Monday, September 8, 2008


"The prayer of the scientist if he prayed, which is not likely:

'Lord, grant that my work increase knowledge and help other men.

'Failing that, Lord, grant that it will not lead to man’s destruction.

'Failing that, Lord, grant that my article in Brain be published before the destruction takes place.'"

- Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins


Switzerland has declared itself neutral in various wars, but that doesn't mean they couldn't destroy the planet and kill everyone on it if they so chose. In the lnked article from the Daily Mail, writer Fiona McRae discusses a not-completely-implausible scenario in which Geneva's Large Hadron Collider obliterates the solar system.

The collider accelerates subatomic particles to near-lightspeed and then tosses them at one another, creating conditions similar to those that theoretically existed during the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe. With it, scientists hope to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson or "God particle," which would aid those trying to better understand the nature of light.

The problem with the Collider is that, as particles approach lightspeed, they become heavier. A particle actually traveling at 186,000 miles per second (or a significant fraction thereof) would have so much mass that the universe would collapse around it. This probably will not happen, Dennis Overbye explains in the New York Times, but it might. Then again, we might all spontaneously combust, too - probability laws get weird around physicists. The question, then, is this: should scientists engage in experiments that might destroy, say, the solar system, even if the risk is infinitesmally small? A one-in-a-million chance that the earth might convert into a lifeless mass of strange matter is still a chance. By way of comparison, scientists have turned to a golden oldie, one that many of us have heard from exasperated parents when we, as children, worried about nuclear war: is the probability of planetary annihilation equal to or greater than that of being hit by a giant asteroid? No? Than have at it.

And it's probably OK to stop worrying: they switched it on last Wednesday. If you are still frightened, please consult this handy predictive tool:



The devil, or possibly Vladimir Putin (via his sock puppet, Medvedev), continues to go down to Georgia: should the embattled Georgians be allowed to join NATO?

For heaven's sake, no.

In what is actually a salient point (one of the first from Putin), the quasi-dictator asks what the hell he and his comrades were supposed to do when Georgian crazies started shelling them from across the border. Georgia is not a tiny little America: it's a very, very unstable country that hasn't yet learned not to pick fights with its neighbors, and NATO is a military organization for grownups, not the United Nations.

Worrying saber-rattling has taken place on both sides of the American election as Georgia threatens to turn from an unstable wild card into a full blown military and humanitarian crisis, but besides the fact that the US president is not, in fact, the king of the world, NATO troops mostly come from the United States, and we, very literally, cannot afford another war. We can't even afford the wars we've got now.



Camille Paglia, one of the few pro-choice Democrats to actually admit that abortion ends a human life (she doesn't care), publishes a heartfelt apologia for Sarah Palin, applauding her effective girl-power charisma.

Philip Klein, over at, of all places, the American Spectator, calls bullshit.



The following campaign ads and subsequent links are presented without comment, except to say that the one should be taken with the other.


There is one unconventional politician in this race who has not received due credit for a spectacular ability to juggle multiple commitments with astonishing poise. Few people are even aware that this person is working two jobs, but attention must be paid:

Sam Thielman can be reached at sam.thielman at gmail dot com.

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