Monthly Archives: November 2016

People are missing the importance of Trump’s voter fraud claims

You know that Donald Trump has been claiming very clearly and precisely that he won both the electoral and popular vote, and that it only looks like he did not win the popular vote because of voter fraud, meaning, that a certain number of American citizens voted twice, or otherwise rigged the elections. In fact, he explicitly says that millions of Americans voted illegally, accounting for the >2 million popular vote margin that Secretary Clinton currently holds.

Messing with voting in this manner is a serious crime, perhaps often a felony.

What we have here is Donald Trump accusing a large number of his opponents of being criminals when he doesn’t even have to. More recently, he asserted that American citizens who express their First Amendment constitutional rights should have their citizenship stripped, and should also be jailed.

Trump isn’t even president yet, and he has made the assertion that he would prefer that a very large number of Americans who disagree with him politically should be jailed and/or their citizenship cancelled. He has previously said that many non-citizens should be rounded up. And once rounded up, shipped out of the country.

What happens if there is not a place to send such individuals? Or, if the government insists that people leave, but they don’t have way to do so, or a place to go? Since they are no longer citizens, they can be detained. Where? Well, if there are a few of them, in jails. If there are a lot of them, perhaps work camps along the Mexican border, where they can be pressed into labor building The Yuge Wall. Or, concentration camps.

But a lot of people are going to be expressing their First Amendment rights, and disagreeing with Trump, if that happens. But if he, along with the Congress he will fully control — because Republicans know nothing other than walking in goose step with their party — gets his way, and laws are passed that strip citizenship from Americans who speak their mind, those concentration camps are going to start getting pretty full.

For that, a solution will have to be found.

This is not funny, people. It is extreme sounding, I’ll give you that. Almost impossible to believe. It can’t happen here. .

Trump calls for a year in jail for flag burners

… and loss of citizenship, which may amount to be thrown out of the country.

Flag burning may be obnoxious to many, but it is a constitutionally protected act, as long as it is your flag and you do it outside.

Presumptive President Elect Donald Trump has called for severe penalties for flag burners:

By the way, if you strip someone of their citizenship, and you do throw them out of the country, it is possible that they will have no way to go or no way to get there. Once they are no longer US citizen, they can be tossed into a special detention facility, and if there are enough of them, well, you’ve got a concentration camp.

I was about to write a post about something else Donald Trump tweeted, but I got distracted by this latest tweet, from just a few minutes ago.

I’ll be back.

Science-Nerd LEGO Ideas Gift Ideas

You know what LEGO is. Do you know what LEGO Ideas is?

This is a program where people — not normal people but Lego Ninja Expert people — propose lego builds. The builds are normally actually built, but some are just designed or have parts that are just designed. These propose builds are then vetted on a publicly available web space at LEGO. People “support” the project by providing a very simple evaluation and, basically, a vote.

If a proposed build gets 10,000 votes, it goes into review. I suppose the review process is important, or all future LEGO projeects would be about Boaty McBoatface. Anyway, if the project passes review, then a limited number are produced.

Unsurprisingly, a relatively large number of these proposed builds are science oriented, science fiction, or otherwise, nerdy. Most of the rest are hot cars or airplanes.

These projects are usually expensive, and as noted, limited in production. But if you are willing to fork out 50 bucks or so for a very cool LEGO project, you can have some real nice ones at any given time. Sadly, no matter how cool the project is, it eventually fades into obscurity.

I should note also that you will find very few of these projects at any store. I’ve seen a few at Toys-backwardsR-Us, but most are only available on line.

I’ve gone through all the currently available projects (including several that LEGO no longer produces but that are still in the pipeline) to pick out the science and nerd oriented ones, plus one that is neither but still cool. Here they are.

Mars Science Laboratory

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-6-50-32-pmI’m going to start with one that is almost certainly impossible to get for less than 200 bucks, but there are several out there and it is one of the cooler ones ever built: The LEGO Ideas NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover (Kit 2114).

It has all sorts of moving parts and a nice metallic, low-peg look. It was designed by one of the actual engineers on the Curiosity project.

Exterminate! Exterminate!

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-6-53-35-pmThe Doctor Who Building Kit (model 21304) has the Tardis from the outside and the inside. It is bigger on the inside.

There are, I think, two doctors and one companion. Also, there are Daleks and a weeping angel.

There is a booket about the fan who designed this build, and about the TV series. In many ways, this is one of the nicer builds because is has so much cool stuff in it.

Did I mention there are Daleks?

Wall-E

The LEGO Ideas WALL E 21303 Building Kit is destine to be a classic. (See photo above). Don’t tell anybody, but this is Amanda and Huxley’s christmas present this year.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-7-02-52-pm

Big Bang Theory

I’ve never seen an episode of the Big Bang theory, but you have! So maybe you would like to have a look at the LEGO Ideas The Big Bang Theory 21302 Building Kit.

Here’s the info from the manufacturer, which, since I don’t know much about it, I’ll just pass on to you:

<li>Build an authentic replica of Leonard and Sheldon's living room in LEGO bricks</li>

<li>Great for display or role-playing scenes from the TV series</li>
<li>

Includes a booklet about the designers and the hit American sitcom

<li>The perfect gift for LEGO and The Big Bang Theory fans of all ages</li>

<li>Measures over 3" (8cm) high, 8" (22cm) wide and 4" (12cm) deep</li>

Ha. Leonard Sheldon. Funny joke, that.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-7-06-05-pm

Amazing

I wasn’t sure if I should include this one or not, but on further consideration, a lot of people might like this.

The LEGO Ideas 21305 Maze Building Kit (769 Piece) is an actual maze game thingie.

Many LEGO kits have varying degrees of functionality, but most are minituarized versions of large things, like, say, an airplane or something, so they’ll have a prop that rotates and that’s about it. This kit is a kit to build a thing that is a thing, not a model imitating a thing. there are not many LEGO kits that do this.

In the down where I was born….

Finally, I give you the LEGO Yellow Submarine

Say no more.

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This is what racism looks like

Trigger warning: This post contains several images of racist or similar messages found through history and throughout the world, including a handul from the US over the last few weeks. These are provided as documentation to go along with the text of this blog post and to inform the reader of the nature of these messages. Most of the images are from mainstream media and are regarded as genuine. If you feel any are not, indicate so in the comments if you like.

An antisemitic graffiti in Lithuania.
An antisemitic graffiti in Lithuania.
I am a scientist who studies race and racism and related topics. This includes the critique and evaluation of so-called “scientific racism” and the history of racism and closely related political and social concomitants. I point this out here because some people feel that I should not be writing about this topic on a science blog. Those people are wrong for a lot of reasons, and the fact that I am a scientist who studies race and racism is only one of those reasons.

There have been many notable cases of racist, often anti-Muslim, as well as misogynistic, attacks or incidents since Donald Trump was elected, apparently carried out by Trump supporters emboldened by the presumptive election of a candidate who is a known supporter of normalizing sexual assault and whose White House promises to have close ties to the White Supremacist movement.

graffiti-on-a-wall-in-belfast-kill-all-brits-and-cops-c0bax5This is important because of this simple historically demonstrated fact: racism left unchecked eventually leads to holocaust. By “holocaust” I mean many things, and what actually happens would depend on conditions and circumstances, but generally, registration, incarceration, removal, etc. with the eventual killing of large numbers of individuals associated with a certain racial, ethnic, or religious identity.

Why does that happen? It is not true that sometimes, push comes to shove. It is not true that sometimes resources are limited, or opportunities are seen to be shaped by competitors, or success is viewed as threatened by other’s success. It is not true that sometimes these things happen. It is true that these things always, eventually, inevitably happen. If racism is unchecked, and competition continues, it eventually becomes logical, normal, convenient, and eventually imperative, that the object group of the unchecked racism be rounded up and gotten out of the way.

That is the final solution.

Rwanda
Rwanda
Fortunately, racism is usually not left unchecked. But when if it is left unchecked for too long, it is very hard to stop. Since the victims of overt racism are victims even if they are not rounded up and put in a mass grave, it is imperative to recognize an increase in overt racism when it is happening and to speak out about it, to not allow if a foothold.

One way to allow racism to spread, become increasingly overt, increasingly normal, and to eventually develop into things like registries of muslims or jews, or special laws governing certain kinds of pepole, or the rounding up of this or that group, is to support those policies. To support policies of registering people of a certain religion is to enhance and speed up the rise of racism. To support policies such as rounding up people who look a certain way or come from a certain place is to enhance and speed up the rise of racism.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-1-33-26-pmTo vote for and in fact elect a presidential candidate who advocates these policies is to enhance and speed up the rise of racism. Then, to add to that campaign’s rhetoric by displaying grafetti, or carrying out certain acts of violence, and so on, is to enhance and speed up the rise of racism.

There is another way to enhance and speed up the rise of racism, which if sufficiently enhanced and sped up, will lead eventually to registry, ghettoization, and possibly genocide, is to tell people who are pointing out the racist rhetoric, graffiti, harassment, etc. to shut up.

This Star of David superimposed on the "corrupt Hillary" image is widely seen as an anti-Semitic hate image, used by the trump campaign.
This Star of David superimposed on the “corrupt Hillary” image is widely seen as an anti-Semitic hate image, used by the trump campaign.
What does racism unchecked look like? Well, we can see it in historical contexts. We see it in the writings of Spanish academics and religious leaders, writing about the presence or absence of a soul in the Native American body, discussing whether it is better to exploit, contain, or exterminate Native Americans and how to do so in a way that is moral. We see it in the registration or labeling of Jews in Europe and the development of ghettos to put them in, and the wiping out of Jewish villages in Russia. We see it in the internment of Japanese in the US. We see it in the demonization of the other tribe in Central Africa, where the other tribe is blamed for all the ills of the dominant tribe, and considered a threat to all that is important.

That unchecked racism looks like graffiti. Unchecked racism looks like calls for registering Muslims. Unchecked racism looks like massive deportation schemes that involve rounding people up in large numbers with no clear plan as to where to actually put them. Some of these things are happening now, some are proposed.

From a NYC Subway platform.  Every racist movement needs some antisemitism, but now and then there must also be a touch of misogyn
From a NYC Subway platform. Every racist movement needs some antisemitism, but now and then there must also be a touch of misogyn
The other day I posted an example of the outpouring of racism we are suddenly seeing with the election of Donald Trump. It appeared to be, and as far as we know was, a hand written note sent to three different Islamic facilities in southern California. The language was profane, the message threatening.

The incident was reported in mainstream media (NBC, etc.). Police authorities are investigating and are taking it seriously. The letter indicated that there is a “new sheriff in town” — Donald Trump — and Trump would do to the Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.

You can read the details here

This was a particularly poignent example, a particularly threatening example, of the current enhancement and rise of racism in the united states, not skipping a beat to go directly to the threat of extermination of Muslim people in the US.

The reaction to that posting included a handful of white men of privilege telling me, on Twitter and elsewhere, that I should not post such a thing, because it was presumably a joke, or because it was profane, or for any of a number of other reasons.

One person noted that it was inappropriate to have posted the profane letter itself as a “featured image” … the image that is at the top of the blog post. That individual had a point, since the featured image automatically goes along with the post in various social media settings, etc. Personally I think it is shocking but not inappropriate, but I can see where others may disagree. For this reason, I took the post down in order to write a more contextualized post, this one. And, to add a note about the reactions of various caucaso-andro-privilaged individuals who scolded me and told me that there was no such thing and that I needed to sit down and be quiet. Here is that image:
cyjet4sukaaavis
If I find out that this is a fake, I’ll change the image and put a link to the documentation that it is a fake. Meanwhile, it is one of many similar messages, likely none fake, that are appearing all of the US.

This is racism enhanced, racism rising.

It is imperative that we not let this happen unchecked.

One more thing. I use the term “overt racism” several times. That was very intentional. It is very important to note that we are not fighting racism in this country as much as we are fighting overt racism. Here is why we do that, and how we do that.

The Alligators of Texas

The American alligator is found only* in the US, and is widespread in Texas. It is found in both rivers, such as the Rio Grande and Sabine, and along the coast. And, it turns out that the preferred locations for many of the important activities in the day to day live of the American alligator overlap a great deal with humans.

Louise Hayes, biologist, and photographer Philippe Henry have produced, with TAMU Press, have produced Alligators of Texas, a highly accessible, well written, and richly illustrated monograph on these beasts.

LOUISE HAYES has been studying American alligators in Texas since 1985 at sites such as Brazos Bend State Park and the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area. PHILIPPE HENRY is a professional wildlife photographer based in St. Mathieu du Parc. His photographs have been published worldwide.

If you are into Alligators and their relatives, regardless of where you live, this book may be an important addition to your collection. If you live in Texas in any of the Alligator areas (near larger rivers, the coast, etc) then you need this book along side your bird guides and plant ID pocket volumes. Not that you need to know how to identify an Alligator, but rather, to learn all about them.

This is a very nice looking book.

_____________
*Originally, I wrote “only in the US” because the info that came with, and in, the book apparently says this, and there are other sources that say this as well. For example, one distribution map for Mexican relatives of the American Alligator shows no alligators anywhere near the Rio Grande. An interested reader, however, asked how the heck the Alligators stay on only one side of the Rio Grande and avoid Mexico.

It seems that these alligators actually do avoid the main body of the Rio Grande and are simply rare or non existent in Mexico, but at the same time, the ARE in the Rio Grande, but just rare. For example, a small population showed up in Fort Hancock in Hudspeth County in 2009. They must have been able to pass back and forth across the river.

So, it seems that this species of Alligator is an occasional but rare find in Mexico, and presumably not that common in the Rio Grande itself.

Anybody from the region have any local alligator information to add?

SEE THIS NEW INFO ON THE DISTRIBUTION OF TEXAS GATORS

Science Books and Toys for Kids: Your Holiday Shopping Guide

I’ve reviewed, researched, and generally looked around for a selection of gifts that could work for kids ranging from very small to High School (and beyond!?!?) that are science oriented.

Coding

The best kids coding books these days are probably those that use scratch. Before suggesting a couple, though, consider, especailly for older kids (middle and high school) this fairly recent Python language book that focuses on Minecraft: Learn to Program with Minecraft: Transform Your World with the Power of Python HERE is my review.

Continue reading Science Books and Toys for Kids: Your Holiday Shopping Guide

Don’t get mugged by voting irregularities

So, today I was on my way to the pharmacy to buy important medicine for my son. The medicine cost about 50 bucks, and I had a fifty dollar bill in my back pocket.

In my front pocket, I had a twenty.

Just before I walk into the pharmacy, this dude with a mask comes along and says, “I’ve got a gun, give me your money.”

So, I hand him the $20. He grabs it out of my hand and runs away.

I went into the pharmacy, and as the pharmacist was preparing the medicine for my son, I called the police. A cop arrived within seconds.

The cop opens up his clipboard thingie to take notes, and I told him exactly what happened, every detail.

When I finished with the story, he tears the page from his notebook where he was writing up the report out, crumples it up, and tosses it into a nearby waste basket. Closing his clipboard thingie, he says, “Well, OK, then, I guess you won’t need to be filing a report.”

“Why?” I asked him. Just at that moment the pharmacist was handing me my change for the medicine, which ended up costing $48.57, and for which I paid with the fifty I had in my back pocket.

“Well, the guy mugged you, but that didn’t stop you from buying what you came here to buy, did it?” And he walks out, gets in his squad car, and drives away.


All elections should be audited. In some states, they are, routinely. Those are the states that ARE the sharpest knives in the drawer.

That is all, thank you very much.

Clinton-Trump Gap in Key States

As you know, there is interest in doing a recount for the presidential balloting in three key states. The chance that a recount in these three states would change Trump’s win (290 to 232 electoral votes) is small. But, it is possible that a recount could demonstrate irregularities that should be addressed.

Also, there is the possibility again small, of so-called “faithless electors” giving Trump a pass. If something like that happens, from Clinton’s perspective, it would be nice if even one of these states flipped (most likely Wisconsin).

So, to keep track of the numbers, here are the current vote values prior to any recount. I’m not too sure about Wisconsin because the Wisconsin Secretary of State does not actually provide the numbers to the general public, which I’m guessing is a violation of their state’s statute or constitution, but hell, that’s Wisconsin for you. The Louisiana of the North, they call it these days.

Friday, November 25th

Michigan (16 electoral votes): 10,704 (0.2%)
Wisconsin (10 electoral votes): 27,257 (0.9%)
Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes): 70,638 (1.2%)

On the electors: Some will claim that an elector is somehow rigging, violating, or otherwise besmirching the process by not voting for the candidate that won their state’s popular vote. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The electors are carrying out a duty in service of the United States Constitution, and and the Constitution does not stipulate that they vote for the majority in their state.

There have been so-called “faithless electors” — those that do not follow that state mandated rule — in the past, and they were never fined or otherwise prosecuted for violating state statute. There is, as I understand it, a reason for that. The state laws that tell an elector how to vote are so blatantly unconstitutional that even a right wing judge whose corrupt brother in law was the candidate harmed by the elector could not possibly uphold the law under an appeal. If a faithless elector was taken to court, and that case was challenged (which it would be), the entire edifice would instantly crumble and the electoral college would have to start to function like it did in the old days.

And, how is that, you ask?

Well, in their Enlightened wisdom, the Founding Fathers, who are today revered, even fetishized, by the likes of the Tea Party and the Sage Brush Rebellion and all the other yahoos, deemed the unwashed masses — the yahoos — unfit to vote for President (or Senator for that matter). The Electors are supposed to be your betters, who will make the decision for you. And, soon, possibly by the time of the next election, this is how we shall start to do things.

Or maybe not the next presidential election, but if the electoral system is tossed aside this year (Wisconsin shifts so the vote becomes 280-242 and 11 electors dump Trump so the vote becomes 269-253) and the election goes to the House of Reprehensible to decide, you can bet on change happening over the next few years, though it will probably come in the form of a bunch of state laws that continue to fly under the Constitutional radar screen.

Lego Technic Builder’s Guide

The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide by Pawet “Sariel” Kmiec (Second Edition) tells you how to build machines, models, robots, etc. that will work.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-5-46-11-pmYou need to construct these things in a way that ensures they won’t easily fall apart, and that requires a certain amount of engineering. There are some fairly expensive and specialized Lego Technic pieces that you may not have on hand, and this book can help you emulate them. How do you matcha motor or servo to a specific task? You need to know some stuff to make that decision sensibly. How do you make a transmission? Or an independent suspension?

And, very importantly, how do you manage the backlash that is “the gaps between mating components.” That seems important.

From the publisher:

This thoroughly updated second edition of the best-selling Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide is filled with tips for building strong yet elegant machines and mechanisms with the LEGO Technic system. World-renowned builder Pawe? “Sariel” Kmiec covers the foundations of LEGO Technic building, from the concepts that underlie simple machines, like gears and linkages, to advanced mechanics, like differentials and steering systems. This edition adds 13 new building instructions and 4 completely new chapters on wheels, the RC system, planetary gearing, and 3D printing.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-5-45-47-pmYou’ll get a hands-on introduction to fundamental mechanical concepts like torque, friction, and traction, as well as basic engineering principles like weight distribution, efficiency, and power transmission—all with the help of ­Technic pieces. You’ll even learn how Sariel builds his amazing tanks, trucks, and cars to scale.

This beautifully illustrated, full-color book will inspire you with ideas for building amazing machines like tanks with suspended treads, supercars, cranes, bulldozers, and much more. What better way to learn engineering principles than to experience them hands-on with LEGO Technic?

New in this edition: 13 new building instructions, 13 updated chapters, and 4 brand-new chapters!

We’re only starting to mess around with techincs but there is a lot of hope for it. People are starting to combine arduino and traditional robotics, Lego and robotics, and arduino and LEGO Technic. Pretty soon, someone will be combining Arduino controllers, Raspberry Pi computers, LEGO technics, and the Cyberdyne Systems hardware, and we’ll all be history…

But in the meantime, The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide will be our guide for the immediate future.

You think this year’s election is strange?

Clinton beat Trump by a large margin, by electoral standards. A couple of percent is actually a lot these days. Yet so far it appears that Trump won the electoral vote, even though those votes are not yet cast and who knows what is actually going to happen.

But this year, strange as it it and stranger thought it may become, is not the strangest ever. That goes to 1876.

Wow.