Sunday, March 28, 2010

Quote I Just Found

"Two novels can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other involves orcs."

Another Reason to Fund NASA

A photo of the Eagle Nebula courtesy of NASA...

Volcanoes and stars! What is better? Though I guess I don't really want to be too close to either. But the images remind me why I write science fiction.

The Iceland Eruption from Space

The plume to the left is the eruption. The plume to the right is (probably) where the lava flow reaches snow and ice.

The police are allowing tourists close to the eruption, and I have run across one ad on the Internet for a photography tour to the volcano. I am not much of photographer, but the idea of going is appealing. Eleanor hearts volcanoes, until they do something big and ugly.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Reason to Fund NASA

Most of the future has been shipped to other countries, but we still have a little left here: Preparing Discovery for flight at Capa Canaveral.

Shanghai Skyline

This is the National Geographic photo of the day. Patrick looked at it and said, "So that's what they've done with the future."

I said, "Yeah. They shipped it to China."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A 1918 Image of Leon Trotsky Slaying the Capitalist Dragon

Note the top hat on the dragon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This is from an essay by Chris Hedges in Alternet:
Aleksandr Herzen, speaking a century ago to a group of anarchists about how to overthrow the czar, reminded his listeners that it was not their job to save a dying system but to replace it: “We think we are the doctors. We are the disease.” All resistance must recognize that the body politic and global capitalism are dead. We should stop wasting energy trying to reform or appeal to it. This does not mean the end of resistance, but it does mean very different forms of resistance. It means turning our energies toward building sustainable communities to weather the coming crisis, since we will be unable to survive and resist without a cooperative effort.

These communities, if they retreat into a pure survivalist mode without linking themselves to the concentric circles of the wider community, the state and the planet, will become as morally and spiritually bankrupt as the corporate forces arrayed against us. All infrastructures we build, like the monasteries in the Middle Ages, should seek to keep alive the intellectual and artistic traditions that make a civil society, humanism and the common good possible. Access to parcels of agricultural land will be paramount. We will have to grasp, as the medieval monks did, that we cannot alter the larger culture around us, at least in the short term, but we may be able to retain the moral codes and culture for generations beyond ours. Resistance will be reduced to small, often imperceptible acts of defiance, as those who retained their integrity discovered in the long night of 20th-century fascism and communism.

This is A Canticle for Leibowitz after an envrionmental collapse. The news is full of neat science fictional ideas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Paul Krugman on Science Fiction

From the Firedoglake Book Salon
...What drew me to science fiction, more than four decades ago – before I got into economics, and in fact part of the reason I went into economics – was a certain kind of possibility: the creation of fictional worlds, different from our own but not too different, as a way to play with ideas about who we are and where we’re going. And I do mean “play” – not being too serious, mixing ideas about society, economics, politics, and so on with derring-do and romance is crucial to keeping things light enough to tolerate.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

This Is Awesome

At the beginning of October, Renewable Energy Magazine reported that Solar Roadways had been granted €69,000 by the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) to develop a prototype for generating electricity by resurfacing road networks with solar panels. We decided to contact Solar Roadways founder and the investor behind this technology, Scott Brusaw, to find out more.

The Solar Roadway™ is a series of structurally-engineered solar panels that are driven upon. The idea is to replace all current petroleum-based asphalt roads, parking lots, and driveways with Solar Road Panels™ that collect and store solar energy to be used by our homes and businesses. The heart of the Solar Roadway™ is the Solar Road Panel™. Each individual panel consists of three basic layers:

Road Surface Layer - Translucent and high-strength, it is rough enough to provide great traction, yet still passes sunlight through to the solar collector cells. It is capable of handling today's heaviest loads under the worst of conditions. Weatherproof, it protects the electronics layer beneath it.

Electronics Layer - Contains a large array of cells, the bulk of which will contain solar collecting cells with LEDs for "painting" the road surface. These cells also contain the "Super" or "Ultra" caps that store the sun's energy for later use. Since each Solar Road Panel™ manages its own electricity generation, storage, and distribution, they can heat themselves in northern climates to eliminate snow and ice accumulation. The on-board microprocessor controls lighting, communications, monitoring, etc. With a communications device every 12 feet, the Solar Roadway™ is an intelligent highway system.

Base Plate Layer - While the electronics layer collects and stores the energy from the sun, it is the base plate layer that distributes power (collected from the electronics layer) and data signals (phone, TV, internet, etc.) "downline" to all homes and businesses connected to the Solar Roadway™. The power and data signals are passed through each of the four sides of the base plate layer. Like the top road surface layer, this layer is also weatherproof, offering protection to the electronics layer above it.

When multiple Solar Road Panels™ are interconnected, the Solar Roadway™, an intelligent, self-healing, decentralised (secure) power grid, is formed.


I just posted the following on facebook. When I was done I realized I had produced a manifesto about writing, pretty good when you consider the system only allows 430 characters per post. Which is the reason for all the short paragraphs...

Eleanor Arnason is up and drinking coffee. My agent (now deceased) told me that Tor refused to buy my Ring of Swords trilogy, because there was too much coffee drinking. They bought the first volume, then turned down the sequel, which will come out from Aqueduct Press, if I ever finish revising.

Anyway, coffee drinking is not a plus, except in the Upper Midwest, where it keeps people alive and awake during the dark, cold months.

I figure the most important questions in any novel are, what's to eat or drink? And, where is the bathroom?

Other important questions include, Who is that cutie? Is the cat inside? Did someone forget to empty the garbage? Do you call this a living wage?

Which side are you on? is another important question.

They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there,
You'll either be a union man or a thug for J. H. Blair.

Which side are you on? Which side are you on?
Which side are you on? Which side are you on?

Don't scab for the bosses, don't listen to their lies.
People haven't got a chance unless they organize.

Which side are you on? Which side are you on?
Which side are you on? Which side are you on?

In fairness to Tor, I think the complete quote about the first book was something like, "Nothing happens. Everyone just sits around and drinks coffee." But the part of the quote I remember clearly is the coffee.

I notice I failed to mention the big science fictional questions, such as -- is the planet going to survive? Those are important too. But we still need to eat and drink and use the bathroom and do something about the garbage, while we save -- or fail to save -- the planet.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Peter Watts

Via facebook -- the Canadian science fiction writer Peter Watts has been convicted of noncompliance with an order from a US customs guard. He did not lie down on the ground when the guard ordered him to, but kept asking, "What is this about?"

Per Watts, the guard had already hit him in the face, and he was feeling a little dazed.

The crime is a felony. He could be in prison for two years.

He was not coming into the US, for what it's worth, but was leaving.

A disturbing story. These kinds of things usually happen to brown people and poor people, not white people with PhDs. It makes me think I don't want to go through US Customs.

I certainly would tell people who want to visit the US that they are coming at their own risk.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


From an article in Counterpunch:
When most Americans think about the recent upheavals in Iran, it is about marches demanding democracy and challenging the June 12 presidential election. The face of those protests is the “Green Movement”—so called because its supporters wear green—that put millions of people into the streets of Teheran and other large cities throughout the country.

Largely unseen, and rarely reported on, however, are thousands of strikes, slow downs and sit-ins by workers challenging the erosion of trade union rights and the government’s drive to privatize the economy, plus instituting policies that will impoverish tens of millions of people.

According to (Iranian labor activist) Amin, over the next few months the government will begin dismantling $20 billion a year in subsidies for gasoline, water, electricity, rice, flour, bus fare, and university tuition. “The Iranian people made these things, fought for these things,” says Amin. “They are all that is left of the [1979] revolution.”

Along with the draconian cutbacks in subsidies, Amin says the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is rapidly privatizing the public sector and turning it over “to his buddies in the Revolutionary Guard.” According to official government statistics for 2008, a third of state assets have already been privatized, the vast bulk of it under Ahmadinejad. In many ways this dismantling of the public sector resembles the privatization plan Russia instituted in the 1990s that ended up turning over vast sections of the economy to oligarchs at bargain basement prices.

The resistance to the cutbacks and privatization comes mainly from the trade union movement—much of it underground— but that can be a very perilous undertaking in Iran.

Hundreds of unionists have been fired, threatened, or jailed under brutal conditions over the past few years. Mansour Osanioo, president of the Teheran bus drivers union, was recently released from solitary confinement, but only after an international campaign led by the International Transport Workers Federation and the Indonesian seafarers union, Kesatuan Pelaut Indonesia.

I like unions and international solidarity. We hear too little about it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reassuring Places

This is a cross-post from the Wyrdsmiths blog. One of the commenters there asked:

I was reading a writing magazine the other day and they did a feature asking writers if they had any "essentials" they kept in their writing spaces and/or any pre-writing rituals that helped encourage them to get down to business. For example, one man kept a little aquarium on his desk that he said helped him feel so tranquil, he could just shut off the rest of the world for awhile in order to write. If anyone is game, and just for fun, I'd love to know if any of you have any objects or practices that help you stay focused?

My answer was:

I like to write in coffee shops. Most of the time, they are pretty quiet -- people reading and writing, maybe talking, but not usually loudly. I enjoy the low level activity. And coffee house customers and staff leave me alone. It's not a place where the person next to you tries to start a conversation.

A place with people who are not bothering me, where I can always get another cup of coffee or a scone, is reassuring.

Today, when I was doing the final read through of a short novel, I stayed home and stopped from time to time to make tea or check my email or count the buds on my hoya. I have found nine clusters of buds, as well as one cluster of open flowers. Flowers are reassuring. So is tea.

I think what I'm doing makes a difference. A final read through requires focus, which means I am more likely to be comfortable at home, where I can control the noise level -- music yes, music no -- and tell my partner to go out or be very quiet. (He's asleep on the couch right now.)

A coffee house is a good place for a first draft or early revisions. It's a different kind of environment, more open, less in my control, less me and my habits.

Allocation of Resources

One thing we need to remember is how badly this society allocates resources. The country's infrastructure -- roads, bridges, water mains, sewers, buildings -- is old and breaking down. It all needs to be replaced.

If we are going to reduce coal and oil and gas use -- which we really need to do, this is a survival question -- we need to insulate old buildings, build new energy efficient buildings, greatly expand mass transit, install a lot of solar power cells on roofs, create wind farms...

We need a modern computer infrastructure, which we do not have. The US invented modern computing and the Internet. We have lost the lead we once had and are falling farther and farther behind other countries.

We need a huge amount of research into environmental problems and how to solve them. We are going to have to design and build entire new industries, starting from scratch.

For example, electronics depends on rare minerals. What happens when these run out? Can we find substitutes, or will we go back to semaphores?

We need sustainable agriculture.

There is enough work here to keep everyone busy: engineers, IT people, skilled trades people, laborers, farmers, gardeners, environmental scientists, materials scientists, accountants...

Instead, we have jobs for fast food workers and people selling crap at Walmart's. Maybe. Last I heard, Walmart's was laying off.

So, there is work to do and people who want jobs, and the only thing that prevents the two coming together is capitalism. As long as capitalism runs the US, there is no point in worrying about education, because the real jobs -- the jobs that really need to be done -- won't exist; and Wall Street will be sucking up all the resources of the nation.


United Way in the Twin Cities is putting a lot of money into early education, as are the Bush and McKnight Foundations. As a result, there is very little money for other problems, such as the problem which interests Patrick, homelessness. Pat's comment was:

So this kid is pre-school or early school, and one of her parents is among the 20% of workers who are unemployed or underemployed. Maybe both parents are out of work. The family house has been foreclosed, and the family is living in a shelter. They have no money, no health care, not enough food. The shelter is noisy and crowded. The kid sleeps on a mat on the floor.

So you are going to solve the kid's problems with early education. She is going to be reading Tolstoy and sleeping on a mat on the floor in a shelter, while worry and stress drive her parents crazy.

Education is not a cure all, especially in a society that does not create enough jobs and does not provide a decent social safety net. Kids are not going to learn their way out of poverty. The highly educated people at United Way and the foundations may not know this, but poor kids know it.

Yes, education could be better. We know the solution to this problem. Fund the schools adequately. Make sure the buildings are not falling down. Make sure the teachers are paid adequately. Make sure there are enough teachers. Realize that education is going to be more expensive than it used to be, when trouble making kids were expelled, and no one tried to educate the disabled in the public school system.

But if you do all this, and there aren't jobs or national health care or a decent social safety net, people are still going to be sleeping in shelters.

The problem today is not lack of skills, it is lack of jobs. When you say people need to get an education or new skills, you are saying the problem is them.

The jobs aren't there. They really are not, especially the jobs for highly skilled people.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Other Book

I hope you noticed the baseball cap is the Detroit Tigers. This is a chapbook: one long short story, an essay and an interview. Previous books in this series are by Terry Bisson and Kim Stanley Robinson, so I am in good company.


I finished going over the typeset version of Tomb of the Fathers. It's an odd novel. Right now, I don't feel especially good about it, but that is typical of me when I finish a project. There is some good writing. The cover (by Jeanne Gomoll) is delightful, and I like the book design (by Kath Wilham) a lot.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Deer Island Town Meeting

A neat article from Common Dreams.

Deer Isle Town Meeting Day, March 1, 2010. It was an event for which to be proud and it ought not go uncelebrated. Two thirds of those at the Deer Isle Town Hall on this picturesque island of 2400 lobstermen, artists, tradesmen, and “from-awayers” took their stand. Effectively saying, “No more”, the substantial majority voted to approve an article on the town warrant calling on Congressman Mike Michaud not to fund the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and to take a lead in demanding the same principled position of his colleagues. Thanks in large part to impassioned statements made in support of the article (No one spoke in opposition.) Deer Isle may boast of playing a lead in Maine’s prerogative, showing the country the way...

The article on Deer Isle’s Town Warrant was inspired by the Bring the War Dollars Home campaign, a collaboration of 17 concerned citizens’ organizations led by the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and Code Pink Maine. A number of other towns and cities in the state may soon follow Deer Isle’s lead as the campaign reports similar resolutions being considered in 10 other municipalities. There are other promising signs. One of Maine’s school district boards has voted 9-4, to support a “Bring the War $$s Home” resolution which will ask state legislators to request Congressional representatives to stop funding war and to use the money to fund education. The campaign also reports that 17 state legislators have now signed on to the “Bring the War $$s Home” letter asking Maine’s Congressional reps to support votes that will terminate war expenditures. On the weekend of April 10 and 11, supporters of the campaign weary of good-money-after-bad rationale, and unwilling to support one more appropriations bill will fan out in many towns across the state to place notices on residential doors which remind us that the average Maine family has paid $10,000 for warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Right now, I'm hoping two things will happen: local governments will demand that the US bring its money home to its people, and students will continue to protest tuition hikes and the stripping of American colleges and universities.

Another Grey Day

I am about to dive into Tomb.

Diane Krall is on the Bose again, her homage to the Nat King Cole Trio. It's raining outside. I'm drinking flavored (cranberry-orange) black tea with sugar.


I applied for another job yesterday: part time bookkeeping on a contract basis. We shall see.

Patrick and I went to the Mall of America to mall walk. We did all three floors. The dark side of mall walking is the shops. Pat bought two baseball caps, and I got a pen, a very lovely brown Visconti van Gogh on sale.

On the way back home, Patrick was trying to show me where he had seen a flock of wild turkeys a few days ago.

He finally saw the spot and pointed it out to me, a field by the side of Highway 5, right above the Minnesota River. I looked. There were three wild turkeys in the field.

Very satisfying. On the way to the mall, I had said, "Wild turkeys. I need to see wild turkeys."

And I did.


And this is from an essay on economic policy in Counterpunch by Marshall Auerback and Rob Parentaeu:
...As the voices of fiscal retrenchment intensify, a future (for the US) not unlike Latvia, Greece and Argentina could await. It has taken the people of Iceland to make the first stand against this growing neo-liberal madness. In a historic referendum, over 90 per cent of the population has rejected a proposal for the repayment of billions of pounds lent by Britain and Holland to compensate depositors in a failed Icelandic bank.

The deal would have saddled citizens of Iceland with an additional $16k in debt to compensate the UK and Holland with a $5.3 billion note for the failure of their local banks. This, in a country of a mere 300,000 citizens. The vote failure has already prompted the ratings agencies to downgrade the country to junk, as well as leaving an IMF-led loan in limbo. The “experts” are declaring this a disaster for Iceland, but they and their banking allies must secretly be dreading the result, demonstrating as it does that an international bailout watchdog is truly powerless when the people of the bailout recipient nation want to have nothing to do with a poisoned chalice of an economic “rescue”, which does nothing but create a country of indentured serfs.

It is now time for the rest of us to follow the Lilliputians of Iceland: to take the rentier juggernaut down before it completes the task. Time to pry the vampire squid off our faces so we can see the light of day again and allow some semblance of humanity to flourish again. Hopefully, Iceland represents the future, not Latvia.

The Icelanders knew what they were doing. I read one young woman who said, "We may have to become a cold Cuba, with lots of old cars, only ours will be Range Rovers."

... A poor and isolated country with powerful enemies, that struggles by on its own.

I had a sudden fantasy of spending summers in Iceland and winters in Cuba, two tough little island nations. It might make an interesting retirement. The medical care would be good.

Good News in Latin America

A nice post from Common Dreams:
There's a game I've been playing recently. Any time I read the news and get depressed about the parlous state of our world, I type "Bolivia" into Google news and wait for the results. It's really all you need to brighten up your day.

In the last month things such as this have popped up: Bolivian women spearhead Morales revolution, which describes the decision by Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, to stock half his new cabinet with women, nearly half of them indigenous. More recently there was this: Bolivian president donates half pay to victims, which detailed Morales and his vice president Alvaro García's decision to donate half their March salaries to help the victims of the Haiti and Chile earthquakes.

The post goes on to describe other good things happening in Boliva. The link works. I just checked it. Go and check.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Grey Day...

I am listening to Diane Krall on the Bose CD player.

The Mammoths of the Great Plains chapbook contains an updated version of my 2004 guest of honor speech at Wiscon, "Writing Science Fiction During the Third World War."

The world keeps changing so fast that I feel the need to update the essay almost weekly. But the book is pretty close to going to press. So I stopped making changes.

Maybe I need to update the essay here.

I'm coming to the conclusion that the American government has decided on the following plan for dealing with worldwide environmental and economic collapse:

1) Stall on making serious environmental and economic changes.

2) Prop up the financial sector, while not investing in the rest of the economy.

3) Continue the process of redistributing American wealth up from the working and middle classes to the rich.

4) Fight wars to control limited resources such as Middle Eastern and Central Asian oil and natural gas.

5) Attempt to control the rest of the world via military threat.

6) Control Americans via police, prisons, Homeland Security and fear of The Other -- brown people, foreigners, modern women, kids, gay people, you name it.

Will this work? I'm not sure. The program may appeal to a third of the country, mostly white people, many of them aging, who are afraid of change.

They are already a minority and likely to become more of minority, as the country becomes less white.

But we are facing some truly disturbing problems. Who knows what will happen if (or when) the economy sinks deeper, the state and local governments go completely broke, the infrastructure starts breaking on a regular basis, the west dries up and blows away? Crisis can push people either left or right.

If the government can maintain control, we might end with armed and armored enclaves for the rich and their servants. Outside would be a country -- and world -- destroyed by poverty, violence and environmental collapse. I think this is Octavia Butler's vision in her Parable books. The trouble with this vision, the fly in the ointment for the rich, would be -- where does their wealth come from, if the world is ruined? How long would the enclaves be prosperous and safe?

On the Plus Side

I have finished going over the manuscript of Mammoths of the Great Plains, the chapbook that is being published by PM Press.

Now I am moving on the final, typeset version of Tomb of Fathers, the novel that being published by Aqueduct Press.

Maybe I really, really need to come to terms with the fact that I'm not likely to get an accounting job in this economy. But I can sell science fiction.

Still Looking for Work

I had two interviews last week. Did not get the job I wanted. Have not heard from the job I don't want. However, neither job asked for my references, which is a danger sign.

Other than that ongoing story, I went to the opera yesterday with my friends Ruth and Terry.. It was La Boheme by Puccini, a good production, but it didn't touch me the way La Boheme usually does. I have no idea why.

After the opera, we went out for Japanese food, which was tasty.