LTUE and the self-enforcing conspiracy

The Utah-based Life, The Universe & Everything (LTUE) is an annual quasi-academic conference on science-fiction writing. It’s not explicitly a pro-Sad Puppies conference but the Utah location and the connections between the original SPs and the Utah writing scene means there has been a lot of overlap over the years. In 2020 Mary Robinette Kowal (a regular guest) turned down a Guest of Honour invitation from LTUE to encourage them to invite a black woman as GoH, instead, they went with Brad Torgersen as a replacement. [ ]

Despite the current Omicron wave [sorry – that sounds like yet another new genre], LTUE is going ahead in February as an in-person conference. They have announced a set of rules for attendees though.

“- We will require proof of vaccination OR a negative Covid test within the last 72 hours at check-in for all participants and panelists.
– Mask-wearing will be strictly enforced, fully covering nose and mouth at all times (with brief exceptions for eating or drinking, but not in programming rooms). Panelists will remove masks for speaking, as per accessibility best practices.
– We will create more space between seats. In most instances this will not be the ideal 6 feet, but we will do our best to create as many options for spreading out as possible while accommodating as many people as we can in the programming rooms.”

Note that this isn’t a mandatory vaccination requirement as they will accept a negative covid test as an alternative. Even so, their measures are receiving some pushback, including from their former Guest of Honour, Brad R. Torgersen. It is worth stressing that Torgersen has not indulged in the same level of covid-crankery and disinformation as his former allies and certainly nothing at the level of Sarah Hoyt or Vox Day. He’s vaccinated and doesn’t oppose mask-wearing as such. I’ll let him explain himself:

“I was slated for several panels, but won’t be attending now. Not because I doubt vaccines (I got Pfizer jabs) and not because I am anti-mask (I do think people who want to wear masks should absolutely be able to wear masks if they believe it’s in their best interest, or the best interest of others) but because I believe our events are being held hostage by people who are achieving all the wrong results for the right reasons. Ergo, safety.Well, you cannot make life safe enough for some folks, and you literally *can* be “too safe” if it means sacrificing liberties and freedoms on the altar of precaution. America should not desire to be a “Show me your papers!” place. That’s not who we are, or at least it’s not who we should want to be.I’ve promoted LTUE for many years. I was the 2019 literary Guest of Honor. I am very, very proud of that.But I am going to decline participation in 2022.I suspect there will be some who cheer this. Perhaps, even, this is their desired result? But that’s a hunch on my part.”

In the comments, to Brad’s post, it is suggested that the move is “political” and Brad is asked whether this move is “revenge” for him being a GoH previously. Brad answers:

“It could be, or at least I suspect several people were in part motivated to ensure the “wrong people” drop out of LTUE. And they don’t even have to be open about their disdain and displeasure, as always, they can achieve their ill ends by putting a patina of “safety” on it.”

Brad Torgersen, Facebook comment

If you haven’t met this almost circular idea yet, it is a common one among the right. It’s not a conspiracy theory as such because there is an empirical truth here. Many on the right are protesting, boycotting or just avoiding, venues, workplaces or institutions because of public health measures. Not everybody who hates wearing masks is on the right nor is every anti-vaxxer on the right but these have become important group markers for much of the right in the US (and other countries). Consequently, requiring masks (or other measures) at an event genuinely does work as a kind of filter that reduces the chance of somebody on the right attending.

So the net effect is Brad isn’t going to go to LTUE because he sees this as a political measure and the political aspect of it is that these measures are the kind of things that mean he won’t go. Public health measures have taken on this extra semiotic layer connected with group identity, ideology and culture wars.

As we’ve discussed a lot over the past 200+ years since the pandemic started, that extra layer adds an extra-stifling of public debate on covid strategy. I’ve been quite open about my preference for strong pre-emptive measures in the face of a pandemic but there are genuine civil liberty questions around that (in particular the role of the police in enforcing such measures and the inequity of how enforcement has been directed at poorer communities). The additional co-option of the culture-wars into covid has added a whole other layer of problems to the pandemic — especially given right-wing culture-warriors long-standing use of social media disinformation as an organising tactic — that badly undermines public debate on a huge issue.

Anyway, public health measures do help exclude people with radical right-wing culture war views from real-life spaces — but mainly because people with radical right-wing culture war views think public health measures are there to exclude them. Surgical masks may or may not protect you from covid but apparently, they have some prophylactic use against wing-nuttery.

Australia Covid Update

For a lot of the time (heading towards two years) that I’ve been posting these graphs, Australia has either looked like a footnote at the bottom or (like my last post) I’ve shown it just with other countries with low case numbers. Well, now Australia is competing on the international stage but not in a good way.

There is still a way to go to catch up but the graphs showing daily confirmed cases is way up there with the famous countries.

This huge growth in cases is also a known underestimate as access to PCR tests has become difficult because of the systems being overwhelmed.

At a less statistical level, there are a lot of people sick and the impact of people being unwell or having to self-isolate is impacting hospitals. Lots of workplaces are currently disrupted and there’s a quasi-unofficial lockdown impact in some cities ( )

It is summer here and the main school holidays last until the end of January, so schools would be closed anyway but there’s not going to be sufficient time to get younger people vaccinated before the start of the school year.

Some Graphs to Start the Year

Not wanting to start your year with doom, I waited a day.

I didn’t post much satellite global temperature data last year because I was busy. Here’s how things look up to November 2021.

The usual caveats apply here: not the best temperature record but the one that side-steps some time-wasting arguments. If you focus just on a very short time period, it looks like a stable wobble around a mean but over long time periods, the move upwards continues as expected.

La Niña conditions have kept things relatively cool & wet in Australia but the impacts on North America are less benign. When things shift away from those conditions it’s likely to be a bad fire season again here at some point.

While the 2019/2020 fire season was notoriously bad, the timing could have been worse. Australia missed having catastrophic fires and a pandemic at the same time. How is Covid going here? Well, the virus is having a great time. New South Wales dialled back its anti-pandemic measures just in time for the omicron variant. Here’s how the cumulative case numbers per million people are looking, with some other industrialised nations which have had relatively low numbers put in for comparison.

Vaccines have made a difference to the deadliness of the virus but exponential growth will still lead to lots of people with major health impacts (including death). The impact on hospitals is getting bad here also, which has health impacts on everybody.

Hospitalisation data is more limited worldwide and obviously when comparing countries, there are going to be a lot of other factors involved. Having said that, I thought this graph showing Canada and Australia together (and adjusted for population size) was interesting.

Canada & Australia are both very different countries and very similar countries depending on what aspects you consider. Up to around the fourth quarter of 2021, they also had very different experiences of the pandemic (Canada’s proximity to the US being a major factor). In more recent months those hospitalisation figures have become a lot more similar. No big conclusion there, I just thought the coincidence was interesting.

I don’t know if covid will become seasonal like the flu but currently, it isn’t. Public policy and viral mutation appear to be having a bigger impact than the time of year.

Well, that didn’t last…NSW Covid numbers escalate

Back in November, I made this post on how covid numbers stabilised after the NSW lockdown lifted. Various reasons were offered but I thought it was probably just a matter of time. Anyway, it really was just a matter of time:

“New South Wales has recorded Australia’s highest ever daily Covid case tally as the Omicron variant, combined with a wave of Delta cases spread at Christmas gatherings, has caused the number of infections to spike.

The spike comes just days after the NSW government decided to go ahead with removing almost all remaining Covid restrictions, including the requirement to wear masks in crowded retail settings.”

The mask decision appears to be motivated by a desire to ensure activity during the Christmas shopping season combined with a hope that the Omicron variant is less dangerous plus decent vaccination rates among the more vulnerable.

The impact on hospitals is yet unclear.

Debarkle Chapter 74: Meanwhile…Election 2020

[content warning: discussion of violence and murder]

Robert Heinlein’s “crazy years” were a period in his extrapolation of history into the future where rapid technological change would accompany a period of cultural and social decline. The idea resembles aspects of accelerationism[1] and the sense of galloping technological change and social unrest is one the world has been grappling with culturally since at least the nineteenth century. Among science fiction writers, and particularly science fiction writers with an interest in the Campbellian “Golden Age”, Heinlein’s “crazy years” were an apt metaphor for contemporary social ills.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 74: Meanwhile…Election 2020”

Debarkle Chapter 73: Covid, Contrarians and Cons

The exact start of the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t known. At the time of writing this chapter (November 2021), it is believed that via some means a variant of a coronavirus found in other mammals made its way into the human population[1]. A less likely possibility (on current evidence) is that the virus outbreak was due to an accidental exposure from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It’s likely that there will never be a wholly unambiguous answer to this question because viruses don’t keep diaries or film their activities for Tik-Tok. This chapter isn’t the story of a virus or a pandemic though — there are better places to read about how Covid-19 spread around the world. This is a story about fear, uncertainty and doubts both natural and manufactured but also about how people coped with a challenging year.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 73: Covid, Contrarians and Cons”

Not all of these are in the coming chapter

This is one of those posts where I want to assert something in a Debarkle chapter but showing the original research in the chapter would be clunky and make the footnotes unmanageable.

This is 28 posts on or relevant to Covid-19 from Sarah Hoyt (or by others on her blog) mainly from February 2020 to mid-May 2020. I’m not suggesting anybody read them but if you want to follow the evolution of a set of ideas they get neatly documented this way. I’m not saying the right-wing reaction against anti-covid measures all comes from Sarah Hoyt, these ideas come from multiple places and many are centred on some actual facts or what were (to varying degrees) reasonable doubts or concerns at some point. What’s relevant is how the ideas coalesce into a counter-orthodoxy over time and shift from maybe-X,Y,Z to a more dogmatic and partisan set of beliefs.

Why stop at mid-May? Mainly because the counter-narrative doesn’t shift much until a. the Presidential election and then b. vaccine rollouts. The May 13 posts on masks wearing is the usual chaotic mix of ideas that you’ll find in a Hoyt post but the important thing here that differentiate it from a thousand posts elsewhere on why wearing a surgical mask sucks and/or may not be that effective is that it frames mask-wearing in terms of a kind of partisan allegiance in the broader culture war.

[Item 19 isn’t from Hoyt’s blog but a segment from the late Rush Limbaugh where he promotes Hoyt’s PJ Media piece.]

  1. Debit and Credit – According To Hoyt
  2. Totalitarianism and Ignorance – According To Hoyt
  3. Breaking Out a guest post by Helen Miller, RN – According To Hoyt
  4. Don’t Fear The Wu-Flu – According To Hoyt
  5. A State of Madness – According To Hoyt
  6. Seven Days In March – According To Hoyt
  7. Cures and Diseases – According To Hoyt
  8. Look Beyond The Virus: The Left Wants Us Destroyed And They’ve Got The Means By Bill Reader – According To Hoyt
  9. The Shape Of The Future – According To Hoyt
  10. Covid 19 and US Mortality by I. Ratel – According To Hoyt
  11. Screaming In The Forest – According To Hoyt
  12. Destroyed Lives – According To Hoyt
  13. Assume a Spherical Cow of Uniform Density in a Frictionless Vacuum – According To Hoyt
  14. A Plague of Madness – According To Hoyt
  15. Facing the Wave – According To Hoyt
  16. Attention, Citizens – According To Hoyt
  17. Olly Olly Oxen Free – According To Hoyt
  18. Modeling COVID-19 and the Lies of Multiculturalism – PJ Media
  19. The COVID-19 Models Can’t Account for Culture – The Rush Limbaugh Show
  20. On Losing Respectability – According To Hoyt
  21. The Paths Ahead — Pie In The Sky – According To Hoyt
  22. The Paths Ahead – It Could Be Worse – According To Hoyt
  23. The Paths Ahead – Cry Havoc – According To Hoyt
  24. The Paths Ahead – The Boot – According To Hoyt
  25. Healthcare Charlie Foxtrot by Scarlett Doc – According To Hoyt
  26. Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are – According To Hoyt
  27. The Danger of Masks – According To Hoyt
  28. Panic Reaction on a National Scale by David Burkhead – According To Hoyt

Currently NSW Covid numbers have stayed low

After a breakout of covid in July leading to a lockdown and a peak of cases in August, the number of covid cases has fallen and then stabilised.

After hitting the vaccination goals, the state opened up from lockdown a few weeks ago. A lot of people are vaccinated but there’s still a significant chunk of people who can’t get vaccinated or don’t want to. Vaccine rollout was slower in rural areas and children under 12 aren’t vaccinated yet, so there’s a lot of scope for another growth in cases. Elsewhere, other countries are facing post-vaccine roll-out waves of cases among the unvaccinated or the under-vaccinated.

This article suggests some reasons why

I hope these reasons are correct but I suspect it is just a matter of time. The quoted vaccination figures sound good but they are for the population aged 16+ and when looked at as a per cent of the whole population are lower than some countries that are having a new uptick in cases.

The Science of Rainbows Explained…by a cat

I, your humble host Timothy the Talking Cat, am a great believer in science. “Follow the science,” is what I say. Follow it! Keep following it! A bit further! Oops, too far…back up a bit. Look! A rainbow!

But how they work? How does this atmospheric miracle come about? Come with me as we follow the science over the rainbow and onto the yellow brick road of explanation!

Rainbows: what are they? Where are they? Who are they? You probably remember the song you learnt as a tiny kitten: Blue and blue and green and green, bluey-green, greeny-blue and mushy-grey-red, I can howl a rainbow, howl a rainbow, howl a rainbow, whatever…stupid song.

Yes, rainbows the technicolor disappointment in the sky. Frankly I don’t get what all the fuss is about. “Look Timothy, there’s a rainbow!” says the human but frankly if it’s not within 20 feet of my eyes then I’m not going to be focusing on it. When we were hiding from Russian ninjas I nearly caught a rainbow lorikeet but despite their names, they aren’t genetically related to rainbows. Instead they are a species of bird, whereas rainbows are a species of mountain goat (or something else that stands a long way away).

But where do all the colours come from? Well from their feathers I guess. I mean the lorikeet, not the goats. The goats don’t have feather which is why they aren’t colourful. This is the infamous goat-rainbow paradox. If goats don’t have feathers then how come rainbows are so colourful?

This is where the science comes in. To understand we have to go back in time to the age of Isaac Newton. Newton owned a cat called Spithead and it was Spithead who discovered the science of refracturing. Fracturing is when you break something and refracturing is when you break something twice. Before Spithead, cats didn’t know how to break stuff multiple times. Sure they could break something once but not twice. Spithead worked that out and also worked out how to break goats even though goats stand a long way away.

Spithead’s secret was to use a prison. Luckily, Isaac Netwon lived in the Tower of London which is easily the most posh prison in the world. Spithead would get the goats and push them through the prison where they would get refractured into many tiny goats. Soon all the cats in London could see rainbows all over the Eastend because the goats were small enough to see and also really close and not on a mountain.

So the next time you push a human’s favourite mug off a table, you can thank Spithead for the science of refracturing and keeping us free from the scourge of goats.

Meanwhile in Melbourne

Victoria had a literal earthquake yesterday, an event that is unusual in Australia. However, the bigger news over the past three days is a series of protests in Melbourne that have resulted in violent clashes with police. Here’s the ABC on yesterday’s protest:

“More than 200 protesters have been arrested after a stand-off with police at the Shrine of Remembrance, with two police officers sustaining injuries in the showdown. The protesters were given penalty infringement notices, with some charged with more serious offences for discharging flares, and throwing golf balls, tap handles and batteries at police.

The two police officers injured were struck in the head with bottles, while another was admitted to hospital with chest pains.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the war memorial on Wednesday to protest against the coronavirus lockdown and mandatory vaccines.”

It’s worth adding a degree of scepticism as to why a protest turns violent when there are riot police involved but overall these appear to be more than just rowdy protests that became violent once police attempted to disrupt them.

Ostensibly, the protests were because of new restrictions on construction sites due to anti-covid measures. Construction work had been allowed during recent lockdowns but under strict rules to prevent the spread of covid on sites. However, due to poor compliance with these measures, the Victorian government had indicated that tougher measures would need to be implemented. After Monday’s protest, they shut down most construction work for two weeks.

And this is where things get murky. Monday’s protests focused on the construction worker’s union, the CFMEU and appeared to be construction workers unhappy with lockdown measures and mandatory vaccinations for people on construction sites. However, the CFMEU doesn’t support mandatory vaccinations and quickly alleged that many of the protestors were not members of the union and also that many might not be construction workers at all (or “tradies” i.e. people in associated trades). Observers pointed out that while protestors were wearing the characteristic hi-vis clothing, that often the clothing was new and unlabelled. (Having said that, wearing clothes without elements that make it easier for you to be identified would be a smart thing to do regardless.)

The counter-claim, which has a lot of substance, is the protests were predominantly anti-vax/anti-lockdown protestors with some construction workers, as well as far-right groups and (of course) in a big city there are going to be at least some people who are all three of those things. News reports are also suggesting that the proportional makeup of the protests has shifted over the past few days so that the number of construction workers involved has reduced.

There’s a longer analysis of the protests here:

“The far right has really sought to mobilise frustrated people and push them more toward right-wing narratives, particularly white nationalist narratives. There is a strong historical animosity toward trade unions (as the vanguard of the political left) by the far right. It would be disingenuous to view the far right as unintelligent thugs. They are learned in the history of national socialism and fascism and the preconditions for its rise.

So you see the far right working very hard to undermine trade unions and the way they represent the organised working class. There is an attempt to undermine trust in trade unions and paint them as traitors and sell-outs who are in bed with the government.

Among the protesters there was a really self-conscious effort to represent themselves as themselves as tradies and workers. Some observed protest organisers encouraging people to wear hi-vis clothing to these rallies.”