Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sanity and relief in small servings

Good news on two counts in the last week for me, and for most scientists and/or environmentalists.

Yesterday, the US Senate Democrats filibustered a Republican-sponsored bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) partially for oil drilling. Senator Ted Stevens, the GOP sponsor of the bill, thought it a necessary move to reduce US dependency on foreign oil, and that it would not seriously harm wildlife in the area. Environmentalists strongly opposed the bill (surprise, surprise) arguing that there could be no 'minimal interference': the onset of oil drilling would spiral into a full-blown human enterprise in the ANWR that would necessarily cause harm to the natural ecosystem. Given my own treehugger mentality, I am inclined to believe the latter argument. The environmental impact of most human activity is far more than we imagine or can estimate at first. Our stated commitment to preserve and protect spaces for wildlife, as embodied by the establishment of the ANWR and other similar refuges, requires that we continue this policy even in the face of increased 'ordinary' developmental pressures. However, these are extra-ordinary circumstances - energy demands and the associated security issues have blown up into the US' No. 1 foreign policy problem. Has the time come to compromise? I hope not.

Also in the last week, a US federal judge ruled the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classrooms unconstitutional. ID is a thinly veiled Creationist philosophy that, despite attempts to disguise it and pass it off as science, is merely an attempt to introduce religious doctrine in science teaching. Many scientists and most rational people could scarcely believe that a Dover School Board approved the teaching of ID in classrooms in PA earlier this year. Thankfully the courts have shown some sanity and Judge Jones rebuked the Board members severely for allowing their religious philosophy to interfere with their duties. However, with the Religious Right still very much in the circles of power, it remains to be seen how long science can remain untainted by religious theory. For now, scientists can at least heave a small sigh of relief for all is not lost.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why blog?

I guess it was the year 2004 when blogging got really popular and the word 'blog' ended up being the most popular new entry in any forward-looking dictionary of the English language.

Two years have passed, of course, and in that time I have been characteristically block-headed in resisting the urge to start my own. However, today I have finally succumbed, and therefore believe it necessary to explain my actions.

I was not alone in my reluctance. A good billion people in the world don't have a blog yet, I'm sure (they don't have food or healthcare either). A man no less than Scott Adams shared my thoughts (and wrote about them first, thereby ironically establishing the usefulness of a blog). The blogger's philosophy, he says, goes something like this: Everything that I think about is more fascinating than the crap in your head.

I did get excited once about the idea of blogging. I surfed the web and read a few blogs. Here is the kind of stuff I read: 'Today I got up and realized I have nothing to do. Hence I pulled on my pink pajamas and smacked my pet hamster in the head'. Or: 'Today I rammed some fallucious (sic) liberal whiner with a dose of hallelujah'. I concluded, without prejudice, that blogging was for dumb bozos with nothing better to do. At best it was a daily journal that, by virtue of being public, negated its own sole purpose of invoking silent introspection. At worst it was trash. People who read blogs were either voyeuristic animals who derived pleasure out of knowing what bloggers ate for breakfast that day, or other bloggers who wanted to reassure themselves that blogging was a sane and reasonable thing to do.

Then something happened. The average intelligence of bloggers went up, maybe. Or maybe the stupid blogs are being filtered by some workaholic Google employee (Google owns the internet, in case you didn't already know). At any rate, blogging became respectable. Newspaper columnists started appending at the end of their pieces, 'You can read more of Jack Polemic's views on his blog'. Auto critics and movie critics got blogs. University professors joined in (Phil Greenspun has one and there's hardly a better netizen than him). Blogging has become a common and maybe even required intellectual activity. It is obviously, therefore, time for me to pretend to be an intellectual and get my own blog.

There are, however, more direct and personal reasons. For all my limited knowledge and world-view, every now and again I find myself thinking what I believe to be a thought of great meaning and profundity. The usual reaction to such an event is to tell everybody in earshot. The unfortunate consequence is that my friends (losers!) consider me a self-obsessed bore. I have no choice, therefore, if I intend to prevent my head from bursting, but to write these thoughts down (an act that requires a much greater amount of research and reflection). This act provides temporary relief, however, I do feel really silly writing down things that only I will ever read. On most occasions, I simply desist, and laziness allows me to avoid having to use my brain. Since I am currently in an atmosphere severely devoid of intellectual stimulation (i.e. public university graduate school), I seriously fear that my mental machinery, already rusty and creaky, might, upon further disuse, jam completely to a halt. Clearly there is a need for me to waste huge chunks of time on thinking about and writing a blog, so that I can have sharp and acute mental processes that can never be put to productive use since I have no time.

There is also the further promise of my blog being useful to somebody. Yesterday, for example, I discovered after a lot of research, that it is impossible to go on a skiing vacation for under $200. I also spent hours in gone days discovering what the 'perm press' setting on laundromat dryers really does (it doesn't press your clothes). Surely other people need to know these things.

Of course, having a blog where people who disagree with my views can post comments reviling me will help them vent their pent-up frustrations. That will be beneficial to public health.

Looking at the archives of my blog in my later years will also be a great way of reminding myself (and others) of what a complete idiot I always was. That is always a good way to spend a lazy afternoon.

After carefully weighing all these factors and painting the pile with a generous rosy tint, I am now confident about launching my own blog. It has already proved to be a success: I have spent an hour doing no work and I am really hungry now.

Ah, food. There is no intellectual stimulation like good food. It is as someone said, food is for thought.