Saturday’s Forum

Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kathy says:

    Current thinking is the universe is made of, in descending order, dark energy, dark matter, normal matter.

    But I thought, suppose you define the Solar System as consisting of a sphere with the Sun in the center, and extending to the Oort Cloud. The volume of this sphere is huge, right? Now, how much of that volume is taken up by a star, eight planets (or maybe nine), asteroids, comets, and dust? Only a small fraction.

    So, if we do the same for the galaxy, and then the universe, it seems evident to me that majority of the universe consists of empty space.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    A US Forest Service employee in Oregon was arrested this week after a prescribed burn in a national forest spread onto private land. It is an unprecedented move that signals an alarming backlash to prescribed burning, a critical tool in wildfire management.

    Rick Snodgrass, a “burn boss” with the forest service, was overseeing a 300-acre burn in Oregon’s Malheur national forest that had been approved by the agency. A spot fire escaped control, according to officials in Grant county and charred roughly 20 acres of private land belonging to Holiday Ranches. Shortly after, Snodgrass was arrested for “reckless burning” and transported to Grant county jail. It’s not clear yet whether Snodgrass will be officially charged but the county district attorney Jim Carpenter said there was enough probable cause to make the arrest.

    It is the latest episode to underscore tensions simmering in rural, conservative eastern Oregon over management of federal lands.
    Carpenter warned that Snodgrass’ federal employment will not protect him. “That the USFS was engaging in a prescribed burn may actually raise, rather than lower the standard to which Snodgrass will be held,” the prosecutor said.
    The arrest sparked alarm among fire scientists and prescribed fire advocates who have been working to shift public and agency sentiment. “This seems like a result of weird anti-government local politics, especially given where it is,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire advisor with UC cooperative extension in Humboldt county, California, and the director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, in a post on Twitter. “Super upsetting but hopefully not trajectory setting,” she added.
    Details are still scant on why county officials felt this burn warranted an arrest. The sheriff’s office said in a press release Thursday that details cannot be released but that officers and the Forest Service are “working out the events that led to the fire’s escape”.

    Even if Snodgrass isn’t charged, his arrest could have a chilling effect on prescribed burning – an outcome that would likely lead to more ferocious fires in the future. There are also concerns that it will serve as a dangerous precedent or disincentive others from becoming burn bosses.

    That’s the whole idea. This is just criminalization of what is really a civil matter where in the USFS owes the landowner a sum of money for damages (tho he probably should be thanking them for reducing his risk of fire). If one lives in the boonie woods as I do, wildfires are part of the deal.

  3. Franklin says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Snodgrass, yes, how appropriate.

    Yeah, this *should* hinge on what was deemed reckless. But if he’s charged criminally for following standard procedures, that’s chilling.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Your WTF? moment of the day:

    Police are investigating why someone buried a car in the yard of a multimillion-dollar northern California home in the 1990s – and left unused bags of concrete inside. The car was discovered on Thursday morning by landscapers in the affluent town of Atherton in Silicon Valley, police said in a news release.

    Cadaver dogs alerted to possible human remains but more than 12 hours after the car was recovered none had been found, Atherton police commander Daniel Larsen said. “The cadaver dogs made a slight notification of possible human remains. The San Mateo crime lab was contacted and sent technicians to assist with excavating the vehicle. Excavation is ongoing and at this time, no human remains have been located,” police said.

    Police believe the car was buried 4ft to 5ft deep in the 1990s. Larsen would not say what led detectives to that conclusion. The bags of concrete were placed throughout the vehicle, which was blanketed by dirt over the roof, Larsen said. According to an NBC Bay Area anchor, Gia Bang, police said the car was a Mercedes.

    Hmmmm… Maybe it’s name was Christine.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Franklin: I used to know a Snodgrass. It’s a very common name in Perry County.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I doggie news, I give you Dexter. He is supposed to be world famous but he was news to me. So for those few who also never heard of him, meet the good dog you can’t keep down.

  7. Joe says:

    @Kathy: We describe ourselves as carbon-based life forms, but our bodies are 60%-70% water which is 2x hydrogen to oxygen. Seems like we should describe ourselves as hydrogen-based life forms or at least water based.

  8. Kathy says:


    Ah, a ripe field of nits to be picked 🙂

    Water is mostly oxygen by both mass and volume, as the oxygen atom is far larger than the hydrogen one. Not only is its nucleus 16 times as big, but its electron cloud as well. So, oxygen based would be more accurate.

    Continuing, water is not an organic molecule. Most of the carbon molecules we’re made up of are. IMO, this makes carbon based appropriate. Complex carbon compounds are the difference between inorganic mud and the organic goo that makes up things like plants, people, and slime molds.

    But atoms are mostly empty space by volume. So we could go by vacuum based lifeforms. Except this would be true of almost everything else, including empty space.

  9. Michael Cain says:

    Don’t forget the quantum foam :^)

  10. Michael Cain says:

    Hence people being described occasionally as “a bag of water with some impurities.”

  11. MarkedMan says:

    I’ve just finished Rings of Power and I have a question for wr and our other visual entertainment insiders. Spoilers follow. Big spoilers.


    My question concerns a specific facet of the writing. I know the whole story is based on the LoTR appendixes and, as I remember it, there isn’t a whole lot in there. More of an outline. So I really liked the world building and the characters they created. The ur-hobbits especially, but also the sympathetic but evil elf, and the wizard and the the way they worked him in. I loved that Sauron was portrayed as a guileful entity rather than one relying on brute power. So at that level, excellent writing with lots of imagination. How the heck could the same writers have come up with the amateur hour plot mechanisms?

    Just to name one of many examples, the scene with the artist drawing the dying king. Okay, we need this lower class young woman to be near the king, hear him say something important that no one else does, and then find the orb in his antechamber. Got it. How does she get next to the dying king? She is chosen as one of the representatives of the apprentices to sketch him for his great statue. A bit awkward, but there are huge statues everywhere, obviously a big part of the culture, so I could live with that. But then suddenly, there she is, alone in the king’s bed chamber. No attendants? No guards? King gets in a bad way and she runs to the door and calls for help. No one out there? No one even in earshot of shouts? It was so clunky and so obviously plot mechanics based that it pulled me right out of the story and I started thinking of how easily it could have been made palatable. Guards outside, attendants in the room (what, they didn’t have the budget for five or six non-speaking parts?), the young woman leans in close to catch a detail and the king grabs her and whispers his confused message. The attendants don’t hear but rush over, making noise and the guards come in. In all the commotion and confusion the young woman is pushed to the back of the chamber, towards the door he had gestured to, and as the king becomes more agitated and more people pile in she steps farther back and into the chamber, etc etc etc.

    So here’s my question: How can it come about that a story that had been crafted with such imagination and care get weighed down with such clunky and lazy plot mechanisms? Is it different types of writing jobs? Is it because they shoot themselves into a corner and had to insert scenes hastily to cover up a gap?

    I mean, the dialog was sub-par, but the best of the actors could still breathe some life into it. Put the writing that took the characters through their required paces was high school writing class level.

  12. wr says:

    @MarkedMan: Sorry, I only watched a little of the first episode, and then decided to wait until the whole show was available before trying to watch it. Same with House of Dragons.

    If you have questions about She Hulk: Attorney at Law, I’m there for you!

  13. liberal capitalist says:


    Current thinking is the universe is made of, in descending order, dark energy, dark matter, normal matter…. it seems evident to me that majority of the universe consists of empty space.

    Yes. Nothing. Empty. But yet: if it is nothing and we know it is nothing, then it can’t be nothing because by being nothing that nothing must be something. So, they call that nothing dark matter… which means that it is something which is nothing.

    That is one of the key items that really hurts the brain if we give it thought.

    If you caught this week’s “Young Sheldon” the characters that are physicists were stumped with the challenge to prove that zero exists.

    Because it’s nothing. and if it (zero) is a recognized state, then it is something… which means it can’t be nothing.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Either insurance fraud or a really pissed off divorcee making sure that the estranged ex-spouse can’t get the family car?

  15. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Or dig down another 3′ and see if there’s quicklime and/or trace remains in the soil? I mean, if you’re going to the trouble of digging that big of a hole, why waste the effort?

  16. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Michael Cain: My favorite description comes from a Star Trek TNG episode. A Crystalline sentient hive being referred to us as “Ugly bags of mostly water.”

  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: To the degree that I recall, the appendices of the copy of LoTR that I read while I was in Korea added 300 or so pages to the third volume of the book set. I also recall a lengthy history of the period leading up to the beginning of the information in Vol 1, but I stopped reading at about page 75 deciding that the information wasn’t holding my interest even as well as the original Vol. 3 did.

    I did try to read LoTRs as a middle school age person. Sadly, I had read a volume of Norse mythology edited by Padraic Colum that contained a lengthy transcription of the Rings of the Nibelung and their connection to the Seigfreid hero sage and didn’t see the point in reading just another (much, much, longer*) version of the same story. (As I have noted in the past, I’m not, despite the MA in English, a lit person.)

    *I had not at that time become a “reader” yet. I read lots but because reading was a tedious process for me (I’m a “hearing the narrator in my head” person to this day), I both usually shied away from reading long works if I could avoid them and had developed an approach for writing book reports from books that I did not actually finish. To this day, I have always taught students that if they can get what they will need from reading Cliff’s Notes, it’s way more efficient than slogging through a book they don’t want to read. I also noted that my philosophy was why they were NEVER going to be able to get what they needed from reading Cliff’s Notes–if I have to read the book to do MY job, you have to to do YOURS.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @liberal capitalist: To the degree that I understand the dawn of modern math and the onset of Arabic numerals, zero became something because the system needed a place holder–counting sequences from endlessly repeating single digits demanded it. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 1?, 11, 12, 13…)

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: And I have to admit that Young Sheldon’s writers imagining that such a quandary would stymie scientists is really, REALLY lame. Sh*t, a cracker could figure it out.
    ETA: Sure, NOW I get an edit for my previous comment.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    For more on Zero: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

    I read it a long time ago, but iirc it was a very good read.

  21. Mister Bluster says:

    @Michael Cain:
    @Mr. Prosser:

    Then there are my heroes , Ren and Stimpy.

  22. Arnold Stang says:

    I agree with your approach to watching a series. I wish I could follow thru. Watched the first two episodes of The Peripheral on Prime yesterday. Got hooked in pretty good. Now I have to wait until each Friday for a new episode.
    I am presently going through the same thing with Andor on Disney, new episodes on Wednesdays. You’d think I would learn my lesson. ‍♂️

  23. Arnold Stang says:

    Question- How is it, when I attach a “shrug” emoji to the end of my comment, it comes out with a “male” circle with arrow emoji?

  24. JohnSF says:

    Black Corridor
    Hawkwind, Space Ritual, 1973

    Space is infinite, it is dark
    Space is neutral, it is cold
    Stars occupy minute areas of space
    They are clustered a few billion here
    And a few billion there
    As if seeking consolation in numbers
    Space does not care, space does not threaten
    Space does not comfort
    It does not speak, it does not wake
    It does not dream
    It does not know, it does not fear
    It does not love, it does not hate
    It does not encourage any of these qualities
    Space cannot be measured, it cannot be
    Angered, it cannot be placated
    It cannot be summed up, space is there
    Space is not large and it is not small
    It does not live and it does not die
    It does not offer truth and neither does it lie
    Space is a remorseless, senseless, impersonal fact
    Space is the absence of time and of matter

    Hearing that, at high volume, when you’re a teenager, and rather off your face, makes an impression.
    I still rate Space Ritual as one of the best “rock” albums of all time.

  25. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    IIRC the concept of zero as a concept and also its use as a marker for base increments (1 to 9 +1, 11 to 19 + 1 etc) was an Indian invention, after the introduction of Arabic numerals without zero to India, and possibly influenced by Hindu and Buddhist philosophical interest in the “void” as the basis of the universe.

  26. JohnSF says:

    My question might be how do they deal with elapsed time of some three thousand years between the (nonsensical) “Galadriel jumps ship” and “Galadriel meets Elendil”.

    Though to be honest, from what I’ve read on the series, I’m not sure I really want to know exactly how they’ve ballsed it up.
    Except that it seems to me the creators have missed a great opportunity to tell several arguably involving and, possibly, meaningful stories.
    Hey ho.
    Rebooting awaits, I suppose.

  27. JohnSF says:

    Because carbon is, due to basic chemical/quantum chemical reasons, the most happily promiscuous element in the table. It just loves to bond, baby.
    And, because of it’s electron shell structure, carbon atoms can combine in various ways with lots of other elements and compounds, including, vitally, other carbon atoms.
    So the mathematics of combination permutations rapidly go through the roof.

    There are two major subdivisions of chemistry of roughly equal scope: inorganic and organic.
    Organic being carbon compound chemistry; in other words there’s the chemistry of one element, carbon, and its bonding with other elements, is as important as all other element combination combined.

    And hydrogen bonding, with hydrogen’s affinity for oxidization and energy release, means you have a very handy mechanism for storage and release of energy in sugars, starches etc.
    And those same things in certain arrangements can form structures, polymerize, form proteins and catalytic enzymes.
    At which point my rather minimal chemical/biochemical knowledge runs out. 😉

  28. JohnSF says:

    @Arnold Stang:
    Because HTML hates you, and wants you to suffer. 😉

  29. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    I think of it as the quantum version of virtual reality.

  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: That’s new information for me, and I’m only going from memory myself. Memory has served me well over the years, but Alzheimer’s hasn’t missed a male family member on my dad’s side for 3 generations and didn’t miss hitting my mom either, so my memory days are probably numbered. I hope I’m drinking and smoking enough now because emphysema may not come quickly enough and could certainly co-exist with Alzheimer’s quite cromulently.

  31. de stijl says:

    Tuesday morning the low was 20F. (A record low)

    Yesterday the high was 83F. (A record high)

    That’s a big swing.

    Tuesday morning I was out and about way before dawn doing my daily walk. It was brisk, but dead calm. I was wearing my fall coat so a touch underdressed, but it worked.

    Once I got my strut on for ten minutes or so it was fine. I wouldn’t want to stand around idle in that jacket in that temp for very long, but while briskly walking it was tolerable. Bracing.

    In January I will look back at 20F and laugh.

  32. Jax says:

    @de stijl: (Beavis and Butthead laugh) You said strut. 😛 😛

    ****warning**** assless chaps involved.

  33. Jax says:

    @de stijl: We went from high 60’s and low 70’s the last week, to a high of 36 today, and I will admit that I am not ready for it.

  34. dazedandconfused says:


    There can be no end to nothingness, therefore: Infinity = Zero.

  35. Franklin says:

    @de stijl: Snowed for a while on Thursday, big fat-ass flakes. Today? 76 degrees and sunny, played pickleball until the sun went down.

  36. de stijl says:


    Are there any other kind? Who doesn’t love assless chaps?

    Assed chaps are just pants. That’s boring.

    One of my big regrets in life is that my tushie is distinctly underwhelming. I have no butt. I have Hank Hill flat booty. I have zero junk in my trunk. My badonkadonk is like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland – there is no there there. I was born with a bad case of white boy bony butt. My glutes are remarkably inglorious.

    But, nothing to be done about it, so the dude abides.

  37. CSK says:

    @de stijl:

    It’s a hell of a lot better than looking like Donald Trump.