Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Snow (Job) Day?

Not sure how much of DC will be shut down, so this next may or may not be postponed:

Here in the Boston exurbs, the weatherpersons are predicting somewhere between a foot and two feet of snow; I’m selfishly hoping the snow/sleet line doesn’t get this far north, because I’d rather move two feet of dry fluffy stuff than ten inches of frozen sludge…

Apart from March Snowmaggedon Madness (and you Left Coasters rolling your eyes), what’s on the agenda for the day?


And finally, happy news for us Washington Post subscribers — the Mad Bitcher is taking his talents elsewhere:

Late Night Comic Relief Open Thread: To… the Moon, and Beyond!

WASF Open Thread – Epidemiology Edition

They’re not rejecting science — they’re just raising questions! Because terrible tragedies — like having an autistic child — shouldn’t happen to nice people! In our complicated world, how can we know what’s true, and what’s spin?

I’m old enough to remember when the Romanovs were regarded as a couple of under-educated inbreds for letting a plainly demented charlatan take effective control over their government, not that one would expect any better from a regime where a tiny group of oligarchs ruled the teeming mass of serfs via a combination of hereditary religious bigotry and a militarized state police…

Open Thread: March for Science

I don’t know if you are aware that scientists are rallying to march in many cities in April.

Here is the list.

One awesome little guy is setting up a bow tie stand for the march.:

This St. Louis 6-year-old is collecting bow ties for science

Isaac Stork, a big fan of bow tie-wearing Bill Nye the Science Guy, will set up a bow tie stand at the upcoming March for Science. All proceeds will benefit The Planetary Society.

Open Thread: Rep. Cummings Is Having None of This Trumpian ‘Gag Order’ BS

May his shadow never grow less! Politico:

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is encouraging federal employees to reach out to Congress if they are alarmed by the Trump administration’s policies.

“I want to make sure all of those federal employees who have anything they want to say to Congress, because there is some confusion as to whether they can talk to us, I’m telling you the law protects you and I will do every single thing in my power to make sure you’re protected,” the Maryland Democrat said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday. “Call me. I want to talk to you.”…

Reports that employees at several agencies, including the EPA, were asked to limit their public communications have riled members of Congress, especially Democrats, who hope to play an oversight role during the Trump administration.

Amid a public outcry, several federal agencies, including the Agriculture Department, have backtracked on their restrictions this week.

My emphasis. Rep. Cummings, as well as continuing to stand up for the best of the American ideal, would seem to be putting his committee fellows — especially the Repubs, some of the noisiest deplorables in the GOP basket — on notice. More power to him!

What else is on the agenda for the evening?

Long Read: “Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich”

Citizen Thiel has a cunning plan for his escape pod! And the NZ whale-wranglers and hobbit-handlers find him as simultaneously risible and unsettling as the rest of us!


I went to a parochial school in the Bronx back when the Duck’n’Cover security theater plans were first proposed to a skeptical American public. Despite their near-veneration of President Kennedy, the nuns who taught us had no faith in such drills. When we second- and third-graders asked about the CDC commercials we’d seen on our black-and-white tvs the night before, the Dominicans told us the greater NYC area was so vital a target that, should the Godless Commies ever lose their fear of America’s military majesty, we’d be dead by the time the sirens went off. Ergo, our best doomsday prep was to preserve our immortal souls in a state of constant purity, vigilant against all temptations, so that if Satan’s Kremlin minions should temporarily gain the upper hand our time in purgatory would be minimized.

Between those nuns, and the spate of fine post-apocalyptic fiction ranging from Earth Abides and Shadow on the Hearth to The Day After, I’ve never been able to find much consolation in the concept of ‘doomsday prepping’. But it’s always interesting (often entertaining) to see how other people have invested their hopes.

Evan Osnos, in the New Yorker, on “the wealthiest people in America—in Silicon Valley, New York, and beyond— getting ready for the crackup of civilization”:

Steve Huffman, the thirty-three-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, which is valued at six hundred million dollars, was nearsighted until November, 2015, when he arranged to have laser eye surgery. He underwent the procedure not for the sake of convenience or appearance but, rather, for a reason he doesn’t usually talk much about: he hopes that it will improve his odds of surviving a disaster, whether natural or man-made. “If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he told me recently. “Without them, I’m fucked.”…

Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of “Chaos Monkeys,” an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.” Once he started telling peers in the Bay Area about his “little island project,” they came “out of the woodwork” to describe their own preparations, he said. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”

In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. One member, the head of an investment firm, told me, “I keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and I have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.” He said that his preparations probably put him at the “extreme” end among his peers. But he added, “A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”

Tim Chang, a forty-four-year-old managing director at Mayfield Fund, a venture-capital firm, told me, “There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens.” He said, “I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate to generate passive income but also to have havens to go to.” He and his wife, who is in technology, keep a set of bags packed for themselves and their four-year-old daughter. He told me, “I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”…

Such behavior is not, IMO, much different from that of medieval barons building churches in the name of their patron saints — a measured monetary gamble in hopes of ensuring one’s survival, worst came to worst (and the ‘worst’ was always so imminent, whether as three bad winters in a row or another outbreak of civil war). We are nowhere near the level of such daily physical jeopardy, but we have so much more stuff to protect… and so many more ways to terrorize ourselves with new information!

Huffman has been a frequent attendee at Burning Man, the annual, clothing-optional festival in the Nevada desert, where artists mingle with moguls. He fell in love with one of its core principles, “radical self-reliance,” which he takes to mean “happy to help others, but not wanting to require others.” (Among survivalists, or “preppers,” as some call themselves, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stands for “Foolishly Expecting Meaningful Aid.”) Huffman has calculated that, in the event of a disaster, he would seek out some form of community: “Being around other people is a good thing. I also have this somewhat egotistical view that I’m a pretty good leader. I will probably be in charge, or at least not a slave, when push comes to shove.”…

In building Reddit, a community of thousands of discussion threads, into one of the most frequently visited sites in the world, Huffman has grown aware of the way that technology alters our relations with one another, for better and for worse. He has witnessed how social media can magnify public fear. “It’s easier for people to panic when they’re together,” he said, pointing out that “the Internet has made it easier for people to be together,” yet it also alerts people to emerging risks. Long before the financial crisis became front-page news, early signs appeared in user comments on Reddit. “People were starting to whisper about mortgages. They were worried about student debt. They were worried about debt in general. There was a lot of, ‘This is too good to be true. This doesn’t smell right.’ ” He added, “There’s probably some false positives in there as well, but, in general, I think we’re a pretty good gauge of public sentiment. When we’re talking about a faith-based collapse, you’re going to start to see the chips in the foundation on social media first.”…

… One measure of survivalism’s spread is that some people are starting to speak out against it. Max Levchin, a founder of PayPal and of Affirm, a lending startup, told me, “It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike—the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it’s our own failure, must be spared.”

To Levchin, prepping for survival is a moral miscalculation; he prefers to “shut down party conversations” on the topic. “I typically ask people, ‘So you’re worried about the pitchforks. How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?’ This connects the most, in my mind, to the realities of the income gap. All the other forms of fear that people bring up are artificial.” In his view, this is the time to invest in solutions, not escape. “At the moment, we’re actually at a relatively benign point of the economy. When the economy heads south, you will have a bunch of people that are in really bad shape. What do we expect then?”…

Read more

Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Interesting Times

As the expression goes: Not the Onion.

We are working to schedule a March for Science on DC and across the United States. We have not settled on a date yet but will do so as quickly as possible and announce it here.

Although this will start with a march, we hope to use this as a starting point to take a stand for science in politics. Slashing funding and restricting scientists from communicating their findings (from tax-funded research!) with the public is absurd and cannot be allowed to stand as policy. This is a non-partisan issue that reaches far beyond people in the STEM fields and should concern anyone who believes in empirical research and science.

There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world…

Much depends on the Parks Service calendar, of course… Be nice to have it on Pi Day, March 14th, but many people can only take the time on a weekend. March 12th is the start of Daylight Savings Time… Spring forward!

Maybe they can use this as an anthem:

(The official video is awesome, also too.)