Locklin on science

Michael Pollan is a public menace

Posted in Book reviews, five minute university by Scott Locklin on October 7, 2021

I used to live near Pollan; probably stole his parking spot a few times at Berkeley Bowl. I remember him as one of those mincing ninnies who went in transports over the 100 different varieties of pepper or apple available in this place. This sort of consumerist “foodie” affectation is a common sort of snobbery among atheistic Berkleyites. People with Berkeley style moral autism get their pre-religious purity rituals from consumerist virtue spirals, rather than attempting to be a good person in any recognizably human sense. People who fly all over the world on a whim are more likely to drive an electric car than a V-10 truck. People who stick miles of wart-laden ding-dongs up their own assholes end up being more persnickety about sticking, say, Oscar Meyer hot dogs in their gobs. This sort of poseurism overlooks the fact that humans are basically able to do pretty well on a diet of pure seal blubber, but ultimately I can forgive such tendencies as a mild mental illness resulting from poor parenting techniques or too much soy or whatever.

Pollan, though, has gone too far. I have already gone on record stating the man has blood on his hands for his advocacy of CIA mind control drugs. I know at least two victims of his idiocy who have had very serious mental health problems because they read a book or listened to a podcast involving this blockhead, and I have strong suspicions about a third. I’m not someone who suffers fools or psychedelic users gladly, so I’m sure my sample is biased away from people susceptible to hippy dippy BS there are tens or hundreds of thousands more out there.

Now Pollan wants us all to give up coffee. Oh yeah, and he also wants you to try opium and mescaline, which are available in common household plants he wants to tell you about.

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As is usual with our, um “elites” this pile of dung will pay no price for the outright evil he has wrought. In fact, as usual, his PR weasels have made it seem like his, erm, “ideas” (mind you; quit coffee, do mescaline and opium, because we’re short crazy people and junkies and have too many productive people in America) are an important part of the “national conversation.”

Back in the dark ages before we had “enlighted”  dunghills like this yutz, people would actually consider whether or not the fashionable interests of the upper middle class might have a bad effect on the lesser orders. That was back before we had a “meritocracy”  -the old elite were big on common decency and looking after their social inferiors, if only because lower orders had to man their factories, the armies and industrial concerns. Modern upper middle class and upper class dorks think non-millionaires are moral defectives who didn’t study hard enough to go to Harvard, or were too stupid to have parents that sent them to summer in Europe. The idea of singing the praises of addictive and mind-altering chemicals wouldn’t have occurred to the regressive pre-meritocratic upper middle classes. Sure, De Quincy wrote a book about being a hop-head junkie in 1820; it wasn’t meant to tempt office workers into trying it out.

Modern upper middle class buffoons can usually survive an encounter with psychedelics, or becoming addicted to opiates or dealing with caffeine withdrawal headaches. Middle class through poor people mostly can’t. The complete lack of care for such people displayed by twee knuckleheads like Pollan really harshes on my mellow. At best it evinces an utter lack of thoughtfulness. At worst, a hostility bordering on genocidal.

 

muh consoom muh substances

Then there is the mawkish superannuated adolescence of it all.  What sort of degenerate zero in his 60s finds meaning in something as insipid as quitting coffee for a month or dropping peyote or …. opiates. These are trivial experiences, best avoided all together; only a twee urban narcissist could find them of any interest. Of course, twee NPR listening urban narcissists are to first approximation the Michael Pollan Reading Public in America these days. Unfortunately, the same people are administrators of many American institutions, which is probably why everything is so incredibly shitty current year.
 

Here’s a suggestion for 60 year old adolescents, whose subject appears to be sticking various substances in their meatsacks: become addicted to nicotine, and quit. Nicotine makes caffeine look like mid-afternoon naps for powers of concentration, and is a more intense experience to quit. There are delightful forms of it which wouldn’t even involve a risk of cancer or lung damage: I favor Freiborg and Treyer snuffs. It would actually be daring for a Michael Pollan to do this, as it violates the folkways of the twittering pustules in his social circles, who all probably think nicotine is some dangerous carcinogen (it’s not). While he’s doing this he can take up bodybuilding and steroids on a no-carb ketogenic diet; at the very least he’ll end up less of an annoying fucking nellie; at best, maybe he’ll have material for a further book. My suggestions are considerably less physiologically and psychologically dangerous than taking up opiates or cactus-mescaline, and are vastly more profound than quitting morning coffee. They also require considerably more grit and determination than Pollan’s lotus-eater habits. And if people imitated these hobbies, it might actually do people some good, quite unlike something like quitting morning coffee.
 

I could go into more details, but it’s mostly dull: his soliciting a Loompanix-famous nutty muslim junkie to help him conspire to violate drug laws by growing his own opium is both weedy and boring; this is literally the kind of antics I got up to when I was 15.  The coffee section had questionable history, even more dubious science, and … boring. The San Pedro cactus section is predictably florid and Bay Area retarded, featuring a hippy lady with fake-indian “ceremonies” and “traditions.”  You’ll find deeper insights and vastly more interesting experiences for free on bluelight or erowid.
 
I mean really, what’s next Michael Pollan? Are you going to take up smoking amphetamines while exploring ethical non-monogamy and Tantric pegging? Igobaine suppositories to quit the opium habit, with a side dish of traditional African bush meat while on photo  safari?  Perhaps Michael Pollan will smoke PCP at Burning Man, stick needles in his scrotum in an S&M ceremony and claim it helped him with his depression? I still think the nicotine to steroid bodybuilder to Janae pipeline would be more entertaining, but all of these are good options. How about the ancient Wall Street tradition of snorting blow off the ass of hookers? I could easily imagine him copying out some horse shit he read about Chimu indians making sex0rz pottery while hoovering lines off of women’s hineys, then with a slightly pretentious wikipedia tier digression on whores and coke used by the Arditi in Gabriele D’Annunzio’s anarchist Fiume. The book will culminate with him participating in the traditional ceremony; counting his loot after his last book sale, then delicately hoovering some blow off of Annie Sprinkle’s derriere, while she shoots ping pong balls out her hoo-ha, spooking his two cats, and causing some sort of cod-profundo realization about how he always wanted to be a DJ.

 
Honestly, Michael Pollan is the wine and cheese writer for the free local hippy “community” weekly newspaper. The one with the ads for strip clubs and pot stores in the back. Somehow he escaped from his rightful place in the world as obscure community paper foodie scribbler, and now he afflicts us all with his nonsense. I mean, if you actually take this ridiculous goober seriously, you do realize that people are laughing at you, right?

Books which inspired Robert E Howard

Posted in Book reviews by Scott Locklin on September 22, 2021

“My tastes and habits are simple; I am neither erudite nor sophisticated. I prefer jazz to classical music, musical burlesques to Greek tragedy, A. Conan Doyle to Balzac, Bob Service’s verse to Santayana’s writing, a prize fight to a lecture on art.”

Robert E. Howard books; Conan and Bran Mak Morn are a sort of peak pulp storytelling of a certain kind, just as his friend HPL’s stories are peak pulp horror. The main problem with his books are there aren’t enough of them. The man killed himself at age 30, so he wasn’t drawing on a particularly deep reading life. You have to figure there was a lot of Conan taken directly from the stuff he read, and Conan fans might get a kick out of his literary interests.

Howard of course had a basic background in classic literature, as most high school graduates did in his day: Shakespeare, The Bible, Beowulf, The Norse Sagas, Arabian Knights, the Greeks and Romans. For a small example, Conan was a Cimmerian; Cimmerians were the Scythians of ancient history, written about by Herodotus. Howard was also interested, as were many in his day, in Theosophy and their weird ideas about Atlantis and Lemuria. He was  a fan of Kipling, Sax Rohmer, Jack London, Rider Haggard (who is amazing and largely forgotten) and Edgar Rice Burroughs and the myriad of Authors in Adventure magazine. I could talk about these guys in detail, but I figure it is more useful to outline some more obscure pieces I’ve read fairly recently.

Harold Lamb was a big influence on Howard. One of the writers for Adventure magazine, he churned out what can only be described as pulpy …. but extremely accurate historical fiction. I felt like I got more out of reading his “Theodora and the Emperor”  than I did out of reading Procopius. It’s not high literature, but it portrays the protagonists as complete characters in a way that historians are unable to, which is a considerable work of imagination. I’d put this book below something like the I, Claudius books, but maybe close in quality to Robert Graves Count Belisarius (same characters, completely different interpretation of them). Graves treated Belisarius as a sort of good guy tragic Mary Sue, and the Emperor and Empress as sort of malign ciphers. Lamb wrote his work a couple of decades later, and concentrated on the psychological furniture of Justinian and Theodora, who were, to say the least, obviously very complicated and interesting people. Justinian was an educated peasant who was adopted by maternal uncle, an illiterate but extremely capable soldier who eventually became Emperor. Justinian himself had no military experience, but was a political genius who oversaw a reconquest of large swathes of the Roman empire, revised roman law, rebuilt the city and oversaw many momentous events. Theodora was a former circus worker;  a sort of circus porn star and prostitute. From these humble beginnings she became a powerful and beloved leader, and one could say an early advocate for women’s rights from a woman who suffered greatly in her past life. As such they’re a lot more interesting as characters than Belisarius, who, frankly does kind of come across as a sort of tragic Mary Sue in the chronicles. Howard never read this specific book as it came in the 1950s, but it and Lamb himself is quite a find for historical fiction fans, and gives views of the type of author which inspired Howard. I have only thumbed through his other books on  Crusaders and Gengis Khan, but they look real promising also. We know REH had read Tamerlane and The Crusades and I stuck ’em on my Kobo for a rainy day.

Howard also read Flaubert’s undeservedly forgotten Salammbo. My pal Marty Halpern suggested this as a good book to read while on vacation in Lisbon, for the Carthaginian feels. In fact it was pretty appropriate appropriate, especially for the month long Santos Populares festival, which mostly takes place in former Carthaginian neighborhoods of Alfama. The book tells a bizarre story about some mercenaries hired by the Carthaginians and the Eponymous princess to fight for Carthage, and what happens when Carthage can’t pay up. It’s … brobdingnagian, energetic, sensuous and basically a fully formed sword and sorcery story written with the highest French literary qualities by Gustave freaking Flaubert (of Madame Bovary fame) and published in 1862. This makes absolutely no sense. It makes even less sense he lifted it all from an actual historical event in Polybius’ Histories. Nobody reads it any more because it was a “minor novel from a major novelist,” but I think this assessment is a mistake. It’s great fun, and as it literally invented an enormous genre of fiction, it is at least as important as the invention of modern literary narrative in Madame Bovary. I figure the type of weedy literary schnerd who pretends to ajudicate the importance of old novels is more comfortable with the neuraesthenic middle class people portrayed in Madame Bovary than they are with human-sacrificing witch-queens and barbarian mercenaries, even if the latter were actual people who really lived and did precisely the things described in the book. Flaubert himself wrote the book to be the diametric opposite of Bovary, to avoid becoming typecast as that guy who writes claustrophobic psychological novels about neuraesthenic middle class schmedleys in France. Anyway, don’t listen to the literary schnerds; read Salammbo if you like Conan books, or history or any other kind of books involving sword and sandal.

Salammbo; note this isn’t painted by Frazetta in the 70s; Henri Adrien Tanoux in 1921

The Book of Invasions. Howard like many Americans had a romantic identification with his Irish ancestry. Conan’s god Crom was actually an Irish god, Crom Cruach. Conan himself has an Irish name. The Book of Invasions; a weird book compiled in the 11th century, telling the possibly true tales of multiple tribes invading the island of Ireland. It’s considered mythological these days, because you know, modern people are real good at not believing in false and stupid horse shit, but back in Howard’s day it was considered to be at least partially conventional history. It’s a completely bonkers piece of literature; there are pre-celtic tribes, huge plagues, several supernatural races of demigods, and eventually the Irish show up. It’s more bizarre a document than any sword and sorcery background mythos I’ve ever read; positively Lovecraftian in places, with supernatural races and epic battles galore.

 

Insanely awesome online scholarship on the books REH read:

The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf

 

 

He was too good for this earth

Posted in fun by Scott Locklin on September 16, 2021

ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν, ἀποθνῄσκει νέος

 

Observations of n00b amateur astronomer

Posted in astronomy by Scott Locklin on August 19, 2021

I’ve been meaning to buy a telescope for about 20 years; I recently did so. Here are a few observations, most of which have nothing to do with astronomy as a hobby per-se.

The telescope:

I bought for my main gizmo an 8″ Celestron SCT Evolution, more or less because my old boss in the LBNL optical metrology lab told me to (thanks Wayne). It’s an interesting basket of compromises. The optical quality seems reasonable  and its designed to work pretty well with cheap 1.25″ eyepieces. The computer control handset thing comes default with it is …. adequate, but you have to be able to find the stars it’s interested in for alignment. This isn’t always possible in the city. The red dot sight you need to actually use this computer control is worthless and ceased to function after two days. The LED in the thing stopped working, and the “mount” the LED sat in fell apart; this is insanely bad, almost unbelievable. Begin the acquisition treadmill: telrad is pretty cool bit of Norden bombsight Americano know-how.  The StarSense handset and alignment camera is what it should come with. StarSense is a  system with a camera mounted to the optical tube, which takes pictures of random places in the sky and figures out the orientation of the telescope, and more or less how to navigate to anything you’d like.

Back in the day when I was 9 or so and planning on being an astronaut, I was a pretty good backyard astronomer; kept track of when/where the meteors and planets would be and could point out lots of interesting things in a suburban night sky. I’ve of course forgotten most of it. I also no longer live in a suburb; full on city canyon with Bortle 9 most of the time. So, even if I was as sharp as I was when I was 9, there sure ain’t many visible stars most of the time. As such, using the tracking gizmo that comes with the thing, or the extra StarSense thing for alignment isn’t cheating; it’s the only way to see much of anything.

The software for it is almost total garbage from a usability perspective. Celestron makes some wifi thing you’re supposed to connect to with a laptop or ipotato. It kinda sorta sometimes works if you don’t mind steering the scope around with non-tactile ipotato screen buttons. Ridiculously insecure and I really wish I could turn it off. For handsets, I’d pay the $400 extra for the StarSense handset even if it didn’t come with the camera which aligns to stars without you peeping through the Norden Bomb sight. Every time you turn the thing on, it forgets what time and day it is; this is a reminder to buy the $200 GPS module. Fun gotcha; it asks you the first time you turn it on where it lives, then remembers that forever; if you bork it up, it lives at Celestron HQ somewhere in California. Despite not knowing what time it is, it “knows” where it is.  This makes it impossible to align to the night sky, since you’re not actually in California. This is with the StarSense handset; with the other one you need to tell it where you live as well, and in degrees minutes seconds (as opposed to fractional degrees like on your ipotato); every time. Again, all of this is to get you to buy the $200 GPS module which I stubbornly refuse to do. At some point I’ll figure out the protocol they use to communicate and build my own for $5, which I will sell to Celestron nerds for half price.

The mount would occasionally hilariously move in 350 degree arcs West to move 10 degrees East. This came from something called “cordwrap mode.” This is one of those things that really evinces a dim view of human nature; one which is probably fully justified and why even amateur astronomers can’t have nice things. There are all kinds of serial cables festooning these machines; early on in the history of the Celestron computer mounts, people would do moron things like slew around until the cables were so tight they pulled the connectors off. So Celestron introduced cordwrap mode which carefully ensures it never rotates past some arbitrary line in its alignment which is always inconveniently near where you want to telescope around. Because people are morons, this “cordwrap mode” is not only the default: it is reset to be turned on every time you use/align the telescope. So you have to navigate some dumb unintuitive menu to turn it off,  to avoid the thing moving in 358 degree arcs to see the thing which is 2 degrees away. You also have to avoid being this stupid, which is harder than it sounds.

The other fun thing; by default it basically moves at MAXIMUM SPEED (4 degrees per second) to slew to whatever object you want to see next. Seems like that would be OK, especially if it’s taking 350 degree detours. Except MAXIMUM SPEED is also ludicrously loud. And you’re using this thing at 2 or 3 in the morning; in my case  mostly in a densely populated city with neighbors who already think I’m a lunatic for shirtless weight lifting. Navigating the stygian depths of the preposterously unintuitive menu system, you can find a place to set this to be 1.5 or 2 degrees per second where it is pretty reasonable in volume.

It’s obvious the MBAs at Celestron are selling this setup as “does everything for intermediate or well-off beginner astronomer.” But it is equally obvious that it should have been sold with the StarSense thing in the first place, or at least a red-dot thing that works. Their business model is definitely add-on sales. Otherwise it’s mostly an acceptable setup. Oh yeah; eyepieces: you get two, one of which is a useful 40mm plossl. The other one (13mm plossl) is pretty weak and I’ll give it to whoever wants it. Eyepieces are a whole ‘nuther ball of wax. Eyepieces are absurdly expensive; there exist eyepieces which cost as much as or even more than a decent telescope. They actually do make a big difference though. Some of the wider field of view eyepieces are truly huge; some weighing north of a kilogram. For contrast; the C8 is considered a medium big telescope and the optical tube assembly (OTA) only weighs 5.6kg.

From an engineering point of view, the SCT design telescope itself has some flaws. Obvious weak point: the focuser is shit and probably needs to be replaced. The mirror should also be lockable, and apparently is when you buy from other manufacturers -nothing like having your focal point change when you move the telescope around. The thing is also F/10/2000mm long in focal length, which makes it a bit difficult to point without all kinds of help. Finally if I had bought the 9.25″ scope, it would have had a better tripod (while pushing the mount to its limits). Tripod and mount are pretty important. If you screw something up here, the thing will vibrate preposterously and you won’t see anything.

The online community:

Astronomy is in principle the type of community I like. Nerdy people who appreciate the wonders of the universe.  It’s a little bit like gun forums; a bunch of mostly male nerds  festooning their pointy phallic cylinders with extra expensive doodads to eke out some marginal or imaginary performance improvement. It’s also a little like wristwatch or automotive forums in that it is preposterously consumer treadmill oriented. Despite the nerdiness of the hobby, the forums have one of the absolute worst signal to noise ratios of any community I’ve ever seen. You’d think it’s pretty simple: dudes who want to see space junk. Optical physics is otherwise pretty inarguable. But the hobby is  irrational and different subsets of it have widely different goals. You have the crowd that wants to look at stuff with their eyeballs, and also the crowd that wants to use software to stitch together CCD images to “see” photos you could download a better version of on the interbutts. When you ask for advice, you have to be very specific as to which crowd you belong to, or might belong to in the future. Generally, people from the wrong crowd will also give you unhelpful advice, even when you ask them not to.

Lots of it, honestly, is upper middle class nerds counting coups by having a bigger space dong and encouraging their fellows to purchase similarly enormous collections of space dongs.  Even more hilarious: the actual things  … have dimensions kinda somewhere between astronomer and porn star.  “Hey friend, you’re not one of those 1.25″ diameter elbow cucks, join the 2” elbow crew, and enjoy spending hundreds of dollars on new glans-penis-looking tumescent eyepieces.” I have a little education in physics; what’s more; I used to actually do optical metrology, and I even have some experience in the building of optical equipment. Many of these people are speaking nonsense. There’s a lot of it in the telescope community; it’s a weird mixture of meat and potatoes optics and audioph00l tier blubbering.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, if that’s what you’re into, bro, it’s just the whole group madness of it all. Personally I’d rather spend the money on showgirls:

The astronomy nerds I’ve actually met in person are pretty cool though. You have to figure they’re posting on forums when in the throes of consumerist madness, angry at their junky telescopes, or pissed off that it’s cloudy or they live in a shitty place where they can’t see anything. Ed Ting is a fixture in the astronomy community and his sort of avuncular uncle personality is pretty common.

OK, so the community leaves something to be desired, and its an expensive consumerist treadmill. It’s still pretty cool looking at space stuff. Insanely cool, really. Globular clusters, nebulas, colorful double stars, the moon and planets are all pretty amazing even in the city. Things in the countryside are completely bonkers.

The telescope-2:

One of the things you immediately realize with this sort of thing is it’s a pain in the ass to drag something like this 100 yards away, up a hill. It’s also a pain in the ass to box it up and stick it in a car and drive somewhere with it (and then unbox it, set it up and align it); at which point you might as well book a hotel 2 hours out of the city and have properly dark skies and make a couple day trip of it. Sometimes you just want a peep at the moon which is on the other side of the building or whatnot. Hence the “grab and go” scope. Something you can stick in a backpack or bring on an airplane. Because I hate half-baked solutions, I got a little Takahashi FC-76DCU I can break down and shove in a camera bag. Takahashis are not the ne plus ultra; those are oddly enough all American scopes which you have to wait  …. years for.  Takahashis are the “future collectors item you can buy today” brand. You get a little autographed thing that tells you about the guy who made your telescope (in Japanese), and the serial number. Which in my case means “80th telescope made in  1st year of reign of glorious Emperor Naruhito.” No, really, it’s by year of the Emperor’s reign.

As with the Celestron, the mount is as important as the  telescope; in this case another Japanese thing, which I outfitted with …. timing tape to make it actually orientable. It’s not as accurate as a push-to computer mount, but it only requires I have a working cell phone to get coordinates (or a planisphere and some basic sky sense).  With a high end doodad like this you can get a really sharp focus, and while you can’t see as much as with the SCT due to less light being collected, it ain’t bad. Considering how much easier it is to move around, it’s going everywhere I go where it might be dark.

 

Since I live in a city, most of the time I have a hard time looking at deep space objects, but stuff like planetary nebulas, planets, moon and globular clusters are no problemo, and are of various degrees of awesomeness.

Outside of the city though, holy shit space is awesome. We all have (hopefully) experienced night skies such as all of our ancestors have. Despite the best efforts of miscreants like Elon Musk to bomb your views with his dumb porn-transmitting satellites, it’s still pretty impressive. With a telescope it’s even more amazeballs.  Just point to a random part of the milky way with a small telescope and you’ll feel like Captain Kirk exploring the universe.