Tuesday, October 31, 2017

NCAA -- Being and Nothingness

You may have read a couple years ago about a deal where some classes on the schedule at the University of North Carolina turned out to be, strictly speaking, fake. They didn't really meet or exist or anything, but students signed up for them, got course credit for them and often posted pretty good grades.

Oh, and almost half of those students were also UNC student-athletes. You probably don't need me to tell you that student athletes make up nowhere near half of its student body. But if you do then it might be that you work for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which earlier this month decided that the fraud UNC committed against academic standards, the idea of education, the taxpayers and supporters of UNC and its own students was not its problem.

You see, it turns out that because half of the students who gained from the fake classes weren't student athletes, then by gosh and golly the NCAA sees this as a matter for the school to decide itself. After all, it says "Athletes" right there in the name and far be it from the NCAA to get itself mixed up in the academic side of university life. That's "school stuff," and the NCAA knows it's out of bounds. And the outsized role UNC plays in men's college basketball has absolutely nothing to do with it, you nattering nabob of negativism.

Shannon Watkins, who wrote the Noble Center article linked above, brings the proper amount of dripping scorn to bear on the mummer's dance of a university at Chapel Hill. She points out that even though the fake class mess has been cleaned up, all of the conditions that spawned it still exist. Student athletes are still admitted to UNC even though their grades and test scores fall below the minimum standards for college readiness. They're still expected to achieve above-average marks in classes paced for students with higher scores who don't have the equivalent of a full-time job in the form of athletic practices and competitions. And they're brought on without any concern for what this might mean for their future if they aren't among the microscopic percentage of athletes who play their sports professionally.

Sure, the chances are good that someone would sue the NCAA if it went ahead and dropped the hammer UNC earned right smack in the middle of its Tarheel tail. And given the technicality around which the organization wound its invertebrate self, the chances are also good that a judge would toss any sufficient penalty and rend the tattered sackcloth of its credibility even more.

So UNC will be allowed to keep the gasoline and matches that started this fire as long as they promise to never play with them again. And the kids who signed up for the fake classes get to keep their fake A and B's.

Whether or not they can identify any of the letters that come after them, though, is apparently not anyone's concern.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Switching On or Off

This "storymap" shows some of the differences in nighttime lighting around the globe between 2012 and 2016. It's a pasted-together version of some satellite photos, as obviously the entire world can't be in darkness at the same time.

Physically, that is -- metaphorically is another matter entirely.

As the text shows when you scroll down, there are several areas that change in between the two different maps. Northern India lights up big time, indicating the arrival of electrical power to that part of that country. Some areas of North America lose nighttime brightness, which has more to do with improved lighting technology than actual loss of lighting.

Syria, unfortunately, goes dark for an entirely different reason, that being the brutal war waged by its dictator against his people. And North Korea remains dark for much the same reason, althought it's less from an outbreak of a dictator's war against its people than the continuation of it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Halloween is a cool holiday for kids who get to shift their imaginations into overdrive an pretend to be just about anyone or anything within the limits of Mom and Dad’s budget and craft skill set. I like it for them.

Me, I’m just glad when it’s over so Hollywood will slow down its rollout of crappy horror trash for awhile and I can watch television without an ad for one of those excreta showing up every five minutes. Am I a humbug? Maybe. But I miss the appeal of movies that view human beings as talking squibs who scream on cue.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A What Hat?

Back in 1315, a physician in Valencia wrote to his sons, studying in Toulouse, with some practical advice on how to dress warmly now that it's getting cold.

Most of the ideas are ones we'd be familiar with and some of the advice is pretty good. Although I have to confess I might have been wearing a "sausage hat" without knowing it, since I have no idea what one is.

Friday, October 27, 2017


The online Master Boddington's stationery shop created a new line of products designed for kids in order to help them learn how to actually write letters with their pencils or pens, called the "Secret Society of Letter Writers."

It's kind of like the old pen pall setup, I guess, but I can see where the idea of the "secret society" part might loop in some kids. And training to actually write by hand a whole letter instead of tap out some texts is kind of cool. Makes me wish I was young enough to join.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Happy Birthday, World!

More exactly, a happy birthday to all of creation, at least as far as James Ussher, Church of Ireland Bishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, was concerned in 1650.

He reported that the creation of the world, as described in the book of Genesis, happened at 9 AM on October 26, 4004 B.C. The actual date he picked was different, but it was on the old Julian calendar and it becomes Oct. 26 when converted to Gregorian.

Although Bishop Ussher's supposed precision earns mockery today or at least a mild chuckle, it actually represented a considerable scholarly endeavor for his time given what people in 17th century England and Ireland knew of the world. He studied ancient histories of the Roman, Persian and Babylonian Empires and several different Hebrew texts of the Old Testament to make his calculations. His method was more or less sound, but his data inputs were suspect.

Which means Bishop Ussher gave us an early description of the "Garbage in, garbage out" principle of bad data skewing a good process into producing bad results. So although he did not fix the date of creation, he did predict the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It Is Indeed a Shame

The death of Antoine "Fats" Domino Tuesday at the age of 89 leaves just two of rock music's earliest drivers still kicking -- "Little Richard" Penniman (84) and "The Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis (82). They're not the only two early rock musicians who survive today, but they are by far the biggest names and influences from the mid-to-late 1950s on that list.

Like them, Domino was primarily a keyboard man, but was quite a bit smoother and more sedate although every bit as talented. His genial nature (and size) made the kind of acrobatic ivory work that defined the other two men just not at all his style. Even his hits were more easy-going, with 1957's "I'm Walkin'" and 1958's "Whole Lotta Loving" probably the speediest tempos he released. He scored more sales in rock and roll's early years than anyone besides Elvis Presley.

Domino varied from the rock norm in some other ways as well -- he married Rosemary Hall in 1947 and stayed with her until her death in 2008. They had eight children, all of whose names begin with the letter "A." At first missing and rumored dead after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Domino was discovered to have been rescued and was able to move back to the area when it was cleaned up. He played occasionally at different benefits and also at New Orleans' famous Tipitina's concert venue.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

To Ban a Mockingbird

Writing at The Federalist, Megan Oprea offers some thoughts on why a Mississippi school district should not have taken To Kill a Mockingbird off of its reading list.

The principal says that the book has made some students uncomfortable -- almost certainly referring to a racial slur used in frequently in Harper Lee's novel of 1930's small-town Alabama. Oprea points out that's sometimes a good thing. When reading of an injustice or a wrong, we ought to feel uncomfortable enough to see that it or things like it don't go on, as it lies within our ability to do so.

She notes that Elie Wiesel spent most of his adult life insisting that people remember the Holocaust, or else the same factors that spawned it might gain hold again and bring about a similar atrocity. Lee never experienced racism as did the African-Americans of her novel, of course. But some real people did and it was far worse than any discomfort I might feel reading about it. If helping to lessen the kind of prejudice that pushed down an entire group of people because of the color of their skin requires me to feel a little squicky about a word here and there, well, it seems like it's the least I might do.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Too Far?

Dan Piraro offers a vision of the season’s favorite flavor that may be just a little too much.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sights of the Past

One of the problems in earlier years in researching and exploring the history of baseball's Negro Leagues was a low availability of resources. Newspaper accounts were primarily in black papers and many of those had not been collected or organized. Photos were hard to come by.

But in recent years, as the records from papers like the Chicago Defender and others have been much more widely available, a lot more data on the teams and players has surfaced. So have pictures, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame site has a new collection of more than 200 images of the well-known teams like Homestead Grays and Kansas City Monarchs as well as some of the lesser-known teams and players.

Well worth checking out!

See What You Can Do When You Use Your Brain

The naming of Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe as a World Health Organization "goodwill ambassador" has been rescinded.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Tedros Ghebreyesus is the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), and he fibbed earlier today on Twitter. He said he was "re-thinking" the appointment of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador.

Dr. Ghebreyesus does not seem to understand that thought cannot have been involved in initially selecting Mugabe, therefore the decision to retract the honorary appointment is actually "thinking" instead of "re-thinking.” Mugabe is on record more than once defending the practice of extra-legal arrest and torture. His kleptocracy and corruption have so wrecked the Zimbabwe economy that he schleps his 93-year-old carcass out of the country for medical treatment. He's had journalists who wrote things he didn't like arrested and tortured.

In making the largely ceremonial appointment, WHO said that Mugabe would focus on non-communicable diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. Considering that Mugabe's own organ of that name must indeed be a shriveled and dried out husk, it seems that the WHO statement was designed to induce strokes more than prevent them.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Learning to Fly -- And They Won't Have Wings

An online op-ed that I can't find now pointed out that one source of the so-called "snowflake" tendencies seen in many youth and young adults is parents who are competing in the arena of Extreme Coddling.

But I don't need to find the column, because this story in the New York Post illustrates its point clearly. Parents who fill out kids' college applications and call bugging admissions counselors, even for graduate school? Parents who call claiming to be the children themselves? Sheesh.

The topper, if it's not apocryphal, is the claim that a woman called asking to be able to do an internship in place of her daughter, since her daughter had so much anxiety about doing the internship herself. As a non-parent, I know that I don't fully understand how much parents love their kids and want to help them. But anyone -- anyone -- should be able to see that doing something in place of someone else robs them of whatever benefits that person wants from the experience. Part of me thinks that the internship business should have agreed, and then when the mom showed up help the daughter escape so she could learn how to actually live her own life.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Can You Hear Me Now?

There's "No Smoking," and then there's "NO SMOKING, IDIOT!"

Even though I think smoking is a smelly and awful habit, I'm not really in favor of demonizing the people who do it. But since gasoline fumes can be as flammable as gasoline itself, and since fumes are pretty much an inevitable by-product of pumping gas, I don't believe this employee was outside the lines in the slightest.

After all, you'd think the doof with the cigarette might get the hint when the gas station attendant actually begins to prep the fire extinguisher to be used. But printed signs may not be the only thing he has trouble picking up on.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Eeny, Meeny...

A self-proclaimed "space nerd" offers some reasons why humanity's first attempt at colonizing another world should not be Mars, but instead Saturn's moon Titan.

Writing at the National Public Radio website, Amanda Hendrix shows how Titan's thicker atmosphere and stable surface would be a better bet for successful human colonization than Mars. She makes some good points, but I have to confess I don't much care which other spot we take a chance on as long as someone rises from their respective hindquarters and legitimately does something about either of them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Memory and Symbols and Omelets

On arriving at Northwestern University many years ago, I was kind of surprised to discover that there was a Nazi on the faculty. Or so said a publication I found in the student center, which went into great detail about what it said were his beliefs and why the university had to reject him, ignore his tenure and fire him.

It turns out, of course, that he wasn't actually a Nazi. He was a Holocaust denier, which is gross and evil enough, but he didn't teach history. He taught in the school of engineering. He had written a book outlining his beliefs shortly after gaining tenure, and the university had an officially recognized student organization whose sole purpose -- spelled out in its name, even -- was to get him fired. For his part, he stayed on the side of the line that kept him under tenure's umbrella. He never claimed official university sanction for his views and he never brought them into his classroom. Other than an article or two here and there he never wrote anything else about the Holocaust beyond his one book, although it seems he kept some level of activity among similarly-minded people.

By the time I was a senior the official committee to get rid of the guy had kind of fizzled out and folded into a larger committee which included that point of view. I remember a discussion with one of its members, an earnest freshman whom I asked, "Who pays attention to a history book written by an engineering prof?" I was assured that his work held great currency among several groups, a list of which I was provided. I later checked them out, and as far as I could tell they were groups that already believed what the guy said.

All of this came to mind when reading the cover story in the latest issue of National Review, an essay reflecting on the centennial of the October Revolution that paved the way for Imperial Russia to become the Soviet Union and spread misery, death and dopey dorm-room utopias across the globe ever since.

Article author Douglas Murray notes that the 20th century spawned two hideous totalitarian ideologies that murdered millions of people, Nazism and Communism. Today, any kind of association with Nazism or its ideas draws scorn upon the belief holder, in the same way that his denial of the Holocaust brought scorn and exacting scrutiny on the professor at my alma mater. Openly wearing a swastika symbol is a good way to get mocked and perhaps assaulted. Its appearance as graffiti on a college campus will prompt official investigations and consequences on the perpetrators, if they can be determined.

Nazism is rightly discredited and rightly judged as an ideology of evil, always linked to the horrid results of its most comprehensive attempt at implementation. Whatever positive benefits it had for Germany in the years leading up to WWII are rightly judged not worth its cost to Jews, a host of other ethnic minorities and anyone else that its thuggish leadership disliked.

No such scarlet badge of shame is awarded to Communism, Murray notes. Its modern devotees have few, if any, official student committees on campuses seeking the ouster of professors who may be among them. Even though when you add up the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Eastern Europe, North Korea and so on, the number of people who needed to die to enable the worker's paradise is probably in the nine digits (and counting), the thought of shunning Communist ideas is nowhere nearly as automatic as that of shunning Nazi thought. Professors who denied the reality of the Khmer Rougue's killing fields were given platforms to do so. Although the weight of evidence of Pol Pot's attempt at genocide eventually convinced many, some people today still suggest that the idea of more than a million dead (out of a population of only 7 million) is exaggerated.

Even the iconography is treated differently. A quick internet search for T-shirts with swastikas comes up with that symbol inside the universal red-circle-and-line "not allowed" design or heavily Hindi-styled to make it clear that the picture represents the Indian symbol rather than the later German one. Shoppers who want the plain Reich-styled version have to hunt some pretty creepy sites. But a similar search for a hammer and sickle will find all kinds of artsy representations on high-profile T-shirt sites. It's not hard to find Alberto Korda's picture of the murderous Che Guevara on a shirt, poster or other item either.

Murray's essay is worth reading. It's an historical sketch of Communism's history, from the view of an admitted opponent in a magazine that's never going to be a friend of that movement. Readers may make such correctives as they believe the evidence warrants, and you may not agree with either him or me either way.

There's no mystery at all as to why those who'd like to give Nazism a second bite at the apple are roundly dismissed and rejected. Their ideology is demonstrably harmful and tainted. But it's still curious as to why Karl Marx's fan club seems to have no end of second chances. George Orwell once noted that he seemed to find Communism's excesses excused by its defenders in light of the necessity to stand firm against imperialism and oppression. If you want to make an omelet, he said he was told, you have to break some eggs. All well and good if you're not one of the eggs, but he noted that even if you accepted the premise, none of his opponents seemed ever to have an answer to the question, "Yes, but where's the omelet?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Flash Bang

For astronomers, the exciting thing about this particular bang was that they saw it with traditional measuring instruments and with gravity-wave detectors. All of the previous gravity-wave detections have not been visible to other instruments -- sort of like hearing a sound but not knowing where it came from. But now something has been both seen and "heard," so to speak, which has the telescope set mainlining caffeine to stay awake and watch it.

As the story notes, astronomers think that this discovery could open up entirely new ways of studying what's out there. One of them quoted didn't have too many concrete predictions, but he did say, "...it's going to be exceptional."

I'd put some money on that.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hints of Tint

At Vintage Everyday, another group of Victorian-era photographs given color by modern technology. I enjoy these, as they are good reminders that only the film was monochrome in the days of our grandparents and so on; the world had the same amount of color it has had always.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Chuck Yeager became the first human being to fly an airplane faster than the speed of sound in controlled flight on this day 70 years ago. Before him, it's certainly possible that some planes headed into steep dives passed the sound speed mark, but they were rarely controlled when doing so and the fact that they often plunged into the ground made confirming their airspeed difficult.

A couple of years ago, Yeager Tweeted some of his memories of the flight and the tests leading up to it. He's apparently still pretty sharp at 94 and continues to make appearances today, and obviously has fun with Twitter. Although unlike the venomous charlatan (™George Will) in the White House, other people have fun with his Tweets as well.

Friday, October 13, 2017

From the Rental Vault: The Bitcoin Heist (2016)

The advances of technology in security pushed "heist" movies into the realm of high-tech thrillers -- and now that technology has sneaked into the realm of the actual currency itself with Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies, the stakes get higher. Ham Tran, a rising director in Vietnamese moviemaking, combined the tech and the caper to make his 2016 crowd-pleaser Sieu Trom, or in English The Bitcoin Heist.

Police inspector Dada is on the trail of a hacker and computer criminal called the Ghost. But when an attempt to arrest him goes wrong and nets only a lowly accountant, she is publicly shamed and suspended from the force. Her suspension is a cover, though, for her to recruit a team of folks to take him on from outside the law. This latitude lets her enlist people she's arrested herself and put their skills to use to infiltrate the Ghost's operation and get evidence that will let the legal authorities arrest him.

Tran keeps his action humming and the story doesn't ask much of the cast beyond working some familiar stereotypes -- the charismatic light-fingered con man, the aging forger, the nimble cat burglar and so on. They have a little extra touches of depth, like a past relationship between Dada and the con-man/magician Jack. Or that cat-burglar Linh and forger Luhan are daughter and father, and tween Linh gets a crush on Jack that embarrasses him and irritates Luhan. The story gives Linh and Luhan a couple of sweet bonding moments as well.

Heist comes together easily, taking advantage of Tran's familiarity with what has been a regular crew of actors. It's light, despite attempts to give some weight to the story of hacker Vi, played by Vietnamese rapper and pop star Suboi. It also doesn't really know where or how to end, stretching things out for one last con and twist despite not really setting the stage for them. Tran would have done better not aiming so high and just letting the caper nature of his story carry it over the finish line instead of getting artsy and serious. But the zippy running time and the competent cast counterbalance the missteps and make Heist a fun little...er...heist picture.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

So recently two intermittently-talented celebrities suggested that fans who also supported Donald Trump were less than welcome. Earlier this week Eminem got more press than he had in years by using an awards show performance to freestyle a rap against the president. Seth Meyers, who used to be on Saturday Night Live and now occupies one or another of the late-night talk show desks, has chimed in, suggesting that its time for people who watch his show who are also fans of Trump to make a decision.

I can see how it might be a problem for some, but as it turns out we can solve the matter easily with just a slight tweak of the initial conditions. Both men, as well as a number of other performers, suggest that people must choose between supporting Trump or being their fans. But I think that if you properly frame the situation by eliminating the "either/or" aspect of it the way forward is obvious. I am not a fan of Donald Trump, Messrs. Meyers and Mathers. But neither am I a fan of either of you, so I trust you can now rest easy at night.

Oh, and go away, so that we can get some people to offer substantive discussions about the president's failures and flawed policies instead of pseudo poetry and smirking.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Whatsit By Any Other Name...

As they often do, the good folk at Mental Floss offer up a list of some interesting and obscure words, grouped together under some theme or another.

However, the headline of the story overpromises: "10 Things You Didn’t Know Had Names." I did know what "badinage" meant and from time to time I even use it in a sentence. Thus, I believe writer Adrienne Crezo owes me a word. Which one? Well, if I knew that it wouldn't qualify for the list now, would it?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Your Potluck Game Is Strong

The city of Binissalem, Mallorca, takes the third Friday of September off. The whole town. And then that evening they all put tables and chairs out in the streets and have what can only be described as literally a community meal.

Yes, literally, because all 8,000 people in town, along with as many as 12,000 visitors, sit down at the table with each other in the sopar a la fresca. Folks work with their neighbors as to how big the group will be, who will cook and who will supply tables and chairs, who will help set up and take down, and so on.

Mallorca (sometimes spelled "Majorca," because both the double-l and the j in Spanish are most often voiced as a "y,") is a Mediterranean island belonging to Spain. It's the biggest of an autonomous group of islands called the Balearics. And a place it might be fun to visit long about that third Friday in September in order to join the village in its highest achievement.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Breaking News!

Charles Hill at Dustbury makes sure to help CNN stay out in front of keeping people informed.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Not Backing Down

This isn't my favorite Petty song, mostly because of overexposure than any defect in the song itself. But it's a good way to pay respect to a Gainesville boy.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


Bop on over to the Pop Sonnet website and have some fun. And be kind of amazed at the wordsmithery that can make a modern song lyric fit the sonnet pattern, sound properly Shakesperean and still mean the same thing as the lyrics do.

Friday, October 6, 2017


Napoleon "Nap" Dumas is a small-town New Jersey police officer living in the same house where he grew up. His father's death is more recent, but he remains haunted by the death of his twin brother Leo many years ago. Because death of Leo and his girlfriend happened the same night that Nap's girlfriend Maura left town never to be seen again. When Maura's prints are found in a car connected to a murder, Nap is determined to find out where she is and if she is indeed still alive, no matter what targets his determination hang on him.

Don't Let Go follows the familiar Harlan Coban pattern of a modern-day character dealing with a long-ago tragedy in the middle of a seemingly peaceful suburban environment. Leo's death has been accepted by everyone as the awful result of teenage stupidity, but not by Nap, at least not fully. Maura's disappearance is too coincidental. The lack of processing keeps Nap from really engaging in the world around him, even though he has close friends and a reasonably happy-looking life. The house of cards tumbles down and his obsession over what happened to Maura takes the driver's seat when the prints are found, though, so we watch that life crumble.

As always, Coben's storytelling skills can mask a lot of flaws and are good enough so that it's not until after the last page is turned that you start asking things like, "Um, why did that happen that way again?" Don't Let Go is brimful of convenient coincidences and just-so situations that don't hold up under much questioning. The ultimate resolution keeps twisting until it's almost silly instead of surprising, and nearly every revelation Nap uncovers is preceded by a character saying, "I'll tell you, but you're not going to like it." The same is not exactly true of Don't Let Go, as you probably will like it while you're reading it but a couple hours later will not be sure why you bothered.
Cam Richter has been given a load of reasons from some powerful people to keep his nose out of investigating the death of his employee, Allie Gardner. Everyone from the FBI to the security boss at the local nuclear power plant Allie may have visited suggest he let them handle her death, even when it turns out she was poisoned with a radioactive substance. But Cam, a former sheriff's officer turned private investigator, doesn't trust any of them and knows he's the only one more interested in finding out what happened to Allie than in protecting secrets and screw-ups.

2008's The Moonpool is the third Richter novel, following The Cat Dancers and Spider Mountain. Cam has settled in to his role as a private detective, wealthy enough to do the work he wants and let someone else do the work he doesn't. Allie was one of his detectives who liked following philandering husbands, so the first suspicion at her death falls on her previous cases. But the presence of radioactivity in her body turns attention to the Helios nuclear power plant, and no one there is much interested in letting a private detective with no security clearance nose around to find answers.

Deutermann has an easygoing style and has done a clear job of painting Cam over the three novels in the series to that point. Although Spider Mountain had significantly tamed the Plot Hole Syndrome that tangled Cat Dancers, the remission seems to have been only temporary, as the condition returns in force here. Both the ultimate villainous plan Richter has to thwart and the roadblocks he has to handle to get there are vaguely drawn and more than a little ridiculous where they aren't. Even Allie's death, the original spark for the who sequence, winds up resolved with an "Oh, by the way" quality that can make you wonder why any of these things happened -- or, indeed, why you should sit through more of them.
There are some spoilers in this one. Wait if you haven't read Sleeping Beauties yet and still want to find out what happens the old-fashioned way.

Writers Stephen and Tabitha King have three children, two of whom have become writers themselves. Youngest son Owen teams up with Dad for the fantasy horror novel Sleeping Beauties, the story of what might happen if all of the women in the world were to suddenly go to sleep and not wake up.

Although they include a couple of brief scenes of other parts of the world, the Kings focus their story on Dooling, West Virginia, home to a women's prison and not a lot else by way of economic prospects. Clint and Lila Norcross are the two main protagonists out of a cast list that runs into the low 70s. Lila is the sheriff and Clint is the psychiatrist at the prison. While Lila struggles to avoid sleep, she and Clint focus their attention on Eve, a strange woman arrested just before the "Aurora Event" began who seems have much more knowledge about it than anyone else as well as supernatural powers. But Eve isn't answering questions -- not in any way that makes sense -- and there are no answers on the horizon. If none can be found, then the human race is in big trouble, because the women aren't waking up and anyone who tries to open one of their mysterious cocoons becomes the victim of their homicidal rage.

The Kings quite obviously intend their novel to have some comment on the way women are treated even in more enlightened Western societies. Eve's dialogues and warnings make that clear, and the plot includes plenty of toothless evil rednecks and such who bully them and take advantage of their power. The women's prison might as well have "Attention Cliff's Notes Readers: Important Metaphor" emblazoned on its walls.

Whatever their intent, their execution is pretty poor. The rage cocooned women have when disturbed sounds like two men chuckling over how grumpy the little darlings are when you interrupt their naps. Halfway through the book we find out that the spirits of the sleeping women have been brought to another world, without men (except for the boy babies being born).  Eve says they can make a world without men's evil and train the boy babies how to be better than the rotten bastards infesting the old world. Except that in the end, born of motives never explained, she offers the women a chance to go back to the old world if they want. Which they do, largely because their feeling of being needed depends on the fact that the men won't survive without them -- making even this ultimate choice less about them than about men. The Kings also drop an question of racial injustice into the story almost at the very end, long after it has any chance to develop into something. So they conveniently tell us how important it is in the series of "what happened to these people" epilogues.

You might wonder why this review of a fiction novel chooses to engage with its politics rather than the novel itself. Because the novel itself is like a story being told by a very bright four-year-old, and that's hard to engage. Its 700 pages could drop by at least half if we didn't see incident after incident repeated and rabbit after rabbit being chased as the Kings' narrative discipline goes to hell in the presence of this or that shiny object.

Don't believe me? Ask the talking fox.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


We ignore the wisdom of the ancients at our peril!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Too Much Risk

In today's Peanuts reprint, Snoopy reminds himself that a beagle's got to know his limitations.

Meanwhile, Calvin decides that he doesn't want to gamble on the idea that Rosalyn his baby-sitter and his parents share a very macabre sense of humor.

And Søren Kierkegaard demonstrates two things -- how the reality of inevitable death can actually spur people to chance something new and why existentialist philosophers make terrible ad agency reps.

These have been your funny pages. Hope you had fun!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Taking the Prize

Three physicists who discovered a way to watch the universe through gravity have earned the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics.

Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne developed a way to detect gravitational waves as they travel through space, much the same way that light does. Albert Einstein predicted gravity waves but since gravity is so much weaker than any of the other four basic forces of the universe, its waves are much smaller and harder to detect. Even the super-sensitive LIGO detector developed by Weiss, Barish and Thorne only sensed waves created by the collision of two black holes -- one with three dozen times the mass of the sun and the other with almost thirty solar masses.

The rules for the physics prize specify that the achievement has been "tested by time," to help reduce the chance that the prize is awarded for a discovery that later proves to be something different. This can mean that there's as much as a 20-year lag between a discovery and an award. But the implications of being able to detect and measure gravity waves are huge enough to warrant the award less than two years after the first confirmed detection was announced.

Were he still around, Albert Einstein would no doubt congratulate the LIGO teams on their achievement. And then stage-whisper to someone standing nearby, "I knew that already."

Monday, October 2, 2017

Get Lucky Sometimes

This song got played a lot by a younger Friar who seemed to think he needed to hear it. Hang in there, TP.

This earlier read "RIP," but the first reports of Petty's demise proved inaccurate. His condition is not good, though, so your good thoughts and/or prayers for his family would be appropriate either way.

Added 12:30 AM Tuesday: As he has now passed, my prayers for a peaceful rest.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Not everyone can be a professional astronomer, but thanks to this handy guide from The League of Lost Causes, featured at NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, you can evaluate lights in the sky just as good as they can: