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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘book reviews

[BLOG] Five Marginal Revolution links (@margrev)

  • Marginal Revolution features a critical if friendly review of the new Emmanuel Todd book, Lineages of Modernity.
  • Marginal Revolution considers the problems of excessive consumer activism, here.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a new book looking at natural gas economics in Europe, here.
  • Marginal Revolution notes new evidence that YouTube algorithms do not tend to radicalize users, here.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the few countries where the average person was richer in 2009 than in 2019, notably Greece and Venezuela.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait notes how a photo of the Large Magellanic Cloud makes him recognize it as an irregular spiral, not a blob.
  • Centauri Dreams celebrates the life of cosmonaut Alexei Leonov.
  • John Quiggin at Crooked Timber takes issue with one particular claim about the benefits of war and empire.
  • The Crux looks at fatal familial insomnia, a genetic disease that kills through inflicting sleeplessness on its victims.
  • D-Brief looks at suggestions that magnetars are formed by the collisions of stars.
  • Dangerous Minds introduces readers to the fantasy art of Arthur Rackham.
  • Cody Delistraty considers some evidence suggesting that plants have a particular kind of intelligence.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes the expansion by Russia of its airbase in Hneymim, Syria.
  • Karen Sternheimer writes at the Everyday Sociology Blog about the critical and changing position of libraries as public spaces in our cities.
  • Gizmodo looks at one marvelous way scientists have found to cheat quantum mechanics.
  • Information is Beautiful outlines a sensible proposal to state to cultivate seaweed a as source of food and fuel.
  • io9 notes that, in the exciting new X-Men relaunch, immortal Moira MacTaggart is getting her own solo book.
  • JSTOR Daily notes how the now-defunct Thomas Cook travel agency played a role in supporting British imperialism, back in the day.
  • Language Log notes that the Oxford English Dictionary is citing the blog on the use of “their” as a singular.
  • Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money considers the grounds for impeaching Donald Trump.
  • The LRB Blog looks at the politics of Mozambique at the country approaches dangerous times.
  • Sean Marshall notes the southern Ontario roads that run to Paris and to London.
  • Neuroskeptic notes a problematic scientific study that tried to use rabbits to study the female human orgasm.
  • Steve Baker at The Numerati looks at a new book on journalism by veteran Peter Copeland.
  • The NYR Daily makes the point that depending on biomass as a green energy solution is foolish.
  • The Planetary Science Blog notes a 1983 letter by then-president Carl Sagan calling for a NASA mission to Saturn and Titan.
  • Roads and Kingdoms interviews photojournalist Eduardo Leal on his home city of Porto, particularly as transformed by tourism.
  • Drew Rowsome notes the book Dreamland, an examination of the early amusement park.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares a paper considering, in broad detail, how the consequence of population aging could be mitigated in the labour market of the European Union.
  • Strange Company reports on a bizarre poltergeist in a British garden shed.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the new strength of a civic national identity in Kazakhstan, based on extensive polling.
  • Arnold Zwicky, surely as qualified a linguist as any, examines current verb of the American moment, “depose”.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Adam Fish at anthro{dendum} compares different sorts of public bathing around the world, from Native America to Norden to Japan.
  • Charlie Stross at Antipope is unimpressed by the person writing the script for our timeline.
  • Architectuul reports on an architectural conference in Lisbon.
  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait shares stunning photos of the eruption of the Raikoke volcano in Kamchatka.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at what the Voyager spacecraft have returned about the edge of the solar system.
  • John Quiggin at Crooked Timber takes issue with the idea of bipartisanship if it means compromising on reality, allegorically.
  • The Crux counts the number of people who have died in outer space.
  • D-Brief notes that the Andromeda Galaxy has swallowed up multiple dwarf galaxies over the eons.
  • Dead Things notes the identification of the first raptor species from Southeast Asia, Siamraptor suwati.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a paper tracing the origins of interstellar comet 2/Borisov from the general area of Kruger 60.
  • Karen Sternheimer at the Everyday Sociology Blog writes about the privilege allowing people access to affordable dental care.
  • Gizmodo tells how Alexei Leonov survived the first spacewalk.
  • io9 looks at the remarkable new status quo for the X-Men created by Jonathan Hickman.
  • Selma Franssen at the Island Review writes about the threats facing the seabirds of the Shetlands.
  • JSTOR Daily looks at what led Richard Nixon to make so many breaks from the American consensus on China in the Cold War.
  • Language Log notes an undergraduate course at Yale using the Voynich Manuscript as an aid in the study of language.
  • Abigail Nussbaum at Lawyers, Guns and Money explains her recent experience of the socialized health care system of Israel for Americans.
  • The LRB Blog looks at how badly the Fukuyama prediction of an end to history has aged.
  • The Map Room Blog shares a few maps of the new Ottawa LRT route.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a paper establishing a link between Chinese industries undermining their counterparts in Mexico and Mexican social ills including crime.
  • Sean Marshall reports from Ottawa about what the Confederation Line looks like.
  • Adam Shatz at the NYR Daily looks at the power of improvisation in music.
  • Roads and Kingdoms looks at South Williamsburg Jewish deli Gottlieb’s.
  • Drew Rowsome reviews</a the new Patti Smith book, Year of the Monkey.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares a paper looking as the factors leading into transnational movements.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel considers the question of the direction(s) in which order in the universe was generated.
  • Window on Eurasia shares a report noting the very minor flows of migration from China to Russia.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell looks at the politics in the British riding of Keighley.
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at some penguin socks.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait notes new research on where the sun is located within the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly considers the value of slow fashion.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the different gas giants that our early methods have yet to pick up.
  • Crooked Timber shares a lovely photo looking back at Venice from across its lagoon.
  • D-Brief notes that upcoming space telescopes might find hundreds of rogue planets thanks to microlensing.
  • io9 notes that Marvel will soon be producing Warhammer40K comics.
  • The Island Review shares some poetry and photography by Ken Cockburn inspired by the Isle of Jura.
  • JSTOR Daily notes that different humpback whale groups have different songs, different cultures.
  • Language Hat tries to find the meaning of the odd Soviet Yiddish word “kolvirt”.
  • Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the history of Elizabeth Warren as a law teacher.
  • Map Room Blog shares information from Google Maps about its use of data.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that in 2016, not a single child born in the United Kingdom was given the name Nigel.
  • Peter Watts talks about AI and what else he is doing.
  • The NYR Daily marked the centennial of a horrible massacre of African-Americans centered on the Arkansas community of Elaine.
  • Emily Margolis at the Planetary Society Blog looks at how the Apollo moon missions helped galvanize tourism in Florida.
  • Noel Maurer at The Power and the Money looks at the constitutional crisis in Peru.
  • Drew Rowsome takes a look at A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • Peter Rukavina looks at a spreadsheet revealing the distribution of PEI public servants.
  • Spacing reviews a book imagining how small communities can rebuild themselves in neoliberalism.
  • Towleroad shares the criticism of Christine and the Queens of the allegedly opportunistic use of queer culture by Taylor Swift.
  • Understanding Society considers, sociologically, the way artifacts work.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy argues that the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China should be a day of mourning, on account of the high human toll of the PRC.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests the Russian generation of the 1970s was too small to create lasting change.
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at how underwear ads can be quite sexualized.

[REVIEW] Arthur. C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century

I had been passingly aware of Arthur C Clarke’s 1986 book Arthur. C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century for some time. This book was one of his many books in his later career where Clarke played the futurologist, pointing his audiences towards the possibilities of the future. It was only when I saw this winter a copy in near-mint condition in The Junction‘s Pandemonium that I took particular note: The date of the title was closing. Surely it merited some exploration. Sadly, when I popped into Pandemonium I was told that someone had bought that copy just a few minutes before my arrival. Off to Amazon I went.

Arthur C. Clarke's July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century #books #hardcover #arthurcclarke #sciencefiction #futurology #future #retrofuture

The significance of the title July 20, 2019 comes of course from this date being the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. It does indeed begin with an imagined address to the reader by the Arthur C. Clarke of 2019 himself, a resident of Clavius City, a base in the Moon’s Clavius Crater home to a only a thousand people. From that lofty perspective, Clarke sets out from this lofty perspective the framework for these great changes in humanity. The subsequent chapters, written with a wide variety of collaborators, go on to look at different areas of the human future: education, health, robotics, space and transportation, sex and work, crime and war, all get explored in turn.

The one overriding theme that July 20, 2019 gets perfectly right is the extent to which what we in actual 2019 would call Big Data is transformative. The new generation of computers and associated technologies that were only beginning to emerge in 1986, capable not only of collecting vast amounts of data but of drawing meaningful conclusions from these, would make many things possible. It would become possible, for instance, for modern medicine to provide finely tailored recommendations as to what patients should do to enjoy the best possible health, to finally make psychiatry a science wit effective interventions to deal with the ills of the human mind.

It would allow people to become life-long students, to continue to expand their skills and to learn more about the world.

It would allow people to enjoy all kinds of popular culture, for sports enhanced by bioengineering to new distribution methods for shows and for altogether new cultural forms scarcely imagined.

More, this Big Data would enable all sorts of innovations in the physical sciences, in the manufacture of all sorts of robots capable of acts of great precision and in the development of new swift vehicles to travel the skies and the oceans and in new sorts of pleasure.

All of the chapters are informative, but not that many were outstanding. I did particularly like one built around a criminal investigation looking at the relationship of a smart home with its owner. (I, for one, take care to always be polite to my Google Home Minis.) I was also caught up by the drama of an imagined Third World War, fought almost bloodlessly with precise smart weapons along the inner German frontier, ending mildly enough with a loss by East Germany of Schwerin as West Germany gave up the Fulda Gap.

It is not that there were many things that were outright wrong. (I remain convinced that we were biased by the geopolitics-driven space race of the 1960s towards thinking crewed space travel would be easier and would come about earlier than we should have expected in the technologically primitive and poor world of the mid-20th century; the 2020s might well be a good time for a durable resurgence.) The overall contours of the world depicted, generally speaking, are ones that people in actual 2019 would be able to recognize as something mostly like their own.

The big problem with July 20, 2019 is that it does not quite take account of people. Who was it who said that science fiction was a literature of ideas if not a literature of literature, of heady concepts but not so much about people or societies? The geopolitics of this imagined Third World War are uninspiring, reflecting Clarke’s 2001 or 2010, the colossi of the United States and the Soviet Union dominating to the exclusion of anyone else. We have fought multiple wars with smart weapons, and we know that even if these smart weapons actually are as good as we’d like them to be they are fired by governments acting with imperfect knowledge at targets in societies made up of innumerable human beings. This imagined near-total stability, in retrospect, is a failure.

Beyond this, I do not think that Clarke quite recognized how the impact of Big Data would change the quality of human lives. If people are to become life-long patients, life-long students, constantly being engaged in a stressful world full of challenges and stimuli barely imagined to the people of 1986, what would the impact of this be? Looking back, I think that we can see the people of Clarke’s imagined 2019 would be desperately grinding, perhaps just as we are in our post-Cold War globalized era. Clarke, though, did not seem to get this.

July 20, 2019 is a good book. I quite enjoyed going through it, taking a look at what one of the great science fiction writers imagined our world might come to be. I just think that the gaps and failed predictions are as interesting as the successes. These all are the sorts of factors that people aspiring to predict the future should look to learn from.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 20, 2019 at 11:58 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • At Anthro{dendum}, Travis Cooper shares thoughts o what should be kept in mind in studying new media.
  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait notes a new plan to catalogue a hundred thousand stellar nurseries in nearby galaxies.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the very unusual lightcurve of the star VVV-WIT-07.
  • D-Brief considers the possible role of climate change in undermining Byzantium.
  • Gizmodo reports on how astronomers managed to directly image exoplanet HR8799e, a young hot Jupiter some 130 light-years away.
  • JSTOR Daily examines the lynchings inflicted on people of Mexican background in the conquered American West after the Mexican-American War.
  • Marginal Revolution considers the possibility that homo sapiens might trace its ancestry to hominid populations in southern Africa.
  • Noahpinion features a guest post from Roy Bahat arguing that Uber and Lyft need to change their treatment of their workers for their own good.
  • The NYR Daily features an article by Zia Haider Rahman talking about the many ways in which British identity has mutated after Brexit.
  • The Planetary Society Blog features some photos taken by the Beresheet probe on its way to the Moon.
  • Drew Rowsome reviews the Greg Scarnici book Dungeons & Drag Queens, a funny take on Fire Island.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel notes the early Solar System, when a still energetic Mars existed alongside Earth as a life-supporting planet. (Venus, not so much. Perhaps?)
  • Daniel Little writes at Understanding Society about his new book project, a social ontology of government.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how Russia is dropping off sharply in importance as a trading partner for most post-Soviet states.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Ryan Anderson writes at anthro{dendum} about how the counterhistory of Vine Deloria transformed his thinking.
  • Architectuul notes some interesting architectural experiments from the post-WW2 United Kingdom.
  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait notes the distinctive dustiness of Large Magellanic Cloud globular cluster NGC 1898.
  • The Big Picture shares photos from the worldwide student walkout on climate change.
  • Corey Robin writes at Crooked Timber about ethics in economics.
  • The Crux points its readers to the space art of Chesley Bonestell.
  • D-Brief considers the possibility that the distinction between the sounds “f” and “v” might be a product of the soft food produced by the agricultural revolution.
  • Bruce Dorminey notes a new study suggesting there might be fifty billion free-floating planets in the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Gizmodo considers the self-appointed archivists of obscure information on the Internet.
  • Information is Beautiful shares an informative infographic analyzing the factors that go into extending one’s life expectancy.
  • Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that the American system simply cannot be expected to contain the fascist impulses of Donald Trump indefinitely.
  • Marginal Revolution considers the future evolution of a more privacy-conscious Facebook.
  • The Planetary Society Blog considers the nature of the skies of mini-Neptunes.
  • Drew Rowsome reviews the Kirsten McKenzie horror novel Painted.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel considers the possibility that the Milky Way Galaxy, despite having fewer stars than Andromeda, might be more massive.

[NEWS] Five sci-fi links: The Wandering Earth, hard SF, Le Guin, Vonda N. McIntyre, globalization

  • Slate makes a case for the importance of the new Chinese science-fiction film The Wandering Earth. I think I, too, want to go see it in theatres.
  • James Nicoll highlights five often overlooked hard science-fiction novels. (I agree with him entirely about China Mountain Zhang, one of my favourites.)
  • Charlie Jane Anders writes at Tor about the complexity and brilliance of Ursula K Le Guin’s Hainish cycle of novels.
  • This news about Vonda N. McIntyre, most famous to me for her Star Trek novels and her Starfarer series, saddens me.
  • Ryan Porter writes at the Toronto Star about the growth of non-Western influences in contemporary science fiction and fantasy.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait explains the potential discovery of an ancient rock from Earth among the Moon rocks collected by Apollo.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at what will be coming next from the New Horizons probe after its Ultima Thule flyby.
  • The Crux looks at the genetic library of threatened animals preserved cryogenically in a San Diego zoo.
  • Far Outliers looks at the drastic, even catastrophic, population changes of Sichuan over the past centuries.
  • Language Hat looks at translations made in the medieval Kingdom of Jerusalem.
  • Language Log tries to translate a possibly Indo-European sentence preserved in an ancient Chinese text.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the complexity of the crisis in Venezuela.
  • The LRB Blog looks at the Mexican-American border in this era of crisis.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a spike in unsolved shootings in Baltimore following protests against police racism.
  • Noah Smith reviews the new Tyler Cowen book, Stubborn Attachments.
  • Adam Shatz at the NYR Daily reviews what sounds like a fantastic album of anti-colonial Francophone music inspired by Frantz Fanon and assembled by French rapper RocĂ©.
  • The Planetary Society Blog takes a look what is next for China as it continues its program to explore the Moon.
  • Roads and Kingdoms interviews Monique Jaques about her new photo book looking at the lives of girls growing up in Gaza.
  • Rocky Planets takes a look at how rocks can form political boundaries.
  • Drew Rowsome interviews choreographer Christopher House about his career and the next shows at the Toronto Dance Theatre.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel takes a look at the seeming featurelessness of Uranus.
  • Frank Jacobs at Strange Maps looks at a controversial swap of land proposed between Serbia and Kosovo.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the controversial possibility of China contracting Russia to divert Siberian rivers as a water supply.
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at the origins of Uri and Avi, a photo of apparently showing two men, one Palestinian and one Israeli, kissing.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • D-Brief notes evidence that human growth hormone harvested from dead people can transfer Alzheimer’s disease to recipients.
  • Far Outliers reports on how Choshu fought off the bakufu in 1866.
  • Gizmodo reports the discovery of a distant Kuiper belt object, orbiting at 120 AU, provisionally named “Farout.”
  • JSTOR Daily notes the links between successful start-ups and social privilege.
  • The LRB Blog notes the restrictions placed on travel to the Andaman and Nicobar islands, and on contact with the threatened indigenous peoples there.
  • Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution explains how he tries to understand cultural codes, with their major influence on economic dynamics.
  • The NYR Daily looks at the contemporary nature art of Walton Ford.
  • Drew Rowsome reviews the Jonathan Janz novella Witching House Theatre.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel shares astronomical photos of exoplanets which show how planets form.
  • Yesterday, Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy noted at blog’s celebration of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia.
  • At Whatever, John Scalzi celebrates the excellent new animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, as does Abigail Nussbaum at Lawyers, Guns and Money.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how the decision of the Russian government to move the capital of the Far Eastern federal district from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok will harm that first city but not do that much for the second.
  • Arnold Zwicky considers the art of appearances, queer and otherwise.