Sunday, March 1, 2015

In Like a Polar Bear

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

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

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Matter of Minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Set a Course for Eternity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Utter Nihilism

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Annual Winter Pilgrimage

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Love of One's Country, Is a Profitable Thing

I figured it was about time I weighed in on Rudy Giuliani's assertion that President Obama doesn't love America. Besides the juvenile nature of Giuliani's statement, let's take a peek at Rudy's love for the "homeland". First things first, though, let's examine how Rudy became a national icon through his own incompetence- in 1999, the Giuliani administration built a high-tech command center in one of the buildings of the World Trade Center, even though the WTC had been the target of a terrorist attack and was known to be a high risk location. A panel of NYPD and Secret Service security experts had advised Giuliani to locate the command cent in Brooklyn, away from the bullseye. Another criticism of the command center location was that the Giuliani administration had a 20 year lease with the WTC owner, with rents costing $1.4 million per year (NY Times link, count your clicks) when the city owned sites in which the center could be located. The reason why Rudy was walking the streets of lower Manhattan is because he had no other place to go, and his incompetence and corruption caused better persons than he to die. The most celebrated professional Giuliani critic is Wayne Barrett, formerly of the Village Voice- read his articles to learn about Rudy's true character and performance.

Despite his dangerous incompetence, Rudy Giuliani inexplicably got a reputation as a security expert, and parlayed that into a personal fortune. In 1989, when he first ran for mayor, Giuliani had a net worth of approximately $450,000 (NY Times link, count your clicks). His current net worth is approximately $45 million- that's what I call failing upwards.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Giuliani's former Police Commissioner and then business partner Bernard Kerik was nominated to head the newly minted "Department of Homeland Security". Kerikrecently was released from federal prison Giuliani's company benefitted from illegal influence peddling with "homeland security" (NY Times link, count your clicks) and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

If Giuliani truly loved his country, he would have served it without lining his pockets with tens of millions of dollars. There's a word for people who are paid for their "love".

NOTE: Title yoinked from Dominic Behan's best known song.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar Night

Roy has been my go-to Oscar prognosticator, mainly because I'm not a big movie fan, but I am a big Roy fan. The only Oscar contender that I saw last year, indeed the only movie I saw on the big screen, was The Imitation Game, which I reviewed. Special thanks to my great and good friends at the Secret Science Club for scoring tickets for a special preview of the film.

In my review I predicted that the film would receive multiple nominations:

I predict that the film is going to do extremely well come Oscar time. It's a WW2 film. It's about a man with a mental condition who is brilliant. It has a gorgeous young star playing a brainiac. That's all catnip for the Academy. I don't know if it will sweep, but I think it'll have a Best Picture nod, with a Best Leading Actor nomination for Benedict Cumberbatch and a Best Leading Actress nod for Keira Knightley.

It would be unfair to the film and to Turing to characterize it as "Rainman vs the Nazis", but in the interest of humor, I will make that grotesque distortion... hell, the film took liberties with history for dramatic effect. Roy, being more charitable, dubbed it "A Beautiful Mind meets Casablanca!"

Here is where I confess that Oscar prognostications are not rooted in any way in my knowledge of the actual workings of the Academy, they are one-hundred percent based on wry observations of Oscar nominations, with this one being particularly devastating:

A film about a guy on the autism spectrum defeating the Nazis? In my jaundiced view of the Oscars, that's like crack!