Thursday, November 30, 2017

Saltire Celebration

It's not nearly as famous as March 17, but Nov. 30ith is the feast day of one of the three patron saints of nations on the British Isles -- St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. Several other nations also claim Andrew as their own particular patron.

Andrew, the apostle who introduced his older brother Peter to Jesus, was not thought to have visited the island himself, even in the most obscure church traditions. His relics, however, were brought there sometime around the 9th or 10th centuries and he was said to have intervened in a battle won by Scot king Óengus II in 832 after a prayer by that king for a sign of victory. He saw an X-shaped cross in the clouds when the sun came up the next morning.

Tradition says that Andrew was crucified in Greece on an X-shaped cross since he did not believe he was worthy to die on the kind of cross used in Jesus' execution. His brother Peter is supposed to have made a similar request and was crucified upside-down as a consequence. This cross, called a "saltire," forms the basis of the flag of Scotland and it joins the cross of St. George to make the English national flag. One of the questions that cropped up during the Scottish independence referendum a couple of years ago was whether England would change its flag should the measure pass.

There is no known connection between Andrew and bagpipes -- but since pipes are awesome, there dinna really need t' be, d'ya ken, laddie?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ha! And Again, Ha!

Considering how often airline personnel seem to blame computer glitches for the problems faced by paying passengers, it is quite satisfying that such a glitch may leave them without enough pilots for two weeks in December.

Their computerized leave request system is supposed to deny leave if no one is available to take assigned flights during the time involved. But whoopsie, somehow the alarm didn't trigger and now the airline is in scramble mode to find reserve pilots or entice vacationing pilots back by offering them 150% of their usual pay for any flights they return to handle.

No word yet on whether American has contacted United Airlines to see if any of its security personnel are available to "request" the pilots come back to work.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Cat Is The Hat

At least, that's what it looks like in the picture from Cynthia Bennett of the two animals that accompany her and her boyfriend when they go hiking.

The dog is named Henry and the cat Baloo. No word on when Bagheera may be expected to join the tribe.

Other photos of the adventuresome duo may be found at the link.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Constant Struggle

Today I was sorely tempted to comment on a lot of my friends' Facebook posts, but I resisted, which is probably a good thing in the end. Not because I think I'm all that wrong, but because there's not really much of a point in being right in this particular arena.

Since today ends in a y, President Trump did something dumb and offensive. At a ceremony honoring Navajo codetalkers who helped keep communication secret during World War II battles, he made a lame joke about Senator Elizabeth Warren, referring to her as he often does by the name "Pocahontas." Warren, who represents Massachusetts but was born in Oklahoma, used to claim Native American heritage despite scant evidence thereof.

Now I have no problem making fun of Senator Warren, and I think it should be done more often. But the venue was wrong, the occasion was wrong and technically the joke was wrong, as the more common slam is to call her "Fauxcahontas," a neologism highlighting the speciousness of her claim.

So naturally a couple dozen people I know had to post links to the story along with assorted expressions of outrage, varying from disgusted butler eyeroll to full-on Olbermann froth. After I had seen the sixth or seventh, the temptation was great upon me to comment on each one something like: "You mean Trump is awful? Who knew?"

Because what is the point of raging out and buying yet another ticket on the Ischemia Express when President Trump does or says something awful, offensive, stupid or a winning combination of all three? He's going to do it again. Probably before the week is out and maybe even before the day is out.

Spending all of your time and Facebook feed linking to those instances will gain you what, exactly? It's hard to imagine the major media outlets not reporting on one of Trump's nuclear gaffes, so you're not informing anyone. People who don't like Trump and didn't vote for him (raises hand) are probably committed to the same path should he run again in 2020 (keeps hand raised). I suspect that should the Democratic party wise up and nominate someone under 70 who isn't interested in taking all of our money and who doesn't equate everyone who's ever been inside a church with Tomás de Torquemada (and who isn't Hillary Clinton), a large number of people who voted for the president in 2016 won't do it again.

I'm as disgusted with President Trump's behavior as I was with Candidate Trump's behavior. For that matter, Reality Show Trump and Real Estate Con Artist Trump were no picnic either. But I'm not going to waste my life, clutter my social media and burn out my cranial capillaries telling people what they ought to already know. Which, come to think of it, may also be behind my choice to refrain from commenting on all those posts.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


I don't much care for presidential spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders' boss. I don't think much of her father Mike, whose unserious White House campaigns helped pave the way for the unserious campaign that finally succeded -- Sanders' boss Donald Trump. And presidential spokespeople are part of an elaborate media dance in which reporters pretend that they have a purpose other than self-aggrandizement and spokespeople pretend they are offering information.

But good grief! American Urban Networks' White House correspondent April D. Ryan is on the fast track to making Sanders look good. Ryan has previously asked Sanders questions like whether or not the administration for which she works believes slavery is wrong. Now, some members of the Trump administration have offered up historical judgments regarding the Civil War and its causes which would make most people wish they thought about what they said before they said it -- bringing nuance where contrast is more in order, for example. But does Ryan actually think there are people in the Trump administration who are in favor of slavery and would be dumb enough to tell her?

So now, after Sanders tweeted a picture of a chocolate pecan pie, Ryan tweeted as well, suggesting that the picture was not of a pie Sanders baked but was a stock photo or lifted from a television show. Now, that's the kind of sophomoric joke I'd expect more from somewhere like Daily Kos, but it's an actual joke. Ryan continued to dog the issue, though, demanding a picture of Sanders baking the pie and putting it on the table. At first, Ryan seemed to have stopped short of requiring a notarized signature or documentary footage, but she had yet to prove how far one can go without a single clue.

Sanders saw Ryan's tweets and offered to prove she bakes the pies in question by baking one for Ryan. At this point a lot of people would have decided to go along with the joke and accepted the pie, even if journalistic ethics might suggest it should be donated away. But not Ryan. Her response may have been intended to be funny, but its awkward phrasing gives you pause -- she wants to watch Sanders bake the pie and put it on the table, but she won't eat it because "you guys don't like the press." That's the part I think was supposed to be funny, but the stalker-ish "watch you bake it and put it on the table," combined with the situational grasp Ryan has demonstrated before makes me wonder.

Early in the history of this blog I made fun of a reporter who asked then-President Obama what most "enchanted" him about the job of being president. That kind of prostrated hero-worship clearly signaled some members of the press weren't going to play their proper antagonistic role towards the president. Their writing and reporting would not be very useful to people trying to be informed about the world around them.

Now we have the opposite. The mindset that every single thing said by Trump or one of the people who works for him must be challenged and "properly verified" clearly signals that some members of the press will smother their readers with minutiae rather than inform them of legitimate (and significant) issues raised by the administration's words and actions.

I'd suggest that Ryan ask Sanders some substantive and meaningful questions -- there are plenty -- but I don't find myself willing to take her seriously anymore, so it hardly matters. And so we find members of the press bringing their institution to the place where it doesn't really matter whether or not they're telling the truth or whether or not anyone trusts them.

Because if a reporter is going to get this worked up about pie and then turn down free food, then why would you even pay attention to her?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Holding Pattern

Computer restart issues following system update. Drive home from family Thanksgiving which included great meals and hot tub demolition.

Blogging will wait. Peace.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Location, Location, Location

Sometimes the problem with being a hobbyist or collector is finding outlets that stock or sell the material that interests you.

Well if you’re a record collector, the the “Vinylhub” section at Discogs can help you when you’re jonesing for the wax by showing you where record stores can be found...anywhere, all around the world (There are none, as you might imagine, in North Korea. Yet another reason it sucks to live there).

It’s an awesome resource, but might could stand some upkeep; a couple of stores listed as being near me don’t exist anymore. If I’m ever in Qatar, though, I’ll know where to go looking for tunes.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


The asteroid Oumuamua seems to be the first one that we’ve seen that we know comes to us from another solar system. Astronomers will probably be able to find more such wanderers in the future as computer-aided skywatching becomes more widespread.

”Oumuamua” is a Hawaiian name that connects to the wandering nature of the object; it combines Hawaiian words into a name suggesting “scout” or “messenger.” The picture at the link is an artist’s conception of what Oumuamua may look like. The general shape is known, but not details.

As stories about the asteroid describe, its trajectory suggests that it came from an area currently occupied by the star Vega. But because of its speed, we know that Vega wasn’t there back whenever Oumuamua was. Characteristics of the orbit suggest it is a natural object and not a spacecraft.

Or maybe that’s what we’re supposed to think.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Welcome to post number 3,500 on this here blog. And Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Putting the Band Back Together

It'd be really hard to find a way to call Justice League a very good movie. Depending on what you stacked it up against, it comes off as "pretty good" or maybe "not as bad as that," but that's about as far as you can go.

But it's probably the most fun of any DC Comics live-action movie since Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson danced with the devil in the pale moonlight back in 1989. A wide-ranging team of directors, producers, post-producers and writers couldn't really hope to create a movie with a unified feel, but JL features some substantial stretches that demonstrate good directions in which to move this cinematic universe forward.

This strand of what's marketed as the "DC Extended Universe" began with 2013's Man of Steel, Zack Snyder's grim take on a mopey Superman. It continued with 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and this year's Wonder Woman. JL builds directly on the Dawn of Justice storyline, picking up in a world uncertain of its direction and anxious about its future after the death of Superman. Some people are even more anxious: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), aka Batman and Wonder Woman, who have indications that some alien force is preparing to invade the Earth.

Wayne tries to recruit other metahumans to fight the coming menace, though he strikes out with Arthur Curry, the Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Barry Allen, the Flash (Ezra Miller). Diana has about the same luck with Victor Stone, Cyborg (Ray Fisher). But when Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds, voicing a character whose CGI does not seem to have received enough of the $300 million budget) makes his move on the unearthly computers called Mother Boxes, the others join in. Together they can slow Steppenwolf, but not stop him, and Wayne hatches a desperate plan to bring back the man who can tip the scales -- the late, lamented Superman himself (Henry Cavill).

Stories about the production of JL suggest that it began with the same kind of dark tone that made its two predecessor movies such a chore to sit through. Some signs of that layer remain, but a lot of the movie was reworked following the "grimdark" backlash and the warm reception for Gal Gadot's brighter, more heroic turn in Wonder Woman. Diana and Bruce have a kind of buddy-cop movie vibe that hints a movie with the two of them could be a lot of fun. It leans heavily on Affleck's "Grumpy Old Batman" portrayal and Gadot's kick-ass charisma, which shows how strong portrayals help make JL more than it ought to be. Momoa's biker-jock turn as Aquaman and Miller's geeky kid brother vision of the Flash help a lot as well. As Cyborg, Fisher has an important role in the storyline but his character lacks the development of the others. He's also having to work against the fact that the Cyborg character is the least well-known of the historic Justice League members. And someone must have seen Cavill's turn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and told him to aim his Clark Kent more thataway, because gone is the Glowering Brow of Steel. As a friend said, "It was fun to see Supes be a hero again."

The tone switch, as incomplete as it is, offers some reasons to want to see where the DCEU goes next, which absolutely none of its movies to date have done. Wonder Woman took place far enough before this timeline to stay more or less separate from it, so I set it to one side. Suicide Squad I ignore completely.

Wither the League now? A post-credits scene suggests some possibilities, and they give an initial impression that the next steps might not be yet another "world in peril of destruction" scenario. There looks to be an immense load of DC movies in the development stage in the coming years, though, so there's no telling when that tale might be set before us. A less-than-robust box office didn't help. But if this is the only live-action Justice League we get, it'll be good enough.

Monday, November 20, 2017


Some Justice League thoughts tomorrow, maybe. In the meantime, there's not too many places that apparently look more abandoned than an abandoned airport, as the folks at the Cheap Flight Finder blog point out with this collection of photos. Especially the one still showing that a flight to Paris is now boarding, some 16 years after the place closed.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Press 1 to Shut the Hell Up!

Over at Dustbury, Charles quotes a tweet from someone who discovered a novel way to talk to a human being instead of a recording: Drop a high-volume F-bomb. Another tweeter says that her friend developed the software package involved with this feature, in which profanities trigger a dump from the automated system to a breathing person.

I guess there's no way to know if that's really a feature (it might require a certain volume level in addition to the magic words, or activate only after a certain number of "Press X now" levels have been waded through). I don't think I'll try it, but I suppose you never know what you'll do when temptation comes along. Plus I usually feel far readier to swear at some of the human beings who are not as smart as the automatic system.

My own comment on Charles' entry refers to what we are being told will be the increasing number of "driverless" cars, which will also run on computerized decision trees. Even though the car systems will be much more sophisticated than the phone answering ones, will they have the same feature of dumping to a human being on hearing certain profanities? Because if they do, then New York City is going to be a place where driverless cars will never work. The only thing that limits street swearing there now is that some attention has to be paid to the road; give an NYC drivers the freedom to cuss out whoever they want in whatever direction they want whenever they want and Manhattan is going to be the FCC's nightmare.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

I Tell You Boys, It's Harder Than It Looks

The first sound you hear:

Brother Angus's fusillade would not have sounded half so good, and neither would Bon Scott's sly snarl nor Brian Johnson's brawny, boozy growl, without Malcolm Young's rhythm making a foundation that could bear the weight.

It's not exactly kosher for someone in my line of work, and there's some here and there I can't really say yes to, but AC/DC hit a Godzilla's sweet spot of rock, blues, punk and metal that they made their own and nobody else's. Watch them on the 2015 Grammy Awards to see what happens when rock and roll invades the froth of the modern music industry.

RIP, Malcolm Young.

Friday, November 17, 2017


-- "This is Qatar Airways Flight Made-Up Number, Doha to Bali. I am declaring an emergency."

"Roger Qatar Made-Up Number. What is your emergency?

"A passenger's wife just checked his phone and found out he was cheating, and she told everyone on the plane, so all the women want to kill him."

"Roger Qatar Made-Up Number. Two armored divisions will greet your flight upon landing."

"Make it three. The flight attendants are helping."

-- A makeup artist went into a store called Sephora last week and saw a display of eye shadow that had been ruined. She snapped a picture and posted it to her Facebook page, saying the makeup had probably been ruined by a child. Her post sparked much comment, ranging from agreement with her and triumphant claims that the commenters' kids are taught not to do stuff like that to parents pointing out that not every mom can afford kid care and sometimes kids get away and out of sight for a bit. The two things that struck me were 1) She actually never saw a kid do this, so she really has no way of knowing. And 2) I don't know beans about eye shadow, but when I hear an estimate of $1,300 worth of product being destroyed I picture much larger quantities. Maybe the real offense is how much showoffy pay for what ought to be everyday stuff.

-- A kindergartner asks science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker at Five Thirty-Eight what the world would be like if there were no number 6, and sparks some interesting speculation from some math professors. Turns out that things would be very different, and maybe some things -- like life itself as we know it -- might be actually impossible. So I'm all in favor of keeping six and all of the other numbers we have, even though I'm kind of keen on Koerth-Baker's suggestion about renaming 6 as splorfledinger.

-- You may or may not agree with Daniel Ritchie's review essay on the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Coriolanus here in The Public Discourse. I kind of like it, but I'm prone to thinking that more of our problems come from how we respond to things around us rather than the things themselves, and that's generally where he goes. Either way, it's something else that a 400-year-old play can resonate with political and cultural situations of today. Nice job, Bill.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Grand Illumination

National Geographic is famous for its photos of events, people and phenomena from around the world. It inspires some great submissions from its readers, too, such as this one by Mike Olbinski.

Although I must confess that the bright orangeish light on the far right of the pic makes me uneasy. It's probably just another lightning flash, or maybe the sun setting in the far-off distance. But it bears an unsettling resemblance to a certain Lidless Eye...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Lord of the...What Did We Buy the Rights to, Again?

Author J.R.R. Tolkien's son Christopher was not happy with the big screen adaptations of his father's work, so when the last movie in The Hobbit showed, it seemed unlikely that anyone else would get the chance to make moving picture versions of either it or Lord of the Rings.

And there was a tug-of-war going on anyway -- the movies made mints and mints of money, which meant that studios saw the potential for even more hiding in the back of Frodo's little hole in the ground. But Jackson's versions of the first three movies were widely loved and seemed for many people to be the definitive cinematic version of the story. Even if Christopher Tolkien relented and sold the rights to someone else -- and there were plenty of people who disliked Jackson's take and wished for a "true" Lord of the Rings -- what kind of market is there in remaking a blockbuster that's less than 20 years old? How would this truer and purer LOTR get made?

Then along came HBO's Game of Thrones TV series, and a whole 'nother avenue seemed to open up. Perhaps the best way to offer a retelling of Middle Earth would be a small-screen version, using the length of a season to really open up the story and give it what it needed to work? We learned this past week that we will one day find out, as Christopher Tolkien recently retired from managing his father's estate and Amazon TV bought the rights to develop a TV series using the Middle Earth universe.

As more information comes out, it seems that the show's creators will look to a time between The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the LOTR trilogy. This space retains the right to significant skepticism that what comes will be all that good, lining up roughly with the arguments presented by Jarrett Stepman here. Amazon TV has produced several shows, and I personally enjoy their take on Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books. I haven't been drawn to watch any of the other shows they've produced, some of which have good notices and some not.

But if the target audience is folks who watch Game of Thrones, then it's very possible that we'll have elves and hobbits and dwarves, only they'll be players on a stage not much like Middle Earth. Stepman overwrites the differences a little, but he's on target in that Tolkien, for all of his direct experience of real war, produced a fundamentally more optimistic work than Thrones' author George R. R. Martin. The choice to create new characters and storylines from whole cloth means an even greater chance that we'll see things that have names we know but little else.

It's hard to shake off the apprehension that Amazon's development people saw swords and magic and just started totaling up receipts. This doesn't mean a Middle-Earth themed TV show couldn't be made. The Silmarillion, Tolkien's tale of the creation of Middle Earth, humanity, the elves and whatnot, would be impossible to present as a movie but could easily be worked out over a TV season or two. The problem there is that The Silmarillion is exceedingly complex and probably pretty resistant to the kinds of leveling that TV series need in order to reach wider audiences. Getting it "right" would probably mean creating a show that might be watched by enough people to fill, say, Wichita.

So in the end I suspect we'll wind up with something that has Tolkien's name on it and, as I said, things in it that have the same names he gave to them. Even though they don't really much look like what he wrote about and the world isn't much like the one he envisioned. But we'll know how to deal with it.

Assuming we watched any of the Hobbit movies, that is.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Turn the Page

The idea of a James Bond adventure written by Donald Westlake stirs the imagination, and the veteran author was approached about the idea after Pierce Brosnan took on the role with Goldeneye. Eon Productions didn't buy the treatment, so Westlake reworked it some and filed it away. The good folk at Hard Case Crime publishers printed it earlier this year as Forever and a Death, but without the presence of any Bond-like character.

Engineer George Manville suspects something about his employer, multi-billionaire Richard Curtis, because Curtis seems to have it in mind to "remove" an environmentalist who survived the test of a brand new way to demolish and clear land for construction. Manville and the survivor -- student Kim Baldur -- find themselves on the run from Curtis and his minions when it becomes clear to them that the magnate has a more lethal demonstration of his technique in mind, in concert with the theft of billions of dollars from Hong Kong banks.

It's hard to imagine that Westlake, famed for his direct and unadorned storytelling style, would have felt that Forever was ready for publication. The protagonists set up by the first half of the book largely disappear in much of the second half, and it clearly demonstrates the need to be trimmed of several repetitive scenes and a latter half that wanders away from the people we've spent a couple hundred pages getting to know.

Forever features an interesting villain, a fascinating villainous plot to gain power and more than one great gem of a Westlake scene. But for whatever reason, the author did not revisit it before his death to pare it down and perhaps retool several spots for better narrative flow and to make more sense.  This is one case in which the unsolved mystery of what a Westlake-written Bond would be like is far better than the solution that his estate and Hard Case Crime have offered.
After a detour to the Jack Reacher of the past in Night School, Lee Child brings us back to the present-day travels of the drifting knight-errant in The Midnight Line, days after he and Michelle Chang broke up a seedy internet-based murder ring in Make Me. Reacher has continued to drift around as he wishes, and Chang has decided she can't do that, so she has gone home to Seattle. Reacher hops a bus and at one of the courtesy stops, he spies a woman's West Point class ring in a pawn shop window. A Point graduate himself,  Reacher wonders what would bring someone to part with something that signified years of hard work and achievement. So he starts to ask about it, first with the pawn shop owner and then with the person who brought it to him, and so on. Although most of the people he speaks to are reluctant to answer him and seem to have more to hide than just a simple transaction, Reacher is a persistent questioner. The trail takes him to Wyoming and people with other kinds of secrets to hide as well.

Line is surprisingly intimate for a Reacher novel, with a small cast and a lot more focus on other people involved the story. While there is a villain whose greed starts the whole mess into which Reacher pokes his nose, much less time is spent on the bad guys of the story and some of the ones who fill that role turn out to be less bad than unfortunate. Reacher's trademark fights are sprinkled much more lightly through the story and he more frequently uses the threat of violence to get what he wants. These factors make it a much more introspective and thoughtful outing than we're used to with the big fella, offering a different flavor to what has more often than not been a formula in some of his books.

Child still drops in a couple too many descriptive digressions in which Reacher or someone else analyzes something for several pages, and his writing of Reacher's thought processes in setting his travel directions, in both the front and back ends of the novel, feel artificial and mannered. Midnight Line is a really good Reacher novel and a good candidate for the series' top two or three, but a little fine tuning along those lines and others could have made it something really special.
Michael Connelly has given Harry Bosch a long history of chasing criminals in the Los Angeles area, first with the LA police department and then, more recently, as a part-timer with the San Fernando PD. In Two Kinds of Truth, Connelly brings the two strands together, as new developments in an old case threaten the conviction of a murdering rapist and a double homicide in San Fernando points to a much larger and more dangerous scheme.

Back in his earliest days as a detective -- before we met him in The Black Echo -- Harry and his partner arrested Preston Borders in a rape/homicide case. Borders was convicted but a modern DNA test of the evidence suggests another man committed the crime. Harry doesn't believe this, so he decides to investigate the matter himself despite official disapproval from his old department. In the meantime, a double murder at a storefront pharmacy in San Fernando shows signs of connections to illegal drug rings and organized crime. Harry has to decide how much risk he will take in order to unravel those connections and hold the top crooks responsible.

The parallel tracks of the two cases make for an interesting contrast, as Harry remembers his days as a new detective, learning under a veteran partner. In the current case, he is the seasoned veteran teaching young detectives how to work the crime and draws from the lessons he has learned. A short time undercover on this case offers a new experience for him, opening a window into the lives of people he has frequently dismissed. There are great supporting player appearances by his half-brother, lawyer Mickey Haller and Haller's lead investigator, Cisco, and also Harry's former partner Jerry Edgar.

Although the story is good and offers some good development for Harry as a character, it's weighed down by uncharacteristically second-rate writing by Connelly. In several places, he commits the cardinal sin of telling us something about a character or event instead of showing us or putting the information in the mouth of someone in the book instead of his authorial voice. There's a third minor mystery that feels far more like a padded epilogue than part of our story; it needed some much stronger connections to fill any useful role. Truth is not a bad book -- Connelly may not be capable of anything lower than a "meh" -- but it works under the weight that some more effort could have made it much better than it turned out to be.

Monday, November 13, 2017


It's easy to look at the major events of today's news and just become disgusted. Everyone's vile, it seems, and their vileness is small and cramped. It's a parade of people who do wrong things that don't even make any sense. Shooting someone to steal money is wrong but there is a logic to it. Shooting kids in a church? Coercing someone over whom you have power to have sex with you is wrong but there is a clear end in mind. Coercing someone over whom you have power to watch you masturbate? Megalomaniacs who want to rule the world make sense, even if they are evil in their intent and actions. Megalomaniacs who want to rule Twitter?

So on the treadmill I watched Silverado, and the good guys won, and the bad guys lost, and the music and the horizons were wide open, and my spirit feels a little less cramped for awhile.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


I’m certain that when Stephen King saw this list of the world’s longest novels, he felt either inadequate or challenged. We’ll know which sometime in the next several years, I would imagine, depending on whether he spins out one book or several.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Heavy Metal Thunder!

You can find the rest of the finalists for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo awards here. My favorite is the one above from Katy Laveck, in which it is obvious that the simian riding pillion is belting out Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild." What else would you sing on a motorbike?

Although I have to give the penguins headed to church photo some props as well.

Friday, November 10, 2017

This Place Looks Familiar

You can take a trip to the gently rolling hill seen whenever anyone opened up Windows XP, although it probably doesn’t look so much like that without all of the filters.

The Atlas Obscura article notes that people do come by to snap a pic, many more drive past without noticing. It reminded me of reading that when the band U2 took the photo for the cover of their Joshua Tree album, they were supposed to have just stopped their van somewhere on the highway, with the intention of preventing folks from making it some sort of pilgrimage site. I can’t find any links to that statement, so my brain could be undergoing some 30-year fading.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Forty Years Later...

The above image of Bruce Springsteen, a photo taken by Rob DeMartin during the current Springsteen on Broadway show, inspired an updated version of a classic song that seemed to fit the Boss's current stern visage:

You got a public street to walk on; the sidewalk’s OK too
And I spent more on weed’n’feed than you spent on your stupid shoes
You’ll trample the grass, mess up the hedge,
Knock over the birdbath, and wreck all the flower beds
Oh, you got no respect for my property
“No trespass” signs you pretend you don’t see
Don’t know if it’s ’cause you’re young
Or because you’re a bum, but get the hell off my lawn!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Name That Rock!

On the first day of 2019, the New Horizons space probe will fly past a distant small object currently called "(486958) 2014 MU69" or MU69. The project is currently soliciting nicknames for the planetoid, which will get an official name after the flyby is complete.

Contest organizers seem to have learned from the "Boaty McBoatface" silliness brought on by a similar contest by the British Antarctic Survey in 2016. When the survey asked for names for its new exploratory vessel, the above name was submitted and won the most votes. The BAS did give the contest name to one of the ship's remote-controlled vehicles, but gave it the more grown-up name of Richard Attenborough.

This contest only promises a nickname for MU69 and screens the submissions it offers for the vote. As mentioned, the International Astronomical Union will give it an official name after the New Horizons visit. At first it might seem something like "Far Far Away" would be a good name for the most distant object human beings have ever studied up close -- about 4 billion miles from Earth. But when you consider that the nearest star to ours is about six thousand times as far away as MU69, it suddenly doesn't seem all that far away at all.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Broader Perspective?

Twitter announced that it will allow all users to now access a feature that's been beta-tested over the last several weeks and post tweets that are 280 characters long instead of the 140 limit that has been a part of the site since its beginning.

Although some high-profile users are less certain of the new options -- the "model, TV host and cookbook author" Chrissy Teigen announced she will neither exceed 140 characters herself nor retweet posts which do, ending a lot of speculation about her reaction -- Twitter is going ahead with the plan.

The new limit will bring about some changes, of course. With double the potential wordage, Twitter users will formulate more developed thoughts, express more considered opinions, offer greater context for their statements and in general raise the platform's level of discourse... hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

I knew I'd never be able to get through that sentence.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Choosing Words

Upon reading actor Wil Wheaton's response to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's tweet offering his prayers for people in Sutherland Springs, TX, one might be tempted to say, "Shut up, Wesley." This would be the wrong thing to do.

For one, "Wesley Crusher" was a character played by Wheaton in Star Trek: The Next Generation." So "Wesley Crusher" didn't tweet anything. For another, that phrase is at the center of a troubling response to the unpopularity of the character Wheaton played, during the time he himself was a teenager.

"Wesley Crusher" was a ridiculously implausible creation, a teenaged genius allowed to pilot a starship because Gene Roddenberry could still disguise the exhausted fumes of his creativity enough to have the weight to argue the character onto the show. But that's not Wheaton's fault. It's also not his fault that when the show was faced with two characters fast becoming narrative deadweight and two actors not really talented enough to reverse that trend, showrunners booted Denise Crosby's "Tasha Yar" instead of him. Sure, that meant that TNG now had only two female featured players and both of them were stereotypical feeling/reactive women's roles instead of the active one that Yar had been designed for. And fans were now going to be stuck with at least a dozen variations on "boy genius saves the day" episodes before they could finally unload him in season 4. But none of that is really Wheaton's fault either. He was a kid actor, and like most kid actors he basically played himself in whatever situation the script presented. The situations usually ranged from mildly implausible to flat-out silly, but he did what he could do.

The disapproval should be saved for the character's creators, the showrunners and the lazy scriptwriters who reached back for the same stock boy genius savior trope.

Even had it been Wheaton's fault, the large amount of haterade directed at him personally was uncalled for, and caused him some significant stress and problems. Mocking his clearly vile tweet with a phrase -- "Shut up, Wesley" -- meant to recall what more or less amounted to him being bullied by wrong-headed fans would itself be wrong.

So is the solution to say, "Shut up, Wil Wheaton?" While this would be legitimate since Wheaton is a real person, it would also be the wrong thing to do.

You see, Wheaton, along with similarly callous vulgarians like Michael Ian Black and Michael McKean, are people who are primarily paid to say words other people write down for them. The more they Tweet and talk like this, the more people realize that their own words -- and whatever thoughts skitter along the vast empty steppes behind them -- merit neither compensation nor attention. Which will bring us that much closer to the day when they will be heard only by each other, and people with ideas, potential solutions and compassion can be heard by those of us interested in such things.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Crisis Resolved!

At first I was worried, because it seemed like setting the clocks back would mean it was an hour longer until the real sport returned. Fortunately, though, we set the clocks forward on March 11, more than two weeks before the Blessed Opening Day and get back on track.

I was relieved. Football's OK as far as it goes, but there's only so long I can pretend the NBA regular season matters before I dissolve into gales of laughter.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fall Back

It's the time change -- I'm going to go get back that hour of sleep that Donald Trump owes me. See you in the future.

Friday, November 3, 2017

So What Happened?

A Facebook friend suggested that "for 11 minutes, there was peace on Twitter." She was referring to the fact that Thursday, an employee of Twitter on his or her way out the door shut down President Donald Trump's Twitter account and it stayed down for 11 minutes.

And of course she was wrong, because Twitter itself didn't go away for those 11 minutes and it remains the knee-jerk exercise in group think that it has been for most of its existence.

Twitter initially said that a glitch of some kind caused the shutdown before learning about the gift its former employee left behind. Twitter spokespeople said they are investigating the matter to learn how it happened.

Few tears would fall from these eyes if the president never Tweeted. Things would be a lot calmer. Few tears would fall from these eyes if Twitter itself didn't exist -- not entirely because without Twitter I think it's impossible to have a President Trump. Maybe largely, but not entirely. It is here, though, and many people use it and it's become a medium of expression for them.

Unless some overgrown toddler has a tantrum and decides to play games, that is.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Old Jokes

Over at Today I Found Out, a piece outlines the oldest known jokes found in ancient tablets and writings. They demonstrate that humor does not always translate along across cultural boundaries -- Sumerians particularly.

Some of the jokes from ancient Greece draw a chuckle or two, although they seem a little like one of Henny Youngman's old routines. Which, I am certain, would have been gleefully pointed out by Don Rickles, were he still living.

Folks in my profession are known for attempting to include humor in our sermons, not always to good effect. Some of my colleagues simply insert an opening joke into the presentation whether it relates to the subject or not. Others of us will try to wax wry within the bounds of our topic, with better or worse results.

We follow in the footsteps of the first known Christian sermon, preached by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2. He opens by refuting the suggestion that the people infused with the Holy Spirit were in fact infused with more mundane spirits: "These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!"

He was soon beaten and thrown into prison. Which should be a caution to more public speakers, both religious and secular.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Things That Shouldn't Be There -- Again

Recently, an M-class red dwarf star about 600 light-years from Earth was discovered to have a planet. This is not uncommon; M-dwarfs are the most common stars in our galaxy and many of them have planets.

But the wrinkle comes in when we look at the size of the planet, which scientists figure is about the size of Jupiter. In our own system, the Sun outsizes Jupiter by about a thousand times. But NGTS-1b orbits a star about half the size of our Sun, which makes for a star-planet ratio unprecedented in astronomy so far. Only three M-drwarfs have been discovered to have gas giants in orbit, and none of them is anywhere near as large as Jupiter.

So once again, the universe offers up a surprise to the people who keep looking at it and wondering what it's like -- which is part of what we call science, after all. The people who think all the science is settled and we know everything about stuff? Well, they're not looking for new things, so they probably won't ever find any.