First some REALLY important news. Splash! NASA moon strikes found significant water. Having an abundance of water on the moon would make it easier to set up a base camp for astronauts by providing drinking water and the ingredients for rocket fuel.
No one could be more proud than I am, to see a great scientist's theory play out and be proved before the world. All the more so for a discovery as important as finding water on the moon (in deep-shaded craters at the south pole), which fact may help open the solar system to all humanity. So let me brag right here that this possibility was first broached back in the 1980s by UCSD Professor Jim Arnold, who at the time ran the California Space Institute and honored me by serving on my doctoral committee. (I was studying the mechanism by which the water might have got there in the first place -- comets.)
And while we’re ‘out there’... Apparently, the European Space Agency scanned science fiction stories for ideas that could be used in future space missions - this is the project's report. Further details about the study, together with the fact sheets, images and sources, can be found at
Name That Decade...
Sure, science has been marching on. But what else?
David Segal of the New York Times quoted me in an article about “what to name the decade that’s about to end.” My suggestion -- the Noughty Aughts signifies what a great big set of zeroes we’ve been living in, since 2000, wallowing amid self-righteousness and self-pity, instead of innovating and looking toward the future. I distinguish “noughty” (meaning zero-ish) from “naughty”... which would imply that at least we had some fun, by being a bit bad! (Alas.)
Note that I don’t single out any particular group to blame for this plague of gloomy self-indulgence. Indeed, lefty-Hollywood seems almost as much at fault - for putting out endless droves of future-hating films -- as the neocons are for their travesty-betrayal called Culture War. Somehow, I hope we can rediscover our capacity, as adults, to restart the can-do spirit of innovation, negotiation and faith in tomorrow.
More Science... High!
So, what would it take for human intelligence to march forward, even during the Noughty Aughts? And might we start sharing the gift of intelligence with others soon? (As in “uplift”?)
”If humans are genetically related to chimps, why did our brains develop the innate ability for language and speech while theirs did not? Scientists suspect that part of the answer to the mystery lies in a gene called FOXP2. When mutated, FOXP2 can disrupt speech and language in humans. Now, a UCLA–Emory University study reveals major differences between how the human and chimp versions of FOXP2 work, perhaps explaining why language is unique to humans.”
Might a simple modification of this one gene have interesting effects upon chimps? Would that fascinating prospect justify germ-line experiments on a great ape? Nobody mentions this question in the article, for obvious reasons. The first person to even broach the idea will meet a firestorm. And yet, it is obvious.
Ah, but always be willing to follow up! See this dissent-critique of the whole FOXP2 “speech gene” thing as a possibly grotesque oversimplification. In fact, we should all be wary of “this is the gene for that”. Yes, defects in single point genes can remove a capability. But single point additions seldom have a direct turn-on effect. Phenotype depends on genotype in the most convoluted and nonlinear ways.
A Pause of Optimism?
Ah, but now, for those who doubt the possibility of progress:“Since the 1950s, while Earth’s population has grown to more than 6 billion people, the large fraction suffering from malnutrition has shrunk from one-third to one-sixth. And although the total number of people suffering from malnutrition remained the same—one billion—this means some 5 billion people, more than ever by far, get enough food to eat today.”
Good news for liberal progressives, who really want to save the world, who are willing to admit that sometimes good news happens, and who think it is no sin to admit it. TERRIBLE news for lefty grouches, who just want to complain and bitch and whine. (When will liberals ever wake up and cut their ties to those jerks? Ah, but I am MUCH harsher on the right. See below.)
BTW, note. The virtuous fish to eat is tilapia. All right, it is kind of bland and needs to be seasoned. (Costco sells nicely spiced frozen tilapia.) But it is the farmed fish with the greatest food efficiency and lowest eco-impact. And, as a vegetarian fish, it accumulates the fewest metals out of the food chain.
Ah, but now for some bad news....
The Decline of the West Correlates With That Of Science Fiction
Doubt it? Take this I just received from my friend, scientist and SF scholar Joe Miller:
”Today I cancelled my 48 yr old membership in the SF Book Club. The woman who answered the phone asked me why. I told her that the club does not seem to do SF anymore--horror, fantasy, DVDs, tv series, everything but. So she asked me for the names of authors who had not appeared recently. I said Greg Benford, Greg Egan, Greg Bear, David Brin, Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, etc. She said she did not recognize any of these authors. So I asked her who she would consider a SF author. Her reply was Anne Rice! QED!”
Yipe. Maybe Spengler was right, after all.
News from the Front.. in the War on Science...
Ah, but continuing re civilization’s decline... a new study by the Pew Research Center finds that the GOP is alienating scientists to a startling degree.
Only six percent of America's scientists identify themselves as Republicans; fifty-five percent call themselves Democrats. By comparison, 23 percent of the overall public considers itself Republican, while 35 percent say they're Democrats. This may seem unsurprising, given the red-meat troglodytism of recent years. Still a startling figure. Moreover, since we are talking ablout inarguably the nation’s smartest and most learned people, the Fox-propeled culture warriors have to find some way to wave off what thie implies -- that their movement is nothing less than the rebirth of the infamous Know Nothing Party.
As it turns out, there is only one recourse for rationalizers of the Right to fall back on...
... to preach that “being smart and knowledgeable doesn’t necessarily make one wise.”
Well, when you put it that way, sure. Duh. We all have known bright fools. It’s a truism with some basis in fact.
Ah, but what Fox and Murdoch and the new right culture war machine have done next shows genuine, feral canniness. As a subtext underlying alomost every narrative, they extrapolate this basic truism into a completely new message:
“Being smart and knowledgeable automatically makes someone unwise.”
Sound ridiculous? Absurd? But that is precisely the message being pushed by culture warriors. It is absolutely essential, in order to justify dismissing the consensus held by 99% of the atmospheric scientists in the world, regarding global climate change. It underlay the subordination of science to politics, during the Bush Administration.
In fact, let me be so bold as to claim that this is an unnoticed underpinning to the entire movement, propping up almost everything that the Neocons have pushed, for this last decade, and longer. For, without exactly this foundation assumption, there could be no venom-driven hatred of the Civil Service, or contempt for the advice of well-informed experts.
Let’s take this farther. Leaders of the GOP used to brag that their party was more than a year ahead of Democrats in average education levels. Okay. That seemed obvious and easy to explain. Remember, for generations the dems have included most of the immigrants and the poor. That, alone, affected the averages.
Only now? According to surveys taken across much of the last decade, the average Republican is now behind the average Democrat by more than a year of schooling -- and this despite the Democrats still representing society’s poor and underprivileged.
What could this mean? Other than reflecting a party-migration by nearly everybody in America with real expertise or a post-graduate degree? Including, lately, a great many members of the US military’s Senior Officer Corps. (Except for MBAs, of course. Funny -- they still tilt toward the Grand Old Party.)
Seriously, might the “Republican War on Science” and George Bush’s war against the US Civil Service, plus Culture War animosity in red counties toward Urban America, all be rooted in something deeper and more fundamental than anything that's spoken aloud? Deeper than the run of the mill talking points?
At this juncture, I am willing to wager that Culture War has almost nothing to do with race, or even region. Certainly not classic “conservative” policies, since Barry Goldwater would be a democrat, today. No, it is -- to some large extent -- about something puerile and basic.
Some Politically Redolent Items
Oh, while we’re in rant mode, see Russ Daggatt's latest!
You’ve all heard my riff -- about how the democrats ought to rediscover the “first liberal” Adam Smith, and steal him from the Republicans, who have warped and perverted and reversed almost everything that Smith wrote and stood for. (Seriously, dems, he’s almost a poster boy for your side!) Now see a wonderful article in which Salon “interviews” Adam Smith -- one of the founders of Classic Liberalism. (And see my letter that follows it.)
Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano called for closer collaboration with foreign partners, more intensive cooperation with local law-enforcement officials, and greater involvement by citizens in watching for and responding to terrorist threats."For too long, we've treated the public as a liability to be protected rather than an asset in our nation's collective security"... a line that seems lifted almost verbatim from one of my many essays on this topic.
Meanwhile... illustrating my point about a possible “Tsunami of McVeighs”... we’ve seen plenty of action on the far right. Just to remind folks it can come from the other direction, too. (Though, in this case, what does “right-left” even mean?)
Salon Magazine offers a cogent look at Archie Brown's major new book “The Rise and Fall of Communism. At minimum, read the review. I find it depressing, in conversations with so many contemporaries, how little people know about that fantastic, huge, failed experiment in politics, economics and - ultimately - human nature.
See a clear comparison of red states vs blue states, when it comes to rates of divorce, teen pregnancy and subscription to online porn. Some pretty astonishing placings!
PJ O’Rourke “tweets” the US Constiution!
And finally, from the ridiculous to the sublime -- Stefan Jones found an archive site containing Patrick Farley’s brilliant online strip “Spiders.” I wish even 10% of the folks I have met at CIA, DTRA NSA or ODNI had as much insight into the core problem -- and its ultimate solution -- as Farley exhibits here.