Sorry that you cannot go to Wellington, so here is my impression of it

CoNZealand has announced that the 2020 Worldcon will be virtual:

A very understandable decision. I think this could be an exciting and maybe even a positive step forward. The big challenge will be keeping the essence of the event while making it virtual. I don’t know if that is possible but that’s one of the challenges that 2020 is bringing.

CoNZealand haven’t announced any details of what this virtual version will be. There will be a host of challenges from choices of software to bandwidth to pushing beyond just talking heads and chat rooms. Getting participants to feel that they part of a single entertaining group event is the essence of the challenge.

What people will definitely be missing though, is a chance to visit Wellington. There’s no way of avoiding that with New Zealand essentially closed to travel until the pandemic has peaked. That is sad because Wellington is one of my favourite cities. I don’t say that lightly. I have visited many cities in my life and while not a connoisseur of metropolitan areas, I think I’ve visited a sufficient variety around the world (except for Africa and North America) to have an informed but not exhaustive opinion.

So here is my impression of Wellington as best as I can manage as a substitute for visiting there. I’ve never lived in the city and I’m sure actual Kiwis can give a more inside picture. In particular, the city has a rich Maori heritage that dates back beyond Britain’s invasion of the area that I can’t do justice to. However, I can talk about what it is like to be a stranger visiting and wandering through it.

Photos after the fold

Perhaps the most significant story from a former Sad Puppy ever

I had considered writing a piece about how the various right wing blogs and outlets I read are reacting to the current Covid-19 pandemic. However, I feel I have to point everybody to this frankly epic true story by Declan Finn http://www.declanfinn.com/2020/03/i-have-returned-from-italy-part-1-oh.html

If it was fiction and Declan was a made up character it would be the story for our times, encapsulating so much about 2020’s America and it’s relationship with Europe, the odd cognitive distance from reality of the American right and the very real human issues of coping in a world where the multitude of connections start shutting down. I’m reminded of John Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire as the flow shuts down the gateways between worlds.

For those who don’t want to visit Declan’s blog, let me sum up. Last week (yes, LAST week) Declan and his wife went to ITALY for a holiday. As you can imagine (and indeed could have predicted last week when Italy was already well, well into its crisis) things did not go well.

The collision between belief and reality is laid out in unwitting detail. I genuinely hope he is fine (he and his wife are apparently safely back in the US or as safely back as anybody is).

The short version therefore of how right wing blogs are reacting plays out in a personal level in Declan’s story. Initial scepticism and eagerness to carry on as if it is all a fuss over nothing which then collides with an escalating reality and blaming the government.

How are things down under?

The short answer is that it could be worse. Obviously a pandemic is not a good thing and Australia’s main contribution to the world’s response was the embarrassing toilet-paper panic (whose only upside was as a boon for economists looking for metaphors).

New Zealand is still low on actual cases but is implementing a very drastic policy of asking any overseas visitors (except from Pacific island nations) https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12316692 There’s an announcement pending on mass gatherings. Meanwhile Australia has banned from Monday organised gatherings of 500 or more people (with some exemptions) and is asking people not to travel overseas.

Two events from the past are making the current Federal government less disappointing than they could be:

  • The shambolic Federal (and Prime Ministerial) response to the summer bushfire crisis (oh so long ago now) led to very poor poll numbers for the government. You would think they wouldn’t needed that reminder to work out that you have to at a minimum seem to be proactive in a crisis but apparently the lesson was learned. Still less than perfect but Scott Morrison isn’t the hate figure he was in January.
  • The 2007 general election. That election resulted in a Labor government under Kevin Rudd (who had his own severe personality flaws). What that meant was that when the GFC hit Australia went with stimulus rather than austerity. Australia weather the crisis better than most, much of which was due to minerals and China but stimulus helped (not surprisingly because it really should). That led to the received wisdom in Australia that in a crisis the government should spend money. Yes, they should spend more than they are planning but at least they aren’t doing the opposite.

Less good news is that there is currently a shortfall of testing kits but in the cities at least, dedicated covid-19 clinics have been established. Workers on casual contracts losing shifts because of people not going out or because they are unwell or have to self-isolate are being hit hard even though some government benefits can be accessed.

Smaller coastal communities in Australia were heavily impacted by the summer bushfire crisis. Naturally they had hoped for some economic boost from autumn tourism but now they are faced with a general economic downturn and the dilemma of tourists being a possible vector for a viral infection in communities with less access to healthcare.

In the meantime, keep washing your hands and being nice to people.

Important correction from our infographic department

Felapton Towers and the Cattimothy House News Network would like to retract our recent infographic (see below) entitled “anatomy of a virus”. It has come to our attention that the labels were added by an intern who was also drunk and were not, as stated, the “latest details from the CDC”. In the interests of transparency the image is repeated below for reference.

Trying to sum right-wing reactions to the Covid-19 situation

As you all know, I read a lot of right-wing/conservative blogs to try and make sense of what people I disagree with are thinking. Nobody who has been following the cognitive decline of the right will be surprised to learn that the uniform reaction to the potential pandemic is that it is all somehow beset by lies. Conservative thinking is no longer just beset by conspiracy theories but rather has become a process of generating and sorting conspiracies.

So beyond the general notion that there is a secret truth hidden behind the virus coverage, there is no other consensus. Instead, positions vary wildly sometimes even within the same article by the same person. The positions include:

  • The virus is a hoax and the deaths are just regular flu.
  • The virus is not a hoax and is in fact more deadly than we are being told.
  • The Chinese government is exaggerating the numbers.
  • The Chinese is hiding that the number of deaths is much higher.
  • WHO/governments/media are exaggerating the danger and there is no need to panic as it will all turn out to be nothing. (e.g. former Sad Pup & Tor Boycotter Peter Grant: “I continue to believe that the current “panic stations” response by many to the threat posed by the coronavirus epidemic is overblown.”)
  • Prepare serious doomsday prepping right now. (e.g. same article “We already have sufficient food and essential supplies for a good three months. It’s comforting to have them available, in case local quarantines become necessary.”)
  • It’s not actually a pandemic.
  • It is actually a pandemic but WHO are pretending it isn’t because of reasons.
  • The virus is a Chinese biological weapon released deliberately for reasons (that make no sense obviously).
  • The virus is a Chinese biological weapon released accidentally.
  • The US economy is in serious danger.
  • The US media are just saying that the economy is in danger to hurt Donald Trump.
  • The left are trying to pretend that Trump will impose martial law and cancel elections.
  • Trump should impose martial law and cancel elections (that’s Vox Day in case you were wondering).
  • This is just like {insert past thing: swine flu, SARS, the Y2K bug} and they told us we were all going to die then {they didn’t} and so we needn’t doing anything {ignoring that those past things weren’t an issue because people took them seriously and did stuff}

There are obviously multiple things going on here. Firstly communication among the American right has become predicated on the idea that the news media in general and any kind of government official/civil servant is lying. Of course, “lying” doesn’t tell you a great deal and in that translate to the twin claims that situation is less serious and more serious. The “they are all lying” heuristic that’s been adopted only eliminates the possibility that things are as they appear to be.

Secondly, there is a lot of shotgun punditry going on. In the face of having no actual insights or extra information, a pundit makes multiple (even contradictory) claims. One of them will turn out to be right. Covid-19 is unlikely to be exactly as serious as health experts are saying and hence will either be a bit less serious or a bit more serious with a distribution of scenarios of varying probability spreading out from there. Speculate about enough scenarios and later on you can claim to be prescient.

Thirdly fear and anxiety have become the defining qualities of right-wing thought. You might respond that isn’t everybody feeling fear and anxiety currently and that’s true but the right has adopted free-floating fears as an ideological goal. It’s not so much Orwell’s image of a boot stamping on a human face forever as the dark figure lurking in the shadows behind you forever. Ramping up racial fears is part of the conservative strategy but also finding ways to exploit the crisis to attack immigration.

But fourthly…public health crisis are exactly those kinds of situation where well organised government responses work well. The potential economic fall out are also circumstances were stimulus spending is a smart idea under any moderately coherent economic theory. So the Covid-19 situation is seen as both natural territory (it provokes fear and insular attitudes) and as a ideological threat (because people will look to governmental solutions).

I don’t think will see a simple narrative emerging from the right on Covid-19. It will keep shifting an evolving although the core theme that the media is lying will stay as a constant.

In the meantime, wash your hands.

Catching Up

So I took a few days off aside from blog posts about beer, Picard and Dr Who and there’s a few things I missed that I probably would have covered if I’d been paying attention.

  1. So I did already catch-up on Dave Freer’s odd post on BookBub numbers (see here) but if I must check out Dave’s column’s again, it would be remiss of me not to point out his piece on the Covid-19 virus and how he spins that: “All those Cons the mean girls of SF and SJW spent so much politicking effort to control… may go on hiatus, if not die.” Hmmm. (https://madgeniusclub.com/2020/02/24/some-thoughts-on-pandemics-and-their-impact-on-writers/ )
  2. Nebula finalists have been announced and Cora has an excellent summary here: http://corabuhlert.com/2020/02/20/some-comments-on-the-2019-nebula-award-finalists/ I’ll do reviews of the short fiction starting soon.
  3. Larry Correia is apparently blogging again by hurling invective at his keyboard. Not going to link to it as it is the usual libertarian-hates-free-speech nonsense but a side effect is assorted trolls come out of the woodwork and get all agitated. There’s a sort of side backstory here though that I’ll get to in the next point.
  4. Mad Sad Pups. The Sad Pups (see above) are mad at Mary Robinette Kowal mainly because they need to be mad at somebody because Larry is worked up. This is a tad convoluted….see below

Brad Torgersen was Guest of Honour at the Life, the Universe & Everything writer’s workshop (LTUE) in Utah. LTUE last year had a pro-Sad Puppy presentation (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/back-to-the-revised-history-of-a-debarkle/ ) but in the past has had presenters such as Mary Robinette Kowal (via Writing Excuses). The current spin by the Sad Pups is that she was totes unprofessional and had a loud boycott and a rival event because Brad T was GoH. Unpacking that proved interesting. Back in January MRK posted this Tweet in a conversation about Courtney Milan etc:

So…backtracking. MRK was original invited by LTUE to be GoH, turned them down and suggested alternatives (three black women). LTUE chose Brad Torgersen instead. No wonder Brad (and hence Larry) was feeling a bit sensitive about things and needed to very loudly assure everybody how great Brad was.

The stuff about MRK running a rival workshop was because the FutureScapes workshops at Utah Valley University (which she’s been involved in since 2016) where on that weekend. This is all being drummed up into a thing in Puppy circles about how unprofessional etc etc. Because they never link to anything and avoid details, the claim just becomes free-floating and hence in the comments sections of Puppy outlets it’s become a legend about how MRK tried to boycott Brad Torgersen out of spite, even though the actual facts are quite different.

[ETA the LTUE website appears to be down, hence why I couldn’t find links to it. Looks like it’s had a malware attack.]

A not-actually-a-paper has the Right excited about global warming denial again

One of my favourite topics is the methodical destruction of our planet’s climatic status-quo by our fun habit of burning the deep past for larks aka Global Warming. As a reminder, global warming currently looks like this*:

UAH satellite temps – not because they are the best record but just because they avoid two thoughtless arguments

The 1990s argument of ‘we need more research is dead, the 2000s ‘pause’ argument is dead. It’s getting hotter and anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are definitely the cause.

One lingering hypothesis is Henrik Svensmark’s comsic-rays versus cloud cover theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henrik_Svensmark#Galactic_Cosmic_Rays_vs_Cloud_Cover ). It doesn’t work and the evidence is against it but the mills of denial keep coming back to it because cloud cover is hard to model. So there’s always some mileage to obstuficate the question by waving your hands at clouds.

Enter a new ‘paper’ with the clickbait title “No experimental evidence for the significant anthropogenic climate change”. The paper isn’t about experiments or experimental data and doesn’t back up that title. Instead it is an unreviewed discussion of some modelling that’s available on the open access arXiv.org: https://arxiv.org/abs/1907.00165

The paper points to a relationship between temperature and cloud cover (fewer clouds ~ warmer temperatures) asserts that it is the changes in clouds cover that is driving changes in temperature (rather than vice versa or a complex mix of both) and that if clouds change temperature following their model then they can account for all the increase in warmth.

Except, that then leaves a massive hole in why the anthropogenic gases aren’t leading to warming as well, never mind why cloud cover should be changing in this way.

It would be uninteresting, except the usual suspects have got very excited about it because it looks sciencey. Russia Today published this article: https://www.rt.com/news/464051-finnish-study-no-evidence-warming/ and from there the story was picked up by braniacs such Paul Joseph Watson, Stefan Molyneux and, of course, our old pal Vox Day.