Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Vincenzo!

Today marks the birthday of my brilliant brother Vincenzo. Vincenzo, like my baby brother, Gomez, is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. He has always been an extraordinarily hard-working, generous, and intellectually curious person. When he was in school, he introduced an "open house" policy among his peers, so our family played host to literally thousands of young men and women from all fifty states, and several foreign countries. Vin always made sure that everyone was invited- nobody ever had pariah status in his eyes.

This generous spirit, a keen interest in other cultures, and a natural knack for languages has served him well in his career- he's engaged in scorpion eating contests with Thai counterparts, trained guardsmen in American Samoa, and run role-playing exercises involving Arabic-speaking peoples from Iraq and Michigan in government-run Potemkin villages. In all of these situations, he has made an effort to understand and develop an appreciation for those of different backgrounds (he still loves freaking out Samoans by dropping a bit of their language into a conversation).

He, of course, had to serve in Iraq, because he took an oath to serve a government run by people who fall far short of his high ethical and intellectual standards. As a voter, I feel I have to apologize for the decisions that we, as a society, have made. Hopefully, military personnel like my brothers will be able to repair some of the damage done by the stupid, the greedy, and the xenophobic. Maybe our country can try to shift our foreign policy duties to the State Department, rather than the Department of Defense.

It goes without saying that my brother has lost soldiers under his command, mostly young Americans from small, rural towns. He has always had a keen understanding of the socioeconomic realities which have caused young men and women to enlist (the same socioeconomic realities that inspired him to join the service). He's also aware that a lot of these folks will face challenges integrating into civilian life, and has made everyone he's been in contact with read Eric Maria Remarque's The Road Back. It should come as no surprise that one of Vincenzo's all-time favorite songs is about the harsh realities that face an enlisted soldier (written by someone who lived in an occupied city in the time of an insurgency):

Happy birthday, Vin, and all my love to the wife and kids.

Monday, November 29, 2010

National "Have Lunch With an Engineer" Week

My sister, her husband, and my two awesome nephews took a road-trip to Boston last week, so I met them for lunch as they stopped in New York state on the drive home. I met them in Tarrytown, NY, in the shadow of the Tappan Zee Bridge. My sister and her husband are bona fide rocket scientists... aero/astro engineers, to be precise.

Today, I met up with N__B for lunch and a beer in The Bronx. Of course, he had a lot of pictures of "Baby Bear", who is a fine looking baby. POST MOAR PITCHERS, NED!!!

All told, "Have Lunch With an Engineer" week has been a rousing success. Hopefully, "Have Drinks With an Architect" week will arrive sometime in the near future... I seem to recall having a rum collins waiting for me somewhere.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Never Was Into the Whole Mass Consumption Thing

I never understood the appeal of overconsumption. The whole idea of getting up at 2AM in order to queue up in front of a store before engaging in a melee/feeding frenzy repulses me (and, for the record, I am often up at 2AM, and I actually enjoy fighting). I sat out Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, and will take a pass on Cyber Monday. Rather than brave the traffic near the malls, I headed over to the Hudson River for a walk before heading to work. The wind has been ferocious, with sustained speeds of thirty miles per hour, so the day felt a lot colder than the mercury would indicate. The wind raised whitecaps on the water's surface, and whipped spray over the seawall. The afternoon sun slanting through a break in the clouds suffused the gray waters with a faint golden hue:

The picture really doesn't do justice to the color of the water- it was an enchanting gray/gold (I am thinking of a non-existent poem now, Nothing Gray Can Stay- Borges would have handled this sort of thing with much more aplomb than I). Miraculously, I found some Concord grapes still clinging tenaciously to the vine, their faint sweetness combining with the cold ambient temperature to create a delicious effect.

I'll trade whitecaps on the Hudson for Black Friday in the mall anyday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my kind of holiday- we Americans demonstrate our gratitude to a largely benevolent universe in typical fashion- we eat like porkers and drink like hell... but not today. This year, I'm working, but it's a quiet, pleasant day. My sister, her husband, and their two sons will be passing through the area on Sunday, so I'll get some "family time" in, but today, it's all about a quiet day on the job, and a couple of beers when I get home.

Anyway, there aren't too many Thanksgiving carols, but I figured I'd post the ones with which I am familiar. The first is a cute little ditty by the Damned, the B-side to the single "Smash it Up":

While the "Turkey Song" is fun, the reason it's important is that it inspired one of the greatest songs ever written. Apparently, a German fan asked Shane MacGowan if he knew the "Turkey Song" by the Damned, and the brilliant, though addled, songsmith interpreted that as "Turkish Song of the Damned", and wrote a spine-tingling song about retribution from beyond the grave, inspired by a funny novelty song:

Unfortunately, my favorite Thanksgiving song, and perhaps the most touching love song ever written, cannot be "embedded", but no Thanksgiving would be complete without listening to it.

Note: Yeah, Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without listening to "Alice's Restaurant", but every radio station worth a damn is playing it. I tend to like to post more unorthodox selections. Happy (U.S.) Thanksgiving, all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dumby O'Shill and the Little People

It's funny how serendipity works- my post last Saturday linked to a bunch of Pogues' songs, including Transmetropolitan, which contains the couplet:

Going transmetropolitan, yip-ay-aye
From Surrey Docks to Somers Town with a K.M.R.I.A.

The acronym K.M.R.I.A. (attributed to Joyce and, oddly enough, an education nonprofit) has been in my mind lately (how could I resist blasting Transmetropolitan numerous times in the past few days?). Now, I actually have a doughhead to whom to say it.

I knew Ross Douthat's column would be mind-numbing just by reading the opening sentence:

For an American tourist weaned on Gaelic kitsch and screenings of “The Quiet Man,” the landscape of contemporary Ireland comes as something of a shock.

Yeah, there's your problem right there- Douhat views Ireland through the prism of technicolor fantasy (I imagine that he, like most American conservatives, also views American culture through the same prism of 50's nostalgia which simply ignores such unseemly topics as segregation and witch hunts). My great and good friend Joe S________, (the man who coined the phrase "City of Y______" to describe the city in which I live) disparagingly refers to this as the Candyland attitude towards Europe- the misguided view that European cultures should be trapped in amber for the purpose of amusing the sort of American tourists who are jarred by the intrusion of the container port of Mestre reality on their Murano glass fantasy.

As an aside, I am reminded of a rejoinder to the Creationist fallacy, "Why are there still monkeys if humans evolved from monkeys?" This is, of course, "If many Americans and Australians are descended from Europeans, why are there still Europeans?" To the Candyland-obsessed tourist (or opinion columnist), the fact that European cultures have been continuously developing in the twenty-first century is an affront. Getting back to the column under consideration:

It’s as if there were only two eras in Irish history: the Middle Ages and the housing bubble.

This actually isn’t a bad way of thinking about Ireland’s 20th century. The island spent decade after decade isolated, premodern and rural — and then in just a few short years, boom, modernity!

Of course, this isolation exists only in Douhat's mind (hell, DeValera was born in Manhattan, and there has always been a back-and-forth between Ireland and the diaspora communities- sometimes, this was nothing to be proud of). The condescending Douthat also needs to be reminded that isolated, premodern and rural — and then in just a few short years, boom, modernity perfectly described the typical American heartlander until such Big-Government, socialist programs as rural electrification and the interstate highway system.

Douthat then goes on to write:

The Celtic housing bubble was more inflated than America’s (a lot of those McMansions are half-finished and abandoned), the Celtic banking industry was more reckless in its bets, and Ireland’s debts, private and public, make our budget woes look manageable by comparison.

He offers no hard evidence of this, and no links to statistics. Of course, we really don't know how the housing/mortgage/derivatives crisis will pan out here in the states, but why should reality get in the way of Douthat's anecdotes?

This particular sentence made me smile:

Nowhere did the imaginations of utopians run so rampant, and nowhere did they receive a more stinging rebuke.

I would posit that the imaginations of utopians (uteapians?) received a more stinging rebuke in Delaware and Nevada, but I confess to being a smartass.

Getting to the point, Douthat writes:

To the utopians of capitalism, the Irish experience should be a reminder that the biggest booms can produce the biggest busts, and that debt and ruin always shadow prosperity and growth.

The emphasis is mine- there is no reason why debt and ruin should follow prosperity and growth. Of course, in a well-regulated system, slow steady growth should be the order of the day. The Greenspan era of bubbles is not typical of a sensibly regulated economy. To say that ruin always follows growth is a gross overgeneralization.

Of course, the heart of any Douthat column is the oversimplification of the role of religion in society, and the unqualified assertion that religiosity is preferable to secularism:

To the utopians of secularism, the Irish experience should be a reminder that the waning of a powerful religious tradition can breed decadence as well as liberation. (“Ireland found riches a good substitute for its traditional culture,” Christopher Caldwell noted, but now “we may be about to discover what happens when a traditionally poor country returns to poverty without its culture.”)

Douthat seems to be blissfully unaware of such quaint religious customs as incarceration and indentured servitude of "fallen" women, and rampant child abuse. The lovely Leslie Dowdall has one of the most succinct (and certainly most beautiful) summations of the role of conservative religion in Irish culture- a good antidote to Douthat's simplistic pieties.

Douthat's closing paragraph really kicks the condescention into overdrive. I'd love to print a flier with this column (accompanied by Douthat's portrait) and post it all over the NY metro area. I imagine this goateed moron wouldn't be able to enter a pub without being clobbered:

As for the Irish themselves, their idyllic initiation into global capitalism is over, and now they probably understand the nature of modernity a little better. At times, it can seem to deliver everything you ever wanted, and wealth beyond your dreams. But you always have to pay for it.

WTF? Really, he's describing the stereotypical quaint bumpkins of dated pop culture, rather than a nation of clear-eyed realists who have long been wary of policy makers living it up in Brussels with the EEC earning a tax free salary just to play Monopoly.

Shorter Douthat: The problem with Ireland is that it is a real country, inhabited by real people who don't conform to my stereotype.

Douthat would be better off visiting a sanitized theme park... Irelandland.

Postscript: As I wrote in my last post, it's the little things that really tend to piss one off. The sentence which really makes me want to beat the shit out of this doughhead is this: In sleepy fishing villages that date to the days of Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s Pirate Queen (she was the Sarah Palin of the 16th century), half the houses look the part .

Granuaile is one of my favorite historical figures (and not just because she flirted with baldness). Unlike the half-term, half-assed, half-wit (uh, sorry, I'm trying to recapture the poetry of "four door, foor speed, four cylinder" here) of Wasilla (half-baked Alaska sums it up concisely), Granuaile had a decades-long career, remarkable for a woman of the time, as a buccaneer, a clan chieftain, and an (dare I say it) insurgent. The one thing she has in common with Sarah Palin besides her gender is that she serves as a figure on which various groups can hang their desires (Teabaggers and starbursters in the case of Palin; feminists and nationalists in the case of Granuaile (may as well post a video for Oró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile). Comparing Palin to Granuaile is merely the dingleberry perched atop this shite sundae of a column.

In common with Ross, I also believe in a Technicolor fantasy, a magical realm known as Serious Opinion Journalismland- in my fantasy world, the "paper of record" publishes an excoriating rebuttal to this crap by Larry Kirwin (posting that link to make zrm jealous).

As a parting glass (so to speak), here's a great bit quoted by
Monsieur Dampniche (buy his book, already!):

“who gives a fleyn feck about the economy. We built a lot of proper houses, improved the roads, and everybody got a good television. And we didn’t tear down any pubs. If things fall apart again, nobody cares. We’re still better off.”

Yeah, crazy, unsophisticated bogtrotters spent their money on infrastructure- buncha n00bs!

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Wanted to Smack My Radi-adi-o

It's the little things that really tend to piss one off. For instance, I was listening to my radio, and a Geico commercial came on which posited the question (I paraphrase), "Would helium make opera seem less pompus and stuffy?" An audio clip follows with a baritone huffing helium in the middle of an aria, that aria being Largo al Factotum from Rossini's opera buffa The Barber of Seville. Of course, the particular aria singled out in the commercial (because people know it from popular culture) is one of the least boring and stuffy pieces of music ever performed. This sprightly, funny piece is about a pompous (but never boring) individual, but it swings:

Pompous and stuffy? Only if you're lazy and stupid. With a little work, the lyrics translated, this piece is revealed as a jaunty introduction to one of the classic characters of the Western comedic tradition.

Of course, Largo al Factotum is best known in the popular culture from the Bugs Bunny cartoon Long Haired Hare, in which our protagomorph matches wits with pompous baritone Giovanni Jones (the helium bit is a crib of the alum-spiking scene in the cartoon). Now, while Giovanni Jones is portrayed as a pompous ass, I think that Messers Jones and Maltese would have joined me in my desire to hit the guy who wrote this ad copy with a shoe. After all, their love letter to Rossini is so much more eloquent than this little mash note.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Keeping With Our Weekend Tradition

I decided to post an video of an early song by one of my all time favorite songwriters. Here's Gabrielle, a love song by a young pre-ravaged-by-drugs-and-booze Shane MacGowan, fronting his band The Nips (originally The Nipple Erectors). The song isn't really a love song to a girl named Gabrielle, but a love song to the old West End:

Shane's fascination for London was also expressed in such classics as Transmetropolitan, Dark Streets of London, Lullaby of London, and London, You're a Lady. Specific geographical features, such as the Albert Bridge, neighborhoods like Soho, and geographical locales such as hustlers' districts. Even though Shane is usually characterized as an "Irish" artist, London (besides, alas, booze, speed, and horse) always seemed to take first place in his heart. "Gabrielle" may have been his first love letter to the Big Smoke.

Update: Wow, I just realized that I made an omission so glaring, so great that one could drive a double-decker bus through the vexing lacuna made thereby- I forgot to link to the song London Girl, a personal favorite. This song, with its jaunty accordion riff (I've never banned anyone, or moderated comments, but I think I would give a lifetime ban to anyone making a broad disparagment of the accordion), and it's tale of love for a girl simply because she is, indeed, a London girl.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Zombie Fanfic

So, having read Rise Again, I am now hungering for a possible sequel like a zombie hungers for a fresh human brain. I think Rise Again Again would be a good title, to be followed by Rise Again Yet Again (which will undoubtedly inspire the cheap Turkish knockoff Rise Again Yataghan. Until a sequel arrives, I guess I'll have to write some zombie fanfic (uh, there's a potential minor spoiler, but it's one that the reviews I linked to in my last post revealed- that being said, READ THE BOOK ALREADY!!!):

She eased her foot off the ludicrously small Ludens cough drop shaped accelerator of the four door, foor speed, four cylinder Chevette that she'd salvaged on the highway outside of Baraboo. Hitting the clutch and shifting into neutral, she coasted down the road into the outskirts of Milwaukee, while turning the lights off, then cutting the engine. Silent as a questing owl, she entered the city. Like most cities hit by the contagion, Milwaukee was dark, and the shells of burnt-out houses stood here and there like the unfilled, carious molars of a wino. Funny, after the plague, there were no winos on the streets... they provided a dainty, well-marinated feast for the initial zombie swarms. One intact house stood, an incongruous light burning in an upper floor.

She reached for her trusty twelve-gauge and slipped out of the car. As she approached the house, she could faintly hear music blaring from within, an uptempo number with jagged-edged guitar riffs, and undecipherable lyrics shouted with gusto. The music sounded vaguely familiar, though she couldn't put a name to it. It reminded her of her childhood, when an older, mohawked kid played that sort of music, and scared the more staid members of the community before succumbing to the siren song of L.A. She briefly wondered what happened to him, what he'd been doing before the plague hit. "Probably living in a shoebox in L.A., living off Social Security, and posting righteously irate social critiques on the 'net," she thought. Well, whatever had happened to him, here was a whole new situation.

She entered the house undetected, the music covering the sounds of the door being forced. Her heart racing, she climbed the stairs. Facing the light-haloed door, she hitched her shoulders and thought, "No time for stealth, time for action." She kicked the door down and brought the stock of the shotgun to her shoulder. Incredulously, she saw a zombie bent over a drafting table, working on some building schematics. She knew that the zombies' cognitive faculties had improved dramatically, but this was a shock. She blurted out loud, "I knew they were getting more intelligent, but never thought I'd find one drawing architectural plans."

The zombie turned his baleful gaze on her, then opened its mouth to wheeze, "Shit, lady, what makes you think I'm one of the smart ones?"

My working title is I Rocked With a Zombie.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

If You Read Only One "Zombie Apocalypse" Novel This Year...

Ordinarily, my taste in horror fiction runs to tales of middle-aged academics having nightmares about huge, rugose, iridescent cones, or kindly, whimsical wizards being plunged into reality-warping horror- the scariest book I've ever read is a short novel about one man's helplessness in the face of an indifferent universe. This time, though, I thought, "Why not give zombies a chance?"

Why not, indeed?

Rise Again, the debut novel by Ben Tripp (yo, check the blogroll), is an effective horror-thriller. While cleaving (heh- I kill me) to many of the conventions of the pulp (I do not use this term disparagingly, as a perusal of any book reviews I've done on this blog will attest) horror genre, Mr. Tripp's novel transcends them with its careful characterizations, satirical content (although the "zombie apocalypse" genre lends itself to Juvenalian satire of the most bitter kind), and the author's flair for descriptive language.

Synopses of the plot can be found elsewhere on the web, so I'll touch on other aspects of Mr. Tripp's novel.

I've been hip to Tripp through his illustrations, and it comes as no surprise that he has an eye (not safe for the squeamish) for imagery- three of my favorite examples being:

Features whipped past: stark forms of rock, skeletons of trees and bushes, fences flashing their Morse code of posts and rails.

Two of the corpses by the scooters were dressed in dusty, worn-out ordinary clothing that had been washed too seldom, and yet too often. Locals.

His skin was so wrinkled, each line as sharply defined as a razor cut, that he almost appeared to have been shattered and reassembled by someone unhandy.

Of course, what would a zombie apocalypse novel be without buckets of gore? If you're squeamish, or just about to dine, you might want to skip the following phrases describing the carnage that defines the genre:

fountains of blackened meat and streams of blood…
rivulets of melted fat running out and sizzling…
rags of brown meat…
gobbets of reeking flesh…
stank of grilled meat, a smell that left a taste in the mouth.
His face was a symphony of yellows and browns, with notes of deep blue like the USDA ink stains on a side of beef.

Man, Mr. Tripp really has a predilection for portraying meat, an invaluable skill for an author of a horror tale. I can see it in my head, a few years from now, a college course titled Comp. Lit. 302: The Esthetics of Meat- Imagery in the Fiction of Ben Tripp.

The narrative is not unrelievedly bleak, however- there is a hint of humourous leavening (one throwaway one-liner had me chuckle out loud), and there are sendups of reality-show culture and political triangulation. Mr. Tripp also pays homage to the pop-culture antecedents of his novel, with shout-outs to the works of Georges Romero and Miller.

He also has a skill for portraying emotion with nuance(a welcome addition to the horror genre)- his protagonist is driven by her sense of duty to maintain a tenuous grasp on order, and to search for her missing sister. The other main characters grow into their changed roles in believable fashion. The final sentence of the book is a devastating blow- the carpet is pulled out from beneath the reader, who is left with a hauntingly ambiguous ending to ponder when the book is put down.

All told, Rise Again is a good, gripping read. Like the best works of horror, it reminds us that we have the potential to be the worst monsters of all. Here's a hearty high-five and a pat on the ass to Our Man Tripp. Now, when's the next novel coming out?

Postscript: Let me just add that Rise Again is not the scariest thing that Ben Tripp has written.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Taxes

Following up on yesterday's post, I wonder if Rangel, now convicted of ethics violations, will receive any sanction or censure... on one hand, punishing Rangel would be an instance of "counting coup" on a political opponent, on the other, such an action would risk some sort of retaliatory measures (oh, who am I kidding, the Democrats won't do Jack Meriwether Shit). Either way, it is to be expected that the response to Rep. Rangel's violation will pale in response to the punishment a private citizen with no connections would receive.

Last April, I wrote a post about how I do not complain about having to pay my taxes. I consider my tax payments to be the dues I pay to live in a civil society. That being said, I hope the Congress just lets the Bush-era tax cuts expire... all of them. I don't want to see middle-class tax cuts held hostage by a party which demands that the tax cuts on the wealthy remain in place.

I look at these tax cuts this way- if I were to, hypothetically, receive a $600 tax cut, and the decreased revenue results in a lack on infrastructure maintenance, which leads to my hitting a pothole, resulting in a $900 car repair bill, what the hell have I gained? Ah, I'm grumpy now- probably because Johnny Pez' For Want of a Nail stories are better than mine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie

I am saddened to see how low Charlie Rangel has fallen. After a long, distinguished career as a U.S. representative, he's now reduced to fleeing his ethics hearing, crying poverty?

I always liked Rangel, I considered him a great liberal voice in the House, and a public servant dedicated to the (largely voiceless) people of his district. He was also a funny, charismatic speaker, with a distinctive gravelly voice and an interesting cadence. He always made for interesting media appearances.

He should have retired- he should have given another Harlem politician (preferably a young, idealistic up-and-comer) a chance, rather than running for reelection. As someone whose salary was paid by the taxpayers, he should have paid his taxes.

You broke my heart, Charlie.

As an afterthought, Rangel's ethics problem will undoubtably be seized upon (again)by the usual suspects, and a round of "You know those people are dishonest and corrupt" will dominate this week's news coverage.

UPDATE: Oh, double bing-bang hell!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Am Fully Versed in Physics, Politics, Earth History, and Alien Affairs

Sticking with my weekend tradition, I'm gonna lighten up a bit. Combining my fascination with recent developments in kookery with my fascination with dark-haired Scottish charmers (oh, who am I kidding- I have a soft spot in my head for all sorts of Scottish charmers) I'm posting a video by the Rezillos (later the Revillos). Vocalist Fay Fife had a rare knack for looking fantastic while belting out loopy sci-fi lyrics in a Fred Flinstone outfit:

Flying Saucer Attack (perhaps the best bass line EVER!!!) would have been another appropriate choice, but the video is just a bunch of B-movie SF stills. For the record, my favorite song by the band is It Gets Me- a perfect showcase for Fay's inimitable voice (and that BASS!).

Happily, the band is still touring. It's nice to see such lovable eccentrics thriving- it's a reminder that the good guys win sometimes... even while contending with flying saucer attacks.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Never Thought I'd See This

I never thought that I would see a time in which a prominent television personality would broadcast a personal attack utilizing calumnies culled from the notorious forged tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on a major television network. Despite his protestations of innocence (oddly combined with a bizarre imprecation of the Anti-Defamation League), the imagery conjured up by Beck to criticize Holocaust survivor George Soros is undeniably similar to that used in anti-semitic publications. Sure, Beck can deny that his attack on Soros is not an attack on the Jews as a whole, but his research (loosely defined) cites a menagerie of anti-semitic kooks, and the conspiracy theorist whose ouvre looms large in Beck's alternative history based some of his beliefs on the works of the "Protocols'" disseminators.

I was tearing up the apartment to find my copy of the Illuminatus! omnibus volume to find a quote about Henry Ford, but I didn't have much time before I had to get my ass to work. The quote roughly read, "Henry Ford introduced the Model T and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to America, thus polluting the air and the minds of the country." I'll dig the book up to find the exact quote, but suffice it to say that Glenn Beck is continuing this reprehensible trend of stinking up the place.

UPDATE: I dug out my copy of Illuminatus!, and the quote I wanted is in Appendix Nun (the appendices are named after the Hebrew letters used in the Kabbalah):

HENRY FORD: By importing The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and beginning the mass production of automobiles, he managed to pollute both the mind and the air of the United States, but he meant well, or at least he meant something.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Post-Lecture Recap

Tuesday night's Secret Science Club lecture, by icthyologist Dr. Melanie L. J. Stiassny, was top-notch- it was the sort of talk that could appeal to the extreme-sport fanatic, as well as the person whose eyes don't glaze over when they hear the term "micro-allopatric speciation". The talk concerned the mind-boggling variety of fish species (many endemic) in the lower Congo River, specifically the rapid-running stretch of the river near the Malebo Pool.

The Congo River forms a major biogeographic barrier, with two distinct faunal assemblages on either side of the river. Until relatively recent geological time, the Congo Basin was a vast lake, which was drained when the Congo River was formed. The lower reaches of the Congo are characterized by incredible stretches of rapids (Dr. Stiassny appears in this video). The violent hydrology of the lower stretches of the Congo River is the most likely explanation of the diversity of endemic species. Due to the strong currents, fish populations separated by mere hundreds of meters can be prevented from interbreeding (Dr. Stiassny likened this micro-allopatry to a lack of interbreeding between Manhattanites and Brooklynites- to which a wag, not the Bastard, replied that such was the case). Another analogy she used to describe the effect of the current was that the rapids serve as a "Roach Motel", in that downstream trips are decidedly one-way.

One of the fishes she touched on was an eyeless, pigment-lacking thing which had turned up dead (or, in one case, a moribund fish which died in her hand)- laid low by rapid decompression. A survey of the river in the vicinity in which these blind fish were found (using a high-tech catamaran-mounted device launched from a fifty-foot dugout pirogue) revealed that there are "pools" in the Congo River which exceed seven-hundred feet in depth.

All told, the lecture was fantastic- part adventure travelogue, part description of scientific process, part summation of research results, with a hint of pathos as Dr. Stiassny touched on the violent conflict that affects some regions of the Congo, and a strangely touching anecdote about a pallid, eyeless thing dying in her hand.

For a taste of the lecture's greatness, check out National Geographic's article and accompanying video footage.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

He Can't Have It Both Ways*

So, let me get this straight... Mr. Ben Tripp wants me to poop my pants in fear, even though he made me laugh my ass off? The prosthetic ass that I use to allow me to wear pants does not have a sphincter to loosen with terror.

All ball-busting aside, here's a hearty high five to the multi-talented Mr. Tripp. Congratulations on the publication of your first novel. My copy of Rise Again has just arrived at the local Barnes & Nobel (I figured that I would make a statement by ordering it at a bricks and mortar operation- picking up the book in a public place could help to give it "legs"). Hopefully, the book will provide a sensitive portrayal of zombies, so as not to upset the Shambler-American community.

*Subtitled- I Have No Ass and I Must Poop (of course, this is meant as a parody, so fair use laws should keep the notoriously litigious Harlan Ellison at bay).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Not Requesting a Mulligan...

But if I had to rethink Saturday's post, I would have commented on the end of "Daylight Savings Time" by posting a video for the Skatalites' Eastern Standard Time:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Getting Back to Our Usual Weekend Tradition

I've been pretty pissed off for most of the week, so I'm going to provide an anodyne, in the form of some infectious pop music sung by a trio of dark-haired Scottish heartbreakers. I really don't know a lot about the "God Help the Girl" project, but the song has a nice retro vibe, and Mlles. Ireton, Garcia, and Klobouk have more charm than a warehouse full of novelty bracelets:

I can't be angry all the time... I can't be angry forever.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fate Forces Me to Post

I was dithering about a topic on which to post when I read about Keith Olbermann's suspension. While I have been without a television for a couple of years now, I religiously watched "Countdown" during the early-to-mid noughts. I would get home from work, descend to the basement, and watch Keith deliver a newscast which contrasted sharply with the war-boosterism and "don't question Bush" lie-down-and-roll-over punditry of the other "news" outlets. During the commercial breaks, I would pound away on a heavy bag. I credit the combination of Keith's righteous anger and Everlast's commitment to quality with the maintenance of my sanity throughout the bizarre Bush era. Goddamn MSNBC suspends Keith for making legal political contributions, while giving "blame Poland for WW2 fabulist Pat "America's Racist Uncle" Buchanan. Fuckin' fuckers are fucking fucked!

I'm pissed off, so I think I'll post the one other thing that kept me sane during the noughts. I compulsively played Gang of Four's Entertainment. The song "Ether", written about The Troubles and the UK media's coverage of said strife, could (with a little tweaking - substitute "Gitmo" for "Long Kesh") have been written about Operation Iraqi Liberation. Give it a listen, then go out and get the whole album:

While I am venting, I may as well express my scorn for fucking Clinton's fucking signing of the fucking 1996 telecommunications act, which ushered in the era of media consolidation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time for a Haiku

I will try to do a weekly haiku feature, if I can only remember. Hell, haiku's easy, even if I do omit the kigo.

Election's over-
I am a little bummed out
I'll get over it.

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Post haiku comments.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Aftermath

I have never had an appearance by a guest blogger because "Big Bad Bald Bastard" is an identity as well as a blog... as much as I love everyone, I have no intention to franchise out the Bastard brand. Additionally, I don't write a lot about family, because I respect their privacy, but a couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from my older brother, Sweetums, who has been living in Switzerland for the last few years. In it, he expressed some concern about the direction in which the U.S. seems to be heading. I am flirting with "guest poster" status by posting his e-mail, with some links (picked by myself) to serve as annotation:

Now, I have to vent a bit about something…I nearly wept when I read this morning that NJ's Gov. Christie is putting the kibosh on the ARC Tunnel under the Hudson. Contrast this with the Swiss, doggedly digging away under the Alps. The Gotthard Base Tunnel will be the world's longest, and should be done in another 7 years or so. What a sad lack of vision in the US, seemingly at all levels of government! I'm so tired of 'Don't Tread on Me', and all the other 'Me'-centric noise floating around. How about 'Duty Now for the Future', borrowing from the Brothers Mothersbaugh (Brothersbaugh?) - you know, the quaint notion that as Americans we collectively strive to build a better life for the generations that follow? Does that no longer resonate with anyone?

Yeah, in his zeal for waging Teahad, Governor Christie* destroyed a much-needed tunnel that would have improved the lives of New Jersey residents for decades to come.

Now, with the ascendency of a Repuplican House which sees "lower taxes on the superrich while reducing the deficit" as a possibility, America's slide into senescence continues apace. Yes, we are continuing to ensure that the "lost decade", the "'noughts", continues, and are well on our way to what Gene Wolfe called "the do-nothing future, in which humanity sits at home and waits for the money to run out". Gene Wolfe's Seven American Nights makes good reading for this depressing continuation of stagnation and deregulation- it is best read in public, as you watch unsightly families gobbling down chickenesque goo molded into proteinaceous nuggets. The novella, which is set in the U.S. after a soft apocalypse (caused by our chemically-saturated and infrastructure-ignoring lifestyle) is a real downer- the perfect coda to a downer of an election season.

*It is to be remembered that his opponent was once CEO of Goldman Sachs. While it is not difficult to see how NJ voters didn't want to vote for the financial industry insider, I have to observe (in my typical smartass fashion) that they traded the "Goldman Sachs" candidate for the "God, this man sucks" candidate.

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints' Day

The dawn of All Saints' Day finds me on the tail end of one of my trademark yerba mate fueled all nighters. What better way to celebrate this solemn Catholic feast day than to post a video of some great pagan music by Scandinavian heathen supergroup Hedningarna? Here is Hedningarna performing "thunder raising spell" Ukkonen and, a personal favorite, the "seduction spell" Pornopolka (you read that right):

C'mon, everybody sing along: Raastan rauhan rinnastansa Jag skall riva frid ur bringan.