Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

Various controversial issues

Nobel Peace Prize: The committee continues its tradition of awarding the Peace prize without waiting to determine if there is, in fact, any actual long-term results from the recipients' actions. Nobody gets one of the science Nobels without sufficient time for the truth and utility of the work to be established. (Local connection: Leonid Hurwicz, one of the three economics recipients this year, is a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota.)

Porn: Tim Wu is writing a series of columns in Slate on "tolerated lawbreaking." Monday's entry deals with obscenity law. "Federal law makes it a crime to use 'a computer service' to transport over state lines 'any obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy book, pamphlet, picture, motion-picture film, paper, letter, writing, print, or other matter of indecent character." Yet the Internet porn industry is obviously thriving, with little attention from prosecutors (with a few specific exceptions.) But this leaves us in a strange position: it's possible to produce and sell pornography practically without regulation! There exists a perverse incentive for pornographers to oppose clarifying the legal status of their business. I am reminded of Indian casinos opposing the expansion of gambling, ponder the attitude of your neighborhood drug dealer towards following FDC rules, and wonder whether PokerStars might have perfectly good reasons for not lobbying too hard...

Rewiring local topology for fun and profit: (There's a whole game, Portal, about this.) The ability to stitch together distant (or even not-so-distant) points in space would be boon to numerous fields: transportation, energy generation, computing, the military, and even real estate. But can it be done safely enough for consumer use? Or does every nonlocal "hole" come with a sharp edge? (Is this why most stargates have borders around them?) What would be the environmental impact of such massive tinkering with the shape of local space-time?

Global warming: Just because global warming exists does not mean that every weather-related change you observe is caused by global warming, OK? You're just making Russ mad. Scientists get caught up in fads just like the rest of us; witness all the research that's "homeland security"-related now. (This is especially true in the DARPA world where many PIs work on the exact same thing they were planning on working on, they just justify it to match the current grant description.)

Green power generation: A recent New Scientist featured a plan to pump compressed air into the earth for storage, using wind power. Then when the wind isn't blowing you can even out power generation by using the compressed air--- but not to power turbines directly, but instead to burn natural gas more efficiently. WTF? I think that kind of misses the point. The article was entirely unclear on why this was superior to the half-dozen other methods that people have suggested for energy storage at wind-generation sites.
Tags: geek, law, politics, rant, science
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