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Archive for September, 2006

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Another TV Show becomes a reality

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

This woman has a bionic arm.

Categories: The Future is Now | 1 Comment »

Washington Post Inadvertently quotes Brian, Jeff

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

OK, here’s what happened: Jeff Porten writes this post, in which he links to this WaPo article. I respond with this post, also linking to the same WaPo article.

The Washington Post has a feature on their website called “Who’s Blogging?” which is powered by Technorati. A link to my post shows up as the first of three blogs in the banner ad that appears with the article (see picture). If you click on the “Full List of Blogs” link, you get this page, which includes both my post and Jeff’s.

At a very minimum, this is very cool. To the uninformed observer, though, the whole thing looks a little like Jeff and I were contacted by the WaPo and asked to comment on the article, which of course, isn’t the case. In any case, I won’t return the check if they decide to send me one.

Categories: Blogging about Blogs, News and/or Media | 1 Comment »


Monday, September 11th, 2006

On past anniversaries, I’ve written long essays about how much of 9/11/01 has stayed with me (2002, 2003, 2005). Today, at year five, I’m struck by how much has left me, notable only by how quickly it comes gushing back on a day like today.

At two or three years out, I could honestly say I hadn’t gone a day without thinking about the attacks at least once, whether it be the various memorial sites I pass each day on my daily commute, or just the sight of the New York skyline, which I can see out the train window even as I write this (the same train window through which I noticed that “odd, low hanging cloud” hovering near the north tower five years ago). The sight of a plane in the air used to make me sick to my stomach, especially when it was obscured from my view by a tall building. My brain understood the concept of perspective, but the ease with which I could visualize the plane slamming into the building, rather than passing harmlessly behind it, was gut wrenching.

A few years later, I am no longer tormented by these demons. The skyline is once again a thing of beauty that I regularly pass right by without even noticing, and planes in the sky are as much a normal part of the skyscape as the birds and the clouds.

Except today.

Over the weekend, I watched a couple of the obligatory retrospectives – Discovery Channel, History Channel, CBS. I saw all the videotape again – the planes hitting the buildings, the towers falling, the firemen running through the lobby I knew so well and up and down those awesomely large escalators I rode every day for years. After a while, I could smell the acrid smoke again. I could taste it on my tongue so strongly that I actually looked in the mirror to make sure it wasn’t there, and then drank some water to get rid of the taste. I sat awake until 4AM, unable to sleep as I did in the weeks following the attacks themselves. This morning, I saw a plane taking off from Newark Airport disappear from view as it flew in front of the sun and it made me catch my breath. As I type this, they just announced that the 7th Avenue exit to New York Penn Station is temporarily closed. Cops and National Guard troops are putting up yellow caution tape, and I need to walk around the 8th Avenue side to get to my normal subway. I’m sure it’s nothing, and yet my hands are shaking as I type. What does today’s date mean to some lunatic with a cherry bomb?

And yet, like the thousands of people around me, I continue on to my office for a relatively normal day at work. That’s the difference. These feelings come once a year now, not every day. Five years from now will be even better. Five years from then, better still. The healing process I secretly worried wouldn’t come is happening, and we’re far enough along that I can see it now. We’re all going to be OK.

God Bless America.

Categories: New York, New York, Political Rantings | 1 Comment »

California vs. Stanford – “The Play”

Saturday, September 9th, 2006
I’ve seen the very end of this clip dozens of times (when California runs back a kick-off into the endzone using about ten laterals and a rather unfortunate Stanford trombone player), but this is the extended clip. It shows Stanford marching down the field to go ahead before the fateful kickoff with eight seconds left. Their quarterback was a kid named John Elway. I wonder what ever happened to him…

Categories: Sports Talk, The World Wide Weird | 1 Comment »

The Flying Car

Saturday, September 9th, 2006

Leave it to those MIT guys to invent The Flying Car. You can download a simulator today, and put a $7,400 (5%) deposit down on the $148,000 vehicle, which should hit the showrooms in late 2009 (prototypes in 2008).

The inventors prefer to call it a “roadable aircraft,” but really – what fun is that?

Categories: The Future is Now | 2 Comments »

Cells on a Plane!

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

It seems two airlines, Quantas and Ryanair (an Irish budget airline) are experimenting with allowing cell phone calls, text messaging and e-mail on their flights.

The typical discussion here is preditable: who wants to be stuck between two chatterboxes on conference calls all the way to London, but this is hollow criticism – everyone who complains about it wouldn’t think twice if it were their conference call.

Here’s a better question: we’re worried about people bringing down the plane with hair gel and/or nail clippers. Isn’t a cell phone a well established triggering mechanism for explosives? (Come to think of it, is this already a problem that no one has bothered to bring up? Hmmmm……)

Categories: The Future is Now | 5 Comments »

The New Women of TV

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Yesterday saw two-thirds of the big 3-player trade that took place on network TV recently: Couric-for-Vieras-for-O’Donnell. So what did I do? I Tivo’ed both The Evening News and The View, that’s what. Here’s a couple of quick reviews:

Katie Couric on The CBS Evening News: The intro sounded exactly like The Today Show intro, except they didn’t force-fit the words, “Today, September 5th, 2006” at the end. I suppose that feeling will pass, but for now, there it is. The show itself sufferred from the same problem that is killing all the evening news broadcasts – I sit in front of the internet all day, so by 6:30, any recap of the days events is old news. Sometimes 24 hours old. To her credit, Katie tried a couple of tricks to shake things up – a face-to-face interview with a NYTimes reporter (also very “Today Show”), although I was surprised how much editorializing the Times guy did – no attempt at objectivity at all, the “free speech” segment (a throwback to the old “Commentary” segments they used to do when we were kids, although now they just sound like videotaped blog posts), and a contest to choose Katie’s catch sign-off phrase (one of many advertisements for the CBS News website). All in all, it seemed like she knew everyone was watching her first show, and she was pleading with them to watch at least one more. That’s fine, but this is the news. If it tries to be entertainment, it’s going to fail. Of course, it’s going to fail at being informative too, so there you go. Good night & good luck, Katie…

Rosie O’Donnell on The View: Yuck. Don’t get me wrong, Rosie was fine & all, but I could not bring myself to watch more than five minutes of that show. Here’s Barbara Walters – a woman who has interviewed Presidents – a woman who has accomplished what Katie Couric is attempting to accomplish right now, and in the first five minutes, she’s talking with three other women about sitting in a bathtub full of urine with their daughters. When Rosie quoted her daughter as saying, “Mommy, when will I get my fur?” I shut it off (I don’t mean to be crude – that’s an exact quote). The best thing I can say about this yenta-fest is that it’s geared directly at it’s target market. That’s clearly not me, and so I won’t be watching again. Ever.

Categories: Primetime TV | Comments Off on The New Women of TV

Global Warming: Either You’re With Us, or You’re Ignorant

Friday, September 1st, 2006

I tried. I really, really tried. But some things are just unavoidable.

It started with this post, in which I pointed out an article I had read that attributed this year’s calmer than average Atlantic hurricane season to cooler sea surface temperatures. I commented that data like this makes me question the myriad of doomsayers that appeared near the end of the horrific 2005 season, warning us that subsequent years would only get worse.

Jeff Porten, my most prolific commenter, responded thusly:

Again, you’re just being (deliberately?) ignorant about how climate works. It’s a large, chaotic system, and it’s not perfectly modeled. Pointing to outlier data this year — aside from the fact that any research on current climate has to come after the fact, so you don’t know the full story for this year either — is the equivalent of being a creationist because there are gaps in the fossil record. The “unavoidable doomsday scenarios” are based on trend analysis over decades, centuries, or hundreds of thousands of years, not on whether a storm happened to make the front page of the news this week.

If we’re debating AIDS politics, there’s room for disagreement — if we’re debating science, I’m not going to let you get away with being ignorant. One of the interesting points made in [An Inconvenient Truth] is that the newspapers report a completely different story than the scientific journals, and the scientific journals say that if you get your information from the newspapers, you’re likely to be ignorant. My information comes from the journals (usually second-hand). Go to the source, then let’s pick up this debate.

First, I’d like to respond to Jeff’s specific comments, but then I’d like to discuss a broader point about political nature of the Global Warming issue.

Jeff: the data I cited isn’t outlier data from this year (which, as you correctly point out, isn’t over yet). It’s historical data from the past three years (2003-2005). And, it’s not from the newspapers. It’s from a research paper being published next month in Geophysical Research Letters, which makes it “second-hand information from the journals,” just as you suggest. Finally, and most importantly, the fact that a debate concerns science does not mean there is “no room for disagreement.”

This leads me to my broader point about the nature of the debate. Somehow, and most prominently in the last couple of years, political debates about both global warming and evolution have reached the point where one side is claiming the ineffable mantle of SCIENCE, against which there can be no discussion and no debate. It’s not opinion, after all, it’s SCIENCE. And SCIENCE cannot be discussed or debated. Anyone who dares disagree with SCIENCE isn’t just wrong, they’re ignorant.

Lest you think this is just sour grapes about Jeff calling me ignorant, meet Richard Lindzen, MIT’s Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology.:

Lindzen recently complained about the “shrill alarmism” of Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” Lindzen acknowledges that global warming is real, and he acknowledges that increased carbon emissions might be causing the warming — but they also might not.

“We do not understand the natural internal variability of climate change” is one of Lindzen’s many heresies, along with such zingers as “the Arctic was as warm or warmer in 1940,” “the evidence so far suggests that the Greenland ice sheet is actually growing on average,” and “Alpine glaciers have been retreating since the early 19th century, and were advancing for several centuries before that. Since about 1970, many of the glaciers have stopped retreating and some are now advancing again. And, frankly, we don’t know why.”

When Lindzen published similar views in The Wall Street Journal this spring, environmentalist Laurie David, the wife of comedian Larry David, immediately branded him a “shill.” She resurrected a shopworn slur first directed against Lindzen by former Globe writer Ross Gelbspan, who called Lindzen a “hood ornament” for the fossil fuels industry in a 1995 article in Harper’s Magazine.

[Lindzen is] no big fan of Gore’s, having suffered through what he calls a “Star Chamber” Congressional inquisition by the then senator. He said he accepted $10,000 in expenses and expert witness fees from fossil-fuel types in the 1990s, and has taken none of their money since.

So apparently, you can’t even argue about science with more science. Any science that doesn’t support the foregone conclusion is simply corporate-funded media-hype disguised as science for the purpose of destroying the planet.

Here’s what I think is really going on here:

Al Gore has led an admirable charge for more than a decade now to get people to focus on environmental issues, and to understand the urgent and important impact that global warming is going to have on our planet & our economy. Some of his political opponents have countered his efforts by making dubious claims about the veracity of his evidence, suggesting “the need for more research” as a way of delaying any real action in the area. In response, Gore and his supporters have drastically ratcheted up their rhetoric around the subject. This has included a PR campaign to declare the scientific research on the subject complete and unassailable, ultimately culminating in the book/movie combo, An Inconvenient Truth.

All of this is well-intentioned and good politics, and I applaud Gore for staying the course, despite the many roadblocks. But here’s the thing: in the midst of the PR campaign, the Gore crowd’s argument has devolved into a set of talking points, and those talking points are being used each and every time the subject comes up, regardless of whether the participants are raising the original “more research” complaint.

Dr. Lindzen is one example. Here is a scientist who agrees with most of the existing scientific models, but has done his own research, and is raising questions that challenge some of its findings. This is how science has evolved for centuries. Lindzen is either right, in which case the current scientific models should be modified, or he is wrong, in which case the scientists should disprove his conclusions based on the available evidence, and show him either how his data is incorrect or how he drew invalid conclusions from his data.

My conversation with Jeff, while not as high profile as the MIT professor and the former VP, is indicative of a second example. Like Lindzen, I also professed agreement with the current models. My questions are more political than scientific: given the current science, should we be going on TV from flood-ridden New Orleans in 2005 and telling the world that each hurricane season is going to be worse than the one before? Or, as I said in this post, should we be showing computer-generated video of major cities sinking beneath the ocean when future technological innovation could prevent this, despite the rising temperatures & water levels?

In both of these cases, no one is trying to unfairly discredit the existing science, no one is calling for “more research,” and no one is seeking delays in taking action. These are the tactics for which the talking points were (appropriately) developed, but they are not present here. Instead, it seems like the Gore crowd has taken up a position, rather than an opinion, and is now committed to defending that position from all detractors. They seem concerned that a single valid point that deviates from the original conclusion would destroy 100% of their credibility and render their cause ineffective.

Given the odds of being 100% right about anything as far reaching as global warming, this strikes me as a dangerous strategy, and one that will ultimately harm the cause in the long haul.

Categories: Political Rantings | 4 Comments »

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