Sunday, December 31, 2017

See You Next Year

The clock winds down on 2017, and your humble blogger is pretty wound down himself. So we will end the year with a wish for blessings for you all after the calendar does its flipover.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Throw the Book at Them

California is host to a number of weird things that make it the justifiable butt of many jokes, but this idea sounds like one that ought to spread.

While the library board in Los Angeles County recently voted to end late fees for patrons under 21, they did not offer any amnesty for current fines. So the library developed its "Read Away" program, which forgives $5 in fines for every hour spent reading at the library. Since a balance of $10 suspends borrowing privileges, the alternative route allows kids who may not be able to get that kind of money to "work off" the debt through reading.

The young lady whose story leads off the article, in fact, logged more reading time than she needed to erase her fine -- once she got into a book, she lost track of time and couldn't put it down.

I bet that kid's going places.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Do Your Best!

You might argue that it'd be tough for someone with Lucy Van Pelt's attitude to have much of a good year. But Snoopy gives it a shot!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Cover Art

Want to find out where your favorite New York City album cover picture was taken, and perhaps take your own picture? Check out Bob Egan's PopSpots blog, where he shows the sites, superimposes the album cover on a current photo and describes how he tracked the place down.

Some of the fun is in seeing how much some of the areas have changed, or how their backgrounds have changed, in the time since the original pictures were taken. Skylines look different, new stores replace old ones, some spots get upgraded, benches or ornaments are added or removed, and so on.

Egan is an exhaustive researcher, which leads to some, shall we say, obscure acts as well as better-known ones. In the Central Park section of the site, he features a picture of counterculture musician David Peel, used on Peel's 1972 album The Pope Smokes Dope. My knowledge of music doesn't hit hipster level by any means, but I'm not too bad when it comes to my familiarity with some obscure performers. Still, I had never heard of Peel. After listening to some cuts on YouTube, I can see I didn't miss much.

Although if I ever want to sit in the same spot Peel did when he had his picture taken sometime in the early 1970s, I can. Which is still kind of cool.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


I can't imagine the circumstances under which I would change my decision to not vote for Donald Trump if he runs for a second term as president in 2020. He was unfit for the office in 2016 he remains so.

But when stuff like this keeps happening, I become more and more concerned that no matter who the Democrats nominate to run against Trump, he will win. It's one thing to have such a raging case of stunted adolescence that you think a box of horse manure is a political argument. It's nothing more than a case of shouting "Look at me I'm clever and rebellious" with an action instead of those words themselves.

Then top it off with the idea that this psychology professor compares his act with both Martin Luther and Jesus and you get a prime example of someone who does more to convince you to vote against whatever candidate he supports than any negative campaign mudslinging ever could. Jesus confronted the money-changers in the seat of their power structure face to face; he didn't leave a box of manure on their doorstep and run.

Mocking this professor on the Luther comparison is a little iffier -- Luther frequently said he "s**t on the devil." Luther was also bothered by constipation and spent much of his time on the toilet -- time which he put to use by writing and thinking. He claimed that's where he was when he finished up most of his 95 theses later nailed to the Wittenberg church door. But since the comparison made by this guy is "95 feces" to "95 theses" we can probably work figuring he knew little of that part of Luther's story.

There are good cases to be made against much of Trump's program. Some of his supporters will never be convinced of them, in the way that some of President Obama's supporters could never be convinced of his many and varied limitations. But some might be, in the course of discussion and reasoned argument. Sending a box of crap to one of Trump's cabinet officials won't do it, though, and the pride the creator takes in his work clearly indicates that he needs to turn over his office to an adult.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Art History

Mel Blanc gave Bugs Bunny his voice and attitude, but it was animator Bob Givens who created the wily wascal's wiseacre mug and rubber-limbed physique.

Givens got that job in 1940, shortly after coming over to Warner Bros. studios from Walt Disney. Bugs had already appeared in a couple of cartoons, but no one was really happy with the character line. They wanted less cute and more con-man, which Givens supplied for the 1940 short A Wild Hare. He had also brought Elmer Fudd to a look much more familiar to us today.

Givens passed away this week at the age of 99. Bugs is still with us and may indeed wind up being immortal -- which means that in a way, Bob Givens will be too.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Maybe Meta, Maybe Not

Randall Munroe, creator of the witty and often thought-provoking xkcd comic, offers an opinion on the true meaning of Christmas in this strip:

According to the characters, the true meaning of Christmas is the actual search for the true meaning of Christmas. This has come about because of all of the different stories, movies, books and such that search for the true meaning of Christmas, many of which find it in a lot of different places.

I'd agree that all of the different "true meanings of Christmas" that seem to be found in popular media might make one wonder whether or not there is a true meaning. I'm not sure of Mr. Munroe's own religious beliefs, but your humble blogger remains mired in his traditional Christian theism. So he departs from Mr. Munroe in this way -- there is indeed a true meaning of Christmas that is not really touched on by all of the different things that say they are about the true meaning of Christmas. But that meaning is not the quest itself. Instead, it is God's choice to enter creation as the divine second person of the Trinity, the Logos, is born as a human baby in the town of Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago -- give or take.

But whether you, O welcome reader, hold that belief or not, I would wish you a Merry Christmas nonetheless.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Test Pattern

Busy couple of days prepping for the Christmas Eve services, so blogging for the next couple of days is light. Blessings on the birth of a Savior!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fluids' Dynamic

If you're ever poured a colored liquid into clear water you've seen now it first billows outward before diffusing throughout the container. And you've probably noticed how the amount of liquid poured and how fast it's poured affects the shape of the billowing. Although the action seems to produce similar results from similar amounts and speeds, it would seem impossible to predict with any great accuracy how the two currents would interact.

But believe it or not, there are mathematical equations that describe those changes to a degree that scientists can often predict not just something as simple as two liquids in one container but the interactions of ocean currents and airflows in the atmosphere. They're called the Navier-Stokes equations and they've been around for almost two hundred years. Claude-Louis Navier and George Gabriel Stokes didn't work as a team to develop them, but their development of how to apply Newton's laws of motion to elastic materials linked up and were collected under their names. Navier is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower and Stokes held the Lucasian Chair in Mathematics at Cambridge -- a job also held by Isaac Newton, Paul Dirac and Stephen Hawking, among others.

Navier-Stokes equations help meteorologists forecast weather changes. Air behaves like a very, very thin fluid so the equations can predict some of its motions. Oceanographers predict changes in sea currents depending on the temperature or relative strength of some motion in the water. Both groups will use computers to build models of likely air or water behavior given starting conditions. Because new factors can change conditions in an instant, those predictions are not necessarily as precise or accurate as they would be in computer simulations.

As their name indicates, the Navier-Stokes equations are mathematical operations. They have proven more than adequate to describing the physical world in which we live. This means that physicists, as well as oceanographers, meteorologists and other scientists who work with fluids are quite satisfied with them. Mathematicians, on the other hand, aren't. Mathematicians deal with equations that may or may not apply to "real world" situations; either way they focus on the numbers and such involved as abstract concepts instead of physical things.

And the mathematicians think that the Naver-Stokes equations may have a problem or two when they are handled outside of their real-world contexts. Under certain conditions, the equations describe two possible states for a fluid at the same time, which is a no-no (unless you're doing quantum mechanics, but that's another beastie). The example in the story at Quanta magazine is of a perfectly still glass of water. When the Navier-Stokes equations are turned loose on it under certain parameters, then you have a glass of water that either stayed still all night or at some time spontaneously erupted in the glass and then returned to its still state. Ghost Hunters and similar shows notwithstanding, that sort of thing doesn't happen. But even if it did, the Navier-Stokes equations should tell an observer which one it was rather than coming up with both answers at the same time.

If the math crowd does figure out that the Navier-Stokes equations are flawed, they probably won't get abandoned. After all, Albert Einstein showed that Newton's own Laws of Motion got a little wrinkly when things were either very fast or very small, but we still use Newton's understanding most of the time. Things rarely move that fast and even though we know the very very small is real, its fuzziness doesn't translate to everyday-sized objects. So the physicists, meteorologists, oceanographers and others will probably keep using them (although the meteorologists on TV will usually choose whichever model allows them to monger the most fear).

The possible dichotomy does provoke interesting possibilities. One of the things that Einstein did with his theories of relativity was explain a kink in Mercury's orbit that plain ol' Newtonian physics couldn't. Could the mathematical inadequacy of the Navier-Stokes equations prompt some new world-flipping paradigm shift? Who knows? But it will be fun to watch.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Keep on Searching

Writing at The Sports Economist, Kurt Rotthoff outlines how the current playoff structure for bigtime college footbal's championship an easily be expanded to a 24-team field, adding only one more week of play.

Rotthoff suggests that current schedules would work just fine if conferences got rid of their own championship games and left an open week for the extra layer of playoff games.

Left unaddressed are all of the official and unofficial opinions brought up to tell us how a playoff is the only way we can determine an actual national champion. Rather than trying to figure out which two teams should play for the title, we'll have four teams to make sure the qualified teams get the chance to play.

But if Rotthoff is right, then not only is a four-team playoff inadequate, so would an eight-team playoff be. No, we need to have a 24-team playoff series in order to learn who the real national champion is.

Oh well. At least the players will all have useful degrees with good employment prospects.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Senatorial Good News

-- Alabama has had all of its overseas ballots come in, and it is now mathematically impossible for Roy Moore to win the special election held last week. The number of overseas ballots, combined with the number of provisional ballots cast and now upheld, does not come close to bridging the gap between Moore and Doug Jones, the winning Democrat. Moore continues to refuse to concede and may not do so until Jones is defeated by a less loathsome opponent in 2020. Although his strong proclamations about doing God's work suggest that he might reconsider that decision if the Almighty himself said, "Roy, it's over."

Not that I would tell you how to pray or anything.

-- Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who last week promised to resign following reports and photographs of inappropriate behavior, has now said he will resign on January 2. Franken was funny for several years on Saturday Night Live and wrote a couple of funny books -- Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Why Not Me? But as his political star ascended, both his likability and sense of humor faded away. Some of the things that Franken is accused of might be open to different interpretations about their severity and the appropriate steps to take. That's a good discussion to have, but I suggest we stop it until after Franken books his flight to Minneapolis and we can be sure he's really gone.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Nothin' Common

This space has previously praised Keely Smith, a torch and standards singer who gained fame with husband Louis Prima before forging a respectable solo career. Smith passed away Saturday at 89, from what her publicist said was mostly likely heart failure.

She cemented her role early on as the "straight" one of the duet with Prima, well known for his antics while singing. She didn't hit the heights of some other female standards singers, but carved out a respectable niche for herself with more than a few memorable numbers. Among them were her duets with Frank Sinatra, most especially "How Are Ya Fixed for Love," where she showed she could match the Chairman swagger for swinging swagger. Smith recorded an album of Sinatra hits in 2001, which earned her a Grammy nomination.

Smith took some artistic risks, recording an album of Beatles songs in 1964 that landed a number fourteen hit on the UK charts. But she mostly stuck with the standards, taking time off from most performing after 1965 in order to raise her two daughters. A 1962 concert recorded at the Hollywood Bowl gives an impression of what kind of act Smith might have developed on her own, but what she apparently considered the more important task took priority.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi

J.J. Abrams' 2015 Star Wars movie The Force Awakens was welcomed for breathing some life into a movie series made into a clunky wreck by George Lucas' three prequels. It was also dinged for rehashing plot, narrative strands and other beats from the three original movies and not really doing enough with its new characters. Considered fairly, Awakens earns both its praise and condemntation.

Rian Johnson, who both wrote and directed the new The Last Jedi, fixes some of Abrams' problems but creates enough of his own to leave one of the biggest questions facing Awakens still unanswered.

Three narrative arcs run parallel in Jedi -- Rey has found the gone-hermit Luke Skywalker and works to get him to either rejoin the fight against the First Order's attempt to reestablish the Empire or train her to use the natural Force abilities she has found. Working against them is Luke's nephew Kylo Ren, who has turned to the Dark Side of the Force and tries to lure Rey over to his side in service of Great Leader Snoke. Hotshot pilot Poe Dameron and General Leia Organa try desperately to shepherd the remnants of the Resistance away from a pursuing Snoke and Kylo, working against time and shrinking fuel supplies. Reformed Stormtrooper Finn joins a Resistance mechanic named Rose to search for someone who can help them defuse the First Order hyperspace tracker.

Johnson avoids some of the note-for-note repeats that hobbled Abrams. He also, along with Daisy Ridley as Rey, Adam Driver as Kylo and Mark Hamill as Luke, creates one of the better narrative threads of the entire series of movies. Driver makes Kylo much more than a one-note villain, even in the scenes where he's the most villainous. And 40 years have improved Mark Hamill's acting no little bit -- his grumpy old Jedi turn is magnitudes more convincing than anything he did in the original trilogy. Especially when he questions the whole purpose of the Jedi and their supposed mastery of the Force -- he's deep in bitter despair over failures personal and public. Ridley balances her poles of questing student and self-sufficient warrior well, alternating between asking Hamill to teach her and push him towards rejoining the fight.

The fleeing Resistance ship storyline is less successful, weighed down by giving Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo a role in the story that could have easily been filled by Carrie Fisher's General Leia Organa. It serves mainly to help cool the hotshot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) by having him clash with the wiser and more seasoned Leia. The character needs it, since he's pretty much directly responsible for massive Resistance ship and personnel losses.

Its companion plot, in which Finn (John Boyega) and a new character played by Kelly Marie Tran travel to a casino planet to enlist a codebreaker who can help them sneak on board Snoke's ship and disable his tracker, is even less successful and has basically no reason to be present. Its removal would drop Jedi back closer to the two-hour range, tighten up the story and reduce the narrative fuzz that weakens the much stronger Rey-Kylo-Luke plot.

The biggest question Abrams failed to answer in Awakens was "Why is this movie here?" The 1983 Return of the Jedi finished and tidied up most of the conflicts set up by Star Wars and expanded through The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, like every major studio release these movies exist to make money for the studio. But there was nothing left to explore narratively that hadn't been explored forwards and backwards by dozens of novels to warrant a trip back to the Star Wars universe. Johnson hasn't answered the question either, and by saddling his one really solid plot with two others that range from "meh" to "WTH?" he can't really cover up that failure. Jedi is definitely better than Awakens, but in the end it's still short of getting over the "So what?" hump.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Take Wing

Today, 114 years ago, the Wright brothers made humanity's first powered flight of a heavier-than-air craft, on a sandy North Carolina beach. Orville Wright had the honors, but brother Wilbur took one of the next test flights later that same day.

Both brothers flew their untested craft from a prone position, the high-water mark for legroom in an airplane and something which airlines have been working tirelessly to correct ever since.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Applied Physics

Apoorva Jayaraman is a performer and teacher in the Indian art of Bharatanatyam, a stylized form of dance and movement that has its roots in ancient Hindu religious texts. She dances and choreographs Bharatanatyam shows in several countries, and organizes workshops on the art. Currently she's taking a look at how this and other classical Indian arts are not only entertainment or artistic expression, but might actually help Indian society and culture build knowledge of the world.

She also holds a PhD in astronomy from the University of Cambridge in England and a masters degree in Physics from Trinity College at Oxford. Her thesis explored how galaxies form, and she had articles in several different scientific journals during her academic career.

The interview at Physics World doesn't really dig too deeply into how physics or astronomy intersect with Bharatanatyam, which sounds to me like one of the more interesting parts of her work. Some Bharatanatyam dances connect with Hindu creation myths and it would be fascinating to hear someone with cutting-edge astronomical training reflect on where the two would overlap or possibly have friction. It could also be interesting to hear how some of her understanding of the elements of physics, such as motion, balance, body position and others, affects how she moves when she dances. About the only place where the conversation touches on those matters is when Jayaraman explains that her training as a scientists helps her be aware of what she does not know, in addition to what she does know.

Physics World suggests in its headline that even though Jayaraman's professional life followed the path of Bharatanatyam performance and instruction, she's still a scientist in many ways. When I read how she compared the stability of income as an artist to that of an astronomy professor -- "This has obvious repercussions on its financial viability as a career choice." -- I knew that Dr. Jayaraman indeed remained a scientist.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Data Discussing

A couple of friends recently posted Facebook items related to this link at Makers, which says it shows the "best and worst states for women in 2017." The Makers link goes to a study reported at MoveHub, with a story written by Patrick Gilligan.

Makers is a networking site for women in business, with stories, videos and interviews with successful women in a variety of fields. MoveHub is a site that offers information about different areas for people considering moves, focusing on moves overseas.

It doesn't take a lot of time on the internet to find a host of infographic-y items that rank states, countries or regions according to different criteria. Even the significant chunk that aren't outright clickbait dangle the ranking lure in front of readers, banking on curiosity and the competitive impulse to grab an eyeball and make it hit that link. Depending on the criteria you like to use, it's not hard to get a set of rankings that puts a preferred area on top or on the bottom.

But the majority of these pieces, clickbait or no, are junk -- or at the very best can offer no proof that they're not junk, unless the ranking being discussed is a narrow one based on clearly measurable data. The MoveHub piece, for example, cross-referenced "data for the gender pay gap, political representation in the state legislature, equality in education, accessibility to health insurance, reproductive rights and the number of incidents of violence against women at the hands of men." The colored map in the story lists the sources for different studies used in the cross referencing, but leaves out the individual studies themselves. We also don't know which group was responsible for which set of data -- sure, you can guess that the National Conference for State Legislatures is the source for statistics about how many women serve in elected office per state, but what data do the Americans United for Life or Kaiser Family Foundation provide?

We don't know if these studies dealt with the same kinds of populations, beyond a reasonable assumption that they compile data about women. So we don't know if a combination of their results to produce rankings is reliable -- unless similar groups were studied, then the data won't combine well. Did the MoveHub researchers weight some criteria more heavily than others? For example, did rates of violence against women by men figure more heavily into the final tally than equality of education? It's not out of line to note that female victims of violence by men come from many educational backgrounds, nor is it out of line to wonder if some women might consider the safety of themselves and their children a little more important than access to doctoral programs. Perhaps they don't -- but nothing in the MoveHub story clues us in about which it might be.

When we look at the criteria MoveHub used, we can raise some more questions. How were these chosen? Were women themselves surveyed to find out that these five were their top concerns? If so, where is that data? Once they were chosen, were rankings from just one study put into the MoveHub formula, or were several combined to help correct for the possibility of outliers or inadvertently skewed results? If just one study was chosen: Did it have the best data set and survey methodology, or was it at the top of the Google search results? Or did it have the result that best matched the author's intent? 

Why did MoveHub only use the number of incidents of violence against women by men? Wouldn't women also be concerned about incidents of violence against them by women, too? Hawaii is ranked at the top of the 50 states, singled out for its extremely low rate of women murdered by men. Would the rate change if it was simply women murdered? A woman murdered by a woman is just as dead as a woman murdered by a man. It might not change the rate or the rankings in that category much at all, but we don't know based on the info MoveHub uses.

And what do some of these categories actually measure? Did the gender pay gap study compare men and women with equal or similar jobs, or did it lump all jobs together without considering what difference that might make? "Reproductive rights" is a pretty broad term, even though a lot of folks on both sides of the issue seem to want to limit it to abortion. Access to abortion? Public funding for in vitro fertilization for women who can't have children? What markers did the study or studies MoveHub uses measure in ranking the states? In the paragraph about the worst state, Oklahoma, we're told that legislation was introduced that would require a woman seeking an abortion to have permission from the baby's father. But did that legislation ever become law? (Spoiler: No) So what quantifiable difference does it make?

What's "equality in education?" The state's two top universities split the difference on male-female enrollment, with the University of Oklahoma 51-49 in favor of women and Oklahoma State University 51-49 in favor of men. The third-largest school, the University of Central Oklahoma, goes 59-41 in favor of women, and most of the other smaller regional colleges in state cluster around that 3:2 ratio. How did whichever group that conducted that study rank states? What made a state do well on their study?

And to close, what was the actual statistical difference between the top and bottom tiers in the study? Yes, there's a nice map and numerical ranking that puts Oklahoma and four other states in a deep warning shade of red to show how awful they are, but what were the actual differences in that murder rate, mentioned above, between Hawaii and Oklahoma? Or between any other two states? If I make a billion dollars a year and eight others make a billion dollars plus one apiece, I rank at the bottom of the income stats. But I probably won't care, because the difference is so very small and because I've got a billion reasons not to.

You might think I'm having a little hissy about this one because it puts my state at the bottom and there may be something to that, although I dismiss the same kinds of ratings fluff that put us towards the top as well. And for mostly the same reasons: No clarity about how the data are selected or weighed, no clear definition of categories or rationale for choosing them, and nothing to suggest that any of the data have been compiled or researched by anyone with any training or background in statistics or surveying.

Oklahoma is like a lot of places in that it could move faster to help women gain real parity and equality in its society, culture and governing systems. It probably lags behind some but is ahead of others. Arguments that it's the best place in the world for women will lean on some weak reeds indeed and will get shut down before very long. But "the worst state for women?"

I'm not a woman. Except for three periods of five years or less in other states, I have only lived in Oklahoma, so my experience of other states is limited. Moreover, I wasn't a woman when I lived in them, either. So is Oklahoma the worst state for women? I don't know, but neither does MoveHub.

The difference is I'll admit it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Certain Cure!

Just in time for the Christmas office party season, we have advice from William Vaughan's 1612 guide, Approved Directions for Health, via the Ask the Past blog.

The esteemed Mr. Vaughan suggests that a certain way to prevent drunkenness though one might "drinke great store of wine" is to beforehand consume the roasted lungs of a goat. Or possibly raw coleworts, which we would today probably label cabbage.

To sober up those who didn't dine on goat lungs before the party, one might again administer coleworts, or "great draughts of vinegar."

Although we commonly laugh at much of the medical advice given in past ages, I can see how this might work. I am pretty certain that if I ate the roasted lungs of a goat I would not get drunk, because there is no way that wine, liquor or anything else would stay down long enough for my body to process it. My stomach would begin working by the "Fool me twice, shame on me" principle.

But I think the cure for drunkenness is on shakier ground. While the consumption of large amounts of cabbage or great draughts of vinegar would probably have the same projectile effects as goat-lung casserole, millennia of research has yet to show any connection between upchucking and sobering up. Although laboratory conditions weren't present, personal anecdotal evidence from my own experimental phase backs this up.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Raise Your Sights

Here in the third orbital path out from Sol in the year 2017, things may have seemed like they were, well, crappus maximus. But there were really quite a few cool things that went on, and one of the arenas where that happened was astronomical photography. The good folks at Atlas Obscura have compiled some cool shots (and one artist's conception) to stimulate both wonder (Jupiter's clouds, photo #7) and curious imagination (Saturn's hexagonal north pole -- just why does it have such a regular shape?).

The advent of the tablet has signifcantly reduced the need for printed calendars to be placed on the wall, but I still buy one or two for backups. Most of the time they're astro-photography of some sort. What goes on down here, good and bad, is important, of course. But it's good to lift one's gaze now and again to remember where we are on the scale of things.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Names Matter

Although I often read the conservative news/opinion site Hot Air, I usually don't link it because the opinion items are often a little over the top and most folks would not trust their news judgment because of their very clear political stance. But this one was just about smack on the money in noting that the four Port Authority police officers who jumped on the "Fumblewear Bomber" who attempted to blow himself up near the PA bus terminal are far more deserving to have their names known than his.

So Anthony Manfredini, Jack Collins, Sean Gallagher, and Drew Preston, may the road rise to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back and may you live long and fulfilling lives. And to the sad sack who you stopped from blowing himself and a lot of innocent people up, may you come to realize the error of your ways and spend as many days as you have left in repentance of your wrongs.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sometimes It Is Easy Being Green

At least, when you're photographed under the green aurora visible from the Austenfjorden Fjord in Norway, it is.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Voting for Less

Your faithful blogging servant has at various times outed himself as conservative in political, economic and theological thinking -- although in the case of the latter he usually likes to use the terms "traditional" or "orthodox."

Nevertheless, he is not a Republican by voter registration, He will frequently vote for Republicans, however, although it is not because he believes they will do a better job of getting a conservative policy agenda enacted into law. It is because he believes that Democrats will do much much worse at getting a conservative policy agenda enacted into law.

All of that said, there is no way to look at the plight of Alabama conservatives and use any rational calculus to determine how to vote in that state's upcoming United States Senate special election. They face a choice between a Democrat whose position on abortion is "Sure, why not?" and former State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, whose flaws are numerous. Some of them are longstanding and some of them have come to light more recently.

Agonized, some Alabama conservatives have broken for Moore, rationalizing that making Democrat Doug Jones their senator would be Chicxulub-level bad. Writing for National Review, Kevin Williamson makes the case that however bad it would be to elect Doug Jones to the Senate, it would be at least as bad to elect Roy Moore. He's persuasive.

I don't feel sorry for Alabama Republicans. They cast the votes in the primary that got them in this mess, back when it was only obvious that Moore was unqualified rather that clear he was weapons-grade creepy. But I don't feel any desire to see them punished -- they're talked themselves into a situation where they think "Senator Roy Moore" is a win. How much worse off could they be?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Read West, Young Person

Writing at Signature, Lorraine Berry finds that even though the moral landscape of the mythic American west differs greatly from the landscapes we cross today, the written works of the genre can still have some interesting things to say to us, if we want to pay attention.

This space is on record many times that the Western, in both written and cinematic form, has a lot of philosophical and artistic life in it yet. It's always pleasing when someone else discovers that as well. Myths, including those of the Western, may be mostly legends wrapped around a kernel of truth of varying size. But even myths get told for a reason, and studying them can perhaps clue us in to some interesting things once we stop looking down our nose and tutting about how things "weren't really that way at all."

Friday, December 8, 2017


-- In 1956, Alfred Bester published the science fiction novel The Stars My Destination, in which human beings have the ability to "jaunt," or teleport instantly between places. Every time some airline does something like this, I come a little closer to literally praying for that novel to come true in my lifetime, so I can pop into the CEO's office and laugh at the way his business collapses around his ears.

-- U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn, asked whether she would accept an invitation to the White House if she wins gold in next year's Winter Olympics, said, "Absolutely not." She said she plans to represent "the people of the United States, not the president." Ms. Vonn overlooks a couple of things -- despite his generally repulsive character, President Trump is a person who is in the United States and although I'd have to look it up, I don't think many U.S. athletes have ever considered themselves to be representing the president serving when they competed. I know why Donald Trump thinks everything is about him, but I can't understand why anyone else does.

-- You don't like telephone scammers. I don't like telephone scammers. Nobody likes telephone scammers. This guy really doesn't like telephone scammers.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Poles Apart

Seventy-six years ago, a lot of brave men responded to a sneak attack as best they could to save their shipmates and buddies and hold off their attackers; more than 2,000 didn’t make it.

Today, an ugly man whose career began with humor but devolved into bitter smarm, arrogance and attempts to hide his lechery behind self-righteous pomposity talked about what a great guy he was but how he’s forced to quit anyway.

Should have waited a day, Al. Dec. 7 already has enough infamy to go around.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ah, For a Really Fast Rocket

Stories like this are very often intriguing, prompting speculation about what life might exist on these other potentially habitable worlds, or what they might look like when we are finally able to go there.

But sometimes they're a little depressing, because they highlight the reality that we can't go there -- we're stuck here, and here is a place that's afflicted with way more than its share of reasons to want to go there. Grandstanding twerps, careless hacks, name-calling hypocrites, grotesque creeps and the blinkered or willfully delusional people who support them, bullies without end who use their power to degrade and prey upon victims -- and some foolish people who defend them...

The world of dreams that helps the subconscious process and deal with the strains of the day has a lot of work to do tonight.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

International Olympic Committee Provides Historic Hint It May Have a Spine

If you were hoping to cheer on some Russian athletes in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, you are out of luck. In a move that could actually be the first step in its evolution to vertebrate status, the International Olympic Committe has told that country to not bother showing up.

What seems to have turned the tide is widespread evidence that the various shady performance-enhancing shenanigans indulged in by different Russian athletes and teams were not just good old-fashioned cheating. They were policy, set at the highest levels of Russian Olympic organization. One Russian official was banned for life from any involvement with any Olympics-connected event -- which may actually help lighten the guy's workload, since he's in charge of Russia's World Cup soccer organizing committee. That organization's governing body, which has had its own shenanigan-y episodes, has said the IOC's punishments of Russia would have no impact on the World Cup.

Russia will appeal, of course, but even if it doesn't win the whole matter may be moot, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that his nation will boycott the 2018 games if it is banned from them.

In other words, you didn't fire us, we quit. The East German judge gives that one a 10.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cool Library, Bro

The Tianjin Binhai Library, shown in this post on the Twisted Sifter site, is mighty mighty cool. The shelves curve around in waves, and their stacked construction also helps create the staircase and seating for library patrons.

While it has room for an amazing 1.2 million books, government censorship means that you could only check out 1.2 of them. Which 1.2? Well, try it and see, comrade. No one will punish you if you select one of the forbidden volumes. We promise. Here, we'll even pinky swear on it.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What Did He Say?

The folks at Open Culture published a listing from the Foreign Service Institute of which languages are the hardest for native English speakers to master. The FSI is the language-training service for the US government, and the article also includes a map of Europe color-coded to show some of the languages for that part of the world.

The European map is interesting because of the little gray patches on the edges of England and Ireland. One seems to be in Scotland, one in Ireland and one in Wales -- although the map legend says those areas are unclassified, we can presume that they are where the languages of Scots Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and Welsh still have a fairly strong hold. We can presume that these languages are difficult to learn because it's pretty tough to know what Scots people are saying when they're speaking English, the Irish are deep into a pint of stout and Welsh doesn't even have any frickin' vowels in half the words.

In the list we see languages divided according to difficulty, along with the hours of study needed to learn them. The first group has languages considered the most similar to English and they are usually mastered the quickest. It's interesting because although many of the languages are similar to English they are not all that similar to each other -- your average Afrikaans speaker can't just stroll down a Lisbon rua and begin chatting up the ladies without some serious language software on his selfoon.

The two hardest tiers are languages that come from mostly non-European cultures which also frequently use different writing systems than English. German doesn't reach that level, for example, because although the German alphabet has some additional characters in it like ẞ, it still has a lot in common with English. But the other languages listed vary widely from the English language and the strongly European-derived brand of culture of the US.

Not listed on the chart is the arrangement of jargon your average woke college student or politician at a press conference speaks on a regular basis -- although most of the words involved are recognizable as English, they have been strung together in an arrangement that makes no damn sense.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I Canna Give Ye Any More, Cap'n!

The firing of Voyager 1's back control thrusters may be as close as we get for awhile to Scotty telling Captain Kirk he's at maximum power, since the spacecraft has actually left our solar system and is as qualified to be called interstellar as the Enterprise.

NASA scientists wanted to try to fire the jets as a backup to Voyager's attitude control thrusters, which are getting on in years and not as reliable as they used to be. They're used to keep the communications antenna aligned with Earth -- but at Voyager's immense distances, even microscopic errors in the thrust could mean a loss of communication from the spacecraft. Scientists wondered if the back thrusters, which hadn't been fired in almost 40 years, could be used instead.

So they labored over ancient computer code, designed a plan and sent the signal to Voyager to test it. More than 19 hours later, they received data that showed the plan would work. For awhile, anyway, as the back thrusters have to be heated a bit to work and there's only so much power available to do that.

Of course, this is what NASA's saying in public. Because if the thrusters were really set to fire in some kind of automatic response to a nearby alien spaceship, do you really think they would tell us?

Friday, December 1, 2017


Second game of the basketball season for the local high school tonight -- the young men won in double overtime but the young women were on the short end of a 30-point hammering.

But they should not feel all that badly about it, because they're still playing -- while bellowing John Wooden-wannabe in front of me is long past the days that he seems to think are important enough to bust a lung over.