Rancor, ignorance, and. . . power

The House of Representatives Committee on Science is Turning Into A National Embarrassment.

Leading the charge was Texas congressman Randy Weber:

Several members, for example, appeared to be trying to mock rather than engage Holdren on climate change. “I may want to get your cellphone number, Dr. Holdren,” said Representative Randy Weber (R–TX), “because, if we go through another few cycles of global warming and cooling, I may need to ask you when I should buy my long coat on sale.”

Weber, a freshman from the Galveston area, began his interrogation by asking Holdren whether “when you guys do your research, you start with a scientific postulate or theory and work forward from that? Is that right?” Holdren gamely played along, explaining that “it depends on the type of science, but the notion of posing a hypothesis and then trying to determine whether it is right is one of the tried and true approaches in science, yes.”

But Weber’s question was really just a setup for his concluding statement. “I just don’t know how you all prove those theories going back 50 or 100,000 or even millions of years,” Weber said.

Another excellent intersection of “fire” and “awesome”

A Reuben’s tube is an apparatus used to demonstrate standing waves in physics; it’s akin to the gas lighter in your fireplace, but with sound added. At certain frequencies, the flames will vary according to the standing wave produced in the tube.

Things get exponentially more awesome if you make a 2-D tube, and apply more interesting music. At the link, the vid is cued to the music, but it’s really worth watching the whole thing.

How we are fucked, part one million

Corporations are becoming increasingly aggressive about forcing anyone dealing with them in even the slightest way to agree, even accidentally, to binding arbitration in the event of a dispute instead of the court system. This is because arbitration almost always finds in favor of corporations, naturally.

Apparently, you can now get trapped in such a clause by simply “liking” something on Facebook.

Hey Chet! How was your weekend?

Glad you asked! I had a little adventure, as I think you are aware.

Day One

We started bright and early on Saturday morning, though a little less bright and a little less early than we intended. It worked out for the best, at least for me, in that I ended up riding alone with a faster teammate (who’d also been running late) until we got to Belleville, about 45-50 miles into the 100 mile first day (link’s to the Garmin site, and contains basically all the data captured on the ride). Riding with Adrian made me faster, partly because riding with someone is just better, and partly because I could draft him (thanks, man).

Consequently, I covered the first 40 miles at a generally unheard-of for me average speed of 17 MPH. That’s not fast by serious bike standards, but it’s absolutely a personal best for me. (It would be unsporting not to note the tailwind, of course.)

Adrian and I parted ways in Belleville, as I said; he took the official lunch stop, which remains criminally awful, apparently — you get a sandwich fit for a 3rd grader and crappy pasta salad with several thousand of your closest friends. It’s no wonder many of the bigger, richer teams opt for a private lunch stop. I took a page out of their books, though, and staged refreshments with my dear pals the Acostas, who also provided lunch and a special cheering section at the edge of their Belleville ranch:

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That beat the pants off the circus that was “official” lunch. I paused there for 15 or 20 minutes before riding on, refreshed and at least somewhat rested and theoretically ready to tackle the hardest miles of the ride, in my opinion: Belleville to Fayetteville. If you click through to the Garmin site on the link above, the first graph below the map is my speed plotted over a Y-axis of either time or distance. You can easily see both the wreck-mandated stop about 15 miles into the ride, and the sudden yo-yo of my velocity as I hit the hills at about mile 44; sadly, I never sustained that kind of speed again on either day, but that’s what crosswinds and hills will do for you.

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(The graph never hits zero because the Garmin autopauses if you stop; however, the deep dips at mile 51 and mile 58 are (a) me stopping to call Edgar and verify his location and (b) the actual lunch stop; other, later deep dips are also rest stops.)

To be fair, the real killer for my speed after lunch was the rolling hills. As Garmin link shows, you end up doing about 3,000 vertical feet of climbing on the day one route, which isn’t exactly trivial, and doesn’t get erased by the fact that you’re basically climbing the same few hundred feet over and over (the actual elevation difference between Houston and La Grange is only about 300 feet).

The best I can say about the rest of the ride is that it wasn’t always windy and hilly. But when it wasn’t windy, it was hilly; and when it wasn’t hilly, it was windy. And the worst winds, sadly, came on the final stretch down 2145 to La Grange’s Jefferson Street, when we turned more or less INTO the wind down a stretch of road with very little protection. That you’re almost done (maybe 7 to go?) at that point doesn’t help much when the wind hits you.

Around this point I realized that the course was slightly short, at least according to the Garmin. If you zoom into the map closely, you can see how I handled it. Once I realized I was only going to log 99.2 miles, I turned around and backtracked for 0.4 miles before heading in. Think about it: would YOU spend 7 hours in the saddle and NOT have your GPS say you rode the full century?

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The other fun thing is something Strava calculates for you. Strava, if you don’t know, is sort of a cycling Facebook that’s gaining steam largely because of the way that make it simple to compare your performance to other cyclists. One of their metrics is the Suffer Score. I knew I was miserable towards the end, and it appears I now have the metrics to prove it!

Epic suffer score, brah!

“Epic suffer score, Brah!”

Day Two

I’m pretty sure that graphic is also the punchline for day two, because I didn’t (and couldn’t) hit it nearly as hard. I felt pretty low energy, and the storm clouds brewing certainly weren’t helping my mood. I couldn’t seem to make my legs work as hard as they had on Saturday (hello, fatigue — unsurprisingly this shows up in the stats as persistently lower heart rate).

Even though day two is much shorter — “only” about 68 miles — this time around I had real trouble, and I think it was both pushing so much harder on Saturday, and then not getting fueled enough early enough on Sunday.

Fortunately, I got to address both of those after lunch. The team started trying to ride together starting at the next-to-last stop — we actually rolled out of that one in a pace line 15 or more riders long, much to the chagrin of some uptight folks on other teams — and got serious about it in the last 10-12 miles.

Here’s the line; I’m not in this shot, which means I was either further up or further back, but it gives you an idea how it was going at that point:

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This process took effort, because even with the fastest guys holding back, and middle-of-the-pack guys like me, it took time for the slowest folks to catch up with us. We took long breaks at the final rest stop, and then at two different appointed “rallying points” before we rolled into Austin proper — and then held up again, super close to the finish, to make sure three more could join who’d been delayed by a flat.

The result of all this was super worth it, though. For one thing, I’d recovered enough that I could ride the hills hard in downtown Austin, and for another it meant that about sixty of us crossed the finish line in a giant blur of red and blue, and let me tell you how awesome that felt!

So, what have we learned?

  • I will say, though, again and for the record, Austin needs to just give the fuck up on the pylon thing. They’ve tried both years to sequester the cyclists into a single lane (potentially workable, on a smaller event) or even into the bike lane (absolutely impossible). There are 15,000 bikers riding into Austin on the Sunday of the 150, and we travel in packs. It’s unsafe to try to compress them too much in the last stretch, and downright absurd to put actively hazardous items in their way. The cones get hit and shoved all over the place, and you can’t see them until the last second when you’re riding in a pack.

    Both years I’ve ridden outside the pylons for a good chunk of the Austin course because it’s SAFER to be where it’s less crowded. Seriously, Austin, get a clue.

  • Energy is key. I’m still not so great about eating enough on distance rides, and that hurt me later in the day on Saturday, and for much of the day on Sunday.

  • The Garmin LiveTrack is awesome — I’m shocked at how well it worked — but it needs juice, too. Even though it was only trickling data up to the web, the phone gave up the ghost about 75 miles in on Saturday, which certain people found alarming. I rode with a backup battery on Sunday, so the LiveTrack stayed up.

  • I gotta stay on the training treadmill all year. I’d have had much faster rides both days if I were stronger, and I’d be stronger (and lighter) if I hadn’t taken like 5 months off from riding entirely. Oops.

  • Being loudest has its advantages; this is my team winning best jersey, awarded based on fan noise (video to follow):

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Will you be back next year?

Oh, indeed. Karbach uber alles!

Come for the guns! Stay for the racism!

At TPM: “Tea Partiers Livid State GOP Wants Clarification On White Supremacy Affiliation.”

There is so much derp in this bit:

[State Senator Chris] McDaniel had been slated to be the keynote speaker at a combined Firearm Freedom Day/ Tea Party Music Festival in Guntown, Mississippi. That event featured a vendor who sold Confederate memorabilia and founded the Council of White Patriot Voters and the Confederate Patriot Voters United, which the Southern Poverty Law Center listed as an active white nationalist group.

In a story full of amazement, I was even MORE amazed to discover that there is a place called Guntown, MS. Because OF COURSE THERE IS.

Worse than Eich

So the net was aflame over Mozilla naming known homophobe Eich to CEO, and he was (rightly) out of the job just as quickly.

Having Condi Rice on the board of Dropbox is insanely worse. She’s objectively pro-torture, and represents the administration that put the NSA programs in motion — and now she has a position of authority at a company that holds users’ potentially private data?

Fuck a BUNCH of that. Might be time to DropDropbox.

The dangers of poor science education

One of the key arguments being made by Hobby Lobby in their contraception coverage case is that some of the birth control methods being covered are “abortifacients.”

What they mean by this is that they believe they cause abortions, and reject the scientific information on offer that establishes conclusively that these drugs instead prevent conception.

This is a dangerous place to be: we have let science education get so mired in political, right-wing, evangelical bullshit combined with a populace that’s effectively illiterate that these fools are on the verge of winning a landmark case about health care on the back of their claim that their BELIEF that these drugs cause abortions, despite all medical evidence.

More at TPM, which you should read.

“Did you ever call? I waited for your call.”

Late Night with David Letterman, October 6, 1983.

You’ll know the song, but as of this moment it hasn’t get been named “So. Central Rain”.

I’m pretty sure I remember watching this the next day, after school, from a VHS videotape. I was 13 years old. Letterman was 36, or 8 years younger than I am now.

Today, April 3, 2014, David Letterman has announced he’ll be retiring next year; he’ll turn 68 that year, which seems impossible, but there it is. He started with a morning show in 1980, which approximately nobody watched except me — I remember faking sick to go home and do so, so bored was I with the 5th grade.

Late Night came in 1982; the clip above is from a show still finding its feet in a timeslot when most decent folks were asleep, and in a world where recording television was still novel, and yet somehow it became the model for a new kind of late night show.

He left NBC, famously, after he was passed over for the Tonight Show in 1992, and began his current run at CBS the next year. His retirement plan suggests he’ll mark 22 years at CBS before packing it in.

How the Halfwit States will Hold Us Back

You’re a long way from high school civics, I know, but I’m sure you know how the US Congress works: one chamber apportions representation based on population (with the will of the people widely thwarted by gerrymandering) while the other gives each state equal representation.

The US population has been migrating to urban centers for years, which concentrates progressive votes in small geographic areas — and in fewer states. The way Congress works, though, means that the GOP could gain control of the Senate while representing a minority of the US population.

And it’s likely they will.

No, no, no, no, no.

It’s very sad that this Malaysian airplane has apparently crashed, killing all aboard and forcing CNN to go 24×7 on nearly information-free coverage. And it’s absolutely tragic that these people lost their lives. But every aviation event is not a reason to impose new security measures, especially when we don’t yet know exactly what happened.

Note the final graf in the linked story:

IATA said more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights last year. There were 81 accidents, 16 which were fatal with 210 deaths.

Air travel is mind-bogglingly safe. Sometimes, freak events will happen. Sometimes, crashes happen that don’t point out a need for an improved screw, or additional passenger hassle while boarding. It may very well be that this is one of those times. The fact that a couple guys on board had fake passports isn’t even particularly alarming to me; I assume some number of people fly on fake passports every day.

Remember, too, our ID fetish for air travel isn’t a safety measure — every 9/11 hijacker had valid, legal ID. It’s actually a handout to the airlines; before 9/11, tickets were effectively transferrable, which made it harder for airlines to fuck you over change fees.

Books of 2014, #8: Pump Six and Other Stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi

I can say two things right off the bat about Paolo Bacigalupi.

First, he’s a solid writer with a great imagination. Unlike lots of science fiction, his stories are well-crafted and well-written for the most part. I enjoy his prose.

Second, Jesus FUCK what a downer this guy must be at parties. I kid; I have no actual idea. What I do know, though, is the bleak vision he has for the near-ish future. Bacigalupi’s stories take place generally in a world not far removed from our own, and extrapolate from current trends to produce a vision that’s disturbingly viable. A few of them in this collection take place in the world he created for his 2009 novel The Windup Girl; therein fossil fuels are exhausted or otherwise nonviable. Food energy and genetic engineering created the fallback position where springs and gene-hacked elephants are used to run machines. The world is dominated by the big “Calorie Companies” — ie, the agribusiness concerns that control the food supply with sterile GMO seeds and bio-engineered plagues created to destroy the naturally occurring foodstocks.

It’s not a happy place, to say the least, but it’s not his only disturbingly plausible future scenario. Pump Six comes with several other futures, and none of them are optimistic in the least (the title story posits a future that makes Idiocracy look upbeat, for example). This is not to say that you shouldn’t read the book (or Windup for that matter); they’re really well done. But you might need a unicorn chaser afterwards.

Books of 2014, #7: A Wanted Man, by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #17)

Yep, running out of Reacher. There is only one more in print. Another is schedule for publication in September.

This one’s not as much fun as either of the last couple. It starts out inventively enough by placing a hitchhiking Reacher in a car he quickly realizes contains two bad guys and an abducted woman despite their best attempts to conceal this fact — but, unfortunately, we end up in a sort of bog-standard one-man-vs-army-of-baddies endgame relatively quickly as Child wraps it up in a very by the numbers manner.

The most interesting aspect to this installment is probably Child’s continued experiments with interbook continuity. Like all such series, it usually helps to know what sort of adventures the protagonist has had before (and some are even explicit callbacks), but you could read them out of order without missing much — up to a point. Since 61 Hours (the 14th installment), though, Child has carried some aspects of Reacher’s own larger context through each story. This book-to-book story is its own narrative at this point.

For example, 61 Hours actually ends in one of those non-cliffhanger cliffhangers wherein his survival is nominally in question. Obviously, he’ll live; the only real mystery is how. We find out how in the next book, Worth Dying For (#15), wherein he carries a short-term injury earned in that escape that affects the way he handles the inevitable Deeply Corrupt Criminal Family Dominating Small Town. During his inevitable triumph, though, he has his nose broken.

The sixteenth book (The Affair) is a prequel, and tells the story of Reacher’s last case as an Army cop, and how he came to leave the service. However, when we rejoin the main continuity in A Wanted Man, his recently broken nose is a plot point, and he’s still headed to the destination he picked out during the final chapters of 61 Hours (after, of course, handling the situation with the abducted woman and the inevitable terrorists).

This sort of book-to-book continuity is new for Child; I’m choosing to see it as a positive development, though it remains to be seen if it’ll be more than window-dressing.

From the “we don’t care if it’s 100% true, it’s still awesome” files

Suppose you’re underage in the early 1990s, and live in Austin. Suppose you really, really want to get into shows, and suppose further than a friend of yours comes by an actual Texas drivers’ license that at least vaguely resembles you — except it’s for a slightly older person. Old enough to get into the bars.

You’ve hit the underage jackpot, for sure; FAKE IDs are risky and rarely work, unless you spend big bucks forging (which is itself illegal). But a real DL that looks like you? FLAWLESS VICTORY.

Turns out, though, the story gets better, largely because of the circumstances under which, in 1994, the ID became utterly useless to our young hero.

Curious? You know you are..

Recap on *Ibrahim vs. DHS*

Ars Technica has a great retrospective of the 7+ year odysessy of Rahinah Ibrahim and the super-sekrit government no-fly list.

Go read it. Here’s a summary, in case you forgot:

Rahinah Ibrahim was admitted to the US on a student visa to study at Stanford’s graduate school in 2000. Five years later, when attempting to fly from San Francisco to Hawaii, she was denied entry onto the plane, was handcuffed—despite being wheelchair-bound at the time—and was placed in a holding cell, detained for two hours, and then questioned. During questioning, a police officer attempted to remove her hijab. Eventually, she was released and told that her name had been stricken from the no-fly list.

After flying back to Hawaii and then to Malaysia a few days later, her student visa was revoked, and she was denied reentry into the US. That was the beginning of a nine-year fight over whether she could travel back to the US, which Ibrahim said she considered her “second home.”

As explained in Alsup’s opinion, **the whole dispute stemmed from an errant check placed on a form filled out by FBI agent Kevin Kelly. At trial, Agent Kelly admitted his mistake, and government lawyers actually conceded that Ibrahim doesn’t pose a threat to national security and never has. ** The mistake was not a small thing, Alsup wrote.

At long last, the government has conceded that plaintiff poses no threat to air safety or national security and should never have been placed on the no-fly list. She got there by human error within the FBI… the FBI agent filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite from the instructions on the form, a bureaucratic analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit—human error, yes, but of considerable consequence. Much of the litigation took place even while Ibrahim was unable to get much information about the government’s case against her. In December, Alsup denied Ibrahim’s request to see the classified evidence submitted by the government in its defense against her lawsuit.

That they went to war over this case, and fought for 7 years, when they knew Ibrahim was not a threat means that someone deserves to lose their job or worse. That’s absurd, ridiculous, and borderline criminal. These people are the enemy of anyone who values the principles which we usually insist form the foundation of our country.

This is awesome

The NLRB has said that athletes at Northwestern can form a union, which is likely the beginning of the end for big-time college sports.

Even if this decision doesn’t stand, this is the beginning of the end. The whole system of college sports is going to have to change or collapse. The problem is that, in their shortsightedness and their greed, the NCAA and the college presidents it represents almost have guaranteed that the process will be sudden and bloody. If they had worked with their athletes toward some sort of soft landing over the past 20 years, all of that might have been avoided. I always has reminded me of how Bill Veeck once warned his fellow baseball owners that the reserve clause was blatantly illegal and that it would one day fall and, if they were smart, they’d abandon it so that they could better control the fallout. If they didn’t, Veeck cautioned, then some judge would strike it down all at once and baseball would be thrown into chaos. The other owners ignored Veeck, and his scenario came to pass, and we were treated to 30 years of labor strife because of it.

The current system of college athletics is doomed. It is untenable, and now it’s under assault from too many directions. There’s the O’Bannon case in Los Angeles, and Jeff Kessler’s anti-trust suit against the NCAA, and now this. Somebody better seriously start thinking of negotiating the terms of the inevitable surrender.

Good.

Dear U of Alabama: Please stop this.

U. of Alabama Greeks Win Fight For Their Right To Be Racist Dicks.”

It was ever thus.

I am not surprised that it’s still this way; it certainly was when I was in school there. But — and this is important — I didn’t really parse the University itself as a particularly racist place outside of the Greeks when I was there.

For years I would’ve assumed that this meant it wasn’t, at least by my own baselines (which I willingly admit are probably warped by my Magnolia State origins). But with a few more years under my belt I realize that I have no fucking idea if the University was a particularly racist place, at least vs its surroundings, because I have always been an upper-middle-class white guy with traditional upper-middle-class white guy obliviousness about my own privilege.

So I don’t really know. I’d like to think it’s just the greeks, and in particular those unreconstructed motherfuckers in KA, who used to throw a party every year commemorating the Lost Cause wherein they’d all dress in antebellum clothes and Confederate uniforms, I shit you not. (Lest you think this was just something back when I was in school, the practice continued until 2009.) But I don’t. My bullshit alert, though, chimes loud at attempts to make this just a Greek problem. And the fact that the Greek system enjoys institutional sanction at the University makes it a University problem.

It sure would be interesting, though, to have some more information — in particular about the racial diversity of greek systems (esp. in the older, traditionally white greek organizations) at other major universities. How diverse is Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Ohio State? How about Chi Omega at USC?

The mistake would be expecting Scalia to be intellectually consistent

Scalia is widely viewed as the most hostile Supreme Court justice to Obama in general, and to health care and birth control specifically, so it’s no surprise that progressives see him as the enemy in the upcoming case challenging the requirement that most businesses provide health coverage that includes birth control. However, it turns out that Nino’s own rulings in the past establish a strong legal precedent for precisely the kind of requirement that Hobby Lobby, et. al., are challenging.

In 1990, the issue was whether or not two men fired from their jobs for smoking peyote could collect unemployment, which is ordinarily not available to those fired for cause (i.e., for using drugs).

Scalia said no:

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness.

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

Fortunately, the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal are all MUCH OLDER than we are.

Apparently, today, March 24, 2014, is the 30th anniversary of the day depicted in The Breakfast Club.

(The title is a lie. While Estevez, Sheedy (both born in 1962) and Nelson (1959!) definitely are, Hall and Ringwald were born in 1968, i.e. only two years before the Official Heathen Birth Year. As the film came out in 1986, this means the athlete and the basket case were 24, and the criminal was 27 — but at least the other two were roughly high school age, if you squinted a little.)

Great lede, or GREATEST lede?

Time’s obit for Fred Phelps begins:

Fred Phelps, a colossal jerk, died Thursday in Topeka, Kansas, at 84, after a long life in which even his few admirable achievements (a series of civil rights cases that he filed as an attorney) stemmed from a deeply disagreeable personality (he loved to pick fights with his neighbors). He was the kind of person no one wanted to be around: a lawyer disbarred by his colleagues, a preacher disowned by every denomination he ever espoused, a father rejected by his children—even, in the end, the children who emulate his worst characteristics.