Saturday, May 31, 2008

No point at all

From the evidence of Final Crisis #1, it seems Grant Morrison doesn't know what a Lagrange point is.

Lagrange points (or libration points) are areas formed by the orbit of one body around another, positions in which gravitational forces are balanced so that things put at those points tend to stay there, relative to the other bodies of the orbital system. A celestial body by itself doesn't have "a Lagrange point" as such; you need two bodies in an orbital relationship. There isn't one Lagrange point in such an orbital system but five of them, all moving with the orbiting body in fixed relationships. This diagram should make it clearer than words alone could do:

The two bodies shown above could be the Sun and the Earth, or the Earth and the Moon. The Sun–Earth L4 and L5 points lie 60° ahead of and behind the Earth as it orbits the Sun; the Earth–Moon L4 and L5 points lie 60° ahead of and behind the Moon as it orbits the Earth. Because things put in libration points tend to stay in those positions relative to their bigger neighbors, they've been considered as potentially useful places to put space stations or other orbiting hardware. As it is, they tend to collect interplanetary dust.

Morrison seems to get that "Lagrange point" has some relationship with a planet's gravitational field, but the term doesn't quite make sense the way he uses it here. (He might instead have used a term like "the Lagrangian zone" to indicate "a spherical zone as far away from the planet as its Lagrangian points" or "out to the Trojan points" which is a more colloquial term for the L4 and L5 points.) The subsequent lines about "no one must enter or leave the gravity well" and "dust for radiation prints" are equally senseless for different reasons, except to reinforce the conceit of this being a cosmic police procedural, and to tip us off that none of this should be taken seriously.

It disappoints me when a writer I otherwise admire immensely devotes time and attention to promoting crackpot pseudoscientific drivel, Whitley Strieber UFO abduction books, and supposed Mayan astrological forecasts while not knowing real scientific concepts and terms. It's okay for him to throw in a misused word just because it sounds sciencetastic. After all, who would know what a scienceish word actually means? Unless you were a practitioner of scienceism or something.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Whirling transient nodes of thought careening thru a cosmic vapor of invention

I have no personal anecdotes or strange associations to relate, nothing special to say here. It's just that Blazing Saddles has always been of nearly religious significance in my family -- no, screw that, it was totally religious for us, no "nearly" about it, that movie is what my family followed instead of deity or church or religion. So the passing of another of its stars is something I must acknowledge with considerable regret and reluctance.

Even when Harvey Korman wasn't the actor doing the "funny" thing in a scene, he's still the center of attention, but without upstaging any of the other performers. See for instance here, but it's the case all throughout Blazing Saddles -- even when he's performing with Mel Brooks. The people around Hedley Lamarr are all insane, but it's his withering glare and icy putdowns that get the laughs. I don't know anything about acting, but it seems like he was was genuinely paying attention to the others in the scene with him, responding to them and not just waiting for his next funny line, and that's why those scenes work so well. In this film Korman pulled off one of the best comedic performances recorded on film, and I hope he's remembered for that (and a few dozen other times he did the same) instead of only as the guy who kept cracking up at Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show. That always bugged the hell out of me.

And I may be the only person who feels this way, but I'm also inordinately fond of his performance as Colonel Slaghoople in Viva Rock Vegas -- the second and infinitely superior live-action Flintstones movie -- a minor yet warmhearted role in which he gets a comedic bit that may be silly and completely throwaway but never fails to crack me up because of his perfect off-the-cuff delivery.

Also, he once performed a touching romantic scene with Bea Arthur.

Monday, May 26, 2008

War is a racket

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 34 years. Butler served during the Boxer Rebellion and saw action in Honduras, Nicaragua, Veracruz, commanded a base in France during the First World War, and led the Marine Expeditionary Force in China during the late Twenties.

On his death in 1940, Major General Butler was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He was one of only 19 people to be twice awarded the Medal of Honor (since Butler's death, no one has received more than one Medal of Honor) and one of only three to be awarded both a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor, and the only person ever to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for two different actions.

After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1931, Smedley Butler went on a national speaking tour. His standard speech was so well received that he prepared a longer version to be published as a small book in 1935. It also appeared as a condensed book in Reader's Digest. Here's the opening page of that book:

The text of War Is A Racket can be found here among several other places online.

Major General Butler was no misfit or wild-eyed radical, and his name is still honored by the U.S. Marine Corps to this day. The Marine Corps base in Okinawa is named after him. We can only speculate what his view of the Second World War might have been, because he died before America became involved. We know Butler was no admirer of Hitler or Mussolini, and he was a firm supporter of President Roosevelt. We can very easily guess what Major General Butler would make of the world now.

On a day like today, when Americans like to repeat comforting phrases about soldiers and the sacrifices they made, it's worth remembering that this man -- who clearly knew the business of war as well as any man of his time but held no illusions about what he had done and what it all meant -- turned around and said in no uncertain terms: to hell with War.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

In honor of Mother's Day

On this special day we salute the world's most huggable industrialist. Tender as corned beef and warm as pastrami, her fondest ambitions are to see her enemies eaten by scorpions and to become Supreme Overlord of Earth. Whether making her robot oil with 10% more love than the next leading brand or rushing off to some charity BS for knocked-up teenaged sluts, Mom is one clever old skank. And don't you forget it!

Of course we all know and love Mom from her many heartwarming appearances on the television series Futurama but even her most devoted fans may not realize Mom has continued to enjoy a thriving career on television in the present day. Here's one interview she granted to a local affiliate back in December of last year, displaying all the folksy homespun charm and compassion she's always demonstrated as the head of Momcorp:

When asked for further comment, Mom replied "You call that a pressed ham? What is this moose drip? I'm sick of hearing about those turtle squirts! Jam a bastard in it, you crap! Shut your filthy trap!"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I am a clown, yet I am filled with indifference

For those of you who weren't fortunate enough to score a copy of Bongo Comics Free for All on Free Comic Book Day, nor saw this story when it appeared previously some time ago, enjoy The Simpsons manga courtesy of Chuck Dixon and the astoundingly wonderful Nina Matsumoto. There isn't a panel of this that isn't packed with awesome.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A losing play

My daydream goes something like this:

(RAB enters a tavern located somewhere in another state. Spying a patron not otherwise involved in activity or conversation, he approaches and doffs his hat.)

Me: Good day to you, sir. I am an avid supporter of a sporting team not local to this region and which has frequently competed against your own favored team.

Other person: Based on this statement, I assume that you may be a visitor to this area. If so, welcome to our community, my good fellow.

Me: My thanks. It is a lovely community and does yourself and your neighbors much credit. You know, I am firmly of the opinion that in their next encounter on the playing field, my preferred sporting team will best your preferred sporting team and emerge with the winning score.

Other person: Well, such an outcome is entirely possible. After all, both teams are composed of talented and dilligent players who will have trained extensively for the encounter...and of course one must never entirely discount the role of luck in determining the outcome of a given competition. However, bearing in mind these reservations, I remain of the opinion that in the event my own favored team will triumph, owing to their demonstrable skill and fortitude.

Me: A reasonable position. Watching their next encounter on the playing field shall be all the more enjoyable for me now. Should my expectations be vindicated, I shall enjoy the satisfaction of having correctly predicted the outcome of the game. On the other hand, should your prediction come to pass and your team achieves victory rather than mine, I will at least be able to take vicarious pleasure in the thought of you enjoying this vindication as I would have done.

Other person: So it would be safe to say there will be reward in the sporting event for both of us no matter what the outcome. I will enjoy my role as spectator even more for knowing this.

Me: As will I. Let us purchase and enjoy beverages together at this tavern in commemoration of our mutual respect in this matter.

Other person: Yes, let us.

(all exeunt)

That's my daydream. This isn't.