Who Killed Mars?

It's almost certain that Mars had an ocean-- but what happened? The last few hard science novels I've read suppose that Mars' lack of tectonic turnover -- all those extinct volcanoes-- contributed to any atmosphere bleeding off and liquid water evaporating or being frozen underground.
Now an article in Nature gives the case that Mars was slammed by an extinction-level asteroid that hit so hard, the planet's crust is lopsided-- as much as thirty klicks lower on one side. More than enough, if the computer modelling is right, to smear
any life off the surface and drive the Martian seas underground or into space. This gives one pause about the fragility of life on our own planet; maybe Americans ought to stop using words like "geek", "nerd" and "wonk" as insults and start begging the disdained technocrats to try and save save their sorry ass.
If the Martian ice caps aren't enough to sustain a green Mars, another asteroid story from Earth suggests an impact could have driven life underground. New Scientist reports that the 2 km wide asteroid that hit Chesapeake Bay drove cellular life more than a mile underground. I'm still holding out for Mole People.

Bikini Exorcism!

It was called giving the public what they want.
If these panels from the Seventies showing Josie of the Pussycats undergoing demonic possession aren't bizzarely funny, then I don't want to know you. (And Linda Blair? Call me?)

Robert Francis Kennedy, 1925-1968

Some unfinished thoughts, for an unfinished life that ended when I was almost 13. My father was making breakfast when the news came over the radio.
I don't know much, and the more I learn the dumber I get (or at least, the more cognizant of my own ignorance), but one of the things I do know is that humanity is always in a race between creation and destruction. When Sirhan Sirhan, or whoever, resolved that Robert Kennedy must die, it was for nonsensical reasons, a pact with chaos. I'm not Manichean enough to declare this a war between good and evil, nor Freudian enough to call it Thanatos and Eros, or speculate on the existence of a "death wish" or "life force".
I've been around long enough to recognize ambiguity, to understand that no one is a villain in their own eyes, not even Hitler or Stalin. Indeed, their murderousness might be due in part to seeing themselves as repositories of virtue, or, in Stalin or Pol Pot's case, simply not caring. T, H. White called it "the awful dream of Genghis Khan".
One step forward, two steps back, some build and others work twice as hard to destroy. It's a tragedy that we build these hopeful sandcastles, that can be so quickly knocked down by bullies. The answer, I suppose, would be to build a society or culture that's not so easily torn down.
But that requires certainty, something Hamlet lacks, but Anne Coulter posseses in great measure, until as Yeats says, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity."
One of my bedside books is a collection from Robert Kennedy's journals, commonplace book, and speeches put together by his son Max: Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy. There's a lot of Camus, and the Greeks that Robert Kennedy discovered after the death of his second brother:
"I feel rather like Augustine did before becoming a Christian when he said, 'I tried to find the source of evil and I got nowhere'" Camus says. I think of that scene in Angel when Angel believes he is about to confront "the source of evil", the Devil himself-- and instead, the magic elevator drops him off back on the street, surrounded by humanity. Humanity doesn't change its ways as easily as a dragon, and the reformer would have to cure the patient without killing him.
Some people expect this struggle to be linear, to do a job and be done with it, slay the dragon, win the Cold War, declare an "end to history" like Francis Fukyama said after the collapse of the Soviet system. But our struggles against destruction are circular, like changing diapers or washing dishes, and we have to get up and do it again. A priest who fed the hungry a la Mother Theresa to an interviewer that the worst part about his job was that it was boring.
We lost our way when the pivotal figures in the social justice movement were so violently taken out, as when the Gracchi brothers in republican Rome were killed in the street for advancing reform. The fear today is that Obama will be killed as well, and society will collapse back into irony, indifference and opportunism as it did in 1968. Maybe our model ought to be someone like Tony Benn, the British reformer who keeps chipping away at the boulders.
"Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from becoming a world where children are tortured," Camus goes on. "But we can reduce the number of tortured children."

Never Assume

Here in Kalamazoo, back in January, my friends were divided between Kucinich, Edwards, and Obama-- not a single Clinton supporter, though none of them had anything "against" Clinton. She was simply second or third choice, all of us preferring other candidates for reasons that had nothing to do with gender or "hating Hillary".

Back then, I felt a little sorry for her. I had questions about her electability-- she was going into this with at least a third of the country despising her, not just distrusting her, and I thought the Hillary-haters, however misguided, were too big an obstacle. It was clear that the Republicans were slavering for a chance to run against Hillary.

Her parsing of words, dismissal of the obvious, and squirming around the rules have only made things worse. Now I'm a Hillary hater, too. This kind of self-destruction by a candidate is more complex than simple irony. I don't even know what to call it.

The Grail

The Redwings won the Stanley Cup Wednesday night. This is the original cup, bought for $50 in 1892, with rings added for additional names. It's been punted into a canal, carried up mountains, left on the side of the road after changing a flat, visited home towns in Russia and been taken into the shower with Steve Yzerman and his wife. Babies have been christened in it. People are reluctant to touch it unless they've actually won it.

This is still an Arthurian game, played for a grail by helmeted knights, each with his own personality. Maybe the freeform nature of the game, unlike the ritual of baseball or the military infrastructure of football, allows more individual character to show through. There are good guys and bad guys, goons that play classical piano, ballet dancers of impossible grace and a shot like a bullet, character guys, actors who take a dive and check for blood, even professional "agitators" like Pat Verbeek, the "Little Ball of Hate", or Sean Avery, who used to be our guy in Detroit but has come into his own bringing life to New York hockey. I'm happy for him, actually; Avery was one of many great players in Detroit, but in the dismal swamp of New York hockey, he stands out more.

Like all proper Arthurian stories, hockey has noblity too. Great souls combined with great skills that never give up, gentle in victory, unyielding in defeat, the kind of guys that make a shot as they're falling down without a thought about catching themselves. These are natural aristocrats, like Yzerman and Gretsky and "The Little Professor", Igor Larionov, that even goons and clowns respect.

Pavel Datsyuk is one of these, my favorite of the young players who have replaced the generation of Steve Yzerman and the Russians, is here embraced by Scotty Bowman, the retired coach of the Redwings and still their scout. Datsyuk has also won the Lady Byng trophy for "the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability'' two years in a row, and is in the running for the prize again this year.

Socio-Political Discussion of the Day

From the Comments section of Greg Burgas' review of recent titles at"Are Comics Good?":

May 31, 2008 at 1:00 pm

... Maybe it’s just that the reality of matters is that what Bruce Wayne DOES do with his money is more effective than anything else he can do with it. As reality since the 1960s shows, throwing money at social problems just doesn’t work. If it did, the trillions we’ve spent on the War on Poverty since the Lyndon Johnson days would have cleaned up the ghettos a long time ago instead of making them worse.

John S.
May 31, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Absolutely. Who needs social programs when we can just take a single guy, dress him up like a bat, and send him to beat up people who do bad things?
Seriously, T, it’s well-known that Johnson’s War of Poverty was what’s called an “unfunded mandate”–meaning that we threw lots of laws at social problems, but very little actual money. Go talk to just about any charity, any social aid program, anyone who’s actually working to reduce poverty and ask them, “Say, do you feel like you’re adequately funded?” You will get a long, detailed, hands-on lecture full of facts about exactly how big the gap is between what we think we spend and what we actually spend on social problems.

May 31, 2008 at 1:56 pm

However underfunded social programs may be, consider that the U.S. has spent NOT A SINGLE DOLLAR on dressing up people like bats and letting them hit people. It’s never been tried. So, basically, we have no idea if that would work better in real life.