Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Great Image from NASA (our tax dollars at work)

A wonderful photo of a supercell, which I am not copying here, because it's copyrighted.

Not All is Gloom and Doom

A poem I wrote after the last awful election:
After A Political Setback

The thing to do
is take a hot shower,
dress carefully,
put on a fancy necklace
and amethyst earrings,
smile at the mirror and say:
“I remain.
Those I love remain.
The poor,
the workers and farmers remain.
Those who fight remain.
Those who win
as well as those who lose.”

It is dedicated to Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party, the new President of Brazil. When she was young, she was a Communist guerrilla, who was imprisoned by the military government and tortured. She says her goal as president is to end poverty in Brazil. We will see how she does.

My agent tells me that "My Husband Steinn," my story about trolls and the giant hydroelectric project in Iceland has been bought.

The hwarhath Sherlock Holmes story has gone to my writing group. The Brer Rabbit story has -- finally, finally -- gone to my agent, though I still don't like the last few pages. I will probably rewrite them.

Grey Weather 2

The other cause of my low mood is the recent election, and my sense that Obama is a less effective politician than George Bush, who actually managed to do what he wanted to do: cut taxes for the rich, start two wars, increase the power of the executive and begin the process of turning the US into a police state.

Bush may not have been responsible for all this. It might be Chaney. But someone in the White House got things done, though they were all things I dislike.

I used to joke that every president made the previous president look good. Then we got to Bush 2, and I thought there is no way that anyone can make this guy look good.

Bush was an idiot with an effective handler, would be my guess. Obama seems like an empty suit. I don't know what he wants. I do know he has not come through on any of the promises he made while campaigning, and he is not solving any of the terrible problems the country faces.

Grey Weather

I've been in a grey mood since Thanksgiving -- not sure why. The weather has been on the edge of freezing, producing mixed rain and wet snow. This morning it is snow.

Part of the problem, I think, was reading a book on China and world capitalism. The last chapter dealt with capitalism and global warming, arguing -- convincingly, I think -- that capitalism is not able to deal effectively with global warming. A system based on short term profit and endless growth cannot make the changes necessary to reduce greenhouse gases in the brief time we have before things get seriously awful. The book quoted James Lovelock, who predicts that by the end of this century most land will be desert or scrub land, the oceans will be mostly dead, and the planet's human population will be down to one billion people. A little grim, but far better than James Hansen's worst case scenario, which is a run-away greenhouse effect, ending with a planet like Venus, 800 degrees F on the surface.

So, that is one cause of a grey mood, not improved by the next world climate meeting, which has just begun in Cancun. Everyone is talking about reasonable expectations and modest changes -- while methane bubbles out of the melting permafrost in Siberia and Canada.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Photo by Patrick

Snow and Christmas lights in the park.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Never Vote for a Finn

A friend of Patrick's ran for mayor in Eveleth, a town up on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota. She lost, and she thinks it was because she's a Finn.

When she was door knocking, people told her they would never vote for a Finn, because the Finns were too radical in the big iron strike in 1916 (or maybe the strike of 1907 -- I'm not sure). As a result, the National Guard was called in, and the miners lost the strike.

I am back thinking about Elizabeth Moon's argument that America requires that people assimilate. But they don't. People of Slavic descent on the Iron Range are still mad at the Finns a hundred years later. I remember that the Icelanders had to fight three wars with the British in order to control their offshore fishing. I also remember that the Danish government pretty much left the Icelanders alone to die of starvation when Iceland was a Danish colony.

I don't spend a lot of time being mad at the Danes. But I do remember the British are no friends of Iceland. Does this matter to me? Yes.

I think people grossly underestimate the extent to which Americans are loyal to ethnic groups and local regions.

The middle class is less ethnic than the working class; and the upper middle class and the rich know no loyalty to anything except their own class. So I think pundits and politicians underestimate local loyalties.

What does this mean. It may mean that the country is more fragile than most people realtize and could fall apart.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Paul Krugman - There Will Be Blood

From the most recent Paul Krugman column:

So here’s what the very serious Mr. Simpson said on Friday: “I can’t wait for the blood bath in April. ... When debt limit time comes, they’re going to look around and say, ‘What in the hell do we do now? We’ve got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give ’em a piece of meat, real meat,’ ” meaning spending cuts. “And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary,” he continued.

Think of Mr. Simpson’s blood lust as one more piece of evidence that our nation is in much worse shape, much closer to a political breakdown, than most people realize...

Mr. Obama is still talking about bipartisan outreach, and maybe if he caves in sufficiently he can avoid a federal shutdown this spring. But any respite would be only temporary; again, the G.O.P. is just not interested in helping a Democrat govern.

My sense is that most Americans still don’t understand this reality. They still imagine that when push comes to shove, our politicians will come together to do what’s necessary. But that was another country.

It’s hard to see how this situation is resolved without a major crisis of some kind. Mr. Simpson may or may not get the blood bath he craves this April, but there will be blood sooner or later. And we can only hope that the nation that emerges from that blood bath is still one we recognize.

A Comment on the Above

I think what we are looking at right now is shock capitalism. The idea is from a book by Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

From Wikipedia:
The book argues that the free market policies of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman have risen to prominence in some countries because they were pushed through while the citizens were reacting to disasters or upheavals. It is implied that some man-made crises, such as the Falklands war, may have been created with the intention of being able to push through these unpopular reforms in their wake.

Per Wikipedia, Klein argues that the invasion and destruction of Iraq is the biggest attempt at shock capitalism thus far. Out of the disaster is supposed to rise an oil exporting economy friendly to Western oil companies.

The shock doctrine -- or something like it -- was used in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, either by accident or intentionally. The country's economy was ripped apart; the social safety net vanished; and the citizens were impoverished. The average life span dropped, something not seen in any other country. In the end, Russia had a capitalist economy. The accumulated wealth of the Russian People, formerly controlled by the state in the name of the people, was in private hands, many of those hands belonging to former Communist Party hacks or former gangsters. As I remember, the Russian government was being advised by Harvard economists when all this went down.

Something similar appears to be happening here. The right is attacking the social safety net, what remains of it. The idea is (it seems to me) to reset the rules of society, creating a far more predatory America, where most people are poor and frightened.

The government as it exists now is not likely to survive. As Krugman says above, it isn't working at the moment; and shock capitalism is going to require a strong central power to control the population. That suggests a dictatorship, though there are other options. A crippled form of the Republic may continue. The country may simply break down and break apart, like the former Soviet Union; or the population may get angry enough to challenge the rich and remake society.

I may be wrong. I am not in an optimistic mood right now. It's possible we can limp along with an economy and government that don't really work any more.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

From NASA, ESA and IAA (Spain)

For reasons unknown, NGC 6357 is forming some of the most massive stars ever discovered. One such massive star, near the center of NGC 6357, is framed above carving out its own interstellar castle with its energetic light from surrounding gas and dust. In the greater nebula, the intricate patterns are caused by complex interactions between interstellar winds, radiation pressures, magnetic fields, and gravity. The overall glow of the nebula results from the emission of light from ionized hydrogen gas. Near the more obvious Cat's Paw nebula, NGC 6357 houses the open star cluster Pismis 24, home to many of these tremendously bright and blue stars. The central part of NGC 6357 shown spans about 10 light years and lies about 8,000 light years away toward the constellation of the Scorpion.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NASA Image of the Day

With NASA commentary...
The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan's Quintet is featured in this eye-catching image constructed with data drawn from the extensive Hubble Legacy Archive. About 300 million light-years away, only four galaxies of the group are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The four interacting galaxies (NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317) have an overall yellowish cast and tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. But the larger bluish galaxy, NGC 7320, is much closer than the others. Just 40 million light-years distant, it isn't part of the interacting group. In fact, individual stars in the foreground galaxy can be seen in the sharp Hubble view, hinting that it is much closer than the others. Stephan's Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I was supposed a host an anime viewing today. But there's a winter storm warning, and snow is falling thickly outside our windows. So the gathering is off.

I think I will go out to a coffee shop later. There is one walking distance. I want to work on my hwarhath Sherlock Holmes story and buy more coffee beans. We are almost out.

The writing group liked my most recent Lydia Duluth story, which is # 8, if I count the short novel. A number of small fixes are needed, things I didn't explain adequately. And Patrick needs to read the story, since it's about homelessness.

Then back to the hwarhath novel.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NASA Photo of the Day

Did you know that our Milky Way Galaxy has huge bubbles emitting gamma rays from the direction of the galactic center? Neither did anybody. As the data from the Earth-orbiting Fermi satellite began acuminating over the past two years, however, a large and unusual feature toward our Galaxy's center became increasingly evident. The two bubbles are visible together as the red and white spotted oval surrounding the center of the above all sky image, released yesterday. The plane of our Galaxy runs horizontally across the image center. Assuming the bubbles emanate from our Galaxy's center, the scale of the bubbles is huge, rivaling the entire Galaxy in size, and spanning about 50,000 light years from top to bottom. Earlier indications of the bubbles has been found on existing all sky maps in the radio, microwave, and X-ray. The cause of the bubbles is presently unknown, but will likely be researched for years to come.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


There is something demented about the way I write. I have three stories in the last stages of revision and a partly finished story, which I need to get back to; and I have the sequel to Ring of Swords, which I really, really need to finish revising.

So I have just started two new stories.

I think I definitely belong to the class of writers who like the first draft and don't like revising.

NASA and Hubble Strike Again!

A fantastic jumble of young blue star clusters, gigantic glowing gas clouds, and imposing dark dust lanes surrounds the central region of the active galaxy Centaurus A. This mosaic of Hubble Space Telescope images taken in blue, green, and red light has been processed to present a natural color picture of this cosmic maelstrom. Infrared images from the Hubble have also shown that hidden at the center of this activity are what seem to be disks of matter spiraling into a black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun! Centaurus A itself is apparently the result of a collision of two galaxies and the left over debris is steadily being consumed by the black hole. Astronomers believe that such black hole central engines generate the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A and other active galaxies. But for an active galaxy Centaurus A is close, a mere 10 million light-years away, and is a relatively convenient laboratory for exploring these powerful sources of energy.

Comentary courtesy of NASA.

My comment is, the universe is not a safe place. Most of it is cold and dark and empty, and most of the rest of it is furnaces producing lethal radiation, often in the course of exploding, colliding or cannibalizing neighbors. Not that I'm complaining. It's one heck of a show.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Another Dream

I had the following dream last night:

I was in a small, dark cell. There was an opening at the top, large enough for me to get a hand through. I had a toy dump truck, smaller than a matchbook truck, and there was a dish of water on the floor next to the opening. (The cell was under the floor.) I was able to reach through the opening and use the truck to scoop water up, so I could drink. I did this again and again.

I think the dream is about my life in a capitalist society. I have had enough money to get by, and I've been mostly comfortable -- physically comfortable, at least. I can't say that I've been especially trapped: I've mostly done what I wanted to, which was be a writer. But living in an unjust society is constraining, and there such a thing as a thirst for justice and freedom. As the wonderful song by Solomon Burke says, None of us is free, till all of us are free.

Naomi Kritzer's comment on the dream:
It's your subconscious telling you that you can survive a Republican Congress, but it will be very annoying.

Less bleak and maybe more true than my analysis.

A Dream

I had a dream the night before last about a hwarhath woman who solves a mystery while impersonating Sherlock Holmes. There was more to the dream than just this, but I lost it as I woke.

In any case, it seemed worth trying to write a story about the dream idea. I got 1,900 words written yesterday. I intend no more than 7,000, so I am 25-30% done.

Another image emerged, besides the tall, thin hwarhath woman dressed (so of) as Holmes. I don't know if this was part of the dream, or something I made up after. It's a row boat, floating in the still, green water of a fjord. It's empty. That is the mystery.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Photo of the Day, Thanks to NASA

Constellations of lights sprawl across this night scene, but they don't belong in the skies of planet Earth. Instead, the view looks down from the International Space Station as it passed over the United States along the northern Gulf Coast on October 29. A Russian Soyuz spacecraft is docked in the foreground. Behind its extended solar panels, some 360 kilometers below, are the recognizable city lights of New Orleans. Looking east along the coast to the top of the frame finds Mobile, Alabama while Houston city lights stand out to the west, toward the bottom. North (left) of New Orleans, a line of lights tracing central US highway I55 connects to Jackson, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. Of course, the lights follow the population centers, but not everyone lives on planet Earth all the time these days. November 2nd marked the first decade of continuous human presence in space on board the International Space Station.