Saturday, April 30, 2011

Current Musical Obsession

I confess, I have listened to Wrong Feels Right by Dum Dum Girls a half-dozen times in the past eight hours. You want Pure Pop Perfection? You got it:

I'm all blissed out, people, the sheer charm of the song is overwhelming. My only quibble is the brevity of the song- at 2:17, it gives the Ramones and the Undertones a run for the money. Maybe that's why I've been hitting "repeat" so often.

A Night at the Opera

Thursday night, I headed down to Lincoln Center to see the modern opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon, the first opera written by Wicked auteur Stephen Schwartz (confession time- I've never seen Wicked and am unfamiliar with Mr. Schwartz' work). I did not do my homework before attending the production, so I was unaware that the opera was based on a 1964 film:

Not being familiar with the source material, I sat through the first half of the opera thinking that it could very well be a black comedy, though the second half disabused me of the notion. The plot concerns a medium who concocts a kidnaping plot so she can gain notoriety by "finding" the kidnaped girl. The opera depicts her transition from unscrupulous charlatan to unhinged madwoman. Remarkably, Lauren Flanigan makes Myra, the medium, a sympathetic figure. Even as we are appalled and horrified by her plot, and a shocking act of cruelty, we pity Myra and her hapless, weak-willed husband, Billy. The child actors in the opera, Bailey Grey and Michael Kepler Meo were outstanding.

Fans of Stephen Schwartz would enjoy this opera immensely. I enjoyed it, but I do prefer the older stuff (Rossini is my personal fave, as I've mentioned before).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Once Again, It Happens

For the second time in two weeks, violent storms have left a trail of carnage in the Southern U.S. Even here, in the Northeast, there were tornado warnings for parts of New York and New Jersey. Damnit, global warming is happening and it is causing severe storms. I never lived in a goddamn tornado zone until recently, and I haven't moved! The time to address the problem has long passed.

Tonight, I am planning on attending an opera in Lincoln Center, in the David Koch auditorium (phooey!). David Koch also affixed his name to the dinosaur wing of the American Museum of Natural History, this really pissed me off at first (the dinosaur wing of the AMNH is one of my favorite places on the planet), but I have come to realize that having David Koch's name on it is a good thing. What better tribute to David Koch could there be than a room filled with fossils (fossil fuels being the foundation of his inherited wealth) of extinct animals (the policies fostered by Koch's businesses and his pet politicians are contributing to an ongoing mass extinction event).

Let David Fucking Koch believe that the Koch Hall in the AMNH is an honor- it's really an indictment.

UPDATE: Holy crap, there are reports that the tornado which hit Tuscaloosa was a mile in diameter!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monday! Moon Day! Movie Day!

I had planned to post this yesterday, but my intention was derailed by the death of a beloved entertainer/gadfly/prognosticator...

On Monday night, I headed out to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for movie night courtesy of the Secret Science Club.

The movie feature was Moon, a science-fiction film co-written and directed by Duncan Jones, the son of David Jones, who is best known to international rock fans as Dejvid Bovi. Moon, simply put, was magnificant- the best hard SF film I have seen in many years. While a low-budget film, the effects were perfectly adequate, and did not overshadow the excellent acting (Sam Rockwell carries the film in a largely-solo performance and Kevin Spacey does Douglas Rain proud as the voice of an Artificial Intelligence) and well-developed themes of the movie. The plot concerns a Helium-3 harvester working in isolation on the moon, who is coming to grips with the reality of his situation at the tail end of his 3-year contract. The film provides some interesting twists, as the audience is not sure if Sam's perception of events is accurate, or if he's suffering from hallucinations. While wholly original, the film does touch upon themes explored in other films (Alien dealt with a cast of working-class characters employed by an uncaring corporation, 2001: A Space Odyssey dealt with an AI administering a manned space mission), with which it can be favorably compared. The science-fiction is hard as a moon rock- there's nary a hint of faster-than-light travel or "mystical" energy fields. I recommend this film with no reservations- it's an essential watch for science-fiction fans, and an interesting watch for those indifferent to the genre (mystery fans in particular should enjoy the protagonist's investigation into his circumstances). To put it succinctly, the film is a shoestring-budget miracle. The film was so well-done that I may have to catch Source Code in the theaters. Here's the official trailer for Moon:

Before the film screening, there was a lecture by astronomer and selenologist Arlin Crotts of Columbia University. Professor Crotts, as you can imagine, lectured on the altar of the lupine lords. The moon is chemically different from the Earth- it is difficient in light and heavy elements, but has the same isotope ratio as Earth. The Giant Impact Theory has been proposed to explain the origin of the moon:

Recently, water was found on the moon. It is possible that water and other hydroxyls are produced by protons impacting the lunar surface. Abundant water on the moon would be useful in the production of rocket fuel, and the moon, having lower gravity than the Earth, would be a better launch site for rockets bound to other regions of the solar system, (and beyond, for all you Buzz Lightyear fans).

Regarding the Helium-3 mentioned in the movie, there is hope that it can be employed in fusion reactors. Lacking a magnetosphere, the moon would not deflect the solar wind, so Helium-3 would be more abundant there than on Earth (apparently a few kilograms of it are extant- kept treasured in physics labs).

The one fly in the ointment is that, as Professor Crotts joked, "Fusion is always twenty years in the future."

UPDATE: Added trailer for Moon- seriously, check this gem of a film out!

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking of the moon, I have to add this classic- unfortunately, the only change between now and then is that, alas, whitey is no longer on the moon:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Marion, You Were Never a Cliché*

Marion Elliott-Said, who re-invented herself as punk goddess Poly Styrene of the X-Ray Spex died of breast cancer complications on 4/25/2011. The X-Ray Spex album Germ Free Adolescents, one of the essential documents of the punk era, retains its power due to the trenchant, prescient themes that Poly wrote and sang about.

Whether singing about the possible perils of "Genetic Engineering", the chemically saturated modern world, obsessive germ-phobia, the ubiquity of advertising and the resultant consumption-obsesssion, unrealistic beauty standards and overdependence on consumer goods and "all mod cons", Poly Styrene captured the wonders and horrors of the modern age, and commented on them with fierceness, passion, and wit. Listening to the album, one cannot escape its timeless quality- the very topics that Poly addressed are even more apparent today. Poly always seemed to walk the knife edge between genius and madness, and eventually suffered a nervous breakdown due to a brutal schedule. She recorded a couple of solo albums, including the upcoming Generation Indigo.

Rest in Peace, Poly... you warned us back in 1977, but your howl of warning was ignored, and we still face the dilemmas you sang about.

Enough of me, how about some X-Ray Spex?

Here's proto-Riot Grrrl anthem "Oh, Bondage, Up Yours!", in which Poly kicks the patriarchy and consumer culture in the nads with a bovver boot, along with "Identity":

Here's a snippet of an interview of Dearest Polly:

A teaser for a documentary:

And a personal favorite- the first video I ever embedded on this here blog:

Poly- punk, poetess, prophetess, you will be missed. Your legacy lives on in the millions of women who refuse to be bound, whether by the patriarchal dominance structure or the Mass-Consumption Complex.

Thanks to zrm, who broke the sad news to me, and "Big Ups" to the Youtube commenter who wrote, "Oh, Cancer, Up Yours!" Now, go out and get your hands on some X-Ray Spex and crank it up to ELEVEN!!

* Don't believe a word of this.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Paging Roger Tory Peterson

Reading Ned's post on tacky tourists reminds me of an idea I had a few years back, while walking from the main Kyoto train station to the hotel in which I would be staying. Damn, I should take cabs more often, so I could get a paid writing gig at the New York Times, spouting bullshit anecdotes about worldwide economic and cultural trends.. Uh, I digress... where was I?

Oh, yeah, I think that a Field Guide to Tourists of the World would be a great idea. Of course, the average American tourist is at least twenty pounds heavier than his or her European counterpart, and usually wears at least one less layer of clothing (while visiting Versailles in the Spring, wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt, I saw a bunch of Italian tourists in sweaters and jackets, and thought, "Damn, I'm sweating even in shirtsleeves."). Yeah, Americans stand out, even if they aren't dressed like a bunch of n00bs, but how does one tell a Dane from a Swede at a glance? What team logos or brand names are favored by different nationalities? What sort of luggage would a Czech exec use? What sort of shoes does a Bolivian banker favor? Which pop stars grace the T-shirts worn by a gaggle of German high-schoolers on holiday?

I want my field guide!!!

NOTE: Something tells me that a Dane can be distinguished from a Swede by the presence of glacier glasses and a beard, maybe an armful of 16th Century woodcuts. Additionally, a Swede typically has a yellowish color, and is often coated with wax.

UPDATE: When evaluating antipodean tourists in the field, it should be noted that New Zealanders typically dress like Punch while Australians prefer to dress as Pierrot. Being able to distinguish the two at beer-sodden 7AM rugby viewings in the pub can be crucial to one's continued health and well-being.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

I pretty much took religious fundamentalists to the woodshed in my last two posts. Yeah, I can't stand authoritarian hypocrites of any stripe. That being said, Easter always used to be my one of my favorite holidays, because it signaled the promise of Spring, the renewal of the greenery, and the homecoming of cherished friends, both feathered and furry (not a VFurryR!).

In fact, I love Easter so much that I still go on egg hunts as an adult:

Very clever to hide those eggs under that goose! Happy Easter to all!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earth Day Weekend

Being a sorty crunchy, earthy fellow, mucking about the woods for kicks, I figured that I'd give a nod to Earth Day, especially since it coincided with the major religious festivals of the Judeo-Christian faiths. One problem with religious fundamentalists is their believe that humanity is somehow separate from, and superior to, nature- that environmental stewardship is unnecessary at best and evil at best:

Yeah, not "shitting one's bed" is "deadly to human prosperity, deadly to human life, deadly to human freedom, and deadly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (much unintentional hilarity, mingled with horror, in the embedded video). GRRRR... I've been scooped (insert POOP joke). Thwarted by M. Bouffant linking at the mothership! Oh, well... maybe a plan B is in order.

In his address today, the president noted that there is no "silver bullet" to bring down gas prices. I have long thought that the search for the cliched "silver bullet" is a fool's errand (if not a tactic to actually stall implementation of alternative energy plans), and that a "hundreds of silver shotgun pellets" approach is what is needed.

The continuing Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster should be the final indication that nuclear fission is not the solution to the world's energy needs- it depends on finite resources, results in highly dangerous waste products, which will remain highly dangerous for longer than the span of recorded history, and the same processes that reactors employ can be used to produce weapons of mass destruction. From a purely financial standpoint, the nuclear industry has to be highly subsidized by taxpayers. Yet, even post-Fukushima, at least one GOP senator is calling for more nuclear power plants. Why the love affair with nuclear power? I suspect the answer is that nuclear power plants are centralized, and the production of nuclear power can only be handled by governments or megacorporations (and the GOP sure as hell won't call for government-run, nonprofit plants).

The real key to a sustainable energy future is a two-pronged approach, with decentralized power grids using multiple, smaller power sources, and (even more importantly) efficient, low-power devices. Even regarding efficiency, the GOP wallows in a morass of sheer stupidity, leading to such dimbulb legislation as the lightbulb freedom act- why the hell are these idiots so attached to the ancient, inefficient incandescent lightbulb? Uh, don't answer that!

I haven't really discussed alternative energy on this blog, but I think I should do an occasional post, because it's something I totally geek out on in conversation. I can rattle on about microturbines, solar systems (heating and photovoltaic), geothermal, and the like. I also think that POOP power should be harnessed- methane from waste streams can be utilized, and the solid wastes can be used as a medium on which to grow algae for biofuel production and carbon dioxide scrubbers. Every sewage treatment plant in the nation could potentially be converted into a small power plant.

It's time to get creative, time to stop kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry, and implement a multifaceted approach to our energy needs. Oh, hell, who am I kidding, the species is doomed to a "Mad Max" future... hey, how about a love song to take your mind off the grim future which awaits us? I'm dedicating this one to Lamar, from Tennessee:

Heh, it's funny to see that the Tuff Darts are active in the 21st century- I first heard this charming number when I was a wee little sprat, and the radi-adi-o was fun to listen to.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

One would think that most Christians, worshipping a divine individual who was executed unjustly, would be against the death penalty- there's also the whole "let he who was without sin cast the first stone" bit as well. Why the hell do these funamentalist people, who ignore just about everything the gentle Nazarene (I think Marion Zimmer Bradley coined that term) said, insist on saying that they are followers of Christ? Hell, why don't they just can the charade and call themselves neo-Jehovists, or Leviticusists?

Not having a T.V. machine, I don't know if any stations are playing The Passion of the Christ. When the movie came out, I was going out with a beautiful girl from a working-class suburb of Krakow. She mentioned the movie, and I told her that she probably shouldn't see it, as it would only upset her. She saw the movie with a friend and, hours later, she asked me half-jokingly if her eyes were still red from crying. I thought, "Shit, why would anyone watch a three hour movie of an innocent guy being tortured and killed, especially when you kinda know the guy, you've probably got a picture of him in your house?"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just in Time for Holy Week

I had pretty much forgotten about Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, so congratulations to the religious fundie loons who catapulted it back into the news. Since the attack took place in Avignon, I wonder if the ultra-conservative Catholics who mangled the print were followers of the Vatican or of the Avignon Papacy. At least the defenders of the faith didn't let their zeal inspire them to expand their crusade throughout southern France.

As a piece of advice to others wishing to display "heretical" art, without the interference of the orthodox, I hear the Bishop of Ximes is more sympathetic to such displays.

Oddly enough, there is a bar in the Soundview section of the Bronx called The South of France- the Yelp review is pretty funny, the poor bastard went in expecting haute cuisine and gave it a bad review. It's too bad, if he had stuck around, he would probably have been served complimentary morcilla by Maribel, the charming proprietress.

Since this post seems a little perfunctory, how about some video filling? Here's Belgium's Tueurs de la Lune de Miel singing about the charms of motoring through France, a goofy francophone response to Route 66 (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES OF UGLY PLAID JACKET):

UPDATE: I just want to add that the whole controversy over the "Mohammed cartoons" was similar to this little kerfuffle- I never would have seen these cartoons, drawn in a small Danish newspaper, if there hadn't been such a disproportionate response on the part of religious loons with their knickers in a bunch. Really, folks, get over yourselves. If you genuinely believe in an all-powerful, all-loving deity, why do you have to do something violent and stupid to protect it? Couldn't the omnipotent ruler of the universe handle its own shit?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reviewing the Archives WARNING SPOILERS!!!

Last month, I stated that I would post a review of The Atrocity Archives Charles Stross, and I shall!

The Atrocity Archives, as I described in my earlier post, can be likened to a "a mash-up of Lovecraft's "mythos", Cold War espionage thrillers, and Office Space". The book's premise is that esoteric mathematical formulae may be used to punch holes in the barriers between different universes, sometimes allowing nasty entities to enter our own:

I could wibble on about Crowley and Dee and mystics down the ages but, basically, most self-styled magicians know shit. The fact of the matter is that most traditional magic doesn't work. In fact, it would all be irrelevant, were it not for the Turing theorem- named after Alan Turing, who you'll have heard of if you know anything about computers.


The theorem is a hack on discrete number theory that simulatneously disproves the Church-Turing hypothesis (Wave if you understood that) and worse, permits NP-complete problems to be converted in to P-complete ones. This has several consequences, starting with screwing over most cryptography algorithms - translation: all your bank account [sic] belong to us -- and ending with the ability to computationally generate a Dho-Nha geometry curve in real time.

This latter item is just slightly less dangerous than allowing nerds with laptops to wave a magic wand and turn them into hydrogen bombs at will. Because, you see, everything you know about the way this universe works is correct- except for the little problem that this isn't the only universe we need to worry about. Information can leak between one universe and another. And in a vanishingly small number of other universes there are things that listen, and talk back...

The Laundry is the fictional (?) governmental agency of the U.K. which deals with such "reality incursions" (much like the Men in Black of UFOlogy, comics, and film). The protagonist, Robert Howard (heh), is a relatively new agent of The Laundry, being conscripted after he "worked out the geometry curve iteration method for invoking Nyarlathotep and nearly wiped out Birmingham by accident." Howard is gifted, but brash, and often insubordinate- chafing under the restrictions of agency bureaucracy, and eager to make the transition to fieldwork. The narrative begins with his initial foray into the field, and paints a distinctly unglamorous image of the work- Howard stands in the rain outside a nondescript corporate park, waiting for an opportunity to enter an office undetected to scrub some data from a desktop computer.

The narrative, after a view of Howard's unconventional home life, then delves into office politics and the minutiae of bureaucracy, as Howard navigates the Byzantine regulations of the civil service, and eventually receives training in the more esoteric aspects of fieldwork, including "certification of weaponry expertise, unconventional, level two". After these blackly humorous sequences, the espionage narrative starts.

Howard's first international assignment involves an attempt to extract a Miskatonic University educated philosophy professor from the U.S., an endeavor which rapidly degenerates ("goes pear-shaped" in Stross' lexicon), leading to a roller-coaster ride of a plot involving Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, Nazi necromancers, tentacled horrors, a visit to the museum of evil of the novel's title, and an eerie incursion through a hole punched between universes to a dying world. Stross ably builds suspense as Howard tries to piece together the reality of the situation into which he is thrown, as the circumstances in which he finds himself quickly degenerate into a nightmare. The novel is, in some sense, a bildungsroman, as the brilliant smartass Howard matures into a careful, loyal agent acting in defense of all that is human and humane.

The Atrocity Archives is chock full of Easter eggy goodness- Stross cites the espionage novels of Len Deighton and the stories of the Old Gent of Providence as influences. The villains of the novel are somewhat reminiscent of the baddies in Illuminatus!. One particular description in the book calls to mind Jack Vance's The Face. The intersection of computing and the occult reminded me of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum and my favorite bit of internet "conspiracy" kookery. The overall theme of the book, supernatural espionage, is similar to that of Tim Powers' Declare (Stross mentions that a friend of his told him not to read the book, because it would have derailed his creative process).

While familiarity with these works would definitely heighten one's enjoyment of the book (the Lovecraft is probably essential groundwork, though), the book stands on its own merits. Stross shares with the late, lamented John Bellairs (one of my favorite authors) a knack for leavening his horror narratives with humor. This particular bit demonstrates Stross' irreverent wit (although the shade of the martyred Alan Turing, victim of bigotry, looms over the entire novel) and skewering of genre conventions:

“Once a year (REDACTED-SPOILER) drags (REDACTED-SPOILER) out to Pride so he can maintain his security clearance.’

‘I see.” She relaxes a little but looks puzzled. “I thought the secret services sacked you for being homosexual?”

“They used to, said it made you a security risk. Which was silly, because it was the practice of firing homosexuals that made them vulnerable to blackmail in the first place. So these days they just insist on openness- the theory is you can only be blackmailed if you’re hiding something. Which is why (REDACTED-SPOILER) gets the day off for Gay Pride to maintain his security clearance.”

The Atrocity Archives is accompanied by an additional novella, The Concrete Jungle, and (perhaps the best part of the book) an afterword, in which Mr. Stross discusses Cold War espionage tales as horror fiction, and Lovecraftian horror tales as espionage fiction (most of HPL's stories involve investigations of one sort or another).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's Called Barbarism

Trust fund kid and serial bankruptcy declarer Donald Trump is emerging as the preferred 2012 presidential candidate for people dumber than he is. On CNN's Sunday "State of the Nation" show, he had the following to say about the Libya situation:

TRUMP: Somebody said, what would be your theory or what would you do in terms of Libya? I'd do one thing. Either I'd go in and take the oil or I don't go in at all. We can't be the policeman for the world.
CROWLEY: You'd just take their oil?
TRUMP: Absolutely. I'd take the oil. I'd give them plenty so they can live very happily. I would take the oil. You know, in the old days, Candy –
CROWLEY: Well, wait, we can't go –
TRUMP: - Candy, Candy, in the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation is yours.

Yeah, that's why the old days were considered barbaric by modern standards, ya sociopath. Plus, if you're so gung-ho about your brigandry, how about putting your own ass on the line, ya gonif?

Gonif is one of my favorite Yiddish words- Happy Passover to all readers of the Jewish faith and/or culture.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Just About Three Years Ago

Hmmm... The Brazen Head... cask-conditioned, hand pumped ales... free food... name alluding to Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (and reminiscent of one of my favorite books)... what's not to like? Indeed, what's not to like?

Three years ago, at about the same time the lovely Aunt Snow was kicking off her one-woman effort to bring beauty to the blogosphere, my friend Andy told me that his bar, Park Slope's Union Hall, was in danger of losing its liquor license. The land-use/landmarks committee of Brooklyn's Community Board 6 recommended that the NY State Liquor Authority not renew Union Hall's license. Community Board member Lou Sones (owner of the aforementioned Brazen Head), a guy with a clear-cut conflict of interest , and a couple of lunatic residents (one of whom called 911 to make a false report of dangerous overcrowding) were trying to shut down a business which employs forty persons (a business which occupies a formerly vacant store). Here's the video footage documenting the false alarm:

I had been going to the monthly Secret Science Club lectures since 2006, and had come to know Andy very well. Andy, to be concise, is a prince. I mean, he's a genuinely nice person (he has a positive quality of niceness, not merely an absence of meanness), and a hard-working, stand-up guy. When he told me about his problem with the Community Board, I said to myself, "Nobody fucks with a Friend of the Bastard, and expects the Bastard to sit on the sidelines." I wrote a letter to the Community Board, urging them to reconsider the decision of the land-use/landmarks committee:

7 March 2008

REDACTED, District Manager
REDACTED, Assistant District Manager
Community Board 6
250 Baltic Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Re: Union Hall, Park Slope

Dear Sirs:

I am writing to urge you to support Andy and Jim of Union Hall in their efforts to renew their liquor license. Union Hall is not merely a bar- Andy and Jim run their establishment in the true tradition of the Public House. In a city in which most residents live in apartments with limited space, Union Hall functions as an additional living room for a diverse clientele. With its book-lined walls, bocce courts, and homey atmosphere, it’s the best living room in the borough. Even more significantly, it’s a living room that has hosted Nobel Prize winners, three of whom have been featured speakers at the monthly Secret Science Club lecture series.

The Park Slope community is known for being dynamic and diverse. Union Hall reflects this dynamism and diversity. Artists, professionals, graduate students, tradespeople, all rub elbows at Union Hall, or engage in friendly competition in bocce matches and spelling bees. Andy and Jim, and their dedicated security and bar staff make it all possible, and it would be a great loss to Brooklyn if their vision, dedication, and hard work should all come to naught.

Very truly yours,

Big Bad Bald Bastard

I was visiting my mom in Virginia when the full community board meeting when the committee's decision was reversed and the board recommended that the license be renewed, but I was gratified to hear that the good guys won.

I live in the "tavern district" of the City of Yonkers, I can walk to a dozen bars in the space of five minutes. I look around my neighborhood and I realize that the bars saved the commercial strip. The area would have become a post-industrial moonscape if the bars hadn't opened in profusion. Would Park Slope have been better off with a vacant storefront rather than a well-run, eclectic bar?

Three years later, Union Hall is going strong, and Andy and Jim's Bell House, has transformed a vacant post-industrial space in a post-industrial landscape into a huge, attractive venue hosting a variety of activities and employing even more local residents. Happily, they don't have cranky, kooky neighbors to deal with at their new venue.

I don't have the figures, but they probably employ a hundred people at the three bars they own, and the panoply of events they host is quite varied. It would have been a goddamn crime if they had lost their liquor license, and had been unable to expand. After the whole kerfuffle was over, I told Andy, "You know you're living a righteous life when all of your enemies are weasels."

Brazen Head? They could be giving out free cask-conditioned ale by the gallon, but there's no way I'll set foot in a bar owned by a rat-fucking weasel. As much as I love beer, I hate evil mothers.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Enough to Drive One Batty

I drove to work tonight in a goddamn monsoon... I'm talking, sheets of water, walls of rain, my damn car left a wake on the roadway. The storm, which has subsided (the moonset is particularly gorgeous now) was the remnants of a monster which left a trail of death and devastation in the Southern U.S. Let's look at a map showing representation in the Senate by state... we've got solid Republicans representing the area devastated by the storm. Researchers studying anthropogenic climate change have long predicted that more virulent storms would result from global warming.

So, let's see the response of the Republican politicians representing the people who were hit by the storm to the global warming dilemma... shit, they're conducting a witch hunt to try to discredit scientists who have been warning about the problem of global warming. Shit, not only do they want to prevent any attempts to ameliorate the storm world situation our descendents will inherit, they want to slash funding to the agency that would warn their constituents of impending disaster.

Yet, when Cletus' double-wide gets creamed by a twister, he doesn't receive a goddamn nickel of aid from the paid-shill sociopaths at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Cato, or any of the other right-wing front groups. He doesn't receive a thin dime of the Koch money that goes to pay off AGW deniers. He goes to the responsible adults for aid, the federal bureaucracies that he despises, that his elected officials underfund and staff with incompetent cronies. Shit, St Ronbo stupidly said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" Yeah, Cletus those nine words are scarier than, "A tornado's coming and you'll be dead or homeless."

Keep voting Republican ya goddamn Red State dumbasses... will the fact that the middle-aged lady who looks like an NPR listener, possibly a lesbian, can't get a mammogram keep you sheltered when your goddamn home gets destroyed? Will you sit in the ruins of your home, cradling the remains of your dead child and be consoled by thinking, "At least them queers can't get married?"

I want to heap special scorn on denialism crusader James Inhofe (R-Fossil Fuel Industry)- Inhofe recently landed on a closed runway, putting airport workers in grave danger. The airport manager said of Inhofe- "...I can assure you I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life." He must not have looked at the fucker's voting record.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

An Addendum to My Last Post

The Ramones, despite their posthumous ubiquity, were a cult band- their only gold record in the States was career retrospective/greatest hits album Ramones Mania. Part of the band's failure to attain greater commercial success was, no doubt, due to the fact that many of the band's songs were transgressive. In his memoir (co-authored with Legs McNeil) I Slept with Joey Ramone, Joey's Brother Mickey Leigh recounts some of the appalling, often hilarious, subject matter of the band's songs. Regarding Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World, in which a nice Jewish boy (as the cliche goes) from Forest Hills sings about being a Nazi:

(Sire Records executive) Seymour Stein came up to the studio in the afternoon and complained, "You can't say, 'I'm a Nazi baby, I'm a Nazi, yes I am,'" referring to the opening lines of the song "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World," which had become the Ramones' signature closer at live shows. It was kind of ridiculous, but not to Seymour. The words are:

I'm a Nazi, baby; I'm a Nazi yes I am
I'm a Nazi shatzi, y'know I fight for the Fatherland.
Little German boy, being pushed around
Little German boy, in a German town

It didn't offend me, and
I'm a Jew.

It didn't offend my brother.

Tommy, whose parents had narrowly escaped the death camps during the Holocaust, was more sensitive to this issue but acquiesced so as not to impede the band's artistic freedom and black humor. To me, the song conjured up the image of a weak, skinny German kid, who after being bullied in his own little burg, found a way to become one of the bullies. It was like a glimpse into the mind-set of a typical Hitler Youth member, brilliantly summed up in two lines.

Seymour was insistent that the band change the lyrics. The Ramones were sticking to their guns. A heated and emotional argument ensued; it looked as if this could be a deal-breaker.

Then they started talking about alternatives and came up with the line,
"I'm a shock trooper in a stupor, yes I am."

Even that was too much for Seymour; to him, it was equally offensive.

But after a big struggle he finally gave in and allowed them to go with "shock trooper."

"I don't know if I should admit it," Seymour later confessed, "because I got over it pretty quickly, but I wasn't pleased with the Nazi references in the songs. You can't throw away twenty years of Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn."

Regarding 53rd and 3rd, Mickey Leigh recounted this:

"We got away with a lotta stuff then that we wouldn't have if we'd been big," said Johnny. "Dee Dee came up with '53rd and 3rd' on the first album. I thought it was funny: I didn't know it was anything from real experience. I thought we were just singing about warped subjects that no one else sang about. It doesn't mean that we had to be doing it."

Fifty-third Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan was the notorious spot where young male hustlers made themselves available.

"To Johnny's dying day," Danny Fields (the band's manager) laughed, "Johnny would never admit to knowing that '53rd and 3rd' was about Dee Dee turning tricks!"

My favorite anecdote concerns the choice of first single from the second album, Leave Home:

In January 1977," Legs McNeil recalled, "about a month before the Ramones' second album, Leave Home, came out, Danny Fields held a private listening party for me and John Holmstrom at his loft on Twentieth Street. After we listened through it twice, Danny reappeared and asked us what our favorite song was and what should be the single. I blurted out, 'Carbona Not Glue,' which to me was clearly the best song on the record. The song was written as a follow-up to 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.' It was meant to clarify that while glue might not be good for you, the cleaning fluid Carbona was definitely a better high.

"Danny said, 'I was afraid you were going to say that. Carbona is a registered trademark and we might have to take it off the album.'

"I was shocked," Legs recalled. "It was such a great song, so radio-friendly- like a song the Beatles or the Rolling Stones would have written if they were just starting out in 1976 with great harmonies and catchy lyrics."

"Carbona Not Glue" a "radio-friendly" song?

Though Legs's (sic) enthusiasm was totally sincere, his logic had betrayed him.

As much as I loved
Leave Home, I didn't expect to see radio programmers adding a song about getting high by inhaling toxic cleaning products to their playlists anytime soon.

Carbona Not Glue was removed from the album, and Sheena is a Punk Rocker was substituted for it. The song wasn't re-released for years:

Seeing that I've excerpted heavily from his book, I'm going to make a plug. I Slept with Joey Ramone is not a RAWK GAWD hagiography- it's a no-punches-pulled look at living with a fascinating, sometimes-difficult individual. If you're a Ramones fan, or are interested in the history of punk, it is an indispensible read. If you love or have loved someone who is sometimes infuriating, it is a good read. It's funny, it's melancholy... Mickey Leigh gives us an unvarnished view of his family, his friends, and himself- he spares no one but there's an underlying affection for the often-dysfunctional persons with whom he's shared his life.

As a coda, here's a video for I Won't Be Your Victim, a Screamer of the Week (Joey called into the radio station to cast his vote) by Mickey Leigh's band "The Rattlers", which has been made into a video for the It Gets Better Campaign:

Mickey's voice bears a resemblance to his older brother's unforgettable croon. Unable to hold notes for long, Joey tapped his brother to sing backup (Blitzkrieg Bop and I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You) and additional vocals (the "ooh's" on Judy is a Punk and I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend) on the first Ramones album.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dearest Joey, Ten Years Gone

Ten years ago today, the world was robbed of a glorious mutant- Queens native Jeffrey Hyman, who struggled with poor health and mental illness throughout his life, but managed to transform himself into beloved rock icon Joey Ramone, succumbed to lymphatic cancer and died in New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Jeffrey was, according to his brother Mickey (nee Mitchell Lee Hyman) Leigh's memoir, I Slept with Joey Ramone, born with a Sacrococcygeal teratoma, the removal of which affected the development of his nervous system. As a clumsy, extremely tall and gangly kid, he was often the target of bullies. Despite all this, he was able to forge a career as a rock pioneer, fronting seminal punk band the Ramones.

Joey's was the quintessential "ugly duckling" story- he was the perpetual outsider who, through hard work (made difficult by his Obsessive–compulsive disorder- documented in Mickey Leigh's book- and generally poor health) and his own particular, peculiar brand of charisma, changed into a "swan" of unconventional beauty. In the afterword of I Slept with Joey Ramone, Mickey Leigh writes about leaving the hospital after Joey's death, and hitting the streets on which the Spin Magazine "25 Years of Punk" poster featuring a picture of Joey were plastered:

But when we left the hospital, I saw my brother all over the city. Not only on those posters on the walls, but all over the place. I saw him in the thousands of kids on the streets who wore holes in the knees of their jeans and oval-shaped sunglasses. I felt him the songs he’d written and sung.

He was still everywhere. But mainly, he was in my heart and my soul, in my flesh and blood, and in my mind. To his kid brother, he was a towering hero- not just because he was Joey Ramone but because he was so much more. He was the ultimate underdog who soared to a place far beyond mere overachievement. As low as he’d been, he never let it prevent him from setting his sights on astronomical heights. His brave plight was inspiring, as I intend his story to be.

I fell in love with the Ramones as a child... their catchy, demented songs, and unforgettable, uniform look were fascinating to me. Luckily, I discovered a radio station which not only played Ramones music, but often featured call-ins or guest spots by Joey Ramone. Yeah, the Ramones were a prominent part of the soundtrack to my life. I didn't know about Joey's physical and mental health issues- he was just an extremely distinctive, larger-than-life figure who sang bizarre songs about grotesque, often hilarious, subjects such as cretin hops and blitzkrieg bops. Coming from a large, close-knit family, We're a Happy Family was a particular favorite. I have to say, the John Holmstrom cartoons on the liner of Rocket to Russia were also a considerable part of the Ramones' appeal to my smartass teen self.

By the time I was old enough to see the Ramones live, they were already on the decline- I remember Joey looking bloated, like a gigantic harvestman which had been deprived of four of its limbs, and he dropped the mic stand, but he was glorious, he was Joey Ramone! Of course, even at the ebb of his powers, he put on a better show than most other performers.

I found out about Joey's death while driving home from celebrating Easter at my mom's place in Northern Virginia (she moved there in the late 90's) with my brother Sweetums. When we got to South Jersey, within range of the big AM stations in NYC, we turned on the all-news station and heard that Joey had died. Tears streaming down our cheeks, we memorialized Joey in the only appropriate fashion- we blasted the Ramones Anthology CD set (Tommy Westerberg never travels far without a little Big Star- I never roam far from home, without a bunch of Ramones) the rest of the way home, singing with heavy hearts.

GRRR... I'm not getting any Youtube "embed" codes using my antiquated browser on my antiquated laptop- I'll try to post some Ramones videos when I get to work, and can use the office Binary Numbers Mill.

UPDATE: Post title changed to something more poetic...

SECOND UPDATE: Thanks to BDR, who saved me from "Youtube N00b" status, I can add some Ramonesy goodness to the post- here are three of my favorites:

So as not to seem remiss, here is Joey's cover of What a Wonderful World, released posthumously (gotta love the fact that it starts with the riff from "Pretty Vacant"):

Joey's last album also included his heartfelt tribute to (!!!) Maria Bartiromo.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rendering Unto Caesar

Been working on the taxes, so it'll be a quick post. As I wrote last year,
I don't mind paying my taxes. Plus, I'd rather pay my taxes than go to federal pound me in the ass prison. Yeah, Uncle Sam, take the cash.

I also want to take time to complain about President Obama's call to let the extended Bush tax cuts expire... he and the Democratic Congress should have let them, all of them, expire last year.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Early Sarah Palin Video?

It would be irresponsible not to speculate:

A tip of the hat to the good Doktor, whose dive into the Maelstrom of Madness has led me on my own demented Vision Quest.

Now, so as not to single out fringe kooks who peddle their whackaloonery, how about some good old-fashioned mainstream 'Murkin kookery, huh? These cretins are actually elected legislators in the Heartland:

Yeah, Monkey Trials have come back in the 21st Century. The U.S. is pretty much doomed if this crap continues.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Recap of Yesterday's Hike

Being a luverly spring day, I headed north to Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, to take my annual vernal pool walk. Vernal pools are fish-free bodies of water, often ephemeral, which provide safe spawning areas for amphibians,aquatic insects, and crustaceans such as the fairy shrimp. The destination of my hikes is a persistent feature of the landscape, but I also visited some small, ephemeral pools near the Cross River.

At the large pool, I saw a couple of wood frogs, but they weren't getting jiggy, as the kids say. The peepers, however, were out in full force. Frogs being (if you'll forgive the term) jumpy, a large, galumphing predatory beast will often scare them into silence. To hear them singing, one often has to find a convenient rock on which to hunker down and wait for the chorus to start. I have an "AMR" file recording of the peepers singing, but I can't post it to the blog- any advice? I don't have Quicktime pro, and I've had some difficulty downloading a shareware AMR to MP3 program? I CAN HAZ HALP HEER? I'd really love to upload these batrachian Barry Whites because, to put it in verse:

Dude I be, but still I swoon,
When I hear the froggies croon.

One of the smaller, ephemeral pools had two large egg masses (probably those of spotted salamanders):

In a nearby, smaller pool, I found a smaller egg mass, which I briefly cupped in my hand so I could take a photo:

Isn't that a beautiful blob? I plan to return to the area to check out the larvae in the near future, and hope to check up on the pool periodically.

After visiting the pools, I turned over some rotten logs to see what sort of creepy crawlies I might espy- anyone making a comparison between creepy crawlies under a rotten log and GOP politicians is flirting with a lifetime ban... the critters that live under rotten logs live their moist, cool lives peacefully, loving in their moist, cool fashion, and raising their moist, cool families in their moist, cool milieu and would probably vote Green Party if they had suffrage. Some of these creepy crawlies are downright beautiful:

This sweet little beast is an eastern red-backed salamander, these little lungless salamanders lay eggs which hatch out little fully-formed salamanders terrestrially. Fret not, I placed the beautiful beastie back in its under-log home after taking the photo.

To answer the question that you are no doubt asking yourself... yes, I am pretty much a precocious, slightly demented eight-year old boy. The only difference (besides lacking the big blonde 'fro) is that I'm able to deal with a much bigger log. Yeah, the mind of the male doesn't change, but the size of the wood does.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Herp Walk

To avoid becoming despondent, the wise often seek the solitude of the forest, therefore I will be taking this lovely day (temps expected to reach the 70's) to undertake my annual vernal pool pilgrimage. Yeah, you get depressed when banksters aren't made to perp-walk, so lift your spirits with a herp walk.

Mud boots? Check
Oceans of Kansas Tylosaurus proriger T-shirt (gotta show those allegiances!)? Check
Water bottle? Check
Kick-ass camera? D'OH!!! Never did pick one up... I'll never be "Thunder" at this rate...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Schedule's Been Topsy-Turvy

One of my co-workers asked to do a switcheroo with our hours this weekend, so I found myself doing graveyard shifts. The good thing about graveyard shifts is that the workplace is quiet and peaceful, the bad thing is that they really throw a monkey wrench into one's "internal clock". Yesterday was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny, so I didn't want to sleep the whole day away. I made a point of waking up in the early afternoon and spent a couple of hours sitting on the front stoop chatting with neighbors, re-reading Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius and The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim , while drinking homemade limoncello from an old mustard jar (insert "approach to al-Mustardsim" joke...). I figured that I could get snockered, and sleep it off for a few hours before getting up for work (that's how I roll, baby). Sheesh, this sounds like the song Friday, if it were sung by a drunken pseudo/quasi-intellectual.

It's been a quiet night, and the local college radio station I listen to has been playing some fantastic stuff (check out the archives, people). I'd never heard of the band Return to Mono, but the song Framebreaker made an impression on my befuddled "it's 2:45 AM and you haven't got yerba mate" brain:

I've got just an hour and a half to go before I can hit the sack. This evening, I'm planning on hitting Tagine on 9th Ave. to see Secret Science Club goddess Dorian Devins (one of a pantheon of two!) perform some standards. I think I'll need a pot of strong Moroccan coffee to keep me awake.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Too Early to Say How Pissed I'll Be

So, it seems a budget compromise was reached, and there will be no government shutdown. Yeah, disaster was averted, largely because even GOP House members saw that they wouldn't be helped by the bad "optics" of Armed Services Members not getting paid (though they would have tried to pin the blame on the President- likely successfully). Thom Hartmann's essay on Jude Wanniski's "Two Santa Claus" theory is a must-read (the last sentence, though, is guaranteed to piss you off, in light of the last three years of capitulation) look at supply-side economics and the "borrow and spend" policies of the GOP- party of fiscal responsibility, my ass!

Now, with a hated black Democratic president in the White House, the GOP has a newfound love affair with "fiscal responsibility" and "deficit reduction". Far from playing the "Two Santa Claus" game, they are playing the "Two Grinches" game- they pursue policies that hurt the poor, while cutting programs that ameliorate the ensuing suffering. Yeah, they're stuffing the Christmas tree up the chimney, all the while blaming slutty little Cindy Lou Ho for her profligate Jezebelian ways. Meanwhile, the GOP is also making sure that those pesky Loraxes (Loraces?) won't get in the way of the Oncelers who pull their strings.

It's the wee hours of the morning, so I haven't heard much analysis of what was in the final compromise budget bill. I know I'll be pissed off, but I don't know whether it'll be "blazing bonfire" mad, or "Mt. St. Helens" mad.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Glaring Omission in My Last Post?

So, I could omit that there was an omission in my last post so glaring that it would make the... uh... glare of a spot light focused on my glabrous pate seem dim by comparison. I could do that, or I could write another post about the omitted subject and no one would be the wiser.

In my last post, I addressed the inclusion of gay themes in a particular video game, but I didn't address the role of female gamers and attempts to cater to their tastes. Well, as the modern "gaming" culture is an outgrowth of the "Speculative Fiction" culture, I'm gonna geek out and give a synopsis of the role of female authors in said culture.

"Pulp" fiction was largely written by men, and men were the target audience. Most of the "weird" fiction dealt with straight, white male fantasies. Such hypermasculine, oversexed fictional characters as John Carter, Warlord of Mars, Conan of Cimmeria, and Big Bad Bald Bastard play to patriarchal models of relations between the sexes- the men are powerful and competent, the "good" women are adoring and submissive. Powerful women exist, but they tend to be evil- this particular cover (the illustration done by a woman, by the way) being a prime example of the "damsel in distress/wicked seductress" dichotomy at work.

The pulps weren't completely given over to male domination- C.L. Moore (it's telling that she used her initials to obscure her gender in order to get her foot in the door, an unfortunate expedient that continues to this day) wrote a series of "Weird Tales" about the female ruler of a fief in Dark Ages France. These tales (collected in a recently released book), with their themes of existential threats and subtle horrors, are a refreshing break from the usual "hack and slash, blood and thunder" pulp fantasy. As an aside, the "Jirel of Joiry" tales would make a great companion to Clark Ashton Smith's "Weird Medieval France" Averoigne story-cycle.

Another female author with an ambiguous name who achieved great success as both fiction-and-screenwriter was Leigh Brackett. Her fiction ranged from Chandleresque detective fiction to space opera- as did her screenwriting, she worked on the scripts for film noir masteriece The Big Sleep (with William Faulkner... the bit in the Wiki entry about Howard Hawks' request to get Brackett on board is hilarious) and obscure space opera The Empire Strikes Back.

Andre Norton, who published her first novel in the 30's, was another author who adopted a "gender neutral" pseudonym in order to slip under the radar of male prejudices and become a one woman industry. Norton's 1963 novel Witch World follows the "modern man travels to exotic otherworld" tradition in fantastic fiction and subverts it slightly- while her modern male protagonist is clearly a competent "man of action", he respects the authority of the matriarchal society in which he finds himself. The subsequent books in the series deal with a multigenerational "history" of this society.

Also published in 1963, Margaret St. Clair's Sign of the Labrys (which I, sadly, have never read) bore this blurb on the back cover... a blurb which embarasses me, 47 years after it was written, even though I didn't write it, and wasn't even born when it was:

Yeah, that was a promotional blurb written in 1963... you can't blame C.L. Moore and Andre Norton for employing pseudonyms to avoid this sort of condescending jackassdery, and you can't blame Alice Bradley Sheldon for subsequently writing under the pseudonym "James Tiptree, Jr."- when you want to write about brightness falling from the air you don't want some callus-knuckled bonehead prattling on about "moon-pulls and earth-tides".

Marion Zimmer Bradley, who published since the 1950's, seems to have been spared embarassing treatment from condescending male publishers and marketing flacks. Her masterpiece, The Mists of Avalon, explored Arthurian legend from a feminist and neo-pagan perspective, and is an essential addition to the Matter of Britain canon.

The other root of "Gamer" culture, besides Speculative Fiction, is (oddly enough) gaming, specifically simulation games originally used as a military training exercise. In the early 70's two Midwestern guys named Jeff and Gary developed a Medieval warfare simulation involving miniature figures, Gary later added "fantasy" elements to it, and a guy named Dave adopted the system for "single-figure" play, in which each figure represented an individual, rather than a unit. This led to a craze in which individuals rolled oddly shaped dice and learned a recondite jargon, and "role-playing" simulation games of all sorts (including some truly unusual ones) were developed. While stupid, fundamentalist types were horrified and advocated book burning (they always do), smart, creative people adapted this type of gameplay for computers. The rise of roleplaying games also led to a boom in fantasy and science fiction literature and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history- like it or not, if you're a member of Western society, you're living in Gary's world.

The role-playing game (RPG) hobby, like the wargaming hobby before it, was largely indulged in by an overwhelmingly male fan base. As the whiny, grammatically-challenged brat mentioned in the Metaglactic Llamas post put it:

Its ridiculous that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamer, when in the past I would only have to say fans

From the outset, attempts were made to get women interested in the hobby (some of them pretty damn ham-fisted **WARNING:PDF** by today's standards). Interestingly, even though the hobby was thought to appeal to an overwhelmingly male base, the first major work of "gaming fiction" was Quag Keep, written by the venerable Andre Norton after tossing some polyhedrals with Gary and crew.

The computer RPG industry is now a multi-million dollar business, but the customer base is still perceived to be largely male. As our whiny brat put it:

The straight male demographic is a huge demographic. I’d put the number that over 80% of RPG fans are males. They all like different things, this is a group numbering millions. Now you also have another group, the homosexual group, I’d say generously, that this group represents 5%.

Of course, what he fails to notice is that an industry grows by expanding its customer base... if 80% of the customers are male, efforts to appeal to female gamers are needed to expand the industry. A publicly-traded company which based its business model on ignoring over 50% of the potential customer base would quickly have problems with the shareholders. Of course the situation of the female gamer has become better as the industry has expanded, but it's far from perfect. Even as the "roles" for female characters in the games have expanded and improved, the imagery is still largely informed by the desires of heterosexual males- leading to such ridiculous tropes as the low-cut suit of armor. For contrast, here are the portraits I linked to in my last post from Battle for Wesnoth (honestly, I'm not involved with the project, I just enjoy the game)- not only are the women depicted in the portraits fully clothed, some of them are middle-aged. SCANDALOUS!!!

There is a place in "gamer" culture for women (especially now, when J.K. Rowling strides the fantastic landscape like a 900 Foot Jesus), and as women become more involved with the industry, the presentation of women in games will improve. Also, as the "gaming" population gets older (and, hopefully, more mature) and elderly persons join the "gamer" ranks, the depiction of older characters will improve.

Personally, I am holding out for a shooter game in which the player takes on the role of Baba Yaga, fighting Nazi occultists and their undead minions- think about the cool power-ups that game could feature, like a chicken footed hut sitting in for the mecha of science-fiction gaming...

Postscript: In my list of oversexed male characters in the genre, I could definitely mention Captain Kirk of the original Star Trek. I like to think that, while the series featured him wooing sexy green alien ladies, that, had the special effects been better, the series would have featured him banging all sorts of aliens, even the natives of a bug planet:

Spock: Captain, your attempts to copulate with that eight-foot insectoid were highly illogical.
Kirk: Spock... I... have a... need!
Spock: Captain, you do not even know the function of the orifice into which you inserted your uritogenital appendage.

Damn, reduced to writing fanfic...

Second Postscript: Another fantastic female author of speculative fiction who chose to write under an ambiguous name is C.J. Cherryh. Her "Morgaine" novels (check out the awful cover illustration in the jpeg) are a science-fiction series masquerading as a fantasy epic. Her main character, a dedicated woman who is forced to perform ruthless acts to prevent a universe-spanning catastrophe, is an unforgettable creation, and the books explore the role of realpolitik, devotion to a cause, and personal loyalty in a way that most "doorstop" post-Tolkien dreck could never even approach.

Final Postscript: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the whimsical fantastic art of Bethany Spencer... how about a series of video games based on her work? Pissed-Off Pixies, anyone?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

D00D! My Character is GAY!!!

Nod of the naked noggin to the proprietor of the awesomely named Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time blog.

I haven't played Dragon Age (probably couldn't on the antiquated Binary Numbers Mill I use), but my cousin told me about a co-worker who had really gotten into the game. This co-worker told my cousin, "This game is great, it really takes me back to junior high school when I was tossing 20-siders (VMR?)... it really captures that sense of wonder." The guy goes on enjoying his game until one day he comes to work with a look on his face similar to one worn by someone who's confronted by a faint, though bad, smell. My cousin asked him what was wrong, and the guy answered, "Dude, my character is gay." It seems like his in-game choices led to a cut scene in which the character he was playing in the game ended up boning an elf-dude- "I was just trying to be nice, I didn't know what the end result would be!" Yeah, the quest for the magic "Spear of Penetration" was successful, though unanticipated. My cousin just told him to get over it, but I probably would have told him, "Hey, the character didn't choose to be gay, he was generated that way, and besides, isn't an unexpected twist in a game a good thing?"

My cousin's co-worker, being a grownup, got over this little in-game surprise, but others weren't so sanguine about the inclusion of gay romance options in the sequel to the game. Talk about whiny, this guy whines in a public forum because his pixilated proxy probably developed a taste for elf cock! The Metagalactic Llamas have a good overview of the exchange between the forum member and Dave Gaider, a writer for Bioware, the publishers of the Dragon Age games. The two bits I want to highlight are:

I don't see how Gaider's reply was in anyway blasting my arguments. In fact, what Gaider basically said was that "You're right. Dragon Age 2 was not made specifically for "straight male gamer" in mind. It was made to be all-inclusive." And that was exactly the accusation I was making. I'm not here to debate the moralities of homosexuality, I personally find it to be digusting but others will feel different, that isn't the point of this thread.


As a side note, I'd like to say that I'm not at all surprised by all the pro-homosexuality comments and that I expected even more. 1% of a million is still 10000. No doubt you'd have a many of them trying to protect their "privilege" in Dragon Age 2.

Those who agree with me will likely do so silently for fear of being called homophobic by what can only be called a mob as even Gaider pointed out or just won't bother out of feeling of pointlessness like I once did. But to those people, I encourage you to post as well and not let your concerns be silenced as some would like.

First of all, I love the fact that this d00d is "accusing" a writer of being all-inclusive. Uh, typically people are accused of bad things- would this guy accuse someone of being generous? Sheesh...

More importantly, here is a guy playing a computer game, then typing in English on a computer bulletin board, complaining about a portrayal of a heroic gay man. Hasn't this creep ever heard of Alan Turing? Turing was a genius whose work in cryptanalysis led to the development of a device (an elaboration of a Polish predecessor) used to thwart the encryption of the German Enigma and Lorenz encoding machines- efforts crucial to the Allied victory in WW2. After the war, Turing was involved in the design of early computers. Turing's paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence introduced the concept of the Turing test, an early exploration of "Artificial Intelligence". A summary of the Turing test is- could a computer be developed which a remote observer would not be able to distinguish from a human in an "imitation game"? Turing revealed to police investigating a burglary of his home that he had been involved in a sexual relationship with one of the burglars and was charged with gross indecency. He was given a "choice" between imprisonment and "chemical castration" through estrogen injections. He died of cyanide poisoning in 1954- his death was ruled a suicide.

So, a straight guy complains that "gay interests" are being catered to in a computer game which utilizes "Artificial Intelligence" based to a large extent on the theoretical work of a brilliant and heroic gay man who was hounded to martyrdom by cowardly and stupid bigots. Yeah, you're not being catered to, while you are enjoying the fruits of the labor of a guy you'd consider a "fruit". Cry me a fucking river, kid! You whine about "fear of being called homophobic", but where's the magistrate, whose ass you may very well have saved ten years prior, wanting to fuck with your brain chemistry?

Oh, and by the way, the jerkoff really shouldn't be slagging off on gays when his hobby is largely informed by a gay aesthetic... I mean, this guy wouldn't be out of place in a Tom of Finland poster.

For the record, when I geek out, I geek out on the free turn-based strategy game Battle for Wesnoth. Besides being a well-designed game, it's gorgeous to look at and the character portraits are not designed to give anyone body image issues. Hell, even the hot elf chicks (is this term copyrighted?) are sensibly dressed. Frank Frazzetta would be rolling in his grave!

POSTSCRIPT: Re-reading this post, it's guaranteed to result in some interesting traffic- lotta "triggering" search criteria to be found here...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Now, About the Food...

Regarding the couscous party, Aunt Snow in the comments exhorted me to talk about "the food". Well, here comes the food post.

I'm going to preface my description of the food by noting, with some relief, that I had invited a young lady that I'd just met in a local pub to the party, but she had a prior family commitment and couldn't come. You ask yourself, "Why was he relieved that an attractive girl couldn't make this party?" Well, when I mentioned couscous, she said, "Couscous is easy to make, just get a box of Near East couscous, and add it to boiling water!" Yeah, and making risotto is just like boiling up some Uncle Ben's. If I had brought this beautiful barbarian to a Moroccan's apartment, both of us would have been asked to leave the premises.* I'm not knocking Near East couscous- I have two boxes in the kitchen, but it's a pre-steamed convenience product, not the sort of thing that a proud North African would serve to company at a dinner party.

The authentic couscous is sprinkled with salted water, then caressed like a lover with oiled hands so the water and oil are evenly distributed throughout the pasta and there are no large clumps. Then the couscous is placed on a cheesecloth to "rest" for a while. The couscous is then placed in the top portion of a steamer and steamed over a stew for about an hour. When it is done cooking, it is once again caressed with oiled hands to break up any clumps. My friend started the process of "caressing" the couscous the night before the dinner party.

My friend used lamb shoulder as the base of his stew, and added chickpeas and winter vegetables- cabbage, butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and onions- to the mix. Toward the end of the cooking process, he added tomatoes and two large jalapeños to the stew for added flavor. In a haute cuisine touch, he braised additional lamb shoulder to serve with the couscous.

To serve the couscous dish, he mounded the pasta on a plate the diameter of a sewer cap, and made a depression in the mound, like the caldera of a volcano. He placed the braised lamb in the "caldera", and distributed the vegetables around the mound. A Bronx-Irish friend looked at the cabbage, potatoes, and lamb and joked, "I thought this was going to be Moroccan food, not Irish food!" Bowls of the stock from the stew were placed strategically around the table so diners could moisten their couscous to their preference. Additionally, a large bowl of dark-brown caramelized onions and small bowls of harissa were available so diners could add them to the couscous to their individual tastes. Sprigs of cilantro were also on hand, to be added according to one's preference.

The typical Moroccan way to serve couscous is to place the serving dish in the middle of the table and the diners all have their "station" from which to grab from the main dish. This being hard to pull off in a NYC apartment without a large dining room, we all had individual plates. Diners could pick and choose which vegetables they wished to place on their plates (I glommed both jalapeños, and concentrated on my beloved parsnips), so even picky eaters would be well served by this presentation style.

* I must have mellowed considerably in my dotage- a few years ago, I probably would have yelled at the girl for being such a proud, unapologetic couscous n00b. I am reminded of a fundraising event a few years back which featured a display of artworks by young artists from Florence, and an array of olives, cheeses, and other fine Italian food products. Contemplating a round of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese the size of a tire, I turned to my friend Salvatore and said, "Hey, I wonder what the street value of this cheese is- it's gotta be about $800." A young lady overhearing me said, "Parmesan cheese is about $3.99 per pound in the supermarket." At that, I yelled at her, "This isn't Kraft, baby! This is the real deal, how dare you disrespect the cheese!" Oddly enough, I didn't go home with her.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lackluster Post-Lecture Recap

I knew I would get my ass kicked my the Metropolitan Transit Authority last night. I woke up at 4:30 PM after pulling an all-nighter, and had a couple of beers with the landlord and his uncle, who are making renovations in the house. I got to the Woodlawn "4" station and had a s-l-o-w ride to 14th St (the train, normally an express, was making all local stops), where I transfered to a slow "R" train. By the time I got to the beautiful Bell House, I had missed the theremin performance, and the first five minutes of the lecture by neurobiologist (and economist) Paul Glimcher. The event was completely packed- I had to stand in the vestibule outside the performance space, so my recap will be somewhat half-assed.

Much of the lecture dealt with the research techniques employed in Dr. Glimcher's lab- one particular experiment featured monkeys presented with a set of three lights- a central light which would get the monkey's attention, followed by a light to the left or right. If the monkey looked at the left-hand light, it would receive a small, constant amount of fruit juice, while a glance at the right-hand light would provide either no juice or a big juice payoff. The experiment was modeled on the work or shirk problem of game theory. A similar experiment was performed with human subjects- the pattern of choices between a safe payoff and a gamble was similar between human subjects and monkeys. In another experiment with monkeys, an added "bonus" was given along with the juice reward- the bonus took the form of pictures of monkeys shown while the juice reward was given. Pictures of high-status monkeys were valued more than pictures of low-status monkeys. Pictures of female monkeys weren't valued more than pictures of male monkeys until one of the researches joked, "You've got the female monkeys backwards!" Pictures of the hindquarters of female monkeys were highly valued by the male monkey subjects. Yeah, monkeys dig "porn".

I lost the thread of the lecture a couple of times becuase I was outside the auditorium looking in (damn MTA construction schedules!). I wish my recap were better, folks. As a possible consolation, here's a good interview with Dr Glimcher, and a video of one of his lectures.

I did make it a big beer night after the lecture ended, so that was some compensation for the godawful trip down and the half-perceived lecture. I also had a long reminiscence with a couple of folks about the ***FUTURE BLOG POST ABOUT PAST EVENT***

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Déjà Vu All Over Again...

Today will be eerily similar to yesterday- a graveyard shift followed by a trip to Brooklyn, this time for the monthly Secret Science Club lecture (with added theremin performance!) at the gorgeous Bell House near the not-so-gorgeous Gowanus Canal. Last night, I got my ass kicked by the subway system- although I was able to take the 4 Train from the Bronx to Borough Hall in Brooklyn, the train made all local stops (it's usually an express train from 125th St to 14th St in Manhattan). Getting back took an hour and forty five minutes and three friggin' trains due to a police investigation on the Lexington Avenue Line (4,5, and 6 Trains). GRRR... I had to take the 3 to 96th St, change to the 2, then transfer to a woefully late 4 Train at 149th St in the South Bronx. I must've waited at 149th for half-an-hour, along with a couple of hundred of my closest, bestest new friends. Then I had to drive to work- I was born beautiful, not rich.

When I get home, I'm going to "press my ears" until the mid-afternoon (although my landlord is renovating the upstairs apartments so there will be noise- I've never been a deep sleeper but I think I could sleep through just about anything, even a neighbor running a dehumidifier 24/7, these days), then get on a poky, though hopefully undisrupted-by-incidents 4 Train to Brooklyn. Thankfully, I don't have to do diddly-squat on Monday morning, so I can make it a Big Beer Night if I don't nod off into my suds.