Quarterly Potpourri: 2014, Q1
Standing up for work. So I got a new desk. I'd been reading these news stories about how bad it is for your health to sit all day. The phrase "the sitting disease" has actually been showing up in headlines. Another news story asked: "Is sitting the new smoking?"
Research has linked sitting too much to increased risks of diabetes and death from cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Hoo-ee. Sitting is what I do all day long. I don't want to die yet. So what's the answer?
The answer is a stand-up desk. I was a good consumer and did my research. Yes, sitting all day is bad; but standing all day isn't great either. What you need is an adjustable desk. You stand for a couple of hours; then you press a button on a wee control panel and mmmmmm, the desk lowers to a preset position. Sit for a while, then hit the control panel and mmmmmm, you're back at standing height.
I got one of these desks, the best-rated one in my budget range. I have to report mixed results. Sure, it's healthier to be mostly standing. If you're not used to it, though, it's a bitch on your knees and calf muscles. Allow for a period — at my age (the largest even number that can't be expressed as the sum of two nonprime odd numbers in two or more ways) it's about a month — of getting used to the darn thing.
And face it: You're never going to catch the zeitgeist. Just as I was congratulating myself on having caught up with all the bright young kids, I started reading news stories about treadmill desks. I give up.
Who we are. Here's my proposal for Civil Service reform: cliché monitors. I'd have one assigned to every department of the federal government, to stand next to cabinet officers when they give speeches and blow a loud whistle for every tedious, grating, threadbare cliché they drop.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, for example, who seems to speak entirely in clichés. Try this specimen on illegal infiltrators, if you can stomach it: "path to citizenship" … "out of the shadows" … "who we are as Americans" … Paging Mr Arbuthnot.
Better yet, let's appoint some cabinet officers who don't have tin ears for the English language.
Alternative history. Reviewing a book about eugenics for VDARE.com brought home to me again what a colossal influence on our intellectual culture the Nazis were. What would our public conversation on human-nature topics — race, genetics, the Jews — be like if the Nazis had never existed? Way different, for sure.
The alternative-history story premised on Germany having won WWII has of course been worked to death. (My favorite, and I think the earliest: The Sound of His Horn.) I wonder if anyone has done a story based on Hitler & the Nazis getting wiped out by a communist bomb in 1925? If not, someone should.
What blacks are interested in. Speaking of race and book reviews, I did a review for American Spectator of a book titled What Should We Be Worried About? — Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up At Night, edited by John Brockman.
This is just a collection of 153 responses to the 2013 Annual Question, posed to a list of eggheads by techie-intellectual website Edge.org. The responses covered a wide and interesting range. You can read them all on the website. The book is just a concession to the dwindling demographic who like print on paper.
In my review I stuck to the main topic. There was no way I could review all 153 responses, so I picked a few to make a theme.
Here's one I didn't pick, the response from Dartmouth astronomer Stephon Alexander, who is black. What's he worried about?
I worry that … there has been little serious discussion about recruiting and promoting persons of color in the academy.
Really? If half the stories I've heard about faculty selection panels are true, they discuss little else. I am reliably informed that math departments fight like cats to acquire the tiny numbers of black and Hispanic doctoral recipients produced each year.
The scientific community needs to go beyond tolerance of difference, to the genuine appreciation of difference, including those differences that make us feel uncomfortable. Especially an appreciation of those who see the world differently from us and think differently from us.
I'll wager there are some keen differences between my thinking and Prof. Alexander's. If my academic credentials were good, would Dartmouth welcome me to its faculty with genuine appreciation of those differences?
Most depressing of all, Prof. Alexander seems to believe that it is bold of him to fill a page with these grade-school "diversity" mottoes.
I have taken the challenge to bring up something that may make people uncomfortable.
Such a challenge! So brave!
For hangers-on of the sciences, this is depressingly familiar. You go to a conference on, say, microbiology. A white guy steps up and talks for half an hour about mitochondrial DNA. Then a white gal talks about ion transport across cell membranes. Then another white guy steps up and talks about developmental immunology. Then a black guy steps up. You think uh-oh, and sure enough, he talks for half an hour about how we can get more minority kids interested in microbiology.
The narcissism, the solipsism of American blacks beggars belief.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote an essay for some general-interest outlet describing solipsism and demonstrating how absurd it is. A few days later he got a letter from a reader.
"Dear Professor Russell," said the letter. "You are quite wrong to doubt the validity of solipsism. I am a solipsist myself. I think it is a perfectly valid point of view, and many others agree with me. Yours sincerely …"