"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Monday, April 14, 2014

Marriage News Watch, April 14, 2014

With, of course, the adorable Matt Baume:


Friday, April 11, 2014

Paul Ryan Has Another Budget

And it's even worse than the last one. Bernie Sanders sounds off:


I don't know the details of Ryan's "new" budget, but given his past performance, I can guess. I doubt that it has any redeeming qualities at all (unless you're worth a few hundred million -- or a military contractor).

And I wonder how much it's going to increase the deficit.

Here's some commentary by Digby, taking off from this news report. This is good:

Republicans say the new "premium support" system for future Medicare retirees who are now 55 or younger would prevent the budget from spiraling out of control as more baby boomers retire and the present system collapses. They also say the redesigned Medicare program would offer seniors more choices and curb costs.

The doomsday scenario is good -- Medicare "spiraling out of control"? Is it any wonder no one except Fox News junkies takes this seriously?

Oh, and the part about repealing the ACA? Read this. Because it is so totally not working.

On Brendan Eich, Public Discourse, and the "Gaystapo"

I'm preparing to move, which is why I haven't been posting much lately, and why I haven't commented on the whole Brendan Eich/Mozilla brouhaha -- I've been ambivalent about the whole outcry, dismayed by the vitriol in the comments of a few blogs that usually have intelligent discussions, and just too distracted to write anything coherent about it. There have, however, been a couple of good posts on the lot of issues around this whole event. Rob Tisinai has written one of the clearest at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Saturday Science: Hummingbirds' 22 Million-Year-Old Family Tree

22 million years. I had no idea hummingbirds had been around that long. And they've been very successful at being hummingbirds.

The new, time-calibrated evolutionary tree shows that ancestral hummingbirds split from the swifts and treeswifts about 42 million years ago, probably in Eurasia. By about 22 million years ago, the ancestral species of all modern hummingbirds had made its way to South America, and that's when things really took off.

The Andes Mountains are a particular hotspot for hummingbird evolution, because diversification occurred along with the uplift of those peaks over the past 10 million years. About 140 hummingbird species live in the Andes today.

Hummingbirds are the major, if not only, pollinators for certain species of orchids, which, funny thing, also show remarkable diversity and adaptation in the Andes. Hummingbirds are, however, a New World phenomenon. Their niche as orchid pollinators in the Old World seems to be largely the province of certain species of moths. Well, where there' a niche, there's an organism, I always say.

(Not that hummingbirds pollinate only orchids, or that orchids are only pollinated by hummingbirds. But there's a strong relationship among certain species, and a lot of evidence for co-evolution.)

And a little bit of a romantic vision, courtesy of Martin Johnson Heade (who did a lot of paintings of orchids and hummingbirds, if I remember correctly):

Orchid with Two Hummingbirds, 1871



Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Another Day, Another Page

Epinions music reviews now published.

Sometimes I surprise myself. I'll let you guess what that means.

Idiot du Jour

From noted Constitutional scholar Louie Gohmert (R-Nowhere on this planet):


Gohmert pointed out that a Congressional Research Service report revealed that President Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase "separation of church and state," had also attended church services at Statuary Hall.

"But it was to be a one-way wall, where the state would not dictate to the church," the Texas Republican insisted. "But the church would certainly play a role in the state."

Somehow, using Thomas Jefferson as an example of an observant Christian betrays a certain lack of familiarity with the man.

And, as one commenter asked, "Whose church?" You do notice, I trust, that Gohmert's little "historical example" is all about Christianity. Sort of leaves the rest of us out in the cold, doesn't it?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Marriage News Watch, March 31, 2014

It never stops.


Progress

A couple of new pages over in the sidebar, "Epinions Reviews: Books: Fiction and Poetry," which is just what it says, and "Epinions Reviews: Other," which is all the oddball stuff (frying pans, telephones) and a number of essays.

You're welcome to browse.

Quote of the Day

From Richard Mayhew at Balloon Juice:
A friend observes: “I give my 2 year old a nutritious food he hasn’t had before and he smells it, squishes it in his hand and then rubs it in his hair. But when he finds a rusty nail on the ground, he without hesitation tries to eat it. How did our species survive this long?”

See previous post.

Some People's Priorities

are really screwed up.

An eight-year-old South Carolina girl’s drive to have the woolly mammoth designated at the state’s ‘official fossil’ has been thwarted by two state senators who want the bill to be amended to give credit to God for creating the earth and the mammoth. . . .

The third grader wrote a letter to her state representatives, Rep. Robert Ridgeway (D) and Sen. Kevin Johnson (D), pointing out that one of the earliest discoveries of a fossil in North America was the teeth of a woolly mammoth, dug up by slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1725.

Ridgeway and Johnson proceeded to introduce a bill to amend the state’s code to include the Columbian Mammoth as the official state fossil of South Carolina, which the state House passed 94-3.

Seems fairly straightforward, even routine, doesn't it? But this is South Carolina:

Upon arrival in the state Senate, Sen. Kevin Bryant (R), a self-described ‘born-again Christian,’ proposed to amend the bill by inserting three verses from the Book of Genesis detailing God’s creation of the Earth and all of its living inhabitants — including mammoths.

I strongly suspect that the constitution of South Carolina, like those of all the other states, contains a provision forbidding establishment of religion -- ah, yes, Article I, section 2:

The General Assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government or any department thereof for a redress of grievances.

Sound familiar? But wait, it gets better:

Because Bryant’s proposed amendment introduced a new subject, it was ruled out of order by Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell (R).

In response to the lieutenant governor’s ruling, Sen. Mike Fair (R), whose district includes the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, placed an objection on the bill.

This is all possible, of course, because South Carolina has no real problems for the legislature to address.

If I made this up, no one would believe it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

New Page

If you gaze raptly at the sidebar, you'll notice that there's a new page: "Epinions Reviews: Film." I've actually been working on the other pages, mostly books, and as you might imagine, there's a lot of book reviews.

They're coming along nicely. Patience.

Reviews in Brief: Glen Cook’s “Annals of the Black Company”

Annals of the Black Company is undoubtedly Glen Cook’s best-known and most popular series, and one that I have been reading as new books came out for a good long time. Having been housebound for a couple of weeks recently, I sat down and did a Black Company marathon: all ten books, one after another, in the recent omnibus editions coming from Tor.

A quick sketch: the story opens with the Black Company, the last of the Free Companies of Khatovar, in service to the Syndic of Beryl. Whatever its original purpose, the Company has become a mercenary outfit, with a reputation for deception, misdirection, general trickiness, and avoiding fighting whenever possible. And a long string of successes. Enter Soulcatcher, one of the Ten Who Were Taken: potent wizards now serving the Lady, an even more potent wizard who is building an empire in the north. The Company enters Soulcatcher’s service, the Syndic having somehow departed the realms of the living, and the Company’s contract with him therefore void.

The methods of the Company carry over into the methods of the storytelling. Almost all of the books are first-person narratives, which gives us a couple of things to note: the narrators, first Croaker, Company physician and annalist, then Lady, Murgen, and Sleepy, succeeding annalists, are not always reliable. Sometimes they don’t know what’s happening elsewhere; sometimes, like Croaker, they just don’t want to tell us what’s going on; and other times, as in Lady’s case, there’s some vanity involved. The result is a narrative that doesn’t always wind up in the place where it seems to be going.

The second thing of note is the way Cook uses the diction: it changes from narrator to narrator, so there is no mistaking the somewhat abrupt and cryptic Croaker for the more fluid and thoughtful Sleepy.

Ten volumes is a lot to deal with in brief, but I’ve reviewed the full series at Green Man Review. Those reviews are:

The Chronicles of the Black Company (The Black Company, Shadows Linger, The White Rose)
The Books of the South (Shadow Games, Dreams of Steel, The Silver Spike)
The Return of the Black Company (Bleak Seasons, She Is the Darkness)
The Many Deaths of the Black Company (Water Sleeps, Soldiers Live)

And a footnote: I am wildly enthusiastic about the cover art for the reissues, done by Raymond Swanland. It fits the mood of the stories perfectly.