Review: The Way We Die Now

The Way We Die Now is not the best book I’ve read this year but it may be the most important. In Seamus O’Mahony’s opinion, modern society has forgotten how to deal with death. There are many reasons for this, the collapse of religious belief, the demolition of the extended family, the triumph of the scientific and rational worldview, even our delusions of curing death “real soon now” contribute to our collective denial. Yet death persists. Death remains absolute, sovereign, implacable, terrifying, “majestic and cruel.” Even if we realize our singularity fantasies and greatly extend life death will never be banished. Even the gods die! We must face death, but must we turn it into a carnival of “medical excess?”

I have seen medical excess. My mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Glioblastoma: a form of brain cancer that is so deadly it’s been nicknamed the terminator. Actually, the terminator is flattered by the comparison. Some survived their encounter with fictional terminators. Nobody survives stage IV Glioblastoma: “there is no stage V.” When I heard mom’s diagnosis I looked for actuarial survival statistics. Credible statistics for common fatal diseases are harder to track down than you might expect. I eventually found a paper that cast survival times in a useful form. Median survival was less than three months for younger and healthier patients than my mother. She died about two months after her diagnosis – right on statistical schedule. The universe does not make personal exemptions.

Her death was inevitable, but the expensive, futile, painful and isolating medical gauntlet she endured was not. She just wanted to go home, perhaps to “turn her head to the wall,” perhaps to binge on The Big Bang Theory – she still enjoyed a few silly shows. It doesn’t matter what the dying choose to do with their remaining hours, but it sure as hell matters that we honor their choices and the Way We Die Now makes a compelling case that we are failing “to be brave.” I know I acquiesced to the medial default for my mother; I still feel I should have fought harder for what she wanted.

According to O’Mahony, the medical default is full intervention even when it’s pointless and wasteful. He also notes that doctors are in a no-win situation. If they suggest doing nothing they’re accused of euthanizing patients. If they go full interventionist Rambo they’re inflicting needless suffering and profiting from the dying. Both extremes often end up in court, as if we could fix death with more litigation. Obviously, something in the middle is the best course and O’Mahony argues that doctors should not set the middle course.

Our infantile society needs to grow up and face death like adults. Nothing makes our magical thinking about death clearer than Somerset Maugham’s1 observations about a “dog’s death.” Maugham hoped he was lucky enough to die a dog’s death! A dog’s death is meant to be a horrible thing but is it really worse than human medical excess? When it comes to sick animals we are clear-headed and compassionate. We don’t subject them to futile treatments, we make them comfortable and take away their pain. I once had a cat that came down with pancreatitis. She wasted away on the top of our fridge until one day we took her to the vet. Her death was calm and without terror. My cat had a better death than my mother. I suspect many pets die with greater dignity than their owners. This is fundamentally wrong and we all know it.

There are no easy answers; it sucks to be mortal. We can’t say until we face it ourselves how we should die so how can we dictate to others? I only hope that when my time comes I have it within me to follow the one bit of advice O’Mahony offers that may apply to all us – “be brave.’


  1. The Way We Die Now relates many stories about “celebrity” deaths.

The Mass Kill as Performance Art

It’s been almost a week since the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay massacre and the idiot media is still looking for “a motive.” They remind me of O.J.’s fruitless search for the “real killer.” I don’t watch the alphabets, except when trapped in airports or, with increasing annoyance, in my employer’s cafeteria so I’ve missed days of mindless speculation but my limited TV sampling confirms what’s easily gleaned from more efficient news sources. The killers “motive” is still unknown and the authorities are still looking.

In all the blather about the mysterious highly organized and thoughtful killer, it’s never occurred to anyone (on TV anyway), that the lack of an apparent motive is exactly what the killer hoped to achieve.

Consider the usual mass media slaughter script. An individual, or group of individuals, attack and murder a sufficiently1 large number of “innocents.”

If, as is often the case, the attackers are well-known terrorists they will typically gloat and issue more threats. Public threats trigger the idiot media’s “analysis.”

If the terrorists are Jihadis the idiot media will downplay the attack while issuing stern warnings about not jumping to racist conclusions about an “entire religion.” Then, when forced by competing news organizations like Fox or right-leaning bloggers, they will join the fray and condemn the killers while searching for a way to blame Trump.

If the killer is black and the victims are black — well this isn’t news! Press the ignore button and complain about anything that can be plausibly blamed on Trump. And, fortunately for the idiot media, that well will never run dry.

If the killer is white and the victims are mostly white (bingo for Las Vegas), spend a day or two glorifying the murderer. Review his2 typically pathetic and meaningless life while running candlelight vigils, peace garden plantings, and out-of-tune Kumbaya-a-thons in the background. In more sober moments touch on the known motive” for the mayhem. Tut-tut the violence, reassure moronic viewers that violence is never the answer. Play a few bars of Imagine then, when appropriate mourning turns to anger, use the “known motive” to pivot to what the idiot media wanted to talk about from the beginning: gun confiscation.3

The sooner the idiot media can get “the motive” out of the way the sooner they can get down to one of their favorite topics. Sadly, the Vegas killer, being an intelligent and detail oriented psychopath, anticipated this and left no clear motive forcing the idiot media to fixate, like a dog licking its ass, on “the motive” for day, after day, after day. Every day spent discussing “the motive” inflates the killer’s infamy. He’s already the most famous mass killer in recent history.

Real villainy requires incomprehensible dread and clear motives eliminate dread. When Jihadis kill it’s no big deal. Their sky fairy manual exhorts true believers to behead, enslave and tax infidels. It’s hard to imagine a violence-free way to realize such goals. When black hating psychopaths open fire in churches the idiot media have ready-made dread dispelling explanations. If you can quickly explain an atrocity it almost ceases being atrocious. But, if the horror can never be explained, if it sticks in your existential craw, it remains a source of terror forever. This is what the killer was really aiming for.

I view the Las Vegas massacre as deadly performance art. The killer has more in common with “artists” that drop their pants in public and pee on crucifixes than cause-driven revolutionaries or garden variety psychopaths. What exactly motivates public “performance” crucifix urination? To even ask the question is to mock it. For one deadly night the Vegas killer staged a performance that upstaged all the other Vegas shows and unlike another showing of Cirque du Soleil or Menopause the Musical his performance will be remembered forever. The mass kill is a new art form and the idiot media is its biggest patron.


  1. Sufficiently large is an ever-increasing natural number that is now greater than ten.
  2. The overwhelming majority of mass killers are male.
  3. It’s impossible to have an intelligent debate about guns in the US is because neither side is willing to discuss their ultimate goals or take responsibility for their positions. Gun controllers secretly want the second amendment appealed and all existing guns confiscated. Nothing else will satisfy them. They naively think an unarmed society will never be abused by the state. Gun holders often point out that the second amendment was never about creating a safe and secure society but about erecting deadly barriers to government tyranny. Unfortunately, they’re unwilling to admit that a heavily armed populace will result in large numbers of firearm deaths. US gun deaths are an order of magnitude greater than comparable western societies: that tree of liberty is more bloodthirsty than expected.

EquiFucked

If you have the misfortune of dealing with US Fuckancial orifice Insertions (Financial Institutions) you’ve probably heard of the Equifax hack. Equifax is one of three large companies in the US that collect, without your explicit approval, personal credit information to compute credit scores. Your credit score is a single number that allegedly measures how likely you are to pay back loans. Credit scores are no longer used just for assessing creditworthiness. They’ve slowly become proxies for literacy, intelligence, and honesty.  In today’s USA, it is illegal in many states to test a job applicant’s literacy or IQ.  In others, you cannot ask if they have a criminal record. Fortunately, for HR drones everywhere, there are no laws barring credit score enquiries. Oh sure, you can refuse to allow a potential employer to look up your score but if you want the damn job you’re more or less forced to bend over and enjoy a scoring.

I first met credit scores in the 1990s. After two decades of living in Canada, I returned to the US for a job. In the early 1990s few companies requested credit scores on job applications but if you tried to rent an apartment the first thing they asked for was a credit score. I didn’t have one at the time and this turned out to be a major problem. I calmly explained that I had lived outside the US for my entire working life and had never taken out a US loan, used a US credit card, or secured US credit of any form. I was an alien freak, possibly dangerous, and certainly, someone to be wary of.

My situation wasn’t unique. In the 1990s large numbers of American immigrants, both legal and illegal didn’t have credit scores but, how can I delicately phrase this, their predominantly dusky hues forestalled aggressive credit score seeking by lawsuit averse bottom feeders. My hue didn’t help. My status as an educated, articulate, white guy without a credit score was an unfathomable anomaly to the simpletons that process apartment applications. I eventually straightened this out but I had to get a letter from my employer that disclosed my salary and, even then, the simpletons had to phone my employer’s HR department to make sure I wasn’t trying to soil a sacred one bedroom dump with my unscored person. The entire episode pissed me off.

Who allowed large, clearly inept, credit agencies to collect detailed personal information on pretty much every person in the US? Even worse, what bit of arcane intellectual property law, gives credit agencies the right to apply, “proprietary” – meaning opaque undisclosed bullshit – algorithms to their pilfered information to compute an index that nobody outside the agencies can vet for accuracy or relevance?  Finally, who continues to tolerate their criminally negligent handling of sensitive data? I would be willing to bet big bucks that the EquiFucks didn’t even encrypt the data that was hacked.  I work with corporate databases and you would be surprised at how often things like Social Security Numbers are stored in plaintext. Meaning any disgruntled ITer, and there are a lot of bitter disgruntled ITers, could easily replicate the Equifax hack.

The EquiFucks know they are in deep dodo. Three company executives conveniently unloaded company stock after discovering, but before disclosing the hack, and today the CEO “voluntarily retired.” I know it looks like they’re pulling the ripcords on their golden parachutes but I’m sure it’s all as innocent and kosher as unleavened bread. The EquiFuck is so bad that the traditional stern admonishment to never do it again followed by sizeable donations to political accomplices probably won’t cut it this time. I better see some perps in prison.

Sending EquiFucks to prison, while gratifying – their agony will be delicious – won’t fix the real problem which is the collection of immutable identifiers like Social Security Numbers. I’ve raged about the idiocy of Social Security Numbers before and until we move to a proper private and public key based identification system EquiFucks will just keep happening.  I could care less if the EquiFucks of the world store my public key. Without my private key, which I, and only I know,  it cannot be used to find shit. Of course, this will destroy the business model of financial predators like credit score companies but, paraphrasing Mao, you’ve got a break a few eggs now and then.

Don’t be a Weenie Launch Cassini

Future generations will remember Bill Clinton for two things, not having sex with that woman and authorizing the launch of Cassini. I was working in Dallas Texas in the months before Cassini’s launch. It was 1997 and the Internet was just beginning to disrupt everyday life. Google was morphing from a thesis to a company and abominations like Facebook, Twitter and smartphones were years away. It was a time of CD-ROM games, 56K dial-up modems, bulletin boards, hand crafted HTML websites, and Netscape Navigator.  Even in its primitive state the Internet already exhibited many of the things I value and detest about it today. Two events made this abundantly clear. The inane shenanigans that preceded Cassini’s launch and the death of Carl Sagan.

I had a few beefs with Sagan. Like all science popularizers he often dumbed things down to misleading levels and, like most western academics, he was naive about vicious authoritarian regimes. In Sagan’s mind, a handful of exemplary Soviet scientists went a long way toward excusing the Gulag and purges. I overlooked his good-natured naivety. It was, and still is, a common delusion. Many intelligent people fall victim to the belief that their superior accomplishments endow them with universal wisdom. This is pure classic hubris.

Sagan had flaws but he was also the real scientific deal. He predicted the surface temperature of Venus before it was measured and contributed both scientifically and politically to the success of some of the 20th century’s most spectacular space missions like the Martian Viking landers and the epic Voyagers. Even his popular stunts like the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager gold records were classy and compelling. For me, Sagan’s most enduring quality was his very public and relentless refusal to buy into irrational bullshit. He rhetorically dismembered idiots that saw faces on Mars and skies full of alien bearing UFOs. The Martian face turned out to an eroded mesa, just like Sagan said it was, and we are still waiting for genuine rigorously authenticated evidence of real UFOs. Sagan’s often said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!”  It’s a maxim I apply every single day and you should too.

The day Sagan died I connected to the Internet with my trusty 56K dial-up modem. I was looking for unofficial Sagan obituaries and boy did I find them. It turns out that UFO cultists did not appreciate Sagan’s precise and correct analysis of their unsubstantiated nonsense. Clearly, he was part of the vast centuries old global cover-up. Everyone knows that the Illuminati, the Masons, the Rothschilds, the Jews, and the Jewish aliens in the UFOs, are suppressing UFO evidence: presumably to facilitate draining our precious bodily fluids. I exaggerate but not by much! It was my first encounter with unhinged Internet trolls. My already low opinion of the people’s intelligence dipped lower. Of course, trolls come in all flavors. There are good trolls, the ones I agree with, and evil trolls, the ones I disagree with. Overall, a free Internet with hate mongering vicious trolls is vastly better than a censored Internet that’s been reduced to a giant empty echoing, ruling-class-approved, safe space. “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

No matter what you think of the boorish behavior of UFO cultists celebrating Sagan’s death it’s clear to all, including the UFO cultists themselves that they are, in Douglass Adam’s exquisite words, “mostly harmless.”  No one gives a crap what ufologists (yeah it’s a word) think and nobody will pay attention to their ravings until they meet well-defined standards of proof. Sorry guys it’s a skeptic’s world and we won’t be lowering standards of scientific validation for you.

Unfortunately, anti-nuclear don’t launch Cassini, nitwits almost aborted what turned out to be an undisputed marvel of our age. I remember these 1997 loons and until they crawl out from their troglodyte caves, prostrate themselves before the great and powerful Internet, and publicly admit that they were completely wrong about Cassini, that launching the probe was the right thing to do, and that some tiny risks are very much worth taking, I will forever curse, mock, belittle, and remind others of their appalling judgment and sniveling cowardice.

The Cassini launch hysterics began when a pack of dolts noticed the word “Plutonium” in Cassini’s press material. Plutonium, oh my god! What are those privileged white devils in JPL up to? The JPL white devils tried to explain how RTG generators work and that a safe reliable compact long-lasting power source was required for operations at Saturn where sunlight is around 0.011 Earth’s intensity but math is hard. Way too hard for ideologues triggered by visions of Plutonium saturated Challenger like explosions spreading deadly radiation over a wide area. It was all over hyped rubbish. As of 2017, it’s not clear that RTGs have killed a single person in over fifty years of use let alone the tens of thousands the Cassini Cassandras were picturing. The white devils lost patience and did a little back of the envelope calculation that assumed a major Cassini crash that uniformly spread the probe’s “deadly Plutonium” over the entire Earth. Given this absurd worst case scenario, how many excessive cancer deaths could we expect?  The calculation estimated about 5,000 spread over a lifetime: not enough to worry about! Michio Kaku called bullshit on this absurd scenario and quickly concocted his own absurd scenario that had Cassini crashing into a dense urban area with laser guided bomb casualty maximizing effectiveness. This bumped the dark wet dream body count to 200,000. Both calculations were ridiculous. This entire episode is neatly summarized in this Mother Jones (can you believe it) article.

The launch of Cassini and its Earth flyby imposed miniscule risks. Even if things went horribly, but realistically wrong, it’s unlikely the probe would have killed more than a thousand people. Whenever I hear projected death tolls I convert the statistic into one I care about. What are my chances of dying? The Earth’s population was roughly six billion in 1997. The chances of Cassini killing me was at most one in million and probably much less. What type of whiny cowardly snowflake would give up the glories of Cassini for one in million odds of something bad happening? I would have accepted much worse odds.

I wasn’t the only one willing to take an infinitesimal risk to advance human knowledge. Just before Cassini’s launch the anti-Cassini mob planned a march in Washington to screech, wave banners, and go full incontinent leftist ape. In their bush baby brains Cassini had to be stopped. Before 1997 protesters rarely faced counter protesters but Cassini touched a deep nerdy nerve and a small band of pro-Cassini protesters showed up shouting “Don’t be a weenie, launch Cassini,” and like the Greeks at Marathon, they drove the stunted grunting anti-Cassini beasts from the rhetorical field.  I like to imagine the “don’t be a weenie, launch Cassini” ruckus stirred Bill to take a break from dipping cigars in intern vaginas and get on the phone to authorize Cassini’s launch.

Today the pro-Cassini protesters would be erroneously described as “alt-right.” Actually, they were simply and absolutely right as hundreds of thousands of stunning Cassini images, thousands of scientific papers, and dozens of unexpected discoveries about Saturn and its Moons attest. Cassini exceeded everybody’s expectations. The Voyagers were the greatest space probes of the 20th century and Cassini is the greatest of the 21st so far.  If we’re lucky we’ll see Cassini surpassed and that is something to look forward to.

Stop Writing Dead Tree Letters to the Editor

I don’t pay for newspapers anymore and neither should you. The dead tree media is truly and absolutely dead. It serves no function in the modern world and like the What Happened Hildabeast, it needs to FOAD. The collapse of print media and the incontinent wailing of unemployed political operatives with bylines has been duly noted by many and, as much as I love flogging dead horses, that is not why I blogforth today. There is one anachronistic section of dead tree newspapers that still amuses me: letters to the editor.

Who the hell writes letters to the editor these days?

Did these letter writers just wake from a long Rip Van Winkle nap and take up where they left off in the 1960s? Oh, and it definitely is the 1960s. The overwhelming majority of dead tree letters clearly come from the fat furrowed brows of retired old boomer farts that mistake constipation for thought.

As I have said before, even though I am a boomer, nobody hates them more than me.

There’s no point in rehashing the infinitely rehashed. Modern letters to the editor lack the intelligence of blog posts, the pithiness of tweets, the sublimity of poetry or the seriousness of books. They’re vain displays. Look at me; I’ve bamboozled an idiot newspaper editor. Congratulations, you’ve surmounted a bar low enough for Conga champions.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’ve had enough of your letter antics. Please find your way to the nearest online comments section and unleash your inner troll. And, if you must debase yourself to a larger audience start a blog!

Still Totally Awesome

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, was my fourth complete solar eclipse. I’ve seen two annular eclipses, 1994 and 2012, and two total eclipses, 2001 and 2017. Annular eclipses, or rings of fire, are worthy spectacles but nothing compares to a total solar eclipse. Some things have to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Unless you have stood under the Moon’s shadow you don’t really know what it’s like. Pictures and recordings all miss the mark. Maybe one day, when virtual reality directly hooks into all our senses, it may be possible to record totality but until then you have to get under the Moon’s shadow and, this is absolutely crucial, only totality counts!

Here in the Boise Idaho area, many people decided 99% was good enough. This is not even wrong! The August 21st eclipse took place right in the middle of Western Idaho State Fair and like all make a buck opportunists the fair promoted an “enjoy the eclipse with us event.” There was only one problem: Boise wasn’t in the totality zone so advertising dollars were spent reassuring fair-goers that 99% was close enough; that a measly 1% difference was no big deal; that it wasn’t worth refraining from shoveling junk food down your obese pie-hole on the overpriced midway for a few hours. Cosmic spectacles cannot be allowed to suppress the bottom line.

Fortunately, I knew better. The difference between 99% and 100% is vast. Solar eclipse awesomeness is not linear! It’s actually more like a logarithmic step function with a really big step at totality. XKCD accurately summarized this with his with recent eclipse cartoon. He correctly notes that total solar eclipses are off the scale.

XKCD accurately notes that total solar eclipse “coolness” is off the scale. Totality in on an entirely different plane than partial or annular eclipses.

There was no way I was going to miss totality, especially when it was in my backyard, so we got up at 4:00 am on the 21st and headed east to Mackay Idaho. I’d already driven around southern Idaho and Oregon scouting eclipse watching locations. My preferred location was on Sunset Peak in the Lost River mountain range of Idaho. Unfortunately, Sunset Peak required that we climb the mountain the night before, camp out near the summit, and then wait for the eclipse the next morning. It would have been cool. Sunset Peak is slightly over 3,050 meters with nice views to the west and east. It would have been possible to watch the Moon’s shadow race over the Boise and Sawtooth mountains, blacking out one peak after another. I was all ready to pack up and go but my wife no longer camps out in tents. This is a problem I am still working on.

With the mountain summit vetoed we checked out the Snake River Valley near Huntington Oregon and Stanley Idaho. Both locations are very scenic but both required traversing easily congested roads. To ensure totality we would have had to go the night before. So we were right back to camping in tents. My third option Mackay Idaho was a nice mixture of, easily reached on good roads, large enough to find parking on public lands, and far enough out-of-the-way to avoid big crowds.

Mackay is about four hours from Meridian. To make it before first contact, shortly after 10:00 am local time, and to miss projected heavy traffic, we started at 4:00 am. In retrospect, we could have left later. Traffic was light on I84 and almost nonexistent on Idaho highway 20. We hardly saw another car until Highway 20 crossed the road to Sun Valley. Sun Valley was in the totality zone but it was too far from the center line for me. Leaving early paid off when we reached Craters of the Moon: a smoke reddened Sun was creeping over the eastern horizon and illuminating the black volcanic flows.

We left Meridian at 4:00 am and headed east to Mackay Idaho to see the eclipse. On the way we caught the Sun rising over the Craters of the Moon. It was a good start to eclipse day.

Turning north at Arco Idaho we headed north to Mackay. There was more smoke in the air than I would have liked. The further north we went the thicker the smoke got. When we reached Mackay you could smell the smoke. Mackay sits in a valley. Details on mountains to the east and west were obscured by smoke but the sky was completely clear of clouds and at totality the sun would be high overhead. I worried about smoke’s impact on the corona but I cheered myself up with the thought that sunblock cream wouldn’t be necessary.

Getting ready for totality. This shot shows how much forest fire smoke was in the air. The mountains of the Lost River Range are almost completely obscured in the background. The smoke probably reduced our view of the corona at totality but it increased the darkness and helped cast a deep orange red 360-degree dusk.

Being two hours early Mali decided to nap in the car while I walked around Mackay taking pictures. Main Street was blocked off and street vendors were setting up tented stalls and big meat smokers. Others were busy selling souvenirs. Most of the stores were closed. The eclipse was a good excuse for a holiday. I waited in a donut line and chatted with other eclipse tourists. One Maryland couple had just arrived in a rented car from Salt Lake City. A few Italians had come all the way from Naples. I saw lots of Utah, California, Alberta and Nevada license plates. Total solar eclipses gather the multitudes.

Mackay blocked off Main Street for anticipated eclipse crowds. The number of people that showed up underwhelmed. The only eclipse complaints I am aware of were made by businesses hoping to cash in on massive crowds. Crowds were down over the entire country. Too many people were scared away by horror stories about traffic and the rest bought the malarkey that 99% coverage is close enough to 100%. Eclipses are not tests. That last 1% obscures a vast unfathomable difference.

After checking out downtown Mackay I drifted back to the Centennial Rest Stop where Spanish science students were setting up equipment to observe the eclipse. They had come all the way from Spain to watch the eclipse in tiny Mackay Idaho. The moon’s shadow turns even the most unlikely places into tourist attractions. The scientific utility of total solar eclipses in the 21st century is not what it used to be but eclipses do offer great excuses for globe trekking and the re-enactment of historical experiments. The Spaniards were busy preparing weather balloons and getting ready to photograph the corona. They were also making objective lens solar filters for people who brought binoculars and telephoto lens. I considered having some made for my 16×70 astronomical binoculars but decided against it. Instead, I went back to our car, woke up Mali, and then started hauling eclipsing paraphernalia to the viewing area. Unlike many present, we didn’t have a lot of gear: just binoculars, three-legged folding stools, cell phones, cameras, and eclipse shades. Shortly after setting up our stools the Spanish students started counting down to first contact. Shortly after 10:00 am the eclipse started.

A group of science students came all the way from Spain to watch the eclipse in Mackay Idaho. They brought a collection of telescopes, sun filters, and weather balloons. They released a balloon just before the eclipse, presumably to measure the eclipse induced temperature drop which was considerable. Mackay’s elevation is almost 1800 meters. When the Sun goes down the temperature drops. The wind was blowing from the north and their balloon took off towards the south. They probably had a little road trip to recover it.

At first, people were excited to see the Moon slowly nibble at the Sun’s disk but they quickly quieted down. I got the impression that many were questioning the so-called awesomeness of solar eclipses. It’s just a boring black cookie-bite Sun. What’s the big deal? I think many were also surprised by how long it took for the Moon to cover the sun. I’d seen this phase before so I wandered around the crowd taking pictures while the Moon slowly covered the sun.

Fifteen minutes before totality the changing light was getting hard to ignore. The human eye adapts logarithmically to changing light levels. At this point in the eclipse more than 90% of the sun was covered, dropping light levels by a factor of ten, but it was only in the last five minutes that it became obvious that it was getting dark. I spotted a flock of pigeons gathering on the fences nearby. They were disturbed by the change in routine. As totality approached people started counting down. I peeled off my eclipse shades and glanced directly at the waning light. As the sun squeezed down to a pinhole of brilliant light I saw dazzling rainbow halos around the sun. I’m developing cataracts. When I stare into bright point sources I see rainbow halos. I had never looked at a point source as bright as the Sun and the effect was both beautiful and alarming. I will have to do something about my cataracts in a few years.

At totality, the blasé crowd erupted. Many started squealing, pointing, and yelling. Mali pointed to a flock of pigeons, the same flock I had spotted on the fence before, tearing through the air. I briefly looked all around to see the 360-degree sunset. I was expecting a deep orange dusk all around up but it failed to appear. We were too close to the mountains. Then I pointed my 16×70 binoculars at the eclipsed sun. Three flares were visible and the corona’s filaments were as beautiful as ever. The corona was not as extensive as the 2001 eclipse and the core region near the sun seemed brighter. I looked around for planets and stars. Venus was easy. I was expecting to spot Mercury and Mars but I the only star I saw near the Sun I later identified as Regulus. I didn’t try to photograph my first total solar eclipse but near the end of totality I grabbed my DSLR and fired off a few 300mm telephoto shots just to see what might come up.

I didn’t try and photograph my first total solar eclipse but this time I fired off a few 300mm handheld telephoto shots just to see what might come up. The result was better than I expected.

Then, as suddenly as it started, the Sun burst forth. One bystander yelled, “Do it again!” The small crowd kept buzzing as more of the Sun was exposed. The consensus was, “Yeah, total solar eclipses are freaking awesome and totality is totally worth seeing.” Later, while standing in line to view the Sun and receding Moon through a Hydrogen Alpha filtered telescope, I overheard a fellow in the crowd say, “I’d read about shadow chasers, people who go all over the world to see total eclipses, I thought that was crazy, until today!”

The next total solar eclipse is in 2019. The greatest eclipse is in the Pacific, later the shadow runs over parts of Chile and Argentina. I’ve always wanted to visit the large observatories in Chile and view the southern sky from the super dark high elevation skies of the Atacama. This with totality is close to amateur astronomer heaven.

Idaho Statesman Regurgitates High Precision Hate Calculations

The other day while eating lunch in my employer’s cafeteria I picked up the fish wrap version of the Idaho Statesman. My employer kindly subscribes to the Statesman and scatters copies around the office so I don’t have to spend my money on what is usually a slightly left of center, sane, and boring publication. The Statesman is constrained by the decidedly right of center leanings of Idaho but on some days they let their inner left-wing freak fly and boy did it fly when they boldly reported: Idaho named the second-most hateful state in the U.S.

I always thought we were number one!

I read the article to see who beat us in the prestigious hate rankings and would you believe Montana.

Montana?

My Spidey statistics sense started tingling. Was it my fault? In the last year I have lived in both Idaho and Montana, and being a hate group of one, I hate the sloppy use of misleading statistics, I may have skewed the rankings. Some co-workers remarked that if I only I had moved from Montana earlier Idaho would be number one.

Whenever I see overtly political opinions expressed with decimals I set my bullshit detectors on eleven and start analyzing the data, not the drivel.

Exactly how were these state hate rankings calculated? Here is how it’s done.

  1. The South Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has developed a precise scientific instrument that determines if arbitrary groups of people are a hate group. Compared to the SPLC hate group meter LIGO’s detection of gravity waves is just trivial physics. In case you are wondering I am being sarcastic. There are no hate group meters! SPLC designations cannot be checked like the mass of the electron can be checked. They are merely expressing opinions about groups they don’t like. However, for the sake of calculation, let’s assume SPLC hate group counts reflect some fundamental reality.
  2. State hate rankings are expressed as hate groups per million. For example, Idaho’s ranking is 7.1/million. This value is computed by the simple formula.

(one million/state population) * (SPLC hate group count)

          Plugging in the SPLC values for Idaho we get:

(1000000/1695178) * 12 = 7.078902629

Which, when rounded up1 to one decimal, equals 7.1; this matches the value reported by 24/7 Wall Street: the primary source cited by the Statesman.

I put together a little spreadsheet that applies this naive calculation to the ten most hateful states and it completely replicates the 24/7 hate ranking. The recalculated values are shown below and if you really must check my calculations you can download my spreadsheet from here.

State Population HateGroups PerMillionRatio CalcHateFactor RepHateFactor
Montana 1,052,343 10 0.950260514 9.502605139 9.6
Idaho 1,695,178 12 0.589908552 7.078902629 7.1
Mississippi 2,990,113 18 0.334435521 6.019839384 6
Tennessee 6,705,339 38 0.149134891 5.667125853 5.7
Alabama 4,884,115 27 0.204745384 5.528125362 5.6
Arkansas 3,000,942 16 0.3332287 5.331659192 5.4
Kentucky 4,450,042 23 0.22471698 5.168490545 5.2
Virginia 8,492,783 39 0.117747033 4.592134286 4.6
Missouri 6,123,362 24 0.16330898 3.919415511 3.9
Indiana 6,663,280 26 0.150076239 3.901982207 3.9
reference  http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/

Now, for extra credit, what is wrong with this calculation? Remember, I am assuming SPLC’s dubious and entirely subjective hate group counts are correct and I am using current state populations. So what is wrong? What renders this apparently precise analysis utterly meaningless, deceptive, and frankly so stupid that numerate adults should be embarrassed to parrot such nonsense in public.

If you haven’t spotted the problem yet ask yourself. “How big are these hate groups?”

I come from Montana. It doesn’t surprise me that Montana harbors ten “hate groups”, but what does that mean? It probably means there are a few dozen nuts running around in fatigues kicking dogs and yelling at people to keep off their property. You need to know how many people are in the “hate groups” to calculate a meaningful per capita statistic. Group hate is not a thing but individual hate is!

I suspect the 24/7 authors and the Statesman know that ratio ranking is, to use a millennial word, “problematic”, but we all know the primary purpose of such facile reports (fake news) is to provide a seemingly credible reference that can be re-tweeted, and linked, ad infinitum by innumerate partisan dolts when they’re enjoying their five-minute social media hates.


  1. The SPLC is a left-wing organization so they will round-up. White supremacists and other wrong-thinkers will round down.