Thursday, May 28, 2009

Of Interest

(Picture from here.)

Nothing today. Too sleepy.

Wall of Idiots
Lies about coins
Blunderbanking: The Credit Default Swap

Links of Interest
Why health care costs
On line texting dictionary
Tomorrows Thoughts Today
Extrasolar oceans
Acoustic superlenses
Photosynthetic entanglement
Tasting words
Colossal Failures

Molding fiberglass
Backyard Battery
Land ski mobile

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

They Live

Nobel Intent had a good article on the vaccine-autism scare. (See here and the root article here.) While it is convenient and easy (and true) to brand as stupid the death knuckle grip some have on the idea that autism is caused by vaccines, it doesn't address a deeper issue. Why people hold on to such things in the face of evidence to the contrary? Aside from deeper, evolutionary issues (a Shermer video here), there's an odd thing going on. People believe this sort of thing even when it's reproductively harmful. In effect, they are creating a negative selection pressure. They are not looking out for their own self interest.

I'm a big believer in self interest. Not because I believe in selfishness as some odd sort of moral imperative, a la Ayn Rand, but because it is a reasonable means to detect baloney. For example, it's interesting that you rarely hear non-smokers tout the benefits of smoking. Smokers have a vested interest in smoking. Therefore, you would expect them to bring up arguments such as freedom of assembly, etc., that would allow them to smoke. This robs their arguments of credibility-- or at least the arguers of any pretense to authority. However, non-smokers, since presumably they have no vested interest in smoking, can be assumed to be at least neutral or negative on the subject and therefore have more credibility. Cui bono is a good method for exercising skepticism.

Non-smokers in favor of smoking please leave your credit card number in the comment section below. I'll be getting in touch with you.

But when people actively follow what is demonstrably against their own best interests (blue collar workers voting for George Bush or Ronald Reagan or anybody believing anything coming out of the mouth of Ann Coulter, for example), I get interested. The baloney detector falls apart and I'm left to that last resort of those trying to make sense of a random world, thinking.

Vaccination works by accommodating risk. The disease is risk A. Vaccination is risk B. As long as Risk B is substantially less that Risk A, it is to you and your child's advantage to court Risk B to avoid Risk A. This is elementary. A child of three can figure this out.

Why would a rational adult put their child in danger?

Yeah, I heard that in the back. The other reader. We're talking about kids and parents here. Where does rationality fit in? Ignore him.

Let's look at another example just for fun.

Public health is arguably one of the most successful governmental programs in history. (Interesting historical article here. Wikipedia here.) It's the public health movement that gave us clean water, sewage treatment systems, vaccinations and the Center for Disease Control. The fundamental premise of the movement was this: disease knows no class nor income. Therefore, keeping anybody healthy keeps everybody healthy.

Yet, America does not have universal health care. If you're poor, the only recourse you have is the ER. We punish people for being poor by denying them health care. What happens? Disease comes out of poverty but it doesn't stay there. Is it a surprise that we have a nasty influenza coming across the border from Mexico? Diseases know no boundary. Denying that fact costs us-- and we deny and ignore the cost. Everything's rosy and right with the world.

Or another one. One of GM's big problems is funding health care for pensioners. Even Korea has noticed this. Health plans are a huge cost of doing business-- one of the reasons the USA has trouble staying competitive. (See here.) I'm not surprised that the insurance companies like to say that single payer systems don't work. Nor am I suprised that conservative pundits hate the idea. (See? Cui bono works!)

What I don't understand is how the electorate can possibly buy it. Health care costs is money out of pocket. It's time away from work. It's watching your kids get sick. Yet, when the single payer system under Clinton was trotted out, a couple of advertisements were able to derail them. That wouldn't have happened had not the public been prepared to dump the idea. Somehow, CEOs who make millions of money denying drugs and procedures were ranked higher than legislators that could, in fact, be voted out. Cui bono failed.

How does that work? People sacrificed their own self interest-- sacrificed what was best for themselves-- on the alter of some odd ideology or fear.

One of my favorite John Carpenter films is They Live. Aliens live among us and bombard us continually with subliminal messages saying: "Marry and reproduce." "Stay asleep." "Obey."

I thought it was fiction.
Links of Interest
The Ocean: Things are not well
Hold your head up, sauropods and here
100,000 feet or bust
DIY Living
Invasion of the painted ladies
The Candyfab 6000
Glowing monkeys. Yep. They're real.

Laser Cutter
CNC Router
Swing set generator
Chocolate Balls
light saber
IR Goggles
How to get a free yacht
Electrolytic rust removal
Bike painting
Finding chickens
Country buildings
Small barns
Chicken coops

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hippos in America

And other random observations
  • Dick Cheney wanders the land lost in his own private delirium where he, and he alone, through the might power of torture and patriotism kept us safe from invading hordes of infidels. I was just hoping he'd go away.
  • Ben is interested in playing World of Warcraft-- something he discovered when we were watching Stargate. So. Which is more geeky? Playing World of Warcraft or learning about it watching Stargate?
  • Regarding Dick, above, Pat Buchanan thinks Dick's wandering in the wilderness is the future of the Republican party. Lie, hide, lie again, hide some more, get everything you've ever done pretty much repudiated and leave office, lie some more and then go on right wing talk shows spraying vitrol on everything that moves. Hm. Well, it worked for Rush Limbaugh.
  • Right up there in the smart guys being dumb category is Jared Diamond. Here and here. What is it about New Yorker and the NYT that makes smart guys do dumb things?
  • Why science gets a bum wrap: People have no innate understanding of cause and effect. Yet, only those that have competence in something are able to evaluate competence in others. Consequently, people think they understand cause and effect. Therefore they get it wrong. Succinctly, here.
Nothing much else to report: beautiful weather. Worked outside. Got a sunburn. Put up two more batches of beer.

Life is good. Society, well, that's another story.
Wall of Idiots
Scary Terrorists
My God: It really is torture? and here
Science in a 3 ringed circus
Lies about Oklahoma
Lies about Obama

Links of Interest
The ultimate business card
Breaking up the ISS is hard to do
Hull Wind Power
Electric Cars are for Girls
SF Writers: A Question and an Answer
Embossed Drawings
Xela Teco
Parrots == Pigeons
Fusion Pellet Stove
Mendocino Motor
Vampire's Kiss on Hulu
Kinetic Sculpture Race
Tool use in rooks
Home solar and Fire

Steam Power!
Sea Perch and here
Inflatable Elephant Sculpture
Backyard Game Night and here
Fatboy Foundry
Boxfan Wind Generator
Generating electricity w/ Stepper Motors
The Back Shed
Foundry & Fibreglass
101 Ray Guns
Solar Food Dryer and here
Compost Tumbler
Linoleum Block Printings
Pop Tarts!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Star Trek

(Picture from here.)

I saw Star Trek over the weekend. It's the best Star Trek event, book, movie or show, ever. Just enough to keep fanboys like me happy. I would have gone to see it and nod, just like the guys in the picture. Abrams gave me a ride. Ben, who's only seen a little Star Trek and didn't think much of it, enjoyed it as much as I did.

Kirk is a twit but he's an admirable twit-- and he's no pretty boy. Kirk looks like nine miles of bad road. Spock is terrific. Bones-- well, you'll find out how he got to be so good with those neck injections.

Interestingly, J. J. Abrams is very adept at film and television. So if anybody can bring this weary franchise back from the dead, it's him.

Simon Pegg is, truly, Shaun of the Dead Federation.
Links of Interest
Just for Fun: Soy tu Aire
Honeybees collapse. But only in US.
Ocean Arks International
AC Power from Solar Panels
Rocket Failures
Roomba Art
NY Public Library On Line
The Spark Museum
Early Technology
The Green Center
V: Marble elevators
Crappy Baloon Art
Beeswax Art
Paper House
V: 3-D Resin Paintings
V: Galactic Center Rising
Stone Age Superglue
V: Lights On Buildings

Sumo Paint
Gear puller
Dapping punch
Tweet a watt
Shell mobile
V: DIY Knife Making Forge

Of Interest

Nothing today. Bottled the port over the weekend. More later.

Wall of Idiots
Power Hungry Gadgets vs. Power Efficiency
Cheney: Master of Pain

Links of Interest
Simplifying the RNA World
Tire Sculptures
Night Launch
The Future of Dragonflies
Atlantis Solar Transit
V: Joy of Rockets
Steampunk Camaro
The Unknown
Darwin's Nightmare
Strange Maps
V: Jet Pack
V: Squirrels
Relativity as a Consequence of Quantum Entanglement (PDF) and Toffoli Gates and information
Myriad Genetics goes to trial

Giant Twix
Lost Knowledge: On Line Resources
Embroidery Hoop Picture Frame
Volume of a Sphere
One Day Ndrua
Bell's Tetrahedral Kite
Stinging Nettle Beer
Laser Cut Calipers
No-Solder Robot
Old Wood Working Machines
Greywater Guerrillas

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Republicans: Unfit to Govern. Again.

The Republicans would have you believe that Nancy Pelosi is as guilty than the people who actually did torture. After all, she is listed on a brief as being briefed about the torture way back in 2002.

So, by being supposedly briefed and not saying anything until later, she gives complicit assent and is therefore just as guilty as the Republicans who were in power and actively supporting Bush's doctrine. Of course, according to Cheney, Pelosi is more guilty than the people who actually tortured since they were helping America and she was just back in Washington passing laws and stuff.

Wait a minute. This isn't about politics, is it? Could it possibly be?

The executive branch under President Bush crafted and executed a doctrine of torture. They have primary responsibility for it. The rest is just smoke at this point. If people want to accuse Congress of failing in oversight, well, get in line. We can do that after that actual perpetrators have been dealt with.

But I think this is a larger issue. Who do we want America to be?

Americans like to think of ourselves as better than other countries. We're freer. More open. More tolerant. More moral.

We act like we like to think we are as long as we're not scared. But when security becomes an issue we get vicious. We throw mud. We howl for blood from the rooftops.

I remember when the Gulf War I started and two days later, walking in Central Square, I saw a poster for sale of a target with Saddam's face on it.

Cheney and the Republicans have said that if torture made us safer then it's okay. That's a deal with the devil if ever I heard one. Not that I'm surprised. I've been thinking of Cheney as Beelzebub since inauguration.

Liberty means risk. It means pleadging to each other "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." It means that sometimes in maintaining a free society we're going to take it on the chin. It doesn't mean we don't come up swinging. It doesn't mean we don't have to protect ourselves intelligently. It does mean our freedoms are worth the cost. The problem as I see it is we have to decide if we want liberty or security. It's not at all clear we can have both-- Israel hasn't been able to manage it. Why should we think we can?

We can have security at the price of liberty. That's not a problem. Lots of dictatorships have made that choice. Americans seemed to make that choice under Bush while at the same time loudly proclaiming to themselves that they were still free, still in control of their government.

It wasn't true, of course. But that's what we told ourselves.
Links of Interest

Herschel and Planck Telescopes Lift Off
ACLU vs. Gene Patents
Toyscapes and Here
QD Vision
V: Roomba as Pacman
Island Crocodiles and here
Wimpy Male Immune System
The Amazon Kindling
3rd Act Twists Revealed!
V: Nature, 90 seconds
Cockeyed . Com
Crayon Physics and review
Particles as Black Holes
V: Paper Engineering
V: Paper Notebook

Hand Painted Wine Glasses
Eastern Bluebird House
Wire Wrapped Ring
Vinegar Rocket
Scrap Wood Bowl
Hero's Engine
Incredible Stuff

Friday, May 8, 2009

Beer, Beer, Beer. And some Port.

Weekend was nice. Bottled all the beer. "Disbelief IPA" for the darkest IPA I've ever seen. And "White Bread Red" for a red that's not too strong. I didn't cook the malt long enough. We'll see how it turns out.

The Concord port is winding down so it's add the alcohol and bottle this week.

Wendy asked for a birdhouse for Mother's Day. So, Ben and I went into the shop and took apart an old birdhouse as a pattern, made templates, and pulled some scrap wood together. Now, Wendy has a new birdhouse and says she saw a beak in there yesterday. We have overwintering blue birds and now need more houses for the growing families.

I'm drawing up a Martin house. Martins are swallows and swallows like company. We don't get many Martins but I'm figuring tree swallows like the same sorts of things. So, we'll see. If you build it, maybe they'll come.

Then, yesterday, a bit of minor surgery. Wendy and I considered seeing the new Star Trek but didn't. Not a good thing to do when you're still in a post-anesthesia fog.
Wall of Idiots
Pat Buchanan, again
Twitter Enabled Toilet
Obama keeps Bush polar bear rules
Fox "News"
Obama is really an American
Gun control actually works

Links of Interest
V: Vik Muniz and here, for the nearly unreadable website
V: String Winding circa 1850
Skydeck Chicago
XKCD on Firefly
Mental Illness and Creativity
The Intelligence of Birds
Coney Island Museum
Torture and Star Trek
V: Drawing Notes with Water
Ant Stinger Evolution
V: Gav's Electric Car
V: Lighting Africa
V: World bike
The Smell of Life and other things
140th Anniversary of the Golden Spike and here and here
Organ Donor Dolls
Wilson's Ants
Who is capable of violence?
Extreme Genomes
Hawk Robot
V: Alpha vs. Google
V: Automatic Cars, Automatic City
More Robots
American Indian Comics

Ratchet Noise Maker and here
Robot Bartender and here
Creme Caramel
Pallet Planter
Treadle Pumps
Faux Pearl Necklace
6 cent LED Throwie
Missouri Handcart
The LED Lightbulb
Styrofoam Chandelier
Wireless power
Pie in a Jar
Motorized Mountainboard

Links for Everyone! Links for the Dead!

In the last few months there's been a significant shift in my interests.

When I began this blog a while back, I had originally decided to keep long posts to a minimum and put them in the essay link on my web page. Heh. That lasted about a week.

I didn't have any links at all.

Then, I went through a period where there was nothing on the page but links. I didn't want to take away time from my regular writing for the blog. So I just put in links. My numerous readers (two digits! well, in binary) didn't seem to notice. Then, a friend mentioned he actually read my blog, bringing the count up to three. So I started writing entries again.

But the links had been changing and they represent the changes in my interests.

When I started putting in the links they were mostly scientific. Then, some artistic links were put in. Last summer, during the Obama election, I started putting in political links. Sometimes I still do. It was during that period I started putting up the "Wall of Idiots" links. These were pages by idiots or about idiots. The distinction is left to the viewer. Often, these were people who were lying, or believing lies, about political figures or science. Obama figured largely in these. For those that care: he's not Muslim, he isn't a socialist and he's not a spearhead for the end of democracy.

Somewhere in there I got interested in the DIY/Maker Movement.

DIYs are pretty self-explanatory. People build things for themselves. But the Maker Movement is a bit more interesting. I mean there have always been people who make their own rocket fuel and model airplanes or build odd contraptions to open doors and such. Building gadgets was pretty commonplace on the farms of my cousins. Originating out of the steampunk esthetic, the Maker Movement glamorized it. All of a sudden, it was cool to etch brass and make solenoids. (I had always thought this was cool but now some others did, too.)

Thus, the DIY links started appearing. Sometimes they threaten to overwhelm the rest of the links.

So what does this mean in the Popkes mind? Why am I more interested in making birdhouses than reading about climate change?

I'm not sure. But climate change doesn't give me the sweaty palms excitement that trying to build a foundry for casting aluminum does. Or building a wind generator. Or making birdhouses.

It could be the idea that when in an uncontrolled space, the things you can control become more attractive. Maybe. Or the idea of building something yourself outweighs the helpless knowlege of doom something like climate change creates.

Or, there's this tiny faith that if we figure out how to do things ourselves individually, we can figure out how to do things collectively. The tiny things we build become microcosms of a larger world and by turning the tiny wheel, we turn the big one.

Or, it's just that etching brass is inherently cool and the other things don't measure up.

Change is good.
Wall of Idiots

Links of Interest
Shrimp no more
The Small Brain of H. Floresiensis
Now Slower! With More Bugs!
National Train Day
Post Shuttle NASA
ToorCamp and here
Skull Art

V: $10 Psuedoscope and here
Earth Box
Chocolate Cream Pie

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Consideration of Works Past: A. E. Van Vogt

In my pursuit of fiction from times past, it was inevitable I would eventually run across A. E. Van Vogt. (Also here.)

My memory of Van Vogt was positive. I remembered enjoying Rogue Ship, The Beast (aka Moonbeast) and The Weapons Shops of Isher.

So, when I ran across Slan, a book I somewhat remembered enjoying, I opened it and re-read it.

It was terrible.

I don't mean that it was composed of interesting ideas wrapped in terrible prose and story telling terrible-- though that was, in fact, true. I mean even the ideas were marginal. SF ideas long enjoyed were slashed in a ruthless drive towards some vague storytelling goal. For example, a portion of the book takes place on Mars. Which had the same gravity as earth.

I mean, Slan was written in 1946. There's a lot of 1946 vintage New Age crap in the book. (Turns out that there were fools back then, too. Who knew?) The story centers around a genetically superior boy (a "slan") trying to survie in a world trying to exterminate such. Think X-Men. Think X-Men without the wit and sophistication of a 1960's comic book.

Well, that set me off. So I re-read The Beast. That was actually all right. It was still crap as far as the science was concerned. Like a lot of SF writers of the time, Van Vogt suffered from Ayn Rand syndrome. Little things like facts and actual science did not distract him from presenting a higher truth. But, hey. So did Sigmund Freud.

This led me to The Weapons Shops of Isher. Which was actually pretty good. Only a little Randism. And more interesting ideas. Still mored in the Golden Age rhetoric (which is pretty hard to take in the 21st century) but not bad.

I began to see a pattern.

It wasn't just experience. Slan was his first novel. The Weapons Shops of Isher was his seventh. The Beast was his eighteenth. Certainly, there is a progression in skill. What was interesting, though, was the introduction of limited narrators. Slan's narrator is the kid to whom it happens. He knows everything. Sees all. Talks to God. Not much room there for growth.

While there is an all knowing character in TWSOI, he's only on the stage for a small period. Not enough to affect the story. The other characters all interact out of their own drives and needs. It's the net of their interactions that makes the story. And the Weapons Shops were pretty cool, too.

The Beast returns back to a single main character but here Van Vogt does something very interesting. He breaks the character. Not once but several times, Jim Pendrake loses his memory, his wife and various limbs. It's the recovery of these things that make the novel interesting.

So: Where in my psyche as writer did Van Voght end up?

I'm not sure. I think he might have suggested complex story telling to me. Or multiple ideas. He's not the only one to do this so there's not likely to be a sole source. Certainly, along with Bester, he suggests that the mind is a fertile place to place the science in the fiction.

I think Van Vogt best exemplifies what others have referred to as a "sense of wonder". I think it would be better put as making sense of wonder. Any writer worth his salt should be able to show something wonderful to the reader. But SF, more than some genres, tries to put that wonder in the perspective of the real world.

At least, though, I've convinced myself he had something worth revisiting.
Wall of Idiots
Lies about Obama
Fake Science Journals

Links of Interest
Six Degrees Examined
Lookers Win
Hexapod Racers
Ebay Destroys the Economics of Looting
10 Genes in Motion
Black Rings
Why Fats are Bad
Anaconda Power

Cloud Chamber
Spiral Woodwork
Tree Limb Coasters
Laser Art w/a Digital Camera
5 Minute Ice Cream
Paper Flowers
Dippy Birds
Pie Crust
Solar Powered Water Barrel
LED Reading Lamp
Bee Box
Turn Sleeves to Pants

Monday, May 4, 2009

RIP: The Republican Party

I've been thinking about the current form of conservative ideology and realized suddenly how the Republican Party has boxed itself in. They're sitting around narrowing their message, limiting their thinking and candidates hunkering around a shrinking demographic (uneducated while males and The Rich). They are playing Seven Old Ladies Locked in the Lavatory.

You don't know the song?

It goes:

Oh, dear, what can the matter be
Seven old ladies got locked in the lavatory
They were there from Sunday till Saturday
Nobody knew they were there.

See here. Here for a video.

Here's the situation.

Conservative thought (read "Reaganism" here) says government is the problem, not the solution. The only solution presented is reduction of government. This means the ideology precludes intervention.

If you run your life like the Republicans say you should run your government, you don't repair the roof until it is not only leaking but already given way. Then, you have to save up your pennies (since low paying jobs are the right jobs) until you can repair the damage-- except, of course, it's not enough. The damage done by the rain must also be repaired so you have to save more pennies. No right thinking American would ever take out a loan for such a thing.

If your septic system leaks into the ground water and your water makes you sick, that's just fine. You should be boiling your water any way. Your neighbor doesn't have anything to say about it because your property rights don't just stop at the border of your property, they run right over your neighbor's, too. And if you're a corporation doing it, the RNC will not only bless you but pass legislation to pay you to do it.

You would never put oil in your car-- that's not the way things are done. You wait not just until the engine light is on and the car is shuddering. No, you wait until the engine explodes on the highway during rush hour. Then, you abandon the car and declare a national park around it.

That's the sort of government the RNC believes in. It's the sort of government Reagan believed in.

Where this gets truly nasty is the way the Republicans got in bed with far right and and religious conservatives back in 1994. The problem with aligning the party with such people, and social conservatives, is the Tom Paine syndrome: Give me Liberty or Give me Death. If you believe you're right absolutely than compromise becomes traitorous. That syndrome begets Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan.

Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Reckefeller would not be welcome at the Republican Convention these days any more than Arlen Specter.

But it gets worse. Far worse. The syndrome is aided and abetted by the primary system where the more extreme of both parties participate and the moderate wings tend to ignore. So wingnuts like Romney and Huckabee manage legitimacy. Blessed by the talk show hosts, they win to go down in flames when the moderates realize what's being sold to them.

Remember, however, the demographics of the party. That means more of the same and worse.

The Democrats are a far more diverse party, for good or ill. It's unlikely any one movement will ever dominate them. This is Obama's problem since he has to herd these cats together.

The Republicans are like an inbred spaniel. Only outside blood can improve the breed. But, content with only its dimwitted, cross eyed cousins, the damn thing snaps at every mongrel brought by.

God, I miss the Republican Party.
Wall of Idiots
Botox Harmful! (Gee!)
Freeman Dyson
Joe Biden
Mineral Makeup

Links of Interest
Green Natural Gas
Saving the Sloth
Grow a new heart
Cheaper Solar Concentrators
Steam Vibrator: Carrying the Steam Punk Esthetic Too Far
Shadow of Saturn
Orthodera ministralis
Enhancing Visual Memory via Buddhist Meditation
Human Visual Recognition
V: Cobot Guitar
Natalie Shau
Kleptoparasitism in Flies (sort of like lobbyists)
Alpha vs Google
V: Automata

Home Made Solar Cell
Gummi Bear Surgery
Egg Printer
Banjo Ukulele
Dumpster Diving
Fireworks Controller
African Baby Carrier

Friday, May 1, 2009

A pleasant weekend

A good weekend.

Saturday, after Ben finished Gymnastics, we went to an open house at Taza Chocolate. Very good. Especially the iced hot chocolate made from their Mexican chocolate. I couldn't find the a recipe for the iced version but a version of the hot chocolate is here.

During the day Wendy worked on fixing the chicken tractor. I changed the oil in various contraptions. I borrowed an oil sucker. (Harbor Freight has one here.) I want one for my very own. Oil change for the snow blower from start to finish: 4 minutes. Most of that time was waiting for the new oil to pour into the crankcase. Very, very cool.

Saturday night we attended a play acted out by the children of friends: How to Eat Like a Child. Not bad. Not bad at all. I think Ben had more fun than we did. Here's a video from a different school.

Sunday we went to the Rock and Gem show in Topsfield. I bought more rocks to tumble. When this batch comes through I'll put them up. Many fossils. Not as big as last year's. I think the economy has had an impact.

Then, that night, I racked some beer and monitored the Marechal Foch wine I've been trying to finish. For some reason, it goes for a bit and then stops. I think I started with bad yeast so I put in some new yeast. It's significantly better but not great. Not sure what I'm going to do about it. Maybe add a bunch of vodka, call it a cordial and declare victory. Sort of like Nixon and Viet Nam.

A good weekend.
Wall of Idiots
Diamond in Trouble

Links of Interest
Your Brain on Junk Food
3D Printing Pottery
How Electric Cars Work
Largest Model of Saturn V Ever
V: Recession Sing-a-long
Okay: This is Truly Strange: Shatner Quake and here
V: Bruce Campbell Sings Hungry Like the Wolf
Marvel Comics Movies: Worst to Best
Review of the New Start Trek
10 Mutants in Search of a Movie
V: Scratch
V: Attic Music
V: Maker Revolution
The Vanishing Car: Here. Here.
The Catacombs of Rome
The Ancient New York Tsunami
Sailing Satellites
Weird Science
The 7 Deadly Sins and Science!
Cumulative Carbon

Healthy Recipes
Bending Plexiglas
Animal Detector: Here. Here. Here.
Bike Maintenance
Sleeping Bag Suit
Paper Tube Faces
Put It On A Bike

Consideration of Works Past: The Stars My Destination

(Picture from here. For a better cover, see here.)

This book got me kicked out of a reading club.

There was this girl I was interested in way, way back when. Kind of an artist, touchy feely sort. The kind of person that beautifies their environment. I admired that. Anyway, she was in this book club and I was interested in her so I joined as well. We went through several books-- some good, some not. One I liked was A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris.

They suggested I pick an SF book.

Most of the books we'd been doing were a little tame and I thought to shake things up a bit. So I suggested The Stars My Destination. It's a rough book but I figured they were up for it.

I was wrong, of course. And was thoroughly excoriated. The girl I was interested in terminated whatever minuscule interested she had in me and I left the club.

The moral of the story: TSMD has some rough bits and isn't for the squeamish.

TMSD is about redemption and forgiveness. Books about such things usually talk about tame things: I was a neglectful father. I did something not so bad and feel wretched about it. The problem is that these days we don't really do much that really qualifies for redemption and forgiveness and so our scale of what to feel guilty about is skewed. When somebody comes around who has really done something nasty, we like to think of them as unforgiveable.

Forgiveness and redemption is, in my opinion, a peculiarly Christian notion. If you read the Greek plays, there is payback and revenge but it's all tied up in fate. The Greeks would have had no trouble understanding Karma.

But Christ comes along and says you can be forgiven for your sins if you so desire. This brings to the front the concept of redemption and creates a new class of stories.

Of course, once you've introduced the idea of short circuiting guilt and payback, you've created a means by which people can evade guilt and payback. People like that for themselves but not so much for others. Hence, some things become "unforgiveable". I don't read the gospels that way. From what I can see, anything is forgivable if the heart is sincere. That's the way people emulate Christ. Of course, if one can emulate Christ effectively, one can be Christ. Every man can be his own Messiah. Which makes things all Gnostic-- can't have that. And so we're back to what is forgivable and what isn't forgivable.

That long little digression brings us to the interesting piece of TSMD: the character of Gully Foyle.

TSMD is the story of Gully Foyle, an intelligent but uneducated and incredibly lazy man, who is sparked to greatness for the sake of revenge. He is abandoned in space and subsequently bends his efforts to finding who did this, why and exact payback on them. However, when he gets there, he finds he has transformed himself into a thinking animal and discovers he actually has a sense of right and wrong.

Hence the problem the book club had with this book. Foyle becomes a murderer, rapist, thief and traitor to get what he wants. He leaves a trail of broken people. When he gets there, the implication is he will be forgiven. (The book never actually reaches the point of redemption. It reaches a point where redemption is possible and stops. Something I like.) The book club didn't think he'd done enough, or refused the possibility that he would be able to do enough, to be forgiven.

Anybody who can be a Messiah must be crucified, I suppose.

What I learned from the book was that a dark character could be interesting. Modern SF has few characters like Foyle. Even the vampires, parasites that they are, have been prettified. Foyle's character has muscle. He is not pleasant. He makes no apology for what he does and only comes to see himself as loathesome when he has changed himself.

Alfred Bester wrote a slew of wonderful short stories and a handful books. Two of them, The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man (DM review here) shook the foundation of science fiction. It was a new way to write SF stories. DM is more psychological and not as good as TSMD, in my opinion. DM was written in 1953 and TSMD in 1955. While he continued to write short stories, he didn't do any novels until 1975 when his health began to fail. Unfortunately, they were not so impressive as his first two novels. I discussed TSMD (here) compared to a similar novel, The Transfinite Man, by Colin Kapp.

TSMD was never made into a film. I've played with writing a screenplay of it several times but never did any actual work. Other reviews of it are here. Here. Here. Here.

Hey! Anybody out there in Hollywoodland! This one would be great.
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