Monthly Archives: December 2010

December 31st

So long, 2010. Usually I’m cheery and optimistic on New Year’s Eve, but this time around as the old year wanes I find myself in the grip of a tenacious bout of melancholy. I have a feeling 2011 is going to be, as they say, an “interesting” time. But never mind that! For tonight, let’s […]

Let It Snow

Today is balm for the weary spirit: the pre-Christmas frenzy is over, a powerful snowstorm raging outside has brought city life to a standstill, and after an exhausting spell of long hours at the office over the past couple of months, I have before me eight days of jealously hoarded time off. The pace may […]

Merry Christmas

To you all. Thanks as always for reading and commenting.

As Above, So Below

With the publication of The Selfish Gene in 1976, Richard Dawkins raised a lively debate about which level of life’s organization is the right one for understanding natural selection. Previously the assumption had been that selection could only be understood to act upon discrete individuals, but Dawkins shook things up by suggesting that selection pressures […]

Holiday Cheer: Hope At Last

There’s good news today from the frontiers of medical research, and just in time for Christmas. Story here.

Trout Mask Requiem

The gifted writer Verlyn Klinkenborg offered a remembrance of Don Van Vliet on today’s New York Times editorial page. I liked it so much I’m reproducing it here (I don’t suppose he’ll mind). Summer of 1969. Parents away. A 50-foot audio cable runs from the stereo through a window across the porch to the lawn, […]

Taking On Water, Listing To Port

Once again I’m passing the evening in my little cubicle, fettered to my oar. So for tonight, by way of sharing the gloom, we have two depressing items, sent our way by our indefatigable correspondent JK, about the effect on our military of America’s accelerating cultural untergang. See here, and here. Related content from Sphere

“Thing Of The Past” Snarls UK Traffic, Causes Chaos

Here’s a nice juxtaposition of news items from across the Big Ditch. The first, published in The Independent back on March 20th, 2000, glumly informed Brits that: Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past. Zip forward a decade or so, and we have this: Coldest December since records began as temperatures plummet to […]

Getting Petty About Larceny

My local news-radio station recently reported on a string of crimes here in Brooklyn in which cell-phones were being “robbed” by a man on a bicycle, his modus operandi being to ride up to distracted pedestrians and snatch the devices from their hands. This didn’t sit well with me; I’d have said it was the […]

Done Deal

Well, Congress has gone ahead and repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I’ve already written about this topic, taking the position that the overriding concern here, by far, should be the effect of whatever policy is adopted on the effectiveness of the military. (I don’t claim to know what that effect will be — allowing gays […]

Time And A Word

You may not have heard about the latest offering from Google Labs, but it’s impressive, and addictive too. It’s a simple user interface that lets you graph the varying rate at which words and phrases have appeared in books over time. Enter your word or phrase, and see a graph. Bada-bing! Read about it here, […]

Don Van Vliet, 1941 – 2010

Here’s some very sad news, just in from our California correspondent: the unique, the incomparable Captain Beefheart has succumbed to multiple sclerosis at the age of 69. Don Van Vliet was sui generis, and though he never rose to the dizzy pinnacle of fame, he was one of the most influential, most visionary, most jaggedly […]

Study Confirms: Wheels Need Greasing

Well, here’s one scientific result whose robustness isn’t likely to decline with age: it appears that a certain level of corruption in law-enforcement actually represents a sort of societal “sweet spot”. Story here. Related content from Sphere

Down In The Valley

Victor Davis Hanson, a native of California’s Central Valley, recently spent a few days exploring the area by bicycle and automobile to see how it had been affected by decades of political, economic, and demographic transformation. He summarizes his gloomy findings in a substantial essay at the National Review website. His article begins: The last […]

Let’s Get It Started

Once again I am sitting at my office at 10:30 p.m., with no time for writing. So, for tonight: I imagine that those of you who prowl the reactionary blogosphere are familiar with the mysterious, magniloquent monarchist “Mencius Moldbug”, who blogs at Unqualified Reservations. I was surprised to find, the other day, a video of […]

Science In Decline?

In the December 13th edition of The New Yorker is a feature article by Jonah Lehrer titled The Truth Wears Off, about what’s known as the “Decline Effect” in experimental research. If you have a subscription to the New Yorker, you can read the article here. The magazine’s website does not allow selecting and pasting […]

All Is Calm, Then All Is Bright

Here’s some holiday cheer, sent our way by the indefatigable JK.

Great Flood

Here’s an item that’s been going around just now — sent to me independently by two readers shortly after I had noticed it myself in the science newsletters. Prior to the warmest part of the current interglacial period, large areas of what is now the western Persian Gulf were above sea level — constituting a […]

Conservatives, Liberals, And Gaze

Once again it’s almost eleven P.M., I’m still at work, and once again I have no time to write. (This is getting old fast, as am I.) I do have another interesting item for you, though. This time it’s about a little experiment, one that has picked out a curious difference between liberals and conservatives. […]


I worked far too late again tonight to do any writing — it’s after midnight, and I’ve only just got home from the office. But that doesn’t mean I have nothing for you, readers: have a look at the humbling, and exalting, life-story I read on the way home. Related content from Sphere

Here And Gone

I haven’t had much to say about politics for a few days, and don’t feel the need tonight to add to the chorus commenting on the tax deal, and on how adroitly the President managed to offend both the Right and his own liberal base at his petulant news conference yesterday. All I’ll say is […]

No Post Today

I’m surprised to find that I’m still knocked out from yesterday’s periodontal surgery. I always forget the depressing effect that surgery has on the bodily system as a whole — surprisingly so, in this case, because as surgeries go, this was nothing: a couple of hours in the chair, a molar implant in the right […]

Death, Be Not Loud

I’m recovering (with the help of Scotland’s amber restorative) from a weakening bout of periodontal surgery (my thanks as always, though to Dr. Louis Franzetti, who is the Jascha Heifetz of prosthodontics), and so am in no mood to write. Go then, to Mangan’s, and read an interesting thread on the regrets of the dying. […]

Mostly Sunny, With Colossal Magnetic Storms

While we’re on the subject of dramatic images of nature, here’s a fine shot of an enormous magnetic filament twisting across the surface of the Sun. Its length is about 55 Earth diameters. Have a look. Related content from Sphere

Tech Talk

In the old days of recording, we did our work in magnificent studios, lavishly equipped with the finest consoles, microphones and signal-processing equipment, and we preserved our work on magnetic tape. But now that the digital revolution has battered the record business to its knees and ground most of the old recording studios into dust […]

Mostly Cloudy

Here’s an absolutely amazing image, taken by Montana photographer Sean Heavey. If you liked that one, there are more here, and you can order prints at Mr. Heavey’s website, here. Related content from Sphere

Life Goes On

The “big news” from yesterday, about a new form of arsenic-based life found in Mono Lake, seems, from what I’ve read today, to have been a bit exaggerated. The bacterium in question was taken from an arsenic-rich environment — one to which it had presumably adapted by developing a tolerance for the stuff — and […]

Second Life

This could be very big news: the discovery of a new life-form, in California’s Mono Lake, with a significant difference in its most basic biochemistry. (Having turned up in California, chances are it will soon be demanding in-state tuition rates.) Story here. Related content from Sphere