Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Anti-Communists and Anti-Anti-Communists

Went over to the (nearly-)local Borders bookstore this weekend and saw some great classics out on the front display tables, under a sign, "Summer Reading." Ahh, The Grapes of Wrath, 1984, One Hundred Years of Solitude, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and the like. Good choices (I've read all of the above except for 100 Years...), and I like that they're pushing, in large part, the greats of 20th century English-language literature.

I flipped through 1894 and saw the brief description of Orwell in the front fly sheets. A lot about his social and political attitudes, but without any mention of his anti-Communism. Hmmm... Then I saw new introduction by Thomas Pynchon. Skimmed the first part of it, hoping to find some insights into Orwell as a leading left-wing anti-Communist of his time.

Nope. Oh, Pynchon mentions anti-Communism, all right, but only to disparage it. Apparently, only the simplistic (I think that was his word) read Animal Farm and 1984 as embodying anti-Communist ideas. The right wing in the US, having already decided in their stupid-minded way that 1984 was against Stalin, the Soviet Union, and Communism in general, tried their best to read Animal Farm in the same way. How ignorant of them! When in fact, it was they who behaved in the way lampooned in the book, with their pavlovian reactions to Communist buzzwords and symbols. Imagining a so-called "threat" of worldwide Communist expansion abroad and spies and plants at home...

What profound nonsense. I put down the book angrily at that point, mad that Pynchon could actually use 1984, of all books, as a chance to attack those who, like Orwell himself, correctly saw the threat to freedom that Communism represented.

I wonder what Orwell himself would say about this. It's not quite "War is Peace," or "Slavery is Freedom," but it gets me mumbling that it's coming close to that point.

Thursday, June 17, 2004


Jay Nordlinger brings up a chilling political campaign poster in today's "Impromptus":

"Vote Euro-Palestine: Peace in Europe depends on justice in the Middle East."

This sounds like an open threat to the Europeans. Or am I missing something? OK, they've got high levels of Middle Eastern immigration, and now there are enough in place to make a threat like this plausible.

But think about this for a second: what is the threat? Violence breaking out across Europe? Burning synagogues (those that haven't been burned already, let's say)? Killing Jews? Killing Christians? Terrorism?

This is a political campaign! Could you imagine such a threat being made in an American campaign?! That wouldn't be tolerated. I'm reminded of the "No justice, no peace!" slogans from the Los Angeles riots of 1992(?), but those weren't part of an election campaign, except as they were roundly slammed by leading politicians. Wasn't that Clinton's Sister Souljah moment, in fact?

On the other hand, maybe "Euro-Palestine" is too small for anybody in Europe to have either noticed them or taken anything they say seriously. Maybe Nordlinger just stumbled across one of the few posters they managed to plaster up.


Herman Wouk is back!

I had a weather delay when flying out to Denver the other day for the American Astronomical Society conference, so I poked around the bookstore in the Cincinnati airport and noticed a new novel by Herman Wouk, A Hole In Texas. I'm a fan of Wouk's, although I'd never read any of his books before, only seeing the movie versions--The Caine Mutiny (Humphrey Bogart!), "The Winds of War," and "War and Rememberance," the latter two as TV miniseries back in the '80s.

And I was excited to see that his novels in the 90s, The Hope, and The Glory, both dealt with Israel. But I never picked them up--all in good time.

I worried at first that the title was some kind of political commentary. No! Far from it; the "hole" in reference is the tunnel left by the cancelled Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in 1993. The novel takes place today, with the premise that the Chinese discover the Higgs boson. Out of the blue. This isn't a spoiler--it tells you that much on the dust jacket.

The Higgs boson is a theorized particle that explains the existence of mass. The confirmation of its existence or non-existence would be a very, very big deal. For those who don't remember, after spending billions of dollars on the SSC and actually starting construction (including digging the infamous hole), Congress abruptly pulled the rug from under the project in 1993, costing a few billion(?) more. I actually worked on the SSC as an undergraduate in the summer of 1993, helping design a particle detector that would have gone on the project (not a detector that would have looked for the Higgs boson, though). I can't remember if I started before the funding was cut or not, but it happened right about that time.

The novel's main character is a former particle physicist, cut loose from the SSC, who is now working on the Terrestrial Planet Finder, a space telescope project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs. (This is a real project, by the way.) A furor erupts over the Chinese discovery, and our hero is caught up in the middle of it. NASA management is worried about budget priorities. Personalities conflict. Science spills into politics and international intrigue. Scandal erupts.

It's a great novel. I need to read Wouk's others to see how it compares (Mom said it is very different), but I enjoyed it and was impressed by the little details. A comment made about the lone American car at a Beverly Hills party, for instance ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume!").

He gets the physics right. His brother (to whom the book is dedicated) is a Ph.D. in physics, Caltech, class of '42. Hmmm...Manhattan Project? A lot of those young Caltech physics doctors of that era worked on it. I'd be really curious to know if Wouk's brother did, too.

I'm eager to write a review of it in some physics journal or science magazine. Need to get more of a background on Wouk's writing, first.

Professors' office door decorations

School's out! School's out!! And I can finally...catch up on paperwork. Nuts. But luckily my travel expense reports are about finished, the one student who needs to make up the final should show up at 10 AM tomorrow, and my key request form should be quick to do (I need a decent printer in my own office; it's a pain to run down to the computer lab, which is often locked.). The travel expense reports are intimidating sometimes, and after this month's American Astronomical Society conference in Denver, I almost wound up needing to spend $200 out of pocket. If they're this limiting on my travel budget when I'm not even staying in a hotel (thank goodness I've got friends to stay with), I can only wonder how far short I'll be when I go to a conference in Germany next year.

Tenerife. I want to go to a conference in Tenerife for once.

On to the topic of this post (This post is increasingly like a Simpson's episode, where the main story follows fifteen minutes of red herrings. Sometimes literally.). Daniel Drezler asks what North American professors are sticking on their office doors. I've added mine to the comments there, which I'll elaborate upon here.

My door: sign with office hours and a scribble from a student saying "We love Dr. Hamilton!" (I got a big head over that one and left it up).

The abstract from my latest conference submission (good ole' State is not the biggest research instution, so this seems a bigger deal).

A poster of Chandra X-ray Telescope images, entitled, "Seeing the Universe in a Whole New Light." A Jewish friend at Goddard had that poster on her door with the everything below the title covered over by war-on-terrorism-related political cartoons. One that brought tears to my eyes was of the inside of a pillbox or bunker. Uncle Sam is racing up to the gun ports with his submachine gun ready, and a man labeled "Israel," already in position, is saying, "Welcome, brother!"

Reminds me (the poster, not Ilana's cartoon)--I need to go on and get moving on that x-ray astronomy research. Data analysis awaits!

Cartoons--"When Astronomers Collide." This is a Joy of Tech one, with astronomers angrily debating whether Sedna is a planet (see link below). My favorite quote, "You're all just a bunch of planet bigots!" Also, two strips of Day by Day. One on late nights at the office and the other on Mars.

Oh--and excerpts from the "Tea Club" Quote Board from back at Goddard Space Flight Center www.smart.net/~kmukai/tclub/quotes2002.html (I'm the "Tim" there; also see the 2003 Quote Board for some more of my quotes.). Very inside humor. My students laugh occasionally but they don't really get the references. Definitely not the references. Check it out for yourself and see why.


Apropos of Eugene Volokh's post on men whose best friends are women, I've got to put myself in that category as well. I'm in a rather unusual subset of it, though, in that my best friends are generally my ex-girlfriends. (Thankfully, no bad break-ups, ever.) In fact, my most recent ex and I were instant-messaging a few weeks ago when she said she didn't like the sound of "ex-girlfriend," that it had bad connotations. Too harsh, in most people's minds.

So I coined the pseudo-Spanish "antenovia," from "novia anterior," which would literally mean "former girlfriend," if I'm not misusing "anterior." I was looking for something in Italian (seems appropriate for dating words), but I really don't know the language.

Anway, now I want to popularize the word. It should be used with friendly connotations. The kind of ex-girlfriend who gives you (good) dating advice over the phone in a long, rambling, late-night conversation. This particular antenovia is, in fact, the one I turned to a lot when Beth died. Beth also fit the antenovia mold, for that matter.

So I encourage everybody--go out there and spread the term!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Back from partes incognitae

OK, I'm back to posting. I've been in a mood since Beth died, and I still am, honestly. But I might as well get back to normal life. And blogging. Blogging isn't exactly normal life... for most of us, anyway...

By the way, did I get the declension right above? Nuts--"from" would be the equivalent of "ex," so I shouldn't have used the nominative... [Fade to incoherent Latin mumbling]