Friday, November 30, 2018

No Snake-Handling Required

Today is St. Andrew's Day, celebrating the feast day of the patron saint of Scotland. It is not nearly so well-known as the feast day for the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick.

The imbalance is likely to continue until scientists develop a method for dying a beer (and the Chicago River) plaid.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

May not Know What It Means, But It Sure Sounds Cool

We present another in an occasional series of great headlines of science articles that sound cool even though your humble correspondent has no flippin' idea what it means:

"Bose Einstein condensate may reveal supersolid’s secrets"

It'll take a couple of reads to get to my usual dim and partial understanding of this topic, although I was surprised to find out that supersolids are controversial. Unfortunately, the article does not tell us what they did in order to become so -- which may be the secret that the Bose Einstein condensate will reveal.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Because Reasons

So Walt Disney is re-making The Lion King for 2019, following its 2017 success with a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

Of course, the new Lion King won't be live-action, since animals don't talk or do other things that people do, like sing catchy songs about slackerdom as a life philosophy. It will still be an animated movie, but as I understand it, it's being called "photorealistic." Meaning computer-generated. This space is on record as suggesting that the Beauty and the Beast remake existed primarily as a cash grab (although a number of Friends of This Space -- FOTS -- think differently. The one I'm thinking of didn't review the movie on his blog, just on his Facebook. So -- sorry, no link). But it did at least feature real human beings in front of our eyes as the Beast characters.

Lion King will have none of that. It is essentially another animated movie, except that this one's done entirely by computer. The original was a mix of hand-drawn and computer-generated imagery (such as the wildebeest stampede). The video found at the above link at Bored Panda shows some of the shot-for-shot similar scenes, although there are supposed to be some different scenes and a new character or two. As with the Beast, I have no desire to see it. I've already seen The Lion King, and if I have need to watch it again I own a copy. It has no more appeal than did Gus Van Sant's color remake of Psycho. So I can say I have no reason to see it.

Which doesn't mean Disney has no reason to make it. We'll have to wait until summer 2019 wraps to see how many millions, if not billions, of individual rea$ons it has, even though they will all boil down to just one.

Monday, November 26, 2018


NASA, that strange mix of Murphy and magnificence, landed the InSight probe earlier this afternoon, safely finishing off a seven-month, 300 million-mile journey. All indications suggest the probe is in the place scientists want it to be, and it will spend the next two months or so getting ready for its scientific mission.

InSight, which is an acronym for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will deploy a small container of seismology equipment to check out "marsquakes" and such, as well as a heat probe that will dig about 16 feet under the surface of Elysium Planitia to see whatever may be seen down there.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Bit Off-Target

The recent death of longtime Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee drew a lot of tributary words from folks in the industry he helped shape as well as others appreciative of his work.

Comedian Bill Maher, on the other hand, wasn't as complimentary about Lee's impact on modern culture. He didn't disparage Lee personally, but he did question whether or not the impact was positive. Comic books were primarily a kid's medium, he said, and their dominance of pop culture reflected that culture's a lack of seriousness. Only a culture that took comic books so seriously, Maher said, could have elected Donald Trump as president.

Now, the immediate low-hanging fruit would be to correct Maher and say that only a culture that took comedians so seriously could elect Donald Trump as president. The amount of truth in that depends on the comedians in question -- if we include Maher then the statement holds but that's only because he so badly combines comedy and social commentary. His career has been built on using sarcasm and smirk to try to deepen and fortify his satire, and on trying to sell a libertine as a libertarian.

But comedians who employ better perception, better understanding and, let's face it, better jokes in service of their own social commentary aren't hard to find. In fact, some of the best are good enough at their jobs that you laugh even when you don't agree with the point of view or the commentary. So we should probably dismiss that entirely understandable but off-target first response to Maher's remarks.

There's something that the remarks circle around, though, that's worth thinking about a little. Not just to see where they miss, but also where the truth might be more likely found. Maher's not so wrong in suggesting we have a shallow culture, even though I disagree with the idea that an interest in comic books is a symptom of that. I'd suggest instead that a better marker for the shallowness is our investment and interest in celebrity instead.

By "celebrity" I'm talking about people who are either famous for nothing more than being famous, such as the Kardashians, or people whose opinion is lent greater weight because of their fame. Using Maher's example, in this second case it would fine to give weight to Stan Lee's thoughts about the nature of responsibility, for example (Hint: it comes with great power), because Lee's own work and the work he helped oversee display some real thinking about these ideas. But I'd be foolish to consider his fame to be any reason to pay attention to what he says about, say, gamma radiation, because he probably didn't know any more about it than I do.

Yet our culture constantly weighs celebrity as a reason to pay attention to something someone says, even when there's no other reason to believe they know anything about whatever the subject matter at hand happens to be. That's fine when it sticks to advertising. Bob Uecker says Miller Lite tastes great and is less filling? Good enough for me! Even if he's wrong, the consequences are short-term and not very great. Matthew McConaughey says I should check out Lincoln automobiles for...well, I don't really know because I don't understand what he's talking about, but again, no biggie.

When celebrity infects politics and other matters, though, then a culture shallow enough to depend on it gets lousy results. In modern US politics, a lot of people would trace this thread to the first televised presidential debates, where John Kennedy's photogenic good looks contrasted to Richard Nixon's decided non-photogeneity.

Depending on your political persuasion, you blame a celebrity-led culture for the presidencies of either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. While both men earn a share of blame for using celebrity to bolster their candidacies, it was more of an extra than the founding principle of their campaigns. Both men had serious governmental executive experiences in their respective governor's mansions. Both had well-developed views on public policy and the issues they wanted to address -- positions that demonstrated paying attention to some authority, whether or not it was an authority their opponents wanted to accept. Their celebrity -- Reagan's Hollywood career or Clinton's sax solo on Arsenio Hall, for example -- aided their campaigns but did not comprise them.

Now people's mileage may vary but I would suggest both President Trump and his predecessor relied far more on celebrity than substance. Neither former President Obama's time as an Illinois state senator nor his brief tour in the US Senate features any great distinguishing work or legislation. But not long into his 2008 campaign he morphed from "first-term US Senator Barack Obama" into "Obama," a one-named celebrity candidate who drew crowds, coverage and approval just by showing up. President Trump's record of public policy knowledge and achievement is even scantier, but his name-recognition from years of New York tabloid coverage and a successful stint as a game-show host meant his celebrity showing was very high. That was enough to get people to pay him attention even though he's never demonstrated expertise on much other than tacky gold leaf and serial extramarital affairs.

Now, fame and notoriety -- both earned and unearned -- have always carried some cachet, and using celebrities to sell things has a long history. It seems only in the last couple of decades, though, that we've become people who see them as signals of knowledge and trustworthiness on issues where they have no business doing so. What sparked that? What made us so ready to listen to actors, singers and others when it comes to matters where we should instead seek out the advice of people who've spent long years studying those matters? Who started giving them the platform to bring those opinions before us? To heck with reasoned analysis -- who do we blame?

Well you see, back in 1993 Comedy Central had this show called Politically Incorrect...

Friday, November 23, 2018

Green Blues

Brian J. Noggle recasts the Eric Clapton classic with reference to current events.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


According to this article, the two cities that landed half of Amazon’s new headquarters may find themselves less than thankful for their good fortune as time goes on. Thankful or not, the tab will probably wind up totaling more than the good city fathers of both areas let on.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Saying Thanks!

The Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter ran several ads saying thanks and paying tribute to the late Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee.

Company boundaries were nonexistent, as main rival DC Comics also honored Lee for his contribution to their mutual industry. My favorite ad, though, is the one below from the original six folks who made up the Avengers from the 2012 movie:

Scarlett Johansen, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans were all stars to one degree or another, with a little bit of success under their respective belts. But their participation in the Marvel movies that began with 2008's Iron Man and its quirky little post-credits scene (that made at least one adult male movie-goer actually giggle like a little kid when Samuel L. Jackson showed up as Nick Fury and said the words "Avengers Initiative") set most if not all of them up for life professionally as well as probably financially. The ad shows that they know who to thank, and that they bought and ran it shows they are the kind of people who would do so.

That's kind of cool.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Singular Address

November 19th is the anniversary date of Abraham Lincoln's famed "Gettysburg Address," and it's a good occasion to read and reflect on it. It often spurs different thoughts, depending on other things that may be going on in the world.

Today, the thought that occurred was the unlikelihood of any modern politician being able to create such an amazing impact with ten sentences and 270 words. I almost thought about whether or not there were any modern politicians who could appreciate the impact of Lincoln's words, but stopped before I depressed myself too much.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Test Pattern

Conference paperwork. Both creativity and ability to post in a manner appropriate to a family-type blog are at dangerously low ebb. Back tomorrow.

Saturday, November 17, 2018


Here are some fun CGI recreations of a few famous castles in England, Scotland and Ireland, shown with pictures of what they look like now, as well as animated GIFs of how they were reconstructed.

Of course, it's kind of confusing because the present-day pictures of the ruins are labeled "Before" and the reconstructions are labeled "After," when technically they show what the castles looked like before they fell apart.

It's a bit of a head-scratcher, but the pictures are neat.

Friday, November 16, 2018

From the Rental Vault: Outlaw King (2018)

Like a lot of people who know a little bit about history, David Mackenzie understood that Mel Gibson's 1995 blockbuster Braveheart was not an accurate retelling of the 14th century Scottish war for independence. But unlike a lot of those people, Mackenzie could do something about it and did, by making a movie about the man who ultimately won the throne following those conflicts, Robert the Bruce who was to be crowned Robert I, King of the Scots. So he did, distributing it through Netflix as Outlaw King.

Gibson's movie focused on freedom fighter William Wallace, named one of Scotland's Lord Protectors as Scottish nobles attempted to remove the heavy English yoke from their necks. Wallace is not to be found in Outlaw King except in part, as a piece of his drawn and quartered corpse is displayed in warning to potential rebels. A scene which included a meeting between him and Robert was trimmed from the final version of King.

As a more faithful retelling of some of the events surrounding Scotland's fight for independence, Mackenzie succeeds, as this Popular Mechanics article outlines. But as a plain ol' movie, it lags considerably in many areas. Some scenes feel curiously drawn out while others are choppy and rushed. A number of plot points hinge on what happens to certain characters but we don't learn enough about them to figure out why these events are important, either to Robert or to the story. Mackenzie cut about 20 minutes from the version of the movie shown at the Toronto International Film Festival so it's possible some of the flow and explanation we're looking for is in those minutes, but their absence harms not just the pacing but the whole payoff of the storyline.

Chris Pine largely succeeds in showing Robert as a man haunted by the years of fighting that precede the timeline we're watching, and rendered weary and detached by it all. The people around him may want to play this particular game of thrones, but he's tired of it all and would rather sit it out. A pair of scenes showing the harsh way Edward I of England imposed his rule on the Scots are meant to show us how Robert awoke to the injustice of that rule but they flash so quickly it's hard to see how they have that great of an impact. Billy Howie sounds mostly one note as Prince Edward (later Edward II) -- desperate mania to prove himself a worthy successor to his father and proves mostly a cardboard cutout rather than a properly hate-able villain. Florence Pugh displays stalwart strength as Robert's imprisoned wife Elizabeth, but again whatever arc she is supposed to have stumbles through the end in more of a series of vignettes rather than full development.

Robert eventually decides to drop his guerilla campaign in order to face Edward in battle, unwilling to be an "outlaw king" any longer. One of the cut scenes showed him meeting a haggard Wallace when the latter is hiding out, his cause and support vanished. Retaining that scene could have helped show why Bruce suddenly decides it's time to fight in the open as he realizes only a decisive defeat of the English can end his de facto exile, end their oppressive rule and free his family.

Historical dramas rarely hit the screen at anywhere above 80 percent in accuracy, because real history stubbornly refuses to conform to the most effective storytelling aesthetics. Real people mix heroic and base qualities, events don't always match a good narrative sequence and resolutions can take quite awhile to flesh out clearly. Mackenzie may have reached his goal of showing a more historically accurate vision of the Scottish wars of independence, but he probably needed a little more Maxwell Stoddard in the mix in addition to some more foundation and some earlier fire from his lead. History is made up of facts, but movies are made up of legends and Outlaw King doesn't have nearly enough of the latter.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


-- Batkid wins again, as the boy who saved San Francisco during his Make-A-Wish experience five years ago now lives a mostly ordinary life...cancer free. Biff! indeed.

-- A missing piece of the famous ancient computing device, the antikythera mechanism, may have been found near an equally ancient Greek shipwreck. As the story notes, there is no evidence yet that proves the new artifact is a part of the mechanism. Tech support has suggested that operators apenergpoieste ten kai energpoieste ten xana* and see if that works.

-- In this Bizarro outing, Dan Piraro illustrates how other sports acknowledge the superiority of baseball. No one not playing football ever wears a football helmet on the sidelines, and the team store of every other sport sells a baseball cap with the team logo on it. Just sayin'.

*Turn it off and then turn it on again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Thinking Aligned

At Awful Announcing, Andrew Bucholtz thinks that the way that sports media have covered the National Basketball Association as it opens its 2018-19 season suggests something.

Bucholtz notes that even in-game events, like the recent dustup between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, have drawn coverage that focuses as much if not more on what the spat means in light of Durant's upcoming free agency (Note from an OKC Thunder fan: Don't buy any #35 Warrior gear). Fewer pieces focus on whether or not the two can coexist well enough to allow the Golden State Warriors to play at a high level.

Sure, you can make the case that nobody outside of the Golden fan base cares how the league's version of the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the New Jersey Generals turns out. But still, Bucholtz says, the imbalance is interesting and may even be a part of a trend. Other stories show a similar pattern. It seems, Bucholtz says, that the media covering the NBA care more about the post-season and the next season than they do the current regular season.

Well I'll be darned. The media really are just like the rest of us, aren't they?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Time Stampin'

At Plus, Antonella Perucca describes the ways that the mathematically hip could write all of the numbers necessary on a clock face by using only one number.

The trick is to put that number into several different math functions, the answers to which shake out to be the proper chronological digits.

This could be a useful way to help students test their knowledge of different equations or functions. But since some schools are ditching clocks with hands because students don't know how to use them -- and the schools apparently don't know how to teach -- it probably won't be a widespread activity.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Limitlessness of Imagination

Although he spent a lot of his later years bending his talents more towards self-promotion than some might like, and although he might remember the creation of many iconic Marvel Comics characters as more in his ledger than some others would say, Stanley Martin Lieber left this world having increased its overall portion of creativity much more than most other people did.

As Stan Lee, which was first a pen name and then later his legal one, he had a huge share in the creation of comic book icons like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and others. Disputes between Lee and artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko may have muddied the waters of origin too much to ever know from whose mind what detail sprang, but Lee's influence is undeniable and significant. As a writer and editor at Marvel, Lee oversaw a more human kind of hero behind the masks and under the capes. The "secret identity," if there was one, wasn't just a convenient device for soaking up some page count: It influenced who the heroes were and how they behaved, and introduced the idea of flaws and failures into the four-color funnybook world.

Sometimes that way of thinking didn't work so well, as when Lee greenlit the death of Peter "Spider-Man" Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy. For all of the advances made during the 1960s, Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway and Marvel book editor Roy Thomas couldn't open their Parker/Spider-Man box wide enough to encompass a married Peter Parker, so they decided to permanently remove her. "Realism" could deal with a hero mourning the loss of his love but was apparently stymied by the idea of a normal family life.

Still, the idea of truly human heroes -- whether biologically human or not -- took root and grew throughout the industry. It found its way into other companies and other storylines, and fueled some of the best prestige events in the medium, such as Watchmen, Marvels and Kingdom Come. It's the foundation for the conflict in the Kurt Busiek/George Perez JLA/Avengers crossover, and underlies Busiek's superlative Astro City series and to a large degree even Bill Willingham's Fables. An even more reality-based vision of the superhero world was fleshed out in "The Ultimates" series of books from Marvel, and the current Marvel Cinematic Universe works very much from the Ultimates vision of the characters.

In later years Lee maintained a heavy public appearance schedule, relishing his opportunities to interact with fans as often as he could manage. If some of that interaction fed his vanity as well, it's hard to begrudge him enjoying the kudos he had worked pretty hard to merit.

Lee was born to Jewish immigrants but for much of his adult life was agnostic about the idea of actual deities. So we can't be sure just exactly what he might have believed about an afterlife and what it contained. It would be fitting, of course, for this great prince of storytellers to open his eyes in a realm of endless tales, each one greater than he could have ever possibly imagined and building without end -- and it wouldn't be such a bad place for anyone else, either -- so why not hope that's what is indeed the case and say as Lee himself would have said:


Sunday, November 11, 2018


Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder reflects a little on a list she found of the way some machines that "learn" don't necessarily do so in a way that we might appreciate.

Among the unforeseen consequences: When hooking a type of learning processor called a "neural net" to a Roomba automatic vacuum in order to increase its speed by limiting bumper contacts (those are when the Roomba bumps into something, backs up, and starts off again in a new direction). So the Roomba learned to drive backwards, since it doesn't have bumpers on the back. Not really any faster and perhaps a little wearing on the device's housing, since it will still bump into things.

Another person set up a neural net that will "reward" a self-driving car that it is able to drive faster. So the net began driving the car around in small but speedy circles.

Perhaps a good thing to remember if we want to understand what it might mean to literally take things "literally,"

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Original Meaning

Today we remember Nov. 11 as Veterans's Day, set aside to honor men and women who have worn our nation's uniform in peacetime and war, and what they sacrificed on behalf of their fellows and their country.

Originally, of course, Nov. 11 was Armistice Day. A century ago as I write this, thousands of soldiers were just a few hours away from learning they might very well live to see Christmas and return home to their families. Today they are all gone, mostly seen in grainy photos or perhaps remembered as grandfathers by those who are grandfathers today.

But still they were here, and they offered much, even all, for a cause they were told was right and for each other. So when we say thanks to the service men and women still among us now, we might offer one as well for those of another era. A century may have thinned the memory and immediacy of their offering, but it mattered much to them at their time. And perhaps if we do so we can guide those in November of 2118 as they look back to our day.

Friday, November 9, 2018


In this recent Existential Comics, St. Augustine discovers that even the strongest spirit can have its weaknesses.

And they were delicious.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Speaking Out

Recently, the AbeBooks site, which sells used and antiquarian (AKA expensive used) books as a subsidiary of Amazon, said it was going to cut off sales to five countries entirely: the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, South Korea and Russia. Although little information ever came out, the company said it had to do with payment processing.

That didn't sit well with about 600 booksellers in 27 countries, who pulled their inventories from the website for a couple of days to get their point across. They did, and it seems that AbeBooks will not drop those countries from their roles at the end of the month as previously planned.

Stories on the matter say that the real problem was a lack of transparency in the decision. Without a clear reason why those nations presented a problem for the company, other sellers felt that they had no protection against being suddenly and mysteriously dropped themselves.

We'll have to see what happens eventually, but this has been an interesting exercise in watching some purveyors of a more old-fashioned product guide the behavior of one of the most modern sectors of today's economy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Sounds Like a Plan

According to a recent study, growing up in a house with a lot of books is good for you.

I've got the house with books part down. I'm still working on the other bit.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Voting With a Purpose!

Ah, Election Day! A day in which we ordinary citizens engage in a privilege secured for us by people who fought long ago, and kept safe for us by others who have fought in the meantime and who stand ready to do so today. It is an important day for people who live in a republican democracy, as we elect our officials and speak out on some issues directly before us.

We're often told that our participation in voting sends a message. Different people suggest different messages and different audiences.

To people of other nations, perhaps new to the idea of actual citizen participation in government, we send a message that shows how this is supposed to work: People make their choices, the ballots are totaled, and those who win the election take office while those who leave office do so peacefully and with at least some good will for their successors.

To younger people of our own nation, we send a message that shows how citizenship brings with it some responsibilities along with the privileges we like to enjoy. Speaking out may be important and sharing opinions may be important, but the actual casting of a ballot is the only action with guaranteed results -- even if we don't care for the results that come from the ballots all those other people cast.

To dictators who rule with iron fists out of fear that their own people might depose them if given the chance, we say, you are right to fear. With the snap of a counting machine long-standing personal empires of power and privilege disappear as people do that most human of things: change their minds. The ballot box ignores seniority in office, committee chair positions, businesses and people who owe someone a favor and everything else in the face of simple math: 50 percent plus one means hasta la vista, baby.

But most important of all as I consider it is the message our voting sends to the office holders and candidates whose names are on the ballots. The people who have sapped our phone minutes with robocalls. The people who have stuffed our mailboxes with campaign literature that used to be beautiful trees. The people whose television, radio and online ads filled every available nook and crevice like a foul sludge. The people who told us that they embodied all of the best of the wisdom of the great founders of our nation almost as though they were those very founders raised again to walk the earth. The people who told us that although they were not here to go negative, they did feel it was important to ask why their opponents could produce no evidence that they never played foosball with the bleached skulls of shelter puppies.

And the message we send to half of them is this: Leave us alone, and go get a job. To the other half we say: Leave us alone, and get back to work. After some six months or more of listening to them, we are finally able to make them listen to us, and it is a wonderful feeling indeed.

Monday, November 5, 2018

What You See

It's been a long day, so I leave you with a simple link to some trippy illusions at Nautilus.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

From the Rental Vault: St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

I have a small soft spot of nostalgia for Joel Schumacher's "Brat Pack" outing, the ensemble picture St. Elmo's Fire. Following on the heels of the Baby Boomer's The Big Chill in 1983 and the high school introspection from earlier in 1985, The Breakfast Club, Fire seemed like it was the movie talking about people closer to my age at the time (The irony there being that stars Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy played in both Breakfast Club and Fire, aging some four or five years in the span of four months). The seven friends shown in the movie have just graduated college and are starting out in the workforce and adult life, with varying degrees of success.

But real life, it turns out, is complicated, and the safety net provided by the college environment is nowhere to be found out in that world. Party man Billy (Rob Lowe) finds that no one hires for those skills, which is even worse when you are married with a child. Alec (Nelson) and Leslie (Sheedy) see that living together may not be just a step along the path to marriage -- especially when Alec has a somewhat different understanding of monogamy -- and Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) discovers that just because your longtime crush breaks up with her longtime beau doesn't mean she wants to start something with you. Kirby (Estevez) will come to know that there are some good questions to ask the fair maid you've worshiped from afar, like "Do you have a boyfriend already?" Jules (Demi Moore) will learn that an affair with your married boss will not give you job security and that credit card debt is not an ideal fiscal foundation. Wendy (Mare Winningham) seems to discover that asserting yourself and creating your own life can involve finally consummating a relationship with the bad boy she's always fantasized about, but since he's planning on moving away and the movie ends right afterwards, it's kind of hard to say that's any sort of progress.

The script, by Schumacher and Carl Kurlander, is not really any kind of straight narrative as much as a series of snapshot vignettes. But the way the characters interact in those vignettes suggests there is supposed to be some kind of story arc, which means Schumacher and Kurlander's script is just not any good at pulling it off. The two or three crisis moments that are supposed to set up a resolution ring false, and the real problem is that with one or two exceptions, the whole group is a bunch of jerks. The major life lessons that they are supposed to acquire come with a healthy helping of "Duh, you idiot," and the talented cast has so little to work with it's tough to feel good for them when they finally take their Big Step Forward into Grown-Up Life. Especially since for several of them Grown-Up Life seems to still be pretty solidly adolescent.

As I said, I have a couple of nostalgic soft spots for Fire. In addition to remembering it "finally" as a movie about folks in my own age and experience bracket, I resonated a little with McCarthy's character, a fledgling reporter dealing with an unrequited crush on one of his best friends (Although Schumacher and Kurlander's breakthrough event for him was pure fantasy -- the Washington Post is not going to give column inches to a 22-year old to write a piece called "The Meaning of Life").

But it's a lousy movie from stem to stern, nostalgia notwithstanding. Had it not come out only four months after The Breakfast Club it would have been seen as a clear attempt to capitalize on that movie's success, but the truth is that ensemble coming-of-age stories are not uncommon. It's just that Schumacher and Kurlander are nowhere near as talented as Lawrence Kasdan (Chill) and John Hughes (Club). Columbia Studio execs may have thought they were getting a younger version of their Big Chill smash, but they would up with a clumsy mess that is far better remembered from across a span of years than watched in real time.

Saturday, November 3, 2018


Russian Igor Lipchanskiy has some fun Photoshopping himself into the space just outside some famous album covers. Some are pretty funny, like the first one from Prince's Prince album. Some aren't quite as funny, and I have to confess that some of them make no sense to me.

On the other hand, some of the album covers as is make no sense to me, either, so I suppose that's not all on Mr. Lipchanskiy.

Friday, November 2, 2018

If Elected, I Pledge to (Insert Issue Here)

Demetrios Pogkas and David Ingold, writing at Bloomberg, break down what percentage of campaign ads have dealt with different issues in different parts of the country.

So it seems these totals can hint at what things are on the minds of the voters in those areas. Thus, immigration issues rising to the top in some areas of California, Arizona and Texas makes sense because voters who live in those areas are faced with that problem a little more acutely than are voters in Des Moines.

According to the map, many of the ads run in my own fair state concern education issues, most likely educational funding. This past spring's teacher walkout put the matter squarely before us (or at least reminded us it should be squarely before us), so people running for office have made their positions on the matter an important feature of their cases as they are put before the electorate. Voters in Hawaii and some areas of Georgia, Alabama, Oregon and Maryland are also seeing a lot of ads on these issues.

The top concern of ads in by far the largest geographical area of the country is health care. But, as Pogkas and Ingold point out, all that means is that health care matters were the subject of the most ads. Whatever was on point in the second largest number of ads may still have take up a lot of airtime. So while health care issues may have headlined the most commercials in Florida, the "All those damn kids and their loud music" ads were probably in a comfortable second place, with "Mandatory deportation to Georgia for stepping on my lawn" in third.

As I read the story and the number breakdowns, a couple of thoughts occurred to me. As mentioned above, ostensibly these ads represent the concerns of the voters and thus the candidates responding by informing the electorate of their position on those concerns. Campaigns probably relied on poll data gathered from likely voters to determine their ad content. But I'm wondering why California 20th District Representative Jimmy Panetta has been airing so many ads about guns, He whupped his challenger, independent candidate Ronald Paul Kabat, 103,000 - 20,000 in a June 5 primary. Is gun ownership an issue so on the minds of the CA-20 voters that it could erode his 65-point lead? Or is Panetta someone who wants to trumpet his position on gun issues and doesn't really need to worry about what impact it will have on election day?

Also, I am not at all sure about the standards the Bloomberg staff used to determine what a particular ad was really about. Because based on my own non-scientific survey, most political ads were about what a rat bastard the other candidate was. Sure, he may have been a rat bastard who was going to tax the $5 Grandma gave you for your birthday so that Elizabeth Warren could use it to light her stove pilot. Or she was a rat bastard who was going to make kindergartners work in the oil fields in order to earn the money to have Crayons (New color: Light Sweet Crude).

But long before that we learned that the candidate himself or herself was the veriest incarnation of Steve (or Stephanie) Rogers imaginable, right down to the star on the shield, while the opponent was the kind of person who believed in depilating kittens with road tar -- at least until something crueler came along.

What Pogkas and Ingold's story can teach us, though, is that while political ads are useless as sources of information they are essential to candidates getting our votes. That reality does not make us as an electorate look good, by the way. Let's say a random New Mexico candidate realizes health care is a big concern for the voters he or she wishes to sway. The common-sense solution is that the candidate publishes a position paper on the issue and voters who want to know where the candidate stands on it read the paper. Then they decide how they might like to vote.

Unfortunately, since our far more common practice is to not pay attention to anything more than three paragraphs long (meaning that getting here makes you quite uncommon, O Tolerant Reader) and to forget even that between now and election day, out come the commercials and ads. But neither medium lends itself to detailed explanations or positions. So the only way to maximize their impact is to contrast the election as a choice between me -- a person who stood up and saluted the National Anthem when I was in the womb -- and my opponent, who lines his catbox with shredded rags of Old Glory itself.

But there is yet hope. The article says that the blank areas of the map, found in Alaska, are ones where ads were not measured. In my eternal sunshiny optimism, though, I shall prefer to believe they are the Blessed Lands where no political ads, measured or otherwise, are ever aired.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Six of One, a Half-Dozen of the Other

On the one hand, the below picture of a meteor shower in Mongolia shows that in many ways, meteor showers backdropped by fantastic astronomical phenomena taken where there is no light pollution all look alike:
On the other hand, when they all look like that, well, the similarities are actually a plus.