Genealogy of a Dream

You will shortly understand the reason for this illustration:

Tonight, for the first time all week, my cat did not shove her dear little face into mine whilst howling, or use the bed as a trampoline, or do any of the other things designed to wake Mommy up from her nap because Kitteh wants to go hang out on the porch. This allowed me to dream. I dreamt of Edward (is that his name?) from Twilight.

Now, ordinarily, this would have been a traumatic experience. I haven’t read the books or seen the movies, but heard just enough to realize that reading the books or seeing the movies would induce terminal vomiting. However. This dream answered an important question: why the fuck would a vampire want to afflict himself with perpetual high school?

Enter Desmonda. I’m not sure what she was. Some kind of immortal, not a vampire, who as a tween (apparently before becoming immortal, or discovering she was immortal, or whatthefuckever) had been taken in by Edward during a runaway episode. Apparently, he raised her right. The dream opened with her, and she was h-h-hot and Einstein-smart. Picture her, dressed in skin-tight jeans and some sassy red shirt, purse flung casually over her shoulder, dark hair flowing, and striding up the sidewalk with an attitude destined to leave you awestruck. K? Got her envisioned?

She was going back to high school.

She was posing as a teenager specificially so she could go back to high school.

And my brain supplied the backstory: she was posing as a teenager so she could go back to high school in order to make being a nerd so irresistably sexy, so unutterably cool, that all the kids would of course strive to become nerds themselves. She was going to influence a generation to believe brains = beauty (which they do, but how many kids believe that?). And she wasn’t just preaching it to the kids, because we all know that talking to teens is rather like telling your cat to go play trampoline somewhere else.

Desmonda meets Edward coming up the sidewalk near the school from the other direction, and lo, he has independently reached the same conclusion. He, too, is returning to high school in order to make nerd the ideal every teen wishes to attain. And I can guarantee you that reason for endless high school is so much more awesome than whatever excuse Stephanie Meyer cooked up that they can only be fit onto one graph if one uses a logarithmic scale.

I may have to write this as a fan-fic story someday, just for shits and giggles. It delighted me. It puzzled me for a moment – I mean, WTF? But then I discovered the genealogy of the dream.

My friend Raji at work had been yammering about having to get New Moon soon, which made me want to cry. I can’t believe so many of my friends are so tragically coming down with this Twilight disease.

And the second element was PZ’s post, in which he immolates Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s vapid new book, then lights a thousand candles from the flames:

In order to be what it is, though, science must live. It’s a process carried out by human beings, and it can’t be gagged and enslaved and shackled to a narrow goal, one that doesn’t rock the boat. Imagine they’d written a book that tried to tell artists that they shouldn’t challenge the culture; we’d laugh ourselves sick and tell them that they were completely missing the point. Why do you think some of us are rolling our eyes at their absurd request that scientists should obliging accommodate themselves to a safe frame that every middle-class American would find cozy? They don’t get it.

Somehow, they think that Carl Sagan’s great magic trick was that he didn’t make Americans feel uncomfortable. I think they’re wrong. Sagan’s great talent was that he showed a passion for science. People made fun of his talk of “billyuns and billyuns”, but it was affectionate, because at the same time he was talking about these strange, abstract, cosmic phenomena, everyone could tell he was sincere — he loved this stuff.


Our next generation of great science communicators should be flesh-and-blood people with personalities, every one different and every one with different priorities, all singing out enthusiastically for everything from astronomy to zoology, and they should sometimes be angry and sometimes sorrowful and sometimes deliriously excited. They shouldn’t hesitate to say what they think, even if it might make Joe the Plumber surly. If you want to improve American science and the perception of science by the public, teach science first and foremost, because what you’ll find is that your discipline is then populated with people who are there because they love the ideas. And, by the way, let them know every step of the way that science is also a performing art, and that they have an obligation as a public intellectual to take their hard-earned learning and share it with the world.

Thus you have Edward and Desmonda, headed back to high school to turn science into chic.

Hi, My Name is Dana, and I’m Addicted to House

Don’t watch much fiction on the teevee. Not since that splendid summer where I told time by which program was coming on next – back in the day when titles were longer and shows were, well, 80s: Hardcastle & McCormick, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Simon & Simon, Magnum P.I., many others whose names now escape me, possibly because they were too long. That was the summer when short-lived True Blue taught me more practical jokes than I’ll ever have the time or cojones to use, and started my love affair with New York’s Emergency Services Unit (“When citizens are in trouble, they call the cops. When cop are in trouble, they call the ESU”). Good times, good times.

For years, I didn’t have cable, and thus no fiction. Well, not quite none. My best friend, Garrett, brought his Highlander videos and got me thoroughly addicted (Methos is teh awesome). Justin, who’s lined up to become my Professional Layabout should I become rich and famous, hooked me on Alias and Firefly. Chaos Lee and Justin together turned me into a rabid Buffy and Angel fan. Through the kindness of other peoples’ DVD collections, I didn’t completely lose touch with excellent teevee shows.

But for the past several years, I’ve used my television as an extension of my research (when my ex-roommate wasn’t monopolizing it, that is). People told me about shows I just had to see, and I shrugged. Too busy with writing, too disinterested in most of what’s on offer. Even the truly good stuff – Heroes, Numbers, other shows that should’ve been right up my alley – couldn’t hold my attention. Give me the Science Channel or nothing. Well, aside from the occasional episode of House.

I first saw House whilst suffering from an ear infection that left me incapable of doing anything other than lying on the couch while the world spun and my stomach heaved. My roomie had it recorded. I turned it on for reasons unknown. Writers will understand what happened next, as I’m sure all of them have had the spit-take experience of seeing one character basically embody one of your own. Turn Dr. House into a female FBI agent who is manifestly not addicted to Vicodin, and you’ve pretty much got Dusty. Although she’s a shade more diplomatic when it comes to forcing people to follow her prescribed course.

Old friends are on that show. Hugh Laurie, who played Prince George on Blackadder, is of course genius. He shocked me with his range. You don’t really equate an 18th-century British doofus with a brilliant American doctor. Anyone else have to look on IMDB before you believed it was really the same actor?

Robert Sean Leonard played one of my favorite characters in Dead Poets Society, Neil Perry. I still think of him as Neil. It’s good to see him playing an utterly awesome character on one of the best shows on teevee – he deserves a lot more recognition than he gets.

But it’s not those two who addicted me to House, as good as they are. It’s Jesse Spencer, who plays Dr. Chase. He’s brilliant. Don’t even know how to ‘splain it, but I’ll sum up this way: were I dying of some mysterious illness, I’d want him to be the one treating me (and House, of course, diagnosing, although I’d request they didn’t follow his first few treatment ideas). Watch how he interacts with patients in crisis, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

(No, it’s not just because he’s cute. I’m not into blonds. Hell, I didn’t even fall for Orlando Bloom until he went back to being a brunette.)

Sometimes, a character will captivate me. I want to study everything about them: the way they move, the way they speak, their expressions, all of it. What this usually means is that they’re reminding me of one of my own cast members. And I’ll watch obsessively until I can place exactly who. Even if the show or movie’s teh suck, I’ll watch it repeatedly – hell, I suffered through that hideous made-for-teevee Merlin movie. That was because of this guy:

He made me realize that a minor character was actually the center of my universe. And no, it’s not because he’s a brunette. Geez, people, I’m not that shallow. And no, the character’s nothing like Mordred. Quite the opposite, in fact. They don’t even look much like each other, aside from the dark hair and gray eyes, and the slim build. That’s all beside the point. He was just enough like that character to get the Muse a-whippin’.

Whoever Dr. Chase is reminding me of probably won’t end up having more than a passing resemblance, either. Doesn’t matter. The plain and simple fact is that something’s trying to tell me somebody.

I’m just grateful that this time, it’s using an excellent show to do so.

While I feed this House addiction, any of the writers in the cantina want to tell me about the weird ways you find inspiration?

J.K. Rowling Saves the World

I think J.K. Rowling must be a literary superhero. Check out these moves.

THE HARRY POTTER EFFECT….Via Dan Drezner, the NEA has released its latest survey of reading habits, and the news is good. Fiction reading among young adults is way up, and overall reading is up too. More than 50% of adults read a piece of literature last year. Huzzah!

Check out the angle on that slope! She almost got us back up to the reading level we enjoyed before cable, video games, and the intertoobz all became awesome wicked cool.

But that’s not all she’s done. She’s badass at fighting terrorism, too:

In fact, the interrogator who successfully brought down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — and who has written and spoken publicly about how torture doesn’t work — told Laura Ingraham last month he broke one insurgent after he gave him a copy of Harry Potter.

That’s right, bitches. She’s all that.


Captain Future has an absolutely gorgeous diary up at Daily Kos telling the story of how this photo was taken:

The Apollo 8 mission was to just orbit the Moon, not land. The astronauts had been concentrating on the lunar surface, when Frank Borman caught a glimpse of color on the gray horizon, a conspicuous glow of blue and white against the black sky. It was the Earth. While he excitedly snapped photos in black and white, Bill Anders loaded his camera with color film, and got the shot that became historic. We know it as “Earthrise.”

And it almost never happened. But you’ll have to head over there for the full story, and the full-size photo. I invite you to read the story, and then just spend a few moments gazing at that cloud-swirled blue marble. That’s home, rising in a lunar sky.

There’s another photo, not quite as famous, but just as awe-inspiring:

Carl Sagan named it “The Pale Blue Dot.” It was Voyager’s Valentine’s Day gift to Earth, a portrait. The distance was so vast – nearly 4 billion miles – that Earth filled less than a pixel, bathed in a ray from the sun.

Seeing Earth like this places everything in a different perspective:

In a commencement address delivered May 11, 1996, Sagan related his thoughts on the deeper meaning of the photograph:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Exactly so.

Bugger This. I Want A Better World.

Just past the winter solstice, on the cusp of a New Year, my thoughts inevitably begin to play the retrospection game. I hate it. All of those end-of-year “Best of/Worst of” lists drive me crazy, my New Year’s resolutions are always the same, and it’s not like things magically change on January 1st. Every year I am firm in my determination not to indulge in the sillyness.

This year, the failure doesn’t sting. Gazing backward leaves my jaw agape. Just a few highlights: we found water ice on Mars. We learned that America’s government approved torture at the very highest levels. The world’s economy imploded with horrific speed. Barack Obama became America’s first African American president, and gave us all something to look forward to in 2009: a future.

And I became a blogger, joined forces with other brilliant bloggers, and started Carnival of the Elitist Bastards. This is of a piece with voting for Obama. I did all three things for one simple reason: I want a better world.

We can make that happen.

Several years ago, I read a graphic novel series called The Authority. You all know about Spiderman’s schtick – “with great power comes great responsibility.” Well, Jenny Sparks, leader of The Authority, takes that to its logical conclusion. If you have the power to change the world for the better, that’s what you do. No whining, no excuses. Do the job. Fix the world.

Together, we can do that.

We all have our special talents, areas of interest and expertise. We’ve put them to good use in these last many sailings, battling ignorance, expanding knowledge. We’re taking back the word “elitist” and making it respectable again. And it’s working. Have you seen the Elitist Bastards Obama’s stocked his Cabinet with? There’s a Nobel Laureate in there, for the first time ever.

Okay, so maybe we can’t quite claim responsibility for that. Not completely. But every one of us who voted for him has played a part in bringing wisdom back to Washington. I claim this year in the name of Elitist Bastard.

We have a chance now to make this a better world. Time we seize it with both hands.

This year, we shall make it our business to spread the love of learning. We shall ensure that the word “elitist” is once again a mark of distinction rather than a cry of derision. We will continue to beat down ignorance wherever it raises its dribbling head.

But we can go further.

Are you fed up with poverty? Act. Support the politicians who are working to eradicate it, volunteer, donate, train people for new and better jobs.

Fed up with ignorance? Act. Watch what your school board does. Push for better education standards in your country. Promote childhood literacy. Educate.

Fed up with war? Act. Push politicians to reach for diplomacy before they turn to armies. Get involved with programs that attempt to bring enemies together. Make people all too aware of the cost of war.

Fed up with global warming? Act. Get the facts out there. Support environmental groups. Plant a tree, green up your house, protest pollution. Roll up your sleeves and clean up a neighborhood.

We can do much more than we think, just by taking action. Signing a petition may not seem like much, but it adds one more voice, turning a murmur into a shout. Donating a few dollars may not seem like enough, but as we saw with Obama’s campaign, enough small donations add up to plenty of money for change. A few hours of your time may not seem like much, but a few hours may be all that’s needed to change someone’s life. Don’t hold back just because you can’t do much. Become a snowflake, as my character Ishaarda Telsuun recommends:

“The answer is leverage. Place a thousand snowflakes in precisely the right places, and you cause a thousand avalanches…. A thousand snowflakes can reach half the world.”

Ghandi said we must be the change we wish to see in the world. We don’t even have to become fabulously rich or powerful or prestigious to do it. All we have to do is add our snowflake’s worth of weight to the scales: enough of us together will make them tilt.

And then we change the world for the better.

Corporate Responsibility: BoA Gets It Right

Sometimes, just sometimes, corporations do things that make me proud:

This summer, after months of conversations, some top executives from Bank of America agreed to accompany NRDC staff on a fact-finding trip to Appalachia. In July we flew them over moonscaped mine sites in West Virginia, took them to Kayford Mountain for a closer look at mountaintop mining, and introduced them to several local residents/activists who are fighting to save their beloved homeland from reckless coal mining companies.

Today, BofA released its revised coal policy, which will have the immediate effect of curtailing commercial lending to companies that mine coal by blowing off the top of mountains in Appalachia. The policy states, in part:

Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountain top removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies.

Why is this so important? Bank of America still stands as a pillar of our country’s shaky financial system. In fact, the trying economic crisis has only served to strengthen this behemoth bank unlike other once proud and stable institutions. All the more reason to engage BofA in using its investment power and influence to affect positive environmental change.

There are some corporations that realize you can run a successful company without being a total ratfucking bastard, who don’t believe that “good corporate citizen” is just a useful lie to tell the citizens you hope to suckerpunch. I saw that in action with Target, which does more charity work than I’ve ever seen another company do and also runs a forensics lab that helps out police agencies without charge:

Turns out Target has one of the most advanced crime labs in the country at its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was initially set up to deal with things like theft, fraud, and personal injury cases in their stores. Now, Target also helps law enforcement agencies nationwide solve crimes, even murders. Target has worked with the Secret Service, the ATF, and the FBI, to name a few.

Target does the work for free, seeing it as a kind of community service. It doesn’t advertise its crime lab services, but word started spreading and law enforcement agencies started asking for help. Some government agency labs aren’t as well-equipped as Target’s. In other cases, Target can get results faster because of logjams in agency labs.

I’ve seen the pictures. The place is straight out of CSI, and if it wasn’t in a frozen, landlocked city like Minneapolis, I would’ve been getting my forensics degree and joining the lab. It was pure awesome. They also had safe communities programs running that had an enormous impact in some dangerous areas. I’ve had jobs I enjoyed more – taking phone calls from angry credit card customers isn’t fun no matter how great your company is – but I’ve never been prouder of the company I worked for than I was with them. They truly did put a huge effort into making a positive difference.

I’d love to see more of this. Most corporations do just enough community service to make themselves look nice, but it’s the rare few that actually devote substantial time, resources, and attention to doing right by the world.

Bank of America looks to be on its way to true good corporate citizenship. It’s much appreciated. Here’s hoping others will follow these companies’ leads.

It’s Official. The Republicon Party Is Not Smarter Than a Seven Year-Old

I heard earlier today that Obama has sent a thank-you letter to a seven year-old blogger, but I didn’t think there would be any substance to the story. I thought wrong.

I now think we may be looking at a future Democratic president, and no, I’m not being condescending (h/t):

Here is why I’m asking grown-ups to vote for Barack Obama. I am 7 years old so I can’t vote……

My mom told me that I shouldn’t base my election analysis on “feelings” (I like him/her) or “beliefs” (I share his/her beliefs) but on logical arguments. She asked me to create my own rational explanations for my support of Obama. Here is one of my arguments:

McCain and Palin are not be qualified to be President / Vice President of the U.S. The President’s job is to do good for the country and the world. To do good for the country, the President must make smart decisions on important situations.

Governor Palin believes the world is 6000 years old. This is absurd. This is not a rational belief. This is a mistake. Scientists, experiments and evidence have shown this to be completely false. Therefore, she is not rational. If she is not rational, she should not be allowed to be President or Vice President.

Please vote for Barack Obama.

No, he’s not just regurgitating his parents’ views. He researched both campaigns for a school assignment before coming to a reasoned conclusion. He really is that amazing.

It didn’t surprise me to learn that young Mr. Stas Gunkel is in the gifted program. I hope he never loses his passion for politics. This country needs people who can think this clearly – and if he’s this much smarter than the average Republicon politician at seven, just imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s old enough to hang out at the cantina.

A heartfelt tip o’ the shot glass to his parents, who are teaching their son the value of thought. And a hearty tip o’ the (non-alcoholic) shot glass to Stas for showing us all how it’s done. You ever need me to work for your future campaign, Stas, I’ll be ready.

This Is The Time

Soon, polls will open. Americans will line up and cast their votes. Many of us will be voting for hope, change, and a future while making history.

In light of that, there’s no more fitting song for today than Savatage’s “This is the Time.” I spent a few hours tonight whipping us up a little inspiration:

This is the time,
And this is the place,
And these are the signs
That we must embrace.

The moment is now
In all history
The time has arrived,
And this is the one place to be.

I don’t think there will be another election like this in our lifetimes.

Carpe diem,
my darlings. Seize the day for Obama, for America, and for us. Seize it for those who cannot:

Dear Americans, then, whom I have never met, and yet whom I love with all my heart. This is my plea to you. Do it for me. Get out the vote with every bit of strength you have.

Do what we cannot, myself and my friends and all the other Britkids from a thousand different backgrounds, who wait and hope. Because we may not be your fellow citizens, but we are your honorary fellow liberals. And we’re with you.

Seize this day for them, and for yourselves. This is our time. This is our place. This is our moment.

And remember:

Yes we can.

This Is Why

Go here.

Look at the pictures.

I never thought I’d see anything like this in my lifetime.

It’s not just Obama. It’s my heroes – people like Bill Clinton and Al Gore – looking as though they’ve been mainlining hope and purpose.

It’s the tears flowing down regular American faces as Obama gives a speech that hands us not just a dream, but a mandate.

It’s that shot to America’s arm, pulling her back from the brink of death and despair.

You want to know why I’m not worried about handing him the keys to the country?

It’s not just because I agree with his policies. It’s because I know who he’s invited to walk through the door with him. It’s because I know we need both sound judgment and inspiration to get us through these next tough years.

He’ll give us plenty of both.