Monday, February 27, 2006

Octavia Butler

Octavia Estelle Butler

(June 22, 1947-February 25, 2006)

was an American science fiction writer, one of very few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards, and was the first science fiction writer ever to be a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation "genius grant".

In 1984, Butler's "Bloodchild" won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novelette. That same year, her "Speech Sounds" won the best short story Hugo. She won the Nebula Award for best novel in 2000 with Parable of the Talents. In October 2000, she received an award for lifetime achievement in writing from PEN.

Butler moved to Seattle in November 1999. She described herself as "comfortably asocial--a hermit in the middle of Seattle--a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive." She died of head injuries following a fall on the walk outside of her home on February 25, 2006. She was 58. (from Wikipedia)

I had the great honor and privilege to share a long conversation with Ms. Butler at an SF convention in Baltimore a few years back. The first impression was one of being in the presence of a marvelous and encompassing intelligence. The second impression was of her deep interest in what you had to say. Not necessarily the most common of combinations.

We talked for over an hour of our fears for the human race and our common realization that little could be done to save us as a culture and as a species. Global warming, pandemics, racial and religious hatreds, and Peak Oil would all conspire to bring us down, we both felt. And neither of us had found many mitigating factors to our pessimism.

Yet it was far from a gloomy conversation. Her joy at thinking intensely about trying to solve these problems was palpable. She said she still refused to give up even in the face of what she thought was an inevitable future.

I was gratified, in a strange way, to have my thinking verified by someone whose intelligence and knowledge I so highly valued. And she made sure that we had a genuine conversation, one in which I not only had my share of time to speak, but one in which she discussed my points with the same intensity that we discussed hers.

I find it hard to imagine that her voice has been stilled by something as simple as a blow to the head. The world has lost a great voice indeed.

A Few Thoughts About Darren and Carl

from Kolchak:

A few months ago, handdrummer asked me to write something about the attempt to resurrect The Night Stalker television show on ABC. I started to think about how this watered-down, prettied-up version of Kolchak could be taken as the most bizarre monster the original had ever faced. Before I could write anything, though, the new series was put out of our misery.

But it looks like I’m going to be writing about Kolchak after all. Darren McGavin, the actor who originated the role, died on Feb. 25, at age 83.

McGavin is probably best known to modern audiences as Ralphie’s Old Man in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. He made hundreds of television and movie appearances, however, and, for a lot of us, he will always be associated with Carl Kolchak, the down-but-never-out newspaper reporter who fought relentlessly to bring stories about supernatural menaces to the public.

Kolchak was introduced in a 1972 made-for-TV movie called -- you guessed it--The Night Stalker. Based on a story by a journalist named Jeff Rice, the movie tells the story of how Kolchak discovers a vampire in modern-day Las Vegas. He defeats the vampire but learns he can’t defeat the politicians and business men who run Vegas.

The movie garnered the highest ratings of any made-for-television film up to that point. Horror Veteran Richard Matheson, who adapted Rice’s story, and Producer Dan Curtis made substantial contributions to the first movie’s success, of course.

But it’s hard to underestimate McGavin’s performance as Kolchak. Dressed in a well-worn seersucker suit-- the last suit he owned, according to McGavin-- Kolchak immediately became an iconic character-- hard-boiled, yet devoted to uncovering the truth. He was a spiritual descendent of Hildy Johnson, the lead character in The Front Page. (For years, I thought McGavin must’ve appeared in a production of The Front Page, in order to inhabit Kolchak so quickly and so thoroughly. But all the credit lists I’ve read say he didn’t. He did go on to play other journalists though , including E.K. Hornbeck, --who was based on H.L. Mencken-- in a 1988 production of Inherit the Wind.)

The Night Stalker was followed by a second movie, The Night Strangler, in 1973. It didn’t make as big of a splash as the original, but McGavin’s style--and his relationship with Editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland)-- made the sequel popular. A third movie-- The Night Killers -- was scripted, but was never produced. Instead, ABC went for a television series in 1974.

Many talented people were involved withthe show; along with McGavin and Oakland, there were writers David Chase (The Sopranos), Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and actors who would go on to star in other series. However, they never did come up with a reliable way to deal with budgetary problems and problems with what tone the series should have. It was canceled after 20 episodes (FWIW, last fall’s trainwreck, er, attempted revival, lasted nine episodes, although 12 were produced.)

That should’ve been the end of Carl Kolchak. Only it wasn’t. The TV episodes enjoyed a second life in a late-night slot on CBS (this was well before David Letterman took over that position.) Now they’re running four or five a time, once every month or so, during the day on the Sci-Fi Channel (who will also be running the newer episodes, sometime this summer.) McGavin’s adventures have collected onto a DVD set, while new adventures, using his interpretation of the character are being published by Moonstone Books. Most of these stories are in comic book form, but Moonstone also released an anthology of text “Night Stalker” stories late last year.

Kolchak has made himself known in other ways, too. Chris Carter, creator of The X Files , regularly said in interviews that he was heavily influenced by The Night Stalker. Carter and his creative staff formally acknowledged that influence when McGavin appeared on two episodes of The X Files as Arthur Dales, the first FBI agent to be formally assigned to the X Files section.

The first of these episodes, 1998’s “Travelers,” is definitely worth looking for. Most of it is a flashback set in the 1950s, with a younger actor playing Dales, but McGavin appears in a framing sequence and narrates the flashback. This was a particularly elegant approach, because it suggested the format of the original TV show and it allowed McGavin to use one of his strongest acting tools, his distinctive raspy voice.

Another post-Kolchak performance of McGavin’s that you should check out is Mastergate, a political satire by Larry Gelbart made in 1992, where he appears as Sen. Fulsom Bunting.

Public awareness of Kolchak may have waxed and waned, but he was always part of my personal pantheon of heroes and heroines. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, I was part of a committee--led by our esteemed handdrummer--who put on an annual science fiction convention in Central Pennsylvania. For the costume call at that first convention, I managed to cobble together a recognizable facsimile of Kolchak’s distinctive suit. The suit is long gone, but we still have a photo of me in costume, interviewing another convention goer, dressed as Dr. Frank N. Further, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

And from time to time, at later editions of the convention, people I would be talking with would pause and says something like, “Oh, yeah, you were the one dressed like Kolchak.” And I know it wasn’t because it was such a professional-looking costume...

I think I still have a copy of a fan fiction vignette I wrote where JackMagee, the reporter who pursued the Hulk through his television incarnation, went to a retired Kolchak for help.

When Gordie “The Ghoul” Spangler (John Fiedler) appeared on the television show as a Chicago morgue attendant, I immediately started to refer to him as Uncle Gordie. I sold an article about The Night Stalker to a nationally circulated magazine called Xpose. And when handdrummer recruited me for the Blatt, he suggested Kolchak as my nom du screen.

Why has Kolchak stayed with me over the years (hell, decades)? I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the last few days, since I learned that McGavin had been hospitalized and was considered “gravely ill.” The answers aren’t particularly original, but here they are:
  • Kolchak combined two of my strongest interests: journalism and fantastic literature (I’m including science fiction, horror and fantasy here, although Kolchak’s adventures were primarily horror.)
  • And he was a role model for aspiring journalists (though I’m not sure the phrase “role model” even existed in the early1970s.) While he usually scored a victory over the Monster of the Week, he almost never triumphed over the bureaucratic or political power structure of the modern world. He was never a success by the criteria most people would use to define the word. He was considered a pariah on many levels of society. But that never stoppedhim from getting the story. The Night Stalker was primarily about the supernatural, but it was definitely about journalism too.
And I know I’m not the only writer who feels this way. Mark Dawidziak, who has written extensively about the character, tells this story in his book, The Night Stalker Companion:

Crossing a newsroom several years ago...I saw one of the newspaper’s finest reporters waving his arms in a manner that suggest a condition somewhere between outrage and apoplexy....

“This,” the indignant reporter shouted as he waved a late edition under the editor’s nose, “is a newspaper. We are a newspaper! We are supposed to print the news!”

If the delivery had not been letter perfect, the lightbulb might never have reached the illumination stage. But I realized he was borrowing Carl Kolchak’s fiery tirade to editor Tony Vincenzo in The Night Stalker.

I got it and couldn’t resist saying so.

“You’re right,” he said, all smiles...”You’re the first one who got it. ...I always thought that Kolchak was the closest television ever came to capturing a true reporter.”

When the original series first appeared, my friends and I used to talk about how there had to be some sort of reason why Kolchak encountered all these supernatural beings. Now, though, I find that a rationale that explained Kolchak’s adventures isn’t as important as it used to be. That’s just the way things were in his world. But it never stopped him. He just kept coming. Maybe that’s why I still think about him.

Darren McGavin left us a large and impressive body of work, but my favorite will
always be Carl Kolchak.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Happy Birthday

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
French impressionist artist

Zeppo Marx

(1901 – 1979)
American actor, comedian and inventor

Member of The Marx Brothers.

Zeppo appeared in the first five Marx Brothers movies, as a straight man and romantic lead, before leaving the team. He had abundant comic abilities,sufficient enough to have stood in for Groucho when the brothers performed on stage.
He was reputed to be very funny offstage.

Anthony Burgess
(1917 - 1993)
English novelist, critic, composer, librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator and educationalist.

George Harrison, MBE
(1943 – 2001)

British guitarist, singer, songwriter, record producer, and film producer

Best known as a member of The Beatles.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Happy Birthday

Abe Vigoda
( 1921 - )
American movie and television actor

And yes, he's still alive!

Salarymen In Space

from Kolchak:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far-- no, wait; let me try that again.

In 1978 (I told you it was a long time ago), a short-lived TV series called Quark ran on NBC. It was, of all things, a science fiction comedy, starring Richard Benjamin as the captain of a starship that collected garbage discarded by other planets. It poked gentle fun at things like Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey and quickly established itself as being too hip for the room. It lasted only eight episodes.

Now, more than 25 years later, there’s another spaceship out there collecting trash. This one, though, is part of the Japanese series Planetes. There are some laugh-out-loud funny scenes in the series, but it also has some very serious things to say about space travel and its cost--social and emotional, as well as financial. The result is a real rarity: a genuine, hard science fiction story, in visual form. In Japan, Planetes received the Seiun Award, which is roughly equivalent to the Hugo in this country.

Created by Makoto Yukimura, Planetes is available here in America both as a
manga and as an anime DVD. (For the record: Tony Oliver, writer of theEnglish script and English voice director for the DVD, pronounces Planetes“planet-tis.” I’m going to go with that until I hear otherwise.).

Planetes follows the crew of the Toy Box, a ship that collects outmoded satellites and other, potentially dangerous man-made debris. In this world--roughly 70 years in the future--the human race has a strong presence in outer space. The asteroid belt is being explored, and the first generation born and raised on the moon is nearing adulthood.

At the same time, extremist groups are trying to keep man out of space, sometimes through violence.

As you might imagine, the work done by the Toy Box’s crew, while important, gets little respect. This is particularly grating to Hachimaki Hoshino. As Planetes begins, Hachi (Hachimaki--or Hachi--is a nickname, which refers to the headband that he constantly wears.) is trying to save enough money to buy his own ship.

Before long, though, he decides to apply for the first expedition to Jupiter, which will be captained by his estranged father, in order to earn the money that he wants.

Goro Hoshino is a veteran astronaut, but somewhat lacking as a human being, a womanizer who has all but abandoned his family. He’s not about to welcome his son with open arms.

As Yukimura chronicles Hachi’s journey, he also creates backgrounds for theother members of the Toy Box’s crew. Yuri Malakoff is trying to deal with hiswife’s dying from--and his surviving--an accident caused by space debris. For a long time, the most important thing in Fee Carmichael’s life seems to be finding a legal--and safe--place to smoke on the moon. However, she eventually finds something else to fight for.

The stories in Planetes range significantly in tone. In an early sequence, a well-known resident of the lunar colony walks out on the surface and waits for his life support run out, rather than returning to Earth. In another story, Tanabe--a later addition to the crew-- befriends a young man known as the Baron, who claims to be an extraterrestrial. (Nobody except Tanabe believes this, but nobody thinks this disqualifies the Baron from working in space.)

On the visual side, all the characters in Planetes can be identified as coming from a manga. They look positively naturalistic, though, compared the highly-stylized characters in such recent series as Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and Heat Guy J. In addition, vehicles and astronomical scenes are rendered with meticulous attention to detail.

Yukimura seems to have done his research in other areas as well. The story includes numerous references to the history of space travel and rocketry, going all the way back to ancient Japanese fireworks. Also, the fourth and fifth volumes of the American manga--which are labeled 4/1 and 4/2, for the record--have articles that explain the social trends and the science behind the world that he’s created.

The Planetes DVDs makes a lot of changes in the series, both cosmetic and significant. Tanabe is the viewpoint character now. The crew of the Toy Box is based on a space station, rather than on the moon. Hachi and the others are now working for Technora Corporation (they were independent contractors before), which gives the anime’s creators a chance to have fun with Japanese corporate life.

In the first of 26 episodes, Tanabe is greeted by a creature that looks like a pink version of Cousin Itt from The Addams Family. It looks like it could be an alien, but it’s only someone dressed as the corporate mascot.

Several new characters are added to the cast, primarily as comic relief, including two managers and a clerical worker who seems to be a tribute to Janine Melnitz from Ghostbusters.

The anime takes its own sweet time getting to the Jupiter expedition, though. Although Hachi’s father is seen in the credits, the first time the expedition is mentioned is Episode 14. In addition, turning Hachi and Tanabe into a romantic couple takes longer than it has to.

On the other hand, some of the original sub-plots are very similar tothe spirit of the manga. In ‘The Lunar Flying Squirrels,” a group of residents of the lunar colony decide that the moon is a great place to restage scenes from their favorite ninja movies. In “Boundary Line,” the anime’s creative staff takes what could be a mind-numbingly abstract question-- how do Third World countries get access to outer space?-- and turns it into a genuine human drama.

The opening credits show a montage of the history of space travel, reflecting Yukimura’s interest in that aspect of the field, and, ironically, creating a feel similar to the credits of Star Trek:Enterprise.

The visual style of the anime of similar to that of the original, with fairly realistic character and vehicle designs. The space station appears to be a computer-generated image, but the rest of the series seems to be traditional animation.

The DVDs do contain some unique extras. Along with mini-documentaries on real space debris, there are “audio dramas:” scenes performed by the English voice cast and illustrated by still drawings.

I haven’t been able to determine how or why these dramas were created. The best theory I’ve heard is that the voice actors recorded the dialogue for these scenes, but they were cut before the episodes were animated. I have to admit, though, that I haven’t been able to find out for sure.

The Planetes anime is divided among six DVDs. The final DVD in the run is scheduled for release in March.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Happy Birthday

Frederic Chopin
(1810 – 1849)
One of the most influential composers for the piano

Luis Buñuel
(1900 – 1983)
Mexican filmmaker
Master of Surrealism

In the Interest of Furthering the Bitter Struggle

Listen to this festive rendition of "The Internationale" , played by a Japanese klezmer band, Soul Flower Mononoke Summit.

Arise ye prisoners of syncopation!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Poem of the Day

Diagonal Conversation by Loyal F Ramsey

Are you OK over There?
She asked,
Running diagonally through my life.

As opposed to what,
I thought,
More OK over There?

If, as is surely the case,
I am not OK over Here,
Will she fix it for me,
Repair the hurts and wounds
Of a life's careless action?

And, please tell me, why now?
I haven't been OK over Here
For such a long, long while,
That I can't remember the last time
I was OK over Here.

Over There, maybe.
Or perhaps over There.

But never, never, never
OK over Here!

Happy Birthday

By Grabthar's hammer!

Alan Rickman (1946- )
English stage and screen actor

Oh Dear Ghod That I Don't Believe In....PUHLEEEEEEZ!

with thanks to the Folks at AMERICAN AGENDA

It's not too much to ask.

AHHHHHH!!!!!! Make It Stop......

from Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light:

I am informed that The Internationale can be sung to the tune of George M. Cohan's I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

And now you're stuck knowing it too.

Jurassic President


Political writer Fred Barnes’ new book, Rebel-in-Chief, includes a remarkable vignette. Barnes notes that early last year, Karl Rove arranged a private audience between the president and novelist Michael Crichton, whose novel, State of Fear , had portrayed global warming as an unproven theory publicized by whacko environmentalists.

“Bush is a dissenter on the theory of global warming,” Barnes notes. He and Crichton “talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement.” Unfortunately, Barnes’ anecdote carries the ring of truth.

The president actually does appear to buy into the “scientific” arguments put forth by a writer of fiction. (The White House press corps has not yet queried whether the president also believes there are dinosaurs running about a popular theme park.)

Shades of Nancy Reagan and the astrologers! This incident would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so dire. (more)

Next thing you know Bush will be comparing fava bean recipes with Thomas Harris.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Black History Month

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
—Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Glacier Melt Could Signal Faster Rise in Ocean Levels

from the WaPo:

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2006; Page A01

Greenland's glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, the result of a warming trend that renders obsolete predictions of how quickly Earth's oceans will rise over the next century, scientists said yesterday.

The new data come from satellite imagery and give fresh urgency to worries about the role of human activity in global warming. The Greenland data are mirrored by findings from Bolivia to the Himalayas, scientists said, noting that rising sea levels threaten widespread flooding and severe storm damage in low-lying areas worldwide.

This undated photo provided by the journal Science shows East Greenland icebergs. Large numbers of bergs are calved each year from the fast-flowing terminus of Kangerdlussuaq Glacier, East Greenland. Iceberg production is a major form of mass loss from ice sheets.

(AP Photo/ho/J.A. Dowdeswell, Science) (J.a.dowdeswell - AP)

The scientists said they do not yet understand the precise mechanism causing glaciers to flow and melt more rapidly, but they said the changes in Greenland were unambiguous -- and accelerating: In 1996, the amount of water produced by melting ice in Greenland was about 90 times the amount consumed by Los Angeles in a year. Last year, the melted ice amounted to 225 times the volume of water that city uses annually.

"We are witnessing enormous changes, and it will take some time before we understand how it happened, although it is clearly a result of warming around the glaciers," said Eric Rignot, a scientist at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.(more)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Outed CIA officer was working on Iran, intelligence sources say

from Raw Story via arse poetica:

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: February 13, 2006

IranThe unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003 caused significant damage to U.S. national security and its ability to counter nuclear proliferation abroad, RAW STORY has learned.

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.

Speaking under strict confidentiality, intelligence officials revealed heretofore unreported elements of Plame's work. Their accounts suggest that Plame's outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for U.S. national security and its ability to monitor Iran's burgeoning nuclear program. (more)

Well start warming up the table and the needle for Scooter. Looks like he committed an act of overt treason. Cheney better grab his shotgun and run off to an undisclosed location before they come for him.

The Turd Blossom must be laying little piles all over the White House.

Moments ago on the front stoop

U.S. Has Royalty Plan to Give Windfall to Oil Companies - New York Times

from NY Times:

Published: February 14, 2006

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 — The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.

Royalty-Free Oil and Gas

New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government.

Based on the administration figures, the government will give up more than $7 billion in payments between now and 2011. The companies are expected to get the largess, known as royalty relief, even though the administration assumes that oil prices will remain above $50 a barrel throughout that period.

Administration officials say that the benefits are dictated by laws and regulations that date back to 1996, when energy prices were relatively low and Congress wanted to encourage more exploration and drilling in the high-cost, high-risk deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

'We need to remember the primary reason that incentives are given,' said Johnnie M. Burton, director of the federal Minerals Management Service. 'It's not to make more money, necessarily. It's to make more oil, more gas, because production of fuel for our nation is essential to our economy and essential to our people.' (more)

Yeah, 'cause everyone knows how terribly close the Oilies are to folding.

Monday, February 13, 2006


from The Heretik:

What a deference a day makes, twenty four little hours

DEFERENCE IS THE ORDER of the day, but who ordered that?

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, peppered with questions about the incident at his Monday morning press “gaggle,” explained that the White House had deferred to the Vice President’s office in the matter, and the latter deferred to the ranch owner.



Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cheney shoots fellow hunter

from :

Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and injured a man during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, his spokeswoman said Sunday.

Harry Whittington, 78, was 'alert and doing fine' after Cheney sprayed him with shotgun pellets on Saturday while the two were hunting at the Armstrong Ranch in south Texas, said property owner Katharine Armstrong.

Armstrong said Whittington was mostly injured on his right side, with the pellets hitting his cheek, neck and chest, and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

Whittington was in stable condition Sunday, said Yvonne Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Christus Spohn Health System.

Must be practicing for the survivalist refuge in the Bitterroots.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Poem of the Day

The Physical Becomes the Personal by Loyal F Ramsey

All appearance to the contrary,
I am but one score and twelve,
My body ravaged
By years of dissolution,
And unceasing masturbation.

Take special care to heed not my tales of the sixties,
A decade surely over long before my mind's birth.
There is no possibility
That I could know whereof I speak,
My young and supple mind
Trapped as it is
In this body of some aged monster.
The spirit living here
Calmly demanding the things of youth,
The body, punished for its continual indulgence,
Sadly moldering on.

Obviously, this dissonance will not be resolved in my favor.

So, young beauty,
Do not shy away from this hideous spectacle,
Age has captured the shell,
But the heart remains pristine.

The White Noise of Scandal

from the Rude Pundit:

What's it gonna take for the general public to be shocked anymore? 'Cause, really, and, c'mon, this week's news alone ought to be enough to make the head of even the most casual observer of the nascent Washington scandals explode into a shower of skull and viscera, raining down on the ignorant. The White House knew the levee hadn't held and that New Orleans was being drowned a day earlier than previously admitted? Scooter Libby was told by Dick Cheney and other "superiors" to break the law and leak classified information? Tom DeLay is put on the House subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department, while said department is investigating DeLay's buddy, Jack Abramoff? (more)

Climate 'warmest for millennium'

from BBC:

In the late 20th Century, the northern hemisphere experienced its most widespread warmth for 1,200 years, according to the journal Science.

The findings support evidence pointing to unprecedented recent warming of the climate linked to greenhouse emissions.

University of East Anglia researchers measured changes in fossil shells, tree rings, ice cores and other past temperature records or "proxies".

They also looked at people's diaries from the last 750 years.

Timothy Osborn and Keith Briffa of UEA analysed instrument measurements of temperature from 1856 onwards to establish the geographic extent of recent warming.

Then they compared this data with evidence dating back as far as AD 800.

The analysis confirmed periods of significant warmth in the Northern Hemisphere from AD 890 - 1170 (the so-called "Medieval Warm Period") and for much colder periods from 1580 - 1850 (the "Little Ice Age").

Natural records

The UEA team showed that the present warm period is the most widespread temperature anomaly of any kind since the ninth century.

"The last 100 years is more striking than either [the Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age]. It is a period of widespread warmth affecting nearly all the records that we analysed from the same time," co-author Timothy Osborn told the BBC.

Osborn and Briffa used 14 sets of temperature records from different locations across the Northern Hemisphere.

The records included long life evergreen trees growing in Scandinavia, Siberia and the Rockies which had been cored to reveal the patterns of wide and narrow tree rings over time. Wider rings related to warmer temperatures.

The chemical composition of ice from cores drilled in the Greenland ice sheets revealed which years were warmer than others.

Dear diary

The researchers used proxy data developed from the diaries of people living in the Netherlands and Belgium during the past 750 years that revealed, for example, the years when the canals froze.

"These records extend over many centuries and even thousands of years. We simply counted how many of those records indicated that, in any one year, temperatures were warmer than average for the region they came from," said Dr Osborn.

Professor John Waterhouse, director of the Environmental Sciences Research Centre Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge commented: "Although we're getting increasingly accurate measurements of present-day temperature, we've got nothing like that from the past to compare those with.

"There's much uncertainty in past reconstructions. You've got to look at the reconstructed data in the past in light of the likely errors that those data have."

But he added: "As we get more and more evidence in, it is looking as if the current period is the warmest for over 1,000 years."

In November, Science published a paper showing atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane are higher now than at any time in the past 650,000 years.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

We're Baaaack!

Well at least Kolchak and I have returned from our involuntary exile from this hallowed realm, this blessed discourse, this progressive haven, this blogosphere. havana gila is off on an extended roadtrip along the competitive poetry slam circuit. We wish her well.

I can only comment that preparing the paperwork for grant proposials rivals my conception of what being in purgatory must be like. Endless, meaningless triviality presaging terrible final decisions. With lots of tedious terror-filled waiting in between. Well, as Ficus Panderatta once remarked on the long forgotten Quark, "Now we wait for the bee!"

Kolchak met his deadline, finishing a chapter for a scholarly/pop-culture book on the TV show Lost. His latest publication, a chapter in Farscape Forever! Sex, Drugs, And Killer Muppets, a book on the late, lamented TV series, is freshly out on the stands. Go thou and purchase said tome at once.

Poem of the Day

Unentitled by Loyal F Ramsey

Enigmatic Smile
Sent to torture me,
Frightening my poor feeble self
Into scurring round in tight circles of restless failure.
Thin cigarettes held in cruel lips,
Tearing the flesh,
Rending the small catastrophe of my life
Into shreds without a word.

If only I had imagined a different self,
I cry.
If only the truth of me held some
But with a single glance she has found me out.

Soon I will be crying with the other dogs
At the pile of death and memory,
Tearing apart all pretense of remembrance,
Howling that only the immediate has any validity,

Discarding a past that was the only safety
To which my soul could aspire.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Poem of the Day

On Dating at 53 by Loyal F Ramsey

One day, through no apparent decision
And very little real desire,
You find yourself
Standing at the fifty yard line
On the field in an empty and darkening stadium.
You look about and shout,
Your voice barely reaching the first row of seats.
High up in the stands,
Dimly visible in the dull twilight
Sit a few people,
Some in twos and threes,
But most are as isolated as you.
Some of them wave
In response to your tentative gestures,
But many are seemingly unable
To view the field or notice your situation.

Every once in a while,
Another figure stumbles onto the turf,
Dazed and confused,
Usually appearing at a spot quite distant,
But occasionaly passing mere yards away.
Then, a quick furtive conversation can occur
As they rush for the exit,
Leaving you to contemplate the scoreboard in silence.

Congratulations, Jerome!

Simply Super!
Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Poem of the Day

October, 1962 by Loyal F Ramsey

Can let air
Into the basement from the closed up house
My Father said,
Seated on the old floral couch
In the living room of the darkened farmhouse
During the fall of my twelth year.

I think that the radioactive dust
Will settle out
As the air filters in through the cracks
In the window sills,
He continued.

My science fiction addled mind,
Full of Gregory Peck, mutants, and the Blessed St Lebowitz
Screamed NO! NO!
While my voice remained
Respectfully quiet,
Seemingly aware much more than he
Of the danger presented
By this odd intersection
Of Kennedy, Cuba, and Khrushchev
With our quiet

When We Went To See the End Of the World (Again)

from Kolchak:

I honestly wasn't planning to do a follow-up to my post about American Cold War propaganda. Just before the end of last year, though, four short films from that period were added to Comcast’s on-demand library. So I decided to take the hint.

Like many people, I had seen snippets of Duck and Cover in the 1982 documentary Atomic Cafe But this was the first time I was able to see it in its entirety. At this point, I’m glad I didn't see Duck and Cover while I was growing up. Maybe kids were tougher back in 1951-- when this was originally released--but I think it would scare a lot of modern children.

(I was in elementary school during the late 1950s and the early ‘60s but I do not remember doing any drills to prepare for an atomic attack. My Dad brought home plans to build a fallout shelter, but construction never got beyond that point. I do remember hearing the grown-ups talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis, but their attitude boiled down to “We’re gonna get those Russkies,” which is frightening only in retrospect.)

Duck and Cover starts innocently enough, with animated character Burt theTurtle demonstrating how to duck and cover. (After the last several months, seeing Civil Defense represented by a turtle seems almost prophetic. Or maybe just pathetic.) And the warnings from the narrator are relatively low key at
first. If an atomic bomb goes off without warning, he says, it could “knock you down hard or throw you against a tree or wall.”

Later, though, he says that the bomb “could come at any time, no matter whereyou may be.” Then the narrator says, “The bomb might explode when there are no grown-ups near.” By the time he tells us that “Tony knows the bomb can explode any time of the year, day or night, and he is ready for it,” all I could think was: And Tony hasn't been out of his house since 1963.

The other shorts were aimed more at adults and try to make the point that the recommendations they were making would be effective. The narrator in Survival Under Atomic Attack (also made in 1951) claims that “If the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima knew what we know about civil defense, thousands of lives would have been saved.”

But here’s the bad news: atomic war isn't going get you any time off from your job. “Our cities are prime targets for atomic attack,” the narrator states, “but mass evacuation would be disastrous. An enemy would like nothing better than to have us leave our cities empty and unproductive. If an emergency should come, our factories will be battle stations. Production must go on, if we are to win.”

Survival Under Atomic Attack was also the title of the booklet I wrote about last time, incidentally, but I'm not sure whether there are any other connections.

As the title suggests, You Can Beat the A-Bomb, also promotes the idea that preparing for the bomb to drop will make a difference. To help support that point, the film tries to show how common radiation is. There's a scene where a Kindly Old Janitor, in a lab of some sort, provokes a reaction from a Geiger counter. A Kindly Young Scientist explains that the device is reacting to the radium on
the face of his wrist watch.

“What do you know about that?” Kindly Old Janitor says with an amused chuckle. “I've been carrying radiation around with me and I didn't even know it.”

You Can Beat the A-Bomb stands out from the other shorts because it uses actors to deliver some of the information, not just a narrator. Some of the film follows a family as it responds to an enemy attack. The family consists of Dad, his wife, Elsie; their son, Joe, and their teenage daughter, Meg, and they are definitely products of their time. Dad wears a business suit throughout the movie, except for
one scene, when he exchanges his jacket for a pair of coveralls. He keeps his tie on when he switches to the coveralls, and it is always tied in a perfect Windsor knot. Meg does her best to look like Annette Funicello, with a tight sweater and a nosecone bra.

Dad remains confident and in charge throughout the attack. He tells the others, “I'll give the signal when its okay to get up,” and announces that the radiation, “went straight up into the air. The terrific heat makes it do that.

“Nothing to do now but wait for orders from the authorities and relax,” he concludes.

Interestingly, both Survival Under Atomic Attack and You Can Beat the A-Bomb refer to airplane spotters warning the public of any attack. How enemy bombers would reach us is not clear. And You Can Beat... was produced in cooperation with the curiously-named Council On Atomic Implications.

Fallout, the fourth and final film, was made roughly 10 years after the others, and wasn't afraid to make radiation menacing. The movie opens with a passage of theremin music, which was a vital component of science fiction movies for years. This time, the narrator says that the purpose of the film is to explain what radiation is “how to detect it and how to protect yourself against it. Yes, this means you.”

The rest of the film is devoted to fairly detailed instructions on how to build a fallout shelter. I was pleased to learn that, if you cant line your shelter with sandbags,“thick, solid layers of books, magazines or newspapers” will work nicely.

If books block radiation, this house is secure.

Go Stillers!

Gettem', Yunz Guyz!
Love Ya, Jerome!