Friday, July 11, 2014

Drones--Threat or Menace?

Wait, what drones? Well, for starters, the ones that Amazon is testing, which have a 50 mile range, and a five pound payload. All so you can get that book faster. Of course, in the US this needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Not only that, it requires that the FAA provide Amazon with an exemption from a bunch of regulations that currently prevent private companies from unmanned vehicle testing. Now, these might strike you as the kind of sensible regulation that you actually might want governments to enforce. The FAA, on the other hand, is currently preparing new rules that will loosen things up a bit, apparently. And if Amazon gets the approvals it wants? Get ready for “Amazon Prime Air.” Although five pounds doesn’t really seem to be a very large payload of books, or coffee, or lawn furniture, or whatever it is that’s so desperately needed from Amazon.
Read more »

Labels: ,

The BBC wises up on climate change

Last year we bemoaned the fact that the BBC, which we do love dearly in spite of its occasional faults, was consistently blowing it on its climate change coverage. This has been, in the past, for reasons of “balance.” It may also have been the direct or indirect result of the political and “scientific” views of David Jordan, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, reputed to be a climate change “skeptic.” At least this was the theory put forward by Guardian commentator John Ashton. Whatever the case, it was embarrassing, and starting to compromise the BBC’s reputation for scientific coverage.

Hah. It turns out some folks at the BBC Trust seem to feel the same way as we do. And The Telegraph, in a story that Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton obviously enjoyed writing, and that the headline writer had a fun time with as well, provides us with the scoop: “BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes.” 200 staffers are now going to training on issues where the scientific consensus is settled, and to learn “not to insert 'false balance' into stories when issues were non-contentious.” And the BBC trust was not alone. In April, the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee came to a similar conclusion—the BBC’s coverage of climate change science was lamentable. As Jim Meyer over at Grist points out, the British Government has long accepted climate science, and the BBC was out there looking foolish.

So we’re glad to see that the old regime, if that’s actually what it was, will longer be acceptable, at least at the BBC. This has led to more hilarity, of course. Nigel Lawson, who used to routinely make an appearance to challenge climate scientists, is now complaining that the BBC not inviting him around any more to prattle away is censorship, dammit. Really, just shut up, Nigel, you old crank. You’ve still got The Mail.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

So, how's that vote on Scottish independence doing?

Say what you will about Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, there’s no denying his political instincts. Salmond’s most recent blast at David Cameron, which appeared yesterday in The Independent, suddenly takes Cameron’s recent battles with the European Union and attempts to turn them into a reason to vote Yes on the Scottish Independence motion on 18 September of this year. Salmond’s argument is really quite clever. Cameron, of course, has been using the potential threat of a possible British exit (“Brexit”) on the back of a proposed referendum within the UK on continued EU membership—in an attempt to get the EU to adopt some pro-British reforms. Salmond has taken Cameron’s implied threat and is now going to use it against him. As it turns out, this might be an argument that works. Scotland is considerably more supportive of EU membership than is the whole of the UK, as it turns out. So Salmond’s new argument for a Yes vote—there already are lots of them, of course, some good, some not so good—is that if you want to remain in the European Union, that may be more likely in an independent Scotland than by remaining within the United Kingdom.Read more »

Labels: ,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Who's the biggest dick, Blair, Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz?

It’s a tough call. On the one hand, we have former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair whining to an unappreciative world that what’s going on in Iraq now—which appears to be a complete breakdown of whatever civil and military institutions somehow survived the US-led and UK-abetted invasion and occupation—has nothing whatsoever to do with him, nosiree. This has been greeted with the highly predictable derision it deserves, including from members of the Labour Party who made him their leader in the first place. Blair’s logorrhea first appeared on his faith foundation blog, which some of us find just too juicy to not mention, and which I refuse to link to. (If you want to read his very long post, The Independent publishes it here—but I can’t imagine why you would.) I wouldn’t normally give much airplay to London Mayor Boris Johnson’s views on any subject, but, you know, he does have a way with words, calling  Blair “unhinged” and telling him to “put a sock in it.”
Read more »

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 23, 2014

Unsolicited Museum Review: Quilts at the MFA

If you wander over to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and plunk down the $25 admission fee (more on that later), you will see one of the best shows around--Quilts and Color, the quilt collection of Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy. They started collecting in the 1970s, around the time we did, although they had more money and better taste. And what a selection it is. As abstract artists, they collected quilts that reflected their interests in color and design, themes that were erupting in the abstract expressionism and op art of the period. So the curators have donee an excellent thing here--they have interspersed the (mostly) abstract quilts with the occasional piece of op art, from artists like Bridget Riley, Josef Alpers (whose influence is felt throughout the show) and Sol LeWitt.Read more »

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Liveblogging Eurovision 2014

Ah, Eurovision. Or more properly, The Eurovision Song Contest. If you’re a lover of serious music, look away now. On the other hand, if you’re devoted to crass, cheesy, over-wrought and overproduced pop, often in some indecipherable language, occasionally played with accordions and zithers, in frequently bizarre and often distracting costumes, this is the show for you. It’s all part of the grand plan to unify Europe, which more or less works in the middle, although not necessarily on the periphery, as events of the past couple of years have shown. Still, points for trying. And it works, Everyone sings the same crap, but it’s fine.

Britain has never done well here. Which means they usually come in towards the bottom in terms of points. Not that this is necessarily a bad ting, but much is made of it here. But it’s important to keep all this in perspective. This is a cultural event that, over the years, has brought us…Abba? That’s about it, I think. But it’s watched by a gazillion people, and stretches the bounds of Europe beyond recognition, Azerbaijan? Israel? Armenia? All Europe, apparently.
Read more »

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Fracking in the UK? Don't hold your breath.

The worthies over at the House of Lords—some of them, anyway—have issued a report deploring the fact that fracking has made virtually no progress in the UK, and that it should be an “urgent national priority,” noting that exploratory drilling hasn’t even really begun. This is a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee—no, I didn’t know they had one either. I’m the first to admit that the House of Lords often provides a useful service—during the Blair era they prevented a whole series of draconian security measures from taking effect, for example, and were highly dubious about the Iraq misadventure. But in this case, I’m afraid they’re not quite on top of developments. Greenpeace had the predictable, and in this case completely appropriate, response—what the UK really needs to do is ignore the pipe dream of unlimited natural gas, and concentrate on more renewables.
Read more »

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Food We Eat

I have been depressed by, and disturbed by, the increasingly obvious American reluctance to accept science. That’s a pretty broad generalization, of course, but we all know where it comes from—we see manifestations of this every day, from vaccines, to global warming, to, well, whatever. If there’s a plausible scientific explanation for something, and a completely loony one, you just know that a certain percentage of the population is going to be chomping at the bit to accept the loony one. 

How did a nation that constantly refers to itself as The Greatest Nation on Earth™ get populated by a surprisingly large number of dopes? Well, possibly it’s a case of information overload—and there’s certainly no shortage of information out there in this super-wired age. But it’s also the case that there are domains where the information being presented just turns out to be not true, and this occurs frequently enough to result in sufficient mass confusion and misinformation to make you think, “These people have no idea what they’re talking about, do they?”
Read more »

Labels: ,