Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mann’s victory seems to be timed perfectly to match its significance in today’s political climate

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Michael E Mann, climate scientist, has won a law suit against iffy academic Rand Simberg deplorable radio jock Mark Steyn, for defamation. The details are in the statement released by Mann and his legal team, below.

This entire drama started with the famous “climategate” episode, in which emails passed among scientists were kidnapped and tortured to make them look like admissions or proof of a conspiracy to rig the climate data to show that global warming is real. There were conspiracy theories before that, of course, but this one was firmly tied into science denialism by the global right wing, and ultimately, the American right wing and republicans in Congress. This and related parallel shenanigans involving Congressional committees set the cultural stage for neo-conspiracies such as birtherism, and ultimately, conspiracies related to election denial.

We are seeing multiple juries of ordinary citizens and judges with diverse backgrounds awarding all of us with truth in the E. Jean Carrol case, the Michael Mann case, and elsewhere. The arc of the universe does not bend towards justice. Clearly, when left on its own, it bends away from justice. But persistence and simply being right can push it in the right direction, and that is what we are seeing now.

Thank you Mike Mann, congratulations!

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Does the turkey make you sleepy?

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Maybe tryptophan, an ingredient in turkey makes you sleepy. Maybe not. I suspect it is has either no effect or a small effect. But when people say “the turkey makes you sleepy because it has tryptophan in it,” they are repeating an easily disprovable myth.

Let’s say tryptophan makes you sleepy. Why does turkey take the rap? Other things with tryptophan: Cattle, swine, chickens, fish. Pretty much, animals. Plants too. Tryptophan is a basic building block, aka amino acid, in your basic biological protein.

So if turkey makes you sleepy because of tryptophan, then when you mix up that whey protein super shake, to up your protein intake on a gym workout day, you should pass out. If you consume 120 grams of protein in your workout juice, that’s 2,160 mg of tryptophan.

If you look at a USDA list of nutrients, and search for tryptophan, you’ll find that pork, steak, hamburger, turkey breast, etc. etc. all have almost identical amounts of the amino acid, because the are, after all, almost identical animals (all tetrapods) at the 20,000 foot level (but don’t drop your turkey out of a helicopter at any altitude). But turkey breast has a tiny bit more than the other, for random reasons.

I think the real reason you take a nap is because you need a nap and the turkey takes the rap for your nap. The turkey is none the wiser, so go for it.

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When breakthrough technology that isn’t really breakthrough technology

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Two very important papers are just out by Joe Romm. Hae a look.

1) Why scaling bioenergy and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is impractical and would speed up global warming

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) has generated great interest as global emissions have soared to 50 billion tons (Gt) a year of CO2 equivalent. In theory, biomass could remove CO2 out of the air as it grows, and a CCS system on the bioenergy power plant could permanently bury the CO2, making BECCS potentially a “negative” emissions technology.

But a growing body of research casts doubt on whether either bioenergy or BECCS are scalable climate solutions—or solutions at all. Those doubts are reinforced by findings from the first dynamic, integrated global modeling of BECCS by the researchers of Climate Interactive:

Click through to see the entire paper.

2) Why direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) is not scalable and ‘net zero’ is a dangerous myth

As global emissions have soared to 50 billion tons (Gt) of CO2 equivalent, carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies have generated great interest. The three most widely analyzed and modeled are direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS), which pulls CO2 directly out of the air and stores it underground; planting trees; and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, whereby growing biomass removes CO2 from the air and a CCS system on the bioenergy plant could permanently bury it.

In theory, by combining deep emissions cuts (achieved by substituting carbon-free energy for fossil fuels) with a scaled-up CDR effort, we could bring total emissions down to “net zero.” But as other white papers in this series have explained, scaling tree planting faces major challenges, and scaling BECCS is impractical and would speed up global warming this century.

Click through to see the entire paper.

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How Many Dead?

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Does it matter that everyone across the world knows how many people are dead when some deadly disaster happens, as the event unfolds? Does it matter at all that as the death toll of an earthquake, train wreck, or mass shooting solidifies, that everyone is informed, repeatedly and at short intervals, of the ever changing death count?

I think it does, but for subtle reasons that I’ll address below. But I might be wrong, and if you think this is just prurient voyeurism, and maybe even offensive, you may be right about that, and I’m not going to argue with you. Either way, I am interested in the process of counting the dead at the outset of such disaster, because it is a window into how our system of sharing information operates, and how the press itself operates. If it turns out that we agree that counting the dead as they are still dying, or very soon after as they are still being found, is important and legitimate, then we really should have best practices for doing so, rather than what we have now.

As the (onging as I write) mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine of 2023 unfolded, the number of dead soared to 20, and most notably, the number of wounded soared to 60, before both numbers came down to about a dozen or so each. I still don’t know what the numbers are. The press has been reporting “at least 13” for the last 10 hours or so, which I find astonishing. Do they not know yet? Or are they being told by hospital people, subtly, that there are individuals on life support and they are just waiting for the families to give the nod? In any event, I cannot explain why the numbers changed so dramatically in this case, but I can tell you a story about a disaster that happened several years ago in which the number of dead soared to well over a dozen, but in reality, was always exactly 3, and known to be that number from the moment authorities arrived on the placid and un-confusing scene.

It was Saint Paul, Minnesota, in April of 2004. Four teens found their way past the barrier built to secure an old mine in the high bluff over the Mississippi River, in a suburban neighborhood. The horizontal mine shaft is part of a complex known as the “Wabasha Street Caves.” They are not caves. They are mines from early in the state’s European history, dug by the corporate ancestor of 3M, and never filled in or properly secured after they fell out of use. Some of the caves have been upgraded to use as commercial facilities for parties and tours, the value of this use enhanced by the elaborated and hyperbolized history of the caves as gangster hangouts and as haunted venues. But some of the caves are just holes not comfortable or useful for these purposes, and these have supposedly been secured by capping off the entranceways.

These four kids had a way pas the cap, and on that April day in 2004, went into one of the caves, built a fire, and three of them died of carbon monoxide poisoning. A fourth was sickened, but escaped, and went to get help.

The cave was probably about two thirds of the way up a steep heavily vegetated bluff. If one were to remove a body from the cave and move it to an ambulance or coroner’s wagon, one would have to move the body down, not up, owing to the steepness of the upper third of the cliff. But the heavy vegetation meant moving very slowly. Just climbing as a fit climber from the bottom of the cliff to the cave would take a person some 30 minutes, but a bunch of fire fighters, police officers, or sheriff’s deputies moving a stretcher to which a shrouded body of a child is strapped would take a long time to reach the bottom. Hours, as it turns out.

The press was on the scene. Various reporters from the four local news stations were camped out in people’s back yards above the curved bluff, where they could barely see activity, including authorities moving with a stretcher. Others were camped out in various nearby parking lots in the commercial zone down on the flats below the bluff. They also could barely see through the vegetation if anyone was moving up or down the bluff. And, of course, some reporters could see the bodies being loaded into a vehicle, but for the most part the public and the reporters were all kept well back from the parking lot to which the bodies were being moved.

For some reason I decided to watch this event unfold from my office, with all four TV stations running either on a TV, a computer, or a radio. As I observed, I notated that reports of a body being removed would come first from a particular reporter, then some 15 minutes later or so, a different reporter, and after another 15 minutes or so, another reporter. Meanwhile, all the reporters were listening to each other. The process of removing a body and moving that body to the parking lot below took a long time, and no one was coordinating the information, so over time the total number of bodies being removed became a function of one or more reporters reporting that they could see a body, with those reports happening in a short period of time, separated by long periods of no reporting, but a lot of yammering about earlier reports echoing among the various news stations. Every cluster of observations was counted as a body, even though one body’s movement was triggering between two and four clusters of reports.

So every kid got counted about four times, causing the death toll to creep up to about a dozen. It stayed that way for most consumers of the news until much later that night or the next morning, when authorities reported the number of three dead.

I would wager that something like this happened in Lewiston. In a chaotic environment, with reporters and witnesses both providing information and hiding out at the same time, some, perhaps many, of the dead were counted more than once. This way 13 got to 20. I suspect the injury counts were from garbled information from hospitals and treatment centers. Three hospitals hear that there are a total of 20 injured people, but that count is for all the hospitals. Reporters hear “20” three times and gets 60.

We know people can’t count. Have you ever been at a four-way stop with five cars at it? Then you know people can’t count. Reporters are not hired due to their ability to handle numbers, but you would think editors and producer would know by now that these numbers are always garbled.

And I think getting it right is important. Roughly concurrent with the Lewiston tragedy is the ongoing analysis of a missile strike in Gaza, where the number of dead killed in an explosion at a hospital went from 500 and climbing to 300 then, according to one source, 50. This is all tragic no matter what, but 500 would have been equal to a third of the number of Israelis killed a couple of days earlier by Hamas, while 50 is yet another Israeli air-strike on an occupied building. Politically, this matters a lot.

So why does the immediate as-it-happens death count matter? It might not, but there are a few possible reasons it does. One is the basic principle that everyone wants to know everything all the time; telling the press to not be an immediate conduit of information for one thing may be the first domino in a series of domino falls that are not good. Another is that there may be agents that need information right away and act on it. I’m sure that hospitals and such have phone trees to call people in during a disaster, but I can also imagine a hospital worker, a nurse, or an ER doctor hearing about a disaster in their geographical area and, learning that the number of casualties is high, heading towards their workplace even before a possibly semi-broken or otherwise ineffective call to action happens. Politically, is is important that a broad range of people know about some bad thing some bad person is doing. Potential donors to disaster relief have to get softened up as soon as possible. That sort of thing.

But at the same time, having the information be inaccurate can cause more problems than it can solve. This argues for best practices to be developed and deployed. There should be a manual for counting the dead. At the very least, officials need to change the way they prioritize the transmission of information. Instead of focusing on presenting laundry lists of agencies involved (which is the de rigueur yammering we tend to hear these days) perhaps they should focus more on accuracy in describing what is happening. It seems that at present, there is not much of a focus on accuracy.

When I started writing this post the death toll in Lewiston was “13 or more” according to NBC. As I finish it (a couple of hours alter, having had an interruption or two), the same news agency is saying “at least 18.”

The suspect remains at large.

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A few words by Jon Lovett on the Hamas attack

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Every now and then, Jon Lovett issues a rant that I want to put down in a special font and post on the wall. Since I live alone, that normally does little good. So instead, I’ll direct you to one of these extended takes preserved on YouTube. This is Lovett’s on what is going on in the Levant, and I think it is worth listening to. (The rest of the podcast is great too but you don’t have time for that).

See esp after 7:10

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What kills our children?

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Help me fill in and expand these data. Put additions or corrections in comments. Thanks.

Table 1
Time Period Chief cause of death for our kids
 Colonial America Epidemic contagious diseases
 19th Century and Early 20th Century Chronic and endemic contagious diseases 
 Lat 20th Century through early 21st Century  Accidents
 Recent Years  Gun Nuts, Republican Legislators, MAGA Judges, and the NRA 

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Drawing from Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on health and well-being showing people eating what might look like yoghurt but is actually cheese.

Yoghurt and a New Year’s Resolution

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Happy New Year on this New Year’s Day.

I was going to make a New Year’s resolution to procrastinate more, but I didn’t get around to it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on this yoghurt project. A while back I asked my Facebook friends how they make yoghurt. This was in prepration for buying a device, if needed, to do so. (I ended up getting as small, half-gallon size, Instant Pot*) The answers were amusing. I think there is a yoghurt-making culture (pun possibly intended) in which newcomers are challenged much like new Navy recruits are. “Bring me a bucket of steam, sailor.” It was suggested than an oven works great as a yogurt machine (that from a physicist whose day job is making tiny black holes in Europe). It was suggested that leaving milk in a pan on a radiator would be fine. And so on.

Anyway, I’ve developed, through a combination of scientific methods and systematic application of new folklore, a method of making yoghurt that works really well, and that has useful variations. I’m slowly working on a YouTube video giving details, and I’ll let you know when it is done.

Meanwhile, I just did these calculations. I have two ways of making the basic yoghurt, one using organic ultra-pasteurized milk, the other using off the shelf regular cheap milk. Then either of these two versions can be used with or without fruit, which turns out to be pretty expensive (the fruit, that is) where i live. And by “fruit” I mean “blueberries” because what other kind of fruit would one possibly want to put in yogurt?

Using Chobani yoghurt in small individual containers as a baseline (they are $1.69 each in my local store, when not on sale), priced out per gallon, I get:

$40.82 Store Bought Individual Containers:
$30.58 Homemade, Organic Milk, with Fruit
$21.49 Homemade Cheap Milk with Fruit
$15.08 Homemade, Organic Milk, No Fruit (with flavoring)
$5.99 Homemade, Cheap Milk, No Fruit (with flavoring)

Quite a range! The “Cheap Milk” needs an extra pasteurizing step at home, so it takes longer. I did not factor in energy use, but driving to the store vs. heating something up probably offset each other. It takes very little time to make the yoghurt, and the homemade tastes better. Add 20% to the cost of the homemade if it is strained to make it thicker, which is something I do about one in five times, just for fun, and to get the whey for making soup.

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How fusion works, and are we there yet?

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Thought experiment: You know these two people who are perfect for each other and should marry and form a single household. They don’t know each other yet, but the truth is, the moment they see each other they will fall in love and instantly want to be married forever. Unfortunately, they are living in two very different places. One is living on a permanent human colony on Mars, the other is in a penitentiary in Russia serving a life sentence. Getting them together is going to take a LOT of work.

But, once they are together, they will, as stated, become one, in a sense. So, you organize a meet-up. It is in a house that is for sale, and the real estate agent and closing company are there, so all it will take for the happy couple to have their own abode is a simple signature. There is a wedding officiant in place, and witnesses, so their marriage will also be a single set of signatures. You have had two moving companies go to each of their respective earthly US-based households where all their stuff has been stored, and that stuff is now ready to be moved into the house. All you need to do is get them into the living room of this house.

Then, you get them together. Never mind the details as to how, but it works. They fall in love on first sight, instantly sign the marriage certificate and the closing documents, and movers move all the stuff instantly into their new home. They are now inseparable.

But there is one problem. They have two blenders.

And two Crock-pots, and two electric can openers, and two couches and … well, it goes on and on. If two households are going to merge, some stuff has to go.

Now, take yourself out of that quaint and seemingly improbably metaphor and imagine that when they pack up all the stuff that is duplicated to bring it to Goodwill, all that physical material turns into energy, with the formula predicting the total amount of energy being E = MC2, where M equals the combined mass of the extra blender, extra couch, extra everything else.

There are two sets of forces relevant to nuclear fusion. One is the set of electrostatic forces that keep atoms from getting too near each other. Without that energy there would be nuclear fusion going on all the time. This repulsing energy is the problem in our parable of lack of propinquity, with one of our ideal couple being on Mars, the other being in a Russian prison. These two people are not going to get near each other unless those overwhelmingly difficult problems are solved. The nuclei of two atoms are not going to get near each other unless the electrostatic forces are somehow overcome.

The other force is the strong attractive nuclear force that causes protons and neutrons to bind together in the nucleus of an atom. All you need to do to get this attractive force, represented in our parable by love at first sight, to combine the atomic bits is to get the nuclei near each other, nearer than the electrostatic forces would normally allow. There are a few ways to do this. In an ideal world, you just push them together using some sort of magic pushing wand, but such a wand does not exist. The way the Lawrence Livermore lab does it is to heat the atoms up using lasers, so they are bouncing around so much that kinetic energy pushes some of the nuclei nearer than electrostatic forces would usually allow. The above outlined parable could have used, instead of overcoming the impossible distance to bring the couple together in their future living room, the dance floor of a techno-pop rave. (But there would be other problems with that analogy.)

Forget about the needed energy for a moment, and just think about the atoms/people and their stuff. The atoms are made up of protons and neutrons, and when they are combined, there has to be just the right combination of protons and neutrons or else the fusion of two nuclei will not have an extra blender. There are some combinations of neutrons and protons that will take in energy rather than put out energy. Starting at the lower end of the Periodic Table, most combinations, if you could get them to happen at all, would put out energy (extra blenders and Crock-pots), until you get to a certain point, then the atoms if combined would take in energy. Certain combinations, given important measures of the electrostatic forces and the makeup of the atomic nuclei, would be easier to make happen, and others are more difficult. The details are very technical and very weedy. Suffice it to say that decades of research indicates that a certain combination of Hydrogen atoms, including different Hydrogen isotopes (different isotopes have slightly different bits in the atomic nuclei) can work, while others not so much.

Hydrogen, the lightest element and simplest atom, normally has one proton in its nucleus, and one electron. Since electrons often interact with the rest of the world by taking short or medium length trips to visit other atoms, a hydrogen atom is, essentially, a proton that at any given moment may have a sort of open relationship with an electron somewhere. Deuterium is a form (isotope) of hydrogen that has the usual one proton plus one neutron. It is heavier than regular hydrogen, and is a stable (not radioactive) nucleus. It is also very rare. Something like one in ten thousand hydrogen atoms is Deuterium. Tritium is a special form of hydrogen that has one proton and two neutrons. This isotope of hydrogen is radioactive. As a radioactive element, it decays into an isotope of Helium (releasing beta energy) with a half-life of about 4,500 days. Tritium is produced in a nuclear reactor (there are several methods) so it can be used for scientific purposes.

The fusion reaction that works best is combining a nucleus of deuterium, with a nucleus of tritium. The result is the nucleus of a helium atom (two protons and two neutrons). So, one neutron and one proton plus one neutron and two protons equals two neutrons and three protons, but the helium atom does not use that extra proton.

That extra proton is the extra blender, except it is not a blender, but rather, energy. (I’m oversimplifying here a little. Some of the energy is alpha radiation, some of it is in highly energetic extra neutrons which are captured to heat up an appropriate substance). The amount of energy released from one such reaction of just the two hydrogen atoms is about 1.9516042893337081e-19 horsepower. Obviously, in an actual fusion reactor, gazillions of atoms would be combined every second. The extra energy produced in in the latest experiment at Lawrence Livermore was about enough to bring five gallons of tap water to boil. In an actual fusion power plant, the energy produced by fusion would be used to heat a metal or liquid, to run a turbine to produce electricity, with some of the waste heat inherent I this process (close to half) possibly being put to some use as well.

The radiation produced from a controlled fusion reaction is short lived, and/or will affect only a small amount of material which is easily handled. The reaction does not produce any radioactive material with a long half-life, or that is toxic (both of those problems result from fission nuclear reactors of which we use many to produce electricity). In theory, deuterium can be “mined” from water, and this is fairly routine. Tritium is produced from nuclear reactors of the common fission type, so when people tell that using fusion reactors to produce electricity at a commercial scale does not produce long lived nuclear waste, check your wallet. The tritium production required to feed a large scale fusion industry will require fission reactions, which do produce this waste.

Prior to the latest Lawrence Livermore success most experts, when asked how long the first fusion reactors might be available, have typically said “I don’t know, maybe 40 years.” With this result, the best realistic estimate is probably the same. The big problems with using fusion have yet to be addressed. The reactions that happen now are ephemeral. The reaction itself can ruin the equipment used to make the reaction, and produces a byproduct in the form of extra elemental dust, as it were, that has to be removed instantly or it ruins the reaction. These are surmountable problems, but not easily fixed, and the short term prognosis is uncertain at best.

To understand what has to happen next, let’s try another analogy. Let’s say it is 1800, and someone has the idea that blowing up gasoline or kerosene can move something. So they invent a “car” that has cans of flammable liquid in the back. When a can is ignited, it causes a great explosion that moves the car forward a little. That kind of works, but is not ideal. The better way would be to somehow control the explosions, capture the kinetic energy, and convert that into turning wheels. In theory, that is possible, but in 1800, the metals, electronics, and other materials needed to accomplish this are about a century away in the future.

Today’s fusion experiment is to a future fusion reactor what a 19th century steam-punk submarine imagined in fiction is to a modern attack submarine. Quaint, at best. But hopeful and very cool. Cool in a hot-fusion kinda way, but cool.

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Mind Blown

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Dear Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass,

You are reading this in 1860, and I’m writing from over a century into the future. Just wanted to let you know that there is a run-off election for US Senate in Georgia (we now elect our Senators with a popular vote in the state). One of the Candidates is a Democrat (he is the incumbent) and the other is a Republican. Both are Americans of African descent. The Republican stands with all of the values of his Republican party, and that is how we know he favors White Supremacy, anti-Semitism, limiting the right to vote, and the destruction of Democracy in America. The incumbent (the Democrat) strongly favors democracy, equity, and wide spread voting rights.

As it stands, the chance of either of these men winning this election is best estimate as 50%-50%.


Person from the Future

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Messaging vs. Marketing

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As an active activist, I’ve seen this countless times: An effort is being made to bring more people in to the fold. So there is a meeting of some kind and there are new people there. All great so far. Then, one of the new people confesses that they are a “marketing” person, which usually means they have a minor or major in some related area, and work for a big corporation in the marketing department. This is taken by almost everyone else in the group as a signal that this new person is now in charge of the group’s “marketing” by which everyone really means “messaging.” Since some of the most important things a volunteer issue or political activist group can do are a form of messaging (protests, letter writing, speaking to electeds, etc.), this new person, that no one knows, is now in charge of everything. In 98 out of 100 cases this person, who probably understands what just happened better than most of the other folks at the meeting, is never seen again.

One fallacy that this parable exposes is the equivalence between marketing and messaging that many people incorrectly assume. Both do start with the letter “M,” to be sure. And there are certainly overlaps in methodology. But the objectives are very different.

Typically, in activism, messaging has one of two flavors. 1) To convince people to believe something they currently don’t believe. Sometimes this means changing people’s minds, other times it means brining people into a way of thinking in an area where they don’t currently have an opinion. This is very difficult and usually unsuccessful on a person-by-person basis. A blindingly successful activist messaging campaign run over a few months changes a couple-few percent of people’s likely behavior (as in voting for a particular candidate or preferring a specific policy). 2) To get those already in your camp to take some action, like a GOTV (get out the vote) campaign, or a petition drive.*

Marketing has a very different goal. Most marketing can assume the target audience is already leaning towards a decision, perhaps to buy a particular product. Marketing is there to get the person to pick your iteration of the project, as opposed to some other company’s version. Maybe the plethora of car ads helps make more members of the general population want to own a car, but the marketing department at Ford Automotive is mainly trying to get the prospective car buyer to pick an F-100 over a Chevy truck.

If marketing methodology were applied to many messaging needs, it might be like trying to get someone who is about to buy an apple to go to the other side of the grocery store, and instead of buying an apple, pick up some milk. Or, instead of buying the amazing, giant, wonderfully colored, flawless Crispois Wunder-Apple just invented at the University of Podunk and that everybody is eating these days, picking up a bag of locally grown, small, less interesting apples because it is better for the planet.

In other words, marketing is usually getting someone who already wants to do a thing to actually do the thing they want to do, with you instead of with some other company. Messaging in the activist community is often getting someone to act either contrary to, or simply not in accord with, their pre-existing prurient tendency.

Internally, methodologically, marketing and messaging share a lot of research, process, etc. But so do civil engineering and mechanical engineering. But you wouldn’t hire a traffic engineer who would be great at configuring a busy intersection, to design a new helicopter. Just as importantly, that engineer would not want that job. This is why the new volunteer who confesses to be in marketing excuses themselves to go to the bathroom and is never seen again…

  • I’m assuming your petition is a legal or procedural step towards some goal, and not just some useless on-line petition somebody made up.

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The Great Train Robbery, Michael Crichton, Giving The Devil His Due

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Never let it be said that I won’t give the devil his due. Though I prefer not to.

Michael Crichton wrote some very good books, some even being candidates for having been transformative in the world of science fiction. He wrote Jurassic Park, after all. When I was in graduate school, Crichton was on Harvard’s “Vising Committee,” a gaggle of notables with some credentials who provided wise oversight of things, including the Anthropology Department. During this time he hob-knobbed with my at-the-time best friend and advisor, Irv Devore, so I was constantly hearing stories of how movies are actually produced, and such. Crichton was generous. A significant part of my graduate research in what is now PR Congo was funded from his pocket (along with NSF and other funds). Interestingly, the field site I worked at, along with a few dozen other scholars over a decade and a half, seems to have served as a model for much of the framework for his novel, Congo. We did not have odd apes or missing jungle fortresses, but we did experience many of the other things in the book, including pods of hippos, corrupt customs officials, and various jungley things.

Then Michael started to go off the rails. Or, maybe, he started to rub against a third rails (racism and feminism) and caught on fire, in a bad way.

In 1992, he wrote Rising Sun, which touched on Japanese-American relations and contrasts. It might have been insightful and informative. Or, maybe it was a poke in the eye to an emerging American liberal philosophy. One review noted, “he knew Rising Sun would ruffle feathers, the vehemence of the reaction came as a surprise. Challenges to his economic premise – that the United States is selling its future to Japan – failed to materialize. Instead, he recalls with obvious annoyance, American critics labelled him racist.”

We now, of course, recognize eye-poking “I was only asking questions” racism for what it is. Looking back, it seems a little like Crichton helped invent that. Indeed, Crichton’s published response to this criticsm, noted in his AP obituary (oh right, should mention that: he’s dead), included “because I’m always trying to deal with data, I went on a tour talking about it and gave a very careful argument, and their response came back, ‘Well you say that but we know you’re a racist.'” The Wikipedia article on this book, from which I liberally steal the quotes I’m using, notes that “Crichton has gone on record as saying that he intended his novel to be a “wakeup call” to U.S. industry and that he is more critical of the United States than Japan.”

The movie Rising Son met mid-level reviews, and re-ignited the discussion of anti-Asian racism.

Then Crichton really stepped in it when he wrote Disclosure in 1994. This was in a way the reaction by the established patriarchy to the very very early days of the #MeToo movement.

An all too common story is that a man rising in the ranks of power has some sort of initial relationship with a woman, he then exploits her and tries to force her to do his bidding, possibly in a sexual relationship, possibly in a professional setting, or possibly both. This is one of the things HR rules were designed to address.

In Disclosure, Crichton takes this issue head on as the central theme of the novel, but he reverses the sexes of the protagonists, and ends up with the rising woman harassing the poor hapless man. Of course, that happens. But that is an unusual reversal. Unusual reversals are great material in a novel, right? So when Crichton dreams up this scenario for his novel, later made into a movie, he is just being a clever author, right?

Well, one reviewer would not agree with that:

Towards the end of my review of Rising Sun, I said, “Michael Crichton was kind of an asshole, right? I’m not off-base in saying that?”. With his follow-up novel, Disclosure, I can, without reservation, firmly assert that I think Michael Crichton was unquestionably an asshole.

Disclosure … tells the story of Tom Sanders, a department head for Digicom… Sanders’ hopes for a big promotion are foiled by the hiring of Meredith Johnson, an old girlfriend and, now, new boss. On their first day, she sexually harasses him. On her second day, she maneuvers him into being late for a big presentation and accuses him of sexually harassing her. What follows is a convoluted part-time techno-thriller … that is equal parts sermonizing condescension and sexist proselytizing about the evils of women in the workplace.

God. Fuck this book.

My memory of the reception of this book, and the movie made out of it, conforms to this review. (I quickly note that the current Wikipedia page on Disclosure does not fully grok this problem. Any Wiki-writers out there want to look into this?)

Then in 2004, he went and wrote State of Fear. This novel was structured as a sort of documentary, with graphs and data and footnotes, and is a clear and absurd counter-argument over the reality and importance of global warming.

State of Fear was widely criticized by the community of climate scientists, scientific organizations, and science writers. To give a flavor, I’ll quote my friend Chris Mooney:

In the end, State of Fear bears little resemblance to Crichton’s most successful sci-fi thrillers, like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain. Instead, it’s far more reminiscent of Disclosure, Crichton’s perverse attempt to address the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace by focusing on a case in which a woman harasses a man, rather than vice-versa. Similarly, in State of Fear the specter of a vast environmentalist conspiracy—a problem even less significant than sexual harassment of men by their female superiors—gets trumpeted while real concerns (climate change, for instance) get scoffed at. By the book’s end, one can only ask: What planet is Michael Crichton living on? Because this one is clearly getting warmer.

God. Fuck this book.

Crichton was not only on Harvard’s visiting committee, but he had been an anthropology major in my department, and his undergraduate senior thesis was to eventually turn into a novel, one I strongly recommend. That novel, Eaters of the Dead, was his 14th novel by most accounts, but it was really written far earlier as the thesis.

Published just before Eaters, was “The Great Train Robbery.” It is that novel to which I refer you now. The term “great train robbery” is confusing. There were more than one great train robberies. This one, the one in the Crichton novel, happened in England in 1855. Because the event, which really happened (and was known at the time as the “Great Gold Robbery”) involved the paraphernalia of burial of the dead, Crichton goes deeply into that practice as it was in the mid 19th century. The problem was, dead people regularly came back to life in those days, owing mainly to the preponderance of Type II errors in estimating a person’s live vs dead status. For that and other reasons, I found the novel really fun and interesting to read.

So all this leads us to this: At the time of this writing, and probably for about a day, the Kindle version of The Great Train Robbery is available cheap, for two bucks.

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Horror, Fantasy, History, Cheap Books

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Lovecraft complete collection*

H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Collection Kindle Edition is probably a amazing horrible book. Or, at least a book of amazing horror.

Lovecraft is classic. Racist. I would say he is misogynistic but his literature regards women as virtually non-existent so maybe it is hard to tell. I find his the craft of Lovecraft so offensive in this regard, but the love of his writing so abiding in the science fiction community, that I decided to re-write The Call of Cthulhu. My version is novel length, and the main characters are two women. The setting is the modern era and there are no benighted wild natives. I’ve written one chapter. It will be a while before you can read it.

In the mean time, get Lovecraft’s complete works and verify my assertions.

In cased you needed the Chronicles of Narnia* in Kindle format for nearly free, here it is.

Burry My Heart at Wounded Knee* buy Dee Brown is also cheap right now, maybe free depending on your account.

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Help flip the Minnesota Senate

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Minnesota is the only state with a divided legislature, and with “off year” election syndrome, it is possible that we will turn all red this November. As one of the few pro-choice island states in a sea of red misogyny, not to mention anti-climate change and anti-gay and anti-trans and all the rest of it, we need to not only stay not-red, but even better, get all-the-way-blue!

Help us please.

Go to the link below and make a donation. This donation will be divided among the dozen or so Democratic Senate candidates that still need to reach a certain small donation minimum to qualify for state funding. This will help one or two of them win, and that is all we need to take the senate!!! While individual donations to a candidate must be a certain size, make whatever donation you want (the larger the better!) and your donation will be automatically divided among the candidates in proper proportion.

So your $50 ()or $500) donation to this link will save America! In part!

Even $10. Whatever you’ve got. There is a deadline, so please do this right away. Must be done by July 18th.

Thank you for saving us all!

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Cheap books of interest to you, I suspect UPDATED WITH GREAT NEW BOOKS

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The Dark Tower I* by Stephen King.

The Sands of Mars* by Arthur Clarke!

Shalimar the Clown* by Salman Rushdie.

The book of unnecessary quotation marks* by “Bethany Keeley” on sale in “Kindle” format!

Also: Stephen Fry’s Mythos* (Ancient Greek Mythology Book for Adults, Modern Telling of Classical Greek Myths Book) is on Kindle cheap. Also the Marvel Encyclopedia*.

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