Two Yonkers residents were arrested in the Russian spy ring sting that has been dominating the headlines yesterday. I must admit, my "spider sense" is tingling when I consider this case- these people don't seem to have accomplished anything. The plot, described in the article on the local website, seems to be amorphous and inconsequential:
According to court papers unsealed Monday, the FBI intercepted a message from SVR headquarters, Moscow Center, to two of the defendants describing their main mission as “to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US.”
Intercepted messages showed they were asked to learn about a broad swath of topics including nuclear weapons, U.S. arms control positions, Iran, White House rumors, CIA leadership turnover, the last presidential election, the Congress and political parties.
Hell, it sounds more like a think-tank than a spy ring... they are not being charged with espionage. Dumbasses should have registered with the Attorney General's office.
I also get a kick out of the media coverage of the "sexxxy superspy", femme fataleAnna Chapman- uh, she's cute (I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers pelmini), but she's no Diana Rigg. We'll see how this whole thing plays out, but for now, the overblown coverage of this Russian spy ring is good for one thing- it gives me an excuse to post this video:
Yesterday, I had a bad hair day- it was that gross out. I had to work outside in the evening, and a torrential downpour of short duration had done nothing to alleviate the humidity. It was the kind of day when one's eight-hour deodorant gives up four hours into the struggle.
As much as I dig swamps, it's nice to be able to leave for drier climes. Last night, I had no such luck. Adding to the swampy nature of the night, I was serenaded with the twang of a green frog, accompanied by the basso notes of a bullfrog, freed from the diurnal tyranny of a great blue heron which had taken up residence in their pond, and feeling their batrachian wild oats.
Inspired in part by Thunder's comment on my previous post, as well as the triple-digit heat index.
Funny, why don't the right-wingers mention this run of really hot weather? They sure made a big deal about the snowstorms this winter (which, ironically, were fueled by increased water vapor in the air due to, you got it, global warming), but they're strangely reticent now.
I'm used to dealing with this sort of weather in August, not late June. Now sit tight, and listen keenly to a brand-new weather-appropriate musical biscuit from the Specials:
Yesterday, the gay pride parade took place in New York City. One of the grand marshals was Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teen who caused a kerfuffle among the bigots when she wanted to attend her prom with another girl. Once again, the bigots' small-mindedness has backfired on them, as Ms. McMillen has received national attention, scholarship money, and a free ticket out of Palookaville. Good for her.
Now, watching that video is almost guaranteed to turn you gay, so beware!
The frivolity aside, I just want to give a hearty "Boo Hiss" to all of the bigots who love to try to make life miserable for gay people. You're losing the battle, bigots, and your followers will hopefully awaken to the reality that they are being fleeced by you. The fact that you are spending some of this money on gay prostitutes is merely the hallucinogenic, unripe mulberry on top of your hypocrisy sundae.
In keeping with my "foraging" resolution (made last summer), I have been greedily stuffing my face with "feral" mulberries, which are plentiful in this area. Like the mighty silkworm, I have a gluttonous addiction for these things, dating back to my childhood, when my siblings and I would spend a good deal of time climbing a mulberry tree in our backyard, occasionally snacking on the incredible berries to be had:
The berries stain surfaces they contact pretty badly- better my sausage fingers than some poor sap's car:
Everything seems to be ripening early this year- the mulberries started ripening a couple of weeks ago (they never ripen all at once, so I'll have delicious berries for another week or two), and I actually saw some really early (but unripe) wild grapes this morning, and some pinkish staghorn sumac "berries". The wild raspberries look like they need another week or so to ripen.
Fueled by yerba maté, I'm working the graveyard tonight (it makes juggling jobs easier these days), and the moon is full. The moonlight has been so bright, one could read a newspaper without artificial illumination. Maybe my mention of the Black Rabbit of Inlé in my previous post was subconsciously inspired by the fact that the moon would be full tonight. Without giving away any secrets, (in connection with another post earlier this week) another silly scrap of doggerel comes to mind on this, the night of the full moon:
Overhead, the moon is screaming White as turnips, on the Rhine
I'm taking a big chance here, because I am risking Thunder's wrath. He's the go-to guy for pictures of lagomorphs on the web. Thunder's rabbits are eldritch, terrifying creatures- they make the Black Rabbit of Inlé look like a Hello Kitty sidekick. My rabbit friend, on the other hand, is (as a crazy former co-worker would put it) the cuteation:
A line in Smut Clyde's latest post reminded me of a classic, underappreciated series of "weird tales":
It is a tribute to their perceptual acuity that they headed straight for a "King in Yellow" sunflower with their cargo.
Robert W. Chambers was an author of "genre fiction" whose career straddled the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While he was a prolific author of romance fiction, he is best known today for a collection of "weird tales" published in 1895, which revolve around a play, The King in Yellow, which can drive its readers mad. Mentioned in the ficticious play are various locales cribbed from Ambrose Bierce's 1891 short-short story An Inhabitant of Carcosa.
The first tale in Chambers' King in Yellow cycle is The Repairer of Reputations, set in the futuristic world of 1920, a world in which suicide is legal, and every town has a Government Lethal Chamber available to the despondent (NYC's is on the south side of Washington Square, a bad location due to the presence of stressed-out NYU students and losing chess players). The protagonist of the story has succumbed to the fatal charms of the play, which has all the seductive, yet damning, characteristics of an opiate:
During my convalescence I had bought and read for the first time "The King in Yellow." I remember after finishing the first act that it occurred to me that I had better stop. I started up and flung the book into the fireplace; the volume struck the barred grate and fell open on the hearth in the fire-light. If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening words in the second act I should never have finished it, but as I stooped to pick it up my eyes became riveted to the open page, and with a cry of terror, or perhaps it was of joy so poignant that I suffered in every nerve, I snatched the thing from the hearth and crept shaking to my bedroom, where I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled with a horror which at times assails me yet. This is the thing that troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa, where black stars hang in the heavens, where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the Lake of Hali, and my mind will bear forever the memory of the Pallid Mask. I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with this beautiful, stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth -- a world which now trembles before the King in Yellow. When the French government seized the translated copies which had just arrived in Paris, London, of course, became eager to read it. It is well known how the book spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent, barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by press and pulpit, censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in "The King in Yellow," all felt that human nature could not bear the strain nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterwards with more awful effect.
As Chambers incorporated motifs from the work of Bierce, Lovecraft and his imitators incorporated motifs from Chambers' works. The very notion of a destructive, madness-inducing book is a common plot element in the tales of the "Cthulhu mythos". While the idea that a book could endanger one's soul is an ancient one, such terrifying tomes as The Necronomicon or The Book of Eibon owe a greater debt to Chambers' King in Yellow than to the Papal Index.
One major personal idiosyncrasy of mine is a deep-seated aversion to using a credit card to purchase anything on the internet (fixx0red for accuracy). I recently succumbed to a "workaround" for the problem of making internet purchases, and purchased an Amazon gift card for cash. I placed an order for a book I've had my eyes on for months, and I predict that every time I go to the mailbox, I'll have to hold myself down. I'm not going to give away any secrets, but this book is a compilation of one of my favorite novels and some additional rare works by the author. I'll post details when the book arrives.
Oh, and posting the link to Walking on Sunshine reminds me that the guitarist for Katrina and the Waves was Kimberly Rew, who played in Robyn Hitchcock fronted band The Soft Boys. Here's a video for the uncharacteristally "hard" Soft Boys tune The Rat's Prayer:
Last week, I read Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome for the first time since high school. WOW! While I had vivid memories of the tragic dénouement of the novella, I had totally forgotten the framing device, the fact that this was, indeed, a story-within-a-story, the facts of which were pieced together by an unnamed narrator.
Reading the book in high school was a different experience than reading it as an adult. A teenager is less sensitive to the horrifying sense of entrapment and helplessness felt by the main characters in the book. The protagonist, a decent man crushed by a lifetime of bad luck, hasn't got a hope in hell- trapped by his sense of duty, and the vindictiveness of his wife, he finally succumbs to despondency, and he even screws up his ill-advised exit from his untenable situation.
The work, while published in 1911, has a modern feel to it- Wharton's prose is lean, and her portrayal of rural life is unsentimental and morally ambiguous. It is a truly harrowing tale, and for sheer power to chill the blood, it beats any "genre" fiction hands down. If I were to give ratings, I'd probably give this novel nine glossy pates out of a possible ten.
N.B.: I usually read pulp "horror" fiction for laughs- the only HPL story that I find genuinely unsettling is The Colour Out of Space, which, much like Ethan Frome ***SPOILER ALERT*** has to do with a rural New England family having the life slowly sucked out of it.
I often describe one of my jobs as "very cushy, except when it's not"- today has been the perfect exemplar of my little conundrum. My department is very small, so the slightest irregularity in scheduling can play hob with my circadian rhythms. I had to work "split" shifts today- both the midnight to eight A.M., and the four P.M to midnight. I watched the sun rise at 5:22, and watched it set at 8:30. In a cruel caprice of fortune, I had to address some issues midday with another job when I should have been ironing my ears. That being said, the schedule is a killer, but the actual workday has been wonderful.
This morning, I saw a thrilling little drama play out, as two mockingbirds mobbed a crow unrelentingly- at one point, they were joined by a red-winged blackbird, and the little passerines drove the crow across an open area, where it flushed a half dozen noisy killdeer out of hiding. The barn swallows were engaging in their marvellous aerobatics, and a catbird, looking quite saucy in its jaunty black cap, gave me a good-natured scolding.
This evening, as the sun lowered in the west, I sat outside to watch my beloved bats take over the aerobatic show as the swallows called it a day. The killdeer were still piping in the twilight, as multitudes of fireflies rose from the tall grass, looking like embers rising from a bonfire. In a low-lying area, where my favorite nettle patch gives way to cattails, another variety of firefly- a quicker, more nervous variety, with a rapid display reminiscent of a camera flash in color and duration- could be seen. These fireflies aren't easily caught and, by frequenting nettle patches and marshes, would pose all sorts of perils to any child dauntless enough to attempt such a capture.
I love the transition from day to night, and the changing of the faunal guard, so this tiny bit of doggerel I wrote years back is a lie, a bit of poetic license in service of a silly muse, too undignified to be numbered among the Nine:
Crepuscular critters Give me the jitters.
With almost two hours of work to go, I'm tired, but my mood is good (in fact, I feel as jaunty as a catbird). In honor of the fireflies, here's a song which came to mind, even though it expresses a mood which is completely at odds with how I feel:
WARNING: Before you watch the video, please be warned that the song may turn you gay. Also, check out the video for Ennio Morricone's The Ecstasy of Gold at the link- pure bliss!
Postscript: I could have substituted a "T" for the "M" in the title, now that I re-read the post.
The local library branch had a major book sale today, and paperbacks were priced at twenty-five cents apiece. There I was, cheerfully browsing, when my heart started to race, my hands started trembling in barely concealed excitement:
OMGOMGOMGOMG!! You will notice that Fantasms and Magics and Eight Fantasms and Magics appear to be different editions of the same book, and you'd be correct. If, however, you had read The Miracle Workers, you'd have bought both editions as well:
The war party from Faide Keep moved eastward across the downs: a column of a hundred armored knights, five hundred foot soldiers, a train of wagons. In the lead rode Lord Faide, a tall man in his early maturity, spare and catlike, with a sallow dyspeptic face. He sat in the ancestral car of the Faides, a boat-shaped vehicle floating two feet above the moss, and carried, in addition to his sword and dagger, his ancestral side weapons.
An hour before sunset, a pair of scouts came racing back to the column, their club-headed horses loping like dogs. Lord Faide braked the motion of his car. Behind him, the Faide kinsmen, the lesser knights, and the leather-capped foot soldiers halted; to the rear the baggage train and the high-wheeled wagons of the jinxmen creaked to a stop.
The Miracle Workers may be Jack Vance's greatest work, it is certainly one of his most accessible. Although I love Vance's characteristic purple prose, he maintains a more subdued tone in this novella, a more spare and catlike prose, so to speak. The protagonist is also one of Vance's most felicitous characters, rather than a handsome, hypercompetent superman, we are presented with a "thick-set youth with a round florid face, overhung with a rather untidy mass of straw-colored hair" who is characterized by another character as "innocent and a trifle addled". No Mary Sue here, but a comical, sympathetic lead. As in many of Vance's works, The Miracle Workers is set in a stagnant, overly-conservative society faced with the need to change dramatically or face collapse. It's a theme that Vance explores in many of his works, and Vance does so rather succinctly, and extremely engagingly in The Miracle Workers.
...started last night. I don't have to do a damn thing today, so I'm looking forward to a big beer day today. I could have started it this morning, as all the local bars were showing the U.S./Slovenia match, but I decided to forgo the "drunk by noon" scenario. At 4:30, there will be free Newcastle Brown Ale at one of my favorite haunts in Yonkers, and at 6:30, guitar slinger/ballad singer Mary Courtney will be playing An Beal Bocht in the Bronx. At 8:30, I'll be meeting some folks at yet another Yonkers gin mill. Busy busy busy! Beery beery beery!
Tomorrow will be more low key- the local library is having a big book sale, which I'll hit before driving up to the local brewery to sample the new seasonal beer, and to get my growler filled (not a veiled buttsecks reference).
Sunday is a different matter entirely... I'll be putting in a sixteen hour day on the job, which isn't bad, since I work in such a beautiful place.
UPDATE: After receiving free beer and swag from the adorable Newcastle Brown Ale girls, I went to The Poor Mouth for a couple of hours of music, only to learn that the Guinness girls would be coming to distribute free Guinness and Harp, and to hand out swag. So, a long-legged, auburn-haired charmer is handing out free beer- what's not to like? Big Beer Night was a resounding success.
Today marked the end of the No-Response Follow-Up phase of the Census (at least in the locale assigned to my "crew"). We had a meeting this morning to hand in the last of our work, and there will most likely be a three week hiatus until the next stage of the Census. I have to say that I've had fun doing this work- I love my once and future co-workers (most of whom are neighbors), and I have developed a greater appreciation for the City of Y______. Last night, as I was heading out to put the finishing touches on the work, I was struck at how lovely the vistas in my hilly home are. Yeah, I was walking down to the Bronx border to pound on some recalcitrant jerk's door, but the walk was lovely (and I confess, I enjoyed pounding on the doors of the few people who turned out to be uncooperative).
It's been an interesting and informative month and a half.
Last Tuesday's Secret Science Club lecture featured the triumphant return of Princeton University biologist Lee Silver. The topic of the lecture was tracing genotypes to specific populations through time, the combination of genetics and geography to trace one's ancestry.
After briefly discussing mitochondrial DNA, and the common female ancestor of modern humans (he preferred "MoM"- mother of mankind, or mother of millions- to "Eve", which was used by creationists to distort the scientific findings), he went on to discuss the common male ancestor of modern humans, traced through DNA on the Y-chromosome. Following this was a brief dicussion of male reproduction throughout history, and the "kill the d00dz, mate with the females" model of warfare (using Genghis Khan, er make that Genghis Khan as an example). Dr Silver then demonstrated maps of various haplogroups. As an example, the gene for blue eyes most likely originated in a single ancestor living in the Black Sea region, then spread to Europe, the Near East, and certain regions of Asia (please note, googling "blue eyes" & genes results in a lot of racist website hits, hence this link to a beautiful, though non-informative web page). Dr. Silver ended his talk with a discussion of his own background, as traced through his Y-chromosome. Of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, his assumption of having Levantine ancestors was borne out, but he discovered that, in the Middle Ages, one of his male ancestors was of East Asian extraction, perhaps a trader who traveled west on the Silk Road. The lecture was followed by a Q&A, in which some bastard asked Dr. Silver if rumors of the demise of Y-chromosome were exaggerated (his reply was that this was unlikely to occur). Another audience member brought up the topic of human speciation, and Dr. Silver indicated that, with greater incidence of interbreeding, this would be most likely to occur due to genetic manipulation).
Once again, Dr. Silver delivered an informative, entertaining talk. After the lecture, I was able to talk briefly with Dr. Silver, and I must say that his warmth and compassion are equal to his eloquence and erudition.
I'm back in my safe Northeastern home, after a sojourn in Heartlandish Purple America (StonewallJackson would weep!). My eldest nephew graduated from the eighth grade, and I had the honor of attending the pre-graduation assembly with his little brother. Hilariously, the little one decided to borrow his brother's electric razor to trim his "sideburns" a bit, so he had a couple of "tan lines" on his head. He can now truthfully tell everyone that he started shaving in the third grade. My nephews are great kids- smart, funny, magnanamous, and spirited, and I'm proud to call them family.
The school headmaster muffed one boy's name, substituting a girl's name for the lad's given name- I told him, "Hey, at least this happened at the end of your career here, otherwise you'd have been stuck with it forever." He's a laid-back kid, and shrugged the whole thing off. The class president gave a short speech, opening with Langston Hughes' poem Dreams. While I don't recall the main body of the young lady's speech, I will let the lovely, gracious, and talented Brandi Carlisle give the gist of it:
A hearty congratulations to all graduates of ***REDACTED*** ***REDACTED*** ***REDACTED*** ***REDACTED***.
I would have posted this video yesterday, but I wanted to keep my previous post up for a while, because it concerned two friends of mine. Once again, I am posting the video for a song featured on the Platter Hour segment of Big Al's New Music Smorgasbord on my favorite college radio station. Last Sunday morning, Big Al featured the album In a Roman Mood by Boston new wave band Human Sexual Response, named for the classic text by Masters and Johnson. While I hadn't heard anything from this particular album before, the singles Jackie Onassis and What Does Sex Mean to Me? (a personal favorite) received quite a bit of airplay on the late, lamented WLIR. The album opens up with Andy Fell, which seems merely to be a catchy song, until one realizes that the lyrics reveal a devastating narrative (it's rather like OMD's incredibly pretty, ultimately shattering Enola Gay in this regard).
I'm posting the video for Land of the Glass Pinecones, because I've been on a Borges binge lately, and this song is reminiscent of a short-short Borges piece:
Land of the glass pinecones Their seeds are made of rhinestones The squirrels never scatter them They know what rhinestone seeds portend.
It's silly, yet has a bit of an ominous undercurrent- They know what rhinestone seeds portend? I think Borges would have characterized each glass pinecone as a philosophy, with each rhinestone seed being a tenet of said philosophy- the whole being a microcosm of the cognitive history of humankind. Like any particular Borges piece, one has to wonder whether it's profound, a put-on, or both. Trippy stuff, indeed, an airier counterpart to the The Thirteenth Floor Elevators'Slip Inside this House.
Please note, in the Youtube playlist, the third item, a song which was aired on live television, causing a local controversy.
It's been a busy, busy week for musically inclined friends of the Bastard:
Last night, the Star of the County Bronx, Mary Courtney, had a release party at An Beal Bocht for her new single, a heartrending rendition of transportation song Sky and Sea. As always, Mary provided a lovely night of ballads, both traditional and new (check out The Sky Belongs to Dreamers, a paean to the martyred Mychal Judge, in which she plaintively sings, "What's that sound I'm hearing? Ring the bells of freedom, louder than the drums of war"). Even when singing about melancholy, or even tragic subject matter, the clear, sweetness of Mary's voice serves to interject a note of hope, a conviction that love, beauty, and humanity will eventually win out over cruelty, hate, and tyranny. Joining Mary were fiddle virtuosa Bernadette Fee , a bodhran player whose name I didn't catch (and I wasn't even drunk last night), and a Japanese harmonica wizard named "Ari" (I didn't get his last name) who brought down the house with a delta blues number which morphed into an Irish reel- I'll ask Mary if he plays any local gigs, because I sure would love to be able to do him the justice of writing a real profile.
My great and good friend Jim Keyes released an album of historic music. This pressing is so new, it's not even up on his website. I forget the name of the disc (I have an unpackaged, unlabeled advance copy- Jim rushed the production before playing a big gig at a local historical site last weekend), but I suggested the title A Child's Garden of Murder Ballads- most of Jim's gigs are family events, and Jim was a little perplexed when five and six year olds in his audience would sing along to such gruesome songs as The Ballad of Binorrie and Matty Groves (featured in the linked video clip). I'll post an update as soon as information about the new disc is posted on the web.
So, the wanking "watchdogs" at Big Government have alleged that waste and abuse are rife in the Census Bureau (after sending two operatives to "infiltrate" the training sessions for the No Follow-Up Response project). Shaughn Adeleye, the Tubbs to James O'Keefe's Crockett (more like Tubb-o-Crap and Crock-o-Shit) wrote the following in his little "expose":
The training course consisted of four three-hour days and one eight-hour day. I was paid for a total of 20.75 hours, 3.5 of which I did not work. I was paid with your money, money that was stolen from you.
Of course, each enumerator was given an orientation packet, consisting of two manuals, and a mock-up binder, with some additional blank questionnaires- all to be used for home study. The fact that Mr. Adeleye was paid for three-and-a-half hours of loafing is more a reflection of his poor character than of Census Bureau fraud. The training session was a guaranteed forty hours, divided between classroom lessons, field practice, and home study. Yes, money was stolen from you, stolen by Monsieur Adeleye.
As an added bonus, it's too bad O'Keefe wasn't videotaping me while I was doing my enumeration rounds today- he actually would have caught me popping into a bar for a few minutes while on the job. Of course, the facts that another tenant told me that the landlord of the building runs the bar (on the ground floor of the building- I needed to get information about tenants who had moved out of an upstairs apartment) , and I ***sigh*** didn't have a drop to drink would have been ignored by the Winchell of Weasels.
Yet another tempest in a teapot, with the added spice of misrepresentation and possible fraud on the part of Breitbart's Bleaters.
Note: Shout out to Thunder, his comment on my previous post inspired this.
Being a tight-fisted cheapskate frugal man, I am still using a laptop purchased (used, manager's floor model) four years or five ago, running an old O/S. Yesterday, the AC adapter melted down on me, necessitating a trip to Radio Shack so I wouldn't have an elaborate paperweight on my hands. Well, they did not carry an adapter for a computer as old as mine, but I was able to locate a mom-and-pop store near my house, and get the proper adapter. I loathe planned obsolescence (and the multiplicity of adapters for each and every electronic gizmo) with the heat of an overheating AC adapter.
On the other hand, I love mom-and-pop stores, and will patronize this little computer store in preference to to big box retailers. The only bittersweet note in my shopping experience is that this computer store had relocated from another site, and now occupies the building which used to house my favorite Thai grocery store.
I don't know much about Scottish noise-pop band Shop Assistants, but they released a terrific album of sweet melodies with acidic lyrics, all buried under a wash of fuzz and distortion. While I Don't Want to Be Friends with You was the band's biggest single Stateside, my favorite track from the album is Seems to Be. For some reason, I have always loved uptempo songs with really pessimistic lyrical content, and this song scratches that itch:
I also have to note that the band's drummer was, simply put, pulchritudinous. Lead singer Alex Taylor, after leaving Shop Assistants, fronted the band Motorcycle Boy, which released the single Big Rock Candy Mountain, which received some college radio play here in the States. It's yet another bittersweet bit about a relationship which has foundered, with only unimaginative production keeping it from ascending to the Empyrean heights of pure pop perfection.
Today marks my sister's birthday- she's not quite a year younger than I am (Irish twins), and we would both be impossible to be around for the period of time during which we were the same age. We've both mellowed considerably since then (plus, she lives a couple of hundred miles away), so we don't pull the "Itchy and Scratchy" nonsense that used to characterize early June in our house. I'll call her up to wish her a happy birthday, and she'll be civil, as will I. Funny how maturity works.
The Big Bad Bald Bastard is a character played by Monsieur _______ of the City of Y______. The role of the Bastard is a handy one to play on subways, walking the streets, and in dive-bars, when being a nerdy, bookish sort is not to one's advantage.