Thinking West: UFOs

According to a recent tweet posted by the CIA, the UFOs seen in the Southwest, among other places, were piloted by human beings and not extraterrestrials (a.k.a. little green men). What was the CIA up to? Apparently UFO sitings were really sitings of U-2 spy planes. Check out the CIA’s official history on the U-2 program. For those of us at El Portal, we’re not buying the official story, as this would insult our extraterrestrial readership. We’re assuming this is just another cover to snag our attention away from the bright lights in the sky….

RoswellDailyRecordJuly8,1947

Thinking West: Alexander Bain and the Great (Western) Migration of the 1840s

Alexander Bain, a Scottish inventor and clockmaker, invented the precursor to the modern facsimile (fax) machine. The fax machine, as it is now known, developed from Morse’s telegraph technology and clock machinery available to Bain. Bain’s ingenious machine received a patent in 1843. Today, the fax machine is a symbol of modern business and ultra fast communication. During the 1840s, another important event or rather a series of events, known as the Great Migration, took place on the North American continent. (The Great (Western) Migration of the 1840s should not be confused with the Great (South-North) Migration of the early twentieth-century.) Americans and new arrivals from Europe moved westward, hoping to settle or find fortunes in what are now the modern states of Utah, California, Oregon, and Washington.

Thinking West: The Pineapple Express (Weather)

 

Animation of atmospheric river event, December 2014. (CREDIT: NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division)

Animation of atmospheric river event, December 2014. (CREDIT: NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division)

 

In December 2014, many Americans watched news coverage of torrential downpours in California. The torrential downpours, still occurring when this post was written, came at a time when California had been in the midst of the worst drought in its history. (Ironically NOAA claimed that California’s drought was not man-made but naturally caused that same month.) Where is the rain coming from? Did the skies suddenly open up to release a bounty of needed rain over California? If not what brought this unexpected (yet needed) deluge?

For those unfamiliar with meteorology, the rain storms in California seem like some cosmic form of deus ex machina. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. It was the Pineapple Express that brought this much needed moisture to the U.S. west coast. Moreover, it was the moisture brought, and continued to be brought, by the Pineapple Express, culminating in those rain storms that California desperately needed. What exactly is the Pineapple Express? Where does the Pineapple Express originate? These are questions that can best be answered by examining information provided by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research explains that the term Pineapple Express is “[a]n informal name for the flow of low- and mid-level moist air, driven by the subtropical jet stream, that sometimes extends from the region around Hawaii (hence “pineapple”).” NOAA’s description of the Pineapple Express meteorological phenomenon adds to this rather vague yet convoluted UCAR definition. NOAA describes the Pineapple Express as “a type of strong AR [Atmospheric River] that can hit the U.S. west coast.” What exactly is an Atmospheric River (AR)? Again, we must delve deeper into the field of meteorology to find our answers. Nevertheless, NOAA provides an excellent (and brief) definition of this fascinating meteorological phenomenon:

Atmospheric Rivers (AR) are relatively narrow regions in the atmosphere that are responsible for most of the horizontal transport of water vapor outside of the tropics. While ARs come in many shapes and sizes, those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor, the strongest winds, and stall over watersheds vulnerable to flooding, can create extreme rainfall and floods. These events can disrupt travel, induce mud slides, and cause catastrophic damage to life and property. However, not all ARs cause damage – most are weak, and simply provide beneficial rain or snow that is crucial to [the] water supply.”

[A more detailed explanation of ARs can be found here.]

Interesting facts concerning Atmospheric Rivers (from NOAA):

  • On average, about 30-50% of annual precipitation in the west coast states occurs in just a few AR events, thus contributing to water supply.
  • A strong AR transports an amount of water vapor roughly equivalent to 7.5–15 times the average flow of liquid water at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
  • In the strongest cases ARs can create major flooding when they make land-fall and stall over an area.
  • On average ARs are 400-600 km wide.
  • ARs are a primary feature in the entire global water cycle, and are tied closely to both water supply and flood risks, particularly in the Western U.S.
  • ARs move with the weather and are present somewhere on the earth at any given time.

Thinking West: Oregon Founded as Racist Utopia (Gizmodo)

Gizmodo recently featured an interesting article concerning Oregon’s racist past. According to Matt Novak (and historical fact), Oregon was founded as a whites only, racist utopia. Check out the excerpt below:

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.

Waddles Coffee Shop in Portland, Oregon was a popular restaurant in the 1950s for both locals and travelers alike. The drive-in catered to America’s postwar obsession with car culture, allowing people to get coffee and a slice of pie without even leaving their vehicle. But if you happened to be black, the owners of Waddles implored you to keep on driving. The restaurant had a sign outside with a very clear message: “White Trade Only — Please.”

It’s the kind of scene from the 1950s that’s so hard for many Americans to imagine happening outside of the Jim Crow South. How could a progressive, northern city like Portland have allowed a restaurant to exclude non-white patrons? This had to be an anomaly, right? In reality it was far too common in Oregon, a state that was explicitly founded as a kind of white utopia.

America’s history of racial discrimination is most commonly taught as a southern issue. That’s certainly how I learned about it while going to Minnesota public schools in the 1980s and 90s. White people outside of the South seem to learn about the Civil War and civil rights movements from an incredibly safe (and often judgmental) distance.

Racism was generally framed as something that happened in the past and almost always “down there.” We learned about the struggles for racial equality in cities like Birmingham and Selma and Montgomery. But what about the racism of Portland, Oregon, a city that is still overwhelmingly white? The struggles there were just as intense — though they are rarely identified in the history books.

According to Oregon’s founding constitution, black people were not permitted to live in the state. And that held true until 1926. The small number of black people already living in the state in 1859, when it was admitted to the Union, were sometimes allowed to stay, but the next century of segregation and terrorism at the hands of angry racists made it clear that they were not welcome.

Like the article? Check out the full article over at Gizmodo.

When Superintelligent AI Arrives, Will Religions Try to Convert It? (Gizmodo)

Zoltan Istvan (Gizmodo) examines how the world’s religions might handle the creation of superintelligent artificial intelligences. It appears that, much like American corporations in a recent Supreme Court case, superintelligent AIs may find God, too, with a little help, of course….

Like it or not, we are nearing the age of humans creating autonomous, self-aware super intelligences. Those intelligences will be part of our culture, and we will inevitably try to control AI and teach it our ways, for better or worse.

AI with intelligence equal to or beyond human beings is often referred to as “strong AI” or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Experts disagree as to when such an intelligence will arrive into the world, but many are betting it will happen sometime in the next two decades. The idea of a thinking machine being able to rival our own intellect—in fact, one that could quickly become far smarter than us—is both a reason for serious concern and a reason to cheer about what scientific advances it might teach us. Those worries and benefits have not escaped religious.

Some faith-bound Americans want to make sure any superintelligence we create knows about God. And if you think the idea of preaching God to autonomous machines sounds crazy, you may be overlooking key statistics of U.S. demographics: roughly 75 percent of adult Americans identify themselves as some denomination of Christianity. In the U.S. Congress, 92 percent of our highest politicians belong to a Christian faith.

As artificial intelligence advances, religious questions and concerns globally are bound to come up, and they’re starting too: Some theologians and futurists are already considering whether AI can also know God.

“I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings,” Reverend Dr. Christopher J. Benek told me in a recent interview. Benek is an Associate Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Florida and holds masters degrees in divinity and theology from Princeton University.

“It’s redemption to all of creation, even AI,” he said. “If AI is autonomous, then we have should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world.”

Read the remainder of this article over at Gizmodo.

Never Mind E-Books: Why Print Books Are Here to Stay (WSJ)

Print books are here to stay. E-books haven’t surpassed print book sales. Instead, it seems that E-books are fading fast as print book sales see increased demand….

Ever since Amazon introduced its popular Kindle e-reader five years ago, pundits have assumed that the future of book publishing is digital. Opinions about the speed of the shift from page to screen have varied. But the consensus has been that digitization, having had its way with music and photographs and maps, would in due course have its way with books as well. By 2015, one media maven predicted a few years back, traditional books would be gone.

Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.

How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books? Just look at the results of a Pew Research Center survey released last month. The report showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%. But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months. Only 30% reported reading even a single e-book in the past year.

Read the remainder of the article at the Wall Street Journal‘s website.

Thinking West: Hunting West

 

In the mythic West, game the size of dinosaurs and mastodons roams the sun-parched land. This makes it incredibly difficult for those (new) western settlers from Eastern shores to obtain fresh meat. Thus, new settlers have needed to adapt their hunting techniques by seeking weapons only meant for the likes of Goliath.

What’s Wrong with Only Reading Half a Book? (Electric Literature)

Last month, the e-reading company Kobo revealed which books its users read to completion. Much was made of the fact that Donna Tartt’s prize-winning bestseller The Goldfinch was only finished by 44% of Kobo readers, and that, in general, the bestseller list didn’t match up at all with the most completed list. It also spurned a flurry of essays on what this data mining could mean for writers, readers, and publishers. Will, as Francine Prose wonders in the NYRB, marketing departments dictate authors rewrite plots and characters based on user data? Or does this, as Joseph Bernstein suggests at Buzzfeed, mean little to the writing process while having the potential to better connect readers with books they like?

These are interesting questions, but almost all the articles I’ve read have had an underlying unchallenged assumption that I’d like to challenge: that a half-read book is a failure either on the part of the writer or the reader.

Certainly there are books that could be better written and there are readers that could be more patient and willing to challenge themselves. Analytics might help weak writers figure out what they are doing wrong, and plenty of readers would benefit from pushing through to the end of good books. Still, it isn’t the case that book that a half-finished book means the book is flawed or that the reader has sinned against literature. This should be obvious for much non-fiction, or poetry and story collections. One can learn volumes from a history or biography without finishing it, and poems and stories are complete units that do not have to be read together to be appreciated. But even a half-finished novel can provide plenty to a reader.

Read the remainder of this article over at Electric Literature.

Portugal

According to the CIA World Factbook, Portugal is slightly smaller in size than Indiana. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drug possession, which precipitated in fewer drug crimes and even fewer drug abuse cases amongst Portugal’s youth. Portugal was one of the world’s leading maritime powers during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. During the early years of the Common Era, Romans bought Portuguese urine as a mouthwash for their dental hygiene. No one knows why the Romans preferred Portuguese urine for their mouthwash, though. The population of Portugal hovers around 10.8 million (2014), making Portugal’s population larger than Georgia but smaller than Ohio. Portuguese has around 230-240 million native speakers worldwide.

What else can we say about Portugal? Hmmmm… That’s right! How could we forget? Portugal also happens to be the location of this year’s Writers’ Retreat. More specifically, ENMU will be going to Lisbon (Lisboa), Portugal this summer from 28 June to 10 July. Check out our official webpage for the Writers’ Retreat. Be sure to swing by Disquiet International’s website as well.

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