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Happy Birthday, Ellen Kushner!

Dear Ellen,
As still a fond fan of yours, and as married to another Ellen (and thus active in the Interstitial Foundation's endeavors), allow me to wish you the merriest of birthdays ever (they get harder as one gets older, I know that for a fact).
My regards to Delia, and have a fun day!
Stephan Laurent

Happy Birthday!

You may not remember me (we met at Mythcon many years ago), but I have been one of your fans for a long time.
I'm also Ellen Denham's husband, and we have pioneered the Interstitial Salons in Indy together for a few years.
So... here's to a happy birthday for you and your loved ones!

Public Option support from the public

Just to reinforce what some of my friends, such as ellen and anghara have stated, the Public Option in Health Care Reform is not only a necessity, it is also far from being abandoned. Heres is a graphic that shows the last few opinion polls on the subject:

Unfortunately the mass media is spreading the rumors that 1) there is little support for the public option, and 2) the Obama administration is ready to drop it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The public opinion is clearly overhwelmingly in favor or of the Public Option. Obama has to soft-pedal this for now to get past the filibuster threat in the Senate. So the Senate passes a bill with a lame replacement for the Public Option, such as Health Coops. Meanwhile, the House bill has the Public Option. So it goes to Conference Committee, where only a simple majority is needed, and where the Public Option is re-instated. The Blue Dogs (who are behaving as badly as the Repubs now) can go eat dirt.

Off to New England then WorldCon

Well, it's off to New England tomorrow. I'm joining Ellen at the tail end of her writing workshop in Manchester, NH (a two-day drive via the NY thruway and the Mass Turnpike), then we're heading for ten days to Maine (Acadia National Park), the White Mountains, and Northern Vermont, en route to our final destination: Montréal, hosting this year the WorldCon which they have named Anticipation, August 6-10. The latter term, of course, refers to a synonym in French for Science Fiction.
Ellen & I will be doing a multi-media presentation on our 2003 collaboration, the full-length ballet The Willow Maiden for which she wrote the original story, and which is now turning into an epic novel (epic in the sense that it is now in its third draft). In addition, Ellen has one more panel and a reading session, and I have been tapped for one panel on French Fantasy and two movement sessions in the Teen Track. We'll be busy.

Speaking of French Fantasy, as I was doing some research for my panel, I found out that the famous writer Jacques Sternberg once commented about Science Fiction being "the antechamber of Fantasy". Quite an interesting reversal of thought, which in itself explains the peculiar take on the genre exhibited by the francophones ever since Rabelais, Voltaire, J.H. Rosny Aîné, Boris Vian, and Jean Cocteau.

Maybe we'll see some LJ friends in Montréal... I haven't been back to this jewel of Québec for almost forty years, and look forward to re-discovering it. As for New England, that is a region that I have ventured into far too parsimoniously. The ragged Maine coastline is one that I particularly look forward to beholding.

We'll be back in Indy before mid-August, in time for the preparations for yet another semester, with both Ellen & I teaching sections of the First-Year Seminar in Butler University's new Core Curriculum.

Off to Puerto Rico tomorrow...

Tomorrow I'm setting off to the Southernmost outpost in the US (at least on the Atlantic side): Puerto Rico, a piece of US territory that is, oddly, still a protectorate. The political status of this small piece of land in the middle of the Carribean Sea is another story alltogether.
Why am I going there, besides the blessed tropical location? Well, my son Chis is spending the Summer doing an astrophysics research project at the Arecibo Observatory, the largest radio-telecope in the world. And as I'm off from Butler U. with no teaching duties until August, it just felt right to embark on this adventure. I anticipate the usual tropical weather (balmy, moist, and rainy at least once a day), the shock of a place where English is only at best a second language, and probably of the feel of a third-world country. But my scant research so far has unearthed some pretty awesome-sounding places, such as the Yunque Rainforest Preserve, and a bioluminescent bay. Not to mention beaches ;-) In other words, cool places to explore. And having a chance to visit with Chris in such a setting is going to be just awesome. And who knows, I amy get some news about the SETI project...
I'll post some reactions and pix if I get a chance.
OK, I was curious after reading that my wife was classified as a Renaissance Fair Wench (although I liked the "quirky liberal" appended to it, which I think is accurate), so I took the same test. Lo and behold, I am not faring much better:

Your result for The Social Persona Test (What kind of man/woman are you?)...

The Manga Geek (QLBM)

Quirky Liberal Beta Male

First of all, we can't help but notice that you spend an awful lot of time reading Hentei. Other than that though, you have a gentleness around women they find attractive. Seek out ones as quirky as you and you're golden.

You are more QUIRKY than NORMAL.

You are more LIBERAL than TRADITIONAL.

You are more PASSIVE than DOMINANT.

When picking a date, consider: The Rarity (QTAF), The Renaissance Faire Wench (QLAF), The Librarian (QTBF), or The Emo Girl (QLBF).

(Image from Flicker, unknown album and subject.)

Take The Social Persona Test (What kind of man/woman are you?)
at HelloQuizzy


Pres. Obama's first few edicts

I have been derelict in posting lately, probably too high on a cloud because of finally getting a Chief Exec whose views are remotely close to mine. Yes, I have been confined in what psychologists would call the Exstatic Stage.
What Pres. Obama (how sweet it is to utter those two nouns together, and to be allowed the abbreviation on the first) did on his first few days is really reassuring that he indeed will take us to the next chapter. To wit:

1) Close Gitmo. Yeah. The worst blemish on our country in history. Today, the media is striking back with the story of one lone released Gitmo prisoner who escaped the re-education Saudi center he had been confined to and rejoined the Taliban. Thing is, we all learned from that news report more about the Saudi reeducation centers than we had ever know (they're humane, reasonable, and in general quite effective). Second, the "escape" rate in that program is less than 5% (per CNN). So yes, close Guantanamo Bay, send the remaining prisoners wherever they belong, trust the systems in place elsewhere, and deal with the unavoidable exceptions.
2) Ban torture. No further comment needed.
3) Freeze staff salaries above 100K. No comment needed.
Then today one more, even more far-reaching Executive Order (this one anticipated by all feminists): rescind the "Gag-Rule" for delivering aid abroad. All this did was to remove the ordinance first enacted by Reagan that prohibits any US funds to be disbursed to foreign agencies that even mention abortion as a means to solve overpopulation problems.
Reagan started that, abolished by Clinton, re-enacted on Day 2 by Bush W, now again eradicated. Ping-Pong game by partisan administrations?
Maybe not.
While there are many issues to consider in the abortion debate (if you believe that life starts at conception, I, like Obama, won't argue with you as that is a faith-based question), there is no doubt that the Gag Order crippled population control in Third World countries during the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II years. Developing nations have more than their share of unplanned, unwanted pregnancies that end up in impossible mouths to feed due to the crippling poverty rate. Moreover, the right to choose belongs only to the one gender that gets to carry a baby, and that's not the gender of most politicians, especially not the one of Republicans. While I recognize the right to differ on when conception begins, I will not yield on the question of whose right it is to choose. Neither, fortunately, will Pres. Obama.
So... Four balls, and in my view, four strikes. One batter retired, one in the hole. Keep on pitching, Mr. Prez!


There's been a lot of flap in the media lately about Yo-yo Ma and Itzakh Perlman supposedly "lip syncing" since the version most of us (Including the 2 million folks on the Greens) heard was actually recorded from the night before, and at the actual Inauguration the musicians just played in sync with themselves. Yet play they did, as anyone watching the Inauguration could tell.
There was a very good reason for doing so.
The first concerns cold temperatures. By all accounts it was very close to freezing by the time they played, and musical instruments are very sensitive to temperature changes. String instruments will go out of tune within minutes when faced with a drastic temperature change (say, from the 68 degree when tey tune before actually going out) to the frigid temps in place at the inauguration site. In those conditions, less than halfway through the Williams piece both string instruments and the piano would have been so badly out of tune that even with the mastery of the players to compensate for that by fingering higher or lower would have changed their masterful playing into a high-school recital.
The second concerns accessibility to such large throngs; miking the instruments live would produce a dreadful Doeppler-effect, perceivable both by those close by (the Presidential Party) and the media covering it.
So the soundtrack we got was of the previous night's recording, and at the inauguration the musicians played in sync with themselves. Only those closest to their platform heard the acoustic waves produced by Itzakh and Yo-Yo and their two co-interpreters in the Williams piece, and probably by halfway through the piece it may have started sounding bad.
The rest of us, whether on the Mall, or online, or on the newsfeed, got the prior night's recording.
A perfectly legitimate way, in my view, to handle both the Doeppler-effect problem and the annoying temperature-related tuning loss.
The media likening it to Milly Vanily's problem is just another way to show their ignorance. Thankfully some networks (including, to their credit, CNN and PBS) correctly identified the reason.


Spelunking on Thanksgiving

Turkey Day came, or Tofurkey Day since my daughter is a vegetarian (but not my son, thankfully). As Ellen and I thought neither of them were going to be in town we had booked a reservation at the Inn of McCormick Creek State Park, about 70 miles SW of Indy, for their Thanksgiving Day Buffet (beats cooking for just two). But Lo and Behold, both of my kids who live in Indiana - Emma and Chris - (the third one, Dan, exiled himself to LA last Summer) ended up being in town instead of joining the mad road rush, so all four of us trudged down to the Canyon Inn for some good country fare buffet, but mostly we were looking forward to enjoy the park's trails as a digestive constitutional.
The buffet was OK, but the trail afterwards was great. It was called Wolf Cave Trail after a legend of a woman who, coming back from the market with a load of butter, ended up confronted by wolves emerging from a cave, and pacifying them with the butter while she ran to safety. But at the peak of that two-mile loop was, indeed, that very cave, a real one in which you can crawl in and quickly loose yourself.
Fortunately Ellen had had the presence of mind to pack a flashlight (though my son Chris claimed he could have crawled through by the light of his i-Phone screen).
The passageway quickly narrowed both in height and width, so that we literally crawled, duck-walked, and slithered sideways, along the tapering path of a long-gone underground stream. Being almost deprived of sight (we had to pass the flashlight from hand to hand, as quickly total obscurity was the rule), other senses tend to take over; the smooth feel of the water-polished rock felt like exquisite marble to the touch, and I swear there's an unnamed sense for direction-switching, because the sharp twists and turns made us feel like we were trapped inside the bowels of some long-gone fossil. After perhaps 20 minutes of spelunking in quasi-darkness, we finally could see a vague gleam seeping through, and found the other opening of the cave, this one requiring a belly-crawl to reach the promised light. We landed in yet another one of the sinkholes for which McCormick State Park is famous, our eyes blinking in the newfound sunshine, to admire a natural bridge in the rock formation which the coursing waters of long ago had carved before escaping further downhill. Quite a sight. Then Chris, who had as usual gone far ahead, laughed loudly from afar and beckoned us to join him to the top of the hill behind us. We were less than 300 feet away from the other cave entrance! It surely had felt like at least a good half-mile, but the beast's convoluted bowels had fooled us.
Spelunking on Thanksgiving is a new activity for me, and I guess for all my companions as well. But the grins on our faces showed that it's not a bad combination.

Olbermann: an impassioned plea

Many of us who have posted the quote about not wanting do-righters (in both senses of the world) nose into our bedrooms will appreciate this impassioned plea from Kenneth Olbermann about Proposition 8 in CA, a powerful commentary broadcast by MSNBC on the eve of last Tuesday's otherwise victorious election. You will find it by following this link.