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Showing posts from December, 2014

How online comments matter, and Black lives so often don't

I recently read an article at Uppercutting about a WTF_was_that_racist Tweet by sports journalist Jason Whitlock. The article is about the use of a "racist dog whistle" and the risk of lending credibility to white supremacists by making that sort of statement as a black person. The piece is well worth reading. But what inspired me to write here is what I found in the comments area.
Many people respond to terrible things that are written in online comment threads by saying something like, "Ugh! Never read the comments." I disagree with this stance. Comment threads are where you get to see how people actually think. After all, online commenters are actual people, fellow citizens of our country. While it's easy and perhaps preferable to think that the people who work with and around us are the Good People, and that racist online comments are left by Bad People. But people are people. 
The more I've learned about the history and nature of racism, the more easi…

NASA K2's first planet discovery

Cambridge, MA - To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the Kepler spacecraft's death was greatly exaggerated. Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, Kepler is still alive and working. The evidence comes from the discovery of a new super-Earth using data collected during Kepler's "second life."
"Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries. Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies," says lead author Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
NASA's Kepler spacecraft detects planets by looking for transits, when a star dims slightly as a planet crosses in front of it. The smaller the planet, the weaker the dimming, so brightness measurements must be exquisitely precise. To enable that precision, the spacecraft must maintain a steady pointing.
Kepler's primary mission came to an end when the second of four reaction wh…

Not much new under the Sun

The protests against police brutality, centered around the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, have forced race into the consciousness of most Americans. Those who support the protests focus on the pattern of abuse that they represent. Those who stand in opposition of the protests tend to focus on the specific details of each killing, becoming armchair lawyers and ballistics experts. Black America sees the police killings as symptoms of systemic racism. White America, for the most part, wants to see the killings as unfortunate but isolated events divorced from racist factors. Indeed, racism isn't a thing, right?
Here's an excerpt from a blog that seems to exemplify the view of the latter group: [T]he shooting is being used to prove a point about police discrimination in America. The means of distribution are simple: destruction of private property and interference with commerce. In other words, brute thuggery and ignominious acts of violence.  Note the assumption that all…

Black lives matter. Anyone? Anyone?

I simultaneously have much to say and little to say about the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. I have much to say because these men are so similar to the Black men in my life: my uncles, cousins, nephews, my sons, myself. I don't have much to say because, hell, what is there left to say? There's only so many times I can repeat the notion that Black Lives Matter.
I keep making this argument in various forms, and from white people I keep hearing, "Yeah, it's tragic, but..." But, nothing! If people accept the radical notion that a 6'4", 240 lb Black man is a living person, a citizen of our country, and a human being with hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a better life, then there can be no "but." We live in a country where we get to hear the "good aspects" of even our serial killers, who, BTW, are predominantly white. We hear about how they were clean-cut, peaceful, good students and how their friends and loved ones couldn…

ExoLab Update: Ellen Price and the Photoeccentric Effect

Today's guest post is by Ellen Price, a Senior astrophysics major at Caltech. 
Professor Johnson pitched me this project idea just after I took his Introduction to Astronomy class (Ay20) in 2012. At that time, I was a sophomore with very little research experience, I knew absolutely nothing about exoplanets. In fact, I had pretty recently considered dropping my astrophysics major entirely. I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do, but classes were a lot more enjoyable when I felt like they mattered in the context of my research. Prof. Johnson’s Ay117 (Statistics and Data Analysis for Astronomers) class, for example, was immeasurably important for me – I learned scientific programming in Python and Bayesian statistics for the first time. 
I attended the Exolab group meetings and started to pick up exoplanet jargon and, eventually, I started to absorb the science, too. Prof. Johnson warned me up front that this wasn’t going to be a “packaged” project for an undergrad, and it was…

Are Black People Wrong About Police Abuse?

This morning, I came across this polling result regarding the police shooting of Michael Brown:

This plot, this statistical result, demands an explanation. How is it that two groups of Americans can see the world so very differently?
Setting aside any appeal to actual evidence regarding racial bias in the use of deadly force by the police, of which there is plenty, I can think of two explanations for the statistical result shown above: