Meanwhile over in the UK — “A Bite of Stars, a Slug of Time, and Thou”

I’ve mentioned my love and admiration for the fine crew at Freaky Trigger for a while now, and Mark Sinker of that parish referred me to their newest radio project on Resonance FM, “A Bite of Stars, a Slug of Time, and Thou”:

A Bite of Stars, a Slug of Time, and Thou will delve deep into the science fiction short stories of SF’s Golden and Silver Ages. The pulp and avant-garde writing of c.1935-65 has fallen out of public memory; hosts ELISHA SESSIONS and MARK SINKER and their astounding guests* will return to this forgotten motherlode, once bedrock of the entire field. Eli will read evocative extracts, then quiz Mark and guest on authors, styles, subtexts sexual and political, technique, value, impact and legacy, plus changing fashions and meanings in backdrop, tech and alien allure — and anything else that pops into their pulsating crystalline brain-lobes.

As you can guess, this is perfect grist for the mill for at least one of my regular readers (hi dere QuartzCity!) and doubtless many others as well. Elisha and Mark are a great team and great folks, and this will likely be the most entertainingly informed coverage on this subject for a long time to come. Check it out!

[UPDATE — mostly unrelated but this enjoyable interview today with John Darnielle via io9 touches on sf and other genres as it relates to his work, both musically and in his writing]

A question for uncritical war supporters

Just, in general. Merely a quick observation.

Now, let’s say, oh, I don’t know, that as part of supplying arms to folks theoretically aligned with us over in Afghanistan we let this sort of thing happen:

With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces.

Since then, the company has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old Communist bloc, including stockpiles that the State Department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed.

In purchasing munitions, the contractor has also worked with middlemen and a shell company on a federal list of entities suspected of illegal arms trafficking.

Moreover, tens of millions of the rifle and machine-gun cartridges were manufactured in China, making their procurement a possible violation of American law. The company’s president, Efraim E. Diveroli, was also secretly recorded in a conversation that suggested corruption in his company’s purchase of more than 100 million aging rounds in Albania, according to audio files of the conversation.

This week, after repeated inquiries about AEY’s performance by The Times, the Army suspended the company from any future federal contracting, citing shipments of Chinese ammunition and claiming that Mr. Diveroli misled the Army by saying the munitions were Hungarian.

And you can read all sorts of details from there.

Now, there’s plenty to be said about how perfection is impossible and all that. That something as involved and as large as the military might involve waste and corruption is not exactly a new scenario. So it’s not a question of this having occurred, that’s no surprise.

However, this was reported via an outlet of that dreaded mass media, the one that a lot of people have taken more than a few pot shots at over the moons, and sometimes quite justifiably — thus my link in the previous post to this one to the tale of a guy who, rather like our non-hero in this piece, came from Florida, dreamed big and apparently thought the law was for others. In James Sabiatino’s case, a lot of hip-hop names were pissed off and the LA Times look like goofs.

In this case, though, the goofs appear to be the Army and the government and…are people dead because of this? Is trust now eroded? A hoped for mission not coming off quite as planned? (Of course, I could apply that to the last couple of days in Iraq too, but that’s for another time.)

Ask yourself a bit — isn’t this a matter of national security and international peace, as the current administration has so often claimed? Therefore, theoretically, this kind of stuff should be looked into with an eagle eye at all times — it couldn’t take the prompting of the outside press to expose an error, or even a potential disaster, like this, could it?


To those who seem to think that the NY Times, or any other mass media outlet, consists solely of supposed traitors rather than, say, humans, flawed like the rest of us, who sometimes make mistakes and other time hit bullseyes: Going to blame the messenger again this time? Going to ask yourself what else is being missed? Going to ask for some actual accountability down the line on this and other matters no matter who is in the White House or who oversees the military, in the executive branch, in the legislative?

Or would it always be the case that because the ‘right’ people are in charge, everything’s being handled just fine, while the ‘wrong’ people would clearly let everything go to hell?

Just curious. Thinking out loud. A minor point, an obvious point, but one to note.

Meantime, you can always check out this dude’s Myspace page, for now at least:


Indeed. The world ain’t yours, pal. Political Blogger Alliance

A quick thought today on science — specifically solar power

First, check out this story in the LA Times today, which I think we can trust because it doesn’t have anything to do with obsessive fanboys in jail:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Southern California Edison plan to announce today the country’s largest rooftop solar installation project ever proposed by a utility company. And on Wednesday, FPL Energy, the largest operator of solar power in the U.S., said it planned to build and operate a 250-megawatt solar plant in the Mojave Desert.

The projects would help California meet its goal of obtaining 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. In 2006, about 13% of the retail electricity delivered by Edison and the state’s other two big investor-owned utilities came from renewable sources such as sun and wind, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Energy experts were struck by the size of the two projects, which would bolster the state’s current total of about 965 megawatts of solar power flowing to the electricity grid.

“Five hundred megawatts — that’s substantial,” said spokesman George Douglas of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Projects of that size begin to show that solar energy can produce electricity on a utility scale, on the kind of scale that we’re going to need.”

The Edison rooftop project will place photovoltaic cells on 65 million square feet of commercial building roofs in Southern California. The cells will generate as much as 250 megawatts of electricity — enough to power about 162,500 average homes, based on the utility’s estimate that one megawatt would serve about 650 average homes.

This excites me for a lot of reasons, so to backtrack a bit — in the late seventies, perhaps the last (and only?) time there was a sense of general societal alignment all around on the matter of energy efficiency and renewable resources, solar power was present but for a lot of reasons didn’t get the traction it should have done. Saying Reagan’s administration killed off a lot of the enthusiasm overstates but not by much — in contrast, I remember writing for and getting a kid-friendly ‘Welcome to the White House’ brochure in 1979 or so, which contained a photo of Carter showing off a solar panel that had apparently been installed in one area of the building itself.

Meantime, there were a few Disney tie-in comics around the time — the kind of gently cheap and cheery things that the company did pre-Eisner — where Mickey and Goofy encountered Enny, a sunlike creature whose name was short for ‘energy,’ of course, and he taught them about doing things like not washing one sock at a time. (Goofy was apparently prone to doing just that, the poor sap.) Then there was Sunshine Porcupine and…well, I could go on.

For me, this is all part and parcel of the general sense of dreamy sf/utopian wonder that to me was just part of how people thought at the time, at least from my eight year old or so perspective. I mean, who wouldn’t want O’Neill-style space stations and mass drivers on the moon? With time I can look back both with fondness on it all and how my thoughts (and the many dreams put forward) were only so much conditional evanescence, as much driven by the impulse of getting out of dreary reality into a future that was still heavily Star Trek-centric in the mass mind as it was based in serious considerations.

However, sometimes that intertwining is necessary — I’ve been reading an excellent book, After Sputnik, which is the tie-in volume to a Smithsonian exhibit covering fifty years of the space race since the launch of said satellite, and a bit of trivia was discovering that the original serious rocket pioneer, Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, credited his initial explorations into such matters due to a mass media smash hit of its day, Jules Verne‘s From the Earth to the Moon. The question of art inspiring science inspiring art etc. is its own one but it was intriguing to realize how the cycle had been in placed from the start — as was noted with Arthur C. Clarke’s recent passing, he credited the pulp fiction of his own era for driving his own impulses forward, and similar stories can be told on a variety of fronts.

Solar power is by default a much more grounded affair — gathering the energy from the sun we orbit around and converting it into use here — but like many things sf dream has become simple and basic reality (as I think I remember reading in a piece some years back, we are all nerds now — my getting the iPhone was just me waiting for the best level of nerdery to come along, really), and seeing that this project is about to launch makes me pretty thrilled. It’s not a magic bullet, but it is a concentrated step forward that we’ll see repeated more and more — one of my friends was seriously considering a solar panel installation at his house a few weeks back, and there’ll be other stories to come.

And right now it’s a beautiful day out. Perfectly appropriate timing!

Lee Abrams is a curious person

I take no credit at all for finding out about this in a timely fashion — if anything the meme’s a couple of weeks old now — but now that I have learned, I must share. Here’s the deal.

Lee Abrams is…a character. I don’t mean this in an entirely positive sense, shall we say. I’d been vaguely aware of the name due to his role at XM for many years but I learned earlier tonight that more than any other person he basically transmogrified rock radio as an admittedly imperfect ideal (freeform, deep album cuts, not much in the way of genre definitions) to the kind of tightly formatted and deadening sludge that basically made a lot of my generation hate anything tagged with the term ‘classic rock’ (well, hate is a strong word — but basically, a lingering distrust of a deadened and dull mindset endlessly repeated). Dave Marsh had some things to say about him back in 1980, and whatever the many differences Marsh and I have in musical taste, he sure seems spot on here.

So anyway, he’s been recruited by the Chicago-based Tribune Company, one of the bigger media conglomerates out there (newspapers, TV stations, etc.), as part of the eternal effort to turn sagging fortunes around — ain’t that the way. Well and good, I suppose. However, the initial humor had to come from the fact that he was named their ‘chief innovation officer’ — one of those phrases where you know that the equivalent of ‘minister without portfolio’ was thought about first. Definitely read that press release, it’s classic boilerplate — ‘remarkable opportunity for Tribune,’ ‘pump new life into our content,’ etc. Switch around some names and specifics and this has been released by everybody over the years about every new high level recruit, so no matter.

But then Abrams sent around his note of introduction to everyone, describing himself as the ‘innovation chief.’

If you can make it through a read of all that without breaking down in hopeless laughter even once, I salute you — you’re either more cynical than I’ll ever be or you have remarkable self control. If you’ll allow me to quote one part in particular:

Average sucks. Best to be brilliantly good, or SO bad, it’s engaging. It’s
that evil zone of average that American Media is stuck in. WE MUST not accept average. Fight it! It’s gotten to be accepted that average is fine. No it’s not…it sucks!

Theater of the Mind. We have to play there. We gotta deliver the magic that gets in people’s heads. As a kid I’d have dreams about comic characters that I’d read in the Tribune. We need to have such an impact on the imagination that people dream about us. Sounds spacy and obscure? It is.

This was the point where I thought to myself, “You know, Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock mode would be perfect at reading these lines.”

I try to make allowances for folks as I can — I don’t always succeed, I should add. But in this case, what’s to allow? In reading through it all — besides the fact that it’s painfully long and half consists of quotes in an endless cascade — I feel a combination of goony-eyed sugar rush, endless hot air, buzzwords grabbed from thin air and slapped around where needed and the kind of buddy-buddy chatting that my friend Dan B. parodied years upon years back when he would widen his eyes and say, with the fakest smile ever, “Hey! *claps hands together* Did you catch my MEMO?”

So, this being the modern world, the memo got around and got out to everyone, thus my link above (and the ones to follow). Unsurprisingly, Gawker was all over it in their usual fashion, and that would have been the tip of the iceberg. Getting word of this and other reactions, Mr. Abrams apparently felt he needed to clear things up a bit.

Well, the reaction to my introduction letter was interesting. Ranging from “Appalling” to ‘exciting’ to …’huh’? That’s understandable. Without diving in, talking and exchanging, it all probably seems pretty obscure…but it’s really all about one thing: Opportunity.

Of course, the letter ended up on the Internet, feeding wild misinterpretations.

Of course. We, the collective people of the world, apologize for misinterpreting lines like “Web as an Information Disneyland” as anything but a mindless bunch of drivel.

Elsewhere in this second memo, this gem:

Then there’s certainly some “What does this guy know about our business”?! Well, I’m IN your business now. You should have heard the record industry laughing at the idea of some computer guy trying his hand in music. While the Apple guys may have had one of the most important ideas of the century, the point is that they had out of the circle thinking driving it. I don’t fault the record industry guys, it’s just that they were SO busy running their business that they initially missed the iPod. Maybe I can help one of us have an iPod idea or three.

At least he said ‘maybe’ rather than ‘definitely.’ Truth in advertising, at least — if generously stretched.

Well, feeling his oats, yesterday Abrams sent out his third e-mail to all and sundry — and I’ve no doubt at this point all Tribune employees on the receiving end of these were looking forward to these mails with a kind of mixture of catharsis and frivolity. This time around, it was time to talk think pieces:

I start April 1st but I’ve been pretty engaged from afar. Thought I’d share some observations on TV, web and print. Small stuff, “think pieces” more than anything…not end alls, but when we re-think and maximize hundreds of little pieces within the framework of bigger pieces and it could be part of the blueprint for something very powerful:

–NERVE TOUCHING. This is where you get people to stand up on their
chair because you touch a nerve. One underused way is simply to play to passions. For example:


(As it was, he goes on to explain what he means in more detail — not very well — but I am convinced that had he ended there, then scribbled out a resignation notice on a wad of toilet paper and lobbed it into the Tribune office building, he would go down as one of the truly great art terrorists of our time. Alas for what might have been.)

All of this prompted me to see if, like yours truly, he had a Wikipedia page. He does — and if there’s ever any doubt that Wikipedia pages can be prone to bias, that doubt should be put to bed by this, because if this isn’t some cut and paste job from a PR release about himself — and doubtless written BY himself — I’d be rather surprised.

Where this goes, who knows. But let it continue. Because more batshit insanity is just what the world needs right now…right?