Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rational Abstraction


When I discuss mathematics with non-mathematicians, in particular higher mathematics, I am often asked, “What does this have to do with the real world?” Sometimes even other mathematicians ask this question and it’s an entirely reasonable question to ask. With other sciences, it’s clear what they have to do with the real world. We may not run into quasars every day, but you can still see them if you point a telescope in the right direction. But when does anyone encounter the 248-dimensional Lie group E8? Or for that matter a real, perfect circle? Or the number three?

Let’s start with the number three, or numbers in general. We may not encounter the number three in real life, but we still encounter three apples, or three cups of flour or a gallant ship that sails around three times before sinking to the bottom of the sea. The number three is not an actual object, but a property that applies to all the above things in the same sense that yellowness is not an actual object, but a property that applies to lemons and bananas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Michael Moore's Mixed Messages


We have just witnessed a historic event. One day our grandchildren will ask us where we were the day that universal healthcare was established in the US. Since, at the rate things are going, we'll never get universal healthcare in the US, we will instead tell them where we were the historic day that every US citizen was given the right to give money to privately owned health insurance companies.

I'm actually not sure where I was, because I didn't hear about it until today. But I know what I was doing when I heard about it. I was reading Michael Moore's statement in celebration of the bill's passage.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Truly Outstanding Books: The Mysterious Stranger, by Mark Twain


Poor Satan. The guy just can't get a break. He leads one revolt against God and suddenly people act like he's evil incarnate.

You would think at least Finnish heavy metal band Lordi would support him. I mean they dress up as monsters. But when religious leaders accused them of Satanism they distanced themselves so much from Satan that they wrote a song called "Devil is a Loser". So, what, are they, like, good Christian monsters, then? Come on.

The Ayatollah Khomenei even went so far as to compare Satan to the American government!

Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Oscar for Best Makeup Goes to . . .


You have got to be kidding me!

Yes, for some strange reason the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided that the above makeup job qualified not only as "good" but as "the best of 2009". I will admit that I haven't seen either of the other nominees, Il Divo and The Young Victoria, and maybe they had even worse makeup than JJ Abrams's de-imagining of Star Trek. However, that is a very low probability (see above). Also, District 9, which had awesome makeup, came out the same year, but that didn't even get nominated.

Ignoring for now Star Trek XI's merits as a movie (it's easy to ignore things that don't exist) there is very little makeup in the movie. Most of the aliens, like the ones hanging out in the Starfleet bar, are CGI monstrosities who look like Phantom Menace rejects. The only aliens with actual makeup jobs were the Vulcans, the Romulans and the Orion sorority girl pictured above. And the Vulcan makeup just entailed pointy ears and a wig.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Looking Backward vs. News From Nowhere: Utopian Smackdown


Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and William Morris’s News From Nowhere are the two most well-known utopian novels to come from the socialist movement. There are other well-known utopian novels, such as Thomas Moore’s Utopia and Corey Doctorrow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, but Bellamy and Morris were not just describing better visions of society, but actively engaging in political activism. And yet, the two books are very different. In fact News From Nowhere was written as a reply to Looking Backward.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Can We Trust Non-Muslims?

Once again the city of St. Cloud, Minnesota is in danger. The city is being flooded with non-Muslims, who are threatening to destroy the Minnesotan way of life. It has already gotten to the point where 99% of Minnesotans are non-Muslim!

And yet some people actually question the sagacity of such activities as posting anti-non-Muslim cartoons on the doors of businesses owned by non-Muslims, refusal by doctors to treat non-Muslim patients and starting Facebook groups like "I hate non-Muslims in St. Cloud".

In fact a recent article in the St. Cloud Times goes so far in promoting the pro-non-Muslim agenda that it actively attacks non-non-Muslims.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Tea Party With Lobster

An article I wrote for Justice, the newspaper of Socialist Alternative, now enhanced with illustrations by John Tenniel.


The National Tea Party Convention, held on February 4-6 in Nashville, was billed as a grassroots gathering of conservative activists against the bank bailouts and Obama’s health care plan. The “grassroots” character of the event, however, was undermined by the $549 price of admission and the heavily publicized lobster banquet.