Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: State quarters - New Jersey

Today's quarter represents New Jersey.

Very good design. As I said earlier in the Pennsylvania review, any of the original thirteen states can evoke imagery from the American Revolution and they can't go wrong. And New Jersey does it in style with a numismatic version of Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's famous painting, George Washington Crossing the Delaware. This painting depicts General Washington preparing to take on the British in the Battle of Trenton, which ended up being his first victory in the Revolution. And, as we all know (at least I do), Trenton is in New Jersey. Underlining this image is the slogan "Crossroads of the Revolution," which is very close to Trenton's nickname "Turning Point of the Revolution." A good slogan to have, either way.

I like this design, even though the image of Leutze's painting is pretty small and can be a bit hard to see on the back of the coin. But it's very patriotic, and it fits with the history of New Jersey.

Overall rating - 4 - Better

Next up: Georgia

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: State quarters - Pennsylvania

Here's the second state quarter to be issued, the one for Pennsylvania.

This quarter design marks the first of many that takes advantage of a convenient element: the outline of the state. This element in and of itself is neither lame nor cool, but you need a state outline that is distinctive and recognizable to pull it off. And, Pennsylvania, you are bordering on lameness here. I mean, come on, except for a little raggedness on the right and a small shark fin on the upper left corner, you've got a rectangle here. That's it.

But then you save your design with Lady Liberty. That's good. Pennsylvania is steeped in American history, and Philadelphia is the home of the Liberty Bell. You can't go wrong evoking that imagery. In fact, all of the original thirteen states have automatic cool factors built in just by virtue of being the first thirteen states. That's important enough to be represented by the stripes on the flag of this nation, and all of those states can't miss by playing up that history.

"Virtue, liberty, independence." The state motto. Very positive.

But what is that thing to the left of the lady? It's an odd shape, kind of like a trapezoid, with another trapezoid on top. Strange enough to get my attention, but what does it remind me of? I'm not sure. Let me think. It would help if the designer gave me a hint as to what it could be. But ----- no. No hint on the quarter. It does look kind of like stone. Like a stone on top of an archway, maybe. A keystone.

Oh. Oh wait. That's right. The nickname for Pennsylvania is "The Keystone State." I remember that now. But what if I didn't know that, and what if my knowledge of architecture was nonexistent? In that case, that shape is nothing more than an interesting shape. Come on, these are state quarters here. Don't make the rest of the country try too hard to figure it out. Today it's pretty easy to find the meaning, but back in 1999, when this quarter was issued, there was no Wikipedia to give you the answers or starting points for research.

But it's still a pretty decent design. I give it extra points for the liberty references. Plus I know some people from Pennsylvania who are pretty cool, too, and I give it some points based just on them.

Overall rating - 3 - Good

New Jersey is next.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: State quarters - Delaware

Have you ever heard of a review of the state quarters? I mean, has anyone actually taken a look at all of these fifty designs and judged them, whether objectively or subjectively? I can't recall ever seeing any such review (cursory searches with my favorite search engine produced nothing), but I've long had opinions, good and bad, of many of these numismatic works of art. And I've often wanted to express those opinions.

Well, this is my blog, so here are my expressions.

First of all, I've going to give you a very, very brief description of the 50 State Quarters program (you can read more about it here). From 1999 to 2008, the U.S. government issued commemorative quarters celebrating all 50 of the United States of America. They were issued in the order that the states joined the Union, and each state got to design its own artwork for the reverse of the quarter. Some of these images were cool. Some were impressive. And some were just lame. But I assumed all of them expressed key characteristics and traditions of the states they were to represent. I have no idea whether the lame ones actually represented the lameness of the state they belonged to, but I assume somebody thought those designs were special enough to present to the nation.

On to the reviews.

Delaware is first, because it was the first state to join the Union.

And guess what. The first thing we notice is the slogan, "The First State." That's good. That's quite a thing to be, the first state. No other state can say that, and Delaware is right to be proud of that status. So it's no surprise that "The First State" is featured prominently, and I think that's good.

Then we get -- Caesar Rodney.


I admit, I did not know who Caesar Rodney was when this quarter first came out, but apparently he's quite the prominent citizen of Delaware and a true patriot. From the font of all-knowledge, Wikipedia, we get this description:

Caesar Rodney (October 7, 1728 – June 29, 1784) was an American lawyer and politician from St. Jones Neck, in Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware, east of Dover. He was an officer of the Delaware militia during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a Continental Congressman from Delaware, and President of Delaware during most of the American Revolution.

Well, good enough. Color me enlightened. I'm sure he's someone just about every Delawarian would know, just like every Texan knows who Sam Houston was. (Or, at least, every Texan should!) So, he deserves the spot on the quarter. And the artwork itself isn't bad. He's a patriot on a galloping horse, and, even if you don't know who Rodney was, this should call to mind for anyone familiar with American history the image of Paul Revere, another patriot who is famous for at least one horse ride. Kudos for the Revolutionary imagery.

All around, this is a good quarter design, and a fitting way to kick off the series.

Overall rating - 4 - Better

Pennsylvania's next.

UPDATE: I have decided to give these quarter designs a numeric rating, if only to make overall general comparisons easier. I'm thinking of this:

1 = Bad
2 = Mediocre
3 = Good
4 = Better
5 = Best

I give Delaware a 4. It's "better" because it is the first in the series, and it sets the tone for the rest of the images.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Sources: NASA won’t get $1 billion budget boost"

I'm a bit disappointed by this news, but also a bit encouraged.

WASHINGTON - NASA will not be getting the $1 billion budget boost civil space advocates had hoped to see when President Barack Obama sends his 2011 spending proposal to Congress Feb. 1, requiring the U.S. space agency to make even tougher than expected choices about the future of its manned space program, according to sources with close ties to the administration.

These sources declined to reveal the fate of NASA's planned Ares I crew launch vehicle, which many observers see as a likely cancellation target, but they did say the budget proposal would fund a multibillion-dollar effort to foster development of commercial systems for ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

I'm disappointed because I hate to see space exploration held up or scaled back, and I had hoped to see NASA put that new crew vehicle into operations and to establish a presence on the moon. Soon.

But I am also a little encouraged because the federal government seems to be moving the innovations more to the private sector, which is a good thing. Private investment did more to develop the aviation industry in the U.S. than government investment (though, of course, governmental influence was an important part of that development), and I think something similar could be accomplished for the space industry. So, I remain hopeful.

Go Virgin!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jumping from space

I've never been a fan of Red Bull, but if this daring adventure is successful, I just may buy one or two of the sponsor's offerings in celebration.
Here’s Felix Baumgartner’s plan: Float a balloon to 120,000 feet. Jump out. Break the sound barrier. Don’t die. Simple, right?

If Baumgartner, a world famous base jumper and skydiver, pulls off the feat, he’ll set the record for the world’s highest jump and become the first person to break the sound barrier with his body alone. During the jump, he’ll also collect data on how the human body reacts to a fall from such heights, which could be useful for planning orbital escape plans for future space tourists and astronauts.

Dubbed the Red Bull Stratos and sponsored by the energy drink company, the jump will send Baumgartner to the stratosphere in a small space capsule, lifted by a helium-filled balloon. Once he reaches 120,000 feet after three hours of ascension, ground control will give him the “all clear” sign and he’ll pop open the door and jump, as video cameras on the capsule and his suit record his descent. Within 35 seconds or so, Baumgartner will hit supersonic speeds and break the sound barrier. No one really knows what will happen at that point, but the scientists seem confident that he’ll maintain consciousness. He will free fall for roughly six more minutes, pulling his chute at about 5,000 feet and coasting for 15 minutes back to solid ground.

They hope to make the jump sometime this year. I wish them full success.

(Lead: Instapundit)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What I've been listening to lately

That's from "Danzón No. 2" by Arturo Márquez, a Mexican composer, and conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson, a Canadian composer. I had heard this piece recently on KPAC, and then I downloaded it from iTunes to give it a longer listen. And each time I play it I like it more. The piece is off the album Danzón, featuring the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra under Wilson's direction first recorded album, and I may download the rest of it to see if her other "danzón" are just as stirring.

[This post has been corrected from an earlier, inaccurate state. Here's my explanation.]

Not even trying on the fortune cookie front

OK, I'm absolutely convinced that there are no more fortune cookie fortune writers. Long ago they gave up on actual fortunes; ran out of cute, original sayings; and started ripping off sayings from pop culture. Now I don't think actual humans are involved anymore because the messages seem to be generated by programs that slap together any old combination of phrases, whether or not they actually make sense when joined.

This doesn't even rise to the level of platitude.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Claiming a color

Did you know that a color could be trademarked? Apparently 3M thinks so.

I wonder if Corporate Express, Tops Business Forms, and Stationers Distributing are aware of that.

They seem to think any old color is available to them.

So, if you could, what color would you trademark? I'd claim puce.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rooting for humans

I probably will never see the movie Avatar because I've heard enough about it to know that I would be disappointed if I did. Mark at Libertas et Memoria sums my feelings up nicely in this post.
I like a good story and all, but I also am a fan of humanity. If I see a movie and it's aliens vs. humans, I'm rooting for the humans. Sorry, that's just the policy of Libertas et Memoria. If the movie is humans vs. apes, I'm rooting for the humans. Nothing against apes, but I'm going to root for the humans. Now, if the movie was apes vs. aliens, I'm going to root for the apes. My default position, in the absence of humans, is to root for the Earth-team. So, if we ever see the movie Dolphin vs. Predator, I'm cheering for the dolphin.
I don't think I can say it better myself. If I can, I might later.

(hat tip: Instapundit)

Monday, January 11, 2010

"One-time single-season homer king McGwire admits using steroids"


NEW YORK (AP) — Sobbing and sniffling, Mark McGwire finally answered the steroid question.

Ending more than a decade of denials and evasion, McGwire admitted Monday what many had suspected for so long — that steroids and human growth hormone helped make him a home run king.

"The toughest thing is my wife, my parents, close friends have had no idea that I hid it from them all this time," he told The Associated Press in an emotional, 20-minute interview. "I knew this day was going to come. I didn't know when."

In a quavering voice, McGwire apologized and said he used steroids and human growth hormone on and off for a decade, starting before the 1990 season and including the year he broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998.

"I wish I had never touched steroids," McGwire said. "It was foolish and it was a mistake."

I liked McGwire. I even have his rookie card.

Oh, well. I guess I still like him. But this is a disappointment. Not really a surprise, but definitely a disappointment. I guess that 1998 record means nothing, now.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Panicking about words

Worried about racist words from the past? No need! Bowdlerize away, oh modern publisher, and your worries are gone.

A classic turn-of-the-century English novelist whose works have been read by countless millions of people is having his work sanitized for a new generation of readers.

Joseph Conrad, whose "Heart of Darkness" and "Lord Jim" have been scrutinized by English students on multiple continents for decades, wrote a lesser known novel in 1897 called "The Nigger of the Narcissus."

Now, in what critics are calling a blatant act of politically correct censorship, a Netherlands-based publisher has reprinted the novel under a new name: "The N-word of the Narcissus."

The new version is the first installment of WordBridge Publishing's classic texts series, featuring "texts with a message for moderns, made accessible to moderns."

But some critics say updating a Conrad novel by replacing all mentions of the offensive term "nigger" with "n-word" is just as offensive as the word itself.

I wonder what WordBridge Publishing would do if they reprinted the autobiographical novel written by Harriet E. Wilson, America's first black female novelist. It is called Our Nig, and I remember reading it in college. I remember enjoying the book, and I don't recall anyone at the time (professor or students, most solidly liberal) raising any issue with the title.

It's just my opinion, but I don't think Our N-word will have the same punch as the original title.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What I've been listening to

I haven't listened to it in a while, but it popped into my head the other day. So I dug it up and played it over and over again.

That's the third movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, a fine work of art. You're probably more familiar with the second movement. Movie makers like it a lot.

Off the top of my head, I can remember the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh being used in Photographing Fairies and, of course, Immortal Beloved. And apparently it was also used in Knowing, but I've never seen that film. Do you know of any other films that have used (or, perhaps, overused) this piece?

And just for fun, here's a version rendered in a video style that I learned about from this post at Blogonomicon.


Friday, January 01, 2010

Dueling in the NBA

Fox News reports on an argument between some basketball players that supposedly escalated to an Old West stand-off.
An NBA all-star and his Washington Wizards teammate reportedly drew guns on each other in the team's locker room during a Christmas Eve fight over a gambling debt, the New York Post reports.

Gilbert Arenas, 27, went for his gun first, the Post reported, citing unnamed inside sources. His teammate Javaris Crittenton, 22, allegedly brandished a firearm as well.

It was unclear whether other teammates saw the standoff inside the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., the Post reported.

It's a good thing the Washington team changed their name to the "Wizards" back in the 1990s. Heck, there might have been some violence otherwise.