(Roughly) Daily

“Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth”*…

 

Burdick-FlatEarth2

A map from 1893 portrays Earth as square and stationary and warns of Biblical interdiction against the notion of a round Earth flying through space

 

If you are only just waking up to the twenty-first century, you should know that, according to a growing number of people, much of what you’ve been taught about our planet is a lie: Earth really is flat. We know this because dozens, if not hundreds, of YouTube videos describe the coverup. We’ve listened to podcasts—Flat Earth Conspiracy, The Flat Earth Podcast—that parse the minutiae of various flat-Earth models, and the very wonkiness of the discussion indicates that the over-all theory is as sound and valid as any other scientific theory. We know because on a clear, cool day it is sometimes possible, from southwestern Michigan, to see the Chicago skyline, more than fifty miles away—an impossibility were Earth actually curved. We know because, last February, Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics point guard, told us so. “The Earth is flat,” he said. “It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” We know because, last November, a year and a day after Donald Trump was elected President, more than five hundred people from across this flat Earth paid as much as two hundred and forty-nine dollars each to attend the first-ever Flat Earth Conference, in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina…

The unsettling thing about spending two days at a convention of people who believe that Earth is flat isn’t the possibility that you, too, might come to accept their world view, although I did worry a little about that. Rather, it’s the very real likelihood that, after sitting through hours of presentations on “scientism,” lightning angels, and NASA’s many conspiracies—the moon-landing hoax, the International Fake Station, so-called satellites—and in chatting with I.T. specialists, cops, college students, and fashionably dressed families with young children, all of them unfailingly earnest and lovely, you will come to actually understand why a growing number of people are dead certain that Earth is flat. Because that truth is unnerving…

Alan Burdick explains what the burgeoning movement says about science, solace, and how a theory becomes truth; “Looking for Life on a Flat Earth.”

* Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

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As we contemplate curvature, we might recall that it was on this date in 1850 that Harvard Observatory director William Cranch Bond and Boston photographer John Adams Whipple took a daguerreotype of Vega– the first photograph of a star ever made.

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“Troubles hurt the most when they prove self-inflicted”*…

 

Clicking on VOTE web button on website

 

Earlier this year, Georgia’s Secure, Accessible, and Fair Elections Commission held a public meeting at the state capitol to answer a pressing question: What should Georgia do to replace its aging, touchscreen voting machines, as well as other parts of its election system? In the preceding years, security vulnerabilities in the state’s election system had been repeatedly exposed: by Russian operatives, friendly hackers, and even a Georgia voter who, just days ahead of the 2018 midterms, revealed that anyone could go online and gain access to the state’s voter registration database.

Computer scientists and elections experts from around the country had weighed in during the seven months of the commission’s deliberations on the issue. They submitted letters and provided testimony, sharing the latest research and clarifying technical concepts tied to holding safe, reliable elections. Their contributions were underscored by commission member Wenke Lee, co-director of Georgia Tech’s Institute for Information Security and Privacy, and the group’s only computer scientist.

Despite this, the commission ultimately did not recommend measures backed by Lee and his colleagues at places like Stanford, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Google — including the recommendation that the state return to a system of paper ballots filled out by hand, combined with what scientists call risk-limiting audits. Instead, the commission recommended buying a system that included another, more expensive touchscreen voting machine that prints a paper ballot. Months later, Lee was at a loss to explain: “I don’t understand why they still don’t understand,” he said.

With its decision, Georgia’s counties remain among the 33 percent of counties nationwide that use either machines with no paper trail or machines that print paper ballots, which are then scanned on separate machines. The vast majority of the rest of the counties use paper ballots filled out by hand, which are then scanned or counted by hand…

Georgia is one of many states that is adopting or considering voting technology that some experts say decreases security and election integrity: “Georgia’s New Election System Raises Old Computer Security Concerns.”

[Most of those voting systems run on Windows 7, a dated operating system that’s demonstrably vulnerable to hackers… and that reaches “end of life” in January.]

* Sophocles

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As we wonder why, we might recall that it was on this date in 1946 that notices were tacked onto the doors of African-American churches in Fitzgerald, Georgia reading “The first n-gger who votes in Georgia will be a dead n-gger” [without the ellision].

420px-Ben_Hill_County_Georgia-5 source

 

Written by LW

July 16, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I feel the earth move under my feet”*…

 

WALKER_LANE_MAP_1

 

For more than a century, the San Andreas Fault has been considered the undisputed heavyweight champion of large-scale deformation in the West. It is here that the North American and Pacific Plates meet, jostling for position with often violent results. Eventually, the theory goes, the thin sliver of land between the fault and the ocean—from the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula to the Santa Cruz Mountains—will break off from the mainland and slide north, until LA drifts past San Francisco. But there’s at least one problem with this scenario: The San Andreas appears to have gotten jammed. Northwest of LA, near the town of Frazier Park, the fault is kinked out of alignment so dramatically that many geologists suspect the pent-up tectonic strain will have to seek release somewhere else…

[Nevada state geologist James] Faulds thinks he’s found the spot. It’s an emerging zone of instability, known as the Walker Lane, that closely follows Route 395. He believes that, over the next 8 million to 10 million years, the North American continent will unzip along this stretch of land, east of the San Andreas. The Gulf of California, which separates the Baja Peninsula from Mexico, will surge north into Nevada, turning thousands of square miles of dry land into ocean floor. (Mapmakers, if they still exist, may label the new body of water the Reno Sea.) While this geologic realignment will take long enough for human civilization to fall, rise, and fall again hundreds of times over, Faulds’ hypothesis is more than an academic curiosity. It represents a radical shift in how geologists use up-to-the-minute tools—satellite data, aerial surveys, computer simulations—to fathom age-old processes. And for residents of the West, it is an invitation to think in an altogether new way about the familiar-seeming ground beneath them. Now is the time: Already the Walker Lane region, with its booming population and burgeoning tech economy, is beginning to feel the rumblings of a new seismic regime…

The next Big One?  “Move Over, San Andreas: There’s an Ominous New Fault in Town.”

* James Taylor and Carole King

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As we ruminate on the rumbling, we might spare a thought for Richard Dixon Oldham; he died on this date in 1936.  A geologist and pioneering seismologist, he made the first clear identification of the separate arrivals of P-waves (primary waves), S-waves (secondary waves), and surface waves on seismograms.  Later, he developed the first clear evidence that the Earth has a central liquid core.

150px-RD_Oldham source

 

Written by LW

July 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Never miss a good chance to shut up”*…

 

 

Death metal band Dead Territory performing 4’33”, a 1952 composition by John Cage.

Written for any instrument or combination of instruments, the score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements.  Though often referred to as as “four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence,” the purpose of the piece is to focus the audience’s ears on the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.

[TotH to The Whippet]

Black Sabbath, arguably the first heavy metal band, is turning 50 this year…

Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi credits a welding accident with the creation of the band’s signature sound. A machine at the factory where he worked as a teenager chopped off the tops of two of his fingers, which could have ended his guitar-playing days. But he fashioned thimbles with plastic and leather and put lighter-gauge strings on his guitar, down-tuned so they were looser and easier to play. The low, sludgy riffs he went on to write set the tone for metal music to this day…

The history of headbanging: “Heavy Metal.”

* Will Rogers

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As we savor the sounds of silence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967, in Portland, that The Who began their first U.S. tour… as the opening act for Herman’s Hermits.  The Who played “Pictures of Lily” (a power-pop tune about masturbation) and their guitar-smashing finale, “My Generation” to warm the crowd for Peter Noone and his crew singing “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.”

42321-photo-of-pete-townshend-and-who source

 

Written by LW

July 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Castles made of sand fall in the sea eventually”*…

 

dredging sand

Dredging sand from one of Greenland’s fjords

 

Readers may recall a post a couple of years ago on then-dawning shortage of sand (“To see a world on a grain of sand“).  The problem has only grown, and has led to a new kind of crime– sand rustling.

But there is a new source of sand emerging…

The world makes a lot of concrete, more than 10 billion tons a year, and is poised to make much more for a population that is forecast to grow by more than 25 percent by 2050. That makes sand, which is about 40 percent of concrete by weight, one of the most-used commodities in the world, and one that is becoming harder to come by in some regions.

But because of the erosive power of ice, there is a lot of sand in Greenland. And with climate change accelerating the melting of Greenland’s mile-thick ice sheet — a recent study found that melting has increased sixfold since the 1980s — there is going to be a lot more.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dr. [Mette] Bendixen said. “One part of the world has something that other parts of the world are lacking.”

Dr. Bendixen is planning a two-year study to answer basic questions about the idea, including its feasibility and the environmental effects of extracting and exporting large amounts of the material. The government of Greenland, a self-ruled territory of Denmark, is studying it as well…

All told, Greenland’s ice sheet delivers about 900 million tons of sediment to the waters surrounding the island each year, or about 10 percent of all the sediment delivered to oceans worldwide. The glacier at Sermilik Fjord, about 50 miles south of the capital, Nuuk, delivers about a quarter of Greenland’s total. That explains the vast delta of sand visible from the air as well as from a research boat as the tide begins to go out.

The delta, with muddy rivulets crisscrossing it, stretches to the glacier more than five miles away.

Dr. Bendixen has made some hypothetical calculations. If just 15 percent of the sediment pouring into this fjord every year could be extracted, that amount of sand — 33 million tons — is twice the annual demand of San Diego County in California, one of the most populous in the United States.

Sermilik Fjord is only one of a number of places in Greenland with large amounts of sand. And the sand will keep coming as the world keeps warming and the ice sheet keeps melting. “It’s like a tap pouring not only water, but sediment,” she said…

Even as climate change taketh away, it giveth: “Melting Greenland Is Awash in Sand.”

For more (and listenable) background on the ubiquity of sand in construction: 99% Invisible‘s “Built on Sand.”

[TotH to MKM]

* Jimi Hendrix

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As we have second thoughts about silver linings, we might recall that today is Fools Paradise Day- a kind of “day off” for the mind, celebrating happiness that is rooted in false beliefs or hopes.

The concept of a paradise of fools has a long history; Dante and Ariosto, for example, described such planes– places where fools or idiots were sent after death: intellectually incompetent to be held responsible for their deeds, they cannot be punished for them in hell, atone for them in purgatory, or be rewarded for them in heaven.

The phrase first appeared in English in 1462 in the Paston Letters (“I wold not be in a folis paradyce”).  But it began its trek into the vernacular– and acquired it’s current meaning– in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (when the Nurse says to Romeo, “if ye should lead her into a fool’s paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behavior”).

fools paradise source

 

Written by LW

July 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Today everything exists to end in a photograph”*…

 

Sadly, just not necessarily a good photograph…

uninteresting photographs

D-4L2eiXoAAzeIo

D-3-FkiWkAUqldq

 

A few samples drawn from the stream of images you’ll find at Uninteresting Photographs.

* Susan Sontag

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As we search for meaning, we might recall that it was on this date in 1870 that John Wesley Hyatt received one of the patents that allowed him to win the $10,000 prize offered for a practical substitute for ivory in the manufacture of billiard balls.  The material he used– celluloid– was the first true plastic… and the basis of photographic film until it was replaced by acetate in the 1950s.

In his long career, Hyatt secured several hundred patents, among them: the first injection molding machine, processes for sugarcane milling and fruit/vegetable juice extraction, roller bearings, and a multiple-stitch sewing machine.  Hyatt founded the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company in 1892 in Harrison, New Jersey; then, in 1895, hired a young Alfred P. Sloan, son of a major investor in the company, as a draftsman.  By 1905, Sloan had become president; in 1916, the company was sold to General Motors… where Sloan went on to become its transformative president, and the architect of the auto industry as we know it.

John_Wesley_Hyatt,_Jr source

 

 

“The international situation is desperate, as usual”*…

 

world_trade_bonds

 

Two experts agree that the days of increasingly easy and speedy global flows of goods, money, people, and ideas are over; the future that Tom Friedman evoked in The World is Flat is, at best, delayed.  But they have very different ideas of what this may mean…

First, Jean Pisani-Ferry: after a sharp precis of the forces that that have led us to what he calls a “spiky” world, he suggests…

US President Donald Trump’s ruthless use of the centrality of his country’s financial system and the dollar to force economic partners to abide by his unilateral sanctions on Iran has forced the world to recognize the political price of asymmetric economic interdependence. In response, China (and perhaps Europe) will fight to establish their own networks and secure control of their nodes. Again, multilateralism could be the victim of this battle.

A new world is emerging, in which it will be much harder to separate economics from geopolitics. It’s not the world according to Myrdal, Frank, and Perroux, and it’s not Friedman’s flat world, either. It’s the world according to Game of Thrones.

Read his piece in full at “Farewell, Flat World.”

Then consider the argument of Michael O’Sullivan, who agrees with Pisani-Ferry as to the diagnosis, but has a very different prognosis:

Globalization, at least in the form that people have come to enjoy it, is defunct. From here, the passage away from globalization can take two new forms. One dangerous scenario is that we witness the outright end of globalization in much the same manner as the first period of globalization collapsed in 1913. This scenario is a favorite of commentators because it allows them to write about bloody end-of-the-world calamities. This is, thankfully, a low-probability outcome, and with apologies to the many armchair admirals in the commentariat who, for instance, talk willfully of a conflict in the South China Sea, I suggest that a full-scale sea battle between China and the United States is unlikely.

Instead, the evolution of a new world order—a fully multipolar world composed of three (perhaps four, depending on how India develops) large regions that are distinct in the workings of their economies, laws, cultures, and security networks—is manifestly underway. My sense is that until 2018, multipolarity was a more theoretical concept—more something to write about than to witness. This is changing quickly: trade tensions, advances in technologies (such as quantum computing), and the regulation of technology are just some of the fissures around which the world is splitting into distinct regions. Multipolarity is gaining traction and will have two broad axes. First, the poles in the multipolar world have to be large in terms of economic, financial, and geopolitical power. Second, the essence of multipolarity is not simply that the poles are large and powerful but also that they develop distinct, culturally consistent ways of doing things. Multipolarity, where regions do things distinctly and differently, is also very different from multilateralism, where they do them together…

Read an interview with O’Sullivan and more of the excerpt from his new book, The Levelling: What’s Next After Globalization quoted above at “Globalisation is dead and we need to invent a new world order.”

For more on the history of nativism and protectionism, especially in the U.S., concluding, as Pisani-Ferry and O’Sullivan do, that they’re with for awhile, see David Kotok‘s “Borders.”

* Tom Robbins , Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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As we renew our passports, we might recall that it was on this date in 1405 that Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He set sail on the first of his seven exploratory “treasure voyages” to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa, exacting tribute and encouraging trade.

After his death, at the end of his seventh expedition, Ming naval efforts declined dramatically (the government’s attention having been diverted by a threat from the Mongols in their northwest).  1950s historians like Joseph Needham popularized the idea that after Zheng He’s voyages, China turned away from the seas (as reflected in to the Haijin edict) and was isolated from European technological advancements.  But modern historians point out that Chinese maritime commerce didn’t totally stop after Zheng He, that Chinese ships continued to participate in Southeast Asian commerce until the 19th century, and that active Chinese trading with India and East Africa continued long after the time of Zheng.

In any case, it’s clear that Zheng He belongs atop any list of maritime adventurers– the vanguard of globalization.

440px-Zhen_he

Statue from a modern monument to Zheng He

source

 

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