Roger Ebert speaks his mind

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/01/gossips_as_birds_of_prey.html
Have you been reading Roger Ebert’s journal? Say what you will about the weaknesses of blogs, it seems that cancer survivor Ebert, who no longer has his trademark show (he and his partner both left it when Disney decided to frak with the format and they balked), has decided, in his blog, to vent on many subjects. Often these have to do with movies.
The most recent entry linked above, Ebert lays into the idea of tearing down actresses, of how the media deals with Tom Cruise, and of the insanity on how box office works:

If David Lean were in business today, he’d be out of business. American opening-weekend audiences are driven by gossip and “box office winners.” Not enough people trust their instincts. Which family movie would you rather see? An epic set in Australia, or one about a crazy dog?
Read the entire thing, as they say. When Ebert pops up in my RSS feed, reading what he has to say is always a priority for me these days.

Did a Comet Hit Earth 12,900 Years Ago?

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=did-a-comet-hit-earth-12900-years-ago
Roughly 12,900 years ago, massive global cooling kicked in abruptly, along with the end of the line for some 35 different mammal species, including the mammoth, as well as the so-called Clovis culture of prehistoric North Americans.
The classic causes for this are usually taken to be overhunting, combined with climatic change. (The strange, abrupt and anomalous cooling period known as the Younger Dryas started at this point). It’s also often suggested that this cooling period helped institute the invention of agriculture in the Levant.
Now, though, the discovery of nanodiamonds found in sediments from this time period in North America point to a new possibility–a comet exploding in the atmosphere, larger than the Tunguska Event of 1908. The pieces might have hit the ice sheet, or offshore, which is why impact craters haven’t been found.
A lot more work is going to be needed in order to develop this theory. I’d start, myself, by looking at those Greenland ice cores that were taken some time ago. A cometary impact or explosion in the atmosphere should definitely show a telltale at this point in the timeline.

Bujold’s Sharing Knife novels–Fantasy with a Frontier touch?

http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=11083
I clearly haven’t read enough (or any, really) Westerns.
In an appreciation of Bujold’s Sharing Knife novels (which you will all remember that I’ve read all four, including the one not yet out as an ARC), the irrepressible Jo Walton points out on the Tor Blog:
I mentioned that they’re written in the language and dialect of the Western. The words like “blight bogle,” the placenames “West Blue,” “Glassforge,” “Lumpton Market” and the way the characters speak, especially Fawn, all contribute to this. This is the world of Davy Crockett if Davy Crockett had lived in a post-apocalyptic fantasy landscape.
I never noticed this before, but looking at the map of one of my copies, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. I haven’t read enough Westerns to see it before, but now that she points it out–its obvious.
It also as Walton implies, shows Bujold’s strength and ability to use unusual backgrounds in order to inspire her fantasy. (Chalion used medieval Spain for her cultural cues, something that aside from The Golden Key and The Lions of Al-Rassan, doesn’t seem to be used much for inspiration in fantasy fiction.
Frontier America–well, aside from the Sharing Knife novels, what fantasy novels use that culture (and are NOT fantasy Westerns)? I can’t think of any, except Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series. And even he sets his in an alternate America, rather than using Frontier America solely as a culture base.

Happy New Year–A Not so pointless Holiday

Pace Andrew Wheeler, who in his entry labels today a “Happy Pointless Instant in the Earth’s Orbit Day” and the “silliest Holiday imaginable”
From a strictly celestial mechanical point of view, he’s absolutely right. This point in the Earth’s orbit is not perhelion (which happens to be January 4th this year) or aphelion (which happens to be July 4th). From the view of the motion of the Earth, today is just another day.
From a sociological point of view, he’s completely wrong.
The concept of a New Year dates back two millenia. While pre-civilization Man likely had no concept of the calendar beyond the solstices and equinoxes of the Sun, the concept of the New Year as a holiday goes back to the Roman Empire. In 46 B.C Julius Caesar first established January 1 as New Year’s day. Janus was the Roman god of doors and gates, and had two faces, one looking forward and one back. Caesar felt that the month named after this god (“January”) would be the appropriate “door” to the year.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, most people went back to looking at the Vernal Equinox as the start of the year, until the Gregorian Calendar reforms of the 16th century.
The French Revolutionary Calendar attempted to change this (and in many other ways) by beginning the year with the Autumnal Equinox. While the French Revolutionaries managed to get their idea of a “metric system” to go global, their idea for a new Calendar was less well received.
In any event, it seems that a day to mark the change in a year is a useful sociological device. Be it an excuse to party, a time for reflection, a time for resolutions.
Happy New Year!