Monday, June 30, 2008

Links of Interest

Weird Fish Tanks
Tunguska @ 100
Mars Slapped
Flooded London #1 and #2 and Squint/Opera See also here.
Sustainable Architecture
Local River. Look at #28.
Survival Research Labs
Wear Science!
Christina Vergano and here.
Love and Learning in a Small Town

Links of Interest

Chemistry on the Martian Surface. And here. And here. And here. And here.
The Twirling Towers of Dubai
The Nature of Space and Time
Ocean Ozone Mechanisms
Solar Panels: Intel Inside
This is Joe's brain. This is Joe's brain on marketing.
Indiana Bush
Partial Face Transplants

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Links of Interest

The Social Life of Plants
Monkeys that fish
Structures beyond the visible universe
Reasons to be Vegetarian
Phoenix Cooks
Don't eat that fish
Ibuprofen and Alzheimers
Ovulation on Camera
A Unicorn. Yeah, that's right. A Unicorn.

TED Talks
Wade Davis: web of belief and ritual
Zeresenay Alemseged: The Origins of Humanity

Algirdas Jonas Budrys

I don't talk much about influences in my work. I don't do hero worship well. Even so, in my own mind I annotate my writing: this came from Clemens, that came from Terry Carr.

A whole lot came from Algis Budrys.

I met AJ at the Clarion SF Writers Workshop in 1978. The important thing I learned from AJ had little to do with story technique or language-- though I learned that from him, and the other teachers, as well. What I learned from AJ, and probably the most important thing I learned from Clarion, was an understanding of how stories work.

I took apart Who? and Rogue Moon to see what made them tick more times than I can count. I still think they were two of the most interesting and powerful books I've ever read. The Falling Torch is still the best blend of political and family fiction ever written in SF.

I think AJ introduced ambiguity to science fiction. Certainly, he introduced that sort of complex understanding to my perception of SF. Rogue Moon and A Canticle for Leibowitz competed for a Hugo in 1961 and Canticle won. But the impact of Rogue Moon is greater. Canticle fell into the pattern of epic SF, its innovation resting solidly on its investment in catholicism. Rogue Moon was much more interesting. Its foundation rested on a kind of character development seen more commonly outside of SF, in the works of Norman Mailer or Truman Capote; complex, driven, sometimes self destructive people. People with jobs. People with obsessions. People.

At Clarion, in the evening after the sessions, we'd sit around the dorm. It was God-awful un-airconditioned hot. AJ sat with us and we exchanged shaggy dog stories. AJ excelled at such stories-- his set ups were often far funner than the punchline. I worked hard to pronounce Algirdas Jonas Budrys. I don't think I ever got it right but at least I got close enough that he didn't laugh out loud. Not that I minded. He had a good laugh.

Madeleine Robins' essay on AJ
SFWA Obituary
Algis Budrys Bibliography
SFSite 1997 Interview
Interview on
Algis Budrys on Writing
Excerpt from Locus
Article from LoneStarCon 2, 1997
Writing to the Point: Algis Budrys on writing
Links of Interest
Templeton Essays: Does science make belief in God obsolete?
The Demon of Determinism
Hot Moth Action
Genetic Engineering as Natural Violation
Tiger Wine
The pH of Oceans
Terrorbirds, Redux
The Evolution of the Vertebrate Brain

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Strengths and Weaknesses of Antievolutionists

At the end of horror movies, there's always a bit where the monster (or serial killer or whatever) is thought to be dead and then abruptly, covered with the battle's blood, ichor and other bodily fluids, stumbles back to life.

Similarly maimed and mutilated, the antievolutionists have raised their ugly heads down in Texas. Following the precepts of natural selection, they have adapted from creationists to intelligent designers and now attempt to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. The NYT has a good article covering this here.

Watching this rough beast lurching towards Bethlehem to be born is like watching evolution in action. The species (creationism) attempts to compete and only a small population survives (intelligent design). When that population tries to expand its niche (think Dover, PA) and fails a population of ideas comes forward again. Evolution?

Nah. Evolution is much more elegant and well constructed. This is more like the monster mentioned before.

The "strengths and weaknesses" argument is yet another attempt to fool those who are not conversant with science. The very fact that other branches of science, many less proven than evolution, don't have to be singled out shows the malignant nature of the attempt. You don't see anybody legislating the "strengths and weaknesses" of germ theory, quantum physics or electrical engineering, do you?

Look at the website for yourself. It's rife with the same shrill hysteria other creationist websites like to use. "they can't tolerate any criticism of Darwinian theories at any level". Not to mention that they take the Expelled vs Yoko Ono case as an exercise in censorship. For a view of what that case was actually about, as opposed to what the creationists think it was about, see here. Similarly, the Institute of Creation Research attempted to offer a master's degree in science education. Such a degree qualifies graduates to teach science in Texas schools. The board refused to accredit such a degree since the program didn't accept evolution. (Yay!) The website views this as blatant bigotry. No doubt science teachers who taught the earth was flat and the sun moved over it would be similarly discriminated against. See an article here.

Well, from these guys, duh! What they want isn't scientific debate-- which is the only sort of "criticism" that should be considered-- they want criticism of scientific thought to be taught. After all, this is the Texas and as Texas school books go, so goes the nation. Okay, boys and girls. This is science. If you don't like it or think it's too hard or it challenges your idiotic little preconceptions of the real world, feel free to decide not to think. It helps dumb down the nation and keeps the Republicans in power.

Nobody has ever suggested that evolutionary theories not be subjected to scientific debate. In point of fact they are subjected to this sort of rigor every day. All the time. By people far more intelligent than creationists. But when a scientific principle predicts accurately and well time after time, when it yields a wealth of knowledge over and over whenever it is applied, and when all other approaches fail miserably, it's probably time to consider it real.

This is the part that I keep failing to understand. It's like denying gravity or the utility of breathing. Look, folks, it's right there. It's as predictable as physics and as useful as electricity. Everything supports it and nothing refutes it. I've looked at the "criticisms" and they are completely bogus.

Yet well meaning, fairly intelligent people keep refusing to see the nose on their face.

The only reason I can think of is that people don't like the implications of their own religious dogma, the unlimited power of God. They must have extremely shaky faith and a very silly concept of their deity not to accept the world they believe their deity made. Science is about the world as it is. And if one believes in an all power God, then science is showing us what and how that God made it.

The weakness of creationist faith trembles before the strength of evolution.

Links of Interest
Hedy Lamarr as brilliant inventor. Who knew?
Article on Herkimer Diamonds
Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners: the brain knows the difference
Musical Kit Catalog: Go wild
Resveratrol Redux and here
Crab Nebula: still interesting after all these years
Points of views on physics
Bacterial help frogs fight fungus: fades fears
New map of the Milky Way
Contact pictures of uncontacted tribes
Toxic Nudibranchs
Afghani treasures

TED Talks
Nathan Myrhvold: very funny, very interesting. See here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

More of a "finally" rather than a "finale"

The primaries are over. Finally. The muck and mire we've been wading through for since last year is now mulch.

I'd like to say it's over and let's get on with the election but Hillary hasn't thrown in the towel.

I started out liking her but grew more and more disappointed until now I just wish she would go away. Mainly, it's a strong dislike for her rhetoric. If you listen to Hillary, you hear about what she is going to do and how she is going to do it. If you listen to Obama, it's what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. This may seem like a trivial thing to some but language is important. It shapes thought. It shapes policy. It can be used to lie or tell the truth and the lie or truth is written into the structure of the words. I think Bush's lack of language has said more about the Bush presidency than anything else. Hesitancy, mis-speaking, stumbling, illiterate references are his hallmark. His presidency has been marked by bumbling, lying and lurching from one symbolic flagpole to another all while he's been acting completely contrary to what he promises. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Even so, you have to credit Republicans at being electorally competent. They aren't so great at governing-- note that Reagan and Bush (Iran/Contra) and Bush-lite (Iraq War) have all done what I would consider impeachable offenses. Yet they were never impeached. Clinton was impeached and what a diabolical political campaign act it was, too. Just more carnage used to win elections. After all, which is worse? Getting laid in the white house or violating the laws of congress? Oral sex in the oval office or lying to start a war that leaves a hundred thousand dead Iraqis and over four thousand dead soldiers? You decide.

On the other hand, the Democrats seem to have a built in electoral self-destruct mechanism. Anybody that has seen Gore speak since the 2000 election scratches their head. How did he lose? Kerry had the election in the bag going into the process and died on the vine.

And now we have had the mother of all primary fights, each candidate boring in on the weaknesses of the other. Who's going to really benefit from those red telephone ads? John McCain, that's who. He's already started to use the same rhetoric Hillary used on Obama.

Which puts Hillary in the interesting position of being able to call the next election.

Hm. McCainland versus Obamaworld. Which will Hillary choose.

Links of Interest
The Strangest Frog Claw in the World
Fun in Cincinnati
Agribusiness vs. Food
43rd Anniversary of the First American Spacewalk: 6/3/1965
The Rules of Decision Making
More Evidence of Ice on Mars. And soil scooping.
DNA Number Crunching
Shrimp Eating Clams
Resveratrol: It's not just for breakfast anymore

Links of Interest

Seafood you should eat
Cutting Necessary Research Budgets: Surprise!
Neuroscience of Illusion
Forget MRSA. Here's the Gut Superbug!
Science and Policy in NYC
Monkey Controls Robot Arm. To do what?
The Salt of the Mars
Mars Phoenix Slide Show
Bridges of Beauty
World Science Festival: Here are the cool jobs