Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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Cheap On Kindle: Vonegut and Marvel

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Cover of Galapagos by Kurt VonegutCheap: Galapagos* by Kurt Vonnegut. If you have not read this novel, just read this novel. Don’t deprive your Big Brain.

Cheap: Marvel Myths and Legends*: The epic origins of Thor, the Eternals, Black Panther, and the Marvel Universe, Kindle edition, by James Hill might be necessary background reading if you care about the origins of Thor, The Eternals, Black Panther, etc. If you use primarily a Paperwhite Kindle, I would not recommend this book. If on the other hand you typically read ebooks on your computer using an open-source ebook reader or the like, or a Kindle Fire*, then you may enjoy the graphics.

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Kolata’s Flu and Shutt’s Heart: Two great books cheap

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Flu* by amazing science writer Gina Kolata, is currently available cheap in kindle form. This book takes you up to a critical point in time in the understanding of the influenza pandemic of 1918. A lot of things were discovered after Gina’s book came out, so it is admittedly not current, but it is nonetheless a classic.

Also on sale, the very recently released Pump* by Bill Schutt (see also our Ikonoklast interview)

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Some really interesting (mostly science) currently cheap on Kindle books about dinos, brains, electricity, and one novel.

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The Complete Dinosaur, an edited volume.* Editors: Thomas H oltz, James Farlo, Bob Walters and Michael Brett, is currently on sale in kindle form, and it looks like a great value. I don’t know the book, but I looked through the sample and bought it.

In a completely different vein, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil* the classic best seller by John Berendt is also available cheap in kindle form.

The Spark of Life* by Frances Ashcroft covers electricity’s role in physiology, focusing on the human body.

And finally, What makes your brain happy and why you should do the opposite* by David DiSalvo, newly updated and revised.

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It is wrong to automatically assume an automatic rifle is the worst case scenario

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If you pull the trigger of a rifle and it shoots, and then you have to add a new bullet to shoot again, you might be firing an old fashioned weapon (that may not even be a rifle, technically) and you are probably a hobbyist.

If you pull the trigger of a rifle and it shoots, and then you have to wiggle a metal object around to move a bullet from a storage area within the firearm, into the chamber from which it can be shot, you are using a non-automatic rifle, and you might be living in the old days (as a soldier) or perhaps you are a hunter, because many excellent hunting rifles work this way. It is also possible that you are a sniper of some kind, depending.

If you pull the trigger of a rifle and it shoots a bullet, and then you pull it again and it shoots one more bullet, and so on, with no additional wiggling of metal parts, you are firing a semi-automatic rifle, or at least, a rifle in semi-automatic mode. This is the ideal rifle for accurately hitting several targets, and if the rifle has a couple of additional design features, it may be the ideal rifle for killing the maximum number of people in a given killing bout.

Like for instance, a classroom full of students or a church full of worshippers or a grocery store full of shoppers.

If you choose, instead, to fire a fully automatic rifle in that school room, church, or grocery store, then you are being a firearms idiot. A rifle on a fully automatic setting fires a lot of bullets all in a short time when you pull the trigger. Most of the bullets will miss their targets, and you will run out of bullets really quickly. The students, churchgoers, or grocery shoppers will duck out of the way, and then when you are out of bullets they will (hopefully) swarm you and rip out your liver.

In fact, an automatic rifle is not really designed, while in full-auto mode, to fire at targets, so much as it is designed to fill the air over and near a target.

Does this seem wrong to you? If so, that could be because you, as a non-gun nut, have fallen into a trap frequently set by gun-nut trolls.

You may ask, if a fully automatic rifle is not an effective means of killing school children, then what kind of rifle should I get for that job? (If you were actually thinking that, call 911 and turn yourself in.)

The misconception arises because non experts tend to put rifles on a spectrum, where on one end is the musket like firearm, in the middle are non-automatic and semi-automatic rifles, and at the far end is a fully automatic rifle such as the MG34, one of the earlier fully automatic war machines that could fire over a thousand bullets a minute. Clearly, the rifles on that high-yield end of the spectrum are best for a mass murder, right?

No, actually. Fully automatic fire is not for killing. It is for suppressing. Consider this scenario. Eight or so soldiers are advancing into a village they intend to occupy. A couple of them are carrying radios, or are medics, or in charge, or whatever. Most of them are carrying fully automatic rifles but set on semi-automatic, so they will be shooting one bullet at time. Two of them are carrying the same rifle, but set on full auto.

They are all hiding behind trees and rocks. The enemy is in sight, so if they advance, they will be shot at. So one of the full auto soldiers pulls out from cover an fires a burst of automatic fire in the general direction of the enemy, and ducks back down, while the other full auto soldier then does the same. They take turns doing this, and the enemy keeps their heads down because they are being suppressed. And maybe repressed too, depending.

Meanwhile, while these two are blasting thin air with lead, the other soldiers with the semi-auto settings turned on, don’t fire their rifles, but they run ahead to a better, closer location with a view of the enemy. The enemy did not see this because they were busy ducking. Then, a bit later, the semi-auto soldiers start picking off the enemy, one carefully fired bullet at a time.

The enemy backs off a ways, maybe one or more are wounded or killed, by they are hit by the soldiers firing one bullet at a time, and NOT by the “bam bam bam” fully automatic soldier.

So, when gun nuts* try to tell you that everything is OK because automatic weapons are not legal, only semi-automatic, you may want to tell them that you already know that the ideal killing machine in a school classroom, temple, grocery store, or nightclub is a semi-automatic assault style rifle, not an automatic weapon, and if you are using an automatic rifle, better set it on semi-auto mode to maximize the number of people you are going to tear apart with bullets.

*I chose the term “gun nut” to single out people who are not merely pro-gun, but rabidly so. Pro-gun people are not necessarily anti-gun regulation.

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The Three Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Natural Selection

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Natural Selection is the key creative force in evolution. Natural selection, together with specific histories of populations (species) and adaptations, is responsible for the design of organisms. Most people have some idea of what Natural Selection is. However, it is easy to make conceptual errors when thinking about this important force of nature. One way to improve how we think about a concept like this is to carefully exam its formal definition.

In this post, we will do the following:

  • Discuss historical and contextual aspects of the term “Natural Selection” in order to make clear exactly what it might mean (and not mean).
  • Provide what I feel is the best exact set of terms to use for these “three conditions,” because the words one uses are very important (there are probably some wrong ways to do it one would like to avoid).
  • Discuss why the terms should be put in a certain order (for pedagogical reasons, mainly) and how they relate and don’t related to each other.

When you are done reading this post you should be able to:

  • Make erudite and opaque comments to creationists that will get you points with your web friends.
  • Write really tricky Multiple Choice Exam Questions if you are a teacher.
  • Evolve more efficiently towards your ultimate goal because you will be more in control of the Random Evolutionary Process (only kidding on this third one…)

Continue reading The Three Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Natural Selection

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Spiritual and Physical Terror

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On January 6th, 2021, the Republcian Party attempted a violent coup d’etat. The attack resembled previous attacks on state governments, most notably in Michigan, but was carried out on a much larger scale. Security agencies in Washington D.C. were internally hampered as part of the Coup, but managed eventually to put it down anyway. Immediately after the failed attempt to overthrow the government, a second date, for a new attack, was announced by the insurrectionists.

Much of my political life is governed by the regular tic-toc of monthly board meetings in one or another organization. One of those monthly meetings occurred after the January 6th coup attempt but before the announced Republican coup 2.0 date. At that meeting, one of our members talked about verbal attacks and physical threats, including trespassing, damage to property, and invasion in to her home, made against her and her family by one of her Republican neighbors. Others had less frightening stories to tell, but serious concerns nonetheless. Everyone became worried. We went so far as to consider setting up a phone tree and a network of safe houses to which one might flee in the event of a local attack, in particular against people of color, since that seemed to be the trend among the White Supremacists that make up most of the Republican Party.

In short, we were terrorized. Mostly “spiritual terror” with a touch of “physical terror.” Continue reading Spiritual and Physical Terror

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Plymouth and Minnetonka MAGA Alert and Voter Guide 2021

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Block a MAGA Takeover of the Wayzata School Board

Our Senate District 44 is now overwhelmingly Democratic. All but one small precinct in SD44 votes reliably for DFL candidates.

But sleepy off-year elections are perfect for a minority takeover since so few people vote. All it takes is a fired-up base and an organized plan. This year, the MAGA folks are enraged and theyโ€™re well organized to dominate the Wayzata School Board, a “non-partisanโ€ body.

Republicans have recruited small teams of candidates to coordinate their campaigns in order to sweep the 2021 local elections in Minnetonka (council and mayor) and the Minnetonka and Wayzata school boards. Countering this well-organized plan will take fast, assertive action. Continue reading Plymouth and Minnetonka MAGA Alert and Voter Guide 2021

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On the census results and the new House Count

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The census results are in, and we now know which states gain and which states lose representatives to the United States House of Representatives (nickname: Congress, but it isn’t really Congress).

This is very complicated, way too complicated to trust most political reporters and their bone headed editors to properly explain to to the largely uninformed people what is happening. At least not right away.

Take Texas. Texas gains two seats. The reporting on this is, like, “Republican stronghold gets two more members of Congress! OMG there will be two more Republicans!!!!11!!” But no. Texas got two more seats because Texas grew in population size a tiny bit more than other states (but since Texas is huge, that small increase added up to two seats), but that growth was in people least likely to be Republicans. A fair redistricting would produce two more Democrats in Texas.

The new numbers are all the result of the same demographic changes that we are expecting to blue-up the country generally. If redistricting is done fairly, these plus ones and minus ones around the country are simply the jiggle on the jell-o of the demographic shudder caused by old white men croaking off at a reasonable rate while younger brown people step in to take their part of the Great Pie Diagram of population.

The important thing now is to find your state-wide redistricting activist groups, and support them. Do that right now, time is of the essence.

And, keep elections free, dammit.

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Black Vaccine Hesitancy and Tuskegee: A myth brought to you by MSM?

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It is commonly stated that Black Americans’ memory of the infamous and awful Tuskegee Experiment has induced a high rate of vaccine hesitancy. The hesitancy is there. One poll indicates that the average hesitancy rate for Americans is about 27%, but 26% among Whites and 35% among blacks. This has led observers who know about the Tuskegee experiments (read about them if you don’t know) to make the intuitive link, suggesting that Black Americans, in the light of Tuskegee and similar historical events, believe they are potentially in danger from the vaccine because those things happened then. This has even led some community leaders of color to amplify this idea.

However, this is likely wrong. Yes, sure, there are people making that link and thus making that particular decision. But a recent study (that I’ve not read but have on good authority) shows that people who have not heard about Tuskegee are more likely to distrust the medical establishment generally, and this distrust leads to vaccine hesitancy. I’m glad to hear this, because I was getting really annoyed about the Tuskegee link. People are not that stupid, to take a historical slight, single it out, and harm themselves and their family over it. The ease with with uncritical uncritical journalism has gone there is yet another example of systemic racism. Being distrustful of the medical establishment comes from inherent and demonstrable bias in that system, which does harm to people of color every day. And people see that, and know it.

I learned about this more informed perspective listening to Harriet A. Washington, author of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, who said “We’re dealing with an untrustworthy healthcare system. And we’re dealing with people’s reaction to that healthcare system, which is, unfortunately, a logical reaction” in “A Shot In The Dark,” an episode of the Codeswitch podcast.

You can too:

Oh, and finally: Get vaccinated everybody!

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