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Journal Archives

Speak Now: Law and Disorder With Constitutional Scholar Michael Dorf.

Months after the 2020 election, the United States feels more divided than ever. Today’s youth have only ever experienced a fractured America, rife with ideological polarization that corrodes our ability to listen to and understand voices different from our own. Such division not only threatens democracy and political stability, but also our ability to help those in this country who need it most.

“Speak Now,” a three-part series from the Cornell Advocacy Project, is addressing this divide, exploring the role of empathy in rehabilitating hostile spaces. Through the insight of an experienced advocate, each webinar will equip attendees with rhetorical techniques and productive strategies for engaging in political discourse, advocacy, and activism in this increasingly polarized age.

In the second episode of this series, “Law and Disorder,” Cornell Law School Professor Michael Dorf will explore the role of the Constitution and judicial system in contributing to — and fighting — modern American polarization.

This event is hosted by the Cornell Advocacy Project and co-sponsored by Cornell Law School.

Law and Disorder With Constitutional Scholar Michael Dorf.

I was able to sign up for free.


Kehinde Wiley, 2017
OIL ON CANVAS 120.25H X 85.50W IN

Kehinde Wiley

I really like this Beto guy.

There's something vaguely Lincolnian about him; more or less coming out of nowhere with intelligence and dignity and decency. He is also willing to take what must be an unpopular stand in Texas on climate change much as Lincoln took on an unpopular stand (in his time) on human slavery.

He wasn't my guy in the primaries.

I hope we'll see more of him in the future.

I'm less and less alone, an article in the popular press on nuclear power.

The popular press is notorious for selective attention. On this website, we are aware of the attention paid to the racist views of Donald Trump and his racist MAGAT supporters, for example.

Another example is there willingness to carry on year after year about Fukushima and decade after decade about Chernobyl while exhibiting a spectacular disinterest in the 18,000 to 19,000 people who will die today - more than will die from Covid - from air pollution.

I bought my wife a subscription to the New Yorker for her birthday when she expressed interest in it; when I was a young man it was my favorite magazine. I don't find much time to read it now, but things pop up in my email about it, including this article, about activist women trying to save nuclear plants, the closure of which, before their time is up, is a crime against humanity.

The article comes with a beautiful painting of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant, which is set to close because of a paroxysm of stupidity and ignorance.

It is here: The Activists Who Embrace Nuclear Power

Some excerpts:

In 2004, Heather Hoff was working at a clothing store and living with her husband in San Luis Obispo, a small, laid-back city in the Central Coast region of California. A few years earlier, she had earned a B.S. in materials engineering from the nearby California Polytechnic State University. But she’d so far found work only in a series of eclectic entry-level positions—shovelling grapes at a winery, assembling rectal thermometers for cows. She was twenty-four years old and eager to start a career.

One of the county’s major employers was the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, situated on the coastline outside the city. Jobs there were stable and well-paying. But Diablo Canyon is a nuclear facility—it consists of two reactors, each contained inside a giant concrete dome—and Hoff, like many people, was suspicious of nuclear power. Her mother had been pregnant with her in March, 1979, when the meltdown at a nuclear plant on Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania, transfixed the nation. Hoff grew up in Arizona, in an unconventional family that lived in a trailer with a composting toilet. She considered herself an environmentalist, and took it for granted that environmentalism and nuclear power were at odds.

Nonetheless, Hoff decided to give Diablo Canyon a try. She was hired as a plant operator. The work took her on daily rounds of the facility, checking equipment performance—oil flows, temperatures, vibrations—and hunting for signs of malfunction. Still skeptical, she asked constant questions about the safety of the technology. “When four-thirty on Friday came, my co-workers were, like, ‘Shut up, Heather, we want to go home,’ ” she recalled. “When I finally asked enough questions to understand the details, it wasn’t that scary.”

In the course of years, Hoff grew increasingly comfortable at the plant. She switched roles, working in the control room and then as a procedure writer, and got to know the workforce—mostly older, avuncular men. She began to believe that nuclear power was a safe, potent source of clean energy with numerous advantages over other sources. For instance, nuclear reactors generate huge amounts of energy on a small footprint: Diablo Canyon, which accounts for roughly nine per cent of the electricity produced in California, occupies fewer than six hundred acres. It can generate energy at all hours and, unlike solar and wind power, does not depend on particular weather conditions to operate. Hoff was especially struck by the fact that nuclear-power generation does not emit carbon dioxide or the other air pollutants associated with fossil fuels. Eventually, she began to think that fears of nuclear energy were not just misguided but dangerous. Her job no longer seemed to be in tension with her environmentalist views. Instead, it felt like an expression of her deepest values...

...By 1979, the U.S. had seventy-two commercial reactors. That year proved pivotal in the shaping of public opinion toward nuclear power in America. On March 16th, “The China Syndrome,” starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas, was released; the film portrayed corruption and a meltdown at a fictional nuclear plant. Twelve days later, one of the two reactors at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in southeastern Pennsylvania partially melted down. Most epidemiological studies would eventually determine that the accident had no detectable health consequences. But at the time there was no way the public could know this, and the incident added momentum to the anti-nuclear movement. By the time of the Chernobyl catastrophe, in Soviet Ukraine, in 1986—widely considered to be the worst nuclear disaster in history—opposition to nuclear power was widespread...

...Pro-nuclear environmentalists often tell a conversion story, describing the moment when they began to see nuclear power not as something that could destroy the world but as something that could save it. They argue that much of what we think we know about nuclear energy is wrong. Instead of being the most dangerous energy source, it is one of the safest, linked with far fewer deaths per terawatt-hour than all fossil fuels. We perceive nuclear waste as uniquely hazardous, but, while waste from oil, natural gas, and coal is spewed into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases and as other forms of pollution, spent nuclear-fuel rods, which are solid, are contained in concrete casks or cooling pools, where they are monitored and prevented from causing harm...

I certainly have a conversion story, although mine was a long time ago, interestingly when I began to study the Chernobyl accident in the year following the event in 1986.

That's Right You're Not From Texas

An Engineer's Trip to Jupiter: Correction Science on Saturday 2/27/21.

Science on Saturday is not happening today because of the high school science bowl. This applies to next week:

PPPL's science on Saturday lecture 2/27/21 is by Dr. Tracey Drain, An Engineer’s Trip to Jupiter

Tracy Drain is a Flight Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In her 20
years at the lab, she has helped develop and operate the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (a
Mars science/relay orbiter), Kepler (an Exoplanet hunting mission), Juno (a Jupiter orbiter)
and Psyche (an asteroid explorer slated to launch in 2022). She is currently the Lead Flight
Systems Engineer on the Europa Clipper mission, slated to launch in 2024 to explore one
of the most intriguing moons of Jupiter. A life-long learner, she loves to encourage people
of all ages nurture their curiosity and explore the wonders, near and far, that surround us
every day.

Tune in to learn about Juno – a spacecraft sent across the solar system to study our largest
planetary neighbor! Tracy Drain, a Flight Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, will share some stories from Juno’s development, its journey through space and
the initial amazing science discoveries at Jupiter.

Sign up here:

Science on Saturday, on Zoom

Almost always the talks are fascinating. Although, the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab is an National Physics Lab, the talks, while often involving physicists, also include, biologists, geologists, chemists, social scientists, oceanographers, climate scientists, etc.

They are hosted by the charming and fun Dr. Andrew Zwicker, head of science education at the lab, who also moonlights as the Democratic NJ Assemblyman in the NJ Legislature.

In previous years, the talks were held at PPPL with a very nice social hour before hand featuring coffee, donuts (great donuts!) bagels and interesting conversation.

As a result of Covid, the talks have moved to Zoom, they are now accessible around the world. They are held at 9:30 am EST, with a Q&A session after the talks ending usually by 11:30. The talks themselves are about an hour generally.

Check it out!

Unprotected African health workers die as rich countries buy up COVID-19 vaccines

This is a news item from Science: Unprotected African health workers die as rich countries buy up COVID-19 vaccines (Science, By Kai KupferschmidtFeb. 17, 2021 , 2:45 PM)

It should be open sourced.

Some excerpts:

Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

On 6 January, gastroenterologist Leolin Katsidzira received a troubling message from his colleague James Gita Hakim, a heart specialist and noted HIV/AIDS researcher. Hakim, chair of the department of medicine at the University of Zimbabwe, had fallen sick and had tested positive for COVID-19. He was admitted to a hospital in Harare 10 days later and moved to an intensive care unit (ICU) after his condition deteriorated. He died on 26 January.

It is a crushing loss to Zimbabwean medicine, Katsidzira says. “Don’t forget: We have had a huge brain drain. So people like James are people who keep the system going,” he adds. Scientists around the world mourned Hakim as well. He was “a unique research leader, a brilliant clinical scientist and mentor, humble, welcoming and empowering,” wrote Melanie Abas, a collaborator at King’s College London.

But Hakim’s death also highlights a stark reality in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. Countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas have administered more than 175 million shots to protect people against COVID-19 since December 2020, with most countries giving priority to medical workers. But not a single country in sub-Saharan Africa has started immunizations—South Africa will be the first, this week—leaving health care workers dying in places where they are scarce to begin with...

...According to the World Health Organization (WHO), three-quarters of all vaccinations so far have happened in 10 countries that account for 60% of global gross domestic product; 130 countries have yet to administer a single dose. “I don’t know why there isn’t a massive clamor to do something about that,” says Gavin Yamey of Duke University’s Global Health Institute. “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian-born director-general of WHO, said in January...

...Beyond the moral argument, there are sound economic and public health reasons to close the gap. Vaccinating those most at risk around the world would drive down hospitalizations and deaths everywhere sooner, allowing societies to reopen and economies to recover. It could also help reduce circulation of the virus globally, lowering the risk of new virus variants emerging...

If I were President Biden, I'd head to Texas as soon as it is safe to do so.

Personal Presidential attention is a key in disaster like this.

With his feet on the ground, he will raise the spirits of our suffering countrymen.

I'm not glorying in what's happening in Texas. Beto got 48%+ of the vote there.

That means that 48%+ of the people of Texas are good people not wallowing in racist libertarian secessionist horse shit.

Real people, very good people, are suffering. (One of them is my niece.)

I lived two weeks without power after Hurricane Sandy. There's nothing funny about it; nothing at all.

I hope President Biden will send aid to Texas. They need our aid and our sympathy.

The African American Woman Who Helped Design of the Moderna Vaccine Is Fighting Vaccine Hesitancy.

This a news item in Nature:

This COVID-vaccine designer is tackling vaccine hesitancy — in churches and on Twitter

Immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett helped to design the Moderna vaccine. Now she volunteers her time talking about vaccine science with people of colour.

It should be open sourced, but here are some excerpts:

Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), is one of the scientists who in early 2020 helped to develop an mRNA-based vaccine for COVID-19. Developed in collaboration with biotech firm Moderna of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the vaccine is now being distributed across the United States and elsewhere. And Corbett is taking on another challenge: tempering vaccine hesitancy by talking about COVID-19 science in communities of colour.

Corbett is one of many Black scientists and doctors who are doing this outreach, often virtually, in their free time. Researchers say it’s necessary to make scientific knowledge accessible in public forums, to ease health disparities.

In the United States, COVID-19 has affected Black, Native American and Latino American people at higher rates than white people, for reasons rooted in racism and historical segregation. At the same time, people in these groups are more wary of COVID-19 vaccines. In a December survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46% of Black adults said they probably would not get vaccinated against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, compared with 30% of white respondents...

...Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Corbett was part of a team at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, and elsewhere, that was designing vaccines for other coronaviruses in collaboration with Moderna. The scientists’ mRNA technology delivers a piece of genetic code to a person’s cells to create immune-stimulating virus proteins. When the outbreak began, the team mobilized to quickly identify the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence it would need to make a vaccine for COVID-19, which Moderna then produced...

...What was your role in designing a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, and what was that like?

My contribution was helping to design the vaccine, leading the preclinical studies that informed the Phase I clinical trial and designing assays used for testing of clinical trial samples.

The quest in early January 2020 was to gear up. We started ordering all the things that we needed around animal experiments. We mapped out a plan. I started assigning roles to team members.

If you want to go fast in a pandemic, then messenger RNA (mRNA) is a shoo-in. It can be manufactured very quickly in very vast quantities, and it’s plug and play in that you can essentially just swap out the protein once you have the system down. We collaborated with Moderna so we could get the system down pat...

Dr. Corbett:

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