August 11, 2015

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Physics Central-Buzz Blog runs a Fermi Problem answer to the question of whether going inside in a thunderstorm is necessary.

It’s easy enough to find the statistics for lightning strike injuries and deaths in the U.S., but since this is Fermi Problem Friday, I’d like to do it as I imagine Enrico Fermi would.

You have to start somewhere, of course, so I’ll begin with the stat from Wikipedia that for most of the U.S. there are an average of about twenty lightning strikes that make it to the ground in every square kilometer of area each year. (There are many more between clouds, of course, and the number varies dramatically from place to place in the country, but hey – Fermi problem.)

The country has a population of 350 million people or so, last I heard, and a total area of 10 million square kilometers, so there are 35 people per square kilometer on average.

It seems reasonable to assume that being within ten meters of a lightning strike is seriously dangerous, so lets imagine that every square kilometer is broken up into ten-by-ten meter sections (100 square meter areas).  If you happen to be in one of those sections when lightning hits it’s likely you will be injured or killed.

So what are the odds of someone being struck by lightning in any random square kilometer in the U.S.? Well, there are 100 x 100 = 10,000 sections that are ten meters on a side in each square kilometer. If there are 35 people per square kilometer and 20 strikes per year then the chances are

(20/10,000) x(35/10,000) = 700/100,000,000 or roughly one in 150,000 that someone will be hit in any given square kilometer in one year.

If you multiply that by the number of square kilometers in the U.S. (10 million), you end up with an estimate of about 66 deaths from lightning strikes per year in the entire country.

In fact, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reports 40 to 50 deaths due to lightning each year, so Fermi is spot on in this case. …




Time for a look at Jon Stewart. In a NY Times OpEd, a poly sci prof at UVA calls him the patron saint of liberal smugness.

It shows how gifted Jon Stewart is that his best moment happened on someone else’s show. He appeared in 2004 on “Crossfire,” a CNN yelling program, and asked the hosts to take seriously their responsibility to public understanding by having useful conversations instead of shouting matches.

It was Mr. Stewart’s finest hour. He made an earnest pitch for civility in a place where there really was none. Which makes it too bad that in his 16 years of hosting “The Daily Show,” he never lived up to his own responsibility. His prodigious talents — he was smart and funny, and even more of both when he was mad — perfectly positioned him to purge a particular smugness from our discourse. Instead, he embodied it. I loved watching him, and hated it too.

Many liberals, but not conservatives, believe there is an important asymmetry in American politics. These liberals believe that people on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum are fundamentally different. Specifically, they believe that liberals are much more open to change than conservatives, more tolerant of differences, more motivated by the public good and, maybe most of all, smarter and better informed.

The evidence for these beliefs is not good. Liberals turn out to be just as prone to their own forms of intolerance, ignorance and bias. But the beliefs are comforting to many. They give their bearers a sense of intellectual and even moral superiority. And they affect behavior. They inform the condescension and self-righteousness with which liberals often treat conservatives. …




Jonathan Tobin posts on Jon Stewart and the politics of contempt.

… Obama has been transformed from the post-partisan visionary that enraptured a nation with promises of hope and change into something very different. He is now a man who was unashamed to conduct a serious foreign policy debate employing bitter hyper-partisan rhetoric that seemed straight of Richard Nixon’s playbook. But unlike Nixon, Obama didn’t merely make an enemies list. He demonized his enemies employing humor. The fact that his nasty lines about Republican critics of the Iran nuclear deal being the equivalent of Iranians chanting “Death to America” got laughs from his campus audience at the AmericanUniversity was no accident.

There is a long and honorable tradition of political humor and satire in the Western canon dating back to Jonathan Swift. But though Stewart’s routines were often undeniably funny, his show deserved to be remembered more for deceptive editing of interviews of those whose views he sought to skewer and the softballs he tossed at liberals and Democrats. Though he pretended at times to be above mere partisanship and took shots at easy though non-controversial Democratic targets, he was in a real sense the poet laureate of the Democratic Party in the last decade. The cheap shots in Obama’s speech the day before Stewart exited stage left is a symbol but a telling one since it illustrates the way the comedian’s style has infected mainstream politics. Whereas in an earlier era it would have been unthinkable for a commander-in-chief to stoop to speak of mainstream political opponents as the moral equivalent of an Iranian mob, this kind of incendiary reference is stereotypical Stewart.

The point about his style is not that it was both funny and unfair, but the way it conveys a sort of not-so-secret handshake among the young and the fashionably liberal. In this world, differing views don’t have to be engaged with, let alone disputed. They can, instead, be dismissed with a vicious swipe aimed at conveying the message that anyone who dissents from liberal orthodoxy is beyond contempt. …




And The Federalist thinks he became the left’s Donald Trump.

… “The Daily Show” did not become a staple of the zeitgeist’s diet until election day 2004, when Stewart bawled at his desk because voters re-elected George W. Bush. It soon became apparent that Stewart regretted running the video of John Kerry zig-zagging downhill with a voiceover noting the Democratic nominee’s flip-flops: “I was for the Iraq War, now I’m against the Iraq War,” Stewart said. Yes, it was funny, just as funny as his diatribes against Donald Rumsfeld and Bush, but it was too effective. By 2005, Stewart seemed to be pulling his punches, although he still criticized Democrats for their foolishness. Dick Durbin’s comparison of Bush and Hitler inspired a masterful takedown of Godwin’s Law.

“Please stop calling people Hitler when you disagree with them. It demeans you. It demeans your opponent. And, to be honest, it demeans Hitler. He worked too many years, too hard to be that evil to have every Tom, Dick, and Harry come along and say ‘Yeah, you’re being Hitler.’ No. You know who was Hitler—Hitler,” he said.

Election day 2006 marked the turning point. Upon seeing his effectiveness at swinging voters and driving youth turnout, he made a conscious decision to adopt the inverse of Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not criticize a Democrat. Never again did he speak truth to power. He catered to it, slamming the powerful for not exercising more power. The withering monologues were replaced with mere sighs at the stupidity of those who didn’t agree with Barack Obama.

Jon Stewart’s Dishonest Editing

If this was commentary, it was WWE commentary complete with fabricated storylines and DEVASTATING PULVERIZATION of straw men. The mask came off when guests began publicizing Stewart’s tactics for tickling the liberal ego. First came Jonah Goldberg’s infamous segment, in which the heroic “Daily Show” editing crew condensed 20 minutes of Stewart getting embarrassed for not bothering to read the book that left him reflexively offended into six minutes of Goldberg shouting. …