The great gyrocopter escapade

Last week the media were all agog are about the exploits of a 61-year old postal worker Doug Hughes, who piloted his gyrocopter below the radar and landed near the White House and the Capitol building to deliver letters to each member of Congress protesting the state of campaign finance in the US, a worthy cause indeed since that is a scandal. You can read the letter here. It is a pretty good analysis of the problem.
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How physics conferences treat crank papers

PZ Myers had a post about a paper presented at the April meeting of the American Physical Society that made some outlandish claims about locating god’s throne. Some readers may be curious about how such a crazy paper made it into the program of a serious physics conference organized by the world’s largest professional organization of physicists and of which I am a member.
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The letters that colleges should send to applicants

This is the time of year when high school students in the US await anxiously the results of the college applications. Since I work in a university and have had two children go through the college application process, I am well aware of the anxiety that it produces in young people as they wonder if they will get into the college of their choice and what failure to do so might say about them.
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What could explain the difference in the severity of punishment?

Recently some teachers and administrators in the Atlanta school district were harshly punished (caution: autoplay) for changing the results of their students’ answers on the high-stakes tests that are the bane of the US educational system. They did this in order to improve the district’s scores because poor performance could result in pretty drastic consequences for them and their schools.
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We are lucky to be alive

If ever I feel the temptation to feel sorry for myself, I like to remind myself of the idea demonstrated in the cartoon below that shows how in order for us to be alive at all, every single one of the millions of our ancestors, all the way back to the first living organism, had to be survive long enough to reproduce. If, at an early stage of that sequence, one were to put odds on that happening, the chances against it are enormous. And yet here we are.
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“Would you attend a gay wedding?”

The growing split between what the American public and the right wing crazies think about same-sex marriage is making the above question, which should be a no-brainer for any sentient being, now considered to be a tricky, ‘gotcha’ question. Naturally The Daily Show took the chance to have fun over it, especially with Rick Santorum who is looking even crazier this time around than in 2012, something I would not have thought possible.
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Religious (and general) support for same-sex marriage grows rapidly

While opposition to same-sex marriage is based entirely on religious reasons (although some opponents might try to disguise that fact by finding seemingly secular reasons), it is interesting that a new survey released yesterday by the Public Religion Research Institute finds that the majority of many mainline religious groups support it.
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What is the true ISIS origin story?

The sudden appearance of the group ISIS and the rapid growth in the territory that it holds, coupled with the extraordinary brutality of its methods, has spurred a great deal of interest in its origins and ultimate goals. Is it primarily a political organization with secular territorial goals that uses religion as a unifying and motivating element and brutality as a tactic, or is it a fanatical religious organization that uses the appeal of territorial gains and a new state as the motivating factor?
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