If there are in fact sentient beings outside this world, and if we can in fact communicate with them in real time, then First Contact will detonate all human assumptions like a case of sweaty dynamite in an old toolshed. Religion, art, civil rights, humanism–everything will be blasted to bits as we face the reality of utter difference, of our initiation into a practical, rather than theoretical, post-Copernican world.

Fortunately for humanity, I suspect that the odds of such contact are infinitesimal. So don’t worry about it.


I have been informed that WordPress puts ads on this blog. I don’t see them in the Author view, so I didn’t know. I find the idea that anyone thinks my writing could somehow be leveraged to sell anything unaccountably amusing, but, y’know, if I’m being called on to endorse products, I want to choose which ones.



Yes, Mr. & Mrs. America, you too may have need of FLEISCHMANN’S YEAST! FLEISCHMANN’S YEAST combats the dread ailments of tired blood, fallen stomach, and enryphasia. When asked, nine of ten doctors recognized that FLEISCHMANN’S YEAST were two words in the English language. For years, I suffered in silence. Now I take FLEISCHMANN’S YEAST three times a day, and suffer as loudly as I want!

But don’t take my word for it! Ask TV funnywoman Laraine Newman!

(Laraine Newman is shown standing in a verdant glade, smiling. She withdraws her lips to reveal a cube of yeast held between her teeth.)

Friends, don’t delay! Ask for FLEISCHMANN’S YEAST anywhere it’s still 1935!



[I’m not one for alternate histories. I think there are no ifs. But I’m not oblivious to the attractions of the genre, and, after recent thoughts on Jimmy Carter, visions of what might have been flitted through my mind.]

Election Day 1976: after a grueling primary and a difficult election, Ronald Reagan, former governor of California, sweeps to victory, bringing with him a cohort of new Republican congressmen. In his victory address, he promises to restore America’s power and moral standing. Read More

This week read Jimmy Carter, a short bio by Julian Zelizer. Some thoughts on the first president I can, if barely, remember:

–“In March 1953, the family moved to Schenectady, New York, where Jimmy took classes in nuclear physics at Union College and prepared to become the engineering officer for the USS Seawolf, the second nuclear submarine. All of these years as an engineer helped to shape Carter’s approach to tackling issues. He developed a technical and managerial, as well as a nonideological, mind-set to problem-solving that would inform him throughout his career.”

Which was entirely the problem. Carter was an engineer by temperament, but he was elected as a pious, humble, peanut farmer. He was a walking symbol, tossed up by Seventies nostalgia. When things got bad, he reverted back to his technocratic mindset and then couldn’t understand why people disliked it.

–Amy Carter was not the Carters’ only child. In fact, her oldest brother was 21 years her senior. He was a pure Boomer, she was pure GenX. Amy was actually a symbol for children of the Seventies. We were all compared to Amy circa 1977.

-Carter was a very appropriate president for the Seventies. He represented the flux of the decade. A Republican accused him of trying to combine two contradictory ideas, the Southern good ol’ boy and the post-Sixties liberal, but the promise of Jimmy Carter was maybe they weren’t contradictory, maybe there could be a synthesis. Maybe you could have an evangelical semi-liberal Democrat who invoked Bob Dylan. The lines hadn’t hardened yet.

-People forget that the first part of the Carter administration went pretty well. The economy bounced back from the ’73-’75 recession. Hedonism was in fashion. The Cold War was on low flame. He arranged the only real advance in Arab/Israel peace the world has ever seen. You could make a case that the years 1975 to 1978 were some of the best America has ever known, a reasonably golden period.

-But the reason folks forget is that after 1978 things went dramatically into the toilet. Iran fell, chopping global oil production off at the knees, which engendered a new energy crisis. That torpedoed the economy and brought back stagflation, inspiring Fed Chief Volcker to resolve to choke off inflation once and for all by raising interest rates past all previously considered ceilings. Khomeini came to power, the hostages got taken, their rescue failed. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan

And all of these events were completely outside Jimmy Carter’s control. If Jerry Ford had been re-elected, he’d have been in the exact same vise. Ronald Reagan should have thanked his lucky stars he didn’t get nominated/elected in ’76, because everything would have played out the same. Instead, he got to come in as a savior, and benefited from the natural cycle of change.

Tradition tells us that St. John the Apostle lived to a very old age among the church he founded at Ephesus. In his dotage, he grew so frail that he had to be carried into worship, and lowered gently into a seat of honor. Then the assembled congregation would beg their bishop:

“Please, tell of us of the mighty things you have witnessed, the great deeds of power and glory, stories of the Lord and his apostles you saw with your own eyes.”

And John replied:

“Little children, love one another.”

They persisted, saying:

“Teacher, please, preach the Word to us, transform us and dazzle us, say great things to us.”

And John replied:

“Little children, love one another.”

Just as the years had boiled down the body of this Son of Thunder to pure bone and skin, so had they reduced everything he had seen, everything revealed to him-the Transfiguration, the Resurrection-down to this one thing. It was all he would say. It was all he had to say.

And so the community that looked to John put in a letter:

“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

(1 John 4:7-12)

The political revolutions of the 18th century were not unprecedented. Though their ideas went against the general stream of thirteen centuries of Western political thought, they had examples. The American Revolution could and did appeal to the Dutch and English Revolutions, the French to the American, and all of these looked backward to Republican Rome, Pre-monarchic Israel, and democratic Athens.

But then new things appeared. Locomotives that could pull great loads across land at speeds exceeding twenty miles an hour. Ships that ignored wind and current. Devices that harnessed that bizarre new substance, electricity, to transmit human speech across continental distances in an instant.

There were no examples for any of these. They were Strange. And from them, the Strangeness has never stopped.