About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

Exponential Misuse of Pascal’s Wager by Apologetics Squared

Blaise Pascal

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot more use of Pascal’s Wager by Christians. I’m not sure what’s up with that given that I thought that long ago everyone had agreed that it was stupid if not blasphemous. Oh well. It’s not like being let down by religious people is a new thing to me.

For those who don’t know, Pascal’s Wager is a philosophical argument for believing in God. Basically, it says you get little from not believing in God and infinite happiness if you do believe in God so you should believe in God. Some formulations of the argument are more sophisticated than others but this is what they all come down to.

Criticisms of Pascal’s Wager

There are lots of criticisms of this argument. The most obvious is that it assumes a god that cares that you believe in it and will reward you for this. But personally, I find a religious argument more compelling: Do you seriously think you can con God?! That God won’t notice that you are only “believing” because you ran the odds?!

Imagine if you took this approach in proposing to your significant other: “You aren’t even close to what I most desire but I’ve run the numbers and based on the fact that I’m ugly with few prospects, I’ve determined you are the best I can do. Will you marry me?!” I don’t think that would get a verbal answer — more likely a kick in the teeth.

Apologetics Squared

But then I saw this video by Apologetics Squared. It is by a young guy who, in a spiritual sense, “Knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Of course, even with it, he plays fast and loose with the concept of infinity. Remember: Infinity is not a number! You need to be really careful with it.

What strikes me about the use that young Mr Squared makes of Pascal’s Wager is that he does a pretty good job with the formal logic but pays no attention to his premises. Basically, there’s no downside to believing in God and a huge upside.

But wait. For every god you can imagine that will reward you for believing in it, there is at least one god that will damn you to Hell for eternity and who will reward you with Infinity Constant Orgasm Time simply for not believing in that other god.

So if you want to go there, the odds seem to indicate that belief in Christianity is a bad bet. So it really comes down to, again, what you actually believe in. That is to say: Pascal’s Wager is bullshit.

Subgenius

Apologetics Squared is a classic subgenius: smart but not that smart. The truth is, there is a whole field of mathematics that deals with low-probability events. I don’t know much about it. In my years of study, I’ve come upon it a few times. But it’s clear that Mr to the Second Power knows nothing at all about it.

As a result, Christian apologists like him are better off studying their own faith rather than trying to make clever arguments against atheists. And please, can’t we bury Pascal’s Wager once and for all. Non-believers think it is a stupid argument. And believers should find it repellant.

I have a hunch that Christians who use Pascal’s Wager aren’t really that serious about their faith. But given my experience is that few Christians of any stripe are serious about their faith, this is hardly surprising.


Cropped from Blaise Pascal a copy of the painting of François II Quesnel under CC BY 3.0.

Arizona Audit and the Selective Attention of the Press

Doug Logan of Cyber Ninjas

After five months, the Arizona Audit released its final report. And it turned out to be exactly what I predicted. They didn’t find any fraud but they used it to push the same talking points that they were pushing before the audit even started.

The audit was always a partisan exercise. Its purpose was to push the idea that we can’t trust the vote. And in that regard, it was remarkably successful!

Months of Coverage and Then: Poof!

There were months of coverage of the audit. True: it was mostly covered in negative news stories in the mainstream press. But you can’t cover this without a lot of people thinking, “They wouldn’t be doing this if there weren’t something nefarious going on!” And, of course, there was: the Republicans are setting the stage to steal the election next time. But that’s not the message that goes out.

After all that, when the report was released, there was relatively little coverage. Part of this could be due to some people in the media saying the report should be given no oxygen. But that strikes me as closing the barn door after the propagandists have gotten all the benefit they can.

And call me cynical, but I feel certain that if Doug Logan and his conspirators had gone all in and announced that Trump actually won the state, the press would have covered it much more. This despite the fact that all of the people involved had been established as untrustworthy.

(Similarly, all the network news shows ignored the John Eastman coup memo. Who did not ignore it at the networks? Jimmy Kimmel (ABC), Stephen Colbert (CBS), and Seth Meyers (NBC). You would think after having been humiliated by The Daily Show in years past, the news industry would do something about this. But no. Just leave it to the late-night comedians. It’s apparently their job to inform the nation.)

Get More Information

If you want to know about what this all came down to, I recommend an excellent article by Jeremy Duda at Arizona Mirror, Arizona “Audit”: A Multitude of Unsubstantiated Claims and No Proof of Fraud. Even better is Maricopa County itself. Their Twitter feed fact-checked the entire audit presentation.

What’s interesting about it is that nothing had to be researched. All the claims are old and have been thoroughly debunked on Just the Facts. What you see again and again is that the people claiming to find problems are really just showing that they don’t know how the system works. And the fact that they continue to make these claims shows that they don’t care about how the system works.

The way the people of Maricopa County have dealt with this shows that contrary to the stereotype, our civil servants really are great.

I’m glad it’s all over. Just the same, I’m sure Cyber Ninjas will get more contracts because they did a smashing job of pushing right-wing propaganda. But I do hope they won’t get the attention they did this time.


Image is detail of Photo by Jeremy Duda | Arizona Mirror under Fair Use.

Correction: an earlier version of this article said that Maricopa Country was liberal. It is not. I should have known. On my only visit there, I was bitten by a vicious dog owned by a bunch of white trash.

For 9/11: Remembering “Liberal” Icon Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Watching the towers fall in New York, with civilians incinerated on the planes and in the buildings, I felt something that I couldn’t analyze at first and didn’t fully grasp … until the day itself was nearly over. I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration. Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.

–Christopher Hitchens

It still amazes me how many supposed liberals praise this awful man. Some people never get over crushes. It’s sad. I can watch old C-SPAN segments with Hitchens when he wasn’t a warmonger. But any good he did during that time was swamped by the vile work of the last decade of his life.


Image cropped from Christopher Hitchens by José Ramírez under CC BY 2.0.

Don’t Blame George W Bush for Afghanistan!

George W Bush

So we’ve pulled out of Afghanistan now. And I guess it’s not going well. That’s what people tell me. But it strikes me as going about as well as can be expected. Republicans of course are blaming it all on Biden. And most media elites are largely putting the blame on him without saying what should have been done differently. But that’s all nonsense.

Of course, the Democratic leaders of three committees have already declared that they will be investigating Biden’s actions leading up to this. That’s a joke but also typical. These were people who had to be dragged into impeaching Donald Trump only after it became impossible not to do this.

It’s amazing that these people think this is to their advantage. It is a natural tendency for many professional Democrats to think that the smartest thing is always to abandon the party and attack it. And it never works. It just pisses off democrats. And it doesn’t get Republicans or moderates to vote for them.

Not at all! In fact, it makes a lot of people far less likely to vote for them because it makes them look weak. Makes them look like they’re not willing to stand up for their own side. And it makes them look that way because it’s true.

The “Smart” Take

But it’s become sort of the serious center-left position to claim that this was a mess two decades in the making. And many people want to place particular blame at the feet of George W Bush.

Now that is all true. The current situation in Afghanistan is most definitely the result of two decades of mismanagement. And Bush certainly did take a huge number of resources out of Afghanistan and put them into the absolutely ridiculous Iraq War.

I think the presidential blame should go in this order:

  1. George W Bush
  2. Barack Obama
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Joe Biden.

But I think it’s wrong to blame George W Bush for going into Afghanistan in the first place. For one thing, in Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke noted that Bush didn’t even especially want to attack Afghanistan. He only did it because he felt like he had to.

That doesn’t speak well of Bush. It shows that he was disconnected from what was going on. He wanted to use 9/11 for what he already wanted to do. This is why he is very much responsible for the Iraq War. But the Afghanistan War?

Who Wanted This War?

This gets to what I consider the most important thing in all of this: American’s wanted this war!

According to Gallup, when the war started, 89 percent of Americans thought the Afghanistan War was “not a mistake.” It didn’t matter that the country itself didn’t actually attack us. They were associated with the terrorist group that attacked us. And since we couldn’t attack that terrorist group, well, attack what you can! It’s like the war equivalent of the Stephen Still songs.

Many Didn’t Want This War

I was one of many people (in absolute, not relative terms) who were against the war at the time. On 9/11 itself, I predicted that the country would respond inappropriately. And it did not disappoint me! I even had a woman scream at me because I said we should not go to war.

Remember that Barbara Lee was the only person in Congress to vote against going to war with Afghanistan. And her argument was not even that we shouldn’t go to war. It was simply that we needed to slow down. We needed to take a breath.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 was passed by both houses of Congress 3 days after 9/11. Three days! Bush took longer to sign it — a total of four days! Lee noted that we were not making a rational decision. And we weren’t!

Short-Sighted War Support

I was against going to war for slightly different, more pragmatic reasons. At that time I was studying a lot about the early days of the Vietnam War for a play I was writing. And it just seemed so obvious that this was something we were very quickly going to regret.

I thought the same thing in the lead-up to the Iraq War. But smart people like Clinton and Kerry voted to allow Bush to go to war. (So did Bernie Sanders in the House.) I knew they didn’t think it was a good idea. They were doing it because they thought it was politically savvy.

But it was so short-sighted! I knew that within a year or two (at most) the American people would have turned against the war and a “no” vote would be seen as a badge of honor.

Even when wars go reasonably well, Americans get tired of them fast. Americans were tired of World War II by 1943. And that was, you know, the Good War. It may be good politics for the next 6 months to be in favor of a war. But it is not good long-term.

The only time I can think of a war that actually did remain popular long-term was the Persian Gulf War. And that’s because that war was over very quickly. But even still, George HW Bush lost his next election. He had an 89 percent approval rating right after the war but by the time of the election, it was down to less than 40 percent.

The point is that the American public is fickle. They love the idea of a Good War in the short term. But you can depend upon them to hate it in the long term. So it’s basically always a good idea to oppose yet another war.

We Will Do This Again

Of course, in the case of the Afghanistan war, our political elites and the base of the country we’re together. It was not acceptable to stop for even a second. And that kind of sums up America right there.

If there were a marshmallow test for countries we would fail it.

But the thing is, we as a country need to come to terms with the fact that this was our choice. There have been few things during my lifetime that have been so popular amongst Americans as the Afghanistan War. If we can say that America supported anything, it is this war.

So I wish people would stop blaming Bush or Trump or Biden or four presidents or our security services or anything else. Because this is America’s failure. This is something America was almost giddy about going into. And maybe if we can admit to that, the next time we might not make such a bad decision.

Odds and Ends Vol 36

Odds and Ends

I’m so tired. Part of it is being sick. But a bigger part is just mental fatigue. The world really sucks these days. Gone are the days of Trump gaslighting me. But it’s been replaced with most of the right doing something similar. We are still in the middle of a pandemic and they are denying it.

And the only “coming to Jesus” moments are from people like Dick Farrel below. Ron DeSantis will never admit that he was wrong. And I doubt seriously he will ever be punished. More likely, he will be rewarded. It’s just horrible. Speaking of which…

Political Hot Air Can Kill You

Right-wing radio talker Dick Farrel died of COVID-19 Friday. He was until recently very much against the vaccines. He called them “poison” and said, “I know I don’t need it nor ever will.” Well, after he got very sick, he changed his mind. You know: wisdom comes suddenly to some. And then they die.

Much has been made of how he told others to get the vaccine from what turned out to be his death bed. I have a bit of a problem with this. You spend months telling your very large audience not to get the vaccine. And then in your dying days you tell your close friends and family? That’s not really enough.

But I’m sorry for those who were close to him. It sucks to care about loud-mouth idiots.

Paulogia

If you look back at my writing on religion, you will find that in late 2014, I started moving away from the online atheist community. And it wasn’t just people like Sam Harris (or worse: The Amazing Atheist). Even people like Hemant Mehta, who was reasonably respectful of others, showed some pretty sloppy thinking.

But recently, I watched some videos by Genetically Modified Skeptic. I’m not that interested in his videos. But I do like that he is respectful of others and doesn’t seem to be engaged in culture war. And that’s all I really want. I don’t really care if people are Christians as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their lives. Humans are generally irrational and I don’t get upset that people believe foolish things. I’m sure I do too.

Via GMS, I discovered Paulogia, who creates videos I’m more interested in because I find textual analysis interesting even if it sometimes makes my brain hurt. But I couldn’t get into this if the tone of the videos weren’t respectful. Here’s a good example:

Another issue is that I do think that most people would be better off without their religious beliefs — especially considering how devoid most of them are of theology. But the only way to convince theists is to respect them — at least the ones who are honest and sincere.

So I hope that GMS and Paulogia are indications of the direction that the atheist/skeptic community is going.

(There is one thing I’m not too keen about with both these guys: their apparent admiration for Christopher Hitchens. He’s fine. He was a good rhetorician. But he was not a serious thinker and the atheist/skeptic community needs to move past him. He was a big part of what poisoned the community starting a decade ago.)

I also got reintroduced to Bart Ehrman whose book Misquoting Jesus had a huge effect on me. Here’s a lecture about it but the book is really worth reading:

Good Filmmaking vs Bad Filmmaking

Recently, I was watching M Night Shyamalan’s film The Happening and I came upon a featurette that explained how they had accomplished the “amazing” Jeep crash scene. And I thought: what bullshit! They spent a huge amount of time and money to create an absolutely boring scene in one shot that would have been better if they had created it via editing.

And it got me thinking about the amazing meathook scene in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s done with just two camera set-ups and is incredibly effective. I’ve spoken to people who have never gotten over the scene decades after they saw it!

So I wrote an article comparing these two scenes. I’m pretty happy with it, so check it out: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre vs The Happening: Comparison of Two Scenes.

If We Were Treated Like We Treat Cuba

Janine Jackson made an excellent analogy to the way the US continues to treat Cuba and the way many have reacted to the pushback against our horrible international meddling.

Imagine if China used its power to cut off international trade to the US, including for things like medical equipment, because they didn’t like Joe Biden, and hoped that if enough Americans were made miserable, they would rise up against him, and install a leader China thought would better serve their interests. How would you think about Chinese media that said, “Well, we heard a lot of Americans say they were unhappy; they even marched in the street! Obviously, that was a call for foreign intervention from a country that understands democracy better than they do.”

And then what if some Chinese people said, “Wait, you can’t immiserate ordinary Americans to push them to overthrow their government; that’s illegal and immoral,” and other Chinese people explained, “You don’t get it; US politics are very complicated”?

COVID-19 Is Back

I used to check the CDC COVID-19 tracker every day. But a month ago, our 7-day running average of deaths got below 200 and I decided to stop. I shouldn’t have. I should have known that there are vested interests in this country that will keep this pandemic coming.

For almost a week now, our 7-day running average of deaths has been up over 400 with every sign of a continued trip upward. I think we are just going to have to get used to more people dying. And being vaccinated won’t help us. Soon, we will have a variant that isn’t controlled by the current vaccine.

And this is all because our authoritarian neighbors really want to make a statement. It boggles my mind that people are upset about mask mandates. How does this harm anyone? I can see people being upset that others don’t wear masks. But how did this minor inconvenience become a matter of “liberty”? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

For centuries, governments have taken extreme measures to fight pandemics. But suddenly, among the American right, doing anything at all is tyranny. It’s absurd.

Be Nice

I got some good feedback on this tweet over the weekend:

It’s weird to me. For one thing, these insults don’t even make sense. Sure, Apley was overweight but that wasn’t why he died. Ben Shapiro isn’t that short. And I don’t know why anyone claims Melania Trump is a slut.

But that isn’t the point. I don’t believe in shaming anyone for these things, right or wrong. And I don’t think people on the left think we should either. I just think it’s easy. But we should stop.

One person replied, “But Melani Trump is easy, cruel, and off-point.” But she thought better of it and later deleted it. If you are going to be offensive, at least be funny.

How Conservative Media Lie to You: The Tucker Carlson Spy Case

Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson is over in Hungary palling around with Viktor Orbán. So I thought it would be a good time to check in with his claim that the NSA was spying on him in order to get his show canceled. Well, if they were, I can’t say that would be counter to trying to keep the US secure. But, of course, the NSA is doing no such thing.

Martin Matishak at The Record reported, NSA Review Finds That Tucker Carlson’s Communications Were Not Targeted. When Carlson first made the claim, I figured that he had been scooped up because he was talking to someone outside the country who the NSA was spying on. But it’s not even that!

Tucker Carlson’s name was “mentioned in communications between third parties.” That’s it. His name was “unmasked.” But that only means that people in the government wanted to know who was being discussed. There’s no there there. Story closed!

Enter The New York Post

The conservative tabloid The New York Post had a different take on the story, Tucker Carlson’s “unmasking” Claim Confirmed by NSA Investigators: Report. It begins:

The National Security Agency has quietly admitted that the identity of Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson was “unmasked” and leaked as he alleged earlier this month, according to a report.

You can see in the headline and the lede that the author, Mary Kay Linge, is trying to deceive with the term “unmasked,” even though it means only that his name was unhidden in a transcript.

And who leaked this? Well, the Tucker Carlson fan who told him. This is what he said on his show:

Yesterday, we heard from a whistleblower within the US government who reached out to warn us that the NSA, the National Security Agency, is monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air

This couldn’t be a more unethical telling of what Matishak reported.

The Post Knows Better

The second paragraph is just a reprint of a Fox News spokesperson’s “outraged” response. The third paragraph begins to tell what happened. But it isn’t until the fourth paragraph that we get what would be the lede in any normal paper:

But the host of Tucker Carlson Tonight was neither a direct nor an incidental target of the agency, the sources said.

So knowing that most people read only headlines and maybe the first one or two paragraphs, Linge and her editors made sure that their readers would be misinformed.

No Accountability

Since the information in The Record came out, there has been no segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight. And with right-wing sources playing interference for him, he won’t need to ever come to terms with his hyperbolic claims.

And the same is true of his audience. This is doubtless one of the reasons that Carlson and many others on the right are so impressed with the authoritarian government of Viktor Orbán. They can continue to get all the good things that go with their power and never have to deal with the bad things like responsibility and accountability.

Afterword

Let’s take a moment to remember when Rutger Bregman forced Tucker Carlson to see that reasonable people all over the world know just what Carlson is. He will at very least be remembered as the Joseph Goebbels of the USA.


Tucker Carlson by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Why Evangelical Christians Accept Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy Theories

I know that my atheist readers will probably look at that headline and think, “Because they believe in one irrational thing so why not another?” And okay. But we are all irrational even if many of us hide it better than those who believe in the zombie who made God forgive all our sins. I want to look at something a little different: the uselessness of right-wing Christianity in this country.

The Economist recently published an article, What Drives Belief in Conspiracy Theories, a Lack of Religion or Too Much? It looks that a YouGov poll that asked people about their religious beliefs and their support for different conspiracy theories. Here are the questions and the number of percentage points more likely the evangelicals were to believe them than the rest of us:

  • Millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2020 general election (34 pp)
  • The government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip the population (14 pp)
  • Vaccines have been shown to cause autism (15 pp)
  • NASA staged the Moon landing (5 pp).

As we go down the list, fewer people believe so the differences decrease. But 67% of white evangelicals believe that millions of illegal votes were cast last year’s election and 15% believe we didn’t land on the Moon. (They are also much more likely to believe in Qanon.)

Some have argued that religious people would be less inclined to believe this nonsense because they have a fulfilling belief system in their faith. The truth must be closer to the opposite.

What Do People Use Religion For?

Religion was not big in my house but I got to see it in the larger family. My father’s family were Catholics of the “We’ll Donate and Attend Occasionally but It Ain’t Getting in the Way of Our Lives” variety. This is probably why I have a higher opinion of Catholicism.

My mother’s family were White Evangelicals. They all had personal relationships with Jesus and were ostentatious in their belief yet seemed only to care about one issue: abortion. In word, they loved the sinner. In deed, they talked about how much they loved the sinner.

And from them, I got the idea that the purpose of their religion was simply to signal their inclusion in the group of Good People. Now, I understand: everyone does this. But you don’t need religion for that. It seems to me rather a waste of a religion.

What Is Theology Good For?

What continues to frustrate me about almost all religious people is that they aren’t much interested in theology. The closest they get to it is this childish belief in Heaven as if Jesus is The Great Pumpkin — come to give the good boys and girls eternal life if they just believe hard enough!

And this stunted form of religious belief does not provide believers with much in the way of meaning. All they get from their religion is that they’ll be one of the Cool Kids that gets into the Party at the End of Eternity. But you know God: he’ll probably let all those hippy Christians in too and that doesn’t make them feel very special.

So they are easy marks for other pseudo-religious scams like Qanon. God supposedly loves them for believing one ridiculous thing. Wouldn’t he love them more if they believed in a dozen similarly ridiculous things? Regardless, every new belief provides them with a dopamine rush that comes from believing they have found The Truth.

Where Does This Leave Us?

I knew when I was a kid as much as I do now: these were the people who burned “witches.” They are authoritarian by nature. Alone, they are harmless — nice, in fact. But they are easy marks for demagogues.

And that’s the takehome from the YouGov poll.


Conspiracy Theory Wall by Harald Groven under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Why Conservatives Won’t Get Vaccinated

Vaccination

David Pakman was asking why it is the conservatives won’t get the vaccine when they give Trump credit for creating it. I have some thoughts on this.

To start with, that may be an overstatement. Not that much time was spent trying to convince the nation that Trump belched the vaccine out on to a grateful public. So I don’t think that is prominent in the Republican brain.

Regardless, Pakman isn’t taking into account people’s ability to hold two contradictory truths in their minds at the same time. Humans are great at cognitive dissonance but modern conservatives have brought it up to the level of art.

The Anti-Vax Pleasure

But I think the big issue here is that conservatives get a certain amount of pleasure by not getting the vaccine. It makes them feel good that they are depriving liberals of getting something they want.

It’s the same old thing. That’s the basis of modern conservatism. They don’t actually believe in anything except doing things they think will annoy the libtards. In fact, they spend a lot of energy convincing themselves that we liberals are offended even when we really don’t care most of the time.

This is a great example of a self-satisfied conservative thinking he’s offending the liberals and the liberals just not caring.

The idea here is that liberals will be upset because he’s posting an image of a sexualized She-Ra. But it was conservatives who were upset about a non-sexualized She-Ra. Liberals didn’t care either way.

The (Nonexistent) Anti-Vax Pain

Normally there would be a trade-off. They would realize that by getting this small thrill of sticking it to the liberals, they were losing something. They weren’t getting the vaccine. And as a result, their lives are more limited. But that’s not the case!

These are the people who have claimed almost from the start that there should never have been any shutdown of the economy. There should never have been any mask mandates. Because it’s only the old and sickly who died anyway. Blah, blah, blah…

Also: it is widely believed that Covid-19 is just a hoax. It’s just something the liberals made up so that they could turn America into a communist state. Or whatever. Again that is totally contradicted by their belief that Trump is brilliant and he brought us the vaccine out of his gold-plated lab inside Trump Tower. But who cares?

So there you have it: in the minds of the Republican base, there’s an upside to not getting the vaccine. And there’s absolutely no downside to not getting the vaccine.

Useless Evidence

Now I know that some of you will counter that there are all these stories about anti-vaxxers not getting vaccinated and then getting very sick and even dying. But those are stories that only occur on the regular news.

If you’re watching Fox News and Newsmax and OAN News, you’re not seeing those! And if you happen to hear about them? Well: fake news!

It’s a mistake to think of anti-vax people the way you would others. It’s not that they are irrational. They are, in fact, very rational! They simply believe we live in a different world. The logic is the same; the facts are different!

Conservative Belief in Social Cohesion

It’s kind of funny really. Because for decades conservative intellectuals have made the argument that liberals were dividing the country. It was always liberals who didn’t care about social cohesion. We saw this in many books like a couple by Charles Murray.

Just as with conservative fears of relativism, it turns out that the mechanism was backward. A lack of social conservatism wasn’t tearing our society apart; authoritarianism was destroying social cohesion.

That’s because the people who follow conservative ideology are authoritarians. Why else would a poor person vote for a party that mostly just gives tax cuts to the rich? It’s because they believe in the authoritarian underpinnings of conservatism.

And all the rich people who kept the poor and middle classes wedded to this ideology were sowing authoritarianism. Because that is literally the only thing that conservative ideology offers regular people.

The Freedom to Die

And now we have a deeply divided country. We have people who will not get vaccinated because they claim it is about their freedom. Meanwhile, they are putting all the rest of us at risk. And the entire world at risk. It’s very sad.

And there will never be an accounting. The closest that we might get is that millions will die. But it will not be those great Freedom Fighters who wouldn’t get vaccinated. It will be everyone.


Governor Wolf Receives COVID- 19 Vaccination by Governor Tom Wolf under CC BY 2.0.

Joe the Plumber Is the Ultimate Republican Voter

Joe the Plumber

Joe the Plumber is a joke on the left. For those that don’t remember, he had a conversation with Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. He claimed that he was thinking of starting a plumbing business. As a result, he was very concerned about Obama’s plan to raise taxes on incomes over a quarter-million dollars. (Obviously, this shows the usual ignorance of how marginal taxes work.)

It was preposterous. For one thing, he wasn’t a plumber. For another thing, I don’t think he ever made anything close to that amount of money. So his entire argument was that he had a dream that someday he would make so much money that he would be affected by this tax.

In this way, he is the ultimate example of the Republican voter. He wasn’t thinking about what his actual interests were. He was thinking about what his interests were in his fantasy.

Voting Your Interests

I’ve been a strong critic of the notion the people should vote their own interests. I don’t vote my own interest. I vote the way that I consider to be morally right. But Joe the Plumber shows that this is not generally true of Republicans.

They generally do not vote their interests. But this is not because they are wedded to some higher calling. It is because they don’t even know what their interests are. They are, in a word, marks.

This is discussed in the movie 1776 where John Dickinson says, “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor. And that is why they will follow us to the right!”

Parties may change but conservatives are always the same.

Small Business Delusions

You see this most distinctly with small business people. This is something I know a lot about because my parents were small business people and I have generally been one too. Most of them are extremely conservative. And they vote reliably Republican.

But why? The Republican Party is not good for small businesses. Sure, they talk about small businesses all the time. But their policies benefit multinational corporations. If you’re a small-business person, you’re screwed by the Republicans. And it is amazing that small business people so rarely see this reality.

They are all Joe the Plumber. The Republican Party may not help him today but just you wait! In a couple of years they will have a huge business too! And they will have an army of lobbyists and then all their support of the Republican party will pay off!

Linus makes the case for voting Republican.

Small Business Flattery

But there is something that the Republicans give small business owners: all that smoke that gets blown up their asses.

Sure, the Republican Party may make it harder for them to run their businesses. But what is that compared to being told that you are a Little John Galt?! And that, I suppose, is worth something. We all have our delusions.

Of course, this is all on the margins. The elephant in the Elephant’s Room is racism. But that certainly isn’t the story The Republican voters tell themselves. They don’t see themselves as racist even if they are extremely so.

But it hardly matters. They vote Republican because they think the party supports people like them. The difference is that when it comes to racism that’s true. When it comes to small business policy it isn’t. And that makes the small business owner a bigger mark than the unrepentant bigot.


Image cropped from Joe the Plumber in Elyria today by Rona Proudfoot under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Absurd Commentary on the Lab Leak Theory

Lab Zombies

I think we have a problem when we talk about the lab leak theory. There is not one. The original theory was a full-out conspiracy: China had developed it as a biological weapon and then they released it on the world to harm us.

Now the same people who pushed that conspiracy theory want us to believe that the notion that the virus may have leaked from a lab proves them correct. Well, it doesn’t.

So let’s look at the theories here. The Chinese government:

  1. Created a biological weapon that they knowingly released to the world.
  2. Created a biological weapon that they accidentally released to the world.
  3. Was doing work on viruses that was accidentally released to the world.

The first one is absolutely ridiculous. If the Chinese government wanted to release a biological weapon on the world, they wouldn’t do it to their own people much less to the people right outside the lab where they created it.

The second one is less ridiculous but still absurd. This is a really inefficient biological weapon. But more important there’s absolutely no evidence that this virus was created as a biological weapon. This is pure conjecture.

Reasonable Theory

So this leaves us with the third possibility. Scientists were studying this virus and it got out of the lab. This kind of thing does happen. And we should be concerned about this regardless of whether or not it happened in this instance.

Lab safety is an important issue. I’ve heard people suggest things like locating these labs far away from populated areas and requiring quarantine periods for travel from the facilities.

But note that this is never been a concern of the loudest voices regarding the lab leak theory. The number one concern of these proponents is simply to blame China. Implicit in this is to exonerate the Trump administration.

(Note the absurdity here: as though the source of the virus justifies a terrible response. New Zealand was attacked as much as the United States and yet they did a good job of managing the pandemic. No origin story justifies the terrible governmental response to COVID-19.)

Liberal Response

What bugs me about all this is not that Republican apologists are weaponizing it. What bugs me is that liberals are so quick to jump on board. They are so concerned about being seen as anti-science that they jump to the other side of this issue. And then they criticize the left for dismissing this theory in the first place.

In addition to this unfortunate tendency of liberals to attack their own side, there are major problems here. The first is that most people on the left always said that it was possible that COVID-19 came from a lab leak.

Second we still have no actual evidence that it was a lab leak. We are in exactly the same position we were a year ago. It’s possible it was a leak but it still looks unlikely.

The truth is if we get ironclad evidence that this was a naturally occurring virus, the usual suspects will never accept it. And decades from now, we will continue to hear about how the Chinese government released the virus to get rid of the Trump presidency.

Note that this would never happen if the sides were reversed. Conservatives never take the very possibility that they might have been wrong to turn on themselves. In fact, conservatives rarely take ironclad evidence that they were wrong to criticize themselves.

What actually happened was that there was no reason to believe that the source of COVID-19 was a lab leak so it was generally ignored. The theory was used on Facebook and other places to push absurd conspiracy theories. And a year later, we have liberal-ish commentators attacking the left.

That’s almost as absurd as the conservative conspiracy theories.


Lab Zombies image (cropped) by Pop Culture Geek via CC BY-NC 2.0.

There Is No Trump Exceptionalism

Nicole Hemmer

The idea of Trump Exceptionalism — that Donald Trump just rode in and blew up the whole system — I think ignores some really important continuities. George W Bush made some comments recently after his book came out that push this false narrative.

The 2000 election and the fight to declare victory, to stop the count in Florida, not just through the courts but through localized disruption — that was pretty anti-democratic. That was a really troubling moment. And the Bush v Gore decision is a really challenging one for people who want to embrace this idea of democracy and liberalism.

But there’s also the 2004 election and the decision to lean into the anti-marriage equality initiatives and referenda across the country as part of a campaign strategy to win that election. It modeled the way that you could mobilize resentment. And mobilize exclusionary politics in order to win an election. This is something that George W Bush did.

So when he talks now about this idea that the Republican Party won’t win elections if it plays the politics of exclusion, well, he played the politics of exclusion. And he won an election that way. He played minoritarian politics and he gained the presidency that way.

There have certainly been massive shifts in the Republican Party since the days of George W Bush. But he is not exempt from the story we’re telling about where the Republican Party is today.

–Nicole Hemmer
The Ezra Klein Show


Quote edited for readability. Image taken from National Antiracist Book Festival under Fair Use.

Can We Agree That the Republicans Are Disingenuous and Move On?

Marco Rubio Official Portrait

I’ve long known that the Republican party is disingenuous. That was clear long before the negotiations for Obamacare in 2009. But now we have such a clear example of this in the negotiations for the January 6th investigation.

Republican Representative John Katko managed to make a deal with the Democrats. But once it was made all the Republicans turned against it. The most absurd was Marco Rubio.

At first, Rubio was against the commission because there could be partisan subpoenas. When he was told that couldn’t happen because Republicans would effectively have veto power, he simply changed his position to be that the Democrats would leak the fact that Republicans used their power.

Of course, Rubio was just the guy who got caught most obviously. Strangely, there hasn’t been much reporting on the fact that Rubio was against the bill for one reason before reading it and then against it for a different reason after reading it. But this is what’s going on with the vast majority of the Republican caucus.

They are against the commission because they are against it. Any reasons they give are just bullshit post hoc rationalizations. This was also true of the American Rescue Plan. And it is true of the infrastructure bill.

Bad Faith Infrastructure “Negotiations”

Look at how that’s gone. The Democrats offered a $2.3 trillion bill. The Republicans “countered” with $568 billion. Before going on, I want to point out how ridiculous this is.

Imagine that you were selling your car for $5,000 and someone offered you $1,000. Would you negotiate with them? Or would you tell them to come back when they were serious? Obviously, you’d send them away. (I saw someone on Twitter point this out but I can’t find the source.)

The $568 billion was not a good-faith offer. But Biden negotiated and revised his offer down to $1.7 trillion — a 26% cut. And the Republican response? No thank you!

We know what would have happened if Biden had said, “Great! Let’s do $568 billion!” McCarthy and McConnell would have come out against it for some reason. It doesn’t matter what! These negotiations are just PR. They want the press to report that Republicans are negotiating and that any problems are just the result of good-faith disagreements. (The media, as they have for decades, reward them for this obvious game!)

No Bipartisanship to Be Found

So let’s just move on. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema need to get past their fantasies about bipartisanship. And we need to get on with the infrastructure bill. And if this isn’t a clear sign that the filibuster must be eliminated, I don’t know what is.

Democrats have wasted decades trying to work with Republicans. There is nothing Republicans want to do other than lower taxes on the rich and gut the regulatory state. It’s not even a question of what they think they can do. They literally have no ideas for broader policy.

Sure if someone presses them on how we’ll deal with our broken healthcare system, they’ll trot out the same old ideas that we know won’t work. They’ll talk about buying insurance across state lines. They’ll talk about catastrophic policies. And, of course, bring up those wonderful health savings accounts!

But the truth is then unless they’re asked about it, they won’t bring it up. Because they don’t care about it. The way things are is just fine with them except that the rich have to pay any taxes at all and that they are ever held accountable for their antisocial acts.

Time to Move On

So it is time to move on. The Biden administration must take the Republicans actions on the January 6th Commission as the final nail in the coffin of bipartisanship. It was always a bullshit idea but I guess it polls well.

No reasonable person can look at the Republicans and say that they are honest brokers in any matter that faces the American people.


Image of Marco Rubio is his official government portrait and in the public domain.