All posts by Greg Laden

The Presumption of Innocence

If I own a cookie store, and you come to my store for a job interview, and I see you stealing cookies, I will not hire you. To me, you are a crook, and I will act on that belief, and I can do that. But, if I turn you into the cops, and you enter the criminal justice system, you have a presumption of innocence, which applies to what happens to you in that system. At no point does the presumption of innocence that is part of our criminal justice system seep out into my cookie business. I caught you with your hand in the cookie jar, and you still can’t have that job.

This rule of justice comes down from the Romans, Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat, and it is widespread, though not universal in legal systems. But it does not apply to my cookie shop.

The presumption of innocence is not a logical requirement or even guideline for how humans think. It is, rather, the baseline from which the process of proving guilt begins in many of our legal systems. “Presumed innocent until proven guilty” (a phrase coined by William Garrow) refers to a stage in the legal process of acquiring or convicting someone. It is not the logical starting point for deciding, as a human being, if another human being did something wrong.

I do think something like presuming innocence is a good thing to do, and I tend to do it. But when as citizens we do that of each other, or of people in the news, or others, we are not engaging in the legal principle of Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. We’re just trying not to be dicks all the time.

Now is your last chance to read Isaac Azimov’s Foundation Trilogy

… before it gets made into a TV show.

There have been, I think, two earlier failed starts for a project that turns what might be the number one interstellar long-history science fiction book written. This project looks like it is going to happen. The producer is Apple, so you will probably have to buy their latest computing device to get permission to watch it. (And therein could lie the plot for a very Azimov-like science fiction story…)

Anyway, you need to read the books before you watch the show, so get started. There is no information available as to when this series will be released. And, despite my snark above, it is not know where it will be shown, but it will be streamed. And, it will be in 10 parts.

The three books in the Foundation Trilogy are:

Foundation
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation

There is a complex publication history, and there are other stories and books, but that is the central bunch of words.

Alternatively, the Foundation Trilogy plus: The Foundation Trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation), The Stars, Like Dust; The Naked Sun; I, Robot

These may also be among the most commonly available used books in science fiction, so check your local used book store, if you can still find one. (Hint: On line, the cost of one of these volumes, because of their continued popularity, used, is above $4.00 with shipping, with the shipping price dropping as the volume price increases, to make the actual cost per volume between $8.00 and $12.00. So, don’t bother with used on line.)

Conflict of Interest in Science

There is a great deal of overlap and integration between government agencies, private corporations including Big Pharm and Big Ag and Big Whatever, university and other research institutions, and the scientist and others who work in these places.

This topic is addressed in the latest episode of the science podcast Ikonokast, which also includes details about a recent minor scandal involving GMO research and squirrels. And maybe bears.

Check it out: Episode 22 – Ethics, Conflict of Interest, and Science

Trump: Seven degree increase in global temperature, and nothing we can do about it.

Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.

A rise of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 4 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.

But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.

That was from this piece in the Washington Post. A must read.

Kavanaugh is unfit for the bench because of the arguments he made today

Today, Judge Kavanaugh made the argument in sworn testimony, and this argument was backed up by the Republicans in the room, that all the accusations against him are a Democratic conspiracy. He also made the assertion that this conspiracy has permanently and irreparably destroyed his life, his family, his relationship to his children, his career and his reputation. This places a huge dark cloud over the Democratic party in his mind.

The Supreme Court of the United States is often the place where US laws meet their final and ultimate challenge. The Supreme Court Justices have to listen carefully and in an unbiased fashion to arguments that a current law is constitutional, vs. not constitutional. The Supreme Court does other things, they look at other kinds of cases, but this is a very common and critically important mode of operation for SCOTUS.

The lawyers charged with arguing in favor of the standing US law are part of the executive branch. They are part of the President’s team.

If Kavanaugh becomes a justice of the Supreme Court, he will have to recuse himself in any case where a plaintiff argues against the constitutionality of a standing US federal law. He has demonstrated a powerful, permanent, and indelible bias.

He won’t make much of a judge if he can’t really do his job.

Were the solar plants hit by Florence blown into oblivion?

No.

Faced with Hurricane Florence’s powerful winds and record rainfall, North Carolina’s solar farms held up with only minimal damage while other parts of the electricity system failed, an outcome that solar advocates hope will help to steer the broader energy debate….

When Florence made landfall on Sept. 14, it caused power outages across the region. As energy experts point out, the most vulnerable part of the system is not new at all: it’s the power lines and other equipment that transport electricity to customers.

Rooftop solar did ok as well.

Rooftop solar companies, such as Renu Energy Solutions in Charlotte, say there was little damage to their customers’ home solar systems. However, installers in some of the hardest-hit areas, such as Cape Fear, did not respond to messages seeking comment and there is a higher likelihood of damage there.

So, we’ll see how that goes, but I imagine the biggest problem for rooftop solar is a tree falling on the house, and when that happens, the home owner may have a bigger problem than some solar panels getting smashed.

The details are all here, in this story at Inside Climate News: Solar Energy Largely Unscathed by Hurricane Florence’s Wind and Rain

The promise of nuclear. Really, we promise!

Nuclear energy proponents drone on about the advantages of the Next Gen reactors. People should realize that the long list of advantages to that technology does not apply to any ONE technology, but rather, to a collection of different technologies that would not be part of any one reactor. So, there’s that. But now, we have one of the Great Breakthroughs evaporating even without that particular bit of smoke and mirrors being … cleared up and fogged over? Whatever. Anyway, here’s the story from MIT

Transatomic Power, an MIT spinout … is shutting down almost two years after the firm backtracked on bold claims for its design of a molten-salt reactor….

Transatomic had claimed its technology could generate electricity 75 times more efficiently than conventional light-water reactors, and run on their spent nuclear fuel. But in a white paper published in late 2016, it backed off the latter claim entirely and revised the 75 times figure to “more than twice,”…

[This] made it harder to raise the necessary additional funding, which was around $15 million. “We weren’t able to scale up the company rapidly enough to build a reactor in a reasonable time frame,” Dewan says.

So, no there isn’t really a reactor that will use up spent fuel and provide energy so cheap we won’t have to meter it.

Here is one of the articles that originally came out extolling the new technology’s virtues. I link to it here so you know what bullshit looks like.

Clicky and sticky: The secret to creating viral content

Twenty five centuries ago, long before the start of the common era, the written record about the spoken language began. The ancient Greeks were not likely the first to study speech and communication, and they certainly were not the first to write stuff down, but among the early writers, they were probably the first to write about how we construct messages and stories with words.

Joe Rom's Book How to go viral and reach millions. Greg Laden's BlogToday we are engaged in a great battle between those who respect, even demand, the truth, and those who care more about partisan power than advancing or even using knowledge.

Perhaps this is why we tend to quote the dead more than ever. During the current election season, I’ve heard the late great Senator Paul Wellstone (1944-2002) quoted at nearly every meeting of loyal Democrats. “We all do better when we all do better.” “The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” “I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” “I’m short, I’m Jewish and I’m a liberal”

We remember the inspiring words of JFK. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” “A child miseducated is a child lost.” “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” “Ask not what your country can do for you… ask what you can do for your country.”

To turn to the living for one moment, Gloria Steinem. “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” “Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.” “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.”

What do these memorable, moving, or emotive missives have in common? They all rely on rhetorical practices that have been part of language since, possibly, some ancient early stage of this unique human ability. Alliteration, Allusion, and Analogy are to language what a good set of planes and saws it to a carpenter. Parallelism, balance, and anaphora are used repeatedly. It is not hyberbole to suggest that metaphor underlies all of these statements. Human language, when used well, can shape minds, steer conversations, and cause more change than any military weapon.

Yet progressives, Democrats, and others on the left, even with their deep respect for and love of education, can’t seem to create a message that serves the struggle of keeping civilization on track. Why? I might guess it is because the eschewing of rhetorical forms has become the style of the day. Or, it could be because learning the rhetorical forms that work is hard to do, and our school systems, burdened under the ever increasing weight of standards across a wide range of subjects, had to squeeze something out, so rhetoric had to go. Whatever the reason, we are paying a cost. We need to dedicate serious effort to changing this.

Maybe it is a difference between private and public schools. Maybe the people who write for Republicans are from Exeter and the people who write for Democrats are from Stuyvesant High. This is not necessarily a difference in quality of education, but perhaps the elite prep schools know to teach about metonymy, epizeuxis, and enumeratio, because they know to weaponize the young else the efforts of the ascending generation would be in vain.

And yes, those forms of speech do sound like JK Rowlings-conceived spells one would cast with a unicorn-core wand made of ash. And they are, in the sense that powerfully crafted words are the original powerful magic.

Everybody left of center would do well to embrace tried and true ways to communicate, else that side of the political spectrum becomes extinct.

In an effort to combat this problem, Joe Romm, trained as a scientist, a student of rhetoric, a long time communicator of politics and issues such as climate change, has written an excellent book: How To Go Viral and Reach Millions: Top Persuasion Secrets from Social Media Superstars, Jesus, Shakespeare, Oprah, and Even Donald Trump.

Notice that the title of the book is rhetorically structured to attract readers.

Joe’s book does the rarely done task of integrating, as I imply above, the thinking of the ancient Greeks, the practice of rhetorical greats like JFK and MLK, and the more recent battle over messaging between Republicans and Democrats. This is further informed by reference to modern social science and psychology research.

This is really more of a war than a single battle, and the Republicans famously win most of the battles. Romm provides key insight as to how they do this, and how those on the left can to better. And when we do better, any of us, we all do better. It is said.

I’ll have to go back to see if Joe Romm explains why most of our paragraphs are so short these days.

Romm’s book is informative and offers inspiration, but it also offers very specific advice and guidance. It is well researched, authoritative, accessible, and memorable. Unlike so many other books on communication, it is a good piece of communication.

As an added bonus, Romm talks about his own experience with the publication process, an excellent source of helpful advice and perhaps inspiration for potential self-published authors.

I am happy that you are reading this review, but I’d be even happier if you would listen to my interview with Joe, which you will find as an installment of Ikonokast Podcast: Episode 21 – What messages go viral and reach millions?

Our conversation goes far and wide, and is not a systematic treatment of the book, so you will want to to both: buy the book and also listen to the podcast.

Finally, a challenge to Joe Romm himself: If you come across this post, can you suggest a better headline than my original? (“How to put together a message that will be clicky and sticky”)? One of these days, I’ll install a headline tester plugin. For now I’m flying with the stick. Which is probably a metaphor that went out of style about the time they invented sliced bread.

When the Uncertainty Principle goes to 11

When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11: Or How to Explain Quantum Physics with Heavy Metal is a new book by the amazing Philip Moriarty. You may know Moriarty from the Sixty Symbols Youtube Channel.

You can listen to an interview Mike Haubrich and I conducted with Philip Moriarty here, on Ikonokast. Our conversation wanders widely through the bright halls of education, the dark recesses of of philosophy of science and math(s), the nanotiny, and we even talk about the book a bit.

Moriarty, an experienced and beloved teacher at the University of Nottingham, uses heavy metal to explain some of the most difficult to understand concepts of nano science. Much of this has to do with waves, and when it comes to particle physics, wave are exactly half the story. This idea came to him in part because of what he calls the great overlap in the Venn Diagram of aspiring physicists and intense metal fans. Feedback, rhythm, guitar strings twanging (or not), are both explained by the same theories that help us understand the quantum world, and are touchstones to explaining that world.

I’ve read all the books that do this, that attempt to explain this area of physics, and they are mostly pretty great. When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11 does it the best. Is this because it is the most recent? Does Philip Moriarty stand on the shoulders of giants? Or is it because the author has hit on a better way of explaining this material, and thus, owes his greatness to the smallness of his contemporaries? We may never know, but I promise you that When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11 is a great way to shoulder your way into the smallness of the smallest worlds.

As you will understand if you check out the Ikonokast interview, Moriarty has taken the risk of using math in this book. The math is straight forward and accompanied by explanation, so you do not have to be a math trained expert to use it and understand. Most importantly, while Moriarty uses music, metal, and other real life things to explain quantum physics, these analogies are more than just analogies. They are examples of similar phenomena on different scales. As Philip told me during the interview, we don’t diffract when we walk walk through a doorway, because the things that happen on nano scales don’t scale up. But wave functions function to pick apart both quantum mechanics and Metallica, so why not explore guitar strings, feedback, and mosh pits together with condensed particle physics?

I strongly recommend this book. Just get it, read it. Also, the illustrations by Pete McPartlan are fun and enlightening. Even if you think you understand quantum physics very well already, and I know most of my readers do, you will learn new ways of thinking or explaining.

Philip Moriarty is a professor of physics, a heavy metal fan, and a keen air-drummer. His research focuses on prodding, pushing, and poking single atoms and molecules; in this nanoscopic world, quantum physics is all. Moriarty has taught physics for more than twenty years and has always been struck by the number of students in his classes who profess a love of metal music, and by the deep connections between heavy metal and quantum mechanics. He’s a father of three — Niamh, Saoirse, and Fiachra – who have patiently endured his off-key attempts to sing along with Rush classics for many years. Unlike his infamous namesake, Moriarty has never been particularly enamored of the binomial theorem.

Full Disclosure by Stormy Daniels

I swear, the Trump administration is going to produce more books during (and I assume just after) Trump’s term than Abraham Lincoln’s presidency produced in a century.

And the latest volume is Full Disclosure by Stormy Daniels.

If the use of the term “Full Disclosure” sounds familiar to you, it could be because you are a West Wing fan. I wonder if Stormy is a West Wing Fan?

She was already well-known in some circles before March 6, 2018, but that’s probably the first time you heard the name Stormy Daniels. That’s the day she filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump over a nondisclosure agreement negotiated before the election but never signed.

How did Stormy Daniels become the woman willing to take on a president? What is it like to be reviled by some, held up as a beacon of hope by others, and to be an object of fascination to all?

In this book, Stormy Daniels tells her whole story for the first time: about how she came to be a leading actress and director in the aderlt film business, the full truth about her journey from a rough childhood in Louisiana onto the national stage, and everything about the events that led to the nondisclosure agreement and the behind-the-scenes attempts to intimidate her.

Stormy is funny, sharp, warm, and impassioned by turns. Her story is a thoroughly American one, of a girl who loved reading and horses and who understood from a very young age what she wanted—and who also knew she’d have to get every step of the way there on her own.

People can’t stop talking about Stormy Daniels. And they won’t be able to stop talking about her fresh, surprising, completely candid, nothing-held-back book.

The Nature and History of Presidential Leadership: A book of olden times.

The timing of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book is perfect.

She is an excellent historian and writer, and you probably know of her as the author of several of the best, or at least very nearly the best, volumes on a range of key subjects in American History. She wrote Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln about Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written about Johnson, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II about FDR, and The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism about TR.

And now, we have Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the leader make the times or do the times make the leader?

In Leadership, Goodwin draws upon the four presidents she has studied most closely—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights)—to show how they recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized as leaders by others. By looking back to their first entries into public life, we encounter them at a time when their paths were filled with confusion, fear, and hope.

Leadership tells the story of how they all collided with dramatic reversals that disrupted their lives and threatened to shatter forever their ambitions. Nonetheless, they all emerged fitted to confront the contours and dilemmas of their times.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon hardships. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Minnesota Bigfoot Finds Waldo!

You may not know this, but Minnesota is one of the centers of activity for Bigfoot. Most of the Bigfoot activity actually occurs not to far from Amanda’s family cabin is located, and that is also where the Bigfoot researchers are clustered.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, “Greg is joking us around again.” But no, I’m serious. Bigfoot is real, lives in Minnesota, and recently … has gotten involved in politics! Like this: Continue reading Minnesota Bigfoot Finds Waldo!