“How I Got My Song” – Leonard Cohen

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So… it seems that I haven’t posted anything all month. Chalk it up to the summer doldrums.

In any case, I’m determined not to neglect July entirely. So, for your amusement, here’s a curious little acceptance speech Leonard Cohen gave at the 2011 Prince of Asturias Awards event in Spain. He won the prize for Literature, but his speech is mostly about how he came to be a songwriter. As you might well expect from Cohen, what he has to say is a little bit beautiful, a little bit tragic, and just a tad absurd (particularly in its opulent setting).

Enjoy!

Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes”

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I haven’t had much time for music lately, but for a few months I’ve been dabbling with Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” in my spare moments. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, along with a collection of fractal images I’ve generated using FRAX, the iPhone app. If you enjoy it, please go to iTunes and buy Wayne Shorter’s own one-of-a-kind rendition.

Infant Eyes from Larry Herzberg on Vimeo.

Particle Fever: Supersymmetry versus Multiversal Chaos

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You may dimly recall media reports that the so-called “God Particle”, otherwise known as the Higgs boson, had been observed by CERN’s “large hadron collider”. Probably the clearest, most succinct explanation I’ve seen or heard of its importance to particle physics can be found in the the documentary “Particle Fever”. If you are the curious sort (and you must be to be here reading this), I highly recommend it. Here’s the trailer, which you can watch by clicking on “Watch Trailer” below. You can find the whole film on NetFlix (if you have a subscription), on iTunes, or rent it on Vimeo by clicking on the bouncing icon.

On Governor Walker’s Plan To Slash The UW System’s Budget

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I’ve been pretty quiet over the last couple of years when it comes to commenting on Wisconsin politics. There seems to be very little left to say about the state Republican Party’s war on the public sector, and especially on public education at all levels. But what little there is left to say was well said by a couple of guests on Joy Cardin’s WPR show a few days ago, especially by the self-identifying conservative UW History Professor, John Sharpless. Here’s the first 30 minutes of that conversation-

Oh… and could someone please remind the Governor that Wisconsin Underpays Its Professors?

Feel Like Feeling Small?

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Here’s a great excursion into a 4.3 GB image of the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest galactic neighbor, taken 1/5/15 and brought to you by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Watch it on as high a resolution as possible; at 720p watching it fullscreen becomes reasonable. I recommend pausing the video playback every once in a while; when you get a stable, in-focus frame, you can better appreciate the density of the star field your watching.


If you’re having trouble watching it here, try clicking on the YouTube button and watching it there. (YouTube embeds have been hit and miss for some time now. I’ve found FireFox to be slightly more reliable than Safari or – surprisingly – Chrome in that department).

By the way, Andromeda is heading our way at about 110 kilometers per second. It is expected to merge with our own Milky Way in about four billion years…

Sandra the Orangutan: A Non-Human Person

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Photo by Marcos Brindicci / Reuters

Photo by Marcos Brindicci / Reuters

It’s been fascinating to read the news stories on Sandra, the orangutan who an Argentine court decided has a right to freedom as a “non-human person”. Reporting it, UPI made one of the most revealing blunders, declaring-

On Sunday the court agreed with AFADA attorneys’ argument that Sandra was denied her freedom as a “non-human person” — a distinction that places Sandra as a human in a philosophical sense, rather than physical.

Well, no: the distinction doesn’t “place Sandra as a human” in any sense, and especially not “in a philosophical sense”. Rather, the court is implying that non-human animals have rights, not as honorary members of our species, but in virtue of their own cognitive abilities. Some animal rights activists might even take offense at this sort of “discrimination” by cognitive class (at what degree of cognitive impairment does a human cease to have rights?), but at least it avoids the – probably unconscious – speciesism that seems to lie behind the UPI comment.

That’s not to say it is philosophically easy to decide who has rights, and on what basis, partly because there are so many views of what a “right” is. What seems clear is that granting all and only humans rights (on the basis of their species alone) is objectionably arbitrary. An alternative approach is to argue that any sentient creature deserves moral consideration on the basis of its ability to feel pleasure or pain, but such a view has its own complications. While all of the philosophical kinks are being worked out (a process that is notoriously slow), it seems safest to “err” on the side of maximal compassion, which we can hope to be also the side of maximal impartial rationality.