USOC Picks Boston for the US 2024 Olympics Bid

Earlier today, the US Olympic Committee chose Boston as the site for the US bid for the 2024 summer Olympics. The US hasn’t hosted the summer games since Atlanta in 1996.

I haven’t read much about the proposal for Boston, but it looks like the bid focuses on using mostly existing venues to minimize the typically exorbitant construction costs for such a big event. One proposal apparently on the table is to build a temporary stadium in the city, which would avoid some of the pitfalls of the disastrous New York bid for the 2012 Olympics. There is no viable stadium in or near Boston for the opening and closing ceremonies (Gillette is most of the way to Providence), but there would certainly be enormous opposition to a permanent large stadium that no one particularly wants or needs. The New York 2012 bid would have involved building a new Jets stadium on the west side of Manhattan near the Javits Center, which most people recognized as a terrible idea. A temporary stadium in the middle of Boston is an interesting idea to make the proposal much cheaper while avoiding making unnecessary changes to city infrastructure.

It remains to be seen whether or not the IOC picks the US bid. We haven’t had the summer games in a while, but people in the US (and most of the West in general) are growing less and less tolerant of the corruption and absurd demands of the IOC and the excessive costs of hosting events like the Olympics.

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NASA Releases New Hubble Image

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble space telescope, which will be later this year, a team of astronomers have released an updated version of one of the most famous Hubble images – the feature known as the “Pillars of Creation.”

This is both a really beautiful image and also a useful image for science. The new image covers a much larger region in the sky and also includes measurements at infrared wavelengths. It has a lot more detail and also shows the same feature 20 years after the original. The astronomers have noticed some important differences between the images that give hints about what is going on in these gas clouds. The most important difference mentioned in many of the articles is what looks like a jet that was emitted from a newly-formed or forming star.

Few Scientists Left in Congress

The Wall Street Journal reports that with the retirement of Rush Holt, there are very few scientists (or at least people with science PhDs) left in Congress. In fact, Bill Foster, a particle physicist who represents some Chicago suburbs, is the only member of Congress with a PhD in the natural sciences. The article mentions another representative, Jerry McNerney of California, but his Wikipedia bio says that his PhD is in math, which is not science.

I would guess that there are at most a few hundred thousand PhDs in the natural sciences in the US (you can find statistics on recent graduates here – for what I would call “natural sciences” there are around 13,000 graduates per year, many of whom are non-citizens who don’t end up staying in the US), so even having one in Congress is technically an overrepresentation compared to the general population.

However, this does bring up the larger question of who should be representing us. We probably want all of our representatives in the federal government to be highly educated and it would also be useful for them to collectively have expertise in a broad range of fields given the varied responsibilities of the government. While scientists only make up a small fraction of Americans, they do make up a large fraction of people with technical expertise in a number of fields. You can find many sites summarizing the education credentials of Congresspeople (though none for the new Congress yet). It looks like typically nearly all representatives and senators have at least a bachelor’s degree and a large majority also hold graduate degrees, which is good. However, it seems that the graduate degrees are mostly law degrees and MBAs, which means that just two fields dominate the political landscape of the US. That is not to say that no other field has any significant representation, just that those two are so massively represented that they likely often represent a significant majority of Congresspeople. Given that Congress’s main job is to write laws, one would expect people with legal expertise to be significantly overrepresented, but it would probably be nice to see more people from professions and backgrounds outside law, politics, and management (not just science – a Congress made primarily of lawyers, professional politicians, business managers, and scientists won’t necessarily do any better at a lot of issues).

The WSJ article mentions a number of issues that arise in trying to diversify Congress. There are structural issues – people such as scientists often lack the political connections and money required to mount a successful campaign – and also personal issues – many scientists will be loath to abandon their scientific career for politics.

On the Movies of 2014

Now that 2014 is over, here are some brief thoughts on the movies of 2014 that I remember seeing. I’ve only seen the edited airline versions of some of these (like 300: Rise of an Empire and Godzilla), but I don’t think the unedited versions would change anything.

Overall, I would say that Boyhood is the best of the bunch in terms of film-making artistry, while Guardians of the Galaxy was the most enjoyable. There are still a few movies (mostly dramas) that have come out recently that I haven’t yet seen.

Action Movies

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy – Fun comic book/sci fi movie that is only tangentially related to the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe so you don’t need to watch another 10 movies to understand what’s going on.
  2. X-Men: Days of Future Past – Adaptation of what is apparently one of the most popular X-Men storylines (I’m not a big reader of comic books). Interesting concept, great cast, fixes many of the problems seen in some previous entries in the series (i.e. X-Men 3 and the first Wolverine movie). Focuses a lot more on the characters than on nonstop action
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Clearly this has been a banner year in comic book movies. This is another excellent example of the genre. It doubles as a political thriller and if you’ve been following the Marvel movies, introduces a number of big changes that should affect
  4. Edge of Tomorrow – Really interesting concept that is quite well done. Like a military sci-fi version of Groundhog Day
  5. Interstellar – Great visuals, most of the movie is quite good, but I (and most physicists I’ve talked to) aren’t really fans of the ending and some of the dialog toward the end is cringe-inducing
  6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Pretty good movie, but not as good as the previous one. Certainly less cheesy than the original series. It’s definitely a middle movie in the series (not really a standalone film), so the third movie could make me reevaluate my thoughts of this one
  7. Noah – Decent movie and inventive telling of the Biblical flood story. Casting is somewhat questionable with too many big names. Not Aronofsky’s best but not bad either.
  8. Godzilla – Pretty forgettable Godzilla movie. A big upgrade from the 90s one with Matthew Broderick. Surprisingly doesn’t include enough Godzilla.
  9. Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Also pretty forgettable. The plot is a bit of a mess by trying to throw too much at us at once. Not as bad as Spiderman 3, which had some similar issues
  10. 300: Rise of an Empire – Too much like the first one: Lots of stylized violence but not enough plot. This one tells a fictionalized version of the Battle of Salamis (to be fair, Herodotus’ descriptions of the Greco-Persian wars are probably also somewhat fictionalized and definitely biased). As with the original film, doesn’t allow for any real nuance in its portrayal of the Greeks as the saviors of civilization and the Xerxes’ forces as irredeemably evil.

Artsy Movies/Drama

  1. Boyhood – Great movie by Richard Linklater that shows the story of a family over a decade (and was also filmed over a decade so everyone is actually aging). Like a lot of Linklater movies, it is more a series of vignettes rather than a unified story, so not necessarily for everyone.
  2. Grand Budapest Hotel – Another solid entry in Wes Anderson’s series of stylized comedies. (Others include Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums). This and Boyhood are probably the best films for film nerds that I saw in 2014 since they are both clearly imbued with the unique styles of their directors.
  3. Gone Girl – Pretty good crime thriller. Unlike most others in the genre, it reveals the twist fairly early so that it doesn’t ruin the movie on repeated viewings and can also spend more time on plot than just people running around trying to figure out what’s going on.

Kids’ Movies

  1. Lego Movie – Excellent kids’ cartoon action movie with a lot going on for adults. There are references (Batman – who also sings in an emo band, Star Wars, lots of old and probably out of production Lego sets), a nice meta story that shows up toward the end. It can even be seen as a subversion of the Hero’s Journey trope popularized by Joseph Campbell.
  2. Big Hero 6 – Another excellent kids’ movie that is actually an adaptation of a Marvel comic but isn’t part of the broader Marvel cinematic universe as far as we know. The plot follows a pretty standard superhero origins story but is well done, and has some really good world building for future movies.