Sunday, August 29, 2010

Temple Grandin movie

Highly recommended: Temple Grandin, the HBO movie. Grandin's book Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, which I reviewed for Scientific American Mind five years ago, was fascinating but didn't hint at the struggles she had to go through earlier in life, though on reflection it makes perfect sense. This movie, based on other books of hers, tells that background story well, including through imaginative use of visual imagery to convey how she thinks. Also, Claire Danes is terrific.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Common sense overrated

Interesting blog discovery: "Yet Another Weird SF Fan," with subtitle: "I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?" Just shows what kind of interesting stuff you might find (in this case, a few years after the fact) when you search on your own name.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quiet late August

Posting here may continue to be light, as I focus on various projects, though in this era of social-media microblogging, my Twitter feed just might show continued signs of life. One note: I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Tues., Aug. 31 at 7 pm ET to discuss my Research magazine article on space commerce and perhaps related matters involving the moon and more.

UPDATE: On the other hand, "Shock revelation: Microblogging Meaningless Waste of Time!"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Requiem for Lehman Bros.

My latest at FrumForum: "How Lehman Went Bust," about The Last of the Imperious Rich: Lehman Brothers, 1844-2008. Excerpt:
A century and a half earlier, immigrant Henry Lehman had built up a solid reputation as a seller of reliable goods to the farmers he served as a traveling peddler in the antebellum South. In our time, the firm that bore the distinguished Lehman name proved willing to sell junk — toxic financial instruments that flew in the face of both propriety and prudence — and to do so knowingly, with deceptive marketing and accounting.
Whole thing here. See also the NYT review here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gingrich Park Place disgrace

Until recently, I had a certain amount of respect for Newt Gingrich. I thought him a flawed and abrasive personality, true, but also an interesting and creative policymaker and analyst (as with his interest in space exploration). But I can scarcely believe the crudity and cynicism of Gingrich's stance on the "Ground Zero mosque," as Jacob Sullum describes well here and here.

I can understand people being discomfited or opposed to an Islamic center being located on Park Place in lower Manhattan, even though I don't share that discomfiture or that opposition. But the hysteria, authoritarianism and outright bigotry Gingrich has displayed on this issue is detestable. May he never again wield any more political power than any other fatuous, rabble-rousing, politically impotent talking head.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Space commerce

An early look at my Sept. article in Research magazine: "Space Commerce's New Dawn." Excerpt:
Ever since the U.S. government scrambled to set up NASA in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the Sputnik I satellite, political and military considerations have tended to outweigh commercial motives in getting space hardware off the ground. The Apollo moon missions, for instance, were implemented in a spare-no-expense manner that would have been a poor model for any cost-conscious private-sector effort.

Even so, dreams of extraterrestrial profit bubbled up even at the height of the space race. In the summer of 1969, as NASA landed men on the moon, Pan Am began taking reservations for a lunar flight scheduled for the year 2000. As it happened, Pan Am would not stay in business that long, let alone fly to the moon, but it did sign up over 90,000 would-be passengers including Ronald Reagan, then California’s governor.
Whole thing here. Related: my recent FrumForum moon piece here.

Aug. misc. cont.

A couple more items of interest, found in between trying to learn how to surf and going to a water park:

John Horgan explains why he is "becoming a pro-nuke nut," at Scientific American, in one example of what I'd bet will be a major and consequential political realignment in the next decade or so.

David Frum doesn't like Destiny Disrupted as much as I did, though our impressions are not altogther different.

Friday, August 13, 2010

August misc.

Things are busier than one might expect in August, though I intend to continue contributing a higher-than-usual volume to FrumForum. Meanwhile, here are various items I've found noteworthy of late:

"Cable News: Where Being Loud Trumps Being Wrong," by Radley Balko. About a talking head I've only vaguely heard of and hope never to see.

"The Point of No Return," by Jeffrey Goldberg. About Israel and Iran.

"Man Scrawls World’s Biggest Message With GPS ‘Pen’," about an Ayn Rand enthusiast with apparently a lot of time on his hands -- how productive is he, really?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Deputy mayor watch

I had not realized, until I heard something on the radio this morning, that Stephen Goldsmith, whom I recall as the rising-star Republican mayor of Indianapolis in the 1990s, recently became deputy mayor of New York City. That should be interesting, as he was and presumably still is one of the more innovative policy types around. In any event, my own research techniques have evolved since the 90s; I'll follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back to the moon

My latest at Frum Forum: "Getting America Back to the Moon." Excerpt:
What’s no less worrisome, however, is that a large, important celestial object has been eclipsed in current policymaking and political debate: the moon. Perhaps as a means of distancing itself as far as possible from the Bush approach, the Obama White House has discarded Earth’s natural satellite as a target for human exploration and development.

Consider these goals stated in the National Space Policy document, released in June: “By 2025, begin crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth.” That “beyond the moon” is actually the only mention of the moon in the 14-page document.
Whole thing here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Deadliest Warrior analysis

Over at FrumForum, I speak up "In Praise of Deadliest Warrior." Excerpt:
Spike TV’s series Deadliest Warrior is presumably aimed at a demographic that’s fairly young and mostly male. The show investigates such questions as who would win in a fight to the death between a Spartan and a Ninja, or Navy SEALs versus Israeli commandos—and in the relevant weapons testing splatters some pig carcasses or head-shaped gelatin models.
But that’s not to say it’s a frivolous show. It’s actually quite thought-provoking, offering insights into military history, strategy and philosophy, while giving a sense of the power (and limits) of scientific empirical testing and of computer simulations. That Deadliest Warrior is fun and sometimes tasteless should not distract from its intellectually stimulating content.
Whole thing here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Radio note

I'll be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Tues., Aug. 10 at 7 pm ET to discuss "Reawakening the Dragon," my piece on China's stock market history. For podcasts of previous appearances, see here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Behavioral econ brief

Monkeys make bad economic decisions. So do humans.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Shutter Island Darwin

This weekend's movie rentals made for an odd juxtaposition. First there was Shutter Island, the weird melodrama of which borders on laughable (or perhaps more than borders) for much of the film -- until you find out what's actually going on. Then there was Creation, about Charles Darwin, which has a notably similar hallucinatory quality, such that it could have been called "Charles Darwin Goes to Shutter Island." Despite, or -- let's face it -- because of, all the bizarreness, I'd recommend both, particularly with a glass of Lagavulin.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tibetan six-pack

From a Reason piece on Tibetan Buddhism:
You soon realize that no Tibetan Buddhist sits cross-legged on cushions all day long while staring into space and thinking about the universe. No, worshipping Buddha is a full-on physical workout. At the Lamaling Temple on a hillside in Nyingchi County in south-east Tibet, I saw women in their 50s doing the prostration thing, like an archaic version of a Jane Fonda workout.
I can vouch for this. Doing the seven ritual prostrations in the temple at Chobar, Nepal last year made my abs hurt for a week.