Sunday, December 30, 2012

Consideration of Works Past: East of Eden

It's odd to me John Steinbeck doesn't come up in conversation too much anymore.

When books do come up there's usually a breakdown something like this: mostly contemporary with the genre interest of the speaker showing up broadly, some books to reference the contemporary books, a few 19th century canon references such as Twain, Dickens or Kipling., the foreign book of the moment and that's about it. Sometimes there's reference to Hemingway or Lawrence or some such-- usually if a movie has been recently released. For that matter, the movies almost always dominate the conversation.

If Steinbeck does come up, one of three books are mentioned: The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row. Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath fight for first place depending on the movie release schedule. The Grapes of Wrath has been read by most people who went to high school before 1990. Cannery Row comes in a distant third.

(If you liked Cannery Row, run, do not walk, to read the delightful sequel, Sweet Thursday. Don't bother with the Nick Nolte movie. It will only make you sad.)

People seem easy with Hemingway or Lawrence or Dickens or even Twain. But when Steinbeck is mentioned people look away or mumble something to show they heard but to make sure they're not understood.

And yes, I'm trying to write like Steinbeck.

Hemingway, Faulkner and the other American writers of the first half of the 20th century were kept alive in part because they were taught in high school. I don't think that's going on so much now. Shakespeare is being taught, of course. My son has not and apparently will not be taught these authors. Leave that for college, perhaps. Contemporary writers are being used in their place. I think this is a loss.

Back in the late sixties and seventies I went on a Steinbeck jag. For me this is not unusual. I get fired up by a writer and want to read everything they've ever written. (There's a post coming on the use, care and feeding of obsessions. But that day is not this day.) I read East of Eden (1952) during this period and was blown away by it. I heard music described to me once as equal parts surprise and inevitability. East of Eden shows the same can be true for a good novel.

Steinbeck used the Cain and Abel story as a model for the novel. He does this from the very first and has his characters follow the rough pattern throughout their lives. Given that the story is ubiquitous you'd think that the novel would be boring. After all, you know the end. Cain will slay Abel in some way. There is going to be a fight over the father.

Somehow this doesn't seem to matter when you're reading it. It is like the novel fulfills the original story. Rounds it out. Gives it depth and meaning.

Okay, okay. A synopsis.

Adam and Charles Trask are born half-brothers to the same father. They work out their conflict through the first half of the novel and I won't talk about that too much. If you want the full synopsis go to the wikipedia entry I listed earlier. While the goal is never in doubt the road there is twisty and I don't want to spoil it.

Regardless, it climaxes with the introduction of Cathy, a psychopath of the first order. She is found broken and bleeding on their front door. Adam doesn't see her pathology in her but to Charles it is perfectly clear. Adam falls in love with her and takes her to California to start a new life with him. She'd leave him in a moment but she's pregnant and still recovering and can't get clear just yet. After the birth and after she's strong enough, she leaves Adam with two twin boys and disappears. The boys are ultimately named Aron and Caleb. And then they play out the Cain and Abel story.

But there's a lot more to this book. Steinbeck was born in the Salinas area, descended from the Hamilton family through his mother. The story involves the Trasks and Hamiltons together-- so much so I'm not terribly sure where truth ends and fiction starts. Olive Hamilton is a character in the book. Olive Hamilton Steinbeck was John Steinbeck's mother.

East of Eden has every Steinbeck virtue and every Steinbeck flaw. The narrative is crisp and evokes the very soil and grass of all of the locations, from the Indian Wars to the Connecticut hills and finally the Salinas Valley. You can feel the clods underfoot and feel the sun on your face. The characters are lively and quick. Steinbeck had the gift of non-judgmental writing. He can write of prostitutes, criminals, violence, indolence, evil and good without making the reader terribly clear if the author thinks any of this is actually bad or good. I like that about him. He lays things out. If the reader comes to the conclusion that, say, prostitution is evil (or good) thing it's an uncomfortable discovery as there's not much in the novel to support it. Steinbeck serenely slips past judgment in the spinning of the story.

On the other hand there are times the characters think out loud to one another and at such points they all sound alike and they all sound like the same sort of discussion that happens in the narrative. This can be tedious. I like that characters work out ethical and moral dilemmas in conversation. But they don't all have to work it out in exactly the same way.

One of the things that you can love or hate about Steinbeck is that he truly loves his characters. Steinbeck is the God we wish we had. He likes us with all our foibles. We make him laugh when we dance and sing. And when he drops tribulation down on us like the Looney Tunes Ton'O'Bricks, he at least feels apologetic about it.

This sort of character affection shows up a lot in the American writing of the thirties and forties. You find it in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943.) The Human Comedy by William Saroyan (also 1943.) The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck (1932.) Our Town, Thornton Wilder (1938.) Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937.) And, of course, anything written by John Steinbeck.

I found myself a little depressed reading the book at this stage of my life. I would have liked to have read it for the first time now instead of re-reading for the nth time. I know the story so well my mind tends to run over the good parts quickly and snag on the flaws. It's still a wonderful book but, I think, a little less wonderful now than when I first read it forty years ago.

Even so, it's still a very, very good book and a repository of craft worthy of discovery.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dinosaurs: Stranger Than You Think

(Picture from here.)

I was going to put up a post on the biological necessity of government and how it was a compromise between the twin human drives of competition and cooperation. How boring is that? Instead, something better came across my desk. What could be more exciting than dinosaurs?

A few necessary ideas that lay the groundwork.

First: all existing vertebrate classes are supposed to follow a size rule: a lot of little guys, less middle guys and not very many big ones. This is true for birds, amphibians, reptiles, etc.

Second: In terms of biomass, mammals rule the roost regarding large animals. "Large" being defined as greater than a few hundred grams. There are a few big bugs but starting about the size of a shrew and going on to whales mammals are the dominant terrestrial animals. Not to say that birds, amphibians and reptiles aren't important. But we live in something called the Age of Mammals for a reason. In the water it's a different story.

Third: There's a tendency for animals to reside in a given trophic class and ecological niche. Like the pirate code, it's more of a suggestion, really, and it's far more true for terrestrial life than aquatic life. But rats tend to compete against things that are rat like. Cod compete with things that are cod like. It's not often that rats compete with cod.

Fourth: For mammals (remember we're in the Age of Mammals) and birds competition is usually between adults. Both rear their young and toss them out of the nest when they are approaching adulthood. Competition is between adults or adult equivalent, not between young. This isn't as hard and fast outside of mammals and birds. The young of cod and frogs occupy a different ecological niche than adult cod and frogs. Competition is between different species.

As you might have guessed, new data suggests that for dinosaurs It Ain't Necessarily So.

David Hone and associates at Queen Mary University have just published a paper that details aggregate sizes of adult vertebrates. (Here is the paper. Here and here are good discussions of it.) It turns out that the size distribution I described above does not hold with dinosaurs. All other classes of vertebrates skew towards few large species and many small species. Dinosaurs skew in the opposite direction: many large species, few small ones.

The article is very good and readable and I suggest you go read it in its entirety. It's not a simple statistical correlation. Theropods have a somewhat different skew than the other two groups of dinosaurs. Reptiles have a bump in the middle occupied by the crocodilians. The figure at the left is from the article. It's pretty unmistakable. Upper left is the Dinosauria. Look at all of the others. All skewed to the left except dinosaurs which are skewed to the right.

There are a lot of implications here and possible explanations of odd bits of dinosaur data. Let's explore some of these and then see how this new data fits.

One issue is how many dinosaurs there actually were. Peter Dodson and Steve Wang have a nice paper about this problem. There are, of course, all sorts of problems with any sort of diversity estimation such as bias in the fossil record, estimating the diversity at any one time versus the whole 150 million years, etc. The maximum number of genera looks to range from less than fifty to close to 250 over the duration of the dinosaurs. (From figure 2 in the article.)  Compare that to the 1,229 genera of modern mammals. In addition, it's estimated that the number of species/genus in dinosaurs is about 1.2 with the vast majority of genera represented by a single species. Modern mammals have about 4 species/genus. It's clear that dinosaurs were less diverse than mammals.

Another problem is predator/prey ratios. This has been discussed in the context of whether or not dinosaurs are warm blooded or not for a long time. (See here.) Cold blooded predators have a predator/prey ratio of about 1:4. Because they're not keeping a warm body temperature they don't need to eat so much and so there can be more of them. Think crocodiles. Mammals historically have a p/p ratio of about 1:30 and modern mammals a ratio of 1/100 or even less. Dinosaurs have a ratio of 1/14. Better than crocodiles but not as good as mammals.

And, finally, there's the problem of why dinosaurs died out at the end of the Cretaceous and mammals lived.

Let's describe the scene Hone's paper suggests.

We know that a lot of large dinosaurs started out small and got bigger. The Titanosaurs might have been the largest animal to ever walk the earth but they started out about the size of a basketball or smaller. They grew fast but this was years fast, not weeks fast. So for a long time they were bumbling around in the brush just growing.

This means that they were in a different trophic level and niche than the adults. Mammals have a lot of rat equivalents eaten by cat equivalents, deer equivalents eaten by leopard equivalents. Rats are only competing with other rat equivalents. They never compete with deer. Our mammalian strategy precludes this. We're defined by the fact we nurture our young until they're ready to go out on their own. At which point the compete effectively as adults. Deer against antelope against zebra. Not zebra competing against muskrats.

This means in the case of dinosaurs that the niches we ordinarily think of as being occupied by other species can be, in fact, occupied by the juvenile of species.

We see this in any species where the young and adults are extremely different in size. The aforementioned cod, for instance. It's not surprising that larval forms can compete against other larval forms before they compete with different adult species. But on land the situation is quite different-- mostly. We do see it in crocodiles where the adult form is many many times larger than the young. Young crocodiles compete with each other and not with adults. There is some rearing in crocodiles. They protect an egg nest. A female will come in blazing if it hears a baby crocodile of distress. But it's marginal and only protects the very small. It doesn't take long for baby crocs to get big enough to compete with the adults and at that point we have a different picture. And this is not the Age of Crocodiles.

This might be a reason that the species diversity of the dinosaurs were so low compared to mammals. The ecological niches we now see occupied by many different species were occupied by the young of just a few species.

More evidence for this came from another paper that came out a year ago by Werner and Griebeler discusses how the reproductive biology of dinosaurs might drive them towards larger size. Dinosaurs had much larger litter sizes than comparable sized mammals. They show a mathematical model how this might drive the species to a larger size.

Predator/prey ratios might also come into account since they are typically calculated in terms of species-- a bias we have from our mammalian studies. It looks like dinosaurs followed a different tack. Dinosaur predators might have had a much larger prey diet of immature dinosaurs-- both their own and other species.

Finally, though their large size made them able to muddle through several previous extinctions (referring to the Werner paper mentioned above), their limited diversity made them vulnerable as a class to a very large extinction event like a meteor strike. Mammals had a lot of different species to choose from so species that were more suited to the new post-meteor world had a better shot. In addition, rearing to an adult organism meant that the young were protected by their parents beyond the point where dinosaur parents would have left them to forage. It meant not only the dinosaurs as organisms were vulnerable, the whole dinosaur ecology was vulnerable.

I love papers like this for a few reasons. For one, the way it turns our thinking on its head. We are mammals. We tend to think that the world before us was mammalian. It was not. Dinosaurs were not mammals. They didn't think like mammals. They didn't have an ecology like mammals. They didn't rear like mammals. For another it shows how science self corrects. We had an idea about dinosaurs. This paper confronts that idea. Now scientists will discuss it, poke holes in it and eventually it will be fit into the crazy quilt that is our understanding of the world.

And, finally, it shows how the world is so much more interesting and incredible than anything we could make up.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hacking Music: Minutiae

(Picture from here.)

A couple of people have asked why I'm so excited by what is happening in Japanese music. After all, I'm talking about changes in rhythm, use of technique-- small changes not big ones. After all, if one song is combining 3/4 and 4/4 time what difference does it make? It's a slight change in rhythm.

Good question.

We Americans like to think of revolutions as big, noisy things full of vim and vigor, sound and fury. Maybe that's an American thing since our own private little revolution took place in a war.

But the causes of revolutions are often small, unsung and unnoticed things. The PC revolution didn't start with the Apple or the IBM PC. The Altair 8800 was released in 1975. We think of the PC as the beginning of the end for large monolithic computers-- at least Apple's famous superbowl ad would have us think so. But the end of the big machines was written in the sand by the minicomputers developed in the sixties. More probably the revolution really started in 1959 with the development of the integrated circuit. That technology enabled everything else. The ubiquity of the computer could not have been predicted by the first IC-- though there was some rumblings in the SF community. But who listens to those kooks?

Similarly, while we can look back and see the roots of Baroque music in the tail end of the Renaissance the people at the time had no idea Baroque music was coming. While we can see elements of Bach in Mozart and Mozart in Beethoven, Bach could not have predicted Mozart nor Mozart, Beethoven.

It is very clear we're on the brink of interesting musical times-- have been for some time. The technology has completely exploded. Creation of music is at hand for both the amateur and professional musician-- blurring the boundary. Distribution of music is as easy as making a youtube video.

So I look for tiny clues. More polyphony. Crowdsourcing creativity. Unusual blending of rhythms. Use of enabling technology.

I'm looking for the wave front.

I might be disappointed. I don't mind. I've been there before. I can take it.

But it's always a heck of a ride.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sort of an interview

Stephen Mazur, assistant editor of F&SF, asked me if I would consent to an "interview." This consists of some questions he sent me regarding Breathe, a story recently published there. I answered them and sent them back and he posted it.

Here's the link.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Consideration of Works Past: Shoot at the Moon

I discovered Shoot at the Moon in the late sixties. At the time I liked it all right. It had some fairly blatent female aggressive sex in it and being a young lad I think that was much of its attraction.

SATM was written by William F. Temple, a lesser British SF luminary, largely forgotten.

A quick plot: Franz Brunel is a small man with a small man's resentment of a larger world. He's a space pilot which he loves. But the invention of new atomic rockets threatens to make his expertise obsolete. He is drafted into an expedition to the moon run by an eccentric politician. The expedition will be automatic except for the take off from earth and the landing on the moon-- hence the need for Brunel.

The crew is an amazingly dysfunctional band of misfits:

  • Franz: no winner himself.
  • Marley: the eccentric overbearing minister. 
  • Thompson: a passenger that appears to have no purpose whatsoever except to snipe at people
  • Pettigue: a geologist who has been on several expeditions and has the nasty trick of being the ony survivor
  • Lou: a brilliant biochemist that suffers from multiple personality disorder. Also, daughter of Marley
The book suffers from a terrible lack of focus. Is it an adventure? Is it a murder mystery? Is it a story of automation versus the worker? Redemption of a dream of adventure? Rite of passage for a man to overcome his cowardice? It tries to be all of these things and, of course, fails in them.

Brunel meets Lou as part of the process of setting up the expedition. She's slovenly, spoiled and unpleasant. When he sees her five months later she's shed the weight, worked her flab into muscle and brought her brain back on line, all because she's fallen in love with Brunel. A good chunk of the novel is the love dance between Brunel and Lou. That's the best part.

They get to the moon and discover gold-- turns out this is an obsession of Marley's. But that's not too terrible. Then people start dying and it turns into a murder mystery. The resolution of that is actually fairly good except for all the other issues that seem to have to come along with it.

There's a certain Ship of Fools aspect to the novel that I like. What can I say? I enjoy dysfunctional relationships. But the book stretches incredulity in just too many ways. One example is Thompson who, literally, has no technical role on the ship. Marley is there because it is his expedition. Pettigue is a geologist. Lou is a biochemist and Brunel is the pilot. Thompson is just there to be Lou's ex-husband and give data on her. As soon as that is accomplished, he's fodder.

SATM has a distinct resemblance to Algys Budrys' Rogue Moon. RM has a collection of misfits pursuing a strange and perhaps unobtainable goal. SATM has a collection of misfits pursuing a strange and perhaps unobtainable goal. The difference is, of course, Rogue Moon is a work of brilliance and SATM, sadly, is not. In RM the misfits, quirks and idiosyncrasies is the way Budrys is critiquing the society of 1960. SATM does no such critique. 

I don't know if Temple read RM but I suspect he did. It's a little unfortunate that SATM was published in 1967. If he had managed to publish this in 1959 and there were no connection to RM it would have been seen as a bit more original.

But not a lot.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Things of Interest

Couple of very interesting articles came across my desk today. Here they are:

How an All Star Team capped the BP Oil Well
Crystals Made of Time

The Armageddon Letters

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis: the closest the world ever came to full nuclear war.

Armageddon Letters is a site describing it with letters and videos.

Be Castro is a video based on those letters and videos.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Google takes one more step toward evil

I received an email from Google today:

"Starting today, we're no longer accepting new sign-ups for the free version of Google Apps (the version you're currently using). Because you're already a customer, this change has no impact on your service, and you can continue to use Google Apps for free."
Note that Gmail is a Google app as listed on the business site.

But I'm grandfathered in because I'm an existing user. That's supposed to make me feel comfy and warm, I suppose.

Of course I can upgrade to business apps any time for $60/year. ($5/month! It's a bargain!)

What can I surmise from this? One or more of the following:

  1. The Google model of doing things for free and basing them on advertising revenue is failing.
  2. The acquisitions Google has made haven't been paying off.
  3. Someone has to pay for the billion dollars Google has invested in clean energy.
  4. Google+ is not working.
If I had to bet it would be on number 1. I have to admit I don't even see the Google ads on sites unless they actually obscure what I'm looking at. Which, of course, makes we wonder on the actual value of ads at all. I don't see them on sites. I fast forward them on TV. I skip them as soon as possible on Youtube. 

I use Google sites, Google blogger and GMail. If I were pressed against the wall I might consider paying the $60/year for it but it would be with great reluctance and considerable searching to make sure it's the right fit. 

As it is I just use Google because it's free. Not because it's good.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hacking Music Part 2

(Picture from here.)

In Part 1 I talked about hacking music back in the Baroque Period and did a quick leap forward into the sixties.

I'm very interested in new musical idioms and forms. It has to be clear that I tend to view music in the narrow lens of my own musical upbringing. This makes me a bit blind to some distinctions that others might find earth shakingly important and excited by what some might thing trivial changes.

I had great hopes in the 80s when rap started showing up. I even made a passing reference to it in a story of mine called Boulder Country. I view punk, rap, hip-hop, dub, etc., as musical venues that sacrifice complexity to pursue a specific goal. Sort of like how Mondrian was interested in the play of light and shadow and went from painting trees to painting horizontal and vertical lines. It's a perfectly acceptable artistic approach. Still, if you sacrifice everything for rhythm and lyrics then you need to make double damned sure that rhythm and those lyrics are terrific. By now I was expecting the Iliad or the Odyssey or Ulysses. It's never wrong to hope, I suppose.


Instead I'm going to talk about Hatsune Miku, J-Pop and musical changes I think are interesting. I'm not going to be talking about the lyrics-- it's the music that interests me. Besides, I think the lyrics... suffer in translation.

I've spoken about Hatsune Miku before. (See here.) I like the sound envelope of her voice but it can be considered an acquired taste.

I've been following her, or at least, the music that she sings, for about two years now. Seeing the Miku concerts are interesting but I've decided the real interesting thing about her is that she is enabling technology. Miku is a singing machine-- the same sort of machine as the Synesthesia piano synthesizer. Or any other means by which those of us with Stupid Fingers and the itch to play or compose music can circumvent our handicap. She is enabling technology. She is an organizing principle around which music can be made to crystallize.

One of the implications of this is when you hear Hatsune sing you're hearing the sum of every choice a composer made. Every jot and tittle, warble, breath, speed of attack and fade was the artistic decision of a human being. The same is true for any Synthesia piano value. In fact, some vocaloid songs are essentially untouched by any human performs. Here is Happy Synthesizer as a somewhat repetitive example.

When I first heard the concert footage of the Hatsune ensemble I was more impressed by the performers than the animation. I mean the animation was fun (see here.) but that band was tight. They have to be tight. They're essentially playing against a recording. If they miss a beat or a note it doesn't matter. Hatsune's not going to be able to cover them. She's going to be singing her note right on time. (See here.)

This has a knock on effect of forcing the supporting musicians to plan their music just as precisely as what the vocaloid is doing. This gives a precision to the performance. There is no winging it or jams in a Hatsune song. For better or worse, this is how it is.

Hatsune is, therefore, a tool. Most of its use has been in the cultural and musical context of J-Pop, Japanese pop music with which I'm only passingly familiar. Most of the music I've been hearing originated in Nico Nico Douga-- the Japanese equivalent of Youtube. But I can't read Japanese. What I do is have a little agent troll Youtube for vocaloid music-- most of which are posted from Nico Nico Douga. I go over that and decide what is interesting. From this I get music that was written for a vocaloid, popular J-Pop (usually) songs covered by amateurs using a vocaloid and vocaloid songs covered by actual performing human beings. So when I use the word "Hatsune" in a musical context I'm really talking about a whole swath of music much of which may or may not directly involve the Hatsune Miku vocaloid. I'm trying to get at something bigger.

From this I'm going to comment on a musical movement. Right. That's like saying listening to a couple of albums by the Stones and Beatles enables me to speak authoritatively about sixties rock music.

But knowledge has never stopped my opinions before so let's continue.

There's a polyphonic aspect to this music that reminds me of Baroque music. I mean we're not talking Bach here but there's something going on.

Polyphony has been around since the Renaissance and it's been a component of pop and rock music for a long time. That's one of the things that eventually attracted me. Anytime you hear a counter tune in the back, that's polyphony: harmonic but independent melody lines.  One of the features of the Baroque period is the transformation of polyphonic music to contrapuntal music, a distinction I can hear but am unable to describe.

We have polyphonic pop music but it sounds, to me, like it's largely in harness to the melody line. That makes it weaker. The polyphonic aspect I've been hearing in the Hatsune music is stronger, more independent. For example, here is Owl City's Good Time, as standard a pop song as there ever was. There's polyphony here but it's completely subservient into harmony and there are only two voices. Here's what I think is a comparable pop song, Futarboshi.

I'm not saying that one pop song is better than the other. I have my own opinion on that but it's irrelevant. I'm saying in Good Time the polyphony is subservient to the emotion and kinetics of the singer. In Futarboshi the vocal line and other lines are more independent. The voice is just one more instrument of the ensemble. Owl City is centering the attention on the vocals. Futarboshi is more of an ensemble piece. Not that American pop music isn't capable of sophistication. Here's Owl City's Fireflies, a much more interesting song.

I chose two light pop songs just to show the difference in approach. But there are things going on more deeply.

The first song I heard that really got me excited was Ai kotoba. Go here and listen. Here is a slower piano version. Listen to the intro baseline and later in the chorus. Sound familiar? Now listen to Pachebel's Canon here. This is the same chord pattern. That's what started me digging.

Ai kotoba was written by DECO*27 about which I could find absolutely nothing. (His version is here.) This wasn't the first time I ran into a blank wall regarding these composers. Are they creating an identity and hiding their biography? Is it a language wall so that I'm asking the wrong questions? I don't know. I am convinced that the connection between Ai kotoba and classical forms is no accident. Over the last couple of years I've been pursuing this material I keep finding very accomplished musicians. Musicians that appear classically trained. I don't know if more Japanese study music than contemporary Americans but I am finding a lot of sophisticated musicians there.

Americans used to do the same. Back in the fifties and sixties many children had piano lessons. It wasn't all that unusual. We've lost that.

Time Machine (Listen here.) starts in E-flat major and then appears to change to the key of B-major in the middle. Turns out, B-major is the parallel key to E-flat minor. A parallel key is when two keys have the same notes but different starting point. If you play out B-major starting out on B it sounds like a major key. If you play the same notes but start on E-flat it sounds like a minor key. Minor keys tend to sound mournful and sad. Major keys tend to sound more upbeat. But not always. What's interesting in Time Machine is the drop from major to minor and playing the minor as if it were major.

Time Machine was written by 40mp. He married Chano, a singer. That's about all I was able to find out.

There's another Miku piece called Stellar (Listen here.) Starting around 17 seconds there's a strange staggered heartbeat rhythm.

Dub. -space- Dub. -space- -space- Dub. -space- Dub. Dub.

Hear it? Notice that it doesn't quite fall on the beat? The rest of it is just a sweet little pop song. With an odd sort of static in the background that turns out to be a complex rhythm that barely registers to the level of consciousness. It's like a pop-jazz. Add in to that the fact that by the nature of using a vocaloid everything must be planned. That means in a competent song (such as this one) that "misstep" was planned. The off beat is intentional. And I couldn't find out who wrote this little piece.

This gets even more interesting in a vocaloid song called Leucocoryne. (Listen here.) I was driving home listening to this trying to figure out the rhythm. There's an obvious surface rhythm: 3/4 time. Waltz time. Oom pah pah. Okay, fine. But that didn't explain a sort of odd under rhythm, a single beat followed by a space followed by a triplet:
Dub -space- fiddlebit
"Fiddlebit" is my shorthand for the triplet. This does not fit with the 3/4 time. But this song is making it work. Leucocoryne appears to be written by someone named Ryuryu. Another individual about whom I can find little.

Then I ran into the song 1/6 or "Out of Gravity". (Listen here.) Here is a bit of the beginning:

Note the three note repeating pattern. This is called an arpeggio. It's a chord that is played sequentially rather than all at once. This chord is a triad-- three notes. However, this is a four beat song. So the arpeggio is stamping out a three beat at the same time the song is using a four beat. That's what gives the odd hopping rhythm to the song.

Now this is sophisticated. I saw some of this in Bela Bartok's Mikrocosmos but not many other places. Curiously, I found a similar bit in Alonso Mudarra's Fantasia X. (Listen here, towards the end.)

1/6 is quite a fun little pop song written by someone named "Bookariodo P (noa)" of "Vocaloid-P" depending on where you look. He writes these songs. That's about it.

So what am I seeing?

If this is hacking music, none of it at the level of the Baroque period. Not even close. At best, these are hints and foretellings. Scents in the wind. Distant murmurings. Am I just noticing a blend of cultural material that only seems new to me because I haven't witnessed it before? Am I just seeing a phase delay of old material suddenly exposed because of inter country barriers? These are five minute songs, not symphonies.

With the possible exception of Isao Tomito's usage of Miku in a recent concert (See here.) I have seen no larger work. Tommy came out in 1969. Could anyone have expected it from The Who when the formed in 1964? The Hatsune Miku software was released five years ago and J-Pop has been around longer than that and I'm not seeing any works more ambitions than the five minute song. Am I projecting? Maybe I'm so desperate for complexity and novelty I'm making this stuff up. After all, how many times can I listen to Beethoven's Ninth? Bach's Art of the Fugue?

On yet another hand, maybe I'm blind to an important cultural context. In Japan there are few barriers between different sorts of artistic expression. Fine Rock is attached to Anime, television shows and video games. There appears to be no sense these might be lesser venues. Music that is written for a video game is just as good as that written for any other public consumption. Good stories and art are not precluded from being represented in comics. (Manga.) Some of the songs I've been seeing had their first life in video games or cartoon shows. Some of the songs have science fiction themes-- no one would take an SF song seriously in the USA. That would make many paying venues for competent musicians.

Or maybe I'm getting excited about the Japanese equivalent of Gilligan's Island.

The electric guitar was invented in 1931. Yet we didn't see serious work using it until the 1950s. Longer work written especially for the electric guitar it had to wait for the late 60s and 70s. By that measure, Tommy was written nearly forty years after the invention of the instrument that made it possible. Perhaps we're just in the equivalent of the 50s regarding vocaloid technology-- or for that matter synthetic music software of any stripe. It's early days. Should I be more patient?

I have no idea.

But I'm excited about what I'm hearing the same way I was excited back in the seventies when I pulled out Tales of Topographic Oceans and put it on the stereo and heard in it echoes of Mahler.

Additional fun bits people might like:
  • Error: Interesting song where the melody is played and repeated against a shifting scale.
  • Spinal Fluid Explosion Girl: One fast song that goes in odd directions. It's Jazz! It's Rock! It's hip hop! It's avant garde! Who knows?
  • Misemono: Rhythm doesn't quite match the song. Yet it works.
  • Counter Clockwise: Another Ryuryu song. This is just pretty. Reminds me a little of Emerson Lake and Palmer's Father Christmas.
  • Sekiranun Graffiti: Fun dance tune that for some reason reminds me of Radar Love.
  • Odds and Ends: I counted five different themes last time I heard it. There may be six.
  • Girls Dead Monster: Go to Youtube and put in Girls Dead Monster. It's a fictional band from a cartoon show. But the band then was actually organized and went on tour. It kicks ass.
  • Supercell: a band and composer (Ryo) who made Hatsune Miku central to their work. Odds and Ends is a Supercell song. Curiously, their most recent album Today is a Beautiful Day uses a human singer. Go to Youtube and listen.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

One reason life is carbon based

S. E. Gould has one explanation. Carbon can make double bonds easily when other atoms find it difficult. See here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

All we are is dust in the wind

This is a picture derived from the climate supercomputer at Goddard. (See here.) The light blue is sea salt captured by hurricanes. The white is sulfur dioxide from volcanoes and other sources. The red is dust. The green is smoke.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Life Hacks

Lost the cork screw? Don't panic. Here's how to manage. Plus other hacks.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hacking Music Part 1

(Picture from here.)

My Dad had a theory. He thought that if you raised a child listening to classical music the child would grow up to be musical. So he played a lot of music when I was growing up. When I was old enough he gave this tiny record player and a stack of 78 rpm records of classical music. I don't remember any of this but when I was in high school I found the stack of records. They were worn completely smooth.

When I was four he started me on piano lessons and I've been playing some sort of music ever since. Guitar. Banjo. Piano. Mandolin. Lute. However, like Fry in Futurama, I'm cursed with Stupid Fingers. I'm lucky to master a belt buckle. Think of me as a determined, gifted amateur-- minus the gifted part.

I got deeply into Baroque music.

What's exciting about Baroque music is that they were creating modern forms. Concerto? First created as the concertato and honed to perfection before Mozart ever came on the scene. Symphony? Derived from the sinfonia that originated in the late Renaissance (almost the Baroque) which transformed into the sonata from which the near-symphony later concertos sprang. (Think the Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Bach.)

My point is these guys were creating the very structure of modern compositions. They were creating form. They were hacking music. Bach even wrote Canon 1 and 2 in his Musical Offering that could be played forward, backwards or played forwards and backwards at the same time. (Listen here.) Tell me these guys couldn't have worked for Anonymous.

I found this tremendously exciting.

There's a deep divide between "serious" music and "popular" music. It's a curious thing. It wasn't there at the end or the Renaissance-- common people listened to the same music as the aristocracy. Now it's likely true that the aristocracy had more influence on the music than the common people. Musicians and composers are like bank robbers. They go where the money is. Much of Bach's work is expressed in churches-- a mixed venue. Mozart managed both extremes. The Magic Flute was in a popular theater but Don Giovanni was in a more serious local. There is a lovely story about Mahler's Ninth Symphony. The Ninth begins very softly but has an abrupt loud point later. (Listen here.) Apparently a woman was sitting in the audience with her groceries on her lap and was so startled she spilled her groceries over the aisle. The story may be apocryphal but the idea that a woman is in the audience with her groceries suggests that the divide between elite and common was still narrow even then.

Modern classical music took a sharp turn at the beginning of the twentieth century. It veered into a sort of abstract cacophony in an attempt to delve into the heart of what made music music. This was going on elsewhere as well with such examples as Mondrian's abstract work and poets such as T. S. Eliot. While these works were fascinating in the environment of artist commenting on art they required a level of understanding that was difficult for non-artists. One can appreciate an aria in both Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute without a problem. But a poem requiring the audience to have a working knowledge of Greek has a more narrow appeal.

Ragtime, Tin Pan Alley and Jazz were right there to step into the niche and modern popular music was born.

But a curious thing happened after World War II. Popular music got simpler. Less varied. Musically unsophisticated. Ragtime was never simple. Jazz was complex-- Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is worthy of Claude Debussy. Someone to Watch Over Me plays some very interesting dissonant games. One arrangement I have plays a chord for which I have no name. (See left.) Nothing trivial about that.

Yet a lot of music the fifties and sixties was incredibly simple. Repetitive. And it sold very well. Now, it did seem to have a lot of emotion in it. Trivial emotion but strong and lots of it. (Think Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog.) Jazz fell from grace. Ragtime was forgotten. The most complex popular music around was in show tunes. (Think Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.) Rock and Roll was powerful but simple.

When the sixties came along. I was steeped in Baroque music, Beethoven symphonies and show tunes. Popular music didn't interest me even though there were some interesting ground swells. Then, again, I never heard them. I was living in the south and the edgiest music available was Tom Jones and Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head. I did manage to listen to the wispy sounds of WLS Chicago on those rare ionospheric nights it could reach us. Little hints of something going on out there.

When I did get into popular music it was the attraction to those bands that were themselves hacking music: The Who's Tommy. Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra. The continuing Yes attempt to rebuild rock idioms using classical forms: Close to the Edge as concerto. Tales of Topographic Oceans as symphony. Many of these attempts were failures-- but then I suspect there were a number of Baroque failures. We don't know them because only the good get recorded. But they were still hacking music.

At some point in the seventies that seemed to degrade into disco on the one hand and punk on the other. So I lost interest.

At this point in the conversation my son Ben would say, "Dad: you're talking about music. When are you going to bring up Hatsune Miku?"

That would be Part 2.

Interesting Bits to Listen To:
Tales of Topographic Oceans
The Magic Flute
Mahler's Ninth Symphony
Rhapsody in Blue
Don Giovanni
The Who: Tommy
Deep Purple: Concerto for Group and Orchestra

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday Fun Day

Every now and then news items and bloggers bring forth a gift. A few gifts today.

Read and enjoy:

Dogs teach chemistry
Ollie North outs Reagan regarding Iran-Contra
Even Faux News knows Dick Morris is full of crap
Rupert Murdoch vilifies papers that don't agree with him as "Jewish" then walks it back

Normally you have to dig to get nuggets like these. But today they were just lying on the beach.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Petless in Fantasyland

I've been reading Alexandra Horowitz' wonderful book Inside of a Dog. I strongly recommend it to anyone. It's a book about how dogs think and perceive the world-- vastly different from how we do,. It's not the only dog natured material I've been reading. Nova has had several episodes involving what goes on inside of the dog mind and dogs figured prominently in a recent episode of Nova Science Now: How Smart Can We Get.

My family bred collies for a few years when I was in high school. We've had dogs and cats as long as I can remember. Along with ferrets, snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, turtles (lots of turtles), mice and birds. But mostly dogs and cats.

I can tell many stories about them: How Heidi (my collie) ate all the hot dogs. Spielkes (the cat) and the adventure of the blue jays. How Snoopy (another dog)  learned to climb trees. The tale of Hulk Hogan (a turtle) and Hurricane Hugo. But I won't go into them now. They serve to illustrate that most of my life has animals in it. Usually pets. Wild animals such as snakes and turtles have a different sort of relationship.

Nor am I alone. Most writers I know at least have a cat. Some have dogs. Some have a different sort of animal.

Indeed, there's interesting evidence that dogs have been associated with us for as much as a hundred thousand years and domesticated by us for as much as twenty. Cats have been with us since agriculture.

My point here is that having animals-- specifically, having pets-- is one of the human universals, like people getting married, religions involving children and the conservation of property.

Why then is it so absent in science fiction?

As I look over SF I find an incredible paucity of pets showing up. There are more stories with horses in them than dogs or cats.

And no, I don't include talking animals or familiars. If they talk they're not really pets.

Oddly, the one writer I find that regularly had pets show up in his stories and novels is Heinlein. Jubal in Stranger has a cat. There's a ship's cat in several Heinlein novels. There are several dogs in The Star Beast. Recall the flatcats in The Rolling Stones. He even wrote an entire novel where the cat is one of the main characters: The Door Into Summer. (I'm not going to talk about The Cat Who Could Walk Through Walls. My doctor told me not to discuss the later Heinlein novels. For my health.)

As many things that Heinlein got wrong he clearly understood that people had pets and those pets were a big part of their lives.

Where are the Cats of Antares? The Dogs of Vega?

Fantasy scores somewhat better than science fiction but only just. There is the janitor's cat in Harry Potter. And Hagrid has all sort of pets. Animals tend to show up in fantasy stories but largely as an artifact that most fantasy stories are situated in a past environment of one sort or another. High fantasy based on medieval times is still medieval times, fantasy or no. There are few pets in Lord of the Rings even in the Shire. It doesn't help that a lot of times in fantasy when it shows up like a pet it's talking up a storm two chapters later. Again, animals that talk don't count.

I'm no better. None of my stories have a pet in them. The realization of the lack is what inspired this post.

It's possible that the whole space influence on SF precluded the idea of pets. Imagine a cat on the Apollo missions. Or on the ISS. If you're a space cadet learning how to save the world it's not cool to change the litter box.

Or is there a deeper problem. One of the criticisms leveled at our genre is a lack of characterization. We're accused of presenting cartoon characters. Taking this a step further, this could be a criticism that we are not presenting actual human beings in our works but caricatures suitable only for the simpler presentations to children.

While I don't subscribe to this idea I think there is a particle of truth in it. In our zeal to present our vision of a world we do often fail to make it real. We fail to people it with human beings who would make that world their own. In both world wars there were many stories where soldiers found dogs and cats and took care of them, brought them along with them into harms way. Some animals died. Some soldiers died protecting them. The colonists that came over to America came to live here, not to explore and return. They brought dogs, cats and canaries.

I would never expect astronauts to take their pets into space. But I would never expect those who go to live there to leave them behind.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cry me a river, Mitt

I had a hopeful moment for Mitt the other day. I really thought he might take this moment and, like Carnegie, Gates and Buffett, move in a new direction to apply his considerable managerial talents to help save the world.

I guess not. (See here.)

I had thought the inventor of Romneycare might still exist. Sadly, it appears that there was only the Bainbot. I've begun to think of Romneycare as an aberration. He had a brief stroke. A TIA of the soul. A terrifying moment where his heart actually started to beat!

Fortunately, his handlers were able to get control of the Bainbot in time for the 2012 election.

I've met my share of CEOs. Many of them, not all, seem to have this quality that in lesser mortals might be called a sense of entitlement. A feeling that they are owed the devotion, hours and incredible sacrifice of their employees not because they pay them the smallest amount possible but because they deserve it.

A CEO suddenly facing a world that didn't think the same way must come up with a reason for it. In Romney's case it was the vast moochers of society that (my God!) had the power to vote that denied him his rightful place as CEO of Corporate America.

Come on Republicans. You can do better than the Bainbot. You can do better than the Salamander or the Mayonnaise or... what's his name.

You must do better for all our sakes.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A capsule of why I voted for Obama

Here is Obama thanking his campaign staff.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Zombie Love

Nice love song. And zombies. Here.


World War Z trailer here. Looks good. Looks real good.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Republican Intervention

(Picture from here.)

The world didn't end on Tuesday. It's okay to get out of bed in the morning. Have some coffee. The sun's still shining. It's over there in the east window. Go check for yourself.

Back now? Okay? Well, then.

Shut up and stop whining.

Obama didn't steal the election. A bunch of non-existent welfare queens didn't vote for Obama to give them stuff (see Bill O'Reilly.) He wouldn't anyway. People voted. A lot of people voted. You've been coasting on the idea that you're the majority since 2010. You're not. You never were. It's an accident of marginal politics that let 2010 happen. Off year elections do weird things. God had nothing to do with it.

Nearly half the country voted for your guy. It was a close election. But it was an election. It wasn't a moral showdown between the forces of Good and Evil. Romney isn't Jesus and Obama isn't Satan-- he's a whole lot closer to Rockefeller than FDR. This wasn't Armageddon and the Rapture didn't occur. Go back to the window. Your neighbor is still there, right?


Your pundits lied to you. Mitt lied to you. Karl Rove lied to you. Fox News lied and lied and lied and lied and LIED to you. You ate it up. You didn't want to believe simple arithmetic and it bit you in the ass. It happens to everyone who's ever messed up a checkbook. Get over it.

You didn't listen to people who told you the truth: Nate Silver. Every scientist worth a damn. Scientific American.

Now you can go on this way blaming everybody else. Lord knows you've been doing it for a while now. But the deck is stacked against you. This is the last election you can rely on Old White Guys to bail you out. They didn't manage it this time and in four years there will be fewer of them and more on the other team.You want to go to your grave bitter? That's the path your on where there are fewer and fewer people of the right color, gender and religion.

Because this is America, baby. This is the place where minorities go to grab power and numbers until they're not hungry poor people anymore. They got some money and they're making waves. That's how it happened before and this wave is just the next one. The people that held on too tightly got dumped by the side of the road by the newcomers. You can't argue with an oncoming truck-- well, you can but it's a pretty one sided conversation.

Look up at that White House. Look at the President. He's the future. Next time you might just as easily see Hispanic. A Jew. Another black man. There might be Old White Guy there but if so it won't be just Old White Guys that put him there. He'll have spent years going out and talking to a whole lot of Not-Old White Guys.

So suck it up. We need a real opposition party-- not some strange mix of God and Guns but someone with real thought and ideas to make us think. To force us to compromise. To make us defend and change our ideas. You haven't been doing your job so we've been forced to do it for you. Frankly, it's been rough.

Feel any better?

Give it time. It'll get better.

Ready to do some hard looking in the mirror?

Good. Okay then.

Let's get back to work.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

What's good for Romney

There's no question in my mind that a Romney loss tomorrow would be good for the country. I'm an unapologetic liberal and Romney has espoused a dozen points of view that I disagree with. That's my point of view on the election. It is most emphatically not my point of view on Romney the human being.

It's very easy to cynically discard all of the very human things Romney has done in his life: going to evangelize in France, help a co-worker look for their missing child. Though to do so is a mistake. 

I take these stories at face value. Romney has a kind streak. 

Like Carnegie and Gates, Romney makes a distinction between his business life and his personal life. It's a sort of "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" mentality I've seen before. "It's just business" is common statement of self-absolution. Sort of like Michael Palin in Brazil when he is about to torture Jonathan Pryce: "This is a professional relationship." I don't hold with this corporate persona taking the responsibility for human actions but I understand it. I believe Romney truly believes he did the right thing at Bain was the right thing as far as he could.

The question then becomes why, unlike Carnegie and Gates, did Romney decide to enter politics? 

Ezra Klein has an opinion on why Romney wants to be president here. According to Klein it's Romney's excellent managerial ability that makes him feel he can make a contribution.

Klein is probably right.

But that just begs the question of why politics?

Here I think we have to look at Romney's father, George,  who ran for President in the sixties. George was governor of Michigan and did a good job-- he was reelected with increasing margins. He failed at running for president. Failed pretty decisively since it was Nixon that got the nomination. Afterwards, George worked in charitable organizations. And did a good job.

Does this start to sound familiar?

I don't know a lot about Mormonism. I have nothing more against it than any other religion. The relationship between the Mormon church and women has been interest. (See here.) The church is pretty committed to the traditional roles of men and women. This makes the role of father and son extremely important. 

I don't know Mister Romney in any personal way. However, I do watch him politically and what I see is a man who truly wants to contribute and whose vector of contribution has been directed away from his natural bent.

I see Romney much more closely aligned with Bill Gates and Andrew Carnegie. Strong businessmen who made far more than they could ever spend and who decided to use their money to "do real and permanent good in this world." But Mitt Romney was torqued by his father towards politics to accomplish this-- something for which he is woefully unsuited. 

I hope Romney is not elected for my own selfish political goals. However, I also hope he is not elected for his own sake. I think Romney will find the limitations of success and continual criticism debilitating. He will be unable to reach the goals he sets for himself and on many days will achieve little, nothing or lose ground.

It will make him profoundly unhappy.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Limbic Theater

First, a little bit of news. I have an upcoming novella in Asimov's: Sudden, Broken and Unexpected. Also a story in the next issue of F&SF: Breathe. News is here.

Now back to the rumors behind the news.

My blog does a double duty. It shows up in my personal blog here. But every week or two I put up an entry that is crossposted over to the Bookview Cafe Blog. If you read my personal blog you'll discover I'm a Raging Liberal. However, I try to keep politics out of the entries that end up over at BVC. They're mostly about science and science fiction.

But politics is ever good material and this election is no different. So I thought I'd break that wall a little bit.

Decode DC has a good episode on the neuroscience behind political advertising. I heartily recommend you go over there and listen to it. The gist is this: one method tends to lay out evidence and data and leave the voter to decide what to do. The other appeals to emotions and tries to get the voter scared to do anything other than what they want the voter to do. I'm sure everybody is aware of these two approaches. I'm sure readers in Ohio are sick to death of both.

But I think this is important.

The human brain isn't a nice clear processor. It's a kludged up mess of things that are brilliantly effective, things that worked once and don't work so great now, and things that that are maliciously inept now but are too physiologically expensive to dump. Historically, the brain has been categorized into two rough divisions: the neocortex and the allocortex.

The neocortex is the modern mammalian donation to our group heritage. When you see a picture of a human brain and all those folds: that's neocortex. It's what makes mammals smart. Other branches of vertebrates (notably birds) or invertebrate classes (such as cuttlefish) can also be smart. But they are not using a neocortex because they have none. They're using something else-- and that's a discussion for another time.

Under the neocortex is the allocortex. It's contains all the equipment that we started with when we started the long path towards mammals. It's not the same as our ancestors. Evolution works on everything available. But there is a lot of common embryology between mammals, birds and reptiles in the allocortex.

Deep in the allocortex is the limbic system.The limbic system is what allows us to feel emotion, mitigate behavior, operate the endocrine system. What we tend to value as human accomplishment-- programming computers, writing fiction-- is enabled by the neocortex. What we program computers to do and write fiction about derives a lot from the limbic system. Larry Niven was talking about this in Protector: Intelligence is a tool that is not always used intelligently.

The limbic system is in reptiles. It's what allows us to feel lust and anger. It's what gets involved in violence and pornography. Where we might have changed it, or it changed us, is transforming mating urge into love and violence into defense. The limbic system is what gets stirred into war but it won't successfully complete a revolution.

Within the neocortex is the frontal lobe and within the frontal cortex is the prefrontal cortex. This is where complex behavior and understanding originates. It's intimately involved in what is called executive function. Deciding right from wrong. Good from bad. Consequences from current actions. It also has a huge connection to the limbic system.

Back in the bad old days of psychosurgery we had lobotomies. We have a cultural idea of lobotomies but let's think about the actual surgery. Initially, this involved actual removal of some of the actual brain. This was adjusted into a prefrontal leucotomy: destroying tissue in the frontal lobes by injecting alcohol. Ultimately this was refined into the standard prefrontal lobotomy where the connection was severed between the prefrontal cortex and the thalamus.

The thalamus is part of the limbic system.

My old neurophysiology teacher, James E. Breazile, suggested it might operate this way. The pre-frontal cortex operates on what is significant. The limbic system determines that significance. (Apologies to Dr. Breazile if I didn't get it right.)

Humans modify everything they touch, even themselves. We modify our fears, hates and lusts into other things. Hold them back. Attempt to use them intelligently.

Until we get to politics.

It's important to understand that nearly all advertising in general is an attempt to engage that limbic system. To get it to wake up and bug the neocortex to buy that car, that soda, that candy. It's an attempt to create magical thinking where desire or ideology is what is measured rather than actual evidence. The neocortex is perfectly able to determine what the right thing is but it must be supplied with the concept of "right." This is why truly intelligent people (in the neocortical sense) can go right off the rails when something they believe in is under discussion. They're not crazy. They're not suddenly stupid. But their limbic system has defined the "right" thing and their neocortex accommodates. This is part of being a human being. Every one of us had seen it and every one has done it.

This is what I find so exciting and hopeful about science. Science is administered by human beings-- human beings riddled with the same inconsistencies and difficulties I've been describing. But it is an attempt to structure an evidence based culture where these idiosyncrasies and failures can be scrutinized in the hope that the community as a whole can overcome the inevitable failures of individuals.

In politics what's important about any candidate is what they want to do and will do when in office. That is the only possible useful criteria in the intelligent determination of what a candidate's policy will be. All of the other material such as his color, height, background, education, previous experience must be used as an attempt to determine those policies. Nothing else matters.

Yet the political system attempts to use limbic system involvement to overcome intelligent determination. Is the candidate the right color? Social class? Does he use the correct key words? Does he attend the requisite public functions? The truth of a candidates proclamation is less important than the nature of the proclamation. It's dispiriting this sort of thing is so successful.

What we need is evidence based politics. But we won't get it until we start responding as citizens to actual evidence.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Idiots on Parade

These people regulate your government's approach to science. They range from the competent to the silly to the malicious. Ars Technica discusses it here.

Here they are: the members of the 112th congress House Committee on Science and Technology


  1. Ralph Hall, Texas, Chairman: doesn't believe in climate change. Thinks it's a hoax concocted by climate scientists for lots of money. "I'm really more fearful of freezing. And I don't have any science to prove that."
  2. Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin, Vice Chairman: blocked the Animal Fight Prohibition Act. Known climate denier.
  3. Lamar S. Smith, Texas: Voted against Science and Technology Funding, Human Cloning Prohibition and Stem Cell Research. (See here.)
  4. Dana Rohrabacher, California: Voted for STEM Jobs Act. Voted against Science and Technology Funding.  (See here.)
  5. Roscoe Bartlett, Maryland: Actually believes in the concept of peak oil but federal student loans are unconstitutional.
  6. Frank Lucas, Oklahoma: Voted for the Stop the [Supposed] War on Coal Act. Voted for STEM jobs. No More Solyndras Act. Against Science and Technology funding. (See here.)
  7. Judy Biggert, Illinois: Voted for Science and Technology Funding. For Stem Cell Research. Yes on letting FDA regulate tobacco products.
  8. Todd Akin, Missouri: Rape apologist.
  9. Randy Neugebauer, Texas: Called Bart Stupak a "Baby Killer." Voted against Science and Technology Funding, Human Cloning Prohibition and Advance Research. Voted for STEM jobs. (See here.)
  10. Michael McCaul, Texas: Voted for Science and Technology Funding. (See here.)
  11. Paul Broun, Georgia: Tea Party Loon. Thinks Obama is a socialist and wants to establish a Marxist dictatorship in the USA. Thinks science is composed of "lies straight from the Pit of Hell."
  12. Sandy Adams, Florida: Defeated in primary and not relevant after January. Voted for the Stop the [Supposed] War on Coal Act. Voted for STEM jobs and No More Solyndras. Go figure. (See here.)
  13. Ben Quayle, Arizona: Son of Dan Quayle. Lost the primary so the madness will finally stop. 
  14. Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee: Voted for the Stop the [Supposed] War on Coal Act. Drill baby drill. Doesn't think manure is a pollutant. Thinks NPR is bad. (See here.)
  15. Scott Rigell, Virginia: Doesn't believe in climate change. No on EPA regulating green house gases. Likes the Ryan budget and so can't do math. Wants to terminate NPR. (See here.)
  16. Steven Palazzo, Mississippi: Doesn't believe in climate change. No on EPA regulating green house gases. Likes the Ryan budget and so can't do math. Wants to terminate NPR. (See here.)
  17. Mo Brooks, Alabama: Thinks Democrats are socialists. Likes prayers in public schools. Thinks manure isn't a pollutant. Likes the Ryan budget and so can't do math. Wants to terminate NPR. (See here.)
  18. Andy Harris, Maryland: Thinks manure isn't a pollutant. Likes the Ryan budget and so can't do math. As a physician he ought to know better. Wants to terminate NPR. (See here.)
  19. Randy Hultgren, Illinois: Steve Palazzo clone. (See here.)
  20. Chip Cravaack, Minnesota: Trusts mining company to keep MN water clean. You don't need to know any more. (See here.)
  21. Larry Bucshon, Indiana: Coal instead of cap and trade. Doesn't believe in climate change. Manure's not a pollutant. Likes roving wiretaps. (See here.)
  22. Dan Benishek, Michigan: Likes roving wiretaps. Likes the Ryan budget and so can't do math.  Wants to terminate NPR. (See here.)

  1. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas, Ranking Member: Yes on stem cells. Approves EPA regulating greenhouse gases. Approves endangered species. Likes NPR. Yea on Science and Technology Funding. (See here and here.)
  2. Jerry Costello, Illinois: No on stem cells. Pro life. Bar EPA from regulating green house gases. No on raising CAFE standards but yes on Kyoto protocols. Go figure. (See here.)
  3. Lynn Woolsey, California: Wants to control carbon emissions.  Approves EPA regulating greenhouse gases. Likes NPR. (See here.)
  4. Zoe Lofgren, California: Yes on Science and Technology Funding and Human Cloning Prohibition.  Approves EPA regulating greenhouse gases. Likes NPR. (See here.)
  5. Brad Miller, North Carolina: Barred EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Yes on tax incentives for renewable energy. High on pre-environment votes. Likes NPR. (See here.)
  6. Dan Lipinski, Illinois: Not so great. Right leaning Democrat. (See here.)
  7. Donna Edwards, Maryland: Fairly good environmental track record. Voted for Science and Technology funding. Not much else known. (See here.)
  8. Ben R. Luján, New Mexico: Interested in renewables. Prohibit some research on great apes. Likes NPR. Not much about him. (See here.)
  9. Paul Tonko, New York: Prohibit some research on great apes. Likes NPR. Voted against Ryan budge so can understand basic arithmetic. (See here.)
  10. Jerry McNerney, California: Pro-choice. Wants sustainable energy plan. High conservation ratiting. Online database of science and math scholarships. (See here.)
  11. Terri Sewell, Alabama: Pro-choice. Invest in green manufacturing jobs. Barred EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Likes NPR. (See here.)
  12. Frederica Wilson, Florida: Pro-choice. Wants EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Voted against Ryan budge so can understand basic arithmetic. Likes NPR. (See here.)
  13. Hansen Clarke, Michigan: Pro-choice. Wants EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Likes high speed rail. Likes NPR. (See here.)
  14. Suzanne Bonamici, Oregon: New in town. Not much known. (See here.)