Author Archives: N.S. Palmer

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.

Is Racism a Useful Concept?

I recently participated in an academic discussion about whether or not “racism” is a useful concept. Amazingly, the discussion was cordial and rational except for the moderator and one participant who was a graduate student in some version of victims’ … Continue reading

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Three Tales from Amtrak

In the early 2000s, I worked for a year as an IT contractor at Amtrak’s headquarters in Washington DC. My experience there showed one of America’s greatest problems, as well as its solution. The U.S. federal government created Amtrak in … Continue reading

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Good Advice from George Washington

Until quite recently, U.S. President George Washington was considered the ideal American: honest, brave, wise, and patriotic. None of that has changed. Washington offered some good advice about how to have a healthy society and a just government: “We must … Continue reading

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Celebrating Pi Day

Today, March 14, is “Pi Day.” The date matches the first three digits of pi, 3.14. On the Nerd Calendar, Pi Day is even more important than Festivus or G.H. Hardy‘s birthday. Pi is the ratio between a circle’s circumference … Continue reading

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Why The News Is So Bad

Why is the news so bad? I’m not talking about biased news. Yes, there’s bias, and it’s getting worse. But that’s not the issue here. I’m also not talking about why the news is full of so many evil and … Continue reading

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Drug Policy: Good Is Better Than Perfect

American laws about recreational drug use are a mess. Americans rot in prison for using or selling marijuana, which is relatively harmless. They rot in prison for selling cocaine and heroin, which aren’t harmless but harm mainly heavy users, and … Continue reading

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Don’t Live Thoughtlessly

The American philosopher John Dewey argued that for most people, most of the time, thinking is a last resort. They only think when a problem or obstacle blocks their path. And he wasn’t wrong. Most of the time, we live … Continue reading

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Beware of “Exceptions” to Freedom

Yale University historian Timothy Snyder wrote a short book called On Tyranny that’s quite good. Each of its 20 chapters explains a way to preserve freedom and civilized society in the face of attacks by tyrannical government. The book came … Continue reading

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For The Chinese, Context Is Everything

It ain’t much, but it’s the first story I’ve written in Chinese. I’d wanted to write about Chinese political philosophy, but I found that my vocabulary was too limited to do it. Surprisingly, some Chinese ideas about governmental legitimacy are … Continue reading

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Character Is Destiny — For Nations, Too

China is our geopolitical adversary, but the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius had some advice that might help us in these difficult times. He said: “Only after a person has demeaned himself will others demean him. Only after a great family … Continue reading

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