Sunday, February 28, 2010

I've Been Remiss in My Jack Vance Posts

Jack Vance shares a marked disdain for religion with his predecessor Clark Ashton Smith. Both authors regularly depict religious sects with hilariously absurd doctrines. In the fifth chapter ("The Pilgrims") of The Eyes of the Overworld, originally published in the June 1966 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the following conversation takes place among a group of pilgrims traveling to a religious festival:

Lodermulch had been asked his opinion of the so-called Funambulous Evangels, who, refusing to place their feet upon the ground, went about their tasks by tightrope. In a curt voice Lodermulch exposed the fallacies of this particular doctrine. "They reckon the age of the earth at twenty-nine eons, rather than the customary twenty-three. They stipulate that for every square ell of soil two and one quarter million men have died and laid down their dust, thus creating a dank and ubiquitous mantle of lich-mold, upon which it is sacrilege to walk. The argument has a superficial plausibility, but consider: the dust of one dessicated corpse, spread over a square ell, affords a layer one thirty-third of an inch in depth. The total therefore represents almost one mile of compacted corpse-dust mantling the earth's surface, which is manifestly false."

A member of the sect, who, without access to his customary ropes, walked in cumbersome ceremonial shoes, made an excited expostulation. "You speak with neither logic nor comprehension! How can you be so absolute?"

Lodermulch raised his tufted eyebrows in surly displeasure. "Must I really expatiate? At the ocean's shore, does a cliff one mile in altitude follow the demarcation between land and sea? No. Everywhere is inequality. Headlands extend into the water; more often beaches of pure white sand are found. Nowhere are the massive buttresses of gray-white tuff upon which the doctrines of your sect depend."

"Inconsequential claptrap!" sputtered the Funambule.

"What is this?" demanded Lodermulch, expanding his massive chest. "I am not accustomed to derision!"

"No derision, but hard and cold refutal of your dogmatism! We claim that a proportion of the dust is blown into the ocean, a portion hangs suspended in the air, a portion seeps through crevices into underground caverns, and another portion is absorbed by trees, grasses, and certain insects, so that little more than a half-mile of ancestral sediment covers the earth upon which it is sacrilege to tread. Why are not the cliffs you mentioned everywhere visible? Because of that moistness exhaled and expelled by innumerable men of the past! This has raised the ocean in exact equivalence, so that no brink or precipice can be noted; and herein lies your fallacy."

"Bah," muttered Lodermulch, turning away. "Somewhere there is a flaw in your concepts."

"By no means!" asserted the evangel, with that fervor which distinguished his kind. "Therefore, from respect to the dead, we walk aloft, on ropes and edges, and when we must travel, we use specially sanctified footgear."

As a resident of the Northeastern United States, I have been insulated from creationist rhetoric for most of my life, so I was unaware that this satirical tour de force was a response to any particular belief. Due, oddly enough, to the technological marvel known as "teh t00bz", I have, much to my dismay, found that this is not the case.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Most Uncanny Resemblance

I feel bad about upstaging my previous post, but I had to put this one up, with a big tip of the old chapeau to the redoubtable M. Bouffant, from whose blog I "yoinked" the NOAA image.

To my mind, the travel time projection for today's Pacific tsunami:

Bears an eerie resemblance to a detail from Katsushika Hokusai's masterpiece The Great Wave off Kanagawa:

So desu ne?

The One That Got Away

If the lyrics of any song perfectly match the circumstances surrounding that song's place in pop history, that song would have to be If We Never Meet Again, written by Jules Shear, who may perhaps be best known for writing If She Knew What She Wants, which was a hit for the Bangles. In 1988, his band Reckless Sleepers released the album "Big Boss Sounds", which included If We Never Meet Again, an unabashedly pretty (and witty and wise) song about a lost love. Despite its pop perfection, the song was relegated to college radio playlists, and never broke the U.S. top 100 (it hit #89 in Canada according to the wikiwakiwoo). The song was subsequently covered by Philly band Tommy Conway and the Young Rumblers, and hit #48 on the Billboard charts). Perhaps the best known version of the song is Roger McGuinn's cover, on his 1990 "Back from Rio" album.

Youtube has a tragically incomplete video of the original version of the song. The complete video of the Young Rumblers' version (which I had never heard until researching this post) is available on Youtube:

The Roger McGuinn version is also available on Youtube, accompanied by a fan video:

It's hard to conceive how this song failed to be a major hit, which passed into "Standards" status. Yep, this is the one that got away- as wistful as a lost love, and as wise as an older, more mature individual contemplating what might have been.

Note: This post wasn't inspired by a fit of melancholy... it was ultimately inspired by hearing the Byrds' cover of Chimes of Freedom on a local radio station's fantastic "Ten at Ten" feature (tagline: Ten great songs from one great year), which had me busting out the Roger McGuinn.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Over the course of the last two days, we have been in the throes of a Nor'easter. Over twenty inches of snow fell in Central Park, and at least one individual was killed by a falling tree limb.

I spent over and hour and a half digging my car out, finding (to much dismay) that a small branch had fallen, putting several small cracks in my windshield. Grrr...

The local roads were a mess, but the major roads were well plowed. The highway I usually drive on to my part-time job was clear, for the most part, but an ancient tree had fallen, blocking one lane of traffic north of Tuckahoe Road. Not having a dashboard camera like some guys, I missed out on a dramatic shot.

When I got to work, the parking lot was clear, the snow had let up. Just so you all feel a twinge of jealousy, I took this picture "on the job":

The storm devastated trees on-site, though:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dispatches From an Alien Planet

Every time I go to the supermarket to provision my pad, I am struck by how ignorant I am of contemporary popular culture. I have not owned a television for two and a half years now, so I don't recognize most of the faces peering out from the covers of People and US magazines. Periodically, I'll click on an item in the Yahoo "Most Frequently Searched" section (Edit: it's called "Trending Now" in the new Yahoo frontpage) in a misguided attempt to stay "current", then immediately regret finding out who, for instance, "Jon and Kate" are.

Oh, I'm in luck- I just checked out "Trending Now" and found something more to my liking.

On the other pop-culture front, I have not set foot in a movie theater in months. Part of me, though, is considering bowing to the hype-machine and watching Avatar on the big screen... if I were to watch the DVD on my laptop, it would look much like a high-tech remake of The Smurfs.

Who Writes This Stuff Anyway?

So, I was travelling on the 4 Train from Brooklyn to The Bronx (my usual 718-718 trip), and found a Chinese-language newspaper on one of the seats. Struck by an impulse to check it out (mainly to check out what sorts of advertisements would be featured), I found this cute little English dialogue lesson. I have highlighted my favorite lines, which are pure comedy gold:

A: Good evening, Mr. Benson. Thank you so much for inviting me to dinner.

B: Not at all, Mr. Abe. I'm so happy you could me (sic). What will you have to drink? A highball? Or would you prefer a cocktail?

A: Nothing, thanks, I don,t (sic) drink.

B: How about a beer, then?

A: Not even beer, thanks. But please don't let me stop you from having some.

B: Please sit over here, Mr. Abe. I hope you like onion soup. It's the first course.

A: It's a real favorite of mine.

B: Which soup do you prefer, consomme or potage?

A: Usually I prefer consomme.

B: I do too.

A: These are wonderful appetizers. I am extremely fond of caviar on toast.

B: Please help yourself to more.

A: How do you fine (sic) the lobster?

B: It's excellent.

A: I don't believe I've ever eaten such a delicious lobster before.

Am I the only one who'd like to hang out with this Mr. Benson? As long as he's not driving, that is.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Bastard and the Denialist

Ugh, a friend of long standing has gone full-on wingnut, and regularly e-mails me links to the now-regular AGW denialist screeds in the UK tabloid press, accompanied by gleeful triumphalist rhetoric. Hilariously, he even sends articles he doesn't read, which have provocative headlines, but refute his talking points in body of the text. In one of his responses to a debunking e-mail I sent him, he wrote:

what happened to the ozone hole? global cooling? the K-capacity theory of human population maxing out in 1965? all nonsense.

Now, of course the "global cooling" red herring flogged by denialists has its basis in a Newsweek magazine article published in 1975- an article that did not reflect a widespread scientific consensus.

As far as the "K-capacity Theory" he mentions, note the date he cites. Of course, the carrying capacity of the planet is subject to many factors, such as agricultural modernization, and previously unexploited foodstuffs. Futhermore, the Spectre of Population Control is a common Conspiracy nut bugbear, much like Climate Change denialism.

Well, that leaves the ozone hole. What about the hole in the ozone layer? Well, I sent him the link to the NASA website with a note:

Just because you have decided to become a Flat-Earther, does not mean that the Southern Hemisphere has ceased to exist.

This guy is an intelligent adult, but he is victim, not of a misinformation campaign, but a malinformation campaign. The crux of the problem is that there's a process of "cognitive osmosis" that takes place... a selectively permeable "membrane" (in his case, the Drudge Report) is in place, limiting his intake of data and keeping out any facts not conforming to his preconceived notions. This is accompanied by a tendency to project- in this case, he thinks that he's the one hip to a conspiracy promulgated by politically and economically motivated shysters (funny, he doesn't mention Ian Plimer anymore).

It's pretty depressing shooting down somebody's talking points, and having them keep up the weird proselytizing (what's with righties and poorly sourced e-mails, anyway?). The difference between the reality-based community, and the dogmatic science deniers brings to mind the lyrics to folk-rockers The Waterboys' Whole of the Moon:

I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered I guessed and I tried
You just knew

So as not to end on a depressing note, here's a video for said song:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seems to be Relic Night

Yes, looking at some of the usual suspects' blogs, it would seem to be relic night. Well, reading about relics reminds me of a visit to Padova, which was characterized by a trip to the Basilica, followed by dinner in a restaurant (the name of which I cannot recall) that specialized in roast goat (perversely, I ordered guinea hen in said establishment). Well, the tongue of St. Anthony is on prominent display in the Basilica (along with other body parts)- gives an interesting spin on kissing a relic. Now, of course, I cannot think of St. Anthony without thinking of Mahler's Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt:

Ah, yes, the old fish-sermon, I translated it for a "Reading German" class in college. In Catholic folk-hagiography, the intercession of St. Anthony is sought for aid in locating lost objects. In my search for a video for this post, I found the blog Down With Tyranny!- not a lost object, but certainly a find.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Mount Vernon Statement

Much has been written about Conservatism Reboot The Mount Vernon Statement. Well, as a former resident of Mount Vernon, this is the only Mount Vernon Statement as far as I am concerned:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Park of Horrors?

Every winter, when the Hudson River freezes up north, the bald eagle population of the upper Hudson Valley migrates to more southerly open water, sometimes as far south as the north end of Manhattan. As Haliaeetus leucocephalus is my totem bird (much like the naked mole rat is my totem rodent, with it's glabrousness), I make at least one winter pilgrimage each year to see the majestic eagles by the mighty Hudson (layin' it on thick here). This year, I made the trip twice- the first time seeing a perching juvenile and an adult in flight (both in Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson). My second eagle watching trip took place, appropriately enough, on Presidents' Day. I started off by driving to Charles Point Park on the Peekskill/Buchanan border- immediately north of the Indian Point nuclear power plant* (the park's Fleischmann's Pier is a major destination for local eagle watchers). I saw a juvenile eagle and an adult eagle sitting on ice floes in the middle of the river- too far to get a photograph. My next planned destination was George's Island Park in Montrose, but some friendly eagle watchers informed me that they had just come from there, and no birds were to be seen. I decided to hit Route 9 (the road starts off as Broadway- yes, that Broadway- and extends to the Canadian border) and head south to Croton Point Park, and spied a magnificent juvenile eagle flying overhead. I didn't see any eagles at Croton Point Park, but I did happen to see some pretty outré things...

Croton Point Park is a "capped" landfill that juts into the Hudson River like a claw. One can occasionally discern its origins by coming across an old brick or cinder block by the strand. Well, on my trips to the park, I came across more than old cinder blocks.

Here's a dead sturgeon, inexplicably perched on an ice floe, how the sturgeron got there, I really don't know (not all of these will rhyme, I can't be arsed poetasting here):

Here we have the wing of a bird, judging from the size of the wing and the colors of the plumage, I would guess that it belonged to a red-tailed hawk:

Finally, we have yet another eldritch shrine or fetish object. This one looks as if it had been constructed by a troop of girl scouts who worship Cthulhu. It is covered in shiny plasic beads, and the white object at the top is the mandible of a canid. The prominent "G", if I am correct, would stand for Great Old Ones:

Now, who's up for an overnight camping trip in Croton Point Park?

Postscript: I never did get any beautiful pictures of majestic, soaring eagles... that's more of a job for a guy like Thunder.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler!

Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent begins... the end of Carnival. In the States, of course, the only public manifestation of the Carnival tradition takes place in Franco-America (insert Spaghettios joke), more properly known as Louisiana.

The two broad musical traditions of Francophone Lousisana are Cajun music, and Zydeco, or "green beans" music, which is an Afro-French (Creole) musical form. In honor of this, the fattest of Tuesdays, I present two selections. The first is La Danse De Mardi Gras by Cajun revival superstars Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.

The second is Bow Legged Woman by Zydeco superstar C.J. Chenier.

Now, have fun, let the good times roll, and don't swallow the plastic Jesus in your King Cake.

Edit: It was my intention to embed these videos, but teh toobz won't allow me to do so. Please click on the links provided, and shake your rumps. Maybe Youtube has given up "embed" enabling for Lent.

Edit of the Edit: My original post was made using a different server than I usually use- as is now evident, I have been able to embed the linked videos. Let the good times roll, indeed!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

In Keeping with Winter Olympics Fee-Vah!

Actually, in keeping with my usual Saturday M.O.- that is, posting a music video (usually) from the 1980s...

Since the Winter Olympics is taking place in Vancouver, and many of the events are of an Alpine (for lack of a better term) nature, I present to you the video for Canadian duo Big Bam Boo's 1988 tune Fell Off a Mountain, a title which seems to be an apt characterization of ski jumping:

The sprightly, clever song has a retro feel, which is captured well in the video. It's a piece of pure pop bliss that certainly deserves wider exposure.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Belated Secret Science Club After Action Report

This month's Secret Science Club was a lecture by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory molecular biologist Gregory Hannon on the role of micoRNA on gene regulation, with a specific focus on the possible role of microRNA in various cancers. Dr. Hannon's lecture was accompanied by some gorgeous animations of RNA working its mojo on the old double helix. The topic then narrowed to the role of miRNA in Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease, and referenced the research of Dr. Elizabeth Murchison, formerly of CSH Lab. In the course of the lecture, Dr. Hannon noted a genetic similarity among Tasmanian devils which indicates that the species had passed through a population "bottleneck", a situation that characterizes cheetahs as well.

My question in the Q&A (inspired by mention of the myelin sheath) regarding the possible role of microRNAs in auto-immune diseases such as (you guessed it) multiple sclerosis, lupus, and Type 1 diabetes. This is a possible avenue of inquiry, but the research at this stage mainly deals with cancers.

Besides the lecture, there was an opening act, researcher/rapper Zach Charlop-Powers (originally of the northern Bronx, not far from my usual stomping grounds) performed his Polymerase Chain Reaction rap:

I had met Zach and his wife at the Imagine Science Film Festival, and was pleased to see them both. Additionally, "Sadly, No!" regular and Brooklyn resident N__B was there with the lovely and brilliant Mrs. __B. N__B, being approximately five feet, sixteen inches in height, hilariously characterized most of the attendees as "hobbits". Besides the usual booze, there were delicious cupcakes available in the performance/lecture space. After a typical night of booze and brilliance, I was able to get home just as the snow started falling- a nice coda to another great Tuesday.

Now, because Tasmanian devils were featured in the lecture, I am going to plug the book Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger, written by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson, two of the SSC founders. It's a hell of a read, alternately funny, informative, and melancholy (considering how the thylacine's saga ended), and the illustrations by Alexis Rockman are beautiful (and, when one considers his media, pretty mind-blowing.

What a Slacker!

Last post was Monday... holy schmoley, this guy's a lazy bum.

Well, Tuesday was devoted to having the car inspected, detected, and perfected, then getting my ass to Brooklyn (to be addressed in the next post). Wednesday was spent recovering from Tuesday night's beer indulgence and filling in an embarrassing lacuna in my geek cred by reading two-thirds of the way through Haldeman's The Forever War during a blizzard which dumped a foot of snow on the City of Y______. Thursday was "dig yourself out and attend to housekeeping (I'm looking at you big-ass pile of laundry)" day. Whew, I still could have found some time to write... chalk it up to lazy bumitude.

On my way to work this afternoon, I stopped at a Chinese restaurant for a quick, cheap lunch, and was inspired by the hilariously ungrammatical instructions on the chopsticks wrapper (there was a brief period of time when the grammar on the label was improved, but I'd like to think that public demand brought the "traditional and typical of Chinese glorious history and cultual (sic)" phrase back to the wrapper).

So, inspired by my chopsticks wrapper:

Welcome to teabagger convention. Please try your populism with racism, the traditional and typical of glorious conservative history and cultural.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Happy National Work with a Hangover Day

I really didn't overdo it last night, I was able to maintain verticality all night. In honor of anyone who is working while hungover, I present the following video:

Don't let the whimsical "Groovy Goolies" theme of the video fool you... the song is really about- you got it- working with a hangover.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tagged, I Tells Ya... Tagged!

So, I've been tagged for the "Honest Scrap" project by Johnny Pez, the go-to guy for public-domain speculative fiction of the early 20th Century, and a compelling "alternate history" narrative. So, I am now compelled to reveal ten facts about myself. Here goes nothing:

1. In my twenties, I spent many productive hours having the crap beaten out of me by this gentleman. He had a knack for making you laugh, even as he was putting you in the hurtbox. Shockingly, he succumbed to cancer in 2006. Eight hundred people attended his memorial service- fittingly, we laughed as much as we cried.

2. On my 25th birthday, I ran around the block naked, not even footgear, on a dare. On my 30th birthday, some friends of mine took me to the Maison du Sade on 23rd St, where they bought me a public spanking- I went for a thirty-mile bike ride the next day, much to Mistress Bianca's chagrin.

3. I am an experienced stage electrician, although I have never been paid for such work. For many years, I did electrical rigging for the Village Light Opera Group, though I am not a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan. While in college, I constructed a stage for The Jesus and Mary Chain from platforms and 2x4's. I tested the solidity of the stage by jumping up and down on each platform, as I was a lot more... substantial... than the gracile members of the band. The stupid radio station staff, rather than comping me a concert ticket, expected me to work crowd control in the Loge section.

4. I have knowingly and willing engaged in entomophagy. The first insect I knowingly ate was a hapless cicada that happened to be resting on a friend's screen door. A bunch of us had been drinking in the backyard. As soon as I said, "Hey, I've read that these things are edible" my friend divined my intention. Anyone familiar with cicadas knows what a racket they can make. Well, this one made a racket, until I bit its head off. I refrained from eating the wings. I would compare the experience to eating a huge celery-flavored M&M, crunchy on the outside, gooey goodness within. Subsequently, I have tried crickets, katydids, and ants (which are tangy). It goes without saying, eating the caterpillar in the mezcal bottle is a no-brainer. If I ever get my ass to the not-so-drouthy antipodes, I will refrain from throwing a weta in the deep-fryer for fear of legal sanction. To anyone "squicked out" by the prospect of eating bugs... you have accidentally done it on a fairly regular basis.

6. In 1993, I swam across the Rio Grande on two separate occasions. On both occasions, I was visiting the hot springs at Big Bend National Park.

7. Among the bizarre things I have done for a living, I: spent some time on a client's roof in the Bronx, quipped with a video camera, trying to catch a jerk who was taking potshots with a pellet gun at staff members during shift change; drove a forklift in Central Park at night in January for the Gates Project; assisted in the delivery of a lamb.

8. Been in a palace (Versaille), been in a jail (North Hampden County Correctional Facility near Springfield, MA- had to drive up there to interview a guy named Junior about a car accident he claimed to have been involved in in Brooklyn... he was as inept in auto insurance fraud as he was in drug trafficking. I made him draw a diagram of the "accident site" while he was wearing shackles). I just don't want to be reborn a snail.

9. I can play music on my ***REDACTED-FUTURE POST*** and have done so at the company picnic talent show every year.

10. Like Elvis, I met Richard Nixon (at a black-tie fundraiser for St. Vincent's Hospital back in the early 90's). I was polite and formal. Last year, I was told I met Taylor Swift (at a fundraiser for the non-profit I work for part-time). I was polite and formal. Not being up on my current pop culture, I did not recognize the young woman, but was informed the following day by a co-worker, who said, "I thought she looked like Taylor Swift, but I don't like Taylor Swift, so I didn't say anything." In no way would I compare Taylor Swift to Richard Nixon, beyond their both being bipedal mammals.

I am going to add a number eleven... I am very shy when it comes to forwarding things like this, so I will put it out there that I'd think it would be a hoot if any commenters would follow up on this.

Edit: My original number four was a self-evident no-brainer, so I changed it to something more interesting

Second Edit: I totally forgot a number five... I also love all the responses. You folks are great!

Edit of the Second Edit: Looking at the list, I realize that my original number five was accidentally "typed over" when I expanded item four- I originally had "I am a member of NOW" as item five.

Wow, I've Been Slacking Off!

Three days without a post. Gonna make it a quick one while I gather my thoughts for a real post.

I listened with bemusement to the odious Tom Tancredo's execrable speech to the Teabagger convention and immediately thought that Lady Gaga has done more to mainstream the English language than any of the English-only crowd. While "Poker Face" and "Bad Romance" are blaring from speakers all over the world, inspiring kids to pick up some English, Tancredo and the Teabaggers would be the first to decry Lady Gaga as a dangerous influence.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Musique Belgique

Yo, Plastic Bertrand, I'm-a let you finish, but Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel were one of the greatest Belgian New Wave acts of all time:

My first exposure to the band was hearing A Deep Space Romance (which is basically a macabre joke centered around a simple bit of English wordplay) on the local local college radio station, where longtime DJ "Your Old Pal" Jim Riecken is a great champion of Francophone rock. The band's biggest single was Route Nationale 7, which makes for a jauntier counterpart to Kraftwerk's more placid Autobahn.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day Musings

Sometimes, it seems like PETA is a front organization that acts as a straw man for right-wing opponents of animal rights groups. PETA's efforts to get the town of Fishkill come to mind as one of those WTF? moments. Well, here's another one... Gemma Vaughn of PETA sent a letter to the The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club requesting that they replace famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil with an animatronic simulacrum.

PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman was quoted in Lindsay Barnett's LA Times article saying a robotic woodchuck "would attract new and curious tourists" to the annual Groundhog Day celebration, but I am not so sure that such visitors would be welcome at a family-friendly celebration.

In the article, Lindsay Barnett wrote that the Groundhog Club is sending Phil-oriented text messages, and quips: And a text-messaging groundhog, strange as it may seem, is still far preferable to a creepy, robotic one.

Now, how lifelike would a robotic groundhog have to be to not be creepy? In the field of Artificial Intelligence research, the Turing test refers to a machine's ability to mimic human thought processes to the extent that a human can be fooled into believing that it is another human. In robotics, the concept of the Uncanny Valley refers to a hypothetical point at which a imperfect simulacrum of a human is perceived with revulsion when it reaches a certain level of versimilitude. E.G. not creepy, creepy. Now, both the Turing test and the Uncanny Valley refer to simulated humans- what about a groundhog? Are these concepts broadly applicable to a non-anthropomorphic figure? I am inclined to say no, so I propose the following in cases of simulated rodents: the question of whether an artificial rodent can fool a human observer should be known as the Murine test, and the degree of creepiness of a rodent simulacrum should be known as the Uncanny Burrow.

Of course, I cannot claim to be a neutral observer when it comes to woodchuck-related events, as my most bitter rival is a woodchuck.

Note: While trying to ascertain the gender of Lindsay Barnett, I found this article, which suggests to me that Lindsay Barnett is the go-to person when it comes to rodent-related topics.

Postscript: As readers of a certain gent from Providence will no doubt realize, February 2 is also Candlemas. Here's hoping the whipporwills don't get anyone! As an added odd bit, while searching for a picture of Uncle Howard, I found this group. Their name seems to suggest that they make biofuels out of the fat of sacrificial victims...

Monday, February 1, 2010

My One Major Beef with the SotU Speech

I had mentioned posting about my one major beef with the State of the Union speech, but I held off for the weekend because I was still savoring the President's smackdown of the Republican Caucus during their retreat (how appropos...). Well, my one big beef (VPR?) is his use of Competitive Enterprise Institute/Club for Growth/Republican Party propaganda term clean coal. His support for offshore drilling and nuclear power were bad enough, but clean coal? Honestly, coal is not clean. Back in 1980, in his short story The Adopted Father, collected in the compilation Castle of Days, Gene Wolfe wrote:

John Parker crossed to the window and stared at the dark sky beyond the glass. "That's coal smoke, the technology of the Nineteenth Century brought into the Twenty-First and hard at work. They could have conquered the solar system and harnessed the sun, but they did this instead, because there was no fun involved. Their great-grandfathers had done it, and they knew it would work."

This was written in 1980, after a decade marked with energy crises. Thirty years later, what has been accomplished in updating our energy policies? Precious little, as we loony lefties all know. It's been decades of tax policies encouraging the purchase of gas guzzlers, "Nuke their ass, take their gas", and missed opportunities for promoting conservation.

Also in 1980, Gene Wolfe wrote the essay Helioscope as a companion to the first volume of his haunting, masterful Book of the New Sun. Uh... **SPOILERS** follow here, so anybody unfamiliar with BotNS, go out, purchase, read it, become totally addicted to the work, and come back in a couple of months, armed to the teeth with in-jokes about "alzabos" and "cacogens". The essay was included in the book Castle of the Otter, which was then reprinted as part of the aforementioned Castle of Days volume. In Helioscope, Wolfe describes the genesis of The Book of the New Sun, which is set in a "medieval" society on a far-future Earth:

The challenge to science fiction today is not to describe a slightly hyped-up present, but a real future- a time radically unlike the present, that is. Clearly , there are more than one of these futures, there is the future in which mankind returns to the sea for new sources of food and raw materials. There is the future of extermination. I decided that the future most in keeping with the dark figure I had planned and his journey toward war was what I call the do nothing future, the one in which humanity clings to its old home, the continents of Earth, and waits for the money to run out(emphasis mine).

As Thom Hartmann so poetically put it in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, fossil fuels capture millions of years of carbon produced through photosynthesis- a "bank account" that we continue to squander, when we should be using it as "start-up capital" for the production of renewable energy sources. The President had a real opportunity to eschew the talking points of the do nothing crowd, and issue a genuine call to action, but he blew it. I think I'll leave it at that, before I spin out a rambling rant about how algae is going to save the world.