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  • feedwordpress 08:01:21 on 2018/09/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Niles Eldridge, , punctuated equlibrium, , , Stephen J. Gould,   

    “We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies”*… 

     

    http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.00267

    Methodist Camp Meeting, early 19th century. Source: Library of Congress

    The contrast between the cold logic of science and the emotionality of religion is a seemingly unshakable binary today. But back in the early nineteenth century, people saw things very differently. Historian Jeffrey A. Mullins examines the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening in the 1830s.

    At that time, Mullins writes, Americans did not see science and religion as opposites. Instead, they were “two aspects of the same universal truth.” And that truth was not based in pure logic. Emotions were a key to human behavior, and controlling and channeling emotions was a job for scientifically- and morally-grounded experts.

    This perspective led to a wealth of reformist interventions, from Sunday schools to penitentiaries to graham crackers. Preachers who led religious revivals around the country in the 1830s saw the need for a highly engineered emotional experience…

    During the Second Great Awakening of 1830, science and religion were seen as “two aspects of the same universal truth”: “When Science and Religion Were Connected.”

    * “We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies, intriguing us in opposite directions. But this effort at special identity is loudly false. It is not religion but the church and science that were hostile to each other. And it was rivalry, not contravention. Both were religious. They were two giants fuming at each other over the same ground. Both proclaimed to be the only way to divine revelation” — Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

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    As we puzzle over perspective, we might send dynamically-evolved birthday greetings to Stephen Jay Gould; he was born on this date in 1941.  One of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science in his generation (e.g., Ever Since Darwin, The Panda’s Thumb), Gould was a highly-respected academic paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science.  With Niles Eldridge, he developed the theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” an explanation of evolution that suggests (in contrast with the gradualism that was prevalent until then) that most evolution is marked by long periods of evolutionary stability, which are interrupted– “punctuated”– by rare instances of branching evolution (c.f., the Burgess Shale).

    Scientists have power by virtue of the respect commanded by the discipline… We live with poets and politicians, preachers and philosophers. All have their ways of knowing, and all are valid in their proper domain. The world is too complex and interesting for one way to hold all the answers.

    Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:34 on 2018/09/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , small business,   

    “A buyer with disproportionate power”*… 

     

    Chickens are seen at a poultry farm at Hartbeesfontein, a settlement near Klerksdorp, in the North West province

    Imagine the farm that raised the chicken that produced the meat that sits in your sandwich: a few workers, thousands of birds, tens of thousands of pounds of white and dark meat, work that starts before dawn and ends after dusk, uncertain revenue, slim profits. There are thousands of these small farms in the United States, and they benefit from millions of dollars of taxpayer support each year.

    Chicken is America’s favorite protein, after all. Family farms are one of its most prized institutions. And farming is tough business. According to one estimate, a new, hangar-like chicken house costs something like $300,000 to build, and more to maintain and upgrade. “A farmer has to invest over $1 million just to get set up—a lot of debt to carry when you’re paid on average between 5 cents and 6 cents per pound of chicken produced,” Sally Lee of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA has found. Even when a chicken-growing operation is established, financial success is far from a sure thing. Given those realities—and given the American love for and support of the family farm—generous taxpayer subsidies seem not just sensible, but vital.

    But a government report released this spring calls into question whether all those family chicken farms are really family chicken farms, and whether those taxpayer dollars might be better spent elsewhere. The Small Business Administration’s inspector general looked at poultry growers, and found that many of them are tied-and-bound contractors—so controlled by their agreements with giant food corporations that they no longer act like independent entities. Why offer them taxpayer support meant for the little guy?…

    What your chicken dinner says about wage stagnation, income inequality, and economic sclerosis in the United States: “The Rise of the Zombie Small Businesses.”

    For a consideration of the effects of corporate concentration on wages: “More and more companies have monopoly power over workers’ wages. That’s killing the economy.”

    * Monopsony: 1) (economics) A market situation in which there is only one buyer for a product; also, such a buyer. [from 1930s] 2) (economics) A buyer with disproportionate power.  -Wiktionary

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    As we cogitate on (real) competition, we might recall that it was on this date in 1947 that fabled computer scientist Grace Hopper (see here and here), then a programmer at Harvard’s Harvard’s Mark II Aiken Relay computer, found and documented the first computer “bug”– an insect that had lodged in the works.  The incident is recorded in Hopper’s logbook alongside the offending moth, taped to the logbook page: “15:45 Relay #70 Panel F (moth) in relay. First actual case of bug being found.”

    This anecdote has led to Hopper being pretty widely credited with coining the term “bug” (and ultimately “de-bug”) in its technological usage… but the term actually dates back at least to Thomas Edison…

    bug

    Grace Hoppers log entry

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:44 on 2018/09/08 Permalink
    Tags: currency crisis, economic crisis, , , , , SEATO,   

    “You know what’s truly weird about any financial crisis? We made it up. Currency, money, finance, they’re all social inventions.”*… 

     

    napoleon curency

    First Argentina. Now Turkey. The next country to face a financial crisis could be any one of a slew of emerging-market economies that have grown dangerously dependent on borrowing in dollars and other foreign currencies.

    As of the end of 2017, corporations in emerging markets owed $3.7 trillion in dollar debt, nearly twice the amount they owed in 2008, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Analogies to 1997’s Asian financial crisis and Mexico’s “Tequila” crisis of 1994 abound. But the roots of emerging-market crises lie further back in the history books. In The Volatility Machine: Emerging Economics and the Threat of Financial Collapse, finance professor Michael Pettis urges us to look to Europe in the early 1800s, just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The financial conditions and innovations that gave rise to the first truly global crisis, in 1825, are in many ways similar to the conditions that have led Turkey and Argentina to their current precarious states…

    Learning from the past: “The global financial crisis of 1825 foreshadowed the problems of emerging markets today.”

    * Bruce Sterling

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    As we contemplate cryptocurrencies as an alternative, we might recall tat it was on this date in 1955 that the Manilla Pact was signed, creating the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).  Intended as “an Asian NATO,” SEATO was a collective defense agreement aimed at stopping the advance of communism in the region.

    Despite its name, SEATO mostly included countries located outside of the region but with an interest either in the region or the organization itself: Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan (including East Pakistan, now Bangladesh), the United Kingdom and the United States; only the Philippines and Thailand were actually in the region.

    While SEATO-funded cultural and educational programs some long-standing effects in Southeast Asia, the alliance is largely considered a failure, as its military/defense mission never gelled.  In June of 1977, after many members had lost interest and withdrawn, SEATO was dissolved.

    220px-Flag_of_SEATO.svg

    The official flag of SEATO

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:45 on 2018/09/07 Permalink
    Tags: , Comte de Buffon, Georges-Louis Leclerc, , Ireland, , , , snakes, St. Patrick,   

    “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents”*… 

     

    st-patrick-snakes

    During St. Patrick’s Day, most revelers won’t remember the patron saint of Ireland for his role as a snake killer. But legend holds that the Christian missionary rid the slithering reptiles from Ireland‘s shores as he converted its peoples from paganism during the fifth century A.D.

    St. Patrick supposedly chased the snakes into the sea after they began attacking him during a 40-day fast he undertook on top of a hill. An unlikely tale, perhaps—yet Ireland is unusual for its absence of native snakes. It’s one of only a handful of places worldwide—including New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica—where Indiana Jones and other snake-averse humans can visit without fear.

    But St. Patrick had nothing to do with Ireland’s snake-free status, scientists say….

    Find out what actually happened to those snakes at : “Snakeless in Ireland: Blame Ice Age, Not St. Patrick.”

    [image above: source]

    * Luke 10:12

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    As we just say no to serpents, we might send chronically-correct birthday greetings to Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; he was born on this date in 1707.  A naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste, Buffon formulated a crude theory of evolution, and was the first to suggest that the earth might be older than suggested by the Bible: in 1778 he proposed that the Earth was hot at its creation and, judging from the rate of its cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.

    In 1739 Buffon was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi, a post he occupied until his death. There he worked on the comprehensive work on natural history for which he is remembered, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. He began in 1749, and it dominated the rest of his life.  It would eventually run to 44 volumes, covering quadrupeds, birds, reptiles and minerals.  As Max Ernst remarked, “truly, Buffon was the father of all thought in natural history in the second half of the 18th century.”

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:34 on 2018/09/06 Permalink
    Tags: atomic clock, , , Louis Essen, quantum effects, , quantum physics, , standards, ,   

    “Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe”*… 

     

    Time

    Detail from Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory

     

    In normal life, you open the car door before getting into the car. Operation A happens before operation B. That’s the causal order of things. But a new quantum switch weirdly enables two operations to happen simultaneously. From Science News:

    The device, known as a quantum switch, works by putting particles of light through a series of two operations — labeled A and B — that alter the shape of the light. These photons can travel along two separate paths to A and B. Along one path, A happens before B, and on the other, B happens before A.

    Which path the photon takes is determined by its polarization, the direction in which its electromagnetic waves wiggle — up and down or side to side. Photons that have horizontal polarization experience operation A first, and those with vertical polarization experience B first.

    But, thanks to the counterintuitive quantum property of superposition, the photon can be both horizontally and vertically polarized at once. In that case, the light experiences both A before B, and B before A, Romero and colleagues report.

    While this is deeply weird and amazing, it unfortunately doesn’t occur at the human scale but rather in the quantum realm where measurements are in the nanometers. Still, quantum switches do have clear applications in future communications and computation systems.

    Indefinite Causal Order in a Quantum Switch” (Physical Review Letters)

    From the ever-illuminating David Pescovitz at Boing Boing: “Weird time-jumbling quantum device defies ‘before’ and ‘after’.”

    * Dave Barry

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    As we check our watches, we might send timely birthday greetings to Louis Essen; he was born on this date in 1908.  A physicist, he drew on his World War II work on radar to develop the first generally-accepted scientific measurement of the speed of light (one that has held up well as measurement techniques have advanced.).

    But Essen is probably better remembered as the father of the atomic clock: in 1955, in collaboration with Jack Parry, he developed the first practical atomic clock by integrating the caesium atomic standard with conventional quartz crystal oscillators to allow calibration of existing time-keeping.

    Atomic_Clock-Louis_Essen

    Louis Essen (right) and Jack Parry (left) standing next to the world’s first caesium-133 atomic clock

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:38 on 2018/09/05 Permalink
    Tags: , cruise ships, cruising, , , , Iwerks, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, show business, ,   

    “There’s no business like show business”*… 

     

    entertainers

    I’m on my first-ever cruise because I wanted to see how the entertainment world’s 99 percent, as Bernie Sanders might say, work for a living. The comedians who don’t film HBO specials; the magicians who aren’t David Blaine; the variety acts who don’t just disappear after their fifteen seconds on America’s Got Talent. These entertainers are struggling to compete with everything from YouTube phenoms to Netflix and Spotify. In Vegas and Times Square, small clubs and homegrown acts are getting squeezed out by arenas, superstars, and global brands, like mom-and-pop shops bulldozed by Walmarts.

    But maybe smaller acts aren’t dying. Maybe they’ve just gone on vacation, since cruises need entertainers now more than ever. The $38 billion cruise industry has boomed with Boomers, growing from 17.8 million passengers in 2010 to 25.8 million passengers in 2017. The Regal Princess is one of more than four hundred fifty active cruise ships, and each is a floating entertainment district. It typically employs a six-piece party band; a seven-piece house band; a jazz quintet; a DJ; a piano-bar lounge singer; and seventeen singer-dancers who rotate through stage shows, including two created exclusively for Princess by Wicked’s Stephen Schwartz. (Other lines feature partnerships with outfits like Cirque du Soleil, Second City, and Blue Note Records.) Last year, Kaler and his team booked four hundred sixty-eight different headliners, from “a cappella” to “xylophonist.”…

    Welcome to the new vaudeville circuit, where live entertainment hasn’t died—it’s just gone to sea: “Inside the delightfully quirky, absolutely fabulous, and utterly exhausting world of cruise performers.”

    * Irving Berlin

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    As we enjoy the show, we might recall that it was on this date that Universal released “Trolley Trouble” from Walt Disney Studios.  The first Disney cartoon to spawn a series, it featured Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (the creation of Walt’s long-time collaborator Ub Iwerks).  Oswald featured in 27 successful animated shorts– but Disney lost the rights to Universal.  So, he and Iwerks created a new featured character, Mickey Mouse.

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:12 on 2018/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , stop motion, Švankmajer,   

    “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it”*… 

     

     

    Keat urn

    A tracing of an engraving of the Sosibios vase by John Keats

     

    At least as far back as the ancient Greeks, poets and philosophers have struggled to define the nature of beauty. More recently—that is, for the past 150 years—psychologists have joined the effort to discover why we find certain sounds and images aesthetically appealing.

    Answers remain elusive, and a new analysis in the journal Current Biology helps explain why. It finds some preferences—including our inclination to favor curves over angles—appear to be universal.

    However, New York University psychologists Aenne Brielmann and Denis Pelli report that individual differences “outweigh general tendencies in most aesthetic judgments. Even for faces, which are popularly supposed to be consistently judged, individual taste accounts for about half the variance in attractiveness ratings.”

    To a large extent, beauty really does seem to be in the eye—and brain—of the beholder…

    A new analysis finds a few widely shared aesthetic preferences, and a whole lot of individual and cultural variation: “Beauty is, mostly, in the eye of the beholder.”

    * Confucius

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    As we examine the exquisite, we might send intricately beautiful birthday greetings to Jan Švankmajer; he was born on this date in 1934.  A self-proclaimed surrealist artist who has worked in many media, he is best known as a filmmaker, more specifically, as a stop-motion animator whose works have influenced Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Quay, and many others.

    Here, his first film:

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:56 on 2018/09/03 Permalink
    Tags: , clockwork, , , Loren Eiseley, Naturalism, , ,   

    “It would be a very naive sort of dogmatism to assume that there exists an absolute reality of things which is the same for all living beings”*… 

     

    Clockwork sized-archive-trunk

    Detail of the nerves of the trunk from Cerebri Anatome 1664 by Thomas Willis

     

    The model of nature as a complex, clockwork mechanism has been central to modern science ever since the 17th century. It continues to appear regularly throughout the sciences, from quantum mechanics to evolutionary biology. But for Descartes and his contemporaries, ‘mechanism’ did not signify the sort of inert, regular, predictable functioning that the word connotes today. Instead, it often suggested the very opposite: responsiveness, engagement, caprice. Yet over the course of the 17th century, the idea of machinery narrowed into something passive, without agency or force of its own life. The earlier notion of active, responsive mechanism largely gave way to a new, brute mechanism…

    The idea that nature is a humming, complex, clockwork machine has been around for centuries. Is it due for a revival? “Alive and Ticking.”

    * Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture

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    As we muse on the mechanical, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Loren Eiseley; he was born on this date in 1907.  An anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, he was one of the preeminent literary naturalists of our time.   Publishers Weekly called him “the modern Thoreau.” Fellow science writer Orville Prescott praised him as a scientist who “can write with poetic sensibility and with a fine sense of wonder and of reverence before the mysteries of life and nature.” And Ray Bradbury, praising Eiseley’s “The Unexpected Universe,” remarked, “[Eiseley] is every writer’s writer, and every human’s human… One of us, yet most uncommon…”

    You can find his annotated bibliography here.

    220px-Eiseley_UPenn source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:28 on 2018/09/02 Permalink
    Tags: armaments, , gun control, , Hiram Percy Maxim, , Maxim, Maxim silencer, ,   

    “Speaking personally, you can have my gun, but you’ll take my book when you pry my cold, dead fingers off of the binding”*… 

     

     

    A new study reveals more than a quarter-million people died from firearm-related injuries in 2016, with half of those deaths occurring in only six countries in the Americas: Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guatemala.

    A part of the Global Burden of Disease, the study assesses firearm-related mortality between 1990 and 2016 for 195 countries and territories by age and by sex. It is the most extensive study ever conducted on global firearm-related deaths. Deaths from conflict and terrorism, executions, and law enforcement shootings were not included in the total estimates.

    “This study confirms what many have been claiming for years – that gun violence is one of the greatest public health crises of our time,” said Dr. Mohsen Naghavi, a professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, and first author of the study. “There are no simple antidotes to address this health problem. The tragedy of each firearm-related death will continue until reasonable and reasoned leaders come together to address the issue.”…

    The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reports: “Six countries in the Americas account for half of all firearm deaths.”  The full report, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is summarized here.

    * Stephen King

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    As we search for those “reasonable and reasoned leaders,” we might send quiet birthday greetings to Hiram Percy Maxim; he was born on this date in 1869.  An inventor, he created the “Maxim silencer.”  In that accomplishment he was in keeping with family tradition:  His uncle, Hudson Maxim, created smokeless gun powder and both the explosive maximite and the delayed-action detonating fuse (which enabled torpedoes); and his father, Hiram Stevens Maxim, invented the Maxim machine gun,

    250px-Hiram_Percy_Maxim source

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:57 on 2018/09/01 Permalink
    Tags: applied history, deextinction, , , , , , planning, ,   

    “History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.’”… 

     

    tiger

    Surprised! Henri Rousseau, 1891

    In An Autobiography, published in 1939, R.G. Collingwood offered an arresting statement about the kind of insight possessed by the trained historian. The philosopher of history likened the difference between those who knew and understood history and those who did not to that between ‘the trained woodsman’ and ‘the ignorant traveller’ in a forest. While the latter marches along unaware of their surroundings, thinking ‘Nothing here but trees and grass’, the woodsman sees what lurks ahead. ‘Look’, he will say, ‘there is a tiger in that grass.’

    What Collingwood meant was that, through their familiarity with people, places and ideas, historians are often equipped to see how a situation might turn out – or at least identify the key considerations that determine matters. Collingwood’s musings implied an expansive vision of the role historians might play in society. Their grasp of human behaviour, long-term economic or cultural processes and the complexities of the socio-political order of a given region of the world meant that they could be more than just a specialist in the past. By being able to spot the tiger in the grass, historians might profitably advise on contemporary and future challenges as well…

    Can the study of the past really help us to understand the present?  Robert Crowcroft argues that it can: “The Case for Applied History.”

    * Eduardo Galeano

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    As we look to the past, we might spare a thought for Martha; she died on this date in 1914.  As she was the last known passenger pigeon, her death meant the extinction of the species.

    (De-extinction efforts are underway.)

    Martha

     source

     

     
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