Wednesday, August 31, 2011

♪ What A Fool Believes (Ca. 2011) ♫

This blogger doesn't believe in miracles (unlike several Dumbo/Teabagger presidential candidates), but something happened to the code for this blog at the beginning of the week and the left-side navigation menu returned to the original position of the header and footer sections. So in the spirit of magical thinking, Bill Keller — the outgoing editor of the NY Fishwrap — has taken aim at the faith of today's leading Dumbos/Teabaggers. If this is (fair & balanced) consideraton of the pursuit of folly, so be it.

[x YouTube/Natasha1255 Channel]
What A Fool Believes (McDonald & Logggins, 1979)
By The Doobie Brothers

[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith
By Bill Keller

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him? Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows? But I would certainly want to ask a few questions. Like, where does he get his information? Does he talk to the aliens? Do they have an economic plan?

Yet when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively. Michele Bachmann was asked during the Iowa GOP debate what she meant when she said the Bible obliged her to “be submissive” to her husband, and there was an audible wave of boos — for the question, not the answer. There is a sense, encouraged by the candidates, that what goes on between a candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it is useful for mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets.

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism — which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York, or that Mormonism’s founding prophet practiced polygamy (which was disavowed by the church in 1890). Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ.

But I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as “the reality-based community.” I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.

And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

So this season I’m paying closer attention to what the candidates say about their faith and what they have said in the past that they may have decided to play down in the quest for mainstream respectability.

From Ryan Lizza’s enlightening profile in The New Yorker, I learned that Michele Bachmann’s influences include spiritual and political mentors who preach the literal “inerrancy” of the Bible, who warn Christians to be suspicious of ideas that come from non-Christians, who believe homosexuality is an “abomination,” who portray the pre-Civil War South as a pretty nice place for slaves and who advocate “Dominionism,” the view that Christians and only Christians should preside over earthly institutions.

From reporting in The Texas Observer and The Texas Monthly, I learned about the Dominionist supporters of Rick Perry, including a number of evangelists to whom Perry gave leading roles in his huge public prayer service, called the Response, early this month.

Neither Bachmann nor Perry has, as far as I know, pledged allegiance to the Dominionists. Possibly they overlooked those passages in the books and sermons of their spiritual comrades. My informed Texan friends tell me Perry’s relationship with the religious fringe is pragmatic, that it is more likely he is riding the movement than it is riding him. But as we have seen with the Tea Party (another political movement Perry hopped aboard in its early days), the support of a constituent group doesn’t come without strings.

In any case, let’s ask. In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes, and Candidate McCain was forced to reject the endorsement of a preacher who offended Catholics and Jews. I don’t see why Perry and Bachmann should be exempt from similar questioning.

Asking candidates, respectfully, about their faith should not be an excuse for bigotry or paranoia. I still remember, as a Catholic boy, being mystified and hurt by the speculation about John Kennedy’s Catholicism — whether he would be taking orders from the Vatican. (Kennedy addressed the issue of his faith and mostly neutralized it, as Romney tried to do in a 2007 speech that emphasized his common ground with mainstream Christian denominations.) And of course issues of faith should not distract attention from issues of economics and war. But it is worth knowing whether a candidate has a mind open to intelligence that does not fit neatly into his preconceptions.

To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire (which you can find on The 6th Floor blog). Here’s a sample:

• Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or a “Judeo-Christian nation?” and what does that mean in practice?

• Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?

• What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

I also asked specific questions of the candidates. I wanted Governor Perry to explain his relationship with David Barton, the founder of the WallBuilders evangelical movement, who preaches that America should have a government “firmly rooted in biblical principles” and that the Bible offers explicit guidance on public policy — for example, tax policy. Since Barton endorsed Perry in the past, it would be interesting to know whether the governor disagrees with him.

And what about John Hagee, the Texas evangelist who described Catholicism as a “godless theology of hate” and declared that the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to drive the Jews to Palestine? In the 2008 campaign, John McCain disavowed Hagee’s endorsement. This time around, the preacher has reportedly decided to bestow his blessing on Perry’s campaign. I wonder if it will be accepted.

My note to Representative Bachmann asked about the documentary produced last year by a group now known as Truth in Action Ministries, in which she espoused the idea that all money for social welfare should come from charity, not government taxation. Is that a goal she would pursue as president?

And I’m curious if she stands by her recommendation of that biography of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins, who contends the Civil War was a clash between a Christian South and a godless North. Wilkins writes that in the South, contrary to the notion that slaves were victims, there was a “unity and companionship that existed between the races” because they shared a common faith.

We’ll be posting the campaigns’ answers — if any — on And if they don’t answer, let’s keep on asking. Because these are matters too important to take on faith. Ω

[Bill Keller is the executive editor of The New York Times. Beginning September 19, he will write a column for the Op-Ed page of The Times and contribute longer reports to the magazine. The California-born Keller received a BA from Pomona College 1970.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Comapany

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Nerd By Another Other Name Is — A Blogger!

Most bloggers are nerds (whatever that means). So, today's thrilling installment plumbs the depths of lexicography for the origin of nerd.

[x Non Sequitur]
The Post-Journalism Existentialist
By Wiley Miller

(Click to enlarge)

[D.(avid) Wiley Miller studied art at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked for several educational film studios in Los Angeles before joining the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record as staff artist/editorial cartoonist in 1976. After a stint at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in California, he created his first syndicated strip, "Fenton," in 1982. He returned to editorial cartooning three years later, joining the staff of the San Francisco Examiner. In 1988, Miller was named Best Editorial Cartoonist by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for editorial cartooning in 1991. Also in 1991, Miller launched his popular "Non Sequitur" strip, eventually syndicated to 700 newspapers.]

Copyright © 2011 Wiley Miller

If this is (fair & balanced) omphaloskepsis, so be it.

[x Boston Fishwrap]
Birth Of The Nerd
By Ben Zimmer

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created at

The English actor and comedian Simon Pegg has impeccable credentials as a nerd. He co-wrote and starred in “Shaun of the Dead,” which managed to fuse zombie horror with romantic comedy, and then followed it up with send-ups of the action genre (“Hot Fuzz”) and science fiction (“Paul”). He even played Scotty in the “Star Trek” reboot. With good reason, he calls his new memoir, Nerd Do Well (2011). But when it comes to word-nerdery, Pegg would do well to check his facts.

In interviews about the book, Pegg has explained the title as a play on the etymology of nerd. Last month on the public radio show “The Sound of Young America,” he said, “It does come from the phrase ne’er-do-well — that’s where the word is derived from — it was just shortening of that, which then became ne’erd and then nerd, meaning someone on the fringe of society.”

However, Pegg’s seemingly authoritative claim lacks even a shred of historical evidence. It’s just one of many fanciful theories that have cropped up to explain the origin of nerd — and one of the least plausible. The shiftless ne’er-do-well is a far cry from the studious stereotype of the nerd. But Pegg’s folk etymology goes to show how even a perfectly familiar word like nerd can be wrapped in mystery, despite our best efforts to unearth its roots.

Though nerd has been a part of American slang for 50 years now, speculation about the word’s origin began brewing in the 1980s. (The 1984 film “Revenge of the Nerds” had put nerds on the map, albeit in highly cartoonish fashion, and presaged the rise of “nerd pride.”) In a 1987 column in PC Magazine, John C. Dvorak gathered together a number of proposed etymologies of nerd, including the ne’er-do-well shortening, and shot them down one by one as mere conjecture.

Several of Dvorak’s readers figured nerd had something to do with Mortimer Snerd, the dummy used by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen beginning in the late 1930s. More creatively, others theorized that it was first spelled knurd, which is drunk spelled backwards. One graduate of Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute reasoned that a knurd “studied all the time, got all A’s, and never took part in parties or activities. He was always sober, hence the inverse of drunk.”

Nerd has also been explained as a variation on nert, surfer slang for a nut. (The frustrated interjection nerts!, from the early ’30s, is a similar play on nuts.) Another theory has it originally spelled as nurd, suggesting a combination of nut and turd. And then there are the acronyms, always a popular source of faux etymology — for example, “Neurotic Engineers in R&D.” [NERD]

Dvorak dismissed all of these pet theories in favor of one with some evidence behind it. In 1950, Dr. Seuss published If I Ran the Zoo, which includes a menagerie of fantastic creatures, including “a Nerkle, a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!” (A slightly different version ran in Redbook that same year.)

I find the Seuss explanation somewhat credible, though it has some problems. Why would the original users of nerd pick up on that particular word, as opposed to any other Seussian nonsense (like, say, Nerkle)? Both the Redbook version and the book included illustrations of the Nerd, but neither portrayal looks like a bookish, dweeby type. And how would it get into circulation, exactly? Did kids raised on Seuss grow up to be adolescents with the nerd putdown in their arsenal?

In fact, nerd entered teen slang more quickly than that. The earliest known example comes from an October 8, 1951, Newsweek article rounding up teenager talk from around the country. “In Detroit,” according to the article, “someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd, or in a less severe case, a scurve.” Over the next few years, the Newsweek slang — nerd included — got rehashed in other magazines, like Reader’s Digest and Collier’s. By 1954, nerd had spread to Denver, according to an Associated Press article. William Morris entered the word in his “Real Gone Lexicon” that same year, defining it as “a square, one who is not up with the times.”

If Seuss is the source, could nerd have made the rounds so soon after his book was published? Jim Burrows, a high-tech consultant from Maynard, MA, who maintains an exhaustive website on the word nerd, acknowledges that “the timeline is really short.” He still finds it the most likely explanation, though his “emotional favorite” is another acronym. Northern Electric (now Nortel) was the name of a telecommunications company based in Ontario, and technicians in their Research and Development Laboratories supposedly wore pocket protectors printed with “N.E.R.D. Labs.” It’s an enticing theory, but Burrows admits that there is “zero evidence” for it — company histories say the R&D lab wasn’t even founded until the late ’50s.

Perhaps all of this etymologizing is beside the point. Arnold Zwicky, a linguist at Stanford University, says that whimsical words like nerd “don’t necessarily have a historical source of the ordinary sort,” but instead may be inventions drawing on “distant echoes of an assortment of existing words.” A little Mortimer Snerd here, a little nerts! there, maybe even a soupçon of Seuss, and voilà! A nerd is born. Ω

[Ben Zimmer is the executive producer of and and the former On Language columnist for The New York Times Magazine. Zimmer received a BA from Yale University and studied linguistic anthropology at the University of Chicago (sans degree).]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company dba The Boston Globe

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Monday, August 29, 2011

Roll Over, Edward Bellamy! Tom Tomorrow Is Looking Backward Today!

Sparky The Wonder Penguin (1995) is visited by Sparky The Wonder Penguin from 2011. In this 'toon version of Looking Backward, Future-Sparky is wearing time-travel gear and 1995-Sparky is only outfitted with Inuit-style goggles that prevent bull$hit-blindness. If this is (fair & balanced) helplessness, so be it.

PS: The glitch still remains in the blog-code and the left-side menu is topsy-turvy. Thanks for stopping by.

[x This Modern World]
A Warning From The Future!
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

(Click to enlarge)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Salon and Working for Change. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly.

Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002.

When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001.]

Copyright © 2011 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Roll Over, Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham! Here Come The Judge (Richard Posner)!

"No end in sight" is a grim benediction for the US of A. It would seem that we now see the fulfillment of the Soviet economist Nikolai Kondratiev's prediction that the good times would end in 2015. As Dandy Don Meredith loved to sing when a Monday Night Football's game's outcome was decided before time ran out: "Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over." If this is (fair & balanced) doom & gloom, so be it.

[x TNR]
Let’s Be Honest: We’re In A Depression, Not A Recession, And There’s No End In Sight
By Richard Posner

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If the notion that we are merely living through the aftereffects of a mere “recession” that ended in 2009 sounds somewhat ridiculous, that’s because it is. If we were being honest with ourselves, we would call this a depression. That would certainly better convey both the severity of our problems, and the fact that those problems have no evident solutions.

The American economy currently has both a short-term problem and a long-term problem. The short-term problem is that the economy is depressed; it is growing more slowly than the population, with the result that per capita income is declining. The high rate of un- and underemployment is a factor, but is itself the product of other factors, having mainly to do with the reluctance of over-indebted consumers (over-indebted in major part because of loss of equity in their houses, the major source of household wealth) to spend, the reluctance of the impaired banking industry to make risky loans, and the reluctance of businesses to invest and to hire, which is due in part to weak consumer spending and in part to profound uncertainty about the nation’s economic future.

The roots of this catastrophic situations lie primarily, I think, in the incompetent economic management of the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve. The persistence of the depression, however, is due in part at least to surprising failures of the Obama administration—poor leadership, poor management, the sponsorship of incomprehensibly complex health care and financial regulation laws that have created widespread uncertainty that has discouraged consumption and investment, and the inability to explain the nature of the economy’s problems to the general public. These failures caused the stimulus enacted in February 2009 to be botched in both in its design and its administration, resulting in the discrediting of deficit spending as a response to depression.

So what can be done now? Probably nothing. Anything that involves spending, such as a new stimulus program, would come too late to be effective. Measures that would not involve spending, such as devaluing the currency (which the Federal Reserve could do by buying a great many bonds, thus flooding the world with dollars), could stimulate our exports and hence production and hence employment and reduce imports (which would further help domestic production), but they are too risky given the interdependence of our economy and the economies of the rest of the world. Europe is staggering and would be hurt by our devaluing, and our banks and other financial institutions are heavily involved in those European economies.

The long-term problem should be easier to solve. The problem is not the federal budget deficit per se, huge as it is. The public debt of the United States, which is what the federal government owes to persons who have lent money to the government (mainly purchasers of Treasury securities), and thus excludes debt incurred to finance entitlements and discretionary spending, is currently $9.7 trillion, with 46 percent of it owned by foreign governments and other foreigners. Although $9.7 trillion is big even for the United States, we can roll it over more or less effortlessly and at very low interest rates, at least at present and in the immediate future.

The problem is not the level of the debt but its growth. In the seven years between 2000 and 2007 (the last year before the financial crisis that triggered the current depression), the public debt grew in real (that is, inflation-adjusted) terms by 56 percent, the consequence of reckless spending and tax cuts by the Bush administration. Between 2007 and 2012 (the debt in fiscal 2012, which ends September 30 of next year, is of course an estimated number), a shorter period, the nation’s public debt will have grown by another 134 percent. The annual increase from 2009 to 2010 and the (estimated) annual increase from 2010 to 2011 are both 17 percent, and the estimated increase for 2012 is 18 percent. These annual rates of growth vastly exceed the rate of the nation’s economic growth even in prosperous times, and if they continue will bankrupt the federal government.

Unfortunately, even when the economy recovers, and tax revenues increase, the federal deficit will continue to rise because of the rapid growth of entitlement expenditures—primarily Medicare and Social Security and, because of the health-reform law, Medicaid. Leaving politics to one side, the increase in Social Security costs can easily be controlled, by a combination of raising the age of eligibility, revising the formula for calculating cost of living adjustments, and means testing—limiting eligibility to persons who do not have substantial other income. Medicare costs are more difficult to control, but not impossible. Medicare too can be means-tested—there is no reason to subsidize the medical costs of affluent people. Copayments and deductibles can be increased to make people think harder about whether they want expensive treatments of marginal efficacy. Medicare can be transformed, as proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan, from a government- administered heath care program to a subsidy program to enable non-affluent persons to buy private health insurance. And medical research can be refocused on finding cures for medical conditions such as blindness and dementia, which require protracted, expensive care because they create severe disability in the elderly without killing quickly.

Efforts to curb increased entitlement spending can be complemented by closing tax loopholes, some of which are as enormous as they are unjustified, notably the deduction for mortgage interest. Half the adult population, moreover, pays no income tax. Everyone with an income should pay income tax equal to a modest percentage of his income.

So the deficit, politics aside, should be manageable. But it’s worth pointing out that anything that takes money out of the economy, such as reducing federal spending or increasing federal taxes, will exacerbate the current depression. Consumers will have less money to spend, and this will discourage employers from hiring. So the reforms that I have been discussing should be phased in gradually over a period of years.

But it’s not clear that we have enough years. Suppose that the economy recovers by the end of 2012, and in 2013 and subsequent years grows at a 4 percent annual rate. (The long-term growth rate is about 3 percent, but growth is usually more rapid when it starts from a low level.) The public debt won’t continue to grow at 17 or 18 percent a year, but suppose it grows at 7 percent a year. Then the already very large federal deficit will continue to grow, and indeed, to compound: At a 7 percent annual growth rate, our public debt in 2012, estimated at $12.4 trillion, will grow by 40 percent in five years if none of the reforms designed to limit that growth are implemented before the end of that period. Yet if they are implemented while the economy is still struggling, the result may actually be to increase the deficit by driving tax revenues down (because incomes will be depressed) despite the elimination of loopholes, and by increasing transfer payments to the unemployed and others hard hit by the economic crisis.

The result is a quandary. I don’t see a way out of it. I hope others do. Ω

[Richard A. Posner, a federal circuit judge and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, is most recently the author of The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy (2010). Posner graduated from Yale College (A.B., summa cum laude), majoring in English, and from Harvard Law School (LL.B., magna cum laude), where he was first in his class and president of the Harvard Law Review.]

Copyright © 2011 The New Republic

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Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Surely You Were Thinking Outside The Box, Mr. Feynman!

If only Richard Feynman still lived and this blogger could present him with the conundrum of this blog: the reversal of the footer and header in the blog's left-side menu. However, Feynman is gone and this blogger stares at a mucked up blog. If this is (fair & balanced) case of having our cake and eating it, too — so be it.

[x Cronk Review]
A Quantum Life
By Lawrence M. Krauss

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Recently I published my first biographical book, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science. This was a departure for me—I usually write about science, not the people who do science. But I realized that being able to explore Feynman's understanding of his own work, through his papers, would help me to give a clearer popular explanation of his physics.

Most people don't realize that in science nowadays—in physics, anyway—we rarely turn to the original literature to understand scientific concepts. That's because scientific ideas invariably get distilled and refined, with the result that they become easier to understand, and often more general. Ideas get reinterpreted, on the basis of new discoveries and new mathematical formalisms, to such an extent that often the content of original papers is almost unrecognizable. While the results of a lifetime of work on electromagnetism during the 19th century can famously be written on a T-shirt today in the form of what are known as Maxwell's four equations, these bear little resemblance to the formulation of his ideas as he originally expressed them.

So I knew that working with Feynman's papers would help me better translate the evolution of his ideas.

I also felt that I owed it to both Feynman and the public to present a more balanced picture of his contributions than was generally available. He created a mythology about himself that others have happily latched on to. He became known primarily as a prankster, a bongo-playing practical joker, and a womanizer, all combined with an almost mystical intellect. But Feynman's real legacy was none of that. His legacy was his science, and its contribution to our understanding of the universe. When it came to the details of science, he was deadly serious.

What made Feynman special was not so much his nonconformity, but the genuine weirdness of the quantum universe that he so personally and successfully assaulted. The wildness of the man was a match for the wildness of the quantum universe. He was willing to break all the rules to tame a theory that breaks all the rules.

Quantum mechanics has captured the public's imagination precisely because it defies classical logic, while at the same time appearing to make the universe strangely accessible. Quantum objects seem to be able to do many mutually inconsistent things—an electron, for example, projected at a barrier with two slits, can go through both slits at the same time. But the properties of the system that one measures appear to depend crucially on how one chooses to measure that system. Thus, after I shoot a series of electrons through the slits, the pattern of spots that can be observed on a fluorescent screen placed behind the barrier vary, depending on whether or not you measure the electrons' positions at the barrier at one slit or the other, or neither.

Alas, that fact has led to misunderstandings and new-age myths. Programs based on such misconceptions, like those about the "law of attraction" described in the best-selling book The Secret (2006), falsely suggest that quantum mechanics supports the notion that we can literally change external phenomena just by thinking about them. In the example I've given here, thinking about the electrons is irrelevant. One must make observations and take active measurements of the electrons to affect their behavior.

The work that led to Feynman's Nobel Prize was based on a fundamental re-examination of the quantum universe—one that led to a change in the way physicists now picture quantum processes. Driven by the need to reformulate quantum theory to deal with a vexing problem associated with the quantum properties of fundamental electric charges, Feynman trained us to think of quantum processes as occurring in both space and time, even though Schrödinger's conventional, wave-mechanics theory taught us that we cannot pinpoint elementary quantum objects at specific locations in space or time.

How can one have one's cake and eat it, too? Feynman was able to argue that elementary particles like electrons do not trace single classical trajectories, as baseballs and cannonballs appear to do. Rather, one can imagine them tracing many such trajectories at the same time. With each trajectory, we can associate a quantum "weighting" factor. The probability that an electron starting out at one point and at one time will be measured to be at a distant point at some time later can be determined by combining contributions from all the possible paths that an electron could take between those points, with each path's contribution to the sum total being proportional to its weighting factor.

This notion even explains the existence of exotic "antiparticles." These are not merely creations of "Star Trek" but actually exist in the real world. Every type of elementary particle in nature has an antiparticle with opposite electric charge but precisely the same mass. Feynman showed that this was required by the theory of relativity as applied to the quantum universe.

If, for short times, elementary particles could follow trajectories in which their speed exceeds the speed of light—impossible in the classical universe, but allowed among the possible quantum trajectories in Feynman's view of quantum mechanics—then they can appear, by relativity, to be briefly going backward in time. But a positively charged particle moving backward in time resembles a negatively charged particle moving forward in time. The trajectory of a particle moving forward in time, then briefly backward in time, then forward in time implies that during some period, three different particles appear to be existing at once—the original particle and a pair of particles with equal and opposite charges, or, as we now call them, a particle-antiparticle pair. Since one starts with a single particle and ends up with a single particle, a particle-antiparticle pair must be both spontaneously created and also annihilated during this period. Simple!

The techniques that Feynman developed do not apply merely to esoteric objects like antiparticles. They have played a central role in allowing physicists to do things like handling liquid helium and building the atomic clocks at the heart of modern global positioning systems. Indeed, Feynman's "path integral" formalism has become a staple of essentially every area of modern physics.

Feynman's own love of physics was not restricted to the esoteric. In 1960, well before the invention of microchips, Feynman wrote a beautiful essay speculating on the seemingly "infinite possibilities" of engineering machines on smaller and smaller scales—what we now refer to as nanotechnology. He laid the groundwork for what may be one of the most exciting future applications of quantum mechanics to the macroscopic world—quantum computing. By exploiting the fact that quantum systems can do many things at the same time (as long as you don't measure them during the process), we may one day be able to create quantum computers whose multitasking characteristics might allow them to vastly outperform today's computers, making possible in real time the completion of calculations that now would take longer than the age of the universe.

Feynman was driven to his remarkable insights about nature not because he loved to dwell in idle speculation, but because the requirements of understanding various experiments drove him to think outside the box. He once said that science is imagination in a straitjacket, and his willingness to force his creative imagination to bend to the will of nature reflects one of the most important characteristics of successful science.

It takes a certain kind of courage to accept the world as it is, whether one likes it or not, despite one's most profound dreams and hopes about the way the world should be. The risk is outweighed, however, by the gift of understanding. Feynman personified the scientific integrity and bravery required to follow nature wherever it leads. That may be his greatest legacy. Ω

[Lawrence M. Krauss is a professor of physics, Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. He is the author, most recently, of Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (2011). Krauss received undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics with first class honours from Carleton University (Ottawa), and his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.]

Copyright © 2011 The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Buzz Off!!!

Buzzwords are everywhere. This blog is buzzword sanctuary. If this is (fair & balanced) meaningless confusion of words, so be it.

PS: The glitch in the blog didn't go away over night, but The Blogger abides.

[x Austin Fishwrap]
A Perfect Swarm — Buzzwords
By Helen Anders

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When did we stop getting in touch and start reaching out, circling back around and pinging? Why must we constantly dialogue about our true north? And how did everything get so darn impactful?

"It's the language we live in," says David Parson, a creative director at GSD&M [Austin ad agency]. "Everybody's using the same words."

Buzzwords are the plastic bags of the English language. We're bombarded with them on TV and in meetings, so we pick them up and use them, adding to the contamination of the linguistic landscape. (Surely somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, there's an island of floating buzzwords.)

Parson says he's been called out by friends for using "It is what it is," a meaningless conversation-filler that, along with "at the end of the day," simply refuses to die.

"It's just another way of saying, 'I don't know,' and you don't want to say 'I don't know' because then you're that guy, and nobody wants to be the guy who doesn't know," he says.

Some buzzwords start out as legitimate words and then "come into general usage in a sloppy way," says University of Texas associate professor of communication studies Matthew McGlone. An example: monetize, which originally meant converting currency or notes into legal tender and now winds up in ads: "Monetize your website!"

One of McGlone's specialties is the study of euphemisms, and some buzzwords qualify, such as "circle around" and "reach out" for e-mailing or telephoning somebody.

"Sometimes it's obsequious and a little unctuous," McGlone says. "It adds this touchy-feely element to something that isn't touch-feely."

One of McGlone's least favorite buzzwords is "impactful."

"You hear it and your blood pressure starts to rise," he says. "I first heard it when I did some consulting for advertising, and it struck me as suspicious to start with."

He's also not keen on "perfect storm."

"Just in the last week, some of my colleagues have used 'perfect storm,' " he says. "You can't say that in Austin, Texas. A perfect storm will involve some rain." Besides, that "Perfect Storm" movie is 11 years old. By now it should be merely a perfect tropical disturbance.

Well, it is what it is. So, here's a quick glossary to help you translate political press conferences, internal business memos and voicemails:

Reach out: To contact someone by phone or email, as in, "I can't talk to you now, but my assistant will reach out to you this afternoon."

Circle back around: To follow up and annoy somebody a second time, as in, "I'm just circling back around to see if you've received my proposal."

Ping: Another word for getting in touch, as in, "I'll ping you when I want to discuss that proposal."

Monetize: To make money, as in, "I really enjoy whistling, and I'm good at it, but I can't figure out a way to monetize it."

Kick the can down the road: A phrase that every politician plays on a continuous loop to describe what his political adversaries are not getting done. Playing this loop is, in fact, a way of kicking the can down the road.

Vision: Agenda, as in, "We will not compromise our vision."

Impactful: Bursting with impact, as in, "That's an impactful insight, Brad." This word is the unfortunate, inevitable result of using "impact" as a verb in a non-wisdom-tooth sense.

Business model: The way you do business. You're no longer a bad businessman or businesswoman. You just have a bad business model. Go get the modeling clay and try again.

Dialogue as a verb: Talk. It means talk. Why not just talk?

Issues: Problems, as in, "I have issues with people who refuse to talk about their problems."

Best practices: Stuff that monetizes, often used as a vague term, as in, "Our business is focusing on best practices to pull us out of the recession."

True north: Technically, the compass direction that leads to the North Pole. In the sense that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, this becomes an apt business buzzword, referring to a directional pull toward the goal of monetizing, as in, "A strong brand is a marketer's true north."

Fulfillment: Making both the customer and the boss happy, as in, "We must focus on fulfillment."

Value-added: Whatever you can get somebody to do without paying him or her.

Migration: A new way of doing things. No longer do only animals migrate. Everything migrates, and the verb has suddenly become transitive, as in: "Hey, we're migrating your job to our plant in Bangalore."

At the end of the day: Summing up, as in, "At the end of the day, he's just kicking the can down the road."

It is what it is: It's something to say when you've nothing to say. That's what it is.

Outside the box: This old, worn-out term for innovation refuses to disappear, despite the fact that its users are clearly thinking inside the box. (Parsons suggests people spin off their own versions of this, such as "outside the egg.")

RIF: Reduction in a force, a decades-old term now used as a verb: to RIF, as in "He was RIFFED," meaning he was laid off, which is also a euphemism, because, really, how many laid-off people get laid back on? He was fired.

ROI: Return on investment, the true north of all monetizers. Maybe the abbreviation makes it sound more likely to occur.

SEO: Search engine optimization. We all know this one. When you Google something, if you use the same lame words as everybody else, Google is more likely to display your website.

And that, folks, means that at the end of the day, we have no choice but to use as many buzzwords as we possibly can. So prepare for endless reaching out and pinging. Ah, well. It's better than having people put bugs in our ears. Ω

[Helen Anders is the travel writer for the Austin American-Statesman; Anders also contributes feature writing to the paper. She received a BA in English from Wake Forest University.]

Copyright © 2011 Austin American-Statesman

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Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Friday, August 26, 2011

Technical Difficultes

Ye Olde Blogger is beside himself over some glitch in the code that renders this blog in your Web browser. Yesterday, everything went topsy turvy and the left side menu ended up with footer (that should appear at the bottom of the page) at the top and the header (that should appear at the top of the page) on the bottom. In the meantime, you missed a pair of gems: Gene Lyons' take on "Texanism" and Rick Horowitz's take on Governor Goodhair. Perhaps Goodhair hired some hackers? If this is (fair & balanced) consternation, so be it.

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Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Today's Greatest Threat Ain't Socialism, It's Stupidism!

Just a little more than a year ago, this blogger overheard a TRW (True Republican Woman) pontificating about the POTUS 44. The ultimate snark was "You know he's a socialist." Her listeners gasped. So we have a POTUS who's a crypto-socialist and he's vacationing at Martha's Vineyard, MA. Of course, that's where every good socialist goes for a summer vacay. The stupidity of the Teabaggers and the Dumbos is beyond measurement. A bottomless black pit that Joseph Conrad called The Heart of Darkness.

[x The Daily Show With Jon Stewart]
The Correspondents Explain The Socialist Party
By Wyatt Cenac, Aasif Mandvi, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, & Jason Jones

Most Dumbo/Teabaggers wouldn't know a socialist if that despised creature crept up and kicked 'em in the a$$. The Dumbo/Teabagger would chalk the experience up to a prodigious flatulent explosion. If this is (fair & balanced) dumbophobia, so be it.

[x Miller-McCune]
Nazis & Health Care
By Michael Scott Moore

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Germans in the last few weeks have noticed the radioactive arguments leaking from the United States over the prospect of national health. “Bizarre Debates Over U.S. Health Reform,” read one headline on Deutsche Welle, running a picture of Obama defaced with a Hitler mustache; and in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “American Health Reform: Stalin, Hitler and Obama.”

Germany is one of the few nations in the world where large numbers of living people can recall both major forms of 20th-century totalitarianism. They know what tyranny looks like, and they know when they’re not living under it. The idea that Obama is about to inaugurate an age of American totalitarianism by building a European-style national health system frankly makes the exploiters of those arguments — “fear-mongering Republicans” — sound like fools.

But why does this rhetoric work? Why does the slightest whiff of Rooseveltian social policy get Americans on the bandwagon, hollering about fascism, state control, Hitler and Stalin? One answer is Jonah Goldberg’s demagogic book Liberal Fascists [sic] (2007), which explains to his astounded readers that the word Nazi comes from “National Socialism.” Hitler was a Socialist! There it is in the name of his party!

Uh, right? Not really.

Hitler’s party did call themselves “National Socialists,” because when Hitler found the ragtag outfit in the 1920s, it was a fringe movement of provincial, patriotic, largely unemployed workers. The 1920s and ’30s were the heyday of socialism, remember, and you could hardly have a grassroots party without using the name. The Weimar Republic in Germany was an unloved government, and the National Socialists were just a mixed group of malcontents easily moved by Hitler’s speeches against Jews (who were bankers, businessmen, artists, urban professionals, “cosmopolitans” and Marxists — almost everything except German workers and farmers) and against the weak social democrats in Berlin.

At the head of the Nazi Party, Hitler paid lip service to “socialism” to attract workers. But everything he uttered served his right-wing vision of a pure new Germany, self-sufficient and uncorrupted by (among other forces) international communism, international finance, the Allies of World War I, immigrants in general and, of course, Jewish blood. He moved the party away from its early social platforms until it served this fascist vision. He was, in other words, a liar.

Neo-Nazis are the same: They beat the drum for “German values” and “German soil,” against immigrants and against the social democrats in Berlin, while they lie about their intentions in the very name of their party. The largest group of neo-Nazis in Germany call themselves the “National Democrats.” A smaller group is called the “Republicans.” Anyone in America who believes Hitler was a socialist based on the name of his party should be forced to explain why his political heirs are likely to guarantee universal suffrage if they ever win power.

It’s true the Nazis had health care. They inherited the tradition from Bismarck, who set up the first national health system in the world (after unifying Germany in 1871).

But there was a difference between Nazi health care and the systems under the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. Hitler rearranged the system under a strict regime of central government control, so all insurance-scheme managers reported straight to Berlin. Later — and not through the insurance companies — Hitler started his infamous T4 program, which ordered doctors to euthanize tens of thousands of institutionalized patients, people who didn’t fit his vision of a pure new German Reich — immigrants, the old and weak, the mentally ill. That was evil. But it was part of an evil mechanism that extended far beyond the medical system: By 1939 Germany was a brutal dictatorship, and Hitler managed to kill millions of people in his own country regardless of whether they had health insurance.

When I was a kid, a high-school history teacher gave us a summary of 20th-century politics: He said the spectrum from left to right wasn’t flat, but curved, and the extremes on both ends — fascism, communism — bent around to meet in totalitarianism. It was a simple idea that explained recent history but still kept distinct ideas (fascism, communism) distinct.

After the war, East Germany became a stifled and shuttered Communist nation with a mediocre state-run medical system. “West Germany,” meanwhile, according to an assessment of the German health system from the Library of Congress, “moved away from Hitler’s central state direction and returned to decentralized administration and control. Social insurance and social protection programs under labor and management control, which were characteristic of the Weimar period, were restored.”

Some health schemes are more monolithic than others. They all involve a lot of government hassle — this blog will look at a couple of problems in Europe over the next few weeks — but the result, if it’s done right, is a freedom to choose among hospitals and health plans that Americans can only dream of. Ω

[Michael Scott Moore is a US-born novelist and journalist living in Berlin. His first novel, Too Much of Nothing (2003), is set in the fictional California town of Calaveras Beach. His latest book is a mixture of history and travel called Sweetness and Blood: How Surfing Spread from Hawaii and California to the Rest of the World, With Some Unexpected Results (2010). He's an editor-at-large for Spiegel Online in Berlin, a European correspondent for Miller-McCune magazine, and a contributor to US publications like The Atlantic Monthly, Salon, and The Los Angeles Times. Moore was a 2006-2007 Fulbright fellow for journalism in Germany.]

Copyright © 2009 Miller–McCune Inc.

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves