Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Flipper? More Like Tripper!

For a break from the general grim, stupid, and grimstupid news, how about a weird nature story? It seems that dolphins are getting high by tormenting, but not harming, toxic pufferfish, which release their toxin when they 'puff'. The tripping dolphins pass around their hapless drug paraphernalia like pot smokers passing a spleef:

The dolphins were filmed gently playing with the puffer, passing it between each other for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, unlike the fish they had caught as prey which were swiftly torn apart.

For the record, a dutchie is a cooking utensil, unlike a pufferfish. Here's a video of some dolphins taking a puff:

I guess this explains why they are always smiling...

Monday, February 18, 2019

Stolen Glory, Presidents' Day Style

Presidents' Day is a strange holiday, though it's originally a portmanteau of Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, it's now usually seen as a catchall for all of our Chief Executives. Among this rarefied group are generally good, competent men, such as Lincoln, Eisenhower, the Roosevelts, the Adams family (but not the Addams Family), and Obama, generally good but ineffectual men such as Carter and Hayes, bad but effective men such as Andrew Jackson, bad and ineffective men, such as Warren G. Harding, Reagan, the Bushes, and our current Dotard, and a whole slew of men who blend good and bad features... flawed heroes such as Washington, Jefferson, and Monroe- men whose cognitive dissonance allowed them to 'champion' freedom while owning slaves. All are lumped together on this holiday, the greats and those whose names are generally useful to know on Trivia Night (for the record, one of the guys on my team has all of the presidents memorized while I am the world geography and science guy).

Then there's this guy:

I don't know why John and John decided to lionize this particular president, but the song must have been a boo to thousands of students since its release.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Public Accomodations Are Subpar

The public restroom facilities for the Woodlawn Cemetery side of Jerome Avenue aren't exactly great:

I'm in a confessional mood... oftimes, when I ride on the 4 Train, I am returning from a Big Beer Night in Brooklyn, and the combination of copious amounts of beer and a one-and-a-half hour train ride home often has me walking into the wooded section of Van Cortlandt Park opposite the cemetery to micturate. When I saw this porcelain bowl on the side of the street, I wasn't even tempted to utilize it.

On a serious note, there's always a lot of trash dumped in this vicinity, which is a shame, because it's one of the most beautiful areas of the Bronx, being sandwiched between two of the city's biggest green spaces.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Bad News for Readers

There are heroes who fly under the radar by virtue of their ubiquity, and we lost one this week. Betty Ballantine, who helped to introduce high quality paperbacks to the United States, died at the age of ninety-nine. Along with her husband Ian, Betty imported Penguin paperbacks from the UK and formed Bantam Books and Ballantine Books. The name 'Ballantine' has always formed a big part of my bookshelf contents, the Ballantines introduced authorized versions of such SFF classics as The Hobbit and Fahrenheit 451 to the American reading public.

Ballantine Books also published the stellar Ballantine Adult Fantasy (check your dirty minds!) Series, which was edited by Lin Carter, who was a hack writer but an outstanding editor, even curator, of literature. The series included novels and short story collections by such favorite authors of mine as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Evangeline Walton, Katherine Kurtz, William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen, and Poul Anderson. The series forms a perfect introduction to the Literature of the Imagination of the early-to-mid Twentieth Century.

Apparently, Ms Ballantine also had a trickster's streak in her as well:

One memorable Ballantine release was inspired by a hoax. In 1956, nighttime radio personality Jean Shepherd was telling listeners that they should ask for a new novel called “I, Libertine,” by Frederick R. Ewing. Bestsellers at the time were based in part on requests at bookstores, and demand was so high that “I, Libertine” appeared on some lists.

But, as Shepherd’s fans knew, and the public only later found out, neither book nor author existed. So Ian Ballantine convinced a friend, science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, to write — and write quickly — an actual “I, Libertine.” Shepherd, who provided the book’s outline, recalled years later that Sturgeon worked so hard he fell asleep before he finished the manuscript. Betty Ballantine stepped in and handled the last chapter, and “I, Libertine” went to print.

For the record, Theodore Sturgeon is best known for Sturgeon's Law, now commonly rendered as "ninety percent of everything is crap". Betty Ballantine, along with her husband and her staff, made sure that ninety percent of her company's output was most certainly not crap. Just looking at my library will fill me with gratitude for her long, storied (ha!) career.

Friday, February 15, 2019

THIS Is Why You Should Play D&D

As kids, we played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, which for those unfamiliar with the game is basically a codified version of make-believe, a sort of improvisational storytelling underpinned with statistics and random number generation achieved through the use of funny dice. Players create characters defined by statistics indicating their physical and mental attributes (in the original: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma) which determine how good they are at performing various tasks and how much punishment they can take before they are incapacitated or die in the course of the adventures that form the plots of the game. Blogger Jeff Rients wrote the best succinct description of the basic premise of the game: "You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula."

The game is moderated by a referee, known in the parlance as a Dungeon Master, who sets up the premise of the various adventures, creates the cast of non-player characters (allies, adversaries, bystanders, pretty much the 'inhabitants' of the game world), draws the maps of the adventure scenes, and devises the various obstacles and rewards the players deal with- encounters, tricks, traps. One of the tropes of the game is the dungeon full of deathtraps which must be circumvented for the players to succeed...

Which brings us to Philly- here we have a video of some guys touring a derelict house, guys who seem to have played a lot of D&D, judging by their skill at finding a trap and their use of a pole to harmlessly trigger it:

I like the content warning at the Philly Voice: (Warning: There is excessive profanity in the video embedded below.) Judging by what these guys encountered, I have to say that there is exactly the right amount of profanity in the video. You can't expect a bunch of Philly guys to speak High Gygaxian when they're stressed out.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tainted Love Day

I have to confess that I've always been cynical about Valentine's Day- it really comes across as a made-up holiday engineered to make people in committed relationships feel obligated to spend a lot of money and to make people not in committed relationships feel bad about themselves. I'm not as down on romance as the guys in Gang of Four, but I'm not really big on commercialization/commoditization. As a hilarious aside, one of my cousins used to put her relationship with her boyfriend on hold from Christmas to Valentine's Day so as to avoid the whole present-buying kerfuffle. She can't do that with her marriage these days, but she had a good run while she was still single.

A scant year ago, though it feels like a longer time, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting eclipsed the romantic holiday with its utter horror. The original St Valentine's Day Massacre could be snarked about, it was a gangland slaying and the victims were, as Dotard would put it, bad hombres. Another mass shooting in 1977 in my beloved New Rochelle remains largely forgotten.

The Stoneman Douglas massacre seemed to have marked a shift in the national discourse about gun violence- the survivors were eloquent and media savvy, the victims were heroic, those who lost their lives trying to save their students, their friends. Sadly, though, nothing substantial has been done, and mass shootings still occur regularly. There were attempts, thankfully failed, to portray the shooter as a victim of bullying, and repeated attacks on the survivors' character, which helped to make this past year seem like a slog. The real tragedy is that there will never be a normal for these kids, never a February 14th which will be about overpriced roses or chocolate samplers. Title taken from a classic of my adolescence.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Loss of Opportunity

I'd like to think that I am an empathetic man, but I have to note that I am sadder about the loss of functionality of a robot than I am about the death of a human being. Of course, the robot added vastly to the sum of human knowledge while the human was a pox on our society...

The Opportunity Rover has gone silent after fifteen years, rendered powerless by a dust storm which covered its solar panels. The rover was only meant to function for three months, but nevertheless it persisted for fifteen years, a decent lifespan for a cat or a dog, much less a Mars rover. Opportunity discovered evidence that liquid water once existed on the surface of Mars. Everyone should have such a long and storied career!

I confess that I feel a bit weird mourning the death of a cute little robot languishing in a distant extraterrestrial desert... I blame George Lucas.