Friday, December 30, 2005
Blog of the Day: Estavisti
, lots of goodies today.
First, from here
, an interesting map of the USA
according to the predominant ancestry - county-by-county.
Also, a good resource
with English translations of newspapers from the ex-Yugoslavia.
Finally, an intriguing post
about the politics of script: to this day, after almost 15 years in the USA, I still sign my name in Cyrillic sript!
But, I don't check sports scores online
Echidne is on the roll. This
may help you make more sense of the recent study on the supposed gender differences in the Internet use. She examines the study itself, as well as the way it was reported in the media. The obligatory read of the day.
Podcasting in the local news
In this week's Independent, Brian Russell has a step-by-step yes-you-can-do-this-at-home introduction to podcasting: DIY radio: Or how I learned to stop worrying about the media and start podcasting
. Worth a read.
Also, if you can, show up next week (Saturday, January 7th) at the Podcastercon
that Brian (with a little help some others) is organizing. Check the Podcastercon Wiki
and the blog
. I'll be there.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Welcome to the neighborhood
Don't know how Ed
discovered it, but this new blog written by a Greensboro cop is delightful
! It's called Bobbysitter and will make you think differently about a lot of stuff....
Tagged by Countess
:Four jobs you've had in your life:
Horse trainer and riding instructor; assistant handicapper and finish-line judge at the Belgrade Racecourse; translator of Disney comic strips into Serbo-Croatian; biology instructor/researcher.Four movies you could watch over and over:
Fiddler on the Roof, AristoCats, Charlotte's Web, Hair.Four places you've lived:
Belgrade, Yugoslavia; Raleigh, Cary and Chapel Hill (all three in North Carolina)Four TV shows you love to watch:
They were all cancelled long ago (My so-called life, Police Squad, Black Adder...), also Democratic Primary debates on C-span.... so the TV's been off for a long time now.Four places you've been on vacation:
all over the Adriatic Coast; Stockholm, Sweden; Brighton, Bath, London, Oxford and Droxford, UK; Wrightsville Beach, NC; Amelia Island, FL; Kiawah, SC.Four websites you visit daily:
Pharyngula, Pandagon, Shakespeare's Sister, EdCone...and many more, never just four - they are all blogs as I quit doing other kinds of websites....(I should have put Sitemeter....)Four of your favorite foods:
anything brown (implying: chocolate), anything Italian, anything from my mother's kitchen, copious amounts of roasted meat.Four places you'd rather be:
anywhere in New Zealand; Barcelona, Spain; Jerusalem, Israel; Hedonism III.Four albums you can't live without:
Greatest Hits (or collected everything): Janice Joplin, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Djordje Balasevic.I tag the following four people to do this meme:ArchyBillJimBuridan's Ass
Carnival of the Liberals - second call for submissions
The next edition
of the Carnival of the Liberals
will be held right here at Science And Politics on Jan. 4th, 2006.
Read the submission guidelines
carefully as this carnival, unlike most other carnivals, is actually edited (I think only Blawg Review, out of more than 160 carnivals in existence, is also edited/peer-reviewed). Thus, out of 30-40 entries, only ten are chosen by the host.
Each week there is a new host with a new taste and a new criterion, so if your entry does not get accepted one time, just keep trying, and you'll get in sooner or later. Also, be assured that Big Dogs certainly have no advantage over less well known blogs here.
While individual hosts will differ on details, participants are generally encouraged to send in original thoughts, new creative angles, or expert analysis, as such will be likely to be valued higher than simple reiterations of what others said, links-and-quotes, or angry rants. Although, a really, really funny rant may be an exception, and if I get something that makes me spit my Coke with laughter, you have a shot at a spot (but send me a bottle of monitor-cleaning solution first).
Send your best post by January 3rd, 2006 by 5pm EST to make sure it’s considered for CotL #3. You can submit your entries by using the automated submission form
, or by e-mailing me directly at Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com
If you are interested in hosting a future edition
of CotL, check here
) to see what it entails, then you can volunteer here
Weeeeelll, not really....
|Your Blogging Type is Confident and Insightful|
You've got a ton of brain power, and you leverage it into brilliant blog.
Both creative and logical, you come up with amazing ideas and insights.
A total perfectionist, you find yourself revising and rewriting posts a lot of the time.
You blog for yourself - and you don't care how popular (or unpopular) your blog is!
Link-Love: Miscellaneous Thursday Blogaround
writes: "What is needed is that conservatives learn their proper role." Read the rest.Buridan's Ass
on people who feel entitled.
Somehow, these days, Amanda
and Shakespeare's Sister
tend to write on same topics - this time, on changing sex-ratios in higher education. Both are very thoughtful posts.
Comandante Agi thinks that sexual intercourse can be a good metaphor for international relations
and Thesaurus Rex
are starting a War on Anti-Intellectualism.
Publius uses a sexual selection metaphor to explain the nominations of wingnut judges
. I added my 2c in the comments.
Is America an empire
Rev. Billy Bob Gisher is irreverently sarcastic in a two-parter about causes of death Part I
and Part II
PZ gets exercised by an exorcist
Archy on market-tested justifications for Bush's illegal wiretapping and spying
. Female. Do I look fat in this?
AE found a study that confirms that fear of death may factor into who we vote for
, i.e., that people were scared into voting for Bush.
Listen to the song: We Come From Monkeys
Echidne on tolerance
Speaking of tolerance, Coralius of Revolvo Inritus wrote a Letter To The Editor of SciAm
about atheism. It's chilling, what he says about the labmate.
Speaking of Intelligent Design, it can be taught intelligently
, in a philosophy college class.
Another New Carnival
The first issue of KGB (Kansas Guild of Bloggers) is up on
I love the way regional carnivals are sprouting everywhere! Check the other 170 ongoing carnivals here
there is a second edition
Carnival of Harry Potter
The inaugural edition of the Carnival of Harry Potter
is up on The Pensieve.
The image courtesy of Marta.
Tar Heel Tavern - call for submissions
We have a brand new host for the Tar Heel Tavern this week. Send your entries to The View From The Cheap Seats
, attbojustin AT yahoo DOT com
Little Red Riding Hood, here I come!
What Is Your Animal Personality?
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Carnival of Education
Carnival of Education #47
is up on Education Wonks.
An easy way to get a nice pet for free. But you'll have to wait until the Rapture
takes the owners away.
wrote the saddest and nicest posts about Christmas.
And Colin ads a second part
Bill's is sweet
Buridan's Ass busts the myth of a Christian nation
on what we know about the tsunami a year later.
Dolphin mothers pass tool use on to their female offspring
and how (not) to write chick lit
, from Melinama.The Real War on Christmas
, via Brett, who still practices the forgotten art of patience
Everybody is doing 4x4 and 7x7 memes these days, but Lance
is having real fun with it.
Kim has seen her share of miracles
Chris Mooney got voted one of ten 'sexiest geeks' of
2005 by Wired mag.
The world actually is more peaceful today
than in the past, says David.
Carl on the other Panda's thumb
Is American Idol going to be won by a North Carolinian? Again? It's possible
Shakespeare's Sister on The Sanctity of Mail Order Marriage
on the same topic and muses some more on the disappearance of the 'traditional' family
. What would Einstein teach
Publius: originalists don’t care about terrorism and aid and abet our enemies
If you have a hammer, everything is a nail. So, travelling on an airplane is sufficient inspiration to write about Kant and scientific ethics
.Kung Fu Science
, via Skepsisfera
How to draw a really good mammoth
. Also, Friday Cat Blogging
will never be the same again
Radiation monitoring without a search warrant
So, what do YOU do
I was young once and had tons of energy
I need to join her
.The Origins of Music: Innateness, Uniqueness, and Evolution
from a class taught by Scott
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
should be hired by OSHA! Can you imagine the regulation they'd come up with? There is NOTHING that cannot be a danger to life and limb.
There's a lot of power in a good cow!
are strong, but even they could not tip a cow
. That was a native cow. Actually, a nativity cow. She was running for her life. I don't blame her. I'd run, too.
Year-End Grand Rounds
is up on The Health Care Blog.
* Dwarfs got respect in ancient Egypt, research suggests
A new study examines the role of short people in the kingdom of the Nile.
* Language affects thought -- in just half the brain, study finds
Scientists and philosophers have wondered whether each person's language influences how he or she sees the world.
* Wanted: amateur stargazers
Backyard astronomers with relatively big telescopes may be able to help researchers investigate bursting stars.
* Shorter glasses lead to bigger drinks: study
People tend to pour more into short, wide glasses than into tall, narrow ones, research has found.
Essential Science Fiction
A couple of months ago, Brandon (of Siris
) wrote a post in which he listed
twenty must-read science fiction novels. Please read the comments where many people add their own suggestions. I am not exactly sure what the criterion was - the best ever, Brandon's personal favourites, or something else - but ever since, I wanted to write a similar post. Not that I disagree much with his choices - I don't - but I just wanted to make my own list.
I grew up on science-fiction, in Serbo-Croatian translations at first. Yugoslavia was always a big hub
of SF fandom and many books were translated. I devoured books by Bjazic and Furtinger
. I was fortunate enough to grow up during the 13-year tenure of Sirius
, a fantastic monthly magazine emulating Asimov's. I still remember the cover story of issue #2 - 'Mewhu's Jet' by Theodore Sturgeon (after which I call my cat Mewhu).
I am not going to limit this to just 20. I am also not going to limit it to just one book per author. I will not even limit it just to novels - some of the best SF is in the form of short stories. In some ways, this is a "Best of" list, in others it is a "My favourites" list.
The way I made it was to think what books I would buy for a young person (let's say a niece or nephew going off to college) as an introduction to SF - in other words: where to start when entering this genre. Another way I thought was to think of a long list of SF works that can be used (once pared down to a managable size) in teaching a course "Science Fiction for Biologists."
As my brother says, and I wholeheartedly agree, it is a sacred duty of all scientists to read science fiction, not just for research ideas, but also because all societal and ethical consequences have been explored by SF writers long before any federal ethics committee ever got assigned to think about it. So, here it is:
Let's start with the pioneers, of course, then progress more or less chronologically.Journey to the Centre of the Earth
is my favourite by Jules Verne
. I have read quite a lot by him (mostly when I was a kid), but this is the only one I went back to and re-read it a few more times. I'd also like to read his newly-discovered novel about Paris
is tough to choose from. The Time Machine
and The Island of Dr. Moreau
are the novels I liked the best, but it is his collection of stories, The Stolen Bacillus And Other Incidents
, that I think is his best work by far. There are many different collections of his stories, but try to get the most complete one, like the one I linked to.The Water-Babies
by Charles Kingsley
is a classic that rarely makes its appearance on Best-of lists. Do not get the abridged (American) edition as they cut out the best parts, afraid of insulting local Puritan sensibilities. For an evo-devo biologist, this book is a must!The Lost World
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
is undoubtedly a classic. Read it online
.Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Well, of course, Tarzan is great fun and I have read many of those. The Mars novels are also cool. The Land That Time Forgot
is everyone's favourite. But I want to point you to a less-well known series of his, the Pellucidar series, which happens inside a hollow Earth (and has its effects on circadian rhythms and perception of time - so it really makes it cool for me). At the Earth's Core
and Tanar of Pellucidar
are the first three in the series (wich apparently can also be found bound together
). The remaining four are Tarzan at the Earth's Core
, Back to the Stone Age
, Land of Terror
and Savage Pellucidar
. I have not read them but I am very curious. These are cheap paperbacks, so if you are in a cheritable mood, I have placed them on my wish list
by Mary Shelley
. Of course. (also found online
English-speaking list-makers tend to focus only on works originally written in English. But there is a lot of good stuff that one can find in translation. The best and most influential of the early Russian SF is We
by Yevgeny Zamyatin
A list of SF classics cannot omit RUR
by the Czech writer Karel Capek
, a SF play that gave us the word "robot". Personally, I prefer hisWar With the Newts
. When I first read it as a kid, I loved the beginning and the end, where all the action is. When I read it again as an adult, I loved the middle part where there is a lot of science and philosophy. Another must for evo-devo folks, too.Alexander Belayev
is probably the best known SF author from the old USSR. He was definitely the most prolific. Some of his stuff is horrendous - peans to the invincibility of the Soviet Man (I guess he had to write such things to keep himself on the good side of authorities) - but other stuff is great. Unfortunately, much of his stuff has not been translated into English (I read them in Serbo-Croatian translation). My own favourite, by far, is The Amphibian
, another must-read for evo-devo biologists. I'd like to read it in English translation one day, too.Solaris
is supposed to be the best novel by Stanislaw Lem
. I disagree. Tarkovsky's movie version is better than the book. I have not seen the Clooney version yet. If you want to read a really amazingly good novel by Lem, pick up The Invincible
. On the other hand, you will laugh out loud at the adventure of Ijon Tichy, especially in the first book in the trilogy, The Futurological Congress: From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy
. It is followed by Star Diaries: Further Reminiscences Of Ijon Tichy
and Memoirs of a Space Traveler: Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy
. I think a reviewer on Amazon nailed it: "If Borges had written "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," it might have resembled "The Star Diaries.""The Titan of Space
by Yves Dermez
was fun to read when I was a kid. I have no idea if it exists in English, though.
Another fond memory from shildhood is Planet of the Dreamers
by John MacDonald
is really hard to pick from. I have not read Odd John
. His magnum opus is the duo of The First And Last Man and Star Maker
, but my personal favourite is Sirius
It is funny how in 1984 people laughed and said that George Orwell
's novel 1984
completely missed on all its predictions. The only thing George got wrong was the title. He should have placed it another 20 years into the future and be right on the spot. Healthy Forests. Patriot Act. Tax Relief. Intelligent Design. Strict Construction. No Child Left Behind. Tort Reform. War On Terror. Activist Judges. Sound Science. Fair and Balanced. War On Eurasia. Black is White.... If anything, George was not creative enough.
But George was not alone. Aldous Huxley
also got a lot of stuff right in the Brave New World
. Again, twenty years ago people said he got it all wrong but those same people have to eat their words today. My personal favourite of Huxley's work is After Many A Summer Dies A Swan
(ah, yet another must-read for the evo-devo crowd). Has anyone read Ape and Essence
? Is it any good?
The one anti-utopian SF novel that got it most right of all of them is Space Merchants
by Frederick Pohl
and Cyril Cornbluth
. Decades later, Pohl wrote an excellent follow-up novel, The War of the Merchants
. Follow the money, as Rush Limbaugh would say. Speaking of Pohl, his Gateway
series is worth checking out (at least try the very fist in the series).
While we are still in these dark areas, probably the darkest is The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick
, an alternative history in which WWII is won by the Axis. Dick is one of my favourite authors and it is hard to pick just one novel as the best. Ubik
is excellent. I also liked The Man Who Japed
and Counter-Clock World
. Also, his Galactic Pot-Healer
is refreshingly different, funnier than usual and almost a fantasy.
As for Ray Bradbury
, Fahrenheit 451
is his best anti-utopian SF. Martian Chronicles
is a beautiful, almost poetic collection of stories. The Illustrated Man
contains probably his best stories. Something Wicked This Way Comes
is wicked horror. Wanna try something different? Try Dinosaur Tales
, equally enchanting for kids and adults.
And a list of prophetic anti-utopian SF cannot be complete without the newer, but perhaps even scarier, The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Have you heard of T.J. Bass
(Thomas J. Bassler)? He has published only two novels. Perhaps not brilliantly written as far as prose goes, but they harbor some great ideas and a wonderful exploration of the evolution of (eu)sociality and what it means to be human. I warmly recommend both of them: Half Past Human
. The second is usually considered to be better. I wish he has written more.
No list can be without Robert Anston Heinlein
, probably my most favourite SF writter of all. He was so prolific, it is really difficult to choose. If you want to introduce a young person to SF, some of Heinlein's juveniles are the best entry point. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
, Starship Troopers
, Have Spacesuit - Will Travel
, Podkayne From Mars
, Farmer in the Sky
, Puppet Masters
and many others are people's favourites. Stranger In The Strange Land
is probably his best novel, certainly notable for giving the English language the wonderful word "to grok". My favourite is Time Enough For Love
, though it may perhaps be a little too much for a young novice (give the prequel, Methusaleh's Children
, to a younger reader instead - there is a cool multi-sex breeding system described within)).Clifford Simak
has written one novel many, many times. Whatever you read by him you will like. Also, you will want to move to Wisconsin after reading any one of his books. While Way Station
may be his most famous piece (and it is very good), the real classic is The City
. The City belongs even on the shortest, most restricitive list of the best SF ever.
I have only read More Than Human
by Theodore Sturgeon
. It is a classic for a reason! Anything else worth reading?A Canticle for Leibowitz
, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
is always on these lists. I have to admit, sheepishly, that I have not read it yet. I own a copy and want to read it but it somehow never happens...Perhaps one day....Arthur C. Clarke
is not one of my greatest favourites of all times, but his Childhood's End
is brilliant. His short stories are better, so check out this collection
of his, or perhaps Tales from the White Hart
I have read preciously little by Isaak Asimov
, not even a single Foundation novel. I guess I, Robot
is a classic that has to be on every 'must-read' list.Phillip Jose Farmer
is the author of the fabulous Riverboat series. The first three books
are superb. The fourth
is passable (and it answers some questions and ties some loose ends). Don't bother with the fifth one - that one was written just for the money. Lovers
is my favourite Farmer novel - another interesting mating strategy. Then, The World of Tiers
trilogy is one of the rare pieces of fantasy that I liked. Still, I most prefer his stories, so I'd give, as a present, a collection of his stories
. I am still in love with Dr.Legsandbrains from the story "Only He Can Make A Tree". I've been looking for her all my life....
Speaking of fantasy, apart from a bunch of Tolkien and very few other pieces (OK, OK, Harry Potter series), my favourite is the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin
: A Wizard of Earthsea
, The Tombs of Atuan
and The Farthest Shore
. I think this was the real inspiration for Potter, not Narnia or Lord Of The Rings as most people believe. Again, read just the first three books. I heard that the follow-ups are atrociously bad. Most of the other stuff by LeGuin is pure SF and it is all good. How about Collected Novels
(of the Hainish Series) as a holiday gift to a person you like? Dispossessed
and Left Hand Of Darkness
are her most famous and arguably best novels. The Lathe of Heaven
is also very good. Wanna know my personal pick? The Word For World Is Forest
is dark, dark, dark. Chrysallids
is the one I've read multiple times, first time when I was far too young for it.James Blish
. A biologist must love this guy! Seedling Stars
is the most evolutionary SF book ever! Titan's Daughter
is quite thought-provoking - one of the earliest novels about genetic engineering. And try Cities In Flight
, too.Kurt Vonnegut
. What's to say? The Man is The Master! the most science-fictiony of his works are Slaughterhouse-Five
, Cat's Cradle
, The Sirens of Titan
. I think I have read every single book Kurt has ever written, including all the collections of stories.
When Frank Herbert
was still alive and churning out new installments in the Dune series every year, I promised I'd wait until he died, buy the whole series, then wait until I am bed-ridden for a few weeks to read it all. Well, he died. I collected all installments in Serbo-Croatian. Then I moved to the USA. Fortunately, I still had no opportunity to read it. Not even the first one. But I loved his Green Brain
! Social insects and stuff. And again in Hellstrom's Hive
I am not much into cyberpunk. If you are, the best start, they say, is William Gibson
, Mona Lisa Overdrive
and Pattern Recognition
. One day I will force myself to read some of that stuff....And you can read his blog
, too.Gordon Dickson
. Although the very last book in the series, The Final Encyclopedia
is independent enough from the rest of the Dorsai cycle to be read on its own. It is brilliant. People who think a lot about blogosphere, wikipedia, connectedness and knowledge, should read this. And if reading it makes you want to read the series from the beginning , start with #1, the Necromancer
. My Dickson favourite? Masters of Everon
, where animals behave in a strange way.Will Baker
is a newer, younger writer, and most of his stuff is not SF. If you thought Masters of Everon was good (and I did), you'll be floored by Shadow Hunter
, where animals behave in a REALLY strange way. I bought three or four copies once and gave all but one to friends as presents.Poul Anderson
. Try Brainwave
: A scientist's hard SF. Try Timescape
, Beyond Infinity
, The Martian Race
. First, the serious stuff, the Eden trilogy:West of Eden
, Winter in Eden
and Return to Eden
is a misnamed classic. Make Room Make Room
is the book on which the movie Soylent Green was losely based. On a less serious note, Harrison is one of the funniest SF writers. Try Bill the Galactic Hero
(and subsequent novels in the series) or The Stainless Steel Rat
(and many more in that series).Brian Aldiss
. Try Long Afternoon Of Earth
and Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand
, to begin with.The Drowned World
is the only novel by J.G. Ballard
I have read. I really should read some more.Orson Scott Card
. Ender's Game
is absolutely brilliant. The follow-ups are, in comparison, nothing special. Tales of Alvin Maker: Seventh Son, Red Prophet, and Prentice Alvin
is another one of the preciously few fantasy series I liked. I hear that nothing else by Card is worth your time and money, but have not tested that hypothesis myself, as I don't want to waste my time and money testing it.
Buy yourself The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy
- all five books in one tome. Not enough Douglas Adams
? Try Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
and Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
by Michael Ende
is supposedly for kids, and it barely qualifies as SF, but I loved it. It's about time thieves.Michael Crichton
. Stay away from his latest! But some of the old stuff is pretty good and fun to read, includingThe Andromeda Strain
and Jurassic Park
, a story narrated by a dinosaur, was written not by a professional writer, but by a professional paleontologist - Robert Bakker
. Thus, the prose is not the most beautiful you have ever encountered, but it is a cool read for science geeks like me.
And he is not the only paleontologist trying his hand at SF. George Gaylord Simpson
wrote The Dechronization of Sam Magruder
, which was published only after he died.A for Andromeda
by the astronomer Fred Hoyle
is actually a fast good read.Terry Pratchet
is hillarious. Pick any one you like. My recent favourites: Thief of Time
and The Truth
. The former about the consequences of building a perfect clock, the latter about the newspaper business. Don't drink and read (or use a napkin).
You want funny? Here's funny: Robert Asprin
- anything by him. I love the M.Y.T.H. Inc series - all of it. I like the Phule series. I like the Thieves' World series. I liked the best of all The Cold Cash War
. Light summer (or travelling) reading - very funny.Thanatos Syndrome
by Walker Percy
is excellent - aging, societal control and scary fast action.John Darnton
. The Experiment
is one of the better takes on cloning. And the Neanderthal
is pretty good, too. The Darwin Conspiracy
is new and I want it - a modern-day Rashomon. I'd also like to read his Mind Catcher
.Conrads' Time Machine
by Leo Frankowski
is a hillarious prequel to his series. If what reviewers say - that this is the weakest book in the series - is true, I can't wait to get hold of the others!
Speaking of time-travel stories that gave up on explaining the paradoxes and just invite you to go for a ride (together with a baby Brontosaur), the best one is John Kessel's Corrupting Dr. Nice
. If you like it, try his other novel, Good News From Outer Space
or the collection of his short stories, The Pure Product
is another Grand Master. A Fire Upon The Deep
and A Deepness in the Sky
are astoundingly good. I can't wait for his next, Tatja Grimm's World
, to come out in January! In the meantime, I should read some of his other stuff, like The Peace War
.... On the other hand, I could never really warm up to the works of his wife, Joan Vinge. Just not my style, I guess.Darwinia
by Robert Charles Wilson
is pretty good, although it starts slow - I almost gave up in the beginning, but then it became better as the pace quickened. Perhaps I should give him another try
's Eastern Standard Tribe
is the best SF novel that is, among else, about blogs and Internet. Of course he would know, he runs Boing Boing
, Bruce Sterling
and Ken MacLeod
are bloggers, too. I am ashamed to say I have not read anything by them. Where should I start?
Speaking of SF bloggers, I really need to buy and read Hominids
by Robert Sawyer
. What else by him is good?
Still with SF bloggers, David Brin
is really good. I really need to read more of his stuff. I have only read The Uplift War
, but so long ago I barely remember it, and, more recently Postman
(which I reviewed here
). Is Glory Season
And speaking of books I reviewed here, Jennifer Government
by Max Barry
is really good.
I did not review it, but I used it as a starting point
for a post before - Darwin's Radio
by Greg Bear
(who also has a blog
). While James Blish tapped into neo-Darwinian Synthesis for his evolution-rich novels, Greg Bear is up to date on the current version of evolutionary theory, the evo-devo kind. The second book in the series, Darwin's Children
is as good if not better. I can't wait for the third one. In the meantime, I've been reading a lot of older Bear's stuff, and loved it all. I can say that he is my currently favourite SF author. I've read and (except for, perhaps, Heads
) recommend Blood Music
, The Forge of God
, Anvil of Stars
. My wife has read and loved Dead Lines
, but then she gave it away before I had a chance to read it. And I should read Moving Mars
before the movie comes out.Joan Slonczewski
is a real biologist who writes SF in her spare time and also uses SF to teach biology. So far, I have read the delightful Wall Around Eden
and am looking forward to her more hard-SF stuff, like The Children Star
, Door into Ocean
, Daughter of Elysium
, Still Forms on Foxfield
and Brain Plague
. So far I have read To Say Nothing of the Dog
and Fire Watch
(a collection of stories), and am looking forward to reading Passage
. Wonderful writer. Amazing researcher of historical minutiae, too!Pest Control
by Bill Fitzhugh
is one of the funniest books I have read in the past 10 years. It is a delight for entomologists, too. The exterminator, in this case, uses genetically modified insects to exterminate people - for money. I've also read Organ Grinders
by the same author, and will seek some of his other books soon.David Dvorkin
is a Kossian. I got his Ursus
and Time for Sherlock Holmes
recently. Reviews look good, but I have not read them yet.Neal Stephenson
is all the rave these days. I own, but have not read yet, his big hits, Snow Crash
and The Diamond Age
. I have recently bought, and intend to read one day, the trilogy: Quicksilver
, The Confusion
and The System of the World
. Is Big U
any good?The Calcutta Chromosome : A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery
by Amitav Ghosh
was a tremendous surprise. It is an amazingly good novel. Has anyone read anything else by him? Is it SF?The Elementary Particles
by Michel Houellebecq
was the most recent pleasant surprise. The catch is - and I am sure not everyone is going to like that - you don't know it is SF until the very end.
Add your own in the comments...Tag: teaching-carnival
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Link to link to link to memetree
to watch a meme spread. I suggest you spend at least a few minutes on that page. More info here
. Hat-tip: Eric
Carnival of the Godless
The Carnival of the Godless Christmas Extravaganza!
is up on Nanovirus. Get your antidote today!
Tar Heel Tavern
Tar Heel Tavern #44
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Wonks and Cranks
Big debate over Wonkery and Activism on blogs is brewing around the biggies in the Left Blogistan. Let me rehash it quickly before starting my own rant.
It all started with a Washington Monthly article titled Kos Call
by Benjamin Wallace-Wells:
"Moulitsas is just basically uninterested in the intellectual and philosophical debates that lie behind the daily political trench warfare. By his own admission, he just doesn't care about policy.Markos
He doesn't pretend to be a policy wonk. But the more that the Democratic Party turns to Moulitsas for help, the more the limits to his movement become apparent, the less the raw animus of many liberals for the Iraq war seems likely to translate into any lasting liberal movement, and the more the current obsession with his brand of Winnerism looks misplaced."
"But I'm not sure where the notion that Daily Kos had to singularly encapsulate the entire VLWC came from. Everyone has a role. I see Daily Kos as part of our noise machine, with tangents into organizing, fundraising, and even think tank wonkery (like the energy policy work organized by Jerome). But at the end of the day, this site won't replace the need for a network of think tanks to challenge CATO, Heritage, and the like. In fact, our book makes this very clear -- there is no single solution to the problems facing the party. The blogs (like this one) are a piece of the puzzle, but it's a big-ass puzzle with lots of parts.And responds again
So the fact that Daily Kos isn't particularly focused on policy isn't a bug, it's a feature. We can't single-handedly rescue the progressive movement. We are but a small part of a much broader whole."
"But the gist of it -- that we focus too much on tactics and too little on policy, is a feature, not a bug. All the policy talk in the world is pretty useless when it means zero. I'm sure when Dems take back our government, policy will take a more prominant role on this and other blogs. But aside from that, there is a ton of policy talk on this site (the diaries are full of it) and the rest of the progressive blogosphere."Wallace-Wells
corrects some of his errors (Amazing!)Garance Franke-Ruta
comments on the whole exchange on the Tapped blog:
"Standing up, standing firm, and standing tough are all essential for Democrats to win again -- but the single most important deficit cited by voters in survey after survey, and focus group after focus group, is a lack of clarity about what Democrats stand for."Kevin Drum
"All political movements have both tacticians and theoreticians, so there's nothing odd that Kos is all about tactics and prefers to leave the ideology to others. But there's more to it than that. To a large extent, I think Kos is symbolic of nearly the entire political blogosphere, which tends to be far more a partisan wrecking crew than a genuine force for either progressive or conservative thought.Atrios
None of which is to say that Kos himself has to be a policy wonk. There's plenty of room for all kinds".
makes an important point (sorry for pasting the whole thing, but it is short, concentrated and indivisible, and I want to make sure that the mouse-lazy folks read it):
"I've said this before, but there's just little point in detail-oriented grand policy proposals when Bush and Republicans are in office. Just about everything their side offers up involves tax cuts, corporate pork, or cuts to programs that help keep granny from freezing to death in winter. The rest are complete disasters for obvious reason, like the Medicare drug plan, and there's really not much to discuss.
If our team actually had some power we could be debating the merits of various universal health care proposals, or considering just how large a minimum wage increase might be appropriate, or various other wonky things. It would be good fun. But we live in an unserious age where the people running the government have no interest in policy and the people not running government have no ability to get anything passed without having anything good about it destroyed by the Republicans.
The 90s were a delightfully wonky era when serious center-left political types spent lots of time debating lots of things. We had a wonky president, a wonky vice president, and an utterly bored press corps, until the blow jobs happened anyway. I'd like a chance to spend more time talking about how policy matters, but the space just isn't really there right now."
And again Atrios
".....While I don't see wonkery as an especially important part of the day to day public discourse - by pundits, bloggers, columnists, and even politicians - that doesn't mean that the Wonks in Exile shouldn't be toiling away in their wonky dungeons doing the FSM's work. Research should be done, policy proposals written, etc... I just don't think that, in general, such things are an especially important feature of our public debate at the moment. There are exceptions and having the wonky tools in place when they arise is crucial.NewsHog
But even the social security debate was basically a defensive one. Such wonkery is necessary when those moments arise, but there's little point in having public debates about detailed policies which can't possibly pass, etc..."
"Now the truth is Duncan couldn't wonk if his life depended on it nowadays. He's a snark and link engine, nothing more. But talk about handing the Right their talking points... "Atrios says not only does the Left have no new ideas, it shouldn't have any new ideas!"
speaks out in defense of wonkery:
"Some people are saying that in an adverse political environment, research or policy are not very important. My self-interest here is obvious, but maybe I can still convince you this is a mistaken belief.
One implication that might be drawn from this belief not asserted explicitly is that facts don't matter. All that matters is who can shout the loudest. I beg to differ. You may be able to shout, but if what you have to say is crap, the volume isn't much of an asset.
For some to discount facts is understandable since they often fail to appreciate how difficult it is to ascertain and document important facts. They dismiss policy analysis and research because they don't do it, don't know how to do it, and don't understand what role it plays in the political process."
Read the rest - it is good!Henry Farrell
of Crooked Timber also defends wonks:
"I think this misses the point. Not only is a certain amount of wonkishness on the left a good thing in itself, but it can be an important political weapon."Kevin Drum
"My own view is that in addition to activism, which blogs obviously excel at, blogs can also be very good at what I call "policy-lite" — short but serious takes on policy issues leavened with enough red meat to make it entertaining. It's not the same thing as a Brookings white paper or even a 5,000-word Washington Monthly article, but blogs do provide a forum to educate and inform at a non-expert level in between all the snarkiness and partisan catcalling."Angry Bear
"Of course, we spend more time on debunking than "grand policy proposals" per se here, because there's so much debunking to be done and there is in fact little likelihood of grand proposals going anywhere in the near term."Michael
"The truth may not always set you free, but there is no real freedom without truth.
Academics, wonky bloggers, muckrakers, we all play our small parts in the Experiment that is democracy."
He also posts an oh-so-true joke
on the subject.
Next, Ezra Klein
, also defending wonkery on his own blog:
"Who are we writing for, anyway? Assuming that knowing policy is a good in and of itself, isn't there an inherent utility in using our blogs to better inform our readers? I mean, most of my visitors already don't like Republicans. My work there is done. But now, they don't only dislike Republicans, but they know a lot of boring facts about health care. That's value for ya."Digby
really has a way with words (and ideas):
"............These and the many great blogwonks are essential to the left blogosphere. They are a tremendous resource that I (a card carrying partisan crank) treasure and I link to them more often than anyone else. They are often compelling writers who effectively convey complex information to the lay reader and offer excellent analysis. So I'm not sure I see the beef. I rarely find it difficult to get educated on any number of subjects when I need to (which is often.)
Wonkery is reason. The comaraderie we find among those of our online political tribe is heart. Successful politics requires both.
So I say hooray for the wonkosphere and the crankosphere. I know that each side sometimes offends the sensibilities of the other but we should warmly embrace our bretheren no matter what our temperaments incline us to. Robust progressive politics requires both."
I picked nice one-liners. For substance, go read Digby's post, especially the parts I replaced with dashes.Neil the Ethical Werewolf
"Markos rightly sees himself as having a fairly well-defined role within the partisan wrecking crew, and he wants wonks to do their thing and do it well. It's kind of like having a debate over whether good offensive linemen are worthwhile, just because there was a big media fuss over a cornerback. The reason that there's any discussion of this is because we haven't been on offense for a while. The offensive linemen are looking at each other, thinking, "do we really matter?" Wonks matter big-time, and doubts will end as soon as our partisans get us the ball back."Pepper
of Daily Pepper
"Wonks do most of the heavy lifting of the blogosphere in that they are the individuals who wade through facts and pull out the information that applies to us. Essentially, wonks are nerds who specialize in politics. Instead of a pocket protector and slide rule, they arm themselves with reams of policy papers that they kindly translate for the rest of us. Those facts are repeated in "Dick-and-Jane" format by politicians, and the wonks get little to no credit."Nicholas Beaudrot
of Electoral Math:
"Still, wonks have value in the public sphere. They provide a set of policies that help reinforce political identification, which gives partisans ideas to believe in beyond the rhetoric that stems from their preferred politicians.Stirling Newberry
Doesn't "public wonkery" sound like something that's illegal in Alabama?"
"However, it is important to see wonking in context. All too often, Democrats wonk first, arguing over niggling problems, rather than getting the context right first. Wonking is only important if it is in service of a vision, or an identified problem. At the same time, the ability to deliver policy, both in outline and in detail, is often what turns the tide of a political fight.Shakespeare's Sister
Combining policy making with the rest of the political operation, and having a better flow between rhetoric, politicking and policy is, however, essential. It isn't that the Democratic side of the ledger has fewer ideas - it is that all too often they are sealed off in little sections."
is exposing the unconscious biases of all of the above bloggers:
"That said, there is plenty of good policy debate about issues that “don’t matter”—reproductive rights, women’s issues, gay rights, etc. On the gay marriage issue alone, I can point in the direction of pieces and associated discussions about court opinions, specifically what legal benefits would be conferred by marriage rights, framing, history, and specific policy prescriptions: civil unions v. marriage, government civil unions as the default for all people with religious ceremonies left to churches, equality amendments in the mold of the ERA, etc. Endless policy-specific information can be found on abortion, emergency contraception, and access to birth control. Ditto abstinence-only sex education. And all of these are inevitably discussed with an ideological context. Necessarily so, in fact, because neither party particularly considers them winning issues, and they are quick to be compromised by both politicians looking for a win and blogosphere partisans in search of the same.Bigger Picture
I’m not convinced there’s a lack of wonkery in the blogosphere. At first blush, my thought is that there’s simply a lack of wonkery on particular issues, and that this is of a feather with the generally lower profile in the upper echelons of women bloggers. I could well be wrong; I need to think about it some more."
I think that Shakes Sis is really onto something here. Perhaps she opened a little crack, and I saw a narrow beam of light come through it that gave me some ideas. Let me try to widen that crack a little more and see if more light will come through.
The division of bloggers (and not just bloggers - pundits, journalists, politicians, etc.) into these two categories - wonks and activists, theoreticians and tacticians, wonkosphere and crankosphere - has a root in some much older times. My guess is it all harks back to all of these people (or their sources) having read, at some time in their past, Eric Hoffer's True Believer
Hoffer wrote his book in 1951, focusing on revolutionary movements of fascism, nazism and communism (Stalin and Mao versions). While many took the take-home messages from the book about the way social outcasts are easily recruited into mass movements, my main memory of the book is its division of mass movements into three phases, each characterized with a different types of leaders with different temperaments.
According to Hoffer, a mass movement starts with ideologues (or visionaries) writing ideology (Phase I). They are educated and smart and good with words. But they are also tentative and shy, so they pass on the leadership torch to revolutionaries, the charismatic bold leaders who are capable to inspire fire in their followers and to make the movement grow (Phase II). However, once the victory is won (Phase III), neither the ideologues nor the revolutionaries are temperamentally suited for governing and they need to pass the torch to diplomats, people who know how to get along with people, manipulate people with a smile, and push their policies through against the opposition.
Hoffer's description is quite relevant for literal revolutions - people with rifles on barricades, storming government buildings in the capital and taking over. Hoffer's description is far too simplistic to transpose wholesale onto the situation of here and now.
How does the present situation differ? First, it is not a new movement - it is the Democratic Party, though the idelogy certainly changes over time. Second, the method of gaining power is through winning elections, not military coups, though the Republicans are trying hard to make sure that ballots don't matter. Fourth, the elections are happening at several levels: federal, state and local, as well as in the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. Finally, the methods of exhange of information are much different now than 60 years ago, too, especially with regards to the Internet.
This situation requires a much more complex taxonomy of players than just wonks (ideologues) and cranks (revolutionaries). I think that some of the bloggers cited above may subconsciously sense this, as they tend to use the two terms in somewhat different meanings. Why do some of them think that Kevin Drum is a wonk, while others (including me) think he's a crank? Nobody even tried to define these two terms - the assumption is that everybody knows already. But if the two terms are inaplicable to modern times, it is to be expected that different people mean different things when they try to apply outdated terms to contemporary situations.
Let me try to skech out an alternative taxonomy briefly - please comment on it - and see how it applies to the Left Blogistan.
A) Policy experts. I assume that this is what some of the people would consider "wonks". People with proper education in a field (e.g., law, economics), thinking about, writing about, and proposing policy solutions to such problems as health care, education, Social Security or foreign policy. Each is a specialist, cranking numbers and deciphering the terminology, proposing systems and mechanisms that, in their opinion, will work if applied in the real world. They tend to live in think tanks of which the Left has far too few.
B) Big Picture guys. These are the real ideologues. People who look at what the policy experts propose and pick those proposals that, put all together, make an internally coherent ideological system - something that is much easier to sell to voters than a grocery list of independent (and hard-to-understand) policy proposals. They are the unifiers of the movement. Think of George Lakoff in "Moral Politics"
C) Tacticians. These are the people with access to the information channels (e.g., media) and/or the candidates running for office. They are pollsters and campaign managers. Their job is to have a deep understanding of the way the electorate thinks - what pulls their strings, what words and ideas resonate. Their job is to take the wholesale ideologies from the Big Picture guys and to distill them into campaign slogans and speeches. Their job is to sell the ideology (which contains within it all the specific policy proposals, too) and the candidates to as many people as possible. Think of Joe Trippi, or George Lakoff in "Don't Think Of An Elephant."
D) Leaders. Charismatic types that can rally the troops either with things they say, or the way they say it, or with their sheer personalities. They run for office, of course. Think of Dean and Edwards, each inspiring and charismatic (though for somewhat different audiences).
E) Groundtroops. Activists knocking on doors, courageous enough to try to convert complete strangers. They write letters to the editor in local newspapers, spend hours and days phonebanking, stuffing flyers, blogging on campaign blogs, making signs, organizing campaign events etc. They freeze in Iowa and New Hampshire in January.
F) Cheerleaders. They pick up the slogans. They try to convert their family and neighbors. They show up at campaign events and send in donations. They are the first in line to vote on the Election Day. But they do not have the time, enthusiasm or courage to do much more.
G) The Unwashed Masses. Duh. They don't care. All politicians are corrupt, they say. It does not affect them, they think. They are just fine. Taxes are too high. Government is not providing enough services, though. But get the government off their backs. And evolution promotes immorality. If someone picks them up in the morning, they'll vote - otherwise they'll forget.
It is the duty of Groundtroops to convert TUMs into Cheerleaders, by explaining how dangerous the current Party in power is, how directly those policies are affecting them negatively, and how the alternative is going to change this. Some policy knowledge is needed for this effort (to intelligently answer questions), but slogans do most of the work.
Some knowledge is neccessary at some stages and for some voters, though - Edwards' most effective campaign tool in the Dem primaries was his policy booklet "Real Solutions for America". Each copy of the booklet converted more Iowa voters than a whole brigade of loud, angry and obnoxious Deaniacs.
Unfortunately, these are the so-called "swing voters", quite capable of voting for the President just because he is the President, too afraid of change even if that change means jumping out of boiling water. Lobsters. But they are worth their weight in gold if you can get them. They are the target of ALL of the effort.
H) Potential Elected "Diplomats". People who will actually do the work once elected, or once the elected charismatics hire them to run things. They better know what they're doing! They are usually kept behind the curtain, although good reputations of some of them can be used as campaign "promises". After all, GW Bush was elected on the premise that, though dumb himself, he will surround himself with smart, competent people (see what current mafia is running the country - but a lot of voters swallowed this canard). Again, both Dean and Edwards are smart can-do people who would surround themselves with experts on top of their own expertise and intelligence.
Of course, this taxonomy is too tidy. Many people belong to more than one category. Hey, I've been, at one point or another almost ALL of this: wonk on science education policy (A), blogging profusely about the big picture
of liberal (and conservative, to contrast) ideology (B), suggesting ways to frame issues (C), actively working for Edwards, then Kerry/Edwards, as well as Erskine Bowles (both E and F at different stages of the campaign), and totally agnostic on some issues (e.g., Confederate Flag, or gun control) due to my non-existent background of growing up American (G). I am even strongly contrarian on a couple of issues dear to the Left - the Balkans bombing and the animal rights
, two subjects I know a lot about, where I side with the Right, as much as the Right takes the right position on these issues for all the wrong reasons. And of course, I can never be
either D or H.How About the Blogs?
Rare are the blogs in the Lefty Blogistan that easily fit into just one of the above categories. Look just at my blog - it is all of it in various proportions that change over time. Certainly a large blog community like DailyKos has all of it. Even Sen. Boxer and some other elected officials sometimes blog there. There are Diaries of all kinds, covering A through H. DailyKos itself, as well as the whole Left blogosphere, is a mix of everything, and most importantly, a way to build a community that connects together people who feel comfortable in one or two of the categories and leave the other roles to other people.
But there is another way in which the taxonomy is not entirely correct, and that is what Shakespeare's sister alluded to. Counting Social Security, foreign policy and healthcare as policy issues is an anachronism. The biggest ideological divide is the psychological divide - hierarchical vs. interactionist thinking
- from which all the other policies naturally grow.
The psychological divide
is most strongly and emotionally exhibited in the aspects of the Culture Wars: religion, creationism
, homophobia, sexism, racism
, xenophobia, rampant nationalism
and fear. Those are the most important prongs in the multi-prong strategy of the GOP because they elicit strong emotional responses in voters the way no economic issue can ever hope to do. They also consitute the core of the conservative ideology, which also contains such peripheral stuff like low taxes, groupthink, reverence for the rich and for megacorporations, aggressive military, harsh legal and penal systems, and intrusive government.
When some people say that Kevin Drum is a wonk, and I say he is not, it is due to this misunderstanding of what is important. Kevin may write about economic topics. But those who say that is wonkery miss the point - those are not the key issues in the ideological war. They are peripherals - stuff we can agree on once in power. They are not part of the war itself. The war trenches are dug firmly in the domain of cultural issues, not economics.
Thus, the people in category B, the Big Picture folks, while sifting through the policy proposals of the experts (A) in order to build a coherent ideology, need to, if they are smart enough, to pay special attention to people who do not have PhD's in economics, law or political science. They need to pay at least the same, if not more, attention to people whose expertise is more helpful in analysing the cultural domain: psychologists
and antropologists, evolutionary biologists and educators. Then again, a PhD is not the only way to gain expertise. Being a woman
, or non-religious
, or a minority
, or gay
(or all of the above
), provides a real-life expertise which campaign managers (and cranks on blogs) ignore to their peril.
Who is an expert in the blogosphere? Does a PhD count as much as in the offline world. If someone writes a post a day, for two years, on a single issue, and obviously does the research and makes sense - is that person an expert even without official credentials? Is a woman thinking and writing about woman's issues not automatically an expert? Is it wise to ignore their thoughts?
One of the reasons that the GOP has been so effective lately is that everyone, from A to H, is part of the team. They all know their places and their roles and they fulfill them ruthlessly. Just see how their blogosphere operates - hierarchical organization and strict division of labor.
On the Left, some (especially the B and the G) are looked down upon and dismissed, yet those two are the best sources of information needed by the other categories in order to design a winning strategy. Focusing on A (policy wonks) and C (campaign operatives, i.e., cranks) is a misguided way of thinking about politics. It is the Bs, studying the Gs that should be the starting point - the Phase I in the post-Hofferian world, with the others following their insights, not inventing their own strategies out of the blue, or based on old, out-dated ideas (that could not elect a Democrat for a long time anyway).
The way it is now, we have many spoiled star players, but no team. Each player pushes for a different strategy or some different conrete 'plays'. There is nobody to set the overarching vision for a winning strategy based on what works.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Whereas, the days designated as holidays are to begin...
A Legal Holiday Greeting
"Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.‘The night before Christmas’ in legalese
............. (read the rest)
Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter "the House") a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to a mouse.
.............. (read the rest)
Ah, How True!
I've left this stage behind a long time ago, but I still remember it. Ah, how true:
No comment. Ah, how true:
My timeline is just about right. Who has a PhD defense before writing a thesis, though? Ah, how true:
Who's going to do this to me? Ah, how true:
See much more at PhD Comics