Stephen Colbert has a funny, incisive analysis of yesterday’s developments

He made fun of the Biden-Harris appearance in an empty gymnasium where they kept socially distanced. US presidential campaigns, especially party conventions have, in my opinion, far too much pomp and pageantry, with large crowds cheering on cue and balloons and confetti and the like. I find those things utterly boring and never watch such events and I must say that I much prefer the current scaled-down, low-key format. I hope that even after the pandemic ends, we keep things the way they are now.

If we get rid of the glitz, then we will get to see more of the substance.

The expected attacks on Harris begin

As expected, the attacks on Kamala Harris started immediately. What is surprising is that she has long been the favorite to be selected by Joe Biden and one would have expected any competent campaign to have carefully prepared a coherent and consistent line of attack. But the statements by Trump, his surrogates, and the Republican party have been scattershot.

Standing in the White House briefing room on Tuesday, Mr. Trump read from some prepared notes, assailing Ms. Harris for being against fracking and “very big into raising taxes.” At another point, Mr. Trump appeared unfamiliar with his own campaign’s line of attack. When a reporter with The New York Post asked the president about his own campaign ad calling Ms. Harris a “phony,” the president asked for clarification.

“She was a what?” Mr. Trump said.

And hours after the campaign and the Republican National Committee called Ms. Harris the “most liberal” member of the Senate, the R.N.C. sent out an email blast saying that progressives hated her because she was not progressive enough.

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The Squad remains undefeated and even grows

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been some notable results. The four female progressive Democratic congresswomen (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortx, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley, known collectively as ‘the Squad’) who came into office in 2018 by overthrowing well-entrenched establishment candidates and caused consternation within the party hierarchy, all faced well-funded opposition in their primaries. The people who funded the opposition no doubt hoped to blunt the growing narrative that the party needed to adopt more progressive policies and not, as it usually does, kowtow to the finance, business, and military sectors. The good news is that all four won re-election easily. The upset win by Cori Bush in Missouri may mean that the Squad now actually increases to five.
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Review of my book

Chris, a long time reader of this blog, took up my request to readers to write a review of my book after reading it and because he captured so well some of the things that I was trying to say, I am reproducing it here.

I enjoyed this book. It provided a useful framework for thinking about and discussing science as it affects our daily lives. The later chapters added a philosophical perspective I had not anticipated.

I liked the Tree of Science metaphor and selected quotes from the Bible scattered throughout the book. At one time religion had a more active interest in the answers to scientific questions. When along the Tree of Science would you propose that the Last Common Universal Ancestor of science and religion existed?

The case study on the age of the earth was very interesting, and perhaps my favorite part of the book. I had no idea that the accepted value varied so widely over time and that the eventual convergence at 4.54 billion years was the result of a multidisciplinary approach that gradually filled in a complete picture from seemingly disparate data points. This networked approach made me think of a spider web where each link is interconnected and dependent on the links around it. At the same time, weak portions of the web can be rebuilt in situ without the entire web collapsing.

It also was interesting to read about the life cycles of various theories and in particular how they can still be useful even when superseded by something better, as in the case of Newton’s laws of motion.

The parts of the book that dealt with science deniers and misinformation seem acutely relevant during the pandemic crisis. I noticed many of the types of bad-faith arguments used to try to discredit science that were discussed are being brandished about in the media almost constantly. I am hopeful that now I will be in a better position to argue that the conclusions of experts can be trusted because they are the result of a robust system that is constantly revising itself from within.

I hope other blog readers will buy the book and then write their own reviews and post them here and on the many websites that allow for readers to post reviews.

Thanks, Chris!

Biden’s pick of Harris makes life difficult for Trump

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced yesterday that California senator Kamala Harris would be his running mate. It was something I had been expecting all along. Harris breaks a barrier by being the first woman of color to be nominated to be vice-president of one of the major political parties but in almost every other respect she is not a trailblazer. Her politics are very much Democratic party establishment. She is not a progressive and her past performance as a prosecutor leaves plenty to be desired as she vigorously used all the powers at her disposal to wage the infamous ‘war on crime’ that resulted in large numbers of people being sent to prison for long terms out of proportion to the nature of their crimes. This is one reason that her choice makes life difficult for Trump. He will try to portray her as someone who is the ideological love child of Lenin and Fidel Castro but that is highly unlikely to stick.
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Trump is clearly increasingly desperate

Seth Meyers wonderfully deconstructs Trump false statements about what his latest Executive Orders will do. The correct answer is ‘very little’. They are either meaningless or unconstitutional. Some measures he has proposed, like the deferment in the payroll taxes and the deferment of student loan repayments only last until December, i.e., until after the election. Trump is essentially using them as bribes, suggesting that if people want them to continue, they will have to re-elect him. What next, giving everyone a loan that will only need to be repaid after the election? Pathetic.

Meyers also discusses Trump’s delusional hope that his face might be added to Mount Rushmore.

Trump seems to have a problem with persistent female reporters

Over the weekend Trump stormed off from a press conference when a female reporter kept pressing him about why he keeps claiming credit for an action that Barack Obama did when he was president back in 2014. Jack Shafer writes that there is a pattern here.

It starts with a reporter, usually a female reporter, asking President Donald Trump hard, tenacious questions at a news conference. Trump’s jaw seizes up, rattled and dumbfounded by the questions that he can’t or won’t answer, he abruptly ends the presser by saying, “Thank you, very much” and stalking out of the room.
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The complex issue of cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation, the term given (usually censoriously) to anyone who attempts to portray a culture other than their own, has led to a great amount of heated debate. I have been struggling to make sense of this complex question. On the one hand, it can plausibly be argued that however much research one does about a different culture, however much one can intellectually understand the point of view of someone whose life experience is very different from one’s own, one can never feel how that person feels about anything, and hence any attempt to speak through the other person’s voice will be inauthentic.
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The scientific history of the North American continent

The PBS science program Nova has an excellent three-part series that was first broadcast in 2015 on the history of the continent. They use nice special effects to bring vividly to life the very slow processes of geology and biology. Each episode lasts about 50 minutes.

The first one deals with the geologic history.

The second deals with the evolution of life.

The third deals with humans. I had thought that there were just two theories for how humans arrived on this continent. Either they came from the east and crossed the Bering Strait land bridge that was exposed during the last Ice Age when ocean levels receded. Or they came from the west by ships that hugged the North Atlantic coastlines. [Correction: I had misremembered. I recalled something about people coming to the Americas earlier from the west but that ‘earlier’ only meant before Columbus and not that they were the first inhabitants.] But this program says that the earliest human remains have been found on islands in the Pacific just off the west coast of the continent, indicating that they must have come from the east by boats. This was new to me and I need to look into it.

Whenever I see these programs, I am always impressed by the grandeur of the story being told and the dogged work of so many scientists who have been able to piece together the narrative of things that occurred long before there were any humans to observe them.

And that feeling is always followed by a sense of sadness that those who believe in a 6,000 year old Earth are missing out on that sense of wonder. Oh sure, maybe the belief that “God made everything” fills them with a different sense of wonder but that seems so shallow to me.

College football season likely to be canceled

Today comes welcome news that the Big Ten conference made up of 14 of the biggest powerhouses in college football (it started out with just 10 but retained the name after expanding its roster) has canceled the upcoming fall season due to the pandemic. Another smaller conference had announced its cancellation a couple of days ago.

The Big Ten has voted to cancel the 2020 college football season in a historic move that stems from concerns related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, multiple people with knowledge of the decision confirmed to the Free Press.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the decision. A formal announcement is expected to Tuesday, the sources said.

The presidents voted, 12-2, Sunday to end the fall sports in the conference. Michigan and Michigan State — which both has physicians as presidents — voted to end the season, sources said. Only Nebraska and Iowa voted to play, Dan Patrick said on his radio show Monday.

The move comes two days after the Mid-American Conference became the first in the FBS to cancel ts season, and sources told the Free Press the Big Ten is trying to coordinate its announcement with other Power Five conferences.

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