Pi = 3.2 says committee that is surely not at all drunk

Right, so. Many people here will have heard about Indiana’s attempt to legislate the value of pi. This was quite a long time ago, mind, but it’s still funny. I was just reminded of this by the delightful Pharyngula commenter Jaws. It inspired me to re-read an article from a couple years ago – before I started this blog. The story about the legislation is funnier than I remembered it.

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The Immigrant, The Idiot, and The Judgement

Look, Donald Trump is an idiot. We all know that. It’s not so much that he’s ignorant, he is arrogantly ignorant. He personifies the worst-case Dunning-Kruger effect. Previously the most perfect example of this was uttered a mere 40 days or so into his presidency as he announced (again) his intention to repeal Obamacare:

Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.

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Steve Bannon Engaged in Sex Robot Congress, But Pulls Out Early

I’m not sure which that headline evoked more: fun or emesis. Nonetheless, Bannon was engaged as a speaker for the 4th annual Sex & Love with Robots Congress or something like that. However, the notoriety of the event was costing Bannon other speaking gigs. Bannon will not now be speaking, and the entire “Congress” has been canceled. However, it has been suggested that Bannon pulled out even before the cancelation.

In any case, quite a number of people are now talking about this – frequently tittering as they do. One take is at RawStory.

If it’s on the internet, it must be true

Speaking of things that are disrespectful to various national anthems, I am furious that people are running around talking about the Star Spangled Banner without giving proper credit to those to whom the credit is due: Whitney Houston & John Stafford Smith. I saw it on the internet so it must be true:

Google gives credit for the US national anthem to Whitney Houston & John Stafford Smith

I have to run out and pick up the album “Super Bowl XXV” now.

Rush Limbaugh: Sharknado is Real!

I kid you not, Rush Limbaugh fell for a satire article about oncoming Hurricane Florence, discussing it on air (and retweeting it? – I can’t find the source on that) to let his followers know that sharks

are being lifted out of the Atlantic Ocean and dumped into the storm because it’s so strong it’s sucking them in there.

The longer version might be even more laughable:

In addition to the pig manure, in addition to the slop, in addition to the floods, in addition to the cars rolling around on the waters in front of your house, in addition to the mudslides and the landslides, now you might end up with a shark in your front yard. I’m telling you right — you think I’m making this up? This appeared somewhere!

Yes. It appeared in the prestigious Pulitzer Prize-winning media outlet, “somewhere”. Oh, Rush.

Bizarrely, after asserting the sharks might end up in your front yard, he later added:

Of course the only water that might contain sharks would be storm surge. It isn’t going to be raining sharks. And that’s — The predominant water source in a hurricane is rainfall.

How sharks are being “lifted out of the Atlantic Ocean and dumped into the storm” without ever leaving the oceanic waters is a conundrum, surely. But if anyone can find a way to make a dumb “Sharknado is real!” fake news story even dumber, rest assured that Rush is the one to accomplish that feat.

Classic Contributions to Science Journalism #2.1mya

In the coverage of recently published research revealing that stone tools in China – which research suggests were crafted by individual members of Homo erectus – date back 2.1 million-fucking-years, we get this gem contributing to our understanding of why this finding is so important in understanding the habits and abilities of our ancestors and not just their birth dates:

Another key finding is that the new dates show that “already before 2 million years, hominins were able to cope with a range of environmental conditions,” says archaeologist Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who is not a member of the team. During the long span of occupations at Shangchen, which is about the same latitude as Kabul, the climate fluctuated from warm and wet to cold and dry. “They must have been freezing their buns off,” adds paleoanthropologist Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

That’s right, just try reading that entire last sentence out loud and in one take without interrupting yourself laughing. Pure brilliance.

What Constitutes A Tool? Orca Are Freuding Amazing Edition

So, apparently some folks have known about this for a long time, but I just came across a reference to orca gathering together several members of a pod who then swim, dive, and surge synchronously to produce a wave displacing several tons of water.

Why would they do that? Well, it turns out it’s a good way for orca to wash prey animals who rest on ice floes – mainly seals – off the safety of their floating islands and into the open water where the orca can eat them.

Here’s one video which culminates in three orca using the strategy:

 

However, there are others. I came across a 45 minute TV program that would be inconvenient to use in demonstrating the tactic. Still if you’re willing to scan through and find it, you can see five orca swimming, diving, & surging synchronously to form a massive wave. While synchronized action isn’t unusual in the animal kingdom (think of birds migrating in V formations or schools of fish turning in near-unison among other things), this involves not only planning, but very possibly also either communicating a plan to one’s companions or, even more spectacularly, a theory of mind where the means to communicate a plan are absent, but other orca recognize what one orca is attempting to achieve in the future, then thinking about how to enhance the success of that other animal’s plan. Thinking from that other animal’s perspective, if that’s what’s happening, is a stupendous intellectual feat.

It would not be the only time one can see theory of mind operating in non-human animals, but the operation of theory of mind is rare.

And yet, the thing that completely disarms me intellectually is the thought that in this instance, the very water in which they swim has probably been rendered into a tool, which would challenge the very definition of the word. Wikipedia’s discussion of tool use by animals has a brief discussion of the difficulties inherent in defining “tool”. The first example they present, though, is sufficient to the point:

The external employment of an unattached or manipulable attached environmental object to alter more efficiently the form, position, or condition of another object, another organism, or the user itself, when the user holds and directly manipulates the tool during or prior to use and is responsible for the proper and effective orientation of the tool.

Is the seawater an “environmental object” or the orca’s environment itself? I’m not sure, but this is an incredible bit of cooperative hunting a raises a great many questions about orca, their intelligence, and even the nature of tool use itself.