Movie Review: Alive Inside

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Alive Inside is an award-winning documentary by Michael Rossato-Bennett about the work of Dan Cohen, a social worker from Long Island, and the charity he founded, Music & Memory. (Disclaimer: I know Dan personally, and I've contributed to his charity.) It spotlights a slow-rolling demographic crisis poised to overtake the Western world, and offers at least one startlingly powerful idea that could be part of the solution.In the next few decades, the developed world is going to confront … [Read more...]

Book Review: The Illusion of God’s Presence

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Summary: Not a new theory, but a new and strong case for an old theory, supplemented with up-to-date neurological evidence.Jack Wathey is a neuroscientist and computational biologist and the founder of Wathey Research, a scientific firm that focuses on problems like protein folding. His new book, The Illusion of God's Presence, presents an answer to a puzzling problem: Why do human beings believe so strongly in a supernatural deity, even in the face of ample contradictory evidence? (Full … [Read more...]

Turning the Corner on Climate Change

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The future is bleak for Miami.Built on low-lying swampland, it's one of the most vulnerable places on the planet as storms strengthen and seas rise. The city is already suffering from streets that flood at high tide and saltwater seeping into drinking wells. With just a few feet of sea-level rise, which may be unstoppable at this point, most of South Florida will vanish beneath the waves. As a famous Rolling Stone article puts it, Miami is "doomed to drown", possibly sooner than we … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: Reusable Rockets

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The news was nearly overshadowed by Christmas, but Elon Musk's SpaceX pulled off an incredible feat of technology this week:The company's Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral to carry a set of communications satellites into orbit. While the second stage of the rocket delivered its payload, the initial booster stage turned around and returned to earth, firing its engines to stabilize itself as it touched down for a soft landing. After two previous near-miss attempts that ended … [Read more...]

What the Bible Gets Wrong About Hymens

I appreciated this subversively feminist video from College Humor debunking myths about the hymen (SFW, anatomical talk but no explicit imagery):Watching this made me think of the infamous Old Testament law that decrees what to do if a man suspects the bride he purchased of not being a virgin on her wedding night:"If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, and give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: CRISPR

Double Helix

For decades, we've understood the structure and function of DNA. But this immensely powerful knowledge has led to surprisingly few practical breakthroughs. Our ability to alter the genomes of living things has been painfully limited, progress frustratingly slow and elusive. However, that all may be about to change, thanks to a new technology taken from nature: a genetic system called CRISPR.CRISPR was an initially-mysterious string of repeating DNA sequences, discovered in bacteria decades … [Read more...]

Movie Review: The Martian

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Content note: Contains some spoilers.It says something about our era that so many of the most popular movies and TV shows are grim, depressing stories of disaster and dystopia. Is it a reflection of the popular mood? A sign that we've lost hope in ourselves and our ability to achieve great things? Why are there so few works of culture which make us feel optimistic, which tell us that better days are ahead?This weekend, I saw a movie that's a welcome exception to that gloomy trend: Ridley … [Read more...]

The White Man Non-Culpability Squad

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There was some rare good news on the sexual-harassment front last week, with the news that Geoff Marcy has resigned. Marcy is a scientific pioneer in the field of exoplanet astronomy, who's often been mentioned as a potential Nobel laureate. He's also long been trailed by rumors of inappropriate, predatory behavior toward women. According to a former graduate student, now Harvard professor, John Asher Johnson:"What's really infuriating about this is that anybody of my generation in the … [Read more...]

Blood Moon Lunacy, or the Virtue of Vagueness

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On Sunday night, I went out to see the "super blood moon" eclipse. It was a clear autumn night, and I got a good view of the Earth's shadow spreading across the Moon, like a dark slice taken out of a white sea. When the eclipse reached totality, the Moon's face dimmed to a ruddy polished-copper color, glimmering with, as Phil Plait puts it, the reflected light of every sunset on Earth.This was the fourth and final in a series of total lunar eclipses last year and this year. It was also a … [Read more...]

Book Review: 1491

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Summary: Like a watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken.It's a common belief that, when Europeans first encountered them, the Native Americans were living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle scarcely changed from that of the earliest humans. This idea spans the political spectrum: from those on the left, who idealize indigenous people as living a purer, simpler life in harmony with nature, to those on the right, like Ayn Rand, who called them "savages" and cheered colonial settlers … [Read more...]


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