Science News Bulletin from the Swamp

While Republicans were noisily reminding us what they think of women, they were quietly reminding us what they think of science.

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to merge two of its science offices: the Office of Science Policy with the Office of Science Advisor. The stated purpose of the merging is “in order to reduce redundancies.” Critics say the real purpose is to mute the voice of science.

The Office of Science Advisor manages scientific standards throughout the agency and is tasked with providing unbiased advice to the EPA administrator. This action will reduce its role in the agency, putting it further down in the bureaucracy’s pecking order.

From Bloomberg:

“By dissolving the science adviser’s office and putting it several layers down in ORD [Office of Research and Development], that greatly accelerates the decay of science advice within the EPA administrator’s office,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “That kind of coordination is much more difficult to do if they’re buried down inside an office.”

Saving Country Music

“I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’.” – Bob Newhart

In spite of Mr. Newhart, Country Music is more popular than ever.

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I never liked country music, or I thought I didn’t. Eventually I came to the realization that I had been listening to country music all my life. Much of the music I liked was derivative of the music I thought I hated, or rock and roll covers of straight country songs. The Beatles, for example, recorded several Buck Owens and Carl Perkins songs. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Everly Brothers’ roots were deep in country. Elvis Presley combined country with gospel and country blues to initiate the rock-and-roll frenzy. Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family and Bob Wills are among the many whose songs have been interpreted by rock and pop artists.

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Preview of Coming Attractions from Michael Lewis

Even if you don’t know Michael Lewis, you probably are familiar with movies based on his non-fiction books: “Moneyball,” “The Big Short,” “Flashboys,” “The Blind Side,” and others. Lewis is very good at explaining financial esoterica in terms that even I can understand. Lewis’s latest offering, “The Fifth Risk,” an account of the dismantling of the government by the current occupant of the White House. The English newspaper, The Guardian, has published an excerpt focused on Chris Christie and the president-elect’s transition team. Fun anecdote from the book:

Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

Save the Last Dance

I have often thought that if everyone could attend a Neville Brothers show, there would be world peace. Sadly, the group no longer performs. Charles Neville, the Brothers’ spiritual leader, died of cancer in April 2018. Aaron Neville, perhaps the most well-known brother because of his successful solo career and eclectic collaborations with other artists, appeared in Portland billed as the “Aaron Neville Duo,” the other half of the duo being keyboardist Michael Goods. They performed a low-key set of songs, reaching back in time to Nat King Cole, The Drifters, Billy Joel and even the Mickey Mouse Club theme, and including the smash hit “Tell It Like It Is.” (Notably missing was “Over You,” Aaron Neville’s first charting song. Penned by Allen Toussaint, it was a modest hit in 1960, but contains lyrics not likely to be sung in public in the twenty-first century.) A highlight of the evening was “Save the Last Dance for Me,” a number-one hit for The Drifters.

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Saving Gospel Music

The accolades to Aretha Franklin in numerous obituaries and tributes made note of her early years singing in her father’s church. Ms. Franklin was possibly the most famous of many popular artists who learned their craft in church: Little Richard, The Staple Singers, Sam Cooke and hundreds – literally, hundreds – more. The conflict between the sacred and the secular, has been an undercurrent of many careers. Performers whose formative years were rooted in the black church carried the craft learned there to a wider audience but with a twinge of guilt for taking god’s music and making it profane.

Unfortunately, much of this roots music is lost forever, recorded on vinyl and tape and never digitized.

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