Climate Change

Updating their official stance on the relationship between climate change and weather events, the American Meteorological Society (AMS), has now stated plainly that the warming world is a fact beyond reproach and that human activity—despite some natural variability—is the main force behind such changes.


Pedantry and Mastery

Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry... To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery. -George Polya, professor of mathematics (1887-1985)


Richard Feynman - Wikiquote

Richard Feynman - Wikiquote: "I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about a little, but if I can’t figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out."


Absolutely Best Math Videos

The absolutely best math videos I've ever seen are at http://www.dimensions-math.org/. Each one of the nine is about 10 minutes long and the graphics are incredible.


John Updike

After reading the September 1967 Scientific American, John Updike composed the following poem. All things are Atoms: Earth and Water, Air And Fire, all, Democritus foretold. Swiss Paracelsus, in's alchemic lair, Saw Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury unfold Amid Mellennial hopes of faking Gold. Lavoisier dethroned Phlogiston; hen Molecular Analysis made bold Forays into the gases: Hydrogen Stood naked in the dazzled sight of Learned Men. ... read the entire poem on Scientific American's web site

Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy

In Jan. 26th New York Times there was an excellent article by Dennis Overbye entitled "Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy". Two paragraphs warrant reading. "The knock on science from its cultural and religious critics is that it is arrogant and materialistic. It tells us wondrous things about nature and how to manipulate it, but not what we should do with this knowledge and power. The Big Bang doesn’t tell us how to live, or whether God loves us, or whether there is any God at all. It provides scant counsel on same-sex marriage or eating meat. It is silent on the desirability of mutual assured destruction as a strategy for deterring nuclear war." and "Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth. That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view. These are the unabashedly pragmatic working principles that guide the buzzing, testing, poking, probing, argumentative, gossiping, gadgety, joking, dreaming and tendentious cloud of activity — the writer and biologist Lewis Thomas once likened it to an anthill — that is slowly and thoroughly penetrating every nook and cranny of the world."


"...all my moral and intellectual being is penetrated by an invincible conviction that whatever falls under the dominion of our senses must be in nature and, however exceptional, cannot differ in its essence from all the other effects of the visible and tangible world of which we are a self-conscious part. The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is; marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state. No, I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvellous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural, which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; an outrage on our dignity." Joseph Conrad, The Shadow Line


"To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature. If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in." -- Richard P. Feynman


play it out

In Robert Draper’s book on the Bush presidency, “Dead Certain,” Bush says the goal of his Iraq strategy is to play it out until “October-November.” That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: “To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,” and, he said later, “stay longer.”

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport."

Gloucester in Shakespeare’s King Lear


The Cassandra Chronicles

Paul Krugman, ever interesting, has a reference to a Weekly Standard article published April 21,2003 entitled "The Cassandra Chronicles" which is vicious in its condemnation of the Iraqi war naysayers. Here's a link to his column entotled "They told you so" with some additional quotes. What is so incredible is that the editor of the Weekly Standard didn't know the Cassandra story who was given the gift of profecy but cursed so that no one would ever believe her predictions. This is testimony to the sad state of education on the right.


Conventional Wisdom

"It was John Kenneth Galbraith, the hyperliterate economic sage, who coined the phrase 'conventional wisdom.' He did not consider it a compliment. 'We associate truth with convenience,' he wrote, 'with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem.' Economic and social behavior, Galbraith continued, 'are complex, and to comprehend their character is mentally tiring. Therefore we adhere, as though to a raft, to those ideas which represent our understanding.' "So the conventional wisdom in Galbraith’s view must be simple, convenient, comfortable, and comforting--though not necessarily true. It would be silly to argue that the conventional wisdom is never true. But noticing where the conventional wisdom may be false--noticing, perhaps, the contrails of sloppy or self-interested thinking--is a nice place to start asking questions." Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics, Harper Collins, 2005, pp. 89-90.

Reason and free inquiry

"Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error… They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only… It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself… is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion… What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth… Free inquiry must be indulged; and how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse it ourselves." Thomas Jefferson, Sources of the American Republic, Volume I, p. 277-278


Television and Autism

Online magazine Slate had an article on Television and Autism and while I find the premise interesting the study appears flawed. In passing they mention the four hours the average child spends watching television daily. To me mentioning that fact without comment is incredible. Here's my comment that Slate featured as one of the selected responses. "If children were doing anything else for an average of four hours a day (except for school or sleeping) society would be worried. Imagine if children were spending on average 4 hours a day knitting, playing checkers or collecting stamps. We'd say that's it's too much, unhealthy, need a balance. But when it comes to TV four hours a day is normal and hardly a peep of protest. Autism connection aside, for your child's sake, limit TV to as little as possible, it'll make the world of difference to their life. Life is too special to waste watching television. Encourage your child to be active not passive, particpate not vegetate, think for yourself, not be programmed by someone else."


Taxes and Freedoms

"Montesquieu's Limits of Absolutism: General rule: one can raise higher taxes in proportion to the liberty of the subjects: and one is forced to moderate them to the degree that servitude increases. This has always been, and will always remain so." James MacDonald, A Free Nation Deep in Debt, Farrar, Straus, 2003, pp. 253-5.



"...the United States reaffirms its commitment to the worldwide elimination of torture. Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right, and we are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law." President Bush, June 26, 2005 "The bill...systematically distinguishes "severe pain"—the hallmark of torture—from (mere) "serious" pain—the hallmark of cruel and degrading treatment, usually thought to denote mistreatment short of torture. But then it defines serious physical pain as "bodily injury that involves ... extreme physical pain."" Slate Sept 29th on the Terrorist Detainee Bill


Computers and Computer Programmers

For a long time it puzzled me how something so expensive, so leading edge, could be so useless, and then it occurred to me that a computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things. They are, in short, a perfect match. - Bill Bryson, Notes from a Big Country


In a medium in which a News Piece takes a minute and an In-Depth Piece takes two minutes, the Simple will drive out the Complex. - Frank Mankiewicz


Obviously, a man's judgement cannot be better than the information on which he has based it. Give him the truth and he may still go wrong when he has the chance to be right, but give him no news or present him only with distorted and incomplete data, with ignorant, sloppy or biased reporting, with propaganda and deliberate falsehoods, and you destroy his whole reasoning processes, and make him something less than a man. - Arthur Hays Sulzberger


If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. - Rachel Louise Carson, 1907 - 1964