Stephen Kahn

Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Science fiction Thanksgiving

In Good news, Humor on November 25, 2011 at 6:37 pm

We attended Thanksgiving in Seattle with part of our complicated science-fiction, end of civilization family. Seven-year-old granddaughter AE, Mama (my daughter), Mommy (birth mother of AE and our daughter out-of-law), another grandma – birth mother of dad #2 [sperm donor’s partner] and another grandpa – dad #2’s mom’s current husband, a Methodist minister in the mountains of Colorado. There is no vocabulary to describe the members of my family.

Apparently, the hippies won. Colorado Grandma (as I shall dub her) went on at some length about civil union not being good enough; everyone should hold out for gay marriage. Apparently, that’s where daughter and daughter out-of-law are also. I already adjusted to my daughter changing her last name; I suppose I can handle it when daughter-out-of-law becomes just another boring daughter-in-law. I am nothing if not flexible. (That’s why I work out at the gym 3 or 4 times a week).

Colorado grandpa-elderly Methodist minister agreed with me that religious belief is a creation of human beings. He gives sermons; I don’t go to church; we were comfortable with each other.

At Thanksgiving dinner we ate the usual Thanksgiving stuff, AE asked Thanksgiving riddles (how did the turkey get into the house?) talked about our most memorable Thanksgivings. Colorado Grandpa’s most memorable Thanksgiving was the one he skipped. He was asked by Martin Luther King, Jr. to join him (and other supporters) to head South for one of their freedom marches. Colorado Grandpa’s mom did not like MLK, Jr.; he wasn’t radical enough for her. (Still not quite clear to me all the twists of the story; anyway, it all happened a long time ago.)

Colorado Grandma said Colorado area where they live is very conservative, but they have the best policy in the nation about how the local police should behave when searching trans-gender suspects. What would MLK, Jr. have thought, if he were still alive?

After a long delay, Sylvie, the world’s most lovable cat, made her appearance, purring loudly. The Colorado grandparents are dog people (owned by a cocker spaniel), but they agreed that as far as cats go, Sylvie is superlative. Sylvie purred loudly, demonstrating how cats conquered human beings and made us their slaves; even humans who enslaved themselves to cocker spaniels. Even human beings in the mountains of Colorado who see an occasional puma. “We don’t see them very often, but we are told they always have us under surveillance,” reported the Colorado grandparents. After Sylvie surveilled us, and deigned to sit in a few laps, AE fed Sylvie her regular cat foot. As a queen, Sylvie does not do table scraps, even turkey table scraps.

Tabloid headlines from thousands of years ago

In Humor, Uncategorized on November 22, 2011 at 1:15 am

In ancient history news, new evidence that ancient humans beat the shit out of each other.

“A healed fracture discovered on an ancient skull from China may be the oldest documented evidence of violence between humans, a study has shown.

“The individual, who lived 150,000-200,000 years ago, suffered blunt force trauma to the right temple – possibly from being hit with a projectile.”

Before whacking the victim, the assailant cursed him (or her), shouting, “May a thousand porcupines eat your face.”

“The skull was unearthed at a cave near Maba, southern China, in 1958. Before it was buried, a large rodent – probably a porcupine – gnawed on the bone, removing a significant portion of the face.”

However, even then, humans were learning to live together in peace and care for each other.

“But the Maba individual survived for weeks or months “at least” after sustaining the injury, based on the completely healed state of the fracture. And according to Professor Trinkaus, this presents an important flip side to the latest finding.

“He told BBC News: ‘It’s another individual in a growing number of human fossils going back in excess of a million years who show long-term survival with serious injuries and congenital problems – a variety of things along these lines.’

“’We have many instances of trauma – some serious, some minor. We also have a surprisingly high incidence of conditions that occur in the modern world but are extremely rare. So the probability of finding them in our meagre fossil record is extremely low.’

“Whatever the reason behind this latter observation, he said, ‘they are surviving them remarkably well'”.

“Researchers believe such evidence points to the existence of care and support networks within ancient human groups.

“’They hit each other, they squabbled, they had weaponry – so it became serious. But at the same time, they were helping each other out,’ Prof Trinkaus explained.”

They lacked CNN and Google News, but somebody reported the story of a rumble between a couple of guys called Cain and Abel and after a few thousand years it was duly noted in a tabloid called Genesis, though the fact checking left something to be desired.

The Singularity is Near

In Hard to tell, Uncategorized on November 21, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I just finished reading Vol. 1 of a biography of science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. Ray Kurzweill, author of The Singularity is Near, is busy working on creating our science fiction future. It’s a big book, and I haven’t finished reading it yet. Will I live long enough read it?

Kurzweill argues that the Singularity, a time when humanity morphs into a new species by merging itself with artificial intelligence, will occur about 2045. I am pretty sure that I won’t live that long. Kurzweill thinks he has a good chance.

From Wikipedia:

Kurzweil admits that he cared little for his health until age 35, when he was diagnosed with a glucose intolerance, an early form of type II diabetes (a major risk factor for heart disease). Kurzweil then found a doctor that shares his non-conventional beliefs to develop an extreme regimen involving hundreds of pills, chemical i.v. treatments, red wine and various other methods to attempt to live longer.

Kurzweil ingests “250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea” every day and drinks several glasses of red wine a week in an effort to “reprogram” his biochemistry.Lately, he has cut down the number of supplement pills to 150.

Kurzweil joined the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a cryonics company. In the event of his death, Kurzweil’s body will be chemically preserved, frozen in liquid nitrogen, and stored at an Alcor facility in the hope that future medical technology will be able to revive him.[citation needed]

Kurzweil has authored three books on the subjects of nutrition, health and immortality: The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever and TRANSCEND: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. In all, he recommends that other people emulate his health practices to the best of their abilities.

Blood on the highway

In Bad news on November 15, 2011 at 4:32 pm

In his comment, Joe said, “Some of these guys, the trouble wasn’t about quitting, it was about them starting in the first place.”

The day before yesterday, my wife and I went to a “Nordic fest” Scandinavian heritage festival at the South Whidbey high school. We ate a passable but mediocre serving of Swedish meat balls, and some good pea soup and clam chowder, and looked at but didn’t buy various handicrafts. We were not aware that a few hours earlier there had been a terrible automobile crash not far from the high school on the highway running the length of Whidbey Island. After my last blog post we had been commenting on people living a long time, pleasantly ironic as my aunt turned 90 and sounded alert and vital on the telephone. We also had been commenting about Noah (from the Old Testament) getting drunk after his journey on the ark. In terms of the automobile crash, the island newspaper relates that a young woman had been driving with three young men as passengers in the car. There are allegations of the driver being “under the influence” of alcohol. In any case, she ran off the road, hit a tree, and the car erupted into a fireball. The woman was pulled out and sent to the hospital; the three men died at the scene. Obviously, they shouldn’t have started in the first place, and now they won’t have to worry about knowing when to quit.



Living a long time

In Good news on November 13, 2011 at 5:28 pm

As I contemplate the future, people in the present leap into focus in surprising ways, both good and terrible.

First the cheerful. In the past, I have spoken of my paternal aunt, Henriette, who lives in New York City. Her marriage shocked and appalled her family in Chicago as everyone detested her husband Morton. Morton told her he was a voice coach who could train her to be an opera singer; her older sister Naomi, trained as a ballet dancer had briefly danced professionally in a chorus line of a road company of Oklahoma. Henriette moved to New York City where she auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera. I’ve heard Henriette sing; I am no connoisseur of opera, but she sounded awful to me.

As my father died of a heart attack (his second) at the age of 43, I expected to croak before 50. My aunts all lived into their 80s and 90s, so my reaching 67 may be a sign of good genes in the stream. Both my mother and other aunt, Diana, reached their 80s; both died with dementia; so what I am typing sounds perfectly coherent to me, but perhaps not to you.

Anyway, Henriette, the last of my aunts still alive, is celebrating her 90th birthday. Ian [David knows whom I am talking about] once said of Henriette, “She will outlive us all.” She called me to report she had flown to Oregon and California. She had visited her son, Carl, who had fled NYC to Oregon where he started a new life with a marriage and a business o his own. Henriette and Carl are apparently reconciled now that they don’t have to be around each other very often. She went to California to visit a friend Paula (relocated from NYC) and to visit my youngest sister, a different Paula. In California, Henriette and Carl climbed a mountain. Well, half way; Henriette using a cane. How high? “I don’t know, about ten stories high,” she told me. In any case I am impressed.

She told me various anecdotes regarding the two Paulas; the references to two women with the same name providing much merriment. My sister Paula has been a fundamentalist Christian zealot since the age of 13. I can’t stand this sister (the other is fine); I have some fondness and admiration for Henriette, but much conversation with her quickly makes me weary and not desiring more. One of my brothers and my other sister have financially helped Paula at times, but we have no desire to continue helping her or have any more contact with her or listen to her religious babel. Henriette updated me. Sister Paula has been hired by another member of her church to live with her and be her companion; this reminds me of characters in a Regency novel. Apparently Henriette stayed with them briefly; they babbled incessantly about how much they love Jesus; Henriette babbled about New York City and opera; it sounds like everyone had a narcissistic good time; as do I babbling in my blog.

Knowing when to quit

In Hard to tell, Humor on November 11, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Did I get your hopes up, you rascals?

I am still reading about and mulling over Robert Heinlein. In Methuselah’s Children, he envisioned prolonging human life, another science fiction prediction starting to come true a bit. My father died at 43; I am 67 and still relatively healthy (having just gone out into the early stages the big wind/rain storm about to hit Whidbey Island, and survived).

As every silver lining has a cloud, extending human lives creates many problems. One problem is that people don’t know when to quit and when to stop. Think of the worst dictators of all time. Hitler was eventually stopped by outside forces, though at the cost of millions of lives. On the other hand. Stalin (arguably even worse than Hitler) looked set to go on forever, a far as holding power goes, but eventually his health declined (unhealthy lifestyle with habits such as smoking did not help), and eventually he did croak. Even so, there are many rumors and allegations about his death, with claims that he at least was “helped along,” by close associates, such as Beria, head of the secret police. In any case, whatever caused Stalin to kick the bucket was probably a mercy for mankind, as one of the last rumors about Stalin was that he was leaning toward starting World War III. As always a competitive rascal, he might have wanted to outdo Hitler in his final orgy of destruction.

In any case, people who get too old and don’t know when to quit are a perpetual problem. Did Saddam Hussein know when to quit? Probably not. Did Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi know when to quit? Probably not. Did Joe Paterno know when to quit? Probably not. Evander Holyfield, now 48, five times boxing champion of the world and still fighting, certainly doesn’t know when to quit, and is quite likely to have a medical incident right in the middle of the ring.

Are there corresponding instances of women who did not know when to retire? Well, there was Imelda Marcos of the Philippines, who ended up being dragged into a messy court battle, right here in the USA. Or, Catharine the Great of Russian, arguably one of the most successful female rulers in history, about whom one web site asserts, “It was the misfortune of Catherine that she lived too long. She disgraced herself by living with her last lover, Zubov, when she was a woman of sixty-seven, trusting him with power and lavishing public money on him.”

Are there people who know when to retire? Or are we all condemned to carry on too long, wreaking havoc on everyone around us? I don’t think I will quit today. Tomorrow is always another day, not to mention another cliche.

Have a good life being strangled by Bianca’s hands at the movies

In Hard to tell on November 10, 2011 at 1:49 am

It’s about time for my new reader, joem, to get bored with my blog and wander away. However, Joe, I appreciate your dropping in.

All my life, I have been much more of a reader than a movie goer. I read much more science fiction than I watched science fiction movies. (My wife is the opposite.)

However, even though I started reading science fiction by the age of ten, my first science fiction traumas were cinematic. I bugged my father to take me to some science fiction movie about aliens; it scared me so much I bugged him to take me home, much to my disgust. It might have been Plan Nine from Outer Space [renowned as the worst science fiction movie ever made]. However, I watched a bit of that movie not long ago and it did not ring any repressed memory bells.

Then a year or two later, I went to see the movie version of War of the Worlds by myself. I stuck it all the way through, but for weeks afterwards I had nightmares about Martian death rays incinerating me

By twelve I could handle science fiction horror movies. My brother and I took our little sister to see Them (a movie about giant ants in Los Angeles) while we were living in Brea (small town in Orange County). We thought the giant ants were cool, but our sister was scared silly and ran crying into the lobby, much to the irritation of my brother and myself.

I can only think of one written science fiction story that really scared me: “It’s a Good Life,” by Jerome Bixby.

Almost as good at scaring me, however, was Theodore Sturgeon’s “Bianca’s Hands.” I could not find a print version online; however, I did find a reading by Spider Robinson, though you have to wade through a lot of music and other stuff to get to the story.

Nothing new about civilization collapsing

In Bad news on November 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Fascinating article with new archeological information about the earliest known “rise of civilization” and religious worship. Snippet:

Bewilderingly, the people at Göbekli Tepe got steadily worse at temple building. The earliest rings are the biggest and most sophisticated, technically and artistically. As time went by, the pillars became smaller, simpler, and were mounted with less and less care. Finally the effort seems to have petered out altogether by 8200 B.C. Göbekli Tepe was all fall and no rise.

Apparently civilization has been collapsing a lot longer than we thought.

Anarchy hive

In Good news, Humor on November 5, 2011 at 3:30 am

Just when I thought I had nothing that would interest anyone on the topic of science fiction, I read a couple of interesting comments, such as the one about Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick. So I decided to continue. My thought now is to bounce back and forth between science fiction from literature and film and science fiction as it is coming true in our present time.

For example, I read about “hive minds”; now I wonder if the Internet is now turning human beings into a kind of giant hive mind creature communicating through email, blogs, Facebook. On the other hand, a couple of nights ago I attended a Transition Whidbey “potluck with a purpose,” to listen to Jonathan Moses, a political scientist/economist (who lives on Whidbey, farmed in Norway, and now teaches at a Norweigian College) talk about economic challenges of the present and future. He was a good presenter and had interesting presentation, but had difficulty keeping the program and the discussion going. As he said in a good-natured fashion, this is like “herding cats.” Everyone at Transition Whidbey seems to be in agreement about organic gardening, farming, and living, and about a thousand other values and ideas (hence we are forming something of a hive mind like creature), but everyone has a different idea about how it will come about and how it should proceed, so we seem to be a “hive mind” that is a total ADD/HD anarchy mind.