Because I Love My Son, And You

Posted October 29, 2015 by Tom
Categories: random humor, Republican follies

Tags: , ,

The sprout asked me to post this:

View post on


I think I’m raising my boy right, don’t you?

For A Good Time In Cambridge…Next Week!

Posted October 27, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Events, good books, Science, Self-aggrandizement

Tags: ,

Hey all,

Shameless self promotion coming up.  Leave now if you want…

A reminder: I’ll be talking Vulcan, gravity, Einstein, and General Relativity at 100 with my quite wonderful colleague, David Kaiser, one week from today.


It will all happen on Tuesday, November 3, starting at 6 p.m. at the MIT Museum.  Free and open to the public of course.  We’ll be done by 7:30, and, yes, there will be books to buy (and have signed)>

The occasion, as you may have guessed, is the publication of my new book, The Hunt for Vulcan.  Early reviews have been kind.  Here’s Kirkus, and here are the results from the Amazon Vine program — new to me — in which prolific Amazon reviewers get a pre-publication crack at the book.

Shortest form, David and I will talk both about the story of the planet Vulcan, which really should have existed; how Einstein disposed of it when he invented his truly radical new conception of gravity; and what Vulcan’s repeated discovery tells us about the difference between how we think science works, and how it really does in the hands of the human beings who do the labor.  It should be fun.

If you want a little more background on the Einstein part, by the way, you can take a look at a piece I published in The Boston Globe on Sunday.  A taste:

Einstein’s gift for mental imagery showed itself when he tried to explain to his son how mere geometry could produce what we feel as the tug of gravity. Imagine, he said (at least so the story goes) a blind beetle. When it “crawls over the surface of a curved branch, it doesn’t notice that the track it has covered is indeed curved.”

Or imagine living on a vast, seemingly featureless plain, so flat that you know only two dimensions, length and width. Out for a walk one day, you find that your steps are coming harder. You begin to puff and labor. You sense that you’re being pulled by something — a force you could call gravity. It tugs you back as you walk along what you’re sure is a straight line. To anyone able to perceive three dimensions, not two, there is a simpler explanation — or as Einstein told his son, “I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle didn’t notice.”

I can promise you that the evening will beat rearranging your sock drawer.  By what margin?  Only time will tell.

PS:  If you’re interested by conflicted next week, I’ll be doing an event at Brookline Booksmith at 7 p.m. on November 12.  Much the same stuff to be discussed.  And support for a good local bookstore thrown in!

Image:  Benjamin Cole, The Copernican or Solar System, 1759

Happy Mole Day

Posted October 23, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Chemistry, Science, Silliness


Yo! Avogadro fans!

Today is our day!

I’m a little late getting this post up, as Mole Day ends at 6:02 p.m

Remember:  that equal numbers of molecules of a gas occupy equal volumes under the same temperature and pressure is not just a good idea.


…for which insight Amadeo Avogadro received the honor of having his name attached to the number of molecules that make up one mole of a substance, a number set by convention as the number of carbon 12 atoms that add up to 12 grams of the substance. That number:  6.02*10^23.  Hence, Mole Day, running from 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m on 10/23.

In Avogadro’s honor, a tune:

Geek out, my friends.

Paying To Be Cruel

Posted October 22, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Health Care, Republican follies

Tags: , ,

Balloon Juice’s own presidential aspirant, ¡Baud! 2016, reminded me of something I meant to FP yesterday:  how red state Republicans have chosen to pay — hugely — for the privilege of denying their fellow Americans access to health care.  Let me turn the mic over to Kevin Drum:

In 2015, according to a survey by the Kaiser Foundation, spending by states that refused to expand Medicaid grew by 6.9 percent. That’s pretty close to the historical average. However, spending by states that accepted Medicaid expansion grew by only 3.4 percent.

In other words, the states that have refused the expansion are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They’re actually willing to shell out money just to demonstrate their implacable hatred of Obamacare. How much money? Well, the expansion-refusing states spent $61 billion of their own money on Medicaid in 2014. If that had grown at 3.4 percent instead of 6.9 percent, they would have saved about $2 billion this year.

Two billion eh?  Pocket change!  Take it away, Kevin:

The residents of every state pay taxes to fund Obamacare, whether they like it or not. Residents of the states that refuse to expand Medicaid [22 of them — map here] are paying about $50 billion in Obamacare taxes each year, and about $20 billion of that is for Medicaid expansion. Instead of flowing back into their states, this money is going straight to Washington DC, never to be seen again.

So they’re willing to let $20 billion go down a black hole and pay $2 billion extra in order to prevent Obamacare from helping the needy.

V0017593 A surgeon extracting the stone of folly. Oil painting by Pie Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images A surgeon extracting the stone of folly. Oil painting by Pieter Huys. By: Pieter HuysPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Ladles and Jellyspoons!  Your modern Republican party!  Ready to fork over handsomely to make sure the wrong people suffer.

PS:  Let me call out the could-be great state of Texas for vicious derp on a grand scale:

Statewide, Texas hospitals had to eat 5.5 billion dollars in uncompensated care last year. The reason is this – after the Affordable Care Act passed, the amount of money the federal government provides to hospitals for uncompensated care was significantly reduced. It’s cause and effect; if 9 out of 10 Americans have health insurance, the amount of uncompensated care hospitals have to provide goes down. But when the U.S. Supreme Court gave the individual states the option to opt out of part of the Affordable Care Act, then-Texas Governor Rick Perry could not opt out fast enough.

Vote, folks, as if your life depends on it.  ’cause it very well may.

Image: Pieter Huys, A surgeon extracting the stone of folly, before 1584.

Who You Gonna Believe?

Posted October 21, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Gender, meritocracy and its discontents

Stanford University, or your own lyin’ eyes?

Interesting story in yesterday’s Times on a divorce case at Stanford’s business school that cracked open a window on the question of gender discrimination at the school and at the Hoover Institute, the right-wing academic bolus hawked up onto Leland Jr.’s farm.

Much huffing and puffing by Stanford’s administration about how no policies were broken and that there’s nothing really to see here but some unwritten rules that might need to be written down (you think?):

John Etchemendy, Stanford’s provost, would not discuss the claims about the business school and Hoover in detail. He said that Stanford had hired separate outside investigators and that neither had found systemic discrimination. But he acknowledged “weaknesses in management” and said they were being addressed.


That’s very nicely weaseled, if I do say so as a connoisseur of the “oh-sh*t, reporters!” dodge-and-weave.  But the true delectable in this mess in response to the reports of the unpleasantness of being female amonst the Hoovers.  Here’s the gist of the complaint:

At the Hoover Institution, which has been a haven for former Reagan and Bush administration figures including George P. Shultz and Condoleezza Rice, a departing employee wrote a seven-page letter to Mr. Etchemendy detailing a “dysfunctional” atmosphere of “cronyism” in early 2013. That spurred Stanford to begin an investigation.

Hoover has 181 full-time employees, more than half of them women, but the research and senior fellows are overwhelmingly men. A new director at Hoover started last month.

The investigation faulted Hoover’s leadership for not casting a net wide enough to bring in new faces. One cultural problem, it said, was membership by Hoover’s leaders in the Bohemian Club, an all-male private club in San Francisco that dates to 1872.

Those of you familiar with San Francisco’s secret history — or Armistaud Maupin’s Tales of the City series — may know about the Bohemian Club, by the way.  It’s both an intriguing example of the oddities to which the rich and powerful subject themselves and a type specimen of the hidden networks through which the 1% exert power.  But that aside, savor this bit of exculpatory reasoning from Stanford’s chief counsel:

Ms. [Debra] Zumwalt cautioned against reading too much into the Hoover report’s conclusions.

Just because the majority of women interviewed felt that it was not always a respectful workplace, she said, “that does not mean that it was not a respectful workplace.”

Oh, counsellor!  I know you’ve got a job to do — but is that all you’ve got?!  #WeakSauce, I’d say.

Snark over:  anyone who labors under the misapprehension that the United States is an equal-opportunity meritocracy isn’t paying attention.  But you  knew that.  Which is reason ∞ why, whatever the failings of the donkey party, there is a difference between a party that explicitly acknowledges that sad fact, and one that denies the plain evidence of their own lyin’ eyes.

 Image:  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, In the Cafe, 1898.

Now Is Not The Right Time. It Is The Only Time

Posted October 9, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Guns

Tags: ,

Two campus shootings in a single day.


First up, Northern Arizona University, where a gun in the hands of an 18 year old student dispatched bullets into the bodies of four human beings.  One is dead.

G. T. Fowler, the chief of campus police, said that Steven Jones, a freshman, had opened fire after two groups of male students were involved in a confrontation. The police were able to take Mr. Jones into custody after he stopped firing the weapon and “everything calmed down for a few minutes,” Chief Fowler said.

This was, as Charles Pierce pointed out earlier today, not some deranged son of satan spinning out of our collective id.  Rather…

This is an ordinary Thursday night campus brawl that escalated to homicide only because one of the participants had a gun which, I guarantee you, he did not have to work hard to obtain. Maybe we should look into why these things happen.

Travel now to Texas Southern University where…

A gunman killed one person and wounded another on the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston on Friday, the second shooting at the university this week.

This one is not likely to remain a mystery either, as “The Houston Police Department said a possible suspect in Friday’s shooting was in custody.”

Note, please the lagniappe in the Times write up on the TSU murder, that “second shooting” line:

On Tuesday night, a person was shot and seriously wounded while walking across the Texas Southern campus. There was no indication whether that shooting was linked to the one there on Friday.

Guns do not create the impulse to violence. They merely ensure that the consequences of just about anything can be fatal.

Most of all, guns destroy freedom.  They erode the freedom of assembly.  They make it scary to walk across a college campus at night.  They make you wonder if saying that, say, the GOP field is a bunch of ammosexual nuts might line you up on the wrong side of a nine held by some cultist in the church of the holy firearm who takes a hard line on blasphemy.

Guns fix their owner in a state of permanent fear — how else to describe the claim of a threat so constant that going strapped is the only rational response? — and impose that fear on all the rest of us.  Guns slaughter their own, as 20,000 + gun suicides attest.

An armed society is not a civil society.  It is one that rewards not our aspirations, but our night terrors.

But we all know this.

Guns. Need. To. Be. Caged.  It’s as political — or rather it needs to be — as Social Security, for our side as well as the NRA’s.  No politician from here forward gets my support unless they are gun control absolutists.

I don’t pretend anything I want will happen anytime soon.  But I do believe that at some point the massacre of the innocents will shock enough consciences to make change possible.

Rant over.

Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Massacre of the Innocents, 1556-7

Because No One Knows The Essence Of Blackness…

Posted October 8, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Conservatives, Darwin, Journalism and its discontents, MSM nonsense, Stupidity

Tags: ,

….like an  old, filthy-rich white guy.


Here’s noted sociologist of race and authenticity, Rupert “Bug-Eyed Monster” Murdoch

“Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide?…” [via TPM]




Take it from a  fellow person of the Caucasian persuasion:

You don’t get a vote.

Or, consider the shorter:

Bugger off, mate.  May all your chooks become emus and kick your dunny door down.

(PS — anyone besides me think it … let’s just say “odd” … that the new owner of National Geographic should fall in love with a stone-cold evolution denialist? Just askin’.)

Image:  Brady & Co, Cabinet card portrait of Georgia politician Alexander H. Stephens with a servant, formerly a slave c. 1875.


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