A 'cosmic jerk' -- No, not the one in the White House

Today we are going to talk about the universe. Why? Because, as Sevren Darden of Second City used to say in his professor routine, "Zair eesn't ennysing else!"

Astronomer Adam Riess has now proven, to the satisfaction of his colleagues, that there was a "cosmic jerk" about 5 billion years ago (give or take a month or so, I suppose), when the forces causing the universe to expand -- "dark energy" -- overwhelmed the gravitational forces making it contract -- "dark matter." Thus we learn, to my immense relief, that the universe is not likely to contract and ultimately implode in another few billion years. But on second look, the news is not so reassuring. It now appears, as NYT reporter Dennis Overbye puts it, that "the universe will expand faster and faster as time goes on."

"It will be cold and dark in a few billion years," he quotes Dr. Frank Wilcsek of MIT, and "[t]hat would be very sad."

And I ask you, what are the Republicans doing about this?


Another great story from Chimamanda
I just got "Transition to Glory" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the latest One Story. It's terrific -- about two women, of widely separated classes and ages, and their tormented relationship to the same charming guy, in Lagos, Nigeria. Chimamanda has had rapid success since the first trial stories of hers I read in the Zoetrope workshop. Publications in prestigious magazines, literary prizes including the "O. Henry" selection. All deserved. The fact that she is a very photogenic young woman from Nigeria doesn't hurt, but I think what really works is: 1) she brings us news of a culture and characters we wouldn't otherwise know; 2) she keeps her p.o.v. tightly focused on one person's experience; 3) things happen, often dramatic things, in the world this person lives in (unlike in a lot of stories I see on Zoetrope); 4) nevertheless, what really matters is not the events but the way the p.o.v. character experiences them, making her (protagonist is usually a woman) a just slightly, intriguingly unreliable reporter; 5) descriptions are very vivid, using all the senses. All in all, that's very fine writing.
Common Cause: The greater efficiency of inefficiency
It's a helluva way to run a meeting. More than 2 dozen people who mostly have never seen each other before, with no agenda but a list of talking points, and nobody chairing. What could we possibly get done at a Common Cause "Meetup" in a New York City diner, like we had last night at the Starlight Diner on West 34th St.?

I loved it. It's not what we got done, but what we got started. We were all drawn because we care about some issues, specifically the campaign by the media giants to seize a monopoly of all the available TV, radio and printed press. (They haven't figured out how to monopolize the Internet yet, but watch out!) And we feel angry and eager to do something about our exclusion from decisions like these that affect our lives. And not just about the media. We marched in the hundreds of thousands against the war, and before that we voted in an election where our majority went completely unheeded. We're trying to recover our American democracy, and democracy is people, us. E-mails were our medium, and now -- after months of firing off e-petitions and letters to our Congressmen from our home or work computers -- we had a chance to see what some of the others looked like and actually to hear our voices.

The real "getting things done" work -- drafting petitions, choosing targets, organizing rallies -- will get done, by as many of us as are willing to participate, when we get back to our computers and phones. Meeting some of our comrades is a way of renewing the strength to go back and do that. The "meetup" reminds us of who we're fighting for -- all of us, and those to come.


So the Terminator is the Governator. Nothing to do but laugh
This is too much! I'm embarrassed to admit I hadn't discovered this guy until just now. If you don't know his work already, check out Khalil Bendib's cartoons. (The Arnold cartoons -- by other artists -- were too insipid, but Bush makes a nice, plump, soft target for Bendib.)
Films of protest from the Cono Sur
Two short, moving films about the piqueteros' movement in Argentina (shown by one of the filmmakers at NYU yesterday) make it possible to see and feel part of some of the terrible clashes reported by Sandra Russo in the book I mentioned last week (click on "Archive" in the left column of this page, and go to 2003 09 28): "El rostro de la dignidad" follows a group from the Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados (MTD) from the once-industrial, now rust-belt suburb of Solano as they cut access roads to Buenos Aires, and lets them explain why they're doing this and what they hope to accomplish. "Crónicas de la libertad" documents the police killing of two piqueteros in the massive confrontation between the movement and the forces of repression (army, police, prefectura) on the Puente Pueyrredón (Buenos Aires) on June 26, 2002. This was the subject of one of Russo's notes that I mentioned.

Also, I highly recommend a movie we saw in Buenos Aires the week before last, "Che va cachai" -- which seems to be current youth slang in the Southern Cone for "You get it?" It's about the movement of H.I.J.O.S., the children of the disappeared in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Good, moving interviews and dramatic scenes of demos and, as a finale, an especially dramatic escrache, or public exposure of a torturer from dictatorial days, in this case a Santiago (Chile) physician who is confronted in his office.


Playing pundit: California turmoil
A young woman with a Colombian accent, Camila, just interviewed me by phone from Paris for Radio France Internationale's Spanish-language service, about today's California recall election. She expressed amazement that Arnold Schwarzenegger could still be a serious candidate after all the revelations of his man-handling of women. Well, unfortunately, lots of people have come to think of politics as part of the entertainment industry, and Arnold's shenanigans seem pretty amusing -- except to the victims. Lots of Americans also seem to have confused Arnold's on-screen persona with the real guy. If -- gasp! -- he actually gets to be governor, I don't expect him to be either bold or strong in protecting the less-powerful against the energy interests that robbed the state blind, or the auto and other industries that want to gut California's environmental protection laws. He'll be too busy posing for TV cameras and for himself in front of mirrors to even notice how he's being used by the money guys.

One of Camila's colleagues, another Colombian woman in Radio France Internationale, has called occasionally in the past for my views on such things as Bush's sudden attack on Afghanistan, the infuriating theft of the 2000 elections, and the political clout of hispanos in the US. The first time she called, I was a little embarrassed to opine for the world about things I could not possibly be expert on. But hell, William Saffire does it all the time, so why not? By now I'm quite comfortable, and glad that somebody who is not from the American right gets to be heard in the Spanish-language radio markets around the world.

If you want to see what else the station offers, go to Radio Francia Internacional en castellano

For another -- quite compatible -- view of the California vote, see this note by my friend RD Larson, Useless Knowledge.


Cuba and the survival of the left
My friend Daniel del Solar just forwarded to me a lengthy, detailed article from Le Monde Diplomatique about the Bush administration's unceasing campaign to destroy the independence of Cuba. (Click for English-language version.) As I just wrote to Daniel, it seems to me that, at least since Nixon, this is what the US Government has been doing all along, with no success, and similar to what they did to Chile with tragic success (the destruction of democracy for a very long period, which meant an opening of the economy to rapine by US and other international business interests). The difference between now and earlier periods is the world context: no more Soviet Union, a much diminished left in most of the hemisphere. Or maybe not so much diminished as fundamentally changed in composition -- less proletarian -- and strategy -- more nationalist & more self-reliant.

The left can't die. It's simply not possible. I think there are two things that can never be killed, even though governments of one kind or another have tried over and over, and the reason is that no matter how suppressed, they spring up again. One is God, i.e., the hope for an individual, nonmaterial solution to desperate situations. The other is what I still think of as communism, though it has other names: the aspiration, even the drive, for a collective and practical (material) solution.
Now how do we do that?
I just looked at Craig's List to see what writing jobs were available, and one of them, "IT Research Firm looking for Jr. Year English/Journalism Majors," included this information:

"Compensation: To comenstruate with experience"

That would be some experience!