Thursday, January 27, 2011

State of the Union: The Things Obama Did Not Have to Say - But Did Anyway

The president’s State of the Union Speech was - at long last - the one I wanted him to give. It went after the very poison that has so sickened the United States of America. His call for us to shake off the Cult of Future-Hatred, indulged in by both right and left, was about urging us to start looking forward again, instead of to some mythically better past.

Clearly, Barack Obama does not expect that to happen through a sudden coming-together in unity and courtesy.  (He did ask for those things, but we know that asking will not make them happen).  For those those demanding accountability for the greedocracy of a looming oligarchy he had only incremental steps toward transparency. And, while the President pointed out the hypocrisy of Teaparty “deficit fighters,” who plunged the nation into tsunamis of red ink during their watch, in the name of disproved Voodoo Economics, he did so in fairly gentle terms. For one simple reason.

Because none of these side-skirmishes are where the real battle lies.

As I’ve said for months, for years, the real agenda of the neoconservative movement - its one consistent theme - has been to wage bitter war against nearly all centers of American expertise.

You may have only heard of one part of this campaign -- the relentless and undeniable Republican War on Science, now so blatant that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh have all taken to deriding “scientists” as a universally-damned caste, no longer even applying qualifiers or conditionals! It’s become so flagrant that - whereas twenty years ago thirty percent of U.S. scientists registered republican - now, according to the AAAS and the Pew Research Foundation, only 5% cling to their old political loyalties with the GOP. Many remain “conservative” over matters of fiscal or foreign policy, but none can any longer abide an all-out, Know Nothing campaign against fact-based reason.

Is this why I applauded, so heartily, the president’s repeated references to science, technological leadership, innovation, education and bold entrepreneurship, in his State of The Union address? To renew that post-Sputnik spirit -- the fierce dedication-to-curiosity that forged the keel of our prosperity and success?  Of course it was. 

It reminded me of the moment I liked best, back on election night in 2008, when Obama’s victory speech resonated in so many ways... but I kept aloof from the regular, ringing rhetoric, listening not for the words that he had to say, but those that he inserted wholly on his own account.

(Try to develop this habit. It can be illuminating!)

We expected him to endorse all the requisite motherhood and apple-pie phrases... some of them universal, or pan-american and some blandly liberal.  You know, like unity, brotherhood, responsibility and - yes, hope. Yada. Good things. And totally expected. 

But when he spoke of a nation propelled forward by curiosity... that was what I had been listening for.  It wasn’t a word on anybody’s requisite political litany or list of necessary catch phrases. It was not compelled by politics, polemic or audience expectations, nor by tradition or dire need. Nobody even commented on it, in all the speech postmortems. It was there simply because Barack Obama thought that it ought to be.

A nation propelled forward - in part - by curiosity.  In 2008, it was a drop-in hint.  Last night, it was the central theme!

Moreover, Make no mistake, it was militant. They were fighting words. For, I was watching closely, and every single time that Barack Obama referred glowingly to science, or innovation, or entrepreneurial boldness, you could see the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, grimace or frown a little deeper, making clear that this is precisely where our deepest battle will take place.  Not across fictional gaps in a mythical and stupidly misleading so-called “left-right political axis.” But across a chasm between those dedicated to the past and those eager for the future.

Let’s be plain: I would have liked the speech even better, had President Obama directly challenged Congress to perform an act of good faith, by restoring the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), and other independent advisory boards that were wiped out during Republican control, when they decided to dispense with the inconvenience of reality checks from even the most studiously impartial and nonpartisan commissions.  Not having restored the OTA, when she had the chance, counts as my biggest grudge against former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Obama should have demanded this, and dared the GOP to justify its refusal.

Yet, this is about so much more than science and technology.  Last night’s speech hinted that the President at last understands; the “war on science” is only the most blatant, surface manifestation of a general campaign against all of our professional castes. 

Name one that isn’t under fire from the new-right! Scientists, teachers, university professors, attorneys, civil servants, diplomats, journalists... heck even cops! And yes, if you have watched carefully, or know anything about the “miracle of 2006”-- even the brilliant men and women of the United States Military Officer Corps have been under assault, for years.

Why? Why has such a broad campaign to discredit (almost) every highly skilled and educated expert class become the centerpiece of conservatism?  A hijacked version of conservatism that has Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave?  You have only to look at the few centers of elite expertise that have been left alone! Those that are spared this all-out onslaught. The financial industry, industry lobbyist associations, and the hyper-rich.

A select group who are spared attack by Fox News. Now why would these groups want to fund propaganda aimed at undermining all other intellectual elites? Unless... in order to the power of those with the skill and fact-based knowledge to notice and point fingers at outright lies....?

Hm... well... maybe we can analyze that another time.  For now, let’s get back to the speech.

I had one proud moment when I heard the president drop in another of those “he did NOT have to say that!” lines. There was one sentence, while he discussed our need to improve American schools, when Obama mentioned something that our schools do better than any others on the planet. Do you recall what it was?  Did any of you catch it? Even briefly?

I doubt one pundit in a hundred  noticed.  But it is something that we do SO well that  Education Ministries in Delhi, Tokyo and Beijing send out hundreds of minions, every year, re-training teachers to instruct their classes in a more American manner!
Boldness, confidence, creativity, and unabashed willingness to question.  These are traits that American schools (and parents) encourage very well! They are not easily measured by standardized tests, so they do not get mentioned in the news, nor do they become the fodder for hand-wringing political diatribes. But, at last, I have seen one politician notice! Moreover, it is important. In order to improve, it is necessary to grasp what you are doing right, as well as what’s wrong.

    Do I expect this speech to make much difference? Indeed, was it even worth the time I spent writing about it?

Not really.  Certain parties in high places, not just in America but in foreign lands, have already chosen to re-ignite Phase Three of the American Civil War. We are in it, right now, 150 years after the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter. (Which happened ten years after the Civil war actually began, in 1850. Ask me later.) When things have gone that bad, one doesn't hold out much hope for transformation emerging out of a single speech.

But at a time when all forms of expertise and skill and knowledge are the chief victims and targets in a bilious civil war, and when science is the paramount enemy - openly declared - of a faction that wants us to turn our backs upon tomorrow... any talk of "winning the future" is welcome, indeed.

----  FOLLOWUP ---

“During an appearance with Greta Van Susterin on Fox News, Sarah Palin criticized Obama for referencing Sputnik during the State of the Union, because she believes that Sputnik brought down communism. She said, “Yeah, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time, that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.” Yep, Sarah confused the space race with the arms race.”

Please, go read the article.  See what she said. Does it get any plainer than this? Choose tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Conspiracy Theories... Plus Rightwing Loonies

First, just for the core community here... I have a help request for some techies, having to do with things like web page design and speech-to-text. I'll elaborate down below, in comments.

Blazingly Partisan Political Gleanings

Here are a few items I had set aside.  First, something that is not actually partisan. Rather, it is my Primer on Supply Side Vs Demand Side Economics.  The IEET has reposted one of my popular articles showing how the Left-Right "political axis" simply does not correlate with the actual issues that we face.  And that it is time to take a pragmatic, outcomes oriented appraoch, when it comes to determining whether a longstanding economic dogma should (at last) be relegated to the dustbin of history.  Hey, Marxism deserved to go to the trash heap.  See why the same has to be done to "supply side" voodoo.  

And now the choice, unabashedly stuff, skewering the villains in "Culture War."

Anderson Cooper's must-see birther interview: CNN anchor coolly takes down Texas State Rep. who asks why we don't "know anything at all" about the president. I was pleased, till I realized Cooper was leaving out the most devastating fact that exposes “birthers” as raving loons.  The fact that there were announcements of Barack Obama’s birth in the Honolulu Advertiser, way back when. You can find them in the paper’s archives, and in moldy piles in garages all over Oahu. We are dealing with Heinlein’s “Crazy Years” folks.  We are dealing with bona fide, real-deal insanity.

Read this about the inevitability of Class War.     Eek.

Heck, while we’re at it... Michael Shermer lays out characteristics of a conspiracy theory:

1.    Proof of the conspiracy supposedly emerges from a pattern of “connecting the dots” between events that need not be causally connected. When no evidence supports these connections except the allegation of the conspiracy or when the evidence fits equally well to other causal connections—or to randomness—the conspiracy theory is likely to be false.

2.    The agents behind the pattern of the conspiracy would need nearly superhuman power to pull it off. People are usually not nearly so powerful as we think they are.

3.    The conspiracy is complex, and its successful completion demands a large number of elements.

4.    Similarly, the conspiracy involves large numbers of people who would all need to keep silent about their secrets. The more people involved, the less realistic it becomes.

5.    The conspiracy encompasses a grand ambition for control over a nation, economy or political system. If it suggests world domination, the theory is even less likely to be true.

6.    The conspiracy theory ratchets up from small events that might be true to much larger, much less probable events.

7.    The conspiracy theory assigns portentous, sinister meanings to what are most likely innocuous, insignificant events.

8.    The theory tends to commingle facts and speculations without distinguishing between the two and without assigning degrees of probability or of factuality.

9.    The theorist is indiscriminately suspicious of all government agencies or private groups, which suggests an inability to nuance differences between true and false conspiracies.

10.    The conspiracy theorist refuses to consider alternative explanations, rejecting all disconfirming evidence and blatantly seeking only confirmatory evidence to support what he or she has a priori determined to be the truth.

The key element in conspiracy theories is self-flattery... the thing Glen Beck sells above all.  The notion that he and his viewers are in on the real poop, they can see what their stupid, stupid, stupid neighbors are too... well STUPID ... to see!

I call it the MENSA Effect, since I have never known a brainy under-achiever who did not cling to one form of conspiracy theory or another, from UFOs to Kennedy assassinations Spare Change to "we're living in a simulation."

(This is not to say that watchers of Fox News are MENSA-types! Far from it! They leave the thinking to Beck.  But the emotional need is the same.)

BTW my favorite conspiracy passes all of Shermer's tests.  It is entirely plausible that certain brilliant trillionaires who havs stated OPENLY that they wish to see a collapse of Western Civilization may have entered into alliance with another foreign billionaire who openly despises democracy, to openly fund a propaganda machine that has relentlessly and openly promoted the re-igniting of the American Civil War.

Motive, means, opportunity... and deadly effects. I do not blame the victims of the conspiracy... the consumers of Fox News... for falling for the propaganda.  The people I blame are the liberals and "blue americans" for seeing this awful phenomenon, bemoaning it, but refusing to connect the dots.

In this case, the weird hypothesis... the one beggaring the imagination and beyond all plausibility ... is that there is NOT a "conspiracy" going on.  And yet, I have met no one... not a single person... who is willing to even try the notion on for size.  The notion that powerful men are doing exactly what they appear to be doing, pursuing goals that they have openly admitted they desire.

==and now politics==

Heck... want more? A fascinating... and not entirely unsympathetic... perspective on Glen Beck.
This November, the future House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) rode the Tea Party rhetoric to power, promising to gut “business as usual” on Capitol Hill. Touting an earmark ban and public access to bills as clear moves toward transparency, Boehner seemed demonstrably clear on another accountability issue – congressional ethics. “I think the American people expect that their members of Congress should be held to a high ethical standard,” he said in August.  In spite of that expectation, Boehner is threatening to axe the Office of Congressional ethics.

Established in March of 2008 after the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Office of Congressional Ethics is responsible for “launching investigations of wrongdoings by House Members” in order to “stiffen the spine of the House ethics committee.” Operating as an inspector general of sorts, the OCE has “won praise for reviving the House’s notoriously moribund and secretive ethics process.” Despite strong conservative support for OCE, “GOP leaders are gearing up to kill the fledgling” OCE.

Okay.  Reminder time.  Cyclically, regularly (and always) keep checking on the Fox News Boycott.  You have a right to make your purchasing judgements based on many criteria.  Including a list of those who advertise with Glenn Beck.

"I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Illegal Aliens Part One... and me NOT on the Colbert Report

Did anyone see the Colbert Report piece on "alien hunting" last night? Yes, that's the segment that I was cut from, after giving their crew an entire day in our home.  And now I can see why.  It...was... awful!

Look, I am a BIG fan of the show and admire Stephen Colbert immensely. I understand the need to put humor first. It is - after all - Comedy Central.  I even expected to be edited into an object of... well... some ribbing and poking. (All in a good cause!) When I was told that my portion of the bit was to be cut, I felt a bit of disappointment. But, I accept the needs of TV. When time is short, the sober-minded intellectual has gotta go.

Moreover, let me add that I was treated fine by the intelligent producer they sent out west to question me, and by the Colbert Report staff. (I loved the "Rally to Preserve Sanity…or Fear" schwag!)  I get a lot of film crews at the house and this experience was pretty good, all-told.

But as for the segment that finally aired, boy am I relieved I wasn't included! Unlike many other Colbert Report pieces, this one was tediously repetitious, banal, unimaginative and dull, it wasn't even remotely funny! (Well the part about vaginal contractions, beamed into space.  All right... but...) 

Look... one of the choice things about the Stewart/Colbert shows is that they appeal to us on many levels.  They have proved that hilarity and thought can blend.  That we can use humor to shine light on topics that genuinely merit further attention. When their crew spent 7 hours in our home, I tried to point out lots of aspects about the very wide and deep concept of extraterrestrial life... the search, the vast range possibilities (far beyond tiresome, big-eyed "gray-ufo types), and some strange personalities and quirks in the field, that might draw both viewer fascination and terrific laughs.

It is the only scientific field without any known subject matter... isn't that funny? Heck, I had the crew in stitches, giving my routine about what I'd say to gray UFO types, if I ever confronted one. (Hint: they are putzes who don't react at all well to taunting!)

I mean, dang, there is SO MUCH regarding the real issue of plausible aliens that could be made funny!  So why return to the tedious gray abductor nonsense... and do it badly, to boot?

SETISee some of my writings on SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence vs METI: Messaging to Extraterrestrials.

Hey, I continue to consider myself a Friend of the Show. But I'm glad not to have been on that segment. Maybe they will revisit the topic, someday. Sigh.


 Next time... the other kind of "aliens"... why both parties lie about their real agendas, when it comes to both legal and illegal immigration.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tucson and the "Magazine Problem"

Alas.  The producer who interviewed me for the Colbert Report just called to say that the big two-parter about "possible alien invasion" had to be trimmed-down to make room for fast-breaking stories.

 Alack, that means they had to cut the calm and reasoned straight man from the piece.  In other words... me.  Ah well. I'm still a friend of the show. In fact, you should still tune in! It will be funny and you can try to guess where "Brin woulda been."

The topic - "whether and how the universe might be dangerous" - is one that simultaneously merits thought, argument... and humor.


 While thoughtful folks point to recent, tragic events in Arizona, appealing for Americans to tone down the horrifically polarized rhetoric of recent years, we all can see the opposite going on.  In an era when all scientists are painted (by one side) as conspiring traitors and liars, you can tell that we have entered what Robert Heinlein forecast as "The Crazy Years."

One element to the Tuscon rampage that I haven't seen mentioned, so far, is the role that was played by the gunman's use of an insanely large capacity, 31-round magazine, which allowed him to spray a helpless crowd, killing several elderly bystanders, a federal judge and a nine-year old girl, and critically injure the district's freely elected representative to the United States Congress, before he could finally be brought down, when his automatic pistol ran out of bullets.

Let's be plain here. The insistence of the NRA and other gun groups, on preventing any restraints on magazine size, or on the sale of assault rifles and automatic weapons, is not based on tradition or any legitimate personal need. 

Their stance of utter resistance to any constraint, is defended on the basis of "slippery slope" arguments. They maintain that any legal restraint on gun ownership is inherently part of a plot to eventually eliminate all forms of gun ownership. 

Now, lest anyone mistake me for a reflex lefty nannystater, let me avow that slippery slope arguments do have enough historical support to logically merit a proper place in any discussion. Firearm registration records in European countries, before World War Two, were later used by both Nazi and Communist tyrannies to strip the populace of registered weapons. This fact - recited ad nauseam - offers a core of justified fear that should be part of any reasoned discussion.

JEFFERSONRIFLEElsewhere, I've tried to analyze the central fear of gun rights supporters... a crux worry that is deeply American and that (indeed) many liberals share. I tried to logically derive a solution that could satisfy any reasonable person... even one who wants to keep secret the kinds of weapons that would be most useful in a mass insurrection against some future Big Brother tyranny.  See my moderate suggestions in: "The Jefferson Rifle: Guns and the Insurrection Myth."

To be clear... right-wingers often repeat their mantra that "liberals want to take away our guns."  But they cannot point to any mainstream (non lefty-dingbat) democrat or liberal voices who have made any such moves, in decades.  Indeed, most thinking people now know that the flood of guns and ammunition that has filled America is long past unstoppable. It has come in tsunami layerings that are by now almost sedementary, a layer so thck that future geologists will find fossils of glocks and colts in the very rocks!  Firefighters are asking for bullet proof gear, before they go into some burning homes, so sure are they that the closets -full of ammo will go off.

 Liberals aren't pushing for gun control.  Given the hot rhetoric of Culture War and violence pouring from men like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh, more and more liberals are buying weapons of their own.

But no.  Even so. A line has to be drawn somewhere. If only because the world will not follow a Pax Americana that has gone insane.

 A good place to start is with those 31 round magazines.  They are only good for one purpose, pouring a lot of bullets into a crowd of people, too fast for anyone to react.  You cannot come up with another scenario for such  awful things. Even if you are in a B-Movie gun fight with a horde of motorcycle-riding zombies, that will take place over a period when you can change your freaking magazines. Heck, Lady Lara Croft does just fine with seven or nine-round clips.

NamesInfamyTime and again, we have seen mass murdering gunmen brought down by brave citizen bystanders... at Columbine and when Reagan and Ford and Robert Kennedy were attacked... and in Tucson.  For the most part,  the take-down happened as soon as the bastard ran out of bullets!

This is one case where the slippery slope is all the nutters have. There are no other justifications for allowing Big Clips. If you can fantacize ever needing one... fantacize being part of the next unarmed crowd.

--See also my article: Names of Infamy: Deny Killers the Notoriety they Seek

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Isaac Asimov & Human Destiny

Isaac Asimov and human destiny

Ever notice how many futuristic authors toy, now and then, with the concept of a global overmind? Arthur Clarke and Isaac Asimov both did... and my reply to them, a more subtle and diversity-based version, appeared in EARTH.

Now, have a look at The Living Earth Simulator, or the LES project, which aims to simulate everything taking place on planet Earth, both environmental factors and human influences -- integrating real-time data feeds  to model global environment, pollution, population,  as well as financial and political shifts and the spread of infectious diseases. 

And who dealt with the scale of human destiny better than the great Isaac Asimov, in his Foundation series?  Elsewhere I've said about him: "Asimov served wondrous meals-of-the-mind to a civilization that was starved for clear thinking about the future. To this day, his visions spice our ongoing dinner-table conversation about human destiny."

My own novel FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH tied up nearly all of Isaac's loose ends - with enthusiastic approval of Isaac's heirs. (Read a sample.) In the afterword, I describe how Isaac would always see the flaw in his most-recent Foundation "solution" and inch along, decade-by-decade to new solutions.

What were his stages?

First, writing for John W. Campbell's ASTOUNDING in the 1940s, he came up with the lovely conceit that, in large enough numbers to swamp the effects of individuals, human societies can be modeled as if individuals were like gas molecules!  Appealing to Asimov the biochemist... and inspiring many readers to go into fields like economics.  For example Paul Krugman.  (In all honesty, the dream goes farther back, though Karl Marx was no Hari Seldon!)

Then Isaac got a lot of mail.  People had an inkling of something like what would become Chaos Theory - that random fluctuations or exceptions would perturb events until all projections become useless. Isaac's solution in his galactic universe? Perturbations must be corrected by an elite council or knowing meddlers, the Second Foundation.  Meddlers who soon gain access to psychic powers that they can breed into their gene lines, enabling them to meddle better and keep the Plan on track. Phew! Promlem solved.

20070430170709_second_foundationOnly then: he that realized his Second Foundation will become an inherited human aristocracy! Agh! Loyal to the Enlightenment, he knew how awful oligarchies were, in the past (and today.) So, the next decade, Isaac replaced or subsumed the human meddlers with a deeper layer of controlers who would be like... court eunuchs. Robots who cannot breed and hence could not become a human lordly class. (Aside. His empire was always more Chinese than Roman.) Sounds good?

Only, next decade, Isaac realizes...OMG! I've reversed power! The "servants" are now few, all-knowing, all-powerful and the human masters are as numerous and cheap as sand. Agh. So he finds a way for the masters to become mighty again.

His solution? An overmind made up of trillions of human brains, called Gaia-Galaxia! Okay then! Only then he realizes....

See? I had to continue his ongoing cycle of re-evaluation until... well... read FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH and see how it actually all comes together is a fascinating pattern that winds up turning in... a... circle!

 Which brings us to... Adam Smith...

 I wrote a lot about this fellow, who liberals should rediscover and embrace, in order to free him from the right wingers and libertarians who always, always always misquote and betray him.  Well, OpenSalon dumped my work, so let me just offer a few quotations and a link to Blogging Adam Smith. Or actually read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, a book that any politically-minded person should read, top to bottom.

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” That could be a slogan for liberalism.

“Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people whose industry a part, though a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation.” The whole tenor of this passage would, or should, outrage an Ayn Rand. Smith certainly didn’t take the view that the important agents of capitalism were CEOs or even inventors.

“The monopolists, by keeping the market constantly understocked... sell their commodities much above the natural price... The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got. The natural price, or the price of free competition, on the contrary, is the lowest which can be taken....” Maybe it’s the libertarians who need to read Smith; I’ve heard them denying that monopolies exist, or that they raise prices.

“We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters [cartels]; though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour....” Another passage skipped over by the libertarians

 That's it for now.  Perhaps I will speak more about this soon. But meanwhile...

==More about the Economy: Past, Present and Future

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Which Science is the most fundamental?

=== And now... many ways of viewing science! ===

FundamentalScienceWhich science is the most basic? Watch my latest Youtube video: Which Science is the Most Fundamental? Physics might be considered the most fundamental of all sciences, for all others derive from basic principles of forces, motion, electromagnetism and thermodynamics. And yet, physical laws are mathematical models of the world; however, mathematics itself is abstract, deriving from theoretical constructs of philosophy. But, philosophy arises out of theories of mind, or psychology. The mind itself depends upon the biology of the brain....which is nothing but chemical reactions of molecules, such as neurotransmitters and proteins. And of course, chemistry depends upon the behavior of atoms and forces, which is constrained by physics. An eternal loop?

Actually, philosophy and logic and "reason" are looser versions of the same madness that is suffered by mathematicians... actually believing that you can prove anything with words or symbols of scribbles on paper.  The pragmatic (anglo-scots-american-yiddish) branch of the enlightenment (as opposed to the franco-germanic-italian wings) emphasizes the "show-me" dominance of objective over subjective reality. Let me stress that I am loyal to the pragmatist wing. Because it is the only system that ever shouted "ALL INCANTATIONS ARE 90+% DELUSION!"

Yes, even (especially!) Plato's so called "reason." Delusion is humanity's greatest talent, source of our great art, source of much of our love! But also nearly all our crimes. It has only, ever, been stymied from harm-doing by enlightenment methods.

And yet... we'd be nothing without our inacntatory arts. (What is sci fi?;-) And reason, in its proper place, serves as an important partner to science. Together, mathematics and logic and reasoning ccomprise be the great HYPOTHESIS GENERATING SYSTEM.  Hypotheses that real science can then test.

Of course, having said that, let me reiterate that all of their practitioners - all of those who actually believe in their metaphors, or that you can prove things on paper, or that "left-versus-right has any real meaning - are... well... completely mad. Almost as mad as sci fi authors! (Except we're honest about it.)


Wrong_FreedmanWhy Scientific Studies are so Often Wrong: The Streetlight Effect, by David H. Freedman, from his new book, Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us -- And How to Know When Not to Trust Them.  The fundamental error cited here is based on an old joke: One night a policeman finds a drunkard crawling around under a streetlight. "What are you doing down there?" the officer asks. The man explains that he lost his wallet -- across the street. "Then why are you looking over here?" asks the officer. "Because the light's better over here," replies the man.

Similarly, scientists may have a tendency to conduct their research where the light is better -- quantifying and measuring what they can, on subjects that are available, on projects that can get funded. Freedman takes on the inaccuracy of economic predictions, the ever-shifting health and medical studies.

=== Might "Culture War" Have a Biological Cause?

"Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite of cats is able to reproduce only inside the gut of a cat. It needs to find a cat. Usually it does so by finding something that cats eat, such as rats. Inside rats, it makes its way to the brain where it causes the rats to be attracted to the smell of cat pee, which they would ordinarily avoid (who wouldn’t). A rat that follows cat pee ends up in the cat’s gut, where the Toxoplasma gondii can finally mate. But T. gondii also makes its way into humans (It is because of this parasite that pregnant women are urged to avoid cat litter). In fact,  sixty million Americans are estimated to be infected at any one moment."  Does T. gondii also affect human behavior? Preliminary research suggests yes. Scientists find it triggers the release of chemicals in our brains that make us more anxiety prone, decrease our reaction time and make us more likely to end up in dangerous situations.  Males and females react differently. 

Which makes me wonder... might a plague such as this one (or one as-yet unknown) be partly responsible for the surge of irrationality one sees in America, today?

=== Is "Peak Oil" A Myth?

Australia has what appears to be a duplicate of the Bakken field with current estimates of 5-11 billion barrels of recoverable oil based on current tech.

Paris basin could have more recoverable oil than the Bakken oil field. (Yes, that is Paris, France, all the way to Belgium.

Iraq oil production now over 2.7 million barrels per day. It increased about 350,000 barrels per day over the last two weeks. Iraq is targeting 12 million barrels per day in about ten years. Some think they may only get to 6 million barrels per day in ten years.

It appears that ancestral critters were very very busy transforming into hydrocarbons. The question is, will the current oil czars let their current power be undermined? And what do we do with the carbon?


Stunning statistics from the Pew Research Center: Only 6% of U.S. scientists are Republican, while 55% claim to be Democrats, 32% Independent, and 7% uncommitted. As American politics becomes increasingly polarized, science should be a middle ground of reason and rationality. And yet -- the Gingrich Congress erased and banned all scientific advisory panels from Capitol Hill.   Culture War is not about left versus right.  It is about riling up populist, know-nothing rage against all the people in society who actually know stuff.  All the folks who might challenge a return to feudalism.

See my article: Unscientific America: Denying Science at our peril.

Who is earning Science Ph.D.'s these days? For a wealth of data on doctorate degrees, see this NSF Study: Life sciences take the largest share (23%) of science PhDs. For the first time (2009), more women than men earned doctorates. Women earn 67% of doctorates in Education, 58% in Social Sciences, 31% in Engineering. Overall, women earned 42% of doctorates in Sci & Eng, up from 29% in '89. Non U.S. citizens earn 31% of doctorates, with the majority going to students from China & India. Minorities are still under-represented: Blacks 7%, Hispanics 6% of doctorates.

And yet, only 57% of doctoral students complete their PhD within ten years of beginning - due to lack of funding, poor supervision, or overall fatique. Even for those who finish, prospects are poor. Supply overwhelms demand: 100,000 received doctorates in America between 2005-2009, while there were only 16,000 job openings for new professors.


Scientists find evidence that multiple  universes exist. Four circular patterns in the cosmic microwave background radiation may indicate multiple waves of Big Bangs.

President Obama challenges NASA to come up with a less expensive mode of launch: In response, NASA Engineers propose combining a Rail Gun with a Scramjet -- requires two miles of track, an airplane that can fly at Mach 10.

Voyager 1, launched in 1977, has reached the edge of our solar system - and is no longer receiving a push from the solar wind. After an epic journey passing by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune, Voyager 1 is travelling at a speed of 38,000 mph, escaping the sun's heliosphere, & heading off to interstellar space - where no probe has gone before. V-ger? (In Star Trek, V-ger was actually Voyager 6). Voyager is providing fresh data on the nature of the solar wind.

Smash an asteroid or comet into Earth on your computer - and calculate the resulting damage. Impact: Earth! is an interactive website used by NASA and the Department of Homeland Security. Enter the diameter, density & velocity of the incoming object, its angle of entry and target on Earth - and Bam! Each day, Earth is bombarded by over 100 tons of extraterrestrial debris, with large events occurring every hundred years or so.

=== And finally... the coming decade...

May it be one of ambition, adulthood, negotiation, science, curiosity, adventure, freedom and pragmatic, can-do problem solving. And may the Noughty Oughts serve as the highwater of those troglodytic dopes who actually think that the Enlightenment can be defeated by the old ways.

It will not be.