Thursday, March 5, 2015

Last Gasp?

Today, we received another four-to-six inches of snow in my neck of the woods. Luckily, yesterday was warm and rainy, so a lot of the dingy stuff on the ground melted before a mass of cold air moved into the area around 4AM and the snow started falling. I woke up around noon and commenced shoveling, joining my next door neighbor in our snowday ritual. After clearing the snow in front of my place and a couple of neighbors' houses, I went inside to have a cup of coffee and put a pot of split pea soup on the stove. An hour later, I was shoveling again. The weather report on the radio had mentioned that the snow was tapering off... nice joke.

After sweeping the bulk of the snow off the car, I made sure to clear a patch of street behind my car so I could pull out of my parking spot easily when it came time to leave for work. Dealing with this weather is like a chess game, you have to think a few moves ahead.

The drive to work was pretty uneventful, once I got off the not-so-well-plowed side streets in my neighborhood. I had enough time to stop at a supermarket on the way, and, among the staples, bought a can of sweetened condensed milk so I could make snow ice cream:




When life hands you lemons... I had never had snow ice cream before, but have been curious about if ever since reading Charles Portis' Masters of Atlantis. My favorite chapters in the novel involve an unlikely collaboration in a harebrained get-rich-quick scheme between all-American grifter Austin Popper and Mu-obsessed Romanian crank Professor Cezar Golescu (one of the greatest comic characters in American literature). In the novel, a young woman wooed by Austin Popper comes to call on him at the ramshackle house in which he and the Professor live, with a can of sweetened condensed milk among the dinner items she's bringing. Hilarity ensues.

The snow ice cream has a really nice texture. I wish I'd thought to bring some vanilla extract to jazz it up with, but the plain flavor was not bad at all. As nice as the snow ice cream is, I really am done with snow. I sure hope that this was winter's last gasp. If it's not, it might be mine!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Annual Run-Up to the Solemn Feast of St Patrick Begins

In keeping with our annual tradition, every March I put up a series of videos of Irish music, trad and otherwise. I'm going to kick this year's countdown off with a great folk-rock number by the terrific (and Bastard-approved) band Horslips. King of the Fairies is a traditional set dance, which takes on a particular awesomeness when given the rooftop rock-out treatment, complete with awesome 70s 'staches and wide collars:





Me being me, my favorite part is the tin whistle solo beginning at the 2:23 mark. Damn, that's some badass tootling!

The "fairies" of Irish folklore are a far cry from the "Tinkerbell" style little winged critters. More properly known as the Aos Sí, they are the remnants of the old pagan gods of Ireland, the Tuatha Dé Danann, a entirely more "dangerous" category of otherworldly beings than that of the nursery tales. As one noted folklorist described them:

They're the things that you see
When you wake up and scream
The cold things that follow you
Down the boreen
They live in the small ring of trees on the hill
Up at the top of the field


Nobody's going to be clapping to keep these types alive!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

In Like a Polar Bear

As the cliche goes, the month of March "comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb". Today, we're expected to receive three to six inches of snow. Walking around the jobsite, it looks like four inches have fallen. I have to confess that I slept until 2:30PM today because yesterday utterly wiped me out. Getting three hours of sleep, teaching for four hours and then going to work will do that to a guy. Some days, my activity cycle resembles that of a python or a crocodile- intense bursts of activity interspersed with periods of torpor. I just needed twelve hours of sleep today.

The drive to work was no fun at all, but it was uneventful. It was pretty much a 25MPH slog up the parkway, with one burst of higher speed to get myself out of an inexplicably bunched-up group of drivers. Really, people, give yourselves room to maneuver. When I exited the highway, I sang out, "Goodbye Sprain, goodbye Taconic, I felt your pain, and it was chronic!" Not sophisticated, but extemporaneous.

It's supposed to warm up later in the week, with the temperatures expected to be above freezing for the next three days. I'm sure glad that March has finally arrived, even though it's come in like a polar bear rather than a lion. Never mind the fact that it only has twenty-eight days, February is the longest month of the year.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Matter of Minutes

Before the news of Leonard Nimoy's death took over the airwaves and occupied my blogging-attention, I was contemplating writing about a horrific tragedy that I missed by scant minutes. I had gotten out of work at 4AM and embarked on what I thought would be a routine drive home, when I ran into a really bad traffic problem, resulting in a complete closure of the Sprain Brook Parkway. The "Sprain" is odd for a local parkway (and the reason we drive on parkways and park in driveways is because a parkway is a highway with landscaped, parklike medians and verges while a driveway is a path on which we drive to our garages, until they become so full of crap we can't park in them)- it is a wide, six lane highway with very long intervals between exits. If there is a problem on the Sprain, there's no easy way to get off the roadway.

I did something I have never done before- I called the "traffic hotline" of the local CBS radio affiliate to report the complete closure of the roadway. The radio station doesn't typically broadcast this number outside of rush hour, so it took about fifteen minutes of googling on my phone to find it. I wasn't going anywhere, so I had no qualms about not having a "hands free" device. I used to investigate auto insurance claims, so I have a decent ability to convey the facts. I informed the staffer that had answered my call that the southbound Sprain was completely obstructed between the Greenburgh and Jackson Avenue exits. I was in the middle lane, so I couldn't spy a mileage marker.

As things turned out, I was at a standstill for about forty-five minutes, silently mouthing imprecations at the tiny handful of assholes who decided that driving on the shoulder would be acceptable. Really, assholes, do you think that blocking the approach of emergency vehicles is at all acceptable behavior in a civilized society?

When the left lane was finally cleared, and I was able to drive past the sea of blue and red flashing lights, I glimpsed a horror- a totaled compact and a small SUV that was facing the wrong direction on the shoulder of the road, opposite the guard rail. It was real "Red Asphalt scenery. I finally made it home after an hour on the road.

When I finally woke up, I put on the radio and heard that the driver of the SUV, a detective in the NYPD Internal Affairs Division, had been killed in a collision with the driver of the compact, who had been driving the wrong way in the northbound lanes. He was ten months shy of retirement, the sort of sad irony that seems to characterize bad cop shows.

I couldn't help but feel a bit queasy when I contemplated that I had missed being involved in this accident by a matter of about ten or fifteen minutes. As much as I cursed being stuck in traffic for forty-five minutes, I got home that morning. I don't take the ride home for granted, as routine as such things are usually considered. There aren't a lot of cars on the road at that hour, but it's right around last call at the bars, and alcohol and marijuana are believed to have played a role in the erratic, one-way driving of the killer. It's sad, I really don't enjoy driving anymore, I just want to get from "Point A" to "Point B" in one piece. I'm sure Detective Duncan wanted the same.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Set a Course for Eternity

It's not often that the death of a celebrity hits me hard (the death of Joey Ramone being one of those occasions), but the death of Leonard Nimoy is genuinely saddening. Mr Nimoy's alter ego was a guest in our house at 6PM Eastern Time almost every Saturday, when one of the local TV stations broadcast episodes of the syndicated Star Trek original series. Even though he played the stoic, unemotional Vulcan science officer, Mr Nimoy was able to convey a wry sense of humor with the mere lift of an eyebrow, and his terse responses to the emotional DeForest Kelley formed much of the appeal of the show (as puberty raised it's hairy, hormonal head, the usual parade of hawt space chix was also an undeniable part of the show's appeal).

Leonard Nimoy was one of those exceptional actors who was as noble as the hero he portrayed on television. He insisted on supporting actor's pay equity for Nichelle Nichols and used his clout to ensure that Ms Nichols and George Takei were included in the vocal cast of the "Star Trek" animated series (tip of the hat to Alicublog commenter FMGuru). Mr Nimoy was every bit the activist that castmates Nichelle Nichols and George Takei have been. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry likened Mr Nimoy to the "Conscience of Star Trek".

I'll forgive Mr Nimoy for his rare lapses in taste, such as lending his gravitas to the pseudoscience extravaganza In Search Of... and whatever you wish to call this. Besides his acting career, he was a film director, a photographer, and a poet. His last tweet, as reported by Tengrain was a perfectly lovely example of Mr Nimoy's grace and wit:

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP

Speaking of tweets, perhaps my favorite "Spock" moment from the original Star Trek series was his straight faced delivery of the line Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad."





And what other actor could emote like a ham while interacting with a pulsating pool of plastic puke without looking utterly ridiculous?





Cutting through the patina of cheesy Sci-Fi, that scene represents a plea for tolerance, mutual understanding, and the need to break out of a cycle of violence and vengeance... man, it's hard not to get a little misty-eyed even despite the cheese factor.

Also in the comments at Roy's place, Megalon clued me in to a Spocksploitation movie that Leonard starred in in 1973... guess what I'll be watching this weekend:





For many of us, losing Leonard Nimoy was like losing a friend, and to cerebral, cool-headed guys, a role model. The universe is a little sadder, and a little less logical, with his passing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Utter Nihilism

Among the litany of horrors emanating from the land of the two rivers, comes a report of ISIS militants destroying artifacts in the Mosul museum. It's not surprising that individuals who have no qualms about killing people in especially revolting ways would be able to destroy items of stone and ceramic. The ISIS militants are so obsessed with dogmatic concerns that they seek to efface any history that doesn't conform to their sterile vision of the world as a sinful distraction from their "otherworld". This is the same nihilistic impulse that drove the Taliban to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas, that drove the razing of Tenochtitlan. The same impulse leads to attempts to ban teaching evolution in public schools.

As Tengrain reported, ISIS shares the impulse to ban the teaching of evolution with the fundamentalist evangelical Protestants of the United States... the only reason Ken Ham is not revered by ISIS is because ham is considered unclean according to Islamic dietary laws.

The real problem of religious fundamentalism is that the fanatics aren't content to wait until they attain their afterlife- they invariably seek to impose their nihilistic view on the material world. It's precisely this unwillingness to let those of us who see the value of this existence live in peace that makes them so dangerous.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Annual Winter Pilgrimage

Today was a glorious day- the temperature was above the freezing point and the sky was a flawless, cloudless blue. Having felt cabin fever for weeks and needing a break from politics and current events, I decided to make my annual winter eagle-watching pilgrimage. I headed straight for Fleischmann's Pier in Buchanan, New York (immediately north of the Indian Point nuclear reactor). Fleischmann's Pier is the best eagle-watching spot that I know, and I was not disappointed today, spotting a half-dozen eagles in the vicinity.

When I arrived at the pier, there was a brisk wind blowing down the Bear Mountain gap, a fresh, cold breeze seemingly coming down from the Adirondack Mountains, up by the Canadian border. Looking north, I could espy the Bear Mountain Bridge, framed by the high walls of the Hudson Highlands, which define the fjord known as the Lower Hudson Valley:




I had the pleasure of seeing two adult eagles conducting an aerial dance, which my phone camera was unable to capture in its glory. I was able to click a bunch of sadly inadequate photos of the birds:




Best of all, a juvenile eagle, it's plumage a patchwork of grey and black feathers, soared about thirty or forty feet overhead, a glorious site that, alas, my phone camera was unable to capture in its sheer grandeur:




It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours on a brisk but beautiful afternoon. It's heartening to know that the eagles of New York are thriving, especially in light of a bacterial infection that is plaguing the South's eagle population. I certainly hope that the eagle-killing bacterium can be combated, it would be tragic to lose these imposing creatures after they've come back from the brink of extinction already.