Monday, November 30, 2015

Vin's Birthday

As is typical for this blog, I'd like to give a shout-out to my brother Vincenzo on his birthday. I had the great good fortune to see Vin, his wife, and their lovely children last week. Vin is raising a comedy troupe- his kids are as smart and as funny as they are adorable. They kept us entertained with skits and songs, both pre-written and extemporaneous. They are not only a credit to their parents, but they are chips off the old block, as the saying goes- Vin has always been a paragon of snark, like most of the family. The guy knows how to turn a phrase, and he has no patience for knuckleheads, so he has ample opportunity to coin snappy comebacks.

Happy birthday, fratello!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Coy About Motives, Giving Time for Alibis

Vixen Strangely has a great post up about the Planned Parenthood shootiings in Colorado Springs. Yesterday, I had to turn off the news on the radio because the mainstream media was tying itself in knots to avoid saying the obvious- the shooting was motivated by anti-reproductive self-determination extremism. Every news report was careful to characterize the shooting as a mysterious, context-free occurrence:

Authorities weren't ready to discuss a possible motive Saturday after interviewing 57-year-old suspect Robert Lewis Dear, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said.

Even though the motive was apparent to anyone with two brain cells to rub together:

However, people can make "inferences from where it took place," said Suthers, a former state attorney general who also suggested Dear's mental health was part of the investigation.

This reluctance to call out this right-wing terrorism allowed the wingnut Wurlitzer to begin cranking out conspiracy theories to obscure the true motive for the shootings. The original 'cover story' was that the shootings were a bank robbery gone awry, but the right-wingers have morphed the story into something much stranger- the allegation that the shooter was, get this, a transgendered leftist activist.

I have to confess that I would not have guessed that this particular 'theory' would be the one to gain enough traction to be repeated by Ted Cruz. Personally, my prediction would have been that the right-wing would have claimed that the shooter was a patsy set up by Planned Parenthood to derail upcoming congressional hearings. I also figured that, because a police officer was killed in the attack, the right-wingers would claim that the #blacklivesmatter movement was somehow culpable. Frankly, I'm a bit confused that the 'transgendered activist' narrative, based on a typo, is what they are running with.

At any rate, I blame the mainstream media for being unwilling to call right-wing extremism for what it is, giving enough breathing room to the right-wingers so they could start spinning.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

An Experiment which Far Exceeded Expectations

Before heading down to mom's house in Virginia, I packed the car with some contributions to the holiday culinary efforts, primarily a couple of bottles of homemade booze:




On the right is a bottle of my typical homemade limoncello, a strong, clean citrus liqueur made with pure grain alcohol, lemon zest, and sugar, diluted to proper drinking strength, approximately 50% alcohol by volume. That bottle of light pink liquid on the left is a new thing for me, my take on a not-too-well-defined folk liqueur known as cherry bounce. There are recipes for bounce made with bourbon, brandy, vodka... a whole plethora of different base alcohols. For my first batch, I used rum, which was suggested for bringing out the fruitiness of the cherries, and added a pound of sugar to counteract the tartness of the cherries. As far as the cherries are concerned, I picked two gallons of cherries on the job, the first of which I used to make homemade maraschino cherries, the second of which went into a gallon jar to be macerated in rum.

I wasn't sure how well the experiment would turn out, but I have to say that it was an unqualified success. Next year, I plan on repeating it, and using other cherries to make different variants- using whisky, brandy, and the like. This experiment far exceeded my expectations, but that doesn't preclude further experimentation.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Who Needs a Doorbuster?

I finally returned to New York, driving straight from mom's house to work. Whiskey Joe, one of my brother Vincenzo's old army buddies, a guy who was a fixture at our house when he had a precious bit of leavetime (to the extent that he knew where the spare housekey was hidden- when there are five kids in a family, what's a dozen, or a hundred more?) stopped by around 1PM in order to hang out for a bit, and we had a good laugh and some catching up. I had to leave after a half hour, and it was a bit melancholy bidding farewell to the kids, Vin and his wife, mom and Joe, but I'll see everybody again around Christmas.

When I got to work, I called mom to tell her that I got home, and there was the sound of kids laughing in the background. Slade, another of my brother's old army buddies, had come over with his kids. One of my brother's eight-year old twins had been daunted by the prospect of a bunch of boys, including (horrors!) a teenager, coming over, but judging from the general aura of hilarity audible on the other end of the connection, she was holding her own rather well.

In retrospect, the one thing that I'm most thankful for is the fact that my mom raised us in a tradition of hospitality, so that we have an extended family of thousands of people who have found a place to stay and a decent meal over the years. Many of them are still coming by. Who needs a Black Friday doorbuster, when there's a place with an open door?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful

Thanksgiving is drawing to a close, and I'm thankful. The turkey turned out perfectly, moist and flavorful. The gravy was silken smooth, the side dishes fantastic. It was a splendid meal, and my mother's cheesecake wasn't even cut until a couple of hours after dinner.

More importantly, we had fun all day. In the early afternoon, my brother and I were teaching his daughters how to throw a classic spiral pass with a Nerf football. Now, we're coaching them in a chess game. All day long, they were entertaining us with extemporaneous songs and funny stories. Tomorrow, they will put on a show of songs that they have been writing. They are lovely kids, smart, funny, and creative. As soon as I post this, it's back to the chess game.

I am thankful for my great family... even better, we'll all be together for Christmas. I'm also thankful for my friends, including my beloved readers.

I'm going to leave you with a story about a plan I've made with my nieces for next summer. There's a pond near there house, in which there lives a huge catfish, a big sucker who has already broken one fishing line. The catfish was dubbed "Big Ugly". Our plan for next summer is to catch Big Ugly and give it a makeover, starting by putting lipstick on its mouth. When we release the fish, it'll have to be called Big Pretty. Did I mention that they are gifted comediennes? I'm thankful for comedy too.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Smashing!

On Monday night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring physicist Dr Kyle Cranmer of NYU's Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics and NYU's Center for Data Science. Dr Cranmer was a member of the Large Hadron Collider team which discovered the Higgs boson.

Dr Cranmer began his lecture by displaying an image of a snowflake, which he prized for its beauty and symmetry. While noting that symmetry is not often observed in 'normal' life, as things get smaller, symmetry becomes more common- objects (at this stage, he displayed a scanning electron microscope image of pollen) become more austere, cleaner, more symmetrical. The fundamental particle that makes up 'normal' matter is the atom- each atom is composed of electrons and a nucleus that is made of protons and neutrons, which are made out of quarks, both up quarks and down quarks. Electrons belong to a class of particles known as leptons. Dr Cranmer drolly noted, "Everything you touch is made out of down quarks, up quarks, and electrons.

He then displayed the 'classic' image of an atom, and noted that electrons don't orbit the nucleus of an atom like planets orbit around their sun- a better model for their movement is a cloud probability model. He then displayed a gorgeous image of the hydrogen wave function:




The talk then shifted to the subject of the four fundamental forces of nature... Electromagnetic force, the interaction between magnetism and positive and negative charges- opposite charges attract and same charges repel. The strong force, which holds identically charged protons together in the nucleus of the atom, is stronger than electromagnetic force. The weak force is involved in the interaction between quarks and leptons. Gravity is an attraction between and among masses. Dr Cranmer also delved briefly into Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, mentioning the central importance of an equation:




The universe can be broken down into four forces, one equation, and twelve particles:




One problem that was encountered early on in particle physics is that the equations only worked if the fundamental particles were massless, though it was known that the particles had mass. Physicist Peter Higgs theorized that there was an energy field that permeates the universe (the Higgs field) which every particle 'feels'- different particles are effected in different ways, particles which interact strongly have a lot of mass while particles which are hardly effect have little mass. Dr Cranmer illustrated this principle with a cartoon. The interaction of the particles with the Higgs field gain inertial mass.

Why do particles interact differently with the Higgs field? Fundamental particles can act as waves, the most commonly known example of this being light waves, which are composed of photons. Peter Higgs proposed that there was a particle manifestation of the field, which was dubbed the Higgs boson. In order to test this theory, and to discover whether or not there was a Higgs boson, the biggest particle accelerator in the world was needed. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has as its centerpiece a 17 mile long particle accelerator three-hundred feet below ground spanning the Swiss-French border. The ATLAS detectors measure the paths, momentum, and energy of particles, allowing identification to be made. The CMS detector uses a solenoid magnet to bend the paths of particles. Among the gorgeous visuals Dr Cranmer presented was a picture of beautiful transparent lead tungstate.

In the particle accelerator, particles collide and 'lots of stuff' flies off and interacts with the various sensors. Interesting particles show up at the point of collision and decay immediately. The energy of the particle beam, which is steered by electromagnets, rivals that produced by a jumbo jet- it's sufficient to melt copper. Dr Cranmer dryly noted, "You don't want to put your hand in there." Mass and energy being equivalent, new particles are created in collisions. While this occurs rarely, there are forty-million collisions per second. In the quadrillions of collisions which have occurred in the LHC, a few Higgs bosons have been detected. Dr Cranmer compared the search to painting one thousand grains of sand red and then putting them in an Olympic-sized swimming pull filled with sand and then trying to find the red ones. The Higgs boson quickly decays, often into two Z bosons which decay into four leptons. After a statistical 'spike' in the CMS data suggested the existence of the Higgs boson, the discovery of the Higgs was announced on 7/4/2012. In 2013, Peter Higgs and Belgian physicist François Englert won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Dr Cranmer quipped that it's hard to overstate the importance of the discovery of the Higgs boson, but it is possible. He then presented us with a diagram of the standard model of particle physics originally done by David Kaplan- from Dr Cranmer's blog:



The model is self-consistent, but Dr Cranmer noted that there is a problem with the "complete theory of everything", namely it looks like we're done. He then posed the question, "Where do we go now?" His answer, we go from small to large, from the subatomic level to the macro level. He then showed a familiar picture, an image of a galaxy cluster characterized by distorted images caused by light being bent by mass... gravitational lensing. The amount of bending allows us to measure the mass which is causing the bending, and there is a lot more mass than is present in the stars alone. The existence of dark matter can be inferred by its gravitational effects. There is evidence that dark matter forms a 'cosmic web', a scaffolding for the universe in which galaxies and clusters are seeded. Dark matter is not part of the standard model of particle physics.

After the Big Bang, there was a period of inflation, in which the young universe was a hot 'soup' of quarks and gluons. This young, hot, soupy universe was opaque- when it cooled down, atoms began to form and the universe became transparent- this occurred at approximately 13.7 billion years ago as evidenced by cosmic microwave background radiation. Currently, the universe is composed of about 26.8% dark matter, 4.9% 'mundane' matter, and 68.3% dark energy. While telescopes like the Hubble can look farther out and farther back in time, the Primordial Era of the hot, dense, opaque early universe cannot be observed. The LHC probes what the universe was like under those conditions, and the search is on for dark matter, supersymmetry, and extra dimensions.

Dr Cranmer then asked, can we trust extrapolations from the earthly observations to the universe at large? Out conceptual framework is derived from the Theory of General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Field Theory... a combination that can be called 'Relativistic Quantum Field Theory'. Relativity describes the symmetry of space and time. Field theory describes how fields interact with matter. Quantum mechanics describe the wave/particle duality- particles can act as waves, light waves are composed of photons, the Higgs boson is a particle which acts as a wave field.

Dr Cranmer then went on a digression about antimatter- if there are particles, there should be antiparticles. Similarly, if the supersymmetry theory of space and time is correct, there should be superparticles- in theory, one of these 'sparticles' has the properties of dark matter.

The success of the Relativistic Quantum Field Theory is related to spin- particles have spin, which receives a quantum correction- the quantum corrections are expressed in Feynman diagrams. Dr Cranmer described the success of experiments in quantum corrections as 'hitting a hole in one from New York to China. The Higgs boson also receives quantum corrections- corrections which are a quadrillion times the mass of the boson- this is known as the naturalness problem. Questions remain: Why is the Higgs boson so small? Are we missing something? What is the energy scale at which the problem occurs? This renormalization process is akin to adjusting for inflation? The underlying principle to balance the "budget" is supersymmetry- for every boson there's a fermion.

The next question Dr Cranmer posed was, "Does the Higgs boson spell the death of the universe?" The stability of the universe correlates to the ratio of the top mass of the universe and the mass of the Higgs:




As the mass of the universe and the mass of the Higgs increase, the universe could enter a different state, perhaps a state in which atoms cannot exist. The timeframe of this is probably 'kajillions' of years, but it could happen tomorrow. It's possible that this change could result in a 'bubble' universe branching off. It's possible that there is a series of nested universes popping off, a multiverse in which different pockets are connected, but conditions could be radically different. The naturalness problem could be explained by different conditions in different 'pockets'- we can only observe universes which can support life, the anthropic principle. While a lot of physicists are displeased with this model, it's not necessarily wrong. Dr Cranmer likened this to Kepler's nested platonic solids model of the solar system, while it wasn't correct, it wasn't necessarily dumb according to the standards of Kepler's time.

Dr Cranmer ended the LHC portion of the talk by likening CERN's experiments to a menu, with the Higgs boson being an appetizer and Supersymmetry with Dark Matter or Extra Dimensions with Black Holes being the main course. He then briefly touched on extremely energetic particles from space (jokingly referred to as the "Oh My God!" particle) detected by the Fly's Eye Detector. The source of these superenergetic particles can't be too far away, but it is a mystery. In the fluxes of cosmic rays, one of these particles, which typically have the energy of a fastball, per billion square kilometers may hit the earth's surface in a year. The Pierre Auger detector is designed to detect these ultrahigh energy particles. Dr Cranmer then noted that apps could be developed so that every cell phone could be a particle detector, one such app is CRAYFIS.

In the Q&A, the topic of the different interactions with the Higgs field came up- the reason for this is unknown, but there are lots of theories. Some bastard in the audience asked about the implications of the LHC experimental results for quantum entanglement, the so-called 'spooky action at a distance'. When a particle decays, two particles 'fly off', but the angular momentum is conserved. Measuring one of the particles, one can know the state of the other. This doesn't impact the results in the LHC- it's a subtle effect, but it's real. It doesn't drastically change what the particles do, though. Dr Cranmer then riffed on this by mentioning the Black Hole Information Paradox- if something falls into a black hole, what happens to the 'information' that results from its entanglement with another particle? Also in the Q&A, Dr Cranmer talked about the role of dark energy in the expansion of the universe- dark energy 'makes matter allergic to itself'.

Once again, the Secret Science Club dished out another fantastic lecture- kudos to Dr Cranmer, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. Here's a special pre-Thanksgiving thanks to everyone.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Acronyms

The Western media has taken to using the term 'DAESH' to refer to the group formerly known as ISIS/ISIL. 'DAESH' is an acronym for the Arabic term Dawlat al-Islāmiyya fī al-Irāq wa s-Shām, but it has a couple of homonyms which are less than flattering:

Daesh also sounds similar to the Arabic words daes — which means someone who crushes something underfoot - and also dahes — which is someone who sows discord.

Recently, a group of armed thugs have taken to intimidating the congregation of a mosque in Texas- substitute a trucker's cap for an Afghan pakol, and there's not much of a difference in the look of these asses and ISIS.

I have decided to refer to these homegrown extremists by the acronym 'DOUCHE': Destroying Our Usual Comity for Hateful Extremism.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jolly Diwali, then Melancholy

This afternoon, after a morning spent coaching, I went to a local Indian restaurant for their Diwali buffet. Needless to say, having not eaten breakfast and having spent a couple of hours teaching children how to fight (and having a good friendly brawl with my friend Gentle Jimmy G. and a nice fight with technical tips for one of the teenage counselors who chaperone the smaller kids), I was ravenous, so I descended on the sumptuous spread of dishes like a newly awakened Kumbakharna. The buffet presented a great selection of dishes from throughout the Indian subcontinent, from Southern iddli with sambar and coconut chutney and goat jalfrezi to Northern saag paneer and Chinese-Indian delicacies like gobi Manchurian and diaspora dishes such as chicken tikka masala. To finish the meal, there were Diwali sweets, and those addictive fried-milk balls, gulab jamun... a former co-worker of mine, a Trinidadian woman of Indian descent, would make a beeline for the gulab jamun whenever she went to an Indian restaurant. At any rate, I staggered out of the restaurant, contemplating how gauche it would be to unbutton my pants... Diwali mission accomplished!

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights- one of its origins lies in the celebration of the return of Rama, his wife, Sita, and his brother Lakshmana to the city of Ayodhya after years of exile and war, as recounted in the Ramayana. While exiled, Sita was abducted by the ten-headed rakshasa king Ravana, who ruled the island nation of Lanka. In their invasion of Lanka, Rama and Lakshmana are aided by an army of monkeys, led by the divine Hanuman and the king Sugriva.

A good single-volume introduction to the Ramayana is a gloriously written 'retelling' of the epic by William S. Buck. Here is how Buck describes the sacrifices that Ravana performed in order to force the god Brahma to grant him a boon:


And at the end of every thousand years, Ravana cut off one of his heads and threw it into the fire as a sacrifice, until nine heads were gone and but one day remained before he would cut the last one. That day was passing. Ten thousand years and Ravana's life were about to end together.

Ravana held the knife to his throat, when Brahma appeared and said,"Stop! Ask me a boon at once!"

"I am glad that I please you," said Ravana.

"Please me!" said Brahma. "Your will is dreadful, too strong to be neglected; like a bad disease I must treat it. Your pains make me hurt. Ask!"

"May I be unslayable and never defeated by the gods or any one from any heaven, by Hell's devils or Asuras or demon spirits, by underworld serpents or Yakshas or Rakshasas."



After defeating several gods in battle and forcing them into servitude, the thunder god Indra approaches Vishnu/Narayana, the Preserver of the Universe, for advice:


"How shall we bring down Ravana?" asked Indra. "Because of Brahma's boon is the Demon King strong, and for no other cause of his own. Help me, you are my only refuge, there is no other for me. I will gather my storms again and attack Lanka, give me your permission to fight Ravana once more!"

"Never!" said Narayana. "Don't you understand that Brahma's words are always true? Do not falsify the three spheres of life. I would not have let you fight in the first place, though you were right to resist and Ravana was wrong. Ravana asked Brahma
- Let me be unslayable by every creature of Heaven and of the underworlds. And Brahma promised-So be it. That boon is unbreakable, yet will I cause Ravana's death. That is the truth. Only ask me...."

"Ah," said Indra, "from disdain Ravana did not mention men or animals and took no safeguard against them. He eats men; they are his food and why should he fear them? Lord, on Earth, life resembles Hell again. We need you again. Look at us, see us, and bless us. For the good of all the worlds, Lord Narayana, accept birth as a man."

"I already have."



Spoiler alert, the man in whom Vishnu manifests as an avatar has his wife abducted, and just happens to assemble an army of monkeys and bears...

Buck's Ramayana is beautifully told, it's the sort of book that I have inserted numerous tiny bookmarks in to mark particularly felicitous passages... I can't recommend it highly enough. Buck also wrote an equally gorgeous retelling of the epic Mahabharata, which also occupies a position of prominence on one of my bookshelves.

I promised melancholy, and not just in order to rhyme with jolly and Diwali. William Buck died at the age of thirty-five, and the world was deprived of further interpretations of Indian myth from the man. This webpage and its comment thread shed some light on the life and career of William Buck, including the possibility that he used his family's considerable wealth to hire Sanskrit translators, but I fully believe that he was the one who interpreted the translations in a particularly pleasing prose.

As a simple postscript, I think Smut and zrm would disown me if I didn't insert a reference to Buck Dharma somewhere.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Quick, Fall Back on the 'Post a Video' Gambit!

It's almost midnight... I really want to post something on Friday. Hey, how about posting a video? I was toying with the idea of posting a video by pop genius Marshall Crenshaw, but was unable to decide between the humorous 'Cynical Girl' or the earnest 'Whenever You're on My Mind'. Luckily, I found a video of him playing an entire concert at NYC's long-gone midtown Manhattan venue, the Ritz:





The Ritz was a great venue, and it was right near the Afghan Kebab House, which was a cheap, good place to grab a bite to eat before a concert... Midtown Manhattan wasn't quite the corporate dysneytopia that it now is.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sugary Entanglement at a Distance

Every once in a while, it seems that there's a weird interconnectedness in the universe... for instance, some guy in the Southern Hemisphere writes a post about pigeons eating nonpareils, then a few days later, a guy in the Northern Hemisphere wins some nonpareils in a random prize drawing run by the guy who organizes the local bar's Tuesday Trivia Battle:




The running joke is that Joe, the trivia organizer/MC, has stock in a company that sells insulin pumps, what with all of the candy he gives out. At least he's not giving it out from a van... at least not on Tuesday nights.

At any rate, the nonpareils were delicious:




Who you calling a pigeon?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Making a Killing

Today's source of outrage is the news that, three days after horrific terrorist attacks made on innocent civilians by fundamentalist Sunni Islamic extremists, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of smart bombs to a society run by fundamentalist Sunni Islamic extremists. The Saudis are currently fighting a Shiite insurgency in Yemen, a religious conflict that has re-ignited Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. After yesterday's long post about the danger to the West of using religious fanatics in various proxy wars, we have an news item about the sale of cutting-edge weapons to people who have shown themselves to be our enemies since September 2001 in order to facilitate a sectarian war. Great, just fucking great... at least Boeing and Raytheon will be making a killing.

It's a pity the smart bombs aren't really smart... there's no way to talk them out of detonation:





I imagine some of those munitions, labeled 'Made in the USA' will find themselves used on Christians, Jews, and Yezidis as well as Shiites. Is it too soon after Paris to talk about blowback?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Steyn on Western Civilization

Tengrain is a national treasure, one of those guys who reads the right-wing's bloviations so you don't have to subject yourself to them. Recently, he covered statements by Canada's most toxic export (Alberta bitumen is a distant second), Mark Steyn, made in response to the Paris terrorist attacks. Please read all of Tengrain's excerpt of Steyn... I'm just going to touch on one paragraph:


“…But that’s not true, is it? He’s right that it’s an attack not just on Paris or France. What it is is an attack on the west, on the civilization that built the modern world – an attack on one portion of “humanity” by those who claim to speak for another portion of “humanity”. And these are not “universal values” but values that spring from a relatively narrow segment of humanity. They were kinda sorta “universal” when the great powers were willing to enforce them around the world and the colonial subjects of ramshackle backwaters such as Aden, Sudan and the North-West Frontier Province were at least obliged to pay lip service to them. But the European empires retreated from the world, and those “universal values” are utterly alien to large parts of the map today."


The problem with Steyn's characterization of Western Civilization is that it distorts the West's interaction with the developing world. To put it mildly, the Great Powers of Europe did not export the benefits of Western Civilization to Africa, Asia, and the Americas, they looted their colonies and used divide-and-conquer to keep their subjects under their heels. To the colonizers and the mercantilists, the colonies were a source of natural resources and cheap labor. Rather than trading with the natives as equals, the 'men of the West' used force of arms to subjugate and enslave populations, propping up and arming local strongmen who would facilitate wholesale theft. Put succinctly, Western Civilization failed to live up to its noblest ideals. Even those philosopher-heroes who espoused the loftiest sentiments tended not to live by them. The "universal values" Steyn mentions only applied to white males of the gentry. The implementation of the freedoms birthed by the Enlightenment really only took place in the early 20th Century, when women's suffrage was granted, and their benefits didn't accrue to various minorities until the 1960s. The real relationship between Western Civilization and the colonies is perhaps best summed up by a cartoon by William H. Walker in the March 1899 edition of Life magazine




Western Civilization's interaction with the developing world in the 20th century continued in the same old oppressive fashion- the inhabitants of the Third World were largely seen as inconvenient squatters on natural resources, or convenient cannon fodder in proxy wars. Even post-World War 2, the 'West' preferred to topple nascent democracies and to install dictators in order to steal petroleum, to undermine left-leaning governments, to crush independence movements in former colonies. Our current problems with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists stem from the use of Islamist radicals as proxies in the Cold War and the U.S. government's continued support for an autocratic regime that has been exporting fundamentalist Sunni Islam, combined with an early 20th century divide-and-conquer policy in the Middle East. An even more grievous lapse was the failure of the U.S. to give economic aid to the Afghans after they expelled the Russian army... we once treated our enemies better than we now treat our allies.

The benefits of Western Civilization simply did not accrue in "ramshackle backwaters such as Aden, Sudan and the North-West Frontier Province". The 'West' could have engaged with the world in a generous fashion, establishing democratic societies instead of kleptocracies. Instead, centuries of colonialism have resulted in decades of blowback. Even more perniciously, the colonizer's mentality has come back to haunt the citizens of Western countries, with declining wages, higher mortality rates, and substandard infrastructure. Perhaps the most glaring example of the contempt that our elites hold for democracy was the naked dictatorial yearning by the guy who acted as ISIS' midwife:





There's a Steyn stain on Western Civilization, and that stain is hypocrisy- a yawning gulf between noble ideals and base policies, a sustained, systemic failure of Western Civilization to act in civilized fashion. At its best, Western Civilization, with its pluralism, secularism, and concern for minority rights, holds the greatest promise of a happy, healthy society... we of the West should try it sometime. Maybe that would result in a world in which terrorist movements gain no traction.

Tonio K. summed up the thesis of this post in 4:11:





To return to a serious note, interrobang has a couple of great posts

Friday, November 13, 2015

Quelle Horror, Vraiment

I woke up this afternoon to horrible news, the series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris which claimed the lives of over one hundred victims. I haven't been to Paris in a decade, so it's hard to reconcile the scenes of carnage with the City of Light that I remember... it's especially jarring to see crimson carnage sullying a city characterized by the rosy life.

This has been a terrible year as far as terror attacks in France are concerned, starting with the Charlie Hebdo attack and continuing with the attempted trainboard massacre. This new horror is the nadir of a bad year.

Right now, my sympathies and well-wishes go out to the French people. I feel a kinship with Parisians- my mother's father's mother left Paris to escape from an arranged marriage, only to fall in love with a merchant seaman from Alsace-Lorraine, and my mother spoke both French and Swiss-German at home as a young girl. While in Paris, I noted that the French people were much more hospitable than American popular culture would lead one to believe. I hope that the French government responds to these terror attacks in a wise faction... fourteen years ago, the metropolitan area which I call home came under attack, and my government responded to these attacks by launching a war against innocent bystanders, a war calculated to line the pockets of administration apparatchiks with our tax dollars and Middle Eastern petroleum reserves, a war which caused much of the blowback that led to these current attacks. I hope that President Hollande is prudent... skulls need to be cracked, but they have to be the right ones.

May Liberté, égalité, fraternité never give way to nihilistic fundamentalism or a paranoid security state. Vive la France! Bon Courage!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A More Inclusive Fan(tasy) Community

The big news in the publishing world is that the trophy given for World Fantasy Awards, a bust of H.P. Lovecraft, will be retired. The impetus for the change was World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor's discovery of Lovecraft's pernicious racism, and the realization that she had the bust of a man who, at at least one point in his lifetime, would have considered her subhuman, and who went to his grave without giving up his youthful racist beliefs.

I am a fan of Lovecraft's 'weird tales' (even now, I am taking a break from finishing up a re-read of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), and I have written quite a few blog posts about the man and his body of work, addressing his racism as well as his stories. It's tempting to believe that he was reconsidered his reactionary attitudes in the days before his untimely death, but the fact remains that he harbored some heinous attitudes. Lovecraft's position in the Fantasy and Science Fiction pantheon is undeniable, though, as sword and sorcery author Charles R. Saunders acknowledged in a recent interview. Whenever you encounter 'nameless horrors from beyond' in a story, Lovecraft's shadow can be found.

There's no need, though, for the Old Man of Providence to lend his long, lugubrious countenance to an award. Speculative fiction has been enriched by such African-American authors as Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler, and the aforementioned Nnedi Okorafor and Charles R. Saunders. The Fantasy and Science-Fiction community is not the exclusive white boys club it used to be (a few years ago I wrote a post about women F&SF authors)- it's time the leading lights of the community recognized this reality.

With the retiring of the HPL statue, the World Fantasy Association needs to come up with another award statue- if they didn't want to rename the 'Howard', they could always rename the statue after Robert E. Howard... wait, what?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Quick Musical Interlude

Tonight is a beer-drinking night, the weekly team trivia battle at a local bar, so I figure I'll put up a quick post, a lickle musical parody... Roy's latest post is an exegesis of a recent screed by Sparta-obsessed whackjob Victor Davis Hanson. In the comments, the redoubtable Smut Clyde, who cannot have my giant mushroom, noted a particular obsession peculiar to VDH:


There may be a glitch in his copypasta software. So far this year he has snarled about:

progressive grandees
Public grandees
Silicon Valley grandee
some Silicon Valley Grandee who wants the smelt
The grandees of Planned Parenthood
the Bay Area grandee's
another successful grandee of unknown lineage
millions of tax-deductible dollars from foreign grandees
a rather run-of-the-mill liberal grandee
Silicon Valley grandees [different ones]

Do you think he knows he's doing it?



With apologies to The Kingston Trio...


My name is Don Victor D. Hanson,
I'm obsessed with the title 'grandee'
But I lost my saw to a wetback,
To hell with the lords in D.C.

Right-wing, the white wing is lonely,
You can work at the Hoover, it's true,
But all of the smug urban hipsters
Are pointing and laughing at you.



For those not familiar with The Kingston Trio's body of work, this is a parody of South Coast, a tragic ballad about early settlers of California's Monterrey region:





I'm not sure that VDH would dig the tune, it being about white, but decidedly non-Anglo people.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Gotta Let This Hen Out

Three weeks ago, I was the recipient of a nice chunk of a really choice wild mushroom, a hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa), known in Japanese as the Maitake, or 'dancing mushroom', because its discoverers are said to dance with joy upon finding one.

I was dancing with joy today as I spied a nice hen of the woods fruiting body roosting at the base of a large red oak (Quercus rubra) tree on the grounds at work:




After clearing the leaves from the base of the tree, I found two more fruiting bodies, but one of them looked past its prime- dry, tough, and playing host to mold. I left that one behind... as I rule, I never grab everything, I want these beautiful mushrooms to proliferate, after all. All told, though, I had a major mushroom score:




I don't know the weight of my find, but it totally filled a standard plastic grocery bag. Needless to say, I am an extremely happy individual right now and I will be scarfing down delicious mushroom for weeks. The post title is inspired by a very silly song by Robyn Hitchcock:





I referenced Listening to the Higsons in a post about the possible discovery of the Higgs boson, the song also provided the name of a fabulous live album, a personal favorite of mine, by Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians. I've got this hen out of the woods, and now I've gotta get this hen in mah belly!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Locking Up

The tourist season ended today. It's a bittersweet day, because I won't see the majority of my co-workers for a few months, but I'll have plenty of time for myself over the cold months. I commiserated with one twenty-something co-worker who will go on hiatus until the spring... his other job ended a week ago, and he'll have to find seasonal work until both places open again next year. Luckily, there's seasonal work to be had with the upcoming holidays, but it's not the sort of satisfying work he's used to doing. Crazy how most of the 'fulfilling' jobs really aren't very remunerative, and by 'crazy' I mean tragic.

I half-joked with the ladies in the shop, who are mainly retired or have other gigs, telling them that we had an opening in my department... oddly enough, they didn't seem to be interested in a job that involved Scooby-Dooing around in the dark and cold. As they left, we exchanged six months worth of holiday well-wishes. In May, they'll come back like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano and, like the swallows, they will bring a bright, cheerful note to the place.

After everybody left, I locked up the gates to the parking lots for the last time this year. There's a glorious feeling knowing that I'll have the place to myself for months. On the weekends, I typically don't see another two-footed co-worker during the off-season. Our year-round crew typically works Monday to Friday, so on weekends it's just me and the Rodent Abatement Team, which is not a bad state of affairs at all.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Getting a Nostalgic Vibe Here

A while ago, I posted about the late 80s, early 90s era of blonde rock goddesses, when the airwaves were taken over by a slew of female-fronted bands playing a great mix of bubblegum pop and noise rock. Recently, I heard a song by London-based Wolf Alice which reminded me a lot of the Primitives.

Here's a live version of the song Bros, the song which turned me on to this great band:





The studio version has a fuller, lusher sound, a dead ringer for that great, noisy girl-pop from late last century.

Blast this one.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ben Carson, Gamer?

Via M. Bouffant, commenting at Roy's place, we have an oldie-but-crazy from Ben Carson:


“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”

Let's unpack this for a second... an brief glance at the cross-section of the Great Pyramid of Giza reveals that it is largely solid, while granaries tend to be hollow so that, you know, grain can be stored in them. More importantly, archaeological study of an ancient granary would reveal the remnants of the grain that had been stored therein- tiny particles of plant matter can be separated from detritus, and these tiny particles are of great importance because they reveal information about the diet of the individuals who inhabited a site. If grain were being stored in the insufficiently large chambers of the pyramids, it would have been evident for over fifty years.

It gets even better:

“And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how—’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”


Let that sink in for a moment... "And various of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how—'" No, Ben, Erich von Däniken is not a scientist, never was. The whole 'ancient aliens' industrial complex is rehashed Lovecraftian pulp fiction, complete with a hefty dose of racism.

Yeah, not only are the mostly-solid pyramids the worst granaries in the world, but 'scientists' think they were built by aliens.. got it. So where the hell did Ben Carson get the idea that the Pyramids were built to store grain? He made this statement in 1998, two years after the release of the computer game Civilization II. The game is a strategic simulation of a society as it advances from the neolithic to the interstellar age, involving the foundation of municipalities, their growth and expansion, and the discovery of new intellectual advances. Among the structures that players can build in their cities, are wonders of the world, including the Pyramids:

The Pyramids require Masonry. It will put a Granary in each of your cities.

It seems like old Ben was playing computer games when he should have been reading up on history. People who are well-informed about these things know that the Pyramids were built because big balls of water were a no-go.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Thanks! A Million!!!

Sometime this weekend, between Friday night and Saturday night, I received my one millionth page view! Currently, I have 1,001,096 hits. The top ten breakdown for my audience is as follows:

United States 536506

France 104033

Germany 40075

United Kingdom 32214

Russia 24402

Ukraine 16608

China 15937

Poland 12350

Canada 11139

Netherlands 5977


I never knew my French audience was so extensive: Merci mes amis! Thanks to everyone, I love you all, I love your comments. Having people stopping by and reading the blog is a great honor for me. I also want to thank everyone on my blogroll, the "Bloggerhood" as zrm puts it. I couldn't do this without the support of everybody.

Really, I can't thank everybody enough. I figure I should post a celebratory video, so how about "Million Seller" by the Pooh Sticks? No, you naughty little lambies, the band is named after a sport.





For the record, my favorite Pooh Sticks song is Susan Sleepwalking, about as perfect a bit of pure pop pleasure as you could possibly find.

Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you everybody!