Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Addendum to My Last Post

I just want to note (I made a similar comment regarding this at J. Scott G.'s place) that the unstoppable pop culture juggernaut that started in the U.S. and steamrolled the world is African-American culture. The great home-grown American music forms jazz, blues, rock-and/or-roll, and rap/hip-hop are rooted in the black American experience, and reflect an African-American aesthetic. Black artists such as Josephine Baker were able to forge careers in Europe that they never could have in the segregated U.S.

American popular music is largely African-American music, or attempts by whites to co-opt African-American music. As an aside, music impresario Sam Phillips was unfairly slandered by an unsympathetic critic, while his actual quote (not to mention his C.V.) reveals a more nuanced reality: "If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars."

Reactionaries have always hated innovations in popular music (trying to avoid irrelevance, they eventually warm up to pop music decades after the fact (even twisting logic and lyrical intent to try to claim the mantle of what passed for hip twenty years ago), maybe in a couple of decades they'll warm up to the hippity hop of Snoopy Snoopy Poop Dog.

Even punk rock, which was unfairly criticized by ill-informed critics as an attempt to purge the "black" elements from rock-and-roll, is rooted in the aesthetics of the African diaspora, whether 60's girl-group bubblegum pop or Jamaican reggae/dub. Okay, that being said, how about a classic that portended great changes in the American popular music canon?

Now, how about sitting back and listening keenly to another musical biscuit? Rock the Casbah by the Clash is about the power of popular music to subvert authoritarian regimes... it is precisely about soft power, and conservatives have appallingly tried to co-opt it as a war anthem. Uh, John Miller et al., it ain't about rocking the casbah with bombs, ya trolls:

Finally, here's the first part of a Josephine Baker biography (embedding disabled)- documenting the "first shot fired over the world's bow" by a remarkable American artist of African descent.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hard Power, Soft Power, and the Failure of American Foreign Policy

Looking at my last two posts, mentioning a friend killed by terrorists and a brother stuck in Afghanistan (who will be relieved by my other younger brother), I have decided to finally address a topic which has been on my mind for the last ten years. In the President's speech on action in Libya (link to Crooks and Liars, because the transcript is up there), the President had this anecdote:

That's the kind of leadership we have shown in Libya. Of course, even when we act as part of a coalition, the risks of any military action will be high. Those risks were realized when one of our planes malfunctioned over Libya. Yet when one of our airmen parachuted to the ground, in a country whose leader has so often demonized the United States - in a region that has such a difficult history with our country - this American did not find enemies. Instead, he was met by people who embraced him. One young Libyan who came to his aid said, "We are your friends. We are so grateful to these men who are protecting the skies."

If there is one aspect of American Exceptionalism which cannot be denied, it is the overwhelming victory of the American pop culture juggernaut. American culture has world-wide appeal... American music forms have worldwide popularity, American taste in clothing is embraced throughout the world, and English is the lingua franca of business and technology, and knowledge of English is a signifier of cultural "savvy" throughout the world. The dominance of American popular culture is so complete that even Saddam Hussein, no lover of the U.S. after the unfortunate events of 1991, used a version of an American pop song (albeit an Arabic version by a Syrian singer) in his "re-election campaign" of 2002.

Despite the various military misadventures of the past five decades, Americans are pretty much granted a "mulligan" throughout the world. I often wonder how things would have turned out if we had engaged the people of the developing world as equals, rather than fodder for the Military/Industrial Complex and sources of plunder. Notably, the greatest sin of the Eisenhower administration was the overthrow of the democratically-elected Mosaddegh government of Iran, and the installation of the Shah much to the benefit of B.P. So, rather than exporting freedom and rock-and/or-roll, we were making deals with medieval-style autocrats. Our continued support of the Shah led to the eventual rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini (Shah of Shahs is a good overview of the revolution). So, instead of Iranians in the late 70's waving posters of this guy:

they were waving pictures of this guy:

The United States has relied on hard power, its military might, its blood and treasure, at the expense of relying on soft power, the seemingly unstoppable hegemony of its cultural institutions. Even while the U.S./U.S.S.R. Cold War was at its height, Western pop culture was clandestinely embraced in Soviet Russia. Given a choice between Lenin and Lennon, how would a typical teenager respond? Instead we pursued proxy wars which have resulted in blowback to this day. Pursuit of our proxy "Battle to the Death" with the U.S.S.R., reached its height in the 80's, with the long conflict in Afghanistan (if the Afghan conflict was Russia's Vietnam, what the hell is our Afghan conflict, our meta-Vietnam?) and pro-jihad right wing fever dreams even infiltrated U.S. pop-culture. It is often said that the Afghan conflict led to the demise of the Soviet Union... the problem is that there was no humanitarian assistance to either the Afghans or the Russians. There was a time when U.S. foreign policy included aid to enemies, in the wake of the Afghan conflict, we wouldn't even help allies.

Pursuing a ten-year proxy war with our Iranian "enemies" (in which, bizarrely, we armed both sides) led to some awkward moments which were largely ignored by the U.S. media, much to our detriment:

Yeah, instead of sending blue jeans and hi-fi LPs to the Fertile Crescent, we sent bombs and poison gas precursor chemicals. Even after an actual U.S.-led invasion and years of crushing sanctions, the Iraqi people were willing to give us a "mulligan", thinking that the second U.S.
invasion would usher in a new era of "Democracy, whisky, and sexy." I am trying to locate video of the "Democracy, Whisky, Sexy" guy, but can't find any on the t00bz. I wonder what happened to him, and I sincerely hope that he got out alive, and is now living free, drinking Jameson's with supermodels... but I know that's a pipe dream.

Well, we didn't give them democracy, nor did we give them whiskey, and we sure as hell didn't give them sexy. The worst thing about post-invasion Iraq is that there was a lull before the insurgency began in earnest, a breathless period during which the Iraqi people waited to see what the removal of Saddam Hussein would bring... and we blew it. We didn't bring jobs and infrastructure, much less democracy, whisky, and sexy. The post-invasion Coalition Provisional Authority was staffed with cronies and ideologues, more interested in bringing a stock market and a flat tax to Iraq than in bringing potable water and non-flat buildings.

By failing to utilize our unstoppable soft-power, and by using the "every problem a nail" approach, we have brought untold misery to people in the developing world. Our post-WW2 moral failures (starting with the coddling of Franco), and our fear-based foreign policy, combined with our insatiable greed for natural resources (who'd have thought that possessing abundant natural wealth would be a curse for a nation, rather than a boon?) and the insatiable greed of military contractors, have led to an untenable situation in which the U.S. is on the brink of financial ruin, Americans are entangled in three theaters of war, and hapless peasants are crushed under the heels of home-grown tyrants and foreign occupiers.

If only we had sent poodle skirts and 45s to Iran, instead of spooks and assassins...

Birthday Greetings, Baby Brother

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of Gomez, my baby brother. He's spending his natal day in the greater Kandahar metropolitan area. I'll follow up with another post, but I just wanted to acknowledge baby bro, and to send him my best wishes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The King's President's Speech

So, it seems we're at war again, though it's yet another undeclared one, as has been typical in recent decades. Again, no exit strategy, no clear-cut goals... I hope it doesn't become more of a "boots on the ground" situation than it already has (downed pilot? His boots were on Libyan soil).

I hate Moammar Gaddafi, I have since my friend Ken Bissett was killed in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. Ken was a couple of years ahead of me in high school, and we were both involved in the stage crew and the forensics teams. He was a slender bespectacled kid who was smart and well spoken, with an incongruously deep voice that would have made a radio announcer proud. He was a gifted artist and calligrapher- we called him "Ken the Pen", and his yearly "tags" on the stage crew equipment locker were never painted over. The last time I saw Ken alive was on a visit to my brother Sweetums at Cornell University. Ken, who lived in the same dorm, heard that I had been planning a visit, so he dropped by. He told me that he had jumped through hoops to get a transfer to Syracuse University so he could study abroad in England. Man, was he excited about his upcoming semester... I remember Ken's funeral- we were standing around in dark suits, looking strained and awkward. Dave, a jocular, outgoing guy who had also graduated a few years before me had an uncharacteristically bleak look on his face, a look I've not forgotten.

Yeah, I hate Gaddafi, but I'm not comfortable with this new course of action... our military is overextended, and we have no exit strategies for our current conflicts. Also, do we really know who the rebels are? Should we arm the rebels? When Ken was alive, we armed and trained the rebels in Afghanistan... I lost friends as a result of that too.

NOTE: I generally don't name private figures, but Ken was an only child. We came up in a time before social networking sites, and Google caches. He has a memorial endowment at Syracuse, but I felt that I owed him a personal memorial.

Monday, March 28, 2011

You Shall Know Them by a Foulness*

The Sweetheart of the Heartland has informed her adoring public that there is a "library scented" perfume named, in a creative ferment, "In the Library". Hmmm... how about a perfume like "In the Labyrinth", smelling of slime poison and prootwaddle sweat?

Barring that, how about an "In the Miskatonic Library" variation, with the scent of old parchment and lemon oil underlaid with the faintest hint of *****SPOILER WARNING***** deliquescing Wilbur Whateley?

My friend Margaret got me hip to the Mountain Goats' Lovecraft in Brooklyn, which deals with alienation (Lovecraft lived in Brooklyn while he was married to Sonia Greene, and was apparently very unhappy while he lived there). His Brooklyn idyll resulted in his short story Horror at Red Hook, which was probably inspired by a spleen sandwich.

In looking up a link for Lovecraft in Brooklyn, I saw a website for Lovecraft Biofuels, which gives me hope that we'll be able to kick the fossil fuels and transition to shoggoth based energy systems.

*Oddly enough, not a political post...

One of Our Submarines Serpents is Missing*

So, the hyped local story concerns an adolescent cobra which has gone Galt. This serpent has broken free from the collectivist snakes which are feeding off the largesse of the more-or-less hairless apes which keep them enslaved.

I don't agree with the Wildlife Conservation Society's decision to close the Reptile House (one of my favorite places on the planet, I must say). I think the WCS should allow thrill-seekers and religious kooks to tour the Reptile House after signing waivers and paying a premium fee. Maybe they could raise revenue by charging despondent monarchs a hefty sum to walk barefoot in the House of Reptiles.

Uh, it just hit me... the missing cobra may be on a pilgrimage to Elizabeth Taylor's graveside. If this is so, the cobra wouldn't be the first venomous creature to show up at the memorial.

*A personal favorite of yours truly... for a more irreverent treatment of a similar subject, there's always, uh, this...

POSTSCRIPT: I am of such an age that Liz Taylor was largely a punch line in my childhood years, and an activist in my maturity, so it's easy to forget that she was quite the sex bomb at the height of her powers:

POSTSCRIPT TO THE POSTSCRIPT: When "Sex Bomb" was released, I was on vacation in Amsterdam, and a naive tourist could have been convinced that the song was the national anthem of the Netherlands rather easily.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Continuing Our Usual Weekend Tradition

Back in the day, when I was still a T.V. watcher, I caught a hilarious, bizarre animated bit on one of the Spanish language stations. While the song Karma Hunters is in English, The Pinker Tones pop group is from Barcelona, and their song Mais Pourquoi has a great video which would certainly Glenn Reynolds' pulse racing:

Well, how about bearing with me geeking out after watching that whimsical video? The Catalan language, (there is a controversy regarding the distinctness of the Valencian and Catalan languages) has a grand literary history dating back to the Middle Ages and rooted in the troubadours' tradition. Perhaps the greatest work in the Catalan (or Valencian, if you rate for Valencia) language is (future blog post subject?) Tirant lo Blanc, a chivalric romance which has the distinction of being one of the few books to survive the burning of Don Quixote's books in Cervantes' masterpiece.

The Catalan language was suppressed under the Franco regime which imposed the Castilian Spanish language on Spain's population in the interests of nationalism. With the transition to democracy, the suppression of the Catalan language was ended. As an added bonus, here's an interesting article on modern Catalan poets.

Please note that this post has nothing to do with the fact that I am still a little woozy-headed after being smitten (but not smote) by the startlingly beautiful blue/green-eyed empanada girl working at **REDACTED**- she's originally from Malaga, in Andalucia, and is not a Catalan speaker.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Somber Centennial

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which claimed the lives of 146 individuals, mainly young immigrant women. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire occurred in the context of a situation in which women, poor working people and immigrants were not valued members of society, and regulations regarding working conditions and building codes were either not in place, or were unenforced.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was a watershed moment in U.S. history, giving impetus to the labor movement and the push to improve safety standards in buildings (Ned has a brilliant post on the structural issues involved). For decades, workplace safety standards in the U.S. have been among the highest in the world due to strong unions and high regulatory standards, but a recent lapse in standards has led to situations eerily similar to the T.S.F. tragedy and the implementation of dead peasant insurance. Of course, by offshoring much of the manufacturing, multinationals have moved the modern day equivalents of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to other countries where the underage, underpaid workers won't horrify the American public by dying at their feet.

AFTERWORD Workers' rights, women's rights, and governmental regulation of corporations are three of the major pillars of American liberalism, and three of the major factors in America's economic success. At this time, the right-wing is seeking to erode gains in all of these areas. We forget the lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire at our peril.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Never Wished to Live in Buffalo Before

I've been to Buffalo, I've even had a good time in Buffalo (though hot-footing it to LEAFS SUCK!!! pronto was definitely on the Buffalo Road Trip agenda), but I've never had Buffalo-envy until now. In fact, I've known a lot of ex-Buffaloans (including a late, lamented boss) and they were nostalgic about the place, even though they had no intentions of ever returning... So, why am I envious of Buffalo residents? Because they have a chance to vote for this guy:

Yeah, Ian Murphy of cold-calling Koch fame has thrown his hat into the political ring, running for the seat abandoned by Chris "Craigslist" Lee. It's funny, while I figured that Chris Lee's immediate resignation after his attempted Craigslist dalliance was due to the possibility of more kinky revelations, I had no idea that these peccadilloes came out into the open. Damn, are any of the patriarchal homophobes in Congress not into kink? I had no idea that these revelations were made until today. Thanks again, Mr. Murphy!

The crazy thing about Mr. Murphy's campaign is that he actually has a shot- it's a five-way race, and the other candidates range from the center-right to the ultra far-right. Also, check out his front-page header, this is a guy who is aware of all internet traditions:

I also want to take a moment to apologize to my beloved Midwestern readers for yesterday's rant. Hell, New York's Democratic governor is governing GOPlight style. Hell, how could any of us have expected sound judgment from a guy who's cohabiting with this woman?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Requesting a Mulligan

So, the recall efforts that are sweeping Wisconsin are now being proposed in Ohio and Michigan. Even if these efforts are successful, there have been months of lost opportunity- jobs that could have been created, infrastructure improvements that could have been made, thousands of hours of human effort and hundreds of thousands of dollars directed toward rectifying the mistakes made in November. A "do-over" doesn't set back the clock, doesn't make up for the fact that the second decade of the 21st Century is shaping up to be just like the "Noughts"- more lost opportunities at a time when the human species really needs to get its act together to prevent a mitigate the coming multi-generational shitstorm.

I laud the recall efforts, but where the hell was everybody back in November? I don't want to beat up on Midwesterners (hell, John Hall was defeated by a GOPer a couple of districts north of mine), but it's long past due that the decent white working folks of the Heartland realize that blacks and Hispanics are the canaries in the societal coal mine- when they are being systematically beaten down, the average working stiff will soon be receiving the same treatment. Please, Heartlanders, don't get fooled again.

UPDATE: Substituted one infinitive to reflect a more pessimistic realistic view of the situation.

SECOND UPDATE: This post may make me come across as dickish, and a holier-than-thou East Coast Elitist, but I'll own the dickishness, and chalk it up to a real sense of frustration. I genuinely hope that the recall efforts succeed, and I sincerely hope that this is a wake-up call for everybody who's not a millionaire or a religious fundamentalist, everywhere in the country.

THIRD UPDATE: Speaking of mulligans, I wish I had written "peevish and peen-ish" instead of "dickish" in my second update.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Catching up with the Laundry

My landlord has disconnected the washer and drier prior to moving them to another part of the basement (pity that, my gi has been festering in my gym bag since Saturday). Even with the washer and drier being disconnected, I needed to address my Laundry quandry, so I purchased The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. Often billed as a mash-up of Lovecraft's "mythos", Cold War espionage thrillers, and Office Space (which sounds like it could have been awful in the hands of a hack), the book is a snarktastic, subversive piss-take on the thriller and horror genres. For a taste of Stross' espiohorror tales, A Colder War (which I read a few years ago) is a good (and free!) start.

I'll put up a review of The Atrocity Archives in the near future- I was so taken with the book that I purchased the the sequel soon after finishing the book. I'd write more, but I've gots a book to read!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Woefully Belated Post Lecture Recap

Last Wednesday’s lecture, by theoretical physicist Matthew Strassler, concerned the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC has received a lot of attention in the press, with an appalling amount of ink and electrons being spent spinning tales of doom. Put simply, the LHC is the largest particle accelerator ever constructed- it "shoots" (using eletromagnetic fields) protons in two opposing streams, with the resultant collisions producing smaller subatomic particles.

While much of the popular press concerns the search for the hypothetical Higgs boson- often referred to in popular accounts as "The God Particle" (Q:Why do physicists refer to it as the God Particle? A: They don't- the whole "God Particle" thing was a marketing pitch for a book). More importantly than the search for the Higgs boson is the search for the underpinnings of the Higgs field, which is responsible for mass according to the Standard Model of particle physics. A cartoon representation of the Higgs mechanism helps to visualize this concept.

So far, the Higgs boson has not been observed- one particular difficulty in the search for the hypothetical Higgs boson is the rapid decay of subatomic particles. Additionally, there is no hint as to whether such a particle would be massive or tiny- if tiny, a Higgs boson would probably decay into two photons, if massive, then particles similar to the Z particle. At any rate, the search continues- if a single "Higgs boson" is not located, then another mechanism, such as other particles, would be posited for the source of the Higgs field.

I apologize for the somewhat sketchy recap- particle physics isn't my main area of dilettantism. The lecture was much, much better than my belated (with a couple of bouts of boozing between lecture and write-up) summary. Part of the lecture consisted of "talking doom and gloomers down from the ledge", and part was a deflating of the hype that the media has attached to this project.

The justifiably famous LHC rap by Kate McAlpine gives a very nice overview of the LHC, and the Higgs Field:

Before the lecture, we had a performance of the new piece by local favorite and all-around good guy Zach Charlop-Powers:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Procrastinating with the Lecture Recap...

I'm working on it, people... honestly! The problem is, I'm also catching up on the news because I've spent the last couple of days driking dirty big pints of beer. I also confess, I just can't let go of Tuesday's post- there's a subtext to the Big Ho original that I find telling, and hilarious... reading between the lines, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that he'd rather watch Gerard Butler in a leather Speedo than Diana Rigg in a leather catsuit. Yeah, I thought the raison d'etre of the kick-ass female character (as the Avengers producers noted with the name of the character) was to provide a thrilling fantasy for male viewers (with GRRL Power being a side effect):

I dunno how Hawkins would feel, but when I watched that montage of scenes of Diana Rigg kicking dudes' asses, I sure as hell didn't feel feminized. Also, I have to note that it's safe to say that anyone who considers "feminized" to be a pejorative is a sorry excuse for a human being.

Damn damn damn, why won't any trolls stop by to comment?

Now, back to writing about the Large Hadron Collider, and the search for the Higgs boson... honest!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lest You Think I've Been Slacking Off...

Wow, a couple of days without a post... it's something I try to avoid, but I've been preoccupied with religious duties these past two days. On Wednesday, I attended services honoring the martyr, St. Leibowitz. Yesterday being the Solemn Feast of St. Patrick, I spent the day performing religious devotions. The fact that both occasions involved the pouring of copious libations down mah gullet is, as the cliche goes, central to my point.

I had planned a quick post on the 16th, but I wanted to keep the post taking the piss of AWR Hawkins (doesn't that sound pretentious as hell? Dub-mass thinks he's channneling Tolkien, but it comes across as simultaneously ham-fisted and twee... AWR? Asshole Writing Rants!), in the hopes that some chucklehead would wander in from Big Ho, and be eviscerated by the commentariat. Very rarely do I take a rightard to the woodshed, but those posts have been well received.

I'll work on the post-lecture recap tonight at work- I have to work the graveyard, so I'll have plenty of time to write. Today, the temperature is supposed to hit seventy degrees Fahrenheit, so I'm headed outdoors for some wholesome activity to get the blood flowing and to wear me out so I can zonk out this evening.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Don't Know His Ás From a Hole in the Ground

I have to laugh at the emotions invested in the upcoming Thor movie by right-wingers.

Unlike some members of the blogroll, I have never been a comic book nerd. That being said, I am an ubernerd, but of the O.G. (original geekster) variety. Well, this week, a "Big Hollywood" piece by tuber nosed AWR Hawkins about the upcoming Thor movie gushes on about how it's not an exercise in "Political Correctness"- in it, the gods are men, the men are two-fisted, and the sweaty action is NOT GAY, DAMNIT!!!. Well, I just had to exit Skíðblaðnir to steal the mangoes of Iðunn. One particular mango was particularly hilarious to me:

Not surprisingly, big screen super heroes and mythic figures of valor – male figures – have been among the hardest hit by this revisionism. As a result, the mighty have learned to cry, the powerful to admit vulnerability, and the brave to second-guess themselves, all in an effort to win over the effeminized masses. And this is what makes the screenplay for the upcoming feature film, “THOR,” so wonderful: not because it carries on the ridiculous revisionism, but because it shatters it with a hammer blow from Thor himself.

Hawkins then goes on the give a synopsis of the movie's plot:

Once banished, Thor’s mortality is represented by the fact that he and his famous hammer are separated. From there the rest of the screenplay is ultimately the outworking of Thor doing what he must to recover his hammer, and thereby his powers.

The funny thing about Hawkins' piece is how Hawkins has got his characterization of ridiculous revisionism exactly ass-backwards. When one consults the original Norse source, the Þrymskviða in the Poetic Edda, Thor's hammer is indeed lost, stolen by the jotunn Thrym, who agrees to return the hammer if the goddess Freyja consents to marry him. The errand to retrieve the hammer goes quite differently from the movie's COMPLETELY NOT HOMOEROTIC testosterone fest:

Loki said, "Yes, my labors met with success. Thrym, the lord of giants, has your hammer; but no one can win Mjöllnir from him, unless he brings to him fair Freyja as a bride."

Forthwith they rushed to find fair Freyja. "Dress yourself in bridal linen," said Thor. "You and I are on our way to the world of giants."

At this Freyja foamed with rage. The halls of Asgard shook with her anger. The necklace of the Brisings broke apart. "You may call me man-crazy, if I go with you to Jotunheim," she said.

Straight away all the gods and goddesses gathered to discuss how they could recover Thor's hammer.

Heimdall, the fairest of the gods, like all the Vanir could see into the future. "Let us dress Thor in bridal linen," he said, "and let him wear the necklace of the Brisings. Tie housewife's keys about his waist, and pin bridal jewels upon his breast. Let him wear women's clothes, with a dainty hood on his head."

The Thunderer, mightiest of gods, replied, "The gods will call me womanish if I put on bridal linen."

Then Loki, son of Laufey, said, "Thor, be still! With such foolish words the giants will soon be living here in Asgard if you do not get your hammer from them."

So they dressed Thor in bridal linen, tied the necklace of Brisings around his neck and housewife's keys about his waist. They pinned bridal jewels upon his breast, and dressed him in women's clothes, with a dainty hood on his head.

The resulting tale, with Loki's explanations for the redness of the bride's eyes, and for her ravenous appetite, is hilarious. The image of the god of thunder in bridal raiment is a funny one. Absent from the tale is any concern for stereotypical "manliness", because the individuals who sat around their fires regaling each other with these tales through the months-long night weren't insecure doughy half-men who feared that their sexuality would be called into question. While AWR Hawkins is so insecure in his masculinity that portrayals of sensitive men and strong women send him into a fainting spell, Snorri Sturluson sure as hell didn't have that problem.

Yeah, I know Snorri authored the Prose Edda, but he drew on the Poetic Edda as a source, and he was the greatest of the preservers and transmitters of Norse legendry. If the Poetic Edda hadn't been an extant source, damnit, Snorri would have written it down for posterity.

UPDATE: As much as they express contempt for "Hollywood", it's mind-boggling how large it looms in American conservatives' "minds"- I've come to the conclusion that they view reality through the filter of pop culture, mainly television and movies (readin's hard). Their views of gender roles are based in 1950's and 60's sitcom stereotypes which were bullshit even then. They really don't have an understanding of history, they only have what's been fed to them through various screens. This is why they think that torture is a good way to elicit facts, that women should be subservient and docile, and that men should be emotionless golems. They don't stand athwart history yelling "Stop!", they stand athwart pop culture yelling "Validate ME!"

'Nother Update: I forgot to give a nod of the naked noggin to Monsieur McGravitas, who brought the Big Ho post to my attention. Also, re-reading the Lay of Thrym, I am struck by the portray of Freyja as a powerful, autonomous female figure who exerts her authority to protect her interests. I am also struck by the phrase tie housewife's keys about his waist, which implies that a woman had high status within the household (gotta re-read the sagas with a keener eye toward the portrayal of home life and the role of women).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Uh, Sorry to be Such a Downer...

Wow, my last post was certainly not very chipper, but rest assured, I'm not despondent. How about a little something cheerful? How about a cute little song about seaweed? Huh? Who doesn't like seaweed? Dúlamán is a type of seaweed that can be eaten when other foodstuffs are scarce. It lends its name to a song about two seaweed hawkers, one of whom wishes to marry the other's daughter. With his entreaties falling on deaf ears, the smitten weedmonger decides to elope with the young lady. While folk/trad powerhouse Clannad has a version of the song , I am partial to the version by folk/trad powerhouse Altan:

Yeah, this has been a perfuctory post... I had to work at a site I only work on occasion (no wireless!), and immediately afterward, I went to a local Borders' Books that is closing to loot the place pick up some bargains. Busy, busy, busy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Headlines of Death and Sorrow*

The news from Japan is terrible, and the local news has been pretty bad. We live precarious lives on a thin skin overlaid on a seething cauldron of hot minerals, hurtling through a void on a trajectory which occasionally intersects with the trajectories of other hurtling masses. If trying to eke out a living in the face of an indifferent cosmos isn't bad enough, too many of us are preoccupied with increasing the suffering of their fellow humans.

We have horrible Facebook postings claiming that the earthquake/tsunami combo is somehow "payback" for Pearl Harbor. We have Rand "Baby Doc" Paul claiming that his shit is more important than your uterus. We have GOP representatives trying to legislatively "reverse" scientific findings. Why the hell do people insist on doubling down on human suffering?

I've been having browser "issues" (dunno if it's a server issue yet- the server at the workplace has been upgraded recently) this afternoon, so the linkage will have to wait until an update.

*Google the post title, taken from one of the saddest songs ever written.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Had Planned to Post About Local Events...

We had a major rainfall last night which led to extensive flooding in the area. Being out late last night, caught in the torrential rain, I had planned on posting about the flooding and about issues concerning riparian areas.

Seeing the coverage of the massive earthquake and resultant tsunami which hit Japan has derailed my plan to post about annoying, yet ultimately trivial, local concerns. My heart goes out to the Japanese people- my brother Sweetums' wife was born and raised in the Tokyo metro area, and her family still lives there. While visiting Japan for my brother's wedding, I found the people of Japan to be extremely hospitable and unfailingly gracious. They are in my thoughts now.

Of course, the story of the nuclear power plant disaster is disquieting, as I live within an hour's drive of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is uncomfortably close to a fault. The fact that the GOP House has defunded NOAA is also disquieting.

Damn, a lot of my planned posts have been derailed by tragedy lately, last week I had planned on posting about the Japanese holiday Hina Matsuri, also known as Girls' Day. Again, my heart goes out to the people of Japan.

UPDATE: I spoke with my sister in law, and her family is okay- they don't have any power, but they are safe. I also want to qualify my characterization of local events as "trivial"- if your house is flooded, it's not a trivial matter. My personal experience of the local events was annoying, but I realize that other people in the NY metro area have suffered real loss with the storm.

Today, the local roads are still a mess, so I'll have to allocate more time to travel to work. I didn't make my volunteer gig this morning because extensive work was being done on the elevated tracks of the 1-train, and Broadway was closed from 242nd on down. I took one look at the traffic/transit situation, and said, "Not today, there's no way", then called my friend (Morocco's answer to George Clooney) and told him that I would be unable to attend. Now to plot out my route to work...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When Lacking Inspiration...

...fall on the "post a video" gambit. There's a lot to write about, with the developments in Wisconsin, the Odious Peter King's witch-hunt "hearings", the situation in Libya (now Saudi Arabia)... but I am somewhat pressed for time today. Therefore, I'll post a video which is pro-labor, and also fits in with my "run up to the Solemn Feast of St. Patrick". The Molly Maguires was a secret society of Irish miners which combatted (often violently) the corrupt mine owners in Pennsylvania in the 1870's. Typically, the mine workers were more often the victims of violence than the perpetrators, though the forces arrayed against them were able to control the narrative (much like today, when 600 Teabaggers trump 100,000 pro-union protestors as far as the media is concerned). Sickening how current events are mirroring the "bad old days" before the unionization of the American workforce.

At least there hasn't been any violent opposition to the pro-union demonstators in Wisconsin... at least not yet.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's Cute! It's a Mutant!!

I call it a cutant:

This picture was "Picture of the Week" in the Telegraph (Torygraph?). Anyway, this beautiful mutant, named Magdalena, should grow up to the perfect girlfriend for this guy, because, after all, even a mutant girlfriend is better than a blow-up one.

Speaking of blow-up girlfriends, am I the only one to be weirded out that there were two songs about... er... inflatable paracoitae released at roughly the same time in the U.K.? Am I also the only one weirded out by the fact that I have both of these songs on my portable music thingamadoobob?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Does this Accordion Make My Tuesday Look Fat?

In keeping with our Mardi Gras tradition, here's a little "green beans" music for to make you shake your ass:

In another hilarious thread at "Snark Central", a takedown of professional scold Ross Douthat goes on. Some bastard in the thread wrote a description of Ross' brand of Catholicism as "All Ash Wednesday, no Mardi Gras." When Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany (another "Ash Wednesday all the time" guy) was named Pope, I complained because I thought that it was time to nominate a Brazilian cardinal (Brazil being the most populous "Catholic" country in the world). Unfortunately, the College of Cardinals decided that they didn't want the Pope standing on the Vatican balcony in a Speedo, giving blessings, so they passed over the cardinal of São Paulo in favor of the guy who ran the remnants of the Inquisition.

Unfortunately, Catholic scolds like Ross and Ratzi are too busy snooping in people's bedrooms to look up and see that sun that Hillaire Belloc described:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Yeah, Hillaire, I get ya... forget the prudes and scolds, the Church needs more of this:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Manliness! Models!! Monomachy!!!

Yesterday, the 2011 New York Open Judo Tournament, sponsored by Filmannex, was held at the New York Athletic Club:

In a departure from previous NY Open Tournaments, this year's open featured only four teams, the U.S., Canada, Italy, and Germany. Each team featured five judoka, so the many hours of preliminary matches were unneccesary. This event was pretty much "all finals, all day". Also, there was only one mat, which improved the viewing experience (previous "Opens" had two competitions running simultaneously, which often led to frustration when spectators watching one match were surprised by a call of "Ippon!" from the other mat). Yeah, the one mat format was an improvement over the two-mat tradition. Additionally, moving the mats out of the gymnasium after the tournament was a lot less time-consuming. In an even greater departure from previous events, this year's Open, helmed by mad genius and Friend of the Bastard Francesco Rulli, had a hipper vibe- more nightclub than school gym. The lights were dimmed in the room, throwing the competition area into greater prominence. There was a busy beer concession, and about forty up-and-coming fashion models were in attendence. A D.J. was playing tracks between matches, and a recording of Japanese drumming was sometimes used to heighten the tension of the matches themselves. All told, the event had a more modern, more European vibe than previous Opens. Color commentary was provided by five time national champion Carrie Chandler.

I spent some quality time watching serious competition while drinking beer with good friends, all the while contemplating this hipper new incarnation of the Open Tournament. While the afternoon was a spectacular success, I did miss the more international flavor of previous years, when teams from Brazil, Mongolia, Poland, Haiti, Japan, South Korea, and several former Soviet republics were in attendence. Hopefully, next year's Open will feature more teams, while keeping the one mat format, and the "hipper", more modern vibe. Kudos to Francesco for masterminding an event which will most likely form the template for future competitions.

Also in attendence at the Open was film industry gadfly Abel Ferrara. I was able to speak with him briefly about the beauty of our weapons of the sport. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to pitch my idea for a musical based on The Bad Lieutenant- sample Just Two Girls from Jersey:

I thought it would be just a routine traffic stop,
But then I realized he was a crazy cop.
Why is my ass sticking out this win-in-dow?
Why is my best friend miming fellatio?

Uh, I digress... back to the tournament- the German team won the gold, with the U.S. taking silver, and Canuckistan taking the bronze. For a taste of the action, here is video of a great match (though a bit of a hearbreaker, as local favorite Garry St Leger was thrown for "Ippon" by German player Rene Kirsten):

The technique used was uchimata, which means "inner thigh". Uchimata belongs to the family of hip throws- here's a nice breakdown of the throw, which looks a hell of a lot worse than it actually is.

Friday, March 4, 2011

In Keeping with a Sombre Mood

In keeping with last year's tradition, I'm starting the run-up to the Solemn Feast of St. Patrick a couple of weeks in advance. Just as I initiated last year's run-up by linking to the video for the improbable dance hit in Germany Dearg Doom by Horslips, I am kicking this one off with a Horslips' tune. Being in a somewhat sombre mood, I'll post a video for a more morose tune from Horslips' 1973 Táin album. Next week, I hope to do a bit on the Táin Bo Cuailnge, because Kinsella's translation of it is one of my favorite reads.

The song Cú Chulainn's Lament is perhaps the most outré love song in the English language- the semi-divine hero Cú Chulainn sings a lament for his friend Ferdia, whom he has just slain in single combat. In the course of the cattle raid narrated in the Táin, Medbh, Queen of Connacht, promised the hand of her daughter Finnabair (a cognate of Gwenhwyfar, which in turn is the root of the name Jennifer, or is that Jennifer? Who can tell with all these Jennifers gadding about?), and her "friendly thighs" to Ferdia if he could defeat Cú Chulainn in single combat.

The combat, like many of the fights described in the Táin, takes place in a river-ford. Before the combat, Cú Chulainn tries to warn Ferdia off- I love the line "everything I do is ringed about with fantasy" (it would be a good motto for someone). In the course of the battle, neither Cú Chulainn nor Ferdia can gain the upper hand- they strive in combat by day, then share their provisions by night for days. Finally, Cú Chulainn calls for his secret weapon, the Gae Bolga, a wickedly barbed spear, which only he knows how to employ, in a most bizarre fashion:

And Cúchulainn called for the Gae Bulga from Laeg son of
Riangabair. This was its nature: With the stream it was made
ready, and from between the fork of the foot it was cast; the
wound of a single spear it gave when entering the body, and
thirty barbs had it when it opened and it could not be drawn
out of a man's flesh till the flesh had been cut about it.

Ferdia, having (much like Achilles) an impenetrable skin of "horn", is fatally pierced through his bunghole- one possible original meaning of Gae Bolga is "spear with a sack", so make of this episode what you will, you dirty dogs. So, in an abrupt shift from salacious to sombre, here's Cú Chulainn's lament for his fallen friend:

For the sake of completeness, I must also note that the Decemberists released an album inspired by The Táin as well. I'll have to track down some videos to link when I finally get around to doing my bit on The Táin.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kia Kaha

AK made me aware of the Māori phrase Kia Kaha. I'm heading out to the wake for my family friend, who succumbed to cancer at the age of twelve. In the face of such a horrifying tragedy, the normal mourning process tends to be short circuited, the platitudes we tend to mouth at memorial services are trite and meaningless. It's better to just lend support, to be a visible presence.

Tonight, it's "Closed mouth, open arms."

Kia Kaha!

Thanks for the outpouring of support!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Heart Has Joined the Thousand

I just received word that my friend Nick succumbed to cancer after a heroic year-long fight. Nick was a gentleman, a scholar, an athlete. He bore the burden of his illness with dignity and grit. Before he fell ill, Nick used to volunteer with disabled kids in an outreach program run by his taekwondo school.

For those unfamiliar with the post title, it's part of a quote from the novel Watership Down by Richard Adams: "My heart has joined the thousand, for my friend stopped running today." Nick was exactly the right age to read a book like Watership Down for the first time. Nick was the perfect example of the adage "The candle that burns brightest burns briefest." As much as I mourn the loss of the boy who was, I weep for the loss of the man he would have been.

My deepest, most heartfelt condolences to his parents, his big brother, and his little sister.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Effin' Bloomberg, Effin' New York Times

NYC mayor Michael "I was for term limits, until I was against them because I wanted to get re-elected" Bloomberg has announced that he wants to carry out a plan to lay off approximately 4,700 city teachers. The article in the fucking New York Times, while mentioning that the city has lost about $2.1 billion in state aid, fails to make a single notice of the damn near $ 700 million City Time automated payroll system scandal. Bloomberg, a man reputed to be a business whiz-kind and a technocrat, characterized $80 million of stolen money (part of a badly-contracted, badly-overseen $700 million boondoggle) as having "slipped through the cracks". Fucking technocrats, how do they work? Suffice it to say, Bloomberg's scrutiny of teachers making $37,000 to $57,000 is greater than his scrutiny of consultants making ten times as much. In keeping with
zrm's new internet tradition, FUCK YOU, MIKE BLOOMBERG!

Of course, the "paper of record" has lagged behind the "local tabloid" in coverage of this story. Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News has been doing heroic work keeping up with the CityTime scandal.