Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

November 9, 2018
by sarcozona

Good idea, failed execution

One of the most common sources of misunderstanding in probability theory is the confusion of an abstract probability distribution with these representations. In an understandable desire to present concrete examples as early as possible, many introductory treatments of probability theory begin immediately with these representations only to end up muddling their relationship with the abstract mathematics that they are characterizing. Now that we have worked through the abstract definitions, however, we can introduce representations in a more principled way.

Source: Probability Theory (For Scientists and Engineers)

I’d be more sympathetic to the above if I hadn’t just spent several hours working through what came above that paragraph and understanding basically nothing in each section until I googled the topic at hand and found a relevant example. As it is, I’m just really annoyed.

It didn’t have to happen this way. The massive investment in the fossil fuel infrastructure after the bank bailout could just as easily have gone to renewable technologies, like wind and solar projects, which, in an ironic twist, have been pilloried for their reliance on subsidies and inability to turn a freestanding profit. Today, that’s a better description of the fracking industry, which has been on a massive money-losing streak.

Source: How the Bank Bailout Hobbled the Climate Fight | The New Republic

October 27, 2018
by sarcozona

This is not a good look for Israel

In an attempt to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the Israeli government is using lobbies, spy agencies and think tank fronts to spy on and smear US college students that speak out against right-wing politics in Israel and fight for Palestinian rights .

Students recounted in the documentary exactly what they faced. Summer Awad, who took part in a campaign for Palestinian rights in Knoxville, Tennessee, was harassed on Twitter, and information about her, some of it dating back a decade, was posted online: ‘They are digging and digging. Somebody contacted my employer and asked for me to be fired. If they continue to employ me they will be denounced as antisemitic.’ Denunciation can end careers or make it hard for students to find a job after graduation. To get their names off the blacklist, some victims write messages of ‘repentance’, which Canary Mission posts on its site (8). These anonymous confessions, whose writers explain that they were ‘deceived’, are much like those of suspected communist sympathisers under McCarthyism in the US in the 1950s, or victims of authoritarian regimes today. Baime said: ‘It’s psychological warfare. It drives them crazy. They either shut down, or they spend time investigating [the accusations against them] instead of attacking Israel. It’s extremely effective.’ Another person told Kleinfeld: ‘I think antisemitism as a smear is not what it used to be.’

These campaigns, based on personal information gathered about US citizens, would not be possible without the resources of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Its director-general, Sima Vaknin-Gil, said in a talk at the IAC annual conference shown in the documentary: ‘The fact that the Israeli government decided to be a key player means a lot because we can bring things that NGOs or civilian entities involved in this thing [don’t have] … We’ve got the budget. We can bring things to the table that are quite different. Everybody out there who has anything to do with BDS should ask himself twice: should I be on this side or do I want to be on the other side?’

Source: The truths that won’t be heard, by Alain Gresh (Le Monde diplomatique – English edition, September 2018)

Imagine the US government spending millions of dollars and using NGOs as front groups to spy on people in the UK who support the Minority Rights Group International because of their advocacy for Native Americans in the US and then getting them fired from their jobs, or China doing this to US citizens who oppose Taiwan reunification.

It’s really not ok that Israel does this and it’s less ok that the US lets it.

October 23, 2018
by sarcozona

Once you get in a car it’s hard to get out


Many people equate car ownership and freedom. But cars are a trap for most of us.

My relatives almost all live in car dependent areas. They typically think of themselves as relatively fit. Yet when I visit them or they me, they are so out of shape that the basic daily errands of my life are exhausting to impossible for them.

Driving everywhere leaves you unable to walk anywhere.

Driving degrades most people’s health. Walking, cycling, and public transport are fucking great for your health.

The basic pedometer goal is 10,000 steps. Unless I’m stuck in my house with a migraine, it’s hard to NOT reach that goal just heading to the post office to grab a parcel and walking to the train to get to work. I don’t have to think about getting enough exercise – just going about my day as usual is enough.

My relatives buy fitbits and walk in circles around their living rooms or drive to a track to walk. Some don’t have nice places to walk because it’s all rushing cars and there’s not even sidewalk connectivity. Some have lost the ability to walk in the rural landscapes outside their doors – obesity and the resulting joint damage mean they can’t handle the uneven surfaces of a field or forest.

Driving has destroyed the bodies of my family. They have lost so much function that even when put in a walkable urban environment, they struggle. When my mother visits, she delights in walking to the shops – but only the ones 1 or 2 blocks away. Places 15 minutes away are too difficult, as are the shops up the hill. We can take a bus to the world-class urban park a 15 minute walk away, but can’t explore much of it together. She needs a mobility device to go further because she has used a car for so long. Her car has become her mobility device.

There are better mobility devices than a car. Walkers and scooters and wheelchairs support you while you’re in the shops and let you engage with your community. My city has more accessible infrastructure for pedestrians than most and we could actually explore more local spaces if she had a walker or a scooter than if we were in a car. She is very resistant to getting one of those – it’s an admission of disability in a way having a car isn’t, even though she’d have more freedom and enjoy herself more in many environments with a walker than with a car.

Driving doesn’t just trap us by harming our bodies, it also changes the physical landscape so that it’s hostile to other forms of transportation. If you drive someplace, you have to park, and so places get further and further apart as we build more and more space to put our cars. Then, to get between places, you have to drive or walk for miles with ugly and unpleasant parking lots on one side and dangerous rushing traffic on the other, that is, if there’s any pedestrian infrastructure at all.

In most places, cars are a blight and one that is very hard to recover from.

Driving everywhere doesn’t just leave us unable to walk anywhere, it also doesn’t leave us anywhere to walk.