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Journal of No. 118


May 30th, 2016

Leviathan Wakes, by 'James S A Corey' @ 07:30 pm

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Leviathan Wakes is the first in the Expanse series, which recently became a Syfy series. A pleasant blend of sf and detective noir. A few plot elements lacked in verisimilitude, but a pretty fun ride.
 

May 15th, 2016

Mexico City Photos resurrected @ 08:07 pm

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here they be

Dr. Pookie's photos, including lots of food pics, are here.
 

International Businessman of Mystery @ 07:42 am

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This time, Munich.

I think the most German thing I saw was on the flight out of LAX. As we board, a gentleman comes down the aisle, stops a row or two behind me and says to the guy in the window seat, "You are in the Wrong seat." A straightforward declarative sentence. I can imagine an American saying 'you are in my seat' but much more likely some awkward verbal prologue.

Anyway, my coworker and I had some time to sightsee on Monday, so we visited the Asamkirche, City Hall (and its animated clock), climbed the 299 steps at the Old Peter church, the Frauenkirche, and on into the English Garden.

But I think the highlight was the royal Wittelsbach Residence (home to the kings of Bavaria) and its treasury of crown jewels and other treasures.

One night, a client took us out for a tour of the Allianz Arena, ending with a fine dinner up at the skybox level.

All the photos.
 

May 14th, 2016

A Brief History of Creation: Science and Search for the Origin of Life, by Mesler & Cleaves @ 04:27 pm


This book traces the history of the idea of the origin of life from the Greeks to modern ideas of the Miller-Urey experiments and RNA-world and so on.

Most interesting to me, perhaps, was the fact that the concept of spontaneous generation was taken as a given for such a long time... and like so many things taken for granted in the West (geocentrism, say) support for it in the Bible was attested to. Everyone know that if you leave a pile of grain around, mice are just going to spring out of it. It was a sign of God's ongoing generative influence. And so Pasteur's work caused a sea-change in apologetics. Lots of good details, but since most of this was read on international flights, I'm in no position to go into much detail. Pretty good book, though.
 

May 7th, 2016

"Now is the time for all good men* to come to the aid of the party" @ 07:07 am


About a hundred years ago (and long afterwards) this was a stock phrase used to teach typing. We're now seeing how well Republicans adhere to it. It certainly still has some power.

We have Rick Perry endorsing 'a cancer'.

And Rand Paul endorsing “A Delusional Narcissist And An Orange-Faced Windbag



*This was written before women could vote, so I guess they could, I dunno, bake cookies or something.
 

May 2nd, 2016

Blindness, by Jose Saramago (feat. Blow-Up by Antonioni) @ 04:37 pm

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Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature a couple years after Blindness was published. A mysterious infectious ailment causes people to go blind. The book focuses on this first group of afflicted people, who are first interned in an asylum, as more and more blind people join them in their new community. Saramago considers himself a pessimist, so things go south pretty rapidly. The strong prey on the weak, the men on the women, and so on and so forth. A few glimpses of human beings behaving humanely glimmer here and there to relieve the awfulness.

Saramago is also something a verbal sadist: none of the characters is named, he eschews quotation marks, and tends to go on long comma splices of dialogue that can be hard to follow. Not too fond of paragraph breaks either -- many's the time you face two unbroken columns of text on the pages. This is particularly bad because I tend to have a mental memory of where on the page I left off -- but not if there are no little typographical details for memory to seize on. These idiosyncrasies may be literary, or they may just be irritating. I tend toward the latter. I didn't care for the ending, and the whole is kind of like a gruesome novelization of a Twilight Zone episode. I don't mean this to demean a Nobel laureate, but to raise up Twilight Zone as also shining a light on ugly aspects of humanity through speculative fiction.

Saw Blow-Up recently. Certainly a great time capsule of authentic Austin Powers-y swinging 1960s London, but I'm not sure I liked it. I guess Antonioni was doing something right if I can't tell for certain whether I was bored or not. It helps that models take off their clothes from time to time. But the most interesting detail was seeing the cameo by the Yardbirds, filmed during the brief period when both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were part of the lineup.
 

April 26th, 2016

Prop 50 @ 10:51 am

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Only one prop on the CA ballot.

Seems like a good idea, but maybe isn't.

Currently, CA legislators can be suspended (with pay, it turns out, after this happened for the first time ever) by their fellows with a majority vote.

Or they can be expelled with a 2/3 vote.

Prop 50 would change suspension to be without pay, but now requires a 2/3 vote.

Lawmakers could have very easily closed the loophole, by just changing the way pay is handled. But instead it also sets the bar for suspension as high as it is for expulsion. Rather than making this a harsher suspension, it may have the effect of becoming a lighter expulsion. Or making legislators safer in general from censure in general. Fortunately, both suspension and expulsion are so rare that it probably won't make much difference no matter what happens.

It'll probably pass, because people will angrily shake their fists with their non-voting hand as they think of their anger at those criminal lawmakers keeping their pay. But I say NO.
 

April 21st, 2016

Today in government sponsored comic books @ 12:55 pm

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Bicycle safety - "The cyclists who ignore the advice end in a pool of blood, crushed by a truck and, in one case, apparently dead."

Don't date foreigners - "The scholar, named Dawei or David, showers her with compliments, red roses, fancy dinners and romantic walks in the park, and convinces the girl to provide him with internal documents from her government propaganda workplace."
 

April 19th, 2016

Cats are still better than dogs @ 06:35 am

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But at least dogs now also come with levitation power.


 

April 16th, 2016

Islands of Space / Evolving in Monkey Town @ 06:28 pm


Islands of Space by John W. Campbell is the kind of gee-whiz space opera that makes Buck Rogers look nuanced. A passel of superscientist men effortlessly invent multiple impossible inventions and generally behave like 12-year-old boys with their new godlike powers.

"The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women..." FAIL

"Islands of Space is generally credited with introducing the concepts of hyperspace and the warp drive to science fiction." So that's something, anyway.

It's also interesting that the book interpolates the plot from his story "Dead Knowledge," which I liked quite a bit. Here, apart from the bare bones of the plot, all of the atmosphere and emotion has been drained away, probably because it would not have meshed with the whizbang mood of the novel.

I'm glad even the people of long ago smelled this one as a stinker. Ted Sturgeon thought it was crap (and he, of all people, would know). "This is a real lousy book."



Rachel Held Evans is probably best known for A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, chronicling her attempt to live according to the Bible's rules for women. But recently she was quoted in an article in (I think) Smithsonian about her hometown of Dayton, famous as the site of the Scopes Trial in 1925. She intimated that the attitudes in Dayton haven't changed much, and her story of asking too many questions in a community that has all the answers (and doesn't like pesky questions) was published as Evolving in Monkey Town. I couldn't pass up a title like that.

Sadly(?), the creationism/evolutionism angle is not really a major part of the story, just useful as a title that would get me to buy it (it worked!) [I gather that the title was originally the title of her blog]. It's actually a little maddening that what little she says about it seems to indicate that the question is still an open one in her mind. The book has since been retitled "Faith Unravelled", though that's a bit of a misnomer as well. It's more a story of her journey of faith. She starts as a model member of the local community, multiple winner of her school's Best Christian Attitude award, and a graduate of [William Jennings] Bryan College, a place literally founded in the wake of the Monkey Trial to defend a Biblical worldview. More recently than the book, Bryan College changed its statement of faith to include the belief in a literal, specially created, Adam and Eve, resulting in the departure of some faculty members.

As a thoughtful, reflective, skeptical, millennial, she navigates her theology to come to a place where she can recognize that (although no one wants to admit it, and some may be too unreflective to even be aware of it) every Christian 'picks and chooses' verses and interpretations of the bible based on their own particular biases and experience. I generally like her picks and choices, and it must be tough to swim against the stream. Asking questions no one wants to hear, and then coming up with unpopular answers. "I was called a socialist and a baby killer. People questioned my commitment to my faith, and my country, some suggesting that I may face eternal consequences for my decision [to vote for Barack Obama]."

At the same time, it's clear that her questioning has its limits. "Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue."

My answer to that is a quote from the Great Beast. Crowley may have been an extravagant old fraud, but he sometimes had a piquant way with words:

"I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening;
I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning."
 

Journal of No. 118