Keep your intersectionalism out of BLM.

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blm woman

One moving feature of the recent George Floyd / #BLM protests was how African-Americans could center the struggle on African-Americans. How Black people, who to this day are too often talked over by whites, could make the conversation both start and finish with Black people.

Other groups were gently reminded that, no, this particular march is not for them. Not that Latinos, say, don’t have their issues. It’s just that the BLM marches were about *black* lives mattering. LGBT people, including black LGBT people, face their own obstacles. This wasn’t the march for that, though. It was for the specific struggles, often inflicted by agents of the state, that are unique to the *black* community in its entirety, whether gay or straight, trans or cis, disabled or abled. It was not the time to center the troubles specific to Asian-Americans, the disabled, or women, as valid as their issues are. They’ll have their own times and places. BLM just asked these various groups to stand in solidarity with Black people. And almost everyone, outside of the usual hotbeds of racism over in Trump country, was ok with this. Simple, no?

The power to center an issue on themselves and to exclude other pressure or identity groups is shared by pretty much all left-of-center groups. Labor unions, environmental groups, and identity groups mentioned above can stake out their own territory as needed. They can say “while others in the room have issues and thoughts that are equally valid, today we’re only going to talk about our issues and thoughts.”

Oh wait. But there’s an exception.

Women. Women aren’t allowed to do that.

Due to something called “intersectionality.”

The term was coined by a Black female lawyer arguing how existing civil-rights law could only see single types of oppression, such as race or gender, but could not combine them to talk about the unique struggles of Black women.

Unfortunately, we still don’t see nearly enough marches just for Black women. Because, as these things do, the concept of intersectionality has mutated from one of liberty to one of control.

Control of women, naturally.

In the words of one of the most notorious enforcers of the latter-day concept of intersectionalism, everydayfeminism dot com:

“But without an intersectional lens, our movements cannot be truly anti-oppressive because it is not, in fact, possible to tease apart the oppressions that people are experiencing… Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”

It is no longer sufficient to address the struggles of women in general.

So what, one may ask. They’re just saying “Don’t be racist in your feminism,” right?

Wrong.

It means that women cannot, must not, ever center social justice concerns on matters that are specific to women, meaning all women (cis or trans). Women are *not* allowed to make a day just about women’s issues. They are *not* allowed to gently ask other groups or movements to make this march or that online drive about women only.

BLM can rightfully ask women’s movements to not make the George Floyd protests about themselves. This does not make them misogynist. Women’s movements, however, are not allowed to do the same in reverse. Because that would make them racist.

Confused? Because I sure am, especially since I want to support both. Especially since women of color are particularly marginalized by enforced “intersectionalism,” even though the word was originally meant to liberate them.

The effect of intersectionalism: worldwide protests for the death of black men such as George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, but even more appalling murder of Black woman Breonna Taylor is an afterthought. The needs of women must accommodate the needs of men, even in death.

The straitjacket of intersectionalism is intended not only to divide a feminist’s attention, but also to control her. To ensure she has *no* thoughts that some lefty man somewhere might not like. A Black or Hispanic activist, for instance, can maintain a pro-2nd-Amendment stance, claiming that gun rights are just the ticket to protect their communities from a racist society. This is a minority opinion, to be sure, but not something that would get an otherwise solid activist run out of the community. Not so for feminists, for whom a pro-2A position can get them promptly banned from the comments section over at Jezebel dot com.

Agree or disagree, there is a logical argument to be made that a 9mm equalizer in a woman’s nightstand helps even the odds against male intruders. Doesn’t matter. Intersectionality means the woman who tweets such a thing is hereby cancelled.

(Unless she’s conservative, of course! Intersectionality is only used by leftys to police, and punish, their own women.)

Another example of what I mean: the writers of the show Killing Eve decided to tweet this out:

saving mayo

Most of the comments were along the lines of “want some mayo with your crackers lol.” Which is a good point! Know what another point is? We got a writer’s room for a major show that’s (doing mental math) like, uh, mostly women! Can’t we celebrate that too? You know how many freaking shows and, especially, movies centered on women are written by men? “Y’know, thumbs up for the female representation, thumbs down for everyone needing SPF when the table lamp is switched on — overall, still better than most writer’s rooms?”

The reason why this is important is because your average procedural or late-night show has 80%+ writers that could pass for bearded Greenpoint or DTLA white bros who most definitely want to tell you why film cameras are more authentic than digital (the joke being, because that’s precisely who they are). If we got the writer’s room for, say, Young Sheldon or something to consist of 3/4 African-American men, with the remainder being white men, everybody would celebrate that as a solid diversity win despite a 1:1 Y-chromosome ratio. Yet when Killing Eve does something similar but with women, all we get are Karen memes in return.

That is not fair.

Any modern-day feminist, especially if they are looking for paid editorial or non-profit work, must set aside a certain amount of their energy each day to also campaign for every other left-of-center interest under the sun, such as the environment. Environmentalists, on the other hand, do not have to expend a single thought for women-specific issues if they choose not to. Environmentalists can just shrug and state that climate change affects both sexes, and besides, the climate’s their specialty and their passion, not these other causes, as noble as they might be.

Nobody asks Greenpeace for their thoughts on the wage gap, after all.

I am sickened by what so-called “intersectionalism” has done to feminism and can only pray it does not also poison the long struggle for Black liberation.

Imagine if, say, rugby players were asked to also drill regularly for baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and golf, keeping up with the latest trends in each, if they wanted to be seen as “real” rugby players in good standing, and allow athletes for these other sports to all get practice time on the rugby field. But only rugby players. Players of the other sports can stick to just their one sport.

Women do not get their own spaces.

They are instead always asked, as is usual throughout our patriarchal history, to accommodate others.

And that infuriates me.

…but what if the magical answer is real?

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Yesterday, I posted a rant about how conspiracy theories and magical thinking were harming our response to Covid-19 and possibly endangering patients with rubbish medicine. But let’s also not overlook the fact that not every conspiracy theory is automatically rubbish!

For instance, among the usual hogwash and fever dreams of the right, conservatives have been bouncing around a theory that the virus originated in a Chinese biowarfare lab — and this one, at least, passes the laugh test. Do the Chinese have biowarfare labs in the Wuhan vicinity? It is known that they do. Could the virus be due to an accidental release? Possibly! Would absolute dictator of China and noted Winnie the Pooh lookalike Xi Jinping then attempt a Chernobyl-like coverup instead of immediately containing the outbreak? Of course he would; that’s how all these assholes behave.

Now, there isn’t a shred of proof in support of the bioweapon theory. But on the other hand, there isn’t much proof against it, either. And I’m not sure how it would change things either way, unless the lab had some ideas on treatment; it’s not like America or Russia could claim to be horrified by biowarfare research (although Trump and Putin no doubt would give it the ol’ college try). Still, it’s not like we medical professionals can just dismiss this hypothesis out of hand.

ufo

Jet fuel might not melt steel beams, but phasers damn well could

And that’s the other side of thinking with evidence instead of thinking with your gut: to also acknowledge when you do not have the answers. Like, yes, I can laugh off 9/11 conspiracy theories but, no, I cannot laugh off UFO conspiracy theories — especially not since the U.S. Navy has confirmed the existence of literal unidentified flying objects. I can’t say that the Romulans are buzzing our aircraft carriers, but I can’t say that they aren’t, either.

And that extends to the oldest and greatest conspiracy theory of all time: atheists cannot disprove the existence of God any more than a devout Christian can prove it. Both sides are going with what they want to be true.

It is said that Erwin Schrödinger was initially opposed to what would become his legacy to quantum physics, his titular wave-form equation. This solution based on his observations of black-body radiation he came to very reluctantly; he was so leery of quantum mechanics in general that his famous cat thought experiment was devised as a criticism of it. No doubt Schrödinger at one point looked at quantum physics the way I look at vaccine conspiracy theories. Yet, he still recognized what the evidence was saying, even if he did not like it; he recognized that his gut is not in fact an expert in cutting-edge physics, despite millennia of human evolution urging him to feel otherwise; and he published his findings regardless, giving the emerging field a major push.

Be open to new discovery — just realize that “new discovery” generally does not come from a YouTube video made in some ranty person’s garage, or from this president’s press briefings.

Magical thinking and hydroxychloroquine

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When the U.S. History courses one hundred years from now reach the Covid-19 lecture, there will be one of those “humorous yet informative” postscripts that professors enjoy, at the end of the holographic PowerPoint slides being beamed into their students’ cerebral cortexes by the benevolent Planetary AI (or carved onto whittleboard, the few remaining pupils hunched over to see by candlelight as the Planetary AI’s hunter-killer mechs shake the earth 100 feet above, whichever). And that postscript will involve hydroxychloroquine.

The anti-malaria drug was one of many existing medicines hypothesized early on to have some action against the coronavirus or its related complications, along with zithromax, remesivir, and tocilizumab. But there has yet to be time to evaluate any of these — even a full retrospective study for any of these will takes months to finalize, and true double-blinds only really got started within the last month or so, and will take even longer. So all we clinical physicians have had to go by are our best guesses.

But why should any of this be of interest to any future undergrad student, or anyone besides the most thorough postgrad researcher of this era? Because hydroxychloroquine has become a major political issue, and, as usual, all due to a random idea that had flitted through our president’s brain. On March 19, over two months before I’m here saying it’s still way too early to know what existing medicine, if any, are effective against the virus, Trump pronounced his endorsement of hydroxychloroquine as an effective drug in during a daily briefing.

The effect was both massive and instantaneous. Prescriptions surged as people demanded the medicine from their primary care doctor, and the unproven med, with potential side effects, was already part of the standard Covid-19 protocol at a NYC public hospital by the time I started seeing inpatients on April 15.

Within two weeks, however, I and most other providers refused to continue supporting this possibly harmful drug, as it has having little impact on the hospital’s death or extubation rates and, more importantly, broader literature was suggesting evidence against the med — although, again, with the cautionary note that absolutely nothing is settled science yet. (update 6/3/20: And how. The study suggesting harm caused by this medicine was itself flawed.)

It’s just that we frontline clinicians don’t have the luxury of time. We have to go with whatever hypothetical might work. By the end of April, that meant ditching the Plaquenil and trying to get our hands of the hospital’s limited supply of tocilizumab and, later, remesivir. Why? Was it because the hospital was anti-Trump? Would we treat medical decisions based on party affiliation? If that were the case, we never would have tried the Plaquenil at all to begin with. We’re just trying to use the evidence of our eyes and ears, rather than going with what we want to be true.

Because that right there — going with what a person wants to be true — has almost entirely defined human existence since antiquity. It is the source of irrationality, of witch hunts, of wars of extermination. People going with what they know in their heart to be true led to the horrors of communism, of Nazism, of Islamic extremism, as well as latter-day evils such as anti-vaxxism, Scientology, and QAnon.

After the medical community turned its back on hydroxychloroquine, the president did what everyone does when their irrational beliefs, held because of what their gut tells them, are challenged: he doubled down.

trump plaquenil

And as this is medication is now a political issue, that it is a panacea has become an article of faith among the Trump fanatics as much as their belief that masks are harmful, reported Covid-19 death rates are fake news and proposed vaccines are nothing but a vast conspiracy fomented by Bill Gates, Big Pharma, the Deep State, Dr. Fauci, and whichever other insidious “THEM” that the latest YouTube ranter decides to throw in for good measure.

As part of trying to deal with their new reality after editor Rich Lowry’s total surrender to the Bircherism that his magazine was founded to oppose, National Review sometimes puts up posts asking the MAGA zealots to, y’know, take it easy. “The bottom line is that we need large, randomized trials with proper control groups to know what difference this drug makes,” Robert Verbruggen concludes in a blog post today, which would be about as controversial as “water is wet” to most. But not to the cultists in the comments section:

“…The general consensus is that HCL is most effectively used as a prophylactic, to be taken before infection by the corona virus occurs, similarly to how it is used to prevent malaria…. HCL is seen to be only slightly effective as a therapeutic treatment for active COVID cases. Of course, the therapeutic use is all the mainstream press focuses on because it is the least understood, and can thus be easily twisted to criticize and mock President Trump, which is all that is important to them.”

Everything is about defending and worshiping former host of Celebrity Apprentice to these people. Everything. So naturally, they assume everyone else is the same.

But magical thinking — going with what you want to be true, rather than what the evidence shows — is not a craziness confined to a few crazy relatives on your Facebook feed. It is the default. It is the natural way of thinking for humans.

Because we can convince ourselves that anything we want is true. ANYTHING.

The QAnon crowd is an extreme example, but they convinced themselves that the following is true, based on the ravings of a 8Anon troll: that military tribunals are happening or will happen for prominent Democrats, media figures, and others that they and Donald Trump despise; that these will lead to executions, which delights them to no end; that some liberals have *already* been executed and what we see are the body doubles of Obama, Hillary, etc.; that any day now, Trump will install a full military dictatorship (this is the “coming storm” they talk about) leading to any remaining liberals, dissidents, or journalists being rounded up in concentration camps and/or murdered outright; that major news stories such as Covid-19 are all actually part of the vast secret conspiracy against Trump; that JFK Jr. is actually alive and on their side (don’t ask me to explain because I can’t). And that’s just the surface!

qanon wall of crazy

A typical example of a QAnon chart. Good luck!

If this all sounds like a self-published horror story by some meth-head cranking out words at 3am, well, that’s only partly accurate. Because all of this — the murders, the dictatorship — isn’t what they fear but what they fervently want more than anything else in this life. They *want* Obama to be lined up against a wall and shot. Therefore, for their reality, that is precisely what’s going to happen.

And a lot of these types also believe in various, unrelated, sometimes self-contradictory other conspiracy theories, including the all-time classics. Flat earth. Anti-vaxx. The Rothschilds and other anti-Semitic tropes. And, of course, that hydroxychloroquine is a miracle cure because the president says so. Hey, reality is whatever they want it to be, after all. Why not season it to taste?

The Enlightenment and its ideals stood against this magical thinking that has defined human existence since the first proto-human decided that thunder was caused by their god throwing rocks at the sky and that any who diagreed needed to have their head bashed in. And as humanity turns its back on the Enlightenment, the curse of magical thinking and anti-intellectualism settles back over the human landscape like a weighted blanket.

 

 

The chimera that is COVID — and what causes it.

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A recent piece over at New York magazine touches on something not talked about enough in the mainstream media: the wildly hard-to-predict clinical course of your typical Covid-19 infection. Why does one healthy middle-aged patient have few-to-no symptoms, while another has been on a ventilator for weeks and has had kidney failure and an amputated leg?

We know enough to know that Covid’s favorite target is the respiratory system, and cases range from the completely asymptomatic, to something resembling a typical upper respiratory infection, to a pneumonia demanding hospitalization, to total respiratory failure and death, with the latter two far more likely in elderly patients. In fact, this is the same as the garden-variety flu, although at a vastly higher mortality rate.

But unlike influenza, Covid-19 isn’t satisfied with merely battering the lungs. Nobody knows why, but Covid-19 displays tropism for an astonishing array of human tissue compared to other respiratory virii. Here are what else I have witnessed first-hand, treating many, many Covid inpatients at a public hospital in NYC:

covid body

  • Acute kidney injury. Enough people come in with elevated serum creatinine (one of the most reliable lab tests for kidney injury or failure) that I wonder if hospitalized Covid+ patients with kidney damage outnumber those without. The sheer numbers cannot be adequately explained by dehydration or previously undiagnosed chronic kidney problems. More likely, the virus attacks the kidneys directly.
  • GI problems. This is less common, but nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea happen with a good number of my patients. In one case, uncontrolled throwing up was in fact the primary cause of hospitalization for a Covid+ patient.
  • Coagulation problems and inflammed blood vessels. Many of my patients have had elevated INR numbers, a marker of how well your blood clots. They also usually have high “D-Dimer,” a marker of active blood clotting, to the point that some have obscenely sky-high numbers that more experienced colleagues have never seen before in their careers. Some say that this lab number is the most important one to follow, although I disagree: see below.
  • Heart failure and acute decompensation. Now this may happen just from respiratory failure, but scientists also believe this happens because the virus itself may attack the heart.

And, what I believe is most important:

  • Very low numbers of a type of an infection-fighting white blood cell called lymphocytes (aka lymphopenia). Almost all of my Covid patients have this (and, correspondingly, usually have higher numbers of non-lymphocyte WBCs). If this sounds familiar, it is: HIV attacks one specific type of lymphocyte, leading eventually to failure of the immune system. The lymphopenia picture in Covid is more indiscriminate, although literature suggests a type of lymphocyte called the “natural killer” cell, which works by killing virus-infected cells, is particularly vulnerable to depletion.

Here’s why this is critical.

There are two main components of the immune system: what we call “innate” immunity, one that is unfocused and generalized, mediated by cells like neutrophils and macrocytes, and “acquired” immunity, which consists of lymphocytes and antibodies. The latter is far smarter and more sophisticated and, while innate immunity is important in the beginning of any infection, your body depends on acquired immunity to eventually kill the bug — and, hopefully, prevent future infections, which is also how vaccines work.

T_cell_activation.svg

thanks, Wikipedia!

Also, and critically, acquired immunity generally causes far less collateral damage to your body. If innate immunity is indiscriminate carpet bombing, acquired immunity consists of snipers and laser-guided bombs.

The fact that Covid causes suppression of the acquired immune system is, in my opinion, *the* most important reason why some people get incredibly sick from this thing, to the point that the coronavirus has a free hand to even attack non-respiratory organs like the kidneys, gut, blood vessels, and heart. It is also, I believe, *the* most salient reason why some people experience an out-of-control innate immune response, leading to chronic lung damage (some of my otherwise-recovered patients go home on portable oxygen tanks) and that “cytokine storm” thing you may have heard of — it’s like, if the body tries calling in laser-guided bombs but nothing happens, it resorts to mass carpet-bombing instead.

Perhaps take my opinion with a grain of salt — I’m just an ordinary MD, not an infectious disease specialist, hematologist, or virologist with high-falutin’ Ivy cred. If Dr. Fauci is a four-star general, I’m just a 1st lieutenant.

But I strongly believe it’s the lymphopenia that lets this beast out of its cage.  And besides HIV, there is another precedent to bolster my case: leprosy. Yes, leprosy.

Like Covid, the symptoms of leprosy, aka Hansen’s Disease, range in a wide spectrum, from mild disease on one end to the real old-Testament version on the other. (Or “tuberculoid” vs. “lepromatous,” to use the traditional medical terms.) And we’ve known for quite some time now that what really determines the course of this disease is the acquired, aka the adaptive, immune system. Mild leprosy is associated with a well-functioning acquired immune system, with antibodies and natural killer cells keeping the germ in check (although this grouping of patients is more likely to experience sensory loss, similar to how losing one’s sense of smell seems to happen more often in mild cases of Covid-19).

But for less fortunate leprosy patients, for some reason, the acquired immune response doesn’t work correctly. The lymphocytes wind up using the wrong methods, or incorrectly going with what scientists call the “TH2” pathway, which is ineffective in this condition, instead of going with what the leprosy bacteria is vulnerable to, the “TH1” response. Thus, leaving the victim’s body with only the innate immune system to fight off the invader — and as with Covid, we all know how well that works out.

Also, this is why one of the scariest drugs in all of medicine, thalidomide, has been used in the past in lepromatous leprosy. By dampening the body’s innate immune system, it eases some of the symptoms, but without also weakening the acquired immune system the way steroids like prednisone do. Nowadays nobody in their right mind prescribes the drug, but if Covid-19 had hit in, say, 1962, I bet thalidomide would have soon been part of every hospital’s standard regimen.

Finally, returning to the flu, it too may be a precedent. Severe cases of the flu also are marked by lymphopenia. Although the cause-effect relationship remains unproven, smart money bets on low lymphocyte numbers being what can lead the flu to become a killer. Similarly, it is precisely because Covid somehow weakens the body’s acquired immune system that it may become so deadly.

Now how, exactly, the coronavirus does in the body’s lymphocytes is an open question. Perhaps it suppresses the body’s “factories” of blood cells, the bone marrow. Maybe it targets some lymphocytes directly, the way HIV does. It could confuse the body into killing its own lymphocytes. Or perhaps it tricks the body into producing the wrong type of immune response. Or some combination thereof — that’s definitely above-my-pay-grade material.

But in my mind, where there is no question is that this characteristic lymphopenia is the key to figure out. Prevent, or at least treat, that, and you prevent the bug from further damaging so many organ systems.

The silver-bullet solution is to pre-activate the general population’s acquired immune system so that the virus may not get a foothold, i.e., make and distribute a vaccine; but that’s a long way’s off. In the meantime, if scientists are finally able to figure out specifically what causes lymphocyte numbers to crater in serious Covid-19 infection, we might be able to come up with a more effective drug to help patients like mine.

Random thoughts, March 2020

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I follow MMFA media critic and trans activist Parker Molloy on twitter. She’s witty and often makes great points. And while she’s clearly on the left side of the left, she wasn’t in the tank for any candidate (well, until Warren dropped out and left her with only one option, I suppose).

And she writes many good takes.

This one is not one of them.

Her argument: that NeverTrump conservatives should not get a say in Democratic politics. That, with their long track record of backing Republican causes in the hazy, distant days Before Trump, they should just STFU and GTFO — partly because they’ll just find an excuse for voting for Trump anyway.

“If there’s one thing Trump’s improbable victory in 2016 should have made clear,” Molloy writes, “it’s that these [NeverTrumpers] are not particularly relevant voices in the modern political era, and yet media outlets haven’t recognized this fact and acted accordingly. If anything, it seems as though conservative Trump critics are being promoted more aggressively than ever…”

“But in the end, the same conservatives pleading for Democrats to move to the right won’t actually follow through on voting for them — as exemplified by The View co-host Meghan McCain when she said, “I’m a Republican. I’m going to end up voting for Republicans” during a 2018 episode.”

First of all, Meghan McCain cannot be taken as an example of what we generally mean by the term “NeverTrump.” Her beefs with the president are 100% personal, as she reminds her viewers endlessly, due to his feud with her late father. It is 0% political. She’s married to one of the ethics-free founders of The Federalist, for God’s sake. Anyone who would share a bed with one of the worst people in conservative media (and that is, shall we say, one high bar to clear) cannot be counted in the same circle as Rick Wilson, Charlie Sykes, or Tom Nichols.

nevertrumpBecause the latter guys haven’t stopped repeating themselves that they are voting for the Democrat in November. That is now the litmus test for the NeverTrump brand: are you voting for Biden, or are you just staying home? (If the latter, they’re more accurately called “Trump skeptics” than NT.) (True, some of them would have sat out if it turns out being Bernie, but that is looking increasingly like an irrelevant disclaimer.)

The reality is that Wilson and friends are better thought of as conservative Democrats, at least while Trump remains in power. They’ve been pulling for Biden because he’s long been the choice of many or most conservative Democrats, especially older African Americans. Yes, they are opposed to Medicare for All (unlike myself, full disclosure) but then again, so is Joe Biden. Why the hell wouldn’t any conservative Democrat be pulling for Biden (or Bloomberg, before he folded)?

NeverTrumpers daily tweet and write endless paeans to Joe Biden. True, their praise of Obama’s VP would have been unthinkable eight years ago. But the world sure has moved on, hasn’t it? If you still stubbornly insist that the NeverTrumpers are putting up some kind of act, this is saying more about your cynicism than theirs.

I agree with Molloy that NeverTrump has absolutely zero relevance in today’s Republican Party, which is now a Maoist cult of personality. But it was because their personal morality made it impossible to continue to associate with one of the most morally corrupt major movements, and presidents, in American history. Say what you will about their MSNBC appearances, but they would’ve made far more money with FoxNews, especially as they could write paint-by-the-numbers pro-Trump blowjob books guaranteed to be promoted up the bestseller lists by the most important Twitter account on the planet. Just spitballing here, but shouldn’t progressives be *encouraging* defectors from decadence, instead of declaring them forever unclean?


Now, as for that bit of minor health news occasionally earning mention on TV…

I feel like the media is both overselling and underselling Charlie One-Niner. Overselling, in treating this coronavirus like a dread reaper, cutting down people in their prime like the Spanish Flu before it, where we’re one day away from the movie Contagion and three days away from The Stand. Underselling, in that they are not giving enough coverage to what it actually is: a dread reaper — of the elderly. Either 100%, or close to it, of the fatalities in America and Italy are over 60, for instance. (edit 3/17/20: this is no longer the case, as middle-aged people with other comorbidities make up a minority of fatalities)

“Well, fuck them olds,” some people think.

old people to keel over and die

Which is fine if you have no grandparents, or elderly parents, or aunts, or uncles, or friends, or if you yourself plan on never aging past 60. Or if your preferred presidential candidate isn’t well to the north of 70 because, oh man, it sure would be nerve-wracking if the president and his two remaining challengers all qualified as at high-risk for being escorted off this earthly plane by our friend from Wuhan.

Modern society has long made invisible people who qualify for Medicare. They no longer work, so they no longer matter. They get shunted off to retirement communities to remain thankfully out of view. This is long-standing: decades before “ok, Boomer,” there were jokes about The Olds forever having a blinking 00:00 showing on their VCRs. And while the Boomers are indeed America’s Worst Generation, this bias both precedes them and, we can safely bet, will succeed them.

Which is my way of acknowledging my fear that someday, my thoughts will be met with an eyeroll and “post it on Instagram, grandpa” or “lol want an avocado with that?”. Even Zoomers should keep this in the back of their head. Even if we’re headed to environmental catastrophe, human extinction won’t happen before current college freshmen have become the worst thing ever: old.

What if our taunting of Boomers will someday come back to bite us in the ass? Perhaps this virus will eventually shock us into remembering that people with hair growing out of their ears are still actually people too. We shouldn’t taunt people for being aged, out of touch, or too in touch with obsolete tech or bands because, guess what: Cage the Elephant will someday run a reunion tour with tickets starting at $300 and our grandkids will be laughing their asses at us for actually going.

 

The wonderful outliers

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Read any news story about gender and sports these days, and it will almost always be about transgender issues. “Should transwomen be allowed to play in women’s leagues,” that sort of thing. So naturally, my assumption was that transgenderism was in play upon first encountering this story:

badass

But, nope. Trans has nothing to do with it. For one, this is clearly a co-ed league, and there is no mention of this champ, or of her opponents, being trans. A cis girl went into a wrestling meet, kicked the asses of her cis male opponents, and walked away with the gold. That’s it; that’s the story. And just look at this badass’s cocky alpha grin versus the sullen dejection of her runners up. Fucking awesome.

Of course, this does bring up the question of how, exactly, a girl can physically not only go toe-to-toe with at least somewhat post-pubertal boys, but also come out on top. The boys should have a definite advantage in upper body strength within the same weight class. Right?

Is she juicing? I have to doubt it. The effects of illicit testosterone are far more noticeable on females than males, as East German women’s athletes could’ve attested, and this girl couldn’t exactly pass for Barry Bonds. Besides… roiding up, and thereby risking her college career/scholarships, just for a high school title? Really?

More likely: she’s naturally in the upper regions of the 99th percentile of girls her size in terms of strength and stamina. (I mean, someone has to be, right?) And while the average girl will of course bench far less than an average boy of the same age and weight, that’s also just it: average. The remarkable variability among specimens of our peculiar species results in some astonishing X-men-level outliers, from certain East African lineages owning the sport of marathon running, to this girl beating out trained, practicing boy wrestlers, to an overweight, middle-aged diabetic patient I once saw with a resting heart rate rivaling that of Tour de France bicyclists.

People have no problem accepting the existence of Hawkins-level outliers in intelligence… but in the physical arena, we still have a hard time wrapping our minds around it.

Sadly, the term “outlier” goes both ways, and I speak with some authority. If the girl from above has male upper body strength through some weird condition or gene, then I have precisely the opposite situation. I don’t know why, but I never really got the teenage-boy surge of strength to my arms, to the point where I use weights at the gym equivalent to what women there use… my last personal trainer actually made fun of me for it. There’s been a pretty low ceiling on what I can bench even with regular workouts. A girl once broke up with me because she jokingly pinned me down one time… and I couldn’t get her off me. (I still have no problem with lower body strength… in high school I never understood why I could crush it with the leg press machine but practically nothing else.)

Poor me? Nah; in the list of reasons why my life is shit, it doesn’t even break the top 100. I have to be careful not to arm wrestle any girl I date, that’s all. Or, perhaps, finesse the inevitable jar-opening request.

I just enjoy the outliers of the human experience in all its forms and how we defy stereotypes. Whether it’s the female ass-kicker above, or a man who excels at early childhood education or being a stay-at-home dad for his high-earning wife, or the fact that the NFL’s current best two quarterbacks are black and its best running back is white. Or seeing certified, card-carrying, neanderthal right-wing conservative activists refuse to bend the knee to the host of Celebrity Apprentice. Fucking break expectations. Smash boxes. Nobody remembers the followers. If you can’t be a leader, be a goddamn renegade. Never let them see you coming. It’s no guaranteed path to happiness, sure. But for some, it’s the only way to live.

Positronic Light Bulb

*unfinished post, edits to come*

I recently mashed through some quite curious thoughts while recently sick with an upper respiratory virus, and want to put them down as words, even if I don’t really understand them fully, being a bit outside my area of expertise.

One of the questions that has long bedeviled particle physicists, and which cannot be adequately explained by the Standard Model, is: why, exactly, does only matter exist in the known universe, and not antimatter? After all, all equations predict that any process that creates matter, whether as great an explosion as the Big Bang or as tiny as those fomented by our artificial experiments, should also create antimatter in exactly equal parts. Indeed, this is in fact always the observed result in particle accelerator tests. However, there is no known antimatter left over from the Big Bang in the observable universe. And if it all had simply annihilated against matter, then there would be no matter left over, either.

This leads to two possibilities: one, that the antimatter does exist but is somehow outside of the observable universe. Or, two, that our current equations are wrong and that matter does, in fact, slightly outnumber antimatter in these genesis reactions (or actions).

Scientists have mostly dismissed the first possibility and are hard at work trying to prove the second. For instance, there is a decades-old project to prove something called “proton decay,” which, for arcane reasons beyond my ken (no, despite what comic books say, physician and physicist are not interchangeable), would be necessary to prove that matter/antimatter asymmetry is valid. The problem: every one of these tests have failed. Scientists have responded by expanding and expanding again the proposed half-life of the proton, but even within the new parameters, protons still stubbornly refuse to spontaneously fall apart.

But what if they’re wrong? Or, to rephrase: what if their equations were right all along? That antimatter was produced in equal parts in the Big Bang, but that the antimatter is, in fact, outside of what we can observe in the universe? How can this be?

To answer that, we have to first turn to a fascinating property of antimatter that would not only explain where it all went at the beginning of the universe, but could open a rabbit hole leading down completely unorthodox paths in physics that could lead to the secrets of the universe itself.

Imagine, if you will, the title of this post: A positronic light bulb. Or, rather, a light bulb made entirely of antimatter, along with an antimatter battery, antimatter wiring, and an antimatter switch. Such a device would be powered by “reverse electricity,” using positrons (aka antimatter electrons) instead of normal electrons. Let’s say that we somehow construct such a device, at enormous expense, and house it in a compete vaccum. How would it work? Or to phrase it more precisely: what happens when you flick the switch?

In a regular lightbulb, as we all learn by fifth grade: flipping the switch closes the circuit so that the current may now flow unimpeded from the battery’s negative side. First, electrons (assuming a direct current) emerge from the battery, flow through the wires and the bulb itself, before terminating on the battery’s positive side:

electronflow

While we leave it on, the battery’s negative (cathode) side slowly discharges its supply of negative charge, while the positive (anode) side slowly gains electrons and therefore has its positive charge diminished at the same rate. Eventually, the battery is depleted, the current of electricity stops, and the light bulb goes out.

Now, if this whole thing were made of antimatter parts?

Well, the battery would be made of the antimatter version of the exact same stuff, like zinc and magnesium oxide, same as the wires and bulb. Only, it would be a flow of positively-charged particles that power the bulb. Here is the progression:

The light turns on.

And then, the switch is flipped.

Wait, what?

Yes. The light came on before we flipped the switch. The effect has preceded the cause. We have just violated one of the most fundamental rules of not only physics, but our basic conception of the time and space: causality.

This is possible because another way of viewing antimatter is that it’s matter, only going back in time. If a normal electron has a time paramater t of 1, then a positron is an electron, only with t = -1. This sounds strange, but the math checks out! (For completeness, note that photons that make up light are t = 0. So, the light coming out of our positronic light bulb is no different than any other light.)

Going back to the Big Bang question, we have our answer. The antimatter from the great explosion was sent backwards in time. Because that’s simply what antimatter does. What’s more, there’s no reason why the antimatter universe can’t have antimatter stars, suns, planets, even life. Indeed, there may be antimatter scientists on an antimatter Earth right now, carefully creating and experimenting with the strange, reverse stuff we call matter.

 

 

 

 

A couple months ago, I talked about the only two pillars of today’s Right: blind hatred of liberal Americans, and blind worship of the former host of Celebrity Apprentice. The next post will be about the former, but I want to expand on one of the three classes of conservatives who dare dissent from MAGA.

First, a brief example of how extreme the cult of personality has gotten. There is nobody in the House more worshipful of Donald Trump than Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. Try as they might, not even bootlicks like McCarthy, Meadows or Jordan can approach the enthusiasm of his servility. Or at least, not until this week where abruptly, for some reason — nobody can quite place why — he broke with his boss in favor of his constituents, just once, on a single floor vote.

Here is his tweet trying to explain himself. Gaetz himself is not important here. The response from the conservative base is what’s important. I invite the reader to scroll through the replies from outraged MAGA-heads. You can do Trump’s bidding with a smile a thousand times, but if your conscience slips you up and you disagree once — just once — you’re dead to these people. Dead.

asshole

But, even at this late date, not every last Republican is like the piece of shit above. I broke down conservatives who are not in the cult into three groupings. One, the familiar NeverTrumpers, often quite moderate in their politics and friendly to the liberal media. Next we have the white nationalists, who have realized that Trump is not one of them and, while too scared to challenge the president directly, now have no problem coming at his surrogates or even his son.

And finally, we have those hardened, rock-ribbed right-wingers who, for whatever reason, have slipped out of the GOP’s fever-dream and have come to recognize the president for who he is, while retaining hardcore conservative beliefs. They’re admittedly rare, but they exist. I had mentioned talkshow host Shannon Joy as one. Another is podcaster Mark Pantano. I mean, just take a look at this rank heresy (clickable):

It’s not that I agree with these guys on most issues — I don’t. (Immigration has always been a core component of the American project, although open-borders extremists are admittedly nuts.) I ask liberals who are appalled by these stances to look past that. It’s that these conservatives were able to not only hold onto their principles, but also see when and how the president fails them. They are as bitterly opposed to the Democrats as any Trumper but now see that the president has failed them, does not actually care a jot about anything he ran on, and works more to convince the rubes and suckers at his rallies that he’s building the wall and owning the libs than actually doing these things.

If you’re a liberal, what these conservatives are saying should actually be a relief. From immigration to abortion, they’re saying this president is all hat, no cattle. And they’re right.

If you’re a liberal, you should be glad that the vast majority of Republicans believe their president’s ridiculous lies about the wall that let him get away with not actually building it. Or that he’ll happily team with Nancy Pelosi to sign a pork-laden spending bill that gives both sides the boondoggles they want at the expense of the debt that, like climate change, won’t reach a crisis point until they are both long buried.

“Ah, they’re just Tom Nichols or Max Boot-ish TDS sufferers,” you might argue. Absolutely not. These conservatives do not hate Trump. They had high hopes for him, and will even vote for him again (or, at least, not vote for the Democrat). It’s that they desperately wish they could convince him to care about conservative issues — but are increasingly realizing that he never will:

pantano5

He’s probably right that if Republican Senators and Congressmen, and their voters, actually had a shred of self-respect and held the president to account on immigration and abortion, instead of falling to the Maoist cult of personality where Dear Leader can do no wrong, this president would have achieved far more conservative results than the judges — and, remember, even the judges are hardly some kind of singular Trumpian achievement, as he’s going off the same list of judges that Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz would have used.

Regular people, even progressives, could share a beer with these patriots, however much they disagree with them politically, for the simple reason they don’t have their heads up their asses. By contrast, most conservatives would punch you in the face as soon as your dared slight their Precious.

If there ever will be a post-Trump Right (which is debatable), it won’t be led by moderate NeverTrumpers. It will be led by people like Joy and Pantano. Disagree with them all you want, but at least they don’t want to turn this place into a dictatorship.

The national conversation about NYC’s anti-Semitism problem we need, but won’t get

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One of the most dearly-held myths among the Left is that only white people are capable of racism. The reason is rhetorical: the most powerful insult, and the most effective way to silence opposition, is to call your opponent a racist… and they will not tolerate that word being turned back against themselves, or a member of a “protected community.”

Which is one reason why the rising tide of anti-semitism around NYC goes so under-reported.

See, the Pittsburgh synagogue attack still gains more coverage a full year later than your typical attack around here because it fit with existing tropes. The attacker was white! Alt-right! Typical white conservative backlash! Trump! MAGA!

And of course the horrible attack must be remembered. But the problem is, NYC-area attacks such as this one last night — on Hanukah, no less — quickly get forgotten by the media because the perpetrators usually look something like this:

perp

As this man’s soul clearly is incapable of the stain of bigotry, editors at Vox and Huffpost tell themselves, let’s just chalk it up as one of those random acts of bizarre mystery like flight MH370, or Elisa Lam. We may never know the answer.

For instance, take a look at this write-up over at Slate. They see fit to award all of four paragraphs to the rash of attacks on NYC-area Jews over the last few days, while treating the attacks like a force of nature without any attempt at explanation, as if they were talking about a tornado and its aftermath. Streetlights might just be randomly falling on Jewish people’s heads, for all they care.

Update 1/3/20: Or take a look at this CBS News report, which goes on to question whether it’s due to… wait for it… economic anxiety, that same discredited trope that Trump fans use to account for white racism in their ranks.

But if the various perps had had a more pinkish hue, “wall-to-wall” would be the order of the day with Slate and other outfits, with endless calls to SPLC spokesmen, and references to online organized hate, and the effects of MAGA. One thinkpiece after another would wonder on the destruction wrought by angry white loners. Well-funded state taskforces would appear overnight. The Sunday shows would all lead with the rising tide of alt-right violence in the largest media market. De Blasio would lead a candlelight march against hate.

But because the attackers are more likely motivated by Louis Farrakhan than Richard Spencer… well… uh… shrug.

Also, without a white-bigotry angle to pursue, it’s difficult to get liberal media outlets to care about this sort of attack due to long-standing lefty animosity to Zionism. Progressive anti-Semites typically anchor their Jew-baiting around the existence of Israel, in contrast to the neo-Nazis’ racial theories. They possess an uncanny ability to turn mundane conversations about labor rights or the Yankees or granite countertops into a conversation about Israel. Thus, the obsessive need to pass BDS sanctions, and pursue open exclusion of Jews from progressive spaces. Of course, even if the worst progressive conspiracy theories about Israel were true, such atrocities wouldn’t even approach the level of China’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against Uighur Muslims, with its concentration camps and forced sterilization and Stalinesque systemized rape; but good luck getting these supposed champions of downtrodden Muslims to give a damn.

Also, unlike their alt-right cousins, lefty anti-Semites like to leave a door open for the existence of the “good Jew”… as long as they are sufficiently self-loathing, anyway, lest they face the usual banishment. This is why a secular Jew named Bernie Sanders faces a precarious position: he cannot favor Israel lest he lose support of anti-Zionist obsessives like Rep. Ilhan Omar, yet he cannot bring himself to fully embrace the leftist “from the river to the sea” vision of a Judenfrei Middle East either.

In any event, such liberal attitudes from “people of color simply cannot be bigots” to “but those Zionists kinda had it coming, didn’t they?” are why the media has already moved on from the deadly anti-Semitic attack at a Jersey City kosher market earlier this month, and are why they will forget this attack within a week, yet still meditate on the Pittsburgh attack. The latter fits into an acceptable larger worldview, while the other assaults do not.

Finally, on a personal note, this is among the many reasons why I’m politically homeless. While my attitude towards the right may be readily surmised from all the Trump rants around here, I can’t exactly sign onto the left’s bullshit either.

 

Who goes MAGA?

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From time to time I re-read Dorothy Thompson’s seminal 1941 piece, “Who Goes Nazi?“. She imagines herself at a dinner party, determining who among the guests and who would not join the Nazis if they were ascendant in America. She makes clear that, although she is writing from an America just on the cusp of entering WWII, “Nazi” is more of a state of mind that has little to do with race, creed, Dem/GOP political leanings, or even Judaism — this sort of thing only uses ideology or manifestos as mere excuses to paper over something much older and more primitive. Substitute “Nazi” with “ISIS” or “Khmer Rogue” and little would change in Thompson’s essay.

Two archetypes she mentions stand out to me in particular. (If you haven’t read her essay, I highly encourage doing so now.) One is that of Mr. C. This is a man so bent, so twisted, so devoid of joy or empathy that he lacks a shred of humanity. Or as she puts it,

Were he primitive and brutal he would be a criminal—a murderer. But he is subtle and cruel. He would rise high in a Nazi regime. It would need men just like him—intellectual and ruthless. But Mr. C is not a born Nazi. He is the product of a democracy hypocritically preaching social equality and practicing a carelessly brutal snobbery. He is a sensitive, gifted man who has been humiliated into nihilism. He would laugh to see heads roll.

And then there’s Mr. B. Unlike C, he’s no inhuman psychopath. In fact, Thompson notes that Mr. C hates Mr. B. He is a figure well-known to us Americans: highly successful, born into wealth, but no doubt credits his own intelligence — i.e., born on third base and thought he hit a triple. Friendly and sociable, he nevertheless possesses a core of pure selfishness undisturbed by any higher scruples.

His code is not his own; it is that of his class—no worse, no better, He fits easily into whatever pattern is successful. That is his sole measure of value—success. Nazism as a minority movement would not attract him. As a movement likely to attain power, it would. [emphasis mine]

maga cultAs the title to this post suggests, while reading Thompson’s essay, I consider how these two people define much of the Trump base. Again, they are not literal Nazis. But certain similarities of mindset between them and the average rank-and-file functionaries and officials of the Reich may be made.

Also, I do not mean people who only voted for Trump regretfully because they are lifelong Republicans and/or considered Hillary worse, which remains an honorable position. I mean the diehard, true believers in the Fifth Avenue rule, that would never ever abandon MAGA whatever new moral depradations their orange idol engages in, up to and including mass murder — but with one important qualifier.

The Mr. C’s are simpler people and easy to point out. Acid-spitting, insult-flinging, completely unethical monsters since long before Trump came along, they were the campaign’s early adopters because they saw by the beginning of 2016 how destructive and divisive their man would be and — falsely — because they believe he is one of their own. They are distinguished from their bretheren in that they enjoy fantasizing about a new civil war. They do not pretend to be in it to help the country, their fellow Americans, or even their fellow conservatives, the latter of whom they hold in contempt even if they did eventually bend the knee to Trump. Laugh to see heads roll? Hell, the right’s Mr. C’s would play soccer with the heads if they didn’t think of soccer as a commie sport for them dirty foreigners. Ann Coulter. Dinesh D’Souza. John Cardillo. Don Bongino. Michelle Malkin. Mark Levin. Wayne LaPierre. Your rank-and-file QAnon believer. And every last member of the alt.right. Unlike the more genteel members of MAGA, these people would delight to see bodies piled high by the millions (hopefully liberals and NeverTrumpers and Deep Staters, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter). Say what you will about these people, but give them credit for one thing — they have not changed themselves one iota for Donald Trump.

And then we have the Mr. B’s, who most definitely contorted themselves and their principles, such as they were, for the host of Celebrity Apprentice once it became clear he was winning. Many of them are literally like Mr. B in that they are millionaire capitalists, used to playing kingmaker in Republican politics (IRL or, for the vast majority of them, in their heads). They were staunch advocates for, and donors to, the Bushes and Mitt Romney, as well as the various Koch PACs and foundations — up until mid-2016 when they recognized which way the winds were now blowing. And why not? The president is one of them, opportunistic and selfish to the core (and not a Mr. C, which the alt.right can’t seem to grasp).

But rather than millionaires, far more Mr. B’s are conservative writers, journalists, elected officials, GOP apparatchiks, lobbyists, hangers-on, or just common people who now believe hanging Trump flags in their home will somehow propel them to success like a new prosperity gospel. Because, to paraphrase Ms. Thompson again, that is their sole measure of value — success. They were probably anti-Trump up until it became convenient, or profitable, to switch over. And they could do so because they had no moral code to restrain them. This grouping includes every last currently serving Republican congressperson and senator except, perhaps, Romney; every unelected GOP official worth mentioning, starting with chairwoman Ronna McDaniel who, notably, struck the Romney from her name at the president’s request; media figures like Mollie Hemingway, Rich Lowry, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, and your typical FoxNews robot; and your friend or family member who only became a convert after Trump won the primary. For them, winning is the only thing.

Mr B, unlike Mr. C, does not pine for a seven-figure-plus body count among his fellow Americans and might even privately consider such a thing a bit… unseemly. On the other hand, he would have no problem looking away, or making excuses, or attacking anyone who did show moral qualms.

But however often and however loudly the Mr. B’s may declare their undying loyalty to Trump, the president would we wise to remember: they are only with him while he is winning. Not that they would automatically turn on him if he were to lose in 2020, especially if it were close; but if a new power center emerged in the GOP? If a new politician or tycoon were the next big thing on the right, and DJT was yesterday’s news? All of the B’s mentioned above would slink away like they were never there. All of them. Because MAGA as a minority movement would never attract them. As a movement likely to attain power, it does.

People wondering how to break Trump’s hold on the right: that’s your answer, and that’s your only answer. You have to make him not only lose, but lose humiliatingly. The next day, Lindsay Graham would swear he’d been against Trump all along. It’s just how these people work.

For completeness’ sake, Ms. Thompson’s other Nazi party-goers also show up today, although are not as important overall. The pathetically surrendered woman — this would be the many weak MAGA wives from Melania on down who are sock puppets for their husbands, and who all may be dismissed out of hand. Mr. G, who tries to accept the movement but at arms length, but with qualifiers — this would be Ben Shapiro, who thinks supporting Trump but also trying to hold onto the old, discarded Reagan conservative principles and also while snarking at Trump tweets is somehow acceptable to the New Right. As Thompson predicted, he will be purged.

The vapid, rich, spoiled brat who has never wanted for anything in life and joins the movement for fun — this would be the army of young, bottled-blonde, photogenic airheads who realized how enjoyable, and profitable, it would be to serve as the face of this Boomer-centric political movement. They all show up on FoxNews sooner or later — good luck telling any of them apart.

And finally, the labor leader and, therefore, supposed liberal Mr. L. There is a cottage industry of “MAGA liberals,” with Glenn Greenwald and Tulsi Gabbard chief among their number. Their motives are many: a long-standing history of Russia apologia; a hatred of other liberals and lefties; hatred of America; or maybe a simple will to power, with the realization that going full Trump serves their narrow petty interests. Also, plenty of Trump-hating lefties would gladly sign on with a would-be Bolshevik dictator and his program of gulags, purges, show trials, and genocide — just as long as they get to join the new NKVD.

All of these are horrible people in their own ways, but it’s Mr. B and Mr. C who truly define the Republican Party as we enter 2020. In the end, today’s GOP has little to do with their stated ideals like anti-abortion, low taxes or gun rights. It’s almost entirely about the morals and character, or lack thereof, of the people who flock to the Mr. B who now runs the show. And, to repeat myself and to avoid a charge of Godwining, I am not calling them Nazis. But on the other hand, if these people had lived in 1933 Germany, you know which way they would have turned.