Saturday, January 30, 2010

Technicolor Dinosaurs are All the Rage!

A team of researchers from the University of Bristol, working with Chinese colleagues, has analyzed impressions of melanosomes (color bearing organelles) in a fossil of "feathered" dinosaur Sinosauropteryx, and have determined that it most likely had an orange-and-white striped tail. If only the original discoverers of Sinosauropteryx had known this, they could have named the animal Creamsiclesaurus or Coatisaurus. My joy is only tempered by some... uh... misgivings should it be discovered that Tyrannosaurus had a green-and-purple color scheme.

As a corollary, science is fun, the researchers who decided to use a scanning electron microscope to seek out impressions of microscopic organelles are not only brilliant, but they are cool. Could the boring trolls at the Discovery Institute, with their bogus claims of "irreducible complexity" and their "teach the controversy" lawsuits, ever hope to match real scientists?

Edit: Looking at the post, I should have named it, "The Golden Age of Orange Dinosaurs", but I don't want to change a post title so precipitously.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Alternate Universe Saturday-Morning Cartoon?

I was going to write a serious post about my one major beef with the SotU speech last night, but I needed to decompress a bit (like we all do these days), so I got up at noon today (didn't get home from work until 1 AM), went for a nice hike, and decided to do some frivolous web-surfing.

In my web-navigation, I found the following, which looks like an episode of a 1980's vintage Saturday-morning cartoon based on the writings of Clark Ashton Smith- kinda like the "Wacky Adventures of Maal Dweb".

I like how the orbiting sarcophagus of doom seems to be trying to kill the planet by inducing diabetic shock.

Edit: The clip also plays like an alternative universe Marvel Comics tie-in, in which the sugar-cube bombing orbital sarcophagus is Galactose, sweetener of worlds. In this version, the Herald of Galactose would, obviously, be the Silver Spoon Surfer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Onion

The onion is not sweet, and it is making many people cry.

That is all.

Edit:Condensed version of SotU

Don't play it at work, ya hear?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Interpretation

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, speaking about recipients of government aid said:

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed! You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that."

Now, being of the opinion that nobody would be so monstrous as to suggest that poor children go to bed hungry, I am of the opinion that Mr. Bauer is, in a circumlocutory fashion, advocating aid programs for gay Americans, who would not "facilitate the problem" of poverty by breeding. Of course, the only reason I hold this opinion is because I am- how you say- charitable.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Lack of Inspiration

Funny, but the muse just doesn't sing to me of the wine dark sea today. I will note, however, that the temperature flirted with sixty degrees Fahrenheit today. Where the hell are all the climate change deniers who were trumpeting about the blizzard which hit the Northeastern United States?

Now, where did I put that muse?

Meh, still no muse.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Change of Pace

It's that time of the week when I usually post a music video dating to the '80s, but, lest you think I wallow in nostalgia all the time, I will post a music video from the current century. I had been toying with the idea of posting an old video to rekindle the old political fervor *after a terrible week (capped off by Chuck Schumer wussing-or selling- out in terrible fashion), but, it being 5:45AM EST, it's time for something mellow. One of my favorite releases in 2009 was Bell X1's The Great Defector, an interesting confection of clever wordplay, tight vocal harmonies, and creative instrumentation- a sound that has been likened to that of Talking Heads. All that being said, I am not posting that video, but one for 2005's Rocky Took a Lover. The melancholy beauty of the song, combined with the gorgeous/grotesque animation of the video (the multi-eyed sphere which makes its debut at 1:48 looks like something out of an early Ramsey Campbell Lovecraft pastiche), makes for perfect listening in the frosty pre-dawn hours.

*Rest assured, I will post this video in the future... that song, as well as this one, cannot be posted on teh t00bz often enough.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Another Night of Music

My favorite bar in the Bronx is An Beal Bocht, named for the novel by Myles na gCopaleen/Brian O'Nolan/Flann O'Brien (holy pseudonyms, Batman!), on West 238th Street in the Riverdale section. For those who ask, my next two favorites would be The Rambling House on Katonah Ave in Woodlawn, and Jimmy Ryan's on Middletown Road in Pelham Bay. On Fridays, friend of the bastard Mary Courtney plays traditional Irish music at An Beal Bocht. Mary has long been the singer of the band Morning Star, which gained some national coverage by performing at the JFK Jr. memorial, but she's perhaps best known for singing the female vocal on the album version of Black 47's Livin' in America, which is set to the music of The Foggy Dew. Mary sang Larry Kirwin's brilliant, but scathing, line:

Is this what I was educated for? To wipe the arse of every baby in America?

Mary is a folk historian as well as an entertainer, she has an encyclopedic knowledge of Irish history and literature. She'd be the person to tell you the name of the Newry Highwayman, or the historical context of the hanging of Roddy McCorley. So, without further ado, here's the brilliant Mary Courtney, the Star of the County Bronx:

Sad Bastard*

As if December 15, 2009 wasn't horrible enough for me... Dorian Devins, chanteuse and Secret Science Goddess (one of a pantheon of two), told me that David Byrne (yes, THAT David Byrne) attended the lecture given by James Hansen, the one lecture in the series that I missed due to my father's death.

One phrase I have been using since Thanksgiving, when I called off travel plans because I had two co-workers who were out with bad backs, is "doubling down on the suckitude". Yeah, when things are terrible, something will come around to compound the awfulness. I said it in rueful jest then, but last night's revelation really cut me to the quick.

*Hey, that's assonance, the Poetasters' Guild told me I didn't know my assonance from a hole in the ground.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Night of Standards

Tonight, chanteuse and Secret Science Club diva Dorian Devins will be singing at Gizzi's Coffeeon Eight Street in Greenwich Village tonight.

After the gig, I'll probably hit Mamoun's for a really messy, super delicious falafel/baba ghanouj combo sandwich. I am a hot sauce aficianado, and I have to say that Mamoun's house blend is in the pantheon of spectacular hot sauces- this is central to my point!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ombudsmoose Through the Ages

Looking back at Thunder's depiction of Smut Clyde as Ombudsmoose, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu... I had seen this picture before... ah, yes, the Ombudsmoose was an important figure to the Cro Magnon people of Paleolithic France. Ombudsmoose iconography has changed little throughout the millennia- please note the beard and glasses, which seem to indicate that the Good Doktor's distant ancestors performed the function of Ombudsmoose. As one can tell from a perusal of the Paleolithic depiction, the blue jeans are a recent innovation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Van Cortlandt Park Weirdness

A week ago, as I was walking from my abode to the Woodlawn station of the 4 Train (on my way to Brooklyn), I took a... uh... nature walk... yeah, that's it, in Van Cortlandt Park. I walked into the park far enough from the traffic of Jerome Avenue to... uh... try to see some wildlife, when I saw a bizarre object (poorly photographed below by yours truly on my phone camera):

It's impossible to tell from my overly bright photograph, but the object is a stick, wound with ribbons, festooned with large "jingle bells", and surrounded by empty mason jars. While certainly not an intimidating display, it was a bizarre one, one "premeditated" enough to suggest some obscure ritual function (scorn pole? a VPR?).

The bizarre objet immediately reminded me of Karl Edward Wagner's horror tale Sticks, which would seem to be the inspiration (although I don't know if it was acknowledged) for the wooden figures that feature prominently in the Blair Witch Project. The story itself was inspired by a tale told by pulp artist Lee Brown Coye, who often incorporated sticks or lattice-work in his illustrations for "weird" tales.

I apologize for the lame photo, and will return to the scene to take a better one- hopefully, the object/installation won't be washed away by a sudden flood...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Yet Another 80's Music Post

One of my favorite tunes of the mid-to-late 80's was the hard-driving, yet melodic Understanding Jane by Liverpool's Icicle Works, whose best-known song, Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream, made it to the U.S. Top 40.

I don't believe Understanding Jane charted in the states, but it should have been a smash hit, with it's great intro, unrelenting beat, and rich, though slightly acerbic, vocals. Without further ado, here's this tale of one man's resolve in the teeth of unrequited love:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Be Still, My Beating Heart

Yeah, times are pretty bad, what with the maelstrom of horror and death that has engulfed Haiti, and the general bad tenor of politics at home, but one has to grasp at anything that increases one's joy, any thread that can be plaited into one's lifeline...

So, it's a pleasure to discover (via Darren Naish's wonderful "Tetrapod Zoology" blog):


Just saying that out loud makes me happy: PTEROSAUR.NET!

Pterosaur, say it soft and it's almost like squawking, say it loud and it sounds like you're rawking!

Yes, this is fantastic news, and PTEROSAUR.NET is sure to be a favorite site of mine, much like one of my perennial favorites, the wonderful Oceans of Kansas, which is run by the most excellent Mike Everhart.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Vance Post

So, in a comment regarding my first Jack Vance post, one of my favorite Intert00bers wrote (in part):

I see a lot of that in Vance's moral relativity about the societies he constructs, which are all bizarre and ethically challenged (but no more so than our own), while the nearest he ever comes to inserting himself in a story as a Mary Sue character would be Baron Bodissey

While I certainly value the opinion of this particular scribe, I would venture to say that Navarth the Mad Poet, who features as a major character in The Palace of Love flirts with "Mary Sue" status. My favorite "Navarth" piece comes from the introduction to Chapter 19 of The Book of Dreams, the last novel in the Demon Princes series:

Navarth despised latter-day poetry, save only those verses composed by himself. "These are faded times. Wisdom and innocence once were allied, and noble songs were sung. I recall a couplet, by no means sublime- quaint, rather- succinct, yet reverberating a thousand meanings:

A farting horse will never tire,

A farting man's the man to hire.

Where is the like today?"

As an addendum, I have to mention the lamentable fact that the noble Baron Bodissey had his good name stolen by a neocon cobag blogging at Gates of Vienna. Luckily, Navarth has not be co-opted by right-wingers, to my knowledge.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Secret Science Club After Action Report

Dr. Christoph Bregler, a NYU computer scientist and pioneer in CGI and motion capture techniques, gave last night's lecture, and presided over a rollicking game of squidball, hampered only by the large chandeliers in the Bell House. Dr. Bregler started the lecture with a mention of the Turing test, and the possibility of fooling a human observer into thinking a computer-rendered image was a real person. While some recent some recent stills can come close, the animated figures tend to lose any versimilitude, and the illusion is shattered.

Dr. Bregler also invited several of his grad students up to the stage, one of whom (Ian Spiro) developed the DotShow iPhone app. The first demonstrated DotShow video was a "Rick Roll", which the bastard immediately recognized.

All in all- a fun, interactive lecture, and a crack at a serious contender for "Sport of the Future".

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Life and Times of Postcard Jack*

*in which the Bastard obliquely reveals his identity

In a comment to an earlier post, I wrote, regarding my father:

There are a couple of loose ends that I need to tie up (one will definitely be a blog post in the future, as my father had a secret identity- though I can't rightly say whether his alter ego was a superhero or a supervillain).

Well, my father was the incognito itinerant known to the people of Maine's Kennebec Valley as Postcard Jack, the man who inundated the Oasis Restaurant in Madison, Maine with thousands of postcards. The linked article references a post I made to an obituary site, a post copied in full below:

The most striking things about Dad were his intellect and his education. He was a brilliant Bronx kid who attended Fordham University under the ROTC program, received his law degree from Yale University, served his time in the U.S. Army, and then went on the Harvard University MBA program. His curriculum vitae included stints in such Fortune 500 companies as ITT, McKinsey, and Dun and Bradstreet. On the side, he taught at the Mercy College business school. As he himself would put it, “Busy busy busy…”

He also lived a double life… he was the shadowy figure who came to be known in Maine’s Kennebec Valley as “Postcard Jack”. Starting in the early 1980s, he began sending postcards, sent from “Jack”, to the Oasis Restaurant in Madison, Maine. My grandfather, who was raised in Framingham, was part owner of a cabin on the shore of one of the great ponds of Maine, and three generations of the family would go to central Maine to spend a few glorious days living without electricity and plumbing, away from the distractions of modernity. After a week without running water, a trip to Madison was a treat, and the Oasis lived up to its name- the hot water was every bit as important to us as the home cooking.

The career of Postcard Jack started out as a contest between Dad and Uncle Bill. For Uncle Bill, it was an amusing little contest that lasted a month, for Dad it became a lifestyle. During the height of Postcard Jack’s career, Dad quested after mailboxes like Captain Ahab quested after Moby Dick. Road trips took longer than they used to, as he enlisted his children to keep their eyes peeled for post offices. On a business trip to Los Angeles, he rented a car and made a circuitous trip to and from San Diego so he could send postcards from all the towns on the route.

The creation of the “Postcard Jack” alter-ego allowed Dad to indulge his impish streak. The serious human resources executive and erudite college professor took a backseat to the rogue adventurer, part Zorro/part Riddler. Like the master criminal in a movie thriller taunting the chief of police, Postcard Jack would send postcards to the Oasis from every town along the Kennebec- Waterville, Skowhegan, Anson, North Anson, North New Portland… After a meal in the Oasis, during which we were all sworn to a conspiratorial silence, Dad would round the corner, and send a postcard from Madison itself- the perfect crime, once again! Mary Dwelley, the proprietress, suspected that “Jack” was a lonely traveler. I have no doubt that she pictured him as a grizzled loner, rather than the guy surrounded by kids, whose mischievous blue eyes were securely hidden behind “serious guy” spectacles.

Dad worked on his last day- he attended a meeting of the Mercy College business school staff, and he passed away in the home in which he grew up. I have no doubt that he stopped by every mailbox between the Bronx and heaven.

Hilariously, my father's alter-ego gave his name to the winningest trotter in Maine harness racing history.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Obligatory Eighties Music Post

Here's a big thank you for the shout-out from If the Thunder Don't Get Ya (the Blizzard Will) and kudos for posting the video for Fuzzbox' version of Spirit in the Sky.

I would never knock Doctor and the Medics, but I have to say that my favorite song of theirs is Lucky Lord Jim.

Now, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't post a video, but there are no videos for Lucky Lord Jim so here's the 1986 single Rocking with Rita by the Vindaloo Summer Special:

The Vindaloo Summer Special was a super(?)group composed of Vindaloo Records artists Fuzzbox, the Nightingales, and comic Ted Chippington. The single, which I haven't heard in years, is good dumb fun- a piece of fluff lost in the navel of kitsch history.

As an aside, I am currently listing to the Saturday/Sunday overnight programming on WFDU, as usual. Don't be churlish, give them a listen!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Paging Doctor Elvis!

Wow, this post will top off the "Yonkers Trilogy" that has marked this week's posting.

Like many cash-strapped municipalities, the City of Y decided that legalized gambling would be a financial panacea- the self-imposed gullibility tax poses few problems for politicians of the two major parties. The legalization of gambling in the U.S. is a funny beast... in most regions, legalized gambling has been confined to reservations, riverboats, or racetracks. The New York City metro area lacking any extant native groups (the Ramapough Lenape Nation is the closest extant native group, straddling the NY/NJ border about twenty miles from NYC), New York state allowed the historic Yonkers Raceway to install slot machines, and the racetrack transformed into a "racino" in 2006.

Well, the only thing I gamble with is my life, and the prospect of feeding a slot machine (like a Skinner Box rat which almost never gets any goodies) holds no fascination for me. I do go to the place de vez en cuando, though, to see live entertainment.

One "must see" act is Yonkers native Dr. Nazar Sayegh, who is not only a family practitioner, but a hall of fame Elvis interpreter as well. Last night, to commemorate the eve of the King's birthday, Dr Sayegh brought his act to the raceway for two sets of music. I am happy to say that he wore jumpsuits for both sets, and am even happier to say that he sang a rendition of Poke Salad Annie. The good doctor puts on a fun show, and comes across as a genuinely nice fellow. If a sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep is ever green-lighted, the good doctor should certainly get a cameo as a nursing home physician.

Bonus Yonkers trivia: Lady Gaga is now on record telling Jay Leno that the rumor that she was a Yonkers native upset her more than the rumor that she was a hermaphrodite.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

City of "Why?"

Wow, I put up a lovey-dovey post on the City of Yonkers, and what the hell happens the following day?

Yeah, you got it- a scandal on the front page:

Three Indicted in Yonkers Vote-Selling Scam.

Yonkers was once known as the "City of Gracious Living". Now, Yonkers is known as "The City of Hills, Where Nothing is on the Level" due to it's topography, and reputation for corruption. As a snarky aside, Yonkers was once immortalized in the musical Hello Dolly, more recently, it's been rendered undead in World War Z.

Not being a starry-eyed naif, I have to confess that this scandal does not come as a surprise, but I am disappointed in the role played by hometown girl Sandy Annabi, who I was a fan of, for several reasons (on a serious note, she started out as a good progressive and a tireless advocate for her constituents). Well, the prosecutors claimed she sold her vote on the proposed Ridge Hill development "for baubles and trinkets". Well, all that eyeliner doesn't come cheap.

Sandy, you broke my heart.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Of Local Interest

I had some free time this afternoon, so I headed across town to the Hudson River Museum in Northwest Yonkers for a second look at the Dutch New York exhibit. Last year marked the four-hundredth anniversary of the voyage of the Half Moon, so the entire New York Metro/Hudson Valley region was awash in "New Netherlands" retrospectives.

I was no stranger to Dutch fever (hell, I've been celebrating Koninginnedag for years) last year, having read Russel Shorto's Island at the Center of the World in July. In Shorto's book, the "founder" of Yonkers, the jonkheer himself- Adriaen Vanderdonck, emerges as a central figure. Vanderdonck was a lawman, a proto-anthropologist, a gadfly, an advocate for representative government, an enthusiastic booster of emigration to the New World, and a figure largely forgotten until recently.

I will be posting more about items of local interest. Since Adriaen Vanderdonck was a tireless promoter of his chosen home, I will honor his memory by occasionally posting about the city named for him.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bastard Gets Political!

Is there anyone who deserves a boot in the ass more than Tim Pawlenty? Pawlenty has recently been meme-pimping the characterization of the current administration as a Ponzi scheme on the Potomac:

Now, this bastard thinks that Pawlenty should be more concerned with the occurrences (Ambrose Bierce reference? You betcha!) on a river closer to home. The bastard also wonders if Pawlenty's new-found fiscal responsibility represents a "Road to Damascus" conversion or a "Road to Washington" campaign statement. Regardless of which road Pawlenty is on, it would seem that it needs to be condemned as unsound.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pedantic Bastard is Pedantic

While making a snide comment about Ceci Connolly on another blog, I linked to an advertisement for a brand of imported Ceci, and discovered, to my horror, the following sentence:

Carmelina Brands® Garbanzo Beans, or as they are called in Italy, Ceci, are not really beans at all, but are part of the pea family.

Now, this sort of thing really sets my pulse racing- hee hee.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ha-sha-ka! Ha-sha-ka! Another Resolution...

Here I am, listening to the local college radio station, and I am reminded of another semi-regular feature I have meant to incorporate into the blog- examples of 80's music. Lest anyone think I'll be embedding Bonnie Tyler videos, here's an example of what I was listening to back then:

Apparently, the lyrics are a bit... horrible, but I haven't actually seen them posted anywhere to translate them.

Friday, January 1, 2010

First Vance Post

I was surprised and delighted when I found, in the July 19 Sunday New York Times Magazine, a short profile of one of my favorite authors, underappreciated fantasist John Holbrook Vance. Like the authors profiled in the Times article, I first encountered Jack Vance while an adolescent, and was hooked from the start. Paradoxically, Vance's prose is simultaneous baroque and sprightly- adjective heavy descriptive passages alternate with acerbic dialogues, roguish scamps connive and steal as they traverse lovingly depicted landscapes, and even churlish peasants speak a mock-Elizabethan stage patois.

As Don Herron noted in his essay "The Double Shadow: The Influence of Clark Ashton Smith", in Underwood and Miller's JACK VANCE (Writers of the 21st Century Series) published in 1980 by Taplinger Publishing Company, CAS is one of Jack Vance's greatest influences, although Vance, as Herron notes, was always more concerned with human experience than Smith.

Much to my chagrin, the Vance Integral Edition project compiled all of Jack Vance's works into a collection of deluxe hardbacks, but (lacking a grand in disposable income at the time) I did not obtain a set. Yes, call me a maundering mooncalf, but those were the hard, sad facts.

Now, I would be remiss to ignore a frustrating tendency in Vance's ouvre- his plots are often simple picaresques (which often read like weird travelogues for many paragraphs), and many of his characters tend to blend together (hypercompetent heroes Adam Reith and Kirth Gersen are virtually indistinguishable, as are a plethora of avaricious innkeepers, merchants, peasants, drovers, tradesmen- need I say more?). In contrast, the societies, landscapes, and cultural artifacts Vance conjures up are drawn in beautiful detail- the background of the tapestry is ornate, the foreground figures are often a tad stereotypical.

Now, enough of my yapping, how about a little Jack Vance? Here's the opening of one of my favorite short stories, the anthropological/xenological mystery The Moon Moth*:

The houseboat had been built to the most exacting standards of Sirenese craftsmanship, which is to say, as close to the absolute as human eye could detect. The planking of waxy dark wood showed no joints, the fastenings were platinum rivets countersunk and polished flat. In style, the boat was massive, broad beamed, steady as the shore itself, without ponderosity or slackness of line. The bow bulged like a swan's breast, the stem rising high, then crooking forward to support an iron lantern. The doors were carved from slabs of a mottled black-green wood; the windows were many sectioned, paned with squares of mica, stained rose, blue, pale green and violet. The bow was given to service facilities and quarters for the slaves; amidships were a pair of sleeping cabins, a dining saloon and a parlor saloon, opening upon an observation deck at the stern.

The Moon Moth
also contains one of my favorite Vancian put-downs, as the protagonist interacts with a functionary who is familiar with the society into which the protagonist is thrown:

Thissell asked, "Does this mask signify any degree of prestige?"

"Not a great deal."

"After all, I'm Consular Representative," said Thissell. "I represent the Home Planets, a hundred billion people."

"If the Home Planets want their representative to wear a Sea Dragon Conqueror mask, they'd better send out a Sea Dragon Conqueror type of man."

*Although I am linking the story, I don't know the copyright status, and will certainly take down the link if there is a problem.

New Year's Resolutions

I am not usually big on New Year's resolutions- last year, I did not bother to make one. As I stated in last night's post, I resolved to have periodic blog posts concerning Jack Vance.

After yet another view of ittdgy's beautiful nature pix, I also resolved to buy a better camera with a good telephoto lens. Today on the job, I saw my current avian favorite, a chattering, though awfully shy, belted kingfisher that I would love to "capture" on "film". I anticipate purchasing said camera as soon as is feasible, because the first of my annual "pilgrimages" (and future blog post?) will probably take place in February.

I also resolved to renew my 2007 resolution to do one hundred push-ups every weekday, with a daily regimen of sit-ups as well (banged out a weak-ass thirty today before showering for work). Why? Because I hate doing these exercises, and need the imposed discipline of a resolution in order to do them. I adhered to my resolution in '07, so I have a good precendent to follow.

As far as my original 2010, resolution, my next post will start off this Vancian trend...