Born Under the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Despite the fact that I grew up a few miles from NASA’s Space & Rocket Center in Alabama, I knew appallingly little about Neil Armstong before learning of his death yesterday afternoon, apart from what every grade school student hears. But even so, his death has weighed on me in a way other celebrity deaths have not.

I’ve since discovered that Armstrong was an incredibly smart, lucid, humble man, who — in addition to being the first person on the fucking moon — was a professor of astrophysics and just an exceedingly nice human being by all accounts. For starters, this was his self-description:

I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer—born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow. As an engineer, I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.

And this video (via Ryan Cooper) of him describing the terrain of the moon and how distances appeared distorted is absolutely surreal and delightful.

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After me, the flood

Sorry for the shameless plug. I wrote a piece for Guernica about the pre-revolution French elites who, when given the choice to pay higher taxes to save the state, instead dug their own graves and rendered the nation ungovernable.

Playing the Odds

A colleague pointed out to me today that the NY MegaMillions jackpot is now up to $500 million. Of course after taxes, the most anyone could take home is a mere $375,000,002 (or $269,250,000 if the winner takes the lump sum option). And while the Forbes Top 400 no longer has anyone worth less than a billion on there, a half billion dollars is a totally absurd amount of money to make on a mostly unproductive investment.

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Weekend Blog Roundup

What is a blog you discovered recently? Or a blog that you find yourself constantly returning to?

Matt M: I stumbled across Brian Leiter’s Nietzsche Blog while trying to justify my decision to attend a law school that just dropped six spots in the 2013 US News rankings.  As my comments on this blog make pretty clear, I’m really into Nietzsche, and, the older I get, the more I think that he is one of two or three philosopher-types who bothered to go to the trouble of being right about anything. Read the rest of this entry »

Animal Planet

I spent my subway ride home yesterday reading this 2008 piece from GQ, Violence of the Lambs, in which “John Jeremiah Sullivan contemplates the coming battle between man and beast.” Exactly as the tagline suggests, the article spends a few thousand words describing how new technologies, human encroachment on animal habitats, global warming, and accelerated evolution have driven animals insane and led to an unprecedented surge in animal attacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Going Back to the Start

I spent most of my childhood thinking I would end working up as some sort of scientist. This was the source of my motivation to learn most days. It was a conceit that led me to take the MCAT even when I had little interest in ever becoming a doctor. But more importantly, it was an interest that fueled my curiosity in philosophy, in nature, in myself, in other people. Nothing gave as full and unflinching a look at human origins and motivations and, in contrast to the preoccupations of our lives, the scale and overwhelming indifference of the universe. Read the rest of this entry »

Dog Shows and the Illusion of Order

I spent two nights last week watching the Westminster Dog Show with several other contributors to this blog. There were a few conversations about how immoral and sometimes cruel dog-breeding can be and about all the other ways in which this spectacle might be offensive: You have to be a certain kind of rich to even partake. And it’s a kind of objectification that most of its viewers would find objectionable in any other context. The most analogous “sport” or contest I can think of has to be the child beauty pageant. But I won’t go into that or into the ethics of the breeding.

What I really want to write about is how this contest purports to sort and rank among the thousands of dogs that are escorted around that stage every year.

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