α, Turkic, Meaning Of Life, Languages, Narconomics, Boris Johnson


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The Number That Fascinates Physicists

Paul Davies | Cosmos Magazine | 18th February 2016

The closest thing we have to a "universal constant of nature" is the number 1/137.03599913, or "α", which combines the speed of light, the electric charge carried by a single electron, and Planck’s constant of quantum mechanics. But what is α telling us? "Is there a reason why α has to be precisely this number for the world to function? Suppose we woke up tomorrow and α was 1/138, would it make much difference?" (850 words)

Turkey: Not Very Turkic

Anonymous | Evolutionistx | 19th February 2016

The origins of the Turkic peoples are "shrouded in mystery". The Seljuks brought a Turkic language westward from what is now Mongolia to the Caspian Sea and Turkey between 800 and 100 AD, conquering as they went. But there is puzzlingly little DNA from Mongolia in the modern Turkish population. The Huns may also have been Turkic, "but unless someone can come up with a Hunnic dictionary, we’ll probably never truly know" (2,830 words)

Why Is There Anything?

Derek Parfit | Aquinas History | 7th December 2014

Classic essay by philosopher Derek Parfit addressing the basic question: Why is there something, rather than nothing? Parfit's discussion is not helpful in any practical sense, and certainly not conclusive, but it does suggest useful language in which to think about the possible answers. The universe may be a brute fact: "On this view, not only would the universe have no cause, it would have no explanation of any kind" (PDF) (2,500 words)

Lingo

John McWhorter | Claremont Review Of Books | 17th February 2016

Review of Gaston Dorren's book Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages. Many interesting details. 'Coach' traces to coach builders in the Hungarian town of Kocs. The names Lefebvre, Herrero, Ferrari, Kovacs, and Kowalski all translate into English as 'Smith'. The Inuit do not have hundreds of words for snow — but Sami, the northern Scandinavian language formerly known as Lappish, actually does have "a good twenty" (1,320 words)

How Economists Would Wage The War On Drugs

Tom Wainwright | Wall Street Journal | 19th February 2016

The drug problem is "a market to be tamed", not "a battle to be fought". The US government's obsession with disrupting supplies from South America has been a horrible failure. "Despite billions of dollars spent and tens of thousands of lives lost, the business is stronger than ever". The US would do much better reducing domestic demand for drugs by spending more on education in schools and on rehabilitation of addicts (1,180 words)

Vote To Leave The EU

Boris Johnson | Telegraph | 21st February 2016

"The fundamental problem remains: they have an ideal that we do not share. They want to create a truly federal union, e pluribus unum, when most British people do not. We will hear a lot in the coming weeks about the risks of leaving: the risk to the economy, the risk to the City of London. We have heard this kind of thing before, about the decision to opt out of the euro, and the very opposite turned out to be the case" (2,300 words)

Video of the day: Le Café De Balzac

What to expect: New Yorker video. Paul Giamatti as Honoré de Balzac, coffee addict (1'43")

Thought for the day

Of course you can have your cake and eat it. Bake a second cake
Robert Kuttner

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