Atlas Shrugged: Indian Givers


Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IVAfter unleashing a tirade at his family during Thanksgiving dinner, Hank Rearden decides he's had enough of them. He stands up and announces that he's going to New York, knowing that Lillian understands exactly what this means:"Why do you wish to go to New York tonight?""I think, Lillian, for the same reason that makes you wish to stop me.""Tomorrow is your trial.""That is what I mean."He made a movement to turn, and she raised her … [Read more...]

You, Sir, Are No Robert Ingersoll


Before I went on vacation last month, you may recall how I tangled with a mob of nasty sexists who misleadingly call themselves "men's rights activists". Most of their comments were pure ad hominem filth, not worth the trouble of responding to, but there was one I wanted to address: from an atheist MRA who fears that feminism is ruining both science and atheism, and who thinks that some famous historical freethinkers would have taken his side.Surprisingly, my largely religious family was … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: The Three-Fifths Compromise


Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IILet me make one thing clear, to begin with: I don't think Ayn Rand was an unintelligent person. She was fiercely dogmatic in her opinions, quick to anger, possessed an enormous ego, and rarely if ever forgave. She also had more than a few intellectual blind spots, which I've been pointing out throughout this series. But I believe she put real thought into her moral system, flawed as it is, and had a genuine desire to be taken seriously as a … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 1

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 1, "Standing Up In the Milky Way"When I first heard that Carl Sagan's Cosmos was being rebooted, I was thrilled. As much as I loved the original, even the best science series inevitably becomes dated sooner rather than later, as our knowledge advances. And this was a great opportunity to see how modern special effects, which are light-years ahead of where they were in the original, could be used for scientific storytelling. But when I heard the new series … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 5

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 5, "Hiding in the Light"With computer graphics getting cheaper and better every year, every new TV show and movie has to grapple with the question of how much is too much. That's no less true for a hard-science series like Cosmos than it is for a sci-fi drama. There's always the temptation to put more flashy visuals on screen just because you can, and the technology we have now makes it possible to show razzle-dazzle that would have been inconceivable in … [Read more...]

Cosmos Upsets the Courtiers


I'm greatly enjoying the new Cosmos, but there are those who are none too pleased by it. Some of the critics are too laughable to take seriously, like the creationists who're whining about not getting equal time. Then there are the ones who represent an allegedly more sophisticated theology, like this post by Andrew Sullivan, in which he straightfacedly asserts that Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson's popularization efforts are giving science a bad name. Why? His complaint stems largely from … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 3

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 3, "When Knowledge Conquered Fear"I wrote that last week's episode felt overstuffed, trying to cover a vast amount of territory in just 45 minutes of TV. This one did much better in that regard. The writing was tightly focused, telling a central story that wove throughout the episode, and using that story to provide branching-off points. This was a nearly flawless example of how science writing should be done.The central story, told mostly through … [Read more...]

New on AlterNet: Cosmos and the Creationists

My latest column is now up on AlterNet, Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe. It's about the new Cosmos TV series, and its reminder that those who advocate new ideas have always met fierce violent resistance from the credulous masses and the elite guardians of popular orthodoxy, from the persecutors of Galileo and Giordano Bruno in the medieval era to creationists, climate-change deniers and anti-vaxers today. Read the excerpt … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: The New Deal


Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter XDagny and Hank have set out to track down the owner of the defunct Twentieth Century Motor Company factory, crisscrossing the country in the hope of digging up an employee list that will help them find the inventor of the magic motor they discovered there. But this, as they soon discover, is a Sisyphean task.They're able to establish that the man who built the factory and the surrounding town of Starnesville is one Jed Starnes, who died twelve years ago. … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: December 28


While you rest and recover from all the holiday feasting, some links:• The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that buried the Roman city of Pompeii also buried another town, Herculaneum. One of the buildings that's been unearthed was a rich Roman's villa - including the library. The thousands of scrolls it contained were thought to be charred beyond recognition, but high-resolution CAT scans and multispectral imaging are finally making it possible to read the lost scrolls from the Villa of the … [Read more...]