Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Comment: Tolkien saw realistic trees in his imagination. (Score 1) 79

by hey! (#49613635) Attached to: Why Scientists Love 'Lord of the Rings'

By this I mean if you asked a typical person to picture a tree in his mind, he'd picture a green blob on a brown stick sticking up out of flat green space. Tolkien is the kind of person who'd picture an individual specimen of a specific species of tree growing in a place with unique and describable topography. And the concreteness with which he imagines this kind of thing shows in his writing.

When I was young I read and re-read Lord of the Rings for the magic. Forty years later, I re-read Lord of the Rings for the landscape. You can often orient yourself in a Tolkien scene; do a mental walk through imagining the slope of the land and smell kicked up by the damp grass and heather. There's nobody who writes landscape like Tolkien.

If you're a careful reader -- alright, an obsessive reader -- you can correlate scenes in different plot threads in time by the appearance of the sky and particularly by the phase of the moon. So you know what's happening to Merry and Pippin when we're in a Three Hunters scene, or how far along Frodo and Sam are inMordor during the Battle of the Pellenor Fields. That's a degree of attention lavished on detail beyond any reasonable marketing justification; it must have added years to the drafting of the manuscript. It's not even apparent until you've read the book a half dozen times or more.

That sense of exploring the details of a real scene in space and time would be familiar to any naturalist.

Comment: Re:Large herbivores were doomed from the start (Score 3, Insightful) 142

by hey! (#49608019) Attached to: Empty Landscape Looms, If Large Herbivores Continue to Die Out

Err... really? Sixty million American Bison disappeared from the Great Plains because they were big? Then why did the passenger pigeon over the same period go from the most numerous bird in the world to extinct? It's true that the largest baleen whale -- the Blue Whale, is listed as "threatened"; but the smallest baleen whale, the pygmy right whale is either extinct or very close to it.

It's not as simple as big == headed for extinction. Sometimes bigness is a factor in extinction, sometimes it's a factor in survival.

Comment: Re: Hahah (Score 1) 232

And you're telling me you and your friends never did anything stupid? When you were 15 you were as sober as a 30 year-old?

Or maybe treating kids like nothing they do has consequences,

This is what is called a false dichotomy. You don't treat kids like adults who have misbehaved; you treat kids like kids who have misbehaved. Or do you think that a 12 year-old who starts a fire playing with matches should be treated like a 40 year who starts a fire playing with matches, because in the end they did the same thing?

What I'm saying is take the age of the offender into account in how you punish them. This isn't some kind of radical new liberal idea. It's how this country operated until the end of the 20th C.

Comment: Re: Hahah (Score 1) 232

Yours apparently has some way to go. Or maybe it's too far gone.

The brain isn't one big ball of mush. It has different parts that perform different functions. You get injured in your Broca's area and you won't be able speak or write. I've seen it in stroke patients; it doesn't matter that the rest of their brains is just good as new, they don't have any expressive language. Likewise if your orbital frontal cortex is damaged or not fully developed yet, you're going to act like an ass. Doesn't matter how smart or well-meaning you are.

Teenaged brains can be misleading, because in some ways they're at their lifetime peak. But at the same time they suck at certain things. A smart fifteen year-old can explain the difference between right and wrong, between a smart and stupid action. But he can't be trusted to act in accordance to that kind of knowledge, because among other things the OFC isn't finished yet. This is why parents get fooled into thinking their wonderful children won't do dumb things. You simply cannot expect a teenager to act intelligently because he has knowledge. The knowledge helps, but it does't determine behavior in a fifteen year-old as it does in a thirty year-old.

Comment: Re:Hahah (Score 1) 232

He did the crime (actually several), he must do the time.

If he wants to play big boy games then he must accept big boy penalties. Fuck your PC "Oh but he's a kid with his whole life ahead of him!" bullshit, he's chosen his path, let him reap the consequences.

That's just a straw man argument. The actual problem with treating him as an adult is that that is contrary to fact. He is not an adult.

In the state of Georgia a fifteen year-old cannot vote; he cannot purchase liquor; cannot obtain a driver's license, cannot hold a full-time job. The rules we have for minors assume they're incapable of making adult choices. It's logically inconsistent to believe minors are not competent to make responsible decisions, but then claim we should treat them as if they can decide responsibly because they've failed to do so. When have you ever used reasoning like that for anything else? I had a housemate once who decided to become her own herbalist. She went to the herb store and bought a lot of herbal shit and promptly made herself sick. By your logic I should go to her for medical treatment because (a) I previously had reason to believe she was not competent to practice medicine and (b) her subsequent actions proved my suspicions correct.

You don't need some namby-pamby PC mumbo jumbo to know that most teenagers have a penchant for doing spectacularly stupid things, but that *most* of them grow out it. That's common sense, and the law should take that into account. And science actually backs up common sense here. Most people's brains go through a development spurt in their "executive functions" (acting according to long term plans, inhibiting impulsive actions, directing attention) when they're around fifteen. That means there's roughly a 50/50 chance someone under sixteen is neurologically incapable of not acting like a jackass.

So both science and common sense tell us that treating children as if they were adults is irrational and serves no useful purpose. That doesn't mean you do nothing when kids commit crimes. That's a false dichotomy. It means you do something different.

Comment: Re:Popular support (Score 2) 174

by hey! (#49604091) Attached to: NASA Gets Its Marching Orders: Look Up! Look Out!

I was eight years old when Neil Armstrong stepped off the LEM onto the Moon. It was an overcast day but the thing I remember vividly was how quiet the city was; aside from a few trucks in the distance and the wind blowing between the buildings there was simply nothing to be heard. The street was utterly deserted, more deserted than it would have been in the middle of the night. I'd gone out to find someone to play with, but gave it up for a bad job. I came in just in time to watch Armstrong step off the LEM. Cronkite couldn't make out what Armstrong said -- later it turned out Armstrong had bungled his line.

The only thing since then that has come close for shared amazement was 9/11.

The thing is there will never be another moment like that, not for manned space exploration. For those of us too young to remember WW2, the Apollo program was the biggest, most exciting thing that had happened in our lifetime. Older people had grown up with the Moon as the very symbol of something that was impossible to obtain. Every human being who'd ever lived and who wasn't blind had looked up in the sky and seen that big fat Moon hanging up there looking so close you could touch it.

Mars isn't like that. For most people it's just a name. More people have seen fake Mars in movies than have seen the real thing. So I'm guessing that few people will interrupt their lives to watch the first step on Mars. Maybe some of us will, but there won't be the same amazement, that sense of witnessing a once-in-a-species event.

Speaking of movies, one of the things that happened after 1970 is that production values on sci-fi movies went way, way up. Most people today have grown up watching representations of humans traveling to the stars; that's the new milestone for the human imagination. So I don't think there will ever be the kind of adulation for real astronauts that we had in the 60s. Actors are more photogenic than real astronauts and they don't spend their time doing tedious and inexplicable things.

But I don't think it's impossible to get people interested in space exploration; only that it's folly to put men up there and expect the public to automatically get excited. Henceforth space exploration is only going to matter to people who've been educated enough to find science interesting. That in itself is a worthwhile goal.

Comment: Re:Did a paid shill write this summary? (Score 3, Interesting) 174

by hey! (#49603913) Attached to: NASA Gets Its Marching Orders: Look Up! Look Out!

I've been a Democrat since 1979. I'd vote for Bernie Sanders if he weren't an abrasive, self-righteous prig who'd inevitably do more damage to his allies than to his enemies. But despite that I'm almost 100% in agreement with the man. And I haven't seen any rampant Republican agenda here. More like rampant laziness, if there were such a thing.

If the editors spent a whole minute between the moment they opened the story and the moment they hit "post" I'd be flabbergasted.

Comment: Re:Bernie Sanders (any real shot at winning?) (Score 1) 376

by hey! (#49603861) Attached to: Bernie Sanders, Presidential Candidate and H-1B Skeptic

When hardline socialist parties gain power they tend to become more pragmatic. Such parties usually still consider themselves socialist and think of themselves as working toward eventual socialism.

The Socialist Party in France is a good illustration of this. Go back and look at the history of the Mitterrand presidency. In 1984 he abandoned nationalization of industry so that France would qualify for the European Monetary System. The subsequent collapse of the leftist coalition forced him to "cohabit" with Chirac's conservative RPR. Since then it'd be fair to characterize PS as a center-left party.

Comment: Re:Bernie Sanders (any real shot at winning?) (Score 1) 376

by hey! (#49603755) Attached to: Bernie Sanders, Presidential Candidate and H-1B Skeptic

Technically a "socialist" is anyone who believes in "social ownership" of the means of production. A "communist" is someone who believes in the common ownership of the means of production. This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but "social ownership" is a broader concept than common ownership. Common ownership is just one form of "social ownership". Worker cooperatives are another form of social ownership.

Logically then, all communists are socialists, and not all socialists are communists. Some communists see non-communist socialism as a desirable intermediate step toward communism, others do not. Some communist and socialist ideologies fit within the umbrella of "social democracy", others do not.

Socialists and especially communists tend to be idea-fetishists, and so often display a peculiar mania for mutual ideological excommunication.

Comment: Re:Bernie Sanders (any real shot at winning?) (Score 1) 376

by hey! (#49603657) Attached to: Bernie Sanders, Presidential Candidate and H-1B Skeptic

Most "democratic socialist" parties are socialist (like the DSP in the US), or have at some point in their history been socialist, or at least see socialism as a desirable long-term goal. But I'm sure there are exceptions. What you really have to do is ask what someone *believes*, not what they call themselves.

Sanders has never run away from the word "socialist", but what he seems to believe in is a strong welfare safety net, labor unions operating in a market economy which allows private profit but with regulatory restrictions on the ability of private entities to externalize costs like pollution. There are plenty of people who would call that "socialist", but most people who just plain call themselves "socialist" wouldn't. What he wants is for the US to be more like "Nordic model" country such as Sweden or Denmark. Maybe that's not your personal idea of political paradise, but it's a hell of a long way from North Korea.

As to why Sanders would call himself a socialist, it may be that's what he calls "socialism", but I think it's because he's a contrarian and gadfly who likes to rile people up but excels at retail politics in a tiny, tiny state. I'm all for his preferred policies, but personally I think he'd be terrible president because he's a self-righteous political prig who'd alienate and undermine any of his allies that didn't toe the line.

"Life sucks, but it's better than the alternative." -- Peter da Silva

Working...