Next Hundred

We’re entering a new era here: this marks the 101st posting on this blog. That’s right: there have been 100 so far. That does not seem possible, does it? We’re opening a new pack of a hundred.

This blog is too nice a thing to let languish or evaporate. By “nice,” I don’t mean my posts: I mean this gathering of friends. Part of my struggle during this long silence has been that I’ve felt I’ve said everything I can possibly say about writing. I’ve told my stories. I’ve asked my leading questions, and we’ve had some great discussions and wonderful times. I was seriously feeling that a blog is a thing with a limited lifespan, like every other creature that breathes upon the Earth, and I was thinking that maybe this one had come to its end.

But there are always new stories to tell, right? Let’s forge ahead and see. There may be more undiscovered rooms down this dark corridor. There may be another valley beyond this ridge, and another ridge beyond that. The road, as we noted in the very first entry, goes ever on, and it is not for us to decide where it ends. Though we curl up under a tree to sleep the sleep of exhaustion, there comes a time when squirrels throw nuts on our heads, and it’s time to get up and walk again.

So let’s start with a writing update.

I started writing The Sacred Woods on April 23rd of last year (the possible birthday of the possible man who may have been Shakespeare). I started writing my new novel, The House of the Worm, on April 22nd of this year. This is my season for starting books. Chaucer was right: it’s the month for starting pilgrimages.

Doing some quick math here: I’m about 5,500 words into the draft of The House of the Worm (hereafter designated as THOW) [you can pronounce it either as “though” or as “thou”–it’s up to you]–and I’m truly excited about it. What keeps us writers going is the belief that this is the one: this is the best thing by far that we’ve ever done, and it’s the one that will reach the masses, and it’s the one we’ll be remembered for. We go through that every time, even if we’re writing a short story. But that’s good. As my good and wise friend Marquee Movies has said, “You’re on a path. Keep breaking new ground. Keep striving to be the best writer you can be.” And as marching band leader Mr. Smith (whom I’ve quoted before) said, keep doing the halftime marching show better every time you do it. I can honestly say with THOW that I’m breaking new ground (for me), and it feels very, very good. As for the content: all I can tell you right now is to look back at the previous posting. See those two paintings entitled The House of the Worm (I & II)? Those were a large part of the inspiration. . . . and so were several other things. As usual, various disparate elements have coalesced into a book idea.

The Sacred Woods (TSW) has gone forth and been rejected by most of the greatest editors in the business. (How’s that for name-dropping?) My agent has been valiant and amazing in getting it read by all sorts of top-drawer people, and it’s been both exhilarating and frustrating to hear about their reactions. Ninety-five percent of them have gone WAY out of their ways to write wonderful, heartfelt rejection letters about how much they loved the book, how they lost sleep all weekend and ignored their piles of work to finish reading it, even though they knew they were going to have to turn it down. The fifteen or so young-adult editors mostly said they themselves loved it, but they thought it was too adult for their lists — it would go over kids’ heads. We’ve heard back from two adult editors so far who have said they loved it but that it falls through the cracks between children’s fiction and fiction for grownups.

Don’t you wish we lived in a society in which labels weren’t important? I ask you: when you find a book you love, do you care what part of the bookstore you bought it in? I wish more publishers would care less about pigeonholes. “This book I’m crazy about, it — what? You say it’s a children’s book? — Oh. Well, then, forget what I said. I don’t like it so much after all.”

One editor, complaining about the narrator’s voice (at times very young, at times more young-adult), popped out with, “but I’m not always right. I had a problem with the narrative voice of The Lovely Bones, too, and we all know how that turned out.”

So, yeah. That’s the report on TSW. It’s a good book that no one can buy, which is exactly what Dragonfly was — except Dragonfly had some scary elements, so Arkham House bought it. But TSW is still out there: it’s really just begun its rounds of adult editors, so there’s still plenty of hope. All it takes is one. Another wise friend pointed out that what TSW is is “a British children’s book” — which really makes sense. In the U.K., a proportionately larger number of kids are still taught the love of reading. My agent is looking into possibilities there, too.

“Glory Day” (the story, not the poem) is still under consideration at Cicada.

As far as I know, The Star Shard is still scheduled for a Fall 2011 release from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I’m currently waiting for the editor to send me her revision notes so that I can overhaul the manuscript. At last report, she was swamped with her Spring 2011 books and hadn’t yet started on Fall.

Agondria came back from the respectable Canadian publisher who had been very seriously considering it. I bounced it next off a likely U.K. publisher who turns out to be currently closed to submissions. The editor of Black Gate had requested a look at more of the stories, so currently I’m giving him a chance to read them. One of the stories is scheduled to appear in the very next issue of Black Gate — Issue #15 — this fall, under the title “World’s End.”

So anyway, the new school year is three weeks underway. For the first time ever, I have a Russian student, a Spanish student, and a French student among my Japanese students. (I love how, in a French accent, the World Wide Web is pronounced “ze Ahntarnet”!) Seriously, it’s very good for all the students to have some additional accents and cultural perspectives. I’m grateful that those international students are there (in recent years, I’ve had students from China, Korea, Malaysia, and Vietnam, too).

The cherry blossoms are over, and we’re still shivering here. I hope some of you scientist types will explain to me just why this phenomenon is called “Global Warming” when every season is getting colder and colder.

I’ve been listening to Celtic/Irish/Scottish music — my latest discovery is a group called The Tannahill Weavers.

And finally, the movie awards: the first runner-up for Best Movie Recently Seen By Fred is District 9. This is what science-fiction should be like. Nothing is wasted: the writers knew exactly where to start and where to stop. It’s a very intelligent film, original and fresh in many ways.

And the hands-down winner: The Wolfman. I simply cannot say enough good things about this movie. Excellent storytelling, great casting and acting, brilliant directing — but the truly breathtaking elements are the sets and the lighting. Talbot Hall and the English countryside of the 1890s are a spectacle, an atmospheric extravaganza. I’ll go on record as saying that, for me, The Wolfman was more visually stunning and satisfying than Avatar, which I also enjoyed. But that’s just me! Give me spooky moors, rambling estates much declined from their former glory, Gypsy camps, and dark woods.

Honorable mention also goes to the musical Nine, which has much to say to us creative types — about our priorities, about how we should live. The last scene is unforgettable.

Oh, and the Australian film Rogue is definitely worth checking out — if, like me, you count Jaws among the half-dozen best films ever made.

As the Jeff Bridges character says in Crazy Heart: “It’s great to be back!”

Talk to you again soon.

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50 Responses to “Next Hundred”

  1. I say "Write On!" Says:

    A pox on the dumb editors too dim to see the inherent beauty and wonder of TSW! Iloved it! So, as we twist the 70s funk saying “Write On!” sooner or later someone is going to see the light and we will all be saying “I knew Fred when …”

    However, my friend, you missed the boat badly on District 9, a horrible movie. It felt like three movies in one, and the director could not decide which one to keep shooting, so he jammed all three on top of each other. It goes down as one of the more miserable theater experiences I have ever had.

    As for Avatar…I hope I never see it.

    I am CERTAIN Marquee will be along shortly to set me straight…ha ha

    Oh, on behalf of us all: WELCOME BACK

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Yes, it’s like “If you build it, he will come.” Start trash-talking movies, stories, and storytellers, and Marquee Movies will come and get you. I’m glad you’re aware of that.

      Nice to have a forum where we can freely disagree! I liked District 9, I don’t know why Bugs Bunny should always be on the subject, and oh! — last night I saw the new Alice in Wonderland, and I LOVED it! (I don’t know why I went in not expecting too much!) It’s not only visually amazing (as I expected) — it’s also thrilling, funny, sad, inspiring, and beautiful! I instantly recognized the voice of the caterpillar . . . and the voice of the Jabberwocky is also provided by another actor we know and love!

      Can anyone catch the word in the poem “Jabberwocky” that Johnny Depp says wrong? You know, like when Harrison Ford says “Mt. Herob” instead of “Mt. Horeb” in Raiders? (It may not even be his fault — it may have been printed that way in the script.)

      But anyway — Alice in Wonderland: see it, see it, see it! (And if you hated that one, my dear Brown Snowflakey friend, your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!) 🙂

  2. Lizzie Borden Says:

    Congratulations on your 101st!!

    Now stop talking and go write 😉

  3. Daylily Says:

    Fred, you’re absolutely right that we are not out of stories! Everyone has at least one interesting story to tell. Just ask us! I, for one, would like to hear more stories of Japan. I would love to know about your favorite students and why they are your favorites. What is it like to teach English in Japan? What is your style of teaching? What sorts of humorous mistakes do the students make? Do you ever go out with the students to restaurants? What are your favorite Japanese foods and your favorite restaurants in Japan? How about telling us the most important things a foreigner should know about visiting Japan? What are your favorite places to visit in Japan? I should think that many of us would have stories to tell about other cultures. Here’s one on me. When my husband and I were graduate students, we spent six months in Budapest, Hungary, at a time when Hungary was under Soviet domination. I could tell some stories about the problems of a centrally planned economy. But here’s a story about foreigners and the Hungarian language. Ice cream was inexpensive and wonderful at the time. Raspberry icecream made with real raspberries! I haven’t tasted anything like it since. One day, my husband and I stopped at the little ice cream shop and read the list of flavors. We knew a few words from our short course in Hungarian, but we usually carried our little dictionary with us. We saw “málna” (raspberry) and “eper” (strawberry). Then we saw a new flavor at the bottom of the board: “nincs”. So we looked that up. Glad we didn’t try to order this flavor! “Nincs” means “none” or “we’re out”!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      That’s a great story, Daylily! 🙂 Thank you! Yes, there are tons of stories to tell about the adventures that transpire when cultures meet. I will definitely keep those possibilities in mind.

      If only we’d known each other during my first ten years or so in Japan. I did a monthly newsletter, back in the days when newsletters were printed on paper and came to your physical mailbox. Many here present will remember those letters — many of you helped sponsor them! Since I was in OVYM (Overseas Volunteer Youth Ministry) for much of that time, the newsletters were printed on machines at our church back in Illinois. To keep the content lively, candid, and genuine, my mom compiled the newsletters from the weekly letters I wrote home. (For the first several years, I simply couldn’t write a general newsletter addressed to a crowd; they went flat and boring. The ones I wrote to my parents were far more interesting, and we took full advantage of that. In fact, sometimes Mom would include content that I hadn’t really intended for mass consumption! I was embarrassed now and then, but the readership generally liked it.)

      Anyway, my point is, back in those days, everything about Japan was new to me. I suppose that’s another idea for the blog: I could dig those old newsletters out (if I’ve got them here in Japan — it will take some hunting!) and sometimes reprint excerpts from them.

      Does anyone remember the photo of me planting rice? Heh, heh, heh!

  4. I say "Write On!" Says:

    I strongly second Daylily’s request: lets hear about Japan!

    For those of you out there: Fred used to film 8mm home movies, and I was lucky enough to be in a few. One was this silly Bigfoot movie (we were 11-12 yrs old I think). Anyway, Fred showed this to one of his classes and had them report on it. He sent me sheafs of paper with some of the better comments — many were hilarious. While no one wants to hear about that incident in particular, I am sure all of us would enjoy similar stories: some lighthearted tales of miscommunication as Fred’s students struggle to learn English …

    I am curious, Fred, if you have visited Nagasaki; I seem to recall that you have visited Hiroshima. What was that like?

    In short, Mr. Durbin, you will never bore us. You have us all eager to devour whatever you put on the blog, and what you might consider simple “day in the life” tidbits from Japan would, I am sure, delight us all …

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      The friendly ghosts of the past! Wow, what a memory! Can you believe I was young enough when I started teaching that I made my university students watch movies I made when I was 12?! These are ESL classes, right, and I’m making the kids at a state school watch SILENT movies made by a 12-year-old?! Is that supreme narcissism or simple insanity? I did find ways to generate language study out of it, but still. . . . Needless to say, I haven’t used my childhood movies as teaching materials for a long, long time. But cryptozoology? Oh, definitely! We still do a reading assignment every year that’s a condensation of an article by Isaac Asimov, his skeptical take on Nessie and his thesis that, as we humans discover that fewer and fewer of our monsters are real, we are losing something important.

      But in those students’ reports on the Bigfoot film, remember how many of them called the creature “Big Food”?

      Your memory is right on: I have visited Hiroshima, but not Nagasaki. That would make an excellent topic for a post sometime soon! Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  5. fsdthreshold Says:

    Here’s a point I meant to make more strongly in the post: the fact that I’m writing books that are hard to categorize means that I’m writing the ones that are truly my own, that I’m meant to write. If I were pandering to any market, the books would be much easier to classify . . . and most likely not very good. (I’m not knocking easily-classifiable books! Some writers are meant to write them and do them very well — and we need great books of all sorts.)

  6. jhagman Says:

    The really good business people create an excellent product, and develop markets as they move forward- but this requires imagination, something that I fear is lacking in today’s publishing world. Frederic, if you write a teen vampire romance, it will get published,,,but how prosaic!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Maybe the trick is to write a book that really, really looks to an editor like a certain type of safe, sure-bet book, but that does all sorts of innovative things, too. Hmm. . . .

      But seriously, there are all sorts of iconoclastic, bold, never-been-done books out there, too. . . . So there are some editors with vision, who can sometimes push things through. . . .

      • Chris Says:

        Just wait for the “digital print revolution” to take hold. Already some textbook companies are looking at digital presses. That will change the dynamics amazingly.

        Suddenly the “break even” cost of printing will be much shorter runs.

        That is precisely when I will unleash on the world my series of novels featuring an alternate reality with an alcoholic ex-criminal Danny Kaye as a supervillian in constant battle with Wave-Guide, a strange smelling undergrad with psychic powers and her side-kick, Karl Marx, a sentient talking dog.

        Oh yeah… You’ll all see. I’ll be bigger than Fred Durbin!

  7. fsdthreshold Says:

    I also need to let you all know that I’m going to be in Tokyo on a short vacation for the next three days. I won’t have Internet access (no access to ze Anhtarnet), so that’s why I won’t be able to respond to comments until Wednesday my-time.

    But feel free to talk about me behind my back!

  8. Daylily Says:

    How about an account of your Tokyo vacation? After all, how many of us are going to visit Tokyo in the foreseeable future? Show us pictures!

  9. I say "Write On!" Says:

    Well, I go back to your reply, dearest Fred, of my trashing District 9. My father did indeed smell of elderberries, and of coal.

    I have not seen the Tim Burton take on Alice. (I may boycott Burton until he agrees to film “Dragonfly” which, as Marquee and I once agreed —gasp!— is THE Burton project if there every was one!)

    As far as the ‘Big Food’ movie was concerned, I had the honor of building a cairn over Chris’ bloody body. And I could not believe no students questioned how this enormous creature was slain by one green and one purple smokebomb! Ha ha! The fun of youth!

  10. Chris Says:

    This week I’ve been going through old photographs gleaned from my mom’s apartment after her death. It’s weird going through old photos of your parents when they were younger than you are today.

    But in amongst the photos are a number of Fred and I as extraordinarily young people. It’s a fun trip down memory lane.

    I’m going to send them off to a company to scan (because I’m too *&^%$%in’ lazy to do it msyelf) at which point I’ll make sure to send some to Fred so he can parse them out as necessary.

    I am still waiting for Fred to start up a YouTube channel where he can put up digitized versions of all the old 8mm/super8 films he made as a yout’.

    • I say "Write On!" Says:

      Right On Chris! Especially the ones feature the Ray Harryhausen-style stop-action dinosaur battles! And, of course, the shots of us idiots jumping from the hay loft!

      I am curious about Wave-Guide and Karl Marx. Is it possible that Karl has a relationship with Frederich Engels, neighborhood raven and thug amongst avians?

  11. John R. Fultz Says:

    Hey, Fred!

    I guess I’m a late poster here, but better late than never, eh?

    About the global warming thing: Climate change (i.e. global warming) creates temperature EXTREMES across the globe. This is why “climate change” is a more appropriate term than “global warming”–in fact, warmer ocean currents create the super-hurricanes we’ve been experiencing, and will continue to experience. So look for more extreme weather as the earth continues to heat up and weather patterns continue to get all WEIRD (i.e. screwed up).

    >Don’t you wish we lived in a society in which labels weren’t important?

    I sure as hell do. It’s ridiculous how editors find amazing books but won’t publish them because they don’t fit into recognizable marketing categories. Marketing, these days, has become MORE important than quality of writing. It’s sad. Yours is only one of the tales I’ve heard like this. However, today’s independent publishers are where most of the truly original books are coming from…they exist more to expose great works than to fulfill a Marketing Department Directive. Good quality work WILL find its audience…do keep the faith, man!

    I’m thrilled to see an Agondria story will be appearing in BLACK GATE #15! John O’Neill (the editor) also tells me my story “The Vintages of Dream” has a good chance of appearing in the same issue–it will be very cool to share page space with you, Fred. Also, our mutual friend and fave writer Darrell Schweitzer has a story in the issue, so this could be a Fantasy Trifecta!

    Meanwhile, I sold a sci-fi/horror story to LIGHTSPEED, and that gnomes story I told you about (“The Gnomes of Carrick County”) to SPACE AND TIME. I have some other brand-new stories out making the rounds as well. Gotta keep those irons in the fire! 🙂

    Finally, I’ve got a weekly blog at http://www.blackgate.com Catch me blathering on about a new topic there every Wednesday.

    Cheers!
    John

  12. John R. Fultz Says:

    Oh, and by the way:

    I loved DISTRICT 9…although it left me slightly disturbed. Quite an experience…

    And I loved ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Tim Burton pulled off a wonderfully sneaky trick: Doing a straight-up Sword & Sorcery movie disguised as a Lewis Carroll adaptation. Make no mistake: This was some fantastic S&S!

    Cheers,
    John

  13. jhagman Says:

    What scientists know about weather systems you can fit comfortably on the head of a pin, with plenty of room for the Angels to dance. What is a damn shame is how they have squandered the credibility of the environmental movement. There are so many problems with the data, (and how they hid it), that I can’t even start on it. My biggest problem with this Al Gore approach is that they tried to make people change using fear, not love. Now anything presented as a genuine global threat will be doubted. In the name of Academic/Economic/Political power they have damaged something that is vital to all of us.

    • Chris Says:

      Sorry to divert this excellent blog into climate change topics but I must respond as a scientist.

      (First a caveat: I am not a climate scientist. My doctorate is in geology.)

      Indeed climate science is still “new-ish” and still in development. But the science behind climate is not completely unknown, nor is it as abysmally lacking as to be able to fit on the head of a pin. The concept of global warming due to greenhouse gases is a concept that dates back to the 1800’s with the pioneering work of Tyndal and Arrhenius. The 1950’s and 1960’s saw advances in our understanding of the feedbacks and role of the oceans.

      Today we have climate models that, according to recent research, appear to be quite accurate despite not being “perfect”. We know a goodly amount about what the “forcing functions” are, the “climate sensitivity functions” and the feedbacks. Enough to know that the models “hindcast” data quite well, giving us a good amount of info to assume that forecasts from them are worth taking seriously.

      All that theoretical stuff aside. The science boils down to a few key points:

      1. CO2 is a known greenhouse gas. It’s molecular motions and bonds absorb in the infrared region. This we know. (I’ve seen it countless times as I used to run IR spectra all the time in sample chambers open to the atmosphere, ie “not N2 flushed”.)

      2. Greenhouse gases largely account for the nearly 33degrees K temperature differential between the earth’s “blackbody radiation” temperature and the actual average surface temperature we currently have. (Based on the amount of incoming solar radiation).

      3. We can trace through radioactive and stable isotopes of carbon, much of the recent “run-up” of CO2 in the atmosphere directly back to our burning of fossil fuels. Our “isotopic fingerprints” are all over it.

      4. We have a relatively good idea of global average temperatures over the past 150 years from instrumental and proxy data as well as “proxy” data going back thousands more.

      5. We have a relatively solid, if imperfect, understanding of many of the “climate forcing functions” that help account for the temperature trends.

      I’m not saying this is in any way “perfect” science. But it is far from unformed ignorance.

      And one other thing; for many of us who feel this is a serious concern, Al Gore isn’t really doing any of the science. He’s a “meat puppet”, a “talking head” who does a good show to present the info. But he doesn’t make the data and really shouldn’t be part of the overall discussion of the veracity of the hypothesis.

      A recent poll of climate scientists found that most of them seem to think “anthropogenic global climate change” is real and something worth being concerned about. And these are the folks who work with this stuff every day.

      I’m not a climatologist (even though I did get to work briefly at a major oceanographic research institute and got to meet some folks in the area), so I don’t really know all the details. But it is worth realizing that many of the professionals are serious about this. And unlike what we see in the media circus, they are mostly all good people who just want to do their job right and they see something we should take seriously.

      That is why the “fear” aspect comes in. Some climatologists feel this is exceedingly frightening. And when the doctor looks scared about the prognosis, I am prone to think maybe I should be a bit scared too.

    • Chris Says:

      Should clarify one point: the infrared spectrometer I used wasn’t literally “open” to the atmosphere but there was little to keep the regular room air from being in the chamber which had a closure on it. And indeed my background scans always had a little absorption peak for CO2.

  14. Catherine Says:

    I second — no, third — no, fourth — no, I’ve stopped counting — the idea of writing on Japan! The old newsletters idea sounds very cool. Not that you don’t write interesting stuff now, but, like you said (or implied? I’m too lazy to scroll up) you’re used to it now.

    Obviously the children of America are severely impoverished if they are not a suitable audience for your work. Shame on American education!! I could go on and on about that . . . no. I won’t. 🙂

    As for global warming — someone told me that the new definition for those two words mean anything out of the ordinary for the climate in question. We could have frozen oobleck dropping out of the sky and that would be global warming. (I’m sorry, Dr. Seuss!)

  15. I say "Write On!" Says:

    You darn right the earth is heating up. (Never mind the mini-ice age we had 400 years ago). And guess who is at fault?

    Correct! White Men, especially white English-speaking First World men. I say we make them destroy their economies so that we can all be equal again at an 18th-centry level (but wouldn’t the burning of all that wood add to the smoke in the air?)

    Whenever there is a problem in the world it is the white European capitalists you can blame it on. Just ask our Dear Leader who art in Washington…

    • Chris Says:

      America currently makes up only about 5% of the world’s population but we consume about 25% of the earth’s petroleum.

      As for who is “most responsible” for anthropogenic global warming that would, of course, be the countries that started the industrial revolution and industrialized the world. Who would that happen to be? Well that would be Europe and the U.S. largely.

      Of course many of our new friends in China and India want a piece of the pie and a better life, so they are busy adding stuff in at alarming rates. But they just started. We’ve been doing it for over a century.

      But in the end it is pointless to cast blame since no one today is “blameless” and pure. The only people who can change our appetites are….us. We are responsible for ourselves.

      We in the West need to do the right thing. If anyone can do it it’s us. If we can’t we can be sure that no one else will even try.

      Especially when our per capita consumption of fossil fuels is something like 5 times the global average.

      But then I hate “the man”. Always keepin’ me down. Hey, wait…I’m a white American male…huh?

  16. jhagman Says:

    Chris, 150 Years? As a geologist would you call that test sample somewhat small? Especially when measured against the age of our planet? Robert Falcon Scott observed glaciers melting in 10 years, that had taken 100,000 years to form,and very early in the 20th Century, decades before freeways, and mass use of automobiles. Mike Davis in his book “The Ecology of Fear”, wrote about trees found at the bottom lakes,,,,, that grew 800 years ago. They showed that Calif had 80% less precipitation for over 200 years. Fossilized tropical plants in the Arctic regions (no, to new for continental drift) An anamoly? I could write dozens of more anamolies that contradict those hopelessly inadequate models. Then there is the damning surpression of evidence by those East Anglia climatologists. CO2, even you (a professional scientist) can’t calculate the trillions of permutations that compound creates in our atmosphere. You can only guess. There is plenty of room on the head of a pin

    • Chris Says:

      Indeed 150 years is not geologically significant but it has significance when talking about _human_ impact. We know the earth has had a variety of different climates and in many cases we understand what was behind it. However “now” is kind of different precisely because in the past 150 years we’ve been, to paraphrase a famous oceanographer, conducting a geophysical experiment never before conducted by people. We’ve been pumping huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

      As for the East Anglia folks; I am disappointed that they didn’t make more data openly and freely available. However it doesn’t really change the overall concept precisely because East Anglia is only one of a large number of research facilities all over the globe. The temperature data from the US systems (including NASA) have been, if I recall, available (even to you and I) for years on the internet. And, indeed, so far, even in regards to East Anglia, there has been no evidence of unethical data manipulation.

      As for the “countless permutations”, I will agree that these systems are exceedingly complex and do allow for a lot of “wiggle room”. However, the level of complexity doesn’t necessarily make it impossible to model. Think of a container of a gas. Each molecule (and there are a huge amount) are flying around interacting, and free, with a distribution of kinetic energies and a statistical distribution of attributes. But we can still “model” it when we measure such things as “pressure” and “temperature” of the gas. We can get a lot of information about the grand, overall performance of the gas as a mass. Even without understanding each individual molecule’s behavior.

      That is, admittedly, not really all the way to the point you make. You make a valid point, but I fear it may be in danger of overstating the uncertainty. There is always uncertainty in science. The point of the global warming debate is how much do we live with before we start to take serious action. Right now most scientists feel this is serious. There are, of course, dissenting opinions, but that only makes the science stronger.

      The models aren’t perfect, but they are pretty good. A couple of researchers at the University of Utah dept of Meteorology had this to say about the models that they reviewed in some of their recent research:

      “Coupled models are becoming increasingly reliable tools for understanding climate and climate change, and the best models are now capable of simulating present-day climate with accuracy approaching conventional atmospheric observations… We can now place a much higher level of confidence in model-based projections of climate change than in the past.”

      And note to everyone: I am so sorry to keep diverting the conversation. I will attempt to reign in my proclivities to discuss this ad nauseam.

      Is there any way whatsoever to work in “literature” into this conversation? 🙂

  17. jhagman Says:

    Durbin Sensei started this weather discussion, Fultz Sensei answered (to the best of his abilities), I responded (to the best of my abilities), and you schooled us as to the state of current climatology. Oh, by the way Nasa doctored the release of climatology data, they pretended the 100 Yrs warming trend in the 17th Century did not occur, then East Anglia “threw away” ten years of oceanic data. These “Professionals” treat us common readers like a bunch of boobs- look, anyone with a partial brain knows the Earth is dirty, and dying, and we’re killing it because we basically love toys (IPODS, Cars, huge laboratories). Every lie kills crediblity, and at the worst time possible. As to this blog, even if it was a blog on knitting, this subject would have to come up because our homes and species are at stake.

  18. fsdthreshold Says:

    Absolutely! I have no objection whatsoever to this enlightening discussion of climate change. (And I did, as has been pointed out, open this can of worms. I asked the scientist types here present to explain to me why things are getting so cold.)

    The great thing about a blog on “The Writing Life” is that we have to walk a long, long way to find something that is NOT on the subject . . . except, of course, Bugs Bunny.

  19. Chris Says:

    Global Climate Change can results in a wide variety of shifting weather patterns. But remember, when we are talking about global climate change the really important stuff happens on decadal time scales. It may be cold in Niigata today (May 6) but that doesn’t mean the average global temperature is similarly dropping.

    In order to think of this you can’t rely on what your feel in your locale.

    Even so, there are some cases where what appears to be contrary events might occur. Take for instance the hypothesis that the “Thermohaline Current” that runs in the Atlantic might be caused to “shut down” due to global warming.

    The thought is that if the globe warms enough it might cause some melting of glaciers in Greenland, for instance, and change the relative water density and cause the current to weaken. Or perhaps some other aspect of the circulation is affected by a different mechanism due to global warming (I’m not sure if I’m remembering all the hypotheses correctly), but in any event the global warming causes the shutdown of this current which is largely responsible for why western Europe has as “warm” a winters as they do considering their latitude.

    Ironically enough with sufficient global warming we could see (for a short while, of course) colder winters in Europe!

    Of course given enough time perhaps the globe could warm even more and ultimately make the area warmer.

    I don’t know how many people are looking at this. I’ve read some stuff by some researchers, but I don’t know how seriously this is being considered right now.

    But this is part of the complexity of the system. jhagman is quite correct, it is an immensely complex system. But not beyond our ability to at least get a “glimps” behind the curtain. And right now, even if the Thermohaline Current doesn’t shut down, the other stuff we glimpse behind the curtain is pretty scary.

  20. I say "Write On!" Says:

    Uhh, Greenland. So-called because it was NOT a frozen crapland 1000 years ago to the extent it is now. Perhaps it is simply reverting to what it once was.

    All you science geeks can spew your fancy words, but I smell not one rat, but a horde. I smell people whose political leanings are anti-West, anti-capitalist, anti-First World.

    Yes, it was NW Europe that started the Industrial Revolution. God Bless us for that. I make no excuse. Your backwater society is just now catching up? Sucks to be you.

    I agree with jhagman. OF COURSE we are huge consumers. I love it that we are and make no excuse. Don’t like how much we consume? Tough! And why then are you racing to obtain our level of technology? OF COURSE the world is dirtier now than it has been. OF COURSE we all want to make the planet better than we left it. BUT I REFUSE to tear down my house just because you are too stupid to build your own (in other words, why should I wreck my economy if you won’t follow suit and choose to remain bigger polluters now than we were then?)

    • Chris Says:

      Unfortunately this topic is such a hot potato precisely because the science is not easy. It is far easier to paint it as a political subterfuge because the potential outcomes are so _serious_.

      I must say that while I have never worked in climatology I have met and spoken with some of the people who are showing up in the literature. I’ve worked at one of the research institutes that is a big player in the field and I’ve met many, many scientists whose work is related to this topic. (I recently corresponded with one of the IPCC technical lead authors! Talk about brush with greatness!)

      If you smell a “rat” anywhere, let alone “hoards” of them, I am more than willing to say it isn’t the scientists. The “rat smell” is often being piped in from outside idealogues who want to turn this into a political debate.

      These scientists (and I can’t stress this enough) are simply people. The vast majority of them are good people just like you and I and they want to do their job the best they can.

      If there are any ‘rats’ they are few and far between (just as in any collection of humans). And the fact that there are _so many independent researchers_ spread across the globe means it is far less likely that any small cadre of rats can overrun the ship.

      As for the “fancy” geek speak, sadly it isn’t “fancy”, it is hard and it is specific. It is the best tool we have for communicating not only the seriousness of the situation but also the extent of what we know.

      I have spent the past couple of years trying to get my head around the math and physics of this concept. Believe me it isn’t easy and there are still vast swaths I don’t fully comprehend. But the data I’ve seen and the basic physics and chemistry make me feel this is pretty serious.

      Fancy geek speak and rats aside, we have to decide a couple important things:

      1. how long can we sustain our use of non-renewable raw materials?

      2. how can we live more sustainably within these limits?

      For all the happiness we feel for being the “Developed First World”, in no small way we clawed our way to the top of the pile over the resources of other nations and the rest of the world. There are no free lunches. The material comes from somewhere and it goes somewhere.

      Oil/Coal/Gas + O2 –> CO2 + H2O + energy

      That’s pretty much the majority of our society’s economic infrastructure in one chemical equation.

      To switch metaphors yet again, the smell you smell is not ‘rats’, but coal fire, burning gasoline and gas flares. And we are all responsible for the combustion.

  21. jhagman Says:

    Regardless whether I agree with Chris or not, I agree that there will be a scenario- and that it will be most likely very unpleasant, and then it will suck to be us. Our economic systems are simply unsustainable. Whether you are a capitalist or socialist, it does not make any difference. Population/Consumer forces are overcoming our ability to technically adapt. “Write On”, do the math, your house was built (if you live in the U.S.) of raw materials transported over thousands of miles, the economic/historic conditions that created that house are very rapidly evaporating- faster than a cheap mortgage.

  22. I say "Write On!" Says:

    I wan to step outside the argument to ask all of you for your prayers.

    A young man I covered as an athlete during his four years in high school was killed in Afghanistan as a proud member of the United States Marine Corps. I have just received the news today (May 7). I called his football coach, who immediately broke down. I cried, too.

    Eleven months ago Josh Davis, a fine, caring and popular young man, graduated from Perry High School (class 2009 had 138 members). Now he is gone, killed in combat in Kandahar Province.

    A week or so ago a friend and I happened to drive by his parents home, where the Marine Corps flag and the Blue Star flag (son or daughter serving) proudly flew from the porch. I said “we should pray they never have to hang a Gold Star”. Now they will.

    Josh was proud to serve. Excited, even. He knew the danger and signed up anyway.

    The loss to the community is unspeakable. I can only pretend to imagine the agony his parents and his 15 yr old sister are feeling. His friends and former classmates are walking around town in a stupor.

    We bitch and moan, dig at each other, laugh, encourage, share memories and ideas and try to think of something coy to put on this blog, and while we do, young heroes like Josh are out there selflessly serving our country.

    May Merciful Jesus bring Josh’s soul to His bosom. May the Holy Spirit comfort his family and friends. May we all try and make our own little part of the world a better place to live.

    Semper Fidelis

    • Tim in Germany Says:

      Thanks Jeff for sharing such a heartfelt tribute. From my admittedly distant vantage point, it seems like most Americans are oblivious to the wars we are fighting. Though tragic, your description of how this young man’s sacrifice will affect (perhaps inspire) the entire town is heartening.

      Most of my students have a parent who will be deploying to Kandahar in June. The rear detachment CO came to our faculty meeting this past Wednesday and pointedly warned us to expect casualties. My students have started asking me to explain the difference between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They want me to explain (and justify) the rules of engagement that require soldiers (aka dad or mom) to hold their fire until they are fired upon.

      Though I recognize the foul taint of Misery Loves Company about it, I have to admit it’s nice to know that some folks outside the military community are struggling to come to grips with these wars.

  23. I say "Write On!" Says:

    UPDATE/CORRECTION: Josh graduated not 11 months ago, but in late May of 2009. We have learned it will be a week, at least, before his body is returned to Perry.

    A lady stopped in to the Chief (the paper where I work) and told us she saw the Marine Corps officers pull up to the Davis home this morning… can you imagine? …

    My boss’ daughter has dated, for several years, Josh’s best friend. They have been told by the family that the death was instantaneous, have been assured no suffering was felt, and that they will be able to have an open casket.

    While the details seem morbid, they do provide, I am sure, some level of comfort.

    If you would all say a prayer for those serving, and for the families waiting at home … Thank you…

  24. I say "Write On!" Says:

    To Tim: I appreciate your comments. I am in favor of our involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I also know that Josh was, too. He even took some sort of early route, where you do not have delayed entry but instead enter the service soon after you graduate.

    Friday was a miserable day as word got out. They had to cut short both the boys and girls track practices because the kids were (understandably) too upset to focus.

    I am the Grand Knight of St. Jude Council 1243 of the Knights of Columbus here in Perry. We had our montly dinner/meeting tonight (Saturday… I write this at 10 p.m. Sat. CST). While the Davis family was not Catholic, the KofC will be sending a wreath and card of condolence to the family in honor of one who selflessly served others.

    Prayers were said at Mass tonight for both Josh and his family and for all those serving in uniform. Special prayers were offered for all the mother’s of those serving as well …

    Someone said tonight that Josh was not off duty, had not yet been dismissed, because Heaven’s Gates are guarded by United States Marines. Amen to that.

    Tell your students that they ARE NOT alone or forgotten, that MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of their countrymen honor the service their parents are providing.

  25. Marquee Movies Says:

    Brown Snowflake:
    Thank you for sharing this terribly sad story. My prayers go out to the young man’s family and friends, as well as to all those who sacrifice their time, their youth, and sometimes their lives to serve our country. Because the armed services are made up of all volunteers, it has been much easier for Americans to neglect or forget about them as they work hard and risk their lives in all parts of the world.

  26. Chris Says:

    I agree with the sentiments. I have so much respect for the people who are willing to go out and put their lives on the line for us all.

    What I find uber frustrating is that I’m not sure we are using our youth’s sacrifice in the right way these days. I understand our involvement in Afghanistan. We had to take out the support for Al Qaeda, but Afghanistan is proving to be what we always knew it was: the graveyard of empire. We can’t continue a war forever in a place that known little else. I fear we will ultimately lose out in the long run. I would hope we could change things for the better for the people of Afghanistan but I worry that we can’t.

    As for Iraq that always seemed like the “right war at the wrong time”. We built up Saddam and he was useful to us for a while, then when he was no longer useful and he got agressive toward our other “friends” in the area we had to take him out. But that was ’91. Why we went in in the latest round when we could ill-afford it is beyond me.

    I wish our leaders could look at the brave men and women who sacrifice everything for this and realize that war shouldn’t be an “easy” choice by an stretch.

    We have the finest military the world has ever seen and we risk squandering it’s might and it’s real power which, in the end, is the trust of it’s members that we are doing the right thing always.

    Those young people go out there knowing that THEY are doing the right thing. Did WE send them out there for the right reasons? They are the ones paying the ultimate sacrifice. I want to think we accept it with grace and responsibility.

    • Tim in Germany Says:

      Thanks Chris. I work hard to ease the minds of worried kids, and I wish the soldiers in the field nothing but the best. But I struggle to respect their choice to enlist in an era when U.S. military deployments and boondoggles seem synonymous.

      Many of the parent/soldiers I encounter are the big success story of their extended family. They’ve lifted themselves out of poverty and given their kids a fair shot at the middle class dream. It can really be inspirational.

      But then I get some crazy notion about teaching my students to think critically (how did THAT get in our adopted standards?), and these same parents raise such a ruckus that my principal insists I stop. They seem genuinely concerned that I might render their kids unfit for military service by teaching them to ask questions, consider motives, and check the hard data for themselves. It can really be depressing.

      Anyway, thanks for posing the quandary. Keep on supporting the troops and questioning the war.

  27. jhagman Says:

    Soldiers don’t do alot of introspective thinking, it is a habit that will get you killed in the field. It will probably get your friends killed as well. I can say( with some certainty), that People are what they are. Critical thinking will excite some of the students, others it will merely bore. The students that love the critical thinking will go for more schooling, the others might enlist, go 11Bravo infantry, or join a Marine Force-Recon Company, and (in spite of the opinions of teachers) love every minute of it! Boondoggles are nothing new in military history, and every soldier knows that.

  28. I say "Write On!" Says:

    Ask any soldier, in any war ever fought, anywhere and any time in human history and the common soldier will almost always say the same things:

    1.) Our officers did not know what they were doing
    2.) I was hot
    3.) I was cold
    4.) I was hungry
    5.) I never slept
    6.) I was terrified most of the time
    7.) I saw and did things I will never be able to regret
    8.) Our officers did not know what they were doing

    I am not going to rehash the pros and cons of why we are involved where we are. I know, and have since had it confirmed, that Josh WANTED to be on the front line, WANTED to see combat.

    You can say he was a fool, because it got him killed.

    I say he had big brass ones.

    • Tim in Germany Says:

      Please let the record show that I did not say the young marine you’re mourning was a fool. I simply tried to share some of the push/pull that makes working with military kids difficult and rewarding.

      • I say "Write On!" Says:

        Sorry for the confusion. I simply meant ‘you’ as in ‘anyone.’

    • chris Says:

      Note also for the record that I did not call the young man a fool either. I think he was exceedingly brave. He did something I never would have had 1/10th the cojones to do.

      And HE did it for the right reasons. He was asked by his country and he stepped up and volunteered to enact OUR will against an enemy and on behalf of a people who have seen a lot of pain and suffering.

      I just hope that WE as a nation honor that sacrifice by only demanding it when it is absolutely necessary. The fact that there are young people who will never know a full life precisely because we have asked them to be there and do that means WE have a heavy burden to bear in our decisions, our demands and our needs of our military.

  29. I say "Write On!" Says:

    obvious typo on #7 above: not ‘regret’ but ‘forget’ … duh

  30. jhagman Says:

    Our Soldiers are not “Common”, neither are our Officers, in fact, all of them are amazing, and they do not whine, and Jarheads (I was in the Army) do have big brass ones, that is why I have always liked them.

  31. I say "Write On!" Says:

    In November of 1999 I wrote an editorial picking who I hoped would be seen as “Man of the Century.” I also noted my two runner-up selections and then proceeded to make the case for all three, especially for my top choice.

    The first runner-up was Winston Churchill. The runner-up was John Paul II.

    The Man of the 20th Century? The American serviceman, in all branches.

  32. Zoë Says:

    I can’t wait for Star Shard to come out. The House of the Worm sounds like a really cool idea. Best of luck with The Sacred Woods, too!! I agree that if you like a book, it doesn’t matter what genre it’s from. Some of my favorite books are meant for second graders, and I’m 17. (Have you ever read Owl at Home? “Spoons that fall behind the oven, never to be seen again!”) I watched District 9 with my dad and my sister. It was awesome–I thought at first that it was going to be another cheesy action movie, but it was really good.

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