Morning Music: Food Glorious Food

Oliver!When I found myself listening to Adam Sandler, I figured it was time to listen to Thanksgiving music. He really is one of the most annoying people on the planet. So let’s try to forget about him as quickly as possible. In 1968, the musical Oliver! was released. It is one of the better filmed musicals. The truth is that musicals don’t translate well to the screen. This is because musicals are odd art forms regardless. It’s one thing if people are going to stand in front of you and sing and dance. But film is static. Who are these people singing and dancing for? Obviously, it works best when it is something like Pal Joey, where the numbers are part of the story.

Anyway, Oliver! was directed by Carol Reed, who directed one of my all time favorite movies, The Third Man. And I would rather watch any of that than anything from Oliver! but we do have a schedule, and we must stay on it. Plus, the song “Food Glorious Food” works rather well. And it is a wonderful illustration of inequality of the most unfair kind. This Thursday, I will be eating very well, just as I do every day. But perhaps the universe will equalize things a bit by killing me off soon in a most painful way.

Anniversary Post: Lucy

LucyOn this day in 1974, Lucy — or as her friends know her, AL 288-1 — was discovered. She is our best representative of Australopithecus afarensis, a hominid that lived between three and four million years ago. Her fossilized skeleton is thought to date back to about 3.2 million years ago. What is most interesting about her is she seems to have walked on two legs. At the same time, she had a small skull, like that of non-hominid apes. Thus, we believe that humans walked upright before we developed our ridiculously large brains.

I find this kind of stuff fascinating. We humans are so focused on our brains, but they really are part of a larger evolutionary picture. If not, why don’t all animals just get bigger and bigger brains? Being smarter is not necessarily an advantage. We can see that in our own world. There’s the question people like me hate, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?!” I also relate it to VHS and Betamax. The latter actually had a better quality, but the former was good enough — along with some features that made it more useful. That’s how I think of rich people who started poor: generally smart enough with the right skills for making money — rarely brilliant.

So why bipedalism and then increased brain size? It appears to be because freeing up the hands led to building of tools. And in that, being smarter was a major advantage. So evolution selected for bigger brains only after our ancestors started walking on two legs. As I said: fascinating.

Racism So Profound It Is Invisible

Yasser LouatiI suspect that I am too lose with my definition of racism. By it, pretty much everyone — very much including myself — is a racist. And that makes the word useless. My interest in this has been to allow people to see their own blind spots. But perhaps that time is over. Still, I’m really not that interested in the Mississippi Burning form of racism, because it is something that is largely dead. And I want to avoid the situation where we define racism as some old man using the term “negro” — which doesn’t mean much in itself other than the speaker being out of it.

This bothered me last year with Cliven Bundy. He famously said, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro.” I’m afraid that what most offended people was his use of the word “negro.” But that was more a function of him being in his late 60s than anything else. Yet I don’t think there would have been nearly as much of an uproar if he had said, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the African American.” But it should have! Because in that statement is the most clear example of racism that you will find: African Americans aren’t some arbitrarily defined group; they are this one monolithic thing.

But at least when it comes to African Americans, we have a chance of seeing it. Someone like Bundy might say that, but you wouldn’t have anchors on CNN saying something like that. Yet when it comes to Muslims, you see this without a hint of realization. Treating members of a religion that is over a billion and a half strong as a monolith is perfectly fine. Here are John Vause and Isha Sesay interrogating civil rights leader Yasser Louati. Louati even starts by noting that there were Muslim victims of the attack. But the anchors aren’t interested in that. Vause follows this by asking him, “Why is it that no one within the Muslim community there in France knew what these guys were up to?” It’s almost unbelievable:

What’s also interesting in this segment is the discussion of why it is that the Muslim community is not denouncing these attacks. This is something I hear from conservatives all the time. It doesn’t matter how quickly and forcefully and loudly Muslims denounce such attacks. The fact is that it isn’t presented much on MSNBC, much less on Fox News. Therefore, it doesn’t exist. There might have a been a billion Muslims mourning the 9/11 attacks, but it was video of two dozen of “those people” dancing that got rerun over and over again on the television.

But in this case, we aren’t talking about some ignorant television viewers. We are talking educated, intelligent news presenters who are at the top of their fields. They aren’t being told to present Muslims in this totally bigoted way. It just comes naturally. Yasser Louati is a Mulsim! In France! Why didn’t he stop the attack?!

Can you imagine two CNN anchors asking Obama why no one in the “black community” didn’t stop some crime committed by an African American? Of course not! It would be outrageous. In fact, it would be silly — as if all African Americans had a secret handshake and a special Facebook Black where they communicated.

This, my friends, is the face of racism at its most pure. In a form that will make people look back in two decades with horror. How could they not have seen it? But they don’t. This form of racism is so common that people haven’t even learned to spot it.

NSA Is Collecting Any Data That It Can

Andrew FishmanMy first wife was a privacy fanatic. And like most privacy fanatics I’ve know, she had nothing worth hiding. She had a boring life. (She married me!) I, on the other hand, have lived a very colorful life — often in a very public way. So I’ve long ago given up on the delusion that I had much in terms of privacy. I find myself in a curious position of now living a very boring life, but not caring too much about this issues on a personal level. But in terms of politics, I care a great deal.

Andrew Fishman and Glenn Greenwald wrote a really good article this last week, Overwhelmed NSA Surprised to Discover Its Own Surveillance “Goldmine” on Venezuela’s Oil Executives. What it shows is that the NSA collects so much data that it doesn’t even know what it has. It reminds me of the ozone hole.

In general, it is not a good idea to collect data just to be collecting it.

NASA was collecting data of total column ozone levels in Antarctica. The geophysicist Joe Farman and his little team from Cambridge were studying ozone levels at the south pole and they noticed a huge decrease. But they were really skeptical. They knew that NASA had been studying this stuff for decades. Why hadn’t anyone published it?! Well, the reason was a kind of computer bug. The scientists at NASA wrote some code that said, “If ozone levels get below a certain level, put it aside for humans to look at it.” The humans never looked. After “Large Losses of Total Ozone in Antarctica Reveal Seasonal ClOx/NOx Interaction” came out, NASA found that they had an enormous amount of data that showed the ozone hole and its increasing trend.

In general, it is not a good idea to collect data just to be collecting it. This is something I’ve ranted about for years with video stores that want your Social Security number. Why? No reason. They are just collecting every kind of data they can think of — just in case. But with the NSA, you have to wonder, shouldn’t they be doing targeted investigations? It isn’t a good idea to just collect everything they can so later they can say, “Oh yeah, the information on that terrorist attack was in our archives.”

Glenn GreenwaldBut what really bugs me is that in this case, the NSA has been collecting data that can only be described as corporate espionage. Ever wonder about that? Why we hate certain questionable regimes like Venezuela while we love truly horrible regimes like Saudi Arabia? It’s all about our government working in the interests of huge corporations. ExxonMobile is making billions in Saudi Arabia. But ExxonMobile was thrown out of Venezuela. Thus: Venezuela is bad.

At least the NSA isn’t spying on us, right? Well, no. The NSA says that it only collects metadata — basically the public information of our email and phonecalls. But that means nothing. This revelation about corporate espionage isn’t the first. Previously, the NSA was caught spying on Brazil’s oil company, Petrobras. Before that, the NSA said, “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”

It seems that the NSA sees part of its job as being lying to the American people. So I think we have to assume that the NSA does, in fact, read every email we send — that they know exactly what you read on every website and when. Which, as I’ve noted, is probably not a big deal. But it does mean that if the government ever decides it doesn’t like you, you are toast. But fear not: this is the behavior of a dying empire. Your great great grandchildren won’t have to worry about the NSA, because the United States of America will be a backwater, having lost relevance because it focused on maintaining its power by any means necessary rather than improving the lives of its people.

Morning Comedy: Bob’s Burgers

Bob's BurgersYes, eventually we might get to some Thanksgiving music. But for now, I’m sticking with comedy. This is from the most recent Thanksgiving episode of Bob’s Burgers. Thanksgiving is Bob’s favorite holiday. Yet every year it is destroyed for him because he is living in a situation comedy. Actually, this episode turns out the best of any of them. Right now, you can watch the whole episode (which you should do): Gayle Makin’ Bob Sled.

We learn in this episode that Linda’s sister Gayle has been dating Phillip (Mister) Frond. But he dumped her, and she fell down and broke her ankle and now Bob has to go pick her up and of course everything goes wrong. In this scene, we see Bob pulling the wounded Gayle in a kid’s pool as he calls Linda and explains to her how to cook the turkey. He had previously called and told her that she would have to baste it. He explained how to baste and Linda responded, “That’s what basting is?!” Yes, like most things involved with cooking, it’s very easy. But this scene is much more tense:

Anniversary Post: Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda GalaxyOn this day in 1924, the universe got a whole lot bigger. Until Edwin Hubble published his findings, it was believed that the Milky Way galaxy was the entire universe. Andromeda had been known of for thousands of years. But it was thought to be a nebula inside the Milky Way. Hubble showed that it was far too distant for that and was rather a galaxy like our own. It was truly one of the days the universe changed.

When I was young, I had what is probably a typical view of the universe: there are stars, and around them are plants; stars swirl around in galaxies; and galaxies are just these things that hang out. But it is all a whole lot more messy than that. In fact, the universe seems to be like a fractal: it’s kind of the same at whatever scale you observe it. There are, for example, about three dozen galaxies that we know are satellites of our own. In about four billion years, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are going to “collide.” They won’t really collide, because like most of the universe, they are almost all empty. But the two will go on to form a new galaxy, that we’ve already named: Milkomeda. Check out this great animation that NASA created of this interaction:

Based upon this, you can see why people have a hard time not believing in a multiverse. And I don’t doubt that at some point we will find a way to show this indirectly. Maybe a better understand of dark energy will imply other universes. Or maybe, it is all just a delusion of the singularity of my consciousness. In which case, I don’t know why you’re even reading this. Oh, that’s right: you aren’t. A better question: why am I not happier? As singularities go, this consciousness is just meh.

Two Serious Errors in Griftopia

GriftopiaAs I mentioned earlier in the week, Republicans Call for Most Oppressive Government, I’ve been listening to the audio version of Matt Taibbi’s 2010 book, Griftopia. And although I think it is a great book, there were two things in it that really stood out as being totally wrong. It’s five years later, and I would guess that Taibbi has since been educated on the topics. They are both bits of conventional wisdom that usually get taken as fact without any thought. As a result, it is a good idea to go over them and discuss them. Taibbi is very much a liberal, and if he thinks these things are true, there are doubtless a lot of other liberals who don’t even think to question them.

Social Security Trust Fund

At one point in the book, he was talking about the rise in the payroll tax. It touches on one of my own favorite articles, Reagan’s Legacy: Tax Cuts for Rich, Tax Hikes for the Rest. Taibbi was talking about how Alan Greenspan headed the commission that recommended raising the payroll tax. But then the extra money didn’t go to social security. It was just loaned out to the federal government for deficit spending. Well, yeah; so what?!

Matt TaibbiI hear people make this argument all the time: there is no trust fund! It’s just a bunch of worthless paper! This just isn’t true. No one would say such a ridiculous thing about an investor who had a lot of money invested in treasury bills. They would say such a person was a prudent investor. They would call someone who stored cash under their bed a loon, yet that is what they are expecting with Social Security. The extra money that the Social Security Administration (SSA) was taking in had to be stored somehow. What were they supposed to do?

The payroll taxes went up in 1984, as a result of the Social Security Reform Act of 1983. If the SSA had invested the money in gold, it would have done well that year because gold was at an all time low. But for the money taken in in 2012, the trust fund would have lost almost 40% of its value. Looking at the long view, if all the trust fund were invested in 1980, it would now be worth 37% less. The Social Security trust fund is invested in a mix of treasury securities. But if you just look at 30-year securities, you see that they have done much better than gold.

And clearly: the SSA wouldn’t have been holding actual gold. It would have been holding “worthless” paper that said that it owned gold. It could have been holding on to actual cash, but there are two problems with this. First, it is worth a whole lot less now because of inflation. And second, there isn’t enough cash to do this. In 2011, there was $2.6 trillion in the trust fund. There is only $1.2 trillion in circulation. You can’t just have trillions of dollars sitting around because there aren’t trillions of dollars in existence. And if there were, it would be very bad. Money is supposed to be moving around. If it isn’t, it is indeed “useless.”

Strong Dollar

Taibbi also claimed that Greenspan was wrong to say that it didn’t matter if the international value of US currency went down. Okay, on this one, Taibbi is half right. It does matter because we live in a global economy. Just the same, the vast majority of what we spend our money on is stuff that is right here in the US: houses, food, healthcare. There is a downside when the value of the dollar goes down. But there is also an upside. Taibbi doesn’t talk about this at all. And that is a very big problem.

What most people need are jobs. When the dollar is too valuable, it makes imports too competitive. That means that Americans are put out of work because the things they make cost too much. There is obviously a balance that we want to achieve. But certainly over the last several decades, the problem has been that the American dollar is worth too much, not that it is worth too little.

What’s especially bad about this is that Taibbi is making the argument for the rich. If you have a lot of money, the more each dollar is worth, the better. But most people do not have a lot of money. In fact, most people live paycheck to paycheck. Their biggest concern is that they will lose their jobs. Making our steel and lumber and cars more expensive to export is not good for such people.

Sobering Conclusion

Matt Taibbi is a really smart and knowledgeable guy. If, after researching the 2008 financial crisis, he still manages to push two very tired, very wrong conservative talking points, what hope has the average American of understanding what’s really going on? Both of these points are commonly made on Fox News and the crazy editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. The decades long conservative disinformation campaign has been highly effective. We really need to push back against it — hard. I think Matt Taibbi needs to write a book about both these things to atone for his sins.

In the mean time, you might read The End of Loser Liberalism (Free!) and Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

‘American Exceptionalism’ as Conversation Stopper

Lane KenworthyThe Sociologist Lane Kenworthy wrote a very interesting article a few months back (via Mark Thoma), America Is Exceptional… and Ordinary. He framed it interestingly, “To some, ‘exceptional’ doesn’t just mean different; it means best. To others it means worst. As we’ll see, America is both.” But I do think that’s where he gets the idea wrong. “American exceptionalism” is not about how we compare to other countries. The point is that America should never be compared to other countries. And this is why in general, the idea of American exceptionalism is not used by those complaining about the country. They are interested in comparing so the whole conception of exceptionalism gets in the way of seeing America clearly.

But Kenworthy presents a lot of data. It all compares the US to the other advanced economies that we normally think of ourselves as being comparable to: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. And much of the data is damned sobering. Americans like to make a big deal of us being the richest country — but that’s mostly due to our size. We aren’t even the richest per capita — that title goes to Norway.

Our poor are worse off that most of the other countries… Our incomes are by far the most unequal. And interestingly, ours is the only one that has seen that inequality go up substantially since the 2008 financial crisis.

When you look at per capita GDP growth, you see that over the last 35 years, we’ve done pretty much exactly as well as other countries that haven’t seen their workers’ rights savaged and who haven’t seen their income inequality skyrocket. These are also countries that manage to provide healthcare to all their citizens. Perhaps the most amazing thing at the last Republican debate was that Donald Trump said what is only too clear that Republican elites believe: that in order for America to be competitive, the middle class must see its standard of living drop: “wages too high.”

Our poor are worse off that most of the other countries: Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, and Sweden. Our incomes are by far the most unequal. And interestingly, ours is the only one that has seen that inequality go up substantially since the 2008 financial crisis. In 1980, we were by far the best educated country, but now eight countries beat us. And they beat us not because we are doing worse, but because they have continued to improve while we’ve allowed ourselves to stagnate. Because you know what we learned at that time: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

College Completion

We spend roughly twice what all the other countries do on healthcare. And we manage to do this without even covering all of our people. In 1980, we spent the most on healthcare, but we were still part of the pack. At that time, we were in the middle of the pack in terms of life expectancies. Now that we are spending vastly more on healthcare, but our life expectancy has dropped to dead last. That doesn’t mean our life expectancies haven’t gone up. It is just that the other countries have seen theirs go up a lot more. Those countries, it would seem, do not think that government “is the problem.”

When you look at what percentage of us work (between the ages of 25 and 64), we are in the bottom half. Those other countries generally make it easier to be unemployed. According to conservative dogma, they should have a lot more people unemployed. But they don’t. We tax (and spend) very little, yet this hasn’t caused companies to go crazy hiring people. So much for supply side economics! I assume our poor employment numbers have something to do with a lack of demand. The middle class isn’t getting its fair share of the economy, so it can’t buy stuff that others would make. And the reason the middle class isn’t getting its fair share has a lot to do with the abysmal shape of our labor unions — only Korea is worse.

We’re the most religious country by a wide margin, but that is going down. We are the most punitive, and that is still going up (but at a reduced rate). In this land of immigrants, we are only in the middle of the pack when it comes to the foreign-born share of the population. And listening to the Republican presidential debates, you don’t get the impression that we are moving in a positive direction. And don’t believe what Republicans sometimes say about just being against illegal immigration; the truth is, Conservatives Hate All Immigrants.

Although Lane Kenworthy started his article saying that the US was exceptional in both good and bad ways, almost all of the data indicate that it is exceptional in bad ways. But as I said: it doesn’t matter. When people talk about “American exceptionalism” they use it in the same way they use “support the troops.” It is a way of stopping people from talking about the issues involved. The true “American exceptionalism” that they are pushing is the idea that America is the best by definition. And that is pretty much the only way that America can be the best. In almost every other way, we look pretty bad.

Anniversary Post: Kennedy Assassination

John F KennedyOn this day in 1963, President John F Kennedy was assassinated. This was followed exactly five years later by the release of The Beatles’ White Album. Coincidence? Hardly. Especially when you consider that Kennedy regularly used Paul McCartney as his double. Am I suggesting that it was really McCartney who was murdered in Dallas? No, I’m saying it was Lee Harvey Oswald who was murdered in Dallas. McCartney was murdered two days later. Need proof? The Abbey Road cover: McCartney is bare foot. Do I need to draw diagrams for you people?!

Kennedy’s secretary was named Johnson. McCartney’s secretary’s mother’s maiden name was Johnston. Her father was born on a farm just outside the Leeds suburb of Johnson. Johnson was the birthplace of Christopher Marlowe. As we know from history, Marlowe faked his own death and went on to write the plays normally attributed to Shakespeare. Not as well know, Marlowe was the father of Isaac.

Paul McCartneyThis may seem complicated, but follow along. Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, blah blah blah his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Paul McCartney.

Are you starting to see it now?

Lee Harvey OswaldIn 1959, when Paul McCartney was working with The Beatles, it was really Kennedy. McCartney was in the Soviet Union, following Lee Harvey Oswald. When Oswald returned to the United States, McCartney took over for Kennedy as bass player for The Beatles so that Kennedy could run for president. But once Oliver Stone started making films in high school, the Secret Service decided that it would be safest to swap McCartney for Kennedy. Interestingly, this also resulted in the most productive period for the Lennon-McCartney (Lennon-Kennedy) collaboration. But this is where it gets confusing.

The Secret Service was blackmailed by the Five Families. So to protect Kennedy, who was writing “Love Me Do,” the Secret Service swapped Kennedy (McCartney) for Lee Harvey Oswald. Thus is was Kennedy (McCartney (Oswald))) who killed Oswald (McCartney) on that awful day in 1963. Thus, McCartney (Kennedy) did survive until he was killed by Jack Ruby, who was, of course, George Harrison. But that is a story for another day.

I hope this has cleared up the Kennedy (McCartney (Oswald)) assassination.

Life Goes on After Mali Attack

Girl in Bamako, MaliGiven that we spent almost a week enjoying music from Mali, I figure I ought to say something about the Bamako hotel attack that took place just one week after the attacks in Paris. There are a few things that are worth noting. Note is that this was a terrorist attack. It was apparently carried out by Al-Mourabitoun and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. There were at least 19 people murdered. But I guess we don’t really care because most Americans don’t even know where Mali is, and the people there are used to being killed or don’t value life like we do or something.

Maybe it is that it is an attack by people who don’t look like us on people who don’t look like us. (In fact, that’s not true: it was an expensive hotel and over half of the victims were “white” — but only one was American, Anita Datar — working on family planning and HIV.) According to a BBC report, Mali has been under attack for the last three years — a situation that has been made much worse by the destabilization of Libya. It’s interesting to me especially, because the United States acts so much like Don Quixote. We throw ourselves into situations, make them worse, and then ride off thinking that we have done good. Of course, Don Quixote is insane. And the US is supposedly the most civilized of countries with by far the biggest military in the world.

The four or five gunmen who stormed the hotel were yelling “Allāhu Akbar” (“Allah is great”). So I guess that means Sam Harris was right. This is all about religion. It isn’t a question of a decades long separatist conflict with rebels in north Mali and west Niger. And before the Harrisistas start complaining that The Profit doesn’t say it is only Islam that is to blame, let’s be clear: I don’t think there has ever been a war in which most of the people didn’t feel God was on their side. In the Battle of Lena, both side thought Odin was on their side. Here’s a bit of history for you all: none of it was actually about Odin.

Our response here in the US is, “Not our fault! Close the borders! Hide under the bed! Oh, and keep up that drone program, because it’s working so very well!”

This attack took place on 20 November 2015. I looked back a year after the Paris attacks. So let’s look back at 20 November 2014 from the Global Terrorism Database. There were at least 105 fatalities from 39 attacks. And this isn’t taking into account all the people fighting against them, not to mention our own bombing and drone campaigns. I am almost to the point where I want to throw up my hands and just repeat, over and over, “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!”

Of course, I fear that most people on all sides of these conflicts would respond the opposite from the way I intend. They would say, “Right on!” I’ve been more than clear over the years that I am not a pacifist. But it is clear that there are ways to make the world better and ways to make the world worse. We all know that the Iraq War destabilized the Middle East and made the world worse. Less known is that after almost 15 years of war, the Taliban have a tighter grip on Afghanistan than when we started. Well played, comrades; well played!

Meanwhile, death is everywhere — random and brutal. And our response here in the US is, “Not our fault! Close the borders! Hide under the bed! Oh, and keep up that drone program, because it’s working so very well!” Meanwhile, the people of Mali get on with their lives. They do not have the luxury to pretend that the world will be safe if only they close their borders.

Yes Donny, These Men Are Going to Hurt Us

Chris ChristieYou know me: Not a Real Man™. In general, I think men who act macho and belligerent are hiding something. They have very small penises or are awful in bed or are gay but too cowardly to admit it. Something. Regardless, it’s all about being terrified. So I’m not at all surprised that the political party of the macho man, the Republicans, should show its true colors and quake at the idea that terrorists kill people. I’m sure they are looking for women to walk in front of them so they lessen the impact of any bomb blast. If they are kidnapped, they won’t need to be tortured to yell, “Do it to Julia!”

It seems to me that the Paris bombings are a bigger media event here than they are there. We really are a nation of cowards. It takes almost nothing to set us off. This is why, with less than 5% of the world’s population, we spend just short of half of all the money on weapons. It’s why Bush’s line was so effective, “Fight them there, so we don’t have to fight them here.” We just want to hide from the threats of the world. And that’s because we have to face such minor threats here. It’s also because we have one political party with an ideology so repugnant to the vast majority of people, the only way it can get power is by fear mongering.

I’ve always consider myself a coward. Yet I have often times gone into very dangerous situations and locations — alone. It’s not because I’m foolhardy. I just trust that (1) threats are usually overblown; and (2) I can usually handle situations. Given what I see among so many American men, I can’t consider myself a coward in an absolute sense — just relative to what I think true bravery would be. So I don’t know what that makes people who are afraid to live near a methadone clinic or a prison or a Syrian refugee family. We need a new word, but I’m afraid it is one that I would ban from this site on stylistic grounds.

“No Donny, these men are cowards.” —Walter Sobchak

The ultimate example of this is Big Chicken — or as I like to think of him, “Governor Shouts a Lot,” Chris Christie. He made the bold statement last week that we shouldn’t let Syrian orphans under five years old in. It’s not clear that he is actually afraid of them. He said, “But you know, they have no family here. How are we going to care for these folks?” Yeah, how would we ever be able to care for children? We just have no experience with that!

After the attacks in Paris, people opened their homes to strangers. The French government is not halting Syrian refugees from entering the country. But here, well, we can’t do that. It’s nice to be humane and all. But when you are vewy vewy afwaid, you just can’t allow it. I’ve been saying this about police for years: if they can’t stop killing unarmed people because they were afraid they might get a paper cut, can we at least cut the crap about them being brave?

The same thing goes for the Republicans (and frankly, a sad number of Democrats too): these men are something far below cowards. If Dante’s Inferno is real, they will spend eternity fleeing in terror from dandelion spores. But unfortunately, in this world, these men have power. And Walter’s assurance to Donny is not appropriate. These guys are going to hurt the whole world unless we fight back. Then they’ll run for their guns and a line of women to hide behind.

Anniversary Post: Einstein’s Second Best Year

Albert EinsteinOn this day in 1905, Albert Einstein published an incredibly important physics paper. It was a very good year for him, but remarkably, not his best. In 1905, he published four papers — any one of which would have made him a huge figure in 20th century physics. He was 26 years old. And, as we know, working a day job. This is used by many people to claim that we don’t need to fund scientific research. Of course Einstein was working a government job. And the people who say that are idiots.

The first paper (9 June 1905) was, “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light.” This was the photoelectric paper that posited that energy is quantized. It is the most important paper in quantum mechanics. Interestingly, Einstein never did accept quantum mechanics of the Heisenberg and Schrödinger variety. That’s where the quote “God does not play dice” comes from. Even more interesting is that Max Planck, who did so much to further Einstein’s career, thought that this paper was total junk. And if anyone has the claim to being the father of quantum mechanics, it is Max Planck.

The second paper (18 July 1905) was, “On the Motion of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid, as Required by the Molecular Kinetic Theory of Heat.” It’s a classic of statistical mechanics. It explained Brownian motion as a random walk. I’ll be honest, I’ve never paid much attention to the paper because it seems too obvious to me. Statistical mechanics have always just made sense to me. But it was a huge finding at the time.

The third paper (26 September 1905) was, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.” That’s Special Relativity. There was a year of my life when I was quite literally obsessed with it. It made no sense whatsoever to me. I finally realized that the problem was not my understand of Special Relativity but with my expectations. It isn’t a theory meant to explain the universe as I know it. It is meant to explain the motion of bodies moving very fast relative to each other. There is no “intuition” that we humans will ever have for it.

The fourth paper (21 November 1905 — 110 years ago today) is the most important of the papers, “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?” This is also about relativity. It is where we get the famous equation: E = mc². But what’s really important is that it is the first step toward Einstein’s greatest achievement, the General Theory of Relativity. And that, will have to wait for another time.