THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 375 August 15 - 21, 2005
Highlights this week:
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August 15, 2005
We are still not to the bottom of the Siberia Melt question. Clearly Siberia has been warmer in the past: else what are all those mammoth bones doing there? And it got cold quickly at least in some places, else why are the mammoths frozen and not rotten? I have never pretended to understand the Siberia Quick Freeze. It used to be a favorite subject of science writers of science fact for science fiction magazines like Astounding/Analog, but of course each needed a new take on it, so there were many explanations, all equally plausible (or implausible). I suspect there is now an "accepted" explanation for why so many large animals found themselves frozen stiff and never thawed, but I do not know what it is. Doubtless someone will tell me soon enough. And see mail.
I am setting up for a quick trip to Seattle this week. A very quick trip, to the Writers of the Future Awards thing at the Science Fiction Museum.
I know little about it because www.writersofthefuture.com seems to be an exceedingly unfriendly web page. I never looked at it before today, but I wanted information about the time of the awards ceremony, and find that I have to give them my name and email address to see anything other than the name of the web site. This seems a very odd way to get people interested in what is, to my knowledge, a rather important contest/market for beginner science fiction, but they may know what they are doing.
This was originally scheduled to be in Los Angeles, and was changed not too long ago to the SF museum in Seattle. It's Friday the 19th at 7:00 PM. None of this has anything to do with Scientology and in the 20 years I have been associated with Writers of the Future I think one person closely connected with Scientology has won, and everyone agreed that was by far the best story that year (I know I did).
Anyway, I'll get to have dinner with a lot of old friends Thursday night and hang out with them Friday. It's about the only perk I get as a judge: they bring in many of the judges so we can confer, and it's good to see Fred and Tim and Yoji and Doug and the others. Algis Budrys isn't traveling, nor is Jack Williamson. We'll miss Kelly Freas this year, and I have missed Charlie Sheffield for a long time; we were going to do another story in the Higher Education world. The Old Guard is thinning out...
I have spoken with the WOTF people and the awards event is at the Seattle Science Fiction Museum which is near the Space Needle. The event is free to the public. They try to do it as a formal thing with black tie for the participants. When it's down here in the Beverly Hills or Hollywood Roosevelt it's usually a dinner, but I would not think that's true for this. It's at 7 PM, and they want people to call 323-788-3310 which is Author Services (literary agents for the contest and the event) to say they're coming so they have a guest list for admission. As I said earlier, none of this has anything to do with scientology. Ron Hubbard did the writing community a big favor by leaving enough money to do this contest, and it has done a lot of good for new writers. If I were just starting in science fiction it's where I'd send my best first work.
Anyway it's a quite trip to Seattle. Niven is taking advantage of the occasion to visit his sister who lives up north of Seattle on the Sound, so he's already up there or will be shortly.
If you have any interest in meteor impacts and what happens at the antipodes, see mail.
in which the administration now realizes that Democracy in Iraq isn't going to happen. Jacobinism and water, rather than straight Jacobinism, I would guess. At least the Jacobin urge to go plant democracies all over the Middle East will no longer hold sway everywhere among the Washington elite. I doubt we will see any humility from the neoconservatives, who will insist it had to be tried, nor do I expect anyone to admit it was all a mistake brought on by an excess of ideological zeal (which is hardly ever the mark of an actual conservative as opposed to the neocons).
|This week:||Tuesday, August
Philadelphia in Baghdad... The Philadelphia Constitution was a remarkable work, attuned to a particular people at a particular time, and framed by what may have been the best college of political science ever assembled: men who had political skills but also thought deeply about the nature of government, and who valued their work more than holding political office, and chaired by a man who didn't want political office at all.
We can all wish Iraq well.
Subject: "Patch that system, now, now, now!"
They all should have listened to you. I did.
Well I warned everyone...
Off to Seattle tomorrow for the Writers of the Future thing.
I was reading the editorial in the latest Scientific American, and apparently I need to write, yet again, my essay on Voodoo Sciences and the difference between citizen, novelist, advocate, and scientist. Sigh. Apparently the honorable editors at Scientific American have never learned.
Neither has Dawkins, but that's another story.
Subject: Re: This will make you proud
Copy and Paste. It will make you proud!!!
"GOD BLESS AMERICA"
Subject: windows worm
I know people probably are very grateful for your Windows worm/virus/ malware warnings but I'm really getting to the point, when I see a headline like today's on CNN Online "WORM HITS WINDOWS 2000", of asking that the implicit footnote (that is: "Macs unaffected") be made explicit. Maybe OS X will get cracked some day and I'll be laughing out of the other side of my mouth, but really: if you want a secure, reliable, attractive OS get (and use) an Apple!
All the best,
For now, at least. It is not inevitable. Linux has been hit (not as hard as Microsoft, but hit). Apple will not be safe forever. Alas.
Scientific American came today. I do not usually read the magazine except when a particular article interests me. I have the same habit regarding Atlantic magazine. Enough articles in each are worth reading that I will continue to subscribe, but the editorial philosophy is so predictable as to have no information content, and/or it is infuriatingly wrong, and I don't need extra strains on my blood pressure.
But once I a while I will read the front matter in Scientific American, and I did today. The editorial, and "The Skeptic" column were as I expected: nothing awful, but predictable given the subject matter, preaching to their audience that the flaws in evolutionary theory do not prove the existence of God or the fundamental unsoundness of evolutionary theory (although which evolutionary theory is glossed over, just as people who thought Steven Jay Gould's views on evolution dead wrong would still use his arguments against theological intervention). None of that is very interesting, at least to me.
There is also the usual insistence that science must lead in public policy, and scientists must be the leaders, and it is meet, right, and their bounden duty to be so. Of course sometimes they are only citizens and they must then admit that, but, etc. etc. What there isn't is any glimmering that scientists and advocates have different jobs, and operate by different rules, and when scientists become advocates they cease to be scientists, and have no more credibility than any other advocate. I wrote all this thirty years ago in my C. P. Snow Memorial Lecture "The Voodoo Sciences"; but apparently the lesson isn't being learned very well. It is simply this: novelists need only be plausible, and a novelist is no more expert than anyone else (although he may be more persuasive than some others). Advocates need only present evidence -- the information and data favorable to their case; they can rely on the opposition to produce the counter arguments. Scientists, though, must deal with data, and that includes all of it, most particularly including the evidence and data unfavorable to their theory, and if their theory does not account for known facts and data it is the job of the scientist to call attention to this, not to gloss it over.
That's the nature of science. "My theory accounts for almost all the data. Alas, here are these inconvenient data points it cannot predict or explain, but no one else's theory does as well as mine with the major part of the data."
Of course that isn't what the "scientists" who are all out for Kyoto and other policies that implement "regulatory" science say. They put on their white coats and stand in their laboratories surrounded by students and expensive equipment and computers (mostly paid for by tax money) and shamelessly speak as if they were scientists -- but they act like any lawyer presenting only his side of the case. And there are very few exceptions to this in major scientific debates.
Now let's talk about Stem Cells and California. A real estate agent and land speculator grown wealthy invested $2 million of his own money to get control of about $3 billion to be spent on Stem Cell Research. So far, according to Scientific American, the Institute he is to head that will dole out this public money isn't structured, but Real Soon Now.
Robert Klein, the real estate developer who sparked the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative wants to set things up "to shield decision making from the bureaucracy of state government and allow the agency to operate like an entrepreneurial startup." Now that scares me already. I've seen entrepreneurs running startups and burning capital. Told that a Saturn is a great car, they think their public image requires a BMW, and that the company needs an expensive headquarters in a high cost city rather than more modest quarters in a lower cost region. There are a few exceptions to this, but not enough to give me a warm feeling about spending public money in outfits that operate like an entrepreneurial startup.
He believes, he says, that he has a mandate from the public to improve the research funding model. Given that I doubt one in ten Californians have the faintest idea of how NIH operates, or how NSF operates (and how those differ from each other, and from mixed grant and operations agencies like NASA), I do not think he has a mandate to improve the grant structure. I think he has a mandate from the public to cure Alzheimer's, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. That's sure what the campaign seemed to be promising. Give us the public money and we'll get the job done, with stem cells.
Of course the University of California, and NIH, and a bunch of other outfits have their own ideas of how that money ought to be dispensed. To begin with, the salaries of the research people shouldn't be set by the public or legislature. They ought to be set by "peers", just as tax supported universities ought to be "self governing" meaning that salaries and promotions should be set by tenured faculty acting in committees and on the faculty senate. None of this public participation: the public did its part by paying taxes. Now kindly get out of the way and let us do what we know how to do. Oh, and it will cost you more next year, and why were you so stingy this year?
Gordon Keller of the Mount Sinai Medical Research Center argues with state financing anyway. Exactly what he wants isn't entirely clear, but he says of state efforts, well, many states support unrestricted stem cell research but six states, while supporting research in embryonic stem cells, have banned funding cloning research. "How," Dr. Klein asks, "can it be moral to do research with one type of funds, but not with the other?"
And of course everyone is concerned that the public has too much power in spending this money. Sometimes parents attack research results they don't like (as in autism research) and even have the nerve to fund studies to test their own treatment theories. Heresy. "The public drives not just what disease areas get attention but what the research strategies are," says Mildred K. Cho, associate director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.
The public just doesn't understand. It's the public's job to pay for all this. It's the task of our new masters to set up their own self-governing orders and institutions, and the Fellows of their New Order will determine who gets the money, and what it will go for, and don't you forget it. And don't you go raising money to test alternative theories either! That's unethical.
One thing is certain. We measure institutional effectiveness by how much of the money they raise goes into the actual work of the institution. The Salvation Army is up there around 85 to 90%, and few would say that the 10% or so spent on administration and fund raising is spent frivolously and with abandon. The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative mandated that $3 billion be spent on stem cell research. It will cost $6 billion to get that much money together. Even if they spend 100% of it on research -- rather unlikely -- they will be down to 50% by the usual standards. One suspects that the board and staff of the Institute will be paid "competitive" salaries, meaning the kind of money that University of California administrators get.
Or competitive with Federal executive pay:
"Executive salaries are currently set at predetermined rates on a six-step salary schedule. Under federal law, salaries for the SES are capped at the third-highest pay level on the Executive Schedule, which sets salaries for members of Congress and executive branch political appointees. This year, the third-highest level is $142,500, and according to Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James, about 60 percent of the SES is paid at the current cap. The Senior Executives Association, the professional association for the 7,000 members of the SES, has lobbied Congress and the administration for several years to raise the cap.
"There are some civil service issues that sharply divide people," said Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., who introduced the House version of the SES bill. "Pay compression is certainly not one of them. It is remarkable to think that more than 60 percent of the senior executives earn the same salary, simply because Congress has not been willing to lift the pay cap." Davis is chairwoman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization.
"The pending legislation would abolish the six steps and change the pay range to a salary band that starts at $102,000 and is capped at $154,700. Political appointees could set executives' salaries at any amount within that range. " http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0403/041403t1.htm
Well, we will see. But if Klein thinks he has a mandate to change the way research projects are managed, he's wrong: his mandate is to cure Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, which is what the public thought it was voting for when it handed over $3billion and authorized spending $6 billion to get it.
August 18, 2005
August 18, 2005 Minority Report Faults NASA as Compromising Safety By JOHN SCHWARTZ
Seven of the 25 voting members of the group that monitored NASA's progress in making the space shuttle fleet safer after the loss of the Columbia issued a blistering minority report yesterday accusing the space agency's leadership of compromising safety to justify returning to flight.
Think of that!
Why I never would have guessed!
But then we have:
The New York Times August 17, 2005 Gates Says to Harness Power of Technology By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 9:06 p.m. ET
SEATTLE (AP) -- Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates told state legislators that harnessing the power of technology will help them serve their constituents more efficiently.
Gates said computers will keep getting smaller, and they'll make it easier to wade through e-mails, schedule appointments, stay on top of news and to-do lists and make lawmakers' work more transparent to the public.
University of Washington President Mark Emmert conducted the on-stage interview with Gates on Wednesday before the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Emmert drew laughs -- and a sheepish smile from Gates -- when he pointed out the irony of a university president interviewing the world's most famous college dropout.
Gates, who dropped out of Harvard University to start Microsoft, got more laughs later when he said a four-year degree is at the top of list of prerequisites for jobs at his company.
Gates said he's troubled by a decline in the number of U.S. college students graduating with computer science and engineering degrees, while China and India are getting better at training tech-savvy college grads, many of whom have gotten jobs at Microsoft.SNIP >
Once again the reason should be clear, the schools do nor start then off well, big more Concerned with rights-teacher, pupil, lawyer - than results.
Many Going to College Aren't Ready, Report Finds http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/17/education/17scores.html
[What were the college readiness percentages in earlier years? Three years of social studies recommended. Hmmm. I had one, Medieaval and Renaissance History. But I had two years of Latin and three of German. No foreign language requirement mentioned. I'd still keep one year of a foreign language as long as it is one produced a sufficient quantity of important literature (this excludes Spanish). More social studies is okay, esp. economics, which teaches you about cost and choice and how to turn problems like the engergy "crisis" into non-problems. [ from another conference ]
High school math is often a joke. It has to be because the Middle School math was a joke. and that had to be because ....
Late at night, Seattle. Had dinner at The Fisherman, walked up the hill to the Monaco. I have mail saying MAIL is all messed up, but I cannot reproduce the problem. It looks fine to me both in FrontPage Preview and in Internet Explorer on line. I have no other browser to try on Lisabetta, so I need more information than "messed up".
If someone can look at the html and see if they can spot a problem I would be grateful. But I can't fix it because I can't see a problem to fix.
NEVER MIND. It seems to have fixed itself.
August 19, 2005
Seattle: Monaco Hotel.
Off to the Science Fiction Museum in a few minutes. Brother Bear ((Greg Bear)) has promised us a tour. Later I get to put on dinner clothes for the awards dinner, at which I suppose I will spill something bright red on my shirt just before going on camera.
The NASA discussion may turn out to be useful. It probably won't. We are fighting entrenched interests with a lot of money, and although they are incompetent at rocket science, they are more than competent at extracting money from the public purse and delivering nothing but paper and time slips in return. They do not work; they expend effort. And the worst is that I expect most of them do not even understand the difference. "We work hard!" No. You expend effort.
August 20, 2005
The awards went well. Thanks to all of you who showed up to wish me well. The Science Fiction Museum is impressive but disappointing in a fundamental way; more on that when I have some time, since some of my misgivings may sound like personal grievances. The Hall of Fame was in fact begun by and until very recently controlled by a Kansas science fiction group; which may explain the curious inclusions and omissions in the "Hall of Fame" of science fiction. It was no surprise that I was not included, nor that Heinlein and Van Vogt and Poul Anderson were so included as they should have been. It was astonishing that Larry Niven is almost non-existent, and L. Ron Hubbard has even less presence. Hubbard's later activities should not blind us to his importance in the Golden Age.
There is a history wall that makes much of the "New Wave" but for the wrong reasons. This move to "character oriented" plotless stories much loved by academic critics and deconstructionists almost destroyed the genre, and its major effect was to highlight its exceptions like Larry Niven; but none of this is reflected in the story as told by the SF Museum. So it goes.
Apparently the nominations to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame are controlled by those who have bought memberships in the Museum. I suspect that once the sponsors of the Writers of the Future realize this, there will be a growth in memberships accompanied by a distinct shift in the pattern of nominations, but perhaps I am unduly cynical.
Some of the electronic exhibits are truly awesome, and one ought to think of the SF Museum as more a museum of visual effects, a vast collection of interesting artifacts, and a pleasant place to visit, but realize that at bottom it is the work of enthusiasts rather than systematists. The enormous visual display of spacecraft including Rama and Blish's Cities in Flight is worth the price of admission, and if you like movie science fiction many of the other exhibits are impressive. And enough on that for now.
The Writers of the Future awards ceremonies went extremely well, and the set used for the presentation was impressive given that it was built in a warehouse in about a week, sized to fit the hall where the presentations were made; they only had use of the presentation hall for about 8 hours, to include setup, rehearsal, and tearing it down. There was a good turnout, and the reception afterward was well done. And now I am about to go home.
WiFi will never be universal so long as you need a dozen accounts to access it routinely. If these companies cannot figure a way to let each other connect, then something else will have to be done. You may be sure that if AT&T were still around as a regulated public utility we would have WiFi all over in public places, with VOIP implemented as part of it. AT&T might have cost more (although as a regulated utility the costs were determined by the public as well as the company) and might have had a built in profit; they may not have been "efficient" in the sense of outsourcing all the jobs; but they sure provided reliable dial tone and reliable service. As well as Bell Labs. Thank you Judge Green. You sure made the world better by destroying Bell Labs. As to the "lower costs" of phone service, I note that my mother's "lifeline" account on which no calls are made and only a few a month are received has, thanks to taxes and "service fees" crept up to about $30 a month for essentially NOTHING. Whatever we think we saved from breaking up AT&T has long since been taken back, in spades with Big Casino, by Ma Bell's successors and governments.
I miss Ma Bell. I hate Judge Green, the Bell Killer.
And I do wonder why economists so hate the notion of regulated public utilities? I suspect they wanted to invest in the Baby Bells. Which are now consolidating into a big UNREGULATED company that may be bringing us lower costs but will probably get together with its very limited competition to fix prices. Unregulated oligopolies usually do. And meanwhile we don't have Bell Labs or anything like Bell Labs. Congratulations.
Capitalist economic theorists never seem to remember that capitalists act like capitalists: which is to say they do not hesitate to enlist government in their quest to limit competition. When two capitalists get together they will inevitably conspire to get government to raise the barriers to entry so as to limit competition. A big company doesn't mind having regulatory compliance officers on staff. Small ones never get started because they can't afford to file compliance reports. This is inevitable but never taken into account in economics textbooks.
Henry Ford famously said "History is the bunk." He meant, I presume, that historians present their views and those of their sponsors as the unvarnished truth. Economists act as if capitalists act like capitalists when it comes to purely economic matters, and do not concern their models with the real world in which capitalists will maximize profits by any means necessary -- which certainly includes influencing government. The big aerospace companies used to compete by building better airplanes. Now they try to figure out ways to extract money from government without building anything at all, and work together to keep the fountains flowing and the public trough full.
" = = =
Airplanes get more crowded every trip. It is possibly astonishing to some, but I remember when I enjoyed flying.
And it's time to board.
Home safe, cleaning up. Pictures tomorrow.
August 21, 2005
A few pictures from my trip.
At the science fiction museum. (1) Greg Bear with a characteristic grin. (2) Dr. Yoji Kondo AKA Eric Kotani, Ursula Kondo, Astrid Anderson Bear, Greg Bear. I've known Astrid since she was about a year old. (3) That's Steve Hickman on the right. He did two different covers for Fallen Angels. (4) Fred Pohl and Anne McCaffrey. Both of them can walk, but the wheel chairs made it a bit easier to get around the museum. (5) Me with Fred Pohl. (6) Breakfast next morning. Fred and Betty Pohl, Yoji Kondo hiding behind Larry Niven.
Tim Powers and Anne McCaffrey rehearse with help from the director. The event is formal, but I didn't carry a camera to that, and besides you can undoubtedly find dozens of pictures of the event itself.
I should have done more pictures but it was a busy weekend. The main perk we get as judges for Writers of the Future is that once a year they bring us all together for a nice weekend and each other's company. Attending the ceremonies in black tie is a small price to pay for that...
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