Armistice Day – A hundred years ago

Denmark was not part of WWI, except in the lucrative profiteering role, so WWI is not really covered much in history classes – or at least, it was not when I was a kid. I have tried to make up for this, but I feel that I am not as knowledgeable of WWI as I should be.

One thing I know, however, was that it was an absolutely horrible war, with large numbers of young men getting killed. Reading books about life in the trenches, it becomes clear what an absolute nightmare it was to be there.

I don’t think I have ever come across anything that illustrates this better than this recording.

Even knowing that peace was just a minute away, the armies kept fighting, until silence comes, as the agreed upon time is reached.

Why? It is unfathomable to me why anyone would keep trying to kill other human beings once it has been agreed that there will be an armistice. Yet, the sound clip clearly shows that people kept fighting to the very end.

A hundred years ago, the guns fell silent, and people hoped it would be the last great war. This unfortunately wasn’t the case, as everyone knows, and as Putin, Trump, Brexit and other factors are de-stabilizing global politics, it is easy to fear that another “great” war is in the making.

Elections have consequences, so please vote

Back in 2016, US voters had the chance of voting against Trump, and unfortunately failed. The failure came in many forms, but can pretty much be summed up as not voting for the viable candidate running against him – by which I mean, that not enough people voted for Hillary Clinton.

A lot of us warned about the dangers of electing Trump, but many people didn’t take it seriously, so they either didn’t vote, voted 3rd party and in effect throwing their vote away in the presidential election, or even worse, voted for Trump as some kind of protest vote. Of course, many also voted for Trump because they supported him and his monstrous ideas.

Well, two years of Trump has clearly shown that all of worst fears have come to pass – he is a bumbling bigot, navigating the world of politics like a drunken sailor, offending allies, aiding enemies, and pretty much focusing on enriching himself, his family, and his allies.

Now, it is the mid-way elections in the US. This won’t give Americans the chance of removing Trump – for that we’ll have to wait for the 2020 elections – but it will give Americans a chance to reign in Trump, by giving him a political opposition.

So, this election, please vote, and please vote for the Democrats – at least on the federal level. On the state level, I’d also suggest voting for the Democrats, as the GOP generally has done a horrible job at governing states, but there might be the rare exception here and there.

This is the true Republican party

I guess most of my readers have followed the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. I am not going to comment on it here, as there are plenty of other people out there explaining why the hearings clearly shows that Kavanaugh is unsuitable for any judicial job.

Instead I am going to point out that it is worth observing the behavior of the Republican party. Even the so-called moderates among the Republicans are supporting Kavanaugh, even though he is clearly extremely partisan and unsuited for the role. In other words, they are putting politics over the greater good of society.

Democrats are willing to compromise when they are in power, Republicans are not.

Remember this. Remember this, and vote against the Republicans. Not just at the presidential elections, but at all elections.

We need the Democrats to gain enough seats to stop the Republicans from keep harming the country and to undo the harm they have already done. An impeachment of Brett Kavanaugh would be a good place to start (no matter the result of the hearings).

A piece of skeptic history on sale – the Cottingley Fairies hoax pictures

Hoaxes have been around forever, and most of the historic hoaxes have been forgotten by now – one historic hoax which is still remembered, however, is the Cottingley Fairies. One major reason for this, is probably because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got taken in, and defended the pictures.

Now it is possible to buy the historic hoax pictures. Or it is, if you have enought money.

Cottingley Fairies hoax pictures expected to fetch £2,000 at auction

Photographs of what is considered to be one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century are expected to fetch more than £2,000 when they are sold at auction.

The two images of the Cottingley Fairies were taken in July and September 1917 by 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths, in the village of Cottingley, near Bingley in Yorkshire.

I would think that £2,000 is on the low end – I could easily see skeptics, Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle fans, and others go into a bidding war.

Sometimes simple truths are appreciated

I made a tweet a couple of days ago, that seems to be reasonably popular (more than 400 likes). Thought I’d share it (and the conversation it was part of) here as well

It is not a particular deep point, but apparently, it speaks more to people than my usual tweets.

Lazy linking

A few links to articles and blogposts that I think worth sharing

Laurie Penny has written a long-read article about not debating people: No, I Will Not Debate You

Civility will never defeat fascism, no matter what The Economist thinks.

Professor Julie Libarkin of Michigan State University has compiled a list of know harassers in academia

Rates of sexual abuse and harassment in academic science are second only to the military. It’s estimated that at least half of women faculty and staff face harassment and abuse and that 20 to 50 percent of women students in science, engineering, and medicine are abused by faculty. Those numbers are generally based on surveys, which are an important way of getting a handle on the problem and how it changes women’s career trajectories.

But when it comes to holding institutions accountable and making meaningful changes, naming perpetrators may be even more powerful.

Julie Libarkin has taken on the challenge of creating a database of harassers. She’s a professor at Michigan State University and she heads the Geocognition Research Laboratory. She’s compiled a list of some 700 cases of sexual misconduct in academia.

The human league: what separates us from other animals? by Adam Rutherford

You are an animal, but a very special one. Mostly bald, you’re an ape, descended from apes; your features and actions are carved or winnowed by natural selection. But what a special simian you are. Shakespeare crystallised this thought a good 250 years before Charles Darwin positioned us as a creature at the end of the slightest of twigs on a single, bewildering family tree that encompasses 4bn years, a lot of twists and turns, and 1 billion species.

Republicans hoped voters would forget they tried to kill Obamacare. They bet wrong. by Andy Slavitt

Andy Slavitt described his article thus on twitter:

Do you notice this phenomenon where your MOC behaves differently in odd numbered years and even numbered years? My @USATODAY column this week explains.

There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal-justice system is racist. Here’s the proof. by Radley Balko

This is very relevant to my earlier post about the need for a reform in the US judicial system.

Has the Riemann hypothesis been proven?

Well, I guess we’ll find out on Monday.

One of the most important unsolved problems in mathematics may have been solved, retired mathematician Michael Atiyah is set to claim on Monday. In a talk at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum in Germany, Atiyah will present what he refers to as a “simple proof” of the Riemann hypothesis, a problem which has eluded mathematicians for almost 160 years.

Actually, it is highly unlikely that we will know on Monday, unless there is some obvious glaring error. Other people have to look at the proof, and it will take a while – when Grigori Perelman confirmed the Poincaré conjecture in 2003, it took until 2006 for it to be verified.

The Riemann hypothesis is one of the Millennium Prize Problems

How many innocent people must be freed? A sweeping review is needed

There is a well-known saying, called Blackstone’s formulation, which is supposed to represent the concept behind the judicial systems in the West

It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer

Yet, looking at the US judicial system, it seems like the exact opposite is the case. A lot of people are wrongfully convicted – either through being forced into plea bargains, or though plain wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project, which has been working to free innocent people for 25 years, have freed hundreds of people, many from the death row. Unfortunately, there is not enough resources to help everybody, and sometimes it takes a very unlikely series of events for someone innocent to get the attention of someone who can help.

This is the case with Valentino Dixon. He was wrongfully convicted of murder, and had served 27 years behind bars before getting his conviction overturned. While he family had fought for him getting released, the big breakthrough came when a golf magazine took up his case. Dixon came to the attention of Golf Digest because of his golf-related drawings. And as Golfworld explains, it didn’t take long for the magazine to notice that his conviction seemed rather doubtful.

It took about a hundred drawings before Golf Digest noticed, but when we did, we also noticed his conviction seemed flimsy. So we investigated the case and raised the question of his innocence.

The case is complicated, but on the surface it involves shoddy police work, zero physical evidence linking Dixon, conflicting testimony of unreliable witnesses, the videotaped confession to the crime by another man, a public defender who didn’t call a witness at trial, and perjury charges against those who said Dixon didn’t do it. All together, a fairly clear instance of local officials hastily railroading a young black man with a prior criminal record into jail. Dixon’s past wasn’t spotless, he had sold some cocaine, but that didn’t make him a murderer.

Golf Digest wrote about this, and the story was picked up by other media, without Dixon’s case got any traction. Then his case was picked by 3 Georgetown undergraduate students as their case in a Prison Reform Project course.

Dixon’s case was certainly the most advanced, mostly because he already had an attorney representing him and pursuing his innocence. But the case had stalled. One barrier to such efforts is the challenge of proving there is new evidence that needs to be considered — difficult in this case, since the real killer’s confessions had been well-known for decades.

The three students working on Dixon’s case kept pushing, traveling to visit Dixon in prison, tracking down witnesses, and interviewing the key figures in his original trial. Several interviews revealed the blatant incompetence and callousness of his original trial attorney, who didn’t seem troubled at all by the conviction.

But the bombshell moment occurred when the original prosecutor, unprompted, revealed that after Dixon had been arrested, the investigators had conducted gun residue testing on his hands and clothes, and the test came back negative.

This was a blatant violation of the landmark Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, which ruled prosecutors are obligated to provide defense attorneys with any material evidence helpful to the defense. Yet in this case, no one knew about the test until the Georgetown students captured the prosecutor talking about it on camera.

In short, these remarkable students broke new investigative ground and contributed to Dixon’s lawyers’ final and ultimately successful motion to overturn his conviction based on new evidence.

If Gold Digest hadn’t picked up the story, creating some media buzz, it is unlikely the case would have gotten the attention of the Georgetown professors running the course, and then the graduate students wouldn’t have begun their digging.

I cannot help wonder how many other wrongfully convicted people there are out there without the benefit of a passion that catches the eye of someone outside the prison. Given what we know about the conduct of US prosecutors and police forces, and in many cases public defenders, I can’t help but think that every case should be reviewed, especially those against poor, non-white people, who historically has been badly served by the US judicial system. This is not a small task, but it should be possible to identify cases with a high risk of wrongful conviction – this would be cases from districts where there has already been identified problems with the methods used by the prosecutor and the police force, cases where the public defender has a noteworthy bad record, and cases where there is evidence of a bias in the system (e.g. black crime against white people).

This is unlikely to happen as long as the GOP, and other though-on-crime politicians, are in political position – including the position of public prosecutor and judge in many cases. The only way to change this, is to vote for better politicians, and then pressure the elected politicians to work for justice, rather than being though on crime.

The original 2012 article in Golf Digest: Golf Saved My Life – Drawings From Prison

Hayabusa-2’s probes successfully deployed

Given the current news cycle, this has probably escaped the attention of a lot of people, but there is some exciting science news.

The Hayabusa 2 mission by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been successful in landing two probes on the asteroid 162173 Ryugu. This is exciting news, since they will allow exploring the astroid’s surface.

Read more here:
Engadget: Japan’s Hayabusa 2 mission lands on target asteroid
The Japan Times: JAXA confirms tiny robots from Hayabusa2 landed on asteroid
BBC: Hayabusa-2: Japan’s rovers send pictures from asteroid

Remembering the past – skudsmaalsbog

I was looking through some personal papers recently, and came across these two small books

Skudsmaalsbog

The skudsmaalsbog of my great-grandparents

They belonged to my Danish great-grandparents, and each is a skudsmaalsbog, which contained information about their employment history.

Title page of skudsmaalbog

Title page of the skudsmaalsbog

Until 1921, servants and other workers had to have a skudsmaalsbog, which had to be signed by employers when they left the job. Without such a signature, you couldn’t get a new job. You also had to present it to officials if you moved from one parish to another. If someone lost their skudsmaalsbog, they had to report it to the police immediately, or face a fine. After it was reported lost, an investigation would take place, and if it was found to be lost intentionally, they would get fined.

§3. Forkommer en Skudsmaalsbog, skal Tyendet under Bøder af indtil 5 Rdl. Ufortøvet anmelde det for Politiet, som derpaa bar et undersøge, hvorledes Bogen er forkommen. Er dette skeet forsætligen af Tyendet bør det bøde fra 5 til 20 Rdl. Derhos bør Tyendet anskaffe sig en ny Skudsmaalbog, hvilken i dette Tilfælde saavel paa Landet som i Kjøbstæderne udleveres af Politiøvrigheden. Den nye Skudsmaalsbog bør paa Landet inden 4 Dage forevises Sognepræsten under Bøder af indtil 10 Rdl.

Above is the lawtext (in Danish) explaining how much you’d get fined if you loose the book intentionally or without reporting it.

Until 1867, the employer was supposed to write the dates of employment and the wage, and could write an evaluation of the employee If an employer lied about the employee, either by praising them or criticizing them falsely, they faced a fine.

§5. Enhver Huusbond skal, forinden et Tyende forlader hans Tjeneste, indføre i dets Skudsmaalsbog, fra og til hvilken Tid Tyendet har tjent ham, samt i hvilken Egenskab.

Det beroer paa huusbonden, om han vil tilføie noget Vidnesbyrd om Tyendets Forhold i Tjenestetiden.

Den Huusbond, som mod bedre Vidende giver Tyendet et fordeelagtigt Skudsmaal, hvorved tredje Mand kan skuffes, skal ifølge Lovgigningens almindelige Grundsætninger staae den Skadelidende til Ansvar, og kan efter Omstændighederne dømmes i Bøder indtil 20 Rdl.

Giver Huusbonden i Skudsmaalsbogen Tyendet et ufordeelagtigt Vidnesbyrd, som kan være det hinderligt i at faae nye Tjenester, og han ikke kan tilveiebringe saadanne Oplysninger, som give antagelig Formodning for, at han har haft tilstrækkelig Grund dertil, skal han erstatte Tyendet den foraarsagede Skade og ansees med Straf, der bestemmes, hvis fornærmelige Beskyldninger ere fremførte, efter Lovene om Fornærmelser i Ord, og ellers til Bøder af Beløb indtil 20 Rdl.

After 1867, the employer was only allowed to write the dates of employment, the type of employment and the wage. 1867 was also the year where employers were no longer allowed to beat their servants and other employees. Employers were required to write the dates of employment, and would be punished with a fine if they didn’t. Since it wasn’t possible to get a new job without documentation of having ended the last one, this was not a trifling matter.

When a person moved between cities or parishes, they had to present it either to the police (in cities) or to the priest (in parishes), in the place they left, and in the place they move to. The police/priest would then update the rolls of the place, either removing or adding the person. They would also note in the book that they had been informed. When moving between cities and parishes, you only a short while to inform about the move – either 24 hours (in the cities) or 4 days (countyside) after arrival.

Tearing out pages, or making the entries unreadable in other ways, was punished by heavy fines and jail time.

Page in skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog, showing the entries, including the city stamp, when moving between cities.

Open skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog showing entires

The practice of people having to have a skudsmaalsbog continued until 1921, six years after the Danish constitution was changed, allowing women and people without a household to vote.

The last entry of my great-grandfather’s book was in 1901, and the last entry of my great-grandmother’s book was in 1903. This is probably when he got his own business, and when they got married – since my grandfather was born in 1904, the timing would be right.