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Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Monday, August 30, 2021


1.   You will have noticed that the link to no longer works. UMass has transitioned to a different service, about which I have received endless incomprehensible messages. I just called the OIT Help Desk and they said they would help so if you are patient, my hope is that I will have a new link that will function. Otherwise, my life’s work will float around in cyberspace forever, present but inaccessible. Fingers crossed.


2. Here comes another crotchet from the old guy. Everybody, it seems, uses the word “decimate” to mean roughly “totally destroy,” or something of that sort. Actually, it does not mean that at all (I know, I know, if everybody uses a word in a certain way that is what it means, but still.) The commanders of the legions of the old Roman Empire had a particularly brutal way of punishing substandard performance in battle. They would line the troops up and put to death every 10th man (hence decimate.) This was not supposed to destroy the Legion but rather to improve performance, and I rather imagine it did. So please do not use “decimate” when what you mean is “wipe out.”


If I must be a reluctant witness of the untergang des Abendlandes, at least I will insist on a proper choice of words to describe the disasters around  me.

Sunday, August 29, 2021


There is a good deal of human behavior that I can understand, however much I may deplore it: behavior motivated by greed, by hatred, by fear, by envy, by religion, by ignorance, by stupidity, even by ideology. But there is some behavior, manifested right now across the United States, that genuinely mystifies me, and although I can put names to such behavior, I do not truly understand it. I have in mind the fury manifested by some parents directed at people trying to protect their children from harm. Not other people’s children – that I can understand quite well – but their own children. A father charges into a classroom and rips the mask off the face of the teacher of his very own child.


I have learned to use phrases like “death cult” but I do not genuinely understand what they refer to. I can even understand, in some sense or other, people who, desperately sick with Covid and about to be intubated, continue to deny the existence of the virus. But their own children!?


Left-wing thought, despite its elegant deployment of concepts like “ideological mystification” or “class consciousness,” relies at its base on the assumption that people are in some fundamental and ineradicable fashion self-interested. I watch what is happening in this country right now with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have stumbled into a madhouse and I am left with the determination to do whatever I can to keep my wife and myself safe.

Friday, August 27, 2021


There are some people, I suppose, who take a certain private pleasure in viewing with alarm or looking askance or crying doom, but I am not one of them. Generally speaking, I prefer it when the world seems to be going more or less in the right direction. That being so, the last 80 or so years of my life have been something of a downer. Right now, I feel oppressed by so many evils, stupidities, alarming prospects, and general bad stuff that I have taken to huddling under the covers in the morning until almost 6 AM before getting up to take my morning walk. I do not think there is much likelihood that things are going to get better in the next few years, and the next few years being in all likelihood among my last, that is a depressing thought. I draw no larger meaning from these facts, I simply report them.


Now let me tell you a cautionary tale. Two days ago I took Susie out to a restaurant to celebrate our anniversary. I have in the car a handicap placard which Susie got many years ago because of her multiple sclerosis. The placard has in fact lapsed and I have negligently failed to renew it but it sits on the dashboard of my car. It used to be that I was punctilious about never using it save when Susie was in the car, but now that I have Parkinson’s disease I use it even when I am driving alone.


When we arrived at the restaurant we found a handicap space right at the front door, in which I parked. As we were leaving a young policeman came into the restaurant and when we stepped outside I saw that his car was blocking ours. He came out of the restaurant and it turned out he was looking for us! Very politely, even deferentially, he noted that the handicap placard had expired. He assured me that nothing was going to happen as a result of this but said that I really must get it renewed. I apologized, thanked him, and yesterday in two trips to the Department of Motor Vehicles, I obtained an updated placard that is good for the next five years. As an anarchist, I am always of course especially apprehensive about run-ins with the law so I felt a frisson of concern about the event, but it all ended happily.


I assume what happened is this: someone drove up to the restaurant looking for a handicap place and saw my car occupying it. Irritated, he (I would be willing to bet it was a man) looked more closely and saw the handicap placard but then noticed that it had expired, so in a fit of pique he called the cops and the young officer showed up.


The young police officer was black and I am white. Suppose he had been white and I had been black. How might the encounter have ended? I gave that a good deal of thought as we drove away.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021


Today Susie and I celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary. Later this year, in November, we will take note of the 73rd anniversary of our first date. Susie and I were in the same homeroom at Forest Hills High School in 1948. Since the teachers then seated students in alphabetical order (all except Mr. Zissowitz, who rather puckishly seated them in reverse alphabetical order, giving me in his English class my one shot at a front row seat) Robert Wolff sat right behind Susan Schaeffer.  Since we had both entered high school in January 1947 (I was born in December and she in January) we were in the second half of our sophomore year.


I was enormously taken with Susie and finally screwed up the courage to ask her out on a date. I took her to the upper West Side Thalia theater for a revival of the prewar classic movie César, the third in a trilogy made from plays by Marcel Pagnol.  Almost immediately I fell in love with her and we went together for the next five years until, in the spring of my senior year at Harvard, she dumped me for Gordon Hirschhorn and it then took me another 34 years to get her to marry me.


The pandemic being what it is, there is not a great deal we can do to celebrate but I shall take her to dinner at a French restaurant in Durham where we can have escargots. 

Monday, August 23, 2021


As I was walking this morning, I found myself imagining, as I have so often in the past, that someone was asking me what Marx thought socialism would look like. I observed, in this imaginary conversation, that Marx wrote vast amounts about capitalism and almost nothing about socialism. In my mind I quoted again, as I have so frequently, the famous tagline from Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, to the effect that the new order grows in the womb of the old. Then I referred this imaginary interlocutor to my essay The Future of Socialism, in which I invoke that tagline while explaining why capitalism has moved beyond the point at which the market can be relied upon neutrally to set prices.


But then a new thought occurred to me, and after it popped into my mind it seemed to me so obvious that I could not explain to myself why it had never occurred to me before. Socialism, for Marx and also, I might add, for me can be defined simply in seven words as “collective ownership of the means of production.” Is there some sense in which collective ownership of the means of production has begun to develop within capitalism?


At this point, figuratively speaking, I struck my forehead with the palm of my hand and said “duh!” (I do not ever actually strike my forehead with the palm of my hand but allow me a little literary license.) Of course there is a sense in which collective ownership of the means of production has begun to develop within capitalism: the stock joint publicly traded corporation.  Almost all modern corporations are collectively owned – privately collectively owned. They are owned by the shareholders.


In almost all cases – but perhaps not in the most famous cases – those who manage the corporations and make the investment decisions own at most tiny fractions of the total number of shares the collectivity of which constitutes the financial representation of the capital of the corporation.


To be sure, in many cases the managers of a corporation, who are technically speaking employees and whose salaries are listed as part of the costs incurred by the corporation, manage legally to steal a portion of the profits of the corporation and to award it to themselves in the form of inflated salaries, stock options, and other perquisites. But nevertheless, a transition from private ownership of the means of production to collective public ownership of the means of production has already been achieved by means of the intermediary stage of collective private ownership of the means of production.


There may be many arguments for capitalism and against socialism but one argument that cannot be made is that collective ownership of the means of production is unworkable, because in fact modern capitalism already exhibits collective (private) ownership of the means of production.


Well, I was so pleased with myself when this obvious thought occurred to me that I turned my attention back to where my feet were going – a constant necessity for someone suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Still and all, obvious though it is, this thought strikes me as important enough to lay before you for your consideration and comment.

Saturday, August 21, 2021


In July 1957, just a bit more than 64 years ago, I got on a bus in Central Square, Cambridge and rode off with a bunch of other six-monthers to do basic training at Fort Dix,That New Jersey. When basic training was over, I was sent to Fort Devens, Massachusetts to be trained in communications. This was before computers, cell phones, and other such technological marvels, and communications training consisted of such things as learning to climb telephone poles with gaffs strapped to your ankles so that you could string wire. Our principal form of actual communication was a little handheld wired radio called the PRC 10 or Prick 10, as it was universally known. The Prick 10 was not a telephone. It was a very simple radio. You pressed a button to talk and so long as you held the button down and talked, the person at the other end could listen but could not answer. To facilitate communication, we learned to end each part of a message with the expression “over” which was a shorthand way of saying “I am finished talking and I am taking my finger off the button so you can answer me now and I will listen.” A conversation consisted of a series of statements, each of which was punctuated with “over.” When you were done talking and were going to hang up rather than listen for a response you said “out,” which meant “this is the end of our conversation, do not reply.”


I was 23 at the time and all of this made a considerable impression on me, so it drives me absolutely bonkers when somebody in a movie or on television says “over and out.” These are flatly contradictory messages and no one who sad received communications training in the Army would ever combine them in this fashion.


But then the Vietnam War happened and because it almost destroyed the U.S. Army, the generals decided to move to an all volunteer army, which was much better suited to America’s new status as the leading imperial power in the world. There were lots of consequences to this transition to an all volunteer army, but the one that really eats away at me is that almost nobody anymore seems to understand that it is impossible, absurd, contradictory, not done, to say “over and out.”


I am sure there are more important things going on in the world at this moment but this really gets to me so I thought I would say something about it. Do me a favor. If you ever call me on a Prick 10, please do not say “over and out.”


I have a question for the tech savvy readers out there. Some years ago I posted a series of 10 lectures on the subject of Ideological Critique. The 10th lecture stands alone as an analysis of Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park along the lines of Edward Said’s analysis of the English novel. I think if I were to edit the lecture slightly and post it alone as a lecture on Jane Austen it might get more attention than it has had (only 1500 views).


Does anybody know how I could carry out that process of editing and re-posting?

Thursday, August 19, 2021


Two days ago, I posted some rather facetious thoughts triggered by the television pictures of Taliban fighters posing impressively in the office of the Afghan president, who, we now learn, has fled to the United Arab Emirates with $169 million in cash stuffed into a helicopter. In my post, I wrote:


These are no longer brave rebel fighters, staging ambushes and raping teenage girls. Now they are in charge of a country whose capital is a city of 6 million people or so. I could almost hear the commander saying to one of his young lieutenants, “all right, you are now in charge of the water department. It is your job to make sure that when people turn their taps on, water comes out of them. You there with the AK-47, you are in charge of sanitation. Make sure the garbage is collected promptly each day.”


Today in the New York Times I read “Many critical workers are hiding in their homes, fearful of retribution despite promises of amnesty. And services like electricity, sanitation and clean water could soon be affected, aid agencies say.”


I guess this is what Max Weber had in mind when he wrote about the routinization of charisma.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021


Google stats tells me that since I started blogging regularly in June 2009, I have put up 4772 posts (this one makes 4773.) That works out to rather more than one a day for 12 years.  I mean, seriously! I am reminded of the French novelist (was it Dumas?) who published something like 50 books one year. When critics suggested that no one could possibly write that much, he admitted somewhat abashedly that he had really only written 25 of them – the other 25 were written by employees in his workshop.

Then again, there have been 31,320 comments, and surely only 20,000 or so have been by S.Wallerstein😄

Tuesday, August 17, 2021


As I sit here watching the endless reruns of news clips from Afghanistan, I find my mind running in an unexpected direction. We all saw the staged scene of the Taliban commanders and sidemen posing in the president’s office gathered around a table, looking very serious with their automatic weapons in their arms. I am sure they were enormously impressed with themselves, but I tried to imagine their conversation the next day, when the cameras were turned off.


These are no longer brave rebel fighters, staging ambushes and raping teenage girls. Now they are in charge of a country whose capital is a city of 6 million people or so. I could almost hear the commander saying to one of his young lieutenants, “all right, you are now in charge of the water department. It is your job to make sure that when people turn their taps on, water comes out of them. You there with the AK-47, you are in charge of sanitation. Make sure the garbage is collected promptly each day. And you, your job is to sit in an office and file the records properly  after they been filled out by your comrades in arms.”  As the Taliban fighters entered Kabul, according to reports, widespread looting broke out. That is now their responsibility, their problem.


Meanwhile, this is the second day of school in countless communities across America and reports are starting to come in of Covid clusters forcing shutdowns and quarantines.  My principal concern is to find out when my wife and I can get Pfizer booster shots.


These are strange times. 

Monday, August 16, 2021


“Nation building” has about it the sound of an engineering task, rather like building a transcontinental railroad or an interstate highway system or putting a man on the moon – that is to say, a task whose goal is clear, the underlying theoretical science for the achievement of which is known, and which requires no more than a mobilization of resources, an allocation of skilled workers, and a determination of will. Except that a nation is not a rail line, a network of roads, or a round-trip rocket journey.


I can see an argument for committing a relatively limited measure of American economic and military resources to a permanent occupation of Afghanistan for the purpose of giving the female half of that nation’s population a chance at a decent life. I do not know whether I would approve of such a policy but I could certainly see a reasonable argument for it. I can also see a reasonable argument for refusing to make that commitment, understanding full well the avoidable human misery that such a choice would entail. What I cannot imagine is a politically prudential argument for the total operational disaster, easily foreseeable, that we are now observing.


Say what you will about Biden, he has until now conducted his presidency with a quite unusual measure of operational skill and foresight. Since he has for two decades been opposed to the policy whose total failure we are now watching, it is a mystery to me why he permitted things to play out as virtually any reasonable observer, himself included, could have predicted and did predict.


My heart weeps for the women and girls now being raped and taken from their homes and condemned to miserable lives. As I said in a previous post, I do not think Biden will suffer very much politically from this disaster but in a better world he would deserve to.

Sunday, August 15, 2021


In its waning days, the Soviet Union made the bad strategic mistake of invading Afghanistan. As fans of Rambo III are aware, the United States armed and supported a group of Afghan fighters against the Soviet Union, fighters who became the Taliban.  Now, several generations later, the Taliban are about to take over Afghanistan. This is a disaster for the half of the population that happens to be female but it was entirely predictable. The “fall” of Afghanistan will be an embarrassing debacle for America and for Biden but it will, I think, be nothing more in American politics then a nine days wonder.


Meanwhile, the inexorable progress of the Delta variant has now filled the emergency rooms and ICUs in red America and will in the next week or two produce a spike in deaths and chaos as schools open. Can DeSantis survive the disaster he has inflicted on Floridians? We shall see.


Even a mild case of Parkinson’s being what it is, I do not think I can participate in marches but I feel the need to act and the only thing I can think to do is to donate to progressive candidates and organizations around the country. We need to do everything we can to survive the next 10 years. As Kierkegaard observes in his magnificent preface to the Philosophical Fragments:


“When Philip threatened to lay siege to the city of Corinth and all its inhabitants hastily bestirred themselves in defense, some polishing weapons, some gathering stones, some repairing the walls, Diogenes seeing all this hurriedly folded his mantle about him and began to roll his tub zealously back and forth through the streets. When he was asked why he did this he replied that he wished to be busy like all the rest, and rolled his tub lest he should be the only idler among so many industrious citizens.”

Saturday, August 14, 2021


(The title of this blog post, as many of you will recognize, is adapted from the popular NPR car repair show, “Click and Clack The Tappet Brothers,” hosted by Tom and Ray Magliozzi.)


In the movie version of Pride and Prejudice featuring Keira Knightley, one of my favorite actors, Donald Sutherland, gives a lovely cameo performance as Mr. Bennett. In almost the last scene, after he has in short order married off two of his five daughters, he sits alone in his study and says somewhat bemusedly (I am quoting inaccurately from memory), “If there are any other young men out there seeking a wife, send them in, I am quite at my leisure.”


I find myself somewhat in Mr. Bennett’s condition. I have no teaching commitments until the spring semester and I am, as he says, quite at my leisure, so if there are those who would like a campus visit from an elderly professor with a ready store of amusing stories and philosophical observations, send them in for I am quite at my leisure.


This is a strange moment. I have the eerie feeling that we are about to see things explode in a number of different ways. This is not a careful fact-based analysis or a theoretical speculation, just a strange gnawing apprehension.


It is caused in the first place by the fact that hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated, especially in red states, are about to explode. We learned painfully that a spike in cases precedes by perhaps two weeks a spike in hospitalizations and that a spike in hospitalizations precedes by another two weeks a spike in deaths. We are now beginning to see that third spike just at the time when schools all over the United States are due to open.


COVID things are not going to get slowly, incrementally worse. They are going to get dramatically exponentially worse. All over the country there are going to be school committees and local politicians who defy the orders of reckless Republican governors.


Meanwhile, a number of court cases are proceeding in a variety of jurisdictions in ways that will create great political turmoil. And of course the Afghan government will collapse quite shortly, in all likelihood. 


Is this, taking all and all, a good thing, a bad thing, or actually nothing at all? I really do not know but I am left with the feeling that two or three weeks from now the world is going to look different.


Meanwhile, I give warm thanks to all of those who expressed good wishes at the promising news from my neurologist. I do not want to go all Sally Fields on you but it touched me.

Friday, August 13, 2021


And so it has happened after 230 years. According to the new census figures, the absolute number of white people in the United States has for the first time declined. Furthermore, a majority of Americans under the age of 18 are not white.  These are the things of which white supremacist panic is made and we can expect that panic to get worse as the decades go by. As I noted in a previous blog post, the fertility rate among American whites is 1.6, lower than the 1.7 for all Americans and well below replacement level. Those of you who are young will before too long live in a majority nonwhite America.

I will not live to see that, of course, but I saw my neurologist yesterday and she gave me the cheerful news that I have a mild case of Parkinson's and can, with care and caution and luck, expect to live a fair amount longer, so I am afraid you will have Bob Wolff to kick around for quite some time (if I may recycle an old Richard Nixon line.)


 As promised, another beautiful cat – also, quite clearly, a lover of books. This is Burnie and the book he is contemplating is by Bernard Bell, who was my colleague at the University of Massachusetts. Note the beautiful eyes (on Burnie, not Bernard.)

Thursday, August 12, 2021


Thank you all for your warm words in response to my brooding post. As I struggle to understand the mindset of parents harassing teachers and healthcare professionals who are trying to protect their children’s lives, I thought to look back at what came to be called the black plague, which is to say the bubonic plague. According to Wikipedia, over a period of 10 or 15 years in the 14th century, it killed between a third and a half of the entire population of Europe!


By way of contrast, Covid has killed roughly 2/10 of 1% of the American population, and much of that death has been in nursing homes and other segregated places. Even when the pandemic is described as “raging” among the unvaccinated, the percentage of people actually dying or getting seriously ill is tiny.  Perhaps that helps to explain why people allow themselves to embrace myths, hoaxes, and fantasies even in communities hard-hit by the virus.  Nevertheless, I cannot imagine being the parent of a young child and protesting violently against people trying to protect my child’s life and health. There is a sickness abroad in this land not carried by a coronavirus and it threatens to kill what remains of American democracy.


I cannot tell whether Biden simply cannot grasp the seriousness of the problem, or alternatively understands it quite well enough and thinks that his only chance of defending the country is to pass massive spending bills that so directly and positively affect so many people that Democratic candidates can hold their seats in 2022 and again in 2024.


On another matter overwhelming my sangfroid, namely global warming and climate change, although there has been an enormous amount of attention paid to this subject recently, relatively little of it has focused on the disrptions that will be produced by climate change in such things as the size, location, and fertility of agricultural lands and the concomitant large-scale migrations that such changes will necessitate. Harking back to my comments some weeks ago about fertility rates and their implications for population growth or decline, by the middle of the current century – well after I have gone – the world is going to see population movements that will create huge and quite possibly unmanageable conflicts between so-called “First World” populations, which are declining in number, and so-called “Third World” populations, which are soaring in numbers. This will be a good deal more serious than simply the inevitable loss of beachfront properties in Florida or North and South Carolina.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021


I sit here at my desk isolated, protected, safe, able without difficulty to speak with my sister and my younger son in Southern California, to my older son and his family in San Francisco, to communicate with all of you scattered around the world, as good news, very good news, very bad news, terrible news, and horrific news comes to me electronically, news about which I am capable of doing virtually nothing.


I have spent my life having and expressing opinions about all manner of things philosophical, economic, and political.  For a long time a good deal of my attention was focused on finding an audience for those opinions and when I did so that seem to be an accomplishment. But in a world awash with opinions, was there really any need for mine?


As I sit here, preparing to drive my wife to an appointment with one of her doctors, I await the Senate vote on the infrastructure bill. It looks increasingly as though the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package will also be enacted into law before the year is out. These are political triumphs at a time when the Congress is so narrowly split and I ought to be celebrating the dramatic impact that the measures in these bills will have on the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. So much for the good news and the very good news.


At the same time, a virus for which, miraculously, effective vaccines have been developed rages pandemically among the half of the population that has insanely, stupidly, criminally refused to protect itself. That is the very bad news.


The terrible news is that America is very close to a fascist coup that will put an end to such democracy as we enjoy.


The horrific news is of course that the entire world is going through the early stages of changes in the climate that will completely upend the current distribution of population, transform the production and distribution of food, and dominate life in the decades that will follow my death.


It seems feckless to respond to all of this by offering more opinions. At least the quartet that played on the deck of the Titanic as it started to sink was producing beautiful music.


And to make it worse, I find myself as I lie in bed writing blog posts on subjects I have already quite recently discussed in this space. Last night I spent a little time sketching a possible post on the Covid disaster keyed to the 19th century practice followed by private fire companies of distributing plaques to their subscribers, only to find when I got up this morning that barely two months ago I had written a much commented on post on precisely that subject. I mean, to have nothing to offer to the world but opinions and then to recycle them as well seems a trifle pathetic.


Perhaps this is simply a melancholy induced by the loss of our cat. I have been very touched by the stories many of you have posted of your own beloved cats. My thanks to all of you for those stories.

Friday, August 6, 2021


Yesterday, at about noon, a vet came to our apartment to put our little kitty to sleep. She has been with us for three years and was the source of more joy and solace that it would be possible for me to describe. She had something called feline leukemia, had stopped eating, and was slowly starving to death.

I never thought of our kitty as an intellectual, but she had good taste in books, preferring those written by myself, although this may simply be the ones she could reach by climbing the ladder in my study. Here is a picture of her taken a year ago. Clearly, she is inspecting the titles of the books in order to decide which one she wishes to read next. I would have given a very great deal to save her, had it been possible.


Just before I got up this morning, I had a curious dream.  I was in a nondescript classroom meeting a course for the first time. There were students scattered about the room, which was perhaps one third full, and they were looking rather ordinary. I was standing before a large old-fashioned blackboard (not one of these whiteboards that seem all the rage now) and at one point I picked up a piece of chalk and slowly drew a long rectangle oriented left to right. I explained to the students that I had no particular purpose in doing this, I just wanted them to see the rectangle. The students exhibited no interest whatsoever in what I was saying – they were not disruptive or impolite, simply unresponsive. I did not have much of anything I wanted to say to them. Although nothing in the dream was at all dramatic, the feeling tone of the dream was nightmarish.


When I woke up, I found myself brooding about the possibility that when I introduced my students next spring to the course I am scheduled to teach at UNC, they would not be fascinated or shocked  – they would simply be bored. I recalled that more than 50 years ago, when undergraduate students occupied the administration building and other buildings at Columbia in a protest that closed the University down for several weeks, I told faculty who were outraged by the student actions that they should in fact be flattered that the students thought University buildings worth occupying. The real danger was that they would decide we were irrelevant and would choose to walk away. That would leave us not challenged, not opposed, not condemned, not attacked, but simply ignored.


Perhaps the real latent function of grades, as Robert Merton would have said, is to compel the students to at least give the impression that they care about what we say in class.

Thursday, August 5, 2021


On a recent morning walk, as I rounded the curve on Peartree Crescent, it occurred to me that if I moved from the outside of the curve to the inside of the curve on the lefthand side of the street I could shorten my walk a tad. That got me wondering how big the difference was in the length of  a circular road running all the way around between the outside of the road and the inside of the road. Well, I reflected as I trudged on, the circumference of a circle is equal to 2πr.  So, if the road is 20 feet wide and the circumference of the circle measured from the inside of the road is 2πr, then the circumference of the circle measured from the outside of the road will be 2π(r + 20).  If we subtract the circumference of the inside of the road from the circumference of the outside of the road we get 40π.  Now π, I recall from high school geometry, is 3.14 and a little bit (which is why nerds and geeks call March 14 “pi day.”) So the difference between the two is roughly 62.8 feet.


By this point I had turned right onto Magnolia and was about to turn right again onto Hawthorne for the long schlep to the end of that road and back. And then it struck me: the increase in the length of the outside circumference of the circular road over the inside had been calculated without any consideration of the length of the radius of the inside circular edge of the road. This meant, unless I had badly misunderstood something, that a circle drawn around the earth just 20 feet off the ground would be the same 62.8 feet longer than the circle drawn around the earth hugging the ground.


This seems so profoundly counterintuitive that I spent the entire walk to the end of Hawthorne and back checking and double checking my arithmetic in my head to make sure that I was right.


Sometimes one’s intuitions are wrong.

Monday, August 2, 2021


Last evening Susie and I went out to dinner at a local restaurant in Carrboro which has a lovely outdoor covered eating space. We had a very tasty dinner that was to a considerable extent ruined for me by the music constantly playing in the background which made it almost impossible to have a conversation at the dinner table. After asking the waitress to have the music turned down (which she did, to her credit) I asked at the front desk, when we left, why they had music at all. The answer, which did not make much sense, was that they had not had complaints.


My experience of nightspots is rather limited, to put it tactfully, but it is my impression from the movies and television I have seen that young people like to go to places that are so noisy that it is impossible to hear what the person next to you is saying. I am mystified by this preference as I find it quite literally painful to be in a place with so much background noise that I cannot hear what others are saying. It is for this reason that I hate cocktail parties and other such events.


I reflected that I have never been to a restaurant in Paris where there was music playing while people dined. What is more, restaurants there seem to be constructed in such a fashion as to deaden rather than amplify the noise so that even when tables are placed quite close together it is possible to have a conversation.


I am obviously in the minority on this one so I have no hope of ever changing anybody’s behavior but I would be curious to learn what the attraction is of this sort of background noise.


Astute readers will discern that I am trying hard to distract myself from the godawful news in the world by searching desperately for trivial matters to comment on. I believe the standard reference here is to the quartet playing on the deck of the Titanic.


I cannot properly form a coherent idea of the human suffering created when 1,500,000 families are evicted from their homes. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk compete for bragging rights, doing something that a monkey did 60 years ago. They and their fellow billionaires could keep all those men and women and children in their homes for an amount of money that would scarcely put a dent in their fortunes. As I struggle with Parkinson’s Disease and the unavoidable burdens of aging, more and more I am saddened and angered by the sheer unnecessary misery human beings inflict on one another in countless ways. And for what? Life is all over so quickly.


Sixteen months ago, on April 13, 2020, I posted a righteous protest against David Palmeter’s practice of using the undo button in FreeCell on his way to achieving a 99% win rate in that online card game. Well, 2489 FreeCell games ago I adopted David’s practice and I have not lost since. Sometimes the game is easy and takes me less than three minutes to win. Sometimes I win in less than two minutes. And sometimes, after completely undoing the game and going back to the beginning several times I win an exhausting 22 minute marathon effort. Because I only had a 97% win rate when I started, it will take me forever to drag myself up to the 99% mark but I am now at 98.4% and if I live long enough I may actually see 99% when I check the statistics.


Consider this my humble and long-delayed acknowledgment of David’s superior wisdom in these matters.