Monday, March 31, 2014

The Pride of Mrs. Einstein

Albert and Elsa Einstein

Einstein with Hubble at Mount Wilson
Although Albert Einstein’s second wife, Elsa, didn’t understand what he did, she was immensely proud of him for doing it. One sunny day in January 1931, while Einstein played with the controls of the 100-inch reflector telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, someone explained to Elsa that astronomer Edwin Hubble had used this equipment to discover the size and shape of the universe. She replied, “Well, my husband does that on the back of an old envelope.”
Source: “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson

Friday, March 28, 2014

Life Under a Very Small Star

One day in 1922, instead of the promised lecture, Albert Einstein treated Geneva University students to a spirited violin recital.
The scientific sage was visiting from Germany, the country where he was still living despite a rising tide of violence, fascism and anti-Semitism. That evening at dinner, the wife of an Oxford professor asked Einstein how he could remain cheerful with so much depravity in the world.
He replied, “We must remember that this is a very small star, and probably some of the larger and more important stars may be very virtuous and happy.”
Intellectual and emotional detachment has its advantages.
Source: “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Todd:" A Term That Translates as "The Death of Journalism"

Every time I hear that smug conventional-wisdom propagandist Chuck Todd, I am reminded that “tod” means “death” in German, and that his kind of agenda-driven, amoral-horse-race, fatally compromised corporate news media crap is the death of American journalism.
“There is not a single bit of 'shared sacrifice' that is going to fall too heavily on Willard Romney,” Charlie Pierce wrote. “There is not a bit of 'shared sacrifice' that is going to fall too heavily on David Gregory, either, or on Jon Meacham, or Andrea Mitchell, or Sean Hannity, or my man Chuck Todd. In the way we fight our wars, and in the way we conduct our politics, and in the way we run our economy, and in the way we function as a political commonwealth, we are now at the mercy of people who propose and enact policies for the rest of us under which they never will have to abide. Our elites are now a universe of chickenhawks and every issue out there is Vietnam.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

American Brains Softening As We Speak

Rattled by vapid rat-a-tat text messaging in traffic, sweet-poisoned by advertising, pounded by political propaganda, dizzied by religious lunacy, encouraged to hate reason, science and education, lulled by lies on every side, American brains are softening even as we speak. And the Republicans are the cutting edge, the nasty little peck-your-eyes-out canaries in the coal mine.

Where Trolls Should File Their Requests

My beagle relaxes atop things just like Snoopy, by the way.
Right wing trolls always seem to think that you do unpaid work for them, and are always demanding that you supply them a variety of carefully researched, solid evidence that they will reject out of hand if you are so foolish as to bother to answer them. I like to remind them to shove all that straight up their ass.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Where Stoicism and Buddhism Meet

The fact that this is one of life's most profound truths doesn't make it easy to practice. But every time we try, we gain.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cable News Jumps the Sharknado

Since the disappearance of Flight 370, American cable news has variously attributed the event to a zombie epidemic, supernatural teleportation or, more scientifically (if no more rationally), a black hole.
The fact that a black hole on Earth would have destroyed not merely the passenger jet, but also the entire planet and the solar system would, however, seem to me to be the bigger headline.
The Society for Professional Journalists’ first ethical principle is “Seek the truth and report It,” not “Just pull some speculative bullshit out of your ass and fling it.”
Funny, yes, but frightening, too. Why? Because without professional journalism — of verified, reliable, relevant fact — a society will not, finally, stand, any more than bridges will stand without honest professional engineers.
For some time now, CNN’s corporate managers have been on a quest to “dumbify” their already-enfeebled news operation so that they can cravenly compete for ratings with cable’s all-propaganda channel, Fox News.
Meanwhile, Fox News was suggesting that CNN’s over-the-top coverage of the missing plane was merely an attempt to distract the public from the dead horse, GOP-scripted issue that Fox has been flogging — Benghazi.
The U.S. corporate media has reached a state that may safely be termed dreadful. Corporate America has never actually cared for journalism at all. The profession, with its emphasis on factual truth, always tends to threaten someone’s bottom line, and to Hindenburg those expensively inflated propaganda balloons that are used to sell wars, derivatives and other such cons.
Corporate America would much prefer to replace actual journalism with a see-no-evil, happy-talk witch’s brew of PR and advertising, and merely call that "journalism."
In both teaching and journalism, we are facing a culture that, for certain quiet, nefarious reasons, is deliberately working to guarantee that the jobs cannot be done — and then feigning shock when the jobs are not, in fact, done.
Ignorance really has plenty of adherents, you know. They just don't like to advertise that fact.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Fresh Face of the Fascists

Funny how many people refuse to see the exact parallels between fascism and the 21st century GOP.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Don't Mean What You Say? Use Antilanguage

noun ˈan-ˌtī,\ˈlaŋ-gwij, -wij\
The ruling-class and corporate PR propaganda ploy of using terms that convey the precise opposite of their actual intention.
For example, when Republicans speak of “shared sacrifice,” they mean sacrifice unshared by them or the billionaires before whom they grovel.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Chair That's Not a Chair, Even When There's No One Sitting There

A theist is like the owner of an empty apartment who insists that, on the contrary, his home is furnished with an invisible, intangible throne more magnificent than any mere physical chair on Earth. He claims to sit comfortably in that chair by the spiritual fire, with his dogma curled up cozily at his feet.
But an assertion is not a chair. A metaphor is not a chair. A belief is not a chair. Freethinkers are merely those people who observe that there is nowhere they can sit.

The Dog of Tomorrow

Here's an Alex Ross painting I absolutely love. For the uninitiated, I'll say that this is Krypto, Superman's dog (don't ask, just go with it). He's been around, on and off, for more than a half-century now. For the record, a dog is one of the few beings I would actually trust with super powers.

The Great Poet’s Work

Painting by Joni Di Pirro

By Lisa Lipham Lemza
So I bought the Great Poet’s Work
Some years ago.
Dutifully read it,
And was, shall we say,
I picked up that book last week—
Elegant and slim—
And found each line shot with electric wonder,
Mind falling off the cliffs of words:
Spinning, ecstatic, stomach dropping.
It’s not the book that’s changed.

Caviar as Brain Food

In 1902, Albert Einstein and a couple of young intellectual friends dubbed themselves the “Olympia Academy,” lampooning the stuffiness of academia.
They named Einstein the president, and created a certificate for him that included his bust in profile beneath an impressive string of sausages.
After all, the nature of the universe was important, but so were sausages.
“Generally their dinners were frugal repasts of sausage, Gruyère cheese, fruit and tea. But for Einstein’s birthday, (Maurice) Solovine and (Conrad) Habicht decided to surprise him by putting three plates of caviar on the table.
“Einstein was engrossed in analyzing Galileo’s principle of inertia, and as he talked he took mouthful after mouthful of his caviar without seeming to notice. Habicht and Solovine exchanged furtive glances.
“’Do you realize what you’ve been eating?’ Solovine finally asked.
“’For goodness’ sake,’ Einstein exclaimed. ‘So that was the famous caviar!’ He paused for a moment, then added, ‘Well, if you offer gourmet food to peasants like me, you know they won’t appreciate it.’”
Source: “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sleeping Dogs Lie

By Lisa Lipham Lemza
Their bodies soft,
Improbably compressed,
Curling into commas,
Apostrophes of beguiling rest—
Paws crossed,
Noses tipped with tail,
Snouts tucked,
A contraction of dog.

It all belies
The obdurate muscle coiled beneath,
Which can spring
In a scalding moment,
In a shock of surging power,
Into an elemental something
A burglar would not wish to meet.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How To Be Good

Yes, habit is stronger than reason, something Aristotle understood 2,300 years ago.
When Plato claimed that moral wrongdoing was the result of ignorance, that no one would knowingly do wrong, Aristotle replied that people often know what they’re doing is wrong, but do it anyway. Think of drug addicts or wife beaters, for example.
Ethics depend on character, and Aristotle understood that character is the result of repeated actions, of habit.
Recognizing that fact, I would therefore suggest that the school of thought called “virtue ethics” has a lot to recommend it. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that virtue ethics “…emphasize the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy rather than either doing one’s duty or acting in order to bring about good consequences. A virtue ethicist is likely to give you this kind of moral advice: ‘Act as a virtuous person would act in your situation.’”
What this means, as a practical matter, is that to increase the odds that you will behave like a good person, you should practice being one.
If you regularly act with honesty, with courage, with kindness, with forethought and forbearance — even when, or especially when, you may find it difficult to do so — those qualities will finally be habitual. They will form your character. They will become you, in more ways than one.