Tuesday, November 10, 2015


With the benefit of hindsight I can say a few things about the rise and fall of Keystone XL.

First, about one of the ideas I've written about here that I think has held up best, Infrastructuralism. No lasting gains are going to come about through a carbon tax, trading system, or permit-selling regime. All of these will be subverted as soon as they take effect, if ever. The lasting changes come out when infrastructure is built or not built, because those choices lock in decisions for 30 years.

As Keystone XL illustrates, the major infrastructure-building decisions are never simply made by the magic of the marketplace. They only happen with the active cooperation of government. Even if government somehow absented itself from the decision, there would be no way to build a project like this without governmental use of eminent domain. So the public is already involved in approving or disapproving of all of these projects, no matter how much someone may tell you that they are the result of economic factors beyond our control.

The same goes for the simplistic statements about how commodities have a "global price", as if this just magically happens without extensive publicly supported building projects to make it happen. Without Keystone XL, that oil will have to be shipped by rail and truck, which are more expensive. There is nothing natural about a global price for something that doesn't vary as you cross geographic barriers: it only happens with massive public barrier-removing projects such as the various conflicts fought to keep the Strait of Hormuz open to tankers.

Politically, the story of Keystone XL is a story of -- what is the opposite of leadership? Followership, perhaps. It was always a decision that Obama could make on his own, which was exactly why it was a good issue for 350.org to take up. It dragged on for seven years, and only happened with the combination of a lame-duck President, a change of parties in power in Canada so that we wouldn't deeply offend anyone there, a back-off from the company sponsoring it in the form of their request to suspend, and an upcoming international conference before which Obama wanted some form of face-saving gesture for how little he's done.

What else could have been done with those 7 years? Clearly, the Keystone XL decision has a large symbolic component, and is supposed to lead to increasingly easier decisions to stop infrastructure of this kind. But we can't wait another few years before the next major project is dropped. Making people spend nearly all of the available activist pool in the U.S. on this one project for 7 years was a major cost, one which Obama made us pay with the assistance of supposedly left groups like the AFL-CIO, which supported Keystone XL because of a few jobs. What's going to happen when we have to close down every coal mine? Because that's going to have to happen, sooner than you probably think.

Friday, January 2, 2015

literary criticism of Adam Roberts' work

I've written quite a bit about Adam Roberts' SF on this blog. I thought that it was finally time to collect it (including some material never posted on the blog) on a more permanent site whose home page is here. For the occasion, I've written a new piece on his novel Polystom.

From here down is a copy (without the full bibliography) of what's on the main site:

Some notes on reading Adam Roberts

Books that I've written about are linked below. Each of these essays is in a different formal style in keeping with the individual work that the essay is about.

  • Salt (2000)
  • On (2001)
  • Stone (2002)
  • Park Polar (novella) (2002)
  • Jupiter Magnified (novella) (2003)
  • Polystom (2003)
  • The Snow (2004)
  • Gradisil (2006)
  • Splinter (2007)
  • Land of the Headless (2007)
  • Swiftly: A Novel (2008)
  • Yellow Blue Tibia (2009)
  • New Model Army (2010)
  • Anticopernicus (novelette) (2011)
  • By Light Alone (2011)
  • Jack Glass (2012)
  • Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea (2014)
  • Bete (2014)

The order that I wrote about these works in was, if I remember rightly: 1) Stone, 2) On, 3) Splinter, 4) Yellow Blue Tibia, 5) Anticopernicus, 6) Polystom, if you want to read only the more recent ones.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Lew and Pru romantic comedy philosophical thought experiment fanfic

Once there was a post by John Holbo on a blog called Crooked Timber that was about a philosophical thought experiment from Amartya Sen -- 'his celebrated Prude/Lewd example' -- which G.A. Cohen summarized in Rescuing Justice and Equality as follows:

Lewd has two relevant desires: he likes to read pornographic books, and he would like Prude to read one, because he thinks doing so would corrupt Prude into liking pornography. So strong is that desire that Lewd would prefer Prude to read the book, rather than read it himself; his desire to corrupt exceeds his desire to enjoy his own corruption. For his part, Prude dislikes reading pornographic books, and he also dislikes Lewd reading them; he wants no one to read them, but he prefers reading the book himself to Lewd reading it: that way, he thinks, less danger lies. In light of the strengths of their preferences, Prude and Lewd agree that Prude (alone) will read the book. That is their joint first preference, and so it is required by the Pareto principle. Sen claims that the principle thereby endorses an illiberal result. (p. 187)

John Holbo suggested that stories about this pair be written, people gave various ideas in comments, and from all these ideas I decided to write philosophical fanfic.

Here it is: a romantic comedy adventure story with thought experiments. And pornographic novels.

Monday, November 17, 2014


(Anyone who's reading this blog for some other reason, sorry for all the recent poetry reprints. It's just a convenient place to put them, when I want them to be re-read for some reason. This one was published in my third chapbook, _Doctor of Dead Letters_.)


I should have been prepared
By those TV shows
"Touched By An Angel"
"Joan of Arcadia"
How many actors have dressed up as God?
I used to wonder
If I, too
Could clip a halo-light on to my collar
Deadpan "I am an angel from God"
And become a religious experience

I should have been prepared
By all those actors
When the limo pulled up on the busy late night street
And the window rolled down
I saw his expensive tie
As he looked out coldly
And I thought "Must be some obnoxious rich guy"
But it was God

I should have been prepared
Couldn't he appear as anything, anywhere
A burning bush or a light from the sky?
This time he had a dome light
He turned to look at me and asked if I was saving something
I assumed that he meant the parking space
I was standing in
And said "not for you"
That may have been a mistake

I should have been prepared
There's a long tradition about how to talk to God
Humility, personal virtue
Reminding him of his good side
But of course he knew how I'd answer
And now I'd said it
"I am the creator of worlds", he said
"Where were you when I made the stars?
I am the Alpha and the Omega
And that parking space is mine
Your soul is mine"
And all of a sudden I knew who He was
He didn't have to do tricks like the TV actors do
When God wants you to know it's Him, you know it

I should have been prepared
I stuttered a bit
And having started with bravado, had to go on
"You are the destroyer of worlds too
The same stories that tell how you
Reimburse people in heavenly small claims court
Tell how you put others away for eternity
And when we say we don't understand
You start going on about how we're children
Or sheep. How we're your shiftless slum tenants."
He stopped me with a look

I should have been prepared
But He was merciful anyway
He'd heard my kind of blather billions of times before
Silently I knew that I'd been given another chance
And I stepped back out of the parking space
His. His.
And as his limo pulled up
I started to sing Hosannas

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Oscar in Samsara

I heard the words of the Buddha
They were about skandhas, sense-impressions
Sense-impressions – piles of five, for the five senses, heaps

That was the flash of enlightenment
I heard the Buddha laugh

Those heaps, impermanent and valueless,
Were trash
I love trash

Nothing stays the same
Nothing is made of itself
The trash lies in piles, in the way
Kick it, and the foot
That kicks is trash

That is the truth
Intended to make us happy
To give up desire, attachment to trash
That is the trash of truth

Everything dirty, growing, in spots
Never to be seen again
The faces that I love
Temporary, uncaptureable
Even the monuments grow dingy
Even the innermost thoughts
The world, and its images
A giant garbage can

Walking along the railroad tracks
I saw them, and turned to the four year old
Walking with me
Look, rusty bolts!
And fasteners to turn on them
We brought them home
They became part of us
Polished, less rusty by many turnings
Finally put away
When trash passes, there is suffering
The bolts, did they last?
They were like what we ate

A picture is the trash of a moment
Snapped off
Poems are word-trash
When words go, they will go too
Memories, feelings
Rot away, change color, get dusty

The first kiss that mattered
We were surrounded by paper
Bales and bags of it
Piled, in the trailer where we worked, recycling it
Amidst all the trash that we moved
The work, the kiss, the life
The four year old, later
The bolts and the fasteners
All from trash
A gift from my mother the day I was born
The perception of it
Small stones, colors
Are picked up, rejoiced
The pink and green and brown
And stubborn rockiness of them
And saved, and lost
And suffered, with each loss
The pattern passed on
To the recycling center
The bags and bales and heaps

Buddha, there is a problem
It is everywhere
Everything, there are no boundaries
Within the garbage can
No eye to see it
But the momentary notice
Of each person, pattern, hope
Though it leads to mourning
Trash slipping away from trash
Though nothing can be kept
That is where I'm stuck
Particular, attached
To these bits of it
In all its stubborn grime
I love it because it's trash

Monday, October 13, 2014

a model of the universe

I self-published my 6th poetry chapbook, a model of the universe. It has my (mostly) non-political poems from the last decade. Some of these are among the best things I've written, though thematically the chapbook doesn't hang together as coherently as the last one. Some of these poems were originally up on my personal Web page, which has since been mostly deleted so that they aren't up any more. The ones that were put on this blog aren't the best, but I've linked to them below.

The table of contents:

a model of the universe
  • The Rock
  • Untitled Nov 30
  • some notes towards: four most overwritten subjects / inside and outside
  • The Universe
  • Maps (Four Explorers)
  • Out of Order
  • Muse of Fire
Everything I learned as a child The Valley
  • Alive
  • Point of View
  • In the Valley
Everything Else Here's the introduction:

Poems in the first section tend to have uncertain boundaries, as befits the universe: the second (Untitled Nov 30) is an infinite loop that can be started anywhere; the fourth has its title and introduction embedded in the poem.

Poems in the second section were inspired by (and sometimes put in the comments of) Jenna Moran's Hitherby Dragons site (hitherby.com).

The third section, "Everything I learned as a child," should probably have been titled "what I learned as a parent while watching my children watching TV," but that doesn't sound as good. Major companies who wish to sue me should note that these are parodies (as well as being major revelations of mystic truth suitable for the ages).

The last poem, Pink Triangle, is a direct parody of the song of the same name by Weezer.

for my parents

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11 was 2001

I recently self-published my 5th poetry chapbook, "9/11 was 2001: a decade of political poems". I'm pretty pleased with it; I think it's better than all but one of my previous attempts.

Many of the poems in it here been published in draft form on this blog. Here's the table of contents:

2003: The Hostage Crisis
2004: Red, White, and Blue
2005: The Salvador Option
2005: As You Know, Katrina
2006: Signals
2006: Pebble
2007: After the Clash
2008: Larval Poets Manifesto
2009: For Obama's Inauguration
2010: The Ones Who
2011: Snow Storm
2014: Global warming activism / the dream

The rest of the poems are probably findable through Google, written in some comment box somewhere. If someone wants a physical copy, or even a PDF, of the whole chapbook, Email me at rpuchalsky followed by 1 followed by gmail dot com, or leave a message in comments below, and I'll try to get you one.

Each of the poems in the chapbook has an individual introduction, which I'm not going to quote here. But here's the introduction for the chapbook as a whole:

These poems were written from 2003 - 2014. It doesn't require close reading to see an obsessive concern with years, numbers, facts. It was a period dominated within the United States of America by myth, first and foremost the removal of the 9/11/2001 attack from history into the realm of timelessness, as the ever-enduring cause for a war everywhere against all enemies – not even against enemies, against terror itself. This all-encompassing war was used to justify a series of quite real wars, the invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003-2011 being the most destructive in terms of the number of people killed. But there were other myths, too, such as the one that said that the natural world was as it was and that nothing people could do could change it.

My first training was as a scientist. Since then I've worked as a sort of librarian, making Web sites that provide environmental and financial information to the public. It's been tempting to believe that if somehow people could be informed, these myths would be exposed as unreal. Many of these poems struggle with that idea, which has proven as far as I can determine to be false. People want to believe, and when the belief fails, people want to forget.

Many poems are written with an aspiration towards aesthetic timelessness, to the idea that people could be reading them hundreds of years later and find the poem just as affecting as they do now. These poems can not do that. They are highly focussed in time and place, sites of memory. As such, they need context: I've written a brief introduction for each one.

This chapbook is dedicated to Carl Russo, a leader of the Florence Poets Society, and to Jameson Greeley Lavo, who I met through Occupy Northampton. They are missed.