The daring young man on a flying lawn chair

What happens when you have a crazy ambition – and achieve it?

Anyone in the US above a certain age will remember the strange story of a man who in 1982 attached 42 helium-filled balloons to a chaise lawn chair so that he could float up into the sky and drift slowly over the countryside. It was an insane idea but he actually carried it out. But he rose much higher than he anticipated, to over 16,000 feet, so that he was in the flight path of commercial jets whose pilots radioed back to airport control about seeing a man in a lawn chair.

Back in 1998, George Plimpton wrote about Larry Walters’ flight. It is not that Walters did not take precautions. He included a parachute plus “a two-way radio; an altimeter; a hand compass; a flashlight; extra batteries; a medical kit; a pocketknife; eight plastic bottles of water to be placed on the sides of the chair, for ballast; a package of beef jerky; a road map of California; a camera; two litres of Coca-Cola; and a B.B. gun, for popping the balloons.”
[Read more…]

Amazon workers succeed in union effort

I was surprised and pleased that yesterday a majority of the 8,000 employees at one of the four Staten Island, NY Amazon warehouses voted in favor of forming a union by a margin of 2,654 to 2,131. A similar vote at a Bessemer, AL warehouse is too close to call at the moment. Even the latter stand-off is encouraging since Alabama is not a union-friendly region, unlike Staten Island.

Progressives hailed Friday’s unionization vote by employees at an Amazon warehouse in New York City as a historic victory for workers across the United States and an inspiring call to action for others seeking to organize.

“This is the catalyst for the revolution.”

In what’s being described as a “tremendous upset” of “David versus Goliath” proportions, employees at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island—led by fired worker Chris Smalls—defeated a multimillion-dollar union-busting effort by one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations and voted to form the Amazon Labor Union (ALU).

“It’s official,” ALU tweeted after the vote. “Amazon Labor Union is the first Amazon union in U.S. history. Power to the people!”

“This is the catalyst for the revolution,” Smalls, the ALU organizer and president, said while celebrating the vote.

[Read more…]

Dangerous food trends

It is quite astonishing to me how much attention some people pay to their diets, even if they have no medical condition that requires them to be careful about what they eat or drink. This feeling that certain diets can be the pathway to good health and longevity has been exploited by some to promote various fads that can, in fact, be dangerous. This article describes some popular fads that one should be very wary of.

This article warns that excessive fears about food, that come under the heading of ‘clean eating’, can lead to obsessive behavior and all manner of problems.
[Read more…]

TV Review: The Plot to Overturn the Election

The so-called ‘Big Lie’, the idea that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election and that there was a major conspiracy to steal the election and give it to Joe Biden, is so preposterous that one has to be delusional to give it any credence. And yet, it seems like many Republicans have bought into it.

The excellent investigative journalism outfit ProPublica has combined with the PBS program Frontline to produce an absorbing 53-minute documentary in which correspondent A. C. Thompson (who has previously investigated hate groups) tracks down the origins of the Big Lie, the people behind it, and their goal of trying to rig future elections to get the results they want. Although I have been following this story closely, I learned a lot of new things about it.

The varied responses to the monk problem reveals important insights

I was a little surprised at the length of the comment thread in the post about the logic puzzle involving the monk Gaito going up and down a hill. On the one hand, I thought that there were some excellent explanations of why there had to be at least one instant where the monk was at the same location at the same time. These involved visualizing the situation in slightly different ways, such as instead of having one monk go up and down on two different days, having two monks going up and down on the same day or using graphs or films and so on.

But clearly these arguments were not persuasive enough for some and I have been trying to think why this might be so. In my teaching experience, it is often the case that what seems obvious to you as a teacher is by no means so to the student. It is no use repeating the same explanation more slowly or (worse) more loudly or (much worse) exasperatedly. There is clearly some opposing argument that the student finds persuasive that makes them reject your argument and yet they may not be able to identify and articulate what it is. Instead they feel that there must be some flaw in your reasoning that they cannot put their finger on. It is more fruitful as a teacher to try and figure out what their argument might be, rather than reiterating your own.
[Read more…]