Monday, January 19, 2009

Interesting Stuff In The News

I haven't felt much like writing lately, but I have run across some interesting things in the past week:

• Sometimes I get the feeling the feeling theoretical physicists are just jerking us around. Exhibit A: now they're telling us the universe is just a giant hologram. This is intriguing, mindbending stuff to read, but I really do think too many theoretical physicists are painting themselves into the same intellectual corners that medieval theologians did with their speculations about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. They are constructing theories that are inherently untestable, theories for which no observational evidence is available, theories that might be nothing more than epic works of mathematical fiction. String theory is perhaps the best current example of this obsession with the unprovable, and here's a nice demolition of string theory.

• I recently raised the possibility of a sudden collapse of the Mexican government as being a big problem for the Obama administration. It's a relief to see some people in the U.S. government are taking that possibility seriously. I have bookmarked the web sites for many newspapers in border cities (like Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo, and El Paso in Texas) and reading them gives powerful evidence the situation in northern Mexico is getting very grim; civil authority in many areas has already essentially broken down-----in some regions, there is even evidence the Catholic hierarchy has been co-opted by narco money. Mexico could turn into a monstrous problem very rapidly, even though most large media outlets (with the notable exception of the Los Angeles Times) continue to resolutely ignore the situation.

• Magazines are going through the same rough times as newspaper and book publishers, and the Magazine Death Pool web site chronicles the latest victims. The "Museum of Dead Magazines" link at that site is worth a visit for the nostalgia factor alone-----hey, I remember Crawdaddy and Omni!!

• People who get a diagnosis of advanced, probably terminal, cancer invariably react in one of two ways: 1) they accept the news straightforwardly, are honest with themselves and others as to what's happening, and have no patience for self-deception and bullshit about what's going on, or 2) they immediately go into denial about their situation and enter a world of magical thinking, a world in which a refusal to say the word "cancer" and positive, upbeat thoughts are all you need to beat the disease. I'm a type 1) cancer patient. Steve Jobs is a classic type 2) cancer patient. I don't know the details of Jobs's prognosis, but I don't have to; I've run into plenty of people like him in oncologists' waiting rooms, chemotherapy infusion centers, radiation oncologists' waiting rooms, etc., since 2006. I know the type well by now: often very intelligent and high achievers, but utterly unable to accept the notion something bad has happened, and is happening, to them and there is essentially nothing they can do except hope for some good luck. In talking with such fellow patients, I have often been stunned at how irrational and genuinely delusional such otherwise intelligent people can be. Steve needs to stop kidding himself about his situation and what's going to happen; it's a lot better to spend your remaining time enjoying your family, friends, and life than it is to waste it in a futile attempt to convince yourself that reality isn't real.

• I grew up in the segregated South. I remember "whites only" signs in restaurants, hotels, laundromats, waiting areas in airports and train stations, as well as separate entrances for blacks in places like movie theaters (blacks were usually exiled to the balcony, leaving floor level seats for whites). Segregated schools, a total absence of black voters in any election, casual use of racial slurs in everyday conversation. . . . . . . . . I remember all of that very well. Even as recently as a decade ago, I never thought I would live to see the election of a black man as president. And that makes tomorrow's inauguration perhaps the most memorable event of a life in which I have already been lucky enough to witness some truly amazing events. No longer will be the notion of a non-white president be considered remarkable, and that will truly be a marvelous thing for this country. I am proud to say that I voted for Obama in the Texas primary and caucuses, in the general election, and also donated to his campaign. I wish him the best.

• While I supported Obama, I didn't------as did too many of his supporters------fall in love with the man. While I respected his obvious intelligence, I worried about his inexperience and what I felt was an excess of idealism and a lack of pragmatism. (I had no such doubts about John McCain; I was fully confident, and his campaign bore this out, that he was a senile, bewildered old fool prone to panic-driven snap decisions.) Obama strikes me as a guy who would make a great chess player, for chess is a game of pure logic in which the relative strengths of the players' positions are visible to the entire world. But life and politics are like poker. You don't know which cards the other players are holding and deception and bluff are inherent parts of the game. And I worry about whether Obama has spent too much time in the rarefied air of law school faculties and the Senate to have developed the necessary instincts to determine if his counterpart from China, Russia, or a Middle Eastern state is really holding a pair of aces or is trying to bluff with a two and a seven off-suite. My worry is that Obama might be like Jimmy Carter, another idealistic, not-too-worldly type who reacted with genuine shock to the news the USSR had invaded Afghanistan: why, Leonid Brezhnev gave me his personal word he wouldn't do such a thing!! (That's an absolutely true story, by the way.) My fears in this regard have mounted as Obama has populated his administration with retreads from the Clinton administration, including the ultimate retread of all. I consider the Clintons to be breaded-deep-fried-and-served-with-hushpuppies versions of Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia, and I strongly, sincerely believe Obama will eventually curse the day he decided to make Hillary Secretary of State. I think that will come in early 2011, when Hillary resigns and makes blistering criticisms of Obama's ineptitude in foreign affairs. And the next day, by remarkable coincidence, the "" web site will go live and the fun will really begin.

Remember, you read it here first.