Posts Tagged ‘war’

It’s time for SCIENCE!

December 2, 2010 - 5:08 pm No Comments

Well, almost.

First I’m going to share with you a delightful but simple wintertime treat (for those of you north of the equator) that you should enjoy while reading this blog.  I hope you like coffee.  And joy.  It doesn’t have to be covered in bees.

FIRST!  Set a cup of coffee to brew or press it or use your espresso maker or however ya fix your caffeine fix.

Get a cup, a teaspoon of sugar, and a packet of cocoa.  Preferably with marshmallows.  Dump cocoa and sugar in cup.  Pour coffee on top.

Scrape marshmallows off of top, eat, mix thoroughly, be happy.  Oh, yeah, then read the rest of this blog.  Which starts now.

I. Love. Science.  I was an English major with a creative writing concentration, I only took my mandatory amounts of science in high school I belonged to the English, drama, and jazz clubs, and I. Love. Science.  You will never not find me watching The Universe or crushing on Michio Kaku or wearing my Periodic Table of the Elements shirt or reading about Einstein.

Which brings me to installment’s book: The Quotable Einstein collected and edited by Alice Calaprice.

This is a quick read.  Yes, yes, it’s several hundred pages long, but it’s exactly what it purports to be: a collection of quotes by the man himself, Albert Einstein, who was generally a great guy except he was really bitter about women so don’t take anything he says about us at face value.  He was also a friend of Sigmund Freud so let’s blame his mom and move on (I’M KIDDING).

This collection paints a deeper picture of Einstein as a man who realised he was just a man and did his best to quell any sort of belief that he was anything more than human.  It also portrays how firmly Einstein stuck to his beliefs, many of which were unpopular at the time.  He believed women should be allowed to have abortions up to a certain point, much as we do now.  He believed homosexuality should not be punished, he loved America but saw how it suppressed it’s minorities and spoke out against it, and he was an avid pacifist, believing only in violence when it was to protect oneself.  This isn’t surprising giving the atmosphere he grew up in: pre-WWI Germany was already a hotbed of conflict, more so than many of us realise, and for Einstein, himself a Jew, it was imperative he leave that behind.  Indeed, he rescinded his German citizenship and became a Swiss citizen very early in life, before he was naturalised in US many years later.  For many of these beliefs, though weak and obvious they may seem now, he was suspected of Communism and questioned in the McCarthy hearings, to be subsequently dubbed by Mr. McCarthy as an “enemy of America.”  Incidentally, that was about the time that America decided they weren’t buying that shit anymore.  Einstein had already said previously in a letter, “I have never been a Communist.  But if I were, I would not be ashamed of it.”

The book also delves into more personal subjects: Einstein had an amazing sense of humor, loved music, played the violin, and enjoyed the company of his family pets very much.  Once, during a particularly bad rainstorm, his tabby “Tiger” was upset that he could not go outside.  Einstein commiserated with the creature, saying, “I know what’s wrong, dear fellow, but I don’t know how to turn it off.”  (That’s right, Doctor.  Everyone talks to cats.)  The volume also includes snippets of his letters to his first and second wife, including the period in between where his first marriage was falling apart and he sought comfort in an affair with his soon-to-be second wife, Elsa.  Clearly he was not a perfect man, but if he was, I doubt half of us would be able to relate to him at all, for as hard as that can be already.

My only complaint with the collection is that, in an effort to be thorough, Ms. Calaprice has included several iterations Einstein made of the same quote.  While it’s good to see an attempt to be sure that the most important quotations were included, there are several occasions where this gets distracting.  This is perhaps most obvious in the case of the “God does not place dice” quote.  While it is true that this is something Einstein believed firmly and repeated so often that Niels Borh was prompted to respond, “Stop telling God what to do!”, it is not necessary that the reader see every single instance wherein Einstein restated his belief.  The most eloquent or succinct iteration would have been just fine, and this is a problem which occurs with several other quotes in the book.  It is a problem which becomes very distracting very quickly, causing the reader to pause and say, “Wait, I caught that and the editor let it slide?” which is never something you want to hear said about a book.

Beyond that, though, the book is a good, clear insight into the mind of Einstein through the man’s own words, and I recommend it to anyone interested in his science, life, or personality.

With that, I leave you with these choice Einstein-ian quotes (and hopefully some of that cocoa left over):

  • “With fame I become more and more stupid, which of course is a very common phenomenon.”
  • “Personally, I experience the greatest degree of pleasure in having contact with works of art.  They furnish me with happy feelings of an intensity such as I cannot derive from other realms.”
  • “I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.”
  • “That worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor…  this plague-spot of civilisation ought to be abolished with all possible speed.  Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them!  How vile and despicable seems war to me!  I would rather be hacked into pieces than take park in such an abominable business.”
  • “I do not believe that civilisation will be wiped out in a war fought with the atomic bomb.  Perhaps two-thirds of the people on earth would be killed, but enough men  capable of thinking, and enough books, would be left to start out again, and civilisation could be restored.
  • When asked why people could discover atoms by not the means to control them: “That is simple, my friend: because politics is more difficult than physics.”

Sci-fi, time machines, and THE FUTURE.

July 27, 2010 - 7:09 am 1 Comment

Thanks to a certain @fetfet50, I picked up two Joe Haldeman books (The Forever War and The Accidental Time Machine) at the library.  Having a disproportionate love for anything sci or fi, I was pretty certain I would enjoy them.

Boy was I wrong.

I consumed them.  I wanted to marry them.  I’m not sure how I went my entire sci-fi lovin’ life without hearing of Joe Haldeman.  But I am disgustingly glad I finally have.

Image credit to http://www.ioncinema.com/

I read The Forever War first, it being the oldest between the two books by nearly 40 years.  At its loosest, it’s an allegory for  Vietnam, Haldeman having served there, and the connections are pretty obvious, most distinctly in the horrible preparation of the troops through no fault of their own, the use of mind-altering drugs by the troops (though in Haldeman’s version, this is officially sanctioned, at least for most drugs), and the backwards un-reason for the war in the first place.  But from there, the book takes an entirely original twist on… well… everything.

Fighting an enemy called the Taurans about which little to nothing is actually known (indeed, no one even knows what Taurans look like until their first mano – a – mano combat, many years after the start of the war), the soldiers are flung through space and time by way of collapsars (now an actual, scientific term for super-massive black holes with incredible rates of rotational speed; in the book, something closer to a black hole – which, lest we forget, were not even actually considered legitimate theory in the 1970s, oh how time flies: super-massive black holes are now that which hold every galaxy together and dark matter keeps us spinning  – and which the author simply describes as a collapsed star with a high enough gravity and density to warp time).  This poses no problem for the soldiers until they return to earth, first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of years in the future while they themselves have aged only months or years, and every time they return, they find their home planet to be in worse, or at least weirder, shape.  In an ironic twist, after about a thousand years, heterosexuality is considered abnormal and unnatural, natural breeding is considered flawed and gross, and straight people have to be ‘cured.’  But, failing that, the heterosexual are looked on as mere abnormalities, curiosities, and no one is worse for wear – not anymore, anyway.  Not only did that make me giggle, Haldeman actually gave a compelling argument for it, and accurately (or as accurately as can be presumed) gave an account of the feelings of those soldiers, straight soldiers, returning from a mostly-heterosexual time period into this gay new world with as little hate as possible.  Indeed, this was a huge change for them, since sex between male and female soldiers was encouraged in the past as a means of stress relief and considered wholly normal if not necessary for the morale of the troops.  In short, the concept of sexual orientation as well as emotions and perceptions of people jumping thousands of years in a few month’s time felt incredibly genuine while still being sensitive toward tough issues, which was even more impressive to me given that the book was written in 1974.  (In the words of the Ninth Doctor, “Relax. He’s a 51st century guy. He’s just a bit more flexible when it comes to dancing.”  Oh Captain Jack.)

That being said, for as forward-thinking as the book is when it comes to people, it’s incredibly backwards when it comes to technology, which clearly is no fault of its own.  It was 1974; personal computers were nearly unheard of, and here these soldiers are, between the years 2000 and 3500, roughly, and one is complaining that you could only fit something like 15,000 pages worth of information on a memory stick the size of your thumb and that’s why battle plans are inaccurate, et al.  Now, of course, it’s only 2010, but we can fit the entire Library of Congress and then some on a flash drive the size of a toenail.  As I said, it’s no flaw of the book’s, but it does make you squint for a moment and think to yourself, “Wait, no.”

I won’t go into the battle technology too much but I have to mention my favorite piece of equipment, the statis field, a sort of forcefield where everything – light, lasers, everything – is canceled out, and the soldiers on both sides are reduced to fighting with weaponry with no internal moving parts: bo staves, swords, bows and arrows.  I can’t say why, but a bunch of people in space suits taking out long-limbed aliens in life support bubbles with arrows totally made this book for me.

Technology, war, emotions aside, this book, and Joe Haldeman’s writing style on the whole, is incredibly funny.  There are parts where you snicker, parts where you giggle, and parts where you laugh so hard you start to cry.  This is true of both The Forever War and The Accidental Time Machine.  It’s not even so much that jokes are made; it’s a truth in advertising sort of humor, a pointing out of obvious inconsistencies, and weird, universal quirks in people, regardless of time or place or species.  The style is also completely comprehensible and enjoyable whether you have trouble with basic math or a degree in physics or, like me, are somewhere in between.

Check back soon for my review of The Accidental Time Machine, A History of Violence, and possibly The Eyre Affair, which despite the fact that all I remember about Charlotte Bronte from my 6th grade report was that her coffin was only 12 inches wide, I am enjoying immensely.  Hopefully it will not take me a month to post like this one did.  Blogger fail.