March 2010

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For Gregg Easterbrook: coolest ways that the Large Hadron Collider could destroy the Earth and/or the Universe.

1. BLACK HOLE EATS THE WORLD OH NOES!!!! LHC could create a miniature black hole, which could start gobbling up matter, growing bigger and bigger, until the entire Earth is crushed into a spacetime singularity, or quark soup, or whatever.  It eventually everything in the Universe will be so crushed, by this black hole or another, black holes which, after a google or so years, will evaporate into a rarified haze of boring.

Why this won’t happen: much more energetic collisions happen all over the Universe, all the time, including here on Earth (though not so frequently in the same exact place.)  One would expect that if anything was going to turn into a mini black hole and eat the world, we would already have been eated.  Also, any black hole created would be crazy tiny and crazy short-lived, and – how to put this delicately? – it is perfectly valid to suppose there is no such thing as tiny black holes anyways.  Yeah, I know, I know, but when I took cosmology a decade ago we knew everything there was to know, and now you tell us you can’t identify 96% of the Universe?  Apart from 24/25ths of it, though, you’re mos def.  If I couldn’t identify 96% of the answers on a cosmology test, would you listen to my predictions?  Exactly.

Goofiness: moderate.

Possible awesomeness if it happened anyway: five out of ten Airwolves.  I drink your spacetime!

2. STRANGE MATTER ICE-9’S THE WORLD OMGWTF!!!! The LHC could create a stable strangelet, which would convert everything it touched into “strange matter”, which would be all strange and shit.  We’d die.

Why this won’t happen: Again, more energetic things are happening everywhere constantly, no strangelets in sight.  Additionally, there is essentially no reason to think such things exist, or could exist under any circumstances, or that any single link in the deadly chain reaction I have described is remotely plausible at all.  Still, it could happen, in much the same way that the LHC could suddenly turn us all into an huge ball of kittens.  Admittedly, strange quarks are real.  But so are kittens.

Goofiness: this scenario recreates the goofiness believed to exist 1 billionth of a second before the Big Bang.

Possible awesomeness if it happened anyway: four out of ten Airwolves.  (Eight out of ten for the kittens thing).

3. FALSE VACUUM DECAY FTW!!!1! My favorite.  Ever get the feeling that the reality we inhabit is not the truest reality?  Ever forget which bottle of OJ has all the LSD in it and spend the next 8 hours pondering neoplatonism and Gnostic Christianity?  Philip K. Dick says “yup” and “right after my second bowl of Honey-Nut-Methamphetamine Cheerios”, and he could be righter than he ever imagined.  We could be living in a “metastable vacuum“, one which could suddenly fall apart into the true vacuum state, where the most fundamental aspects of reality are suddenly redefined, and the LHC could push us over the edge, if there is an edge.  Or it could push us into a new reality exactly the same as our false reality, only Ricky Martin is now gay.  OH SHIT!!!!!!!

Why this won’t happen: the “happens a million times bigger all the time since forever” thing again.  And the “there’s no particular reason to think this is possible”, and that “there’s no particular reason to think bumping protons would ever cause it” thing.  But there might be a cosmological constant.  Or dark energy.  Or something.

Goofiness: Livin La Vida Goofy.

Possible awesomeness if it happened anyway: As the laws of physics would no longer apply, this could conceivably be awesomer than Airwolf.  Because of science.


Walrus J. Face is upset about the health bill.  A short excerpt (NSFW, if you work in a walrus tank):

I’m not surprised at the objections to the bill from certain corners, but the vehemence is unexpected.  Obviously, Teabaggers like Confederate Wankee are threatening to go all Mall Ninja on our asses, just you wait, but what the fuck else is new.  Reading Walrusface, you’d think this bill involved giving away vast amounts of money to people who don’t need it.  Megan McArdle views the whole thing as a personal affront.  Calm down.

I’ve been thinking: you know, the prospects for more and better liberal policies would be faring much better today if the health care legislation had been defeated and, instead of the positive momentum and narrative of victory, there was wall-to-wall media coverage of Republicans gloating, tea partiers partying and a raft of stories about some or all of the following: (1) how the Democrats tacked too far left, and must return to the center; (2) how Obama’s administration was a failure; and (3) how bad the Dems would get slaughtered in November, and Obama in 2012, etc.

My guess is that the conclusion drawn from that would be that all Democratic legislators, and some Republcans, better hurry up and work together to pass a public option.  Stat.  And that, in general, Republicans better start cooperating with that loser Obama.

Also, this would not have happened – which would have only heightened the contradictions to infinity paving the way for a complete liberal overhaul of America.  As always, big legislative defeats make you stronger and convince the voting public of your worth:

Ending one of the fiercest lobbying fights in Washington, Congress voted Thursday to force commercial banks out of the federal student loan market, cutting off billions of dollars in profits in a sweeping restructuring of financial-aid programs and redirecting most of the money to new education initiatives…..Since the bank-based loan program began in 1965, commercial banks like Sallie Mae and Nelnet have received guaranteed federal subsidies to lend money to students, with the government assuming nearly all the risk. Democrats have long denounced the program, saying it fattened the bottom line for banks at the expense of students and taxpayers.

This is, to coin a phrase, sort of a big effin deal. The student loan program has been a disgrace for a long time, essentially insuring a fat stream of profits to banks by allowing them to make risk-free loans thanks to guarantees from Uncle Sam. It was a pretty nice racket while it lasted. Republicans, of course, denounced the end of this gravy train, demonstrating once again, as Bruce Bartlett said a few years ago, that they are “incapable of telling the difference between being pro-business and being for the free market.”

Bottom line: if the taxpayer are taking the risk, then the taxpayers ought to get the profit too. Now they do, and it’s going to be used to expand access to college for low and middle income students. It’s a reform that’s long overdue.

Kevin Drum even said “effin.”

So a Catholic priest molested a couple hundred deaf boys entrusted by their parents to his care, and Church officials decided that the priority was to shield other boys from a sexual predator the Church from negative press:

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

In response to these disturbing revelations of official Church misconduct that sully the Church’s name, Bill Donohue demands accountability would rather everyone just let bygones be bygones:

Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments today on the front-page article in today’s New York Times about priestly sexual abuse: Media requests to deal with this subject make it difficult to provide an adequate response to today’s article by Laurie Goodstein. But the time has come to ask some serious questions about why the Times is working overtime with wholly discredited lawyers to uncover dirt in the Catholic Church that occurred a half-century ago. Those questions will be raised in an ad I am writing that will be published in next Tuesday’s New York Times; a rejoinder to the article will also be made. All I can say now is that this is the last straw. [emph. added]

Note to Donohue: There is no statue of limitations for the crime of rape [update: in many jurisdictions].  Legally speaking.  There’s a reason for this: rape (like murder) is so heinous an act that no matter how long it takes for the evidence to be collected, or case to be built, you can still be convicted and punished.

Morally speaking, the raping of little children by anyone  (let alone by a person with a duty to look after their interests) is an ethical crime that is in no way rendered meaningless or passe by the passage of time.  That Donohue would suggest that hundreds of instances of child molestation (and the ensuing cover-up) is so much water under the bridge is a defense that would make Lucifer himself blush.


UPDATE: See, also, other examples of Donohue doing the Church no favors.


Bad taste?  I can think of something worse.

Much as it pains me to say this, Christopher Hitchens is (oh God forgive me) quite right.  I would like to believe that the most enduring institution in human history is not just a 2000-year-old pedo ring.  I’d really like to believe that, because I have a young son and a Catholic wife, and it would just make a lot of familial obligations a lot easier.  So do me a solid, Vatican City.  Because this moved beyond “fucked up” about ten years ago.

  This Tom Shales character is a sexist twit.  Adam Serwer

Just in case you were wondering if I was too hard on Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales yesterday for his shallow and pernicious critique of Christiane Amanpour as ABC’s choice to replace George Stephanopoulos on This Week, this is what he had to say about her during his live chat with readers:  

Well you’re talking about reworking the whole show — so not discuss domestic politics? It’s George Will’s specialty though of course he can discuss international affairs as well. But it was conceived (for David Brinkley) as a discussion show about Washington DC, capital city……. I wonder if ABC is really going to revise the show or if they aren’t going to try to turn Amanpour into Little Ms Politics.  

Amanpour has spent decades reporting from some of the most dangerous parts of the world since the first Gulf War. She’s interviewed people like Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad, Syrian President Bashar el Assad, and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. You’d think, that with a career like that, she might avoid being patronized because of her gender by another journalist.  

Not at the WaPo you wouldn’t.  The cock-eyed fight continues:  

I think Christiane is one of the most over-rated and hyped personalities of our day. There’s a reason that 60 Minutes didn’t pick up her contract; she disappointed them. Anyway c’est la vie. 

Can’t speak to why 60 Minutes didn’t pick up Amanpour’s contract, but she won two Emmys and a Peabody when she was there. On the other hand, she has lady parts and lived in Iran as a child. Tough call.  […]

Shales also managed to catch the all important “but what about her hair?” angle that is so often missed by the most experienced veteran journalists. Here he is responding to a reader who agreed with him about Amanpour being a bad choice:

THANK YOU, isn’t Montana “the cleanest state in the land of the free”? Well even if not — clear thinking out there. You make excellent points about Amanpour’s unsuitability for the job. And neither you nor I has stooped to mentioning that hair of hers — yipe. What’s the deal with that, as David Letterman might say.  

Say what you will about Stephanopoulos, and there’s a lot to say (99% bad), but the man had great hair. 

Aside from the sexism, the problem with Shales’ earlier story – and this one – stems from the fact that a journalistic function is viewed through the lens of entertainment.  Hence, a TV critic questioning Amanpour’s expertise (and bias) without any ability to really assess the merits of the subject matter.  Not to mention the bizarre focus on…hair.  Which has fuckall to do with anything that matters in terms of actual journalism.  But that’s the WaPo for you in a nutshell. 

I’d say all style and no substance, but it doesn’t even get credit for the former.  It’s just ____.


1. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll – The most concentrated pleasure ever between two covers. Your favorite book when you were 8, could be still.

2. Come Back, Dr. Caligari, Donald Barthelme – Comes as close to #1 as the world will allow. Short stories, tiny little diamonds. I think I loaned it to somebody, somebody who should give it back.

3. The Sears Catalog (~winter ’82 – winter ’85) – Nobody has ever wanted anything like an eight-year-old wants an Intellivision in the Christmas of ’83. Every moment of every life is a pale shadow of this primal need.

4. assorted travel writing, V.S. Naipal – A bunch of books which should be called “The World’s Most Gapingest Asshole Goes To ______”. And he really is. And he writes so well and sounds so easy you want to break your keyboard and your fingers and sew your mouth shut. Seriously, fuck you, Sir Vida, on about seventeen billion different levels, and fuck God while you’re at it. I’ve never really liked his fiction, but I’ve never read any as an adult. Paul Theroux is a credible Mini-Me, but let us be at least slightly serious.

5. AD&D Monster Manual, E. Gary Gygax – Yes, the one with the cover painting by Napoleon Dynamite – my nerd-fu is that chronically fucking invincible. I know an ogre has 4+1 hit dice – don’t waste my time. How about something harder: do I know how many hit dice a remorhaz has? Maybe I do, and then again, maybe I don’t. Before you test me, you gotta ask yourself: do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? I have heard vulgar rumors that there are later “editions”. What nonsense people talk.

6. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy – So, yes, it is, like much of the wasteland that is Modern American Literary Fiction, a style exercise. The plot is very similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 80’s classic “Commando”, if you replace Alyssa Milano with an eight-foot-tall hairless Satan, and if you replace what remains of the plot with more pointless killing in a silly tone of voice. Having recited The Reader’s Manifesto, I confess I have spent more than a few moments re-reading and thinking about this book, and suspect there may be some Truth underneath.

7. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe – Is not a style exercise. 8 out of 10 Greek Tragicians believe this may be utterly perfect and without flaw. When Don Delillo goes to Hell for being boring and pointless and windy and generally wasting everyone’s time, I’m going to smack him right across the mouth with this book. Fucking yeah. Inexcusably, I have read nothing else he has ever written. I blame diapers.

8. The 20 Year’s Crisis, E. H. Carr – The densest, most penetrating piece of poli-sci writing I am aware of. Marxism can’t be all bad. Dialectic, bitches.

9. Lasers, Seigman – I would say that my Master’s degree is worth about 40 pages of this book. It’s ~1100 pages. Dielectric, bitches.

10. The Cosmic Code, Heinz Pagels – I faked my way through a supposedly difficult physics class with this pop sci book. I am the biggest science phony.

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