Friday, September 30, 2016

Window Pics

Christian van Heijst likes to take pictures out of his front window. Since he's a co-pilot, that makes for some pretty spectacular shots.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

That's a Wrap

My preferred baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, did not make the postseason this year. The injury bug and the difficulty of achieving that feat three years in a row worked against them, and numbers don't lie.

But perhaps the real cause for mourning is the final retirement of Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, one of the game's greatest voices and observers. The Dodgers are not my preferred team, as their move from Brooklyn helped our nation's error of paying far too much of its attention to California. But Vin Scully would be everyone's preferred announcer, much as Keith Jackson was for college football, and his departure -- though a well-earned rest for a good guy -- is a sad thing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Smells Like Twenty-Five Years

Photographer John Chapple tracked down Spencer Elden to recreate a couple of photos taken of him when he was a baby. Not unusual, but the photo in question was of young Spencer in a pool appearing as though he was swimming after a dollar bill on a hook, and the "album" in question was not family photos, but the Nirvana breakout Nevermind.

Elden has done the shot before, and is an artist when not modeling for rock-music-paradigm-shifting albums.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Vote While You Can, Monkey-Boy!

Brian J. Noggle offers what seems, in this irrational year of 2016, to be a perfectly rational choice. Tablet seems to balk at posting the photo, so just head on over to the link.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Forewarned

So tonight was the first of however many presidential debates are scheduled for 2016. A number of my friends on Facebook seemed disappointed with them in one way or another.

My opinion is that anyone disappointed in whatever circus Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton collaborate to produce should remember the words of the scorpion just after it had stung the frog ferrying it across the river. "You knew what I was when you made the deal."

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Whither Australia?

Wither Australia literally. The Down Under continent is one of the world's fastest-moving tectonic plates, which means every year it's about 2.7 inches farther north than it was the year before. And it rotated a little bit clockwise.

Slow compared to most movement -- although still faster than John Kerry's clueward motion -- that level of shifting is enough to make global positioning coordinates inaccurate in just a few years. The Times story at the link notes that the Australian agency concerned with such matters has adjusted the national latitude and longitude four times in the last 50 years -- and about 20 years ago it shifted things 656 feet.

This year's change will be a relative twitch by comparison at just under five feet. Those kinds of changes are needed by engineering and mining concerns which use GPS coordinates to site wells, drills, experiments and the like.

The nearest land to Australia is Papua New Guinea, but at this rate of movement it will be a just under two million years before the Cape York Peninsula crosses the Torres Strait. We don't have to worry in the US, since the Aussies aren't headed in our direction and the different tectonic plates don't move that way. Even if they were coming right at us, it would take them the better part of 200 million years to get here. They might bring Secretary Kerry's clue with them.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Good Idea? A Bad Idea? Both? Neither? Yes!

Writing in The Atlantic, Sam Kriss suggests that the cosmological concept of the multiverse, which was designed to solve a problem, may have created some much larger ones. In fact, he says, the concept could be responsible for "rotting" our culture.

Some background first. The "multiverse" is an idea that supposed to help answer why we live in the universe we do. See, there are a number of basic physical phenomena that are pretty finely balanced and if they were to have swayed a little this way or that, life might not have been possible. Which is fine except when you hold the principle that there isn't now and never has been any force guiding or shaping those phenomena. Because the odds that a universe would develop where even matter is possible, let alone life forms that reflect on the meaning and purpose of their existences, are close enough to impossible that it doesn't make much of a difference.

One solution is called the "anthropic principle." In its most limited version, all it says is that we know the universe formed this way because we're here to observe it. In its strongest version, it's not really distinguishable from creationism. There are other points along a continuum between those two poles. Some folks reject the principle completely, though, even in its mildest form. There is no guiding hand or principle behind the creation of the universe and it was all random. Which gets us back to those impossible odds at getting us the universe we have.

But the multiverse proposes that the universe we live in isn't the only one. At every point of creation where more than one thing could happen, all of them did and each created a branching path of reality. So "somewhere" there's a universe where gravity varies with the cube of distance instead of the square of it. And "somewhere" there's a universe where matter was spread so evenly following the Big Bang that no planets or stars could ever form.

Kriss notes that as a concept strictly limited to physical properties, the multiverse does solve some issues for strict materialists. But as the idea expands beyond physical laws, it can have a real wet-blanket impact on things. Imagine that every time you made a decision, the possibility that you didn't chose was chosen, but in another universe. Every time you said "Yes," another you in another reality said, "No." Every time you decided not to do something, another you in another reality decided to do it. Every time Donald Trump said something stupid, in another reality another Donald Trump didn't. Every time Hillary Clinton wasn't truthful, in another reality another Hillary Clinton was.

Yeah, I don't buy those last two either.

Anyway, Kriss says that knowing that none of our decisions actually makes much of a difference makes us figure, "Why bother?" Why write a book or record an album or paint a picture when there are countless other realities in which we won't, and which will get along just fine without whatever it is we would have produced.

I'm of two minds about Kriss's article. On the one hand, I think he sees the multiverse concept as having penetrated much more deeply into culture than it has. There's just not that many people who know about it, let alone accept it as a way of understanding reality. Plus, it's not like culture needs advanced theoretical physics concepts to rot. Eli Roth has managed to create plenty of decay with just plain ol' retread mindless gore, for example. And although one might wonder if one universe is enough to contain Kanye West's opinion of himself, the multiverse concept is not required to observe how he and his famous-for-no-good-reason spouse have absorbed an incredibly outsized share of public attention.

On the other hand, there's something to the idea that a reality that includes all possibilities takes away much of a reason to choose from among them. Why do A when the me who does B will have a completely different result that's just as real as mine? A belief that everything -- not just the basic laws of physics -- is involved in creating new slices of the multiverse could certainly bring people to wonder what point there might be to their choices. So Kriss may just be ahead of a curve that will one day be just as damaging as he believes.

But I guess you'd say someone like me, mired as I am in my orthodox Christian theism, sort of cheats around the issue. Not because I believe the universe is 6,000 years old or the dinosaurs died out because Noah was exercising his mammalian privilege -- but because I believe our choices and actions definitely matter. They matter not because they represent some kind of unique irrevocable channeling of reality into one lane or another -- but because the choosers matter to the One who has already chosen them. And they will continue to do so, no matter how weird reality gets.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Blow-Up Pub!

Bounce houses and games at kids' parties are common and a lot of fun. Adults may join in, but there haven't always been similar things for them.

There are now, as Boston-based The Paddy Wagon Pub will rent you an inflatable Irish pub in which you may hold your lawn party or gathering. A larger version will hold 80 people but there are also smaller ones. They'll also provide proper Irish food and, of course, proper Irish beverages, if you are of age. It doesn't say on the company's website, but I imagine the catering part of the deal is limited to areas near Boston itself.

Should you be a wee bit outside the area, you can actually buy your own inflatable pub from the outfit in Ireland that makes them. Of course, then you have to provide your own food and beverages.

Although it's doubtless a fun venue for a lawn party or event, there are some things about the inflatable version of the pub that just aren't the same as the real thing. For example, they have no real floor and just rest on the ground. Which means passing out face first because one's consumption of said authentic beverages was just a bit, ah, enthusiastic is not nearly as painful in the blow-up pub. This could be a plus.

But on the down side, some forms of traditional pub entertainment are not advisable. Dart games, for example, are strongly discouraged. And it's best not to let local law enforcement have a breathalyzer anywhere near the deflate valve after the party's over.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sailing the Seas of Titan

Big Think features an article about how a submarine would be able to explore the hydrocarbon seas of Saturn's moon Titan. It sounds very cool, with the only problem being that such a mission might not get off the ground until 2040. Actuarily speaking, that's a date with a significant chance of not being seen by your humble correspondent, who would very much like to see a mission in which a spacecraft flies a submarine to another planet's moon.

If NASA or another agency does manage to develop this mission, I would suggest the best possible name for the submarine portion of the craft is "Sebastian."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

So We Do Know Where It Comes From?

According to a new Center for Disease Control study, you should not hug your cat, because it could kill you.

Not intentionally, although that might still happen if you mistakenly offend your furry little psychopath and then fail to appease its wrath with tuna and head scratching. But through catching a bacterial infection commonly called cat scratch fever. The CDC surveyed 13,000 cases over 8 years and discovered that the annual rate of outpatient diagnoses was 4.5 per 100,000, which was apparently more frequent than they anticipated. I know it's supposed to represent a percentage, but the idea of a half a case of cat scratch fever is still silly.

The bacteria are actually carried on fleas that are on the cats rather than on the cats themselves ("Told you so!" -- Augustus de Morgan and Jonathon Swift). So keeping fleas off the pets is a good way to reduce the risk of exposure. Since it's also a good way to reduce your risk of itching like crazy and having a houseful of fleas, a lot of people were already doing that.

Another opinion suggests that a common vector for the disease is the kitty next door, and suggests seeing the doctor so he can give you some cure. Unfortunately there is always the possibility of getting it some more, so it's probably advisable to not antagonize said kitty next door and perhaps try to calm it with a stroke of your hand (Nugent, T.).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cheaters Never Prosper...Wait, How Much? Step Aside...

John Warner, writing at Inside Higher Education, comments on a story from The Chronicle of Higher Education about the money to be made in what CHE calls the "new cheating economy." Warner notes that if he went to work for one of the research assistance (wink wink) firms, he could make more money that he's making teaching a course as an adjunct professor.

Warner's writing a blog post rather than a structured article, but he points towards probably one of the biggest factors in this weird topsy-turvy situation: The morphing of a college degree from a signal that the holder has developed some basic elements of a learned character into a credential for employment. Cheating undercuts the whole purpose of the former, but it makes perfect sense for the latter. Because you can't cheat your way into wisdom but you can certainly cut corners to obtain a credential.

Can a person fake understanding Plato? Not with anyone who understands Plato, I'm pretty sure (and that's a subset of individuals that doesn't include me anymore; it's been too long since I had to read him). Handing in a bought paper for a class on Plato won't make up the gap. But if that same person is being hired by, say, a financial firm, is it likely that they'll ever run into a situation where they would need to back up the ideas their hired ghostwriter put in that paper? Nope, all the HR department cares about is whether or not there's a piece of paper somewhere that says diploma on it.

I'm writing not sure of what a solution to this issue would look like. And part of that, I freely admit, is that I've got no good answer for someone who might ask me why they shouldn't cut some corners when the point of the degree is checking off a box on an application instead of developing an understanding of the world we live in and how we might want to live in it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

NASA Looking at Pluto: "What the...?"

Maybe not verbatim, but it's certain that some of the space agency's scientists were shrugging and asking something like that once they got a good look at some data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Our favorite still-really-a-planet-no-matter-what-that-doof-Tyson-says emits X-rays. Now, things that emit X-rays in space are generally hot, gaseous or surrounded with a strong magnetic field. Pluto is 0-for-3 on that score, being cold, rocky and decidedly un-magnetic. Which means that NASA almost didn't use Chandra to study it. The possibility of it emitting the rays Chandra is supposed to detect was considered so low as to not be worth the time.

Using Chandra data as well as that from the recent New Horizons probe flyby, project leader Carey Lisse said that scientists think the radiation comes from Pluto's atmosphere interacting with the solar wind -- streams of charged particles given off by the sun. This means its atmosphere is more substantial than believed and that Pluto's not doing too bad of a job holding onto it. Lisse said that other distant objects may show the same X-ray activity, which will be one of those facts that causes astronomers to get positively giddy with uncertainty.

Because pretty much nothing excites a scientist like something he or she didn't expect to happen. It's more or less why they took the job in the first place.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Performing a Needed Service

Let's pause for a moment and offer a thanks to the folks behind the website and network "Stop Click Bait." Theirs is a work of great importance.

Clickbait, if you are not familiar with it, is the kind of "You'll never guess" headline about some celebrity, oddity or weird event that draws a reader to click on it and generate ad revenue for the company that posted it. Usually, the answer is mundane and disappointing.

Sort of like the 2016 presidential campaign.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Equivalencies

Over at Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux notes that most people understand offers of financial windfalls from Nigerian princes to be likely to enrich only those who make them, rather than those who fall for them.

So why, Dr. Boudreaux asks, do most of those same people believe those same offers to be valid when made from a lectern by a political candidate?

That's a good question.

Friday, September 16, 2016

This Week in Books

Pirate, the eighth outing of Clive Cussler's husband-and-wife adventurers Sam and Remi Fargo is the first of Cussler's many collaborations to feature a woman as co-author. It's a good choice, since out of all of his series the Fargo books are the only ones with a woman as a co-lead character. Burcell, a former law enforcement officer, has two well-regarded series of her own and was first published in 1999.

The Fargos are in San Francisco, trying for a little peace and quiet after their not-so-quiet time in the Solomon Islands. Remi has a line on a rare book to buy for Sam, but it turns out to be rarer than they knew, and a wealthy unscrupulous collector wants it as a key to a great treasure. His operatives at first try to scare the couple off, which works about as well as you might expect. The Fargos, unable to resist the lure of a treasure hunt especially when someone doesn't want them on it, pursue clues around the world before a final confrontation in a king's ancient castle.

Since Cussler saves his destroy/take over the world plots for his Dirk Pitt, Kurt Austin and Oregon Files series, the Fargo stories are often quite a bit lighter in tone. Burcell has a better handle on Remi's role and fleshes her out better than earlier collaborators have done. But she is no slouch in keeping the action humming, even though her own novels have leaned more towards procedurals than action thrillers. Some of the seams and joints show, but mroe outings with the characters will probably smooth them out. Russell Blake had certainly improved on Thomas Perry's lackluster run, but Burcell offers reason to believe that some of the Fargos' better tales are still ahead of them.
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Although he had worked closely with Robert B. Parker on the Jesse Stone television movies starring Tom Selleck, Michael Brandman's run with the characters following Parker's death was not well-received. Hopes lifted when Reed Farrell Coleman, a Shamus Award winner, was given the contract and published Blind Spot in 2014.

Unfortunately, Coleman was working with a character that Parker had not defined all that well, beginning the series just before his late-career doldrums set in, and not giving the Stone novels any boost as he did with his final Spenser books. So while the names of the people and the places were the same as they always had been, they resembled what came from Parker's hand not at all. Coleman added to his problems with a pair of mediocre stories that offered no other reason to enter the town of Paradise, Mass. Debt to Pay, Coleman's third Stone novel, does not solve these problems.

Mr. Peepers, the sadistic sociopathic assassin whom Jesse crossed in Blind Spot, is back to complete his plan for vengeance against those he believes wronged him. Jesse is not the only one on the list, but he's at the top, so when some other targets are found dead, he knows he will have to move to protect his ex-wife Jenn, since Peepers will try to get to Jesse through her. But Jenn is getting married in Dallas, and Jesse is in a serious stage of his relationship with Diana Evans. So moving to protect Jenn will be harder on him personally than he thought. Paradise patrolman Luther Simpson is also in danger, since he shot Peepers to save Jesse. With his attention divided between Dallas and Paradise and Jenn and Diane, Jesse may not be on top of his game, even though he will have to be in order to stop a possible bloodbath.

Coleman makes a number of mistakes -- he takes Jesse out of Paradise for much of the book, even though all of Parker's characters were creatures of their respective places more than anything else. They are much weaker in other locales. He makes the back-and-forth between Dallas and Paradise as confusing as possible. There's a scene in which Jesse and Jenn's new husband are in a bar fight with the ex-husband of the new husband's ex-lover that makes as much sense as it sounds like it would. Mr. Peepers abducts and terrorizes a young woman supposedly as a part of his plot but her role makes no sense. He develops his plans based on a supposed connection with Jenn that Coleman never clearly outlines.

Coleman is free and easy with Parker's characters, perhaps figuring on generating some interest based on George Martin's "Anyone can die at any time" schtick, but it's a flashy wax job on a rusty clunker. The main response Debt to Pay evokes from a reader is a strong desire to seek out Michael Brandman and apologize to him for criticizing what he did to the good and not-so-good folk of Paradise, Mass. Turns out he wasn't the worst thing to happen to them after all.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lux et Veritas Day Care Center

Often when we read of something happening on a college campus these days it seems like it's some goofball professor saying something that makes you wonder why any parents would let their kids go anywhere near these places.

But then we see some of the extended video where a group of students closes in around a professor and shouts at him under the mistaken impression that they are communicating thoughts though they demonstrate no thinking whatsoever. At one of this country's most prestigious, academically nose-in-the-air infinitely smarter-than-thou institutions.

And you're left wondering why anyone who wants to be a scholar would go anywhere near these places.

In church mission planning, we are often told to ask our people what our communities would be like if our church disappeared tomorrow. What would be missed if we were not here? Asking that same question of Yale University once upon a time would have produced a legion of answers, but that number is shrinking and lately it seems there's no guarantee that its approach to zero will remain asymptotic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Too Much Work

At Science 2.0, Edzard Ernst offers nine steps to "becoming a charlatan." He's focused on the fairly narrow area of pseudo-medical treatments, since it offers pretty fertile field for the false-wonder worker.

Useful ideas include veiled suggestions that "big pharma" wants your invention/technique/discovery suppressed, as it would cost them billions of dollars. The idea of ruthless corporate goonism trying to stamp out discoveries that would ruin industries has been in enough books and movies that people will take it seriously. Ernst also suggests that the wise faker will invoke some kind of cutting edge science and mysterious concept. This idea has a proven track record, as Alan Sokal's 1996 hoax paper in Social Text can show.

Ultimately, though, Ernst makes the entire process of becoming a charlatan far too complicated. It need not require nine steps but can be effectively done far more efficiently with a wide variety of single steps.

For example, you could claim that you would build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Or that you thought a "C" label on United States State Department documents was an alphabetical key to paragraph order. Sure, wide segments of the population would not believe you, but you don't have to convince everyone. Just one person more than half of the poor retching wretches facing your name and your opponent's name on a Nov. 8 ballot, fifty-five hellish damned days from now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Perspective

The next time someone tells you that you are too ambitious, tell them at least you didn't try to convince the German government to drain the Mediterranean.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Okay Then

At first glance, this article by Yale literature professor Amy Hungerford would seem kind of counter-productive. A lit prof saying she doesn't read, and advocating more people follow her lead? For this, parents say, we go in debt to the tune of a small midwestern house?

But actually, Dr. Hungerford is not advocating that people quit reading altogether. But they should be more selective and deliberate in their choice of what to read. She says that the volume of novels published in a year -- and the machine of literary celebrity -- combine to offer a distractive level of work that does not reward the time one might put into it.

Stop reading crap just because all of the people trying to shout out how smart they are insist that in order to be smart you have to have read it? Sounds good to me.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sequentially Amazing

Although watching these dominoes fall is pretty amazing, it's not the wildest thing about this video.



Nor is the wildest thing the way her mind must work in order to envision this kind of massive project and how it will look when it's finished. I'm not even really all that amazed that she spent 25 hours putting it together over eight days.

No, I'm most amazed that she put it together in only 25 hours. I'd still be stacking when I was 80...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Say That to My Face!

Different cultures insult in different ways. Things that would offend one culture are just not that big of a deal for another. Folks who've studied Monty Python know that French people insult invading English k'niggets by saying that their mothers were hamsters and their fathers smelt of elderberries.

The folks at the Just the Flight travel blog have compiled a handy infographic showing some insults you might hear when traveling, as well as the way the phrase sounds in its original non-English language. Many of them are highly entertaining. In Bulgaria, for example, should a local direct the phrase "Grozna ni kato salata" at you, he or she is saying you are as "ugly as a salad." I am not certain how the conversation with a Bulgarian would go after this, because I would probably be laughing instead of being insulted.

I am not sure of the actual insult content of some of the entries. Australians may indeed call someone with red hair a "'ranga," referring to the red-haired great ape the orangutan. But how is it insulting to be called red-headed?

And some provoke some interesting images. "Gå och dra något gammalt över dig," a Swedish person might say to you should you say or do something stupid: "Go and hide under something old." ("That explains all the Swedes under my chair," Bernie Sanders was heard to comment. "No kidding," responded Cher.)

A Russian might say of you, "Hot' kop na gopove teshi," which means, "You could sharpen an axe on the top of his head." The phrase implies a person is stubborn; it is not meant to be taken literally. ("Oops," said Vladimir Putin.)

The Irish seem to have our current political landscape well mapped out with the phrase, "As thick as manure and half as useful." The applicability seems clear. Unfortunately, we are stuck with those fitting that description, as much as we might want to confront the existing crop of candidates with the Somali phrase "Futaada u sheeg."

Friday, September 9, 2016

This Place Smells Like a Frathouse

In the 1960s' Heineken Brewing Company head Freddy Heineken didn't much care for seeing all the trash when he visited Curaçao. Nor did he think it was right that so many people there lacked housing. His solution:


Yes, beer bottles shaped like bricks, which could be mortared together to build housing. Consumer tests showed that buyers didn't care for the square bottles, so the brick-style containers never went on the market. Rumors that the housing departments of major American universities opposed it on the grounds that dormitories would be empty as students constructed their own dwellings are, as far as we know, unfounded.

Pity. Might have cut down on the stone-throwing, too.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Voyaging

It can be schlocky and its central star all too often offers up enough ham to scare Jimmy Dean. Papier-maché rocks and alien monsters with visible costume seams. Spinoff series that don't always age well. A show creator who started to think every story needed to be about his vision rather than about the people saying the lines. A kid driving a starship. Time-travel plots that worked on the narrative engine like sugar in a gas tank. An android whose quest to become human succeeded only in the area of annoyance. And a hundred other things that any real fan can count off at the drop of a red-shirted extra.

But then the little light notes sound and the fanfare and William Shatner starts in with "Space: The final frontier..." as he did fifty years ago tonight, and imagination sets sail for the stars on board a ship named Enterprise and we all boldly go where no one has gone before...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Are They Sure?

This item at Quartz says that a survey conducted by the Hilton hotel chain shows a lot of people fall asleep during meetings. I, on the other hand, am not so sure.

I just don't believe that you can really fall asleep in the second bolgia of the Eighth Circle of Hell.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Unclear on the Concept

Companies that produce movies, music and television programs try very hard to stay ahead of the people who put their work online for free. One way to do that is to get search engines to not list the sites that make the downloads available.

But Warner Bros. may have cast their net a little too widely in asking Google to de-list a number of sites where Warner Bros. material can be viewed or downloaded. They included sites that offer legitimate streaming, such as Amazon. And they included their own site.

Yes. A media company has asked Google to stop listing its own site because doing so violates copyright laws.

And they called the duck "Daffy."

Monday, September 5, 2016

Take That, Dr. Schrödinger

When Edwin Schrödinger wanted to illustrate just how bizarre the idea of quantum superposition was, he devised a thought experiment that was based on a cat being placed in peril of its life. Although it was just a thought experiment and never carried out in any laboratory, cats were still rather miffed about the whole deal, when they bothered to care. Which, admittedly, was not very often.

Come 1975, and the cats got their chance to speak out in Dr. Schrödinger's field, as Michigan State University physics professor Jack H. Hetherington included his cat Chester as a co-author of his paper. Hetherington had written a paper for a particular journal and had, following an academic convention of the time, used what's called the "royal we" or "editorial we" to refer to himself when he described his experiments and conclusions. It's a way of speaking that says "we" but refers to the speaker or author alone.

Trouble was, the journal to which the paper was submitted only used "we" when referring to an actual plural number of authors. And further trouble was, Hetherington had the poor planning to prepare his paper in the era of typewriters rather than word processing programs that allow swift mass replacements of incorrect terms. Rather than retype the whole thing, he transformed Chester into "F. D. C. Willard," his colleague and co-author and thus justified the "we" he used.

The paper is the only work included on Chester's curriculum vitae, as most of his other experimental work -- tail chasing, napping, bothering birds and attacking unwary toes -- was not conducted in a format conducive to print.

Chester did, however, suggest an experiment in which Dr. Schrödinger would put on his shoes without checking them first, showing how there was no way to know beforehand which of them Chester had used in lieu of his litterbox. This was not carried out, as the great professor had passed away some 14 years earlier, so Chester returned to his nap.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pot Calling the Kettle 'Over!'

What do you call it when a group of Venezuelan citizens, pushed to the bring by food shortages and rampant inflation, runs their corrupt dictator out of town by banging pots in his face?

A step in the right direction. If they'd done it to the goofball goon they had in front of this one, they might not have to walk to Colombia to buy food.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Or Just a Brilliant Disguise?

Earlier this week scientists with the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) thought they'd picked up an interesting radio signal that might have been from another star. But, it turns out, the signal was actually terrestrial in origin -- possibly a Russian military satellite.

Which could be exactly what the aliens want us to think, so I'm still skeptical. In any event, the researchers mailed the data to the Search for Terrestrial Intelligence institute so they could investigate it, but the envelope came back, "Recipient Moved -- No Forwarding Address."

Friday, September 2, 2016

Who Built This Song?

Over at GQ, Rob Tannenbaum has an "oral history" of Starship's "We Built This City," a 1985 hit that was nominated for a Grammy in its time but widely derided today.

Blender magazine may have erred in 2004 by labeling it the "worst rock and roll song of all time," at least in any universe in which John Lennon released "Imagine." Their dissection of it as corporatized synth pop masquerading as social commentary is mostly accurate, of course. And they are quite correct in saying that its lyrics are silly rhyming couplets masquerading as profound insight (although the person who has never felt "knee-deep in the hoopla" has never attended a committee meeting).

But the same things can be said about some of the best rock and roll songs of all time, too (Substitute "most favorite" and "least favorite" for "best" and "worst," if you prefer). If I had to pinpoint what I think is the reason "City" is so lousy, it's because it takes itself and its genre so seriously. Rock and roll didn't build San Francisco -- and you could make a good case that the popular culture of the '60s represented by Starship when it was still Jefferson Airplane didn't build much of anything.

It brought about some great music, yes, but the lasting achievements of the US in the 1960s -- the moon landing, civil rights legislation, increasing equality for women, and so on -- didn't come from anyone in a paisley caftan and pink sunglasses.

Anyway, the article at GQ is fun because it's interesting to see how many of the people involved with "City" don't want to be connected to it anymore. Sorry about the rant.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Academic Jungle

Universities have been around for seven or eight hundred years, and complaints about university student behavior have been around for about the same time. Each fall, 18-year-olds are packed off to some campus somewhere with new sheets, a load of new debt and a sincere desire to only mix hedonism into their scholarship and a belief that's possible.

To aid them, adults offer guidance or even give them books written by professionals about how to succeed in this new life chapter. These too are apparently as old as the institutions, as this passage from a 1484 Leipzig University statute quoted by Ask the Past suggests:
"It is commanded to all students that none of them henceforth in the streets or ways of this town wield swords, knives, daggers, or any other arms, or wander about in costume or with faces covered in these aforementioned places, or stir up horrible clamors at nighttime in the manner of wild asses, or participate in forbidden games either in the taverns of this city or the outlying areas or villages around the city, or attempt to perpretrate there any ill deeds at all, or dare to disturb or injure the inhabitants of this city or any others, either bodily or in property, or dare to afflict them with any other injuries."
Sgt.-at-Arms Douglas C. Neidermeyer was reportedly not pleased.