5th Selected Links

1 min read

Some links for your weekend enjoyment:

1. An uncannily good description of Brownian motion in the Roman poet Lucretius' On the Nature of Things (60 BC). Scroll down to the second block of verse where he writes about dancing atoms.

2. With Biden's inauguration this week, I've been ruminating on the lost art of political oratory. My favourite speech of recent US political history is Barack Obama's 2008 acceptance speech.

My favourite part of that speech, in turn, is the climax or 'peroration' in which Obama takes the story of Ann Nixon Cooper and weaves it through the last century of American history.

The rhetorical technique he uses here to maximum effect is antonomasia: "When the bombs fell on our harbor...She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that 'We Shall Overcome.'...A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination..."

Instead of using proper nouns ("Pearl Harbour, "the Edmund Pettus Bridge Crossing", "the Moon landing", "the fall of the Berlin Wall", "the internet", etc) Obama uses descriptions. It flatters the audience. The subtext is: "We both know what I'm referring to; we're Americans."

Obama tops the peroration off with a poignant time shift: "And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen". You can watch it on YouTube here. I've skipped ahead so you'll automatically start watching from the peroration.

3. And in Australian political oratory... Sir Henry Parkes' Tenterfield Oration is pretty good. Not as eloquent as Obama, but it addresses a "great question", making one nostalgic.

4. 'On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies' was the third instalment in Einstein's annus mirabilis (an early and more physics-based kind of Netflix series) and introduces his special theory of relativity. It's first-class scientific history, pretty short, clear and, until he gets into Maxwell's equations at the end, mostly just algebra. Worth reading.

5. 'The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation', a new paper by Michael Muthukrishna and my most recent podcast guest Joe Henrich.

Have a nice weekend,