Tag Archives: Miscel.

Miscellany, and an apology for long silence

I’ve been away from this blog recently, trying to devote some more time to fiction writing (but not yet quite comfortable enough to talk about that personal creative process, as I know others do). Working on this blog has been, and continues to be, an interesting writing experience — but a reactive one, a curatorial process of finding and commenting on cool things that others have said or done. It’s rewarding to be plugged in to the cultural conversation on the net, adding my humble two cents; but it’s been a while since I’ve made something of my own, and that’s something I’d like to spend a little more time doing. If you’ve been following my posts, I’m very grateful for your time and attention. I’ll try to keep it up as best I can.

Meanwhile, some things of interest:

1) Gregory Benford writes about the future of space exploration, arguing that the time has come for NASA to give way to commerce-driven space initiatives. Neil deGrasse Tyson (whom my family and I just saw giving a brilliant talk at the American Museum of Natural History) offers a different take on NASA and the vital importance of government funding for exploration. (Tyson videos have been popping up all over YouTube recently, eloquently presenting and sometimes re-editing his arguments: some choice ones here and especially here.)

2) A fascinating talk by author Neal Stephenson on our society’s increasing inability to get big stuff done, and why it’s important to revive that sense of ambition and possibility.

3) Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie has a must-read essay on “The Storytellers of Empire,” asking America why “Your soldiers will come to our lands, but your novelists won’t.” She makes a compelling argument for empathy, connection, and identity beyond ethnicity: “The moment you say, a male American writer can’t write about a female Pakistani, you are saying, Don’t tell those stories. Worse, you’re saying, as an American male you can’t understand a Pakistani woman. She is enigmatic, inscrutable, unknowable. She’s other. Leave her and her nation to its Otherness. Write them out of your history.”

4) NPR host Bob Mondello points to a science fiction story by E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops,” that eerily predicts our (sterile?) virtual culture, our overreliance on technology, and what that says about who we are.

5) Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova asks: “what if we engineered […] selective attention purposefully and aligned it with our emotional and mental well-being?” She calls our attention to Ruth Kaiser and the Spontaneous Smiley Project, which invites us to see — and photograph — the smiley-face configurations that are literally everywhere around us. Kaiser makes the case for optimism on her blog, and quotes some inspiring Dr. Seuss passages as well. You can also watch her TED talk here.

And now I’m off. Have a great day, wherever you are. Go make something beautiful. Make someone smile.

(Photo via Do Something)

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Miscellany: Blume, Hitchens, Lamarr, Tyson; The West Wing as science fiction; groupthink and solitude; what e-books can’t do; and the end of SOPA (for now)

Time for another grab-bag of links that caught my eye:

1) An NPR interview with the incomparable Judy Blume, who talks about censorship, how to inspire kids to read (and how not to), the folly of labeling authors and books according to “audience age,” and how perseverance determines a writer’s success more than talent. (Note to self: time to get to work. Again.)

2) An interview with Richard Rhodes on the scientific career of actress Hedy Lamarr, “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Fascinating stuff, and one I’ve touched on before, in a post on stereotypes and women scientists.

3) A compilation of articles written for The Nation by the late, great Christopher Hitchens, spanning 28 years (1978-2006).

4) Over the past few months my wife and I have avidly watched all seven seasons of The West Wing. Graham Sleight explains why the show is, at its heart, science fiction in spirit and impulse: “I want to argue […] that it’s SF in a more profound sense […] It makes an argument, as SF does, about possibility, about what can be done, and it does so by presenting us with a world already showing a change from our own.” Highly worth reading if you’re a West Wing fan.

5) A provocative New York Times essay by Susan Cain on “The Rise of the New Groupthink,” about the folly of insisting on constant collaboration and “teamwork” at the expense of creative solitude. This is happening in schools as well, as Cain points out, a fact that I personally find a bit worrying. Learning to work with others is great, but are we failing to appreciate the virtues of aloneness, of introspection?

6) Why books are made of win: the Abe Books blog, via Matador, offers a list of things you can’t do with an e-book. Including leaving it on a beach towel, throwing it across the room, and using it to press flowers and fallen leaves.

7) Carl Zimmer’s excellent profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

8) And finally — victory! Talking Points Memo analyzes how Netizens killed SOPA and PIPA. No doubt the advocates of censorship will try again; but those who stand for freedom of speech will be ready and waiting.

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Miscellany: “Bah, humbug!” edition

For your perusal this holiday season: Continue reading

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Miscellany: Waiting for Irene; Neil Gaiman kicks my lazy ass; girl scientists rock (and so does Kirsten Gillibrand); Harry Potter ends; more atheist fun

Well, I’m back (and wishing I could have brought Idaho’s clear night sky back with me). And now we’re hunkering down in our apartment, bracing for the flooding from Hurricane Irene, which is due to hit New York later tonight: we’ve got all our supplies, we’re a storey above ground level, and we’re not in a mandatory evacuation zone (though we’re pretty close to one). We’ll make it through just fine. Bring it on.

Some old links to share before I start with fresh posts:

In an inspiring interview, Neil Gaiman links writing to punk rock and tells aspiring writers to get off their lazy asses and Just Do It. M. Molly Backes says the same thing, in a post with some wise advice to parents of would-be writers.

Take that, Larry Summers: Girls are excelling in science.

Roger Ebert has a very insightful take on what’s wrong with the Republican party today, why they don’t speak for most Americans, and why, despite any short-term victories, the tide of history is against them. On the other side of the aisle, my awesome hometown senator Kirsten Gillibrand talks feminism, politics, and the next generation.

As the Harry Potter saga comes to an end: Chloe Angyal at Feministing.com talks about Potter and feminism. Michelle Dean at The Millions considers the powerful and sincere appeal of J.K. Rowling’s story to the unjaded reader or viewer in us, despite the literary flaws and the calculations of commercial forces that the series’ critics are happy to point out. Bringing Potter into the messy world of terror and counter-terror, Dan Nexon at The Duck of Minerva speculates on why Harry won; and in the aftermath of his victory, a Foreign Policy article on “Post-Conflict Potter” gives serious consideration to what happens next.

Paul Boghossian’s essay on morality in the Times sparks a fascinating discussion on moral relativism. I don’t think I have (at the moment) a firm opinion on the subject, but I like reading up on both sides of the issue. Sometimes Sam Harris makes a lot of sense, and sometimes he doesn’t…

Which brings us to God and Godlessness territory. The New Statesman compiles statements from many prominent atheists and agnostics explaining why they don’t believe in God. Paula Kirby, pushing back against Governor Rick Perry’s stupidity, sets the record straight on evolution and why it’s a threat to Christianity; Richard Dawkins chimes in. Hemant Mehta links to some great hard-hitting atheist billboards. And, playfully sticking it to Intelligent Design, Paul Simms publishes God’s blog (be sure to read through to the “comments”).

And that’s it for now. More writing soon, after the storm.

(Photo by Kateri Jochum for WNYC)

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Gone swimming

This will be my last post for the next couple of weeks, as my family and I head out to visit the in-laws in Idaho. I’m looking forward to a break from the buzz and commotion of NYC; long stretches of reading and stargazing time; and, I hope, seeing a lot of this:

Happy August to all.

(Photo via Flickr)

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Miscellany

Here are a few items I haven’t had time to write about, but are still, I think, worth your attention. I may revisit and more fully discuss some of these in the future, but there’s no reason not to share them now.

James McWilliams makes the case against eating meat. And Mark Bittman, questioning the line we draw between “pet” and “animal,” calls attention to our continuing cruel treatment of farm animals. (He writes a must-read follow-up here.)

Maria Bustillos discusses “Wikipedia And The Death Of The Expert.” Interesting to revisit this piece after having finished Robert Sawyer’s excellent WWW Trilogy, which projects a breathtaking and optimistic vision of the benefits of our online interconnectedness (and the emergence of a benevolent online AI). But it’s also interesting to consider this “democracy of opinions,” “we are all experts” mindset in the light of a recent talk by Timothy Ferris at last weekend’s World Science Festival. Ferris said that while science and democracy have flourished together (as he wrote in The Science of Liberty) the real test of democratic culture today is whether such a diversity of voices can produce the quick, decisive actions needed to respond to climate change. The Internet broadens our landscape of data and opinions — but is it slowing down our power to choose among these options, to act to save ourselves?

Why libraries matter: because every damn kid matters. And hey, every prisoner matters too.

On the education front: Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, speaks out against standardized testing. David Bornstein explores a better way to teach math. And while the US faces a crisis in civics education, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reminds us that learning about government can be fun: check out her brainchild, the nonprofit gaming site icivics.org. (My daughter’s favorites: “Executive Command” and “Argument Wars.”)

A must-read piece by Linda Holmes on how we should deal with the fact that, no matter how much we individually read and watch and listen and consume what culture has to offer, we’re going to miss almost everything.

Edward Lerner rails against the media for celebrating the end of the space shuttle flights and basking in NASA’s old glories, rather than getting the public excited about the need for a continuing, active, and ambitious space program.

Michael Boylan asks: “Are There Natural Human Rights?”

Jonathan Franzen suggests that technology makes us more self-directed, while love makes us other-directed. Well worth reading. And in conjunction, read David Brooks’ op-ed, “It’s Not About You.” Perhaps they overstate the case in some areas, and there’s some thoughtful pushback in the comments, but these are still, I think, wise pieces.

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A new look

I thought I’d experiment with some different themes and layouts; the old theme was starting to feel a little cramped and cluttered to me. The site’s appearance may change at times over the next few days. If you’re a regular or occasional visitor, I apologize for any confusion.

I hope to settle on a look that’s simple, easy on the eyes, and easily navigable. Your comments are welcome, of course.

 

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