The Politicization of Science

The New Scientist (20 January 2018 issue) has an editorial on the cover story: the “worrying signs that civilisation has started to collapse.” The editorial includes the following:

THE idea that we are living in a historic, even apocalyptic, age exerts a powerful pull on the human mind. Eschatology – the theology of end times – is a religious concept, but crops up in many other systems of thought. Marxism and neo-liberalism were both driven by an “end-of-history” narrative. Scientific thinking isn’t immune either: the technological singularity has been called eschatology for geeks, and the study of existential risk even has its own centre at the University of Cambridge. You don’t have to believe in the four horsemen to see the apocalypse coming.

After noting that the end may not be so imminent after all, the editorial points out that a real threat to our world – climate change – has been badly handled. Why? The threat was politicized: used as a stick by political faction alpha to beat political faction beta about the head, and of course the other way round.

The point is not that the activists’ answers are wrong. Business as usual is a sure way to climate catastrophe. It is that they prematurely politicised the science and hence provoked pushback from people on the other side of the fence.

Evidence for an impending civilisational collapse is much weaker, but is already being politicised in a similar way. The causes being offered are familiar bugbears of the left: inequality, population growth and resource depletion. The proposed answers are equally predictable and contentious.

That’s the backdrop.

The main article on the topic includes this:

“The idea that Western power and influence is in gradual decline, perhaps as a prelude to a precipitous fall, has been around for a while. But it has gained a new urgency with recent political events, not least the election of US president Donald Trump. For some, his turning away from international commitments is part of fulfilling his promise to “make America great again” by concentrating on its own interests. For others, it’s a dangerous move that threatens to undermine the whole world order. Meanwhile, over in the old world, Europe is mired in its own problems.”

So the editorial cautions against politicization of the issue, and the main article politicizes the issue!

Let’s be clear: Donald Trump is not the best man to be president of the USA. Will he be the worst? It depends on what media you base your judgement. But the suggestion that it is tenable to hold the end of the world is nearer because of Trump’s election is scaremongering in the extreme. It’s reckless, and panders to the same narrow focus of thought that says only socialism has the answer.

In short, the New Scientist‘s contribution to the discussion is tainted by politicization.

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American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a highly acclaimed writer. American Gods is one of his top rated books. I hated it.

The fantastic elements did not trouble me, but neither did they excite or even interest me. The characters did not spark any empathy in me, and I cared not one jot what happened to them. The plot, when it appeared, was a mish-mash of nonsense that took itself too seriously, but lacked the gravitas to carry it off. And, it was slow. Slow as in too slow, too lacking in urgency, and requiring more suspension of disbelief than was worthwhile.

It is a book touted as being a wonderful new, fresh perspective on America. That’s not how I see it. It’s a new perspective on marketing over substance.

In short, a dud.

If the rest of Neil Gaiman’s output is like this, I’ll not be bothering with it.

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Let’s Be Careful Out There

I ended my my blog post Secure? You better believe it about the discovery of microprocessor security vulnerabilities with this:

I wonder what Bruce Schneier will say?

The question has been answered. Here are some notable points:

“Throw it away and buy a new one” is ridiculous security advice, but it’s what US-CERT recommends. It is also unworkable. The problem is that there isn’t anything to buy that isn’t vulnerable. Pretty much every major processor made in the past 20 years is vulnerable to some flavor of these vulnerabilities. Patching against Meltdown can degrade performance by almost a third. And there’s no patch for Spectre; the microprocessors have to be redesigned to prevent the attack, and that will take years.

In short, we are all stuck in a hole not of our making.

Later on, there is some practical advice about what you should do:

This isn’t to say you should immediately turn your computers and phones off and not use them for a few years. For the average user, this is just another attack method amongst many. All the major vendors are working on patches and workarounds for the attacks they can mitigate. All the normal security advice still applies: watch for phishing attacks, don’t click on strange e-mail attachments, don’t visit sketchy websites that might run malware on your browser, patch your systems regularly, and generally be careful on the Internet.

As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, let’s be careful out there.

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The Guards – Ken Bruen


This is a patchy but interesting crime novel, set in Eire, and featuring an all too realistically alcoholic ex policeman, Jack Taylor.

The central story – apart from Taylor’s battle with the bottle – is about a series of suicides by young girls. Except somebody doesn’t think they are suicides and recruits Jack to look into matters. Thus starts the somewhat rocky adventures of the reluctant, but dogged, private investigator. He faces obstacles in the shape of the law, a powerful local businessman, and his poisonous relationship with his mother and the church.

There is a touch of humor  in places, but mostly this is a gritty and dark and painful story. The writing is good in the sense that it carries the reader along, but some of the pacing is off (that’s the ‘patchy’ aspect) as sometimes I felt things were just standing still for no good reason. The climax is well put together, however, and drew a sharp intake of breath from me with its unexpected twist.

I had never heard of this writer until I stumbled across the television series based on the books. The TV programs were OK, but I suspected the books might be better, and to my mind they are.

I would rate this as a good solid start, promising more, so I’ll be delving further into the life and times of another damned defective detective.

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Dead Heroes

This week newcomer Asher and I shared a game and chat session as others were busy skiing, recovering from illness, getting their hair done (hi guys!), walking the cat, or suffering a diary malfunction. We played Hero Realms. With Asher being new to Ra’anana and new to the game, there was probably more chat than game, but it was a very pleasant evening.

Hero Realms is a super fast, cut-down version of Dominion which is all about kill, crush, destroy. And Asher truly killed, crushed, and destroyed my deck. It was quite amusing to watch him ignore all my genuinely well intended advice, and for him to slip slowly towards oblivion. Then something strange happened, he recovered, and it was me who ended up in oblivion. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it happen it did and Asher was the worthy winner. Well done, Asher. Next time, I won’t explain all the rules so clearly…8)

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No Israeli Offer Will Ever Be Good Enough

Man of something beginning with “p”. Source: Wikimedia

Abbas’ dreadful, spiteful, poisonous, antisemitic speech of hate should be seen as a true indication of the character of the man so enthusiastically promoted by many dreamers as a partner for peace. Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan have a better claim to that title. Unfortunately, the situation is now even more of a vacuum: there is no credible Palestinian partner for peace, and there is no credible Israeli alternative plan. If Bibi were a true statesman, this would be the time he would rise to the occasion. But I am not optimistic. It wouldn’t be easy, but – in the words of Dov Lipman – we have to try, because we need to be able to look our kids in the face and tell them we did at least that. The size of the challenge can be measured by this closing comment from the ever excellent David Horovitz in his article Abbas couldn’t make peace with the Jews; he believes his own lies about us:

“The UN can vote itself blue in the face against Israel. Foolish nations can unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood — to the detriment of the Palestinians, since such “support” merely deepens their obduracy. But the only route to Palestinian independence runs via a negotiated settlement with Israel.

The Olmert offer of a decade ago showed how far Israel was prepared to go to partner the Palestinians to statehood. The despicable, tragic, self-defeating Abbas speech of Sunday night showed that so long as the Palestinians blind themselves to the fact of Israel’s legitimacy, no Israeli offer is going to be good enough.”

Note this key element:

“so long as the Palestinians blind themselves to the fact of Israel’s legitimacy”

If that analysis is right – and I am inclined to agree – where is the change in Palestinian attitudes going to come from? I cannot see it. Perhaps the ground level, grass-roots initiatives that (almost unbelievably) are working and building real connections between the communities, will create something. Beyond that, what else is there? Who can make the Palestinians see sense?

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The Mangle Street Murders – M R C Kasasian

Quirky and entertaining crime novel that takes a shot at the Sherlock Holmes genre, and does a good job all round. It is set in Victorian times and has two main protagonists: Sidney Grice – “London’s most famous personal detective” – and March Middleton, Grice’s recently orphaned (female) house guest.

Grice starts investigating (reluctantly) the case of a young wife murdered, apparently repeatedly stabbed by her husband. March is the one who talks Grice into taking the case to try to prove the husband’s innocence (she pays Grice) and manages by dint of the force of her personality and stubborn resolve to become part of the investigation. Inevitably, it’s not easy for March in this very male and misogynist world, but her sharp brain and tongue do make an impact.

Grice is a cold, grumpy bastard. But clever. March is more caring, with hidden depths, but no less intelligence. However, she has much to learn.

There is some dark humor, and more than one literary joke spiking the narrative. The case itself is no easy puzzle, and the Gothic overtones never let up. This is an encounter with evil.

The two main characters are terrific, and the plot a good support for their interaction. The writing comes in short choppy chapters which sometimes seem too short and infuriating as you are just warming to the situation when it is time, according to the author, to move on. The setting is well done, down to the gritty, harsh details of life in Victorian London for those who are not in the safe bosom of the middle class.

Overall, I enjoyed it enough to fancy reading another in the series. But I wasn’t so enthused by it that I feel I must read more. Maybe further exposure will strengthen the bond.

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Among the Gamers

In this week’s gaming session, we went from deep space to deepest Puerto Rico. Quite a night.

Newcomer Efrat joined Azriel, Sheer and me for Among the Stars. a sort of 7 Wonders in space. Neither Efrat nor Azriel had played it before, but both picked it up quite well. Efrat mastered it a bit better, as she demonstrated by winning her first ever game, just ahead of Sheer.

Where’s Captain Kirk when you need him?

In brief, Efrat’s compact space station strategy worked. Sheer’s more strategic placements – taking positions in anticipation of cards still to be drawn – fell short because the cards he was looking for must have been among those (randomly) withdrawn at the start.

Azriel and I floundered around a bit. I know I made some bad choices. At the end, he and I were a bit behind. Anyway, as said, our newcomer was the winner. Well done Efrat.

Efrat didn’t quite manage to repeat the feat in the next game, San Juan. Again it was her first time, and she was certainly in contention. I am sure Azriel has played this a lot, but he seems to prefer some of the expansions to this base game, and his strategy just did not work here. My mistake – no strategy; I did not have a plan until it was too late. Sheer had a plan – a master plan – and it worked masterfully well, securing him the win. Well done Sheer.

Great night: two fine games, and some funny moments among the game play. Thanks to all who came.

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Secure? You better believe it

Earlier this week, the Register reported the bombshell news that Intel chips have a major security flaw.

Since Intel chips are the most widely used, and dominate the PC, Apple, and big server market, and fixes seem likely to impact performance, to say that this was a shocker is something of an understatement.

Intel leapt into defense mode and issued a statement about how it’s no big deal, it’s going to be fixed, and we are not the only ones with a problem. I thoroughly recommend you read the Register‘s takedown of that statement here.

It’s from that analysis, I offer the following snippet as something to muse over:

“One step below security by obscurity, there’s security by belief. Demand more.”

Secure? You better believe it!

I wonder what Bruce Schneier will say?

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Goodbye 2017

Goodbye 2017. You are almost gone, and it’s time to say farewell. You have been a good year, and you’ll be missed.

Welcome 2018. May you be a year of health, happiness, and prosperity. And especially, a year of peace for all.

Happy New Year!

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