Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Belated Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Champions of Ilusion

Sorry about the lecture recap delay, yesterday I had to attend my annual state-mandated training for the job, and then went out for a couple of beers. On Monday, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Susana Martinez-Conde and Dr Stephen Macknik, both of Brooklyn's own SUNY Downstate Medical Center. The good doctors form a neurology power couple, the masterminds behind the Best Illusion of the Year Contest. Monday's lecture was a showcase for the gorgeous illusions that were sent into the contest, and dovetailed with the couple's new book, Champions of Illusion, which is a gorgeous mind-blower of a tome.

The good doctors handled the lecture in tag-team style, riffing off of each other and pausing to display videos and static images of the illusions submitted to their annual contest. The contest was formulated to provide information about the neuromechanics of perception, while remaining fun for the layperson- one does not need neurological training to appreciate illusions. The illusions submitted to the contest were rated on their intellectual, aesthetic, and 'spectacularity' appeal.

Dr Martinez-Conde began the lecture with a brief discussion of the infamous color-changing dress, accompanied by an image of the dress illuminated in light of two colors. As a personal aside, I figured out the controversy by comparing night Ginger with day Ginger.

The first illusion presented by the good doctors was Kokichi Sugihara's 'ambiguous cylinder' illusion:

The physical objects are ambiguous square/circle hybrids, and the use of a mirror activates this ambiguity as the objects are moved. Dr Martinez-Conde described this illusion as 'smoke and mirrors', or in this case, light and mirrors.

The next illusion presented to the crowd was the dynamic Ebbinghaus illusion:

Our perception of illusions can help neurologists 'dissect' how we see objects. The next illusion presented by Drs Martinez-Conde and Macknik was Anthony Norcia's Coffer Illusion:

The audience was tasked with counting the circles in the image, which tend not to be immediately apparent.

The next illusion present to the audience was Victoria Skye's beautiful variation on the classic café wall illusion:

In this instance, the shading is a crucial element in the illusion.

The next illusion presented was the chesspiece illusion, in which identical images of chess pieces were made to look dissimilar using the darkness of the background against which they appeared:

The observer's brain determines whether a piece is white or black, in the real world, everything is ambiguous. Our brains normalize things, which has evolutionary significance, such as a parent's ability to recognize a child both inside and outside of the cave.

We were then shown the Leaning Tower Illusion, in which two parallel images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa were perceived as diverging:

While actually parallel, the mind interprets them as diverging because, as parallel objects recede into the distance, they are perceived as converging:

A similar illusion was entered into the 2014 contest by Kimberley Orsten and James Pomerantz:

My favorite illusion of the night was Kochiki Sugihara's 'uphill rolling' structure:

This illusion exploits the brain's desire for a sensible rectilinear shape- our perception 'defies gravity' in order to make sense of an ambiguous structure.

The next illusion was an attention illusion- instructed to pay attention to changing dots, observers tend to stop seeing change in individual objects when the objects move:

The brain gives primacy to perception of the motion, which is more important from a survival standpoint than the color changes.

Dr Martinez-Conde likened illusions to 'stories that the brain tells us'. Illusions allow us to tell stories about neuroscience. The challenge in talking about neuroscience is how to engage the audience. She invoked E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel- writers have thought deeply about narrative, with there being a difference between story and plot. Foster contrasts two sentences- the first is 'The king died and the queen died', a story, which makes a time connection between two events. The second sentence- 'the king died and the queen died of grief', a plot, makes a connection of causality as well as time. Plots engage audiences- Dr Lawrence Krauss remarked on the muted excitement when the discovery of gravitational waves was made public, quipping that the public is interested in science when it results in faster cars or better toasters. Scientific discoveries that affect the public create emotional responses- people have strong reactions to cloning, the discovery of hobbits, or the demotion of Pluto.

Science is as its best when it engages our sense of wonder- where did we come from and how did we get here? Illusions provide a sense of magic, a sense of wonder. She showed a video of a broken-and-restored thread act in which the stage magician spun a poignant tale of a difficult relationship "you are intellectually dull and your cooking is mundane", effectively distracting the audience from the slight of hand. She then showed the same video of prestidigitation without the narrative, removing the emotions which accompany the illusion, which requires misdirection.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session- one bastard in the audience asked about the perception of illusions by non-human species. Animals are subject to illusion, many organisms employ camouflage, mimicry, and other forms of deception to trick each other in various ways. Illusions have value, evolutionarily. Another question elicited the response that the brain fills in gaps- the brain makes up more than it takes in, in some cases, there are spectacular cases of discrepancy. Previous generations of scientists believed that illusions were cases in which the brain 'got it wrong'. Now, the focus has shifted to how illusions may help us- if illusions had no adaptive use, we would have evolved out of them long ago. Another question involved tactile and auditory illusions, which led to a brief discussion of the disappearing hand illusion:

A question about Dr Kokichi Sugihara's physical objects led to a fascinating digression about Dr Sugihara's initial desire to program 'impossible' object plans into a design program, then discovering that, not subject to human perception, the program would render workable designs for objects deemed impossible within the limits of human preconceptions. Regarding the subjectivity of perception, Dr Martinez-Conde joked that objects are honest, the brain determines what is perceived. Asked to picture one's mother's face, a subject is able to do so even if she is not present. Perception often involves 'filling in details'. There are conditions which affect one's perception of illusion- certain individuals on the autism spectrum are difficult for stage magicians to misdirect, certain people have brain damage which removes the ability to perceive motion, certain illusions are more difficult to perceive as a subject ages.

Once again, the Secret Science Club delivered a fantastic lecture, one accompanied by a variety of mind-bending illusions. Drs Martinez-Conde and Macknik entertained and enthralled as well as informed us. Kudos to the good doctors, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House for another fine Secret Science Club event. Here's a nice video featuring my favorite neuroscience/magic power couple:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that science... and consider picking up Champions of Illusion, which is a spectacularly pretty book.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Brooklyn Bound, Repeat Secret Science Club Lecturer

I'm heading down to Brooklyn this evening for tonight's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring the return of Dr Susana Martinez-Conde of SUNY Downstate. Two years ago, Dr Martinez-Conde gave a great lecture about perception which featured a lot of really great optical illusions.

I'm running out the door, so how about a video for my favorite song by Joe Walsh, but not the asshole Joe Walsh:

Lately, it seems like we've all been living a life of illusion. Try as I might to pierce the Veil of Maya, I still see a hairy, anthropomorphic pumpkin in the White House.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Responding on the Local Level

It's been two months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and the response by the federal government has been a disaster, a farrago of incompetence and outright kleptocracy. Thousands of marchers hit the streets of Washington D.C. today to call attention to the situation in Puerto Rico, and the poor response to it.

The real response to the ongoing crisis is coming from local municipalities- shortly after the hurricane, the Fire Department of New York rallied to collect material and funds for the relief efforts. Last week, I made a donation to the police department of the Town of Greenburgh, north of my beloved Yonkers, to help send a team of first responders to the island. The New York Metropolitan Area is home to a large Puerto Rican community, the members of which form a large portion of our civil servants, our first responders, the people who keep things running. New York, along with Florida (also home to a large Puerto Rican community), is stepping up to get the power running on the island after the corrupt cronies were sent packing.

I believe in competent governance, the pooling of talent and funds to ensure that the roads are maintained, the garbage collected, and, yes, disasters are responded to with alacrity, compassion, and know-how. The worst bill of goods ever sold to the population of the U.S. was Reagan's assertion that government is the problem. If you are a member of a political party that runs on this premise, you have no business being in government, because you will seek to prove it. The GOP has devolved since Reagan, to the extent that we have a bunch of kleptocrats, and kakocrats, running the country. Thankfully, there are still localities which function, and can act to prop up places, like Puerto Rico, that have been the victims of this dysfunctional government. I'm thankful I live in one of these localities.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Senseis Nerding Out

This morning, as is usual for me this time of year, I went down to Manhattan for my volunteer gig, teaching children's judo classes. The latest addition to our roster of senseis is a women's national champion judoka who is all of twenty-two years old. Like most judoka I have met, she is tough as nails but nice as can be- there is something magical about the sport, it involves combat with compassion. When an athlete throws an opponent, there is an emphasis on proper form so the thrown individual's safety is fostered. A few years back, when asked what he thought of MMA, one of my senseis thought for a minute, then answered, "It lacks warmth."

After we taught four kids' classes, we were hanging around the dojo and I started talking with our young champion about her field of study in college, and she mentioned that she studied ecology, with an emphasis on botanical systems. The conversation soon turned to the topic of slime molds, and she started rhapsodizing about these amazing, protean eukaryotes. She recounted how she convinced a professor, a fungi specialist, to order a slime mold for her. I had to ask, "Oooh, was it from Carolina Biological Supply?" Needless to say, we went down the nerdery rabbit hole, and the two of us were regaling Sensei Big Al about the wonders of slime molds, and our new sensei showed us gorgeous pictures of the slime mold colony that she had fostered, and we discussed the 'brainless intelligence' of these organisms. This sort of 'intelligence' in food location can mimic the highways of a country:

I'm pretty sure one of those slime trails is Route Nationale 7. When Sensei Frenchie's wife came to the dojo after our classes, we subjected her to this onslaught of nerding out. Slime molds just aren't popular enough, and we were in evangelical mode.

Me being me, I mentioned the Secret Science Club and suggested that I introduce sensei to mon bon ami Simon Garnier of the NJIT Swarm Lab- he's totally down with slime mold fandom. I envision a trail of New York nerdery to rival a slime mold's peregrinations across a culture medium.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Decrying the Over-Commercialization of the War on Christmas

There was a time when the War on Christmas didn't start until after Thanksgiving, and the War on Christmas decorations didn't go up until December. That's all changed now, via Tengrain, the good folks at Right Wing Watch have reported repulsive grifter Jim Bakker's early start on the War on Christmas:

Jim is complaining that he can't buy Jesus-themed merchandise at Walmart, but he's hawking the stuff himself... this is like Pepsico complaining that the Coca-Cola Company of America doesn't sell their products at Taco Bell. I think the War on Christmas has become over-commercialized, but the entire evangelical movement is one huge commercial enterprise.

POSTSCRIPT: I have become addicted to Vic Berger's videos... he's the Werner Herzog of satire, making hilarious-yet-terrifying edits of right-wing wackos and fundamentalist con artists. His use of music, sound effects, and tempo manipulation is brilliant, each video is a surreal mélange of horror and comedy. His YouTube channel is a time-sink, you've been warned!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Et Tu, Al?

This one genuinely hurts... in the general torrent of sexual harassment accusations and revelations, Al Franken has been accused of non-consensual kissing and groping. I have long admired Franken for his outspoken support of liberal values and causes, and his progressive political career. To hear that he has been a creeper and an abuser is disheartening. I thought he was better than that. Looking at the photo of him creeping on Leeann Tweeden is infuriating... even if he wasn't actually touching her, this sort of smirking attempt at 'humor' makes light of sexual aggression.

I'm not the only one who's pissed off... Of course, the regressive Right will try to draw false equivalences between Franken and serial-pedophile Roy Moore. I also have a feeling that Bill O'Reilly, who has long hated Franken, will try to use this scandal to leverage a return to the airwaves.

Al fucked up, bigly, and this is a fuckup which will reverberate throughout the public discourse.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

This Is the Best News You're getting All Week

It's been a busy day, so I am going to post a video for my current earworm, a viciously funny number from Brooklyn's electronic superstars LCD Soundsystem. I was first drawn to the single 'Tonite' by its retro-electronica sound, but damn, the lyrics are topical and trenchant:

This was the verse that hit me when I first heard the song:

And you're too sharp to be used
Or you're too shocked from being used
By these bullying children of the fabulous
Raffling off limited edition shoes

Sound familiar to you?

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Hero America Deserves

From America's Heartland, a folk hero arises... in a downmarket echo of Rand Paul's bizarre, violent altercation with a neighbor, an Oklahoma man decided to challenge a former neighbor to a knife fight. Already, we are in Borgesian territory, El Mediooeste rather than El Sur. As if that weren't fantastic enough, our protagonist fashioned a makeshift haramaki out of pornographic magazines. There's a sort of old-fashioned quainterie about the whole affair, and a hearkening back to the ancient Far East. As far as I am concerned, Donald Gene Gaither is the hero that America now deserves, the one Donald who best represents our nation.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Closing for the Winter

Today, it felt really good to lock up our two auxiliary parking lots for the next six months... it was our last day of regular tours, so the winter gets really quiet. We will still have school groups visiting for the next month, but the weekends will be peaceful. Our resident mouser, Ginger, must have sensed the pending change in the rhythm of the place- yesterday, she parked herself in the site's Visitors' Center for a few hours, in order to mooch scraps from lunches, and to receive the adulation of visitors for one last weekend. When she tired of attention, she would curl up in the corner of the 'information' desk in the building:

It's a nice refuge from the adoring throngs, and she now has a whole winter ahead of her to rekindle her enthusiasm for the crowd... as do I, as do I.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Work Winding Down

Today has been a chill prelude to winter, with a biting wind adding to the low temperature. This is the last weekend that our sites are open to tourists, one final coda before we go on winter break. Normally, I would turn off the valve for our exterior drinking fountain, but the dropping mercury forced me to do so as soon as I arrived at work this afternoon. When Sunday evening rolls around, I will lock the auxiliary parking lots for the last time until April. Things get really quiet after the madness that is October.

Today has marked the beginning of the annual 'goodbyes' to the seasonal staff, exhortations to have enjoyable holidays and to get some rest in the off-season. I'm one of the elect, the full-time, year-rounders. I think I'm lucky, they think they are lucky- I can deal with the cold, with darkness, with discomfort... as much as I enjoy company, I actually value the coming months of peace and quiet.

Today is also the first really cold night of autumn, so a lot of my two-legged co-workers have been asking about Ginger's ability to cope with the cold. For the record, Ginger has a cozy cat-cave, a heat lamp, and a heated no-freeze bowl in her lair. For a working cat, she has a pretty cushy gig. For a working cat, I have a pretty cushy gig as well... now, let me put on a couple of more layers of clothing and head outside to inspect the premises.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

There's a Reason He Wants Ten Commandments Monuments

Scratch a fundamentalist, find a pervert- it seems that religious right hero Roy Moore has a history of molesting or attempting to molest underage girls. I guess there's nothing in the Ten Commandments specifically against diddling 14 year-olds, which is one reason we don't base our legal system on them, despite the efforts of craw-thumpers like Moore.

Predictably, the religious right doesn't give a hoot about Moore's depredations, even using scripture to justify them in some cases.

For a bunch of people who are obsessed with fake conspiracy theories involving pedophilia, these people sure do seem to tolerate the real thing.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Women Are the Wave

One my my favorite signs from last January's Women's March read "Women Are the Wall". It was a declaration that women stood as a bulwark against the depredations and depravities of the new Trump regime. Last night, with the Democratic electoral victories in New Jersey and Virginia, women were the wave, rising up against the racist, sexist, homophobic and religiously bigoted GOP candidates.

The elections of women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates, all first-timers, was remarkable. Many of these candidates had been inspired by the Women's March, and trained during the post-march organization period. Women were the wall, now women are the wave. Let's hope that the momentum of the movement will build in the coming year, so the wave can wash away all of the flotsam in Congress.

This post was hastily composed before I head out to work- I will clean it up and post links at a quiet moment.

UPDATE: There were a lot of ugly campaigns this election season, with appeals to racism, transphobia, sexism, and religious bigotry... all of which failed. 2018 is shaping up to be quite the year, as long as people remain angry, and organized.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Today being election day, I had to report to work by 5AM in order to prepare my workplace, a polling site, for the 5:30 influx of poll workers and the 6AM influx of voters. It's a long day, but I know the poll workers (a nice bunch of people) and many of the voters. After work, I have to rush home to Yonkers to vote.

The big issue here in New York State is a plebescite on whether or not to have a constitutional convention. I am definitely voting NO on this one, because there is too much dark money involved in politics, and too much manipulation of political processes by hostile foreign powers. New York is a bastion of liberal, progressive values, it's too damn risky to give weirdo right-wing creeps like the Mercer family a shot at undoing a century and a half of progress in this, one of the most liveable, liberal states in the Union.

Monday, November 6, 2017


I'm not a wealthy person, but I'm doing okay... that being said, I try to cultivate a certain form of sophistication appropriate for an East Coast Elite type: I am well-read and well-fed, having an extensive personal library and an experience of diverse cuisines. Lately, I have been craving a nabemono, having learned how to make a passable one from my Tokyo-born sister-in-law (my brother Sweetums' wife), but have so far settled for a boil-up of chicken thighs, savoy cabbage, tofu, and mochi finished off with some rice noodles since I haven't been able to shop for aburaage, atsuage, and shirataki lately. Yeah, I don't have a lot of money, but what I have I can spend so that I seem to punch above my weight lifestyle-wise.

After this long-winded introduction, I have to note that our president, despite his wealth and pose of class, is an inaka mono, despite having grown up in the diverse borough of Queens, NY. The guy, on a state dinner with the Prime Minister of Japan, had a hamburger for lunch. Face, palm, I believe you've met... Trump is the quintessential clueless tourist, the guy who loudly orders steak tartare and complains even more loudly that it hasn't been cooked. He's in a nation known for its refined cuisine, and he orders a hamburger? It could have been worse, though, the burger was made of American beef, so at least Trump didn't blasphemously insist on a well-done burger made of Wagyu beef. Sou desu ne?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Honor System for the Dishonorably Discharged

Another day in 'Murka, another mass shooting. This time, the shooter was a guy who was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force, though CNN reporter Dianne Gallagher indicated that he was able to purchase a firearm even though his dishonorable discharge should have prevented him from doing so:

Official says Kelley checked box to indicate he didn’t have any disqualifying criminal history on background paperwork

He checked a box on a form... just fucking great. He was dishonorably discharged, but his gun purchase was done on the honor system?

UPDATE: Predictably, the shooter's court-martial was for domestic violence, yet another case of the link between domestic violence and domestic terrorism.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

What if They Scheduled an Insurrection and Nobody Came?

It's been weird reading up on the rightie conspiracy theory that there would be an 'Antifa Revolution' today, largely promulgated by Youtube lunatics. The craziest of the lunatics are convinced that 'Antifa' will cripple the United States with an Electromagnetic Pulse... a particularly popular topic among conspiracy loons.

Predictably, 'news' of an upcoming insurgency against Vulgarmort brought out the bloodlust among the Chairborne Rangers, as J.J. McNabb chronicles. These people really love their violent fantasies of the streets running red with blood, their hate-boner dreams of living out a Sylvester Stallone movie. I guess if the only tool you have is a gun, every problem looks like a target, though the vast majority of these people are all bark, no fight.

The response among the snarky left-of-center crowd has been hilarious, with plans for a post-revolution regime being bandied about. My wish is that Tweety Amin gets exiled to Saudi Arabia so he can spend more time with his orb.

In reality, the Right will spin this fake insurgency as a victory, a hard-fought skirmish won by internet tough guy talk rather than a trumped-up hoax that they all fell for.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Catching up on Other People's Halloween

I just started catching up on the news, and I found an image of the White House Halloween party:

What a costume! It depicts a vicious predator with a tiny brain and absurdly small fore-claws... oh, and there's someone dressed as a Tyrannosaur as well.

In other hilarious Halloween news, local artist and academic Amy Finkel left a Mueller jack o'lantern in front of Paul Manafort's Brooklyn home. Well played, professor.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pondering the Victims

Tuesday was one of those surreal days- I was swamped with work, but was aware that a terrorist attack had been perpetrated in Lower Manhattan. After the initial reports, I switched the car radio to a music station for the ride to work because I really don't like to be inundated with speculation, misinformation, and malinformation. Better to wait until the basic facts are known, and catch up with the news later.

The real horror, as opposed to the terror, of terrorist attacks on soft targets is that the victims are usually people who are just out minding their business, going to work, or having a good time at a concert or a festival. In this latest attack, I am particularly saddened by the deaths of the five Argentine high school friends who had come to NYC with other classmates for a class reunion. Two local men and a Belgian woman were also killed, a testament to the international appeal of my beloved New York City (second only to the City of Y______ in my heart).

In contrast, the perpetrator was a violent fuckup who became radicalized- thankfully, he was too incompetent to arm himself with more than a paintball gun and a pellet gun for his post-motorized rampage stand. Thankfully, he was also too stupid to begin his rampage at night, when the streets are full of hundreds of thousands of Halloween revelers.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Finally Able to Surface

October is now behind me, and I didn't have to put anyone through a wall. It's been quite the slog, but it's nice to be able to earn some overtime pay... the next couple of weeks will also involve extra hours because we need somebody on site while the installations of the fundraisers are removed. At least I don't have to deal with the public much in the coming weeks. It's not as if I don't like people, but having crowds of them to deal with gets to be old after a couple of weeks. In one particularly odious case, the high-pressure tank in our handicapped-accessible toilet was put out of order (somehow, a metal bar gets pulled out of alignment at times, and has to be pulled into place)... I don't know why people don't approach any employees with problems like this, and throwing more toilet paper in the bowl doesn't fucking help.

One of the hallmarks of the Fall fundraisers is the use of contractors to assist the in-house staff. Some of the temporary workers have been impossible to deal with- in particular, one woman was found to have slipped twenties in among the singles in a cash register she was working, and she got into an argument with our long-time concession operator- she was not invited to return. Another winner had the temerity to ask one of our shop managers where the money from retail sales was kept, and was bounced. Of course, we also had plenty of great temps, including one Yonkers native who was extremely helpful to our retail staff and a genuinely nice fellow. If I had pull in the retail division, I would recommend that they hire him.

Our parking attendants for hire have been uniformly excellent. While a good portion of them are repeat contractors, there were plenty of new faces. Most of these folks are young African-American and Latino guys, with an admixture of a few women. Quite a few of them are Yonkers residents, my kind of people. One of the managers was a new hire, an older guy who had a good way with the younger employees... by the end of the month, I felt as if I'd known him for years. The company they work for is growing in the region, gaining parking contracts for local train stations, medical centers, and shopping malls. They are earning the business, because their employees are polite and helpful, while being no-nonsense. Since our organization contracted with this company, they have become indispensable to the success of our events. I always tell them that they are welcome to stop by any time for a visit.

As always, October was a slog, but things get real quiet real soon. The slog pretty much pays my salary, as the fundraisers contribute mightily to our operating costs. I have long described my job as 'really cushy, except when it's not', and it's the 'not' days which make the cushy part possible.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Something Eerie for Halloween

This morning, I am working a post-event graveyard shift, having arrived at 9PM for the tail end of the festivities (I will be returning at 5PM for a long slog). After locking up, I decided that I would take a break and begin watching a cult-classic throughout the night, between my tasks. I chose the low-budget ($30K!) high-concept Carnival of Souls. The film is in the public domain, and can be found in its entirety on the t00bz:

The initial sequence of the film immediately reminded me of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and the film covers similar ground. The core of the film is Candace Hilligoss' performance as Mary Henry, the irreligious organist who leaves the town in which she suffered an accident to be become a church organist in Utah. Hilligoss, doe-eyed and high cheekboned, is a luminous presence, her toughness as a survivor contrasted with her vulnerability to hallucinations and convictions that she is becoming disjointed from reality. She has to fend off the advances of both her slimy lothario of a boarding-house neighbor and the advances of a cadaverous man played by film director Herk Harvey, all the while being beset by episodes of intangiblity and the attentions of ghastly apparitions. The ending of the film is appropriately Biercian.

Reading up on the film after watching it, there is a great feminist interpretation of the movie, with the female protagonist bucking the roles that society expects of women and dealing with the haranguing condescension of even the nominally sympathetic men around her, such as the minister who fires her for her 'profane', apparition-inspired playing or the doctor who tries to treat her for her attacks.

The movie isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, some of the acting by the majority-amateur cast is clunky, and the pacing could be tightened up a bit, but it is a memorable one, and one which can be interpreted in many ways (are the creepy ghouls from the pavilion, along with the cadaverous man himself, evil, or are they attempting to help Mary with her transition to the afterlife?). It's a nice, eerie bit of cinema with an amazing back-story which casts a long shadow on the horror movie genre... a nice watch for Halloween.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Slight Touch of Déjà Vu

Five years ago, Superstorm Sandy hit the area, imiserating millions of persons in the NY metro area. I escaped unscathed, though I did have to camp out on the job for four days without heat or electricity because no gasoline was to be had, so a lot of my co-workers were unable to get to work, and it fell on me to 'shelter in place' on the job, which was preferable to getting stuck on the side of the road with an empty gas tank.

Well, today we're experiencing a tropical storm, with heavy rains and potentially hazardous winds. While this storm is piddly compared to Sandy, it was enough to get us to cancel our fall fundraisers for the evening. I spent a good deal of time outdoors making sure that people who hadn't checked their email for cancellation notices were turned away in a diplomatic fashion. I also made sure the drains and sewer grates weren't blocked by fallen leaves and pine needles, and put some flood barriers and absorbent synthetic 'sandbags' in the basement in case of local flooding.

The power is on, as you can surmise by this post, and the storm isn't nearly as fierce as Sandy, but I can't help but feel a twinge of déjà vu. Five years ago, one of the managers and I were scrambling madly around the site, taking down lanterns and lantern-stakes to prevent wholesale breakage. Tonight, we were making sure the hatches were battened down in the main building, and turning away visitors. It wasn't as frantic as it was then, but the general feeling that we've been through this storm-crap before is unshakeable.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Recommendations for a Friend

Like many people, myself included, a friend of mine likes to read horror fiction in the month of October. It's a nice lead-in to Halloween. He likes audiobooks, having a somewhat long subway commute to work (as an aside, my commute home from SSC on Wednesday night was a horror story- there was a 4 train stuck in the northbound tunnel near 138th St in the Bronx, accompanied by construction on the other track, so the delays were terrible). Asking specifically for a supernatural tale of terror or two, I unhesitatingly directed him to M.R. James, who I mentioned in a recent blog post, steering him towards Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. The book, which is in the public domain, is available at Gutenberg, with an audiobook at Librivox. I specifically recommended he try 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, Lad' and 'Count Magnus'.

I figure that, if you want supernatural tales, go for the classic, and the classy.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: This Lecture's Gone Viral

On Wednesday night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring evolutionary biologist and virologist Dr Paul Turner of Yale University. Dr Turner titled his lecture Viruses: Good, Bad, and Ugly, in homage to his favorite spaghetti western.

Dr Turner began his lecture by addressing the amazing biodiversity of the planet, displaying first a list of North America's 'big five' charismatic megafauna- grizzly bears, caribou, moose, bighorn sheep, and wolves, contrasting it with an invisible 'big five' of North America- the Giardia protozoan, the influenza virus, the HIV retrovirus, a bacteriophage, and the Cordyceps fungi. He posed the question, are microbes nasty? His answer was that this was not necessarily true, that microbes can benefit human health. In humans, the microbiome, the community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses within the body, outnumbers the body's own cells. The microbiome can affect one's risk of heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses- it also plays a role in an individual's weight. It is currently believed that childhood exposure to microbes may help prevent autoimmune diseases, a concept known as the hygiene hypothesis. In experimental helminthic therapy, irradiated hookworm eggs are introduced into subjects in order to reduce autoimmune diseases. Dr Turner summed up this part of the lecture by noting that we live in a microbial world.

He then posed the question: What is a virus? After repeating his theme of ugly, good, and bad viruses, he posed another question: Might a virus save your life someday? Cellular life can be divided into three broad categories- bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes... all of which form cells enclosed by a membrane. In contrast, viruses do not form cells, they characteristically have genetic material, DNA or RNA, surrounded by proteins. Viruses come in many forms- typical bacteriophages have tail vanes (Dr Turner facetiously compared them to the lunar lander). Influenza viruses contain RNA in the center of a protein shell. Viruses have a non-cellular life cycle. In order to reproduce, a virus enters the proper cell type, injects its genetic material, the viral genetic material hijacks the cell metabolism to copy itself, and the viral offspring are released from the cell.

Viruses are biodiverse, most are sub-microscopic... an electron microscope is needed to observe them. Influenza viruses and rhabdoviruses come in many shapes. Virus size does not correlate with host size- a whale can be infected by small viruses, a bacterium by large ones.

The evolutionary origin of viruses is a mystery- viruses appeared billions of years ago. Dr Turner posed a multiple choice question. A. Did viruses evolve before bacteria, being inhabitants of an RNA-based world that existed before DNA evolved? B. Did viruses evolve as parasites within cellular organisms? C. Are viruses 'devolved' cellular information? D. Did viruses arrive to Earth from space? Dr Turner jocularly illustrated these last two options with a picture of Devo and a picture of the lunar lander juxtaposed with a bacteriophage. Dr Turner indicated that A, B, and C are the three leading ideas.

Viruses reproduce very quickly, while bacteria can reproduce rapidly through binary fission, viruses can grow even faster as their progeny are formed in the cells of other organisms. Viruses are very abundant, they thrive in all environments, and they outnumber all other organisms. They are the most numerous of Earth's inhabitants. The human global population is approximately 7.2 billion, while the global virus population is estimated to be 1031. If the genes of all of the Earth's viruses were laid end-to-end, they would stretch to the Perseus Cluster, approximately 250 million light years away.

We live in a viral world- the bad viruses make the news, they are the viruses that are researched. There is evidence of ancient viral diseases- the Pharaoh Siptah had a clubbed foot that suggests polio, which is probably depicted on an image of a priest on a stele dating to 3700BCE. The mummified remains of Ramesses V indicate that he had suffered a case of smallpox. The polio virus is common in soil, it is usually harmless to humans, but becomes extremely dangerous when it enters the human nervous system. The smallpox virus was rendered extinct in its natural environment, the human body, and exists only in labs at the CDC and in Russia.

Dr Turner then took us on a tour of deadly epidemics- the 'Ugly' viruses. The 1918 flu killed 50 million to 100 million victims, a single flu strain managed to infect approximately 500 million individuals before the advent of commercial air travel. In our modern era, where travel is common, a flu epidemic may be just as deadly if the available vaccines don't match the flu strain. The Great Plague of the 14th century, which killed approximately 40% of Europe's population, is generally blamed on the bacterium Yersinia pestis, but other pathogens may have contributed to the death toll, hygiene and sanitation being sub-par at the time. The smallpox epidemic which began in 1520 in the New World decimated the Native American populations, but there are no estimates of the death toll. The AIDS epidemic, which is generally considered to have started in 1981, has claimed 39 million lives, with 78 million likely infected.

Virus emergence is a continual process- viruses can 'jump into' humans from other organisms. Bats commonly harbor viruses, which are often transmitted to pigs, then from the pigs to humans. HIV has jumped from other primates to humans, with HIV1 originating in chimpanzees and the less lethal HIV2 originating in monkeys. The HIV strains were probably introduced to humans between the 1920s and 1940s. Flu viruses are commonly transmitted by birds, especially waterfowl. The human immune system is 'naive' to bird flus- infection is easy, and we don't have the money and time to prevent 'fires', just to put them out. The mosquito born Zika virus was first identified in a rhesus monkey, only recently emerging in humans.

After dealing with the positively ugly viruses, Dr Turner focused his attention on the merely 'bad' viruses. Some viruses make you sick but don't kill you. He repeated the 1969-vintage quip: "We can put a man on the moon but we can't cure a common cold." Colds are caused by a variety of rhinoviruses. If an individual has respiratory problems, such as asthma, a cold can be serious, but many people are healthy enough to go to work with a cold, becoming links in the chains of contagion. Rotaviruses can kill children, but generally don't kill adults. Approximately 5% of child deaths in the developing world can be attributed to rotaviruses, which cause severe, dehydrating diarrhea.

Dr Turner then posed the question, can viruses be used in biocontrol of pests? He brought up the use of myxomatosis, the dreaded 'white blindness' of Watership Down, to control the invasive rabbit population of Australia in the 1950s. While partially successful, this introduction generally failed because the virus tended to kill rabbits before they had a chance to transmit it. Dr Turner chalked this up to yet another example of the folly of introducing invasive species to Australia.

Dr Turner then focused his attention on the 'good'- are viruses good for ecosystems? He noted that an absence of predators tends to throw biological systems out of balance, citing the absence of the wolf in most of North America, and the resultant explosion of the deer population, as a factor in the spread of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease... fewer deer, less Lyme. Viruses indirectly regulate the photosynthetic activity of cyanobacteria in the oceans. Cyanobacteria evolved about 3.5 billion years ago, and altered Earth's atmosphere by elevating oxygen levels. Cyanophages outnumber cyanobacteria by a factor of ten to one, regulating the cyanobacteria population. The cyanophages carry the genes which code for photosynthesis. Dr Turner noted that viruses infect other organisms and continually 'churn' genes. Approximately one in twenty of a person's daily breaths contain oxygen produced by virus genes.

Dr Turner then posed us a riddle: What would you trade 36 bushels of wheat, 72 of rice, 4 oxen, 12 sheep, 8 pigs, 2 barrels of wine, 4 barrels of beer, 2 tons of butter, 1000 pounds of cheese, a bed, a suit of clothes, and a silver cup for? The answer, of course, is a tulip bulb, but not just any tulip bulb, but a bulb infected by a tulip 'breaking' virus which resulted in fantastic mixtures of colors.

Dr Turner then posed the question, can viruses solve health problems? He brought up the topic of antibiotic resistence, citing MRSA and XDRTB as worrisome diseases- the drugs used to treat them pose dangers to the body. Antibiotic resistance is a global problem, and will be implicated in hundreds of millions of deaths worldwide by 2050. Bacteriophages are viruses that only kill bacteria- they could be used as an alternative to chemical antibiotics. Bacteriophages could be used as a self-amplifying drug- they multiply, find and kill new bacteria. In the mid-twentieth century, the Russians and Poles invested more heavily in phage therapy than in antibiotics. Phage therapy was used to treat field wounds and cholera. In the case of cholera, patients were rehydrated and given anti-cholera phages. Bacteria can evolve phage resistance. Dr Turner asked, can we develop a strategy that works even with the evolution of resistance? He indicated that the best strategy would be to discover phages which attack bacteria by binding to virulence factors- by binding to these sites, the phages would force the bacteria to evolve phage resistance by compromising virulence. Resistance would be achieved by becoming more dangerous. OMK01 (PDF link),a recently discovered bacteriophage, found in a Connecticut lake, effects the efflux pumps that bacteria use to remove antibiotics. OMK01 forces bacteria to trade phage resistance for antibiotic resistance. Dr Turner referred us to the 6/3/2016 edition of NPR's Science Friday. In 2006, the USDA approved the use of phages to combat bacteria which can taint deli meats.

Dr Turner then posed the question, would you be here without viruses? He indicated that 10% of our DNA comes from viruses which entered the genetic germ line- these genes are known as endogenous retrovirus genes. Syncytin, a protein produced by endogenous retroviral genes, is crucial to the formation of the placenta- the protein is necessary for the proper reaction of the immune system, which does not treat the fetus as a parasite. All placental mammals are made possible by viral DNA, which is a really good note on which to end a lecture.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. Some Bastard in the audience asked if viruses could be used in gene therapy to combat genetic diseases. While viruses are good at swapping out genes, CRISPRs are better tools, simple enought to use on multicellular organisms for correcting genomes. Another member of the audience asked, are viruses alive? Viruses are often conceived as 'quasi-living', but Dr Turner considers them living because they can reproduce and they are subject to natural selection. Asked whether viruses could jump from one 'domain' of life to another, Dr Turner indicated that this is unlikely, because cross-domain protein recognition tends to be rare, though it has often been attempted in the lab. Dr Turner then brought up the topic of bacteriophage prospecting becoming a growth industry- there is an illimitable supply of viruses out there, some of which may have therapeutic value. He then pondered whether or not humans co-evolved with phages to welcome them into the body. Asked about tips in case there's another dangerous flu outbreak, he noted that people should have a home preparedness kit so they can stay home until the epidemic wanes... I guess I need to download more ebooks!

Dr Turner delivered a top-notch lecture, informative and entertaining. I'm biased toward biological subjects, so this lecture was definitely in my top tier. Dr Turner, an extremely nice guy, lingered for an 'adult beverage' afterward, and I had a brief conversation with him about OMK01, which he told me was located in Dodge Pond, a polluted body of water not far from Lyme.

Kudos to Dr Turner, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House for yet another fantastic lecture. Here's the first of a three-part video series on viral biology by Dr Turner:

Crack open a beverage and soak in that SCIENCE! Be sure to watch the other two videos in the series- more videos, more drinking, more learning.

Oh, and this month's lecture was the annual Lasker Foundation collaboration with the Secret Science Club. Special thanks to the good folks at the foundation for their support. The foundation was giving out these great T-shirts with the slogan: If you think research is expensive, try disease.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Secret Science Club North Lecture Recap: Speak, Spaceman, Speak

Last night, I headed down to the scintillating Symphony Space on Manhattan's Upper West Side, to attend the latest Secret Science Club North lecture featuring Dr Mike Massimino, NASA astronaut and Columbia University professor of mechanical engineering. Dr Massimino's lecture was a recap of his career, which is the subject of his book Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe.

Dr Massimino began his lecture by displaying the iconic picture of Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon:

He noted that the only image of Neil Armstrong on the moon is the image reflected in Buzz Aldrin's faceplate, and joked that these astronauts weren't members of today's selfie-culture: "We're going to New Jersey, better take lots of pictures." He then told us that his first clear childhood memory was of the Apollo Eleven landing, which occurred when he was six years old. He showed us a picture of himself dressed up in an astronaut costume (repurposed from a school play elephant costume by his mother), carrying an 'Astronaut Snoopy' stuffed animal and dreaming of being an astronaut.

Dr Massimino then displayed a diurnal picture of New York City from a high altitude, pointing out the approximate locations of Symphony Space and Columbia University, then noting the location of his boyhood home in Long Island's Nassau County. He contrasted the diurnal view of the Earth from high up with the nocturnal view- at night, human habitations are easily distinguished by the amount of light they produce, while natural features of the landscape such as mountains and forests are distinguished during the daytime view. Dr Massimino has a flair for illustrating his curriculum vitae by displaying pictures of the planet- after graduating with a bachelor's degree from Columbia, he went to MIT for his masters, so he displayed this with a gorgeous NASA Earth Observatory picture of the Massachusetts coastline:

Dr Massimino detailed the long process by which he sought a career as an astronaut- deciding while working in NYC as an engineer to apply to NASA, but getting a rejection letter, then getting his masters and sending in another application. His third application was accepted and he became a member of Astronaut Group 16, along with identical twins Mark and Scott Kelly (Dr Massimino joked that the only way to tell them apart was by remembering which one was in space and which was on the planet).

The bulk of the lecture was a series of reminiscences accompanied by video footage. Dr Massimino noted that the orbiting shuttle would be plunged from bright daylight to utter darkness every forty-five minutes, and that the resultant drop in temperature could be felt even through the protection of the spacesuit he wore while space-walking. One particularly great tale involved a repair job the Hubble Space Telescope- while unfastening one of the Hubble's external handrails, he stripped the bolt, and a low-tech solution to the problem had to be put into effect:

Throughout the lecture, Dr Massimino conveyed his love for his job, his comrades, and his planet with humor and grace. He told us of looking down on the Earth and having such an emotional experience that he started tearing up, then he remembered that it was a bad idea to introduce water into the spacesuit, and he would have to make an accounting of this moisture, which would result in a new nickname. He displayed a picture of the Earth's atmosphere from space, noting how thin a layer it was, like an onion skin, a fragile one:

He joked about his infamous 'first tweet from space', and the ribbing he got on SNL about tweeting 'Launch Was Great', which made him a hit among his children's classmates. He also showed a funny video on how to make a burrito in zero gravity:

All told, the lecture was sweet, and Dr Massimino made an eloquent spokesman for space exploration. He recounted his last spacewalk, when he was finished with the task he had to perform, and the shuttle commander told him to take some time for himself to enjoy the view. This is a man who had attained his childhood goal, and performed important work, and was fully aware of how fortunate he was. He even showed us how one of the personal items he had taken with him on a mission was the Snoopy doll he had been carrying in his boyhood photo:

How could you not love the guy?

In the Q&A, Dr Massimino talked about the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope project, noting that it will be too far from Earth for astronauts to do repair work on (he noted that he was confident that NASA would figure out how to make any necessary repairs if something were to go wrong), and noting that the Hubble will still be in use, just like the Hubble didn't render obsolete earthbound observatories. Here's a great video of Dr Massimino reminiscing about his work on the Hubble:

Kudos to Dr Massimino, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the scintillating Symphony Space.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Saving Savings

Today is a pretty quiet one, I merely had to show up to work for a few hours to lock up one of the sites after some students in an enrichment program left... no long endurance tour dealing with the public. I had some time to check the news and was surprised that Trump bucked a Republican plan to drastically cut the tax benefits of 401(k) plans. Basically, the Republican plan is to kill 401(k) plans by rendering them useless- no tax benefit, no real appeal in the plans.

I like to say that I am doing okay- I can actually put away ten percent of my wages in a 401(k), though I live a pretty frugal lifestyle. The organization matches the contributions to some extent, but it's the tax benefit which is most appealing. Any plans to cut the benefits to Joe and Jane Clockpuncher in order to give even bigger tax breaks to plutocrats is utter sociopathy.

It's somewhat surprising that Trump has been so vocal in defense of the 401(k) plan- I don't know whether to chalk this up to hatred of McConnell and Ryan, or a realization that this sort of legislation directly attacks his base.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Devil Is Not Mocked, but Nazis Are

Earlier this week, there was a failed attempt by emo-boy Nazi Richard Spencer to spread his message of fourchan fascism on a Florida University campus. Spencer is best known for being punched on television and bringing Nazi-punching back into fashion. Nazis are irredeemable villains, the lesser of two evils in just about every matchup imaginable, as pulp master Manly Wade Wellman (whose Appalachian regional tales of supernatural menace are wonderful) illustrated in his tale The Devil Is Not Mocked. The story was adapted as a fun segment of Rod Serling's Night Gallery:

Night Gallery S2E06 A Question Of Fear, The... by carsambadizileri

The ending is pretty well telegraphed from the get-go, but the whole thing is entertaining enough that this foreshadowing is forgivable.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Clark WolverAshton Smith

I have long been a big fan of teller of weird tales Clark Ashton Smith, whose stories combine a highfalutin' vocabulary with a detached-yet-macabre sense of humor. One of Smith's best known stories is The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis, a creepy tale of an archaeological expedition on a Percival Lowellesque Mars. Smut Clyde clued me into a comic book adaptation of the story by Richard Corben. Poking around the intert00bz, I found a comic by legendary cartoonist Basil Wolverton which is eerily similar to CAS' tale of terror:

The Brain-Bats of Venus is available in its entirety at It's a fun-yet-creepy comic by a legend, who looks to be ripping off inspired by another legend.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Busy October... Quick, Post a Link!

As is typical for me, October is a busy month with fundraising activities on the job. Therefore, I think I shall post a Halloween-appropriate link. My introduction to the creepy aspects of Japanese legendry was Lafcadio Hearn's 1904 collection Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. The book formed the basis of a 1964 film of the same name directed by Masaki Kobayashi:

My favorite story from Hearn's collection is Mujina, a creepy-yet-funny tale which actually features a Noppera-bō, though a mujina could conceivably pose as such using its supernatural powers.

One of my favorite sites on the t00bz is, a beautifully illustrated collection of the various creepy-crawlies from Japanese folklore. The site was an invaluable resource while I was binge-watching Ghost Sweeper Mikami a few months ago:

There's a manga available for this entertaining-yet-salacious supernatural comedy, but the pop-up ads are a real horror. One of these days, I should post a review of the series... it's fun, but there's some content which in this day, in the 'States, would be considered problematic.

For the record, my favorite Yokai is the Karakasa kozō, or paper umbrella priest boy. Now that is one comical monster.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

There's a Reason Why He Calls It the 'Caveman Formula'

I must confess that I have a fascination with 'conspiracy theories', though I have a dim view of most purveyors of such. The worst of this lot, in my estimation, is Alex Jones, who sells snake oil along with his paranoid right-wing fantasies. As if his hucksterism wasn't bad enough, some of the supplements he sells have dangerous levels of lead contamination. For a guy who claims that he's trying to protect his listeners from 'globalists' who are trying to poison them with 'chemtrails', he sure seems to be comfortable with poisoning his marks, just like an old-timey charlatan.

By pushing lead-tainted tinctures to his audience, Jones is also making them more receptive to his bullshit narrative, because lead causes intellectual and behavioral deficits. My favorite detail about this is the fact that one of his tainted products is his 'Caveman Paleo Formula'... if you keep taking this crap, you'll end up with the intellectual capacity of an Australopithecus.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Past the Half-Way Mark

October has turned a corner- we are now past the half-way mark in the month. It's time to give a rundown on the major events on the job. So far, things have been going pretty well, I have recognized a bunch of regular October visitors, including three intrepid souls from Pittsburgh, a very nice local couple, and a patron who had come to me with a complaint a few years ago, who is now a fast friend (I have really come to appreciate his daughter, a really nice kid who is a talented artist and a budding bassist). Hilariously, the public seems to have a knack for pulling off things that management hadn't anticipated- now there is a bag-check so nobody sneaks bottles of booze onto the site, and last Saturday, a couple of guys decided to start a barbecue in the parking lot, in a well-traveled traffic lane. I was tasked with telling these bros to douse the grill, and they were cool about it, probably because they had finished heating their hot dogs. Tonight, I will be sending an e-mail to management detailing the latest in the organization/public 'arms race'... we may need signs detailing more individual behaviors which are disallowed on the property. Sure, there's no smoking on site, but a charcoal fire is not a cigarette.

Generally speaking, it's tiring but fun. 99.9% of our visitors are wonderful people, the occasional obnoxious drunk, while drawing a disproportionate amount of attention, is in the minority. I haven't had an urge to hit anyone with a shoe yet. The month is halfway through, and I haven't had a day off yet, but on the whole, I can't complain. Much as I'd hate to have it become public knowledge, I don't mind dealing with the public.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Scary Monsters

I am on record being a fan of the late, great David Bowie. One of my particular favorite Bowie Songs is 1980's Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Poking around the intert00bz, I found a great live version from 1995, with Bowie fronting Nine Inch Nails:

Now, isn't that an appropriate track for the Halloween season?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Prunes Give Me the Runes

Today's selection is M.R. James' Casting the Runes, a supernatural thriller in which a reviewer plays a cat-and-mouse game with an occultist who has cursed him for a bad book review... some people just can't take criticism! In the course of the narrative, the reviewer needs to figure out a way to reverse this fatal curse, which was 'activated' when the occultist slipped him a piece of paper inscribed with arcane runes. The story was filmed in 1957 as Night of the Demon, a not-so-subtle take on Mr James' tale:

The movie is referenced in my favorite song from the Rocky Horror Show, Science Fiction/Double Feature, from which I took the post title:

Personally, I think that, with a giant demon chasing you, you wouldn't need prunes to 'move things along'.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gives Me a Headache

Being October, I'm swamped at work, especially on the weekends, so in accordance with the prophecy tradition, I like to post scary stories or film clips on the weekends. One of the weirdest of the 'weird tales', by modern standards, is Green Tea, by Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu. The story concerns a young author who descends into madness and hallucination becauTea was my companion-at first the ordinary black tea, made in the usual way, not too strong:se he... uhhhh... drinks green tea:

"I wrote a great deal; I wrote late at night. I was always thinking on the subject, walking about, wherever I was, everywhere. It thoroughly infected me. You are to remember that all the material ideas connected with it were more or less of the beautiful, the subject itself delightfully interesting, and I, then, without a care." He sighed heavily. "I believe, that every one who sets about writing in earnest does his work, as a friend of mine phrased it, on something--tea, or coffee, or tobacco. I suppose there is a material waste that must be hourly supplied in such occupations, or that we should grow too abstracted, and the mind, as it were, pass out of the body, unless it were reminded often enough of the connection by actual sensation. At all events, I felt the want, and I supplied it. Tea was my companion-at first the ordinary black tea, made in the usual way, not too strong: but I drank a good deal, and increased its strength as I went on. I never, experienced an uncomfortable symptom from it. ! began to take a little green tea. I found the effect pleasanter, it cleared and intensified the power of thought so, I had come to take it frequently, but not stronger than one might take it for pleasure. I wrote a great deal out here, it was so quiet, and in this room. I used to sit up very late, and it became a habit with me to sip my tea--green tea--every now and then as my work proceeded. I had a little kettle on my table, that swung over a lamp, and made tea two or three times between eleven o'clock and two or three in the morning, my hours of going to bed. I used to go into town every day. I was not a monk, and, although I spent an hour or two in a library, hunting up authorities and looking out lights upon my theme, I was in no morbid state as far as I can judge. I met my friends pretty much as usual and enjoyed their society, and, on the whole, existence had never been, I think, so pleasant before."

Ahhhh, yes, ordinary black tea, the crushed and oxidized occidentalized tea favored by Westerners, rather than those inscrutable Easterners with their hallucination-inducing green tea. Le Fanu's tale is perhaps the second best cautionary tale about tea, second only to Rabbit's Kin:

I first ran into this tale in the course of Tor Books' wonderful Lovecraft Reread series.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Predictable 180 on Debt

Nine days ago, Donald Trump hinted that he would pressure investors to take a bath on Puerto Rican debt obligations, but being a mendacious prick, he has not only ditched that, but threatened to pull FEMA from the island. Meanwhile, the Republican congress wants to offer Puerto Rico a loan for disaster relief, a loan which Puerto Rico really can't afford. Once again, the U.S. government has failed this territory and its people.

Over the course of last weekend, I had an opportunity to discuss the situation in Puerto Rico with several Puerto Ricans, both inhabitants of the island who were in New York on vacation (one gentleman discussed having had family vacation plans prior to the hurricane, and taking advantage of his US sojourn to indulge in such luxuries as hot showers and access to the news) and Nuyoricans. The general mood was one of sadness, with anger towards the federal government, but gratitude to the state and local governments which are stepping in to fill the void left by the absence of a coherent federal response. In a discussion with one woman, who was wearing a PUERTO RICO T-shirt in solidarity with the people of the island, I remarked that New York City should just name Puerto Rico the sixth borough... the population is not much more than that of Brooklyn, and there are plenty of people who have a foot in both NYC and PR... people such as the people I spoke with, people such as numerous friends of mine.

Puerto Rico needs genuine help, not a doubling down on their financial straits in the guise of assistance.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

More Fridge Notes About Injuries and Food

I bounce around a lot from site-to-site on the job this time of year. While I still spend the majority of my time at my usual spot, I am called upon to cover additional ground as the workforce gets spread around thin. At a site I don't spend too much time working, I found this fridge note from a co-worker:

It's an interesting juxtaposition, injuries and food. I'm the guy who places the orders for first-aid supplies for the organization, and chemical cold packs are the items which see most use, aside from small adhesive bandages- people fall, they get stung by insects... things happen. I'm glad that the staff uses real ice-compresses, while saving the instant ones for the patrons.

The title of this slim post (I'm running to another site as soon as I hit 'publish') is inspired by the title of Talking Heads' second album. Here's Found a Job from the album:

I found a job... and I can't seem to escape it these days.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Seems Legit

Okay, I've gotten a couple of comments from an outfit claiming to be from New York Times©... uh, shouldn't that be a trademark? Anyway, it's for a modeling gig, albeit a 'furry' one:

Hey this is the New York times©, we were wondering if you would be interested in modeling for a magazine cover, all you would have to do is come dressed as a tiger man, thank you, send application®

They even sent a follow-up:

Hey this is NYT©, we were wondering if you are still up for that tiger man gig?

Oddly enough, the 'Paper of Record' seems to have a very odd profile:

On Blogger since October 2017

Profile views - 3

What could possibly go wrong with sending in an application?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Once Again, We Consider Columbus Day

As is typical, on Columbus Day, I reconsider the meaning of this holiday. To put it mildly, although accomplished, Christopher Columbus was not a nice man. As not only an Italian-American, but a Genoese-American, I think that our community can nominate a much better representative than Columbus, who sailed for Spanish monarchs four centuries before Italy existed as a nation... and I'm not the only Italian-American to reconsider this representation. I wouldn't object to renaming the day Antonio Del Monaco Day- he was a handsome guy and he recorded one of the great Italian standards:

Of course, the holiday itself should be kept- when I got home from work after 2AM, I only found a parking space close to home because the alternate side parking rules were suspended. Che miracolo!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Road to Hell

Being that I am in super-busy mode throughout October, I often pre-schedule my weekend posts. Appropriately, Atlas Obscura has been featuring some spooky posts for the month. I especially liked this cross-cultural feature about reputed entrances to the Underworld. It's an interesting read, and it sets up a great opportunity to post a video for the terrific Straight to Hell, by the Clash:

The song lent its title to a spaghetti-western parody by Alex Cox that I have never gotten around to watching. I know it's a self-consciously 'cult' film, but any film that features the late, great Joe Strummer and members of the Pogues has got to be of some interest to a bastard such as myself.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

As if Work Weren't Busy Enough

Besides a crazy work-schedule, the first Saturday in October marks the beginning of my volunteer coaching gig. It's always amazing to see how much the kids have grown over the summer... Funny, we coaches don't change. This time of year, I don't get much sleep, but I've always considered sleep to be overrated. It's much more productive spending time being beaten up by a bunch of seven year-olds for a few hours on a Saturday morning.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Busy Weekends Ahead

This afternoon, it begins... our second major Fall fundraiser starts, so it's all hands on deck, staffing-wise. At the beginning of the evening, I have to prepare our site for the influx of visitors, and at the end of the night, I have to make sure that everything is locked up, all of the lights are off, and the coffeepot is unplugged. During the actual event, I basically act as a 'backstop' for my co-workers, if anybody has any problems, I will respond, either acting as a pacifier or a rectifier. We typically get a good crowd, with a couple of unruly drunks in the mix- a couple of unruly drunks who are dealt with quickly, so they don't cause any problems. I have actually gotten to know quite a few of the 'regulars', often people who have had a complaint about something which I have helped to rectify. Funny how seeming to be sympathetic and allowing people to vent serves to disarm them, often eliciting gratitude. I've got a good poker face, and a high tolerance for emotional people, so I have a knack for defusing tense moments. It doesn't hurt that I look like a person who is perfectly capable of knocking someone on their ass if they get out of hand- the one time I contemplating staging a physical interposition between an asshole and a co-worker of mine, the guy's friends got the hint and hustled him away from the confrontation- lucky for him, this particular co-worker of mine is one badass woman. Most people aren't looking for a fight, and I have ended up being 'buddy-buddy' with people who came to me with chips on their shoulders. When dealing with the public, it helps to model yourself on a local bartender- give them ear, but channel that old McSorley's adage: Be good or be gone.

The one thing to which I cling throughout the month is the fact that things get R-E-A-L Q-U-I-E-T after this month and a half long crunch time. Come mid-November, I'll be hanging out in peace and quiet, playing with Ginger, and enjoying the beautiful scenery.