New Book:  “Life on the Mississippi” by Rinker Buck!

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading Rinker Buck’s Life on the Mississippi:  An Epic American Adventure, which tells the story of his adventure in sailing down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in an 1800s-style wooden flatboat.  This book follows the same pattern as Buck’s bestseller, The Oregon Trail.   

Life on the Mississippi… opens with the important history that flatboats played in the expansion of the country in the 1800s from the East to the West and South.  These wooden boats carried settlers and their belongings as well as commercial goods from the East to towns along these two rivers and for many, eventually reaching New Orleans.  Buck builds a flatboat replica named Patience for his journey and brings on a small crew of enthusiasts for his trip.  For readers who are boat owners, Buck’s narratives of the intricacies of navigating the waters of the two great rivers during his two-thousand mile trip are interesting.  However, the most significant passages of this book are when he describes the historical importance of the rivers for the rise (and for some fall) of major towns and cities such as New Madrid and Natchez, the slave trade in the Southern states, and the displacement of the Cherokee, Choctaw and other indigenous tribes due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

In sum, I found Life on the Mississippi… a good read and a fine contribution to my understanding of the part these two rivers played in the development of our country.

Below is a review that appeared in the New York Times Book Review.



The New York Times Review of Books

From Pittsburgh to New Orleans, on a 19th-Century-Style Flatboat

In “Life on the Mississippi,” Rinker Buck takes a lengthy river trip to examine a uniquely American history.

By Ben McGrath

Published Aug. 9, 2022

LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI: An Epic American Adventure, by Rinker Buck

A dry cleaner in Yankton, S.D., once told me that he had spied so many fussily costumed boaters from the banks of the nearby Missouri River that he’d grown weary of new arrivals. “People are recreating Lewis and Clark,” he said. “It happens here all the time.” He loved the river, for its waterfowl and promise of imaginative escape, but not always its thru-traveling flock, who, if not reprising the migration of previous generations, often seemed to be proselytizing for one thing or another: energy independence, say, or sobriety. “Some of these people are a little on their high horse, you know?” he said. To meet a waterborne voyager whose only cause was wanderlust: That was novel.

I thought of my conversation with the dry cleaner while reading Rinker Buck’s engaging “Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure,” which recounts the author’s 2,000-mile journey from Pittsburgh to New Orleans aboard a purpose-built wooden flatboat, like the ones used by Appalachian farmers in the decades after the Revolutionary War. His rotating crew includes a sometime Meriwether Lewis impersonator whom Buck loathes, not only for his casual racism and misogyny but for his pretension — archaic speech, suitcase bulging with 19th-century outfits.

Historical re-enactors, Buck writes, are “overdressed losers.” Readers of his previous book, “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey,” will recognize the particular sensitivity. For that entertaining project, Buck traversed the old pioneer route by covered wagon, while railing against those purists who would lament the intrusions of asphalt and soft serve. The frontier was ever debased. Still, you might say that Buck is a re-enactor by another name: a travel writer, who delights in incongruity and in history’s rhymes.

He also comes by his wanderlust organically. When he was 7, in 1958, Buck accompanied his parents and siblings on a wagon ride through New Jersey and Pennsylvania to “see America slowly,” as his father, a magazine publisher, put it. When he was 15, and more inclined toward speed, he joined an older brother in the cockpit of a Piper Cub and leapfrogged the continent. “We had only a shopping bag full of maps, no radio and a compass that barely worked,” he writes. “Follow the highways, son,” his father would say, “or pick out a river.”

The rivers at the heart of this book are not just the oft-chronicled one in the title (borrowed, of course, from Mark Twain) but also the Ohio, which set a young country in westward motion and thereby defined Americans “as a migratory people,” Buck writes, “radically departed from our European antecedents.” Some followed the water’s gravitational pull only to sell their wares, and the timber on which they drifted, and hoof back. Others resettled downstream. At the time of the country’s birth, about 3 percent of the non-Native population resided west of the Appalachian range. By 1830, that figure had floated to 30 percent. “At the edge of civilization in North America, at the wharves and bursting river towns of the new territories, social caste and standing belonged to the uprooted, the wayfarers, the self-made men and boys struggling with their oars to land a broadhorn against the current.”

Broadhorn was another name for a flatboat — square of bow, shallow of draft and requiring little in the way of construction expertise — because the long, curved steering oars were wielded from atop the cabin and appeared like giant horns at a squint. Buck names his flatboat Patience — and opts, pragmatically, for an inboard motor, which he pilots from the roof deck, like his predecessors. His heightened perch is the perfect vantage both for admiring the landscape of conservation forest punctuated by Rust Belt blight, and for contemplating the economic winds that have lately roiled our politics. The decline of the steel industry, he observes, stirred a different type of growth, with sprigs of aspen and birch extruding from West Virginian smokestacks and window transoms. “The persistence of man was dramatically yielding to the persistence of nature,” Buck writes.

Coal was another matter: too recently decimated, by offshore drilling and fracking, for nature’s reclamation to inspire awe. Many marinas, meanwhile, were abandoned, casualties of the 2008 recession and subsequent flooding. The loss of so much disposable income meant fewer fishermen and water skiers, which in turn led to a reduction of refueling stations. A savvy crew member of the Patience charms a struggling business owner into donating several crucial backup gas tanks to the mission by slagging the federal government. Surveying the lonely river valley, Buck has the realization that the same ridgelines that lent feelings of containment and serenity to a boat captain effectively shielded the extent of deindustrialization from the still-bustling interstates on the far sides. Geography is destiny. No wonder the populist groundswell of 2016 caught so many landlubbers by surprise.

“You’re going to die,” everyone warns Buck, both before and throughout an adventure in which he never comes close. I hesitate to identify this as a disappointment, though I suspect the author would sympathize with this reader’s yearning for vicarious adversity to match his riparian surroundings. If Buck is a proselytizer for any cause while afloat, it may be for the perverse pleasure associated with cracking one’s ribs, which he does — memorably, and for the fifth time — while balancing a tray of biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon (“real food, trucker chow”) for his crew and ascending a poplar staircase to the deck amid oncoming rollers from a tug. The breakfast survives his fall intact; the rib cage does not. “I like what being a champion rib-breaker says about my life,” he writes. “Rib breaks and their pain are a reminder of my foolhardiness, perhaps, or my addiction to adventure, or my need for comeuppance for having led such a fortunate, happy life.”


Will The Democrats or Republicans Control the Senate Next Year – No One Knows!

Jon Ossoff wins Georgia runoff; Democrats effectively gain control of US  Senate | NewsNation

Dear Commons Community,

We are approximately one month from the midterm elections in November.  There has been a lot of commentary on which party will control the House of Representatives and the Senate. Most analysts are giving the Republicans the edge in regaining control of the House.  However, the Senate is completely up for grabs and it is safe to assume that nobody knows.  The Huffington Post reporter,  Igor Bobic, has an article this morning that comes to that conclusion.  Here is an excerpt.

“The Senate met on Thursday for the final time before November’s midterm elections and few lawmakers could say with confidence who will control the chamber next year.

Senators rushing to the airport after the last votes of the week described the battle for the Senate as too close to call given several tightly contested races across the country. Top issues like inflation and abortion are adding to the political uncertainty, making it difficult to predict which party will come out on top.

“That’s in the hands of the American people, and it’s going to be hard-fought and close,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said. “I think it’s going to be 51-49, either way. It’s going to be tight.”

When asked who would win, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) simply let out a big belly laugh.

With Democrats currently holding a tenuous 50-50 majority, Republicans need to pick up only one seat to win back control in January. The outlook initially looked more favorable to the GOP with Democrats defending more seats this year, but it has since evened out after Republicans nominated several weaker candidates in Pennsylvania, Arizona and New Hampshire.

Still, most Republicans are cautiously optimistic about their chances of winning in November. History is on their side, after all: The incumbent president’s party typically loses seats during midterm elections. Voter participation also tends to be lower for midterms, in another advantage for the GOP. The economy, meanwhile, continues to give Democrats political headaches. Inflation has remained stubbornly high and prices for consumer goods have skyrocketed.

“People are feeling that and they’re going to vote and send a message that says it is the economy,” Rounds said.

Democrats are hoping their long list of legislative accomplishments, the Jan. 6 investigations, and the federal repeal of abortion rights galvanizes voters to the polls to defend their majorities. The abortion referendum victory in Kansas, as well as several victories for Democrats in special House elections, has lifted hopes among the party that this midterm election might defy historical trends.

“We may be entering an era in which the old rules don’t apply,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “This is a fundamentally different Republican Party. It’s a fundamentally different Supreme Court. Everything feels a little bit different after Jan. 6.”

Democrats currently have a narrow lead in the generic congressional ballot despite President Joe Biden’s historically low approval numbers, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average. But there are questions about whether public polls are again undercounting the chances of Republican candidates, as they did in recent elections.

“I think their side is up a little bit [in public polls],” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said. “We have some internal polls that suggest we’re up a little bit … which means that no one knows.”

One factor that could shake up the race for Senate control is next month’s scheduled candidate debates in Pennsylvania and Georgia. All eyes will be on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania, and how he handles himself after suffering a stroke earlier this year. The pressure will also be on Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker to avoid missteps against incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who was first elected to the Senate more than 40 years ago, said that Senate control next year is difficult to foresee because of sharpened politicization. “Every race in the country is different because the country is so completely divided,” Grassley told HuffPost.

But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was more confident in predicting that Democrats would actually pick up a seat next year.

“If not Pennsylvania, I really think Ohio. I’m rating Ohio better than Pennsylvania,” Manchin said.

“I just hope it’s not 50-50, that’s all,” he deadpanned.

We will see in one month!


Video: Aaron Judge hits 61st home run of season, ties Roger Maris’ AL and Yankees single-season record!


Dear Commons Community,

Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the season last night (see video above), tying the 61-year-old American League record set by Roger Maris in 1961 in the Yankees’ 8-3 win over the Blue Jays in front of 37,008 in Toronto.

As reported by the New York Daily News.

Off the bat, everyone except Aaron Judge seemed to know. The Yankees slugger got a sinker that didn’t sink in the seventh inning of a tied game and just let it rip. He sprinted out of the box and watched it fly, a little uncertain at first. The line drive flew 394 feet over the left-field wall at Rogers Centre. Judge smiled, raised his hand and index finger in the air and exhaled with the rest of the baseball world.

“I thought I got enough, but it’s been a couple of days since I did that,” Judge said with a self-deprecating laugh. “You never really know if it’s gonna get out or not and so I tried to sprint around the bases a little bit and then once it got over the fence … and then just relief that now we’re leading the game, because Gerrit [Cole] was pitching his butt off tonight.

“And then also to tie Roger Maris, that’s the stuff you dream, you think that’s not even real.

Judge hammered the 3-2 sinker from Toronto lefty Tim Mayza into the Blue Jays bullpen. Toronto bullpen coach Matt Buschmann ended up with the historic ball and Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano took custody of it and made sure it was delivered to the Yankees.

After Judge crossed home plate, he hugged Aaron Hicks — who he had driven in with the homer — and Oswaldo Cabrera who was on deck. The rest of his teammates and coaches spilled onto the field and everyone got a hug from the slugger — from Luis Severino, who he came up through the minors with, to Harrison Bader, who just joined the active roster last week.

As he walked off the field, Judge took off his batting helmet and pointed to the seats just above the Yankees’ first base dugout, where his mother Patty and Maris’ son were sitting next to one another. Patty — who had blown a kiss at her 30-year-old son as he rounded the bases — and Roger Maris Jr. hugged.

“He’s somebody who should be revered for hitting 61 home runs and not just as the guy who did it in the American League. But he should be remembered for being the actual single-season home run champ if he hits 62,” Maris said. “That’s who he really is. And I think that’s what needs to happen. I think baseball needs to look at these records and I think baseball should do something.”

Judge is just the fifth man in major league history to hit 61 home runs in a season, joining Barry Bonds (73 in 2001 with the Giants), Mark McGwire (70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999 with the Cardinals), Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998, 64 in 2001 and 63 in 1999 with the Cubs) and Maris in 1961 with the Yankees. Maris’ record is still seen as the high-water mark by baseball purists, who discount Bonds, McGwire and Sosa because of the strong suspicion they did it while using performance enhancing drugs.

I have been watching the Yankees for seventy years and this was season for the ages and “it ain’t over yet.”

Congratulations Aaron Judge!


Michelle Cottle Outs Ginni Thomas!

Ginni Thomas to speak with Jan. 6 committee this week | The Hill

Ginni Thomas

Dear Commons Community,

Michelle Cottle, a member of The New York Times editorial board, has an essay today, entitled, “The Eagerness of Ginni Thomas.” Cottle exposes:

“the bad look for American democracy to have the wife of a Supreme Court justice implicated in a multitentacled scheme to overturn a free and fair presidential election…

…A longtime conservative crusader, Ms. Thomas increasingly appears to have been chin deep in the push to keep Donald Trump in power by any means necessary. Her insurrection-tinged activities included hectoring everyone from state lawmakers to the White House chief of staff to contest the results. She also swapped emails with John Eastman, the legal brains behind a baroque plot to have Vice President Mike Pence overturn the election that may have crossed the line from sketchy into straight-up illegal. Along the way, Ms. Thomas peddled a cornucopia of batty conspiracy theories, including QAnon gibberish about watermarked ballots in Arizona.

Even by the standards of the Trumpified Republican Party, this is a shameful turn of events.”

Cottle goes on to describe Ginni Thomas as someone who has used her husband’s position on the U.S. Supreme Court to give her access to influential people in Washington, D.C.

The entire essay is below. 

I found it excellent analysis.



The New York Times

“The Eagerness of Ginni Thomas”

Sept. 28, 2022

By Michelle Cottle

Ginni Thomas has become a problem.

You don’t have to be a left-wing, anti-Trump minion of the deep state to think it’s a bad look for American democracy to have the wife of a Supreme Court justice implicated in a multitentacled scheme to overturn a free and fair presidential election. But that is where this political moment finds us.

A longtime conservative crusader, Ms. Thomas increasingly appears to have been chin deep in the push to keep Donald Trump in power by any means necessary. Her insurrection-tinged activities included hectoring everyone from state lawmakers to the White House chief of staff to contest the results. She also swapped emails with John Eastman, the legal brains behind a baroque plot to have Vice President Mike Pence overturn the election that may have crossed the line from sketchy into straight-up illegal. Along the way, Ms. Thomas peddled a cornucopia of batty conspiracy theories, including QAnon gibberish about watermarked ballots in Arizona.

Even by the standards of the Trumpified Republican Party, this is a shameful turn of events. And after extended negotiations, Ms. Thomas has finally agreed to voluntarily testify soon before the Jan. 6 House committee. Her lawyer has declared her “eager” to “clear up any misconceptions about her work relating to the 2020 election.”

No doubt we’re all looking forward to her clarifications. But many people would be even more eager to have a bigger question addressed: How is it that someone with such evident contempt for democracy, not to mention a shaky grip on reality, has run amok for so long at the highest levels of politics and government?

The most obvious answer is that Ms. Thomas is married to a very important man. And Washington is a town that has long had to contend, and generally make peace, with the embarrassing or controversial spouses and close kin of its top power players (Martha Mitchell, Billy Carter, Ivanka and Jared…).

But even within this context, Ms. Thomas has distinguished herself with the aggressiveness and shamelessness of her political activities, which she pursues with total disregard for the conflicts of interest that they appear to pose with her husband’s role as an unbiased, dispassionate interpreter of the law.

In another era, this might have prompted more pushback, for any number of reasons. But Ms. Thomas has benefited from a couple of cultural and political shifts that she has shrewdly exploited. One touches on the evolving role of power couples and political spouses. The other, more disturbing, is the descent of the Republican Party down the grievance-driven, conspiracy-minded, detached-from-reality rabbit hole.

If most of America has come around to two-income households, Washington is overrun with bona fide power couples and has fashioned its own set of rules, official and unofficial, for dealing with them. Among these: It is bad form to suggest that a spouse should defer to his or her partner’s career, other than when explicitly required, of course. (A notable exception is the presidency, in which case the first lady is in many ways treated as if it were still 1960.) Though plenty of folks discuss it sotto voce, publicly musing that a couple’s work life might bleed into their home life is considered insulting — even sexist, if the spouse being scrutinized is a woman.

The Thomases have been playing this card for years. Ms. Thomas has forged all sorts of ties with individuals and groups with interests before her husband and his colleagues. In the chaotic aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, she was helping the conservative Heritage Foundation identify appointees for a new Republican administration, even as her husband was deliberating over the outcome of the race. When people grumble about perceived conflicts — or Ms. Thomas’s perpetual political crusading in general — the couple and their defenders complain that they are being held to different standards from others. They are adamant that of course the Thomases can stay in their respective lanes.

With a slightly different spin of the wheel, Ms. Thomas might have wound up a public figure in her own right, out picking fights and spreading chaos in the mold of Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert. Back in 1986, as a young lawyer fighting against policies like maternity leave and comparable worth, she was named one of “28 young women of promise” by Good Housekeeping. At the time, she expressed a desire to run for Congress. But the next year she married Clarence, and his subsequent appointment to the Supreme Court scrambled her trajectory. “I’m kind of stuck here,” she told The Wall Street Journal in 1997, when asked about her youthful congressional dreams.

Instead, Ms. Thomas has for decades operated in a kind of gray zone: Her professional identity and influence are not wholly defined by her husband, but they are inextricably bound up in his importance. She has endeavored to make the most of a tricky situation. And without question, she has been helped by — and she has capitalized on — the shift in her party toward its right wing. For Ginni Thomas could not be Ginni Thomas without the mainstreaming of conspiracy culture and heavy-duty grievancemongering in the G.O.P.

Ms. Thomas has long been one to get swept up in the passion of causes and movements. In her early years in Washington, she joined the Lifespring self-help craze, which many people criticized as a cult. She eventually extracted herself from the group and went on to become an anti-cult activist.

During the Obama era, she threw herself into the Tea Party revolution with gusto, cultivating connections and credibility with the party’s angry populist wing. When Mr. Trump came to power, she threw herself even harder into the MAGAverse — which is more a cult of personality than a political movement.

Ms. Thomas goes in for sharp-edge partisanship and evil-libs-are-destroying-America demagogy. Finding so many like-minded warriors in Mr. Trump’s Republican Party freed her up to really let her freak flag fly.

During his presidency, she would approach administration officials about people she thought should be fired or hired. She would occasionally pop in to visit with Mr. Trump at the White House. For one formal sit-down, she brought along a bunch of her conservative allies for what inexplicably morphed into part gripe fest — with attacks on everyone from transgender people to Republican congressional leaders to members of Mr. Trump’s administration — and part quasi-prayer session.

Much like Mr. Trump, she took to social media with a vengeance, pushing out lib-bashing memes and other partisan red meat. Her efforts to meddle in the 2020 election were merely the high point — or, rather, low point — in a long and tireless career of crusading.

Not that Ms. Thomas’s work is finished. The MAGAfied Republican Party is one in which her most outrageous views and behavior are ever more at home. This does not seem to trouble her extremely powerful husband or much of her party — at least not enough for anyone to seriously consider holding her accountable. Given all this, the most disturbing question we really should be looking to clarify may be: What on earth will she get up to next?

Jill Biden hosts readings by this year’s National Student Poets at the White House!


Image contains pictures of the five new National Student Poets along with text that says "Announcing the Class of 2022 Student Poets"

Jesse Begay, Winslow Hastie Jr., Emily Igwike, Vidhatrie Keetha, and Diane Sun

Dear Commons Community,

Jill Biden yesterday hosted a reading by this year’s group of National Student Poets, allowing each one to read their winning work in a White House room set up to mimic a coffee house.

The first lady said she herself has turned to poetry to find joy in other people’s words at times, including when she’d lie awake consumed by worry or when she felt lost.

“In the words of others, I found the contours of my own joy,” she said. “I found a place to lay down my fears. I found a compass that would lead me through the darkest of woods. And on the page, tangled in hurried lines, in smudges of ink, I found myself.”

“So it’s truly special to be able to welcome the 2022 National Student Poets,” she said as the five high school poets sat behind her on high stools.

In the State Dining Room, books and knickknacks were stacked on the fireplace mantle beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. A sandwich board advertised a poetry reading at 4:30 p.m. Votive candles flickered on round tables where some 60 guests had taken seats.

Ada Limón, the 24th poet laureate of the United States, called each student up to read their winning work. Biden congratulated the students after the reading and hugged each one.

“We’re not just celebrating poetry,” Limón said. “We’re celebrating the future of poetry.”

The 2022 National Student Poets, and their schools, are:

—Vidhatrie Keetha, Horace Mann School, Bronx, New York.

—Emily Igwike, University School of Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

—Winslow Hastie Jr., Charleston County School of the Arts, North Charleston, South Carolina.

—Jesse Begay, New Mexico School for the Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

—Diane Sun, Interlake High School Bellevue, Washington.

Biden also recognized this year’s 10th anniversary of the National Student Poets Program, which was created in 2012 to highlight the role of writing and the arts in academic and personal success for communities across the country, the White House said.

It is the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work. Alumni from the past decade attended yesterday’s event.

The program selects and provides scholarships annually to five student poets — one from each of the five U.S. geographical regions — to serve as literary ambassadors in their communities.

What a fine gesture on the part of Jill Biden to promote literature and poetry in our schools and our country!


Idaho Universities Forbid Staff from Telling Students How to Obtain Abortions!

University of Idaho may stop providing birth control under state's abortion  law |

Dear Commons Community,

Idaho universities are warning staffers not to refer students to abortion providers, and at least one public university is barring employees from telling students how to obtain emergency contraception or birth control as well. It’s the latest restriction in a state that already holds some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.  As reported by the Ass0ciated Press.

“This is going to have a very broad impact,” said Mike Satz, an attorney and former faculty member and interim dean at the University of Idaho’s College of Law. “It’s going to have a very strong chilling effect on free speech and it’s going to scare people. I’m afraid it’s going to scare people from going to school here or sending their kids to school at Idaho institutions.”

The prohibition against referring students to abortion providers or “promoting” abortion in any way comes from the “No Public Funds for Abortion Act,” a law passed by Idaho’s Republican-led Legislature in 2021. Boise State University, like the University of Idaho, told faculty members in a newsletter earlier this month that they could face felony charges for violating the law. Idaho State University did not respond to phone messages from The Associated Press asking if it had issued similar guidance.

The law also bars staffers and school-based health clinics from dispensing or telling students where to obtain emergency contraception, such as the Plan B pill, except for in cases of rape. Emergency contraception drugs prevent pregnancy from occurring and do not work in cases where someone is already pregnant.

The University of Idaho’s guidance released Friday goes a step further, also warning employees about a law written in 1867, 23 years before Idaho became a state. That law prohibits dispensing or “advertising” abortion services and birth control — leading to UI’s advice that condoms be distributed only to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, but not to prevent pregnancy.

It’s not yet clear how the law barring “advertising or promoting” abortion and birth control services could impact students or other state employees who may use state-owned computers or wireless networks to share information about how to access reproductive health care on Instagram or other social media sites. Scott Graf, a spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said his office planned to discuss the guidance given to university staffers and the abortion laws in an internal call Tuesday morning.

Jodi Walker, spokeswoman for the University of Idaho, said the university follows all laws and said UI officials were still “working through some of the details.”

“This is a challenging law for many and has real ramifications for individuals in that it calls for individual criminal prosecution,” she said of the public funds law. “The section does not specify what is meant by promoting abortion, however, it is clear that university employees are paid with public funds. Employees engaging in their course of work in a manner that favors abortion could be deemed as promoting abortion.”

Abortion can still be discussed as a policy issue in classrooms, Walker said, but the university recommends that the employees in charge of the class “remain neutral or risk violating this law.”

“We support our students and employees, as well as academic freedom, but understand the need to work within the laws set out by our state,” she said.

But that could be nearly impossible, said Satz. Both the University of Idaho and Boise State University rely on grants to fund major research and academic projects, and the federal government is among the largest sources of those grants. The federal government also provides abortions through the Veteran’s Administration, Satz noted, and the “No Public Funds for Abortion Act” bars the state from contracting with abortion providers.

Idaho’s lawmakers could fine-tune the laws to ensure they don’t violate 1st Amendment free speech rights or lead to major funding losses, but the deeply conservative state Legislature isn’t scheduled to meet again until January.

Boise State’s advisory to employees noted that abortion-producing medications or procedures can still be prescribed if they are used to remove a dead fetus caused by spontaneous abortion, to treat an ectopic pregnancy or to “save the life or preserve the health of the unborn child.” But some of those scenarios are gray areas under other state laws criminalizing abortions, including one targeted in a U.S. Department of Justice federal lawsuit against the state of Idaho.

Idaho isn’t the only state where employees have been cautioned not to give abortion advice. In the summer, librarians in Oklahoma City were warned against using the word “abortion,” though that changed after the city’s library team reviewed the laws. Still, social workers, clergy members and others have raised concerns in Oklahoma about being exposed to criminal or civil liability just for discussing abortions.

Sad situation!


Video: NASA successfully smashes spacecraft into asteroid 7 million miles from Earth!


Dear Commons Community,

In an historic trial run yesterday, that could lay the groundwork for saving life on Earth, NASA successfully crashed a spacecraft into a small asteroid to alter its orbit.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, or DART, collided with Dimorphos, a small asteroid measuring 525 feet in diameter that is located roughly 7 million miles from Earth, at 7:14 p.m. ET on Monday. Impact was confirmed when the video signal that had recorded Dimorphos as DART drew near dramatically cut off (see video above).  As reported by USA Today and Yahoo News. 

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson called the mission “a successful completion of the first part of the world’s first planetary defense test.”

“I believe it’s going to teach us how, one day, to protect our own planet from an incoming asteroid,” Nelson said in a video statement following impact.

The DART craft launched on Nov. 24, 2021, and the mission had an estimated cost of $324.5 million. DART was traveling at 14,000 miles per hour at the time of impact, with the last 4 miles of its journey lasting just one second, NASA said.

Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos, the larger asteroid that it orbits, posed a threat to Earth, either before the impact from DART or afterward. The asteroid was chosen by NASA so as to test the accuracy of rocket guidance systems that might be used in case larger asteroids threaten Earth in the future.

The crash, which NASA broadcast live, is believed to have altered Dimorphos’s trajectory. Exactly how much remains to be determined and will depend on whether Dimorphos is found through further investigation to be solid or a gravitationally held-together clump of rocks.

Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and project scientist for the DART mission, explained on NASA’s live broadcast how scientists would determine the extent of how the test had changed the trajectory of the asteroid.

“This is a double asteroid system. All we’ve done here actually is change slightly how Dimorphos goes around Didymos, right? The telescopes on the Earth have studied this for years, so we knew that it [the time it takes Dimorphos to orbit Didymos] used to be 11 hours and 55 minutes, so what is it going to be now? The telescopes are going to measure that period change.”

An illustration of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft prior to impact at the Didymos binary asteroid system. (NASA/Johns Hopkins/handout via Reuters)

The footage of the head-on collision was captured by a camera embedded on DART, but the impact will also be studied by telescopes on Earth and on satellites.

A computer aboard DART was programmed to self-navigate the spacecraft, which traveled at approximately 3.7 miles per second. As DART neared Dimorphos, the guidance system fired off steering bursts that kept its target on track as it grew steadily bigger in the center of the camera viewfinder.

Though DART was about the size of a golf cart, and the asteroid is as wide as the Washington Monument is tall, its speed should be sufficient to successfully alter the orbit of Dimorphos, NASA said.

Impressive!  Let’s hope we never have to use a DART!



Michelle Goldberg: Trump’s Embrace of QAnon Is Heartless and Cruel!

Dear Commons Community,

Michelle Goldberg has a piece in today’s New York Times commenting that Donald Trump’s embrace of QAnon is both heartless and cruel to its followers.  She opens up by documenting several acts of violence and murder on the part of QAnon members, much of it directed to family members and innocents.   All of the men who perpetrated these acts appear to have been mentally ill, but QAnon played a role in shaping and reinforcing their delusions. She quotes Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything as saying that what Trump is doing on Truth Social is a massive escalation of his involvement and support of QAnon positions. Here is an excerpt.  

“On Friday, an Iowa man named Doug Jensen became the latest QAnon follower to be convicted in connection to his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.  [Jensen urged a crowd of rioters in chasing a U.S. Capitol police officer up a staircase and accosting other officers guarding the Senate, in what was one of the most harrowing scenes of the mob’s attack that day.]

Which is why Trump’s embrace of the movement is not just dangerous, but cruel.

Trump has long played footsie with QAnon, whose adherents prophesy an apotheosis, or “storm,” in which Trump is returned to power and his enemies rounded up and executed. “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said in 2020. When he was still on Twitter, he regularly retweeted QAnon followers.

But in recent weeks, as Trump’s legal troubles have mounted, his endorsement of QAnon has become more forthright. On Sept. 12, he reposted an image of himself wearing a Q lapel pin and the words “The Storm Is Coming” on his social media platform, Truth Social. An Associated Press analysis, published on Sept. 16, found that of nearly 75 accounts Trump has reposted on Truth Social in the past month, more than a third have promoted QAnon.

“What he’s doing on Truth Social is a massive escalation,” said Mike Rothschild, author of “The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything.”

At a rally on Sept. 17, Trump spoke over mournful music that was, as The New York Times reported, “all but identical” to a QAnon theme song; many in the audience raised a pointed finger in the air, a QAnon salute. On Friday, the former president reposted a video full of QAnon memes on Truth Social. (Some around Trump may believe it’s unhelpful for him to openly court an apocalyptic cult; at a rally on Friday, staff reportedly made people giving the QAnon salute lower their arms.)

Many have speculated about why Trump is moving closer to QAnon. My own guess is that he’s deepening his connection with his most fanatical fans to more easily whip up a vigilante mob if he’s indicted on any of the many charges he appears to be facing. What’s clear, though, is how little he thinks of those fans, whom he is blithely encouraging down a ruinous path.

“We tend to see the danger that these movements represent, but we don’t talk about the people who are in them,” Rothschild told me. It’s easy to write off QAnon followers, he said, many of whom have reprehensible beliefs. But “this movement, and this philosophy, it finds an audience because it tells people things that they want to hear, and it creates a world for them that is much safer and makes a lot more sense than the world that we’re in now.”

It is deeply comforting for people to feel that they’re part of an epochal battle between good and evil in which good is destined to triumph. The world of QAnon, said Rothschild, “becomes the only meaningful thing to them.”

Trump is making it much harder for people to leave that world, because the man they admire most is endorsing all their wild, violently millenarian fantasies. “It blows away the doubt,” said Rothschild. Much was made in 2016 of Hillary Clinton calling Trump supporters “deplorables.” But few have demonstrated as much contempt for the people who love Trump as Trump has himself.

Trump is a menace to our society and should be completely repudiated by his enablers in the Republican Party.


NOTE:  I made a couple of small edits to this posting that originally appeared on September 27, 2022.

Giorgia Meloni looks set to become Italy’s first woman prime minister as the head of a right-wing government!

Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni closing in as next prime minister of Italy

Giorgia Meloni

Dear Commons Community,

Giorgia Meloni looks set to become Italy’s first woman prime minister as the head of the most right-wing government since World War II after leading a conservative alliance to triumph in  yesterday’s election.

Near final results showed the rightist bloc should have a solid majority in both houses of parliament, potentially giving Italy a rare chance of political stability after years of upheaval and fragile coalitions.  As reported by Reuters.

“Giorgia Meloni has won”, Italy’s biggest-circulation daily, Corriere della Sera, splashed on its frontpage, while the right-leaning Il Tempo ran with “It’s Giorgia’s turn”.

Meloni and her allies face a daunting list of challenges, including soaring energy prices, war in Ukraine and renewed slowdown in the euro zone’s third largest economy.

“We must remember that we are not at the end point, we are at the starting point. It is from tomorrow that we must prove our worth,” the 45-year-old Meloni told cheering supporters of her nationalist Brothers of Italy party early Monday morning.

Meloni plays down her party’s post-fascist roots and portrays it as a mainstream group like Britain’s Conservatives. She has pledged to back Western policy on Ukraine and not take risks with Italy’s fragile finances.

European capitals and financial markets will carefully scrutinize her early moves, given her eurosceptic past and her allies’ ambivalent position on Russia.

In her victory speech, Meloni struck a conciliatory tone.

“If we are called on to govern this nation we will do it for all the Italians, with the aim of uniting the people and focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us,” she said. “This is a time for being responsible.”

With results counted in more than 90% of polling stations, the Brothers of Italy led with more than 26%, up from just 4% in the last national election in 2018, as voters opted for a largely untried figure to sort out the nation’s many problems.

By contrast, her main ally suffered a disastrous night, with Matteo Salvini’s League picking up around 9% of the vote, down from more than 17% four years ago, and being overtaken by Meloni in all its traditional fiefdoms in the north.

The other major conservative party, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, scored around 8%.

Although Meloni’s alliance is forecast to hold comfortable majorities in the upper and lower houses, its members have divergent positions on several issues which might be difficult to reconcile.

Salvini, for example, questions the West’s sanctions against Russia and both he and Berlusconi have often expressed their admiration of its leader Vladimir Putin.

They also have differing views on how to deal with surging energy bills and have laid out a raft of promises, including tax cuts and pension reform, that Italy will struggle to afford.

Sarah Carlson, senior vice president of Moody’s credit ratings agency, said the next Italian government will have to manage a debt burden “that is vulnerable to negative growth, funding cost, and inflation developments”.

Meloni will take over from Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, who pushed Rome to the center of EU policy-making during his 18-month stint in office, forging close ties with Paris and Berlin.

In Europe, the first to hail her victory were hard-right opposition parties in Spain and France, and Poland and Hungary’s national conservative governments which both have strained relations with Brussels.

Despite its clearcut result, the vote was not a ringing endorsement for the conservative alliance. Turnout was just 64% against 73% four years ago — a record low in a country that has historically had strong voter participation.

The right took full advantage of Italy’s electoral law, which benefits parties that forge pre-ballot alliances. Center-left and centrist parties failed to hook up and even though they won more votes than the conservatives, they ended up with far fewer seats.

The center-left Democratic Party (PD) took some 19%, while the left-leaning, unaligned 5-Star Movement scored around 15%, a result above expectations. The centrist “Action” group was on just over 7%.

“This is a sad evening for the country,” said Debora Serracchiani, a senior PD lawmaker. “(The right) has the majority in parliament, but not in the country.”

Cosi sia!