Category Archives: Social issues ( be civil ! )

The New York Times Parodies itself

I have a conservative friend who is becoming increasingly exercised by what he regards as the antiTrump bias of the Times. I’ve told him to calm down as the Times was turning into a parody of its former self. Today the NYT obliged by doing just that.

Here’s what so exercised my friend in today’s Times (19 Feb ’17). “For $200,000, a Chance to Whisper in Trump’s Ear”, Membership at Mar-a-Lago Gives Titans Easier Access to Political Power.” This appeared on the front page taking up the twomost right columns above the fold. All of page 13 inside is devoted to the article.

Here’s how the Times parodied itself “Around the World by Private Jet: Cultures in Transformation ” This took up the entire back page of the Style Section (New England Edition at Least) “Privately chartered Boeing 757 26 day/9 countries/50 travelers/$135,000” You will ride with 5 members of the Times staff (lilywhite) — Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. Alan Riding, Nicholas Kristof, Elaine Sciolino and Elizabeth Bumiller. You will not have to share the air with the Times’ minority editorial contributors, Charles Blow (Black) and Ross Douhat (Conservative). They don’t appear to have a Latino.

Imagine the joy of access for the cut rate price of 135K (who said the Times didn’t care about the little man), while cruising at 35,000 feet exuding both virtue and carbon dioxide.

Here’s part of what my friend had to say about the article (unfortunately he doesn’t blog (he should ) so I can’t supply a link).

Back in the early 18th Century William Congreve wrote:

” Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”

You would think he was talking about the venerable “Gray LADY”, aka New York Times. Indeed the paper has jettisoned any pretense of professional journalistic ethics – any pretense of journalism purpose. A week after the election, after flagrantly shilling for Clinton and smearing Trump in previous months, the editor of the Times issued in writing to the papers readers an apology of sorts by admitting the paper had lost its way and promised to return to reporting news. Evidently atonement to its readers is in the words not the performance. The Gray Lady is profoundly stunned by the rejection by most of the country of the paper’s vision of how the world should be.


Since the election the scorned and enraged Gray Lady has fill page after page , day after day , with disgrace as represented by the article below. The paper has flooded us with conjecture about things that have not happened and gossip of any sort that could denigrate and damage Trump.

The relentless attacks on Trump and his playing golf with dangerous cohorts etc is in marked contrast to how it suppressed any conjecture about Obama’s rise through the notoriously crooked Chicago political machine. Not a whisper of how he was dependent on other graduates of the Chicago cesspool, such as Axelrod and Jarrett. There was dismissal of Obama’s friendship with Ayers, a principal in a murderous urban terrorist group.

The august “paper of record” never conjectured how Obama could spent 20 years listening to Rev. Wright vicious racist rants and kept listening to them, but later said he hardly knew the man.

One final thought — could this be fake news, an ad bought by the Koch brothers to embarrass the Times. Possible, but unlikely.

Back from China

Back from China after an fascinating few weeks there. A few points. Then back to the science in future posts.

#1 Chinese food — don’t judge it by what you find in America. It’s great and non-greasy. The Chinese eat tons of it and remain quite thin — about which more later. It is remarkably INexpensive. Remember that fortune cookies and General Tso’s chicken are American inventions.

#2 Naturally after a great meal (ordered in Chinese by our daughter – in – law) in a restaurant over there, I thank the waitress and the cashier. This invariably makes them uncomfortable. Our son explained that to the Chinese this oversteps a boundary, using as an analogy a professor discussing his personal life (marriage etc. etc.) with a student. Strange but true.

#3 After two + weeks in Hong Kong (and Manila) the prevalence of obesity in the states is simply staggering. I think that under 10% of American adults are trim (at least the groups seen on the MassPike and the Motel). Even the trim by American standards could well lose 10 – 20 pounds. All is not perfect over there, as far more Chinese smoke than we do.

#4 If you are male and 6 feet tall, or female and 5′ 7″ prepare to feel like a giraffe (particularly in Manila). It is quite an experience to be on the excellent Hong Kong subway system (10 cars with an average of 50 people per car) and see over everyone’s head.

#5 If you are a woman who has let your hair go gray, prepare to stand out. By and large 50% of the white haired women I saw in Hong Kong, require wheelchairs or canes. My wife took to counting them — the highest she came up with on a given day was under 10.

#6 If you are a male over 60 and think you’re in good shape, prepare to have your ego diminished, as younger people on the subway get up to offer you their seat — particularly galling when some sweet young thing does it.

#7 Take all this with a grain of salt. Hong Kong is not China, and people living there talk about ‘mainlanders’ the way many Americans talked about blacks 60 years ago.

It all depends on whose ox is being gored

The following article appeared in the New York Times 19 October 2016. The following paragraph begins a direct, continuous, unedited quote from the start of the article. Subsequently, the article discusses other matters brought up in the debate — here’s the link for the whole thing — The times they are a’changin’ aren’t they?

“In a remarkable statement that seemed to cast doubt on American democracy, Donald J. Trump said Wednesday that he might not accept the results of next month’s election if he felt it was rigged against him — a stand that Hillary Clinton blasted as “horrifying” at their final and caustic debate on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump, under enormous pressure to halt Mrs. Clinton’s steady rise in opinion polls, came across as repeatedly frustrated as he tried to rally conservative voters with hard-line stands on illegal immigration and abortion rights. But he kept finding himself drawn onto perilous political territory by Mrs. Clinton and the debate’s moderator, Chris Wallace.

He sputtered when Mrs. Clinton charged that he would be “a puppet” of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia if elected. He lashed out repeatedly, saying that “she’s been proven to be a liar on so many different ways” and that “she’s guilty of a very, very serious crime” over her State Department email practices. And by the end of the debate, when Mrs. Clinton needled him over Social Security, Mr. Trump snapped and said, “Such a nasty woman.”

Mrs. Clinton was repeatedly forced to defend her long service in government, which Mr. Trump charged had yielded no real accomplishments. But she was rarely rattled, and made a determined effort to rise above Mr. Trump’s taunts while making overtures to undecided voters.

She particularly sought to appeal to Republicans and independents who have doubts about Mr. Trump, arguing that she was not an opponent of the Second Amendment as he claimed, and promising to be tougher and shrewder on national security than Mr. Trump.

But it was Mr. Trump’s remark about the election results that stood out, even in a race that has been full of astonishing moments.

Every losing presidential candidate in modern times has accepted the will of the voters, even in extraordinarily close races, such as when John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard M. Nixon in 1960 and George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida to win the presidency in 2000.

Mr. Trump insisted, without offering evidence, that the general election has been rigged against him, and he twice refused to say that he would accept its result.

“I will look at it at the time,” Mr. Trump said. “I will keep you in suspense.”

“That’s horrifying,” Mrs. Clinton replied. “Let’s be clear about what he is saying and what that means. He is denigrating — he is talking down our democracy. And I am appalled that someone who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that position.”

Mrs. Clinton then ticked off the number of times he had deemed a system rigged when he suffered a setback, noting he had even called the Emmy Awards fixed when his show, “The Apprentice,’’ was passed over.

“It’s funny, but it’s also really troubling,” she said. “That is not the way our democracy works.”

Mrs. Clinton also accused Mr. Trump of extreme coziness with Mr. Putin, criticizing him for failing to condemn Russian espionage against her campaign’s internal email.

When Mr. Trump responded that Mr. Putin had “no respect” for Mrs. Clinton, she shot back, in one of the toughest lines of the night: “That’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”

“No puppet, no puppet,” Mr. Trump sputtered. “You’re the puppet.” He quickly recovered and said, “She has been outsmarted and outplayed worse than anybody I’ve ever seen in any government, whatsoever.”

There’s more — but the above is a direct continuous unedited quote from the article

Another amicus curiae brief

The Soros Open Society Foundation today filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the suit of the Cleveland Indians for an 8th (and hopefully final) game of the 2016 World Series. Attorney Justin Cloaca notes that just as there should be a living Constitution, the rules for baseball and the World Series should change with the times. “Why should the rules of a game established less than 30 years after the U. S. Constitution remain fixed in stone” said Cloaca. For details of the original suit please see —

Another amicus curiae brief is said to be in the works by Rancid Fecus, attorney for the Cubs. The President elect is said to be tweeting on the subject.

Cleveland demands 8th game — World series not over

The Cleveland Indians filed a lawsuit in Federal Court today demanding an 8th game, alleging that the World Series was really not over because both teams had scored the same number of runs in the first 7. Attorney Bryce Dyspareunia stated the result was unjust even though the Cubs had won 4 of the first 7 games. To be fair it should be the greatest number of runs scored over time, he said. The Clinton campaign has joined the suit as an amicus curiae

One good thing about Trump’s election (maybe two)

Two comments on the election then back to some neuropharmacology and neuropsychiatry which will likely affect many of you (because of some state ballot initiatives).

First: Over the years I’ve thought the mainstream press has become increasingly biased toward the left (not on the editorial page which is fine) but in supposedly objective reporting. Here are just two post election examples

#1 Front page of the New York Times 9 Nov — the first sentence from something they characterize as ‘News Analysis’

““Donald John Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday in a stunning culmination of an explosive, populist and polarizing campaign that took relentless aim at the institutions and long-held ideals of American democracy.”

#2 Front page of the New York Times 10 Nov — more ‘News Analysis’ — Here’s the lead “Populist Fury may Backfire”. Don’t they wish.

I’ll never complain about this sort of thing again (well at least not for four years). Why? Because I’ve been reading the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Nation and the National Review for probably 50 years, and Trump as the antiChrist is the first thing I’ve ever seen all four agree on. This biased coverage simply no longer matters. If it did, Trump would have lost and lost big. This just confirms the marked loss of credibility that the mainstream media has suffered.  People aren’t as dumb as the elites think they are.

Second: Political correctness and attempts to control speech so as not to offend lost big. That’s very good for us all right and left (although the impetus for speech control has switched to the left from the right over the past 56 years) — see

What do the state ballot initiatives have to do with neuropharmacology? Just this. Voters in California, Massachusetts and Nevada approved recreational marijuana initiatives Tuesday night, and several other states passed medical marijuana provisions.

I don’t think this is good. One of the arguments in its favor is that marihuana isn’t as bad as alcohol, which may be true, but if marihuana isn’t all good why add it to the mix? We don’t have a good handle on marihuana use, but it is likely to increase if it’s legal.

Why do I think this is bad (particularly for adolescents)? It is likely that inhibiting synaptic feedback isn’t a good thing for a brain which is pruning a lot of them (which happens in normal adolescence as the thickness of the cerebral cortex shrinks).

There have been many explanations for the decline in College Board Scores over the years. This has led to their normalization (so all our children are above average). If you’re a correlation equals causation fan, plot the decline vs. time of atmospheric lead. It is similar to the board scores decline. Or you can plot 1/adolescent marihuana use vs. time and get a similar curve. The problem, of course, is that we have no accurate figures for use.

Here’s the science — it’s an old post, but little has happened since it was written to change the science behind it

Why marihuana scares me

There’s an editorial in the current Science concerning how very little we know about the effects of marihuana on the developing adolescent brain [ Science vol. 344 p. 557 ’14 ]. We know all sorts of wonderful neuropharmacology and neurophysiology about delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (d9-THC) — The point of the authors (the current head of the Amnerican Psychiatric Association, and the first director of the National (US) Institute of Drug Abuse), is that there are no significant studies of what happens to adolescent humans (as opposed to rodents) taking the stuff.

Marihuana would the first mind-alteraing substance NOT to have serious side effects in a subpopulation of people using the drug — or just about any drug in medical use for that matter.

Any organic chemist looking at the structure of d9-THC (see the link) has to be impressed with what a lipid it is — 21 carbons, only 1 hydroxyl group, and an ether moiety. Everything else is hydrogen. Like most neuroactive drugs produced by plants, it is quite potent. A joint has only 9 milliGrams, and smoking undoubtedly destroys some of it. Consider alcohol, another lipid soluble drug. A 12 ounce beer with 3.2% alcohol content has 12 * 28.3 *.032 10.8 grams of alcohol — molecular mass 62 grams — so the dose is 11/62 moles. To get drunk you need more than one beer. Compare that to a dose of .009/300 moles of d9-THC.

As we’ve found out — d9-THC is so potent because it binds to receptors for it. Unlike ethanol which can be a product of intermediary metabolism, there aren’t enzymes specifically devoted to breaking down d9-THC. In contrast, fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) is devoted to breaking down anandamide, one of the endogenous compounds d9-THC is mimicking.

What really concerns me about this class of drugs, is how long they must hang around. Teaching neuropharmacology in the 70s and 80s was great fun. Every year a new receptor for neurotransmitters seemed to be found. In some cases mind benders bound to them (e.g. LSD and a serotonin receptor). In other cases the endogenous transmitters being mimicked by a plant substance were found (the endogenous opiates and their receptors). Years passed, but the receptor for d9-thc wasn’t found. The reason it wasn’t is exactly why I’m scared of the drug.

How were the various receptors for mind benders found? You throw a radioactively labelled drug (say morphine) at a brain homogenate, and purify what it is binding to. That’s how the opiate receptors etc. etc. were found. Why did it take so long to find the cannabinoid receptors? Because they bind strongly to all the fats in the brain being so incredibly lipid soluble. So the vast majority of stuff bound wasn’t protein at all, but fat. The brain has the highest percentage of fat of any organ in the body — 60%, unless you considered dispersed fatty tissue an organ (which it actually is from an endocrine point of view).

This has to mean that the stuff hangs around for a long time, without any specific enzymes to clear it.

It’s obvious to all that cognitive capacity changes from childhood to adult life. All sorts of studies with large numbers of people have done serial MRIs children and adolescents as the develop and age. Here are a few references to get you started [ Neuron vol. 72 pp. 873 – 884, 11, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 107 pp. 16988 – 16993 ’10, vol. 111 pp. 6774 -= 6779 ’14 ]. If you don’t know the answer, think about the change thickness of the cerebral cortex from age 9 to 20. Surprisingly, it get thinner, not thicker. The effect happens later in the association areas thought to be important in higher cognitive function, than the primary motor or sensory areas. Paradoxical isn’t it? Based on animal work this is thought to be due pruning of synapses.

So throw a long-lasting retrograde neurotransmitter mimic like d9-THC at the dynamically changing adolescent brain and hope for the best. That’s what the cited editorialists are concerned about. We simply don’t know and we should.

Addendum 11 Nov ’16:  From an emerita nonscientific professor friend of my wife. “Much of the chemistry/pharmacology etc. is way beyond me, but I did get the drift of the conversation about marihuana and am glad to now have even a simplified concept of what it does to the brain. Having spent the last 20 years working with undergraduate and graduate students, I’ve seen first hand the decline in cognitive ability.” 

Scary ! ! ! !

Having been in Cambridge when Leary was just getting started in the early 60’s, I must say that the idea of tune in turn on and drop out never appealed to me. Most of the heavy marihuana users I’ve known (and treated for other things) were happy, but rather vague and frankly rather dull.

Unfortunately as a neurologist, I had to evaluate physician colleagues who got in trouble with drugs (mostly with alcohol). One very intelligent polydrug user MD, put it to me this way — “The problem is that you like reality, and I don’t”.

Tom Wolfe — an appreciation

Tom Wolfe’s writing style and the genre he created have been part of the intellectual wallpaper for so long, that it’s easy to forget how badly he was needed. The following is quite autobiographical, but it does put his emergence in context.

Intellectually isolated adolescents in the early 50s read books, lots of them (minimal TV of any intellectual content, no internet etc. etc.) I had plenty of time in high school, with two 16 mile rides on the school bus each day. So I managed to read a book a day my senior year in high school. I particularly loved Balzac and Dickens for the way they wrote about all levels of society.

So although I was fairly well read on entry into Princeton in the fall of 1956, I was a geographic naif, never really having travelled west of Philly. I was a social naif as well, with only 6/24 boys in my high school class going on to collage. The ones that didn’t went into the military, law enforcement or the trades. None of the 24 girls got further education, initially at least. This was not a high or wealthy social background. I was the first member of my family not to go to Rutgers (the state school of New Jersey).

The Princeton Triangle Club put on a rather sophomoric show each year which toured the east coast and midwest on Christmas break. Earlier famous members included Jimmy Stewart and Josh Logan. Later, after women were admitted, Brooke Shields. I was good enough to make pianist in the pit band for the show and did this for two years.  The incredibly creative guy writing the shows was Clark Gesner, who soon after wrote “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and essentially retired in his late 20s.

The class of 1959 was the first at Princeton to have more High School graduates than preppies. To the alums that put us up in their homes after the show, it was assumed that we were to the manor born (as many of them were).

Seeing upper class society was quite an education. After each show the performers (and band) were invited to debutante parties. I’d never seen anything like it, and none of the American novels I’d read dealt with it. The musicians in the band would listen to the society orchestras playing (Lester Lanin, Peter Duchin, Meyer Davis) and dance with the debs. In Chicago, I even was the male presenting one debutante, rather than a local — probably because she was Jewish and none of the locals would do it. In Grosse Point Michigan the following exchange occurred with a deb who seemed intelligent. Where do you go to school? Oh someplace back East. How do you like the party? Enough for me to decide not to attempt to become part of that world (not that it was ever possible).

Then in grad school at Harvard, I met extremely intelligent guys from the West Coast (Caltech, Berkeley, Brigham Young) who were reading “Road and Track” in all seriousness (camp hadn’t been invented yet). Road and track was for the guys back home who went to work in garages, and dragraced with each other.

No one in the 50s and early 60s was writing about this stuff — here’s a link to the best-sellers of the 50s —
if you don’t believe me. Some were good (To Kill a Mockingbird). A lot were by foreigners (Dr. Zhivago, Francois Sagan, Simone de Beauvoir).

We had this fascinating diverse society, and our literature wasn’t dealing with it — that is until Tom Wolfe came along. He wrote about car customizers, astronauts, high society, low society, enjoying it all. These weren’t thought to be the stuff of serious literature until then. Some of the best sellers back then bore the same relationship to reality (Marjorie Morningstar, Not as a Stranger) as the Doris Day Rock Hudson movies of the time.

So hats off to Tom Wolfe. He’s still writing — I recommend his latest – “The Kingdom of Speech” about which I wrote 3 posts. Although the book starts in Victorian England, it winds up in the USA with Chomsky and company and the social high jinks of the left, which Wolfe has been skewering for decades. Here’s a link to one of the posts —

Book Review — The Kingdom of Speech — Part III

The last half of Wolfe’s book is concerned with Chomsky and Linguistics. Neurologists still think they have something to say about how the brain produces language, something roundly ignored by the professional linguistics field. Almost at the beginning of the specialty, various types of loss of speech (aphasias) were catalogued and correlated with where in the brain the problem was. Some people could understand but not speak (motor aphasia). Most turned out to have lesions in the left frontal lobe. Others could speak but not understand what was said to them (receptive aphasia). They usually had lesions in the left temporal lobe (e.g. just behind the ear amazingly enough).

Back in the day this approach was justifiably criticized as follows — yes you can turn off a lightbulb by flicking a switch, but the switch isn’t producing the light, but is just something necessary for its production. Nowadays not so much, because we see these areas lighting up with increased blood  flow (by functional MRI) when speech is produced or listened to.

I first met Chomsky’s ideas, not about linguistics, but when I was trying to understand how a compiler of a high level computer language worked. This was so long ago that Basic and Pascal were considered high level languages. Compilers worked with formal rules, and Chomsky categorized them into a hierarchy which you can read about here —

The book describes the rise of Chomsky as the enfant terrible, the adult terrible, then the eminence grise of linguistics. Wolfe has great fun skewering him, particularly for his left wing posturing (something he did at length in “Radical Chic”). I think most of the description is accurate, but if you have the time and the interest, there’s a much better book — “The Linguistics Wars” by Randy Allen Harris — although it’s old (1993), Chomsky and linguistics had enough history even then that the book contains 356 pages (including index).

Chomsky actually did use the term language organ meaning a facility of the human brain responsible for our production of language of speech. Neuroscience never uses such a term, and Chomsky never tried to localize it in the brain, but work on the aphasias made this at least plausible. If you’ve never heard of ‘universal grammar, language acquisition device, deep structure of language, the book is a reasonably accurate (and very snarky) introduction.

As the years passed, for everything that Chomsky claimed was a universal of all languages, a language was found that didn’t have it. The last universal left standing was recursion (e.g. the ability the pack phrase within phrase — the example given “He assumed that now that her bulbs had burned out, he could shine and achieve the celebrity he had always longed for” — thought within thought within thought.

Then a missionary turned linguist (Daniel Everett) found a tribe in the Amazon (the Piraha) with a language which not only lacked recursion, but tenses as well. It makes fascinating reading, including the linguist W. Tecumseh Fitch (yes Tecumseh) who travelled up the Amazon to prove that they did have recursion (especially as he had collaborated with Chomsky and the (now disgraced) Marc Hauser on an article in 2002 saying that recursion was the true essence of human language — how’s this horrible sentence for recursion ?

The book ends with a discussion of the quote Wolfe began the book with — “Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved. We show that, to date, (1) studies of nonhuman animals provide virtually no relevant parallels to human linguistic communication, and none to the underlying biological capacity; (2) the fossil and archaeological evidence does not inform our understanding of the computations and representations of our earliest ancestors, leaving details of origins and selective pressure unresolved; (3) our understanding of the genetics of language is so impoverished that there is little hope of connecting genes to linguistic processes any time soon; (4) all modeling attempts have made unfounded assumptions, and have provided no empirical tests, thus leaving any insights into language’s origins unverifiable. Based on the current state of evidence, we submit that the most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever, with considerable uncertainty about the discovery of either relevant or conclusive evidence that can adjudicate among the many open hypotheses. We conclude by presenting some suggestions about possible paths forward.”

One of the authors is Chomsky himself.

You can read the whole article at

I think, that Wolfe is right — language is just a tool (like the wheel or the axe) which humans developed to help them. That our brain size is at least 3 times the size of our nearest evolutionary cousin (the Chimpanzee) probably had something to do with it. If language is a tool, then, like the axe, it didn’t have to evolve from anything.

All in all a fascinating and enjoyable book. There’s much more in it than I’ve had time to cover.  The prose will pick you up and carry you along.

Book Review — The Kingdom of Speech — Part II

Although Darwin held off writing up his ideas for 20 years, fearing the reaction he knew would come from the church, the criticisms that really bothered him the most were those of fellow intellectuals about the evolution of language. They began immediately after the Origin of Species came out in 1859, by linguists and later by Wallace himself. Even worse, one critic mocked him. The idea that language evolved from animal sounds was called the bow wow theory, or language arose from sounds that things made (the ding dong theory).

This is all detailed in pp. 54 – 87 of The Kingdom of Speech, about which I knew very little. If any real experts on the early history of evolutionary theory are out there and reading this and disagree, please post a comment. I am assuming that the facts as given by Wolfe are correct (I’ve already disagreed with him about his interpretation of some of them —

The real attack on Darwin’s ideas is that man’s mental capacities were so far above those of animals, that there was no missing link (particularly since there were lots or primates still around). By this critique man was so special, that a special act of creation (not evolution) was called for.  It’s theology getting in the back door, but of course this is essentially the claim of all theologies — special creation by a superior being(s).

In his later book “The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man” – 1871 (which I’ve not read), according to Wolfe Darwin made up all stories (many involving his beloved dog) to show the antecedents of all sorts of things in animal behavior — Darwin actually said that language originated with the songs birds sang during mating. Female protolanguage persists today in mothers cooing to their babies. Darwin spent a lot of time discussing his dog — how it recognized other dogs as a sign of intelligence. Religion came from the love of a dog for his master (Wolfe claims that Darwin said this in the book– I haven’t read the Descent of Man).

Darwin’s second book didn’t get much response. Postive reviews avoided his reasoning, and negative reviews said it was thin. In 1872 the Philological Society of London gave up on trying to find out the origin of language, and wouldn’t accept patpers about it. The Linguistic Society of Paris did this even earlier (1866).

Evolutionists basically stopped talking about language from 1872 to 1949.

As soon as Mendel’s work on genetics was discovered, evolution went into scientific eclipse. Here was something that wasn’t just armchair speculation about things happening in the remote past, something on which experiments could be done.
Mendel’s experiments with green peas took 9 years and involved 28,000 plants.

In a fascinating aside, Wolfe notes that Mendel actually sent his work to Darwin. Tragically it was found unread with its pages uncut in Darwin’s papers after his death. In all fairness to Darwin, he and his peers had no idea how heredity worked and there are parts in The Origin of Species in which Darwin appears to accept the inheritance of acquired characteristics (the blacksmith’s large muscles passed on to his son etc. etc.). I don’t think you can read the Origin without being impressed by the tremendous power of Darwin’s mind, and how much work he put in and how far he got with how little he had to go on.

Wolfe says Darwin’s ideas about the origin or language were mocked by Gould  one hundred years later (1972) as “Just So Stories”, fantastic bizarre explanations for why animals are the way they are — see I’m not so sure, the citation for this gives an article  Sociobiology which Gould and Lewontin (see later) relentlessly attacked. Gould himself saw what he wanted to see in his book “The Mismeasure of Man” — for details see —

As you can see,The Kingdom of Speech is full of all sorts of interesting stuff, and I’m not even halfway through talking about it.

Next up, linguistics, to include Noam  Chomsky and his admission that he doesn’t understand language or where it came from.

The energy of the future

Almost 60 years ago to the day, a group of Princeton freshman (including yours truly) were dazzled by a talk by Professor Lyman Spitzer, as he described the “Stellarator”, a machine designed to mimic the thermonuclear reaction of the sun. He said it would produce all the energy one could want using nothing more complicated than water (once it was broken down into hydrogen and oxygen). He described it as the ‘energy of the future’.

60 years later it still is.

An article in today’s Nature (vol. 537 pp. 14 – 15 ’16) describes the malfunction of the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) founded by Spitzer himself. Apparently some component failed, and the machine will be taken offline for repairs. The machine was being upgraded to produce higher magnetic fields using new coils, and one of them failed.

Since a machine at MIT is being permanently shut down, this leaves US fusion physicists with just one functional machine for experiments.