Quick Heads Up For Some Spooky Action At A Distance Talk

Posted July 30, 2014 by Tom
Categories: good books, Science, science writing, Self-aggrandizement

Tags: , ,

Late, late, late I am in getting this out to you, but I’m doing another webcast/podcast for Virtually Speaking Science today.

I’ll be talking to my MIT colleague, David Kaiser, who is a physicist and a historian of science in our Science Technology and Society program.  He’s also an excellent popular science writer, and we’ll use the hour today (and whenever you might choose to listen) to talk Higgs, Bicep2 and gravitational waves (did the very early universe inflate? Are there butt-loads of universes?  How freaking hard is it to make cosmological measurements?*).  And we’ll talk about his wonderful book How the  Hippies Saved Physics — about the Fundamental Fysics group at Berkeley and their engagement with quantum entanglement, Bell’s theorem, spooky action at a distance and the discovery that yup, the universe does behave that strangely…which is why we are now, almost 50 years later, thinking seriously about quantum computing, encryption and the like:  actual this-world technologies that exploit properties that Albert Einstein thought no properly behaved universe should exhibit.

An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby,_1768

David’s a great explainer — so the opaque shorthand above will become much clearer very soon.  We go on the air at 6 ET — half an hour from now.  Listen here live or later (also on iTunes — search for Virtually Speaking Science and or Levenson and Kaiser) — or join us as part of the virtual studio audience in Second Life, hosted by my favorite (as in, my childhood) science center, San Franciso’s Exploratorium.

*Spoiler:  Very, very hard.

Image:  Joseph Wright of Derby,  An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump1768

How Is This Not Manslaughter?

Posted July 28, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Guns, The Way We Live Now

Tags: ,

How?

William DeHayes was showing Hoover his gun collection. While he was showing her his .22 caliber revolver, it accidentally fired and shot Hoover in the head, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. [More at the Tampa Bay Times.]

Hoover died in the ER yesterday; the child she was carrying died with her.

This is, of course, merely the ordinary awful that necessarily flows from Second Amendment fundamentalism.  I’ll say one thing:  anyone who chalks an incident like this to the necessary cost of preserving freedom cannot be said to be pro-life.  If abortion by gun is OK by you…

In any event, the blunt fact of unfettered gun ownership and the celebration of a culture of the gun is that those most at risk of gun violence remain those who own them and their friends and family.  Put together the gun-suicides, “accidents” like these,* and shootings of intimate partners and or others known to the shooter, and you have well over half of all gun deaths in the US — a number which in total is essentially the same as those we lose to road accidents.

The fantasy of the gun? It’s all fun and games until the reaper lays hold of its victim’s cloak:

Hans_Baldung_-_The_Knight,_the_Young_Girl,_and_Death_-_WGA01179

There’s more.  Here’s the bit that I just can’t stand:

Police are still investigating the incident, but believe it was an accidental shooting, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

An accident? Not a charge of involuntary manslaughter?

Maybe that’ll come, but sweet FSM! You pick up a gun and shoot someone dead — even if you didn’t mean to — and that’s not a crime?

The NRA, ammosexuals, and all their enablers in politics and the media tell us that the term “responsible gun owners” has actual meaning.  It doesn’t, as this case demonstrates .  I’ll update this post if it turns out that Mr. DeHayes faces actual consequences for taking another person’s life, but until then, I’m going to vent:

Responsible means that whatever happens with your gun is your fault.  Period.  You accidentally discharge it and no-one gets hurt? How’s this:  big fine, confiscate the weapon involved, lose the right to bear arms for a year for the first incident, forever if you repeat.  Someone gets hurt or dies?  Jail. Civil liability.  Loss of gun rights for life.  That’s responsibility.

But of course, I dream.  That’s not how we roll.  Instead, we’ll just  water the tree of liberty with a newlywed, and celebrate life by burying her fetus — and wait (not long) for the next red harvest.

a disregard for human life while engaging in wanton or reckless behavior.  The state may be able to prove involuntary manslaughter by showing the defendant’s recklessness or lack of care when handling a dangerous instrument or weapon, – See more at: http://statelaws.findlaw.com/florida-law/florida-involuntary-manslaughter-laws.html#sthash.4lq9WNmn.dpuf
an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as DUI). – See more at: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/involuntary-manslaughter-overview.html#sthash.wd8fjq3H.dpuf
an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as DUI). – See more at: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/involuntary-manslaughter-overview.html#sthash.wd8fjq3H.dpuf
an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as DUI). – See more at: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/involuntary-manslaughter-overview.html#sthash.wd8fjq3H.dpuf

*Scare quotes because such shootings are not acts of god — the deer that darts across the road just at the moment when you have to swerve into a tree or take a 400 pound antlered rodent through the windshield.  They are the statistically predictable outcomes of handing guns out freely to a population in which only half of the folks are above average.  That is, even though there is no way to predict that Ms. Hoover would fall victim to this awfulness, we knwo we can expect some number per year or month of folks felled by stupidity, carelessness, and general fuck ups with a gun.

Image: Hans Baldung, The Knight, the Young Girl, and Death, c. 1505.

 

Stupid..and Smart

Posted July 25, 2014 by Tom
Categories: good writing, Republican follies, Stupidity, The Good Fight

Tags: , ,

Here’s a yin and yang post for your afternoon delectation.  I’m still trying to get some time to do a big honker post for y’all, but day job and a true 1st world problem — the start of a massive kitchen remodel on Monday — mean that I haven’t two thoughts to rub together.

So, given that we all need good stuff at which to foam at the mouth, I thought I’d just clip a couple of pieces to give us all a really good look at why its so much better not being a Republican.  Just imagine trying to defend this.

In an intensely awkward congressional hearing Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S government officials as representatives of the Indian government.

The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively. Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about “your country” and “your government,” in reference to the state of India.

Arthur_William_Devis_-_Emily_and_George_Mason_-_Google_Art_Project

“I’m familiar with your country; I love your country,” the Florida Republican said. “Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I’m willing and enthusiastic about doing so.”

Apparently confused by their Indian surnames and skin color, Clawson also asked if “their” government could loosen restrictions on U.S. capital investments in India.

Face, meet palm.

Head, meet desk.

America, meet your legislators.

Oh, and Florida? Thanks.  Thanks a lot. (Sorry Betty.)

On the other hand, sometimes you just get to kvell* when you read something at once smart and beautifully rich on snark.  Here’s Kareem Abdul Jabbar opining at Time.com on unionizing college athletes (an obviously good and just idea, IMHO):

new survey finds that 60% of incoming college football players support unions for college athletes. The horror! Were such unions allowed, our glorious cities would crumble to nothing more than shoddy tents stitched together from tattered remnants of Old Glory; our government officials would be loin-cloth-clad elders gathered in the rubble of an old McDonald’s passing a Talking Stick; our naked children would roam the urban wilderness like howling wolves, their minds as blank as their lost Internet connection. We would be without hope, dreams, or a future….

…Most Americans agree that the athletes are being short-changed. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll concluded that 51% of Americans believed that universities should be required to cover medical expenses for former players if those expenses were the result of playing for the school. A whopping 73% believed athletic scholarships should not be withdrawn from students who are injured and are no longer able to play.

But when it comes to these same student-athletes forming a union, an HBO Real Sports and The Marist College Center for Sports Communication poll showed 75% of Americans opposed to the formation of a college athlete union, with only 22% for it.

Why such a difference between wanting equity and supporting the best means to achieve it? Despite 14.5 million Americans belonging to labor unions, we’ve always had a love-hate relationship with them.

The Love: Unions can be like a protective parent arguing with an arrogant teacher over their child’s unfair grade. The Hate: Unions can be like a bossy spouse who complains about all the work they do for you while shoveling corn chips into their maw from the La-Z-Boy.

Our relationship with college athletes is much clearer. We adore and revere them. They represent the fantasy of our children achieving success and being popular. Watching them play with such enthusiasm and energy for nothing more than school pride is the distillation of pure Hope for the Future.

But strip away the rose-colored glasses and we’re left with a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

Go read the whole thing.  It’s righteous, vicious, and above all, smart.

Discuss.

*I’m guessing WordPress doesn’t do the Sabbath on Saturday.  It wanted to change “kvell” to “knell” — which is really not the meaning shift you want.

Image:  Arthur William Devis, Emily and George Mason1794 or 1795.

Reason Number Gazillion I Thank The FSM For The 2008 Election Result

Posted July 21, 2014 by Tom
Categories: bad ideas, Republican follies, ridicule, Stupidity, War

Tags: , ,

That would be that Lindsay Graham, the Republican senator who is totally not pandering for re-election.  The idea that this guy would have had any possibility of a role at the center of the national security and or foreign policy apparatus in a McCain administration should send jolts of terror through anyone who doesn’t think the war in Iraq has done so much good for the U.S. and the world.

Here he is talking to David Gregory, as covered by TPM.  His topic? The failings of those who actually do the hard work of trying to make sure that the US foreign policy has something more in its arsenal than the blow-shit-up option:

Easy enough to say I suppose.  Lots of places are in a bad way, and the news last week was flat out horrible.  But, as always, there’s the tricky bit to come. That ferocious interrogator David Gregory asked Graham what Kerry should have said about events in the Ukraine.  For some reason, this not exactly surprising query proved a bit more than Graham could coherently handle:

“One, he didn’t call Putin the thug that he is.

“And you’re ugly too!  So there!”

Laughing_Fool

I mean, seriously?  The way to advance the goal of constraining Putin is to say nasty things about him?  When, in fact, a US led effort to rally European nations to put real pressure on Putin is beginning to show force?

This is why someone whose strategic education seems to have come from games with toy soldiers should shut up and let the grown ups work.

But no:

He didn’t call for arming the Ukraine so they can defend themselves against rebel separatists supported by Russia,” Graham responded.

Because ramping up the deadliness of the conflict is exactly what you want to do at a moment when Putin’s own escalation has just dealt the Russian approach a terrible blow.  Graham’s demand makes sense if the only if you imagine that if you’re not shooting someone, you’re losing.

Again — thank the FSM that this clown has only a soap box to deploy.

Finally, the cherry on top:  Graham’s deepest complaint is that the present administration…well, let him say it:

“President Obama is trying to be deliberative. It comes off as indecisive. He’s trying to be thoughtful. It comes off as weakness,” he continued.

There you have it, folks. Why the current GOP can’t be allowed anywhere near the launch codes for the foreseeable future.  Heaven forfend that someone with life-and-death power should stop and think a bit about when and how to exercise lethal force.  Just go ahead and shoot, man!  Something — anyone! That way you won’t look weak…

…Instead, you will just become weak.  See, e.g., the way in which the shot-from-the-hip war-of-choice in Iraq has so strengthened the US position around the world.

Lindsay Graham is going to get his next six years in the Senate.  The country will be the poorer for it.  But it could have been worse — and yet may be, if we don’t ensure that the 2016 election consigns his worthless carcass to the green rooms and of the United States of Sunday Morning for another term.

Image: Netherlandish (possibly Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen), Laughing Fool, c. 1500

My New Favorite Mayor…

Posted July 20, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Equality, religion, Religious follies, The Good Fight, Two Parties -- Not the Same

Tags: , ,

…would be Her Honor Kimberley Driscoll, chief executive of the town of Salem, MA, now caught up in a  dispute with Gordon College.   Gordon is a Christian school with an educational mission it describes thusly:

The best foundation for Christian higher education is the narrative of Scripture, and the goal of Christian higher learning is love—for both God and neighbor.”

That love does not extend to all neighbors.

Thomas_Eakins_-_Swimming_(1895)

The college recently requested an exemption from President Obama’s LGBT anti-workplace-discrimination order, a decision that caught the attention of Salem officials.  In response, the city  ended a contract it had with the school to manage its town hall.

That caught the attention of, among others, Glenn Beck, who warmed up the usual suspects to object to Salem’s decision.   In a letter posted to her Facebook page on Wednesday, Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said her office had received more than 50 calls that day from supporters of Beck and “right-leaning” blogs result,  many of them…how to say this?…not what you would call civil:

Driscoll said the callers expressed “some patently offensive views regarding LGBT individuals.”

No surprise there. But what came next turns this from a conventional story of conservative/religious push-button rage that the exercise of the their first amendment rights were not without consequences into a lovely moment, courtesy of Mayor Driscoll:

So to fight back, she said she planned to donate $5 for every phone call to the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (nAGLY).

Hee!

You go, Madam Mayor.

Image:  Thomas Eakins, Swimming/The swimming hole, 1885

Too Dumb To Live: Meet The Pre-Darwin Award Contenders

Posted July 7, 2014 by Tom
Categories: bad ideas, Extinction, libertarian nonsense, ridicule, Stupidity, The Way We Live Now, Who thought that was a good idea?, Why Do They Hate America So?

Tags: , ,

I actually caught this phenomenon a couple of days ago (and was twitted on Twitter for being so late to the party), but the phenomenon of “Coal Rolling” is now an object of wonder and bemusement at a number of the usual suspects.

For those of you who have managed to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to this point without suffering the knowledge of this particular stupidity, here’s David Weigel to explain it to you:

Forty-five second YouTube clips don’t come any more American than “Prius Repellent.” It starts with a camera angled from the passenger side window of a truck, pointed at the namesake Japanese hybrid car. After 12 establishing seconds, the cameraman moves and points out the back window, where viewers can read the ominous decals:

←PRIUS REPELLENT→

At 23 seconds, the engine revs and the viewer finally learns what the arrows were pointing at. Smoke pours out of dual stacks, right in the path of the Prius, which retreats into the rear view. The truck’s passengers share a well-earned chortle.

That’s right.  These Real Americans™ pay good money to modify their vehicles so that they can run less efficiently and pollute more, because, you know, that’s how Hydrocarbon Jesus wants it.

I know, I know.  The good Lord must have loved assholes because he made so many of them.  But these folks are double-secret-probation cute that way:

There are videos of “hot babes” getting rolled on, and a mega-popular video (more than 3 million views) of an annoying Prius driver complaining about diesel. “She makes me want to do a John Force style burn out right in front of her,” observed one critic on DieselBurners.com.

The derp is deep here.  Let’s say you want to roll some of your own coal.  There are sites to help you do that.  Here’s one — complete with a bit of pure weasel DNA up front:

 

Disclaimer: This article has been published for entertainment/educational purposes only. We do not recommend you modify your truck in any manner for the sole purpose of soot/smoke production. Not only may excessively high EGTs cause engine damage, but these acts are having detrimental repercussions on our industry. Consider reading the article “Smoke Responsibly” for further information, including how you can help. There is a time and a place to roll some coal – don’t give the tree huggers any ammunition to support further emissions restrictions.

I’m trying to imagine the time and place…and too late re the tree huggers.  TPM reports today that this is (obviously) illegal as hell anyway.  But never mind, it turns out that there’s a way to roll coal the “right way”:

The best way to blow some serious black smoke is to go all out. Larger injectors combined with aggressive custom tuning will let you lay down some massive clouds of black smoke – the ultimate coal roll. Injectors increase the amount of fuel that can be dumped into your engine per injection cycle, while the tuning keeps the engine thinking it needs more diesel. Throw in a larger injection pump to keep fuel pressures high and add a water-methanol injection system to keep EGTs down and you have the perfect combination. With the flip of a switch, leave your challengers in a stream of thick black soot and then clean up the exhaust stream to keep the authorities happy.

I don’t know what’s most pathetic.  The idea of some strangers just trying to get from here to there as “competitors” — think of the terror hidden in that statement, the sheer gut-churning fear of the unknown — or the urge to spend the most possible money to spend more money doing nothing but half-burn all that $4-and-up diesel.

A lot of us liberals pointing and laughing at these assholes have noted that the whole idea is a way for the carbon-industrial-complex to screw more cash out of the credulous, but a lot of folks seem to have missed the other point.

Black_Country_–_Borinage

Partially combusted diesel is…no way to put this gently…not good for you.  Not at all:

Exposures have been linked with acute short-term symptoms such as headache, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, coughing, difficult or labored breathing, tightness of chest, and irritation of the eyes and nose and throat[citation needed]. Long-term exposures could lead to chronic, more serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and lung cancer.[11][7][8] The NERC-HPA funded ‘Traffic Pollution and Health in London‘ project at King’s College London is currently seeking to refine our understanding of the health effects of traffic pollution. Ambient traffic-related air pollution was associated with decreased cognitive function in older men.[10]

Mortality from diesel soot exposure in 2001 was at least 14,400 out of the German population of 82 million, according to the official report 2352 of the Umweltbundesamt Berlin (Federal Environmental Agency of Germany).

Since the study of the detrimental health effects of nanoparticles (nanotoxicology) is still in its infancy, and the nature and extent of negative health impacts from diesel exhaust continues to be discovered.

Obviously, the goal of the hardcore coal roller is to give angst and maybe a whiff of the nasties to the fearsome folks who presume to traverse America’s roads in a Prius.  But as videos like this one show — the most likely consumers of soot and other particulates produced by the deep need to f**k up one’s own nest are the folks who want to show the world how much smoke they can blow.

The wheels of Darwin grind slow…but very sure.

By the way — all of this can be considered a distant early preview of my conversation on Wednesday.  In this month’s edition of my rotating gig as host of  Virtually Speaking Science, I’ll be speaking (again!) with Naomi Oreskes, now a professor of the history of science at Harvard.  Naomi was my first guest on the show, back in 2011.

That’s when we talked about the lessons of her book (written with Erik M. Conway) Merchants of Doubt, on the ways a handful of Cold War anti-Communist scientists figured out how to sell lies wholesale, leading to the implausible success of a tiny handful of people in casting enormous doubt on the reality of climate change.

Now she and Larsen have followed that work up with a novella, The Collapse of Western CivilizationThis little work — it’s just fifty pages, not counting notes and such — imagines a future historian analyzing how 21st societies allowed them to fall victim to climate catastrophes that they/we knew/know are in prospect.

It’s a depressing work, and speculative, and the more important for all of that.  If we do go down the road of catastrophe as Oreskes and Conway lay it out, folks like our coal rollers will be a (small but exemplary) part of the reason why.

Tune in.  It should be a useful downer — and funny too.  Naomi is a hoot, the more so given the pathologies she studies

Image:  Constantin Meunier, Black Country–Borinage, before 1905.

My New Favorite Judge

Posted July 7, 2014 by Tom
Categories: American Inquisition, Conservatives, Credit Where Credit is Due, Law, quis custodiet ipsos custodes, Religious follies, Sex, Two Parties -- Not the Same

Tags: ,

Would be Bush 41 appointee Richard Kopf*, a member of the Federal District Court bench for in Nebraska.

Why?

Because of this:

In the Hobby Lobby cases, five male Justices of the Supreme Court, who are all members of the Catholic faith and who each were appointed by a President who hailed from the Republican party, decided that a huge corporation, with thousands of employees and gargantuan revenues, was a “person” entitled to assert a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate because that corporation was “closely held” by family members. To the average person, the result looks stupid and smells worse.

[h/t Talking Points Memo]

William_Hogarth_004

Judge Kopf elaborates:

To most people, the decision looks stupid ’cause corporations are not persons, all the legal mumbo jumbo notwithstanding. The decision looks misogynist because the majority were all men. It looks partisan because all were appointed by a Republican. The decision looks religiously motivated because each member of the majority belongs to the Catholic church, and that religious organization is opposed to contraception.

Kopf adds both in a disclaimer both truthful and politic that he is not saying that the majority in the Hobby Lobby decision were actually driven by the considerations that it really really looks like they were. But the point is made — and he adds the equally valid observation that there was no actual necessity for the Supremes to take the case in the first place. Such judicial passivism, he says, would have been better than this result.

In that context, the good jurist has the temerity to offer advice to his betters:

Next term is the time for the Supreme Court to go quiescent–this term and several past terms has proven that the Court is now causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the Court has the power to avoid. As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu**

To which I say, Amen and Amen.

*As the TPM piece linked above reports, Kopf achieved a measure of — fame is not quite the word — notice for an earlier blog post advising young women lawyers how to dress for court.

**I do love the link that Judge Kopf kindly provided for his less internet-meme-familiar readers to that last term.

Image: William Hogarth, The Court, c. 1758. You’ve seen this one before, I know. I generally try to find a new image for every post, but this one so perfectly captures the contempt I feel for the current Court that I just keep coming back to it. Sorry.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,610 other followers