Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Neighbors, Old Stories

As if this past weekend weren't hectic enough, a lovely family (two nice, professional people with three very young boys) has rented the apartment above mine. All weekend, they were moving their stuff into the new place. On Friday, after working a graveyard shift, I was hanging out in front of the house with my old college roommate when the paterfamilias of the family pulled up with a minivan full of stuff. Of course, I asked him if he wanted help (I actually enjoy this sort of thing- the sheer physicality of the work appeals to me from time to time).

Besides some boxes of household goods, he had a bureau which he planned to move with a dolly. The front porch has two sets of stairs which form a right angle. My roommate and I helped him get the dolly up the first set of stairs, and we realized that we couldn't turn the dolly, so the proper thing to do was to bring the bureau up by hand. Dropping one end of the dolly got it through the front door, then we took it in in the upright position. We brought it into the hallway, then closed the front door to purchase a couple of inches of wiggle room. A simple "pivot" maneuver got the bureau in through the apartment door. Who says that playing hours of Tetris is a waste of time?

The whole episode gave me flashbacks to college- hanging out with an old friend on a warm day, moving furniture. I remembered an incident which took place at the start of my senior year. Junior year, eight of us were living in a gigantic suite which had formerly housed the campus police (the vault in which the university stored the silverware used at formal events formed a second living room). We didn't have the option of keeping the suite, so we split up the octumvirate and decided to sell off enough of the furniture to be able to buy a case or two of Labatt's Blue.

One of the chairs we were selling was an ugly armchair which was attached to a heavy, round plywood base by a swivel joint. The joint was broken, so the chair had a tendency to flop backwards. We "nullified" this problem by placing the chair against a wall. We knew that we would probably be unable to sell the chair if it were flopped on the ground, but that we could explain the situation to prospective buyers and unload the thing for five bucks. That being said, I sat down in the chair, and leaned forward so the chair looked sound. Sitting on the edge of my seat, I called out to a couple of freshmen girls who were walking across the quad, "Ladies, would you be interested in purchasing a chair?"

One of the young ladies smiled and said, "Only if you come with it." She then started tousling my hair (yeah, this happened a while ago, when I had a big blond 'fro), and abruptly plopped down on the arm of the chair. Needless to say, the chair flopped over and the girl and I went ass over teakettle. My roommate was doubled over in paroxysms of laughter, and the poor, hapless girl was beet red with embarassment. What an inauspicious way to start off one's college career!

Sunday, May 29, 2011


The past couple of days have been a blur- I was out of the house yesterday by 8 AM, and headed up to work a major fundraising event. I finally left work at 6 PM, and drove a co-worker and co-resident of Yonkers home before returning to my little homestead by 7 PM. After a quick creamed nettles and scrambled egg sandwich, I took a brief nap, then got up, showered up, powered up, and hit the road. I got to the Saturday night party under the tent by 11:30, and was touched by the fact that people were anticipating my arrival. The roommate who I'd picked up at JFK drove up on Friday with another roommate of ours, so I had a good "advance man". Man, everybody's so great, it was really heartwarming- everybody looked great too, especially ***REDACTED*** and ***REDACTED*** who hadn't changed a bit since graduation. I was surprised that ***REDACTED*** and ***REDACTED*** remembered a particular ***FUTURE BLOG POST*** that I used to do, and were amused that I was still performing this schtick in public. ***REDACTED***, the woman who worked the front desk in our dining hall looked fabulous, she hadn't changed a bit, and she greeted us all with genuine affection and hearty hugs. After a couple of hours of swapping tales over a few drinks, it was time to turn in.

Made it to breakfast by 9 after a brief walkabout. Met up with some folks who, due to children or travel fatigue, hadn't made it to 11:30 the night before. Breakfast was followed by a brief tour of the campus with good friends. I hit the road with the roommate I'd picked up on Thursday by noon, and dropped him off in the City of Y_______ before hot-footing it up to work the tail end of the event (a co-worker of mine and I alternate between the "event logistics" job and the "chucking out" job). I get off by 8 and hope to have a beer with my old roommate before passing out. Tomorrow, I have to be at work by 10 AM, so my roommate is planning on visiting Manhattan and taking a cab to JFK. I wouldn't be home from work in time to do airport duty.

So, the basic report is as follows. The campus looks good, the city looks a lot better than it did when I was there. The students working as event staff were adorable, they were a really great bunch of younguns, and not one of them trampled on my lawn, by gum. The only damper on the stellar, though hectic, weekend was the fact that a particular individual was not able to make it back East so I could shake his hand and have a beer with him. He knows who he is, so I won't divulge his secret identity.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Nostalgia Trip

Yesterday, I picked one of my college roommates up at JFK airport, and braved the godawful traffic on the roads of Queens- the Van Wyck was so congested, I turned exited at Hillside Boulevard and hit the Clearview, which was almost devoid of traffic.

We hit the City of Y______ around eleven A.M. and, after my roommate settled into his temporary lodgings ("big ups" to my great landlord for letting my friend stay in one of the apartments merely on my recommendation), hit the pub. It's amazing how you fall into old familiar patterns, repeating old inside jokes, talking about mutual acquaintances... the years just disappear. We spent hours drinking diry big pints, then went to my favorite Thai restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, I had to take a breather to get ready for a graveyard shift (this being a huge event weekend, we had to juggle the schedule around so our understaffed department can handle the crush). When I get home, I'll drop my roommate off at the train station so he can head up to reunion. I hope to catch one of the big events on Saturday night, after a long day of dealing with the public. Gotta continue the nostalgia trip.

It's been a month of nostalgia- hanging out with my brother Vincenzo's classmates in Virginia two weeks ago, hanging out with the "Bronson from Wisconsin" yesterday. Like I said, I'm going to try my damnedest to continue it.

Best exchange of the day?

"I've become a bit of an eccentric in the last couple of years."
"Dude, you've always been an eccentric!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Might Be a Sparse Posting Schedule

Busy, busy, busy! The next few days will be extremely busy ones. Tomorrow, I have to drive to JFK Airport to pick up one of my college roommates, who is flying east for reunion. I won't be able to attend the reunion, because one of our biggest fundraising events is taking place this weekend, and my department is overextended as it is. There's a slight chance I might be able to hoof it to the "Prestigious Bastion of Prestige" for a couple of hours on Saturday night, but that's iffy. I'll try to post now and again, but I'll be running around like Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas.

Regarding my roommate, the following lines apply to him:

Get on your knees, like you were in a chapel, son.
Give respect to the homeboy from Appleton.
He'll run you through the cycles, like he was a washer,
The Bronson from Wisconsin, out of Menasha.

Yeah, he's that awesome... always has been.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wrong On So Many Levels

Hmmm... a Fox commentor writes: Obama chugging 40's in IRE while tornadoes ravage MO.

First off, we get the racist (is it really a dog-whistle when it's patently audible?) reference to malt liquor. We also have the no-win, Catch-22 situation- if the president decided to fly home to deal with the catastrophe in Missouri, the talking point would have been "President Obama wastes taxpayer dollars with costly Air Force One flight, and snubs foreign heads-of-state." Thirdly, the goddamn Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is attaching strings to any aid to Missouri to score political points.

Really, what the hell is the matter with these people? Thankfully, the unreasonable, mean-spirited, repetitious attacks on the president are getting real old fast. I'm sure that the president will coordinate a better disaster response than his incompetent predecessor would have.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Time for another Takeidown

Alright, another professional basketball player has been criticized using an anti-gay slur. The only appropriate response to courtside gay-bashing is to unleash the awesome, hilarious power of George Takei:

Of course, Takei was held in an internment camp as a child, while WW2 raged, and speaks eloquently about his family experience:

In his autobiography, Mr Takei relates the following story from his teen years (ripped from teh Wikiwakiwoo):

Takei describes the labor of picking strawberries as a teenager, and how this gave him new understanding of the word "backbreaking". While working, Takei discovered a plan by other Japanese American strawberry farmers to cheat Mexican laborers that had been working with them, and he went and confronted the Japanese American workers to demand that the Mexicans be paid the same. This event gave him an understanding of the importance of activism and the difference that an individual can make.

Once a humanitarian, always a humanitarian- George Takei continues to fight against bigotry with class and humor. I think it would be a good time for President Obama to award Mr Takei the Presidential Medal of Freedom- the resultant right-wing headsplosion would be incredibly amusing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Illusion of Action

Last night, I had to work an event at one of my job sites. Events tend to involve a lot of different tasks- when there is an event, my job description is, basically, "be Winston Wolf". Last night's event started off on an inauspicious note, a friggin' monsoon that lasted for half and hour at a most inopportune time, when the caterers were putting the finishing touches on preparations for an outdoor cocktail reception. Yeah, things were awful for a while, but my co-workers and I scurried to help the caterers rectify things.

After the storm, things went well until a lull in the event- after some speechifying, there was a run for the pissoirs, which wreaked havoc on the water pressure in the antiquated building in which the "facilities" are located. To put things bluntly, the women weren't able to flush the toilets in the public bathroom properly (guys, not needing papel higenico, had no such problems). The problem was a self-rectifying one... wait a half-hour and the water tank for the building will fill, and the toilets will work properly. The problem is, there has to be a perception of action- strictly for the sake of appearances, I had to text the head of the maintenance department, then call him. An awesome co-worker of mine and I then directed female guests to the handicapped bathroom, which has an old-style toilet with a tank (thus circumventing the water pressure problem). We even allowed some guests to use a staff bathroom that is normally off limits. All the while, we had to inform individuals that the men's room wasn't an option because the water pressure problem wasn't unique to the ladies' room, just the backlog of paperwork, if you know what I mean, and I think that you do. Yeah, it was obviously a "halftime at the Superbowl" moment, but I had to make with the plunger just to maintain an illusion of action, because simply waiting for the problem to end would not have been perceived well.

Put succinctly, I had to drape the Veil of Maya over the loo.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

Last night, while driving home, I heard a radio interview with a member of Camping's rapture believers. The kid was not willing to entertain the possibility that he would be around after this evening. The host asked him if he would be willing to continue the conversation on Monday, and the kid (I think he was in his early 20s, and I want him to GET OFFA MAH LAWN!!!!) insisted that he would not be present.

I can't think of a more nihilistic belief, unless it's the whole martyrdom for 72 virgins crap- the whole notion that someone would willingly trade the reality of existence for the prospect of an otherworldly reward is pitiable.

This Rapture business does real damage to people- financially, emotionally, socially, mentally (redundantly?). As the Pope of Mope himself would put it, the joke isn't funny anymore:

Added bonus, new commentor Nicholas advised, "so that you will not be misled today, study the Bible today." Well, Nicholas, so you will not be misled today, read The Poetic Edda. Deal?

On an unrelated note, I stopped by the local library today for their "Books for 50 cents per pound" sale and bought Phillip Pullman's books to celebrate the day. I know that a lot of fundies were upset about the books, but I fear that they'll be a little heavy handed. To my mind, the children's book series that best exemplifies the folly of disengagement from the world is Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicals of Prydain". If you haven't read them READ THEM NOW!!!! or you'll be in danger of bannings and cannings. The end of the series (WARNING, MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!!!), which has the protagonist trading a kingdom of joy for a kingdom of sorrow, seems as explicit a rejection of a hoped-for heavenly reward in favor of earthly engagement as any in literature.

Friday, May 20, 2011

That Whole Rapture Thing

The whole "Rapture" kerfuffle really has me pissed at the American media. Why the hell is this loon getting any coverage at all? Hell, I'm even a little pissed at myself for writing about this. The world is not going to end tomorrow. It's not even going to be the beginning of the end. Why do the Rapture obsessives even call themselves Christians? Wouldn't they be happier following Asatru, which has a more "metal" eschatological fantasy? And while we're at it, can we can the bullshit about "people of faith" being humble? What the hell is more egotistical than believing that you will be the centerpiece of Universe Shaking Events? Really, the "end of days" isn't coming in your lifetime, you're just a bunch of atoms inhabiting a galactic exurb, the cosmological equivalent of East Podunk. Sheesh.

As can be surmised, I don't believe in "The Rapture", it's just not a tenet of my faith, The Church of Ledernacken. Oddly enough, a search of my blog reveals that this is my first post to mention Ledernacken. I thought one of my earlier posts included a Ledernacken video... well, there's nothing to do but to rectify this error:

And who could possibly forget the gentle, melodic strains of Amok?

Ha sha ka! Ha sha ka! Go and sin some more!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Consideration of the Banhammer...

In a comment on my last post, I joked about using the banhammer. I've never banned any commenter (I don't think I've even deleted a comment, being remarkably spam-free), but, as I indicated in a previous post, I think the one offense that would prompt a ban is posting disparaging comments about Nena Kerner and/or her eponymous band. Regarding Ms. Kerner, let's just say that, on my part, it's always been Leibe auf den ersten Blick:

As if she weren't worthy of your complete adoration before, the Wiki indicates that she recently founded a school based on the Sudbury model. I hope this doesn't upset anyone, but I think that Nena is better than kittens. Yeah, I said it, don't make me bring out the banhammer!

Note: Even disparaging comments about Nena's headband will be considered borderline. You've been warned!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Just Hit the 20,000 Mark

Woo Hoo! I just hit the 20,000 pageviews mark (I just started tracking the blog stats recently). My affectionate yet tongue-in-cheek eulogy for gifted artist and unapologetic ass-man Frank Frazetta remains my most popular post, with 1,544 Pageviews. Can't spell "traffic" without the letters "T" and "A", it seems. Thank you, horny fantasy fans! Oddly enough, I haven't had any hits result from the phrase "boning an elf"... that makes me kinda sad.

Other miscellaneous notes, I have 94 visits from Latvia, at least 31 from Iran, 58 from the Philippines, and 50 from Ukraine. I'd love to know what search criteria brought those visitors. Latvian readers, Lett me know how you found me!

Thanks to all of my readers, I love you all. If you are a first-time visitor to the site, please post a comment, and check out the wonderful, gorgeous people on the blogroll.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Catching Up

Spent most of my web-surfing time catching up on current events. Didn't really have time to put up a substantial post, but I did get a decent update on the news of the world:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Back, As They Say, In the New York Groove

I just got back to my humble commode abode, and just wanted to put up a quick post. I'll get to the more substantial material tomorrow. I did have a problem today with Blogger, a "conflicting edit" message which ate my first attempt at this post. Hopefully, Blogger won't turn to custard again. Suffice it to say, I am back, and I'll let Ace Frehley express my feelings for me:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Momma's Mook

This is a bit of a companion piece to my last post. My mom has always been tough as nails and strong as hell, but sometimes a big mook is called for to perform a task. I spent a few hours the last couple of days spreading mulch around her gardens and putting lanscaping pebbles in certain areas that aren't conducive to plant growth. It's been a couple of days humping big bags of landscaping materiel around. I also took some time to chop out some superficial roots around a tree stump with a mattock. The mattock is a precision instrument, requiring a subtle hand. I've never tried to perform an appendectomy with a mattock, but I think I could handle it if I had a copy of Grey's Anatomy on hand to guide me.

Yeah, I've been happily playing momma's mook these past days... doesn't every parent need a strong-backed lummox once in a while?

A Woman's Place Is Under the Hood

I posted on this subject yesterday, but Blogger done eated mah post!!

On Wednesday, I drove from my loverly home in the New York Metro Area to Northern Virginia, where my mom has resided for the last thirteen years. As I usually do before going on a road trip, I stopped at the local quick-lube place for an oil change and a check of belts and fluids.

The licensed automotive service technician was a young woman named, appropriately enough, Rosie. Rosie was courteous, professional, and competent- she had my car running like a Swiss watch after an engine flush, oil change, and replacement of the air filter and spark plugs (there was a time when I'd change my oil, and I even replaced the spark plugs of an old Chevette I drove back in the day, but I can't be arsed doing the work now, and finding a place to dispose of the oil properly... plus, I don't have a garage, so I really couldn't be bothered to do this sort of work).

Anyway, the fact that Rosie was performing stellarly in a field traditionally dominated by men did nothing to detract from her femininity. She wasn't trying to be a man, she was trying, and succeeding, to be a damn fine mechanic. She did a credit to her profession, and wore her mechanics' grays with pride. More importantly, having a woman working on my car did nothing to diminish my masculinity. There's been a lot of nonsense about the "emasculation of the American male" (I'd provide links, but the Google results are a fever-swamp of reactionaries and white power and "men's rights" groups). Suffice it to say, if you are a male who feels that he has been emasculated, that's your problem. It sure as hell ain't Rosie's problem, because she's damn near perfect.


I know Blogger was more messed up than a football bat yesterday, but I didn't think that it would eat a post I put up, and a bunch of comments. I'm a little ticked off, but I think I can re-write what I'd put up yesterday. The worst part is, I put it up before Blogger "went all to custard", as one of my antipodean informants would put it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pride and Primitivism

The outpouring of national pride (oddly enough, not shared by many right-wingers, who are incensed that President Obama's administration killed Bin Laden) inspired by the death of Bin Laden has been somewhat disconcerting to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the evil S.O.B. is dead, but I can't help but think that the whole episode is a glaring indicator that things have gone horribly wrong with American society. Four decades after planting a foot on the moon, our proudest achievement is planting a foot on the neck of a horrible old man? Never mind that Bin Laden was largely a creation of U.S. foreign policy... is this really the best that we can do?

The 1960's saw the dismantling of entrenched, institutionalized racism in this country- the Civil Rights Act ended segregationist policies, and the implementation of affirmative action policies to redress discriminatory practices. By executive order, the federal government did its best to end official tribalism and balkanization in this country. At the same time, the Space Race kicked into overdrive- in 1961, Kennedy made his moon speech, and in 1969 we acccomplished a manned moon mission. The official policy of the U.S. federal government was a rejection of primitivism, and the embrace of futurity- science, rationalism, and a sense of purpose ruled the national psyche. Of course, there was an ugly undercurrent- a backlash against the Civil Rights movement, political assassinations, a pointless war against an agrarian population on the other side of the world, but it looked as if things were going to get better, that a bright future lay ahead.

What the hell happened? In the 1970s, a crisis in the oil supply should have inspired the nation to apply the same can-do spirit to adopting alternative energy as it did to the Apollo program. The space program produced some remarkable successes, but our fascination with space exploration was eclipsed by our fascination with galactic fantasy. Of course, there were some people who were right about a need for long-range planning, but they were held to ridicule:

Yeah, Carter was right- he told the American people that belt-tightening was needed, and that a coherent policy involving research into renewable energy was needed... that sort of fag talk cost him the election, and Reagan began our major leap back into the past (tribalism and all).

Under Clinton's presidency, when oil prices plummeted, there was no effort made to improve fuel efficiency standards, and the automakers used the efficiency loopholes for trucks to usher in the era of the gas-guzzling SUV. Fuel taxes weren't even raised in this era of cheap oil. Yeah, we went along, without thought for the future, and burnt through our fossil fuel "startup capital" without thought for the coming transition. The trade agreements put into place under Clinton allowed U.S. corporations to bypass production, work, and environmental standards through outsourcing. Innovation was rejected, a victim to the profit motive. I have heard stories of IT professionals who were told that they were training staff in India to handle the boring and repetitious aspects of the job, so they could work on more esoteric tasks, but those tasks never materialized, layoffs occurred, and the remaining workers here are working longer hours for stagnant wages.

Bush junior merely doubled down on concessions to the fossil fuel industry while pursuing Operation Iraqi Liberation, and allowing his political allies to engage in tribalism once again. The real end-result of the Bush Maladministration was the wholesale mortgage of the future of American society. He transformed a once great, innovative nation into a banana republic with nukes.

I supported Barack Hussein Obama over Hilary Clinton mainly because I didn't want the presidential election to be a referendum on the Vietnam War era (like the abysmal 2004 election campaign). I also saw Barack Obama as the "nerd" candidate- the cerebral, cool headed policy wonk who was needed to clean up the messes of the last decade. Of course, the "post-racial" America of January 2009 descended into a morass of birtherism and 'baggerism, the tribalism that had been officially ended in the 1960s came back in proxy form, and open racism and the worst sort of "John Birch Society" paranoid style set the tone for the political discourse. My nerdy president has been preoccupied with bullshit, such as addressing the birth certificate false controversy, and allegations of being a communist, a caliphist, or a granny-killer.

Now, two and a third years after President Obama's inauguration, the country is still mired in bullshit- the distribution of wealth is similar to that of a third world nation, and our elected officials are trying to gut the social safety net and keeping the world safe for outdated technology- as Gene Wolfe would put it the technology of the Nineteenth Century brought into the Twenty-First and hard at work. Any attempts to reward companies for reducing the amount of pollution they produce are mischaracterized as punitive measures and fought tooth-and nail. Well-funded special interest groups are seeking to have pseudoscientific nonsense taught in our schools.

Yeah, we killed an evil man, but what the hell have we really accomplished otherwise? There was a time when we shot for the moon and succeeded, but have we grown so debased that shooting an evil old gargoyle living in a squalid compound is now considered a major triumph? To paraphrase Doctor Soberin in the amazing film noir Kiss Me Deadly: How civilized this earth used to be. But as the world becomes more primitive, its treasures victories become more fabulous petty.

NOTE: By nature, I'm not a pessimist, but I play a pretty convincing one on the internet. It's hard to be an optimist, however, when the species just can't get its shit together, and that a couple of hundred petty, bigoted, ignorant loons, representing a tiny minority of the world's population have such disproportionate power. The past forty years have been a series of missed opportunities, squandered resources, and manufactured crises. It's long past time the country grew the fuck up, and knuckled the fuck down.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Been a Weird Week

It's strange, reading (I gots no TeeVee) the right-wing reactions to the death of Bin Laden, and the attempts to delegitimize the President, and to give credit to the Bush Maladministration. I don't think characterizing the death of Bin Laden an "assassination" is a good construction- it gives the creep a legitimacy that he should never have. Also, the proscription on assassination (it's okay to kill a head of state with a MOAB, but not a piano wire), besides being routinely ignored, is really meant as a proscription on asymmetric warfare- assassination is much more feasible for smaller states than a successful military campaign. So, it wasn't an assassination, it was an execution (without trial, of course), or a termination... Bin Laden doesn't rate the term "assassination".

I'll put up a more substantial post tomorrow. On Wednesday, I'll be heading down to Virginia for a few days, so I'll try to put up a barn-burner before kicking off for a few days. I also have to consider replacing the antiquated laptop- she's tired, I'm running an old browser, and I'm having power supply "issues" (cord is somewhat whacked, so I have to hold the adapter to the "port" on back of the laptop). Gotta shop around...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mom, an Appreciation

Today being Mothers' Day, I figured I'd write about mom. Mom, simply put, is the best... always has been. There are five of us, so we were never inundated with consumer goods, but the house was full of books, and there was always money for enrichment programs, classes, trips to cultural and historic sites. Mom raised us with a set of high expectations, but gave us a tremendous amount of freedom. People always assumed that she was a strict disciplinarian, but she never had to be- she laid down her rules, she explained why she demanded this sort of behavior, and we lived up to her high standards. Rule number one, of course, was that you had to perform well academically, and the other rules pretty much proceeded from there (regarding attendance, she told us, "The only reason you'll miss a day of school is due to a death in the family... yours."). She gave us plenty of opportunities for constructive recreation, so we really didn't have time to screw up or pick up bad habits.

Sometimes times were tough (mom had to pawn her accordion to buy medicine for one of us) but there was always enough food on the table so that friends could stop by... and they did. The door was always open, and company was a constant. One summer, my college roommate stayed with us so he could work in a Manhattan office rather than a Neenah foundry. Many times, I'd come home from work and find friends over (they had spare key privileges), putting a case of beer on ice and raiding the fridge. When my brother Sweetums took a round-the-world trip, he told people, "If you are visiting New York, call ahead, and stop by", and people did. No matter where you came from, or what you looked like, or what language you spoke at home, the door was open. As can be imagined, there are a lot of "adopted" children, from all parts of the globe.

The door is still always open. Old family friends still stop by in the course of their travels, she has co-workers who call her "ma", and she is a pillar of her neighborhood. Yeah, mom kicks ass. I'll be heading down to Virginia later this week to hang out with mom, and to party with the family of a classmate of my brother Vincenzo who is a member of the extended family. The extended family consists of thousands of people, by the way. Mom wouldn't have things any other way.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nettles, a Guide

I wanted to put up a post, but I'm a little pressed for time... time to post a video! Because I have been scarfing on stinging nettles for the past week (tomorrow, I am planning on harvesting a buttload (known to users of the metric system as a fuckton) of nettles tomorrow, cooking them, and freezing a portion for later use. I made creamed nettles last time (hat tip to Pupienus Maximus, who should have his "Cooking for Numbnuts" blog, but he's lazy), but I am envisioning nettle "spanakopita" and fettucini with nettles (or nettle fettucini... nettucini?). Here's a video on harvesting wild nettles:

Stingy has never tasted so good!

Friday, May 6, 2011

I See My Old Comrades, How Proudly They March

Reading about the death of the last WWI veteran, I could not help but be struck by the opening sentence:

The last known combat veteran of World War I was defiant of his place in history, becoming a pacifist who wouldn’t march in parades commemorating wars like the one that made him famous.

This, of course, reminded me of the song And the Band Played "Waltzing Matilda", in which an old (SPOILER ALERT), maimed veteran of the Battle of Gallipoli ponders his service, his maiming, and the celebration of celebration of ANZAC Day- these particular lines jumped into my mind:

Now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glories
I see the old men all tired, stiff and worn
Those weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, their numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all.

Rest in peace, Claude Stanley Choules, rest in peace.

My introduction to the song was to the version by The Pogues, but the song was written by Scottish born resident of Australia Eric Bogle. As much as I love The Pogues, I'm going to embed the original:

Mr Bogle also wrote the song No Man's Land also known as "The Green Fields of France", another anti-war song rooted inspired by the "War to End All Wars":

Although Mr. Bogle's two most famous songs were inspired by the horrors of the First World War, he also wrote about more trivial topics, he also has a talent for trenchant satire, old man grumpiness, and wistful prettiness.

As an added public service, I'll embed a version of Waltzing Matilda... I referenced billabongs in a previous post, it's the appropriate thing to do:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Secret Science Club Post-Event Recap

Last night, the Secret Science Club hosted Rutgers University physics support specialist and experimenter extraordinaire David Maiullo in a program that could best be described as "an entire year of high school physics in an hour-and-a-half... WITH FLAMES!!!!!"

David and his assistant John began with a series of experiments demonstrating classical mechanics. His first "stunt" was the classic demonstration of inertia with the tablecloth trick. He demonstrated Newton's Second Law by lining up a sponge, a wood block, and a lead brick on a table, and hitting each with a hammer- launching the sponge into the audience, the wood block off the table, and hardly moving the lead brick at all. Force equalling mass times acceleration, an equal force was able to "accelerate" the lower mass objects more than the higher mass objects. He demonstrated Newton's Third Law (for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction) by propelling himself on a cart with a cannister of carbon dioxide. Ah, enough of my yapping, here's a video of a physics demonstration- David Maiullo is the muscular gentleman in the T-shirt:

One of the highlights of the demonstration dealt with a visualization of sound waves WITH FIRE!!!!!

Here's David's "singing bowl" demonstration:

I had the benefit of watching these demonstrations at the beautiful Bell House, while quaffing pints of beer. Beer, science, and FIRE!!!! Hell, he even "popped" hydrogen-filled balloons with a blowtorch... FOR SCIENCE!!!! What could possibly be better?

David Maiullo has been tapped to host the upcoming series Humanly Impossible on the National Geographic channel. Show the man some L-U-V because he's an all-around great guy. Plus, he's doing the Good Work, bringing his demonstrations to university-level physics classes, elementary school classes, and beer-guzzling nightclub patrons. His current assistant, John, is finishing up his degree in science education and will be teaching high school physics in the fall. Hopefully, he'll get a spinoff show, maybe a sitcom about a young physics teacher.

I have to say, also, that while I am totes het, David and John are pretty damn hunky- they're the kind of hunky science guys that one usually associates with the casts of science-fiction thrillers or the faculties of New Zealand universities. I am saying this in totally hetero fashion, mind you.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gotta Lighten Things Up a Bit

My last couple of posts were pretty heavy, so I figure I'll put up a quick, light post before heading off to Brooklyn for a beer. The title of my last post was lifted from Hello Angel by Scruffy the Cat, a Boston-based bar band which made it to the college music charts with the single My Baby, She's Alright, in which singer Charlie Chesterman, in perhaps the most romantic lines ever written, describes the object of his adoration as long and lean like a Cadillac, supercharged like the Batmobile... ah, poesia romantica!

Charlie's voice is, paradoxically, droll yet lugubrious. Whether singing wistfully of unrequited love or fantasizing about getting away from it all, Charlie juxtaposed his wry vocals with a sincere delivery. Yeah, this guy could actually pull off comparing his girlfriend to the Batmobile. My brother Sweetums met Charlie, and Charlie, in characteristic smart-yet-goofy fashion advised him, "Ask each of your friends for a quarter, and be rich and friendly." Who the hell else would have given such good-natured, goofball advice?

Here's a great performance of the "relationship gone awry" lament My Fate Was Sealed With a Kiss:

Yeah, these guys were alt-country before alt-country was cool. Even if you don't dig their music, you have to recognize the fact that they may have had the best band logo of all time (drawn by the aforementioned Mr. Chesterman):

Unfortunately, the best Scruffy the Cat fansite has disappered (It was "tinybum")- the mp3 collection was great, including an incredible sequence of Teddy Bears' Picnic, Will the Circle be Unbroken, and Amazing Grace. Goofy to earnest, without missing a beat. I have steadfastly refused to update my browser (I'll probably spring for a new laptop sometime this year), so I can't access the unofficial "Myspace" page for Scruffy the Cat. Check it out if you do the Myspace thing, and if they have Teddy Bears' Picnic/Will the Circle Be Unbroken?/Amazing Grace, you're in for a treat. Another highlight is Swearing Off the Women, and I'm Swearing on the Booze, which, in clumsier or less good-natured hands, would have come across as a rotten "Men's Rights" anthem.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The River's Rising, There's Gonna Be a Flood

And a lotta good people will be buried in the mud.

One topic that I can "geek out" about for a good long while is riparian geography. Seeing that this year's spring flood is going to rival the devastating floods of 1927, I figured that talking rivers would be timely.

Since the 18th Century, a series of levees have been built in an attempt to mitigate flooding and maintain the river's flow. The Mississippi is an old river, which shows characteristic features- fast moving water will erode portions of the riverbanks, and the sediment will be deposited in areas of slow moving water, changing the course of the river by forming bends in the river called meanders. The accumulation of sediment and a change in the main current of the river can "cut off" meanders and form oxbow lakes (known in the drouthy Antipodes as "billibongs"). The water course of an old river has a natural tendency to change, which poses some problems for shipping- in 1963, the Old River Control Structure (who said ORCS weren't real?) was built in an attempt to prevent the Atchafalaya River from "capturing" the flow of the Mississippi and shifting the main watercourse in the Delta.

To compound matters, the Mississippi River forms an extensive floodplain, which is considered desirable land- consequently, much of the land has been "sequestered" from the river by levees- along some stretches of the river more than 90% of the floodplain is behind levees. This combination of development on the floodplain and the "constriction" of the watercourse has potentially disastrous consequences. As Charles Ellet Jr warned in his report to Congress in the 1850s:

"The extension of the levees along the borders of the Mississippi, and of its tributaries and outlets, by means of which the water that was formerly allowed to spread over many thousand square miles of low lands is becoming more and more confined to the immediate channel of the river, and is therefore, compelled to rise higher and flow faster, until, under the increased power of the current, it may have time to excavate a wider and deeper trench to give vent to the increased volume which it conveys."

Naturally, Ellet was not heeded, and the construction of levees began in earnest.

What is the solution to this problem? Yearly floods are a reality in the region, and the increased intensity of storms will only compound the problem, and a paucity of funding will make mitigation of the problem more difficult. Could resettlement of floodplain residents be Constitutional, or even feasible? Would a shifting focus of plans, a move from riverbank levees to levees along the perimeter of population centers, be possible? The Army Corps of Engineers does incredible, heroic work, but does all this effort make sense in a long-term perspective? Can any organization, no matter how heroic, no matter how competent, constrain such a mighty beast as the Father of Waters? Perhaps it is better to acknowledge defeat, to recognize that struggling against nature is a fool's errand, and to take steps to work within the constraints imposed by natural processes.

It's often been said that "Mother Nature is a bitch"- yeah, she's indifferent to the insignificant organisms that build their homes on her corpus, blowing them away with a burp or smashing them to paste with a twitch. That being said, Mother Nature has nothing on human cruelty- just check out speaker of the Missouri house Steve Tilley discuss a decision whether to blow levees by Cairo, Illinois (a majority black town with a history of racial strife) or to blow levees protecting Missouri farmland:

I wish I knew who the laughing hyena was- to make a joke about a decision which a humane person would find agonizing is appalling. Yeah, they're only poor black people, so some monster could make light of the situation. As it turns out, the levee was breached to protect Cairo. The long-term management of flooding in the region, though, is an uncertain prospect, and nobody seems to want to make the hard decisions regarding this perennial problem.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pondering Sparagmos, Channelling Athena

I never anticipated writing about the death of Osama Bin Laden. I had meant to post on another topic, but this news supersedes other subjects. Nine and a half years after the 9/11 attacks, the mastermind and poster boy of international Wahabist terrorism has been killed. Wow, while Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) was insisting that 9/11 first responders be checked against a terrorist watch list, and some badly-toupeed arsehole was asking to see the president's birth certificate, the president was meeting with the Department of Defense and various three-letter agencies to plan the eradication of the perennial public enemy number one. Kudos to all persons involved in the mission.

I'm not the type of person to dance in the streets in elation at the death of anyone, even a world-class scumbag like OBL. This is a time for gratitude, rememberance, reflection, and consideration of our long-term national security strategy.

This morning, while listening to WWRL's Mark Riley, a caller said that he was displeased because Bin Laden's body was not paraded through the streets of American cities... Whoa, what the hell happened? We're the good guys, I've never seen a movie in which the good guys were the guys who put people's heads on pikes. Yeah, we treated OBL's body in dignified fashion, not because he was dignified, but because we are.

In Greek legend, the dismembering of the body, often in a ritualistic context, was known as sparagmos. The fear of sparagmos is reflected in the Greek epics- the tearing of the body by wolves and vultures was considered abhorrent, and mistreatment of the corpse a horrific prospect. Yeah, I'd like to think that we are beyond the desire for public sparagmos.

Pondering sparagmos got me to thinking about Greek mythology. The Olympian Ares was identified as the god of war- his portfolio was physical prowess and courage, the destruction of one's enemy. On the other hand, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was also portrayed as a warrior goddess- her bailiwick was strategy and skill, as opposed to slaughter. For the past ten years, the United States military has proved that it is remarkably effective when it comes to killing people, while having no long-term strategy for ending the wars into which it had entered. We have been devoted adherents of Ares, well-suited to the destruction of our enemies- we have lacked the wisdom to consider who our enemies really were, we completely rejected the Athenian ideals of wisdom, discretion, and strategic thinking. Perpetual bloodshed is not a sustainable foreign policy. High enemy casualties do not a victory make.

I have written that I believe that U.S. foreign policy depends too much on "hard" power and not enough on "soft" power. That being said, I believe that human intelligence is also of tantamount importance. It was the steady accumulation of intelligence that allowed the U.S. special forces to bring retribution to Osama Bin Laden. Without "Athena's" guidance, the ErinnĂ½es would never have been able to play their role.

Athena was pretty much out in the cold for the last ten years, 9/11 itself might not have happened if the intelligence had been heeded. With the death of Bin Laden, we prove that we can play the role of the ErinnĂ½es as well as the role of Ares, but with the possibility of retributive strikes, and the certainty of continued terrorist plots of various type, we had better get better at channeling Athena.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review: The Hobbit by Ayn Rand

The notable EPIC FAIL!!! of the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged is probably due to audience indifference to a film which is sorely lacking in the "WHIZ! BANG! BOOM!" special effects which wow today's moviegoer. While the premise of Atlas Shrugged is rooted in fantasy elements such as "Magic Pony Power Machine" running on static electricity and invisibililty machines, these fantastic elements don't lend themselves to spectacular special effects and box-office gold. Rather than attempting to film Atlas Shrugged as a mass-market film, the producers should have started off with a crowd pleasing adaptation of Ayn Rand's beloved children's classic The Hobbit, subtitled There and Never Going to Come Back.

Ayn Rand's "Hobbit" starts off with the famous initial sentence, "In a gulch in the mountains, there lived a superman". In the first chapter, we are introduced to Bagby Taggins, a comfort loving moocher who is approached by the wizard Randalf to work on behalf of a coterie of dwafish industrialists who are trying to discover the whereabouts of the obscenely wealthy dragon Smayn. The dwarfs are led by the great Threarden, son of Throark, son of Thrand, better known as Threarden Steelshield, because he has developed an impenetrable metal which promises to undermine all the other armories in the world. Threarden is thwarted by various functionaries and bureaucrats, and is facing bankruptcy... his search for the dragon's hoard is a last-ditch gambit to save his finances. Threarden has received a clue regarding the dragon's whereabouts from his father Throark. Throark was a renowned delver who designed a fabulous underground city- finding a vein of unstable rock in the mountain in which he was building his masterpiece, the safety inspectors insisted that he change the plans, leading Throark to collapse the entire tunnel complex.

After a series of misadventures on the road, Bagby Taggins becomes separated from his companions, in perhaps the best-known sequence of the book. Alone in the dark, he confronts an isolated creature named Galtum, who challenges him to a riddle contest- if Bagby were to lose the contest, his life would be forfeit to Galtum, if he were to win, Galtum would consider leading Bagby to safety, though he would not genuinely consider himself beholden to such a weakling. The tension mounts as Rand describes the contest of wits:

Bagby considered his prospects in a riddle contest with this creature. He had spent many idle, mooching days sitting by the fire with friends, matching wits with his parasitical friends. He sadly considered his now-empty tobacco pouch, and began:

"Spark of Prometheus, Fire of Rand,
Yet it can be held in hand!"

Galtum rocked back and forth on his stony perch, and considered the hours when he sat alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. He considered the great things that came from such hours. When he thought there was a spot of fire alive in his mind--and it was proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression. After his pleasant reminiscences, he shouted, "Cigarette!"

Now it was his turn. He considered the weak moocher before him, and intoned in a scathing voice:

"Foe of all Reason, weakening the mind,
Aiding the parasites, helping the blind."

Bagby only had to consider a moment, because he owed much of his looting, idle existence to the unfortunate tendency of his neighbors to demonstrate... "Altruism!"

Pressed for time in thinking of a suitable riddle, Bagby quickly extemporized:

"I sleep all day, I dance all night.
I'm a lousy parasite."

Galtum's contempt was palpable as he acidly intoned, "Moocher." The game was going on too long, this moocher was taking up too much of his time while producing nothing of benefit to him. Galtum now thought it was time to ask something hard and horrible, a riddle that could only be solved with pure reason, a conundrum that would forever escape the addled, sentimental head of the silly creature before him:

"WHAT... IS... A?

Bagby sat in the dark thinking of all the possible values for A, but not one of them could have adequately answered this question. He had a feeling that the answer was quite different and that he ought to know, but he could not think of it. He began to get frightened, and that is bad for thinking! His tongue seemed to stick in his mouth. In order to buy time, he decided to begin phrasing his answer, "A is..." He stumbled over his tongue, and began again, "A..."

Bagby was saved by pure luck, for "A is A" was the answer. No matter what anyone tells you, it is axiomatic that A is, indeed, A. It would be an abhorrent rejection of reason and rationality to characterize A as anything other than A. Bagby's fortuitous answer enraged Galtum, it was just this sort of "Moocher's Luck" which led him to sequester himself away from lesser beings.

Bagby now had to think of a question quickly, in order to forestall Galtum's rage. His hand slipped into his pocket and closed on the 1,200 page manifesto he had found in the passageway leading to Galtum's inner sanctum. His inferior brain unable to formulate a better riddle, he asked, "What have I got in my pocket?"

Galtum hissed, "Wretched louse, you must give us three answers to your sub-standard question!" Bagby quickly assented, not having the rational self interest to drive a harder bargain.

"MONEY!" was Galtum's first answer.

Bagby chortled, "Wrong! Guess!"

Galtum considered other possibilities, "GOLD!"

Of course, this was a wrong answer- a moocher could hardly have the foresight to invest in gold, and would, at any rate, be hopelessly wed to the notion of fiat currency.

Galtum was stumped- while his intellect was incredible, his interests were rather one-dimensional, I am afraid. He considered the hedonistic, immoral figure in front of him and guessed, "Cupcakes, or nothing!"

"Both wrong" Bagby chortled. He had, against all odds, beaten a Superman using his underhanded tactics. The thrill of debasing his moral superior filled him with elation. In a rage, Galtum left his odious presence, moving deeper into his isolated lair. In a spot where he kept the few trivial oddments he kept for his amusement, he sought the manuscript he had written, so he could read from it and reassert his feeling of superiority. Upon discovering that his manifesto was missing from his abode, a horrible realization dawned upon him, "Louse! LOOTER!! PARASITE!!! We curses it! We hates it and curses it forever!!!"

With that, Galtum withrew permanently from the world, letting the criminal leeches fend for themselves.

This sequence is perhaps the best known one from Ayn Rand's Hobbit, though Bagby's encounter with a bunch of giant spiders building a trans-sylvan network of webs across the great Mirkwood forest is also a well-known one. After the forest interlude, the encounter with the dragon kicks the tale into narrative overdrive. The approach to the lair of the dragon is lovingly described by Rand:

The land about them grew bleak and barren, though once, as Threarden told them, it had been green and fair, kept untouched, unused and not even as property, but everybody was kept out so that they would live practically like animals. There was little grass, and before long there was neither bush nor tree, and only broken and blackened stumps to speak of ones long vanished. They were come to the Desolation of the Dragon, which was beautiful to Threarden, because from the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man, and this gift was echoed by the fortunate gift of the dragon

In his initial foray into the dragon's den, Bagby steals a golden goblet. The theft of the goblet enrages the dragon. On seeing that the goblet has been stolen, Threarden, son of Throark, son of Thrand, has an epiphany, and renounces his association with the looting Bagby:

"There is more in you of evil than you know, child of the 'kindly' West." Threarden sneered, "Some parasitism and some looterism, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a more morally corrupt world. But, moral or corrupt, I must leave it now, and leave the parasites and lice to their own devices."

With that, Threarden left the despondent Bagby shaking with grief and envy.

After reconciling with Smayn, Threarden tells her of Bagby's guilt, and informs her that he will probably hide in a nearby village, whereupon the dragon metes out her justice on this hotbed of moochers. Upon entering the town, the dragon meets with token resistance, a "grim-voiced" man named Branden seeks to thwart the desire of the dragon. While some critics characterized as "ludicrous and laughable" the idea that the population of a town would sit tight and listen patiently to a sixty-page speech by the town's attacker, it is not inconceivable that the overwhelming personality of a dragon would hold the town's residents enthralled. While the dragon has harsh criticism for all of the lice, looters, and moochers of the town, she has an especially virulent scorn for Branden:

The dragon roared, "I am permanently breaking all personal, professional and business association with you, I hereby withdraw my endorsement of you and your future works and activities. I repudiate you, totally and permanently. Your attitude... can best be described as authority flaunting, unserious and, at times, undignified.

"I am shocked to discover that you are consistently failing to apply to your own personal life and conduct, not only the fundamental philosophical principles of Objectivism, but also the psychological principles you yourself have enunciated and have written and lectured about... you admitted that in many respects you are acting on the basis of unidentified feelings!

"The realization that you are exploiting me intellectually and professionally has been bad enough; that you should also attempt to exploit me financially is grotesquely shocking!"

Branden hung his head in grief and shame, withering under the scrutiny of the dragon. Meekly, he let slip the bow and arrow from his hands. The dragon surveyed the town, and pronounced her judgement:

"I consign you to the flame, like the flame wrested from the corrupt, venal gods by Prometheus, brought as the spark to fire the imagination of Man. I cannot suffer such parasites as yourselves to impinge on my existence."

With that, she brought the Promethean gift to the unworthy people of the town, who meekly accepted her judgement and repudiation.

The book ends with the chastened Bagby sitting in the ruins of the town, to wallow in despondency and guilt, having led the profligate life of a parasitical moocher, and idler, unfit to participate in the coming rebirth of civilization under the principles of enlightened self-interest as embodied in the dragon.

Notes: Any phrases "yoinked" from either the good professor or the Queen of the Objectivists have been yoinked for satirical purposes, so my looting constitutes fair use. In finding Rand quotes to paste into the passage regarding the Desolation of the Dragon, I found this quote, which increased the already great disdain and disgust with which I view Ayn Rand.

Also, while this quote was certainly in my mind as I wrote this, the inspiration for the post was a re-reading of The Hobbit, and the realization that, if Ayn Rand had written it, that Samug would probably have been the hero. At any rate, Bilbo would have been condemned for his (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!) appropriation of the Arkenstone to forestall an unjust battle for purely material gain, and Thorin's greed and mulishness would have been portrayed as virtue and Reason, so called.