Friday, March 14, 2014

We Are Made of Cosmos Stuff

I saw the first episode of the new Cosmos series online this week.  Over at Soul of Star Trek I noted some of my reactions, especially with Star Trek in mind: how the new "spaceship of the imagination" interior looks like the old Enterprise D (from The Next Generation) but before the stuff got installed, and that even this series devoted to science obeys the Trek convention of space ships accompanied by that unscientific whooshing sound as they fly by.  And I note what has gotten the least attention, that the executive producer (and director of the first ep) is Brannon Braga, who was a writer and producer for three Trek series and a couple of features.

I also commented on the Giordano Bruno animated sequence. Unlike the Washington Post's James Downie, my main impression wasn't that the sequence reconciled science and religion by emphasizing Bruno's vision of a bigger universe (the earth orbiting the sun, the stars as other suns with other earths orbiting them) as the expression of a bigger God.  I saw a lot of time spent on various 16th century Christian denominations condemning and persecuting him, ending with a fully animated burning at the stake by the Catholic Inquisition.  That was my takeaway, and for good or ill, it seemed pretty provocative, especially on Fox.   Though the rating suggest not so many Fox watchers were watching.  (He also thought the animation was brilliant, but it looked 1950s to me.)

Besides, as new host Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out, Bruno didn't come to these conclusions based on science, but on a visionary experience. So what does this have to do with suppressing science or reconciling it? Sagan by contrast told a story earlier in his Cosmos about the burning of the library at Alexandria, which was deeply impressive.

Days later, my lingering feeling is that I miss Carl Sagan.  His omnipresence got wearing and his showbiz pizzazz was embarrassing at times, but he could be thrilling ("We are made of star stuff."  I can't forget how he said that line) and above all he was erudite and substantive.

Downie, like me, has Sagan's book version of Cosmos (and we both note there's next to nothing about Bruno in it.)  It's probably not fair to compare the new series to the book--in the introduction, Sagan notes the differences between his series and his book, and how much more detailed and substantive he can be in the book.  But it's a hell of a book. I'll probably watch the rest of the new series online (if I can stomach the same four commercials repeated with increasing frequency--mostly for cars and cosmetics, who do they think is watching this?) But its real gift to me so far is to send me back to Sagan's book. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pulling An All-Nighter on the Climate Crisis

Twenty-eight Senators (26 Democrats, two Independents) will take to the U.S. Senate floor tonight for an all-night session on the climate crisis.  The talkathon begins at 10 p.m. and goes until 9 on Tuesday morning.

They'll have plenty to talk about.  For instance, the research that confirms the theory and ordinary observation: malaria spreads to higher altitudes with warmer temps, infecting more people.  Another study that shows that hotter climate has already brought deadly new diseases to the Inuit.  Evidence that climate change (Arctic melting in particular) has changed the jet stream, meaning different weather patterns for Europe and North America--perhaps more of what this year has been like.

They're likely to reference the leaked excerpts from the UN report officially out this month on effects of the climate crisis.  The AP report on the leaked draft began:

 Starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease already lead to human tragedies. They're likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change, a leaked draft of an international scientific report forecasts.

Think Progress then reported: Stanford’s Chris Field, who co-chairs the working group drafting the report, told reporters Monday that “the impacts of climate change that have already occurred are very evident, they’re widespread, they have consequences.” One key point Field made is that we are not prepared for the kind of warming-worsened extreme weather — like floods and droughts — we’re already experiencing: “I think if you look around the world at the damages that have been sustained in a wide range of climate-related events, it’s very clear we’re not prepared for the kinds of event we’re already seeing.”

And someone will doubtlessly illustrate the recent study that found that rising sea levels will eventually destroy more than 700 designated world heritage sites, including Independence Hall, the Tower of London, all of Venice, and...the Statue of Liberty ("drifting away to sea/and I dreamed I was flying...")

Here's the list of Senators scheduled to participate in the all-nighter: Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash. Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.  Senator Barbara
 Boxer, D-Calif. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md. Senator Bernard Sanders, I-Vt. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Senator Mark Udall, D-Colo. 
Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Senator Al Franken, D-Minn. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Senator Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. Senator Angus King, I-Maine, Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Senator Edward J. Markey, D-Mass. Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Then the Congress will return to its Great Work: voting to repeal Obamacare, squabbling over the appointments of federal judges, and generally screwing around about nothing in order to further enshrine itself, at the worst possible time, as the Worst Congress Ever.

The Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote

"What the responsible citizen really uses is his imagination, not believing anybody literally, but voting for the man or party that corresponds most closely, at least remotely, to his vision of the society he wants to live in.  The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in."

Northrup Frye
The Educated Imagination

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Vitriol To Come

On Jonathan Bernstein's Bloomberg blog, as I'm sure is true on other sites that host comments, any mention of Hillary Clinton and her possible 2016 candidacy receives numerous hate-filled comments generated apparently by rabid right sites.

While these are educational in the sense that they permit glints of clarification of the peculiar mindset or foundation myths of the rabid right,  they are mostly preview of vitriol to come.  Clinton has an extremely high approval rating among Democrats, and she has the best chance in history so far to bring a woman to the U.S. presidency.  So it is likely she will run and win the Democratic nomination, and this frenzy will be our political future.

How refreshing it will be to put racist vitriol behind us and concentrate on sexist and age vitriol (usually in combination) for the next decade, while we watch the climatic consequences of our cowardly self-indulgence.