Friday, September 30, 2011

America's bestest atom smasher is being closed due to lack of funding. This would seem a splendid moment for one of the "tax me more" rich to take up a collection amongst his peers & pony up the millions needed to keep the Tevatron running: "Particle Man"-link. Primary research is the foundation upon which tomorrow's practical advances are built; we dare not turn away from raw science for science's sake.

Also, the latest from the Me.S.S.En.Ge.R ("MESSENGER") probe, orbiting & investigating Mercury, the planet closest to the Accursed Sun: Swiss cheese-link. Well done, faithful mechanical minion, you've done your human masters proud. Keep up the good work!


Regular service should resume on Tuesday, possibly Monday.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Operation AXIOM | Urbi et Orbi
'Tis Michaelmas, the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel (alternately, the Feast of Saint Michael & All the Archangels). There was a time when Michaelmas served as an important moment on the calender, the final end of summer & beginning of the fall, a tradition preserved after a fashion in the Michaelmas Term at many schools throughout the Commonwealth. 'Twas also a time when Michaelmas was a holy day of obligation throughout Christendom. No more, no more. We live amidst multifaceted upheaval, an age of staggering progress & shattering savagery. We have made great strides in these last centuries, created a civilization with more justice for more of its citizens than any other the Earth has known, but I fear that in our headlong rush to lift ourselves above the dark past we are in grave peril of leaving behind the light that sustained us through that darkness. To mine eyes, the neglect of Michaelmas is emblematic of what we risk losing amidst all we have gained. Pray pardon me if the day fills me with an overwhelming sadness, a longing for precisely what I cannot say. The peace of Christ be upon you.

The Stars My Destination
For those of you who, like a certain resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, believe that Red China does everything faster & better than the "declining" United States, let me submit the following example: The Ice Pirates-link. It's taken the Chinese space program eight years (2003-2011, & maybe more, since the mission—rendezvous & docking in orbit—has not yet been successfully completed) what it took the American space program five years (1961-1966) to accomplish. Not to mention that the Chinese achievements are coming forty-plus years later, & have the dual advantages of infinitely more computing power than was available to N.A.S.A. in the '60s & decades of American & Soviet/Russian experience to study & from which to learn. (The spacecraft that carried Red China's first astronaut into orbit in '03 was a copy/rip-off of the Soviet-era Russian Soyuz capsule, not an indigenous design.)

All that said, I applaud the Chinese effort. The cynical reason is that President Obama is obsessed with nakedly aping Red China's achievements; so, Chinese manned spaceflight might be the only thing that could interest him in American manned spaceflight. The idealistic (though cynical seeming) reason is that international competition was the fuel that propelled the first fifteen years of the Space Age, from the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, in 1957 to the final Moon landing, as part of Apollo 17, in 1972. The thirty-six years (& counting) of the era of international cooperation, inaugurated in 1975 by the Apollo-Soyuz mission, has seen far less ambitious goals & far less impressive strides. (The International Space Station is all fine & good, but it's peanuts compared to MAN WALKING ON THE MOON!) I doubt the P.R.C. truly has the scientific & technical acumen to be a true rival to the U.S./E.U./Canada/Japan partnership, but here's hoping that Beijing's continued successes will get Washington to think seriously about space again.

Perchance to Dream
I had a nightmare this morning, the only genuine nightmare in my recollection. It was a dream within a dream—terrifying, but not as pretentious & bloated as Inception. I was trimming my beard using scissors & accidentally cut several patches of the beard way too short. Suddenly, my moustache & beard were completely gone! Even worse, my hair was also long enough that I had bangs, the awful, stringy bangs you'd seen on a distaff police officer in a motion picture circa 1992-1993. I awoke with a start & immediately raised my hands to my face to see if my whiskers were still in place. They were, but I then realized I was still dreaming; I don't know how I knew, that's the frustrating way dreams work. When I awoke for real, I checked on my real-world whiskers, which to my great relief were intact, though my beard does need a trim. Verdammt dreams.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Metric, "Black Sheep" from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (T.L.A.M.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Paramore, "Feeling Sorry" from Brand New Eyes (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: "I feel no sympathy."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Queue
Halfway through The Secret History of M.I.6: 1909-1949, page 376 of 752! The book is due to be returned to the library today, so I shall seek relief from the online renewal protocol. Knowing I would not be finished by the due date, I renewed it once last week, but curiously that "renewal" extended the due date only to today, the original due date. No, it's not you, this didn't make any sense to me, either. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Semisonic, "One True Love" from All About Chemistry (T.L.A.M.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lies, Damned Lies, & the News
How can directly quoting a man's words be misconstrued as an instance of racism? "Racist"-link. That was the beauty of Edward R. Murrow's See It Now special on Senator McCarthy, the turning of "Tail-gunner Joe's" own words back upon him. The really interesting bit here is the journalism professor who teaches her pupils to "fix people's grammar, because you don't want them to sound ignorant." Kindly bear with me as I follow a short sequence: Journalism students are taught to misquote their subjects. Why? So that those subjects won't "sound ignorant." Why? Presumably, to give the subject more credibility, to give the subject's words more weight in the public discourse than they would have if the subject "sounded ignorant." Does that not seem like something other than journalism? Isn't journalism about presenting the facts as they are, not the facts as the writer might wish them to be? Presenting an altered account is P.R. work, isn't it, & not journalism? It is very seldom that I've encountered such a frank admission of how far contemporary American journalism has drifted away from its own ideals. In a way, I find that frankness almost refreshing ("almost" because the professor is, after all, talking about inculcating disingenuousness into the impressionable minds of her pupils).

Also, regarding the headline, when I see "C.B.C." I don't think of the Congressional Black Caucus but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Speaking of the C.B.C., Hockey Night in Canada was on this weekend, but 'twas only an exhibition game.

The weekend just passed failed to live up to its promise, ending with a whimper rather than a bang. Of six initial invitations of varying quality& reliability, only one came to fruition. I played Friday's aforementioned game of Risk, but didn't meet up with Jojo for dinner (& who knows what beyond). I still don't know where The Loose Ties were playing on Saturday; once The Most Dangerous Game called off the debate team shindig she'd organized for late in the evening (citing illness), I could not muster the enthusiasm to attend the nerdy frat party scheduled for the earlier evening (I was going to use The Game's shindig as my excuse for making an early exit). The Impossible Ingenue's Sunday birthday party was rescheduled to next weekend, when I will be unavoidably out-of-state. What is the lesson here? Easy come, easy go? Never count your chickens before they're hatched? There might well not be a lesson to be learned, beyond Friday's reminder to play Risk to win, really to win, because playing not to lose is the surest way to guarantee defeat. Who dares wins!

Vote For Kodos
A brief note on politics. I am not saying that I necessarily applaud the kerfuffle around the emergency funding of the F.E.M.A., et al., nor that I agree with the G.O.P. hardliners' demand to offset F.E.M.A. funding with one-to-one reductions in other spending: power of the purse-link. But I do wish to respond to this one specific line, which is not a creation of the B.B.C., but echoes a sentiment I have heard coming out of the mouth of, for one, Senator Schumer (D., N.Y.): "Democrats said it was unprecedented to insist that spending cuts accompany badly needed emergency aid." Ladies & gents, "unprecedented" is rather the point. Precedent has been for ever-increasing levels of public debt, both federal & state. Precedent has been for the Congress to promise to be misers only to be spendthrifts. Precedent has been for calls for austerity to be met by ever-greater levels of profligacy. The overturning of eighty years of precedent, as concerns federal expenditures & revenues, is precisely what the 112th Congress was elected to do. Mine own experiences with Project RADIANT have taught me that it is arduous to pull oneself out of debt, but as a nation our current levels of expenditure are simply unsustainable; we have no choice but to end our year-on-year deficits & work to lighten the load of our accumulated debt lest it remain a milestone around Columbia's neck. The sooner we begin the work, painful as it is, the better off we will be as a body politic. The longer we wait, the more painful the work will be. "Unprecedented," you say? We could do worse for a watchword.

Exitus in dubio est.

This Week in Motorsport
Formula Fun!
The Singapore Grand Prix was thrilling! Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull (Renault) won his third race in a row, his ninth victory of 2011. The other twenty-three cars in the field have a grand total of five victories between them. Vettel has not mathematically wrapped up the World Drivers' Championship, but he need only score one more point to do so. One point is awarded for finishing tenth; in this season's fourteen completed grands prix, Vettel has finished no worse than fourth. There is still a fierce battle for second place behind Vettel, with seventeen points covering the second- through fifth-place drivers: '09 World Champion Jenson Button of McLaren (Mercedes), '05 & '06 World Champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, Mark Webber of Red Bull, & '08 World Champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren. (The points scale: 1st place = 25 points, 2nd = 18, 3rd = 15, 4th = 12, 5th = 10, 6th = 8, 7th = 6, 8th = 4, 9th = 2, & 10th = 1.) If, as seems highly likely, Vettel goes on to win the World Championship, his back-to-back titles in '10 & '11 will make him the youngest double world champion in F1 history.

Webber finished third at Singapore, the final place on the victors' podium; he began the race from second & might have challenged Button for that step on the podium were it not for his terrible start. For whatever reason, Webber's starts have been rubbish all year. He spins his wheels & doesn't get off the line as fast as the other "big hitters." He has yet to win a grand prix this year, though he has finished in the points in every grand prix but one (the Gran Premio d'Italia a fortnight hence), contributing mightily to Red Bull Racing's massive lead in the Constructors' Championship standings. Webber came within a whisker of winning the Drivers' Championship last year, entering last year's season finale, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, just a few points behind Alonso & several points ahead of Vettel, the eventual race- & title-winner. Mark Webber is one of those chaps who performs best when he's being pushed, when he's got a chip on his shoulder. Vettel has been so dominant this year—eleven pole positions to Webber's three (no other car but a Red Bull has started a race from pole in 2011), nine victories to Webber's none—that Webber just isn't the same hellbent-for-glory pilot he was last year. He's still a damned good F1 driver… except for the lousy starts. He's hoping everyone's favorite grizzled Aussie will find his way out of his standing-start woes.

Rally Monkey
Rally Australia (run Friday-Sunday, 9-11 September) was wicked fun; it holds true that the more I see of the World Rally Championship (W.R.C.) the more I like what I see. Both of the Citroën factory team's drivers, Frenchmen Sébastien Loeb (the seven-time World Champion) & Sébastien Ogier (the arrogant upstart), crashed on the first day of the rally, allowing the Ford factory's "Flying Finns," Mikko Hirvonen & Jari-Matti Latvala, to cruise to a one-two finish, propelling Hirvonen to second in the Drivers' standings, splitting Citroën's feuding Sébastiens (trailing Loeb, leading Ogier). Beyond the competition there is just the stark raving glorious madness of rallying. These chaps are the best drivers in the world (& I sense I am remiss for not mentioning the co-drivers, but the on-screen graphics give the standings by driver, not driver & co-driver), but as Loeb's, Ogier's, & a variety of other crashes prove, not even they can drive down those roads as swiftly as they do without driving themselves right off the road (& usually into a tree). It's madness! I love it!

I'm not yet prepared to recommend the W.R.C. to you the same way I recommend Le Mans or F1, but we're getting there. I am ever so glad I discovered motorsport.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Vampire Weekend, "Oxford Comma" from Vampire Weekend (From Russia with Love)

Commentary: The path to nominating an R.B.D.S.O.T.D. is sometimes so sinuous that "nominating" really should be placed in quotation marks. Such is the case with "Oxford Comma," a song that opens with the infuriating lyrics, "Who gives a #@%* about an Oxford comma?" Comrade Coquettish would certainly not agree with that sentiment, as indicated by the following cartoon, which she kindly brought to my attention.

Beholding this, what other song could possibly have come to mind but "Oxford Comma"? She nominated nothing, not consciously at any rate.

It is irksome that the cartoon, so insistent on the necessity of the Oxford comma, is so slipshod elsewhere: "we invited the strippers, jfk, and stalin." Really? "…jfk, and stalin"? Not "…J.F.K., and Stalin"? So close & yet so far.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Explorers Club
№ CCLIV - The Chrysler Building, completed 1930.

Bonus: The Cloud Club.

If there is a more beautiful skyscraper in the Big Apple than the Chrysler Building, it has never been brought to your humble narrator's attention. I could not think of any better way to commemorate 9/11 than by celebrating New York City's iconic skyline, past & present. Our series concludes, having saved the best for last.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
Reel Big Fish, "New York, New York" from Cheer Up! (T.L.A.M.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Victors
(№ 22) Michigan 28-7 San Diego State
4-0, Big Ten 0-0

The following claim is a despicable exaggeration, one that trivializes a serious medical condition, & I apologize in advance: the three-year nightmare of Michigan football from '08-'10 has left me with a mild form of P.T.S.D., a conclusion I've reached after examining the sense of panic & despair by which I am nearly overwhelmed every time the valiant Wolverines turn the ball over to the opponent of the moment. I am doing better at hewing to Kipling's warning about seeing "Triumph and Disaster" as impostors, better than ever before, but I flinch in the face of turnovers; my resolve is undermined for a brief but terrifying moment. As you can well imagine now that you are armed with this knowledge, the third quarter of the valiant Wolverines' victory over the epithetless Aztecs was quite upsetting. I suppose all's well that ends well, though; so, woot!

If San Diego State's offense really is something to write home about then today's effort by the Michigan defense suggests massive improvement over the porous, embarrassing sieve that Coach Rodriguez & his staff thought was sufficient for their needs. Notre Dame's offense, too, looked much better, much more competent against the dastardly Spartans than it did against the Maize & Blue. Do the defensive valiant Wolverines make opposing offenses look inept or have they been beneficiaries of uncharacteristically miscue-prone opponent performances? Have we been lucky or is there something in the ways our boys play that sows miscue, mishap, & mistake into an opposing offense's collective psyche?

My congratulations to the valiant Wolverines for not letting their № 22 ranking prove their undoing. My congratulations also to Coach Hoke, who now has a winning career head coaching record of 51-50. Here's hoping the next ninety-nine games resemble the last four (4-0) more than the previous ninety-seven (47-50).

Next week: Big Ten play begins! The valiant Wolverines of Michigan will square off against "Legends" Divisional foe the luckless Golden Gophers of Minnesota for the Little Brown Jug, the oldest rivalry trophy in football.

Go Blue!

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The University of Michigan Marching Band, "El Toro Caliente" from Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: In tribute to both the valiant Wolverines & F1 drivers Sebastian Vettel & Mark Webber of Red Bull (Renault), on the occasion of Vettel's eleventh pole position qualifying performance of 2011, Red Bull's fourteenth pole out of fourteen grands prix, & yet another Red Bull front row "lockout." Those are some toros calientes indeed!

Friday, September 23, 2011

It's a big MERCATOR weekend, the biggest in quite some time, with six five distinct social invitations spread over today, & tomorrow, & Sunday. This will have the predictable limiting effect on The Secret Base, for which I apologize in advance. I lost a game of Risk tonight. It was one of those frustrating games in which a novice with no strategy was able to blunder his way to victory, but mostly I blame myself for being insufficiently aggressive. I was aggressive, sure, but I wasn't batshit crazy, pedal-to-the-metal aggressive—I didn't live up to the attack-at-all-costs ethos of "Who Dares Wins"—& thus my humiliating defeat was well-earned. I also wasn't able to meet up with my new gal pal Jojo for dinner, but she has already made it known that we must get together sooner rather than later. I also learned this evening that the kibosh has been put on The Impossible Ingenue's birthday party, scheduled for Sunday. So, that's three of this weekend's half-dozen MERCATOR outings already completed or written off. I am still devising the stratagem by virtue of which to tiptoe my way through being triple-booked for Saturday night.

This Week in Motorsport
The Singapore Grand Prix, Formula One's only night race, is being run this weekend, affording reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull (Renault) his first opportunity to sew up his second Drivers' Championship. It is mathematically possible, though unlikely since the man standing second in the rankings is double World Champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari ('05 & '06, with Renault) has been on the podium in all three of the previous grands prix around Singapore's Marina Bay street circuit. Nevertheless, all of Vettel's rivals have conceded the inevitability of his second World Championship after back-to-back victories in the Belgian Grand Prix & the Gran Premio d'Italia, & now say that they are competing for second place inthe standings.

Also this weekend, Discovery's H.D. Theater is airing coverage of Rally Australia, the latest round of the World Rally Championship. Rallying is such glorious insanity!

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Barnes & Barnes, "Fish Heads" courtesy of The Watergirl (The Watergirl)

Commentary: I first heard "Fish Heads" years & years ago, way back in the nigh-mythical 1990s, on a Dr. Demento tape cassette. My thanks to The Watergirl for this most welcome blast from the past.

"Eat them up—Yum!"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Zooey Deschanel Appreciation Day
New Girl, starring this feature's eponymous actress/musician, premiered on Tuesday; I'd already seen it a fortnight earlier courtesy of a free iTunes download; & I intended yesterday to be Zooey Deschanel Appreciation Day (Z.D.A.D.) since Wednesday is the traditional day for Z.D.A.D.; but yesterday was a real bear, putting the kibosh on not only my plans for The Secret Base but several other designs as well. What of New Girl itself? There were things to like in the pilot & things to loathe in the pilot. I am hardly a disinterested party, since all I want is more frequent excuses for Zooey Deschanel Appreciation Day.

On a related note, we haven't had occasion to observe a Parker Posey Appreciation Day in far, far too long.

Treasured reader, prepare thyself, we might just have seen the first clue of how to construct a Star Trek-style warp drive or Star Wars-style hyperdrive. Let's hope there isn't a perfectly reasonable explanation for what's been observed at C.E.R.N.: faster-than-light-link. In the immortal words of Dark Helmet, "Ludicrous speed: Go!"


We have entered another of those periods in which I am existing between belt holes. The mildly exciting thing about this time is that instead of moving twixt what we shall call the "standard" belt hold & the "plus one" belt hole, the gulf is twixt standard & the "minus one" belt hole. The circumference around my elephantine bulk has decreased slightly. The problem with this in-between phase is that the standard belt hole isn't tit enough when I'm standing, but minus one can be too tight when I've sat for awhile. What part does Project GLOWWORM play in what is clearly an Operation ÖSTERREICH show? Not all of my pants are created equal. Some are more apt to attempt to slide down my too-flat bum than others.

I wore short pants yesterday, not because of any temperature-induced imperative but because the weather was passable enough & the window of opportunity is closing rapidly. Summer is over, & has been ever since Labor day, but we all know summer-like conditions can & usually do persist well into September, sometimes even to reoccur in October. That said, tomorrow brings the autumnal equinox, the celestial/atmospheric/meteorological end of summer. So, really, that draws final line under the summer, meaning short pants lose what little legitimacy they possess as a result of the North American climate & American culture's profound informality. Regard Wednesday's pant selection as a last hurrah, a goodbye to another too-brief summer.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
Guster, "Empire State" from Ganging Up on the Sun (T.L.A.M.)


"Fallen walls all around,
We'll build again,
Rebuild again."

Mittwoch, 21 September (R.B.D.S.O.T.D., not R.B.D.S.O.N.Y.O.T.D.)
She & Him, "Gonna Get Along Without You Now" from Volume Two (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: Since the formation of She & Him, is there really any other choice for Zooey Deschanel Appreciation Days?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Stars My Destination
In 2009, President Obama ordered the cancellation of Project Constellation, a program began under President Bush that was to create the next generation of American manned spacecraft & the rockets necessary to carry those spacecraft & their astronaut crews to the Moon by 2020 & to Mars by 2030. The Congress fought to keep bits & pieces of Constellation alive, mostly to prevent the dissolution of N.A.S.A.'s irreplaceable workforce, highly skilled & dedicated individuals who would be forced to seek employment in other fields once the Space Shuttle fleet was retired. Constellation was finally cancelled in 2010.

Or was it? SpaceCamp-link. As I wrote elsewhere:
Two years ago President Obama cancelled Project Constellation, which was comprised of the Orion capsule & shuttle-derived rockets capable of carrying massive loads into orbit & eventually ferrying astronauts back to the Moon & beyond to Mars; the first test flight of either an Ares I or Ares V rocket was to take place in 2015. Two years later, President Obama announced the Space Launch System, which is comprised of the Orion capsule & shuttle-derived rockets capable of carrying massive loads into orbit & eventually ferrying astronauts to an asteroid & beyond to Mars; the first test flight is to take place in 2017. What was the point of the last two years of inactivity? Why did the president lay off an enormous percentage of N.A.S.A.'s highly-skilled workforce over the last two years instead of having them work on Constellation (which is basically the same as the S.L.S. just announced)? What have we gained by restarting the same program we killed two years ago?

What I really meant—& should have more precisely articulated—was, What have we gained by restarting the same program we killed two years ago that we wouldn't have gained from spending the last two years hard at work on realizing that program's goals? Because that is essentially what President Obama & N.A.S.A. Administrator Bolden have done, they left the manned spaceflight division of N.A.S.A. utterly directionless for the last two years, with no spacecraft to work on & no goal to work towards besides winding down the Shuttle program. A ghastly percentage of the astronaut corps have left: The Right Stuff-link. Why would they stay? Between the cancellation of the Orion C.E.V. & the "bold" announcement of the all-new, all-different… Orion M.P.C.V., the president was adamant that the future of American manned spaceflight was in commercial spacecraft, not with N.A.S.A. Honestly, when you voted for then-Senator Obama in '08, was the "change" you voted for as bold as changing the initialism of the Orion's name from Crew Exploration Vehicle to Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle? The Last Starfighter-link.

Make no mistake, I am thrilled by the announcement of the S.L.S. initiative & I hope ardently that it will not become a casualty the federal government's ongoing budgetary woes. But I cannot help but be infuriated by the wasted years between the cynically lauded cancellation of Project Constellation & the self-congratulatory resurrection of Constellation's systems & components under this new guise. What did two years of paralyzed space policy under President Obama accomplish? What was achieved by the delay? What did we gain through Mr. Obama's inaction that we would not have gained through continuing work on Constellation? Since the S.L.S. so closely mirrors Constellation, what was so wrong with Constellation in the first place? That it was President Bush's policy? Did we imperil the very notion of American manned spaceflight simply out of President Obama's spite for his predecessor? I find that hard to believe, but at the same time I'm unable to think of another explanation for the president's contradictory decisions. Before S.L.S., President Obama was simply opposed to American manned spaceflight. But now that Constellation has been resurrected in all but name? Please, someone, offer me an alternative explanation.

Also, the chief difference between Constellation's Ares I rocket & S.L.S.'s Liberty rocket is that the American firm Boeing has been replaced as contractor by the European firm E.A.D.S.: Capricorn One-link. Why is is that President Obama's trade policies are protectionist is every sector except aerospace?

Finally, a pair of articles concerning the Euro-American space partnership: Mission to Mars-link & Explorers-link. Project Constellation had to be cancelled, in part, so that N.A.S.A. would focus on robotic exploration, such as probes & planetary rovers. Since we haven't been working on any new spacecraft, why exactly hasn't ExoMars been appropriately funded? What exactly was your space policy, Mr. President, if it wasn't manned spaceflight & it wasn't robotic probes? I'm so frustrated by that man that I could scream.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
L.C.D. Soundsystem, "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" courtesy of the YouTube (Mrs. Skeeter, Esq.)

Commentary: I particularly enjoy the lyrical mocking of Mayor Bloomberg thinking of himself as Old New Amsterdam's king. Since long before I first heard "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down," I have habitually referred to that dreadful man as "King Michael I." Mayor for life? If so, then the bamboozled citizens of the five borough deserve what they get, since they keep voting for the nitwit.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Urbi et Orbi
I am unsure of how useful to anyone the following rumination on religion, science, & Man might prove, but at the same I am no Benthamite & would not argue that utility is the best, let alone the sole, reason to do much of anything: P.O.V.-link. My curiosity was initially piqued by the title, "Can religion teach us more than science?" I was then further intrigued by the early prominence in the essay of Graham Greene, not because of any particular affection for his writing, none of which I have yet read, but because of his adult conversion to Catholicism. (I am particularly intrigued by adult, British converts to Catholicism, such the aforementioned Greene, G. K. Chesterton, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, & Tony Blair.) There is much in the piece with which I agree & much in the piece with which I disagree. I am of the school of thought that the purpose of religion is not to provide comfort in times of trouble (though that is a very lovely side effect), but to encourage rectitude & salvation.

The best line of the piece has more to do with the relevance of fiction & myth than it does about religion, but it's a good line all the same: "Just as you don't have to believe that a scientific theory is true in order to use it, you don't have to believe a story for it to give meaning to your life."

The worst line of the piece is the very last line, the line that most reinforces the author's own utilitarian view of religion, a view which I ardently dispute: "What we believe doesn't in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live." The second sentence is dynamite; the first sentence is, as so many debaters are fond of saying, problematic.

On the whole, though, "Can religion teach us more than science?" is a valuable contribution to a discourse that is, so it seems to your humble narrator, repulsively dominated by shrill, anti-intellectual fundamentalist Christians & shrill, intellectually-bankrupt fundamentalist atheists. (For the latter, look no further than the despicable comments following the piece.)

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
Michael Penn, "(P.S.) Millionaire" courtesy of the YouTube (Mrs. Skeeter, Esq.)

Commentary: On the heels of her nomination of "(P.S.) Millionaire" as a R.B.D.S.O.N.Y.O.T.D., Mrs. Skeeter, Esq. also provided the following apologia*: "With respect to (sic) millionaire, I realize it may not immediately seem like a song about NYC, but I strongly feel that it is. If you'd like further explanation, I can provide." It took a careful listening to discover how specific to N.Y.C. the song is, but she's correct, it really is. Even so far as more than a hint of 9/11. Well done, old friend.

*As part of the ongoing evolution of my diction, I've decided to reassert the explanatory sense of "apology." It's early days for this reclamation of apology; so, in this instance I chose the less ambiguous variant "apologia," even though I prefer apology.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Girls of September '79
Happy birthday to The Watergirl! I've said it before & I'll say it again, it is absolutely astonishing that The Watergirl & I were in Ann Arbor at the same time & had so many overlapping friends but did not meet & become friends ourselves until much later. I was even once in her apartment, hanging out with her roommate. Astonishing, I say! The Watergirl is my favorite thing about Beantown, ahead of Wonderland (of which I am fond for complicated, B.T.W.-specific reasons). Happy birthday, Katie!

The Explorers Club
№ CCLIII - The Empire State Building, completed 1931.

The Victors
Michigan 31-3 Eastern Michigan
3-0, Big Ten 0-0

I didn't get to watch the game as I was in Delaware, Ohio, conducting a "friendly" (essentially, an intercollegiate scrimmage) with the Ohio Wesleyan debaters. It was an invaluable experience for the "junior varsity" members of our squad & a fun day overall, but missing even a by-the-numbers contest against a M.A.C. opponent was a cursedly steep price.

The good news is that Brady Hoke no longer has a losing record. With yesterday's victory, Coach Hoke's career head coaching record now stands at 50-50. This is improved from the record he held at the time he was hired, 47-50 (at Ball State & San Diego State), but not yet nearly so impressive as the 234-65-8 record (at Miami [Ohio] & Michigan) of the late Coach Schembechler (194-48-5 at Michigan) or the 122-40 record of Coach Carr (all at Michigan). Still, to be fair, all three of Hoke's jobs have been rebuilding efforts & he is 3-0 at Michigan. I refuse to be like my fellow Wolverines who wrote off Coach Rodriguez's chances before he even arrived; so, one Michigan man to another, I wish Brady Hoke all the success in the world.

The bad news is that the valiant Wolverines are now ranked, № 22 in the A.P. poll. Drat & double drat! Let us pray this does not lead to swelled heads around Schembechler Hall, lest pride cometh before a fall. The silver lining to the A.P.'s dark cloud is that both the dastardly Spartans (formerly № 15) & the hated Buckeyes (formerly № 17) dropped out of the poll altogether. Woo hoo! The dastardly Spartans, who were bested by the previously winless vile Fighting Irish, received more votes than any other non-ranked team, taking the valiant Wolverines' previous spot as the unofficial "№ 26."

Through three games, the valiant Wolverines are scoring an average of 33 1/3 points per game & allowing an average of 14 2/3 points. I'll take that. Next up: San Diego State, the epithetless Aztecs, the team from which we hired away Brady Hoke.

Go Blue!

The Goodwood Revival, the glorious past come alive again: Goodwood-link. I can't wait to see it for myself.

This Week in Motorsport
I finally got the chance to watch last Sunday's (11 September) Gran Premio d'Italia on Thursday last (15 September); it was one of the most thrilling grands prix of the 2011 F.I.A. Formula One World Championship! Over the "summer break" In August, the talk was of the resurgence of McLaren (Mercedes) & Ferrari & their having achieved parity with championship leaders Red Bull (Renault). Spa-Francorchamps, site of the Belgian Grand Prix, & Monza, site of the Italian round—the first two circuits after the break & the last two European rounds—, were not supposed to suit Red Bull's RB7s, cars that corner better than any other on the grid, but at the cost of much absolute speed. (To use the terms commonly applied to running backs in football, the RB7 is remarkably "quick," but it isn't all that "fast.") Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull won the Belgian Grand Prix a fortnight before Monza & started the Gran Premio d'Italia from the pole. He was passed at the start by double World Champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari ('05 & '06 with Renault), who flew off the starting line as if fired out of a cannon. A few laps later, as Alonso started to gap the field with Vettel glued to his gearbox, Vettel swung out to Alonso's left, to the wide side of the righthand Curva Grande corner (forgive the redundancy); briefly put two wheels off the tarmac into the treacherous grass, throwing up a cloud of dust & grass; & rocketed past the Ferrari in one of the most jaw-dropping passes I've seen in my two years as an F1 fan. It was an incredible move! Vettel soon "disappeared into the distance," despite the fact that during Saturday's qualifying sessions his had been the single slowest car in a straight line (such is the quick cornering ability of the man & his machine).

There were battles all up & down the field, including an irksome instance in which seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher of Mercedes was not punished for using some blatantly illegal blocking tactics against '08 World Champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, against whom it really does seem as if the stewards (referees) have a vendetta. Mark Webber of Red Bull, as gritty & outspoken as you'd expect an Australian to be, crashed out of the race after smashing his front wing to smithereens in a self-inflicted collision with the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. Webber's retirement was the first Red Bull D.N.F. (Did Not Finish) of the year, the first time that Red Bull hadn't had both its cars in the points (the top ten finishing positions). There were eight D.N.F.s in total, a full third of the twenty-four-car field failing to finish the full race distance. That level of attrition was common in decades gone by, but it very rare in modern Formula One.

As I wrote after Belgium, the rumors of Red Bull's demise were greatly exaggerated. So far in 2011 Sebastian Vettel has won more grands prix than the rest of the field combined, eight to their collective five (two by Hamilton, two by '09 World Champion Jenson Button of McLaren [then of the erstwhile Brawn], & one by Alonso), including dominant performances in the last two rounds. The F1 circus now heads back to the Far East, with the next four races in Singapore, Japan, Korea, & India. How soon will Sebastian Vettel clinch his second consecutive World Drivers' Championship? It is mathematically possible that it will happen as soon as Singapore, though that it only a remote possibility. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. Vettel über alles!

This is my last word on the replacement at Lotus Renault of the veteran-but-winless Nick Heidfeld by the inexperienced-but-promising Bruno Senna, I promise: Heidfeld & his former teammate Vitaly Petrov are tied in the Drivers' Championship standings, with 34 points, even though Petrov has the benefit of having driven two grands prix more than Heidfeld. I hope we have not seen the last of "Quick Nick," whom I have adopted as a kind of mascot for lackluster chaps in their thirties being shoved aside & overtaken by young bucks in their twenties.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
Billy Joel, "New York State of Mind" from Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (T.L.A.M.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The University of Michigan Marching Band, "Hoover Street Rag" from A Saturday Tradition (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: This post is being published in advance, for by this time these words go "live" I should be in Ohio, having for the second consecutive Saturday motored past my beloved Ann Arbor on the way to the forsaken place where happiness goes to die. What horrific mistakes did I make so that this sorry fate is my life? Two consecutive weekends in Ohio? I knew my comeuppance would catch me up sooner or later, but I never imagined it would be so cruel. Maybe this R.D.B.S.O.T.D. should have been "Bright Future in Sales" by Fountains of Wayne, because I can't live like this forever.

Mindful of the football game that I shan't be able to watch: Go Blue!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
Shilelagh Law, "Christmas in New York" courtesy of the YouTube (Mrs. Skeeter, Esq.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Many of my fellows on the Right denounce the Obama Administration as "President Carter's second term." In this instance, they are spot on: the Two Chinas-link. In 1979, when the United States established full, normalized diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (P.R.C., Red China), President Carter abandoned America's stalwart ally the Republic of China (R.O.C., Taiwan) to its fate. The Congress stepped in to defend America's honor, passing the Taiwan Relations Act that unto the present day requires the United States Government "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character." President Obama, in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of Mr. Carter's kowtowing to Beijing, is dithering about selling Taiwan badly needed fighter jets. The only convincing explanation of why Mr. Obama is so reluctant to let the Taiwanese make a major arms purchase, in a moment when the Treasury could really use the money, is that the American president is conforming to the wishes of the tyrannical regime in Red China. President Obama has already boasted of America "leading from behind" in the Mediterranean. It seems increasing clear that he also wishes to abrogate American leadership in the Pacific, preferring to let the unelected tyrants of the Chinese Communist Party & their bloodthirsty enforcers in the People's Liberation Army call the shots. This is certainly a change, but not the type then-Senator Obama promised in '08. Weep for the future of the democracy in Taipei. Weep in shame at the moral cowardice of the man occupying the Oval Office.
The Girls of September '79
Happy birthday to Mrs. Skeeter, Esq. (née Skeeter, Esq.)! I have no better, truer friend than Mrs. Skeeter, Esq., no one less willing to sugarcoat the stark realities I sometimes need beaten into my head. I confess I haven't been half the friend to her she's been to me, but then again she's a lot stronger than I am. I greatly miss her erstwhile blog, Letters From the Pedestal, lost when professionalism rightly precluded its continuance. Happy birthday, Julie!

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
U2, "Angel of Harlem" courtesy of the YouTube (Mrs. Skeeter, Esq.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Two very different takes on the special election to the U.S. House of Representatives from the New York's 9th: B.B.C.-link & C.N.N.-link. The major difference betwixt the two pieces is American-Israeli relations, a central theme of C.N.N.'s piece & a single paragraph in the B.B.C.'s In a earlier version of the B.B.C. article, the subject of Israel was not mentioned at all; by contrast, when first I became aware of this by-election via a piece on N.P.R., the main focus was on "Hizzoner," former mayor of the Big Apple Ed Koch*, & angry reactions amongst American Jewry, traditionally a strongly Democratic-leaning constituency, against President Obama's cold, nearly hostile attitude toward the State of Israel. As has been pointed out in many other sources, this particular House seat is likely to be redistricted out of existence before the 113th Congress is convened in January 2013; nevertheless, with an Egyptian mob having ransacked the Israeli embassy & the increasing autocratic Turkish prime minister touring the region drumming up support for a U.N. General Assembly Resolution calling for unilateral Palestinian statehood, this was a bad week to be seen defending Mr. Obama's reluctant, lukewarm support for Israel.

The last sixty miles of the route to Where's Teddy?'s house are covered not on four-lane expressways, but on two-lane highways. The speed limit drops from Ohio's already objectionable sixty-five miles per hour (M.P.H.; even though M./H. would be more correct, here I defer to convention) to a scant fifty-five. I typically motor along that stretch of highway at a speed somewhere 'twixt fifty-five & sixty M.P.H. because I don't know how safe it is to go faster, "safety" in this context being defined as avoidance of interdiction & citation by Ohio's Highway Patrol. (As far as physical safety, the avoidance of a motorcar-destroying, life-&-limb-threatening shunt, I simply refuse to drive at what I feel are unsafe speeds, regardless of all other considerations.) As I motored southward last Saturday, I saw approaching in Lumi the Snow Queen's rearview mirror & was in short order overtaken by a gray Mini Cooper S. The Mini was flying. Judging myself to be safe as long as the Cooper S's speed exceeded mine own, I depressed the accelerator & set off in pursuit. Lumi the Snow Queen's speed soon topped eighty M.P.H. as I reeled in the Mini. In the distance, I saw a large gray truck, around which the Mini had evidently scooted. When I approached the mammoth truck, however, I found myself stuck. The cursed machine was enormous, blocking out the view ahead. Making matters worse, the truck's mirrors stuck out like the antlers on a moose, the driver's side mirror being perfectly positioned to cut off my view of the opposing traffic's lane. As if all that wasn't enough, the pilot of the truck had his Diesel-powered vehicle, the fuel guessed at because of the clouds of black smoke the truck belched whenever it accelerated up an inclined grade, in the extreme left of our lane. I could not see well enough around the truck to attempt safely a pass; I was stuck, plodding along between fifty & fifty-five M.P.H. I remained so trapped until we approached the town outside of which Where's Teddy? lives & the road widened. Even then, we both had to turn right; so, behind the truck I remained through the turn, & then whipped myself into the left lane & blew past him as quickly as I could, Lumi the Snow Queen's engine screaming as I piled up the revs.

On Sunday's northbound return journey, I again faced the speed safety conundrum. Certainly the pathfinding Mini had torn down the highway at speeds far in excess of mine, but that was the day before, & for all I knew the Highway Patrol chose Sunday as the day to wait in ambush alongside State Route 68. Not long after executing a pass on a motorcar crawling along as a ridiculous fifty miles per hour, I was in turn passed by a pair of mismatched Hondas, one sporting a comically large-bored exhaust pipe &, from the sound of the thing, all but no muffler. As the pair rocketed into the distance, I decided to join their parade. Not long after, I was forced to slow dramatically, having caught up the duo who were not puttering along at forty-five. They continued to accelerate & decelerate in concert, & it became clear they were playing a game, the trailing motorcar trying to pass the leader & the leader accelerating to stay in front. Their behavior was recklessly irresponsible, though it must be said that they knocked off the shenanigans whenever they caught up another vehicle, at which point they would execute a perfectly reasonable pass, just as they had done to me. Nevertheless, for twenty miles or so they made great time, as did I, acting as a remora. They turned off the highway together, at the last intersection before the county line. I resumed my normal cruising speed & had a largely uneventful drive back to sacred Michigan. There was a two-minute stretch of a blinding downpour between Findlay & Toledo, but fortunately everyone kept their heads & no one panicked & slammed on their brakes, a move almost guaranteed to lead to a pile-up. I let out a cry of exultation upon passing the ever-so-welcome "Welcome to Pure Michigan" billboard, as is my habit upon exiting the place where happiness goes to die.

In other motoring news, I've been monitoring Lumi the Snow Queen's fuel economy. The procedure I use is to start with a full tank of petrol & the trip odometer set to zero (000.0). It does not matter how far I drive, I then refill the tank & note how many gallons of gasoline were required to top off the tank's seventeen-gallon capacity. I then note the mileage on the trip odometer, do the division via the calculator on the mobile, & hey presto, I learn how many miles Lumi the Snow Queen will travel per gallon of petrol combusted. The fuel economy I've measured is pretty lousy, but that is unsurprising given the aggressive manner in which I motor. Nor is it surprising that the fuel economy I observed on the expressway/highway journey to Where's Teddy?'s house was better than that which I observe in my normal city driving. What did surprise me was how much better the highway mileage was, ten miles per gallon! One more reason to love long, solitary drives. Wow!

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
Fountains of Wayne, "No Better Place" from Welcome Interstate Managers (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: Mr. Skeeter, Esq. ( Jimmy From Queens) thinks I am a natural New Yorker. He arrived at this conclusion rather soon after we had first met, but he's not the sort of fellow to be plagued with self-doubt; he made up his mind swiftly & will not be shaken from that belief. (Things to consider: he is a born & bred New Yorker, as his original code name suggests.) I have quite a different opinion on the matter, but as often as I have been wrong who am I to say I'm not wrong now? I won't ever know if I am Mr. Skeeter, Esq.'s natural New Yorker unless & until I live in N.Y.C.

"And it's running back and forth inside your mind
Just how that town defined you,
Dressed you up and painted on your face,
And now you're leaving New York (aaah-aaah-aaah)
For no better place."

*I have encountered three disparate pronunciations for the surname Koch: {a} "Cotch," as in the irrepressible Ed Koch; {b} "Coke," as in the Koch bros., the bête noire of left-wing conspiracy theorists; & {c} "Cook," as in an old professor of mine. Kochs all, & all differently pronounced.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Victors
Michigan 35-31 Notre Dame
2-0, Big Ten 0-0

Holy moley! What is there to say, really? If you watched the game, you understand the emotional roller coaster 'twas; if you didn't watch the game, or if you did but don't hold Fielding Yost's "deathless loyalty" to Michigan, no meager words of mine can explain it. The fellow with whom I was watching the game at Where's Teddy?'s house said that Notre Dame's final touchdown took "two years off his life." I thought that curious only because of the specificity of the years forfeited. I admit to a certain despondency during the first quarter, lamenting above all else the lack of progress the valiant Wolverines' defense had made since last season's futile displays. As is my habit, perhaps a bad habit, once that initial wave of anguish had washed over me I regained my composure & adopted a stiff upper lip. I was as equanimous as possible in the later quarters, the words of Rudyard Kipling foremost in my mind: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same;" (from "If—"). Of course, I was aided in this equanimity by the knowledge that Where's Teddy? was slumbering blissfully upstairs, thus muting the loud outbursts I surely would have ejaculated had I been in mine own home, watching the game on mine own television.

Of course, my relative calm paled in comparison with that of Coach Brady Hoke in his on-field interview. I get that his joy over the win was tempered by the abysmal manner in which the valiant Wolverines performed for vast swaths of the contest, but even so his self-possession was in the ballpark of being preternatural. Here is a man who genuinely recognizes triumph & disaster for the impostors they are. Is this evidence that I was wrong in my assessment of Hoke's suitability to lead the Leaders & Best back to being Champions of the "West"? Did I underestimate the man to whom has been entrusted the hopes & dreams of so many, myself included? Was I lead to incorrect conclusions by his 47-50 record as a head coach? (Prior to coming to Michigan, that is; Brady Hoke's career head coaching record currently stands at 49-50.) Whatever its bearing or lack of same on Michigan's future prospects, Hoke's composure in the immediate aftermath of the game's thrilling conclusion impressed me mightily.

Less impressive, in fact downright ominous, is the A.P. Top 25 poll. Michigan isn't ranked, thank all that is dark & profane, but accumulated more votes than any other unranked team, making the valiant Wolverines the unofficial № 26 team. Amos Alonzo Stagg, what are the voters (this country's sport reporters) thinking? Did they not see how long it took for the offense to make a first down? Did they not spy all the dropped passes, not catch all the overthrown passes? Did they not spot the titanic holes in the rush defense, not detect the ethereal nature of the pass defense? Did they not understand how accommodating the vile Fighting Irish were in so often turning over the pigskin? I thrilled to the valiant Wolverine's come-from-behind win & applaud still their grit & perseverance, but I also know how precarious a victory 'twas. The latter-day Yostmen walked on the very edge of defeat, & claimed victory only by the thinnest of margins (both figurately & literally, our final touchdown being scored with a scant two second remaining in the sixty-minute contest). № 26? Mayhap, but not based on anything we did on Saturday.

Next up: Eastern Michigan University, the epithetless Eagles (formerly the noble Hurons before misguided "political correctness" ruined that link to E.M.U.'s past). "Emu" has a new assistant coach who might interest the Wolverine faithful, Mike Hart, Michigan's all-time career rushing leader. As we gleefully proclaimed in the halcyon days of wee Hart's tireless runs, "You've got to have Hart!"

Bonus R.B.D.S.O.T.D. for Saturday, 10 September
The University of Michigan Marching Band, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" from A Saturday Tradition (T.L.A.M.)

Go Blue!

An interesting piece on French efforts to preserve the Atlantic Wall, the line of fortifications build by Organisation Todt under Hitler's orders in order to defend his Fortress Europe (Festung Europa) against invasion-cum-liberation by the United Nations (the formal name of "the Allies" during the Second World War): Atlantikwall-link. I of course favor the preservation of as many of the fortifications & works as is practicable,

The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
The Pogues, "Fairytale of New York" from The Very Best of The Pogues (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: On the face of it, "Fairytale of New York" would seem to have little to say specifically about Old New Amsterdam, beyond the line in the chorus about "the boys in the N.Y.P.D. Choir were singing 'Glory Be.'" But "Fairytale" tells the immigrant's tale, & while America is throughout a nation of immigrants, New York occupies a unique place in the story of late 19th & early 20th century immigration. The five boroughs continue to attract immigrants from around the globe, & even from other parts of these United States, amongst them my boon companions Mrs. Skeeter, Esq. & The Sardine, &, before his relocation to the den of iniquity that is the City of Broad Shoulders, Ki-El.

*I, too, am shocked that The Secret Base doesn't have an occasional feature dedicated specifically to historical remembrance. Or does it, in the form of "Operation AXIOM"? Since its inception, I've thought of AXIOM as being tasked to recall specific dates & those dates' events, but perhaps its mandate should be expanded. Operation AXIOM, the commemoration of anniversaries or the more general remembrance of all things past? Or, here's an idea, maybe I should just ape the old "Times Past" issues of the incomparable Starman.

Of course, looking back, the above paragraph itself should appear under the "Code Name: CHAOS" title. Eh, I'm the only one who gives a tinker's damn anyway; so, here I shall exercise my freedom to be inconsistent & not give that tinker's damn.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Vote for Kodos
My plan was to watch this evening's Republican presidential candidates debate on C.N.N., but I bailed once I learned of the debate's format. I am not a fan of the "tea party" movement, both because I oppose the isolationism at the core of its advocated foreign policies & because I oppose rabble-rousing of all stripes. One of the things that was supposed to separate us on the Right from our rivals on the Left was our disdain for mobs (usually referred to by the euphemistic term "protests"). Call me a snob if you will, but I agree with the Founding Fathers that representative democracy is infinity preferable to direct democracy. I prefer a moderated debate to the quasi-town hall C.N.N. put on in conjunction with the Tea Party Express, a group that seems oblivious to the contradiction twixt the grassroots nature of the tea parties & a top-down national organization claiming to speak for those selfsame tea parties.

The Queue
Have any of you in my warmly appreciated audience read anything by Sinclair Lewis? I am greatly intrigued by his fictional state of Winnemac. When I next take a break from spy fiction, or move on to pursue some other genre, I am curious to know if anyone would recommend or warn against reading Lewis. I make no guarantee that any advice given will be followed, but it will be considered. Thanks, gang.
Fifty newly discovered planets, at least five of them rocky worlds not much bigger (it's all relative) than the Earth: strange new worlds-link. Loath though I am to quote The Simpsons, "What a time to be alive!" I dislike the term "exoplanets" for planets discovered beyond the boundaries of our solar system. Why not just call them planets? To avoid confusion with the nine (whatever the I.A.U. says, there are nine planets in our solar system, not eight) planets orbiting the Accursed Sun? I should think context would solve that problem. Plus, "exoplanets" requires additional explanation. So, yeah, fifty new planets, or fifty new exoplanets for the dunderheads amongst us. Wow!


The Rebel Black Dot Song of New York of the Day
They Might Be Giants, "New York City" from Factory Showroom (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: Every day this week the R.B.D.S.O.T.D. will celebrate the Big Apple, the City That Never Sleeps, Old New Amsterdam—that part of our great republic most ravaged by 9/11. We begin with the most romantic song I've ever heard, a song that is as much about the five boroughs as it is about love, "New York City."

"'Cause everyone's your friend in New York City,
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty,
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see,
But the best thing about New York City is you and me."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Explorers Club
№ CCLII - The World Trade Center, completed 1973, destroyed 2001.

Operation AXIOM: United We Stand
Ten years ago to the day, 11 September 2001, four American airliners were hijacked by nineteen agents of the ruthless terrorist organization known by the name al Qaeda. Within hours, all four airliners had crashed: American Airlines Flight 11 was rammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center; United Airlines Flight 175 was rammed into the South Tower; American Flight 77 was rammed into the Pentagon; & United Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, apparently as a result of the passengers & crew attempting to retake control of the aeroplane. Thousands perished. The landscape of the greatest city in the world was changed forever. The United States of America, the only nation ever to have used atom bombs in anger, was at war. The course of the decade to follow, both for good & for ill, was in large measure set by the stunning events of that beautiful September morning.

I listened to N.P.R.'s coverage of the commemorations in Old New Amsterdam, metropolitan D.C., & Shanksville, Pa. as I motored back from Where's Teddy?'s house. Once home, I watched yesterday's qualifying rounds for the Formula One Gran Premio d'Italia; I hope to watch the grand prix itself later this evening. I think it important both to mark this day with solemnity & mourning & to spend the day carrying on with our everyday lives; we must remember our past, but we will not have the conduct of ours lives dictated by the evil souls who planned & perpetrated that day's outrages. I hope all those eyes fall upon these lines were able to spend this tenth anniversary of the darkest day your humble narrator has ever witnessed in the comforting embrace of family. May the Lord protect & defend you & yours. May the Lord protect & defend our great republic & the freedom for which she stands.

As we said in the days after 9/11, a truth to which we should hold fast even in the midst of our bitterest internal political arguments, united we stand.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The University of Michigan Marching Band, "God Bless America/You're a Grand Old Flag" from Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: As patriotic songs go, "God Bless America" isn't one of my favorites, but by popular acclamation it is the unofficial anthem of 9/11 & was sung far, wide, & often in the uncertain days after the horrifying attacks ten years hence.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Girls of September '79
Happy birthday to Mrs. Sacramento (née Never Girl)! Mrs. Sacramento played a supporting rôle in a dream I had the other day. In the topsy-turvy logic of dreams, my dancing partner was first the actress Vanessa Ray & then Mrs. Sacramento, even though the two share no physical resemblance. Dreams. You know. Happy birthday, Lindsay!

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The University of Michigan Marching Band, "I Want to Go Back to Michigan" from A Saturday Tradition (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: This post was pre-composed & scheduled for automatic publication; by the time this is published I will be, if I have not met with some not-entirely-unwelcome misadventure, across the border in verdammt Ohio, the place where happiness goes to die. I want to go back to Michigan, & the sooner I can quit this infernal place the better.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The Link Quartet, "Alfa Romeo Duetto" via iTunes (T.L.A.M.)
The Girls of September '79
Happy birthday to Mrs. Blinky (née Ham 'n' Eggs)! I recently learned that Mrs. Blinky does not recall the innumerable recesses during elementary school during which she & her cohort, L.L., pursued me around the playground at venerable old McGrath Elementary, maniacally crying out, "Mister Wiiiillllllson!" à la Dennis the Menace. I suppose that makes sense, since the chase was no doubt not nearly as traumatic for her as 'twas for me. I have no idea what horrible fate I imagined would befall me if they caught me, but I know that when I was running from them I was running like the Devil. Happy birthday, Emma!

Happy (Belated) Birthday!
For at least the second time in the last four years, let me wish a belated "Happy birthday!" to Doctor Hee Haw, my favorite part of the whole benighted State of Florida. I shall strive my utmost to be more prompt next year, Doc, but I'm not going to lie to you by guaranteeing this never happens again. Happy birthday, Seth!

Code Name: CHAOS
Mayhap I was still thinking about the halcyon days on the playground at McGrath, to which we took Where's Teddy? during his visit around my birthday, but I initially mistyped Dr. Hee Haw's code name as "Doctor See Saw." Ha! Though I'm pretty sure seesaw is one word…

The Stars My Destination
The investigation into the failure of a Russian Soyuz rocket has, it is claimed, identified (& corrected?) the fatal defect: Space Cowboys-link. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the deadline for the crew of astronauts & cosmonauts to abandon the International Space Station (I.S.S.); the deadline is driven by the expiration date of the Soyuz return capsules/escape pods. The streak of eleven consecutive years of I.S.S. occupancy is in peril, to say nothing about the peril to the crew. My sincerest hope is that the flaw in the Muscovite rocket has been found & will be remedied because, no matter how horrifying N.A.S.A. Administrator Charles Bolden's plan is, our Russian partners are the only possible way to get astronauts & cosmonauts into & out of orbit. Godspeed to them & to the crew of the I.S.S.

On a related note, I miss former Administrator Michael Griffin & his ardent advocacy for expanding rather than dwindling America's manned spaceflight capabilities. *resigned sigh*

He's Dead, Jim | Project GLOWWORM
I was initially uncertain if the brushing of my pearly whites should be regarded as a medical/health pursuit ("He's Dead, Jim") or a personal grooming/style activity (Project GLOWWORM). The dual title is not the product of indecision but the realization that toothbrushing falls within both spheres. On to business: the most irksome aspect of using an electric toothbrush is when it runs out of juice partway through a brushing cycle, *grumble grumble*. Also, land o' Goshen, my toothbrush takes forever & a day to recharge!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shameless self-promotion: The last three days have seen a bumper crop of posts here at The Secret Base! Scroll down to catch up on all you've missed.

This afternoon, I saw a Fiat 500 parked across the street from the mechanic's shop from whence my father was fetching his absurd "sporty" station wagon after having the air conditioning examined &, presumably, repaired. A wild craving for a 500, possibly in the tuned Abarth 500 guise, is now running around the back forty of my mind. The vast & cool & unsympathetic corner of my brain insists that a bulk as elephantine as mine would never fit into the wee Fiat, while a more fun-loving sector chimes in that the Fiat has an engine as puny as its body & thus would likely not sate my love of flying along the expressways in some excess of the posted speed limits. Men in white coats with butterfly nets have been dispatched to wrangle the wild, Fiat-mad Edelweißpiraten.


The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Paramore, "Where the Lines Overlap" from Brand New Eyes (T.L.A.M.)
Der Fuehrer's Face, Part Ein
The M.A.P. tells a funny story about an old philosophy (or maybe communications theory) professor of his, who when asked what Heidegger's work had to say on a certain issue, lowered his chin & glared over the top of his spectacles as he scowled & drawled, "I don't truck with no Nazi." (There is a great deal of physicality involved in the recounting of this anecdote, as there is in most of The M.A.P.'s storytelling, & it is from this that the real hilarity of the episode is derived.)

In the ninth grade, a fellow student, a classmate of mine in Honors English 9, accused me of being a Nazi. This most grave accusation was leveled behind my back, of course. The class we shared had been given a two-part assignment: {a} read a biography or autobiography & {b} give an oral presentation on the contents, in the first-person narrative mode as the subject of the biography or author of the autobiography. My mind seized upon the idea of reading Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, & that's where all my troubles began. I sought permission from our instructor before, approaching her furtively. Though unaware of any such notion at the time, I suspect I'd have been relived if she'd refused to accede. I was not an adherent of National Socialism, not even as a youthful dalliance. What I was was curious; I wanted to understand an evil that to this day remains incomprehensible, & in my naïveté I thought evil might best be understood by going right to the source.

I do not recall if I borrowed Mein Kampf from the school library or the public library, but I took great care that no one saw me with the awful thing. I didn't want people to get the wrong idea, I didn't want people to think that I was a Nazi. The book was an eye-opening experience. I had thought beforehand, given the work's incredible popularity in Weimar Germany & it's influence in the Nazi rise to power, that it must be a work of diabolical subtlety, lines of such cunning persuasiveness that even the agile of mind found themselves under the spell of Hitler's topsy-turvy logic. Not so. Mein Kampf is a rambling, self-indulgent claptrap, clearly the result of a diseased mind, one twisted out of all recognition by arrogance & hate. In discovering this, in slogging through the whole of that unorganized mess, I found myself even farther away from my goal; the evil the Nazis had done remained as inexplicable as it had always been.

I was nervous before making my oral presentation before my classmates. I was not as comfortable with public speaking then as I am now—I was a fat, absurdly pimply fourteen-year-old after all—, but the subject of my presentation was the real source of my anxiety. Nevertheless, it had been my choice to select Mein Kampf, & now that I'd made my bed I would lie in it. My good friend Nicky the Greek, in his presentation on Gaius Julius Caesar (I doubt he read Commentaries on the Gallic War, but I've no idea what biography he did read), wore a toga & employed extensive props to recreate the Siege of Alesia, but I made my presentation without such aides. I wore no costume, no combed my hair differently, no did I even briefly entertain the idea of sporting a faux toothbrush moustache. I did my utmost to base the presentation solely on what I'd read in Mein Kampf, excluding my relatively extensive—for a fourteen-year-old putz—knowledge of the course of the Second World War & the rise & fall of the Third Reich. I was then, as I am now, nothing if not a showman; which a heart full of apprehension I gave my audience the grand finale: I stepped back from the lectern & made the Hitler salute (Hitlergruß). Some might say this was too much, that I went too far, but I maintain that in the moment, when I was giving an autobiographical narrative in character as Adolf Hitler, the most evil human being ever to have lived, it was the right choice, at least creatively. The defense I offer is showmanship.

I found out some time later that my classmate had accused me of adhering to Nazism. I was in equal parts aghast at the suggestion & indignant over by whom it was made. I didn't want people thinking I was a Nazi, but at the same time I was confident that I was not. I'd never cared for the kid who leveled the whispered charge; I'd always thought him a preppy snob. He might well have been a snob, in all honestly I must admit that to this day I've never had a real conversation with him, never exchanged more than the most perfunctory of words. One mitigating factor in his defense: he's Jewish; so, an additional degree of sensitivity on his part might well be excusable. On the other hand, if his concerns were genuine, might not he have been better served by openly denouncing me as Nazi scum?

This incident was not a source of ongoing trouble. I am not a Nazi, I have never been a Nazi, & thirty seconds of conversation with me are more than enough to reach this pleasingly factual conclusion. The accusing classmate was never a friend of mine; we had a few meaningful interactions after the Mein Kampf presentation as we'd had before. I've no idea if he continued to believe me a Nazi, or if he shared this spurious opinion with anyone else, but either way word never again reached my ears (admittedly, ears rather deaf & oblivious to all the latest gossip) of any such accusations floating around, not that I was a popular fellow or in any way a regular conversational topic of the chattering class. I was insulted by someone for whom I didn't give a toss, subjected to an insult with only the most torturous basis in reality. The only place where the accusation would continue to be discussed was within the parliament of my mind, as we shall discuss in our next installment.

To be continued...

Vote for Kodos
Well, last night's N.B.C. News/Politico Republican Candidates Debate from the Reagan Library was a wee bit of fun. I enjoyed the united front the candidates adopted against intramural "baiting," because I enjoy a certain contrariness if for no other reason. (Of course, there is another reason: my disdain for the haughty, self-appointed tribunes of the Fourth Estate, well-documented in our occasional feature, "Lies, Damned Lies, & the News.") I shall have to give Governor Huntsman a closer look; at present I favor Governor Romney over Senator Santorum & stand firmly opposed to Governor Perry, Representative Bachmann, Representative Paul, Speaker Gingrich, & Mr. Cain.

All that said, I was very disappointed by the hostility toward Chairman Bernanke of the Federal Reserve Board. Alas, those evidencing mindless hostility was not limited to the loathsome Governor Perry, who has already earned himself my deathless enmity, & yours, too, I hope, by describing Chairman Bernanke's wielding of his clearly delineated authority as "treasonous." All I could do was shake my head at the deplorable ignorance of basic economics that so many persons seem to wear as a badge of perverse honor.

All the Russias
A thoughtful piece from The Economist, on the present & future of Russia: Rodina-link. Corruption is the handmaiden of tyranny, & Vladimir Putin's regime (even with him temporarily out of the presidency) is nothing if not tyrannical. Corruption is the archfoe of the rule of law that is integral to the growth & stability of a liberal economic order, what we know as appropriately-regulated capitalism. So long as the Russians are not free, both politically & economically, their vaunted Motherland is doomed.

My Time Among the Vampires
I had occasion to drive by the downtown American Red Cross building today & saw a handful of rain-drenched strikers; I'd heard mention of the labor dispute on the radio, but did not know that action was already underway. (I know not the details of the dispute nor which side is in the right, though I am wary about the A.F.L.-C.I.O. ever being in the right.) It was a supremely curious image, to see a unionized picket line walking back & forth in from of a van bearing the marking of Red Cross disaster relief. Early in the summer my mother asked me if I'd care to accompany her to our church, which was holding a blood derive; I pointed to my arm, at the tattoo I got in May. I'd have been game to help, but the Red Cross's rules prohibit blood donation for a full year after tattoo acquisition.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Explorers Club
№ CCLI - The Pan Am Building (now the MetLife Building), completed 1963.

Master Debating
This evening, The M.A.P. got his first look at the "fish," our curious slang for newcomers, the eager lads Too Sly & your humble narrator spent the summer coaching, & he is pleased by the foundation we managed to give them. Go, team! The summer's fish, my pal Ska Army & a libertarian environmentalist I know from the Econ. Club, are now novices; meanwhile, two new fish arrived, a friend of the code-nameless libertarian & Vitamin H., longtime cohort of The Impossible Ingenue & The Most Dangerous Game, & The Game's new roommate. Ska Army says he has yet another fish on the line (the source of our usage of the term); so, while attrition is inevitable—I recruited a third fish, but he lost interest—we might be building ourselves a real team here, not the confoundingly wee squad with which we crisscrossed the nation last year.

As far as "Master Debating," I am in arrears for three out of last spring's four tournaments. Mea culpa.

Spy v. Spy
On Sunday, at the dinner table, though I cannot recall exactly how his came up, my father & I, both ardent supporters of the American-Israeli alliance (thought for profoundly different reasons), agreed that Israel & the United States are allies, they are not friends. There are no friends amongst sovereign nations. There can be, & are, friendships betwixt peoples, such as the Americans & the Israelis, but not betwixt states. Among the proofs I cited was Israel's irksome habit of spying on the United States, an activity that happens even between allies, but one that would seem to preclude "friendship" all the same. I did not know on Sunday how timely my remarks would prove: espionage-link.

The Stars My Destination
Let's see, President Obama cancelled the program that was to take American astronauts back to the Moon & beyond to Mars, retired the Space Shuttle fleet while simultaneously pulling the plug on a replacement spacecraft, reduced our astronauts to little more than passengers on Apollo-era Russian capsules (capsules that have now been grounded due to the unfortunate frequency with which their rockets inexplicably fail), & placed the only hope for renewed American manned spaceflight in a handful of private business that have between them never managed to launch a single human being into orbit. Who wouldn't want to be an astronaut under those conditions? Human resources-link. "Nobody panics when things go 'according to plan.' Even if the plan is horrifying."

This is precisely the space policy you voted for if you voted for President Obama in 2008. Is this the change you envisioned? Is this the hope you were promised?

Last week, I took care of some periodic maintenance on Lumi the Snow Queen, having her radiator flushed & filled, because they hadn't been done in an age, & taking her in for her annual free gearbox fluid & filter change & systems check. I had a loose wheel bearing replaced, not wanting to have that done, but deeming the expense less than the repairs that would be needed had the wheel fallen off at speed. I checked the rest of her engine fluids & her tire pressure myself. My motorcar was ready for my sojourn to verdammt Ohio next weekend; I have been invited to Where's Teddy?'s house to watch the Michigan-Notre Dame night game &, curse my bones, I could not devise a convincing lie by virtue of which to weasel out of the invitation. On Friday, not all that long after I'd returned from having the wheel bearing replaced, my father decided to play his own version of Tetris by moving his motorcars around Wilson Field. He relocated Lumi the Snow Queen, too, & in the course of so doing rolled down the windows to try & relieve the stifling heat. He then found that he could not get the window to roll back up; my motorcar has power windows. He had some errands to run & it was took blasted hot to be working outside anyway; I placed some plastic sheeting over the open window in case of rain & resolved to investigate the problem further the next morning.

In the cool of the morning, I looked up how to remove the necessary panels from the massive volumes on mid-'90s Lumina/Monte Carlo repair that were transferred from my father to me when I bought Lumi the Snow Queen. I removed the necessary door panel & lifted out the control board that we hoped was the source of the trouble, as opposed to the motor buried far deeper inside the driver's door. Dad fiddled around with the control box, not really doing anything but removing the buttons & the housing. There was no obvious damage, & window function remained intermittent; so, we thought we were sunk. To be on the safe side, I'd called the mechanic's shop on Friday & arranged an appointment for Tuesday morning. I reassembled the door & had to content myself with at least having managed to put the window up against the present threat of rain.

Whilst running to the grocer on Saturday, I chanced opening the window, to see it functionality was still only intermittent. To my great relief, the window worked like a charm. The window goes up. The window goes down. Every time. For the nonce—& I am cognizant of tempting fate, all but inviting a return of the gremlin, simply by typing these lines—our minor repair, which consisted of, essentially, just shaking the thing, appears to have done the trick. Will Lumi the Snow Queen's power windows fail again? Almost certainly, & almost certainly on a particularly rainy & windy day, soaking me in a bone-chilling horizontal downpour. (Sidepour?) But for nor at least all is right with my beloved motorcar. Hooray!

I saw a fratboy rapist I know driving a Porsche Boxster this morning. Of course, he was motoring like the proverbial Sunday driver. He may own a Porsche, but he certainly doesn't appreciate owning a Porsche.

This next bit really is much ado about nothing, even if you aren't one of the readers who passionately despises "This Week in Motorsport." The only defense I can offer is that the original version was much, much longer.

This Week in Motorsport
Coming into 2011, Lotus Renault's two drivers were to be the same pair as in 2010, Robert Kubica (Poland) as the team leader & Vitaly Petrov (Russia) as the young, rough talent in need of seasoning. But then Kubica was horrifically wounded in a terrifying rallying accident (not W.R.C., but a lower formula); Kubica's life was imperiled, & in an earlier era he would surely have perished; amidst many other grave injuries, his right hand was nearly severed at the wrist & had to be surgically reattached. Lotus Renault (not to be confused with Team Lotus, who also use Renault engines) brought in the veteran Nick Heidfeld (Germany) to replace the rehabilitating Pole. Heidfeld was consistently better than second-year driver Petrov, but not consistently better enough; so, at the Belgian Grand Prix Lotus Renault drafted one of their several reserve drivers, Bruno Senna (Brazil), who drove half of last season with the hapless Hispania (Cosworth) team. Senna brings with him millions of dollars in personal sponsorship money, but Heidfeld is clinging to his seat like grim death, even initiating legal action. Additionally, Romain Grosjean (France), who briefly drove for Renault (no Lotus then) in 2009 in place of the disgraced Nelson Piquet, Jr. (Brazil), has looked mightily impressive this year on his way to winning the GP2 Series crown, having also won the GP2 Asia Series earlier in the year. Champions are not allowed to compete further in GP2; so, Grosjean will be looking for an F1 drive. Plus, Heaven only knows when or even if the supremely talented Kubica will ever be able to return to an F1 cockpit. Petrov is showing slow but steady improvement, besides which he also has a lot of personal sponsorship money as the first Russian driver in Formula One, & it is in F1's self interest to keep him around with the inaugural Russian Grand Prix tentatively scheduled for 2014. But alongside whom will the ultra-polite Russian be racing next season? A recovered Kubica? Senna, invariably mentioned as the nephew of the martyred double World Champion Ayrton Senna? The upstart Grosjean? Surely not the long-experienced, but never victorious Heidfeld, right? Lotus Renault is a Swiss-owned team based in England with an inaccurate French name, since they haven't been the Renault factory team since '09; whom will they have driving alongside their talented Russian next season, a Pole, a Brazilian, or a Frenchman?

I freely confess that I do thoroughly enjoy the international aspect of Formula One.
The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Paramore, "Looking Up" from Brand New Eyes (T.L.A.M.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Stars My Destination
Telescopes aimed at the heavens are time machines, the light by which they see the most distant objects in the cosmos began its journey toward their lenses billions of years ago. Even a glimpse at our nearest celestial neighbor, Alpha Centauri (Yes, Proxima Centauri is currently nearer to the Sun, but the jury is still out on whether Proxima Centauri is part of a triple alignment with the binary stars of Alpha Centauri; so, let's table that discussion for the nonce.), does not show Alpha Centauri as it is today, but Alpha Centauri as it was four-&-change years ago. Our faithful robotic minion, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, has become a different kind of time machine. The images it is capturing from the landing site of the Challenger, Apollo 17's Lunar Module, are contemporary, but because of the lack of atmospheric erosion & "geologic"* disruption the site remains as it was when the last Moonwalkers, Gene Cernan & Harrison Schmidt, departed aboard the ascent stage of the Challenger in 1972. The L.R.O.'s photography allows us to look back in time, metaphorically if not literally: Moon-link.

The Savage Wars of Peace
In my youth, I'd thought the days of the celebrity general, the figure of national renown like General MacArthur or President Eisenhower, were behind us. The enduring high profile of Secretary of State Powell should have taught me better, but for no coherent reason I assumed he was an exception that proved the rule. More fool me. All America needed for the reemergence of the public flag officer was a real war, such as those we've fought & are fighting in Iraq & Afghanistan, not the brief skirmishes of my formative years—DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM, Somalia, & Bosnia. The John J. "Black Jack" Pershing† of our time? General David Petraeus, recently retired from the United States Army to assume the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency. Thank you for your service, General Petraeus: B.B.C.-link & Wired-link.

Or, lest we forget, "General Betray Us" in the words of left-wing stalwarts MoveOn libeled General Petraeus over what they argued was the "failed" "Surge" in Iraq, a strategy that was in fact wildly successful. President Obama was also opposed to the Surge, yet in worked so undeniably well in Iraq that he ordered, after interminable months of paralysis, a similar surge in Afghanistan. MoveOn attempted to erase their despicable "General Betray Us" slur from public memory as soon as the president ordered Petraeus to assume command of the surge in Afghanistan, proving they have about as much credibility as, say, Dalton Trumbo & his wretch polemic Johnny Got His Gun.

A look at D.C.I. Petraeus's new job: Langley-link. Thank Mars (or Francis Walsingham) that we finally have a proper C.I.A. again, not the neutered husk that emerged from the reckless Congressional hearings of the 1970s & limped on in that hamstrung state until 9/11.

A final note on the savage wars of peace: I watched Frontline tonight, an episode titled "Top Secret America." I should have known better, should have listened to the small voice that warned me what a travesty the news division of P.B.S. has become. One of the principal commentators, & the man who had the last word except for the author of the new book, Top Secret America, on which tonight's Frontline was based, was Richard Clarke. You remember Richard Clarke, the Grand Poobah of counter-terrorism in the late Clinton Administration & early Bush '43 Administration. The Grand Poobah of a counter-terroism community & architect of a counter-terrorism strategy that allowed 9/11 to happen. That Richard Clarke. Anyway, Richard Clarke scoffed at what we as a body politic have done since 9/11 to combat terrorism, confident that everything we were doing before 9/11 worked like gangbusters. That's really all that need be said about the weight, or lack thereof, that should be given to Frontline, doesn't it? At least I got to listen to Will Lyman's narration. I could listen to that guy read the phone book.

This Week in Motorsport
Rally Monkey
On Sunday, I watched Rallye Deutschland, the most recent round of the F.I.A. World Rally Championship (W.R.C.). Rallye Deutschland, Rally Germany; whereas F1 grands prix are given as Adjective Grand Prix, e.g., the German Grand Prix, rallies are given as Rally Noun, e.g., Rally Germany. The previous rallies I'd watched had been in the form of an hour-long review of the three days of the rally, but over this holiday weekend I decided to increase my exposure. I watched an hour-long preview of the rally to come, three half-hour reviews each detailing a day of the rally, & an hour-long review of the final, gimmicky stage of the rally, the so-called Power Stage, more about which later. What was learned? The more rallying, the better!

Watching the day-by-day accounts of the rally gave me a much better understanding of the mechanics of the sport (no pun intended). This is the way I plan to watch the rest of the W.R.C. season, in all its glorious madness. There's no point in trying to convince you otherwise, rallying is mad. Tiny cars—turbocharged, rebuilt from stem-to-stern, four-wheel-drive versions of the Citroën DS3, Ford Fiesta, & Mini Cooper, et alii—are piloted across winding courses of dirt, gravel, ice & snow, or asphalt at breakneck speed by teams of two, the driver & the co-driver. Co-driver? The co-driver reads out "pace notes," information about the course gleaned from test runs in the preceding days, information such as how many yards to a turn or bend, how many degrees the turn covers, & at what speed the bend might be taken. Why a co-driver & pace notes? Because the cars are going too fast to rely solely on the driver's reactions. The driver has to anticipate the turns & bends & start correcting his machine's course before it encounters the corner. Madness. Splendid, rapturous madness.

Rallies are run in timed stages, anywhere from twenty to thirty in a given rally. The cars tackle the stages one at a time, released at some unspecified interval so that they shouldn't catch up to one another, not even a faster car to a slower car, unless the car ahead suffers some kind of repairable mechanical issue, such as a flat tire. Without understanding all the rules of how much repair work can be done by the support crew betwixt stages or overnight, the driver & co-driver seem to be responsible for repairing their own car. Each duo's times for the stages are then aggregated & the pair with the lowest cumulative time leads the standings. The distance raced over the duration of a rally is normally over a hundred miles. Peruse this handy, informative hyperlink: W.R.C.-link.

The bit I like least is the Power Stage. Only the top ten or twelve competitors qualify for the Power Stage, which awards separate points from the rest of the rally. For Rallye Deutschland, the Power Stage was held around the streets of the host city Trier. Each car makes an individual, timed run around the circuit, three times around in the case of the Trier course. I've no objection to watching cars race around a street circuit, the Grand Prix de Monaco, around the narrow, winding streets of the Principality, is the jewel in the F1 crown, but to my way of thinking the segregation of the Power Stage from all the other stages of the rally makes it seem quite unlike rallying. The Power Stage isn't what I'm looking to see when I tune in a rally (thanks, Discovery's H.D. Theater channel!). Due to its relative brevity, though, it is accorded more complete television coverage than the rest of the stages, which are spread out over both time & space. Since the highlights of the Power Stage are covered in the half-hour review of the third day, when Rally Australia is broadcast in three weeks' time I'll skip the Power Stage program.

The World Rally Championship, a madcap addition to my motorsport portfolio.

For those of you following along & keeping score at home:
{a} 24 Heures du Mans (& the late, lamented American Le Mans Series) - "By Endurance We Conquer"
{b} Formula One - "Formula Fun!"
{c} World Rally Championship - "Rally Monkey"

Indianapolis Jones or We Named the Dog "Indiana"
I also watched the last few laps of the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, an IndyCar race on the new street circuit in the City that Reads. I've roundly poo-pooed Indy's marque event (& namesake), the Indianapolis 500, here at The Secret Base, & to anyone fool enough to listen in person I've mocked IndyCar's single-make (or spec series) format. That said, my interest was immediately increased because they were racing on a road course rather than an abominable oval track. Mayhap I should give the IndyCar Series's last remaining road course race a fighting chance?

The Queue
Having finally read The Thirty-nine Steps, a book I much abused by repeatedly jumping it in the queue, I quite enjoyed John Buchan's tale of spies & saboteurs in the summer before the Europe was set ablaze by the Great War. If I have a complaint, it is only that there's not enough of The Thirty-nine Steps; my Dover Thrift Edition was a scant eighty-eight pages long. What there is is a crackerjack yarn, but the enterprise would profit from more of the same. I shall certainly read at least the next book in the so-called "Greenmantle" series, Greenmantle.

Jeffery Deaver, Carte Blanche
Robert M. Soderstrom, The Big House: Fielding H. Yost and the Building of Michigan Stadium
John Buchan, The Thirty-nine Steps

Keith Jeffery, The Secret History of M.I.6: 1909-1949

Allen Dulles, The Craft of Intelligence
William F. Buckley, Jr., Saving the Queen

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Neil Patrick Harris, "Everything You Ever" from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Soundtrack from the Motion Picture (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: If not the saddest song ever written, which "Everything You Ever" might well be, it is unquestionably a song of gut-wrenching sadness. There is a terrible beauty in such desolation.

"Now the nightmare's real."

*"Geologic" because the geo- prefix refers specifically to the Earth. Just as there are no earthquakes on the Moon, only moonquakes, by definition there cannot be geology on the Moon. "Geology" continues to be used colloquially, however, & that's not necessarily a bad thing.

†How great was Black Jack Pershing? So great that the rank of General of the Armies of the United States was created for him after his leadership of the A.E.F. in the Great War. The five-star General of the Army/Fleet Admiral rank that was created during the Second World War is subordinate to Pershing's General of the Armies. Pershing's only superior? President Washington—"First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen"—who was retroactively promoted to General of the Armies of the United States in 1976, & declared the nation's senior military officer in perpetuity. Pershing is second only to George Washington, the father of the nation.

The United States Army Band is known as "Pershing's Own." Black Jack!