Come Up For Air And Have Some Nice Things
The news continues to be terrible, and so we continue to need these weekly reminders that not everything is horrible -- just the biggest things going on right now! There, don't you feel a lot better?
In hyper-local news, a Boise man continues to enjoy having adopted a cat recently:
What's the deal with cats and boxes, huh?
Next Wonkette Book Club: The Handmaid's Tale
Yr Dok Zoom is taking a little vacay starting late next week, so there'll be no Nice Things column next Sunday; when I get back on September 29, we'll start discussing Handmaid's Tale, through Chapter 24, which is almost exactly halfway. Then we'll finish up on October 6. After that, we'll take a break of a week or two before diving into The Testaments sometime in late October. (I'm guessing probably the 27th, but that's not set in stone or anything. If y'all clamor for the 20th, I can do that too!)
Also, I want to acknowledge some comments from last week, when I said we'd be reading Handmaid and its sequel: several commenters said they'd be taking a pass on the book club this time around, because Atwood's dystopia is simply too traumatic to read, or at least too close to the current political climate to subject themselves to. I absolutely respect that, and briefly considered having an alternate selection for those readers to talk about instead, but then realized that would mean doing four alternate posts, and I am far too slow a writer and reader to attempt that. So I'll have to settle for acknowledging that Atwood's Republic of Gilead is a terrible place to visit, and you're in good company -- when I mentioned the selection to Kid Zoom and offered to buy a copy, they let me know they'd sit this one out, thanks.
And indeed, that also fits perfectly well with Atwood's own observation on the genre:
It's a sad commentary on our age that we find dystopias a lot easier to believe in than utopias. Utopias we can only imagine; dystopias we've already had.
Which, of course, is why it also feels like we need to read the book again, if we're able -- even as we acknowledge some readers will decide it's a "thanks, but nope."
UPDATE: Via alert Wonkette Operative "Twinkie 223" in the comments, You might want to go check out this fine interview/profile of Atwood in the Atlantic.
Is it required reading? Isn't EVERYTHING?
It's George Orwell's World; We Just Live In It
That Atwood quote above is one of two epigrams to the book I'm reading at the moment, a brilliant work published earlier this summer: The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984, an amazing, comprehensive study by Dorian Lynskey. The other is straight from 1984 itself:
There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.
The first half, which I'm nearly finished with, is a brief bio of George Orwell focused on how he came to write Nineteen Eighty-Four (the British title of the novel; in America, it's 1984). The second half is about how the book has been read over the years, including the basic weirdness of Orwell's having to keep insisting that while it was a satire and warning about Stalinist totalitarianism, Orwell himself remained a democratic socialist to his dying day.
I won't call this a book review since I'm still only halfway through, but I can certainly recommend giving this a read. While Lynskey started the book long before the 2016 elections, Donald Trump and his administration's embrace of "alternative facts" are a constant presence in the book; Trump's recent attempt to revise the very weather is the sort of thing for which the adjective "Orwellian" was coined -- and of course, Lynskey notes that right after Sean Spicer insisted Trump's sparsely-attended inauguration had the largest audience in history, 1984 was suddenly a bestseller again.
It's a hell of a good read, and Lynskey keeps reminding us what a remarkable effort Orwell made to be honest, even as he acknowledged his biases and shortcomings:
Because he refused to outsource his judgement to an ideology or party line, even when he was wrong, which was quite often, he was wrong in a sincere and interesting way.
Lynskey aims for similar honesty with his subject, teasing out as far as possible what Orwell was thinking and reading and obsessing over at important points in his career, and noting various accusations that Orwell borrowed elements of 1984 from other novels -- not that there's much of a case to be made for Orwell as "plagiarist;" even when he took some notions from other writers, he fit them into a framework that was altogether his own. Orwell reviewed all the works he adapted ideas from, so he certainly wasn't trying to pull a fast one. And as Lynskey observes, utopias and their dystopian cousins all tend to share so many thematic elements that you might just as well accuse any writer in the genre of theft.
The thing that really impresses us is the depiction of Orwell's social world: he socialized with writers who he might savage in a review, if he thought their work wasn't up to snuff, and went out of his way to engage with writers he profoundly disagreed with. He had a huge falling-out with H.G. Wells, whom he accused at dinner of being altogether too optimistic about human nature. Weeks later, Wells, who considered his utopian novels warnings about how we might avoid self-destruction, was still fuming that his host thought him so naive. He wrote to Orwell, "Read my early works, you shit."
Cats As Non-Newtonian Fluids
Somebody recently retweeted this tweet from 2017 that brought our attention to a science word we hadn't known before!
Rheology, it turns out, is
the study of the flow of matter, primarily in a liquid state, but also as "soft solids" or solids under conditions in which they respond with plastic flow rather than deforming elastically in response to an applied force. It is a branch of physics which deals with the deformation and flow of materials, both solids and liquids.
And by golly, that sure sounds like a cat, huh? The tweet shared some illustrations from "On the Rheology of Cats," by Marc-Antoine Fardin. Fardin won the 2017 Ig Nobel Prize in physics from the scientists at play who publish the Annals of Improbable Research.
As Fardin explained for PBS,
At the center of the definition of a liquid is an action: A material must be able to modify its form to fit within a container. The action must also have a characteristic duration. In rheology this is called the relaxation time. Determining if something is liquid depends on whether it's observed over a time period that's shorter or longer than the relaxation time.
If we take cats as our example, the fact is that they can adapt their shape to their container if we give them enough time. Cats are thus liquid if we give them the time to become liquid.
The problem with cats as non-Newtonian liquids, Fardin found, is that "the flow rate, which is the usual dimensional control parameter, can be hard to compute because cats are active rheological materials."
The Ig Nobels were awarded again this week, and if you want to see some of the winners explain their work in five minutes or less, you can watch that here. In the early years, if acceptance speeches went over their allotted time, an eight-year-old girl stepped onstage and repeated, "I'm bored! Please stop talking!" until they did; harsher measures -- a clicker that drowns the speaker out -- have since been adopted.
Among the winners this year were researchers who looked at how much saliva the average five-year-old produces daily (the Chemistry prize), scientists who measured how pleasurable scratching an itch is (Peace Prize), and the authors of the Physics prize, on how wombats produce cube-shaped poo.
The Molly Ivins Documentary Is Finally Here!
Goddamnit, we missed Molly Ivins's birthday this year. So it goes. So by way of apology here is NPR's piece on the brand new Molly Ivins documentary, Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins, which is finally in "select theaters" this week. Yell at your local artsy-fartsy movie house to book it!
Here's the NPR piece, by mellifluous-voiced Texas correspondent Wade Goodwyn:
Looking back on her early days as a reporter, Ivins told Goodwyn not long before she died in 2007,
Being tall helped — being 6 feet tall. You know, nobody ever looked at me and said, "Oh, you poor, sweet, dainty, fragile little thing — we couldn't possibly send you out to cover a fire." It was always, "Ivins, get your ass out there!"
And here's the trailer for the movie!
Raise Hell: The Life & Times Of Molly Ivins - Official Trailer www.youtube.com
And Now, On To The Dogs, Cats, And Dad Jokes:
"Once a male has won over a female, the lizard will perform exotic head bobs and head swinging to court her" -- Wikipedia
Sounds like Peter Parker, all right.
And we'll close out the week with this pure toddler wonderfulness.
Now get outta here and go read a book, hug a friend, or pet a pet. We'll get back to the nasties soon enough.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.