"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, December 31, 2018

Science Note: "To Boldly Go. . . ."

This is one thing Trump couldn't shut down:

This composite image of Ultima Thule was taken on Dec. 1. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

On New Year's Day, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is expected to make history by conducting the most distant flyby ever, by zooming past an object a billion miles past Pluto. It's called "Ultima Thule," meaning "beyond the known world.

Why it matters: The spacecraft, which is the same one that sent back dazzling images of Pluto in 2015, is slated to be the first to explore an object in the Kuiper Belt -- a region of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune that are thought to be leftovers from the solar system's early days.
The goal of the mission is to learn more about the building blocks of planets. "In effect, Ultima should be a valuable window into the early stages of planet formation and what the solar system was like over 4.5 billion years ago," principal investigator Alan Stern wrote in a NASA blog post.

This is reallly exciting for us science geeks. This goes back to the first entry in "Earth: A Biography", which, as you'll no doubt recall, dealt with the origins of the universe and, finally, this planet we're sitting on.

There's a lot more at the link, and it's pretty interesting.

Via Joe.My.God.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Review: Sam Raimi: Oz the Great and Powerful

Another that originally appeared on Epinions. There's also another version at Green Man Review.

I have to confess, I had some trepidations about seeing Oz the Great and Powerful: it's a (another?) prequel to a classic that I have loved forever, and I wondered how good it could be. I saw an interview with James Franco that persuaded me it might be worth it. (My collisions with popular culture are sort of random: I keep seeing headlines about and pictures of celebrities and wind up scratching my head, wondering "who are these people?" I am grateful for search engines.)

True to form, the movie starts in Kansas, in black and white. Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time "magician" and con artist who performs under the name of "Oz", runs into a little trouble with the circus strong man (Tim Holmes) -- it seems that Oz has been paying more than acceptable attention to the strong man's wife (Toni Wynne). (In fact, he's been paying a lot of attention to a lot of women -- it's sort of a hobby, I guess.) Oz finds the perfect means of escape -- a hot air balloon (the strong man is in no mood to parley), and off he goes -- right into the eye of a tornado. You can guess where he winds up -- and it's in full, living color.

The first person he meets is Theodora (Mila Kunis), who is convinced he is the prophesied savior: the old king is dead, murdered by the Wicked Witch, but before his death he predicted the arrival of a great wizard who would save the land of Oz and rule wisely and benevolently, etc. And then he rescues, in turn, a flying monkey, Finley (Zach Braff) and a china doll (Joey King) before arriving in the Emerald City, which is being ruled pro tem by Evanora (Rachel Weisz), another witch. They all decide he has to do away with the Wicked Witch, and plot to steal and destroy her wand. It's not until he's on the verge of success that he finds out who the Wicked Witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams) really is.

For a change, we've got a movie with lots of special effects in which the effects are not the stars -- thankfully, director Sam Raimi has resisted the urge to make the bells and whistles the central focus of the film. I think they work the better for it -- especially the means Oz comes up with to spook the witches, a good reprise of the original Oz in the throne room. And there are some marvelous effects, indeed: Glinda's favored mode of transport (transparent bubbles), the arrival of Theodora in a flash of fire, the flying baboons, the animated flowers, they're all right where they belong.

About the black-and-white/color thing: the black and white, strangely enough, is not particularly appealing -- it's rather flat, which may contribute to the feeling of a slow start. (And I can't help but wonder if that's an effect of the 3D, although that's somewhat counterintuitive.) The color is not garish -- there are a few vivid scenes, by they are merely vivid, not blinding. For the most part, it's normal. (The 3D is another meh -- I really don't like things flying out of the screen right at me, and it's more a shadow box effect than true 3D.)

And for the acting -- I've seen criticisms of Kunis' transformation to wicked witch, and I don't agree with them at all -- she does a perfect homage to Margaret Hamilton. Weisz, unfortunately, is not particularly believable, at least not before she reveals her true colors, and even then, she seems stuck in a stereotype The same sadly, holds true of Franco -- he's credible in those scenes where Oz is sincere, few though they are, but Oz the huckster seems to fit a little uneasily. Williams is perfect, both as Annie, another one of Oz' women in the Kansas sequence, and as Glinda. The supporting cast is by turns appealing, funny, spiky, and thoroughly delightful -- they seem to have caught the underlying good humor of the story, which comes through in spite of the dire events.

(Disney Studios, 2013; 130 minutes, rated PG)

What's New at Green Man Review

It's our last What's New of the year, and it's got a lot of good things, so hop on over and take a look.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Lower Depths

keep getting lower. We all know that Donald Trump, who styles himself "president", is a miserable excuse for a human being, but this is beyond the pale.

President Donald Trump on Saturday attempted to blame Democrats for the two deaths of immigrant children being held by his Border Patrol and Customs enforcement officers.

“Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally,” Trump claimed.

“They can’t,” he argued. “If we had a Wall, they wouldn’t even try!”

“The two children in question were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol,” Trump continued.

“The father of the young girl said it was not their fault, he hadn’t given her water in days. Border Patrol needs the Wall and it will all end,” he claimed. “They are working so hard & getting so little credit!”

He's lying about the little girl -- her father said she had been fed and given water.

He's either feeling the heat or figures this is a good excuse to plug the wall (a/k/a a "beaded curtain") again. And of course, he's blaming Democrats for the policies of his administration. Because nothing's ever his fault.

And there's this:

Videos from a Southwest Key shelter for migrant children show staffers dragging and pushing children, incidents that occurred shortly before the federal government suspended the shelter's operations early this fall.

These are children that were separated from their parents by Trump's Department of Homeland Security.

Video at the link.

Both via Joe.My.God.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Culture Break: Maurice Ravel: Bolero

Again. But this time via the animated film Allegro Non Troppo, which was sort of a descendant/take-off on Disney's Fantasia.

Something To Remember

Thanks to commenter Halou at Joe.My.God.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Antidote: Walking the Walk

This is -- well, I'll let it speak for itself:

A story from The New York Times that reminds that there are some folks who walk the walk:
THE HAGUE — Jessa van der Vaart and Rosaliene Israel, two Dutch pastors, usually get to church by cycling through the streets of Amsterdam to a Protestant parish in the city center. But last Wednesday night, they packed their robes into the trunk of a car and drove down the highway to The Hague for what was the equivalent of a priestly shift change.
They would take over at 8 p.m. from a local minister at the modest Bethel Church. Then, at 11 p.m., they would be replaced by a group from the city of Voorburg, who were scheduled to pull an all-nighter, singing hymns and preaching until daylight, when another cleric would arrive to take the baton…
The two ministers were making their way to their post in what has become, as the Times wrote, a “marathon church service,” one that has been conducted continuously for the last six weeks, night and day.
Why is this happening? Because enough Dutch people, church-goers and more secular, have committed themselves to the succor of the least among them, and are being very clever about how they go about it:
Under an obscure Dutch law, the police may not disrupt a church service to make an arrest. And so for the past six weeks, immigration officials have been unable to enter Bethel Church to seize the five members of the Tamrazyan family, Armenian refugees who fled to the sanctuary to escape a deportation order.
What I find particularly cheering at this wretched pass in both US and European times is that this effort has grown into something more than a (totally praiseworthy) effort of a few folks in one neighborhood into a national expression of values:
The service, which began in late October as a little-noticed, last-gasp measure by a small group of local ministers, is now a national movement, attracting clergy members and congregants from villages and cities across the Netherlands. More than 550 pastors from about 20 denominations have rotated through Bethel Church, a nonstop service all in the name of protecting one vulnerable family.

It's Christmas

My favorite version of my favorite carol:

And as a bonus, my other favorite:

Whatever you're celebrating this season, peace, and good will.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

What's New at Green Man Review

It's the holiday season, in earnest, so there are lots of goodies at Green Man Review this week:

Ursula LeGuin’s The Books of Earthsea, Unicorns, The Feast of Seven Fishes, a Fairy-Tale Opera, Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’ and other Winter matters

Scoot on over and take a look.

Footnote: I completely blipped on the Solstice, which was Friday. Joy! The days are getting longer. (It's about time.)

Happy Solstice!

Review: Neil Bartlett: Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall

Another from Epinions.

Every once in a long while, you read a book that you may have read before, or may not have read before, but in either case, it is as though you had read it only yesterday and have sat down to find it all new again, but known. Then you know you have myth in your hand. This is the case wiith Neal Bartlett’s Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, which I first read about ten years ago, and have read a couple of times since.

Bartlett is a well-known British playwright, director, translator, and novelist. He has told a tale, in this work, that every gay man will look at and say “Yes! I have lived that – I know those people, I know those places.” It is, if not our creation myth, perhaps the myth of how we survived – are surviving -- to come into the Promised Land.

The tale takes place in a city – by inference, London, but it needn’t necessarily be London, it needn’t be any particular city at all – and is told by a narrator who remains nameless throughout, merely an observer, an observer who is either omniscient, or makes it up as he goes along. We will call him “the Auntie,” in keeping with the spirit of the book: the characters are the Boy; O (shortened from “the Older Man”); Mother, who begins as “Madame;” the cast of regulars at The Bar (we all know The Bar – we have all been there, whatever its name, and it has had many); there is even a Father, who appears mainly through letters.

To anyone caught firmly in the real world, in real time, the characters, and their behavior, border on the bizarre, when not completely beyond the line. Auntie explains the motivations, the rationales, sometimes, because, after all, he knows. So do we all, somehow. The Boy is nineteen when he first enters The Bar, and he is beautiful: white of skin, black of hair, slim, well-muscled, dark, dark eyes, every detail perfect for what he is: the Boy. O is the most handsome man in The Bar, perhaps in the city, also pale, dark-eyed, dark-haired, muscular, a face that could have graced a statue of any hero, any king, any god. Mother is the mover, the owner of The Bar, the one who precipitates “The Great Romance of Our Time,” as Auntie calls it. We see the first meeting, when the Boy has been coming to The Bar for eleven weeks, and has worked his way through the regulars, learning from each one, and never saying “No.” Auntie takes us through the courtship, the engagement, the wedding, all filled with detail, all rich in theater, encapsulating a century of gay history from a gay perspective: Bartlett’s note at the end of the book cites fragments and reworkings of Wilde, Baron Corvo, Genet, the blues, Hollywood, and more. The narration is rich, as only a story told by someone like the Auntie could be – sets, costumes, and cast are all examined fully. There is a kind of Lucy-Ricardo-meets-Harold-Pinter humor to the story.

It is theater, but it is also a war zone, given reality by small touches, small details: Mother installs a baptismal font in the bar, kept filled with condoms, and reminds “her boys” to use them. And, with a kind of sporadic, random regularity, Auntie reports another attack on a man, usually one of The Bar’s regulars – attacks with fists, with clubs, with knives.

It is very, very hard to explain the impact of this book, except that it is myth: Bartlett makes stereotypes into archetypes; there is a resonance to events, cast through Auntie’s eyes into scenes from movies – they are scenes from movies, whether anyone has filmed them or not; we have been these people, and we have seen them bigger than life. “Of course every year or so there is a new reigning couple, a new pair of heroes that the young men arriving look at and think, oh, I want it to be me, I want it to be me, I want it to be me; and that is why men like them are fabulous, in the true sense of the word. Because we need them to be. When people say, was it really like that? you want to say, yes, and you want to say, and it still is.” That’s the kind of reality that exists in this novel: not the humdrum, mass-produced, functional reality of daily life, but the bigger reality of real life, which is only real if we let it be, if we remember that we need more, we always need another dimension, we really need that.

Father, who is not the Boy’s real father, dies; the Boy brings him home to die, and the three of them – the Boy, O, the Father – all know that he is there to die. And at the funeral, another side of gay reality comes out: “O held onto him, but Boy said, don’t try to stop me from crying. Boy said, I am not crying because he’s dead. I am crying for the life he led. And it isn’t my fault and it wasn’t his fault but I wish there was somebody to blame, if he wasn’t to blame then who was to blame, who was it, oh I want to hurt them, I want to hurt them, I want to hurt them.”

To say that this novel is a tour de force is selling it short. I am very serious when I say that this is myth, with all the power and all the universality that implies. It is ceremony, it is ritual, it brings love, sex and death into the realm of the numinous, and it does it with the voice of an aging queen.

(Dutton, 1991 [orig. Serpent’s Tail, 1990])

"This Is Me"

Just to remind us that there's something besides Trump and his smallness and meanness:

Four of Queer Eye‘s Fab 5 helped three high school students achieve the dream of performing for an audience and the process took center stage in a new chills-inducing video for “This Is Me” from the remix album The Greatest Showman: Reimagined.

Rolling Stone reports: ‘The Jared Hogan-directed clip centers around three kids, Tim, Olivia and J’Shawn, each with a different passion — to rap, to sing and dance, respectively. The “This Is Me” remix — which features singer Keala Settle alongside Kesha and Missy Elliott — serves as the perfect montage music as Queer Eye‘s Antoni, Tan, Bobby and Jonathan work with the kids as they perfect their craft. The clip fittingly closes with a special performance in which Tim spits alongside Missy Elliott’s verse, Olivia belts with Settle and J’Shawn performs a spirited dance to the song.’

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Today's Must Read: The Russian Reaction

Via Digby, this article by Julia Davis at Daily Beast on the Russian reaction to Trump's order to withdraw troops from Syria. The lead-in:

The Kremlin is awash with Christmas gifts from Washington, D.C. and every move by the Trump administration seems to add to that perception. On Wednesday, appearing on the Russian state TV show “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” Director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Semyon Bagdasarov said that the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is “struggling to keep up” with the flurry of unexpected decisions by the U.S. President Donald Trump. The news that Mattis decided to step down sent shock waves across the world, being interpreted as “a dangerous signal” by America’s allies.

Meanwhile, the Mattis departure is being cheered in Russia. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, has said that “the departure of James Mattis is a positive signal for Russia, since Mattis was far more hawkish on Russia and China than Donald Trump.” Kosachev opined that Trump apparently considered his own agenda in dealing with Russia, China and America’s allies to be "more important than keeping James Mattis at his post," concluding: "That’s an interesting signal, and a more positive one” for Russia.

Jubilation was even more apparent on Russia’s state television, which adheres closely to the Kremlin’s point of view. The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva asserted: “Secretary of Defense Mattis didn’t want to leave Syria, so Trump fired him. They are leaving Syria.”

It's worth reading the whole thing just to get a good picture of how Trump is serving Russian interests.

This is quite possibly the worst decision Trump has made on foreign policy, or at least the one that's going to have the worst immediate result: this, more than anything else, is a signal to the rest of the world that America under Trump is no longer a player on the world stage. And we've been the linch-pin for the world order since the end of WWII.

Lest you think I'm overstating the case, read this story:

As Nikki Haley finishes her tenure this month, the woman who has spent the last two years representing the U.S. at the United Nations has a question for the American public: Should the U.S. remain a member?

“The American people need to decide if it’s worth it,” she said in an interview with a small group of journalists this week. There is a lot of waste and abuse at the UN, she said, and it is often “politically unfair” to the U.S. and its allies. That said, she also noted that the UN was the vehicle for imposing tough sanctions on North Korea and an arms embargo on South Sudan.

No, it's not a call to withdraw -- it's just putting the idea out so it can be picked up by the right-wing echo chamber -- which has never had any great love for the UN to begin with.

And it certainly fits Trump's isolationist vision.

Digby also has this to add to the stew: the decision-making process was bizarre, to say the least:

I think it's pretty clear that Trump's impulsive decision to withdraw from Syria has little to do with anything but his emotional need to assert his power in a political environment in which he's being buffeted by scandal and his own ineptitude. This AP tick-tock runs down exactly how it happened and it's terrifying. He capitulated to Erdogan on the spot, in defiance of every one of his national security counselors, and even more disturbing, when Erdogan realized that Trump had taken his at face value instead of negotiating some kind of agreement (at best) he too urged the president to back down.

He refused.
(Emphasis in original.)

You can see my previous posts on this disaster here, here, and here.

(Side note: it's probably worth mentioning that I had a history minor with an emphasis in modern European diplomatic history. The interactions between nations have always interested me, which is probably why I'm commenting so extensively on this situation.)

Today in Trump's America

This headline should stop you cold:

Poll: More than half of Republicans would support postponing 2020 election

The details:

A poll found that 52% of people who identify as or lean Republican said they would support postponing the 2020 election to ensure that only eligible citizens could vote if it was proposed by President Trump.

The survey, conducted by two academics and published in the Washington Post on Thursday, interviewed a sample of 1,325 Americans from June 5-20 and focused on the 650 people who said they were or leaned toward the GOP.

The poll also found that 56% said they would support such action — which would be taken to stop alleged voter fraud — if it was supported by both Trump and Republican members of Congress.

Ah, yes, "voter fraud." Like the three to five million fraudulent votes for Clinton in 2016. It's more properly termed "election fraud," and guess who's committing it:

Add in the highly questionable gubernatorial results in Georgia, and attempts by Republican legislatures to hamstring incoming Democratic governors and other officials in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan (states, by the way, that went for Trump in 2016), and we begin to see a pattern.

But back to the American Fascist Party, a/k/a Republicans:

Still, it's important to note that no Republican politician, including the president, has actually suggested this. The academics behind the poll, Ariel Malka of Yeshiva University and Yphtach Lelkes of the University of Pennsylvania, said:

Our survey is only measuring reactions to a hypothetical situation. Were Trump to seriously propose postponing the election, there would be a torrent of opposition, which would likely include prominent Republicans. Financial markets would presumably react negatively to the potential for political instability. And this is to say nothing of the various legal and constitutional complications that would immediately become clear. Citizens would almost certainly form their opinions amid such tumult, which does not at all resemble the context in which our survey was conducted.

However, the results shouldn't be simply dismissed, the academics said, because they indicated that there was a high number of Republicans who were willing to buck democratic norms.

"Buck democratic norms"? No, it's called destroying democracy. What's the first thing you do when you want to install an authoritarian regime? You "postpone" elections.

The fact that 52% of Republicans would consider postponing an election for any other reason than actual war on American soil is simply unacceptable.

Thanks to commenter pch1013 at Joe.My.God., at a post that's actually about how delighted the Russians are that Mattis is gone, Key quote:

State TV host Olga Skabeeva surmised that Americans are “losers, since Putin has defeated them in every way.” With a theatrical sigh, her co-host, Evgeny Popov, added: “Trump is ours again — what are you going to do?”

Friday, December 21, 2018

Idiot du Jour

And to think she was his major spokesperson during the campaign:

Since everyone is just now realizing his staffers role in the #RussiaHoax We have been asking questions! John McCain Still Refuses to Answer Questions About His Role in the Dossier https://t.co/acsVdH1GTq

— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) December 21, 2018

Yes, that's a real tweet.

Via Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice.

Payday for Putin, Update

As an update to this post, Trump's even lost Fox News on the Syria withdrawal.

First, Brian Kilmeade:

In a lengthy diatribe, Fox News' Brian Kilmeade excoriated Trump's impulsive announcement that the U.S. defeated ISIS and is pulling American troops out of Syria immediately.

Kilmeade: "In a stunning and irresponsible move yesterday the president blindsided his Secretary of Defense, national security advisor --- and decides he's going to immediately evacuate 2000 troops and the State Department is already packing their bags."

Ed Henry jump in saying should anybody in Congress be surprised and Kilmeade said, "yes" "It's totally irresponsible."

Kilmeade: "Nobody thinks that ISIS is defeated. Nobody who understands who was born after 2000, who sees what’s happened after 9/11 ---- "

He continued, "ISIS is there. They are still a factor. They are far from defeated. There's 30,000 there -- "

Brian went on to say that Iran, Turkey and Russia are "elated" over this decision.

Not to be outdone, Jennifer Griffin had this to say:

Griffin began, “Well, a senior U.S. Defense official tells me the president made the decision to pull out of Syria after speaking with Turkish President Erdogan last Friday, December 14th...”

It looks very much like once Erdogan told Trump his forces were going into Syria to go after the PKK, Trump acquiesced U.S. foreign policy to another strong man.

She said the US would not be able to protect its allies any longer in Syria.

She continued, "The Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF, who have fought alongside U.S. Forces to defeat ISIS and retake Raqqa, those Kurdish forces and other allies are likely to be slaughtered."

Slaughtered. These words were not chosen lightly.

Griffin: "As one senior U.S. Defense official put it to me, ‘no one will ever work or fight with us in the Middle East again as a result of this hasty withdrawal and the abandonment of those Kurds who risked everything to fight with the U.S. against ISIS.'

Yes, that really is Fox News. Slamming Trump for what may very well be the stupidest decision of his tenure -- so far.

Mattis is Out (Update)

Wondered how long it would take, since Trump seems to be hell-bent on getting rid of everyone who's competent.

The official version:

The reality is somewhat different. You can find Mattis' letter of resignation here, but I want to give you the core slap-down:

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked
to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While
the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or
serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those
allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States
should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to
provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances.
29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside
us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those
countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China
and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model
gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions to
promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is
why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign
actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of
immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order
that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this
effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better
aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my

Mattis is articulating what has been for over sixty years a (mostly) successful foreign policy, which is diametrically opposed to Trump's vision -- if, in fact, he has one. I'm not at all convinced on that score.

And of course, we can't help but wonder what incompetent sycophant Trump will pick as Mattis' successor.

(Stray thought: I wonder how long it's going to be before Trump decides that he needs a war to rile up his base. And who do you suppose he'll attack? Canada?)

Update: Digby has more background on the decision to withdraw from Syria that triggered Mattis' resignation. This, I think, is key:

Trump was reported to have told off Erdogan on Friday, but a Pentagon source told Newsweek that it was after this discussion that the president made his intentions to withdraw U.S. troops known to officials over the weekend.

But on Monday, Erdogan renewed his threats for a Turkish offensive in the U.S.-controlled territory in northeast Syria during a speech in Turkey's central Konya province. The Turkish president vowed that American forces would not be harmed in pending operations set to commence soon in the region.

At the same time, Congress was notified of a potential arms sale to the Turkish government of 140 Patriot surface-to-air missile variants and equipment worth $3.5 billion, according to a press release from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

Did he do this for arms sales? To wag the dog? Because Erdogon strong-armed him? Does he have a clue about the potential ramifications of doing this, particularly is there is a Kurdish bloodbath? (Not bloody likely.)

With Trump, it's always about the money.

Thursday, December 20, 2018


It's hard not to draw comparisons, but I won't mention the other guy:

Barack Obama has already tackled the second-hardest job in the world as U.S. President, but on Wednesday he donned the hat of the busiest guy in the world — Santa Claus.

Hauling a festively colored bag, Obama, 57, made a surprise visit to Children’s National hospital in Washington to distribute gifts — remote-control cars, glitter nail polish, Hot Wheels and jigsaw puzzles — to kids.

Via Joe.My.God.

Payday for Putin

Or maybe Erdogan. We're pulling out of Syria (via Joe.My.God.):

The Wall Street Journal reports:

In an abrupt reversal, the U.S. military is preparing to withdraw its forces from northeastern Syria, people familiar with the matter said Wednesday, a move that throws the American strategy in the Middle East into turmoil.

U.S. officials began informing partners in northeastern Syria of their plans to begin immediately pulling American forces out of the region where they have been trying to wrap up the campaign against Islamic State, the people said.

The move follows a call last week between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has threatened to launch an assault on America’s Kurdish partners in Syria.

This is what precipitated the move:

(Via this post from Cheryl Rofer at Balloon Juice, which goes on the give a good idea of the confusion this is causing among officials and pundits alike.)

My first reaction when I heard about this was "He's just handed Syria to Russia and Iran." I'm not the only one who thinks so. And Putin, of course, is delighted:

CNN's Alisyn Camerota announced that Putin is supporting Trump's announced and sudden withdrawal from Syria.

"This is happening right now during his end of the year news conference," Camerota said. "Russian President Vladimir Putin, says he agrees with President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and he adds that Trump is right about ISIS being defeated. Leaders of other countries disagree. CNN's Nathan Hodge is live in Moscow with more. Give us the headlines, Nathan."

"Alisyn, President Trump's decision that may have caused a lot of consternation for some, but it's an early Christmas president for Vladimir Putin, who is undergoing his annual ritual of his marathon interview session with the international press, and it's a chance to review his year on the world stage, and today he had big news to respond to with Trump's decision to pull troops from Syria. That's something the Russian government wanted to see, and Russian officials have been talking for a long time that the U.S. has no legal basis to be in Syria. . . .

"But this really does fulfill part of Putin's playbook wish list. Russia seems to be in the pole position in Syria, correct?" John Avlon said.

"That's right. Putin intervened in Syria to prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015 and turn the tide of the conflict in his favor. Russia, with the assistance, of course, of Iran, what Russia really wants to do and what it has been doing over the past months, is shaping outcomes in Syria, shaping what the peace will look like, and they are now the ones who are going to be the dominating factor here."

He's also left Turkey a free hand with the Kurds.

And here are some thoughts from Adam Silverman at Balloon Juice, who has, it seems, first-hand knowledge of what's Syria is all about.

Trump has just removed us as a force in the Middle East -- if this actually happens. (I'm more than a little ambivalent about our role as the world's policeman, but it strikes me that we've been pursuing a foreign policy since WWII that falls under the rubric Pax Americana, a successor to the Pax Britannica of the nineteenth century: to quote Teddy Roosevelt, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." We've managed to avoid a major conflagration, and while we haven't stopped wars, we've kept them within limits. Trump is throwing that all in the trash.)


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Culture Break: Maurice Ravel: Bolero

Courtesy of L'Orchestre National d'le-de-France at the Gare Saint-Lazare.

I love flash mobs.

With thanks to Bobby Cramer at Bark Bark Woof Woof.

Trump's "Big Beautiful Wall"

Is going to destroy the National Butterfly Center:

Today the most diverse butterfly sanctuary in the country, and other protected areas in the lower Rio Grande Valley along the US-Mexico border, are under threat. Last week, the US supreme court issued a ruling allowing the Trump administration to waive 28 federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, and begin construction on 33 new miles of border wall in the heart of the valley – and right through the butterfly center.

This is probably one of the worst abuses of power the Trump regime has come up with yet.

“It’s going to cut right through here,” said Wright, showing where the wall will split the center’s property 1.2 miles from the border and cut off access to nearly 70% of its land.

Trump has expansive federal powers to construct the border wall on both private and public land. Since 2005, the Department of Homeland Security has had the power to waive numerous environmental laws in the name of national security.

And the federal government can, and has, used eminent domain law to acquire privately owned land for public use.

“We fully anticipate that they will seize the land by quick take,” said Wright, referring to a Depression-era provision of the eminent domain law that gives federal agencies the right to take property without compensation or adjudication. “Legal claims are not addressed or settled. You don’t get your day in court. You don’t get to negotiate appraisals or offers. Nothing,” said Wright.

The proposed wall is over a mile from the border, and the project includes roads and an "enforcement zone" in which all vegetation will be cleared.

And can we talk about the abuse of eminent domain laws? Not that Trump cares about other people's property rights.

I don't expect anyone in the Trump regime to give a hoot about the environment and endangered species (and this project will likely doom some animals to extinction, such as the ocelot), but apparently they don't care about the economic damage to the area: ecotourism contributed $450 million to the local economy.


Via Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Science Note: Saturn's Rings

They're younger than Saturn itself, and they're disappearing:

So, if you want to see Saturn's rings in all their glory, you'd better hurry: they'll be gone in three hundred million years,

Monday, December 17, 2018

Today's Must-Read: Christian Nation

Here's a nice, scary article to start off the week, from Paul Rosenberg at Salon, via RawStory:

In the 2016 election, Trump got 81 percent support from white evangelical Christians, and a study by Clemson sociologist Andrew Whitehead and two colleagues (Salon story here) found that “the ‘religious vote’ for Trump was primarily the result of Christian nationalism,” an Old Testament-based worldview fusing Christian and American identities that “can be unmoored from traditional moral import emphasizing only its notions of exclusion and apocalyptic war and conquest.”

The targeting of good Samaritans for deportation, or blaming a refugee family for their seven-year-old daughter’s death in Border Patrol custody are features, not bugs, of the Christian nationalist worldview. Never mind what Matthew 25:35 says: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

This week, new exit-poll data from this year’s midterm elections re-emphasized how much the Trump-led GOP depends on evangelical voters, as opposed to the much more discussed “white working class.” Among white non-evangelicals, non-college-educated men voted for Republicans, 53 to 44 percent, while women voted Democratic by 57 to 41 percent. But among white evangelicals there was virtually no difference between college and non-college voters in their GOP support: 78 percent among men for both groups, and 73 and 71 percent, respectively, for women.

All this amounts to a flashing red light warning that Christian nationalism is the most important and most overlooked factor behind Donald Trump’s presidency and the political power of the GOP generally. But it’s not just a passive or latent force, as Trump’s border cruelty suggests.

It's worth reading -- he goes into detail on what's been discovered about the "religious" right's strategy for taking over the country -- because that's what they're working on.

I can't help but find the irony in this -- these religious fanatics, who consider themselves the "real" Americans, hold views and attitudes that directly repudiate the core values of this country -- not to mention the core values of Christianity.

And of course they've flocked to the Republican party, which under their influence has become the party of racism, white supremacism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism, just for starters.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Review: Camille Bacon-Smith: Eye of the Daemon

Camille Bacon-Smith is a folklorist and author who has written, in addition to her four novels, several books and articles about popular culture. Eye of the Daemon is the first book in the “Daemons, Inc.” series, about Kevin Bradley, known as Brad, a private investigator who is actually the demon Badad; Evan Davis, his half-human son; and Lily Ryan, their partner and Evan’s lover, who is the demon Lirion.

Bacon-Smith’s background for the daemons and their relationship to humans is set up as a series of forewords to each chapter, which explain the seven spheres of creation and read as though they were taken from the Qabbala; the Princes, each composed of a quorum of daemons, occupy the Second Sphere, in which only space exists; Badad and Lirion are lords of the Prince Ariton. Earth and humanity occupy the First Sphere, which contains both space and time – hence, mortality. We learn, in the course of the story, that Evan, as a daemon halfling, is a wild-card, a being of immense power who works in both time and space. By the mere fact of his existence, he could cause the destruction all seven spheres; other halflings have been insane, and either killed themselves or been killed early in their lives, and so have never posed the threat that Evan does. Evan has had his own bit of hell to live through, centered around a club in New York called the Black Masque, run by the demon Omage, which figures in the present tale. He was rescued by his father, who, given the choice of destroying Evan or taking responsibility for him and allowing him to live, chose the latter. He is at a loss to explain his motives, except perhaps that he has spent too much time in human form, and the “meat thinking” starts to take over. Badad and Lirion have also been, in essence, exiled to the material plane to keep Evan under control until his natural death as the price of his life. Kevin has taught his son to control his wanderings between the planes. The reader also begins to become aware of anomalies in the natural world that seem to be tied to Evan’s moods.

The firm of Bradley, Ryan and Davis specializes in cases requiring a great deal of discretion – recovery of stolen art, for example. They are distinctly high-end. The story begins when Marnie Simpson, a wealthy horse-breeder, comes to Bradley, Ryan and Davis about her missing brother. He has been kidnapped, and the ransom note – burned into the top of her dining-room table – leaves no doubt that the case is one for Kevin Bradley: the note demands the return of the “Eye of Omage,” or her brother will spend eternity wishing for death, and specifies the firm of Bradley, Ryan and Davis as the ones to handle the exchange. Omage is a lord of the Prince Azmod, a rival prince to Ariton – or, to the daemon way of thinking, Asmod never makes alliances with Ariton -- and an enemy especially to Badad, since Omage is the daemon who almost destroyed Evan. After Evan’s initial research turns up some surprising connections between Marnie Simpson, her husband Franklin, and the Black Masque, Kevin and Lily decide that they will handle the case; Evan is overdue for a vacation, so he will spend some time in Europe, relaxing.

Early on, it becomes apparent that this case is a trap, but who is the target? The Eye of Omage, it appears, is a large topaz that Lily had brought back from Venice with the stolen Picasso, and for which Evan feels a strange affinity. Evan, staying with his friends in London, Claudia and Jack Laurence, friends from the Black Masque days, runs into the client for whom they had recovered the Picasso, Charles St. George, in a small bookstore in which Claudia works, and the three have dinner together. The next day, Kevin is visited by another daemon lord of Azmod, Pathet, who burns Jack to a cinder and tries to implicate Evan in the murder. Within the hour, the bookstore in which Claudia works is firebombed and she is kidnapped.

This is a fair mystery story, with its share of plot twists and revelations – no one is telling the truth, no one is who they seem to be. It is even more a story that explores the mysteries of relationships between sons and fathers, in the persons of Badad and Evan. Do generations ever really understand each other, even without the twist of a daemon father? Mature men are in authority, and there is always that tension between mature man and young man, who needs to move into his own power, his own independence. Even, as in this case, when father says, simply, “It’s up to you,” there is the question, “Will he save me this time?” in balance with the question “Can I do this alone?” Evan, after surviving the nightmares of his childhood and the nightmare of his early manhood, has a father who is a daemon, and is, at least in theory, as incapable of feeling love as he is of understanding death – and how many of us have felt that way about our fathers?

Evan is a damaged man – he had been well beyond the bounds of sanity when found by his father, and even with the healing he has managed, he still suffers from exaggerated feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Evan’s feeling of guilt sometimes come very close to getting in the way of the story; Kevin’s ruminations about his feeling for this son, on the other hand, are illuminating. (It would seem that the daemon Badad, having spent so long in human form, has fallen prey to the human propensity to wonder “Why?”). Lily, by contrast, is very direct, almost elemental; she never bothers to worry about her feelings for Evan, if any – she calls him “monster” and her “toy.”

About binding daemons: Bacon-Smith has set up a strong contrast between the bindings under which Pathet and Omage are held, based on greed and the desire for power, and the binding that Evan places on Badad and Lirion, proposed and agreed to purely as a means to protect them from whoever is controlling the lords of Azmod – they understand the danger to Badad and Lirion early on. This contrast opens up another, tangent question: the impossible tangle of human motivations, particularly our capacity for self-sacrifice, which is incomprehensible to daemon-kind – humans barely understand it themselves. The final confrontation is intense – Evan is held in check only by his humanity – and is actually two confrontations: Evan has to deal not only with the daemons Omage and Pathet and their human captors, but Count Alfredo da Costa – art thief and something more – whose duty at this point is to kill him. (Da Costa’s character, which comes into prominence only at the end of the book, never really gels – he has a duty, but manages to drag out the execution of it long enough to give Evan the chance to defy him.)

Bacon-Smith has made an absorbing story, although it suffers from a little bit too much self-examination on Evan’s part; its sequel, Eyes of the Empress is better in this regard. She is, however, a good writer, with a unique presentation of daemon’s in a modern urban fantasy.

(DAW Books, 1996)

What's New at Green Man Review

It's a Charles de Lint edition, including a "quasi-critical" essay on his writing by yours truly, so hop on over.

And the Winner Is. . . !

It's high time for another Tony Perkins Award, and not surprisingly the winner is Tony Perkins:

A half-decade into its LGBT experiment, the Boy Scouts are a step away from bankruptcy. Turns out, their defining moment may also be a fatal one. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the group has been bleeding members since it broke camp and allowed in kids and leaders who openly identify as gay and transgender. Not long after that, one of its biggest backers, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced the withdrawal of tens of thousands of young LDS from the program.

Friends, if you’re wondering where the road of compromise leads, this is it. This is the future of anyone in the Christian community who exchanges the truth for cowardly conformism. The Boy Scouts dropped their moral mandate to accommodate what they don’t believe. In the current climate, that’s called “inclusion.” But if the Scouts were being more inclusive, why didn’t their numbers grow? Because, when you try to appeal to a conflicting moral viewpoint you only end up attracting the conflict!

It seems the reality is a bit different:

The Boy Scouts of America is considering filing for bankruptcy in part because insurance companies are balking at paying settlements to almost a dozen men who claim they were sexually abused as boys by a notorious scoutmaster.

I can't find any long-range summaries of membership, but it's been declining for years. There are probably several factors -- the inclusion of gays scouts sparked a reaction from reactionaries, with the Mormon Church severing all ties with the Scouts and a number of "religious" groups following suit. Perkins got that part right, but ignored the other factors (of course). There are many more options available to children these days, and of course, no parent is going to knowingly send their kid to an organization that not only harbors sexual predators, but actively covers up their misdeeds.

So, once again Perkins is tailoring reality to demonize a minority. And he wonders why FRC is known as a hate group.

Via Joe.My.God, with thanks to commenter Baltimatt for the NBC link.

Music Note

Just scrolling through my music and discovered I have thirty-seven albums of music by Philip Glass.

That should tell you something.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Image of the Week

I love it:

With thanks to commenter Slippy-World at Joe.My.God., in a post about something else entirely.

In case you managed somehow to miss the image this is based on, here's the White House Christmas decorations for 2018:

Friday, December 14, 2018

Music Note

(See what I did there?) I haven't really mentioned this before, but I play music in the morning while I'm surfing/blogging/whatever. Lately, instead of sticking with my few favorites and the playlists I've put together, I've been playing the stuff that I don't listen to that much. It's all stored on my computer, so it's just a matter of skimming through the files and picking something to play.

One thing, though, is that now I find myself wondering "What am I listening to?" when I don't recognize the music. (Just to give you an idea of the scope of this, my file directory for music lists about 500 folders. Some of those folders have more than one album --they're all listed by artist, so that "Stravinsky" is one folder -- but it contains thirteen albums. The Beethoven folder has sixteen albums; Depeche Mode has eighteen. I think the actual count is somewhere in the neighborhood of 750-800 albums and playlists. They're on my computer because -- well, when compact discs are taking over your space, you have to do something.)

The reason I bring this up is because it just happened. And then I remembered -- Toru Takemitsu, "Toward the Sea". (Actually, the album is titled I Hear the Water Dreaming, but "Toward the Sea" was the piece that was playing.)

And that's what's playing now.

Lest We Forget

That our "free and independent press" probably contributed as much to Trump's election as the NRA and Putin combined, Betty Cracker has a post at Balloon Juice illustrating that they're still stuck in that hole -- the one called "compromise with terrorists". She starts off with a couple of right-wing shills, but then hits the nugget:

But Thiessen’s narrative is seeping into The Post editorial board, which published an opinion earlier today that was infuriatingly entitled “Trump and Democrats can reach a deal on the wall — if they have the spine to take it.” Here’s the conclusion:

If there is a moral imperative in any trade-off involving immigration and security, it’s the urgent necessity of finding a way to ensure a future in this country for dreamers, who are Americans by upbringing, education, loyalty and inclination — by every metric but a strictly legal one. Striking a deal that achieves that outcome should be a no-brainer for both sides. If it means a few billion dollars to construct segments of Mr. Trump’s wall, Democrats should be able to swallow that with the knowledge that it also will have paid to safeguard so many young lives, careers and hopes. That’s not a tough sell even in a Democratic primary.

Any compromise worth the trouble involves painful concessions for each side, but in this case, if assessed with cool heads, the concessions are a far cry from excruciating. The question, for both sides, is familiar: Do they want an issue or a solution? If it’s the latter, it’s eminently achievable.

It's worth reading the whole editorial -- it's a good sign as to how far the Post editorial board has its head up its own ass. The wall is nothing more than a boondoggle, a campaign slogan tailored to appeal to the least thoughtful and critical -- and most racist -- of Trump's base. There's also the fact that the "World's Greatest Negotiator" is not going to negotiate -- if he makes any concessions, he'll renege on them at the first opportunity.

Welcome to Trump's America, where the "enemies of the people" are so caught up in being "fair and balanced" (by right-wing standards) that they are neither.

Today's Must-Read: Exodus

It seems that conservatism, as it is constituted today, and evangelical Christianity -- the real stuff, not the "religious right" -- aren't such a good fit after all:

Since the 1970s, white evangelicals have formed the backbone of the Republican base. But as younger members reject the vitriolic partisanship of the Trump era and leave the church, that base is getting smaller and older. The numbers are stark: Twenty years ago, just 46 percent of white evangelical Protestants were older than 50; now, 62 percent are above 50. The median age of white evangelicals is 55. Only 10 percent of Americans under 30 identify as white evangelicals. The exodus of youth is so swift that demographers now predict that evangelicals will likely cease being a major political force in presidential elections by 2024.

And the cracks are already showing.

In the 2018 midterms, exit polls showed, white evangelicals backed Republicans by 75 to 22 percent, while the rest of the voting population favored Democrats 66 to 32 percent. But evangelicals were slightly less likely to support House Republicans in 2018 than they were to support Trump in 2016—which may have contributed to the Democrats’ pickup of House seats. Trump’s support actually declined more among white evangelical men than women. The 11-point gender gap between evangelical men and women from 2016 shrank to 6 in the midterms.

Here's what seems to me to be the real issue:

To be sure, evangelical Christians have been rewarded for their support of Trump after enduring eight years wandering in Barack Obama’s political desert. They have two new conservative Supreme Court justices, and there have been nine self-professed evangelical Cabinet members, plus a flurry of laws and executive orders clamping down on gender roles, abortion and LGBTQ rights. But experts say this may represent the last bounty for a waning political power. Unlike their parents, the younger generation is not animated by the culture wars; many are pushing for social justice for migrants and LGBTQ people and campaigning against mass incarceration—positions more in line with the Democratic Party.

And, to paraphrase: It's the hypocrisy, stupid!

“The fact is that leaders like [Dallas megachurch leader and Trump supporter] Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Jr. are blatantly power hungry and willing to make these alliances, providing a theology that supports white nationalism.”

It's worth reading the whole thing, which provides some good historical background on the whole movement.


Idiot du Jour: "Tariff Man"

He really doesn't understand anything about anything:

President Trump, who has deemed himself “a Tariff Man” and made tariffs a centerpiece of his presidential agenda, incorrectly explained how they work during an interview with Fox News’ Harris Faulkner.

“We have placed tremendous tariffs on China. When China sends things into America now, they’re paying 25% interest on everything they send in.”

Reality check: Tariffs are a tax paid by importers — not by exporters. This is not the first time that Trump has incorrectly suggested that revenue from tariffs comes from foreign countries.

In other words, he's claiming to be tough on China while screwing us. Again.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Today in Disgusting People: Aryan Barbie Edition

Who else but Ann Coulter?

Many on the left believe Ann Coulter has become irrelevant, but she still holds sway on the right. The 57-year old may have morphed from conservative pundit to far right wing extremist, but she still has the ability to draw crowds. Coulter has 2.1 million followers on Twitter, over 675,000 followers on Facebook, and is a New York Times bestselling author. And she still influences voters, especially when she goes on Fox News. . . .

Tuesday night on Fox News' "Ingraham Angle," hosted by another extremist, Laura Ingraham, Coulter unleashed what some see as racism and bigotry so extreme it must be countered.

And of course it was on a show hosted by another Aryan Barbie. Here's what caused the outrage:

Actually, for Coulter that's not so extreme. And yes, of course she's a racist. It's part of the definition of "conservative."

Let's face it, she's just a loudmouth who will say whatever gets her some attention -- or whatever someone will pay her to say -- and if it's offensive to a majority of Americans, so much the better.

The Lower Depths

keep getting lower. The United States has now "reinterpreted" a 1995 agreement between the US and Vietnam regarding the status of Vietnamese refugees:

The Trump administration is resuming its efforts to deport certain protected Vietnamese immigrants who have lived in the United States for decades—many of them having fled the country during the Vietnam War.

This is the latest move in the president’s long record of prioritizing harsh immigration and asylum restrictions, and one that’s sure to raise eyebrows—the White House had hesitantly backed off the plan in August before reversing course. In essence, the administration has now decided that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the country before the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Vietnam are subject to standard immigration law—meaning they are all eligible for deportation.

The new stance mirrors White House efforts to clamp down on immigration writ large, a frequent complaint of the president’s on the campaign trail and one he links to a litany of ills in the United States.

Remember, though, immigrants are only responsible for a "litany of ills" if they're not white.

Read it -- it's a fairly complex situation and the article explains it pretty well, in addition to pointing up the Trump regime's finesse at international relations. (Yes, that was meant to be sarcastic.)

Via Joe.My.God. Some of the comments at Joe's post are pretty interesting -- I had forgotten the number of Vietnamese who settled in the South, particularly in coastal areas. It appears from some of the comments that they are not only accepted, but well integrated into their communities. Chicago also has a substantial and lively Vietnamese community, centered on Argyle street around Broadway. (The traffic jams on weekends of people waiting to get into the parking lot for the Vietnamese market is amazing.) Most of the businesses and a lot of the apartment buildings are Vietnamese-owned.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Today's Must-Read: By Any Means Necessary, Again

This post by Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo starts off with a quote that -- well, hide your irony meter:

"Once you start down the path of diluting, obviating, nullifying the results of an election, it’s very hard to pull back from that," Norman Ornstein tells NBC News. Ornstein, an American Enterprise Institute scholar, responded to the domino-like chain of events in states from North Carolina to Wisconsin to Michigan in which controlling parties seen to have lost ground in the last election quickly moved to undercut the powers of the incoming electeds — governors of the opposing party, most notably.

In case you're not familiar with the American Enterprise Institute, it bills itself as non-partisan, stating on its website:

AEI actively seeks and encourages engagement with those who hold different points of view. We welcome civil disagreement because we believe that a competition of ideas is essential to a free society. This is the same approach to scholarship that AEI has taken since our founding in 1938.

It is unusual in Washington, DC, to embrace open debate, intellectual freedom, and human welfare—and to do so unencumbered by partisan considerations and special interests. As a result, decision makers and leaders in Washington and across the country trust our work, and we are able to foster cooperation at a time of deep division in our country and abroad.

Everyone else considers it a right-wing organization. As you can see from the quote above, they're absolutely correct.

At any rate, Ornstein is talking about the investigation into the chicanery in the election for North Carolina's 9th District Congressoinal seat, based on strong evidence of illegal activities by the Republican campaign. As Sullivan points out, the ones who are trying to nullify the results of elections are, in fact, Republicans.

Culture Break: The Danish String Quartet: The Dromer

I finally found a live performance of this one, which is on their album Last Leaf.

No, it's not the best video in the world, but it does give an idea of their energy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Today in Outer Space

First, "to boldly go where no man has gone before." (Well,once before.)

Eleven billion miles from Earth, NASA's long-lived Voyager 2 probe, still beaming back data 41 years after its launch in 1977, has finally moved into interstellar space, scientists revealed Monday, joining its sister ship Voyager 1 in the vast, uncharted realm between the stars.

Voyager 2 moved past the boundary of the heliosphere, the protective bubble defined by the sun's magnetic field and electrically charged solar wind, on Nov. 5. The transition was marked by a sharp decline in the number of charged particles detected by the spacecraft's plasma science experiment, or PLS.

The instrument has not detected any signs of the solar wind since then.

Image:  NASA

Via Joe.My.God.

And, in the realm of big bangs:

The news came a few days ago, but on cosmic time scales that’s still hot of the presses: LIGO, the twin instrument gravitational wave detectors, in collaboration with the European VIRGO detector, announced the discovery of four new black-hole collisions, measured in the gravity waves given off by those titanic wrecks.

That’s hot stuff: the report of the first gravity-wave detection came just two years ago, paying off a prediction first made (tentatively) by Albert Einstein almost exactly a century earlier in his general theory of relativity.

In its most compact form the general theory boils down to a single equation, just one short line of symbols. The quip is that in relativity, it all boils down to space and time telling matter and energy where to go, while energy and matter tell spacetime what shape to be. A gravity wave is that joke in action: matter-energy in violent motion jostles spacetime into waves we can, only in the last few years, actually see.

I can't even imagine the scale of these events.

Image du Jour

I don't need to add anything to this:

Thanks to John Cole at Balloon Juice.

Today's Must-Read: Rearguard Actions

It seems that the Republican-majority legislatures in some states are not happy with losing the governor's mansion and are taking steps to correct it. From Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo:

However history judges President George H.W. Bush's career, the handwritten note wishing incoming Democrat Bill Clinton well showed a respect for the office and for the people's will markedly lacking among what passes for conservatives today. Left upon Bush's leaving the White House in defeat and widely read again at his recent death, the note may have tweaked a Republican conscience or two. “Your success now is our country’s success,” Bush wrote. “I am rooting hard for you.”

Charlie Sykes, the conservative commentator and erstwhile supporter of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, advises Walker in The Atlantic to consider how history will judge him. The Republican-dominated legislature in a lame-duck session last week passed a package of bills undercutting the powers of incoming Democrat Tony Evers who defeated Walker in November.

Besides attempting yet again to limit voting in Wisconsin, the legislation forces Evers to pursue the state's lawsuit against Obamacare, attacks preexisting conditions protections, and codifies Walker's work requirements for Medicaid recipients. The legislation is "petty, vindictive, and self-destructive," Sykes writes, and "worse than a crime. It was a blunder." Signing it, Sykes advises, would be "a huge mistake."

My guess is Walker will sign it: he's that petty and vindictive, just like his party.

It all circles back to what I've been saying about the Republicans for a while: they are not interested in governing; they want to rule -- basically, they despise the American system of government.* And to do that they have to maintain their power, by whatever means necessary.

Read it.

* I've noted this before about conservative "Christians," whose whole belief system is the antithesis of America's foundational principles: they are authoritarian, racist, oligarch-friendly, and hypocritical in a major way. Their motivations are the same as those of the party at large -- in fact, they've become those of the party at large: gaining and maintaining power.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

What's New at Green Man Review

it's Sunday again, and that means reviews at Green Man Review:

Lots of Tull, Haydn’s “The Seasons”, Questions About Angels, a country house mystery, and other matters for you to consider

Yes, we (or at least some of us) are enamored of Jethro Tull. Pop on over and enjoy.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Saturday Science: Earth: A Biography: The Cambrian Explosion

At long last. It's been a bit weird around here, but I'm getting back on track.

The story so far: Over the course of about three billion years or so, after earth cooled off a bit after its formation, we've seen living organisms develop from organic molecules in the environment. We're not sure how these molecules were organized (or organized themselves) into actual critters, but they did, first simple single-celled organisms, prokaryotes, and eventually eukaryotes, which are the forerunners of pretty much everything. Those first organisms are actually an assumption: in rocks dating to 3.8 to 3.5 billion years ago, there are traces of carbon in patterns similar -- very similar -- to those left by bacteria today.

The prokaryotes -- Archaea and Bacteria -- are still with us, but they haven't developed all that much from where they were 600 million years ago. The big difference, and it is a big one, is that the eukaryotes have a cell nucleus, which contains the cell's DNA, and various organelles, some with their own DNA, that control various processes within the cell. A couple of important points: we have fossil records of organisms with exoskeletons from about 550 million years ago (hereinafter known as "mya"). To state the obvious, this is a strong indicator that we already have fairly complex organisms that may be divided into "predators" and "prey." (The major reason to develop an exoskeleton is that something wants to eat you.)

And somewhere along the line, they discovered, or invented, sex, which is critically important: before this, reproduction was asexual, producing offspring that were exact duplicates of their parent (usually -- sometimes mutations would happen that would introduce some variation, but this was a rare and chancy occurrence). The advantage of sex is that it automatically introduces a range of characteristics into the offspring, providing them with a much greater ability to adapt to changing conditions -- and, as we've seen, conditions were pretty much constantly changing. (A side note: I can't find any contemporary references, but I seem to remember from reading long ago that in the early stages, sexual reproduction was pretty much a free-for-all: there were no species yet. At some point regulatory genes developed that halted the exchange of DNA between unlike organisms: we now have species.)

Now, this may seem like a lot of assumptions with no hard evidence, but we know that the earth started out with organic compounds and somewhere along the line living creatures appeared. We're talking, from the very beginnings to the opening of the Cambrian, roughly three billion years. Remember that evolution operates through generations, and that even without sexual reproduction, there are genetic variations caused by mutations. And remember that the length of a generation for a single-celled organism is about fifteen minutes. That's a lot of generations, and potentially a lot of mutations, and when you factor in sexual reproduction, which introduces even more variability into the genome, pretty much anything is possible. And so we arrive at the Cambrian Period.

Let's take a look at what the world looked like at the point:

Early Cambrian continnents.  Image: New World Encyclopedia

As you can see, most of the land was concentrated in the Southern Hemisphere, and there was a lot of ocean. Since the land was pretty much uninhabitable, that was a good thing.

At the beginning of this period, we have some multicellular organisms -- simple sponges or jellyfish-like animals, most of which were stationary, although some did move around. The majority of organisms were single-celled and formed a mat on the ocean floor, feeding directly on the minerals in the rocks. Some of the multicellular animals fed on them.

There's some debate as to what caused what happened next. The prevailing theory has been that the increase in oxygen levels (due, as you'll no doubt remember, to the emergence of cyanobacteria and their relatives, which introduced photosynthesis into the mix, releasing free oxygen as a waste product) made multicellular organisms possible. Some researchers are maintaining that the oxygen levels not only varied over time, but were not great enough to permit the existence of larger multicellular organisms. (Remember that we're dealing with organisms that mostly don't have respiratory systems yet: they're getting their oxygen, as well as their daily sustenance, directly from the environment.) I think it's apropos at this point to introduce the concept of threshold events: things may go along close to the status quo while conditions are changing, and then you reach a tipping point that involves sudden, dramatic changes. We'll see this again and again in the course of life on earth.

What makes this event, or series of events, so important is that almost all the major groups of organisms -- phyla, to be technical -- make their first appearance. And these are the phyla that still exist today (with a few exceptions that didn't make it this far). To give you an idea of what it might have looked like:

Looks pretty alien, doesn't it? But just about all of those kinds of organisms are still around -- or their descendants are.

The Cambrian Explosion necessarily runs into the Ordovician period: diversity increased, some organisms vanished, and some began to colonize the land. By this point there is enough free oxygen in the atmosphere to form an ozone layer, filtering out the worst of the sun's ultraviolet, which had before this kept living organisms confined to the oceans. So, some brave bacteria, fungi, etc. essayed that new environment, sticking close to the water, and perhaps living in the shallows. The end result of this is that as they digested the mineral-rich sediments, and then died and decayed, they created soil that was capable of supporting life. (There is evidence that some animals were exploring the land well before this -- about 530 mya; there is no evidence, however, that they hung around for any length of time.) The first plants -- and probably a few arthropods -- were thus able to survive, although they, too, stuck close to the water: they hadn't yet evolved the means to survive without it.

So we're ready for the invasion of the land.