Visions of the afterlife tend to be commonplace. (Photo: Donika Sadiku / Flickr Commons)

Backlash against “heaven tourism” memoirs does a disservice to the genuinely curious

Critics assume readers seek only confirmation of their prejudices.

Visions of the afterlife tend to be commonplace. (Photo: Donika Sadiku / Flickr Commons)

Visions of the afterlife tend to be commonplace. (Photo: Donika Sadiku / Flickr Commons)

If you never have, you owe it to yourself to visit Aeon magazine.  The often illuminating British site publishes essays on science, philosophy, and society. In To heaven and back, Mya Frazier writes about a genre of memoirs that emerged in Christian publishing during the last decade sometimes known as “heaven tourism.” At least three of them became mainstream: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo, 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, and The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven by Kevin and Alex Malarkey. As you can see by the titles, they amount to prolonged variations of the near-death experience (NRE). The genre has increasingly come under attack, with the boy of the last title since admitting he invented his story for the attention it garnered him. Continue reading

Homeland Security Precrime

Security vs privacy: RadioLab and the case for the surveillance state

Homeland Security PrecrimeWe all love freedom and the Constitution. But is it really that simple?

I’m a huge fan of a good debate. And by “debate” I don’t mean the sort of ginned-up scream-lie-and-spinfests we have come to associate with the term in the past few decades. No, I mean spirited, intelligent, thoughtful exchanges between parties with honest, good-faith disagreements. Lucky me, I tripped across one today.

My new friend – the lovely Christine – recently turned me onto RadioLab, and I’ve been streaming some of their podcasts while I work out. Today I listened to one that’s as fascinating as it is disturbing. It’s called “Eye in the Sky,” and if you’re plotting any crimes I suggest you give it a few minutes of your time before you pull the trigger, so to speak. Continue reading

Alan Turing

Turing’s time

Last night we attended the world premiere of Sentences, Nico Muhly’s homage to Alan Turing, composed as a performance by counter-tenor Iestyn Davies. It was a lovely performance, consisting of seven sections, each relating to an aspect of Turing’s life. As Muhly said earlier in the week, they didn’t want to put together a typical gay tragedy, and in this they succeeded. Time will tell, of course, how durable of piece of composition it really is, but the Barbican crowd certainly enjoyed it, giving both Muhly, who conducted the glorious Britten Sinfonia, and Davies several standing ovations.

The libretto was by Adam Gopnik, whose day job is as a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. In the program notes, Gopnik makes an interesting point—writing something new these days about Turing is like writing something new about Robin Hood. The myths have become so ingrained that’s it’s hard to come up with anything truly new. Turing has been not only rehabilitated, he’s nearly been canonized. Continue reading

Renewable-Journal-1

The Tesla Powerwall – Renewable Journal for 5/1/2015

Three ways that the Tesla Powerwall might be a big deal – load shifting, battery backup, and solar storage.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

I’ve been reading about Elon Musk’s newest introduction into the world of renewable technologies – the Tesla Powerwall. Here’s the basics – for $3500 you get a 10 kWh battery for your home that mounts to your wall. There’s a 7 kWh version for $3000, and installation costs extra. And if you’ve got a home or business that consumes lots of electricity, you can mount several of these units in parallel to get even more battery storage.

At this point I see a few different ways that this could be a big deal. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Pulitzer-winning Colorado Springs Gazette publishes error-filled global warming editorial

Four errors of fact, two innuendos, one serious distortion, and one uncredited image, any one of which should render an editorial unpublishable. Yet the Gazette’s editorial contained all of them.

On April 23, the Colorado Springs Gazette published an editorial titled “Stop ‘global warming’ hysteria.” In a 560 word editorial, the Gazette made four serious errors of fact, failed to credit the source of an image, repeated a distortion, and made two innuendos about global warming data, science, and scientists. To say that this is disappointing is an understatement. Readers expect their newspapers to provide factually accurate information, and the fact that the Gazette won the 2014 Pulitzer for National Reporting just makes this editorial failure that much worse.

What follows is S&R’s detailed review of the many failings of the Gazette’s editorial. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

For Women’s History Month – five women who influenced the science of evolution

Next up, I offer some women of science.

Rosalind Franklin:

Rosalind Franklin was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer who made critical contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses,coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her DNA work posthumously achieved the most profound impact as DNA plays a central role in biology, as it carries the genetic information that is passed from parents to their offsprings….

Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Peddlers of climate change deceit have significant advantages over climate realists

Climate realists are fighting an uphill battle against professional climate disruption deniers who have media bias, time, money, and an apathetic public on their side.

Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Today scientists are as certain about the threat of industrial climate disruption as they are about tobacco smoke causing lung cancer, yet neither the United States nor the broader international community has made any significant progress toward addressing the disruptions expected as a result of the Earth’s changing climate. The question is why.

When we look at the public discussion of industrial climate disruptionA (aka global warming or climate change), it’s clear that the playing field is not level. It’s very clearly slanted in favor of peddlers of deceit like Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), and his fellow professional climate disruption deniersB for four main reasons. First, the media prefers publishing disinformation that’s interesting to publishing uninteresting “me too” articles. Second, professional climate disruption deniers simply have more time and money available with which to push their disinformation. Third, writing disinformation is remarkably easy when you’re not inhibited by facts, yet correcting the disinformation is difficult partly because it requires strict adherence to the facts. And fourth, Harris et al are peddling disinformation that people want to hear, rather than an unpleasant reality that they need to hear. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Tom Harris’ commentaries intended to impede, not advance, public understanding of climate science

Tom Harris’ stated goal in his commentaries is to advance the public discussion on industrial climate disruption, yet his language and arguments say exactly the opposite.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries that appeared mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the English-speaking world. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public discussion about climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking.6” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Tom Harris places absurd limits on scientific truths and elevates ignorance to equal knowledge

Tom Harris asks his readers to put aside their common sense and reject knowledge and expertise in favor of ignorance and inexperience.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries that appeared mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the English-speaking world. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public discussion about climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking.6” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Tom Harris’ recent commentaries rife with errors and illogic

If you’re going to attack climate realists for making supposedly illogical arguments, you’d best be sure that your own arguments are logically flawless.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries that appeared mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the English-speaking world. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public argument over climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking.6” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern. Continue reading

Health

Something fishy in the air from the Voice of America

OMG. Beware the fast AIDS! Oh, and Cuba!

Turns out there was an article in eBioMedicine, an Elsevier service, so legit as far as I can tell. The paper appears to be by a bunch of legitimate researchers. According to eBioMedicine, the article is in press, publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof. To wit, no publication date as of yet. So far, I’ll be damned if I can figure out when it was originally written. Just skimming the intro, it appears that the research started in earnest in 2007. In the Discussion section, the most recent reference date is 2013. Maybe there’s been no further publication/debate/controversy on the subject since then. Plausible.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Tom Harris – hypocritical peddler of deceitful climate change editorials (corrected)

Eight related commentaries written by Tom Harris of the International Climate Science Coalition since mid-December are packed them with distortions, errors, hypocrisy, and more.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

[Update 2/21/2014: A word in one of Tom’s commentaries was confused by the author – “censure” was confused for “censor.” Since the entire section was based on this error, it has been struck from the post]

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries. They were published mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the United States, Canada, and South Africa. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public argument over climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking6.” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern.
Continue reading

Renewable-Journal-2

Solar panels on cloudy vs. clear days – Renewable Journal for 1/4/2015

My solar panels face east and west instead of south, giving me an opportunity to see how cloudy days compare to clear days for electricity production.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

My home is a tri-level, and given how it’s oriented in my neighborhood, its multilevel roof faces due north, south, east, and west. After reviewing the rooflines and nearby trees, SolarCity’s engineers concluded that the best roofs to put the panels on were the east and west facing roofs, rather than the south facing roof. After watching how the solar panels generate electricity for several months now, I’ve noticed something interesting. My panels generate electricity more equally on days with high, hazy, light clouds as compared to days of direct sunlight. I found this fascinating, because it’s essentially the same effect as something scientists have observed with respect to plants.

Imagine for a moment you’re sitting under your favorite tree on a clear, sunny day. You look down at the ground and you see well defined shadows from all the tree’s leaves. Now, imagine you’re sitting under that same tree on a day when there are hazy, light clouds across the sky. When you look down at the ground, you don’t really see individual shadows, but rather it’s somewhat darker under the tree than it is out in the open. Years ago scientists hypothesized that plants might photosynthesize better on hazy days with diffuse light than they do under heavy cloud or even in bright sun, and after a bunch of tests, scientists found that the plants they studied did, in fact, photosynthesize better on hazy days.1, 2 Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Art and Tech, part 2: the uneasy relationship between artist and technology

As technologies have been developed and then evolved, artists have exploited them in the creation of art. But is it possible to reach a point where technology exploits artists – and through them art?

(For previous essays in this series, look here.)

Neil Postman (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The work of the late Neil Postman, especially in the camps of those who sing the praises of our current era of rapid technological innovation and implementation, is treated with, if noted at all, skepticism bordering on disdain. Reactions to his 1993 classic Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology even went so far to to accuse him being a Neo-Luddite.

But Postman raises important questions about society’s relationship to technology and asks that hard question for which none of his critics (this may explain the dismissiveness of some) seem willing to offer an answer: Do we control technology – or does technology control us?

Such a difficult – and profound – question seems important for art and artists for a number of reasons. Continue reading

Book-Review

Book Review: St. Nic, Inc. by S.R. Staley

It’s not Santa Claus vs. the Martians – it’s Santa Claus (sorta) vs. the DEA – which is, come to think of it, almost as nuts…

St. Nic, Inc by S.R. Staley

Sam Staley’s latest book is a Christmas story. It’s not, however, the sort of Christmas story ones hears in homes on Christmas Eve. There are no shepherds “keeping watch over their flocks by night” or flying reindeer jockeyed by a “right jolly old elf.” Staley’s book is a Christmas story with all the 21st century twists: the North Pole is home to NP Enterprises, a slickly run distribution company with billions in revenues and a 26 year old MIT trained computer geek CEO named Nicole who employs large numbers of talented, intelligent people who happen to have the condition known as – you guessed it – dwarfism; its ability to operate is based on economic funding from a 21st century source – a computer operating system superior to others on the market; and its problems within the narrative come from overzealousness on the part of a government official.

NP Enterprises is a family owned business founded by Nicole’s great grandfather, a Dutchman named Nicholas Klaas, who moved to the Far North and began making toys which he sold to trappers and hunters for their children. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology

Rosetta: why aren’t we more amazed by the most amazing achievement in space travel history?

European Space Agency lands a washing machine on a rock 317 million miles away and moving at 83,000 mph. Oh the MATH!

I am in awe of today’s landing of a spacecraft on a comet and spent much of the day jumping up and down and emailing friends.

None of them understood my excitement, even when I explained it’s all about the math involved. So I tried this, “Hey, guys, it’s like you had to make a THOUSAND-foot putt going up and over a mountain, across a green full of bumps and undulations, on a windy day during an earthquake, and the ball fell into the cup with its final rotation.”

They sort of got that, but my example wasn’t very accurate, because what the European Space Agency did was in fact much harder. The comet is tiny, about 2.5 miles in diameter or about the size of midtown Manhattan. It’s 310 million miles away and is moving through space at 80,000 mph. The spacecraft is even tinier, about the size of a washing machine and had to travel 6.4 billion miles in ten years to reach the comet. Continue reading

Health

Hysterectomy – who needs one anyway?

Warning, ladies – you probably don’t!

Wait, gentlemen, please don’t run away! Yes, I am about to start throwing around words like uterus, ovaries, vagina, clitoris, nipples, orgasm, and hysterectomy. Here under the shameful for-profit health care system we have, an astonishing one-third of American women are hysterectomized, leading to physical side-effects, emotional side-effects, loss of sex drive and sexual response, and total loss of overall vitality. Surely you have a wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, mother, or aunt vulnerable to this outrage, so please do read on. I have read of so many men being devastated by the changes in women they love following hysterectomy – it is your issue too.

 

Continue reading

The Home Front, a cyber warrior’s guide

white-android-logo_00039624

Android users: your phone is under attack. You know that Swype keyboard that’s so much nicer than clicking on each letter? That’s a surveillance device that logs every word you input. Switch to Google Keyboard right now. Swype Keyboard Free lists the following Permission Details: approximate (network based) location, precise (GPS) location, read your text messages, read call log, record audio, read terms you added to the dictionary. Google Keyboard contains none of that. Why does a keyboard app need GPS coordinates? Continue reading