My dear friend Suzanne took the above photograph during one of our visits. Perspective makes the grass look almost as tall as me -but it’s waist-high at best, possibly shorter. I was completely entranced by the mountain, so I didn’t notice the exact height. But I’d probably remember slogging through something trying to poke me in the eyeballs. And, of course, the volcano towers over us all, even though it’s off in the distance up and across the broad valley.
This chapter has a lot of child abuse. So I’m going to put this right up front:
Content Note for severe physical abuse of a child.
In the Jessop household, showing any degree of spine to Barbara results in punishment. She thrives on it. So when all her sister wives do their best to keep things calm and peaceful after Merril’s heart attack, it’s only a few weeks before she escalates to get a rise out of them. She incites the children of the household to act up in hopes of provoking the wives to attack them, just so she’ll have a reason to discipline them. Carolyn’s turn comes when she calls some of the girls out for gossiping about a girl at their school who is being bullied. She snaps at them, calling them hypocrites for pretending to be shocked, considering the way they treat the wives.
April is Autism Awareness Month. The first thing you need to be aware of is that organizations like Autism Speaks aren’t helping autistic people. They’re harming them. We’ll get to that in a minute. First, I’d like to make you aware of some things.
Note I say I am autistic. Not “I have autism.” Nor “I am a person with autism.” That’s because it’s not a disease or a disability (except insofar as the world isn’t built to accommodate autistic people). It’s the way my brain processes the world. Those personality quirks that make me the unique me that I am? The vast majority come from me being autistic AF.
I don’t want to be cured. I like my autistic self just fine, thank you. So when you say you want to find a cure for autism, it sounds an awful lot like you’re saying you want to erase me and my autistic friends.
That last one’s pretty shocking, right? I mean, we all hear about how horrible and disabling autism is. Pitiable parents appear on television, blogs, and in glossy magazine articles talking about how their bright and beautiful babies suddenly became aloof aliens. No eye contact, no hugs, no words, no love! Meltdowns! Delays! My kid is a lemon and I want my money back! Oh, and it was probably because of vaccines. My abnormal psych book had a whole section devoted to how you could only maybe rescue an autistic kid from a life of certain complete dysfunction and probable institutionalization by devoting yourself full-time to rescuing them. Otherwise, they’d spend all their lives unable to even wipe themselves after taking a shit.
Who wouldn’t want a cure for that terrible disease?
(PS: I assumed I wasn’t autistic for over 40 years because my life wasn’t the empathy-devoid wasteland these folks assured me it should be.)
Only it’s not as bad as all that.
Autistic brains just process things differently from non-autistic brains. A good number of our “disabilities” aren’t so disabling once people make allowances for that fact. Like, if you don’t insist on us making eye contact all the time, we can connect and converse just fine. If you let us do our stims, we won’t melt down so much. If you listen to us, we can tell you just what we need to thrive.
You can even listen to those of us who can’t speak. Technology allows that to happen. Just because a person can’t speak doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty to say.
Content note for antisemitism, Trump, eliminationist rhetoric.
Once Hitler realized he’d need to dial back the antisemitic rhetoric in order win power, he began glorifying the Volk and calling Germans to unify instead. But of course Jews were not part of that Volk. He’d perfected the art of the dog whistle. Even a Jewish woman who went to one of his rallies heard “nothing even against the Jews.”
But, like Trump, Hitler managed to speak for hours without saying much of anything at all. She could have been describing a Trump rally: “[He] put up sham accusations, only to refute them, used slogans by the hour, and said nothing else than praise of himself…” Yet his admirers ate it all up. It’s so similar to Trump and his fans it’s terrifying.
Many people tried to wave away Hitler’s antisemitism, just like many people today try to pretend Trump and the Republicans aren’t bigoted scumlords. But a quick glance at either party’s platform quickly reveals the truth. The proof is in the planks. When your planks consist of racist, bigoted bullshit, your protestations that you’re not a bigoted racist can only be believed by those who need to pretend they’re not with you because of your most vile beliefs.
One particular Nazi Party Program Plank is horribly similar to things Trump is doing to our own Muslim immigrants: “‘non-Germans’ who had immigrated after 1914 would be expelled from Germany.”
And, like Hitler, Trump is leaving open racism to his surrogates while he proclaims himself to be the least racist person on the planet. Folks: When someone supports racist party planks and appoints virulent racists to high positions, that person is a fucking racist. The mask will come off the second he’s deceived enough of you so that he no longer needs it. Believe his actions, not his words.
The smaller commonalities between Trump and Hitler are also jarring. Both used the third person to refer to themselves, for instance. Both unsuccessfully ran for election before winning power. Both have a taste for grandiosity.
And both tenuously rose to power on a wave of hate. We’ll be analyzing that next.
We’re studying The Nazi Conscience as a way to prepare for what’s happening now. If you want to read along, you can pick up an inexpensive used copy at Amazon. Buying through that link also supports my blogging, so thank you!
In light of Shaq claiming the earth is flat, I figured it was time to publish this article here. Is it always a bad idea to make a wager with a flat earther? Cuz I’d love to bet Shaq that a high-altitude flight would prove the earth’s quite round.
The next matter was a much more serious one, and cost me fifteen years of continued worry, litigation, and persecution, with the final loss of several hundred pounds. And it was all brought upon me by my own ignorance and my own fault—ignorance of the fact so well shown by the late Professor de Morgan—that “paradoxers,” as he termed them, can never be convinced, and my fault in wishing to get money by any kind of wager. It constitutes, therefore, the most regrettable incident in my life.
Sir Charles Lyell, father of modern geology, shared Wallace’s ignorance. They may have steered a much different course had they known the history of the men they hoped to defeat.
19th century Britain was one of the epicenters of the scientific revolution. But with progress comes pushback. Alarmed believers strove to shore up the Bible’s authority, some going much further than others. Not many of them went to greater extremes than Samuel Birley Rowbotham.
Known as Parallax, he was a Biblical literalist, young earth creationist, and quack who believed in a flat, disc-shaped Earth. The North Pole stood at its center, and that was it; in his cosmology, there was no such beast as a South Pole. He backed his contentions with bad math, bogus experiments, and Bible verses. He revived the ancient flat-earth idea and gave it a modern patina of “science,” then used the result to stir up controversy for cash.
One of his many popular lectures on the subject converted William Carpenter, who loved the idea more for its poke in the eye it gave to the scientific establishment than for reasons of biblical fealty. Determined to rid the world of round-earth ideas, he wrote a scathing book called Theoretical Astronomy Examined and Exposed under the (mis)nom(er) de plume Common Sense.
This book soon came to the attention of the man who was to vex Alfred Russel Wallace so sorely. John Hampden, a Protestant rector’s son and all-round arch-conservative, had plenty of leisure time for engaging in argument. His father had left him independently wealthy, although, perhaps suspecting his eldest son would prove prone to causing controversy, stipulated in his will that John would be reduced to a meager £50 per year if he ever did anything to sully the venerable name of Hampden.
John Hampden wasted little time doing just that. After dropping out of Oxford, he occupied himself by publishing various tracts demanding that the Church of England be reformed “on strict Protestant lines.” A staunch biblical literalist “bent on defending Genesis to the hilt,” he was ripe pickings for Carpenter’s flat-earth crusade. Upon reading Theoretical Astronomy, he became convinced the earth was flat, and he had the Bible verses to prove it. Putting his tract-making skills to work, he quickly produced pamphlets such as The Popularity of Error and the Unpopularity of Truth: Shewing the World to be a Stationary Plane and Not a Revolving Globe, purporting to prove the pancake-osity of the planet.
This was the era of steam-powered printing presses and vastly expanding public interest in science, fed by vigorous journalism – a veritable Information Age rather like our own. Like our modern creationists, John Hampden looked on in horror as the masses slurped up all the science they could hold, including the round-earth heresy. He made it his mission to eradicate such ideas from the public consciousness, even when his bombastic techniques horrified his flat-earth grandfather Parallax. Sounding like the Borg of Hampden, he declared that spherical earth theories had to go: “All further resistance is useless.”
And he was willing to wager his money on it.
On January 12th, 1870, Hampden threw down his gauntlet in the weekly journal Scientific Opinion.
What is to be said of the pretended philosophy of the 19th century, when not one educated man in ten thousand knows the shape of the earth on which he dwells? Why, it must be a huge sham! The undersigned is willing to deposit from £50 to £500, on reciprocal terms, and defies all the philosophers, divines and scientific professors in the United Kingdom to prove the rotundity and revolution of the world from Scripture, from reason, or from fact. He will acknowledge that he has forfeited his deposit, if his opponent can exhibit, to the satisfaction of any intelligent referee, a convex railway, river, canal, or lake. JOHN HAMPDEN
Alfred Russel Wallace saw the ad. Though it must have seemed like the easiest of easy money, he was cautious, and consulted a man whom he held in the highest esteem.
Before accepting this challenge I showed it to Sir Charles Lyell, and asked him whether he thought I might accept it. He replied, “Certainly. It may stop these foolish people to have it plainly shown them.”
Poor Wallace, like Lyell, thought that Hampden only needed to be shown some proof in order to accept the plain fact that the earth is round. He knew nothing of Hampden and his ilk, or he may never have accepted the wager. But in addition to wanting to win a cool £500, he believed “that a practical demonstration would be more convincing than the ridicule with which such views are usually met.” He was about to find out that practical demonstrations have absolutely no effect on these truest of true believers.
The first signs that Hampden was determined to win by crook if he couldn’t manage a victory by hook came when Wallace wrote in response to his advertisement, graciously accepting the challenge. Wallace offered to prove the earth’s curvature by measuring “the convexity of a canal or lake.” As for where this was to be done, he was amenable to any suitable stretch of water. “A canal will do if you can find one which is nearly straight for four miles without locks; if not, I propose Bala Lake, in North Wales, as a place admirably suited for the experiment.” He thought any of the editors of several popular science or sporting journals could would be suitably unbiased referees; if not them, then perhaps “any well known Land Surveyor, or Civil Engineer, or any Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.”
Hampden at first seemed quite above-board about the thing, agreeing that Mr. John Henry Walsh, editor of the Field magazine, should serve as referee. Walsh was an ideal choice, as he knew neither of them, was a non-scientist with no skin in the globe-vs-flat-earth game, and had prior experience deciding wagers. But shortly after funds were placed in Walsh’s hands to guarantee the wager, Hampden demanded a referee of his own.
Wallace didn’t see a problem with this, writing back:
Your wish to have a second referee is quite reasonable, and I accede to it at once, only stipulating that he shall not be a personal acquaintance of your own, and shall be a man in some public position as Editor, Author, Engineer, &c.
Hampden, having no scruples in his crusade to prove the earth flat like he was certain the Bible proved, wasted no time in choosing William Carpenter. Yes, that William Carpenter. The one who had converted him to flat-eartherism, with whom he was monetarily entangled, and who could only just be called an author. Having thus secured a referee biased wholly in his favor, Hampden proposed a straight six-mile stretch on Old Bedford Canal for the location of the experiment.
Wallace didn’t know that this same stretch had already been used by Parallax in his own attempts to prove the earth flat – which feat he’d managed by holding his telescope a mere eight inches above the water, thus allowing refraction to interfere with his measurements and give the impression that he was sighting along an utterly flat stretch of water resting on a flat earth. It was a classic example of a poorly-designed experiment yielding invalid results. Hampden was loading the dice as much as he could manage.
So that was how Alfred Russel Wallace, venerable naturalist and science legend, ended up that March on a cold canal in Norfolk, England, squinting through telescopes in a valiant but vain effort to prove the shape of the earth to committed creationists. Since Walsh couldn’t be there for the whole week of experiments, a surgeon and amateur astronomer named Mr. Martin Wales Bedell Coulcher acted as Wallace’s referee. All the interested parties watched Wallace’s painstaking experiment, which had been designed to correct for refraction.
The iron parapet of Welney bridge was thirteen feet three inches above the water of the canal. The Old Bedford bridge, about six miles off, was of brick and somewhat higher. On this bridge I fixed a large sheet of white calico, six feet long and three feet deep, with a thick black band along the centre, the lower edge of which was the same height from the water as the parapet of Welney bridge; so that the centre of it would be as high as the line of sight of the large six-inch telescope I had brought with me. At the centre point, about three miles from each bridge, I fixed up a long pole with two red discs on it, the upper one having its centre the same height above the water as the centre of the black band and of the telescope, while the second disc was four feet lower down. It is evident that if the surface of the water is a perfectly straight line for the six miles, then the three objects—the telescope, the top disc, and the black band—being all exactly the same height above the water, the disc would be seen in the telescope projected upon the black band; whereas, if the six-mile surface of the water is convexly curved, then the top disc would appear to be decidedly higher than the black band, the amount due to the known size of the earth being five feet eight inches, which amount will be reduced a little by refraction to perhaps about five feet.
This experiment showed curvature, as it could not fail to do. Hampden’s mentor and referee Carpenter signed the sketch of the results produced by Mr. Coulcher, affirming it indeed showed what they both had seen.
However, he declared those results were unable to prove the earth was a globe “because the telescope was not leveled, and because it had no cross-hair!”
Wallace, being at pains to ensure that there would be no doubt about the results, proceeded to recalibrate the experiment to Carpenter’s specifications, and ran it again.
At his request to have a spirit-level in order to show if there was any “fall” of the surface of water, I had been to King’s Lynn and borrowed a good Troughton’s level from a surveyor there. This I now set up on the bridge at exactly the same height above the water as the other telescope, and having levelled it very accurately and called Mr. Carpenter to see that the bubble was truly central and that the least movement of the screws elevating or depressing it would cause the bubble to move away, I adjusted the focus on to the distant bridge, and showing also the central staff and its two discs…. We then fixed a calico flag on the parapet to make it more visible, and drove back with the instruments to Old Bedford bridge, where I set up the level again at the proper height above the water, and again asked both the referees to make sketches of what was seen in the level-telescope. This they did. Mr. Carpenter’s was rather more accurately drawn, and Mr. Coulcher signed them as being correct, and both are reproduced here.
This new setup showed the same thing as the first: the earth was indubitably curved. No reasonable person could doubt it. Alas, Wallace was not dealing with reasonable persons. They responded in true creationist fashion: by completely refusing to deal with reality.
Mr. Hampden declined to look through either telescope, saying he trusted to Mr. Carpenter; while the latter declared positively that they had won, and that we knew it; that the fact that the distant signal appeared below the middle one as far as the middle one did below the cross-hair, proved that the three were in a straight line, and that the earth was flat, and he rejected the view in the large telescope as proving nothing for the reasons already stated.
They were at an impasse. At first, Hampden refused an umpire to decide between the referees. Eventually, he agreed to have Walsh review the results, and both sides sent in sketches and reports. Walsh weighed the evidence, decided it did indeed prove the earth was spherical, and published both materials and his conclusion in the Field.
Hampden threw a fit. Carpenter wrote “a long argument to show that the experiments were all in Mr. Hampden’s favour.” This diatribe didn’t sway Walsh. He declared Wallace the positive winner, and, despite Hampden demanding his money back, gave the winnings to Wallace.
Unfortunately, British law didn’t protect gentlemen’s interests when it came to bets, even if the wager was strictly along scientific lines, and would eventually force Wallace to give the money back. Of course, by then, that amount was offset by the judgements entered in Wallace’s favor against Hampden, who had embarked on an extraordinary 15-year campaign of abuse and libel that landed him in both jail and court several times. He sent vitriolic letters to everyone he could think of, including Wallace’s wife:
“Mrs. Wallace,—Madam, if your infernal thief of a husband is brought home some day on a hurdle, with every bone in his head smashed to pulp, you will know the reason. Do you tell him from me he is a lying infernal thief, and as sure as his name is Wallace he never dies in his bed.
“You must be a miserable wretch to be obliged to live with a convicted felon. Do not think or let him think I have done with him.
Death threats were beyond the pale of English law, as were various and sundry libelous statements and a refusal to desist when court-ordered to. Wallace won several actions, but Hampden declared bankruptcy, probably to prevent him from collecting damages. In the end, with all the court costs, and despite being the wronged party throughout it all, Wallace’s woeful wager cost him several hundred pounds and no end of trouble.
Still, he’d done his best to, as Lyell said, “stop these foolish people.” He’d learned a valuable lesson we would be wise to heed today: don’t accept wagers from men who are religiously motivated to believe in easily-disproved notions such as the idea of a flat earth. And he’d shown with an elegant little experiment that the earth is definitely round, which our images from space gorgeously support.
Over at Rosetta Stones, I’ve got an article up talking about phreatic eruptions and the recent excitement on Etna. I of course had to have a photo to go with it. The glorious problem in selecting said photo is that I run across so many awesome photos that don’t really illustrate the article, but are too good not to share. So it’s my great pleasure to share them with you here. And stay tuned at the end for some awesome video footage of phreatic eruptions and what happens when people get caught in them!
Things have been rather eventful round the Hunter household. I’ve been interviewing all week for a job at a company one of my hardest-to-please friends utterly adores working for. Turns out they’re considering me for at least two positions, so now it’s just a matter of which department makes the better offer. It’ll be tough for a while: it’s full time, and it’s in Redmond, which is a hell of a commute from here. But B and I can move closer after we’ve both been employed for a couple of months, so that’s not a long-term problem.
Seeing as how I look to be getting back into the handsomely compensated portion of the workforce, and considering C has been so inconsiderate as to have her kitties move in with her instead of letting them stay with us,* and furthermore taking into account the fact that everyone in the household was suffering from a distinct lack of feline companionship due to the fact Misha only hangs out with me, I decided we were going to get another cat soon. So B and I headed out on Thursday to have a preliminary look at adoptable kitties. Continue reading “Kitty Time! Meet Sakura no Hana”→
Content note for antisemitism, Trump, eliminationist rhetoric.
Hitler managed to persuade a German court to hand him a mild 5-year sentence for treason, rather than deporting him or imprisoning him for life. But he’d had to tone down his bigotry for the courts, and his followers were upset.
They needn’t have worried.
Hitler, once his future was secure, was more than happy to return to spouting his poisonous antisemitism. He assured them that his earlier ideas about the Jews were, if anything, “too mild.” He cast the conflict between Jews and Germans as “a question of life and death.” He turned his attention toward spewing venom to Rudolph Hess, who compiled his ravings into the book that would become Mein Kampf. He amped up his exterminationist rhetoric, describing Jews as parasites, freeloaders, “a dangerous bacillus,” maggots, and poisoners. He called for their extermination.
So, remember: if a Nazi or other bigot dials back their rhetoric in the face of legal trouble or social sanctions, don’t trust their change of heart until it’s backed up by subsequent, sustained actions. Watch for them to return to and possibly intensify their previous hateful speech and actions. Once the coast is relatively clear, they will revert to their true selves.
Hitler spent a mere ten months in prison, and once he was released, he set about unifying his followers before reaching out for new ones. He’d learned how to dog whistle. Because more educated people wouldn’t respond as favorably to overt bigotry, and because fomenting hate and violence could get him silenced or deported, he resorted to a more veiled antisemitism. He would speak about “one single enemy.” He used racist humor and metaphors. Continue reading “Part 3: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 2: The Politics of Virtue”→
People. You have to meet these geoscientists! They are awesome. Their work is fascinating. And they are ensuring that we have a whole new generation of kids who will adore the good science of rock-breaking.