Category Archives: Culture

Will We Have Free and Fair Elections Ever Again?

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“I don’t have to tell you that there is this dark undertow which is connecting us all globally and it is flowing via the [social media] technology platforms. And that is why I am here — to address you directly, the gods of Silicon Valley: Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey. Because you set out to connect people and you are refusing to acknowledge that this same technology is now driving us apart. And what you don’t seem to understand is that this is bigger than you, and it’s bigger than any of us. And it is not about left or right, or leave or remain, or Trump or not. It’s about whether it’s actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again. And so my question to you is: is this what you want? Is this how you want history to remember you? — as the handmaidens to authoritarianism? And my question to everyone else is: is this what we want? To sit back and play with our phones as this darkness falls?”

From the TED talk on April 2019 by Carole Cadwaller, the investigative journalist who exposed the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cadwaller accused Facebook and other social media companies of damaging democracy by spreading hateful, divisive lies in darkness paid for by illegal cash for millions of dollars worth of ads. Working with a whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica, Cadwaller learned that the data mining company gathered information on millions of people and manipulated their behavior (i.e., their voting) in the U.S. to impact the 2016 presidential election and in the UK to influence the Brexit vote. The quotation that appears above is featured in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack that focuses on how users of social media apps do not have the right to their own data that is being collected every second that they are online. In this context, consumers themselves (or, more precisely, their data) are the commodity; social media companies sell that data to any company that wants to use it — and, as in the case of two important national elections — the data was used to manipulate the voter’s behavior. How Orwellian.

The entire lecture can be seen by searching for “Facebook’s Role In Brexit — and the Threat to Democracy” on YouTube.

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Read related posts: Notable Words of the 2016 Election
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will Be Governed by Idiots
Is the United States a Democracy or a Republic?


The Most Poignant Quotes from Mothers Who Lost Their Children to Gun Violence

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIt’s a shocking statistic that cannot be sugar-coated in any way: each day in the United States, an average of seven children (under the age of 19), are killed by gun violence. Seven. (The Washington Post recently reported that since 1966, 1,196 Americans have been killed in public mass shootings.) Award-winning portrait photographer Ali Smith, based in New York City, responded to this tragic reality by launching a photography project titled “7 Kids a Day” to capture the grief and agony of mothers who have lost their children to gun violence. “[They] are members of a club no one wants to be a part of,” explains Smith. The goal of the project is for these grieving mothers’ photos and voices — particularly their united call for policy change — to reach a wider audience. Smith adds, ““There’s actually a sanctioned machine that allows criminals to get guns right now and that’s a very fixable problem. What I would like to do with this project is put faces to the statistics and take the conversation out of the theoretical realm.” Here are some of the most poignant quotes from mothers who have lost their children to gun violence and if you are a parent, you have some understanding of the depth of this unfathomable, heartbreaking loss:

Shianne Norman – lost her son, Lloyd (4 years old): “I turned back towards the bullets and ran against the crowd screaming his name, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I lost a part of my soul. There is also a feeling of guilt planted inside me that will never go away. This was not supposed to happen. You don’t bury your children. Your children bury you.”

Sandra Frank – lost her son Teshawn (18 years old): “I went into hibernation. For eight months, I didn’t have a period from the stress. I didn’t talk about how I felt for 17 years. I don’t ask the question why, because what could my son have possibly done to deserve that death? Nothing… None of those bullets have a name on them. Violence can fall anywhere.”

Nicole Hockley – lost her son Dylan (6 years old, student at Sandy Hook): “I thought I knew what pain looked like. The first image that comes to my mind when I think about pain now is [his brother] Jake’s face when my husband told him that Dylan had been killed. He just howled. I’d never heard a child make that kind of noise before… I never thought gun violence could touch me or my community, but my eyes are wide open now.”

Natasha Christopher – lost her son Akeal (15 years old): “I miss my son’s smile. I miss his scent. I miss everything about him. Inside, I am broken. A part of me will always be broken.”

Maxine Lewis – lost her son Locksley (16 years old): “When you kill someone, it’s not just him you rob the world of. You rob what he was going to do. The changes he was going to make. You wipe out a part of history.”

Diana Rodriguez – lost her daughter Samantha (18 years old): “Ten years after Samantha’s death, I keep meeting mothers in this loneliest club that nobody wants to be a member of. We mothers are out here crying… Are your guns more important than my child’s life? With rights comes responsibility and accountability. I don’t see a lot of being accountable for what’s happening in our communities to our children.”

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Read related posts: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats its Weakest Members
The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
What is the Reid Technique?

For further reading: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/07/mothers-children-gun-violence-victims-ali-smith-photography
http://www.alismith.com/gun-stories
http://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/a19053193/sandy-hook-shooting-parkland-gun-safety-president-trump/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/mass-shootings-in-america/


Nixon’s Eloquent Apollo 11 Speech that America Never Heard

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIt is one of the most memorable days in American history — when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 on the Sea of Tranquility. The Apollo 11 mission, of course, was a complete success. Nixon became the first President to speak to two Americans on the moon. He spoke briefly to the astronauts, more than 240,000 miles away, via telephone patched to Mission Control in Houston, Texas. Nixon expressed tremendous national pride: “Hello, Neil and Buzz. I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. And this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made. I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you’ve done. For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world, I am sure they too join with Americans in recognizing what an immense feat this is. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one: one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

But what if a disaster occurred and two or all three astronauts were left to perish in the cold, dark expanse of space? Although it was possible for Collins to have returned to the earth, NASA had a concern that Armstrong and Aldrin would not be able to lift off from the moon and rejoin Collins in the command module. That would mean that the two astronauts would be left stranded on the moon, eventually exhausting their oxygen. Therefore, William Safire, President Richard Nixon’s speechwriter, had been asked to prepare a speech in the event of such a tragedy. Fortunately, it was a speech that Nixon never had to deliver. The speech, entitled “In Event of Moon Disaster” was written by Safire on July 18, 1969. It was discovered in the late 1990s by journalist and author James Mann among the archives of the Nixon administration (then located in College Park, Maryland) while he was researching a book on America’s relationship with China. What the speech lacks in length (it is only 233 words on two typewritten pages), it makes up in stirring images and heartwarming eloquence. Mann writes: “The short text still brings tears to the eyes… What Safire wrote would have qualified as the most eloquent speech Nixon every gave — and one of the most poignant by any American president. Thankfully, it never had to be delivered.” The letter is now displayed at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

In Event of Moon Disaster

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts:
Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Bixby
The Memory of a Departed Friend
How to Grieve for a Departed Friend
The Wisdom or the Ancient Greeks
Best Poems for Funerals: When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou
Best Books on Eulogies
High Flight: Touching the Face of God
In Mourning the Heart Does Not Forget

Einstein’s Touching Letter to a Grieving Father

For further reading: http://www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries/events/centennials/nixon/exhibit/nixon-online-exhibit-disaster.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/07/12/speech-richard-nixon-would-have-given-event-moon-disaster/?utm_term=.f724be639914


Imagine if Your Parents Named You Marijuana Pepsi

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIn late June 2019, a 46-year-old African-American woman graduated from Cardinal Stritch University Wisconsin, earning a doctorate in higher education leadership. Her doctoral dissertation, titled “Black Names in White Classrooms: Teacher Behaviors and Student Perceptions,” analyzed the impact of nontraditional names on academic achievement. However, neither of these things was what caught the attention of the media — rather it was her incredibly unusual and memorable name: Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck (née Jackson).

I know what you are thinking — why in the world would parents name their daughter after a mind-altering plant and a carbonated sugary soda? In her hometown of Beloit, Wisconsin several rumors arose to explain the incredible moniker. One rumor was that her parents were smoking pot and drinking Pepsi when she was conceived. Given the time period, the post-Woodstock/Summer of Love era, that scenario was very plausible. Nevertheless, it was her mother, Maggie Jackson, who came up with the name, even though her father, Aaron Jackson, objected. Vandyck explains: “She said that she knew when I was born that you could take this name and go around the world with it. At the time as a child, I’m thinking ‘yeah, right — you named my older sister Kimberly. You named my younger sister Robin.'” Vandyck’s aunt, Mayetta Jackson, remembers when Maggie picked the unusual name back in 1972 during the hippie era, when smoking a joint was as common as… well, drinking a Pepsi. Mayetta added, “[After smoking weed, Aaron and Maggie] would cool off with a Pepsi. I thought it was crazy, but they were fun-loving people that it suited them.” Interestingly, it was in late 1971, that Coke introduced one of the most memorable commercials featuring one of the most famous jingles of all time: young people gathering on the top of a hill singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Perhaps it was a good thing that the Jacksons were not influenced by this, otherwise their daughter would have been named Marijuana Coke, which sounds more like two psychotropic drugs rather than a drug and a soft drink.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy for a little girl growing up with an unusual name like that. She recall relentless teasing during her school-age years. During her junior high school days, Vandyck dreaded roll call: “Every single class, the teacher is taking attendance out loud, and as they slowly get down through the J’s, I’m just like here it comes. ‘Marianna? Marijuana?’ And all the students turn to see who it is.” By the time she reached high school, her peers’ attitude about her name shifted — they thought it was cool. Vandyck explains: “They were like, ‘Oh yeah. Man, I wish I had your name. I love that. I’m going to name my kid after you.’ I hear that so much and I go, Lord, please don’t do that to that child.”

But despite the obstacles that her name presented, insisted on being called by her birth name: Marijuana, eschewing more common variations like Mary or Mary Jane. One of her high school teachers told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: “They could make a movie about her. I could almost write a book on Marijuana myself in terms of a young student who’s been so resilient and taken even her name and made it into a positive… She’s exactly what any kid in America needs to know about someone who can truly make it if they put their mind to it.” And that’s exactly what she did with her career: she wanted to share her own life struggles and eventual success in order to inspire students. Her doctoral dissertation, in fact, analyzes how black students with unique names are treated by educators in predominantly white settings and how this treatment impacts their academic performance. Specifically, Vandyck found that students “with distinctly black names” were subject to stereotypes, disrespect, and low academic expectations. This in turn led lower self-esteem, career choices, and ultimately fewer educational and career opportunities for students of color.

In an interview with NPR, Vandyck shares her optimistic perspective on life: “”It’s what you do after you recognize that you have this feeling about [having a nontraditional name]. And it’s what you act on from that point on. That’s the most important part…. We can’t always go through life-changing things to make other people happy … and I had to learn that early on.”

Ironically, Marijuana Pepsi has never smoked marijuana and her choice of beverage is orange soda.

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For further reading: http://archive.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/40874017.html
http://www.npr.org/2019/06/21/734839666/dr-marijuana-pepsi-wont-change-her-name-to-make-other-people-happy


What is the Reid Technique?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIf you watched Netflix’s gripping true-crime series When They See Us (2019), you have seen the Reid Technique in action — and to borrow a line from Holden Caulfied, it makes you want to puke. In the film, we witness detectives, who are feeling pressure from the public to find the rapist(s) of the Central Park jogger as well as pressure from an overzealous prosecutor, implement the Reid technique of interrogation to coerce false confessions from five very scared and innocent teenagers. Recall, that during our school-age years, we learned about Blackstone’s ratio, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” that first appeared in Commentaries on the Laws of England (1760) written by the brilliant British jurist William Blackstone. Almost a century later, that idea was echoed by Benjamin Franklin who expressed it more dramatically: “It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer.” And as young students we were naive enough to believe that this fundamental belief in criminal law was sacrosanct. Sadly — it is not; for justice in the hands of imperfect human beings is just that — imperfect. In the case of the Central Park Five, the prosecutor and the detectives wiped their derrières with the Miranda Rights and Blackstone’s ratio and flushed it down the toilet, and then washed their hands of the whole stinking mess. 

“So what exactly is the Reid Technique?” you ask. The Reid Technique was developed by consultant and polygraph expert John E. Reid and is used by many law-enforcement agencies in the United States. According to their website “The Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation,® [is] widely recognized as the most effective means available to exonerate the innocent and identify the guilty. Our specialized interrogation training seminars are designed for law enforcement and government investigators, corporate security and loss prevention professionals.” Journalist Douglass Starr, in an article about the Reid technique for The New Yorker described its ubiquity and tremendous impact on law enforcement: “Today, John E. Reid & Associates, Inc., trains more interrogators than any other company in the world. Reid’s clients include police forces, private security companies, the military, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the Secret Service—almost anyone whose job involves extracting the truth from those who are often unwilling to provide it. The company’s interview method, called the Reid Technique, has influenced nearly every aspect of modern police interrogations, from the setup of the interview room to the behavior of detectives. The company says that the people it trains get suspects to confess eighty per cent of the time.”

Specifically, the Reid Technique consists of a three phases: (1) Fact analysis (learning the facts of the case), (2) Behavior analysis interview (determining if the suspect is lying), and (3) the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation (the specific steps are delineated here.) Frequently interrogators begin by isolating the subject (eg, placing him or her in a small, windowless room) and immediately coercing the subject to waive his or her Miranda rights (the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney) through false promises, lies, or threats. The interrogator begins with the presumption of guilt (stating that the subject committed the crime) and proceeds with an interrogation, which is more of an accusatory process than a Q&A, and adopting the familiar personas of the “good cop/bad cop routine”, designed to elicit a confession. The interrogator presents various narratives (whether true or not) about means, motive, and opportunity. Depending on how the subject responds, the narratives are altered to drill down on the relevant facts of the crime. Over many hours or days, the interrogator eventually wears down the isolated subject who will ultimately fabricate a story to appease his relentless interrogators; in short, the subject confesses to the crime. Game over.

Although the Reid Technique is a valuable tool for law enforcement that leads to many justifiable confessions and convictions, it is not without controversy. The blatant false confessions of the Central Park Five is an obvious case in point. In several criminology publications, critics point out that the Reid technique can result in false confessions, especially when used with children, non-native individuals who speak English as a second-language, and individuals with mental disabilities. In fact, several European countries prohibit lying to suspects (especially young suspects) about evidence since it can lead to false confessions and wrongful convictions.

In a thorough and fascinating article on how police interrogation works, Julia Layton explores in detail the controversy of the Reid technique. Layton believes the interrogation is not at all fair. First, it is a guilt-presumptive process. A detective, in a headlong pursuit to obtain a confession, can consciously or unconsciously, ignore any evidence of innocence. Second, implementing the Reid technique can be very similar to brainwashing. Layton writes: “[A] lot of the human rights concerns surrounding police interrogation have to do with the fact that psychological interrogation techniques bear an uncanny resemblance to “brainwashing” techniques. The interrogator is attempting to influence the suspect without the suspect’s consent, which is considered an unethical use of psychological tactics. A lot of the techniques used to cause discomfort, confusion and insecurity in the brainwashing process are similar to those used in interrogation: (1) Invading a suspect’s personal space; (2) Not allowing the suspect to speak; (3) Using contrasting alternatives; (4) Positioning confession as a means of escape.”

In the film, we witness how the detectives do everything they can to increase each suspects’ level of stress: isolation from one another and their parents, depriving them of food and water, depriving them of sleep, physical and verbal abuse, threats, etc. All of this causes the subjects to break down emotionally, cognitively, and physically. Layton continues:” The more stress a suspect experiences, the less likely he is to think critically and independently, making him far more susceptible to suggestion. This is even more true when the suspect is a minor or is mentally ill, because he may be poorly equipped to recognize or fight off manipulative tactics. A process designed to cause someone so much stress that he’ll confess just to escape the situation is a process that leaves itself open to false confessions. Researchers estimate between 65 and 300 false confessions per year in the United States.” [emphasis added.]

In his article “Do Police Interrogation Techniques Produce False Confessions?”, Starr explains how psychologist Saul Kassin, a leading expert on false confessions, noted that in most cases, when a confession was introduced in a trial, juries tended to deliver guilty sentences — regardless of any other evidence presented. Starr also describes experiments by Kassin and other psychologists who have devised experiments that test tactics associated with the Reid technique. Time after time, the experiments showed similar results: accusatory questions and direct accusations consistently produced false confessions. Even more problematic is the fact that the Reid technique is extremely dependent of the interrogator’s ability to identify a lie using the suspect’s nonverbal behavior. Starr writes: “Three decades of research have shown that nonverbal signals, so prized by the Reid trainers, bear no relation to deception. In fact, people have little more than coin-flipping odds of guessing if someone is telling the truth, and numerous surveys have shown that police do no better. [Psychologist] Aldert Vrij… found that law-enforcement experience does not necessarily improve the ability to detect lies. Among police officers, those who said they paid close attention to nonverbal cues did the worst. Similarly, an experiment by Kassin showed that both students and police officers were better at telling true confessions from false ones when they listened to an audio recording of an interview rather than watch it on video. In the experiment, the police officers performed less well than the students but expressed greater confidence in their ability to tell who was lying.”

Ultimately, When They See Us is a cautionary tale about what happens when an individual does not know and understand the protections of the Miranda Rights and the Constitution. What is absolutely tragic about this heart-breaking story is that had the teenagers, or more importantly, their parents (or their family friends), known their rights — this travesty of justice could have been easily prevented. First, let’s begin with the fundamental fact that these minors should have never been questioned without a legal guardian in the room. Second, the parents should immediately have invoked their child’s Miranda Rights — the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The interrogations would have come to a screeching halt. Game over. And third, every American has the protection of the Constitution, specifically three amendments: (1) the Fifth Amendment: the right not incriminate oneself; (2) the Sixth Amendment: the right to a speedy trial; and (3) the Fourteenth Amendment: the right to due process. All of these legal safeguards, however, did nothing to prevent the miscarriage of justice delivered to the Central Park Five. Fortunately, decades later, in 2014, they were all exonerated and won a settlement of $40 million.

You have to wonder: if the Central Park Five could, would they trade that $40 million to go back in time, to April 19, 1989, and regain their innocence, their youth, and live the lives that they were meant to live?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The O. J. Simpson Trial and the Chewbacca Defense
Why are People Fascinated by Making a Murderer?
How Much Did O. J. Simpson Pay His Lawyers?

For further reading: Essentials of the Reid Technique (2nd Edition) by Fred Ibai, John Reid, Joseph Buckley, and Brian Jayne
An Expendable Man: the Near Execution of Earl Washington, Jr. by Margaret Edds
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/09/the-interview-7

https://people.howstuffworks.com/police-interrogation.htm
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reid_technique


The Black Hole and the Pale Blue Dot: the Humbling of Humanity

alex atkins bookshelf cultureOn April 10, 2019, the world was mesmerized by the spectacular first-ever photo of a black hole, providing the first visual evidence that black holes actually exist. The black hole is located at the center of the galaxy named Messier 87 (M87), about 55 million light-years from Earth. The black hole has a mass equal to 6.5 billion times that of the sun. The photo was the result of a ten-year collaboration of more than 200 researchers using a global network of eight radio telescopes, known as the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (EHT), to combine all their observations and data (5,000 trillion bytes over two weeks) in a supercomputer to create the virtual image. Shepard Doeleman, director of the EHT, proudly proclaimed: “We have seen what we thought was unseeable.” This is truly a remarkable, monumental photo. But there is another stunning photo that we should not forget…

Five years ago, Avery Broderick, a theoretical astrophysicist and a fellow member of the EHT, remarked that the first picture of a black hole could be just as important as a photo known as the “Pale Blue Dot.” That photo, taken almost 30 years ago has slipped from the public’s collective memory. But it shouldn’t — because that photo is a truly remarkable technical and astronomical achievement. Let’s take a trip back into time, going back 42 years ago…

Way back on September 5, 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched by NASA aboard a Titan IIIE rocket. The space probe was designed to study the outer solar system, flying by Jupiter, Saturn, and then flying through the heliosphere, and eventually into interstellar space. At a speed of about 38,027 mph, the intrepid Voyager 1 covered a distance of about 325 million miles per year. And remarkably — 37 years later — the spacecraft is still sending data to NASA (messages from more than 12 trillion miles away take about 17 hours to reach Earth). Back in 1990, astronomer Carl Sagan, who was a member of the Voyager’s imaging team, persuaded NASA to send commands to turn the spacecraft’s camera around to take one last photo of the Earth from the edge of the solar system (at a distance of about 3.7 billion miles away). The final image shows the Earth as a mere speck (less than 1 pixel) suspended in a brownish band of light, surrounded by the blackness of space.

The spectacular photo inspired Sagan to reflect eloquently on the significance of life on this tiny planet, a pale blue dot, dwarfed by the mind-boggling vastness of the cosmos: “From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

These two photos — the first-ever black hole of M87 and the Pale Blue Dot — could not be more different, occurring at such amazingly different chapters in the history of the world, but they are a singular and profound reminder of just how insignificant our existence is in the context of an infinite, ever-expanding cosmos. And as we ponder these photos, signifying our place in the universe, one cannot escape the overwhelming sense of humility that they elicit.

Read related posts: How Fast is the Earth Moving?
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?

For further reading: Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan, Ballantine Books (1997)
Cosmos by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ballantine Books (2013)
Universe by Robert Dinwiddle, Philip Eales, David Hughes, and Iain Nicolson, DK (2012)
http://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/magazine/how-do-you-take-a-picture-of-a-black-hole-with-a-telescope-as-big-as-the-earth.html
http://www.cnn.com/2019/04/10/world/black-hole-photo-scn/index.html

 


What is the Least Trusted Profession in America?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureSince 1976, Gallup has surveyed Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of the most common professions in America. et’s begin at the top of the list. For the past four decades, Americans have rated the following professions as the most honest and most ethical, and thus the most trusted: nurses, medical doctors, pharmacists, and high school teachers. In the most recent poll, conducted in early December 2018, respondents were asked: how would you rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields? The top five are:

Nurses: 84%
Medical Doctors: 67%
Pharmacists: 66%
High School Teachers: 60%
Police Officers: 54%

Now let’s direct our attention to the bottom of the list. Any guesses? Here’s a clue: recall the recent hearing of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s long-time personal attorney, before the Congressional House Oversight committee on February 27, 2019. Over several unbearable hours, the media presented viewers with a group of perfidious, sycophantic liars that interrogated a convicted liar about a pathological, narcissistic liar — a classic example of the kettle calling the pot calling um… another pot… black. The circus-like hearing (including obligatory animals, like elephants, donkeys, rats, as well as plenty of props and exhibits) was conducted against a backdrop of some rather silly posters (one read “liar, liar pants on fire”) punctuated by cringe-worthy behavior befitting unruly school-aged children: Pecksniffian fingerpointing, churlish name-calling, sanctimonious speeches, melodramatic tirades, mock indignation, shameless sniveling, and surly playground taunts. If you haven’t guessed it already, the least trusted profession in America are members of Congress. Americans consider members of Congress less ethical, and thus less trusted, than car salespeople and telemarketers. Ouch! Come to think of it, Holden Caulfield would have a field day with this gaggle of phonies.

Remember that age-old adage, “it takes one to know one”? That might explain why so many members of Congress aren’t troubled with the 8,158 verifiable false and misleading claims that President Trump has made since his inauguration (according to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker’s Database). Or why so many of them acquiesce so willingly to a capricious, vain President with despotic tendencies rather than do the job they were elected to do — namely, uphold and protect the Constitution, serve as a check on abuses of power, and passing legislation that serves the common good. But of course, these important tasks require intelligence –not to mention, an actual spine… Getting back to the last Gallup survey, the bottom five of the least trusted professions are:

Stockbrokers: 14%
Advertising Practitioners: 13%
Telemarketers: 9%
Car Salespeople: 8%
Members of Congress: 8%

The Gallup report makes two interesting notes about the shift of journalists (ranked at 33%) and priests (37%) in the context of recent world news: “Although journalists’ 33% very high/high rating is not outstanding relative to many of the other professions, it marks a 10-percentage-point increase from two years ago and now matches their record high, last recorded in 1977… While journalists have experienced a surge in positive ratings, the opposite is true for the clergy. Gallup has measured Americans’ views of the clergy’s honesty and ethics 34 times beginning in 1977, and this year’s 37% very high/high rating is the lowest to date. Although the overall average positive rating is 54%, it has consistently fallen below that level since 2009. The historical high of 67% occurred in 1985.”

Lets turn back the clock to 1952, when Ed and Patsy Bruce released their hit single, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies to Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Almost two decades later, the song was covered by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and once again the song climbed up the charts. Perhaps it is time to update that song to reflect the sentiments of the country; the revised title should be “Moms Don’t Let Your Kids Grow Up to be Congressmen.” Music to our ears…

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Read related posts: What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
What is the Barnum Effect?
What is the Pinocchio Effect?
There’s A Word for That: Trumpery
Words Related to Trump
What are the Most Common Lies on Social Media?
What is the Big Lie?

For further reading: https://news.gallup.com/poll/245597/nurses-again-outpace-professions-honesty-ethics.aspx
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/01/21/president-trump-made-false-or-misleading-claims-his-first-two-years/?utm_term=.5cb07338e97e
https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/waylonjennings/mammasdontletyourbabiesgrowuptobecowboys.html


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