Monday, July 31, 2017

Every Cub Fan Gets to Fly the W

It's always nice when an organization shows itself not only mostly classy in its operations but also interested in its fans as human beings. So the Chicago Cubs' presentation of a World Series championship ring to hard-luck fan Steve Bartman is a good way to start off a week.

In 2003, Bartman tipped a foul ball headed out of play in a playoff game between his Cubs and the Florida Marlins. Left fielder Moisés Alou had a play on the ball, but couldn't catch it because of Bartman's interference. Umpire Mike Everitt ruled that whatever disruption had been caused by Bartman, it was not official interference because the ball had already broken the plane of the edge of the field.

Bartman was quickly reviled when the Cubs fell apart in that game and lost again in the next, ending their run at a National League title and delaying the end of their historic title drought for another 13 years. He left the game under police escort and his home also had to be guarded by police after several people posted his home address on Major League baseball message boards. Then-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich suggested he enter witness protection -- a half-joking remark that probably made Bartman feel pretty good once Blagojevich became a guest of the federal government for his own attempted interference.

Bartman stayed reclusive in the ensuing years. He resisted most calls for interviews and chose not to take part in any fund-raisers or similar efforts by folks with good intentions who wanted to try to make it up to him for the abuse he endured because of his mistake. The Series ring seems to be the peace offering he chose to accept, however, and he even released a statement that the WGN story quotes. But it's all he's saying about it, though, pointing out that he will decline all interview requests and make no more statements.

The Cubs organization and Bartman himself all seem interested in how to be respectful, dignified and grown-up about the whole Foul Ball Incident. Baseball is indeed an amazing game and its fans can bring forth reasons many and varied why it is the best game.

But it's just a game. So let's remember to put it in its proper place and leave the ruination of lives and the obsessions over unimportant matters where they belong: Twitter.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Real Life

In today's reprint, Charlie Brown is reminded how important it is to not live in the middle of the fantasies we develop.

And also that he should get the ball over the plate.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Thanks -- I Think?

The Federal Aviation Administration needs to take a look at the shrinking size of airline seats as well as the space between them. I say that, you say that, and anyone who has to fly very often says that. So does Patricia Millett, but she has the advantage of being a sitting federal appeals judge so the FAA has to listen to her.

It's sort of a good news-bad news situation. On the one hand, the smaller seats and reduced size in between them is one of the many reasons flying today sucks. On the other hand, the issue that concerns Judge Millett is flight safety rather than passenger discomfort. So if the airlines can prove that sitting us in one another's laps doesn't compromise the ability of passengers to leave the plane in an emergency, then they can continue pushing us closer and closer together as well as away from their services.

But maybe the FAA will wake up and realize it's supposed to be the consumer's watchdog and tell the airlines to spread out a little. Hey, if the Chicago Cubs can win a World Series, anything is possible.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Life Goes by Faster Than a Speeding Bullet


One of the neat things about the internet is that when people get cool creative ideas for mash-ups -- like, say, combining super-heroes with 1980s movie posters -- they can post them for everyone to see, rather than have them available only to people who might attend a convention or something.

Such as the work of Andrew Tarusov, a sample of which is above (Browsers, beware. Some of the rest of Mr. Tarusov's work is rated R and above, and his Deadpool poster is NSFW. It's also stupid, but that opinion could be flavored by the fact I've never thought much of that character). The poster for Sixteen X Candles is another pretty good one; it plays well off the Wolverine/Jean Grey/Cyclops triangle.

Last year I bought a nice little piece that put some of the X-Men into the same poses as The Breakfast Club poster. It's by an artist named Dan Buller, and if you look at his page you'll see that morphing ensemble casts into those five famed detentionees is one of his major motifs. The one I purchased is below:


Thursday, July 27, 2017

These Are the (Hic) Voyages...

Space, apparently, is full of booze.

Well, technically it's full of alcohol molecules, but those molecules are so far apart you'd need a glass light-years in size to scoop up enough to have any real taste or kick.

Kind of like American commercial lager.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fake Views!

An enterprising Photoshopper replaced the dinosaurs of some Jurassic Park scenes with cats. They're pretty well done and a couple of them are hilarious. But we have to call foul on #10, since there's no way on this or any other planet that a cat would just sit there while getting rained on. Because rain is frequently made up of water, and we all know how cats feel about water.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Strong Bad Hardest Hit

Adobe has announced it will accept reality and stop updating or offering its Flash web app in 2020. As the article notes, not very many people will miss it.

But as my headline notes, the wacky cast of Homestar Runner depends on Flash for their existence. The site doesn't update much any more, but here's hoping they find a good replcacement and start making some more funny cartoons.

Monday, July 24, 2017

If It Bleeds (A Lot), It Leads

Over at Our World in Data, Sandra Tzvetkova, writes up a report about how different disasters are covered by television news. The original research was done by Thomas Eisensee and David Strömberg.

By far the most likely way to get your death on television, apparently, was to be killed by a volcano. The researchers controlled for several factors, including the slowness of news coverage in May and June, for example. With all of those factors taken into account, their survey of national network news stories from 1968-2002 showed almost 39,000 people have to die from a food shortage or famine to get the same kind of coverage given to one person who died in a volcano eruption.

Tzvetkova theorized that the gradual nature of death from famine -- it's a problem that has to build up over some time -- makes it less visually spectacular than a volcano and thus the latter will get a lot more airtime. Starving people just tend to lay there, while volcanoes erupt and spew lava and everything.

Cultural critic Neil Postman made observations similar to this about local television news, writing through the 1980s and 1990s. Convenience store robberies and house fires offer much more arresting images than do city council meetings and zoning commissions, even though what's done at those will affect a lot more people than the robberies and fires. The need for eye-grabbing pictures means a reporter will do a live shot in front of a closed courthouse to report on a verdict that happened hours ago -- because the courthouse is a little more interesting than the station's newsroom set.

No doubt there are many good people at all levels of TV news, locally and at the network level. But this truth remains: If the verb that describes the bulk of your news and information acquisition is "watch," then you are not informed about the world as a whole or your own part of it.

(H/T Marginal Revolution)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

She Swims!

The U.S.S. Constitution, dating from our nation's earliest years as a republic, is now back in the water after a two-year drydock refit. Renovation work continues, eventually bringing Old Ironsides back into her peak condition.

Although she would be ready to sail, a trip with all sails sheeted home is probably not in the cards any time soon. As one of the museum personnel commenting on the live feed said, unfurling that much canvas is "complicated" and is saved for special occasions. And as it happens, she doesn't look all that bad just sitting on the porch anyway.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Latest

Former crime reporter Michael Connelly has toyed with some other characters as leads in his novels, although he continues to rely on detective Harry Bosch and lawyer Mickey Haller as his mainstays. With 2017's The Late Show, he brings Hollywood Division night shift detective Renée Ballard onto the stage.

Ballard is Connelly's first female main POV protagonist since Void Moon's Cassie Black. She's working "the Late Show," the nighttime shift that's just one step up from crosswalk duty, because she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor and was hung out to dry by her fellow officers concerned more with their own careers than the truth. Late Show detectives may make the first contact with a crime victim, but their cases are almost always handed off to daytime officers who close them and make the arrests.

But not unlike Harry Bosch, Ballard stays in the harness because she wants to solve crimes and speak for those who can't speak for themselves. Occasionally she can take a case to the finish and bring that closure herself. On the night we meet her, she manages to become involved in three such cases and finish them out -- a credit-card theft, the brutal beating of a transvestite prostitute and a multiple-victim murder at a nightclub. To work them, she'll have to cross paths with her former co-workers and the supervisor who tried to assault her, putting her career on the line when she believes they won't do the job right. And she might find herself the target of more than harassment if her suspicions are right.

Connelly seems as though he plans a full trip with Ballard, unwrapping her character only gradually and leaving several layers to go even by the end of the novel. At this point, she's interesting and appealing enough to hope he continues. Connelly is probably at his best when telling the tales of tarnished knights in pursuit of justice, and it's worth it to see where Renée Ballard will plant her banner and draw her sword next.
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After many years dodging the responsibility, Gabriel Allon has finally taken up the mantle of the director of Israel's intelligence service in 2017's House of Spies. His enemy Saladin, the Iraqi terrorist pursued in The Black Widow, is in hiding, his network supposedly a shambles. But Gabriel regard's Saladin's survival as a failure and fears the mastermind is only recuperating and rebuilding his organization.

Daring and deadly attacks in London prove him right, and Gabriel is ready to agree when his friends at British intelligence ask for his help in bringing Saladin to bay. As the director, he's not really supposed to get his hands dirty in the operational theater, but Gabriel will disregard precedent to get Saladin. His avenue will be a French jet setter, Jean-Luc Martel, suspected of being a drug supplier.

Allon chronicler Daniel Silva uses Gabriel's new position to introduce a couple of extra wrinkles into his story, but House of Spies is mostly tried-and-true riffs on the concept behind Mission: Impossible. Gabriel's team works out an elaborate con to get a handle on Martel and squeeze him for his drug contacts, which they believe will get them to Saladin. Silva hasn't lost any punch or gotten flabby in this, his 17th Allon novel, but he is treading some familiar paths. Maybe giving Gabriel some time in his new role will offer Silva some chances to branch out and try new ideas; it would be a welcome change to avoid the possibility of getting into a rut.
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The lazy second half of Ben Coes' 2016 Dewey Andreas adventure First Strike put the author in a deep hole. Its repetitive and clichéd brutality was easily the worst set of chapters he's put into print and could make a reader wonder if Dewey had any life left.

For 2017's Trap the Devil, Coes offers a solid if unspectacular yes, putting Dewey on the trail -- and in the sights -- of a shadowy conspiracy within our own government instead of another round with international terrorists. On a limited duty assignment offering extra security for the U.S. Secretary of State, Dewey finds himself implicated in the secretary's assassination and on the run from French security forces. Intermittent contact with allies at the CIA and other colleagues gives him hints of the shadowy cabal and its plans, but will it be too late to thwart their deadly scheme?

Coes has done best with Dewey operating solo, usually in hiding and in almost as much danger from his own side as his enemies. He spends a large part of Devil working that angle, with good results. An extended sequence on a train, with at least three different groups of heavily armed fighters looking to kill each other, delivers some high-tension action and solid suspense. Coes is good at navigating the line between good tough guy masculine prose and he-man overkill, and he continues to do so here.

Some implausibilities in the plot and in more than one of Dewey's fantastic feats bring a little more eye roll than is good for even an espionage thriller novel, but Devil remains a substantial improvement on the one-star outing of First Strike and rescues the series from the "used to read him" pile.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Little Bit of Sense

At first blush, this item would seem like another in the long line of municipal governments or associations doing stupid things, like telling war veterans not to fly their national flag or shutting down kids' lemonade stands.

Because that is exactly what FOUR code enforcement officers did recently in the Tower Hamlets area in London, raiding a lemonade stand being run by a university professor and his five-year-old daughter. The desperadoes committed the ultimate offense in modern life -- they did something without getting a permit. The squad of officers saved Tower Hamlets from certain anarchy by ordering the stand shut down and fined the miscreants £150, but helpfully noted that the amount would be only £90 if "paid quickly." This being London instead of Chicago, that was probably the truth rather than an attempt at a shakedown. In any event, the little girl was in tears and sounds quite distraught based on the account given by her father.

A modicum of sense prevailed at the town offices, however, which immediately canceled the fine when learning of it and promised to call the professor and his daughter to apologize for their treatment. "We expect our enforcement officers to show common sense, and to use their powers sensibly. This clearly did not happen," the spokeswoman said.

It's hard not to love the British gift for understatement. One would think -- if one thought -- that the proper thing to do when confronting a child's lemonade stand is to go on about one's business. If one lived in a city that for some reason included children's lemonade stands as a fit subject of governmental regulation and could not leave it before the screen door of the house slammed shut, then one would perhaps buy a cup of lemonade from the youngster and quietly let Dad know that she shouldn't do it again because of the city ordinances.

If for some reason one's neurons have refused to engage enough to present these very simple ideas, then one would think that the sight of the five-year-old child's tearful face would clue one in that one had been dumber than a microcephalic brontosaurus and should figure out a way to redeem this utter embarrassment of a situation. But no evidence presented suggests that these FOUR men can cobble together enough functioning gray matter to realize these things, and so they will now be mocked and belittled.

It's possible that the FOUR code enforcement officers involved might believe that their employers have thrown them under the double-decker bus. But that's not the case, gentlemen. No one had to throw you -- you pretty much dove right underneath it all on your own and you have earned every bit of snide and derision thrown your way.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ripped to Shreds

The end of the third series (British television uses "series" where American television uses "season") of the BBC show Ripper Street left former Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) living peacefully outside of London with his recently rediscovered long-lost daughter Mathilda (Anna Burnett). Amazon had arranged to shoot and air a third series after the disastrous second outing on BBC had more or less killed the show.

Unable to leave well enough alone, Amazon decided to produce a fourth and fifth series that brought Reid and his daughter back to Whitechapel in London and Reid back to the police force. He now serves as an inspector under his former assistant, Bennett Drake (Jerome Flynn), who took his place as chief inspector and who lives with his wife, former prostitute Rose Erskine Drake (Charlene McKenna). The American Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) is around as well, continuing to work as a pathologist for the police and trying to find a way to save his wife, Susan Hart (MyAnna Buring), following the exposure of her role in the disaster that overshadowed much of Series Three.

Reid at first pretends as if he is back because he wants to work again, but it becomes clear he has another agenda. Jackson's quest to save Susan from hanging appears on the surface to be purely legal, but it has another layer as well. And some vicious, almost bestial murders plaguing Whitechapel bring back memories of the Ripper case from eight years earlier. Naturally all of these threads will intersect, bringing tragedy to close out Series Four and driving the action of Series Five.

If Series Two wrecked the show and Series Three offered a nice, tidy repair job that left viewers feeling a little better about the whole thing, the last two sets of episodes destroy most of that goodwill. They stem from a narratively ridiculous comeuppance involving a tertiary character towards the end of the third season and the return of one of the second season's biggest liabilities, Chief Inspector Jedediah Shine. Although the jumbled arc of Series Two was supposed to make Shine a major antagonist for Reid, it never did so and there's no reason for him to be exhumed for this story.

There are some bright moments. The budding romance between Sgt. Samuel Drummond (Matthew Lewis) and Reid's daughter Mathilda is sweet and often amusing, as Macfadyen goes into full "dad mode" glower at Drummond every time he sees him at the station. The writers manage to capture the elaborate speech rhythms of the late 19th century and Macfadyen continues to demonstrate his mastery of it.

But most of the rest stinks. Especially disappointing is the way that Charlotte McKenna is called on to use her performance to undo everything that the previous episodes had done with Rose's character, building a breakdown and collapse that have absolutely no narrative foundation. The Whitechapel Golem storyline is ridiculous and also lacks a full foundation, offering more holes than plot.

This space's earlier judgment was that Series One was all the Ripper Street anyone really needed, but that if for some reason a viewer took in Two, then they should by all means have a go at Three in order to wash out the bad taste. The problem with Four and Five is that they've tapped their narrative flow from the dumbest part of Three and they never rise above their origins. The old saying is that if something's not broken, don't try to fix it. On the other hand, if your plan for fixing something that actually is broken winds up making things worse, then that's also a reason to stop. Which is what should have happened with Ripper Street once Edmund Reid came back from his time at the sea.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Original Bing Translator

Just outside the town of El-Rashid in Egypt, 218 years ago today, Pierre-Francoise Bouchard took a second look at a stone that diggers had unearthed. Napoleon had ordered his engineers to pay special attention to unusual items they found while exploring, since he had an interest in history.

Bochard noticed that the 3½ by 2½  by 1 foot slab of granite had writing on it. In fact, it had writing on it in three languages: Hieroglyphic Egyptian, which had died out in the 300s, demotic Egyptian, which was still spoken, and Greek. The stone, eventually named after the Anglicized version of El-Rashid, "Rosetta," dated from the time the Macedonian Ptolemiads ruled Egypt and proved to be the key to finally translating Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The British defeated the French and took the stone to England in 1801, where the hieroglyphics were finally translated a quarter-century later. Since hieroglyphics are picture-writing rather than alpha-numeric, the usual decoding methods don't work in translating it. Common sounds don't necessarily show up as common characters, since two different words might be represented by two different images even though they shared similar sounds.

Today the Rosetta Stone is displayed in the British Museum. It was moved to Paris on the 150th anniversary of its discovery and displayed in the Louvre for a month. Egypt asked for it back in 2003 but the museum refused and sent them a replica. Given the unrest in Egypt over the last decade or so, that might have been a good idea.

Although it's incomplete because part of the stone has been lost, enough remains to be able to tell that it contains King Ptolemy V's "Memphis Decree." Modern NBA fans might be excused for thinking it says, "Play the kind of defense that your opponent will feel in the morning," but it is actually an expression of hope for the reign of Ptolemy V. Essentially, what might be the most famous text in the known world is a PR blurb.

Ptolemy V ascended to the throne at five following the death of his father and the murder of his mother -- who was also his aunt. His mother's murderers were his regents until a rebellious general gained control over him and persuaded him to order them killed, whereupon the general became the regent. Your second grade year was probably a lot calmer.

The Ptolemiads were one of the groups inheriting parts of the empire that Alexander the Great had conquered. The other two were stronger, and divvied up the overseas holdings of their weaker neighbor. One of them, Antiochus III the Great, gave his daughter Cleopatra (not that one) to Ptolemy in marriage as a part of the peace treaty. Either she was not easy to live with or Antiochus was an awful father-in-law, because when he was at war with Rome Ptolemy sided with the Romans. This proved wise; the Romans defeated Antiochus at the Battle of Magnesia (the Seleucids couldn't stomach the Roman attacks) and Antiochus died three years later trying to rebuild his power and treasury.

And you thought the Trumps and the Clintons were bad.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Right From Wrong

Astrophysics professor Matthew R. Buckley, one of the last people at Rutgers University who still thinks, decided to prove something he thought was true: Dark matter, the mysterious substance theorized to be the bulk of the universe's mass even though it can't be seen and has yet to be detected, couldn't form massive structures like planets.

Buckley figured that dark matter would not be able to release heat like normal or "baryonic" matter. It doesn't have photons like the everyday stuff does (one of the reasons it's dark and not detectable by any method that uses light), and photons play an important part in allowing clumps of atoms to relase the heat that they generate as they gather. If they don't release the heat, they can't solidify.

But if dark matter had a process to shed the heat, equivalent to electromagnetism in baryonic matter, for example, then it could clump together into large structures. It might even be able to form dark matter galaxies. They wouldn't last long, though, because among the other things baryonic matter has are forces that prevent gravity from collapsing its large clumps into black holes unless they are under extreme conditions like a supernova.

Dark matter planets, on the other hand, would be small enough that gravity wouldn't exert as much pressure on them and they would not collapse like a larger structure would.

Since dark matter emits no radiation, it would be almost impossible to find such a planet except by accident, such as being close enough to it to be affected by its gravity. And as Buckley points out, landing on one would be difficult. Despite our solid appearance, we are mostly empty space at an atomic scale (Insert Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders joke here according to your own personal preference). So is the Earth. Something called electrostatic repulsion keeps our atoms from sinking into the space between the Earth's atoms. But there would be no electrostatic repulsion between dark matter and baryonic matter, so we would just sink through to the center of the planet as its gravity drew us inward.

The speculation about a dark matter planet is pretty interesting, but one of the neat things to me was the way that Buckley and his colleague Anthony DiFranzo set out to prove one thing and wound up offering an entirely different idea when the evidence led them that way. Now that's science.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Who New

The announcement has been made, and the role of the 13th Doctor will be played for the first time by a woman, British actress Jodie Whittaker.

Internet entertainment sites seem full of people making fun of male fans who complain about casting a woman, although to be honest the profile of the complain posts seems quite a bit lower than that of the mockers up to this point. For my money, Hayley Atwell would probably have been the right choice, but her time as Peggy Carter in the Captain America movies and the Agent Carter television show may have made her too identifiable with another role for the comfort of the producers.

Whittaker has a number of things going for her. For one, she's 35 and in the BBC-TV video announcing her she definitely looks like a grown-up. Since the series returned in 2005, the most disastrous run has been the whiny emo 11th Doctor played by then 26-year-old Matt Smith. Stories about the Gallifreyan Time Lord work best when he -- and now she -- can project some aura of authority. They also have worked best when the Doctor's relationship with his -- and now her -- Companions is a bit parental. Smith's mopey crushes on his female Companions rang false with the character no matter how well he acted. Although the arc which has him marrying Companion River Song is an excellent example of how not to write a Doctor Who story, that's not really Smith's fault as much as the writers and showrunner Steven Moffat.

Whittaker also has some good credits behind her, most notably the dramatically weighty part of Beth Latimer on the BBC series Broadchurch. The mother of a murdered child is not an easy part to play, and had she done it poorly the series would not have been the hit it was.

Ultimately, the gender of the actor who plays an alien being able to move around through time and coincidentally takes on a new form every time the actor involved quits the show is probably not important. If new showrunner Chris Chibnall, who worked with Whittaker on Broadchurch, understands that, then there's no reason Whittaker can't do well in the role. If Whittaker is simply the Doctor and projects the same level of authority that most of her male predecessors have done -- something women do all the time, on and off screen -- then complaints about her gender really will prove to be silly.

If, on the other hand, she is the Female Doctor, and her existence as a woman after 13 previous regenerations as a male is Something Very Important That Will Teach Us All, then Whittaker's casting is simply self-righteous virtue-signaling and will be a significant burden for her and the show's writers to overcome. Paul McGann holds the title for the least amount of time playing the Doctor, working primarily in one 1996 television movie as the 8th Doctor. If Chibnall and other producers cast Whittaker solely to Make a Statement and they follow that up by paying no attention to what makes the Doctor the Doctor, then there's a good chance she'll compete with him.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Seeing Clearly

On the night that Donald Trump was elected, I posted a Facebook status expressing gladness that since Gary Johnson appeared on my ballot, I could vote for someone who was merely mediocre instead demonstrably unfit of character for the office of President of the United States.

A friend of 35 years unfriended and blocked me within five minutes of the post. She was "sickened" by my vote and "feared for our country" because of Pres. Trump's win. Blocked, I didn't have the chance to tell her I would respect her choice and wish her well, and that I considered the loss to be mine. I can't say that the outcome of that election made me all that happy either, but fearful for our country?

As long as it has people like these who banded together to help strangers in dire need, not a chance in hell of that, sweetheart.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Closer Look

The real question scientists need to solve when they examine their new photos of Jupiter's Great Red Spot -- a massive storm which could easily swallow our planet -- is whether or not the Juno's photos also show several native Jovian life forms standing on their porches and watching it approach.

If so, it seems very likely that we would be able to communicate with them.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Test Pattern

At camp. Internet spotty. Posting intermittent. Back for sure on Friday, maybe once or twice in between.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Page and Screen

The original Logan's Run novel is a good lesson in how science fiction can get caught by events, even when it's set in the future. William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson's 1967 novel extrapolates from the swell of young people seen in the Baby Boom and the pressure of overpopulation to set its stage. In this world, the 20th century closes with a revolt by teens and young adults, who make up more than 80 percent of the six billion people on the planet. Unwilling to accept their elders' plans to force families to stop at one child, they instead institute a regime of mandatory state-conducted suicide at the age of 21. The execution of everyone over that age and handing control of society over to a supercomputer called the Thinker cements the system in place. "Deep Sleep" operatives or "Sandmen" enforce this ultimate law, hunting down and killing anyone who does not report for death on their 21st birthday.

Logan 3 is a Sandman, loyal to the system although questioning the purpose of the hedonistic society he's supposedly protecting. When he meets Jessica 6, the sister of a runner he hunted, his questions deepen. And then his own Lastday happens, and Logan decides he himself will Run and seek a safe haven called Sanctuary, beyond the reach of Sandmen and the Thinker, where people can live out a normal lifespan.

Nolan has said one of the points of the novel is demonstrating how a society without age lacks any kind of roots or sense of understanding. The beginning chapters help demonstrate this idea to a degree, but it fades away into an echo once Logan and Jessica begin running. At that point, the novel turns into a long high-tension chase sequence. We get hints of the empty pleasure-seeking that's fueling the ennui of their society. We see some unusual aspects of the society that pairs Brave New World license with Nineteen Eighty-Four groupthink. But they remain mostly hints, as Nolan and Johnson press the pedal to the floor and run Logan and Jessica through one peril after another.

Some aspects of Logan's world offer food for thought. The aforementioned inability to grow or build anything when life is ended just as mature thought and innovation begin to develop is one. The emptiness of pure libertinism is another. But the main lessons turned out to be a miss. Nolan and Johnson wrote in 1967, as youth unrest began peaking and showed signs of some of the violence that would end that decade and begin the next. They extrapolated the increase in young people and the pressure of population growth, but didn't anticipate the effect of abortion and birth control on birth rates in First World countries. They also overestimated the effects of population pressure, seeing the crisis point at 6 billion. That figure was reached in 1999, a year earlier than they suggested, but did not provoke a global revolt.

Overtaken by the real world, Logan's Run winds up as an interesting sci-fi page turner, a little deeper than average but ultimately less impactful than the movie made from it.
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Said movie was made almost a decade later, and reflects the reality that some of the people who said never trust anyone over 30 had passed that milestone and found themselves surprisingly trustworthy. Screenwriter David Zelag Goodman tweaked the Nolan-Johnson novel in several respects. The mandatory age of death was 30, rather than 21. Humanity was confined to a single domed city instead of spread out across the world, probably as protection against some unnamed holocaust. And rather than a quiet death from toxic gas, a ritual spectacle called Carrousel supposedly offered a chance for a kind of reincarnation called Renewal.

Michael York plays Logan 5, still a Sandman but one now artificially aged to his Lastday in order to infiltrate an Underground Railroad-type organization offering Sanctuary to Runners. Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), has some connection to the Sanctuary operation but is appealing to Logan in other ways as well. He begins by using her to gain access to the Sanctuary operation but eventually changes to go on the run for real and develops real feelings for her. They find a path to the world outside the City and are forced to deal with how much of the life they have known is a lie. Logan's former partner, Francis 7 (Richard Jordan), has pursued them and they will have to confront him as well.

York, Agutter and Jordan are all quality actors and generally handle their material well. They sometimes overmatch it and York especially is pushed into the kind of scenery-chewing reserved for William Shatner. Peter Ustinov is amusing and interesting as the Old Man they encounter in the ruins of Washington, D.C., but his role is more or less decoration. Agutter's character starts out with some depth and potential interest, but once the chase begins in earnest she has less and less chance to steer the action.

Most people who write about the move Logan's Run mock the 1970s-era special effects, which do look horribly dated by today's standards. The City is obviously a miniature, and Roscoe Lee Browne's teeth and lower face show plainly beneath his android costume. But it pioneered several advances, including the use of holograms and Dolby stereo sound on 70mm prints. The Carrousel sequence featured more than two dozen wire-lifted performers and was easily the most complicated scene of its kind.

Johnson, who passed away in 2015, seems rarely to have commented on the movie. Nolan frequently mentioned his dislike of it and the changes in the screenplay. But several of them, such as corralling the setting to a single city and introducing a hazardous Outside, impart to the story more logic than did the novel. And some others had to happen to get the story onscreen -- keeping the upper age limit at 21 might have meant shooting the movie with Danny Bonaduce and Maureen McCormick. Not to mention a complete rethinking of the decadence and hedonism against which Logan reacts; none of that would have been filmable with an under-21 cast.

The movie Logan's Run has a little more staying power than the book, primarily as an early example of some of today's well-developed film technology and as a precursor to the big sci-fi silver screen breakthrough that Star Wars would kick off the next year. Absent those characteristics, though, it also remains dialed in as a solid "a little better than average."

Friday, July 7, 2017

In the Event of a Water Landing

Technically, it would be a methane landing, because that substance is liquid at the temperatures on Saturn's moon Titan.

But the calmness of those lakes means that probes that might eventually be sent to Titan would have a whole other range of options about their touchdown. On the other hand, any errors in landing could lead to the strange phenomenon of a spaceship reaching its destination only to flounder because of some mistake, design flaw or unforeseen accident. It's not every day you'd lose a satellite to Davy Jones.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Not Getting It

The key factor of this story is not how Home Depot is reconsidering their dismissal of an employee who followed a kidnapper to keep an eye on his location for police.

It's not how the guy got let go because this was his second writeup in a month, meaning it was not just this particular violation of safety policy that got him canned.

Nor is it how companies create policies that mandate employees not try to thwart crimes -- which makes sense if the crime is someone in the store with a gun but not so much when they shadow the criminal from a distance at the suggestion of the police dispatcher.

No, the key factor is that someone to whom Home Depot pays money was dumb enough to fire a guy who helped stop a child abduction. Policy, shmolicy -- if I'm a manager, I'm letting this one slide because even Bashir Assad recognizes what a bad move it is, PR-wise, to fire a guy who helped stop a child abduction. Perhaps the wrong employee's status is being reviewed.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hot Dogs and Apple Pie Included

For the last nine years, the Iowa Cubs AAA baseball team has hosted a special naturalization ceremony on July 4. This year 30 people from 19 different countries became citizens at Principal Park in Des Moines. It's hard to get more American than that.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

There's Gonna Be Fireworks

Thanks to writer Lynn Ahrens and singer Grady Tate, we can celebrate our national holiday with some style. Magna Carta's cool and all, but it doesn't swing like this:

 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Location Location Location

In a few billion years, there will be no doubt about the reality of climate change or the culprit thereof: The sun will have started expanding and heating up. Sometime between 1,000,002,017 and 2,000,002,017, the Earth's mean surface temperature will be hot enough to boil water, because the sun's energy output will have increased over that time.

This is before the sun expands in a planetary nebula and pretty much cooks the planet to a cinder.

Ethan Siegel, writing at Forbes' "Starts With a Bang" science blog, considers a reader question about a way to deal with the problem. Could we move the planet out of the neighborhood, to the point where all of our water wouldn't turn into Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump exhalations and leave us with the frightening possibility that Chris Christie could decide our baked lawn was his new favorite sunning spot?

Shuffling off to a new orbit would have the advantage of requiring little maintenance, Siegel points out. Once we've moved, we've moved. Space- or atmosphere-based solutions that would reflect more of the sun's energy and keep us cooler would need to be kept up, and one failure could be catastrophic. Terraforming Mars would also require a lot of care and attention, since the same things that caused the Red Planet to lose its atmosphere and water a few billion years ago are still present. Mars is too small to hold a thick atmosphere without help.

On the other hand, as Siegel describes the engineering involved, moving something as big as a planet might be physically possible but practically impossible. Moving the Earth might cause more damage than the project was trying to prevent.

Of course, the likelihood is than in a billion years or so whatever critters we've turned into have probably become smart enough to be ready to bail off this rock when it gets unlivable. That us, unless evolutionary processes have failed to rid us of non-survival characteristics like the appendix and Congress. If we still have those we're doomed.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What a Glorious Time to be Free

An overlooked item of July First-ness: Sixty years ago, scientists from 67 countries began an 18-month cooperative venture called the International Geophysical Year. The idea was to share data and team up for experiments by allowing scientists from other countries to bring their expertise to other nations' observational sites.

I mostly remember it as the source for much of the data I read in the children's science book "All About" series. In his first solo album in 1982, former Steely Dan songwriter, pianist and singer recorded a semi-wistful remembering of what the future was supposed to look like during the years of his childhood. He titled the song "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)." It is perhaps the only Billboard Hot 100-charting song written about scientific research, and the post title is taken from a line in the refrain. Both the idea and the song remain pretty cool today, sixty and thirty-five years later, respectively.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

July 1

-- Today in 1963, the United States Post Office began using ZIP codes. The ZIP initially stood for "Zone Improvement Plan," because the new five-digit codes were supposed to make mail easier to deliver than the older city-only Postal Codes. ZIP codes were made mandatory a few years later, and the ZIP+4 began to be used in 1983.

-- Today in 1867, Canada was created when the British Parliament enacted the British North American Act (later called the Constitution Act). It united three separate colonies into a Dominion, which gave them the status of a separate nation within the British Empire. Good day, eh?

-- Although it will technically begin on Monday, July 1 is usually marks the start of the fiscal year for most state and federal government entities. So if you live in Illinois, you're about to watch your state government become a worse investment than those offered by the famed Nigerian barrister e-mails. Rumors that Abraham Lincoln's spirit was seen wandering the halls of the Illinois capitol saying, "I'm from Kentucky, dammit!" are as yet unconfirmed.