Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It's a really poor idea for me to stay inside. I'm a lot happier when I get out and do things. Yesterday, I went to the bank and library, then down to the Mississippi, which is above flood stage. The path beside the river is partially flooded and closed. The road along the river is also closed. I didn't see any water on the road, but Patrick said it was flooded farther down. Water was lapping at the Harriet Island Park pavilion across the river and at the Rose Island boat house, and there is water under the trees in the park.

It was a bright day with a blue sky, clear except for high, wispy clouds. People do what they do usually do when there's a flood that is not immediately dangerous. They stood on the bank and looked at the water moving past. A friend told me later the river is running at the speed of the Niagara River when it reaches the big falls. It looks smooth and brown, but it's dangerous.

I stopped in a coffee shop for a scone and coffee, then went home.

Today I went out to another coffee shop to meet two friends. In theory we meet to write, but there is also chatting about agents and editors and story ideas and life. A nice way to spend an afternoon. It's another bright day. Tomorrow will be rain and possibly snow. I have more errands planned, so I get out and move around and think about myself, rather than the world's problems.

Friday will be more writing, this time by myself.


Big, beautiful NGC 5584 is more that 50,000 light-years across and lies 72 million light-years away toward the constellation Virgo. The winding spiral arms of this gorgeous island universe are loaded with luminous young star clusters and dark dust lanes. Still, for earthbound astronomers NGC 5584 is not just another pretty face-on spiral galaxy. Home to some 250 Cepheid variable stars and a recent Type Ia supernova explosion, key objects for astronomical distance determinations, NGC 5584 is one of 8 galaxies used in a new study that includes additional Hubble Space Telescope observations to improve the measurement of Hubble's Constant - the expansion rate of the Universe. The results of the study lend weight to the theory that dark energy really is responsible for accelerating the expansion of the Universe, restricting models that try to explain the observed acceleration without the mysterious dark energy. In this sharp Hubble image of NGC 5548, many of the small reddish smudges are distant background galaxies.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On the Right Wing

I have decided my posts on Why People Are Angry are too long, too full of common wisdom and possibly wrong. I'm blending the experiences of too many different groups, and I'm not sure the resulting narrative is true or relevent.

Here, from the SPLC Report, is the South Poverty Law Center's explanation for why the crazy and dangerous right is growing. (If you don't know, the Southern Poverty Law Center is the go-to organization for information on hate groups. They track them nationwide.) The SPLC says:
Several factors fueled the growth (of hate groups): resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the lagging economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at minorities and the government.
This is short and clear. I'll go with it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

NASA! Mars!

The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Named Valles Marineris, the grand valley extends over 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and delves as much as 8 kilometers deep. By comparison, the Earth's Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA is 800 kilometers long, 30 kilometers across, and 1.8 kilometers deep. The origin of the Valles Marineris remains unknown, although a leading hypothesis holds that it started as a crack billions of years ago as the planet cooled. Several geologic processes have been identified in the canyon. The above mosaic was created from over 100 images of Mars taken by Viking Orbiters in the 1

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Anti Cuts Demonstration in London

This is from The Guardian, a photo of the union organized, anti-government-cuts demonstration in London. I don't like posting photos that are copyrighted, but this one is so lovely. Look at those bright colors, like something out of Bollywood.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Detective Stories

I have been reading P.D. James, which has led me to think about detective stories. I would put her into the category of cozy mysteries. These are stories in which a crime in committed in a community that is pleasant and comfortable, cozy. The detective uncovers the criminal and reestablishes a moral norm. Ultimately, this is a conservative art form, about putting things back the way they were.

The tradition that derives from Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett is far different. The society itself is corrupt, and the moral norm is provided by the detective. Per a famous quote from Raymond Chandler:
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor.
The detectives in these stories are like muckrakers. The point is not to restore society, but to expose it, and -- if possible -- change it.

The classic example of this kind of story Hammett's Red Harvest, in which the hero more or less blows apart a crooked town. This is not a conservative art form.

My favorite contemporary writer of tough guy detective stories is the Mexican novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II, who is overtly leftist and funny as heck. In one of his books, An Easy Thing, the mystery is: who killed the Mexican Revolution, and what really happened to Zapata? An amazing novel. All of his books are worth reading.

In many tough guy detective stories society remains corrupt, and many of the bad guys survive, though there is usually some justice. Think of the movie Chinatown, which is a very dark version of a tough guy detective mystery, or The Maltese Falcon, either the book by Dashiell Hammett or the movie. The Falcon has more hope and more justice. I find Hammett's dark vision of contemporary society bracing. Polanski gives me the creeps.

I'm not sure where to put writers such as Tony Hillerman, who is describing life on Navajo reservations and the social problems faced by the Navajo in a largely white America. Life on the Rez is certainly not cozy. But it also isn't corrupt in the way that Chandler's LA is corrupt. Rather, it is damaged; and the problem is -- how can a new moral norm be created? How can the Navajo live well and honorably in the modern world?


I missed one thing in the posts below: the meanness and vindictiveness of many contemporary conservatives. They clearly enjoy attacking vulnerable people. I don't think this is anger. This is something else, more difficult to understand.

The dictionary definition of meanness is:
1. The state of being inferior in quality, character, or value; commonness.
2. The quality or state of being selfish or stingy.
3. A spiteful or malicious act.
The dictionary defintion of vindictive is:
1. Disposed to seek revenge; revengeful.
2. Marked by or resulting from a desire to hurt; spiteful.
Maybe if I think about these more I will understand the Tea Party.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What follows is...

an attempt to think about the right wing in the US. I am amazed by the Tea Party and conservative Republicans. They seem incomprehensibly mean and selfish and also utterly clueless about how a modern society runs. We need infrastructure and public health and education, or the country will crumble and collapse like the 35-W bridge. What is so hard about realizing that you have to invest? And what is so hard about realizing that it's expensive to neglect and deprive people? If you don't pay for hospitals and schools, then you will pay for prisons and security guards and mercenary soldiers.

If you impoverish Americans, who will buy the nation's goods and services? Since WWII the economy has depended on a large working class affluent enough to buy cars, appliances, houses, vacations, college educations... Increasingly the economy depends on luxury goods, but there are not enough rich people to sustain the kind of economy we have now. You can go for a while on consumer debt and cheap goods from China. But this will come to a stop, and has largely come to a stop. Then what? A third world economy? But third world economies are dependent on exporting raw materials and goods to the industrialized world, and the US is the largest consumer market in the world, described until recently as the engine of the world economy. Who is going to replace it, and buy what it exports, if it can find anything to export, except food?

Anyway, I am puzzled by the anger and meanness and cluelessness of the country's right wing. So I decided to write about anger. It's pretty obvious stuff, me thinking out loud.

Note on the Following Essay

I didn't talk -- in the posts below this -- about who the tea partiers are. I don't know, though I have read that they are better educated and better off financially than most Americans. So maybe they are the true middle class, rather than the working class.

It's always hard to talk about class in the US, because everyone between the seriously rich and the genuinely poor is called middle class. This includes the blue collar, white collar, pink collar and technical working classes, small businesspeople, the self-employed and the upper middle class professionals -- doctors, lawyers and so on -- who serve the rich directly and do pretty well off them. This is a broad span, and it isn't clear to what extent all these folk share interests.

My hunch, which is only a hunch, is that the Tea Party appeals mostly to small businesspeople and to white collar workers, who may be employees, but see themselves as management or professional. A bad economy threatens them, as does outsourcing, which has moved from manufacturing to service and professional jobs. The upper middle class professionals are safer, but also allied with the rich, and -- like the rich -- often seem to feel little identity with the rest of the American society and to resent contributing toward the common good.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why People Are Angry # 1

Back in the day, people used to talk about "the revolution of rising expectations." The idea was, people all over the world no longer accepted their lives. They wanted something better. Like Oliver Twist, they wanted more.

In the US, men expected to work at a job that was relatively secure. Their pay would be adequate and would rise over time, due to merit raises or union contracts. There might well be a pension. They'd own a house and one or two cars, maybe a cabin up north and a boat. At least they'd be able to afford vacations. They would be able to put money away for retirement and to help their kids though college. Their children would have better lives.

Not everyone had this life. I'm describing union workers in the north, who were mostly white, and the white collar middle class.

This began to change during the Reagan years. The Republicans called this era "morning in America." I called it "the counter-revolution of falling expectations." Over the past 30 years we have watched the lives of the middle class and working class erode. Pay has not risen. Jobs are no longer secure. Colleges have become seriously expensive compared to the 1960s, when a New York kid could get a tuition-free undergrad education at CCNY, and when I was spending $150 a quarter to go to graduate school at the University of Minnesota. So helping the kids get ahead is harder, and their better lives are a lot less certain.

Everyone knows what a can of worms American health care has become.

Why People Are Angry # 2

So the problem was, how could working people maintain their life style, when wages were not going up? At first, women went to work. This was not simply feminism. This was need. When this turned out to be inadequate, American families turned to debt, running up their credit cards and taking out second mortgages on their houses. This last was possible because of the housing bubble: real estate values kept going up, and the money in houses could be tapped.

Then the economy crashed, and the housing bubble popped. Housing was the main wealth that most Americans had. It was their retirement savings and whatever extra money they might need. Gone. At this point, many people have mortgages that are underwater and mortgage payments they cannot afford. Instead of having a retirement fund, they have debt. If their kids graduate from college, they likely to be burdened by debt and facing a truly lousy job market. As for Mom and Dad... almost 20% of American workers are unemployed or underemployed. It is especially difficult for older workers to find new jobs.

The American Dream was always modest: a steady job, decent pay and benefits, a house and car, vacations, a decent retirement, education for the kids. This wasn't a lot to ask in the richest country on Earth. Now this moderate future is gone, and Americans are looking at uncertainty, low wages, bills they cannot pay.

Why am I writing about something everyone knows? Because I'm trying to understand why people are so angry. They are right to be angry, but too many are angry at women, nonwhites, nonChristians, everyone except the rich, mostly white and mostly Christian men who are profiting from this system.

Why People Are Angry # 3

I suppose this is like the 1920s, which were a hard time for working people, farmers and the lower middle class. Meridell Le Sueur told me once that the Great Depression was a middle class experience. Working people were already hard up before the crash. For them the 1930s were more of the same. One of their reactions was to swing right. The Klu Klux Klan flourished. Per Wikipedia:
A significant characteristic of the second Klan (after World War One) was that it was an organization based in urban areas, reflecting the major shifts of population to cities in both the North and the South. In Michigan, for instance, 40,000 members lived in Detroit, where they made up more than half of the state's membership. Most Klansmen were lower- to middle-class whites who were trying to protect their jobs and housing from the waves of newcomers to the industrial cities: immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, who tended to be Catholic and Jewish in numbers higher than earlier groups of immigrants; and black and white migrants from the South. As new populations poured into cities, rapidly changing neighborhoods created social tensions. Because of the rapid pace of population growth in industrializing cities such as Detroit and Chicago, the Klan grew rapidly in the U.S. Midwest. The Klan also grew in booming Southern cities such as Dallas and Houston.

What is needed -- always needed -- is an analysis that points out that other working people and middle class people are not the problem. The rich are the problem, and a system that allows siphons wealth to the top of society and destroys the lives of ordinary people. But right now, looking at the Tea Party, I see people obsessed with sex and abortion, independent women, immigrants, unions, gay marriage, Muslims... The Tea Party's hatred of unions is obvious now. Racism and antisemitism are still (partly) under the surface, though they keep bubbling up and being denied.

Not Having A Car

I don't drive, as I mentioned before. Patrick does, and he owns a lovely little Saturn with 180,000 miles on it. When we do errands together, we take the car. When I do errands by myself, I walk or take a bus.

I did that today. I ended walking through the skyway system hauling a bag of groceries and a bag full of a manuscript I'd had copied. Most of the time, it's poor people who haul bags around, since they don't have cars. Granted, downtown workers can have bags to carry on the way to their cars, shopping from Macy's, work they are taking home... Still, I felt dorky and poor carrying so much.

In this society, not driving means you are poor, in some way disabled or odd. When I was young, I was less aware of this, since there are a fair number of young people who bike or take the bus. But now -- at my age -- I am aware that I look poor or disabled or odd.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Change # 2

I forgot the obvious example of my discomfort with technology. I have never had a driver's license. I learned to drive (sort of) when I was 21, then never got my learner's permit.

Why? I think some strange form of timidity. I should have learned. Knowing how and having a license does not mean you have to drive. Though when one my bosses asked me why I didn't drive many years ago, I said, "Because if I did, I would end by buying a car."

I think private cars are an insane way to move people around in an urban area. I think they have done huge damage to American society and to the environment. Instead of compact cities, we have enormous suburbs sprawling out and out over what used to be farmland and marshland and woods. (That's what the suburbs replace in Minnesota.)

Kids below driving age are trapped like rats in cages. So are elderly people, no longer able to drive.

City neighborhoods and inner ring suburbs here have (mostly) small houses and yards which are obviously being used -- with outdoor grills and play sets and gardens. People clearly spend time outside and probably know their neighbors. I certainly knew my neighbors when I owned a small house in a Minneapolis neighborhood. The outer ring suburbs have huge houses and yards with nothing in them. It looks as if the inhabitants come home, go inside and have no idea who their neighbors are. If you look at a Minnesota voting map, the suburbs are a red ring around the blue core cities. These are people who have never learned about community.

None the less, I should have learned to drive.


I have been posting on facebook, rather than here. But now I have something to say that will take more than 420 letters...

I am intimidated by change and New Things. (Why do I write science fiction? I love science fiction. I have always read it. I always wanted to write it.) In any case, I have an ancient cell phone, which I almost never carry. I am refusing to learn about twitter, even though it's very popular, and the way we are hearing about the revolutions in the Middle East. I am also refusing to learn about livejournal, linkedin, you name it. I do have a nook, which I got as a present, and I am using it, partly because it's the kind of technology that I write out.

However, I am not intimidated by new ideas or by social change, though some social change makes me angry: the tea party Republicans, attacks on funding for the poor, attacks on choice for women, re-emerging open racism, Isamophobia. This is not change for the better.

Many right wing Americans have no trouble with new gadgets. Horrible Republican congresspeople cheerfully tweet. They are perfectly happy with the goodies produced by modern technology.

But they hate the science underlying the technology, and they hate the social changes produced by technology. (I subscribe the ideas put forth in The German Ideology: social change is produced by changes in the ways people organize themselves to make a living, and changes in production are based on technological change.)

To me, it's crazy to think that technology exists in a void, independent of science and society. I figure, if you like the goodies produced by the information revolution, then you need to come to terms with the information being transmitted and the ways that information is changing people's lives.

If you like modern medicine, then you need to come to terms with the choices it makes possible and the decisions it requires.

I have little trouble with the Amish, who have decided that modern technology threatens their community and are very careful about using any modern technology. I also like the fact that the Amish do not try to change the larger society.

Anyway, I find it interesting that I do not jump to use high tech goodies, but I love new science, and I like progressive (as opposed to regressive) change. Forward into the future!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

NASA! Mars!

If you could stand on Mars, what would you see? The robotic Phoenix spacecraft that landed on Mars in 2008 recorded the above spectacular panorama. The above image is actually a digital combination of over 100 camera pointings and surveys fully 360 degrees around the busy robotic laboratory. Scrolling right will reveal the rest of the panoramic image. Visible in the image foreground are circular solar panels, various Phoenix instruments, rust colored rocks, a trench dug by Phoenix to probe Mars' chemical composition, a vast plateau of dirt and dirt-covered ice, and, far in the distance, the dust colored atmosphere of Mars. Phoenix landed in the far north of Mars and has used its sophisticated laboratory to search for signs that past life might have been possible. Soil analyses have confirmed the presence of ice and gave unexpected indications of perchlorate salts. Whether Martian life could have evolved around such perchlorates is an ongoing topic of research.

Naomi Klein on Democracy Now on Climate Denial

But something very different is going on on the right, and I think we need to understand what that is. Why is climate change seen as such a threat? I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable fear. I think it is—it’s unreasonable to believe that scientists are making up the science. They’re not. It’s not a hoax. But actually, climate change really is a profound threat to a great many things that right-wing ideologues believe in. So, in fact, if you really wrestle with the implications of the science and what real climate action would mean, here’s just a few examples what it would mean.

Well, it would mean upending the whole free trade agenda, because it would mean that we would have to localize our economies, because we have the most energy-inefficient trade system that you could imagine. And this is the legacy of the free trade era. So, this has been a signature policy of the right, pushing globalization and free trade. That would have to be reversed.

You would have to deal with inequality. You would have to redistribute wealth, because this is a crisis that was created in the North, and the effects are being felt in the South. So, on the most basic, basic, "you broke it, you bought it," polluter pays, you would have to redistribute wealth, which is also against their ideology.
You would have to regulate corporations. You simply would have to. I mean, any serious climate action has to intervene in the economy. You would have to subsidize renewable energy, which also breaks their worldview.

You would have to have a really strong United Nations, because individual countries can’t do this alone. You absolutely have to have a strong international architecture.

So when you go through this, you see, it challenges everything that they believe in. So they’re choosing to disbelieve it, because it’s easier to deny the science than to say, "OK, I accept that my whole worldview is going to fall apart," that we have to have massive investments in public infrastructure, that we have to reverse free trade deals, that we have to have huge transfers of wealth from the North to the South. Imagine actually contending with that. It’s a lot easier to deny it.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I see I was complaining about feeling rundown a week ago. Then I got The Cold, a little after we discovered that Patrick did not have strep throat, but did have pneumonia. He just finished his course of antibiotics and is feeling a lot better.

I seem to have a knock-down, drag-out upper respiratory infection with coughing, sneezing, sinus headaches, plugged ears and exhaustion. It's getting enough better that I am starting to notice that I need to clean house and possibly want to write.

Because I've felt too rotten to do anything productive, I have been reading the news too much. Libya is discouraging right now. Wisconsin is also discouraging. I finally switched to reading about dinosaurs, because I love them and they calm me. They were huge and wonderful and existed for so long and now the ones that remain are birds.

I wrote a poem about them something like 25 years ago, after reading a Robert Bakker article in Scientific American:

Little did I realize
that every summer breeze
brings the sound of dinosaurs
singing in the trees;

And in the cool of morning
when dew is barely dry,
the cousins of Triceratops
soar across the sky.

Triceratops is dead and gone,
which proves the worth of might.
Maybe we should put our trust
in music and in flight.

I quote it to myself from time to time, because it cheers me up.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

NASA Photo of the Day

How thin are the rings of Saturn? Brightness measurements from different angles have shown Saturn's rings to be about one kilometer thick, making them many times thinner, in relative proportion, than a razor blade. This thinness sometimes appears in dramatic fashion during an image taken nearly along the ring plane. The robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn has now captured another shot that dramatically highlights the ring's thinness. The above image was taken in mid January in infrared and polarized light. Titan looms just over the thin rings, while dark ring shadows on Saturn show the Sun to be above the ring plane. Close inspection of the image will show the smaller moon Enceladus on the far right. Cassini, humanity's first mission to orbit Saturn, currently has operations planned until 2017.

Friday, March 04, 2011

More News

We seem to be settling down for long struggles in Wisconsin and Libya. The Ohio legislature passed an ugly anti-labor law, which pretty much ends collective bargaining for Ohio public employee unions. The fight will continue. There is recall in Ohio.

On the plus sign, we are apparently not going to get another winter storm this coming week.

Patrick is sick with something that sounds like strep throat, but tested negative at the doctor's office. None the less, he is miserable, dozing on the living room couch at the moment, with intermittent coughing and throat clearing.

I am coming down with something, probably whatever he has. I plan to take the day easy, get final revisions done for two stories and maybe begin to read the entire Lydia Duluth series to make sure it is consistent.

There's a good chance I won't make Marscon this weekend. This cold -- or whatever -- should not be spread around.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Another Photo


I don't know if it's the late winter blahs, or getting worn out by waiting to see what happens in North Africa and Wisconsin and with a friend's hospital tests. But I am out of energy, feeling achy and run down.

And I am tired beyond belief of watching the Republicans in action, attacking workers' rights and women's rights and gay rights and minority rights and the planet.

I should feel good, because people are fighting back, and politicians in the US -- Republican governors and the president -- seem to backing away from their most retrograde positions. (Would Obama have abandoned DOMA, if there were no massive labor demonstrations? He's got to be nice to at least part of his support.)

Gaddafi is fighting to the end, but what else can he do? His foreign assets have been frozen and his family is not welcome anywhere, except maybe Venezuela.

I suppose the cheerful way to look at this is -- things are happening, people are protesting in Africa and the Middle East and America and Europe. The right wing cannot win, because the planet is against them. The resources that capitalism needs -- raw materials, new markets, new sources of labor and a clean environment to dump waste in -- are mostly gone. There are no more externalities. There are only predators going around and around within a narrowing circle, biting and chewing what is left within their reach.

But they can do a lot of harm before they are done circling. And the stars wait for us. We could rebuild this planet and then go up and out. Why our we wasting so much on the tail end of an era?


What's happening outside the space station? A space shuttle has docked. Five days ago, the space shuttle Discovery was launched to the International Space Station, carrying six crew members and the large Leonardo Multi Purpose Logistics Module. Three days ago, as pictured above, the docked shuttle was prepared to be unloaded by the space stations Dextre robot and Canadarm2. The above expansive photo captures much more, however, including Japan's Kibo Experiment Module on the lower right, Earth across the top of the frame, and a seemingly starless backdrop of space in the distance. During the next week, the shuttle and ISS crews are scheduled to permanently attach Leonardo as well as fix and upgrade parts of the ISS. After 38 previous voyages, this is expected to be the last space mission for the Space Shuttle Discovery.