Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Angels dance on pins

A recent spate of articles energized me to google this query: "angels 'heads of pins' ", and I was immediately rewarded—in the prime slot position—with this answer which asks and answers whether the straight dope on complete pointlessness is epitomized by the question: "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

There were several articles that drew me to this question and later, after reading the articles, to the conclusion that the world can't be in all that bad a shape if this, today, constitutes our journalism:

Firstly, we have a question asked yesterday—but not really answered—by John Tierney in a blog in the New York Times: Is a pedicab really more virtuous environmentally than a taxi? He wasn't so sure, but his readers largely were: they seem to think that of course a pedicab is better. The reasons expressed, arcane, esoteric and unknowable, those for and those against, make one wonder, What in the world can be going on here?

Secondly, we have a similar article today in the Washington Post's online Slate magazine which asks the question: Should I cancel my newspaper subscription? The author asks whether it is more environmentally friendly to cut down trees and print a newspaper or to read it online using a computer. The assumptions enumerated probe the limit of approximation sufficiently to make a scientist blanch.

Thirdly, the same magazine on the same day we have Michael Kinsley, an ordinarily perspicacious writer, probing an article that ran recently in the New York Times concerning an affair, or a possible affair, or a suspicion of a possible affair by John McCain, with certainly the longest sentence he has ever written:

More troubling, however, is the issue of whether McCain's letter may have led some people to worry that other people might conclude that McCain's letter created the appearance of a conflict of interest, as well as the issue of whether the New York Times, in digging up this eight-year-old letter, was creating the possibility that some people might think there was a possibility of an appearance that the Times was suggesting the possibility of an appearance of a potential conflict of interest in McCain's behavior, along with the most distressing possibility of all: that in this very article I may be creating the possibility that some people might worry that other people might think that I have created the appearance of suggesting that the New York Times has created the possibility that some people might worry that other people might think that McCain has created the appearance that some people might worry that other people might think that there could be an appearance that McCain was having an affair with a lobbyist.

And finally, for sheer inanity, I lead you to this article in The Wall Street Journal darkly parsing the advent once again of Ralph Nader on the presidential front.

Well folks, the sun is shining, the world is in its orbit, the terrorists seem to be more or less subdued, and I would like to see a big smile