Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lunacy? Just a Loon

Yesterday's post was about the lunacy attending the lunar eclipse tetrad, but today's post is about a single loon. This morning, I set my clock at 3AM to get a gander at the eclipse, but the sky was too overcast to see the moon at that time. I reset the alarm for 7AM so I could get out of the house in time to meet a co-worker at the train station so we could carpool to our annual all-staff meeting. I arrived in the vicinity of the train station twenty minutes early (I had been concerned at a series of dire weather reports, but conditions weren't so bad) and decided to kill some time in a park across the street from the station. While in the park, I saw a spectacular sight, a loon (probably a red-throated loon in winter plumage) fishing in the Hudson River:

Here is a picture of the bird spreading its wings:

I have never seen a loon on the Hudson before, despite my regular jaunts on the river's banks. It was a nice, quiet moment before my trip to the train station and our subsequent trip to the all-staff meeting.

The meeting went well- the President went over the challenges faced by non-profits and the organization's response to these challenges. He discussed a trip to D.C. to testify before congress about the need for funding of the Humanitites, and the constant chasing after grant money. Over a hundred of my co-workers attended the meeting, many of whom I hadn't seen since autumn. I joked about the seasonal staff returning like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, and noted that I was just as happy as the birders who congregate for their return. The meeting went well, boding a more optimistic outlook for the year.

All in all, it was a pretty good day- I even got to take home a pound and a half of a kickass quinoa salad that was part of the luncheon provided by management. Pretty hard to beat that!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bloody Lunacy

Tomorrow, in the wee hours of the morning throughout much of the United States, there will be a total eclipse of the full moon. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth is positioned between the moon and the sun, and the moon is obscured by the shadow (there are two regions of shadow, the penumbral and umbral regions)- during a total eclipse of the moon (as opposed to a total eclipse of the sun or of the heart), sunlight passing through Earth's atmosphere colors the moon a shade of red. This reddish hue has inspired the term "Blood Moon" for eclipses of this sort.

Religious nutbars being what they are, whackaloon John Hagee believes that four coming lunar eclipses signal Earthshaking events, perhaps even the dawn of the "End Times". Religious fundies can even spoil the beauty of the celestial dance.

Religious people are often characterized as humble people, but I think that's total B.S. Every religious fundamentalist sees him-or-herself as the center of momentous events, a witness to the climax of history. In reality, each and every one of us is a tiny speck of matter on a slightly larger speck of matter, as Douglas Adams put it far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy, and I would add, not even a particularly distinguished galaxy at that.

We are not that important in the grand scheme of things, no matter what interpretation of an ambiguous passage in a book written by Bronze Age goatherders and passed through many translations over the course of the last couple of millennia is favored by a crazy religious fundamentalist in Texastan. Get over yourselves, fundies. Enough of this bloody lunacy.

Cross posted at Rumproast.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wonderful Weekend at Work, With One Sad Note

This weekend was great- it being the first weekend that the workplace is open for visitation. The weather was lovely, the wonderful seasonal part-timers who make up the bulk of the organization (most of them retired from other careers, people with several part-time jobs, or people whose spouses are the primary breadwinners) the crowd was nice (I had to yell at a father and teenage son who were wrestling a bit too intensely to "take it down a couple of notches"- it's all fun and games til someone loses and eye... and then it becomes a sport), and the daffodils were in profusion:

With a few dozen staff members and a few hundred visitors on site, Ginger was in her glory, jumping on people's laps and making sure she was the center of attention:

The real story here is that Fred has largely come out of his shell- he would typically run like hell and hide when large crowds descended on the site, but today he plopped himself down in a comfortable spot and gloried in the attention of visitors who wanted to give him friendly ear scritches. Here is an "introspective" looking Fred:

After the crowds left, I ran around for almost an hour locking the place up for the night. Now that everybody's away and the cats are tucked away in their assigned meesing locations, I am enjoying a gorgeous, warm night under an almost-full moon:

There's one bummer to report- one of my co-workers just received a diagnosis of Huntington's Disease over the winter- she is now working out what combination of long-term disability insurance and early retirement benefits (she has twenty years with a department of the New York state government) will suffice to keep her afloat. Her neurologist told her that her high level of activity (she volunteered as an EMT as well as working two jobs) will have an impact in offsetting the neurological deficits she is undergoing. One major goal of Huntington's treatment is fostering plasticity in the brain- gotta keep those neurons connecting. I was hit hard by this revelation because this woman does not have an ounce of meanness in her body- she's one of the most generous spirits I've ever encountered, and I've been lucky to know some fine, fine people all of my life. She's tough, and an optimist, so she's coping as well as anyone I've ever known, but it pains me to see such a skillful person hit with such a debilitation condition.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hanging Out with the Beaumonts at Work

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to hang out with Major Kong at my workplace, where my co-workers gave him a warm welcome. Today, N__B, the Lovely Mrs _B, and Mini_B came up for a visit. Today was our kickoff event of the tourist season, and the weather could not have been better. Mini_B had a lot of interesting things to check out and N__B got an eyeful of some interesting buildings on site- I'm very proud of our **REDACTED** which is a very good example of early "skeleton supported" architecture. N__B also met Ginger and immediately noted the importance of her role as a working mouser. Kudos, Ginger, you count among your admirers a very smart, hardworking individual who realizes that you're not just a pretty face. Fred doesn't like sizable crowds (though he was friendly to the Major and our friends from Ireland) and hid himself for the duration of the event.

It was good to see the __B family, and all of my seasonal co-workers who have returned after a rough winter. The event went really well, which hopefully portends a good season for us. Any other readers, if you are coming to the NY Metro Area, just let me know when you'll be by- it would be great to bring you folks to work.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Synthethized, but Haunting

At the mothership, paleo left a comment about the CNN coverage of the missing Malaysian airliner. For some reason, I was reminded of one of my favorite tunes by synthpop superstar Thomas Dolby. While synthpop is usually thought to be icy and emotionless, Mr "Dolby" brought a certain warmth and emotional depth to his work. As another musician put it, "All this machinery making modern music. Can still be open-hearted. Not so coldly charted, it's really just a question. Of your honesty, yeah, your honesty."

One of Thomas Dolby's most emotionally wrenching songs is One of Our Submarines is Missing, a five-minute opus about the death of his uncle, while serving on a WW2 submarine crew. I just listened to the song three times in succession, and its descriptions of the crew slowly dying in their floundering "Spam tin" give me goosebumps:

The red lights flicker, sonar weak
Air valves hissing open
Half her pressure blown away
Flounder in the ocean

In the chorus, he seems to be singing of the futility of maintaining an empire on which the sun never sets, and the cost in lives that keeping such an empire entails:

Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Shallow water - channel and tide
Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Tired illusion drown in the night

The single was released in the immediate aftermath of the Falklands War, and it is not a stretch to believe that the song was a response to the conflict.

Here is a live performance of the song, in which the ordinarily cerebral Mr Dolby aims for the listeners' hearts, and scores a direct hit:

I just had to update this post to include a video of a 2008 performance by Mr Dolby, in which he is totally rocking the Big Bad Bald look:

I have to write him to ask if he's a long-lost cousin...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What We Missed on Sunday

My great and good friends at Secret Science Central have posted the results of the "Carnivorous Nights" taxidermy contest, and linked to a Village Voice slideshow covering the event. The grand winner of the night was Coney Island stalwart and eccentric genius Takeshi Yamada, who is a genuinely nice guy.

Here's a nice video introduction to Mr Yamada and his gallery of whimsical horrors and fancies:

He was also featured in an AMC show about rogue taxidermists. Here's the finale of the show so ****SPOILERS AHEAD****:

It was too bad I missed the event, what with being stuck at work and all. I imagine what confronting that multi-headed beast after drinking seven or eight beers would have been like...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Take a Major to Work Day

Yesterday, Major Kong left this comment at the mothership:

BBBB – I’ll be in your neck of the woods Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

For those of you who don't know the good Major, he is a pilot who, after an extensive and fascinating military career, now flies for a major freight carrier. Basically, he's a cross between Race Bannon and Santa Claus. Since he is a commercial pilot, when he says "I’ll be in your neck of the woods Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week" he doesn't mean he'll be in your neck of the woods from Tuesday until Thursday- he means he'll be in your neck of the woods on Tuesday, then he'll be back on Wednesday, and he will return on Thursday. Yeah, even more than myself, he's the sleep-deprivation poster boy.

At any rate, we made plans to meet up today- he flew into the region around six-thirty in the morning and sent me an e-mail telling me that he'd arrived and would probably sleep until about noon. Around eleven o'clock, I started driving upstate, to the greater Fishkill metropolitan area, then I pulled over at the three-quarter way point to check my e-mail for the message that the major was ready to road-trip. Shortly before one o'clock, we rendezvoused at his hotel and drove south to my workplace. I had called the site manager earlier in the day to tell him that I would be bringing a friend to the site, and got the all-clear.

When we arrived, there were quite a few co-workers on site, preparing for a spring fundraiser that is taking place this weekend. I introduced the major to the I.T. guys and a few other members of the day shift. While I was making introductions, I noticed that a pleasant-looking young woman had entered the building. I informed her that the site was closed, but I would point out some of the site's salient features. Next thing you know, her parents arrived, and I learned that the three were Westmeath residents on vacation to New York for a week. Since I immediately took a liking to them, I took them along with the major on a tour of our site. My co-worker **REDACTED**, who had just finished giving a tour to a school group, decided to give us an impromptu tour of the site, including a wonderful demonstration of the onsite **REDACTED**, a piece of machinery which I always watch operating with the raucous glee of an eight-year old.

In the course of our tour, I introduced the Major, who is a cat person, and our new friends from Ireland to Fred and Ginger. Atypically, Fred was not shy around strangers and Ginger did not try to climb up the Major's shirt. We bid a grateful farewell to my co-workers, both two- and four-legged and went together to another nearby tourist destination.

While there, I showed friends old and new the **REDACTED** of **REDACTED**, upon whom the character **REDACTED** of **REDACTED** was modeled. We then took a stroll to the **REDACTED** of **REDACTED**, who starting the whole thing off back in the day. The Major and I then took leave of our friends from overseas, it being time we headed north, the major having to report back to work by 7PM.

We took the scenic route north to Fishkill, including a ride on the "goat path" atop the cliffs on the east bank of the Hudson. I hadn't been that way in a long time so I was glad to play the "at home he's a tourist" game. The scenery along this particular stretch of road is nothing short of breathtaking.

When we finally got back to the greater Fishkill metropolitan area, we had an early dinner at a very pleasant local diner and I dropped the Major off at his hotel with plenty of time to spare.

It was a good afternoon- time spent well with friends old and new, and an opportunity to rekindle my love of the place I spend my workdays. Special thanks go to my co-worker **REDACTED**, who went out of his way to provide us with a fantastic experience.