Telescopes Are Time Machines

I love thinking about how space is really a huge window into the ancient past.  We think we see all this great stuff out there, but everything we see is as old and outdated as the time it took the light from those things to reach Earth.

If something is 200 million light years away, we can’t see it; we can only see it the way it was 200 million years ago.

If the sun exploded, I don’t think we’d know about it for eight minutes.  Could the effect of broken gravity travel faster than light?  I doubt it.  And inertia would carry us along for a brief bit, right?

That would make a great science fiction story: a future where we have faster than light communication and travel, and we get word of the sun’s destruction from some satellite near Mercury, giving humanity a few minutes to evacuate the planet.

Here’s another: a future where we can zip across the cosmos–maybe through wormholes–and then look back at Earth and, thus, back into our own history.  In the year 3000, ships could fly out instantaneously to, say, about two thousand light years away, and watch the Crusades through super powerful telescopes.

Historical research sure would get easier.

About these ads

The Best Reason to Shop at Thrift Stores

Sure, there’s variety and value.  You already knew that.  But an even better reason to shop at thrift stores is this:

The quality is light years ahead of what you think it is.  In fact, many clothes at thrift stores is practically brand new.

Skeptical?  Then you’ve underestimated the depth of the American consumer’s vanity and laziness.  What do I mean?

You think people donate clothes when the clothes are so old, ragged, and nasty that they might as well be trash.  True, actually, but those items never make it onto the store racks.  They get tossed before you ever see them.  And there’s another major reason why people give clothes away.

People give clothes away because they were gifts that they didn’t want, or because they don’t fit, or because they just don’t like something about them now.  These clothes are in perfect condition–people just give them away rather than stand in the return line or lose weight or because they want to make room for more clothes in their bursting closets.

Many people’s poor material management creates the bounty that is the inventory at the nearest Goodwill, or Savers, or Deseret Industries!

[What's that, you say?  You say we're in a recession?  Sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of the iPad in your hand, and your newest venti caramel macchiato in your other hand.]

“Choose the Bigger Life”

This mantra is a phrase from Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home.  I found the book decent enough (the part that stuck with me the most was the advice to clean our houses with the goal of clear horizontal surfaces in mind–that really is what we think of as clean, isn’t it?), but the best part of it wasn’t part of it at all.

It was Laura Vanderkam’s review of it on her blog last August.  Her post, “Don’t keep it simple,” includes such wisdom as this:

But here’s a different question: what are you saving your energy for? There’s another image in Happier at Home of someone saving her expensive truffle oil for a special occasion, only to see it go bad in the bottle. Children won’t get to repeat a childhood. Someday, sooner than we’d all like, the friends who could come over for dinner will not be available to do so. The years pass by and the somedays become no longer. So spend out now.

Yes.  Every Autumn I fall into a work coma, where the new school year dominates my time and energy, and everything else suffers.  It’s productive, but miserable.

This year, I’ve been trying to “choose the bigger life.”  I’ve only had middling success.  Still, I have dedicated a little more time to worthwhile things, and making work time more focused, and I’ll keep working on it.  The results are worth it.

Michael Chabon on Finnegans Wake

Last month I found this issue of The New York Review of Books (courtesy of my awesome department chair), featuring an article by hipster wunderkind Michael Chabon about the year he spent reading Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

While not exactly a gloss, it is a piece where Chabon creates a clever framework for viewing the text.  To wit:

Other than its simple unreadability (indeed its apparent hostility to being read), the principal knock against the Wake—what Seamus Deane in his introduction to the Penguin edition calls “the gravamen of the charge against Joyce”—is that, in Deane’s paraphrase, Joyce “surrendered the ‘ordinary’ world, the world as represented in the great tradition of the realistic novel, for a world of capricious fantasy and inexhaustible word-play.” Eliot, Pound, Stanislaus Joyce, Frank Budgen, and other early champions of Ulysses found disappointment in this apparent surrender, and the truth is that, for all the real, nutritious, and hard-won pleasure that can be wrested from the Wake—as from a bucket of lobsters, by a determined reader with a pick and a cracker—anyone who has first loved or admired Ulysses must, as Joyce himself anticipated, find disappointment in Finnegans Wake.

Seventeen years of tireless labor by a mind blessed with a profound understanding of human vanity, with unparalleled gifts of sensory perception and the figuration thereof, and with one of the greatest prose styles in the English language produced a work that all too often, and for long stretches, can remind the reader (when not recalling Yertle the Turtle) of the Spike-Milligan- meets-Edward-Lear prose tossed off by the Writing Beatle in five minutes between tokes and takes of “Norwegian Wood.” But to find disappointment in the Wake’s, and Joyce’s, supposed turn away from approved modernist procedure, derived from Flaubert, which subjects shifting states of consciousness to the same rigorous accounting as the bibelots furnishing a provincial lady’s sitting room, is to miss the point.

I also appreciate that he compares the Wake to Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.  I did the same thing in my article on the Wake several years ago.  =)

Facebook and the Generation Gap

OR “An illustration of how teens are fickle”

OR “The more things change, the more they stay the same”

OR “War and Peace”

 

A chart timelining the history of social media use by adults vs. teens:

      YEARS     ADULTS  

                TEENS

 

  2005-2008    Facebook  

MySpace.

Made fun of adults for using Facebook.

 

  2008-2011  

Facebook

 

               Facebook
     2012    Facebook  

Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter

Make fun of adults for using Facebook.

 

 

Actually, I guess Pinterest needs to go on there now, too…

Notes on Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters

I’ve been wanting to read Robert Beverly Hale’s Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters for years.  As I finally did, I jotted down a few notes: underlined items are an immediate “to-do” list.

Watteau’s “Nine Studies of Heads,” just one of many drawings I loved in the book.

 

* see things as cubes, spheres, cylinders, eggs

* contour lines add depth, purpose

* lines separate angular planes where they meet

* heaviness of lines indicates darkness, light

* practice drawing blankets over furniture

Continue reading

The Book of Mormon and Gulliver’s Travels As Hoaxes

The New Republic just published a long article which includes a summary of LDS history.  While repeating many expected errors (why is Mormonism apparently so hard to research and fact-check?), one passage about the Book of Mormon especially stood out to me:

 By the 1820s, the jeremiad had long been a pervasive rhetorical form among American Puritans and their republican descendants. Nor was that the only connection between this supposedly timeless text and its early American context. There were references to debates over infant baptism, church government, and revivalism, allusions to fears of secret societies, and other evidence that marked the book as a product of its historical moment. 

This flavor of brusque dismissal has been around since the book was published: if some fraction of the text can be interpreted as similar to some elements of the environment at the time of publication, then it must have been written at that time.

Such a myopic approach leaves out the majority of the text, evidences in its favor, and alternate explanations.  It’s a desperate attempt to come up with an easy origin for the book—any explanation other than Joseph Smith’s will do—and then forget that the whole issue ever existed.

It’s ultimately a lazy and disingenuous endeavor, one completely divorced from intellectual honesty.

I’ll illustrate.

Imagine that after Jonathan Swift wrote his satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels in the early 1720s, he took it to the American colonies and buried it instead of publishing it.  Continue reading