Tying up old plot lines

There is a lot of noise amid the right-SF social media sphere currently. It’s very free form and the broader cause is that in mainstream SF&F communities there has been the recent cases of some very prominent and well connected men being held accountable for the way they have been treating other people (earlier coverage). Although post-Puppies, the world of right-wing science fiction claims to have separated and living an idyllic SJW-free life, in reality ructions in mainstream SF&F are felt keenly in the breakaway bubble. The problem they have is working out a clear position. On the one hand various authors they dislike are having a bad time of things but on the other hand, powerful men are being held accountable for their actions against women. Bit of a tricky dilemma and hence we get to see various diversions attacking the ‘wokeness’ of mainstream SF&F (e.g. Dave Freer recently).

Another recent example is Cirsova magazine. Cirsova was, in many ways, a better attempt by the right-wing SF&F community to challenge their energies into something a bit more positive i.e. an on-going story magazine. Up until recently, it had largely avoided outrage marketing techniques. However, that changed on June 29 with the unintentionally funny announcement that they had declared that the SFWA was a terrorist organisation (File 770 coverage). Cirsova’s stance on terrorism had been notably absent during their long association with Vox Day’s Castalia House despite Day’s infamous support of convicted terrorist and mass-murderer Anders Breivik. (“Virtue signalling” could be the term for it if we could find any virtue signalled…)

I draw two big inferences from this:

  1. This is another example of the diversions I talk about above
  2. Sales/income must be bad for Cirsova. There is always a grift with right-wing SF&F. Always, and this is classic outrage marketing. [That observation got me instantly blocked on Twitter by Cirsova…]

On the second point, right-wing SF&F publishing has been contracting. There are still some big sellers (i.e. Larry Correia) but in the time since the Puppies stormed off with their own football from the field, Castalia House has stopped publishing new science fiction and Superversive Press has closed, various at attempts at alt-SFWA have fizzled and Sarah Hoyt is claiming she can’t get published by Baen any more. There’s still a right wing audience out there but it’s just not big enough to maintain a large number of authors and outlets and much of it is catered to by more generic military SF provided by less partisan groups like LMBPN.

On the first point…well the SFWA statement on Black Lives Matter was June 4. Cirsova’s counter-terrorism unit didn’t make its deceleration until twenty-five days later i.e. not until mainstream SF&F was having its own ructions and right-wing SF was trying to find a way to join in.

Let’s throw in a few other bad actors (n both senses of the term). So I was watching a video by Jon Del Arroz…that’s never a good start to a story nor is it something I would recommend. Anyway, JDA’s video was about another charmer Richard Fox. Remember Richard? Fox got a story nominated for a Nebula award courtesy of the 20booksto50K/LMBPN slate in 2019 (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/nebula-shorts-going-dark-by-richard-fox/) and then had a bit of a melt-down in the comments section here partly when people noticed the similarity between him and a Goodreads commenter called “John Margolis” who wrote racially abusive comments to people who gave Richard bad reviews on Goodreads.

Fox would go onto behave in even more odd ways (to put it politely) https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/09/15/authors-behaving-badly-episode-1234543-richard-fox/ accusing Mike Glyer’s File 770 of “piracy” because it had a link to the SFWA public Nebula reading list to a PDF of his story that he had uploaded. No, that made no sense but it was enough for the axis of Jon Del Arroz and Larry Correia to try to spin into a scandal.

Where was I? Oh!…a video by Jon Del Arroz. [Here for reference but seriously, it’s just trolling. You can skip it https://delarroz.com/2020/07/01/nebula-award-nominated-author-pulls-story-from-sfwa-anthology-because-of-their-racism/ ]

JDA was proudly announcing that “Nebula nominated” author Richard Fox was withdrawing his story from the Nebula Award anthology (yes, that story mentioned above) in solidarity with Cirsova. Notably, Fox’s author Facebook page and author website say exactly ZERO about this brave stand against ‘terrorism’. It’s not something Fox wants his regular readers to know but…well he’d like some of those Dragon Award votes from the people who are most likely to vote in them.

Long story short: various right wing science fiction people are generally agitated by the fact that some specific male SF authors (who happen to people they don’t like but are also powerful men…so a bit of a dilemma) are being held to account because of misogynistic behaviour and so are finding various random ways of acting out.

Review: Superior by Angela Saini

Science journalist Angela Saini’s third book Superior: the Return of Race Science is a very timely survey of the history and contemporary impact of the attempts to use science to prop up racism and beliefs about race.

From Carl Linnaeus to the sinister Pioneer Fund, Saini maps the shifts both in actual understanding and the layers of post-hoc rationalisations for prejudices. She does this with minimal (but appropriate) editorialising and instead lets the views of a very wide range of interviewees inform the reader about how views have shifted or, in some cases, stubbornly refused to shift.

Much of it covered topics and personalities I was already familiar with and if you have read books like Stephen J Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, then you’ll be familiar with a lot of the background. However, Saini takes a broader survey and branches out into topics like the misguided but often well intentioned use of race in prescription medicines. I found that the sections that covered areas I was already very familiar with where both interesting and provided good insights, although I obviously got more value out of the sections on topics I was less aware of.

Saini also charts recent events such as the rise of the alt-right, the renewed ideological racism in populist governments (in particular Trump’s America but also Modi’s Hindu nationalism) and demonstrates how the 18th century obsession with race is connected to modern concerns and pseudoscience.

The people-centred approach of the book gives it a very human quality. Saini has a knack at humanising many of the protagonists without excusing or apologising either for their mistakes or (in many cases) their bigotry. Rather, by focusing on the individuals her approach highlights their motives and in the cases of many of the scientists involved how they managed to fool themselves into thinking they had transcended their own prejudices and somehow found objective truths instead of discovering convoluted ways of having their own biased assumptions echoing back to them.

I listened to the audio-book version which is narrated by Saini herself. I really highly recommend this book both in terms of the insights she gives on the topic but also as an example of excellent modern science writing.

Sci-fi, Libertarians, Heinlein and other stuff

I got bored with my previous habit of checking on the clumsy articles at Quillette — the online magazine for people who want to be reassured that reactionary ideas are really quite nice if you stand on your head and squint at them for long enough. However, a recent article crossed into multiple aspects of my interests that I really thought I should write about it. Entitled “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction” (https://quillette.com/2020/06/12/the-libertarian-history-of-science-fiction/) it is not a particularly great examination of the topic but not so blisteringly awful as to be funny. In responding to it I appear to have gone off in many directions and have used many words and long run on sentences. So more after the fold…

There really are free lunches

Priorities

I haven’t posted about Mad Genius Club for a long time but I thought I’d share a link to a recent post. The site has become a lot more focused on its core remit of helping indie authors author independently rather than feuding and political outrage. Of course, their whole eco-system for publishing is very much tied to Amazon and for many of the authors there (including the ones who have been trad-published in the past) Amazon and Amazon Kindle Unlimited are central to their publishing model. So it’s notable when an author gets frustrated with Amazon.

There is an awful lot wrong with Amazon: their near-monopoly power, Bezos’s obscene amount of wealth, shitty working conditions in its warehouses, tax avoidance, collaboration with state surveillance. Amazon has in many ways changed book publishing for the better, enabling easier access to more books for many but not without its own significant issues.

So what’s the issue that is making one author considering abandoning Amazon? https://madgeniusclub.com/2020/06/11/i-was-warned/

“I’m not sure I can do that any more. Since, oh, about the third day of the George Floyd riots, every time I open the Kindle app on my iPad, I get a row of “anti-racist” books shoved into my face.”

The horror of that experience!

“But this display, which I did not ask for and certainly do not welcome, is hardly a good-faith attempt to show me books I might be interested in. Dear Amazon, I am not going to buy Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lousy book. I would not read it even if it were free. I would not read it even if you automatically loaded it into my library, and Dear God, can something like that be far away? Stop pushing these books at me. The display doesn’t make me think, “Oh, how virtuous and public-minded this vendor is.” Rather the reverse.”

Amazon is advertising topical books. Why? It is very, very safe to assume that it’s not because of a quest for left-wing ideological purity from Amazon but from motives that are almost Ayn Randian in their cynical purity: they think people are going to want to read these books and the company will make more money for Jeff Bezos’s Scrooge McDuck giant vault of money* that way.

The offending books included:

Anyway, I’m sure next week Mad Genius Club will be back to scolding everybody about how we just don’t recognise how important diversity of ideas is.

*[I cannot confirm that Jeff Bezos actually has a Scrooge McDuck style vault of money where he skis down huge piles of coins. At a rough calculation I just did would make 150 billion dollars in ten cent coins actually not as big as you would think it is but maybe I missed a zero along the way]

…also global warming…

…is still very much happening. A monthly reminder of temperatures creeping upwards.

http://www.drroyspencer.com/2020/06/uah-global-temperature-update-for-may-2020-0-54-deg-c/

As I usually do, here is the UAH satellite-based temperature. The usual caveats apply: this isn’t the best temperature record but it side steps some tiresome arguments.

But while I’m here it’s worth taking a step back to a different tiresome argument that didn’t start fading away until about six years ago (and still circulates in some circles). This was the claim that global warming “stopped”.

Here is an example from 2013:

“The New York Times feverishly reported on August 10 that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about to issue another scary climate report. Dismissing the recent 17 years or so of flat global temperatures, the IPCC will assert that: “It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010″

https://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2013/08/21/the-new-york-times-global-warming-hysteria-ignores-17-years-of-flat-global-temperatures/#dfbc9f72a4ca

I can illustrate the period in question using a broader context:

Adapted from graph above

That the 17 year period cited was on average measurably warmer than the 17 years the preceded it should have been a hint that finding a flattish point in a noisy set of data and declaring prematurely a rise had stopped is silly in the extreme. Except “silly” misses the point. A bad faith argument is not silly if it is effective in what it was intended to achieve. In this case, the purpose of the “global warming has stopped” arguments were part of a strategy aimed at the centre and centre-right politicians and decision makers.

As evidence of global warming only strengthened in the 2000’s the political consensus on the right only shifted further into scepticism. That change didn’t happen over night and even as late as 2008 Republican Newt Gingrich appeared in a video with Nancy Pelosi arguing for action on climate change (if very vaguely) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/newt-gingrich-nancy-pelosi_n_1171530

Naturally there has been no sign of any equivalent conversions from former “global warming stopped” advocates based on the pattern for the “the recent 17 years or so” as of 2020 which would look like this:

Explaining rhetorical questions to professional writers

I suppose rhetorical questions can be confusing to people particularly ones where the person doing the asking already knows the truth of the matter. Why ask a question if the questioner already has an answer? Perhaps to illustrate a point or perhaps in the vain hope of some self reflection.

In the case of gun-owning American libertarians current events in the United States provide an illustration of something people have known for years. The libertarian right is not and never has been opposed to the government using violence against its own people in general and the only people under any illusion about that are gun-owning American libertarians. It is true that they may very well be opposed to government using violence against specific groups of people but certainly not people less wealthy or less politically powerful.

There is no mystery here. There is no doubt or confusion. Simple observation of their behaviour on many issues has confirmed it. To step away from questions of guns for a moment, the position of these “libertarians” on questions of free speech in practice is one we’ve seen illustrated over and over. The libertarian right is very, very concerned about defending the free speech of the far right, racists, neo-nazis and white supremacists (groups they claim to oppose) and but either little interest or active hostility to the free speech of people on the left or even in the centre. There is a deep searing hatred of free speech, free association and freedom of ideas that reveals itself every time among people who claim to be free-speech purists. There is always some rationale why the given person’s speech should be limited.

For your consideration here is the former instigator of Sad Puppies (a protest movement he started because of the horrific oppression he faced in not winning a book award).

“Where are all you gun owners now?”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2020/06/04/where-are-all-you-gun-owners-now/

That’s the title and Larry seems to be under the impression based on his response that is a serious question, that there are people somewhere honestly wondering why the gun-owning libertarian right aren’t suddenly mobilising to defend freedom in response to American governments using violence against their citizens. Nobody is actually wondering where the gun-owning libertarian right are. Everybody ALREADY KNOWS that Larry will side with overt fascism in a conflict because that’s what he always does. Larry here is just a handy example. Nobody expects Larry Correia to step up and fight for freedom because that would pre-suppose he was ever in favour of freedom in general (as opposed to freedoms for himself or his mates).

“Well, every single gun nut in America has spent their entire adult life being continually mocked, insulted, and belittled by the left. You’ve done nothing but paint us as the bad guys.”

And there you go. Larry literally wouldn’t fight against actual Nazis or fascists or authoritarian governments and not really because the left have been mean to gun owners but because his beliefs and interests, while different, align with them. Aside from anything else the line of argument he is attempting here (that he’ll only defend freedom if people are nice to him) is overtly stating that his belief in freedom is deeply conditional: he’ll defend the ‘freedom’ of people who he likes. The same is true about his concern for the ‘free speech’ of the more overtly authoritarian right: he defends them because he likes them, which is simply the corollary of his stated argument.

The gun nuts? Yes, they are part of exactly the same set of beliefs and attitudes about the use of deadly force against a section of Americans that people are protesting against. The militarised police and the militarised right are not two utterly distinct ideologies but instances of deeply related ideas about the use of guns or deadly force to attempt to control society. There are differences of course, as you will find in any political ideology but not differences so great that the fundamental commonality is not apparent. Heck, as we saw in the anti-lockdown protests, the “libertarians” even try to dress the same as an occupying military force.

So no, nobody is even remotely expecting the likes of Larry Correia to actually defend the principles of liberty and if people are asking “where are all you gun owners now” they already know the answer.

Blogiversary: Greatest Hits

Five years of all this nonsense but what nonsense were people reading and when? I’m down here in the archive stacks of Felapton Towers and blowing the dust off the weird old filing cabinets to find out. These posts are just the numbers-game hits rather than special favourites and often other factors drove the traffic to them.

2015

The first year out for the blog and Puppy-kerfuffling was already in full on kerfluff.

2016

2016 was the year that the unreality field started spilling out everywhere.

2017

2017 was dominated by Rabid Puppy shenanigans. In particular Vox Day’s spoiler campaign for John Scalzi’s new sci-fi trilogy.

2018

I was downloading a report from an online database the other day and I was entering a date range. I wanted to cover the whole set of records which started in 2011. So I picked 2011/1/1 as the start date and that day’s date which I typed as 2018/5/8. What? I think my brain stopped updating the year and I’ve been stuck in 2018 ever since.

The reality dysfunction was going full-on as world politics got even stranger. Meanwhile this blog was forced into self-referentiality as I got caught up in my own Sad Puppy kerbungle and then later became a Hugo Finalist.

2019

At the very start of January 2019 I considered winding down the blog. Later I decided to post something every day. I’m fickle. Surprisingly, it was the Nebula Awards that drove traffic to the blog.

2020

The year isn’t finished yet but it started on fire and followed up with a global pandemic. This is a first-quarter list but I think some of the themes for the year are clear…

A small denial update

A short follow up on the pro-virus faction. Sarah Hoyt is promoting a protest today in Colorado in a big red font “GRIDLOCK PROTEST AT THE CAPITOL TODAY AT ONE.

On April 4 I wrote this post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/04/04/a-study-in-denial/ with a section looking at Colorado specifically.

Colorado isn’t a mysterious far away planet. We can literally go and see how Covid-19 is progressing in the state. I’ll use the John Hopkins University visualisation tool for tracking confirmed Covid-19 cases that is available here: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6 The tool allows you to drill down to state (and within state) data in the USA. Colorado (pop. 5.696 million) currently (April 4 6:50 Sydney time) has 3,742 confirmed cases of Covid-19. For comparison, New South Wales (pop. 7.544 million) has 2,389 confirmed cases and that’s with long established Chinese communities (that Hoyt seems to regard as the only risk factor) as well as Sydney being a major cruise ship destination (an actually pertinent risk factor).

In the time since the number of cases in Colorado has reached 9,440 (as of 5 am April 20 Sydney time) with 411 deaths. The comparison I made then was with NSW but those figures now well exceed the whole country of Australia (6,457 cases, 71 deaths). NSW confirmed cases is currently 2,926.

Here is my other fear. We know that Covid-19 isn’t the worst case scenario, even given how bad it is. We will face worse and this current crisis is a dress rehearsal. Counterfactual beliefs on the right only become MORE entrenched and so the next major pandemic in a window of say 20 years will be met with more strident denial from the right earlier.

The Virus, The Lockdown and the Wingnut Eschatology

A post really wasn’t coming together on all this stuff on the anti-lockdown ‘movement’ among the US right. However, I wanted a bunch of links in one place to come back to later. The whys and the hows and whos and how it all connects to money, oil and denial is sort of there. I intended just a list of links but you get a rambling post instead. Somehow Jonestown and the Last Jedi get connected in here. More after the fold.

Continue reading “The Virus, The Lockdown and the Wingnut Eschatology”

Hoyt’s Covid Denial Hits the Big Time

Sarah Hoyt wrote a new version of her critique of epidemiological models (see my post A Study in Denial) for her column in the far-right outlet PJMedia: https://pjmedia.com/blog/modeling-covid-19-and-the-lies-of-multiculturalism/ It’s basically the same points she made in her original essay, nobody really knows and therefore Hoyt knows and therefore she knows that it is all down to culture or population density etc. It is at best wild guesses and half-formed opinions where her credentials are established like so:

“However, as the mother and wife of STEM people for whom physics is a game and who create such models for fun, I know that the accuracy of the model depends on how much you put into it and how much of the real factors on that day, in that place, you can put in.”

Her theory is, of course, another kind of model and it shares with any model all the flaws plus the additional ones of being half-arsed opinion based on a weak grasp of the news.

“For instance, my friend in Albany, Georgia, tells me he assumes part of the reason it got so bad in his neighborhood (the worst per capita in the U.S. last I looked) is that “we are the touchiest, most social people I know,” i.e., there is a lot of touching and hugging. At a guess, this is the reason it got so bad in Italy, too, but not nearly as bad in Germany, where, frankly, people aren’t that touchy/feely/huggy.”

Quite how the UK fits into the Hoyt-Covid-Hugs model of infection I don’t know but I can’t say us Brits have ever been accused of being a very hug-prone nation. It does help resolve what Hoyt things ‘culture’ might be: national stereotypes. Maybe France has a high infection rate because they wear berets whereas Brazil has a different pattern because they wear bikinis? That’s about the level of Hoyt’s analysis.

So if there is nothing new in Hoyt’s PJMedia piece (one of four, two behind paywalls) why am I mentioning it. Well Rush Limbaugh (who apparently still exists even though I’d forgotten about him sometime around 2010) has been praising the column by Hoyt.

“Now, this is a tough case to make. And Sarah Hoyt does a great job in the piece, a very long piece. We will link to it at RushLimbaugh.com. It was published yesterday. But I want to try here because her point is that we get these models projecting how many people are gonna get sick, how many people are gonna die, assuming everybody’s identical, everybody’s the same, gonna behave the same.”

https://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2020/04/13/the-covid-19-models-cant-account-for-culture/

Hmm, so what would Mr Limbaugh or Ms Hoyt suggest instead for a pandemic response? Now consider, neither of them deny that there is a pandemic even if they question the severity of it. Yet consider, there is no reason to believe that Covid-19 is the worst possible novel viral disease that could occur. Notably, the measures that have been seen to work require them to be implemented BEFORE the full severity of the pandemic is known – the earlier the better. So there is no viable scenario in which the response to a novel pandemic can be made with full and accurate models. Nor is there any possible way of creating models that account for every person’s unique individuality (and what a rabbit hole that would be — implying a level of surveillance state of dystopian proportions).

[ETA: For a better discussion of the limits and value of models in this pandemic see this extended cartoon/discussion at FiveThirtyEight by Zach “SMBC” Weinersmith https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-comic-strip-tour-of-the-wild-world-of-pandemic-modeling/ ]