Program Notes From The Blogger Formerly Known as Pretentious Art Douche

Dear all,

I’ve been even more absent than usual, for which I apologize to any who’ve noticed (and cared about the absence) and wish coal-in-stockings for all those who were cheering the blessed silence.

Nothing disastrous has intervened — just a job that continues to kick my ass more than I thought likely, and seems, despite expectations, likely to keep on doing so for a while.  I’ve got a bunch of stuff half written (aka, with a title and or a piece of art cued up, and nothing much else).  But it may take me a while to get any of it out, which is why this bit of self-promotion is even less than usually paid-for by actual content.

But it’s at least plausible that some of you all might be interested in the conversation I’m going to have with science writer Tim Ferris this coming Wednesday.  This will be the third installment of my trial run as a once-a-month host there, and it will go out live at 9 p.m. EST/6 p.m PST as a web broadcast on Blog Talk Radio, a Second Life farrago, and ultimately as an archived podcast.

Tim is best known as a writer about cosmology and the history of attempts to figure it all out.  His books include The Red Limit, Coming of Age in the Milky Way and The Whole Shebang to name just three out of a much longer bibliography. He’s a fine film-maker and presenter as well, with three feature docs on PBS to his credit — most recently, Seeing in the Dark, Tim’s love letter to amateur astronomy, cleverly interwoven with just enough memoir to welcome the viewer directly into the passion Tim shares with the subjects of this movie.  (Full disclosure — I worked with Tim on some of the early phases of this project, so I may not be the least biased reviewer…but still, it bears elegant witness to the essential truth that the sky is a pleasure open literally to anyone on earth.)

We will talk about some of this.  It would be foolish not to, given Tim’s wealth of knowledge, and because cosmology is in fine form these days.  But we’ll spend at least as much of the hour, maybe more, talking about Tim’s most recent book, The Science of Liberty, published last year. It is both a historical essay examining what Tim argues is the essential connection between liberalism and scientific thinking (and vice versa)  — and a polemic to advance the view that, as Tim puts it in the last paragraph of the book:

“…science and liberalism have an unequaled capacity for doing good — for reducing cruel ignorance and villainous certitude, encouraging freedom and effective government, promoting human rights, putting food in the mouths of the hungry and attainable prospects in their future.

I have some quibbles with details of his argument that leads to that point — we may get into one or two of them — but to that claim I say, in a perfectly secular way, Amen and Amen.

Come on down on Wednesday.  Should be interesting.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, The Night Watch, (I know — but I couldn’t resist the pun.  See also, the categories.), 1642

21 replies
  1. 1
    trollhattan says:

    That’s great. Ferris is a fantastic writer who can make very complex concepts accessible to those of us with simple brains. (Bwaaaains!)

  2. 2
    srv says:

    I’d be interested in any comments about anti-intellectualism since the Renaissance and how today compares.

  3. 3
    pete says:

    Rembrandt needs no excuse. Nor do puns. Together they are invincible.

  4. 4
    Benjamin Franklin says:

    No politics…meh.

    Just kidding.

  5. 5
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Unfortunately, science sometimes gets sidetracked into destruction. There is something to be said that warfare triggers a lot of advancement of knowledge, simply out of the sheer improvisational necessity it often requires.

    Still, the link between science and liberalism is strong, if only you note who the most rabid anti-science people out there are. Generally your idiot reactionaries and god-bothered twits.

  6. 6
    Yutsano says:

    Tom Levenson is a lie. Or that’s what CNN told me anyway. We still luvs ya, ya big lug.

  7. 7
    Corner Stone says:

    Personally, I think Art Douche may be the most perfect nom de blog I’ve ever seen.

  8. 8
    Steeplejack says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    [. . .] for reducing fuel ignorance [. . .].

    Is “fuel” a typo there? “Cruel ignorance”? Wha’ . . .?

  9. 9
    bystander says:

    Goody! The Google is sending me an email so I don’t miss it.

  10. 10
    PGE says:

    I can never see that painting without being reminded of the King Crimson tune of the same name, which is about the painting, and which includes one of my all time favorite guitar solos. It’s running thru my head right now. Thanks!

  11. 11
    scav says:

    Huzzah! a large jpg sighting! As I’ll be staring at altogether too much of the I-80/90 on Wednesday, a further huzzah for large mp3s!

  12. 12
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Steeplejack: Fixt. Though I haz a sad. I started composing definitions of “fuel ignorance” in my head…

  13. 13
    mclaren says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Yes, well, it’s not so much that science and the scientific method lead inevitably to spiffy and peachy-keen results (think “atom bomb,” “universal surveillance cameras,” “hellfire missiles on UAV drones,” “modern sensory-deprivation torture” and so on)…

    …As much as the starkly unrelieved track record of anti-rational magical thinking for getting things wrong and hurting people.

    DNA manipulation may have bad as well as good appplications, but anti-scientific obscurantism like Social Darwinism has absolutely no good applications at all.

    DNA-based evolution may well give rise to custom-designed terrorist bioweapons as well as new vaccines to cure ugly diseases, but creationism has zero potential to improve the conditions of life for everyday people in the real world.

    Nuclear power can produce nuclear weapons as well as electricity, but Wilhelm Reich’s “orgone energy” produces nothing whatever, aside from loads of bullshit.

  14. 14
    suzanne says:

    Please never stop being a Pretentious Art Douche. I need company.

    That painting is one of my favorites, although it’s Rembrandt’s etchings that never fail to slay me. I think he, Egon Schiele, and Kathe Kollwitz are the best portraitists EVAR.

  15. 15
    Jerzy Russian says:

    I have one of Ferris’s book (The Red Limit…), and it was a pretty good read.

    I can relate to having a job that kicks your ass.

  16. 16
  17. 17
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Doctor Science: Fly that freak flag high, brother. Very nice post, and glorious art.

  18. 18
    am says:

    I’m mostly a lurker, but I just wanted to say I enjoy the heck out of your posts. Congrats on your success (better that than bored) and looking forward to the talk w/ Tim Ferris.

  19. 19
    Steeplejack says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    Yeah, I was doing the same thing. “Oh, God, another issue I have to worry about–fuel ignorance.”

  20. 20
    RSA says:

    Your posts are my favorites, Tom. Wear that Pretentious Art Douche badge with pride.

    I’ve got a bunch of stuff half written (aka, with a title and or a piece of art cued up, and nothing much else).

    I say this, too, when I have little more than a written abstract, a bunch of raw experimental data, and an outline in my head.

  21. 21
    canuckistani says:

    Timothy Ferris was the catalyst for my getting serious about amateur astronomy with Seeing in the Dark. It really put it in my mind that I could be out there doing actual science. And I’m grateful to him.

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