Thursday, April 30, 2015

What Makes Sleep Paralysis Scary

The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli (1781)
Imagine waking up to find you can't move a muscle. It's dark, but you're sure you feel a presence in the room, hovering near your bed — or perhaps sitting on your chest, crushing the breath out of you.

This weird phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis, and a new study finds that understanding why it happens helps people feel less distressed after an episode. Believing that sleep paralysis is brought on by the supernatural, on the other hand, makes people feel more unnerved.
That supernatural thing we all at one point or another in our lives felt ... it was all in our minds. Every time. Every kid who dies and sees heaven ... nope. Every ghost in your grandparents' house ... wasn't there. Every inexplicable sound, transcendent vision, or mysterious touch you felt in the dark ... they all have an explanation, you just didn't know what it was.

It's all in our minds. And perhaps, all you zombies are only in mine?

Too Many Chimps?

Oh my. This is some 1970 right here. I thought this had to be an April Fool's Joke or something, but it's not. Seventeen episodes produced for ABC Saturday mornings. "Two of the three producer/creators—Stan Burns and Mike Marmer—who had been writers for Get Smart, quit their jobs as head writers on The Carol Burnett Show to work on Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp." [Wikipedia]

If nothing else, watch the opening titles, you won't believe how long they go on ...


Once again, hat tip to Mark D. for bringing this to my attention.

Americans don't like big government - are, generally speaking, ignorant hypocrites.

Americans don't like big government - but like many programs: poll | Reuters

Conservative presidential candidates hitting the 2016 campaign trail are firing up crowds with calls to shrink the U.S. government, but a new poll shows that Republican voters who rally to that cry still want to maintain many federal programs.
Give'em hell, Bernie.

Give 'Em Hell, #BernieSanders

Give 'Em Hell, Bernie Sanders | Rolling Stone

Image via RS/Win McNamee/Getty
Sanders genuinely, sincerely, does not care about optics. He is the rarest of Washington animals, a completely honest person. If he's motivated by anything other than a desire to use his influence to protect people who can't protect themselves, I've never seen it. Bernie Sanders is the kind of person who goes to bed at night thinking about how to increase the heating-oil aid program for the poor.
We should have a long, national discussion about why Bernie can't win (but should) and what it means that we are so deeply screwed by our political system. Not a fatalist discussion that concedes the argument to the moneyed interests, but one that focuses on all the reasons he can't win are the things we should be fixing. Aggressively. Now.

If people knew Bernie and what he stands for, they could block out the chatter designed to delegitimize his candidacy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Four to Doomsday - " Love?" "The exchange of two fantasies, your Majesty."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Four to Doomsday - Details

Season 19, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #118) | Previous - Next | Index

This is one I feel like I could do from memory. Not because it's particularly memorable, just from having it on DVD so long it's built up more instances of being watched than were warranted. If you watched this one, but not recently, I'll wager the things you remember are the cricket ball in space trick, the aboriginal dancing, and Burt Kwouk.

With any luck, you forgot how painful Adric and Tegan are together, and separately. To be clear: Janet Fielding is wonderful and I don't blame her for Tegan. In fact, Ms. Fielding may have single-handedly saved this story from embarrassing itself irredeemably by insisting the scene where Tegan and Kurkutji speak be written in an actual language -- not just some oogy-boogy jabbering made up on the spot. Now, how Tegan would know a 35,000+ year-old native Australian language is never explained, nor why she needs to translate at all. Like anything you think for more than a minute about in this story; so problematic.

Wish I could say that re-watching inspired me to write a spirited defense, or that I noticed something fascinating I'd missed all the other times. But, no. If anything, I was less comfortable than ever with the portrayal of the ethnically diverse androids -- and not just during the "recreationals," or while the term Chinaman was being bandied about. This time, it struck me how Bigon, the rational (white) Greek philosopher loves democracy so much, he alone couldn't be swayed by the Urbankans' offer of power over his ethnic group upon their return to Earth. Not like those savage Chinese, Mayans, and native Australians. (In this story's defense, they others at least came around at the end.)

Without Adric and Tegan, this might've had a puncher's chance at developing into decent story. Some of it holds up surprisingly well. But, it's got Adric and Tegan, and the aforementioned awkward tossing around of the word Chinaman working against it. Though I guess it's not the Doctor's fault "Chinaman" is a term for a left-handed googly, which he uses to talk about  his bowling skills. And, Tegan does knock Adric out cold, so she's got that going for her.

After losing Adric (brat, sexist, naive fascist) and Tegan, the script would've needed a thorough rewrite to fix the dialogue. Concept-wise, I will grant that Monarch's (oh, the subtly) delusion of godhood and daft plan were just the dose of bizarre this story of poisonous frogs & dancing androids on a giant space cruiser needed. That could stay in our rewrite. Sort out the timeline, give Persuasion (oh boy) more opportunities to be persuasive, give Burt Kwouk a sub-plot of his own, and you'd be on to something with the bones of this story.

As it is, hard to make much much of a case for this one beyond observing it could have been a lot worse and, while utterly mediocre, it's at least watchable.

Additional Resources:

A Christian Nation? Since When?

James W. Fifield Jr.
Image via
But the founding fathers didn’t create the ceremonies and slogans that come to mind when we consider whether this is a Christian nation. Our grandfathers did. 
 Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.
A little more on Rev. Fifield. Billy Graham I'm sure you've heard of ...

In Support of Baltimore: Or; Smashing Police Cars Is Logical Political Strategy

In Support of Baltimore: Or; Smashing Police Cars Is Logical Political Strategy | RADICAL FAGGOT:

And when we see police cars being smashed and corporate property being destroyed, we should see reasonable responses to generations of extreme state violence, and logical decisions about what kind of actions yield the desired political results.

Monday, April 27, 2015

New ☆ Tweet from @DavidOAtkins

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Baltimore Now

Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP via abcnews
First things first.
Yes, there is a lot to be argued, debated, addressed. And this moment, as inevitable as it has sometimes seemed, can still, in the end, prove transformational, if not redemptive for our city. Changes are necessary and voices need to be heard. All of that is true and all of that is still possible, despite what is now loose in the streets. 
But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death. 
If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.
Peaceful protests help the majority of the public see your side of the story. Violent protests give the guys who want to crack down the excuse they need to do so. It gives those who are inclined to say you need militarized policing the evidence they were seeking.

Things need to change and the public shouldn't have to wait, shouldn't have to wait any longer than they already have. I'm in no position to tell anyone not to be angry.

Accountability. All around. If you let your anger get the best of you, expect to be accountable. We need to work on holding the people who start the violence accountable.

Holding Corporations Accountable

Holding Corporations Accountable - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money:
If Walmart or Gap wants to contract production to Bangladesh or India, that’s fine. But if their factory collapses or if workers are subjected to slave labor, the American companies using those zippers need to be held legally accountable. Subcontracting cannot be a tool to exploit the world’s poor. We must articulate new ways of holding corporations accountable if we are ever to stop this exploitation.

Prospect's List of Top Public Intellectuals

World thinkers 2015: the results | Prospect Magazine

© MAJA ERIKSSON / DN / TT/TT News Agency/Press Association Images
  1. Thomas Piketty
  2. Yanis Varoufakis
  3. Naomi Klein
  4. Russell Brand
  5. Paul Krugman
  6. Arundhati Roy
  7. J├╝rgen Habermas
  8. Daniel Kahneman
  9. John Gray
  10. Atul Gawande
For me, the utility of the list is in identifying where I've got blind spots, because there are six names on that list I couldn't enter into a discussion about. So, I'll do my homework, and a few weeks from now and I'll be able to speak, at least minimally, off-the-cuff about what each contributes to our public dialogue.

Elizabeth Warren, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Sam Harris are three I'd have started with along with Piketty, Brand (well, honestly, I'm not sure I would've listed Brand on my own -- not because he doesn't articulate an important worldview, but because the trappings of celebrity distract from it), Krugman, and Gray.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Considering 'The Philosophy Of The Web'

Why have a philosophy of the web? In particular, does the web fundamentally alter our approach to the traditional questions of philosophy?  
The bet behind the philosophy of the web is "yes" — that the web does actually alter profoundly long-standing questions that have typically been the domain of philosophy. 
The web evokes equally as potent theoretical questions as traditional philosophy: How do we think about language when we can communicate with thousands across the world nearly immediately? Do we really think of the mind as "individual" when our memories are spread into collective data banks? In this way, the web is less a distinct area of inquiry rather than a core revolution in a whole network of concepts, a historical event that restructures philosophical understanding itself. In this regard, the best antecedent to the web in terms of philosophy is probably the invention of writing.

Animals as Metaphysical, Moral, And/Or Legal Persons

In Historic Ruling, Pair of Chimpanzees Recognized as 'Legal Persons' | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

(Photo: pastries71/flickr/cc)
For the first time in U.S. history, a judge has effectively recognized two chimpanzees as legal persons, in an order Monday which will allow a pair of research primates—Hercules and Leo—to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment.

Are Animals People? | Talking Philosophy
Since corporations are legal persons, it hardly seems absurd to make animals into legal people. After all, higher animals are certainly closer to human persons than are corporate persons. These animals can think, feel and suffer—things that actual people do but corporate people cannot. So, if it is not absurd for Hobby Lobby to be a legal person, it is not absurd for my husky to be a legal person. Or perhaps I should just incorporate my husky and thus create a person.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Lexicon of Comicana

The Lexicon of Comicana - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Lexicon of Comicana is a 1980 book by the American cartoonist Mort Walker. It was intended as a tongue-in-cheek look at the devices that cartoonists utilize in their craft. In it, Walker invented an international set of symbols called symbolia after researching cartoons around the world. In 1964, Walker had written an article called "Let's Get Down to Grawlixes", a satirical piece for the National Cartoonists Society. He used terms such as grawlixes for his own amusement, but they soon began to catch on and acquired an unexpected validity.
Thanks, Mark D., for pointing this out. (Plewds shoot from my brow trying to keep up with the all knowledge he drops.)

Why bother reading Bram Stoker's Dracula?

Why bother reading Bram Stoker's Dracula? | OUPblog

In Stoker’s novel, the infection is not an indifferent virus merely seeking replication. The Count is a malignant and unholy force from the fuzzy edges of Western Europe where Christian virtues and the rational Enlightenment reach their limits and run out of steam. The vampire emerges from what is described as a ‘whirlpool’ of races, a metaphor that Stoker clearly borrowed from late Victorian debates that was used to describe the East End of London, home to large numbers of Eastern European Jewish migrants escaping persecution. Their burgeoning numbers, swelling in the slums, were feared to be bringing all manner of physical and moral infections to Britain. No wonder that Count Dracula is associated with swarms of rats and other creatures that carry filth and disease. The vampire brings an awful wasting illness that will thin the blood and corrupt the race.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Bill O'Reilly Called It "Nutty" For The Left To Call For Scalia To Recuse Himself

FLASHBACK: When Bill O'Reilly Called It "Nutty" For A Conservative Justice To Recuse Himself | Blog | Media Matters for America

Smug, hyprocritical asshole much?
Bill O'Reilly has called on Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan to recuse themselves from the upcoming marriage equality cases -- even though neither justice has confirmed how they will rule. But in 2006, the Fox News host took the opposite position when it came to Justice Antonin Scalia, despite the fact that O'Reilly admitted a speech the conservative justice gave on a pending case made it "obvious" how he would vote.

Larry Kramer: 'How could you not realise Mark Twain was gay?'

Larry Kramer: 'How could you not realise Mark Twain was gay?' | Books | The Guardian

Mark Twain via
“Most histories are written by straight people who wouldn’t know, see the signs that a gay person does when they look at a person’s life,” Kramer said. “I mean, how could you write the life of Mark Twain without realising that he was hugely, hugely gay? The way he lived, who his friends were, and how his relationships began. And what he wrote about! I don’t know how you could avoid the assumption that he’s gay.” (Kramer is not the first to raise this possibility, but it is not a view accepted by most Twain scholars.)

Why don’t we care who makes our clothes?

Why don’t you care who made your clothes?

Photo: WMYP
Two years after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, in which over a thousand people died, we still fail to appreciate the human cost of the clothes we wear.
I say we because I don't know if you're as awful as I am, but my closet is full of clothes from Kohl's, Old Navy, and the like. But options are getting better and I'd rather have one or two quality, union-made shirts than a dozen cheaper ones that someone was exploited to manufacture.

American Giant, Osmium, Land's End, Duluth Trading, and others get my business now.

Amazon, you're not helping:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pundits who should be out of work, Exhibit 1:

Krautmas came two weeks early this year — Crooked Timber:

Image via
'Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.'
We’ve had five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and another four months on top since then. But still no nuclear weapons.

The politics of comic books: a twofer.

The politics of Iron Man: how Marvel sold an arms dealing billionaire to liberal America

He’s an arms dealer. He’s a narcissist. He’s a billionaire. He’s irresponsible. He’s vain. He’s arrogant. He has a robotic exoskeleton.
And who is this super villain?
Tony Stark, ladies and gentlemen, probably the only American superhero we want to have a beer with.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Importance of Comics -- Vulture
You are mostly a Marvel fan, but what DC stuff have you read? None. I don’t know why I don’t read DC. I don’t even have a good argument. Here’s what I’ll say: For reasons right or wrong, you’ll see the lead character for DC is Superman. So, truth, justice, and the American way. And, not even consciously, I just kind of said, Hmm, maybe not. Then you pick up X-Men, right, and you see all these weirdos and freaks, you know? And you think, Oh, man, that kind of rings true for me. When I was a kid, I didn’t even think of Peter Parker as white. It didn’t even occur to me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Philosophical Challenge to So-Called Gun Rights

A Challenge to Gun Rights | Practical Ethics
What advocates say scathingly of the police – “when every second counts, the police are only minutes away” – is often true of these third party defenders. The central claims of advocates ought to apply most forcefully to people in these conditions. It seems that such people, who are in constant danger of being attacked or killed, would be safer if they had guns to protect themselves and that the state violates their rights of self-defense by preventing them from having guns and confiscating guns from any who might acquire them.

I think, however, that this is false. Contemporary moral philosophers are noted, or perhaps notorious, for their use of hypothetical examples. The example I have just sketched is hypothetical. But it describes the conditions in an actual institution: prison.

NC man's obit urges readers to reject Hillary Clinton

NC man's obituary urges readers to reject Hillary Clinton ::
A North Carolina man's obituary asked two things of friends and family: instead of sending flowers for the funeral, give the money to charity. And don't vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.
Because of the politics, I react to this with a Massive Eye Roll. Thanks, NC Man & Family, for giving us another headline to read in the national news next to more-nefarious-than-usual redistricting and a pregnant woman being shot to death.

But, honestly, I think this is great. By all means, use the obituary to crack wise and share something about yourself and what you believe. We regular folk don't get many chances to experess ourselves in the newspaper. Sure, there's the internet and blogging for that, but your community's paper of record is more august platform than your twitter. Who are we to deny you that last howl from your deathbed?  I applaud this family for honoring their departed loved one with a bit of cheek.

When I go out, I hope my obituary will speak to more than just my birth date and name those survived me.

P.S. To the family of Mr. Upright, you'll be glad to know I plan to vote for a candidate to the left of Hillary Clinton.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Disney XD to Air David Tennant Seasons #DoctorWho

‘Doctor Who': Disney XD to Air David Tennant Seasons | Variety

David Tennant as the Doctor, via
The TARDIS has taken “Doctor Who” through time and space and landed on Disney XD. The network will air seasons two through four — the ones starring David Tennant as the Doctor — of the eccentric BBC science-fiction this summer.
The questions I have are: is this a smart move on Disney's part, is it a smart move on the BBC's part, is there anything to read into this, will it impact my local public TV station's broadcast of the same, and will Disney edit them in any way?

Unfortunately, nothing I've seen so far answers those questions. So, let's speculate wildly and irresponsibly, shall we?

Is this a smart move on Disney's part? I expect it will turn out to be. While I would have liked to have seen them start with Nine, I understand why they are going after the Tennant years first. (One reason, apart from the obvious that they don't think kids will respond as well to Eccleston's take, they don't have to dance around "The Empty Child" & "The Doctor Dances.") Disney XD's demographic, pre-teen boys, is the perfect audience to discover and fall in love with the show. I'm not able to forecast whether it will be a hit for them or not -- I suspect that will depend on well they build it up across their channels.

Is this a smart move on the BBC's part? It increases the profile the show, with the concomitant risks. If it fails on Disney, it could damage public perception of the brand in that very demographic it (I suspect) it highly covets. If not properly marketed, and if Disney hacks it down to sanitize it for the youth of America, it could be a setback for the series popularity in the years ahead. There's also the question of whether association with the Disney name will hurt the series in other demographics

Is there anything to read into this? And, by that, I mean, could Disney have bigger plans. Like, Star Wars-type franchise acquisition plans? They'd be fools not to want the franchise. They're making an Avatar-themed overhaul of one of their properties that they're probably going to want to rip out in a few years because, WTF, who cares about Avatar?! Would the BBC ever consider a partnership, a co-production agreement outside of the BBC family?  I bet they would if the money was right. As much as it scares me, I'll tell you right now, I would be bringing the kids to Disney World as soon as possible to see whatever they did if they themed a section of the park after my favorite show. If Disney put a talented production team in charge of a live-action or animated series, I would certainly watch it ... until, and this is my fear, it broke something fundamental about the nature of the show.

Will public TV still broadcast the Tennant years?  I'm going to watch to see if the word "exclusive" starts showing up in regard to Disney's deal. Will also ask my local station and update here if/when I get a reply.

Will Disney edit the series, or will they show the BBC, or BBCA, versions of the show? No idea, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if they hacked it up. If they cut down "Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood," for instance, watch out. Won't only be me going Full Comic Book Guy on them.

So, this may be nothing. A limited run on another channel with no consequences. Or, it could be the first sign Disney wants to own another long running, wildly popular, science-fiction franchise with unlimited merchandising potential.

Here's my blasphemous thought: the latter might not be soul-crushing death knell of the series as we know it a swath of fandom might fear. (Although it could be.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Planet of Evil - "Perhaps my receivers are better than yours ... My manners certainly are."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Planet of Evil - Details

Season 13, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #81) | Previous - Next | Index

I wouldn't say the planet's really evil, it just doesn't want its anti-matter plundered. Wisely, it turns out. But, despite the title's inaccuracy and generic nature, we're on to something promisingly spooky with the wonderfully realized jungle of Zeta Minor, and a genuinely suspenseful opening episode. By the end of the fourth episode, things have largely petered out and the wonder's worn off, but this one capably fills the slot between two classics by being surprisingly good at a few things while not entirely squandering the big lead it gets out to.

With his singular talent for putting his finger on the pulse of a story that might appear to have gone tits up to the less capable analyst, Dr. Sandifer draws our attention to how brilliantly Hinchcliffe, Holmes, and writer Louis Marks have crashed a (dangerously tedious) Terry Nation story into a Lovecraftian horror story and given the Doctor the harrowing task of negotiating a settlement. Viewed through this lens, the crummy spaceship sets and outfits of the Morestrans aren't exactly redeemed, but they at least make a certain sort of sense in contrast to Roger Murray-Leaches' jungle sets. Nobody's calling "Planet of Evil" a classic, and it's entirely understandable to be bored of it before it winds down, but if you were wondering why it's engaging in a way it may not appear to have any right to be, I believe Dr. Sandifer has capably illuminated why that is.

The heavy lifting, as usual, done before I started, I'll fall back to one of my old stand-bys: singing the praises of Tom Baker and Lis Sladen. The two appear to be entirely comfortable with one another doing yeoman's work on a script that sells everyone a bit short. Still, their charisma, separately and together, gives us a reason to pay attention the stuff outside of the scenery and the dodgy plotting.

There's one scene in the first episode I'm nervous praising Baker, but am going to stick my neck out for anyways. Sarah's been captured already and the Doctor has just been as well. The military, Vishinsky and Salasar, are questioning the (mad) scientist Sorenstrom while the Doctor hangs out behind them. Instead of watching them though, he's staring at something we can't see as if it's the most fascinating, or perhaps dangerous, thing he's ever encountered. What is it? What's so important that he seems to be a thousand miles away from the discussion happening under his nose, which may involve him being interrogated by Salasar, a man who give every indication he enjoys interrogating people as more than a conversational exercise.

We don't know. There wasn't anything there in the story. Is Baker playing the Doctor as having an epiphany, figuring out the big picture from the clues he's seen to this point?  Or, was he a hungry actor who saw the sandwiches arriving for lunch break?  Or, was he being vain, deliberately showing up the writer and his fellow actors by attempting to steal a scene he didn't feel like he had enough to do in?  Whatever it is he's doing, I couldn't take my eyes off him.

What might have been an utterly forgettable scene was riveting because I couldn't figure out what the hell the Doctor was doing. What Tom Baker was doing. And, because the two are so entwined, it didn't take me out of the narrative. I was still watching Doctor Who, but in retrospect I don't know if that was some sort of preternatural instinct on Baker's part, knowing he could act as if he was in an entirely different scene, one he was improvising in his head on the spot, or a lucky accident that his being distracted didn't ruin what was happening around him. There is no other actor, in no other role, that I think could pull this sort of thing, whatever it was, off.

In short, I'd rather watch Tom Baker crave a sandwich, or be distracted by something shiny, and wonder what what's going on behind those wide eyes than just about anyone else do anything else on the screen.


Quick Asides:

  • Hey, there's Louis Mahoney again! 
  • In "The Shakespeare Code," does Ten remember that he's met Shakespeare before? Four name drops him in this one, commenting what a terrible actor he was. 
  • I re-watched "Planet of Evil" on April 19th, despite having already started getting ready to watch "Four to Doomsday" because I was reminded that April 19, 2011, was the day we lost Lis Sladen and I wanted to watch a story of hers that I hadn't seen in a while. Fully aware of the fact I've indulged in shameless Lis Sladen hagiography several times already, and will wax rhapsodic in singing her praises again before this project is done, I'll practice restraint here and merely repeat that we lost her too soon. Watching her in this story, and being interviewed in the DVD extras, was a small act of remembrance, a way of saying she will never be forgotten.   

Suggested Reading:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Chernobyl Divers

The chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster - FOCC West Lothian:

Ten days after the disaster a further risk immeasurably greater than the initial explosions was identified. Initially firefighters had unsucessfully used water to try to extinguish the flames from the reactor. This contaminated water had pooled beneath the reactor core which, having had a combination of sand, clay and boron dropped on it in an attempt to smother the flames, had turned into a lava like substance. This lava was slowly burning through the foor of the reactor, and had it reached the water below would have set off a massive thermal explosion that would have had devastating consquences across most of Europe.
Three men -- Valeri Bezpalov, Alexie Ananenko, and Boris Baranov -- volunteered to avert the crisis and paid the ultimate price for doing so.

via /r/TIL

Ngram of the Day: Things People Became More Interested In During My Lifetime

Apropos of nothing, playing around with Ngrams noticed these phrases were hardly used before 1970, but are now. At least a little ...

Friday, April 17, 2015

Operation Protective Edge: A war waged on Gaza's children

Operation Protective Edge: A war waged on Gaza's children | Defence for Children International Palestine:

Image via NewStatesman

Operation Protective Edge, which lasted 50 days between July 8 and August 26, claimed the lives of 2,220 Palestinians, including at least 1,492 civilians, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). DCIP independently verified the deaths of 547 Palestinian children among the killed in Gaza, 535 of them as a direct result of Israeli attacks. Nearly 68 percent of the children killed by Israeli forces were 12 years old or younger. [Report]

New ☆ Tweet from @existentialcoms

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Can ‘They’ Be Accepted as a Singular Pronoun?

Can ‘They’ Be Accepted as a Singular Pronoun? - WSJ

Dozens of gender-neutral pronouns have been put forth over the years, including “thon,” “xe” and “ze,” but all have failed to catch fire. “They” has the virtue of actually being in common use, and even grammatical sticklers may be coming around to it.
 The article discusses how Sweden is working around its similar issue and, while "they" for gender-neutral, third person singular works for me, I wouldn't be averse to learning and using a new word to do the specific work instead of pressing another into double duty. The alternatives above aren't winning me over but I don't have a better idea.

Sweden has "han" and "hon" for "he" and "she," and seems to be settling on "hen" for a gender-neutral alternative. It retains the general form of the other two words, making a simple substitution on the vowel in the middle. An elegant solution. In English, if we want to keep it short, we'd probably want to change the beginning of the word, at least, but keep the long 'e'. "Tee" was the first alternative that popped to mind, if I were proposing a new word to fill the gap. I'm close to the "ze" suggestion, but I'm not crazy about the idea of working a 'z' sound into everyday conversation. I find it dissonant and like it's current status as a seldom used letter.

A reader of this blog post may not like what they see in this sentence, for instance.

But, would the reader like what tee sees in this one?

Probably not. I try it with variations like "lee," "vee," etc. and haven't found anything that sounds right to my ear. "They" works, here's hoping the copy editors continue down the current path.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lots of planets have a north.

"I wanted to move him away from the RP (received pronunciation) for the first time because we shouldn't make a correlation between intellect and accent" he says, "although that still needs addressing". 
The self-described working-class actor also says that cultural inequality is "much more pronounced" in Britain than it used to be, and that it would be difficult for a young actor with his background to succeed in the industry today.
No hard feelings here. We all wondered what was going on and probably shouldn't be surprised, it came down to class and identity politics. The Doctor can have any accent he or she wants, as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

RIP Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan Voice of Anti-Capitalism, Is Dead at 74 -

Tomas Bravo, Reuters
Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer who blended literature, journalism and political satire in reflecting on the vagaries, injustices and small victories of history, died on Monday in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was 74.
I was assigned Memory of Fire in a Latin American studies class as an undergrad in the early 90s. It opened my eyes to a mode of writing history I hadn't encountered before, and it turned history into something I wasn't just curious about, or wanted to know for knowing's sake -- it turned history into something I felt I had to understand to understand myself. Our history is part of our identity, whether we know it or not, and MoF taught me, among other things, that I didn't know shit, but I could learn. And that learning could be as fun as it was transformative.

It's possible I would have gone my entire life without ever hearing, even hearing of, Carlos Gardel if it weren't for MoF: Century of the Wind.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Green Death - "I like your handbag."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Green Death - Details

Season 10, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #69) | Previous - Next | Index

The maggots. Nobody forgets the maggots.

If they're lucky, they forget about the bane of this era, those three letters fans recoil at the utterance of: C.S.O. That's Colo(u)r Separation Overlay, the second most dismal science.

The real drama in this story though is that it is the last for Katy Manning's Jo Grant. The show wants to push your buttons on this one, and they do. We know it's melodrama but, when the Doctor rides off into the sunset (or, a smokey lens aimed at a still high sun) painfully alone, it's hard not feel a bit of heartbreak on his behalf. We suspect we're torn up a little on Pertwee's behalf. He really does look gutted.

The problem is Professor Jones is only almost perfect. He's personable and quirky, brilliant and principled, and about eight percent of the time it's clear he and Jo are going to end up together. The problem is the other twenty percent of the time he's a sexist ass that we fear, if he has one too many glasses of the elderberry wine after a dodgy fungus, could turn abusive. He's so patronizing he takes it for granted Jo is going to marry him and leave UNIT to follow him to the Amazon basin. It undermines the effectiveness of the poignant scene at the end -- played to perfection by both Manning and Pertwee. Still, even if we think Jones is entirely too full of himself, that Jo and the Doctor know their adventure together is over is one of the most touching moments of the series to date. Far more effective than One's farewell to Susan, and even more so than two being wrenched from Jamie and Zoe.

It's not all emotion and a mixed bag of effects though. There's some broad comedy and even Captain Yates get in on the action. He's so Yates about it though it's more comedic than was probably intended. But, if you love to hate him, this'll give you plenty to chew on.

The meat and potatoes of the story is the charmingly didactic environmentalism and anti-capitalism. Good on, Barry Letts. This is sci-fi, so the mind control agent driving the villainy at Global Chemicals is sentient super-computer (my, this is so much like "The War Machines" with a dash of "Inferno" thrown in, but if environmentalism is your theme, can you be faulted for recycling post-consumer materials?) named -- heavy is the hand that types comes up with symbolic acronyms -- BOSS. If it's hard to remember how BOSS came about and why it's so demented and megalomaniacal, it's probably because it's just a stand-in for what really controls the mind of your ace capitalists: pathological greed.

BOSS is really something, humming classical music (someone had 2001 in mind), referencing Wagner and Nietzsche, sounding for all the world like the late Roger Delgado. BOSS, I had to look it up, was not voiced by Delgado though, it was John Dearth, whom we'll meet at the end of next season as Lupton in "Planet of the Spiders."

Terrance Dicks asserts in an interview in the DVD extras that this is the only DW he was involved with that started with a message and got a story built around it. True or not, it's a hard thing pull off. How much do you like being lectured by your communist professor about the evils of capitalism? Did you watch Al Gore teach you about An Inconvenient Truth more than once? I think capitalism is evil and Al Gore didn't hammer the point hard enough, but even I only watched it once. But, I'd watch "The Green Death" again. Come over if you don't believe me. You bring the 'shrooms and I'll start a batch of elderberry wine -- we'll make a party of it!

Wait, are you Welsh at all? Because unless you have a high tolerance for your people being mercilessly stereotyped, you may not be able to stomach all the caricatures slinging boyos. (Oh, DW, I wish we didn't have to apologize for you quite so often on the ethnicity front, the sexism front, and the we-think-we-can-unlock-any-door-with-our-magic-chroma-key front.)

This is another case of a story having all the faults its critics say it has, and still being one you shouldn't miss.

Image via

Stray Thoughts:

The Doctor's run-ins on Metebelis 3 are laughable. But not in the worst way.

This seems to be where Venusian karate changes to Venusian aikido.

Jon Pertwee, Master of Disguise?

Yates's best moment ever: "I like your handbag."

Three tries to pull a Kirk on BOSS. BOSS survives the logic bomb.


There is some truth in this ...

Hillary Clinton: How Your Friends Are Reacting on Social Media – Flavorwire

Image via Flavorwire
The “Pox on Both Your Houses” Radical. “Another centrist Corporadem/Republicrat,” will be the rallying cry of this person, who reliably brings up how both parties are owned by the banks, the corporations, and the military industrial complex, and notes that Hillary will be indistinguishable policy-wise from Obama. She hasn’t earned squat, this person will declare, adding a shout-out to Edward Snowden, Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders. This person will be close to 100% morally and politically correct, and close to 100% insufferable.
... and it's the "close to 100% morally and politicall correct," bit.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

New ☆ Tweet from @TheTweetOfGod

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Why Wall Street Loves Hillary (And The Rest Of Us Should Be Nervous)

Why Wall Street Loves Hillary - William D. Cohan - POLITICO Magazine

Image via Politico
Many of the rich and powerful in the financial industry—among them, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Tom Nides, a powerful vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and the heads of JPMorganChase and Bank of America—consider Clinton a pragmatic problem-solver not prone to populist rhetoric. To them, she’s someone who gets the idea that we all benefit if Wall Street and American business thrive. What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.
 "Forays into fiery rhetoric"? Like when she voted to invade Iraq? Like when she spoke out against removing the cap on the Social Security payroll tax? If neither Elizabeth Warren nor Bernie Sanders run, don't forget Dr. Jill Stein.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Social Security can, and should, be fixed. (Not privatized, not eliminated: well and proper fixed.)

And in the real world of retirement, Social Security is a shining example of a system that works. It’s simple and clean, with low operating costs and minimal bureaucracy. It provides older Americans who worked hard all their lives with a chance of living decently in retirement, without requiring that they show an inhuman ability to think decades ahead and be investment whizzes as well. The only problem is that the decline of private pensions, and their replacement with inadequate 401(k)-type plans, has left a gap that Social Security isn’t currently big enough to fill. So why not make it bigger? 
Needless to say, suggestions along these lines are already provoking near-hysterical reactions, not just from the right, but from self-proclaimed centrists. As I wrote some years ago, calling for cuts to Social Security has long been seen inside the Beltway as a “badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.” And it’s only a decade since former President George W. Bush tried to privatize the program, with a lot of centrist support. 
But true seriousness means looking at what works and what doesn’t. Privatized retirement schemes work very badly; Social Security works very well. And we should build on that success.
The "why not make it bigger?" question is likely to provoke two sorts of answers: those that revolve around "we can't afford it," and those based on the ideological position that it's morally wrong. Those two sorts of answers are laughably wrong-headed.

We certainly can afford it. It reduces to a question of priorities; this should be one of our highest. What we can't afford are planes that don't fly, wars that don't make us safer, subsidies for immensely profitable businesses, and handouts to wealthy.

The argument that Social Security is wrong because it makes people lazy, steals from the rich, is socialism/communism/fascism/that-ism-oligarchs-use-to-scare-the-ill-informed, or is in some way a violation of our basic liberties is an argument that's been had and settled to satisfaction of all but the most cruel of the aforementioned oligarchs, and their dupes. We know what U.S. society looks like without Social Security (and several other progressive gains of the early 20th century) and we rejected that vision of society, over all those same worries. We rejected the oligarchs' way and decided the American way is one that provides a safety net, and yes, a safety net paid for even by those who don't need it.

Despite what may have been Randsplained to you, the anti-American attitude is the one that says, "Mine, mine, mine -- you can't make me pay for a civil society!" We can. Americans established a government to promote the general weflare, and have the legal and moral authority from the will of the people, to collect taxes to accomplish that goal. Full stop.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Maybe work on the name but, yeah, Apr 9 should totally be a holiday.

Crushing Treason in Defense of Slavery Day - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money

Crushing Treason in Defense of Slavery Day should absolutely be a national holiday. That should go without saying.
The only reason I'd change the name is it's got the problem traffic signs have ... you know the old Louis CK bit about the meanings changing so easily when the emphasis is on the wrong words. Anyways, I'm thinking this is a petition I'd sign.

360,000 loyal Americans died in battle against rebel traitors. A holiday is warranted.

Harsh sentences for history's worst villains considered ...

TIL in 1944 a sixteen-year-old black student in Columbus, Ohio, won an essay contest on the theme ‘What to Do with Hitler after the War’ by submitting the single sentence, "Put him in a black skin and let him live the rest of his life in America."

#walterscott via NYT

via /r/TIL

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

New ☆ Tweet from @Sean_McAdam

Baseball is back. Couldn't ask for a much better start to the season.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Don't dare brag about winning a Hugo until that mess is fixed.

I keep up with Doctor Who, a few other shows, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Went to a con this year for the first time in decades, but am still largely insulated from the politics of sci-fi. If you'd asked me, cold, as late as yesterday, I'd have had no idea there was any controversy around the Hugo Awards. Just not on my radar. So I'm glad there folks making sure the rest of us know what's going on before we celebrate, say, a win for "Listen."

(Never saw before either, so revealing all kinds of unawareness today. If all publicity is good publicity, there's a way to prevent linking to vile sites, for purposes of pointing out their villainy, from benefiting them.)

There's no honor in winning an award rigged by #SadPuppies. Under these circumstances, and with apologies to those voting in good conscience, I'll be disappointed in any Hugo winner that accepts or acknowledges the award -- unless it's to say, "You know what, we're good. Keep it."

Susan Jacoby on Secularism and Free Thinking

BILL MOYERS: Do you think any American politician would dare describe the secular spirit and letter of the Constitution as Ingersoll and others did in his time? 
SUSAN JACOBY: No, no. Because an American -- the only declared atheist member of Congress, Pete Stark, retired this time. I'm sure Congress is exactly like the polls. I'm sure there are plenty of atheists and various kinds of unorthodox religious people in Congress. But they don't talk about it. You never hear President Obama making a speech about separation of church and state. He will occasionally allude to it. 
But I think that either proclaiming allegiance to a religion or shutting up about it is still an absolute requirement.
As I was just saying ...

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Louisville PD warns residents after several guns stolen from unlocked cars

"That gun is now part of a criminal element,” said Sgt. Brimm. “It can be used for crime, break-ins or worse."

It's what Brimm referred to as a triangle of crime. To help combat the crimes LMPD's 7th Division will participate in an exclusive program during the month of April called Operation Be Vigilant.

Block watch captains are part of this effort and they aren't taking the responsibility lightly.

"We're asking block watch captains and home owners associations to be accountable for their firearms to put them in a place where they cannot be found,” he said.
Or, we could really hold people accountable and charge them as accessories when their guns are used in crimes. Idiots.

Madison, WI first in nation to pass ordinance protecting atheists

Madison, WI via CityofMadison
"It's really making a big statement that we're not going to put up with discrimination in the name of God. That being a believer doesn't mean you can discriminate," Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor said. 
No one spoke out against the proposal. 
Atheism is now added to the city's long list of protected classes which, in part, includes: sex, race, religion, color, national origin or ancestry, citizenship status, age, handicap/disability, marital status, source of income, arrest record, conviction record, credit history, military discharge status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, political beliefs, familial, student and domestic partner status, receipt of rental assistance and Social Security number disclosure.
I miss Madison. An isthmus of civilization in an otherwise dodgy region. (Well, outside of Scott Walker's office anyways.)

The Great Pyramid Was 'Glass-Like' Shiny, 4,000 Years Ago!

The Great Pyramid Was 'Glass-Like' Shiny, 4,000 Years Ago!

The end result of such high levels of polishing yielded immaculately smooth surfaces that were fascinatingly shiny beyond reckoning. And, considering that there was limited pollution and smog circa 2500 BC (as opposed to our contemporary times), the Great Pyramid of Giza must have been an ‘otherworldly’ magnificent spectacle during the time of its completion – with ethereal, glass-like facades basking in the glory of the effulgent sun.
via /r/TIL 

Je Suis Avijit Roy. Je Suis Raif Badawi. Je suis ...

Save Bangladesh’s Bloggers -

Roy's widow beside his corpse. Image via the Daily Mail.
Blogging has become a dangerous profession in Bangladesh. In February, a Bangladeshi-American computer engineer and founder of the secularist website Mukto-Mona, Avijit Roy, was hacked to death in a Dhaka street. Then this week, an atheist blogger named Washiqur Rahman was murdered in a similarly bloody attack. Both were killed for their views on religion.
We roll our eyes at the barbarism of fundamentalist societies around the world but it's a thin, impermanent line between the Sauid government that lashes Raif Badawi, the assailants that hacked Mr. Roy to death in Bangladesh, and the theocrats here in the U.S. that would make church-going mandatory, if they could get away with it.

And they're perilously close to being able to get away with it. Not one domino fall away, but maybe only two or three. Imagine: Hillary Clinton drops the ball, does something stupid at the wrong time, and it opens the door to a Ted Cruz, or a Mike Pence, winning the Presidency. RBG's health fails a year later and we get Ted Cruz nominee on the Supreme Court with Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts. How safe is secular government then?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Here's Why Jackie Chan's Son Will Get None Of His $130M Fortune

Here's Why Jackie Chan's Son Will Get None Of His $130M Fortune

In spite of his past generosity toward his son, Chan expressed a determination to stick to his decision disinherit him upon his death. According to Chan, if his son was successful in capitalizing on the advantages he has enjoyed throughout his life, he would not need an inheritance. On the other hand, if his son failed to make a success of himself, the elder Chan stated that any money he inherited would be wasted.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Better try something easier to master than ping-pong ...

Can you win at anything if you practise hard enough? - BBC News

Rory Scott, a coach who has trained juniors who later played for England, watched Sam in a recent tournament.
His verdict? "He is nowhere near the standard of the top under-11 player in the UK."
Why did the project fail? One reason might be that Ben chose the wrong sport.
"It is probably the most difficult sport to pick for this challenge," says Steve Brunskill, head coach at the Swerve Table Tennis Centre in Middlesbrough.
"Table tennis has the smallest court, the smallest ball, the smallest bat, the quickest reaction times, the most spin, and it's the only sport where you play on one surface but stand on another.
"You have to play so much to develop the skill, co-ordination and timing, and you have to learn to cope with different styles of opponent."
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