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The soft glow cast by shoji lamps

The inspiration of good reads

The wonder of daily living

The flag of Ukraine
My heart is with the people of Ukraine



Perhat Tursun, The Backstreets: A Novel from Xinjiang

The Backstreets by Perhat TursunTranslated 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.

See also:

Columbia University Press, 2022; IndieBound⩘ 

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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.

Thicket Creeper that has climbed up a tree

Larger version of this photo >
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A whole generation revolts

Tehran at night; photo by Kamran  Gholami
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.

See also:

More recent contemplations >


The Windtraveler shoji lamp

Windtraveler lamp

A shoji lamp in the shape of a deltoidal hexecontahedron.

More about this project >
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People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Trail winding up Cow Creek valley by Toshen
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,
Blue Marble, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
Big end-of-year moon by Toshen
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.
Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust. 1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun.
Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
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.
The Milky Way in Yosemite by bgwashburn is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
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: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 (cropped) 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.
Andromeda. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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.
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
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.

· · ·

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.

Image credits:

  1. Hiking trail in Cow Creek valley⩘  by Toshen, CC by NC-SA 4.0⩘ 
  2. Blue Marble, 2012, Earth image⩘  by NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
  3. Full moon image⩘  by Toshen, CC by NC-SA 4.0⩘ 
  4. Saturn⩘  by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  5. Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun⩘  by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
  6. The Milky Way in Yosemite⩘  by bgwashburn⩘  is licensed under CC BY 2.0⩘  (cropped)
  7. Milky Way in Summer: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello⩘  is licensed under CC CC0 1.0⩘  (cropped)
  8. Andromeda⩘  by NASA/JPL-Caltech
  9. 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