Searching for contentment
Perhat Tursun, The Backstreets: A Novel from Xinjiang
Translated by Darren Byler and Anonymous
Most of the time I was reading this book, I felt like I was in a haze, not unlike the main character of the book experiences walking through the streets of Ürümchi in a dark fog. Tursun describes what it is like to be in a city in his own homeland, yet to be treated as if he doesn't belong, as if he is either invisible or an unwelcome threat. This is the experience of Uyghurs in Xinjiang since the Chinese government under Xi Jinping, the "Paramount leader, also named supreme leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Government and People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China" (reference: Wikipedia⩘ ) began its brutal crackdown of invasive survelliance, mass detention, and torture.
Just then I realized that everyone becomes a homeless wanderer after they are born and has difficulty finding a proper place for themselves as soon as they touch the ground and let out their initial cry. They will spend their whole life trying to determine their position—becoming anxious and griping about its vagueness. Everyone is a wanderer in space. Even the notion of possession carried out by those who own land, palaces, and mansions is in fact just an assumption based on imitation. Some people aren't even satisfied by owning their own lands, palaces, and mansions, but to make it their own instead want to own whole cities, countries, and the universe itself. All of this comes from a kind of worry that is based on the feeling that a person can't determine a lasting position in the universe. The more this happens, the more a person wants to own their place in the world and deny the idea that nothing can really belong to them. Or that they themselves were born into this world for no other reason than to be a wanderer for their whole life. They want to deny all of this by madly thinking they can own things unceasingly.
Shortly after completing this book, Perhat Tursun disappeared, as have so many other Uyghurs. He is thought to be serving a long prison sentence in one of the many detention camps in Xinjiang. The "anonymous" co-translator of this book also disappeared. Darren Byler is an American anthropologist, author and assistant professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University who specializes in the Uyghurs in China and has written about their ongoing oppression such as through the Xinjiang internment camps.
- In the Camps: China's High-Tech Penal Colony⩘ by Darren Byler.
- A Uyghur seeks just a place to sleep in 'The Backstreets'⩘ by Emily Feng, NPR, Sep 13, 2022.
- Xinjiang Has Produced Its James Joyce: And he's now sitting in a prison camp⩘ by Ed Park, The Atlantic, Sep 22, 2022.
- "The irony is that Tursun, a secular Muslim steeped in 20th-century Western literature and philosophy, was himself the target of death threats from conservative Uyghur Muslims outraged by his 1999 novel, The Art of Suicide. (The journalist Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, who wrote that 2015 profile, dubbed him China's Salman Rushdie.) Persecuted by the religious right and its foe, the Chinese Communist Party, Tursun would be a heroic figure regardless of the quality of his output. Its bittersweet for us Anglophones, then, that the slim evidence we have—136 pages, distilled over a quarter century—is close to a perfect work of art."
Columbia University Press, 2022; IndieBound⩘
Living in the Rockies
More hints of autumn today. I think one of the most beautiful autumn colors here is the red that Thicket Creeper leaves turn, especially when seen in full sunlight.
A whole generation revolts
Photo by Kamran Gholami from Pexels⩘
This excellent article by Kim Ghattas helped me to better understand the situation in Iran—where thousands of civilians, led by women, are protesting against the brutally oppressive regime they are living under—as well as in the broader region.
Protesters are back in the streets across Iran, picking up where they left off two years ago, their lives and prospects having deteriorated in the interim. And just as in 2019, we are witnessing expressions of solidarity across the Middle East, where many, impressed by the courage of Iranian women in particular, are cheering the protesters on.
Autocracies are a scourge on our planet. My heart is wounded each day as I read about the violent and all too often deadly manner in which the regime is treating the protestors. I hope the people find the strength to persevere.
I have purchased and added to my listening queue the book Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East⩘ by Kim Ghattas.
A Whole Generation Revolts Against the Iranian Regime⩘ by Kim Ghattas, The Atlantic, Oct 2, 2022.
- The Reason Iran Turned Out to Be So Repressive⩘ by Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic, Oct 4, 2022.
- From Iran to Ukraine, David is staring down Goliath⩘ opinion by Frida Ghitis, CNN, Oct 4, 2022. " Because they hold the moral high ground, the struggles of the Ukrainian and the Iranian people have inspired support around the globe among backers of democracy and human rights. In this era of social media, their anthems against fascism have gone viral, as has the brutality of their foes. The repressive regimes in Moscow and Tehran are now isolated, pariahs among much of the world, openly supported for the most part by a smattering of autocrats.… These are two regimes that, while very different in their ideologies, have much in common in their tactics of repression and their willingness to project power abroad."
- A barrier of fear has been broken in Iran. The regime may be at a point of no return⩘ by Jomana Karadsheh and Tamara Qiblawi, CNN, Oct 5, 2022.
A shoji lamp in the shape of a deltoidal hexecontahedron.
People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn. To get a glimpse of an idea of just how far away Saturn is, see If the Moon were only 1 pixel⩘ by Josh Worth.
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust. 1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun.
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes about 27,000 years to travel to the center of our galaxy.
One light year is just short of six trillion miles (5,878,625,000,000). The Milky Way has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years, and contains as many as 400 billion stars.
The Milky Way, as vast as it is, creates just a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies. Its light takes about 2,300,000 years to travel just to the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large spiral galaxy. Isn't it amazing that by using our inherent art of visualization, we can be there, instantly, in this moment.
The observable universe is estimated to contain as many as two trillion galaxies, a tiny fraction of which are visible in this eXtreme Deep Field Hubble image.
The light from the furthest reaches of the observable universe, near the dawn of our universe, takes 13,400,000,000 years to reach us. We are part of something that is near infinitely vast and incredibly beautiful. Such a gift.
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To get more perspective on the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) Hubble image, see the short video: Hubble Legacy Field Zoom-Out⩘ . Make sure to read the notes, too. See also The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in Light and Sound⩘ at Astronomy Picture of the Day, which adds a pointer you can use to see just how far away a galaxy or star is, as well as hear a note play that corresponds to its redshift.
To get a glimpse of an idea of just how big our observable universe is, see Neal Agarwal's fun website, The Size of Space⩘ ; the BBC video by Professor Brian Cox, How big is our Universe?⩘ ; and CGP Gray's Metric Paper & Everything in the Universe⩘ . Here's another glimpse: What does two trillion galaxies mean?⩘
By the way, because of the Earth's spin, if we're standing still at the equator, we're actually moving at about 1,667 km/hour (1,037 miles/hour). The Earth is orbiting our sun at approximately 30 km/sec (67,108 miles/hour). Our sun is orbiting the center of our Milky Way Galaxy at approximately 250 km/sec (560,000 miles/hour). And our galaxy is moving through our universe at approximately 600 km/sec (1,340,000 miles/hour). Hang on!
If you'd like to move through time as quickly as you're moving through our universe, you might enjoy watching this TED talk by David Christian, one of the founders of the Big History Project: The history of our world in 18 minutes⩘
All distances and times are approximate.
- Inspiration: "New 3D map of the Milky Way shows we live in a warped galaxy⩘ ," NBC News, 2019.
- A related TED Talk: The Exhilarating Peace of Freediving by Guillaume Néry⩘ (really, it's related). And if you are as enchanted by the talk as I am, you may enjoy this visual experience, which is wordless, but rich in subtle sounds: One Breath Around the World featuring Guillaume Néry⩘
- Another related, and fun, video: Every Kind of Thing in Space⩘ by Domain of Science.
- As large as it is, our sun is just a spec of dust: The Largest Star in the Universe – Size Comparison⩘ by Kurzgesagt.
- Related project: A team of five French amateur astrophotographers has assembled an amazing gallery of Souther Sky deep space images from their observatory in Chile, Ciel Austral⩘ .
- Gazing into the universe: If you enjoy looking up and out: Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ .
- Hiking trail in Cow Creek valley⩘ by Toshen, CC by NC-SA 4.0⩘
- Blue Marble, 2012, Earth image⩘ by NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
- Full moon image⩘ by Toshen, CC by NC-SA 4.0⩘
- Saturn⩘ by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
- Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun⩘ by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
- The Milky Way in Yosemite⩘ by bgwashburn⩘ is licensed under CC BY 2.0⩘ (cropped)
- Milky Way in Summer: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello⩘ is licensed under CC CC0 1.0⩘ (cropped)
- Andromeda⩘ by NASA/JPL-Caltech
- Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)⩘ : NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team