Friday, December 31, 2021

So would this be Happy Halloween een^297? *

* You do realize I just made up the number of days to Halloween, right?

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Why the right to a lawyer is so important

This is Joseph.

I was talking to Mark and this video came up. One of the reasons why having a lawyer is so important is that mere civilians cannot be expected to know the subtle nuances of the law. 

One of the eye-opening moments of this video, at least for me, was discussing the consequences of the police making a mistake. The example of a mistaken identification contradicting your alibi is exactly the sort of complication that one really, really wants a trained professional to navigate. 

Here is a more complicated example via Ken White:

Imagine this scenario, based on an actual situation:
A business associate calls you and says, "my dear business associate, the shit has hit the fan; Federal Agency X is investigating Project Y we did together. Two Agency X agents are interviewing people."

"Oh coitus," says you, or words to that effect, and terminate the conversation.

Later that day, two well-dressed and polite agents of Agency X visit you. Because you despise me and want me to weep and gnash my teeth, you consent to be interviewed. At some point, they ask you "have you talked about this investigation with anyone?"

"No," you say.

They smile.

At the end of the interview, it occurs to you to ask, "Hey, am I in trouble? Do I need a lawyer?"

The agents smirk. "No," they say. "I mean, unless you lied about talking to anyone about this investigation."

See, you've fallen into a false statement trap, which I've talked about before. The feds know that you've talked to somebody about their investigation. They were probably standing next to your friend when he made that call this morning. And now you've talked your way into a felony.
This is the sort of fact that will come up in discovery and a skilled lawyer will know about. You don't need to worry about a failure of recollection or the proper interpretation of a discussion. Innocent error could easily be an explanation for the scenario above, but it becomes a felony. 

Lawyers are an important part of criminal justice and right to competent counsel is extremely important. Here are some more examples of how this can go wrong. I am not a big fan of the sociopath one, but the rest are all great examples of how unprepared discussion can go quite wrong. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Extrapolating out of range: education edition

This is Joseph.

Matt Yglesias had a post on the effects of closing schools on learning:
I think that if at any time pre-Covid someone had suggested that regular, in-person school attendance was not that important and kids would be okay just watching video lessons and doing online work, that would have been understood as a kind of right-wing techno-libertarian crank viewpoint. Thanks to the pandemic, though, we got to find out if the techno-libertarian cranks are right about school.

It turns out that they are not. In Virginia, for example, student test scores plummeted and the racial gap in scores exploded 

And we’ve seen this basically everywhere. McKinsey and NWEA found huge learning losses concentrated in poorer kids nationwide. Texas and Indiana reported big early test score declines. A study from the Netherlands indicated that during an eight-week period of virtual schooling, students learned basically nothing on average. 


For years, study after study has shown that the effect sizes of education interventions tend to be really small. And when they don’t look small, they tend to be very difficult to scale up. That led some people to infer that schooling is largely pointless. But we learned during the pandemic that if you try something out-of-sample like not having school at all, the effects are actually very large. 

I think that this example illustrates two major themes.

One, which we've been discussing for ages, is that it is very difficult to extrapolate data out of the range of observation. When there is effective teaching going on then small tweaks with how it is done seem can be challenging to show as having an impact. But let us be frank -- the human species has been educating children in numeracy and literacy for (literally) thousands of years. The Lyceum and the Academy were founded before the dawn of the Roman empire. China has been using exams to evaluate qualified graduates for centuries. Now there can be possibilities to use improved technology and such, but the basic idea is old and small tweaks have been tried for (literally) millennia. 

Two, is that disruption is often not focused on the basic delivery of services. Far more common is regulatory evasion. Uber evaded taxi regulations far more than it had a new idea -- taxi companies quickly mimicked the app, the innovation that they had trouble with was the ability of Uber to classify employees as independent contractors. Financial companies often do better by finding ways to evade regulation that protect investors than just finding better investments. [EDIT: In conversations with Mark, he pointed out the precise mechanism by which education disrupters can save money: fewer students with disabilities given the ADA. While this gap is closing, it is still the case that charter schools end up serving fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools. Insofar as there is any strategy here, this could create a perceived efficiency gap]. 

It is this second point that always worries me with education reform. There is a lot of money in education, finding a way to skim 1% off of the top would be worth billions per year. When real progress is hard because a system has already been extensively optimized then one should be suspicious of claims of important advances, especially if there is a lot of opportunity for the investment to pay off for the "innovators" involved. Taking away 1% of educational spending and inflating a few numbers might well be a easy pathway to success.

But the first point is well worth remembering -- the system, as is, is already delivering a lot of value and taking it away shows immediate and large effects that reduce outcomes. These are despite the efforts of teachers and parents to continue online. 

Or, in other words, one can innovate but always be worried about the arguments that a system centuries in the making is fundamentally flawed. It might be for some areas (e.g., computer programming is relatively new and perhaps autoshop is less related to other crafting skills than I suspect) but this is not a place where the current equilibrium is obviously easy to beat. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The biggest problem in California right now is that we don't have enough fires

It's raining as I type this, snowing not that far from here. We've gotten lucky in the past couple of weeks and we are supposed to have another major storm before New Year's Day. All of this means that we desperately need to start planning as soon as possible for teams to go out into the forest and start some fires.

As Elizabeth Weil explains in her Pulitzer-worthy Propublica piece (which we discussed earlier here). [emphasis added]

Yes, there’s been talk across the U.S. Forest Service and California state agencies about doing more prescribed burns [a.k.a. controlled burns -- MP] and managed burns. The point of that “good fire” would be to create a black-and-green checkerboard across the state. The black burned parcels would then provide a series of dampers and dead ends to keep the fire intensity lower when flames spark in hot, dry conditions, as they did this past week. But we’ve had far too little “good fire,” as the Cassandras call it. Too little purposeful, healthy fire. Too few acres intentionally burned or corralled by certified “burn bosses” (yes, that’s the official term in the California Resources Code) to keep communities safe in weeks like this.

Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.


[Deputy fire chief of Yosemite National Park Mike] Beasley earned what he called his “red card,” or wildland firefighter qualification, in 1984. To him, California, today, resembles a rookie pyro Armageddon, its scorched battlefields studded with soldiers wielding fancy tools, executing foolhardy strategy. “Put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” Beasley summed up his assessment of the plan of attack by Cal Fire, the state’s behemoth “emergency response and resource protection” agency. Instead, Beasley believes, fire professionals should be considering ecology and picking their fights: letting fires that pose little risk burn through the stockpiles of fuels. Yet that’s not the mission. “They put fires out, full stop, end of story,” Beasley said of Cal Fire. “They like to keep it clean that way.”

Why is it so difficult to do the smart thing? People get in the way. From Marketplace.

Molly Wood: You spoke with all these experts who have been advocating for good fire for prescribed burns for decades. And nobody disagrees, right? You found that there is no scientific disagreement that this is the way to prevent megafires. So how come it never happens?

Elizabeth Weil: You know, that’s a really good question. I talked to a lot of scientists who have been talking about this, as you said, literally, for decades, and it’s been really painful to watch the West burn. It hasn’t been happening because people don’t like smoke. It hasn’t been happening, because of very well-intended environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act that make it harder to put particulate matter in the air from man-made causes. It hasn’t happened because of where we live. You don’t want to burn down people’s houses, obviously.

The term "controlled burn" is always at least slightly aspirational, and as the Western fire season gets longer and longer, our window for safe prescribed burns gets shorter and shorter. As a result, this may be the most urgent environmental action places like California need to take. If the weather takes a bad turn, a delay of two or three weeks can mean missing an opportunity to mitigate disaster in the Summer and Fall. 

We've missed too many already.


Monday, December 27, 2021

Against feral disinformation, the very liars themselves contend in vain.

Feral Disinformation

Without feral disinformation and the cultivation of the lunatic fringe, we never would have had a Trump nomination. The Republican establishment was forced to accept a candidate whom they felt was extremely dangerous to the future of the party because the conservative movement had lost control of the narrative they created; it took on a life of its own.

Initially, Trump spread more more disinformation -- downplaying the severity and promoting worthless cures -- because that approach appeared to help him politically. Now, it is in his advantage to take credit for the vaccines and their impact, but the narrative kept evolving until even he isn't allowed to correct the lies he told.

FRIDAY, JULY 23, 2021

Feral Disinformation

Another one for the lexicon.

Disinformation has gone feral when:

1. It is no longer in the control of the group that created it.

2. It has continued to grow in popularity and influence.

3. It has started to evolve in such a way that the nuisance/threat it presents is as as great to the people who created it as it does to the original targets. 

The most prominent example of the moment is the right wing movement opposing covid vaccines and increasingly vaccination in general. 

The Conservative Movement spent decades depicting the scientific establishment as alarmist and corrupt because undermining it served a clear political purpose at the time. Recently this narrative took on an added usefulness as the Republicans tried to contain the fallout from the pandemic. It was an unspeakably evil position to take, greatly adding to a horrific death toll, but it had a certain ends-justify-the-means logic, "had" being the operative word.

In 2021, being the anti-vax party is not in the Republicans' best interest. It devastates  areas that voted for Trump and it makes the most comically crazy people imaginable the face of the GOP. On top of that, it's bad for business. 

The best messaging for the Republicans at this point would be to start referring to the "Trump vaccines" and to work the phrase "Operation Warp Speed" into every statement and interview response, regardless of topic, then take credit for the end of the pandemic. That is, however, not an option. Control of the narrative has been lost, Things have gone feral.

Over the past the past week, the GOP establishment made a coordinated effort to move away from this disastrous message. 

The pivot is not going well.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Friday, December 24, 2021

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Perfect last-minute gift idea

Jemima Kelly of FT Alphaville has just the thing.
From FT
That’s right. Generous billionaire’s wife Melania is giving an (unspecified) portion of the proceeds from the sale of her “new NFT endeavor” to assisting “children in the foster care community”. Who said philanthropy was dead?

The NFT, named “Melania’s Vision”, gives the buyer a string of code that supposedly represents “ownership” (this is literally all an NFT is) of “a breathtaking watercolor art” that celebrates Mrs Trump’s cobalt blue eyes. We, not owners of this receipt, have nevertheless copied and pasted the contents of this collectible below for you all (isn’t digital art great like that):
Well we’re not sure if it’s Omicron or Melania, but our breath has certainly been taken away. 
But this is a non-fungible token with a twist. Because it is actually . ... non non-fungible. That’s right, until December 31 you can buy as many of these little wonders, all representing the exact same breath-taking picture, for the microscopic price of 1 Solana (a crypto token), currently worth around $170. She’s practically givin em away!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The NYT weighs in again on California housing and it goes even worse than expected

[If you're just tuning in, this should get you up to speed.]

The gray lady has doubled down on the liberal hypocrisy housing narrative with a highly promoted video featuring two of the paper's stars and the results are... not good.

Checkout the 3:40 mark.

Obviously, this graph wasn't telling the story they thought it was telling. My first thought was that we were just seeing the impact of the collapse of the housing bubble which didn't particularly support the NYT's argument, but on closer scrutiny (assuming we can trust the x-axis), I realized it was even worse.

If you take a close look, you'll see that the drop started well before the 2008 collapse.

For the record, I don't know if permits issued is the best metric here -- I'd feel much more comfortable if we had an actual researcher to weigh in -- but the decline is a big part of the NYT's argument so we should probably ask ourselves if anything else of note happened in California around this time...

The Schwarzenegger administration went from 2003 to 2011, or roughly...

One of the odd facts about California (and a major source of its dysfunction) is that in order for a party to control the legislature it pretty much has to have a supermajority, so for these eight years, the state had a Republican governor and effectively a divided legislature, clearly making it the period of peak GOP influence over the past two decades. 

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that Republicans are to blame for California's housing crisis. We are talking about an eight-year run that ended a decade ago followed by a Democratic supermajority. The largest driver of the housing crisis appears to be asset inflation and its ripples, but to the extent that one party owns this, it would have to be the Democrats.

So, while you can certainly argue that liberal and/or Democratic policies on the state level caused or at least exacerbated this situation, the NYT somehow managed to pick the one statistic that supports exactly the opposite point.

But what about the other half of the argument? Could these dynamics be responsible, but at a local level? The video spends pretty much all of its remaining housing segment on Palo Alto.  The behavior described does sound rather appalling and pretty damning if you're making the point that there are lots of assholes in Silicon Valley, but with respect to housing, it's not just anecdotal; it's a headless clown argument (ducks are better than clowns because ducks have heads). 

To make this a real argument, the NYT would need to show some correlation within California cities. Compared to the Bay Area, the far more conservative/Republican Central Valley should have higher vacancy rates and stable housing prices, but we're not seeing any indication that the big valley is evading the crisis. By some metrics, it's getting hit worse. 

It has become increasingly obvious that this is a story the NYT really wants to tell, and no matter how logically flawed and factually challenged it may be, they are by God gonna keep telling it. Somewhat more pressing concerns like plague, flood and an ongoing attempt by the GOP to overthrow American democracy get pushed aside so the editors of the paper of record can spend a little more time scolding California liberals. 

The three things which the New York Times loves above all others are putting itself in a position of moral superiority, displaying its "impartiality" by criticizing Democrats, and taking condescending shots at other parts of the country. Add in the paper's well-established preference for talking about rich people and the hypocritical California Democrats narrative is nearly perfect which means we're probably in for still more installments.  

Friday, December 17, 2021

Food prices

This is Joseph.

There as a good article on rising food prices recently. In it, there was discussion of how a basket of goods had become expensive. Some commentators focused on the presence of Lindt chocolate: 
First, there’s a distinct “people on a budget don’t deserve nice chocolate” vibe to many of these comments, which I take umbrage with. Food shaming is pervasive on social media, whether it’s people yucking other people’s yums on a recipe post, commenting on what or how much they are eating, or acting like spending money on a pre-chopped salad kit is tantamount to burning down an orphanage.

And while I agree learning to cook is an important life skill and the best form of self-care you can engage in, there are lots of reasons people lean on convenience food — chief among them being convenience, which is right there in the name. Time is our most valuable finite resource, especially in a world that demands a lot of it.

You can see the chocolate below:

I see three bars of decent chocolate, of the type that people usually eat small pieces of mixed in with actual vegetables and lean chicken breast. I see a lot of bagels and some chips. This is a person who probably either lives alone or lacks the time to do a lot of cooking. I can totally see that. Meal preparation is labor intensive and it is easy to imagine reasons that one might not want to do a ton of it -- especially as time costs don't do a lot of scaling so it helps when somebody else can take a turn or do the dishes.

But finally, I want to argue that this is also the most counterproductive line of attack on this basket of good. Saving a small amount of money to buy the higher sugar/fat cheap chocolate seems like it makes this basket worse, not better. 

Finally, low food prices are a good thing. Full stop. High food prices mean hunger and, in a world of spiraling housing costs, budgets are not often able to handle new forms of inflation. We want people to buy  bar of Lindt chocolate (or any mid-range brand) and not feel like their budget is being stressed. It was once a sign of prosperity and political success for middle class working people to be able to afford decent food. 

That said, Mark covers the "how to shop effectively for food" beat much better than I and may well have some counterpoints. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Disruption in Higher education

This is Joseph.

Right now Australia is the leader in education disruption. They are quickly shifting universities to a more corporate model. The introduction of hot-desking into a University is a huge change in how academic space is used.  What is amazing is how small the saving are ($11 million on a budget of $1.16 billion) and yet it completely changes the University as a place to do focused work. 

Ernst and Young has even sent out a plan for the university of the future in Australia. The goal is to switch to being a knowledge services provider. Of course, this crazily pits the higher education sector against Google, without getting what makes a University valuable. It is not just the specific skills, at least for most classes, but the learning of professional norms (think of nursing) and signaling (it is hard to get into challenging programs). There is a lot of money in higher education and I am sure that management consultants would like to get most of it. 

It is debatable whether you'd prefer the taxi system or the Uber system as a driver. But I am unaware of any Taxi owners who have amassed a 2.7 billion fortune in running a Taxi business. I suspect that one might want to think about exactly how the incentives align in these schemes. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Senior Epidemiology

This is Joseph.

A blogger by the name of Noah Haber made this provocative graphic:

It took me a few minutes to identify everyone but the most interesting thing (besides a fairly clear phenotype) is that five of eight are appointed at Harvard University. Harvard has a strong public health school, but is it really that dominant? Is talent really so narrowly concentrated? Or is this an issue of power concentration like the way that four of the current SCOTUS justices come from Yale's law school and seven come from either Yale or Harvard. There are around 200 law schools in the US, it seems equally remarkable that talent is just that concentrated. 

The other schools are Emory, Penn, and Leeds. 

There is something to be considered here about the intellectual diversity in Epidemiology. It's true that it looks a bit better if you look at details but it is still not a great situation to have one school leading so much of the field. It opens vulnerabilities that we don't like.

Now, it is true that Noah's method of sampling could be debated. But it is a very curiously link to what appears to be the most important publications in the field. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Is it time to step down?

This is Joseph.

So one piece of the covid-19 pandemic that has really surprised me is that it did not spur a reinvestment in emergency medicine. Like there is still dire strain on hospitals, but how is this unforeseen two years into the pandemic? One typically expects a long tail of an epidemic and the way to handle burnout is to expand capacity for a while so that everyone can recover. One month into a pandemic is an unforeseen disaster but weak hospital capacity two years in is a choice. 

The polio vaccine had about 40% of the rate of events of the placebo and even lower levels of paralytic polio. it did exactly what covid-19 vaccination was doing -- reduced the rate of disease and was even more effective against severe disease. But there was a long tail (15,000 paralytic events in the 1950's, 100 in the 1960's, and 10 in the 1970's). So it isn't unexpected that there will be a long lag.

The question is how long do we keep up vigorous public health measures. Now, I do want to make one important distinction. There are some measures, like better ventilation, that have positive externalities (e.g., student learning) that probably make them worthwhile whether or not covid-19 is freely circulating. I would not be adverse to better air in classrooms, both for the sake of learning and because all respiratory diseases are unpleasant. 

But what about the restrictions on travel? The need to constantly provide tests at the border and quarantine after air travel, despite the presence of large reservoirs? Or the smaller class sizes? Limited indoor events for children? Social isolation? it has been more than a decade since somebody failed to light a shoe on fire and we still take shoes off in the airport. Will we add mandatory testing for an extinct disease to what we do when we cross borders in 2050?

That said, I think we need to expect to live with the disease for the immediate future. It not only has the original reservoir (back in China) from which it might return from, but it has been highly successful at jumping to other animal species.  We are not going to be able to prevent it jumping back from (for example) deer, even if the absolute risk is low for any given infection. 

Consider these tweets from Akiva Cohen:

Now Akiva is a lawyer and not an epidemiologist, but there is a reasonable point here. At some point we accept risk as a part of living. For motor vehicle crashes that is 38,000 per year. Covid-19, averaged over the 21 months of the epidemic, is currently running at about 10 times that rate  but at some point we'd expect the death rate to drop to car crash levels and it might be time to start thinking about how we get there as soon as plausible. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Our annual Toys-for-Tots post

A good Christmas can do a lot to take the edge off of a bad year both for children and their parents (and a lot of families are having a bad year). It's the season to pick up a few toys, drop them by the fire station and make some people feel good about themselves during what can be one of the toughest times of the year.

If you're new to the Toys-for-Tots concept, here are the rules I normally use when shopping:

The gifts should be nice enough to sit alone under a tree. The child who gets nothing else should still feel that he or she had a special Christmas. A large stuffed animal, a big metal truck, a guitar or a keyboard, a large can of Legos with enough pieces to keep up with an active imagination. You can get any of these for around twenty or thirty bucks at Wal-Mart or Costco;

Shop smart. The better the deals the more toys can go in your cart;

No batteries. (I'm a strong believer in kid power);*

Speaking of kid power, it's impossible to be sedentary while playing with a basketball;

No toys that need lots of accessories;

For games, you're generally better off going with a classic;

No movie or TV show tie-ins. (This one's kind of a personal quirk and I will make some exceptions like Sesame Street);

Look for something durable. These will have to last;

For smaller children, you really can't beat Fisher Price and PlaySkool. Both companies have mastered the art of coming up with cleverly designed toys that children love and that will stand up to generations of energetic and creative play.

* I'd like to soften this position just bit. It's okay for a toy to use batteries, just not to need them. Fisher Price and PlaySkool have both gotten into the habit of adding lights and sounds to classic toys, but when the batteries die, the toys live on, still powered by the energy of children at play.


Friday, December 10, 2021

Why the SCOTUS stuff is so annoying

This is Joseph.

I have been giving the SCOTUS justices a hard time for making bad decisions. But part of the problem is that the system is badly designed for current conditions. Consider this tweet:

There are a number of badly designed elements. One key issue is that the design of judicial review is not ideal in the United States. It is true that reviewing a law for constitutionality is important. It might be more important to do before the law is passed and not in the context that it has already injured people. It also doesn't always have the greatest history: Dred Scott v. Sandford held that the framers had not intended to include persons of African descendant as citizens. This sort of ruling makes it clear why a constitution needs to be a living document. 

Another is that life tenure, coupled with this much power, makes it very easy to for the court to go wrong and (obviously) judicial remedies are not going to happen. Judges are not, as a class, going to decide that they violate the good conduct rule in making rulings. Further, it creates a sense of ownership over the seats that is simply odd. Tenured professors have jobs that also have strong protections, but a university could be closed (we can't close the federal judiciary) and more professors can be hired to balance out older colleagues. A fixed number of seats is very different. Look at Ruth Bader Ginsberg's last wish: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed". The people arguing that this wish should be respected were mad. This job did not belong to her and her views on it being filled have nothing to do with what should have happened. Now, you can argue the precedent after Scalia (4 years old) should have been respected -- that is at least a coherent argument. But the argument from the officeholder is just a private viewpoint, of no more importance than any other. 

Power is corrupting and making the most powerful branch of government a life tenure post in a democracy is dangerous. Courts are beginning to interfere with routine business: congressional subpoenas take months to resolve as courts are used for delay, immigration policy is blocked by nationwide exemptions, and laws like the ACA are rewritten as part of the judicial process.  

In this context, the decision by Stephen Breyer to resist resigning is bad, but the real issue is how the institution corrupts incentives. It is a seniority based system so the job is best at the very end of one's career. This shifts toward gerontocracy. But it is also a system where Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in at 48 and could easily live to the same age as RBG (87) serving for 40 years or so. That is a terribly long time to not have future input into the role. The issue is systemic and not just bad individual decisions and I have much more sympathy for Breyer when I see it as a system failure. 

The real question is what is next? It's clear this is where we were going since Bork whether you see it as an issue of Ronald Reagan for nominating an extremist or congress for pushing back. One way or the other, the norms were broken and the slow slide began. Now the question is what next? Will be see an FDR era shift to judicial moderation? Or will the system keep cracking? 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Checking in on over-the-air television beat

These are some of the new OTA superstations you can now pick-up with a set of rabbit ears here in LA. It is a very partial list. I limited it to 2020/21 launches from major media companies in billion dollars or above valuation range (with one possible but unavoidable exception can't leave out Weigel). Several stations from smaller companies were excluded and even with the constraints mentioned I probably missed some examples.


    MeTV Plus (2021)


    Fave TV (2021)


    LX (2020)

Nexstar (formerly Tribune)

    Rewind TV

Ryman (Opry Entertainment Group)

    Circle (2020)

Entertainment Studios (The Weather Channel et al.)

    TheGrio (2021) 

E. W. Scripps Company (which bought out the innovative Katz)

    Defy TV (2021)

    TrueReal (2021)

    Newsy (2021)

Tegna (formerly Gannett)

    Twist (2021)

I have no solid numbers on this but it's my impression that growth, while leveling off a bit, remains fairly steady and the industry appears to be very stable with close to a hundred percent survival rate among major players (compare that to the cable at this point in its history). It is also worth noting that, with the exception of Ryman, all of these companies already had one or more terrestrial superstations before these new launches. Twelve years in, no one appears to be looking to get out. 

 There's a big and interesting story waiting to be told about digital over-the-air television. It's part of a still bigger and more important one about why the press somehow collectively decides to focus on certain subjects and narratives and to ignore others. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The rise of the Trump-over-the-Pope faction of the Catholic Church has been one of the most fascinating and disturbing developments of the past few years.

I know we have to be careful discussing the sincerity of faith-based beliefs, but it is extraordinarily difficult to find any passage in any sacred text that supports a religious exemption that just applies to Covid-19 vaccines, particularly when the head of your religion has come out as pro-vaccination. 

It's even more obvious when you listen to the clip ("or billionaire technocrat") that the source of this position isn't the Pope or the bible; it's Trump/OANN/Tucker Carlson, and to the extent that this stand is religious, the religion is no longer Catholicism. 


"Why does he mean more to you than us?”

I come from the buckle of the Bible belt and I stay in touch with friends from back home. Nothing here is that new to me, but even if you've heard this story before, this retelling is worth your time. 

What I want to single out here is the way that MAGA and other movements can use members' deeply held (and often reasonable) beliefs to bring them in and then, once they are completely immersed, indoctrinate them into a new worldview that often directly contradicts some of those initial beliefs. This is not a simple process. It happen slowly and stealthily and its effectiveness is not limited to the stupid or the gullible. I've seen smart, reasonable people -- the last ones you'd expect -- get sucked in.  

Of course, more often it is the first ones you'd expect, cruel and foolish people with longstanding reactionary tendencies. The closer to the door they start, the easier it is to get them in the temple, but even the most likely recruits are changed by the indoctrination, made less empathetic, more childish, more paranoid and yet more credulous.   

From the Washington Post:

Like other families with split political affiliations, they had some yelling matches after Trump took office, especially over the former president’s immigration policies. Claire was a Canadian-born Catholic drawn to the Republican Party by her fierce opposition to abortion, and Trump had won her over with promises to champion her position. Celina, Laurie and their three younger siblings skewed left despite their conservative upbringing in South Dakota. They had never felt such disdain for a politician before.

By the end of the Trump administration, the bounds of their political disagreements had shifted, Laurie recounted, becoming at once more intense and also less about policy and legislation in Washington. They had learned to live with their disagreements over abortion. Now it felt like they were occupying different realities altogether.

Over the course of 2020, amid a presidential election, racial justice protests and a pandemic, the five siblings began to trade increasingly worried text messages and emails about some of the things Claire was saying and posting on Facebook. There were comments they noticed about child trafficking and sacrifice, a key theme of the extremist QAnon ideology. There was her vitriol toward Pope Francis, whom she had referred to as “the anti-Pope.” After Election Day, they took turns pushing back on a stream of disinformation Claire posted online, including the unfounded claim that the CIA murdered U.S. soldiers abroad to help cover up voter fraud.


“Why is this important enough to compromise your relationships with your kids? Why does he mean more to you than us?”
This is a topic that could launch a thousand graduate theses, so we need to come back to it, particularly what happens to an area when conservative media reaches critical mass (we will cover this). In the mean time, one closing thought: cults and cons exist because people believe they would never fall for a cult or a con.