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Jessica Polito
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I visited the Churchill War Rooms today -- the underground storage area that was the heart of the British war effort. The map room, where all the information about the progress of the war was collected and turned into daily reports, was in use around the clock for 6 years. The day after V-J day, they turned off the lights and locked the doors. In the 80s, it was turned into a museum, with almost everything still in place. I was struck by the desk with thumbtacks and yarn, for marking up one of the maps. (There's another map with pinholes for every convoy sunk; it's practically lace in places.)

Another picture shows the long line of telephones, each one direct to a different important office (with bonus mannequin), as well as some of the graphics they made.

And the difference between the rooms set up for a top officer and those for his private secretary? The officer gets a carpet -- apparently, absolutely standard in the British military until the 60s.
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3/14/17
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I know, there's so much outrageousness going on right now. But this -- ICE is holding Daniel Ramirez Medina, who's protected under DACA. Their justification is that he said he had a gang affiliation. Take a look at the photo below. That's his statement, "“I came in and the officers said I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear an orange uniform. I do not have a criminal history and I’m not affiliated with any gangs.”" with the words "I came in and the officers said" erased. That's ICE's evidence.


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Even the slightest sign that the US is becoming more welcoming of diversity, instead of less, is welcome right now:

The report breaks out the data by age, political affiliation, and religion of the respondent. People in the two oldest age brackets have the most positive feelings towards the traditional US religions: Jews, Catholics, and both mainline and evangelical Protestants (in that order for ages 50-64), while people under 30 have the warmest feelings for Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, and Jews, again in that order, with Atheists, Evangelical Protestants, and Mainline Protestants tied (!).

And even Republicans are feeling more warm to Muslims and Atheists that they did in 2014, although both groups are still down in the chilly regions of the graph.

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I was at Logan airport earlier this afternoon because, last night, the lawyers fighting the good fight convinced Luftansa to follow the @#&$ court order and let people board. It seems to be working: the first flight has landed and at least two people with student visas, one from MIT and one from WPI, have made it out. The WPI Ph.D. student, from Iran, was talking with press & politicians for ages after making it out -- after several days of being bounced around and an international flight.

My understand is that the people working on this got a lot more people on the next couple of flights, which are still to land.

There were lots of press, police, and lawyers (the photo below is of the line of police cars parked outside the terminal). A few politicians, also, including my representative Congressman Kennedy (second photo), and Congressman McGovern, both here to be sure the court order is obeyed.

I've become significantly happier about having Kennedy as my rep since this all began.

It turns out a horrifying policy and a terrifying willingness to defy the courts is what it takes to turn me activists.
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2/3/17
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Is pledging to donate a certain sum of money to your congressperson if they vote your desired way on a bill legally bribery?

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What's next: apparently, Trump et. al. are considering a pair of executive orders with major effects on immigrants and immigration. One could well call for deportation of legal immigrants who have, at any time, received public assistance.

That's the more serious one, but the other order may severely restrict H1-B visas to people making at least $100,000, or maybe $132,000. International post docs, researchers, and faculty are hired under a special type of H1B visa (cap exempt -- they don't count against the total number of H1B's available). If this limit applies to them, there basically won't be any more foreign researchers.

(I've read several articles today about these orders; the linked article contains information about some of what I said above, but not all of it.)

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Well worth reading:

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These performers are suspended on wires, against the side of a building, and dancing. It's amazing. (The dance starts about 40 seconds into the video.)

In the video, they frequently "jump" off the surface of the building, soar through the air, and "land" again. Their path, doing so, looks totally different that our brains expect a thrown object to look -- naturally, because they're not moving under the influence of gravity . (Well, of course they are, but not in the way our brains expect.) This should make for some interesting classroom demonstration, but I haven't yet put it together.

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The 8 am NPR news update this morning mentioned a new study by the CDC estimating the risk of microcephaly in women infected by Zika during their pregnancy. The broadcaster stated that the risk was about 2 cases in 10,000 births for infected women, but higher, somewhere between just under 1% and 13%, for women infected in their first trimester.

This struck me because it's a great example of people using percentages without pausing to think, even for a moment, about what they mean. Roughly one third of pregnant women are in their first trimester, right? So even if microcephaly only ever happens when women get infected during their first trimester, the risk for all pregnant women would be one third of the risk for women in their first trimester. The difference between 2 in 10,000 and 1% to 13% is vastly too large to be even remotely plausible.

The actual study, linked below, gives 2 in 10,000 as the baseline risk of microcephaly -- that it, the risk among women who are not infected by the virus.

Possibly to NPR's credit, this segment did not show up on their 9 am newscast. I don't know how they decide what makes the top of the hour, but I'm glad it was yanked.

I think I've come up with a decent analogy: this is as implausible as someone saying they drove from Boston to San Francisco in 3 hours (using the lower 1% risk for first trimester), instead of the roughly 45 hours that Google maps tells me it would take. 

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Snow, trees, and sun:
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