Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Expelled vs civilization

Recommended reading: John Derbyshire on Expelled. Excerpt:
And now here is Ben Stein, sneering and scoffing at Darwin, a man who spent decades observing and pondering the natural world — that world Stein glimpses through the window of his automobile now and then, when he’s not chattering into his cell phone. Stein claims to be doing it in the name of an alternative theory of the origin of species: Yet no such alternative theory has ever been presented, nor is one presented in the movie, nor even hinted at.
The rebuttal, such as it is, at William Dembski's blog is that Derbyshire hasn't seen the movie. But unless all the reviews -- including the positive ones -- were written by people with identical hallucinations, there's no need to see this movie to recognize it as offensive trash.

My only regret is I never went on Stein's game show to take some of his money.

UPDATE 5/2: I recommend Derbyshire's more recent post and this thoughtful review by Jim Manzi (both found via Rand Simberg).

Global warming settling

Chris Horner at Planet Gore argues that if the science of global warming is "settled," therefore money spent researching the matter is wasted. That's so obviously wrong it's probably not even worth a comment, but I'll point out that establishing the existence of anthropogenic global warming only begins to tell us what we need to know about such matters as its severity, duration, ongoing changes and, above all, what we should do about it. That's about where things stand in climate science, and arguing we should shut down the science is gross know-nothingism. Also, by Horner's logic, if the science actually isn't "settled," we should spend money on it, no?

New Music New York

Last night's concertgoing: "Art Songs" by New Music New York, featuring pieces inspired by art and architecture. Included such novelties as passages from The Fountainheadsung with classical accompaniment, and a harp-and-cello dance reenactment of cave painting in Lascaux. Only sour note of evening was the unfriendly guy at front desk of Saint Peter's Church.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sullivan swipes

In a ludicrously unfair criticism of Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan complains that Reynolds won't accept Obama's defense on the Wright matter as adequate, and moreover...
...Reynolds voted against Harold Ford. There's no black Democrat who could ever pass muster. Because they're Democrats.
But flash back here to why Reynolds voted against Harold Ford. It wasn't exactly for noncompliance with right-wing orthodoxy:
...Ford voted for the detainee military commissions bill, which Sullivan regards as anathema. And he took a hard-line stance on immigration. As for spending and pork, which Sullivan also mentions, both Ford and his opponent, Bob Corker, say they support spending reforms, porkbusters, and increased transparency. Ford also supports public display of the ten commandments, a ban on flag burning, and says he's closer to Bush than McCain on military interrogations.
And if you think Instapundit's general coverage of Ford has been hostile, a perusal here should rectify that view.

Would-be Sharpton

I haven't said much about the Rev. Wright controversy, and in lieu of doing so, I'll just say I agree with what Ross Douthat writes in "Jeremiah Wright, SOB." Excerpt:
Obviously I'm not rooting for Barack Obama to win the Presidency, but if he does take the election this fall, there will be some compensating pleasures - not only the thrill that will accompany seeing a man ascend to the Oval Office who could have been bought and sold in a different, more unjust America, but the pleasure of knowing that Jeremiah Wright's attempt at self-aggrandizing sabotage fell flat on its face.

Weddings can be stressful

But usually not quite like this:

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (AP) -- A newlywed couple spent the night in separate jail cells -- she in her wedding gown -- after police said they brawled with each other, then members of another wedding party, at a suburban Pittsburgh hotel.

The fight started Saturday night after a reception when he knocked her to the floor with a karate kick in the seventh-floor hallway of a Holiday Inn, according to police. It escalated when she attacked two guests from another wedding party who came to her aid, police said.

TCS Daily?

The TCS Daily website doesn't seem to be operating. I hope that's not a permanent thing.

UPDATE: Back online.

Space solar watch

At MIT's The Tech, Raji Patel argues "it is time we gave serious consideration to energy from space."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Go see Kassim

We just saw an excellent film at the Tribeca Film Festival: Kassim the Dream. It's a documentary about Kassim Ouma, a Ugandan boxer and former soldier. He was kidnapped at age 6 by a rebel army, which later became the government army. He came to the U.S. to participate in an international military boxing competition--and he stayed, becoming a deserter to the Ugandan army that had forced him to join, and opening the way for a new, soaring career.

He's a remarkable person--witty, vivacious, decent and incredibly resilient. He's not presented as a pure victim or saint. As a child, he was forced to kill and torture--and he found some of that to be "fun"; his conscience developed later. The film shows an uneasy interplay between Kassim and the Ugandan authorities, as he seeks a pardon for desertion and permission to visit Uganda.

Kassim was present at the showing to answer questions, with filmmaker Kief Davidson. The audience was very impressed by the film and its subject. Davidson seems a thoughtful and very honest type, and Kassim was shy but engaging (though there was one lame question from the audience when a woman probed Kassim as to why he was seen on film wearing colors of Jamaica, not his native Uganda--as if he needed to prove his ethnic or national bona fides to her).

An interesting question is how the Ugandan government will react to this film, which notes that the present government emerged from the same force that kidnapped Kassim and committed numerous atrocities. One hopes the authorities in Kampala will take the diplomatic approach that this film is part of their troubled country's needed reconciliation.

A not-so-distant mirror: the '70s

My latest piece for Research magazine, on "The Sideway Seventies," is now up. Excerpt:

After two decades of generally rising stock markets, the sideways motion of share prices in the age of Watergate and disco came as a rude shock to many investors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened on January 2, 1970 at 800.36, and closed on December 31, 1979 at 838.74, a gain of less than 5 percent over the course of the decade.

In the intervening years, the index closed above the fabled 1,000 level for the first time, but was unable to stay there on a sustained basis. And at its nadir for the decade, on December 6, 1974, the Dow ended at 577.6, having lost a frightening 45 percent from its peak of 1,051.7 on January 11, 1973, which was the market’s highest close of the 1970s.

The decade’s economic and financial troubles offer some uncomfortable resemblances and cautionary notes for the present. A weakened dollar, surging commodity prices, a shaky stock market and the possibility of stagflation are familiar subjects in 2008. One cause for optimism, though, is that awareness of the ’70s just may prevent some unsuccessful economic policies from being tried a second time around.

The financial sixties

My recent radio interview about the 1960s stock market is now available here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Battlestar links

At Galactica Watercooler, fans offer their theories as to what's really going on. For example, from one Cinnibar:
Anders’ right eye was scanned. Tigh’s right eye was removed as either a deliberate or unconscious decision on the part of the Cylons to prevent him from exerting control/dominance over them.
And at the Harvard Crimson, columnist Allie T. Pape sees in Galactica evidence that "TV is Art":
As people, we consume entertainment not just out of boredom or a need to keep up with the Joneses, but because of a love of characters. We’re fascinated by other people, and the more real they seem, the better. We empathize with Holden Caulfield, Elizabeth Bennet, and Jay Gatsby; we agonize over their fictional decisions with a rigor comparable to the way we analyze our own. “Battlestar” has amazing characters, so numerous and well-developed that I could spend an entire extra article telling you about how terrific they are. But what’s the point if you’re already set against the medium in which they appear?
And Boston Globe magazine columnist Miss Conduct, Robin Abrahams, likes BSG's realistic portayal of religious diversity:
Some characters are atheist, and find relationships and the natural world give them a sufficient moral compass, sense of reverence, and reason to live. Others are true believers, and there is even diversity among fundamentalists (something I've very rarely seen portrayed) with the Geminese following a different interpretation of scripture than the Saggitarons.

Solar sailing

Nobody knows which types of propulsion will prevail in future space travel. Perhaps one key technology will be solar sails:
A team of scientists in Finland has woven a new type of spider web-like solar sail, with positively charged wires, that might be able to repel positive ions in the solar wind and thus propel itself through space.
I look forward to a time when solar-sail snobs look down upon nuclear-rocket people as uncouth.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Getting organized

We bought a magnetic chalkboard plus office organizer. Nice touch: the eraser sticks to the board, and the chalk fits into a slot in the eraser.

Revenge of the boomers

Robert A. George thinks Hillary Clinton is going to win the nomination and the presidency. Why? Because of the tenacity of the baby boomers:

But the boomers will not go quietly. The arrogance the Clintons show to Obama carries a, "It's not your time yet." After they get through with him -- which they will because boomers reinvent the rules and the language to suit their own purpose -- they will do to John McCain what Bill did to Bob Dole: His time is past and he cannot lead this country.

And Hillary Clinton will win the presidency because she will convince enough of those of her own generation that they mustn't be pushed aside by those coming behind them -- and will not be repudiated by their elders.

It's a bold prediction, but I have my doubts about such demographic determinism. George W. Bush is a boomer, after all, and doesn't seem to get much generational solidarity. I'll stick with my official prediction.

Seasteading update

Steve Khachaturian, CEO of VersaBuoy International, writes in response to my "New Waterworld Order" piece, which I recently mentioned:

I read a piece you did in 1997 and thought I would contact you.

My company has achieved breakthrough technology regarding deepwater platforms. We will be able to create what you wrote about! While VersaBuoy was conceived in 2001, we created our company 2 years ago and have done all of the research necessary to take it to market. We are receiving interest not only from oil and gas but also from renewable energy, Homeland Security and several groups from around the world that have inquired about a floating airport for deepwater. Our platforms can be connected together to create a land mass of any size sustainable in the harshest marine environments. (hurricanes,typhoons,rogue waves)

I know you focus on science and technology. If you want more information, just let me know.

Again, I enjoyed the article!


Steve Khachaturian
VersaBuoy International
Urbana , Illinois
Home of the University of Illinois

I'm glad to hear Homeland Security is taking an interest. I wrote about that here.

Clinton Road mythos

The reputation of Clinton Road, NJ extends far and wide; my traffic stats have shown quite a few people coming to this blog looking for info about it, including recently someone from Australia. People have even searched for things like "photos of Clinton Road hellhounds." Photos? Someday, someone (I?) should write a book about how a fairly isolated but otherwise seemingly ordinary country road became the subject of such a mythology.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Top public intellectuals

Via Ann Althouse, I found the Top 100 Public Intellectuals, as chosen by Foreign Policy. You can vote for (or write in) your favorite five. My votes, in no particular order:

Lee Smolin
Fareed Zakaria
Christopher Hitchens
Garry Kasparov
Virginia Postrel (write-in)

Muppetstar Galactica

This will take only 20 seconds of your valuable time:

Free trade in Youngstown

Here's some much-needed straight talk:

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — Republican John McCain made a risky argument in a hard-hit Ohio steel town Tuesday, telling residents that free trade can help solve their problems.

That is a tough sell in communities that have hemorrhaged jobs as manufacturing moved overseas and cheap imports flooded the market. But McCain insisted that free trade is the solution and not the cause.

"The biggest problem is not so much what's happened with free trade, but our inability to adjust to a new world economy," McCain said during a town hall-style meeting at Youngstown State University.

"I think the answer is to understand that, free trade or not, we are in an information and technology revolution," he said. "So we want people to be part of that revolution, and we've got to be part of that new economy, rather than try to cling to an old economy."

It's a position that distinguishes McCain not only from the Democratic candidates but also from a certain NAFTA-bashing Texas Republican congressman who ran for president this year.

Visit Maggie's Farm

Maggie's Farm, which I mentioned earlier, has become one of my favorite websites. In fact, if it were a physical location (and I assume it's not), I might want to do a weekend up there right about now.
We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I just hope it doesn't turn out to be some kind of crazy cult.

Radio note

I'm scheduled to be on the Gabe Wisdom show tomorrow (Wed., 4/23) at 7 pm eastern discussing the stock market history of the go-go sixties.

UPDATE 4/27: It's now available here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Carbon tax bargain

Virginia Postrel writes that "There's No Such Thing as a Free Carbon Cap":
It's infuriating how all three presidential candidates prattle on about the need to fight global warming while also complaining about the high price of gasoline. The candidates treat CO2 emissions as a social issue like gay marriage, with no economic ramifications. In the real world, barring a massive buildup of nuclear plants, reducing carbon dioxide emissions means consuming less energy and that means raising prices a lot, either directly with a tax or indirectly with a cap-and-trade permitting system. (Alternatively, the government could just ration energy, but fortunately we aren't going in that direction.) The last thing you'd want to do is reduce gas taxes during the summer, as John McCain has proposed. That would just encourage people to burn more gas on extra vacation trips--as any straight talker would admit.
Agreed. However, if a carbon tax is (partly) compensated by tax cuts elsewhere, and spurs technological developments that could help lower energy prices over time, then although not free it would still be something of a bargain.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Causes greater

I wonder if it's such a terrible thing -- from a libertarian standpoint -- that John McCain calls on people to "sacrifice for a cause greater than yourself." Libertarians such as Gene Healy and Kerry Howley deplore that phrase. But isn't liberty in point of fact a cause greater than the self-interest of anybody propounding it? And isn't it a pretty good thing that what McCain wants people to sacrifice includes earmarks, ethanol subsidies and other state largesse? I think so.

Redefining evolution

I haven't seen Expelled, but if there's one thing that's not going to convince me it's any good, it's statements such as these in its defense:
The movie is not, I repeat NOT, anti-evolution. Time and again those who want freedom of thought state over and over again that this is not about evolution as defined as variation within species.
Redefining evolution to mean variation within species is standard creationist blather. Evolution includes species evolving from other species, and it's just mendacious wordplay to say otherwise. So Glenn Reynolds is giving more credit to the Libertas commenters than they deserve. And also to Ed Morrisey, who engages in the same semantic sleight of hand:
I believe evolution is demonstrably proven in enough examples to say that its effect on variation in species cannot be denied.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Better Huffpo bloggers, please

Over at the Huffington Post, one Matt Stoller is upset that an Al Gore spokeswoman said that John McCain has supported legislation to address global warming. In other words, Stoller is complaining that Gore (through his spokeswoman) is telling the truth. And Stoller concludes with a call for "Better party elders, please." Ones who lie, presumably.

DARPA's Vulture

Developing a solar-powered aircraft that can stay up for five years.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Copy edit please

The Right to be a Hate-filled Imbecile
Liberal democracies must protest free expression

Must protest free expression? And no, it's not some deliberate subtlety.

UPDATE 2/19: Fixed.

Empires of Trust

Current reading: an advance copy of Empires of Trust: How Rome Built--and America Is Building--a New World, which argues that the U.S. has notable similarities with the Roman Republic (not the late Roman Empire), such as how the Romans were expected to, and generally did, uphold high moral standards in dealing with defeated enemies, and were upset at their own mismanagement of Locri, a town they had conquered after it sided with the Carthaginians.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Is seasteading the wave of the future? Well, I wouldn't hold my breath that it'll "give people the freedom to choose the government they want instead of being stuck with the government they get." On the other hand, as I once wrote, "Being a few thousand miles from shore confers a certain autonomy, even without a declaration of independence."

Energy follies

Recommended energy reading: Steve Chapman explains the stupidity of windfall profits taxes, gas tax holidays and the like, and calls for a carbon tax instead.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sagan's futures

Nick Sagan, imaginative sci-fi writer and my onetime colleague at, has a new book out: You Call This the Future?: The Greatest Inventions Sci-Fi Imagined and Science Promised. Alan Boyle has a discussion here. Excerpt:
Think of "You Call This the Future?" as a pocket guide to the best (and the worst) ideas about future tech, with quick bites tracing the sci-fi roots of those ideas and gauging how close they've come to reality. Yes, there's the jetpack and the flying car, along with warp drives, time travel and marauding cyborgs. Even virtual
, a la Woody Allen's "Sleeper," comes in for a reality check.
I haven't seen the book yet, but Nick is always interesting. My review of his earlier Idlewildis here.

Carbon copy editing

Victor Davis Hanson:
At some point is there any sane Democratic strategist left, who sees that populist rhetoric and "two Americas" lingo do not go well with the several Kerry mansions, the Edwards' 30,000 sq. ft. domicile, the carbon-consuming Gore spread, the $109 million Clinton tax returns, those burdensome Michelle Obama Ivy-League student loans to be repaid, and Marin County sociology lessons?
That should read carbon-emitting Gore spread. Carbon-consuming would be laudable.

Cassini continues

NASA is extending Cassini's mission around Saturn:
Cassini's mission originally had been scheduled to end in July 2008. The newly-announced two-year extension will include 60 additional orbits of Saturn and more flybys of its exotic moons. These will include 26 flybys of Titan, seven of Enceladus, and one each of Dione, Rhea and Helene. The extension also includes studies of Saturn's rings, its complex magnetosphere, and the planet itself.
Among other things, that will mean some more chances to taste organic brew.

Monday, April 14, 2008

CPA Girl

In recognition of Tax Day, I've delved into some of the darker corners of the Internet and my own checkered career to bring you the world's greatest accounting superheroine ... CPA Girl.

Not even being discussed

Clive Crook is right about George W. Bush's horrendous fiscal record, and about this:
In this election year, control of entitlements and far-reaching reform of the tax system are not even being discussed. Before too long, both will be unavoidable fiscal necessities. Cancelling Mr Bush is not enough.
McCain is the only candidate that even begins to talk about spending control, and all three candidates' proposals for tax reform are fairly small potatoes. Real tax reform could include getting rid of most or all of the income tax, and replacing it with something like a VAT or X Tax.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Blogging on a Sunday afternoon is, at least in my case, a waste of time. But gardening is a productive activity. We didn't have a flower garden until a few hours ago, and we planted a red maple and redbud as well.

McCain's inner T.R.

In a thoughtful article, Irwin Stelzer advises John McCain to "Embrace Your Inner Teddy Roosevelt." Excerpt:
TR recognized that "a fortune accumulated in legitimate business .  .  . confer[s] immense incidental benefits on others. .  .  . The captains of industry .  .  . have on the whole done great good to our people. .  .  . The mechanism of modern business is so delicate that extreme care must be taken not to interfere with it in a spirit of rashness or ignorance." Roosevelt nevertheless contended that business entities that are granted the privilege and protection of corporate status must be regulated--"subject to proper governmental supervision" lest these businesses commit "real and grave evils."
Following in T.R.'s footsteps means using government, when circumstances warrant, to increase market competition and address clearcut market failures. It also means shrugging off the complaints that this amounts to "liberal fascism."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cosmic snobbery

On a galactic scale, maybe we're all just backwoods rubes: "The 1.5 Gigayear Technology Gap." (Via the Speculist.)

Or maybe not: "Intelligence: A Rare Cosmic Commodity."

In any event, here's what Obama should have said (original here; italics reflect my changes):
You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and throughout planet Earth, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them, because we haven't progressed into post-material entities yet. And they fell through the Clinton administration, when the planet was continually assaulted by greys with large heads, and the Bush administration, when the X-Files were squelched off the air, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate new protoplasm and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter about being trapped on this tiny planet, they cling to puny pathetic guns or religion resulting from their primitive brains or antipathy to people who aren't like them because they have more limbs or green skin or anti-immigrant sentiment as we saw in Men in Black or anti-trade sentiment like in Star Wars: Episode One as a way to explain their frustrations, so vote for me and finally become an advanced civilization, rather than remaining a bunch of morons.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Annals of tax non-cuts

R. Emmett Tyrrell has things mixed up:
Yet Norquist's achievements cannot be easily diminished. His Americans for Tax Reform has helped to make tax cutting a major element in modern American politics, and tax cutting has engendered nearly three decades of pretty steady economic growth. Since the middle of the 19th century the longest period of economic expansion was 57 months. Then came Ronald Reagan with an expansion of 92 months, then Bill Clinton with 102 months, and now George W. Bush with an expansion in the mid-70s somewhere.
Question for American Spectator fact checkers: Can you name the president in the above paragraph who conducted a sweeping tax hike? Hint: It was in 1993.

And is Tyrrell somehow under the impression that federal taxes were higher in the late 19th century? Bonus question for fact checkers: How high was the federal income tax 100 years ago?

"Mr. Conservative"

Jonathan Rauch's excellent Atlantic article about McCain as Burkean is now online. We won't be hearing about any "John McCain Revolution" and that's fine by me.

Good news from Tatooine

Superconductors could help spacecraft hover:
Luke Skywalker's space racer hovered unpowered above the ground in the seminal Star Wars movie, but scientists have searched in vain for a real-world technology that realizes the same dream. Now, Cornell University researchers propose that superconductors paired with permanent magnets could fit the bill.
Some of us have been waiting for this since 1977.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

McCain mortgage miasma

Here's the transcript of John McCain's mortgage speech today. I agree with those who find it lame. Straight talk would've involved saying the government shouldn't go around rewriting contracts when market conditions become unfavorable, because doing so creates new risks and costs, and if done often enough leads to stifling government domination of the economy. Disappointing. I say bring back the old John McCain of about two weeks ago.

Far side

There's new interest in some highly underutilized real estate: the far side of the moon. An MIT-led team is developing a plan to put a radio telescope array there. And some physicists think it would be a good locale to look for evidence backing string theory. One sign the neighborhood has a high upside is that there are already proposals for zoning.

Solar power satellite watch

Ad Astra profiles and interviews Peter Glaser, the visionary of space solar power:

At 84, Dr. Peter Glaser no longer travels the globe lecturing on the concept he first envisioned—the solar power satellite. From his home in Lexington, Massachusetts, Glaser seems perfectly at ease in knowing that others must now take his ideas forward into this century.

“I’m an old man now, and I don’t travel much,” he says. “All of my works and papers are in the collection at MIT. Besides, it’s not just about Peter Glaser any longer. People all over the world know about solar power satellites. It’s up to them to make it work for the whole world.”

He's a brilliant man, though I don't agree with this:

Ad Astra: Do you think the push to create space-based power systems should be spearheaded by the government or the private sector?
Glaser: Since it would be such a huge undertaking, I think it would be best accomplished at an international level, perhaps even managed by the United Nations.
If space solar power ever happens, it will likely result from some combination of national rivalries and private-sector competition. Having it managed by the U.N. will get us more Saddam Hussein food-for-oil palaces somewhere, this time with solar panels.

PDF of Ad Astra's space solar coverage here. Via Space Solar Power blog.

SciAm eviscerates Expelled

Scientific American has a package on the movie Expelled. Audio of a conversation between SciAm editors and a producer of the movie is here. An article by John Rennie is here; excerpt:

The most conspicuous absence from the movie, however—and you would think it was impossible in a movie about evolution and ID—is any real science. Anyone looking for scientific reasons or even detailed arguments for why scientists maintained either position would go away unsatisfied. A half hour or so passes before anyone in the film offers even simplistic definitions for evolution and ID. Nor is there any discussion of evolution's accomplishments in illuminating the history of life and problems in fields as diverse as medicine and astrophysics, and its applications to technology such as combinatorial chemistry.

Instead, various Discovery Institute fellows intone that evolution is a "slippery," hard-to-pin-down theory. No such criticism is made of ID, a notion which firmly states that at one or more unspecified times in the past, an unidentified designer who might or might not be God somehow created whole organisms, or maybe just cells, or maybe just certain parts of cells—they're still deciding and will get back to you on that.

It's the vagueness of ID, not its religious motivation, that makes it impossible to take seriously.

Meanwhile on Phobos

Here's an impressive image of Stickney Crater, on the larger of Mars' two moons. Phobos has a bit of a cult following of people who want to go there.

UPDATE: Via Mike Battaglia, another view of Phobos, and some Martian clouds passing by.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nick Schulz, editor-in-chief

Congratulations to Nick Schulz on taking the wheel at The American. Nick was editor on my numerous articles at TCSDaily and was both a pleasure to work with and open to some of my stranger story ideas, from which lesser Washington-based editors would've cowered away.

Science debate falls into black hole

At Wired, Brandon Keim asks:

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are eager to talk about religion. But why are they so scared of science?

Probably not knowing much about it and not having many supporters who care about it are prime reasons. But if there were a science debate, I wish someone would ask the candidates what they're going to do about this:
Dark energy will have an enormous impact on the future of the universe. With cosmologist Glenn Starkman of Case Western Reserve University, Krauss explored the implications for the fate of life in a universe with a cosmological constant. The prognosis: not good. Such a universe becomes a very inhospitable place. The cosmological constant produces a fixed “event horizon,” an imaginary surface beyond which no matter or radiation can reach us. The universe comes to resemble an inside-out black hole, with matter and radiation trapped outside the horizon rather than inside it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

NJ Transit customer service

Sitting in the Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction Station, waiting for a later train. That's because the relevant NJ Transit personnel couldn't be bothered to open the gate for a customer with a transfer in a timely manner. Moreover, that customer was charged an amount different from the stated price on the schedule, with the lame explanation given that the price is different if you're heading from New York, even though it doesn't say so. Poorly done, NJ Transit.

Plus, it's a bit tasteless for the station to be named for a senator who's still alive and in the Senate.

Plot twists

Charlie Jane Anders has an extensive list of Silliest Scifi Plot Twists. Excerpt:

Mission To Mars. Not only is there life on Mars, but it's incredibly goofy. And it turns out they seeded Earth with life. And now they want to meet Gary Sinise, so they can tell him how much they loved Forrest Gump.

Vanilla Sky. OMG, what is reality? Tom Cruise's tragic girlfriends keep merging into one woman, and he can't keep them straight, but then it turns out he's in suspended animation having a 100-year-shroom dream. But then he wakes up, and he's still shrooming. Or is he? He jumps off a building, and into a big eye. Whoah. What just happened? The end.

My long-ago review of M2M is here. And I revealed my personal link to Vanilla Sky here.

Ethanol omission

Not that I'm surprised, but Paul Krugman neglected to give John McCain credit for opposing ethanol subsidies.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Democratic convention scenario

Recommended reading: "Four Days in Denver," an entertaining screenplay by Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr.

Cydonia dreaming

Dwayne A. Day ponders the Face on Mars and whether to respond to nutcases.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Welch on Frum

Matt Welch on David Frum:
Republicans should cave on new spending and regulations, says Frum, in exchange for tax cuts.
I'm traveling right now, and I don't have my copy of Comeback on hand. But I read it closely and reviewed it here. And Welch's statement is wrong. First, Frum is highly critical of the Bush administration's spending. Second, Frum wants such competition-enhancing regulatory reforms as the lifting of state rules that prevent people from buying health insurance across state lines. Third, Frum wants Republicans to stop emphasizing tax cuts, and to embrace a carbon tax.

I understand the exigencies of magazine product differentiation. But if you're going to crusade against neocons, at least know what you're talking about.

Historic Philadelphia

Hamilton and me. Signers' Hall, National Constitution Center, Philadelphia. 4-5-08.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Carbon injection objection

Carbon sequestration has begun in Australia. Not everyone likes it:

The project "is government-funded PR for the coal sector and would be a perfect place to start for a government looking to find budget cuts," Green Party Sen. Christine Milne said.

We see here the contours of future political battles worldwide: industry that wants to get tough on global warming, versus environmental groups that dislike industrial solutions. It's a conflict that will be hard for enviros to win, having succeeded perhaps too well in raising public awareness of the problem.

Christianity and creationism

John Derbyshire writes:
So is the Darwin fish ill-mannered? I think it is, but only because it equates Christiainty with Creationism. Most Christians aren't Creationists, and to imply that they are is wrong-headed, tarring the many with the foolishness of the few. I can't truthfully say, as Jonah does, that I find the Darwin fish offensive, but I do think it's ignorant (i.e. of the fact that most Christians aren't Creationists) and ill-mannered (i.e. towards non-Creationist Christians).
I agree it's wrong to equate Christianity with creationism, and argued so here. But the "most Christians aren't Creationists" statement flies in the face of at least some polling. A CBS poll taken in 2005 and released in 2006 (PDF) found that 67 percent of "observant" people (I don't find breakdown of Christians from others) agreed "God created humans in last 10,000 years."

Shuttle pics

Some great photos of the space shuttle being prepared for launch.

Mike Battaglia points to one caption error: VAB stands for Vehicle Assembly Building (not Vertical).

Fusion futures

An update on where things stand in nuclear fusion.

And here's a piece I did showing where things stood in 1994. The joke about fusion is that it's the energy of the future and always will be. But I wouldn't count it out for the long run.

Veepstakes watch

Gallup poll: "No Consensus Favorite Among Republicans for McCain VP."

Memo to candidate: Please ignore the 18% who want Huckabee, and the 1% who want John Edwards (!). And there are a lot of good prospects not mentioned, such as Christopher Cox.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mind books at Maggie's Farm

Some kind words from one Dr. Joy Bliss at an intriguing site called Maggie's Farm:

I won't write the essay here, but I am convinced that the idea of "mind," "self", "consciousness", and free will are so useful that they must mean something. In normal language, I believe people, or at least most people, have souls. However defined.

The subject arises because of an excellent review by Kenneth Silber of two books in Reason, entitled Are We Really Smart Robots? Mr. Silber has an impressive grasp of an immensely complex subject which involves neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, and culture.

The site also has some racy photos (not of me).

Vignettes of Berlinski

Glenn Reynolds writes:

IN THE MAIL: David Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. No idea if he's related to Claire Berlinski, though you would expect that an author-Berlinski living in Paris might well be.
UPDATE: Various readers email that David Berlinski is Claire and Mischa Berlinski's father.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Raymond Eckhart emails: "In addition to being Claire and Mischa’s Dad, he’s a fellow at the Discovery Institute and ID proponent. I’d love to hear a debate on ID between him and John Derbyshire. Methinks the Derb would
clean up." I don't believe in intelligent design. The case for not-very-bright design, however, remains open.

Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog found Berlinski oddly impressive at a recent encounter.
All in all, a pleasant evening. Berlinski made a good impression on me. Alas, some of that good feeling started to fade when I read the Preface and first chapter of his book on the train ride out of the city, but I'll save that for a different post.
Berlinski is unusual among leading anti-evolution advocates in having a sense of humor. Still, a lot of what he's written is just glib nonsense, such as this from an old Commentary article:

What do we see when we look elsewhere? Stars blazing glumly in the night sky, the moons of Jupiter hanging like so many testicles, clouds of cosmic dust, an immensity of space, a spare but irritating sound track consisting of the infernal chatter of background radiation.

Algae-powered raptors

Warning: On the Internet, it's easy to lose track of what's reality and what's not:
It looks like algae-powered buses are still a ways off, but possibly in our future. Maybe they’re in Galactica’s future, too. Just think: algae-powered Raptors mean more tyllium for the fleet.

Energy independence debate

I would like to see a debate between Robert Zubrin and Robert Bryce. I think one overstates the problem and counsels an unwise action, and the other understates the problem and counsels an unwise inaction. A debate just might help find some sensible middle ground on energy security.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Individual liberty and the free market are paramount"

Matt Welch, pursuing John McCain like an avenging Krampus, quotes the senator's own maniacal words. I believe it's the same speech about being "ready on day one to be Commander-in-Chief of our economy"--oh sorry that was someone else. Here, however, is a passage from a 2007 McCain speech:

"Property," John Adams wrote, "is surely a right of mankind as real as liberty." Yet today property rights come under attack from regulations that affect every conceivable aspect of property ownership. Mr. Adams would be shocked to learn what both the United States Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Connecticut did to Susette Kelo, an American homeowner, in allowing the government to seize her home for economic development and gain under the guise of "valid public use."

The protection of property rights lies at the heart of our constitutional system. The Framers of our Constitution drew upon classical notions of legal rights and individual liberty dating back to the Justinian Code, the Magna Carta, and the Two Treatises of John Locke, all of which recognize the importance of property ownership in a governmental system in which individual liberty and the free market are paramount.

Then again, I guess if you're libertarian enough, the John Adams citation is damning, too.

Beyond wallowing

James B. Stewart sees an opportunity:
Given all the gloomy media coverage, you don't need me to tell you that we've just come through the worst quarter for the stock market since 2002 and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Much of the media has been positively wallowing in the bad news.

As an investor, I love this. Not the bad news, mind you. What I like is the pervasive bearish sentiment, which could be setting the stage for a prolonged rally.
Anyone who remembers the 1992 Clinton/Gore blather about "the worst economy in 50 years" has to take the recent doom-and-gloom with at least a bit of skepticism.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"The ultimate in renewable energy"

More respect for algae:
Algae are among the fastest growing plants in the world, and about 50 percent of their weight is oil. That lipid oil can be used to make biodiesel for cars, trucks, and airplanes.
There's video too.


A movie to look forward to? Krampus.
A 7 foot tall, cloven hoofed, goat-man. Draped in chains and flickering his 12 inch forked tongue, the Krampus storms through the Black Forest, searching for his prey. He follows St. Nicholas over the dark landscape looking for those that have failed to be righteous.
More info here and here.

Cylon bible

Jane Espenson, Battlestar writer:
There is, indeed, something like a Cylon bible — a document that describes their culture and their ships. There is also a similar document about life on Galactica. I was given these when I was hired and I can vouch that they're fascinating!

Anti-carbon stupidity

Via Russell Seitz, a story about missing the forest for the trees:
In a case with statewide significance, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is pursuing a Sunnyvale couple under a little-known California law because redwood trees in their backyard cast a shadow over their neighbor's solar panels.

Fell for it

I never liked April Fools Day, and like it even less now that I find I can't get a free textbook.

Hickam loses cookies

News item: Homer Hickam did not say Democrats might scrap military programs and begin baking cookies for the enemy.

I once wrote a TCS piece in which I initially misspelled his name as "Hickham" (later fixed). I quickly got a nasty email from his secretary, whose job apparently is to police such violations.