Category Archives: Hamlet

1000 Words: Scientists Are People Too

The thing that appalled people most when Charles Darwin published his landmark 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, was their realization he was saying, in essence, humans are animals.


Hamlet, wallowing in his depression, poked fun at his species-mates’ vision of themselves:

What a piece of work is man!

How noble in reason!

How infinite in faculties!

In form and moving

How express and admirable!

In action how like an angel!

In apprehension how like a god!

The beauty of the world!

The mourning Danish prince meant precisely the opposite of what he was saying, but his words reflected what the vast majority off people then believed. That we humans are a cut above lions and tigers and bears. And turtles and slugs and gnats. Hell, bacteria and beetles as well. But especially chimps and gorillas and orangs, the critters who look and act most like us.

In this Year of Their Lord 2022, I’d go so far as to say most people alive today still hold in their hearts the idea that there are the animals and there are humans, and never the twain shall meet. A man running for a Georgia congressional seat named Herschel Walker, a former pro football star, scoffs at the whole idea of evolution. “Why are there still apes?” he asked during a March interview. Walker, BTW, is endorsed by none other than the 45th President of the United States of America. The former president, I’m thrilled to add.

Walker stands a good chance of re-taking the seat for the Republican Party. He’s tied in the opinion polls with incumbent Raphael Warnock (D-GA). That means a hell of a lot of people in his district don’t care that he’s blissfully unknowledgeable about, and even contemptuous of, one of humanity’s bedrock scientific premises.

Walker, Proudly Uninformed.

For pity’s sake, should Walker proclaim tomorrow that gravity is a hoax his poll numbers wouldn’t budge an inch.

We might comfort ourselves by saying evolution deniers and the rest simply are uneducated. Largely, that’s true. There is, as Isaac Asimov and Susan Jacoby have observed, a deep and historical vein of anti-intellectualism and anti-science in this holy land.

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” — Asimov

This mindless tolerance, which places observable scientific facts, subject to proof, on the same level as unprovable supernatural fantasy, has played a major role in the resurgence of both anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. — Jacoby.

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Funny thing was, the people who most loudly and vehemently pilloried Darwin for his groundbreaking idea were the scientists of the day. Same thing happened to a fellow named Alfred Wegener, a German scientist who, in 1912, proposed that the continents were floating around the Earth like life rafts. The science establishment at the time found his hypothesis inane. Some fellow scientists declared his ideas “delirious ravings.”

Nikola Tesla was ridiculed by mainstream researchers also fiddling around with electricity during his time. Tesla, in fact, was squashed by the predatory and insatiable patent acquisitor Thomas Edison, who used Tesla’s unfortunate mental illnesses against him. It was like saying Nina Simone was a lousy singer because she was bipolar and suffered PTSD.

Take the case of a 19th century Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis. Every OB/Gyn of his day wondered why childbirth was such a risky endeavor for women, all women, poor and rich, educated and not, in every country on Earth. Well, at least all woman whose deliveries were assisted by doctors. Imagine that — having a licensed, trained medical professional guiding you through the process of birth actually put your life at risk. The lightbulb went on over Semmelweis’s head in 1847 when he published a paper suggesting doctors’ dirty hands were responsible for the trouble. He proposed a ludicrously simple solution: doctors should wash their hands! Semmelweis’s advice was pretty much ignored for years. He was incarcerated against his will in a mental institution at the end of his life.

A Simple Solution.

Which, itself, raises the point that many people throughout history who’ve advanced groundbreaking discoveries or advocated for huge social change were either actually mentally ill or labeled as such by the establishment. It often takes, after all, someone who’s been kicked out of “normal” society to be able to proclaim its dearly-held practices or treasured beliefs are wrong. Think John Brown and so many others. But that’s a discussion for another post.

This post, though, was inspired by a couple of gorgeous videos I discovered this past weekend. One covers the discovery that an enormous asteroid crashed into the Earth some 65 million years ago, wiping out many of the planet’s animal and plant species including, famously, the dinosaurs.

The Chicxulub Crater, on the Yucatan Peninsula and in the Gulf of Mexico.

It took the combined efforts of geophysicists Antonio Camargo-Zanoguera and Glen Penfield as well as those of Walter and Luis Alvarez, son and father, geologist and physicist, respectively, over a period of a decade to establish that, indeed a massive hunk of rock had crashed into the Earth and thrown up an unimaginably gigantic cloud of debris, blocking out the Sun, causing plant photosynthesis to mostly cease, starving plant-eating animals and, subsequently, meat-eaters. Some 75 percent of the species on Earth died out, leaving tiny, skittering, bug-eating critters like early mammals among those that survived. Those mammals then evolved into more complex forms.

It can be said that had the Chicxulub Crater impact never happened, humans wouldn’t have come into being.

But again, scientists who’d been brought up to believe the Earth and life’s history was a glacially slow process with minute, incremental changes rejected any notion that a catastrophic event bringing about dramatic changes in the land or the critters living on it could have occurred .

Those scientists resisted with all their might Camargo-Zanoguera’s, Penfield’s and the Alvarezes’ findings.

So many times throughout history new discoveries have not been accepted by the old guard until that generation died out. They cling to their old ways of thought as desperately as they cling to their own youth. It still happens today.

So, here’s the first video, an explanation of how the Chicxulub Crater was discovered and the development of the dinosaur extinction theory, followed by a beautiful imagining of what the asteroid looked like, in real time, as it descended from space and crashed into the Earth.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.



The Pencil Today:


“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” — Queen Gertrude in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet

Hamlet And His Mom (They’ve Got Nothing On Rick Santorum)


So, now we can go back to forgetting that Iowa exists.

Republicans in the cornstalk state staged their beauty contest last night and, in the end, couldn’t decide who had the prettier face, Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum.

Rick Santorum?

Let me ask that again — Rick Santorum?

Rick Santorum Wore This Suit While Decrying Gay Marriage

Sheesh! Talk about good news-bad news. I mean, the vast majority of overall-ed voters rejected the notion of a Michele Bachmann presidency, which will go a long way toward ensuring that I get a sound sleep tonight. That’s the good news.

But Rick Santorum?

Here, in his own words, is the guy whom 30,007 Iowans think ought to be able to name the next Supreme Court justice: “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.”

Man, Rick Santorum would wake Hamlet’s shrink from his nap.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when it comes to guys who pontificate the way Santorum does, the “problem” they have is trying to ignore the endless pictures of homosexual acts that crowd into their imaginations every time they turn the lights out.

Rick Santorum’s Problem(s)


Eek. Monroe County Auditor Amy Gerstman has done the right thing by saying she won’t run for another term.


But with the latest revelations about her county credit card use for personal expenses, she might do herself a favor and make an appointment with one of the fine attorneys over at Bunger & Robertson to see if she ought to start packing her toothbrush for a little stay away from home.

Gerstman has purchased gifts, groceries, dinners, and other personal items using at least three of the four credit cards registered under her office’s name. The Herald Times reported this morning that she also paid her kids’ private school tuitions with one of the cards.

The auditor (for the moment) has apologized and says she’s paid back all the money. That’s nice. But if a guy robs a bank and, while being chased by the cops, runs back into the bank claiming he wants to return the loot, the heat still slaps the bracelets on him.

By the way, that fourth credit card? Gerstman claims her office has forgotten the password to access online information about it. She also says the bank lady who normally helps her with the account has been on vacation. Both County Commissioner Marty Hawk and the H-T requested info on that card more than two months ago.

Some vacation.

Oh, and another thing. Bloomington Alternative ran a little piece when she announced her run for the office in 2008. Scroll down to the third paragraph where she’s quoted as saying, “There needs to be a change, restoring confidence is essential.”

Some confidence.

* The legal profession’s shorthand for the Latin, Ignorantia legis neminem excusat (ignorance of the law is no excuse.)


Make sure you read at least ten books this year.

Here are ten of my faves:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  • Goodbye, Columbus: And Five Short Stories by Philip Roth
  • The Canon: A Whirlgig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier


  • The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson
  • Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris (the science writer, not the entrepreneurial self-help goof)
  • Ball Four by Jim Bouton & Leonard Schecter
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro (a so-far three-volume bio of the 36rd President with the fourth book due out this spring)
  • Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos H. Papadimitriou
  • A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A simple truth: books make you smart; TV makes you stupid.


The band Television was fronted by the very talented Tom Verlaine along with high school chum Richard Hell. Born Thomas Miller, Verlaine adopted his stage surname from the French poet Paul Verlaine. He said he did it as an homage to Bob Dylan who also renamed himself after a tragic versifier.

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