Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Faire Folk

E. J. Jones is one of the better-known pipers among the renaissance fair circuit and beyond, branching out and playing with several different bands and in several different styles. On The Wandering Stars, he joins with some bandmates from Brizeus to play a range of tunes Jones said he has picked up over a long career of performing and listening. "These," he says in the notes on the CD, "are the tunes I would play for an audience that had never heard the pipes before."

Leaving aside both the tragedy of the thought of an audience that had never heard bagpipes and the joy of their moment of discovery, Stars offers a good variety of sprightly and contemplative songs that work not only with the Great Highland pipes most of us think of when we say "bagpipe," but also the Scottish smallpipes and the Northumbrian uillean pipes. The latter two usually have a more low-impact sound.

Jones' aim showcases the pipes as an instrument working with other instruments, which is probably the reason he brings in the smaller pipes. The bouzouki that lends "Berwick & Keelman's" an almost Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flair would have been lost behind the full throat of the Highland pipes, and those same smallpipes join with a whistle on the title track to lend it a beautiful delicacy. He focuses mostly on the pipes' use as accompaniment for the kinds of songs people would dance to, rather than the martial or memorial anthems we often associate with them. That kind of music lends itself to some more complex playing, which helps to distinguish Jones' own playing skills.

People who think of bagpipes only in terms of the majesty of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and "Amazing Grace" or the defiance of "Scotland the Brave" might not imagine them as a tool for exploring this much lighter and celebratory side, but in the hands of the right craftsman that's exactly what they do. The Wandering Stars is an excellent work from someone who knows how to highlight multiple sides of this odd instrument and it's enjoyable to listen to him and his friends do it.
Tullamore have been entertaining faire audiences and folk music lovers for many years (though they all, as they are my friends, are splendidly ageless) and this year brought out a new album recorded at their favorite venue, O'Malley's Irish Pub in suburban Kansas City, Two to Get Ready.

For this second album recorded at the pub, the trio chose some songs that have joined their repertoire more recently as the meat of the album; fans who have seen them play over the years will find a lot of newer tracks here. They, as well as old favorites like "She Was the Belle of the Ball," feature the same great vocal blend between hammered dulcimist Mary Hanover and violinist Rachel Gaither Vaughn and guitarist Mark Clavey's encyclopedic knowledge of folk music history. Buying a Tullamore record in digital format cheats you out of a good half of the pleasure, since their CDs are accompanied by extensive liner notes that outline the history of the original song and of the band's story with it.

Tullamore also mixes traditional folk songs, like Robert Burns' poem "Geordie" with modern ones such as George Hunt's "Lighthouse." And although their main well is Celtic-influenced, they include many traditions ("Jambalaya," for example, is a set staple and was on Six Strings and Coffee Beans.) The dulcimer lends an interesting air to the moonshine ballad "Run Rufus Run," but Vaughn's violin and Partonesque vocals set it firmly in the Kentucky hills from whence it came. She also brings a Mexican flavor to "The Rangers of Gonzalez," with the same instrument and Clavey adds a Spanish touch to his guitar work in the same song. Both lend good atmosphere to the story of Irish immigrants in a fight during the Texas War of Independence.

Two highlights a wide range of emotions in its music, from the sad laments often associated with the Irish ("Paddy's Lamentation" and "One of Ireland's Children") to the dreams of lost glory held by the Scots ("Culloden's Harvest" and "Over the Water to Charlie"). "Belle," mentioned above, is a jaunty story of courting that welcomes the airy touch of Hanover's dulcimer.

Since I do know members of the band, I suppose if I ever buy a Tullamore album I don't like I'll probably have to skip reviewing it; fortunately they seem to be kindly avoiding placing me in such a bind.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Matter of Conscience

The Barry Goldwater/L. Brent Bozell collaboration The Conscience of a Conservative sits with Ronald Reagan's 1964 speech nominating the Arizona senator for president as one of the twin pillars of the modern conservative movement. They gave conservative thinking an energized new direction -- in addition to talking about all of the things that conservatives didn't want changed, they began to explain why.

Goldwater's 1960 book made one of the strongest and clearest connections between conservatism as a philosophy of government and the idea of freedom -- he and others like him were conservative in their views and politics because they believed that those kinds of policies and positions were the best guarantors of freedom for the most people.

In several of the essays, Goldwater makes it clear that some of the changes proposed by the liberal folks of his day were not necessarily wrong. But the means by which they were to be achieved, on the other hand, were. Social and cultural change through the courts system or by executive fiat was wrong because the U.S. Constitution did not allow it; social and cultural change through legislation and black-letter law was right because the same document did allow it. And that point mattered because the constitutional checks on power were designed to keep citizens' freedoms from being subjected to the whims of one person or a small group of people. What judicial action gave, judicial action could take away. Segregationists who thought their cause won when Associate Justice Harlan B. Brown said it was OK in his Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 found out it could be lost in the very same way when Chief Justice Earl Warren said so in 1954's Brown v. Board of Education.

Conscience also lays out briefly why Goldwater believed that most matters like this should be settled in individual states: The Constitution says so, when it enumerates the powers of the federal government and says all other powers are reserved to the states or to the people. He held this belief not because the feds are automatically wrong and states are automatically right, but because states and people that give up to the federal government their ability to decide things for themselves don't get it back. And the person who cheers a federal regulation that runs their way may find themselves much less cheerful when a different administration changes that regulation in a way they don't like.

Goldwater only briefly touches on economic issues that are another bedrock of modern conservatism, not saying much more than the idea that taxes should rise to fund what the government wants to do ain't no way to run a railroad. His chapter on the menace posed by the Soviet Union has the unusual pairing of being dated and timely at the same time -- worldwide Communism is perhaps not the threat it was in 1960, but a newly aggressive Russia might be, and there are plenty of other ideologies just as threatening to freedom floating around people's heads today as then.

Goldwater elsewhere wrote of his skepticism about much of government at several levels, and Conscience could do with some reminders that state governments can rival Uncle Sam in dull-witted cupidity. He also could have reflected some more on how some of the goals of people who opposed him fit in well with the conservative idea of defending and advancing freedom, and so pointed out the common cause they shared.

This edition is part of the Princeton University Press's "James Madison Library in American Politics" series, and features manuscript editing by Goldwater's granddaughter CC Goldwater. It also opens with a foreword by well-known conservative columnist George F. Will that lays out some of the impact Conscience had in American conservatism in the years leading up to Reagan's 1980 election. And it inexplicably includes an afterword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who uses Goldwater as a tool to blast modern conservatism's social dimension and references the respect Goldwater showed for his uncle, John F. Kennedy, despite their political rivalry in order to decry the lack of civility in public political discourse. This essay, published with the book in 2007, predates Kennedy's own contributions to civil discourse, such as grabbing a reporter's mike from her hand and ranting into it and calling for the arrest of people who disagree with his positions on climate change. But it's contemporary with his 2007 remarks saying oil company executives should be treated like traitors. And it features Kennedy misidentifying family therapist and radio personality James Dobson as a clergyman in order to slam the religious element of modern social conservatism. Twice.

On second thought, I take back the "inexplicably." Kennedy's essay, following Goldwater and Bozell's several short chapters, is an excellent example of the degradation of political discourse brought to us by modern political voices. But probably not in the way he would think.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

ποτ πουρί

In honor of the coming likely collapse of the Greek economy, we have put our "potpourri" title through the mighty Bing translator to give us the Greek word. Folks with a little knowledge of the Greek alphabet will probably notice that the translation is as much transliteration as anything else, as Bing claims "potpourri" in Greek is "pot pouri."

-- Hello! We're the movie industry, and we really don't have any ideas anymore!

-- Dark matter is the name for the mysterious substance that probably makes up most of the solid material in the universe. It's used to explain why galaxies that spin fast enough to fly apart don't, and why the universe expands at the rate it does. But to date it has only been theorized and never detected, so other theories might explain the universe we observe. Including one that says we just don't understand gravity properly. I fully admit I don't understand gravity properly, but I'm not willing to take the blame for there being no dark matter. So I'm rejecting that theory out of hand.

-- Every time a baseball highlight shows a pitcher after some batter has turned his throwing mistake into a fan souvenir, I get the feeling the pitcher, standing around and holding the new ball, would have no problem in a rule change that didn't require the batter to touch all three bases.

-- There are four kinds of introversion. Well, there may be five, but we don't want to talk about it.

-- Found at Real Clear Science, Peter Ellerton writes about why people lose arguments. He suggests it has to do with allowing your opponent to frame the issue away from the point you want to make, or with falling for rhetorical tricks that leave you with no ammo in your fight. He doesn't list that one of the reasons "Why You Will Lose Your Argument," as the headline says, is that you are wrong. But he's not alone in leaving out that possibility.

-- This writer at Wired suggests that it's NBC's fault that the show Hannibal, which features the cannibalistic serial killer made famous by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs as its lead character, had low ratings and was canceled. On the one hand, if that's true, I'm pretty sure I should send them a gift for making modern television slightly less of a pure cesspool of venomous ordure than it was before the cancellation. On the other hand, NBC bought and aired the show in the first place, so perhaps the proper response is that given to the dog when it learns to crap on the paper: Congratulations for meeting the bare minimum requirements for living indoors among civilized people.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Avengers of Oz: Age of Tin Man

This Tin Man doesn't seem to be interested in acquiring a heart.

On the other hand, Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion head on Thor's body seems to work pretty good.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Missed You in Church

Ordinarily, I'm a big believer in individual privacy and I don't like the idea of extensive and intrusive surveillance. But a program called Churchix uses facial recognition software to see who did and didn't show up at service last Sunday, and I must confess I am intrigued.

I expect someone to create another program soon that will offer excuses for skipping. At least half of them will involve kids' softball tournaments, dance classes or whatnot, another quarter will come from "not feeling like it" or a "mental health day" and the last quarter will have some kind of valid reason like illness or travel abroad.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mrs. Peel, We're Needed...

Patrick Macnee, the last man in the world who could wear a bowler hat properly, passed away Thursday at 93.

Macnee starred as John Steed, who was never without his hat and umbrella, in the British television series The Avengers. Steed worked with several partners as a pair of "agents extraordinary" who avenged "extraordinary crimes against the people...and the state." The best-known, and in the minds of many, the best bar none of those partners was Mrs. Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg. Rigg was the martial artist booty kicker of the pair, decked out in mod catsuits and swinging 60s fashions while Steed retained jacket, tie, umbrella (concealing a sword, of course) and the classic bowler.

Macnee rarely lacked for work, lending his own wit to whatever character he played and pretty much personifying English reserve, style and class in most of them.

And now, at last, those living in the afterlife may have instruction on the proper way to wear the rounded-top bowler hat. Which is good, because eternity's a long time to go wearing your hat the wrong way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Take Me Out...

Some observations on attending today's mid-day contest between the Oklahoma City Dodgers and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox:

-- Day baseball is perhaps the best sporting event ever conceived in the mind of humankind. I've always had a little interest in attending that outdoor game the NHL stages every winter, and one day I'd like to take in a match at Centre Court in Wimbledon, but baseball outdoors in the sunshine is truly from the thoughts of God.

-- OK, I exaggerate a little. But it's still darn cool.

-- The young lady behind me was of an age where one does not last long watching a baseball game, and sometime in the bottom half of the first inning she began whining her desire to return home, to go to Dallas and go swimming (?), to have stayed home and not come, to have ice cream, and three or four other alternative activities I have forgotten. Since she punctuated her statements by kicking the seat in front of her -- which was coincidentally the seat I occupied -- I was on her side and was not far off from offering to find whatever adult had so wronged her by bringing her here and convincing him or her remove her forthwith; said adult apparently being seated away from this group of children. Fortunately her captors came with her parole and did remove her. I hope they skipped the ice cream, though, as she seemed a young person who could do with a bit less of it and a bit more of those alternative activities.

-- Although school is out for the summer, there were several children's groups taking advantage of the daytime game from different daycares, YMCAs, church day schools and such. I will give you three guesses as to what happened when the big screen "DodgerTube" display between innings showed Princess Elsa singing "Let It Go."

-- Apparently nobody hits .300 any more.

-- Equally apprently, there's not a lot of pitching at the AAA level of the Los Angeles Dodgers or Milwaukee Brewers organizations. The Brewers' Sky Sox affiliate gave up three runs in the second and two in the fifth, while the Dodgers gave up two in the first and four in the ninth. With two outs. To lose the game. Oh well. The worst baseball game I ever attended was better than not attending one.

-- Yes, Dr. H, I remembered my sunscreen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Double Booked Again

In Lucas Davenport's 25th outing, John Sandford goes a little easier on him than usual -- Lucas doesn't have to figure out who a criminal is. He already knows. But finding him, on the other hand...

Gathering Prey finds Lucas's adopted daughter Letty kicking off the action by befriending some homeless-by-choice folks she meets at college. Later, when one of those people is in trouble, she calls Letty for help and Letty brings Lucas along. At first skeptical that anything's wrong or that he's getting anything like a straight story, Lucas looks into things as a favor to Letty. Before long, he finds her friend's suspicions are on target. But they're only the tip of a malignant and murderous truth that will endanger Lucas and his family, as well as perhaps sending him too far over the line at his job with Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to come back.

As mentioned above, Gathering doesn't so much present a mystery to solve as a target to hunt. The evil Pilot and his crew owe more than a little to the Manson Family, and the story centers on overcoming Lucas' initial reluctance to believe they exist and then on tracking them down before they kill too many more people. That part of the story isn't very new, even to Sandford, who sent BCA investigator Virgil Flowers on a similar race-the-clock hunt for a kill-happy couple in 2012's Mad River.

More interesting is the interaction between Lucas and Letty, as Sandford begins to craft her as a character on her own rather than just scenery in the Davenport home life. It seems clear that at some point the author would like to hang a few books on Letty if possible and may be testing out a good voice to use in writing her. Also of some interest is Lucas' increasing tension with his political overseers. Already impatient with fools and made even more so as the body count rises and his supervisors try to cover their own behinds first, Lucas may have to walk completely outside the lines in order to bring his prey to ground, and there's no certainty he will be able to come back if he does. Those factors set Gathering Prey a little ahead of the pack of the series and prompt some anticipation about its future direction.
Mike Shepherd's "Kris Longknife" series is about a heroic young woman who is gutsy and brave enough to do the right thing even in the middle of much trouble, and whose willingness to do the right thing is frequently the source of some if not much of the trouble.

Along the way, Her Highness Princess Kristine Longknife of the United Sentients has crossed paths with Grand Duchess Victoria Peterwald of the Greenfeld star empire on a couple of occasions, most notably when Vicky tried to kill her in revenge for her brother's death. Their last encounter, though, helped Vicky to learn that Kris wasn't responsible for that death, and she might have to take matters into her own hands to bring down the culprit. But she's a Peterwald female, trained to be a good lure for her father to dangle as marriage material in the interests of his own political ambitions. She's got a lot to learn about how to handle things on her own and little time to do it.

Shepherd began the Vicky Peterwald series with Target, which set up the situation our Grand Duchess finds herself in, and continues with Survivor. Her opponents move openly against her now, and their aims both where she is concerned and on a larger scale become clear. So does their cost, as Vicky finds herself first saddened and then enraged by the disregard shown for innocent bystanders. She uses both, as well as the lessons in responsibility taught her in the Greenfeld navy, to begin to live up to the responsibility her powerful position implies.

Survivor is immensely better than Target, in which Shepherd seemed to indulge just about every adolescently snickering sexual single-entendre he could dream up while describing Vicky's initial run for safety, It also wastes much less narrative on dead ends, and begins solidifying her character arc as she tries to shed the humiliating expectations of her palace upbringing in order to find what kind of human being she wants to be.

Shepherd's not exactly a deft enough writer to distinguish Vicky from Kris within the narrative; he usually has to make an explicit comparison in some character's words or Vicky's own internal dialogue (part of his reason for all of the bedroom romping in Target may have been a clumsy and very icky attempt to draw that distinction). But he does so fairly well within that limitation, not stopping the flow and he makes Survivor enjoyable enough that a space-opera fans could put the next Vicky Peterwald book on their buy lists. Which was nothing like a sure thing after her initial voyage.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Raisin Reason Restored!

A couple of years ago I mocked a federal program called the Raisin Administrative Committee, a group which simply took away raisins from their growers without any payment in order to keep the prices artificially high. A raisin grower had decided, back in 2002, that he had enough of that nonsense, sold his entire raisin crop instead of shipping it off to the feds, and gotten himself cited for doing so. He then sued the RAC and the Supreme Court, in a display of common sense broken not unexpectedly by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, agreed this week that the federal government can't take your stuff without paying for it.

The original story I read had the RAC as a wartime-era program, put in place in order to keep the market prices from collapsing after the government stopped buy raisins to send to GIs overseas during World War II. Today's stories say it stretches back into New Deal territory, which simply means that the federal government has been demonstrating cluelessness since before World War II, and few people who've heard of the Dred Scott decision or Woodrow Wilson's 1918 Sedition Act could argue otherwise.

The RAC, perhaps hoping to hide awhile in the woodwork, had not ordered raisin producers to contribute to a reserve since the 2009-2010 season and instead set production limits. Chief Justice John Roberts noted that the effect might be the same, but taking property away without paying for it was a no-no in the Constitution and in fact was one of the things King John of England agreed he wouldn't do when he signed Magna Carta in 1215. Production limits are perfectly legal.

Justice Sotomayor said that the growers retained some property rights over the raisins after the RAC hauled them off and therefore it wasn't the kind of taking the Constitution forbids. I looked at a couple of other stories about this decision and couldn't find exactly what property rights were retained; the growers could not keep or sell the raisins and I'm not sure what other choices were available. Maybe they were given a key to the RAC warehouse and told they and a guest could snack whenever they wanted to.

The decision does not eliminate the RAC, which is good news and bad news. The good news is that people who aren't qualified for most real jobs still have a federal agency for which they can work. The bad news is that we still have to pay for it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Oops! Brilliant!

Not every invention was created intentionally. Some things came about by accident, as researchers were working on something else or even when an experiment went completely bonkers.

I thought it was interesting how many kids' toys and games showed up unannounced and unsought-after. The headline kind of overstates things -- I'm having a hard time envisioning how Silly Putty changed the world, for example -- but it's a neat look at how a detour may wind up in a more interesting destination than the intended path does.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

'Twas the Night Before Father's Day

In days of yore when my sister and I were still young enough to be read to at bedtime, it usually fell to my father to handle that task. So I am sure he was doing just that on the evening leading up to the day when we celebrated him and his work.

Try as I might, I can't recall many of the stories that he read to us. I expect he used several found in the old Highlights magazine, which we then received in the hardcover edition. And for some reason Peter Pan sticks out to me as a frequently told tale.

Of course what mattered most was that it was him reading the stories and us hearing them -- my sister first, as she was younger, and then me. I'm neither naive nor a Pollyanna, nor do I think that some magical return to the days of Eisenhower would fix all of our culture's problems. But I wonder how many of them might be gone, and how many of those left would be smaller, if there were books in homes for dads to read to kids, and dads at home to read them.

Friday, June 19, 2015

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been...

Back at the end of last month, the Mars rover Curiosity marked its 1,000th "sol" on the red planet. Sol was the name given to a Martian day, which is a little bit longer than ours.

The project released this stitched-together panorama of where the rover had come from, complete with its tracks in the center of the image:

Of course, what's not shown is how far Curiosity had to travel to get to Mars. But it's hard to leave tracks in space.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Where's the Party? Looking Over Your Shoulder...

For teens, there are probably few words that inspire more boredom than some variation on "official government youth organization." Mix that complete lack of cool with the drab totalitarianism of the old Soviet state and you have Komsomol, an abbreviation of the Russian phrase kommunisticheskii soyuz molodyozhi and probably guaranteed to be the biggest group of killjoys in the known universe as the youth arm of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.

In 1985, the grim gray brigade published a list of 38 Western musical acts that shouldn't be played at dance clubs because of various crimes against the state they either advocated or regularly committed.

Some of them, of course, are hilarious. English synth-poppers Depeche Mode make the naughty list for "punk" and "violence," even though their breakthrough hit was the why-can't-we-all-get-along plaintive "People Are People." DM writer Martin Gore might agree with Komsomol, as he thinks the song not as subtle as he'd prefer and the band doesn't play it live anymore. The art-rock 10cc are pegged under the name "Ten CC" for "neofascism," which is as good an explanation as any for "The Things We Do for Love" and the post-band Godley and Creme song "Cry."

The Talking Heads are accused of feeding the myth of the Soviet military threat -- in case they "asked themselves, well, how did we get here?" in reference to the list. The Ramones are accused of the crime of being punks, to which they pled, "Onetwothreefour guilty!" Van Halen is guilty of anti-Soviet propaganda, even though lead singer David Lee Roth demurred that he did not feel anti-Soviet.

Some artists were actually pleased to make the list. The Komsomol lists Bohannon, the performing name of disco and R&B producer/drummer/writer Hamilton Frederick Bohannon, at #22 on their bad-people list for "eroticism," which the organization considers a crime because it has a rather hazy understanding of one of the major purposes of R&B. But that #22 is far higher than anything Bohannon ever did on the U.S. pop charts, as he cracked the Billboard Hot 100 only twice and the R&B Top 10 only once. So he's got that going for him as Russian premier Vladimir Putin seems highly interested in his own trip back in time to the Swingin' Soviet 70s.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Real Thing

Dracula, the character played frequently by the late Christopher Lee, was generally referred to as a fiend and evil man.

But he didn't have nothing on his namesake, Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia. Vlad was sometimes called "Vlad Drakulya" (Vlad, Son of the Dragon), which is where the basis of the legend arose to be later used first by Bram Stoker and then by a host of movies.

Vlad was known as "Vlad the Impaler," because his preferred method of execution was the placement of the victim on top of a tall pole inserted into a very painful place, and then gravity was allowed to do its work. The item at Today I Found Out notes that today is the anniversary of the 1462 nighttime attack on the Turkish troops of Sultan Mehmed II, in which the Wallachians routed the invaders but failed to capture or kill the Sultan. The next day the Sultan gathered his much larger army and prepared to attack the Wallachian capital, but found the gates open and the city undefended.

On entering, they discovered a field, about 2/3 of a mile by 1 3/4 of a mile, filled with wooden stakes on which thousands of Turkish men, women and children had been impaled. The Sultan withdrew, saying he could not conquer a man who would do such awful things. The war continued until Vlad's king, the Hungarian ruler Matthias Corvinus, imprisoned him for several years. It then re-started until Vlad's mysterious death sometime in 1476 or 1477; he was thought to have been killed in battle and his head taken by the Turks, but no one knows for certain. The mystery, of course, helped the legend that Stoker and others would later use, although the vilest deeds they dreamt for the bloodthirsty Count Dracula were pretty tame compared with what the real Son of the Dragon did.

Something that someone ought to point out to George R. R. Martin whenever he noises about his Tolkien-rewritten-so-Gríma-Wormtongue-wins sprawl being much more like the real Middle Ages than the usual setting for medieval fantasy works.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Target Acquired...

I was going to make fun of Donald Trump's announcement that he was running for president, but P.J. O'Rourke has already said all the funny things and mocked the man who lacks even the tiniest bit of self-awareness that would defuse the massive messy explosion this is going to be.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Great Anniversary

June 15 marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, or Great Charter, a document which the barons of England used to limit the rights of King John.

The usual vision of John is a foul-hearted villain, usurping the rights, lands and riches of anyone he wished whenever he wished. Daniel Wiser reviews a new book on John and Magna Carta here in the Washington Free Beacon and notes that this view of John may owe more to Robin Hood movies than to reality. The book is by Stephen Church, a history professor at the University of East Anglia.

And it's movies and novels that give us most of our picture of John, the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine who took the throne when his brother Richard the Lion-Hearted died in 1199. Far closer to reality, Church says, is a portrait that shows John as simply vain and inept. He inherited a kingdom encompassing both England and France and wound up chased out of France before his own barons put the kibosh on his increasing taxation and decreasing effectiveness.  In 1215, they hammered out a deal with their king that listed some of the things he could do on his own and some things he was forbidden to do. The specifics, as Wiser notes, were less important than the idea that a king could be constrained by laws. John didn't necessarily grant any new rights to his people, but instead pledged to uphold already existing just customs and laws.

He managed to muck it all up before the year was out until doing his nation his greatest service -- dying while his son was only nine and appointing the brilliant William Marshal as his advisor. Marshal reissued Magna Carta, indicating that future kings would consider themselves bound by it as well. The Tudors had some problems with the idea of limits on their power, which were also taken up by their Stuart cousins and successors. The lawyer Edward Coke revived it and used it to thwart Stuart ambitions until Oliver Cromwell and company punctuated the argument just under Charles I's chin. Other nations also adopted some idea of its provisions to varying degrees.

America's founders paid a great deal of attention to Magna Carta but took it even further, as one might expect from a group of people who figured the right answer to "Who needs a king?" was, "Nobody."

The document has little real effect today, concerning as it does the rights of a class of wealthy and powerful nobles rather than of everyday people. But the idea of it is a foundational piece of representative government.

And we still have plenty of leaders who are vain and inept. That seems to have remained unchanged in the years between the 13th century and the 21st, and probably will remain so.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

I Got Better!

In a truly bummer event, NASA's Philae lander popped down onto a comet after journeying millions of miles through space, only to wind up in the shade. And when you're solar powered, that's not good. The mission had only 60 hours of observations before the probe's batteries went dead.

But scientists hoped that as Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko approached the sun, Philae might find itself with enough light to wake up and do some more experimentin', and such proved to be the case. Whether because there's just more light as the comet nears the sun, or its axial tilt moved the area where the lander is into the light or the comet's gradual erosion by the nearing sun's heat shaved enough off the ridge to let the light in isn't really known.

What is known is that Philae isn't dead yet, it got better and it'll get to do some of its cool science in exploring a comet more thoroughly than we ever have before. Now that's an excellent wake-up call.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Given two objects, add another two identical objects to them, and the result will be four objects. That's not much harder to say or to grasp than "2+2=4," but imagine trying to express a quadratic equation without being able to use mathematical symbols. My junior high report card shows I had enough trouble trying to do it with the symbols; keeping the different unknowns raised to different powers straight without them has just caused a serious panic attack amongst my neurons.

But math didn't come pre-equipped with symbols. They had to be developed. For that matter, so did numbers. Our remotest ancestors who wrote things down probably just made marks in the amount of whatever number they wanted to represent. We had to develop the idea of writing "5" or some other symbol to represent what we had been expressing with something like |||||.

Joseph Mazur's Enlightening Symbols is a fun romp through the development of these symbols and ideas through history as we gradually collapse complicated ideas into simple symbols. He begins with the development of numerals, including the idea of the zero, and continues with how we came to possess plus signs, equals, minuses, square roots, exponents and so on. Obviously the earlier stages are fuzzier, as they happened much longer ago and are represented in few still existing records.

But as we enter the Renaissance, we see different mathematicians develop individual pieces of the puzzle -- sometimes two versions of the same piece, and Mazur quickly sketches how the eventual winner came to dominate. In some cases, new symbols are probably still appearing as math addresses more and more complex areas and requires new ways to talk about them.

Mazur mostly leaves out the truly head-bonking stuff as he takes his quick trip through math history and writes about his subject with a light and fun tone. He includes enough examples of math statements made without symbols to get his point across and sometimes feels a bit repetitive in doing so. But overall Enlightening Symbols is an excellent look at how essential the development of what we call math was to the advancement of society and technology, even of areas that seem to have little to do with math directly.
An hoary old philosophical conundrum asks if God could create a rock so heavy even he couldn't lift it. Mathematicians never have to ask if they could come up with problems so tough to solve that they could never figure them out, because they work with and around such problems all the time. Ian Stewart lays out several of them in Visions of Infinity; some were solved after much work and some remained unsolved when he wrote the book in 2013. Some might never be solved.

The way "solve" is being used here is slightly different than the way it might be used in other circumstances. Solving a math problem means finding what happens to the numbers after they've been processed according to the rules represented by the symbols accompanying them: 2+2 "solved" is 4. Solving an equation with a variable in it means processing those numbers in a way that will transform an unknown variable into a known number: Solving for x in "x+2=4" means finding out that x=2.

But solving the problems that Stewart talks about means demonstrating that certain math statements with nothing but unknown variables will always be true, no matter what numbers are plugged into them. Or that they won't be, by finding a set of numbers for which the equation will be false.

Visions is a brief look at several such problems and the story either of how they came to be and why they are still mysterious or how they were solved. It is not a quick read; some of the problems are interconnected and Stewart has a habit of dragging concepts from earlier chapters up without much of a signal or refresher of what they might entail. Some of his explanations of where the equations came from are as head-scratching as the equations themselves and furnish a reader with some seriously dense slogging.

Even though some of the math Stewart talks about may have even less of a "real world" application than algebra does in the eyes of a middle-schooler, he argues that it's still very important. Attempts to solve several of the problems in Visions led to many other mathematical breakthroughs and even failures often helped bring about a clearer understanding of the way the world works. And even if they did not, exploring math's outer reaches is no less a voyage of discovery than those taken the ancients who first ventured out of sight of land. Should human beings who seek to satisfy their curiosity about the physical world stop just because the frontiers are in the minds of the explorers? Stewart's answer  in the different chapters of Visions may be complicated and take a long time to understand, but it boils down to, "No, they shouldn't," which sounded right to me before I read his book and still does afterwards.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Predictable Result

What you have to wonder is what's going on in someone's head when they do stuff like this.

A police officer in Overton, Texas, told two elementary-aged sisters that they couldn't sell lemonade without a permit. The police chief is very clear: The police officer did not shut down the girls' lemonade stand, which they were using to make money to buy passes to a splash park for themselves and their dad for Father's Day. The officer only told them that they couldn't sell the lemonade unless they got what the city of Overton calls a "peddlars' permit."

Yeah, that makes it better.

My question to the Overton law enforcement representative who acquainted the girls with the wonders of the modern regulatory state is to describe exactly what circumstances he envisioned that would make this move look good in the eyes of everyone who learned about it. Seriously, dude. What alternative world did you dream up in which a police department that makes little kids get permits to sell lemonade comes out on top? Were the kids named Lecter? Were they chanting Latin in reverse and laughing maniacally as they hand-squeezed the lemons and promised customers, "You're next, human scum!" Did they intone, "Winter is coming!" and chop the head from a Sean Bean doll?

And once you learned they were raising money to buy passes to a splash park for a trip with their dad for Father's Day? Their father who's an oil field worker and who's away from home for a few weeks at a time? What happened to the part of your brain that should have told you, "STOP DIGGING! BUY A GLASS AND GET IN YOUR SQUAD CAR AND ZOOM OFF!"

Let's not forget the good representatives of the city of Overton, who at one time in the past crafted a regulation about the sale of perishable food or drink that was written so broadly as to include kids' lemonade stands. I'm curious as to what scenario existed in your thinking that didn't involve this move making your city look the dingiest, grayest corner of Oceania as the clock strikes thirteen.

Of course, the story has a happy ending. The kids found out they can give away the lemonade and the people can donate to them whatever they want. The splash park gave them free passes, and apparently some people bought passes and gave them to the girls. Their mom says they will use the money to create a scholarship for a graduating senior and give away the extra passes to kids who might not be able to afford them.

Happy, that is, unless you're an Overton police officer or the director of the Overton Chamber of Commerce. Then you're just hiding and hoping the inevitable next bureaucrat to do something stupid gets on the stick and does it already so you can get out of the doghouse.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Un-Tasty Mix

I'm being a bit spoilery here, but I think both Game of Thrones incidents I mention are pretty widely known and have been discussed at length elsewhere. But I'll warn you anyway in case you're one who hasn't heard about them. 

I'm on record elsewhere as being a non-fan of George R. R. Martin's massive A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. In short, I think that it started out with some level of appeal that left town as soon as it became clear that Martin's desire to create a fantasy series in a more realistic medieval-era world made for a grotesque and depressing reading experience.

No surprise, then, that I'm a non-fan of the HBO adaptation of the books, Game of Thrones. The series uses Martin's novels as an overall source material but has changed some characters and incidents, eliminated some others and compressed much of the narrative. It's currently in its fifth season and has recently drawn a lot of fire for two incidents that are ugly, creepy and have brought show-runners a lot of flack.

Incident one was in a May episode that ended with the rape of Sansa Stark at the hands of her new husband, Ramsay Bolton. I've not seen the episode, but if there is any accuracy in the many descriptions I've read, then we are not talking urgent-bordering-on-rough wedding-night passion. The complaints were that the scene was gratuitous and used not for any really necessary character development in Sansa so much as in service of another character's storyline. The effective double-dehumanizing of the Sansa character brought the feminist geek culture site The Mary Sue to the decision of no longer recapping or hosting discussions about the show. Detractors noted that the show had altered the scene from Martin's books, changing Bolton's victim from one character to another, so it was not a case of claiming fidelity to the original narrative.

The second incident occurred in this past Sunday's episode, in which the character Stannis Baratheon, at the urging of a priestess of a fire-god cult, burnt his daughter Shireen alive as she screamed to her parents for help. Stannis had been portrayed as genuinely loving towards his daughter, even though she had suffered from the disfiguring disease greyscale. Many more people swore off the show, especially since this was also a scene not in Martin's books.

A writer at the pop culture and review website Pajiba raised the question in a recent article (no links because they hold to the custom that profanity equals authenticity, and it doesn't) of why these particular incidents might be the ones that drove viewers away. A couple of seasons ago, the guests at a wedding were all slaughtered, including a pregnant young woman stabbed numerous times in the stomach. The first episode of the show featured a brother forcing his sister into a politically advantageous marriage and depicted their resultant coupling in a manner very like rape. The incestuous brother and sister couple had sex near the laid-out corpse of their son in a manner also very like rape. Though Martin's book made both scenes appear much more consensual, the TV show didn't.

The Pajiba writer suggests that the tolerance for GoT depravity has dropped because the show quality has declined. The current seasons are drawing from Martin's more recent books, which both bestseller bloat and the underlying hollowness of his premise have weakened. They lack the narrative strength to give context to the horrible things both book and show talk about. I think he's onto something there, although my analogy is different.

As I see it, both Martin's books and the HBO show are a mixture of a spoonful of dog crap in a five-gallon bucket of ice cream. Up until now, fans of the books and the show have been training their minds on the parts of that phrase that contrast "spoonful" with "five gallon bucket," But of late, the serving line has gotten closer to them and their bowl is on its way down the table, and they find they can't look away from the "dog crap" part of the sentence. So I get it, and I sort of sympathize, but I also would be remiss if I didn't point out that the dog crap was there all along.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Kurutulmuş Kokulu Ҫiçekler

In honor of the new Turkish parliament, which will have a little bit more of everything following recent elections, we use a phrase that an internet translation website tells me is Turkish for "potpourri." I urge you to remember Abraham Lincoln's caution about internet reliability; I wouldn't want to be responsible for you inadvertently insulting someone's mother.

-- Lauren Goode at re/code tells us we do not need a smartwatch. I'd like to try to see her coordinate with Sam Catchem to nab Pruneface without one!

-- Of course, the real problem with creating a quantum thermometer is that sometimes it's there and sometimes it isn't, which makes it hard to get consistent readings.

-- We now have the potential plotline for the follow-up to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, entitled Hangover of the Planet of the Apes.

-- Just because you're wearing an explosive vest doesn't mean you can get into an argument with someone else who showed up wearing the same thing.

-- Historian Andrew Roberts suggests that European history might have been better in the 20th century if the allied powers had never brought Napoleon to battle at Waterloo. The one time you actually want the French to surrender without shooting...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Your Current Dream Is a Shopping Scheme

In a move which allowed him to utter one of the most nonsensical statements ever created in English, Virgin Money founder Richard Branson will use cover images from one of the bands his record company signed back in 1977 as images on two new vanity credit cards.

The band? The Sex Pistols. The statement? "I can't think of anything more appropriate than Virgin Money adopting the Sex Pistols on their credit card."

The Sex Pistols, for our younger readers, were a punk band in England in the mid-1970s that represented rebellion against anything and everything they could think of, including the music industry and the quaint notion that performing musicians ought to be able to play their instruments. When they began their career, there was really some question about whether or not they had any idea what they were doing, although by the time they reached their peak fame they'd managed to figure out the necessary three chords.

Bassist Sid Vicious also figured out how to be under suspicion for murder of his girlfriend and die from a heroin overdose supplied by his mom. By the time he was 21. The Pistols' biggest hit was a song that contained the line, "God save the Queen/She ain't no human bein'" that English longshoremen didn't want to ship because the lyrics and defaced cover picture of Queen Elizabeth offended them.

What the Pistols contributed to the punk scene is an exercise left to the aficionado; "Anarchy in the U.K" and "God Save the Queen" are classic snarls of punk rage and "Pretty Vacant" still sums up a society that despite what it says, believes in appearances over substance. But the band's pretense that their nihilistic tantrums against hotel rooms, fans, writers and others somehow represented an authentic and honest rebellion against the world vanished as it became more and more apparent that it was instead a self-destructive death spiral.

Either way, it's hard to imagine a less appropriate band to have its name and imagery decorate a piece of debt-ridden status symbol plastic than the Sex Pistols. It'd be like seeing a Clash song used by the dopey American Idol as a commercial for a major corporate automaker.

Well shoot.

(ETA: Hat tip Dustbury)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Underneath the Chalk

You will probably have seen something about this item, in which contractors renovating Emerson High School in Oklahoma City found nearly 100-year-old drawings, writings and lessons on slates underneath the chalk boards they were removing. I call attention to it here because I like several of the things that Jennifer says about the find.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Extra Research Necessary?

Dr. Caleb M. Brown, a researcher at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada, had two goals in one of his most recent papers.

One was to detail the discovery of Regaliceratops peterhewsi, a new species of dinosaur that resembles the well-known Triceratops but has smaller horns over its eyes, a larger one at its nose and a much more elaborate bony plate behind its head.

The other was to propose. The closing sentence of the acknowledgements section, in which writers usually offer their thanks to people who aided in research and preparing a paper, was a personal thanks to Lorna O'Brian, Brown's girlfriend, and a proposal. The publisher knew about the note and had no problem with it, and the entire event seems to have come to a happy conclusion as Ms. O'Brian said yes upon viewing a preprint of the article.

Scientific papers are usually subjected to a process called peer review, in which other scientists in the same field check the work of those who write the paper. They may or may not agree with conclusions reached by the authors, but their goal is just making sure that experimental data weren't fudged or someone did something silly like say 2+2=5 or something. There is no word on whether or not Dr. Brown's proposal was so reviewed, but with her agreement Ms. O'Brian offered the opinion of the one peer who mattered the most and it seems a retraction will not be necessary.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Win the Day

Because of the courage and sacrifice of thousands of young men whom he would never meet -- some of whom would stay on the beach at Normandy forever -- Supreme Allied Forces in Europe Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower never had to say these words:
"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."
Thank you again, gentlemen.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Political Positions

The idea of overlap between politically conservative and libertarian philosophies isn't new -- both place a pretty high value on individual freedoms, for example. In economic arenas, conservatives are often seen as champions of free-market policies that match very well with the libertarian idea of reducing government economic interference to the bare minimum.

They've generally differed on social issues, with the theme of individual liberty underlying the libertarian positions against laws that criminalize drug use or same-sex unions. Conservative social positions, often informed by religious conviction or an overall reluctance to change, usually clash with those ideas.

National Review writer Charles C. W. Cooke, a transplant from Merrie Olde England, finds ways to blend the two positions into something he calls a "conservatarian" position, believing that the portmanteau represents the political beliefs of many people in the United States today and offers a way forward in a country struggling with a number of serious economic, social and political issues. His Conservatarian Manifesto is a cleanly-written basic explanation of these ideas, both concise and precise in its presentation.

Whether or not the ideas convince is left up to the reader, of course. My own positions match pretty well with Cooke on economic issues, for example. He sees the conservative-libertarian mix as a good antidote to both stifling government overregulation and the kind of crony capitalism that seems to know no party lines, and I agree. But while I am less loving of the idea of engineering society through government policy than are many of my fellow knuckle-draggers and mouth-breathers mired with me in traditional Christian theism, I can't just shrug my shoulders at, say, redefining marriage. Nor am I as convinced as many that legalizing several currently illegal substances will reduce some of our country's drug problems -- perfectly legal prescription drugs are abused pretty often and their legality doesn't seem to have hampered criminal enterprises based on them.

The Manifesto, though, is definitely a handy read. Cooke offers some good ammunition in a discussion if your position matches his and offers some good counter-proposals against which to test yourself if those positions differ. The odd word in the title and the fact that he writes for the National Review might steer a lot of people away from this particular Cooke book, but people who genuinely like to read other ideas than their own should find it worth their time.
Kirsten Powers is way tougher than I am.

When the Senate and House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care Act in 2010 via parliamentary shenanigans made necessary by their fear of electoral reprisals for a program they said everyone loved, I finally left the only political party to which I had ever belonged and re-registered as an independent. I could no longer associate myself with people who acted like that while claiming some kind of high moral purpose.

But Powers, a committed and devoted liberal, stays with people who may share some of her beliefs but completely lack her sense of ethics, fair play and respect for others. In The Silencing, she details several instances where people have used different tactics and power plays to prevent their political and ideological components from being heard or expressing their ideas. She points out that this happens from the conservative side as well, but in the most public arenas of our nation, such as the press, social media or the university campus, those trying to eliminate debate are part of what she calls the "illiberal left." They may hold progressive positions, but their refusal to give opponents equal time in the marketplace of ideas means they are anything but liberal.

Her complaints aren't new, and they've been made a few times by more liberal writers, such as former NPR contributor and current Fox News contributor Juan Williams. Powers is also a Fox News contributor, because, as she says, that's where the people who disagree with her get news and opinions, and she'll never convince them if she's not talking to them. The Silencing offers a different flavor from previous works on the matter in several places, as Powers adduces recognized liberal defenders of free speech to contest the shushing brigade that wants to hear no debate or nothing other than its own received orthodoxy. For example, though the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education often comes to the aid of conservative and Christian students or faculty on the receiving end of the heavy hand of university censorship, it's run by Greg Lukianoff, a liberal atheist.

Silencing is in many ways no fun to read, as the litany of would-be censors, modern-day Puritans and groupthinkers can outrage both logic and a sense of decency. But that would overlook the fact that this is a book written by, as I said, a committed liberal who holds positions opposed to many of those that she's defending in its pages. She may think her opponents to be entirely wrong about what they say, but she believes they are entirely right about their right to say it without fear of intimidation, demonization and slander. And, she says, more liberals are like her than like those who try to shout down opposition with shaming and marginalization.

I suspect Powers wrote partly from a belief that silenced opponents can be all the more dangerous. If all the "illiberal left" that Powers describes ever hears is its own echo chamber, it may believe it's won the fight, when all it's really done is made everyone else keep quiet until they can register their opinion in secret -- like in the voting booth. But I believe much more of her motive may be the belief that the best way to come to the truth is to discuss disagreements openly and with respect -- at least, that's what comes through the pages of The Silencing.  She will offer and expect such treatment, and if more of the world, both on the left and the right, worked that way, then much of the media we see and the government they report on would be far less foul than it is.

Die Duftmischung

Note: I may be running out of ways to say "potpourri," but the German translation above could be inaccurate. If you have used it in a conversation based upon my citation and have been subsequently mocked as a pretentious monolingual meat-head, cheer up; it could be worse! You could be known as a reader of this blog...

-- Pluto's moons orbit it in a pretty regularized configuration called a "Laplace resonance." This means their orbital periods match up with each other. But a couple of them rotate, on the other hand, in some pretty wacky ways -- the odd shapes of Nix and Hydra mean that as they spin an observer on one might see the (very very tiny) sun rise in the east and set in the north, for example. More is being learned as the NASA probe New Horizons nears its Plutonian flyby, so more weirdness could be in the offing. Planetary scientist Mark Showalter summed up the current situation this way: "But anything I say about Pluto right now could easily be obsolete by next week. Or tomorrow.”

-- I'm on record that I think excessive noise during a high school graduation could be a sign that the excessive noisemaker's life peaked in high school. So if a school wants to tell the crowd at commencement that they need to wait and applaud after the last grad has walked, so be it. If they want to say that people who ignore that request will be asked to leave the ceremony, so be it -- although that's a step too close to Dean Wormer Land for me. But having citations issued for disturbing the peace? Humorless, vindictive and petty is no way to go through life either.

-- Even a strong man may shed a tear upon the occasion of a great joy. Today is one such occasion.

-- Some may take this news -- that a craven Pakistan justice system released eight of the ten men who tried to kill a teenage girl for wanting to go to school -- as a sign that female students in Pakistan are in danger of more attacks. Perhaps, but remember, such young women are so terrifying to their detractors that attackers need to outnumber them 10-to-1. A gang of only eight simply can't handle your average 100-pound 15-year-old female who wants to learn to read and write.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

I Bet That Diamond Ring Shines Now

ETA: Whoops -- forgot to check the date when someone sent this to me and thought it was this week. Happened in 2008!

Sure, anyone can have three foxy backup singers helping keep time and offering great harmonies. But who has one of those singers also be the rhythm guitarist while still staying in step with the others?

Only the great Bo Diddley:

Mr. Otha Ellis Bates, better known as Bo Diddley, died Monday at 79.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Heironymous Bosch, LAPD

Note: The following may contain spoilers about Amazon's TV series Bosch. As in the recent review of Daredevil, Bosch is going to be talked about like it's a TV series even though it was never actually on television but was originally available only via online connection.

Michael Connelly fans have long figured that his neo-noirish series featuring Los Angeles Police Department detective Heironymous "Harry" Bosch would make some pretty good television or movie moments. Matthew McConaughey's well-done turn as Connelly's lawyer character Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer gave that idea some momentum. When Amazon decided to get into the dramatic TV business, they rather understandably looked first at creating characters based on bestselling books. Two pilots were produced, with Amazon Prime users opining on which should get made. Bosch was released in February 2015, working three of Connelly's books into a 10-episode web series. A second series was ordered a month later.

Titus Welliver plays the detective, transformed from the Vietnam vet tunnel rat of the novels to a Gulf War veteran in his late 40s. Since that's the age Bosch was during the novels adapted for the series, producers decided to bring his history forward rather than use a retirement-aged Bosch as their centerpiece.

Welliver, a veteran character actor, brings the printed Bosch's cynicism and drive straight to the screen even if he does leave the frequently-described mustache behind. Harry Bosch is driven to solve crimes and see guilty people punished, partly because it's the right thing to do but also because of his own experiences as a crime victim and orphan during his childhood. But the byzantine regulations forced upon him by people who never have to face a criminal directly or encounter the aftermath of their work have given him a lot of bitterness to carry around. As well as a reputation as someone who doesn't always look to see if the corners being cut are legal or even ethical ways to corral perpetrators.

Bosch and his partner are working the discovery of a long-buried skeleton that resonates with the detective's past. He's also trying to work with a task force that's seeking the person responsible for a number of similar murders. The plots are from two different Connelly books, but their combination is effective, since it's more realistic that a police department might handle more than one case during a regular day. The mystery of the skeleton throws more things in the light than some people want, and the arrest of a suspect in the other murders doesn't clear up as much as it might seem at first.

Bosch is more procedural than mystery, as only one of the cases seems to present a question about the guilty party. It uses a jazzy soundtrack and a lot of night or interior shots to counter Los Angeles' eternal sunshine and give the series some of the noir flavor of Connelly's original creation. In addition to Welliver, Jaime Hector does good work as Bosch's partner Jerry Edgar, Lance Reddick skillfully shows the political gamesmanship that's at the core of Deputy Chief Irvin Irving and Jason Gedrick is a suitably creepy suspect at the center of the mess.

While it's good to know that Bosch will continue, the initial season was more of a long double than a home run -- it does a great job at realizing the world of Harry Bosch, but years of televised police procedurals and recent movie-quality premium cable series like True Detective make it a much more common animal than it might have been some time ago. There are a lot of brilliantly realized, atmospheric character-driven cop shows around to choose from now, and Bosch didn't do as much as it could have to set Harry and company apart from the pack. But it seems to have won enough fans for a second at-bat, so Harry, as always, got the job done.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Set Phasers to Cool

William Shatner will boldly go where a lot of people have gone before as he takes a special trip down the iconic American highway, Route 66.

Shatner helped the people at Rivet Motors conceive and build a spaceship-looking motorcycle that will be the centerpiece of the trip, which he is planning for later this month. He's offered himself to make stops along the way to help raise money for different charities, if they're interested.

Sure, you can fly from one end of the galaxy to the other at multiples of the speed of light, but if you want to get your kicks, well, there's only one path to travel.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The World's Smallest Violin

Not exactly, but scientists working at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology managed to record the sound of one atom striking a silicon chip.

The project is part of an attempt to develop new kinds of computers and involved some serious signal enhancement. Since sound is at its root pressure waves propagating through some medium -- usually a gas but sometimes liquids and every now and again solids -- the impact of a single atom doesn't generate much of it. Atoms are too small to generate much energy when they hit something and so the resulting pressure waves are pretty tiny themselves.

But the researchers managed to do it, with the aforementioned signal boosting and some amplification. The article at the link doesn't say what the next steps are, but I advise caution. If the researchers get hold of some non-standard amps that, say, go to 11, then we could have some serious explodey-ness on our hands, and more than the drummer would be in danger.