Thursday, October 29, 2009

To the Guy on Facebook Worried about Islamofascism:

Your rant was right out of the playbook for right-wing demagoguery. I had not known a Facebook wall comment could run so long. I can scroll my screen for several pages before reaching its end. Here's just a sample:

. . . Political "solutions" are only temporary and only give the jihadis time to regroup for another attack. 1400 years of islamic history prove this. The koran tells them it is acceptable under islamic law to break treaties when to their advantage. The command to spread islam by all means, including murder trumps all in islamic law and thought.

So the only choices we have are to keep trying to help those in Afghanistan who say they want a reformation for the purpose of instilling western democratic values in hopes that our values will change the thought patterns of those muslims, and maybe even have them reject islam, or pull all our people out and bomb every islamofascist base that shows up on our radar. If the liberal "infidels" we protect by doing this don't understand the need for such bombings, tell them to shut up and be glad we are protecting them. . . .

I spent enough time on my facebook response to you that I'm putting it here too:

On the other hand, our very presence in Afghanistan brings some monetary flow to the Taliban:

And a bridge we have built aids the opium trade:

I know that bridge and business building in Afghanistan are very well intended, but my point is, we don't foresee unintended consequences.

Also consider, as Steve said, leaders of two factions of Taliban, Hekmatyar and Haqqani, were once allies of the CIA in fighting communism. During Charlie Wilson's war, the U.S. also fomented fundamentalism in the Middle East because religion was seen as a deterrent to communism. Nowadays, we borrow from a communist country, China, which, in fact, fought against us by proxy in Vietnam, in order to fight jihadism. Does that make sense?

Continuing the cycle of aiding, now, our future enemies, it is suspected (and likely true to some extent, I say) that Taliban fighters have gone through military training provided for Afghan forces by the U.S. and Nato:

I sincerely thank David's cousins for doing the hardest and most risky work of serving in our military. My criticism is for our policy makers who are certainly not working as hard as our soldiers, but should be. After fighting two wars in the Middle East for longer than we fought in WWII, the only thing that is certain is that you and I will have to pay for it.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Came Out Pretty Well

I dig working with the coaches. Bobby Bowden's voice alone makes me want to take up football so I can play for him, and Coach Cutcliff is very amiable and natural on camera.

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Attack of the Blurry Cell Phone Pictures

Over a year ago Svetx and I walked on the Brooklyn Bridge at night. I had just gotten my first cell phone with a camera, so I went nuts. Now the memory allocated by Alltel for my pictures is nearly full, so I have to put them somewhere. So, I give you, the Brooklyn Bridge by Night.

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My Critique by a Moore

Back on 2005, I attended an artists' colony, the Vermont Studio Center, for a month. They have their regular residents like me, most of whom pay all or 2/3 of their way; and featured residents who are paid by the colony to critique the regulars' work and give talks and hold conferences. As I described in two earlier posts, I was there while Lorrie Moore was there. This post is a self-indulgent description of what happened in my one-on-one critiquing session with Moore. I had sent this only to family when it happened, but now, with readership of my blog at a low ebb, partly because of my lack of posting lately, I figure it's okay to toot my horn a little. I'm putting up these three posts about Moore on the occasion of her release of her newest novel, A Gate at the Stairs.

Visiting writers here meet with us residents in the living room of what they call Mason House, the domain for the writers, though it is not where most of us live or work. The living room is filled with bookshelves and books I have not read, surroundings I found rather daunting until I happened to spot the Philip K. Dick title in the ranks. Still, it was a Dick I have not read.

I went into the foyer and heard the prior person’s conference still in progress, so I went back out to the porch and waited like the piano students on our front porch when I was a kid, and my mom was teaching lessons in our living room.

The writer before me came out, and I went in. Lorrie Moore was sitting at the end of the long conference table gleaming with reflected light from the window behind her. The papers in front of her I recognized as the copy of "Back to the Old Ladies" I had sent in late May. I had not even sat down when she said, “This is a real story, and you are a real writer.”

I said, “Well thank you!” I sat.

“The only thing is . . .” she said. She said the beginning was confusing. Where was Roxanne? In her hotel room or in the desert? I should clear that up. And when did the narrator meet Roxanne’s mother? The same night he danced with her the first time?

“You may have to be flatfooted with the facts. Don’t be afraid to state them plainly,” Moore said.

Then came a harder issue.

“The narrator is in love with Roxanne,” she said. “There has to be more to her to warrant his attentions. More than just her dance moves and her tush, which are beautifully described. She needs to say a little more . . .”

This will be hard to deal with. I have no idea what Roxanne has to say other than what she's already said in the story.

“Do you do this?” she said. “This dance stuff? I was reading, and these details were so alive, I said ‘Wow, he must really do this. . .’”

I said I do.

“This is almost there,” she said. “Almost ready for publication.”

It is revision number 10! How far do I have to go? But alright.

She asked me what I do. Am I in school? So I told her the quick spiel: Audio for video . . . have done substitute teaching, do teach at a community college . . . Durham . . . physics . . . stubborn . . . Duke . . . Batman . . . screenplays . . . short stories . . . present day. (“Batman has a special place in my heart,” I told her. “Really?” she said, smiling.)

“Well, you really understand the form,” she said. “And who are you reading?”

I said that for the past year, I have been reading a lot of, well, um, her. “You,” I said.

She looked away. She had also not really relished someone’s bringing up her collection “Self-Help” as a “must read” for writers, during the group craft talk she gave last Friday. In response, she had said, “No, not Self-Help.”

I named Bernard Malamud as someone whose stories I’m reading now. And Larry Brown, whom I always have to mention, to see what sort of reaction I get.

“Oh, poor guy, he just died too!” she said.

Yes, around Thanksgiving last year.

“He wasn’t old?” she said. No. I said he probably had high blood pressure though. She said she had met him and found him to be a really nice guy. I said I had met him too, and also found him really nice.

I asked if she had read Brown’s stuff, and she said, only a little. I said I liked these fairly straightforward writers like Malamud, Brown, Chekhov. They state things fairly plainly. I said I had tried to write a poetic story this past year, and it had not come together yet, and was also not very well written. Brown was really encouraging to me because, when I would be hung up trying to say something in an impressive way, I would tell myself, “Just tell the damn story,” which I think is what Brown pretty much did too.

She nodded.

She suggested I read Updike’s collected stories, but not the novels, and Alice Munro’s “Lives of Girls and Women.”

I said, “I don’t know what to say about these people who have collections of, like, 200 stories. I’m lucky if I can write one per year, and at that, it still may not come out right.”

She said Updike has not had anything else to do all his life. She said he keeps writing about his childhood and certain recurring subjects. But the good thing about that, for him, is that he is able to perfect stories about his subjects. “I might be reading, say, the fourth story about this, but I say, ‘this one is perfect.’”

She said quality is more important that quantity. She didn’t seem worried about my slow pace.

She asked what I’m working on now, and I said I was doing a totally new story, plus there was always the one from this past year which I might be salvageable, who knows.

We were together only 20 minutes or so, and our conversation seemed to be coming to a close. She put her incognito celebrity sunglasses on and we stood.

She asked what I had studied in college.

“Wow, physics,” she said. “I don’t meet many physics majors who are writers. A few, but not that many.”

I said, I think we are concerned with mysticism and how the world works. These are similar traits in writing and physics.

Heading out the door into the sunny, crystal clear day, she said her father had studied chemistry and dropped out in grad school. “He had to get a job and went into corporate America,” she said. “He told me once that he had gone into chemistry because his sister had married a chemist, and his grandmother (or mother? Or Moore’s grandmother? I forget) had loved this son-in-law so much, and kept talking about how he was a chemist. So her father had gone into chemistry himself “to win his mother’s(?) love,” Moore said, making a sweeping gesture.

She was heading up the hill. I asked her if she would sign books at the reading, and she said, “Sure, sure.” I told her, thanks for the writing she was doing. “You’re really funny,” I said. She gave a dismissive wave and turned away. “And really dark,” I said. “As you know.” She glanced back one more time, and was gone.

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Watching for Big Algae Oil Production

This past summer there were announcements of expected large-scale algae oil production. I'm watching for follow-up to see if any of these companies are actually making their predicted flow. So far, no confirmation.

One announcement was from CEHMM, a New Mexico non-profit research firm, that planned to have a "large scale demonstration algae farm" in full operation by September 1. No news on whether this is actually happening.

Solix Biofuels has also begun a large-scale demonstration algae farm in Colorado in cooperation with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. This was expected to be fully operating by late summer. There is no further news on this. One intriguing thing about algae farming is that it can (and should) be done on non-arable land such as the bad land that tends to compose Native American reservations. If Native Americans can create jobs and make profits selling fuel, as they might demonstrate they can in this endeavor, then this would be a healthy turn for them and the rest of our country.

There was also the agreement between SunEco Energy and J.B. Hunt Transportation (a large trucking company whose name you see often on the panels of 18-wheelers) for SunEco to provide algae-grown fuel oil to blend with petroleum Diesel for us in trucks. SunEco claims to be already producing "barrels," rather than "beakers" of algae oil each day. Let's hope this contract comes to fruition.

All three of the above algae companies use open-air ponds for algae production. This is generally the cheapest kind of algae farm to build, but it is likely to have the lowest yield of oil per acre, in part because of the inefficient use of space and the inability to use genetically designed algae. Only native algae can be used in the open ponds.

The U.S. Air Force and Navy have expressed interest in biofuels grown in the U.S. because of the promise of a secure energy supply. They don't want their planes and ships grounded if the Middle East decides not to sell us fuel for plans and ships to use in bombing the Middle East. Toward this end, the Navy has purhcased 20,000 gallons of algae-derived Diesel fuel (and 40,000 gallons of fuel made from camelina weeds) from Solazyme, an algae company that has not fully explained its process, but is known to grow its algae in closed containers using starchy bio-waste to feed the algae.

My current favorite algae company, Origin Oil, has released production models for growing algae oil using its technology (press release here, pdf of presentation here). Like Solazyme, Origin Oil grows algae in closed containers, but Origin claims to have made some creative advances. Their process of quantum fracturing creates tiny bubbles of CO2 and other nutrients to facilitate delivery to the algae cells; also, this quantum fracturing of CO2 aids in cracking the algae cells open to release the oil. According to the company, this method of getting the oil out of the algae greatly cheapens the otherwise very expensive process of getting oil out of algae by pressing it.

Origin Oil's presentation has two proposals: one just for growing algae oil, and another for growing oil while simultaneously using the algae to treat wastewater. The first model shows little profit and, thus, is probably not feasible at this time. The second model shows a more favorable 20% profit. Also note the need for "free energy" in both models in the form of heat. This energy could come along with concentrated CO2 in the form of power plant emissions. So, look for Origin Oil's technology to be first used in cleaning smokestack emissions and/or wastewater, and producing oil as a by-product.

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