Links for May 19th

Unpleasant Medicine

I think it’s significant that there’s no consensus on the larger-scale significance of environmental threats; indeed, our responses are severely polarized, as if these are debatable matters of opinion rather than ones with quantifiable facts attached.

Eyjafjallajoekull can potentially continue to erupt for years, massively disrupting long haul travel across the North Atlantic (especially if Katla follows its historic behaviour pattern and blows up after the smaller Eyjafjallajoekull eruption).

But there’s a tension between the two available responses — look for alternatives to lots of people and cargo flying through the affected air corridors, or change the tolerated level of atmospheric particles through which flight is permitted — and partisans of one approach or the other seem loath to discuss compromise.

Ronnie James Dio: An Appreciation | EW.com

As a teenage metal head I may have spent more time listening to Ronnie James Dio, who died today from cancer, than any other singer. This is partly because he was in so many darn bands—including Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio—but mostly due to the fact that he was just a terrific frontman with an operatic control of his vocal instrument that few have ever matched. There are many people who only know the man from his fondness for flashing “the Devil’s horns” or his cameo in the 2006 Tenacious D movie The Pick of Destiny. However, to a certain section of the metal-loving fraternity, Ronnie James Dio really is a legend.

How Britannia came to rule the waves – Science, News – The Independent

Hero worship at the expense of historical accuracy? Surely not. It has been portrayed as the story of the lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his day despite the hindering efforts of those ranged against him, saving thousands of lives.

On the one side was John Harrison, the self-taught clockmaker from a humble Yorkshire background. On the other, the 18th Century’s wealthy elite charged with the task of presiding over the problem of longitude – the knotty task of working out how far west or east a ship has sailed.

Harrison’s story has been the subject of a best-selling book and an award-winning film but science historians believe that the true account of how the problem of longitude was solved has yet to be told.

Roger Scruton – Gloom merchant

The belief that humanity makes moral progress depends upon a wilful ignorance of history. It also depends upon a wilful ignorance of oneself – a refusal to recognise the extent to which selfishness and calculation reside in the heart even of our most generous emotions, awaiting their chance. Those who invest their hopes in the moral improvement of humankind are therefore in a precarious position: at any moment the veil of illusion might be swept away, revealing the bare truth of the human condition. Either they defend themselves against this possibility with artful intellectual ploys, or they give way, in the moment of truth, to a paroxysm of disappointment and misanthropy. Both of these do violence to our nature. The first condemns us to the life of unreason; the second to the life of contempt. Human beings may not be as good as the shallow optimists pretend; but nor are they as bad as the prophets and curmudgeons have painted them.

Johann Hari: Welcome to Cameron land – Johann Hari, Commentators – The Independent

David Cameron cites Hammersmith and Fulham council as a ‘model’ of compassionate conservatism. So what can the actions of Tory councillors here tell us about how the party would behave in government?

The real reason why Steve Jobs hates Flash

I’ve got a theory, and it’s this: Steve Jobs believes he’s gambling Apple’s future — the future of a corporation with a market cap well over US $200Bn — on an all-or-nothing push into a new market. HP have woken up and smelled the forest fire, two or three years late; Microsoft are mired in a tar pit, unable to grasp that the inferno heading towards them is going to burn down the entire ecosystem in which they exist. There is the smell of panic in the air, and here’s why …

Why Cory Doctorow is wrong about the iPad

BLOGGING IN RESPONSE to somebody else’s blog is not usually my style, but Cory Doctorow’s anti-iPad rant on BoingBoing is so well written that it demands active disagreement.

Essentially, Cory doesn’t like the iPad because it’s a closed platform. He takes several different common objections and twists them (in an intelligent way, not a stupid Peter Mandelson way) to support this view. But it is, ultimately, just a view, not an argument.

Sunday Sacrilege: The silliest story ever told

It’s Easter. Once again, the masses will gawp in awe at a bizarre and unbelievable story…because it is such a good example of how religion will piggy-back on our cognitive biases.

You all know the Easter story: a god turns into a man, gets tortured and killed, rises from the dead, and somehow this act makes us all better. It’s a tale best left unexamined, because it makes no sense. We are supposed to wallow in an emotional thrill that taps deep into our social consciousness, not think about what the story actually says.

Apple’s iPad is a touch of genius

It strikes you when you first touch an iPad. The form just feels good, not too lightweight or heavy, nor too thin or thick. It’s sensual. It’s tactile. And that moment is a good way to spot a first-timer, too, as I observed with a few test subjects. The dead giveaway for an iPad n00b is a pause, a few breaths before hitting the “on” switch, just letting it rest against the skin.

Flick the switch and the novelty hits. Just as the iPhone, Palm Pré and Android phones scratched an itch we didn’t know we had—somewhere between cellphone and notebook—the iPad hits a completely new pleasure spot. The display is large enough to make the experience of apps and games on smaller screens stale. Typography is crisp, images gem-like, and the speed brisk thanks to Apple’s A4 chip and solid state storage. […]this is a greater leap into a new user experience than the sum of its parts suggests.

Lifesaving, safe vaccines

WHILE THERE are many debatable issues in the autism world, vaccines are no longer among them. This is a blessing for parents, children, and pediatricians. The real tragedy of the suggestion that vaccines cause autism is that millions of research dollars have been diverted to disprove a relationship that never existed to begin with

A number of large studies, in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia, have failed to find a link between vaccines and autism. But this is an issue that doesn’t want to die, so pediatricians like me end up spending time reassuring parents that we truly have their children’s best interests at heart when we immunize them, that we are not in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry, and we read the literature with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I’m not the messiah, says food activist – but his many worshippers do not believe him

The trouble started when Raj Patel appeared on American TV to plug his latest book, an analysis of the financial crisis called The Value of Nothing.

The London-born author, 37, thought his slot on comedy talkshow The Colbert Report went well enough: the host made a few jokes, Patel talked a little about his work and then, job done, he went back to his home in San Francisco.

Shortly afterwards, however, things took a strange turn. Over the course of a couple of days, cryptic messages started filling his inbox.