tag:quandyfactory.com,2024-5-20:/2024520 2024-5-20T12:00:00Z Quandy Factory Newsfeed - Blog Quandy Factory is the personal website of Ryan McGreal in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.. http://quandyfactory.com/blog/265/modern_life_is_rubbish_is_not_rubbish_after_all 2024-05-21T12:00:00Z Modern Life is Rubbish is Not Rubbish After All <p>In the early 1990s, there was a record store in Westdale on King West near Newton where you could actually listen to a CD before choosing to buy it. </p> <p>When the second Blur album, <em>Modern Life is Rubbish</em>, came out, I rushed to the store to check it out - and I hated it. I was expecting another baggy tour-de-force like <em>Leisure</em>, but instead I got something sounding like mid-career Kinks and I was put off.</p> <p class="image"> <img src="/static/images/modern_life_is_rubbish.jpeg" alt="Modern Life is Rubbish"></img> </p> <p>So I didn’t buy it. Of course, I came back into the fold with Parklife, and have remained a Blur fan ever since. But for whatever reason I never circled back to <em>Modern Life</em>. </p> <p>Until now. I’ve been listening to it all weekend and I honestly don’t know what was wrong with me. The album is delightful! </p> <p>It’s a rich serving of proto-Britpop with all the hallmarks that would characterize the Blur sound for the rest of the decade: the zany mishmash of British Invasion, post-punk and Baroque chamber music, the lush harmonies, elaborate melodies and chord progressions, the playful and dissonant guitar work, the quirky syncopated rhythms, the cheeky observational lyrics - a fully realized, coherent expression of a discrete musical worldview. </p> <p>So to <em>Modern Life is Rubbish</em>, I offer my apologies for having dismissed you out of haste and distorted expectations, and I look forward to continuing to try and make up for lost time.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/264/a_dog_riding_a_skateboard:_some_preliminary_thoughts_on_tesla’s_‘full_self-driving’_feature 2024-05-19T12:00:00Z A Dog Riding a Skateboard: Some Preliminary Thoughts on Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ Feature <p>So Tesla has made their “Full Self Driving” beta feature available to every Tesla owner for a free month to test it out.</p> <p>After a few days of trying it in various conditions - driving to Niagara and back, driving to Toronto and back, several trips in Hamilton, driving in rush-hour traffic, driving in the rain - I have some preliminary thoughts.</p> <p>Tesla FSD is like a dog riding a skateboard. You think: Wow! Someone taught a dog to ride a skateboard! And the dog learned to ride a skateboard! That’s genuinely amazing.</p> <p>Of course, the dog isn’t particularly good at riding a skateboard. I mean, it’s a dog. What did you expect? But it’s still a dog riding a skateboard, and that’s impressive.</p> <p>So I’m simultaneously of two minds.</p> <p>On the one hand, it’s genuinely amazing to experience a car driving itself - speeding up and slowing down, changing lanes, stopping for red lights and stop signs, waiting for pedestrians to cross before proceeding, and so on.</p> <p>On the other hand, it drives like a cautious, inexperienced teenager. Over the course of a few trips:</p> <ul> <li><p>On a residential collector, it didn’t notice a stop sign that was partially obscured by a bush until quite late and it had to brake hard to stop behind the white line. </p></li> <li><p>Turning left onto a street with two drive lanes, it turned in between the two lanes and wavered back and forth without being able to decide which lane to pick. </p></li> <li><p>Turning left from a minor arterial onto a residential side street, it couldn’t decide whether it had time to make the turn before an oncoming car. </p></li> <li><p>On a major arterial it kept wanting to change into the curb lane even though the curb had frequent parked cars. </p></li> <li><p>On one freeway it saw something (I don’t know what) which freaked it out and it turned itself off, beeping loudly at me to take over. </p></li> <li><p>On another freeway it warned me that FSD was “degraded” due to a light drizzle that came on.</p></li> <li><p>On yet another freeway it turned itself off because something splatted onto the right door pillar camera and it couldn’t see properly any more. </p></li> </ul> <p>In each of these situations, I had to assume manual control. It was fine because I was already in a state of high alert and prepared to do so. And to be fair, the service hits you over the head with its repeated insistence that you do need to stay alert, keep your hands on the wheel and be prepared to take over.</p> <p>It even periodically prompts you to apply slight turning pressure to the steering wheel if you’re holding it too loosely.</p> <p>Fair enough. As a driver-assist service, it’s pretty cool and even useful, especially on long drives with relatively simple conditions. </p> <p>But then call it “Driver Assist”, not “Full Self-Driving”. The “Beta” qualifier is being asked to do an unreasonable amount of work to align the name with the thing named. </p> <p>After all, it’s not Tony Hawke doing a kickflip mctwist. It’s a dog riding a skateboard. </p> <p>As impressive as it is, It’s nowhere near good enough to replace a human driver. And look, the software will get progressively better over time. If it’s 90 percent of the way now, it will get to 95 and then 99 and then 99.9 and so on.</p> <p>But even breathtakingly transformative driving software won’t be able to overcome what turns out to be a devastatingly prosaic technical limitation: today’s Teslas have no way to clean their own cameras. </p> <p>Frankly, given how much attention the software challenges get, I’m surprised more people aren’t pointing this out. The best self-driving software in the world can’t drive if it can’t see.</p> <p>You could imagine a hyper-engineered solution in which Teslas share their sensor data with each other to create a mesh network that enhances every car’s situational awareness. But that doesn’t exist today, it requires a fast reliable high-bandwidth network with ultra-low latency, and it requires other Teslas to be on the road at all times to serve as a consistent backup when a car’s sensors fail.</p> <p>I expect it would be a lot easier to equip every car with camera wipers. Indeed, some other luxury car makers already do this. So there could be a Tesla model in the future that is truly self-driving. But barring retrofits, no current production Tesla has this. </p> <p>Which means that even if and when the software is perfected, today’s Teslas will never be truly self-driving. That’s not a bad thing in itself. Indeed, it remains an objectively excellent car despite not having this transformative ability. </p> <p>But there’s a fair argument to be made that calling their driver assist service “Full Self-Driving” amounts to false advertising.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/263/todays_large_language_models_are_essentially_bs_machines 2023-09-07T12:00:00Z Today's Large Language Models are Essentially BS Machines <h3>Introduction</h3> <p>A large language model (LLM) is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) in which a specialized computer system called a neural network consumes a very large set of written language, and learns to identify patterns in how the individual words it has ingested relate to each other and to larger structures of written language. Then it is fine-tuned with additional training - often by teams of human trainers who provide feedback on the LLM's responses - to produce the desired kinds of responses to prompts.</p> <p>When you prompt an LLM with a question, it uses predictive logic to generate a response by successively predicting the next word in the sentence, based on its expansive model of how words relate to each other. </p> <p>This approach can produce extraordinary outputs, but it's important to understand what is <em>not</em> happening. The LLM does not "understand" what it is saying. It has a model of how words relate to each other, but does not have a model of <em>the objects to which the words refer</em>. </p> <p>It engages in <em>predictive logic</em>, but cannot perform <em>syllogistic logic</em> - reasoning to a logical conclusion from a set of propositions that are assumed to be true - except insofar as a rough approximation of syllogism tends to emerge from predicting each word in a response based on a large corpus of training data. </p> <p>In addition, today's LLMs cannot independently fact-check their own responses against some kind of knowledge base. </p> <p>What they can do is generate text that sounds reasonable and persuasive, especially to a reader who is not particularly well-versed in the material the LLM is generating text about. </p> <h3>Reasonable-Sounding Nonsense</h3> <p>In preparation for this article, I asked the Bing Chatbot, which is powered by the OpenAI LLM ChatGPT, "Who is Ryan McGreal?" From Bing's response, I learned that I have written for the New York Times, authored three books, and hosted podcasts about technology and society. </p> <p>I asked more about the NY Times article, and Bing told me the article is titled, "How to build a better city" and was published as part of a series called "The Future of Cities".</p> <p>I asked about the three books I authored. Bing told me the first book was a collection of essays called "Urbanicity: The Book", published in 2010, and that I contributed several articles to the book. </p> <p>The second book was called "Code: Debugging the Gender Gap", published in 2016, a companion novel to the 2015 documentary of the same name. In that book, I wrote a chapter sharing my personal and professional experiences as a programmer and advocate for women in tech. </p> <p>The third book was called "The Future of Cities", published in 2019, and was compiled from the NY Times series in which I had contributed an essay. </p> <p>The responses all came with citations and links to sources for the fact claims. And the responses themselve all sound entirely reasonable.</p> <p><strong>They are also entirely made up.</strong> </p> <p>I have contributed an essay to a published collection, but the book was called "Reclaiming Hamilton" and it was published in 2020. I've never written for the New York Times, and as far as I can determine, the three books to which Bing claims I contributed chapters don't even exist. </p> <p>But its responses were so reasonable sounding that I actually had to do an independent search to see whether I had perhaps forgotten having written these things.</p> <h3>Understanding BS</h3> <p>In 1986, American philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt wrote an important essay titled, "On Bullshit" in which he presented a theory of BS that has become ever-more relevant in the Internet and especially the social media age.</p> <p>Frankfurt draws a sharp distinction between lies and BS. With a lie, the person making the claim has a specific intent of trying to convince you that their false claim is true. The liar cares about what is true, because they want you to believe something specific that is specifically not true.</p> <p>Whereas with BS, the person making the claim is not trying to contradict the truth. Rather, they are entirely indifferent as to whether what they are saying is true or not. As Frankfurt puts it:</p> <blockquote> <p>When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.</p> </blockquote> <p>The absolute indifference to what is true is what distinguishes BS from a lie. In that sense, as Frankfurt warns, bullshitters are actually more harmful to the truth than liars. </p> <h3>LLMs are BS Generators</h3> <p>LLMs are trained not to produce answers that meet some kind of factual threshold, but rather to produce answers that <em>sound reasonable</em>. As currently designed, they have absolutely no way to determine whether a generated response is true or not, or whether its conclusions logically follow from its propositions. </p> <p>If one were inclined to anthromorphize these models, one might say that they are <em>indifferent</em> to whether what they are producing is true or even makes logical sense. </p> <p>However, we must be careful not to ascribe intent to LLMs. After all, they are not in any way conscious, let alone malicious. They are merely algorithms predicting a series of words in response to a prompt based on the patterns they identified in their training data.</p> <p>However, the practical <em>effect</em> of how they operate is that they function as generators of BS. As LLMs get embedded in more and more systems that interact with humans, and particularly as they get smaller and more portable, this property should make everyone who genuinely cares about the truth feel a little bit queasy. </p> <h3>Ripe for Abuse</h3> <p>LLMs provide bad-faith actors with an incredibly prolific tool to generate mountains of persuasive-sounding nonsense to flood the public discourse and erode the very concept of a shared understanding of reality. </p> <p>Indeed, the role of <em>sheer volume</em> in attacking civil society through disinformation deserves its own essay. As fascist chaos agent Steve Bannon famously put it, "The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit."</p> <p>The goal of <em>flooding the zone</em> is not so much to convince people to believe in a specific lie, though lies - and especially Big Lies - are part of it. Rather, the goal is to introduce so much confusion, exhaustion and cynicism about what is and isn't true - that is, to produce so much <em>BS</em> - that the broad civic and political consensus which underpins every movement for justice becomes impossible to sustain.</p> <p>This tactic is perhaps most effectively used in <a href="https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html">the Russian "firehose of falsehood" propaganda model</a>: </p> <blockquote> <p>We characterize the contemporary Russian model for propaganda as "the firehose of falsehood" because of two of its distinctive features: high numbers of channels and messages and a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions. In the words of one observer, "[N]ew Russian propaganda entertains, confuses and overwhelms the audience." Contemporary Russian propaganda has at least two other distinctive features. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency.</p> </blockquote> <p>Whatever other socially-benign services they might provide, LLMs also make the task of flooding the zone exponentially easier. </p> <h3>What’s Next</h3> <p>The companies and engineers who are building the current generation of LLMs have bet big on the scale of the training data - the first L in LLM. So far, increases in the size of the training set have, indeed, translated into more impressive performance. It’s an open question whether and for how long this trend can continue. </p> <p>Evangelists like OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, whose company built ChatGPT, the LLM that powers the Bing chatbot, has stated his belief that scaling the training set large enough can lead to <em>artificial general intelligence</em>, or AGI, which AI researchers regard as the Holy Grail of AI. He may be right, or we may be close to a local maximum in which further increases in data scale hit diminishing returns. </p> <p>And there are other headwinds. Large scale copyright holders have begun pushing back on AI companies consuming their content without permission or compensation. This is likely to lead to protracted litigation, and likely the best outcome for all concerned will be some sort of licencing framework. But it is definitely a risk.</p> <p>Another, potentially more serious problem is the rise of LLM-generated content itself. As a progressively larger share of the total content of the internet is generated by LLMs, that means a progressively larger share of the training data for future generations of LLMs will be the output from previous generations. This is a problem because, when used as inputdata, the output of an LLM is like already-digested food.</p> <p>Indeed, a <a href="https://arxiv.org/abs/2305.17493">fascinating research paper</a> released this year found that feeding LLM-generated content into an LLM leads to “model collapse”. As the authors write:</p> <blockquote> <p>We find that use of model-generated content in training causes irreversible defects in the resulting models, where tails of the original content distribution disappear. We refer to this effect as Model Collapse and show that it can occur in … LLMs.</p> </blockquote> <p>Since there is currently no reliable way to test whether a given piece of content was written by a human or a LLM, this threatens to be an increasingly thorny challenge.</p> <p>Of course, all of these challenges may eventually be surmountable. The ceiling of performance as a function of data size may be far off. The addition of logic and fact checking modules may already be in the works. Licencing arrangements may solve the copyright problem. </p> <p>But for the time being, today’s LLMs remain plagued by the BS problem - and calling the plausible nonsense LLMs generate “hallucinations” does not make them any less troublesome for people who value increasing the amount of truth going out onto the world.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/261/proposed_debate_with_antivaxxer_just_a_shameless_bid_for_content 2023-06-20T12:00:00Z Proposed Debate With Antivaxxer Just a Shameless Bid for Content <p>The players and purveyors of the alternative media build their brands at least in part on distrust in the mainstream news media (and mainstream institutions more generally). And there's plenty of grist for that mill, everything from rigid formats to narrative construction to gatekeeping talent. </p> <p>Perhaps the most universal issue with the legacy media is not this or that political bias; rather, it's that they make most of their money based on how many consumers they can attract, so they are incentivized to chase an audience. That leads them to sell the controversy instead of getting to the truth.</p> <p>But if advertisement-driven news networks are the problem, advertisement-driven social media networks are definitely <strong>not</strong> the solution. Case in point: the current Joe Rogan controversy, in which Rogan and an army of his followers are goading and taunting and harassing a highly respected vaccine scientist to have a debate with a fraudulent antivax grifter on Rogan's show. </p> <p>As bad as they often are, the mainstream media at least have some professional standards and norms that act as a moderating countervail to the incentive to chase drama. </p> <p>Social media influencers like Rogan have no such filter. He regularly hosts grifters, swindlers, cranks, conspiracy theorists and alt-right hate-mongers, granting them a more or less uncritical platform to spread their propaganda to his millions of followers.</p> <p>He also repeatedly extends his huge platform to antivax con artists like Peter McCullough, Robert Malone, and now Robert F. Kennedy Jr, giving them wide latitude to spread their reckless, dangerous disinformation with little to no meaningful fact-checking. </p> <p>Dr. Peter Hotez, an American paediatrician and vaccine scientist whose research produces patent-free vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, had the temerity to criticize Rogan for giving a platform to Kennedy (by linking to a <a href="https://www.vice.com/en/article/k7zz9z/spotify-rogan-rfk-vaccine-misinformation-policy">Vice article</a> on the matter), and Rogan responded by trying to goad Hotez into a live debate with Kennedy with Rogan as moderator.</p> <p>When Hotez quite reasonably refused such a poison pill, Rogan incited his vast array of followers to pursue and accost Hotez, with other influential tech bros, including Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, piling on as well. Hotez has already had people accost him outside his home as a result of this campaign of abuse.</p> <p>He's absolutely right to refuse the debate. Antivax grifters have an elaborate toolkit of tactics they use to overwhelm their audience and their critics, like a hundred-year storm surge overwhelming a sewage treatment plant.</p> <p>As a core tactic, antivaxers spray a vast and rapid firehose of claims that are calculated to sound reasonable enough to a non-scientist, and they shamelessly, repeatedly violate every principle of good-faith debate to suit their purposes: they invent claims from whole cloth, shamelessly inflate or downplay real evidence, claim that sources state the opposite of what they actually state, elevate the credibility of non-peer reviewed 'research' that would never be able to get published in a real journal, make conclusions that do not follow from real premises, move the goalposts every time someone goes to the effort to disprove their claims, and claim they are being 'silenced' by a conspiracy when they cannot get scientists to take them seriously.</p> <p>As a format, a live, oral debate is great fodder for entertainment, which is why Rogan keeps asking for it. But an oral debate is at best only modestly useful for political competition, and quite useless for settling important scientific questions. </p> <p>Scientific debate happens in peer-reviewed scientific journals, where teams of researchers submit papers documenting their experiments and the conclusions they draw, subject to review prior to publication by other professional scientists and to written feedback following publication. </p> <p>It's not a perfect system, but over time it allows theories that are well-supported by multiple independent lines of evidence to emerge as a consensus, while tending to disprove theories that cannot bear the weight of evidence.</p> <p>Ultimately the scientific debate format rests on the good faith of its practitioners: the working scientists conducting research, the editors and reviewers checking their work prior to publication, and the community of professionals who read the journals, engage with its contents and revisit their own work based on what it teaches them.</p> <p>When scientists debate - over whether a study was well-constructed or whether a conclusion can fairly be drawn from experimental results, say - they are fellow participants in a shared concept of what constitutes empirical evidence, what constitutes a valid logical contingency, and so on. When they cite a source, they try to represent fairly what the source actually states.</p> <p>Antivax grifters labour under no such constraints. It is inherently more difficult to debunk a false claim than to assert it. It takes no effort to make up a BS claim but it takes considerable effort to do the work and then show your work to prove that the claim is false. It is tedious, exhausting, exasperating work, and there is exactly zero chance that the antivaxxer will ever admit they were wrong. </p> <p>After all, the researcher who first claimed that the MMR vaccine causes autism in a 1998 <em>Lancet</em> article was eventually proven to have deliberately fabricated his research and hid his massive conflict of interest from reviewers. He was eventually struck from the UK medical register and barred from practicing medicine altogether. </p> <p>Yet Kennedy continues to repeat the categorically disproven claim to this day, and shifted the goalposts from claiming the vaccine itself causes autism to claiming that a preservative that is sometimes used in vaccines causes it. Of course, that claim is also categorically false: there is no correlation whatsoever between receiving any vaccine and being diagnosed with autism.</p> <p>So any debate between Kennedy and a credible scientist would be a huge waste of everyone's time - everyone, that is, except Kennedy, who would gain the allure of credibility from sharing a debate stage, and Rogan, whose eye-watering compensation in his exclusive contract with Spotify is tied to his ability to keep drawing an audience. </p> <p>That need to keep growing his audience incentivises him to keep producing more and more extreme content to feed their appetite for novelty and drama. </p> <p>In any case, the idea that Rogan could be a qualified, responsible moderator of a constructive debate between an antivax grifter and a real scientist is absurd. He doesn't know what he doesn't know about vaccine science, and he doesn't care. To him it's all just entertainment.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/260/we_deserve_to_know_why_hamilton_lrt_is_so_delayed 2023-06-07T12:00:00Z We Deserve to Know Why Hamilton LRT is So Delayed <p>On May 13, 2021, the Federal and Ontario Governments jointly announced a $3.4 billion funding commitment to build and operate a new light rail transit (LRT) system in Hamilton. This milestone was the culmination of years of encouraging progress punctuated by frustrating delays and heartbreaking setbacks - incuding a previous iteration of the project that the Ontario Government <a href="https://raisethehammer.org/article/3719/province_abruptly_cancels_hamilton_lrt">suddenly cancelled</a> on December 17, 2019, just a few months before the final construction bids were supposed to be submitted.</p> <p>The <a href="https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/1000121/ontario-and-canada-investing-34-billion-to-advance-hamilton-lrt">press release</a> from the May 2021 funding announcement calls the project "shovel-ready" and quotes Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney saying this partnership would "ensure that we can get shovels in the ground as soon as possible for this critical transit project". </p> <p>But here we are, more than two years later, and Metrolinx, the Ontario crown agency tasked with implementing the LRT project, has not even put out a request for qualifications (RFQ) yet. </p> <p>An RFQ is the first step toward procuring a large contract like building LRT. It is a process by which potential bidders demonstrate that they are qualified to complete the work they are bidding for. Metrolinx carefully reviews the applicants and then selects a shortlist of qualified bidders who are then invited to participate in a request for proposals (RFP).</p> <p>The RFP is a competitive bidding process in which qualified participants submit proposals to build the project according to an agreed set of specifications. The bidder with the most competitive proposal is then selected to receive the contract.</p> <p>Normally the RFQ and RFP process takes around two years to complete. But after more than two years since the LRT funding announcement, the process has not even <em>started</em> yet. To say this is frustrating is an understatement.</p> <p>I would really love to understand exactly what Metrolinx has been up to for the past two years.</p> <p>We know that, following some recent LRT construction fiascos - particularly the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in Toronto, which is already two years late and significantly over budget - Metrolinx decided to change their procurement model. Under the old system, Metrolinx would award a master agreement to design, build, finance, operate and maintain (DBFOM) the entire project to a consortium made up of individual companies that specialize in each aspect of the process.</p> <p>So a consortium would be an ad hoc partnership that includes an engineering firm, a construction company, a financing company, a supplier of rolling stock, a system operator, and so on. </p> <p>The idea is that the contract will discipline the parties to the consortium to work together in alignment on hitting the contractual milestones. In practice, what actually happens is that when some aspect of the project is in jeopardy or fails, the parties to the contract start taking each other to court and the crown agency is ultimately left to deal with the fallout.</p> <p>So Metrolinx revised their procurement model to maintain control of the overall project and to dole out individual sub-contracts for the vraious works.</p> <p>In principle, this should achieve some valuable organizational goals. A big problem with the DBFOM model is that each consortium is formed on an ad hoc basis and there's no accumulation of organizational expertise in building large, complex projects like LRT. Intead, each new consortium in a DBFOM procurement model is essentially starting from scratch. </p> <p>With Metrolinx as the master player, it should theoretically be able to develop a continuity of steadily-increasing project management expertise that is absent from the ad hoc approach. Whereas communication breakdowns and failures of a necessary component might tear a consortium apart, Metrolinx as project manager can theoretically maintain oversight on every aspect of the project and identify and fix problems before they spiral out of control.</p> <p>This new model should also allow Metrolinx to move a lot faster, since they can tender the work in more bite-sized pieces instead of having to go through a huge monolithic qualification and bidding process for the whole thirty-year project horizon, which can take years.</p> <p>So I'm genuinely confused as to what the Hamilton LRT project management team have been doing for the past two years. From the outside, there is no public evidence they've done anything at all.</p> <p>I don't assume they're incompetent or malicious, but I do think the public has a right to know why this is taking so long. I hope someone from Metrolinx can provide some genuine insight into what's happening - and not just a bureaucratic non-answer but some real honesty.</p> <p>Two years ago, Hamilton LRT was "shovel ready". Heck, four years ago it was already in the home stretch of the original RFP process, before the Ontario government suddenly cancelled it based on claims about cost overruns that <a href="https://raisethehammer.org/article/3733/who_changed_the_total_for_hamiltons_lrt_project_cost">turned out to be bogus</a>.</p> <p>Not only has the ground not yet broken on major construction, but the procurement process to get to that groundbreaking is at least a year and probably closer to two years away.</p> <p>Is Metrolinx making Hamilton LRT a priority, or has this file just been languishing in relative abandonment for the past two years? Is the project being deliberately slow-walked under political interference from some party that wants it to fail? Has Metrolinx become so risk-averse after recent high-profile gaffes that they are now too afraid to move decisively? Are needlessly bureaucratic internal processes jamming up the works?</p> <p>Again, we deserve some honest answers. </p> <p>If the delay is not deliberate, we deserve to know what Metrolinx is doing to identify and address the underlying cause. </p> <p>If it is deliberate, we deserve to know who is interfering with an approved and funded project, and why.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/256/we_still_dont_know_the_origin_of_covid-19 2023-03-03T12:00:00Z We Still Don't Know the Origin of COVID-19 <p>Is it even possible to discuss the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus fairly and rationally? What the heck, let's give it a go.</p> <p>First: we still do not know where the virus originated and how it first came into contact with humans, and anyone who claims differently is lying to you.</p> <p>Most pandemic viruses are zoonotic in origin, which means they start out in an animal population. This often begins in populations of domesticated animals living in close proximity, which provides 'amplification loops' for a series of mutations that allows the virus to jump species from its original host, perhaps through an intermediary, and on to humans and to be transmissible among humans.</p> <p>The original SARS outbreak in 2002 was traced to horseshoe bats in southwest China and made the jump to humans through civets, which are a species of mammal that live in the same region. The MERS outbreak in 2012 was traced to zoonotic transmission from dromedary camels in the Middle East.</p> <p>Because zoonotic transmission is such a common pattern, it serves as the default hypothesis for the origin of the novel coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. But researchers have not yet discovered a clear pathway for how exactly that might have happened. </p> <p>An early conjecture suggested that the coronavirus started out in a population of horseshoe bats, since it is genetically similar to other coronaviruses circulating among them, then jumped to pangolins as an intermediary and then to humans. </p> <p>Another early conjecture is that the virus mutated and jumped species within a Chinese "wet market" - a market that includes fresh produce, meat and livestock from various farmers - and the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was identified early on as a likely culprit after an outbreak that began there. Several species that are known to be intermediate or reservoir carriers of coronaviruses were sold at the market, which was closed permanently in January 2020.</p> <p>Zoonotic transmission is essentially the "null hypothesis" of COVID origin - the baseline assumption, the thing you would expect if this pandemic is similar in origin to all the other pandemics scientists have studied. Most scientists continue to believe that the most likely origin of COVID-19 was zoonotic transmission, and reviews and meta-analyses of the scientific literature consistently point to this as the most likely conclusion, even though the data are not conclusive.</p> <p>But there is an alternative hypothesis which has been circulating since early in the pandemic: it is also possible that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was collected by researchers from a bat population, brought to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for storage and analysis, and then transmitted to humans through accidental exposure to someone working at the lab, who unwittingly carried it outside and introduced it to the wider community. </p> <p>This hypothesis is at least plausible. After all, the location of the virology lab is not far from where the virus first appeared in humans, it is a facility where researchers collect and study coronaviruses, and international agencies - including the US State Department - had issued warnings about safety concerns regarding the facility's storage and handling of viruses.</p> <p>The lab leak hypothesis spread widely among conspiracy theorists early in the pandemic, linked to more outlandish claims that the virus was genetically engineered and/or released deliberately, and has continued to circulate ever since. Early in the pandemic, some social media companies tried to down-regulate the circulation of conspiracy theories on their platforms and were accused of engaging in censorship and suppression.</p> <p>It is reasonable to assume that the association of the lab leak hypothesis with reckless and bad-faith actors rendered it even less appealing to scientists trying to do legitimate research, and the small group of scientists who have been interested in this hypothesis argue that the mainstream science community was too quick to dismiss it.</p> <p>An investigation by the World Health Organization in early 2021 concluded that the lab leak hypothesis was very unlikely but could not rule it out as a possibility. Further, the Chinese government has been tight-lipped and uncooperative with international researchers, making the job of solving this mystery more challenging - and fueling the suspicions of conspiracy theorists pushing more nefarious claims.</p> <p>The lab leak hypothesis received a boost this week from the US Department of Energy, which now believes this is the most likely origin - albeit with only a low level of confidence in that conclusion. And they do so citing classified intelligence, so independent parties cannot review how it came to this conclusion. </p> <p>The DOE joins the FBI in favouring the lab leak hypothesis, but the other US agencies which have been studying this matter are divided in their conclusions.</p> <p>The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NAIAD) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still believe zoonotic transmission is the most likely origin, while the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Intelligence Council (NIC) have not drawn a consensus on which hypothesis is more likely.</p> <p>One thing the agencies do agree on, however, is that they have ruled out the various conspiracy theories suggesting that the virus was either engineered or released deliberately. So if you see a conspiracy theorist pointing to news reports about the DOE analysis and yelling "I TOLD YOU SO", you are right to be highly suspicious of that person's intentions.</p> <p>It is not unreasonable to suspect that an accidental lab leak may be the pathway that introduced SARS-CoV-2 to humans, but it is objectively wrong to claim either that the debate is over or that scientists and agencies favouring the zoonotic hypothesis are engaged in some kind of cover-up or suppression.</p> <p>The bottom line is that we still don't know the origin of COVID-19. And if you are wondering why it is taking so long to confirm the origin, please understand that it's normal for this painstaking work to take a long time. It took 14 years of careful research to confirm the origin of the original SARS virus from 2002. </p> <p>So it might still be a while before this matter is finally settled, one way or another.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/255/the_scott_adams_fiasco_is_a_microcosm_of_the_right-wing_media_ecosystem_as_a_whole 2023-02-28T12:00:00Z The Scott Adams Fiasco is a Microcosm of the Right-Wing Media Ecosystem as a Whole <p>I'm seeing a wide variety of bad-to-abysmal takes on the Scott Adams fiasco. Like every right-wing culture war imbroglio, this story involves multiple layers of fuckery that need to be understood in their proper context to make full sense of what happened here.</p> <p>Let's start with the basic story: In a video on his YouTube channel posted on Wednesday, February 22, Adams called Black Americans "a hate group" and said white Americans "need to get the hell away from Black people".</p> <blockquote> <p>The best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the fuck away. Wherever you have to go, just get away because there's no fixing this.</p> <p>You have to escape, so that's what I did. I went to a neighbourhood where, you know, I have a very low Black population.</p> </blockquote> <p>Within days, hundreds of newspapers dropped the Dilbert comic strip, which Adams produces, and by Sunday, its distributor announced that they were dropping the strip altogether.</p> <p class="image"> <img src="/static/images/dilbert_strip_discontinued.png" alt="Photo of the spot in the print edition of today's Hamilton Spectator where the Dilbert strip is normally published. The text reads, 'The Dilbert comic strip is discontinued. Recent discriminatory comments by the cartoonist, Scott Adams, are not in line with the Metroland's journalistic standards.'", title="Photo of the spot in the print edition of today's Hamilton Spectator where the Dilbert strip is normally published. The text reads, 'The Dilbert comic strip is discontinued. Recent discriminatory comments by the cartoonist, Scott Adams, are not in line with the Metroland's journalistic standards.'"><br> Photo of the spot in the print edition of today's Hamilton Spectator where the Dilbert strip is normally published. The text reads, 'The Dilbert comic strip is discontinued. Recent discriminatory comments by the cartoonist, Scott Adams, are not in line with the Metroland's journalistic standards.' </p> <p>What precipitated Adams' rant? <a href="https://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/questions/january_2023/questions_okay_to_be_white_february_13_15_2023">A recent Rasmussen poll</a> asked respondents whether they agree with the statement, "It's OK to be white." Among Black respondents, 53% agreed and 26% disagreed. This became the pretext for Adams' claim that Black Americans constitute "a hate group".</p> <p>Of the poll, Adams said, "If nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with white people - according to this poll, not according to me, according to this poll - that's a hate group."</p> <p>It's time to start peeling the layers. First, this is not out of the ordinary for Adams, who has leaned farther into white supremacist extremism since at least 2015. It may be more explicit and less wink-wink than his usual racism, but it is by no means a break from form.</p> <p>Second, the poll Adams cited actually found that 26 percent of Black American respondents - not "nearly half" - disagreed with the statement. This is not the most important fact here, and it wouldn't justify Adams even if it was higher, but I'm a pedant and need to set the record straight.</p> <p>Third, the expression "It's OK to be white" is absolutely NOT a neutral statement of tolerance for white people. It is a white supremacist slogan that started on 4chan in a 2017 trolling campaign designed to provoke media outrage and then counter it with plausible deniability.</p> <p>The idea is to elicit outrage from liberals so the white supremacists can paint them as racist hypocrites who hate white people and free speech. As hate-monger Tucker Carlson <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/neo-nazi-david-duke-backed-meme-was-reported-tucker-carlson-without-context-714655">put it</a> during the 2017 trolling campaign, "What's the correct position? That it's <em>not</em> OK to be white?"</p> <p>Of course, white supremacists knew exactly what the campaign was about and celebrated it as a rhetorical victory. An <a href="https://www.adl.org/resources/blog/4chan-another-trolling-campaign-emerges">investigation</a> by the Anti-Defamation League traced the slogan back to the title of a song released in 2001 by a "white power" musical group.</p> <p>Not everyone knows about this campaign, of course, but lots of people are familiar with it - especially people who are involved, either formally or as a matter of day-to-day survival, in antiracist awareness and engagement. Like, say, many Black folks living in America.</p> <p>Rasmussen didn't ask its respondents about this, but one can easily imagine that many of the respondents who disagreed with the statement did so precisely because they understood that it is a white supremacist slogan.</p> <p>Which brings us to Rasmussen. The polling company is actually a conservative media organization <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20120731004315/http://www.tnr.com:80/blog/jonathan-chait/75161/the-rasmussen-problem">long known</a> for asking leading survey questions calculated to elicit right-wing culture war talking points. </p> <p>There is no legitimate justification to ask this particular question in a survey. The sole consequence is to enable exactly the plausible-deniability trolling that the expression was designed for in that 2017 4chan campaign, and the company needs to be challenged on its decision to tee up Adams' racist rant in the first place.</p> <p>For his part, Adams directly piggybacked on the trolling campaign by citing the poll as a pretext for his own overtly white supremacist call for a return to the nightmare of racial segregation, which perpetuated a century of violence and terror against Black folks in America.</p> <p>In turn, other right-wing personalities and media entities are already lining up to paint Adams as the latest victim of an imaginary "cancel culture" that "hates free speech". White supremacist pundits with huge platforms and audiences will have a field day with it.</p> <p>Indeed, we can step back here and note that the entire right-wing media ecosystem exists to manufacture, inflate, recirculate and normalize hateful right-wing propaganda until it seeps into the mainstream discourse and shapes public opinion and political outcomes.</p> <p>That's a whole <a href="https://raisethehammer.org/article/3222/some_uncomfortable_truths_about_shameless_dishonesty">separate essay</a> on its own, but we should be identifying and calling out this dynamic whenever we observe it, since the right-wing media ecosystem has become so broad and pervasive.</p> <p>Meanwhile, most of the mainstream media are failing to connect this story to the larger phenomenon in which it is rooted. At a minimum, any news story about this should explain what "It's OK to be white" means, but most of the stories I've seen don't even reach this low bar.</p> <p>The white supremacists running these scams are counting on this media failure: they know that people whose ideologies have already been shaped by decades of right-wing propaganda will read the base-level story and decide Adams might have a point even if they don't agree with him.</p> <p>For the white supremacists, that's a victory in itself.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/254/moral_panic_against_15-minute_cities_is_more_fossil_fuel_propaganda 2023-02-10T12:00:00Z Moral Panic Against 15-Minute Cities is More Fossil Fuel Propaganda <p>The latest moral panic from the people who brought you the "freedom convoy" last year is an eruption of outrage against the concept of a "15-minute city", or the idea that cities should be designed so that it should be relatively easy to get where you're going on foot or on bike, without needing to jump in a car and drive for every trip.</p> <p>One might wonder who could possibly take offence to a city that puts amenities in convenient access, but all of these policy absurdities start to make sense when you remember that the movement is ultimately founded and financed by fossil fuel interests in order to <a href="/blog/203/fossil_fuels_and_the_threat_to_liberal_democracy_and_human_civilization">destroy the capacity of liberal democracies to regulate carbon emissions</a>.</p> <p>A city in which most of what you need from a day-to-day basis within a 15 minute walk or bike ride is a major threat to an industry whose profits depend on forcing people to have to get in a car and drive to get anywhere.</p> <p>All the culture war bullshit is just manufactured outrage - funded and fomented by the likes of the Koch foundation and the Russian government, whose existence is threatened by the risk of a global transition away from fossil fuels.</p> <p>Whether it's renewable power or walkability or transit improvement or complete streets or carbon pricing or emissions targets, fossil fuel companies and the corrupt governments they bankroll fight tooth and nail to attack and undermine any and all threats to their livelihood.</p> <p>Over the decades, they have built out a whole parallel media universe of bogus think tanks, publications, symposia, shills, astroturf groups, social media movements and other apparatus of disruption to undermine a public consensus in favour of public health and safety.</p> <p>Like Frankenstein's monster, that parallel media universe has broken its chains and rampaged into other areas of public policy that rest on scientific consensus. It is no coincidence, for example, that the Yellow Vest fascists are also rabid antimaskers and antivaxxers.</p> <p>Like Kissinger bombing Laos and Cambodia, the fossil fuel industry cannot allow public support for scientific consensus to take root anywhere in public policy, lest it spill over into effectively regulating greenhouse gas emissions out of existence.</p> <p>This is an existential struggle for the fossil fuel companies and political power centres, and they will even go so far as to foment actual insurrection against liberal democracy in order to protect themselves from the threat of effective science-based public policy.</p> <p>They regard something as innocuous and commonsense as a city with conveniently-located amenities as the thin edge of the wedge, a slippery slope to sustainability that would destroy their business model. So they go on the attack, using the well-worn but still effective tropes of antigovernment rhetoric.</p> <p>I'm sure many of the people railing against a walkable community don't even realize they have been duped into the service of an industry that literally threatens the long-term viability of the planet for human civilization, all in the name of continued near-term profits.</p> <p>A reminder that fossil fuel companies have known since the 1960s that their product causes global warming and threatens global human civilization. Their own scientists did the foundational research of modern climate science.</p> <p>But instead of responding to this by transitioning away from extracting and burning fossil fuels, they decided instead to launch a broad, long-term campaign to delay, undermine and sabotage the growing public consensus about climate science and its policy implications.</p> <p>It is probably already too late to hold warming below 2 degrees Celsius this century, but they're still at it to this very day, relentlessly funding denialist propaganda and disinformation and fomenting aggression against public health policy and the basic idea of civil society.</p> <p>And they have been enormously successful. Like, if we can't even agree that it makes sense for an urban neighbourhood to have various amenities within walking distance, how on earth are we going to be able to tackle the actually <em>hard</em> problems in climate transition?!?</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/253/doug_fords_cute_health_care_privatization_game 2023-01-18T12:00:00Z Doug Ford's Cute Health Care Privatization Game <p>Doug Ford is playing a cute game to muddy the water around health care privatization, but it helps to understand how the structure of Canadian health care helps him.</p> <p>When we talk about public health care in Canada, what we mean is that the state <em>pays</em> for insured health care services, not that the state <em>provides</em> them. Canadian health care is a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopsony">monopsony</a> - one payer, many providers - rather than a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopoly">monopoly</a>.</p> <p>In Canada, family doctor's offices, clinics, specialists and so on are private businesses that provide care to people and then bill the government. Even 'public' hospitals are independent corporations with boards of directors.</p> <p>Contrast the UK National Health Service, which is almost entirely directly state-run. British doctors are employees of the NHS, not independent contractors or private business owners who bill the government.</p> <p>So, Ontario already has a private model of health care delivery, albeit with a public payer. In addition, doctors and clinics are already allowed to charge their patients money for non-insured services, which further muddies the waters.</p> <p>Ford is exploiting this hybrid model by <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ford-jones-health-surgeries-private-clinics-1.6715117">allowing private clinics that operate for profit</a> to take on more surgeries that are normally performed in hospitals. This is not inherently a bad idea, but as with everything Doug-related, the devil is in the details.</p> <p>For one thing, the decision happens in the context of <a href="https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-42/session-1/bill-124">Bill 124</a>, which the Ontario Superior Court has already <a href="https://gowlingwlg.com/en/insights-resources/articles/2022/ontario-s-bill-124-declared-unconstitutional/#:~:text=Act%2C%202019%2C%20known%20as%20Bill,Freedoms%20(the%20%22Charter%22)">ruled as unconstitutional</a> and which is making it impossible for hospitals to <a href="https://www.ona.org/about-bill-124/">attract and retain nurses</a>.</p> <p>The government <a href="https://globalnews.ca/news/9404111/internal-ford-government-docs-bill-124/">knew that bill 124 is damaging</a> the ability of hospitals to provide care, as their own internal analysis demonstrates. Yet they passed it anyway and are still <a href="https://globalnews.ca/news/9377591/ontario-bill-124-appeal-lodged/">appealing the court decision</a> that ruled it unconstitutional.</p> <p>So the decision to shift more procedures - and particularly the easier, more profitable ones - from hospitals to private clinics needs to be understood in the context that the government's own policy knowingly manufactured the hospital crisis this move is intended to alleviate.</p> <p>When it comes to health care, profit must be understood as <em>pure waste</em> - that is, money that goes into the health care system but is not used to provide health care. Profit means there is less money to provide care - and especially, care that is more complicated or expensive.</p> <p>When private clinics are able to peel off the easy surgeries, that actually raises the average complexity and cost of the surgeries that must remain in hospitals. To the extent that public funding is diverted from hospitals to private clinics, this will have the effect of making the hospital crisis even worse.</p> <p>If Canada had a fully public system - public funding <em>and</em> public delivery - then it would be easier to make these allocative decisions for the benefit of the system as a whole without cannibalizing one part of the system to feed another part.</p> <p>It is <strong>entirely</strong> reasonable to suspect that the Ford government is manufacturing this crisis in health care - and it absolutely is a manufactured crisis - in order to soften the public for further privatization to enrich their well-connected friends.</p> <p>We know how things turned out after Doug Ford's mentor, Mike Harris, turned long-term care over to private, for-profit businesses: seniors suffered worse quality of life and worse health outcomes while the investors (including Harris himself) benefited.</p> <p>When seniors in for-profit LTC facilities died at appallingly high rates during COVID, Doug Ford responded not by investigating what went wrong but by rushing to pass a new law to <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/bill218-liability-ontario-long-term-care-1.5798256">shield the owners from liability</a> for their negligence!</p> <p>Meanwhile, he <em>just</em> broke his election promise not to touch the Greenbelt so that he could force the rezoning of protected land in order to give a windfall profit to his property speculator friends - many of whom <a href="https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-sales-of-greenbelt-land-raise-questions-for-ford/">conveniently bought properties</a> right before he changed the rules.</p> <p>He absolutely does not deserve any benefit of the doubt regarding his intentions toward the broader health care system, and anyone who is telling you not to worry is gaslighting you. </p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/blog/258/conservatives_want_to_preserve_some_traditions 2022-11-22T12:00:00Z Conservatives Want to Preserve Some Traditions <p>It's common to describe conservatism as a preference for traditions and a resistance to change. But this shorthand is not quite correct. It's actually a preference for traditions <em>that maintain inequity</em> and a resistance to change that <em>reduces inequity</em>.</p> <p>For example, the labour movement had its origins in the late 18th century and its early achievements include the five-day workweek and the eight-hour workday. Yet conservatives are only too happy to change <em>those</em> traditions.</p> <p>In this sense, the online trope "cope harder" is the perfect rallying cry for the conservative: it is a self-centred celebration of injustice and harm that instructs people to learn to accept it instead of seeking to remedy it.</p> <p>In case there was a sliver of doubt about what I’m saying here, consider this <a href="https://twitter.com/noliewithbtc/status/1595519454900805649?s=46&t=QnDely5BXyraDDJ_pHcIlA">quote from the father</a> of the Colorado Springs nightclub shooter in November 2022: </p> <blockquote> <p>And then I go on to find out it’s a gay bar. I said, ‘Shit, is he gay?’ And he’s not gay, so I said, ‘Whew.’</p> </blockquote> <p>The father went on to state, “I am a conservative Republican.”</p> Ryan McGreal 2