Sunday, March 08, 2020

Book Review: Illegal, by Prof Elizabeth F Cohen


      The knock on the door came well before dawn in the eighties, and our train had stopped dead in utter darkness. It was a sleeper train, and it was about to be sealed. We were taking the overnighter from Munich to West Berlin, and the train, which had to traverse East Germany, was being inspected before being sent on its no-stops-allowed run behind the iron curtain to democratic West Berlin.
      The German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany, was a communist regime. For any of you too young to remember the Soviet era, this meant that the Government was essentially unlimited and all-powerful. There was no balance of power between government and corporations because the government owned every business larger than a family store. There was no balance between workers and management because labor unions were banned, There was no balance between church and state because religion was illegal. And there was no balance between political parties because only the Communist party was allowed to exist.
      Among the Eastern Bloc Communist countries, however, East Germany had a reputation as being particularly sadistic. There was a vast secret police force which spied on its own citizens. To prevent East Germans from escaping to the free world, they built walls and fences, laid mines, and gave armed guards orders to shoot to kill. And now we, a bunch of sleepy American high school students, were about to cross that border to transit to West Berlin, a sole island of freedom deep within the repressive East German State. There was just one problem.
      Not all of us were actually Americans. My bunkmate (who shall remain anonymous) was on a green card. His passport was issued by India. 
      Despite the fundamental differences between the Communist countries and the West, by the 80’s the Communist countries were generally happy to have Western tourists. The Communist economies weren’t very efficient, and they were reliant on US dollars or other western currency to keep them financially sound. So having American school kids pass through was fine. Indians were another story, however.
Even though socialist India of the 80’s was much more philosophically aligned with East Germany than the US was, it was also a much poorer country. And although the communists espoused equality among people and the redistribution of wealth, that didn’t extend to letting the “Asian Hordes” stream into the country, live off welfare, disrupt the cultural homogeneity and steal jobs. My bunkmate was supposed to have a visa, but due to a mistake by our teacher, he had arrived at the world’s most heavily controlled border without one. And on that eighties evening, the two uniformed East German Border agents accosting us in our sleeping compartment on that train were telling us all about it in shouty German.
      That was over 30 years ago. That border, and Communist Germany, no longer exist. But there is a darker side to America’s victory of freedom and democracy over the cruel communist state. As Professor Cohen describes in her new book, “Illegal”, since the fall of communism the United States has fortified its own borders, militarized the border force, eroded the rights of its people, and overridden the checks and balances that distinguish the Free World from despotic regimes. 
      “Illegal” briskly tells the story of the last 100+ years of US border policy and law. Starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and proceeding up to the current US administration, Cohen lays out the facts of the laws as they are passed, the intention behind them, and the zeitgeist which called for their formation.
      This is not a detached, theoretical treatise. Although it is rigorously researched and referenced, it is intensely personal and emotional. The introduction starts with the story of Cohen’s mother’s journey to America as a Jewish refugee from post-war Europe. The first chapter, which details the current abuses of the Customs & Border Patrol and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (CPB and ICE) agencies is scathing it its description of the inhumane treatment of suspected illegal immigrants happening right now in the Land of the Free.
      Back on the 80’s train, the shouty border guards gave way to the Very Quiet supervisor. After quickly confirming that our Russian was even worse than our German, he managed, through halting English and slow repetitive German, to explain the situation we were in. And he had a choice to make. Inside of East Germany, the security forces’ power was absolute. But there was a broader picture. 
      The entire Cold War, in a nutshell, was a competition between the Communist and Democratic world over who could build a superior civilization after the ruinous destruction of the Second World War. The fact that Germany was divided into East and West, with a Federal Republican government on one side and a Centralized Communist one on the other, was the very essence of this competition. And a key weapon in this struggle was propaganda. It would be bad publicity to strand or disappear a kid from an American school.
      Of course, publicity requires the ability to discover and propagate knowledge about the actions or events which one wishes to publicize. And one of the key highlights of this book is Cohen’s ability to put all the pieces half-hidden in the shadows together. For example, while it has been obvious to even the most casual observer of government affairs that secrecy has been abused for practically all of the War on Terror, Illegal shows not just the abusive actions which are covered up, but the lobbyists and motivations behind corrupting the security apparatus to persecute peaceful foreigners in the first place.
      The first several chapters of Illegal show that racism has been a central driving force for immigration control ever since it was first practiced with the Chinese Exclusion act. While side issues like labor, “coolieism,” and humanity occasionally played a role, the force driving the main advocates for crueler borders from the 1880’s to today has been to keep America white. 
      This was unsurprising in the days before WWII, when white superiority was common in American society. But the insidious feature of immigration law that Cohen documents is that even as white supremacy has become more of a fringe belief, the few very rich and powerful people who subscribe to it have been able to build stronger and more robust lobby groups to restrict non-white immigrants, so that their racist policies, dressed up in sham excuses, have become bipartisan and been strengthened by all of the last four administrations, including that of the first black President.
      The scope of this stealth white supremacy was astonishing. Particularly surprising to me was that the White Supremacist heiress, Cordelia Scaife May, was behind the infiltration of the Sierra Club by low population growth “environmental” activists. Having worked a little with the Sierra Student Coalition in college,I knew these people existed, and had in fact argued against them, but I had naively assumed that they were arguing in good faith, and were not in fact paid shills.
      Back in the 80’s, the STASI goons eventually waved us through. We were lucky in that the big picture connotations outweighed meeting a quota. But even so, it was a formative experience. And seeing America adopt the lack of due process and cruel and unusual border tactics used by the commies makes me seethe with anger. I’m not saying that borders don’t need to be controlled, but they can be controlled in a way that demonstrates American values instead of eroding them. The last chapter of Illegal makes several specific suggestions as to how this can be done.
      Illegal is much mare fast-paced and accessible that Cohen’s academic books, like The Political Value of Time.  It relies on endnotes and references instead of digressions to fill in the details, making the book a non-fiction page turner in the manner of the 9/11 Commission report. Obviously your’s lived experience will affect what you take away from the book, but for me it was terrifyingly addicive.  I recommend it for anyone who believes in American values.

Disclaimer. Both of you who are longtime readers of this blog and are still here might be wondering how it is that a Gen-X political theory professor from Syracuse features so prominently in the book reviews here at the empirical Lounge. Given the standard topics here, this emphasis in political philosophy may seem somewhat anomalous. And this is a fair call. But it just so happens, Dr Cohen is someone I have known personally since before we liberated Eastern Europe. We went to junior high and high school together, and as relatively few people at our school took German, we had that class together for four years. In fact, although the girls were bunking at the other end of the Carriage and the goons with Kalashnikovs prevented them from seeing our ordeal, she was also on that train. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Geosonnet 64


When Perseus, Medusa’s head in hand,
Returned triumphant from the Gorgon’s isle,
He sold himself as hero of the land,
No stony witnesses could cramp his style.
When older larger monsters were destroyed,
No Greek boast twisted dinosaurs’ last stand.
To know the source of mammals’ schadenfreude,
Interrogate the Gorgon Island’s sand.
A spherule bed is present in the rock
Old microtektites still containing glass
The argon age is Chicxulub’s great shock,
American ejecta cumulates en masse.
   Thus impact-based extinction we construe.
   With mythic monsters vanquished, ferns regrew.



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Thursday, February 06, 2020

Geosonnet 63

 

The Tragomys, like Creagh a desert rat,
Evolving on the hamster wheel of time
Scampered across the desert habitat
Of arid climates close to maritime.
But though they like to sunbathe, they don’t swim.
A beach bum never venturing to sea
Won’t paddle to an island on a whim;
Mallorca Strait stops them assuredly.
But when Mediterranean dries up
By isolation from the global seas
Then rodents which can’t swim can walk or jump
Populating peninsula with ease.
The hamsters, gerbils both confirm the tale
Messinian evaporates regale.


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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Geosonnet 62



Charles Sturt believed there was an inland sea
Where westward winding rivers could discharge
This destination proved illusory
And yet his name’s on desert, gorge, litharge.
Among the rocky features labelled Sturt
An ancient glaciation bears his name
Geologists today wish to assert
Exactly when this global ice age came.
But Glac’ers oft erode what lies below
Entire sections thus are hard to find.
A dozen million years post-Inslay show
The isotope and ice are not entwined.
Seven one seven million years from then
Sturt chased mirage hypotheses again.


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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Some quick thoughts on the current suite of Star Wars movies


I meant to post this last year, but never quite got around to typing it up, so on the eve of the next Star Wars film, here’s a few thoughts about two of the more recent ones.

On my last trans-pacific flight, I watched The Last Jedi and Rouge One back to back. It was an interesting contrast, as it clarified what I do and don’t like about the more recent versions of these films.

Rouge One was a brilliant movie. I can’t recall the last time I saw a Sci-Fi heist movie, but they pulled it off in style. It was also a great war movie- sort of like a futuristic Guns of Navarrone or Bridge over the river Kwai. The stakes were high, the Empire was evil, the heroes lay everything on the line to stop a terrible weapon from being unleashed- while at the same time it was similar enough to our own neverending wars that it felt pertinent and important.

The Last Jedi, on the other hand, I found to be pretty but implausible, with too many emotionally unsupported plot twists and a tiresome moral relativism. The “break with the past” embodied by Ren’s betrayal made the plot choices seem arbitrary. Furthermore, the Empire, for the first Star Wars movie ever, wasn’t particularly evil. They were fighting the rebels, and the rebels were fighting the Empire (or First Order, as the neo-imperials style themselves). But the rebels opened the movie by failing cheaply through petulance, and the Casino scene literally held both sides to be equivalent, so this was very much the Nazi sanitation Star Wars movie, which didn’t sit well with me. I suppose that’s what happens when Imperial merchandising is a billion dollar business, but the battle between good and evil was a big draw of the franchise for me.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I was turned off enough to skip the Solo movie. Dunno if I’ll see this one or not.

Monday, December 16, 2019

How the Grinch ruined reviewing

 

Everyone who has ever published scientific results knows about the dread Reviewer Two: The reviewer who is unduly harsh, or just doesn’t get it, or who is inappropriately negative. Yet although we all complain about having been harshly judged by reviewer two, we never talk about the reviews we dish out. So, because it is Christmas, I am posting my harshest ever review below. I actually had to do it twice- I was a naive sucker, and I sheepishly went along when they asked me to do their dirty work for them. Here is part one:


Dear G&G editors:
This paper appears to be plagiarized from Haggerty 2014 Carbonado: Physical and chemical properties, a critical evaluation of proposed origins, and a revised genetic model. Earth Science Reviews 130 49-72 (hereafter: H14).

The first sentence of this manuscript is directly plagiarized from the first sentence of Haggerty (2014), without citation:

"Carbonado-diamond is the most controversial of all diamond types and is found only in Brazil, and the Central African Republic (Bangui)." H14

"Carbonado is the most controversial of all diamond types." this paper

This pattern continues:

"Selected physical properties are presented and the proposed origins, diverse
in character and imaginatively novel, are critically reviewed." H14

"Selected physical and chemical properties are presented and the proposed origins, diverse in character and imaginatively novel, are critically reviewed."

Similarly, entire sentences and phrases from the introduction and descriptive sections seem to be cut and pasted from various parts of H14, while this paper is only referenced (and incorrectly as 2013) occasionally.

There is no author affiliation on the manuscript you sent me.  If it is anyone other than Haggerty, you should probably report them to their Dean, or misconduct board.  If it is Haggerty, then I guess it depends on your policy on large-scale self-cut and pasting and what constitutes an original paper.  I have attached the first page of H14 (just one page, to stay within fair use guidelines) as a comparison- please compare this abstract to the abstract and first introductory paragraph on the manuscript you sent me.

I thought I should inform you of this ASAP. Would you like me to continue with the review?
sincerely,
Chuck Magee



Anyway, the editors replied saying that Haggerty was in fact the author, and that a full review would be appreciated. So I provided the following:
 
Dear G&G editors:
This paper appears to be heavily self-plagairized from Haggerty 2014 Carbonado: Physical and chemical properties, a critical evaluation of proposed origins, and a revised genetic model. Earth Science Reviews 130 49-72 (hereafter: H14).

Specific, paragraph-by-paragraph notes:

The Abstract is heavily cribbed from that of H14, including an identical opening sentence.
The introduction is heavily cribbed from the second half of the H14 abstract. “Selected physical [and chemical] properties are presented and the proposed origins, diverse in character and imaginatively novel, are critically reviewed.”;
Point 2 in this manuscript is point 1 in H14 abstract;
Point 3 in this manuscript is point 2 in H14 abstract;
Point 4 in this manuscript is point 3 in H14 abstract.
Point 1 in this manuscript is the first sentence of H14 Introduction.

Paragraph 1 of this manuscript’s “Geological Setting” section is copied from paragraph 1 of the “Geologic Setting” section of H14.

Paragraph 2 of this manuscript’s “Geological Setting” section is copied from paragraph 2 of the “Geologic Setting” section of H14.

Paragraph 3 of this manuscript’s “Geological Setting” section is copied from the beginning of paragraph 3 of the “Geologic Setting” section of H14.

Paragraph 4 of this manuscript’s “Geological Setting” section is copied from the middle and end of paragraph 3 of the “Geologic Setting” section of H14.

Paragraph 1 of this manuscript’s “Carbonado” section is copied from paragraph 4 of the Introduction of H14.

The first half of the “overall appearance” subsection is copied from the “Overall appearance” section of H14. The second half is cribbed heavily from the “Surface and internal textures” section of H14.

The “porosity” subsection is copied with minor changes from the porosity section of H14

The “Hardness and toughness” subsection is copied with minor changes from the “Hardness & Toughness” section of H14

The “Mineralogy” subsection is copied and summarized from from the “Mineralogy” section of H14

The “Chemistry” subsection is copied virtually intact from the “chemistry” section of H14

The “Optical properties” subsection is copied with minor changes (1,2,3 becomes a,b,c) and condensed from the “optical properties” section of H14
The “synthesis” subsection is copied with minor changes from the “synthesis” section of H14

The Objections to Proposed origins section in this manuscript is somewhat mixed up from H14:
point 1 was point 5
point 2 was point 9
point 3 was point 1
point 4 was point 13
point 5 was point 14
point 6 was point 7
point 7 was point 2
point 8 was point 3
point 9 was point 3
point 10 was point 4
point 11 was point 8
point 12 was point 10
point 13 was point 11
point 14 was point 12
point 15-18 are the same.

The summarizing paragraph is cut and pasted from the summarizing paragraph of H14

The Extra-terrestrial Origin section of this manuscript copies 6 of the 7 ennumerated points from H14.

The first “stellar sources” paragraph is heavily cribbed from the third “Extra-terrestrial origin” section of H14.

The second “stellar sources” paragraph of this manuscript appears to be similar to the last paragraph of the “Extra-Terrestrial origin” section of H14

The third “stellar sources” paragraph of this manuscript is similar for the first paragraph of the “new cosmic model” section of H14.

The fourth “stellar sources” paragraph appears to be copied from the fourth “A new cosmic model” section of H14

The “Exoplanets” paragraph is cribbed heavily from the middle of the second “A new cosmic model” paragraph of H14

The 1st “solar system” paragraph is drawn heavile from the end of the second “A new cosmic model” paragraph of H14

The second “Solar System” paragraph is drawn from the last “origin in the solar system” paragraph in H14

The first “When and how did carbonado reach earth” paragraph Is based on the first and third “Transporting media” paragraphs of H14

The second “When and how did carbonado reach earth” paragraph is copied from the second “Transporting media” paragraph of H14

The first “Other host rocks” paragraph of this manuscript is copied from the second “Rarity of carbonado” paragraph of H14

The second “Other host rocks” paragraph is cut and pasted from the “Geological implications” paragraph of H14

The first “Industrial applications” paragraph of this manuscript is copied from the “Industrial applications” paragraph of H14.

The first “conclusions” paragraph of this paper is cribbed from the “Conclusions” paragraph of H14.

In summary, this manuscript does not contain a single paragraph that is not either a partial or complete restatement of part of H14. More importantly, it does not address any of the serious problems with H14.

The idea of glassy carbon forming from a melt is nonsensical; the melting temperature of C is so high that it has not yet been reliably snythesized, however the temperatures required are such that there is no expectation that an amorphous quench product can be contained.  Even if it could, there is no reason to expect it to look similar to a silicate glass.  So the argument that patina = molten carbon is baseless. Most carbonado researchers since Milledge et al. 1998 have favored the view that the patina is a surface layer amorphosed at low temperature by radiation damage.

Similarly, the pores have been known to be open to exchange with the environment since Trueb & de Wys 1971, so there is no way to determine whether or not they are primary, or what originally filled them. So it is not valid to infer that they are vesicles.

Finally, the author has a conflict of interest in that he owns the largest private carbonado collection around, so if he can convince potential buyers that carbonado is exotic, he stands to benefit financially.

This manuscript should be rejected.

Sincerely,
Chuck Magee



This was a dumb way to write a review, and like all reviewer twos, I only hurt myself. In addition to the time spent documenting all the repeated content, all I ended up doing was giving the editors and author a cheat sheet for redrafting in a way to better hide the lack of originality in the manuscript. As you can see from the published version of the paper, all the cuts and pastes were redrafted.

 Furthermore, listing pages and pages of plagiarism had the effect of de-emphasizing the substantive criticisms of science and conflict of interest that I squeezed into the last few paragraphs. In short, this was a lazy review written with the naive assumption that self-plagiarism was something that editors would reject a paper over.

All I did was to waste my own time and give the editors and author a how-to guide to destroy the evidence that the work was derivative. Being pedantically critical was not a useful reviewing strategy.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Geosonnet 61



When Shuram carbon isotopes decline
A Ocean’s Eight of suspects are proposed:
Deb oxidizes chemicals in brine.
Lou stratified the oceans unopposed.
An authigenic calcite? Nineball hack.
Designer alteration? Style by Rose.
Did Daphne have a clathrate gas attack?
A shell game mixing sources Constance knows.
Amita’s impact smashes carbon well.
Fence Tammy smuggles oil off the clocks.
Compound-specific isotopes will tell
A mineral-alkane offset in the rocks.
   Our primary producers stashed the score
   But oil maturation leaked once more.


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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Geosonnet 60



A jello shot will rarely save a soul
In seedy university-based dive.
But can a hazard analog conjole?
Volcano model may keep kids alive.
An agar casting resonantly shakes
With mobile fluid reservoir below
Its wobbles tuned to simulate the quakes
Which might induce subsidence, or a blow.
When edifice and frequency are matched
The resonance will stimulate the flow
If gas and liquid flow regions detatched.
Degassing and subsidence are below
   To ring a great volcano like a gong
   The trigger earthquake must be very strong



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