Friday, August 30, 2019

The Universe Might Be a Redneck...

Scientists: Because of the way stars form and the way they eventually burn out, there's a range of sizes in which stellar collapse would not form a black hole. Smaller than 65 solar masses, OK. Bigger than 130 solar masses, OK. But not in between. It would be too weird.

Universe: Hold my beer...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Plus One or Two

A sponsored article over at Mental Floss lists six benefits of reading every day. They all sound great, but the list leaves off a couple. For one, time spent reading is not time spent watching cable news shows, which is a plus. It's also time not spent looking at Twitter, but that's sort of the same general kind of thing.

The other benefit of reading, which is one I might have thought would be listed first, is that you get to read. It's just an enjoyable and productive activity for whole bunches of reasons depending on what kind of reading you're doing, so you might even call that reason enough by itself.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


Paging Mr. Singh, Mr. Khan Noonien Singh...

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Aim Higher

A recent podcast from National Affairs magazine had an interview with political science professor Diana Schaub about her 2014 article on the Gettysburg Address from Abraham Lincoln. While hunting it down I also found her article in NA about baseball.

This woman writes about the important things.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Football Fulminations

Over at The Federalist we find a couple of early-season opinions about football events, each of which evokes some response that, combined, can make a blog post of appropriate length. Is such a post worth your time? Hey, do not ask of me what I do not claim to offer.

-- In this post, Lutheran pastor and frequent contributor Hans Fiene suggests that Indianapolis Colts fans response to Andrew Luck's retirement is "reprehensible, yet understandable." The 29-year-old Luck, plagued by injuries in recent years and plagued by a dismal offensive line since signing with the Colts, found football to be no longer any fun and decided to hang up his cleats. When the announcement was made during Saturday's preseason game, fans booed. Fiene acknowledges that the booing was unwarranted and shameful before spending several paragraphs explaining why the fans might have done it. Whatever, waah-waah-waah.

I don't blame Luck one bit. His boss is Colts owner Jim Irsay. This is the man who sniffed down his nose at the idea of radio flamethrower Rush Limbaugh buying an NFL team because of Limbaugh's lack of character while also being a man who donated money to John "She's Having My Baby" Edwards and Harry "Lying Dingy Gray Smear" Reid, buying his girlfriend at least one house with the team's money and developing a fine substance abuse habit that culminated in a 2014 arrest for DUI and possession. If I suddenly realized that I was sacrificing my ability to stand upright in my '50s and pick up my grandchildren for a guy like this I'd quit too.

-- Federalist New York correspondent David Marcus heated up his keyboard for a rant against the idea of college football fandom, saying that the college game is inferior to the pro game in almost every respect and mocking its devotees. Marcus is correct when he says that the technical skills displayed on Sundays outrank those displayed on Saturdays. And he is correct when he says lopsided blowouts between gridiron powerhouses and their hapless opponents are boring in the extreme. He gets it right yet again when he says it's ludicrous to think players at such powerhouses are "students" in any sense resembling the actual students on campus. The first few comments are interesting in that they agree with Marcus but claim he's wrong, and I'm going to have to think a while about how that's supposed to work.

I also agree with the above points that Marcus mentions. Unless I have an interest in one of the colleges playing I don't care much for the game either. And when I think about it, one of my biggest reasons for liking the program at my own alma mater -- the upstanding, hard-working, apple-pie eating, vitamin-taking and kitten-rescuing Northwestern University Wildcats -- is what coach Pat Fitzgerald does with the program in attempting to build and mentor young men into being better and prepared for life. I only like the football because it's what gives him the opportunity to do that.

So having said that, I'm pretty sure I've guaranteed some kind of awful scandal at NU sometime in the next couple of years. You can boo me then.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Missed It

When I saw a link to this item at Mental Floss, I figured that the "most profitable industry" in my state involved something pumped out of the ground. Turns out I was wrong; it's machinery and mechanical appliances.

So everyone who complains about our alliterative "oil overlords" should probably read something, like the article at How Much that the Floss article summarizes. Or at the very least they should read at least one history book not written by Howard Zinn.

Saturday, August 24, 2019


Hanging out in the rehab room with my father, listening to a Kansas City Chiefs game on AM on a portable radio because hospital cable is lousy; a curious mix of past and present. I half-expected to hear carburetors and distributor caps condemned to the infernal hereafter, or at least to hear the opinion voiced that their origins owed more to Oedipus than Detroit.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Make 'Em Laugh

Over at Intellectual Takeout, Frank McAndrew laments the lack of humorous self-deprecation among politicians today.

As he sees it, presidents even up until Barack Obama were able to poke fun at themselves, an attitude which went a long way towards gaining people's support and approval. He links to what may be one of the top such moments, when Ronald Reagan opened a debate in 1984 with Walter Mondale by saying he would not make age an issue in the campaign -- he refused to exploit, for political purposes, his opponent's youth and inexperience. Since one of the knocks made against Reagan was his age, the line brought the house down -- even Mondale was laughing, although you know that inside, he was probably thinking, "Well, crap. This one's over."

I agree that Obama did poke a little fun at himself, although it didn't seem like his heart was in it. But when you're anointed -- and to a degree, self-anointed -- as a political messianic figure, sometimes it's easy to forget that you can be made fun of as well. Obviously President Trump lacks this ability, despite the statements he makes to the contrary, as McAndrew notes. Hillary Clinton may have recognized the need to sometimes make herself the object of the joke, but she lacked any skill at pulling it off.

About the only candidate in the 2020 race who seems like he may have a little humor about himself was Michael Bennet, who a couple of weeks ago promised that if we elected him we might be able to go two weeks without thinking about him while we got on with our lives. In addition to this being the correct view of the roles politicians should play, it's kind of funny.

Sure, no matter who gets elected we're going to make fun of them, and few people in the public eye deserve it more than this collection of wannabe national saviors. But it'd be nice to believe they had enough brains, self-confidence and humility to be in on the joke.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Book Look

In the third book of his "Carlisle and Holbrooke" series of naval fiction novels, Jamaica Station, Chris Durbin let the junior of the pair, George Holbrooke, make use of the personal and professional growth in which he'd been encouraged by his captain, Edward Carlisle. In the subsequent two volumes, Durbin has events take their course and separate the pair, as he spent book #4 on Holbrooke and now returns to Carlisle in #5, The Cursed Fortress.

Fully recovered from his injuries, Carlisle is sent north from Jamaica to rendezvous with British naval forces fighting the French on the northern end of the 13 colonies and into what will become Canada. The fearsome Louisberg fortress guards the St. Lawrence seaway and prevents seaborne resupply of soldiers fighting along what is in our day the US-Canadian border. French forces, allied with local native tribes, make a successful land-only siege of Louisberg difficult. Only if the Royal Navy can keep French supply and troopships from landing can Louisberg be taken, and the damp foggy cold of late spring will make that a sizable task.

Fortunately, Edward Carlisle is a first-rate strategist as well as fighting sea-captain, so he and the crew of the Medina should be able to handle the job.

Because of his orders and the need for the on-station fleet to to resupply -- as well as return to seaworthiness after surviving the winter -- Medina is the only ship which can both scout the unfamiliar waters, observe the French military positions and harass French shipping. Durbin ably spins out Carlisle's thinking through his different options, highlighting both how he sees many of the obstacles and benefits of different courses of action and how he will react as conditions change. He outlines Carlisle's initial mistrust and eventual embrace of his new first lieutenant and the internal back-and-forth that drives those moves. We can see clear distinction between his heroes: Holbrooke has an intuition that leads him to dare the risky yet correct bold stroke, while Carlisle swiftly plans and calculates before committing himself to the move that has the best chance of succeeding. Although we certainly want some stories with our heroes back together, Durbin gives himself the leeway to use several more battles from the Seven Years War as his backdrop by splitting them up and allows for several more novels set within that shorter time frame.

Some sections of the story need some more showing than telling -- Carlisle's reunion with his estranged father and brother is described more than related, and might have been stronger if we saw it unspool rather than hear Carlisle's post-meeting impressions. But Cursed Fortress puts another strong entry into this series and allows it fair winds as it navigates the crowded field of sail-navy fiction.
Sometimes science fiction books incorporate their advanced technology into the story as a part of the fabric. Artificial gravity, for example, makes the story flow a little more smoothly and offers a ready explanation for why accelerating at thousands of times the speed of light does not crush your characters into paste against the back wall. Some stories outline the development of such technologies, showing how scientists or inventors are moved by the desire to explore the universe and the frontiers of human knowledge.

But not until Jon Del Arroz's Gravity of the Game did we come across a futuristic technology employed for a truly meaningful and important purpose: Allowing baseball to be played on worlds other than the Earth.

World Baseball League Commissioner Hideki Ichiro is facing hard realities. His sport's viewership numbers are cratering. His owners are mostly short-sighted money grubbers who will do whatever they can to increase their own profits even when it might hurt the overall game and the rest of the League on which they depend. Sports media magpies huddle, waiting for his commissionership's demise so they can exalt themselves by claiming they knew it would happen. He's gambling on the novelty of baseball played on the moon, but that body's lesser gravity presents problems that would render the game strange and unwatchable even if it could work, which so far it hasn't.

Which is where the artificial gravity comes in. Even in the high-tech world Ichiro occupies, the concept is seen as fantasy fluff, and the money spent on its research wasted. Ichiro's investment in that research is one of the reasons some of the owner factions cite as a need to remove him for a more practical mind. Can he keep his position as commissioner and succeed in a long-shot bid to revitalize the sport he loves?

Del Arroz doesn't stuff Gravity with more than it needs to do its job. It's not hard to see it on the pages of a mid-century sci-fi pulp magazine even if it's much more novella-length than short story. Ichiro's love of his game and his belief in its importance come straight from the days of Mantle and Maris, no matter his date of birth or country of origin. But Gravity isn't satire or send-up, and Del Arroz illustrates the important point that sometimes people trying to solve ordinary problems bring about solutions with extraordinary reach. In this world, artificial gravity wasn't developed by a space navy or a technocratic state so that starships could explore unknown planets. It was developed so that pitcher and batter remain separated by 60 feet, six inches, as God intended.
What if the monster-hunting, wizard-slaying, horde-smacking bands of mercenaries of the sword-and-sorcery novels were seen as and treated like the heavy-metal bands of modern rock music? You'd earn royalties when bards sang your tales. You'd have merchandise deals and sponsorships. And as you aged and your styles grew less and less distinctive, you'd retire, taking up everyday employment in one village or another, recognized only by your contemporaries as newer, hipper bands took hold in the public imagination.

Until the day that one guy, the really out-there one, shows up at your doorstep asking for the kind of help only his old buddies could provide and says the words you always dreaded but secretly longed to hear: We're putting the band back together.

In Nicholas Eames' debut Kings of the Wyld, Clay Cooper's ordinary and very very safe life is interrupted by just such a former friend, who needs the help of his once upon a time bandmates to rescue his estranged daughter from a city besieged by a horde of monsters. It's the kind of gig that Clay's band Saga would have turned down even when they were at the height of their strength and fame, since it's an obvious one-way journey to the hereafter. So naturally...

Eames writes for the fantasy genre aficionado, wasting no more time in worldbuilding than he needs to put his specific classic rock spin on a standard Dungeons and Dragons model. This magic does this, these monsters do that, and despite their creaky frames and slower skills Saga kicks all their tuckuses in fine Roger Murtaugh fashion. He has a deft hand for an action scene and usually doesn't try to put more nuance and depth to a character than he can manage.

Like a jam band show with a drum solo, though, Kings is too long at more than 500 pages. The length makes for some slooooowww pacing that saps the urgency we should feel as Saga tries to reach the trapped city. And although Eames has a sure hand for his action sequences he includes too many of them and they grow repetitive. Kind of like its sedentary and settled protagonists, Kings would be better off with a good-sized section trimmed from its middle.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Political Advice

There seems little point to commenting on what just about any Democratic presidential candidate says these days, with the Iowa caucuses still five months out and there being more of these people than anyone could keep track of. But "Beto" O'Rourke, loser of a 2018 Senate race against Ted Cruz, stood out this past week by saying stuff that makes his desire to seek the office logically implausible.

The former Texas Congressman mostly resembles John Edwards in his campaign, being an empty suit full of words that mean even less that a football coach's comments on why his team can win the game if they score more points. He has, of course, significantly more personal integrity than Edwards, who fathered a child during an affair he had while his wife was battling cancer. But as a candidate, he is just as meaningless and has struggled to transfer the excitement of his battle against Cruz to his battle for the nomination. Since Cruz did not cooperate by declaring a Democratic candidacy, it has been difficult.

His latest tack has been to activate the Racial Animus Mode of campaigning, first declaring in a speech in Nashville that the United States was founded on white supremacy. He then doubled down on that opinion in a Sunday tweet and claimed that our nation was founded on racism and is still racist today.

Now, one of two things must be true about Mr. O'Rourke's claims: 1) They are true, in which case why would someone as upstanding and perceptive as he wish to lead such an irredeemably racist people? Or, 2) They are false, in which case why should anyone have any confidence that his judgment and understanding in office will be any better than his judgment and understanding while seeking office?

I personally believe Mr. O'Rourke is wrong. So do a lot of historians who are smarter than either him (well duh) or me (slightly less duh). But I and those smarter people could still be wrong. So either we are unworthy of Mr. O'Rourke, or he is unworthy of us.

Thus, it makes no sense for Mr. O'Rourke to run for president, and he should delete his campaign immediately.

Monday, August 19, 2019


I was not tempted in the slightest to watch the Amazon adaptation of Garth Ennis' stupid and violent comic book series The Boys, because I think Mr. Ennis makes a career out of anti-human stories that have mistaken vulgarity and brutality for transgressive art.

I did read a little bit about it, though, because while I was sitting in the hospital waiting room for my father to get out of surgery I ran out of things on the internet that I really wanted to read and had to settle for whatever was there. According to the two or three articles I skimmed and the one I read, The Boys is a fantastically creative idea and brilliant deconstruction of modern super-herodom. The premise, it seems, is that the superheroes of this particular universe bear watching and being taken down by a squad of folks who've been wronged by them. They're all caricatures of their more famous counterparts such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and so on and they're narcissistic bullies who use their powers to cover up their debauched lifestyles filled with sex and drugs. That is, when they're not complete sociopaths to begin with.

So they're villains. I didn't know villains were new.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Good Shoe Diaries

So these people bought out the whole remaining stock of a closing Payless Shoe Store in order to give the shoes to a women's shelter.

A place that helps people gets some help it needs, and the store employees and manager don't have to keep hanging on in a dying outlet and can get on with hunting up new work.

I think I kind of like them.

Friday, August 16, 2019


Although I rarely read current Doonesbury, we shouldn't forget that at certain times in the past, Mr. Trudeau was pretty dadgum funny.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Test Pattern

Spending some time studying for a particular "scopy" exam, so posting will resume once everything's passed.

See what I did there?

Monday, August 12, 2019


When you walk into the gas station restroom and the part of "Dream Police" that goes, "They spy on me/I try to hide/They won't let me alone" plays over the PA, you do sort of think about checking for cameras...

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mr. Scarecrow, Please Call Your Office...

After reading this quick exploration by Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder at BackReAction, I'm not sure we're that close to developing an artificial intelligence after all. Which I have to say is a nice idea.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Too Simple?

This past week Universal Studios started airing promo material for the Blumhouse Studios release The Hunt, the latest movie to travel the ground broken almost a hundred years ago by Richard Connell. Then, following mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH, Universal pulled the promos. And then within the last day, the studio and moviemakers decided not to release the movie at all in the near future.

Judging by the trailers, people believed the movie was going to have wealthy lefty-types hunting down much poorer "deplorables." Many folks believed the potential victims were stand-ins for working-class supporters of President Donald Trump. Some talking heads on Fox News lamented this, so the president tweeted about an awful movie coming out, which he didn't name but which was almost certainly The Hunt.

In response to the cancellations, Universal has been praised by some, damned by faint praise mixed in with disapproval of greenlighting the project to begin with, and condemned. Since the announcement about the cancellation is skimpy on details, speculation as to why is widespread. The studio was scared of backlash from presidential supporters who don't think about what he says much more than he does. The studio was genuinely concerned about marketing a movie featuring people hunting each other in the immediate aftermath of two horrendous crimes in which people hunted other people and shot them en masse. Or other reasons.

My personal opinion was that someone figured the market for implausible and derivative hyper-violent movies which try to cover their shallowness with a patina of equally lame social commentary -- a Blumhouse specialty -- was going to be pretty shallow itself for awhile. Which means that a movie in that lane was going to find a much smaller slice of the ticket-buying pie on its opening weekend and be unlikely to build much beyond that. I don't buy their concern at all, given that Blumhouse releases violent movies right after weekends or weeks filled with shootings in cities like Chicago that, combined, far outweigh all but the very worst mass shootings. The Hunt is going to be held until a time when the studio figures it can make the most money possible on it. Don't worry. It'll still be stupid.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Guinevere, From Missouri

As seen in Bizarro, King Arthur learns that while he can talk a good game about his past exploits, if he doesn't measure up today then his wife begins to question his version of events.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Polly Wanna Cracker...Now!

Had there been humans around for the extinct giant parrot Heracles inexpectatus to imitate, it might have made its own addition to the time-tested avian memory phrase and expected said humans to produce said Saltine swiftly if not sooner. As ol' H. inexpectatus weighed in at 15 and a half pounds and stood about a yard tall -- with a beak about groin high on a human being -- it could probably have backed up its demand.

But as the story notes, the giant parrot lived about 19 million years ago and thus did not overlap much with humans. Proconsul, the simian ancestor to both humans and great apes, was around at the time but was mostly tree-dwelling. Which produces the interesting reversal of our ancestors living in trees while the big honkin' bird lived on the ground. Scientists suspect H. inexpectatus was flightless and while it may have been carnivorous, it might just as easily have lived on nuts and other plant mass. They're not sure yet, as it seems no battery of tests has been developed to detect cracker residue in fossilized skeletons.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Setting a New Bar

Texas Representative Joaquín Castro may have given himself a commanding lead in the race to be the Dumbest (Samuel L. Jackson Favorite Word) in Politics in 2019.

Rep. Castro is the twin brother of Julián Castro, a former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who has spent about $3 million of other people's money to not be president of the United States. He serves as his brother's campaign chair, a pretty dumb move itself but not as dumb as his choice to have his own campaign Twitter account identify 44 people from San Antonio who had given the maximum amount to President Donald Trump's re-election campaign.

There are a lot of reasons why Rep. Castro's choice is nova-level dumb. He's supplied enough information about the people he identified to enable people to find their addresses and identify their family members if so desired. Should any of those people be hurt by someone who's both upset over their Trump support and almost as stupid as Rep. Castro, then they or their survivors will sue the representative until he's left with a cardboard box under a bridge (and then attorney fees will probably get the box).

Also, as our current political climate does more and more to prove St. Augustine correct about original sin, moves like Rep. Castro's will offer ammunition to people who want to mask the names of political contributors so we don't know who's giving to anyone running for office. Although we can probably guess 44 people who will give the maximum possible amount to anyone on any ballot running against the Castro brothers.

And as the story at the link above notes, in outing the 44 Trump donors, Rep. Castro also outed three people who donated to his campaign and three people who gave to his brother's campaign for Mayor of San Antonio. He claimed that the Trump donors had, by giving to the president, supported racism and other bad things. The congressman has been a little quieter about what kinds of racism these people supported when they gave to the different Castro brothers campaigns.

Although we can definitely suggest that by giving to both President Trump and either one or both Castro brother these donors don't seem too careful to link their money to the smartest candidates in a race.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


Me, answering office phone: "First United Methodist Church, what can I do for you?"

Caller, representing at best semi-legal and almost certainly scam group seeking funds for supposed law-enforcement organization: "Good afternoon. This is XXXX calling on behalf of the XXXXXX. Could I speak with the owner?"

Me: "Sure. Just bow your head and close your eyes."

Caller: "..."

Monday, August 5, 2019

Fair to Nowhere Near Middlin'

Jack Carr's first outing with haunted former Navy SEAL James Reece was a mix of well-described action, occasionally iffy characterization and non-action sequences and a "hero" who sometimes went too far to keep the reader's sympathies with him. His second, True Believer, takes forward steps in almost every area that the first book lacked and is markedly stronger as a result.

Believer opens with Reece sailing a one-man craft across the Atlantic Ocean with no real goal in mind. His enemies are dead and he believes himself to have a terminal brain tumor. But after some soul-searching, he heads for Mozambique, the last known address for a former friend and SEAL buddy, who may have a place where he can safely lay low while his life approaches its nearing end. Once he arrives and goes to ground, he starts helping his friend manage the large public and private game preserve under his care, planning out new and effective strategies for tracking and countering poachers. An incident during one attempt to ambush and capture a poaching crew exposes Reece to the people who've been looking for him, and eventually a man that he knows shows up at the hunting station. But not to take him in: To offer him a job hunting another former colleague who seems to be running a devastating and bloody terrorist ring responsible for several brutal attacks.

In this second book, Carr has Reece take a serious look at some of the tactics he used against the plotters who killed his unit and his family. The first third of the book, set on the game preserve in Mozambique, gives him a chance to put his skills to use to help people rather than simply hunt them down and he doesn't much care for some of what he did in order to wreak his vengeance. He risked innocent lives as well, and credit Carr for taking the narrative time to let these developments unspool. The middle section sags, as Reece joins his friend in retraining and discussing the various varieties of boomsticks they will use. Operational purists probably appreciate the accuracy of the descriptions offered by Carr, himself a retired SEAL and sniper team operator, but your humble blogger is not among that august body. Once Reece is back in the fight, however, Carr presses the pedal to the floor and delivers a straight-line "race against time to outwit the bad guys and oh, by the way, kick their behinds nine ways from Sunday" storyline.

True Believer is more polished, more tightly focused and more thoroughly thought out than its predecessor. It's also significantly more reflective, which may be a large part of why it improves over the first book. Carr still has some room to work on the polish and he still has a habit of lingering over some of the violence a little more than is seemly, but if subsequent books continue to step forward then he will be offering up several top-shelf thrillers in years to come.
Ordinarily I am a big fan of Daniel Silva's novels about Gabriel Allon, one of Israel's top spies and most effective operatives. In order to explain why my opinion about The New Girl differs so widely from that norm, this review will spoil large parts of the book. Proceed accordingly.

An exclusive private school in Switzerland has a new student, a young girl who is said to be an Egyptian and the daughter of a wealthy businessman. But the clues don't fit for one of the snoopier teachers, and she wonders just who the girl is. Her questions and suspicions set the stage for the 19th Gabriel Allon novel, The New Girl, before disappearing never to be brought up again once the actual novel starts. None of this prologue matters except as a plot device for the main story, which is about how much the young girl matters s well.

Gabriel is approached by a woman he knows who wants him to meet with Khalid bin Muhammed, the seemingly reform-minded crown prince of Saudi Arabia. He's not interested in meeting with "KBM," a thinly-disguised stand-in for the real life crown prince Muhammed bin Salman, because the reforms have been overshadowed by KBM's murder of a journalist (as MBS is now frowned upon after orchestrating the death of Jamal Kashoggi). But he owes the woman, Sarah Bancroft, a favor or two for her previous work with his agency and agrees. In the meeting, he learns that the prince has a young daughter, Reema, who was the mysterious girl at the Swiss school, and she has been kidnapped by people who've given him just a couple of days to announce his abdication or she will be killed. Although he's not impressed with Khalid, Gabriel knows that any replacement is likely to be worse and roll back even the modest reforms the prince has tried. Given the chance to have the potential king of Saudi Arabia on his side, he activates his trusted team to hunt down and rescue Reema.

The New Girl works well to this point, highlighting the familiar strengths of Gabriel's friends and fellow operatives as he tries to learn where Reema is as well as who took her. But their failure to save the girl and Silva's choice to make her a point of view character as we see her realize she's been sewn inside a suicide vest as a means to kill her father provide a truly ugly and pointless pivot in the story. The trope of killing a character, usually female, only to motivate the male characters around her is called "fridging" after an ugly episode in a 1994 Green Lantern comic book that saw the hero's girlfriend brutally killed and stuffed into a refrigerator for no other reason than to give him a momentary tragedy.

Silva writes Reema's death only as a way of motivating Gabriel to hunt down the perpetrators and punish them, and as a way of motivating Khalid to become a more fit ruler and better human being. He adds her as a point of view character only to pile on the horror (as if describing her father, in shock, gathering up her severed limbs after the explosion and urging Gabriel to get them to a hospital is not horrid enough). The second half of the book, in which Gabriel sets up a sting to lure the kidnappers into his own plot to thwart the aims of their mastermind, is a little too twisty to be clear -- but it's tough to care overmuch after the grotesque misstep of Reema's senseless death.

The series I enjoy I tend to stick with, so I am pretty sure to pick up Gabriel Allon #20 when it comes out next year. If I were still keeping books the way I used to, would I keep The New Girl, or would #20 find itself next to #18 instead? I would probably decide to keep it, because I figure that's the least I could do in order to do better by Reema bint Khalid than Daniel Silva has done.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Nailed It!

Sometimes astronomers name things they observe in space things that are supposed to describe what they look like, but which for one reason or another I don't quite see.

And then there's the Statue of Liberty Nebula...

Saturday, August 3, 2019


Following on the post from earlier this week about some of the emperor's new novels that have made the Booker Prize longlist, we find some hilariously accurate "real" titles for a lot of books that dot both bestseller lists and book club discussions. My favorite is Middle-Aged English Professor Inexplicably Attractive to Lithe Young Student. More than a few books that don't have that sequence as their main narrative still feature it as one of the storyline features. There's gotta be some reason Robert Langdon keeps partnering up with the young hawties that follow him around while Dan Brown has him uncover history that doesn't exist and save the world.

Friday, August 2, 2019

A Long Day

Long enough to take the idea of a coherent post off the table, anyway. Mañana.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Roget to the Rescue?

This NBC story on tariffs President Trump set on certain Chinese goods is fine -- it's balanced, accurate as far as I can tell and seems like a pretty straightforward account of a presidential action.

The headline, on the other hand...

There will be dozens, if not hundreds of versions of this story in different online, print and broadcast media outlets in the next several days. If more than 15 percent of them avoid some form of the word "slap" I shall be shocked to the very core and fibre of my being. Nearly every story or headline about tariffs always suggests that someone "slaps" one on. It's clichéd and boring.

It'd be one thing if the same half-dozen lazy writers were responsible for all of it, but the problem is widespread. The symptoms also manifest in stories about hurricanes, which invariably "roar ashore," "packing xx mile-per-hour winds," and so on. Conservative-leaning websites note how often those headlines and news reports show Republicans or conservatives "pouncing" on one news event or comment or something or another.

This has been a test of the middle-aged grumpy news consumer griping system. We now return you to your regular programming.