James Randi, well known and influential skeptic, debunker, founder of the Committee for skeptical Inquiry, and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), died on October 20th. He is most famous for debunking paranormal claims. His debunking of other falsehood was a bit weaker and less important (he rejected anthropocentric global warming for way too long, until he got a good talking to by a couple of doods who explained it to him in words of many syllables). He is famous for teaching America how to bend a spoon unmagically, and so many other tricks.
He created the “Amazing Meeting” which was a meeting in Las Vegas that was fairly amazing, but eventually devolved into an MRA meat market so everyone stopped going. (Not Randi’s fault.)
But never mind those low points (just trying to be honest here, as he would prefer). Never mind his cult status (which did more to to devolve than advance his work). James Randi was a consistent force pushing popular culture in the direction of truth and away from mysticism. He made a difference.
The United States are divided between white supremacists and others who feel that African Americans should have the same rights as anyone else. Entire regions of the country express their distinctiveness with rallies, protests, and often, physical conflict sometimes leading to death. The President of the United States is widely regarded as a do-nothing idiot, but his very lack of legitimate activity seems designed to tacitly support the know-nothing right wing white supremacists. But there is a new leader coming, one who will fight against white supremacy and hard right conspiracies even as he works to pull the country together. Those watching closely are concerned, however, that the new leader may not even make it alive to his own inauguration, given the violent nature of the times and the severe, vitriolic hate expressed by those opposed to him.
Welcome to 1861.
“On the eve of his 52nd birthday, February 11, 1861, the President-Elect of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, walked onto a train, the first step of his journey to the White House, and his rendezvous with destiny.
But as the train began to carry Lincoln toward Washington, it was far from certain what he would find there. Bankrupt and rudderless, the government was on the verge of collapse. To make matters worse, reliable intelligence confirmed a conspiracy to assassinate him as he passed through Baltimore. It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of the Republic hung in the balance.
How did Lincoln survive this grueling odyssey, to become the president we know from the history books? Lincoln on the Verge tells the story of a leader discovering his own strength, improvising brilliantly, and seeing his country up close during these pivotal thirteen days.
From the moment the Presidential Special left the station, a new Lincoln was on display, speaking constantly, from a moving train, to save the Republic. The journey would draw on all of Lincoln’s mental and physical reserves. But the President-Elect discovered an inner strength, which deepened with the exhausting ordeal of meeting millions of Americans.” (Publisher’s summary.)
This is a very good book, compelling, startling, and if you don’t already know the story, highly informative. I won’t push it because it is already widely acclaimed. Even the guy who wrote Hamilton says it is a must read. I know you are going to get it and read it. Instead, I will point out two arguments made in the book that are not necessarily the main arguments, but that I found to be very important.
First, trains. The story is of course almost entirely played out on a train or near a train, in a train or on the way to or from a train. This gave the author license, appropriately and we are glad he took it up, to discuss the role of trains in the formation of North and South differences in the US. I won’t make the argument here, I’m just telling you that you will find it in the book (mainly in the beginning chapters) and you will find it fascinating.
Second, Lincoln’s prowess as a speech writer and speaker. Surely you’ve heard the story that Abe Lincoln write the famous Gettysburg Address as an afterthought on the back of a napkin on the way to the battlefield (on a train). That of course, never happened. Lincoln worked hard on that address, over a longer period of time. It is a finely crafted speech based on a thousands of years old oration by the first citizen of Athens, but of course much updated. Lincoln crafted that, and other speeches, with an earned, and learned, appreciation of rhetoric as well as history.
But it is also true that Lincoln was probably not the best presidential orator before he was president. Prior to 1860, Lincoln argued cases against fellow lawyers in front of tough judges. He entertained his colleagues on the circuit court with memorable stories and parables, back in the days when the “circuit” meant lawyers, and sometimes judges, travelling, eating, and sleeping together while going from one town to the next to handle cases. He ran for office a few times (won once) and engaged Douglas in the famous Lincoln Douglas debates. He studied the classics, and he studied history, not formally but by walking in total hundreds of miles to to borrow books. Then he ran for election again and won, having made very few speeches during that campaign. So, on the day Lincoln was elected President, he was a skilled communicator, but not necessarily a skilled presidential speaker, at a time when a skilled presidential speaker seemed rightly to be a key factor in ultimately keeping the United States alive.
And he understood this, and every day for the entire train trip, he worked on that. He gave over 100 speeches in 13 days. A handful of these, including the one he gave at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, are counted among the great speeches. Another handful, he really screwed up, such as one of the first, given in Ohio, in which he pulled an Omar, saying something like “nothing is really happening.” (Ilhan Omar meant, “one thing happened and then an inappropriate reaction to some other thing occurred in an exploitive manner, which was bad” and Lincoln meant “so far no full-on battles have been fought yet.”) For both Ilhan and Abe, the press and the detractors went to town.
But overall, what Lincoln did was to fine tune his skill. For two weeks he gave many great speeches — and lived several near death experiences involving crushing crowds, being shot at with friendly cannon fire twice, nearly bombed once or twice, and nearly assassinated by a thousand assassins once — while the whole country followed every move reported near real time by telegraph. Abe Lincoln purposefully (and incidentally) set up a nation wide culture of expectation and commitment. He created, over this two week period plus a few days in DC and his inaugural, a North ready to fight and a South forced to define its own role as starting a war to defend slavery.
That final real life master class in presidential speech giving turned an excellent orator into one of the best ever.
Hey, did you bump on my wording in the first sentence, above? (“The United States are divided between white supremacists and others who feel that African Americans should have the same rights as anyone else.”) That’s how they would have said it before Lincoln’s presidency, and before the Civil War. “The United States are …” The United States became a singular entity because of Lincoln and the war. Now, it is “The United States is…”
If you went back in a time machine to become an antebellum grammar Nazi, you would have to learn this.
We live in a flat world. What I mean is, anything that is multidimensional is crushed by our limited monkey brains, facilitated by facile modalities of communication and conversation, into senseless flatness. For this reason, one may never really learn that Columbus, as a person, and the Spanish exploration and colonial enterprise in which he was engaged, is a critically important story. All most people will do is uncritically accept the poetic version (which rhymes “ocean blue” and “1492”) or, the alt-history version, that Columbus came to “America” and destroyed it. (Spoiler: The latter of these two is closer to the nuanced truth, but is not in fact the nuanced truth).
Columbus day itself is a different matter than Columbus. Columbus day is as much about statues, and naming things after people, and holidays, as it is about history. History is interesting because of the importance of context and the intricacies of nuance. There is no nuance in knocking down a statue, or in arguing that the statue should not be knocked down. That matter is one of activism and socio-political upheaval and change, and has almost nothing to do with History.
Anyway, I just wanted to point out that if you act now you can obtain for the low low price of $1.99 (restrictions apply, like this may only be good in the US) a copy of a reasonable biography of Christopher Columbus. This is one of the books people read to discover the nuanced version of that history. Check out the kindle copy of Christopher Columbus by Anna Abraham. I’m not sure if this is the definitive Columbus biography (probably not) but it is inexpensive and only 25 pages or so, so there is that.
“He knew nothing of celestial navigation or of the existence of the Pacific Ocean. He was a self-promoting and ambitious entrepreneur. His maps were a hybrid of fantasy and delusion. When he did make land, he enslaved the populace he found, encouraged genocide, and polluted relations between peoples. He ended his career in near lunacy. But Columbus had one asset that made all the difference, an inborn sense of the sea, of wind and weather, and of selecting the optimal course to get from A to B. Laurence Bergreen’s energetic and bracing book gives the whole Columbus and most importantly, the whole of his career, not just the highlight of 1492. Columbus undertook three more voyages between 1494 and 1504, each designed to demonstrate that he could sail to China within a matter of weeks and convert those he found there to Christianity. By their conclusion, Columbus was broken in body and spirit, a hero undone by the tragic flaw of pride. If the first voyage illustrates the rewards of exploration, this book shows how the subsequent voyages illustrate the costs – political, moral, and economic.”
It took a lot of years for the American Civil War to get done with.
There are a lot of reasons for that. (I should mention that any statement of fact, voicing of observation, or expression of opinion about the Civil War will lead to a great outcry about the facts, observations, and opinions, so check below in the comments for that.) One of the reasons the Civil War took almost five years (and never mind that there is an argument that had the Civil War not taken all that time it would not have stuck) is that the Union Generals were crap. Many were political appointees, or for some other reason incompetent. They lost a lot of battles.
One of the things the Northern generals were doing wrong was this. Most “battles” would take a couple-few days. So the two sides slog at each other for a while, and one of the sides gets hurt worse, and maybe leaves the field. Then there is a period of time during which the dead and near dead are collected. Then, later that day or the next day, in cases where the North had prevailed in the first wave of the battle, the Northern officer staff would have tea or do some other thing. During that time, the South would round up reinforcements, regroup, and attack back, and drive the Northern army away. (Alternatively, the southern force would bug out and move out of range, then regroup, while the Northern general failed to keep up, re-attack, and finish them off.)
But US Grant did not operate this way. Grant did not drink euphemistic tea. He would get up at 3 in the morning after the first wave of battle, call together his troops, and attack even more bigly than he had attacked the day before. Personally I think one of the reasons behind this is this was that after the battle, during the reset, most generals would rearrange troops on their front and center line, to prepare for the next day. Grant would hit that front line while his enemies were looking left and right instead of forward.
Once Grant was put in charge of the whole Union Army, having demonstrated the success of his approach in the West, it was only a matter of time before the North defeated the South.
So, here’s the lesson. One way to win is to pull your pieces off the field. Then, when the other side goes to have tea, put everything back on the field, doubled. Then you win.
So, yesterday’s news that the Republcian Party has reduced its ad budget in Minnesota by 90% does NOT mean that DFLers (DFL=Democratic Party) go have tea. It will take a phone call for the Trump campaign to resurge in our state. DON’T BE FOOLED. HOLD FAST. Swarm, don’t rest!
We’ve got this, but only if we don’t get fooled again.
Recently announced research suggests that there is life on Venus.
This research identified phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of Venus. According to the researchers, the only way to get phosphine is from life.
I might disagree, and here is why: We think of phosphine as only associated with life because we live on Earth, where there is lots of life, and that is where we find phosphine. There are a gazillian chemical compounds that no one thought would or could exist, or even imagined one might exist, that have been synthesized by chemists over the years. The synthesis of some of these compounds depended on the novel synthesis of other, earlier “discovered” compounds. The idea that no chemist will ever figure out how to synthesize phosphine without an organism being involved does not seem likely to me.
But, I’m not a chemist, and especially, I’m not Clara Sousa-Silva, who has devoted her entire research career to understanding phosphine and related problems. She is not a chemist either, but rather, a physicist, who specializes in analysis of extraterrestrial chemicals.
So, is this going to be Mono Lake II, or an amazing new discovery? Only time will tell. I’m just adding this caveat: Since we live on a planet with life, and we see chemical signatures of life, but life is literally everywhere messing around with all the chemical processes, there might be a number of signatures of life that would still exist in life-free environments, but since we have no life free environments on Earth (to speak of) we are ignorant of that set of processes.
This is like the Enigma of Socrates. Socrates speaks. Socrates has two legs, not four. Therefore Socrates is a man, right? That logic would be hard to beat on a planet with no parrots. But on a planet with parrots, Socrates could be a parrot.
“Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus” with about 20 authors, in Nature Astronomy has no public or open source copy. The New York Times has it, but you will need a subscription to read that. Clara has a web site devoted to phosphine, here.
Sally is going to turn into a hurricane, probably category 1 or weak category 3, and slam into the golf coat, possibly very close to New Orleans. In fact, Sally might approach New Orleans at a really dangerous angle. This storm is expected to bring a lot of water in land, for some major flooding, and storm surges may be pretty bad in a few spots.
Paulette will stay out in the Atlantic and head in the general direction of Europe, although some models having it cycling back to Africa and hitting Morocco. That would be strange. Somewhere along the way, Paulette may reach category 3 strength, barely.
Renee is going to wander around in the mid Atlantic fo a while in a state of depression, and might dissipate over the next few days. But sometimes, such a storm later turns into the next storm in line, so this blob of unsettled air will require some further attention.
Then there is Tropical Depression Twenty. This storm is going to be a hurricane by mid week or sooner. It is going to stay in the mid atlantic according to all the models but one or two (which has it grazing Canada). But, it will become a Category 2 hurricane.
Then, there is Disturbance 2. Check back on Disturbance 2, now near Africa, maybe Thursday. This storm has some potential.
There is also a Disturbance 1 in the Gulf of mexico which is not expected to do anything major at least for several days.
If Twenty and One become named storms, they will be Teddy and Vicky. Then there is only one name ready, Wilfred. The chance that we are going to run out of names is about 100%.
If that happens, we go to the Greek alphabet.
Usually, but this time, there are about 7 named storms and maybe 3 or 4 hurricanes. So far we have had 18 named storms and 5 hurricanes (one major). So we are about average on hurricane number but high on storms in general.
Very few of the predictions for this year suggested such a high number, but NCSU, SMN, and NOAA’s May 21st came close. I don’t count NOAA in early August, that’s cheating.
Several records were set this season so far. Cristobal is the earliest C storm, beating 2016’s Colin by three days. Edouard is the earliest E storm, Fay, the earliest F storm by a large margin, Gonzalo the earliest G storm by a couple of days, Hanna the earliest H storm by nearly two weeks. Etc. Seven other storms beat this record prior to the currently active three. Paulette, Rene, and Sally are the earliest of their letter by ten or more days each, with the previous records set in the infamous 2005 (which is when most of the earliest per letter records were set … that was an intense year).
“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. … Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
What Trump Said
“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. … One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over. … And this is their new hoax.”
Method 2: Rely on your experience of fifty hears ago during which you got some bug up your butt.
Method 3: Demand rational thinking using a series of ignroance-based irrational arguments.
Method 4 (preferred method): Watch this video:
I find it interesting that Seifert (and thus by extension Cook) use a fire as an example. This harkens back to Eco’s use of a fire (in a couple of different contexts, including the cause of a building fire) to suss out the semiotics of meaning and linguistic processing.
Minnesota’s First Congressional District includes much of the southern part of the state. This is a very conservative area, and also a very white area. There are counties that have more combines than people of color. A lot more.
It happens to include Rochester, which is where the Mayo Clinic is located, which gives Liberals (or, at least, Centrists) a chance. This is why Tim Walz, a high school teacher and National Guard lifer was able to represent CD1 as an elected DFLer (DFL = Minnesota’s Democratic Party) for several terms. He had to walk that fine line. He is essentially a progressive, but won there anyway. For various reasons, however, he almost lost his most recent election, and was destine to finally get voted out by an increasingly Trumpian mass of corn farmer, despite having support in the medico-academic community around Mayo and the University in Rochester. He ran that cycle for Governor, and that is what he is now.
Two years ago, Dan Feehan, representing the DFL, and Jim Hagedorn, representing the Republicans, faced off. Dan was a great candidate and a great person, a Paul Wellstone inspired combat veteran. He served for a time as the acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, under Barack Obama. He has since worked with the Farmers Union in Minnesota, focusing on Healthcare.
Jim Hagedorn was the offspring of a former US Representative (Tom Hagedorn) and was half raised in McLean, Virginia and half Truman, Minnesota. For years he ran a blog called “Mr Conservative” that included a LOT of sexist, misogynistic, racist, islamophobic, and anti-Native American yammering. When people noticed and he got called out, he claimed he was only joking. The Washington Examiner declared him “the worst midterm candidate in America” last cycle.
When the corn farmers and medical professionals of the increasingly conservative 1st District were asked to chose between the two, 291,085 people voted, and by virtue of a mere 658 votes, Hagedorn had won the district.
Then he went to work being an asshole. I won’t go into all the details, but here is the latest in a DFL press release:
Hagedorn’s Report Confirms Corruption Within Congressional Office
Independent investigation needed to answer remaining questions
St. Paul, MN – On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Congressman Jim Hagedorn quietly released his internal review of the ongoing corruption scandal in his Congressional office. Despite Hagedorn hiring a lawyer for crooked politicians to get him off the hook, the basic facts of the report are damning:
“Congressman Hagedorn fully agrees that he is ultimately responsible” for the potentially illegal mismanagement of over $450,000 in taxpayer dollars.
Abernathy West is likely tied to Congressman Hagedorn’s top staffer who spent half a year breaking ethics rules and potentially directing our tax dollars into his pockets.
Congressman Hagedorn allowed two businesses to rip off U.S. taxpayers by dramatically overcharging Hagedorn’s office for services for over half a year.
Congressman Hagedorn is still employing John Sample, a staffer whose company received over $110,000 in taxpayer dollars from the Congressman’s office. As multiple ethics experts have said, Hagedorn’s decision to do business with his own staffer “violated House rules” and constitutes “a problem,” raising “neon signs flashing red signals all over the place.”
Hagedorn’s far-from-independent report fails to answer numerous, serious questions:
Why did Congressman Hagedorn lie about completely delegating his mail program to his chief of staff when that was clearly not true?
Why did it take reporting months after-the-fact for Hagedorn to become aware of the potentially illegal activity taking place within his own office?
How was it that Congressman Hagedorn hired two different staffers who funnel our tax dollars into their pockets?
The report confirms that there still needs to be an independent investigation and Congressman Hagedorn owes it to the people of southern Minnesota to publicly release all relevant correspondence including text messages, emails, and letters prior to Election Day.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin released the following statement:
“It’s laughable that Jim Hagedorn would ask the public to trust him and his bought-and-paid-for report after Hagedorn spent months lying to Minnesotans and trying to cover up the corruption within his own office. Even a lawyer for crooked politicians couldn’t conceal the fact that there was massive wrongdoing in Hagedorn’s office and that an independent investigation is needed to get to the bottom of it.
“Congressman Hagedorn is responsible for using almost half a million of our tax dollars to line the pockets of his employees. This corruption within Hagedorn’s office went on unchecked for months until media reports exposed it to the public, at which point Hagedorn lied to the public and tried to deflect blame. The people of Minnesota deserve better than crooked politicians like Jim Hagedorn.”
Now would be a good time to give Dan Feehan some money, or help his campaign in some other way.
Press release from the Minnesota DFL (That’s what we Minnesotans call our version of the Democratic Party.)
The Minnesota GOP and Trump campaign even embarked on a tour of the state of Minnesota, which risked exposing Minnesotans to a deadly pandemic that has killed over 180,000 Americans and whose infection rates are growing here in Minnesota. Here’s what today’s speakers said:
“The plain truth here is that Minnesota Republicans and the Trump campaign are putting people’s lives at risk to win political campaigns,” said DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin. “The Minnesota Republican Party’s unsafe events could be spreading COVID-19 across our state, landing people in the hospital, and even killing them. If Minnesota Republican events have not caused serious harm, it is only because their fellow Minnesotans are taking this threat seriously and making the sacrifices necessary to save lives.”
“This is the perfect storm of everything people shouldn’t do: going from place to place with no knowledge of whether or not you’re sick and meeting with people,” said Andy Slavitt, former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Many of them as you can see are not young, many of them are vulnerable, but there’s no way for people to know who’s vulnerable and who’s not and then.”
“To me, people’s lives are more important to people’s votes,” added Slavitt. “I think I would ask that of your elected representatives in your candidates: is my life more important than putting you in office? And is your behavior at suggesting that? So I just would say to anybody who doesn’t hold that value: it’s not too late to change because people are going to live or die by your decisions.”
“We have seen that places that do have fairly severe outbreaks, when they start to recommend masks, when they introduce mask mandates, they turn the corner,” said Dr. Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist and Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University who appeared in a non-partisan capacity to speak about the science behind masking and COVID-19. “Wearing a mask is important. I think social distancing is important and I would also prioritize outdoor events. I think if you’re able to do all three of those things: masks, social distancing, and outdoors, I think that’s relatively safe and I would feel comfortable in that situation for someone who is not older or someone without underlying health conditions. But indoors, maskless, close-quarters, those are all recipes for transmission”
I have always been interested in the concept of consensus, even before that word became centered in the pro vs. anti science debate. In Anthropology, we have huge problems with consensus. In at least one branch of Anthropology, consensus can never be achieved because all good work is defined as breaking consensus. The moment you get close to consensus, you’ve failed. (That’s socio-cultural anthropology, modern style). In another branch of Anthropology, we deal with questions that can’t really be answered at that level, but sort of can be. So there is never consensus in the sense that of the many possible explanations for a thing, there will always be a list of possible, and often very distinctly different, alternative explanations. But, over time, the list changes. One hopes for the list we have now being better than the list we had a decade ago, even if both lists are approximately the same length. (Example: Reasons for the origin of bipedality in the human lineage.)
There is a particular kind of consensus that to my knowledge my friend John Cook does not talk about (yet, he’s got most of this covered very well): Beer pitcher consensus. It goes like this. Suppose there is a range of thought on a particular narrowly defined scientific question. Since this is about climate, let’s do a climate one. The question might be: What is the best value for “climate sensitivity.” This is the number of degrees Celsius that the atmosphere at the Earth’s surface will go up with a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from pre-industrial values (say that was about 280ppm). (I’m oversimplifying the concept and the question slightly and I believe forgivably.) The answers range from a somewhat pedantic and absurd 2.0 to an alarming and probably alarmist 5.6 or so.
Now, get a bunch of experts on this question, say at a conference. Sit them down for a beer. After a couple of beers, tell them, “OK, folks, I’m giving each of you a piece of paper and a pencil. Write down a guess on the climate sensitivity value. Here’s the thing. Don’t show each other what you wrote down, only show it to me. And, if they are all the same value, I’ll buy pitchers of beer for the rest of your time at this conference, starting now.”
Had I simply asked this group of experts to tell me the climate sensitivity value, it would start a conversation that would go on for hours, and there would not be a single number. But if I do it as described here, they would all write down one number, and it would be 3.5 (I’m pretty sure).
That is the beer pitcher consensus.
Anyway, have a look at John Cook’s excellent video. It shows why most of the time you as a science oriented concerned lay citizen usually get this wrong, but in a harmless way. There is not a “97%” consensus. There is a full consensus; the number 97% is kinds of silly, and it is only part of the picture. The idea that global warming is happening and is human caused is, simply put, established scientific fact. There is no valid dissent. But, the number “97%” does have an important meaning and history in the debate. More to the point, not only is there a consensus on climate change and the human cause of it, but there is a consensus on the fact that there is a consensus!
Every page or two has something to do, using common household ingredients. You can extract and actually see DNA from an organism, play around with air pressure, create lightning, mess around with light, and of course, achieve a deeper than usual understanding of slime.
This is one of the better home science activity books I’ve seen, and it comes at a perfect time. For example, our school district is, for fifth grade, going to skip science for the first several weeks of Covid induced distance learning. Well, we may use this book each day during that hiatus, and thereby learn random things. Can’t hurt!
Strangely, the author is not a scientist, but a poet and ukulele maestro, but with excellent drawing skills.
It is a nicely formatted book, of solid construction.*