Friday, January 31, 2014

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that historian Dale Walters said that Montana pioneer Robert Vaughn's book, Then and Now, or, Thirty-Six Years in the Rockies, illustrated by the nationally famous "cowboy artist" Charles Marion Russell, "affords a rare glimpse into the early white settlement of Montana" and declared it "...a remarkable contribution to 'the Montana story'"?

1960s spaceship design in TV and film was still very much about style -- although thought was now being given to design. Here's the USS Enterprise from the Star Trek television series (1965-1968).

Many of the "big things" (ocean liners, electric locomotives, etc.) which so fascinated people in the 1920s and 1930s were gone by the 1960s, and the Great Depression and World War II had done much to disabuse people of the idea of a utopian future. The new "it" things like rockets and atomic power seemed as bad as they were good. (Remember the V2? And fallout?) But some things seemed to hold a lot of promise, like the computer, even though no one knew yet to what uses it could be put.

Style still tended to rule. The Jupiter II from Lost in Space was merely a flying saucer. But the ships on other series showed clearly that style was still more important than design. The Flying Sub from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was inspired by a manta ray, and the Seaview submarine (designed by Jack Martin Smith and Herman Bluemethal) had a nose modeled on a shark and manta-ray fins designed to provide stability. The Proteus submarine in The Fantastic Voyage (designed by Howard Goff) was a Chris-Craft luxury yacht slightly modified for underwater. The Spindrift rocket on Land of the Giants was a kit-bash (sic) of the Proteus and the Flying Sub, slightly modified to be more aerodynamic. The USS Enterprise on Star Trek was inspired by an electric stove coil. These were all "cool looks" that reflected an emphasis on style more than utilitarian design.

The interiors of these ships share many of the same design elements: Lots of glowing and blinking lights, plenty of switches, lots of computers, most equipment sealed behind panels, occasional visible interior bracing (a bulkhead), bucket seats.

Visually, much of the interior design was a reaction to Americans' experiences in World War II. More than 10 million American men had gone to war, and the interiors of their tanks and planes and ships were lined with cables, conduits, steel wires, bracing, and all sorts of equipment. The guts of the tank or the plane had to be exposed, because in a cramped space in the emergency of a battle -- there just wasn't time to unscrew a panel and fix a pump or a short circuit. In the future, though, the assumption was that systems would be far, far more robust. So equipment could be hidden away behind panels. Thus, the "clean look" entered into science fiction visual dogma.

There was also some attempt to think through what style might mean for design. Star Trek was in the forefront of this. The ships in The Fantastic Voyage and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea were all based on existing theories of aerodynamic underwater design. The SpinDrift was rarely seen on Land of the Giants, and almost never mentioned.

But on Star Trek -- while the Enterprise's design was stylish, Gene Roddenberry, art designer Matt Jeffries, and FX artist Jim Rugg attempted to retcon the design scientifically. The warp nacelles were high and away, they claimed, because the engines generated radiation. The impulse engines were behind the saucer section because that's where the center of gravity on the ship was. A big dish antenna (they'd come into existence just before the war) was needed to communicate with home. Clamshell doors didn't just look cool, they were practical (a dent in a door means it can't be used; a dent in a single slat of a clamshell door means that slat could be switched out and replaced easily without replacing the whole door).

Visually, Star Trek set the tone for much of science fiction for the next half century. That's because designers either copied it, or reacted to it by rejecting it. There's been precious in-between ground, and little that's new (design-wise).

Interestingly, the reason why the Enterprise's bridge is high on the saucer section and exposed to enemy fire (!!!) is because an audience wants to "see the bridge". Just like on an aircraft carrier (the island just up to one side), or an airplane (the cabin is in the nose), or a tank (the driver is in the turret), Roddenberry and Jeffries realized that burying the bridge in the center of the ship (the most logical place for it, given the ability to see outside via television) would violate people's "norm" for "where the bridge should be".

* * * * * * * *

Typical "clean look" interior spaceship design, courtesy of the deeply influential Star Trek. Everything is concealed behind a wall or panel. Only a few "vital" pieces of equipment jut from the walls. Matt Jeffries argued that the walls were too plain-looking to leave blank, so they got some big styrofoam pieces (the kind motorcycles are packed in), shellacked them, painted them, and put them on the walls.

Notice the bulkheads overhead, showing where the interior bracing is. This is used a lot in sci fi schows of the 1960s.

The bridge of the USS Enteprise, another typical piece of "clean look" visual design. Every panel has glowing buttons and switches on it. Glowing lights are set into the upright panels, and they flash on and off to make it look like "things are happening".

Notice how this is much like a car or airplane dashboard: There may be a "fix engine" light, but it isn't visible until it's lit from behind. The Enterprise's bridge functions the same way.

Note, too, the bucket seating -- a new car design feature of the 1960s considered very innovative.

Funny: My DVD player remote control has more switches, buttons, pads, and sliders than this Enterprise control panel.

Here's the interior of the Proteus submarine (?) from the movie The Fantastic Voyage. It, too, is pretty typical of 1960s "clean look" sci fi ship design. Very little equipment is visible; it's mostly behind panels. Lots of lights, buttons, and switched. Interior bracing is also evident.

Here's the SpinDrift (I just love that word!) from the 1960s television series Land of the Giants. Notice the aerodynamic nature of the craft, which was supposed to rocket into the atmosphere and then drift back down to Earth. The engines look very much like advanced U.S. Air Force turbojet engines, inside an aerodynamic cowling. "Fins control an airplane", the public reasons, and so the SpinDrift has a fin, too. Sci fi always has at least one toe dipped into the pool of reality... OK, sometimes less, but...

Here is the passenger cabin set of the SpinDrift from Land of the Giants. Typical overstuffed leather chairs are given a futuristic look.

Note the geometic (not rectangular) door in the rear, and the hexagonal wall art. This comes from architecture: Modernist architecture loved the "glass and steel box". But that got boring, quick. So Modernist architects quickly began putting "skins" on their buildings composed of repetitive geometric shapes to liven things up.

For example, let's take a look at 2 Broadway, a 32-story office tower built by Uris Brothers and completed in 1959. Notice how much it looks like the SpinDrift passenger cabin? The original facade featured aluminum metal rectangles with rectangular fanlights above and below that covered blue-green tinted windows. (It appeared in the 1960 movie The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.)

Here are the SpinDrift cabin's control panels. Again, this show reflects the "clean look" design ethic of 1960s sci fi movies and television. Everything is behind a panel. Lots of buttons and switches signal to the viewer "I can control things". Flashing lights are indicators.

The SpinDrift set was cheap, so much of this is merely electronic gear thrown out by the military or businesses. Stripped of its identifying markings and some of its more mundane controls, it looks futuristic (enough).

Another shot of the SpinDrift cabin -- oh no! a giant!

This shot of the SpinDrift cabin again shows the military aircraft-style seating, glowing lights, and "clean look" of typical 1960s sci fi.

Watch this incredibly emotional ad by the National Congress of American Indians. Native Americans identify with words like "survivor", "patriot", and "resilient".

"Redskins" is not one of them. D.C.'s professional football team, which uses the racist name, refused to comment on the ad.

1930s spaceship design in film was very much about style rather than design, if you get my drift. For example, here's the spaceship from the Flash Gordon serial of 1936.

The 1920s and 1930s were a period during which designers were very enamored of the very new and huge transporation objects of the day -- the ocean liner, the zeppelin, the aeroplane, the electric locomotive. With no existing rockets, missiles, or similar craft to use as templates, filmmakers used "style" -- like Streamline Moderne or Art Deco -- as symbols of "the future". Bakelite (a form of synthetic resin which looked like plastic) had just been invented, and was being used as a cover for electronics (like radios), home appliances, and even as jewelry or buttons. It could be made translucent, and could glow if lit internally.

Neon lighting in its modern form was only introduced in 1910, and few cities had neon signs. Neon lighting was considered futuristic as well. Indeed, electrification was just beginning across the United States. While many middle-class homes in American cities had it by 1930, most lower-class city homes did not -- nor did the 50 percent of Americans who lived in rural areas. (Electricity would come to rural America only by 1938, after Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Administration built the lines and power plants.)

Furthermore, automation was just beginning to be introduced to the factory setting. The idea that an individual in a remote room, unable to see the machine he was operating, could control the machine with the push of a button, the turn of a lever, the flick of a switch.

So spaceships of the 1930s and 1940s reflected the predominant culture: What was futuristic depended largely on style: Streamlined, lots of glowing lights, switches and buttons, plastic surfaces over everything, neon, electric-looking devices.

Here's the Flash Gordon rocketship on Mongo!

Here's a colorized scene of Flash and Dale Arden controlling a Mongo rocketship.

Most parents believe that the large amounts of time their kids spend with digital devices is educational. But the fact is, whereas kids aged 2-to-4 spend about 50 percent of their time on educational software, kids aged 8-to-10 spend less than 25 percent of their time on educational software.

Really alarming? Poor parents vastly overestimate the educational value of software. Lower-income parents believe their kids spend as much as 60 percent of their time with educational software, when it is much less. It's not clear if poor parents are misjudging how much time their kids spend on educational software, or if they believe games are educational.

Either way, poor parents are doing their kids a huge disservice. It's harming those kids who need educational software the most.
I sometimes wonder if there is really such a thing as "history." Or who our true historians are.

I'm no writer, but I can do research and put the facts in order.

Where my wonderment comes in is when I am researching something obscure, some dusty corner (hey! I'm cliche-ridden! this is why I'm no writer) of forgotten time which I find interesting or which illuminates some larger sequence of events. A lot of the time, writing about these events or people is hard, because so little work has been done in the area. And yet, almost invariably, I find that there's a narrative somewhere. Some reporter has written a paragraph or two outlining the sequence of events. Some writer somewhere has already concocted a half-page of biography that outlines the person's life and achievements.

It's said (by those cliché-writers, again) that the news is the "first rough draft of history." I've come to agree. News isn't history while it's being written; it's news. But "old news" is history. It's the juice of history, which, if allowed to age and ferment, can form the "first rough draft of history."

After having written a few biographies of people (Arnold Miller, Ben Gold, J.J. Hagerman, Cornelius Shea, Daniel J. Tobin, Dave Beck, David J. McDonald, Frank Fitzsimmons, J. Warren Madden, Jerry Horan, Joey Glimco, Joseph Yablonski, Nelson Cruikshank, Ralph Fasanella, Ron Carey, William McFetridge, Cao Van Vien, Frank Rio, J. Ogden Armour‎, James Rand, Jr., John G. McCullough, John Jacobs, Stanley Forman Reed, Webb Miller, Roger Putnam, Roger Touhy), I find that there's actually precious little biography out there. Instead, I end up going to "original second-hand sources" like newspaper archives or contemporary plaudits from friends or admirers.

Let's look at Cornelius Shea. Here is a man who created the first truly national union, the Teamsters. For only five years, he ran his union. Yet, in those five years, he roiled and snarled and devastated the city of Chicago with massive strike after massive strike. Hundreds of thousands of workers were out on the streets. No food in homes. No traffic moved. Here is the man who became so corrupt that the word "racketeer" was coined to describe him. Here is a man who, after his ouster from the union, became so notorious in Chicago mob circles that he was repeatedly and unsuccessfully prosecuted. But almost no biography exists of him outside yellowing newspaper clippings. (Cliché! Cliché!)

Or take Cao Van Vien. He was the Chairman of the South Vietnamese Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1965 to 1975. Alone among the South Vietnamese generals, he stayed in one command and was well-known for being an excellent general. His absolute commitment to being a "professional soldier" who did not meddle in politics made him almost unique among South Vietnam's military, and his role as JCS Chairman helped stabilize the country politically after repeated coups in 1963 and 1964. When a coup to topple Nguyen Cao Ky nearly occurred in 1968, Vien stepped in and ordered the military to back out of politics and allow the electoral process to work. But once again, outside of numerous newspaper articles and the rare mention of his name in long, detailed, complex works about the war, he has no biography.

Increasingly, whenever I write about history, I find myself taking the bare-bones story that someone has already written and fleshing it out immensely. A more egotistical person could say "I grew a tree from a tiny seed." But the fact is that the data was already out there. It just needed putting in order, according to the existing story that I found somewhere else.

And yet, I'm at a sort of existential loss here. Can history be written if it was already written before? Or is "history" just adding on to what already exists?

Monday, January 27, 2014

A very long time ago, I did an article on an obscure but amazingly important company, Ovson Egg. It's one of those articles which had its genesis in a bunch of other articles I did: Ovson had been the target of union organizers in the 1930s and 1940s, and the name kept cropping up.

Ovson was one of the biggest food suppliers in the U.S. prior to the advent of refrigerated food in the 1950s; the freezing or dehydrating of eggs was a major issue, because eggs otherwise would last only two or three days before going bad. Ovson was a major egg company, the way Armour or Hormel (major meatpackers) were for beef and pork, and I'd done articles which talked about Armour and Hormel in several other union articles I'd written. These companies resisted unionization like a country defending against an invading army: At one point in the 1930s, they bought more tear gas, pepper spray, riot guns, and grenades than the U.S. government! I'd helped clean up the Borden Food article (as a kid, I used to drink Meadowgold milk and Dairygold ice cream, both made by Borden), and Ovson Egg later became part of Borden.

The Chicago gangster Joey Glimco had become deeply involved with Ovson Egg in the 1950s. If he could control the company, he could skim massive amounts of money from it. After all, everyone ate eggs! And Ovson was, by far, the biggest egg company in America. Even if all Glimco did was control Ovson Egg and charge a single cent more per egg, he'd make tens of millions of dollars a year.

But there was no article on Joey Glimco...

Later, when I did my article on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management, I discovered Glimco had been a major focus of the committee. He had supported Jimmy Hoffa and (along with Johnny Dio, another gangster I'd done an article about) had made possible Hoffa's rise to power in the Teamsters. During the Select Committee hearings, Robert F. Kennedy and Glimco had had a deliciously bitchy conversation which has made it into lots of history books about the mob and about RFK:
Kennedy: And you defraud the union?
Glimco: I respectfully decline to answer because I honestly believe my answer might intend to incriminate me.
Kennedy: I would agree with you.
McClellan: I believe it would.
Kennedy: You haven't got the guts to answer, have you, Mr. Glimco?
Glimco: I respectfully decline.
McClellan: Morally, you are kind of yellow inside, are you not?
Glimco: I respectfully decline.
So I started writing about Glimco, which no one else had done despite his prominence in the 1950s. I quickly discovered that he played a major, major role in Chicago history but was utterly ignored on Wikipedia. In doing my research, I found much more information that I expected. It took me a month just to plumb the Chicago Tribune and New York Times archives, and cost me a lot of bucks to download a lot of articles. It took me two weeks to arrange my research into some sort of form (chronological? nonchronological? topical?) that I liked and which conveyed the information well. (I settled on chronological, with a few backtracks along the way.) I needed to review my information, and plug holes, and that took another week.

I started writing the article in early June, and put it into my sandbox page on June 28. I did a little work on it for a week, and then stopped.

I stopped because the creative writing process isn't something you can force. I was having writer's block on this article: I was uncertain that the format I'd chosen was something that was working. I was unhappy with the huge amount of information I'd generated, and was considering dumping a lot of it in favor of a more stripped-down article. Plus, I was just depressed about stuff in my personal life, and writing about a gangster isn't really going to help that.

So I wrote articles about other things I was interested in -- Robert Kenner, Andrew Carroll, The 1940s House, and the Watergate complex -- instead. Even then, I got stuck on Watergate complex: The newspaper reporting on which building in the complex got sold and when is really slipshod, and I couldn't figure out what had really happened for a long time! As it turns out, I completed the article just in time for the August 9 anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon's resignation. (Wikipedia, however, did not approve the DYK for "Watergate complex" until it was too late to make the anniversary date. Ah well...)

I returned to Glimco after a long hiatus, figuring it was time to stop dicking around. Something happened deep in my subconsious with my creative juices and decision-making processes that allowed me to solve the problems I was facing with the article. In fact, I merely came to accept the tremendous amount of data I'd collected and to accept the structure I'd already decided on. But that's OK: First drafts are just that, first drafts. And you may end up discovering that the "first draft of history" is the right one.

It was a good decision, too. I discovered some new information, and added that to the article, improving it, adding detail to the vague parts and clarifying some things.

And that's how writing is done, for me anyway.
I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that in the 1810 U.S. Supreme Court case of O'Neale v. Thornton, 10 U.S. 53, a former Commissioner of the District of Columbia, William Thornton, sued a man (William O'Neale) who bought land owned by the federal government for failure to pay his mortgage, but the man claimed that Thornton's successor (D.C. Superintendent Thomas Munroe) had already foreclosed on him (and sold to Andrew Ross) and thus no payment was due?
I wish I lived near the seashore. So I could get this for lunch.

Jerry Goldsmith wrote the musical score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Goldsmith wrote the musical score for a large number of sci fi and fantasy films, including those for Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Planet of the Apes, Poltergeist, RoboCop, and Total Recall. He also composed the themes for the TV series Star Trek: Voyager, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Barnaby Jones.

At the time the film was produced, Goldsmith had composed themes or incidental music for 37 television series, TV movies, and TV mini-series, and 86 motion pictures. He'd been nominated for 10 Oscars for best score (there'd be seven more, including for Star Trek, before he died in 2004). These included the astounding music for A Patch of Blue (1965), The Sand Pebbles (1966), Patton (1970), Papillon (1973), The Wind and the Lion (1975), and The Omen (1976). 1979 would see two of his most celebrated works: Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien. (Poltergeist, Gremlins, Legend, Hoosiers, RoboCop, Total Recall, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: First Contact, L.A. Confidential, and Mulan were still to come.)

Among his many sci fi and fantasy TV and film scores are those for City of Fear, The Twilight Zone (TV series), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (TV series theme), The Satan Bug, The Illustrated Man, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, Logan's Run, Damnation Alley, Coma, Capricorn One, Damien: Omen II, The Swarm, The Boys from Brazil, Magic, Omen III: The Final Conflict, Outland, The Secret of N.I.M.H., Twilight Zone: The Movie, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, Innerspace, Warlock, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Shadow, Powder, Small Soldiers, The Mummy, The Haunting, and the Hollow Man.

His score for the 1988 film Alien Nation was famously rejected, but has been used in hundreds of theatrical trailers, commercials, and documentary specials since.

Gene Roddenberry asked Goldsmith to score his new television series, Star Trek, in 1965, but Goldsmith was working on three movie scores and couldn't do it. In 1977, Paramount Pictures asked newly-hired director Robert Wise if he had any objection to using Goldsmith. Wise, who had worked with the composer on The Sand Pebbles, replied "Hell, no. He's great!" Wise later said his experience working with Goldsmith on ST: TMP was one of the best he ever had with a composer.

Goldsmith's score for TMP was influenced by the Romantic style music of Star Wars. Goldsmith's first main theme was an over-the-top "sailing ship" theme that was rejected by Wise. Goldsmith was angered by the rejection, but agreed to re-do the work.

Meanwhile, composing for the rest of the music in the film continued. Goldsmith turned in music for the "beauty pass" of Kirk and Scott's shuttle around the drydocked USS Enterprise. But when effects shots arrived late and little editing could be done to the sequence because there were just three weeks before the motion picture's debut, Goldsmith had to rewrite this piece to create a ponderous five-minute "suite" of music.

Goldsmith also used two unusual musical instruments to create music for the film. One of these was the Advanced Digital Synthesizer (ADS) 11, manufactured by Con Brio. The second was the Blaster Beam, a 13.5-foot-long, three-feet-wide aluminum bar along which were stretched steel wires (like a guitar). The wires were connected to amplifiers, which generated the sound. A small artillery shell casing was used to strike and pluck the wires. Goldsmith used a pipe organ to play the V'Ger theme the first time it is heard in the film. But for the musical cues and "stingers" which accompany V'Ger in the rest of the film, the Blaster Beam is used. (The Blaster Beam has been used in a wide range of motion pictures since 1979.)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the only Star Trek film to have an overture, a symphonic version of "Ilia's Theme".

Goldsmith wrote most of the music in about six weeks (typical for a motion picture). Because he was brought in so early during the production, the music was recorded in an extremely leisurely four months instead of the typical two to three weeks.

But as filming lagged and footage came in late, or even unedited, Goldsmith ran out of time to compose some of the music. Alexander Courage, composer of the original Star Trek theme and music for many episodes, composed the music which accompanied Kirk's log entries. Fred Steiner, another "original series" episode composer, wrote the music which accompanies the Enterprise achieving warp speed and first meeting V'Ger.

Problems with special effects, filming, editing, and other production problems plagued the movie. Goldsmith was revising the score and composing new cues right up to the last minute. The final recording session finished at 2:00 AM on December 1, 1979 -- only five days before the film's release.

The score to Star Trek: The Motion Picture was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe. It is regarded as one of the Goldsmith's greatest scores, and is considered one of the best science fiction scores of the last 25 years of the 20th century.

Upper Lusatian Library of Sciences in Görlitz, Germany.

This hours-old chick is a Micronesian kingfisher. It was born Friday, January 24, 2014.

With the birth of this chick at the Smithsonian National Zoo, there are now 129 Micronesian kingfishers in the entire world.

Micronesian kingfishers are extinct in the wild. To save the species, the last 29 Micronesian kingfishers were captured on the island of Guam (where brown snakes had wiped them out) and sent them to zoos.

Micronesian kingfishers are very hard to breed, as males and females often refuse to mate and prove to be poor parents.

Why do I like writing?

With your voice, you can go fast or slow. You can be loud or soft. You can twist the tone of voice so that "Oh, I totally understand that" is either sarcastic or ironic or or assertive or admissory. Because with voice you still have facial expression, body language, gesture, eye contact.

But with writing you have none of that. The word on the page is all you have, and those words must convey all the meaning you intend, in all its depth and shapes and forms. That means crafting what you want to say. It means you have very limited tools at your disposal, and you have to use them very, very, very well or you won't be communicating meaning at all.

Writing is like having one color and one brush, and yet having to paint an entire canvas and depict the sea.

It can be done, you know... But you have to be good at it to do so.

You have to be creative.

You have to be inventive.

You have to know your medium.

Sometimes, it's enough to draw a line. Sometimes, you need to do more.

Writing is about using a tool that is sharply limited, and then exploding your boundaries all the same. And that's why I like writing more than speaking, or acting.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... verd antique is a greenish metamorphic rock made of magnesium, iron, and silicates linked with water molecules that comes in sheets, and can be either brecciated (broken fragments cemented together by a fine-grained matrix) or non-brecciated and which is used extensively as a decorative facing stone since ancient times?

The Sensorites are one of the oldest villains in Doctor Who, appearing in the 1964 First Doctor serial "The Sensorites".

The Sensorites are a telepathic race that lives on a planet known as the Sense-Sphere. During their first encounter with humanity, they contracted a horrible disease that left their population incapacitated. The human beings then mined vast quantities of rare minerals from their planet, and stole off with it. (The human ship, with about half the crew aboard, blew up on take-off.) With another ship of human beings arriving, the Sensorites are determined to kill all humans before another rape of their world can occur.

It is their only appearance in Doctor Who.

Sensorites are immensely telepathic. They rely on a medallion, which they place against their foreheads, as a means of focusing their telepathic powers so they can freeze people, cause mental illness, and do other amazing things.

The Ood, an alien species which reappears numerous times in the rebooted Doctor Who bear a suspicious resemblance to the Sensorites. This was unintentional, but showrunner Russell T. Davies later decided to use it in the show.

In the Tenth Doctor episode "Planet of the Ood", the Doctor visits the Ood's homeworld, which is called the Ood-Sphere. The Doctor then mentions that the Sense-Sphere is in the same system.

Russell T. Davies intentionally made the Ood like the Sensorites, a sort of up-date if you will. When people noticed the similarity, he came clean about his inspiration. He then had the Doctor say (in "Planet of the Ood") that the Sense-Sphere is in the same solar system as the Ood-Sphere, linking the two species.

USAF = Unsafe, Smug, Asshole Failures

The U.S. Air Force has suspended 34 nuclear missile launch control officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, for cheating on the exams that guarantee the safety of U.S. nuclear missiles. Hundreds of other "missileers" are involved in the scandal, which goes back decades.

The cheating scandal involves colonels on down, and includes those administering the tests -- who often look at answers and correct them before scoring sheets are turned in. The scandal comes close on the heels of revelations in December 2013 that missileers were selling illegal drugs out of their missile silos.

The U.S. Air Force is infested with fundamentalist Christianity. Many of those at Malmstrom attend right-wing fundamentalist churches in Great Falls. They show their true colors now.

Malmstrom's commander, Colonel Robert Stanley, had this to say about about the drug sales and nuclear missile cheating scandal rocking his command: "We feel like we've let the American people down."

Who is this "we"? The drug trafficking wasn't widespread, but the missile safety cheating scandal included colonels just like Stanley as well as HUNDREDS of other missile launch control and missile operators. Fully one fifth of everyone in Stanely's command was caught cheating. And that's just the ones who got caught; all signs point to a cheating scandal that is FAR MORE PERVASIVE than the Air Force wants to admit. AND THE CHEATING SCANDAL GOES BACK DECADES.

One assumes Col. Stanley cannot apologize or speak for past commanders.

One must assume past commanders didn't give a shit about the faith of the American people.

Nor, quite frankly, do most of the men and women under Col. Stanley's command.

So who's this "we" stuff?

According to the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, a whopping 37.9 percent of D.C. households didn't own a vehicle in 2012. That's up a strong 2.4 percent from 2007. The District of Columbia now ranks behind only New York City with the highest number of households without an automobile.

Other cities with high rates of non-car ownership? Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco are all above the 30 percent mark.

The city with the most cars? San Jose, California, where a measly 5.8 percent of households are automobile-free.

The nationwide average for households without a vehicle is 9.22 percent.

The white dwarf star in the galaxy M82 has gone nova (or, at least, its 11.5 million-year-old light is just reaching us now). M82 is a starburst galaxy, which means it is relatively young and generating large number of new stars. But white dwarfs are the remains of old star, and there shouldn't be more than a handful of these in M82.

What's more, when a white dwarf begins feeding off a nearby neighbor, it can collect enough material on its surface to go supernova -- and that's just what has happened.

So don't look a gift nova in the face: Just enjoy this great astronomical event!

Göttweig Abbey library, Austria.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that although the 1985 film Agnes of God is ostensibly about a Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft) who believes a nun (Meg Tilly) whose baby is the result of a virgin birth, it's really about a sexually molested, partly insane nun who kills her newborn infant and the mother superior who helps cover up the crime?
God, Joan Crawford is a terrible actress. TCM keeps running her films ad nauseaum, and they just suck.

In one film, she plays a student returning to her old college to get an honorary degree and to see old flame Robert Montgomery (now the college president). Only, she hides a "terrible secret" (she never actually graduated), and Montgomery is fighting the college's conservative culture that drove her out. A lot of hand-wringing and worried looks, but Crawford a) never comes off as an educated woman, b) doesn't do much more for 90 percent of the film except stand around, and c) delivers her critical speech like someone barking orders at the maid.

In another film, she's a zero-believability gangster who learns she's losing her eyesight. She travels across the country to have the operation, and falls in love with her doctor. Her second-in-command, some schmoe of a gangster, travels to see her and decides to kill the doctor. The FBI arrests everyone after Joan turns state's evidence. Most of her scene make her out to be a weak-kneed, besotted young (?) woman who can't stop mooning over her man. Despite the film's repeated assertions that she's a vicious gangster, she comes off like a Miss Lonelyhearts in love.

In yet another film, Crawford gets to play to her strength: She's a bitch of a Broadway song-and-dance star (with a painted-on tan) surrounded by weak men who meets a blind pianist who isn't cowed by her. But this ain't no "Taming of the Shrew": It's packed full of awful, time-worn clichés about how lonely it is to be a star, sacrificing art to relationships, and "I can't control you if I love you", etc. Furthermore, this 1953 film actually shows Crawford in BLACKFACE! BLACKFACE!!! In 1953!!!!!!

Increasingly, I find Joan Crawford to be an actress of limited range and NO emotional depth. Most of her films have preposterous plots that are silly to the point of surrealist absurdity.

I love these big lunette windows. To me, when you're up high, they give the impression of being behind a huge clock face or having partitioned the interior of the building behind some industrial or commercial facade. To me, they give an impression of faded elegance, of Chicago Gothic Commercial that is long gone but distinctively American Midwestern.

And while I love home libraries, I don't think hard chairs are the way to really go.
John Williams' third great science fiction theme was for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released the same year as Star Wars (1977). Nominated for an Oscar for both soundtracks, Williams won for Star Wars. But it was Close Encounters and not Star Wars that won Grammys -- two of them, in fact!

Because Spielberg envisioned a grand musical dialogue between alien and human at the end, he needed a musical motif before filming began. Spielberg informally began collaborating with Williams in 1975, even before post-production on Jaws was finished. Spielberg gave Williams a script draft, and Williams began composing music for the film in late 1975. Spielberg often altered or created scenes to fit Williams' music, which is opposite to the way 99 percent of film music is scored.

Warner Bros. executives did NOT want to hire John Williams for Close Encounters, as they knew he was already working on Star Wars. Williams met with them and convinced them that he was far enough along on Star Wars to devote his full attention to Close Encounters. Very early on in the process, Spielberg and Williams decided that the film had two parts: An early, creepy, scary part about alien abduction, and a second, thrilling, adventure-like part in which the heroes evade the military and meet the aliens.

It was Williams who suggested licensing Leigh Harline and Ned Washington's 1940 "When You Wish Upon A Star" (from Pinocchio). Spielberg agreed. After the film became a hit, Spielberg would claim credit for this idea, asserting that it was his favorite childhood song and that he spent millions to get it in the movie.

Williams wanted a short musical riff to use as the "contact music" between alien and human. Williams wanted a seven- or eight-note riff. But Spielberg wanted a five-note riff, like in Jaws. (DAH-dum. dah-DUM-dum. Dum-dum dum-dum-dum-dum dum-dum...) Spielberg also argued that "hello" has just five letters, and that seven or more notes might sound like an unfinished melody rather than a riff. ("When You Wish Upon A Star" has just seven notes to establish the melody.) The two argued, but Spielberg won. Between 250 and 300 riffs were tried, but Spielberg liked none of them. In frustration, Spielberg just chose one -- and it is this riff which is now famous.

Again, Williams wrote the score in the Romantic style. Much of the first half of the score uses aleatoric passages -- in which music seems to occur by chance, stumbling over itself, with little in the way of themes or motifs. It also uses tone clusters. (For example, three white keys next to one another on the piano are a tone cluster.) For the second half of the film, melody and theme taking over.

The recurring "chase music" in the film is based on themes found in the work of Bernard Herrman, the mid-century composer known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock. Much of the second half of the film finds strong similarities with Elmer Bernstein's soundtrack for the 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

Short "riff motifs" are important throughout the score. The Devil's Tower theme is just two notes, constantly rising, underscored by soft strings and voices. The "vision theme" is a three-note motif (heard at 3:55 on the accompanying video) that occurs whenever people meet aliens or have visions about them. The "danger theme" is a four-note motif (heard at 4:16 on the accompanying video) that echoes the traditional medieval music for the Mass for the dead found in the "Dies Irae".

The score was recorded by the Warner Bros. Orchestra at the Warner Bros. scoring studio in Burbank, California.

John Williams' second great sci fi theme -- other than the "Star Wars: Main Title Theme" -- is undoubtedly "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)", composed for the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back.

George Lucas hired Williams to do the music for Empire in 1979. This time, nearly all the music was Williams' idea, as much of the music from Star Wars would be used again. However, a significant amount of music would be needed, including music for the Imperial probe droid, a Darth Vader theme, a Yoda theme, a Leia-and-Han love theme, a "battle in the snow" segment, the asteroid field segment, a Bespin theme, and some Ewok celebratory music.

Williams says he was deeply influenced by Gustav Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War" (taken from Holst's musical suite, The Planets) and by Frederic Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 (also known as "The Funeral March"). "The Imperial March" is distinctly similar to both.

"The Imperial March" did NOT premiere in the movie. It was made public on April 29, 1980, three weeks before the opening of the film. This was John Williams' first concert as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra.

This is conductor Bramwell Tovey wielding a lightsaber as he conducts the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in "The Imperial March".

John Williams is one of the most important film composers of the past 50 years, and the most important composer of science fiction/fantasy film music of all time. He has been nominated for a whopping 49 Academy Awards, and won five of them -- for Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., and Schindler's List. He has been nominated for six Emmy Awards, and won three of them -- for Heidi, Jane Eyre, and Great Performances (theme). He holds the record for the most Oscar nominations for a living person, and is the second most nominated person in Academy Awards history (behind Walt Disney's 59).

Among his most sci fi/fantasy scores are The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Witches of Eastwick, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Although nominated three times for an Oscar, it was 1974's Fiddler on the Roof that made him famous. Yet, today, it is his soundtracks for Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (written the same year as Star Wars), The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark which the public remembers.

Steven Spielberg, with whom Williams had worked on Jaws, recommended Williams to George Lucas when Lucas was looking for a composer to score his Star Wars.

Lucas asked for an old-fashioned soundtrack, and played several movie soundtracks over rough footage to give Williams an idea of what sort of music he wanted for each segment of the film. (This is a common technique with directors.) Initially, Lucas pressed for an ADAPTED SCORE -- one using existing music, but adapted minimally for the film. Three of Williams' first four Oscar noms were for adapated scores...

Williams convinced Lucas that an original music would be better.

Williams uses a style of music called Romanticism, which focuses on strong emotion -- particularly intuition and awe. Romanticism flourished in the 1800s, and included composers like Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Giuseppe Verdi, Hector Berlioz, and Felix Mendelssohn. Williams has an extreme fondness for warm brass. Based on the musical ideas Lucas had in mind, Williams decided to write Star Wars with something called leitmotifs -- a different "theme" for each character or incident. Thus you have Luke's Theme, Leia's Theme, Vader's Theme (the Imperial March), etc.

Williams cites Erich Wolfgang Korngold's theme for the 1942 film King's Row as a heavy influence for the "Star Wars: Main Title Theme". (Korngold was the greatest film composer in the world from 1930 to 1960, and his Robin Hood is considered the greatest soundtrack ever. Korngold was the first to use the leitmotif in a film soundtrack.) Williams also cited Alessandro Cicognini's soundtrack for 1948's Italian Neorealism film The Bicycle Thief for the segment "Dune Sea of Tatooine/Jawa Sandcrawler". Williams took six weeks to write the score (which is typical for most Hollywood films), working with an orchestrator and plucking out themes on a synthesizer.

In March 1977, Williams recorded the soundtrack in a swift 12 days with the London Symphony Orchestra. Film composer Andre Previn was the one who hooked Williams up with the LSO. The soundtrack was recorded in Dolby stereo, which was highly unusual for the time. (Most films did not have a stereo soundtrack until after Star Wars.)

The smog has become so thick in Beijing that the city's light-starved masses have begun flocking to huge digital commercial television screens across the city to observe virtual sunrises.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... Knox v. Greenleaf, 5 U.S. 360, is an 1802 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States which held that, under the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790, citizenship of the state is conferred upon moving to the state and paying taxes?
Never a good idea....

The dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt, is spouting STEAM!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anthony Ainley played the fourth incarnation of The Master on Doctor Who. He made his first appearance in the the 1981 Fourth Doctor serial "The Keeper of Traken" and made an annual appearance thereafter. His last performance as The Master was in the final serial of the original series -- the 1989 Seventh Doctor serial, "Survival".

Ainley was chosen because of his remarkable similarity to Roger Delgado, who originated the role. Ainley was in love with the role, and until his death would answer the telephone with, "The is the Master" -- followed by his notorious evil laugh.
I see morons scraping the ice off the hood of their car.

It's going to leave a lovely Modernist pattern of scratches in the paintjob when they are through.

Geoffrey Beevers played the third incarnation of The Master on Doctor Who. He made a single appearance, in the 1981 Fourth Doctor serial "The Keeper of Trakken".

The Doctor and Adric are summoned to the planet Trakken by its Keeper, who fears that an ancient evil known as Melkur has revived and is about to seize the source of the planet's highly advanced technology. Melkur is, in fact, the Master -- still highly degenerated, but this time seeking new lives by draining Trakken of its power.

A slightly less-degenerated Master was seen because viewers had objected to the too-scary version that appeared in 1976.

Peter Pratt played the second incarnation of The Master on Doctor Who. He made a single appearance, in the 1976 Fourth Doctor serial "The Deadly Assassin".

In that episode, the Doctor is summoned to Gallifrey and has a vision of the assasination of the President of Gallifrey. The Doctor is framed by the Master for the assassination so that the Master can gain access to the Matrix (some sort of Time Lord super-computer) and earn more regenerations.

The heavily degenerated Master was depicted in horrific make-up.

The Master is the arch-nemesis of the Doctor in Doctor Who. Once the best friend of the Doctor, he was allegedly driven mad as a child by Rassilon, the founder of the Time Lords. (Rassilon sought to avoid the destruction of his home world, Gallifrey, by implanting in the Master an urge t... oh never mind, it was the stupidest episode.) The Master seeks to conquer all time and space, and in the process also seeks to destroy the Doctor. He has escaped sure death a number of times -- even disintegration by the Daleks. He also was apparently the first Time Lord to escape the "12 regeneration limit" (by nefarious means such as murder, of course).

The Master first appeared in the 1971 Third Doctor serial "Terror of the Autons". His name was chosen because the writers wanted someone who had an "academic-sounding title" much like the Doctor's, but whose name would clearly imply his sole purpose in life.

The Master was played by Roger Delgado. Delgado died in a tragic automobile accident in Turkey in June 1973 while on location for a motion picture. He was just 55 years old. His last appearance as the Master occurred in the 1973 Third Doctor serial "Frontier in Space". Another serial, "The Final Game", was to have concluded the story arc of The Master -- as well as shown the regeneration of the Third Doctor into the Fourth. But the story arc was scrapped in the wake of Delgado's death.