State Of Fear

With my laptop fan conked out (meaning no browsing on the weekend) I rushed to the library before it closed up on Friday night and picked up Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear. How pertinent that this book had been heavily criticized as a tirade againt global warming and Al Gore + IPCC won the Nobel Peace (!) Prize recently. Crichton took heavy beating in the reviews for this book. But, surprisingly by the time I finished this book I didn’t have the same feeling.

Like all of Crichton’s works here too there is some technology/science whose ill-effects form the basis of the story. In Jurassic Park it was genetics and here it is environmental science or more specifically global warming. The fictional story is about 2 groups: a hard-core environmental group called NERF (think Green Peace) and Kenner, a MIT professor who wants to debunk their nefarious plans. NERF is headed by Drake and will go to any lengths to grab media attention about global warming. To raise the profile of global warming NERF undertakes eco-terrorism, it plans to set off some global catastrophes right in time for a scheduled conference on climate change. Caught between Drake and Kenner is Peter Evans, who the author uses as an analogue of the general public. Evans joins Kenner and as they travel around the globe to foil Drake’s plan, Kenner explains to Evans in long conversations about how not everything about global warming is as simple as it sounds nor known or understood.

Looking at the book as just a thriller, it is not upto the usual Crichton mark. It has the taste of a Clive Cussler rather than Crichton. But, the main soul of the book is its tirade against global warming. The author is thorough here. Footnotes to journal papers, studies and articles are peppered throughout the pages wherever any of the main characters takes a side on global warming.

Some of the main arguments in the book are that:

* Global warming is being blown out of proportion by the nexus of politicians, lawyers and media. The bedsharing of politics and science should be extremely worrying for science.
* The high profile environmental agencies are today full of lawyers and are interested in nothing but raising money, sueing and grabbing media attention.
* Environment and climate researchers (and hence their work) are being forced to take sides. There is enormous pressure and money being forced on by the industry on one side and environmentalists on the other to bias their works.
* A lot more study into climate change and environment is needed. There are still no reliable methods of predicting global climate for even a decade let alone hundreds of years.
* Earth has always been changing. It has underwent several cycles of ice ages. The current climate changes look like part of the current ongoing cycle.
* Human CO2 contributions aren’t enough to cause the kind of catastrophic climate changes that global warming predicts. At least, not yet.
* There are several scientific theories which are being snubbed because they neither support nor oppose global warming (thus don’t look good on the mass media). For example, the urban heat island effect for temperature increases in cities.
* Most environmental solutions being proposed haven’t been subjected to a cost-to-benefit analysis. Not even if the cost is enviromental cost.
* Several environmental treaties are being signed where developing and under developed countries are being subjected to regulations that the developed countries themselves never followed or (in some cases) will not follow.

In a detailed epilogue, Crichton describes one other scientific phenomenon which every prominent person in the USA supported at one time — eugenics. (“Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind.” — Theodore Roosevelt.) During its heyday any scientist who doubted its scientific veracity was shut up. Instead of allowing science to study if eugenics worked at all, everyone jumped on the bandwagon since they saw a clean way here to eliminate the society’s inferiors. Under the name of eugenics, criminals and insane people were clinically killed. The Nazis just borrowed the idea and applied it on a larger scale with their gassing. Some time after this the WW2 happened, the Allies emerged as the good side and everyone who supported eugenics went mum. Crichton’s argument is that global warming today has become like that. There is too much noise, media, politics, bias, predictions and very less science.

I have to be honest here, I initially found the book highly revolting. But, as always it’s good to see all sides of an issue. The fiction is disappointing, but the book is a compelling read for the issue it discusses. No matter on what side of this issue you stand there are loads of interesting scientific trivia, claims and counter claims to learn from the book.

My excerpts from the book are here.

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Blade Runner

Does Blade Runner stand up to all the hype that surrounds it? Yes and more! Based on Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, the movie is set in a dystopian future where humans and replicants (manufactured human clones) are present. The replicants have a limited life-span of 4 years and are kept on human inhabited planets that are away from Earth. 4 replicants escape to Earth to meet their maker, Tyrell, the brain behind Tyrell Corp, the manufacturer of replicants. To hunt them down a blade runner (Harrison Ford) is assigned. While on the hunt he discovers that Tyrell’s own beautiful secretary is a replicant and soon is in love with her.

Top marks for the setting and background music of the movie. The very Asian (Japanese) setting of the LA districts, the floating billboard ads, the flying cars and the heaven-like setting of Tyrell HQ are all brilliant. The climax strongly reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey, though the scenes here are easier to understand (who is God and so on). The movie raises lots of questions (for example, is Deckard himself a replicant?) that makes it all the more interesting. Highly recommended watch.

Animal Farm

I must thank VC and P for bringing up George Orwell’s Animal Farm so many times that I ended up reading it this weekend. This is the first Orwell work I have read, no not read 1984 yet.

The novella is about animals on a farm that free themselves from their human masters. At first they work hard, have equality and are happy. Soon, different classes form (pigs, dogs, the rest) and the farm takes on a communist flavour. From here on, Orwell takes the reader on a complete transition of the farm from freedom to communism to communist-dictatorship. Since Orwell is using animals (instead of humans) he can create classes and gets away with some brilliant analogies. The book is tiny and takes only a few hours. Must read.

The book leaves a lot of questions hanging. It shows how even in an ideal communist flavour of an equal society, greed and power will slowly work their way and turn it into hell. But, what kind of society/governance was that of Mr. Jones (their human owner)? Monarchy/dictatorship? Communism certainly didn’t work on the farm, but was there really a better solution where one class wouldn’t screw the rest? I don’t expect Orwell to answer this, but the question is inevitable. Also scary is the fact that the techniques the pigs use on the animals can be seen at work in both the most famous and the most popular democracies of the world today. I don’t mean to say that these are becoming communist, but rather that the public no longer know what’s really happening with them.

The Descent

The Descent (4/5) — A year after losing her husband and kid in a car accident, Sarah goes spelunking in the Appalacian Mountains with her female friends. They mistakenly enter unexplored caves. Then as the cave exit crumbles, lights dim, hopes fade, accidents happen and strange carnivorous humanoids stake them out. The movie doesn’t conclude when it ends, Sarah lives but is not free yet.

I usually stay away from gore, but liked this movie. Be prepared to be scared (I would’ve been shit scared had I seen this on the big screen), the dark and claustrophobic caves are superb and there will be a bloodbath after the creatures show up. Thankfully, the movie had just the right length and even had a backstory to lend mystery, so I enjoyed it. Watch maadi.

Half-Marathon: You Can Do It

Motivation to run has been almost zero in the last few weeks. I picked up Jeff Galloway’s Half-Marathon: You Can Do It to perk up the spirits and prepare for the dreaded SG Marathon which I signed up for. (All thanks to you folks! I would’ve safely run in the 10K, but no you want me to do the half. Now I won’t even be able to complete the half-marathon I signed up for! 😛 ) The book is short and colorful with lots of runner photos. But, that’s just about it. Other than a few tips you can glean here and there, Jeff seems to be just bullshitting his way through the book. There are entire sections in the book which don’t say anything in summary. For example, the section on food doesn’t suggest what kind of foods to eat or the section on cross training doesn’t suggest any example exercises. Jeff might be the most popular author on running (I haven’t seen his other books), but I was very disappointed with this book.

Life In A … Metro

Life In A … Metro (4/5) — I wasn’t expecting much and the movie turned out to be surprisingly good. Again, it’s about relationships which are at different stages and complexities. There is a thread connecting all the 6 stories. The most entertaining is the one between Konkana Sen and Irfan Khan. The most forgettable one is between granddaddy Dharmendra and Nafisa Ali (what were they thinking!). I even liked the way the songs are interspersed into the flow of the movie, the music’s good (see this for example). Definitely a good watch.