Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From Chandra and Hubble and Astronomy Photo of the Day

What is that strange blue blob on the far right? No one is sure, but it might be a speeding remnant of a powerful supernova that was unexpectedly lopsided. Scattered debris from supernova explosion N49 lights up the sky in this gorgeous composited image based on data from the Chandra and Hubble Space Telescopes. Glowing visible filaments, shown in yellow, and X-ray hot gas, shown in blue, span about 30 light-years in our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Light from the original exploding star reached Earth thousands of years ago, but N49 also marks the location of another energetic outburst -- an extremely intense blast of gamma-rays detected by satellites about 30 years ago on 1979 March 5. The source of the March 5th Event is now attributed to a magnetar - a highly magnetized, spinning neutron star also born in the ancient stellar explosion which created supernova remnant N49. The magnetar, visible near the top of the image, hurtles through the supernova debris cloud at over 70 thousand kilometers per hour. The blue blob on the far right, however, might have been expelled asymmetrically just as a massive star was exploding. If so, it now appears to be moving over 7 million kilometers per hour.

The Visible Hand # 2

One theory (addressed below) is that all European countries believe they can export their way to prosperity. Another theory -- which Michael Hudson sets forth -- is that European governments plan to impoverish their working classes, presumably because they want to break the power of ordinary people, make them so miserable that they will be unable to demand anything.

I know there are third world countries which have a rich ruling class, a small middle class and a vast underclass of desperately poor workers and peasants. Most of these countries are not heavily industrialized. Instead, they export raw materials. Their wealth comes from the needs of industrialized societies and the large groups of consumers in industrialized societies. If you turn all countries into third world countries, who will buy the raw materials?

This also is the visible hand. The third world oligarchy solution is not likely to work, if every country tries it at once.

In addition, countries with these vast gaps between rich and poor are often unstable, prone to coups d'etat, revolutions and civil war. They are often police states or failed states, with no working government.

I can imagine a world like this, and I can imagine how effectively it will face global warming and environmental collapse.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Visible Hand

I am playing with an idea which I call 'the visible hand' in homage to Adam Smith. If I remember correctly, Smith argued that in certain situations the activities of individuals, all working in their own interests, can produce a society that works for everyone: the greed and striving of individual merchants can produce general prosperity.

I am thinking of situations where this does not work. For example, what the countries of Europe are trying to do now is cut costs internally, through cutting wages and benefits for working people. This will reduce the cost of their goods, which they can then export, and the revenue coming back into their countries will fuel economic recovery.

However, for every successful exporter, there has to be another country that imports. China is able to sell because the US (and other countries) are willing to buy. There have to be nations with trade deficits, if there are going to be nations with a positive balance of trade. It is not possible for every country to export its way to prosperity.

Or put another way, what works for an individual does not work for the group. This is the visible hand.

Astronomy Photo of Day

The photo today is awesome, but copyrighted, so here is a link.

When I first saw the image, I thought of L-5 colonies, spinning so there is apparent gravity on the inner surface, and I wondered -- for a moment -- if the photo showed a garden growing inside a centrifuge. In fact, no. It is a photo montage. But quite wonderful; and it gives an idea of what trees in an L-5 would look like.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Louis XVI and Nicholas II Problem

Something that has puzzled me for decades is how, when a society reaches a grave crisis, the person in charge seems to be amazingly, abnormally stupid. The question I have asked myself is, "Does the crisis produce the stupidity, or does the stupidity produce the crisis?" Would a smarter king or tsar kept the status quo going a while longer?

Looking at the current situation, I begin to think the crisis produces the stupidity. If you read the posts by Krugman, Weisbrot and Hudson below, you will get a sense that this trio of quite bright and thoughtful economists are driven crazy by the obvious wrongness of decisions being made. It's not a question of selfish or immoral decisions, it's a questions of decisions that won't work and will lead to more severe problems. Yet the people making the decisions are politicians who do not appear to be unusually stupid, in spite of what they are doing. (Many American congresspeople are unusually stupid, but that is something else.)

Michael Hudson in Counterpunch

Europe is committing fiscal suicide... Despite the deepening Great Recession threatening to bring on outright depression, European Central Bank (ECB) president Jean-Claude Trichet and prime ministers from Britain’s David Cameron to Greece’s George Papandreou... are calling for cutbacks in public spending...

Beyond merely shrinking the economy, the neoliberal aim is to change the shape of the trajectory along which Western civilization has been moving for the past two centuries. It is nothing less than to roll back Social Security and pensions for labor, health care, education and other public spending, to dismantle the social welfare state, the Progressive Era and even classical liberalism...

This is not the familiar old 19th-century class war of industrial employers against labor, although that is part of what is happening. It is above all a war of the financial sector against the “real” economy: industry as well as labor...

This is why I say that Europe is dying. If its trajectory is not changed, the EU must succumb to a financial coup d’êtat rolling back the past three centuries of Enlightenment social philosophy. The question is whether a break-up is now the only way to recover its social democratic ideals from the banks that have taken over its central planning organs.

Mark Weibrot in Counterpunch

It is sad to see that the U.S. Congress is having trouble even passing just $24 billion for unemployment insurance at a time when the economy is weak and unemployment is at nearly 10 percent. This shows the power of right-wing ideology in this country: Even the simplest, smallest and most obvious steps to relieve economic misery can be held back...

It was the collapse of private demand – consumption and investment – brought on by the bursting of an $8 trillion housing bubble that put us in this mess. Since our trade deficit is growing again... that leaves only government spending to give the economy a boost until private spending is sufficient to bring us back to full employment...

The choice is simple, really: more stimulus or more unemployment. And more poverty, and more people losing their homes and health insurance...

A Dream

I don't usually remember dreams. When I do remember one fairly clearly, I tend to think it means something. It's a message from my subconscious. This is one of two dreams I had last night:

I was a kid, with my parents and brother in the house where I grew up, which had been built by the Walker Art Center as a design project into the late 1940s. (All of this is true.) We were discussing moving, which my father wanted to do. I was reluctant. Suddenly, in the middle of this discussion and the middle of the night, someone knocked on the door. One of us answered the door. There was a couple outside, middle class Midwesterners. Whoever answered the door pointed out that it was the middle of the night. The woman replied angrily, "We have a right to be here. We just bought this house."

We were startled, but invited them in. The man was enthusiastic. He had always loved this house, and now he would be able to live in it. I was upset, because it meant we would have to move.

In the next part of the dream we were talking to contractors working for the couple. They told us the house was going to be torn down and an upscale boutique hotel built on the lot. The couple had lied to us.

In the third part of the dream, my family was at a party given by the couple. They were now very different: no longer slightly arty middle class Midwesterners, such as I had known as a kid, but far more prosperous, not at all arty and clearly from the East or West Coast. I was talking to the women, asking her if she and her husband owned a chain of hotels and where their money came from. The woman was very evasive. I suddenly said, "Your money is from drug dealing."

So what is the dream about? -- Lies and losing one's home to crooks.

I have been feeling depressed since the jobs bill failed -- in part because this harms me and Patrick, but also because I had not believed Congress could be this stupid and this willing to play dangerous games with the economy. In addition, I am deeply unhappy with Obama. He campaigned on hope and change and has given us neither. He is not using the one great gift he has, his ability to inspire people by speaking. He is a conservative, timid president faced with huge problems, which he can't seem to get a grip on. We get sad photos of him on beaches in the Gulf Coast, looking lost and alone.

As far as I know, Obama is not a crook, but he clearly ran for election on lies; and many Americans are losing their homes to crooked banks and politicians in the pay of banks.

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman, talking about the decision by European governments and the Senate Republicans to cut spending in the middle of a recession/depression:

So I don’t think this is really about Greece, or indeed about any realistic appreciation of the tradeoffs between deficits and jobs. It is, instead, the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times.

And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.

According to Krugman the US has seen two previous depressions: the Long Depression at the end of the 19th century and the Great Depression in the 1930s. Krugman says we are entering a third depression, this one likely to be long rather than great.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cheerful News

Patrick just read my island poem and pointed out that many islands appear to be rising in response to the rising ocean water. If I remember correctly, the coral is simply growing upward.

And also per New Scientist, the glaciers in the Himalayas are not shrinking. This is very good news, since large populations in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China rely on water in the rivers that flow out of the Himalayas.


Three comments in Firedoglake on the failure of the jobs bill:

As a 4 year college grad who has been unemployed for nearly a year, I guess I am a dead man now. I have been without benefits for 2 weeks and even though I finally have a good job prospect coming up, the job is not starting until the end of next month. So what do I do until then? How do I pay bills, put gas in the car and oh yeah…eat?? These are the people in power? Those who would take away from the “have nots” Who should I be more angry at…The President, the Congress, this country??
I’ve been unemployed for about 18 months. I had an interview yesterday but that job is almost certain to go to a younger candidate. I’m 50 and have been working since I was 15. I have never seen a job market this bad or a Congress this ineffective. I quit. Screw it. They aren’t going to change anything and I can no longer devote any energy to advocating for it as I’ll need to use that just to survive.
The unemployment rate in my county is 14.1%. I haven’t worked in over two years; my son in a year and a half. I’m trying to help him out as much as I can but I can’t keep two households going. He will soon have to move back home.

I hope they all die in their fucking sleep tonight.

The thing to remember is, this is completely unnecessary. Per economists like Paul Krugman, the US has the resources to fund unemployment and another stimulus package. We could bale out the states, rebuild the infrastructure, convert the economy to clean energy, create a modern mass transit system, make sure everyone has food, clothing, shelter and medical care... Also per Krugman, if the government does not spend money, the country will sink back into depression.


I am absorbing the fact that the Republicans in the Senate have apparently successfully blocked extension of unemployment benefits. Since Patrick and I are both collecting unemployment, this is not good news. The theory is, the Rs figure they can win the next election if Americans are hurting badly.

At the top end of the job market, where the people politicians and pundits know look for work, the unemployment is 3%. For those of us who are looking for middle class and working class jobs, the jobs are simply not there. Patrick and I have gray or white hair. We are not spring chickens. Who is going to hire an elderly chicken, when they can get someone young and lively?

The unemployment rate for May was 9.7%. That is 15 million people. This figure will rise as the Census workers are laid off. The bill the Republicans have blocked also includes money for the states. If they don't get this help, they will have to lay off an estimated 900,000 workers: teachers, fire fighters, police and so on.

I have pretty much given up on finding a job, though I am still looking. But people can look at my resume and see I haven't worked for a year. That has got to hurt me. I am no longer getting interviews, which I was earlier. I think I lost those jobs when I walked in the room and the interviewer saw how old I was.

So, time to think about retirement. For once, getting old looks good. I am going on Medicare Part B in July, which will take care of health insurance. My social security payments will be as much as unemployment. (I have checked.) Things will be tight, and I would still like a part-time job, but I ought to be able to get by.

Living in the Future

I just heard a line from Patrick: "The advantage of living in the future is, it's the only place where you can change anything." Pat doesn't know where he got the line, but I love it. It is the ultimate argument for science fiction.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Courtesy of NASA and Astronomy Photo of the Day

What are these strange color bands being seen from the International Space Station? The Sun setting through Earth's atmosphere. Pictured above, a sunset captured last month by the ISS's Expedition 23 crew shows in vivid detail many layers of the Earth's thin atmosphere. Part of the Earth experiencing night crosses the bottom of the image. Above that, appearing in deep orange and yellow, is the Earth's troposphere, which contains 80 percent of the atmosphere by mass and almost all of the clouds in the sky. Visible as a white band above the troposphere is the stratosphere, part of the Earth's atmosphere where airplanes fly and some hardy bacteria float. Above the stratosphere, visible as a light blue band, are higher and thinner atmospheric levels that gradually fade away into the cold dark vacuum of outer space. Sunset is not an uncommon sight for occupants of the International Space Station, because it can be seen as many as 16 times a day.


From a Common Dreams article on people in Detroit working to build a new society in the ruins of industrial capitalism.

Here is Ron Scott, a Detroit community activist and a founder of the Detroit chapter of the Black Panthers way back when:

"The most important thing we're doing is taking responsibility for making sure in cities like Detroit that we can reshape communities the way we want them. The people running this city and others are not blatantly evil. It's that many of them are not capable of dealing with the collapse of the economic system. What happened in the past is not gone, but it's whimpering and dying.

"We're working to build something that is creative and new in the city... This movement, unlike movements of the past, is not based on one sex, one race, one ideological frame... It's based on love and appreciation, and transformation of humanity."

And from Grace Lee Boggs, 95 years old and a lifelong revolutionary:
"I can't begin to tell you how much Detroit means symbolically worldwide and nationally... Detroit was once the national and international symbol of the miracles of industrialization and then became the national and international symbol of devastation of deindustrialization. Now it is becoming the national and international symbol of a new way of living-of great transformation."

I guess if Ron Scott and Grace Lee Boggs can keep trucking after all these years, so can I.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From NASA and Astronomy Photo of the Day

Our Earth is covered by volcanoes. Volcanoes are breaks in the Earth's cool surface where hot liquid rock from the interior comes out -- sometimes suddenly. In the above image from the ASTER camera aboard NASA's orbiting Terra satellite, snow-capped volcanoes are seen from overhead that compose the picturesque Islands of the Four Mountains in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, USA. The islands contain restless Mt. Cleveland, an active volcano currently being watched to see if it emits an ash cloud that could affect air travel over parts of North America. A close look at Mt. Cleveland, seen near the image center, shows a red rocky base, a white snow-covered peak, a light plume of gas and ash, and dark lanes where ash and debris fell or flowed. Millions of volcanoes have likely been active over the turbulent history of the Earth's surface, while about 20 volcanoes are erupting even today, at any given time.

Tricks the Muse Plays

This is from a post by Doug Hewick put on the Wyrdsmiths blog:
...You need to learn not only what works for you, but also how you tend to trick yourself as a writer. After all, it's our job to tell convincing lies stories, and we often make our own best targets.What makes it even harder, though, is that sometimes we aren't tricking ourselves. That same urge that is a bad idea nine times out of ten may be the right answer this time
And my comment:
The problem I have is a negative response that comes back repeatedly as I am writing, but is especially bad at the end of a story. "This is terrible. This is unfixable. I am need to trash this story," which I sometimes do. I wrote a story titled "The Garden" that I threw out part way through. But it kept nagging at me, so I wrote the beginning over, since I no longer had a copy, and then went on to finish the story. It was not easy to sell. Once it sold, it was picked up for two "Best of the Year" anthologies.

I tell this story about "Garden" fairly often, because it reminds me that my judgment is not always good. It's safer to get the story done and gone. Let editors and readers decide.

Part of this is a simple reluctance to finish a story, because then I will have to send it out and risk rejection. Part is frustration, as I realize that the words on paper are not the marvelous, luminous tale I imagined. It's not as good as I wanted it to be.

I said this before in a post on June 17th. It's obviously a recurring problem. I also talked about having several stories going at once. This may be a trick the muse plays on me, a way to avoid finishing anything. Or it may be a way to cope with perfectionism and reluctance to finish: if I have the next story going already, then it's easier to get the less-than-perfect, last story out the door.

It shouldn't be this difficult to write. I've been doing it for most of my life and selling stories for 38 years.

Some days, when I am in a good mood, it seems to me the best of my stories are quite wonderful. I tend to think of these as the stories that belong least to me, that show the least evidence of my effort and skill. Instead, the muse seems to speak through me.

But that isn't the muse who tricks. That the muse who speaks clearly and truthfully.

I realized, when I wrote the above, that crediting the muse with my best work may not be a good idea. In part I do it because there's something marvelous about a story that really works. It seems magicial. And I also do it because I was raised to never brag. Saying that I am responsible for something magicial is bragging.

However, when I don't claim credit for my best writing, I am not allowing myself to feel achievement and success. It's far healthier, I think, to say, "Mine! Mine! This is absolutely wonderful, and I did it."

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I went to the library this morning to pick up a couple of holds. However, it was closed for a customer service day. So I went to a local coffee shop and revised Lydia Duluth story # 7 for a couple of hours, till two young women with loud voices came in. I am not good at blocking loud voices.

So I went home. The day is hot and bright with a gusty wind and thunderstorms predicted for this afternoon. I am feeling frustrated about not being able to pick up volume # 11 in C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner trilogy. I had planned to read it this afternoon,ideally while rain falls outside, and there is thunder and lightning.

Ah well. I will find something else to read.

Greenhouse Effect Poem

For the poet Grace Nichols

Ocean rises.
Islands go down.

mango, dodo,
sugar plantation
islands --

Palm trees, sea breeze,
white sand,
more kinds of snail
than anyone can count,
except Professor Gould
of Harvard --
under rolling, blue billows.

Where are
the bright shirts,
shining fish,
flower garlands,
star apples,
taros and

How can we live
without dreams of islands?

I wrote this in 2002. While I might not miss Florida, I would miss the world's islands.

Thoughts About the Gulf and Global Warming

In the past, when I brooded about global warming, my brother would point out three cheering facts. (1) Given the human life span, both of us will be dead before things get really bad. (2) Neither of us has children, so we don't have to worry about what happens to the children. (3) Rising sea levels will put most of Florida under water.

However, global warming is happening faster than originally expected; and the disasters causing by a reckless and unsustainable economic system are happening now. It's one thing to contemplate Florida slowly going under water. It's another thing to see the Gulf Coast coated with oil.


This is a cross post from the Wyrdsmiths blog:

Lyda and I went to a coffee shop and wrote yesterday, as we do most weeks. Naomi and Doug are taking the summer off from our meetings, due to child care and (in Doug's case) a book deadline.

Work does get done, when one writes with other people. I finished revising a story yesterday. But there is always the temptation to talk.

I'm planning to go to another coffee house today and revise another short story manuscript. Writing in coffee shops gets me out of the house, which is good. Picking a place that is a 20-30 minute walk means I get some exercise going to and fro.

The idea (right now) is to clear out my backlog of almost finished short stories. This is not a huge project. However, I have trouble making final revisions and getting the story out the door.

After that, comes the novel I have been (in theory) working on for the past 2-3 years. It's amazing how slow I am compared to Lyda and Kelly especially. I don't expect to ever be as fast as they are, but I think I can learn to be a bit more rapid.

At the same time, I am working on first drafts of two YA novels. I tend to have more than one project going at a time. When I get stuck on one, I can move to another. This is fine, so long as I don't have too many projects. When they become too numerous, I get distracted.

I like first drafts, because they surprise me. I never know exactly where I am going, though I may have a rough idea. But it's easy to stall. I often need to take a few days -- or weeks -- off, because I really don't know where I am going.

Revisions are easier, but also more boring; and I run into my dislike of finishing things. If you never finish a manuscript, it never becomes its less-than-perfect final self; it's always possible to dream of improvement; and you never have to send it out into the world and risk the rejection of editors.

What I need to do is push through the resistance to ending a story, say "It may be imperfect, but it's done," and shove it out the door. I often have the experience of going back to a story after it's published and saying, "This is pretty good," though I disliked it as I finished it.

If readers like a story that I still feel dissatisfied with, that is very cool. My own opinion may change. Thoughtful readers can hardly be wrong.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Courtesy of NASA -- Something Really Unusual

How was the unusual Red Rectangle nebula created? At the nebula's center is an aging binary star system that surely powers the nebula but does not, as yet, explain its colors. The unusual shape of the Red Rectangle is likely due to a thick dust torus which pinches the otherwise spherical outflow into tip-touching cone shapes. Because we view the torus edge-on, the boundary edges of the cone shapes seem to form an X. The distinct rungs suggest the outflow occurs in fits and starts. The unusual colors of the nebula are less well understood, however, and current speculation holds that they are partly provided by hydrocarbon molecules that may actually be building blocks for organic life. The Red Rectangle nebula lies about 2,300 light years away towards the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). The nebula is shown above in unprecedented detail as captured recently by the Hubble Space Telescope. In a few million years, as one of the central stars becomes further depleted of nuclear fuel, the Red Rectangle nebula will likely bloom into a planetary nebula.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


A slow, gray day. I went to the Farmers Market and bought spinach, radishes, green onions and two loaves of bread. Cleaned the radishes. They are not sharp enough for my taste. None the less, they go pretty well with garlic-basil-tomato hummus. Changed the sheets on my bed. Began a wash. Surfed the Internet.

That's it. Since I still think of Monday through Friday as the work week, I will get back to looking for work and writing tomorrow.

From Franklin Spinney in Counterpunch

...According to the Jerusalem Post, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, just threatened to sink any Turkish warship carrying (Turkish Prime Minister) Erdogan, if it was escorting another flotilla of aid ships trying to break the blockade of Gaza. The threat is serious, because it was made on Israeli Army Radio, an outlet for policy pronouncements intended to lather up the Israeli citizens for battle.

...An Israeli attack on Turkey would be also an attack on the NATO Alliance. Under the terms of the NATO Treaty, such an attack should trigger what is known as an Article 5 response -- an attack on a NATO ally is an attack on all. This is what the US used to justify a NATO response to 9-11 in Afghanistan, even though the Afghan case was far less clear than the Turkish-Israeli imbroglio, because the Taliban was at most an accomplice to the 9-11 crime and may not have known about it in advance. If Israel carries through on its threat to attack a NATO warship, it would be a clear act of war. If the US (and the rest of NATO) does not respond, you can kiss NATO and Turkey goodbye... Nobody could ever trust the United States to live up to its formal treaty obligations. Our relations with Russia and China would be weakened dangerously, and Iran's position in the Middle East would be strengthened. The fall of dominoes would go on in all sorts of directions.

To borrow the unforgettable words of British Foreign Minister Edward Grey in the fateful summer of 1914, "the lights are going out all over" the Middle East, in NATO headquarters, and in the White House (assuming they were turned on). If Erdogan presses forward with his public promise to be on another Gaza aid ship or an escorting Turkish warship and if Israel acts on its threat to sink the ship carrying him, then like the chain of events of August 1914, the march to war could very well take on a life of its own.

Franklin Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon.

I think this essay is overly dramatic. I don't expect WW3. Instead the crisis will be settled. But I wonder if anyone in Washington realizes how serious this could be, or how serious the other problems the US faces are: global warming, the Gulf spill, the worldwide economic crisis...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Seymour Helps Us Look for Work

This is our stuffed sheep Seymour looking at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits job board online. You can see the cell phone next to him. Seymour is using every resource he has in the hopes of getting us back to work.


In spite of a year without work, I still think of the Saturday and Sunday as time off: the weekend. Today was gray with on-and-off rain. Patrick and I went to HarMar. It's an old, down-on-its-luck mall, which still has some good stores. We drank coffee in the Barnes and Noble and I bought Nnedi Okorafor's new novel. Then we looked at shoes at Schuler's, a fine, family-owned shoe store. I bought a pair of socks. After that was Staples for paper, printer ink and paperclips. If I am going to get serious about writing I need all three. Finally we went grocery shopping.

We got home at five, and I made dinner. Pat and I both like shopping. What we are trying to do right now is limit what we buy to things we really need, such as food, and small luxuries: a cup of coffee, a book, a pair of socks. Somewhere down the line we may need to reduce further. Right now we can afford coffee and some books and good socks.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I went to the bank and the library, then sat in a coffee house and read workshop manuscripts. (Kelly and Sean: I am done with you submissions.) After that I walked by the river, seeing two robins bathing in a fountain, a great blue heron, two young men sculling, a man and his child fishing and the Andrew Cannava, a tow boat out of Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The day is overcast and humid. The air smelled of summer and the river. Now I am home with the air on. I am thinking about a nap.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Guest of Honor Speech

This is the ending of Mary Anne Mohanraj's guest of honor speech at Wiscon this year:
The world is in terrible danger. You have been chosen, you are needed, you are each and every one of you the only one who can save it, if you will just be brave enough. And it will be hard. But heroism isn't about not being afraid. It is about being afraid, and doing the work anyway. Fighting for what you know is right. And I promise you this -- for every time you stand up for the cause you believe in, every time you break down one of the walls of fear to speak out, you will emerge stronger and braver on the other side.

I'm a literature professor now, and a fiction writer. As I grew up, I never stopped loving science fiction and fantasy; I never stopped loving stories, in part because good stories reveal character, and character reveals the fundamental truths of the human heart. It takes clear sight and courage to look at what is revealed inside us, dark and bright, and show that openly to the world. One of my favorite writers, Dorothy Allison, said that the best writing comes when we are terrified, and we write the truth anyway. So I am asking you to look clearly at the world around you, its beauty and its terrible pain and injustice. I'm asking you to take up that flaming sword, because it is here; I am standing on your doorstep, and I am calling you. You can be brave enough, you can be a hero.

The best of it is that if you lead the way, others will follow.

Deep in our hearts, I believe we all want to be heroes.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Farmers Market

Asparagus. Lettuce. Spinach. Rhubarb. Red and white spring onions. New potatoes. House finches singing in the trees. Fresh bread. Handmade soap. Honey. Radishes. Sunlight. Organically raised rainbow trout. Fresh dill. Napa cabbage. Strawberries. More asparagus. More sunlight.

Astronomy Photo of the Day

It may look like some sort of cute alien robot, but it was created here on Earth, launched to the Moon in 1970, and now reflects laser light in a scientifically useful way. On November 17, 1970 the Soviet Luna 17 spacecraft landed the first roving remote-controlled robot on the Moon. Known as Lunokhod 1, it weighed just under 2,000 pounds and was designed to operate for 90 days while guided in real-time by a five person team near Moscow, USSR. Lunokhod 1 toured the lunar Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium) for 11 months in one of the greatest successes of the Soviet lunar exploration program. This Lunokhod's operations officially ceased in 1971. Earlier this year, however, the position of the rover was recovered by NASA's moon-orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Given that position, laser pulses from Earth were successfully bounced off the old robot's reflector. Bouncing laser pulses off of this and other lunar reflectors could yield range data to the moon accurate enough to track millimeter-sized deviations in the Moon's orbit, effectively probing lunar composition and testing gravitational theories.

I feel a real disjunction between the achievements of science and the beauty of the universe and human politics and economics. How can we make such a mess, when we can look up and see the stars?

A Joke from Iceland

In the interests of finding something cheerful, I went to the Iceland Review and found a video of the stand up comedian Jon Gnarr, who is the new mayor of Reykjavik. The skit was called, "Denmark sucks." I felt it was only mildly funny, though the sense of humor has a strange interest. He starts out by saying, "Norway sucks. But they have nice fences." That does strike me as funny, though I can't say why.

A Joke from Uri Avnery

From an article by Uri Avnery, the long-time Israeli peace activist:
It is impossible not to be reminded of the classic Jewish joke about the Jewish mother in Russia taking leave of her son, who has been called up to serve the Czar in the war against Turkey. “Don’t overexert yourself’” she implores him, “Kill a Turk and rest. Kill another Turk and rest again…”

“But mother,” the son interrupts, “What if the Turk kills me?”

“You?” exclaims the mother, “But why? What have you done to him?”
This is a genuinely funny story, though a bit too appropriate right now...

Saturday, June 05, 2010


From My Money Blog:
Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman performed a TED Talk this year... What ended up being the catchy soundbite was in the Q&A session after his talk, where he tells us that while millions of dollars won’t buy you happiness, a job that pays $60,000 a year might help. This is based on a survey of 600,000 Americans:

“Below 60,000 dollars a year, people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, we get an absolutely flat line. I mean I’ve rarely seen lines so flat.

“Clearly… money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery,” he said. But the real trick, Kahneman said, is to spend time with people you like.
So we could redistribute the nation's wealth, so most people would have more. The poor would be happier, and the rich would not be less happy.

Per Wikiepdia, in 2007 households in the United States earned roughly $7.896 trillion in total. There were 116,011,000 households in the US in 2007. That is $68,062 per household if I have done the math right.

Sounds good to me.

I already spend time with people I like.

Comment on a Paul Krugman Column

Woodside, NY
May 31st, 2010
9:09 am

I was speaking with a friend this afternoon. Both of us are unemployed; both for more than a year. Both of us are college educated: she has a background in finance, I've worked as an administrative assistant with a background in publishing, legal services and the non-profit sector. I'm in my late fifties. My benefits have run out, I'm using what savings I have, but they won't last long. What will I do when there is nothing left? As I don't drive, I don't have a car in which I could sleep. This is not hyperbole, I feel real despair. And I feel betrayed by my government, by officials who don't seem to care or understand what working people are experiencing.

Rachel Corrie

In world news, Israel has seized the Gaza relief ship Rachel Corrie. I can't tell from the stories if the ship was in international waters. If not, then it was in Egyptian or Gaza waters.

In Icelandic news, the salmon fishing season has begun; and Jon Gnarr will be the next mayor of Reykjavik. Jon is a comedian, who founded the Best Party, which got the most votes in the recent municipal elections.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Icelandic Review

No good sheep or chicken stories today.

Today from NASA

Active galaxy NGC 1275 is the central, dominant member of the large and relatively nearby Perseus Cluster of Galaxies. Wild-looking at visible wavelengths, the active galaxy is also a prodigious source of x-rays and radio emission. NGC 1275 accretes matter as entire galaxies fall into it, ultimately feeding a supermassive black hole at the galaxy's core. This color composite image, recreated from archival Hubble Space Telescope data, highlights the resulting galactic debris and filaments of glowing gas, some up to 20,000 light-years long. The filaments persist in NGC 1275, even though the turmoil of galactic collisions should destroy them. What keeps the filaments together? Observations indicate that the structures, pushed out from the galaxy's center by the black hole's activity, are held together by magnetic fields. Also known as Perseus A, NGC 1275 spans over 100,000 light years and lies about 230 million light years away.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Gaza Flotilla

One of the people killed is a 19-year-old American citizen. He was shot four times in the head and once in the chest. I can't imagine any way to produce these wounds except deliberate execution.

Correction: the autopsy report is now out. The kid was shot once in the face, once in the back of the head, once in the back and twice in the leg.


I spend every Wiscon the same way -- in a daze caused by too much input, too little sleep and too much coffee. Then I come home and spend a day or two sleeping; and then I begin to reflect on the con.

Right now I am reflecting on a panel (late in the con) on ending machismo worldwide. I suspect it's a panel that should be done every year at Wiscon and at cons other than Wiscon, because it asks the core question: "What Is To Be Done?" How can we react to and act in a world that seems (in many ways) increasingly grim?

I didn't pay attention to the news during Wiscon, but two pieces of information got through: BP's attempt to cap their oil well did not work; and Israel attacked the flotilla bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza, killing at least nine people. The US, as usual, is trying to protect Israel from any consequences.

So, how do we live and work in this world?

The panel -- especially the comments from the audience -- sounded like the kind of panel I've heard before, when people are beginning to discuss an issue, but don't yet have an analysis or a plan. What is to be done?

Andrea Hairston talked about programs that help Third World women and girls gain an education and some economic independence. According to Andrea, if you give money to men, they will spend it on beer. Women invest to increase their wealth and better care for their children. If the lives of women improve, then the entire society improves. As the old union song tells us, the rising of the women is the rising of the race.

Euen Bear talked about local politics as a way to change minds and make social change. Another woman in the audience talked about grassroots organizing and how you talk to --and reach -- people with different politic beliefs. Karen Joy Fowler asked what can be done about Fox News; and I suggested a boycott, like the one Color of Change organized against Glenn Beck. Harpoon them in the pocketbook, as Big Bill Haywood said. It's the only thing they understand.

People on the panel and in the audience pointed out that none of this changes the system.

The system was not named. It is capitalism. It is important to name it, I think. It's a slippery system with a remarkable ability to survive crisis after crisis, and to change its rhetoric whenever needed. (It's like the diseases that are difficult to treat, because they fool the immune system. I think syphilis is one.) We need to counter the slipperiness of capitalism with clarity, with an analysis that enables us to actually see the world.

We need to talk about the cost of capitalism over and over. Evo Morales says we cannot save the environment unless we end capitalism. I think he has a point.

This panel was about something else: machismo is not the same as capitalism, though the people talking from the audience were actually talking more about capitalism than machismo. But we need panels on capitalism and on class. I've been trying for years to get a good discussion on class going at Wiscon. It's remarkably difficult. One of the ways capitalism disguises itself is by using language and ideas that obscure power relationships.

This leads to something else that needs to be discussed somewhere. What is the role of the intelligentsia, if any? Does our gift for language, art and ideas have any use, except to make capitalism more palatable? Can we dissect the system and show clearly through our writing what it is and does?

Have we done this already? I think not, because the discussions at Wiscon so often slide around capitalism.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Today from the Iceland Review

I went to the Iceland Review Online in the hopes of finding another light story about sheep or chickens and found this:
Iceland Condemns Israeli Raid on Gaza Convoy

Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphédinsson released a statement yesterday condemning the Israeli attack on ships carrying aid supplies to the Gaza Strip. He supports the demand of the EU and the UN that the raid be investigated in detail.

Furthermore, the Icelandic government demands that Israel lift their siege in Gaza immediately. “It is a despicable crime,” Skarphédinsson told Fréttabladid of the attack on the convoy. “People who couldn’t defend themselves were attacked with weapons.”

Minister of Finance Steingrímur J. Sigfússon said yesterday’s events must prompt the international community to “no longer look away as it has done for far too long in the matters of Israel. This is bound to lead to a turning point in relations with Israel. This is just too shocking.”

Courtesy of NASA

Is the heart and soul of our Galaxy located in Cassiopeia? Possibly not, but that is where two bright emission nebulas nicknamed Heart and Soul can be found. The Heart Nebula, officially dubbed IC 1805 and visible in the above right, has a shape in optical light reminiscent of a classical heart symbol. The above image, however, was taken in infrared light by the recently launched WISE telescope. Infrared light penetrates well inside the vast and complex bubbles created by newly formed stars in the interior of these two massive star forming regions. Studies of stars and dust like those found in the Heart and Soul Nebulas have focussed on how massive stars form and how they affect their environment. Light takes about 6,000 years to reach us from these nebulas, which together span roughly 300 light years.

From Robert Fisk in the Independent

In 1948, our politicians – the Americans and the British – staged an airlift into Berlin. A starving population (our enemies only three years before) were surrounded by a brutal army, the Russians, who had erected a fence around the city. The Berlin airlift was one of the great moments in the Cold War. Our soldiers and our airmen risked and gave their lives for these starving Germans.

Incredible, isn't it? In those days, our politicians took decisions; our leaders took decisions to save lives. Messrs Attlee and Truman knew that Berlin was important in moral and human as well as political terms.

And today? It was people – ordinary people, Europeans, Americans, Holocaust survivors – yes, for heaven's sake, survivors of the Nazis – who took the decision to go to Gaza because their politicians and their statesmen had failed them.

Where were our politicians yesterday? Well, we had the ridiculous Ban Ki-moon, the White House's pathetic statement, and dear Mr Blair's expression of "deep regret and shock at the tragic loss of life". Where was Mr Cameron? Where was Mr Clegg?

Back in 1948, they would have ignored the Palestinians, of course. It is, after all, a terrible irony that the Berlin airlift coincided with the destruction of Arab Palestine.

But it is a fact that it is ordinary people, activists, call them what you will, who now take decisions to change events. Our politicians are too spineless, too cowardly, to take decisions to save lives.

What really interests me here is the emphasis on ordinary people acting, because governments have failed. This is what Immanuel Wallerstein talks about -- that we live in an era when nation states no longer work, and when the entire political and economic system that relies on nation states is in jeopardy.

What's hopeful is -- ordinary people are acting. A problem that governments have failed to deal with over and over is being confronted by ordinary people and NGOs.

If the great political structures of the world are paralyzed by greed or timidity or a simple inability to see any possibility of change, then maybe we need to move forward on our own and leave the politicians, businessmen, experts and generals behind.