Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vincenzo's Birthday

Today, my brother Vincenzo celebrates his birthday in the greater Kandahar metropolitan area. He was deployed soon after the birth of his youngest child. Vin was promoted a few weeks back- he was commissioned in the mid-nineties, when the U.S. considered itself a "unipolar hyperpower". Yeah, no Cold War, what possible conflicts could the U.S. become embroiled in? My baby brother, Gomez, was commissioned two years later. They both received a spectacular education courtesy of Uncle Sam, and they are continuing their postgraduate studies in the school of hard knocks.

Vincenzo has a dynamic personality- he's the guy who thought nothing of posting the address of the family homestead on a bulletin board and telling his comrades that the door was always open. He'd arrange carpools to bring his overworked comrades home so they could unwind, and live some semblance of a normal college life. While posted in American Samoa, he made a point of picking up a smattering of the local language, and learning about the culture. He's always had a knack for languages, and loves shocking the hell out of people by dropping a phrase of their lingo into a conversation. Before his current deployment, he spent some time at the Joint Readiness Training Center running simulations in Potemkin villages set up on the post- arabs, both from the U.S. and Iraq, were settled on base to help soldiers role-play different situations, from home searches to negotiating with family or village elders. Paradoxically, for a guy involved in the most hierarchical organization on the planet, my brother has always been pretty skeptical of authority... a punk rock officer and gentleman is something not to be expected.

People like my brother are going to play a major role in a necessary reorganization of the military after two decades of foolish adventurism. Ever since 2001, the military was used as a private army for a coterie of sociopaths and war profiteers. Even Colin Powell, long thought to be the "last honest man" (although his role in the My Lai horror was a shameful one), completely ignored the precepts which came to be known by his name. The military is supposed to be used as a last resort, when diplomatic means fail- it's not supposed to be used in a tinhorn dictator's personal Risk game.

I have no doubt that my brothers will make a career of the military, and they will be entering the upper echelons of the military hierarchy at the tail end of an extremely bad era in U.S. foreign policy. I have no doubt that they'll learn the lessons of the noughts, after having seen two administrations forget the lessons of Vietnam. I just hope that they will have the authority to make sure that the mistakes we've made aren't repeated (although the current saber rattling about Iran is really, really dismaying).

Happy birthday, Vincenz, this one's for you:

On an unrelated topic, this is my 30th post this month, I can haz Nablopomo?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Everyday Elitism

If there's one thing that chaps my ass, it's how "arugula" has become a catchword among right-wingers and the lazy media types who never call them out on their bullshit for snobby elitism. While shopping at the local C-Town supermarket, I ran into a display of elitist leaves (eleafists?):

Yeah, at $1.29, that's really something that only a Snooty McSnootington could possibly afford to buy. Hell, a bunch of arugula is cheaper than a goddamn box of four hot pockets, and cheaper than a Big Mac. If eating arugula is elitist, it's the sort of elitism than an ordinary working stiff can afford. Sauteed with a little garlic and served with cannellini, arugula can be a delicious, nutritious meal on the cheap. For the record, I'll probably make a salad with the bunch I purchased- some olive oil, a hint of balsamic vinegar, some shaved pecorino romano, and good crusty bastone... bellissima!

I have no idea why a certain segment of the population thinks that processed crap is authentic, and that quality foodstuffs are suspect. Let me get this straight... industrial product extruded out of a plant and stamped into a shape reminiscent of something edible is real food, while a perfectly nutritious leafy green is somehow fit only for rabbits? Grazie, ma no! I think I'll stick to the elitist rabbit food.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Doing the Stealation...

Hey, the cool kids on the blogroll have convinced me to jump on the bandwagon. Who says peer pressure is a bad thing?

1) What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading... WAIT FOR IT... The Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Clair, a copy of which I purchased for 50 cents at a huge used bookstore in Manassas, Virginia. You may recall, this book had the bizarre blurb on the back cover- WOMEN ARE WRITING SCIENCE-FICTION!!! It's a pretty bizarre book, and I may have to review it in a future blog post. I must say, I am very pleased with my fifty cent purchase.

2) As a child, what did you read under the covers?

I don't really remember doing this particularly, but I loved John D. Fitzgerald's "Great Brain" books and Beverly Cleary's books (Ramona the Pest is one of the greatest comic creations of American children's literature)- the wikipedia says that Ms. Cleary is still writing at the age of 95... this really makes me happy.

3) Has a book ever made you cry, and if so which one?

I'm not a big crier, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't notice a large quantity of dust in the air while I read the end of Watership Down ***SPOILER REDACTED**'s final moments are beautifully written, as his strength ebbs out of his body and he feels it flowing into his descendents. Damn, that's some fine writing, even the little touch of having the first primroses in bloom at both beginning and end of the novel was delicious. Yeah, it's a simple "adventure story", but it was well done.

4) You are about to be put into solitary confinement for a year and allowed to take three books. What would you choose?

Does a multi-volume book count as one book? If so, one of the big translations of the Ramayana would be a good choice... If not, I have a single-volume edition of Frazer's The Golden Bough, sure it's dated, but it's extensive, so it would be a good read for the cellbound. I'd also take a translation of One Thousand and One Night- hey, that'd cover a year, no? I'd also take a honking big Borges collection.

5) Which literary character would you most like to sleep with?

Princess Eilonwy of the red-gold hair from Lloyd Alexander's The High King, because she was all growded up in that particular book.

6) If you could write a self-help book, what would you call it?

Keep Your Thumb Out of Your Ass

7) Which book, which play, and which poem would you make compulsory reading in high school English classes?

Book (if non-fiction is allowed): Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters- it's gorgeous, well-written, and a good antidote to bullshit. If only literature is allowed, Homer's Odyssey is a good "foundational" work to which a lot of other literature alludes.
Play: Arthur Miller's All My Sons, it's a powerful indictment of war profiteering.
Poem: Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, followed by a discussion of possible meanings for the nonsense words, and how the meanings of actual words change over the course of time, and new words are coined all the time.

8) Which party from literature would you most like to have attended?

I'm with zrm here, the eternal flying party from Life, the Universe, and Everything

9) What would you title your memoirs?

F*** the Courtesy Flush

10) If you were an actor, which literary character do you dream of playing?

Grettir from Grettir's Saga.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Woefully Belated Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap

Finally, I have some time to do a decent writeup of last Monday's Secret Science Club lecture by paleontologist/physical anthropologist Dr William Harcourt-Smith of the American Museum of Natural History and Lehman College. The lecture began with a quote from Mark Twain, illustrating his opinion of the anthropocentric philosophy:

Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; and anybody would perceive that the skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.

After a brief overview of hominin evolution (this graphic, although omitting Homo florensis, is a good depiction of the distribution of humans and their relatives), with discussions of relative brain-to-body size, and the use of microscribe imaging tools in morphological studies, Dr Harcourt-Smith went on to discuss one of his primary fields of inquiry, the development of bipedalism and the morphology of hominin feet.

Humans are the only mammal to habitually walk bipedally, placing one foot in front of the other to walk. Other extant mammals that typically move on two feet move by hopping. There are more living mammal species that lay eggs than there are those that walk on two legs. Evidence of bipedalism dates far back in hominid evolution, with the Laetoli footprints being a beautiful example of evidence that our australopithecine forbears walked erect, and lacked the grasping big toes characteristic of other primate groups. The evolution of bipedalism had long been assumed to have happened in linear fashion throughout the course of hominin evolution, but Dr Harcourt-Smith's research suggests "that there may have been greater diversity in human bipedalism in the earlier phases of our evolutionary history than previously suspected". Different hominins were probably "experimenting" with bipedalism, as suggested by the different "mosaic" of foot bones in fossil hominins- in particular the morphology of the arches of their feet.

Dr Harcourt-Smith's current fieldwork is at an Early Miocene site on the island of Rusinga in Kenya. The site is associated with fossils of the early "ape" Proconsul, which shared its "world" with now-extinct mammal lineages such as creodonts and chalicotheres.

While early paleontological expeditions primarily concentrated on extracting "significant" fossils, current fieldwork involves searching for fossils of all sorts in order to determine what sort of biome characterized the site. Whereas earlier expeditions tended to concentrate on the dramatic fossils, often ignoring the less "significant" fossils which could be useful in determining the prevailing environmental conditions. One anecdote recounted by Dr. Harcourt-Smith illustrates this point- a fossil of a crocodilian was largely ignored by the Rusinga team because it was dismissed as "just a crocodile fossil". When a crocodile expert joined the expedition, the fossil was reevaluated, and may be that of a previously unknown species.

Once again, it was a fantastic lecture. For additional reading Dr Harcourt-Smith regularly wrote blog posts from the field, which make for great reading.

UPDATE: I was somewhat rushed writing this post- I forgot to mention that Dr. Harcourt-Smith mentioned Homo florensis in his lecture, remarking on how large the feet of this little hominin were. He also gave a quick overview of possible reasons for the evolution of a bipedal gait- one theory is that walking on two feet substantially reduces the amount of sunlight, and thus heat, that a body has to deal with. He also cautioned against extrapolating the behavior of extinct hominins from the observed behavior of modern hunters and collectors such as the San. Simply put, the San are modern humans, and exhibit a cultural sophistication that our extinct forebears were unlikely to possess. He also mentioned a recent discovery of a series of footprints dating back to the early days of Homo sapiens, but hinted that the National Geographic Society would come after him if he said anything further about it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Home from the Holidays

Friday was a bit of a "hell day"- up at 5:30AM, hit the road by 6:30, and back in the New York Groove in time to eat a decent sit-down lunch before going to work (I didn't have time or inclination to go home before work). I'm wrapping up at work now (we had a small fundraising event, so I was unable to "surf" much , and my one dream is to drive home, brush my t00fies, and pass out until the early afternoon. Yeah, that's AMBITION! I've been slowly catching up with the regulars' posts and leaving comments, but it'll take a while to really do a proper job.

I'll be working midnight to eight on Sunday morning, so I hope to put up a recap of **gasp** last Monday's Secret Science Club lecture when I have time to write. I have my notes, and have an outline for the post, but it needs linkage, and I'm a bit punchy right now, so I'd do a half-assed job.

Thanksgiving was great- it was wonderful seeing mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, and my two eldest nephews after more months than I'd care to consider. To give you an idea of what the family is like, we were sitting in a local restaurant on Wednesday afternoon (before hitting the huge local used book store), and, when a large bible study group gathered at the next couple of tables over, we started discussing the implications of the possibility that faster-than-light neutrinos have been detected in the large hadron collider. Unfortunately, this was ineffective as an "exorcism"... maybe they thought we were "speaking in tongues".

I think I shall pass out now!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Annual Orgy of Consumption

Black Friday... shit, the very notion of getting up at four in the morning in order to elbow, claw, and shove your way into stores in order to buy a whole lot of cheap, poorly made crap on credit is totally foreign to me. Of course, many stores are now opening on Thanksgiving night this year. Damn, if overeating and lying on the couch watching football aren't sacred anymore, nothing is. I have scorn for the people who would descend upon the stores on Thanksgiving night, but I have nothing but pity for the poor folks working in retail. Damn, as if dealing with the people weren't bad enough, they don't even have time to digest their dinners before being thrown into the grinder.

I'm not into the whole consumerism thing, and I think an "opt out" on Black Friday would send the message to our corporate overlords that we are citizens, not consumers. There's a Say No to Black Friday (and to Rebecca Black's Friday) movement, a movement I heartily endorse. Reject the consumption, because, as the Reverend Mojo Nixon observed, America has turned into a "mondo condo shopping mall hell". While I can't endorse arson as a remedy, I do think that, barring the burning, Mojo was onto something:

I hope to be back from Virginia this afternoon and, with any luck, will catch up with the comments on previous posts and resume my typical posting routine. I shall make posting my post lecture recap a priority.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy American Thanksgiving!

Yeah, the economy sucks, and our political system is proving a failure, but there are plenty of things for which to be thankful. If you're reading this, you're alive, and that's a start. I don't really have anything to write about Thanksgiving that would be appreciably different from last year's Thanksgiving post. I especially love having a reason to post Turkish Song of the Damned, a song which is breathtakingly amazing, both musically and lyrically. To think that it was inspired by a drunken misinterpretation of a request for a jokey novelty song boggles the mind. Here it is, in a video which highlights Shane MacGowan's alarming dentition in quite gruesome fashion:

Now, we had our "Turkish Song", now how about a touching love song to listen to after dinner, while sitting before the fireplace? The world can be divided into two broad categories of people- those who realize that Turkey Dinner by the Hoodoo Gurus is the most romantic song ever written, and those who are flirting with a lifetime ban. Once again, the video to Turkey Dinner cannot be embedded, which is something for which I am anything but thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and thanks for reading. You can be assured that I am grateful to be able to interact with such an amazing bunch of people as yourselves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Big Bad Bald Bastard's Best Boston Brown Bread

If you're going to steal, steal from the best, I say. Posting a recipe, I decided I'd crib Laura's "best ever" schtick, leaving out the "E" word for the sake of alliteration.

I have to confess that, although I am a born and bred New York boy, New England looms large in my background. My paternal grandfather was born and raised in Framingham, Massachusetts, and our family would always spend a couple of weeks camping in Maine every summer. One does not readily get New England out of one's blood. Oddly enough, my New England past caught up to me recently (perhaps it's because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, when everybody in the U.S. gets a little New England-y), and I had a strange craving for Boston brown bread.

Boston brown bread is a throwback to the early days of the settlement of New England, before decent stoves were developed. The multi-grain bread (equal parts rye, corn, and wheat flour) is sweetened with molasses, and steamed in a mold (nowadays, using an empty coffee can is typical). It's not the typical sort of thing I crave, but I inexplicably had a jones for it, and the commercially canned stuff, like Moxie, is not readily available outside of New England. If I wanted it, I'd have to make it myself.

I want to note now that I am, culinarily, strictly a stove-top operator. I am not a baker, in fact, my ability to kill yeast surpasses that of Monistat. Of course, Boston brown bread's not really baked, so I figured I'd be okay. To start my brown bread experiment, I needed a mold. One comment on a Food Network site suggested using the can in which Pepperidge Farm "Pirouette" wafer are packaged. My beautiful co-worker **REDACTED** had one of these on her desk, so I have confess, I had my eyes on her can for quite some time (I was joking with another co-worker, and when I mentioned that I was eyeing **REDACTED**'s can, she asked, "The cookie can? What for?" See, I'm no Herman Cain, so I can get away with such things). Not being a "can shark" (FUTURE BLOG POST?), I decided that I had to buy a can of Pirouette wafers- they are tasty, but a little too sweet, I had them with coffee, to cut down the sweetness factor.

Now that I had the can, I had to assemble the ingredients and get to work. The recipe I used was from Epicurious:

Empty can (I used a "Pirouette" wafer can, because it has a convenient cover)
Oven safe pot

Dry ingredients:

1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
1/3 cup dark molasses
1 cup milk

Add in:
1/2 cup raisins

Butter for greasing the can

Start off by liberally greasing the can (heh heh), make sure the entire can is well lubed before you continue. Set the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Set saucepan full of water on stove to boil.

Mix dry ingredients, mix wet ingredients, then mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients to form a batter. Add raisins and mix into batter. Pour batter into greased can to approximately 2/3 capacity. Cover can (if using coffee can, use aluminum foil, and tie foil into place) and place in oven safe pot. Fill pot with boiling water to the 2/3 of the can's height. Put pot into oven for two hours. After removing pot, let the whole shebang cool for an hour or so, and then "unmold" bread.

The bread itself is very moist, virtually crustless, with a pronounced molasses flavor... it's kinda like a massive muffin. While it goes well with butter, I imagine it would go really well paired with a mild cheddar cheese, kinda like a Bostonian take on the Jamaican classic bun and cheese. I imagine the recipe could be tweaked, substituting buttermilk for the milk, and playing with the flour proportions and amount of molasses. I think my next batch may have less molasses, as I really don't have much of a sweet tooth.

There you have it, an interesting quick-bread recipe for those of us cack-handed types who can't bake worth a damn.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Little Traveling Music Please

For me, the classic road-trip music will always be Roadrunner by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (the original lineup included Jerry Harrison, who was a founding member of Talking Heads, and David Robinson, who drummed for The Cars). Here's a live version that, I confess, I'd never heard before:

Of course, Roadrunner sounds suspiciously like Sister Ray, by the Velvet Underground:

Roadrunner has become somewhat of a standard. Joan Jett tackled it:

The song was also hilariously butchered by the Sex Pistols in a rehearsal, with a confused John Lydon ad-libbing in quite entertaining fashion:

Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper's Jesus at McDonald's was a tongue-in-cheek "tribute" to the song:

The song's got legs, which is pretty outstanding for a love song to Stop and Shop.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gonna Be a Busy Week

This week will be pretty nutty- I am working a graveyard shift now (Monday morning) and will be traveling to Brooklyn for a Secret Science Club lecture (this one is really up my alley, so I am looking forward to it). I plan on driving down to Virginia to spend (American) Thanksgiving with my mom, and my sister, her husband, and my two eldest nephews. I plan on leaving the Old Dominion at the crack of dawn on Friday, and driving straight to work. Yeah, it'll be a hell of a week, but family is paramount.

I'll be putting up scheduled posts for the week. I have some quiet hours to do some writing. Unfortunately, my responses to any comments will be sporadic at best, but I'll take some time to respond to posts when things return to a semblance of normality. Now, gotta crank out some posts.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Follow Up on Yesterday's Post

I've been thinking about the Penn State scandal (who the hell in the States hasn't), and I'm still astounded and appalled that it could have gone on for so long, and to have victimized so many children. I don't know what sort of mindset would allow such a series of occurrences to take place, but I'd guess that it the corrupting influence of money takes center stage. The Penn State football program is a multimillion dollar enterprise, which may explain why nobody wanted to rock the boat skippered by Joe Paterno. "Hey, the kids who were victimized were disadvantaged, and Sandusky delivers the goods on the gridiron... why jeopardize Lions football?" Of course, this is merely a symptom of a whole culture poisoned by greed, authoritarianism, and unaccountability.

Another thing which has had me scratching my bald pate in puzzlement is the "Don't talk to strangers!" injunction. All too often, abusers are trusted individuals- clergymen, close friends or family members, authority figures all. Often, it takes an outsider's perspective to suss out that abuse is occurring. The abusers are able to cloak themselves in the mantle of respectability, so other members of the community are unable to call their actions or intentions into question. Hell, in the Penn State case, one has to wonder whether Jerry Sandusky founded his charity largely as a "spiderweb" to entrap vulnerable children. How does one educate one's children to be skeptical enough of authority to never kowtow to the predator's "classic" veiled threat: "Don't tell anybody! Who would believe you anyway?" How does one convince a kid not to be afraid to shine a spotlight on a "trusted" member of the community who is doing evil under the noses of the populace? I know the schools typically don't teach kids to question authority, but I'd tell any parent that it's crucial to do so.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Responding to the Penn State Horror

Last week, the horrific Penn State sexual abuse scandal dominated the U.S. news cycle. This week, a similar scandal broke on the Syracuse University campus. Who the hell knows what other scandals will come to light as additional victims, emboldened by these revelations, decide to come forward? Part of me fears that these scandals are not confined to these two institutions.

Shortly after graduating from college, I started volunteering as a coach for a children's athletic program. The program is a multi-sport endeavor, the kids participate in a variety of athletic activities. In all my years of involvement in the program, there hasn't been the faintest hint of any inappropriate behavior on the part of any of the coaches or administrators. That being said, the director of the program came around to all of the coaches and informed us that, because of the heinousness of the Penn State crimes, that we would be taking measures to minimize any chance that anything like it would happen with us. In a strictly CYA move, all of the coaches in the program would be subject to a background check. I've got no problem with this- hell, I had to submit to a background check last year, when I worked for the Census Bureau. Of course, a background check would only reveal a problem if an individual happened to be caught, but it's still something demanded in the interest of due diligence.

In all of my years coaching, I've always abided by the simple rule: "Don't be alone in a room with a kid, unless it's your kid." I'd add the corollary: "Don't allow anybody else to be in a room with a kid, unless it's their kid." In our particular system, the kids are grouped according to age, and each group is shepherded around by two or three counselors, high school kids- former participants who have come up "through the ranks" and garnered the job (the counselors are the only paid staff members) through good attendance and dedication over the years. Two of our current counselors have stayed with us while in college, and some of the counselors have passed into the ranks of the coaches over the years. If a kid needs to go to a locker room to get something, there's no need for an adult to accompany them- the counselors are there to act as chaperones. Kid needs to go to the bathroom? Have a counselor escort the kid to the pissoir. No need for an adult to be involved. Hell, I couldn't even begin to fathom why an adult with honorable intentions would seek to be alone with someone else's kid.

Nothing untoward has occurred in the course of our program, but we're still feeling ripples from the Penn State horror. We're going to take steps to minimize the chances of a similar occurrence occurring under our roof, but I'd be lying if I said that things haven't changed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yoga for Right-Wingers

In the comment thread at Roy's Place, commenter Zuzu wrote on an NPR piece about an Ayn Rand quote on a Lululemon yoga store shopping bag:

Speaking of John Galt, I heard this story on NPR yesterday and was just gobsmacked. The yoga apparel retailer Lululemon, whose shopping bags are carried around by its customers like totems, recently pissed off its customer base by printing the phrase, "Who is John Galt?" on those bags.

The owner of the company, Chip Wilson, apparently read Atlas Shrugged at 18 and never grew out of it.

Of course, the reason why "Who is John Galt?" was printed on the bags is because "Who is Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya?" wouldn't fit on them.

I wonder if this new shopping bag slogan will lead libertarians to practice yoga. Now I am imagining what Libertarian yoga would be like, so help me out. Ya got Ron Paul in yoga pants, now what kinda "poses" is he going through? So far, I've got:

Downward Dagny

Freedom Eagle Pose

Looter's Position

I took the easy ones, people...

Representing the other, God-bothering wing of the American Right, washed-up-actress-turned-right-wing-fundamentalist loon Janine Turner decided that yoga was too pagan for God-fearing heartlanders, so she decided to file off those Hindu serial numbers and present, I shit you not, Christoga:

What the hell is with these people? They genuinely think that demons lurk everywhere, waiting to spring upon the unwary. Practice yoga? You'll be possessed by a demon. Read a "Harry Potter" book? You'll be possessed by a demon. I wonder how the hell they could eat Chinese food without this guy going after their asses.

Personally, I think the yoga thing is a fad, and that the next exercise craze rooted in the traditions of the Indian subcontinent will hit these shores any day now.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just Keep It Off the Money!

It's been a busy day at work for me, so this'll be a quick follow-up to yesterday's post. Serial crier/serial liar Glenn Beck has referred to Rick Santorum as the next George Washington. What the??? All I know is that I don't want Santorum on any one dollar bills, nor on any quarters. Uh, a "fistful of Santorum" is wrong, wrong, wrong! Even the Obamas, with their purported predilection for unconventional erotic activities, would want to avoid such a thing! Fistful of Santorum? I think I'd rather be a pauper!

Yeah, you'll need brain-bleach to scrub that image from your minds, so how about one of my all-time favorite Ennio Morricone pieces?

Of course, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, which is even more badass:

This post is somewhat rushed, I'll try to clean it up tomorrow- embed some links, and all that shit santorum.

Postscript: Santorum on the quarters would single-handedly kill off the drinking game based on the quarter's ability to bounce a short distance.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wave of Santorum About to Hit Iowa!

Ordinarily, I don't link to HuffPo, because of a preponderance of anti-vaxxer lunacy, and celebrity I-really-don't-give-a-shit (plus allegations that they stiff their staff), but it's the only place where I can find anything about Santorum's ambitions in Iowa. Even the headline is hilarious:

Rick Santorum Waits His Turn To Ride The GOP Primary Carousel

Protip: If you're the next candidate on the carousel after Santorum, wipe the "horsie" off well... use bleach!

Damn, the LULZ0RZ are strong in this article:

Craig Robinson, a former state GOP official who now writes a political blog, wrote that Laudner -- a former chief of staff to influential Rep. Steve King, who is also connected to all of the significant camps within Iowa's universe of social conservatives –- "will now travel all across the state in an effort to activate his network for Santorum."

I've seen signs saying "will work for food", but "will activate network for Santorum" is a new one. Pretty damn disgusting if you ask me.

Even the bit of charming down-home whackaloonery in this article is hilarious:

The only Republican presidential candidate yet to have his moment in the spotlight could not tear away from an elderly woman on Wednesday who was advising him about home therapies for common illnesses, such as "onion juice."

Is "onion juice" a common illness? Oh, now that I re-read this awkward sentence, I see that "onion juice" is a home therapy... maybe it can be used to prevent an... uh... embarassing problem "down there", if you know what I mean, and I think that you do! Too bad onion juice can't fix a Google problem.

You may not believe it, butt (sic) a huge wave of Santorum is going to sweep over Iowa... it's anyone's guess, though, how the hell the 55 gallon drums of lube are going to end up in the manure lagoons.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Preoccupy Bloomberg

The big story in the local media has been the eviction of the "Occupy Wall Street" protestors from Zuccotti Park around 1AM. Before I go any further, does anything noble or prideworthy happen in the wee hours of the morning under a media blackout? Didn't think so...

I first heard of the eviction on the Mark Riley's WWRL morning show, followed by an interview with City Council member Jumaane Williams, who indicated that his colleague Ydanis Rodriguez had been arrested (after apparently being injured during the raid). Yeah, it's pretty much a goddamn mess.

Bloomberg gave a press conference in which he claims that the eviction was for the good of the protestors. Damn, Bloomberg really came across as the worst sort of concern troll. He's actually something worse, he's an ogreish oligarch wearing a concern troll's mask... a veritable Napoleon in Nordstrom's. Here's the transcript of Bloomberg's statement. This particular section struck me:

No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out – but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others – nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here – the First Amendment protects speech – it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.

Bloomberg's appeal to the rule of law is particularly galling because he connived to overturn the term limits law he once supported and again supports during his third term. This is the very definition of privilege. Your laws? They do not apply to weasel Mike Bloomberg, the poster boy for the one percent.

Of course, the eviction is bound to backfire. The movement is more galvanized and more fluid. Cast from its moorings in Liberty Plaza (some irony there), the movement can go mobile. On Thursday, the plan is to literally occupy Wall Street, then clog up the transit system for much of the day. If he thought the occupation of his girlfriend's little fiefdom was bad, shit's about to get real. Damn, Bloomberg needs to be hounded continuously by protestors- his preoccupation with the Occupy Wall Street movement needs to be moved from the existential realm to the real world.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Worst... Pundit... Ever!!!

I'm a huge nerd, but I'm not a comic book nerd, so I wouldn't have heard about this post's topic if it hadn't been for the intrepid M. Bouffant. I won't link to the piece he critiques, seeing no need to drive additional traffic to the asshole's site, but I will link to a piece by the always entertaining David Brin (whose "Uplift" novels are a fun read) which excoriates the author's best known recent work.

When I read M. Bouffant's synopsis of a scathing opinion piece about the Occupy Wall Street movement by Frank Miller, I thought I remembered that Frank Miller guy... wasn't Frank Miller the guy who used to make prank phone calls? Oh, wait, THAT Frank Miller... the comic book guy- he used to be really funny. How about we dip into the fetid, inky waters of Frank Miller's troubled psyche? I'm going to yank pieces out of the essay to snark about, claiming "fair use" all the while.

Miller starts off with a funny intro... Everybody’s been too damn polite about this nonsense: Heh, indeed, the media's been treating the movement with kid gloves. Good one, Frankie.

The “Occupy” movement, whether displaying itself on Wall Street or in the streets of Oakland (which has, with unspeakable cowardice, embraced it) is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment. Yeah, the City of Oakland has embraced the Occupy movement, right... "unspeakable cowardice", Frank, I do not think it means what you think it means.

“Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America. Whoa, Frank Miller is actually a pen name for Sean Hannity... who'd a thunk it?

“Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Miller, a professional writer, actually wrote "HAH!" Also, attempt at anarchy? If you don't succeed at anarchy, it's probably because you are disorganized - HAH! Facchinello this guy got paid to write shit? Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached- Folks, this is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at humor. Frank, Frank, Frank, leave the POOP! jokes to the pros. is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves. Damn kids and their fancy electronic geegaws! Damn, they should be using cans and string to communicate if they are so poor and downtrodden... and they should GET OFF FRANK'S LAWN!!! Damn, I always suspected that Miller was a hack who made his living by piggybacking on the intellectual property of others, but this whole "THEY GOT iPHONES" shit is really unimaginative hackery-dickery, doc.

This is no popular uprising. This is garbage. And goodness knows they’re spewing their garbage – both politically and physically – every which way they can find. Wow, how original... DIRTY HIPPIES ARE DIRTY!!!
Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy. Oh, good, Frank's going to admit that the "too big to fail" predatory banks and "collateralized debt obligation" traders have been waging war on the middle class? I say, I say, is a glimmer of reality filtering through that little blue bonnet of Frank's? Uh... no:

Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism. Huh? Yeah, they've never heard of al-Qaeda. Damn, Frankie, the head of the head of al-Qaeda is now hanging in the Oval Office, and, anyway, al-Qaeda is not a mass movement, but has always been an astroturfed organization funded by shadowy, reclusive millionaires.

And this enemy of mine — not of yours, apparently - must be getting a dark chuckle, if not an outright horselaugh - out of your vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle. Yeah, just like this enemy got a dark chuckle, if not an outright horselaugh out of the costly, fraudulent Iraq War. Stupid comic book guy is st00pid.

Here comes my favorite part of Miller's cri du cul:

In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas’ basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft.

So, let me get this straight, the guy who makes his money writing comic books is telling the kids to move back into their parents' basements. Yeah, by all means, retreat from the real world, stop trying to change your circumstances for the better. Why engage with the world, and take your place at the center stage of domestic affairs, when you can retreat, and lose yourself in escapist fantasies? "I know you don't have any bread, but I have circuses for you... BUY THEM!!!"

To add to the hilariousness of Miller's crossness, it has to be noted that Miller's career was based on cribbing off the intellectual properties of better talents. He made his name by giving an "edgy" reboot to Batman, a character actually created by Bob Kane, a nom de plume of the late cartoonist Bil Keane, created so he could indulge his darker leanings. As an aside, the issue of Batman in which the caped crusader stops a crime wave perpetrated by master criminal Not Me is a riveting read. Yeah, Miller's career has basically consisted of piggy-backing on the works of others... so much for the Randian superman, making it on his own.

Hey, let's give Miller another kick in the metaphorical 'nads... Another one of Miller's more popular works was his take on noir-ish urban melodrama for people lacking the literacy required for tackling Raymond Chandler and lacking the cultural sophistication to sit through Aldrich's masterpiece... noir for numbnuts, if you will.

Perhaps his most successful recent endeavor was a homoerotic soft-porn distortion of history for sexually repressed neocons. Brin's takedown of this bloody, fascistic distortion of history is a must-read for all Miller maligners.

Yeah, Miller's a hack, even the derivative work which put him on America's cognitive map is hackwork. Shit, Miller's take on Batman was supposed to be edgy, but shit, look at this... if that's edgy, I have a goddamn head of hair that Chewbacca would envy. Why not have Batman riding on a unicorn, with a rainbow in the background? As if that weren't bad enough, Miller ripped off the concept from a bootleg action figure. Fuck, Miller, you can't even steal from the best, ya clown.

Furthermore, Miller's success has always been contingent on the availability of the "99%" to earn enough money to spend on entertainment (protip- the Koch brothers don't buy comic books). Frank. the kids who just aren't making it anymore were the customers who lined your pockets. Foot, meet bullet.

For your final taste of Miller self-ownage, here's the closer:

Or better yet, enlist for the real thing. Maybe our military could whip some of you into shape.
They might not let you babies keep your iPhones, though. Try to soldier on.

Uh, nothing in Miller's C.V. suggests that he ever served in the military. He's a classic example of a chairborne ranger, playing a tough guy on the internet. He'd say he did his part... didn't he write three-motherfucking-hundred, thereby saving the world from the Persian menace? I picture Miller huddled behind the skirts cape of his comic-book protector, ranting at people he thinks should fuck off back to their parents' home and buy his juvenalia.

This bravado, this macho insistence that these kids shut up and knuckle down, is telling... fuck, even his "Lords of Warcraft" crack is a tell- does the d00d, who's probably been to more comic conventions than just about anyone on the planet, really think he's fooling anyone by pretending to be geek-unaware? Even the movie projects he's been involved in seem to be visually informed by video game imagery. Perhaps the memory of the cold metal of the locker interior chilling his exposed skin haunts him decades after his freshman torments have ceased. Perhaps it's the fact that a slight miasma of cat pee will always cling to him, impervious to any amount of scrubbing.

More likely, it's probably his bitterness at having his latest, most reactionary work being excoriated for being a piece of crap.

Frank's the one who's never grown up, the bubble of his fantasy world pierced only by fear of an enemy who has been largely defeated. The kids on the street? They're growing up- fighting back against the system which has been gamed shamelessly for the past thirty years, they're finding their voices, and creating institutions to replace the ones that have failed them. Frank wants them to regress, to return to their parents' basements, to enmesh themselves in the not-so-protective cocoon of childish escapism, to shut up and hand him their dwindling cash supply.

It's too late, Frankie, they've left you behind, and that's what's really chapping your ass.

NOTE: I changed "hackery-fuckery" to "hackery-dickery", which scans better. I also cleaned up some grammatical errors (protip- he who lives by the cut-and-paste dies by the cut-and-paste... if he doesn't edit afterward).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

You Wish It, I Dish It: Nettle Request

In a comment on my last post, Hunger Tallest Palin, snark-meister and Rumproast contributor (heh, that's some real Redundancy Department of Redundancy material right there) asked:

BTW - Care to post a picture of the edible nettles for those of us who like to forage?

Seeing that it is pitch dark and I am likely to be eaten by a grue unable to get a good photo of my nettle patch, I will defer to a foraging expert who has some beautiful pictures of nettles. Of course, when in doubt as to whether or not a plant is a stinging nettle, one can always brush one's hand up against the plant... if it hurts, it'll be delicious! This cack-handed, but effective, technique should never be employed in New Zealand.

Back in peak spring nettle season, I posted a video about edible nettles. I typically treat the nettles in the same manner I treat spinach- a particularly fine dish is creamed nettles served on toast, and topped by a fried egg. Typically, I'll saute half an onion in butter, add a tablespoon of flour and make a simple roux, then add milk, half-and-half, or cream (depending on where I fall on the "guilt" and "ambition" axes in the culinary realm) to form a simple bechamel sauce. I add the parboiled nettles, cook them through in the bechamel sauce, then let it cool enough so I can throw it all in the food processor for a serious pureeing. Like I said, put on toast, and topped with a fried egg, it's an incredible dish. I have also made a spanakopita knockoff with nettles, nettle malfatti, and fettucini with a nettle-cream sauce. Whenever a dish calls for spinach, nettles can make a good substitute.

I typically eat nettles once or twice a week in the spring, before the flowers appear. In the summer, I shift to purslane, wild grape leaves, and lamb's quarters as far as the wildfood consumption goes.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wooly Bear!

Reading Laura's last post, I couldn't help but notice that she had a couple of pictures of a wooly bear caterpillar. Hey, I've got a picture of a wooly bear too!

If there are two things I like, they are wooly bears and water bears, neither of which are like bears at all. Funny language, English...

I hadn't been aware that wooly bear caterpillars typically survive the winter by freezing, the caterpillars producing a natural protection from cell damage. Live and learn, I say!

The wiki also says, about the "bristles" of the wooly bear "The setae of the Woolly Bear caterpillar do not inject venom and are not urticant." Not urticant, I guess that means that the application of wooly bears wouldn't be good treatment for arthritis. There goes yet another get-rich-quick scheme... You know, for a guy who eats a lot of nettles, I still have problems pronouncing Urtica. I also mispronounce quite common words: salpinx, bordereau...

Speaking of nettles, the inedible flowering nettles have all gone the way of all annuals, and the nettles currently growing all over the place at my jobsite are the late fall batch of edible nettles. It'll be one last orgy of nettle consumption before the winter kills off the tasty, sting-y little green things.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Plans, Not Platitudes

Today being Veterans' Day, I imagine that politicians of all stripes will bend over backwards to participate in photo ops with current members of the military, and will spew meaningless platitudes about "honor" and "duty" and "service". The sad reality is that veterans are currently facing high unemployment and potential cuts in benefits. Additionally, the rate of suicide attempts among veterans is nothing short of alarming.

One of the most offensive developments of an offensive decade was the development of the "If you are against the war, you are against the troops" meme. Meanwhile, the horrible persons who flogged this meme were massive profits while placing soldiers in danger by cutting corners.

On a more personal level, two young veterans have been injured in incidents of police brutality while protesting the unjust economic conditions which are disproportionately affecting veterans.

I don't have a television, so I will be spared the spectacle of military personnel and veterans being used as props, while their genuine needs are being unmet, and the "props" will be abandoned on the 12th. That being said, I still find this sort of hypocrisy appalling.

I take this sort of thing personally- my two younger brothers are commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, and my brother Vincenzo is currently in the greater Kandahar metropolitan area (coincidentally, he's "pinning on" a new rank today). My baby brother, Gomez, returned from Afghanistan earlier this year. My brother-in-law is a commissioned officer in the Air Force. My family members aren't background players in some egotist's drama, to be paraded in front of... the largely working class kids who they lead into harrowing conditions are not toys for power-tripping sociopaths to play with. I'll sit out the kitschy displays of faux patriotism- the real test of one's devotion to the men and women who served their country is a continuing dedication to their well-being. Our society needs a plan to assist the veterans, enough with the platitudes.

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without a scathing social commentary about the situation faced by young military personnel, sung by an empathetic member of an occupied populace... it's never inappropriate to blast Stiff Little Fingers' Tin Soldier:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Secret Science Club Movie Night

Last night, I headed to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for a Secret Science Club sponsored presentation of The Illusion of Time an episode of NOVA's The Fabric of the Cosmos. Rather than give a recap, I've linked to NOVA's site, and the video is available there.

Before the film presentation, Munier Salem of the Columbia Astronomy Public Outreach group gave a brief talk on "The Anatomy of the Cosmos". Most of the universe is composed of dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter, which neither emits nor scatters electromagnetic radiation, is thought to be distributed in "webs" which form the "scaffolding" of the universe. "Normal" or baryonic matter (composed of atoms, as opposed to Byronic matter, which alternates between writing poems and engaging in scandalous behavior, and Baryonyx matter, which went extinct during the Cretaceous period) is thought to aggregate in regions where dark matter clumps. Current models indicate that galaxies are surrounded by a spherical aggregation of dark matter likened to a halo.

Mr Salem's talk was very informative, and he gamely fielded questions from the group on a range of subjects in astronomy and physics. I wish him well in his academic endeavors and look forward to the day when Herr Doktor Salem can give a lecture at the Bell House in the near future.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Little Chips Don't Know Where Home Is Anymore

In yesterday's post about the "obsolete-before-it's-built" plans for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, I concluded with the observation:

The very idea of nickel-and-diming infrastructure projects until they are "built broken" is asinine. The whole disposable culture has got to end. Remember when things were built to last, and one paid a fairly high price for durable goods? Now, we buy cheap crap that we have to continually replace, which is wasteful and stupid. It's wasteful and stupid when such items as shoes, clothing, and small appliances are concerned, it's tragic and suicidal when major infrastructure is concerned.

Speaking of tragic and suicidal, we can't even build killing machines (something we used to excel at) that work any more... weapons manufacturers have purchased over 59,000 cheap Chinese microchips for installation into weapons systems. Some of the chips may have been hacked so that they will fail at critical moment. Personally, I am appalled at the hypermilitarization of our culture and believe that we should have relied on "soft power" in foreign relations rather than a bloodthirsty policy of "kill them and take their stuff". That being said, even the bloodiest of hawks would be appalled that we are now buying cheap foreign components for our vaunted weapons. At the end of the Cold War, pundits were speaking of aUnipolar Moment (I believe that Charles Kraphammer coined the phrase, but I won't send any hits that ghoul's way), when the U.S. was a single "hyperpower" after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, after eight years of Dubya dumbassitude and ten years of continuous war, we have now reached "banana republic with nukes" status. By cutting corners even in the construction of our war machine, with the resultant increase of profits for the war profiteers (reminiscent of Arthur Miller's All My Sons), we are even losing that dubious distinction. With the renewed drumbeat for drumbeat for strikes against Iran, the possibility that our weapons incorporate faulty chips could make a really, really bad decision into a positively disastrous decision. Hell, we're even losing the ability to be a belligerent rogue actor on the world state.

The "bad chips" scandal reminds of a key plot point in Jack Vance's novel The Killing Machine in which **WARNING: MAJOR SPOILER** the protagonist incorporates an intentional design flaw into a weapon which is being designed at his enemy's behest, a design flaw which is instrumental in the protagonist's victory over his foe. I don't know if any of the Chinese military brass are Jack Vance fans, but the intentional sale of flawed components to a greedy, stupid U.S. military industrial complex would be a plan worthy of a fictional mastermind.

Of course, the title of this post is a riff on a lyric from Making the Bombs by the Circle Jerks:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What Would Be the Point In Replacing It?

I'm going to geek out on a local issue now, so please indulge me. The plans for replacing the Hudson River spanning Tappan Zee Bridge have been unveiled and, frankly, they stink. The proposed design of the bridge lacks any mass transit component- the current four traffic lanes (during rush hour, there's a movable divider) will be replaced by... four traffic lanes, thus ensuring that the current congestion problems are not solved. Some of the comments on the CBS web page are great, including the observation "They are replacing a 1950′s bridge with a 1950′s bridge." County Executive Rob Astorino's comment was "We can’t build an eight-track bridge in an iPod world." When one replaces a badly-needed piece of infrastructure, it's foolish to hamstring the construction to save money. Why the hell would anyone cripple this project right out of the starting gate?

Personally, I would like to see a light rail line along the entire I-287 corridor, connecting stations in Rockland County to the Tarrytown, White Plains, and Port Chester train stations, linking the three major rail lines and creating a real regional mass transit network. Of course, I would also put in bicycle/walking paths, as Town of Greenburgh supervisor Paul Feiner has suggested (Mr. Feiner is one of my favorite politicians- he has good green credentials and is a tireless promoter of bicycling). Actually, Mr Feiner has introduced a plan to convert the existing Tappan Zee Bridge into a walking/cycling path, which would be awesome (I've ridden my bike across the Tap' during several MS bike-a-thons).

The very idea of nickel-and-diming infrastructure projects until they are "built broken" is asinine. The whole disposable culture has got to end. Remember when things were built to last, and one paid a fairly high price for durable goods? Now, we buy cheap crap that we have to continually replace, which is wasteful and stupid. It's wasteful and stupid when such items as shoes, clothing, and small appliances are concerned, it's tragic and suicidal when major infrastructure is concerned.

Monday, November 7, 2011

She Still Looks Gorgeous at Fifty

Some movie stars look as radiantly gorgeous at fifty as they did when they first burst upon the scene. Of course, I am talking about Mothra, who made her debut in an eponymous film. Mothra sure is a looker:

Now, that's one fine looking moth. Of course, no post about Mothra would be complete without the Mothra theme song, sung by the ***SPOILER ALERT*** two little pixies who lived in the temple on Mothra's home island:

I had wanted to post a clip from the movie, but embedding was disabled. While the scene doesn't play "creepy", the subject matter is pretty chilling when one considers it- the audience sits, enraptured by the very singing that will bring about their doom. The beautiful pixies which have been enslaved for their entertainment are sending out a call for vengeance, vengeance in the form of a giant moth!!! You are on the way to destruction! Destruction at the hands antennae of a moth... now that's lepidopterror!

The moth-summoning pixies of the movie were played by twin sisters Emi and Yumi Ito, who recorded as The Peanuts. When not bringing the wrath of giant insects down on their oppressors, these ladies were swinging:

Those Ito twins were really something. Of course, other pop acts have taken on the Mothra Song, but there's no substitute for the original. Just imagine, if the ill-conceived, piss-poor American "re-imagining" of Godzilla hadn't been such a flop, thus dissuading American studios from tackling other Toho properties, we may have had a remake of Mothra starring the Olsen twins.

A few years back, I found a cute site called "The Church of Mothra", which was a fan site by a neo-pagan who posited that Mothra, being a nature goddess, would be worthy of worship. That site is now defunct, but there is a current Church of Mothra blog which doesn't seem to be theological in nature.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Know You Don't Care Much For What I Think...

...but I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you anyway.

Motivated by nostalgia, I searched throughout the t00bz for a bit of (sadly unpopular) pop perfection from my y00t. I remember the legendary WLIR playing the hell out of the eponymous EP by Dancing Hoods, a band fronted by Mark Linkous (who tragically took his own life last year), frontman of the band Sparklehorse- not to be confused with sparkleponies!

With that being said, here's a pure pop confection with some great lyrics- 1984's Reputation by Dancing Hoods:

For a faster, more "aggressive" sound, here's another track from the EP (GOOGLE IT, YOUNGUNS!!! After you get offa mah lawn, that is), Not the Only One... blast this one, folks:

No trip like the nostalgia trip, folks.

UPDATE: I'm writing this post in the four o' clock hour while at work (thank you "Post Options"), so I feel compelled to post an additional song, one which seems to be my theme song these days:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Not Slacking, Honest!

When it seems like I'm slacking off with the posts, it means I'm up to my ass in alligators at work.

This is, as they say, one of those days (weeks... months... years...)- I left the house at 8AM Saturday for my volunteer gig, then had to head off for a long slog at work- 4PM to 9PM at one site, 10PM to 6AM tomorrow at another. Our busy season is drawing to an end, and things get real quiet for a while. I can't wait.

I wanted to embed the video for Belly's lovely Now They'll Sleep (gotta love Tanya Donnelly...), but stupid Warner Brothers won't allow embedding.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Back Off, Missy, That's a Man's Makeup!

Okay, so I'm straying to some interesting corners of the web, and I run across a cover version of Ikenai Rouge Magic done by a... wait for it... wait for it... done by a girl!!!

Jumpin' J-pop on a pogo stick! Everybody knows that the burrow owl lives in a hole in the ground Ikenai Rouge Magic is about men's makeup... it's about makeup machismo, and the glam rock lifestyle. It's not supposed to be sung by a girl! There's nothing macho about the preceding video... the heavily made-up face of badass masculinity looks like this:

What's this world coming to? Everywhere you look, male privilege is toppling like an impotent phallus. Hell, even the He Men Women Haters' Club has female leaders now.

Of course, the title of the post is ripped off from one of my favorite B. Kliban cartoons:

B. Kliban's work was instrumental in the development of my admittedly warped sense of humor- while still in high school, I bought a copy of The Biggest Tongue in Tunisia and never looked back (I wouldn't have seen anything with that tongue in the way). While his pictures of kittehs were at one time ubiquitous, it's his surrealistic works that appeal to me. Here's a good selection of some of his work.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tradition Should Not Be a Cudgel

I've been thinking about this post for a while now, over four months, in fact. The word "tradition", like the word "family" has been nuked from orbit by right-wing authoritarians.

The American Heritage Dictionary (heritage is another word which has been "nuked from orbit") defines tradition as:

1. The passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication.
2. A mode of thought or behavior followed by a people continuously from generation to generation; a custom or usage.
3. A set of such customs and usages viewed as a coherent body of precedents influencing the present: followed family tradition in dress and manners. See synonyms at heritage.
4. A body of unwritten religious precepts.
5. A time-honored practice or set of such practices.
Law. Transfer of property to another.

Given the fact that I like alliteration, I'd define tradition as "the sum of the practices, preferences, and prejudices that are passed down from generation to generation in any given culture." Some traditions, like eating sfingi on St Joseph's Day are great. Other traditions, like working to deny human rights to certain members of the population, are awful. Being multi-ethnic, I've always had the benefit of approaching tradition in "buffet" style- I can pick and choose which aspects of my heritage to play up at any given time. My advice is to embrace the aspects of one's culture that affirm life and liberty and to expunge those aspects which impinge on the ability of oneself and others to life a free and fulfilling life. In other words, "Inhale Einstein, Exhale Hitler"... eat the lefse, shun the lutefisk... leave the gun, take the cannoli... You get the picture, there are good and bad traditions. If Tevye had been singing about hating on the gays, would this song be a beloved classic of the musical theater?

Be wary of anyone who claims to be a traditionalist, a whole lot of stupid, bigoted nonsense is likely to follow such a proclamation. Of course, New Traditionalists are an entirely different matter.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sitting Shiva

I was going to do a post on All Souls Day or El Dia de los Muertos, but a sad recent development caused me to change my focus.

Over the weekend, the father of a dear friend of mine died peacefully in his sleep after being ill for a few months. Dr Dave was a gracious, kindly man with a gentle, generous spirit. He was intelligent, cultured, funny, and charming. I have fond memories of going to the home he shared with his lovely wife Elaine to celebrate Hanukkah with their family.

I learned about the funeral after it had taken place, having spent much of the weekend in my workplace without electricity. In Jewish tradition burial takes place as soon as possible after death and the ritual washing of the decedent. The funeral took place on Monday, and the traditional mourning period shiva began.

Last night, I headed over to my friend's childhood home to pay my respects. When I arrived, I met my friend outside the house, walking to dog before the house was filled with mourners. After offering my condolences to her, her mother, and her brother, I helped her husband, also a great and good friend of mine, set up a couple of platters of food on the kitchen table (he's known me for a long, long time, and knew that I'd worked in a delicatessen in olden times, when I had hair). There are two general rules I adhere to when visiting friends' houses- first of all, make your way to the kitchen as soon as possible (it's the center of the home) and when in doubt, help out (this was the first time I'd ever sat Shiva, although I did a bit of reading on what to expect during lulls at work).

The house soon filled up with friends and neighbors, many of whom were members of the good doctor's synagogue. The mourners' Kaddish was going to be led by the female cantor of my friend's synagogue, a less conservative congregation. The cantor (cantrix?) explained to the assembled mourners that hers was a Reform synagogue, and that the form of the Kaddish would be slightly different from the Kaddish recited at a more Orthodox Shiva, and handed out booklets with the entire Kaddish text. One of the older men handed out yarmulkes for the men to don while reciting the Kaddish. I donned mine, and tried to follow along with the English text of the Hebrew prayers. The prayers were sung a capella, and after the Kaddish was over, the assembled mourners sang some of Dr. Dave's favorite traditional songs, including a lovely rendition of the love song Tumbalalaika:

Being among the people celebrating the life and mourning the death of a wonderful human being, I was struck with the thought, "While I may not be a member of the tribe, I am a member of the family, which is more important." As I have written before, tribe is important to me, but it's always, always, always trumped by family.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Saints and Divinities

This being All Saints' Day, I figured I'd do a quick rundown on some pagan divinities and heroes who have snuck in under the theological "velvet rope" and entered the Communion of Saints. Traditional Roman Catholicism is a blend of European philosophical and pagan religious folkways with Levantine monotheism. Much of the work of St Thomas Aquinas was rooted in the philosophy of Aristotle, and the writings of the Greek philosophers exert almost as much of an influence on Catholic theology as the Bible itself.

On a more basic level, the expanding Church incorporated local beliefs into its monotheistic model, and a veneer of sanctity was applied to pagan figures.

St Christopher is often depicted as carrying the Christ child across a river, much like the Greek hero Jason carried the goddess Hera across a raging river. While St Christopher has been quietly removed from the liturgical calendar, devotional medals and emblems are often worn or displayed on car dashboards to invoke protection for travelers.

The Irish goddess Brigid, a patroness of arts and trades, akin to the Greek Athena, has been subsumed by St Bridget of Kildare (also known as Bridey. The feast of St Bridget falls upon the old pagan feast day of Imbolc.

St George, often depicted as a dragon-slayer, shares qualities with a legion of monster slayers.

Even Jesus' mom can't escape association with paganry- the Virgin of Guadalupe is often conflated with the Aztec goddess Tonantzin.

Yeah, even saints sometimes have skeletons in their closets, such as a wild, pagan youth (sometimes, even a youth spent as a god or goddess). Of course, St Adiposa, who sought martyrdom through overeating, doesn't have a pagan connection, but I don't see her listed on the liturgical calendar. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that her feast day falls on Thanksgiving.

Mentioning St Adiposa reminds me, I never did review the non Face in the Frost parts of John Bellairs' Magic Mirrors... who's the patron saint of unfinished business?

At least I know who the patron saints of the stranded are: