28 September 2011

October 2011: Get Money Out of Politics and Reform Corporatism and Wall Street

Both of these websites are well worth perusing:


There has been a little coverage of the Wall Street demonstrations, mainly due to police brutality, which is treated as news. It's interesting, though, that more people have been arrested in the last week on Wall Street than typically show up at even a well-publicized Tea Party Rally. Liberal media bias?? You gotta be kidding me.

Basically, I completely agree with these folks. I will vote for Barack Obama in 2012, because I am a pragmatist, but I deplore his corporation and Wall Street friendly policies, and truly believe he either deliberately evaded or squandered the best opportunity to make serious reforms in the interests of economic justice we've had in a long time, or probably will have anytime soon. And for that, while I will support him, I intend to offer my financial support only to progressive organizations.

Krugman: We should be investing like it was WWII

Huffington Post reports on Paul Krugman's speech in which he advocates government investment in the face of the current crisis as if it were the "equivalent of World War II."

This is pretty much what I've been saying for the past three years, so it's somewhat reassuring that a Nobel Prize winning economist is saying the same thing.

23 September 2011

Revisiting the Fermi Paradox in light of the experiments (apparently) showing Faster than Light particles

I thought of an analogy. Life on earth exists everywhere it can exist, precisely because translation, i.e., moving from one place to the next, reproduction, (both of those in the context of duration in time), and typical lifetime of organisms, all match up nicely. Bacterialike organisms evolving one time on a planet like Earth will fill its entire surface (at least the parts compatible with life) in a comparatively short time, probably only a few thousand years. I am convinced that if certain facts are true, the same thing would be true of the presence of intelligent life, or at least evidence of its past presence, essentially everywhere if it were possible to travel at speeds faster than light.

To demonstrate my logic, please posit the following:

1.  Intelligent beings roughly comparable to humans, and capable of discovering and implementing any technologies possible under the laws of physics given sufficient time, do exist, in some reasonable numbers and frequency in the universe. (This derives from several other assumptions about the origin and prevalence of life, etc.; when I refer to 'reasonable numbers' I think 1 or 2 contemporaneously existing technological civilizations in any given large spiral galaxy in any given time would be more than sufficient).
2.  Travel faster than light turns out to be possible (now given some intriguing potential for being true: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/sep/23/physicists-speed-light-violated).
3.  Civilizations can and do exist for extended periods of time, tend to expand outward from their place of origin at least for a time, are at least sometimes sufficiently interested and curious to want to explore and even colonize other locations in space, and can and would if it were possible transfer their technological knowledge to other intelligent beings from time to time.
4.  The universe, in terms of the emergence of planetary life, and the times for the evolution of life, has been much as it is today for at least several billion years, so that planets somewhat like Earth,, i.e. cradles of life, which had already had plenty of time to evolve advanced living things, already existed billions of years ago, and therefore so did civilizations capable of advanced technology, at least in some numbers.

If all of these things are true, then the Galaxy would resemble the Star Trek universe, at least in the sense that every world in orbit around every single one of its 3 or 4 hundred billion stars would have been visited and catalogued by somebody, at some time in the last few billion years. At minimum. The same would be true for all similarly endowed galaxies (ignoring the fact that some galaxies, due to exigencies of nucleosynthesis and star formation, are relatively devoid of the kinds of stars and planets likely to evolve life; there are plenty, as in hundreds and hundreds of billions, of galaxies even in the observable part of the universe that qualify as roughly comparable to our Galaxy. Also assumes, as most cosmologists do, that the laws of physics are everywhere and during the entire time in question pretty much if not perfectly the same).

Since to all reasonable inference from evidence this ubiquity of technological presence is not the case, one has to doubt the experimental result, or doubt at least one of the posited truths above. It's inescapable, as far as I can see. Occam's razor seems to dictate that the most likely "false" postulate is No. 2, and FTL is, in fact, not possible.

22 September 2011

A sad day for America

The state murder last night in Georgia, after an agonizing final review, of a man who in all likelihood was innocent, is a truly terrible stain on the judicial system of our nation. As an American, it fills me with shame.

I can only pray that this act of violence, so clearly wrong, will function as a seed of regret and determination in the conscience of the nation, which will eventually result in ending the cold-blooded killing of citizens by the state euphemistically referred to as capital punishment, once and for all.

Whether you, as I do, believe that killing in the absence of threat is barbaric and never justified, or not, the undeniable fact is that it is irrevocable, and is sometimes, and unavoidably, carried out despite the innocence of the one convicted. This should be reason enough to end this horrible, horrible practice forever.

21 September 2011

Scrooge and Modern Day Republicans: a close analogy

Here's from A Christmas Carol:

``At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,'' said the gentleman, taking up a pen, ``it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.''
``Are there no prisons?'' asked Scrooge.
``Plenty of prisons,'' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
``And the Union workhouses?'' demanded Scrooge. ``Are they still in operation?''
``They are. Still,'' returned the gentleman, `` I wish I could say they were not.''
``The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?'' said Scrooge.
``Both very busy, sir.''
``Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,'' said Scrooge. ``I'm very glad to hear it.''
``Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,'' returned the gentleman, ``a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?''
``Nothing!'' Scrooge replied.
``You wish to be anonymous?''
``I wish to be left alone,'' said Scrooge. ``Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.''
``Many can't go there; and many would rather die.''
``If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, ``they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

This reminds me of former Congressman Grayson's show n' tell in Congress back in '09, when he held up cards explaining the Republicans' Health Care Plan:

"1. Don't Get Sick
2. And if you do get sick....
3. Die quickly."

Grayson got a lot of criticism for this, but he would not back down, for the simple reason that what he was saying was the plain truth of the matter. And I don't see where anything has changed one bit since then, or all that much since Dickens's time, for that matter, when it comes to the mean spirit of the Right Wing. 

I cite the absurdity of Ron Paul's idiotic response to the question in a recent debate about uninsured Americans, and the recent even more preposterous and mean spirited claim of his that his own staffer who died with $400,000 in outstanding medical bills "didn't need government support."

AARP to flood Supercommittee with Constitutent E-mails: Don't Cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid

AARP is sending around an e-mail to create constituent e-mails to the Supercommittee. Below is what I sent... much of it is their canned text, but then I added my perhaps obviously more militant comments at the end.

The cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits currently being considered by the supercommittee would have a devastating impact on seniors across the country. I just heard the story of one senior that I wanted to share with you, to help you understand why it's so important that you stand up against unfair benefit cuts.
"I have been working since I was 16 years old, and I'm still working now at age 67. I have no hope of being able to retire while I'm healthy enough to enjoy my non-working years. My husband is 10 years older, and has worked his whole life until he developed multiple health problems that require numerous maintenance drugs. Even with Medicare part D coverage his medications average $400 per month. My job not only provides a salary, but also group health insurance, for myself, that is much less than Medicare + a supplement policy + Medicare part D. We will have a very hard time to make ends meet at the current level of SSI and Medicare Benefits when I am no longer able to work. If there are changes to these plans that reduce benefits I don't know what we will do. We have worked hard our whole lives,have always paid all of our bills on time, and done our best to be good citizens. I implore all of our elected officials to consider the impact that changes to these programs would have on the Seniors in our Country. Please do the right thing by us."

-Elsie N., California

Please remember this story as you make decisions about the future of Social Security and Medicare in the weeks to come. Like Elsie, I am counting on you to protect the benefits I've earned from unfair cuts.

Americans are fed up and angry that, after the financial debacle was caused by profligate casino capitalism, the taxpayers were expected to pony up and bail out the banks and speculators, but when it comes to preserving the key social programs that have ensured a decent standard of living. and a THRIVING CONSUMER ECONOMY, in this country for 70 years, the powerful elites want to cut deficits on the backs of working people, the middle class, and seniors. Understand this, members of the Supercommittee: WE WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS. If there are to be budget adjustments to cut long term debt, they must come PRIMARILY from increasing taxes on those who have been getting an easy ride, and NOT AT ALL from cuts to Social Security; and the only acceptable changes to Medicare and Medicaid are cost controls, NOT BENEFIT CUTS.

We will remember, and vote out of office, anyone who doesn't represent the will of the vast majority of Americans on these issues.

20 September 2011

Progressives will Rally

I agree with Bill Keller's piece "Fill in the Blanks" in the NYT (here) entirely. I am a critic of President Obama. But I believe in a great deal of what he's trying to do, and I intend to do what I can to make sure he's re-elected; because, as Jonathan Alter said in a different context, the alternatives are dire for America.

Huffpo Report: Warren surges against Brown

It is too early to predict 2012 outcomes, of course, but I think the fact that Elizabeth Warren is already showing a slight lead over incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in Mass. is encouraging and indicative. See this. Considering that he is considered personable and photogenic, while she is seen as wonkish, and has minimal name recognition among the general public, even in Mass., this is actually quite remarkable in such a short period of time.

What it indicates, and will indicate more definitively if she develops a strong and persisting lead, as I believe she will, is that Democrats who clearly state Core Democratic Principles will do well, and, in fact outperform those who are too ready to compromise those principles for some imagined (although in the end mostly non-performing) political expediency. Polling in Wisconsin and Ohio, where significant battles over public employee collective bargaining have garnered too little attention from national Democratic figures, have also shown this trend: those who strongly support traditional Democratic issues like protecting Social Security and Medicare, increasing taxes on the very rich, and protecting collective bargaining, outpoll "New Democrat" types by as much as 10%.

I see some signs that in recent weeks President Obama is starting to take this lesson to heart; I certainly hope and pray that this is the case. Because I am completely convinced that this is the road to victory, not only for the President, but for Democrats challenging Republicans for House and Senate seats, as well as Democrats defending House and Senate seats.

DADT gone day

Took an unconscionable 18 years for something that should never have been enacted, but the ultimate repeal of DADT is something to celebrate, that's for sure. And Obama has to get credit for this.

Obama gets some moxie

I met with a financial adviser yesterday, not an unreasonable guy in most respects, but in the course of our conversation he accused Pres. Obama of being "misleading" about taxes because he didn't mention that most people paying under $50,000 pay lower tax rates than the rich, due to deductions. Not only is this pretty much just a rightist talking point, it's not even true in a technical sense.

But the main point is the bigger picture, as I tried to explain. We've had 35 years of accelerating wealth transfer from working and middle class people to the very rich, and the tax code is a major factor (although, as Dean Baker points out, not the largest factor) in that. That is a fact.

Anyway, I just want to go on record as saying, like Michael Moore on Rachel Maddow's show last nigh that the president's speech yesterday, was one of the most encouraging in a long time. He seems to finally have decided to have some fight and defiance in his rhetoric. I loved the way he made clear that budget cuts without revenue fairness will get a veto.

19 September 2011

Michelle Bachmann is dumber than Bush

I've said before, and this article proves it: Michelle Bachmann, irrespective of her batpoop crazy ideology, is just too stupid to hold national office, even in 21st Century America, and that's saying a lot. (It also proves just how crazy she really is).

18 September 2011

Improved Low-Carb Ice cream recipe (Chocolate)

Low Carb Ice Cream / Chocolate • requires ice cream machine (I use Cuisinart), and specialty natural sweeteners erythritol and oligofructose (aka fructo-oligosaccharide) • these can be purchased from www.netrition.com or other specialty food online retailers

7/8 cup whole milk
6 oz. baking chocolate ...chill in freezer in advance ... broken into small pieces
5/8 cup erythritol granules
5/8 cup oligofructose powder or granules (“Sweet Perfection” or other brand)
2 cups heavy cream, very cold
1 tbs. vanilla extract

Heat whole milk until just bubbling at edges in double boiler
Meanwhile, break up chocolate into small pieces and put in blender with about 1/3 cup of the erythritol: pulse at highest speed, loosening any compacted material, until finely ground and uniform. Add to hot milk, and the remaining erythritol and the oligofructose and blend with hand blender until smooth. Transfer to a chilled 1½ quart+ pourable large measuring cup and let cool to room temperature. Add heavy cream and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Chill well in refrigerator.

Add to prepared ice cream machine, and run according to manufacturer's directions, although it will take somewhat longer... perhaps 40 min.

The oligofructose helps make the erythritol less prone to recrystallize.

Variation: add pecan pieces or frozen berries right before end, to taste


This ice cream is obviously not low-fat or low calorie, but erythritol has almost no effective carbohydrate, and oligofructose is a dietary fiber, with low glycemic index and few calories, although it is moderately sweet. Thus, this ice cream has a very low glycemic index and should be genuinely low-carb. The amount of erythritol and oligofructose is more than the amount of sugar that would be used in a normal recipe, but, if anything, this ice cream is slightly less sweet than it would be if made with sugar normally. (Equivalent amount of sugar is about ¾ cup; many similar normal ice cream recipes call for more like 1 cup). These products are expensive, but if you want good tasting low-carb ice cream, there really isn't any other alternative that I've come across. Erythritol is the lowest calorie and lowest glycemic index of the sugar alcohols. Isomalto-oligosaccharride might work as a substitute for oligofructose, but I have no experience with it and haven't located a small-bulk quantity source for it as of yet.

The erythritol has a slightly “cool” sweetness, but this is offset by the oligofructose to some extent. There is no stevia-like or artificial sweetener aftertaste, however.

16 September 2011

Time for some party discipline

It seems to me this is Primer Politics:

While I'm not a fan of the President's Jobs Bill (because it isn't enough), it seems to me Democrats have no excuse at all for not supporting it and trying hard to convince their constituents to support it... as a first step.

Party discipline is one of the things that has made the Minority Rightist party so powerful. It's time for some on our side. Reid and Pelosi (and Obama) should contact these Blue Dogs, personally...  hell, call 'em into the White House... and tell them bluntly: you get on board and say nothing critical about this bill or you are no longer a Democrat as far as we're concerned, and we will stand someone to challenge you and end your career in politics.

Sometimes you gotta wield the big stick, something none of the Democratic leaders are particularly accomplished at.

14 September 2011

Gary Taubes

Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat, and What to Do About It, has started a very interesting series on his blog (link) about the status of the whole paradigm shift underway in the science of adiposity, so to speak.

Taubes is unabashedly partisan for the insulin/metabolism theory of overweight/obesity, but his point is mainly that unsubstantiated opinions on scientific questions don't matter and research is indicative of a different paradigm from conventional wisdom; the only reasonable thing to do is to conduct further controlled studies to resolve the issue once and for all. Kind of hard to argue with that. He's even putting his money where his mouth is, trying to raise funds to conduct definitive research.

Since at least a quarter of Americans are significantly overweight, this really does matter not only to people in their personal lives but to our entire society.

13 September 2011

urk! Republican wins Weiner's seat

Jeepers. This is not good. We just have to do better than this.

12 September 2011

As expected, Cantor pretty much tells Prez to jump in a lake

So already Eric Cantor has pretty much told the President to jump in a lake with his jobs bill, or most of it anyway. (The good parts, mainly). (No surprise here).

I'm not a fan of the Jobs Bill, as I've said; it's not big enough and not properly weighted to emphasize direct job creation, which is what we need right now. 

But in any case it seems to me that these foolish Republicans have just handed Obama a terrific campaign issue. Let's just hope his vaunted (and frequently missing in action) political savvy is sufficient to seize the advantage; because he should be able to beat them handily by pointing out that they're 1) against rebuilding America; 2) against putting people back to work; 3) against investing in America's future; 4) opposed to support for Education (just for starters). I really think the Democrats should just let it all hang out and start a WHY DO REPUBLICANS HATE AMERICA? campaign that lasts right through next years' election. Which, if they really did this and did it right, would be a sweeping Democratic victory both on the Presidential side and the Congressional side. 

09 September 2011

After the speech

The speech was good, and more than good. That's one thing you have to hand to this President. But some elements of the plan fall way short (just nowhere near big enough, too much tax cutting, that doesn't really work; too much reliance on unspecified deficit cutting (from what? when?), when what we should do, like a business that has to grow capital now, is borrow like there's no tomorrow, especially at these low interest rates). But if this was a start, not all he's got, maybe things will start to move in the right direction.

08 September 2011

Perry camp won't rule out ending Social Security entirely

TPM: Rick Perry Campaign Refuses To Rule Out Ending Social Security ...
OK, tell me again how it is even conceivable that this jerk could be nominated by a major party, still less elected President of the United States? Sometimes I hardly recognize the America we're living in.

What Progressives would like to see in Jobs Speech

I don't have time to go into great detail here, and I'm sure I'll miss some key points, but here's what I and a whole lot of President Obama's base who think along the same lines as me, would like to see in tonight's speech:
  • Legislation to create a National Infrastructure and Development Bank, and direct the Federal Reserve to post "created money" to it, and not to Wall Street Banks (this is trillions, based on past experience, and would go to Main St. not Wall St.)
  • Foreclosure Reform, in which all banks must participate as a cost of participation in FDIC and to be chartered as banks at all
  • A new WPA
  • A new CCC
  • At least $1 trillion allocated for direct job creation over 2 years
  • Comprehensive Alternative Energy, Transportation, and other Development plans to be rolled out to rebuild America and move her into the 21st Century economy as a leader
  • Force Commodity Futures Exchg. Commsn. to enforce Dodd Frank, and beef up laws to prevent and punish casino capitalism in all its forms
  • Extend unemployment benefits indefinitely 
  • Protect Social Security and Medicare benefits, guaranteed, to keep seniors out of poverty
  • Protect medicaid, and roll out early implementation and improvement to HCR, to prevent health care related bankruptcies (among other reasons)
  • Promise a complete revamp of trade agreements, towards balance to protect American workers
  • Reform of Tax Codes to eliminate tax breaks for offshoring jobs
  • Lift cap on income subject to Payroll Tax
  • Remove Bush era tax cuts on everyone earning over $150,000
  • Remove "hedge fund manager" tax breaks on investor class
  • Eliminate most agricultural and all energy and food industry subsidies
  • Tax breaks for new hires (temporary)
  • Tax breaks for renewable energy development
  • Salary subsidy for six months for hiring long term unemployed
  • Regulations to require across the board reductions rather than layoffs (similar to Germany's regulations)
  • Regulations to require employee representation in business governance (similar to Germany's regulations)
Of course we'll not see all or even many of these things, but I sure hope this president, for once, follows the advice of his base, and "goes long, goes big, and goes global," in E. J. Dionne's formulation. The president needs to sharply pivot away from the Republicans' meme of debt crisis, and to recognizing that the long term debt problems can be addressed after we get ourselves out of this huge hole we're in, and what we need to do now is get Americans working again, and ensure that the causes of the Great Republican Caused Financial Meltdown are fixed. We also need to roll out reforms along the lines Dean Baker talks about in his free e-book The End of Loser Liberalism, to start the process of reversing the historic trend towards economy-crippling concentration of wealth in the hands of the richest and big corporations. If this president does not soon start acting like a real Democrat, he will ultimately be abandoned by those who are convinced that the old "New Democrat" ways just won't work anymore.

Some of these things may, at first glance, look like they don't have anything to do with jobs. But they're related to the things that are crippling our economy, and everything's connected to everything else... get the economy out of its deep freeze and they'll be more jobs. More jobs means more taxes, means deficit problem largely solved. Q.E.D. But you have to start in the right places. Doing what the Republicans want to do, cut social programs and cut spending, is a guarantee for DEPRESSION with a capital-D.

For example, the failure to rein in speculation in commodities (actually mandated, albeit weakly, by Dodd Frank), is the main reason oil prices and food prices are artificially high (80% of futures market is speculation; Depression era regulations that were scrapped kept it to less than <20%; economists say excessive commodity speculation destroys supply and demand in essential commodities).

What Obama really needs to do is lay down the gauntlet right now and start running against the Republicans. He needs to lambaste the "do nothing 112th Congress," and needs to lay out a detailed, genuinely progressive plan for his second term of how to restore jobs and get the Country back on track. He needs to do both, actually: lay out immediate goals and ask people to demand that their Republican Congressmen and Senators support them, but also a big, comprehensive plan for the future, that will be the basis of his re-election campaign, which must focus on getting a Democratic House and Senate elected along with him with a pledge to get the big plan passed. Then he needs to abandon the Mr. Conciliator approach and get tough, get mad, and start asking the people directly to support him.

Look, folks, it's the only way. Otherwise the Right Wing Takeover of American politics will succeed, and when their wrongheaded and unrealistic policies crash our entire economy and destroy our social system that took a century to create, we'll really be in the soup.

05 September 2011

Barack Obama's epic failure

Matt Stoller in Salon makes the case that 1) Obama has ruined the Democratic Party, and 2) Democrats should seriously consider dumping him before it's too late. What Democrats Can Do About Obama, Here.

I have to agree with many of the points he makes, except that I'm pretty well convinced it's already too late, and that we are already reduced to hoping and praying the Republicans screw up so bad that he is re-elected. We're only left with the hope that somehow we can maintain enough control in the Congress to limp through the next however long before we can organize a real Progressive movement, gain control of our own party, and elect someone who will actually fight to enact that agenda.

I keep trying to find something to be optimistic about, and keep putting my energy and money into trying to make sure Progressive Democrats are elected. But this President seems determined, time and again, to undermine those efforts; to cave in to preposterous Republican demands before there's even a fight; and to adopt Right-Center positions at odds with what he said he would do when he was a candidate, even when there appears to be no political impetus that should cause him to move in that direction. Examples of all of these are now too many to discuss. They're occurring on a daily basis. It's gotten so bad that it's actually hard to find anyone who expects any actual results from the President's jobs speech; and few of us Progressives can honestly say we expect him to even say what the vast majority of Progressive Intellectuals would agree is needed in terms of policy.

Right at the moment I am reminded of a saying that's common in Science Fiction circles: Sometimes optimism is just another word for wishful thinking.

03 September 2011


I am just speechless at Obama's abandonment of environmental protection. It is that stark. Where is the Democrat we elected in 2008? I cannot recognize him in this president.

02 September 2011

Krugman eviscerates the odious Eric Cantor

Here, and I can honestly say I don't believe there is even a gram of exaggeration here.

01 September 2011

Imagining Space

I have been a reader of science fiction, on and off, most of my life, although in recent years; well, decades, I have mostly found the field pretty devoid of anything much worth reading. Anyway, there's always been a subgenre, dominated by writers who took some care with astronomical detail and tried to make their space fiction plausible, at least within some conventions, such as "hyperdrive," to get around the fact that stars in the Galaxy are so far apart that travel to them even at relativistic speeds is effectively impracticable (that is even assuming that relativistic speeds were technologically feasible, not only in terms of energetics, but in terms of survivability... anything moving at that speed is essentially hard radiation). Probably the first classic example of this kind of so-called "hard" science fiction is Mission of Gravity (1953) by Hal Clement; a much praised but not too often actually read book.

It's a spectrum, really. Writers like Poul Anderson and Larry Niven, or even C. J. Cherryh and Ursula LeGuin, attend to detail: they set their stories in the real Galaxy, and mention real stars, and talk about such things as the stars' spectral classes and the orbital peculiarities of planets (such as tidal lock, i.e. the same face always to the star (not a convenient or possibly even survivable condition, but probably pretty common; think of the moon); or seasons caused by orbital eccentricity rather than axial tilt; that sort of thing). People who love to imagine what other stars and their worlds might actually be like loved this sort of thing, although eventually it pales; the contrivedness of it all becomes too glaring. Some writers, like Jack Vance and Iain Banks, set their stories in space, posit magical technology allowing space travel to be a lot like maritime or air travel on Earth, and get on with their (very different) baroque story telling. Frank Herbert imagined a vast span of time and space, including mention of some real stars, but his imagination went more towards imagining strange evolution of man and how history would be affected by it: Dune is incomparable, but most people would agree that after that, the whole thing just kind of gets out of hand.

More recent writers sometimes pay a lot of attention to scientific plausibility (Stephen Baxter comes to mind), but for my money, few "space fiction" writers still active can tell a story that holds my interest. Iain Banks is one.

Still, even today, almost all of this space fiction is based on a mindset that thinks "stars like the sun" are going to be more or less just like the sun. There will be watery worlds more or less like the Earth. The pattern of the Solar System: rocky inner worlds, gas giant outer worlds, stable, long lived star, which has somehow maintained a stable set of conditions on Earth for hundreds of millions of years, long enough for us to evolve, etc., all will be the rule. This kind of begs the issue, what is the actual truth, as now understood? It used to be that not much was actually known, or at least widely published, to indicate otherwise: one yellow dwarf star was assumed to be much like another.

But, it's really quite interesting. If you follow extrasolar planet research, or, for that matter, just read what's readily available from studies of stars themselves, you'll realize that these assumptions are not justified, at all. Look at this article about just one nearby "sunlike" star, 61 Virginis, in Wikipedia, to see what kind of detailed information is currently available. There are literally thousands of such articles available. 

Stars vary enormously. More than half of star systems have more than one star. Often in close orbits, which probably rule out planets in orbits where water could remain liquid. Stars rich in metals (Astronomese for everything beyond Helium on the periodic table), seem to be more likely to have planets; and it's already becoming apparent that at least some dwarf stars don't have planets, although why they don't isn't really understood. It used to be thought that older stars, that formed early in the history of the universe, were always metal poor, and more recent ones were metal rich; and while this pattern may generally hold, there are exceptions. The Sun is moderately metal rich, even for its age, but some even older stars (a nearby example being 16 Cygni), are even more metal rich, so the relationship between age and metal content is not regular or simple. Planets, it's now known, do not typically form in the Solar System pattern. Gas giants are often found in inner orbits. Nor are the nearly circular orbits of the Solar System's planets typical. Many systems have apparently stable but nonetheless highly eccentric orbits. Moreover, stars, even when similar in many respects to the Sun, are all different. 18 Scorpii (along with HD 98618 and HIP 56948) are thought to be "near solar twins," but even these stars have differences that might be critical, and might cause a planetary environment in their vicinity to be unstable. Further, there is current speculation that just maybe the dimmer, cooler, orange dwarfs (late type G and early type K), which live longer than brighter stars like the Sun and may settle into stable temperature ranges for longer periods, may be more "life friendly" than stars resembling the Sun (which would be a good thing, since something like 1 in 15 stars is main sequence type G5 thru K5, while stars from say F8 through G4 (the sun is usually given as G2), may only be about 1 in 30. *

So, what? I have no answers. Science fiction has become tired; it no longer seems to explore the edge of possibility. The universe is, clearly, quite a bit more varied than we thought. Is it full of life? Other civilizations? Other worlds like our own? We still don't know, but one thing is pretty clear: not just like our own. What is out there is as varied as the variation of landscapes on Earth, and the life that may have evolved will be varied too. Somehow the innate curiosity of human beings is outer-directed: someday we will know these things, if we survive; in the meantime, we need a bit better imagination to conceive of their possibilities.

* By far the majority of stars are tiny red dwarfs. Stellar population is more or less in inverse proportion to mass. Red dwarfs don't produce the kind of light in abundance that's probably necessary for terrestrial type life, and they have such narrow zones where temperatures could be right, which, in turn, are so close to the stars themselves, that the planets would usually be tidally locked, one face always to the star. This causes obvious problems, greatly accentuated by the fact that almost all red dwarfs flare, i.e., are quite irregular in their output and occasionally would blast their close in planets with excessive radiation. Thus, despite being so dim that almost none of them are close enough to even be visible in the night sky, these little stars, which make up something like 85% of all stars, aren't very good candidates for having living worlds as companions.