Saturday, December 31, 2011

As Is Traditional...

I am working on New Year's Eve, as I typically do. No biggie- I'm not a big New Year's Eve fan- there's usually a lot of dumbassery afoot, and most places overcharge anyway. It's a nice, quiet night here at work, and I'll get home before most of the madness on the roads starts. I'll be back tomorrow morning, but it will be a quiet day, much like Christmas was.

2011 was an okay year, but no great shakes. I tend to play a pessimist on the Internet (I'm much less so, by nature), and I really don't see 2012 being any better. There's going to be a lot of political idiocy, a lot of stupid, often racist, spam from former co-workers in the inbox, and a paucity of good news on the economic front. Personally, my 2012 will be okay, but I just don't see it being a good year for society. Damn, I hope I'm wrong, and that things pick up.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mom's Last Day at Work

Today was mom's last day on the job before her retirement. Today, I called her office for the last time EVER!!! She was not at her desk, she was hanging out with co-workers. I spoke to her this evening, and she told me that her last day was bittersweet- there are a lot of co-workers who she will miss. Of course, I pointed out to her the fact that she can always stay in touch with the co-workers she's close to, while not having to put up with the boneheads.

Mom's last year at work pretty much followed the modern model- she put in long hours (often coming in on Saturdays) in order to handle an increased workload, she had to deal with a stupid alteration in a computer system (the new system only allowed one user to log in at a time- WTF?), and her commute was horrendous. She'd always had a good work ethic, and she excelled at her job, but she was starting to get burned out.

It's pretty disheartening when everybody seems to be working either too many hours, or not enough. Joe and Jane Schmo are either working sixty hours a week, and shitting a brick about losing their jobs, or they are working twenty hours a week and shitting a brick about losing their house, or they are not working at all and they are shitting a brick about losing their minds. It's not healthy, from either an economic or a epidemiological standpoint.

Mom found out that her employer was offering a generous retirement package, and she was eligible for a handsome sum from Social Security, so she opted to retire. She got out while the getting was good. The house is fully paid off, she lives well within her means... it was time she took her nose off that grindstone. I imagine the first couple of weeks will involve some adjustment (what with having no daily routine), but she'll be flying out to Colorado to visit my two younger brothers' families in late January- after that, I think she'll take well to her newfound life of leisure.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

End of Year Malaise

It's another weird stretch at work... my last stint was three consecutive workdays mashed into a 40 hour period, now it's two consecutive workdays stretched out- I leave at 8AM today and don't have to be back until 32 hours later, for the 4PM to Midnight shift. The "use them or lose them" vacation policy results in a lot of late-December work schedule lunacy. Things get really quiet for the next couple of months- the only hassle is the potential for crazy weather.

As an annoying aside, the monitor light on my newish laptop has got kaput- the screen can get none more black, so the damn thing is in the shop (the proprietor and his wife are relatively recent immigrants from China, so they didn't pick up on my Spinal Tap allusion in our exchange)... I didn't even spill wine on the damn thing. I've shopped around for a new power cable for my 2004-vintage Compaq laptop, but I'll have to order one online. I think I'll have to "light a fire" under the owner of the shop I took the newish laptop to for repair- he's had it for over a week (although the Christmas holiday did eat up a few of his business days). Sheesh, two laptops, both not-so-functional... I'll try to keep to a decent posting schedule.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Belated Christmas Present

While poking around the t00bz, I ran into some old live recordings of Blondie from the days before they released their first album. The band sounds rawer, almost garage-y, providing a nice, sludgy background to Debbie Harry's high, clear vocals:

There's an even older video of a recording by a proto-Blondie... it's short and sweet, but incomplete. It's a nice little snapshot, and one listen is enough to tell you that the band was destined for bigger and better things.

One thing that I did not know about Miss Harry- she was in her 30's when Blondie's first album came out. This flies in the face of modern entertainment conventions, when pre-packaged teen popstars are churned out by the Entertainment Industrial Complex like such much sausage. Debbie was smart, sarcastic, and sexy as hell, a combination that a younger singer would find hard to pull off.

As an added bonus, here's the original version of the song which got all Disco'd up and released as monster hit Heart of Glass:

Quite a different sound, eh? I've long thought that Debbie and the Band had their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks when they recorded Heart of Glass, it's very different from the rest of the "Parallel Lines" album. Of course, jokey one-offs becoming monster hits is not all that rare.

Monday, December 26, 2011

St Stephen's Day

Besides being Boxing Day, December 26th is also the feast of St Stephen, the original Christian martyr. In Ireland, it's also known as Wren Day:

Of course, the wren is the king of all birds because, when it was determined that the king of birds would be the one that flew highest, a wren was piggybacking on the eagle, and when the eagle reached the apex of its flight, the wren took off, flying higher than the eagle.

As you may imagine, St Stephen's Day is a great day to hit the pubs, and I live in the tavern district. What better way to celebrate the stoning of St Stephen than to get stoned, eh?

Now, the best known song about St Stephen's Day in the Anglophone world is Good King Wenceslas, a song about a 10th century Czech king by a 19th century English churchman. How's this for trippy? Tom Jones singing about the bonny Bohemian:

Heh, I've got my own plans for the feast day:

Big Bald Bastard's drinking stout,
On the Feast of Stephen.
Acting like a drunken lout,
Tryin' to keep from heavin'.
Chatting up a local girl,
Trying to play the man-whore.
Says, "Hey, baby let's take a whirl
All around the dance floor!"

I'll never become the sainted king of Bohemia at this rate...

In a serious aside, I really hope I make it out tonight- I've had three consecutive workdays jammed into a forty hour period- Saturday 4PM to Midnight, Sunday 8AM to 4PM, Monday Midnight to 8AM. Sheesh, it's been eight hours on, eight hours off for the last two days- I need to have a talk with the scheduler (he's on vacation all week) about avoiding such madness in the coming year. I know we have a lot of ground to cover, and we're understaffed, but this kind of ass-kicking is unwarranted... I think he makes up the schedules for different sites separately, with no effort of reconcile them. I can sustain this sort of effort for a while, but can't do it without a resultant "crash" anymore. It'll be a St Stephen's Day miracle if I don't sleep straight into Tuesday!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Working Christmas

Here I am, back at work on Christmas Day. Hey, don't feel bad- although I had to turn down all of my invites and only got five and a half hours of sleep, it's a gorgeous day (pushing 50 and sunny), and things have been very low-key. Also, my worksite is uncommonly beautiful, in the scenery department.

As an added bonus, I have been able to spend some quality time with my beloved co-workers Fred and Ginger. I've also had an opportunity to model my genuine fur heated neck warmer:

That magnificent beast, perched on the shoulders of a very tired-looking (hey, 5 and a half hours of sleep!), unshaven Bastard, is Moses, who was named after basketball great Moses Malone. When Moses was a kitten, the guys would often put him in the hoods of their sweatshirts, where he'd ride around, warm and contented. While he couldn't fit in a typical sweatshirt hood now, he makes do. On one occasion, I had him ride on my shoulders for half an hour. When it's cold out, this is a great thing- he does a great job at keeping the ears warm.

Yeah, don't feel sorry for me working on Christmas... the workload is light and the company is divine.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve, Babe

It's the most unusual of Christmas songs, really... a sweeping, bawdy, maudlin ballad named after a hilariously raunchy, at times melancholy, novel about a young widower recently repatriated to New York City after a sojourn abroad and a brief marriage. The song, by Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer, begins with a sweet, though plaintive piano intro... and then the ragged vocals start:

It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank,

We're not in ordinary Christmas music territory now...

The melancholy vocal intro continues:

An old man said to me, "Won't see another one."
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
And I turned my face away
And dreamed about you.

While the music is slow and melancholy, the episode in the drunk tank would have sounded more chipper, as the moribund old man sings out a cheerful, uptempo number:

The narrator of the song however, dwells on a single bright point in his otherwise crappy night in jail:

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you
So happy Christmas I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true.

This little bit, the fact that his pony came in and he won a considerable sum of money, is probably the reason he's in the drunk tank to begin with... this is not an inhabitant of a sappy Christmas special, the closest thing to it is the end of the original "Simpsons" Christmas Special. This bit also reminds me of the brilliant, filthy Bottle of Smoke ("Twenty-fucking-five to one, my gambling days are done, I bet on a horse called 'A Bottle of Smoke' and my horse won!"). The fact that the song's narrator believes that a gambling win is a harbinger of better times to come just adds to the song's pathos.

After this melancholy intro, the song completely switches tempo, and a female vocal kicks in:

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old.

When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me Broadway
Was waiting for me.

This is a story told by an immigrant girl, dazzled by the overwhelming spectacle of New York City, with its promise of wealth (she could be the subject of the traditional song A Stór mo Chroí, forced to emigrate by privation at home). The female vocal was originally supposed to be sung by la suntuosa Cait O'Riordan, the original bass player of the Pogues. I have to say that I love Cait's voice, but it's a good thing that she didn't sing on the final recording, because the dear, departed Kristy MacColl's vocal is perhaps the finest match of voice and subject matter- it's not a sweet voice, and it perfectly captures the initial naivete and eventual frustration of the female lead. Kirsty inhabits the vocal.

The song then shifts to a duet, as the young couple falls in love, not only with each other, but with the city in which they've found themselves:

You were handsome, you were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more,
Sinatra was swinging
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on the corner
Then danced through the night.

The sweet chorus depicts the (non-existent, at least at that time) NYPD choir singing a nostalgic song of their homeland:

The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas day.

Ironically, the song referenced in the melancholy intro is a chipper ditty, while the song referenced in the chorus is more contemplative, more downtempo:

The song then describes the couple falling on bad times, and having a falling-out. They hurl abuse at each other (whether one interprets their epithets literally or not is up to the listener). Once again, this is most unusual vocabulary for a Christmas song:

You're a bum you're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead
On a drip in that bed.

You scumbag you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last.

The sweet chorus follows this most acrimonious exchange... and then there's regret and reproach, followed by the possibility of redemption, or at least of a temporary reprieve from strife:

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you.

This is the emotional climax of the song... the expression of lost opportunity, the biting but all-too-true reproof, and the eventual recognition of mutual need. We don't know how the couple's life together will turn out, but there's a momentary reprieve, a second wind. Will they rekindle their love for each other and get out of their rut, or will they spiral back down into antagonistic co-dependence? It isn't spelled out... are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Hey, enough of my yakking, how about the song itself, in all of its glorious perfection?

For extra credit, here's the first part of a documentary about the song:

I had no idea that the song was inspired in part by Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in America, but it makes sense... it's not the Pogues' first Morricone tribute. The documentary also features an interview with J.P. Donleavy, whose novel lent the song its title! It also has a snippet of Cait O'Riordan's original vocal on the demo, which is a lovely bonus. Watching the documentary is bittersweet, in light of Kirsty MacColl's untimely death. Who'd a thunk that Shane would ever outlive her?

Happy Christmas, you scallywags, and try to stay out of the drunk tank!

Friday, December 23, 2011

49 Million Living in Poverty

Here's a little something guaranteed to give you some Christmas cheer- by some criteria, the poverty rate in the U.S. is 16%. To put it in starker terms, just about one out of every six Americans is poor, for the under-eighteen set, it's even more horrific- about one-in-five children under 18 is poor. Even more appallingly, the six heirs to the Wal*Mart fortune have as much wealth as the bottom 30% of America's population. Let it be said that they've made their fortunes by killing well-paying manufacturing jobs, while relying on government assistance programs to subsidize their poorly-paid employees.

Yeah, I can't believe it, we're in the Third World. I'm doing okay, but I really want to see everybody doing well... I just don't see why the hell anybody would want to see a large portion of the populace in poverty (well, there is sociopathy, and a Calvinistic equation of wealth with piety). I'm reminded of an anecdote which Thom Hartmann often recounts, in which a German executive accepts his high tax rate, saying "I don't want to be a rich man in a poor country."

On the Christmas front, those poor kids should be pleased to receive a lump of coal in their stockings, because Congress wanted to cut home heating assistance to low income families. The whole thing is appalling... how about a Christmas song, albeit a topical one?

The Kinks' Father Christmas is another of those "not really a novelty song", much like Androgynous by The Replacements. Crank it, but make sure you remember those kids who've got nothing, while you're drinking down your wine.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Squidmas arrived this week- by that, I mean, my badass Secret Science Club T-shirt arrived in the mail, along with my official Secret Science Club membership card (I am now a card-carrying member), CD of sciencelcious tunes, and a postcard commemorating the Brooklyn Space Program:

Gotta love that badass logo with its Cthulhu-meets-the-Illuminati vibe:

Yeah, it really looks like the Leviathan from Illuminatus! I CAN HAZ LIMITLIS POWAH NAO? This may be, nay this is, the best Squidmas ever.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Send Latkes, Gelt and Kugel!

I'm going to recycle a comment I made on last year's Hanukkah post, a little Hanukkah song I'd written. Before I start, though, I have to confess that I can't stand Adam Sandler... I just can't bear his weird combination of Jerry- Lewis-with-a-mean-streak humor and the heaping doses of schmaltz he uses in a cack-handed attempt to leaven it. I have had an aversion to the man ever since catching a bit of Water Boy while channel surfing back in the days when I had a TeeVee machine. That being said, his Hanukkah Song was amusing the first two times I heard it... yuck! I see a need for more popular Hanukkah hanukkarols, even if a goy-boy has to do the writing (after all, one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time was written by a Jewish-American troubador. So, here goes nothing, here's my bastardy Hanukkah song (the tune should be familiar):

I went home for the Shabbos,
The way I always do.
How am I to show, that I'm an observant Jew?
I was gambling with a dreidel,
I took a little risk.
Send latkes, gelt, and kugel.
Invite me to the bris.

I'm the innocent bystander,
And somehow I got stuck.
Between a rock and a hard place,
Oy vey, I'm a schmuck.

They took me for a gonif.
A shyster, to be sure.
Send latkes, gelt and kugel
To show my heart is pure.

Send latkes, gelt and kugel!
Send latkes, gelt and kugel!

It's a shonda for the goyim,
The way it all went down
Send latkes, gelt and kugel
Before I leave this town.

I'm actually toying with the idea of making latkes, although it's a time-consuming process. Being a goy, though, I'm planning on serving them alongside a bigos. I already hit the Ukrainian butcher shop to buy some fantastic smoked kielbasa and a big chunk of slab bacon. Yeah, it's not kosher by any stretch of the imagination, but it'll have enough oil to make all that cabbage palatable.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Death of L'il Kim

Whil I knew he'd been sick for a while, it's still a shock the hear that Kim Jong Il has died. L'il Kim was the epitome of the loony tyrannical dictator, with the fashion sense of a Dr Evil and the grandiosity of a "James Bond" villain. While the people of North Korea faced chronic starvation, he indulged in the consumption of luxury goods- even his "Dr Evil" fatigues were made of expensive cloth. Amidst the background of crimes against humanity, Kim also indulged in quixotic crimes, such as kidnaping actresses. He apparently had a great love for action films and even wrote a book on cinema. I used to joke that the best way to remove him from power would be to offer him a starring role in a cheesy action flick with Sylvester Stallone. Well, now that's not necessary.

Of course, the question of succession is now of utmost importance... will he be succeeded by his son Kim Jong Huey, or his son Kim Jong Louie, or his son Kim Jong Dewey? Hopefully, his successor will be amenable to suggestions to step down, to open up North Korea to the world, and to allow the North Koreans a measure of freedom, a measure of security against famine and repression. Sadly, I just don't think that's going to happen. Relief agencies should be flooding North Korea with food aid, all the while trying to persuade the regime's leaders that they should join the world community.

I'm not optimistic about North Korea's future, although the death of Kim Jong Il is certainly a good development. Maybe the best way to assuage my misgivings is to watch Pulgasari a movie made at KJI's behest by a kidnaped South Korean filmmaker:

Of course, with the death Kim Jong Il, the world is bereft of a James Bond villain, but there's always another James Bond villain waiting in the wings, and attempting to rise to the status of "Dear Leader".

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bibliophile's Angst- Lending a Cherished Book

I have a friend and co-worker who is such a bibliophile that she'd probably bleed ink were she cut. In one of our conversations, which invariably lead to the subject of books, I mentioned John Bellairs and she said she was a big fan. I then told her that an omnibus edition had been published of Bellairs' fiction for adults, and that it included an unfinished draft of a sequel to The Face in the Frost, the existence of which she was unaware. Well, now I've gone and done it... I feel compelled to lend her my copy of Magic Mirrors. Hey, I know where she works, so the odds that she'll scarper off with it are pretty slim. Now I guess I have to put up a review for the unfinished sequel, the title of which is The Dolphin Cross.

The Face in the Frost is, at its core, the story of an investigation- the protagonists, Prospero and Roger Bacon, become aware of a threat to their (particularly Prospero's) continued well-being, and seek to determine the nature of the threat. Throughout the course of the narrative, they are unsure of the nature of the threat, though they journey on to its potential source in a desperate attempt to counter it.

The Dolphin Cross takes place a few months after the end of The Face in the Frost, after Prospero and Roger Bacon (with some unlooked-for help) have thwarted the evil machinations against them (the nature of the threat is never made explicit). While working outside his improbable house (a line from The Face in the Frost comes to mind- "I do not think, Prospero," he said, "that one should attribute a very high degree of reality to your house."), Prospero becomes aware of the movements of armies throughout the kingdom in which he lives, and he is eventually attacked by a mysterious knight of a singular nature. While catching up with news of local happenings at a nearby tavern, he is separated from his all-important wizard's staff. Thus handicapped, he is unable to fend off another attack and is exiled (like the Prospero you are thinking of) to a remote island. Much of the manuscript is a prison narrative, with Prospero alternately killing time, and devising a means to escape from his captivity. All the while, his sympathetic but unrelenting jailer lets fall snippets of information regarding a new claimant to the throne of the disunited kingdom who seems to wish to bring all of the petty fiefdoms under his rule. Bellairs' description of the disposition of Prospero's country is an inspired bit of lunacy:

The South Kingdom, where Prospero lived, was an insane mélange of tiny princedoms, dukedoms, free cities, fiefs, independent farms, and toll-free bishoprics. The only extant map of the whole domain was done by Abraham Ortelius, cartographer to King Gorm the Wonderworker, the ruler of one of these miniature principalities. The "Measles Map", as it was called in the rather small intellectual community of the South, looked like a picture of something in the last stages of a malignant and disfiguring disease. Blotches of purple rot crept across streams and fields. Pimples and boils popped up everywhere in realistic colors, for when Ortelius had to depict, say, a kingdom within a dukedom within a princedom, he always used pink for the outer ring, red for the next, and bright pustular yellow for the pimple's head. The largest of these nations was about the size of Connecticut, while the smallest was only half an acre. It was called Bedd, and whenever Prospero looked at the map- there was a copy tacked up in his living room- he imagined the crabby old Bishop of Bedd peering over the top of his brass fourposter, threatening all comers to try and do him out of his rightful fief. Or frightful reef. Or something. You couldn't look at the Measles Map for very long without getting the giggles.

So, for much of the narrative, our protagonist sits in lonely exile on a tiny, remote island, until he is able to escape with the aid of a magical MacGuffin which he finds when he makes a thorough search of his environs. Meanwhile, there is a brief interlude in which Roger Bacon discovers that his friend is in danger through the agency of a magic alarm bottle, and departs from his abbey in Scotland. The plot resumes with Prospero safely ashore, where he poses as an itinerant leech-gatherer until he gives his wizardly avocation away by using a trick to cheat at a game, thereby gaining the attention of an angry mob. Escaping the mob, he makes his way to a nearby island where he falls into the clutches of one of Bellairs' most memorable villains, a malignant wizard who calls himself "The Bishop". The scene in which Prospero dines with The Bishop is like a creepy spin on a scene in a "James Bond" movie, in which the spy dines with the supercriminal... the description of the table setting allows Bellairs to indulge in some of his signature creepiness:

What else was there? Hmm. Well, over there was a covered dish of some kind. It was shaped like a duck, with overlapping layers of copper feathers and an ivory bill. One leg was missing. Prospero stared at the thing. For an object that was obviously artificial, it had a very lifelike air. He wondered why. Maybe it was the way the glass eyes caught the firelight. Prospero looked around some more. Near him, behind a small covered dish, stood a sugar bowl shaped like a badger- a badger with the top of his skull cut away. Prospero winced. He had an owl-shaped cookie jar at home, and the head was removable. But he never felt that he was beheading the owl when he reached in to get a cookie. These dishes were obviously made of china, porcelain, and metal, but they all seemed real. And the things they were shaped like were maimed, twisted, mutilated. Prospero felt that he was staring at the display case of a sadistic taxidermist.

The fragment ends with Prospero's escape from The Bishop, and Prospero's parting view of the Bishop's home is another of Bellairs' architectural flights of fancy:

The castle was something to stare at. It looked like what Buckingham Palace might look like if it ever went on a two-week drunk. Essentially, it was a big stone strongbox covered with cornices and pediments and balustrades and balls and vases. But instead of being all triangles and rectangles and squares, as such places usually are, it was droopy crescents and parallelograms and lurching unidentifable shapes. Every angle was out of kilter. Here and there, in niches and in split pediments, Prospero saw busts, and even at this distance he could tell that they were meant to be busts of the Bishop. But some were covered with spider webs and some dripped moss; one was only a half-face split down the middle. The whole building seemed to be afflicted with some horrible stone disease, so that the gray surface was covered with blisters and blotches. A low dome of green copper sprawled across the roof of the building, and from the center of the dome a column of black smoke rose.

The Dolphin Cross went unfinished due to Bellairs' concentration on writing successful children's thrillers (his young adult fiction career began with The House with a Clock in its Walls). The published draft of this, the first third of the book, is a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been. While it's not the equal of The Face in the Frost (it's a draft, so it's not very polished), it does feature Bellairs' trademark blend of humor and horror, though the horror is not quite as unsettling as that in "TFitF". The dangers presented in the plot are more concrete, less existential. There is, though, one moment in which I had to pause in my reading to howl "NOOOO!!!", an experience which most Bellairs fans would no doubt share, especially since the book is unfinished, so the actuality of the plot hook remains up in the air.

Now, here I am, looking at my cherished copy of Magic Mirrors, questioning the wisdom of letting it out of my sight for an instant. I know I can trust my friend, like I said, I know where she works. Yeah, I have to lend it out... I know the exact moment when she'll pause in her reading and howl "NOOOO!!!"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Forgive Me While I Indulge in Some Major Geekery

Today, I am going to majorly geek out about a subject I usually don't cover, but have addressed in a pair of posts which actually garnered a fair amount of hits... that subject being computer games. I don't engage in much "gaming" these days, with the one major exception being the free, beautiful Battle for Wesnoth (warning- major time sink!). Today, though, I am inspired by this post by Cerberus at the mother ship and a post (which I cannot find) excoriating Frank Miller and another comic book guy who wrote this about The Onion:

The Onion lost all credibility for me a while back when they did a “story” on the Hudson River cleanup GE was forced to do. As some of you may recall, one of my neighbors is a GE veep, and he was directly in charge of this, so from him I found out all kinds of details the press did not bother to pass along to the public. Since The Onion apparently gets its info from other papers, the story was full of inaccuracies.

What are they, Michael Moore?

Anyway, I stopped reading The Onion from then on.

At any rate, the post which I cannot find (I'll have plenty of time to hunt down a link when I work the midnight to eight shift on Saturday) compared Frank Miller and John Byrne to the eponymous antagonists in the classic computer game Myth: The Fallen Lords, former heroes who have been corrupted, and now fight to destroy the civilization that they once defended.

The Myth series of games involved simulation of squad-based tactical combat in a pseudo-medieval setting, a mash-up of world legends and Glen Cook's Sword & Sorcery novels. Medieval soldiers rubbed elbows with extras from Braveheart, fallen-samurai-turned-penitent-Mayan-curanderos, and Molotov-cocktail tossing dwarfs. It was a glorious mess, but it all played out swimmingly because the production values were so high. The soundtrack, by the talented Marty O'Donnell, and the narration were equal to anything that the film industry has produced recently. The action was fierce- the player had to fight a series of seemingly hopeless battles against multitudes of implacable foes, against a backdrop of a war for the very survival of humanity. The very fate of a shitload of code was at stake!

The game began with an animated introduction, as a lone Braveheart extra fights his way out of a ruined city with a mystical MacGuffin (WARNING: content may be offensive to members of the Undead-American community):

The game in earnest begins with an introductory episode, as a small squad of soldiers defends a small village against a bunch of not-so-fresh antagonists:

It's the narration, and the dedication to plot which really knocked the game out of the park, the gameplay and the vaunted physics engine notwithstanding. To cap it off, the haunting soundtrack lends a melancholy air to the proceedings, with the piece introducing the third episode, The Siege of Madrigal being particularly beautiful:

The Siege of Madrigal piece has appeared in Bungie studio's subsequent games, typically as an Easter egg for obsessive-compulsive fans to find. The song has appeared in all of the games in the Halo franchise.

Some enterprising (or totally obsessed) individual has posted videos of the entire game to Youtube- if you were fans of Peter Jackson's films loosely based on The Lord of the Rings (I'm not really a fan of Mr Jackson), these videos may be of some small interest to you. There's some amazing imagery there- a jolt as a monstrous trow advances on a small huddle of unsuspecting soldiers, a frisson of horror as a lost regiment comes upon a vast platform built out of skulls by a long-dead nightmare people. Of course, locating a copy of the game would be a better idea- just make sure your "dorf" doesn't blow up his comrades with a poorly-lobbed Molotov.

One feature of the game which lent quite a bit of pathos to it was that each of the units in your squad was named. If you screwed up, Cruniac or Balin would be killed, and you'd feel bad about his non-existent orphans, the bits and bytes that made up his grieving mother. It's just a pity that our politicians don't feel the same way about the real kids they consign to the meat grinder that I did about the named sprites I was responsible for.

The sequel Myth 2: Soulblighter, was another triumph of plot and gameplay, another desparate series of skirmishes as humanity seeks to defeat the remnants of the evil forces which it had fended off in the first game. The sequel has a couple of surprising plot twists in it- the players were assumed to have some familiarity with the background of the setting. The game was most noted for it's "modding" community- the source code was available online, and many variations of the game were created by fans. There is still a web presence for the community.

Yeah, forgive my supergeekery, people... now I have to see if I can run the games on my current machine. If there are no new posts for a month, you'll know the reason!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Ringing Endorsement

You want a ringing endorsement, you need someone with a bell- a book and a candle are optional. Well, America's second favorite witch, Christine O'Donnell, has endorsed Mitt Romney in his presidential bid. Of course, this being the cack-handed O'Donnell, her endorsement is not exactly favorable to Romney: "That’s one of things I like about him, because he’s been consistent since he changed his mind" Oh, yeah, that's a great turn of phrase, perhaps the best since Marion Barry declared, "Outside of the killings, DC has one of the lowest crime rates in the country."

I have a noted tendency to develop internet crushes on cute lunatics, but I am not sure if O'Donnell is truly insane, or if she's waging an elaborate, deep-cover campaign against right-wing ideology. Hell, O'Donnell was instrumental in preventing a Republican takeover of the Senate in 2010.

This brings up the topic of Poe's Law, which officially refers to religious fundamentalism:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.

I would expand Poe's Law to encompass all of American movement conservatism... it's impossible to determine if any right-wing commentary is in earnest, or if it's a satire. I call this "Ruppert's Corollary" to Poe's Law, after the ur-troll Gary Ruppert. Is Gary real? Is Gary really a right-winger? Is Christine O'Donnell a performance artist who is attempting to bring down the GOP from within? At any rate, she seems to have put a hex on Romney's campaign.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tax Cut Madness

Let the record show that I do not mind paying my taxes, and I supported letting the Bush tax cuts expire (although the renewal of those taxes was pinned to an extension of unemployment benefits). Now, with a proposal to cut payroll taxes in the offering, I have to say that I adamantly oppose such a measure, especially since the ratfucking GOP house is attaching all sorts of horrible riders to the bill.

I am currently working... I gladly render my payroll taxes unto Caesar to shore up the safety net that I may need at some point in my life when I am unable to work due to old age or disability. I know that a lot of people are strapped for cash, but the wholesale mortgaging of our future is not the best way to boost the economy, especially since there is no provision to increase the tax responsibilities of the affluent (taxes aren't a burden, they are the dues that one pays to be a member of Club Civilization).

I have this sinking feeling that the Democrats in Congress are going to make a bad deal yet again. They just don't know how to handle hostage negotiations, especially in light of the fact that the hostage takers are completely insane. Shit, just drop the whole payroll tax holiday bullshit altogether- the decreased revenues for Social Security will be used as a pretext to blow up the program.

While I'm at it, I would love to smack Newt Gingrich in his doughy face... that gormless gobshite has the nerve to say, regarding unemployment benefits, "I don't want to pay people 99 weeks to do nothing." Where the fuck does Newt come off with this bullshit? He doesn't want to pay people? Last time I checked, people who are receiving unemployment benefits paid for their unemployment insurance. Newt Fucking Gingrich had nothing to do with their benefits. Hell, he's been the one sucking on the taxpayers' teat- previously taking taxpayers' dollars in the form of his congressional salary, and currently taking them in the form of his generous congressional benefits package. Fuck this pasty-ass parasite with a weed whacker. He's not even fit to bear the name Newt- because newts are charming creatures. If Newt ever gets elected, we're eft.

CONFESSION: Whenever I read "tax cut madness", I immediately have the chorus of Sex Farm, or a facsimile thereof, running through my head...

Tax cut madness, why can't they let things be?
Tax cut madness, ignore the GOP.
Tax cut madness, can't they see the concept really sucks, sucks, SUCKS!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Conservative Stool

I hadn't seen this unintentionally hilarious coinage until I poked around the t00bz looking for an account of Robot Romney hiring being endorsed by attack poodle Ann Coulter and found a bunch of flip-floppery about Romney. This 2008 quote from Rush Limbaugh is very amusing to me:

"there probably is a candidate on our side who does embody all three legs of the conservative stool, and that's Romney. The three stools or the three legs of the stool are national security/foreign policy, the social conservatives, and the fiscal conservatives."

Now Rush doesn't even consider Mitt a conservative. Of course, if one is looking for a candidate who embodies the conservative stool, there's always Rick Santorum. Now, that's some serious stool that is poised to sweep through the conservative movement.

Ugh, I clicked through to a conspiracy lunacy site which had an article entitled "Santorum: Gingrich not a good leader" (not gonna link to it), and found this unintentionally funny comment:

I wish Santorum had more money and oppertunity to speak to the country as a hole…I believe he is the man for the job…Honest,hard working,careing and intuitive…

Dude, Santorum always speaks to the country as a hole.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Cool Kids are Moonblogging!

Sometimes, you just gotta follow someone's lead. Hell, I've done moonblogging before, and it never gets old (like the moon itself, it never gets shopworn).

The moon has been gorgeous all weekend... I should know, I watched a glorious moonset in yesterday's pre-dawn hours, then returned to work (after three hours of sleep) in the afternoon, and spent the evening under a fantastically beautiful full moon. I should have worn moonscreen, as I woke today with some peeling on mah nose. I always joke that my job is extremely cushy except when it's not, and this was one of those "not" weekends. My department is small, so when things are busy, we get overextended. I worked a graveyard shift, then had to work some hours at an event.

This entire month, we have a bunch of fundraising events at the end of our busy season. We go on hiatus at the end of December, and much of our workforce, being seasonal, is laid off for two months. It's a bittersweet time of the year, as the year-rounders like myself say "see ya later" to the ten-month workers, and the other seasonal employees. For the next two months, things will be very quiet, and my constant workplace companion will be the cold wind of winter. The December fundraisers are low-key, and the events are spectacularly beautiful, so we end things on a high note. Yesterday was an especially nice night to work, even with the sleep deprivation (working much of the night outside helped- I find the cold bracing).

This was yesterday morning's moonset, a sad little blur of a picture taken with the workplace cell phone:

The picture doesn't capture the pale yellow beauty of the orb, partially shrouded by wispy clouds, and setting over a calm body of water. Yes, that picture was taken at work- is it any wonder that, even when I am getting my ass kicked schedule-wise, I love my job?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Most Carnivorous Night of the Year

On Friday night, I went to the annual Carnivorous Nights party at the beautiful Bell House in Brooklyn's Gowanus section. Because I had to work a Midnight to Eight shift afterwards, I eschewed my traditional pre-party spleen sandwich, and ended up napping when I should have been munching on some delicious spleen.

For the second year running, I represented the brilliant Peter Cua of Singapore, who crafts beautiful, lifelike miniature animal sculptures. This year, Peter submitted a gorgeous sculpture of a whitetail buck:

Once again, I was in awe at the painstaking attention to detail that Peter puts into his work:

It was an honor to present such a lovely sculpture, a dainty deer with a pelt of goat skin. My medium is quite a different barnyard product, so I sculpted a cock-and-bullbuck story from the substance of my choice:

Ladies and gentlemen, once it again it gives me great pleasure to present another work by the brilliant Dr Peter Cua of Singapore. If you attended last year's Carnivorous Nights event, you will recall that Dr Cua is the master of mammal miniaturization- his specialty being even-toed hoofed mammals. He puts the "art" in artiodactyl.

A couple of years ago, Dr Cua was approached by members of the International Venison Board, who wished to boost worldwide sales of venison. The obstacle preventing home cookery of deer is the size of the animal- an adult deer is simply too big to fit into the kitchen of the average household, and the sale of juvenile deer for consumption is impractical because of the Bambi barrier. The solution to this dilemma was to develop a tiny deer which could fit in a typical roasting pan, a Cornish game deer, if you will. One of the board members recalled seeing an ad in the classifieds section of
Split Hoof Quarterly: Dr Cua's got know-how, to shrink an antelope or cow! Why not a deer? Why not, indeed?

Dr Cua decided to undertake the Kitchen Deer project- through a process of selective breeding, undertaken at his diminutive ranch on the outskirts of Singapore, Dr Cua's deer became smaller and smaller with each generation.

The specimen presented tonight is the prize breeding buck of Dr Cua's herd... the penultimate pygmy of the deer world. This tiny buck met its untimely end last spring. It had slipped under the perimeter fence of the Cua Compound and was wandering down the access road, when it was hit by the miniature car of a Shriner from the Indonesian island of Flores. The driver of the car escaped a serious brain injury due to his enormous brow ridge. The deer, however, did not fare so well... tough luck, buck!

Heartbroken, Dr Cua brought the deer to his laboratory and attempted lifesaving surgery to no avail. The miniature organs of the deer were simply too small, too delicate to operate on effectively. Unable to save its life, Dr Cua decided to immortalize it through the taxidermist's art. The deer is mounted, and displayed in front of one the signs which now mark the perimeter Dr Cua's ranch, warning drivers that they on private property.

I invite all interested audience members to inspect the deer at close range, because most of you will be unable to travel to Dr Cua's facility.

Once again, it was a fun night, though I had to skip out before the end of the show to get my ass to work. There were a couple of interesting trends- the show featured two monkey-riding-canine pieces, and three of the attendees had bright magenta hair. While I heartily support both of these trends, I think I prefer the magenta hair trend, even though I won't be adopting it any time soon.

Oh, and while I am on the subject, if you are looking for an entertaining, informative book to read, I recommend Carnivorous Nights, though I am hardly a disinterested party, because the authors are friends of mine.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Little Christmas Music, Bastard Style

Given that yesterday was the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, and that Christmas is coming soon, how about a song which, oddly, combines a WW2 theme and a Christmas theme?

One of the bands which features most prominently in my "80's" playlist is Australia's Hoodoo Gurus, whose first album, Stoneage Romeos is a personal favorite (seriously folks, it's all killer, no filler). It's a bizarre album, which features songs about girlfriends who choose sacrifice to a volcano over marriage, heartbroken lovers driven to necrophilia, and the Flying Dutchman, along with more traditional songs about unrequited love and the simple pleasures of listening to popular music. There are two songs on the album which reference World War 2, but only one of these is a Christmas song.

The song Tojo is a parody "response" to the song Santa Never Made it into Darwin, which was written about the Cyclone Tracy, which destroyed 70 percent of the buildings in the city of Darwin and killed 71 individuals. Darwin had survived bombings during the Second World War, but Tracy accomplished what Tojo could not (warning- video depicts 80's hair):

The album's other song is this vein is I Was A Kamikaze Pilot (they gave me a plane, but I couldn't fly it).

The Hoodoo Gurus are still a going concern- still slinging their heady mix of straightforward rock-and/or-roll and gallows humor. I've seen them play live a few times, and they never fail to deliver the goods, unlike that Santa guy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the infamous event which catapulted trebucheted (fixed for Dr. B.) the U.S. into World War 2. Of course, the attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy also inspired to United States' government to do something shameful. Well, there's also this, which is nothing to inspire pride:

The internment of the Japanese-Americans was an unfortunate example of bigotry, and Japanese-Americans rose above such bigotry to serve the U.S. with distinction. The book Yankee Samurai details the heroic service of Japanese-Americans in the Pacific theater, serving largely as translators. The book has a harrowing account of a young GI being lowered naked into an Okinawan cave to convince the people inside to surrender. Sadlynaught commenter pedestrian (in an epic, epic thread) suggested that Ito Hideaki play said GI).

Of course, parallels can be drawn to the conflict in which the U.S. is currently embroiled, to the extent that right wing pundits (notably the odious Michelle Malkin nee Manananggal (heh, Wak Wak)) defended internment, making a case for similar treatment of Muslim Americans. The "sneak attack" aspects of both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were remarked upon, and the unfortunate characterization of American citizens and resident aliens as a "Fifth Column" soon followed.

Yeah, remember Pearl Harbor, but learn from it. The people of Japan are now steadfast allies of the people of the United States. This is mostly due to the fact that our occupation of Japan post World War 2 was relatively restrained, and efforts were made to rebuild the Japanese economy (I imagine this was largely as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the Pacific Rim). Yeah, soft power works. Unfortunately, we have recently tended to treat our allies worse than we used to treat our enemies.

To get your minds of Malkin and wingnuts, here's FDR's famous "Pearl Harbor" speech:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Fistful of Kumquats

So, last night was the party thrown by my employer... a very, very nice evening. It was great seeing people from all of our sites, many of whom I don't see often enough. Perhaps unfortunately, the music was pretty low-key, and I didn't hear any real rump-shaking tunes- it wasn't a night for dancing. The young social media guru explained that he had just put together the playlist and set it on "shuffle". I decided to wear a suit, and I got a lot of good-natured ribbing about coming straight from my other job as a big bank executive. There were plenty of hot "hoover doovers" and a table loaded with cold snacks- dips, crackers, wedges of pita bread. Upon closer inspection of the buffet table, I saw that the table was decorated with kumquats. Now, kumquats are one of my favorite fruits- they taste like miniature "inside out" oranges- they have a sweet rind and a sour pulp, and they leave a pleasantly astringent aftertaste on your palate. They're kinda like the anti-clementine- while clementines have a sweet pulp and an easy-to-peel rind, and few seeds, kumquats have thick rinds and a fair amount of seeds.

When I saw that there were kumquats on the table, I went to work, palming them and transferring them to my jacket pockets. Hey, sometimes, you have to embrace your inner cafone, and I have a well-nigh insatiable greed for kumquats. I did, however, point the kumquats out to our social media guy, so he and I split the remainder of the ones still on the table, and I did give one to my universally beloved co-worker (the brilliant jet-eyed charmer with the sweet alto voice and the engaging personality), who was unfamiliar with them. That left me with plenty to take home, although they didn't last the night:

Also, thanks to M. Bouffant for providing a cut-and-paste template for rollever text to my neo-luddite self.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sweetums' Birthday!

As is my annual tradition, I am posting happy birthday wishes to my older brother, Sweetums. Many happy returns, vecchio! For those new to the blog, Sweetums received his moniker from my hilariously acerbic sister, who was making fun of Sweetums' perfection- of course, being perfect, everybody within earshot decided that it was an apt nickname, and we all use it without the slightest hint of irony now (even her). Sweetums and his wife and kids live in the greater Zurich metropolitan area. Their first apartment was right across the Limmat River from the formerly infamous former needle park. The last time I visited them was during the month of May, and the temperature hit the low 80's Fahrenheit. Sweetums and I decided that it would be a great idea to jump off the bridge into the river (I never travel without a bathing suit- I could be traveling to the interior of Antarctica during the austral winter, and I'd still pack a swimsuit), and swim to the last accessible ladder along the esplanade. There we were- two Yankee nutbars shedding shoes and shirts, and going over the railing. The water in the river was so cold, it burned- we half-swam, half-floated with the current until we hit the last ladder, perhaps an eighth of a mile downstream. It was one of those "seemed like the right thing to do at the time" moments, and it was the right thing to do... it was glorious. I'm sure my sister-in-law thought we were both completely out of our gourds, but she was too tactful to tell us so.

On an unrelated note, today the office is throwing a brief party to celebrate the holidays and the end of the busy season. We have a young guy in the P.R. department who is our "social media" whiz-kid... he is responsible for the organization's Facebook postings and Twitter announcements, and he's very savvy. He's been tapped to serve as D.J. for the evening, and he told me that the Human Resources rep told him, "Make sure you spin some 'Gaga'." I never would have pegged her as a fan. As for myself, only a couple of my co-workers have ever seen me dance, so this might be an interesting evening...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Gift Guide

If you are stumped about what to buy the kids for Christmas, I suggest buying them Star Wars toys. Them crazy kids are well-nigh overenthusiastic about that Star Wars, and well they should be. Star Wars was perhaps the best damn movie ever made by a Turkish film studio:

There is a major controversy over the revised version of the movie which was released in 1997, which has led to some serious nerdrage on the t00bz. For the record, I prefer the original version to the new version in which (at 4:15 in the video) Buckethead shot first.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Objectivist Morrissey Don't Need No Golden Lights

Since Christmastime is upon us, many homeowners are decorating their homes with festive lights. Of course, Objectivist Morrissey, being a devotee of PURE REASON, has no truck with such fripperies and frivolities. There are no Christmas trees cheerfully illuminating the Gulch, kiddo... golden lights can't cheer up Objectivist Morrissey, but he's not against gold by any stretch of the imagination:

Golden coins, displaying my worth
Golden coins, I'm best man on Earth
Scorning poor folks
Gives me much mirth.

One in a million, a John Galt, a big boss
How dare you question my profit and your loss?
How dare you question my greed,
When it's much more noble than your need

Golden coins, displaying my worth
Golden coins, I'm best man on Earth
Scorning poor folks
Gives me much mirth.

I made my money, wheeling, dealing,
You, stupid moocher, accuse me of stealing.
Your regulations are raising my hackles,
They bind me surer than shackles.

Golden coins, displaying my worth
Golden coins, I'm best man on Earth
Scorning poor folks
Gives me much mirth.

Top tier titan, capital kingpin.
I seek the truth, Jack, with pure reason.
You hate my brains, and my guts, my success.
Your envy causes such distress.

Golden coins, displaying my worth
Golden coins, I'm best man on Earth
Scorning poor folks
Gives me much mirth.

This is a spoof of Golden Lights which featured vocals by the late, great
Kirsty MacColl (of course, she sang the female lead on the Greatest Christmas Song Ever, and I really have to do a future post on her and another one on her dad, folksinger Ewan MacColl, who -I did not know this- wrote First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, one of Roberta Flack's signature songs).

The song Golden Lights was originally recorded by 60's teen pop pixie Twinkle:

Cross posted, as always, at the gulch.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Been at it Two Years

Today marks the two year mark of this blog... I have to thank everybody in the bloggerhood for making this a very fun, very enlightening endeavor. I kinda see this blog as my personal "magazine", an e-publication in which I have complete editorial control. I'm the reporter, the bloviator, the humor columnist, the gossip columnist- I even brew the coffee and clean the pissoir. The one thing for which I'm not responsible is the "Letters to the Editor" section, so thanks a million for your comments, everybody. I'm really grateful for your friendship and your support... without you wonderful folks, I'd just be some guy yelling at a cloud.

It's funny... the whole concept of the Big Bad Bald Bastard really started as a bit of a joke- while the Bastard is recognizably moi, he's a tongue-in-cheek version of me. He's a spoof of the manly-man stereotype, rendered by a guy who's really a supergeek at heart. I hope it's a spoof of gender stereotypes done right. That being said, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't useful to play the Bastard at times (a couple of times, I've had belligerents back off by telling them, "Uh, I'm not as wimpy as I look!"). As an aside, fighting's like fucking, it really should only be done with people you like, who know what they're doing, and have your best interests at heart (this sentence, which has been kicking around my big bald noggin for quite some time now, deserves its own post)

Anyway, that's a bit of Bastard backstory... now onto a quick review of the year. I think my greatest blogging achievement of the past year (indeed, of my whole career) was my 24 posts in 24 hours slog. I had to work that cruelest of workdays, the graveyard shift/evening shift (worst slashfic EVER!!!) split, so I decided to amuse myself with a series of largely stream-of-consciousness posts. It was on that fateful day when Objectivist Morrissey, first conceived of in a Sadly, No! comment, shuffled out of the gulch, so to speak.

This year also marked the glorious occasion when I became the internet's number one unapologetic ass man (although I originally applied that moniker to Frank Frazetta (to this day, that post remains, by far, my most popular, with the search terms "voluptuous women" and "Frazetta women" being my two most popular search criteria- I hereby offer a sincere apology to all the hapless horndogs who came looking for Dejah Thoris' ass and found my face).

The blogroll has grown quite a bit, and I'm happy to have had Laura and Dusty join the cast of regulars who have been so supportive all along. I love how the neighborhood keeps expanding, and I'll continually keep an eye toward expanding it.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I got to meet the celebrated Substance McGravitas in person. I'd met fellow Noo Yawkehs actor and Ned previously, but meeting a guy from a mysterious northern land who flew all the way across the continent was pretty mind-blowing.

Let me mention that, if any of you plan on visiting the New York metro area, don't hesitate to drop me a line (MEMO TO MYSELF: do the dumb things I've got to do- touch the puppet head post your e-mail on the blog)- I'd love to meet you for a spleen sandwich, a beer in a baby biergarten or a foot fetish party. Until then, I have to be content having you drop by my place, my place in cyberspace. I'll probably do a couple of more additions to the blogroll soon.

Thanks, everybody, it's been another fun year of blogging, and it wouldn't have been possible without you. I love hearing from you, I love reading your stuff, and I love the genuine feeling of community I get from you. I look forward to our next year together.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vincenzo's Birthday

Today, my brother Vincenzo celebrates his birthday in the greater Kandahar metropolitan area. He was deployed soon after the birth of his youngest child. Vin was promoted a few weeks back- he was commissioned in the mid-nineties, when the U.S. considered itself a "unipolar hyperpower". Yeah, no Cold War, what possible conflicts could the U.S. become embroiled in? My baby brother, Gomez, was commissioned two years later. They both received a spectacular education courtesy of Uncle Sam, and they are continuing their postgraduate studies in the school of hard knocks.

Vincenzo has a dynamic personality- he's the guy who thought nothing of posting the address of the family homestead on a bulletin board and telling his comrades that the door was always open. He'd arrange carpools to bring his overworked comrades home so they could unwind, and live some semblance of a normal college life. While posted in American Samoa, he made a point of picking up a smattering of the local language, and learning about the culture. He's always had a knack for languages, and loves shocking the hell out of people by dropping a phrase of their lingo into a conversation. Before his current deployment, he spent some time at the Joint Readiness Training Center running simulations in Potemkin villages set up on the post- arabs, both from the U.S. and Iraq, were settled on base to help soldiers role-play different situations, from home searches to negotiating with family or village elders. Paradoxically, for a guy involved in the most hierarchical organization on the planet, my brother has always been pretty skeptical of authority... a punk rock officer and gentleman is something not to be expected.

People like my brother are going to play a major role in a necessary reorganization of the military after two decades of foolish adventurism. Ever since 2001, the military was used as a private army for a coterie of sociopaths and war profiteers. Even Colin Powell, long thought to be the "last honest man" (although his role in the My Lai horror was a shameful one), completely ignored the precepts which came to be known by his name. The military is supposed to be used as a last resort, when diplomatic means fail- it's not supposed to be used in a tinhorn dictator's personal Risk game.

I have no doubt that my brothers will make a career of the military, and they will be entering the upper echelons of the military hierarchy at the tail end of an extremely bad era in U.S. foreign policy. I have no doubt that they'll learn the lessons of the noughts, after having seen two administrations forget the lessons of Vietnam. I just hope that they will have the authority to make sure that the mistakes we've made aren't repeated (although the current saber rattling about Iran is really, really dismaying).

Happy birthday, Vincenz, this one's for you:

On an unrelated topic, this is my 30th post this month, I can haz Nablopomo?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Everyday Elitism

If there's one thing that chaps my ass, it's how "arugula" has become a catchword among right-wingers and the lazy media types who never call them out on their bullshit for snobby elitism. While shopping at the local C-Town supermarket, I ran into a display of elitist leaves (eleafists?):

Yeah, at $1.29, that's really something that only a Snooty McSnootington could possibly afford to buy. Hell, a bunch of arugula is cheaper than a goddamn box of four hot pockets, and cheaper than a Big Mac. If eating arugula is elitist, it's the sort of elitism than an ordinary working stiff can afford. Sauteed with a little garlic and served with cannellini, arugula can be a delicious, nutritious meal on the cheap. For the record, I'll probably make a salad with the bunch I purchased- some olive oil, a hint of balsamic vinegar, some shaved pecorino romano, and good crusty bastone... bellissima!

I have no idea why a certain segment of the population thinks that processed crap is authentic, and that quality foodstuffs are suspect. Let me get this straight... industrial product extruded out of a plant and stamped into a shape reminiscent of something edible is real food, while a perfectly nutritious leafy green is somehow fit only for rabbits? Grazie, ma no! I think I'll stick to the elitist rabbit food.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Doing the Stealation...

Hey, the cool kids on the blogroll have convinced me to jump on the bandwagon. Who says peer pressure is a bad thing?

1) What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading... WAIT FOR IT... The Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Clair, a copy of which I purchased for 50 cents at a huge used bookstore in Manassas, Virginia. You may recall, this book had the bizarre blurb on the back cover- WOMEN ARE WRITING SCIENCE-FICTION!!! It's a pretty bizarre book, and I may have to review it in a future blog post. I must say, I am very pleased with my fifty cent purchase.

2) As a child, what did you read under the covers?

I don't really remember doing this particularly, but I loved John D. Fitzgerald's "Great Brain" books and Beverly Cleary's books (Ramona the Pest is one of the greatest comic creations of American children's literature)- the wikipedia says that Ms. Cleary is still writing at the age of 95... this really makes me happy.

3) Has a book ever made you cry, and if so which one?

I'm not a big crier, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't notice a large quantity of dust in the air while I read the end of Watership Down ***SPOILER REDACTED**'s final moments are beautifully written, as his strength ebbs out of his body and he feels it flowing into his descendents. Damn, that's some fine writing, even the little touch of having the first primroses in bloom at both beginning and end of the novel was delicious. Yeah, it's a simple "adventure story", but it was well done.

4) You are about to be put into solitary confinement for a year and allowed to take three books. What would you choose?

Does a multi-volume book count as one book? If so, one of the big translations of the Ramayana would be a good choice... If not, I have a single-volume edition of Frazer's The Golden Bough, sure it's dated, but it's extensive, so it would be a good read for the cellbound. I'd also take a translation of One Thousand and One Night- hey, that'd cover a year, no? I'd also take a honking big Borges collection.

5) Which literary character would you most like to sleep with?

Princess Eilonwy of the red-gold hair from Lloyd Alexander's The High King, because she was all growded up in that particular book.

6) If you could write a self-help book, what would you call it?

Keep Your Thumb Out of Your Ass

7) Which book, which play, and which poem would you make compulsory reading in high school English classes?

Book (if non-fiction is allowed): Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters- it's gorgeous, well-written, and a good antidote to bullshit. If only literature is allowed, Homer's Odyssey is a good "foundational" work to which a lot of other literature alludes.
Play: Arthur Miller's All My Sons, it's a powerful indictment of war profiteering.
Poem: Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, followed by a discussion of possible meanings for the nonsense words, and how the meanings of actual words change over the course of time, and new words are coined all the time.

8) Which party from literature would you most like to have attended?

I'm with zrm here, the eternal flying party from Life, the Universe, and Everything

9) What would you title your memoirs?

F*** the Courtesy Flush

10) If you were an actor, which literary character do you dream of playing?

Grettir from Grettir's Saga.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Woefully Belated Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap

Finally, I have some time to do a decent writeup of last Monday's Secret Science Club lecture by paleontologist/physical anthropologist Dr William Harcourt-Smith of the American Museum of Natural History and Lehman College. The lecture began with a quote from Mark Twain, illustrating his opinion of the anthropocentric philosophy:

Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; and anybody would perceive that the skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.

After a brief overview of hominin evolution (this graphic, although omitting Homo florensis, is a good depiction of the distribution of humans and their relatives), with discussions of relative brain-to-body size, and the use of microscribe imaging tools in morphological studies, Dr Harcourt-Smith went on to discuss one of his primary fields of inquiry, the development of bipedalism and the morphology of hominin feet.

Humans are the only mammal to habitually walk bipedally, placing one foot in front of the other to walk. Other extant mammals that typically move on two feet move by hopping. There are more living mammal species that lay eggs than there are those that walk on two legs. Evidence of bipedalism dates far back in hominid evolution, with the Laetoli footprints being a beautiful example of evidence that our australopithecine forbears walked erect, and lacked the grasping big toes characteristic of other primate groups. The evolution of bipedalism had long been assumed to have happened in linear fashion throughout the course of hominin evolution, but Dr Harcourt-Smith's research suggests "that there may have been greater diversity in human bipedalism in the earlier phases of our evolutionary history than previously suspected". Different hominins were probably "experimenting" with bipedalism, as suggested by the different "mosaic" of foot bones in fossil hominins- in particular the morphology of the arches of their feet.

Dr Harcourt-Smith's current fieldwork is at an Early Miocene site on the island of Rusinga in Kenya. The site is associated with fossils of the early "ape" Proconsul, which shared its "world" with now-extinct mammal lineages such as creodonts and chalicotheres.

While early paleontological expeditions primarily concentrated on extracting "significant" fossils, current fieldwork involves searching for fossils of all sorts in order to determine what sort of biome characterized the site. Whereas earlier expeditions tended to concentrate on the dramatic fossils, often ignoring the less "significant" fossils which could be useful in determining the prevailing environmental conditions. One anecdote recounted by Dr. Harcourt-Smith illustrates this point- a fossil of a crocodilian was largely ignored by the Rusinga team because it was dismissed as "just a crocodile fossil". When a crocodile expert joined the expedition, the fossil was reevaluated, and may be that of a previously unknown species.

Once again, it was a fantastic lecture. For additional reading Dr Harcourt-Smith regularly wrote blog posts from the field, which make for great reading.

UPDATE: I was somewhat rushed writing this post- I forgot to mention that Dr. Harcourt-Smith mentioned Homo florensis in his lecture, remarking on how large the feet of this little hominin were. He also gave a quick overview of possible reasons for the evolution of a bipedal gait- one theory is that walking on two feet substantially reduces the amount of sunlight, and thus heat, that a body has to deal with. He also cautioned against extrapolating the behavior of extinct hominins from the observed behavior of modern hunters and collectors such as the San. Simply put, the San are modern humans, and exhibit a cultural sophistication that our extinct forebears were unlikely to possess. He also mentioned a recent discovery of a series of footprints dating back to the early days of Homo sapiens, but hinted that the National Geographic Society would come after him if he said anything further about it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Home from the Holidays

Friday was a bit of a "hell day"- up at 5:30AM, hit the road by 6:30, and back in the New York Groove in time to eat a decent sit-down lunch before going to work (I didn't have time or inclination to go home before work). I'm wrapping up at work now (we had a small fundraising event, so I was unable to "surf" much , and my one dream is to drive home, brush my t00fies, and pass out until the early afternoon. Yeah, that's AMBITION! I've been slowly catching up with the regulars' posts and leaving comments, but it'll take a while to really do a proper job.

I'll be working midnight to eight on Sunday morning, so I hope to put up a recap of **gasp** last Monday's Secret Science Club lecture when I have time to write. I have my notes, and have an outline for the post, but it needs linkage, and I'm a bit punchy right now, so I'd do a half-assed job.

Thanksgiving was great- it was wonderful seeing mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, and my two eldest nephews after more months than I'd care to consider. To give you an idea of what the family is like, we were sitting in a local restaurant on Wednesday afternoon (before hitting the huge local used book store), and, when a large bible study group gathered at the next couple of tables over, we started discussing the implications of the possibility that faster-than-light neutrinos have been detected in the large hadron collider. Unfortunately, this was ineffective as an "exorcism"... maybe they thought we were "speaking in tongues".

I think I shall pass out now!