Wednesday, January 27, 2021

US House of Representatives - Committee Memberships by Party - Take 2

 In a previous post, I looked at what percentage of House Committee seats were taken by the majority party, and found that for the 98th to 116th Congresses, the larger the majority, the larger the share of committee seats, in a roughly linear relationship.  That led to a prediction of the Democrats, in the current (117th) Congress, getting 54.1% of the committee seats.

Well, the Democrats have outdone themselves, and I wish I knew just how they pulled it off.  I have a sneaking suspicion they exploited the innumeracy of the Republicans.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

A reply to the Ode to Joy


 The last few days, I've been listening to Beethoven again, and finally, paid some attention to the actual words of the Ode to Joy. Per here, the last five lines:
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen. Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen? Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt? Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt! Über Sternen muß er wohnen.
translate to:
Brothers, above the starry canopy There must dwell a loving father. Do you fall in worship, you millions? World, do you know your creator? Seek Him in the heavens; Above the stars must he dwell.
The lyrics also refer to "Joy, daughter of Elysium". The Hindu answer to that is - Ananda, as in "Sat-chit-ananda", is a fundamental attribute the experience of Reality; and while not in the same musical league, wiser and just-as-good poetry tells where to seek Him/Her/It:


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Caltech is de-Millikaned


Caltech announcement:

Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, acting on unanimous recommendations from the [Committee on Naming and Recognition (CNR)]( the authorization of the Caltech Board of Trustees, today announced the removal of the name of Caltech's founding president and first Nobel laureate, Robert A. Millikan, from campus buildings, assets, and honors. Rosenbaum and the Board also approved the removal of the names of Harry Chandler, Ezra S. Gosney, William B. Munro, Henry M. Robinson, and Albert B. Ruddock from campus assets and honors.


In taking this step, the Institute fully heeds the committee's recommendation to reckon and reconcile with the past, "publicly and unambiguously repudiat[ing] any shade of affiliation with eugenics." The decision is a direct response to and an acknowledgement of the named individuals' participation in the eugenics movement through affiliation with the Human Betterment Foundation (HBF), a California-based organization founded in 1928 by Ezra Gosney, which supported eugenic sterilization research and distributed propaganda in support of eugenic sterilization. Caltech's leadership concurred with the CNR that to continue to memorialize the named individuals, without a complete accounting of who they were, is inconsistent with Caltech's values. Millikan, Gosney, Chandler, Munro, Robinson, and Ruddock were successful professionals, civic leaders, and philanthropists and also prominent members of society who lent their stature and names to the furtherance of racist and discriminatory practices either as HBF trustees or members.


In making its recommendations regarding Millikan, the committee also considered his stances on gender, race, and ethnicity, finding them sexist, racist, xenophobic, and inexcusable by any standard.


"It is fraught to judge individuals outside of their time, but it is clear from the documentation presented that Millikan lent his name and his prestige to a morally reprehensible eugenics movement that already had been discredited scientifically during his time," Rosenbaum said.

(emphasis added)

While the committee had also been charged with considering campus memorializations of Thomas J. Watson Sr. for his alleged ties to Nazi Germany through his leadership of IBM, it ultimately withheld judgment on this renaming. An archival investigation into these matters "undermines the essential accusations in Edwin Black's  *IBM and the Holocaust* , thereby removing any firm basis to recommend renaming the Watson Laboratories of Applied Physics," Rosenbaum said.

The full report from the Committee on Naming and Recognition:

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Inaugural Poem - Amanda Gorman

 “ Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world:

When day comes we ask ourselves, 

Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry, 
a sea we must wade?

We’ve braved the belly of the beast, 
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. 
And the norms and notions 
of what just is 
Isn’t always justice. 

And yet the dawn is ours 
before we knew it
Somehow we do it. 

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed 
a nation that isn’t broken, 
but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time 
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother 
can dream of becoming president 
only to find herself reciting for one.

And yes, we are far from polished, 
far from pristine, 
but that doesn’t mean we are 
striving to form a union that is perfect. 
We are striving to forge our union with purpose. 
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and 
conditions of man.

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us. 
We close the divide, because we know to put our future first, 
we must first put our differences aside. 
We lay down our arms 
so we can reach out our arms 
to one another. 
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried.

That we'll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that 
everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree 
And no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, 
then victory won’t lie in the blade 
But in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade,
the hill we climb 
if only we dare
it's because being American is more than a pride we inherit –
it’s the past we step into 
and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation 
rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. 
And this effort very nearly succeeded. 
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, 
It can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, 
In this faith we trust 
For while we have our eyes on the future, 
history has its eyes on us. 
This is the era of just redemption 
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs 
of such a terrifying hour, 
but within it we found the power 
to author a new chapter, 
to offer hope and laughter to ourselves. 
So while once we asked 
‘how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe,’ 
now we assert: 
‘how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’

"We will not march back to what was, 
but move to what shall be: 
a country that is bruised but whole, 
benevolent but bold, 
fierce and free. 
We will not be turned around 
or interrupted by intimidation 
because we know our inaction and inertia 
will be the inheritance of the next generation.

Our blunders become their burdens 
but one thing is certain:
 If we merge mercy with might, 
and might with right, 
then love becomes our legacy
and change, our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country 
better than the one we were left with. 
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, 
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. 
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west, 
we will rise from the windswept north-east 
where our forefathers first realized revolution. 
We will rise from the lake-rinsed cities of the midwestern states. 
We will rise from the sun-baked South. 
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover 
and every known nook of our nation 
and every corner called our country,
 our people diverse and beautiful will emerge 
battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade, 
aflame and unafraid. 
The new dawn blooms as we free it. 
For there is always light 
if only we’re brave enough to see it, 
if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

-Amanda Gorman


Thursday, January 21, 2021

US House of Representatives - Committee Memberships by Party

The paper from the Congressional Research Service: House Committee Party Ratios: 98th-116th Congresses tells us that how the majority and minority parties in Congress divvy up committee seats is rather opaque.

The Standing Rules of the House of Representatives are silent regarding committee sizes and party ratios; the apportionment of committee seats is a decision of the majority leadership that may include discussions between majority and minority party leaderships.  

Only in the House Committee on Ethics are the two parties guaranteed by House Rules to have an equal share of seats. 

Historically, the number of majority seats on some committees has exceeded, in varying degrees, the strength of the majority party in the House chamber, regardless of which party has been in power.  This generally has ensured that the majority party has a sufficient number of members distributed across committees to control voting in many committees.

Based on Table 1 in the paper, the following chart can be drawn. The x-axis is the fraction of House seats the majority holds; the y-axis is the fraction of committee seats the majority holds. Note that the origin is (50,52) (so that you aren't inadvertantly misled by statistics, it is good practice to point that out). In the 117th Congress, as of January 15th the Democrats have 221 seats, the Republicans 211. This translates to a 51.2% majority and that translates to a predicted 54.1% of the committee seats.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

White Snakeroot

White snakeroot (Ageratina altissimo, formerly Eupatorium rugosum) is a native plant that good for bees.  It is not so good for humans, we are told Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died of milk sickness, which is caused by drinking the milk of cows that have eaten white snakeroot.

She was thirty-four and he was nine. History tells us that milk sickness was not eliminated until the 1920s, because what do natives and women know?
Eventually, a frontier doctor in Illinois named Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby learned of the cause of the sickness from a Shawnee medicine woman. Bixby helped control the disease locally by instructing settlers to remove white snakeroot from their fields, but she too was largely ignored by the medical community, and research confirming the connection between snakeroot and milk was only published much later. Today, for better or worse, industrial agriculture has all but eradicated milk sickness.
My puzzle is that various sources have different takes on how much sunlight white snakeroot needs. The plant is said to be easy to grow from seeds, so I'll try for myself. Recommends White Snake Root Ageratina altissimo for deep shade.
Donald J. Leopold, Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening & Conservation, Tenth Printing, 2020, Timber Press, Inc.; ISBN-13: 978-0-88192-673-6 (Eupatorium rugosum) says - sun to partial shade. says Ageratina altissima used to be placed in the genus Eupatorium and says - prefers full sun. says "best in part shade to full shade". says "its native habit is often woodland or woods-edge."

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Book memo: Uprooted

Wiki tells us that Naomi Novik's Uprooted won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2016 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and the 2016 Mythopoeic Award in the category Adult Literature. It was also nominated for the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel. 

This and the NYT review below I found after reading the book (ebook from the public library), a good read for a quiet Saturday.
Naomi Novik skillfully takes the fairy-tale-turned-bildungsroman structure of her premise — the peasant girl selected to serve the terrifying magician, her undiscovered magical talent, an evil wood encroaching on the doorstep — and builds enough flesh on those bones to make a very different animal. Plain but hyper-talented Agnieszka could risk cliché, but even without Novik’s tweaks to the formula, she makes for a gripping narrator, pragmatically personable but tapped into the lyric. The vivid characters around her also echo their fairy-tale forebears, but are grounded in real-world ambivalence that makes this book feel quietly mature, its world lived-in. Even the magic has the low-key, organic feel that you would expect from a farming valley. When the sinister wood infects some cattle, for instance, their owner doesn’t immediately slaughter them — his family has no other animals, and he’s so desperate he delays what’s necessary. Even in the midst of chaos, the villagers don’t vilify him for it. This is a book in which the thinnest threads of understanding can hold the whole enterprise aloft. None of these asides feel burdensome; the plot thickens as quickly as the thorn bushes of the wood cast shadows, and Agnieszka’s brisk narration and shrewd, shorthand observations of character make “Uprooted” a very enjoyable fantasy with the air of a modern classic.

Cannon to the left of them

 The extreme left has not indulged in an insurrection against the Republic.  So they cannot be compared to the MAGAts.  But they have habits of thought that should be of concern. 

Exhibit: Many tens of millions of Republicans simply don't exist in this depiction of the American political landscape.

Exhibit: what the Democrats themselves see about the extreme left:

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Another person who has had too much

 C. wrote about putting this notice up on his office door,  thinking about the hard question “How many of us have become too worried about relationships that we sacrifice truth and ethics?”


“After living as a proud and patriotic American for 70 years, I find myself living in a time of danger to our nation far beyond any I have experienced before. Political disagreements have always been a part of our history; but now the differences are so great that they threaten to approach the destructive level that resulted in the Civil War. The tone of political discourse has fallen to shameful levels of offensiveness and ignorance; the workings of our political system have degraded to the level of a criminal enterprise.

“Any objective examination of the beliefs and actions of the opposing political systems as they exist today, whether you label them Republican/Democrat, conservative/liberal, or libertarian/progressive, must lead to the fact that there no longer exists any equivalence of principles between those sides. That examination must also conclude that there is no present use in trying to bridge the gap with compromise or mutual respect. The distance separating us is not between points on a spectrum, but between entirely different value systems.

“It is also pointless to argue any political issue with reference to the viewpoint of Republicans “on the merits” since the Republican view no longer has defensible merits on any significant issue I can think of. Republicans are supporting candidates and politicians in office who march in service to the worldview of libertarian, authoritarian billionaires who have spent decades and fortunes funding propagandizing media, faux-professional “think tanks,” and lobbyists, all whom have significantly weakened and marginalized science, environmental concerns, civil rights, and social welfare. The effect of those decades of effort is a country at the brink of authoritarian fascism, extreme inequality, and chaos. The election of Donald Trump is the culminating event of the trend, and a political reality so worrying and repellant as to produce physical sickness

“Those who voted for Trump may not personally be racist, greedy, corrupt, or misogynist. However, they voted for him after having ample opportunity to consider that they were knowingly voting for a racist, greedy, lying, mysogynistic, abusive, and bullying traitor to the US, a person completely inimical to all its best values.

“I still strive to serve every customer who comes here as I always have, with every bit of integrity, professionalism, and skill that I can muster. In 45 years of business, I have made it a point of pride to also serve my customers with a sense of their needs and resources, and consider that those customers have real advantages and benefits in doing business here. I prefer to serve only those who generally share my progressive and democratic sensibilities. Trump supporters and Republicans as presently constituted should know that my viewpoint is not at a bridgeable distance from theirs; that we inhabit worlds completely separate in moral and human values. I can no longer imagine any productive exchange with such persons.


Monday, January 04, 2021

A review of Audrey Truschke's Aurangzeb

Linked here is clear-eyed assessment by SadhanaG of the problems with Audrey Truschke's opus on Aurangzeb.

Left as a latter exercise is so, what does it mean to us? What should we do about it.