Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Here’s how badly Colorado’s secession movement failed

In yesterday’s election, 11 Colorado counties voted on whether they wanted to secede from Colorado and form a new state, North Colorado, a.k.a TeaPartyGunNutFrackitupiStan.

Not all the votes have been counted, but the results so far show that five of those counties voted solidly in favor of secession, while the other six voted just as solidly against it.

Some people have fallen for the standard Republican trick of analyzing voting results in terms of square miles. In this case, that sleazy trick becomes comparing numbers of counties on one side vs. numbers on the other. When you look at it that way, you might think that secession is a powerful force out here in the Mountain West where men are men and fracking injections are wonderful for the environment. Five counties want to secede! And all of them are filled with sunburned, Stetson-wearin’, squinty-eyed, gun-totin’ manly men. Also their wives and hosses and little cowboys and cowgals.

Wal, hold on a jest minute there, buckaroo.

I put the latest election results I could find into a spreadsheet and did some simple arithmetic. Not all of the vote counts are final, but I should think they’re fairly close to complete by now.

Here’s what I found.

If you add up all the Yes and No votes in the 11 counties, you get 91,377 votes cast. We only had two state-wide issues on yesterday’s Colorado ballot, so I chose one of them, Amendment 66 (which failed, damn it), as a way to get the total statewide vote cast yesterday. The Yes and No votes on Amendment 66 total 1,268,889. That means that the total number of Yes and No voters in the 11 counties voting on secession only amounted to 7.2% of the total statewide vote. Hmm. Lotsa square miles out there on that rolling, highly frackable prairie, but not a lot of voters.

Now, if you add up all of the No votes in the 11 counties — i.e., the votes against secession — you get 50,293. All the Yes votes add up to 41,084. As percentages of the 91,377 votes cast on the secession issue, that gives you a vote of 55% to 45% against secession.

I call that a resounding defeat.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

There is lots of linguistic atrocities out there

The latest one to sweep across my part of the English-speaking world is the use of a singular verb with a plural subject. This mostly shows up in the form of "there is" instead of "there are" -- "there is lots of ... "

What can one do? Nothing but look down one's nose and sneer. It's hard for me to look down my now at people because I'm short. Fortunately, I have a large nose, which helps.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Elementary, Season 2, Episode 1

The first episode of Elementary's second season was a good Elementary episode but not a great one. That still makes it superior to almost everything else on TV.

There wasn't much reason to set the episode in London, other than the interesting character stuff with Lestrade as a somewhat different kind of addict and Holmes trying to get him off the habit.

There were wonderful shots of famous scenery, and the bit in the taxi where Watson, the visitor, looks around eagerly at all the famous sights, while Holmes the native, stares into space, lost in thought, ignoring all of it, was cleverly done.

Since I have to say something negative, I'll express annoyance at Holmes, for the second time in this series, pronouncing "cache" as though it were "cachet". Surely Holmes would know better. Also, the absurdity at the end when Mycroft wishes him a pleasant trip "back to the colonies." WTF?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dr. Daniel Dvorkin

To quote Leonore:

It's celebration time! As of about 3:30 PM today, our only child, Daniel, 44 years old, is now Daniel Dvorkin, PhD, with a doctorate in Bioinformatics from the University of Colo. Denver/Health Sciences Center. Needless to say, this was a very long time coming. It's the culmination of five (or six?) years of hard, hard work on the PhD alone. / We love you, Daniel, and are so, so proud of you! We are such very fortunate parents to have a son like you: so smart, so sweet and kind, and so very hardworking. Now it's on to great things in the world of scientific work!

Monday, July 29, 2013

True Blood and Nora’s Accent

We watched last night's True Blood this evening On Demand. It was a great episode, with some nifty twists, except for one minor detail. We learned that Nora was an English noblewoman who became a vampire in the 17th Century. Hence her very upper-class English accent.

Which didn't yet exist at that time.

To which some will say, "You can accept vampires and all of the other magical creatures on True Blood, but you cavil at that little historical error?"

Yes. Because when fiction is set in an unreal world, all the tiny details have to be correct in order not to destroy one's willing suspension of disbelief. That's true for all fiction, but it's especially true when the very setting contradicts reality.

More than that, the grainy, gritty details of the fictional reality have to be very sharply real in order to make the fantastic world continue to seem real.

That minor details is not so minor, at all.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – the definitive historical movie about Abraham Lincoln!

I finally had the chance to watch "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter" on DVD. I had missed it in the theaters, through which it zipped fairly quickly. I gather it was a commercial flop.

I don't know why it flopped. It was loads of fun and extremely well done. It had its problems, such as the lack of facial resemblance between the actor and Lincoln, despite the hours he spent being made up for the part every day before shooting began, and his lyric baritone voice vs. Lincoln's reportedly high, nasal one. There were moments where I had to strain a bit to hold onto my willing suspension of disbelief, and some of the over-the-top action scenes (e.g., the fight on the backs of the thundering herd of horses) went on too long, but those were relatively minor problems.

It was a great humans vs. vampires adventure romp fairly well integrated into actual history. Even with the vampires insinuated everywhere, it gave me a far more convincing feeling of the time and place than the lauded and quite bad "Lincoln" with Daniel Day Lewis. I saw Lincoln in the theater and regretted paying the money and was relieved when it finally ended. I wish I had seen this one in the theater and I was sorry when it ended.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Smoky Days and Nights

Ugh. Going to bed with the windows closed and the air conditioning on, because of the smoke from the forest fires. Our eyes are red and our throats are irritated.

And it's going to keep getting worse, every summer. The annual forest fires will die away when there's nothing left to burn in the mountains. Surely there won't be many people living in the mountains, once that happens. There'll be little tourism, summer or winter. The rare heavy snows or rains will mean serious mudslides and flash flooding. Denver won't be covered by smoke from fires then, but it will be covered by dust. Extreme water rationing will mean no more lawns, and we'll all have cacti instead of trees, like Arizona.

Of course, the important question is, what will this mean for the value of our house?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Star Trek: Into Lameness

We finally saw the new Star Trek movie today. Cumberbatch dominated the movie, unsurprisingly. Lots of action and extraordinarily believable special effects. It was entertaining and had some occasionally good dialogue. However, take away the action and the special effects, and there wasn't much left. Even Cumberbatch's presence couldn't add substance to the movie.

We really liked the first of the new ST movies. I'm willing to make allowances for this one because #2 in a series is usually lame and #3 is usually good. So I was expecting a touch of lameness. Nonetheless, I was really hoping for a movie that wasn't aimed at 15-year-old boys.

Maybe #3 will be good.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The fluidity of e-books

This is cool.

One of the books on my Kindle is Battle Cry of Freedom, a wonderful history of the Civil War that Daniel recommended to me highly. I just got a notice from Amazon that that edition has been updated; the e-mail included instructions for getting the update on my Kindle.

No, the ending didn't change. The maps were updated. Those maps were the one thing that was poor about that e-book edition. I don't know if I'll ever reread the book, but if I do, or if I look into it for reference, I'll have the better maps.

Some people have said that this changeability is a drawback to e-books. To my mind, it’s one of their many strengths.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dr. WTF?

We finally got the chance to watch Saturday's episode of Dr. Who. We had missed it because we were out of town.

It started out promisingly, but that didn't last. Sadly, this was one of those episodes where Dr. Who turns into Dr. WTF? The people writing Dr. Who nowadays have come up with some wonderful episodes, but they've also produced some exceedingly bad ones, and I think the latter kind tend to happen when they forget that they're writing fun, silly adventure stories and try to create Art.

I think that as a general rule, writers should never try consciously to create Art. The result is almost always not only rubbish, but, even worse, the kind of rubbish that makes you wince.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The World According to End-of-the-World Movies

Yesterday, I was exercising to a couple of SyFy Channel end-of-the-world movies. Both involved stuff raining down on Earth and destroying cities -- meteors in one case, technobabble electrical phenomena in the other. In both movies, the hits were random, sudden, numerous, and unpredictable. In both movies, the main characters escaped death by running madly while zigging and zagging. Occasionally, one would yell, "Look out!" and pull the others in a different direction. This tactic did not work for all of the extras running around in the background.

From one of the movies, I learned that, despite walking for days on end in a semi-post-apocalyptic landscape, the pretty female had some secret way to keep her hair clean and her makeup fresh, and the rugged male lead was able to stay clean shaven. (Maybe he was a eunuch! No. That would have been a very different movie.) On the bright side, he wasn't wearing stupid facial stubble. His hair stayed clean, too. So did the clothes on both.

In the same movie, the female lead was wearing high heels when rescued by the male lead. After walking for days and then finding themselves in semi-abandoned Los Angeles, they didn't take the time to get her a pair of sensible running shoes for the remaining days of walking.

Monday, April 01, 2013

The Abominable Mr. Selfridge

We watched the first episode of the new Masterpiece series "Mr. Selfridge" last night. I won't bother watching any of the rest of it. Mediocre writing, distasteful characters, inept acting, uninteresting story.

My advice to the Masterpiece people: Don't pander to American audiences by including American characters, and certainly don't focus on the American characters. You've done very well in the past with your period tales of upper-class English families in expensive clothes and surroundings. In any case, and above all, focus on the story and hire the best writers and actors, and please don't reuse the gang responsible for this failure.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Get the government out the marriage business?

So now the right wingers are adopting a seemingly libertarian stance on marriage and saying that the government should get out of the marriage-sanctioning biz entirely and leave that up to churches and synagogues (maybe some of them add mosques, but I'm skeptical).

Fine, if they also mean that all the laws granting married couples any kind of special status compared to single people will also be removed. I'm sure they don't mean that, at all. I'm sure they just want to sucker libertarians*, yet again, with the aim of making marriage even more restrictive than it is now.


* Is it in the DNA of libertarians that they're so often so easily suckered by the right wing?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but plagiarism ain't

Someone sent me an e-mail alerting me to a blog post about vampires that lifted a lot of text from my essay about vampires.

A link to my essay would have been nice. A polite request to use some of the text, with attribution, would have been even nicer.

Unfortunately, I don't see any contact information on that blog or even a way to comment.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Political Prognostications Are Worth the Electrons They’re Written with

But they’re so much fun.

Listening to a bit of the speeches and interviews at CPAC on NPR this morning, I'm suddenly reminded of the conservative movement in the early 1960s, during part of which time I shared a college dorm room with the president of the Indiana University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (who was a nice guy, when we weren't discussing politics).

My roommate and the other young conservatives — which seemed like a real oxymoron to people like me, back then — were rallying behind Goldwater, and they were utterly convinced that if only Barry could win the Republican nomination in 1964, the whole country would flock to his banner. Because, as they knew in their hearts, the American people are fundamentally right wingers. If they had been correct, then the slogan of the Goldwater campaign during the 1964 election, “In your heart, you know he’s right,” would have been a brilliant one.

They also assumed that the Johnson campaign would be incompetent and wouldn’t exploit all the weak spots in Goldwater’s positions. Obviously, they were wrong on both counts.

No, Goldwater didn’t lose in a landslide because of a supposedly unfair Johnson campaign commercial about a little girl picking flowers as the nuclear bombs start going off. That commercial struck a lot of us at the time as being right on the money, but that’s irrelevant. Goldwater would have lost in a landslide even if that commercial had never run.

Because Goldwater mellowed a bit in his old age and condemned the Republicans for their homophobia, people who don’t remember 1964 think that Goldwater wasn’t such a bad guy, after all. Wrong. He was correctly seen as a raving loon. At the very least, if he had won, his administration would have been filled with raving loons he would have been unable to control.

Now I’m beginning to think that maybe Rand Paul will be the GOP nominee in 2016, instead of any of the familiar names the pundits are backing, and that the result will be another Democratic landslide similar in magnitude to 1964.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Surprising Benefits of The Surprising Benefits of Being Unemployed

Ten years ago, during a period of stressful, worry-filled, and embittering unemployment, I wrote an essay about the experience, titled The Surprising Benefits of Being Unemployed. It was an attempt to talk about unemployment in a tongue-in-cheek way, and it served as therapy for me.

I put the essay on my Web site, although I worried that other unemployed people would see it there and would find it upsetting. After all, there’s nothing humorous about losing your source of income and not knowing when or even if you’ll secure another. Reading an essay that seems to be making light of that situation could result in anger and could deepen the depression that inevitably accompanies being unemployed.

Fortunately, it had the opposite effect: It cheered people up. Over the years, I’ve received a steady stream of e-mails from unemployed people thanking me for writing the essay and saying that it helped them cope with being unemployed. Some of the e-mail correspondences went on for years.

For me, following the writing of the essay, there were more alternating periods of employment and unemployment. I had more thoughts on the subjects of unemployment and job hunting, and I expanded the essay into a short book with the same title. People buy copies of the book from time to time, although the number of hits on the essay is far greater than the sales numbers for the book. When you’re unemployed, free is obviously better.

Out of curiosity, I started tracking the number of hits on the essay and found that it was a fairly reliable leading indicator of the economy, so I created the tongue-in-cheek SBOBU Economic Index. I haven’t updated the data in a while, however.

Today, I got another e-mail thanking me for writing the essay. The writer said she had just accepted a job offer after being unemployed for seven months. I realized that I’ve been getting very few of those e-mails lately. This is evidence either that the economy has improved or that the essay’s supply of comforting humor has been used up. I hope it’s the former.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s descendants refuse to give up

This puzzles me.

When I sold my Sherlock Holmes novel to Dodd, Mead about 30 years ago or so, lawyers for Conan Doyle's daughter (I think it was) contacted Dodd, Mead and threatened to sue if the book were ever published; they claimed control over the characters. The then-head of Dodd, Mead, who I think was a member of the Dodd family (I always think of him as Junior Dodd), told them to go ahead and sue. They backed down.

If they didn't think they were on solid ground 30 years ago, how can the estate think it has grounds now?



As an aside, I found their objections to my novel particularly laughable. They asserted that Conan Doyle would never have approved of my combining Sherlock Holmes with space travel and time travel. Given that Conan Doyle wrote a fair amount of what we now call science fiction, I wonder if his descendants had actually read much of his works.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

College alumni in a bar

Occasionally I get e-mail from the local chapter of the Indiana University Alumni Association announcing gatherings. The latest one invited me to a local tavern to watch a televised IU basketball game in the company of a bunch of drunken alumni. Woo hoo.

The most truly world-class organization at IU is the opera school, whose graduates typically head straight to the Met and other great opera houses. The opera school also puts on wonderful opera performances on campus. Now, if the alumni org invited me to a local tavern to watch a live televised performance from the IU opera school, I might be interested. But I'm not going to hold my breath for that.

Monday, February 04, 2013

A little knowledge is a dangerous etc.

A little knowledge is a dangerous etc.

Talking Points Memo has a brief note about the announcement that the skeleton recently found in England most probably is that of Richard III. The TPM news item is headed "Tear-Falling Pity Dwells Not In This Eye" — a line uttered by Richard in Shakespeare's play, Richard III. In the note, TPM refers to Richard as "the notorious Richard III".

Which makes me suspect that David Kurtz, who apparently wrote that TPM item, has drawn his knowledge of Richard from Shakespeare's version of the man. Shakespeare, who was writing during the reign of Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of Henry VII, the man who ended Richard's reign and life at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Shakespeare, who understood politics so well and understood the value of not pissing off Elizabeth by casting doubt on the rightness of her grandfather's violent takeover of the country.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An exciting morning at Starbucks

I dropped Leonore off at the campus this morning. She had only one tutoring student today, so I went to a nearby Starbucks to have bad coffee and read a good book. A young man came in with his bicycle, bought something, and left. Shortly after, he came staggering in asking us to call 911. Someone had stabbed him and stolen his bicycle.

A customer who seemed to know what he was doing sprang to help. He got the guy's t-shirt off, revealing a bleeding hole in his side, helped him to a chair, and pressed a towel to his side. Blood, blood, blood. Police and local security guards showed up, including the campus police for some reason. Lots of phone calls and stuff. Ambulance showed up. The medics helped the guy to his feet and walked him out to the ambulance. I don't know why they didn't do something for him there. He was moaning and saying he couldn't breathe. I assume his lung had been punctured and/or was filling with blood. There wasn't as much blood as I would have expected; there also wasn't any bubbling from the wound.

I heard someone say that the victim warned the man helping him that he had Hep C. There was blood on the chair, on the small table he was sitting at, on the floor ...

The police put yellow Crime Scene tape outside and had the barristas lock the door. They took statements from everyone. It all took a while.

So the poor guy has Hep C, a serious wound, and his bike is gone.

Friday, January 18, 2013

If only TV writers knew even a tiny bit of history

Oh, this pisses me off.

NBC will be doing a new series titled Dracula:

The series centers on the famous vampire, who poses as an American entrepreneur called Allen Grayson. He travels to 1890s London, where he attempts to "bring modern science to Victorian society."

You dumb shits. Where do you think modern science began? Why don't you read up on the attitudes of the Victorians toward everything new and interesting, instead of relying on absurd Hollywood stereotypes?