of us remember watching the mix of space suit stiffness and one-sixth of Earth gravity with Apollo astronauts on the moon.

What if the aliens are from a Jovian-gravity planet, more than 300 times that of Earth's surface? Would they risk bouncing off our planet and into space, especially if we were roach-sized compared to them?

Or, what if they were roach-sized from a planet with 1/300 the surface gravity-weight of Earth? Could they even breathe, or their equivalent of breathing? Likely not. But, space suits? Which would likely have to be far bulkier and more protective.

Side note: This is why, although some likely values for some of the variables in the (in)famous Drake equation have been revised higher with the spotting of ever more exoplanets, other variables should be revised downward from some estimates. Maybe some new variables should be added. Maybe some things aren't even really calculable.

Beyond that, would they even send their own species? Ships with a mix of robots, rovers and drones would certainly come first. Even at 0.1 c, a trip from a planet outside of 25 light years away takes 250 years. Barring incredibly huge lifespans, that means, per "Space Seed," the "Khan" episode of the original series, suspended animation is likely part of the picture. That, in turn, adds yet more to the cost.

So, contra Poynter's four non-skeptics, the likelihood that any currently unidentified aerial phenomena are actually extraterrestrial and intelligence-driven is at best 0.02 percent, as I see it, and the likelihood that they're human — including hoaxes, publicity-seeking and mental illness — is 99.98 percent, and that is probably itself way too conservative. A split of 0.002 percent vs 99.998 percent is probably more the bee's knees.

Or, as Michael Shermer said a decade ago, it's not UFOs OR UAPs, it's CRAP. Shermer covers some of the inflations of the original description of the Belgian Triangles by some of its military by later persons, including the Leslie Kean so beloved by Daniel Brito.

Shermer references Stealth bombers and the like. Mann also talked about the Cold War.

A new piece at NY Mag goes back further, to chaff and other early anti-radar measures in World War II. Stealth bombers, whose triangle shapes match these non-bogie bogies on modern radar screens, is just an extrapolation of that technology. The piece also, interestingly, raises not only the possibility of "but Russians" or "but Chinese," but says, more possibly so, is "but defects in software powering modern American radar."


Meanwhile, we have a perfectly normal reason for alleged UFO sitings. In breaking news, Russia is supposedly bringing out its version of something like the US's F/A-18 fighter jet. Yeah, the Russky PR is tweaking the American UFO public obsession, but descriptions of the plane having advanced stealth capabilities make this seem like an actual deal.

Update two, July 20: This plane, per photo at left, clearly has Stealth-like design and, just as US Stealth-type aircraft in development almost certainly triggered some previous "UFO" reports, surely, this has done some of the same.

There's a whole slideshow gallery at this story site about the new plane developed under the Checkmate program. That said, Russian Interior and Trades Minister Denis Manturov said it was designed to compete with the US F-35 Lightning II. And, it's the first single-engine Russian fighter in decades.

Texas House Dems execute Runaway Scrape 2.0: First thoughts

I had wondered a month ago if House Democrats in the Texas Legislature would pull off a new version of 2003's "Living on Ardmore Time," the new update of that classic hit.

You get Don Williams' version, not Clapton's, because Williams was first and Clapton's a racist and an asshole.

I figured several things had changed since then.

1. Democratic president, so Strangeabbott, unlike Tricky Ricky, couldn't lie to FEMA about missing planes.

2. Narrower margin in the House side than then.

3. Generally more organized Dems. Yeah, there's still a few ConservaDems in the House, but nobody like Helen Giddings of back then whoring herself out for Tom Craddick plum committee assignments. Dade Phelan is newer to the House than Craddick was back then, and brand-new as Speaker.

Anyway, they've done it. For non-Texans or new arrivals unfamiliar with the original Runaway Scrape, click that link.

Per this update from the Trib, at least four Dems — three from ConservaDem districts, the fourth retiring, have stayed.

Four Democrats were present on the House floor Tuesday morning: Reps. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Tracy King of Batesville, Eddie Morales Jr. of Eagle Pass and John Turner of Dallas.

It appears a few others, per the math, have also not fled. 

And, gone to DC, which as the Federal District, is not like a state in some ways. Had they gone to Ardmore again, in part, Okie Gov Kevin Stitt certainly would have helped Abbott round them up. Had they gone to New Mexico, like some of them in 2003, Michelle Lujan Grisham would have resisted more, but Abbott would have pushed harder.

Different in DC.

So, how long can this last?

Well, several things are in play. 

One is the suit against Abbott defunding pay of Legiscritter staff, which starts Sept. 1. If the veto is still in play, will Republicans be less likely, or more likely, to compromise if that hasn't been settled?

Possibly more.

Let's not forget that there's the special special session for redistricting that has to happen, and that won't happen until after Sept. 1 for sure. GOP Legiscritters are going to want staff there to help them crack and pack, though they probably could try to do it with outside consultants only.

Since 2010 redistricting ultimately went to court anyway, Dems have no incentive to return for THIS special special any more than for the regular special sessions, until some negotiations happen.

Will they?

How long before trust gets burned out and Democrats stop pretending that collegiality exists at some core level?

That determines whether negotiations happen before House Dems de-scrape or not.

What if the whole 30 days run out and nothing happens?

Do House Dems, expect for a purely symbolic few, not even bother showing up in the first place when Strangeabbott calls his second special session?

I think they have to do that.

Given that Abbott has now said he'll arrest them upon their return, and given that the quorumless House GOP took a vote to that effect, giving the whiny little titty-baby (look at his face, it looks like a perpetual pout) surely relishing the opportunity to posture, why would they return?

Abbott will send state troopers to their hotels and rented houses if the whole House Democratic Caucus shows up for the next special and there's been no movement between now and then.

Besides, there was no good faith at the start of this session, not even on the more collegial House side, Morales claims.

July 13, 2021

Texas Progressives talk special session, redistricting

With the special session of the Texas Legislature started, and a new one to come on redistricting soon enough, we've got plenty for you in this week's roundup of Texas Progressives thought.

So, let's dig in.

And see how long the digging in is going to last in Austin and DC.

Texas Lege House Dems, not living on Ardmore Time like in 2003, are living on DC Time now. I had expected this at the end of May. Strangeabbott and Goeb obviously didn't; I don't know about Dade Phelan. Kuff asks "what's the exit strategy" in the face of recurring special sessions. This may be it. Going to DC, not Okieland, and with a Dem Prez unlike in 2003, gives them more leverage.

Texas politics

SocraticGadfly looked at how Jane Nelson's retirement might affect Texas Senate redistricting

Off the Kuff takes one more look into how State Rep districts have changed over the decade, this time with a focus on counties.

Stace is back and writing about Greg Abbott's empty immigrant prison in South Texas. It's one part of Abbott's special session agenda.

Grits testified before the Lege and said rural counties would be hurt most by Strangeabbott removing most judicial discretion on bail.

The Trib analyzes the Lege's vote-suppression bill as of last Friday, even as people prepare to protest.

In Texas as nationally, critical race theory is both NOT taught in general in public schools but IS misunderstood (if they try to understand it at all) by wingnuts. Instead, the phrase, just like "socialism," is used as a whipping boy by the likes of the Texas Lege.

Harvey Kronberg sets the record straight about Dan Patrick, SB7, and why no one trusts the Senate right now.

Emily Eby live-tweets the voter suppression hearings.

Texas politics — next year

I noted last week, in discussing Allen West vs Dreamy Don Huffines vs Strangeabbott, how the GOP primary dance card for statewide executive offices was pretty much filling up. Chris Hooks notes that the Dems are largely still MIA, or as his header says, "dazed and confused." (And yet, dollars to doughnuts, Gilberto Hinojosa will remain the Dems' state chair after 2022.)

Speaking of, here's the four Rethuglicans who want to replace West as state GOP head.


Richard Hasen explains just how bad the Brnovich voting rights decision by the Supreme Court was.

Riffing on that, and starting with what Hasen notes, John Roberts' position with Reagan's Justice Department, Andy Kroll talks about how the mask is now fully off.

Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene were canceled in Orange County. You have to be a wingnut indeed to get canceled in the OC.

July 12, 2021

Shaking my head: Green Kool-Aid drinkers who think Glenn Greenwald is a leftist

The latest I've run into over that is former Twitter friend Dave Schwab, eventually unfriended so I could mute him (as the last time I muted someone who was a friend, it didn't work, and I don't know if that's always the case with muting friends) then eventually blocked.

I've run into it before on a private email list, the official Green Party Facebook group and elsewhere.

And, this needed the latest installment of "Kool-Aid Man" Photoshopping!

Most start by citing "but Snowden." The full truth about Snowden, Greenwald, Greenwald's luck, Snowden's possible "using" of him, Glenn's gifting 90 percent of the Snowden treasure to Omidyar and more is all here in an extended review of Glenn's "No Place to Hide." (Ironic title, isn't it.)

I referenced Glenn's defense of Matt Hale (easily findable), the likely truth about his hookup with Miranda, and, after muting Schwab, links to both that and his plutocracy.

Schwab waved away Matt Hale as "Do you know what defense lawyers are supposed to do?" No, really! In part of my tweetstorm after muting him, I told him that, first, it was a civil case and second, Hale was the plaintiff. There's no room to argue with that level of ignorance, whether previously accidental or willful.

I think part of the problem is many peoplc confuse civil libertarianism and leftism. They're not at all the same.

Many L/libertarians are civil libertarians & also hypercapitalists. Besides Greenwald? Take Radley Balko. Same great stuff, but feels lawsuits replace laws, like his wanting to eliminate DWI laws. Yes, really. And, it stems from other libertarian bad concepts of his.

(That said, Balko does have the advantage over Glennwald of not being an online troll, and a grating one at that, nor is he a suckup to Swanson Tucker Carlson and other wingnuts.)

Glenn has long contributed to this confusion, with his touts of speaking to socialist youth events. BUT? As far as I know, he's ONLY talked about civil liberties issues, not actual socialism, nor whatever he thinks his friend, fake "Socialist Swanson Tucker Carlson," preaches.

The reality is that Glenn is not, has not been, and likely never will be a leftist. He is (or was) a civil libertarian. And an economic libertarian of some sort. And a Brazilian 0.1 percenter. (And, related to that, apparently a liar about how he and David Miranda met. And, no, Schwab, it's not a smear against pornography or against Greenwald or Miranda to point out that they likely had a porn producers connection, not an accidental run-in on a beach.)

His buddying up with Swanson Tucker Carlson, his attack on "light on bail" district attorneys like Larry Krasner and other things shows that he's willing to throw his civil libertarianism out the door to suck up to wingnuts. But, he'll keep an on-steroids version of civil libertarianism, wrongly applied, as part of sucking up to wingnuts with his challenging of COVID public health measures. And, Glenn's stance on social media bans show either further hypocrisy or else shallow thinking. (I prefer to say the latter in public, just because calling him a shallow thinker will piss off him and his fanbois more.)

Anyway, I felt like arguing more with Schwab than the people I just block on Facebook when they show their ignorance, or ditto on a Greens-related email list-serve I'm about to leave.

As I stumble across other bad thinking, expect updates.

Beyond that, if you're NOT a fanboi, or at least not so dyed-in-the-wool as to be open to new information, just click the Greenwald tag below.

Was Dallas Morning News parent A.H. Belo facing NYSE delisting?

I occasionally write here about media issues, and it's always fun kicking the Snooze, the tea-sippers of Texas newspapers.

Per the header?

Reading between the lines of a Belo announcement, I think that's exactly the case.

Last month, A.H. Belo said it was leaving the New York Stock Exchange for NASDAQ. Specifically, it's headed for NASDAQ's Capital Market. Why?

Learning more about that Capital Market is, I think it was in danger of being delisted.

NASDAQ Capital Market, per Investopedia:

The Nasdaq Capital Market is one of Nasdaq's U.S. market tiers containing early-stage companies that have relatively lower market capitalizations. Listing requirements for companies on the Nasdaq Capital Market are less stringent than for the two other Nasdaq market tiers, which focus on larger companies with higher market capitalization.

More on the Capital Market here further confirms this idea.

In short, Belo, a one-newspaper (Dallas Morning News, aka the Snooze) with adjuncts like Al Dia, and a digital marketing agency that must not be doing THAT well, doesn't have much money on tap. This is kind of like NASDAQ's "penny stocks" wing.

One thing that I'm kind of curious about: why didn't it go to the former AMEX instead? Is the bottom tier of NASDAQ even weaker?