Book Review: “The New Threat” (Jason Burke)
I have a mild addiction to 24 hour rolling news, so this year I’m instead trying to channel that interest into reading good non-fiction books on history and politics. I started with Jason Burke’s latest book “The New Threat From Islamic Militancy”, which gives a history and analysis of violent Islamism. Burke himself is a
Three ways common sense gets biology wrong
Learning about biology can be a humbling and fascinating experience. I never feel more exhilarated by the complexity of the natural world than when I’m reading about hidden relationships between different animal species, finding out the age of different types of organisms, or learning when different traits first appeared. But it’s only in the last
What would a constructive Republican party look like?
Even as a liberal, I found last night’s Republican debate terrifically entertaining. There were big personalities, some good zingers, and a moment of genuine eloquence and dignity from Carly Fiorina. Perhaps most impressively of all, given the relatively anodyne climate of modern politics, there were real disagreements among the candidates about policy – notably about the
Do we have a moral obligation to host refugees?
It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that Europe is in the midst of a refugee crisis, with 350,000 migrants arriving by sea this year alone (the comparable figure for the whole of 2014 was 219,000). These migrants, of whom the largest contingents are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, are mostly fleeing real threats of violence.
What kind of a jerk are you?
What makes someone a jerk? Is it merely being rude, or selfish, or is there something more subtle that underlies the behavior of the jerk? And just as important, how do you know if you’re a jerk yourself? (NB: ‘jerk’ is far more common in American English than British English; I’m not quite sure whether
Is human extinction a real risk of climate change?
Humans are everywhere. We live in tundras, deserts, rainforests, and even New York City. We’re not the only animals that like to get around: red foxes, Argentine ants, and springtails are all examples of other species that inhabit huge swathes of the planet. Others, like the wonderful Iriomote cat or the beautiful and adorable vaquita (both critically endangered),
Harassment, harm, and the social function of trolls
I still vividly remember the first time that I felt threatened online. Back when I was thirteen or so, I was an avid player of an online game called Ultima Online which took place in a persistent virtual world, (much like the modern equivalent, World of Warcraft). I made friends in the game, spent many
Ballparking with Enrico Fermi
We’re all familiar with ‘ballparking’ – making rough estimates or vague guesses. Today I want to talk about a particular kind of ballparking, namely how we solve a type of mental puzzle called “Fermi questions”. They were employed by physicist Enrico Fermi during the Manhattan project as fun puzzles to keep up morale (at least
The British Election: a few reflections
The British election confounded pollsters and disappointed many, including most of my friends in the UK. I too wasn’t thrilled by the result for many reasons. Here are just a few thoughts on the significance of the election, and how it’ll shape Britain for the years to come. Evisceration of the Lib Dems – very
Veganism and ideological compromise
A very interesting and provocative piece in this week’s NYT argues that some vegans place too much emphasis on ideological purity, at the cost of missing more prosaic opportunities to tangibly advance animal welfare. As usual for this topic, the comments section devolves into pretty lame arguments and invectives directed against veganism (including the perennial favorites, “but humans