Thursday, December 27, 2007

Flushing Remonstrance anniversary

Today is the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, an important document in the history of religious tolerance and a part of local Queens history (as the existence of a modern Queens neighborhood of the same name suggests). Here is a New York Times op-ed about the document.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The meta-post for the second Carl Sagan blog-a-thon

(NOTE: I will be updating this list periodically throughout the day, as I find new posts.)

Well, today's the day. On the eleventh anniversary of Carl Sagan's passing, fans from all over the world are posting about Sagan, and this post is the portal to them.

I'll keep my remarks to a minimum, since I've said most of what needs to be said already in the announcement post and last year's original meta-post. So without further ado, the list of participating posts (organized alphabetically by URL):
  1. Look out, it’s evil!: "Carl Sagan (1934-1996), In Memoriam"
  2. Allyn Gibson: "On Carl Sagan"
  3. A New Anglican's Journey: "Carl Sagan, 1934-1996"
  4. Ann Druyan at The Observatory: "20 December 2007"
  5. Astroprof's Page: "Where is today’s Cosmos?"
  6. Noch ein Blog
  7. Atheism Central: "Second Annual Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon Meta-post"
  8. Author of Confusion: "Carl Sagan"
  9. Bad Astronomy: "Sagan blogathon"
  10. Lunar Obverse: "Carl Sagan, novelist"
  11. Reflections, Ideas, and Dreams: "Cosmic Perspective"
  12. Extended Phenotype: "Carl Sagan and the 'High-Water Mark'"
  13. Tim Rambo: "My Favorite Sagan Quote, and Commentary"
  14. Sam Harrelson’s Blog: "In Memory of Carl Sagan"
  15. BlueGlowy Records: "Carl Sagan"
  16. A Room With A View: "Carl Sagan Blog-A-Thon"
  17. Centauri Dreams: "Remembering 'The Cosmic Connection'"
  18. Charles G's Blog Space: "Carl Sagan remembered 11 years later"
  19. Wheat-dogg’s world: "My personal journey with Carl Sagan"
  20. Concomitant: "Astronomy as a Means of Exploring the Numinous"
  21. Cosmic Log: "Religion vs. Science vs. Politics"
  22. And Slaters Go Plop: "Carl Sagan Memorial"
  23. Darwin's Dagger: "Carl Sagan"
  24. Just Another Deisidaimon: "Sagan and Bronowski"
  25. Depleted Cranium: "My own experience with Carl Sagan"
  26. Divers and Sundry: "Carl Sagan"
  27. John Pieret at Thoughts in a Haystack: "Real Ghosts" / "Ex Libris Veritas"
  28. The Double Bit Axe: "The Second Annual Carl Sagan Blogathon"
  29. Inane Ramblings of a Demented Predator: "Billions and Billions"
  30. Ex Astris, Scientia: "With this tool, we vanquish the impossible."
  31. Michael Hiebert @ my new cardboard box: "Carl Sagan Blog-A-Thon"
  32. James F. McGrath @ Exploring Our Matrix: "Carl Sagan Blog-A-Thon Quotes of the Day (Ann Druyan)"
  33. The Ethical Paleontologist: "So She Developed A Physics Voice"
  34. Music of the Spheres: "Sagan: Slaying Invisible Dragons, Firmly But Gently"
  35. Friendly Atheist: "Second Annual Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon Meta-post"
  36. gee bobg: "the beginning of wisdom"
  37. The Information Paradox: "Sagan: Skeptic, Scientist and Sheer Inspiration"
  38. kali's temple of doom: "Carl as an Every Day Tool of Self-Awareness"
  39. KiwiBlogBlog: "Carl Sagan"
  40. Melissa's livejournal: "Today marks the 11th anniversary of the world’s loss of Carl Sagan"
  41. My View: "Remembering Carl Sagan"
  42. The Nervous Axon: "remembering carl sagan"
  43. Nick Sagan Online: "The Humility of Science" / "Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-thon 2007"
  44. Omniscopic: "What Carl Sagan gave us"
  45. Open Parachute: "Carl Sagan"
  46. The Passionate Atheist: "Thanks Carl"
  47. The Perplexed Observer: "You Are Here" / "Science as a Candle in the Dark" / "Reflections on a Mote of Dust"
  48. Podblack Blog: "A Girl Called Ellie"
  49. quennessa's livejournal: "Pale Blue Dot"
  50. schneiderism: "Carl Sagan Was Cool"
  51. Science and Religion News: "Carl Sagan on life, death, and religion"
  52. The Spherical Influence: "Second Annual Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon"
  53. "11 years without Carl Sagan"
  54. Skeptigator: "Remembering Carl Sagan"
  55. "A Couple of Anniversaries"
  56. Blake Stacey @ Science After Sunclipse: "A True Story"
  57. Gateway Skepticism: "The Weight of a Legacy"
  58. NeuroLogica Blog: "Remembering Sagan"
  59. Jon Blumenfeld @ The Rogues Gallery: "Billions"
  60. Thilina Heenatigala @ Universe Cafe: "'star stuff contemplating star stuff': Remembering Carl Sagan"
  61. it’s about time: "The brain is like…"
  62. toomanytribbles, "blogging with carl sagan (on the other side of the pale blue dot)"
  63. Tangled Up In Blue Guy: "Sagan, Miller and Velikovsky"
  64. The Uncredible Hallq: "Review: Pale Blue Dot"
  65. Witches and Scientists: "Carl's marching orders"
Posts in Dutch:
  1. de Volkskrant: "Uitspraken van Carl Sagan"
Posts in Flemish:
  1. Sereniteit: "11e verjaardag overlijden Carl Sagan"
Posts in French:
  1. Elisabeth Piotelat: "Carl Sagan"
Posts in Spanish:
  1. La Calavera: "Persona: Carl Sagan"
  2. Cuaderno de bitácora: "Recordando a Carl Sagan"

And special thanks to all who promoted the blog-a-thon ahead of time:
  1. hyper-textual ontology: "Tomorrow - Sagan blog-a-thon"
  2. Friendly Atheist: "Second Annual Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon"
  3. The Jaded Skeptic, Odd Jack: "2nd Annual Carl Sagan blog-a-thon is coming next month"
  4. Greg Laden: "Carl Sagan Day Coming Up"
  5. PZ Myers at Pharyngula: "Sagan-a-thon"
  6. A Whore in the Temple of Reason: "Carl Sagan Blogathon"
  7. toomanytribbles: "blog-a-thon reminder" / "the second annual carl sagan memorial blog-a-thon"
  8. Tangled Up in Blue Guy: "Carl Sagan Blog Tribute Upcoming"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

utopia in New Jersey

Today's issue of the Newark Star-Ledger has a news story about various utopian communities that have been in the state of New Jersey, including the anarchist Stelton Ferrer colony, Upton Sinclair's Helicon Hall, and the single-tax colony Free Acres: "Utopia, N.J.: Trying to create a better world in the Garden State" by Vicki Hyman. (Hyman contacted me due to my post on Stelton.) The article is based on a new book of the same name which examines the above and several other utopias, Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden by Perdita Buchan, published by Rutgers University Press. The article touches on the range of leftist ideologies behind the colonies, and about what remains of them (Free Acres is the only one that still exists, with "a lush, wooded feel and cooperative air"; remnants of some of the others survive, for example here is some information about the buildings that still remain from Stelton).

UPDATE: I found an online article by Buchan on Free Acres, from New Jersey Monthly magazine.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

new science fiction on Project Gutenberg: Stanley G. Weinbaum's A Martian Odyssey

I'm proud to announce that the science fiction short story "A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934, following the version in the 1949 collection A Martian Odyssey and Others) is now available at Project Gutenberg.

It's revered as the first in a number of stories by Weinbaum that appeared in 1934-5 (followed by "Valley of Dreams", "Flight on Titan", "Parasite Planet", "The Lotus Eaters", and "The Mad Moon") that marked a milestone in the realistic depiction of alien creatures. He overcame the problem of making aliens seem like disguised humans, or being monstrous just to be scary; the aliens were meticulously logical (which was often extended to entire ecological systems), yet strange. (On the other hand, I find most of Weinbaum's non-alien stories to be decidedly lesser, and far more gimmicky and cheesy; aliens were as necessary for Weinbaum's fiction to shine as water was for Esther Williams.)

Gutenberg has a few other stories from A Martian Odyssey and Others, mostly non-alien stories, but including the sequel "Valley of Dreams", which picks up right where "A Martian Odyssey" leaves off, and manages to convincingly develop the nature of the alien creatures, and believably answers some questions raised in its predecessor, while leaving others unresolved.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Wish Arthur C. Clarke a happy 90th birthday!

We have science-fiction writers such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke providing cogent and brilliant summaries in nonfictional form of many aspects of science and society. — Carl Sagan, "Science Fiction — A Personal View", in Broca's Brain
The revered science fiction writer (and science popularizer/futurist, and inventor, and humanist) Arthur C. Clarke — author of 2001 (book and movie), Childhood's End, Rendezvous with Rama, "The Sentinel", "The Nine Billion Names of God", "The Star" and many others — will be turning 90 this month. To mark the occasion, Thilina Heenatigala, a friend of Clarke's and the General Secretary of the Clarke-cofounded Sri Lanka Astronomical Association has started a blog to celebrate Clarke's 90th birthday. He is sending an open invitation to all Clarke fans to post birthday wishes as blog comments for. December 16th is the special date!

Heenatigala is also a big Sagan fan: he organized a special screening of Cosmos for undergraduates last year, and was inspired by the blog-a-thon. And JHB readers will also recognize my interest in old-time science fiction as a recurring theme here — see my tribute to Jack Williamson last year — so it's a real honor to pay tribute to a living legend whose first sales, "Loophole" and "Rescue Party" (both about aliens who find the tables turned on them by clever humans) were published in 1946.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

new science fiction on Project Gutenberg: Frank Belknap Long's The Mississippi Saucer

The science fiction short story "The Mississippi Saucer" by Frank Belknap Long (from Weird Tales, 1951) is now available at Project Gutenberg. As the title implies, an early take on the flying-saucer idea, it is brief enough (ten pages) that I'll avoid spoiling it by saying more about it ... so, read and enjoy!

a detail from Jon Arfstrom's title illustration for 'The Mississippi Saucer'

Sunday, November 25, 2007

First week

Well, it's been a full week since I first announced that I would be repeating the Sagan blog-a-thon this year, and so far the word has been getting out pretty well. Last Wednesday, PZ Myers plugged the blog-a-thon in a Pharyngula post that led to a massive influx of visitors to this blog (according to Site Meter, there were 372 hits that day, compared to around 15 on a usual day). Also, kudos to toomanytribbles for being the first to spread the word, less than an hour after my announcement and before I had emailed anybody about it.

On a somewhat related note, I haven't yet mentioned here my first Celebrating Sagan blog post, about a popular web video in which Sagan (and Contact's Jodie Foster) appears.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Announcing the second annual Carl Sagan memorial blog-a-thon

It's that time of the year again. In just over a month, on December 20, 2007, we will reach the eleventh anniversary of Carl Sagan's passing — and the first anniversary of the wildly successful first-ever Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-Thon. Far exceeding my wildest expectations, this became a truly worldwide celebration, featuring more than 250 posts in 11 languages! Sagan fans are truly cohering into an online force to reckon with.

For the second blog-a-thon, I'm keeping the format pretty much the same as last time:
  1. First, I start with a post (this one) to announce the blog-a-thon now.
  2. Then, I leave it open to participating bloggers to post something Sagan-related on their blogs sometime near December 20th (a bit late is OK); interested people without blogs or otherwise unable to post on a personal blog are encouraged to submit something to the Celebrating Sagan website (I am able to post material directly to the site, or one could contact the site's webmasters). Let me know about your posts via email or blog comment.
  3. Finally, on December 20th, I will post a second, separate huge "meta-post" that consists solely of links to all the participating posts.
For those who like nice round anniversary numbers, or want to use them as a source of ideas, this year saw quite a number of significant Sagan-related ones:
  • July 11: the tenth anniversary of the release of the film Contact
  • August 20: the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 2 spacecraft
  • September 5: the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 1 spacecraft
  • November 8: the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Planet Walk in Ithaca, NY
For more info, check out Larry Klaes's Tompkins Weekly articles commemorating all three anniversaries:
  1. "'Contact' and the Ithaca Connection"
  2. "Preserving Ithaca for a Billion Years"
  3. "Sagan Planet Walk: 10 Years Later"
See you in a month!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Martian parent: David Gerrold interview

This has been covered before on this blog, but since Martian Child is finally opening in theaters, I want to point out that Equal Time for Freethought's interview with author David Gerrold is available, including a discussion of the novel of the same name that formed the basis for the film (as well as Gerrold's real-life childraising experience that formed the source for both).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Planet Humanism

A quick note: my blog has recently been added to the Planet Humanism blog aggregator.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

a few more Sagan updates

Exactly what it says ... stuff that's happened since last time.
  • The audio of the three ETFF Druyan interviews (of which transcripts were already up before) has gone live on Celebrating Sagan. Here's the widget:

    By the way, to get to a MP3 of a segment, right-click on it and select "Download this song."
  • toomanytribbles has a really nice post about my last round of updates. On the ETFF interview transcripts: "all three pieces are stunning."
  • Patrick Fish, the Sagan Gathering guy, has posted a video for me on YouTube: Ithaca Times for Joel Schlosberg, Extra Sagan, No Cheese:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rushkoffiana 1.5

Today's the right time to drop in a note about my plans to do a follow-up to this previous post about Douglas Rushkoff. I've wanted to post thoughts about Get Back in the Box and Nothing Sacred, and Rushkoff has dropped hints about his truly intriguing upcoming project, which will be about corporatism. But instead of a real post for now, I'll throw out a link to a video of a Rushkoff event about "Testament, Get Back in the Box and Corporatism", which took place at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble on February 28th of this year; I really should have blogged about this a long time ago since I was there, and can be seen in the audience:

Monday, September 10, 2007

some new science fiction at Project Gutenberg

Three new eBooks that I worked on have been added to Project Gutenberg:

"A World is Born" by Leigh Brackett, from Comet magazine, July 1941.

This short story is one of her "sword-and-planet" stories that took place in the rest of the Solar System; of course almost nothing was known about what the planets were like, so this provided the opportunity for writers to imagine what might be there. Brackett's versions drew upon existing genre tropes, but had a special quality of their own; the environments were vivid enough to almost be characters of their own. In this case, the setting is Mercury; Edmond Hamilton aptly described her version of it:
The Brackett Mercury, lacking the glamor of Venus and the haunting sadness of ancient Mars—there is no history here, and no beauty—has a certain harsh authority even so. Nature is the chief villain, and a convincingly nasty one.... Leigh's concept of a world where tremendous mountains went up literally beyond the sky, where the cliff-locked valleys were racked by violent storms and sudden rockfalls, and life was a precarious thing beset by heat and cold, thirst and starvation, is a nice little view of hell.
Two paperback novels: Space Prison by Tom Godwin and Legacy by James H. Schmitz

(Well, Legacy was posted back in May, so it's old news, but I expected them to be posted at around the same time.)

Space Prison is about a group of humans stranded on a truly hostile planet (not unlike Brackett's Mercury), with minimal resources and nasty creatures. It follows a recurrent Godwin theme of solidarity against a hostile universe.

I actually read Legacy a few years ago, well before becoming a DPer, as part of a Schmitz kick after Baen put his works back in print (also prompted by finding Guy Gordon's venerable Schmitz Encyclopedia fansite in the early days of the Web, a bit before the reprints started). What stands out in my memory is the characters, in particular the protagonist Trigger Argee, who was in a few short stories but really shines here.

As was common with paperbacks, both novels are retitled (the original titles are The Survivors and A Tale of Two Clocks, respectively.) Another thing the books have in common is that the folks over at Baen are fond of them, so that not only have they put those books in print, but unbeknownst to me when I started working at them, they were both online in their entirety at the Baen website; here are links to the Baen version of Space Prison (where it has the original title The Survivors) and Legacy. But at least those versions don't have the original front/back cover and blurbs, like this one has.

Oh, and Space Prison got Boing Boinged!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'm now an official Sagan celebrator

I'm pleased to announce that I'm now an official contributor to the Celebrating Sagan website and blog. This is a site that appeared at around the same time as my blog-a-thon last year, and which had a similar mission of remembering Carl and his legacy. In particular, it was specifically designed to accept reader contributions, in particular from readers without blogs, so it turned out to be a good complement to the blog-a-thon. (And so, I'm able to post contributions that are emailed to me -- although you can also send them to the core team.)

We'll see where this goes ... but one thing that's in store is audio I sent them of three half-hour interviews of Ann Druyan from Equal Time for Freethought, to go with their "Sounds of Sagan" collection. For now, transcripts of the interviews are available on ETFF's website:
  1. ETFF episode 50, July 13, 2003: This show was about general science issues, and includes a large number of listener call-in questions.
  2. ETFF episode 130, May 15, 2005: This show was devoted to the Cosmos TV series.
  3. ETFF episode 193, October 15, 2006: This was devoted to the Varieties of Scientific Experience book, which was newly released.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My composer friend Daniel's music website

Nope, don't confuse it with this old post about his MySpace page. My friend Daniel DeCastro put up, earlier this summer, an honest-to-no-God, really real webpage to show off his composing talent:
DeCastro Music
In particular, it has a wide selection of music (far more than the old MySpace page), as well as his thesis. Happy listening!

Monday, August 27, 2007

A New History of Leviathan online

A favorite long-out-of-print classic of historical scholarship is now online as a free PDF eBook: A New History of Leviathan: Essays on the Rise of the American Corporate State, edited by Ronald Radosh and Murray Rothbard. This is a left libertarian favorite that's little known outside of that circle, but it's easy to see why it's so well remembered.

Turning the mainstream view of the political spectrum inside out, the collection features a tag team from the radical Left and Right taking on the historical mythology of the corporate center. As the introduction by the two editors puts it, one editor, Rothbard, "is one of the intellectual leaders of the new 'right-wing libertarian movement' ... a firm believer in laissez-faire capitalism ... a free-market economist, a former contributor to National Review ... [who] favors removing the privileges of the large corporations and returning to laissez-faire"; the other, Radosh, "emerges from the ranks of the New Left ... he was an active member of the Wisconsin Socialist Club, and functioned as an associate editor of the radical journal, Studies on the Left ... a libertarian socialist ... a firm believer in the necessity of socialist revolution ... [who] favors a decentralized socialist economy". Similarly with the other contributors: for instance, William Appleman Williams and Martin J. Sklar on the New Left, and Leonard Liggio on the libertarian side.

So, what could possibly draw these extremists together? As the introduction says, "each, because of his critique of liberal ideology and concepts, has been able in his own work to transcend the ideological myths that enable the large corporations to mask their hegemony over American society." Both ideologies include an emphasis on spontaneity, voluntarism and decentralism, as well as a deep-seated and genuine opposition to corporatism -- not only to the overt power of corporations and the immediate harm they do, but to the more subtle political and ideological forms of corporate influence (which are often disguised, ironically, by anti-corporate rhetoric) and the historical roots of how they arose. And so, both groups of contributors dissent form a "Leviathan Corporate State" that is driven by an exaltation of stability and control, and which combines leftist rhetoric about helping the weak and restraining the power of business with a reality of indirect subsidies and priviliges towards corporations that cement their dominance of the economy. And so, each side takes on its own sacred cows: Radosh has the essay debunking "The Myth of the New Deal" and Rothbard trashes Herbert Hoover's "Myth of Laissez-Faire".

Now that this book is freely available, let's hope that it finally reaches a wider audience and gets both leftists and rightists to rethink their assumptions about American history and ideology.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Albert Ellis and Sherwin Wine, RIP

Today, the newspapers are carrying obits for two different prominent humanists. Here's the New York Times ones for Ellis and Wine.

I never met Ellis, although he's appeared occasionally at humanist events in the NYC area; and I met Wine only once, when he gave the keynote at Humanlight 2003. (In fact, I sat next to him in the car when going back to NYC, so it's unnerving that he died in a car accident.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Jackie Chan's ghost site

The second of two quick notes on my recent stuff elsewhere on the web:

At Steve Baldwin's Ghost Sites blog, he's posted an analysis I sent in about a time capsule from the 1990s Internet: the official book promotion site for Jackie Chan's 1998 autobiography I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action, which has been preserved intact virtually unchanged from the date of release.

Thorstein Veblen and The Icelandic Commonwealth

The first of two quick notes on my recent stuff elsewhere on the web:

Here's Thorstein Veblen's description of the Icelandic Commonwealth, from his book An Inquiry Into The Nature Of Peace And The Terms Of Its Perpetuation as existing in a quasi-anarchist form, where the government lacked most of the usual functions, such as defense, and coercive power. I sent this passage (which I discovered while proofreading the book in Distributed Proofreaders) in to Roderick T. Long, who had written about Iceland in a similar vein here and here; he hadn't seen it, and neither had David Friedman (the other libertarian most well-known for seeing Iceland as a model of anarchy).

Monday, July 09, 2007

Blog maintenance

Over the last few months, I've been making some incremental minor changes and improvements to the blog. I'm not slapping a "2.0" label or anything like that, but I feel it's worth keeping track of; they should add up to a better site experience. This includes, in no particular order:
  • Somewhat belatedly, switching over to the new version of Blogger
  • Cleaning up the HTML coding on pictures (and adding a few new ones)
  • Adding categories (a New Blogger feature) and extending the categories back to older posts
  • Deleting spam comments
  • Deleting some posts I was unsatisfied with
  • A major reorganization and expansion of my sidebar (made much easier by New Blogger), making it a much more complete account of my stuff around the web
  • Finally getting a traffic analyzer, via Site Meter, providing a lot more info about traffic than I had (which was basically none)
And also ... I'm going to try to commit to a more regular posting schedule; I make no promises, but will try to post at least every 3-4 days.

As always, feedback is important, so let me know what you think of any of the changes I'm making.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Troll 2 summer tour

Among bad movie fans, one particularly special favorite is the 1990 "best worst movie" Troll 2. Without the typical features that bring attention to well-known bad movies — big-name stars, a large budget, a recent release date, a showing on Mystery Science Theater 3000 — but solely on the strength of sheer badness and massive filmmaking ineptitude, it's charmed its way into a cult following, a near-permanent space on the low end of the IMDB Bottom 100 (including occasional stints all the way down at the #1 spot), and a RiffTrax.

And this summer, Troll 2 is being featured at an ongoing series of special theatrical screenings, featuring a newly rediscovered 35mm print, at cities across the United States! The next two are this weekend in Seattle, and new cities and dates are being announced. Plus, they will have a large proportion of the original cast in attendance, who are fully appreciative of the movie's badness and the strange following it's gained, who will hang out and take Q&A; and different screenings will have various other events to complete the experience.

Last fall, I was at a similar one-shot screening/cast appeareance/Q&A/party for the movie in NYC (the main difference being that the movie was screened from a DVD, before the print was discovered). It was really a hoot, from the cast, to the outrageous T-shirts and other "merchandise", to the energy of the fans. Here's some stuff that gives a taste:
  • Photos at Flickr here and here
  • video from cast member Darren Ewing
  • fan video of the Q&A session
  • fan video of George Hardy recreating a famous line at the Q&A
  • video of a fan-made mock trailer that was shown at the screening

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Free Voice of Labor at IMDB

When Stephen Fischler and Joel Sucher's pair of 1980s documentaries Anarchism in America and Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists were released onto DVD last year, the home video availability, much like Bird and Shaffer's The Wobblies doc, led to a resurgence of interest in both movies. Some time afterwards, I noticed that while the former had an entry on the comprehensive Internet Movie Database, the latter did not. So about a week ago, I finally decided to try to make my way through the IMDB update process and submit it for inclusion in the database ... and it's paid off: Free Voice of Labor has a brand-new page on the IMDB!

(And yes, I should eventually post some thoughts on the actual content of both of Fischler and Sucher's movies ... there was a flurry of posts shortly after the DVD's release, and I felt like I was coming late to the party at the time. But yeah, they're recommended, and I wanted to get out this announcement now rather than later.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sci Fiction archive going down

I can't believe this. Last night, I stumbled upon the archive of the webzine Sci Fiction on the Sci Fi channel website for the first time — and saw that it was going to be taken down by the 15th! (The magazine ran from 2000 to 2005, but even when it stopped publishing, the archives were left up ... until now.) It's really too bad, as it has an impressive lineup of both new fiction, and classic reprints. The latter, with its truly old-school lineup of authors — Robert Bloch, Zenna Henderson, Theodore Sturgeon, William Tenn, Manly Wade Wellman — brings back a lot of memories of hunting this stuff down in musty paperbacks, including one tale (Fredric Brown's "Mouse") where I was left hanging because the ending page was actually ripped out of the book! How did this never get on my radar? Note to self: how did I never, say, Google "Allamagoosa"?

The news has been picked up by bOING bOING after I submitted the link, where Cory is understandably upset since one of his stories, "Jury Service", was published there. (Welcome, bOING bOINGers! Here's more posts on science fiction.) Hopefully this will get the word out of the SF community.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Guess the mystery Georgist

Guess who wrote the following:
For the better part of a decade, I taught dozens of students ... the basics of Georgist economics, drawn for the most part from his classic Progress and Poverty.... As George explains, most taxes are fundamentally unfair, yet the least objectionable is the LVT. Taxes are problematic, as they are a burden on production, increasing its costs.
The answer.

(inspired by this)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sagan Gathering note

Since I've mentioned on this blog the Sagan Gathering that was scheduled to happen in Ithaca, NY this past weekend, I think I ought to give a somewhat disappointing update. Through personal communication with organizer Patrick Fish, I found out that due to having to recover from an unexpected health emergency earlier last week, he was unable to participate in most of the planned events, and therefore (since as of this time, it's a one-man operation) had to call off most of the events. And as it happened, the Festival got rained out anyway.

On the bright side: the preparations for the Gathering have unearthed a lot of goodwill towards Sagan's legacy in the Ithaca area, and have laid the groundwork for a bigger, better Gathering next year. Frankly, it's reinvigorated my Sagan-ania. And some Sagan fans did show up to participate in the Festival and tour Sagan-related locations in Ithaca on their own, including one all the way from Indiana.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Upcoming Chomsky interview on ETFF

The next two Sundays, Equal Time for Freethought's Barry F. Seidman and Neil J. Murphy will be interviewing one of the show's most famous guests ever: the one and only Noam Chomsky! The show is partially inspired by The Humanist magazine's publishing an interview with Chomsky earlier this year; where as one would expect, he addressed his take on humanism in addition to his usual political topics. In this interview, Chomsky deals with a range of subjects, from humanism, the role of religion in politics, the free will question, human nature, to politics and economics.

A few weeks ago, I helped the producers draft some of their interview questions. Now, I've just finished listening to the unedited version of the prerecorded interview, and I'm really happy at how it turned out. There's definitely areas where one can disagree with Chomsky: for instance, all of the ETFF crew take a much harder determinist position on the free will question than Chomsky, and his politics is his familiar, frustrating mix of Smithian classical liberalism and more mainstream social democracy. But in all cases, Chomsky makes his points very well, drawing on a vast array of knowledge, but also willing to say what he doesn't know (or doesn't think is yet known to science). Look forward to it.

Remember: ETFF airs Sundays, 6:30-7PM at 99.5 FM in the NYC area, and streams at WBAI's website, and can be heard afterwards at WBAI's and ETFF's audio archives.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

John J. Pierce in the New York Times 2

Science fiction critic/editor/fan John J. Pierce is at it again. For the second time this year, he's gotten a letter to the editor about science fiction published in The New York Times. Last January, as previously seen on this blog, he weighed in on Heinlein's ever-controversial Starship Troopers.

Today, the NYT printed his response to a snooty article on Philip K. Dick. The article was one of many that take the "science fiction for people who hate to admit that worthwhile literature is science fiction" tack: take a single science fiction author (Bradbury, le Guin and Vonnegut are common examples) and proceed to argue that the author has some special talent that is completely different from the bulk of science fiction authors, and that their literary value is mutually exclusive to the science fictional aspects of their work. So, this article will note Dick's origins in pulps and Ace Double paperbacks, and then follow it up with "you don't read Mr. Dick for his prose". In response, Pierce notes that "it saves a lot of time and a lot of reading to anoint a single science-fiction writer as the only one worthy of consideration". To provide some examples of equally worthy authors, he plugs Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber and James Tiptree Jr. The latter did recently earn some attention from the NYT when a biography of her received a front-page book review; and only last week, a letter to the editor focused on science fiction author Leigh Brackett's screenwriting career.

Also, Pierce accurately notes that the recent film The Last Mimzy "hasn’t inspired the slightest interest" in Henry Kuttner, who wrote the source story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves". (Many of the reviewers didn't even realize that the credited author "Lewis Padgett" was Kuttner's pseudonym.) For me, the missed opportunity involved was a huge disappointment; it seemed like Kuttner was about to get his due at last, and that Hollywood would finally "get it", and realize the large amount of source material lying around by people not named Philip K. Dick. Alas.

At least the grand old The Best of Henry Kuttner collection has been brought back into print as a tie-in book, complete with Ray Bradbury's excellent introduction. As it so happens, the "Best of" series (in which Pierce edited three of the volumes) also had an entry for Dick; the entire series was published in the late 1970s, just before Blade Runner catapulted Dick into the spotlight.

Addendum: Sha LaBare points out in the comments that I should have credited Kuttner's wife and fellow writer C. L. Moore as co-author of "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (as well as most of the other stories in The Best of Henry Kuttner).

Friday, April 27, 2007

dorkbot-nyc may 2007 flyer

Next Wednesday evening, dorkbot-nyc will have its May 2007 meeting (the last until next fall). Douglas Irving Repetto has put up a flyer I made for the occasion. Also, he's posted photos I took at the December 2006 and January 2007 meetings.

I'm also using this occasion to kick off something I've been meaning to add to this blog for a while: an "upcoming events" section in the sidebar. For now, I'll be maintaining this manually (let's hope it stays reasonably current), but if I figure out a way to automate it, I'll do so.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

new ETFF transcripts: Gerrold and Price

Science fiction is the most subversive of all literary genres. You can get away with stuff in science fiction that you can't get away with anywhere else, because half the time, the people you are holding up to the light don't even realize that you're doing it. —David Gerrold
Three new transcripts I did have been added to the Equal Time for Freethought archives.
This is an informal chat with the renowned science fiction writer, touching on his experience with Star Trek, and his novels such as The Man Who Folded Himself, When H.A.R.L.I.E Was One, the War Against the Chtorr series, and The Martian Child, together with his real-life parenting experiences that formed the inspiration for the novel. As it so happens, the latter is the basis for a movie that's coming out this June. I wrote about this show when it first aired, in one of the earliest posts ever on this blog.
In these two provocative interviews, Robert M. Price takes on the established view of Christian history (the second being a counterpart to the Jewish-themed Hanukkah interview with Douglas Rushkoff aired the same day); in the former, he also deals with Dan Brown's claims surrounding The Da Vinci Code, as dealt with in Price's book The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (see also this article summarizing his research). Hopefully the DVC fad still has enough steam left in it to garner us some attention, as the movie was released to DVD only last fall. Price has a lot of fun tearing into Brown's sloppy research and far-fetched conspiracy theories, such as the idea that Jesus and the apostle next to him forming a vague "M" shape in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper painting is evidence of a hidden code representing Mary Magdalene.

(thanks to Wikipedia for the images; sources here, here, here, and here; Creative Commons, public domain, and fair use images)

Neil concludes that "Dan Brown has raised the right questions with the wrong answers". Along the way, Price even slips in a sci-fi reference, with a sly example from the mythos of Superman comics.

By the way, one issue dealt with tangentially is the lack of Crucifixion revisionism in DVC. While doing the transcript, I found an interesting quote from Brown in his witness statement in the court case between him and Baigent and Leigh. I think this says it all:
One of the ideas in Holy Blood, Holy Grail perhaps even the central idea is advertised on the back of my copy of the book: "Is it possible Christ did not die on the cross?". This is not an idea that I would ever have found appealing. Being raised Christian and having attended Bible camp, I am well aware that Christ's crucifixion (and ultimate resurrection) serves as the very core of the Christian faith. It is the promise of life everlasting and that which makes Jesus "the Christ". The resurrection is perhaps the sole controversial Christian topic about which I would not dare write; suggesting a married Jesus is one thing, but undermining the resurrection strikes at the very heart of Christian belief.
Personally, I don't know what to make of the DVC furor; as silly as it's gotten, the book's themes do address a lot of unanswered questions people have. The whole aspect of fictional works whose authors exaggerate their basis on fact is nothing new; for instance The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with its tagline "What happened is true. Now the motion picture that's just as real." (As snopes sez: "Sort of.") And really, it's hard to hate a book, no matter how bad, that includes references to Project Gutenberg in the acknowledgements and a pretty obvious allusion to the feminist classic The Chalice and the Blade (also on the DVC official bibliography).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

more Sagan stuff

Last week, The Ithaca Times ran a great new Sagan-related article by Larry Klaes, "An Organizational Voyage" (Klaes also kindly reposted the article in the comments section of this blog, as well as on Celebrating Sagan). It centers on Sagan fan Patrick Fish's efforts to plan an upcoming Sagan Gathering to coincide with the late May/early June Ithaca Festival. The article also touches on how Pat was influenced by Sagan (he's one of the Cosmos Premiere Generation); and describes Pat's trip to Sagan's gravesite, documented further on Pat's YouTube page. At the site, Pat found two articles from last December, both also by Klaes, that somebody left there and which were preserved in the snow: "Bloggers remember Sagan" from the Ithaca Times, about the blog-a-thon I initiated; and "Sagan and the Scientific Experience" from Tompinks Weekly, about the Varieties of Scientific Experience book. It's hard to express how touched and surprised I am by this.

For even more from Klaes, check out his in-depth review of the Contact film and a 2003 Ithaca Times article on Sagan's protege Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Pat contacted me about a month ago, and since then we've discussed his plans and all things Sagan. And just as Pat was partially inspired by my blog-a-thon, he's in turn galvanized me to get back to things Sagan.

Pat is now looking for people who are interested in participating in the Gathering to contact him, which you can do at this email address.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Birthday candles for "beautiful dynamite"

I don't dance like Cyd Charisse. But women identify with me. And while men desire Cyd Charisse, they'd take me home to meet Mom. — June Allyson
As the Legs fansite reminds us, today is the birthday of Cyd Charisse, who danced in some of the greatest classic musicals like Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and Silk Stockings. Last month, the site had a form to send birthday messages, which would then be printed out and mailed to Cyd herself; the site now has the update: "Thank you to all those who sent birthday wishes to Cyd throughout the month of February! The letter has been sent. If I get a reply, I will post it here."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Paul Avrich

Today is the first anniversary of the passing of the historian of anarchism Paul Avrich. He wrote numerous books about the history of anarchism in Russia and the United States, and combined careful scholarship with a personal emphasis on the people involved.

I met Avrich twice: at Bluestockings in summer 2003, and at the 2004 Modern School Reunion. In the former, he did a presentation about anarchist women, to match the bookstore's feminist theme -- but to make it more specific, he narrowed it down to those he had personally known, which turned out to be quite a lot! Also, I had on me a handwritten list of books about alternative education that were mentioned in Ron Miller's Free Schools, Free People, when I realized that Avrich's modern school book was included on the list! Both organizations paid tribute to Avrich in 2006 (the former memorial including Stanley Aronowitz as speaker).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

NY Times on Sagan

Today's New York Times Science section has a front-page article on Carl Sagan and the Varieties of Scientific Experience book. It alludes to the recent tenth anniversary of Sagan's passing and covers a wide ground of Saganania (much of which will probably be familiar to Sagan fans); Ann Druyan is quoted.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

John Holt on Milton Friedman

When and to what degree should we citizens be allowed to protect ourselves against the crooked and incompetent, to decide what we will buy or use, or who we will work with, and when should we be protected whether we ask to be or not, and if so how, and by whom? Beyond that, is our present system of giving licenses through S-chools a good way, or the best way, or the only way of doing this? I think it is none of these. Too often the protectors don't protect, but turn themselves into a new conspiracy to exploit and defraud the public. We could probably protect ourselves quite well against many (but not all) dangers, if we were not early in life made into expert-worshippers, and if we could easily find out the truth about the dangers. Thus, the conservative economist Milton Friedman has said that even medical doctors should not be licensed. If someone thinks he can heal others, let him say so, and get what clients he can. But require him to make open to everyone both his methods and the results of his work, including the names and addresses of all his past clients, so that would-be clients can check up on him. To a large extent, people with money enough to choose do this now; they would not think of going to a doctor (or dentist, or lawyer) without asking former patients or clients what they thought of him.
—John Holt, Instead of Education, chapter 16

Monday, January 15, 2007

John J. Pierce in the New York Times

This weekend, the New York Times book review had a couple of letters in response to a previous review of John Scalzi's novels which commented on one of science fiction's most perennially controversial novels, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. One of them is by John J. Pierce, who points out the long history of contention over the book and how Heinlein liked Joe Haldeman's The Forever War despite the latter being a direct critique of his book. It's an example of how irreverent and open debate is encouraged in the genre; as Gregory Benford put it, while in "serious fiction ... proceeds from canonical classics that supposedly stand outside of time, deserving awe, great and intact by themselves", science fiction books constitute "immense discussions, with ideas developed, traded varied; players ring changes on each other — a steppin'-out jazz band, not a solo concert in a plush auditorium."

Pierce is recognized among science fiction fandom as a critic, editor, and fan. He edited and wrote introductions for a number of excellent entries in del Rey's 1970s series of collections of the selected short stories by classic authors: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun (the only volume of short stories ever assembled of one of the unsung early masters of the genre), The Best of Murray Leinster, and The Best of Cordwainer Smith (later followed by a larger complete collection of the author's short stories). He's also written four critical books on the history of science fiction (which I haven't read, but look intriguing): Foundations of Science Fiction (1987), Great Themes of Science Fiction (1987), When World Views Collide (1989), and Odd Genre (1994). I've also seen him at Lunacon in 2003 and 2005 on panels discussing topics such as favorite pre-20th century and out-of-print science fiction, and the New Jersey Humanlight celebration in 2004.