Contemplations – Now

I'm incurably curious about many aspects of this journey of ours. Here are a few noteworthy items I've stumbled across that I'm making a note of so I can revisit them from time to time.

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Appetizer:

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today—it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent.
   Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.
– Daniel Sherrell, Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World

Each moment is similar and because of the similarities, we are deluded.
– Gampopa, The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, translated by Khenpo Kongchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche; in the book Joyful Wisdom by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

2022

The faces from China's Uyghur detention camps

Composite image showing 2,884 photographs of detainees from the cache
BBC News: Composite image of 2,884 Uyghur detainees.

BBC News has published an excellent graphical article about the tragic mass detention of Uyghurs in hundreds of China's harsh "re-education" detainment camps, as well as the brutal surveillance Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region face.

   Thousands of photographs from the heart of China's highly secretive system of mass incarceration in Xinjiang, as well as a shoot-to-kill policy for those who try to escape, are among a huge cache of data hacked from police computer servers in the region.
   The Xinjiang Police Files, as they're being called, were passed to the BBC earlier this year. After a months-long effort to investigate and authenticate them, they can be shown to offer significant new insights into the internment of the region's Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities.

The detainees in this cache are as young as 15 and as old as 73. Parents have been torn away from their young children for "offenses" as innocuous as "listening to a recording of an illegal lecture."

Ten-year-old Ruzigul Turghun and six-year-old Ayshem Turghun
BBC News: Ruzigul Turghun and Ayshem Turghun.

   Five months after their police photos were taken in 2018, husband and wife Tursun Memetimin and Ashigul Turghun were sent to a detention centre after being accused of having "listened to a recording of an illegal lecture" on someone else's mobile phone six years earlier.
   Two of their three daughters' photographs are also in the hacked files—Ruzigul Turghun, who was 10 at the time of their parents' disappearance—and Ayshem Turghun, who was six.

The Chinese certainly do many magnificent things, but they also do many terrible things, and their treatment of the Uyghurs is one of the worst of those.

The faces from China's Uyghur detention camps⩘  by John Sudworth, BBC News, May 2022.

Embrace inclusivity and diversity

Keith Magee

I've been trying to process the deep sadness I feel about the senseless killing that happened in Buffalo. Keith Magee, a theologian, political adviser, and social justice scholar for whom Buffalo is his community, published an opinion piece today that expresses both the related pain and empathy better than anything else I've read.

   I am a middle-aged African American father, reeling from the sheer horror of what happened to members of my community in Buffalo. Through my pain, I am praying for all the victims and their traumatized families, friends and neighbors—and for all the minority Americans who are feeling even more afraid now than they did before.
   And if you, like the alleged shooter, are a White, teenage male, I want you to know that I am also praying for you.

He goes on to share three vital truths with our nation's young, White males, and invites them to be part of making our national community better.

Societies that embrace inclusivity and diversity are much stronger and more stable than those that do not.

Opinion: I'm a middle-aged Black father. I want to ask White teen males this question⩘  by Keith Magee, May 7, 2022.

Heroes and villains in The Big Conn

Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith

The Big Conn, created by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte, is a 4-part, 4-hour documentary tells the story of a massive social security disability payment fraud to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The heroes of the story are the two SSA employees and whistle blowers, Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith (pictured), who endured years of emotional workplace pain to bring the fraud to light, and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Damian Paletta, who worked tirelessly to get the story published.

The main perpetrators of the fraud are a crooked lawyer named, ironically, Conn, a couple crooked judges, and a crooked doctor in Pikeville, Kentucky.

The worst villains, in my opinion, are the upper management at the SSA who appear to have tried to sweep the story under the carpet and, failing that, treated thousands of innocent disability claimants as if they were the fraudsters, with a callousness that is almost unbelievable. Fortunately, there are a few more heroes: the attorneys, led by Ned Pillersdorf, working hard to try to get the disability payments restored for the legitimate disabled claimants who were abruptly cut off by the SSA without any kind of hearing.

While the story could've been edited more tightly, it's a compelling documentary.

See also: How a Social Security program piled huge fines on the poor and disabled⩘  by Lisa Rein, The Washington Post, May 20, 2022.

The Big Conn⩘ , Apple TV+, May 2022

Thank you, Mrs. LaVern

LaVern square dancing
Photo by Matthew Jonas, Longmont Times-Call Staff Photographer

LaVern Johnson, also known as the "Matriarch of Lyons, Colorado", passed away peacefully the afternoon of May 14, 2022. She touched many people and worked tirelessly her whole life to make Lyons a better place.

John Vahlenkamp wrote a very good article about LaVern and her amazing life in the Longmont Times-Call: Lyons matriarch LaVern Johnson remembered for devotion to community⩘ .

We met LaVern and her husband of many years, Mr. LaVerne, when we first arrived in this area more than thirty years ago. We were beginning a new life after having traveled on a shoestring budget for many years in India, Africa, and Europe. All we owned fit into a rusty old Honda Civic Wagon, but they still graciously rented us a cute little house they owned in the heart of Lyons.

After welcoming us to Lyons, both Mrs. LaVern and Mr. LaVerne always treated us with kindness. When Mr. LaVerne passed away in 1997, we felt like we had lost a beloved uncle. And today, we feel like we have lost a beloved aunt.

Rest in peace, Mrs. LaVern. We'll miss your always cheerful optimism.

An inspiring commencement speech

Rollins College valedictorian Elizabeth Bonker
Scott Cook/Rollins College

Truly inspiring!

   She didn't say a word – and that only made her message resonate more powerfully. Valedictorian Elizabeth Bonker recently delivered the commencement speech at Rollins College in Florida, urging her classmates to serve others and embrace the power of sharing.
   Bonker, who is affected by nonspeaking autism, hasn't spoken since she was 15 months old. But thanks to an accepting attitude from her peers and teachers and help from technology, she has overcome many challenges and graduated at the top of her class at the Orlando-area school.

Elizabeth gave her commencement speech using text-to-speech software. It's worthwhile to watch the video of her speech to fully appreciate how she includes inspiring anecdotes by alumnus Mister Rogers and Alan Turing as she encourages the graduates to incorporate service into their lives and to "do the things no one can imagine."

   "We are all called to serve, as an everyday act of humility, as a habit of mind, to see the worth in every person we serve."

A nonspeaking valedictorian with autism gives her college's commencement speech⩘  by Bill Chappell, NPR, May 12, 2022.

Here's how Americans can fight back to protect abortion rights

Good article by Rebecca Solnit makes what needs to happen next clear.

A Democratic majority in both houses could make abortion a right by law, and it's worth remembering that Mexico, Ireland and Argentina are among the countries that recently did so.

And really, this is about so much more than abortion rights. It's about any constitutionally guaranteed right that conservatives don't like.

Solnit also shares a keen insight about the current SCOTUS:

[I]t's bitterly amusing that a court that wants to set policies reaching into the uteruses of women across the country apparently feels violated by having its own internal workings exposed with this leaked draft opinion.

Ever since McConnell blocked the appointment of Merrick Garland in the final year of Obama's presidency and then rushed through the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett after the election that kicked Trump out of office was already underway, it has been clear that the current SCOTUS is a illegitimate joke that has nothing to do with authentic justice. Some people question whether we are in danger of losing our democracy, but I think the more accurate question is whether we can regain our lost democracy. Certainly, some serious reform is desperately needed.

Here's how Americans can fight back to protect abortion rights⩘  by Rebecca Solnit, The Guardian, May 4, 2022.

See also:

The Power of Big Oil

Screen cap of an oil refinery from the film The Power of Big Oil

The powerful and devastating first part of this three-part Frontline documentary explores how Big Oil (ExxonMobil, Shell, Koch Industries, etc.) has lied to and misled the public and political leaders for decades. Their own scientists were publishing research in the 1980s showing a clear connection between burning fossil fuels and climate change.

Instead of putting their corporate resources into acknowledging the truth and transforming the energy sector, they instead focused on raising doubts about the truth their own scientists and other researchers were uncovering, echoing the playbook used previously by the tobacco companies.

The most appalling aspect of Part One is watching the smugness of marketers working for Big Oil and the Cato Institute (launched and funded by Koch) as they congratulate themselves on camera for the complete success of their efforts to mislead the public and political leaders, even as the devastating impacts of climate change are being experienced around the world.

It's tragic to think about the opportunities we have missed by postponing tackling this existential threat for decades.

The Power of Big Oil – Part One: Denial; Part Two: Doubt; Part Three: Delay⩘ , PBS Frontline, Apr/May, 2022.
See also: 'What we now know … they lied': how big oil companies betrayed us all⩘  by Chris McGreal, The Guardian, Apr 21, 2022;
Exxon must go to trial over alleged climate crimes, court rules⩘  by Chris McGreal, The Guardian, May 24, 2022.

Straight talk

Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow

Hate wins when people like me stand by and let it happen. I won't.

Straight, white, Christian, married suburban mom and Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow directly confronts right-wing hatred in her extraordinary speech.

I'm the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme. Because you can't claim that you're targeting marginalized kids in the name of "parental rights" if another parent is standing up and saying no.

Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow responds to false allegations of grooming by State Senator Lana Theis⩘ , Apr 19, 2022.
See also: The 'straight, white, Christian, suburban mom' taking on Republicans at their own game⩘  by David Smith, The Guardian, May 24, 2022..

Garry Kasparov: Stand with Ukraine in the fight against evil

Garry Kasparov giving his TED talk, Stand with Ukraine in the fight against evil, April 2022

In a passionate April 2022 TED talk⩘ , chess grandmaster and exiled Russian Garry Kasparov forcefully urges the world to stand with Ukraine in the fight against evil, as personified by Vladimir Putin.

From the TED webpage:

Ukraine is on the front line of a war between freedom and tyranny, says chess grandmaster and human rights advocate Garry Kasparov. In this blistering call to action, he traces Vladimir Putin's rise to power and details his own path from chess world champion to pro-democracy activist in Russia. His message is a challenge to global leaders to rise in support of Ukraine—and to choose life and love over death and hatred. "The price of stopping a dictator always goes up with every delay and every hesitation, "he says. "Meeting evil halfway is still a victory for evil."

Stand with Ukraine in the fight against evil⩘ , Garry Kasparov, April 2022, TED2022.

Tom Nichols expresses it well in his Apr 19, 2022 article in The Atlantic, Putin's Unholy War⩘ :

And for what? For the messianic dreams of a small man, a frightened and delusional thug leading a criminal enterprise masquerading as a government, who believes that he is doing God's will.

Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper

Continuous Form by Yuko Nishimura
Continuous Form by Yuko Nishimura

In my lamps, I use washi, traditional Japanese paper, primarily the one made from Kozo (Japanese mulberry). It is an exquisite material to work with, and I love the way it transforms the light radiating through it.

Recently, we visited the nearby Longmont Museum⩘  to see the extraordinary traveling art exhibit, Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper⩘ . In addition to many beautiful expressions of washi art by nine contemporary Japanese artists, the exhibit featured a video, How Mino Washi Japanese traditional paper is made⩘ .

How Mino Washi Japanese traditional paper is made
How Mino Washi Japanese traditional paper is made

Although I had previously read about the art of making washi, this video beautiful shows the many intensive and time-consuming steps that go into lovingly making each sheet. I've read that talented washi aficionados can tell who made some of the washi of the highest quality from the pattern of the fibers in the finished sheet. This video reveals why that would be possible.

Yoshio Ikezaki, one of the artists featured in the Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper art exhibit, has this to say about washi:

Through the years, I have come to know washi as medium for expression rather than just a material to be used as a foundation. With my handmade washi, I wish to capture a trace of the enormous energy collision that happens in nature, the miracle of lives being born, the changing of the environment, and the mysterious living things that settle deep within me as well as on the paper. I also enjoy making washi as a Zen practice. Zen does not give me any definite answers to my questions. It only gives me an example of how to think and handle matters without any suggestions. With the sutra works, I put myself in the mirror and question myself. I use these ideas to practice and create my washi and artworks because I can stay free. Even if I never understand the true meaning of emptiness or nothingness, I try to clarify it little by little by making artwork as a true mark of my self.

See also:

Peculiar spiral galaxy Arp 78

Arp 78, a spiral galaxy with one very long arm
Image credit & license: International Gemini Observatory / NOIRLab⩘  / NSF / AURA; Processing: T.A. Rector (Univ. Alaska Anchorage), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de Martin

I never tire of looking at spiral galaxies! From Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Arp 78 is found within the boundaries of the head strong constellation Aries. Some 100 million light-years beyond the stars and nebulae of our Milky Way galaxy, the island universe is over 100,000 light-years across. Also known as NGC 772, it sports a prominent, outer spiral arm in this detailed cosmic portrait from the large Gemini North telescope near the summit of Maunakea, Hawaii, planet Earth.

Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ 

Project POCKIT - The Modular Computer

Project POCKIT: showing a modular computer being assembled

If this is as good as it appears to be, it's sheer genius! It's a collection of components that easily and quickly snap together in various configurations to create a rich variety of computing environment possibilities. It's actually a bit difficult to describe, but the website and video demonstration make it clear.

Website: Project POCKIT⩘ 
Video: Pockit: A tiny, powerful, modular computer (2022 demo)⩘ 

My heart is with the people of Ukraine

The flag of Ukraine

As I read and view the news about Ukraine⩘  each day, my heart breaks over and over: cataclysmic destruction⩘ ; frightened civilians running for their lives; a destroyed maternity hospital; dazed and bloody civilians; long trenches being filled with corpses; destroyed residential neighborhoods; a lifeless hand sticking out from the rubble of a bombed civilian building; cold, hungry civilians trapped by indiscriminate, seemingly intentional shelling of evacuation corridors; and the callous face of Vladimir Putin as he spews his vile lies⩘ .

In a Letters from an American post on Mar 10, 2022⩘ , Professor Heather Cox Richardson provides valuable context, talking about Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 29th Fireside Chat, which he gave on June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day. In it, he talked about the fall of Mussolini's Rome and how "the ideology of fascism, which maintained that a few men should rule over the majority of the population, was hollow."

She then talks about what the invasion is revealing about Putin's autocracy:

   The last few weeks have demonstrated the same advantage of democracy over authoritarianism that FDR saw in the fall of Rome. Russia's invasion of Ukraine was supposed to demonstrate the efficient juggernaut of authoritarianism. But Putin's lightning attack on a neighboring state did not go as planned. Ukrainians have insisted on their right to self-determination, demonstrating the power of democracy with their lives.
   At the same time, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shown the weakness of modern authoritarianism. Putin expected to overrun a democratic neighbor quickly, but his failure to do so has revealed that his army's perceived power was FDR's “tinsel at the top”: lots of bells and whistles but outdated food, a lack of support vehicles, conscripted and confused soldiers, and compromised communications. The corruption inherent in a one-party state of loyalists, unafflicted by oversight, has hollowed out the Russian military, making it unable to feed or supply its troops.

Whatever the outcome, Putin has been exposed for the immoral thug he is, and his military has been exposed for its corrupt, incompetent, and uncivilized behavior. That countries like China⩘  and India⩘  have so far failed to clearly condemn Putin's behavior says more about them than him.

My heart is with the Ukrainian people.

Letters from an American⩘  by Professor Heather Cox Richardson, Mar 10, 2022; Comprehensive live coverage: The Guardian: Ukrainian crisis⩘ 
The Spectacular Collapse of Putin's Disinformation Machinery⩘  by Tom Southern, Wired.com, Mar 10, 2022
China is squirming under pressure to condemn Russia⩘ , The Guardina by Richard McGregor, Mar 11, 2022
The Democracy Turning Its Back on Ukraine⩘  by Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, The Atlantic, Mar 13, 2022
I have run out of words for the horror of Putin's crimes in Ukraine⩘  by Andrey Kurkov, The Guardian, Mar 13, 2022
'Ukrainians are our friends': the young Russian anti-war protesters defying Putin⩘ , a video from The Guardian's Guardian News channel, Mar 2, 2022, brought to my attention by a dear friend.
The Horror of Bucha: Russian invaders are now treating the entirety of the Ukrainian population as combatants, as dirt to be cleansed⩘  by Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, Apr 4, 2022.

In addition to the thousands of courageous Russian civilians who have taken to the streets in order to protest against Putin's war despite knowing they likely will be arrested (nearly 15,000 have been detained as of mid-March), some courageous Russian civilians are also speaking out against the war through the media, despite knowing they may be imprisoned for up to 15 years, or worse:

Record solar prominence imaged by Solar Orbiter

An enormous jet of hot gas shooting out from the sun
Image credit: Solar Orbiter⩘ , EUI Team⩘ , ESA⩘  & NASA⩘ ; Hat tip: Bum-Suk Yeom⩘ 

"What's happened to our Sun? Last month, it produced the largest prominence ever imaged together with a complete solar disk. The record image, featured, was captured in ultraviolet light by the Sun-orbiting Solar Orbiter spacecraft. A quiescent solar prominence is a cloud of hot gas held above the Sun's surface by the Sun's magnetic field. This solar prominence was huge—spanning a length rivaling the diameter of the Sun itself."

Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ , Mar 2, 2022

A moment of paradigm shift

Excellent post by Professor Heather Cox Richardson about the abhorrent and immoral [my description] Russian invasion of Ukraine.

   On this, the third day of Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, it appears the invasion is not going the way Russian president Vladimir Putin hoped. The Russians do not control the airspace over the country, and, as of tonight, despite fierce fighting that has taken at least 198 Ukrainian lives, all major Ukrainian cities remain in Ukrainian hands. Now it appears that Russia's plan for a quick win has made supply lines vulnerable because military planners did not anticipate needing to resupply fuel and ammunition. In a sign that Putin recognizes how unpopular this war is at home, the government is restricting access to information about it.
   Russia needed to win before other countries had time to protest or organize and impose the severe economic repercussions they had threatened; the delay has given the world community time to put those repercussions into place.

She goes on to detail many aspects of the war, including its impact on Western democracy, and the reaction by the West to the invasion. Good read.

Letters From an American, Feb 26, 2022⩘  by Professor Heather Cox Richardson

Cosmic Grace

Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 6217
Image Credit: NASA⩘ , ESA⩘ , and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team⩘ 

60,000,000 light years away and about 30,000 light years across, NGC 6217 graces our view toward the constellation of the Little Bear (Ursa Minor).

By comparison, our Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across, and its center is about 27,000 light years from Earth.

Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 6217 ⩘  via Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ 

Ikebana ("living flowers")

Ikebana arrangement

Our beloved friend Sanghamitra, who studied with Riji Kyoko Kita of Sogetsu Colorado⩘ , presented us with a gift of a beautiful Ikebana arrangement today, filling our home with warmth and joy. We are so very grateful.

Toshen & Garima with the Ikebana arrangement

Sanghamitra holds a first Somu degree in the Sogetsu School. In April, 2010 she completed a three day workshop with the Sogetsu headmaster, Akane Teshigahara, in Tokyo. She has participated in the annual Sogetsu Colorado show in Denver for many years.

Sanghamitra celebrating

Paramedics Debunk 12 First Aid Myths

I learned a lot from this entertaining video by Lorena Concepcion-Martinez and Randy Li, who are veteran paramedics in New York City. Several of the items they debunked totally surprised me.

Paramedics Debunk 12 First Aid Myths⩘ , Science Insider⩘ , Sep 5, 2021

Facebook Has a Superuser-Supremacy Problem

Illustration of a man whose face is covered by a mass of purple tentacles coming out of his phone
Illustration by Ben Clarkson in The Atlantic

Excellent article in The Atlantic based on research that helps explains why Facebook is such a cesspool. The subtitle: "Most public activity on the platform comes from a tiny, hyperactive group of abusive users. Facebook relies on them to decide what everyone sees."

It appears that a very small subset of users is driving a large percentage of the engagement on the platform, to the detriment of everyone else who uses it.

   The most abusive people on Facebook, it turns out, are given the most power to shape what Facebook is.…
   Overall, we observed 52 million users active on these U.S. pages and public groups, less than a quarter of Facebook's claimed user base in the country. Among this publicly active minority of users, the top 1 percent of accounts were responsible for 35 percent of all observed interactions; the top 3 percent were responsible for 52 percent.

Unfortunately, this minority of users appears to be making a disproportionate contribution to creating Facebook's awful environment. Perhaps the only people who truly appreciate this class of superusers/superabusers are Meta's majority stockholder and CEO, as well as the employees whose bonuses rely on increasing engagement regardless of its quality.

   Of the 219 [top heavy user] accounts with at least 25 public comments, 68 percent spread misinformation, reposted in spammy ways, published comments that were racist or sexist or anti-Semitic or anti-gay, wished violence on their perceived enemies, or, in most cases, several of the above. Even with a 6 percent margin of error, it is clear that a supermajority of the most active users are toxic.

Articles like this one make me so grateful that I abandoned social media, and also enhance my appreciation for my subscription to The Atlantic.

Facebook Has a Superuser-Supremacy Problem⩘  by Matthew Hindman, Nathaniel Lubin, and Trevor Davis, The Atlantic, Feb 10, 2022; Matthew Hindman is professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

First a pizza joint, now … a butterfly center?!

Image of a butterfly from the National Butterfly Center website

I find it so incomprehensible that this kind of stuff is happening. From an article in The Guardian⩘  about the National Butterfly Center⩘ , the home of "the greatest volume and variety of wild, free-flying butterflies in the nation":

   In Mission, Texas, on the border between the US and Mexico, sits the National Butterfly Center. A 100-acre nature preserve once exclusively dedicated to the conservation of plants and wildlife, it has now been thrust into the national spotlight and become a focal point of divisions over the country's immigration policy.
   This week, the butterfly center was forced to close its doors indefinitely amid ongoing threats from far-right conspiracists and QAnon followers who falsely claim it is a haven for human-trafficking and illegal migration.
   "They're not conspiracies, they're just outright lies," Marianna Treviño-Wright, the executive director of the National Butterfly Center, told the Guardian. "I think that's a very important point that needs to be made. As long as they're called 'conspiracies', then it seems like there's some plausibility."

What is wrong with these people? No, "people" isn't the correct term. Perhaps a better term is "juvenile schoolyard bullies". They can and certainly are doing harm, but with no dignity or maturity.

   Choking back tears, Treviño-Wright explained the events of recent years had put a strain on her mental health and personal relationships.
   "It really has made me a misanthrope. I used to believe much better of people, but now I'm afraid to even go to the grocery store because I can't trust that the person with the cart next to me doesn't believe" the lies, Treviño-Wright said.

Remember, we're talking about a preserve for butterflies, plants, and wildlife, and the people who take care of it. Think about that for a moment: immature, violent bullies are threatening a place that takes care of butterflies.

   "It's a magical place and it's a place I've poured the last 10 years of my life into developing and defending. I hope there's a wonderful future in store for the National Butterfly Center, but as long as these people get away with these things, I'm not sure of anything. Not just for anything but for our entire country.
   "It's just unbelievable that somehow things have reached this point in American history that a nature center stands at the crossroads of whether our country slides full-on into authoritarianism or our democratic republic survives."

Article: 'I'm afraid': Texas butterfly sanctuary forced to close after far-right threats⩘  by Erum Salam in San Antonio, The Guardian, Feb 6, 2022;
Website: National Butterfly Center⩘ 

Legitimate political discourse

Can't make this shit up!

   The other big news today is that the Republican National Committee, meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, censured Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) for joining the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Defending the events surrounding January 6, the RNC said that the investigation is "a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse."
   That is, the Republican National Committee says that the January 6 attack on the Capitol—in which nine people died, more than 150 law enforcement officers were injured, offices were ransacked, and rioters spread feces on the walls—was "legitimate political discourse."

Letters from an American⩘ , Professor Heather Cox Richardson, Feb 4, 2022.

Black History, Black Freedom & Black Love

The instructors of Black History, Black Freedom & Black Love

A special class, Black History, Black Freedom and Black Love⩘  is available via MasterClass during Black History Month. The talks are presented in three parts—The Past, The Present, and The Future: Take what is learned to move forward and create a society built on justice—by an amazing group of instructors with a variety of perspectives: John McWhorter, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The class is introduced with the heading: "The History You Weren't Taught In School." It should be. This is history we all should know. It can make us a better, more inclusive, more democratic, and stronger nation.

When you don't tell the truth about our history, it comes back to bite you as a community and as a nation.
– Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, in the talk The Importance of Anita Hill

The class is comprised of 51 talks, most ranging between 10 - 20 minutes long, covering a range of always insightful—and sometimes uncomfortable—topics like Black Love: A Love Like No Other; Black People and the Promise of Democracy; The Black Woman and the Struggle for Liberation; Why You Should Know the Fourteenth Amendment; The Black Intellectual Tradition; Transcending Victimization; Thurgood Marshall and the Key to Black Citizenship; The Fight for Fair Housing; The Government's "Riot Report" (The Kerner Commission Report); Rolling Back the Voting Rights Act; Race, Crime, and Punishment; Critical Race Theory: The Origin; The Myth of Color Blindness; What Is Owed: The Case for Reparations; Why We Need to Memorialize Sites of Racial Violence; Is America a White Supremacist Nation?; and What to Do Now.

Any time we've seen societal change, it's been because a large number of people were making small contributions in their own way—until the tides shifted and they were able to make large societal change. And I'd say you can be one of those people.
– Jelani Cobb, staff writer at The New Yorker and professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, in the talk What to Do Now

I am impressed and touched by how much I've learned through these talks.

Black History, Black Freedom & Black Love⩘ 
Related: Reparations⩘ 

The original abstract artist

Still remarkably fresh after all these years!

The Galactic Center in Radio from MeerKAT, Astronomy Picture of the Day, Feb 2, 2022
Image Credit: Ian Heywood⩘  (Oxford U.⩘ ), SARAO⩘ ;
Color Processing: Juan Carlos Munoz-Mateos⩘  (ESO⩘ )

The Galactic Center in Radio from MeerKAT shows the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, including its massive black hole, as seen in the radio wave spectrum.

Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ , Feb 2, 2022; View a larger version of this image⩘ 

The psychology of misinformation

Matrix showing factors leading to belief regardless of truth and and belief specifically of falsehoods

An insightful look at the psychological factors linked to believing in misinformation.

What to do about it? Corrections/fact-checks work! Crowdsourcing can help identify misinformation at scale. Nudging people to think about accuracy can lead them to improve the quality of what they share.

Professor David Rand, The psychology of misinformation⩘ , Jan 21, 2022; David Rand is the Erwin H. Schell Professor and Professor of Management Science and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, the director of the Applied Cooperation Team, and an affiliate of the MIT Institute of Data, Systems, and Society, and the Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Sfoglini Whole Grain Blend Reginetti

Image of a tasty Reginetti dish with the logo of Sfoglini Pasta superimposed

I really appreciate dishes that feature pasta. Over the years, I've tried many different pastas, fresh and dried, domestic and imported. I was absolutely delighted a few years ago when I came across Sfoglini artisan pasta from New York and ended up trying and enjoying many of their varieties.

My personal favorite so far is their Whole Grain Blend Reginetti, which "features an organic, stone milled hard red flour from the New York Hudson Valley." It's delicious with a beautiful shape that carries the sauce well and has a very pleasant texture. I enjoy it so much that I order it by the case!

A few pieces of curly ruffled Sfoglini Reginetti

This morning, while perusing Kottke.org⩘  as I do each morning, I came across a post featuring a wonderful video⩘  showing how Sfoglini makes its pasta, featuring its new shape, Cascatelli. It was really fun to see where my pasta comes from, the amazing process it goes through, and the people who create it with such care.

One of the pasta sorting machines featuring Cascatelli pasta

Thanks Steve, Scott, and team!

Pasta: Sfoglini⩘ ; Video: via Kottke.org⩘ ; Related: Sfoglini Pasta with Fresh Peas⩘ , Familystyle Food; Remembrance of Things Pasta: A Saucy Tale⩘ , Gastropod

Update: I just stumbled across a really fun series of videos about pasta on a favorite site: Boing Boing⩘ . It features a fascinating guy, Alex Gabriel Ainouz, and his YouTube channel: Alex⩘ . The article with embedded videos is Exploring the wonders (and challenges) of dry pasta⩘  by Gareth Branwyn, Feb 1, 2022.

Update 2: I just tried Sfoglini Emmer Reginetti⩘  and like it even more than the Whole Grain Blend Reginetti. The Emmer is delicious!

A couple pieces of Sfoglini Emmer Reginetti

Live Like the Ancient Cynics

Interesting article about the ancient philosophy of cynicism.

Modern cynicism traps you in an unhappy cycle. The original version will set you free.

To pivot from the modern to the ancient, I recommend focusing each day on several original cynical concepts, none of which condemns the world but all of which lead us to question, and in many cases reject, worldly conventions and practices.

  1. Eudaimonia ("satisfaction") – The ancient cynics knew that lasting satisfaction cannot be derived from a constant struggle for possessions, pleasures, power, or prestige. Happiness can come only from detaching ourselves from the world's false promises.
  2. Askesis ("discipline") – We cannot clear our mind of confusion and obfuscation until we stop anesthetizing ourselves, whether it be with drugs and alcohol or idle distractions from real life.
  3. Autarkeia ("self-sufficiency") – Relying on the world—especially on getting approval from the world—makes equanimity and true freedom impossible. Refuse to accept your craving for the high opinions of others.
  4. Kosmopolites ("cosmopolitanism") – Seeing ourselves as better or worse than others sets us against one another and makes love and friendship difficult, which is self-destructive. This can be as obvious as thinking, I am better than someone else because I was born in this country, or as subtle as feeling slightly superior to a colleague because of my academic affiliation.

From what little I've read (and what little there is to read), the ancient Cynics lived in a manner that wouldn't be attractive to many people living today, including me, yet these four concepts, which make up at least part of the core of their philosophy, seem valuable commonsense guidelines to living.

Live Like the Ancient Cynics⩘  by Arthur C. Brooks, The Atlantic, Jan 20, 2022.

We live in this neighborhood!


Image Credit: NASA⩘ , ESA⩘ , Hubble⩘ , OPAL Program⩘ , STScI⩘ ; Processing: Karol Masztalerz

Jupiter, via Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ :

NASA's Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy⩘  (OPAL) program has been monitoring the storm more recently using the Hubble Space Telescope⩘ . The featured Hubble OPAL image⩘  shows Jupiter as it appeared in 2016, processed in a way that makes red hues appear quite vibrant.

They chose a different path

An inspiring article with which to begin the new year: "They grew up surrounded by racism. But early on they chose a different path⩘ ." by John Blake, CNN. He explains why some people who grew up in families and communities where racism is the norm turn out differently and reject racism, pointing out that at least four traits make the difference:

Blake shares the stories of individuals who transcended their own youthful racism to become prominent anti-racists.

   Stroupe, now 75, became a civil rights activist, an award-winning author and one of the nation's most prominent anti-racist speakers. He and his wife, Caroline Leach, became co-pastors of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia, whose successful efforts to build a vibrant interracial congregation drew national attention and became a model for others.…

   During many of his sermons, Stroupe made an observation that made some White parishioners squirm in their seats. He said he didn't learn racism from unapologetic racists like members of the Ku Klux Klan. Nice White people taught him how to hate.
   "I had been taught racism by my family, my church, and my teachers—by really decent white people in my hometown on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River Delta," Stroupe wrote in a 2018 essay⩘  in The Atlantic.

They grew up surrounded by racism. But early on they chose a different path⩘  by John Blake, CNN, Jan 2, 2022

The new Cosmic Crisp apple

Deep red Cosmic Crisp apples hanging on a tree

What a nice way to begin the new year: we recently tasted an organic Cosmic Crisp apple for the first time. Really good! From Wikipedia⩘ :

   Cosmic Crisp is a cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise apples.… The look of the apple's light lenticels against its wine-red skin reminded focus groups of a galaxy against a night sky, which led to it being named the Cosmic Crisp.
   The New York Times⩘  described the apple as "dramatically dark, richly flavored and explosively crisp and juicy", making it "the most promising and important apple of the future." FoodRepublic.com⩘  called it "firmer than the Honeycrisp, but not too firm. And it is high in both sugar and acidity, making it far superior to the Red Delicious, Gala and Fuji varieties as well."

I'm someone who really does eat an apple every day. Fujis have been my go-to staple. I love their balance of tartness and sweetness, and their crunch factor. Unfortunately, the quality of Fujis seems to vary quite dramatically; in fact, I sometimes suspect that some batches I eat are actually a different variety sold as Fujis. That said, I find the best Fujis better than this first experience of Cosmic Crisp; however, I'm delighted to have another wonderful variety to choose from.

Update: After trying Cosmic Crisp apples for a few months, I can say that I really enjoy their taste—a nice balance of tart and sweet--and their crunch. But there is one thing I've noticed: unlike other apples I've tried where bruises just tend to turn brown and soft, if Cosmic Crisp apples are bruised, the bruise tends to rot really quickly, creating a strong bad taste in the area of the bruise. This hasn't stopped me from enjoying this apple, I've just learned to be really careful to check the entire apple for bruises before eating, and to remove a big chunk of the apple around any bruise I find.

Wikipedia: Cosmic Crisp⩘ 
Image by: PVM⩘  (cropped) via Wikimedia Commons⩘ ; File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license⩘ 

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