What I am Reading October 22nd

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What do the firebombing of Dresden and the fires on the West Coast have in common? Embedded science, the Fall as a tonic, and a different history of packing the Supreme Court

“California is flammable. It is hard for us moderns to accept—conditioned, as we are, by Smokey Bear—but fire is every bit as natural and inevitable in the American West as flooding in the Mississippi River Basin and hurricanes in Florida. Fire is not only guaranteed by climate and ecology; it is vital to the health of many ecosystems. The 20th century, in fact, during which large wildfires were far less common in the West than they are today, should properly be seen as the unnatural outlier. Prior to that, and especially before Anglo-American conquest, wildfire burned an estimated 6 million to 13 million acres each year in California, according to one study, far more than even the current record-­setting season.

Most of those frequent fires past were different, though, in a critical way…”

wrote recently on the source of many of those wildfires, human activity. But Wired takes it a step further and opens up the science that we know and need to learn about how those fires burn. From Wired, The West’s Infernos Are Melting Our Sense of How Fire Works

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we use the word science. It can serve as a noun as well as a verb. Then I ran across this discussion of “applied science” embedded all around us.

“The science of McDonald’s is already opposed by the science of Marion Nestle and the Center for Science in the Public Interest; definitions of autism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are opposed by “neurodiversity” movements and sympathetic psychiatrists; the neoliberal economics embraced by many Western governments is opposed by Paul Krugman, Amartya Sen, and strands of behavioral economics; and genetic determinism is opposed by the emerging science of epigenetics. Science often speaks with more than one voice, and embedded science is no exception.”

This article captures much of what has interested me and lays out an interesting argument about what we mean by science, write small or large. Science does, in fact, speak with more than one voice, From The Hedgehog Review, Invisible Science - The Scientization of the Ordinary

Is the Fall a tonic of sorts? John Muir thought so. 

“In the yellow mist the rough angles melt on the rocks. Forms, lines, tints, reflections, sounds, all are softened, and although the dying time, it is also the color time, the time when faith in the steadfastness of Nature is surest… The seeds all have next summer in them, some of them thousands of summers, as the sequoia and cedar. In the holiday array all go calmly down into the white winter rejoicing, plainly hopeful, faithful… everything taking what comes, and looking forward to the future, as if piously saying, “Thy will be done in earth as in heaven!””

From Brainpickings, John Muir on the Calm Assurance of Autumn as a Time of Renewal and Nature as a Tonic for Mental and Physical Health

I enjoy reading history, and once thought that my understanding of American history had some reasonable depth and breadth. I have since been disabused of that erroneous assumption. However, I still do, with decreasing frequency, fall in the trap of believing I know more than I actually do — case in point, the current discussion of packing the Supreme Court. I figured knowing the FDR story covered a lot of ground, and was happy to see that President Lincoln had held off appointing a new Justice before an election. Course, I didn’t know the full story. From The Conversation, Packing the Court: Amid national crises, Lincoln and his Republicans remade the Supreme Court to fit their agenda