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Saturday, February 24, 2024

February 24th, 2024:

Day 730 of Vladimir Putin’s 3-day conquest of Ukraine.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Klaas is in Session

…On the day it happens, change any detail—no matter how seemingly insignificant—and you end up with a different child.I Suddenly, you have a daughter instead of a son, or vice versa—or just a different son or daughter. Siblings often diverge in unexpected ways, so any change in who is born will radically change your life—and the lives of countless others. But it’s not just the one day that a child is conceived that matters. Instead, amplify that contingency by every moment of your life. Each detail in the entire chain-link architecture of your lifetime had to be exactly as it was for the exact child who was born to be born. That’s true for you, for me, for everyone.

Yet again, the motivational posters have sold you short. “You’re one in a million!” they shout at you with uplifting glee. Try one in a hundred million, because that’s how many competitors, on average, your single-celled predecessor outswam to successfully become half of yourself.

You matter. That’s not self-help advice. It’s scientific truth. If someone else had been born instead of you—the unborn ghost whom you outcompeted in the existence sweepstakes—countless other people’s lives would be profoundly different, so our world would be different, too. The ripples of every life spread out, in unexpected ways, for eternity.

These are awe-inspiring truths. Yet, in modern life, many of us feel like easily replaced cogs in a vast, cold machine. As global corporations sprawl and we seek help from call centers rather than corner stores, many modern systems make us feel interchangeable. Workers robotically follow protocols, checklists, and scripts, engines of efficiency that strip us of our individuality. Humans begin to feel like robots who eat. It dehumanizes us. It doesn’t matter who turns the crank, so long as it gets turned.

But what if that dystopian viewpoint is completely wrong?

Let’s consider two opposite conceptions of how history works. In one vision of historical change, there’s the storybook reality: Change is ordered and structured. The convergent trajectory of events means that individuals come and go, but trends dominate. Where do the trends come from? We’re never explicitly told, only that the aggregation of humans has produced a path toward an inevitable outcome and we’d better prepare ourselves. The trend is destiny. History is written by unseen social forces, and the main characters are powerless to alter the plot.

On the opposite extreme, individuals reign supreme because the idiosyncratic behavior of a single person can reroute us all onto a different path. The logical extension of that viewpoint—rooted in chaos theory—means that every individual isn’t just capable of changing history. Rather, we are each changing history constantly, with every action—even every thought. Who is doing something can matter as much as what they’re doing. If that’s true, it would yield an empowering fact: it’s not just that everything you do matters, but also that it’s you, and not someone else, who’s doing it. Perhaps every one of us creates our own butterfly effect because each of us flaps our wings a little bit differently.

These two conceptions of change are fundamentally different. So, are we just along for the ride, or does each of us determine the destination?

Klaas, Brian. Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters (pp. 159-162). Scribner. Kindle Edition.
So, I'm into Chapter 9 of 13, and just have to share what I'm finding thus far. A totally fun read, much more edifying and enjoyable than the shitshow comprising our news this week. I gushed a la Fanboy on "Twitter" that "Chapter 6 was worth the entire cost." I meant it.

BTW, Brian has a Substack. I signed up. 50 bucks for a year.

I have my picks with Substack broadly (weak, limied formatting capabilities, like Medium), but Brian's Substack has a lot of cool stuff on it.
Interesting Brian Klaas presentation below.
Science Magazine has certainly been quite the book citation resource of late: "Flukes," "Countdown," and "Imagination."
Okeee-Dokeee, then.
Flukes, only Ch's 12 & 13 to go.
More to come ASAP.

Monday, February 19, 2024

“Countdown,” continuing review of Sarah Scoles’ new book

“The Blinding Future of Nuclear Weapons”

Lots to continue to cover here. But, first, let's scare and depress the crap out of you. "What if we nuke a city?"

 Oh, and this was just released on Netflix.

Rather nicely done. I have both of the major Einstein biographies, by Clark and Isaacson. The docudrama squares fairly well, albeit in brief.

Before deep diving into Sarah's book, a quick (apropos?) diversion

On October 30, 1926, Mr. and Mrs. H. L. Stimson stepped off a steam train in Kyoto, Japan, and checked into room number 56 at the nearby Miyako Hotel. Once settled, they strolled through the former imperial capital, soaking up the city’s autumnal explosion of color, as the Japanese maples turned crimson and the ginkgo trees burst into a golden shade of yellow, their trunks rising above a bed of lush green moss. They visited Kyoto’s pristine gardens, tucked into the mudstone hills that frame the city. They marveled at its historic temples, the rich heritage of a bygone shogunate embedded in each timber. Six days later, Mr. and Mrs. Stimson packed up, paid their bill, and left.

But this was no ordinary tourist visit. The Stimson name in the ledger at the Miyako Hotel would become a historical record, a relic marking a chain of events in which one man played God, sparing one hundred thousand lives while condemning a similar number to death elsewhere. It was, perhaps, the most consequential sightseeing trip in human history.

Nineteen years later, far from the Japanese maples, in the sagebrush-dotted hills of New Mexico, an unlikely group of physicists and generals gathered at a top-secret location code-named Site Y. It was May 10, 1945, three days after the Nazis had surrendered. The focus now shifted to the Pacific, where a bloody war of attrition seemed to have no end in sight. However, in this remote outpost of New Mexico, the scientists and soldiers saw a potential savior: a new weapon of unimaginable destruction that they called the Gadget.

No successful test had yet been carried out to demonstrate the weapon’s full potential, but everyone at Site Y sensed they were getting close. In preparation, thirteen men were asked to join the Target Committee, an elite group that would decide how to introduce the Gadget to the world. Which city should be destroyed? They agreed targeting Tokyo wasn’t a good idea, as heavy bombing had already devastated the new capital. After weighing up the alternatives, they agreed on a target. The first bomb would be dropped on Kyoto.

Kyoto was home to new wartime factories, including one that could churn out four hundred aircraft engines per month. Furthermore, leveling a former capital would deal a crushing blow to Japan’s morale. The Target Committee also noted a small, but perhaps crucial, point: Kyoto was an intellectual hub with an educated population, home to the prestigious Kyoto University. Those who survived would, the committee supposed, recognize that this weapon represented a new era in human history—and that the war had already been lost. The Target Committee agreed: Kyoto must be destroyed.

The committee also agreed on three backup targets: Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Kokura. The target list was sent to President Truman. All they needed to do was wait for the bomb to be ready.

The Atomic Age dawned on July 16, 1945, with a successful test explosion in the vast emptiness of rural New Mexico. The Target Committee’s decisions were no longer theoretical. Military strategists consulted detailed maps of Kyoto and decided on ground zero for the explosion: the city’s railway yards. The intended blast site was only half a mile away from the Miyako Hotel, where Mr. and Mrs. H. L. Stimson had stayed two decades earlier.

On August 6, 1945, the bomb code-named Little Boy fell from the sky not on Kyoto, but on Hiroshima, dropped from the Enola Gay. As many as 140,000 people were killed, most of them civilians. Three days later, on August 9, Bockscar dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki, adding roughly 80,000 casualties to the horrifying death toll.

But why was Kyoto spared? And why was Nagasaki—a city that hadn’t even been considered a top-tier bombing target—destroyed? Remarkably, the lives of roughly two hundred thousand people teetered between life and death because of a tourist couple and a cloud.

By 1945, Mr. H. (Henry) L. Stimson had become America’s secretary of war, the top civilian overseeing wartime operations. As a man without a uniform, Stimson felt it was his job to develop strategic goals, not to micromanage generals on how best to achieve them. But that all changed when the Target Committee picked Kyoto for destruction.

Stimson sprang into action. In a meeting with the head of the Manhattan Project, Stimson put his foot down: “I don’t want Kyoto bombed.” In a discussion with the commander of the U.S. armed forces, Stimson insisted that there was “one city that they must not bomb without my permission and that was Kyoto.” Yet, despite his insistence, Kyoto kept reappearing on the targeting list. It ticked all the boxes, the generals insisted. It needed to be bombed. Why, they wondered, was Stimson hell-bent on protecting a nerve center of the Japanese war machine?

The generals didn’t know about the Miyako Hotel, the majestic Japanese maples, or the golden ginkgo trees.

Stimson, unwavering, went straight to the top. He met with President Truman twice in late July 1945, each time outlining his vehement opposition to destroying Kyoto. Truman finally relented. Kyoto was taken out of consideration. The final targeting list contained four cities: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and a late addition, Nagasaki. Stimson had saved what the generals called his “pet city.” The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima instead.

The second bomb was to be dropped on the city of Kokura. But as the B-29 bomber approached the city, cloud cover made it difficult to see the ground below. The clouds were unexpected. A team of army meteorologists had predicted clear skies. The pilot circled, hoping the clouds would clear. When they didn’t, the crew decided to attack a secondary target rather than risking a botched drop. As they approached Nagasaki, that city was also obscured by cloud cover. With fuel running low, they made one last pass, and the clouds parted at the last possible minute. The bomb fell at 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945. Nagasaki’s civilians were doubly unlucky: the city was a last-minute addition to the backup targeting list, and it was leveled because of a fleeting window of poor weather over another city. If the bomber had taken off a few minutes earlier or a few minutes later, countless residents of Kokura might have been incinerated instead. To this day, the Japanese refer to “Kokura’s luck” whenever someone unknowingly escapes from disaster…

Klaas, Brian (2024-01-22T22:58:59.000). Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters. Scribner. Kindle Edition.
Another killer read.

Some random quotes, jumping around.

We can attest.
Below, 1993. my wife (li'l cutey), 130 miles above the Article Circle, for the summer and fall, Point Hope, Alaska on the far NW Chukchi Sea. DOE Project Chariot nuke waste cleanup (long story). That's Dr. Joe Yeasted in the orange vest and cap. Major League dude. We all remain tight.
We'd just moved to Las Vegas the prior year for her to be QA mgr. for the Nevada Test Site remediation work as DOE prime contractor DOE foisted the Chariot gig off on her company. And, then, of course, took credit for a successful (mostly enviro PR) mission.

Cheryl and I got into nuke work in Oak Ridge in the 80's. From another of my posts:
Another personal history: In January 1986, just prior to my 40th birthday I got my "first day gig" at a radiation laboratory in Oak Ridge after getting my undergrad at UTK in 1985 (yeah, I'm slow; old washed-up guitar player). "ASL" ("Applied Sciences Laboratory"). It was founded by PhD nuclear engineer John A. Auxier, the nation's premier "certified health physicist" (CHP, basically a radiation dose/exposire epidemiologist). John had just retired as the Director of Industrial Health and Safety at ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). He'd been a member of the Three Mile Island Commission. He was a pilot since his days in the military. He owned several fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter, serviced by the Smoky Mountain Aero FBO at McGhee-Tyson Airport near Alcoa TN. 

My wife was the customer service manager there while I was in school at UT. She managed his aviation account.

Recognizing supreme talent (she's the smartest woman I ever met), he pilfered her to become his Customer Service/Marketing Manager (and eventually QA Lead). Through her he learned of my studies in applied statistics.

"We need to computerize our operations and QC analysis, Cheryl. Would Bobby like to come out and work for us?"

I arrived right after New Year's Day 1986. QC data were computed on yellow pads in pencil by old school scientists brandishing slide rules. Sums of squares done long-hand for QC Sigma limits.


I stayed 5 1/2 yrs. We went from a single building on Bear Creek Rd with 9 employees to a complex of 3 buildings running 24/7, employing many dozens of radiochemists, CHPs, technicians, and biz peeps.

I began using an IBM-XT, the only PC on the property. I wrote all of their code (what we now call "apps"), and installed and managed their Novell Network. I'd never touched a PC before. I was blissfully unaware that you couldn't do these things.

Eventually, ASL got bought by a growing company called "International Technology Corporation" (IT Corp), based in Pittsburgh. We became "IT/ORL."
IT Corp grew and grew and grew. in 1992 they won the DOE environmental remediation contract to assess and clean up the Nevada Test Site nuke mess. Cheryl was the QA Manager. I'd moved on to Digital Industrial Diagnostics (FFT analytics).
I quit. We moved to Las Vegas. We then lived there for 21 years.
IT Corp was now public (ITX), had grown massively via acquisitions, and had ironically now come into the takeover crosshairs of The Carlyle Group. The new CEO was essentially a plant.

Carlyle de-boned and BK'd them in short order. I'll spare you the myriad plunderers' particulars. The CEO made Bank.

Cheryl landed on her feet (most ITX people were not so lucky). ITX was sold to The Shaw Group of Baton Rouge (SGR). Shaw named her Director of Quality of the new "Environmental Division"—her entire former company. Those to whom she'd once reported now reported to her. (Like I said; crazy, scary smart.)

That was a wild period. She spent the entire fall post-Katrina working on the remediation. SGR was the contractor that pumped NOLA out, and ran the "blue tarp" and emergency mobile homes initiatives.
Eventually SGR had an internal political C-Suite dustup, the upshot of which was a demand for Cheryl to relocate from Vegas to Baton Rouge (surely for The Contrarian Bitch to be reined in).
She quit. Finished her career as worldwide Corporate Director of Quality for the esteemed Rhode Island-based Gilbane Building Companies, working out of Concord, CA.

Carlyle's Rubenstein—[bleep] you and your philanthropy and rep-washing PBS hustle. Y'all ruined a technologically adept and committed company. But, I'm sure you did well.
"Buy time for our political leaders to find a better way..."
Do do what? Kill people more efficiently and "cleanly?" Not sure yet what he meant. Achieve durable global peace? Short of that, materially diminish the "false positives (innocent noncombatants) and false negatives (dangerous enemies missed)?" I'll have to keep digging on this guy to clarify. Beyond that, there're perhaps wafts of Steve Pinker-isms in the foregoing—and, there's no denying the aggregate worldwide collateral damage declining trend data (which won’t however, boost spirits in Gaza these days).

Yeah. Tru' 'dat. "To the optimist the glass is half-full. To the pessimist the glass is half-empty."
To the engineer, the glass was designed and mfg'd 2x too large. Yeah, old joke.

Once, during my Oak Ridge radlab tenure, we got called in on a dustup at the Mexico-TX border, where an incoming tractor-trailer rig had set off radiation detectors. The I-beams undergirding the flatbed were "hot" (radioactive). We gumshoe'd the stuff all the way back to its source.

Not far from where Cheryl and I lived in South Knoxville was a scrap yard, "Knox Metals," which had for many years been buying trace-level rad waste scrap stuff from the Oak Ridge Y-12 and K-25 weapons facilities. Some of this scrap steel got re-sold, re-smelted, and ended up in a truck bed that made it to Mexico and back, setting off the TexMex border detectors. Lordy.
IT WAS LIVERMORE’S SCIENTIFIC EXPERTISE THAT LED TO NARAC’S founding in the first place (National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center). The organization began, in a less official capacity, during the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, when an American nuclear power reactor partially melted down and later released radioactive gases into the air. As the almost-catastrophic event was in motion, the Jimmy Carter administration reached out to Livermore: Could the lab provide any useful information to teams headed to the affected area? They could, it turns out. In the 1960s and 1970s, the lab had worked on the global circulation model, which showed how air moved around the world. The model could also be refined, harnessed, and directed toward the catastrophe, revealing how contaminants would spread across the world and what their ultimate fate would be. [Scoles, Countdown, p. 146]
In April 1986 I was managing a database and reporting script I'd developed to track environmental rad baselines at a proposed civilian nuke powerplant startup in Perry, Ohio, part of a 5 yr requisite REMP study (Radiological Environmental Monitoring Program). Weekly environmental and bioassay baselines sampling across a breadth of matrices—soil, water, vegetation, dairy cow milk, fish, misc other local wildlife, and air.

My air assays always came back "below LLD," Below Lower Limit of Detection ("less than 0.04 picocuries per cubic meter"). I would just run a quick macro appending the data to reflect the latest "<0.04 pCi/cu.m."
A week after Chernobyl blew, we got significant quantifiable positive readings in all of the Perry air filter sampling stations. Airborne alpha-emitting Iodine-131 (I-131). Half-life 8.05 days, so by after a subsequent 4 weeks or so the assays had gone back down below LLD.

In the ensuing years, though, scientists were busily studying stuff like Cs-137 radionuclide uptake in arctic caribou.
Small world, 'eh?

Much more shortly...

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Hurry! Supplies are limited…

"We hold these shoes to be self-evident."

Friday, February 16, 2024

Alexei Navalny

       “Alexey Navalny spent at least a decade standing up to the Kremlin when it seemed impossible. He was jailed and released. He was poisoned, and survived. He was warned to stay away from Russia and didn’t. He was arrested in front of dozens of cameras, with millions of people watching. In prison, he was defiant and consistently funny. For three years, his jailers put him in solitary confinement, cut off his access to and arrested his lawyers, piled on sentence after sentence, sent him all the way across the world’s largest country to serve out his time in the Arctic, and still, when he appeared on video in court, he laughed at his jailers. Year after year, he faced down the might of one of the world’s cruellest states and the vengeance of one of the world’s cruellest men. His promise was that he would outlive them and lead what he called the Beautiful Russia of the Future. On Friday, they killed him. He was forty-seven years old…”Masha Gessen, The New Yorker

I can’t claim that I’m surprised at his murder.
Good luck getting his body back to his family.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

OK, recess is over, kiddies.

Back to  work.

Click the cover.


I finished this fine book this morning. I could not recommend it more highly. I will have to get back to it with a blog post of its own as soon as possible. Lots of other crazy stuff going on this week. The mass shooting in Kansas City (where my elder grandson and family live), the Navalny murder, and a totally unexpected death in the extended family. Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas

But, well, he's nonetheless still got the loyalty of mega-billionaire
music stars Kid Rock and Ted Nugent, right?

268 days until November 5th.
KC 25, SF 22, in Overtime

Friday, February 9, 2024

Climate Science News: Dr. Michael E. Mann

Punitive Damages Awarded to Climate-Change Scientist Dr. Michael Mann in Decade-Long Defamation Case

We secured a decisive victory in our long-standing defamation claims against an adjunct scholar with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), Rand Simberg, and a TV/radio personality who wrote for the National Review, Mark Steyn. Following a four-week jury trial, we were awarded punitive damages of $1,000 against Simberg and $1,000,000 against Steyn by a jury in the District of Columbia Superior Court. 

Dr. Mann’s trial team was led by John Willian1s, a Washington, D.C. based defamation lawyer, and Pete Fontaine, a Philadelphia-based environmental lawyer with Cozen O'Conner. Williams and Fontaine were joined by Patrick Coyne of Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP and Amorie Hammel of Cozen O'Connor.

Today's verdict followed 12 years of litigation by Dr. Mann and the entire legal team.

Dr. Mann, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and currently a Presidential Distinguished Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was a lead author with Dr. Raymond Bradley and Dr. Malcolm Hughes of groundbreaking research in 1998 and 1999 which demonstrated a sharp increase in global temperatures linked to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Mann’s research reconstructed historical temperatures over the past 1,000 years using national temperature archives. That temperature reconstruction is represented on a graph shaped like a hockey stick lying on its side with the blade pointing upward. The graph, which came to be known as the "Hockey Stick" graph, was prominently featured by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2001 report on climate change.

Dr. Mann filed his defamation suit in 2012 after Rand Simberg writing for CEI and Mark Steyn writing for National Review published articles comparing Dr. Mann to the convicted child molester arid fo1mer Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky. The articles asserted that Dr. Mann had falsified his Hockey Stick research and called Dr. Mann "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science" who "molested and tortured data" arid committed “scientific and academic misconduct.”

Under the Supreme Court's New York Times v. Sullivan standard, Dr. Mann was required to show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendants published their writings with “actual malice," a heavy burden under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The trial team showed that the defendants either knew or recklessly disregarded multiple investigations clearing Dr. Mann of misconduct in the wake of the 2009 ClimateGate controversy involving stolen emails from a research unit in the United Kingdom. Two of those investigations were key pieces of evidence in the case: one completed by Pennsylvania State University (where Dr. Mann was a professor for 17 years) and a second by the National Science Foundation, which funded the research.

According to Mr. Fontaine, "Today's verdict vindicates Mike Mann’s good name and reputation. It also is a big victory for truth and scientists everywhere who dedicate their lives answering vital scientific questions impacting human health arid the planet."

According to Dr. Mann, "I hope this verdict sends a message that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech." 
In this sweeping work of science and history, the renowned climate scientist and author of The New Climate War shows us the conditions on Earth that allowed humans not only to exist but thrive, and how they are imperiled if we veer off course.
For the vast majority of its 4.54 billion years, Earth has proven it can manage just fine without human beings. Then came the first proto-humans, who emerged just a little more than 2 million years ago—a fleeting moment in geological time. What is it that made this benevolent moment of ours possible? Ironically, it’s the very same thing that now threatens us—climate change.

The drying of the tropics during the Pleistocene period created a niche for early hominids, who could hunt prey as forests gave way to savannahs in the African tropics. The sudden cooling episode known as the “Younger Dryas” 13,000 years ago, which occurred just as Earth was thawing out of the last Ice Age, spurred the development of agriculture in the fertile crescent. The “Little Ice Age” cooling of the 16th-19th centuries led to famines and pestilence for much of Europe, yet it was a boon for the Dutch, who were able to take advantage of stronger winds to shorten their ocean voyages.

The conditions that allowed humans to live on this earth are fragile, incredibly so. Climate variability has at times created new niches that humans or their ancestors could potentially exploit, and challenges that at times have spurred innovation. But there’s a relatively narrow envelope of climate variability within which human civilization remains viable. And our survival depends on conditions remaining within that range.
In this book, renowned climate scientist Michael Mann will arm readers with the knowledge necessary to appreciate the gravity of the unfolding climate crisis, while emboldening them—and others--to act before it truly does become too late.

I've cited Dr. Mann numerous times.


Monday, February 5, 2024

“However loathsome or loving we are, so will we be.“

“The first step is to stop policing the borders of your own imagination.”
Rooting around in the online edition of my forthcoming next issue of my Science Magazine.
Sociologist Ruha Benjamin’s Imagination: A Manifesto is a short, punchy book designed to kick-start expansive thinking about society’s most pressing collective problems. Joining works such as historian Robin Kelley’s classic Freedom Dreams (1), Benjamin’s new book argues that scholars and activists committed to justice should look to the utopian imaginings of those ill-served by current distributions of power, privilege, and resources. Victims of oppressive structures often have insight into the kinds of social transformations that would alleviate their suffering, she observes.

 In the tradition of the best manifestos, Benjamin encourages readers to think through seemingly audacious suggestions, such as the abolition of oppressive systems and the creation of “a world in which everyone can thrive.” Rights now thought of as inalienable were often first envisioned by radical dreamers, she reminds us, inviting readers to join their ranks...

The book is strongest when it draws on concrete examples of scholars, artists, activists, and even states that are imagining more equal power relations and more inclusive futures. For instance, Benjamin describes how, in collaboration with Breonna Taylor’s mother and boyfriend, the artist Lady Pheønix created an app that reframes negative media portrayals of Taylor, who was unarmed when she was killed by police in her Kentucky home in 2020. Pheønix’s work helps to contextualize Taylor’s life, creating an experience that includes a hologram of the 26-year-old medical worker with her favorite flowers, her art, and messages from people who cared for her. Benjamin explores how art helped to interrupt a victim-blaming narrative, imagining a more compassionate framing in the face of dehumanization…
Ahhh... No "Praise-Criticism-Praise sandwich" in the review. Gotta be a good'un. I'll know tomorrow, pre-ordered it (release date Feb 6th). Amazon blurb:
In this revelatory work, Ruha Benjamin calls on us to take imagination seriously as a site of struggle and a place of possibility for reshaping the future.

A world without prisons? Ridiculous. Schools that foster the genius of every child? Impossible. Work that doesn’t strangle the life out of people? Naive. A society where everyone has food, shelter, love? In your dreams. Exactly. Ruha Benjamin, Princeton University professor, insists that imagination isn’t a luxury. It is a vital resource and powerful tool for collective liberation.

Imagination: A Manifesto is her proclamation that we have the power to use our imaginations to challenge systems of oppression and to create a world in which everyone can thrive. But obstacles abound. We have inherited destructive ideas that trap us inside a dominant imagination. Consider how racism, sexism, and classism make hierarchies, exploitation, and violence seem natural and inevitable—but all emerged from the human imagination.

The most effective way to disrupt these deadly systems is to do so collectively. Benjamin highlights the educators, artists, activists, and many others who are refuting powerful narratives that justify the status quo, crafting new stories that reflect our interconnection, and offering creative approaches to seemingly intractable problems.

Imagination: A Manifesto offers visionary examples and tactics to push beyond the constraints of what we think, and are told, is possible. This book is for anyone who is ready to take to heart Toni Morrison’s instruction: “Dream a little before you think.”

"Dream a little before you think."

Copy that.

All apropos of recent heavy topics, I would say.
Oh, yeah, on "thinking." I read this book in one sitting on Saturday.

THIS LITTLE BOOK IS A collection of essays I wrote for The Atlantic that emanates from my stubborn desire to think for myself. Any time a person in authority tells me that I must believe their version of events—even when the truth is so obviously different—has my attention. Some of them are about very serious subjects, such as the brutal attack on Salman Rushdie or the media’s certainty that a video of an adolescent on the Washington Mall shows him committing a hate crime. Others are about extremely nonserious subjects, such as … well, you’ll see. They all come from the same impulse, however—and they are certainly a product of George Orwell’s observation that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

It’s more true now than in his day: Here is what you have to believe to be a “good” person—someone “clubbable,” to use an old phrase—and here are the facts on the ground.

I can tell you that each time I finished one of these essays, I heard a tiny, satisfying kind of “click.” I had done the best I could to find out what had happened, correct the record, and draw a conclusion supported by facts.

The world is full of glittering images and salesmen eager to get you to buy one of them. But it’s your life and your mind, and—as of present writing—you have every right to think and speak and write for yourself. You’re needed out here…

Flanagan, Caitlin. On Thinking for Yourself (Atlantic Editions) (pp. xiii-xiv). Zando. Kindle Edition. 
A fine writer. Great sense of humor.


Saw this on 60 Minutes last night. Goes to my now-abandoned absurd non-starter proposal.



Dr. Benjamin's new book is out. I'm whacked upside the head from the very first page.

I bought Dr. Benjamin's book on Tuesday, finished it yesterday. A lot to ponder. Elegantly written, tightly argued, a pleasure to read. Princeton is lucky to have her. More on it shortly. I'm listening to SCOTUS Orals at the moment, re: the Trump CO primary election ballot removal thing per Amendment 14, Section 3 ("insurrection").

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Monday, January 29, 2024

A breadth of sneering anti-"Woke Cultural Elites" vitriol.

 One Convenient Location.

~ 900 pages [pdf] of what they call their "Opening Salvo."
Any logical incoherence in the foregoing paragraph jump out at you?
"Americans' First Amendment rights?" As long as you, minmally, abstain from citing
or writing favorably about the words & phrases fundamental to the "Woke" cohort?
Moreover, your use of such terminology (unless evoked disparagingly)
precludes your eligibility for federal employment in 2025 and beyond.

THE CONCEPT OF FREE SPEECH evolved in the West for 2,000 years, beginning with the Athenians (although not without a few setbacks, such as the death of Socrates). But America was the first country in history to enshrine a formal, legal, and enforceable protection for free expression, ensuring that people have the right to speak no matter who’s pissed off or how powerful they are.

Whenever a society collapses in on itself, free speech is the first thing to go. That’s how you know we’re in the process of closing up shop. Our legal protections remain in place—that’s why so many of us were able to smack the Trump piñata to such effect—but the culture of free speech is eroding every day. Ask an Oberlin student—fresh outta Shaker Heights, coming in hot, with a heart as big as all outdoors and a 3 in AP Bio—to tell you what speech is acceptable, and she’ll tell you that it’s speech that doesn’t hurt the feelings of anyone belonging to a protected class.

Flanagan, Caitlin. On Thinking for Yourself (Atlantic Editions) (pp. 72-73). Zando. Kindle Edition.
On the heels of my prior Dr. Blackstock post, some interesting and timely reading.
Lots more shortly. Gotta go fetch Calvin... 

Zack De Piero taught writing for four years in the English department at Penn State’s Abington campus. Then he resigned and, in 2023, filed a lawsuit alleging that administrators and other faculty members discriminated against him because he is white. In his telling, the school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by creating a hostile work environment. In response, hundreds of academics signed an open letter calling the lawsuit a reactionary attack on “ongoing efforts in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.”

The dispute, like so many in higher education, pits a faction that believes that the prevailing campus attitudes toward identity are racist against a faction that believes that they help fight racism. It is hardly unique in raising the question of whether DEI initiatives ever go too far. Still, this case stands out, not only because it resulted in a federal lawsuit, but because earlier this month, a judge denied Penn State’s motion to dismiss De Piero’s hostile-workplace claim. The case can now go to trial.

The ruling comes as backlash against DEI initiatives is growing and questions about when they violate antidiscrimination law remain unsettled. More significant, it establishes a standard that federal judges of varying ideologies could plausibly adopt, and that other plaintiffs can use to bring bias claims to trial.

This isn’t a case where, say, a white Donald Trump appointee who hates academia took an extreme position, like “Any departure from color-blindness is illegal,” that would be overturned on appeal. This particular judge is more difficult for DEI partisans to dismiss. Wendy Beetlestone, a Black district-court judge born in Nigeria, was appointed to the bench by Barack Obama. She was announced last year as the University of Liverpool’s next chancellor; she is clearly not hostile to higher education. And the substance of her ruling is hard for would-be critics to reject in full…

Critical race theory was yesterday’s scandal. Today, diversity-equity-and-inclusion initiatives are in the crosshairs of critics across the political spectrum who seek to dismantle any notion that racism is systemic and thus deserving of systemic remedies. Though the crisis at Harvard University began with questions concerning the prevalence of antisemitism and ended with charges of plagiarism against its president, Claudine Gay—who then resigned—for many of Gay’s opponents, D.E.I. initiatives appear to have been the main target. When the conservative activist Chris Rufo wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the role of conservatives, including himself, in ending Gay’s presidency, antisemitism and plagiarism received no meaningful mention. Instead, Rufo focussed on conservatives’ efforts to end D.E.I. in higher education. In his own long statement, Gay’s chief critic, the billionaire hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman, said that D.E.I. was the “root cause” of antisemitism on Harvard’s campus…

There's a ton more. These will serve illustratively apropos of the broad cultural gnashing for the moment.

OK, whatever your opinion of the breadth of consenting adults' erotica proclivities and indulgences (irrespective of media expression format), this lame willful conflation is, well,—utterly predictable, I guess. First, gauzy as it may be jurisprudentially, it's "obscenity" that crosses the decisis ConLaw line. Moreover, the characterization of porn as "omnipresently manifested" in "transgender ideology and sexualization of chlldren..."

What? Need I really elaborate? Flamboyant adult hetero "swinger" Roger Stone apparently didn't get The Memo. Neither did the FL anti-woke book banners “Moms For Liberty” FFM video hotties.

The foregoing rather exemplifies the aggregate problem with this poignant "Opening Salvo." I am currently close to 400 pages through these ~900 pages.** This crew simply cannot resist larding up even otherwise often relatively unremarkable policy reform propositions (however "illiberal") with their fevered (projective?) visions of innocent toddlers fellating Cultural Elite Woke Trannies.
(** And, I've keyword/phrase-searched most of the principal red-meat straw-gender-fluid fallacies spanning the text in pursuit of their conclusionary contexts. Yeah, the riff is endemic. Don't take me at my word. "Do Your Own Research." Cmd-F is Your Friend.)
** Gotta love SECTION 4(26), by Peter Navarro,
now convicted & sentenced for Contempt of Congress.

...On the right there is constant complaints of the “liberal bias” in the media, and on the left there are complaints of the rise of right-wing media which they feel is biased and radicalizing. The culture wars focus mainly on schools, because those schools teach not only facts and knowledge but convey the values of our society. The left views DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiates as promoting social justice while the right views it as brainwashing the next generation with liberal propaganda. This is an oversimplification, but it is the basic dynamic. Even industry has been targeted by the culture wars… The Neurologica Blog

Hmmm... they're gonna be hiring? (A sort of "temp agency?" I’m seein’ a Netflix Series…) What could possibly go wrong?
Well, you have to give up personal info to simply get a peek at the application. Congratulations, you are now a donor prospect. ("Your monthly donation commitment will prioritize your application ranking.")
Just let me guess as to what kinds of CV/personal "vetting" info you'll have to submit? Will it include a gamut of ideological purity questions? A list of all your social media accounts?

Seriously, kiddies?

Spend a bit of time surfing their website. Draw your own conclusions.
Wafts of Trump University in the air?

I'm 10 days out from my 78th birthday. I think a new car is in order.
arf, arf...

ragion di stato

Get a load of this dude:

...Alternatively, in a formulation I prefer, one can imagine an illiberal legalism that is not “conservative” at all, insofar as standard conservatism is content to play defensively within the procedural rules of the liberal order.

This approach should take as its starting point substantive moral principles that conduce to the common good, principles that officials (including, but by no means limited to, judges) should read into the majestic generalities and ambiguities of the written Constitution. These principles include respect for the authority of rule and of rulers; respect for the hierarchies needed for society to function; solidarity within and among families, social groups, and workers’ unions, trade associations, and professions; appropriate subsidiarity, or respect for the legitimate roles of public bodies and associations at all levels of government and society; and a candid willingness to “legislate morality”—indeed, a recognition that all legislation is necessarily founded on some substantive conception of morality, and that the promotion of morality is a core and legitimate function of authority. Such principles promote the common good and make for a just and well-ordered society.

To be sure, some have attempted to ground an idea of the common good on an originalist understanding, taking advantage of the natural-rights orientation of the founding era. Yet that approach leaves originalism in ultimate control, hoping that the original understanding will happen to be morally appealing. I am talking about a different, more ambitious project, one that abandons the defensive crouch of originalism and that refuses any longer to play within the terms set by legal liberalism. Ronald Dworkin, the legal scholar and philosopher, used to urge “moral readings of the Constitution.”Common-good constitutionalism is methodologically Dworkinian, but advocates a very different set of substantive moral commitments and priorities from Dworkin’s, which were of a conventionally left-liberal bent.

Common-good constitutionalism is not legal positivism, meaning that it is not tethered to particular written instruments of civil law or the will of the legislators who created them. Instead it draws upon an immemorial tradition that includes, in addition to positive law, sources such as the ius gentium—the law of nations or the “general law” common to all civilized legal systems—and principles of objective natural morality, including legal morality in the sense used by the American legal theorist Lon Fuller: the inner logic that the activity of law should follow in order to function well as law.

Common-good constitutionalism is also not legal liberalism or libertarianism. Its main aim is certainly not to maximize individual autonomy or to minimize the abuse of power (an incoherent goal in any event), but instead to ensure that the ruler has the power needed to rule well. A corollary is that to act outside or against inherent norms of good rule is to act tyrannically, forfeiting the right to rule, but the central aim of the constitutional order is to promote good rule, not to “protect liberty” as an end in itself. Constraints on power are good only derivatively, insofar as they contribute to the common good; the emphasis should not be on liberty as an abstract object of quasi-religious devotion, but on particular human liberties whose protection is a duty of justice or prudence on the part of the ruler.

Finally, unlike legal liberalism, common-good constitutionalism does not suffer from a horror of political domination and hierarchy, because it sees that law is parental, a wise teacher and an inculcator of good habits. Just authority in rulers can be exercised for the good of subjects, if necessary even against the subjects’ own perceptions of what is best for them—perceptions that may change over time anyway, as the law teaches, habituates, and re-forms them. Subjects will come to thank the ruler whose legal strictures, possibly experienced at first as coercive, encourage subjects to form more authentic desires for the individual and common goods, better habits, and beliefs that better track and promote communal well-being.

Common-good constitutionalism draws inspiration from the early modern theory of ragion di stato—reason of state,” which, despite the connotations that have become attached to its name, is not at all a tradition of unscrupulous machination. (Indeed, it was formulated precisely to combat amoral technocratic visions of rule as the maximization of princely power.) Instead the ragion di stato tradition elaborates a set of principles for the just exercise of authority. Promoting a substantive vision of the good is, always and everywhere, the proper function of rulers. Every act of public-regarding government has been founded on such a vision; any contrary view is an illusion. Liberal and libertarian constitutional decisions that claim to rule out “morality” as a ground for public action are incoherent, even fraudulent, for they rest on merely a particular account of morality, an implausible account.

Given that it is legitimate for rulers to pursue the common good,  constitutional law should elaborate subsidiary principles that make such rule efficacious. Constitutional law must afford broad scope for rulers to promote—as the ragion di stato put it, in a famous trinity of principles—peace, justice, and abundance. Today, we may add health and safety to that list, in very much the same spirit. In a globalized world that relates to the natural and biological environment in a deeply disordered way, a just state is a state that has ample authority to protect the vulnerable from the ravages of pandemics, natural disasters, and climate change, and from the underlying structures of corporate power that contribute to these events. Because the ragion di stato is not ashamed of strong rule, does not see it as presumptively suspect in the way liberalism does, a further corollary is that authority and hierarchy are also principles of constitutionalism. Finally, and perhaps most important, just rule emphasizes solidarity and subsidiarity. Authority is held in trust for and exercised on behalf of the community and the subsidiary groups that make up a community, not for the benefit of individuals taken one by one.

How, if at all, are these principles to be grounded in the constitutional text and in conventional legal sources? The sweeping generalities and famous ambiguities of our Constitution, an old and in places obscure document, afford ample space for substantive moral readings that promote peace, justice, abundance, health, and safety, by means of just authority, hierarchy, solidarity, and subsidiarity. The general-welfare clause, which gives Congress “power to … provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States,” is an obvious place to ground principles of common-good constitutionalism (despite a liberal tradition of reading the clause in a cramped fashion), as is the Constitution’s preamble, with its references to general welfare and domestic tranquility, to the perfection of the union, and to justice. Constitutional words such as freedom and liberty need not be given libertarian readings; instead they can be read in light of a better conception of liberty as the natural human capacity to act in accordance with reasoned morality.

...The Court’s jurisprudence on free speech, abortion, sexual liberties, and related matters will prove vulnerable under a regime of common-good constitutionalism. The claim, from the notorious joint opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that each individual may “define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” should be not only rejected but stamped as abominable, beyond the realm of the acceptable forever after. So too should the libertarian assumptions central to free-speech law and free-speech ideology—that government is forbidden to judge the quality and moral worth of public speech, that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric,”  and so on—fall under the ax...

After reading up on His Opus Dei-ness in finer depth (he's got a Thing for Monarchism), I tweeted him (he's at Harvard) with a question concerning a couple of core specifics apropos of "the Common Good."
His response was simply to block me for my Great Unwashed Temerity.
Reproductive rights? Suck it up, sistahs.


 Watch it all closely.
278 days to Nov 5th…