Friday, May 28, 2010

Just Another Night On the Job

Yesterday, I began work at 9:30 in the morning, and (barring a break of a few hours midday) worked until midnight. I have to confess, though, that the day was fantastic. The morning was occupied by event logistics, there was a special program taking place on site. Basically, my job was to move people from one place to another- to herd cats, so to speak. While a pedestrian task, I did scope out a couple of wild raspberry patches on-site, for late-summer foraging.

Yestereve, a group of visitors came to the job site for a rare overnight stay. The evening began on a less-than-promising note, as bands of thundershowers moved through the region. By the time our guests got settled in, the skies cleared up- a fortunate occurrence, as last night the moon was full. The storm having passed, I prepared a campfire for our guests, so they could enjoy a few hours of music and storytelling. In a surprise twist of fate, my brother Vincenzo, sent back East by Uncle Sam to train young soldiers for the vicissitudes awaiting them in Iraq and Afghanistan, was in the area, having driven a comrade to Newark airport for emergency family leave. The site director, an old family friend (I landed this job by helping her with event logistics for a major annual event, leading her to introduce me to my department head), was happy to have my brother "crash" the event for a couple of hours. This was work, catching up with one of my brothers, listening to the sweet singing of our guests, under the light of a glorious full moon, the merry dancing light of the campfire... I have never believed in ghosts, (though my parascientific knowledge and use of psionic hardware has led me to believe in the existence of orbs) but we were in one of the few places on Earth which genuinely seems to host a genius loci, though such a spirit, unlike that in Clark Ashton Smith's story, would be a completely benevolent presence, a gentle, joking avuncular eidolon, one which would heartily approve of song and cheerful fellowship.

At midnight, I introduced the chaperones of the group to my relief, and went home, only to return nine hours later. Our guests were still on-site, so I was able to bid them a fond farewell as they walked to the train station, singing.

Yes, the schedule has been hectic, but the actual work has been idyllic... it's been hecdyllic, which sounds like an adjective describing a metrical foot.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Future Titan

The tulip tree, named for the shape of its flowers, is the tallest American tree east of the Rocky Mountains, able to attain heights just shy of 200 feet. The sapling depicted here, if allowed to flourish, has the potential to become an arboreal Anteus, a green Goliath:

The most distinctive feature of the tulip tree is its elaborately-shaped foliage:

Speaking of titans, two of the founding members of the Secret Science Club wrote an article about seeking out the tallest tree in New York City.

Again, it'll be short posts for a while, as work is, to put it mildly, a little bit hectic.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


It's 91 Degrees Fahrenheit here in the City of Y______. Of course, this does not break the record for this May 26, set (if I recall the weather report) in 2007. Obviously, this means that the Earth is now in the middle of a cooling trend.

It'll be short posts for the next couple of days- this afternoon will be spent working my Commerce Department job, and the next couple of days will be 9 AM to Midnight slogs at the other job, the really cushy (except when it's not) one. Oh, well, it's the season for special events, so long days come with the territory.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Depressing Thought

Given the very real possibility that the BP Oil Gusher (I am considering it a proper noun, hence the capitalization) in the Gulf of Mexico will result in petroleum entering the Gulf Stream, and being carried to the North Atlantic. This may be the last "beach season" in these parts for a long, long time.

This place may be less of a plum destination pretty soon:

Addendum: My family has good friends in the heart of Cajun country, good friends who have enjoyed our hospitality, and whose hospitality we have enjoyed. The thought that they won't be able to whip up a gumbo for fifty guests out of the bounty of the Gulf on the spur of the moment has gotten me in a blue funk.

Hell, I'm even depressed about the future of the country's rice crop... I may have to compulsively hoard a couple of twenty pound bags of the stuff.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In Keeping With Our Weekend Tradition

Well, the new Gogol Bordello album has been getting airplay on my favorite college radio station. Yes, once again, Eastern European inflected rock is all the rage. This, and two threads concerning cover songs, reminded me of a tape that my great and good friend J-Co got as a souvenir from his parents' vacation to Croatia. Knowing that their son was a huge music fan, they bought a casette of the album Ujed za dušu by Yugoslavian rock band Riblja Čorba . The album cover art is, to my mind, one of the all-time exemplars of record packaging:

While the album features a... heartfelt tribute? to Dejvid Bovi (the opening guitar riff reminds me of a Thin Lizzy song), the first song on the album, Lud Sto Posto, kicks off the Serbian soundwave that is Ujed za dušu:

I have to confess, I did not know anything about the band, but, besides being the Monsters of Yugoslav Rock, they seem to have included quite a bit of political material in their music... while they seem to have opposed the Yugoslav War, their lead singer, while critical of Milosevic, espoused Serbian nationalism, thus eroding the band's appeal in the rest of the Serbo-Croatian-speaking world.

Another Vexing Lacuna Filled

Estimable Kiwi Smut Clyde, in a comment on a previous thread, wrote about the phrase "vexing lacuna" (which would be a good band name, much like "Estimable Kiwi"), Also the first line of a 'Waltzing Matilda' parody.

So, without further ado, here's the chorus:

Vexing lacuna, vexing lacuna,
How did this gap in my life come to be?
And I searched and I searched for to find what I was missing sore.
Now, it's another lacuna I see.

I was able to fill in a vexing lacuna this week- although I have been plugging Gene Wolfe's long short story/short novella (***SPOILER ALERT***Veiled slash fiction reference?) Seven American Nights to anyone who would care to read my postings on teh t00bz, I did not own a copy of this novella until last Monday evening. Every time I felt a need to re-read the work (I first read it while in high school, but forgot author's name for years, though the story itself has haunted me since I read it), I borrowed an anthology in which it was included from the public library. With the release of the trade paperback of The Best of Gene Wolfe, I finally have the novella sitting on my bookshelf. A 1978 Nebula award nominee, the novella details the travels of a young Iranian man in a United States which has fallen victim to a slo-mo apocalyse of the sort that, in this age of pink slime burgers and seemingly endless environmental disasters, seems to be our destiny. In the days since I picked up the book, I have reread the story twice. I cannot recommend this work strongly enough.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Well, last week I received another binder-full of cases for the Census Bureau, and have gotten about a third of the way through the assignments (completed interviews, that is). Today, I received two additional binders, and this phase of the Census (No Response Follow-Up) ends on May 31. So far, I have completed three interviews, and will be pounding the pavement again this evening (it's a flawless day- not a cloud in the sky, and a comfortable mid-70's Fahrenheit, so working outside is a pleasure). It's gonna be one busy weekend, and next weekend (Memorial Day weekend) will most likely be a total wash, with many people leaving town (myself excepted, I'll be working a signature event at the other job, which means no free time, but a fun time).

Well, looks like it'll be short posts for the next week or so.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Secret Science Club After Action Report

Last night's lecture was delivered by Princeton's Iain Couzin, whose research concerns animal group dynamics. He started off with a basic overview of the movement of swarming or schooling animals, noting that individuals in a group tend to maintain an optimal standard distance from each other. The metric distance model shows the zone of orientation, which is this optimal distance. Modifications in the size of the zone of orientation lead to changes in the configuration of a group, from a "swarm" configuration, to a "torus" form to a "polarized" grouping. The group dynamics tend to be fluid, as the group reacts to external stimuli (such as forming "vacuoles" around predators).

When moving in groups, individuals possessing information (such as good areas for foraging) can influence the behavior of the group as a whole, although a majority of "decision" makers can influence group behavior, even if they do not possess accurate information (at this point, a wag who shall remain nameless likened such a hypothetical group to the Teabaggers- the bastard). In a case in which two equal-sized groups with conflicting "information" (e.g. two equal-sized groups of lab animals which have been trained to seek food in two separate areas) are placed in a larger group, the group as a whole will tend to move in the "average" direction between the directions favored by the two "informed" groups. This PDF file succinctly summarizes this portion of the talk.

The topic then shifted to the behavior of swarming locusts in Africa. Dr Couzin traveled to Mauritania to study swarming locusts. The swarming behavior is a defense against cannibalism- it's move or be eaten by those behind oneself. Locusts with severed abdominal nerves (who can't feel the crunchings and munchings of their peers), or locusts having had their rear-vision obstructed through the application of paint to their eyes, have less of a tendency to swarm than their jumpy, freaked-out kin, so they have a greater tendency to be eaten. In the arid, marginal habitats in which swarming locusts tend to live, one's peers tend to be the most readily available food source.

All told, another great lecture by yet another entertaining, engaging speaker.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Last night, I found this funny little critter, and played an amusing game of peek-a-boo with it (I was more amused than it was, I am sorry to say):

The eastern chipmunk is a pretty little ground-dwelling sciurid which has adapted successfully to life in a semi-urban environment. The lichens, mutualistic mash-ups of algae and fungi, are good indicators of decent air quality in the vicinity, being sensitive to airborn toxins.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Must be Busy, 'Cos I'm Slacking Off

Well, I have a little bit of time between jobs- no time for a really substantial post (I'll leave that sort of thing for Mr. McGravitas), so I'll post a video by Velocity Girl, a band I alluded to in my last post.

I played the following song constantly while I was mulling over leaving employment with Corporate America (I worked for a company which rhymed with "May I Pee?"). After over five years of employment at the place, it felt like I was breaking up with the office (when I gave notice, I started by telling my manager, "Janet, it's just not working out.") The video is a cutesy-poo spy spoof, no doubt done on a budget, but it nicely captures the fun spirit the band always seemed to embody, and vocalist Sarah Shannon makes for a fetching femme fatale:

Other highlights from the band include Sorry Again and Drug Girls.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In Keeping With Our Weekend Tradition

Given the melancholy nature of my last post, I had been planning on posting a video for a song which fit the mood. Listening to "The Big Al Show" on my favorite local college radio station has changed my tune, so to speak. In the "Platter Hour" feature of his show, he has been playing the Mitch Easter-produced album loveBUZZ by Australian band The Hummingbirds. Wow! I don't recall ever hearing anything by this band, which is a vexing lacuna in my musical knowledge. The music is bright pop, featuring a harmonious interplay between male and female vocalists (somewhat reminiscent of U.S. indie-pop darlings Velocity Girl). Well, Big Al is spinning the whole record, and it's a good example of "All Killer, No Filler". These folks should have been huge in the States- apparently they were extremely successful in their native, antipodean home, but damnit, I'd never heard of them until now (and I pride myself on an uncharacteristicly (for a 'Murkin) thorough familiarity with Australian rock bands.

So, for a woefully obscure bit of pure pop bliss, here's a little something from "new to the Bastard" songsters The Hummingbirds:

Oh, and, so as not to be accused of giving undue recognition to bands from the Drouthy Antipodes, I am also a big fan of numerous bands from the Not-so-Drouthy Antipodes. The last thing I would want is to face the wrath of patriotic Kiwis, armed with trebuchets, and commanding an army of hypnostags.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Two Year Anniversary Coming Up

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the death of my uncle Jim, who was also my godfather. As a young man, he'd been the victim of a grievous head injury, which left him with a steel plate in his skull, and an adolescence of extensive plastic surgery. Uncle Jim was, to make a literary analogy, much like Lennie in Of Mice and Men, a simple, hardworking man of incredible physical strength. My cousin Andrew likened him to the family Paul Bunyan (he was a mason, and could lay cinderblocks like most guys laid bricks, and could single-handedly pick up a full half-keg, and carry it on his shoulder). One family legend regards a time when a local bully made fun of Jim's stutter- a scene related to me by my uncle Robert, who was present:

Your uncle Jim and I were having a beer at a local bar, and this piece of shit kept needling Jim:

PoS: "Juh-Juh-Juh-Jim, huh-huh-huh-how's it goin'?"

J: "Uh-uh-uh-okay."

PoS: "Juh-Juh-Juh-Jim, huh-huh-huh-how's it goin'?"

J: "Uh, Rob, wuh-wuh-what do you think I should do?"

R: "Jim, if I were you, I'd put him through the ceiling."

J: "Ruh-ruh-Rob, that's a great idea!"

Well, your uncle Jim then picked the asshole (barstool and all) up, and put his head through the acoustic tiles of the drop-ceiling. Nobody ever said "Boo" to him after that.

Two things allowed my uncle Jim to thrive- a strong family and community, and a union job, first as a mason, then as a night-porter at Rockefeller Center. With two parallel support networks, he was able to enjoy a productive life without being exploited- he was able to live his life simply, and well. The night he died, two of my uncles and I were staying with him (we were going to take him to downtown Manhattan for an appointment to see his doctor), his last words before turning in for the long, long sleep were, "It's great being with you."

I missed the funeral, having booked a flight to Switzerland to see a newborn nephew for the first time, so I wrote this tribute which was read by my cousin Andrew at the post-funeral lunch:

In 1950, Gene Autry introduced the Cowboy Code on his television show, a code of conduct for his viewers, instructing them to be cheerful, honest, respectful, hard-working and kind. As a boy watching, Jim must have decided to live by the Code, because he certainly lived up to it. Jim was always cheerful and optimistic, and never had an unkind word to say about anyone. He was unfailingly generous, and he worked harder than anyone else I have met.

Jim was, at heart, a traditionalist- the three things he loved best were his family, his community, and his heritage. He was a dutiful son, brother, uncle, and to me, godfather. He adored his Bronx home, and enjoyed riding his bicycle up the Shore Road, or paddling his canoe in Pelham Bay- you see, he had figured out how to live like a James Fenimore Cooper protagonist in the big city. He was the unofficial mayor of Crosby Avenue, with Quality Café serving as his personal City Hall. His epic trip across Ireland was one of his best memories, and has become a family legend.

The last six months were hard on Uncle Jim, as his health took a turn for the worse, but he never complained. Even on his last day, when it took him fifteen minutes to climb the stairs to his room, he insisted that he was “good”. Now, when I think about it, he was talking about being with family. His pain took a back seat to being with his brothers and his godson. As always, he was concerned with others more than with himself.

Now, there will be something missing when you walk around the neighborhood, an empty chair in the house, an empty table at the coffee shop, an empty pew at Our Lady of the Assumption, a space at the bar in Jimmy Ryan’s or The Shamrock. The cheerful voice, the unmistakable laugh silent… but remember that Jim will always be with us, his example of generosity and good-humor, his strength of character, and most of all, his love.

I am sorry to be unable to be with you, but I am in Switzerland visiting the newest member of the family, my nephew **REDACTED**, who was born last month. When he is old enough, rest assured that we’ll let him know that there was once this guy, this incredible guy who showed us how to live with guts, gusto, and graciousness.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Finished the Immediate Task at Hand

This morning, I finished my first "binder" for the Census enumeration process. Tomorrow, I will receive a new one at our morning meeting- most likely a binder full of addresses a little further afield. For the most part, the respondents have been really nice people, and I learned where the local "character" lives (he rides his bicycle around the neighborhood and occasionally shouts something- yesterday it was, "INDIANA JONES!") He gave me some basic information about a vacant house in the neighborhood, but I didn't feel that asking him to be a proxy respondent would be ethical, because, while he's over fifteen (the minimum age), he's developmentally "challenged" (if anybody has the proper politically correct term in current use, please let me know). I was glad to get to meet him, though, and I have to say that he was extremely helpful.

On a more sour note, the payroll was messed up, so the deposit that was to have been put in my bank account has not been processed, so I won't be paid until next week. Well, the whole process has an ad hoc quality to it... and the local office, as of yesterday, needed clerical workers to input payroll information, so it could lead to extra hours (as if I needed any, what with juggling jobs and all).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

National Day of Mourning for Groovy Van Drivers

Noted fantasy artist and unapologetic ass-man Frank Frazetta died yesterday, leaving behind legions of horny teenaged fans, and a legacy of reproductions airbrushed on the sides of vans with shag-carpeted interiors. In the mid-fifties to the early sixties, one of Frank's gigs was drawing for Al Capp's Li'l Abner, which provided him a ample opportunities for displaying his penchant for drawing well-nigh ridiculously voluptuous women.

In 1966, his cover for a Lancer Books reissue of some early pulp tales (packaged with some dodgy later pastiches) about a Cimmerian adventurer catapulted both Frazetta and said Cimmerian into the pop culture stratosphere. Oh, and did we mention he was an unapologetic ass man?

I'd say, "Rest in peace", but I think Frank's version of heaven would be a jungle world populated by ravenous dinosaurs, savage beastmen, and, of course, well-nigh ridiculously voluptuous women.

And to all of those who never had a chance to commission a Frazetta masterpiece to grace the side of your van, there's always Boris Vallejo.

Author's Note: One of my college roommates and I would periodically stage mock arguments about the relative merits of Frazetta vs. Vallejo. We'd also stage mock "Coot or Grebe" arguments in the vicinity of non-Anseriform waterfowl.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Just a Quick Post

A placeholder, really- I worked my government job this morning, and the early afternoon, and will be working this evening at the usual job (though not the usual site), but I feel that my long lapse last week should not be repeated.

Since a certain regular reader had a bad day yesterday, and has been studying German, here's a little Deutscher music from a far-off, less complicated time- cheer up, kiddo:

I can't say if this is my favorite Nena track, or if I prefer this cute number from the album Fragenzeichen.

Postscript: Not having a lot of readers (and all of them friendlies), I have never considered banning anyone, but I think I'd ban anyone disparaging Nena Kerner and/or her band in an augenblick.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mothers' Day!

Here's wishing a happy Mothers' Day to all mothers (and bad mothers) out there, especially my brilliant, Bronx-bred mother, who not only raised five children, but invariably became the nucleus of any neighborhood she ever lived in, accumulating an extended family of "adopted" children through her altruism, kindness, and unfailing sense of hospitality. She is still playing a mentor role to her younger neighbors and co-workers, and the door is still always open for any passing friends (watch it, D-KW!). Here's also a special shout-out to my brilliant, sarcastic sister, and my three sisters-in-law. Happy Mothers' Day, all!

In honor of Mothers' Day, and this hilarious item (hat-tip to Sadlynaught commenter Truculent and Unreliable), here's a sentimental Mothers' Day favorite from crooner Glenn Danzig:

My personal favorite Danzig tune, though, is his cross-cultural duet with South American pop chanteuse Shakira, whose hips would certainly seem to presage great potential for motherhood (psst- drop me a line!):

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Choosing Chicxulub

Ecological catastrophes with the potential to alter the Earth's biosphere are not unprecedented in the Gulf of Mexico region. The difference between the extraterrestrial body that most likely killed off the mighty Mesozoic monsters, and the oil gusher which has the potential to undermine the Earth's oceanic ecosystems is a matter of volition... we, as a species, are choosing an ongoing catastrophe, while the dinosaurs (the non-avian ones, that is) were innocent victims of a bolide from the blue.

Despite the characterizations of the Limbaughs and Luntzes of the world, environmentalism is concerned, to a large extent, with human health and well-being. As long-lived apex predators par excellence, humans are particularly susceptible to contamination by various toxins. On the other hand, there are lifeforms which can thrive in extreme conditions, including bacteria which can metabolize petroleum (hat-tip to M. Bouffant) -such microorganisms should thrive in an oil-tainted gulf, even as other organisms die by the billions.

Due to venality, short-sightedness, and greed (for the want of a $500,000 shutoff switch...), our progeny will have to live with the fallout from this catastrophe for many, many years to come. Perhaps, millions of years from now, a hardy Coleopterous paleontologist will observe a worldwide layer of marine fossils and hydrocarbon residues, and deduce a reason for the demise of the ancient chordates which once ruled the planet.

In order to leaven the "Gloomy Gus" nature of this post, this song (the only Perry Farrel song I really, really like) comes to mind:

For a more earnest take on the situation, here's a song which has been running ruefully through my head for the past two weeks (hat-tip to Von, who mentioned Natalie Merchant in a recent post):

As a penultimate digression, the end of our dependence on oil as a fuel is long past due- we should have been using our fossil fuel reserves as "startup capital" to develop a renewable energy infrastructure, but instead we've been blowing it all like a cokehead heir blows his inheritence. As Gene Wolfe put it, we're sitting at home waiting for the money to run out.

As a final digression, Dick Cheney, with his industry-dictated energy policies, his zeal for deregulation, and his connection with the company which is quite possibly responsible for this disaster has descended even further into his abyss of cartoonish supervillainy.

Bastard's Back!

I have been most remiss about posting lately, juggling job duties for the past week. My job with the Census Bureau involves nothing more high-tech than a number two pencil, and my other job has been more hectic than usual, with a lot of special events taking place this month.

The Census work has been quite a bit of fun- six of my co-workers live within a quarter of a mile of my apartment, and we have developed a real sense of camaraderie. My job territory is a few blocks north of my place, so I have been hoofing it around the neighborhood, and I have made the acquaintance of a number of people I would probably not have met otherwise. I have always dug my neighborhood, but this job is giving me an even greater appreciation for my environs.

It's been a bad week to miss blogging, with the environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, the virulently anti-gay reactionary getting caught with a "rent boy", the Arizona immigration fracas, and even plain old Cinco de Mayo. Yeah, great timing on my part... I have some time, so I'll try to post a couple of entries to make up for my appalling lack of attention to this humble little forum of mine.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy Belated Walpurgisnacht

I usually make it a point to engage in Walpurgisnacht revelry... typically with the Dutch expatriate crowd. With the business of starting a new job, while juggling the hours at the old job, I was unable to do so this year (first missed Koninginnedag in five years). I should have been singing with a couple of hundred drunks:

Het kleine café aan de haven was written in 1975 by the guy who wrote the Smurfs' song, and an English-language adaptation by the Fureys has become a beloved staple wherever people get drunk and maudlin together.