Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Joisey Road Trip

The call came around noon, a friend who lives around the corner called me to say that she'd had car trouble while driving home from the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. One of her tires went flat, and she didn't have a spare, so she'd had her car towed to a service station in Parsippany, New Jersey. Having had similar tire trouble a few weeks ago, I empathized with her, so I told her I'd stop by as soon as I'd finished laundering my clothes. I picked her up, and we made the trek westward along I-80, and all I could think was, "Damn, this sounds really stupid, but I'm actually having fun... this misadventure reminds me of my yute, when money was tight, and we all had periodic car trouble." Yeah, I'd get calls from friends and family members who needed rides, or tire changes, or jump-starts, or I'd make a similar call myself. Yeah, it's weird- the ability one has to find something to joke about when wallowing in a sea of suckitude, the ability to laugh while in the throes of adversity.

Well, my friend had brought a tire with her (courtesy of her usual mechanic), so the tire replacement took about half an hour. I'd noticed a Dosa House on the way, so we stopped for dosas (the diameter of these puppies was the length of my arm), washed down with a nicely bitter Limca soda. During lunch, I confessed to my friend that I was actually having a good time, that I'd been reminded of the not-so-good part of the "Good Old Days", and of how we'd always laughed through adversity. She's a good sport, and she's dealt with adversity herself, so she played along with my goofy, nostalgic mood.

Once the tire was replaced, I followed her home in case anything happened- we got back to the City of Y______ around 4:30, and I made her promise that she'd keep a full-size spare in the car at all times.

Oh, while New Jersey's on my mind, I figured I'd get a jab at the "enamored of teabaggers" governor Chris Christie, whose administration recently bungled a federal grant proposal. No matter what the 'baggers would say, the stimulus is working, as attested to by this road sign:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hey There, Blimpy Boy

Judging by the time of my last post, I should be "pressing my ears". After sleeping for a few hours, I received a call from a co-worker who asked me to cover for him because he was GOING FOR A BLIMP RIDE!!! Ordinarily, I don't get jealous of people (can't impress me with a fancy car), but A BLIMP RIDE!!! That just makes me seethe with envy.

So, here I am at work, typing through the bitter tears, sighing the traditional lament of the blimpless.

Funny, though, I decided to track down the original on which Homer's lament was based and discovered that The Seekers were from the Drouthy Antipodes. This I didn't know- they even sang a couple of songs about their southern homeland.

Now where was I? Hell, I'm too distracted to be consumed by envy. That also makes me jealous- jealous of those who can maintain the spite and bitterness, regardless of extenuating circumstances.

Gettin' Lazy Here...

So, I spent a good amount of time spacing out, trying to figure out what I should write about. I've been keeping appalling hours, and I had a minor "situation" to attend to at another job site (8 miles from my usual location), so I'll fall back on the old "post a video" gambit. Big Al, a DJ on the local college radio station featured the Jazz Butcher album Bloody Nonsense on his 3AM "platter hour" feature. I remember playing the hell out of the album Distressed Gentlefolk in my yute. There's just not enough of the Jazz Butcher on the t00bz, but here's a taste:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

People- Muslims, Christians, and Hindus

So, the usual suspects are upset about the President's assertion, in his inaugural speech in January of last year, that the United States is "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers." Of course, living in a multicultural pair-o-dice, I can't understand the outrage on the right that this statement has belatedly inflamed (yeah, I know it's a pre-midterm elections sham). I wish that the President would get a little bit more angry when addressing the bogus claims of his detractors. He should take a cue from these guys:

As some extra-special bonus stupidity, Beck excoriates the first lady for visiting the Alhambra during her vacation to Spain, completely oblivious to the fact that the palace has been a tourist destination for over a century (thanks, in large part, to this America-hater), and the inspiration for some of American literature's most beloved and influential short stories. Also, it has lent its name to numerous cultural institutions throughout our nation.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Film Night at the Secret Science Club

Last night's program featured a film, rather than a lecture (August is a weird month, with a lot of people on vacation, and a lot of academics preparing for the upcoming school year). The featured film was the original BBC cut of Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, a documentary concerning the efforts of "Eels" frontman Mark Everett to gain an understanding of the life's work and legacy of his late father, the physicist Hugh Everett III, who proposed the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics (as opposed to the Copenhagen interpretation of Bohr and Heisenberg).

As an illustration of the Copenhagen interpretation, which (to grossly simplify things) posits the the observation of minute particles affects their properties), the Schrödinger's cat paradox, proposed by Erwin Schrödinger, gives us a grotesque scenario in which a cat in a sealed box o' doom is simultaneously alive and dead until an outside observer opens the box to determine the outcome of a bizarre experiment. The "many worlds" interpretation would posit that a divergence occurs, and that two parallel universes (one in which the cat lives, the other in which it dies) are spun off. Hugh Everett III traveled to Copenhagen to discuss his interpretation with Niels Bohr, with somewhat disastrous results, and his interpretation of quantum mechanics saw little acceptance outside of the realm of speculative fiction.

Most of the film deals with Everett fils tracking down his father's friends, colleagues, and "acolytes", and coming to terms with the legacy of a father with whom he had a cool, distant relationship. The film is emotionally moving, as well as intellectually stimulating, and the soundtrack is a good introduction to the music of the Eels. The perfidious BBC has disabled embedding for Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, so how about an embedded video from Parallel Lines?

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Confession...

I, uh, have to confess that I find Barney Frank's primary opponent to be, uh, pretty damn hot. There, I said it... the dark, smallish, and very good-looking congressional candidate has some intriguing platforms. Well, she calls for bringing back the protections of the Glass-Steagall Act (I'd link, but all the links seem to lead to LaRouche-y sites), which makes a lot of sense.

She also wants to kick off an exploration/colonization effort to do to the red men of Mars what was done to their copper-complected counterparts here on Earth. That's actually interesting- I've read Zubrin's The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (emphasis mine). I'd be more interested in probing Venus... sure I know the superhot surface temperatures pose a problem for potential homesteaders, but I think terraforming could be started with current technology- probes in low-orbit could introduce cyanobacteria to the atmosphere to reduce the carbon dioxide content through photosynthesis. In fact, I'd like to show Ms. Brown my etchings of vaguely zeppelin-shaped probes, spewing microscopic life into the sultry domain of Venus.

What ho? She believes that Barney Frank, like President Obama, is merely a pawn for Britannia's huns. While I am wary of perfidious Albion's, uh, perfidy, Barney Frank sounds like he's more likely to be working for Brooklyn's hegemony, better check on that Bernie Sanders guy while we're at it...

It's too bad that work and travel time prevented me from attending last Friday's weenie roast fundraiser, because I'd like to meet this girl. She's cute as hell, smart as a whip, and totally off her rocker- baby, oh, baby, that's what I like! I just wonder if she has a hot temper and a wicked throwing arm.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gonna Fall Back on the "Post a Video" Gambit

I've been pretty damn busy, and I've got a couple of pending posts that need more work than I've had research/linking time. I heard this tune by recently re-formed Scottish pop group The Vaselines on the local college radio station. Like a lot of songs I dig, this song is decidedly upbeat, almost saccharine, until you pay attention to the lyrics, which are acerbic as hell. Don't play the song in front of impressionable young 'uns because they will start singing it, and the chorus is sure to land them in the principal's office:

Note: In the comments, zrm, who is the one zombie who would rather consume vinyl than brains, lamented:

Looks like the only thing available on emusic is the compilation though, and this fine song is not on it.

Since I am a bastard in nym only, I have to chalk up my failure to mention the free mp3 download to the fact that the post was written in the wee hours of the morning. I also want to state that the 80's were a great decade for me (I had a big, blond 'fro throughout the decade), but they were a disaster politically, and (as the song points out) our society is feeling the repercussions of these bad political, social, and business decisions at the present time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Anniversary of HPL's Birth

So, it occurs to me that a certain old gent from Providence was born one hundred and twenty years ago this day. My big HPL post was a week premature. I have to confess that, while I love HPL's weird fiction, I tend to find it comical, rather than terrifying. The one tale which I have always found unsettling is The Colour Out of Space, which portrays a family suffering a slow, debilitating illness due to the predations of an alien force. To me, most of Lovecraft's tales aren't really scary, they are just narrated by people who are scared (in fact, I think the best possible "adaptation" of 1935's The Shadow out of Time would be a goofy Office Space style workplace comedy). The scariest thing about The Shadow Over Innsmouth is that the narrator would consider "a fair supply of cheese crackers and ginger wafers" to be an adequate lunch.

One feature of the Old Gent's writing that has never failed to rankle was a pervasive racism and xenophobia, readily apparent in 1926's The Call of Cthulhu, The Horror at Red Hook (written in 1925), 1925's He, and 1922's Herbert West: Reanimator. Lovecraft's racism seemed to have relented somewhat as the man grew older and, presumably, wiser- he didn't include as much gratuitously racist imagey in his fiction. As an older, mellower writer, in 1931's At the Mountains of Madness, Lovecraft's narrator shows a remarkable empathy for the alien entities (marooned in time and space, trapped in a hostile environment) he encounters. One can only hope that he'd extend the same sort of empathy for his fellow humans of "duskier" hue.

I was tempted to add something to the effect that HPL was a product of his time, but the racialist component tends to be pretty damn caustic. An author such as Mark Twain, while he'd be considered very "non-PC" by modern standards, was pretty far ahead of the curve. Yeah, gotta take Uncle Howard warts and all...

Cranky Blogger, Cranky Bastard

Yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning (I was working a graveyard shift), I tried to post something, but Blogger was slow and balky. I haven't had the problems that Young Ned of the 718 has had, but it was pretty goddamn frustrating, trying to log in from 5AM to 8AM, with no success.

Damn tangled-up t00bz! Now, time to update my link to everybody's favorite five-foot, sixteen inch (or so) tall Brooklyn-based structural engineer's blog.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Uh... Mister Huckabee

I was made aware of the following interview only recently, but it raises one question- if Mike Huckabee unquestioningly gives credence to a man who believes that the end of the world is nigh, why the hell would he bother running for president? Personally, I want a president who actually believes that a worldly future is not only possible, but desirable.

I've always found the very idea of "The Rapture" to be the most narcissistic, nihilistic fantasy I've ever encountered. What kind of hubris leads someone to believe that he or she will be at the center of universe-shaking events? Of course, this arrogance is only made more odious by the belief that non-faithful will be consigned to a hellish fate. Why the hell would I ever consider voting for a narcissistic nihilist who believes in no future?

I used to work with a fundie-type who would always carry on about the upcoming Rapture. One day, I had the following conversation with him in front of a bunch of other coworkers:

"Do you really believe that the Rapture is imminent?"
"Oh, yes, it could happen any day now."
"Okay, if it is imminent, could you give me $500?"
"What? Why would I give you $500?"
"If the Rapture is imminent, and you and your family will be saved, you won't need it."
"Uh, eh, er, em..."
"So you don't really believe it, do you?"
"Uh, eh, er, em..."

He never brought the subject up again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Missing a Constant Companion

This evening, I turned in my U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, bag, along with my identification badge. I'll miss the thing, which accompanied me on my rambles through southeastern Yonkers and West-Central Mount Vernon. Although it was just a hair too small to fit the binders that contained our cases (DOH!), it was an attractive, well made little messenger's bag:

Yes, it's the end of a brief, interesting era in my life, but I know it's over. Should I be suffused with melancholy? After all, it was a nice bag.

Note: Grr... I just edited the post- I originally muffed a link to a video by the Smee-iths which reflected the comedic "melancholy" I claimed to have felt upon turning in my bag.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Just Not Inspired Today

I'm working on a post about the "Islamic Center Controversy", and I've been listening to all of the sheer stupidity that's polluting the airwaves. Of course, the "controversy" and fear-mongering have been ginned up just in time for the mid-term elections. I think I'm suffering burnout.

I need to immerse myself in pure, eccentric pop bliss- how about Shriekback's Gunning For The Buddha. This otherworldly ditty (sung by a bald bastard, incidentally) seems to be inspired by the kōan If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!. It was not inspired by the Aqua Buddha.

Actually, the real reason I came across this video today was that I searched out the video for Shriekback's awesome Nemesis, to link in a comment posted at snark central.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ruh-Roh, the Stars Are Right

Hmm... checkin' the t00bz, checkin' the t00bz...

Say, now, what's this? Seems some Spanish beachgoers have been attacked by a plague of "jellyfish" by committee. Sting-y tentacles... sounds all kinds of hurty.

Well, at least there are nice beaches on the other side of the Atlantic... EEP! Poor menhaden... we usually call them mossbunker, or just 'bunker. When we caught them on lazy summer days on Bronxtucket, we'd cut them into bloody gobbets as bait for juvenile bluefish, which we usually call snappers. We usually call a turkey a walking bird, but I ramble.

So, the beaches are a horrible disaster... how about a nice sail? Yelpin' Johanson, is there no safe haven?

Maybe I can distract myself with a little stargazing, the Perseid meteor shower is at its peak...

Checks calendar, sees date, reiterates, "EEP!"

Wow, cosmic horror seems to be the order of the day.

The stars are right, Old Ones delight, deep in the heart of R'lyeh.
Now is the time, to rise from slime, deep in the heart of R'lyeh.

Here's an amusing little trifle I found on the t00bz, an episode of a cartoon that eluded my nerdy notice when it appeared on the TeeVee machine, presented for your Friday the Thirteenth viewing pleasure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Been on a Clark Ashton Smith Binge

One of my favorite websites is The Eldritch Dark, a website devoted to Clark Ashton Smith, a largely unsung, but brilliant, polymath- author, poet, painter, sculptor. Lately, I've been concentrating on the "Commoriom Myth Cycle" of Atlantean high priest Klarkash-Ton, as H.P. Lovecraft jokingly wrote in The Whisperer in Darkness. The gloriously purple prose of CAS, replete with recondite vocabulary, formed a clear influence on the literary style of my beloved Jack Vance. While his works often bear a morbid tone, CAS (like JV) leavens his works with mordant wit (morbid, yet mordant... aren't I cute?).

One of the funniest (one may even characterize it as silly) stories in Smith's ouvre is The Door to Saturn, in which the wizard Eibon, author of the bizarre Liber Ivonis, is pursued by an inquisition to (need I post a spoiler alert?) Saturn. The journey is a one-way trip, and the tale makes for the most unusual "buddies on a road trip" narrative I've ever encountered. As in most narratives of this sort, having a riotous time and "getting lucky" (as the kids these days back in the pre-glacial Hyperborean period say said) is a major motif, and CAS' sojourners on the ringed planet are no different than the protagonists of a cheesy 80's teen comedy:

But still there were compensations: the fungus-wine of the Ydheems was potent though evil-tasting; and there were females of a sort, if one were not too squeamish.

The Hyperborean tales tend to be CAS' most comical works (the humor being black as the Stygian pits under Mount Voormithadreth, though), The Seven Geases is one extended exercise in gallows-humor (and a clear inspiration of Jack Vance's wonderful The Eyes of the Overworld.

Smith's works were not readily available for many years, but a devoted "cult" following has persisted, and most of his canon is available on the Internet. That being said, pull out the most extensive dictionary you can get your grubby mitts on, and allow the Eldritch Dark to inumbrate you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ted Takes Tubes To Tarnation

Yesterday, the world learned of the untimely demise of former Alaskan senator Ted Stevens. The folksy, yet forward thinking Stevens served as the 109th Congress' chair of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and proved that the eggheads of academia's ivy towers were unequipped to go cerebro a cerebro with a feisty old coot. After all, could all of the protected-pocket, pointy-headed Poindexters at MIT and Caltech have told us that the Internet (unlike my my love for you) is unlike a big truck?

A fitting tribute to this great American would be the construction of a series of tubes for the safe transportation of persons, thus obviating the need for small, unsafe planes, such as the one in which Senator Stevens perished.

On a more serious note, Stevens is already being euolgized as the "grandfather of net neutrality", despite the inconvenient fact that he opposed net neutrality amendments. It may seem harsh speaking ill of the dead, but this sort of rewrite of history is precisely why I come to bury ridicule Stevens, not to praise him. While I feel sorry for his family's loss, I refuse to lose sight of the fact that he was a ridiculous, corrupt individual, unworthy of laud.

Note: Last sentence of first paragraph was slightly edited for fear that I'd lose my grammar-Nazi status.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My God, It's Full of Zardoz!

So, I get back from Maine, and I find a Zardoz infestation. What does one spray? Bullets? After all, the gun is good...

Beaver Shores Club is close to the wildest, deepest, and least explored forest belt in Maine, and it took a whole day of feverish jolting through fantastic and forbidding scenery to get there in a car. In 1926, while a high school student in Framingham, Massachusetts, my grandfather bought a share in the place, a cabin which had originally been built as the field office for a logging company. It's a two-room structure right on the shore of a "great pond" (current restrictions prevent new construction within 250 feet of the shore). As other partners in the camp grew older, they sold their shares to my uncles, so the camp is now in the family's hands.

I traveled up with one of my uncles and an old friend of his (who, scandalously, had never been to the place), and we met up with a bunch of family members (another uncle has been building a gorgeous cabin across the pond, and was up with my aunt, my two awesome college-age cousins, his sister-in-law, and her two awesome adolescent kids, yet another aunt came up a couple of days later with my little cousin, an extremely bright and articulate seven-year-old).

One of the first acts I performed was a symbolic ridding myself of the trappings of urban modernity... the keys, the cell phone, and the wallet were put away- the hands would be occupied by the paddle, the splitting maul, and the scythe (I had to clear the "leaching field" for the grey water). For the next week, a bath was a jump in the pond with a bar of Ivory soap (it floats), and the only calls came from the loons. I had a couple of wonderful kayak trips (for one, I ported the boat over a small dam and paddled around the marsh formed by the pond overflow), and chaperoned a solo paddle for my little cousin (he did a great job turning around a float, and then had a straightaway paddle until his arms tired, and he needed a tow). We did some minor chores (we hung a smoke detector and a couple of fire extinguishers, and felled a couple of dead trees- my college-aged cousin could probably perform gall bladder surgery with a chainsaw). A couple of the teenaged neighbors from two camps over (Framingham boys, grandchildren of a family friend) stopped by for an impromptu chess tournament. We had a number of big family dinners (my aunt's sister stocked up on Arthur Avenue before driving up). I drank Moxie, and had Spam with breakfast. All-in-all, it was a delightful pastoral interlude, just the right thing to make one appreciate hot running water and 'lectricity.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Knocking Off For A Week

I'll be travelling to Maine's Kennebec River valley for a week of glorious rusticity. No internet access electricity or hot running water for a week- just a glorious time paddling around one of the great ponds of Maine, swimming in water pristine enough to drink, and hiking in the backcountry. While the ancestral manor of the family (a home built by my great-grandfather, and his compatriots who all pooled their labor to build homes for themselves) is in the Bronx, the two room cabin in Maine also looms large in the family history. The first trip to Maine is a family rite of passage, and the dirt roads and pristine waters are just as much a part of the family legacy as the elevated "6" train of Westchester Avenue and sadly non-pristine salt marshes of Pelham Bay.

Thankfully, there are no two-toed sloths in the Maine woods (I couldn't find the "shithouse troll" animation, which I would have embedded. Also, I was going to embed this video but st00pit Youtube won't let me do it.

At any rate, I'll be back in a week... don't break the internet while I'm away.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

On Wise Latinas, Empathy, and the Shirley Sherrod Case

Late to the game, but I figured a serious post was in order.

Last year, the late spring/early summer right-wing outrage centered on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Her "Wise Latina" comment was ripped out of context (it specifically referred to discrimination cases) and characterized as racist. When the context was provided, the charge of racism was neutralized, so the right-wingers attacked the concept of empathy having a role in judicial rulings, with Alabama creep Jeff Sessions commenting, "Empathy for one party is always prejudice against another."

The current right-wing outrage centers around allegations of racism on the part of the NAACP, which led to the context-free posting of a brief clip of a speech by a USDA employee who was fired as a result of the posting. Of course, the full videotape of Shirley Sherrod's speech exonerated her.

Ms. Sherrod, whose father was killed by a white farmer in 1965, found herself faced with the task of saving a white farmer's property from foreclosure. As she described in the brief clip that was posted to the t00bz, she was initially reluctant to lend the white farmer "the full force of what (she) could do". She ultimately relented, and helped the man save his farm... her empathy allowed her to see that this individual shared the plight of the black farmers she had previously helped, and to overlook the fact that he shared the racial background of her father's murderer.

Yeah, it was empathy which convinced her to help the Spooners, the very quality that the right-wingers ridiculed last year. Just as a "wise latina" would more easily picture herself in the situation of any individual facing discrimination than a rich, healthy, straight, white male, this wise African-American woman was able to place herself in the position of a poor white farmer. An overprivileged white guy, the sort of guy who would vote against extending benefits for the chronically unemployed, would probably have forclosed on the farm, all the while characterizing the Spooners as deadbeats.

Well, at least some good may come of this whole sordid affair. Shirley Sherrod plans to sue the odious Andrew Breitbart (the discovery process in such a suit will be hilarious). Hopefully, we'll soon be seeing the last days of Dicko.