January 10, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Our Improbable Existence Is No Evidence for a Multiverse: Experts in probability have spotted a logical flaw in theorists' reasoning (Philip Goff on January 10, 2021, Scientific American)

We exist, and we are living creatures. It follows that the universe we live in must be compatible with the existence of life. However, as scientists have studied the fundamental principles that govern our universe, they have discovered that the odds of a universe like ours being compatible with life are astronomically low. We can model what the universe would have looked like if its constants--the strength of gravity, the mass of an electron, the cosmological constant--had been slightly different. What has become clear is that, across a huge range of these constants, they had to have pretty much exactly the values they had in order for life to be possible. The physicist Lee Smolin has calculated that the odds of life-compatible numbers coming up by chance is 1 in 10229.

Physicists refer to this discovery as the "fine-tuning" of physics for life. What should we make of it? Some take this to be evidence of nothing other than our good fortune. But many prominent scientists--Martin Rees, Alan Guth, Max Tegmark--have taken it to be evidence that we live in a multiverse: that our universe is just one of a huge, perhaps infinite, ensemble of worlds. The hope is that this allows us to give a "monkeys on typewriters" explanation of the fine-tuning. If you have enough monkeys randomly jabbing away on typewriters, it becomes not so improbable that one will happen to write a bit of English. By analogy, if there are enough universes, with enough variation in the numbers in their physics, then it becomes statistically likely that one will happen to have the right numbers for life.

This explanation makes intuitive sense. However, experts in the mathematics of probability have identified the inference from the fine-tuning to the multiverse as an instance of fallacious reasoning. Specifically, multiverse theorists commit the inverse gambler's fallacy, which is a slight twist on the regular gambler's fallacy. In the regular gambler's fallacy, the gambler has been at the casino all night and has had a terrible run of bad luck. She thinks to herself, "My next roll of the dice is bound to be a good one, as it's unlikely I'd roll badly all night!" This is a fallacy, because for any particular roll, the odds of, say, getting a double six are the same: 1/36. How many times the gambler has rolled that night has no bearing on whether the next roll will be a double six.

In the inverse gambler's fallacy, a visitor walks into a casino and the first thing she sees is someone rolling a double six. She thinks "Wow, that person must've been playing for a long time, as it's unlikely they'd have such good luck just from one roll." This is fallacious for the same reason. The casino- visitor has only observed one roll of the dice, and the odds of that one roll coming good is the same as any other roll: 1/36. How long the player has been rolling prior to this moment has no bearing on the odds of the one roll the visitor observed being a double six.

Philosopher Ian Hacking was the first to connect the inverse gambler's fallacy to arguments for the multiverse, focusing on physicist John Wheeler's oscillating universe theory, which held that our universe is the latest of a long temporal sequence of universes. Just as the casino-visitor says "Wow, that person must've been playing for a long time, as it's unlikely they'd have such good luck just from one roll," so the multiverse theorist says "Wow, there must be many other universes before this one, as it's unlikely the right numbers would have come up if there'd only been one."

Other theorists later realized that the charge applies quite generally to every attempt to derive a multiverse from fine-tuning.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Capitol insurrection should spark end to America's warped, white supremacist way of policing (Will Bunch, Jan. 10th, 2021, Philadelphia Inquirer)

With the trashed Capitol still reeking of tear gas and lit up by flash-bang grenades, a Chicago police union leader said the quiet part out loud. John Catanzara, FOP chief in the nation's third-largest city, defended the insurrectionists as just "a bunch of pissed-off people that feel an election was stolen, somehow, some way." That more than a dozen of his fellow members of the "thin blue line" had been injured, and that one lay dying, didn't compute for the police union boss (who, of course, backtracked after Sicknick's death). For many white police unionists who've fervently backed Trump since 2016, "Blue lives" may matter but Trump's shared love of white supremacy and his opposition to social protest movements such as Black Lives Matter matters much, much more.

The most powerful testimony about what really happened with policing in Washington on this infamous Wednesday came from two Black officers in the Capitol Police who spoke -- anonymously, which is more than understandable under the heated circumstances -- with BuzzFeed News about what they witnessed. They said their supervisors had failed to speak in advance of the potential danger -- even though insurrectionists had been planning openly on social media for weeks -- and failed to issue vital equipment like gas masks. During the afternoon, they said they were violently assaulted by rioters -- some of whom carried "Blue Lives Matter" flags -- and repeatedly called the N-word, and that several rioters flashed law-enforcement badges at them. "[One guy] pulled out his badge and he said, 'We're doing this for you,'" a Black officer told BuzzFeed. That, and knowing that so many of their white Capitol Police colleagues voted for Trump and the chaos he unleashed, was clearly painful to the officers.

"If you're going to treat a group of demonstrators for Black Lives Matters one way, then you should treat this group the same goddamn way," the second officer told BuzzFeed's Emmanuel Felton. "With this group you were being kind and nice and letting them walk back out."

Clearly, there need to be aggressive investigations both into any actual lawbreaking by police officers on Wednesday but also into the sweeping systemic failures that allowed the previously unthinkable to happen -- a preventable riot which delayed but thankfully did not deter the certification of our presidential election. The biggest unanswered questions:

Were the massive command failures -- the lack of a protective wall around the Capitol like those erected for less volatile situations, the sheer lack of officers, even with so many different units that were nearby and could have assisted, the absence of riot gear that was so prevalent at Black Lives Matter and other social-justice protests -- simply the result of incompetence, or were these inexplicable leadership actions more willful or even diabolical?

It's deeply troubling yet also not surprising that the Pentagon -- loaded with Trump lackeys for the president's final days -- either ignored or slow-walked requests for military aid. Less clear, though, is why the Capitol Police at first turned down outside offers of help. Clearly there was a deep, systemic failure that led top brass not to see often-armed white supremacists as a threat in the way that Black marchers have historically provoked red alerts. The ousting of the sergeants-at-arms for the House and Senate and speedy resignation of the head of the Capitol Police is just the tip of this iceberg.

How many of the insurrectionists were off-duty current or recent law-enforcement officers who felt the need to undemocratically install Trump as a protector of police impunity and against a true racial reckoning in America, trumped their sworn oaths to uphold the rule of law. In a stunning report on Sunday, the Washington Post said there's evidence that Wednesday's crowd included two police officers from Seattle -- who posted on social media from inside the Capitol -- as well as one from Zelienople, Pa., near Pittsburgh; the police chief of Troy, N.H., and a sheriff's deputy from Texas ... so far.

Were any Capitol Police actively engaged in helping Wednesday's rioters, and did any of those actions rise to the level of a crime? "The lack of security at the Capitol is not an accident," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat, said in the aftermath. "It is very clear to me that there were breaches of our law enforcement agencies. The fact that there were no barriers, that they were essentially allowed in. And again, the discrepancy of what would have happened if these had been peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters. ... Believe me, they would not have been anywhere near that building. And there would have been a lot of arrests."

She's not kidding. Mother Jones documented some 35 times during the Trump years when more demonstrators were arrested than the paltry 13 rioters taken into custody by Capitol Police while the actual insurrection was underway -- disability activists literally dragged from their wheelchairs, Jewish rabbis and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who last week became the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from the Deep South, even Ben and Jerry. The bulk of these arrested were supporting progressive social-justice causes antithetical to the white supremacy that corrupts American policing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Georgia unveils the first EV-charging 'solar roadway' in the US (Sarah Wray, 1/10/21, Cities Today)

The City of Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett County, Georgia has launched a new solar roadway system that produces energy for an electric vehicle (EV) charging station at city hall.

Separately, the city has also revealed a new EV fast-charging plaza for up to 16 vehicles. The plaza is the inaugural project in Peachtree Corners' new EV strategy, which could serve as a model for other cities.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Donald Trump's second impeachment could be advanced by Monday: Democrat (Deutsche-Welle, 1/10/21)

"All of us, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will prefer that Donald Trump simply do the right thing and resign, or that Vice President Mike Pence actually shows some spine, at least for himself and his own family and invoke the 25th amendment," the Democrat told CNN.

The 25th amendment can be enacted if the US president is unable to execute the duties of his office.

"If none of that happens, then on Monday, we will introduce the article of impeachment, which is incitement to insurrection, and we do expect a floor vote this coming week," Lieu added.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Confederate flag tied to door of Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City (Emily Shapiro and Aaron Katersky, January 8, 2021, ABC News)

A Confederate flag tied to the front of the Museum of Jewish Heritage -- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in lower Manhattan, was discovered Friday morning, according to New York City police.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump tapped into white victimhood -- leaving fertile ground for white supremacists
Whiteness is an identity built upon advantages over others, so any gesture towards equality is a perceived threat (LEE BEBOUT, JANUARY 10, 2021, Salon)

It was there from the beginning. When Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his presidential campaign in 2015, he stoked fears of Mexican rapists and drug traffickers attacking U.S. citizens.

The claims of victimhood ran throughout his presidency. He played on U.S. fears of being attacked by foreign terrorists to enact the travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries.

When protesters called for the removal of Confederate monuments, Trump claimed that they wanted to make people ashamed of American history. As COVID-19 spread across the U.S., Trump dubbed it the "China virus" and contended that China would pay for what it had done.

Journalists and commentators also turned to a sense of aggrievement to explain the popular support Trump received. A narrative emerged: White, working-class voters from rural and Rust Belt communities felt abandoned by the political establishment. Decades of free trade, automation and cuts to the social safety net turned these voters against the mainstreams of both political parties.

It's wokeness for white men. But Identity is unAmerican.