SocraticGadfly: 6/12/22 - 6/19/22

June 17, 2022

Russia-Ukraine, Week 13B: Who IS the Institute for the Study of War?

Wondering just that issue, the Quincy Institute profiles the Institute for the Study of War, the eminences grisé behind Nat-Sec Nutsacks™, and the bottom feeders of information dispensed to the mainstream media, on the Russia-Ukraine war. "A Case Study in American Propaganda" is about right. The first three grafs will summarize that issue:

A Russian is on an airliner heading to the US, and the American in the seat next to him asks, “So what brings you to the US?” The Russian replies, “I’m studying the American approach to propaganda.” The American says, “What propaganda?” The Russian says, “That’s what I mean.” 
If you don’t get the point, I can help. A few weeks before I heard this joke, I heard a Russian make the point explicitly: Yes, Russia’s state-controlled media is full of propaganda, but at least most Russians are aware of that and take the prevailing narrative with a grain of salt; Americans, in contrast, seem unaware that their own prevailing narratives are slanted.
I think there’s some truth to this, and I think the Ukraine war is a case in point. I don’t just mean that mainstream media’s coverage of the war is biased (though I think it is, as tends to be the case during wars). I mean this coverage exemplifies the difference between American and Russia propaganda—and so helps explain the difference, asserted by that joke, between American and Russian attitudes toward propaganda.

Read the whole thing. And, it's by Robert Wright, whose "everything is nonzero" I generally loathe, and which I think is a cheap knockoff, whether consciously deliberate or not, of Idries Shah's "no twosiderism." But, this is good. Wright, whether he actually believes it or is just using a rhetorical trope, says he thinks the problem is all due to America having a more complicated media ecosystem in a liberal democracy rather than being more gullible than Russians. I wouldn't be so sure of that.

He goes on to note how much the ISW is cited by big media punditry. And, how much it gets big bucks from the military industrial complex.

The bias side? Nothing that sticks out like a sore thumb. Rather, Wright notes that much of it is in ISW's "framing" of what both Russia and Ukraine are doing on the ground, a framing it willingly passes on to the MSM.

Again, read the whole thing.

But, take Wright with a grain of salt. As someone who does NOT fully know the workings of American media, he's too generous to most national media. The ISW is an extension of the DC establishment, so, for many "national security" reporters, citing it uncritically is all about "access." Or with even big newspapers perhaps continuing to be short-staffed in this area, about forced shortcutting. Look at political reporters whose idea of a story any more is half a dozen Tweets linked by connecting and explanatory paragraphs.

Russia-Ukraine, week 13: Peter the Great and no 'Putin price hike'

Tsar Vladimir I reportedly, according to the Washington Examiner, is riffing on Peter the Great and threatening Estonia. But, Tom Rogan, noting that "flypaper" troops from the 82nd Airborne are there, undercuts himself with hinting that Putin is sane enough not to actually do anything. He then goes to Pushkin to claim, with normal American exceptionalism, that Putin is "a sick man in his troubled bed." Yes, there have been recent claims that Putin has health problems, but if that's what Rogan meant, they're all still just rumors. And Rogan is a nat-sec nutsack with one foot fully in East Wingnutistan to boot, so discount him for those reasons.

Besides, as Warmonger Joe continues to ignore the suggestions to push for a negotiated peace by the Goldilocks Three Bears of Kissinger, NYT and Chomsky (plus Pope Francis), Ukraine's hopes continue to fade. Luhansk is likely going to be lost soon. Meanwhile, Zelensky, as much a weathervane as Warmonger Joe, or as much a would-be NATO colonial serf, per Tsar Vladimir above, is now interested in joining NATO after all, or at least getting candidate status, after earlier disavowing that. As for Russia blockading Black Sea ports? Britain used food as a blockade weapon 110 years ago, including after WWI was done. The winners write history.

And, with the above paragraph? No, Warmonger Joe, this is NOT "Putin's price hike." Your flunkies are getting pushback even on MSNBC.

June 16, 2022

Coronavirus Week 112C: Blame Neanderthals?

That's the angle from this piece, which says that 1 in 6 people inherited at least one copy of a Neanderthal gene that makes people more subject to respiratory infections.

Color me skeptical. 

And, the easy way to check this would be to compare Africans, or even African-Americans (and Afro-Brits, etc.) to Caucasians. African-Americans and Afro-Brits will have some Caucasian genes, on average, but they'll still be much lower than Caucasians are, obviously. And, while not controlling for all environmental issues, using African-Americans et al, instead of native Africans, would control for COVID rates, and largely control for international contacts, etc.

Plus, one could move on to this coming winter's flu season and compare its death rates as well.

Color me skeptical right now.

Color me further skeptical of Professor James Davies' claims because:

  1. His ratio is actually "could be as many as 1 in 6" which means he doesn't know more precisely;
  2. He offers no information, at least in this piece, about how much more susceptible this gene makes people;
  3. He offers no information as to whether this is a global susceptibility issue with all respiratory infections, or worse with some types than others.

And, that's just off the top of my head. He's a professor of genomics, so he knows that well enough. He's not a professor of infectious disease.

Coronavirus Week 112B: Blame Jessica Wildfire?

I'm coming closer to unsubscribing from Jessica Wildfire's "OK Doomer" Substack. I saw it via one of her Medium posts a few months back, and signed up for it, just by email address, though, not my direct Substack account of my own. Her Medium stuff's gotten a bit more uneven since then, and her Substack lives up to its title, not just as a play on "OK Boomer," but on its own. 

She's at least gotten close to playing footsie with scientism and with antivaxxerism both in a recent post. She believes COVID has caused an uptick in car crashes, is going to cause an uptick in plane crashes, talks about SADS without actually looking it up (and an antivaxxer nutter channels the head nutters on that issue in comments) — for the facts, I linked to Orac in a comment, and also, in apparently expecting science to "answer everything," confuses science and scientism. Her Medium stuff isn't so bad, which is why I clicked to actually subscribe to her Substack. But, the last three or four posts, starting with claiming monkeypox can spread asymptomatically (it does, technically, but it's not the normal, contra her implications), and ignoring there was a monkeypox outbreak nearly 20 years ago, got me started.

Besides, contra her, contra others, and contra my tentative blog post of a couple of weeks ago, on COVID, re Worldometers, this IS really not more than a blip. It may be a big blip, not a small one, but I'll still call it a blip. Daily new cases are somewhat higher than they were at the START of summer ago, even with CDC pivoting away from case-based metrics, tis true. But, the bulge is smaller than the late-summer one of one year ago, and appearing to go back down.

Death rate? Even lower than it was at the bottom of the dip early last summer. What that means, if we have a lower death rate even though we have a moderately higher case rate, is clear. COVID is becoming less deadly. About one-fifth as deadly, per rough estimates. It's a partial herd immunity from a mix of vaccines and boosters, plus infections in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. 

For more background, as I blogged a couple of weeks ago and as numbers continue to support, COVID is becoming less and less deadly. That's especially true if the "cases don't matter" have trickled down to local hospitals, as I also blogged a couple of weeks ago.

And, while I will admit the major media isn't perfect, titling the whole post as "media gaslighting" even while you engage in scientism is no bueno in my book either. And, no, contra your subheading, respectfully, with a post like this, you're not a "slinger of hard truths."

For more on how bad this tenure-track college prof is, see Part 1 and Part 2 of an in-depth overview.

Coronavirus Week 112A: Blame Xi Jinping for 2 million dead

If American companies didn't hand trade and manufacturing secrets to China like blank checks — another part of America's general craptacular kowtowing to China, including trade relations favorability in the past given to them before Russia — it would still be a backwater, the way it manages COVID.

I'm sure that NONE of the Xi Jinping Thought Kool-Aid peddlers, whether fake leftist and neoliberal grifter Max Blumenthal, alleged leftist but not really Adam Tooze, Green Party twosiders Margaret Flowers and Howie Hawkins, People's Republic of Humboldt County leader Rainier Shea, or Margaret Kimberly and Danny Haiphong of the useful gang of idiots that's left at Black Agenda Report, can explain why, supposedly after China had originally crushed COVID, then a humongous Shanghai lockdown crushed COVID, can explain why China has ANOTHER Shanghai lockdown. Contra Tooze and his kiss-ass book on COVID, China's vaccines suck. Contra the story, Xi is so untrustworthy that I totally do not believe Johns Hopkins numbers of 15K Chinese COVID deaths. (Worldometers, which is good inside democratic and transparent countries, is even worse on this issue, claiming jut 5K deaths.)

The reality? As of January, Forbes, channeling a piece from the Economist that had COVID undercounting rates around the world, said China's real death rate was probably 1.7 million. That was January. (Fortunately, the Economist piece isn't paywalled; the Forbes pieces are straightforward, but their author is a full-on wingnut, going by his Twitter.)

Even worse, when China was actually counting deaths (it stopped, in Ground Zero Wuhan itself after March 31, 2020) it was undercounting. And, in a country with extensive social media and general internet monitoring and able to dragoon foreign nationals into quarantine is surely gathering PLENTY of COVID data — they're just not reporting any of it.

That said, this is more a problem than sucky vaccines. ONLY FIFTY PERCENT of Chinese over 80 are vaccinated, per the first link. Shit, that's worse than red-state antivaxxer America.

Failing lockdowns in the face of a country that still has only gotten half of its age 80-plus population vaccinated, means its surely around 2 million now, per my header.

In addition, Mr. Calhoun, in a second Forbes piece, notes that (like in places like Vietnam, also wrongly touted as "crushing" COVID) rural people, aged or not, are far less vaccinated that rural red state wingnuts, and health care available to them is slim.

So, there's your reality. It would still be half the COVID death rate, per population, of the US, but China likely has 2 million COVID deaths — and still counting.

And, while half the death rate of the US, at 1,400 per 1 million, that's still higher than The Netherlands, Hong Kong (OOOPS), Denmark, Canada, Finland, Norway, South Korea (nearly 3x lower), New Zealand (almost 5x lower), Japan (almost 6x lower) and Taiwan (almost 7x lower), among "advanced" nations with trustworthy stats.

Will Xi get a third term and become China's first "maximum leader" since Deng?


Side note: There's good reason to believe, from the Economist estimates and data modeling, that Russia is lying a fair amount but not ridiculously, while India is the second-biggest liar in the world outside China (Pakistan is the biggest, and per the Economist link, I think Bangladesh is more "challenged" thal "liar"), with possibly 7 million or more deaths on a high-side estimate. (But, just as Xi has Uyghurs to scapegoat, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has Muslims.)

Update: At Unherd, Ashley Rindsberg has a good take on US media gullibility, as well as WHO enabling that.

Update, July 27, 2023: Per this Foreign Poicy piece, via a CFR piece, it's possible China had as many as another 1 million deaths in the nine months after I wrote this.

June 15, 2022

Michelle Bachelet — courageous non-twosider or Xi Jinping flunky?

Or, per my citing of Idries Shah:

To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.

Is the truth somewhere in between?

Counterpunch takes the former angle, with former UN rapporteurs Alfred de Zayas and Richard Falk weighing in.

Foreign Policy, Benedict Rodgers writing, and sure to be followed on op-ed pages of major US media, takes the second of more than two sides.

And, here's me beyond the two sides.

First, I have no idea if China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs or not. I personally have never claimed that. I HAVE said that it may be committing cultural genocide, as it has been argued that it's been doing in Tibet.

Setting aside the argued slave labor camps, which the US did not do to American Indians, is it arguable that there's some degree of hypocrisy on the behalf of the US foreign policy establishment? Yes. But, no twosiderism means that both that hypocrisy and China's actual actions can be condemned. (This is the same country that has refused to release ANY ANY ANY coronavirus death and infection data from Ground Zero Wuhan since March 31, 2000, after all.)

And, speaking of, I have no idea if Bachelet got a Potemkin tour of Xinjiang or saw bits and pieces, at least, of the real thing.

That said, Rogers notes that Bachelet spent four years negotiating that deal. That meant there were limitations on what she was going to see. Again, I don't know exactly what, but there were limitations.

Is it hypocritical for Rogers to say she was parroting Xi Jinping's language about "counterterrorism," given the US reason for invading Iraq, overthrowing Gadhafi, backing the Saudis in Yemen, etc.? Yes. Was it also hypocritcal for Bachelet to do such parroting? Yes, just as it is from Max Blumenthal, Aaron Maté and others. It was also, if not hypocritical, highly uninformed for her to talk about China's allegedly "almost universal health care," when HALF of its OVER-80 population still haven't been COVID vaccinated. As of January, Forbes, channeling a piece from the Economist that had COVID undercounting rates around the world, said China's real death rate was probably 1.7 million. That was January. It has the vax rate there, too.

A third side, if there's not more than three, and is rather a middle point within two polarities, can come closer to one side than the other, too. Amnesty International does not use the word "genocide" but does condemn Bachelet for not talking about China's major human rights violations.

Given China's stiff-arming of the WHO on COVID, Bachelet would have been better served never going to China rather than on a likely Potemkin tour. She does say in her end of mission statement that she "raised some issues" with China. Those have often been raised before. As for Chinese claims an old "de-radicalization" system has been dismantled? Has it been left that, way, or has it been "remantled" with something else? The OGPU and KGB were both dismantled, after all, as was the OSS. China told her it would admit senior UN human rights officials in the future. Call me back after the Human Rights Committee reviews Hong Kong later this month.

She saluted China for passing International Labour Organization Conventions (29 and 105); congrats indeed as the older of the two was crafted in 1930.

Employees butts in seats vs remote freedom? My Idries Shah third side

Starbucks' Howard Schultz is the latest CEO to beg for white-collar workers to come back to the office.

First, regular readers may recollect why I reference Idries Shah. For those that don't, and for non-regular readers, here you go.

So, with that said, the third side here is that I don't totally agree with either of the "two sides" this issue has been framed as. (I also reject Shah's implied contention that seeing beyond "just two sides" will lead to a "complete solution." Lots of things in life have less than complete solutions, no matter how carefully they're parsed.)

With that, let's dig in further.

To begin, I see this as partially parallel to an athletes' strike — "millionaire players vs billionaire owners," as such things are stereotyped. I raise that because in many such cases, more discerning fans, and more discerning people who critique and criticize capitalism say that neither side deserves a lot of sympathy.

It's true that the "players" here aren't "millionaires." But, at many companies, the CEOs aren't billionaires, either, and senior management at individual sites may be millionaires, but not a whole huge lot more than that.

Second, speaking from a small town, where I'm technically in the "knowledge industry" in a sense, and have bits of flexibility on office hours but have to be in an office every day, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the Apple, Google Maps and other IT types who don't want to go back to offices. You wanted the big money you're getting. You applied to these companies, or FIRE companies, or similar, because you wanted both the primo pay and the primo culture of San Francisco, New York, maybe Miami or Chicago, etc. So, now you need to pay the piper.

As for how corporations deal with recalcitrant employees? 

First, pushing back deadlines for "you have to be here" doesn't work. Especially if, after they're pushed back once, your bluff is called again 90 days later and you have no Plan B.

So, what should your Plan B be?

A mix of carrots and sticks, and here are some specifics.

First, on parts of office life that aren't productive? Fix them. If you're having meetings just for the sake of meeting, get rid of them. Meetings you do have? Make sure they're organized, as brief as reasonably possible and otherwise beneficial. If you're going to at least a hybrid schedule, if not full in-house, make sure that employees who need to be in person together actually ARE in person together, and otherwise, bring organization to hybrid schedules and more. In general, have reasons, not chaos, for in-house work.

But, employees? Some meetings are necessary.

And, per that link immediately above? That "paying the piper" includes the paying the piper of having moved further away from the office during the height of COVID and expecting a temporary situation to be permanent. NO sympathy from me.

And, while Zoom is better than not meeting at all, it's still not as good as a well-organized in-person meeting. It simply isn't.

Feedback and interactions just aren't of the same quality, first. 

Second is divided attention possible problems on Zoom. You've got kids at home? Are they dividing your attention, let alone outrightly interrupting your participation. That's a problem.

Willfully self-divided attention, as in reports of people using the potential of Zoom to actually work two jobs? If I'm an employers, I definitely want your butt in my office in part specifically to nix that. You got a problem with that? Quit.

The other carrots and sticks that I see off the top of my head are two simple ones.

One is pay differential. While I indicated above that I have little sympathy for people who are likely mainly neolib Dems supporting Warmonger Joe who boo-hoo about gas prices, if I'm a boss, I see an easy carrot-stick dyad. You want to work at home? Fine. But, you're not getting our new 10 percent pay differential.

The second is related. Promotions fast-tracking vs slow-walking. You don't want to be part of a team by being here in the office more, then we as senior management don't see how we can give you more responsibilities and opportunities, and the pay raise that goes with that.

And, I'm even OK with employers and corporations "sharing notes" up to the legal limits of collusion.

Next, there's the leading by example. Senior management and CEOs shouldn't expect employees' butts to be in office seats any more than their own.

Finally, there's the capitalism issue. Actual leftists writing blank checks of sympathy to employees who probably hate unions and don't care about ever-increasing income inequality leave me cold. And, speaking of capitalism, Schultz is a hypocrite to beg for corporate workers to come back while fighting unionization by store baristas at the same time.

June 14, 2022

Texas Progressives talk guns, cameras, Warmonger Joe

Ronald Reagan, late 1960s, reminds us that White folk carrying guns in public is OK. Not others, and especially not Blacks.

Must have been Groundhog Day in Uvalde last week. Uvalde ISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo popped up out of his hole, the sun illuminated his blood-spattered shadow, he denied that was his own shadow, and went back underground.

Groundhog Day in Uvalde, Pt 2. Pete Arredondo, confronted on why he didn't have police radio during shootings, said it would slow him down. Since he already claimed he issued no orders, he had no need to be in a hurry anyway?

March for Our Lives calls bullshit on the idea that "bulletproof backpacks" would actually stop an AR-15 round.

10 Rethuglican Senators have signed on to what's likely the best weak tea "gun control" bill that will pass Congress. It does NOT have a national red flag law. It does NOT raise the national age of sale on assault weapons to 21. That's all you really need to know. 

The Dallas Observer would like for Buc-ee's to stop selling gun-themed T-shirts.


Voting and candidates

The Observer talks about "the rising progressive majority in South Texas." Probably news to Henry Cuellar, and it will be to Jessica Cisneros as well after she officially loses her recount.

Team Biden's support from national Democrats continues to soften even while infighting within the White House staff continues to grow. (That said, Howard Dean sniping at Biden is rich.) Trying to blame-shift with "Putin's price hike" isn't working, either. Your flunkies are getting pushback even on MSNBC.

AOC is willing to support Warmonger Joe's warmongering, but won't commit to supporting him.

Juanita guffaws at the revelations about "True the Vote" grifter Catherine Engelbrecht.

Steve Vladeck reminds us that many of Trump's co-conspirators in his attempt to overthrow the government remain themselves in the government.

John Coby connects a former Republican candidate for State Senate to the insurrection.


Other items

Off the Kuff looked at how location data can and probably will be used to enforce abortion bans. (Yours truly will be looking at research on abortion and women's mental health next week.)

SocraticGadfly jumps outside of politics to offer some thoughts on the future of DSLR cameras.

James Dorsey explains how Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are playing Alphonse and Gaston on officially recognizing Israel.

Texas Monthly takes a closer look at the Alex Jones legal saga.

The Houston Press previews the Dusty Hill estate sale.

June 13, 2022

Dear California Dum Fuqs moving to Austin

A year ago, you tech neoliberal types spiked the cost of a new house there to more than $600K. Perhaps not as bad as the Bay Area, but I venture worse than Sacramento. And, in your lust for a state with no state income tax, you ignored that in a metropolitan area, you can pay $2.50 or so per $100 valuation in city, county, school board, hospital district and other special tax district property taxes.

Well, beyond that, feast your eyes on this:

Yeah, you may say, you've been to Sacramento, so you know what a 100-plus day is.

Know what? There's this thing in Texas, from the Hill Country eastward, and especially from I-35 eastward, called "humidity." Go visit Weather Underground's Austin page, where I got that screenshot from. You'll see that, even at a 102-degree high, the relative humidity is still near 30 percent.

And, in California, besides the truly dry heat of Palm Springs and Death Valley, I've been to Redding when it was 110 or so. But, you know what? The humidity there was below 20 percent, even though not in a desert. (That's part of why you have all those summer wildfires.)

So, per a heat index chart, lets do, say 102 at 33 percent versus 112 at 16 percent. The Austin heat index is 108 and Redding's is 112. So, pretty close.

But, those aren't the only factors. AccuWeather's "real feel" takes into account other things, like wind speed and sun angle. Sun angle is not just time of day, but latitude. Austin is a full 10 degrees of latitude further south than Redding. Eight degrees further south than the Bay Area. The sun is close to overhead from late morning through mid-afternoon.

And, this applies to you Southland folks moving to Tex-ass, too. Sure, the Inland Empire area also gets hot at times, but not like the actual desert, and, it also has no humidity in the summer. And, LA is four degrees of latitude further north than Austin.

Also, notice that it doesn't cool down a lot at night and the humidity goes way back up.

"Congrats" for coming here and burning through electricity on a Texas-exceptionalist electric grid not connected to the rest of the nation that's barely winterized and really not at all summerized.

(Update, July 2: Outside energy experts warned again about grid and supply concerns a couple of days ago, even as ERCOT again said, "move along, nothing to look at.")

But wait, that's not all. Due to the geography of the Hill Country, freeway type highways running straight in any direction once you're west of the Mopac don't exist. The Mopac, at least on some of my years-ago visits to Austin, at times could be worse than 35. (It was usually the other way around, though.) Sounds almost like the Bay Area you left, doesn't it? It's not quite that bad, but it can be as bad as Dallas or Houston, and all you folks moving there are just making it worse.

One Ike Dike Corps of Engineers grifting coming up?

Via Kuff, who's not an actual environmentalist type except to "own the wingnuts," AFAIK, word is that, contra my early, detailed, and ongoing, pleas for this not to happen, the House, in overwhelming bipartisan fashion, has approved funding for a so-called "Ike Dike." (That said, IIRC, Brains, who theoretically should know better, also has defended it, like he's defended the "bullet train to nowhere Roans Prairie."

Shock me. Too many librulz ignore the Army Corps of Engineers' woeful environmental record. (Were I your president, even though it's riddled with civilians, I'd take the Army part seriously and as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, order it to stop everything and not start anything new.)

I know the Water Resources Development Act includes much more than the Ike Dike, but people put it in there. And, sadly, not a single Democrat, including the Fraud Squad, and fake environmentalist Jared Huffman (on this, too) voted no.