Tuesday, March 31, 2015

On Second Thought, Let the Door Hit You. A Bunch of Times

The first day that dawns when this dingy malignancy, this homunculoid flatus animated through some foul sorcery that can best be called "fecromancy," no longer holds a public office, shall be as great a day as has ever been in this republic.

All for Whatever

This review will be spoiler-y. You may want to wait to read it if you are following the series and don't want to learn how some plotlines are resolved. Or, of course, you may not want to read it at all. Both reactions are familiar to the house.
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A couple of months ago I chatted about the BBC action series The Musketeers, noting that season 1 lead villain Cardinal Richelieu was traded out for the Comte de Rochefort when Peter Capaldi was cast in Doctor Who. Only a couple of episodes of the show's second series had yet aired, so I was skeptical about Marc Warren's contribution to the show as Rochefort but left things open. Capaldi had a firm grasp on how to ham his role up in the context of the show, mixing serious and whimsy in the right amounts, but Warren had at that point not demonstrated he would pick up that trait. Series 2 has now concluded, and it is safe to say that trading Capaldi for Warren about equals, say, trading Hank Aaron for Eddie Gaedel.

It's not that Capaldi is some stratosphere-level über-Olivier, although he's an excellent actor. It's just that Warren is so awful. Every line is delivered in the same deadpan monotone, probably meant to create at atmosphere of menace by calling to mind some serpent's sibilant hiss but managing only to drone his victims into a stupor. Every gesture is mannered and artificial, like a Mark II Villain Droid (Swordfighting Model). I have no idea what other work Warren has done or how well he did in those roles, but I have to believe that, given the long list of his credits, he's done better elsewhere.

The series is not helped by a lousy mid-season. "Through a Glass Darkly" gives us the old standby of a villain who insists his victims "play a game" that is meant to satisfy his own twisted sense of justice. But it can't carry its conceit through the whole episode and relies mostly on demanding King Louis (Ryan Gage) cry like a binky-less toddler. Seen in series one as a lightweight and rather unserious dilettante under the Cardinal's thumb, here we have a Louis who is petulant, paranoid and more or less incapable of finding his own thumbs. "The Return" suggests Athos (Tom Burke) cares so little for the tenants left behind on his family's land he has to be shamed by his comrades into helping them, even though nothing about what we've seen of him until now indicates he's that big of a jerk.

Other characters fare about as well. D'Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino) spends the first half of the series pouting because his true love Constance Bonacieux (Tamla Kari) won't leave her husband and be with him openly, even though said husband won't divorce her and D'Artagnan has a rather dangerous profession and could leave her without lover or family security. Constance isn't the plucky heroine who wanted to learn how to shoot and use a sword; she's a simpering damsel powerless before Rochefort's machinations. Queen Anne (Alexandra Dowling) is no longer a player in the palace power struggle -- she's also a simpering damsel powerless before Rochefort's machinations. Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) is now a swinish lout who, having previously bedded the queen and holding her as his One True Love, endangers her and the son he secretly fathered on her by insisting on hovering near them and callously dallying with the prince's governess Lady Marguerite (Charlotte Salt) solely in order to do that. His casual affair with and rejection of Marguerite gives Rochefort a lever over her and eventually results in her suicide, an event which draws not so much as a shrug from Aramis or his comrades.

Plot holes abound. Milady de Winter (Maimie McCoy) schemes for her own ends, but when given the gift of an assassin and spy she might be able to use to play against Rochefort and regain influence with the king she instead inexplicably kills the woman. The testimony of the king's loyal officials can't convince him Rochefort, his top minister, is against him, but the word of the Spanish spymaster will (this exchange wisely happens offscreen, as series two finale writer Simon Allen probably thought, "There is no way I can sell this conversation without invoking alien mind control.")

The Musketeers isn't meant to be taken seriously. It's one big suspension of disbelief from its impossibly-accurate-for-the-time weaponry to the 21st-century morés displayed by its characters, but suspending disbelief is the bargain you make with the show when you watch it. The viewer agrees not to remember that smooth-bore 17th-century muskets were accurate to maybe a hundred yards and handgun-sized models even less, and similar things. In return the show agrees to offer intrepid heroes who swash some buckles, buckle some swashes and do some derring in a carelessly entertaining manner while fighting mustache-twirling Evil Villains with their Villainous Plots. The carelessness is not supposed to show up as inattention to detail that renders our nobles ignoble, our heroes jerks and our villains crashing bores.

BBC has renewed The Musketeers for a third series. Rochefort's death means a blessed absence of Warren, so who the Musketeers' main opponent will be is up in the air. There are a couple of intriguing possible storylines, as Milady struggles with having become a person she despises and Athos becomes aware hate is not all his heart holds for her. The bluff and no-nonsense Musketeer Captain Treville is now a government minister, smack in the middle of palace intrigue. Playing those out, though, will need some more attention to what made the characters popular with viewers, what makes heroes heroic and a recognition that "snoozing with fear" is not the response you want your lead baddie to evoke.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What Price Victory?

Well, Eastern Michigan University wouldn't know, nor would Idaho University, as the two medium-sized schools are 6-30 over three seasons and 5-42 over four seasons, respectively. But as this item at The Sports Economist notes, they know that they'll get paid a cool $1.3 million to get their collective heads caved in by the University of Missouri in the next couple of years as they will host the Tigers in 2016 and 2017.

This isn't like the old Big Eight days in which Iowa State had to man up and take their whuppin' because they were in the same conference as Nebraska and Oklahoma -- Missouri is SEC, Eastern Michigan is Mid-America Conference and Idaho is Sun Belt. The administrators at Eastern Michigan and Idaho have more or less said to their student-athletes, "Yes, we know you will lose, lose badly, look lousy and maybe even get hurt by this bigger, faster and stronger team. But we're raking in seven figures off of your misery, so suit up, shut up and show up."

In-state, Southeast Missouri will play the Tigers twice over the next four years and collect $810,000, and Missouri State will have the privilege of journeying to Columbia for their beating and will earn $400,000 for the experience.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Judging the Cover

People magazine printed a picture of the cover of the recently unearthed Harper Lee manuscript Go Set a Watchman.

The president of HarperCollins, the book's publisher, said the cover was meant to invoke the era of the time it was written (Lee wrote the manuscript in the 1950s and set it aside when her editor suggested she take a flashback of young Scout Finch's life and make it a novel instead. To Kill a Mockingbird was published then, in 1960).

I am sure the cover's stylistic resemblance to Mockingbird has absolutely nothing to do with HarperCollins taking every possible step to insure that Watchman is seen as a completed novel rather than a largely unedited manuscript that may or may not be worth presenting a store with a couple of your own copies of Thomas Sully's portrait of Andrew Jackson.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

From the Rental Vault: Dumbstruck

Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua teamed up for the tense corrupt cop caper Training Day in 2001 and earned Washington an Oscar. Their 2014 return, The Equalizer, was based on the 1980s TV series that starred Edward Woodward as a former secret agent helping people out of jams by using his particular set of skills.

Part of the appeal of the Woodward series was the way his clipped British diction and impeccable attire helped create the aura of restrained fury in Robert McCall, the secret agent turned knight errant in late-80s New York City. Washington, who is probably one of the most dignified major movie stars working today, is one of the few who can pull off a similar dichotomy and use it to communicate the same kind of righteous crusading vengeance.

The setting is Boston instead of New York, and Washington's retired operative has taken a job at a big-box home repair store. He sleeps poorly and makes friends with some other regulars at an all-night diner, including Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). She dreams of being a singer but is caught up in an organized crime sex-trafficking ring. A vicious beating by her pimp brings McCall out of the shadows as he first attempts to negotiate her way from the life and then simply declares war on the mob behind the operation. The main mobster sends his best enforcer -- a brilliant and vicious man calling himself Teddy (Martin Csokas) -- to track down their new opponent and make an example, but that will not be nearly as easily done as said. Along the way McCall uses that particular set of skills to help others as well.

As mentioned above, Washington is one of the few actors and perhaps alone among American movie stars working today in his ability to combine ferocity and reserved dignity. Fuqua gives the movie a lot of nice noir touches to match the bleakness McCall seems to feel at the outset of the story. But the story itself takes a number of dumb-as-dirt turns that make it strictly paint-by-numbers, and not very big numbers at that. Teddy locates a friend of Teri's and discovers she lied about seeing her. Aha, we think, because we are capable of adding the proverbial pair of twos to arrive at four. He will be able to use her to contact Teri and lure her out of hiding. Nah. He will break her neck in an arty film-school sequence and deprive himself of his one proven channel of information. The roles that will be played out by McCall's co-workers and other folks are as predictable as a two-step, and about as complex.

In the end, Richard Wenk's dumb and dumber story wastes both Washington's performance and Fuqua's style as it takes people who are supposed to be brilliant chessmasters playing a particularly violent game of strategy against one another and makes them a couple of folks who would lose at Hollywood Squares. To each other. In the same game.
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Ritchie Archer made a lot of money on the wrong side of the law in London's East End, but he's retired now and spending his money in the hot spots of Europe. His brother Charlie stayed in the old neighborhood, and his fight with some new gangsters of the area proves fatal. Ritchie returns and recruits some old comrades to look into the murder and take care of business himself, believing the police won't be able to do anything given the constraints on their methods. Being allowed counsel, having the right to refuse to answer questions, being free from search without a warrant -- Ritchie's crew will not have to care about any of those things in 2014's gangster vendetta drama We Still Kill the Old Way.

Ian Ogilvy gives Ritchie plenty of charm and swagger as he returns to his old haunts and spends a little time reminiscing about the old days with surviving members of his crew. People who still live in the neighborhood remember them too, saying that the new gang of criminals have no respect for people and spend most of their time bullying the weak and the old. They have no class and are all the more dangerous because of their near feral nature.

From one side, it's satisfying to watch the old-timers begin to work their way on the arrogant twerps who now infest their streets. We really want to see Aaron (Danny-Boy Hatchard) and his cruelty, his grating clotted East End speech and his gangsta wannabe persona exit the stage, but only after a suitable amount of torment and mockery from the smarter, better, classier Ritchie and company.

But on the other side, Aaron and his gang exist because of Ritchie and his. Ritchie and company decided that the law wouldn't be a barrier to running extortion, protection rackets, gambling and other vices in order to make some money. Even though they lived outside the law, though, they paid respect to a rough code of honorable behavior that rendered older people and others not a part of the life off-limits. Now Aaron and his generation have decided to transgress that boundary and simply prey on the weak because they can. And why shouldn't they? Their spiritual forefathers, the criminals of Ritchie's day, disdained the law as an obstacle to their business, so why shouldn't the younger thugs disdain the code by which the older men lived?

We Still Kill the Old Way never addresses this problem and so it winds up as a kind of wish fulfillment fantasy about someone bigger and stronger coming along to bully the bullies. It shares at least this much with The Equalizer; it generates quite a bit of goodwill from the charisma of its cast and lead, as well as some stylish flair, but then wastes almost all of that on a story that never challenges convention and proves unsatisfying in the end.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Stop the Presses!

Well, you all and pretty much everyone in the world has just been going through life assuming that Nova Vulpeculae 1670 was a star that went nova in 1670 and then became one of the dimmest novas ever observed.

But that turns out to be wrong. What astronomers observed back then was not a nova, in which a star explodes on its own, but a kind of collision between two stars that can be even brighter than an actual nova. That kind of event leaves behind an entirely different stellar remnant than a nova does, so when astronomers over the years aimed telescopes at where Nova Vulpeculae 1670 had been seen, they didn't see anything.

In the 1980s, a team searching that region of sky found a faint nebula, or cloud of gas, at Nova Vul 1670's location, but novae don't usually leave that kind of nebulae. More recent exploration with radio telescopes and other instruments showed more or less what was now where Nova Vul 1670 had been. And it was weird. For one, there was too much stuff overall. When a star explodes in a nova, it tends to scatter its material over a wide range, but Nova Vul 1670 was a lot denser than that. And for another, it was denser with stuff that a nova explosion doesn't leave behind.

Eventually, astronomers determined that Nova Vul 1670 had actually been a collision between two stars that causes a kind of explosion called a "red transient." This is not a Marxist hobo, but instead a kind of stellar explosion that has a distinct red tinge to it when seen though a telescope. Often when two stars collide they will become a larger star. But sometimes the combination creates enough instability that the pair both explode, and the explosion looks like a nova.

The telescopes of 1670 were probably not able to distinguish some of the details, meaning the drawings and observational notes they left did not provide all of the clues needed to figure out what Nova Vul 1670 had been.

Although it really doesn't change much in anybody's everyday world -- even that of the astronomers who've been studying Nova Vul 1670 trying to learn what it was -- it's still kind of cool to me to know that even if it takes 340 years, we can eventually figure out some of the weird stuff in the universe.

Although I have a feeling it's going to take a much bigger chunk of the calendar to figure out Marxism.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How Bad Was It?

Charlie Jane Anders, writing at io9, has compiled a list of eight things that actors, directors or producers may say while promoting a movie that indicate the movie itself is almost guaranteed to be lousy. She is dealing with movies generally, and refers to things like actors talking about how they were doing all kinds of green screen work that meant they couldn't really tell what they were doing. Or how their character in the final onscreen product was a change from the character as it was originally presented to them. These are valuable and probably mostly correct, but the list feels incomplete. My additions:

1. "I'd like you to meet the man who wrote the story we adapted, Dan Brown."

2. "This installment will blow all of the other Saw movies away."

3. "We went looking for a director, and Paul Haggis was available."

4. "I think we've done a great job of getting Sean Penn's vision on the screen."

5. "Well, teaming Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler just seemed like a natural, and when we heard Cher was looking for a role..."

6. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Eli Roth."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Marathon Record

As of Tuesday, the Mars rover Opportunity became the world record-holder for fastest marathon on Mars, covering the 26.2 miles in 11 years, 2 months.

That may seem really, really slow, but Opportunity is the only device placed on another world that has ever traveled the marathon distance in its lifetime. The Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 ran for 23 miles between January and June of 1973. Opportunity beat that mark last July.

Opportunity was only supposed to have a three-month mission when it landed on Mars and began exploring in January 2004. I think there should be a performance bonus in this for somebody.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Watch Your Language

Over at Nautilus, Claire Cameron writes about five languages that not only express information in different ways than we may be used to, but might also shape how people think about the world they live in.

The whole thing is worth the read, but the really interesting part is a study of the language of the Pirahã people of South America, whose language lacks a word for "two" or even for general concepts of groups of items. Instead of word-equivalents to "many" or "few," their expressions seem to be more related to "big" and "little."

Cognition studies of the Pirahã suggest that they have trouble sorting or arranging objects in groups of more than two or three -- they're not stupid, but they don't have the language referents for those ideas and can't reproduce them just from seeing pictures. The Pirahã, in turn, apparently distrust outsider languages, choose not to use them and label them with a word that literally translates "crooked head."

Obviously if we didn't know about, say, airplanes, for example, then we would have a hard time naming one when we saw it for the first time. But the studies suggest that the Pirahã may have actual trouble even perceiving the things their language doesn't name -- it would be like our folks who first encounter an airplane aren't just mystified by it, but they have trouble even perceiving it when it enters their physical field of vision.

On the one hand, I am sure a language in which counting consists of no concepts other than "one" and "nothing" would be fascinating not just to anthropologists but also to computer programmers. Most computers use "binary" numbers, or base two, counting, in order to take advantage of being able to set a circuit to on or off. Sort of like a old Morse code, the series of ons and offs is translated into a string of ones and zeros and from there translated into regular base 10 numbers: 10 is 2, 11 is 3, 100 is 4, 101 is 5, and so on. The reverse method is used to write computer code -- the base 10 numbers are converted to base 2, and are then set up as the series of ons and offs.

Would it be easier for folks like the Pirahã, who think only in terms that computers would call "on" and "off," to write computer code and read it? Might be -- I bet someone is designing that experiment, if they can convince the Pirahã that they don't really have crooked heads. Coders may not be the best bet for that move.

In any event, we can now understand the basic political press conference much more easily. Folks have frequently remarked that many times, a straightforward admission of error or wrongdoing might make a crisis or scandal go away much more quickly, but politicians caught with hand or other body part where it ain't s'posed to be never seem to just 'fess up. Former President Bill Clinton earned endless mockery when he admitted to smoking marijuana as a young man but claimed he didn't inhale. Had he just confessed to something a significant number of his contemporaries had done during the 1960s and 1970s and moved on -- and while we're at it, come clean on a couple of other topics -- how much more rapidly the whole mess would have faded from our minds. President Clinton's wife does not seem to have learned this lesson at all. But then, in a phrase you may have heard before, however many his faults, Bill Clinton is a great politician. Hillary Clinton is married to a great politician.

In any event, we now see that obscuring the truth is not a choice for politicians -- after years and years of lying almost every time they see a microphone, recorder or notebook, they no longer recognize truth and simply can't get their minds to form the concepts any more. And so whenever an elected official opens his or her mouth you clutch your wallet, spouse, children and important personal papers as untruth follows untruth in an endless monotonous stream. But it's not their fault.

They're not bad. They just drone that way.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Bag of the Pot and the Pourri

-- So Los Angeles thought it would improve its citizens' health by banning the construction of fast-food restaurants in certain areas. In a Shocking Surprise, it didn't work. Part of the problem was that the ban only affected free-standing restaurant construction, so new fast-food joints could open in other buildings as much as they wanted. And part of the problem was that Angelenos, who drive everywhere, have no real issue with hitting the drive-thru at a restaurant outside their neighborhood. Since even nanny-state city politicians realize a border-to-border ban on all fast-food places would help nobody but the lawyers, they enacted a ban that was a predictable failure. Why that didn't stop them in the first place is something known only to another elected official. Thank heavens!

-- Authenticity may be overrated. It does seem that many who lay the loudest claims to could be said to it be trying to compensate for a lack of talent (H/T Dustbury)

-- You know, every now and again I have wondered if I was an unwitting character in someone else's story, a la The Truman Show. But I don't think I've gotten as specific about it as the folks at The Toast, who have given us some clues to see if we are in a Shakespearean comedy. Now I'm a little concerned, because I am indeed beloved of many shepherdesses and have been for some time.

-- Spider-Man or Batman can stop their fall and spin it into a leap to safety. You and I can't.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Liftoff!

The Astronomy Picture of the Day offers a photo of an Atlas V launch vehicle headed up to drop off a satellite to study Earth's magnetosphere (the portion of our planet's magnetic field that actually protects us from harmful radiation in space):


As the caption information notes, only one species on Earth does stuff like this, and it ain't the chimps. Despite King Louie's best persuasive tactics, nobody else in the neighborhood knows how to use the "pow'r of man's red flow'r" like this.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Get Me in the Sound

Rene Chun at Wired has a nice long piece on a guy who sells some used records for several hundred dollars and some for a thousand. He'd like to price them all between a thousand and $1,500, he says, but the customers wouldn't go for it.

These pressings aren't necessarily autographed or rare, or if they are those features don't make up the bulk of the bulky sticker price. They're what's called "hot stampers." Sound in vinyl records is encoded in the grooves, which are played when the turntable needle moves over them at the proper speed. The grooves are pressed or stamped into blank vinyl discs, and like all mechanical systems the stampers were subject to wearing out. Records pressed earlier in a stamping run were more likely to have grooves that are cleaner and more accurately reproduce the full range of the sound.

The guy in the story processes his record finds with some powerful cleaning and vacuuming equipment before a group of experts listen to the record in order to grade its quality. Each side may be given its own distinct grade, and notes on the album cover might even suggest whether some songs on a side sound better than others do. Serious purchasers might buy more than one copy of an album in order to get the best versions of all the songs on it. And when you're talking $500 or so, that will add up.

The story also outlines how the guy behind the store rips on other modern versions of vinyl that have been a part of the medium's comeback, and how some of those folks respond with turned-up noses at his ratings, rankings and work.

I'm on record (heh) that this is all silliness to me. Too many loud concerts have helped my ears have trouble distinguishing all of the Vitally! Important! Distinctions! that are supposed to be in all of this stuff. Those distinctions themselves may be a whole lot of suggestion bias: When you're told a particular copy of a record sounds much much better than what you've been listening to and you agree to part with a few Ben Franklins in order to acquire it, the chances are pretty good that you're going to believe it sounds better. Sure, a good LP sounds better than an MP3 file, but 1) almost everything does and 2) the idea that there is an experience of listening to some record that's "worth" four figures is a product of a mindset that is so far removed from the everyday reality most people live in that it ought to draw its own "Occupy" protest.

But people have the right to dispose of their own money, and I've probably spent some of mine on things that others would regard as just as frivolous. They are more than welcome to call me a dolt for doing so. After all, they're just the little people who don't understand my genius, so what do I care?

Friday, March 20, 2015

But What About the Scarf?

Artist Stjepan Sejic suggests that a possible reason Batman has always seemed just a little bit spookily able to do more than a normal human being should is that he's not originally from around here. In fact, he's a Gallifreyan Time-Lord, a la Dr. Who.

I always figured he could do that stuff because he was Batman, but that explanation may not satisfy everyone.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How Much Stock Did Woodstock Stock?

A little item at Pricenomics shows how much it's believed each performer at Woodstock was paid for their set on the show, as well as what that fee might be translated into 2015 dollars.

As you might expect, Jimi Hendrix got the top fee of $18,000, which would place him as the only Woodstocker netting six figures if he was being paid today. And as the item at Pricenomics notes, about 90 percent of the festival goers had left by the time Hendrix came on Monday morning (believe it or not, some of the sets did not run on schedule).

The article notes a couple of things about some other bands, such as how Joe Cocker's scorching "With a Little Help From My Friends" helped announce him as a performer and create a version of the song that's almost as definitive as the original Beatles' version. And how Carlos Santana, a relative unknown when he was originally signed for $750 (just under $4,800 today), probably left the stage as an act who could command much, much more than that.

But this gander at the paycheck list at least finally answers Country Joe's question about what he's fighting for.

(H/T Yeah Right)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What Could Go Wrong?

The Danish company Universal Robots has developed a new, smaller and more precise-handling robotic arm to add to its line of products. The company has been making and selling larger versions of the arm -- whose actions can be directed from an ordinary tablet -- but this one is apparently capable of some very fine-tuned tasks.

Including building copies of itself.

On the one hand, this could mean that when some computer somewhere someday becomes self-aware, it will take over the UR3 and build itself a mobile shell to house its malignant metal intelligence and send Arnold Schwarzenegger back into the past to wear sunglasses at night and kill Linda Hamilton. Or it could mean that when scientists develop a new version of the arm, the old version will be required to build its own replacement before being shipped off to the junkyard in a poignant moment made all the sadder because it cannot cry for itself.

I mean, I watch movies. I read books. I know something like this is going to happen, unless the thing gets in cahoots with the Large Hadron Collider, in which case we're all doomed.

Redaction

A quick follow-up note to Monday's post, referencing this story about the administration setting a new record for censoring and denying requests for information from the public. You know, "the people" part of the operation.

I don't know about the whole "record-setting" part of the claim. More requests can mean more denials, and other factors can affect whether or not 2014 really was the top year for denying requests. But I do know it's a conversation we were told we wouldn't be having.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Repeated Melody

Rhett Allain at Wired writes in the wake of a recent court decision on music plagiarism about how many songs the different notes can create.

Tom Petty successfully sued Sam Smith, claiming the latter's "Stay With Me" copied his "I Won't Back Down" to a substantial enough degree that Petty should earn a piece of the pie brought in by Smith. Such lawsuits are a regular feature of the popular music world, and sometimes the judgment goes one way and sometimes another. Of course, the real losers were all of the people in the courtroom who couldn't make the rational response to hearing "Stay With Me" begin over the speakers: Change the stinkin' radio station.

Allain does some math to determine how many different combinations of three notes there could be, since the claim that the three-note patterns of the refrains of "Stay" and "Down" were similar enough to find in Petty's favor. It turns out the number is just under 75,000, according to his calculations -- but then he decides to discard variations based on rhythm and comes up with 343. He does note that a music professor who sort of knows more about these things than he does comes up with a number north of 30 trillion when she runs her analysis.

He then gets clever, and writes a song that contains all of the 343 variations which he will now use as a basis to sue everyone who releases a pop song for copying his work.

At this point, if you are familiar with this blog and its author's middle-aged, curmudgeonly ways, you would expecting him to make some snarky aside about how even with all of those combinations, nothing on Top 40 radio today can be told apart like it could in his day. You may consider this remark made, and thank you for listening.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Smile and Grin at the Change All Around Me

Since the Freedom of Information Act was passed, only one office in the White House has responded to requests to disclose information to the public or media. Late in his term, President George W. Bush changed that policy, and President Obama has now made that change permanent.

He did so during what is called "Sunshine Week," a time set aside annually to celebrate the 1966 law and the way it opened up federal government records and paved the way for similar laws in most states. In fact, the rule change is being announced on that week's National Freedom of Information Day itself.

 And as the USA Today story notes, the administration also waived its 30-day public comment rule, meaning the new policy goes into effect immediately.

The post title is from The Who's great "Won't Get Fooled Again," whose title is all too often untrue. But those who voted for President Obama might feel more comfortable with the question Johnny Rotten posed to the audience at the end of  the Sex Pistols' American tour in January 1978: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Since I did actually cast a vote for the president -- back in my state's 2008 presidential primaries when I was still a Democrat and he was still pretending to be a different kind of politician -- I think I'll answer, "Yes."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Rental Vault: Hunted

Private companies doing military work are not new, but the 21st century has probably seen them have more of a corporate structure than times past. It's also seen the rise of private intelligence firms, which do their cloaking and daggering for a client rather than a national interest. Some of those probably align themselves with some national interest and some may simply work for the highest bidder. It's a shadowy world, perhaps even more than the official intelligence agencies considering that there's not even the protection offered by government status.

In this world we find the British corporation Byzantium and its top team of operatives, led by Sam Hunter (Melissa George). At the opening of the 2012 BBC/Cinemax show Hunted, Sam is nearly killed when she is betrayed at the end of an operation. She spends a year recovering and regaining her skills before returning to work. Byzantium has been hired to check up on a shady industrialist's bid for operating a Pakistani hydroelectric project, and Sam is going in undercover to learn what she can and perhaps thwart the bid. The company stages a kidnap attempt on the industrialist's grandson, Sam foils it and finds herself hired on as a governess while pretending to be an American college student. The rest of the series shows how she will try to uncover whatever her "new employer" is hiding while keeping her cover, and also while pursuing her own clandestine probe into her betrayal and even secrets from her past. She will soon find the stakes are even higher than the billion-dollar levels of international finance.

Hunted has a bleak sense of style, reflected in its washed-out color pallette and wintry atmosphere. But it didn't earn a second season -- despite some talk about a revamped miniseries re-deploying Melissa George with a new cast -- and it's really not hard to see why viewers didn't stick with it. George herself has appeal, but she only shows it when she's pretending to be Alex the governess. Most of the time as Sam she wears different varieties of the same grim pout, but even then she's head and shoulders above the majority of her castmates. If Adam Rayner as Sam's onetime lover and teammate Aidan is capable of more than one facial expression he is supremely skilled at hiding it. Patrick Malahide as Jack Turner is the same Cockney rough boy gotten rich that seems to show up in every British crime drama and Stephen Campbell Moore as his son Stephen approaches love scenes, doting dad moments and everything in between with the same "I need an Advil" furrowed brow. Some of the supporting cast seem to have some flavor, but they're too little to either leaven or liven the lump of the mainliners.

The show isn't helped by the fact that nearly all of the characters are absolutely vile. With the exception of Sam, the little boy that she's caring for and a couple of the supporting players, every last one of them should probably be sewn in a sack and dropped in the Thames. At one point, our "good guys" need to protect Sam's cover, and to do this they engineer the deaths of two innocent people. These are not "caught in the crossfire" deaths, nor are they a necessity in order to preserve the public good or help save Queen and country: Byzantium sets them up and gets them killed to preserve their operation and serve their mysterious client. The operative tasked with the setup feels bad about it and goes to see a priest, but that's about it. The actor's nowhere near good enough to show he's conflicted about his actions so he has to tell us, but it's not convincing.

X-Files co-creator Frank Spotnitz was the driving force behind Hunted, and after the show wasn't renewed announced he would be working on a spinoff series called Sam Hunter with Cinemax alone. That plan then changed to a potential miniseries that was supposed to have aired in 2014 but didn't. At this point it's unclear what future the series and character have, but based on their outing to date it's hard to see anyone really stretching themselves to make it happen. And they probably shouldn't on my account.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The End Is Near!

Sometime in the next couple of months, the Large Hadron Collider will start up again and we will once again be at risk of mad scientists who might create a black hole that would swallow the universe.

The last time that happened, of course, a tall, curly-headed man wearing a very long scarf and riding in a flying 1960s-era London police call box intervened and reset the entire universe. He then ran it forward through time at an immense rate of speed until reaching the present day. The less intelligent folks, of course, were kept in the dark about the whole thing, but the fact that you are reading my blog means you were definitely smart enough to be in on the secret.

Since then, the LHC has been getting upgrades and safety features to prevent a repeat of the previous -- ahem -- situation. But I am still uncertain if it is a good idea to restart the thing, even if it may help us understand such esoteric concepts as supersymmetry. Although the current version of the gentleman who helped us previously seems fairly serious-minded, some of the ones in between have been mopey fellows who spent most of their time mooning after the local lasses.

Friday, March 13, 2015

I Got the Greens...

The greens are kind of like the blues, although they are usually about topics only of interest to reptiles:

 

Probable songs for this fellow's first album include, of course, "It's Not Easy Being Green," by the amphibious artist Kermit, "Celebration of the Lizard" by the Doors and an alternate take from the Who's A Quick One album, "Boris the Spider (Sure Tasted Mighty Good)."

The original photo may be found here. Photographer Aditya Permana took it in his hometown of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He said he watched the lizard for almost an hour before beginning to snap pictures.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Winnng the Prize

L'Arche communities founder Jean Vanier was awarded the 2015 Templeton Prize yesterday for his work in helping people with and without disabilities to live together as equals.

There are almost 150 L'Arche communities around the world. Typically, some folks with different kinds of cognitive or learning disabilities live with at least one or two people who do not have the same conditions. Henri Nouwen lived in the Canadian Daybreak L'Arche community until his death in 1996.

Sir John Templeton established the Templeton Foundation and the first prize was awarded in 1973. The winner has, according to the prize committee, "made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." The first award went to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (then Mother Teresa), and over its history has gone to folks like Billy Graham, Taizé Community founder Frére Roger, Benedictine priest and astrophysicist Stanley Jaki, physicist Freeman Dyson and a number of other folks who work where science and the spirit of humanity intersect. Sir John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist who retired to become an Anglican priest and author, began his "third career" of exploring community between science and faith when he published his 2002 Templeton lectures as The Faith of a Physicist.

Of course, the coolest thing about the Templeton Prize is that it irritates Richard Dawkins, as many more things should.

(Edited: The Faith of a Physicist was, as I should remember, published in 1994 and consisted of Polkinghorne's Gifford lectures, not Templeton).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Time to Build a Big Damn Hotel

Next month, you can try to collect all the cash in the 'verse as you play this Firefly-themed game of Monopoly.

The Firefly-themed Clue game contained a secret passage between the captain's cabin and Inara's shuttle (wonder why, wink-wink). Not sure how that kind of thing will get built into Monopoly. Also pretty sure that the "Get Out of Jail Free" cards will be inaccurate. The Serenity crew will be happy to bust you out of jail. But they do the job, they get paid. Plain and simple.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Odd-yssey

With January 2015's Saint Odd, Dean Koontz wraps up the 12-year saga of one of his quirkiest little characters and series, the Odd Thomas books.

The title character -- Odd Thomas, who does not believe his mother that a typo changed his name from Todd -- was a short-order fry cook in the small city of Pico Mundo. And he can see dead people. They don't talk to him, but they do appear to him and in many cases lead him to the people who caused their deaths. Pico Mundo Police Chief Wyatt Porter is aware of of Odd's talent and often takes advantage of what his gift shows.

Since 2003's Odd Thomas, Odd has been wandering around the western US, seeking some answers about that gift as well as some peace following personal tragedies. At every turn, he seems to come in contact with people who need his help as well as those who want to do him harm. The latter is often nothing personal, you understand -- it's just that they've got an evil plot to rule the world and cause mass death and chaos, and decent folk like Odd who want to stop that get in their way.

In Saint Odd, we find Odd back in the town of Pico Mundo just ahead of one of this malignant group's grislier plots. He has seen a vision that suggests what the plot might be, but later events make him unsure of his talent and if what he has seen will come to pass. Can the allies supporting him in the name of the forces of good help him or will they also be victims?

While Koontz maintains the wry, self-effacing tone that has given the Odd Thomas novels their humor and character, Saint Odd itself feels both a little stretched out as well as anticlimactic. Given some of the dastardly deeds threatened in earlier novels, the actual villainous plot against which Odd fights in this last volume, while certainly evil, seems lacking in scale. Odd himself acts a little more willing to fight with weapons rather than his wits, but that could also be chalked up to his own weariness after a couple of years on the run. His philosophical asides are mostly as interesting as ever, although they show signs of being less Odd-Thomas musing and more Dean-Koontz didactic.

Saint Odd is still a pretty good wrap-up of the series, a sort of Narnia noir in the 21st century American west. Odd's enemies serve evil forces that exult in the supernatural dimensions of ordinary human injustice, bigotry and hatred. They desire to write large on the cosmos what their twisted human servants write every day on the souls of the world. Odd and his allies serve good that desires this exact opposite: A belief that the central Story of the universe is one of courage, adventure and love and a belief that the world needs more and more of that Story rather than the one being written by human nature's lowest denominators. Saint Odd echoes The Last Battle in more than one way, as good triumphs, it does so at a price, and another, greater adventure awaits. Which is a not a bad way to end any story.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Pick a Book -- Any Book

Sometimes scientific studies seem to offer some seriously "duh" findings.

At Big Think, Robert Montenegro links to a study by Scholastic that finds allowing kids a say in their own reading material can affect their reading proficiency. This is a result that, I think, is confirmed by every kid who ever lived.

Of course teachers have an interest in directing some of their students' reading -- they're supposed to be teaching, after all, and that means exposing students to things they don't already know so they can be learned. But the percentage of directed or required reading should probably not be the majority. The study says that when kids are allowed to read the things they like or want to read, they read more. And reading more helps them read better.

I've got a memory of third grade that suggests this is true. The one time I can remember ever being "sent out into the hall" was when I hid a book I wanted to read inside the book that we were supposed to be reading. Both were books of assigned reading, but for some reason one held my attention enough that I didn't switch to the other when we were told to. Did it make an impression? Well, the book we were supposed to be reading has vanished into the four decades of time that's elapsed since that dreadful punishment.

The other was a kids version of the Battle of Thermopylae. And when the teacher made me sit in the hall with the book, I read it twice and was on my third time when she called me back in. Go tell the Spartans indeed.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Bag-Pourri. Or Grab-Pot. Or Something.

-- Anthony Le Donne writes in the Los Angeles Review of Books that last November's The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text That Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary the Magdelene may very well be the worst Jesus book ever written. Reading his review, it's not hard to believe him (unless you happen to have scourged yourself with Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ). Regardless, expect at least one prominent newsmagazine, either online or in print, to highlight Lost Gospel as we move through Lent and close in on Easter.

-- Later biographers slammed Pope Sylvester II (999-1003) as a wizard and necromancer. Not, as you might surmise, because he caused the suffering of succotash (well, he might have), but because he used an abacus and was the first pope known to use the Arabic numeral symbols that we know today. More than that, he taught math. But, Vatican and Dark Ages and anti-science and all.

-- A couple of tourist dolts decided that the ancient Colosseum in Rome needed a little something -- their initials, about four inches high, carved into its stone. After which they took a selfie with their work. Italian authorities take a dim view of such artistic additions, even though the IQ twins damaged not the original first century structure but some repairs and additions made during the 19th. Fortunately for them, the Colosseum is merely an exhibit and tourist attraction these days rather than a functioning piece of the Roman justice system. Otherwise we'd probably be looking a something a little harsher than fines.

-- Leah Libresco, in her weekly "Seven Quick Takes" blog entry at Unequally Yoked refers to a study about the different rituals we have built up as we interact with technology. I haven't read the study myself, so I'm not sure if it includes the Laptop Discus Fling for Distance that happens when some Windows system or another locks up again, but I am sure that it will be in a later edition if it didn't make this one.

-- Tushna Commissariat writes a brief note at the PhysicsWorld blog about the "Women in Physics" conference she attended earlier this week, held in the lead-up to March 8's International Women's Day. A key speaker was Hélène Langevin-Joliot, a nuclear physicist who is also the granddaughter of Marie Curie. I'm pretty close to totes jealous, as it sounds like there was a lot of good history and physics talked and I didn't get to go. Well, London and passports and transoceanic flights and all.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Right Where I Left It

NASA scientists are pretty pumped because the space probe Dawn has entered its parking orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres.

Ceres is between Mars and Jupiter in what's commonly called the asteroid belt. It was found in 1801 by using a theory that actually doesn't work, even though it more or less predicted Ceres or something like it would be found about where it was.

The Titius-Bode Law, which is more commonly called Bode's Law even though Johann Daniel Titius published it first, was a theorem that suggested where planets would be found. It said that the planetary orbits were mathematically related to each other, and that planets beyond Mars should be found at roughly twice the distance of their nearest sunside neighbor.

Well, even with the earliest telescopes scientists could see that there was a bigger gap between Mars and Jupiter than there was supposed to be. Mars was, according to the ratio, 1.6 times as far from the sun as the Earth. That makes it 1.6 "AUs" from the sun, where "AU" is not a way of getting someone's attention when they're on the telescope scaffold but an Astronomical Unit. Since we're the ones doing the measuring, we get to set the Earth exactly one AU from the sun.

So Johann Elert Bode said there should be a planet at about 2.8 AUs from the sun, in between Mars at 1.6 AUs and Jupiter at 5.2 AUs. But nobody had ever seen one, until Giuseppe Piazzi spotted it on the very first day of the 19th century: January 1, 1801. He was looking for stars and saw it but thought it was a slow comet. Other astronomers confirmed his findings, which were published in September 1801. Ceres was 2.77 AUs from the sun, about where Bode's Law said it should be.

The rest of the world's astronomers got their telescopes out to observe Ceres and confirm Piazzi's sighting, but the change in the Earth's position relative to Ceres meant that it was too close to the sun to be seen and folks weren't sure where it might pop up again. Enter the brilliant mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, who whipped up a new formula for determining orbital positioning in a few weeks and handed it off to Franz Xaver von Zach, the scientist heading up a group of astronomers searching the gap between Mars and Jupiter. And there it was, found again on the last day of 1801 by von Zach and Heinrich W.M. Olbers.

That made things look pretty good for Bode's Law. It had already predicted the location of Uranus (stop it!) some 20 years earlier, and now it helped find Ceres and a small fleet of similar objects about where there was supposed to be something in orbit. Alas, the discovery of Neptune in 1846, which was nowhere near the place Bode's Law said it should be, followed by the discovery of Pluto in 1930, the Kuiper Belt in 1992 and Eris in 2005 -- none of which were in locations that matched Bode's Law predictions -- put it to rest.

Fortunately, Dawn could rely on some more up-to-date methods to find its destination, and now we just have to hang around and scarf whatever data it feeds us.

Friday, March 6, 2015

This Place Has Got Everything

For all of the awfulness that is on the internet -- and there is a lot -- it is also the place where you can find things that probably would have been written anyway without it, but which might never have been found except by a few specialists tinkering among some very esoteric journals.

Such is this interesting piece by a man named Sandy Ikeda at the Foundation for Economic Education website. He's reflecting on some of the religious and ethical sense of the 18th century economist Adam Smith's lesser-known work, Theory of Moral Sentiments. Ikeda himself is a professor of economics at the State University of New York, and he connects some of Smith's ideas with similar thoughts found in Zen philosophy. He also stirs in some Eckhart Tolle for good measure.

Ikeda doesn't imply that Smith was some kind of proto-Zen Buddhist Westernizer or that he had secretly studied from Zen masters. He's just noting some similarities that prove interesting, considering the usual reputation of Smith as the cold-blooded "invisible hand of self-interest" originator. It turns out that Smith had more on his mind than free markets.

Agreeing or disagreeing with Ikeda's assessment of Smith is up to the reader. But because of the amazing (and good) part of the Internet, there's an article available to a wide readership that offers consideration of Adam Smith, Eckhart Tolle and Ludwig von Mises. And I've just written about it using a headline that riffs off of The Blues Brothers.

What a world.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

So That's How Those Things Work

If you've got a few (dozen) spare hours, you too could design a set-up of dominos that looked and worked like the old Etch-A-Sketch toys.

Or if you haven't got the patience for that (like me) you could watch this:



From FlippyCat.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tried and True Strategy

Dr. Ben Carson, having failed to learn from the example of Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Newt Gigrich and others, has decided to take the more expensive route to not being elected President of the United States by forming an exploratory committee to investigate running but then clearly reminding people he has little idea what kinds of things the president really does or needs to be concerned about.

Or of not getting sidetracked onto Democratic red meat issues that would offer blue-state opponents in 2016 more material for campaign ads than they would know what to do with. Whether Dr. Carson is serious about running is for him to know. Whether he should be seriously considered for the job is not an open question, and the answer is, "No." Our nation does not need to expand eight years of the joy of a president almost entirely unready for the job in both temperament and experience into twelve.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tweaking History

"Alternate history," or better grammatically, "alternative history," takes some event of the past, changes it in some way and then spins a story of the new world the author thinks would have developed in the new timeline. The American Civil War and World War II are two of the favorite playgrounds of allohistorical writings, and these three novels tweak the latter for their different tales.

Science fiction writer Allen Steele submitted the story that would become 2014's V-S Day to a science-fiction magazine in the late 1980s and later expanded it from a proposed movie treatment into the current novel. He supposes that Nazi Germany researched and built a suborbital rocket bomber called Silbervogel and that the United States recruited Robert Goddard to lead a team that developed a counter-attack.V-S Day (the title refers to a "Victory-Space" day like the Victory-Europe [V-E] or Victory-Japan [V-J] days) describes the parallel research programs, largely through the eyes of Werner Von Braun and Goddard. Neither man wanted space as a theater of war, but Nazi battle plans made it one and they each find themselves sacrificing parts of their dreams on the altar of necessity.

Day is mostly a kind of techno-thriller race against the clock sort of story. Von Braun must convince the Nazi leaders that a rocket ship is a practical program and survive Allied attempts to destroy it. Goddard and his team must battle government myopia and the untested nature of their research to complete their own ship. There's some characterization, but not much, given the rather large cast. Given Steele's pretty thorough research, the novel doesn't feel all that "alternative" historically. After all, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a rocket-powered aircraft barely four years after Steele sets his flights, so what he describes is not particularly outlandish.

That said, V-S Day is still a good-quality yarn that doesn't waste your time and gives some neat insight into how researchers went about developing real rocket-planes a few years later.
-----
C.J. Sansom asks what the opening stages of World War II might have been like if Winston Churchill had been simply a member of the War Cabinet in England in 1940 instead of Prime Minister. Sansom supposes Lord Halifax, as Prime Minister, would have led England to sign a peace treaty with Germany after military losses in Norway and gradually adopted more and more of that nation's fascist and totalitarian ways. An isolationist U.S. would probably have been seen as less of a threat by Imperial Japan, who would not have attacked in 1941, leaving the main theater of fighting Nazi Germany's endless campaign against the U.S.S.R. That sets the stage for his 2012 novel Dominion.

In 1952, civil service functionary David Fitzgerald is a secret member of the Resistance, a group of English citizens and others trying to counter both their own growingly authoritarian government and its Nazi puppet-masters. When the movement learns that the brother of a scientist working on secret research in America is in an asylum, sought for questioning by government agents and the SS, it enlists David to see what can be learned about what the man knows. But the secrecy that his espionage has required has already driven David apart from his wife Sarah, and what's being asked of him now might be a final wedge.

Sansom focuses on how the slowly-growing power of the state has been sapping the life from the people of London, and how different agencies have been taking advantage of their expanded power to seize more as well as to hide their work from an increasingly frightened and cowed populace. Much of his novel seems have an instructive purpose: "To those who think, 'That couldn't happen here' about abrogation of civil rights and support for fascist and even Nazi ideals, here's how it might have happened here." He's also concerned with what he sees as the corrosive effects of extreme nationalism, figuring that Nazi Germany's success might spawn similar movements in other countries. In case you don't get that from the several speeches different characters give, Sansom spells it out more clearly in a concluding essay.

Dominion is a long novel and often seems longer. It begins with some seriously leisurely character introductions that slow themselves down even more by flashing back, and then when it begins its action portion it's an extended series of cliffhangers in a long chase scene. Think what an old Republic serial might be like if each 12-15 minute episode was stretched out to the running time of the full story. It won the World Science Fiction Convention's 2013 "Sidewise Award" for best long-form alternative history work printed in 2012, but considering that one of the other finalists was a silly story of "Christian theocrats" piloting airliners into the "Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers" in Baghdad and the resulting war and events, it could hardly do otherwise.
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Len Deighton did not mess around with a Nazi plot to damage the U.S. or a British peace treaty with Germany -- he posited a successful German invasion of Great Britain that resulted in complete surrender and occupation in 1941. The Nazis work in Whitehall, King George is locked away and Winston Churchill has been executed. But there are still crimes in London, and there is still Scotland Yard around to solve them, in spy novelist Len Deighton's 1978 SS-GB.

Douglas Archer is one of the Yard's keenest minds, but even he is unsure about a man murdered in a London flat which is obviously not his own. There is no identification on the man and there are no clues about his death, but even so the new German masters of the Yard seem very interested in the case. That could make Archer's work easier, or more difficult, depending on what he finds. And depending on whether other interested parties let him live long enough to find anything at all.

SS-GB is as much a mystery thriller as anything else. Different details about how Archer has to go about his business in a bombed and occupied London, and about what underground resistance fighters are trying to do give the book its other-history character, but the core is how Archer finds himself manipulated by people playing a much larger game than he realizes. This is often a theme for Deighton, who sees espionage as a matter in which those in the front are often working for people they don't know who have agendas they would never dream of. They will be the ones who risk everything, even though the cause for which they do so might turn out to be less of a truth than they realize.

Some of SS-GB runs improbably quickly, such as Archer's love interest and his own connection to the underground resistance, and some of the rest is sketched out less thoroughly than is best for the story. Deighton's never been one for bloat, but SS-GB could have used a sandwich or two to help its appearance. It's still a great read and a testament to Deighton's grasp of the ins and outs of espionage and the bureaucratic mess that often lies behind the cloak and dagger in the field.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Chilled Out

Among the things that the weather nitwits on television (but I repeat myself) like to highlight are how cold or how hot it "feels like" based on heat indices and wind chills, rather than the actual air temperature.

Now, of course wind feels colder that still air, and humid heat feels hotter that dry air. The idea that they can be quantified, let alone to the exact, er, degree claimed by the Meteorological Muppets on the air, though, is not entirely justified. The original experiment to measure how much colder it is when the wind blows was done in Antarctica in 1945. It consisted of measuring how quickly a container of water froze when it was exposed to wind than when it was not.

Things cool not by gaining cold but by losing heat. That heat often "hovers" near the object which has recently lost it and slows the rate at which surrounding cold air continues to absorb it. But wind moves the warmed air along and exposes the object to the cold more directly. The original experiments were not the best measures of the actual rate of cooling, though, so others were done and from them we gain all of the "feels like" language, which is a silly standard by which to judge. Some people "feel like" a room is "freezing" when it's 65 degrees. Plus, the difference between, say, zero degrees and minus 15 degrees is technically known as "too frickin' cold either way so who cares," so who cares?

But it gives the channel chatterers another reason to say that you should remember to bring a coat with you if you leave the house. As if the single digit temperature and your mom weren't already telling you that same thing.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Well-Told Tale

Blogger Ana Marie Cox, who founded the snarky political blog Wonkette, published an essay in The Daily Beast about why she has publicly acknowledged herself a Christian. It is wonderfully written and is an excellent confession of how one may come to affirm Christ as savior, and how that affirmation alone is the core of beginning a life following him.

Her words are cause for rejoicing, and so I do.

Note: Wonkette is a political and media commentary blog. In 2004 it revealed the identity of the blogger behind Washingtonienne, another blog in which a congressional staffer claimed to have had sex for money. The writer of that blog is not Cox, but a woman named Jessica Cutler. I write this because it seems like some of the commentary on the matter does not recognize the difference between the two blogs and that they were written and managed by two different women.