Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Tonight being the night of St Walpurgia, I guess today would be Walpurgis Night Day. Fittingly, we had our all-staff meeting today- four of my co-workers (and a former co-worker who has gone on to other endeavors) used to perform a hilarious "Three Witches" skit (three were always "on" with two alternate witches as substitutes) during our formerly low-key October fundraiser. They had a hilarious schtick, and they served as the custodians of lost children until the kids' parents could be directed to them for pickup. Funny, it's not typical for the people watching the kids to have a prominently displayed book titled "HOW TO COOK CHILDREN", but that's how those witches used to roll.

Our season begins this weekend, and much of the meeting concerned the post realignment procedures that will be put into place. There was a bit of "rah-rah", a bit of consternation about local press coverage of the "realignment". We had lunch, one of my co-workers made a presentation about a collection of literary works donated to the organization, and another made a presentation about a new app for one of our sites. I found out that a co-worker I really enjoy working with (she's a Yonkers girl, a tiny slip of a thing with red hair and glasses who looks like she could be Larry Kirwan's relative) is leaving the organization after twelve or so years. I facetiously asked her if she were going to tour on the MMA circuit... she's leaving to work for a non-profit that provides support of various kinds to families with terminally ill children. High five to her.

In the president's presentation, he brought up the possibility of creating different apps to appeal to different demographic groups (e.g. games like scavenger hunts to be played while visiting a site). After the meeting, I mentioned to him that we already have an "augmented reality" game being played on our site, albeit without official sanction. Yeah, I brought up the Portal People- hell, the Portal People have visited one of our sites as late as 2:30AM, maybe we can learn from them how to increase our "door".

So, that was my Walpurgisnachttag revel. Lunch was good, and I saw a lot of co-workers I haven't seen in a while. I got to sit next to a colleague I've never had the pleasure of working with before, a very charming sixtyish woman from, appropriately, Bavaria. Witches, Bavarians, what could be better on this particular day?

Don't answer that!

Monday, April 29, 2013

One Conspiracy to in the Darkness Bind Them

Forget the Benghazi and Boston conspiracy theories, they are small potatoes compared to the über-conspiracy, the idea that extraterrestrials (or ultramondane extradimensional beings or time travelers from the future) have established a presence here on Earth that is being covered up by sinister agents of the world's governments. Seventy-odd years of a perfect conspiracy, with no screw-ups to give the game away? In some estimations, there have been eighty-odd years of an extraterrestrial conspiracy and coverup.

Today, though, marked the beginning of a series of non-official hearings to investigate the UFO conspiracy, a series of hearings given some gravy(train)tas (I mean, $20,000 honoraria?) by the presence of former legislators. Hopefully, this illustrious group will penetrate the fog that surrounds the UFO phenomenon. I, myself, want to know why the government is hiding all of the purple-haired moon babes:

Of course, on a serious note, the mere suggestion of such a mind-bogglingly enormous conspiracy is quite enough to distract creative people from investigating the real problems of the world, which are daunting enough. The very idea that there is an alien presence on the planet would ragard multiple conspiracies, multiple layers of deception. It's the great-grandpappy of all lesser conspiracies. Aren't purple-haired moon babes a sufficient distraction?

Now, I look forward to hearing from paleo, who is into the UFO phenomenon, zrm who is a sci-fi/robotics impressario, and mikey, who brings up the topic of physics, specifically how faster-than-light travel is impossible. For me personally, I feel that extraterrestrial life is a certainty... the discovery of planets around other stars is occurring simultaneously with the discovery of terrestrial life thriving under conditions previously thought hostile to life. I don't, however, believe that any spacefarers have visited our planet. While I believe the Drake Equation is an important cognitive exercise, I can't vouch for the soundness of the mathematical formulae. On the other hand, regarding the Gabrielle Drake Equation, the figures certainly add up.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nympharium Privileges are Suspended!

The redoubtable Smut Clyde reminds me that today is International Act Like a Jack Vance Character Day, therefore, until the comments exhibit a welter of excellences, nympharium privileges will be suspended! Certainly, a nuncupatory lustration will remove the odium of obloquy from my obstreperous audience.

Let all weave a phantasmagoria of prosody, a scintilla of syllables by which we may overawe the mooncalves and churls. Let us eschew the the vapid mannerisms of pale people and concoct a linguistic farrago most piquant!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Captcha, WTF?

Why the hell is it that most captcha systems display the real word in a legible font and render the nonsense word difficult to decipher? Have the 'bots gotten good enough to puzzle out a real word written out in a jacked-up font? Personally, even though the spambots are annoying as hell, I'd rather make it easy for the commentariat, and there's something cathartic about deleting fifty spam comments in one fell swoop.

Wow, what a perfunctory post... earlier in the day, it was too gorgeous outside to spend a lot of time online, and this evening, the radio has been playing such a good selection of music, I pretty much neglected looking up any topics to tackle for a more substantial post. Anyway, one particular song which stuck out was recent release Echo My Love by Omaha, Nebraska based Tilly and the Wall.

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go back to slacking off.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Learning from the Obits

Today, I find out that country superstar George Jones passed away. I have to admit, I wasn't familiar with his body of work until I started poking around and discovered that he was the first person to have a hit with The Race is On by Don Rollins. Being a creature of a certain age, I am most familiar with the fantastic version by Welsh roots-rock revivalist Dave Edmunds. It's nice to be able to expand one's musical horizons, but I have to confess a certain feeling of melancholy that it took Mr Jones' death for me to become a fan. Anyway, here's the man himself singing The Race is On:

This marks the second time in a week that I've discovered the body of work by a talented musician by way of the obits. I have to say, I prefer learning about musicians via the radi-adi-o. Rest in peace, Mr Jones, I wish I'd met you earlier.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jewels in the Crown of the City of Y______

The day being beautiful weatherwise, and I having the day off (plus, me being in need of a "mental hygiene" break after a bad week's worth of current events), I decided to drive to the corner of the city furthest from my home (I live in the extreme Southeast of the City of Y, a couple of blocks north of the Bronx and a couple of blocks west of "money earnin'" Mount Vernon) to visit two of Yonkers' most precious jewels. My first visit was to the Hudson River Museum, on Warburton Avenue, which overlooks the mighty Hudson. The Hudson River Museum combines a modern museum and planetarium with Glenview, a well-conserved mansion built in the 1870s:

The setting of the museum is unparalleled, the views of the Palisades and the river is unexcelled:

As one looks south of the museum, one is reminded of a less idyllic memento of the past- the abandoned Yonkers power plant, which is featured prominently in the wonderful book Hudson Valley Ruins (in the interest of full disclosure, I know one of the authors):

The museum was featuring an exhibit titled The Panoramic River: The Hudson and the Thames. The inspiration for the exhibit was The Rhinebeck Panorama, a panoramic depiction of London found in Dutchess County, New York. While I didn't take any pictures inside the museum (I don't know if flash photography is allowed, and I always err on the side of propriety in museums), I will post images of some of my favorite paintings from the exhibit.

John Henry Dolph's Haying Near New Rochelle is a nice pastoral scene set in an area which is now a small, multicultural city and foodie paradise. The body of water in the background is Long Island Sound, the Hudson being a few miles to the west:

Another favorite of mine was James Bard's painting of the steamboat Francis Skiddy- gotta dig the "painting in a painting" motif, as the housing of the paddlewheel sports an image of the Hudson narrows:

Another favorite of mine, George W. Wright's A Terrible Bore, which is part of the permanent collection, can be glimpsed on page two of the Museum's School Brochure PDF.

For a brief visual overview of the exhibit, here is a promo from a local public television station:

Another highlight of the Hudson River Museum is the Riverama, a permanent exhibit detailing the geology and ecology of the Hudson River region, and centered around a thirty foot long topographical model of the region. There is a video on the return of the peregrin falcon to the region (unrelated to the museum, but of note is the Mid-Hudson Bridge peregrin falcon cam), an exhibit on invasive species, a brief piece on the different sorts of boats plying the river, an interactive "wild sounds" console courtesy of the Cornell Ornithological Lab, and other nice interactive displays. It's a good introduction to the inner workings of the river, hydrologically, geologically, biologically, and sociologically. Pete Seeger would approve.

I followed my visit to the museum with a visit to Lenoir Preserve, which I mentioned in a blog post three years ago. The preserve is just as lovely as ever, and I'll have to return in a few months to see how some of the more ambitious projects underway are proceeding.

For a relatively small city (pop. 195,976 as of 2010), Yonkers does have a nice variety of cultural institutions. To be sure, midtown Manhattan is only a half-hour train ride away, but sometimes it pays to stay closer to home.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Separated at Birth?

So... the elder of the two Boston bombers was a fan of Alex Jones, who is convinced that the Boston bombing was a "false flag" attack orchestrated by the U.S. government for some nefarious, nebulous reason. The bombers' mother, no prize herself, also believes that her sons were innocent victims of a conspiracy. Here she is, giving her lunatic version of events (in the fact of overwhelming evidence that her precious sons were the perps):

Listening to the audio of the interview on the radi-adi-o this afternoon, I was struck by the fact that perhaps I'd heard this woman speak before- the accent, the lunacy, it all came together. Ahhhhhh... Mama Tsarnaev is related to Orly Taitz!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Well... There is this Building in Texas...

Last night, as I was driving to my job to work the graveyard shift, I heard a piece on the growing hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. 84 out of the 166 detainees are involved in this hunger strike. The fact that many of the detainees have not been charged with any crimes, and are trapped in a Kafka-esque judicial limbo. Some of them were turned over to the U.S. authorities for bounties or in the pursuit of vendettas. The official narrative is that these detainees are too dangerous to release, but not guilty enough to try.

Hunger strikes are an effective way for the powerless to gain a sort of moral force over their captors. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the hunger strike of Bobby Sands, who attained the romantic status of a journalist and poet while in prison. Sands actually ended up winning a newly vacated seat in the House of Commons shortly before he died of starvation. He subsequently became a celebrated icon of anti-colonialism, to the extent that the Iranians named a street (formerly named after Winston Churchill) after him. The fact that the Guantanamo Bay prisoners are engaged in a hunger strike further erodes the United States' reputation as a moral actor.

Of course, the real question is whether the detainees should be tried or released. This legal limbo that they inhabit is potentially injurious to the rights of all of us, citizen or no. Personally, I think they should be moved to another facility, a sort of halfway house where they could be monitored under less onerous circumstances, then judged rehabilitated or not. Today marked the opening of the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas. Personally, I think all of the "Gitmo" detainees should be moved to dormitory rooms in the library.

What more fitting monument to the George W. Bush legacy could there be than a "library" filled with gaunt, broken reminders of Dubya's utter failure of a foreign policy?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Otherworldly Matters

Typically, in the course of a workday, I spend 20-25% of my time outdoors. This suits me well, as I've always been the outdoorsy type. Spending so much time outside, and often working late nights, I make it a point to check out not only the weather reports, but the skywatching columns (as an aside, Joe Rao, who writes for Space.com and lectures at the Hayden Planetarium, is a local meterologist of sterling reputation). Anyway, checking out Mr Rao's column, I discovered that the Lyrid meteor shower would peak this morning, and that the prime viewing time would be after moonset, around 4AM... well within the span of my graveyard shift.

I bundled up and spent a good half-hour outside in order to see the celestial show. I managed to see two meteors (not too shabby, so close to NYC), and also spied a satellite making its way across the night sky as it hurtled around the planet. The best way to take in a meteor shower is to sit back and take in as much of the night sky as you can. Sitting outside in the dark, gazing at the vastness of the heavens, I was struck at how comforting the idea of the vastness of the universe was. Last week was an awful week, a week characterized by bloodshed and horror, but the very idea of a vast universe, a place of glorious wonders in which Earth is merely a tiny speck going through a brief nasty phase in a timeline of billions of years, was heartening to me. For a space of a half-hour I was able to envision humanity getting its shit together and giving up its petty, parochial concerns in order to pursue truth and beauty.

Of course, after my reverie, the mundane tasks of workaday life forced me back into the office. I had to write up next month's schedule for my department and send out an e-mail regarding some equipment problems. Besides, the eastern sky was slowing lightening, and the dawn birds were starting to sing...

Anyway, enough of my post stargazing navel-gazing. Another project that I undertook this weekend was mining the nostalgia of others for pure pop platinum. Last Thursday, zrm posted about the death of Scott Miller, one of his favorite musicians. I have to confess, even as a high school kid listening to college radio in the 80's, I can't recall having heard any songs by Mr Miller's band, Game Theory. Oddly enough, I'd been a fan of the guy who produced Game Theory's most hightly regarded album, and a big fan of other bands that he produced albums for, but I never got exposure to Game Theory. Following a link in zrm's post, I proceeded to download the out of print Game Theory albums, and have been giving them a listen-to. I particularly enjoyed the song Nine Lives to Rigel Five, the sort of song that a guy who would have enjoyed watching the Lyrid meteor shower would write:

It's a pity Mr Miller missed the show this year.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not a Good Idea for the Burn Ward...

On the cutting (heh heh) edge of medical innovation, we have news that musical whiz Brian Eno is composing an ambient "healing soundscape" for a newly opened hospital in Hove, Sussex. Here's a news story concerning this new project:

In the video, Mr Eno talks about the effect of panic on the healing process, and compares an illness to "long-term panic". While he may be onto something here, I doubt his music will do anything to mitigate panic for the patients of the burn ward:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Trying to Cobble a Narrative Together

I worked the graveyard shift this morning, and tried to find some way to tie the Boston bombings to the war-torn Chechnyan region in which the Tsarnaev brothers had their ethnic roots, but it seems the back stories of the brothers is murkier.

One thing that strikes me about the Tsarnaev brothers is that they had ambitions, the classic immigrant dreams about the United States, but that their hopes became curdled as they failed to achieve their goals. Tamerlan was a promising amateur boxer who dreamed that his fast hands would bring him Olympic glory, but his fast hands got him into trouble when he was arrested for a domestic violence incident, and the arrest doomed his chances to obtain citizenship. It would seem that the one time he lost control, and lashed out at a girlfriend, set him spiraling entirely out of control. Tsarnaev then, like many other violent men who see women as chattel, turned to violent religious fundamentalism as his prospects evaporated.

Personally, I am struck by his photograph with Massachusetts boxing legend Mickey Ward. Ward's lasting claim to fame rests on a punishing "trilogy" of fights against the late Arturo Gatti... each fight was a brutal slugfest, resulting in the hospitalization of both fighters, but Ward and Gatti maintained a healthy respect for each other. Outside the ring, Ward came across as a humble, self-effacing guy, the sort of guy who kept his day job as truck driver for a road-paving crew and was recognized for his integrity. Looking at the photo of a clean-cut, promising teenager looming over the humble boxing legend, who could have guessed the horrific turn the kid's life would take?

As far as the younger brother is concerned, his actions this week hint at a profoundly disturbed young man. Perhaps he was cowed into performing his horrific acts by a more forceful older brother. Perhaps he also saw his prospects dwindling, like his brother's did before him, as his grades started to tank.

While it's tempting to connect the Tsarnaevs' acts of terror to a broader geopolitical context, their descent into madness and terror could have been a result of personal failings. When their grandiose, but almost attainable, dreams imploded, it seems that they took solace in the poisoned whispers of fanatics. Tragically, they achieved a fame that neither their athletic nor their academic ambitions could have given them.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sins of Commission, Sins of Omission

Well, it's been an awful week. First, we have a horrific terrorist attack in Boston, then we have an even deadlier industrial accident in the town of West, TX. On the one hand, we have the murderous actions of at least one plotter, on the other, we have the homicidal negligence of a bad Randian superman (is there any other kind?). Nefarious plotters acting out of rage, or callous bean counters who see any safety regulations as an infringement on their freedom.

Personally, I think the sins of commission and the sins of omission are equally bad- both leave behind a trail of victims dead, physically broken, and emotionally broken. I have a sinking feeling, though, that while the FBI and state and local law enforcement agencies will (rightfully) chase the Boston terrorists to the ends of the earth in order to bring them to justice, the fertilizer plant owner who ran a slipshod operation which destroyed so many lives will merely collect the insurance payout and resume business as usual with no repercussions.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Post- Lecture Recap: No Crocodile Tears in Brooklyn!

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club lecture, featuring evolutionary biologist Dr Evon Hekkala of Fordham University.

Dr Hekkala started her lecture with a brief autobiography. She had a personal statement, "doing" is better than "believing"- the process of scientific inquiry is what is important, not reliance on authorities. She then chronicled her rambling career, as she became disenchanted with the graphic design she studied as an undergrad, then progressed to a study of evolutionary theory, with a desire to study lemurs. Her study of lemurs was derailed when she discovered that the residents of the villages she visited had eaten the lemurs in the vicinity, but she came to the realization that one can't tell someone whose child's belly is distended with malnutrition to refrain from eating bushmeat. She was determined to return to Madagascar, and changed the focus of her studies to the native crocodiles. When she returned to Madagascar, she had to act as a courier for a team of researchers who had run low on funds. In a plot worthy of a "James Bond" movie, she detailed getting a transfer to her bank account, purchasing bundles of travelers' checks, then cashing them in Madagascar, where the exchange rate was so lopsided that she had to hire porters to help her carry the cash.

Dr Hekkala then gave a quick overview of the crocodiles. There are 12 recognized species of extant true crocodiles, genus Crocodylus (compared to two species of extant alligators). Crocodiles have been hunted for their skins, which can be made into a fine leather. They also face danger from wetlands development , chemicals which interfere with the development of their endocrine systems, and, perhaps most alarmingly, from global climate change, which can determine which gender hatchlings will develop in the nest.

Most of Dr Hekkala's work with crocodiles involved the East African "Nile" crocodile Crocodylus niloticus, which inhabits various ecological niches in Madagascar, including karst caverns and "sacred" lakes, such as Lake Ravelobe. Again, her work comes across as an action film (and was immortalized in a "National Geographic" documentary, Man-Eaters of Madagascar- in the space of a year, nine humans were killed by the crocodiles of Lake Ravelobe. Traditionally, the humans in the area coexisted peacefully with the crocodiles- women could wade into the waters of the lake with cans of worms on their heads while they fished. Unraveling the mystery of the crocodile attacks, Dr Hekkala determined that the lake was being fished by persons unfamiliar with the area, and runoff from slaughterhouse located upstream from the lake caused the crocodiles to become more aggressive (I am reminded of a case in Brazil where sewage runoff attracted aggressive sharks) while water management efforts by the government caused the level of the lake to rise and destroy crocodile nests and the lack of younger crocodiles (crocodiles are cannibals) removed an important food source from the lake. As an aside, I have been looking for Man-Eaters of Madagascar on the web, but have not been able to find the video, much to my chagrin. It really sounds like it has the makings of a great action/mystery flick.

Dr Hekkala then proceeded to discuss her efforts to collect DNA from crocodiles, both living and dead, and to sequence their genomes. Again, she was confronted by a mystery- ever since Herodotus wrote his histories, the crocodiles of the Nile were divided into aggressive, dangerous monsters and more docile crocodiles sacred to the ancient Egyptians, who often mummified them. The mummies were often wrapped in documents, and the possibility that such mummies were used as fuel would represent a tragic loss.

In 1807, the French naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire noticed differences in the skulls of the "sacred" crocodiles and the larger Nile crocodiles. Sadly, the two types of crocodiles were lumped together as C. niloticus and Saint-Hilaire's proposed species name Crocodylys suchus went largely forgotten. In her study of the DNA of various crocodile mummies and preserved specimens from museums around the globe, Dr Hekkala was able to determine that the crocodiles of the Nile belong to two distinct, distantly related species. Crocodilus niloticus is actually more closely related to the New World crocodiles than it is to the "rediscovered" C. suchus. Yet another instance of "sleuthing" on Dr Hekkala's part- is her career better than a movie, or what?

Dr Hekkala, no stranger to preserved crocodiles, then went into a brief digression into the tradition of scholars and apothecaries hanging crocodiles in their shops. In a case of truth being stranger than fiction, it turns out that crocodile blood has antibiotic properties... maybe those old quacks were onto something after all!

In the Q&A, some bastard in the audience asked Dr Hekkala about the contrast between the diversity and cosmopolitan (in the tropics and subtropics) distribution of the true crocodiles vs the relatively limited ranges of the two extant alligator species. Why are the crocs so much more successful? While Dr Hekkala didn't have a direct answer for this question, she noted that the alligators and crocodiles diverged about 65 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period, so alligators and crocodiles, despite superficial similarities, are about as closely related as bats and humans. The Nile crocodile, far from being "primitive", is about as old as humanity.

All told, this was another incredible Secret Science Club lecture... it hit the sweet spot between adventure narrative and hard science, and Dr Hekkala came across as a supergenius action star. She totally knocked it out of the park.

On an unrelated note, I met an old friend, handsome Johnny C., native of Ireland, but long-time Brooklyn resident, at the Bell House for the lecture. He coaches soccer for the same program I coach judo for- I had a big blond 'fro when I first met Johnny C. It was good to be able to hoist a few pints with an old friend and, more importantly, to win another convert over to the ways of the Secret Science Club.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Horror

Yesterday, I set up my perfunctory tax day blog post and scheduled it to appear in the evening, then I set out to run a bunch of errands. Little did I know that a horrific terrorist attack had taken place at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. What a horror.

My heart goes out to the people of Boston, a city which I have loved since I was a small child. While my dad was in grad school, my family lived in the Boston suburb of Waltham, and we often took trips to the inner city, with visits to Boston Common being a particular treat. Make Way for Ducklings, a quintessential Boston classic, has been a favorite book of mine since childhood. Throughout the years, Boston has been a familiar destination for me. My sister and my good friend J-Co both attended college in the Boston metro area, so I could always count on a bunch of friends piling into somebody's car for a weekend road trip to the Boston environs.

I have many happy memories of hanging out at Faneuil Hall, lounging on the Governement Center steps, crossing the Smoot Bridge to Cambridge, making a pilgrimage to see "Old Ironsides", taking the T to the suburbs to see friends. Boston has long been a "second home" to me. To think that someone would attack happy marathon attendees, who came from all over the world to cheer on the runners, on Patriots' Day makes me heartsick.

Here's keeping the people of Boston in my thoughts, and hoping that the perpetrator of this fould deed is caught and brought to justice.

POSTSCRIPT: I am in awe at the heroism of the first responders and the civilians on the scene who stepped up and began administering to the wounded in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. To think that someone, having run the marathon, would then proceed immediately to the hospital to donate blood is mind-boggling.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Taxed Just Fine, Thank You!

Today is the day when income taxes are due in the United States. I actually finished my last Thursday and had them postmarked and in the mail on Friday. For all those who piss and moan about paying their taxes, just remember that taxes are the dues you pay to be a member of the "developed society" club. I like my roads paved and my garbage collected, thank you very much.

In addition, I always pay extra elective amounts on my New York State tax form. I always elect to pay the "make a gift to wildlife" fund (I'm an avid hiker), the "breast cancer fund" (I like boobs), the "prostate cancer fund" (I gots balls, brassy ones in fact), and the "missing and exploited children's fund" (I volunteer with kids, so these sorts of organizations resonate with me). Being a Yonkers resident, I also pay a modest city tax.

I actually enjoy paying my taxes. I like sitting down with the forms and a pad of scrap paper and doing the math. I don't even mind writing out the checks. I chalk my mature attitude toward paying taxes to being an adult. If you're complaining about your taxes, chances are, you're a big baby at best, a sociopath and grifter at worst.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Somebody Needs to Greenlight This!

For the next two days, the band Muse will be playing two dates in NYC's Madison Square Garden. As much as I like the band (my first introduction to them was hearing Starlight on the local college radio station), I didn't even attempt to get tickets because I don't dig seeing shows in huge venues. My rule of thumb for concert venues is that I don't want to "see" a band in a setting so big that I couldn't bean the lead singer with a thrown beer bottle if I were the sort of asshole who'd throw a beer bottle at anyone, much less someone I'd be willing to pay money to see. MSG is entirely too big a venue for me to bother seeing anyone play.

That being said, Muse is responsible for one of the most awesome music videos ever made... a spoof of gloriously trashy low-budget action movies, spaghetti westerns, kung fu movies, and films about robots. Billed as a cheesy foreign action film, much like the hilarious Italian Spiderman, Muse's Knights of Cydonia, which comes across like a film adaptation of Encounter Critical, is so amazingly cheesy that it should get the big-screen treatment:

In the midst of all the madcap goofballery, my favorite part is the gratuitous blasting of a desert shrub around the "1:10" mark... cracks me up every time. Somebody really, really needs to make this into a full length feature film.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Got a Dose of Anitpodean Goodness

One way in which I consider myself fortunate is that I live in a locale which actually has a mighty fine commercial radio station, a station which plays an eclectic mix of popular music from the past fifty years and a nice assortment of new releases. Last night, I heard a classic track by Australian band Hunters and Collectors, a band I'd posted a video for in an older entry. Anyway, here's the video for the song I heard last night, the oft-covered Australian classic Throw Your Arms Around Me:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Poking Around the Intert00bz, Found Some Jack Vance Goodness

Poking around the internet, I found a podcast featuring an interview with Jack Vance. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time is aware that Jack Vance is one of my all-time favorite writers. Besides the awesomeness of hearing a 93-year-old-but-still-with-it Jack Vance (he's 95 now), I dig the Newcastle accent of Tony C. Smith, the interviewer.

Mr Smith tries to keep Jack on the subject of science fiction, but it turns out that Mr Vance really isn't a fan of science fiction (though he does praise the criminally underappreciated C.L. Moore). Jack prefers to characterize his work as portrayals of human beings attempting to adapt to and cope with exotic locales, such locales as could never be found on Earth. As far as the topics go, he'd rather discuss music and travel than science fiction... happily, Mr Smith has the good manners to "step back" and let the man address the topics he prefers to discuss. Even cooler, Jack invites Mr Smith to bring his whole family to Casa Vance in Oakland, California in the course of the interview. I think I'm going to have to set up an interview with Jack Vance myself... Perhaps the best part of the interview is Vance's discussion of Frank Herbert, especially a hilarious anecdote about Frank's piano virtuosity. As an aside, Jack told Frank that his idea for Dune was silly while the two of them were staying at a house in Mexico, but Frank was too absorbed in the scenery to pay attention, and ended up thanking Jack for his input at a later date.

For a briefer taste of pure Vancian awesomeness, here's a recent video of Jack Vance playing the ukulele and kazoo:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Can You Dig It?

The whackaloon political story of the day has to be Rand Paul's bizarre, mendacious speech at Howard University. Of course, Paul lied about his stated position on the Civil Rights Act, and claimed that free markets would equalize opportunity in African-American communities while ignoring the historical reality that African-American communities which succeeded due to market forces faced white backlash. It's hard to push a "states' rights limited government message to an audience which knows what such policies really entail, a population that had to rely on the federal government to counteract the bad policies of local authorities. Of course, the righty blogosphere is going to whine about how those blackity-black-blacks were rude to Rand Paul, and claim that liberals are the real racists and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are the real slavemasters on the Democratic plantation. Why, oh why, can't African-Americans truly dig what Rand Paul is trying to tell them?

Who is white congresscreep who tells off all the liberal sheep?
RAND! Damn right.

Who is the man that would push his dreck for the wealthy man?
RAND! Can you dig it?

He's the legacy hire, whose heart's aflame with freedumb's fire.
RAND! Right on wing!

I hear that Rand is a dumb mother...
I'm talking about Rand!

An Objectivist man, but no-one understands him but his Paulbots.


Hat tip to squirrel_e_girl who inspired this post with a comment on my last post. Please, brilliant readers, contribute additional verses! As an aside, it's kinda amazing to see the paucity of lyrics in the original theme to Shaft when they are written out- the music is so lush, it really makes it seem like there's more lyrical content.

Cross posted at Rumproast.

Battle of the Dinosaurs!

If I told you that I found a live-action video of a valiant mother dinosaur defending her young from couple of predatory dinosaurs, would you think I was nuts?

Well, after watching a video, courtesy of Tengrain, of baby wood ducks jumping out of a tree, I found a video of a mother mallard fighting off a couple of rapacious crows which were trying to make a meal out of her ducklings:

Of course, just as everyone knows that the burrow owl lives in a burrow in the ground, everyone knows that birds are maniraptoran dinosaurs. Now, work with me... pretend that you don't know the scale of the dinosaurs involved in this epic battle. Good, now pretend that it's a mother Edmontosaurus (ignore the fact that mamma duck is a saurischian, despite her hip shape) defending her young from a couple of tyrannosaurs. Voila! Battle of the dinosaurs!

Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

WTF, Spring?

As I commented a little over a week ago, the end of winter did not bring about the end of cold weather. Because I work at night, and a lot of my time is spent outdoors, I always pay close attention to the weather. Last week, I was still wearing the thermal undershirt and a couple of other layers, topped off with a thick hooded sweatshirt. Today, it's supposed to hit about 80F (approximately 27C). I've traded the thermals for shorts and a nerdy-yet-macho classic American Museum of Natural History T-shirt:

I've been suspecting that we'd jump from winter weather to summer weather without having much of a spring, and that seems to be the case locally. In the Rocky Mountains, blizzard conditions are prevailing. Of course, the blizzard in the Rockies doesn't mean that global warming is a hoax- spring storms in the Rockies have always been the norm (back in 1993, in the course of a cross-country road trip, my friends and I encountered a sudden blizzard so fierce we had to pull off the highway and weather the storm in a diner because of the "whiteout" conditions). At the risk of sounding like a shallow dumbass, part of me is not lamenting this, because I don't have a good mid-season jacket. That being said, I am dreading this summer- I can foresee being a giant sweatloaf.

That being said, somebody's going to enjoy the day by taking a nice long walk.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Passing of Iron Peg

Regarding the death of Margaret Thatcher, and the accompanying revival of Reaganolatry, I have to observe that I was a bit young to follow the minutia of Iron Peg's career. For a better dissection of her legacy, I defer to YAFB, who lived in Thatcher's UK. My opinions of Thatcher's career were all filtered through a pop-culture lens, so I figure I'd better serve my readers by posting a couple of videos.

Looking through the archives, I find a paucity of posts about New Model Army, whose album "No Rest for the Wicked" formed, along with Gang of Four's "Entertainment", my "Bush Era Coping Soundtrack". New Model Army's Spirit of the Falklands is among the most scathing indictments of the Thatcher era, and it's definitely the most hard-driving. Turn the speakers up to eleven for this one, it's thunderous:

Another song that we played the hell out of in high school was Stand Down Margaret by the band we 'Murican kids called The English Beat. It's a perfect example of one of my favorite musical styles, the jaunty little number with depressing lyrics:

Of course, the most appropriate song for this day is Uncle Declan's Tramp Down the Dirt, which anticipated this day:

Jewish Steel reminds me in "Rumproast" comment of this number by the Mekons, and zrm would disown me if I didn't post it:

Through the Gang of Four's website, I found a New York Times opinion piece by A.O. Scott concerning Margaret Thatcher as an "anti-muse". Following a link in this essay led me to a wicked takedown of Iron Peg's legacy:

Personally, I always prefered Sid's version, but that's not germane to this post. The real takeaway is that the Margaret Thatcher hagiography, like that of Saint Ronbo, must be countered with real evidence of her legacy. When Shakespeare wrote "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones", he got it half right- while the lasting legacy of the austere, free-market loving supply siders of the 80's still haunts the Anglophone world to this day, the reality of their regimes has largely been shoved down the memory hole.

I don't celebrate the passing of Margaret Thatcher, but I sure as hell don't celebrate her legacy.

UPDATE: Lot of great "Death of Margaret Thatcher" music out there... I'd never heard this number before:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Reminders of Former Colleagues

I find myself working at a jobsite I haven't worked at since the night of long knives which almost literally "decimated" our organization. It's pretty strange to see reminders of axed co-workers here... an empty office is graced by a workplace photograph that wasn't emotionally resonant enough to take (and which would be a melancholy reminder of better times), a promotional poster for a local television station remains on the wall of the former custodian's niche in the utility room. It's a sobering feeling, the realization that the individuals who were "realigned" out of their jobs had each been here for well over a decade, and a few scant traces of their occupancy still remain, and probably will remain for a couple of years, as nobody think to remove them. Personally, I don't have any of my belongings on the job (outside of a couple of things in the office fridge), I pretty much pack each workday as if I were going on a camping trip

It's been a melancholy day, but the site is gorgeous, and that is a major consolation. In a brief conversation I had with the departing day shift workers, who are also struck by low morale I mentioned the advice I used to give to one of the guys who was axed: "No matter what you think of management, just look around you and fall in love with the site." I now find myself taking that same tack with myself.

As an added consolation, I heard the first spring peepers of the season.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Glorious Helping of Cinematic Cheese

Inspired by the learned Doctor Noisewater's post on "Shitty Miracles", I have decided to put up a post about one of my favorite "so bad it's good" movies... not quite a shitty miracle, but a glorious hunk of pure cheese.

I was introduced to the movie Hawk the Slayer by Chuck of Tuck, a classmate of my older brother Sweetums. Chuck was a fixture at our house, one of the rotating cast of characters who would drop in regularly in the sitcom of our family life. Like most of our family friends, he was a goofy brainiac who reveled in nerdy pursuits. To give a perfect example of Chuck's personality, he was a big "Smurfs" fan while in high school- one day, he was watching T.V. and his father paused to ask him what he was watching:

"Charlie, what are you watching?"
"The Smurfs and the Magic Flute."
"The Magic Flute? It's nice to know you're getting some culture."
"Ummm... yeah..."

Anyway, one day, my siblings and I were hanging out at Chez Chuck, and he introduced us to the incredibly cheddarific Hawk the Slayer, a wonderfully daft movie starring a scenery devouring Jack Palance as a Darth Vader knockoff, complete with a similar helmet and an all-black ensemble... come to think of it, the hero is a knockoff Jedi Knight. I like to think of Hawk the Slayer as a low-budget, ham-fisted take on The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, I view Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" movies not as a bad version of the Good Professor's novel (I wasn't a fan of the movies, finding them to, as the professor would put it, "seem fair but feel foul"... I mean, WTF, Jerky Jackson? Why would you give Gandalf's best line to fucking Wormtongue?) but as an overlong, bloated remake of Hawk the Slayer.

I actually prefer Hawk the Slayer to Jackson's "LotR"- it handles the "dwarf as comic relief" trope better and it doesn't have long, draggy stretches. Here is the film in all of its cack-handed glory. Watch it and bask in its handling of genre staples- it has an elf who is a bionic Vulcan, a fully automatic super crossbow, a hero who has a cheesy little "flute" intro every time he appears on screen (of course, this is super cheesy unless Ennio Morricone is providing the music), a loathesome hunchback slave trader who gets his comeuppance in spectacular fashion, the Rocky Horror Picture Show's Magenta playing a "strega ex machina", a plastic-y looking drop bear in a cheeseball haunted forest, and did I mention that the "comic relief" dwarf is actually funny? Plus, it has the great line, "The Iron Hills are no more." Whoa, an entire range of hills is gone? Did they get creamed by an asteroid? Did they fall victim to mountaintop removal mining?

Enough of my yapping, do yourselves a favor and bask, bask in the glory that is Hawk the Slayer:

As you can tell from the end of the movie, there was a setup for a sequel, which sadly never materialized. There is a proposed sequel that seems to be languishing in development hell, but we'll see if it ever materializes. They should bring back the surviving cast members of the first film and do a film called Hawk the Elder.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Glimmer of Light Shed on Dark Matter?

Perhaps the most exciting news this week was the detection of a plethora of positrons in the cosmic ray flux that may be due to the annihilation of dark matter. The positrons (the antimatter equivalent of the humble electron) were detected in the particle streams of the cosmic rays by the international Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer installed on the International Space Station.

In January, I attended a lecture on dark matter, which I posted a recap of. Dark matter is "adjacent" to regular matter, but only interacts with it gravitationally- it is not detectable on the electromagnetic spectrum. There are some theoretical models for dark matter, using such whimsical terms as WIMPs and MACHOs and axions, but nothing substantial is known about the nature of dark matter. Hopefully, the discovery of a stream of positrons amid the general particle flow of the universe represents a glimmer of light shed on dark matter. If this heralds a New Dark Age (hat tip to Smut Clyde, it will be a glorious one.

Postscript: While these results from the International Space Station and CERN represent the best of humanity, international cooperation in the name of scientific inquiry and the furtherance of human knowledge, I have a sinking feeling that more money will be spent dealing with the bellicose posturing of a schlubby schmuck with a bad haircut than was spent on this project.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Follow-Up to Comments Elsewhere

I checked in on a post that Monsieur Bouffant put up a couple of days in order to explain to anne a comment that I'd made about the "portal people" who overran my workplace a couple of weeks ago (I confronted a couple of them at 2:30 in the morning yesterday... two fucking thirty in the morning). Anyway, anne made a comment about a 1971 German television appearance by the band Can, which got me poking around teh t00bz, where I found a BBC 4 documentary on "Krautrock":

The documentary is reminiscent of the Kraftwerk documentary I posted last year, which had been brought to my attention by Substance McGravitas.

Here's a video of Can playing Vernal Equinox on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" in 1975:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Hos' Edda

The biggest story in the local news is the arrest of New York State Senator Malcolm Smith and City Council member Dan Halloran in a cockamamie plot to bribe GOP insiders in an effort to place the former Democrat Smith on the Republican mayoral ballot. Prior to Halloran's arrest, his greatest claim to fame was his conversion to a pagan religion rooted in Norse mythology and known as Theodism. In fact, Halloran rose to the leadership of his Asatru assembly.

Sadly, Halloran was tempted by the political Rheingold, thus ensuring that hilarious photoshops will haunt him for the rest of his life. Even more damaging is the scorn of his co-religionists, such as "Heathen Hank":

Some if us Theodsmen take our religion very seriously. Its the ones who play Ren Faire with our ways that are making a game if it. Oathbreaking has its consequences, as Halloran is surely learning now.

I imagine Heathen Hank is erecting a Nidstang as we speak.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

You Probably Don't Know the Name, But...

Looking back at Sunday's post, in which I posted a video for Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, I have to confess that I am a huge Lewis Carroll fan, to the extent that a much-worn copy of The Annotated Alice has a proud place on the bookshelf. Another big fan of Lewis Carroll was Frederic Brown, a guy whose work you've probably encountered, but whose name you probably wouldn't recognize. I've been reading quite a bit of Brown's work lately, and linked to one of his stories at the mothership.

Brown excelled in the short-short story, with his best-known story being Arena, which was the basis for the Star Trek episode in which Kirk fought the big lizard dude. Another of Brown's best known works is Knock, the original version of which was billed as the world's shortest horror story:

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...

Brown's work often featured bitter irony, with his tale Earthmen Bearing Gifts being a particularly dark little story.

I was recently able to get my hands on Brown's Night of the Jabberwock, a mystery novella whose protagonist is a Carroll-obsessed small-town newspaper editor who longs for some exciting events to print in his paper. In the course of the novella, the protagonist gets what he wished for, in spades, though his hopes get dashed every time he gets a scoop because he realizes that he needs to refrain from printing the stories that crop up for the public good. Eventually, he gets embroiled in a murder mystery in which he is the main suspect. In the course of unravelling the mystery, he crosses paths with gangsters, a rich runaway, a bigoted sheriff, at least one murderer, and a drifter who claims to belong to a secret society which posesses knowledge that Carroll hinted at in his fiction and poems. All through his ordeal, our hero consumes an ungodly amount of booze in order to bolster his courage, and in order to make sense of a poem he feels has bearing on the case:

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...

Throughout the novella, allusions are made to the game of chess, particularly the chess game that forms the structure of Through the Looking Glass. The protagonist eventually comes to see his efforts to discover the killer's identity and to clear his own name as a chess game.

If you are a big Lewis Carroll fan, I would highly recommend Night of the Jabberwock (as would this blogger). If you are not a big Carroll fan, I would recommend Brown's shorter works (if you've read this post, you've already read one of Brown's short short stories, and Arena is also a quick read). Go ahead, you can read a dozen of them in one sitting, provided you can find them.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Foolery

On the job, we keep a logbook, a three-ring binder filled with copies of a combination shift report/checklist. Every shift, whoever is working fills out the sheet to document the events of the day. If anything untoward takes place, there is an additional incident report to fill out and attach to the shift report. A couple of months ago, one of my waggish co-workers taped the "fortune" from a fortune cookie to one of the blank shift reports: NEVER ARGUE WITH A FOOL.

Whoever finds the sheet bearing "NEVER ARGUE WITH A FOOL" then moves that sheet towards the back of the binder so someone else happens upon it. I was the last person to re-locate that sheet. Last night, I noticed that the "NEVER ARGUE WITH A FOOL" festooned sheet was the next one, so "NEVER ARGUE WITH A FOOL" would be found by the fool working April Fools' Day. Obviously, I didn't plan for it to work that way- I'm not anal-retentive enough to count binder leaves just to come up with a joke that lame. I had to laugh, though, at the bizarre coincidence- it seems as if it were planned ahead of time. If I were a more gullible person, I'd see the hand of fate in this, find some sort of evidence of a greater plan. Thankfully, I'm not that credulous, and I think that Intelligent Design is a tarted-up version of creationism, cooked up by dishonest theocrats to gull the sort of people who would have found a greater significance in finding a particular slip of paper in a binder on a particular date.