Got an Itch? Scratch It.

April 6, 2009

Got an itch? Scratch it.

(Itching to learn more? See this New Scientist article.)


Blotting Out the Sun

April 6, 2009
The Sun Today (SOHO, NASA)

The Sun Today (SOHO, NASA)

It simply isn’t going to happen, but just suppose that the sun were suddenly to vanish, or be extinguished. It takes roughly 8 minutes for the light from the sun to traverse the distance to the earth, so it would take us about that long to realize that something was terribly awry. The New Scientist’s Last Word blog poses that very question in Put That Light Out. Check out the disparate array of interesting responses from readers.

Demise of the University

March 31, 2009

“Perhaps the higher-education fuse is 25 years long, perhaps 40. But it ends someday, in our lifetimes. There’s still time for higher-education institutions to use technology to their advantage, to move to a more-sustainable cost structure, and to win customers with a combination of superior service and reasonable price.

“If they don’t, then someday, sooner than we think, we’re going to be reading about the demise of once-great universities — not in the newspaper, but in whatever comes next.”

Education Sector, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that “challenges conventional thinking in education policy” offered this intriguing perspective on the impact of the internet on the traditional university yesterday in “What Colleges Can Learn From Newspapers’ Decline”. Originally appearing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, it’s an excellent stimulant to reflection.

Labor Market Regulation & Unemployment

March 17, 2009

A new study of the economies of 73 countries by a University of Bath researcher suggests that Strict Labor Market Regulation Increases Global Unemployment, with the deleterious effects concentrated among the more vulnerable elements of the population, in particular affecting the young and women.

Household Technology: Engine of Liberation

March 16, 2009

An interesting study from the University of Montreal on the impact of technological innovation on the liberation of women is briefly reviewed in Science Daily.

The Presidential Rankings Game

March 11, 2009

In a rather weak and undistinguished effort, C-SPAN offers an update of a presidential ranking it last performed nine years ago in C-SPAN 2009 Historians Presidential Leadership Survey. It’s a predictably conventional and rather obtuse assessment from this group of “historians” and so-called “professional observers of the presidency.” At least they get Lincoln (first) and Buchanan (last) right. In between, they’ve also dropped Wilson three places and Johnson one, while raising Grant by ten. These are improvements, but not by enough to make this anything more than a pedestrian effort.

Economic Hyperbole & Reality

January 25, 2009

Like the old saw about economists correctly predicting 10 of the last 5 recessions, journalists deserve equal endorsement for their proclivity to declare each recession “the worst since the Great Depression.” Such hyperbole typically evinces a woeful ignorance of history.

That’s not to deny that we find ourselves in difficult economic straits. Our present situation – globally, not just in the United States – is justly of grave concern. But the Kiplinger Letter of January 16th described our current challenges more accurately than either the Cassandras or the Panglossians:

“For a parallel to the challenges Obama faces as he assumes office . . . You don’t have to look as far back as FDR and the Great Depression. Most presidents of the past 60 years have taken the oath amid varying degrees of economic stress. Though the present situation may turn out to be more dire than what other presidents faced, their crises were very real at the time.

“Truman had to guide the nation from a wartime to a peacetime economy, shifting from strict controls to a free market. The transition didn’t go smoothly.

“Ford and Carter were dogged by problems mostly not of their own making but spurred by a 600% hike in the global price of petroleum from 1973 to 1980.

“The presidents Bush, father and son, took office at the end of expansions that eventually collapsed of their own weight in late-stage speculative excesses. Both suffered hangovers. What’s more, both had the misfortune of presiding over recessions when international crises further weakened the US economy.

“Reagan faced an economic crisis most similar in magnitude to today’s. Unemployment was a nasty 7% and climbing fast. Inflation had been running at 12.5%. Interest rates in the high teens crippled residential real estate and business investment. The stock market had been in a rut since 1966.

“The cost of the cure was high. The Fed tightened the screws on credit, pushing the economy into the worst recession since the 1930s. Despite stimulus from deep cuts in tax rates and a military buildup, output took a nosedive . . . Tax receipts fell but not spending, producing a modern record deficit . . . 6% of GDP.

“In short, Reagan inherited a sick economy that worsened before recovering. But recovery did come . . . in the middle of his first term . . . and voters credited Reagan with playing a key role in bringing it about, gratefully reelecting him in 1984.

“Obama will likely experience something similar with this difficult economy, which will probably worsen before growth resumes. Today’s unemployment rate of about 7% will hit at least 9% and may approach the double-digit peak of 1982. The contraction will probably bottom out by midyear, but the ensuing growth will be weak for another year or so. As tax receipts again plunge and costs zoom, Reagan’s record federal deficit will be eclipsed, topping $1 trillion . . . 7% of GDP. . . .

“Obama will be judged on how well the economy is nursed back to health by the White House, Congress, the Fed and American business leadership.

“This will take time, but all recessions eventually end.”

The Joshua Generation

January 19, 2009

Yesterday’s New York Times includes this brief essay Demographics and Destiny by Robert S. Boynton, a review of Gwen Ifill’s new book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

A Trip to the Library of Congress

January 17, 2009

Charles McGrath tours the Library of Congress. And, of course, you can, too.

A Martyr to — What?

December 28, 2008

A classic line in Anthony Gottlieb’s review (“Particle Man”) of Ingrid D. Rowland’s biography of Giordano Bruno: Philosopher, Heretic which we will also – eventually – review over at the HCL Blog:

“Bruno was a martyr to something, but four centuries after his immolation it is still not clear what.”