Thursday, May 30, 2013

When Ohio was Cutting Edge

Believe it or not, Ohio had a vibrant avant garde music scene in the mid 70s, with Devo being the best-known band of the Ohio scene. Seriously, in 1973-4, Ohio was more of a hotbed of rock-and/or-roll innovation than any other place on the globe. Another celebrated Ohio band was Cleveland's Pere Ubu, a band which had its origin in short-lived band Rocket from the Tombs, a band which also gave rise to The Dead Boys.

While I have long been a Pere Ubu fan, and I dig a couple of The Dead Boys' songs, I had never heard anything by Rocket from the Tombs (not to be confused with the band Rocket from the Crypt, which took its name from RftT). Recently, I found some Youtube videos of live recordings by Rocket from the Tombs (who broke up before releasing an album). The sound reminds me of a lo-fi Black Sabbath, playing avant-weird music and fronted by a warbling art-school student).

"Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" was an early single by Pere Ubu, a chilling, jagged-edged soundscape inspired by accounts of The Doolittle Raid, a one-way bombing mission meant to bolster American morale and jar the Japanese out of a sense of military supremacy:

Dark flak spiders bursting in the sky,
reaching twisted claws on every side.
No place to run.
No place to hide.
No turning back on a suicide ride.

The version by Pere Ubu is enough to elicit goosebumps:

The original by Rocket from the Crypt is sparer, and even less conventional than the Pere Ubu single:

"Sonic Reducer" by The Dead Boys is a fairly straightforward punk song, all adrenaline and attitude, and has passed into the punk "canon" (covered even by St. Joseph):

While the original by Rocket from the Tombs clocks in at about twice the length, it clearly foreshadows The Dead Boys' version, sounding like a "Stooges" outtake:

I suppose it was inevitable that Rocket from the Tombs would break up, what with two such disparate musical styles (exemplified by David Thomas and Cheetah Chrome) characterizing the band's output.

I'd been meaning to hunt down music by Rocket from the Tombs ever since reading Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, but the recordings were as rare as hens' teeth. I'd make a snide comment about how the internet makes everything easy to find, but I'm too happy to have found these recordings to play at being a hipster d-bag.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Passing of the Best: RIP Jack Vance

Via zrm, I have learned that a day I have long dreaded has finally arrived- my absolute favorite author, Jack Vance, died on May 26 at the age of ninety six. A perusal of older blog posts will reveal my love of Jack's work. He was a larger than life figure, a merchant seaman who traveled the globe, wrote for the pulps, and built his own house. A world traveler, but more importantly, a world builder. Jack had a knack for sketching exotic societies in a succinct fashion- he could create several more interesting cultures in a novella than the typical "paper doorstop" author could create in a multi-novel series. The best way to memorialize Jack is to read his work. I have excerpted several of my favorite passages from his novels in previous blog posts, but I feel obligated to re-post one of his hilarious trademark dialogues from The Killing Machine:

...The air of Ard Court smelled richly indeed, with a heavy sweet-sour organic reek that distended the nostrils. Gersen grimaced and went to the shop from which the odors seemed to emanate. Taking a deep breath and bowing his head, he entered. To right and left were wooden tubs, containing pastes, liquids, and submerged solids; overhead hung rows of withered blue-green objects the size of a man's fist. At the rear, behind a counter stacked with limp pink sausages stood a clown-faced youth of twenty, wearing a patterned black and brown smock, a black velvet headkerchief. He leaned upon the counter without spirit or vitality, and without expression watched Gersen sidle past the tubs.

"You're a Sandusker?" asked Gersen.

"What else?" This was spoken in a tone Gersen could not identify, a complex mood of many discords: sad pride, whimsical malice, insolent humility. The youth asked, "You wish to eat?"

Gersen shook his head. "I am not of your religion."

"Ha ho!" said the youth. "You know Sandusk then?"

"Only at second-hand."

The youth smiled. "You must not believe that old foolish story, that we Sanduskers are religious fanatics who eat vile food rather than flagellate ourselves. It is quite incorrect. Come now. Are you a fair man?"

Gersen considered. "Not unusually so."

The youth went to one of the tubs, dipped up a wad of glistening black-crusted maroon paste. "Taste! Judge for yourself! Use your mouth rather than your nose!"

Gersen gave a fatalistic shrug, tasted. The inside of his mouth seemed first to tingle, then expand. His tongue coiled back in his throat.

"Well?" asked the youth.

"If anything," said Gersen at last, "it tastes worse than it smells."

The youth sighed. "Such is the general consensus."

Here is one of Jack Vance's most gloriously "purple" descriptive passages from Jack's first collection, The Dying Earth, written while he was serving with the Merchant Marine in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War:

"This is the Museum," said Guyal in rapt tone. "Here there is no danger ... He who dwells in beauty of this sort may never be other than beneficient ..." He flung wide the door.
The light came from an unknown source, from the air itself, as if leaking from the discrete atoms; every breath was luminous, the room floated full of invigorating glow. A great rug pelted the floor, a monster tabard woven of gold, brown, bronze, two tones of green, fuscous red and smalt blue. Beautiful works of human fashioning ranked the walls. In glorious array hung panels of rich woods, carved, chased, enameled; scenes of olden times painted on woven fiber; formulas of color, designed to convey emotion rather than reality. To one side hung plats of wood laid on with slabs of soapstone, malachite and jade in rectangular patterns, richly varied and subtle, with miniature flecks of cinnabar, rhodocrosite and coral for warmth. Beside was a section given to disks of luminous green, flickering and flourescent with varying blue films and moving dots of scarlet and black. Here were representations of three hundred marvelous flowers, blooms of a forgotten age, no longer extant on waning Earth; there were as many star-burst patterns, rigidly conventionalized in form, but each of subtle distinction. All these and a multitude of other creations, selected from the best of human fervor.

The door thudded softly behind them; staring, every inch of skin a-tingle, the two from Earth's final time moved forward through the hall.

"Somewhere near must be the Curator," whispered Guyal. "There is a sense of careful tending and great effort here in the gallery."


Opposite were two doors, laden with the sense of much use. Guyal strode quickly across the room but was unable to discern the means for opening the door, for it bore no latch, key, handle, knob or bar. He rapped with his knuckles and waited; no sound returned.

Shierl tugged at his arm. "These are private regions. It is best not to venture too rudely."

Guyal turned away and they continued down the gallery. Past the real expression of man's brightest dreamings they walked, until the concentration of so much fire and spirit and creativity put them into awe. "What great minds lie in the dust," said Guyal in a low voice "What gorgeous souls have vanished into the buried ages; what marvelous creatures are lost past the remotest memory ... Nevermore will there be the like; now, in the last fleeting moments, humanity festers rich as rotten fruit. Rather than master and overpower our world, our highest aim is to cheat it through sorcery."

Here is the opening to The Miracle Workers, a novella which ranks among Jack's best:

The war party from Faide Keep moved eastward across the downs: a column of a hundred armored knights, five hundred foot soldiers, a train of wagons. In the lead rode Lord Faide, a tall man in his early maturity, spare and catlike, with a sallow dyspeptic face. He sat in the ancestral car of the Faides, a boat-shaped vehicle floating two feet above the moss, and carried, in addition to his sword and dagger, his ancestral side weapons.

An hour before sunset, a pair of scouts came racing back to the column, their club-headed horses loping like dogs. Lord Faide braked the motion of his car. Behind him, the Faide kinsmen, the lesser knights, and the leather-capped foot soldiers halted; to the rear the baggage train and the high-wheeled wagons of the jinxmen creaked to a stop.

This is perhaps Jack's funniest passage, from the unfortunately titled Servants of the Wankh:

That fellow yonder I believe to be an assassin, from the style of his garments."

The man at this moment approached their table. "You are Adam Reith?"


"I regret to say that the Security Assassination Company has accepted a contract made out in your name: the Death of the Twelve Touches. I will now administer the first inoculation. Will you be so good as to bare your arm? I will merely prick you with this splint."

Reith backed away. "I'll do nothing of the sort."

"Depart!" Zarfo Detwiler told the assassin. "This man is worth ten thousand sequins to me alive; dead, nothing."

The assassin ignored Zarfo. To Reith he said, "Please do not make an undignified display. The process then becomes protracted and painful for us all. So then-"

Zarfo roared: "Stand away; have I not warned you?" He snatched up a chair and struck the assassin to the ground. Zarfo was not yet satisfied. He picked up the splint, jabbed it into the back of the man's thigh, through the rust-ocher corduroy of his trousers. "Halt!" wailed the assassin. "That is Inoculation Number One!"

Zarfo seized a handful of splints from the splayed-open wallet. "And here," he roared, "are numbers Two to Twelve!" And with a foot on the man's neck he thrust the handful into the twitching buttocks. "There you are, you knave! Do you want the next episode, Numbers Thirteen to Twenty-four?"

"No, no, let me be; I am a dead man now!"

"If not, you're a cheat as well as an assassin!"

Here's the first part of an interview with Mr Vance from 1976:

And here is the man himself, playing the ukulele and kazoo (his schtick):

Thanks, Jack... thanks for everything.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Alinsky! Alinsky! Alinsky!

The inspiration for today's post comes straight from the House of Substance. Monsieur McGravitas is riffing on a sad post by "Townhall" doofus John Hawkins:

10 Musicians Who Should Be Blacklisted By Conservatives

Predictably, the list itself largely consists of people who haven't recorded anything of note in the last decade- as Mr McGravitas puts it: We here omit the various crimes of the artists named - saying things - in order to simply list them and let you, the reader, decide how the state of popular music would be rocked if conservatives gave up on:

Sheryl Crow
The Dixie Chicks
Bruce Springsteen
Bette Midler
Barbra Streisand
Kanye West

Yeah, it's just sad and out-of-touch, like all conservative attacks on last decade's pop culture. For me, though, the most interesting feature of the original piece is the invocation of combination bête noire and inspiration Saul Alinsky: "Always remember the first rule of power tactics: Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have." -- Saul Alinsky

I'd never heard of Saul Alinsky before the right-wingers elevated him to the status of combination Public Enemy Number One and Sensei. Most of the liberals I know are inspired by FDR, Woody Guthrie, and RFK, and are unfamiliar with Alinsky. To my Northeastern Establishment ears, "Saul Alinsky" is merely a poorly-attempted dogwhistle signifying "Jewy Jew Jew", a successor to "Upper West Side NPR Liberal" which is easier to gloss over ("we're not anti-Semitic, we just hate this one guy"). Googling "Saul Alinsky", the majority of the results lead to right-wing websites. In the first page of results, we even have a post by dopey John Hawkins (not gonna link, check it out for yourselves): 12 Ways To Use Saul Alinsky's Rules For Radicals Against Liberals. In the post, Hawkins writes:

Saul Alinsky was a brilliant man. Evil, but brilliant. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, everyone on the Left from the President on down is playing by his rules in the political arena.

EVERYONE on the left is playing by the rules of this evil man... therefore conservatives have to emulate this evil man. Got it? Hated enemy and inspirational tactician, Saul Alinsky serves as a combination Emmanuel Goldstein and Sun Tzu.

It's no wonder that conservatives are so unhinged- the cognitive dissonance necessary to simultaneously demonize and lionize a figure of no great significance would be enough to disorder the most brilliant mind, and righties like Hawkins are far from brilliance.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend

Ten years after the "Iraq War" began, more than ten since we invaded Afghanistan... and it's Memorial Day weekend. I fervently hope that the country can wind down from "perpetual war" status soon, so we can stop throwing young men and women into the meat grinder. As I did last year, I will "outsource" my Memorial Day post to Eric Bogle, who wrote one of the most poignant critiques of war, and the cultures that produce endless war:

Now young Willie McBride I can't help but wonder why
Do all those who lie here know why they died
And did they believe when they answered the cause
Did they really believe that this war would end wars
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying was all done in vain
For young Willie McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

L-O-N-G Night

On the workfront, the organization I work for has rented out our property to **REDACTED**, so that they can **REDACTED** a **REDACTED**. Our customers have been on-site for about three weeks, and will remain until mid-June. Last night was their longest workday- they estimated that they would be on-site until 5AM or thereabouts. I drove (I didn't want to leave the main building locked, because they are using it as their "staging" area, plus it's raining like hell yet again) by the section of the property where they are working at 7AM to check on their progress and they seem to be wrapping up. The general rule of thumb is "take the time they tell you they'll be here until and add two hours".

On a typical night, I range all over the property, making sure the premises are in order and prowling around with mah preshus kittehs, but I'm pretty much stuck on "doorman" duty while the work crew is on the premises. I can't even concentrate on doing the prep work for a decent blog post- such is the price of vigilance (plus, I have to confess that I find the project manager on duty attractive enough to be distractive- petite and brainy-looking, with glasses and a ponytail, no makeup, no frills, C-U-T-E).

I believe this is the only stretch when they will be working so late (they usually clear out by 1AM) but I seemed to have gotten through their intrusion on my late-night routine with a minimum of fuss.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Urban Boy Diggin' Country...

Country music, like all other genres, is subject to Sturgeon's Law, but when you run into one of those songs which falls into the good 10%, you're in for a treat. The new single by country (or is it alt-country?) artist Caitlin Rose is fantastic. All I can say is, "What a voice!" I imagine you'll be just as smitten as I was when you hear this melancholy but sweet number:

I hope this becomes a big breakout single, but the Balkanization (WTF, Google spellcheck?) of radio may keep it off the "rawk" or "pawp" stations. Sturgeon's Law obviously applies to radio here in the 'States.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

High Water Mark

I always joke that my job is cushy, except when it's not. Today was firmly in the "not" column. I drove to work in a downpour- driving on the local roads was like riding in a log flume, my car was throwing up quite a spray. When I got to work, the basement was flooded as badly as it was during Hurricane Irene. My first order of business was getting a pump in working order to reduce the water level outside the basement doors (I don't know if the "day shift" even knows the pump is still there, but I almost never forget anything). Thankfully, I had picked up a pair of "water shoes" in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of at least one kayaking trip this summer. I joked to the Director of Operations, who was on site to assess the situation, that I usually packed for work as if I were on a camping trip but that today, luckily, I had packed as if for a boating trip. Once again, I found myself calf-deep in dirty water, making sure the drains were clear and assessing the pump operation. I also hastily dug a drainage trench in a slope behind to building to re-route a rivulet that was pouring off the roof into the basement. I'll have to point this problem out to the head of grounds and maintenance (my boss), and talk about a more permanent solution to the drainage problem. Currently, there is a team from a cleaning contractor using wet vacs and industrial dryers to "unswamp" the basement.

As if the flood and the subsequent unpleasantness weren't enough, one of my beloved on-site mulberry trees is beginning to be uprooted, and is currently blocking the footpath to our employee parking lot. Tragically, it's impinging on some of the overhead wires, so it'll have to come down. It wouldn't hurt so bad if the tree wasn't chock-full of green fruits which would have been utterly delicious in a month or so.

While I was puttering around trying to mitigate the flooding, I found a little friend who was swimming in water above its head- I grabbed it and let it loose in a nice patch of pachysandra:

Hey, buddy, you're a terrestrial amphibian, you'd be happier on dryish land... for that matter, so would I.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Post Lecture Laziness- Consciousness Copout

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Heather Berlin of Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr Berlin's talk was focused on consciousness. John Searle defined consciousness as "what goes away when you fall into a deep, dreamless sleep", another definition is "what if feels like to be you" Dr Berlin attended a conference in which the consensus was that consciousness is "first person subjective experience".

I have to confess, I forgot to bring my notebook to the lecture (and I drank a whole lot of beer, and I have to deal with a lot of people going in and out of the workplace tonight, so my attention is focused elsewhere)- luckily, I found a video of Dr Berlin's presentation which is virtually identical to last night's lecture. Crack open a beer and watch Dr Berlin lecture on perception, subliminal stimuli, and dissociation:

For those pressed for time, here is a short version of the talk:

One amazing bit of data from her lecture is that the unconscious tends to play more of a role in major decision making than in minor decision making- buying a phone tends to be more of a "conscious" choice, while buying a house tends to be more of a "gut" decision. In my gut, I know that I am slacking off in the recap of yet another top-notch Secret Science Club lecture.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ugliness is Contagious

Mrs. Polly and Betty Cracker have done a bang-up job covering the hypocrisy regarding disaster relief in the wake of the horrific Oklahoma tornado. I am cycling through anger at the Republicans voting against Sandy relief, disgust at the antics of Oklahoma's congressmorons, schadenfreude at the "punishment" felt the dupes who voted in these anti-disaster relief and global warming denier assholes, and self-disgust. Coburn and Inhofe are ugly, ugly people, and I find myself catching a bit of that ugliness when I feel that schadenfreude. The cruelest thing you can say to a conservative is, "I hope you are forced to live under the policies that you espouse."

That being said, a trip to Brooklyn for a beer and a science lecture will have me feeling better in no time. I'm sure I'll snap out of this cycle of ugliness and end up making a donation to the Red Cross... I'm surely not proud of the negative feelings I'm experiencing, but I can't lie about them.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mom Is Cooler than I Am.

Mom called from Dulles International Airport. She's flying to Italy to hang out with my brother Vincenzo and his family. She's taking a side trip to Switzerland to hang out with my brother Sweetums and his family. She'll be in the Old World for three weeks. Before she hung up, she told me, "Don't work too hard!" Mom sure is enjoying her retirement.

I wish I were as cool as she is. Bon voyage ma mère!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Expanding the Menu

Live and learn, that's what I say. Imagine my surprise when, after spending much of my childhood living in a house which had a gorgeous Wisteria climbing the telephone pole guy wire in front, I finally find out that Wisteria blossoms are not only edible, but delicious- they have a slight sweetness that compares favorably to the flavor of redbud blossoms. The rest of the plant is iffy, and the raw seeds are toxic.

Anyway, having found out that Wisteria is delicious, I decided to check out the most magnificent Wisteria I've ever seen. When the museum docent asked me what I was doing, I told her that I figured my admission price should include a taste of the flowers.

The mark on the side of my head from her shoe should fade in a couple of days...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

From the "I Think I Shall Now Be Sick" Files

Via Crooks and Liars, we have the sordid tale of a right-wing nutcase threatening to shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina. To me, the combination of warped sexuality and wanton violence is particularly depraved. It's one thing to lambast one's political opponents, but it's an entirely different thing to fantasize about performing acts of sexualized violence on them, and to watch them die in agony.

There is an infection running through our society, a melange of rage, sexism, and cruelty that periodically erupts into boils in places like Cleveland and Steubenville (sorry Ohioans, I know it happens everywhere). While right-wing nut Peter Santilli most likely hasn't engaged in acts of sexual violence against women, his screed indicates that, mentally, he is capable of it. While his internet rant isn't the pus-filled boil that erupted on live television, it's the pathogen coursing through the patient which ultimately results in the boils, a slightly more virulent strain of the pathogen which results in verbal attacks on women almost invariably involving a sexual component. While the dismantling of Rape Culture is going to be an ongoing exercise in social engineering, I can only hope that sexualized death threats against a former high-ranking government official will merit a visit by the Secret Service.

In the meantime, I think I shall now be sick.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's Time to Relax, You've Worked Your Arse Off

If you don't read Aunt Snow's blog, you are doing yourself a disservice. Aunt Snow has been waging a one-woman campaign against Beauty Deficit Disorder for the past five years. Anyway, her post yesterday had me pondering how terrible conditions are for Joe and Jane Schmo, who really just want to earn a decent living and have a little left over so they can enjoy themselves and provide for the education of their children. Instead, we have yet another factory in Asia collapsing and killing workers, we have a war on overtime pay here in the States, and we have a Congress which is doing everything but working on a jobs bill.

On the homefront, I had a long conversation with one of the IT guys (incidentally, the guy who trained me on my first day on the job before he transferred to the Main Office), and he was lamenting the fact that he'd have to take comp. time instead of overtime pay for working a big event this weekend. Myself, I'm doing okay, but a lot of my job satisfaction has to do with the fact that I work in a setting of incredible beauty, no matter which site I am assigned to. Reading Aunt Snow's post reminded me of one of my favorite uptempo sad songs, the Jam's Smithers-Jones, a melancholy bit of workaday social realism penned by the band's bassist Bruce Foxton (this video seems to be a post-Jam Foxton vehicle):

It's time to relax, now you've worked your arse off,
But the only one smiling is the suntanned boss.
Work, and work, and work 'til you die
There's plenty more fish in the sea to fry

Here's an acoustic take on the number by Mr Foxton and some friends from other punk and new wave bands (including the inimitable Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers, a band which performed the song while Mr Foxton did his turn as their bass player.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Latest Musical Obsession

It's been a hectic day at work- we had a tour bus full of visitors from Maryland visiting, and some of them needed some assistance with misplaced items (a camera and a couple of umbrellas), my co-worker Moses was being extremely high-maintenance (and who am I to complain? he runs the place), and one of our contractors was here working late. To compound matters, we have some customers renting one of our buildings for a major project (things are going to get R-E-A-L B-U-S-Y real soon) and I have to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" after they leave our site.

Anyway, I haven't had time to read up on any of a number of fascinating topics that have popped up this week, so I am going to fall back on the lazy "post music" gambit. The song "I've Got a Proposition for You" by the band Artichoke is a catchy-yet-snarky number about an e-mail scam, and it's my latest musical obsession:

I've Got a Proposition for You

I don't know if I'd crank it up to "11" (it not being that sort of song), but I've been hitting the "replay" button a hell of a lot of times.

Wow, first time I've ever embedded an audio file on the blog... this could become a WAIT FOR IT! musical obsession.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Passing of America's Psychologist

Yesterday, Dr. Joyce Brothers, who introduced pop psychology to American television audiences departed from this world. Dr. Brothers earned her doctorate in psychology in 1953, a time when most women faced obstacles in the workplace and academia, and she earned instant notoriety when she demonstrated an exhaustive knowledge of boxing while a contestant in the "$64,000 Question" game show (her husband was a medical resident earning a $50/month stipend):

After her stupendous turn at the game show, Dr Brothers practically invented the field of media psychology, appearing on the radio, television, and syndicated advice columns. Throughout her career, Dr. Brothers displayed an affable charm, and could calmly dispense advice on topics that could fluster even a snarksmith:

Dr. Brothers also had serious geek cred, besides earning a doctorate in psychology, she even rolled some polyhedrals with Uncle Gary.

Of course, Dr Brothers did enable the careers of other self-help "gurus", such as Dr Phil and the like, but I can't blame her for the dunderheadedness of others. She herself came across as a class act, a wise counsellor, and a demystifier of formerly taboo subjects... and that is a legacy to celebrate.

Monday, May 13, 2013


At the mothership, Monsieur McGravitas linked to a Boing Boing article about Newt Gingrich being stymied by a smartphone. If you can stomach looking at Newt's face, and hearing Newt's voice, here is a video of Newt, the world's dumbest public intellectual musing on an all-but ubiquitous device (I'm still holding out on getting one):

Not being too savvy, Newt allowed comments to be posted, and commenter "oyyour" nails it perfectly with the comment:

The device is known as a "smart phone." The person holding the device is known as a "dumb fuck."

Given my somewhat jaundiced view of the present compared to the high-tech dreams of the height of the "Space Age", I have to repeat my acerbic characterization of modern technology:

In the 1960's we had a view of a future characterized by flying cars and bubble cities. No bubble cities... no moon colonies... no flying cars... at least we've got one thing those old-timey futurists never foresaw, we've got phones we can watch porn on.

Here's my suggestion for Newt, given the way most people use the internet: POCKET O' PORN.

Whatever Newt decides to call it, I hope he finds it useful in his attempts to cope with this strange new world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mothers' Day

Here's wishing a Happy Mothers' Day to all of the lovely mothers in my life, in my blogroll, and in my readership. Raising the next generation of inhabitants of the planet is an extremely difficult task, and a task that it often denigrated by, to put it bluntly, empathy-lacking d-bags. I'm going to dust off an old post about mom because I don't think I could top it:

Today being Mothers' Day, I figured I'd write about mom. Mom, simply put, is the best... always has been. There are five of us, so we were never inundated with consumer goods, but the house was full of books, and there was always money for enrichment programs, classes, trips to cultural and historic sites. Mom raised us with a set of high expectations, but gave us a tremendous amount of freedom. People always assumed that she was a strict disciplinarian, but she never had to be- she laid down her rules, she explained why she demanded this sort of behavior, and we lived up to her high standards. Rule number one, of course, was that you had to perform well academically, and the other rules pretty much proceeded from there (regarding attendance, she told us, "The only reason you'll miss a day of school is due to a death in the family... yours."). She gave us plenty of opportunities for constructive recreation, so we really didn't have time to screw up or pick up bad habits.

Sometimes times were tough (mom had to pawn her accordion to buy medicine for one of us) but there was always enough food on the table so that friends could stop by... and they did. The door was always open, and company was a constant. One summer, my college roommate stayed with us so he could work in a Manhattan office rather than a Neenah foundry. Many times, I'd come home from work and find friends over (they had spare key privileges), putting a case of beer on ice and raiding the fridge. When my brother Sweetums took a round-the-world trip, he told people, "If you are visiting New York, call ahead, and stop by", and people did. No matter where you came from, or what you looked like, or what language you spoke at home, the door was open. As can be imagined, there are a lot of "adopted" children, from all parts of the globe.

The door is still always open. Old family friends still stop by in the course of their travels, she has co-workers who call her "ma", and she is a pillar of her neighborhood. Yeah, mom kicks ass. I'll be heading down to Virginia later this week to hang out with mom, and to party with the family of a classmate of my brother Vincenzo who is a member of the extended family. The extended family consists of thousands of people, by the way. Mom wouldn't have things any other way.

Reading over this post, I have to relate a funny story about my brother Vincenzo's graduation. Vin gave out the home address to all of his classmates and told them, "If you need a place to stay for a weekend, or you need any help, my family is not too far away." Over the course of the years, we had over a thousand people stop by or pass through, a sizable number of them attained "extended family" status, and still drop in to see mom when they are in the vicinity. One of Vin's classmates was the son of a high-ranking Nigerian politico- he was a tall kid with facial scarification to indicate his ethnic affiliation and social status. Due to his skill in boxing, he was nicknamed the "Nigerian Nightmare"- he was tall and rangy, and had a longer reach than a lot of the guys in his weight class, so he could defend himself by throwing a jab an opponent and dancing back. After the big graduation ceremony, as soon as he saw my mom, he shouted, "MAMA!" and ran over to give her a hug. The sight of a tall, rangy Nigerian aristocrat hugging a short blonde lady attracted the attention of most of the crowd, and then things got really amusing... slowly but surely, a receiving line formed and dozens of grads lined up to hug "MA" and thank her for all of her support. Needless to say, she confused the hell out of a lot of people that day.

Happy Mothers' Day to all, especially to Mom. XXOO

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Paleontological Repatriation

In yesterday's post, I linked to a picture of the coolest fossil ever found, not the most important fossil ever found, but definitely the coolest- the remains of a Velociraptor mongoliensis and a Protoceratops andrewsi killed and buried by a natural disaster (probably a sandstorm or dune collapse) while locked in a deadly struggle. The fossil was found in Mongolia, which had been a source of rich fossil finds since the 1920s. When I first saw a picture of this fossil (to see just how awesome it is, check out these photos of a cast of it) as a child, I was bound and determined to travel to Ulan Bator to see it one day.

The apex predator of Cretaceous Mongolia was a close relative of Tyrannosaurus rex named Tarbosaurus bataar (some paleontologists consider it a species of Tyrannosaurus, but I, admittedly not an expert, side with those who feel it should be a separate genus- it all depends on whether you're a "lumper" or a "splitter", taxonomically speaking). Last year, a nearly complete T. bataar skeleton was sold at auction to an anonymous private bidder pending court approval. Happily, a year later, the sale of the fossil remains was blocked and the T. bataar will be returned to the people of Mongolia. The fossil remains of the past are too important to be plundered by black marketeers, sold to private individuals, and locked away from researchers and the public.

Mongolia's victory in this case is also our victory. It is in the nature of scientific inquiry to share knowledge and resources. Back in 2000, the Mongolian government loaned the fighting dinosaurs fossil to the American Museum of Natural History, and I was able to travel to Manhattan to see the fossil for about four bucks round-trip rather than trekking to Ulan Bator at great expense. With the Mongolian people in possession of the beautiful Tarbosaurus bataar fossil, I stand a better chance of seeing it in New York than I would have had if the fossil had ended up in a private collection of a Manhattan vulture capitalist.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Today, I Am a Sad Eight Year Old

Via Monsieur Edroso, I learned that Ray Harryhausen died yesterday. Sadly, I had no idea he had still been with us as of yesterday morning. Mr Harryhausen was a towering figure in the cinematic special-effects world, taking up the torch of Willis O'Brien and passing it to just about everybody in the special effects industry. The redoubtable Smut Clyde linked to John Coulthart's post, which pointed out Ray Harryhausen's mastery of pencil-and-charcoal, which drew inspiration from the works of Gustave Doré. Harryhausen was a masterful sculptor, and his grasp of anatomy gave his fanciful creations a patina of realism.

Ray Harryhausen's movies were always a treat when they were featured on the local television station's "4:30 Movie". Harryhausen's interpretations of Greek myths, along with the contemporaneous children's retellings by the D'Aulaires, inspired at least two generations of dreamers. Ray Harryhausen's ouvre helped to popularize the now-ubiquitous fantasy genre. Without Ray, would the "Star Wars", "Harry Potter", and "Game of Thrones" franchises have been the smash hits they are?

Enough of my weepy-eyed yapping, the best way to pay homage to the man is to post some videos of his work. I'm going to post some of my personal favorites (Roy posted the famous "skeleton battle" from 1963's Jason and the Argonauts, so I'll leave that wonderful scene out of this post).

Here is a great sequence involving a phorusrhacid attack a castaways' campsite in 1961's Mysterious Island:

The scene from Jason and the Argonauts in which Talos awakens has the perfect amount of creepiness for a children's matinee:

The most eye-popping visual affect in 1974's Golden Voyage of Sinbad was Caroline Munro's décolletage, but Ray's sequence involving an animated statue of Kali is pretty nifty:

In 1969's Valley of Gwangi, Ray animated two dinosaurs fighting, which is almost as cool as two dinosaurs actually fighting:

The Dragon-vs-Cyclops fight from 1958's Seventh Voyage of Sinbad is perhaps the coolest monster fight of them all:

Rest in peace, Ray, you made afternoon matinees memorable, and cinema fantastic.

POSTSCRIPT: It hit me after posting this... Mysterious Island, with its bird attack, crab attack, giant bee scene, and cephalopod scene, could have been titled Attack of the Giant Delicious Things. It could be interpreted as a piece of cinematic food porn to rival Tampopo or Big Night.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I Wanted to Smack that Caledonian Bastard

Every once in a while, I hear a commercial that chaps my ass. Well, get prepared for a rant, because this one involved a topic about which I've bloviated before. Today, the offending ad was a radio commercial for a combination fertilizer and weed killer... you all know where this is going, right? The commercial specifically singled out dandelions and clover, both of which are edible. Even more infuriating, the ad stated that clover plants rob nutrients from the soil while nothing could be further than the truth. Being a masochist, if it's necessary for a post, I hunted down a video for a commercial for the product, which features a bearded Caledonian pitchman:

Again, with the dandelion hate! WTF, suburbanites? EVERY PART OF THE DANDELION IS EDIBLE! Plus, the yellow flowers are showy and produce seedy heads that children love. The travesty of this commercial is only compounded by the hate of chickweed, which is (yeah, you got it) also edible. Like I wrote in my previous rant, people are willing to dump chemicals on their lawns to kill useful plants so that they can grow useless plants. It doesn't make any friggin' sense to me (for the record, I live in an apartment in a multi-family home with a small patch of dirt in front of it- I planted some sunflower seeds in that small patch, which also has some delicious lambs quarters popping up in it).

I'm not an overly sensitive person, but this commercial really cheesed me off... it just touched on a couple of my biggest pet peeves. I mean, that whole dandelion hate thing really has to stop, and this Scottish interloper isn't helping any.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Yesterday afternoon, I picked a bumper crop of stinging nettles on the job. Regular readers of my blog will know that I subsist largely on nettle-related dishes in the Spring. Typically, I make a whole lot of creamed nettles (use your favorite creamed spinach recipe, just substitute nettles for the spinach) which are delicious served on toast, topped with an egg. I also make a spanakopita variant with nettles added to the spinach. This year, I am definitely adding nettle pesto to the repertoire.

Even though I wear gloves while I pick nettles, an occasional stinging hair gets through sometimes. The sting of the nettles of North America, while painful for a short duration, is harmless (this is not true of New Zealand's death nettle- there's a "death nettle/death metal joke in here somewhere) and has been used as a folk remedy for osteoarthritis throughout history. As someone who's experienced the mild "burn" of nettles with some frequency, I can see that it would make a good substitute for IcyHot- as the current indie pop hit goes, it's better to feel pain, than nothing at all.

Stinging nettles grow all over the various worksites that I cover, so I will have delicious, nutritious nettles to feast on until June, when the plants start to flower and accumulate cystoliths. As I do every spring, I am urging you to try stinging nettles- they are easy to identify and they are ubiquitous. With food costs being high, and food quality being low, what could be better than high-quality free food?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

PELIGRO! El Cinco de Mao Vuelve!

Today, the fifth of May, marks an insidious annual attempt to lure John and Jane Q. Public into ignoring the threat to America posed by the Mexican Menace, also known as El Peligro Mejicano. While unsuspecting Americans quaff frosty bottles of Corona beer (the name symbolizes the attempt to establish an Aztec kingdom in the U.S. after the overthrow of the democratic republic), the campaign to destroy America proceeds rapidamente. The threat is subtle, as even corn-fed Midwesterners are being transformed into Mesoamerican corn people through, you got it, the consumption of corn. If God wanted humans to consume corn, corn would be naturally edible, with no need to resort to fiendish Aztec alchemy to render the stuff wholesome. At any rate, last year, the dumbest man in America stumbled upon the connection between the Mexicans and the Communists, a plot I covered in a post I wrote last year.

Will the fiendish Cinco de Mao plot succeed? With a heavy heart (I made a bunch of quesadillas with chorizo for lunch yesterday and will have a bigass pot of chili simmering on the stove later today), I have to say it's only A Matter of Time:

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Quiet Down, It's After 4AM!

In the course of my regular on-the-job walkabout, I heard a chorus of coyotes howling to beat the band not far from our grounds. I work about fifteen miles north of New York City, one of the most densely populated areas of the planet. Of course, coyotes have established a presence in New York City, particularly in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, but it's still odd to hear them singing in the suburbs.

Back in December, I had a funny run-in with a local coyote. During the course of a low-key fundraising event, I was walking through the parking lot to assess the number of available spaces (we had several "showtimes", so we had adequate parking as long as too many people didn't linger too long after each performance). While I was walking through the lot, I saw a rather handsome dog about thirty feet away from me. A few weeks earlier, a neighbor's whippet had gotten loose and ended up at our front door. We took the dog in and called the number on her tag so her owner could retrieve her. I figured I'd do the same for this nice-looking dog, which I thought could have been a Collie-German Shepherd mix. So there I was, standing in the parking lot calling out, "Nice doggie! Good doggie! C'mere doggie!" Meanwhile, this beast is looking at me as if to say, "What the hell are you up to, you dumb, hairless primate?" Then the "nice doggie" turned around, and I noticed the bushy tail canted at an angle... nice doggie, my ass! The coyote then leisurely sauntered off, then disappeared between two nearby houses. Saucy beast, it acted as if it owned the whole neighborhood.

Strangely, I didn't blog about this back in December, probably because I was too busy posting Yukon Cornelius/Abominable Snow Monster slashfic.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lazy May? Maybe Lazy...

There's something about this time of year which just sucks the blogging ambition out of a bastard. Perhaps it's that May may be the most beautiful month of the year in these parts- the trees being festooned with blossoms, and the temperatures being optimal- none of that summer humidity has thickened the air yet. At any rate, it's hard to keep one's mind on suitable blog topics. Today was particularly non-conducive to blogging. I was too lazy to prepare lunch for myself, so I hit the Yonkers location of the famous Pepe's Pizza and got one of their storied white clam pizzas. I was in such a good mood, I asked the pizzaolo if he'd plate up a slice so the charmer behind me in line (she was getting a salad to take back to her office) could try the place's signature dish. I, myself, dined in a local park, while jealous geese eyed my perfectly-crisp crusts with their covetous avian eyes. Sorry, no feeding the wildlife, or you'll have a lot to anser for.

When I finally got on my way to work, I heard one of my all-time favorite songs on the radi-adi-o:

Getting to work, I whizzed through the preliminaries of the job and, when I had all of my ducks in a row the former site-director (who gave notice and will be leaving for a more conventional office job in a week) asked me to meet a couple of very charming women who are bringing a group to our site next week. I gave them a basic tour of the site and introduced them to Moses. After the tour, I gave them a local restaurant recommendation and bid them adieu.

Coming back to the office, I found that our shop manager, a caring, generous gentleman from the South of France, had given me and the guys in my department a bag of mini-muffins. Merci, ami! I had found out earlier that he had offered a retirement package to Moses, who is about fifteen years old. He was willing to take Moses home so he could ease into the life of a housecat (Moses has been spending a lot of time in the offices lately, mooching treats and hanging out). The general staff consensus is that Moses should stay- he's had a storied career as a mouser, and all of the attention he receives from his two-legged co-workers is crucial to his well-being.

The evening was so nice, I spent quite a bit of time outside, with side trips to my office to post blog comments and to fire off an e-mail to the head of my department about some necessary smoke detector maintenance (the filters need a cleaning, and I believe the alarm company has to send a technician to do that). Overall, I've had little time to compose a more substantial blog post, but this is May, after all, so I don't feel bad about blog-slacking.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Supply Side Jesus Wept!

To commemorate International Workers' Day, that most socialist of days, a wild-eyed South American firebrand Pope made a statement explicitly decrying wage-slavery in the wake of the horrific Bangladeshi garment factory collapse that killed more than 400 people. Supply Side Jesus weeps!

Let's see what this Argentine socialist said merely to insult the Masters of the Universe:

"Not paying a just [wage], not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making personal profit. That goes against God! How many times – how many times – have we read in 'L'Osservatore Romano' .... A headline that impressed me so much the day of the Bangladesh tragedy, 'Living on 38 euros a month': this was the payment of these people who have died ... And this is called 'slave labor!'. And today in this world there is slavery that is made with the most beautiful gift that God has given to man: the ability to create, to work, to be the makers of our own dignity. How many brothers and sisters throughout the world are in this situation because of these, economic, social, political attitudes and so on ... ".

What kind of moral authority does this guy think he has? He'll never be a god. Let's hear what a guy who will actually become a god has to say about the subject of wage slavery, and how awesome it is:

Again, I say, which of these two has the moral authority, Pancho from the Pampas, or a well-coiffed MotU who will someday become the god of his very own planet?