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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

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This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


Lawmakers React To State Of The Union Address

Feb 13, 2013



And also watching the president's address last night was NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith. She was in the chamber and spoke to members of Congress afterwards.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When the president started talking about gun violence, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her family stood up. There were among many victims and survivors of gun violence seated in the galleries overlooking the chamber, wearing green ribbons in honor of the Newtown shooting that killed 20 first graders. Carolyn Murray stood holding a picture of her teenage son who was gunned down last year. She was there as a guest of Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky from Illinois.

REPRESENTATIVE JAN SCHAKOWSKY: I looked up as the president was talking about actually calling a vote, and I saw her tears running down her face. She was crying, believing, I think, that finally, something would be done.


KEITH: New York Democrat Steve Israel.

ISRAEL: ...where the president talked about the families of victims of gun violence deserving a vote was one of the most emotional moments that I've ever seen at a State of the Union. And I hope that we can translate that emotion into some common sense reforms of our gun laws.

KEITH: Just what makes sense - common or otherwise - is still up for debate.

REPRESENTATIVE TRENT FRANKS: The truth is, all of us are moved in our hearts on this issue.

KEITH: Trent Franks is a Republican congressman from Arizona.

FRANKS: We all desperately want to protect our children, and yet I saw almost nothing there that would actually protect them. I saw an attack on the Second Amendment.

KEITH: And this isn't just a Democrat-versus-Republican thing. Take Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: You know, it's a very difficult issue.

KEITH: He talks about keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them, and addressing mental illness.

MANCHIN: We want to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to consider everyone's concerns, but also fix things.

KEITH: The path from emotional moment to law - or even real-live legislation - remains unclear. But prospects appear to be brighter on another front: immigration. There may have been only a half-dozen times all night when both sides of the aisle all stood and clapped in approval. One of those moments was when President Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform. Raul Labrador, a Republican congressman from Idaho, says that's something he wants.

REPRESENTATIVE RAUL LABRADOR: I've always said that this is the one issue where maybe Republicans need to be a little bit softer. You know, there's other areas like the budget, spending, all those areas where I think we need to stand firmly on our conservative principles. But I think on immigration, we can actually move, and we have moved.

KEITH: Oklahoma Republican Congressman James Lankford was part of the group of lawmakers who escorted the president into the chamber.

REPRESENTATIVE JAMES LANKFORD: In the side room, he and I were talking, two or three of us, and he asked that same question: How do we move things? I said: We need to find the small things we can agree on and move them.

KEITH: When asked to name a few such things, Lankford didn't talk about guns or immigration or any of the other items in the headlines this morning. He talked about strengthening families and making natural gas drilling easier, both of which were mentioned in the speech. But before Congress and the president can get to any of those things, there's another pressing fiscal deadline: automatic, across-the-board spending cuts worth a trillion dollars over a decade are set to hit March 1st. The president called on Congress to find a reasonable, less-damaging alternative to these cuts, which are called the sequester. In the Tea Party response last night, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul suggested the opposite.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester's far short, that we need $4 trillion in cuts.

KEITH: That's a measure of the gulf between the parties and the likelihood the sequester will start two weeks from Friday. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.