Leftover February Links, 2

Science, Culture, Politics

  • A 3-D map of near space, and errors in film and TV science fiction, and a novel; 11 recent scientific breakthroughs; a Lunar time zone.
  • When reading went silent.
  • Ron DeSantis’ freedom crackdown, and a question about systematic racism; Putin’s parallel universe; spreading propaganda for fun and profit; and about the crazies.


Gruze.org: The 10 parsec sample in the Gaia era

Got this from Facebook, though I can’t tell what Gruze.org is exactly; a personal website perhaps. Anyway the image is a map showing the brightest stars within 10 parsecs of the Sun. There are some alternate versions further down the page, some of them animated gifs.

These kind of maps are difficult to perceive, since the way they typically indicate the third dimension — how high up or down below a point in three-dimensional space is, from ‘flat’ reference plane — is indicated by colored, dotted lines. You’d really need a 3D, rotating image to understand the relative positions of all these stars.

More than of academic interest, these relationships are one way in which visual, and some literary, science fiction utterly fails. Take any SF movies or TV shows, in particular the Trek shows and the Star Wars movies, and they invariably show spaceships banking away to the right, or banking away to the left, as if the entire galaxy is on a single flat plane. (And as if they fly like jet fighters, in an atmosphere.)

Actually, the galaxy is completely three dimensional (within a relatively fat thickness of the Milky Way, compared to the distances between relatively nearby stars), so changing course would equally like entail aiming 80 degrees ‘upward’ from the current trajectory, or 270 degrees back ‘downward.’ We never see this. Similarly, when ships approach in space, they are always in the same relative orientation, as if they agree upon up and down. Or like ships at sea actually do. To give Trek credit, its format of assigning courses, e.g. “325 mark 7”, suggested that both a compass direction and a vertical angle were involved.

Furthermore, the use of real star names, in Trek for example (I think Wars makes up all their names), is problematic because no concern is given to the relative distances between and directions to, say, Vega and Sirius and Deneb and Bellatrix. Trek was shameless about being at Deneb one week and Vega the next.

This happens in literary SF too; in Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go in the Dark, published last year, and which has garnered much acclaim, a spaceship sets out to visit all the nearest stars until it finds one with a habitable planet. Apparently the author got such a list, in order by distance, and has his ship go from one to the next in that order. What the author apparently didn’t realize is, all those nearest stars are in wildly different directions.

If I wanted to visit a given set of big cities, and compiled their distances from San Francisco, say

New York, 2565 miles
Tokyo, 5139 miles
Paris, 5560 miles
Beijing, 5901 miles
Jerusalem, 7416 miles

And so on…. Would it really make sense to visit them in that order?


The Week, 24 Feb 2023: 11 recent scientific breakthroughs

Nuclear fusion; the James Webb telescope; Transplant promise; a universe flu vaccine; changing an asteroid’s trajectory; AI for artists; new vaccines to fight malaria; cancer treatments advance; injecting human cells into rats’ brains to study psychiatric disorders; creating life without sperm or eggs; curing HIV.


The Week, 28 Feb 2023: Why space experts want to establish a lunar time zone

Why? And why wouldn’t, say, Greenwich Mean Time be sufficient? It’s an open issue.



Book Riot, Clare Barnett, 15 Feb 2023: When Reading Went Silent

The point here is that only since relatively recently has reading been a mostly silent activity. For millennia before that, it was done out loud. Examples from Alberto Manguel (I have his book) and St. Augustine.



NY Times Book Review, Jennifer Szalai, 27 Feb 2023: Preaching Freedom, Ron DeSantis Leads By Cracking Down, subtitled “In his new book, ‘The Courage to Be Free,’ the Florida governor and potential Republican presidential candidate offers a template for governing based on an expansive vision of executive power.”

Take out the gauzy abstraction, the heartwarming clichés, and much of what DeSantis is describing in “The Courage to Be Free” is chilling — unfree and scary.


Salon, Jeff Cohen, 27 Feb 2023: Ron DeSantis claims to be a history buff. Can he answer this one simple question?, subtitled “Gov. DeSantis: You’re a history grad. Tell me when systemic racism ended”

Presuming he agrees that, at least in the age of slavery, systemic racism existed then.


CNN, 27 Feb 2023: ‘It’s all a lie’: Russians are trapped in Putin’s parallel universe. But some want out

Putin doesn’t want Russians to hear any version of what’s going on in Ukraine than his own. Not unlike what some religious parents do to shield their children from the outside world.


Slate, Samuel Woolley, 27 Feb 2023: The Everyday People Spreading Political Propaganda Online for Fun and/or Profit

Again, some (most?) of those spreading absurd conspiracy theories are not arguing in good faith. Woolley has a book on the subject. (See separate post about Mehdi Hasan.)


AlterNet, 28 Feb 2023: Probe finds far-right Tennessee Republican ‘economist’ major got a ‘C’ in his one college econ class

That would be Rep. Andy Ogles.


And somewhere there are posts about a Republican in Iowa who wants to ban same-sex marriage, and a Republican in Florida who wants to ban the existence of the Democratic party. Because freedom!

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