Douche-buggy

The American love affair with cars just caught V.D.

“Pretty cool, huh?”

I looked at the owner, driver, whatever, with a look that probably betrayed my massive disdain for his ride and what he just said.

“The girls love it,” he proclaimed.

“Not any girls I know over the age of 10,” I thought to myself as I snapped one more picture and walked toward my car.

Ye fucking gods, at least that idiot Springsteen sang about a Cadillac…

(Picture taken at Midtown Market, Brisbane, California on October 2nd, 2014)

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

The State of Literary Art IV: fiction that is super – or maybe just superfluous…

What Joe David Bellamy calls “super fiction” may well have led us to the superfluous…

Literary Luxuries by Joe David Bellamy (image courtesy University of Missouri Press)

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

After a week away, we return to Joe David Bellamy’s Literary Luxuries: American Writing at the End of the Millennium. This will likely be the most interesting – and perhaps controversial – essay in this series because of Bellamy’s subject matter. The section of the book from which the Bellamy pieces to be discussed is called “Literary Meteorology,” and the subject matter is part and parcel of the argument that raged throughout the 20th century not just in literary circles but in other areas of what used to be known as “high art” – visual art and “serious” music: how far can artists (of all types) go in terms of experimentation with style and subject matter before they “lose” their audiences and end up “creating” only for themselves – and some precious few critics who value difficulty in ascertaining meaning as the highest hallmark of artistic achievement.

There are three essays in this section of Literary Luxuries, the first two of which deserve the most attention. Continue reading

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative

Science!

Let me tell you about middle school science projects. When I was a kid in a small town in Tennessee back in the long ago, science wasn’t held in the same reverence it is in 2014. Our projects were constrained by our parents and church, so things like evolution, dinosaurs, and any place outside of the Confederacy being the center of the universe were not considered proper discussion topics, and had no place being pinned to a sheet of white poster board and presented as fact. Times have changed…in some places. Consider the following, which took place just last April.

“I had to do a science project for school,” said my son, Joey. “It’s part of the Common Core.”

“Great,” I said. “So when do we get started on it?”

“Get started?” he muttered. “I finished it yesterday.” Continue reading

Renewable-Journal-1

Top Gear meets electric cars – Renewable Journal for 9/1/2014

I’m not a fan of Top Gear to start with, but at least Top Gear America gave electrics some respect in 2013, unlike the unrepentant snarkfest that was Top Gear BBC’s 2011 electric car episode.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

Both the original (UK) and American versions of Top Gear have spent some time with the Nissan Leaf, and neither was tremendously impressed with it. In one way that’s OK – as I’ve said before, electric isn’t for everyone right now. It’ll get there, though, as the range of relatively inexpensive electrics like the Leaf and as the price of cars with long range (like Telsa’s cars) comes down. But in another way, both series treated the electrics they drove (Leaf and Peugeot IOn on the UK version, Leaf and Fiat 500E and Ford Fusion electric for the American version) rather unfairly. Continue reading

Conspiracy

Conspiracies against progress: why the rise of the modern conspiracy theory should concern us all

by David Lambert

Contrails are the wispy white clouds of frozen water vapor that streak across the sky in the wake of jet engines. But according to 17 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds—my generation—contrails are actually “chemtrails,” poisonous chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons. As the world becomes an increasingly scary and complex place with no simple answers, the temptation to create narratives explaining all of its evil will grow. And here lies the heart of the modern conspiracy theory. Yet when fantasy overtakes reality, progress suffers.

Whenever anything bad happens in the world today, from September 11th to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there is a growing gaggle quick to cry, “wake up sheeple!” Continue reading

Facebook - Unshare

Goodbye, Facebook. Supporting anti-gay marriage, anti-human rights candidate was finally too much.

After all Facebook has done, there’s only so much a person can take.

And kittehs. Can’t forget about the kittehs.

By now, anyone who has been paying attention is well aware of Facebook’s general user-unfriendly shenanigans, with the possible exception of Facebook’s support for net neutrality, to say nothing of all the minor aggravations users put up with on a daily basis…continually refreshing advertisements, live video popping up in the news feed, a news feed that doesn’t show you everything you mean to see, a newsfeed that occasionally reverts to Top Stories in spite of your every wish and command. Oh, but hey, there’s kittehs!

What kind of user-unfriendly shenanigans, one might wonder?

Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

Amanda Marcotte moves the goalposts. Is a little consistency too much to ask?

Goalposts moved. GTFO.

Amanda Marcotte had me right until the end of her article. As a writer who occasionally *ahem* goes a bit off the rails, I think I’m qualified to notice when another does the same. She had such a compelling case, then derailed it by essentially lambasting all conservatives on the anti-science front and establishing a pattern on the left predicated on two examples. That was just silly.

Even though these arguments get derailed and digressive with various people moving goal posts and refusing to stay on-topic (because they know they will lose the argument if they do), the fact of the matter is that the willingness of liberal thought leaders to stay firm about science in the face of panics that are based on deep-rooted but irrational fears about “purity” and “nature” demonstrates a real integrity that the left has that the right is simply missing.

Now, didn’t she just moments ago suggest that when someone moves the goalposts, it’s argument over, GTFO? Why, yes. Yes she did.

Continue reading

Renewable-Journal-1

Is the Nissan Leaf fun to drive? – Renewable Journal for 7/14/2014

Electric motors provide instant torque. So yes, the Leaf is one hell of a lot of fun to drive.

leaf-dash-display-610.jpgFor more posts in this series, please click here.

FAQ #1: Is the Nissan Leaf fun to drive?

Hell yes. In fact, it’s by far the zippiest car I’ve ever owned. Able to go 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, it is more than capable of getting out of its own way merging into traffic, unlike some cars I’ve driven and/or owned in the past.

Having a car that could accelerate into traffic was important for me. At this point there’s so much road construction on my commute every day that I wanted to be able to put my foot down and fit into traffic going at 55+ MPH even when contending with a short merge lane. I had to do that this morning, in fact, since I got stuck behind two big trucks and needed to get out and around them and then up to highway speed quickly.
Continue reading

Drones

Drones—threat or menace?

Wait, what drones? Well, for starters, the ones that Amazon is testing, which have a 50 mile range, and a five pound payload. All so you can get that book faster. Of course, in the US this needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Not only that, it requires that the FAA provide Amazon with an exemption from a bunch of regulations that currently prevent private companies from unmanned vehicle testing. Now, these might strike you as the kind of sensible regulation that you actually might want governments to enforce. The FAA, on the other hand, is currently preparing new rules that will loosen things up a bit, apparently. And if Amazon gets the approvals it wants? Get ready for “Amazon Prime Air.” Although five pounds doesn’t really seem to be a very large payload of books, or coffee, or lawn furniture, or whatever it is that’s so desperately needed from Amazon.
Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

BBC wises up on Climate Science

Last year we bemoaned the fact that the BBC, which we do love dearly in spite of its occasional faults, was consistently blowing it on its climate change coverage. This has been, in the past, for reasons of “balance.” It may also have been the direct or indirect result of the political and “scientific” views of David Jordan, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, reputed to be a climate change “skeptic.” At least this was the theory put forward by Guardian commentator John Ashton. Whatever the case, it was embarrassing, and starting to compromise the BBC’s reputation for scientific coverage.

Hah. It turns out some folks at the BBC Trust seem to feel the same way as we do. And The Telegraph, in a story that Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton obviously enjoyed writing, and that the headline writer had a fun time with as well, provides us with the scoop: “BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes.” 200 staffers are now going to training on issues where the scientific consensus is settled, and to learn “not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious.” And the BBC trust was not alone. In April, the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee came to a similar conclusion—the BBC’s coverage of climate change science was lamentable. As Jim Meyer over at Grist points out, the British Government has long accepted climate science, and the BBC was out there looking foolish.

So we’re glad to see that the old regime, if that’s actually what it was, will longer be acceptable, at least at the BBC. This has led to more hilarity, of course. Nigel Lawson, who used to routinely make an appearance to challenge climate scientists, is now complaining that the BBC not inviting him around any more to prattle away is censorship, dammit. Really, just shut up, Nigel, you old crank. You’ve still got The Mail.

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

An insight into Libertarianism? George Packer’s Unwinding, Peter Thiel and techno-Libs

In their fascination with technology, are Libertarians really just seeking certainty?

I just finished reading George Packer’s remarkable, if not especially uplifting, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. One of the people he considers in his biography of the modern US is billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel.

Thiel is, among other things, a diehard Libertarian. Packer is … not. But the author doesn’t let his decidedly progressive perspective get in the way of telling Thiel’s story and representing the man’s perspective.

Toward the end, in a discussion of Thiel’s belief in the power of technology to free us from the innately limiting drag of politics, something occurred to me. Continue reading

NissanLeafBA

Why I chose the Leaf over the Jetta TDI – Renewable Journal for 7/4/2014

Tax credits and rebates, low cost of operation, and reduced air pollution all made the Leaf the better choice for my family.

[MotorTrend]For more posts in this series, please click here.

I know I’m going to get asked why I spent over 30k (before all the crazy tax rebates) on a car that only goes 80 miles. My father especially will ask at some point, and he’s already called it a “toy” car.

He’s not entirely wrong, either. I’m in my 40s now, and it’s actually quite a bit of fun to drive around in a car that can go from 0 to 60 in just a tad over 6 seconds. I’ve never had a car that has this kind of acceleration. Continue reading

Internet and Social Media

Facebook tramples human research ethics and gets published by PNAS for the effort

Facebook may have experimented with controlling your emotions without telling you

I start out an angry bastard on most days, but that’s just before coffee. After that, I actually lighten up and quite enjoy life and laughter. I’m really not the bitter old curmudgeon I tend to unleash when I write. Even much of my political ranting is spent more tongue-in-cheek and facepalming than actually risking a real aneurysm.

But this pisses me right off. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Hugh Howey’s Wool: Utopia for lovers of Dystopia

Wool is a smart, interesting take on the dystopian novel. It’s also kind of frustrating in that “wait for the next book to find out” way….

Wool by Hugh Howey (image courtesy Goodreads)

My local library, a vibrant place of reading, thinking and culture in my community, which I support wholeheartedly in spite of reassurances from the likes of the Google boys and Jeff Bezos that such places are no longer necessary, has been having its annual community read during the month of June. This year’s read has been the bestselling dystopian epic Wool by Hugh Howey.  (Yep, I’m off the 2014 reading list – and its revision – again, though I keep adding the books that come across my desk to that ever expanding list so that’s not strictly true, I guess.) One of the neat things associated with this community read has been community “read-alouds“; groups have been meeting in different spots across the area to read from the novel and discuss the action. I participated in a read-aloud last evening. The nicest thing about the group was the age range – from middle schoolers to a crusty old writer/professor. We had a great time doing a  dramatic reading of the events from one section of this sprawling work. This is wonderful stuff in a rural community like ours and the mix of younger and older readers both sparks hope for the future in this particular reader and, I hope, provides those younger readers with role models and will encourage them to develop a life-long love of reading. Continue reading

Beer

How to drink without getting drunk: does the yeast method work? (Food & Drink Week)

Esquire blog discusses a famous brewer’s secret for staying (relatively) sober. We test it out.

You may have seen Aaron Goldfarb’s recent Esquire blog entitled “How to Drink All Night Without Getting Drunk.” Great headline, and how cool would that be, right? I was skeptical, for obvious reasons, but it turns out that what is proposed is an idea developed by Joseph Owades, who Samuel Adams co-founder Jim Koch calls “the best brewer who ever lived.”

I figured I’d test the method myself, and not just because it would give me an excuse to drink too much.

First, how does it work? Continue reading

Food & Drink Week

Seven rules for healthier eating

The food we eat is killing us, but there are simple steps we can take to improve our health.

“Eating is an agricultural act.”—Wendell Berry

I have been depressed by, and disturbed by, the increasingly obvious American reluctance to accept science. That’s a pretty broad generalization, of course, but we all know where it comes from—we see manifestations of this every day, from vaccines, to global warming, to, well, whatever. If there’s a plausible scientific explanation for something, and a completely loony one, you just know that a certain percentage of the population is going to be chomping at the bit to accept the loony one.

How did a nation that constantly refers to itself as The Greatest Nation on Earth™ get populated by a surprisingly large number of dopes? Continue reading

Wired article gets basic probability wrong

It may seem like a small thing, but if you write for one of America’s premier tech magazines, you have a responsibility to understand how probability works.

Earlier today Wired published an article on how a new Quantum theory could explain the flow of time. Great stuff, and really interesting. Definitely give it a read.

But in the course of the article the writer makes a mistake that I see more often than I’d like. Here’s the graf, and I have boldfaced the problem section.

Consequently, a tepid cup of coffee does not spontaneously warm up. In principle, as the pure state of the room evolves, the coffee could suddenly become unmixed from the air and enter a pure state of its own. But there are so many more mixed states than pure states available to the coffee that this practically never happens — one would have to outlive the universe to witness it.

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The oyster climbs the Great Chain of Being: Eleanor Clark’s Locmariaquer

“…But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oyster….” – Geoffrey Chaucer

The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark (image courtesy Goodreads)

Anyone who reads Eleanor Clark’s classic The Oysters of Locmariaquer will come away from the book convinced of two things: 1) cultivating oysters is a complex and difficult task that might well suck the life out of one foolish enough to try to do so; 2) if the people from any place are up to the task of cultivating oysters, it is the Bretons. Clark’s book falls into that interesting category of nonfiction made famous by the great John McPhee. That is, Eleanor Clark, like McPhee, combines meticulous research (there is more in this book than anyone this side of an ichthyologist would want to know about the biology of oysters and the history of human/oyster relations) with personal narrative (there are stories of the lives of Breton villagers who are tied to the oyster industry – or to Brittany – that can move even the most jaded soul).

Of course, Clark antedates McPhee, and perhaps he owes her a debt for combining the scientific and historical with the personal in ways that can engross the reader and make one learn in spite of oneself. After all, Clark won the National Book Award for Nonfiction with this tale of Belon oysters and the Breton people who raise them in 1965, the same year McPhee published his first significant workContinue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Nature in Focus: Sharp Eyes by William Hamilton Gibson

Once upon a time readers actually wanted to learn from books…

Sharp Eyes by William Hamilton Gibson (image courtesy Goodreads)

After a spate of book reviews for new found writer friends, this essay takes a look at a book from the 2014 reading list Sharp Eyes: A Rambler’s Calendar of Fifty-two Weeks Among Insects, Birds, and Flowers  is a series of descriptions and discussions of weekly nature walks. It’s one of those wonderful late 19th century “educational” works that does its best to disguise itself as entertainment.

The book is an interesting relic of the late 19th century’s “naturalist” movement inspired, in part at least, by Henry David Thoreau. Naturalist, illustrator, and writer William Hamilton Gibson offers his observations of the New England woods around his Connecticut home. Sharp Eyes is heavy with mini-lectures in botany and entomology (one wishes for more about birds since those are for this reader the most interesting chapters) but Gibson writes in the literary journalist style of late 19th century American magazine work, so even the most tedious science lessons are larded with references to poetry and philosophy that leaven the scientific descriptions and explanations…. Continue reading