March 16th, 2006

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These things happen.

Hopefully, everyone now has Sirenia Digest #4. Thank you, Gordon. Thank you, Spooky. Thank you, Vince and Ted and Bill. And a big thank you to all the subscribers. If you're not a subscriber, you may yet remedy that simply by following this link.

Lately I've been feeling like I'd miss at least half of everything interesting that's going on in the world were it not for attentive bloggers like Paul T. Riddell (sclerotic_rings). I sit in this little room surrounded by mute and memorized books. I tell my stories. And it often seems that the real wonders are passing me by while I try to spit up their surrogates. Today, for example, the news of red rains over India way back in 2001 and the scientific investigations thereof, and you'd think I'd have heard of this before now. Red rains were quite close to Charles Fort's heart, and in The Book of the Damned (1919), after cataloging documented example after documented example of red rains, he speculated, in his marvelous and brazen and inflammatory way:

Or that our whole solar system is a living thing: that showers of blood upon this earth are its internal hemorrhages —

Or vast living things in the sky, as there are vast living things in the oceans —

Or some one especial thing: an especial time: an especial place. A thing the size of the Brooklyn Bridge. It's alive in outer space — something the size of Central Park kills it —

It drips.


The first time I read these lines, they gave me nightmares. They still give me chills. But beyond the power of the prose the mystery remained. Why do red rains fall? And now, eighty-seven years after the publication of The Book of the Damned, it's possible that an answer may have been found for at least some of these skyfalls. And, even more surprising, it at least echoes those lines that Fort wrote all those decades ago. Today Paul wrote of a cover story from New Scientist a couple of weeks back:

A beautiful example of the humanity of science came with a cover story a couple of weeks ago on a red rain in India in 2001: according to researchers involved with studying the contents of that red rain, the coloration was due to living cells in the rain, and the suggestion in the upcoming paper is that these cells may have been brought to Earth in a meteorite airburst. You have it all: an extraordinary theory that awaits the extraordinary evidence to prove it, countertheories that are more outrageous than the original theory, and the understanding, all the way through, that what's needed is more study before anyone can make a final evaluation. Even if the red rain has a prosaic explanation, half of the fun is knowing instead of shrugging.

Too often many of Fort's readers, including self-professed Forteans, paint him as an arch-enemy of science. That's a lie, of course. Fort was only an arch-enemy of shrugging.

The scientific paper which Paul speaks of is titled "The red rain phenomenon of Kerala and its possible extraterrestrial origin," by Godfrey Louis and A. Santhosh Kumar (Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, India). It has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal, Astrophysics and Space Science. Here's the abstract, which surely would have made Fort give up a wry smile:

A red rain phenomenon occurred in Kerala, India starting from 25th July 2001, in which the rainwater appeared coloured in various localized places that are spread over a few hundred kilometers in Kerala. Maximum cases were reported during the first 10 days and isolated cases were found to occur for about 2 months. The striking red colouration of the rainwater was found to be due to the suspension of microscopic red particles having the appearance of biological cells. These particles have no similarity with usual desert dust. An estimated minimum quantity of 50,000 kg of red particles has fallen from the sky through red rain. An analysis of this strange phenomenon further shows that the conventional atmospheric transport processes like dust storms etc. cannot explain this phenomenon. The electron microscopic study of the red particles shows fine cell structure indicating their biological cell like nature. EDAX analysis shows that the major elements present in these cell like particles are carbon and oxygen. Strangely, a test for DNA using Ethidium Bromide dye fluorescence technique indicates absence of DNA in these cells. In the context of a suspected link between a meteor airburst event and the red rain, the possibility for the extraterrestrial origin of these particles from cometary fragments is discussed.

If you'd like to read the full paper, you can download a PDF here. And on that note, it's time for me to wander away to bed and dream of the things which may well live between the worlds.
mandarin

Follow me. Don't follow me.

This morning (which is pleasantly hazy and does not make me fear the sky) I'm hoping that everyone's received Sirenia Digest #4 and are happy with its contents. Last night, as I was looking over my printout of the PDF, I discovered a very annoying typo, right there on the cover page. Never mind that three people proofed the frelling thing. Though it reads "No. 3, Vol. 3," it should read "No. 3, Vol. 2." My apologies. Otherwise, I'm pleased with how this issue turned out, and I'm already looking forward to the next. I have days when I worry that the vignettes are distracting me or leading me astray from other things that might be more important. But I think the truth is that they're giving me a much needed opportunity to experiment and explore voices and directions I might not have tried otherwise. This is a Good Thing, as they say.

Last night, as I mirrored the "red rain" entry over on my MySpace page, I was very annoyed to discover that there's no "Science" or "Science and Nature" category for entries. The categories are a dumb idea, but it's sad and symptomatic of the country's general disinterest in science that there are categories for "News and Politics" and "Life" and "Gossip" and the gods know what else, but nothing for science.

I did another 1,153 words on "pas-en-arrière " yesterday. I'm liking this piece a lot. It has a gentleness that's lacking from most of the vignettes. It's almost sweet. I finally realised how it should end yesterday, and it's a very soft-spoken ending. I'm curious how readers will respond to it. That was work yesterday, aside from getting #4 out. The new eBay auctions got off to a good start yesterday; my thanks to those who have already bid. Also, apologies if you've e-mailed in the last few days and I've not responded. I get in these moods where my generally anti-social nature spills over into my ability to answer e-mails. It's dopey, but true. I'll try to get through some of them in the next couple of days. I do appreciate e-mail, very much. Don't think that I don't.

Jerry Lewis turns 80 today.

Last night we continued our Oscarish movie binge with George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, which I really, really liked. David Strathairn was superb. Mostly, I couldn't help thinking how much worse things are now, under Bush and the Patriot Act and this whole rogue Administration, than they ever were during the height of the McCarthy hearings. It's just that very few people seem to care. The paranoia is broadcasting on a lower frequency. Or a higher frequency. Maybe the dogs can hear it. The bogeyman of Middle-Eastern terrorists has supplanted the old bogeyman of Communism, and TPTB have more power over us than they've ever had before. After 9/11, America was more than happy to hand over their freedom to speak and think and act upon those thoughts, if only they could drive their SUVs and watch their widescreen televisions and shop at Wal-Mart without having to worry about further attacks. Consumerism has become the Great Teat, the Great Distraction. Even religion can't compete. But I am going on, aren't I? Yes, I am.

For what it's worth, to anyone who wasn't pleased with me for having no interest in seeing Brokeback Mountain, I find that I'm equally disinterested in Crash.

My thanks to David Kirkpatrick for sending me the paper from Nature describing the new Jurassic theropod, Juravenator, from the Solnhofen. What a marvelous little beast.

Okay. Time's up. I need to finish this vignette today. Tomorrow's St. Patrick's Day, and I intend to tie one on (in the parlance of our times).