Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Isaac Asimov's "Nemesis" warns of Earth's future

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - The late Isaac Asimov's classic science fiction thriller Nemesis is both uplifting and sad at the same time.

Isaac Asimov

The 1989 tome came out as most of the U.S. population had given up completely on space travel as something worth pursuing (and funding). That's the sad part. When the U.S. first went to the moon, the plans were for a manned-mission to Mars by 1985.

That never lifted off the ground.

But the uplifting part is about human nature and how in the end, humanity saves itself from cosmic disaster through clever thinking (with a little help from an alien intelligence). A relative handful of humans leave Earth in the book, trying to find a new world for everyone. That's all the plot you get from me.

I just finished reading Nemesis for the first time and like all good science fiction it holds the test of time.

Perhaps oddly, it talks about the need to save the people of Earth who are living on a planet stripped of natural resources and polluted beyond belief. Sound familiar? The Earth's population at the time of Asimov's Nemesis? About 8 billion. That's 1 billion more than live on Earth as I write this. And Earth's population went from 6 billion to 7 billion in just over 11 years.

Are we stripping the planet of natural resources and polluting it beyond belief.


If you are a science fiction buff, grab a copy at a used book store or get it through Kindle or the iBooks. No warp drives pushing space ships around in this book - they have better, more interesting stuff, though.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Climate change connects with the Zoo

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The hammering that New York, New Jersey and other eastern seaboard states just took from Hurricane Sandy might - might - be a wakeup for people about the reality of climate change.

My relatives in the Long Island-New Jersey area are all ok, but it was (and remains) a harrowing experience that will be talked about for years. As of this writing, most are without electricity and heat and repair efforts are slow at best, more likely glacial.

As Hurricane Sandy roared through the Finger Lakes - and it did roar through but doing relatively little damage - I was finishing a book called Zoo, James Patterson's (and Michael Ledwidge's) latest.

I have not been much of a Patterson fan in recent years, but this book should get more attention from people who are watching climate change, genetically modified food effects, and the destruction of the planet as we plunder it for oil, gas and minerals.

It's hard not to spoil the plot here. But I will say that the book describes how man's incessant desire for more industrial growth leads to a problem with animals. No, they don't get sick, exactly. But imagine your pet Chihuahua suddenly turning from a yipping little thing with a grapefruit I.Q. to a clever, conniving pooch with the attitude of the late Leona Helmsley.

Ouch. That really bites.

I had a biology teacher in high school who used to say that "Mother Nature always bats last."

Hurricane Sandy was a good demonstration of that. And Mother Nature still is at the plate.

A reading of Zoo is just as frightening.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Friend and colleague Nick Trujillo passes away

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - I first saw this afternoon on Facebook that my friend and colleague Nick Trujillo had passed away.

Someone had posted a picture of him, saying he would be missed and for just a moment, I thought he had retired.

My conversations with Nick for the last few years - before I left California State University, Sacramento - were about retiring and all the things both of us wanted to do. He had created a musical alter-ego (Gory Bateson) and performed a lot of great music all over the world. We even chatted about doing a couple of duets, he (or rather Gory) on the guitar, me on the ukulele.

The problem with retiring was Nick still enjoyed teaching, a lot. And all the gas he had gotten over the years from department chairs and deans and administrators - right up to university president's office - never dented his optimism about students and how important they were.

And Jaysus he took a lot of shit. He asked questions, refused to accept bureaucratic bullshit answers and was fearless in taking on authority.

Nick was one of a few people in the Communication Studies Department who extended themselves to welcome those of us to who were refugees of the Journalism Department when it was forced to disband back in the 1990s. He and I had already collaborated on a couple of schemes aimed at getting students a better journalism and communications education.

For those not involved in higher education (at least this is true at California state colleges) a footnote might be needed here: University faculty want students to learn; administrators are mostly concerned with filling seats and collecting cash.

I won't rehash all the nonsense he put up with - he wouldn't want it, really. He thought the people that harassed him over petty matters were kind of like the dog crap you sometimes get on your shoe. It was the price of walking free, even if annoying.  And people like that, he and I agreed, are easy to scrape off.

That's a long way of saying Nick was a stand-up guy. 

When Nick's wife Leah became ill with cancer, I spent time with both of them and to this day remain in awe of how committed they were to each other. He stood by like the rock that he was until the moment Leah died.

We should all be so brave.

Adios Nick. Say hello to Leah for me. And please sing her lots of those silly songs you and Gory were making even more famous with your traveling road show. On quiet nights around the 5th Floor of Mendocino Hall at Sac State, I suspect caring people will be able to hear the tunes.

Here's a classic: