Bye bye Trump, races against racialism, grasping science, and connecting with the Middle East

by Rob Tiller

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Lately I’m feeling way more cheerful about the presidential election, with many indications that Trumpism is headed straight off the cliff. Every morning I hum a little with pleasant anticipation, looking forward to a new campaign mini-disaster, whether another preposterous pronouncement, another astonishing display of ignorance, or another scandal. Worries that it all might be just a clever act, and that he actually is only pretending to be impulse-control-impaired and dim, are going by the boards. It’s finally sinking in that his vulgar loathsomeness is historic.
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It’s been fun this week watching the Olympics, despite so many ads and so much blather. And despite the embarrassing naive jingoism. Here in the US, we see mainly the events the US athletes are good at, and almost nothing of events they aren’t. But even allowing for all that, there have been plenty of exciting and inspiring moments.

For example, this week we’ve seen some fantastic short and medium-distance running by the US women, who are most or all at least partially of African descent. Seeing all these beautiful, accomplished young women, I felt proud and also hopeful that we may still be making progress on our racial problem. The champions are, inarguably, our very best, and whatever our individual histories of race, it’s hard not to adore them.
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Meanwhile, I’ve been listening to an engaging and challenging series of lectures from the Great Courses called Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It, by Steven L. Goldman. This is basically a short history of the philosophy of science. But Professor Goldman does not shy away from difficult issues.

It turns out that there is good ground for maintaining that the scientific method, which I at least thought was thoroughly settled and definitively established as a methodology, is nothing of the sort. There is good reason for doubt as to whether scientific knowledge that is necessary, universal, and certain is achievable. While scientists make undeniable progress in penetrating mysteries of the universe and facilitating amazing technologies, there is a sense in which they don’t know what they’re doing. The relation between science and the natural world is still uncertain. For those of us who are fascinated by science, it’s bracing and thought-provoking.
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Also bracing is Fractured Lands, a long piece on the Middle East by Scott Anderson, with photographs by Paolo Pellegrin, in last week’s NY Times Sunday Magazine. The subject is the catastrophe following the US-led invasion of Iraq 13 years ago which led to the rise of ISIS and the refugee crisis. Anderson presents episodes in the lives of six individuals from various walks of life from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. It is an extraordinarily powerful piece. The leading characters come to life, and we care about them – even the poor, uneducated young man who joined ISIS. Caring alone won’t solve this complex crisis, but it’s a necessary first step.