Monday, October 31, 2016

Re-Think?

Although I continue to despise the idea of either of the two major party's greedy, grasping, power-hungry septuagenarians occupying the White House, I could, I think be persuaded to support whichever one of them promised the following measure would be brought to Congress and enacted into law:

The Put Your Moving Van Where Your Big Fat Famous Stupid Celebrity Mouth Is Act of 2017

1) Persons who are either currently or previously famous but who have demonstrated absolutely no awareness of politics beyond repeating the campaign slogans of their preferred candidate who, whether upon being queried or spontaneously, say that they will move to another country should another candidate be elected to the White House shall be required to do so.

2) Given that these words are spoken with a complete lack of awareness of the privilege of mobility granted them by their wealth -- money which they received primarily from persons who have nothing like the level of income these celebrities enjoy -- said celebrities shall be required to make these moves equipped with nothing more than a listing of moving companies and their own checkbook. No assistants, hangers-on or aides may be involved, except that said celebrities shall be required to find them either a) housing in the new country of habitation or b) alternative employment, including the job training necessary to make many of these assistants actually employable in the real world.

3) Although many of these claims involve the sovereign nation of Canada, in the interests of maintaining the long-standing good relationship between that nation and the United States of America, no more than twenty-five (25) celebrities may emigrate to Canada following any Presidential election. The names of these 25 shall be determined by a random lottery drawing of all pampered rich folks who have stupidly shot off their mouths. The maintenance of that relationship shall require that certain celebrities shall be prohibited from moving to Canada. The initial list includes Chelsea Handler and Michael Moore, but it may be increased as necessary depending on which of these airheads flaps his or her empty yap.

4) Said celebrities may not return to the United States until or unless they can prove that their box-office draw is large enough that the benefit of having them as taxpayers outweighs the burden of having to listen to this same stupid whining every four years.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sing It!

While listening to the World Series via the MLB app (no Joe Buck. Ever),  I heard a commercial for a new kind of thermometer that is supposed to be more accurate and convenient. I'm sure it is, and I'm sure the people who developed it are very smart.

The commercial concluded with a wistful folky female vocal that said the company was "changing the way the world takes temperature," sung over a plaintive guitar strum.

That's probably going to be one of the more surreal entries on the singer's résumé.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

From the Rental Vault: Queen of the Mountains (2014)

Central Asia today is made up of countries most folks outside of them know little about, beyond what Sasha Baron Cohen made up about Kazakhstan. But most of them have deep histories full of fascinating characters well-suited to the swirling ethnic melange of the people who have lived there.

One such person was Kyrgyzstan tribal leader Kurmanjan Datka (1811-1907), a woman whose vision and fierce desire to protect her people in the face of Russian invasion has made her a national hero. Kyrgyzstan's 2014 entry for the Academy Awards was a biopic of her long life and work, Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains. For its limited U.S. release, it lost the proper name.

We meet Kurmanjan as a five-year-old when her father seeks wisdom from a holy man about a desire for a son. The seer says his daughter will be worth 10 sons. We move forward to a teenaged Kurmanjan leaving an arranged marriage and seeking one with feudal lord Alymbek Datka ("datka" is a title, not a surname). Drop another few years to see them happily wed as Alymbek seeks to unite the Kyrgyz tribes, but political intrigue costs him his life. Surprisingly, the tribes rally around Kurmanjan and defeat their enemies, and she is named Datka by an overlord. In that position she will try to guide her people and protect them as the Russian Empire seeks a road to India. Though they resent submitting to the Russians and would prefer to fight, Kurmanjan realizes the superior Russian arms and numbers would overwhelm them. She secures an agreement of neutrality in which the tribes accept Russian rule and the Russians leave them to practice their customary way of life. It will eventually cost her dearly, but her devotion to her people carries her forward.

Queen was the most expensive movie ever made in Kyrgyzstan. and a major project for co-writer and director Sadyk Sher-Niraz. It's structured as a series of episodes rather than a sustained narrative, and spends less time developing any of the characters as much as you'd wish. Kurmanjan is basically a saint, those opposed to her purely evil villains, and and so on. Actresses Elina Abai Kyzy as the younger Kurmanjan and Nasira Mambetova as the older woman play her with studied reserve, but that's probably true to character for a woman wise enough and strong enough to take leadership in a male-dominated society. Two hours and change of the low-key work can get a little dull. But Sher-Niraz spent every dime of his production money well, and the amazing scenery and colorful clothing often provide the liveliness the script doesn't.

Queen didn't take any awards at the Oscars, but as an introduction to a fascinating player in history, a showcase for an amazing landscape and culture, it has few equals and is well worth the time invested. It may wind up being the launching pad for Abai Kyzy as well, which is likely to pay some dividends in good work down the road.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Redux

So what does one say about this protest by students at the University of California at Berkeley?

A group of the students want safe spaces set aside permanently for a variety of groups that they say need them. In order to bring attention to their point, they blocked a gate that is apparently part of a high-traffic walkway on campus. People of color were allowed to pass through, while white people were not.

Left unanswered are, 1) What about the white people participating in the protest? Did they block themselves from going through the gate until the protest was over? And 2), How was the determination of whiteness made? Were Pantone color swatches used, or were people of color required to submit genealogies that demonstrated their non-white status?

Not in question: Wherever he resides in eternity, Bull Connor is laughing.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

States Tune In

At Mental Floss, they link to a map that shows the favorite TV shows of the people in different states -- meaning, more precisely, which show from the Internet Movie Database had the most Google searches. It makes for some interesting matches.

Nevada, home to the "sin capital" of Las Vegas, seems pretty interested in the show Lucifer. New York likes the New York-set Law and Order: SVU. Missouri and Michigan needs their brains washed out so they will realize that Hannibal and Dexter were ugly gore pandering.

But Iowa? That place is just plain evil.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Author! Author?

So who wrote William Shakespeare's Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3?

Trick question. Unless you are a professional Shakespeare scholar producing the latest Oxford University Press edition of Ol' Bill's plays, in which case you will claim that Christopher Marlowe was the co-author. Why?

Well, as Nick Hilton writes at The Spectator, you can gin up some interest in your new edition by doing stuff like that, as well as by including the questionably-authored Arden of Faversham as definitively being by Shakespeare. And since you're making the claim about three of the Bard's lesser plays, people are less likely to laugh at you for claiming the co-authorship. Not because there's any greater chance he co-wrote them, but just because those plays usually don't get much attention and so no one will remember to laugh at you.

The fact that you have some pretty weak reeds to lean on in doing either of those things doesn't necessarily deter you. Because just making the claim can get you written about, maybe even outside of academic journals! As our two major party presidential candidates have pointed out, even bad publicity is still publicity. We may curse every time we hear either name, but that's still a response. And for certain kinds of malignantly narcissistic greedy grasping septuagenarian charlatans, the response is what matters.

It's still kind of sad to see someplace like Oxford University Press adopt that way of thinking, though.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ringer

The picture at the Astronomy Picture of the Day for today is of some mysterious shadows cast on Saturn's rungs, taken by the Cassini probe in 2009.

I mostly missed the description of the mystery and its possible explanation, because I was wigging out over how close the shot was to the frickin' rings of Saturn.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Hidden Injustice

The injustice is not that it took almost 20 years to award Bill Murray the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Although that could be seen an irresponsible and inexcusable delay, the names of some of the people who have already been honored -- Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, George Carlin, Carol Burnett, among others -- are quite obviously worthy, with one glaring exception.

And that exception is the injustice -- in 2011, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts elected to give the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to Will Ferrell, a full five years before honoring a man whose eyeblinks are funnier than Ferrell's whole career. I personally think the Center was playing a very mean joke on Ferrell and the whole thing was an elaborate prank that went wrong when Ashton Kutcher's car got stuck in traffic before he could show up and tell Ferrell that he had been "punk'd."

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Unexpected

Researchers have discovered that the best color for a night-light is, of all things, red. Blue light, thought to be calming and relaxing, actually provoked more depressive and unpleasant moods, while red reduced those moods in the experiment, which studied hamsters.

And no, it did not study male hamsters exposed to the red light while also meeting loose-moraled lady hamsters, so that particular aspect of a "red light district" and its effect on relaxation remain unproven.

On the other hand, maybe Roxanne was just trying to get some sleep and Sting could have been more helpful if he had just shut up for awhile.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Almost Got It!


The above photo by Mike Mezeul II has the moon, a meteor, the Milky Way and erupting lava all in one shot. He took it in Hawaii's Volcano National Park, and had to risk getting pretty close to the lava to get everything in the same frame.

I would have been more impressed if he had gotten the moon, a meteor, the Milky Way, erupting lava and his thumb all in one shot. Because that's what most of us would have wound up doing.

Friday, October 21, 2016

You Know My Methods, Watson

Recently the National Football League has been kind of perplexed because fewer people are watching it. And they've been a little bit worried because they have TV deals that allow networks to charge for ads based on how many people watch. If those ratings numbers are lower than the deal promises, then the networks owe their advertisers some free space, which costs them still more money.

Some, as the Sporting News story notes, suggest that Americans are paying so much attention to the presidential election that they are watching news coverage instead of the games. There is no proof that these people are huffing paint, but the suggestion that people want to watch the two end products of this year's alimentary primary season makes one wonder.

A more realistic candidate for some of the loss is the number of people who "watch TV" via different streaming services, both legitimate and clandestine. The Nielsen people have as yet no good way to measure those numbers. Also, no few people are rather tired of the political noises athletes are making and the league's hypocrisy surrounding it -- Colin Kaepernick's police-as-pigs socks are OK, the Dallas Cowboys' request to wear a decal honoring Dallas police officers slain in an ambush is not, which brings up a six-letter question, "WTH, NFL?"

At Awful Announcing, another candidate is put forth: The 6:30 AM Pacific kickoff time for an upcoming Los Angeles Rams game being played in London. The NFL sticks a game in the 9:30 AM Eastern slot so it can open up another game window and increase its revenue. But when one of the teams in that slot is the Los Angeles Rams, that means that its main fanbase has to get up earlier than the chickens to watch their team play. And if you're a Rams fan living in Hawaii -- which you might be, since it's one of the teams closest to you geographically -- you could draw local law enforcement attention by cheering your kickoff too vigorously, since it'll happen at 3:30 AM your time. Broadcaster Al Michaels thinks oversaturation and stupidity like the gimmick "Color Rush" uniforms don't help.

You'd think that a sport which has been under scrutiny for safety and long-term health issues of current and former players would be doing some things to curry favor with its supporters, if for no other reason than to have someone argue their case from the barstools of America where public opinion is shaped. But the league seems to be concerned with only one set of fans: The deceased presidents and statesmen who adorn our currency. And if the way to get more of them is to sell a jersey that looks like kids' cereal no matter what that kind of move does to people who can't tell what's going on because their TV settings can't be adjusted to see what's going on, well, that's just too bad.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mishing Some Mash

-- Mundy Cruising has begun offering a new cruise on their luxury ship Crystal Serenity -- it will begin January 10 of next year and visit all seven continents over the next 357 days. That sounds pretty cool, but actually I'm interested in a cruise that begins Nov. 9, 2016 and ends January 20, 2021. I can't be the only one who would rather spend the next four years well away from whichever greedy septuagenarian wins our Sophie's choice of a presidential election.

-- Or you can end your misery more swiftly by spending two nights in Dracula's castle. The Air BnB offer includes hosting by one Dacre Stoker, whose great-granduncle Bram adapted the legend of Wallachian prince Vlad Tepes to create his 1897 novel. The company is staging a contest to win the visit. Importing garlic or placing your silverware in a cross position is apparently a disqualification.

-- According to a study, micro-managing kills more than productivity and spirit -- it may actually shorten the lifespan of those so burdened. Even otherwise high-stress jobs were less damaging to workers' health when those workers were given autonomy and decision-making capability. Going unmentioned, of course, is how deleterious micro-managing can wind up being for the micro-manager, who may find himself or herself facing angry employees who have lost the ability to understand that giving the boss an atomic wedgie is a poor career move.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Can't Top This

Paleontologists think they have answered a question about whether a mysterious and extinct species shown on different cave walls was real or just a variation in style.

As the headline at Big Think notes, they have discovered the long-suspected but heretofore unrpoven Higgs Bison.

I'll sign off with that one for the night.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Summa This, Summa That

-- It appears that in the eyes of some investors, the worthlessness of Twitter is more than metaphorical. It couldn't happen to a nicer platform that incites knee-jerk invective, gang-shaming and vile behavior hiding behind anonymity. Before you defend it, remember it is Donald Trump's primary choice for mass communication.

-- Along those lines, the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria have released 21 of the 275 school girls they abducted in 2014. This means that a mere 30 months after lots of famous people tweeted pictures of themselves Looking Serious with a picture of the "Bring Back Our Girls" hashtag, Boko Haram has let almost 10 percent of them go. Social media activism costs nothing and accomplishes not much more than that.

-- Delta Airlines contracted with clothing designer Zac Posen to create new uniforms for Delta ticket agents, flight attendants and gate attendants. This means that the flight attendant who offers you three peanuts and a glass of water, the gate attendant who has no patience with how long it takes you to produce your boarding pass and the ticket agent who laughs when you ask why your connecting flight is seven hours late will all look really snazzy. The new uniforms won't actually go into service until 2018, which may prompt you to suspect that I will make a joke about them being delivered on a Delta flight. Consider it done.

-- There are 225 master's-degree-level programs in how to do college administration of some kind, according to a national association of school administrators. And there are 76 doctorate-level programs. The college placement office never had it so easy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bring Me A Mouse. Now.

The Maine Coon Cat is the largest breed of domestic cat in existence, with the longest of the breed going 48 inches from nose to tail and the tallest standing 16 inches at the shoulder. Average weight for males is between 13 to 18 pounds, although most of them look much bigger because of the long fur.

Apparently, a laid-back and friendly attitude -- friendly for cats, anyway -- is a breed trait as well. Which makes sense. Most dogs that would want to chase one might find themselves learning how to climb trees themselves.

Maine Coons are also tend more towards "polydactylism," or extra toes -- a trait that can help feet stay on the surface of deep snow, but which leads me to this flight of silliness:
"Ah-ah. I know what you're thinking. Does he have six toes, or only five? To tell the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. And seeing as how this is a Maine Coon Cat, the largest domestic breed in the world, and would take your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question: 'Do I feel lucky?" Well? Do ya, Fido?"

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Check It Out

The Utne Reader excerpts a bit from the introduction to John Palfrey's BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter Even More in the Age of Google.

Palfrey's point is that if we see libraries only as places to acquire information, then the ubiquity -- if not accuracy -- of Google and Wikipedia make them both far more attractive. But libraries, as public spaces, offer their communities far more than a place to store the last known edition of Facts on File, Palfrey says.

I'd have to agree. We can read lots of studies that show how children from poor families read fewer books than children from wealthier families. But reading programs, especially during the summer, can get kids into the libraries and have them reading books their families might not be able to afford. And that's just one thing. Palfrey's got just under 300 pages of some others, apparently, which means I'm going to have to check that book out to see what some of them are. And when I'm done with it, I'll donate it to our local small library, which seems. oddly enough, to be lacking a copy.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

...The Impossible Has Happened...

I'm rooting for the Cubs, so I hope it doesn't jinx them to point out that 26 years ago tonight, Kirk Gibson made his one at-bat in the 1988 World Series count. Big time.



As I was typing, Miguel Montero hit a two-out grand slam to put the Cubs ahead 7-3, so the jinx danger appears small.

Friday, October 14, 2016

It's a Big, Big House

Researchers at the University of Nottingham, taking time away from advising local law enforcement on techniques for bandit-catching, have analyzed data from the Hubble Space Telescope and determined that previous estimates of the number of galaxies in the universe were low.

Before the team re-examined the data and used a new model to run the estimates, astronomers and cosmologists thought there were about 200 billion galaxies in the universe. If you were to start at your birth and count one number every second, you would reach 200 billion a few days before your 6342nd birthday. If you go back 200 billion seconds in history, you get to be on the ground floor of the development of civilization in Sumeria and Egypt.

That number, though, was a lowball by a factor of 10, the Nottingham group says. There are probably closer to 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe. Count that out the same way as before and you will be blowing out 634,000 candles on your cake. To go back that many seconds in time will allow you to shake hands with human ancestor Homo heidelbergensis, just before running towards the nearest tree because the number of carnivorous megafauna who liked to eat slow bipeds may not have been 2 trillion but it was more than enough.

This revision blows what little of my mind remains after contemplating just how big the universe is under the old models. And it makes me wonder how some of my fellow traditional Christian theists can see a God who operates on such a scale as somehow lesser because he did not operate on the one of 6,000 years to which they demand adherence.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bookaloo

Harlan Coben has had enough success with standalone novels to feel no pressing need to return to his breakthrough character, sports agent and freelance troubleshooter Myron Bolitar. Home is the 11th Bolitar novel, but it comes five years after Live Wire. In between Myron has been visible as supporting cast in Coben's young aduly Mickey Bolitar series about Myron's nephew.

And Home opens with a unique twist -- using Winsdor Horne Lockwood III or "Win" as a viewpoint character. Win has been laying low since his involvement with some extralegal activities in Live Wire, but he calls on Myron for help in recovering his nephew, kidnapped along with a friend more than 10 years ago when he was just a boy. The boys vanished but Win has a tip on their location. When a meet with an informant goes bad, Win calls Myron for help, and together they finally manage to recover one of the boys -- the one who isn't Win's nephew. So their search will continue, but the family of the rescued boy won't allow them access to him, claiming the experiences have traumatized him too much. Very little of what Myron and Win observe seems to match with what they are being told, which is usually an excellent way to get them to keep digging no matter the cost.

In his standalone books, Coben has relied heavily on stories that push average families into awful situations. Home does the same, but instead of the sometimes artificial earnestness of some of those stories and characters who win the gold in stupid moves we have Myron and Win quipping back and forth at each other and Myron himself lipping off in the smart-aleck style Coben does better than many. Those features, plus the lack of situations that even a moment's thought on the part of even one character would prevent from happening, lighten Home considerably and make it one of Coben's better outings in years.
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Vince Flynn's 2013 death left one of the better tough-guy spy thriller series in uncertain waters. Mitch Rapp was cut from the same cloth as a lot of other Guys Who Will Do What They Must To Get The Dirty Job Done, but Flynn's direct prose, surprising extra dimensions here and there and sure-footedness around an action scene set him in the upper tier of the espionage thriller genre. Kyle Mills' pick to keep the series going led to more questions, as his own work was less than impressive. But his first Rapp novel, 2015's The Survivor, was a pleasant surprise. Mills continues to build on his momentum with Order to Kill, setting Rapp against a plot by the Russian president to destabilize world oil production and raise the value of Russia's own reserves.

Rapp and his team are busy keeping track of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, which are being shifted around the country as pawns in a power struggle between a powerful general and the nation's president. They find the nukes at the center of some plans by Russia's dictatorial and power-mad president (No, it's a fictional character. Why do you ask?).  But Rapp and the CIA don't know what the plot is. Nor do they know the identity of the top operative leading it, whose lethal skills nearly kill one of Rapp's teammates and closest friends. But they know they probably don't have a lot of time to find to find out and stop it. Rapp may be outmatched this time, but he's survived this long by being reluctant to admit that possibility and now doesn't seem to be the time to start.

Mills has a surer hand in his second Rapp novel, with a better grasp of the characters and the kind of plot Rapp is best at thwarting. Not unlike Ace Atkins writing Robert B. Parker's Spenser, he seems to have decided to write the character of Mitch Rapp the right way rather than just to imitate Flynn's style. It makes him stronger on both ends and helps makes Order to Kill a decent Mitch Rapp novel as well as a good action thriller. He has Rapp's no-BS, constantly pissed-off voice pretty well and sets down several good action set pieces. A battle in a warehouse and another in an abandoned desert oil facility are taut, strategic and lightning-fast. Another outing done this well and it'll be hard to call Mills' strong continuation of the series "surprising" in any way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Half-Powered

Many spoilers in this discussion -- should you wish to uncover the story of Luke Cage the old-fashioned way, stop reading now and come back later. Admittedly, one of those things happens here more often than the other.

The third Marvel Studios-Netflix collaboration, Luke Cage, continues to tell the story of what superhero life is like down at the street level and set the stage for a Defenders miniseries teaming him with the already-seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones, as well as the yet-to-show Iron Fist.

Luke Cage went by the alter ego Power Man when he was introduced in 1972. He was explicitly designed to feature aspects of urban and African-American culture, channeling "blaxploitation" movies like Shaft. Cage was a product of the Harlem streets who had developed great strength and unbreakable skin when an experimental medical treatment transformed him beyond its planned limits. He became "Luke Cage, Hero for Hire," who would help anyone that could meet his price. Gradually he connected with other heroes in the Marvel universe and became a little less mercenary.

The Netflix series removes Cage's Harlem origin and initial flashy debut. In fact, when we meet him he's trying to maintain a low profile by sweeping up at a barbershop and washing dishes at a swanky Harlem nightclub. But the tension of criminal networks and political plans for renewal swirl just beneath the surface, and when a botched arms deal ends up in murder Cage will have no choice but to take a stand in what follows.

Against him we see club owner and crimelord Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes and his cousin Mariah Dillard, who is a New York City councilwoman. Both want to see their Harlem home revived, with Dillard using the money Stokes earns from his crimes to help fuel her rebuilding and renovation efforts. Their renewed Harlem would gleam with cash and flash, boasting a cultural and social elite to rival any in New York. Cage is more in the mind of his barbershop boss and former father-in-law, Henry "Pop" Hunter, who wants the renewal of Harlem to grow from the ground up instead of rain from the top down. Though not as flashy as Stokes' and Dillard's vision, it has the advantage of not steamrolling anyone who gets in its way.

For the first half of the series' 13 episodes, Cage battles the cousins and tries to expose their crimes. This is the most fascinating part of the show, since there are times when two villains aren't exactly on the same page. Dillard wants to do a good thing -- reinvigorate the decayed but once-glorious Harlem. But she doesn't care about how she does it, which corners get cut or who gets hurt. Stokes, of course, does wrong things as a criminal should, but he believes there should still be some code of honor and respect involved. "Believe it or not, there are supposed to be rules for this," he says after dispatching an over-eager henchman who has killed Pop while recovering Stokes' money. Both fight a losing battle, of course, because you can't do the right thing the wrong way or do the wrong thing a right way for very long before catching up in the contradictions.

Cage battles against their worldviews as much as he does their schemes, holding to Pop's beliefs about what Harlem needs. "Everybody's got a gun, and nobody's got a father," he says at one point, lamenting the law of tooth and claw that moves Stokes and Dillard for all the polish and shine they try to put on it. This is a struggle, aided by amazing acting from Mike Colter as Cage, Mahershala Ali as Stokes and Alfre Woodard as Dillard, that grabs a viewer and induces binge-watching.

But when Stokes dies at Dillard's hands in episode 7, the series goes off the rails, and loses most of the momentum and focus it built over its first half. Without Stokes as a foil, Dillard becomes just another corporate evil-doer who uses the trappings of wealth to cover her merciless schemes. Theo Rossi's "Shades" Alvarez and Erik Harvey's Willis "Diamondback" Stryker have nothing like Stokes' connections with her or with Harlem, so the story loses its anchor in the neighborhoods and streets of the city. Neither of them are as good as Ali, and neither character is as good as Cottomouth Stokes. They're simple one-note baddies, and Stryker's back history with Cage that is supposed to justify his anger and desire to kill the hero is such a well-worn path it doesn't even rise to the level of retread.

Since there was no weekly broadcast schedule as with a regular TV series, nothing required 13 episodes. If there was no way to keep the temperature hot on the Cage-Stokes-Dillard battle for 13 shows, then Luke Cage would have been immensely better to have ended at 10 or fewer or however many that conflict could have sustained. As it is, Luke Cage does help draw the character of Cage for the role he will play in The Defenders, but it could have done a lot more -- and the first half of the season shows how it probably should have.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Holy Day

At sundown today, the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement begins. Observant Jews will fast from food and several other activities, and will have spent the days leading up to it seeking forgiveness from others whom they may have wronged. Then, during the period of the day itself, they will spend time in prayer seeking God's forgiveness as well.

As a Christian, I hold the belief that in Jesus, God has offered humanity forgiveness for their sin. But considering the shenanigans in which we have been engaged in selecting the person who will hold the highest elective office in our land, a "Day of Atonement" sounds like a fine idea.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Spooky Joopy?

Juno, the NASA spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, captured the radio wave emissions from its aurorae, or what we call Northern lights. This YouTube video makes it clear that aurorae on the big planet are either very spooky-sounding or they indicate the presence of a Tardis. Which can sometimes lead to spooky things all on its own.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Yes, of Course

Matt Clapp, writing at Awful Announcing, says that televised baseball broadcasts must stop the practice of in-game interviews with the two teams' coaches.

I'm the Friar, and I approve this message.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Good to Know

So judges are apparently more prone to hand out more severe sentences and punishments if their preferred sports team suffers an upset loss.

If the relationship holds up, it would be interesting to see what kinds of sentences followed Cubs losses in Chicago. On the one hand, their numbers are voluminous. On the other hand, these are the Cubs. Losing is, much of the time, what they do and so it is difficult to think of it as an upset.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Some More on Voting

As the days until the election decrease at glacial pace, some new wrinkles develop among those upon whom citizenship lays the burden of finding the diamonds in this dross. Even if we are almost certain to learn it was cubic zirconia all along.

In the presidential race, many conservative folks who wouldn't give Donald Trump the time of day -- any day -- have made a calculated choice to vote for him based on his one indisputable positive trait: He is not Hillary Clinton. I've seen more than one conservative blogger or writer say that keeping Ms. Clinton out of the White House is the kind of thing where you just have to fall on your ballot for the good of the country. Would he be an awful president if elected? Almost certainly, most of them agree. He has little understanding of the office, of policy, of the role of the separated powers, of foreign affairs, of economics and so on. At least the current holder of the office -- and all of those same deficiencies -- is still married to the mother of all of his children.

But while there is almost every reason to expect a President Trump to be just as bad as the second version of a President Clinton, these people point out that Mr. Trump would have folks in the media and government law enforcement agencies working pretty much around the clock to expose his errors. Especially if they transgressed the law or accepted procedures. And, they say, the spinelessness of the Federal Bureau of Investigation exhibited in investigating Mrs. Clinton when she was merely a candidate will seem like Winston Churchill claiming England would fight on the beaches, landing grounds and etc., when compared to media and investigative agency behavior if she actually occupies the Oval Office. She would, they say, do literally untold damage because no one who ever found out about it would ever tell anyone. The carpet under the Resolute Desk is very probably the only thing she would actually want to clean up.

This is a logical argument and if the Republican candidate were almost anyone but Donald Trump, and if I lived almost anywhere else in the country, it might sway me. But I still believe Mr. Trump is unfit for the office by reason of his character, and I don't think that Ms. Clinton is the Democrat who will succeed Lyndon Johnson as the next Democrat my state supports for the presidency.

My own calculus goes like this: Neither candidate will be able to "fix" our nation's problems. They bring even less to the table than most other mere mortals who have been president. Either of them might get within a stone's throw of competence if we were living in easy eras like the 1990s, the stone was very small and they were given a catapult. But in a world with ISIS, expansionist Russia and China, economic stagnation and the messes from the last two administrations still dotting the landscape, either of them will quickly demonstrate the meaning of the word "overmatched."

As often happens when a president fouls up, the voters are likely to take it out on his or her party in 2018. President Obama learned this in 2010 and 2014, and either a President Trump or President Clinton will learn it in 2018. The incredibly strong dislike that opponents have for both people will only strengthen the case that candidates will make in House and Senate races. Neither party, in fact, may hire people to write campaign commercials. They could just show news clips.

So as a conservative person, I want that wave to break my way. A President Trump could mean a return of Nancy Pelosi to Speaker of the House (thankfully the dingy gray smear from Nevada that has been Senate majority leader is retiring). Not to mention even bigger problems like people voting for Alan Grayson again. But a President Clinton is just about guaranteed to cement a GOP majority in the legislature and while that party has shown some inexplicably bad judgment of late, they can at least be counted on to oppose her.

This means I will hold to my plan of voting for the Libertarian candidate, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. In an earlier note, I thought he might manage "average "in the office in the unlikely event he won it. I was optimistic, it seems. But as bad as he would probably be in the office, he has not, as far as I can tell, demonstrated that he is unfit for it. And any damage he would manage is a probably a lot more reparable than what either Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton will do.

The only other option is that we all agree not to show up that day, but that probably wouldn't work because each candidate has enough family, friends, lackeys and paid-for favor providers that we wouldn't get the actual zero-percent turnout that they both deserve.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The More You Think You Know...

A study in 2013 drew some buzz because it seemed to suggest that people who read literary fiction were better able to judge and recognize the mental states of other people. Researchers tested people on how many literary fiction authors they knew by showing them lists of real and made-up writers. Picking a real writer earned points and picking a fake one deducted them. Then these people were given a test called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (REMT), which works pretty much exactly how it sounds. Test subjects were shown pictures of peoples' eyes and asked to judge their mental state. Subjects were also tested both before and after reading a short work of literary fiction, sometimes known as high-falutin' fiction.

Researchers at three universities tried to replicate the study results by duplicating the experiment and couldn't. REMT and other "social intelligence" measuring tests showed no statistically significant difference between subjects before and after they took their little trip into the highbrow end of the library.

There are plenty of good reasons to read literary fiction, except when it's pretentious nonsense (Margaret Atwood and Bret Easton Ellis, come on down! You're the next contestants on "What the Hell Did These People Just Write?") Get some insight into the human condition. Prompt reflection on that, and on the important questions of life and existence. Enjoy the work of great wordsmiths. But apparently reading it in order to be a better judge of what other people are feeling isn't one of those reasons. For that, it seems best to rely on the old-fashioned method of talking with them and really listening to what they say.

But not to worry. While there doesn't seem to be any way that reading literary fiction actually makes you smarter, being seen reading it will still often make other people think you're smarter. They'll see it in your eyes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nobel Prize with Lox and Cream Cheese

When announcing the three men who one the Nobel Physics Prize for 2016, a committe member illustrated an aspect of their work using a cinnamon bun, a bagel and a Swedish pretzel.

I've still got to do some more reading on what the three men -- David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz -- actually did that won them the prize. It deals with weird states of matter that exist at temperature and pressure extremes and also questions of what physicists and mathematicians call "topology," or the shapes of things and how they relate.

There's no intermediate state between the three snacks that the committee member was talking about, at least in topological terms. The cinnamon bun has no holes, while the bagel has one and the Swedish pretzel has two. There's no "in between" state for the three, where one of them would have 1.5 holes or something like that. That sounds weird, but as a post here at the first of the year noted, topology is kind of a weird discipline.

In any event, it seems like a pretty safe bet that the Nobel Physics committee will win the contest of prize announcements, especially if they brought enough bagels for everybody. On an unrelated note, I am fairly sure I am not the only person who saw Dr. Haldane's picture in the Reuters story and thought he looked like David Crosby.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Time Keeps on Tickin'...Into the Future

This article at Nautilus suggests that a quarter of Americans actually believe the Sun revolves around the Earth instead of the way things actually are. Writer Matthew Sedacca doesn't offer any evidence to back that up or links to a survey that bear him out, but I feel pretty sure that whether or not it's a quarter of us or fewer, there are plenty of people who think that way. How that would stack up to the rest of the world -- in places where they think cameras capture their souls, for example -- is also something Sedacca leaves out.

In any event, he notes that recently we marked what software entrepreneur David Schneider calls "Galactic Tick Day" back on Sept. 29. Schneider says a "tick" marks our solar system's traveling one "centi-arcsecond" in its journey around the Milky Way's central black hole.

A "centi-arcsecond" is a measurement of distance around the circumference of a circle. We have designated circles as having 360 degrees, with 180 being halfway around, 90 being a quarter of the way around, and so on. Degrees are divided into minutes and seconds for fields that use very very small angles, including astronomy. An arcminute is a sixtieth of a degree and an arcsecond a sixtieth of that, or 1/3600 of a degree. The tick suggested by Schneider is 1/100 of one of those seconds, which sounds like a very small distance.

It would be, if your circle didn't take 225 million years at 514,000 miles per hour. It takes us just under 634 days between ticks, Scheider estimates, which means we have gone 7.8 billion miles since the last tick. Schneider arbitrarily picked as the starting point the date of the first patented telescope (October 2, 1608), and we have traveled 235 ticks or about 180 trillion miles since then.

Schneider said he conceived of the concept of "galactic ticks" while on a hike as a way of changing perspective and helping people understand something of the vastness of the universe. I think he's definitely onto something, although I confess someone in my line of work has other sources to prompt such musings.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Not Part of the Solution, Then...

Writing at The Pope Center, Stephanie Keaveney highlights some current issues facing collegiate athletic programs and the need to change them so that college student athletes are more likely to be actual students. And also so that players are better protected against risks of injuries that could end their chances of lucrative pro careers and leave them with degrees that are useless to them. And...well you get the idea.

Keaveney notes the glacial progress of NCAA regulatory change in addressing these issues -- mostly because addressing them might dry up the money spigot and the organization blushes a little at the idea.

She notes that some schools, seeing needed reforms, simply made them on their own, whether the NCAA required them or not. This could conceivably put them at a competitive disadvantage against other sports teams. That's disastrous until you remember that some colleges don't consider their football teams the reasons for their existence. That way lies madness, so best leave it alone.

Her point, and the headline, sum it up quite nicely: Reform is possible without the NCAA's involvement. Which is kind of like saying a new Bruce Springsteen album is possible without my involvement. It's more than possible; it's almost a certainty.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Past Pics

This item at Mashable takes some photos of immigrants through Ellis Island in the early 20th century and colorizes them. The originals were taken by talented amateur photog and Ellis Island clerk Augustus Sherman and many are on display at the Ellis Island Museum as well as the New York Public Library.

The colorizing is being done with modern techniques applied to the original sepia tones. Although there is no way to definitively know if these were the actual colors of the garments worn by Sherman's subjects, the resulting images are light-years better than the pastel washes that Ted Turner's outfit layered on classic black-and-white movies in the late 1980s.

Sometimes we can almost forget that the world was in color before there were color photographs, and that we have black-and-white memories because those are the images we can see. The current project, by Dynamichrone's Jordan Lloyd, may help make those old images more lively in our minds and connect us to the real people they depict.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Order of Descent

Writing at Fee.org, Sarah Skwire examines a letter George Washington wrote to Moses Seixas, a leader of the synagogue at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790.

Seixas had written Washington noting how important the concept of a nation without a state religion of any kind was to his people, who had been the victims of many a pogrom, purge and persecution among the establishmen-churched nations of Europe. Seixas expressed his and his people's appreciation to Washington for his role in creating the new Constitution and government.

Skwire's article examines some of the meaning of Washington's reply and reflects on what an officially neutral state made for minority groups and minority faiths. What struck me was Washington's reply letter. Can you imagine in your wildest flights of fancy either of our two major presidential candidates being able to compose something like this? Can you imagine them thinking through any issue this deeply and then crafting this kind of a response letter? Can you suppose either of them employ staff people who would be able to do so in their stead?

I'm not suggesting that either candidate is dumb -- they do and say many dumb things, but they both sport degrees from top schools. Mr. Trump attended Fordham University and graduated from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Clinton graduated from Wellesley College and Yale University School of Law. Although education and dumb are not mutually exclusive, or so my mirror tells me, both candidates seem to have more than merely the sneaky murine cunning they regularly demonstrate.

I am suggesting that neither of them is much of a thinker. Neither of them does much reflecting on anything beyond poll results and defending their indefensible characters They certainly don't mull over ideas at the level of the first man to hold the job they both want, who was twice the thinker that either of them are for all that he held no degree and may have been largely self-educated with the occasional help of tutors.

He outshines them in several other regards as well. But we'll be reminded of that daily once one of them wins.