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Robinson’s Carosel

To many, science fiction is light sabers and hyperdrives and space battles and other mind-numbing eye-candy.  Yeah, it is fun to watch, but it misses the heart of good sci-fi, the consideration of just what we are and where we are going. In that world of (mostly) written science fiction, authors tend to land in a particular part of the landscape.  This is in part because of the effort taken to build their future worlds, and in part just how the author feels about things.  Pick up a Ben Bova book and you may find a heavy-handed government dominated by religious zealots in his future, but the focus is on cleverer protagonists who can outmaneuver such folk to reach an optimistic conclusion. There are fewer authors who really twist around their futures to see dramatically different sides. One of interest to us in earth science is Kim Stanley Robinson.

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Weird World of Books

Already have been amused by the rank listed at Amazon for GG’s new book, but now that the book is listed as shipping, there are several companies offering the book as used! Wow.  Where might these used books come from? Do they buy them wholesale somewhere and then toss them around a room or something? (The publisher is only just now sending copies to reviewers).  Such a strange business….

Crazy Circles

Perhaps one of the most confounding things about American politics are the assertions of things that simply are not true and firestorms of anger over actions that are nearly immaterial.  Most of the time, most of us come up against these so late in the game that we have no idea how such misperceptions could have started, let alone become so powerful. But at the moment, here in Colorado, we can watch a vicious circle close on itself.

As has been widely reported, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has requested voter data from states. Created, apparently, out of Donald Trump’s insecurity over his Electoral College win and popular vote loss, the commission is charged with ferreting out voter fraud; its initial request appears to be an attempt to identify voters registered in multiple locations. Many such voters exist and include Steve Bannon,  Tiffany Trump, Sean Spicer and Jared Kushner. Multiple registrations are legal, though voting in multiple places is not. At present, one kind of voter fraud that would not be caught would be voting in multiple states for a national election; thus the most likely fraud the commission could uncover would be people who have been registered in multiple states who vote for president more than once.

Set aside for the moment that the request itself is not capable of yielding data that the commission could reasonably use for its goals and instead focus on the chain of responses….

In Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State said he would provide the commission the publicly available information but withhold confidential data. Specifically, the datafile contains full names, addresses, political party, and voting history (meaning having voted, not what the votes were). The data provided is the same file that anybody can get from the state for $50. Indeed, it is far less informative than the numerous commercial databases that are out there for companies to use to try to sell you stuff. Public sharing of this information was defended by a Democratic County Clerk as important for democracy. So, no big deal, right?

Well, it should be no big deal, but not surprisingly, many voters were unaware that the state routinely shares such data. And of course a number decided their privacy was being invaded, or they were at risk for identity theft, or that the release of data was to be used for politically unacceptable purposes. And so a few thousand voters have asked to be removed from the list of registered voters. As these are probably Democratic leaning voters, you might think that the GOP would simply celebrate a possibly inadvertently successful partisan voter suppression action and go on its way.

But one good overreaction deserves another, and so some conservatives have concluded that these people are actually illegal voters.  Never mind that the Secretary of State (currently a Republican) in Colorado has actively investigated possible voter fraud and found a total of 18 cases since 2000.

So now there are Democrats who would say that the president’s commission is violating their privacy (when it isn’t) and Republicans who say that widespread voter fraud is now proven (which it is not).  And what is left of the rational part of the country is left wondering how we came to this point….


The Denver Post profiles a group of (apparently earnest) Flat Earthers. They say they are persecuted for their beliefs.  Note to group: “ridicule” is not “persecution” [though to be fair, no member of the group is quoted using the word “persecution”].  It doesn’t sound like thugs are showing up to break up their meetings, for instance. In an age when a group of students can launch a balloon with a cell phone high enough to record the curvature of the earth, and thousands of years after the Greeks got a decent estimate of the size of the globe, it is embarrassing (on multiple levels) to hear somebody trained in software engineering say “I can’t prove the globe anymore.”

If a few folks can believe this stuff, is it any wonder that more complex ideas face stiff opposition?

Uniquely Rockies

…baseball, that is. (We all need a diversion).

All Major League teams have some sort of oddities, but the Rockies seem a bit out there…. Consider that:

  • The Rockies are the only team to play in their own timezone (MDT). [Arizona plays in MST, which is the same as PDT during the MLB season]
  • Rockies are well known for playing at the highest altitude of any MLB team (a row of purple seats marks a mile above sea level).
  • Despite being the third-youngest expansion club, they have the oldest stadium of all expansion teams in the National League (Coors Field opened in 1995. The Big A in Anaheim for the Angels is the oldest stadium for an expansion franchise).  Coors is, amazingly, the third oldest NL ballpark (only Wrigley and Dodger Stadium are older; for some reason, AL parks last longer).
  • The team is the only one named for a geographical feature (and one of few named for an inanimate object, the others being socks of various colors)
  • An individual player is called, rather awkwardly and ungrammatically, a Rockie. (Is an individual member of the Red Sox a Red Sock? No.)
  • The Rockies’s home park set the record for most home runs in a season in 1999.
  • This led to the Rockies being the only club to store baseballs in a humidor [though Arizona is apparently going to do the same soon].
  • They are the only NL West team to have never won the division. Only their 1993 expansion-mates, the Marlins, share the distinction of not ever winning a division, though the Marlins won the World Series as a wild card team.  Pittsburg joins them as the only other team not to have won a division since the creation of 6 MLB divisions in 1994.
  • Although nobody keeps track of games cancelled by snow, concern for that led Coors to have the first heated infield in MLB. (Odds are good that the latest snow-outs have been at Rockies games, though this year they somehow were out of town for several late snowstorms).
  • Is Coors the only ballpark to actually contain a microbrewery? (Milwaukee’s doesn’t).
  • The Rockies might be the club most distant from college baseball. Only two college teams (neither in Denver) are D1 in Colorado (Univ. Northern Colorado and Air Force Academy).

That’s enough distraction for today.


Dog’s Life, Boulder Edition

From a Sill TerHar Ford Motors television ad running in the Denver area:

“I saw a Ford Escape in the park the other day, and there was a dog owner putting her dog in the back.  She was a really big Great Dane. She jumped in and with her head over the back seat, she was wagging her tail the whole time. I thought, that’s someone who really researched what they needed in a car.” -Jack TerHar

Not only do Boulder area dog owners insist on their dogs going everywhere, they let their dogs research and purchase cars. We have the best dogs….

Worthless warnings

Imagine in buying a bicycle you are forced to sign multiple sheets with statements like “use of this equipment could result in injury or death; use is entirely at your discretion and at your own risk.” Since you know how you are going to use the bike and have experience with its risks, you chuckle and sign the form. 

But now go somewhere for “minor” surgery and you are staring at the same kinds of vague phrases. This procedure can cause death, it says. Well shoot, I didn’t come here to die, you think, that isn’t the point and so you sign. 

Unlike bike and car accidents that you see reported on the paper and where statistics show up a lot–and bike and car riding experience we often have–medical problems are serious black boxes. How often does a nose job go bad?  How about joint repair? So we all guess that it can’t be that bad of this wouldn’t be done. 

But an accident happens and you do die. The doctors and hospital say you agreed to the risk. But did you really?

In GG’s opinion, no. Without some estimate of the level of risk, these statements provide almost no information. Sure you could die. The doctor in the middle of the procedure could too. Hell, the building could collapse and kill everybody participating. 

What would work? Maybe for a main form something like “odds of dying from this procedure are about the same as dying from a lightning strike this year” and then actual numbers on a separate page if desired. 

Frankly the more places where more quantitative statistics appear, the more likely people start to understand them. And the more we comprehend the statistics of risks, the better we as a society will be at managing and balancing risk. So next time your doctor shoves one of these bland sheets at you, ask just what fraction of his patients die from this.  Or are crippled.