Quote of the moment: Hillary Clinton, on being a Cubs fan

October 26, 2011

Today is the birthday of Hillary Rodham Clinton, born October 26, 1948.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - Topnews image

Happy birthday, Hillary!

Without citation, Robert A. Nowlan’s Born This Day lists this as something Clinton said:

Being a Cubs fan prepares you for life — and Washington.

Quote of the moment: John Kenneth Galbraith pokes fun at conservative politics

October 25, 2011

John Kenneth Galbraith, BusinessWeek image

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Economist image

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

John Kenneth Galbraith
“Stop the Madness,” Interview with Rupert Cornwell, Toronto Globe and Mail (6 Jul 2002)

(I find this attributed to Galbraith at several places — where and when did he say that?)

John Kenneth Galbraith, in paper mache, by Frank Lerner, for Time Magazine cover February 16, 1968

John Kenneth Galbraith, in papier-mache by Gerald Scarfe, photo by Frank Lerner, for Time Magazine cover February 16, 1968

7 billion people on Earth?

October 25, 2011

Exponential growth’s potential to rapidly change the numbers of a situation tends to fall out of the thoughts of most people, who don’t see such things occur in daily life.

You should stop and think about this one for a minute:  World population will tip to over 7 billion people soon, maybe in the next week, but most assuredly by next spring.

A very large crowd in a stadium

Seven billion people? Really?  Are the concessions adequate?  The restrooms?

Joel E. Cohen wrote about the event in Sunday’s New York Times:

ONE week from today, the United Nations estimates, the world’s population will reach seven billion. Because censuses are infrequent and incomplete, no one knows the precise date — the Census Bureau puts it somewhere next March — but there can be no doubt that humanity is approaching a milestone.

The first billion people accumulated over a leisurely interval, from the origins of humans hundreds of thousands of years ago to the early 1800s. Adding the second took another 120 or so years. Then, in the last 50 years, humanity more than doubled, surging from three billion in 1959 to four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987 and six billion in 1998. This rate of population increase has no historical precedent.

Can the earth support seven billion now, and the three billion people who are expected to be added by the end of this century? Are the enormous increases in households, cities, material consumption and waste compatible with dignity, health, environmental quality and freedom from poverty?

(Joel E. Cohen, a mathematical biologist and the head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University, is the author of “How Many People Can the Earth Support?”)

We’re in for some dramatic shifts in concentrations of people, if not shifts in how we think of the world (thinking is always slower than reality).

While the bulge in younger people, if they are educated, presents a potential “demographic dividend” for countries like Bangladesh and Brazil, the shrinking proportion of working-age people elsewhere may place a strain on governments and lead them to raise retirement ages and to encourage alternative job opportunities for older workers.

Even in the United States, the proportion of the gross domestic product spent on Social Security and Medicare is projected to rise to 14.5 percent in 2050, from 8.4 percent this year.

The Population Reference Bureau said that by 2050, Russia and Japan would be bumped from the 10 most populous countries by Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I’m not ready, and neither are most other people, I’ll wager.  How about you?


Make plans now: Carl Sagan Day, November 9

October 25, 2011

Press release from the Center for Inquiry:

Carl Sagan Day: November 9 — Celebrate with us!
Event Ideas & Sagan Day Commemorative Posters

Carl Sagan Day Poster 2011Carl Sagan was a Professor of Astronomy and Space Science and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, but most of us know him as a Pulitzer Prize winning author and the creator of COSMOS. That Emmy and Peabody award-winning PBS television series transformed educational television and continues to affect the hearts and minds of over a billion people in over sixty countries.

No other scientist has been able to reach and engage so many nonscientists in such a meaningful way, and that is why we honor Dr. Sagan, remember his work, and revel in the cosmos he helped us understand.

Two years ago, CFI–Fort Lauderdale and other groups hostd the first Carl Sagan Day event in Florida.  It was a fantastic success and now individuals and groups around the world are planning their own tributes with science fairs, planetarium shows, teacher workshops, star parties, COSMOS marathons, and more—all to say “Thanks!” to Sagan and to bring his gifts to another generation of “starstuff.”

How can you celebrate Carl Sagan Day?

Whether you’re an independent skeptics group, an astronomy club, a science department, a researcher, a teacher, a student, or just a really big Sagan fan, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Sagan Day:

  • Host a COSMOS marathon—all 13 episodes are available for free at hulu.com.
  • Check out Sagan’s many books at your local library or bookstore using the thorough listings from WorldCat.org.
  • Enjoy the special collection of articles by or about Sagan, previously published in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.
  • Listen to Sagan’s last public address for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP) as replayed on CFI’s podcast, Point of Inquiry: “Wonder and Skepticism.”
  • Listen to Ann Druyan, writer, producer, and widow of Sagan, discuss life with Carl, his outlook on life, and his famous Gifford Lectures, “The Varieties of Scientific Experience,” also on Point of Inquiry.
  • Host your own apple pie baking contest (from scratch, of course).
  • Dress like Carl for a day!
  • Refresh your skeptic skills with a review of Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit.
  • Invite your friends over and try to convince them you have a dragon in your garage.
  • Take in a star show at your local planetarium.
  • At the very least, seek out a dark sky, look UP, and reconnect with the grandeur of the cosmos.

Let us know how you’re planning to commemorate Carl Sagan Day 2011 and we’ll add your event to our Carl Sagan Day Event Calendar to help spread the word.  Please email your event information to grassroots@centerforinquiry.net.

Great collection of posters, featuring Sagan, the Very Large Array, and quotes from the good doctor, here.

November 9 is the anniversary of Sagan’s birth, of course.

A turn of the page of history: “When will Arabs awaken?”

October 22, 2011

I just stumbled across this photograph, taken in October 2010, in Sirte, Libya, at the opening of the “Second Arab-African Summit.”

2nd Arab-African Summit, Sirte, Libya, October 2010

2nd Arab-African Summit, Sirte, Libya, October 2010

One source identifies this as an Associated Press photo (can I claim fair use here for the purposes of history discussion?).

I cannot identify all the leaders of nations in this picture, but there, on the front row we see what are the ghosts of history — at least, they are ghosts from our vantage point in October 2011, just one year later.

On the far left of the first row in the photo smiles Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, now resigned and fled the nation in the first big event of the sweeping broom of freedom we now call Arab Spring; next to him, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who today barely clings to power trying to negotiate his own departure after eight months of protests in his nation.  Dominating the center, in his flamboyant robes, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, killed yesterday in the civil war that brought down his 42-years of despotic government a few weeks earlier.  Gaddafi’s leaning post is now-ousted-and-on-trial Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Syria’s Bashar al Assad is happy he was not in the center of this group, and hopes that’s a good omen for him — though Assad did attend this event.

Syria President Bashar Al Assad at Sirte, Libya, African Arab Summit, October 10, 2010

Syria President Bashar Al Assad at Sirte, Libya, African Arab Summit, October 10, 2010 – photo by Kaled Desouki, via PRI

This historic photo above appeared as an illustration to an article by an Arab sociologist bemoaning the dwindling hopes of change in the Arab world, and asking the question:  “When will Arabs awaken?”  Dr. Mohammad Abdullah Al Mutawa’s article sounds prophetic, now.

When will the pages of history turn?  Soon, perhaps, and when we least expect it and when some have lost hope they will turn at all.

Can you help identify others in the photo?  Surely there are other photos from this meeting in Sirte, Libya.  What do they show?


Quote of the moment: Walter M. Miller, Leibowitz’s shopping list

October 22, 2011

Cover of Miller's Canticle for Liebowitz

Cover of Miller's Canticle for Liebowitz

“Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels—bring home for Emma.”

– Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

Bright idea day, October 21 – Edison’s demonstration of the light bulb

October 21, 2011

GE cartoon on Edison's light bulb, by Maki Naro

Cartoon by Maki Naro, for GE - Click for larger image

GE’s release said:

Perhaps there should be a bumper sticker: “If you love doing stuff at night without a kerosene lantern, thank Edison.” Okay, it doesn’t roll trippingly off the tongue. Still, today is the anniversary of Thomas Edison’s 13-and-a-half-hour test of the carbon filament lightbulb that made electric light a practical reality for the world. As we’ve discussed before, Edison was one of many inventors of the lightbulb, but his designs proved to be transformative for the technology. Maki Naro marked the occasion with a short comic (replete with Alexander Graham Bell, who’s hoppin’ mad).

Too commercial for classroom use?  Not with proper attribution, I think.

Meanwhile, earlier at the Bathtub:

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