Susan’s Salon: 2021 August 29/30


Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is still Sunday in most other countries). It’s fine to be sad, worried, vaccinated, unvaccinated-yet, angry or maybe even happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like and be nice to one another πŸ˜‡

Debarkle Chapter 59: Meanwhile…Trump, Puppies and Pizza

“You ignorant low information bastards. Motivated by fear and anger, you overlooked every gain made over the last few cycles, and traded it in to a lying huckster democrat for some magic beans. So you could stick it to the establishment, by electing the shit bird who funded them.”

May 2016: what had been a long list of potential Republican candidates for US President had slowly whittled its way down to three. Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich suspended their campaigns on May 3, after the leading candidate Donald Trump had secured an unassailable lead in delegates for the convention[1]. That Trump had even lasted the first few months of the long race for the nomination had surprised people. That Trump had actually beaten all the other candidates was mystifying. Of the many factions and flavours of Republicans, Trump appeared to be a poor fit for most of them. He was neither a neoconservative nor a libertarian nor particularly religious. His positions on key issues such as gun rights or abortion had been inconsistent over the years, as had his party allegiance. Whichever way you sliced the Republican Party, it appeared to have a natural anti-Trump majority.

But that’s not how elections work. Trump had built up a reputation as a fighter and had attracted a base of support by maintaining his quixotic “Birther” campaign alleging issues with President Barack Obama’s birth certificate for years. For many Republicans, Trump was not offering to be the perfect compromise candidate for the party but rather a champion in a culture war against the Democrats and the left. That base of support kept Trump in the race while other candidates dropped out leaving him facing the uninspiring Cruz and the too-moderate-to-win Kasich. Trump’s capacity to generate publicity for himself had kept him in the news and his unapologetic approach to bad news coverage had earned him even more support.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 59: Meanwhile…Trump, Puppies and Pizza”

Baseline shenanigans

Vaccine denial and vaccine hesitancy have a very long history and as with many of these things, overt nonsense is mixed in with genuine concerns. Many socially and economically disadvantaged groups have reasons to be wary of the medical profession and many developing nations have reasons to be wary of initiatives from Western governments and/or companies for example.

However, what we’ve seen almost in real-time is vaccine misinformation shift from being a fringe belief only partly connected with ideology to something that is increasingly not just political but politically partisan.

As always, my canary in the coal mine for tracking this is Theodore Beale aka Vox β€œI’m not a neo-Nazi” Day. Now Day has a long history of pushing vaccine misinformation and fears, including hyping up concerns about mercury in vaccines and the false claims of vaccines being a cause of autism. Yet despite a history of raising fears about “vaccine safety” that date back to at least 2004, the volume of his posts about vaccines split approximately 50/50 from prior to 1/1/2021 to after 1/1/201*

His latest (false) claim is that “Vaccinated 5x More Likely to Die” He is wrong and demonstrably so but how he gets to this conclusion is instructive. If you guessed that he gets there via bad numeracy and poor reasoning you will be correct. If you also guessed “via second-hand sources” you would also be correct.

Now we will have to do some arithmetic but it’s only division.

There is usually a nugget of truth somewhere and in this case, the nugget is a UK government report on the prevalence of different variants of the SARS CoV-2 virus (alpha, delta, alligator etc). You can find the report here

Vox D then grabbed some other persons attempt to spin one table from that report and then did some basic arithmetic to jump to an erroneous conclusion.

“Do the math. An unvaccinated individual in the UK who contracts COVID has a 1 in 597 chance of dying. A fully-vaccinated individual has a 1 in 117 chance of dying, which is 5.1 times greater.”

Where is the error? Not in the division. He divided some numbers and got those values but simply doing a calculation correctly isn’t the same as doing the right calculation.

The data he worked with is from a table on pages 18 & 19 from the report above. In fact, he’s mainly using the last row of the table which spills over onto page 19. I’ve put together the rows and columns he used but I won’t include all the other columns to focus on the numbers he uses:

Total2 dosesUnvaccinated
All Deaths (delta)742402253
All delta cases30001047008151054
Per cent0.25%0.86%0.17%
1 chance in404.3261456116.9353234597.0513834
Data taken from Table 5. Attendance to emergency care and deaths of confirmed and provisional Delta cases in England by vaccination status
(1 February 2021 to 2 August 2021) with added calculations

Out of context, that looks alarming and confusing! Yeah but no. It’s horribly misleading and relies on two errors. The first is that you aren’t comparing like with like from the data in the table itself and the second is a baseline error. Day claims that a “fully-vaccinated individual has a 1 in 117 chance of dying” but that conclusion is demonstrably false.

So the first error can be seen directly in the table. The data split cases by age: <50 years old and β‰₯50 years old. That’s obviously important with mortality statistics (and even more so with COVID19) but also with vaccination status.

Do the same calculations again but this time use the data from the table that is specific to the age groups.

Total2 dosesUnvaccinated
Deaths <50711348
Cases <5026574925536147612
Per cent0.03%0.05%0.03%
1 chance in3742.9436621964.3076923075.25
Deaths β‰₯50670389205
Cases β‰₯5033736214723440
Per cent1.99%1.81%5.96%
1 chance in50.3522388155.1979434416.7804878

The first problem with Day’s calculation becomes apparent. The proportions of the two age groups is different between the 2 dose group and the unvaccinated group. A greater proportion of the unvaccinated over 50s died compared to the 2 doses over 50s.

So OK, Day screwed up that “5.1 times greater” figure and screwed up the probability by comparing two groups that were demographically dissimilar but don’t the data still point to their being an issue? After all for the under 50s that small percentage who died is still bigger than the percentage for the unvaccinated? Still no because it ignores a key fact about the UK for the time range the table applies to.

Britain started its vaccine program very early and by 2 August 2021, a majority of people had been vaccinated The vaccines aren’t foolproof, they do reduce the risk of catching COVID19 and do reduce the chance of hospitalisation and death substantially but there’s always some chance. So we also have to factor in the proportions of the population vaccinated.

By 2 August, 71% of the UK population over 16 had received two doses of a COVID19 vaccine. 86.2% had received at least one dose, which leaves 13.8% unvaccinated at all. We can’t directly apply those numbers to the numbers above because obviously, those proportions shifted over the several months worth of data shown in the table above. The number of cases from fully vaccinated people comes from a much bigger group of people than those from the unvaccinated. Not only that but you are unlikely to have the same patterns of hospital admission between vaccinated and unvaccinated people as well as other demographic differences between the two.

*[based on using date ranges in a site-specific Google search – your mileage may vary]

What I’m Reading Update

My odd approach to reading Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series came to an end when Book 9 wasn’t available in audiobook format. Book 7 was at least a kind of finishing point with a major change in the faerie politics of San Francisco by the end of it. So four books of the series read (1,3,5 & 7) and it was diverting for me but not compelling reading. They suffered, ironically, from comparison with the works of rival author Seanan McGuire who covers similar themes in more complex ways πŸ˜‰

For dessert, I read (or audiobooked) Fugitive Telemetry, the more recent Murderbot story in which everybody’s favourite cyborg construct gets to play detective. Nice: a short review β€” it’s a Murderbot story and if you like Murderbot you’ll like it.

Currently on to novellas and Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted, a dystopian future Western. Entertaining.

In other news, it is raining.

Debarkle Chapter 58: Hugos and Dragons and Puppies Again

The sibling genres of fantasy and science fiction are often accused of being escapist. Arguably, escaping to other worlds of the imagination is a net positive but regardless, if a person hoped to escape the developments in American politics in the election year of 2016 they weren’t going to do so in SF&F fandom that year.

April 26 saw the announcement of the 2016 Hugo Awards Finalists and once again the talk was all of the puppies. The slate of notable alt-right figure Vox Day had multiple finalists in every category except one (Best Editor Short Form)[1]. People initially counting up the influence of the Puppy slates also saw a major overlap between Hugo finalists and the Sad Puppy 4 long list. The Puppies had struck again! Or had they?

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 58: Hugos and Dragons and Puppies Again”

Susan’s Salon: 2021 August 22/23


πŸš¦πŸš— πŸš• πŸš™ 🚌 πŸš“ πŸš‘ πŸš’ 🚐 πŸ›» 🚚 πŸš›

Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is still Sunday in most other countries). It’s fine to be sad, worried, vaccinated, unvaccinated-yet, angry or maybe even happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like and be nice to one another πŸ˜‡

Debarkle Chapter 57: Meanwhile…the Nationalist Shift Part 2 β€” The Alt Right

In European multi-party democracies, right-wing nationalist groups had often been visible as distinct political parties critical both of the left and social progress but also of the centre-right and of neo-liberalism. The ideological positions of the Nouvelle Droit[1] thinkers in France and the more transnational European New Right[2] were critical of capitalism as a force that (in their perspective) was eroding ethnic identities and culture. Critics, rightly, pointed that these ideas were little different than the militant European nationalism of the past.

As discussed in the last chapter, in Britain right-wing discourse was dominated by the Conservative Party post-WWII, with more extreme far-right groups enjoying very little electoral success and mainly associated with violent protest. Margaret Thatcher’s long period of office as Prime Minister in the 1980s had established a model of conservatism that was nationalistic but also business-centric and not wholly averse to the European Union. The conflicts within conservatism and beyond into British (or more specifically English) right-wing thinking would eventually spill over into the project to take the UK out of the European Union (aka Brexit – see the previous Chapter).

In the USA, third party politics was even more moribund than in the UK. There was a tradition of populist candidates gaining some electoral success but post-WWII such candidates had not displaced either of the two major parties. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party had for much of their existence been only loosely tied to ideological positions but from the 1960s to 1980s, the two parties had become more defined in terms of one being to the left of America’s political centre and one to the right. This had been cemented by the two terms of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, in which the conservative President had won notable electoral victories on the basis of a pro-business, pro-military, anti-Soviet and socially conservative position. The reputation of Reagan among America’s conservatives was only cemented further after he left office with the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, without the spectre of communism to unite America’s conservatism, there was a loss of direction to the movement. Capitalism had been enshrined as an idea in opposition to Communism but capitalism itself was not a force that prevents change.

The contentious election of George W. Bush and the subsequent attack on the World Trade Centre by Islamist terrorists put neoconservatism in the spotlight. The neoconservatives favoured not just a strong US military but also an interventionist foreign policy, a view that was seemingly validated by the terror attack on US cities. While critical of the left and of socially progressive policies, opposition to such policies was not the primary focus of neoconservatives, nor was it a particularly populist movement other than its emphasis on American military might.

Within American conservatism, a smaller and less influential (at the time) movement had coalesced in opposition to neoconservatism. Nicknamed paleoconservatives, they were just as keen on America having a strong military but thought that the singular role of the US military was to defend the US border and not be stationed overseas. Sceptical about the wonders of free trade and overtly antagonistic towards immigration, paleoconservative figures such as Pat Buchanan[3], William S. Lind[4] and Paul Gottfried[5] occupied an ideological space that could make connections with the European New Right as well as with more extreme sections of the American right.

Gottfried helped coin the term “alternative right” (in conjunction with a younger writer, Richard B Spencer[6]) in 2008 for a broad set of paleoconservative related beliefs that were out of favour with the neoconservative establishment of the Republican Party. The term “alternative right” was later shortened to “alt-right” but it was several years before it caught on.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 57: Meanwhile…the Nationalist Shift Part 2 β€” The Alt Right”

Update from the research mines

I’m quite pleased with how the Debarkle chapter on the rise of the Alt-right is going but it is getting quite long and has weird tangents. It won’t be finished today though. I know things are getting a bit out of control when I have four long paragraphs explaining how I’m not going to discuss the neoreactionary movement. The whole thing is a bit “I’m not going to discuss…[four paragraphs later]…this.”