A TakiMag column and a TAS review from Derb
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My weekly column at Taki’s Magazine is up. 

The Boston Marathon bombing story came garnished with an unusual number of ironies, coincidences, and historical echoes.

Irony. Item number 27 in Christian Landers’s book Stuff White People Like is “Marathons.”  Sample from the accompanying text:

“To a white person, the absolute pinnacle of fitness is to run a marathon. Not to win, just to run. White people will train for months….They will then set goals like running in the Boston Marathon….”

Where’s the irony in that? Well, check out item No. 7 in Landers’s book: “Diversity” . . .

Read the whole thing at TakiMag.

I also have a long double book review on the physical sciences up in the May issue of The American Spectator, now out (subscribers only):

The Milky Way: An Insider’s Guide by William H. Waller (Princeton University Press, 296 pages, $29.95)

A Palette of Particles by Jeremy Bernstein (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 224 pages, $18.95)

The British philosopher J.L. Austin coined the handy phrase “medium-sized dry goods” to describe the world of everyday phenomena that the human nervous system is best suited to cope with, phenomena ranging in size from a grain of dust to a landscape. Within that range our senses and cognition are at home. All our intuitions about how objects move, change, and interact arise from our dealings with “medium-sized dry goods.”

Much beyond that size range, in either direction, our senses and understanding are at sea. How we can say anything at all—anything coherent, with predictive power and technological application—about the invisible constituents of matter, or about the universe at large, is a considerable mystery. We certainly can say such things: The device I am using to write this review would not exist if we did not know true facts about the atom and its parts. The only language we have for expressing those facts, however, is the language of mathematics: a tower of abstractions of abstractions of abstractions, in which everyday intuitions recede in a fog of wave-particle duality and twisted spacetime.

To master that language takes years of specialized training. But citizens who have taken different paths through life, or youngsters wondering whether to take that path, are naturally curious to understand as much as they can of what the specialists know. For those purposes we have popularizers of the physical sciences—heroes of our intellectual culture, in my opinion, though of course sometimes more, sometimes less skillful in the presentation of their material.

Here are two such, working at opposite ends of the size zone, one with the vast, one with the tiny. Both deliver very satisfactory products, although with differences of style and approach . . .

Read the whole thing in The American Spectator, if you have a subscription.  If you don’t, I respectfully recommend you get one.


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