Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Remain Calm. All Is Well.

Before it shut down, the Large Hadron Collider ran for a little while and proved it probably couldn't create a black hole that would kill us all. But does another danger loom?

The LHC is cooled by superfluid helium (helium gas chilled until it's a liquid, which happens at about -453 degrees. Wear a scarf.), which is something called a Bose-Einsteinian Condensate. Scientists have made these condensates explode with magnetic fields, which of course the LHC makes use of, and they call them Bose supernovas, or "Bosenovas."

They used tiny amounts of their condensates, but the LHC uses about 185,000 gallons of superfluid helium, which would make for a much larger bang -- perhaps even an earth-shattering kaboom.

But we can rest assured of one thing -- being a Bose supernova, we know it's going to sound excellent.

Monday, September 29, 2008

University -- Birthplace of Genius

Yes, this is certainly a good idea. Instead of "Men," write, "Toilets with urinals." Instead of "Women," write "Toilets."

Because I can't count how many times I've had to wait for some gal to finish at the urinal.

(H/T Fark)

PS -- Some of the comments are a little free with vulgarities, I think, but I don't know much British/English slang. Either way a lot of them are really silly).

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Senator McCain: Managed to highlight his experience in handling foreign policy matters and shone a bright light on Sen. Obama's lack of same.

Senator Obama: Got to spend much of the debate speaking on economic issues and similar matters, where voters often mistrust longtime incumbents such as Sen. McCain.

Moderator Jim Lehrer: Asked real questions, let the candidates answer, stayed out of the story in the way that I learned in J-school that reporters were supposed to. Note to self: Send copy to Charles Gibson & Sean Hannity for reference.

The Clear Winner: Me, who spent the evening at a dinner honoring a colleague, stopped by a bookstore to hear another friend perform some music, watched not a single nanosecond of this and read about it afterwards from a variety of sources.

No Failure to Communicate Here...

Paul Newman usually managed to communicate exactly what he wanted, as an actor and as philanthropist. A classy act who backed up his words with both his actions and his wallet. Think I'll use some Sockarooni when I cook tonight...

Friday, September 26, 2008


I imagine there are a lot of people who haven't liked President Bush who will change their minds and thank him now for his efforts and the result they've achieved.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Conveniently Past

The other day I had some time to kill between a hospital visit and a meeting, so I dropped in at a Borders Books and Music store.

Although my sojourn in SW Oklahoma made me a less-frequent visitor since Borders was not in that area, I've still been in them pretty frequently. But I guess it had been some time since I'd tried to while away an hour or two in one, because I found myself with quite a bit more hour than while when I was done. Selections across the board are minimal compared with just a few years ago. A music section that sprawled across nearly a full quarter of the store hangs on to about a sixth. Spotlighted CD's with little blurbs about the music or artist that you could listen to when the headphones worked are replaced with generic Borders signs and just a handful of tryout possibilities. Wal-Mart has a bigger selection.

The company's been in financial trouble, which may explain some of the problem. But the ever-shrinking selection of books and music predates this trouble, it seems. The only section of the store that's gotten bigger is the DVD area, and it doesn't seem likely to me that people who choose to own fewer and fewer physical copies of their music albums will hang on to physical copies of movies and TV shows once they're readily available online in a cheap, high-quality format.

At heart I'm a free-marketer and if the store has to change to survive or if it can't survive, well, that's the price we pay for that system. I have digital music as well, and I love my iTunes. I've bought books from Amazon and eBay and abebooks.com and a half-dozen others because they were cheaper and because if I wanted something shipped, I might as well have it shipped to me instead of a store who'll call me when it arrives so I can drive to get it. So I'm part of the problem.

But I remember how cool it was when Borders, as well as Barnes and Noble, opened up stores in Dallas when I was in seminary. Poor as the proverbial churchmouse, I could entertain myself wandering around the shelves for some time, and it helped me vary my routine from always going to Half-Price Books.

When I interned in Norman and lived in a one-room efficiency "heated" by a dinky, wheezy unit clutched in the window-frame, I had two options if I wanted to stay in my place: 1)In the bathroom with the space heater I bought or 2)Under every blanket I owned plus two coats and a pair of ski gloves. So I again had the chance to wander the many shelves and spaces of both big-chain stores, as well as the local Hastings.

All of the online purchase options and such have made many kinds of shopping more efficient and more convenient. So a lot of brick-and-mortar places are going by the wayside. And as a part of the problem, I don't know if I've always considered the fact that efficiency and convenience are also commodities with prices, even if those prices aren't measured in dollars and cents but instead experiences and opportunities. In fact, I know I haven't. I've paid for my convenience by shrinking the opportunity I've always enjoyed to just wander around a place like that for whatever might catch my eye. I can still do that -- but it seems to be autumn for the eye-catchers, because they're pretty stark and bare these days.

It's funny. When the two big-chain book and music stores opened in Norman, a lot of us saw the end of the town's Hastings, the chain that likes to focus on small towns and which operated out of a not-very-converted old grocery store. But a few years ago, while the other stores were subtly replacing shelves with open space (faded carpets don't lie), Hastings remodeled and increased their selection. And Hastings' financials look a bit better than Borders. Maybe convenience isn't everything and efficiency isn't always the best goal?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This! May or May Not! Be! Sparta!

A professor at the University of Cambridge in England doesn't have enough to do, so he's telling an audience at Syracuse University in New York why the movie 300 is wrong.

If that's not enough to get you to buy your plane ticket, Professor Cartledge will also let listeners know how the different movie versions of the ancient Spartans, including the 300 graphic novel on which the recent movie was based, can be related to modern world events.

I'd have to say that, were I interested in teaching a class about battle against the Persians at Thermopylae, I might have them compare the movie to more scholarly works or even the original Herodotus account. If they could find discrepancies, then I would know that they had some understanding of the historical record. My Old Testament professor did this with The Ten Commandments. I know another who did the same with a ridiculous 1999 TV movie about Noah that starred Jon Voight as Noah and F. Murray Abraham as Lot, Noah's former friend who got huffy when he lost his wife during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and became the leader of a band of pirates that tried to attack the ark.

But to be such a grind as to fly around the world and whinge about this kind of stuff in lecture halls? Sheesh. Might as well blather about how Wonder Woman comics and Xena: The Warrior Princess more accurately reflect modern understandings of the role of women than they do the actual ancient Greek view of them (Note to Professor Cartledge: If you do that, buddy, I expect a royalty check).

As I said, apparently the University of Cambridge doesn't give its professors enough to do.

(H/T University Diaries)

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I think it's pretty clear that the rest of us just played with Legos, while this guy took them seriously...

(H/T Fark)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shut Down

So, the Large Hadron Collider had a helium leak, which forced it to shut down for two months.

The official reason for the shutdown is that the leaked helium means that the magnets can't be properly cooled, and the experiments can't run. Of course, the real reason is that the leaked helium means all the scientists would have high, squeaky voices and they would all be laughing too hard at each other to read the instruments...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Belay That!

I almost missed it! Today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

So avast and prepare to be boarded! I present one o' me racket's better-known sayings, suitably translated:
Aye, for God the Cap'n so loved the world that he sent his only Son the first mate on deck, that whosoever o' ye follows him shall never be sunk but have fair seas and winds abaft the beam fer all time t' come. For God the Cap'n did not send his Son the first mate on deck to make the earth walk the plank, but that the earth through him might become part o' the Heavenly Treasure Chest.

And all the Cap'n's crew said, "Arr!"

And one question, if it's International Talk Like a Pirate Day -- how do you talk like a pirate in French? "Avast there, and prepare to win a victory without firing ye a shot!" OK, unfair, I know, and Jean Lafitte was a mighty bloodthirsty pirate and he was French.

Check out some pirate tunes in honor of the day.

Miss Direction?

So I'm a little ticked at Kid Rock.

Rock, born Robert Ritchie, is probably best known as one of the late '90s, early 00's so-called "white rappers." His lyrics were vulgar and pretty disgusting, but he seemed to have a sense of humor and an ability to not take himself so seriously, lacked by that hip-hop sub-genre's biggest name, Eminem. Rock once referred to his roots by mocking the fashion many rappers used to establish their bona fides: "I ain't straight oughtta Compton, I'm straight out the trailer."

In any event, Rock broadened his musical work in recent years, doing a duet with Sheryl Crow ("Pictures") as well as Hank Williams, Jr. ("The F-Word," which, as Williams explains to Rock, you can't say in country music). He's moved into much more of a southern-fried rock feel, even hanging out in the same Americana region as fellow Michigander Bob Seger.

But what I'm mad about is this new single of his, "All Summer Long," which is off an album whose title is probably in poor enough taste I'll leave it out. In it, Rock does a little remembering of a long-ago summer romance, and he uses musical themes from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," The Steve Miller Band's "Take the Money and Run" and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" to do so. Some might think it's silly to pair three 70s rock staples with a memory of a summertime sweetheart in 1989, but those persons never listened to the classic-rock format radio that saturated Detroit's airwaves in the late 80s as it did everywhere else. And in classic rock radio, it's always at least 15 years ago.

The song's not bad, although Rock and his ladyfriend were neither chaste nor did they say no to what you're supposed to just say no to. The source songs are played straight instead of sampled, and they weave together rather well, kind of an interesting thing in itself.

Well enough that when the intro to "All Summer Long" came on the radio, I thought I was going to get to hear "Werewolves of London," which is a song I can't hear enough of. Seriously, how can the line "I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's. His hair was perfect!" ever get old? But I didn't get to hear it, so now I'm ticked off.

Wait, the both of you are asking. Financial crisis, historic presidential campaigns and the like and you want to blog about a Kid Rock single? Well, yes. When I logged on this morning, one of the news stories I found was "comedian" Margaret Cho suggesting how she would like to have degrading sex with Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Maybe there were folks around in 1984 saying similar things about Democratic VP nominee Geraldine Ferraro, but since there was no internet then they were confined to spreading them amongst the rest of their brethren whose diminishing supply of brain cells was swiftly eroding as they inhaled the mimeograph ink they used to print their hate. Now we all get to know about them.

So I'm going to blog about ephemeral songs I heard on the radio. Maybe until sometime around the 5th of November.


This lady, who someone calls a medical ethics expert, says old people with dementia have a "duty to die."

Based on that comment, she'd better hope they don't.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Now We're Just Haggling...

It's an old story, attributed to several different people. I've heard it supposedly happened to Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx and George Bernard Shaw.

The gentleman is seated next to an attractive and proper young lady and engages her in conversation. Suddenly he says, "Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?" Or, of course, pounds, if one attributes it to Churchill or Shaw. The lady blushes, but seeing the humor in the request, agrees. "Well, would you sleep with me for five dollars?"

"Certainly not!" she says, now offended. "Just what kind of woman do you think I am?"

"Madam, we've already established what you are. Now we're just haggling over the price."

This sorry story from Italy put me in mind of the joke, which I usually laugh at except when someone makes it real. According to her mother, the young, um, lady prays to Padre Pio every night, referring to St. Pio of Pietrelcina, a patron saint of Roman Catholic adolescents. Apparently such prayers are one-sided, as we might surmise the man given the name Pio when he became a Capuchin monk might suggest another course of action than the one she has publicly declared.

I thought about looking up the exchange rate to see what a million euros would be in dollars, but what's it matter? Someone with money will give it to Ms. Fico and claim he bought her virginity. Ms. Fico will then find herself with a lot of money, but it seems to me that she doesn't have much self-worth.

Monday, September 15, 2008


"Hubble Finds Unidentified Object in Space"

I for one welcome our new Galactic Overlords...

Friday, September 12, 2008

You Have Chosen...Wisely

Seems the Large Hadron Collider's computers run their work with the open-source Linux operating system.

As the blog notes, this is a wise choice.

1) Bill Gates owns enough stuff -- we can't have him owning a black hole as well. Although plenty of Windows users I know suggest that Windows Vista sucks everything in and produces nothing in return, so he might already be on the way.

2) When you're smashing protons together at 99.9% of the speed of light, you do not want to see the blue screen of death. Be kind of a downer to have the earth's orbit forever after occupied by a big blinking "Epic Fail" sign.

3) What might have happened if all those computers linked together suddenly gained awareness and started operating the LHC for their own purposes? I bet the stupid paper-clip animation for the Microsoft Office Assistant has got plenty of suppressed anger after all the things that have been said about it and I shudder to think of the fate of humanity should it get its hands on something like this...

(H/T Dustbury)

'Til Things Are Brighter...

Sept. 12, 2003

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Andrew Vachss has said that his upcoming Another Life will be the last book in his series about con man/mercenary/criminal Burke.

And although I've found the series bracing, eye-opening and a great read, if Terminal represents what Vachss has left in the tank, then ending it's a good idea. Vachss has never shied away from the charge that his books have a message as well as a story. He's said in interviews that he orients most of his life towards one goal: The protection of children. Vachss is a lawyer, and has always claimed that his fiction writing is another way of doing what he does when he represents a child in the courtroom. He exposes the way kids are hurt and those who hurt them. Vachss was one of the first to detail the way child predators would use phone modems to share photos and stories of their crimes with one another, back in the late 1980s.

The Burke novels have always been deep noir, with their language and voice one step away from a parody of tough-guy crime fiction. It was a good fit with his main character, Burke, who was usually presenting a front to the world around him in service of a scam or self-protection. Terminal is soaked in the same stew, but where Vachss used to weave his sermon into his story, of late he's taken to lazily stopping the story for some character to rant the message he wants us to know.

He started being more overt with 2001's Pain Management and almost managed to sink 2006's Mask Market with a lecture that torpedoed the end game of the novel. Terminal, though, shows us about a third of the story we're used to, over-seasoned with lectures on the Iraq war, racial-oriented violence in prison and a half-dozen others that don't linger any longer than a flashbulb. In earlier Burke novels, Vachss' intent hit as hard as his story because he was able to weave them together. Now, though he seems as intense as ever if not more so, the message moments hold up a sign saying "Flip past me" or they dwindle out of memory before another five pages go by.

It's unfortunate, since Burke has been looking more closely at who he is, what he does and how some of his view of the world might stand some changing. Crime fiction as a genre doesn't include a lot of room for introspection and character growth, so Vachss might have felt he's done everything he could do with Burke within this genre. And maybe Another Life will be a way to wrap some of that up. If not, and if it keeps following the pattern that Vachss continues in Terminal, then that title will have been a lot more apt than he might have wanted.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Song Sung Blue?

Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, two of the five writers of the 1977 Heart hit and classic rock staple "Barracuda," are unhappy with the Republican National Committee's use of their song.

The RNC has played the song behind appearances of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, whose aggressive play on the high school basketball court earned her the nickname "Sarah Barracuda." Palin played in the early 1980s, when people in high school might have been expected to know the "Barracuda" song. Obviously, the RNC would like to maintain that kind of image as Palin takes on the traditional VP role as the attack dog, allowing the presidential nominee to spar in a genteel manner with his opponent.

According to their statement, the Wilson sisters disagree with Palin's positions and so don't want their song associated with her. Their e-mail to Entertainment Weekly says Palin "in NO WAY represents (them) as American women." Capitals, for those unaware of e-mail etiquette, often represent raising one's voice or some other kind of extra emphasis. Or that your pinky hit the caps lock key and you didn't notice because you don't touch type and unless you stare at the keyboard instead of the screen you get sentences like this: Tyr rson in SPsun staus msin;u in thw oksin (The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain).

The Wilsons said in their e-mail the song was written as a "scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women." Which definitely helps me understand couplets like these:
"'Sell me sell you' the porpoise said Dive down deep to save my head You...I think you got the blues too. All that night and all the next Swam without looking back Made for the western pools - silly fools!"

It also helps me see why the song is featured in the well-known feminist video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. And I would lose my Dave Barry Fan Club card if I didn't point out that "Scathing Porpoises" would make a great name for a rock band.

Of the other "Barracuda" writers, Sue Ennis and Michael DeRosier have yet to speak out on the issue. But former Heart guitarist Roger Fisher was a bit more mellow about the whole matter. For one, he thinks the RNC paid the song a great compliment by picking it. And for another, he noted the song use gave him the chance to speak out about his support for Democratic nominee Barack Obama and make a buck off of it thanks to royalties. Make a buck? Mr. Fisher may have less Democrat in him than he thinks.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why I Love Campus Ministry & College Students

Visited the college where I used to work Thursday to help mark the retirement of one of my former co-workers. I got to talk with some of my former students, as well, who were back to say goodbye to her.

One of them has gone to work for the college, and this was the first time I'd seen her since she landed the job. "So," I said, "Does it feel good to be a productive member of society?"

"Yes!" she enthused. "My paycheck has a comma in it!"

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Yea, Verily I Say Unto...Look! A Butterfly!

Reading this piece in the Boston Globe, I learned some things:

1. All that time I was letting my mind wander when I was in class, starting in kindergarten and running through grad school, was not nearly as wasteful as some of my instructors seemed to think it was. Right now, I'm daydreaming about sticking my tongue out at them.

2. Despite the presence of some great drama, acting and writing in some of its programs, the end result of more than 90 percent of television is the erosion of creativity. This makes sense -- when you're filling your head with someone else's pictures, how can you have room for your own? But it's neat to see some research back it up. No, I'm not an anti-TV nut, but I lean toward Mr. Springsteen's description, updated for satellite TV capabilities: Even though there's definitely a little bit more than "nothin'" on, there's now a whole lot more than 57 channels carrying it.

3. The dude who invented Post-Its thought them up while daydreaming during a sermon! What better reason for everyone to go to church -- who knows what world problems could be solved by the minds that journey far from their pews? In fact, I know some colleagues who take seriously their duty to preach sermons that allow for as much daydreaming and mind-wandering as possible, and I now salute them.

At the same time, it's kind of humbling to realize that in some ways, boring sermons might wind up doing the world more good than great ones do...

(H/T Arts and Letters Daily)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

You Can't Be My Neighbor...

I know the Public Broadcasting System disgusts a lot of hardcore limited-government types. I'm not sure how I feel about it, because Austin City Limits is often fun to watch, and if PBS hadn't shown Tom Baker-era Doctor Who episodes in the 1980s, geeks like me wouldn't have had anything to watch on television while we were busy staying home on Saturday nights.

And there's the whole Monty Python thing.

But then I read this, and now I say, pull the plug on PBS. Don't mess with the man in the cardigan.

In a World Beyond This One...

Don LaFontaine steps away from the mike, and God gets his voice back...

Read This, or Else...Nothing Much Will Happen to You

I missed this article in July, but thought it was worth the read even now.

Lots of colleges, including the one where I used to work, have summer reading programs, in which incoming first-year students are "required" to read a book that they will discuss during their orientation week. In the article, Charlotte Allen takes the programs apart based on the heavily ideological tilt and light intellectual weight of a lot of the books themselves. She notes that at Cornell, though, incoming students have been asked to deal with Franz Kafka, Sophocles and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cornell students might actually read something that could stick with them.

"Required" is in scare quotes because the discussion has no grade and no participation requirement. Show up, sit there, keep your mouth shut, leave. Notice how "buy the book" and "read the book" are not on the mandatory list, nor could they be. After all, what would the college do if a student didn't do the work? Expel or otherwise punish them for not doing an assignment that was part of no class and carried no grade? The idea causes a little line of drool at a lawyer's mouth, because colleges have lots of money and any punitive act on their part would get shot down in flames of emotional distress damages.

I can't for the life of me see what sort of introduction this is supposed to be to the life of the mind and the intellectual community. In fact, it would seem to me that students get a nice, well-rounded lesson that their collegiate classes have a lot of work that means little enough as to be kissing cousins with "optional." It's a lesson which doesn't serve students well if they wind up with some of those crazy profs who grade things.

Some colleges buy the book, in addition to having the writer on campus for a presentation. The college I used to work at started the program making the students buy their own copies, at a discount. Since I don't work there anymore, I don't know if they've started hiding the cost in tuition bills and telling the students they're getting the book free. Either way, the only certain enrichment is that of the author. Pay attention to enough details like that and you work somewhere else after awhile.

The first year they had the program at our place, the book was James McBride's The Color of Water, a memoir of his life and of his mother, who raised 12 children in poverty-stricken Red Hook, Brooklyn. McBride's father was black; his mother Ruth was white and raised Jewish. In it I learned that if you call yourself poor, the fact that your family owns two houses will be overlooked and that a parenting style which includes beating children who forget to take papers home from school is an admirable tactic that is given credit for getting all of them into college.

I left the next year, but not before reading the second selection, Mark Salzman's Lost in Place. It's a book that answers a question no one was really asking, to wit: "So, what would John Knowles' A Separate Peace be like in the hands of a less-talented writer who wanted to channel it through That 70s Show?"

If you're wondering why a church-related college seemed to have trouble finding church-related books, well, that's one of those details.