Mira, the Wonderful


It’s not often you see something utterly new in the heavens. Well, not really new. Very old, actually, and likely quite common. In fact, we’ve discovered something altogether new and unexpected right under our noses, after 400 years of watching it. The star, Mira, careening through our galaxy at unusually high speeds — a pulsing red giant flying along with its white dwarf companion, orbiting each other every 500 years, one star dead, and Mira in its last few cosmological years. The “wonderful” old star is leaving in its wake vast quantities of heavy elements in a tail stretching 13 light-years behind it, the same heavy elements that eventually form into new suns and worlds, and probably more people too. We’ve never seen a star do this before, but here is Mira, who, over the past 30,000 years has shed enough of herself along her wild journey to produce 3,000 Earths. We see the new dimensions now because we have never looked at it before, in the way we are now. (The image is from NASA/JPL, Galaxy Evolution Explorer)

It seems almost like an icy comet with its dirty debris trailing behind, except that Mira burns and seethes, and will one day soon explode. Who knows what might form from what has been left behind, as the two companion corpses continue to revolve around each other throughout the millennia. I have romanticized notions about the sheer scale of such things and the potentials they make possible. Just dust, strewn about, and what might form… It is random, despite the governing laws, and inevitable.

I hate to bring anything political into this place that is, to me, one of the only externally sacred things. I do not mean the sacredness of Science, for science is, as a result of its socially collective nature, political. I mean the sacredness of something that just simply exists, and the sacredness of perception, and understanding. What a marvel in diversity exists all around us! What enormous potential! I wonder, in the deepest parts of my being, how it is we so easily ignore it, and why, so often, we attempt to destroy it. We could so easily, instead, explore, expand ourselves, our experiences and our understanding — we could so easily expand one another.

I remember many year ago, when I was a child, being fascinated with the telephone. There was a 3-digit number you could call, and an automated voice would tell you the exact time, and then “ding”, as if by some universal decree, as that defined moment occurred. This was a time before digital switching, when analog, though still automated, connections were made. Sometimes late at night I would call the time lady, just to hear that universal event happen. It made me think of jet airplanes, and the other side of the world, and what strange adventures might happen in between. And I was at home, with my family, isolated in the trees.

But one day when I called, the time lady wasn’t there. It was a stark absence, and shocking to me. There was just silence. Then a quiet click. And then a quiet cough. I yelled into the phone, “hello!?”. And I heard back, as if from a great distance, someone answer, “hello?”

“Were you calling Time?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the disembodied voice. “I think she’s broke.”

Then very soon, other voices came in, and then even more. Before long, a cacophony of voices were carrying on various conversations, broken by the occasional laugh, or the surprised exclamations of someone new, who just happened to stumble in to this unexpected and disembodied party. I spent hours listening. For days on end I would call, listening and saying things, marveling at this unlikely connection between strangers. I told my parents, who didn’t believe me until I showed them, and then grew nervous and discouraging. It didn’t matter, though. I heard everyone in their strange distinctiveness, and their even stranger similarities, like an unknown family.

But one of the days I called, after so long, the time lady was back, and everyone else had been drown out. I tried yelling over her mechanical voice, hoping someone else was there, and every once in a while, I heard the faint shadow of a voice, but it was impossible to hear anything they said. It was a sad day for me, and I hated the time lady after that, and never called her again. She was nothing more than an oppressive giant, crushing everyone else down, and isolating us all.

Those were the days before the Internet, and even before personal computers. Those were the days when every telephone line to every house, when all our interconnections, were provided by a company called AT&T — the venerable, even at that time, American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s while I was in high school that AT&T was finally broken up by the US Government under antitrust laws. They were split into several “Baby Bells” across the country, while AT&T remained to provide long distance telephone services between the Bells, and the rest of the world. The antitrust proceedings took ten years to complete, beginning in 1974, after Nixon’s crimes when Democrats gained hugely in Congress, and ended in 1984 while Reagan was President. As the nation’s only communication provider for so long, AT&T was accustomed to working closely with the government.

When I got my cell phone service, I chose AT&T Wireless because they were pretty much the only company around that used technology based upon international standards. A few years later, I found out one day that Cingular had purchased AT&T. I couldn’t imagine how that could happen, but it did. Then one day just a few months ago, AT&T bought Cingular. In fact, just last week my phone display switched from saying Cingular, to AT&T. This confused me, but yet again, I could find no explanations within media sources, so I started digging around.

It’s a mess, but apparently shortly after the AT&T breakup, AT&T started a computer services business, long distance, and also became Soutwestern Bell Company (SBC now, though they say that SBC does not mean Soutwestern Bell Company). It turns out that Cingular was actually owned by SBC, which was AT&T, so AT&T pretty much bought itself, and then bought itself again, bringing everything into the larger fold, which by now has bought back half of the companies that it was forced to give up in antitrust, plus has added much to itself in the meantime.

AT&T’s computer services provide a significant portion of the Internet’s backbone services, particularly after it acquired IBM’s Global Network. Chances are, if you use a phone or the Internet, your communications will end up going through AT&T at some point. And the point, for the most part is, here’s that damnable time lady’s voice back again, trying to blare over all us nice people just wanting to talk!

AT&T is a huge force in trying to get Congress to eliminate “Net Neutrality”. This would open the way for AT&T to selectively limit people or sites, or offer preferential treatment to people or sites. In an age where Rupert Murdoch (and four other companies) rule all of our mass media already, “Net Neutrality” is critical for us to communicate with each other, and so is critical, for the most part, in maintaining what few rights and freedoms we have left.

Also, AT&T is playing a key role in the Government’s spying program, which includes data mining (watching what you post on MySpace, send through your Yahoo! and Google mail, blogs, etc… not to mention telephone calls). They’re playing such a key role that they have begun to claim the Executive Branch’s “state secrets” privilege all on their own, without Bush even having to do it. Just today, final arguments were held on the EFF’s (Electronic Frontier Foundation) lawsuit against AT&T for violating our rights to privacy. The decision, which is a major milestone in our national history, is imminent. The decision will go a very long way to determine if we are even able to even just challenge that our Constitutional rights have been violated. I’m going to have to leave AT&T as a directly paying customer. But I’ll need to research Verizon’s behaviour (and Vodaphone, their UK partner) to make sure they are any better.

The other company that is pushing very hard to eliminate Net Neutrality is Comcast. They provide most homes in the US with their Internet connections. Interestingly, AT&T was poised to be our cable television provider, but Comcast managed to buy AT&T Broadband cable in a “hostile” buyout. Bless their little wicked hearts. This was after Comcast sold their wireless division to SBC (AT&T), by the way.

It is so important that we keep Net Neutrality in place. We are dealing with monopolies here. Like it or not, if we’re not going to break up monopolies, we need to at least regulate them. And Net Neutrality is no big deal at all financially — they just want to be able to make more profit. And the dangerous part, considering our government’s McCarthy’s era witch hunts/spying starting again, is that our government may be inclined to do, even moreso than usual, exactly what these monopolies want, we the people be damned.

I don’t know if you remember, but just a few writings ago I mentioned the Home Grown Terrorism Act that had passed out of House committee. It’s the Act that tries to identify we citizens who exhibit subversive thoughts that indicate a potential to incite rebellion. It fits very nicely in with the surveillance programs already authorized upon our own citizenry, and relies upon companies like AT&T and Comcast. Also, just today, even available on CNN surprisingly, it’s been announced that our own spy satellites are now being turned upon us. They can help us, during times like Hurricane Katrina, they say. Find out who “they” are in the article. Those nasty buggers. Those wretched, lying fascists. Ok, yes, I’m just tempting fate for the thrill of it. Hopefully I won’t have to learn any lessons. It actually does make more sense that they truly do care about us, and are trying to help and protect us.

That’s why we have more people than anyone in the world in prison, and have military run civilian labor camps. That’s why we can spend 1,000 billion dollars killing 1,000,000 people but never have 10 billion so we can switch to hydrogen fuel. That’s why the NYPD just said, in their report on Home Grown Terrorism, that terrorists, before they are terrorists, look and act like anyone else. But then the slowly build the “mindset” and intentions… and that’s what the Home Grown Terrorism Act is looking for. In other words, the thought police. And we’re talking actual police here.

It makes me feel like I’m in Alice in Wonderland with all the wild distortions of everything around me. I’m not the only one. Attorneys on both sides of the EFF lawsuit against AT&T, where Executive Privilege to secrecy is claimed, said the same thing. Everything is secret, being monitored, thought police, wars in the east, double-speak — by God, we’ve arrived at last! Double-plus ungood!

This is why I just love Mira so much, on her wild ride, winding down, and spewing out the potential of all new life across the blackest voids. A dying sun, a red giant — shedding new life. Invisible to us here, until recently, when we happened to look at her differently, so far away. We came from stuff like her, only over here, in our little neighborhood, talking on the phone with each other — to strangers, knowing we’re not alone. We came from such an unlikely accident amidst the stars. And just look at what we’re doing.

  • Jeff Stewart

    Man. That actually left me speechless for a few minutes. Nicely done, Mark.