Monday, July 12, 2004Seed Magazine: Germinating or gone to seed?
Seed is a relatively new magazine whose tag line is “science is culture”. The current issue, Nr 9, Spring 2004, has the first of a series of articles about science and society and about the environment and the election. Next is an investigative report on mercury in vaccines and its connection to childhood autism. An iconoclastic profile of Percival Lowell rounds out the three feature articles.
The next section is “Articles & Essays”. A column (an odd choice of words for an article running 15 print columns over five pages) titled “The Burden of Power” looks at the US position of power in the world (the writer makes liberal use of “hegemony” and “superpower”), and raises questions of what a Bush or Kerry win would mean in terms of US influence and the role of science in our approach to world affairs. But this article is little more than a thinly-disguised attack on the administration, coupled with a less thinly-disguised endorsement - mainly by implication - of Kerry.
The highlight of the issue, in my opinion, is a conversation between E. O. Wilson and Daniel Dennett, one that ranges from evolution to the relation between religion and science. Dennett makes a tantalizing suggestion that religion would be an appropriate subject for a scientific study. (Though I can't imagine that he hasn’t read William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience. On the other hand, his views on religion are well known. He recently coined the term brights to refer to people unencumbered by religious beliefs.)
The article the editors want you to read first - because it’s the cover story - is about the election. The headline blares “Vote Science 2004”, but the unwavering drumbeat is “Vote Kerry 2004”. Of 32 persons and organizations cited and quoted, exactly one - Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit - is anywhere close to being called conservative. Of the thirteen organizations, they make no distinction between the Sierra Club and MoveOn.org - which is described only as “an organization dedicated to ousting Bush”.
The term “screed” has popped up more than a few times in the blogosphere. I’d say that this is another good place to apply that label. “The Burden of Power” is another nice fit. Perhaps they should change their name from seed to screed – it adds only two letters.
“Vote Science 2004” – subtitled “The Greening of Election 2004” – is certainly long and monotonous. A single note sounds throughout the piece: the environment is under massive attack, and only Kerry can save it. The writer is Amanda Griscom, who also writes for AlterNet, Grist Magazine, Rolling Stone, and CommonDreams.org.
Here are some of her claims – made with no supporting evidence:
He’s been called a lot worse than that.
Ms Griscom hasn’t been reading the news recently.
One of the Left’s favorite lines: “Bush is the worst president since…”
“Pristine” – evidently meaning ANWR – seems to mean home of millions of mosquitoes.
Actually, it was the US Senate, who voted against it, 95 – 0, in 2001.
A crudely-drawn two-page spread in the middle of the article notches up the fear quotient by highlighting really scary facts:
EU Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstrom had her blood tested for chemicals. They found traces of 28 chemicals, including DDT – banned in Europe. However, she seems to be in pretty good shape, despite being a walking toxic dump:
seeds source is evidently based on this 2003 European Commission report
Another graphic warns us about the food we eat: milk is “infused with bovine growth hormone”, fish is loaded with “cancer-causing PCBs”, and “don’t forget the beef, kids,you’ll go mad for it!”, genetically modified fruits and vegetables have “unknown long-term health effects”, GM rice with vitamin A “will keep you from going blind! Maybe”.
The GM rice is perhaps the only reasonable hope that a large part of India’s population will ever have of getting enough vitamin A.
There’s a “Human Worth Index”, putting the human body at about $4 million – down from $6 million (before all this nasty environmental stuff). The only Google reference to “human worth index” is the seed page. (I remember some years ago, there used to be an annual “human worth” calculation, based on elemental content, and it usually worked out to about $6 or $7. Sort of like melting down a Rodin sculpture and finding the value of the metal.)
On the Kerry side:
Some of it may even have been good legislation.
How could we have missed the connection between the environment and national security? We’ll certainly need lots of trees to hide behind.
Maybe he did. The only Google record of that is seed’s page. But there are lots of interesting hits for “earth day conference”. One of the few mentioning Kerry is this one, where Kerry says, no, he doesn’t own an SUV, it’s just his family that does.
Never miss an opportunity to editorialize.
Must be a typo – I’m sure they meant “activists”.
I seriously doubt that this wuld be a good thing. Europe – mainly Germany and France – have their influential Green parties. Much of what they’ve done ends up as material for late-night TV monologues. Like laws mandating that pig farmers provide toys for their pigs to play with, and spend quality time with their pigs.
From the LCV website:
… by suing doctors for malpractice, based on medically unsupported evidence, in carefully-chosen counties likely to return huge awards, of which Edwards pocketed one-third.
So, in fact, Edwards and his ilk are one of the principal causes of high medical costs – malpractice insurance premiums for OBGYNs – the group most targeted by his suits – can run to almost $200,000 a year. An unexpected result of his heroic legal efforts is that hundreds of doctors – mostly OBGYNs – are retiring early or leaving for other states, in effect, leaving women doctorless. Mississippi is particularly hard-hit by a doctor exodus.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment this June was 8.2 million. Kerry would have to bring in another 2 million people to the country to reach his target.
Here are the groups Griscom quotes:
In one unintentionally funny section, Griscom tells of using “politically-minded celebrities such as the Beastie Boys and Alanis Morrisette” to “get the message out”. That’s really where I want to get my political insights.
She reveals one particularly interesting fact about campaign donations – one that isn’t getting enough publicity:
Under McCain-Feingold, a supporter is limited to giving $2000 to a political party. However, there are loopholes big enough to drive Arnold’s Hummer through.
For one thing, George Soros can give $10 million to seedy organizations like MoveOn.org, which has only one aim in life.
She ends with a quote from Al Gore’s New York speech:
Brought down Communism: thank you, Ronald Reagan.
Won wars in the Pacific and Europe : there are times when we have to go to war, and when we do, we have to expect to win.
The Marshall Plan: something France and Germany seem reluctant to remember – maybe because it is a shining example of our “hegemony”.
Her credentials and bio are impressive, but the article she turned out for seed is not.
A quick run-through of “Burden of Power” (my occasional emphasis in bold)
Wait a minute – is it O’Neill’s book or Suskind’s? She seems to accept the book as Revealed Truth. But there are rough edges in it.
It’s disappointing to find a journalist of Garrett’s stature caught in a trap that could have been avoided with a little of the investigative journalism that won her the Pulitzer, the Peabody, and the Polk.And why did Cheney wait so long before commenting on it?
The debate on global warning goes on. Bjørn Lomborg makes a good case for the opposition, and he’s far from alone.
Here’s Slate’s take on it:
Back to the article:
It’s nice to have someone validate the party position.
Not like most science-fiction readers, who have known the word for decades, most recently in the current Ender novels of Orson Scott Card (Shadow of the Hegemon). Knowing the word, I think they’d be quite proud that our country has reached that point, and of all the empires of civilization, used its great power far more often for good than ill. Think back to Al Gore’s crack about the Marshall Plan.
Well, Britain doesn't seem doesn't seem all that cross with us, but evidently they don’t count. And we’re hardly “bankrupt”. Russia is bankrupt (again), and the EU is a lot closer to the edge than we are.
They’re called “convenience stores”, where you have the convenience of getting just about anything you need in one place, instead of driving all over town. That convenience is going to cost a little more, perhaps almost as much as in the few remaining neighborhood mom & pop stores.
And the last time I looked, milk was in the cooler, and oil was out on the shelves. Cold oil and warm milk don’t really sell all that well.
Sure, there are blights, as there are anywhere in the world – and there are a lot more over the rest of the world than here.
Ms Garrett might try driving past museums, art galleries, local theater groups, parks, forests, major hospitals, universities, and research centers to even out her bleak view of the country.
Impossible to meet? Ms Garrett should take another little jaunt through research-land and check out the statistics for home foreclosures. In 2002, the rate was about 1.23%, a far cry from “impossible”. From a 2003 Reuters story, the rate was 1.2% - holding steady from the year before.
There are certainly areas of the country that aren’t doing as well as others. Still, we have the highest per-capita number of millionaires – and new ones – in the world (excepting perhaps the oil-rich countries of the Middle East – whose wealth is concentrated in the few royal families).
Just what we need – the Germans and the French giving us advice. How are your unemployment figures, Mr Joffee, Mr Montbrial? And how about your GDP?
We’re good, and our military is certainly the best, but China has a much larger army. A conventional war with China is not something we’d want to undertake. China’s army numbers about 2.2 million men, which is more than ours. Our military was dramatically reduced during the last administration. One thing we do have in excess is technology. Our weapons systems are probably better and more accurate than anybody else’s, but every commander knows that the battle is ultimately won by soldiers on the ground.
Now there’s an understatement.
To dominate in a field of science is to excel. Take a look at Nobel Science Prizes since 1990 (an arbitrary cutoff date). Science prizes are in Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine. They’re awarded, you may remember, by the Swedish Nobel Foundation.
Physics: 20 winners from the US
(in some years, the prize was divided between two or more researchers)
Physiology or Medicine: 19
57 Nobel Prizes in 10 years – I’d say we were doing rather well. If that makes for a hegemony, that’s just fine with me. And I suggest to Ms Garrett that we don’t do it to lord over the rest of the world.
OK, then, what’s the bad part of that?
Does anyone doubt what they’d say if we did nothing? In fact, they’re already compaining that we do too little.
There’s that nasty old morality again.
For a while there I thought she’d never get around to the WMD mantra. Yes, the CIA was wrong. But Bush wasn’t the only one who believed them. Congress believed them, and voted to go to war. The UN believed the case, and hurled mighty resolutions against Saddam – which he continually ignored. Tony Blair believed the case.
And Saddam believed he had them – else why spend so much effort on trying to hoodwink 10 years worth of UN inspectors? And they still might be there – buried in Iranian bunkers, or salted away in neighboring Iran. We’ll probably never know.
But if there’s good reason to think that somebody in you neighborhood has a gun and an attitude, it’s the wiser course of action to try to take him out – one way or another – rather than wait for him to take you out.
It still looks like that perhaps there are more things hidden in the unfathomable Iraqi desert than are dreamed of in our philosophy:
So far, it looks good. Iraqis are mostly in control of their own country, and they will be able to deal with their terrorists much more harshly than we were.
Next comes a long section of Bill Clinton quotes. Bill said this, Bill said that… One that stands out:
If he really had the energy, brain power, and generosity, he wouldn’t have had to ask around for ideas. (She doesn’t give the source of that quote.)
Neither do a lot of other people, who are in a position to know. Like Lomborg. On the other hand, it is a lot warmer now, in July, than it was last December. So maybe she has a point.
The UCS has its own problems.
“Search for stem cells”? Not a good choice of phrase from someone whose expertise is in biology. And I still see articles in physics and astronomy magazines about dark energy.
She wants to ask Bush and Kerry what they believe about the creation of the universe, whether there’s life on other planets, and what’s the meaning of life (“human existence”, in her words). People all over the world have been thinking of these things for quite a long time now – at least since Aristotle – and it will be a long time before we get much further along than we are now.
These might be excellent questions for an interview for Chairman of the Philosophy Department, but presidents of any country have to keep their feet more firmly planted on the Earth.
Continuing in that poetic vein, she asks,
No – we have dreamed of utopias ever since Thomas More, and on a worldwide scale are not much closer than we’ve ever been.
Getting back to their motto, “science is culture”, there’s very little of either in seed, unless by “culture” you understand two pages of photos of hip young brights at a gala event hosted by the advertisers. Or if by “culture” you mean “enviro-savvy celebrities”, depicted in a “connectivity chart” with photos of: Cameron Diaz - starred in a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio - “champion of the environment”, founded something-or-other with Larry David- “Seinfeld” creator who drives a Prius, as do Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon (his photo is helpfully labeled “This is Tim”) - he costarred with Kevin Bacon - who serves on a board, appeared in a commercial, and is “connected with everybody”.
One of the few nods to science, and one of the few high points of the issue, is the centerfold: a four-page-wide pullout of the NASA/Hubble deep space image, coupled with a short poem by astronomer Rebecca Elson. (Poetry here, obituary here.)
It’s printed both sides, so you can turn it over every few days and see another view of galaxies unimaginably far away.
Since seed uses “science and culture” in its tagline, it invites comparison to wired. This is unfortunate, because Wired outshines it in every area. Wired is no rubber-stamp for the administration, but they do have far more interesting content, a much better layout, and something noticelably absent from seed: a sense of humor.
posted by Mike 18:00