I can’t believe I’m defending Donald Trump

I was intrigued by this news item.

One of President Donald Trump’s most common responses to intelligence briefings is to doubt what he’s being told, former Deputy Director of Intelligence Susan Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon, an intelligence veteran of more than 30 years, said Monday that Trump had two typical responses to briefings.

“One, ‘I don’t think that’s true,'” Gordon told the Women’s Foreign Policy Group.

“The one is ‘I’m not sure I believe that,'” Gordon continued, “and the other is the second order and third order effects. ‘Why is that true? Why are we there? Why is this what you believe? Why do we do that?’ Those sorts of things.”

The article implied that Trump was asking these questions because he had got information from other sources that he liked and trusted more that went counter what the intelligence briefers were telling him.

In my own teaching of science, I had two goals: (1) to enable students to sufficiently understand (not necessarily believe) the scientific consensus on the topic we were learning so that they could use it to solve problems; and (2) to get in the habit of reflexively asking themselves the questions: What do I believe? Why do I believe it? What is the evidence for it? What is the counter-evidence against it?

I felt that these two things enabled them to function is the world of science as well as building up necessary critical thinking skills that would stand them in good stead in all areas of their lives.

So I cannot fault Trump for asking the intelligence officials such questions. Of course, it is not clear if he was actually seeking information in order to make better judgments or whether he was merely finding a way to reject conclusions he did not find congenial. Given what we know about him, the latter is likely but still the asking of such questions is a good thing.

Isn’t regular football brutal enough?

American football is a brutal game and so it should not be surprising that it occasionally erupts into outright violence. This feature was on display recently when Myles Garrett, a player for the Cleveland Browns, yanked off the helmet of an opposing player and repeatedly beat him on the head with it until he was restrained by other players. As is often the case there were events that led up to this assault but it was still egregious by any standards. In fact, yanking out a player’s helmet can be very dangerous because the neck is violently jerked. He has been suspended indefinitely but it made me wonder at what point this kind of on-field violence moves into a territory where the perpetrator is subject to legal prosecution.
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My book has arrived!

Note: I am going to keep this as the new top post for a while. Later posts will appear below it so please scroll down.

To find out more information about the book, click here and for ordering information (including discounts) click here. You can read the first three chapters at the Amazon webpage for the book. (Click on the ‘Look inside’ link at the top left.) Barnes and Noble gives a smaller excerpt (Click on the red arrow on the cover image.).

If those of you who read it and could spare a few moments to post a review on the various book-related sites and as comments here as well, I would really appreciate it.


Shattering Pyrex glassware

Pyrex glass dishes have a reputation for being able to withstand extreme temperatures from the very hot to the very cold. Hence I was surprised when someone I know did something that many of us have done without incident. He took a hot Pyrex baking dish from the oven and laid it on top of the rods that surround the burners you find on gas top stoves that keep the pots slightly above the gas outlets for the flame. But this time, the dish shattered into fragments, sending shards in every direction. He was lucky that he did not suffer any cuts from the high-speed bits of glass.

It turns out that this can happen on occasion and this video shows what can happen when a drop of cold water is placed in a hot Pyrex container.

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The ‘uncanny valley’ and CGI

Computer generated graphics now enable some pretty amazing visual effects in films. In particular, it has been able to make animations look extremely lifelike. But interestingly, when it comes to depicting humans, there turns out to be a problematic element. As the animation gets more and more lifelike, audiences respond positively, getting more empathetic and engaged, but once it gets pretty close but is still not perfect, audience approval drops sharply and people tend to see the humans as creepy until the animation reaches close to 100% of being lifelike, as shown in this graph. The dip is known as the ‘uncanny valley’.

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Saving the internet

The internet is under siege, its initial promise of providing free global access to everyone on a level playing field under attack from governments, big businesses, and secretive, anti-democratic forces. Tim Berners-Lee, one of the key creators of the World Wide Web, has been involved in a consortium that has come up with proposed measures to save the internet in a document titled Contract for the Web.

He discusses the plan in an interview.
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The existential shock of death

James Baillie, a professor of philosophy, looks at why people struggle so much to accept the fact of death even though they know it is inevitable. He starts by looking at a passage from The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) by Leo Tolstoy.

The syllogism he had learned from Kiesewetter’s logic – ‘Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal’ – had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but by no means to himself. That man Caius represented man in the abstract, and so the reasoning was perfectly sound; but he was not Caius, not an abstract man; he had always been a creature quite, quite distinct from all the others.

Baillie says this cognitive split described by Tolstoy arises because we see the world from both an ‘outside view’ and an ‘inside view’.
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Corbyn’s bold broadband plan

Jeremy Corbyn has proposed a bold plan to provide free broadband internet access to everyone in the UK.

Labour believes the plan, part-funded by a tax on internet giants such as Facebook and Google, is a vote winner, combining a consumer-friendly pledge to cut bills with a commitment to taking on powerful corporations.

Outlining the proposal in Lancaster, however, Corbyn said it would guarantee what was now a basic utility, encourage social cohesion, bolster the economy and help the environment.
He said the service would become “our treasured public institution for the 21st century”.

“What was once a luxury is now an essential utility,” the Labour leader told an audience at Lancaster University. “I think it’s too important to be left to the corporations. Only the government has the planning ability, economies of scale and ambition to take this on.”

The plan would involve nationalising elements of BT connected to broadband provision, forming a new company called British Broadband. Labour says it would cost about £20bn to roll out universal full-fibre broadband by 2030.

Corbyn portrayed the idea as a central element of “the most radical and exciting plan for real change the British public has ever seen” in the Labour manifesto, being launched next week, saying: “It’s going to knock your socks off – you’re going to love it.”

In his speech, Corbyn said universal rapid broadband “must be a public service, bringing communities together with equal access in an inclusive and connected society”.

He said: “Fast and free broadband for all will fire up our economy, deliver a massive boost to productivity and bring half a million people back into the workforce. It will help our environment and tackle the climate emergency by reducing the need to commute.”

The internet now has become an essential tool for people. Corbyn is right that the internet is now an essential utility and I applaud his move.

In the US private companies have carved out the market to create quasi-monopolies in many areas so that they can make big profits while providing sub-par service at high prices. They have fought tooth and nail those local communities that seek to provide broadband access to everyone.

Really? Vaping is the bridge too far for Trump supporters?

Donald Trump has famously said that his base is so loyal to him that he could openly kill someone and they would still stick with him. There is some evidence to support that claim. But it appears that there is something that matters more to his supporters than murder and that is their right to vape.

When reports of the deaths and mysterious lung-related ailments that are thought to be associated with vaping first emerged, Trump came out in support for a federal ban on it. That would be understandable for Trump since he does not smoke or drink alcohol and he likely sees vaping as in the same category of things he personally dislikes. But it turns out that many of his supporters are passionate about this issue and are threatening to revolt against him if he carries out his threat, and Trump is apparently caving in to them
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