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Friday, November 25th, 2022

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Kostya Kimlat can snag a card from a falling deck of cards (youtube.com)


I watched the video and, were it not for Penn Jillette claiming the exact thing, I would not believe this guy was actually doing it. The video feels like an elaborate explanation to cover for the real trick, but if Penn says he thinks he actually did it, well - I believe him. Very impressive.

11/25/2022 12:00 am | |
Tags: magic, card magic

"Ministry of the Future" By Kim Stanley Robinson

This book is exactly why I read science fiction. Set in the modern to near future, it delves into the climate crisis and what might be needed to recover and save the planet. It is not an easy read, dragging at points, with different characters, viewpoints, and even writing styles. But, I found it incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. But, more importantly, it pushed me and my perspective on things. It made me even more burningly aware of the climate crisis around us and how we, as a people, and me as an individual, aren't doing enough.

Highly recommend!


What follows are excerpts I highlighted while reading the book. Some are interesting tidbits, some are philosophical, and some were moments I enjoyed in the book.

Chapter 20

But it’s important also to take this whole question back out of the realm of quantification, sometimes, to the realm of the human and the social. To ask what it all means, what it’s all for. To consider the axioms we are agreeing to live by. To acknowledge the reality of other people, and of the planet itself. To see other people’s faces. To walk outdoors and look around.

Chapter 28

The Hebrew tradition speaks of those hidden good people who keep the world from falling apart, the Tzadikim Nistarim, the hidden righteous ones. In some versions they are thirty-six in number, and thus are called the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, the thirty-six righteous ones. Sometimes this belief is connected with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God’s promise that if he could be shown even fifty good men in these cities (and then ten, and then one) he would spare them from destruction. Other accounts refer the idea to the Talmud and its frequent references to hidden anonymous good actors. The hidden quality of the nistarim is important; they are ordinary people, who emerge and act when needed to save their people, then sink back into anonymity as soon as their task is accomplished. When the stories emphasize that they are thirty-six in number, it is always included in the story that they have been scattered across the Earth by the Jewish diaspora, and have no idea who the others are. Indeed they usually don’t know that they themselves are one of the thirty-six, as they are always exemplars of humility, anavah. So if anyone were to proclaim himself to be one of the Lamed-Vav , this would be proof that actually he was not. The Lamed-Vav are generally too modest to believe they could be one of these special actors. And yet this doesn’t keep them from being effective when the moment comes. They live their lives like everyone else, and then, when the crucial moment comes, they act. If there are other secret actors influencing human history, as maybe there are, we don’t know about them. We very seldom get glimpses of them. If they exist. They may be just stories we tell ourselves, hoping that things might make sense, have an explanation, and so on. But no. Things don’t make sense like that. The stories of secret actors are the secret action.

Chapter 37

He would say we are all like quarks, which are the smallest elementary particles, he told us—smaller even than atoms, such that atoms are all made up of quarks held together by gluons. He made us laugh with these stories. And like quarks, everyone had a certain amount of strangeness, spin, and charm. You could rate everyone by these three constants

Chapter 40

The orienting principle that could guide all such thinking is often left out, but surely it should be included and made explicit: we should be doing everything needed to avoid a mass extinction event. This suggests a general operating principle similar to the Leopoldian land ethic, often summarized as “what’s good is what’s good for the land.” In our current situation, the phrase can be usefully reworded as “what’s good is what’s good for the biosphere.” In light of that principle, many efficiencies are quickly seen to be profoundly destructive, and many inefficiencies can now be understood as unintentionally salvational.

Chapter 54

Yes. You can short civilization if you want. Not a bad bet really. But no one to pay you if you win. Whereas if you go long on civilization, and civilization (therefore) survives, you win big. So the smart move is to go long.

Chapter 55

Strategy comes from below and tactics from above, not the reverse

Chapter 64

Rent goes to people who are not creators of value, but predators on the creation and exchange of value.

Chapter 69

This was the world’s current reigning religion, it had to be admitted: growth. It was a kind of existential assumption, as if civilization were a kind of cancer and them all therefore committed to growth as their particular deadly form of life. But this time, growth might be reconfiguring itself as the growth of some kind of safety. Call it involution, or sophistication; improvement; degrowth; growth of some kind of goodness. A sane response to danger— now understood as a very high-return investment strategy! Who knew?

Chapter 72

The Midwest has been treated like a continent-sized factory floor for assembling grocery store commodities, and anything that got in the way of that was designated a pest or vermin and killed off.

Chapter 74

He wrote that they had a saying in their cold little villages, to deal with the times when fishermen went out and never came back, or when children died. Hunger, disease, drowning, freezing, death by polar bear and so on; they had a lot of traumas. Nevertheless the Eskimaux were cheerful, the man wrote. Their storm god was called Nartsuk. So their saying was, You have to face up to Nartsuk. This meant staying cheerful despite all. No matter how bad things got, the Inuit felt it was inappropriate to be sad or express grief. They laughed at misfortunes, made jokes about things that went wrong. They were facing up to Nartsuk.

11/25/2022 7:52 am | |
Tags: book, review

"Democrats now control all House seats along the Pacific Ocean for first time in memory" (sfchronicle.com)

Largely an interesting tidbit but ultimately isn't meaningful. More of a notable anomaly that ties well into the larger discussion of polarization. I thought it was notable that this has not happened since before Washington became a state.

11/25/2022 8:00 am | |
Tags: us politics, democrats

Wikipedia entry on 'Three Points for a Win' (en.wikipedia.org)

A brief look into what is now a very common scoring system, but it only began to come around in the 1980s.

11/25/2022 8:45 am | |
Tags: soccer, sports

15th century manuscript all about the names of dogs (academia.edu)

Mine are Elwood (after Elwood Blues) and Ozzie (after Ozzie Smith & Ozzie Alonso.) Neither make this list of 15th century names somehow.

I found this courtesy of OpenCulture which also links to this imgur album of name list in the pdf as images.

11/25/2022 9:57 am | |
Tags: dogs, history

David Bowie was a treasure and our world is immeasurably worse without him (youtube.com)


11/25/2022 10:11 am | |
Tags: musician, david bowie, art

The Leagues for the USMNT starting lineup vs England today (hachyderm.io)


Edit: I was also later reminded that Dest is on loan in Italy right now, so I wasn't 100% on the above.

11/25/2022 11:25 am | |
Tags: usmnt, world cup, soccer

Redditor asks why the FBI took over for the US Marshals in regards to handling national law enforcement (/r/AskHistorians)

Question on Reddit:

In the early years of the United States, the US Marshals were the Federal law enforcement service. Why was a new agency (FBI) created to take over their role, with the Marshals relegated to mostly court order enforcement and escort, rather than continue using them as the general Federal LEO service?

The answer I link to, by indyobserver, is superb. Replicating the answer below for archiving:

The first part of the answer is simple; that's because the Marshals weren't relegated at all. What you describe was their job from the Early Republic onwards.

Why was that the case? The position was a patronage one, and up until the end of the 19th century one of the more surprising things about most patronage positions was that they were paid on a percentage of revenue obtained. So if you were a postmaster (the most prevalent patronage job available), you'd get a cut of every stamp sold and letter delivered. If you were a lawyer presenting a Civil War disability claim, you'd take home a rather hefty sum every time you filed on someone's behalf. And if you were a US Marshal, you could (and did indeed did) get paid some for arresting and extraditing, but your real money maker was in serving paper.

As such, investigating was something they had neither financial interest in pursuing nor any particular expertise at, and this began becoming a significant problem during the late 1800s given the sheer magnitude of land fraud taking place.

So there is essentially only one Federal agency that has any real investigatory experience during that time period, and that's the Secret Service - except when the Secret Service does so, it is acting without any law providing them the power to do so. For that matter, even the assumed function of protecting the President isn't mandated; for something like a decade Congress essentially allows them to do so with what passes as a wink and a nudge while being aware they need to pass legislation eventually. At least, unlike the investigatory role, they don't specifically prohibit the protection function and use the power of the purse to enforce it.

Why do they prohibit the investigatory role? That's because of one of the genuinely nasty Executive-Legislative fights that take place under Teddy Roosevelt.

So at the time - and indeed pretty much since the adoption of the Homestead Act - there was a massive industry funneling those who had theoretical land rights to consolidators like mine operators who would pay people (often over and over, given lax record keeping requirements - Union veterans were particularly sought after since they didn't have a 5 year waiting requirement to gain title) to grab chunks of land and mineral rights. The two most prominent and applicable to the formation of the Bureau of Investigation were in Oregon and Colorado.

The Oregon scandals were a long series of fraud, with a couple of Congressmen (Binger Hermann most notably) and Senator John Mitchell assisting it over a couple of decades. Mitchell was only one of 12 sitting senators ever to be criminally indicted and even more seriously, only one of 5 convicted; he got six months in prison and died there from an infection after getting a tooth removed, which struck many of his friends in Congress as patently unjust punishment - hence one of the reasons for the nasty political fight.

But the 1907 event in Hesperus, Colorado was far worse. It was the lead Secret Service agent, Joe Walker, who'd gotten something like 1400 indictments from land fraud, along with another agent, Thomas Callaghan, and a couple of government contractors who were working as investigators for the Interior Department, John Chapson and Tom Harper.

They went to a homestead claim to investigate a report that it had actually been made on behalf of the Porter Fuel Company, a large coal miner in the region, hitched their horses in a place ominously referred to by locals as "Dead Man's Gulch", found the shaft and immediately realized that given it was reinforced it was an air shaft rather than a well, left Walker above considering he was significantly older than the 3 others and in no shape to rappel down it, went down, explored a bit to confirm it was a mine, tried to come back up, and discovered it'd been sealed off with railroad ties and dirt.

Harper excavated enough to have part of the roof fall in on him (which had him fall too, when only the logs reinforcing the shaft slowed him enough so that it wasn't fatal - he broke a few ribs), went back up to continue excavating, made a hole big enough to exit and tie off a rope they'd brought down, and the other two exited as well.

A short distance away lay the body of Walker, who'd been blasted in the back at very close range with a shotgun (he had at least 12 bullet holes in his back); his revolver was still holstered. They split up to try to better the odds that one would survive to summon help; Chapson stayed behind with the revolver to guard the body, Harper went to a nearby farmhouse he knew had a telephone, and Callaghan went back to town to get the sheriff.

On the way there, he ran into two men on a buggy, one a miner, the other holding a shotgun and identifying himself Joseph Vanderweide, both the superintendent of Porter Fuel and the owner of the homestead. They told Callaghan they were out with a shotgun on Sunday 'hunting rabbits' (which you don't do with a shotgun if you want to use their meat later); Callaghan arrested them, ran into the sheriff along the way (there'd been an 'anonymous tip' of a shooting), and they were brought to the Durango jail.

Vanderweide eventually confessed, but claimed self defense, which was extraordinarily dubious given the shot in the back and that the revolver was untouched. The trial, conducted in state court with a judge and jury of locals opposed to government restriction on land use (for instance, the judge had reduced the 1400 indictments of the grand jury down to one, murder), was a farce and both men were acquitted. The only value of it was that in the investigation, the full plan was revealed: they were going to drop dynamite down the shaft along with Walker's body and claim a gas pocket had exploded, conveniently eliminating any evidence of the murder of all four.

The case made it all the way up to the Supreme Court when the two were indicted on a separate count of conspiracy to commit murder, but it ruled it was essentially double jeopardy and the two walked away free. Walker is now generally regarded as the first Secret Service agent murdered in the line of duty.

While the lack of punishment led to outrage in the press, on the other hand Congress was not particularly happy that the Secret Service had not only blown past its statutory authority but was investigating multiple members for land fraud. To give you an idea of how upset Congress was, it took the extraordinary step of expunging a message from the President on the subject from its records - the first time that had been done since the Polk administration during the Mexican American War.

With Congress not willing to allow any sort of formal consolidated federal investigative branch, Roosevelt snuck in the Bureau of Investigations with a quiet action that wasn't noticed initially by Congress. Those powers (and the amount of personnel) expanded greatly with World War I, largely by default as there was no other agency - including the Marshal Service - capable of the massive amount of record keeping involved in investigating a significant amount of both aliens and citizens.

Finally, keep in mind that the other problem here was very little criminal law existed for the nascent Bureau to enforce; Congress had enacted almost none of the legislation we take for granted today and what there was dealt mostly with fraud. In fact, the first modern federal criminal law was the Mann Act in 1910; for a couple of decades it was about the only thing on the books that the Bureau could enforce for violent crime that crossed state borders. Up until the 1930s the Bureau's arrest powers were essentially unused for the most part; it left almost all criminal cases to local and state police because there really wasn't all that much to prosecute on a federal level. For that matter, once it finally did, the lawyers and accountants Hoover had hired as agents in the 1920s initially proved a terrible match for the gangland warfare the FBI got thrown into in the 1930s; very few carried firearms up until that point (doing so was urged by FDR's attorney general Homer Cummings rather than Hoover himself), and some had never even fired a weapon before they were tossed into the battles that created the modern image of the agency.

Teddy Roosevelt talks about the Colorado case a little in his autobiography and it's covered a bit in some of the FBI histories, but the best narration of the story and a lot of the context I discuss comes from The Birth of the FBI by Willard Oliver; it's an interesting read. I also recommend Beverly Gage's brand new biography on Hoover released a few days ago, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century; it's likely to be the reference biography on him going forward.

11/25/2022 11:57 am | |
Tags: us marshals, fbi, us history

Del.icio.us Again

I've wanted a social bookmarking tool / solution for a while. And after playing and learning more about Fediverse & ActivityPub, I wonder if perhaps that is the way forward for it (at least partially.) A way to interconnect link blogs and social accounts.

11/25/2022 3:24 pm | | Tweeted |
Tags: social bookmarking, fediverse, activity pub

EU okays 5G equipment on planes (brusselstimes.com)

Within the European Union, airlines will be able to install the latest 5G technology on their aircraft, allowing passengers to use their smartphones and other connected devices just as they do on the ground.

The European Commission has adapted the legislation on mobile communications to the most modern standards. As a result, 5G coverage can also be made available on aircraft.

11/25/2022 9:31 pm | |
Tags: airplanes, technology, europe

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