Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dagmar Krause Sings Surabaya Johnny

There's nobody else remotely like Dagmar Krause.  From the empty lilt of "Just A Conversation" on Slapp Happy's debut, Sort Of, to the shrieking menace of "Joan" on the Art Bears' Hopes and Fears, and through all of the insouciant sophistication for which Slapp Happy was responsible; her range as a singer is incomparable.  The beauty and uniqueness of her voice are also notable.  Here she covers Brecht/Weill better than anybody since Lotte Lenya.  There also a German version by Dagmar available (and recommended - also hear her Mack the Knife in German - my personal favorite version, even over Ella's magnificent mangling from Ella in Berlin.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Trane Day!

It's John Coltrane's birthday.

The Origin of Stupidity

She has it covered, nothing more need be said.

h/t @kezboard

I missed her on Pharyngula, apparently.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


How did I miss posting this?   This is NGC 6302, variously referred to the Bug Nebula, or the Butterfly Nebula, a bipolar (symmetric, two-lobed) planetary nebula located about 4000 light-years away, in the constellation Scorpius.  It is a grand, complex example, beautifully imaged here - one of the first images, in fact, from the newly refurbished Hubble Space Telescope.  This is an APOD image.  Click the image here to go to the APOD page.  Click the image there for a higher resolution version of the photo.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Missile Defense: It Doesn't Work

Here's a list of flight test results for the GMD (Ground-Based Midcourse Defense) - the system we're now not going to deploy in Eastern Europe. As you read down the table, look for the successes. You might note the FTG-05 test result (from December 5, 2008).   Looks pretty good, right? Here's the associated press release. It certainly looks like the best result so far.  (Up until that test, the successful results always included caveats about the speed of the target, the nature of the target, etc...)  But what's missing?  The salient phrase used to describe the nature of the target here is "threat representative."  What I don't see is any reference to the operative definition of that phrase in this context.  Do you think I'm being a little picayune?  Doesn't "threat representative" mean what it seems to say?  If you're at all familiar with the defense industry, you'll know that almost every bit of technical jargon is a term of art, an arbitrary designation often depicting something that seems at odds with the plain meaning of the words used. Think of "collateral damage" as a euphemism for dead civilians.  If you doubt this consider the words of Jack Hitt (h/t bjkeefe):

Missile defense exists in a world of its own. It has a special budget process that exempts it from most congressional oversight, and it is pioneering a new acquisitions process that redefines the very nature of what constitutes a "threat." The system has a separate definition to denote what it means for a weapon to "work" and even what it means to "know" something to be true. The shield operates beyond the world of empirical testing, and outside the four service branches of the U.S. military.
 I recommend reading the whole article, and Brendan's blog post, both linked above.

Ignoring this one result, for the moment, there is nothing in the test record that provides any degree of confidence in the GMD - none.  All of the "successes" are at best, technical successes - that is they indicate some benchmark has been reached; or they're dumbed down demonstrations that something can be hit with something else, disregarding the important consideration that the ballistic properties of the target don't bear any resemblance to those of an actual target.  Another factor ignored is the existence of realistic decoys - the only decoy tests listed used a small number of balloons to simulate the existence of decoy warheads.  These are important benchmarks, to be sure; but, the ability to distinguish a lighter than air, comparatively slow moving soft target, from a missile warhead traveling at supersonic speeds does not provide any sort of real world confirmation of an anti missile system.

I don't see any reason to believe that the FTG-05 result provides any reason for greater confidence, based on what has so far been published.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

J. G. Ballard

Vaughn died yesterday in his last car-crash. During our friendship he had rehearsed his death in many crashes, but this was his only true accident. Driven on a collision course towards the limousine of the film actress, his car jumped the rails of the London airport flyover and plunged through the roof of a bus filled with airline passengers. The crushed bodies of package tourists, like a haemorrhage of the sun, still lay across the vinyl seats when I pushed my way through the police engineers an hour later. Holding the arm of her chauffeur, the film actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom Vaughan had dreamed of dying for so many months, stood alone under the revolving ambulance lights. As I knelt over Vaughan’s body she placed a gloved hand to her throat.

So begins Crash: A Novel, an iconic, controversial novel of obsession and the nexus of technology and sexuality, written in the middle of the twentieth century, when the vision of technology was best represented by modes of transportation, rather than methods of information processing. The story still seems to accurately portray contemporary modes of obsession with startling clarity.

J. G. Ballard died today. Ballard was a fiercely smart British writer, similar in many ways to his contemporary, Brian W. Aldiss, Ballard wrote science fiction that was so much more psychologically sophisticated than what was being produced at the time that his work, and that of Aldiss, Norman Spinrad and a few others that a subgenre "British New Wave" was named to distinguish it - famously represented by the Michael Moorcock edited editions of New Worlds magazine. Ballard was probably best known for his novel Empire of the Sun, and the Spielberg movie of the same name. Crash was, of course, filmed by David Cronenberg. I can't think of another author whose work would have attracted such disparate attention.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


What's remarkable about this beautiful image is that it's literally a scene from another galaxy. It's a picture of the Tarantula Nebula, an H II region (a cloud of glowing gas and plasma) in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the closest galaxies to, in fact a satellite of, the Milky way. The nebula is an extremely bright object, if it were as close as the Orion Nebula, it would cast shadows. It's also the location of the nearest supernova since the invention of the telescope. This is an APOD image, click once for the APOD page, click the image there for a high-resolution version.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


NGC 2818 is a strikingly attractive planetary nebula found in the southern constellation Pyxis (The Compass). The beautiful hues pictured here are the result of a sequence of exposures through narrow-band filters, highlighting emission from nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms showing as red, green, and blue in the image. This is an APOD image. Click through to see the APOD page, click the image there for a higher resolution version.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


This is a depiction of a pair of the most conspicuous objects in the night sky (after major solar system objects). On the left is shown one the most recognizable nebulae of all, the Horsehead Nebula. On the right, the Orion Nebula, an object bright enough to easily seen by the naked eye – it appears as the middle “star” in Orion’s sword. Both are, in fact, parts of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, an object which, despite being about 1300 light years away, has an apparent size similar to your outstretched hand held at arm’s length in the direction of the constellation of Orion. (Which itself is one of the easiest to find and recognizable patterns in the night sky.) This is one of the most beautiful and keenly observed objects in astronomy. It's a stellar nursery, (in other words a molecular cloud in which stars are actively forming) the closest such in existence, and studied pretty closely as a result.

This is an APOD image. Click the image here for the APOD page, click the image there for a detailed view.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kew. Rhone.

I had no idea I'd find this when I went hunting YouTube for a Peter Blegvad (rhymes with egg-bad) video. Peter is a god among rock musicians and is, in my totally not humble opinion among the best lyricists of all time. Kew. Rhone. was a collaboration with John Greaves who wrote the music and Lisa Herman, who had to sing this impossible stuff. Don't try to understand it, just love it for the wacky degree of complexity, the irony, and the overall musical gorgeousness.

Things I Think Are Beautiful

This is a long exposure image of the Kepler launch. The mission is, of course, a space geek's wet dream. But regardless of all that, just as an abstract thing this is a beautiful picture. Also, it is an APOD image, and all that implies. (Click image for APOD page, click image there for higher resolution version.)

Update: Not surprisingly, Phil Plait does me one better.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Limbaugh v. Obama

When Michael Steele told D. L. Hughley that Rush is an "entertainer" and that some of the things he says are "incendiary" and "ugly," it's hard to imagine that the Obama administration's political operation had predicted such a perfect event to crown their decision to engage Rush directly, after Rush's "I Hope the President Fails" became a cassus belli. Nevertheless, I have to say the spectacle appears to be one of the most spectacularly successful examples of ratfucking (cf) I've witnessed, on this scale. The image of Michael Steele kissing his ring and backing away apologetically under Rush Limbaugh's steely gaze (now indelibly the Face of the Republican Party) is an image that stings on so many levels I've lost count.

The O's can count the entire episode as a big win. It's clear to me what Rush get out of this. His ratings are way up. Rush in Opposition is Rush's strongest stance - just look back to the Clinton years. The Republican party is the obvious loser. Republicans ought to be asking themselves what it is they're getting out of their alliance with Rush.