David Nightingale | WAMC

David Nightingale

David Nightingale
Courtesy of David Nightingale

A valuable part of the WAMC family is saying goodbye after more than two decades. About once a month on Sunday Midday Magazine since 1999, David Nightingale has been offering essays on the sciences, culture, philosophy and his own experiences. 

David Nightingale: World Court

Oct 18, 2020

This is a brief look at the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, or World Court – which is an organ of the UN, dealing with conflicts between countries.

David Nightingale: Telemarketers

Sep 27, 2020

Telemarketers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, sometimes even resorting to threats. Phrases like sheriff’s department, social security, warranty expiration, etc. are commonly used – in their attempts to get you to yield some personal information. Whether they are in Bangladesh or Timbuktu, they have lists of names and addresses and ages, because long ago the globe yielded most of its privacy to the internet.

David Nightingale: Navalny

Sep 6, 2020

This essay is about Alexey Navalny, the 44 year old critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin. It appears, at the time of writing, that Navalny was poisoned, and after delay, sent to Germany for treatment.

David Nightingale: Antiscience

Aug 16, 2020

When I was a young man I knew I wanted to go into both art and science, and I realized that what they had in common was the aim for truth. In poetry, and art, including writing, one tries to describe things as they are; and for science I chose physics, which also tries to describe things as they are – exemplified by unshakeable laws. Those laws, revealed by Newton, and many others, in particular Maxwell and Einstein, were beautiful. So, truth and beauty became increasingly how I wanted to pursue things.

David Nightingale: Douglass

Jul 26, 2020
Frederick Douglass
National Archives and Records Administration - Public Domain

I became interested in Frederick Douglass after seeing his unsmiling and magnificent likeness on a US postage stamp in 1967. Now, I follow up.

David Nightingale: Toothpick Technology

Jul 5, 2020

No internet now for three days.

I’d reluctantly called the company – reluctantly because I usually try to sort these things out myself – and had now done all the things the disembodied recording had told me to do. Unplug this, unplug that, wait two minutes, re-plug, etc. And the voice had asked me if it was now working, press 1 for yes, 2 for no.

David Nightingale: An Exoplanet

Jun 14, 2020
Size comparison of Gliese 581 c and Earth.
NASA / Public Domain

Planet 581C is so far away that our 'How are you?' is received by them 20 years after we say it. If they reply 'fine thanks', that's another 20 years -- which certainly amounts to a strained conversation. The first inter-planetary conversation ever made, using the Star-Trek-inspired warp-communicator, has no delays. Moreover, communication, with computer translation from the other end, is only possible with 581C once every 99 years, and the alignment passes in four minutes.

David Nightingale: The Month Of May

May 24, 2020

Chipmunks are scampering back and forth across the lawn, and the cold weeks are over. Finally the sun has some strength, allowing one to stand outside, stretch and soak in the warmth. Ah, what a feeling!

David Nightingale: The Dalai Lamas

May 3, 2020

During this COVID-19 era there’s time, for some, to catch up on books. One of the unread books [ref.1] I took from my shelf recently is about the present Dalai Lama – which takes us to Tibet.

David Nightingale: Plagues, Bacteria & Viruses

Apr 12, 2020
Hospital in Vienna during the plague 1679. Contemporary copperplate engraving.
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Let’s look at a few examples of the world’s previous plagues, some caused by bacteria, some by viruses. My background is only in physics, so anything I say here must come from experts, and my only aim is to understand. 

David Nightingale: Harriet Tubman (~1821-1913)

Mar 22, 2020
Harriet Tubman
Horatio Seymour Squyer, 1848 - 18 Dec 1905 / National Portrait Gallery - Public Domain

It may seem superfluous to write about Harriet Tubman, for she has not only been played by the Caribbean-born Cicely Tyson in the 1978 TV miniseries “A woman called Moses”, but also in the 2019 movie “Harriet.”

David Nightingale: Civil Wars

Mar 1, 2020
General George Sykes and staff, U.S. Civil War
Mathew Brady / PD Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection

Politically the U.S. is now in a state of polarization, a state showing few signs of going away.

David Nightingale: Ernst Mach (1838 – 1916)

Feb 9, 2020
Ernst Mach, 1902
H. F. Jütte / Public Domain, Wikimedia.org

Everyone has heard of a fast plane having its speed described in terms of its Mach number. Mach 2, for example, means twice the speed of sound in air, Mach 3 is three times, and so on.

David Nightingale: Something Rotten

Jan 19, 2020

“Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark” says Marcellus in Act 1 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and many people feel similarly about life now, here.

David Nightingale: Sailing

Dec 8, 2019
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Waves were curling behind us, some higher than our little boat. Although the night was black, we could just make out the ominous white tops, as they advanced towards the stern. In the sudden storm we were being pushed away from the land we had just camped on, pushed into the Atlantic. Every time we feared a wave might break and swamp us Ken managed to steer slightly broadside, so that we only rocked violently from side to side before resuming our terrifying drive forward.

David Nightingale: Some Roman Writings

Nov 10, 2019
Pliny the Elder
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

When Julius Caesar marauded his way across Europe and England, with his legions and wooden boats, shields and swords and arrows, he later wrote much of these adventures down, either on papyrus scrolls or wax, but although the mighty Roman Empire was formed from barbaric warfare and killing, there were many Romans constructing bridges and aqueducts, poems and books. Much of this is still in evidence today – for example, the aqueducts feeding Rome, and the writings of the likes of Ovid and Catullus and Pliny.

David Nightingale: 2019 Physics Nobelists

Oct 20, 2019
The position of Alpha Centauri (Rigilkent, Rigel Kentaurus, Toliman)
Zwergelstern / Wikimedia Commons

In 1849 the horror writer Edgar Allan Poe wrote his prose-poem “Eureka!”, (“I have it!”) concerning the nature of the universe.

David Nightingale: Global Warming Perspective

Sep 29, 2019

Let’s expand our view of global warming.

David Nightingale: Arrhenius & Greta

Sep 8, 2019
Svante Arrhenius, ca. 1910
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

This essay is about two Swedish people – one who has already shown youthfully strong determination to benefit humanity; and one who first benefited humanity a while back. The younger one is Greta Thunberg, 16, who will address the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, 2019 (as she did also in 2018) and the other – a distant and famous relative – would be 160 if he were still alive.  

David Nightingale: Chandrasekhar (1910- 1995)

Aug 18, 2019

First, I’d like to comment that 90% of my essays this year have had nothing to do with science! They’ve all been emphatically non-science-related, and in fact, have that theme in common with our current political administration – no science at all!

David Nightingale: Presidential Candidates, So Far

Jul 28, 2019

As of July 2019, there are 3 or 4 democratic candidates I’d consider voting for, but although I lean that way I am not a registered Democrat. So far, my personal favorite is ‘Mayor Pete’ of Indiana.

David Nightingale: In The Event Of Nuclear War

Jul 7, 2019
Frigate Bird nuclear explosion (viewed throuh the periscope of USS Carbonero (SS-337) 480 nm ENE of Christmas Island)
U.S. NAVY / Public Domain

In a new war of words, we have Iran condemning fresh U.S. sanctions by using expressions like ‘mentally retarded’, and Mr. Trump threatening to ‘obliterate’ their country. It is these kinds of testosterone-loaded reactions that cause me to wonder: what if?

David Nightingale: United Nations

Jun 16, 2019
Flag of the United Nations
Public Domain / Open Clip Art Library/Wikimedia Commons

It’s sometimes said that the United Nations absorbs a lot of money, which it often wastes, is ineffective, and fails to prevent wars.  Let’s look at this.

Mankind’s urge to eliminate war can be traced very far back.

David Nightingale: Lusitania & More

May 26, 2019
RMS Lusitania broadside. George C. Bain Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-61939
Public Domain / National Museum of the U.S. Navy

The ocean-going liner Lusitania was torpedoed in 1915, and it sank in 18 minutes. Just under 1,200 desperate American and European men, women and babies drowned – dragged into the Atlantic ten miles south of Ireland.  There were 764 survivors, saved by assorted fishing boats from County Cork. [Ref.2, Ch.1]

David Nightingale: Xenophobia

May 5, 2019

Xenophobia – from the Greek word xenos for stranger – is the morbid dislike of foreigners, and is a very common trouble.

David Nightingale: J. Paxton, Gardener

Apr 7, 2019
Sir Joseph Paxton
Public Domain

For many gardeners today a greenhouse may be made of plastic, perhaps with aluminum framing.

However, in the 1830s, one builder of greenhouses was Joe Paxton, the relatively young head gardener for the Chatsworth Estate, owned by the Duke of Devonshire. By 1840 Paxton had already designed and been responsible for building a huge greenhouse there, a structure not much smaller in ground area than the area of a football field [ref.3]. Despite the known existence of alum for thousands of years, aluminum did not become a usable cheap metal until the 1880s, and Paxton’s greenhouse used cast iron for framework. Nor was it possible in the 1840s to make big sheets of glass, the maximum size of a glass pane then being only about 4 ft. by 1 ft.  So his football-field-sized greenhouse utilized many thousands of these small panes.

David Nightingale: Serap

Mar 17, 2019

Serap was attractive, about 26, black haired (like most middle easterners) with neither burka nor chador; and she worked in our physics department at the university. I saw her as somewhat reserved, polite to all, and self-contained. In one course I was the instructor and she the assistant. I was a year or two older, and careful to be reserved myself, very careful actually, because -- in the 1960s anyway --  interactions between opposite sex foreigners and Moslems was an extremely sensitive matter. Westerners were unbelievers – there was a specific word for it in the dictionary –  gavur  (infidel)  –  and I had no intention of being attacked or receiving a ritual beating.

David Nightingale: The U.S. Constitution

Feb 24, 2019
First page of Constitution of the United States.
Public Domain

William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister of England during the reign of Queen Victoria, said “The U.S. Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

David Nightingale: Russian Protestors

Feb 3, 2019
A USSR stamp, Soviet Nobel_Peace_Prize_winners
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

In a time of dictators – for example right now in South America’s Venezuela – there will always (thankfully) be dissidents.