Science is more than a body of knowledge

[S]cience 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.

— Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996) at p.32.

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The Day the Music Died +62 years

On this day in 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash outside Clear Lake, Iowa in Rock ‘n Roll’s first tragedy.

Thanks to Don McLean’s 1971 hit song, “American Pie,” the event has come to be known as The Day the Music Died.

Buddy Holly on stage at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on 2 Feb 1959, along with Waylon Jennings and Tommy Alsup. Believed to be the last photo taken of Buddy Holly.

I try to note the day every year.

Wake Up, Parents! Christian Nationalists Are Trying To Take Away Your Child’s Right To Read At School

Americans United:

Most parents want their children to be readers. Parents are urged to set a good example by reading to their children and letting their kids see them read. Public libraries sponsor summer reading programs with prizes for kids who read the most books. Public schools extol reading. Celebrities and sports figures often join campaigns urging youngsters to pick up a book. The Reading is Fundamental campaign has been going strong since 1966.

In light of this elevation of reading as a good thing, it’s especially ironic to see stories in the media about how many public school libraries can’t stock enough books these days. It’s not due to budget cuts; rather, the problem is censorship.

We definitely wanted our kids to be readers! We read to our kids before they could read, then encouraged them to read… just about anything! My daughter loved fantasy novels, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, and would devour not only those but just about any book she could get her hands on. My son was a little tougher case, but I learned that he’d read any sort of gaming magazine cover to cover so, problem solved. I didn’t care what they read — I mean, so long as it was more-or-less age appropriate — just so long as they were reading!

Not surprisingly, the books most frequently targeted deal with LGBTQ or racial issues. But fantasy novels and even history books are sometimes attacked by Christian Nationalists. Several librarians told The Post that students are clamoring for new titles, but the cupboard is bare.

Christian Nationalists would rather our children be indoctrinated than educated. And while they’d be happy for kids to read the Bible, they fear wide reading in a variety of subjects because exposure to a world of ideas leads some people to challenge the narrow religious and political views of Christian Nationalists.

What’s the old saying? Science is questions without answers, whereas religion is answers that you’re not allowed to question. Seems about right.

Why we all need subtitles now

“It’s not you — TV dialogue has gotten harder to hear.”

Edward Vega at Vox:

Have you ever been watching a show or movie, and then a character delivers a line so unintelligible you have to scramble to find the remote and rewind? For me, this moment came during the climax of the Pete Davidson film The King of Staten Island, where his most important line was impossible to understand.

I had to rewind three times — and eventually put subtitles on — to finally pick up what he was saying.

This experience isn’t unique. Gather enough people together and you can generally separate them into two categories: People who use subtitles, and people who don’t. And according to a not-so-scientific YouTube poll we ran on our Community tab, the latter category is an endangered species — of respondents who are not deaf or hard of hearing, 57 percent said they use subtitles, while just 12 percent said they generally don’t.

Fascinating. Watch the video.

Vox: The fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, explained

Nicole Narea, Sean Collins, and Ellen Ioanes reporting for Vox:

As Lauren Bonds, the executive director of the National Police Accountability Project, told Vox in an interview Friday, “so many of the high-profile police killings that we’ve seen in recent years have started out as a traffic stop — started out as an expired tag, reckless driving, fines or warrants due.”

“One thing I’d say about the murder of Tyre in particular is that these officers were all part of a specific unit that was essentially designed to engage in, more or less, broken-windows policing, enforcing low-level offenses in order to identify higher-level crimes,” Bonds said.

The unit that Bonds referred to is called SCORPION, or the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods; it was founded in 2021, ostensibly to address violent street crime in Memphis by flooding high-crime areas with officers from the hand-picked special unit. In 2021, according to the New York Times, Memphis had 346 homicides; in September, the city was on edge after a teacher was abducted and murdered, and days later a gunman shot and killed four people.

 

On Saturday, the Memphis Police Department announced that it had disbanded its SCORPION unit, which had previously been suspended after Nichols was beaten by officers in the unit.

The fact that both Nichols and the officers accused of his murder are Black isn’t unusual, either in Memphis or in other incidents of police brutality. Memphis is “a pretty Black city,” Bonds said; both the city and its police department are majority Black, and the department is led by a Black chief of police.

Ultimately, Bonds said, the race of those carrying out the violence is incidental.

“It’s systemic, and it’s ultimately state violence, which doesn’t really have a color except for the color of the people who are in power in this country,” she said. “So to say that there are no racial implications because there’s a Black victim and Black officers involved is a really myopic way of looking at the problem.”

This is a comprehensive article, and is an absolute must read.

Nearly Half of All Sheriffs in Louisiana Are Violating Public Records Laws

Richard A. Webster reporting for Verite News and ProPublica:

Nearly half of Louisiana sheriffs are in violation of a state law regulating the preservation and destruction of public records, according to documents provided by state officials.

The disclosure follows an article this month by Verite, also published by ProPublica, on accusations that the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office illegally destroyed documents in a lawsuit involving an autistic boy who died in custody. It also comes on the heels of increased scrutiny on the outsize power wielded by Louisiana sheriffs.

“[I]ncreased scrutiny on the outsize power wielded by Louisiana sheriffs”: My dad — a lawyer for the State of Louisiana and one of the most brilliant men I ever knew — used to love to say that, “there’s nothing bigger than a small town cop.” He was referring to ‘small town cops’ in Louisiana1, where he lived his entire life.

The lack of governmental oversight of elected sheriffs — despite years of complaints and allegations of civil rights abuses — has made it difficult for alleged victims of police abuse to prove misconduct. It has also led to impunity for bad actors, according to civil rights attorneys, community activists and criminal justice experts.

And the lack of state approval for the disposal of public records means sheriffs offices are not fully accounting for information about alleged deputy misconduct, which can be crucial in investigations and litigation over claims of civil rights violations. These records can include internal affairs investigations into the use of excessive force and in-custody deaths, as well as more mundane documents such as payroll records.

And, let’s be honest, Louisiana2 has a long history of law enforcement “misconduct”.

yeah, in a minute…
1 Most areas of Louisiana, save for the more well-known cities (New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport, Monroe) are what you’d probably consider ‘small towns’.
2 Not to say that Louisiana is the only state with such a long history, but it is one of the more prominent ones, for sure.

Anti-cancer drug shows promise in human clinical trials

Diana Yates, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

A phase I clinical trial of PAC-1, a drug that spurs programmed cell death in cancer cells, found only minor side effects in patients with end-stage cancers. The drug stalled the growth of tumors in the five people in the trial with neuroendocrine cancers and reduced tumor size in two of those patients. It also showed some therapeutic activity against sarcomas, scientists and clinicians report in the British Journal of Cancer.

[…]

The findings from the clinical trial are noteworthy because the drug was tested in a small number of patients with advanced disease, said study clinical director Dr. Arkadiusz Dudek, an oncologist with the HealthPartners Cancer Center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, and at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Phase I clinical trials are designed to test whether a new drug compound has worrisome side effects or toxicities in human patients, Dudek said. But scientists also can look for early evidence of therapeutic benefits. The trial enrolled cancer patients with advanced disease who had run out of other treatment options.

Brutal.

The City of Memphis, Tennessee has released four videos on Vimeo depicting the police stop and beating of Tyre Nichols:

These videos are absolutely fucking brutal.

Heartbreaking.

Republicans Want to Force AT&T to Carry Trumpy Propaganda Network

Nikki McCann Ramirez writing at Rolling Stone:

The party of free-market capitalism has responded to DirecTV booting Newsmax by arguing that the network should carry the Trump-loving propaganda network, financial considerations be damned. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) told Newsmax, which is still available for free on their website, that the “censorship” of conservative voices has “got to stop.”

Good riddance to that piece of shit.

The People Who Don’t Read Books

Thomas Chatterton Williams at The Atlantic: The People Who Don’t Read Books: Identifying as someone who categorically rejects books suggests a much larger deficiency of character

We have never before had access to so many perspectives, ideas, and information. Much of it is fleetingly interesting but ultimately inconsequential—not to be confused with expertise, let alone wisdom. This much is widely understood and discussed. The ease with which we can know things and communicate them to one another, as well as launder success in one realm into pseudo-authority in countless others, has combined with a traditional American tendency toward anti-intellectualism and celebrity worship. Toss in a decades-long decline in the humanities, and we get our superficial culture in which even the elite will openly disparage as pointless our main repositories for the very best that has been thought.

Ivory for Mastodon by Tapbots

As many of you already know, a couple weeks ago Elon Musk pulled a really shitty move, and locked out 3rd party Twitter clients with no notice whatsoever. Well, that sucks, because my Twitter client of choice was TweetBot, and I loved it — I’ve been using TweetBot since it’s initial release in 2011.

Of course this sucks for all the independent developers who have created interesting Twitter clients, but it also sucks for us users, because, well, the “official” Twitter app for iOS really sucks balls, and it has sucked to some degree ever since Twitter acquired it from Tweetie back in 2010 and started changing things (Tweetie was a nice app).

So, this incredibly shitty situation has led to a number of independent developers retiring their Twitter clients, TweetBot among them. This has caused me to, basically, quit Twitter, the way I quit Facebook back in 2015 for different reasons1. So what to do now?

Well, I’ve decided to join Mastodon, and I’ve been experimenting with the available iOS and macOS clients. There are some interesting apps available, but none gave me the user experience I was hoping for.

The silver lining is that this shitty Twitter situation has caused Tapbots to fast-track the release of their Mastodon client, Ivory for Mastodon. Ivory is now available as an “early access” app on the App Store. Now, understand, Tapbots has done with Ivory what Apple is famous for doing with it’s products: release a minimally viable product, and constantly interate for improvement.

For my money (and I subscribed to Ivory’s Premier tier immediately upon initial launch of the app) Ivory is the best of what’s available. And, if you were a TweetBot user, then it’s a no-brainer.

Check it out!

yeah, in a minute…
1 I quit Facebook when I realized that it was just a horrible, horrible platform that made my life worse, not better.