All posts by Greg Laden

Martin Luther King Was Good At Talkin’

As part of my contribution to celebrating MLK day, in this time of transition in race awareness in the United States, I haves an informal rhetorical analysis of King’s “I have a dream” speech. Professional Rhetoricians have analyzed this speech at a much more sophisticated level than I could ever do. This is just from a person who writes the occasional speech pointing out some of the rhetorical devices, or really, pointing out that they are there and helping you find them on your own (with LOTS of hints).

Especially notable is repetition, but not just by repeating things. The repetitions are a framework for space and place references, which are often metaphors, or for other references, and the repetitions evolve through the speech, and are used to circle back on some of the same themes so they are produced very effectively three or four times.  This is speech is a locomotive, and the repetitions are the track it is barreling down.

You can read the speech here. 

Look for the meter.:

I am happy to join
with you today
in what will go down
as the greatest demonstration
in the history of our nation

There are many,many other segments of this speech that come in a five-five-five or similar poetic meter.

Look for reference to classics/bible:

  • Five score years ago, a great American… we’ve come to this hallowed spot. (from Pereclies Funerary Oration and the Gettysburg Address).
  • wallow in the valley of despair
  • Lots of others

Look for nearly hyperbolic adjectives with repetition:

Fatal to overlook the urgency. Fierce urgency. Urgency of now.

Look for rich metaphors being asked to do a lot of work:

  • We’ve come to cash a check, a promissory note written byh the founders, America has defaulted on this note.
  • Invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.
  • Threshold of palace of justice
  • Cup of bitterness and hatred
  • Winds of police brutality

Look for building metaphors on metaphors:

America has defaulted on the check but the bank of justice is not bankrupt.

Look for poetic repetition:

  • One hundred years later…
  • We cannot be satisfied
  • I have a dream dream dream
  • Let freedom ring

Look for metaphor mixed with repetition and indirect reference, esp. using space/place:

Cannot walk alone
As we walk… we shall always march
We cannot turn back.

Further look at the “I have a dream” part

  • “I have a dream that” = five beat rhythm
  • “I have a dream that” repeated four times, then shifted: “I have a dream TODAY!” Twice
  • Many of the “I have a dream” clauses re-visit earlier parts of the speech, stating the same idea again but in this elevated prose.

Look for use of place and space, including spatial shifts in phrases, and where the adjectives sit in the language:

In Dream section, place (and person) repeated: This nation, just Georgia, just Mississippi, Alabama, Every valley, every hill and mountain, etc.

Mountain of despair, Every valley and every hill and mountain, rough spaces made plain, crooked places made straight, etc. etc.

“Let freedom ring” repetition, repeating themes for THIRD time, making use of space and place AGAIN. by this time the listener is totally in the groove with respect to the framework of metaphors, the cadence of repetition, and the space/place framework.

Again, five beat repetition in “Let freedom ring from”

Rich juicy adjectives for each of the places mentioned (mighty, prodigious, curvaceous) replaced for a few beats with a built in strong adjective as part of the place name (Stone Mountain, Lookout Mountain) etc.

Reverse of ring repeat in first “last line. “

These last two things (have a name in rhetoric, I forgot it if I ever really knew it) bump the listener.


Full of repeats, classic references, more place/space references, the whole shebang in one little paragraph followed by:

Powerful repeats (“free at last”) with a couplet of iambic pentameter to finish it off:

Thank god Almighty
We are free at last

We Commemorated January 6th

And by “we” I mean “they” not “I” because of Covid related issues and childcare. But we all were there in spirit.

All around the country, people from a wide swath of the political spectrum, but mostly Centrists, Liberals, Progressives and such, gathered in various places but usually near the seats of government, and in various manners memorialized the attempted coup staged by failed twice impeached Republican President Trump and his white supremacist terrorist allies on the street and in the halls of Congress. This coup is still in progress. The roots of the coup go back father in time. We are still fighting it. But January 6th is the convenient date for the opening salvo, the Fort Sumter of the current culture war turned Civil Rift.

The people who went to these event did not break into their government buildings. They did not threaten to murder elected officials. They did not destroy property. They did not beat up police officers. They did not kill or injure anybody. To the right wing, that makes them chumps, but to us, who make up the core of our democracy, that makes them True Americans.

Meanwhile, the Right Wing mostly sat around simpering. The leaders and organizers called for celebration, but no one moved a muscle, no one showed up. Perhaps they are embarrassed. Perhaps the illegality of it all dawned on them, and they didn’t want to make their situations worse. Perhaps their more sensible spouses, friends, parents, kids, told them to take it down a notch and go back out to their porn-decorated garages and pretend to work on their motorcycles. Probably all of those reasons pertain.

We commemorated January 6th with a time honored democratic process. We stood on soap boxes, yelled and sang. (Again, by “we” I mean the great and brave “they” and I thank them.) Later we will work for campaigns and vote. It is undemocratic to physically attack and try to kill those with whom we disagree. That is literally the definition of terrorism. Democracy and terrorism do not mix.

Please consider writing a letter to your local paper that says something nice about democracy, some time over the next few weeks.

Cheap book opportunity: Foundation, Handmaid’s Tale, More

Kindle* (see note below) books on sale right now but just for a day or two that you may want to know about:

To Rescue the Republic: Ulysses S. Grant, the Fragile Union, and the Crisis of 1876

Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World

The Handmaid’s Tale


And not on sale but still cheap, don’t forget:  In Search of Sungudogo

Punch Covid In The Face with Money

The global, and American, research programs in health and biology over recent decades have given us inadequate tools to understand the Covid virus as fully and quickly as I think we could have. We need:

  • …more basic research on viruses, never mind the virus
  • …more basic research on infections, never mind the pathogen, the host, or even the severity of the disease
  • …a research center on T cells, another on B cells, another on NK cells, another on the lymph system, if that is what it takes
  • For every working vaccine for an existing vaccine there should be 1000 vaccines made up just for the fun of learning what and how and if and everything one learns while making things.
  • Pathogen researchers should be producing experimental just-for-fun vaccines like Linux geeks produce operating systems or distros. So when a new pathogen comes along, the best vaccine response, you can order on Amazon.
  • Very little of these basic research approaches has been the subject of targeted research. This is the fallacy of targeted research. Targeted research alone is not how we address the Next Big Thing.
  • In the US, the NIH,NSF, and all the other research funding and oversight agencies, and the research arms of all the scientific agencies such a the USGS, NOAA, DOE,etc. are INFRASTRUCTURE and their funding should be TRIPLED.

Let’s throw money at this thing!

Children of Covid

In Minnesota, our surge peaked just before Thanksgiving. Then it unpeaked and went higher. Then is started to go down a little, then Xmas, and it unpeaked again and is probably going to go higher by the weekend. Just in time for the New Years resurgence, which would result in a peak-on-top-of-peak happening about January 8th.

But, that peak will be nothing compared to the Superpeak that will pile on top of that one, because Omicron will sweep through the region. Expect the biggest peak ever to pretty much coincide with the month of January.

And this is really going to mess up school in January. World epidemic expert Michael Osterholm was recently asked what should happen in schools. He was essentially unable to answer because the question is so ridiculous, framed as it is as a request for options. There are no options. He did say, “We may think we are done with Covid, but Covid is not done with us.”

For those who don’t know, the following are entirely or mostly true, as far as I know:

1) 1 In X P-12 teachers will be out with Covid in January.

2) 1 in Y P-12 teachers will be unable to go to work because their daycare shuts down because of Covid in January.

(X and Y are unknown but the ratio is not insignificant.)

3) Same for administrators and students, at various levels.

4) There are no substitutes. That is not the beginning of a sentence where the next word is “for” like “there are no substitutes for good study habits.” There are no substitutes, as in substitute teachers. Short term subs are gone, long term subs were hired up as teachers long ago.

5) There are very few, if any, new teachers coming in to replace those who retired, went crazy and ran away, or died, during this pandemic. Our society has shoved its problems up the nether regions of teachers for long enough, Covid is the last straw, only an idiot would become a teacher these days, and most possible teachers are not idiots. Maybe they will go be truck drivers. So, there is probably a rapidly growing systemic shortage of teachers going on independently of Covid, made worse by Covid.

By mid January we are going to be herding the kids who show up to school into large rooms where cameras controlled by Covid-riddled deans working from home will watch them during the school day, after which they will be picked up by their parents because whatever is left of the school bus system is going to collapse again.

Now’s your chance, Children of Covid! You don’t need no education!

Justice will be slow for the Republican crooks.

On February 14th, 2018, Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people and wounded another 17, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. According to reports. Alleged, not proven. Yet.

The fourth anniversary of this horrific event, which had absolutely zero impact on gun related policy or legislation because we live in a country where the slaughter of innocents is a day to day event that we expect and do not care about, at the level of government (stop pretending that we might, folks, just admit who we are) will occur a few weeks before Cruz’s trial starts.

Filmed, countless witnesses. It happened. He did it (sue me, Cruz). But the judicial process goes so slowly that the dead children would have been in their early 20s (or almost so) had he not killed them, by the time sentence is passed on this murderer.

When we ask why the Department of Justice has not thrown the Trump Gang into prison yet, we might remind ourselves that justice is as slow as molasses. We might also note that this is in large part by design. We are supposed to have expedient justice, but the system allows the accused to put on the brakes at many points. Trump and his gang have the clout to pump the brakes so many times that a simple procedure can take six months. A mass murder suspect apparently has similar abilities. Other trials are started sooner. Duante Wright was murdered by a Brooklyn Center police officer on April 11 2021, and Officer Potter was convicted just a few days ago, all within one year. George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25th, 2020, and convicted almost exactly one year later, though other defendants in that case still await trial.

So big bad things can take a year to reach a settlement, or they can take 4 years. We are coming up on 2 years for the start of full on investigation of the Trump Gang, which we assume was hampered during the entire period of the Trump Dictatorship. So maybe we should start seeing results (or more results, there have been a few results) soon.

I’m not complaining, I’m just calibrating. Specifically, I’m making this point: When you vote randomly, or vote for the nutbag (like Trump, but there are others) just to “shake things up” or show the people in Washington a thing or two, you help condemn the rest of us to a potentially very long slog of ruination and distress, which does not actually end when the rest of us finally throw the bum out. It keeps going much longer, because the wheels of justice turn slowly.

The Watergate Plumbers, who had been involved in numerous nefarious and illegal activities for years, got caught breaking into the Democratic Party national headquarters on June 17th, 1972. Convictions of key players happened between 1974 and 1975, with court procedings continuing into 1976 (but not convictions). About 20 Republcian bad guys went to jail or were fined. Nixon, the mastermind behind all of it, resigned in August 1974, two years after the break-in but probably six years or so after the first nefarious acts by his gang, but other than a forced retirement he was never punished, but was rather pardoned by one of his Republican buddies. So the time scale of justice for Watergate runs from 2 to 6 years, depending on which illegal act and which act of justice one uses to calibrate.

Iran-Contra happened during the reign of Republican strongman Reagan. The illegal acts started in or around 1981, peaked around 1985, revealed in November 1986. There were subsequent indictments, but in the end everybody was pardoned by other members of the Republican gang. So the time scale on Iran-Contra is: No justice ever, but there coulda been on about a two to five year time scale had the whole thing not been pushed under the Republican Rug.

There have actually been hundreds of federal level scandals, many involving illegal activities, and the time scale tends to be about a few years from discovery to rug-lift-and-sweep, or in some cases, just resolution. Longer if the scandal is made up.

Again: When you vote for a bone-headed right winger, you are guaranteed to be contributing to the start of some nefarious activity or another, followed by much gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth by all of us, all because you are a voting moron. If you vote for the Green Party in a tight race, any third party, or for the bad guy just to show ’em, you are being a voting moron. If you don’t know that the trouble you help cause will go on for years, and may in some cases never be resolved, you are voting moron. And if you defend the voting morons because you can’t do electoral arithmetic, you are worse than that.

The moral of the many stories: 1) Be patient with the system of justice but also 2) don’t be an idiot when you go to vote.

Le Guin, Clarke, Butler Books Very Cheap!

Suddenly, and presumably for just a couple of days, some great SciFi in Kindle form on sale dirt cheap.

Seed to Harvest: The Complete Patternist Series (The Patternist Series)* by Octavia Butler:
The complete Patternist series—the acclaimed science fiction epic of a world transformed by a secret race of telepaths and their devastating rise to power. In the late seventeenth century, two immortals meet in an African forest. Anyanwu is a healer, a three-hundred-year-old woman who uses her wisdom to help those around her. The other is Doro, a malevolent despot who has mastered the power of stealing the bodies of others when his wears out. Together they will change the world. Over the next three centuries, Doro mounts a colossal selective breeding project, attempting to create a master race of telepaths. He succeeds beyond his wildest dreams, splitting the human race down the middle and establishing a new world order dominated by the most manipulative minds on Earth. In these four novels, award-winning author Octavia E. Butler tells the classic story that began her legendary career: a mythic tale of the transformation of civilization. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Octavia E. Butler including rare images from the author’s estate.

The Lathe of Heaven* by Ursula Le Guin:

In a near-future world beset by war, climate change, and overpopulation, Portland resident George Orr discovers that his dreams have the power to alter reality. Upon waking, the world he knew has become a strange, barely recognizable place, where only George has a clear memory of how it was before. Seeking escape from these “effective dreams,” George eventually turns to behavioral psychologist Dr. William Haber for a cure. But Haber has other ideas in mind.

Seeing the profound power of George’s dreams, Haber believes it must be harnessed for the greater good—no matter the cost. Soon, George is a pawn in Haber’s dangerous game, where the fate of humanity grows more imperiled with every waking hour.

As relevant today as it was when it won the Locus Award in 1971, The Lathe of Heaven is a true classic, at once eerie and prescient, entertaining and intelligent. In short, it does “what science fiction is supposed to do”

Childhood’s End (Arthur C. Clarke Collection) by Arthur C. Clarke:

In the near future, enormous silver spaceships appear without warning over mankind’s largest cities. They belong to the Overlords, an alien race far superior to humanity in technological development. Their purpose is to dominate Earth. Their demands, however, are surprisingly benevolent: end war, poverty, and cruelty. Their presence, rather than signaling the end of humanity, ushers in a golden age . . . or so it seems.

Without conflict, human culture and progress stagnate. As the years pass, it becomes clear that the Overlords have a hidden agenda for the evolution of the human race that may not be as benevolent as it seems.

One Person No Vote: Listen to Carol Anderson et al

My new favorite podcast is Now & Then, with Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman (formerly one of the “American History Guys”).

Several issues back, Richardson and Freeman invited Carol Anderson, author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy* to talk about voting suppression.

On this episode of Now & Then, “Voting Rights: The Big Picture,” Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman talk about the history of voter suppression with Carol Anderson, professor of African American Studies at Emory University and author of One Person No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy and The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. The trio discuss the concept of the “consent of the governed” during the founding period, the emergence of Jim Crow laws after the Civil War, and the evolution of voting suppression efforts in the modern era. How have politicians justified restrictive voting policies? How do these policies damage American democracy? And what strategies might protect the franchise today?

The podcast is here.

One of the great features of Now & Then is that the hosts spend a lot of time running up to the body of the work laying down foundations and drawing in context. Very Maddowesque. But for this reason the podcast can have a slow start. In this episode, it takes a while for Carol Anderson to get the mic and start her thing, but once she does you will be blow away, even if you thought you knew stuff about voter suppression (and voting rights, not the same thing).

Massive Holiday Shopping Suggestions for Science and Technology Nerds

Before going on to my regular suggestions (which will link to Amazon via my associates account, so I get a small bounty), note that at this time, and probably for only a few days, Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going by Neil deGrasse Tyson is on super cheap sale in Kindle form (2 bucks in the US, YMMV). Continue reading Massive Holiday Shopping Suggestions for Science and Technology Nerds

Do not read this important message!

Do not read this until you have time for the equivalent of one or two chapters in a book. But if you can settle down for a while and you care about messaging, and your copy of “don’t think of an elephant” is across the room and you don’t feel like getting up, dig in. Also, please respond, tell me what you think. This is a set of thoughts in progress.

Here is my message: Use training in “Framing,” “Race Class Narrative,” or similar ways to improve your communication abilities to become a better producer of messages in the same way an athlete uses strength and aerobic cross training to become a better athlete. Message training is to the hopeful messenger what running 5 miles a day and pumping iron three times a week is to an amateur softball player. You will get better. Continue reading Do not read this important message!

No more black pastors

Did you hear that white supremacist on the defense team of the white supremacist posse-men who murdered Ahmaud Arbrey said?


I have no comments on this, it is obvious how wrong this is. But, I have some memes based on the reaction of one of those present.

By the way if you look at the video, and watch the woman to our right (the one with the non-curly hair) you will see one of the best aborted face-palms ever.

See also:

Covid Vaccines Confer Better Immunity Than Getting The Disease

We know that Covid vaccines reduce the risk of future infection by over 200%, and also reduce the severity of infection, compared to getting the disease. The official current thinking by the CDC is that vaccines are better than natural infection for Covid-19, based on that research and other considerations. (Added: See also this [thanks Yana!])

Surely, getting Covid would, for most people, cause a certain degree of immunity. That is what the immune system is for, after all. A vaccine imitates that process. It is entirely conceivable that getting a disease would be better than vaccinating in some cases. Remember the 2009 influenza epidemic? One study showed that getting that strain of influenza conferred better immunity than the vaccine available at the time.

The logic behind infection being better than a vaccine is usually this: The body responds, possibly, to multiple, and different, molecular configurations on the infectious agent, and learns to recognize them. A vaccine is almost always targeted to a smaller set of molecular configurations, so naturally a vaccine would not prime the immune system in as many different ways as the infection would.

That is a nice logical argument, but the empirical data clearly indicates it is wrong. The available vaccinations work better than infection in creating immunity. So why is this true?

I don’t think we fully understand this yet, but I’ll offer two lines of thinking. First, the somewhat more obscure but possibly very important. Remember, despite the fact that reporters and even doctors (and Facebook and Twitter self styled experts) only know about one part of the multi-part immune system, the b cell mediated anti-body response to an infection. There are other pars as well, including the t cell response, which amounts to t cell mediated death of infected cells, and the memory system for both t and b cell systems. Both of these systems work in concert with other aspects of the immune system, that involve for example cells that find a pathogen and bring it to specific sites in the body where it is interrogated, and responded to.

There is research to suggest that for some diseases (not Covid specifically but other respiratory viruses) an infection may elicit a very rapid response by the t cell system, which does the infection in fast enough that the b cell system does not fully develop an “evolved” memory response to use later in the event of a second infection. However, over time, with repeated infections, all of the various parts of the adaptive immune system figure it out and fully respond, and now the individual has excellent immunity.

Personally I suspect that this explains the curious phenomenon that no children or young adults are zero percent likely to get a cold, but lots of people in their 70s or older claim that they never had a cold in their lives. They did, they forgot, and in the mean time, their immune system developed a strong response to common colds. This is an untested hypothesis, so don’t go around thinking it just yet.

The larger point is this. If that research is meaningful, it may be the case that the immune system is capable of tripping over itself, so a natural infection produces a less than idea result. Meanwhile, a vaccine is designed to not do that. Remember, if we have a few vaccines for a given infection, those vaccines represent a small subset of many potential vaccines that were tried out and either gave indications of ineffectiveness or bad side effects. Perhaps those earlier variants of the vaccine are analogous to less than effective immune responses to natural infection.

Which is a nice segue into the second idea. Imagine a target in a shooting range, one of those outlines of the body with a few areas designated (by bull’s eye symbols) as places to shoot. Imagine firing a gun semi-randomly at the target and maybe hitting it in a few places. If you do that a bunch of times, you may now and then accidentally hit the head, and have a clean kill. All the other shots are either totally ineffective, or only “wound” the target. That is natural immunity to a natural infection.

Alternatively, you shoot the target in the head once and it is dead. One bullet, one shot, but a perfect shot aimed at exactly where you have to shoot to have the best result. That is a carefully designed vaccine. It doesn’t matter how many other body parts (surface configurations of molecules on a virus) the natural immunity responds to, if there is one main configuration (in this case, part of the spike protein) that the vaccine focuses on. And no, the virus doesn’t easily mutate in such a way that the spike protein is different enough that it can’t be targeted. This is a part of the virus that is highly conserved. It cant change much, or the individual virus with the change can’t reproduce. A target can’t exist without a head. It will always have a head, and if you can always hit the head, then you always win, and all the other strategies are lesser.

Yes, CRT is being taught in our schools, if this is CRT:

Everyone knows that CRT, aka, Critical Race Theory, is a law school or graduate level subject that is not taught in American K-12 classrooms. More precisely, and I quote Wikipedia, “Critical race theory (CRT) is a body of legal scholarship and an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice.”

Everyone also knows that when Right Wing Goons, Contaminants, and Bloody Insurrectionists talk about CRT they are not actually talking about the law school class. They are using CRT to refer to things that are actually being taught in KL-12 schools, that they don’t want taught there. Continue reading Yes, CRT is being taught in our schools, if this is CRT: