Language, Drifitng on a Flood of Molasses
On a happier note, I'll take this chance to plug Steve Cook's snarkout to anyone who doesn't already read it. He's started updating more frequently with the New Year, and like Teresa Nielsen Hayden, he has a knack for finding an oddball subject, researching the hell out of it, and providing you with a huge array of interesting links on every aspect of the subject.
I particularly liked two recent posts, one about the Great Boston Molasses Flood (which I'd never heard of), and another on Bugs Bunny's profound effects on English idiom. But everything over there is good. Check it out.
Sometimes, No Snide Comment Seems Adequate
From this morning's Washinton Post, we have:
Two Republican state lawmakers from Northern Virginia received thousands of dollars in the summer and fall from the leaders of several Muslim groups whose Herndon headquarters were raided in March by federal agents investigating possible terrorist financing.
The network of individuals, foundations and businesses gave $8,000 to the reelection campaign of Del. Richard H. Black (Loudoun), campaign finance reports filed last week show. Ken Cuccinelli (Fairfax) took $5,400 in campaign cash from some of the same sources in July, a week before he won a special election to the Virginia Senate.
I don't suppose we can expect any smirking implications of treason from the warblogging community over this, nor rabid commenters insinuating that Black and Cuccinelli are Al Qaeda sock puppets (part of Osama bin Laden's demonic plan to buy the Virginia Legislature, in an effort to smooth the way for the sniper attacks of the fall, dontcha know...). I wouldn't even bother to comment on this, as August's white-hot rage has faded into the general background of utter disgust for our Fearless Leaders, but this quote is just too good to pass up:
Black and Cuccinelli are two of Virginia's most conservative lawmakers. They said they have found common ground with Muslims who share their opposition to abortion and pornography and their support of traditional families.
"They were brought to my attention by Dick Black because they're so conservative, and my goodness, they are," Cuccinelli said of the groups.
Just another data point for the endless debate over who's funnier, I suppose...
Ask Dr. Principles
Somewhere in the middle of his long recap of the anti-war march in Washington, Jim Henley asks for a "Fermi number" guesstimate of how many people were in a segment of the march. The figures provided are:
I can say that after finishing the march ahead of everyone else, we had a view down M Street SE for about a half mile of seven-lane street and it was filled with people.
Half a mile is roughly 2600 feet (we'll work in American units, here), and a typical lane width would be somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen feet, so we'll say that seven lanes is a hundred feet wide. The tricky part of this comes in trying to determine how many square feet a person occupies when the street is "filled with people."
Personally, I start to get a little twitchy if anyone stands closer than two or three feet away when talking to me (I have a very American concept of personal space), and I'd probably want to be on the high end of that while walking (though I doubt the march was proceeding at a brisk walk). If we say that peace marchers are more communitarian than I am, and call it a two-foot cushion between people, that works out to roughly 10 square feet per person (giving each person a circular area a bit under two feet in radius, to account for both "personal space" and the size of a person), or 26,000 people in Jim's field of view. It's a little hard to imagine packing marchers much more closely than that (I'm a bit over 2' across at the shoulders, and while I'm bigger than most, it's not by a factor of two). A more comfortable spacing of 20 sq. ft. per marcher would drop the count to 13,000, but then the street might not look completely full at that level.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000-25,000 people would seem like a reasonable estimate for the portion of the crowd Jim saw. That would be in line with the official police estimate of 30,000 marchers, but a far cry from the 500,000 claimed by some of the organizers. Jim notes that the path of the march made a right-angle turn at the limit of his view, so this estimate is almost certainly a low-ball number. One of the articles made reference to a two-mile march route, which, if filled with people at the same density used above would give a total in line with the 70,000 figure ABC quotes for past estimates of similar crowds, so it's probably not too far off.
Any way you work the numbers, that's a lot of people.
Songs to Strip Paint By
Quick comments on a handful of the CD's I've been listening to while undoing the poor aesthetic choices of our new house's previous owners:
- Bowling for Soup, Drunk Enough to Dance. There's probably a specific term for the sort of loud and slightly juvenile songs about relationships that these guys do, but I'm not up on power-pop subcultures at the moment. I picked this up because the single "The Girl All the Bad Guys Want" is the sort of great high-school loser song that I really enjoy. I particularly like the lyric "She broke my heart, I wanna be sedated/ All I wanted was to see her naked," for its implication that this was a perfectly reasonable hope cruelly denied... Happily, the rest of the album is good, too.
- OK Go, OK Go. More obnoxious power pop, with more synthesizers than have been cool since 1986 or so. More sneering than plaintive, but still a fun record.
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Last DJ. Tom Petty is pissed off at how much the music business, and specifically commercial radio sucks these days. So am I, and there's plenty to be pissed about. Unfortunately, it doesn't make for a great concept album. "Have Love, Will Travel" is a very good song, and there are a couple of other good points, but on the whole, it's too strident to be a great record.
- The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots. These guys are just weird enough to make the concept album thing work. Insofar as this is a concept album, anyway. Actually, I'm not sure what the hell it's about, but it's great, in a slightly trippy, ear-wormy sort of way. Also, "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" is a great song title. Another disc that Kate doesn't like, because just speaking any of the lyrics to "Do You Realize??" is enough to get the song stuck in her head.
- The Blind Boys of Alabama, Higher Ground. What religious inclinations I have are Roman Catholic in direction, which is sort of a pity, because the Protestants got all the good music. A few traditional songs, a few new spirituals, a few odd covers, all in the same basic style as the three old guys in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It's good stuff-- not everyday listening, maybe, but sort of soothing when you're discovering the umpteenth gaping hole in the wall that needs patching.
- Steely Dan, A Decade of Steely Dan. While they're unquestionably the best band ever named after a sex toy in a William Burroughs novel, I never got into these guys, back in the day. Probably because it was the Eighties, and they somehow came across as being inherently of the Seventies, and we hated the Seventies. There are some damn fine songs here, though.
- The Beatles, Revolver. I finally got around to buying this one, after years of hearing it praised in music magazines, general pop-culture venues, and weblog comment threads (my previous exposure to the early Beatles having been limited to my parents' copy of the "Red Album" best-of). It's amazing how many great songs there are on this-- these guys were astoundingly talented. I'm not sure it makes the "perfect album" cut, but it's certainly a great record.
Steelypips.org has moved to a new server. The address change seems to have propagated through the necessary servers, and I think all the files made it through. If you notice anything missing, though, let me know.