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And yes, human nature does not rapidly change

In the “the more they stay the same” category, Jamelle Bouie, writing in his March 11 NYT Opinion piece, quotes from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America:

“It often happens in democratic countries that many men who have the desire or the need to associate cannot do it, because all being very small and lost in the crowd, they do not see each other and do not know where to find each other. Up comes a newspaper that exposes to their view the sentiment or the idea that had been presented to each of them simultaneously but separately. All are immediately directed toward that light, and those wandering spirits who had long sought each other in the shadows finally meet each other and unite.”

And now I’ll quote Bouie himself, as he decries the decline in local news coverage that he believes contributes further to the undermining of American democratic institutions:

“One of the most striking aspects of the modern information environment, as many people have observed, is the almost total collapse of local and even regional news outlets. Where once every town or city of even minor consequence had a newspaper — with reporters who helped the community understand itself through their work — now there are large parts of the country that exist in news deserts, where there is little coverage of anything, from local government to local events.

I think that this decline has played an important role in undermining America’s democratic institutions, as well as the public’s faith in democracy. It’s not just that the collapse of local news has made it harder to hold any number of public officials accountable — contributing to general cynicism about the ability of government to do anything constructive — but that Americans increasingly lack the information they need to participate in the political process in their communities.”

2023-03-11T15:22:32-05:00March 11th, 2023|Home, Musings|

Rant on Fox “News”

I know I’ve commented before on my belief that Fox News has been a destructive force for American society, aided and abetted by certain social media elements, but I just can’t get over how clearly the Dominion lawsuit has demonstrated this as fact.   Siloed media feeding into fear and ginning up anger have been tragically bad for America, and it’s all been done for profit.  The following text is from the as-always-excellent John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, where he quotes in turn from Dominion’s brief in support of a motion for summary judgement:

“Finally. Fox has conceded what it knew all along. The charges Fox broadcast against Dominion are false. Fox does not spend a word of its brief arguing the truth of any accused statement. Fox has produced no evidence — none, zero — supporting those lies. This concession should come as no surprise. Discovery into Fox has proven that from the top of the organization to the bottom, Fox always knew the absurdity of the Dominion “stolen election” story. Now, having failed to put in any evidence to the contrary (because no such evidence exists), Fox has conceded the falsity of the Dominion allegations it broadcast.

That concession is no small thing. Thirty percent or more of Americans still believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. The heart of that lie remains the false conspiracy theory that Fox legitimized and mainstreamed starting on November 8 — that Dominion stole the election, using secret algorithms in its software originally designed for a Venezuelan dictator. Because of these lies, Dominion now may be “one of the most demonized brands in the United States or the world.” Dominion employees still endure threats and harassment. So it matters that Fox in private ridiculed — and never believed — the lie. And it matters that Fox has now in this litigation conceded these allegations were false.”


“Fox seeks a First Amendment license to knowingly spread lies. Fox would have this Court create an absolute legal immunity for knowingly spreading false allegations — lies — for profit, regardless of how absurd the lies are, regardless how many people in the chain of command know the lies are false, and regardless how many people are hurt — so long as the false claims are “newsworthy.” Fox proffers a completely made-up “rule,” contrary to decades of jurisprudence since New York Times v. Sullivan. As Judge Nichols ruled in rejecting MyPillow’s analogous argument that the First Amendment provides “blanket protection” from defamation for statements about a “‘public debate in a public forum,’” “there is no such immunity. Instead, the First Amendment safeguards our ‘profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,’ by limiting viable defamation claims to provably false statements made with actual malice.””


2023-03-11T15:07:09-05:00March 11th, 2023|Home, Musings|

Failing to learn from the past…

Heather Cox Richardson’s March 5 newsletter, recounting the events surrounding Selma’s 1965 voting rights protests, is definitely worth a read.  Her important conclusions:

“But less than 50 years later, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. The Shelby County v. Holder decision opened the door, once again, for voter suppression. Since then, states have made it harder to vote. In the wake of the 2020 election, in which voters handed control of the government to Democrats, Republican-dominated legislatures in at least 19 states passed 34 laws restrict­ing access to voting. In July 2021, in the Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decision, the Supreme Court ruled that election laws that disproportionately affected minority voters were not unconstitutional so long as they were not intended to be racially discriminatory. 

When the Democrats took power in 2021, they vowed to strengthen voting rights. They immediately introduced the For the People Act, which expanded voting rights, limited the influence of money in politics, banned partisan gerrymandering, and created new ethics rules for federal officeholders. Republicans in the Senate blocked the measure with a filibuster. Democrats then introduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would have restored portions of the Voting Rights Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act, a lighter version of the For the People Act. Republicans blocked both of those acts, too. 

And so, in 2023, the right to vote is increasingly precarious.”

We ignore the lessons of Selma at our peril.

2023-03-06T00:30:11-05:00March 6th, 2023|Home, Musings|

Masks can make sense

• Tomas Pueyo, writing in his Uncharted Territories  substack blog takes a good hard look at the Cochrane Library’s meta analysis of the “Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses” by Dooley et al. used by some (e.g. Bret Stephens in the NYT) to erroneously conclude that mask mandates are ineffective.  In reality, no such conclusion can be drawn from the Dooley review — the authors themselves state “The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.” and “We are uncertain whether wearing masks or N95/P2 respirators helps to slow the spread of respiratory viruses based on the studies we assessed.”  Pueyo does a good job of analyzing why this review does not provide any substantive evidence that mask mandates are ineffective.

2023-02-28T17:33:18-05:00February 28th, 2023|HomeRecommended|

The Evil of the Murdoch Empire

• Jeremy Peters and Katie Robertson write in the NY Times about some of the noisome evidence produced in the Dominion defamation case. For me, the most heinous indictment in their story comes in this quote from Rupert Murdoch:

“On one occasion, as Mr. Murdoch watched Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell on television, he told Suzanne Scott, chief executive of Fox News Media, “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear.””

Murdoch knew the damage he was doing to people and to this country and yet persisted, all in the interest of $$. Read the story, it says it all about the profit driven business plan of his media empire, one built on lies and fear-stoking.

2023-02-16T19:48:08-05:00February 16th, 2023|HomeRecommended|

Steven Pinker on ChatGPT

I enjoyed this interview with Steven Pinker on ChatGPT in the Harvard Gazette. From the piece:

“It’s impressive how ChatGPT can generate plausible prose, relevant and well-structured, without any understanding of the world — without overt goals, explicitly represented facts, or the other things we might have thought were necessary to generate intelligent-sounding prose.

And this appearance of competence makes its blunders all the more striking.”

2023-02-16T19:29:37-05:00February 15th, 2023|Home, Musings|

More on Covid Vaccine Efficacy

Some data on excess death rates among physicians before and after the availability of Covid vaccines.  From JAMA Internal Medicine: Kiang MV, Carlasare LE, Thadaney Israni S, Norcini JJ, Zaman JAB, Bibbins-Domingo K. Excess Mortality Among US Physicians During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 06, 2023.

“From March 2020 through December 2021, US physicians experienced 622 more deaths than expected. There were no excess deaths among physicians after April 2021, coinciding with the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines.”

2023-02-07T09:23:21-05:00February 7th, 2023|Home, Musings|

How much do state policies influence life expectancy?

• Dr F. Perry Wilson of the Yale School of Medicine writes on Medscape about this interesting article from Plos One: “U.S. state policy contexts and mortality of working-age adults” by Montez, Mohri, Monnat, et al.  Dr. Wilson thinks that average education level may be the primary factor for the life expectancy discrepancy between states rather than state policies, but the authors in their abstract suggest that state policies may have a large impact:

“Simulations indicate that changing all policy domains in all states to a fully liberal orientation might have saved 171,030 lives in 2019, while changing them to a fully conservative orientation might have cost 217,635 lives.”

and in their discussion:

“On average, Americans die younger than their peers in most other high-income countries. In a 2013 U.S. survey, 85% of adult respondents indicated that their ideal life span was 79 years or older, yet U.S. life tables predicted that only 60% of people born that year could expect to survive to age 79 [40, 41]. Our findings, which examine working-age deaths among adults ages 25–64 years, suggest state policies–specifically, their left/right lean–may be a contributing factor and provide new insights into potential strategies to reduce working-age mortality.”

2023-02-02T19:23:22-05:00February 2nd, 2023|HomeRecommended|
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