Thursday, February 20, 2020

James Trefil's "Atlas of Space"


Recently I picked up a National Geographic “Atlas of Space” illustrated coffee table gloss book, 112 pages, authored by James Trefil.

The booklet purports to have twelve maps, but I didn’t find anything detailed or elaborate.


The Introduction presents “the Three Universes: (1) The Solar System (2) The Milky Way Galaxy, ours; (3) All galaxies, organized into clusters and arranged along threads of force. That does not include the idea of a multiverse.

We are here as a result of a 14-billion year cosmic billiards game.

There is a good pair of maps of Mars, East and West, and a presentation of a biosphere experiment in Arizona to simulate living in a Martian colony. He calls the orbit of Mars “The Frost Line”.

The discussion of Uranus and Neptune indicates that the atmosphere gradually changes to a slush of unusual ice forms at high temperature, so they are called “Ice Giants”. 

There is a good diagram of the structure of the Sun on p. 78.



There is some discussion of tidal heating of moons with subsurface oceans (mainly Jupiter).
    
The author has another video explaining why (in his opinion) creationism and intelligent design should not be taught.

Picture: from Baltimore Aerospace museum. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Fiction author stranded on Diamond Princess sees some of her novel come to real life



Author Gay Courter, 75, an American novelist, is quarantined on the Diamond Princess (she and her husband might be among those evacuated), has the experience of seeing her novels come to real life.
Her novel in question is “The Girl in the Box”.  This incident will probably catch Hollywood's attention (or at least Netflix).  
  
   
Authors who dream up bizarre epidemics and Russian or Chinese plots may see their predictions play out in front of them, in horror, or perhaps they say “I told you so.”  There have to be some novel manuscripts around about manufacturing a SARS virus, it’s just too obvious.
   
There are cases where publishers actually worry that a fiction book could spur copycats or unstable heads of state.  Putin-ordered assassinations (or North Korean) in other countries – well, remember “The Interview”.
   
The novel seems to be self-published and is Volume 1 of theSeven Seas Series (Sept 2019). 
  
There was also a kidnapping of Colleen Stan in the 1950s that became an episode of a series called “Girl in the Box” 
   
My own novel “Angel’s Brother” imagines a mystery virus that affects mainly people with poor circulation or at high altitudes, but (with an unusual radioactive core) that can copy a person’s consciousness and deliver it back to a “superspreader” who remains healthy.  After infection, the older victim has hallucinations and sudden death (which may happen with reinfection by Covid-19). 
  
Wikipedia attribution:
By Alpsdake - This file has been extracted from another file: Diamond Princess (ship, 2004) and Port of Toba.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Noted elderly French author Gabriel Matzeneff now to be prosecuted for promoting underage sex in some of his books


Norimitsu Onishi reports on the criminal prosecution and upcoming trial of a noted French author, Gabriel Matzeneff (now 83, hiding out in Italy), apparently for “promoting pedophilia” in his books.  This New York Times story follows another one January 8 (linked).
  
The author had been “renowned” although his books had stopped selling. The trouble is that some of them, as far back as 1974, had described sexual activity with girls (15 is the legal floor in France) and some books circulated in the Philippines had included boys.
  
  
Nevertheless, the issue did not come to light until recently when one of his victims, Vanessa Springora, had a book called “Consent” (“Le Consentement”) about her experience with him, published in 2019.  The whole narrative fits into the “Me Too” movement, the prosecution of Harvey Weinstein and Ronan Farrow’s “Catch and Kill” (2019, Little Brown, 448 pages), which I am reading now (as well as the film “Scandalous”).
  
The New York Times article notes that the French “aristocracy” had gotten away with behavior not normally considered acceptable.  But it’s rather puzzling that establishment trade publishers (as opposed to porn publishers) would have accepted these books and bookstores would have sold them for so long.
  
The books, if they contained only words and not photos (drawings would be on the legal edge) would not have been illegal in the United States.
    
Again, this bizarre story related to printed books, not to websites and social media, where usually terms of service violations would get this content taken down or drive it to the dark web.
    
On the other hand, the French prosecutors are blaming the author for his influence on impressionable young men who then, perhaps lacking impulse control, go out and commit crimes.  This is a similar moral dilemma that we have on the Internet with radicalization (especially on the Right). People are to be held responsible for the acts of others if they are in able to function as a public influencer, perhaps. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

David Brooks: "The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake", and an aberration; but eveyone needs to have a place to belong


“The Atlantic” has a booklet-length essay by David Brooks, link (paywall, maybe), "The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake".  The tagline is “The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal  for the past half-century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.”

Part 1  is called “The era of extended clans.”  Brooks talks about the evolution of the extended family, in an era when people couldn’t afford privacy.  You were forced to accept intimacy with people who were less than ideal, “the best you could do.”


Then came hyper-individualism, led by women and competitive gay men. 
   
Part II is called “redefining kinship”.  It needs to happen, to bring back some localism, as the “anywhere’s” leave the “somewhere’s” behind and risk being stranded in outer space themselves, alone.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Booktube presents Bryan Stevenson, author of "Just Mercy"


Booktube is a professional YouTube original channel that presents comprehensive panel interviews of authors of important recent books.

Danielle Bainbridge, Jesse Chalwick Small, and John Fish interview author and lawyer Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption”, from Spiegel and Grau, 368 pages (2015).  The 18-minute video is presented in the style of a short film, directed by Martin Akins.
  
This is also an important film from Warner Brothers, directed by Destin Daniel Creton (my detailed review).  The film is said to have been made with an inclusion rider for diversity in casting and production staff. For cast, that is not possible for all films.

  
Stevenson runs a non-profit called the Equal Justice Initiative and employs persons previously released after wrongful convictions.  The movie and book focus particularly on the narrative of Walter McMillan, who was held 15 months on death row before his trial and was convicted despite having been at a party and fundraiser miles away at the time as an alibi.
  
  
The panel also talks about Harper Lee’s “The Killing of a Mockingbird”, which became a film in 1962 and is often shown in high school.  In that film, the suspect is convicted wrongfully despite many people’s knowing he had a good alibi and could not have committed the crime.
    
There is the discussion of hidden white privilege as disguising the need from most (white) people to recognize the problem of wrongful conviction. The concept of “proximity”—more social purposeful social interaction with others not like you, is presented as essential to overcoming this.
 
Stevenson and other panelists do describe what it is like to grow up "black" in all but the most well-off black families.
 
Picture: Selma, with Pettus Bridge in a distance, my trip, May 2014 

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

"Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work" by Robert Frank (book preview)


I received an unsolicited complimentary hardcopy of a book “Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work”, by Robert H. Frank, professor at Cornell’s Business School.  It is published in 2020 by Princeton University Press.
  
The book has a prologue and four parts, thirteen chapters.  The last chapter title relates to me, “Ask, Don’t Tell”.   Be polite ask questions, and don’t order people around to achieve your social goals.

  
The book appears to present the issue of getting individual people (in a democracy) to behave personally in some sort of deliberate coherence with a public goal, such as countering climate change. 
  Other issues would include health related behaviors, like smoking cessation (or dealing with alcohol and drug abuse).

I think this question applies now to the “social justice wars” where people particularly on the “woke” Left are starting to go after visible Internet (especially YouTube) personalities essentially for not showing appropriate sympathetic attention to oppressed minorities as such.  That can involve pressuring platforms and the advertisers the platforms depend on for profitability.
  
But is also applies at a more personal level, in trying to coax politically moderate or seemingly indifferent people to join in and take action on issues, rather than mere talk about them in social media.
   
I’ll review this on a Wordpress blog soon.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The "woke" controversy over the novel "American Dirt"


So we now have controversy, that an author was not entitled to write about a young mother (and her kids) trying to escape a drug cartel in Mexico, because she is white?  That refers to “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins (400 pages, Flatiron Books, January 21, 2020).  It started out in “Oprah’s Book Club” and she had to postpone it (below).  Oh, and by the way, Ophah didn’t run for president.  Somehow the title reminds me of the movie “American Honey”.


Slate reviews the book itself, with contributor Leon Krauze, as not really depicting what a typical mother facing this situation in Mexico would be life.  The review itself is interesting, and the reader can judge for “theirself”.
  
It is bad that there would be safety concerns over “who has the right to represent a book” or wokeness in the way certain images or “motif” is thought to be “harmful” to minorities. This reminds me of the casting diversity controversy in Hollywood, because in some movies it really is important that a particular character (even in multiplicity) have a certain look.
 
Here's a NYTimes LTE, "Who gets to write fiction?"

The comments on this video of mine show that a least one visitor thinks I don't have the write to write about Mexico.