I decided to wander downtown in search of the remnants of the Occupy LA march that started this morning at 4th and Figueroa. It was the two-month-iversary today and so there were special actions to mark the day. I got off the Dash F bus (took it up from the USC campus) and wandered up Fig, finding no clues. I wandered around for a bit more, but then I noticed the real clues were in the sky above. It’s something I’ve used before to figure out where the activity of interest is – look into the sky and watch the pattern of helicopters. There’ll be two types… The still ones up high are going to be TV, monitoring at a certain fixed distance… then there’ll be a lower one circling and moving around more. That’ll be the police, and at the center of that circle is what you are looking for. It was over the very center of the newer part of downtown, so I figured the movement was occupying right in the financial centre, and I was correct. Just North of Hope and 4th, or thereabouts, at the Alexander Calder sculpture (right where the opening pages of one of my stories for the graphic novel takes place, in fact (see here), so I know the area well from my location scouting)…

Anyway, both the protesters and the police were out in strength… a lot of police, in fact. Also lots of on-lookers, unsure of where and how close to stand. I stood back for a while as well, and then realized that there was no real issue with getting close and listening to what people were saying. So I did, and took some pictures for you: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Hoping for a Triumph of Substance over Style

…perhaps I am naive. Going to follow (listening online I imagine) the UK’s first ever prime ministerial televised debate. I’m very concerned that it is going to make the UK electorate focus even more on nice suits and good hair and less on knowledge and ideas, following the lead of other countries. But I am hoping. I’m holding out some faith in my countrymen…

Are you going to watch/listen?

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Amazing Asimov

Happy New Year, dear Reader!

my_robotForgive me for starting the year with an article on environmental problems, but it was Isaac Asimov’s birthday (at least the official one) on Saturday (I learned that here), and I found an excellent video of him talking wonderfully about global warming, united world action on such matters, and other issues back in 1988. It is below. I read a ton of Asimov back when I was a teenager. While not the greatest writing in a literary sense, it was full of wonderful ideas and compelling stories, and was quite inspiring for me at the time.

It is a pity that it was yesterday I switched on the little robot I use weekly to help me fight the good fight against dusty floors (see above right; the company that makes them is called iRobot, by the way – hardly any doubt that an Asimov reader was [...] Click to continue reading this post

Physics Nobel for String Theory Instead?

So I don’t usually talk too much about raw politics here, but when the news broke early this morning about the Peace Prize for Barack Obama, I was sure it was a joke. (Or perhaps I was mishearing given that it was almost 2:00am and I was just coming home from a long night downtown which finished with several hours at the Edison bar.) When I woke up five hours later and heard that he’d accepted, I was a bit sad. I think it is simply a mistake, and a distraction. You give the prize to someone for having done stuff. Plain and simple. He has not really left the starting gate yet. (And frankly, on almost all counts – not just peace – he seems to be still at the starting gate trying to find his way out of that little box.) But it is nine months into his presidency, so good or great things can happen yet. But they have not yet. So this prize looks like a lazy political slap in the slap in the face of the Bush administration, a cheap political statement that backfires and cheapens the prize. Obama would have had a huge amount of respect from me if he’d at least tried to respectfully decline.

So stepping away from direct politics I was trying to think what might be a fun and instructive thing to think about this. How about alternative prizes for this week’s categories? Prizes to work (or authors of the work) that while extremely promising, [...] Click to continue reading this post

Categorically Not! – The Worlds We Make Up

kc_frankThe next Categorically Not! is this coming Sunday September 13th. The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area. Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events. (Image above right is from the inside of the jacket of KC Cole’s book on Frank Oppenheimer, who will be celebrated in this month’s Cat Not! as you’ll read below. I talked a bit about the book here.)

The theme this month is The Worlds We Make Up. Here’s the description from K. C. Cole:

[...] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Sheril on Science Friday

unscientific_america_book-coverI don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney have written a book, “Unscientific America” with an excellent discussion about science literacy. You know from reading here that this is a favourite issue of mine (look under categories such as science and society), and by far the primary reason I blog, and do the various other activities I mention such as appearing on TV and radio shows, consulting for film, theatre, TV, etc, contribute to popular level articles, making films, and other things. It is vitally important, if we are a truly democratic society, for all to participate in the conversations we have about science – whether it be about issues to do with medicine, lifestyle, environment, energy, or just for its own sake: it is part of our culture. Sadly, science (and scientists) is still on the margins of the national conversation – people are afraid of it, giggle about how bad they were at it at school and then decouple from the conversation, mostly only pay attention to bleak or incorrect pictures of it in the media and entertainment (or for political gain), and so on and so forth.

What Sheril and Chris are doing in the book is examining the extent to which this [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Hat

Here’s a strong clue that I’m supposed to be working on writing slides for an important presentation:

Albert Einstein in Aretha Franklin s Inauguration Hat

Yes. I’ve been playing with photoshop. What’s the story? Well, I noticed that there is a facebook page for Aretha Franklin’s wonderful Inauguration hat. You know the one. The page has a huge number of fans already, growing at a rate of something like 200 every ten minutes (when I last looked). People are adding photos of themselves, their pets, and other objects, all wearing the hat. It’s great!

So I, rather than settling down to design those slides I’ve been meaning to get to for the last few hours, thought I’d join in the facebook fun! I could not resist sneaking [...] Click to continue reading this post


Hope. This word has been used a lot in the last year or more. Sometimes it felt to me like it was overused, but now that the dust has settled, I think I’m quite sure that it is a good word to describe where we are, or what we have. Beginning early today, there will be a new President of the United States, Barack Obama. He’ll be bringing in a whole new regime that seems, given what we’ve seen so far with the work of the transition team and the various appointments to key positions, determined to do some truly good things. (See several related posts listed below.) There’ll be several huge obstacles to fulfilling the promise and potential of the new regime, some known, and some unknown. It’ll be hard to firmly move forward, but it is hugely encouraging to see the looks of delight and joy on people’s faces during these days of celebration, and to hear about their engagement with the idea that we can pull together and move forward on so many fronts on so many vital issues. We don’t know what will come to pass, but one thing we do know is that there is a marvellous window of opportunity. There is Hope.

Since the election result on the night of 4th November 2008, with all that had been achieved and overcome still fresh in the air, right up until today, there’s actually been a rather fitting song ringing in my head when I think about all of this. I find the chorus from the song “I Live In Hope”, by a musician friend of mine, Libby Lavella (you may recall her from posts here and here) extremely evocative of the mood. With [...] Click to continue reading this post

Presidential Poetry

More encouragement (see my earlier piece about education and about science and more science) comes around the matter of poetry and the presidency. Larissa Anderson, on Weekend America this Saturday, reported on the president-elect’s evident interest in poetry. Derek Walcott was featured in the piece as well (I was pleased to hear this since I like his work, and it is also good to hear about the work of a Caribbean thinker on the national stage – it does not happen often enough for my liking) and had some very interesting things to say. From the transcript of the piece (see that link for audio):

Walcott says it’s good for people in power to read poetry because human beings are complex and contradictory, and poetry can capture that. Like in Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme for English B” when the black student writes to his white teacher, “Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. / Nor do I often want to be a part of you. / But we are, that’s true!” Or in Walt Whitman’s line, “I am large — I contain multitudes.”

Walcott likes the idea of a president who reads poetry and thinks about this kind of human truth. Someone who can see beyond the act of political posturing.

Then he read his recent poem, “40 Acres” that he wrote for Obama, which I thought was rather good. He also described some of the process of writing it – also excellent to hear. Finally, the piece reported on something he said that reflects my own [...] Click to continue reading this post

Teachers Rock!

Listening live (over a late breakfast coffee) to the press conference led by President Elect Obama announcing the Secretary of Education. Arne Duncan is the nominee. This is an underrated post in terms of how high profile it is compared to the other cabinet posts… but of course it’s super-important. So it is wonderful to hear the lovely speech from the pres-to-be (and also the one from the vice-pres-to-be). Just really great. It is especially good to hear recognition of the fact that the core of [...] Click to continue reading this post

Physics Nobel Prize Winner in the Cabinet

I just learned this* – Steve Chu (Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997 – see here) has been nominated as Energy Secretary in the new Obama administration. I find that sort of interesting and exciting. An actual Physicist in charge of energy. And at this crucial time. Story here (for example).


*Thanks Jeff! Click to continue reading this post


electoral map of USA by areaThere was a lovely segment on NPR the other day about cartograms – representations or maps of regions that are weighted or highlighted according to the sort of data you’re interested in studying. It was an interview with Mark Newman (Univ. of Michigan) about the book “The Atlas of the Real World: Mapping the Way We Live” (by Daniel Dorling, Mark Newman and Anna Barford).

electoral map of USA by electoral college votesTo the right is an example of the sorts of things they do in the book, showing the re-adjusting the map of the USA to have the size of a state correspond to its electoral college weight (below) instead of its geographical weight (above).

There are examples of the maps they have presented on the NPR site, and of course the audio of the interview (and a short [...] Click to continue reading this post

Science and the New President

Last week the Guardian did a special podcast about Barack Obama’s science policies, and the challenges that lie ahead for the new administration. It’s actually rather good (at least the parts I’ve heard so far – I’m listening to it in pieces while travelling) and I recommend it. They have lots of guests, many of whom you’ve maybe heard of (Lesley Stone, Martin Rees, Diana Liverman, Chris Mason, P Z Myers, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Barstow), and the issue is explored from several angles, from climate change, through stem cells, to the space program. [...] Click to continue reading this post

Physics Can Change the World!

colbert lhc obamaLast night, Stephen Colbert suggested that the Large Hadron Collider is responsible for Obama’s victory on Tuesday! When it switched on back in September, it kicked us into an alternative universe in which everything was the same except that McCain’s position in the polls had been eroded, and, well, you know the rest.

(Apparently it also explains the World Series result, but as I know nothing about baseball, I cannot tell if that is really supposed to be an anomaly or not.) Clip here, and item in question is about 2 minutes in.

Hey team, run and cover… he’s on to us!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Opportunity Knocks!

Wonderful result!

This is, it seems, the long-awaited return of reason. The return of an atmosphere where ideas, and careful, thoughtful, nuanced argument and persuasion can become the centerpiece of how we go about solving our collective problems and shaping and reshaping our world. So among all the great things said yesterday about the meaning of it all, it is worth noting that it was a good day for Science.

Well, the initial phase is over, and now it is time to start the restoration work, the strengthening of the foundations, and then the true building anew.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

In Da House

Click on the image to go over to a site* that examines the nature of a Palin Presidency. You’ll laugh and shudder at the same time. Once there (not here) be sure to drag your mouse all over the image, clicking when you can, and revisit some of them (like the door) since more than one thing can be found in some parts. Enjoy! (Notice what’s in the trash can…)

The Horror of Palin as President!

(Don’t forget, she’s such a great debater…)


(*Thanks Samantha!)

Click to continue reading this post

An Accurate Summary

I am, as you have noticed, somewhat averse to writing the political rants you find on a number of the science-oriented blogs you might frequent. As I’ve said before, I try to maintain a place you can visit to get away from the shouty nonsense (or the naive I-drunk-the-KoolAid hero-varnishing for that matter)… but this is hard to resist. Basically, I find myself a bit depressed that things have fallen so far in terms of presidential level politics in this country that a candidate for vice-president, in maybe the most watched debate of the season, can (a) avoid answering questions, (b) explicitly tell the moderator that they are not going to answer the questions, (c) dissolve into obviously prepared talking points when faced with difficult questions, (d) wink repulsively at the TV camera in an obvious attempt to appear likeable, and (e) make up random stuff so as to get their opponent to waste time denying it, and be declared by everyone as having done well in the debate. I did not think that we could sink lower than Bush the Younger in terms of appallingly bad candidates (who nevertheless do well in this climate), but I think I was wrong. Ok. That’s all I’m saying. I was pleased to see* a precise summary of my thoughts on Sarah Palin’s performance and so I’ll leave you with it, for your amusement (see a post accompanying it here):

sarah palin debate flowchart


*Thanks Nick W! Click to continue reading this post

Answers to the Questions

Huh. Well, it seems that both presidential campaigns have finally got around to answering the questions about science and science policy that the ScienceDebate2008 team prepared a while back. (The team’s banner line on all this is “Who will be the best President for America in a science-dominated world?”. Who indeed. (In case you’re wondering, the “best” was in place when there were several more contenders.)) I hope it is more than just hot air and empty promises. Right now, it’s [...] Click to continue reading this post

Some Science With Your Politics

Well, there’s all sorts of rhetoric on all various matters from the main presidential candidates, and there’s still a long way to go until November. It’s nice to hear a bit of chatter about global warming, gas prices, research into alternative fuels, cars with higher efficiency, and other issues that have a high degree of science playing a role in shaping our decisions about our policies and actions, in all aspects of society. (Although there is some occasional mention at some points at state level, it would be nice to hear a lot more about concerted thoughts about public transportation infrastructure, but perhaps that’s just way too much to ask in a society still rather naively obsessed with individualism at all costs.)

So what are the official positions of the candidates on science, across the board? Well, [...] Click to continue reading this post