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Wednesday, November 25 2015 @ 05:39 PM CST

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The Earth (and moon) from space

Two cool movies from NASA:

First, a red-blue-green ("true color") movie.

Next, an infrared-green-blue view.

Very neat to see the moon cross the Earth's disk, from 30 million miles away.
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Let's talk tropes!

"Tropes" are
devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting.
When you sit down to watch a fiction TV show (or, heck, a reality TV show for that matter) or you sit down with a good book, what plot elements make you happy, satisfied, what do you like to experience in a good work of fiction?

As I'm an aspiring fiction writer (science fiction and, perhaps, fantasy fiction, specifically) I have a list of tropes which I'm looking at incorporating.  I have two, perhaps three main fiction universes under development and for which I'm trying to write stories.

The first is called the "Guider Universe."  It's a science fiction story, a huge space opera spanning the entirety of human civilized life on Earth, and beyond. 

The second is tentatively named "U.S.S. Deadaliens" where this regular guy gets abducted by your stereotypical little Gray aliens, but wakes up on their ship to find all of the little gray guys mysteriously dead and actually kinda stinky, and the ship a barely functioning wreck. 

The third is a fantasy, based in the great magical city of Arapan (which might be familiar to you who, twenty to thirty years ago, played D&D with yours truly).  It's actually the least developed of the three fictional world concepts of mine, so far.  And, as a twist, it might actually turn out to be somewhere in the Guider Universe.  Or, possibly, all three of the storylines might somehow wind up being in the same fictional universe.  You just never know.

Anyway, I was thinking about what tropes I want to include in my stories, and which ones I'd just as soon avoid.  I decided to throw it open to you, the three readers of, for comment and discussion.

Here's my incomplete list of tropes I plan to work with:
  • Faster-than-light interstellar starflight
  • Life is common in the Universe
  • Ancient technology--exotic future physics/science unknown to current human science
  • Evolution of humanity towards something better
  • Humanity as a young upstart race among older, more powerful races in the galaxy
  • Integration of humans with computing technology
  • Use of genetic and nano-technology to lengthen life and enhance abilities of humans, animals, and aliens
  • Fully intelligent, self-aware machines
  • Aliens among us today and have been on Earth throughout human history
  • Big starships/starship fleet battles
  • Little guys vs. amoral/evil governments/aliens/bad guys
  • Pre-starflight humans living elsewhere in the galaxy, with or without knowledge of Earth as their real origin
And here's the list of tropes that I currently wish to avoid:
  • Time travel
  • Alternate dimensions
  • "Luke, I Am Your Father"
  • "Ascension" into energy beings -- it's been done, and while I may do something similar, I want to avoid the glowing cloud-of-light, Human turns to energy-being-in-front-of-the-gaping-group-of-heroes type of Stargate SG-1 thing.
  • Productive sex between alien species
  • Intergalactic travel--the Milky Way galaxy is big enough for now, thanks.
  • Cliched dwarf-elf-wizard Tolkien/D&D rip-off fantasy
  • Humorless, overly serious serious but lightheartedly so...don't be a downer...should feel good after finishing the piece, not worse for doing so.
Agree?  Disagree?  Like something else, more, or different from your fiction?  Let me know--send me your favorite tropes!  Use the following electronic mail address (you'll have to type it into your mail program, I'm not providing a link 'cause I don't want to make it too easy for spammers:

This is, by the way, my preferred address for correspondence . . . if you want an account to post articles or comments here, or if you think you have an account here, or if I've previously told you you have an account here but have forgotten what it or the password is, you can contact me via this address--or my personal address which, if you need to know it, you already should have it.  Or if not, drop me a line at the medary address and we'll get synched up.

Let the fun begin!

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I detect a problem here . . .

U.S. Supreme Court rules, in unequivocal language, that Dick Heller must be issued a gun permit by the District of Columbia:
Assuming he is not disqualified from exercising his Second Amendment rights, the District MUST PERMIT Heller to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.
(Emphasis added.)

District of Columbia, dutifully submitting to the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court, promptly denies a gun permit to Dick Heller.

USA TODAY's Kevin Johnson reports that the District of Columbia refused this morning to register a handgun on behalf of the security guard whose legal challenge resulted in last month's landmark Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment.

Dick Heller was one of two applicants who were waiting at police headquarters when the doors opened to prospective gun owners at 7 a.m. ET. Officers wouldn't let him register a semi-automatic handgun because local laws still ban such weapons.

Wait, what?

What do you think "must permit Heller to register his handgun" is supposed to mean?  "Oh, sorry, Mr. Heller, not the handgun the Supreme Court was talking about . . . some OTHER handgun.  Yeah, that's the ticket!"

In case you're wondering, a "semi-automatic" weapon is one where a round is automatically chambered after the previous round is fired.  This is opposed to a single-fire weapon, where each round must be chambered (think of the ominous shink-shink of shotguns in an action movie) or a full-automatic weapon, where rounds are chambered and fired continuously when the trigger is pulled.  Most firearms in private use are semi-automatic.
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Political Science

A quick story, with the ring of truth, from the Mises Economics Blog:

While on an evening bike ride with my oldest son, we reminisced about one of the first government meetings we attended together -- an annexation hearing before our county commissioners. Looking back, we agreed that the meeting turned out to be an invaluable opportunity to witness government in action.

At the hearing, the attorney for the petitioner -- a single property owner seeking to be annexed by the local city -- presented first. The attorney stood at the podium holding a small folder. He began, "We present the completed application and forms as required by law. We believe that we have met all legal requirements. We therefore ask that you grant the petition as filed." He sat down.

Next, a long line formed to speak against the annexation. For the next hour, as the commissioners quietly watched, my son and I listened to folks demand a claim to the petitioner's property. Not one speaker questioned the legality of the petition. We left.

Days later, I read in the paper that the hearings were scheduled to continue for two weeks. In the end, the petition -- which everyone agreed was legal -- was denied.

This singular experience showed us that government is not based on laws, it is based on arbitrary power. And that ownership of property is a dead concept in these times of positive rights.

(Emphasis added.)

I'm reminded once again of the George Washington quote:
"Government is not reason, nor eloquence. It is force. And like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master."
A quote which is not perhaps nearly as famous as it should be.  Elections are about who should be best entrusted to the gun of government force which is perpetually being held to your head.  Bear it in mind as you decide who you should vote for.
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The Great Climate Reconsideration begins

Pushing politics and religion aside, and pushing the science back to the front where it should be, The American Physical Society re-opens the question of anthropogenic global warming:
With this issue of Physics & Society, we kick off a debate concerning one of the main conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body which, together with Al Gore, recently won the Nobel Prize for its work concerning climate change research. There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution. Since the correctness or fallacy of that conclusion has immense implications for public policy and for the future of the biosphere, we thought it appropriate to present a debate within the pages of P&S concerning that conclusion. This editor (JJM) invited several people to contribute articles that were either pro or con. Christopher  Monckton responded with this issue's article that argues against the correctness of the IPCC conclusion, and a pair from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, David Hafemeister and Peter Schwartz, responded with this issue's article in favor of the IPCC conclusion. We, the editors of P&S, invite reasoned rebuttals from the authors as well as further contributions from the physics community. Please contact me ( if you wish to jump into this fray with comments or articles that are scientific in nature. However, we will not publish articles that are political or polemical in nature. Stick to the science! (JJM)
This is exactly what SHOULD be happening--what should have been happening for the past decade.  Vigorous, acrimonious, honest scientific debate, bringing the most talented scientific minds on Earth to bear on the subject.  Not global politicians and bigwig-wannabe's jetting to exotic locations to plan the world's economy, but scientists going at it tooth and nail on Internet forums and in scientific journals, hammering out exactly what it is we know, what we don't know, what we think we know that is wrong, and what at the last, everyone . . . EVERYONE can agree is actually so.

The topic is too important to leave to the politicians.  We KNOW where the politicians' interest lie . . . in more money and power arrogated to themselves, and to hell with everyone else.  I'd rather trust in scientists who hold to a higher standard--objective truth, proved through the scientific method.
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Memo to networks: Obama's not President, yet

Not that NBC, ABC, and CBS have covered any of Bush's recent overseas trips with the fervor and intensity that they intend to cover St. Obama's Pilgrimage to the Land of Luther, and hence to the Levant and beyond  (Washington Post article):

The three network anchors will travel to Europe and the Middle East next week for Barack Obama's trip, adding their high-wattage spotlight to what is already shaping up as a major media extravaganza.

Lured by an offer of interviews with the Democratic presidential candidate, Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric will make the overseas trek, meaning that the NBC, ABC and CBS evening newscasts will originate from stops along the route and undoubtedly give it big play.

John McCain has taken three foreign trips in the past four months, all unaccompanied by a single network anchor.

No bias there.  Nope, none at all.  Simply covering newsworthy news.  Yepper.  Yeppity-doo.

Via almost everybody in the Righiesphere.
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Low carb wins again

 A large, well-designed study in Israel comes in with the results, via ScienceDaily:

Although participants actually decreased their total daily calories consumed by a similar amount, net weight loss from the low-fat diet after two years was only 6.5 lbs. (2.9 kg) compared to 10 lbs. (4.4 kg) on the Mediterranean diet, and 10.3 lbs. (4.7 kg) on the low-carbohydrate diet. "These weight reduction rates are comparable to results from physician-prescribed weight loss medications," explains Dr. Iris Shai, the lead researcher.

The low-fat diet reduced the total cholesterol to HDL ratio by only 12 percent, while the low-carbohydrate diet improved the same ratio by 20 percent. Lipids improved the most in the low-carbohydrate, with a 20% increase in the HDL ("good") cholesterol and, 14% decrease in triglycerides. In all three diets, inflammatory and liver function biomarkers was equally improved. However, among diabetic participants, the standard low-fat diet actually increased the fasting glucose levels by 12mg/dL, while the Mediterranean diet induced a decrease in fasting glucose levels by 33mg/dL.

Let's see . . . highest weight loss, best lipid (cholesterol) results . . . what more can you ask for?

Low carb diets are the way to go, it would certainly seem.  Somebody get the USDA and the American Heart Association on the line.

(And yeah, I see quite a few similarities between the low fat fetish of the nutrition industry and the global warming extremism of . . . well . . . a lot of folks.  Both are, I believe, fundamentally political viewpoints masquerading as scientific positions and are hence defended with arguments from authority instead of scientific inquiry.  More science, less religion, please.)

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Iowa sanctuary gets Hollywood apes

The Great Ape Trust in Iowa is taking in simian actors.   ScienceBlog:
The first of the new residents, 3-year-old Rocky and his 19-year-old mother Katy, arrived safely at Great Ape Trust on Saturday, July 12, from the Los Angeles area, where they had been privately owned by Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife, co-owned by Steve and Donna Martin. Their company specializes in providing trained animals for entertainment and advertising.

Wild and crazy?  Excuuuuuuuse me!
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Who's "fighting the last war?"

Iraq is quickly becoming the last war . . . i.e. a war that objective, on-site observers like Michael Yon increasingly believe we have won.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, due in large part because of Pakistan's frail political system, begins to slip back.

So, let's see . . . today, Obama gives a speech about Iraq (Iraq mentioned 53 times; Afghanistan; 15)  McCain, about Afghanistan (Iraq mentioned 21 times, Afghanistan 33).

Quiz:  Which one said this?
What’s missing in our debate about Iraq – what has been missing since before the war began – is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq and its dominance of our foreign policy.
Actually, there has been a thorough and continuing discussion in many circles about the strategic consequences of Iraq.  Obama and his leftist fellows are the ones who have been absent from this discussion, holding to an inflexible position of immediate withdrawal regardless of the strategic consequences of that action.
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The Humor Gap

The New Yorker creates a cartoon lampooning what it thinks are the stereotypes on the right about Barack Obama.

The right, for the most part, snickers over the clumsy smear attempt by the lefty magazine.

The left goes apesh*t over the contemptable depiction of St. Obama.

Who's got a humor deficit here?