Watch Cosmos, be less dumb

I wouldn’t be much of a television professional if I didn’t watch a lot of TV, have an opinion on all of it, and insist on sharing that opinion even when you don’t ask.  But I do; I do; and even though you didn’t, here goes.

I hope you’re watching Cosmos.  If you’re not, you can catch it online here as well as on Fox and a few of the Fox-affiliated networks; next new episode is Sunday night.  Astronomer/rock star Neil deGrasse Tyson is an engaging if slightly self-absorbed host for a journey of the imagination that’s not only exploring out in space, but back in time.  This version takes full advantage of the capabilities of the medium in the modern day and tells a great story.  I don’t find it as enthralling as the original with astronomer/rock star Carl Sagan back in 1980, but it’s not fair to compare the two, not for people like me who saw the Sagan series when we were young and the things he talked about were actually new and unknown to us.  For me, it had the advantage of provoking wonderment in a way the current version just can’t; I hope it does for the kids of today.

The new series, produced by Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, Seth McFarlane and others, is providing easy-to-follow explanations of some difficult scientific concepts.  The writers and producers have found a way to lay things out so you can understand the concept in the same way you eat an elephant (one bite at a time); it’s not scary to learn new things here.  I particularly liked Episode 2 for the explanation of evolution by natural selection.  Anyone who didn’t watch that show with a preset determination that evolution is for atheists could grasp the basics; yes, you’ve got to give up the notion that the Earth is only 6000 years old and that people and dinosaurs lived side by side, but you will understand what the scientific terms “evolution” and “natural selection” really mean.  It should be required viewing for the members of the Texas State Board of Education, that’s for sure.

If you prefer yours in a handy graphical form, here’s a swell chart from Reddit user SlipperyFish done for The Infographics Project (thumbnail image via Thinkstock).  Thanks to Upworthy for the link to this short answer to a perennial favorite dumb question:

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Yea, Egypt!

It is rare, indeed, to witness an important moment in world history: I’m old enough that I saw man’s first step on the moon, 63404977I saw the Berlin Wall fall (both on TV…thank you, TV), and today my old friend let me see an historic triumph of freedom and peaceful resistance to oppression in Egypt.   It’s an important reminder to us cynics to everyone about the power of ideas, and of the human spirit.  And like Gandhi and King and others taught, it shows that monumental change can be gained without resorting to violence.  How’s that taste, Al Qaeda?

I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but neither do the wingnuts who are certain that Muslim fundamentalists will soon be in power in Cairo.  Any assertion that Muslims, as a group, would rather live in a theocracy than a democracy is just flat wrong—as groups, Muslims and non-Muslims prefer democracy, and in virtually identical percentages.  Did hundreds of thousands of Muslims peacefully fill the streets of Cairo around the clock for the last three weeks to get out from under a secular dictator so they can submit to the whims of religious zealots?

Today the military is in charge in Egypt, and while on its surface “military assuming power from civilians” does seem to be the definition of “coup” this doesn’t feel that way.  It was the police that pushed back against the demonstrators in Cairo, but the army kept things from blowing up and seemed to be on the side of the people instead of the president.  The military leadership gives me the impression that even if they weren’t eager to see Mubarak go, they were smart enough to see that he couldn’t stay.  (And props to the protesters themselves for their patience and restraint after the disappointment of Mubarak’s Thursday speech when he said he wasn’t leaving; any other response might have forced the military to take another course.)

We shall see what comes next.  In the meantime, the old reliable Explainer at Slate has a very good list of answers to some nuts and bolts questions about what’s going on in Egypt.