Friday, March 31, 2006

Nick Schulz on the (yet again) fashionable alarmism about global warming:

It is curious that the alarmists are largely silent on the failures of Kyoto in Europe. Skeptics have been pointing out the economic and technological realities of mandatory emissions reductions for years now. Skeptics have also raised alternative ways of tackling problems associated with climate change and extreme climate scenarios -- problems that exist whether or not we pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

But so blinded are the alarmists that they are largely ignoring potentially beneficial initiatives. One such effort is the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate Change (AP6) which is backed by the governments of the United States, India, China, South Korea, Japan and Australia. The AP6 is designed to permit the robust economic growth that the developing world so badly needs while beginning to address concerns over pollution, energy efficiency and emissions. To get a sense of how out of touch the alarmists are on practical realities, in its nine(!) articles on global warming in its latest special issue, Time didn't devote a single one to AP6.

Amazingly, one article Time suggests "maybe we can begin by living more like the average Chinese or Indian – before they start living like us." According to the CIA World Factbook, the per capita GDP on India is $3,400 a year, and $6,200 a year in China. In the United States it's $41,800. So yes, Time is indeed advocating cutting living standards by as much as ten times. If you want something to "be worried" about, as Time asserts on its cover, well there you have it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rafat Ali says iPod Video is the biggest friend of the Mobile Content Industry.
At DH, I spoke to Ralph Simon, arguably the father of mobile music and content industry, and now the head of MEF Americas. His work in the mobile music industry can be tracked to the growth and evolution of mobile content. And his perspective is very global, from UK to Scandinavian to the Asian market, and of course, now U.S.

He spoke about how the money is opening up the music industry and labels' attitude towards mobile; the creativity in the mobile industry, and other issues. One of the interesting points he made was that suddenly, in the last six months, the studios, labels and TV networks are experimenting and innovating....most of it driven by iPod video. The success or at least the take up of video on iPod has also helped the video on mobile, by at least making the industry executives aware of the possibilities.

"The most pertinent examples of innovation are now coming from Hollywood. It is as if, in the last six months, all of the executives in Hollywood have woken up to mobile. Since November last year, since the success iPod video, when it spread the wider awareness, the gatekeepers and lawyers have become more open."
There's an mp3 of the interview as well.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Stanislaw Lem, the great Polish writer, has died at age 84.
Lem died in Krakow, Wojciech Zemek told The Associated Press. Zemek did not give other details or the cause of death, citing only Lem's advanced age.

Lem was one of the most popular science fiction authors of recent decades to write in a language other than English, and his works were translated from Polish into more than 40 other languages. His books have sold 27 million copies.

His best-known work, Solaris, was adapted into films by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and by Steven Soderbergh in 2002. The latter starred George Clooney and Natascha McElhone.

His first important novel, Hospital of the Transfiguration, was censored by communist authorities for eight years before its release in 1956 amid a thaw following the death of Josef Stalin.

Solaris remains one of the best novels of the 20th century, let alone best novels of science fiction ever written.

If you're looking for beach reading listening, Podiobooks has just started serializing my novel Doctor Janeway's Plague. Podiobooks is run by Evo Terra, the industrious podcasting guru behind several podcast sites as well as the co-author of Podcasting for Dummies.

I plan to add episodes once a week or bi-weekly. (Doctor Janeway is sort of a cross between That Hideous Strength and Resident Evil.)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

An Army of...Venus explorers!

Glenn Reynold's chapter on space exploration ("Space: It's Not Just for Governments Anymore") in his excellent An Army of Davids made me remember what it was like in 1969, to sit in my parents bedroom and watch that steaming Apollo rocket on the launching pad over Cronkite's shoulder and the delightful impatience I had waiting for it to lift off. Of course Star Trek was actually on the network in those days, and of course it just seemed a matter of time before we were on our way to other planets and even stars.

Somewhere between now and then we lost that. And Glenn's explanation for the reasons--NASA's bureaucratic inertia and bookkeeping among many--are sobering. I always knew we lost the dream of space growing up, but I forgot how much space exploration really meant to my imagination until reading this chapter, worth the price of the book in my opinion. It's all excellent.

Now, with regards to going back to the moon and Mars, I'm all for it. But if I could register a mild complaint: why does Venus always get short shrift? For example, if we're talking about the kind of materials-based improvements that nanotech can offer, in terms of strength durability etc, is terraforming Venus--replacing it's currently poisonous high-pressure atmosphere with a transparent one--as far fetched as building an atmosphere for Mars?

Much as I like Mars, Venus is closer to the the sun (a big plus in my view), it's .9 the mass of the Earth which means more familiar gravity, more familiar atmospheric pressure, etc., and it's just got more land to spread out in than Mars. I know, I know, Venus probably doesn't support the magnetic field we'd need, and the humans-as-cancer freaks would go ballistic about 'replacing' the atmosphere. (In fact, we'd probably have to start by just nuking its atmosphere, which would really drive them nuts. Heh.)

But I can't helping being more drawn to the potential of our sister planet than good old Mars.

For what it's worth.

Complaints about the book? None really. Okay, I wish it was longer. I wish he'd devoted an individual chapter to us rogue DV filmmakers and one to print-on-demand authors.

I was struck by a very interesting comment in the Singularity chapter by Ray Kurzweil whom Glenn interviewed for the book. But that's a later post.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Is Science Unnatural?
I’ve just been reading Robert McCauley’s provocative essay The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of Science, a piece to be included in the forthcoming book Explanation and Cognition from MIT Press. (PDF file is here.)

McCauley writes: “…neither the contents of scientific theories that dispute received views nor the forms of thought required for such critical assessment come to human beings very readily. The contents of most new, popularly unassimilated scientific theories agree with common sense no more (and often a good deal less) than do the most fantastic religious beliefs.” p.12

This I think is a problem for militant atheists.

It’s a long article, well worth reading in full. What strikes me about it is that it confirms a feeling I’ve long had: That the conviction of certain leading intellectuals —that in time the vanquishing of religion, and in particular the vanquishing of the influence of Christianity on society can only encourage people everywhere to rely on empirical reason alone instead of faith —strikes me as naïve, if not dangerous. But this is the position of Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett and others who come to mind, like the enjoyable and thoughtful science/math bloggers PZ Myers and Jason Rosenhouse (I like my atheists straight up, please, not on the rocks).

McCauley argues that the methods and tools modern scientists developed for their daily routines did not arise inevitably in the course of our history, and further, he writes that the more rarefied and esoteric that branches of science become, the less meaning they have for everyday people. It makes no difference, for example, that appeals to the empirical verifiability of a theory like Darwin’s vs. the narrative in the Book of Genesis are more persuasive because they can be tested. A careful correct explanation of Natural Selection is far more difficult to get across than the world being created in six days. Likewise quantum mechanics makes no more sense to Joe Sixpack than a careful explanation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. Ironically, Dennett draws attention to this in his book but doesn’t seem to be aware that explaining the origins of religious belief doesn’t make explaining the origin of species any easier or more palatable to most people.

As McCauley writes, “If religion is as natural and science is as unnatural as I have argued, science poses no challenge to religion. Indeed, if my analysis is correct, it is the preservation of science that should concern us—its current prominence notwithstanding…those historians and philosophers of science who point to two critical episodes in the history of Western thought hold that science was once lost and had to be reinvented. One consequence of my view is that nothing about human nature would ever prevent its loss again.”

If that doesn’t sum up the problem facing science and modern civilization today, I don’t know what does. I think this supports Chris Mooney’s contention that fostering some understanding—at least civil dialogue—between scientists and conservative Christians (especially Christian scientists) is a better idea than outright in-your-face hostility, which PZ and others favor (however entertaining it often is).

The assumption that suppressing and/or undermining organized religion can only be of service to the advancement of empiricism and reason is therefore naïve in McCauley’s view, and I think he is persuasive.

Update: PZs' post today is a perfect case in point.

To be honest, I much prefer stories where religious people in ornate garments say crazy stupid things, because I want to see their authority diminished.
The assumption of course is that reason would fill the four corners of the world once this happened. Yet there is no evidence to suggest this at all. Rather the opposite.

Monday, March 20, 2006

There's a Zoo in My Back Yard

I realize some people think Newton, Massachusetts is in the boonies...but in fact I live less than a mile from Boston College, the Massachusetts Turnpike and about two miles from Coolidge Corner. But lately, a lot of critters have been finding the nice big square of grass out back pretty inviting.

Wild turkeys.

Just like the ones on the famous bourbon label! (well, could be).

There were four of them, and my daughters got a kick out of them taking their sweet ol' time walking about the yard looking for food before they meandered to the house next door....

Last year I saw two hawks perch in one of my maples. One of them was clutching a bloody squirrel it had recently caught.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Another scientist looks at the work of William Dembski and finds it...wanting.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I'm just two chapters into Glenn Reynolds' Army of Davids, and enjoying it. It's particularly interesting to be reminded of his own history. I forgot Glenn had started as a contributor to Slate's site before breaking off on his own to start Instapundit. At that same time, the Web had helped me publish my first novel, which I will begin serializing soon in podcasts from these awesome guys--and had brought my indie feature of Richard the Second to the attention of several DV outlets, including Nels Johnson at DV Magazine, who saw the trailer I had posted on the Web and asked to see the whole mpeg movie. Back then it was just in PC mpeg format, but it was good enough to get a booking at the Den of Cin in Greenwich Village and a grudging but not dismissive review from the New York Times.

More recently, I found an agent, an editor and a first book deal. All of which is a very roundabout way of saying...Glenn's central thesis is, from my own experience, right on the money.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Peggy Noonan explains why "George Clooney" is synonymous with "clueless."
But Mr. Clooney's remarks were also part of the tinniness of the age, and of modern Hollywood. I don't think he was being disingenuous in suggesting he was himself somewhat heroic. He doesn't even know he's not heroic. He thinks making a movie in 2005 that said McCarthyism was bad is heroic.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hey…how many major New York publishing house editors do you know who moonlight as guitar players and vocalists for hot new rock bands?

If you’re looking for something new (and especially nice for listening to at work while you apply templates to reams and reams of html pages, or update erooms for your projects) check out Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s group Whisperado. Their first CD, Some Other Place is available for sale, at CD Baby and Amazon, and also at the Nielsen Hayden's web site (with free shipping).

All the songs are good. If you like to hear each instrument and voice, and not just a miasma of sound, then every one of these songs is worth listening to. The title song as well as Black and Blue are standouts, but none of them are "filler".

Check them out.

Whisperado's songs will soon be available via iTunes (two to six weeks from now).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I'm basically channelling Glenn Reynolds this morning, because this is so important:


Last week the golden dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra was blown apart. Sectarian riots followed, and reprisals and deaths ensued. Thugs and criminals came out of the woodwork to foment further violence. But instead of the apocalypse of an ensuing civil war, a curfew was enforced. Iraqi security forces stepped in with some success. Shaken Sunni and Shiite leaders appeared on television to urge restraint, and there appeared at least the semblance of reconciliation that may soon presage a viable coalition government.

But here at home you would have thought that our own capitol dome had exploded. Indeed, Americans more than the Iraqis needed such advice for calm to quiet our own frenzy. Almost before the golden shards of the mosque hit the pavement, pundits wrote off the war as lost--as we heard the tired metaphors of "final straw" and "camel's back" mindlessly repeated. The long-anticipated civil strife among Shiites and Sunnis, we were assured, was not merely imminent, but already well upon us. Then the great civil war sort of fizzled out; our own frenzy subsided; and now exhausted we await next week's new prescription of doom--apparently the hyped-up story of Arabs at our ports. That the Iraqi security forces are becoming bigger and better, that we have witnessed three successful elections, and that hundreds of brave American soldiers have died to get us to the brink of seeing an Iraqi government emerge was forgotten in a 24-hour news cycle.

Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Ralph Peters reports from Baghdad:

Yesterday, I crisscrossed Baghdad, visiting communities on both banks of the Tigris and logging at least 25 miles on the streets. With the weekend curfew lifted, I saw traffic jams, booming business — and everyday life in abundance.

Yes, there were bombings yesterday. The terrorists won't give up on their dream of sectional strife, and know they can count on allies in the media as long as they keep the images of carnage coming. They'll keep on bombing. But Baghdad isn't London during the Blitz, and certainly not New York on 9/11. . . .

The bombing made headlines (and a news photographer just happened to be on the scene). Here in Baghdad, it just made the average Iraqis hate the terrorists even more.

You are being lied to. By elements in the media determined that Iraq must fail. Just give 'em the Bronx cheer.

Read the whole thing.