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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Earth-sized worlds much more common than giant planets

By Pallab Ghosh for BBC News

28 October 2010

Nearly one in four stars like the Sun could have Earth-sized planets, according to a new estimate published in the journal Science. A US team has found that on average small, so-called rocky planets are much more common in orbit close to their star than giant planets planets similar in size to Jupiter. This estimate is based on observations from nearby stars taken by the twin 10-metre Keck telescopes in Hawaii. These show that 22 of the stars had detectable planets. The researchers estimated that about 1.6% of the Sun-like stars in their sample had Jupiter-size planets and 12% had so-called "super-Earths", which are between three and 10 times the mass of the Earth.

The Keck telescopes are not powerful enough to detect planets that are any smaller, so the scientists have assumed that this trend toward more smaller planets continues and estimated that 23 of the stars had Earth-sized planets. Dr Andrew Howard, from the University of California at Berkeley, admits that the estimate is currently impossible to back up using existing data. However, he says it is the first estimate that has been obtained using observations of relatively small planets. "This extrapolation is the least certain part of our analysis. The true answer might be one in eight or one in two - but we know that it isn't one in 100," he told BBC News.

Based on these statistics, Dr Howard says that Nasa's Kepler space telescope - which is to to survey 156,000 stars - will detect between 120 and 260 "plausibly terrestrial worlds. If there's life out there, it's most likely that it exists on rocky planets like our own Earth. So if there are more rocky small planets out there, then it seems more likely that there's life out there too," he said. But according to Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society, most of the worlds they predict exist would be too close to be habitable. "We probably need to wait a bit longer before we find a significant number of 'Earths' in habitable zones of their parent stars."

[OK, so we’re still very much in the realm of speculation at this point but the circumstantial evidence pointing to life elsewhere is steadily accumulating. If small rocky planets are more common that the super gas giants and those are fairly common – as these things go – then it looks likely that life has plenty of spots out there in which to emerge just as we did. I’m confident that life exists elsewhere in the galaxy. It’s really just a matter of time until we find it – or until it finds us.]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Just Finished Reading: The Forever Man by Gordon R Dickson

In the far future mankind has been at war with the mysterious Laagi for generations. Neither side can gain the advantage as the war drags on crippling both of their planets economies. In the midst of this, star pilot Major Wander and his team are sent on a special mission deep into enemy territory. The mission is the rescue the Earth ship La Chasse Gallerie and bring back its pilot Raoul Penard presumed lost over 100 years earlier. The hope is that the nearly discover ship can provide answers to who the aliens are, what they want and how they can be defeated before Earth exhausts itself in fruitless warfare amongst the stars.

I haven’t read much of this authors work since I enjoyed his Dorsai series of Combat SF novels. So I was kind of looking forward to a more that reasonable read. It was not to be. The idea of a century’s long war against a mysterious alien enemy is not a new one but it can be handled well. Dickson’s handling of the conflict itself was adequate. He even came up with an interesting star ship propulsion system - based on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which was novel. He also had some interesting things to say about disembodied minds ‘melding’ with their ships. But apart from that things got a bit dull – actually very dull. Once the aliens were contacted (unknown to them) and studied – by two non-experts who endlessly theorised about them – what little action there was dried up completely and the book stagnated. The introduction of an exotic energy based life form did little to liven things up and the final third of the book became quite a slog. The ending I found to be rather bizarre – revolving around a love story between the pilot and the head of the science section – but I really didn’t have any inclination to re-read that section to make sense of it all. I was just glad it was all over. All in all a rather disappointing read after a fairly promising start. Definitely not recommended.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Thinking About: Ghosts and Ghoulies

With Halloween almost upon us my thoughts naturally turn to the supernatural – OK, not really but it seemed like a good way to start….. Anyway – ghosts and such like….. My short answer is that I don’t believe in them and never have (except maybe as a very young undiscriminating child). The problem I have with them is two fold. Firstly there is the matter of evidence – or should I say lack thereof? As with most other elements of supernaturalism there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hard evidence around to support it. This is what annoyed me most about the X-Files (for example), lots of running around, lots of spooky goings on and, no matter the amount of effort involved in the investigation, not one jot of credible evidence to support anything. You would think that, by now after hundreds of years of investigation and thousands of years of ‘eye-witness reports’ we’d have something to back it up. Instead we have unsupported testimony, feelings and the occasional grainy photograph that could be anything and could easily be faked. In this case absence of evidence is practically the same as evidence of absence.

My other problem, which I think is much greater than the mere lack of any evidence, is the fact that I do not believe that there is any mechanism whereby ghosts can be created. For instance you would have to have something that could survive a person’s death. This, according to some ghost stories, wouldn’t have to be the whole person just an image and some behaviour patterns but even so there would have had to be ‘something’ that could be transferred after death. This is where we get into the rather messy area of souls. Several major religions appear to believe that there is a unique part of us that is non-material and that survives the death of the physical body. Some believe that this is judged on death and goes to a good place/bad place. Others think that it is reincarnated according to how you have behaved in previous lives. Both agree that this non-corporeal, non-material thing is ‘you’. I have struggled with the amount of questions this raises. What is it? Where is it located? Why hasn’t it been detected (even by accident)? How exactly does a non-material thing (whatever that means) communicate with the physical realm? Of course, as with much of the supernatural, people have tried to shoehorn Quantum Mechanics into the frame. Maybe, they say, the mind in moments of anguish imprints parts of itself on the fabric of space-time thereby creating the illusion of ghostly activity that certain people – more sensitive than the rest of us – can detect to varying degrees. That certainly sounds feasible until you start asking those pesky questions again. How does the mind do this exactly? Can such imprinting be taught and produced at will? What level of anguish is required to produce a good image that people can see or feel? The more questions you ask the messier it gets. But that’s how the supernatural usually works. Taken at face value we have mysteries and explanations. Start digging and all you have are unanswerable questions.

Ghost stories are part of our culture because they are easy to believe, hard to disprove and often entertaining into the bargain. They can be used to back up the beautiful lie of life after death and as morality tales to keep people on the straight and narrow. They can be used to frighten young children and to sell some questionable merchandise at the end of October each year. Superstitions about ghosts and much else besides are not going away anytime soon but they are hangovers from an earlier less sceptical age. Enjoy them for what they are but don’t imagine that there really are things that go bump in the night.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Warning: Adult Content

As my Blog has reached a fully mature 5 years of age – how quickly they grow – and I myself am now officially in my 50’s I’ve decided to continue with my slow drift into more adult content. You will have noticed a few mentions of the F word – there are more on the way. You will also have noticed – and some of you will have appreciated – my series of pin-up art from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. This too will continue and, from time to time, show more than shapely legs and stockings. Even some of my upcoming cartoons will be more direct and, possibly, more aggressive in their condemnation of some of the things we continue to inflict on each other as people.

But there should be no real cause for alarm. Such mature content that I do post will be, evidenced by the picture above (which is a real cover BTW), in a style that you have become accustomed to. I certainly have no intention of turning this site into an adult only 18 certificate Blog. There are enough such sites out there without adding to them. I will remain playful, irreverent as well as, hopefully, interesting and entertaining but you may find some of the things I plan to post in the coming year surprising or even shocking. I hope that you won’t be too disturbed or, possibly, too disappointed. Don’t expect things to change overnight – they won’t. My life, when it does change, changes slowly. So this Blog will evolve as I do over an extended period of time. I just thought I’d post this heads-up so things don’t come as too much of a surprise to any of my regulars.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Just Finished Reading: Sceptical Essays by Bertrand Russell

It’s always nice to read a philosophy book rather than a book about philosophy. I also haven’t read any Russell from cover to cover since, probably, my early 20’s – so this was a nice change on both grounds. My immediate thought was that this book was very much of its time. Written in 1928 it is clear that the recent Great War still hung heavily over any intellectual thought process. An underlying theme expressed throughout this volume was the desire to avoid another conflict of this scale as well as the fear that such a conflict might be inevitable.

In some ways I found Russell’s ideas to be profoundly naïve. Obviously it’s easy, looking back with 20-20 hindsight, to see that his prophecy of a World Government in particular as no more that wishful thinking. Also his idealisation of Socialism as the solution to most of the world’s problems can be seen, with the knowledge we have of the failed Soviet state, as rather simplistic. Beyond these, honestly historical, issues I actually thought that he talked lots of sense. He was very liberal for the age and even seemed to be advocating gay rights – although he never actually came out directly to say that. The main thrust of this book was – naturally – a robust defence of scepticism particularly in politics and religion. He made a very good case that a sceptical outlook would prevent people from oppressing other groups because no one would hold any idea with enough certainty to justify that oppression. If I can’t be totally sure I’m right how can I justify attacking your beliefs which might actually be the correct one – hence a more tolerant society. Likewise, if scepticism was inculcated from an early age – particularly as part of the education process – it would be impossible (or at least very difficult) for any political party to lead people into war or any other disastrous endeavour. Actually Russell thought that scepticism could result in the end of political parties as it would be impossible to believe in any ideology totally enough for any kind of party political organisation to last for very long. What a very strange world that would be!

Ironically Russell ended on his ideas about the future of Western Civilisation – a growing economic power and the inevitability of a World State – just one year before the Great Crash of ’29 and the world war that followed on its heels. So in many ways this book is a purely historical document which reflects some of the ideas of the time. However, there are still enough general gems in there to make it worth a read. Russell is a man of his times and social class but he does try hard to be what we would consider to be a modern individual. No doubt he would be shocked by many things that we take for granted but I think he would be pleased at some of the obvious progress we have made since the late 1920’s. So this book is recommended on several levels – as a work of history and as a work of philosophy.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Favourite Movies: Alien Vs Predator

I’m sure that when this idea was presented to 20th Century Fox they saw huge $ signs. I mean it would be the popular Alien franchise meets the equally popular Predator franchise. It would be, at least it would seem, to be a sure fire hit. Apparently not it seems. Not only did the critics pan it – as did some of the fans – but I believe that it didn’t make a whole lot of money (which makes me wonder why they made another one).
Anyway, this movie started with the discovery of an ancient pyramid hidden under the ice for millennia. Every hundred years or so it is activated with the release of eggs from a captive Alien Queen with the resultant creatures hunted for sport – and kudos – by the galaxies foremost Predator. Thrown into the mix this time is an expedition of scientists and mercenaries intent on finding out the pyramids secrets. Forced to side with the Predator for her own survival the expedition lead – played by the beautiful Sanaa Lathan – helps the last remaining Predator to stop the Aliens breaking free and is rewarded with the mark of a warrior.

Although hardly great cinema I find this to be a highly entertaining and enjoyable fairly mindless adventure movie. Inevitably I’m in the producers target audience as, not only am I a SF geek; I’m a huge fan of both franchises. I actually think that this film does not deserve much of the criticism that has been levelled at it. The creatures are well done and the Predators in particular are shown as basically honourable if, in this movie at least, a bit too vulnerable to Alien attack. The fight scenes are very well choreographed and exciting enough. The ancient pyramid is interesting, if rather far fetched, and has some nice touches. The supporting cast were adequate enough even if they were basically alien fodder. All in all it was more than adequate. The only problem I really had was the last few minutes of the film where the slain Predator was taken aboard their ship which then left at high speed. Knowing what they do about the aliens personally I would have scanned him before leaving him in state….. But that would have put the kibosh on the sequel I guess…… If you are a fan of either franchise and have been put off seeing this film because of the bad publicity, don’t be. It’s well worth 96 minutes of your time. Don’t expect to be mentally challenged but do expect to be entertained.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

“Seeking a Little Truth” is 5 Years old today!

I had no idea I’d manage to keep myself interested in this Blog for so long. I have stumbled from time to time and wondered if I could be bothered to keep posting things, but I persevered and here we are – 5 years later. I can’t guarantee another 5 years but I’m confident that I’ll be around for quite a while yet. The good thing is that I’m always finding new content to post and think that my musings manage to interest or amuse at least some of you. My thanks go out to my hand-full of loyal followers who leave their comments here. Our conversations are a big part of what makes me keep adding things and trawling through Google images to entertain and (hopefully) make you think about things in a slightly different way. I have some plans for the next 6-12 months which will become clearer as time goes on. So keep coming back and keep commenting. Let’s see if I can make it to 10 years!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Just Finished Reading: Ancient Egypt – A Very Short Introduction by Ian Shaw

Yes, I know; another VSI book and another book on Ancient Egypt. But I can’t help the fact that I find the subject fascinating. Anyway, this excellent little study based itself around the examination of an object called the Narmer Palette uncovered in 1898 in Upper Egypt. Through examination of various aspects of it the author teases out the history of Egyptology, the changing ideas surrounding the idea of Egypt, the attempts to understand the history of the region and how difficult it is to construct such a thing from available evidence, the origin and understand of Egyptian writing including the deciphering of hieroglyphs, our ideas of Egyptian kingship, issues of ethnicity, race and gender, mummification and Egyptian religious practices, how our ideas of the Ancient Egyptians are recycled and reinvented by each successive generation and finishes off with a light hearted look at some of the more crazy theories surrounding the pyramids – he even mentions the movie Stargate (but not the spin-off series).

As you can imagine this is quite a lot to cover in 159 pages (this is actually the longest VSI book I’ve read to date). But at no time does the author overwhelm the reader with an avalanche of facts or theories. Quite steadily the reader is presented with layer upon layer of information, theory and a sprinkle of speculation (not everything being known for certain regarding much of that by-gone age) that builds into a fascinating picture of life during the millennia long Egyptian period. Obviously such a huge subject can only be touched upon in such a short volume – which is exactly what was delivered – but it was done in such a style that my interest was hooked and I was left wanting much more. In other words this book did exactly what it set out to do – fascinate its readership on the subject at hand. There will, inevitably, be follow ups to this book. Ancient Egypt is a very interesting subject that deserves more of my time (along with many other periods of history unfortunately). This was a good start and has given me a useful foundation on which to build. If you are new to the subject this is definitely a book for you. You’ll finish reading it to discover sand between your toes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thinking About: Ignorance

The more I learn the more aware I become of the scale of my ignorance. Despite making fairly strenuous efforts over the years to know more about more I realise that much of human knowledge will forever be beyond me. Given ten lifetimes I might have developed a general understanding of many things, but as I have only a single lifetime even that general knowledge is simply beyond me. Not only will I remain ignorant of many things, I am now, and will remain, ignorant of the very existence of whole areas of knowledge.

Even if not a single new book was published from today I will never be able to catch up if I spent all day every day until my death reading. Not only will I never read the more obscure and difficult texts sitting mostly on university shelves and nowhere else, many of the great classics of human literature will never pass through my hands. Anything not translated at some point into English is beyond me as is anything remotely mathematical without a whole lot of study that would take me away from other subjects. Whole swathes of history are unknown to me. I might be able to locate a battle or two and a few names in a particular century but that would be it – and it’s almost guaranteed that these events and those people existed in Europe. My knowledge of non-European events and personalities is generally pitiful. Although I see myself as having a scientific frame of mind most of science is a closed book to me. Anything requiring much more than basic mathematics is a real struggle, yet my knowledge of physics is probably best when compared to biology and especially chemistry of which I know very little.

One of the reasons you might have noticed that I read so many introductory books – often on the same subject – is that I don’t believe that my grounding is good enough in anything I think I might understand. I am, rather paradoxically, fairly certain that I do not know anything with any degree of certainty. The knowledge that I do have (or at least think I have) is probably built on foundations hanging in the air. The more I dig into them the less solid ground I find. I cannot, however, simply stop digging for fear of what I might, or might not, find there. Of course in some ways this is incredibly exciting. It is like entering a hidden valley with only the sketchiest of guidebooks (if that) and taking the rest of your life to find out everything you can about the place despite knowing that there is another valley beyond this one and, probably, another one beyond that. Exploring the vast unknown is a little overwhelming when you glance momentarily at the ‘big picture’ but is more easily digested in bite-sized chunks. This despite the nagging knowledge that there are meals, both exotic and plain, that we will never encounter or even hear of.

It is not surprising then that my reaction to statements of certain knowledge is usually laughter. It is not, however, because I cannot conceive of anyone knowing things for certain where I do not. It’s because when questioned on the grounds of their certainty it quickly becomes clear that they know even less than I do. Their certainty is based on ignorance whereas my uncertainty is based on my certain knowledge of my own ignorance. Those who safely reside inside the bubble of political or religious certainty appear to exist on one side of a semi-permeable membrane which allows their ignorance out into the world but prevents knowledge of their ignorance seeping back in to inform them of the error of their certainty. They are unaware of their ignorance even when they come face to face with it. I can only suppose that their feelings of certain knowledge helps keep them warm at night whereas my feelings of ignorance do not. From my point of view I’d rather be aware of what I don’t know rather than being ignorant and, falsely, happy about it. I don’t like being ignorant and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it, but I’ll do the little that is possible and see where it leads. Welcome to my journey……

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Could an 'elixir of life' really increase your lifespan?

7 October 2010

By Jessica Hamzelou for New Scientist

A chemical elixir can add 10 years to your life! According to the media, anyway. How much of the claim that an amino acid cocktail can boost longevity should be taken with a pinch of salt?

For starters, the study was carried out in mice. Giuseppe D'Antona at Pavia University in Italy and his colleagues added a cocktail of three branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) - isoleucine, leucine and valine - to the feed of young nine-month-old mice. Compared with mice that were fed regular, unsupplemented chow, which survived an average 774 days, the BCAA-fed mice on average lived to the ripe old age of 869 days. As D'Antona's team point out, the BCAA-fed mice lived 12 per cent longer. When the mice were tested at middle age - 16 months - those fed the BCAA mixture were also able to run for longer on a treadmill, and better maintain balance on a rotating rod. So not only did the diet help them live longer, the mice also had higher endurance and better motor coordination. The team think that the BCAA cocktail may trigger an increased production of mitochondria - the cell compartments that produce energy - in the muscles. The BCAA-fed mice also had an increased expression of the SIRT1 gene, thought to be involved in longevity, though the authors admit "further investigation is needed to assess the role of SIRT1 induction in BCAA-enriched mixture on mice survival". So, is this BCAA cocktail really the "elixir of life" the media is proclaiming it to be?

Downing amino acid cocktails is already known to be beneficial in some cases. Many formulations of BCAA are already used by bodybuilders, as they are known to help build muscle. A similar mixture has also been shown to help elderly individuals regain muscle lost to sarcopenia - a degenerative condition associated with ageing. A diet loaded with BCAAs is even thought to help brain-damaged mice recover, and improve performance in a learning task.But it's important to remember this effect, like the one in the current study, was only seen in mice. It's notoriously difficult to transfer findings from mouse studies to humans - some scientists even argue that many lab mice are out of shape, and not representative of mice in general, let alone humans. What's more, the researchers only tested the BCAA-supplemented diet on a small number of mice. The lifespans of 30 BCAA-fed mice were compared with those of 30 mice fed regular chow.

Though that hasn't stopped the UK's Daily Mail newspaper running with the unsubstantiated headline: "Body builder protein powder 'could increase life expectancy by 10 years'". It's certainly an interesting study but don't start stockpiling protein powder just yet.

[I’m always interested in research regarding life extension. Despite the media jumping the gun (again) this might lead somewhere. Maybe I should check out the amino acid supplements in my local health store rather than wait another 5-10 years for the follow up studies. After all, I’m not getting any younger – yet……]

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Just Finished Reading: The Empress of Earth by Melissa Scott

The way to Earth has been lost for centuries. To find it is the dream of all space pilots – especially Silence Leigh. Contracted by the newly installed leader of the human Hegemony to do so and aided by recently acquired ancient texts Silence and her crew begin the dangerous journey to the legendary origin of Mankind. The prize is not only the kudos of being the first to open communication with the lost home world but the power that comes with being at the centre of things again, a power that members of the royal household will scheme to attain and a power that Silence can use to enhance her position as the only known female Mage.

This is a rather strange mixture of SF and Fantasy. In many ways a fairly standard space-opera it also blends in the Tarot, Platonic Forms and Geomancy (Earth magic). Star pilots navigate by Signs and Symbols in a space beyond the physical realm called Purgatory. Moving in and out of such a realm is the job of Mages who can use their skills to see and move towards Forms and, once there, re-emerge into normal space hundreds of light-years away from their start point. It was certainly a different and interesting idea. The book itself took a bit getting into – probably because it was the third book in a trilogy and I hadn’t read (and haven’t got) the first two. Scott did provide enough of the back story to piece things together after a while so after about 50-60 pages things settled down a bit. Over all this was a reasonable read with interesting enough characters and a fair stab at a future human culture based on magical ‘technology’ and knowledge to get me through the 340 or so pages.

Monday, October 04, 2010

My Favourite Movies: A Room with a View

I’ve noticed that my movie reviews lately have tended to concentrate on films that I have enjoyed recently. What I intend to do in the future – at least more often than of late – is to focus on films from my past that I loved in my formative years. On such film is the Merchant-Ivory classic A Room with a View based on the book by E M Forster. Looked at in one way this is a fairly standard love story which takes place against the backdrop of an upper class Edwardian society soon to be shattered by WW1. The main focus of the film is Lucy Honeychurch played by the delightfully quirky Helena Bonham-Carter. On a trip to Florence (presumably to finish off her education) she meets and forms an immediate emotional attachment to George Emerson played by Julian Sands who, as the son of a free-thinker, feels able to express his emotions where Lucy cannot. After passionately kissing her in a barley field (and being seen by her chaperone Charlotte Bartlett played by Maggie Smith) Lucy is whisked back to England before anything else can happen. Fate – in the guise of Lucy’s fiancé Cecil played by Daniel Day Lewis – intervenes when the Emerson’s move into a cottage in Summerstreet when Lucy and her family live. Kissed again by George, Lucy flies into a flat panic and demands to be sent to Athens. As her behaviour grows more bizarre and her lies grow more entangled she finally decides to declare her love for George to almost everyone’s relief.

As is typical of these things the plot revolves around the lies and misunderstandings of the characters as they try to make sense of what is going on. Only the audience is privileged to know all, or at least most, of the truth of the situation. It is Lucy’s refusal to accept her own emotional needs – and most especially to articulate them - that throws everything else into chaos. Some of the tension of the time is played out between a pair of Anglican clergy, the younger (and trendier) of which is played by Simon Callow. During a carriage ride to ‘see a view’ one of the coach drivers is cuddling with a very beautiful woman who he said was his sister. The older clergyman would have nothing of this and orders the woman off the carriage whilst Mr Beebe (Callow) sees no harm in it. These two conflicting forces – repression and freedom - are at war within Lucy Honeychurch. She is individualistic and opinionated (although not as much as a very similar heroine – Elizabeth Bennet) but, because of her fears of the passionate nature within her (brought to the surface by her playing of Beethoven on the piano), convinces herself that marrying the stiff and urbane Cecil is a good idea. Only when she realises that such a marriage would be an emotional death sentence does she break off the engagement and, metaphorically at least, run off to the Continent where it all started.

One of the reasons I liked this film so much – apart from the cinematography, acting and costumes – was my identification with Lucy’s dilemma. The choice of giving into passion – not knowing where it may lead – or repressing it through fear thereby attaining a comparatively safe life is a tough one. Mostly I decide to go with fear which might explain a lot about how my life has turned out so far! I’d definitely fit into the Edwardian world with their tightly buttoned down emotions. I would like to be more like George who not only feels passion but acts on it – sometimes recklessly. At least, after some heartache, he got what he wanted…….

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Famed Obama 'Hope' Poster Artist Losing Hope

by Aamer Madhani for Yahoo News

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In an exclusive interview with National Journal on Thursday, Shepard Fairey expressed his disappointment with the president -- a malaise that seems representative of many Democrats who had great expectations for Obama. Fairey explained that when he came up with the poster in 2008, he was trying to find a single image that embodied the issues he cared most about -- promoting health care, helping labor, and curtailing lobbyists. He likened the issues to projectiles.

"Looking at Obama's standpoint on various policies, it was like, 'Why throw all these particular projectiles over the wall... when I could put all those things in one projectile that I could hurl over the wall,'" Fairey said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he lives. "Obama was the delivery device in theory. Now, I realize that he maybe is not the correct delivery device, and I'll just deal with those issues separately." Fairey's much-reproduced portrait of Obama -- head tilted slightly upward, gazing into the distance, with the word "Hope" emblazoned underneath -- captured the imagination of Democrats and unintentionally tweaked Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose husband had been elected as "The Man From Hope." Hundreds of thousands of posters and stickers with the "Hope" image were distributed to supporters throughout the country. But that was just the beginning. It's been reproduced countless times on the Internet, and a parody version, with Obama as The Joker and "Socialism" in place of "Hope," is a favorite at Tea Party rallies. Maybe it was inevitable that Hope would fade. Fairey's blue-and-red image was altered from an Associated Press photograph of Obama, and the artist is embroiled in an ongoing lawsuit over use of that picture. (He didn't discuss the case with National Journal.) Fairey, who at 40 is no kid himself, said it's easy to see why young voters are down on Obama and the Democrats. He lamented that health care reform was watered down, Tea Party activists have been emboldened, and his man has fallen short on bold campaign promises like closing Guantanamo Bay.

"There's a lot of stuff completely out of Obama's control or any of the Democrats' control," Fairey allowed. "But I think there's something a little deeper in terms of the optimism of the younger voter that's happening. They wanted somebody who was going to fight against the status quo, and I don't think that Obama has done that." Fairey saved his harshest criticism for the Republicans for being "complete obstructionists" and said that the country would be in a worse state if Obama hadn't won. "There are all sorts of things I look at where I think he could have been tougher," Fairey said "But then I think what if Sarah Palin and John McCain were in office. How much worse would it be?" To be sure, Fairey still supports Obama, and he says he would use his talents to assist the president's re-election efforts in 2012. But he said that he couldn't design the same Hope poster today, because the spirit of the Obama campaign hasn't carried over to the Obama presidency. "To say I feel disappointment is within the context that I know he's very intelligent, very capable, very compassionate," Fairey said. "I think he has the tools, and he does not trust his instincts in how to apply them."

[Even I had hopes for the Obama administration. Now I think that the best we can say is that at least he stopped McCain & Palin getting into office. Despite some of the things he has accomplished it does seem, at least from this distance, that it’s been pretty much business as usual. I suppose that I should have learnt by now. After all I’m the cynical one who doesn’t believe politicians. But yet again I thought that this one would be different – apparently not. In all fairness he still has a while to run but I strongly suspect that he’ll be a one term President and the world will have to suffer the consequences of a Republican administration next time around. Won’t that be fun!]