I usually agree with the Oscars’ choices for Best Picture.  Sure, there are some absurdities (The ArtistDriving Miss DaisyShakespeare in Love?) and some ridiculous snubs (how many people today think Ordinary People was better than both Raging Bull and The Elephant Man?  I didn’t think so.)  But this year was particularly strange to me: at least 4 of the nominated movies (Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards) were way, way better than the Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water.  And I don’t think of this as a case of splitting hairs, of deciding a winner among a field of equally strong contenders.

I actually think The Shape of Water was a bad movie.  As in, very bad.  As in, I would not recommend it to anyone.  As in, who was the demographic for this travesty?

What follows is heavily laden with spoilers, but I don’t care, since spoiling the movie might save you from having to see it.  The Shape of Water is basically a “love” story between a woman and a creature-from-the-black-lagoon-type fish person.  They fall in love, she helps him escape the clutches of the evil government, and then she dies.  The end.


This is the fish guy from Hellboy, not The Shape of Water, but it doesn’t matter

Some people found the story inventive, or touching.  The production design was great, after all.  But don’t forget: the production design for Mars Attacks! was also great, and look what resulted.

Here, in no particular order, are the reasons that I hated The Shape of Water so much:

  1. The “love” story was ridiculous and juvenile. There’s no reason, given what we see in the movie, that either the woman or the fish-guy would realistically have fallen in love.  Love is about connecting intellectually, about communication, and commonalities.  At least, as an adult, that’s how I see love.  In the movie, however, the woman is mute, and it’s not even clear that the fish-guy is more intelligent than a chimpanzee.  So they never connect on any intellectual level; they never communicate, really, in any meaningful way.  And besides being victims, they don’t have any commonalities.  He’s a captive; she feels sorry for him; they share an egg; they want to fuck.  That’s pretty much it.  We don’t see them “falling in love”; we don’t see any reason for this woman to be attracted to a fish-guy.  Maybe there’s some back story about her being mute that would explain this, but we never get the back story.    She remains a cipher.  I honestly got the impression that she was just lonely, and for whatever reason, she was attracted to the fish-guy because he was not a white male.  Which brings me to:
  2. Every white male in the movie is bad. There is one decent white male, but he’s a Russian spy.  All the other white males are evil.  OK, I get it.  But this is very ham-handed.
  3. The side characters are a who’s who of oppression. The supporting cast of The Shape of Water are like a checklist of oppressed groups: there’s a disabled woman, a gay man, an African American woman with a crappy husband, and so forth.  That’s fine, as far as it goes, but mentioning an oppressive situation is different than addressing it.  The movie has the feel, often, of “Look! This guy is gay!  And it’s the 60’s, so it was tough on him!”  All these oppressed characters sprinkled in distract from the main point (such as it is) of woman/fish-man love.  They should have spent more time on the romance, to make it plausible, rather than make a checklist of 21st century causes.
  4. The score. Two hours of French accordion music.  Enough said.
  5. The lack of originality:
    1. Fishsticks looks exactly like the fish person in Hellboy, another del Toro movie, which incidentally was a better movie.
    2. The ending of The Shape of Water was exactly the same as the ending to Pan’s Labyrinth (idealistic dreamer is crushed by terrible circumstances and dies at the hands of an evil guy, but before dying retreats into a dream-like fantasy world.)
    3. Why is it that Amazon rainforest fauna always hide the cure to all our modern-day ills? Fishboy’s sweat secretions (or semen?) heal things in the same way that Sean Connery’s ants can cure cancer in Medicine Man.  Everybody loves the idea of mother nature always having a solution, but chemistry doesn’t work that way.  Natural doesn’t mean better, sorry.
  6. The mean-spirited ending. The whole movie might have been redeemed if Shrimpy had taken the moral high-ground at the end.  He could have healed the evil guy, regenerated the guy’s fingers.  Then, even if Tarter Sauce died, the ending would have been poignant and sad.  Instead, he just kills the guy, brutally, with a slash to the throat.  I guess that’s what audiences want, and the message is Violence is the answer!  Kill!  Kill!  So much for Fish Sauce being better than us.  Honestly, he seemed like a full grown chimp: smart, but incredibly dangerous and not ready for prime time.
  7. The terrible physics.  I’m sorry, you can’t fill up a bathroom with water.  Water would leak out from under the door, right?  And the door would break, right?  Absurd.
  8. The sex scene.  Just, no.  There’s a reason people have referred to this movie as Free Willy with bestiality.  I might be inclined to buy it, maybe, if there was any indication that Lobster Boy was self-aware, but there’s not.  Does he do anything that indicates he’s smarter than a chimp?  No?  Then she had sex with a chimp, basically.

OK.  I’m done.  I think I’ll go re-watch Hellboy 2.


Many Worlds Puzzle #7

What do these 12 states, and only these states, have in common?








North Dakota


South Dakota



No god is perfect

I am an all-powerful being.

I write stories.  And in the worlds that I create, I am all powerful.  I can make planets, galaxies, universes unending.  I can bring forth, instantly, civilizations of staggering complexity.  I can create people as detailed as you like…fully-realized beings with thoughts as rich and varied as I can imagine.

I can destroy, too: I can, with a word, annihilate the world.  I can sweep away the minds of trillions of sentient beings, without so much as a moment’s hesitation.  To the worlds I create, I am a god.

Of course, in this world, I am flawed.  I can’t even fix a toaster.

Now, suppose there is a god that created this universe.  Suppose he is all-powerful, to us: suppose he can create or destroy with limitless power.  That does not mean he is all-powerful in the universe that he inhabits.

The logic is like this:

  1. Either a god exists wholly within the known, natural universe, or he does not.
  2. If he does, then he’s a natural being and bound by the laws of our universe. He’s therefore not all-powerful, since he cannot violate conservation of momentum, or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, or what have you.
  3. If he does not exist wholly within the known, natural universe, then he’s supernatural.
  4. A supernatural god inhabits a higher-level universe than our own.
  5. A supernatural god may very well be all powerful with respect to a lower-level world or universe, in the way that I am all-powerful with respect to a novel I write.
  6. Be that as it may, there’s no reason or justification to think that such a god is all-powerful in the world-level in which he resides.

Another analogy may help.  It is known that Conway’s game of Life is Turing complete.  Therefore, given a sufficiently large Life grid (running on a sufficiently large computer) and given a sufficiently long time, sentience would most assuredly evolve in such a game.  But, even if it didn’t, given enough time and patience we could (existing, as we do, “outside” this Life universe) create Life structures that can think.  For example, we could “just” program all the pixels in our Life grid with ones and zeroes in such a way that the Life structures were isomorphic to our own brains, perhaps.  (Hey, I didn’t say it would be easy.)  Does that mean we’re smart?  Perhaps.  Does that make us perfect?  Fuck no.

To say that a god is all-powerful just because he is all-powerful to us makes as much sense as saying that Shakespeare is all-powerful because he’s all-powerful to Hamlet.  Hey Hamlet: your god ain’t a loving god, you don’t have free will, and god doesn’t have your back.

That “undiscovered country” is just the bargain bin at Barnes and Nobles.

I’m tired of people ascribing properties to higher-level supernatural beings of which, by definition, nothing can be known.  There’s no conceivable way that Hamlet could know anything at all about Shakespeare.  Similarly, even if there were a god or gods existing outside of our universe, there’s no way we could know anything about them.  At all.  Maybe some supreme benevolent being exists, sure.  Or maybe there’s instead an omnimalevolent creator.  Or maybe there’s just some lobster-eating sadist who kills people with tiny forks.  Who knows?

You certainly don’t.



When sports decide which teams make the playoffs, there are often tiebreakers used to sort-out teams with identical records.  One of the most common tiebreakers is the “head-to-head” record.

Head-to-head record is a poor tiebreaker, especially compared with, say, strength of schedule.

Let’s NCAA basketball as an example.  Suppose Wake Forest (my alma mater) and Western Carolina (the school where I teach) both go 29-1 in the regular season.  Suppose Western Carolina’s only loss was to Mars Hill, and Wake Forest’s only loss was to Western Carolina.

Image result for western carolina basketball

The diehard “head-to-head” people would say “Western Carolina should be ranked higher!  They won the head-to-head matchup!”  But I say: what about the other 29 games?  Wake Forest plays in the ACC, and has multiple games against Duke, UNC, Miami, NC State…you get the picture.  Western Carolina has a much weaker schedule against the likes of Wofford, the Citadel, VMI, Chattanooga.  Sure, Wake Forest lost to Western Carolina, but in turn, Western Carolina lost to Mars Hill!  Which loss looks worse, hmm?

Image result for wake forest logo

The problem with head-to-head is that it’s only one data point.  Any team can lose a single game.  Maybe Wake Forest was missing their starting 5 due to the flu for that one game against Western Carolina.  (Clemson’s loss in football to Syracuse, earlier this year, was partially due to their starting quarterback being out).  A tie-breaker should be as broad as possible, and take the entire year into consideration.  This is especially true in basketball or baseball, when the long seasons make head-to-head records well-nigh meaningless.

I’m thinking about this now because college football is nearing its end for the year, and some arcane committee will have to decide who gets into the college football playoff and who stays out.  There are those who have complained that an undefeated Wisconsin team (currently #3) should be ranked higher.  But the Badgers have played an easy schedule, compared to, say, Auburn, who has faced the toughest road possible.  (Look at strength-of-schedule rankings here.)  In fact, I personally rank Auburn (10-2) higher than Wisconsin (12-0) for that very reason.  We only have 24 total data points here, but if Auburn and Wisconsin swapped schedules, then Auburn would be 12-0 easily and Wisconsin would be, at best, 7-5.

I can’t say it enough.  Head-to-head is a garbage tiebreaker.  It’s only one data point.  Strength-of-schedule incorporates literally dozens of data points and should always take precedence.

You Do It Wrong

I bid you, do not trip

On coattails, caught beneath

The bowers cool at noonday sun.

If you must go, I hope you run.

Hear then behind the frosted glass,

The voices dull, devoid of song.

If you find that love is hard, you do it wrong.


And there upon a hill

The toddlers play, the adults cry,

From sadness or from ice, I do not know.

Against a tombstone piles the snow.

There are no smiles,

We are not strong, but

If you find that love is hard, you do it wrong.

Image result for mount algonquin in winter

This past Monday I witnessed, as expected, a total eclipse of the Sun.

I didn’t even have to travel—I watched from a chair on my front lawn.  The town I live in (Sylva, NC) was in the path of the totality.  The weather was perfect, and I was lucky enough to witness a literally once-in-a-lifetime event.

Here’s a picture taken by a friend and fellow physicist, Dr. Louis Keiner of Coastal Carolina University:

louis eclipse.jpg

So what did I learn?

  • The world around me wasn’t as dark as I expected. Turn’s out, there not much difference between normal sunshine and a 50%-covered sunshine.  Both are blindingly bright.  You couldn’t even really tell anything was changing until maybe 15 minutes before totality happened.  Eventually things did get darker, and it happened very fast.  Right at totality it looked like sundown, and sunrise. Simultaneously.  It was glowing purple in the east, and glowing purple in the west.


  • It was smaller than you’d think. Most people don’t realize how small the Sun and/or Moon look in the sky.  To get an idea, hold your hand at arm’s length.  Look at the fingernail on your pinky finger.  That’s how big the Sun and Moon are in the sky: they subtend that much angle, and only that much.  Don’t believe me?  Try it next full moon.  Movies and TV shows vastly exaggerate how big the Sun and Moon appear.


  • As totality approached, the light got strange.   Normally, at dusk, the light fades away into reds and oranges.  But not this time: the light diminished, getting dimmer and dimmer, but stayed a warm yellow.  If you didn’t know an eclipse was approaching you might think instead some weird weather event was about to happen.


  • The totality was weird. It looked like a portal to Mordor had opened up, a gate to Hell, an angry black hole in the sky, a dimensional rift into another plane.  Imagine a perfectly round black hole of nothingness surrounded by tendrils of electric blue-white flames.  It didn’t look real.  It looked like fake CGI in the sky.  It looked exactly like Dr. Keiner’s picture, above.


  • I didn’t feel anything but awe. I didn’t feel connected to the universe, or to science, or to humanity, or to history.  The only emotion I felt was holy fucking shit.


  • The hype was worth it. It was incredible.  If you ever have a chance to see a total solar eclipse, jump at the opportunity.  You won’t be disappointed.  Unless, of course, it rains, which happened to some people I know.  Oops.  I guess, if it rains, there’s always this:


(Lyrics by Pink Floyd, centered and in italics)

On the day of the eclipse, I will see the dark side of the moon.  And it won’t look like anything at all.

Of course there is no “dark side” of the moon, not really.  The moon is in synchronous rotation with the Earth; the same side of the moon is always facing the Earth, no matter where the sun is.  There is no “light side” or “dark side” since all of the moon gets sunlight equally over the course of its orbit.

There is only a side we can see, and a side we cannot see.


On the day of the eclipse I will see the same side of the moon that I always see.  And it will be dark.  Darker than any black I’ve ever experienced.

Breathe, breathe in the air. 
Don’t be afraid to care.
Leave but don’t leave me.
Look around and choose your own ground. 

I’ll need to choose my ground carefully.  I need a good view of the sun at around 2:36 in the afternoon.  I’m just North of 35 degrees latitude, so the sun will be south by southwest.  And the sunlight will gradually leave.

Don’t leave me.

Long you live and high you fly 
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be.

Will I cry?

Will I smile?

Will the air be charged with expectation?  Will the thousands of people gathered here that day be excited, or bored, or both?  I cannot touch the sun.  But I can see the sun.  And seeing an eclipse may mark my life, like a bookmark in a sprawling novel.  Or maybe not.

Please smile.

Please cry.

Run, rabbit run.
Dig that hole, forget the sun,
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down it’s time to dig another one.

Don’t dig a hole: come out into the sun.  For the sun is going away—and soon you’ll be digging holes all over again.

For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave.

I’m not likely to see such a spectacle ever again.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

I’m tired of the sunshine.  I want to see the sun blotted out.  I’m 49 years old, but in my own mind I’m 29, and it’s not 10 years that have got behind me, but 20.  What will I see, when the light fades away?  Finally, finally, the moon and sun line up, I hear the starting gun, and the race of the rest of my life is on.

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Fuck that.  If I’m shorter of breath, it’s because I’m winded from the exhilarating ride.

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time. 
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines 
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way 
The time is gone, the song is over, 
Thought I’d something more to say.

What is the point of this essay?  Do I even have a point?  At least I have more than half a page—I’ve several pages of scribbled lines.  I should be working or heading home.

Home, home again. 
I like to be here when I can. 
When I come home cold and tired 
It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire.

I hear that the temperature may drop by as much as 28 degrees Fahrenheit during the eclipse.  No nuclear fire to warm the bones, you see.

Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells.

I suspect the flat-Earthers are pissed at this whole eclipse thing.  Using simple physics equations, based on Newton’s law of gravitation among other things, we can predict eclipses hundreds of years into the future.  (Beyond that, things get chaotic.)  But what can flat-Earthers predict?  Squat.  They have no unifying theory…only a claim (the flat Earth!) and dozens of ad hoc assertions to support their shitty claim.  They are faithful, like the anti-vaxxers, like the anti-climate change folks, the anti-science morons, and they’re all on their knees, praying, worshipping magic and woo while the real scientists continue bringing Stone Age hominids into the 21st century.

Us, and them 
And after all we’re only ordinary men. 

Fuck them.  Fuck the anti-science crowd.

Black and blue
And who knows which is which and who is who.
Up and down.
But in the end it’s only round and round.

The world will go black.  The sky may be indigo.  Twilight, in the afternoon, for a minute and a half.  Black, and blue, and thousands of strangers around me.

The lunatic is on the grass. 
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path. 

I think I’ll bring a lawn chair to watch the eclipse.  Put it somewhere on the grass in the middle of campus.  Maybe I’ll put the chair up on that hill, if there’s room.

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon 
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

That’s it!  I’ll be looking at the dark side, the side I always see, and it won’t look like anything except everything.  A shared experience.  Thousands of people, friends, strangers, students, faculty, people I know and people I’ll never know, all looking heavenward, seeing heaven or seeing just the universe, it doesn’t matter, sharing an experience of having a constant in their lives (the sun) disappearing for a minute and a half, reminding us that we are on a planet, a smallish planet, hurtling through space at 60,000 mph, and only through a quirk of fate is our satellite the right size to just barely blot out the light—

You don’t know the power of the dark side.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear 
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

I’m planning on playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon just before totality.  I’d like to time it so that when the words “the sun is eclipsed by the moon” ring out, the totality begins.

All that you touch 
All that you see 
All that you taste 
All you feel. 
All that you love 
All that you hate 
All you distrust 
All you save. 
All that you give 
All that you deal 
All that you buy, 
beg, borrow or steal. 
All you create 
All you destroy 
All that you do 
All that you say. 
All that you eat 
And everyone you meet 
All that you slight 
And everyone you fight. 
All that is now 
All that is gone 
All that’s to come 
and everything under the sun is in tune 
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

I’ll let you know how it goes.