Links I liked, Sep 6 – Sep 16 (Join the Plodders, Air Force One on 9/11, College Blacklists)

1. Stop the Revolution.  Join the Plodders.

As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

2. ‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’

A long but fascinating retelling of the events of 9/11 from the perspective of Air Force One.  You’ll just have to give it a read.

3. Play mini golf on the Lugnuts’ field

OK this is a local story but I thought – what a great idea, maybe other cities should try it.  Putt-putt golf for a week post-season on the field of the minor league baseball Lansing Lugnuts.

4. Pittsburgh, your Self-Driving Uber is arriving now

A genuine, self-driving Uber test in Pittsburgh.  (Still with a “safety driver” up front, but nonetheless feels like a real step forward.)

5. Pure Michigan Statewide Singalong

Someone (er… in 2012) uploaded an HD version of this enjoyable parody and tour of the state.

6. You don’t say: Trust in media falls to historic low in new Gallup poll

The numbers here are astounding even to me.  14% of Republicans have at least a “fair” amount of trust in mass media.  14%.  As recently as 1998 that was 52%.  Even Democrats are only at 51%.

7. LBGT College Blacklist

This is Athenian Democracy 101 — that when we pool money, we ineluctably support things we’re not crazy about — that you can read about in Aristotle’s Politics, but Campus Pride has, in classic Enlightened Modernity fashion, now seen a thing that was never there and claimed it to be eternal.

Worse, follow Campus Pride’s logic: Group A has a policy we dislike, and so we encourage incomparably powerful structures (for what else are corporations?) to boycott and blacklist anyone associated with Group A. The gay rights movement was marginalized for many years. The fact that they are now calling for hegemonic and anti-democratic powers to join them in silencing people who verbally disagree should be a huge cause for concern. And this is not even to mention that they don’t want to just silence Group A but in fact anyone associated with it, including, potentially, a gay student who had the poor luck to graduate from there.

Traditional conservatives should not roll our eyes at this development. A neo-McCarthyist group is explicitly asking the forces of the neoliberal corporate state to join forces with them in expelling dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy not just from the public square, but from the public and from the society. The goal is not to win an argument; the goal is to drive someone away. The goal, bluntly, is to symbolically kill them. That such vengeance is emanating from a recently disenfranchised group is very disheartening. That the movement is calling for a State-Corporate fusion in order to excise Christian enemies is terrifying.

As someone who cares about clear thinking, this stuff actually wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if it wasn’t done in the name of being “inclusive and welcoming”, as is the explicit claim in this case. You cannot ask businesses to exclude from their consideration anyone who so much as touched a college you had so much as a verbal disagreement with and claim you are being “inclusive and welcoming”. Anything but.

This week brought to you by our new fighting conch.

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Links I liked, Aug 30 – Sep 5 (SpaceX explosion, winds in the stratosphere, and more)

1. SpaceX rocket explodes during test.

Golly.  Gives you a sense for how nervous those tiny Apollo astronauts might have been sitting at the end of those gigantic rockets.

2. A strange thing happened in the stratosphere

Winds in the tropical stratosphere, an atmospheric layer that extends from about 10 to 30 miles above Earth’s surface, circulate the planet in alternating easterly and westerly directions over roughly a two-year period. Westerly winds develop at the top of the stratosphere, and gradually descend to the bottom, about 10 miles above the surface while at the same time being replaced by a layer of easterly winds above them. In turn, the easterlies descend and are replaced by westerlies.

This pattern repeats every 28 months. In the 1960s scientists coined it the “quasi-biennial oscillation.” The record of these measurements, made by weather balloons released in the tropics at various points around the globe, dates to 1953.

The pattern never changed – until late 2015.

3. Coral Beauty Angelfish getting scrubbed by Cleaner Shrimp

From our aquarium actually – was pleased to finally catch this neat interspecies interaction on video.

4. How Trigger Warnings Silence Religious Students

Many passed this article around last week – happy to see this discussed in a mainstream publication.  I know a lot of people (especially outside of academia) would say that the whole point of trigger warnings, safe spaces, and the like is to silence speech.  This author would rather say that the silencing of speech is an unfortunate side effect that needs to be dealt with.  So I know a lot of readers would say this article is really much too nice but, as I said, happy to see this discussed in a mainstream publication.

Students should be free to argue their beliefs without fear of being labeled intolerant or disrespectful, whether they think certain sexual orientations are forbidden by God, life occurs at the moment of conception, or Islam is the exclusive path to salvation; and conversely, the same freedom should apply to those who believe God doesn’t care about who we have sex with, abortion is a fundamental right, or Islam is based on nothing more than superstitious nonsense. As it stands, that freedom does not exist in most academic settings, except when students’ opinions line up with what can be broadly understood as progressive political values.

5. I don’t.

About 2% of children in Japan are born out of wedlock – in America, about 40%.

6. Discrimination That Is Necessary For a Civil Society: A Response to David Gushee

A while ago a local news station had a poll that went something like “are curfews only for those of certain ages discriminatory?”. My reaction was – that is a terrible question to poll people about. One of the definitions of “discrimination” is to make a distinction between. By definition a curfew that applies to some ages and not others is discrimination, you don’t need a poll for that. What they really wanted to know, of course, is if people thought such curfews were wrong or unjust. But that isn’t what they said.

The law is usually more precise, forbidding discrimination based on X, Y, and Z, sort of implying thereby that there is a lot of other discrimination going on that is just fine. But the two definitions (basically “recognize a distinction” and “make an unjust distinction”) are often mixed, quite intentionally at times I think by people who want to create confusion of thought and draw people to their side (“it’s unjust discrimination”) without ever having to make an argument for why it is. (And mixed unintentionally at other times by people whose thought is simply, by now, thoroughly confused.) Therefore I am happy to see careful thinkers pointing this out and insisting on more precision.

7. 10 Steps to Fix a City

Throw out your parking ordinances.  Dramatically simplify your zoning.

8. Freshwater jellyfish discovered in Michigan lake

The non-native species is home to one region in China, but they have been reported in Michigan since the 1930s, according to the United States Geological Survey. Experts said these penny-sized invertebrates are not dangerous to humans nor Michigan’s ecological system.

This week brought to you by aurora north of Lansing, Michigan.

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Some photos from a construction tour of FRIB (the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams)

This is basically just the blogification of some social media posts I’ve written, since it occurred to me some web-searchers might find these photos also interesting! Caption accuracy is not guaranteed, click the photos to make them larger. If you don’t know FRIB, it is basically a $730 million bump-out of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) here in East Lansing, Michigan, that will enable them to run experiments much faster… it is also a linear accelerator rather than a cyclotron. The facility is a little over half-done. And now, some photos.

Here we are about to go on the tour.

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Most of the folks with us were cyclotron operators – that is, they run the show at the NSCL. It was fun overhearing their conversations (especially about how they were going to fix stuff that breaks in the new setup!).

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Place started to feel like a bunker once you headed underground, I know where I’m going once the zombies come.

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Here is the main beamline tunnel, 35 feet below grade and about 500 feet long, which the beamline will travel through in a sort of paperclip pattern. It was nice and cool down there. The facility electrical connection is for 25 MW, more than Michigan State University’s powerplant can provide, with a 4 MW backup for cryo systems. The walls down here are 3 feet thick, the floor 4.5 feet, the ceiling 3.5 feet.

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Just another photo of the tunnel, the long pipe running down the middle will carry cryo fluids.

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This is where they’re going to lower the Stargate into the tunnel to travel to other planets. They’ll never admit it, of course. (Oh… you’re all Stargate fans.)

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Near the target areas there was a special high-density concrete, cost $1600 per cubic yard, so high in iron it would attract a magnet (as our tour guide demonstrated).

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I want to say this was a cooling control room, but note especially the renderings on the wall – our tour guide mentioned that 300 draftsmen worked on the project.

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Lots of 3000 pound, lead-lined doors about.

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I can’t remember what this room was for, but here is Bec looking professional.

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The squares will eventually be leaded-glass windows looking into the target areas.

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Final photo – and this photo doesn’t really do justice to the scale of the space. The wall on the left is 7.5 feet thick (“because we have neighbors on that side”). The facility bottoms-out about 60 feet below grade with some water storage tanks, above that is the beam dump (the last place the beam goes), and above that are the targets themselves.

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Good tour.

My very brief thoughts on Michigan’s ballot proposals

Local post! I write too many treatises, so I thought I’d keep this brief (but don’t complain too much that I’m not addressing every subtlety, ’cause that would require a treatise). If you have no idea what the six proposals are, CapCon has a great chart summarizing all of them. If you think I’m wrong about any choice, I’d be happy to be educated in the comments.

Prop 1: Voting “no” replaces the current “emergency managers” of insolvent cities/etc. with the “emergency financial managers” from older legislation. The main difference is that “emergency managers” can recommend that the state amend a local government’s collective bargaining agreements. So who wants you to vote no? Public-sector unions trying to maintain their inordinately lavish benefits and salaries at the public’s expense, of course. Vote yes.

Prop 2: This proposal would overturn 170 existing state laws governing public sector unions and, most distressingly, make passing a right-to-work law in Michigan legislatively impossible. Vote no.

Prop 3: A proposal mandating 25% of MI electricity come from renewables. The only possible argument you can make in favor of this proposal – it will help the environment – I hear almost nobody making. Instead I hear it being touted as a jobs program (how will raising the price of electricity help the economy?), or as a necessity because coal is becoming too expensive (in which case utilities would switch on their own, no new law necessary). J’aime beaucoup the free market, vote no.

Prop 4: The unionization of home healthcare providers. This proposal is nothing but an SEIU grab for more money and power. The Mackinac Center has done some great reporting about how people in Michigan who are doing nothing but caring for disabled family members are being required to pay money to the SEIU, (money they often really need). Vote no, please. Worst proposal on the ballot. You can vote opposite me on the other five, just vote no here.

Prop 5: This proposal would make it harder to pass new taxes. Members of both political parties oppose it. I think gridlock in government is (usually) good. Vote yes.

Prop 6: Seems kind of extreme to place a requirement for votes for new international bridges into the state constitution, but I do feel least-strongly about this proposal. Vote no.