Chicken Little

by Henry on November 10, 2009

Paul Krugman links to an “excellent take-down”: by Elizabeth Kolbert of the notorious climate change chapter in _Superfreakonomics._

what’s most troubling about “SuperFreakonomics” isn’t the authors’ many blunders; it’s the whole spirit of the enterprise. Though climate change is a grave problem, Levitt and Dubner treat it mainly as an opportunity to show how clever they are. Leaving aside the question of whether geoengineering, as it is known in scientific circles, is even possible—have you ever tried sending an eighteen-mile-long hose into the stratosphere?—their analysis is terrifyingly cavalier. A world whose atmosphere is loaded with carbon dioxide, on the one hand, and sulfur dioxide, on the other, would be a fundamentally different place from the earth as we know it. Among the many likely consequences of shooting SO2 above the clouds would be new regional weather patterns (after major volcanic eruptions, Asia and Africa have a nasty tendency to experience drought), ozone depletion, and increased acid rain.

Kolbert’s closing words are, however, a little unfair.

To be skeptical of climate models and credulous about things like carbon-eating trees and cloudmaking machinery and hoses that shoot sulfur into the sky is to replace a faith in science with a belief in science fiction. This is the turn that “SuperFreakonomics” takes, even as its authors repeatedly extoll their hard-headedness. All of which goes to show that, while some forms of horseshit are no longer a problem, others will always be with us.

Not unfair to Levitt and Dubner, mind you, but to science fiction. After all, two science fiction authors, Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, had their number down way back in 1953 with _The Space Merchants_ (Pohl, amazingly, is still alive and active).

The Conservationists were fair game, those wild eyed zealots who pretended modern civilization was in some way “plundering” our planet. Preposterous stuff. Science is _always_ a step ahead of the failure of natural resources. After all, when real meat got scarce, we had soyaburgers ready. When oil ran low, technology developed the pedicab.

A Nice Picture

by John Holbo on November 10, 2009

But I’m never going to read a long post on typography and philosophy, you object. There’s life! The whole world awaits me! Well, alright. Just look at this, then.

Typography, Philosophy and the Nazi Question

by John Holbo on November 10, 2009

My colleague Axel Gelfert just launched a bold book review-type literary thing, The Berlin Review of Books. And he kindly invited me to review a big fat book, Jan Tschichold: Master Typographer: His Life, Work and Legacy [amazon], for his grand opening. So here is my review. It’s a long one. My main pivot is around one quote from the master, from 1959:

In the light of my present knowledge, it was a juvenile opinion to consider the sans serif as the most suitable or even the most contemporary typeface. A typeface has first to be legible, nay, readable, and a sans serif is certainly not the most legible typeface when set in quantity, let alone readable … Good typography has to be perfectly legible and, as such, the result of intelligent planning … The classical typefaces such as Garamond, Janson, Baskerville, and Bell are undoubtedly the most legible. In time, typographical matters, in my eyes, took on a very different aspect, and to my astonishment I detected most shocking parallels between the teachings of Die neue Typographie and National Socialism and fascism. Obvious similarities consist in the ruthless restriction of typefaces, a parallel to Goebbel’s infamous Gleichschaltung (enforced political conformity) and the more or less militaristic arrangement of lines.

[click to continue…]

London, 1927

by Harry on November 10, 2009