WOULD YOU LIKE TO STAY FOR DINNER?

CELEBRATING THE FAMILY WE NEVER MET AND MAYBE DON’T WANT TO

“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who having appeared out of nowhere, now miraculously speaks vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent, “Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”

“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”

“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”

“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”

“Are you Kosher?”

“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, remembering the bacon that has passed through our kitchen. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”

Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me. “He doesn’t look Jewish.”

Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. It say “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.

“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You have problems with the Cossacks?”

“No Cossacks, but lots of politicians,” I reply.

“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?”

“Not so much,” I admit.

“And for a living you do what?”

“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”

“What’s a television?”

I look at Shmuel, realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation, so all I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.

Oy vay. Can someone set the table?

MAGIC IS EVERYWHERE – THREE QUOTES, DAY THREE

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world. – Robert Heinlein, “Waldo”

I’m astonished how many people have either never read these two novellas, or read them and manged to miss the point.

If you haven’t read them, you really should, if you are any kind of science fiction fan. They are fundamental to the mythology of science fiction. The concepts Heinlein posits have become axiomatic to later writers.

"Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942." Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942

“Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942.” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942

Many readers — I take this from the reviews I’ve read by people who say they have indeed read the two novellas — apparently don’t see a connection between the stories. They think they are in one volume “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to connect two related ideas.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work (see Clarke’s Three Laws). As long as we believe in it, it works, whatever “it” may be. If or when we stop believing, it won’t work. It is all magic. Science is incantation. Witchcraft codified.

When we lose faith in technology, magic becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is style, not substance. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It is all concept.

The best science fiction is concept-driven. Characters and plot usually take a back seat. These two stories have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both are based on a single concept.

We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

CONSIDER STUPIDITY – THREE QUOTES, DAY TWO

For the second of my three quotes in three days, I present to you my all-time favorite quote. I use it as a signature line on my email. I try to remember it whenever I think someone is out to get me.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. – Robert Hanlon

This quote has a long, rich history. Despite the attribution, no one can say exactly when or where it originated. Called Hanlon’s razor, it is an aphorism. It suggests a way to eliminate complicated explanations for a phenomenon when a simpler one is available. It suggests before looking for ill-intent, consider the possibility of stupidity.

Stupidity is common. It requires neither forethought nor planning. Anyone can be stupid. No special effort is needed. It is, therefore, the most likely explanation for actions. Why look for other motives? Go with simplicity.

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Although the saying is officially named after Robert J. Hanlon, there are a variety of earlier sayings that convey the same idea dating back at least as far as Goethe in 1774.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws are considered closely related:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The third law, my other favorite, has been incorrectly attributed to many different writers, but it really does belong to Clarke. Really. No matter what else you may have heard. If I ever change my signature line, Clarke’s third law is a strong contender for the position.

SHARING MY WORLD AND MAYBE ANOTHER

SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #25

What did you or did not like about the first apartment you ever rented?

We could afford it, which at the time, was not a “given.” It was walking distance to the university. Good for me because I didn’t drive yet.

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Good for the husband because he needed the exercise. It was a corner apartment, so it had excellent cross ventilation. Finally, it was at the end of the corridor, so it was quieter than apartments nearer the elevator.

On the negative side, it had no sound-proofing, so we could hear our upstairs neighbor snoring as if he were in the room with us.

What kind of art is your favorite? Why?

I can’t answer that. I love books, movies, paintings. Sculpture.

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And, of course, photography.

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I like old stuff, new stuff, and in between stuff. My taste defines eclectic.

How many siblings do you have? What’s your birth order?

I’m the middle kid. My brother was 4 years older than me and my sister is five years younger.

1952

1952. My sister wasn’t born yet.

My brother died 7 years ago of pancreatic cancer. My sister disappeared into the world of drugs decades before.

TimeTravelComplete this sentence:  I’m dreaming of a white …. (and no you can’t use Christmas as your answer) …

I’m dreaming of a giant white space ship which is on its way to take us to a better world.

Or maybe a strange white swirling light which is a wormhole into a time tunnel and I can go traveling to whenever I want to go. Woo hoo!

STRANGE? WHO ARE YOU CALLING STRANGE?

Blogger in a Strange Land

Strange?

You men like Maine? Connecticut? Vermont? Virginia? Pennsylvania? New York? Maryland? New Hampshire? Amherst?

outer space

I doubt any of the lower 48 states would count as strange in anyone’s book. Of course, there’s that time I was abducted by aliens and posted from  a modest satellite planet in orbit about Betelgeuse, but that’s another story …

EDEN – A BIT OF SCIENCE FICTION

After months in a cryo-tube, they finally woke me. What a headache! Sheesh. And holy moly, I really had to go to the bathroom, after which I needed not so much a shower as a sandblasting. That cryo gunk is sticky and it gets into places you just wouldn’t … well, maybe you would … believe.

Then there was food. Never in my entire life have I wanted to eat a starship, including the cargo. Talk about an appetite. Not just me. Everyone had just been wakened at the same time and we all felt hollow.

T.S. Eliot was spinning in my head:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

I vaguely remembered more of the poem.

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

I hoped the poem was not a predictor of explorations to come. Given the awful condition in which we left Earth, we needed to find a new home. A fertile planet on which crops will grow. Where the battered human race could remember its better self. We had not been superior to cockroaches in a long time.

Finally after eating for what seemed an eternity, we donned our lime green suits — the lightweight ones for worlds that are not hostile, merely unknown — and they opened the doors. We emerged. Into paradise.

Breathtaking. The colors were a bit odd. Pink sky and pale blue clouds. The plants were all kinds of colors, like a riotous flower garden. The whole planet was a garden. So we named it “Eden” — which I thought was a mistake.

We got kicked out of Eden already. But what do I know? I don’t make the Big Decisions. Way above my pay grade. You might say I was just along for the ride.

Before we reboarded the ship, I had a little thought. I dawdled. Picked up the litter we’d left behind. Found a big piece of cardboard.

Must have been a box of some sort, but it would make a pretty good sign. I found a piece of wood to which I could attach it. I had a nail gun in my tool kit and a big marking pen. It hadn’t dried out and worked in the lower gravity of this new planet.

New to us, but home to so much other life. Like Earth had been before we stripped her of everything but trash.

I put my sign near where we’d landed. Hopefully future expeditions would land in more or less the same spot. I wrote my message. In my best handwriting. Using huge letters so no one could miss it — or mistake its meaning:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

IDYLLIC

WELCOME TO HOLA! — HOMINID OVERVIEW OF LOST ARTS

The horrors of the late 21st century were — as we all know — at the root of the collapse of hominids as Earth’s dominant species. It is a cautionary tale for every species — two, four, six, or eight-legged.

Insults to Earth had accumulated over many centuries. It would be unfair — and inaccurate — to lay the entire blame for the disaster on earth’s twenty-first century humans. Nonetheless, it is equally impossible to excuse their failure to take measures that could have short-circuited the holocaust. To this day, their silence in the face of their demise is impenetrable to us, the remaining species of our planet.

what the frackThe final breach of the planet’s integrity was the corporate sponsorship of “fracking.” Cracking the earth’s core caused major instability everywhere it was practiced. History tells of the violent earthquakes which destroyed entire regions. The loss of North America’s West Coast and the formation of the Kansas seacoast are permanent reminders.

One of our most popular exhibits is a virtual trip through the submerged cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. If you are interested in this tour, please sign up at the Activities desk in the lobby. Participation is by appointment only.

The birth of active and highly destructive volcanoes was another direct result of fracking. Newly born volcanoes burst from the ground in regions like New England and the Midwest. The desolation of cities and farmland, the concomitant poisoning of aquifers, wholesale elimination of other species, the demise of bees and other pollinators resulted in global defoliation and total crop failure.

Most noteworthy, the loss of the life-giving Amazon rain forests made it impossible for humankind to make a comeback as a species. I know there are those among you — especially our canine citizens — who mourn the loss of humans. We share your pain. We believe other cross-species relationships will fill that gap. Apes, monkeys, elephants and other creatures stand ready to help you through this difficult time.

Some progress has been achieved by reinventing tennis balls. Please note the big green ball bins located throughout this building. You are free to grab as many balls as you can carry in your jaws and are welcome keep them as souvenirs on your departure.

Despite the evidence before their eyes, human beings remained absorbed by their petty concerns. Hooked to devices and mobile gadgets, they ignored the world around them until the world was no longer there.

These artifacts from the peak of human inventiveness are a poignant reminder of what can happen to a dominant civilization. The banning of electronic communication (2074 and afterward) was insufficient to restore human culture. Even the replacement of internal combustion engines with vehicles powered by sun, wind –and in the case of dirigibles, hot air — were not nearly enough.

Too little, too late. How sad the community of nations failed to act in coördination until the glaciers had already eliminated so much that can never be restored.

We at the Hominid Overview of Lost Arts (HOLA) work to uncover remnants of human civilization wherever it lies buried. Whether under the glacial plains of Europe and North America or in the rubble pits of the Indian Subcontinent, our army of archeologists is ever-busy. Someday, we hope to understand the entirety of the calamity.

Welcome to our exhibit. Please remove your shoes at the door. Our rugs are soft and comfortable. Sound boosting equipment is available free from the Courtesy Desk.

Please remember your company manners. Rude, annoying, loud, or obnoxious individuals will be forcibly ejected without warning.

Thank you, and welcome to HOLA!


From the Collection of the Artist – A hundred years from now, a major museum is running an exhibition on life and culture as it was during our current historical period. You’re asked to write an introduction for the show’s brochure. What will it say?

EARTH RISING

Prelude

Gary and I joined the Mars mission. It’s a special mission, not at all like previous exploratory ventures. I always wanted to travel to the stars.

Peacham_018

Because of all the health problems I’ve had, I thought it could never happen.

Suddenly, more or less out of the blue, this mission came up. NASA said they were looking people like us, who have arthritic, heart, and other aging issues, but have retained a strong sense of adventure. The space doctors want to see if Mars’ reduced gravity will improve the quality of our lives and hopefully, increase our longevity.

Couples were welcomed — preferred. Garry and I found ourselves trying to pack our memories into little space trunks. After a lifetime of experiences, we will abandon Earth’s blue-green shores.

NASA has made it clear. We will never return to Earth. The trip is too long — for us — to travel both directions. Science fiction notwithstanding, warp drive never became real. It would have made a  huge difference in the entire concept of the trip.

When I think about it, I’m not sure we would need to come back anyway. Most of our friends and family are gone. Adventure awaits! It is one of the biggest ironies of aging that our souls do not grow old, but our bodies do.

This is the ultimate soul food — a journey into the unknown. The chance to be pioneers and maybe change the world.


HOME ON THE RED PLANET

Mars. Different sky. This planet has but two seasons, albeit in limited areas near what we would call the equator. Spring and fall. Summer is broiling and only occurs at the poles, as does winter. Mars’ winter makes the worst winter we ever experienced in New England look like nothing.

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Few flowers and they are not like those we’ve known and loved. Fauna comes in strange shapes and odd colors.

There are forests, sort of. Martian trees grow in abundance. These trees have stems without bark. They are smooth with leaves like fronds. In the Martian autumn, they turn magenta and blue. Gaudy for sure, but I miss the gold, orange, and red of an Earth autumn.

Woods on the side

There is no grass though the pink sands are beautiful in their way. The ground is not alive. It forms a bed for growing things, but it is inert.

I do not miss full gravity. I feel light and springy, and my arthritis and other joint problems are gone. This is better than stumbling into old age on earth.

We all miss green. Trees, grass, even weeds, and crabgrass. Mars has no birds. There are plenty of ground animals. Many burrowing things that look (and act) like squirrels. But nothing flies through the air. Maybe the atmosphere is too thin.

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I yearn for the crisp snap of an October morning. To be fair, even on earth when I was away from the northeast, I missed fall.

There are no breezes that rustle the treetops or wildflowers in fields. No dandelions, violets, or spiderwort. Most of all, I miss blue skies though I may eventually grow to love mauve.

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I miss oceans with tides and waves. These oceans are smooth as glass, like huge mill ponds and full of the weirdest looking water-dwelling critters you can imagine.

Breezes do not rustle the treetops and winds blow only during storms. Those winds are wild and powerful. You won’t see a field of wildflowers, dandelions, violets, or day lilies. Or anything like it.

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Mostly, I miss blue skies and white clouds. Mauve is okay, and I don’t hate it, but I never stop being shocked when I look up to see that warm, dusty pink. Never a cloud rolls by.

Mars is our new world. Different. But we can make a home here. It will be good.


Interplanet Janet