Racism ended yesterday, and Amazon will drone in your purchases soon. I don’t know how things could get much better. I got nothing, except for Kathleen Geier’s round up of 10 vicious negative reviews. Open thread.
So how was your holiday?
Here are my highlights:
- Helped three dinner companions sign up for health insurance; two on Silver out of pocket assistance plans and one for a Gold plan.
- Was the safety captain for the major college football rivalry in the family — no one hurt on the last second shocker.
- Drove half an hour each night at 1:30 in the morning to get Kid #2 back to sleep — teething sucks! However, I’ve been playing Lullabye Metallica so hopefully when he is 17, horny, broke and pissed off, he’ll want to take a nap instead of punch something/one when he listens to music that is great for pissed off and drunk 17 year olds.
- Ice skating without ice skates is a great way to tweak an already stressed out Achilles…
So who else does not want to go to work this morning
I’ve always loved this passage in the introduction to M.F.K Fisher’s memoir-cum-essay-collection The Gastronomical Me:
People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and love, the way others do?
One paragraph later, she replies:
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. I tseems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writig about love and the hunger for it, and wormth and the love of it and the hunger for it….and then the warmth and ricghess of hunger satisfied….and it is all one. [ellipses n the original]
People don’t often ask me why I write about science, and not politics or economics or culture or war…the way others do.
But I’ve asked it of myself, and I find myself lining up with Fisher.* Science is so utterly intertwined with how we live that to write about its history, its discoveries, its many discontents, implications, way of thinking, is to interrogate politics, culture, conflict, philosophy and everything else…food included.
But still, writing about science is not just a sneaky way to comment on Republican anti-rationality or whatever; it’s not just a means to another end. I’ve written a book about the science of climate change, and though that book is as much about politics — and human nature — as it is about carbon chemistry and Milankovitch cycles, I remember one encounter I had while researching it.
I was in the woods in mid-New Hampshire in October or so, a research forest, walking around with the scientist who’d spent a couple of decades at least measuring everything he could about that ecosystem. We were talking about acid rain and the changes he’d been able to document, and all that you’d expect in such a conversation, and then he stopped in his tracks at a little jog in the trail. “That’s an ash tree,” he said, pointing to what was clearly an old friend. It was desert-highway straight, tall, in fine health. “These are one of my favorites,” he said. “They make baseball bats out of these, which is very satisfying to me.”
Which is to say that there is simple pleasure to be had in the scientist’s life, or better, for most of us who aren’t practicing researchers, in a science-infused view of life. Sometimes, there’s just the fun of the imagination leaping from the forest to the diamond; sometimes it’s the joy of the puzzle; or the adrenaline rush of the extraordinary (did you know a wolverine can bring down a moose? I didn’t until I read this);or — and this is what I think first drew me into the story — it’s simply those moments when science offers up a glimpse of pure, disinterested, astonishing beauty.
Like this one:
This image was made with the help of a friend and sometime co-blogger of mine, Dr. James Bales, assistant director of MIT’s Edgerton Center and a master of high speed photography. It shows a drop of water striking the wing of a a blue morpho butterfly. It came about in the context of the work of a group of researchers at or recently of MIT who have been studying how to reduce the contact time between water and hydrophobic surfaces. Cutting the interval during with sprays of water remain on such surfaces matters to applications like preventing icing on aircraft wings.
It turns out that engineering surfaces with tiny ridges does the trick — so far, the team has managed to reduce contact time by 40%, using surface configurations that can be achieved with readily available tools. More details here.
That’s all well and good — in fact, better than. As someone who flies pretty regularly out of Logan Airport, I’m all for anything that erodes the threat of icing.
But why the butterfly?
As Jim tells it, the group knew that they had, in essence, reinvented something nature’s been doing for a long time: what you see happening on the blue morpho’s wing above is exactly what engineered ridges on aluminum can accomplish. And the researchers wanted to express that realization in a way that acknowledges the elegance thus implied. Their own images were more useful than grand, and that’s where Jim came in, with the results you see above…**
…which are to me, before anything else, simply beautiful.
From time to time I do ask myself why write about science. An answer, not the only one, nor the whole of it, can be seen above.***
*People also rarely — never — juxtapose me with Fisher, but that’s another kettle of fish. I read her; I get to quote her.
**For those of you who like to think about such things, Jim says that “The tricky bit is getting the lighting just right (involved finding the right angles between strobe, wing, and lens, along with a mirror on the far side of the wing from the strobe to get a good fill light) and getting the timing right.” (That, by the way, is what good photographers say. The tricky bits are you know, everything.)
For the ubergearheads among us, Jim reports that the image was made with a Nikon D700, mounting a 70-180mm lens (presumably Nikon’s old macro unit), with a 1.4 teleconverter, a StopShot trigger unit (from Cognysis, in the US) and an Ultra Micro Flash from LaserScribe (an outfit in the UK) which has a flash duration of approximately 10 microseconds.
***Two more images for your delectation can be found below the jump.
All images: credit A. T. Paxson, K. Hounsell, J. W. Bales, J. C. Bird & K. Varanas, used by permission.
I’m sad that NSFWCorp has gone down PandoDaily’s maw — guess the future of journalism is all glibertarian tech billionaires pissing on each others’ vanity media projects — but at least John Dolan/Gary Brecher/The War Nerd still has a paying gig:
… Militarism in American history is like undulant fever: It comes and goes in waves. There was a time in the 1970s when most people saw the Armed Services as a last-ditch job for the otherwise unemployable. That changed during the Reagan years. The change didn’t happen because the US military did much to cover itself with glory; Reagan’s administration was timid about direct military involvement, only willing to invade pushovers like Grenada and wisely reluctant to provide the Afghan “mujahideen” with advanced weapons. No, it was the fact that you stood very little chance of actually getting killed, combined with the shift to Reagan’s “service economy” that made the military look good. Compared to working at WalMart, the Army was a socialist paradise: lifetime medical care, free room and board, and all the education you could handle.
Once people saw the WTC in flames, soldier-worship ramped up to a frenzy. The United States has been involved in multiple wars for a decade, and surveys show that public approval ratings for the military top those for every other profession, including doctors and scientists.
Meanwhile, Libertarian ideology has been tracking enthusiasm for soldiering. By now, almost a quarter of all Americans lean libertarian. It’s a group that looks a lot like Erik Prince, 94% white, two-thirds male, and of what used to be called “military age.”…
… [But] the U.S. Armed Services are a government monopoly — the government monopoly, the one that underwrites and provides protection for all the others. When you have a monopoly on large-scale violence, you have a monopoly on anything you happen to want. The IRS, the pet hate of Libertarians, would be a harmless joke without the threat of military force backing up their collection letters.
So how do the young white males who share these two incompatible hobbies, militarism and libertarianism, square their circle? Well, that’s where Erik Prince comes in, with a simple solution: the glorification of the perfect combination of free-market independence and American militarism — the mercenary….
The more I looked at the history of mercenary captains like Prince, especially those from the era of the condottieri, the mercenary commanders who destroyed Italy in the late 15th and early 16th century, the more sense Prince’s indifference to American military success started to make. Prince is the direct descendant of the condottieri; even the word “condottiero” means “contractor,” Prince’s preferred term for his soldiers of fortune. Some of these condottieri particularly Francesco Bussone Carmagnola, are eerily similar to Prince, in their cynicism, in their career trajectory, their selfishness, and their megalomaniacal vanity. Carmagnola set the pattern for all condottieri: He would win a tactical victory, as he did in the Battle of Maclodio then allow the defeated army to retreat and regroup, ensuring more campaigning and “…forcing [his backers] to pay incredible amounts in upkeep for the almost useless army.” From 15th century Northern Italy to the Sunni Triangle isn’t all that far, when you think like a mercenary…
… as long as she’s really dead, and can’t
beat him about the head & shoulders complain:
RNC: Today we remember Rosa Parks, who helped make our "Southern strategy" of coded racism such a big success. RE http://t.co/jwSNaGtNvE
— billmon (@billmon1) December 1, 2013
Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism. pic.twitter.com/uxIj1QmtkU
— RNC (@GOP) December 1, 2013
RNC: "And tomorrow we remember the Roberts Court's bold stand and its role in fighting to stop people like Rosa Parks from voting."
— billmon (@billmon1) December 1, 2013
To quote Jimmy Breslin, “Class tells when there is no class.”
(Tom Toles via GoComics.com)
The NYTimes gives Adrian Chen space for a victory amble (cuz hipsters don’t lap):
FOR the obsessive followers of the volatile virtual currency bitcoin, the price of a single bitcoin at the time their fixation began holds undue significance. I know one bitcoin cost around $9 when I first stumbled on it in the summer of 2011. That was before I single-handedly sent the price of bitcoin soaring.
I wasn’t trying to manipulate an underground economy. I was just doing my job as a blogger for the website Gawker when I broke the story of the online underground illegal drug market Silk Road, on which bitcoin was the only accepted currency because of its relative anonymity. The article went viral and introduced hundreds of thousands to bitcoin…
…[A]s of this writing, one bitcoin is worth around $880. Senate hearings held to discuss regulating bitcoin earlier this month were “lovefests,” according to The Washington Post. Abroad, Chinese investors are flocking. Bitcoin seems on the brink of respectability.
Still, there’s a zaniness about the currency. Bitcoin is built on a weird mix of the most old-fashioned kind of speculative greed, bolstered by a contemporary utopian cyberlibertarian ideology. Boosters say that bitcoin is the currency of the future. I’d argue that the phenomenon is a digital gold rush perfectly emblematic of the present…
Apart from mocking cyberlibertarian ideology, what’s on the agenda as we steel ourselves for another week?