Actual Election Theft That’s Somehow Legal

Elections in the US are consciously and intentionally designed to minimise people’s ability to vote. Polling locations are restricted, it’s at the discretion of bosses whether any employee gets time off to vote, registration is a pain and has to be updated frequently. This is why you see long lines and people waiting for hours on end every election in the US (and it’s at its worst every four years during a presidential election).

Without federal intervention through legislation, states generally get to run rampant with these kinds of voter suppression tactics. The latest is in Wisconsin, where a judge has ruled that absentee ballot drop boxes are, for some inexplicable reason, illegal.

Drop boxes are essential for democracy because, again, the inability to take time off work or stand in a queue for hours prevents many people from voting. Absentee and early ballots can be dropped of in designated locations in many states, which helps enfranchise the disabled, elderly, rural, and poor communities.

It’s the only way Republicans can win on a national level. It’s why voter turnout is so low.

The US was never much of a democracy, if it was every right to call it one, but the tragedy is it’s only going to get worse. And if you’re an American worried about this, call Joe Manchin’s and Kyrsten Sinema’s offices, and don’t stop calling.

Even if new voting rights legislation passes, federal courts will do their best to eviscerate it, but if we can’t even begin to fight for the right to vote, we can’t act surprised when the fascists win.


Photosyntheses (Plant Food Part 4)

This series has concerned itself with how plants take up CO2 and, therefore, how they’ll respond as CO2 rises.

The common understanding of photosynthesis is a very reductive picture that says CO2 is taken up by the plant and then turned into what we would call “biomass”. Earlier posts in this series have talked about how the efficiency and speed of this process depends on more than just the availability of light and carbon dioxide, but the very act of incorporating carbon into biomass (called “carbon fixation“) is not just one thing.

There are multiple approaches that different species of plants can take.

C3 Carbon Fixation is the most common, so named because carbon is incorporated into molecules that contain 3 carbon atoms each. And as we have discussed, the current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is far below saturation levels for C3 fixation. This means that rising CO2 can lead to more carbon fixation, however C3 is more temperature sensitive than other processes, meaning those gains may be offset by rising temperatures.

C4 Carbon Fixation evolved later in evolutionary history and is an addition to C3. As the name suggests, carbon atoms are incorporated in molecules with 4 carbon atoms each. The C4 process uses more energy, but is more efficient at higher temperatures, drier conditions, and more intense light. This gives them a selective advantage in environments that are getting hotter and drier, but it’s optimal atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is also much lower than for C3 plants.

CAM (or Crassulacean acid metabolism) is an adaptation to arid conditions where the plant takes up CO2 at night, to reduce losses from gas exchange, and then photosynthesises during the day.

While C3 is by far the most common, a considerable amount of global terrestrial carbon uptake is done through C4 or CAM. On top of that, changing conditions in different ecosystems will tip the balance of species, and there’s always the risk of collapse or instability or a proliferation of invasive species, etc.

And we can’t assume that all three processes will respond to changing conditions identically, as they all have their own specifications and their own optima at different temperatures, humidities, irradiances, CO2 levels, etc.

This post is deliberately short and somewhat vague just to give a flavor for the complexity of photosynthesis, if there’s interest I’ll be sure to dive back into the details of these and talk a little more about their different optima. Otherwise next week I’ll end this series (at least temporarily) with a short comment on aquatic photosynthesis, which accounts for anywhere between half and two thirds of all global photosynthesis depending on who you ask.


Types of Climate Denial

For my talk on climate trolls, I divide the types of comments into two categories. The “theoretical” trolls, who go after the scientific theory of climate change. And the “praxis” or “you’re doing it wrong” trolls, who will either ignore the question of the science or just accept it, but who insist any action is wrong for hand-wavey reasons. I don’t really know how useful this distinction is more broadly, but I found it useful for structuring my talk.

And it certainly seems like quite a lot of climate denial fits into on category or another (there is a third category I use for ecofascism because that’s it’s own barrel of monkey-worms). Even the trolls who make both arguments make them fairly separately. If they ever jump from one category to another mid-discussion, their entire goal changes.

Not that there isn’t something of a fuzzy boundary between the two. I further divided the “theory” trolls into various flavours which are not mutually exclusive:

  • Philosophical – The kind of troll who attacks the very concept of truth at its most basic level. Data has no value to them, the scientific method is just, like, your opinion, etc.
  • Conspiratorial – The kind who agrees that truth is, in principle at least, discernible by human minds but who goes on to insist that there’s a vast conspiracy to hide the truth. These types will agree that data are important, but that all the data are fraudulent.
  • Condescending – The kind who doesn’t claim the data are entirely faked, but who thinks that the entire scientific community are just dum-dums who wildly misinterpreted the data, or who measured it wrong.
  • Targeted – Will either accept or just default on most of the science, but thinks one or two specific flaws they’ve detected will undermine the whole point. They’ll generally accept most scientists are smart and doing their best but the one or two cracks break the whole thing.
  • Frogs – There’s a myth that a frog left in a pot of water that is slowly heated won’t notice the temperature change and thus not jump out before its boiling. The frog trolls are very adamant that changes are happening too slowly to actually hurt humans. Which is absurd.

The “frog” troll is the blurry line between science denial and obstructionism. I put them into the science denial category because they’re often not actually arguing over specific policies or actions, they don’t often make political or economic positions, instead they say the science of climate risks is being overblown. These are the types to say that science proves it’s happening too slowly to matter, or something like that.

But as you can guess, that bleeds over nicely into the praxis troll category. And it does, but not as much as you’d think.

Because as I said yesterday, it’s all about their political goals, and not about anything they actually believe about the climate.


It’s All Tactical, Not Scientific

Michael Marshall has a good piece in The Skeptic about the redirection of focus by UK climate deniers from total denial of the science to opposing any kind of action.

I’ve written here before about how my personal experience has seen a resurgence in total denial in recent years, egged on and emboldened by the Trumps and Farages of the world. But as even unhinged super liar Boris Johnson refuses to completely deny climate change (at least, in words, he kinda does in action…) it becomes politically advantageous for deniers to change tactics.

Because that’s all it is. Tactics. These people don’t have a commitment to any particular belief about climate science, they’re only concerned with the policy. They don’t want to normalise listening to scientists, or holding corporations accountable for their behaviour, or using tax money to help people.

Hence, at the drop of a that, they’ll switch from “the science is wrong” to “the science is fine except for the solutions”.


The Constitution Never Seems to Apply to Republicans

Here’s a fun fact, after the Civil War, the US Constitution was amended to include:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

14th Amendment to the US Constitution, Section 3

As such, it seems pretty reasonable to many experts that a lot of sitting Republican Representatives and Senators are ineligible for their offices, because they encouraged or even coordinated the January 6 insurrection.

And while nothing has been done (yet) about these Republicans, a legal challenge has been launched North Carolina to stop Madison Cawthorn from seeking re-election this year. As Mark Joseph Stern explains, this isn’t totally absurd. Election boards have the power to keep ineligible persons off the ballot, such as when someone tries to run for office but is too young. And there is historical precedent in this state, a North Carolina board did indeed keep an ex-Confederate off the ballot for sheriff.

So it’s not legally absurd.

The question is whether the law actually applies to Republicans. There’s also historical precedent for them getting away with whatever they want.

But I still encourage reading Stern’s article, it’s very informative. Many of Slate‘s writers are fantastic, you should also support their efforts to get a fair deal from management.


94

Apparently I’m on a 94-day posting streak. I’m aiming for 100 before I switch to a less-unnecessary three- or maybe four-day-per-week schedule.

But since it’s 94 days so far, it seemed fun to look up some fun facts about 94.

94 is semiprime, which means it can be expressed as the product of two primes. For example, 6 = 23, and 15 =35, but 8 is 233 so it’s not semiprime. You can express 94 as 247.

4 is also a semiprime, because it’s 22, and so is 9=33. However because those are just multiplying a number by itself (called “squaring” in mathematics), they are said not be distinct. A distinct semi-prime is when you multiply two different primes.

It forms a triplet of three consecutive distinct semiprimes with 93 (=331) and 95 (=519).

If this isn’t already interesting to you, know that’s just the simple stuff. There’s a lot more to 94.

Every number has something interesting about it. About how it can be made of other numbers or how it factors into bigger numbers. About how it can be expressed geometrically. About what it can represent in other sequences and functions.

There’s a story that G. H. Hardy visited fellow mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan in hospital, and as Hardy recalls:

I remember once going to see him when he was ill at Putney. I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavourable omen. “No,” he replied, “it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”

That number, 1729, is now sometimes called Ramanujan’s number.

There’s something interesting about every number.


47% of What

Marvel’s Eternals currently sits at 47% on Rotten Tomatoes, prompting all manner of discussion among critics and fans about why this is. Bear with me on this, there’s an important lesson for understanding data in here!

Only two MCU films had even fallen into the 60s before, with the next worst RT rating being Thor: The Dark World at 66%. There’s a lot of explanations at play, from The Dark World simply coming out in a less-overly-saturated market for superhero films (and also, a lower standard for what made one “good”), to the fact that the more irreverent, slapstick-filled and quippy movies tend to have broader appeal.

Personally, I enjoyed Eternals, but even though some elements I enjoyed a lot, there was a lot that didn’t work too, including the actual plot which hinged on some very flimsy nonsense. But the characters were engaging with great performances by the cast, I thought it was mostly well paced, and the look of the film was wonderful.

But I’m not overly surprised by 47% either. Okay, I am a little. Usually when I like a film that’s got bad reviews, I can at least agree there’s something in it that is awful.

The important lesson here is in asking “47% of what“.

Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregate score is calculated by assigning a binary value (only either “good” or “bad”) to every archived review, then calculating the percentage of total reviews in the “good” bin.

Therefore if you have a movie where there is universal agreement that it’s “just okay but kinda bland”, you could get a 100% score. If everyone agrees a movie is “not really bad but definitely not good”, you could plunge to a low score.

Everyone has subjective preferences and there’s a lot of ways to engage with a film, so quite often critics approach from enough angles to mitigate this, but if you’ve ever wondered “why is this movie so highly rated”, read the actual reviews, it may be (like many MCU films) that it’s just got a few good jokes and didn’t take itself too seriously and that’s it.

So when it comes to Eternals, I am surprised more critics didn’t give it a positive review, but I also understand that given its runtime, flimsy premise, and occasional tonal disjointedness, that it’s really only okay, and given how fun other super-hero films can be, critics may find this a greater sin than actually being bad.

Either way: The moral of story is Rotten Tomatoes isn’t saying “the movie is 47% good”, it’s not “this movie measures 47% on the quality scale, using cinejoules, the SI unit of movie goodness”. And that distinction is very important.

Also RT doesn’t do audience reviews please stop pointing to the number that is erroneously labeled “Audience Score” and acting like that represents anything, that data is pure garbage please stop.


Object Permanence

Johnson is getting rid of (or at least seriously considering getting rid of) free lateral flow tests in the UK.

There’s very little to say about that except that things still exist even if you’re not looking directly at them.

If you’re really tired of this pandemic, you should be demanding more tests.

And I for one am very tired.


The Cruelty Of Climate Deniers

I’m interrupting my Sunday series on rising CO2‘s effect on plants (come back next week for the next installment) because I’m sitting in a rather cold tenement flat in Scotland. The flat and the building as a whole are barely insulated, the windows are single glazes and don’t close fully, and the heaters are inefficient electric heaters.

I can’t help but be reminded of a particular climate denier who would show up at every single public event on climate in Glasgow, Edinburgh, I think even Dundee and other cities but I never confirmed this. He would show up to yell, scream, shout, and generally throw a tantrum because he insisted it was all a lie.

One thing he loved to harp on was that he was actually doing this out of altruism. His argument was climate change must be false (it’s not) because renewable energy is more expensive (citation needed) and therefore the many Britons already suffering from fuel poverty would be hurt even more by rising prices.

And yet there’s nothing environmentalists would want more for my building than to properly bloody insulate it. Then I wouldn’t need as much energy, regardless of the source.

It’s not something he would support, however, because he was a Tory. He always supported the landlords’ and letting agencies’ penny-pinching refusal to improve the lives of tenants. The “fuel poverty” line wasn’t meant in earnest. Maybe he believed it, but he never followed up on it. Because the poor were never his priority.

Also apparently he self-published a book and I kinda want to read it because, again, I somewhat hate myself.


Beyond Out Of Touch

The Tories’ handling of Brexit with regard to Northern Ireland had me thinking about the Brighton bombing that nearly killed Thatcher. It wasn’t that long ago, and many Tory politicians then are still Toy politicians now. The IRA issued a statement that included “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.” Again, Thatcher had narrowly escaped the blast.

And yet the general attitude of the Tories today seems to be “well they missed the PM then so they’ll never get the PM now”.

This attitude seems even stronger from Democratic Party leadership in the US. “Trump lost in 2020, so he can’t win again. The Capitol Rioters failed to murder Pelosi and overthrow the government, so they’ll never be a threat again.”

How else to explain hosting a performance of Hamilton in Congress on the anniversary or the riot, dragging their feet on prosecuting the instigators, telling Americans that votes alone will stop the next riot, and constantly insisting that the coup “failed” when it’s still ongoing?

I don’t think Pelosi and Schumer get it. They don’t get the risk, they’re convinced that they’re unshakeable. And before the riot I would have said it was a simple lack of compassion. Of course, the privileged elite aren’t really scared about fascism, they’ll be fine. They were fine during the Trump administration, even as concentration camps went up on the border and federal agents were disappearing protesters in Portland.

But to be that close to experiencing physical violence on yourself, to know that very powerful leaders of the opposing party are happy to coordinate an attack on your physical person, and to still take such an indifferent, half-assed response?

I gotta say it feels like stupidity at this point.