Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hadn't Heard This One In Over A Decade

I can't say I know anything about the Acoustinauts, but the song Inhale Einstein received a bit of airplay on college radio back in the late 80s. With all the heated rhetoric about fascism, and with unacceptable comparisons of the current president to Hitler, this song came to mind:

I like the central conceit of this song, the notion that we should inhale the Einstein particles floating around while exhaling the Hitler molecules that contaminate the atmosphere. I completely agree that we should embrace our potential for creativity, humor, altruism, and the pursuit of knowledge, and eschew our potential for authoritarianism, rage, hatred, and the pursuit of power.

The video is interesting... the cast looks like a bunch of genuine grad students, rather than a group of model/actress/waitstaff-looking-for-a-break. I could actually see these people sitting through a physics lecture.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Little Light Summer Reading

I wanted something light and breezy to read, the sort of paperback one would bring to the beach. At Barnes and No Bull I picked up a copy of Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane by John Amato and David Neiwert. This important book describes the rage that has consumed right-wingers since the current president was elected. More importantly, it documents the origins of many of the talking points in the anti-government and white power militias that came to national attention in the 90's. After the Murragh Building bombing, many of these groups faded into the background, and they were not very active during the George W. Bush maladministration, but they came roaring back into existence when President Blackity Black Black was elected with a clear majority of the popular vote. Neiwert and Amato also detail the role of the Fox "News" cable station in stoking the perpetual right-wing outrage machine and the reverse Ouroboros (a snake pooping out it's own head) of Fox "news" reporters reporting on the outrageous rhetoric spewed on Fox opinion shows as if it were newsworthy.

The book is clearly and elegantly written, though the subject matter can be heavy. I'd breeze through a couple of chapters and force myself to stop so I didn't put my fist through a wall. One of the most important purposes served by the book is that it provides a catalogue of the parade of lone wolf right-wing loonies who have been driven to acts of violence, two bit losers like Richard Poplawski, James W. von Brunn, Scott Roeder, and a slew of others- all creeps whose names and deeds have been largely forgotten. My only beef with the book (said in a rueful combination of sarcasm and disgust) is that it should have been published in a three-ring binder, because the subject matter keeps accumulating.

All told, Over the Cliff is crucial reading material. It succinctly connects the current right-wing establishment with the fringe elements that have infiltrated it over the last two years.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Yonkers Idyll

I worked last evening in my neighborhood- I had to verify some information on some apartments a few blocks from my home, so I traveled on shanks' mare. The sun was going down over the ridge to the west, and a few jets were overhead, making their way from (most likely) LaGuardia Airport to foreign parts. I walked past the local middle school, where a couple of guys were playing catch on the baseball diamond, and a bunch of young men were slapping a hurley ball against the school wall... representing the ladies, a single camogie player was giving the lads a run for their money. As I approached my block, I ran into my co-workers ***REDACTED*** (who lives a block away) and ***REDACTED*** (who lives on the Bronx border, north of Van Cortlandt Park). We talked shop for a bit, then my co-worker ***REDACTED*** (who lives around the corner) pulled up and joined in the conversation. The project is drawing to a close, so we're probably going to hit one of the local gin mills after we turn our work in, and have a well-deserved beer together.

At one time, Yonkers was called "The City of Gracious Living", it has also been called "City of Hills, where nothing is on the level" and "The Y.O.". Me? I call it home.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Previous Postation

The title of my last blog post was prosaic. I should have used the title The Roastation. I used to work (oddly enough, for a very button-down office of a very conservative company) with a florid, foul-mouthed, fiftyish woman who used to add the suffix -ation to just about any word (invariably preceded by the definite article), resulting in such neologisms as the cuteation (to describe a co-worker's infant daughter) or the the smokeation (to describe a cigarette break).

Anyway, this co-worker was in the throes of menopause, so she would constantly complain about the hot flashation, and she'd call into question the ambient temperature of the office, "I'm doing the roastation in here!" Well, I was doing the roastation on Saturday.

In a hilarious quirk of fate, this coworker was handling a Workers' Compensation case in which a female Emergency Medical Technician had allegedly hurt her back while lifting a patient. My coworker ordered a routine surveillance to ascertain if she were working- the investigators followed the claimant to a nudie bar, and determined that she was working as a dancer. To obtain evidence to defend against the claim, my coworker ordered a videotape, which the investigators obtained by entering the club with a pinhole camera in a duffel bag (I know the owner of the company well, and asked him subsequently if his employees fought over which of them would handle this case).

My coworker, while reviewing the tape in a conference room, yelled in a voice loud enough to be audible throughout the entire office, "OH MY GOD! SHE'S DOING THE TRAPEEZEATION!!!" Needless to say, the entire office staff filed into the conference room. To this day, many of us suspect that, after the hearing, during which the claimant dropped the case (all the defense attorney had to say was, "We have tape of your client working."), the tape was appropriated by one of the managers, a hard-up divorced man whose perceived resemblance to
Inspector Gadget earned him the nickname (appropriately enough, if suspicions were correct) "Go Go".

Saturday, July 24, 2010

95, Feels Like 102

Whuff! I had to put in some time for the Commerce Department, so I headed out early to pound the pavement before things got too steamy.

Here, in the heat of midday, I am hunkered down in a dry, cool place (but not the place I store my rolled oats), checking up on news and correspondence after a couple of busy days. Funny how the wingnuts who made such a big deal about the snowy weather this past winter have been strangely reticent about the recent heat wave.

Anyway, here's hoping that you have a cool place in which to take refuge from the heat:

The best thing about that inspired bit of silliness is the adorable (though unflatteringly dressed) Jane Wiedlin. Seems like watching more Jane Wiedlin videos isn't a bad plan for the rest of this stiflingly hot afternoon.

Shameless Plug: My great and good friend Jim Keyes wrote a humorous tribute to the charming Ms. Wiedlin, so show him (and Jane) some L-U-V.

Note on the Shameless Plug: It's funny, listening to my friend's song, it's just as much a love song to the guitar as it is a "crush" song about Jane Wiedlin.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Baby Brother's Deploying

My baby brother, Gomez, is on his way to Afghanistan for a year-long deployment (after which he passes the baton to my other younger brother, Vincenzo). Another year away from his family, another year worrying about the well-being of the young soldiers he'll be commanding.

To me, the main tragedy of Afganistan is that the United States government did not do nearly enough to help the population after using them as proxies in the Cold War. We armed them, supported Islamic fanatics who went over there to wage war (Osama Bin Laden among them), we trained them how to fight a superpower, and then forgot about them until we were reminded of them in horrendous fashion on September 11, 2001. Even post 9/11, the U.S. government decided to engage proxies, and became embroiled in a war that had nothing to do with Sunni Islamic fundamentalist extremists. Twenty-one years after the Soviet withdrawal, the U.S. has soldiers fighting in this dirt-poor failed nation.

When will our leaders learn that they are not playing with Risk pieces, but with actual human lives, American as well as Afghan?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Crashing Motor Vehicles Into Television Walls...

...was not started by the Plasmatics. Sadly, No commenter cAnceR haT, made me aware of the "Media Burn" project, by San Francisco based art collective Ant Farm. The video lacks only a raucous metal soundtrack, but the Cathode Ray Destruction is top-notch:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wendy On My Mind

I figured I should post something about Wendy O. Williams, having jokingly written about Gone With The Wendy, a hypothetical novel (later movie) in which the singer drives an explosive-laden bus through a "Tara" made of televisions.

I remember reading her obituary, and being struck by the fact that she was a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. I immediately thought of Berke Breathed's Tess Turbo, and the cartoon in which the Joan Jett knockoff was wondering if anyone could possibly know that she was a (as the Wikiwakiwoo quotes) a shy, sensitive, withdrawn young woman who likes Smurf dolls, sad rainy days, and silly, romantic poetry. This consummate show/stuntwoman and artistic gadfly was obviously an extremely intelligent individual, and I am forced to wonder what additional accomplishments she could have had (especially since a bizarre contest for a Connecticut senate seat is taking place now), had she not tragically taken her life.

Who knew that a Metal Priestess could be so fragile?

Monday, July 19, 2010

So, Let's See How Well This Converter Works...

Ran some posts through the "I Write Like" converter and got the following results... I write like:

Cory Doctorow (I don't know if he wrote about purslane)

Margaret Mitchell (I chuckled contemplating what she would have written about The Plasmatics... I'm picturing Rhett Butler telling Wendy O. Williams, "My dear, I'm too scared to tell you that I don't give a damn.")

H.P. Lovecraft (oddly enough, in one of those rare posts in which I didn't use HPL word par excellence "outré"- a BBBB fave)

Ray Bradbury ("The Bastard Chronicles" or "Something Bald This Way Comes"?)

David Foster Wallace (I think "I write like" is a jest, although not an infinite one)

Kurt Vonnegut (Frankly, I am flattered, even a little embarassed)

Spider Sense (sorry, Jennifer!) tingling, I decided to test "I Write Like" and popped one of HPL's most famous paragraphs, the opening to The Call of Cthulhu, into the converter, and got:

I write like Arthur C. Clarke.

Stupid "I Write Like"

ADDENDUM: In the "Wendy O. Williams" version of Gone With The Wind, Wendy herself burns down Tara.

CORRECTION TO THE ADDENDUM: In the "Wendy O. Williams" version of Gone With The Wind, Tara is made out of televisions, and Wendy drives a school bus through it, ensuing in its destruction.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

So, You've Decided To Try Purslane

So, I go out this afternoon and pick about a pound of purslane this afternoon before logging onto the t00bz, and (in a spookalicious display of synchronicity, I see this comment on yesterday's post (did you purchase Tra already?), in which Jennifer mentioned that she'd just tried purslane (I'd mentioned purslane in a comment on her blog- wheels within wheels!). Well, the question posed was: What was your favorite way to prepare it?

My answer is... uh, I dunno. I usually just pick it, wash it off, and eat it out of hand. I finally have enough purslane on hand that I will try cooking it (besides the Mexican recipes in the linked post, I've found an interesting recipe for Turkish-style purslane salad (the comments on this post are hilarious- I'll do an attributed cut-and-paste at the end of the post). The lovely, gracious, and talented Aunt Snow (the artist formerly known as "g") suggested finding a Persian purslane salad recipe, and a Google search turned up this recipe. Of course, having lemons up the yinyang, I bought a couple of cans of tahini, so a tahini, lemon and garlic dressed purslane salad may be in my near future. Personally, I love the stuff so much, I'd substitute it for just about any green, or add it to mixed salads (if only I could refrain from wolfing sheeping it down long enough to get it into the kitchen).

So, on to the comment which had me laughing so hard- Cebtoo, in a reply to Greengirl's request for advice on how to grow purslane, writes:

To GREENGRL: Try to grow something else. Water once a week lightly. Everything else will die but your purslane will thrive with or without fertilizer, in sun or shade. Once you get some growing, break it up with a hoe. Spray it with broadleaf weed killer, it loves it. That's been my approach for years here in San Antonio and probably could grow 500 pounds or so in 100 square feet if I let it run wild.

Yeah, plant azaleas, plant zucchini, plant Stygian black lotus, plant a seed from a sepulchre- you'll get purslane. You see, you don't bring purslane into your life, purslane comes to you.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Got a Bit of Writer's Block? Post a Video!

It's been a busy week- what with S.S.C., and the start of the next Census phase. I spent most of my online time last night checking my e-mail and catching up on the news. This morning, I had to do a couple of hours of work for the Commerce Department, and finished before the heat of midday kicked it. I've got a few hours before I have to show up at the other job, and I'm just not very inspired. I think I'll use the "Post a Video" gambit, like I did in the last post.

I always get a little chuckle when people try to make "Top N Best Songs" lists. I would never say that a particular song is my favorite (although I would, without hesitation, tell anyone that the best album of the 90s was Tra by Swedish (with help from a pair of Finnish vocalists and a Sami joik singer) "heavy folk" group Hedningarna. This is one of those rare albums which is best listened to in its entirety... the cumulative effect of the music, and provides a contrast between different moods- opening track Tass'on Nainen is slightly ominous-sounding and anticipatory, Min Skog opens with a chainsaw (the Plasmatics would be proud) and is as pure an expression of rage as I have ever heard, Gorrlaus is a sultry dance number, Pornopolka (you read that right) is a hilarious, hyper hymn, a spell to inflame lust. I could go on about the album, but you'd be better served just listening to it.

Once again, Warner Music Group demonstrates its sheer suckitude (especially since the album was originally released by wonderful indy label NorthSide Records) by pulling the video from Youtube. Once again, I defer to my great and good friend Jim Keyes to express the proper (and hilarious) contempt that WMG deserves. Because there are no Hedningarna videos to post, here's a nice interpretation (don't let the fact that it seems to be from Sweden's iteration of ____ Idol prejudice you) of Varg Timmen, one of my favorite Hedningara songs, named after the Ingmar Bergman film:

For a heavier take on it, there's a version by Finntroll, but the growled vocals lack the emotional intensity of the original.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Succumbing to Canuckistani Cultural Imperialism

Yeah, I'd heard some stuff by Alberta's Tegan and Sarah on college radio, but this past weekend, I heard their song "Hop a Plane", which hit me like an eight-pound sledgehammer made out of rock candy.

This is the best video (in terms of sound quality) I could find on Das Tuben, enjoy:

Looking through these video clips, trying to find a good one to post, was no hardship.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Secret Science Club After Action Report

Last night's lecture by Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom explored the psychology of desire. According to Bloom, the perception of pleasure depends quite a bit on essentialism, a belief that there is an "essence" which extends past the intrinsic value of an item.

To illustrate the role of essentialism in our perception of pleasure, Bloom related the story of a "Vermeer" painting of Chirst's supper at Emmaus, executed by a Dutch forger named Hans van Meegeren. When the public believed that the painting was by Vermeer, large crowds attended the exhibition. Revealed as a forgery, the painting now hangs in a small museum in Connecticut, drawing much smaller crowds.

Dr Bloom went on to cite studies in which participants were asked to place a value on items of clothing which had been "worn" by celebrities- study participants were willing to pay more for unwashed clothes worn by a celebrity than for freshly laundered celebrity wardrobe items. The unwashed "George Clooney" sweater has more of an "essential" value than the unwashed item. Another study had children placing items in a "duplication machine"- while non highly prized items could be exchanged for duplicates, favorite toys had an "essential" value higher than their duplicates (in some cases, the study subjects would not even allow a prized item to be "duplicated"). Another study had participants rating inexpensive wines mislabeled as expensive imports, and believing them to be of higher quality than correctly labeled bottles of the same wine.

A review and a brief excerpt from Dr Bloom's book How Pleasure Works can be found here.

Last night also marked the triumphant return of Secret Science Club co-founder and co-author of this wonderful read, Michael Crewdson, who has been in self-imposed antipodean exile for a year and a half. Michael, welcome back to the "718" motherland for a few weeks.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Few Short Items

Yesterday was mom's birthday, gave her a call. She's doing well, as always. She asked me to send her a copy of the Rolling Stone profile of Stanley McChrystal... I added a note saying I'd send the Lady Gaga interview to her if she wishes it.

Saw a wedding party which included a burly transvestite- I think it was a guy who thought "outdoor wedding in July", looked at the charcoal gray and navy blue wool suits in his closet, and said, "Fuck it, I'm wearing a sundress." I'll have to remember this gambit.

Census training restarts on Wednesday (it's the follow-up to the follow-up), so I'll have to limit my beer intake tomorrow when I'll be drinking and learning. I'll be calling some once-and-future coworkers to see if we can arrange a carpool down to the training site, which is across town, near the Hudson River Museum.

Had to work outside today, with temps in the low-to-mid nineties... didn't suffer too much because I could take shelter under an ancient locust tree. I also scoped out the mother lode of purslane, so there are succulent vegetables in my immediate future.

Unlike the week before last, the trash collectors didn't pick up the garbage last Friday. I think it's going to be a long, smelly summer. I know a DPW mechanic, he told me there were a lot of layoffs, but the remaining staff now has to work overtime, so there's no real savings. Some irate residents were taking trash to the DPW maintenance lot and dumping it there. Even worse, a couple of firehouses are closing, and there have been layoffs. I fear that there will be mountains of burning trash, illuminating the darkened streets of my fair city.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Current Reading List

Besides ordering John Bellair's Magic Mirrors, I ordered Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard (how could I resist purchasing a novel which takes its title from a poem by Clark Ashton Smith?), a supernatural "historical" romance, which details the interactions between the Romantic Poets of the early 19th Century (Keats makes a cameo in the novel, and Byron and Percy Shelley are fairly major characters) with a class of ancient, predatory elemental entities. Powers bases these vampiric beings on the nephilim of the Old Testament and the lamia of Greek legend. Powers portrays his nephilim as predators, but also as sources of inspiration (I'm about halfway through the novel, and Powers so far hasn't mentioned the Leanan Sidhe, the destroying muse of Celtic legend, but his "neffies" are a very similar concept).

The subject matter is also reminiscent of Powers' supernatural espionage novel Declare, which presents the role of similar supernatural beings in the Cold War (a trope employed by Charles Stross in such works as A Colder War). Powers also makes brief mention of fictional poet William Ashbless and Kusiak's tavern, from The Anubis Gates, one of my all-time favorite novels.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sparse Posting Schedule Ahead

I have to work an event this weekend (starting tomorrow) and next week will be a busy one (Learning While Intoxicated on Tuesday, Census Follow Up Follow Up Training Wednesday), so the posting will most likely be pretty sparse for the next few days.

The old classic Booker T. and the MG's song comes to mind:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bastard's Batch of Booze

Cross-posted here.

Limoncello is a typical liqueur from Southern Italy- the centers of Limoncello production are centered around the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno. Best served chilled, limoncello is a perfect after-dinner digestivo- though I would never criticize anyone for drinking it before, or during dinner, or on a lazy summer afternoon, or to chase away a winter chill, or... sorry, I was distracted by the prospect of a nice, chilled glass of limoncello.

While limoncello recipes are plentiful on the internet, here's my personal method for making it. First, thorougly wash, then peel fifteen or sixteen lemons (depending on the size of the lemons, and whether the market is selling them in lots of three or lots of four) with a vegetable peeler, making sure you are not getting any of the white pith (which will make your limoncello bitter). Place the lemon peels in a clean gallon jar and pour a gallon of pure grain alcohol (I have to drive to Connecticut to obtain the stuff) over the lemon peels, and cover. Let the mixture sit for at least a week (I leave the jar in a dark, cool corner for three weeks), then prepare a simple syrup by heating two pounds of sugar with a quart of water, and simmering until the mixture is slightly thickened. Strain the lemon peels out of the alcohol, and add the syrup to the infused alcohol (I use a couple of one-gallon pitchers for this stage of the production). Dilute the resultant syrup/alcohol mixture with water until the desired strength is reached (I use a 50/50 ratio, making the resultant liqueur about as strong as a typical vodka). Strain again, and bottle the stuff. Keep away from small children and open flames. A few hours before serving, place the bottle in the freezer to chill. If necessary, dilute individual servings to taste... the stuff is strong.

Here's a still life which incorporates the ingredients of this delicious treat. Look at that forlorn lemon, which has been robbed of its golden integument. Also, note that the contents of the gallon jar, with an alcohol content around 95%, have a clear golden color, while the glass of limoncello in the center has a milky translucency. This is the same effect one sees when one mixes water with absinthe- as the percentage of alcohol decreases, the oil from the lemon peels forms a microemulsion in the glass:

Yeah, that's a gallon of pure alcohol in the jar... WOOHOO!

La dolce vita, served by the glass.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Book to Which I Alluded Earlier, The Face in the Frost

In an earlier post, I mentioned ordering a book that I'd had my eye on for months. Well, I finally have my hands on Magic Mirrors: The High Fantasy and Low Parody of John Bellairs. John Bellairs was perhaps best known for his supernatural thrillers for children, starting with The House with a Clock in its Walls.

Magic Mirrors begins with The Face in the Frost, published in 1969, a fantasy novel, which manages to be comic and unsettling by turns. The book starts out cheerfully enough, with an elaborate description of the bizarre home of Prospero, the book's protagonist, which would do a Jack Vance proud:

Inside the house were such things as trouble antique-dealers' dreams: a brass St. Bernard with a clock in its side, and a red tongue that went in and out with the ticks as the tail wagged; a five-foot iron statue of a tastefully draped lady playing a violin (the statue was labelled "Inspiration"); mahogany chests covered with leering cherub faces and tiger mouths that bit you if you put your finger in the wrong place; a cherrywood bedstead with a bassoon carved into one of the fat headposts, so that it could be played as you lay in bed and meditated; and much more junk; and deep closets crammed with things that peered out of the darkness off the edges of shelves, frightening the wits out of the wizard as he poked around looking for jars of mandrake root or dwarf hair in aspic. In the long, high living room--heated by a wide-mouthed green-stone fireplace--were the usual paraphernalia of a practicing wizard: alembics, spiraling copper coils, alcohol lamps--all burping, sputtering, and glurping as red, purple, and green liquids boiled, dripped, or just slurched uncertainly in their containers. On a shelf over the experiment table was the inevitable skull, which the wizard put there to remind him of death, though it usually reminded him that he needed to go to the dentist. One wall of the room was lined with bookshelves, and on them you could find titles such as Six Centuries of English Spells, Nameless Horrors and What to Do About Them, An Answer for Night-Hags, and, of course, the dreaded Krankenhammer of Stefan Schimpf, the mad cobbler of Mainz.

Prospero's peaceful, contemplative life is interrupted by some mildly off-putting phenomena, and the visit of his friend Roger Bacon, who has come to consult with Prospero about a mysterious book that Prospero had asked him about (there's a funny aside as Roger narrates his misadventure with his brazen head). The two embark on an investigation into the provenance of the book, which takes them to the library of another eccentric wizard (a comic interlude, with another humorous allusion to HPL's works), where they realize that an old colleague of Prospero's is behind the phenomena which have been hounding him. This precipitates a perilous errand to obtain a magical bauble co-created by Prospero and his former acquaintance.

After the whimsical opening, Bellairs plunges the reader into some truly unsettling scenes, as the sorcerous attacks on Prospero increase in intensity, and their focus shifts from unnerving the wizard to a more lethal bent. This particular scene gives a taste of Bellairs' ability to put a subtle chill up the reader's spine:

He had not gone a mile when he saw, off in a clearing beyond some beech trees, the light of a campfire. At least there’ll be someone to talk to, he thought, and he stepped off the road into the swishing wet grass. But as Prospero got near the fire, he saw that there was no one tending it and that it was burning in a very strange way. The flames moved back and forth as if blown by suddenly shifting breezes. As he watched, the movement became rhythmical. Prospero looked about him with growing fear, and he noticed that there was a little stream running nearby. He was drawn by what he first took to be a reflection of the firelight on the water. But as he knelt by the stream, he saw that the faint glow came from beneath the surface of the water. There, on the bottom, in a speckled green trembling light, was a smooth triangular stone, and on it was painted his face. The moving water was slowly flaking away the paint, or whatever it was, and the face appeared to be slowly decomposing. He saw a thin film, like a piece of dead skin, wriggle off the portrait-mask and float away down the stream. And the face underneath… Prospero felt his own hands on his wet cheeks.

Against all his instinct, he plunged his own hands into the greasy-feeling, incredibly cold water and picked up the stone. Without looking at it, and holding it at arm’s length as if it were a rotten dead bird, he took it to the fire, which was dancing faster now- it was moving to the rhythm of his own heartbeat. He knew the words that must have been said. “When the fire dies, let him die too.”

He pulled a burning stick out of the fire and held it to the painted stone as he carefully recited a spell he could just barely remember. When the face on the stone was completely blackened, the thing turned into an awful viscous mush in his hand, like a potato left in a damp dark cellar. With a disgusted shudder and a quick jerk of his left arm, Prospero threw the pulpy thing into the stream, where it hit with a gulping sound. Now the whole stream began to boil, and out of the lurching, hissing water rose a smoke shape with arms. It moved toward Prospero and settled around him in swaying layers of mist. He felt as if his eyes were made of blank white chalk. And the thing was throbbing, to pump the life out of him. Prospero stared with open eyes into that stony nothingness, and he shouted a word that sorcerers can only speak a few times in their lives. The whiteness began to break, and he could see night through the cracking clouds. Now he began to speak like someone reciting a lesson: “Michael Scott is buried in Melrose Abbey. A light burns in his tomb day and night. And it is stronger than your freezing white. Go! In his name,

As the narrative moves along, the protagonists realize that their enemy has stumbled upon sorceries that have the power to warp the fabric of reality- night terrors abound, causing a frightened populace to dismantle the social order. In one particularly horrible scene, Bellairs shows that evil need not take a sorcerous form:

“We’re going over to the north to burn that town… Bow…what’s its name?”

“Bishop’s Bowes,” said the innkeeper. “Why are you doing this?”

“We’ve finally figured out what’s going on. Town’s full of evil people. Witches. I have an order here from Duke Harald to burn it to the ground. Here, look at it. Not that you have anything to say in this.”

He unrolled a long parchment that trailed lead and yellow wax seals on twisted strings of skin. The signature, a cross with a letter on each point, was so large that it covered a quarter of the page.

“They deserve it, too,” the leader went on. “You’ve seen the things. Half the people in Wellfont are afraid to go down into their own cellars. Shadows moving, screams from kettles when there isn’t any fire. Well, a little fire’ll teach ‘em. A couple of my men are out getting wood for torches. Do you have any pitch?”

“In the basement. I use it on the roof.”

“That’s fine. We’re going to use it on the roof, too.” He laughed, spitting flecks of brown beer on the muddy floor.

It's tempting to make the point that this was written while the Vietnam War raged, (it was published in the year that the investigations into the My Lai massacre took place so news of My Lai could not have been a direct influence), but, sadly, John Bellairs is not around to verify if this was meant allegorically.

After that particular bit of dialogue, the supernatural horrors seem a little less horrific, although Bellairs still describes them with his characteristic flair:

In the roadside towns, the wizards picked up stories and rumors. One man told how frost formed on the windows at night, though it was only the middle of September. There were no scrolls or intricate fern leaves, no branching overlaid star clusters; instead, people saw seasick wavy lines, disturbing maps that melted into each other and always seemed on the verge of some recognizable but fearful shape. At dawn, the frost melted, always in the same way. At first, two black eyeholes formed, and then a long steam-lipped mouth that spread and ate up the wandering white picture.

If there's one flaw with The Face in the Frost, it is that the climactic confrontation takes place off-stage. At one point, in a twist that will have some readers cringing (but which I loved), a fleeing Prospero stumbles into a most unusual place, and (less felicitously, though Madonna would approve of this) ***SPOILERS REDACTED***. The end is rather abrupt, which is also the major flaw of The House with a Clock in its Walls.

While Magic Mirrors, at $25, is pretty steep in price (I prefer paperbacks anyway), I'd recommend it for any fans of Bellairs' young-adult fiction, fans of the "Harry Potter" books (which I still haven't read), or fans of "weird fiction" who don't mind comic relief (Bellairs' protagonists are the sort of scholarly types that HPL wrote about, though they know what to do about Nameless Horrors). Anybody not into this sort of genre fiction would be better off either ignoring this review, or trying interlibrary loan to get an old Ace Paperbacks edition of The Face in the Frost.

Perhaps, I'll tackle the other portions of the book in a later post. I've been going on about this book for quite some time.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fourth of July

Here's wishing a happy Independence Day to all. While I could post a Sousa march or some other patriotic song, I've decided to post a video for one of my all-time favorite songs, The Fourth of July by L.A. rock band X. While I am a huge X fan, I will defer to anyone who has a greater understanding of the band, and the scene in which they emerged in late 70's Los Angeles- if such a person is among my readership. The song The Fourth of July was written by Dave Alvin, formerly of rootsy rock group The Blasters, who joined X for the See How We Are album:

John Doe and Exene Cervenka, to my ear, rank among the great vocalists in the rock pantheon, and their vocal interplay is instantly recognizable. The song itself is a timely one- with economic uncertainty, this tale of a couple in a struggling relationship could be the back story lurking behind the headlines about the 99ers and the underemployed (in the opening line, the narrator sings about coming home from work, which implies a low-level service job- or a job at non-profit fundraising event, if he's lucky, which he does not seem to be).

She gives me her cheek, when I want her lips,
Oh, but I don't have the strength to go.
On the lost side of town, in a dark apartment,
We gave up trying so long ago.

There's a glimmer of hope, though, as the narrator struggles for a reconciliation, and tries to rouse his wife or girlfriend out of her malaise:

What ever happened, I apologize
So dry your tears and baby walk outside,
It`s the Fourth of July.

On the album version (scrubbed from Youtube by Warner Music Group, which prompts me to link to my great and good friend Jim Keyes' satirical Warner Wonderland yet again), John Doe sings "We forgot" over the chorus, "We forgot it's the 4th of July"- the first "we forgot" could apply to the relationship as a whole. They forgot the things that made their relationship worthwhile, but there's the hope that they could rekindle things.

Here's hoping that the struggling couples out there can pull it together in these tough times. Here's hoping that we don't forget those we depend on this Independence Day.

Note: I almost made a joke about how it's not Codependence Day... anyway, ignore this bit of snark and watch a whole lot of X videos after your cookout guests go home, and you're polishing off the last of the beer. It's your patriotic duty to listen to this great American band.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I was a little, uh, concerned today, because the garbage on my street hadn't been picked up by noon. There has been a battle raging in Albany over the New York state budget, local governments have had to adopt austerity budgets as a result (the state Office of Parks, Recreation,and Historic Preservation has closed numerous sites statewide,and most municipalities have cut library hours drastically- just the cuts that need to be made for a public that has less money to spend on entertainment). Well, when I saw that the garbage hadn't been collected today, I feared the worst. The prospect of the neighborhood's garbage sitting out in the hot sun for a long weekend would have been horrifying.

Thankfully, the good people of the Yonkers' DPW made their rounds soon after noon.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Life is Tough

For some reason, I woke up at 6 AM today, even though I was not scheduled to work. I spent some quality time peeling fifteen lemons while listening to the Errol Louis show on local radio station WWRL, then spent some even more quality time pouring a gallon of pure grain alcohol over said lemon peels so I will have ***FUTURE BLOG POST*** in three weeks. When this arduous task was completed, I must confess that I went back to sleep for another hour (please note, I did not sample any of the pure grain alcohol). I woke up when the phone rang- I have been retained by the Department of Commerce, the next phase of Census 2010 starts in two weeks.

After the mail came, I decided to take a stroll down to 233rd St in the Bronx, then crossed Webster Avenue to get to the path to Muskrat Cove, one of the most beautiful stretches of the Bronx River. All along the way, I found mulberry trees, so I spent the entire time gorging on the sweet, sweet Morus multifruits. My hand was so purple, one would have thought I was proxy voting for an entire Iraqi village.

Around 3 PM, I received a call from my supervisor at the part-time job... one of my co-workers had a family "situation" and they needed coverage. I am currently at a site I don't work very often, but I scoped out all the wild raspberry patches the last time I was here (about a month ago). I have been bogarting all the ripe berries I could get my greedy mitts on. There's no wireless here, so I'm posting from a different computer. I'll post pictures later, in order to make any readers jealous.