Wednesday Good Reads: SETI, El Faro, and Labor

 

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“Go to the one about organized labor, Madison

 

A few good reads from the last few days. What’s stopping you? You have nothing to lose, and everything (or, well, three things) to gain.

Searching the Skies for Alien Laser Beams, Marina Koren, The Atlantic

Some scientists believe that the best way to find alien life is to look for pulses of laser beams shot out across the dark eons. While SETI doesn’t always get priority for telescope use (understandably), researchers have found a workaround: poring through data collected by other observations and looking for anomalies. Of course, this presupposes that aliens have seen our planet, want to send some form of contact, and have also decided that laser pulses are the best way, but that makes some sense. It’s easier than sending, like an expedition, and it isn’t really committal (“Oh, jeez, sorry, we were sending that to Rigel 7.”), but there’s something very romantic about it. It’s like being at camp and blinking your flashlight across the lake, wondering if there were campers over there, wondering if you were somehow making a connection through the darkness.

(Granted, I doubt the aliens are hoping, as we campers did, just to make contact with girls, but the general principle holds.)

Democrats and Labor: Frenemies Forever, Erik Loomis, Boston Review

I don’t think there is anyone concerned with labor and with unions (the only thing that can bring back any form of rough economic equality) that isn’t frustrated with the Democrats. Even a very pro-labor government like Obama’s saw labor decline. But as Loomis argues, deciding the abandon the Democrats is ridiculous. A labor-driven third party can’t work, and the Republicans are fully committed to destroying what’s left of unions.

Loomis diagnosis how, oddly, the grassroots/progressive liberal wing helped to strip unions of their power, which accelerated the Democrats no longer needing them as much for votes, and relying on small donors/huge corporate cash, which pushed them toward unfettered free trade, which helped destroy the unions. It’s a complicated story where good guy/bad guy is pretty blurry, but there are ways to get back. The alliances that shattered unions can be used to build them back up.

Other unions have embraced grassroots activism to elect liberal and friendly Democrats. The latter is unions’ best answer if combined with committing as many resources as possible to organizing. Because, paradoxically, unions have little choice but to continue tying their fate to the Democratic Party. Indeed it is even more important now than five decades ago. Even though Democrats have helped create their demise, unions’ only chance against a full-on war with the Republican Party is a moderately favorable relationship with the Democrats acting as a kind of political bulwark.

The whole thing is worth the read.

‘I’m a Goner’: El Faro’s Last Hours as Ship Sails Into StormJason Dearen, AP

The El Faro was nearly 800 feet long and could carry 31,000 tons. It wasn’t one of the neo-Panamax megaliners that are transforming global shipping, but it was a beast. It also had bad boilers which could hurt its engine, and old-fashioned lifeboats that were essentially useless in a big storm. On Oct 1st, 2015, it

On Oct 1st, 2015, it rushed headlong into a big storm. Hurrican Jaoquin, near the Bahamas, a Category 3 with winds up to 130 mph. Battered by waves, unable to turn, the ship broke up and sank, taking its crew of 33 with it to the bottom.

In the AP, Jason Dearen crafts a story out of transcripts recorded on the bridge, and they tell a harrowing story of calm professionalism over growing terror. The list of things that went wrong is terrifying and maddening. The ship listed a bit, which meant the parts that brough oil to the engines didn’t quite reach the reserves, which made the pumps not work, which brought on more water. It couldn’t steer into the waves, and so was pummeled by them, hundreds of feet high. They couldn’t even call for help, since the company that owned the boat (the one that signed off on the boilers and the lifeboats) had an answering service set up after hours. There was no way to contact them directly (though it might not have mattered in the face of a hurricane, that’s still pretty cold).

They do their jobs and try to figure it out. But eventually, there is no way out. The ship is sinking. Some panic, some try to just find the next way to survive. None do. It’s a terrible story, written with a modest and removed reserve, which heightens the true natural terror. And that boat, that human immensity, carrying with it the dreams and memories of dozens, disappears, swallowed unremarkably by a roiling sea.

 

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