Sunday, November 30, 2014

Theories of Everything

“I saw a movie this week that I know you’d love! It’s called ‘The Theory of Everything.’” I smile and ask what my friend liked about it. He is happy to say. I do not intend to see the movie, but I don’t say that.

People who are not scientists often believe that the heights of science are what the physicists are happy to tell us that they are: struggling with nature to make her give up her secrets, or, in a less sexist formulation, knocking one’s head against the equations to make sense of nature, to get at the most basic essence, a theory of everything. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014


We have done some good things for ourselves as humans. After a while, it's easy to take those good things for granted and even think we don't need them. Things are going well, aren't they? Why do we have that silly rule?

So people begin to believe that their children don't need vaccinations against diseases that once were common, and we start to see epidemics of whooping cough, measles, and diphtheria again.

Or regulation. It's kind of an ugly word, like something your mother makes you do. Freedom is a nicer word. So along comes a hip company like Uber that assures you things will be cheaper (another nice idea) and better if you ride with strangers rather than licensed taxi drivers. Those licenses just keep the prices up, right?

Well, maybe there's something else they do, like avoiding stuff like this.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 19, 2014

Ta-Nehisi Coates's honesty and writing moved me. It's hard to change one's mind in this way, harder to say it.

On the other side of such things, the #shirtstorm continues, now fed largely by idiots maintaining their freedom to wear inappropriate shirts when serving as a spokesman for a stunning science mission. Here's something that makes more sense. And a collection of tweets.

This is strange news. Perhaps Vladimir Putin is deciding to deal with his troubles at home more directly, and not simply distracting with a nice little war in Ukraine. Or perhaps he is planning both. Or perhaps this report is wrong. Stay tuned.

Privatization of the American space program benefits a Florida firm and Russian oligarchs.

History: Nikita Khrushchev‘s visit to the United States in 1959. Even at the height of the Cold War, channels with the Soviet Union were kept open.

More history: The African-Americans who migrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and their descendents.

Dignity is important to the Iranians in the nuclear negotiations. But it's a hard concept to define.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 17, 2014

'I'm Going to Live': American Ashoka Mukpo on What It's Like to Have Ebola

Photos of rural Belarus.

Putin's tactical misogyny. This is so ugly it's hard to read.

David Roberts explains postmodern conservatism in 36 tweets. Remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Putin's nihilistic propaganda barrage. You can't believe anything, so why try.

On the need for "closure." It's something I haven't understood. This article clarified some things for me. The need for stories that end well in a world where things often don't end well.

And a few more added later:

Things are not going well for Vladimir Putin in eastern Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch report on human rights abuses in Crimea.

The Republicans are doing everything they can to get around the election laws.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 12, 2014

I contemplate Vladimir Putin's speech to the Valdai Discussion Club, which is being much discussed by others. The more I think about it, the more it seems like a continuing whine about not being appreciated nearly enough. However, this post is a serious examination in the style of international relations studies, with just a bit of psychologizing at the end.

Russia is pouring troops and military equipment into eastern Ukraine and, of course, denying it. BBC, RFE/RL.

Russia detains some American students at a conference for apparently no reason at all.

Russians come in many different ethnic groups.

Elaborate burial practices in North America 11,500 years ago.