23 October 2018

Intruders will be stoned

From testimony given in March by David Helsel, the superintendent of the Blue Mountain School District, in Pennsylvania, at a meeting of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives education committee:
Our district has been training staff and students in an armed-intruder defense plan. Every classroom has been equipped with a five-gallon bucket full of river stone. If an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance, they will face a classroom full of students armed with rocks. And they will be stoned...

Obviously the teachers have pepper spray. The rocks are just for students. We used to have them huddle underneath desks. We’ve learned from Virginia Tech: the gentleman that did it went to a shooting range a week before and put the targets on the ground because he knew students were going to be under the desks...
From the October issue of Harper's.   There's a bit more at the link, and it has a better title ("Schoolhouse Rocks").

21 October 2018


Prominent on the Secretary bird:

Top photo via the San Diego Zoo.  Eyelash photo via.

High school pep rally - updated !!


When I was in high school, a pep rally consisted of two or three girls waving pom-poms and trying unsuccessfully to get a small crowd to yell "Win team win."  Times have changed.

Some serious planning, choreography and hundreds of hours of practice must have gone into this routine at Walden Grove High School, Sahuarita Arizona.  Worth a few minutes of your time unless you are a complete grouch. 

Via Boing Boing.

Reposted from last year to add this year's even-more-spectacular production:

If you're going to watch, you should definitely click the fullscreen icon in the lower right corner

This link goes to another view of the performance filmed from closer to the court.  And if you search YouTube you can find a "making of" interview video.  These kids practice every day for a year to prepare these performances.

Via Neatorama.

18 October 2018

René Descartes and the "Exploding Head Syndrome"

Excerpts from an article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine:
René Descartes (1596–1650), “the Father of Modern Philosophy” and advocate of mind-body dualism, had three successive dreams on November 10, 1619 that changed the trajectory of his life and the trajectory of human thought... I propose that Descartes' second dream was not a dream at all; rather, it was an episode of exploding head syndrome; a benign and relatively common parasomnia.

Baillet recounts that Descartes laid awake for 2 hours pondering “the blessings and evils of this world” after his first dream on the night of November 10, 1619. Just as Descartes fell asleep again:

“…immediately he had a new dream in which he believed he heard a sharp and shattering noise, which he took for a clap of thunder. The fright it gave him woke him directly, and after opening his eyes he perceived many sparkling lights scattered about the room. The same thing had often happened to him at other times…”
Descartes' experience following his first dream meets the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Third Edition (ICSD-3) diagnostic criteria for EHS: (1) a sudden loud noise in the head at the wake-sleep transition; (2) causing abrupt awakening and sense of fright; and (3) not associated with significant complaints of pain.

Recent case reports indicate that EHS is often concomitant with another sleep disorder, most notably sleep paralysis, and it may also be more common in undergraduate students... Because EHS is a benign and self-limiting condition, patient education and reassurance is usually all that is required...

The pathophysiology of EHS is unknown. One theory postulates that EHS is the result of a momentary disinhibition of the brainstem reticular formation, occurring during the transition from wakefulness to sleep. A resulting paroxysm of neuronal activity in auditory and visual regions would explain the sudden perception of a loud noise and flash of light. If so, EHS may represent a sensory variant of hypnic jerks.
Much more at the link.  You learn something every day.

Canadian grocery stores running out of Doritos



From the HumansBeingBros subreddit.

17 October 2018

Here's some food for thought

The Murchison meteorite is about five billion years old - older than the Earth

It contains amino acids.
The meteorite belongs to the CM group of carbonaceous chondrites. Like most CM chondrites, Murchison is petrologic type 2, which means that it experienced extensive alteration by water-rich fluids on its parent body before falling to Earth. CM chondrites, together with the CI group, are rich in carbon and are among the most chemically primitive meteorites...

Several lines of evidence indicate that the interior portions of well-preserved fragments from Murchison are pristine. A 2010 study using high resolution analytical tools including spectroscopy, identified 14,000 molecular compounds including 70 amino acids in a sample of the meteorite.
Photo via.

Word for the day: pants

Last night I was listening to an episode of the Great British Baking Show (excellent entertainment, BTW).  One of the contestants said that he had done well in the morning signature bake but had been "pants in the afternoon."  The meaning was evident, but I had to look up the background.

World Wide Words had the answer:
It has been an all-purpose term of disapproval among young people in the UK during the middle to late nineties. It first turned up in print in 1994, in pieces that indicate it was popularised by DJs on the BBC’s radio pop channel, Radio 1... But there’s evidence that the word in this sense is somewhat older, and that it comes from student slang.

Pants in British usage are not trousers, of course, but underpants, principally male. These intimate nether garments have long been a source of innocent merriment among pubescent youth, and this was just another example, in the tradition of the earlier exclamation knickers!, indicating contempt or exasperation. It appears in phrases like “it’s a pile of pants!” (Simon Mayo’s catchphrase) and “it’s pants!” or “it’s absolute pants”, meaning that it’s a total load of rubbish. Later, we began to hear it from older people as in “My tomato crop was pants last year”. In phrases like “say pants to ...” it’s an injunction to wave goodbye to something considered outmoded, unwanted or unnecessary.
You learn something every day.

"Blade Runner Suite"

Via Neatorama.

The Federal budget deficit continues to grow. No end in sight.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago:
Federal revenues were essentially flat in the budget year that just ended, despite stepped up economic growth, strong hiring and rising wages for workers, according to new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that show the effects of last year’s tax law. Government spending rose 3% in fiscal year 2018, pushing the budget deficit to $782 billion, up from $666 billion the previous fiscal year, CBO estimated. As a share of gross domestic product, the deficit totaled 3.9% in fiscal 2018, which ended Sept. 30, the third consecutive increase. The deficit would have been even higher if not for shifts in the timing of certain payments...

On the spending side, federal outlays rose 3% in the fiscal year, due to rising costs for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as higher interest payments on the public debt and higher military spending.
The WSJ article was based on the Congressional Budget Office's "snapshot" report.  This week the Treasury Department released the final fiscal-year report...
... showing that the deficit for FY 2018 increased to $779 billion, a $113 billion (or 17 percent) increase from FY 2017. The deficit is 3.9 percent of GDP, also up from 3.5 percent in 2017...

The $113 billion increase in the deficit comes from largely flat revenue coupled with increasing spending. Revenue was up only $14 billion, or 0.4 percent. This revenue growth rate is the eighth lowest in the past 50 years, and the seven lower years either coincided with a recession or tax cuts/expiring tax increases enacted shortly after a recession...

Outlays were up $127 billion over FY 2017. Interest was the fastest growing portion of the budget, increasing nearly 24 percent since last year. Other areas of spending growing significantly were Social Security (4.5 percent) and defense (5.6 percent). Defense spending grew by a more rapid rate than recent years due to this year's budget agreement that increased the defense spending cap substantially...

Recent legislation is responsible for the deficit increase. CBO estimated that the tax law would cost $164 billion in FY 2018, which would account for more than the entire deficit increase. The spending deal (the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018) was estimated to cost $68 billion, which would account for about 60 percent of the increase. Other deficit increasing legislation in FY 2018 added $32 billion to the 2018 deficit. These estimates suggest that if none of these laws were enacted, the deficit would have declined to about $515 billion this year. The tax bill and the spending deal are expected to cost more next fiscal year ($228 billion and $185 billion, respectively) as the deficit is expected to reach nearly $1 trillion.
For Fox ache - is there no adult anywhere in Washington who is willing to address this problem.  It seem to me these numbers have hardly been mentioned in the news, because everyone is so busy reporting on Kavanaugh hearings and hurricane damage and the Khashoggi murder and the midterm forecasts.  And the baseball playoffs.  And... squirrel !!!

Embedded image from the second link.

Leaf chromatography

Photographed at an exhibit at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum yesterday.  I need to learn about this, but haven't yet found a concise source (written for adults) to read and cite.   Suggestions?

Scientific American has detailed instructions for undertaking the procedure and interpreting the results:
What are the different bands of color on the test strips? These are the different pigments in the leaves. The ones you may see on your paper towel strips are: green chlorophylls, yellow xanthophylls, orange carotenoids and red anthocyanins. Pigments with larger molecules generally stay near the bottom of the strip, where the solution was first "painted" onto the pencil line, because it is harder for them to travel up through the paper towel's woven fiber. Smaller pigments can more easily traverse the paper towel and, consequently, they usually travel farther up the strip.

15 October 2018

Best vacation trip ever. Maybe the best one possible.

The brochure above arrived in my mail this week, because I've been a National Geographic subscriber.  This is what they are offering:

Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the world, and the process became available to the wealthy in the 19th century.  Nowadays such trips are routinely offered by travel agencies.

But this one is different.  Note the destinations:

This is not a trip to New York, Hong Kong, Paris, London etc for shopping.  For those reading this on a phone and unable to decipher the small fonts of the embeds, here are the destinations:
Machu Piccu
Easter Island
Samoa, Polynesia
The Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling
Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom
the Taj Mahal
the Serengeti Plain
Petra and Wadi Rum
Any ONE of those would for me be the trip of a lifetime.  In addition, you are accompanied on your trip by a National Geographic photographer and a marine biologist, art historian, or anthropologist and archaeologist etc, who will give in-flight lectures on relevant topics - when you are not eating a meal prepared by the expedition chef (using local dishes and served with fine wines):

Travel is in a small(ish) private jet.  Accommodations are in hand-picked small lodges, not big hotels, and entertainment (Rapa Nui dancers, Andean weavers, Bedouin dinners etc) is provided.  And there is an expedition physician traveling with the group.  Of course.

It does cost a lot -

- almost as much as having a medical procedure in an American hospital without insurance.

So it's out of my range by about two log powers, but it still fascinates me.  This is how the 1% live, expending this much for a three-week trip.  Or perhaps charging it to a corporate account to be blended in with other line items.

I guess what I'm jealous of most is the lack of hassles for these travelers.  I can certainly fly somewhere for a vacation, but on arrival I have to rent a car, drive myself through traffic, stay in a big hotel, find a place to eat and so on.  To be catered to like this is an entire different way of life.

But those destinations...

Piano arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody

Via Neatorama.

Evangelical support for Donald Trump

For the past year I've been trying to sequester Donald Trump-related links to a q3monthly "Trump clump," but an article in The Atlantic is so well written that I believe it deserves standalone status.

The author is not your everyday political pundit or internet hack.  Michael Gerson was President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter and senior policy advisor (he wrote Bush's second inaugural address that "called for neo-conservative intervention and nation building around the world.")

Gerson is a neo-conservative and was raised in an Evangelical Christian family.  In this article he asks why Evangelical Christians continue to support a president whose "background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership."
Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ... According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams...

So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. Indeed, a number of serious evangelicals are distancing themselves from the word for similar reasons...

How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? For many people, including myself, this question involves both intellectual analysis and personal angst. The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory...

[concise history of evangelicalism from the Civil War to the present at the link]

As a result, the primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. In this way, evangelicals have become simultaneously more engaged and more alienated...

Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition. “I know that you can’t endorse me,” Reagan told an evangelical conference in 1980, “but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.” In contrast, during his presidential run four years later, Walter Mondale warned of “radical preachers,” and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, denounced the “extremists who control the Republican Party.” By attacking evangelicals, the Democratic Party left them with a relatively easy partisan choice...

The evangelical political agenda, moreover, has been narrowed by its supremely reactive nature. Rather than choosing their own agendas, evangelicals have been pulled into a series of social and political debates started by others. Why the asinine issue of spiritually barren prayer in public schools? Because of Justice Hugo Black’s 1962 opinion rendering it unconstitutional. Why such an effort-wasting emphasis on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, which will never pass? Because in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun located the right to abortion in the constitutional penumbra. Why the current emphasis on religious liberty? Because the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage has raised fears of coercion.

It is not that secularization, abortion, and religious liberty are trivial issues; they are extremely important. But the timing and emphasis of evangelical responses have contributed to a broad sense that evangelical political engagement is negative, censorious, and oppositional. This funneled focus has also created the damaging impression that Christians are obsessed with sex. Much of the secular public hears from Christians only on issues of sexuality—from contraceptive mandates to gay rights to transgender bathroom usage. And while religious people do believe that sexual ethics are important, the nature of contemporary religious engagement creates a misimpression about just how important they are relative to other crucial issues...

Part of the reason such matters are not higher on the evangelical agenda is surely the relative ethnic and racial insularity of many white evangelicals. Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall...

In fact, evangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” Or: “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.” Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.

Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. Christianity is “under siege,” Trump told a Liberty University audience. “Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he added at a later date: “Embrace the label.” Protecting Christianity, Trump essentially argues, is a job for a bully.

Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities...

It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became defined by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. The old “one-bloodism” of Christian anthropology—the belief in the intrinsic and equal value of all human lives—has driven centuries of compassionate service and social reform. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacrifice for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. It can combat dehumanization and elevate the goals and ideals of public life...

It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.

This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.
Apologies to the author for such extended excerpts, but there is way, way more at The Atlantic.  I encourage readers to read the original beginning to end.

When you feed on exploding seed pods...

Via BoingBoing.
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