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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The weird QAnon cult

I have long been fascinated by the sociology of cults, the psychology of cult members, and the conspiratorial thinking that afflicts them. I think my interest is because I was a religious believer well into adulthood and now I find myself wondering how I could have believed for so long in things that I now feel are patently nonsense. One factor is that I was born into a religious family and when growing up one tends to unthinkingly absorb the influences of one’s immediate surroundings. Though I grew up in a liberal Christian tradition that did not require me to believe in the more outlandish things that fundamentalist, evangelical, and biblical literalist Christians do, even the most stripped down versions of Christianity require believing in some pretty wild things. So to some extent, I shared similarities with cult members.
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Hasan Minhaj opens up conversations on race among South Asians

Two months ago, I linked to an excellent special episode of Hasan Minhaj’s show Patriot Act following the murder of George Floyd where he discussed racism. In particular he discussed the racism and colorism that is found in South Asian communities. He spoke about the derogatory term ‘kalu’ used in India for not only black people but fellow Asians who happened to have darker skin. That clip has prompted some discussions about this problem.

It turns out that former West Indian cricket captain Darren Sammy had heard the term used for him by some of his Indian teammates when was playing in the Indian Premier League. He had assumed that it was an affectionate nickname that had been coined just for him and it was only after he saw Minhaj’s clip that he realized that people he had viewed as teammates and even friends had been using a slur right to his face.
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The absurd punishments in the US legal system

Remember the case of the teenager who was jailed for not doing her homework? After ProPublica publicized the case leading to calls for her release, the judge still refused to do so. But now an appeals court has overruled the judge and ordered her immediate release after spending 78 days in custody.

A Michigan teenager who has been detained since mid-May after not doing her online schoolwork was set free on Friday, after the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her immediate release from a juvenile facility in suburban Detroit.

Grace, a high school sophomore, spent 78 days at the Children’s Village after an Oakland County family court judge found she had violated her probation on earlier charges of assault and theft. Friday’s decision comes a week after that judge denied her lawyer’s request to set her free. The lawyer then asked the appellate court to release her.

Within two hours of the court order, shortly after 5 p.m., Grace left the facility after her mother arrived to get her. She “had her bags ready to go, they jumped in the car and they were gone,” said one of Grace’s attorneys, Saima Khalil. “They were definitely emotional and happy.”

The case involving Grace, who is Black, was detailed in a ProPublica Illinois investigation this month and has drawn national scrutiny over concerns about the juvenile justice system, systemic racism and holding a teenager accountable for schoolwork during the pandemic.

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How to avoid being seen with Trump

As Trump’s unpopularity increases, elected Republican officials are trying to edge away from him. This was hard to do during the primary races where the Trump fanatics have the most clout but once they got their party’s nomination they are trying to broaden their appeal. Apparently the party’s congressional leaders, including senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, worried about suffering major losses in November, have quietly told candidates that they can distance themselves from Trump if they feel the need.
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What was Jerry Falwell, Jr. thinking?

The head of the evangelical Liberty University has agreed to take the “indefinite leave of absence” asked for by the university’s Board of trustees after a suggestive photo appeared on the internet of him with his arms around the waist of a Peg Bundy lookalike on a yacht, with both of them showing their midriffs ,and he with his pants unzipped and holding a glass with dark liquid in it.

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Pot, meet kettle

It is pretty much indisputable that New Zealand has done much, much better at containing the coronavirus than the US. The leadership shown by the NZ government stands in stark contrast to the utter shambles that we have seen in the US. That country has had just 1,569 cases and 22 deaths so far, compared to over five million cases and 163,000 deaths in the US. Life in that country seems to have pretty much gone back to normal, though the government stands ready to take quick action if there is any sign of the virus coming back.
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