Showing posts from August, 2020

Fascist Party, USA

The Republican Party has been jumping thru its a*****e to please Trump so long now that it never even noticed that it had become the fascist, or maybe, monarchist party of the US.  The constant barrage of obvious lies, the obsequious fawning, the failure to even present any platform beyond fidelity to the glorious leader, the interminable Castro-like ranting speech, the open flouting of the Hatch Act, the contempt for the tradition in pimping the people's house as another vulgar Trump palace are all signs of a party bent on destroying democracy in the US. I feel what any decent people in Germany must have felt in 1933.

Minor Crimes Against Nature

 Trying to whistle the Queen of the Night's aria from The Magic Flute .  Me.

Tractatus Philosophicus

Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, but the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing.  What did the second wisest man in Athens know? Descartes concluded that he existed because he thought.   What did he think? Schopenhauer believed that the World consisted of Will and Idea.   Who was Will? Bertrand Russell concocted a fundamental challenge to set theory based on the old puzzle that in a certain town the barber shaved only those who did not shave themselves.   Who shaved Bertrand Russell? Thales is considered the first Greek philosopher.   He believed everything in the World consisted of water.   How many times did Thales have to get up to pee every night? Saint Thomas Aquinas found seventeen proofs that God existed.   How many proofs do we have that Aquinas existed? Baruch Spinoza identified God and Nature.   Did he pick them out of a lineup, or what?   Was either one ever convicted? Karl Marx invented Dialectical Materialism.   He is mostly famous for his really g

For a smart guy, you don't sweat much

Actually that may have it backwards.  Humans have about twice as many sweat glands as chimps, why? According to Bill Bryson's The Body: A Guide for Occupants , the reason may be that we needed a more potent cooling system for our big brains. No doubt it also helps for running in the Sun.

Review: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

In  The Devil in the White City,  author Erik Larson interleaved the story of Chicago's Columbian Exposition with that of a particularly depraved serial killer operating nearby at the same time.  Similarly, his also nonfiction Thunderstruck  tells the story of Marconi's development of radio and another sensational crime.  I bought the book because I was interested in the early development of radio. While the crime at the center of the book has many peculiar and suspenseful aspects, I was quite disappointed in the history of Marconi.  Larson has unearthed many stories of his fanatical dedication, and his struggles with rivals and competitors, the book, and I expect the author, is almost entirely innocent of any discussion of the actual technical difficulties encountered and overcome. There is much about giant towers and antennas, their destruction by weather, giant sparks illuminating the darkness and shattering the silence with their thunderous booms, their is almost nothing ab

A Reach

  A man's reach should exceed his grasp...............Robert Browning Yeah, thanks for the bad advice, Bob. In my case, the exceeding now consists mostly of still buying math and physics books.  This despite shelves, real and digital, groaning with books yet unread.  Probably more to the point, I'm too damn old to ever finish them, and, in fact, probably much too dumb to absorb much math anymore anyway. Oh well.

Review: The City We Became, by N. K. Jemison

I had read another trilogy by this author, and quite liked it, but I can’t say the same about this book.  The peculiar notion than propels it is that cities can reach a certain stage where they are born, and it is New York’s time.  There are malign powers that oppose this, and some humans become atavars of the city to facilitate the birth.  They constitute the principal characters in the book. They are chosen, given certain magical powers which they need to learn how to use, and need to fight the malign power or powers.  Although this is allegedly science fiction, it is really just magic, occasionally embellished by more or less silly references to many-worlds, muons, quanta and even, at one point, including the Navier-Stokes equation. The most tedious elements of the book are frequent disquisitions on various hocus pocus stuff that feels like a bad nightmare combining New Age BS with primitive folk legends and poorly digested multi-universe speculations. “The problem,” the Wom

Reading in the Time of Quarantine - John Grisham

Has John Grisham sold more books than there are atoms in the Milky Way?  Not quite, but close.  He is my go-to author for page turning suspense, and fortunately, he has written a lot of books.  I have bought 12 so far this quarantine, and have read ten.  A commentary and some capsule reviews below. I expect that Grisham is fabulously wealthy by now, with hundreds of millions of books sold and a potful of highly successful movies adaptations, but he started out as a street lawyer, defending the little guys and fighting the big guys, and his sympathies as an author are clearly with the little guys. His villains tend to be the evil rich corporations, and the many inequities and iniquities of the legal system and his sympathies with the people it can grind up.  He is a southerner, and race is another frequent theme.  His bad guys tend to be very bad and his good guys more nuanced. A Time to Kill: Grisham’s first novel, and it failed to sell well – until his second novel became a zil


 I remember being surprised as a student when I learned that a solid body, rotating on other than its principal axis, could suddenly shift to start rotating about another axis.  It turns our that this phenomenon can occur even with planets, and when it happens, it is called True Polar Wander, or TPW.   It turns out the Earth has experienced a  few of these events, where the axis of rotation changes by sixty degrees or so.  As you might expect, these tend to be rather catastrophic events.  Imagine, say, New York winding up at the North Pole.  Typically these result in mass extinctions. So what could produce such a thing?  Perhaps a major volcanic eruptive event or mountain building episode might place a major mass in an unbalanced position with respect to the axis.

Racism USA

 In an earlier comment, William Connolley wrote that he thought the US was "wealthist but not racist."  I want to assure him that he is quite wrong.  The history of racism in the US started with slavery but continued with Jim Crow.  The cardinal principle of Jim Crow was denying blacks the right to vote.  This policy was ensured by law and violence, with widespread lynching being the go to sanction.  The passage of the voting rights act during the 1960's was the first solid hole in this policy, and it turned the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. Ever since, the Republican Party has depended on racist support for it core voters.  The scumbags of the Republican Supreme court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and ever since the Republican Party has made a career of suppressing the black vote.  Techniques today are a bit more subtle than in the hay day of the KKK - burdensome voter registration rules, placing voting sites far from predominantly Black neighborho

Men are from Mars...

...and women and bacteria too. Early Earth had some disadvantages as a place for life to start.  For one thing, there was little if any land - perhaps a few volcanoes poking up here and there, and water does not like nucleic acids like RNA. Mars, on the other hand, had several things Earth lacked, as well as things Earth had, like water.  In particular it had deserts and ice caps, both of which Earth lacked.  For that reason, there is a significant number of origin of life partisans who think that life started on Mars and then got transferred to Earth. It turns out that Earth does have a lot of stuff we got from Mars - a billion tons or so.  Asteroid impacts on Mars blast a bunch of Mars out into the solar system, and some of it makes its way to Earth.  Simulations show that bacterial spores could potentially survive the trip. These considerations are one reason that the search for traces of ancient life on Mars are taken seriously.