Champagne, speed, and engineering

And the French. Read all about it.
Actually, I wish Amtrak could manage something remotely as efficient. But their trains tend to wobble disconcertingly at speeds about a tenth of that of the vaunted TGV, so we’ll wait on this.
If fuel and energy pundits are correct, the U.S. will be forced to shift to a greater use of rail transportation in the near future, with people forsaking their cherished gas-guzzling POVs for passive rides reliant on other sources of propulsion. In theory this will force major improvements in the industry, which may or may not include the ability to purchase a bottle of water for less than $2.50.

The Tolkienian War on Science*

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When I was a little kid, I frequently snuck into my older brother’s room and read his collection of science fiction books and pulp magazines (see previous post on SF&F books). My mother, who was (and is) a big fan of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (a lovely book and recommended) thought I might benefit from reading some fantasy so she bought The Hobbit for me when I was 12 (6th grade; 1966, yes, I am that old) which I happily read. My brother, who was a college student at the time, then brought home The Lord of the Rings in 1968, and I devoured it. I re-read The Hobbit and the trilogy throughout high school, and when The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales were published, these were added to my Tolkien collection which, in addition to many other fantasy and sci-fi books, I read throughout grad school and into my post-doctoral years as wonderful escapism from the realities of thesis research and fellowship proposals.
A funny thing happened. Real Life, that is, children and a career intervened, and although I remained an avid reader, I rarely read science fiction and fantasy, and JRRT’s works were among those that went by the wayside. I did, however, turn my kids on to Tolkien, and my son, in particular, became a fan.
My family and I dutifully went to the Harvard Square theater for three successive Decembers to see Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien, and I have to say he did a decent job. But I still didn’t pick up the books to re-read at the time, mostly because I knew this would be too much of a juxtaposition with the movies, and I didn’t want to get all weird over orthodoxy. However, it turned out that it was easy for me to enjoy the Jackson-Walsh-Boyens “non-canon” vision.
After a hiatus of a number of years, I re-read The Silmarillion this past winter. What a difference life experience makes. When I first read the book, I was fresh out of undergrad and not really too aware of a lot of the politics surrounding science and technology. I just liked science and was eager to know more, so off I went to grad school and a post-doc. During that pleasantly naive time, I re-read The Silmarillion but not quite the way I did recently. So what has happened between then and and now? Well, I read it through the prism of my experience and the current climate surrounding science in our culture.

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Nathan Bradfield’s Brain-Mouth “Wall”

(NB: This post is 100 percent superfluous if you’re a regular at Science Blogs and will only confuse and annoy you if you wandered over here from a backward site like Nathan Bradfield’s or Stop the ACLU. That means this is strictly an amusing exercise in procrastination for me and I’ve labeled it accordingly.)
You may remember bümmkenblogger Nathan Bradfield doing his best to locate America’s roots in Christian jihadism despite what people saddled with forebrains would view as overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He’s now becoming quite the Renaissance moron, extending his haplessness into the realm of modern biology with a post brimming with adorable self-assurance about the imminent downfall of evolutionary science.

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