Carl Sagan’s “foreboding” of a dumb America; too late to stop it?

August 9, 2017

NASA photo of Dr. Carl Sagan with a model of the Mars Viking Lander, in Death Valley, California. Or was it taken on Mars? How could we tell, if we lacked sharpened and practiced critical thinking practices?

NASA photo of Dr. Carl Sagan with a model of the Mars Viking Lander, in Death Valley, California. Or was it taken on Mars? How could we tell, if we lacked sharpened and practiced critical thinking practices?

Are we already too late?

In The Demon-Haunted World in 1995, astronomer and thinker Carl Sagan worried about the directions America was heading, intellectually, and what it could mean for the future. He wrote:

Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

Sagan had hope. His book’s full title is The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark.

Should we hold that hope today? Elections in 2016 demonstrated that false news does sway the electorate, superstition can overcome knowledge. Worse, too many Americans cannot tell the difference. In a time when millions of Americans profess to work to find “the way,” we confront those same people wandering aimlessly through American culture, apparently with little clue as to how far off the path of reality they are, or any real understanding of what “the way” would even look like. Their compasses operate on faith, not magnetism; their compass needles point whichever way they want them to point, with no fixed power to guide them.

Sagan didn’t write that long ago. A child born in 1995 just voted in her first national election — we hope. Perhaps she didn’t bother to register, and did not vote. What causes our national lack of motivation to even vote, to push our government in the directions we think it should go?

How do we remove the barriers to that motivation? is a more important question.

Was Sagan right? Are we doomed?

We have cause to worry, I think.

  • 58% of Americans eligible to vote, voted in 2016. While that’s near a recent high-water mark, it’s a paltry percentage compared to other democracies in the world. Apathy was highest in key states Donald Trump carried; Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but trailed President Barack Obama’s 2012 totals by 2 million votes, in those key states. 2016’s election was decided by people who did not vote.
  • While tensions run high in the Korean Peninsula, only about 36% of Americans can find Korea on a map. Most of those who can find Korea favor diplomacy to resolve tensions, not war. Who was the wag who said God gives us wars so Americans learn geography? (It was Rose-Belford’s Canadian Monthly in 1879, rephrased and repeated dozens of times by others.)
  • Flat Earthers? Oy.
  • Anti-vaccine movement. Chem-trails fearfuls. Climate change dissenters. Creationists. Moon-landing deniers. Racists. So-called non-racists who oppose immigration completely. Republican senators who imagined a tax cut for the wealthy would help working and poor Americans have better health. DDT advocates. “Libertarians” and so-called conservatives who fear “socialism” of the economics of John Maynard Keynes, one of the foremost capitalism defenders in economics.
  • Cuts to education. As a barometer, consider Texas, where 25 years ago the state provided 67% of funding for public schools. After decades of cuts, the state provides only 38% of public school funding in the 2017-2019 budget. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick touts the total as an increase.
  • Cuts to science. Trump administration proposals slash all science research dramatically, as if we already have cures for cancer and the common cold, and Alzheimer’s disease.

To be sure, we can find pockets of hope. Girl Scouts demonstrate great success with new programs to attract girls to careers in science, with special camps for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Boy Scouts have their own initiative. But the Texas legislature cut back on math, science and geography requirements for graduation. For every hopeful sign, there’s another sinister sign.

How can we tell civilization, and humanity, gain ground?

 

Pollsters for the New York Times asked 1,746 Americans to locate North Korea on a map. 36% could do it; many of the guesses are troubling, if not downright shocking. In the map above, from the New York Times, correct answers are marked in red, incorrect in blue.

Pollsters for the New York Times asked 1,746 Americans to locate North Korea on a map. 36% could do it; many of the guesses are troubling, if not downright shocking. In the map above, from the New York Times, correct answers are marked in red, incorrect in blue.

“Science as a candle in the dark” is a good image.

How can we provide light in the darkness, if we don’t have a candle, and we can’t find matches?

More:

The Tweet that piqued my interest tonight:

 

 

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Photography as an instrument of history: Ukraine’s Independence Square

February 21, 2014

Tweet from the Wall Street Journal shows, in very dramatic form, how photographs can be used to record history and current events, telling a story that words just cannot.

 WSJ Wall Street Journal - #Ukraine's Independence Square: then and now http://on.wsj.com/1d9q7IL  pic.twitter.com/vzqPKj79Cb

WSJ Wall Street Journal – #Ukraine’s Independence Square: then and now http://on.wsj.com/1d9q7IL pic.twitter.com/vzqPKj79Cb

In Ukraine, there’s an enormous difference between 2009 and 2014.  In five years, Kiev is a different city.

Do we attribute the differences to corrupt government, to the assault on democratic institutions, or to the movement to end the corruption and boost democracy?

It’s more impressive that I can show in a link here; at the WSJ site, the two photos are interactive — you can grab the middle line with your mouse and move it to see the damage in 2014.  Check it out.

Are there similar photographic comparisons for Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Venezuela, Brazil, China, Britain, the United States?  If you know of some, or if you have created some, will you share?


Boston University: Writing history, a guide

August 26, 2011

AP history classes worry about writing more than most history classes.  But we really should do more writing in history class, both as a tool to learn about history in the past, and as an exercise in actually writing history.

Searching for something else, I stumbled on a guide published by thBoston University’s Department of History.  It’s not dull at all, but lively, and therefore quite useful, even though it starts out in French:

Raison d’être

Good, clear writing is, for most historians and professional writers, more of a process than a God-given talent. It begins with a blank piece of paper (or computer screen) and ends with a clearly organized and persuasive argument
in the form of a research paper, a published article, or a book manuscript.

History as a discipline is in its essence the discovery and interpretation of signs of the past as well as conventions of how to cite such evidence. It thus combines research (the search for historical evidence) and the organization of data into a convincing argument. Historical writing is one variety of written expression which seeks to inform and persuade the reader through the use of evidence organized around a central thesis or argument.  Good historical writing is not merely description, though it may employ illustrations and appeals to the reader’s imagination.

AP history teachers may find it useful for their classes.  Students working on National History Day projects may find it useful.  You may find it fun to read.  Check it out:  Boston University Department of History Writing Guide (in .pdf).


Famine in Somalia: ‘This is a race against time to save lives’ | Need to Know (PBS)

July 24, 2011

About genocide and other political issues that lead to the deaths of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people:  We keep saying “never again!”  When is never?  There is famine today in Somalia.

Alison Stewart of PBS’s Need To Know:

This week, the U.N. declared a state of famine in parts of Somalia. Need to Know speaks with Adrian Edwards of the U.N.’s Refugee Agency about the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the region.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Video: Famine in Somalia: ‘This is a race again…, posted with vodpod

[2014 Update: Video expired, no longer available for streaming. Story and some details, here.]

More, Resources:


Memphis Public Library assembling history of 2011 floods

June 28, 2011

Here’s a good idea:  The Memphis Public Library is putting together an archive on the 2011 floods in the area, we learn from the Memphis Daily News:

St. Mary’s Senior Helps Library Build Flood Archive

St. Mary’s Episcopal School student Ellery Ammons is devoting her summer break to helping the Memphis Public Library & Information Center build an archive documenting the Mid-South floods of 2011.

Ammons, an employee of the Shelby Forest General Store owned by her parents, is also a Girl Scout, working toward her Gold Award.

Recognizing the need to document this year’s historic deluge, the high school senior decided to take on the tasks of soliciting, cataloging and archiving community photos to create the 2011 Flood Collection.

She plans to create a digital archive of flood photographs to provide future generations with an accurate record of the floods that ensued when the Mississippi and its tributaries overflowed in Memphis and the surrounding areas this past spring.

Library digital projects manager Sarah Frierson said she’s delighted to have the extra hands in the history department, saying the collection “will be a wonderful complement to the library’s existing Mid-South Flood Collection, which documents the floods of 1927 and 1937.”

The Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar Ave., is seeking photo donations to add to the 2011 Flood Collection. Donations, which will become part of the library’s permanent collection, can be brought to the history department on the main library’s fourth floor or e-mailed to Flood2011.Photography@gmail.com.

– Aisling Maki


Wegman Scandal: Attack on climate scientists based on shoddy scholarship

October 4, 2010

John Mashey assembled a massive document that nails down the case that bad science and politics make the complaints against scientists and the science that indicates global warming occurs, and can be attributed to greenhouse gases.  It is a scandal, though it’s unlikely to be reported that way.

Mashey’s entire paper — and it’s very, very large — is published at Deep Climate.

Mashey’s paper indicts staff work done for Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas — not that any of the voters in Barton’s district will let this major breach of ethics sway their votes, but those who want to vote against him can be gratified that they are on the moral side of the ballot.

Mashey wrote:

This report offers a detailed study of the “Wegman Report”: Edward J. Wegman, David W. Scott, Yasmin H. Said, “AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION”(2006).

It has been key prop of climate anti-science ever since. It was promoted to Congress by Representatives Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield as “independent, impartial, expert” work by a team of “eminent statisticians.” It was none of those.

A Barton staffer provided much of the source material to the Wegman team. The report itself contains numerous cases of obvious bias, as do process, testimony and follow-on actions. Of 91 pages, 35 are mostly plagiarized text, but often injected with errors, bias and changes of meaning. Its Bibliography is mostly padding, 50% of the references uncited in the text.  Many references are irrelevant or dubious.  The team relied heavily on a long-obsolete sketch and very likely on various uncredited sources. Much of the work was done by Said (then less than 1 year post-PhD) and by students several years pre-PhD. The (distinguished) 2nd author Scott wrote only a 3-page standard mathematical Appendix.  Some commenters were surprised to be later named as serious “reviewers.”  Comments were often ignored anyway.  People were misused.

The Wegman Report claimed two missions: #1 evaluate statistical issues of the “hockey stick” temperature graph,  and #2 assess potential peer review issues in climate science.  For #1, the team might have been able to do a peer-review-grade statistical analysis, but in 91 pages managed not to do so.  For  #2, a credible assessment needed a senior, multidisciplinary panel, not a statistics professor and his students, demonstrably unfamiliar with the science and as a team, unqualified for that task.   Instead, they made an odd excursion into “social network analysis,” a discipline  in which they lacked experience, but used poorly to make baseless claims of potential wrongdoing.

In retrospect, the real missions were: #1 claim the “hockey stick” broken and #2 discredit climate science as a whole. All this was a facade for a PR campaign well-honed by Washington, DC “think tanks” and allies, underway for years.

Now, if only Mashey had some e-mails stolen from Joe Barton, we could get some traction on the issue, eh?  ::wink-wink, nudge-nudge::

One may wonder what it will take to rehabilitate the skeptical side of the debate, to the point that they contribute more than mau-mauing.

Mashey’s paper makes that case that Joe Barton worked hard to pull off a great, hoaxed political smear, with a high degree of success.  Who will have the backbone to do anything about it?  Global cooling will proceed to the next ice age before any Republican shows backbone, I predict.

But, how long before the Fort Worth Star-Telegram or the Dallas Morning News picks up the story?

Other Texas bloggers?  Anyone?

It’s not an air-tight legal brief (I could quibble with some of the legal material), but in a better world, a world where politicians actually do good politics and public servants do public service, the House Rules Committee and Ethics Committee would be reading Mashey’s piece, and asking pointed questions.  U.S. attorneys in Washington, D.C., and the Northern District of Texas, would also be downloading Mashey’s piece, and puzzling it out.  Journalists in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Galveston and Houston in Texas, and Washington, D.C., and New York, would also be poring over the piece.  Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia would also be paying attention to it, if he were concerned about justice.

More (watch for updates):


Naked-eye star gazer Jack Horkheimer, dead at 72

August 22, 2010

Jack Horkheimer, the guy who worked for more than 30 years to acquaint people with the fine old tradition of naked-eye astronomy, died in Miami Friday.  He was 72.

Jack Horkheimer, America's Star Gazer - Photo by Bill Wisser

Jack Horkheimer, America's Star Gazer, at home in a television production studio - Photo by Bill Wisser, first published in Astronomy, January 2006

A short note appears in Sunday’s Miami Herald:

`Star Gazer’ host Jack Horkheimer dies

By ELINOR J. BRECHER, ebrecher@MiamiHerald.com

Jack Horkheimer, Public Television’s “Star Gazer,” died Friday afternoon of a respiratory ailment, according to a spokesman for the Miami Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium.

Born June 11, 1938, he was 72.

In an e-mail to staff, museum officials said they were “very saddened to have just learned that our resident Star Gazer, Jack Horkheimer, passed away today after being ill for quite some time.

“Jack was executive director of [the] Planetarium for over 35 years and was an internationally recognized pioneer in popularizing naked-eye astronomy. He was also a recognized media celebrity, often being the foremost commentator on all astronomy related happenings nationwide.

Horkheimer was best known as the creator, writer and host of public television’s “Star Gazer,” the 30-year weekly TV series on naked eye astronomy. Seen on PBS stations nationwide, “Star Gazer” reached millions of people, helping create a love of the stars for several generations of enthusiasts.”

Arrangements are pending.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/20/1785361/star-gazer-host-jack-horkheimer.html#ixzz0xJv6dDOq

Many of my best opportunities to watch stars come when I’ve far away from optics to improve the sighting.  Horkheimer’s practical advice on how to eyeball the sky delighted me from the start.

Horkheimer was a media guy, not an astronomer or scientist in any strict sense.  He was a great popularizer of astronomy.  Star Gazer may be the single most effective educational program on astronomy in history, by viewers and by total effect.

Checking his website, I note that he’s got, in the can and ready to broadcast, episodes of Star Gazer for weeks to come.

Here’s Star Gazer for the coming week:

More:


Beloit College’s list: E-mail already passé to freshmen

August 18, 2010

If they knew what “old hat” meant, they might say that e-mail is old hat — but today’s entering college class of 2014 doesn’t regard e-mail as modern enough, nor much of other technology as fast enough.

Beloit College, in Beloit, Wisconsin, began to publish its profile of the cultural world of entering college freshmen in 1998.  The Mindset List originally aimed to help Beloit professors understand the views of incoming freshmen, with some hopes of bridging the ever-widening Generation Gaps between faculty and students.

Among other things, the Mindset List highlights the importance of teaching patient scholarship methods to students who have astonishing access to electronic information, though not necessarily better access to real knowledge; students need to learn the difference between data and information, information and knowledge, and knowledge and wisdom.

The newest Mindset List comes as one of the list’s creators will retire, an interesting footnote in historic attempts to understand rates of cultural change affecting college-bound kids.  Beloit’s public relations chief Ron Nief created the list with Prof. Tom McBride, who teaches modern students about Milton and Shakespeare.  It is unclear whether Nief will be able to retire from compiling or interpreting the annual Mindset List.  O tempora o mores!

We might assume that Nief had a hand in writing the Beloit College press release on the 2014 list:

Beloit, Wis. – Born when Ross Perot was warning about a giant sucking sound and Bill Clinton was apologizing for pain in his marriage, members of this fall’s entering college class of 2014 have emerged as a post-email generation for whom the digital world is routine and technology is just too slow.

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. The creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references, and quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation. The Mindset List website at http://www.beloit.edu/mindset, the Mediasite webcast and its Facebook page receive more than 400,000 hits annually.

The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since “digital” has always been in the cultural DNA, they’ve never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. Dirty Harry (who’s that?) is to them a great Hollywood director. The America they have inherited is one of soaring American trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat.

Nonetheless, they plan to enjoy college. The males among them are likely to be a minority. They will be armed with iPhones and BlackBerries, on which making a phone call will be only one of many, many functions they will perform. They will now be awash with a computerized technology that will not distinguish information and knowledge. So it will be up to their professors to help them.  A generation accustomed to instant access will need to acquire the patience of scholarship. They will discover how to research information in books and journals and not just on-line. Their professors, who might be tempted to think that they are hip enough and therefore ready and relevant to teach the new generation, might remember that Kurt Cobain is now on the classic oldies station. The college class of 2014 reminds us, once again, that a generation comes and goes in the blink of our eyes, which are, like the rest of us, getting older and older.

Here is the list of 75 touchstones of cultural change guaranteed to give you twinges of your own aging, even if you were in the class of 2010:

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class of 2014—were born in 1992.

For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.”

4. Al Gore has always been animated.

5. Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.

7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend.

10. A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.

12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation.

14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.

15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways.

17. Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.

18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.

19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.

20. DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

21. Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, has always been with Soon-Yi Previn.

22. Cross-burning has always been deemed protected speech.

23. Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in cars.

24. “Cop Killer” by rapper Ice-T has never been available on a recording.

25. Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks.

26. Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.

27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

28. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown.

30. “Viewer Discretion” has always been an available warning on TV shows.

31. The first computer they probably touched was an Apple II; it is now in a museum.

32. Czechoslovakia has never existed.

33. Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.

34. “Assisted Living” has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always been an alternative to hospitals.

35. Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall.

36. Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.

37. Whatever their parents may have thought about the year they were born, Queen Elizabeth declared it an “Annus Horribilis.”

38. Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

39. Pizza jockeys from Domino’s have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes.

40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.

41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

42. Potato has always ended in an “e” in New Jersey per vice presidential edict.

43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

44. The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.

45. They have always had a chance to do community service with local and federal programs to earn money for college.

46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

47. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents.

48. Someone has always gotten married in space.

49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States.

50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps.

51.  Food has always been irradiated.

52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church.

53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn’t he?

54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy.

55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties.

56. They may have assumed that parents’ complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street.

57. A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney Fife.

58. Beethoven has always been a dog.

59. By the time their folks might have noticed Coca Cola’s new Tab Clear, it was gone.

60. Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48.

61. Presidential appointees have always been required to be more precise about paying their nannies’ withholding tax, or else.

62. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine.

63. Their parents’ favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies.

64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely.

65. They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus.

66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church.

67. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

69. The Post Office has always been going broke.

70. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping.

71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.

72. One way or another, “It’s the economy, stupid” and always has been.

73. Silicone-gel breast implants have always been regulated.

74. They’ve always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi Channel.

75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.

Beloit College ranks among the best small, liberal arts colleges in the U.S.  Beloit College is part of a consortium our family has some fondness for, the 40 colleges in the group Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL).  Every high school student should be aware of this group, and the methods developed to make application to several of these colleges easier (our son chose Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin).

This list highlights areas of potential ignorance teachers need to consider.  Notice there is little on the list about the Cold War, Vietnam, nor popular books.  The skew to technology includes an implicit skew away from some of the traditional ways we have transmitted culture to our children:  Newspapers, magazines, books, Broadway plays and musicals.  Even broadcast television is notable for the pop culture icons, and great changes in television viewing methods and habits.

The class of 2014 graduates a complete century away from the outbreak of World War I.  Their parents may not have known the administrations of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson — Richard Nixon and Watergate may have been learned only from history books, by their parents.

How much more distant is the class of 2018, who enter high school as freshmen this year — next Monday, in Texas?

More:


Progress run amok: No typewriters?

May 22, 2010

Pamela Bumsted sent the link to Boing! Boing!

The Writers Room is kicking out the guy with the last typewriter.

Writers Room logo on Facebook

Writers Room logo on Facebook

The Writers Room is a non-profit that offers cheap working space to writers.  In the old days, that meant a desk and a chair where a writer could use a legal pad and write longhand, or put a typewriter down to type a manuscript.

In 2010, there was just one guy left using a typewriter.  Everyone else had switched to computers.  Boing Boing said:

Greenwich Village’s Writers Room, a low-cost place for writers to rent workspace, has banned mechanical typewriters from its premises, giving Skye Ferrante, the sole remaining typewriter user the choice of switching to a laptop or going elsewhere. He’s not going to switch. Ferrante’s been using the Writers Room for six years, and is distressed at the news that he’s got to leave.

Skye Ferrante at his typewriter - now banned from the Writers Room

Skye Ferrante at his 1929 Royal typewriter - now banned from the Writers Room - photo by Hagen for New York Daily News

What’s this world coming to?

According to the New York Daily News (which probably has typewriters anymore only in its museum, if it has that):

“I was told I was the unintended beneficiary of a policy to placate the elderly members who have all since died off,” said Ferrante, a Manhattan native who’s writing children’s books. “They offered me a choice to switch to a laptop or refund my money, which to me is no choice at all.”

Ferrante was peeved, but not completely surprised.

A growing number of scowls had replaced the smiles that once greeted the arrival of his black, glass-key typewriter.

“The minute the sign came down, I realized there was antagonism from some of the new members,” he said. “They gave me an attitude when they saw me setting up the typewriter.”

Ferrante’s connection to typewriters runs deep. He owns at least five of the old-school machines, his devices of choice since his teens.

“There’s a different commitment when you know you’re making a mark on the page, when you strike a key and bleed ink on the page,” he said.

After being contacted by the Daily News, Writers Room officials told Ferrante he can continue working on his typewriter until the end of his term on June 30.
http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/05/20/2010-05-20_untitled__typewriter20m.html?r=ny_local&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+nydnrss%2Fny_local+%28NY+Local%29#ixzz0odMP9rdB

Heck, they might as well ban pens, pencils and paper.
Progress is okay.  This time, though, they’ve taken it too far.


Blasphemous prayer in Texas

May 21, 2010

One might have thought it improbable, if not impossible.

Texas State Board of Education Member Cynthia Dunbar, in a parting shot, concedes the grounds upon which a challenge might be made to the gutting of social studies standards she wishes to accomplish today.  Is there any doubt her intent is solely religious?

Tip of the old scrub brush to the Texas Freedom Network, for capturing this event for history.


Kicking U.S. butt even when we’re trying to study their language

May 10, 2010

Who gets the most out of this exchange?

“This country doesn’t value teachers, and that upsets me,” she said. “Teachers don’t earn much, and this country worships making money. In China, teachers don’t earn a lot either, but it’s a very honorable career.”

Ms. Zheng said she spent time clearing up misconceptions about China.

“I want students to know that Chinese people are not crazy,” she said. For instance, one of her students, referring to China’s one-child-per-family population planning policy, asked whether the authorities would kill one of the babies if a Chinese couple were to have twins.

Some students were astonished to learn that Chinese people used cellphones, she said. Others thought Hong Kong was the capital.

Barry Beauchamp, the Lawton superintendent, said he was thrilled to have Ms. Zheng and two other Chinese instructors working in the district. But he said he believed that the guest teachers were learning the most from the cultural exchange.

“Guest Teaching Chinese and Learning America,”  Sam Dillon, New York Times, May 9, 2010, page A14.


Yellowstone earthquake swarm, 2010

January 25, 2010

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Earthquake swarm hits the area of the Yellowstone Caldera, around Yellowstone Park; wackoes start predicting the End of the World As We Know It, at least for West Yellowstone, Montana, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Unless they are Bobby Jindal, and they predict that the quakes didn’t even happen.

Oh, yeah — that was the series of earthquake swarms in late 2008 and early 2009, right?

Not exactly.  It’s happened again.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory logo
YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY INFORMATION STATEMENT
Thursday, January 21, 2010 2:26 PM MST (Thursday, January 21, 2010 2126 UTC)

Yellowstone Volcano
44°25’48” N 110°40’12” W, Summit Elevation 9203 ft (2805 m)
Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL
Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN

The earthquake swarm on the northwest edge of Yellowstone Caldera that began on January 17, 2010 continues.

PRESS RELEASE FROM YVO PARTNER UNIVERSITY OF UTAH SEISMOGRAPH STATIONS

Released: January 21, 2010 2:00PM MST

This release is a continuation of information updates building upon our two previous press releases on the ongoing earthquake swarm on the west side of Yellowstone National Park. The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports that a pair of earthquakes of magnitude 3.7 and 3.8 occurred in the evening of January 20, 2010 in Yellowstone National Park.

The first event of magnitude 3.7 occurred at 11:01 PM and was shortly followed by a magnitude 3.8 event at 11:16 PM. Both shocks were located around 9 miles to the southeast of West Yellowstone, MT and about 10 miles to the northwest of Old Faithful, WY. Both events were felt throughout the park and in surrounding communities in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

These two earthquakes are part of an ongoing swarm in Yellowstone National Park that began January 17, 2010 (1:00 PM MST). The largest earthquake in the swarm as of 12 PM, January 21, 2010, was a magnitude 3.8. There have been 901 located earthquakes in the swarm of magnitude 0.5 to 3.8. This includes 8 events of magnitude larger than 3, with 68 events of magnitude 2 to 3, and 825 events of magnitude less than 2. There have been multiple personal reports of ground shaking from observations inside the Park and in surrounding areas for some of the larger events (for felt reports, please visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/dyfi/). Earthquake swarms are relatively common in Yellowstone.

The swarm earthquakes are likely the result of slip on pre-existing faults rather than underground movement of magma. Currently there is no indication of premonitory volcanic or hydrothermal activity, but ongoing observations and analyses will continue to evaluate these different sources.

Seismic information on the earthquake can be viewed at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations: http://www.seis.utah.edu/.

Seismograph recordings from stations of the Yellowstone seismograph network can be viewed online at: http://quake.utah.edu/helicorder/yell_webi.htm.

Anyone who has felt earthquakes in the swarm are encouraged to fill out a form on the USGS Community Felt reports web site: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/dyfi/.

This press release was prepared by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory partners of the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Utah, and the National Park Service: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) is a partnership of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, and University of Utah to strengthen the long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake unrest in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Peter Cervelli, Acting Scientist-in-Charge, USGS

pcervelli@usgs.gov (650) 329-5188


The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) was created as a partnership among the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, and University of Utah to strengthen the long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake unrest in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

Here’s the map as of Sunday night, January 24, 9:10 p.m. MST (where the observatory is located); while this map may update here, you may want to click over to the observatory for more information (click on the map):

Yellowstone National Park Special Map, showing earthquakes in last week.

Yellowstone National Park Special Map, showing earthquakes in last week.

Eruptions has a short post on the swarmVolcanism, which covers volcanoes better than Sherwin-Williams covers the world, has a short post, probably appropriate to the newsworthiness.  Stoichiometry mentions them.  Not much to say yet, right?  Yellowstone Insider doesn’t seem too alarmed.

In mass media, The Billings (Montana) Gazette notes that these quakes are probably just shifting rocks, and not volcanic activity.  The headline in the Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle captures the news:  “Earthquake Swarm Suggests Just Another Day in Yellowstone.”

Meanwhile, Scott Bowen at True/Slant sounds just a little alarmistRalph Maughan sets the right tone:  “No, it doesn’t mean the end is near.”  The tinfoil hat concessions probably won’t make nearly the money they did a year ago.

Outside of the Yellowstone and Intermountain areas, students will probably ask about 2012.  Tell them the Mayans didn’t know anything about Old Faithful.

Resources:

Shake a little news to the rest of the world:

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December 30 – Happy Hubble Day 2009!

December 30, 2009

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy, first known to be a galaxy by Edwin Hubble on December 30, 1924 - Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy, first known to be a galaxy by Edwin Hubble on December 30, 1924 - Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA

Today is a good day to celebrate the universe in all it’s glory – December 30. This year, the International Year of Astronomy, makes it a double celebration.

On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space.  Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question).  It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.

Logo for International Year of Astronomy 2009 - Astronomy2009.org

Go to Astronomy2009.org

Below, mostly an encore post.

Last year for Hubble Day, Wired picked up on the story (with a gracious link to 2007’s post here at the Bathtub). Wired includes several links to even more information, a good source of information.  See Wired’s 2009 post here.

Hubble was the guy who showed us the universe is not only bigger than we imagined, it’s probably much bigger and much more fantastic than we can imagine. Hubble is the guy who opened our imaginations to the vastness of all creation.

How does one celebrate Hubble Day? Here are some suggestions:

  • Easier than Christmas cards: Send a thank-you note to your junior high school science teacher, or whoever it was who inspired your interest in science. Mrs. Hedburg, Mrs. Andrews, Elizabeth K. Driggs, Herbert Gilbert, Mr. Willis, and Stephen McNeal, thank you.
  • Rearrange your Christmas/Hanukkah/Eid/KWANZAA lights in the shape of the Andromeda Galaxy — or in the shape of any of the great photos from the Hubble Telescope (Andromeda Galaxy pictured above; Hubble images here)

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

  • Go visit your local science museum; take your kids along – borrow somebody else’s kids if you have to (take them along, too)
  • Spend two hours in your local library, just looking through the books on astronomy and the universe
  • Anybody got a good recipe for a cocktail called “The Hubble?” “The Andromeda?” Put it in the comments, please

The encore post, from 2007:

December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced the results of his observations of distant objects in space.

PBS

Edwin Hubble - source: PBS

In 1924, he announced the discovery of a Cepheid, or variable star, in the Andromeda Nebulae. Since the work of Henrietta Leavitt had made it possible to calculate the distance to Cepheids, he calculated that this Cepheid was much further away than anyone had thought and that therefore the nebulae was not a gaseous cloud inside our galaxy, like so many nebulae, but in fact, a galaxy of stars just like the Milky Way. Only much further away. Until now, people believed that the only thing existing outside the Milky Way were the Magellanic Clouds. The Universe was much bigger than had been previously presumed.

Later Hubble noted that the universe demonstrates a “red-shift phenomenon.” The universe is expanding. This led to the idea of an initial expansion event, and the theory eventually known as Big Bang.

Hubble’s life offered several surprises, and firsts:

Hubble was a tall, elegant, athletic, man who at age 30 had an undergraduate degree in astronomy and mathematics, a legal degree as a Rhodes scholar, followed by a PhD in astronomy. He was an attorney in Kentucky (joined its bar in 1913), and had served in WWI, rising to the rank of major. He was bored with law and decided to go back to his studies in astronomy.

In 1919 he began to work at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, where he would work for the rest of his life. . . .
Hubble wanted to classify the galaxies according to their content, distance, shape, and brightness patterns, and in his observations he made another momentous discovery: By observing redshifts in the light wavelengths emitted by the galaxies, he saw that galaxies were moving away from each other at a rate constant to the distance between them (Hubble’s Law). The further away they were, the faster they receded. This led to the calculation of the point where the expansion began, and confirmation of the big bang theory. Hubble calculated it to be about 2 billion years ago, but more recent estimates have revised that to 20 billion years ago.

An active anti-fascist, Hubble wanted to joined the armed forces again during World War II, but was convinced he could contribute more as a scientist on the homefront. When the 200-inch telescope was completed on Mt. Palomar, Hubble was given the honor of first use. He died in 1953.

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”

That news on December 30, 1924, didn’t make the first page of the New York Times. The Times carried a small note on February 25, 1925, that Hubble won a $1,000 prize from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

(Does anyone have a suitable citation for that video? Where did it come from? Who produced it? Is there more somewhere?)

Happy Hubble Day! Look up!

Resources:

Alert others to look up and toast Hubble:

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Fly your flag for labor today: Labor Day 2009

September 7, 2009

Labor Day, 2009

Fly your U.S. flag today. This is one of the dates designated in law as a permanent date for flag flying.

Miners and their children celebrate Labor Day, Littleton, Colorado, 1940 - Library of CongressMiners and their children celebrate Labor Day, Littleton, Colorado, 1940 – Library of Congress

Here are some past posts on labor, and Labor Day:

History-minded people may want to look at the history of the holiday, such as the history told at the Department of Labor’s website.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Or this history at the more academic Library of Congress site:

On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. After marching from City Hall to Union Square, the workers and their families gathered in Reservoir Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This first Labor Day celebration was initiated by Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and labor union leader who a year earlier cofounded the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, a precursor of the American Federation of Labor.

McGuire had proposed his idea for a holiday honoring American workers at a labor meeting in early 1882. New York’s Central Labor Union quickly approved his proposal and began planning events for the second Tuesday in September. McGuire had suggested a September date in order to provide a break during the long stretch between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. While the first Labor Day was held on a Tuesday, the holiday was soon moved to the first Monday in September, the date we continue to honor.

American Memories at the Library of Congress has several photos of Labor Day celebrations in Colorado, in the mining country.

What do the unions say?  Among other parts of history, the AFL-CIO site has a biography of Walter Reuther, the legendary organizer of automobile factory workersSeptember 1 is the anniversary of Reuther’s birthday (he died in an airplane crash on the way to a union training site, May 10, 1970).

We’re glad to have the day off.  Working people made this nation, and this world, what it is today.  We should honor them every day — take a few minutes today, give honor to workers.  Tomorrow, it’s back to work.

Resources:

Below the fold:  Statistics about working Americans, from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Urge others to fly their flags for working people, too:

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MomsRising Healthcare Truth Squad

August 22, 2009

I get e-mail.  In all the discouraging folderol on the health care debate, it’s nice to know that a few people are carrying the torch for democracy and good republican government like these ladies.

Red caped mothers and others in Baltimore, before the U.S.S. Constellation, campaigning to dispel false rumors about health care reform, on August 19, 2009.  Image from MomsRising.com

Red caped mothers and others in Baltimore, before the U.S.S. Constellation, campaigning to dispel false rumors about health care reform, on August 19, 2009. Image from MomsRising.com

Watch for the ladies in red capes.  Barney Frank won’t ask what planet they spend their time on, I’ll wager.

Note links to more information, or to join in their merriment, in the letter.

Faster than a toddler crawling toward an uncovered electrical outlet and more powerful than a teenager’s social networking skills, moms across the country have been fanning out to dispel the unfounded rumors, misconceptions, and lies about healthcare reform.

MomsRising Healthcare Truth Squad members, dressed in red capes, have been distributing powerful truth flyers across the nation to passersby to educate them about what healthcare reform will really do, and about how it will help to ensure the economic security of families across the country.

“I must admit that I don’t normally wear a cape in public, but it was oddly empowering.  We knew we were having an impact on the larger conversation about healthcare when a news camera starting following us around. I definitely recommend life as a superhero,” say Donna, a cape wearing SuperMom for Healthcare.

*Let’s give our caped myth-busting moms some “online backup” by Truth Tagging friends with healthcare reform myths & facts today–it’s a virtual distribution of the same facts that the MomsRising Healthcare Truth Squad members are handing out in-person:

http://momsrising.democracyinaction.org/o/1768/tellafriend.jsp?tell_a_friend_KEY=4728

It’s going to take thousands of super heroines speaking up in order to get the healthcare debate back on track. We can’t all be out on the streets in capes, so please take a moment now to spread the word and bust some myths via email to friends and family by clicking the link above.

Why’s this so important to moms right now? Over 46 million people in our nation don’t have any healthcare coverage at all, including millions of children. Not only are families struggling with getting children the healthcare coverage they need for a healthy start, but 7 out of 10 women are either uninsured, underinsured, or are in significant debt due to healthcare costs. In fact, a leading cause of bankruptcy is healthcare costs — and over 70% of those who do go bankrupt due to healthcare costs had insurance at the start of their illness. Clearly we need to fix our broken healthcare system!

Don’t forget to help put some more truth into the mix of the national dialogue on healthcare reform right now:

http://momsrising.democracyinaction.org/o/1768/tellafriend.jsp?tell_a_friend_KEY=4728

Onward!
–Kristin, Joan, Donna, Ashley, Julia, Dionna, Katie, Anita, Sarah, Mary, and the entire MomsRising Team

P.S.  We’ve been hearing so much positive feedback about our caped crusading moms that it might be time to lead a giant march of moms on the National Capitol Mall.  Tell us what you think: http://www.momsrising.org/blog/bust-a-myth-tag-a-friend-with-the-truth-about-healthcare/

P.P.S.  Want to get more involved with the MomsRising Healthcare Truth Squad members? Click here: http://momsrising.democracyinaction.org/o/1768/t/9251/signUp.jsp?key=4284

P.P.P.S. When you go to the Truth Squad Tag page, you can also see a video of our MomsRising Healthcare Truth Squad in action wearing capes! http://momsrising.democracyinaction.org/o/1768/tellafriend.jsp?tell_a_friend_KEY=4727

Here’s the video:


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