July 21, 2010
Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism And Mathematical Creativity By Loren Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor (Belknap Press, 239 pp., $25.95) A starry firmament, or sand cascading through one’s open fingers, or weeds springing up time after time: the first conception of infinity, of the uncountable and the unending, is not recorded, but it must have been stimulated by experiences such as these. It may have merged in the mind of an ancient progenitor with thoughts of a God, a possessor of unlimited might, an infinite being itself.
In The Shadows Of The Sacred Family, Catalonia Rises
July 14, 2010
The first time I saw Antoni Gaudi’s phantasmagoric Church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona it was unfinished. That was 1965. On another visit, perhaps two decades later, it was still unfinished. And when I returned there on Monday it was not yet completed, although I heard from the conversational buzz around me the years 2012 and 2013. One dour looking pessimist uttered “2017” as the first possible date that the cathedral would really match its dreamer’s vision.
Why Don't We Take the Russian Spies Seriously?
July 13, 2010
In a season of crises, from Iran to North Korea to the Gulf of Mexico, the revelation of a Russian spy ring in the United States has been greeted as a source of welcome comic relief. It’s not just Jon Stewart, or the headline writers of the New York Post, who can’t keep a straight face talking about the eleven Russian “illegals,” long-term secret agents who built up elaborate cover identities as ordinary Americans.
The Day The Earth Stood Still
July 09, 2010
Lucky for us, the Earth's not going to stop spinning anytime soon. So cross that off the list of apocalypses we need to fret about (though I've got a long list handy if anyone needs a few). But what if it did stop spinning? Witold Fraczek of ESRI decided to model what the planet would look like in the absence of all that centrifugal force. The Earth's gravity would shift and the oceans would rush up to the poles. No more Canada, Europe, or Russia: Well, that and our days and nights would be all screwed up...
July 08, 2010
Nuclear policy analysts are apoplectic about his "shabby, misleading and … thoroughly ignorant" reasoning, and his arguments have already been rebutted on the merits in a number of places (including here, here, here, and here). But the question at hand isn't necessarily whether Romney's ghostwriter "has even the vaguest acquaintance with the subject matter." As with the "death panels," Romney's op-ed is an ideological statement, which does not require fealty to facts.
June 30, 2010
For my sins, I have been reading Alain Badiou. (The intellectual’s work is never done.) He is, in his own words, “the most widely read and translated French philosopher in the world.” More banally, he is the very latest professor of liberation; and more banally still, the very latest professor of liberation from liberalism.
Is English Special Because It's "Globish"?
June 21, 2010
Most of the mainline reviews of Robert McCrum’s Globish – of which there have been so many so fast that I am in awe of his publicity people -- are missing what is fundamentally wrong with the book. Herewith one linguist’s take on this peculiar book, within which all evaluators seem to perceive a certain fuzziness, but few are catching that it is based on an outright error of reasoning and analysis – as well as an infelicitous volume of downright flubs. McCrum starts with the well-known fact that English is now the world’s de facto universal language.
BP And Our Kick-Ass President
June 21, 2010
My hunch is that the hemorrhaging of oil in the Gulf of Mexico won't end until...well, until it ends. By which I mean until the last drop rises to the surface and there is no more below. No, I don't know when that will be, and neither apparently do the hot shot execs at what President Obama (in another swipe at London) called British Petroleum or. for that matter, the president himself. Of course, no one really does.
June 01, 2010
Current U.S. policy toward Iran could be boiled down to a tweet: If you haven’t sanctioned the Islamic regime enough in the past, sanction it some more. Congress is in the final stages of passing a law designed to penalize foreign companies doing business in Iran. In February, the Treasury Department expanded the list of Iranian firms subject to financial sanctions. Obama has dispatched envoys to line up support from U.N. Security Council members for yet further strictures. Whatever sanctions get imposed, rest assured they won’t be stupid ones.
President Obama wants it both ways. His dreary international initiative to put finis to nuclear arms is seen as so unlikely and so impossible that Russian president Dmitri Medvedev has already sent the atomic arms reduction treaty, negotiated with the American president, to the Russian parliament, where it has no chances of failure. Obama sent the document to the Senate earlier this month.