SocraticGadfly: 11/28/21 - 12/5/21

December 03, 2021

Zion Williamson still not back ... time to talk? (Updated Dec. 10)

The Pelicans' would-be phenom, Zion Williamson, has new pain in his surgically repaired (we think) foot ... and his return to duty is delayed again. (And? He's been delayed again Dec. 10. And, he's had an injection in his foot Dec. 16; won't be back for four more weeks.)

Many of people have talked about the load he carries at his height of 6-6 and around 285 pounds. Marcus Spears at ESPN mentioned him possibly having a meniscus problem.

But, the feet are the biggie.

Is it time to mention names like Bill Walton? Sam Bowie for younger fans? Greg Oden for younger yet? (I forgot about a near-contemporary of Oden's, Michael Olowokandi, aka the Kandi Man.)

That said, if he's got knee problems, they're transitioning to his feet. And, the knees will continue to challenge him defensively.

Oh, it's not "fat shaming" to ask about his weight. Charles Barkley, at the same height, and known as the "Round Mount of Rebound," carried 30 or so fewer pounds.

The Dawn of Everything? Rather, a mendacious scrapbook pastiche

If late friend Leo Lincourt, a lover of David Graeber, were still alive, he'd surely disagree with me, both in my take on this book and on his previous "Debt," based on the second of not one but TWO fluffy New Yorker reviews, even though I have on record from my RIP for Graeber that Leo at least admitted he was "uneven."

But, from what I first read on the Atlantic's review, and now at the Guardian excerpt?

I think it's oversold. WAY oversold now that The Nation has crushed it.

(Note: This is an updated and expanded version of the review posted on my philosophy blog, designed to not only look at the newer information about the book, but to focus more on the political angles behind it. That review was more about facts, or lack of them, on history and social sciences and interpretation.)

That starts and ends with the title and subtitle: "The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity."

It's overarching, and oversold. And, especially via that review at The Nation and Brad DeLong? It's arguably mendacious, not just oversold. (That said, per the title, overselling something willfully is part of being mendacious, is it not?)

(Note: This is a reworking of the original review on my philosophy blog. That's in part because the second fluffy New Yorker review reminds me of Graeber's connections with Occupy and the Black Bloc, which I have long despised, and that puts us into modern politics.

Note 2: I have now given it a MUCH more thorough deconstruction at Goodreads, with a 2-star review.)

I've read multiple books that have already touched on how the old archaeological and anthropological paradigm of a straight,  permanent, line from hunter-gathering  to farming is wrong. Against the Grain covered this four years ago. Five years ago, John Wathey offered up new ideas on the development of early religion and spirituality, which this pair don't appear to cover at all.

Or, via, while not discussing the early "civilizations" of Southwest Asia, here's a paper FROM 1998 about the Fremont culture of today's Utah, discussing a mix of part-time foragers/part-time farmers, full-time foragers, full-time farmers, farmers who flipped to foraging and foragers who became farmers. (Unlike in the Old World, pastoral nomadism wasn't an option in most the New World before Columbian contact, due to lack of domesticated livestock, of course.)

OR? I'll certainly venture that their "everything" doesn't include a new date of 50,000 years, yes FIFTY THOUSAND years before present for the oldest figural, representational human-created art.

So, the pair aren't saying anything new, they're building on others, and right there, it's not a new history, and it's not complete, so not "everything."

It also smacks to me of trying to build on the reputation of Graeber, who died in the last year. Now, he could have been a great capitalist within his anarchism; anarcho-capitalism is a thing, complete with its own Wiki page. But, from what I know of Graeber on my own and via Leo? Uh, no. He would have shuddered to be in the same breath (I think) as Murray Rothbard. (Per the Guardian extract, that's why it's funny for the duo to talk about capitalists talking about social connections at Christmas WITH the implication that they're doing that INSTEAD OF capitalism rather than as a marketing adjunct.)

Now, to some specifics, via a trio of (unanswered, Twitter, natch, low signal to noise ratio) Tweets to the author of the Atlantic review.

First, I noted the pair were by no means alone, per the above.

Second, I noted that the HIGHLY sympathetic reviewer, William Deresciewicz, undercut himself in links in his piece, one in particular, in the claim that "towns" existed long before a permanent shift to agriculture (note that I also tagged Wengrow, also unresponsive):

Finally, I said that, at least per what the review says and more importantly, doesn't say, it's NOT about "everything."


Now, off to the Guardian excerpt, since I saw that later.

First, the pair are right that just about all of us, including our African Homo sapiens ancestors before leaving Africa, have DNA and mitochondrial DNA from other species within us. Nonetheless, that's yet more dilute than the bits of Neanderthal and / or Denisovan DNA that the typical non-African has. Ergo, the concept of "DNA Adam" and "mitochondrial DNA Eve" is still a good working theory and Graber-Wengrow come close to strawmanning. (The pair actually had a chance of tackling residual racial bias in human population genetics, that said, but at least here, appear to take a pass.)

Second, since cultural evolution is not evolution, unless the pair are slaves to evolutionary psychology, this is largely irrelevant to cultural evolution, contra their claims. So, without reading the full book? Lost a star. And, ev psych has a lot of political tie-ins and overtones as well. Seems to me like they're undercutting some of their other politics to even flirt with it. See Steve Gould and Richard Lewontin.

Third, they do next admit previous recent study of places like Göbekli Tepe, so a kudo of sorts back. That said, I see it as like Pueblo Bonito and the whole Chaco Canyon structures. We still don't know for sure what THAT was — permanent settlement, religious site with sparse permanent inhabitation, some mix of that, or something else. They're just claiming it was X not Y without support.

Fourth, it may be true that inequalities of various sorts were actually worse before a permanent transition to agriculture and a permanent transition to settled cities. Or it may not be. Right now, there's just not enough evidence to say that. We do have enough evidence to say we should get rid of old paradigms, but not enough to create new ones. Contra cheap versions of hot takes on Thomas Kuhn, paradigm shifts as in not just abandoning an old one but immediately replacing it with a new one, just aren't that common.

OK, so they got that much wrong about the past. And more.

Via Molly Fischer, the second fluffy New Yorker review (I'll get to her in a minute), leading me to a Brad DeLong Tweet, I see The Nation has some skepticism about the book, too. Daniel Immerwahr nails it, which is why DeLong Tweeted the link:

(H)e was better known for being interesting than right, and he would gleefully make pronouncements that either couldn’t be confirmed (the Iraq War was retribution for Saddam Hussein’s insistence that Iraqi oil exports be paid for in euros) or were never meant to be (“White-collar workers don’t actually do anything”).

Yep. Now, that's today's politics, but Immerwahr also tackles the past that they tackle.

Just before that, Immerwahr noted a tendentious reading of Mayan ruins by the pair, claiming that the site in question does NOT show "lords" or similar.

The latter third of the review raises a big-ticket item. Accepting that late Neolithic humans did indeed "experiment" with sedentary farming, state structures, etc., for 2-3 millennia or more, at some point, they "locked in" and we became "stuck." This is definitely true in most of Eurasia plus North Africa, and also true, albeit at a lower level of hierarchy and without firm territories, in the Americas and much of sub-Saharan Africa pre-Columbian contact. And, Immerwahr says they never answer why this happened, at least not in satisfactory fashion. 

Since they can't construct an overarching narrative for that? He says that makes the book a "scrapbook" as much as anything.

At the New Yorker, Gideon Lewis-Krous also appears to give it a fluffy review, the first of the two I noted. His take is addressed between me and Immelwahr, above. He also petard-hoists, re what Immelwahr says about interpreting Mayan ruins at Tikal. They basically claim that about everybody else has gotten it wrong but voila, here we are! And we know you're all right rather than all wet why?

Lewis-Krous doesn't address the Immelwahr bottom line critique, either. At some point, whether triumphalist or defeatist, to use his words, much of the world DID "lock in" on sedentary agriculture. Per my notes above about the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, while hunter-gatherers will have very limited rulerships and hierarchies, this is not the same as "none." And, pastoral nomadists have plenty of both. Genghis Khan, anybody?

In turn, that seems to be, from all the reviews, something the pair just ignores. After all, after livestock were domesticated in the Old World, and especially after somebody realized you could ride a horse instead of eating it, boom! Pastoral nomadism became a third alternative to both hunter-gatherer and sedentary agriculture lifestyles. BUT! As I see it, it requires a conscious commitment and you can't wobble in and back out of it.

On to a second New Yorker fellation of Graeber and the book by Molly Fischer. Fischer does remind me of Graeber not only being the "intellectual voice" behind Occupy, but a supporter of Black Bloc types, including their property destruction, which this leftist of some sort has long rejected. It also reminds me of the lies told about Occupy in general and Occupy New York in particular being "leaderless," which it was not. Fischer starts with New York City's Direct Action Network, a predecessor of Occupy NY that got a new round of prominence after the Black Bloc destructiveness at the Seattle WTO event in 1998. 

I should note that this is why, other than what I've called the pretentiousness of the name, I don't identify with the so-called "antifa": their Black Bloc roots, including the anarchism. A lot of this gets coupled with myths about the police, whether from anarchists, New Left not including them, or libertarians. I've exploded many of them.

With that, per Fischer's piece, I wonder if Graeber, with the Malagasy and others of his anthropology work, while being right on them being anarchist in not having formal governments, nonetheless had leadership structures that he either flat missed, or ignored by de-emphasis, or else willfully turned a blind eye to. I say that because of his claim that Occupy "worked," a claim rejected by many people who, like him, were involved with it.

Re what I said above about their work, the Graeber-Wengrow for the book, not being new? Fischer reports that professional colleagues said at first, on their first journal submission, that it was insufficiently new. They should have stuck with that.

As for "Debt"? First, Brad DeLong has receipts on how error-ridden it is. And, how smug and defiant Graeber is about the errors. (Note Lewis-Krous review.)

Second, per this blog post, I long ago tackled the bullshit claim that Occupy Wall Street was leaderless. And, for Graeber, a PhD anthropologist, to claim that it was? That's mendaciousness. Given that he was essentially a cofounder of OWS, and he and Marissa Holmes were acknowledged as "primus inter partes," and all the other leadership sociological structures mentioned at at the second link, he knew it was bullshit. And, per those links, by lying about OWS leaderlessness, Graeber was ultimately an accomplice to bandit predatory capitalism. He was also arguably an accomplice to the classism and racism that a good anarchist should have despised, as self-done demographic surveys indicate that Occupy Wall Street had a fair chunk of both, and with that, probably was largely nowhere near as idealistic as Graeber tried to make it out to be.

Third, per what Fischer seems to say about it, Graeber seems to have the same belief about how antiquity treated debt as does Michael Hudson. I've dealt with Hudson before; in brief, he takes the aspirational stances of ancient texts on debt jubilees as realities. Any good biblical critic knows better about Israel. Second, to flat-foot Graeber, this was nation-states doing this. Private lenders can't be forced to tear up debts on their own without the power of a nation-state. I can, as a private person, per the Lukan version of the Lord's Prayer, forgive a debt. But, short of a nation-state, who will force me? Likewise, per Jesus' parable of the two debtors, I can't force anybody to pay it forward. Pre-state society may not have been as brutish as Hobbes posits. But, the evolutionary biology problem of free riders hits Homo sapiens as much if not more, than any other eusocial species.

I tackled this most recently in that RIP up top; here it is again.

As for modern monetary theory, dinging both him and Hudson again? I called it a Maoist cult.

And, I'm glad I did this longer update as, per the RIP link, it reminds me that I indeed won't miss Graeber that much. Nor any cult around him.

Update, Dec. 22: Here's another way of seeing what's wrong with the book, to summarize the first part of this post: It's "Big History," with all its problems, including its myth-creation.


Update, July 19, 2022: Turns out not all the mendacity is Graeber's. Per a fawning review of the book mixed with a fawning interview of Wengrow, Wired's Virginia Heffernan (who, per past Twitter call-outs of her, has reached her Peter Principle) says that Wengrow invented the book title.

As the story goes on, it's clear that Heffernan ignores not only criticisms of what the pair got wrong, but also critiques like mine that a fair chunk of what the pair did get right is nowhere near new and in fact, re the Agricultural Non-Revolution, has been academically discussed for 20 years. It's also a flat lie that this critic balks at its ambition more than its research, exactly for the reasons of intellectual theft I just mentioned.

I will add a compendium of two other criticisms that she linked.

The first is devastating, noting that the pair appear to reject evolutionary theory. That's a move by many leftists who conflate Darwinism and social Darwinism, or use the idea that others conflate them to reject both. The same reviewer also notes that their world civilizational survey basically just ignores sub-Saharan Africa!

The second starts out by petard-hoisting the pair, always good in my book. It goes on to secondly note their angle remains anarchism first, socialism or even Marxism a distant second. And, that this too colors their background thoughts. Note what I said above about their take on "out of Africa" and human evolution. This ties in with that review.

December 02, 2021

Texas Progressives head back to the grind

A slow week with Thanksgiving, but not totally slow, so let's dive in.

The race to succeed Eddie Bernice Johnson is heating up. (The person I put money on, Carl Sherman, hasn't yet filed, but, there's time.)

ERCOT can't guarantee we won't have another winter power outage.

Jonathan Tilove talks to Julian Castro about his post-2022 plans, his thoughts on Dems in South Texas, and more.

Speaking of South Texas, at the Observer, Gus Bova looks at Jessica Cisneros' second run at CD 28.

Comptroller Glenn Hegar, the one halfway sane Republican holding statewide office, is proposing new rules for Chapter 313 projects, even as Chapter 313 itself ends, that critics say will lessen transparency and accountability. (For the unfamiliar, Chapter 313 allowed taxing entities like school districts and hospital districts to grant the functional equivalent of abatements to folks like wind farms.) Basically, what Hegar wants to 86 is data on things like job production agreements that were part of many Chapter 313 projects. 

Off the Kuff dives into the new Congressional map to see what opportunities may await.

SocraticGadfly talked about Gohmert Pyle's announcement and ramifications, both for AG and for CD1

Emily Eby says a fond goodbye to the Texas Civil Rights Project. 

Mean Green Cougar Red looks forward to USFL 2.0.  

Andrea Grimes understands what the "University of Austin" is all about.

National and global

Meet Fulton County, Georgia's first Black woman DA, Fani Willis. Willis, like other DAs Black, White or other ethnicity, male or female, who were elected on "progressive DA" campaigns, is facing scrutiny and backlash. With her, unlike a Chesea Boudin, as with some others, it's that she's still too tough on crime, too friendly to cops. She says she's cleared out a bunch of old prosecutors from her office, but the critics aren't satisfied. Beyond Black vs White and other issues, her seeking the death penalty in the Asian spa shootings case is also a flash point.

Ray Billingsley, creator of "Curtis," is the first Black cartoonist to win that profession's top honor, the Reuben Award.

Il Papa, the Pope, Francis the Talking Pope, offers his definition of journalism while making an award.

December 01, 2021

Can Lake Mead be semi-saved?

With the kick-in of a federal Drought Contingency Plan earlier this year, Arizona, California and Nevada all have to cut the amount of lower Colorado River water they use. But, because of past deals Aridzona made with California so it wouldn't block progress on the Central Arizona Project, Aridzona will take the biggest hit, and California isn't really hit at all by Phase 1, as I discussed when the trigger hit.. That's even more true if Phase 2 of the DCP is triggered in just two years, which many people believe likely.

The Arizona Republic, via Yahoo, talks about a new voluntary plan hammered out among the three states that claims it will get deeper cuts than Phase 1 of the DCP mandates and so, hopefully, avoid Phase 2. 

Color me skeptical. We've already seen that  California water conservation seems to have hit a brick wall. While Pinal County, Aridzona farmers are drilling even deeper water wells, what if some of them start bringing up either sand or brine, and sooner rather than later? Or, some of this starts leaching from aquifers that are supposed to be part of the guaranteed 30-year water supply of new residential developments?

Per that second link, I expect negotiations to fail.

That said, what about DCP Phase 2, if it kicks in? Who's going to enforce the cutbacks? Them's fighting words.

That second link also indicates the lack of reality still in place.

Aridzona is talking about building desal plants in the Sea of Cortez and swapping that water with Mexico for a share of its Colorado River allotment. Desal plants, especially larger ones, have generally been a massive failure.

That ain't all. Lake Powell now reportedly has a 17 percent chance of hitting power pool in just three years. Power pool, per previous blogging, is when the lake falls below the level of the penstocks to generate hydroelectricity. That CAP water ain't going to Pinal County if there ain't juice to pump it there. And, considering that projection is by BuRec itself, the actual odds are surely higher.

Oops, that may be out of date. New BuRec report, per CNN, says 1-in-3, and by 2023. Same piece offers 66 percent chance of Mead hitting 1,025. That's DCP Stage 3. The first stage hit earlier this year at 1.075 feet; Stage 2 is at 1,050. At 1,000 feet, Vegas gets cut off. Also, at that point, Mead nears power pool.

November 30, 2021

Coronavirus week 86B: Daszag, St. Anthony, more gain of function and Fauci lies

In the face of facts as told by NON wingnuts like Jaime Metzl, a member of President Clinton's National Security Council, St. Anthony of Fauci continues to lie about gain of function research at Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

Related? Tony the Pony continues those lies even as more evidence seems to refute him. NIH in 2016 even said it thought Peter Daszag was doing gain of function work when it initially questioned a grant expansion. NIH eventually agreed to the expansion, with codicils that Daszag violated. DARPA, meanwhile, had similar concerns to the initial ones of NIH and refused to budge. As part of this, Fauci and Rand Paul continue their Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby dance.

Is  Daszag the new Elizabeth Holmes and EcoHealth Alliance the new Theranos? Food for thought. Too bad too much of BlueAnon remains too tribalist to belly up to the dinner table on Daszag, let alone Fauci.

Coronavirus week 86A: Omicron

The new "variant of concern" has moved well beyond southern Africa and is likely in the US, just in time for the post-Thanksgiving spikes that the likes of Gottlieb warned about. Here's what to know, from what we know so far. More here, including about what we don't know. 

UPDATE, Dec. 1: It's now here in the US.

Zeynep Tufekci weighs in, warning about"pandemic theatrics" on things like travel bans that are shutting the barn door too late. She offers more at her NYT column; "dodging" version here. She also notes that Status Quo Joe, in only pushing now for the removal of vaccine intellectual property copyrights, has been part of that theatrics. (Well, she doesn't say it directly, but ... she does note this is part of why Omicron started in South Africa, from all we can tell.)

Also, per comments in her piece, it still seems likely COVID will eventually move from pandemic to epidemic, but there's no guarantee on that. Look at measles. I wouldn't call it pandemic, but it is at a minimum at the high end of endemic.

Moderna's CEO says the existing vaccines may struggle with Omicron.

On the other hand, Ugur Sahin, cofounder of BioNTech, says "don't freak out." (As long as you get a booster.)