My favorite saint

St George of many colours. I’ve pontificated, or at least pounced on the unwary, about how the good fella ain’t just an English saint, for the red red reason seen below, but check out the good company it holds:

“St George is also patron saint of:

Aragon, agricultural workers, archers, armourers, Boy Scouts, butchers, Canada, Catalonia , cavalry, chivalry, equestrians, farmers, Ferrara Italy, field hands & workers, Genoa Italy, Georgia, Germany, Greece, horsemen, husbandmen, Istanbul, knights, lepers and sufferers of various other skin diseases, Lithuania, Moscow, Order of the Garter, Palestine, Palestinian Christians, plague, Portugal, riders, saddle makers, soldiers, Teutonic Knights, Venice ”

It’s plague that’s really impressing me. Lepers you can get, they need all the patrons they can get, but an epidimiological phenomena? Jordi, I raise my glass to you.

Doh!

I just did a Google search to try and find a ubiquitous quote about episodic memories. This is what my first search yielded. Read the indicators below the seach window for exactly how little info I got from this. As it says on the sign: doh.

La mer a la cafe scientifique, ah oui.

Met Richard Corfield yesterday, an oceanographer and keen promoter of science to the public. He participated in the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) program of scientific dialogue with the public, Cafe Scientifique, and the discussion was wide and fun; I was quite suprised when it was announced we were out of time, especially as several of the topics were just beginning to run.

Principally, I learnt about HMS Challenger, on a mission undertaken by a science-naval collaboration to chart out more knowledge of the oceans, and additionally collect more evidence to assess Darwin’s thesis of selection which had been published some thirteen years before. The course of their voyage led to wonderful failure: it had been predicted that the bottom of the ocean would be composed purely of ancient throwbacks (the engine of selection was seen to be enviromental change, and the ocean bed was considered a ‘silent landscape’ in which the enviroment was constant, meaning no evolutionary pressure to change); instead, they found countless new species. Then, unexpected success: missing links isolated in the Antipodes which gave support to natural selection. Alongside this, they charted the deepest waters, sparked understanding of the patterns of heat and exchange from the oceans to the continents and much more that couldn’t fit into my groaning head.

I also learned about Methane Hydrate, which becomes frozen in place between water molecules given the right conditions, forming massive deposits on the ocean floor. It’s release from the ocean produced massive warming 55 million years ago, an event which could have been cataclysmic if not for the burgeoning algae who arose to consume the masses of CO2 released. What it did achieve was the change in climate that allowed mammals like us to appear.

Pertinent to now, energy interests are looking at how to tap into this massive energy resource. This is beyond the stage of investigating feasibility – it can be done and the issue is how to do it safely. If Corfield is right, then this is going to happen well within my lifetime and will represent an effectively unlimited energy source. Something I’m going to want to learn more about…

Beyond this, there was an interesting debate about public promotion of science, which is something I’m very into. It seems to be a hot area at the moment; I hope you’ll see me in it one day.

Finally, related to the Lomborg post below, Corfield writes about CO2, Kyoto, and scientific responses to the problem here. Check it out; it’s totally accessible, and he gives props to John Wyndham. Come correct!

Magic books

ain’t this damn cool.

I’m not sure if it will transform the future of fiction, but it could be just one of many technologies that do just that. Wonder if Scott McCloud has heard of this.

oh yes

Ahhh fuck. This is what it’s all about:

the Daily Mail-o-matic.

The daily mail has long been the best piece of unintentional (I say that, but I’m beginning to wonder..) comedy out there, and what with the occasional ‘Daily Mail’ island pieces in tvgohome. no more, due to no new content from the site, I was beginning to get antsy. If I can find it, I’ll transcribe my all-time favorite reader’s letter. It is headed with the ominous phrase:

Am I Evil?

I’ll leave you for now to ponder the likely response…

MORE:

I couldn’t leave you without this – the new tvgohome ‘war’ page. For some reason it comes as a jpg not a web page and you may have to zoom, but its well worth it. Fricking genius.

Fishing about in the Skeptic Tank

John Quiggin posts on the Copenhagen consensus, a project of Bjorn Lomborg’s to attempt to prioritise the problems developing countries face. Lomborg is the author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, cautioning the environmental lobby for overstating their case. It came up yesterday in a discussion among intellectual giants, or more accurately a natter over a yard of ale with a bunch of old school mates.

The post is as ever worth a look, but better yet is his essay on Lomborg’s cost-benefit analysis of Kyoto “or something even grander”. It’s here. It’s charges include:

Overestimation of the costs of Kyoto by large factors

His analysis turns out to “reduce the value of costs incurred in 50 years time by a factor of around 10”, from what a standard calculation of the rate of discount would produce.

“Lomborg ignores … completely” the ecological costs of climate change

Reliance on those economic experts who support his view, without consideration to those (numerous) who do not.

and there more…. of course, you needn’t take this at face value either. But let’s all keep informed.

It’s not just about Eldan, it’s about YOU.

Eldan writes about his dissatisfaction with political writing: by others, and by extension by himself. Read it all, but the key point is:

“even if I could write something eloquent and soundly argued that would really be persuasive to a reader with an open mind—there would be no audience for it, and it feels like a lost cause. All I’m doing by writing about politics is effectively wearing a badge, that will irritate some people and signal to others that I’m part of their tribe, and I can’t be bothered any more. ”

As a consequence he is shutting down active political commentary, while still keeping the door open to writing on political process. He remarks

“I can’t imagine anyone will really miss my rantings here, but if I’m wrong do tell me.”

Consider yourself about to be told. Ahem.

I think it’s clear that any media source you care to pick does indeed reduce into an echo chamber of some or other set of dimensions. The dailies do it, the distinguished periodicals do it, the blog-continents excel in it. Hell, the man on the street does it too. No-one is objective, and not enough strive to be. Nowadays it’s accentuated in my eyes due to the number of outlets mushrooming, through cable channels but particularly the internet, where thousands of voices professing to be honest, uncoloured and free from the stain of editorial slant reveal unashamed, jaw-dropping bias. It was easier before when I could just blame the owners of big bad media. No such luck. It’s easier now just to turn sideways and let it slide past.

Yet every person able to well-express themselves, and truly willing in their attempt to eschew reflexivity in favour of a balanced and critical appraisal, is a good voice amongst the sorry chaff. In my opinion Eldan is one of these voices; if not, he’s certainly getting there. For me, the problem is another that he specifies: when I attempt to condense my thoughts into precise words I can too easily become mawkish and winding, often at the same time. I imagine it’s akin to a hierarchy of needs – once I can express myself better I will begin to have issues with whether my expression is actually useful. I think that give or take, he has got to this second stage; and reasonably enough, he is taking on the issue: is there any point if no-one shifts opinion due to what they hear?

Firstly I will take on that assumption. While it’s true that most columnists, bloggers and other vendors of opinions are pretty much entrenched (and bear in mind that there are exceptions; even the devout can become the laity, and vice versa), I think there are many people whose opinions, on a variety of issues, are not set in stone. The rather faceless ‘man on the street’ I introduced earlier (lets face it, he was basically a straw man on the street, wasn’t he?) is really a multitude, and within that you’d find plenty genuinely interested in what other people think about x, y and the proverbial z.

Also, there are certain issues which don’t necessitate a set reaction from each political persuasion, but can elicit diverse responses.

Secondly, even if no-one were to shift, self-expression clearly has an intrinsic value, and I’d argue that political self-expression is particularly valuable. We should entertain and share our opinions on aesthetics (I liked this film, I hated that book) and our immediate social environment; fortunately, most of us do. Politics is easier to duck (one of the dinner table taboos) in our day to day communication, but due to its complexity and importance it is an area where we need to devote resources if we are ever to become rounded, and avoid becoming echo-chambers ourselves. I spend too much time watching public figures I dislike mouth off, and growling inwardly: “Idiot! You’re wrong, and I’m right.” It’s when I actually have to cash out the cheques, and express myself in some way, that I find where my own biases lie, and revise my own opinions accordingly.

Following from this, I would add that a properly functioning democracy should rely on its citizenship being aware and articulate. As a consequence, one could see, if so inclined that expressing oneself politically, even to no-one in particular, is a responsibility we can be proud to carry out.

It should be clear that while the impetus of this post was the decision by Eldan, that its equally about myself and my personal notions about why this is worth doing; it’s also about you, you whover reads this. So for the next paragraph, take Eldan and referents to such as a term denoting Eldan, me, and yes, you.

I’d like to see Eldan continue talking about politics. I certainly don’t think he should feel obliged to, or feel that political events should ever dictate a response (I don’t think his silence on an issue is likely to be harmful), but if he feels like articulating where he stands on any issue, then that’s enough to shoot on and do it. The argument above asserts it’s good for Eldan (cohering his value system) and good for society (leading from the first point).

On a personal note, Eldan, it’s certainly good for me. I’m also wandering the same broad ballpark that you’re in, maybe in the bleechers whilst you’re in the dugout (excuse the terrible American sporting analogy but seeing as Eldan is in the States ‘jumpers for goalposts’ is not legit), but thereabouts, with an interest in the world, hope that it will be better, untied to ideology but interested in ideas. Hell, I’m curious about how you are wending your way from a to b, and if there are any tigers there. Eldan, I’d love to be discussing this over a beer with you, but distances make that a tall order. What? No, not you! You expired from the terminology a paragraph ago. Haven’t you been listening at all? And why the hell would I be addressing myself? Jesus!

‘The Stopped Clock’ calls time on bad reviews

I just stumbled across a site called the Stopped Clock, well written politicalish stuff. This was nice and so I’m linking.

sample:

“The mistake behind these reviews essentially boils down to “I agree with this author, so this author must be right”. Sometimes the author has thought about the subject more deeply than the blogger, and perhaps the blogger’s thinking has been shifted by the book. But the uncritical blog entries at issue don’t even suggest that much thought has occurred. This is not to suggest that the ideas endorsed are necessarily wrong – but such a nicety is of little consequence to the blogger’s agreement or endorsement.”

This is comics, freaks

Just want to hand out some praise for Scott McCloud’s site which I’ve been frequenting like a red-hooded child in a Nicholas Roeg movie – not all the time, but enough to matter. It’s a pretty usable site, and McCloud is an innovative figure in comics, which might lend it relevance to the non-converted. He puts a lot of content on-line nowadays – click on ‘On-Line Comics’to view them – and a lot of his formats are pretty unusual. Try ‘My Obsession With Chess’ , for example. He enthusiastically champions new formats like this, and I’ve just read today the second part of ‘The Right Number’, which has a really satisfying interface that is aesthetically interesting (zooming into each panel to the next one), that he makes the most of. McClouds work is often a little cold, detached, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but I quite like that outsider-narrator thing, and it’s impossible to deny his talent and application of imagination.

He is also doing something else fairly new; selling content via the web for 25c a pop. It’s done via Bitpass, a system where you essentially buy vouchers for your account (as little as $3), which you can then spend in a variety of places. So far I’ve spent 50cents on The Right Number 1 & 2, and 75 on a audio-short story by Tom Gerency; currently downloading a Mark Twain audio-story for a buck. I’m quite happy to pay these prices for on-line content, although admittedly it is a novelty now, so I may scale down to only the stuff I really want. But especially in the Right Number case, McCloud as a jobbing artist needs recompense for the considerable work put into this quality item, and its media requires it be online, or at least computer based. So it’s good there are these systems in place to deal with small payments (I’m not about to put my credit card details in every time I want to glance at part of a comic story).

Enough plugging, except to balance my touting of McCloud by lauding Dylan Horrocks. I haven’t been able to get my hands on Hicksville, his highly rated graphic novel, but dearly want to. What I have read is his intelligent analysis of what comics are: a topic that interests many in the field butis generally only equated with McCloud himself (for the unacquainted McCloud published Understanding Comics, and further to that Reinventing Comics, the first particularly seen as the definitive work on what the art and medium of comics is actually all about). Horrocks breaks down the rhetoric of UC and suggests other ways of conceptualising the whole shebang, which are actually a little closer to my heart.