Sunday, May 31, 2020

Ain't Hitchin' No More

United States astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken docked their Dragon Endeavour capsule with the International Space Station today, completing the first half of a mission that featured the first manned launch from US soil since 2011.

The pair flew a space capsule built by Elon Musk's SpaceX corporation, which launched from a booster also designed by SpaceX. It featured a reusable first stage, a new wrinkle in a program that's previously had only "disposable" boosters that it either dropped into the ocean or let drift out into space.

This space has dinged former President Barack Obama for allowing the only nation to send people to the moon to become a nation whose astronauts had to hitch rides on Russian space capsules. Although Mr. Obama deserves the part of that smack that accompanies the cancellation of the program which was supposed to succeed the space shuttle, the reality is that few White House occupants have supported the space program with much more than rhetoric. Some contemporaries of the late Richard Nixon describe him as a big devotee of manned space exploration, perhaps the only one in the presidential office, but even he allowed the post-Apollo NASA budget to get whacked around into a wispy little shadow and never really pushed a real vision onto the people he had running the shop.

In any event, the public sector stranglehold that confined private sector work to certain specific areas of the space program has loosened. The idea of the profit motive playing a role in space exploration may seem somehow unfitting for the pursuit of gaining knowledge, but it put US astronauts back into low-earth orbit on a ship that took off from US soil. I'll live with someone making a buck off of that.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Not Our Type

In order to prepare for our seminary internship program we were required to take the Myers-Briggs personality inventory -- not some little ten-question social media quiz but a significantly longer and more detailed questionnaire that was supposed to have substantially more science behind it. A few months earlier, I had taken a different but similarly detailed questionnaire that also determined my "personality type" as a part of my ordination process.

I don't remember what my type was from either test, or even if they produced the same result. I do remember that my score was neutral on two of the four scales. The counselor who helped me review that result and a few others suggested it was because my "go-to" type was probably one way, but the demands of my previous job had shifted me in the other direction. It made as much sense as anything else about the whole process did. I also remember that the student life office kicked around the idea of yet a third required Myers-Briggs questionnaire for some non-classroom degree requirement but eventually decided not to do it. I don't know if that's because some unnamed students started asking if we were going to replace our toilet stall doors with a Myers-Briggs-activated portal so that you would have to assess your personality before entering. I think it's more likely that some cooler heads wondered if we were buying into the fad a little too much.

In any event, my inability to remember my results has never given me any trouble. And according to organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy, it shouldn't. Neither Ye Olde MB nor some of its modern fad successors, like the Enneagram, have much solid science at their base. They're also far too often applied rigidly, so that even actual personality traits a person may learn about themselves via such a test are thought of as hardline predictive rather than generally descriptive.

These days, if asked my "personality type," I have a variety of responses. My most common has been "IDKAIDC," or "I don't know and I don't care." There are certainly other letter combos available, but they don't seem fitting for a personality in my profession.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

From the Rental Vault: Agent Vinod (2012)

Bollywood spy movies have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, the audience expects song and dance numbers -- it's why they're watching a Bollywood flick to begin with. Song and dance numbers can make a movie a little on the silly side, because in real life people don't start singing and dancing. Many musicals embrace this and just go for the silly; others will settle for being stories that use the musical numbers to create a mood and may feature other narrative aspects that people understand are not true to real life.

The espionage business, as shown in movies, are replete with such aspects. Even when they don't incorporate science-fiction elements they show spies who are so high profile it's pretty much impossible to believe that everyone doesn't know who they are as soon as they show up. So a spy movie with musical numbers can in fact work, as long as it doesn't tilt too far one way or the other. Unfortunately the 2012 release Agent Vinod makes the mistake of thinking that matching an excess one way with an excess the other way as a way of walking the tightrope. It turns out not to be.

Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) is put onto the trail of Russian criminals who murdered a colleague after he had learned just a few introductory facts about their planned operation. Armed only with the clue "242," he takes the place of a courier and gets into the orbit of a Tangiers criminal boss who may be ready to sell abandoned nuclear arms. The crime boss's personal physician, Ruby Mendes (Kareena Kapoor) is quite obviously more than she seems, but Vinod doesn't know for which side. Burrowing in more deeply, he finds rogue elements in India's rival, Pakistan, may be trying to acquire the nuke in order to set it off in an Indian city. Only that may not be the end of the conspiracy, and Vinod may wind up with only himself to trust.

Director/co-writer Sriram Raghavan keeps his action sequences taut and compact and doesn't waste too much time trying to make Agent Vinod's squirrelly convoluted plot make any more sense than it has to in the moment. Saif Ali Khan makes a suave and sophisticated leading man who sells the familiar idea of the roguish charmer spy fairly well, but Kapoor is not as well served by the part of Ruby Mendes. With a couple dozen-plus roles in her filmography, she's one of India's most versatile female stars -- but the Mendes role is too flat to let her do much with it beyond some hinted comedy and action of her own. And even though Kapoor and Khan would marry the same year the movie came out, Raghavan and co-writer Arjit Biswas can't bring much of a spark to their onscreen interaction.

Song-wise, "I'll Do the Talking Tonight" is a good macho-bravado tone-setter for the steely-eyed Vinod, adding some Russian-influenced instrumentation to its dance-floor thump."Raabta," a romantic piano ballad played as Vinod and Ruby face down a John Wick-styled hit squad, is an interesting contrast of music and onscreen events.

Vinod was co-produced by Saif Ali Khan and probably intended as a franchise kickoff. But pre-release problems, political missteps and a plagiarism lawsuit added up to a strong box-office headwind that the movie's undecided personality and uninspired execution couldn't sail against.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Ze Zneaky Zwisz

Turns out that some Swiss cartographers have a sense of whimsy. Cartographers working for the Swiss Federal Office of Topography have inserted tiny drawings into the lines and whorls they put on maps.

Some of the drawings stayed hidden for decades. Unfortunately, Swisstopo removes them once found and the maps with the secret hidden illustrations gradually get replaced in circulation. It's left up to new wily cartographers to get even more clever in their hidden work.

Monday, May 25, 2020


I know people who refuse to read National Review because it is a conservative opinion journal. I know people who refuse to read it because it declared its official editorial opinion against then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.

As to the first, since it's clearly identified as a journal of conservative opinion I guess these are people who don't want to read conservative opinions. You'd think that sort of thing wouldn't go on among adults but it's 2020 so I guess so. I'll freely confess there are some liberal arguments I choose not to pay attention to, but that's because they're ones I've heard before. Liberal arguments about and interpretations of recent events, which are new, are a different matter.

As to the second, I think the magazine should clearly be held accountable for not taking that position sooner. But the GOP field was replete with candidates who were more interested in salvaging the Trump voters they thought would be left behind after his inevitable flameout than they were in making the clear case that he was of unfit character for the office. So the magazine made the second mistake rather than the first.

In any event, people who skip the magazine will miss two excellent Memorial Day essays in its online edition. One, by editor Rich Lowry, highlights the contributions African-Americans have made to the nation during its wars, putting their lives on the line for countrymen who would acknowledge little, if any, civil kinship with them before or after the fighting was over. Again and again African-Americans suited up with the idea that their sacrifice and service would prove a wedge to open the consciences of the nation as a whole to the injustice they suffered. Being proven wrong did not stop them from serving, something that needs to be remembered by articles like Lowry's. He didn't write the first, longest or best such memorial, but he keeps the idea lit and that's a good thing.

They will also miss this fantastic exploration of the role of disease in the United States armed forces before World War II by Dan McLaughlin. Prior to 1941, different diseases killed more soldiers during wartime than did enemy fire. Though these men and women did not lay down their lives defending their country and comrades from the enemy, the request to serve her placed them in harm's way and in the conditions where their lives would indeed be lost. They didn't get to come home either.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Ballot Completed!

After the national Libertarian Party spent all day Saturday in an online convention, it nominated Clemson professor Dr. Jo Jorgenson to represent the party in the upcoming presidential elections.

In so doing, they have filled in the blank on my ballot for President, since under no circumstances conceivable outside of a bad science fiction novel would I vote for either of the two major party nominees. The party nominated Spike Cohen of Muddied Water Media as its vice-presidential candidate. Cohen identifies himself as an anarchist, which should make staff meetings interesting.

Jorgenson was the vice-presidential nominee for the Libertarians in 1996. In an interview that Reason ran with her a few days before the convention, she seems clearly on the side of the Libertarian party that knows what the party wants, what positions naturally follow from the party's stated ideals, and would work to make the possible ones a reality. She seems to appreciate the irony that some folks call on a Libertarian president to enact policies that ensure freedom and liberty via the increasingly unchecked executive fiat to which modern holders of the office seem to have become accustomed.

Dr. Jorgenson teaches psychology at Clemson, and according to her Rate My Professors page she has only one bottom-level rating. That person summarizes his or her advice as follows (formatting included): "DO NOT MISS CLASS! ... PAY ATTENTION! READ THE TEXTBOOK! NO OTHER GRADES! honestly one of the worst classes i've ever taken"

The woman is clearly demented. But those of us who do not want to vote for befuddled mendacious old Boomers will just have to not miss class, pay attention, read our textbook and mark our ballots in what is honestly one of the worst elections I've ever taken.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Hard Boiled

Like any genre fiction, crime fiction has quality output that, depending on your perspective, floats upon or is buried by oceans of hack-work. Said hack-work is churned out by the metric ton in order to get sellable material in front of the fans, and a writer who spends more than the bare minimum of effort on his or her output may get lucky and have his or her work noted, highlighted and appreciated not only by fans but also by people who appreciate that effort. Or he or she may see their long hours of sweat forgotten by a publishing company that wants a manuscript fast more than it wants it good. The first thing happened to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The second happened to Ralph Dennis. Dennis's "Hardman" series, published in the first half of the 1970s, was slapped together between some lurid eyecatcher covers, tossed out onto the shelves and promptly forgotten by his publisher, Popular Books. It was left to modern crime-fiction authors like Joe Lansdale to rediscover him and point out the top talent involved in the Hardman series. Brash Books is reprinting the existing Dennis catalog, starting with Hardman, and adding several unpublished manuscripts found after his 1988 passing. The left-hand cover is the original publication, the right-hand one is the Brash Books version.

The Charleston Knife Is Back in Town is the second Hardman book and one I enjoy more than I do the series opener. Dennis doesn't need to waste more than a paragraph or two identifying the protagonists -- disgraced former Atlanta cop Jim Hardman and his friend, former Cleveland Browns defender Hump Evans -- and describing what they do -- everything from off-the-books investigating and instigating on behalf of Hardman's friend on the force Art to some straight-up illegal errands for various Atlanta criminal figures.

Dennis dives right into the action. Hump is one of several people attending a party who get robbed by a crew of sneaky but inexperienced thieves. Several people at the party prefer extralegal means to reacquire their property and have the resources to do so, which will be bad news for the thieves when they are found out. Hardman wouldn't care, except that it looks more and more like one of the thieves is a young man he's been asked to find by someone from his past. Another figure, the murder-for-hire thug called "the Charleston Knife," is hunting the robbery crew as well in order to recover the stolen property and money and leave the stealers dead. If he has to make other people dead in order to get the job done that's no problem, except that one of the ones he tried that on is Jim Hardman.

The best genre fiction writers did not pretend they were writing literature. Instead they wrote like they were. They crafted their sentences to supply atmosphere and tone as well as information, and shaped a narrative that could make a reader stop and think for a second about people and the way they live and the way things are. Hardman initially tries to find the young man without much desire to do so and even after figuring out he could be connected to the theft in which Hump was involved is still only interested in tracking him down for the fee. The involvement of the Charleston Knife makes it personal because of the attack on him and the bodies the assassin leaves in his wake, but we see that quest take on a more poignant role for Hardman because of it.

Ralph Dennis, like a lot of us, wonders if someone who starts out good but loses his way can still have some good in him -- does a knight's heart beat beneath tarnished armor still? He thinks it can and wrote a story that showed what it might look like if so. Because it involves a little hot sex and a lot of brutal violence and decidedly non-upstanding members of society means it'll get filed with the gung-ho bullets-and-babes paperbacks that get read today and tossed tomorrow -- and it works as one of those stories too -- but it still asks some questions that, if you're inclined to consider them -- are worth thinking about.

The Hardman books were written in the mid-1970s and would cause the average woke book reviewer of today a stroke by the end of the third paragraph. The racial and sexual attitudes of the characters reflect that they were born in the 1920s and 30s and had yet to shed that upbringing. Hardman and Hump may eventually shake out as good guys for the most part but they aren't nice, so a reader looking for stories that end, "And then I decided to leave this life of crime" had best keep searching. But Ralph Dennis knows how to keep a page turning, how to hook eyeballs and how to leave an interesting question or two in the wake of his butt-kicking protagonists.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Make 'Em Smile!

Brazilian dentist Felipe Rossi doesn't exactly make house calls, but he does travel to regions with a lot of poorer people who could probably not afford his work even if they could make it into the city and visit his office. There, he brightens their world and that of those around them with a variety of dental reconstructions that people in more fortunate areas of the world take for granted.

Good job, doc.

Thursday, May 21, 2020


The above is one of my favorite pictures of the late Saint Pope John Paul II, whose 100th birthday was marked on Monday. Born as Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, he was elected to the papacy in 1978 after his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, died just 33 days after taking on the role. He served until his death in April of 2005.

John Paul was only 58 when he became pope, and many pictures of him during that time highlighted his high activity level -- see the pope ski! Or, if you were into making some jokes about his heritage, see the popeski ski! Those attributes seemed to be what people focused on at first, but as time moved on John Paul played an increasingly larger role in pushing back against communism in Eastern Europe, especially his homeland. In June 1979 he visited Poland with the agreement of its communist ruling officials, who believed they could demonstrate that though he might be the head of the church they were still in charge of the government. He defeated them utterly by agreeing with them and speaking to his fellow Polish Catholics as a pastor to his flock, urging them to stick together, not compromise the values they learned from their faith and look to God for guidance. He didn't call out the regime, speak against it or direct any resistance to it; he just showed that its leaders were ultimately irrelevant to what really mattered -- and because of his charisma, faith and the wild enthusiasm that Polish Catholics felt about one of their own leading the church, the people listened.

John Paul II never officially "teamed up" with the leaders of NATO and western countries that opposed communism and the USSR to defeat it, but as he continued to demonstrate its irrelevance while they showed its rotten core of bullying oppression, he helped create a two-pronged offensive that would bring down the Berlin Wall and the entire Soviet empire.

The reason I like the picture, taken later in his life as he suffered the effects of Parkinson's disease, is that for all of his earthly power as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, he did not stand unless he leaned upon the cross. I am not of the communion of Rome and I don't ascribe to Rome's bishop any authority other than earthly, save that which is granted any human being by the Holy Spirit to proclaim, through word and deed, the message of the gospel. Because he did so, and because he did so fearlessly and faithfully, great good happened in the world. The picture above just illustrates something I think he would have said himself -- that he could have done none of it had he not leaned upon his Savior for guidance and strength.

PS -- I also like the picture from 1999 when His Holiness tried on Bono's shades.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Unfortunately, the writer of this article didn't mean what I thought he meant with the phrase, "heavy metal planet."

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Good Guy

I recently threw some shade on will-he/won't-he Libertarian presidential possibility Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan by saying he reminded me of Eddie Haskell, Wally Cleaver's weaselly friend in Leave it to Beaver. The actor who played Haskell, Ken Osmond, went on to become a decorated Los Angeles police officer, wounded in the line of duty. He passed away today.

From Page to Screen

While recently landing with both feet on Mark Wahlberg's awful Spenser: Confidential, I referenced the 1980s television adaptation of Robert B. Parker's iconic private investigator, Spenser. The show streams through IMDBtv, which I can see with ads via my Amazon streaming service, so I've been rewatching some of its three seasons.

Bowing in 1985, Spenser: For Hire starred Robert Urich as the title character, Avery Brooks as his friend Hawk and Barbara Stock as the love of his life, Susan Silverman. The show lasted three seasons and used some of the same cast for four TV movies following its cancellation. It did fairly well ratings-wise, but the cost of location shooting in Boston meant it needed to do better than "fairly well." Season 2 showrunners swapped Susan Silverman for prosecutor Rita Fiori (Carolyn McCormick) to the consternation of book fans, and the combination of the changes and being bounced around the schedule kept the show from ever really breaking out.

As mentioned in the item about the Mark Wahlberg movie, the late Robert Urich was probably a little lighter in tone than Parker envisioned for Spenser. But Urich was able to balance the different aspects that had made the character a fan favorite, switching pretty smoothly between a smartass remark, a hightone literary quote and a well-placed stiff right hand. His size helped, as he matched the larger presence Parker describes Spenser to have. Barbara Stock gives the Susan Silverman role more effort than it really deserves; although Parker sometimes keeps her in the wings he also can place her center stage as a character with agency in her own right. That's not something a lot of 1980s-era private-eye shows pulled off very well, but Stock frequently pushes the role into a much higher profile than the scripts had provided as well as greater weight. McCormick is a talented actress, but the show never really developed Fiori sufficiently.

In one sense it's hard to judge a 35-year-old television show. Spenser: For Hire is full of 80's-isms like at least one car chase and gunfight per episode and next to no season-long continuity. Since only reruns would air during the hiatus, they might air out of order and episodes needed to be more standalone than linked in an arc. It would be very interesting to see a modernly conceived show using these actors playing these characters, even one airing on a network. Current sensibilities would smooth out some of what today looks silly but was an essential part of a private eye/cop show of the mid-1980s.

For many Spenser book readers who watched the show, each of the characters is probably now a little bit of a mix of the actor and the written character. Frank Belson is written as a thin detective, but Ron McLarty's doughy image springs to mind when he comes onto the page. It's not hard to hear Urich's voice in the two or three scene-setting sentences Parker used to open some chapters (It's impossible to hear Wahlberg's. Trust me).

But in one case, the onscreen character simply took over the printed one and it's now next to impossible to read him without hearing and seeing the actor: Hawk, as played by Avery Brooks. Brooks' dominant personality, charisma and talent defined the character in ways that subsequent actors -- even decent ones like Ernie Hudson, Sheik Mahmud-Bey and Winston Duke -- can't match. If you try to tune your mental ear to "hear" dialogue in the books and you've seen even one Spenser: For Hire episode, you're going to hear Avery Brooks.

As mentioned above, Spenser: For Hire was unable to mount ratings that justified its production costs, which gave it a very short leash from early on. And its many dated characteristics leave it an uneven viewing experience today for at least half of its episodes. But when it does hit, it shows some of the quality of its source material and manages to stand almost as far above its contemporary productions as the best Spenser novels stand above their competition.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Quantum Smarts

I'm not sure if physicist Sabine Hossenfelder has ever mentioned on her blog whether or teaching is her favorite part of her role in academia, but it's certainly one she's good at. I've learned more from her recent explanations of terms and ideas used in quantum mechanics than in any half-dozen books I've read on the subject.

And considering my math grades, that's no easy task.

Saturday, May 16, 2020


Michigan Representative Justin Amash announced today that he would not continue to seek the Libertarian Party's nomination for president of the United States. According to the article in Reason, he concluded that his chances of meaningfully competing for the office should he secure the LP's nomination were nonexistent. I can't imagine why it took him three weeks and an exploratory committee to figure this out; I've done nothing but read some news items on my own over the last three years and I could have told him that.

Rep. Amash had no comment on the possibility that his candidacy was derailed by a blog post's identification of him with Eddie Haskell.

As I read the rest of the story at Reason, I came to the realization that I will almost certainly be voting for a candidate I've never really heard of. But considering the two on offer whom I have heard of, I'm not really persuaded that's a negative.

Friday, May 15, 2020


-- An ancient compendium of medical advice by one Pedanius Dioscorides lists hippopotamus testicles as a treatment for snakebite. The advantage of this claim is that very few would try to prove him wrong.

-- According to this item at Quanta magazine, a new kind of math can measure the repulsive force within polynomials. From what I recall of my time in formal education, no new math was needed to measure the repulsive force between me and polynomials; plain old ordinary math would do.

-- Appearing in The Literary Review, one D. J. Taylor lets us know that he will not be writing a coronavirus novel and why. I'm very glad he did, as I had never heard of him and would not have known this if he had not taken to the pages of TLR to say so.

-- Spectrum, the publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has an article about how an artificial intelligence program called "Deep-Speare" was able to create sonnets that most people who read them could not distinguish from ones written by William Shakespeare. Thus the sub-head "'Deep-Speare' crafted Shakespearean verse that most readers couldn't distinguish from human-written poems." But if you read the AI-generated sonnet at the top of the link you can quickly discover some wrinkles in the project's claims. The first is that their sonnets are nonsense, as the article itself admits in the second paragraph. They may scan and rhyme well but they're only a few steps up from gibberish. Which is less of an indicator of how good the program is than of how unfamiliar their reader sample is with actual Shakespeare. A lot of modern poetry is indeed gibberish, but back when ol' Will was scribblin' along poetry didn't have that luxury yet.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Prescient Peanuts

Way back in 1973, Lucy suggested a title and them for Charlie Brown's proposed charity baseball tournament that would probably work pretty well today, just under 50 years later.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Deja Movie

Over at The AV Club, some writers and readers of the magazine throw out some of their favorite movie clichés -- that is, clichés they actually don't mind seeing or may legitimately enjoy.

I found myself liking several of the ones the different writers picked, such as the courtroom drama or the speech about hope in the face of adversity (some might say that my profession includes quite a bit of the latter).

Others I kind of wondered about. One choice is the horror movie's ominous early-scene warning about the dangers that await the unwary travelers. Horror movies are just about nothing but cliché from opening score to closing credits, so it doesn't seem possible to select one of them out of every other minute we see onscreen. But I'll take his word for it because doing otherwise would mean that I have to watch a horror movie and G/O Media doesn't have enough money to get me to do that.

Monday, May 11, 2020

On the Bubble

There are a couple of broadcast network shows I can pick up on my TV through the antenna or that I can watch at the gym. I may write more about them  -- SEAL Team and The Rookie -- later, but for right now, as they've finished their seasons, I'm kind of ambivalent about whether or not they get renewed.

In both shows, I really like almost all of the characters and have grown to appreciate them over their still pretty short runs. But also in both shows, the brutally hacktastic storylines make me want to cringe. There are good moments even in some of the worst episodes, but the likeable characters and polished ensemble work by the actors is being embedded in clunky and lazy narrative arcs plagued with potholes.

I'm honestly not sure if I want them to be renewed for new seasons so I can continue to spend more time watching characters I enjoy or to be canceled so that time isn't spent watching those characters abused by cliché-soaked scripts.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

You're Looking Particularly Lovely Today, American Electorate

Later this month, the United States' Libertarian Party will tell me the name of the candidate I'll be voting for for president of the country. This is not because I'm a member of that party or someone who believes the two major parties are incapable of proffering a candidate for whom I could vote.

Recent history notwithstanding.

In any event, I've frequently pointed out there is only one circumstance in which I will vote for Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent. Sometime before 1985, someone cloned Adolf Hitler and he is now old enough to run and win the nomination in opposition to President Trump. Since that is all but impossible, it seems clear that I will not vote for the president. Nor will I vote for former Vice-President Joe Biden, the probable Democratic nominee. I think he is almost certain to make a poor choice for his running mate and since he's north of 75 already that poor choice may become president. Sure, it may happen anyway, but I don't want to take any part in it. And should Mr. Biden finish his term in full and hale health he will have undoubtedly tried to enact policies with which I can't agree, which is also a barrier to voting for him.

So I will vote for the Libertarian candidate, whoever it is. In 2016, it was the barely average former governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson. The party will select its candidate in late May and the favorite to win the nomination right now seems to be United States Representative Justin Amash of Michigan. Rep. Amash has recently left the GOP after having been elected to office several times as a member of that party.

If the Libertarians nominate Rep. Amash, then I'll vote for him. Even if it seems like the more he talks, the more he reminds me of Eddie Haskell.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Ivories, Tickled

The best way to appreciate what "Little Richard" Penniman meant to the creation of rock and roll music is to listen to some of his hits, like "Good Golly, Miss Molly", "Keep A Knockin" and so on. He didn't write every one of his hits but whenever he did a song the resulting version was his and his alone, even when the original might have been pretty darn good as well. Bobby Troup may have written "The Girl Can't Help It" as the title track for the Jayne Mansfield movie, but it took Little Richard to make you believe it.

Penniman passed today at 87. His death leaves the 84-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis, Penniman's fellow piano man, as just about the final rock and roll pioneer still living. And no, nobody saw that coming.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Friar's Tireds

I took a look at a lot of things today that would ordinarily set my fingers on the path of irritable grumpiness, mixed in with some acidic assertions I hope would sound witty. The Pulitizer committee deciding the nonfictional part is not an essential part of their prize for nonfiction, a bunch of people deciding that the best way to make a woman who posted a dumb idea on Facebook change her mind was to flood hers and her husband's newsfeeds with negative comments, more and more people thinking that the best thing to say to each other about the COVID-19 outbreak is, "You're doing it wrong"...

There were a bunch. Instead of making me feel like sharpening my pen and setting phrases to stun, though, all I felt was tired. It's not like I think it'll ever really stop this side of the eschaton; I know better than to expect better. But I'm worn out today. I don't really have the energy to give these things the contempt they deserve. Maybe another day.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Wittles Is Up!

In a reprint from earlier this week, Calvin learns that sometimes nature shows teach you things that you don't really want to know.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Maybe Get a Clue, Eh?

The immediate reaction to reading about three Lethbridge, Alberta police officers knocking a woman in a Star Wars stormtrooper costume to her face on the ground is to realize they have all played goalie without wearing a helmet. But that would stop too early.

Since yesterday was May 4, the Coco Valley Galactic Cantina asked a female employee to wear the costume, which includes a plastic "blaster" replica. According to another item, the Lethbridge Police Service received more than one 911 call about a firearms complaint at the restaurant, meaning there are several residents of Lethbridge so minimally sentient that they can't tell the difference between a movie prop and a real gun. Or it's possible the police officer who claims that there were calls is not telling the truth; we'll see why that may be possible in a moment.

Three LPS officers responded, guns drawn, and ordered the woman to drop her fake gun and get on the ground. She could do the first but not the second so easily because of the costume, but did manage to get to her knees. At this time the investigative skills of the officers were able to determine that the gun was not, in fact, a gun, but they continued to order the woman to lay down on the ground, eventually shoving her down with enough force that she bloodied her nose on the inside of the helmet. The story at the second link has a photo of the blood left on the parking lot after the helmet was removed. She was handcuffed and put into the back of a patrol car, but not arrested or charged.

The officers, showing the same keen grasp they had displayed all along of how to de-escalate situations, threatened to arrest a person who recorded the incident on his cell phone. They also threatened to arrest the owner as he explained the employee was working for him and the costume restricted her movement.

Initially, their superior -- the same one who claimed "multiple 911 calls" as mentioned in the story -- said the matter "seemed" to be a misunderstanding but defended some of his officers' actions by using a lot of Canadian words that translate, "I also played hockey goalie without a helmet."

Now, as the version of the story at the first link points out, there will be a "service investigation" of the matter to see if the officers' actions were appropriate. There does not need to be any investigation. There need to be multiple summary terminations. Let the officers argue their way back into the privilege of wearing a badge. Let them demonstrate that, despite copious evidence to the contrary, they do have the judgment required to be agents of the state's monopoly on legal force. Let their supervisor argue that, despite his mealy-mouthed "she started it" speech, he is capable of actual leadership and recognizing when his people do not know their holsters from holes in the ground.

I know many law enforcement officers and I am constantly grateful for the way that thousands of them risk life and limb every day to keep people safe. I am amazed by the bravery they display on a common, sometimes everyday basis. But these three showed they do not merit the job they have and the trust placed in them. This woman could have been shot dead -- that is, after all, why the police point loaded weapons at you, because they have decided they might need to use them. Their defenders might say it wouldn't have come to that, but nothing about what they did gives me any reason to believe that.

If they do not have the judgment to recognize that they are facing a person in a movie costume after they learn the "weapon" is molded plastic and after the store owner says, "That's my employee!" then why should anyone believe they would know when they should or should not pull their triggers?

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Truth, Unhidden

-- You'd probably better read this theory about the COVID-19 crisis advanced by Brian J. Noggle quickly, before the powers that be discover that he's sussed out their plan and make it -- and perhaps him -- disappear.

-- Although this piece at National Review by Charles C.W. Cooke is targeted at his fellow millennials, suggesting that COVID-19 does not represent another of the many more awful things they've experienced more than any other generation, it inspired a couple of thoughts in me as well. Mr. Cooke creates a thought-experiment, asking what an average 25- to 30-year-old born in 1900 might have lived through by now. I transposed that onto my own lifespan. The 1900 me has seen both world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War, Spanish Flu and a whole lot of other awful stuff. On the other hand, in two years Ray Charles is going to release his first album, gathering several of his hit singles onto one disc, so I got that going for me.

-- Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder takes to task the idea that good theories make good predictions. Accurate predictions may have some value, but sometimes a theory correctly predicts an outcome even though the theory itself is not correct. The predicted outcome may have happened because of an entirely different sequence of events. Of far more value, Dr. Hossenfelder says, is a theory which explains observed phenomena. A theory that makes correct predictions may not explain anything, which makes it of little use to a scientist. I may start applying that principle as I observe phenomena in my own life, although it may only lead me to saying "These people aren't very bright" a number of times.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

On Target

I understand why people don't read The Federalist, since it sometimes likes to print hot-take points of view in order to grab eyeballs and masks that move under the guise of "exploring all sides." And they've some writers who seem to be, for want of a better word, ign'ant.

But they do produce some good ideas and this column by David Marcus is one of them. Marcus, who lives in New York City, was in his back yard the other day and noticed one of his neighbor's cutting someone's hair. Both men were wearing masks, and Marcus at first thought he was seeing someone taking care of a relative's sartorial needs. But then it seemed that quite a number of men visited and received haircuts over the next several days, and Marcus realized he was seeing someone violate New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio's order forbidding hair styling folks from working in their homes, as they might still be involved in the spread of the virus. He also knew that the mayor had told NYC citizens they needed to call and inform authorities when they saw someone violating those guidelines.

So he didn't. Because, as he says, he decided to engage in minding his own business. Both cutter and customers wore masks and gloves, and they were as far apart from each other as residents of the country's most populous metro might be on an apartment elevator or in a neighborhood grocery store. So despite the mayor's explicit instructions, Marcus kept quiet.

Ah, New York. Where someone can say, "Eff you, buddy," by saying nothing at all.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Layered Portrait

Johannes Vermeer painted Girl With a Pearl Earring in the 1660s, probably around 1665. She's been mysterious ever since, with no records indicating who she might have been. In fact, most scholars thought she was an idealized subject, meaning Vermeer drew on no real person when he painted her. They cited several reasons -- the odd blue turban, the oversized pearl that lacks any kind of hook or connector to her earlobe, the lack of eyelashes and the featureless dark background.

But in 2018 the museum that houses the painting brought a team of scholars in to study it using X-rays and other advanced imaging techniques. Their findings, published recently, show that the background was not originally featureless but was a green curtain. Time has darkened the pigments so much it can't be easily distinguished by ye olde naked eye. They also found indicators the Vermeer did paint eyelashes although they too can no longer be easily seen.

These factors, head researcher Abbie Vandivere said, suggest that Vermeer might indeed have had a real model as he painted -- although there are still almost no clues as to who she was.

One of the things they did find is that Vermeer didn't skimp on his materials in creating the masterpiece. The girl wears a blue turban and a jacket with blue tones -- and the lapis lazuli which helped make the blue tint Vermeer used was imported from Afghanistan and at the time cost more, ounce for ounce, than gold.

Often we say that great art has layers of meaning that are uncovered as we study it and reflect on what we see. Sometimes, it turns out that figure of speech is even more literally true than we thought it was.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Frabjous Day!

About a decade ago, as I was reading items for inclusion in this here blogspace, I ran across a phrase I enjoy typing almost as much as I enjoy saying aloud: quark-gluon plasma. It's the term for a superhot substance theorized to have existed very shortly after the Big Bang, before quarks and gluons cooled enough to form the building blocks of atomic nuclei, such as protons.

Over those years, it's been created in labs and in experiments, but the idea that it would ever exist "in the wild," so to speak, seemed unlikely. The Big Bang is called a singularity for the reason that it happened only once. And as much fun as I think it would be to have actual quark-gluon plasma in the universe, I'm not really keen on the idea of destroying everything that exists in order to repeat the Big Bang and make that happen.

Comes now Professor Luciano Rezzola reporting on experiments done by physicists at Goethe University Frankfurt and the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in which we find that the collision of neutron stars may produce quark-gluon plasma. Such collisions produce gravitational waves, theorized for many years but first detected in 2017. Simulations of those collisions show scientists what might be happening when the two ultra-dense neutron stars slam into each other. One such simulation produces my fave-rave plasma as a result, and creates gravitational waves that behave a certain way.

If future gravitational waves act that way, then the chances are very great that the neutron star collisions produce either quark-gluon plasma or something that has almost the exact same effects. Yes, the substance is super-hot and would probably destroy the world if enough of it was produced, but persons with an eye on current events need not worry. Though the crania of both probable major-party presidential nominees are indeed dense, they are not nearly as dense as neutron stars and we need fear only ordinary catastrophes when they meet for debates later this year.