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Cover image of 'Hiding in Plain Sight'

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22.June 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Glory of God, Guns and Gold Permalink to this item

FB Ad scraped

I do my best to avoid giving attention to ads, and pretty much never click through. But today, one in Facebook caught my eye. "Goldco" (oh yeah TOTALLY going to get in on that) w/CHUCK NORRIS holding up a copy of AMERICAN RETIREMENT with his photo on the cover, and splayed to the "feature" "Why I Trust in God, Guns and Gold." In addition to how super-creepy I find Chuck and his whole schtick, the way he's holding the magazines makes it look like he's giving me the finger. Or he's giving himself the finger. Which, ok, I could respect him for disrepecting himself.

The text below this arresting image has the dodgy domain sponsoring it, and Chuck Norris issues ALARMING REPORT. "Protect your retirement savings 100% TAX and PENALTY FREE, it promises me, if I will just Learn More.

851 likes. 32 comments. 51 shares. There's one born every minute.

One good thing: it demonstrates how lame FB's algorithms are in targeting me. (Unless... they figured I wouldn't be able to resist blogging this and advertising for them for free?!)

What just happened Permalink to this item

Carl T. Bergstrom's mind-boggling twitter thread, introducing his (and 16 coauthors') paper, "Stewardship of Global Collective Behavior." Two decades that changed our world, an "enormous tranformation" larger than comprehension, and any control systems. "It might be the most important paper of my career," he says in the first of 25 tweets.

"When perturbed, complex systems tend to exhibit finite resilience followed by catastrophic, sudden, and often irreversible changes in functionality."

"[T]here is no reason to expect some sort of invisible hand is going to bail us out and ensure that good information floats to the top." Seemingly the opposite is in process. Scum rises to the top, is the metaphor that swamps to mind. From the first tweet-wave, my emphasis added:

"6. It is difficult to overestimate the stakes. If these technologies so effectively sow mis- and disinformation worldwide, how we can hope to solve problems such as global warming, extinction, war, food security, pandemics? How can we prevent democracies from crumbling?

"7. Aside: The paper has been in the works for over two years. A 2019 draft said something along the lines of 'Imagine that pandemic hit and people wouldn't follow public health advice because of misinformation spread online. We'd be *really* screwed then.'

"8. So what is so radically different now compared to twenty years ago, and why does it matter? In the paper, we explore a few factors. First, scale. We've gone from small face-to-face communities to a global network of 3.6 billion social media users in the blink of an eye."

Here I'm reminded of the now quaint viral email meme, "the world as 100 people" and my attempt to trace it back to its source, starting more than 2 decades ago, while I was still a tiny cog in the mechanical engineering of our worldwide computer network.

The round-number estimate of the human population was 6 billion then; after it doubled over the course of my life to date. As of mid-1999, in our "world as a village of 100 people," I wrote, "Ten years ago, nobody was on-line; three years ago, only 1 of us was. Now, 4 or 5 are, at least occasionally."

A bit more than 20 years later, we're at 8 billion, in round numbers. With almost half of our global village using social media. With brains evolved to manage a tribe's worth of personal relationships. A hundred, hundred-fifty or so people, in "small hunter-gatherer groups solving local problems through vocalizations and gestures."

"Neither the evolutionary nor the technological changes to our social systems have come about with the express purpose of promoting global sustainability or quality of life. Recent and emerging technologies such as online social media are no exception—both the structure of our social networks and the patterns of information flow through them are directed by engineering decisions made to maximize profitability. These changes are drastic, opaque, effectively unregulated, and massive in scale. The emergent functional consequences are unknown. We lack the scientific framework we would need to answer even the most basic questions that technology companies and their regulators face. ...

"As costs to inaccuracy decrease, individuals and institutions are better able to reap ideological and political benefits from outright lies. Portions of the society or networks repeatedly exposed to falsehood may normalize it or lack access to an information environment capable of sorting fact from fiction. The removal of filters that may have favored high-quality information, combined with rapid distribution of falsehood, may present one of the larger threats to human wellbeing when it comes to issues such as climate denial, vaccine refusal, treatment of minorities, and unfounded fears regarding the safety of genetically modified food."

So, if we're to have Stewards of Collective Behavior... who shall we put in charge? (And how? And who's going to oversee them? Etc.) The authors suggest

"there is an urgent need for an equivalent of the Hippocratic oath for anyone studying or intervening into collective behavior, whether from within academia or from within social media companies and other tech firms. Decisions that impact the structure of society should not be guided by voices of individual stakeholders but instead by values such as nonmaleficence, benevolence, autonomy, and justice."

Superb values that humans have not generally succeeded at maintaining. Those are also values rather at odds with the self-perpetuating features of our systems of commerce and politics. Are as they put it delicately on page 7, "some business models may be fundamentally incompatible with a healthy society."

21.June.21 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our first family of crime Permalink to this item

The former guy and his CFO are still thick as thieves, you might say. "Stay "close" is what the team of Washington Post reporters got for their headline. The "charity." The "university." The illegal hush money to hide affairs. The multigenerational tax fraud. Allen Weisselberg signed all the checks, did all the detail work, but now that the Manhattan DA's office is nipping at his heels, he's... getting a little fuzzy on the details. And meeting regularly with his boss.

"As the most senior non-Trump executive at the former president’s private, closely held company, Weisselberg is probably a key figure in prosecutors’ efforts to indict Trump, legal experts say. His central role in nearly every aspect of Trump’s business, revealed in depositions and news interviews over the past three decades, afforded him what former employees say is a singular view of the Trump Organization’s tax liabilities and finances."

But at least he didn't sell any loose cigarettes.

17.June 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

About face Permalink to this item

Perfectionists (hello my people!) still have plenty to criticize, but the Ctrl-Z administration is doing a pretty good job of undoing large chunks of damage from the crazy time of the last one.

Joe's Euro '21 tour didn't have enormous expectations, but easily cleared the hurdle of "no jaw-dropping gaffes, K?" and went way beyond that in rebuilding the alliances that were casually smashed by the man who knew nothing. Not having a joint press con with Vlad was a good decision, after FG showed us how incomprehensibly bad such a thing could go, in Helsinki. You might remember that nadir from the way some Republicans tried to distance themselves, briefly, but then again you might not, because so many of them have been scooted off the stage (goodbye Paul Ryan!).

William Saletan, in Slate: +rump Made the GOP More Friendly to Putin. It’s Sabotaging Biden. The Russian leader’s best weapon is the Republican Party.

"In two polls taken this week—one by Morning Consult for Politico, the other by YouGov for the Economist—Putin has a better net favorable rating among Republicans than Biden does, by margins of 16 and 22 points, respectively."

One tweeted insight in the comments caught my eye: "It's an autoimmune disease."

15.June 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Creature from the Black Lagoon, you might say Permalink to this item

We stayed up to watch the return of the in-person The Late Show last night, and it was amazing to feel the energy of a live audience (on our little teevee!) and a live performance (Jon Baptiste, Staying Human, and the dancers and chorus rocked the house), even though, I'm not super-sure I am personally ready to be in that kind of crowded indoor space just yet. Outdoors is nice this time of year, even if it can be a little hot. (Inside the Ed Sullivan Theater, I understand it's super-chill, which, if they've got the right filtration on the HVAC would be good.)

It was nice to see Jon Stewart again too, even though his Wuhan lab schtick was way over the top. (For the record, it's the "Wuhan Institute of Virology," not what he kept saying, as if they were advertising coronavirus in blinking lights.)

Let's stipulate that we're definitely not sure just how SARS-CoV-2 came to be a human pandemic. It definitely came out of China. We may never know with certainty, but sure seems like we should try to figure it out. That's where your full-on autocracy kind of interferes with the scientific method. He's more than a year gone from the news, but I still remember the story of the Chinese government trying to silence Li Wenliang, who gave his life trying to help others. (I see there that Dr. Li's son was due to arrive last June; celebrating his 1st birthday this month?)

The latest report in the New York Times leans me toward the "we'll never know" side of things, especially with the person closest to the possibility of knowing, Shi Zhengli, saying this: "I’m sure that I did nothing wrong."

Chinatopix, via Associated Press

Like... completely sure? 100.0%? Or just 90-something percent? And what about every single person who worked in the lab? I did process engineering for disk drives assembled in clean space, engineered production lines with HEPA filters and protocols and gowns and gloves and so on, and did the best I could, but even without actual human beings needing to follow very specific processes, there was a lot that could go wrong. We were never sure we did nothing wrong, but we tested the heck out of the assembled products to make sure that we did well enough.

That wasn't anything like Biosafety Level 4. Hard to line up the very different contexts, but reading the Biosafety level Wikipedia page, it sounds like we were BSL-2ish. What good old Richard Feynman said still stands:

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."

12.June 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Weaponizing history Permalink to this item

The introduction to Janel George's Lesson on Critical Race Theory describes how the former guy's executive order in September, 2020 brought it up to the top of the political combat card. It was a completely cynical reelection campaign strategy, of course. It failed at the top; but it had some success lower down, and it is for sure being worked into campaigning for 2022. "CRT observes," George writes, "that scholarship that ignores race is not demonstrating “neutrality” but adherence to the existing racial hierarchy."

"CRT challenges white privilege and exposes deficit-informed research that ignores, and often omits, the scholarship of people of color. CRT began in the legal academy in the 1970s and grew in the 1980s and 1990s. It persists as a field of inquiry in the legal field and in other areas of scholarship. Mari Matsudi described CRT as the work of progressive legal scholars seeking to address the role of racism in the law and the work to eliminate it and other configurations of subordination."

As Republican-controlled state legislatures such as Idaho's, and Florida's "outlaw" the teaching of CRT in broad (and certainly unconstitutional) terms, some teachers will be intimidated into avoiding trouble and doing what they can to steer clear of it. (Good luck with that.)

The National Education Association is pushing back against "redlining the realities of history to justify the harms of the present."

Justin Hart has advice to people interviewing for history and teaching jobs, in a Twitter thread, for that now-inevitable question they'll get about CRT. "Avoid answering directly unless they can clarify what they mean by CRT."

"Say that you believe that historians have an obligation to tell the truth about history. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Or something like that. And that you don't need any theory to tell you that you should be honest in teaching US history."

9.June 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

But wait, there is more Permalink to this item

Does Louis Gohmert moonlight for The Onion?!

"Is there anything that the National Forest Service [sic] or BLM can do to, ah, change the course of the moon's orbit, or the earth's orbit around the sun? Obviously, that would have profound effects on our climate."

We are all the spokesgal now. "I would have to follow up with you on that one, Mr. Gohmert."

Losing the keys to our mind in the Rust Belt Permalink to this item

We used to point and laugh at the ignorance of the Olde Days, and now, by god, it's walking among us, like some bad zombie movie. Because FREEDOM. Jake Zuckerman, reporting in the Ohio Capital Journal:

"Republicans in [Ohio's] state General Assembly are pushing sweeping legislation to weaken Ohio’s vaccination laws — for all vaccines, not just COVID-19. On Tuesday, anti-vaccination activists crammed into the House Health Committee hearing room to testify in support of House Bill 248.

"The legislation would ban vaccine requirements on customers, employees or students from businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, K-12 schools, colleges, daycares, or others. It would also prevent governments, insurers, or businesses from offering incentives for people to get vaccinated, or even requesting that people get vaccinated."

Sherri Tenpenny was christened a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from the Kirksville Collect of O.M. in Missouri in 1984, Wikipedia tells me. If you had misgivings about osteopathy, she might be why. She should be why.

Thanks to her public testimony to the Ohio legislature, she's gone viral herself, with "a thought" about "EMF frequencies," and "a protein with a metal attached to it" and "I'm sure you've seen the pictures all over the internet" of PEOPLE GETTING MAGNETIZED WITH KEYS AND FORKS AND SPOONS STUCK ALL OVER THEIR BODY. I wish I were making this up. The Onion wishes it could have made this up.

"There has been people who have long suspected that there was some sort of interface [sc/air quotes], yet to be defined, an interface, between what's being injected in these shots, and all of the 5G towers!"

From the video of Tenpenny testifying

Structural diagram of hemoglobin

ZOMG what is happening?!

Fun fact about your body with which you are reading my blog post right now: coursing through all your veins, arteries, organs, and yes, YOUR BRAIN, you have a protein with a metal attached, and THAT METAL IS IRON, so yeah, it would be weird to get magnetized. They wouldn't let you into an MRI machine, that's for sure.

Someone with some sort of medical training might know that it's estimated that one quarter to one half of all proteins contain a metal. Even in 1984, science knew about this stuff. Even in the 1970s, when I took Intro to Biochemistry. (She could look it up.) Speaking of Wikipedia, this piece on metalloproteins is a more illuminating read than the one on Tenpenny's dangerous anti-vax quackery.

She might benefit from a look at Chapter 5 of "The Behavioral, Molecular, Pharmacological, and Clinical Basis of the Sleep-Wake Cycle," given her claim that she's spent "up to 10,000 hours researching vaccines" during the 11,000 or so hours the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has been going.

8.June 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Might not compute Permalink to this item

Story in the latest edition of "the loop" out of Stanford, "California looks to recalculate math" caught my eye. First news I'd seen of "California’s proposed new math framework for public schools, which aims to improve equity in math education and provide more pathways in higher-level math."

Mention of "data science," and "calculus" and not putting students in "tracks" starting in middle school, and "instead keeping most students together through 10th grade—and out of algebra until 9th" connects to some of my good old days. Says there, "students currently in the most accelerated math tracks take algebra in 7th or 8th grade and finish calculus in 11th or 12th."

My old tape measure

Does one really finish calculus, I wondered? But at least we can pretty much agree on getting through algebra, even if we can't agree on its when. We didn't have "middle school" where I grew up, and I'm pretty sure everybody was in the same math class right through 8th grade. At least they were until I came along, and one of the nuns saw that I was not going to be challenged by the 8th grade curriculum, which was a pre-algebra rehash of 7th, and came up with a novel solution.

She arranged for me to go to the nearest Catholic high school for one period of the day, so I could take algebra with the 9th graders. It was not quite a mile and a half to get there, versus the just over half a mile from home to grade school. (The public high school was just a long block away, but administratively much further, apparently.) I had a bike, and was happy to go for a ride... in the middle of the morning on school days! And come back after that one class with the big kids. It was a great adventure, and an act of trust in me so remarkable that I didn't even consider trying to take advantage of it, other than, you know, taking advantage of the opportunity!

The next year I was in the Catholic high school with my sophomore friends taking more math, along with the whole freshman experience. For various reasons I might not be able to know with certainty that was it for me, and I switched to public school. I was getting too much of the parochial flavor, for one thing. The public school had a swimming pool and diving boards was another. Maybe that was the most important factor. At any rate, they had an accelerated math track that had a classfull of seniors taking calculus by the time I got there, and we were all like pigs in mud, and most of us got some AP college credit to boot. And there were more math classes to take after calculus, which was fine with me. Differential Equations was my favorite, I think.

But anway, California is rethinking. And Rep. Ted Lieu, '91, is rethinking their rethinking, that an everyone-together deal would take the state backwards. “You will be hurting an entire generation of children and our future. Do not do this,” he tweeted.

“We’re not kicking calculus to the curb,” Linda Darling-Hammond, professor emerita of education at Stanford and president of the state Board of Education, told the San Francisco Chronicle [in a 100% effectively paywalled story], adding that the research shows that “the rush to calculus without the depth of understanding is not beneficial to long-term math achievement.” Boaler, who responded to concerns about the framework in a recent ABC interview, says that among the goals of the proposed framework are improved mindsets and creating math classes that inspire and interest students.

Looking for that tweet from Lieu, I found this one instead, after he'd met with California's state superintendent and Department of Education officials. "Pleased the new math framework retains calculus & provides alternative math pathways for students with different interests. The new budget will also help schools meet the demands of the 21st Century."

7.June 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our most infuriating politician Permalink to this item

As I pull that phrase out of James Downie's op-ed on Joe Manchin's mighty delusions, it occurs to me that it would be damn hard to award that as a single title. I mean, just because Manchin is perfectly serving the now more than decade-long campaign of bad faith, perfidy and sabotage of Mitch McConnell, can he really be more infuriating? Or, say, more unfuriating than Rand Paul? Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, the seditious Josh Hawley? We definitely have a lot of subcategories to fill, at least.

If polarization is a problem (it is), slicing the baby right down the very center is not actually an acceptable solution. Downie:

"Perhaps the issue is the laziness of Manchin’s centrism. Rather than a mix of substantive policy stances, some left and some right, Manchin simply takes the middle of the two parties’ stances. ... One gets the sense that if Manchin were told one side believes two plus two equals four and the other side believes it equals eight, he’d conclude that it equals six — and that saying otherwise divides the country."

Manchin had his own WaPo op-ed two months ago, extolling the filibuster as esential to "our democratic form of government." (Yeah, no, it doesn't have to make sense.) While he scours the countryside for the unicorn of bipartisanship, the Republicans are burning down the house, passing voter suppression bills to ensure minority, partisan rule. It's certainly true that "Voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen," as (Downie said) Manchin wrote. It's also true that Machin is not standing in the way of the ongoing partisan "reform."

389 bills introduced in 48 states to prevent Americans from voting. 14 of them have already passed, including one in TX that banned "souls to the polls" led by Black churches.

If this isn't enough for @Sen_JoeManchin to support #ForThePeopleAct then he's the one being partisan. https://t.co/naq7tPZzyG

— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) June 7, 2021

And Jennifer Rubin: Show us 10 reasonable Republicans. There were only six who supported a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attempted insurrection and coup.

2.June 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

DIY day Permalink to this item

"Tom, I need you to come in here," from the kitchen, heard at the other end of the house, with the unmistakeable tone of voice that says now without saying it. I was ready for more serious drama than water under the sink, but that was drama enough to modify the day's activity schedule.

Our lucky day, it was the drain side (better than a pressurized leak!), and the wastebasket just happened to have been emptied for trash day, and happened to be positioned to catch almost all of what leaked. Out of the thin, chrome-plated tailpiece from the disposer to the tee, etc. Jeanette had cleared the stuff underneath the damage, had a small container to catch what was still dripping, had a thumb on the spot. I traded my thumb for hers, and could feel the corroded metal crumble under the slightest pressure. Yeah, that's a goner.

By coincidence, a friend rang my phone just as Jeanette called to me; and thinking about the plumbing job ahead of me, I called him back for commiseration. "Would you like my help?" he asked. "Do you need any tools?" he asked. (A very good friend.) I said I had plenty of tools, but I didn't like using them that much any more. He laughed and said "me neither. I got rid of some of mine." I described the job, and we both lamented that that chrome-plated waste plumbing that seems too thin. (Ours was definitely too thin now.)

At least this was relatively accessible. And wouldn't require contortions to disassemble and repair, right? I sized up the fittings, fetched the monkey wrench, got to taking things apart. The steel nut and gasket on the waste end of the failed piece were stuck together with it, as is the way of the world, and nothing quite like a pipe wrench to turn things around. After all-at-once, I got it to turn separate from the pipe, and then sized up the scene of the complete torsional failure of the pipe I'd just removed:

Plumbing failure

Which was fine, because that piece would be replaced. The two other straight pieces fractured on disassembly too, and previous plumbing adventures were coming back to mind. The job's always bigger than you imagine when you start.

When I said "plumbing store" out loud, I remembered Powell Plumbing, 612 S. Main St. in Moscow, which I see will be turning 100 shortly. It was in its mid-50s when I got there, new to my 20s, and new to residential plumbing repair and refurb. Over months, and then years, they guided and supplied my alt-education while I was at the University of Idaho for the supposed main education. (It took a while for me to recognize my inner engineer, even as I was learning, hands-on.)

The mobile home I was living in, and replumbing, was just past 15 years old, which is a lot for a mobile home. Think dog years. "About the life of a mobile home," my dad had sniffed, but didn't press the point when I seemed like I was set on it. It was fun while it lasted.

At any rate, I know the value of a good plumbing store, and I headed to Grover's Pay & Pack for good parts, and good advice. The front door had a sign about face masks "strongly recommended," which I'm happy with, and put mine on. Inside, 100% of the staff and about 90% of the customers were following the recommendation.

I wandered to the drain parts aisle, trying my had at self-service to see how well I could do on my own. While I was mixing and matching, another fellow came to the same section, no doubt with a similar problem, and we shared a few words, I pulled out my phone and showed him my deal, and he was impressed. When he'd found what he was after (maybe), and we parted, we both said "Good luck!" cheerfully, and simultaneously. (Not well enough acquainted to say "Jinx!" though.)

When I was pretty sure I had all the stuff I needed, I went up front and took a number for the advice guys, waited my turn. There were a few no-shows, and when 95 called and answered, I was ready before my number was said out loud. "I'm 96!" I said, all excited.

Quick sketch

Showed him my handful of parts, my diagram, my phone photo. ("You've got that p-trap backwards he said," sure enough; I posed my "exploded view" wrong; and drew the diagram from it, rather than as-was.) And he recommended a new, plastic tee (with diverter built-in), an essential gasket, and a replacement for the disposer gasket. Good stuff.

The bill came to $12.71, handed over while the check-out gal and I talked about whether you can even find a plumber right now, and how much they're jacking up their prices if you can. "But your prices are still great," I said cheerfully.

Back home, a couple of saw cuts to match the space, everything back together, and we're once again leak-free, yay.

New parts, one old part

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007