I have a short story coming up soon. The spark that lit the story and this post was this tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson:
This tweet set off an intense internet debate on the merits of such a country. Many people — mostly of a Lefty persuasion — embraced the idea. Many people — mostly of a Righty persuasion — wrote a number of good and readable critiques of this idea, going over some ideas I’ll discuss later.
Tyson later expanded on this idea, basically arguing, even if Tyson doesn’t realize it, for a negative view of governing: that policy should be implemented only after the massive weight of evidence shows that it would advance the cause being supported. But even with this caveat, there are three principle problems with Rationalia.
Continue reading Why Rationalia Wouldn’t Work
Today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, one of the most important events in European history. The Telegraph did a “live blog” of the battle, starting at dawn and updating in real time as the historical battle progressed. It’s a great read, though probably less amazing to read now that it’s done than it was as it progressed.
There are two things I took from it:
First, starting early this morning and going in real time until late in the evening emphasizes just how long and grueling the battle was. We’re used to battles wrapping up in about 45 minutes of screen time. In reality, they can go on for days, weeks or months. Soldiers can spend hours waiting to fight, then more hours in hell. I first started following around 9:00 am, when the Battle was several hours old. And even then, there was most of a day left and the battle was still uncertain. I did work, had lunch, processed data, made phone calls, came home, cooked dinner. And many of the soldiers were fighting the entire time. It really impressed me with just how a war becomes the soldier’s reality. There in no respite or commercial break or closing credits. It goes on and on and on until one side is simply too exhausted or dead to continue.
Second, I was reminded somewhat of the Battle of Gettysburg. In both cases, a battle was lost because a great general — Napoleon in one case, Lee in the other — was undone by the very qualities that made him great. Both men won battles because they were bold, decisive and intelligent. And it served them well … up to a point. In Lee’s case, he decided on the disaster that was Pickett’s Charge. In Napoleon’s case, he committed everything to the middle of Wellington’s line once Wellington’s right had fallen and the Prussians arrived. Much like Pickett’s charge, it would have won the battle had it worked. And unlike Pickett’s charge, it wasn’t a completely terrible idea. But it turned out to be the turning point of the battle … for the Allies. Once the Imperial Guard was in retreat, the entire French center collapsed.
Anyway, it was great idea from the Telegraph and I really hope someone does something like it again for another battle.
Well, that was a bit of a whirlwind.
Summing up the complicated War of the Roses in a manner that would be amenable to Shakespeare’s Tudor rulers must not have been an easy task. As a result, Henry VI, Part 3 has a tendency to get confusing, even for the author himself (the character of Montague seems a bit confused as to which side he is on). Just in the span of Act IV, Edward is king, exiled and king again. Nobles change sides seemingly on whims. The few strong moments — the scene in the French King’s court for example or the murder of Rutland and its echoes throughout the play — tend to disappear into the dizzying plot turns and twists. By the time it was over, I really felt that it was this play that suffered from “middle chapter syndrome”, killing off masses of characters from the previous two plays and setting up the epic Richard III, which looms over this play like a thunderhead.
While I found this play to be one of the lesser of the histories, I have to disagree with the critics as to why. They usually talk about the amount of action on stage, citing classical tendencies to have action off-stage. I actually think the battles work pretty well (I mean, it was the War of the Roses, not the Polite Chat of the Roses). The action also sets up one of the play’s few iconic moments when Henry VI laments the father killing his son and the son killing his father. It also enhances the play’s running them of violence begetting violence and England descending into a chaotic state of barbarism in the absence of a strong king. No, I think the play’s weakness is the one I identify above: trying to squeeze too many historical turns into too short a time.
That having been said, I still am finding the histories easier to follow than some of the comedies and therefore, as a group, more enjoyable. And I’m so excited about the next one that I’ve already started Richard III, whose opening soliloquy is already one of the best of the canon.
I think I’ve spent the entirety of this week either on the phone or having a meeting or curled up in bed with a migraine. Sigh. Some weeks are like that.
I can’t say that I enjoy the retuning of some songs to different keys, per se. I do, however, find it utterly fascinating how important key is to the mood and feel of a song or musical piece. I knew a woman back in college who had a variety of health issues that would eventually take her at a young age. But she was an amazing pianist who could shift the key on a song instantly and play it perfectly. Somehow, it never changed the tone like these retunings do.
Cracked looks at lines censored by TV. My brother and I used to get great amusement from watching movies like The Breakfast Club and Police Academy on Channel 46. The dubbing was so bad and the lines so hilariously stupid, we almost preferred them. My favorite comes from Police Academy: “Mahoney …. nobody plays with me.” with “plays” delivered about an octave and a half lower than Bailey’s register.
This article, which tries to argue that Southern dominance of Miss America is a result of racism, is so idiotic, so filled with PC bullshit and is such an inaccurate assessment of Southern history, culture and tradition, that it could only possibly have been published in the New York Times.
Eerie pictures of Chernobyl and amazing pictures of World War I.
Jacob Sullum details some of the concerns about allowing the CDC to do research into guns. I’m in favor of lifting restrictions on scientific research, even if it does mean politicized work. I just hate restrictions too much. But it is worth noting that the public health experts have a bad history of cooking the books to reach their conclusions, as seen in the EPA’s study of second-hand smoke and the CDC’s own study of obesity deaths.
A woman drives 900 miles out of her way and through several countries due to a supposed GPS error. Maybe it’s me, but I doubt the GPS was the only malfunctioning thing in that car.
An environmentalist admits he was wrong on GMO’s. Thanks a lot.
How much do you want to bet that most of the people involved in these idiocies were not fired?
I can’t vouch for the accuracy, but if these people really have recreated a hairstyle from the Roman Empire, that’s pretty damned cool.
Growing up in Atlanta, I was, of course, exposed to some degree of anti-semitism. A cross was once burned on the lawn of my synagogue. I was frequently approached by people who wanted to save me. A friend of mine went to a school in rural Georgia and was beaten up frequently and harassed endlessly just for being Jewish.
The astonishing thing, however, was that this was a gentle breeze compared to what Atlanta had been like just decades before. Most of what I encountered was polite ignorance: people who wondered where we made sacrifices; a Boy Scout troop that had never had a Jew before, classmates who wondered why I was out of school so often in the fall. I never faced the kind of threats and mistreatment that, say, my grandparents did. The Dead Shall Rise is an excellent chronicle of the Leo Frank case, which was a watershed event and not a good one. Not only did an anti-semitic crowd lynch a likely innocent Leo Frank, the despair this produced in the Jewish Community could be felt seven decades later. My grandparents, who were in Atlanta when Frank was murdered, refused to talk about it; refused to talk about any of the treatment they’d endured.
And, as an academic, I’ve never encountered anything close to what my parents’ generation experienced. This week, Emory University apologized for some of the awful things that went on in their School of Dentistry in the 1950’s. Emory was the worst bastion of academic anti-Semitism but they were not alone. Every doctor of my dad’s generation encountered it: quotas on Jews, professors who would tell them Jews were unsuited to medicine, patients would refuse to see Jewish doctors. It was pervasive.
I’m glad to see — six decades after the fact — Emory acknowledging this. And I am personally pleased because one of the dentists recognized — Perry Brickman — is a friend of my father’s and my uncle’s, pulled my father’s wisdom teeth and mine and is an all-around good doctor and a good man. To see him vindicated after all this time is wonderful and a reminder that things can change for the better.
Update: Related — maybe it’s a generational thing, but I’ve never held to the Wagner thing. Wagner was anti-semitic; Hitler liked Wagner; both have been dead for a very long time. Neither invented anti-Semitism. And I do not judge art by the behavior of its maker or the vileness of its admirers.
This post, from Phil Plait, is a must-read on the history of one of the most dangerous nuclear tests in history. I do have on quibble however, with the opening paragraph:
In 1958, the Soviet Union called for a ban on atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons, and went so far as to unilaterally stop such testing. Under external political pressure, the US acquiesced. However, in late 1961 political pressures internal to the USSR forced Khrushchev to break the moratorium, and the Soviets began testing once again. So, again under pressure, the US responded with tests of their own.
That’s a generous reading of the history. It could be argued, as Robert Heinlein said at the time, that the history was more like this: In 1958, the Soviet Union called for a ban on atmospheric test of nuclear weapons, and went so far as to unilaterally stop such testing. Of course, they had a massive country with closed borders where they could test weapons on the sly. The US eventually caved into to Soviet bullying and internal Communist sympathizers to join the ban. However, as Heinlein predicted, Khruschev later resumed testing when it suited him.