Platinum Rule

Most people seem to think the Golden Rule is all we need: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  Well, that would certainly be an improvement upon the more prevalent, "Do unto others before they do unto you," but it doesn't really help unless we exercise some subtlety and foresight.  It […]

Confessional

  Let me get up close and personal with the Tragedy of the Commons. We are all fond of complaining bitterly about the terrible job our politicians do. And yet almost none of us want to be active in politics, and a large fraction of citizens (sometimes a majority) don't even bother to vote. We […]

Shit Happens

  In the early 20th Century it was already clear that shit happens. However, not until nearly the end of that century did a consensus begin to arise regarding whose fault it was that shit happens. Actually, several contradictory consenses. A few visionary scientists began to look for random correlations between various human activities and […]

Price of Life

  There was once a psychoanalyst who was fond of asking patients this question: "How much is your life worth, in kegs of beer?" The result was usually consternation and the intended focusing of attention. But it is a real question nonetheless. How much is your life worth in dollars? Well, obviously, to you it […]

Plant Rights

  Like all "-isms", vegetarianism is an ideology, not a matter of taste. I have no quarrel with those who are convinced that a vegetarian diet is more healthy than the omnivorous diet of hunter-gatherers, nor with those who argue that meat is too costly to produce (in terms of food resources) in today's overpopulated […]

Holiday Letter

For all these years that everyone has been sending me annual updates on their lives and those of their families, I've felt vaguely guilty for not reciprocating. It's not as if nothing has happened in our lives for the last year (in any given year); it's just that I am always still confused about what […]

Zero Tolerance

  Lots of things are bad for you. This is not news, but every new instance is reported as if it were. Recently people are getting a little more sophisticated about statistics, with messages like, "Substance X has been found to increase your chances of contracting cancer of the Y with 95% confidence." This tells […]

Premature Death

  Ever notice how some phrases that have always seemed innocuous suddenly get really offensive when you stop to think about what they actually mean? (Look up "rule of thumb" sometime if you want to spoil that figure of speech for yourself.) The one that's started bothering me since I got old enough to be […]

Wind Chill

  Weather reports and forecasts are almost as bad as commercials: they all make it abundantly clear that they consider their audience too stupid to understand simple relationships, in particular the possibility that our experience of getting cold depends on two variables in different ways. The temperature of the air is one factor; the transport […]