Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Writing in a World of Sorrows

December 24, 2014

Living in modern urban culture, it is easy to forget, sometimes, that there is a world beyond one’s ‘narrow domestic walls’ (to use Rabindranath Tagore’s pithy phrase).  I am intensely interested in the world, but the daily circumlocutions of work and home, the breathless rush from one deadline to another, at times distances me from the wider reality we inhabit.  I know full well that the lives we live perpetuate the illusion that the tiny pocket universe of our daily existence is all there is, and all that matters.  We read of school shootings, police brutality, war, oil spills, and the heart clenches for a moment, and for that moment we are lifted out of that illusion.  We are helpless before the horrors of the world.  What’s the point of expending emotional energy on something we can’t change?  When there are jobs to do, and children to raise, and bills to pay?  It is so much easier to run back into the hidey-holes of our lives, especially if we are privileged enough to be far from the scenes of violence and destruction.  Privilege, after all, means we can afford to not think about it.

But I am a writer.  And I like to think of a writer – at least the kind I aspire to be – as a student of the world, immersed in the world.  I know there are writers who believe in cutting themselves off from the world so they can work on their art.  But the writers who have had the greatest impact on me have, in some form or another, been full participant-observers in this world of ours.  So when I am tempted to look away from various external horrors to my own concerns, I remember this — and I remember also what I’ve learned through orbiting the sun for over a half-century: that avoiding or denying painful truths has terrible consequences, personal and otherwise.


Why KSR’s 2312 is a Fail on Many Counts

March 19, 2013

First I want to say that this is not a review, but my personal feelings about some aspects of the novel 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson.  I’m not going to discuss plot points and language and story arc except where they speak to the points I do want to make.  And there are spoilers galore.  STOP HERE if you want to read the book first.   (more…)


November 13, 2011

I am wondering whether writing short, frequent posts will keep this blog alive, since long essays or ramblings don’t seem to do it.  I am having the busiest semester ever.  But I still want to keep a sort of record, incomplete though it may be, of my random thoughts.  Let’s see how long this experiment will last.

I’ve been grading papers, although not enough to make more than a scratch in the backlog, giving a large public talk where I teach, in which I “came out” as a science fictionwriter, working on a new version of a course that involves field trips, a very strange and fascinating experience for this theoretical physics person, wading through acres of legal papers for other stuff, and attending to child, dog and household in general.  Not necessarily in that order.  In fact, definitely not in that order.

So, random thought #1: I really want to go visit Occupy Boston and support them, but can only do so if I warp spacetime, which does not seem feasible at present.  My institution held a teach-in that was atended  by at least a hundred students and was very inspiring.  I am wondering if I dare to hope (since environmentalists have also joined the bandwagon) that ultimately this movement will take up climate change as well.

An interesting critique that came up was that the movement was too unfocused and didn’t have a few main issues to fight for.  I don’t know if this is a valid criticism but I do know that when you are fighting against an entire system and not just a certain manifestation of it, you might have to be multi-pronged.  If the mini-movements that constitute Occupy feed off and reinforce each other with positive feedback loops, we may yet get a tipping point toward the future we want.  The complex, multifaceted and systemic problems we face are very modern problems and I doubt that we can confront them with the old, tired, linear mindsets.  Or so it seems to me at this juncture.

Randon thought #2: I’m thinking of Ettore Majorana’s disappearance and wonder what really happened to him.  I hope that he stayed alive and ended up living the way he wanted to, as elusive as the neutrinos he studied.  Somebody needs to write a play about him.

So much for a short post!  This is at least short-ish.  Let’s see if I can write something soon.

A Real Life “Avatar” Drama in Orissa, India

February 11, 2010

(Note: Post updated/corrected below)

The plotline of James Cameron’s movie Avatar is not new.  The question I want to ask of the world is: what do you do when it happens in real life?  For the people of a certain part of Orissa state in India, it is happening now.

Here’s the big, hungry corporation, the Korean steel giant, POSCO:

(Photo from this wikipedia site)

And here’s the opposition.

May 10, 2007: Rally Against POSCO – 6  Photo by Clea Chakraverty
(From the petitions page of the group AID)
James Cameron could probably buy POSCO with his spare change and avert this socio-ecological disaster in the making, but in real life (unlike Hollywood) there are few white knights coming in to rescue the natives.  The story of the natives thus becomes the story to tell.

Haiti, Disaster Capitalism, Politics and Stories: Some Links

January 30, 2010

The disaster in Haiti is beyond imagining.  When something goes beyond words, what can one say or do?  Well, donate, of course.  But how inadequate. 

It is going to be some time before I can collect my thoughts on this. 

Naomi Klein of Disaster Capitalism fame reminds us that the forces of profiteering / right-wing wackos are always looking for opportunities amidst the rubble of cities and the stench of the dead, as also reported here.  There has been little in the US press that I know of that has talked about more than how wonderful Americans are in aiding Haiti (not that I do not appreciate the generosity of ordinary Americans who are moved by the tragedy but surely this is a time to focus on the Haitians).  Some of the reporting in the American press is so Americentric that one wonders whether they see the rest of the world as mere appendages to America.  Much of what has been said about Haiti itself seems to have been about the looting whereas I have only recently seen a report about people helping each other, which surely can’t be that uncommon. 

I am still reeling from the results of the Massachusetts senatorial election, where the residents of the most liberal state in the country voted for a conservative Republican, Scott Brown.  I’ve often wondered why people vote against their interests.  Apparently others have wondered this as well, and the BBC has a thought-provoking article on the subject.  They quote an “exasperated Democrat,” Thomas Frank as saying 

“It’s like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy.”

and as another exasperated Democrat, Drew Westen, explains:

“… stories always trump statistics, which means the politician with the best stories is going to win: “One of the fallacies that politicians often have on the Left is that things are obvious, when they are not obvious.”

This makes me think about climate change (which is one of the issues liable to be affected by Brown’s election) and how the numbers don’t seem to convince people or at least to stimulate them to take action.  I am sure there are many complicated factors involved but perhaps one of them is that we need more and better and truer stories.  Tell all the truth, as Emily Dickinson said, but tell it slant.