The Solar flare apocalypse

Hollywood should stop making totally implausible movies about frozen disasters and consider a real disaster that could easily hit earth: massive solar flares.  Apparently, we are heading into a period of increased solar activity and if we were to have a flare as large as a famous one of 1859, it would basically cripple life as we know it:

But the biggest impact will be on the modern marvel known as the power grid. And experts warn that the grid is not ready. In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences stated that an 1859-level storm could knock out power in parts of the northeastern and northwestern United States for months, even years. Report co-author John Kappenmann estimated that about 135 million Americans would be forced to revert to a pre-electric lifestyle or relocate. Water systems would fail. Food would spoil. Thousands could die. The financial cost: Up to $2 trillion, one-seventh the annual U.S. gross domestic product.

There’s some really cool videos of the solar flares, too, if you click on the article.  The good news is that with the right steps, we can dramatically lessen the negative impact of an unusually large solar flare.  The bad news: the most dysfunctional legislative body on the planet doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it:

Legislation under consideration in the House would force utility companies to protect 350 critical transformers from a massive solar storm. Under the bill, called the SHIELD Act, the one-time cost of $100 million to $300 million would be passed on to customers. Last year the bill passed in the House unanimously, only to stall in the Senate.

Seriously, is there anything out there worse than the Senate?   This passed the House unanimously!  Hopefully, they’ll get their act in gear:

In the meantime, Bogdan will be losing sleep over losing ACE, the sun storm sentinel.

“It’s the extreme solar events I’m worried about,” he said. “It might not happen this solar cycle. But sometime in my lifetime or my children’s, that storm will be here. The question is ‘Will we be prepared for it?’ ”

Until then– time for a screenplay.

Sleep with your kids?

Nice piece from  Robert Wright on sleeping with your kids.  We’d certainly like our kids to sleep better on their own, but a typical night in the Greene household is Sarah in her mini-crib next to our bed, Alex lying at the foot of the bed below Kim’s feet and with my feet under his, and half the time, Evan sneaking in between me and Kim until such point as I wake up and carry him back into his own bed.  Good ol’ David diligently sleeps on his own without difficulty except for the occasional late night loud thunderstorm.  Thus, it was nice to see Wright arguing that it’s all good for us to sleep with our young kids (Alex is 9, but developmentally close to 3– at some point he’s really going to be too big, but we’re not quite there yet).  Anyway, here’s Wright:

That brings me to my second bias (hauntingly familiar to regular readers): Darwinism. For our species, the natural nighttime arrangement is for kids to sleep alongside their mothers for the first few years. At least, that’s the norm in hunter-gatherer societies, the closest things we have to a model of the social environment in which humans evolved. Mothers nurse their children to sleep and then nurse on demand through the night. Sounds taxing, but it’s not. When the baby cries, the mother starts nursing reflexively, often without really waking up. If she does reach consciousness, she soon fades back to sleep with the child. And the father, as I can personally attest, never leaves Z-town.

So Ferberization, I submit, is unnatural. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. The technique may well be harmless (though maybe not, as we’ll see below). I don’t begrudge Ferber the right to preach Ferberization or parents who prefer sleeping sans child the right to practice it. Live and let live. What’s annoying is the refusal of Ferber and other experts to reciprocate my magnanimity. They act as if parents like me are derelict, as if children need to fall asleep in a room alone.

I’m thinking Kim would strongly disagree with that “sounds taxing, but it’s not.” line.  Still, overall, good points.  What I most like, is that Wright takes on the shoddy and unsubstantiated reasoning behind Ferber’s approach:

Why, exactly, is it bad to sleep with your kids? Learning to sleep alone, says Ferber, lets your child “see himself as an independent individual.” I’m puzzled. It isn’t obvious to me how a baby would develop a robust sense of autonomy while being confined to a small cubicle with bars on the side and rendered powerless to influence its environment. (Nor is it obvious these days, when many kids spend 40 hours a week in day care, that they need extra autonomy training.) I’d be willing to look at the evidence behind this claim, but there isn’t any. Comparing Ferberized with non-Ferberized kids as they grow up would tell us nothing–Ferberizing and non-Ferberizing parents no doubt tend to have broadly different approaches to child-rearing, and they probably have different cultural milieus. We can’t control our variables.

Lacking data, people like Ferber and Brazelton make creative assertions about what’s going on inside the child’s head. Ferber says that if you let a toddler sleep between you and your spouse, “in a sense separating the two of you, he may feel too powerful and become worried.” Well, he may, I guess. Or he may just feel cozy. Hard to say (though they certainly look cozy). Brazelton tells us that when a child wakes up at night and you refuse to retrieve her from the crib, “she won’t like it, but she’ll understand.” Oh.

That said– I’m all for Sarah doing some more crying at night and learning how to sleep for longer periods of time.  Lots of the time she wakes up and she’s not hungry, just wants to be briefly comforted and fall back to sleep.  I would argue there’s something to be said for her to learn how to comfort herself.  I do think Wright is right, though, in puncturing the “it’s best for the child” insistence of Ferber et al.  I know plenty others judge us (“Alex still sleeps in your bed– seriously?”  Umm, you try and deal with him in the evening then), but how parents get their kids to sleep is one area I definitely don’t judge (I just judge them for thinking they should be their kids best friend 🙂 ).


On empathy and clueless Supreme Court Justices

I meant to blog about this case last week, but I waited– and good for me, as Dahlia Lithwick does the heavy lifting.  You really should read the whole thing.  Really.  But, since most of you won’t… the case is about a 13-year old who was interviewed in what would have to strike any reasonable adult (i.e., not a conservative Supreme Court Justice) as a coercive environment.  Here’s Dahlia:

The details of the case are straightforward. A 13-year-old middle-schooler from Chapel Hill, N.C., known only as J.D.B., was removed from his classroom by a police officer in uniform, escorted to a conference room, and questioned behind closed doors by two cops and school officials for at least half an hour. His legal custodian, his grandmother, was never notified, nor was he informed of his Miranda rights, or his right to leave the room. After being threatened with a search of his home and juvenile detention, J.D.B. confessed to some break-ins. Only then did the police let J.D.B. know that he could refuse to answer questions and was free to leave. The police searched his home, found stolen goods, and charged the youth with breaking and entering and larceny. His public defender moved to suppress his confession, and the evidence resulting from it, on the grounds that J.D.B. had been interrogated in a custodial setting without Miranda warnings. The trial judge denied the motion, the boy was declared a delinquent, and a divided panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling.

The question for the Supreme Court was a simple one: Should a suspect’s age factor into an inquiry into whether he was in custody for the purposes of a Miranda warning?

Ummm, how about: of course!  Lithwick explains how Miranda is used:

The court has outlined a two-part test to determine whether a suspect is “in custody” for Miranda purposes: “what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation; and … given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt he or she was at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.”

What kind of 13 year old is going to think they are at liberty to just leave in the above situation?  Seriously!?  Of course a suspect’s age is going to play into this.   Lithwick spins out a great piece on what judicial “empathy” really means on the basis of this.  Short version, Alito and friends don’t even think it’s worth trying to understand what would be reasonable for a 13 year old.  They are plenty empathetic with overzealous cops and prosecutors, however.   Basically, Alito’s dissent (thank God Kennedy was on the so obvious right side on this one) comes down to the fact that it would be a pain to allow different standards for when Miranda applies.  Yeah, well sometimes doing the right thing is a pain.  Lithwick’s quotes from Sotomayor’s excellent opinion:

She concludes that empathy is hardly impossible to muster in these settings: “Just as police officers are competent to account for other objective circumstances that are a matter of degree such as the length of questioning or the number of officers present, so too are they competent to evaluate the effect of relative age. … The same is true of judges, including those whose childhoods have long since passed. … In short, officers and judges need no imaginative powers, knowledge of developmental psychology, training in cognitive science, or expertise in social and cultural anthropology to account for a child’s age. They simply need the common sense to know that a 7-year-old is not a 13-year-old and neither is an adult.”

Exactly.  When I first read this case I was honestly appalled that it wasn’t 9-0.  And from Alito:

Justice Samuel Alito, dissenting on behalf of the court’s conservative wing, eschews the idea that judges and police officers could ever substitute their judgment for that of a child. He faults Sotomayor for turning Miranda’s “one-size-fits-all reasonable-person test into an inquiry that must account for at least one individualized characteristic—age—that is thought to correlate [emphasis mine]with susceptibility to coercive pressures.”

Seriously?  “thought to correlate”??!!  Alito is only willing to acknowledge as an unproven supposition the idea that youths are more susceptible to coercive pressure.  And this guy is sitting on the highest court in the land.  I really find the utter cluelessness and callousness of this dissent as a stark indictment of Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and (I’m just an umpire, calling balls and strikes) Roberts.

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