Misinformation networks are killing us

They misspelled “disinformation”

Something called the Red Pill Festival went down in Idaho recently, led by the odious Matt Shea. It was the usual bullshit from the Christian Right.

The Red Pill Festival served as a rendezvous point Saturday for those who traffic in anti-government conspiracy theories and as a recruiting event, given credibility by a lineup of state lawmakers from the Christian conservative wing of the Republican party.

What I found interesting, though, was the next step in pandemic denial. Here’s a fellow who had COVID-19, is suffering from serious respiratory issues and in a wheelchair, and he still refuses to accept the reality of the virus.

Steve Black, a 72-year-old from Spokane, was directing cars to the parking lot from the back of a utility vehicle. Saturday’s event was the first time he had been out of the house for about a year after COVID-19 left him with some challenging health issues, he said. He surmised COVID-19 was a “political thing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they sprayed it out of the air.”

Asked to clarify, he said “chem trails,” a debunked suggestion that condensation trails from aircraft is actually a government ploy to crop-dust citizens with some nefarious substance.

Wow. It’s easier for him to believe the US government is intensionally hosing its citizens with a poison to kill them than to think a disease, of the kind that has plagued humanity for millennia, might be responsible? Impressive twisty logic there, guy.

And then we have the father of a survivor of the Parkland shooting. For years, I sent my kids off to public school every school day, and if one of my children had suffered through that kind of terror, I’d be totally wrenched, I’d feel like I’d never be able to offer enough love and support to compensate. Not this guy!

He was part of the final graduating class of survivors of the 2018 shooting, and they all had just marked the third anniversary of the day 17 people were killed, nine of whom were Bill’s classmates.

But Bill also had to deal with his father’s daily accusations that the shooting was a hoax and that the shooter, Bill, and all his classmates were paid pawns in a grand conspiracy orchestrated by some shadowy force.

Bill had worked hard to get over his survivor’s guilt after the shooting, but for the past five months, his own father has been triggering it all over again.

“He’ll say stuff like this straight to my face whenever he’s drinking: ‘You’re a real piece of work to be able to sit here and act like nothing ever happened if it wasn’t a hoax. Shame on you for being part of it and putting your family through it too,” Bill said in an anonymous post on Reddit last week.’

How could this be? You know the answer: QAnon.

As is true for many who fell down the QAnon rabbit hole in recent years, Bill’s dad’s descent coincided with the pandemic.

“It started a couple months into the pandemic with the whole anti-lockdown protests,” Bill said. “His feelings were so strong it turned into facts for him. So if he didn’t like having to wear masks it wouldn’t matter what doctors or scientists said. Anything that contradicted his feelings was wrong. So he turned to the internet to find like-minded people which led him to QAnon.”

But until January, that was as far as it went. Then Bill’s father saw a video of Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene harassing Parkland survivor David Hogg in 2018, while he was visiting Washington to advocate for stricter gun control. Greene has repeatedly voiced support for QAnon and claimed the Parkland shooting was a hoax.

“He is a coward,” Greene told her followers.

Ever since then, Bill’s father has become convinced the shooting his son survived was a so-called “false flag” event and that the shooter was “​​a radical commie actor.”

Q isn’t going away soon, but it will go away. One of the things I note in all these stories is how most of the fanatics are my age or older — it’s a movement of the decrepit. We’ll all die off eventually, and I expect the younger folk out there to do better.

Watch this

This is what doctors are dealing with right now.

Fox News must die.

Reap what you sow

Ah, the things that outrage Catholics are always fair game.

In early July, The New York Times published two articles that had seemingly little to do with one another. One covered the Entomological Society of America’s decision to stop using the terms gypsy moth and gypsy ant. The other was about a new movie by the director Paul Verhoeven featuring an affair between two 17th-century nuns. “Forgive them, Father, for they have sinned,” the article begins. “Repeatedly! Creatively! And wait until you hear what they did with that Virgin Mary statuette.”

“When I read that article in the morning over my yogurt and cranberry juice, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was just disgusting,” Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer, told me. He was talking about the movie, not the moths. He found it striking that the Times would deferentially cover a language shift meant to show respect for Roma people but would also print a story that relished a film scene in which a holy Catholic object is defiled. “Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice,” he wrote on Twitter, linking to an article he wrote 20 years ago that explores why some Americans still treat Catholics with suspicion or contempt. His argument, then and now, is that it’s acceptable in secular, liberal, elite circles—such as The New York Times—to make fun of Catholicism, particularly the Church’s emphasis on hierarchy, dogma, and canon law and its teachings related to sex.

I would ask, did anyone make you commit a lesbian sex act? Did they make you watch it? Did you have to sexually abuse a Virgin Mary statuette at any time in your life? Does a statue have a higher moral status than the autonomy of a human being? Why are you bothered?

Anti-Catholic prejudice would be, for instance, burning churches and denying people the right to worship there, or discriminating against Catholics in employment, or tying Catholic priests to a stake and setting them on fire, or trying to pass anti-Catholic voting laws. That isn’t happening. Save your disgust for those kinds of actions, I will share it with you.

Did you know you can buy a spider dildo or a Trump dildo or an Obama dildo? Those are not examples of bias or discrimination or harm done to their subjects. Get over it. You can venerate your “holy Catholic object”, and other people get to laugh at it.

Martin thinks this is the “last acceptable prejudice”. How silly. There are many other prejudices that are still persisting, it’s not as if all the others have vanished leaving Catholicism the last bigotry standing.

Green: Do you still think anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice?

Martin: Yes, I do. The kinds of things you read about Catholics would never be tolerated for other religions. The faith is treated as a joke. People see chastity and celibacy as a negation of sexuality, so they see it as a threat. But I often point out to people: You know people who are celibate and chaste. You know people who are single. You know aunts and uncles. You know widows. No one thinks they’re insane or disgusting or pedophiles or dangerous. But when a person chooses it freely, suddenly they become a freak.

I don’t consider single people to be freaks, but remember…your religion is the one (among many) that worships virginity. You go the other way and think that not having sex makes you special and holy.

But nice of Martin to bring up freely chosen identities that ostracize one. You know, like homosexuality, a “moral disorder”.

To chose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator’s sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.

As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.

Or being transgender, which “annihilates nature”.

The process of identifying sexual identity is made more difficult by the fictitious constract known as “gender neuter” or “third gender”, which has the effect of obscuring the fact that a person’s sex is a structural determinant of male or female identity. Efforts to go beyond the constitutive male-female sexual difference, such as the ideas of “intersex” or “transgender”, lead to a masculinity or feminity that is ambiguous, even though (in a self-contradictory way), these concepts themselves actually presuppose the very sexual difference that they propose to negate or supersede. This oscillation between male and female becomes, at the end of the day, only a ‘provocative’ display against so-called ‘traditional frameworks’, and one which, in fact, ignores the suffering of those who have to live situations of sexual indeterminacy. Similar theories aim to annihilate the concept of ‘nature’, (that is, everything we have been given as a pre-existing foundation of our being and action in the world), while at the same time implicitly reaffirming its existence.

Or that abortion is an unforgivable sin.

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.

From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

I know people who are homosexuals, or transgender, or have had an abortion, and I don’t think they’re insane or disgusting or dangerous (or pedophiles, for that matter — where did that come from? Are priests always obsessed with pedophilia?). Yet the Catholic Church thinks they are disordered or insane or evil.

People who live in glass cathedrals and try to control the lives of other people probably shouldn’t be throwing stones. I don’t know how they live with the hypocrisy.

Some things aren’t “opinions”

I think this little vignette is totally staged — a Fox reporter would never be that honest and open.

I think a Fox or OAN or Newsmax person would actually take an approach like the supercilious fop in the second panel of this cartoon.

They’re not stupid. They’re venal and short-sighted, but give them some credit — they’ve got a well-paying job and an opportunity to air their vanity on an international broadcast (you know the ones who aren’t too jaded are calling their family to let them know “Mom! I’ll be on a 3 minute segment this evening explaining how the Reptoids snuck toxins into the vaccines!”). They’re not going to throw that away. They’re going to just cycle through semi-plausible excuses and made-up data to rationalize their bad takes.

What I found most interesting about the cartoon is the last two panels. The guy in the big hat is well-meaning and echoes a sentiment I’ve heard a lot.

Best to evaluate each thing on its merits…look into the pros and cons and form an opinion of your own.

That’s a familiar mantra of the disingenuous internet skeptic, and it could also be the motto of the conservative pundit, from Ben Shapiro to Jesse Watters — you know, the same crowd that says “Facts, not feelings” while simultaneously telling you to trust the authority of unqualified jackasses. I might even have used similar words at times, telling people who are waffling over an idea to go look up the sources. It’s an appealing sentiment that assumes the listener has an open mind, the tools to examine an idea closely, and honestly wants to arrive at the truth.

It’s also a dangerous sentiment.

That’s not how you teach or learn. Smart people — the experts, you know — spent years of careful, disciplined study to build up a body of ideas that are supported by evidence and experiments. They distill their work down into short, intellectually demanding papers that yes, you can criticize, but only if you put as much work into it as the investigators did. It takes hard work to be an expert or authority. Yet somehow we also try to believe that someone should be able to reach a conclusion because we heard a short summary on the television by a talking airhead. “Evaluate” does not mean feed a casual statement into the grinding mass of prior opinions whirring away in your head so you can process the words into justifications for your biases, that is, “form an opinion”.

It takes years of study to become an epidemiologist (or climatologist, or biologist, or whatever complex field of study finds itself in the forefront of the latest crisis), and yet we’re supposed to believe everyone can resolve the conflicting chaos of superficialities they get from their TV into a deep and serious understanding of an issue? People don’t work that way.

If I’m teaching biology, I don’t tell students to go out and find random sources on their own, and then formulate an opinion on the science. For one thing, I teach them how to evaluate sources first; then I give them a few authoritative sources to prime the pump; then I might ask them specific, narrow questions to address, that require some study to understand and discuss. Then I ground them to reality with tests and term papers, where, for instance, coming to me with a quote from Answers in Genesis to defend the idea that the Earth is 6000 years old gets them a failing grade.

Where’s the exam testing their “opinions” on vaccines? Right now it seems to involve putting them in a hospital with a tube down their throat, which is far harsher than any failing exam I’ve ever graded.

Think of the children!

I don’t really care what Turning Point USA does, except when it’s funny. They had a big conference recently, and invited a woman who is both a porn star and writes for the Federalist to attend as a VIP. If you asked me, the latter qualification is what makes her unfit for civilized company, but oh dearie me, that’s not what made attendees clutch their fanny packs.

Oh no! Teenagers might see this fully clothed woman walking and talking like a normal human being, who also takes off all of her clothes and has sex with other people outside the con, apparently unlike any other woman in attendance. So Nicholas Fuentes and his groypers spotted this, and because they already hate Charlie Kirk, they shrieked and pointed.

Of course Kirk caved and disinvited her.

We regret to inform you that your SAS 2021 invitation has been revoked, an email from TPUSA stated, posted to Twitter by the adult entertainer. This decision is final. This revocation does not impact application to future events, and we hope that you will consider applying again in the future.

However, Love wasn’t buying it and said the Republican Party is “broken” due to TPUSA officials giving her the boot. “Can’t make this shit up lol!! I just watched Charlie Kirk, Dan Bongino, Rick Scott, Kat Timpf, speak about freedom, censorship, how inclusive the ‘movement’ is,” she stated. “And then they had me thrown out of the Turning Point USA conference. The Republican Party is broken.”

Remember, Free Speech über alles!

Keep doing the same thing over and over again

Ha ha ha ha haaa!

At the height of the controversy surrounding Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and the revelations that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) bet big on a nationwide joint fundraising tour with her embattled colleague. But new campaign filings show that not only did the gamble not pay off, but that the much-maligned Republicans actually spent four times as much as they raised.

Try harder! You’ve got to spend money to make money!

Since Gaetz and Greene kicked off their joint fundraising committee with a May 7 event at The Villages in central Florida, their campaigns and joint fundraising committee have posted a combined loss of $342,000. And according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, that joint fundraising effort, “Put America First,” reported only $59,345.54 in contributions.

That sort of meager haul would be fine for a dinner or one-time event, but Gaetz and Greene have repeatedly held high-profile events and spent a whopping $287,036.19 to hold them—meaning they’re in the hole by more than $225,000.

Keep digging, you two. I’m sure you can deepen that money pit to at least a million dollars with a little effort.

We don’t want to look frightened, you know

Yesterday I discovered that I am scheduled to teach a course in person in the Fall, as I was putting together my syllabus and organizing my materials for an, I thought, online class. Ooops. I asked the administration if I could instead teach it online; no, they said, the students signed up for a real live genuine classroom experience, so you’re stuck with it. Oh well. At least I’ve got their written denial, which I’ve passed on to my wife, so if I die or am crippled by COVID-19 this year, my heirs will have some legal recourse for restitution.

I am puzzled by how smart people all across the country can make such stupid decisions. As soon as infection rates start declining, they rush to dismantle every decision that made that reduction possible, and woosh, COVID comes roaring back with a new variant, and only after the numbers rocket up again do they start implementing what they should have done all along.

Even the far-right is conceding that vaccinations, at least, are necessary.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, “shots need to get in everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible” and asked that people “ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.” House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, got the vaccine after months of delay and then publicly said, “there shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective.” And Fox News host Sean Hannity, in a widely shared video, declared, it “absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated.” This was treated in the press as an unequivocal endorsement, even though the use of the word “many” was clearly meant to let the Fox News viewers feel like he’s talking about other people getting vaccinated.

That’s from Amanda Marcotte, who points out how superficial this “endorsement” is — they are setting up plausible denial, nothing more, and continuing to promote vaccine denial for their hardcore supporters. They have to have a soundbite on record so that when journalists point out that their bad ideas are killing people, they can pluck that one sentence out to show that, see, it’s not our fault.

All this shows is that GOP politicians and pundits still know how to manipulate the mainstream press’s endless desire to believe the Republicans aren’t really as bad as the #resistance tweeters are saying. But while clips of prominent Republicans saying pro-vaccine stuff might be enough to get the press off their backs — or keep Biden from accusing them of “killing people,” as he did (correctly) to Facebook — it won’t be enough to actually get vaccine-hostile Republican voters to change their minds. Indeed, this should be understood more as a P.R. move to quell press criticism than a sincere effort to get reluctant people to get vaccinated.

Unlike most journalists — who merely watch clips from Fox News, often ones pre-selected for them by the Fox News P.R. team — Matt Gertz at Media Matters and Aaron Rupar at Vox actually put in the miserable work of watching entire shows on the network. And both reported on Tuesday that, despite the hype around Hannity’s viral clip, the overall tenor of Fox News this week has still been that getting the vaccine is a very bad thing that no red-blooded Republican worth his MAGA hat should ever do. Indeed, the out-of-context Hannity clip comes from an episode that was overall anti-vaccine. The Hannity clip “came in the middle of a segment in which he railed against colleges and universities that are requiring their students to get their shots,” Gertz writes. He also points out that Hannity’s show “is bracketed between those of Carlson and Laura Ingraham,” and both of those hosts went hard on the vaccines-are-terrible-and-doctors-are-lying-to-you messaging.

The universities are at least acknowledging that the boat is sinking, which is something, but they’re also telling the crew to get out there and arrange the deck chairs for the evening’s shuffleboard tournament.

I’m also sitting here wondering why I, a supposedly smart person, am just going along with a decision that puts me at greater risk, especially when a safer alternative exists.