Daily Archives: April 28th, 2007

Quick break: Glenn Greenwald

This from Glenn Greenwald today:

There were two seemingly unrelated incidents this week which, taken together, reflect some extremely important political developments.

First was the amazing letter to The Washington Post jointly sent by all 50 Democratic Senators other than Harry Reid — written in response to, and in emphatic rejection of, David Broder’s self-caricaturizing attack on Reid this week, where Broder condemned Reid’s criticisms of the Leader and the War and equated him with Alberto Gonzales. The letter was signed by all 50 Democratic Senators — each and every last one of them — who stood behind Reid and, in effect, told David Broder that he and his previously revered High Broderism are completely out of touch and irrelevant.

When is the last time Democrats were so unified in their defiance of Wise Beltway Wisdom, which endlessly warns them not to adhere to their beliefs too steadfastly or to defy Republican decrees, especially on foreign policy?

The national media — the World Ruled by Drudge, led around by and working in conjunction with the rest of the right-wing noise machine — have tried mightily for months to depict Nancy Pelosi as weak and her leadership in chaos, and they try to do roughly the same with Harry Reid. Yet that has all been brushed aside, as the Democratic caucas in both the Senate and the House have been shockingly unified, not just once but continuously, in their defiance of both the Leader’s will and the worthless Hiatt/Broder/Fox News “warnings” about “going too far” in opposing the war and the Leader.

The elected officials comprising the Democratic caucus are very politically diverse, characterized by widely disparate ideologies, varying amounts of political courage, and completely different calculations of self-interest. Yet virtually without exception, they have remained unified in their opposition to the war and the President even in the face of the Washington Establishment’s painfully trite warnings that they must capitulate for their own good. That, standing alone, is a fundamental change, a sign that something has shifted profoundly.

One can view their efforts as insufficiently aggressive in stopping the war if one wants, but that is a different issue. Thus far, they have been shockingly smart (and resolute) about ignoring out-of-touch and corrupt Beltway pundit wisdom, and instead are paying far more attention to the prevailing anger among Americans towards the war, the President and his supporters.

And then there are the not-yet-fully-appreciated revelations in George Tenet’s new (and unconscionably and unforgivably belated) book, one highly illustrative example of which was recounted today by Scott Shane in The New York Times:

In January 2002, George J. Tenet, the man who oversaw all American spy agencies, was asked by a visiting Italian intelligence official what he knew about United States officials making contact with exiled Iranian opposition figures. “I shot a look at other members of my staff in the meeting,” Mr. Tenet writes in his newly published memoir. “It was clear that none of us knew what he was talking about. The Italian quickly changed the subject.”

The embarrassed Mr. Tenet, then director of central intelligence, had stumbled upon a quixotic effort by a few Pentagon officials working closely with a conservative Middle East specialist, Michael A. Ledeen, to meet with Iranian dissidents living abroad. It was neither the first nor the last time he would be surprised by intelligence efforts inside the Bush administration but outside official channels. . . .

Meanwhile, Mr. Tenet had learned about the contacts with Iranian exiles, organized by Mr. Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and involving two Defense Department officials. They seemed to be in touch with, among others, Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian exile who had been a middleman in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980s and who the C.I.A. believed was completely unreliable.

“What we were hearing sounded like an off-the-books covert-action program trying to destabilize the Iranian government,” Mr. Tenet writes, calling such a program “Son of Iran-contra.”

Do we have reason to hope now? God I hope so, we desperately need to return to a semblence of logical discourse in this country. Ya think?

Read the rest.

Saturday Sci-Fi: Greg Egan

Greg Egan is one of the ‘post-singularity’ modern hard science science-fiction authors I read now-a-days. He resides in Perth, Australia and is a computer scientist/programmer. His stories usually center on consciousness uploading, physics, genetics, artificial intelligence and sexuality. I find his writings hard to follow sometimes when he gets overly technical about the physics in the story, but I like the challenge it brings when he offers an unique plot I never have seen before. You could also see that his works belong to the likes of Orion’s Arm and other sites like that. In fact, he is cited as an influence. His essays and short stories posted for free online and has a new book out due May 1st, 2007.

I’m going to post a sample from a free short story from his site. Give it a try and see what you think.

In their ten-thousand, three hundred and ninth year of marriage, Leila and Jasim began contemplating death. They had known love, raised children, and witnessed the flourishing generations of their offspring. They had travelled to a dozen worlds and lived among a thousand cultures. They had educated themselves many times over, proved theorems, and acquired and abandoned artistic sensibilities and skills. They had not lived in every conceivable manner, far from it, but what room would there be for the multitude if each individual tried to exhaust the permutations of existence? There were some experiences, they agreed, that everyone should try, and others that only a handful of people in all of time need bother with. They had no wish to give up their idiosyncrasies, no wish to uproot their personalities from the niches they had settled in long ago, let alone start cranking mechanically through some tedious enumeration of all the other people they might have been. They had been themselves, and for that they had done, more or less, enough.

Before dying, though, they wanted to attempt something grand and audacious. It was not that their lives were incomplete, in need of some final flourish of affirmation. If some unlikely calamity had robbed them of the chance to orchestrate this finale, the closest of their friends would never have remarked upon, let alone mourned, its absence. There was no aesthetic compulsion to be satisfied, no aching existential void to be filled. Nevertheless, it was what they both wanted, and once they had acknowledged this to each other their hearts were set on it.

Choosing the project was not a great burden; that task required nothing but patience. They knew they’d recognise it when it came to them. Every night before sleeping, Jasim would ask Leila, “Did you see it yet?”

“No. Did you?”

“Not yet.”

Sometimes Leila would dream that she’d found it in her dreams, but the transcripts proved otherwise. Sometimes Jasim felt sure that it was lurking just below the surface of his thoughts, but when he dived down to check it was nothing but a trick of the light.

Years passed. They occupied themselves with simple pleasures: gardening, swimming in the surf, talking with their friends, catching up with their descendants. They had grown skilled at finding pastimes that could bear repetition. Still, were it not for the nameless adventure that awaited them they would have thrown a pair of dice each evening and agreed that two sixes would end it all.

One night, Leila stood alone in the garden, watching the sky. From their home world, Najib, they had travelled only to the nearest stars with inhabited worlds, each time losing just a few decades to the journey. They had chosen those limits so as not to alienate themselves from friends and family, and it had never felt like much of a constraint. True, the civilisation of the Amalgam wrapped the galaxy, and a committed traveller could spend two hundred thousand years circling back home, but what was to be gained by such an overblown odyssey? The dozen worlds of their neighbourhood held enough variety for any traveller, and whether more distant realms were filled with fresh novelties or endless repetition hardly seemed to matter. To have a goal, a destination, would be one thing, but to drown in the sheer plenitude of worlds for its own sake seemed utterly pointless.

A destination? Leila overlaid the sky with information, most of it by necessity millennia out of date. There were worlds with spectacular views of nebulas and star clusters, views that could be guaranteed still to be in existence if they travelled to see them, but would taking in such sights firsthand be so much better than immersion in the flawless images already available in Najib’s library? To blink away ten thousand years just to wake beneath a cloud of green and violet gas, however lovely, seemed like a terrible anticlimax.

The stars tingled with self-aggrandisement, plaintively tugging at her attention. The architecture here, the rivers, the festivals! Even if these tourist attractions could survive the millennia, even if some were literally unique, there was nothing that struck her as a fitting prelude to death. If she and Jasim had formed some whimsical attachment, centuries before, to a world on the other side of the galaxy rumoured to hold great beauty or interest, and if they had talked long enough about chasing it down when they had nothing better to do, then keeping that promise might have been worth it, even if the journey led them to a world in ruins. They had no such cherished destination, though, and it was too late to cultivate one now.

Leila’s gaze followed a thinning in the advertising, taking her to the bulge of stars surrounding the galaxy’s centre. The disk of the Milky Way belonged to the Amalgam, whose various ancestral species had effectively merged into a single civilisation, but the central bulge was inhabited by beings who had declined to do so much as communicate with those around them. All attempts to send probes into the bulge — let alone the kind of engineering spores needed to create the infrastructure for travel — had been gently but firmly rebuffed, with the intruders swatted straight back out again. The Aloof had maintained their silence and isolation since before the Amalgam itself had even existed.

The latest news on this subject was twenty thousand years old, but the status quo had held for close to a million years. If she and Jasim travelled to the innermost edge of the Amalgam’s domain, the chances were exceptionally good that the Aloof would not have changed their ways in the meantime. In fact, it would be no disappointment at all if the Aloof had suddenly thrown open their borders: that unheralded thaw would itself be an extraordinary thing to witness. If the challenge remained, though, all the better.

She called Jasim to the garden and pointed out the richness of stars, unadorned with potted histories.

“We go where?” he asked.

“As close to the Aloof as we’re able.”

“And do what?”

“Try to observe them,” she said. “Try to learn something about them. Try to make contact, in whatever way we can.”

“You don’t think that’s been tried before?”

“A million times. Not so much lately, though. Maybe while the interest on our side has ebbed, they’ve been changing, growing more receptive.”

“Or maybe not.” Jasim smiled. He had appeared a little stunned by her proposal at first, but the idea seemed to be growing on him. “It’s a hard, hard problem to throw ourselves against. But it’s not futile. Not quite.” He wrapped her hands in his. “Let’s see how we feel in the morning.”

In the morning, they were both convinced. They would camp at the gates of these elusive strangers, and try to rouse them from their indifference.

They summoned the family from every corner of Najib. There were some grandchildren and more distant descendants who had settled in other star systems, decades away at lightspeed, but they chose not to wait to call them home for this final farewell.

Two hundred people crowded the physical house and garden, while two hundred more confined themselves to the virtual wing. There was talk and food and music, like any other celebration, and Leila tried to undercut any edge of solemnity that she felt creeping in. As the night wore on, though, each time she kissed a child or grandchild, each time she embraced an old friend, she thought: this could be the last time, ever. There had to be a last time, she couldn’t face ten thousand more years, but a part of her spat and struggled like a cornered animal at the thought of each warm touch fading to nothing.

As dawn approached, the party shifted entirely into the acorporeal. People took on fancy dress from myth or xenology, or just joked and played with their illusory bodies. It was all very calm and gentle, nothing like the surreal excesses she remembered from her youth, but Leila still felt a tinge of vertigo. When her son Khalid made his ears grow and spin, this amiable silliness carried a hard message: the machinery of the house had ripped her mind from her body, as seamlessly as ever, but this time she would never be returning to the same flesh.

Sunrise brought the first of the goodbyes. Leila forced herself to release each proffered hand, to unwrap her arms from around each non-existent body. She whispered to Jasim, “Are you going mad, too?”

“Of course.”

Gradually the crowd thinned out. The wing grew quiet. Leila found herself pacing from room to room, as if she might yet chance upon someone who’d stayed behind, then she remembered urging the last of them to go, her children and friends tearfully retreating down the hall. She skirted inconsolable sadness, then lifted herself above it and went looking for Jasim.

He was waiting for her outside their room.

“Are you ready to sleep?” he asked her gently.

She said, “For an eon.”

The title is Riding the Crocodile. Buckle up!

Saturday Sci-Fi

There’s lots of goodies this weekend at SciFi.com. The usual Saturaday movie fare culminating with Lake Placid 2 at 9:00 p.m. My wife loved the original Lake Placid, but that’s because she’s a Betty White fan. I rooted for Bridgit Fonda of course. Gator stew anyone?

Also the Sci-Fi Channel’s summer schedule is out today. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

I finally got to see both Star Gates (SG-1, Atlantis) last night. SG-1 was a rehash of the old ‘disappearing interdimensional’ foil, this time with the Amanda Tapping character (Col. Carter) instead of Daniel Jackson, but the overall theme of disappearing “civil liberties for security” was timely. I was mildly surprised by it. SG Atlantis was a classic wild west, super-hero type shootum up show with lots of action. Predictable with no lesson other than don’t lie to people and take advantage of them. But I like Atlantis and it will be the torch-bearer for the Star Gate franchise. I don’t know if it’ll have a spin-off of it’s own, but I found that the premise of the franchise(s) gets watered down with each spin-off. Just ask Paramount (Star Trek).

The classic novel I’m suggesting this week is Bob Shaw’s Orbitsville. This was one of my favorites when I was in highschool and it was originally serialized in Galaxy magazine. The plot of the story centered around a starship captain who is inadervantly involved in the death of the Leader of the World’s son. I’m reluctant to give spoilers because although the plot is kind of simple, the discovery the starship captain makes was a unique, but popular idea at the time the novel was serialized. Think big dumb object. Simple, but cool. And there are sequels. Maybe I can get them this summer and enjoy them like I used to.

Places that still sell Orbitsville and sequels:

http://www.amazon.com/Orbitsville-Bob-Shaw/dp/0671698168

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/bob-shaw/orbitsville.htm

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookSearchPL?ph=2&tn=Orbitsville%20&AID=7134924&PID=1514533

http://www.powells.com/search/DTSearch/search?PID=28411&cgi=search/search/&searchtype=kw&searchfor=Orbitsville%20

I plan to take it easy this summer after the madness of my oldest daughter’s graduation and her subsequent marriage subsides. I’m making a list of novels that were serialized by the old sci-fi rags of the day, buy them over the Tubes, pull up a hammack, along with tall cool ice tea and do it up!