Putting the life back in science fiction


Syria, Part II

Confession time: I can’t stand to watch the videos of Syrian people suffering and dying from the latest Sarin attack.  Since I have asthma, I may very well die gasping for breath, and this particular horror strikes too close to home for me to watch.  Here’s Charity Navigator listing their best charities for the Syrian conflict.  Or you can give to the UNHCR for Syria.

Anyway, I decided to look back at my 2013 post on the Syrian Water War, to see where we are 3 1/2 years later.  Has anything changed?  Is there anything we can learn, especially with the current regime in the White House? Continue reading



Hot and Cold Running Evolution
April 6, 2017, 9:31 pm
Filed under: deep time, evolution, Hot Earth Dreams | Tags: , ,

I’m not following the primary journals as much as I used to, so this pop-science article in Quanta on the rate of evolution caught my attention.  It claims, apparently on the grounds of several different lines of evidence, that rates of mutation and evolution appear to run faster at short time scales than long time scales.  In other words, there’s more genetic and morphological variation over short time spans than over long ones.

Paradoxical?  Not quite. Useful?  Very. Continue reading



Tekelili! The Wilkes Land Gravitational Anomaly

Another little post, this one on a news item a few months old.  Whenever someone spots a gravity anomaly in Antarctica, people get silly, write things about how the tinfoil hat brigade think it’s a UFO, or an alien base, or NAZIs.   They’re so silly.  Of course it’s shoggoth (not sure what the singular or plural is.  Since shoggoth is sort of like concrete or nanotech, is it singular, plural, collective singular, collective plural, or what?).  Anything that close to the Transantarctic Mountains has to be.  it’s canon.

More seriously, there’s some potentially interesting science buried under the ice.   Continue reading



The Reichstag match factory?
March 14, 2017, 2:07 am
Filed under: nonviolence, Speculation, Syria | Tags:

Since spring has Sprung with a vengeance around here (See this, for example), I’m wearing my botanist duds and getting away from the computer quite a lot.  Which is a good thing.

In the meantime, here are a couple of articles on the actions of the current Republican Administration.  Someone said that was the calm way to have a discourse without empowering you-know-who, and I’m beginning to believe that True Names are those where ad companies send you revenue and eyeballs when your name is used.  But I digress too much.

The title’s in reference to the Reichstag Fire. Hopefully it will make sense by the end. Continue reading



One of Them Difficult Problems

I don’t know why Agent Orange’s First Official Joint Session made me think about parasites, but there you have it.  This is actually something I’ve been dealing with for awhile now, and since the problem is only going to get worse unless (and until) we innovate our way out of this particular pickle.

The problem is fairly simple: if you want a sustainable society, you need to recycle almost everything.  The problem with recycling stuff, especially organic materials, is that it makes controlling pests, pathogens, and parasites very, very hard, because they move very well in streams of unprocessed materials.  After all, a large majority of species on Earth are parasites (per Zimmer’s Parasite Rex), and we, erm, they, evolved over the last billion-odd years in a world where the elements of organic matter are recycled extremely well, give or take some oil and coal fields.  So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that our attempts at recycling and repurposing are spreading parasites and pathogens all over the place.  Continue reading



Non-violent conflict 101
February 21, 2017, 12:35 am
Filed under: nonviolence | Tags: ,

No, I’m not an expert on the subject, and I probably never will be.  Right now, I feel like I was a TA again, barely a week ahead of the students. Still, it’s important to get this information out.

There are a lot of reasons to do so.  If you’re anything like me, your notion of how non-violent conflict works is that it’s firmly in the Gandhi/Batman/Aikido/Star Trek phaser complex of things that would be nice to do, but which  require such supernormal morality/skill/special conditions/technology that it won’t work for us mere mortals.  If we want things to change, ultimately we might believe that change requires either huge amounts of wealth and/or violence, and we feel angry and powerless as a result.  This view happens to be false.  It’s probably a symptom of how our culture deals with violence, but it’s profoundly disempowering  in that it stops us from realizing that there are other ways to achieve the same goals.

Again, there are a bunch of reasons why this matters, but I’ll start with the one that shocked me: so  far as researchers can tell, since 1900, non-violent campaigns have been roughly twice as successful at achieving their goals (fall of the USSR, anyone?) as have violent campaigns (the sample size was over 100).  This is even when people didn’t know what they were doing at first.  Even back in 1973, there were almost 200 known and used “weapons” in the non-violent arsenal, and quite a few have been created since then.  And some of them have been used against you.  Recently.  If you’re interested in learning more, read on.

Continue reading



Dystopias in the time of Bannon
February 13, 2017, 12:10 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just a quick thought and update.  There are two reasons I’m not writing much here.  One is that I’m swamped with environmental work.  With the combination of a wet spring (good for botanizing), four separate EIRs to comment on and more coming in every week, and two botanical papers to write, I haven’t been concentrating so much on climate change.  Then there’s the current political climate, which has me reading about non-violent conflict.  Yes, I’m a scholar at heart, and I respond to slow-motion crises by hitting the library first.  This second leads to my quick thought for the day:  given that we in the US have a capitol infested with wingnuts, the leader of which seems to believe in a (expletive deleted) theory of cycles of history that regenerate in cataclysms, how does one talk about the process and aftermath of severe climate change without feeding into the wingnut narrative?

Continue reading