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Archive for the ‘the unknown future’ Category

Russia, US at Odds Over Future Asteroid Hit

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The threat of an asteroid crashing into Earth has captivated the imaginations of movie audiences for years. Now, however, Russia is working to develop a very real plan to counter such a threat.

The Russian space agency says it is working to prevent a large asteroid from colliding with Earth.

Without giving many details, a spokesman for the agency said it is working on a way to divert the path of the asteroid, named Apophis, without destroying it.

NASA’s latest calculations put Apophis at having only a one in 250,000 chance of hitting Earth by, or during, the 2030s.

via Russia, US at Odds Over Future Asteroid Hit | Science and Technology | English.

There’s more! Russia’s Armageddon plan to save Earth from collision with asteroid

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Written by Brian

December 30th, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Narrative Is a Conflict Engine

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Dan o’ Xark! has an interesting piece on narrative journalism and its evolution. I’ve commented on Dan’s thinking before and admire his intellectual creativity and restlessness.

What he’s up to in this piece is arguing for an end (or at least an alternative) to long-form narrative journalism in favor of…. something else.

Journalism schools have taught view-from-nowhere, AP Style-compliant, mass-media-voice long-form feature writing for decades, and readers just aren’t interested. Educating another generation of students to file 75-inch profiles of local United Way executives, written for the annual press contest judges who determine next-year’s promotions, just isn’t much of an answer to the market-side questions that demand our attention.

True enough. But the really interesting point he makes comes a bit further down:

Classic narrative follows a subject through a conflict to a resolution. And if our primary means of understanding something as complex as global warming is just a series of narratives about conflict, then we’re not going to make much progress. This is one reason why American mainstream news organizations kept emphasizing critics of global warming, even though the most credible peer-reviewed studies favored the anthropogenic warming theory championed by Al Gore…. We didn’t need better narrative journalism about global warming, we needed less of it. We needed a way of communicating that encouraged the evaluation of facts instead of the balancing of rhetoric. It’s a shift that requires a radically different theory of the press.

It’s difficult to see how a “different theory of the press” is going to change something that has nothing, really, to do with the press and everything to do with cognition. You can present things in ways that encourage an evaluation of facts (e.g., charts and graphs or, as Dan suggests by way of example, box scores), but we’re still going to contextualize those facts by way of a conflict-driven narrative.

If the facts don’t move us, we don’t care. And in order to be moved, in order for facts to move, they must in some way, an engine-like way, face resistance. We need to at least imagine counterfactuals: I’m not here, I’m there, in that person’s shoes.

So Dan’s example of the critics of global warming getting face time in the media makes sense. If you want to do something about it, start by reporting from the critics’ point of view: the climate isn’t changing, you report, and then give many column inches to the critics of that view.

Dan argues that, without box scores,

how many at-bats would never have been recorded for future historians because they didn’t fit into the narrative the writer picked as he hammered out a story on deadline?

Fair enough. But those historians will do nothing with that information without first recontextualizing it as conflict-driven narrative. Indeed, lovers of baseball routinely recontextualize box scores, mentally pitting pitcher against batter and so on.

It’s not journalism that needs to evolve to address your concerns, Dan; it’s the human brain that must change.

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Written by Brian

October 30th, 2009 at 4:07 pm

As Newspapers Implode, the Need for Journalism Expands

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death of newspaperI like Steven A. Smith’s take on the need for a debate among journalists about the future of journalism as newspapers die a (not so) slow and horrible death. Smith is the former editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review (a newspaper I love to hate for its conservative editorial page and lack of attention to agriculture as anything but an end product for restaurant reviews).

As Smith points out, the newspaper industry’s “central debate ought not to be about saving newspapers and, in fact, that hasn’t even been an open question for some time. The American newspaper as we have come to know it in the post-war era is not going to survive.”

Publishers who continue to argue their papers are strong despite massive cuts in newsroom staff, are twisting the truth in order to save their businesses. They talk about the migration to niche products, to smaller, leaner papers and efficient websites. Saving journalism isn’t part of their agenda. To be fair, especially in the current marketplace, they can’t save both. They always will default to the money side, they have no choice. So a niche website devoted to golf may generate revenue for the business. But it will not serve citizens who rely on journalists to reveal civic truths.

As a former indie publisher, I’m intrigued and hopeful that Smith sees a possibility “for a single journalist, operating on her own, to cover a legislature somewhere in a format as crude as a newsletter or pamphlet and generate enough from her efforts to make a modest living.”

Dubious, but hopeful. A model here might be Cockburn and St. Clair’s CounterPunch, which  charges for a print addition of its free web content (and asks for donations to support its web publishing).

In any case, we can’t let publishers ruin the business and calling of journalism: “take back the page!” is Smith’s rallying cry: journalists “ought not to be allowed to kill the vital public-service journalism that serves citizens. It’s time to stop debating the obvious. It’s time for journalists to take back the debate and save themselves.”

See also: Newspaper Death Watch.

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Written by Brian

February 26th, 2009 at 5:31 pm

O Squidgy Galaxy

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Good news from Harper’s weekly email:

o squidgy galaxyScientists discovered the “magnetosphere,” a layer of ions and electrons surrounding the earth described by one physicist as a “warm plasma cloak,” and a study suggested that the Milky Way is traveling through space 100,000 miles per hour faster than previously thought, meaning it will collide with the galaxy Andromeda far sooner than predicted. “The galaxies will be dramatically stirred up,” said Gerry Gilmore of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University, “but they are very squidgy, so they will stick together and eventually all the stars will die out, and it will become one huge, dead galaxy.”

“Squidgy” is Brit English for “soft and squishy” and “maybe a bit fat,” according to the Urban Dictionary. But in the case of colliding galaxies, I think it may mean “zorch strokin’, fast and bulbous.” Just a guess.

In any case, another delightful union to look forward to.

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Written by Brian

January 13th, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Joni Mitchell and the I Ching

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essay by Brian Charles Clark and Nisi Shawl

In the Jan. 1994 issue of Acoustic Guitar, Rick Turner wrote,

Joni Mitchell's I Ching guitar was made by Steve KleinSteve Klein built this amazing and beautiful guitar in 1977.

This guitar was built for Joni Mitchell, and it is a great example of what can happen when a musical and visual artist teams up with a luthier. It was designed for Mitchell’s low open tunings, and the removable soundhole rosette/ring allows the guitar’s air resonance to be tuned accordingly for different amounts of bass. Mitchell collaborated on concepts for the inlays, which include I Ching symbols in the fingerboard and around the soundhole; the I Ching’s hexagram number 56, the Wanderer, graces the face and the upper bout. Don Juan’s crow flies on the peghead, and the wandering theme continues on with the mountains and the road.”

In fact, the eight trigrams run up the neck of the guitar, heaven at the nut and earth at the top of the neck. Heaven is bass! Hejira, one of Mitchell’s several masterpieces, was recorded and released in 1976, the year before this guitar was made. Lu, hexagram 56, pretty much describes the album’s mood of not staying together, of fire on the mountain that “does not tarry,” in Wilhelm/Baynes’ words, of a wanderlust that drives one onward toward the greener pasture on the other side of the hill. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Brian

July 6th, 2008 at 10:16 am

Peak Oil

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My friend B. wrote me this:

So I was reading the Bay Area Guardian, something I do exactly as regularly as I vote, and I ran across something that I thought might interest you. It seems San Francisco has a Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force to explore life after fossil fuels. Of course few take them seriously.

And I replied:

Do you mean that people locally don’t take the task force in SF seriously? Or don’t take post-oil seriously?

The peak oilers are sometimes hard to listen to because they’re so apocalyptically pessimistic. They see the energy packed into a hydrocarbon molecule and moan, What can possibly replace this? They don’t see anything on the shelf that can replace oil, so assume we’re all doomed. I do admire their historical analysis, tho, and I think Hubbert was right; well, he was right, US production peaked right when he said it would. A year or so ago the Saudi Minister of Energy said the planet was running out of oil and had to get ready. And now the King of Saudi Arabia has created a $10-billion endowment for a new university, sci and tech research, that will be a mini-kingdom unto itself in order to free it (and thus attract students and faculty) of Sharia, the heinous religious law of fundamentalist Islam. The king’s reasoning was explicit: Saudi Arabia won’t be an energy economy for much longer and needs to transform itself into a knowledge economy. Amen, brother. At last we agree on something. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Brian

June 18th, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Good Advice for Cougar Researchers

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Large carnivore’s have been on my mind lately, as my Web development team (the amazing Phil and Rose) just finished a refresh of WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Lab’s Web site. I’m pretty sure the Large Carnivore Lab is going to offer you better advice than this, but it probably won’t be as funny:
confronting a mountain lion

I found this sign on a section of Flickzzz called Very Weird Signs. Probably not entirely work safe. More advice for dealing with animals:

The comments on the source post raise doubts as to the legitimacy of some of the signs portrayed there (i.e., they’re a bunch of damn fakes; who was it that said there are lies, damn lies, and Photoshop?), but that doesn’t detract from the irrepressible creativity of the collection.



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Written by Brian

June 9th, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Something about the I Ching


Fortune Telling 000

The arrangement and interpretations of the I Ching’s hexagrams can be attributed to the astute analysis of human nature in many contexts by many contributors over many years. It’s much more difficult to account for the uncanny accuracy, reasonableness, and wisdom of the I Ching’s answers to one’s questions. That, at least, has been my experience.

The I Ching is the ancient Chinese book that accreted around a series of 64 hexagrams. A hexagram, in turn, is an arrangement of six lines. Each line is either solid or broken. Here are the first two hexagrams, the Creative and the Receptive:

Hexagram 1, the Creative          Hexagram 2, the Receptive

Hexagrams are formed by chance action (e.g., the rolling of three coins, and taking combinations of heads and tails for either a solid or broken line) from the bottom up. The lines are taken to represent a temporal sequence, the unfolding of change over time.

Lines themselves can change, and a changing line is indicated by chance action, as in the roll of three heads (a changing broken or yin line) or three tails (a changing solid or yang line). In the above example, if one tossed a set of three coins six times—once for each line in the Creative—and each roll came up three tails, each line would change into its opposite. The result would be two hexagrams: hexagram one, the Creative, would change to hexagram two, the Receptive.

The odds against a six-in-a-row coin toss are astronomical. But, then, what are the odds in favor of receiving a response that strikes one as both wise and a propos to the question?

Questions. Where do they come from? You, me, worrying the hems of our lives; John Cage, wondering what it really means to compose; and anybody, really, who engages in the act of breasting change with a story of self in mind. To put the previous question another way, What are the odds of a story emerging from apparently unconnected facts, experiences or observations?

As with most fortune telling systems, the odds favor making sense—if you can accept enigmatic replies as sense. For me, the difference between the I Ching and, say, the tarot (which has much sexier images), is perceptual: the I Ching responds in poetry, the tarot in cliché. One enlightens me, the other makes me vomit. It’s not the tarot’s fault; it’s cultural chance. The Romany, vectors of prognostication by chance action of card dealing, eschewed written language until relatively recent times (and then a palette of languages pattern Romany texts, rather than a national language); the Chinese, just as ancient, famously co-pioneered written language. The Romany poetry of the tarot is, at best, confined to a small group of disrespected people while the written texts of the Chinese have become venerated for their wisdom and verisimilitude. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Brian

May 31st, 2008 at 9:28 am

A Change in the Weather

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Jeanette Winterson, the British novelist, wonders in the Times of London (and which I found via BroneteBlog):

As the floodwaters rose around me and we sank in a summer of rain, I tried a kind of homeopathic charm; what books could I find on my shelves where floods and rain played a part?

Multiple lightning strikes; image: NOAAWinterson rattles off the usual list of suspects, including the biblical flood story and (weirdly) the movie version of Frankenstein (which movie? and why not the novel?). What’s odd to me is that almost none of the academic eco-criticism types have picked up on climate as at least a viable leit motif for analysis. In my reading of gothic lit, climate and weather are veritable characters. Wouldn’t it be useful (something that is normally very difficult to say about contemporary literary studies) to analyze climate and weather in literature with an eye toward shedding some light on our current crisis, a crisis which, in our inability to do anything concrete about, is surely as much moral and psychological as scientific and economic?

I took a stab at it a couple years ago by presenting a paper at a low-level, regional MLA lit-studies conference. I was met with blank stares, for the most part, perhaps because I eschewed the jargon of the trade as much as possible. Because they could understand all the words I used, the audience may have felt talked down to. Or maybe it’s just a crappy paper. It certainly doesn’t delve deep enough into the implied thesis: that climate is a character or anyway a means of characterizing roles.

In any case, here’s the paper as presented at the conference in 2005. Perhaps it’ll be of some use to an eco-conscious scholar attempting to open the field of climatocriticism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Brian

August 5th, 2007 at 9:45 am

Avant Spud

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Potato chip bar - it's from the future!

Still waiting for the City of the Future? Look no further! In 1961 the American Potato Journal published this photo of the food of the future: the potato-chip bar! Get a dose of salt and starch to fuel the jetpack-powered business of you day.


“The potato chip bar is made by crushing chips and molding them by pressure into a shape and size resembling a candy bar. Such bars can be shipped economically without the protective packaging normally required for potato chips, and their flavor and crunchy texture give them distinct possibilities for commercialization” (Am Potato J 38:10 [1961] 340).

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Written by Brian

January 14th, 2006 at 1:13 pm