Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Morning Cartoons from a Cooler Alternate Universe

This post was inspired by a post by M. Bouffant which was clear cut bait for Smut Clyde (or his alter ego Sm*t Cl*de) and Zombie Rotten McDonald.

I can't see a post referencing Harvester of Eyes without making a reference to Chun the Unvoidable. While poking around on the intert00bz looking for a better reference to "Chun", I found a trailer for an alternative-universe Saturday morning cartoon which rivals The Wacky Adventures of Maal Dweb and Saturday Morning Watchmen in awesomeness. I present to you the opening credits for Saturday morning cartoon version of Jack Vance's The Dying Earth:

OMGOMGOMGOMG!!! I'm a huge fan of Jack Vance as long-time readers of my blog will know. While the video doesn't always conform my visualizations of the action in the stories (I've always pictured Chun the Unavoidable as a hulking, hunched, rather beetle-like brute), I love it nonetheless... what kind of fanboy's heart wouldn't beat just a little faster to see "The Excellent Prismatic Spray" depicted in a video? As a bonus, I found a multi-part interview with Jack Vance on teh Y00T00B.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mitt Blown to Smithereens by his Secret Weapon

A few months ago, Mitt Romney supporters claimed that Ann Romney would be Mitt's secret weapon. I had fun with the concept in a blog post written in the early days, when the wheels were just starting to come off the Ann Romney express. The recent conventional wisdom is that Ann has failed to deliver the goods, but her most recent gaffe just might spell curtains for Mitt's campaign. Here's Mitt's secret weapon, detonating on Mitt's ass as if it were Bikini Atoll:

While that tiny clip is out of context, the full video doesn't provide any exculpatory evidence. Mitt has been on the ropes ever since his lack-luster Republican National Convention appearance... I can't imagine that he could have expected that the knockout punch would have come from his wife.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Paleolithic Hipsters

In the midst of an epic thread at Snark Central regarding butt-chugging, tsam (who should have a blog of his own- hint hint) brought up the topic of hipsters and their consumption patterns:

You can still get Tab?

Yeah–it’s all the hipster rage!

I imagine that, when Tab was introduced in 1963, that, being a product from a mega-corporation, it wasn't embraced by the hipsters. "What? Hipsters in 1963?" you say... Well, I have to tell you that hipsters have been with us since the Stone Age. Here's some documentary (hey, it's as scientifically accurate as The Creation Museum) proof:

There were hipster troglodytes (primitive, but they ain't no squares) moving into the caves and causing the rents to rise... Hipster erectus, if you will.

They were into opposable thumbs before they were cool.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Supermassive Secret Science Club- Post Lecture Recap

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Caleb Scarf, director of Columbia University's Astrobiology Center and author of Scientific American's "Life, Unbounded" blog. Dr Scharf spoke to a packed house, standing room only.

In some respects, the lecture, which touched on topics in Dr Scharf's book Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos, covered ground covered previous lectures by doctors Charles Liu and David Hogg. That being said, it was another tour de force, accompanied by some beautiful astronomical images.

Dr Scharf opened his talk with the assertion that science involves the telling of stories using algebra and images, as well as words. The particular story he was telling tonight began in the 18th Century. Black holes were a conception of the human mind before we knew they were possible- in 1783 John Michell, an English clergyman and scientist (now, that's a combination that is sadly improbable these days) conceived of objects so massive that light could not escape from them. In Michell's words:

"If the semi-diameter of a sphere of the same density as the Sun were to exceed that of the Sun in the proportion of 500 to 1, a body falling from an infinite height towards it would have acquired at its surface greater velocity than that of light, and consequently supposing light to be attracted by the same force in proportion to its vis inertiae (inertial mass), with other bodies, all light emitted from such a body would be made to return towards it by its own proper gravity."

Tragically, Michell's idea was forgotten for over a century. In the early 20th century, some guy named Al theorized that space was stiff, but flexible, and could be distorted by mass (here's a good visual representation). The speed of light in a vacuum is a constant. Measurements of distance, length and time are flexible depending on the position of the observer. Gravity poses a problem because it is dependent on distance, it is "stitched into the fabric of space itself". To sum this up, gravity is a consequence of the structure of space, which is distorted by mass.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity provides a mathematical framework, but no details. While serving on the Russian front in WW1, physicist Karl Schwartzchild sent two letters to Einstein. In one of these letters, Schwartzchild posited that a large mass could be shrunk to such a great density that it would stress space until nothing could escape its gravitational attraction- the Schwartzchild metric describes this gravitational field. Even light would be "stretched to nothingness" by such a strong "pull". In the vicinity of such an object, the curvature of space would be extremely distorted- expressed jocularly, the universe can "make holes in itself". The edge of this zone of distortion is known as the Event Horizon. While even light would not escape the gravity of a black hole, light would bend around the event horizon.

Einstein was stymied by the sheer ridiculousness of the notion of black holes- could nature compact matter until it popped out of normal existence? If the Earth were compressed into a 9mm ball, it would develop an event horizon. A small black hole, ten times the mass of our sun, would be 37 miles across, about the diameter of London's M25 Motorway, which is another inescapable object. A black hole with a mass equal to four million suns would have an event horizon the size of Mercury's orbit. With a mass equal to that of a billion suns, the event horizon would stretch to the distance of Neptune's orbit.

With improved methods of observation, we now know that black holes are real, and that every known galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its center. These supermassive black holes were discovered by observation of the gravitational effects they had on objects around them. Matter falling into black holes accelerates to rapid speeds and releases a vast amount of energy. The process is a very noisy one, the matter "gurgles" like water flowing down a drain, 57 octaves below the threshold of human hearing. Four percent of known galaxies have two supermassive black holes at their center, but these will probably merge into one black hole.

The energy released by the matter falling into a black hole is "turbocharged" by the spin of the black hole, which drags the fabric of space around it. The matter falling into a black hole emits light and subatomic particles (here are some nice conceptual images). Black holes also carry an electrical charge. The energy producing, light emitting region surrounding a black hole is known as the ergosphere. Black holes produce the most efficient conversion of matter to energy known to us, fifty times the efficiency of fusion.

Radio telescopes are used to "map out" electrons ejected from the vicinity of black holes. The Hubble space telescope has provided beautiful images, which were a highlight of Dr Scharf's lecture. Galaxy M87 has a huge "plume" emitting black hole in its center. The ejecta of Centaurus A's nucleus are particularly dramatic. The black hole at the center of Cignus A is a billion times the mass of the sun (but is compacted to a diameter smaller than that of our solar system), and ejects particles to a distance of 50,000 light years. Dr Scharf likened it to a bacterium blowing up a balloon that could envelop Brooklyn.

Perseus A is a galaxy "cohabiting" a galaxy cluster- between the galaxies in the cluster there is a tenuous "atmosphere" of hot gas. As the gas cools, it emits radiation. The Chandra X-ray Observatory has produced gorgeous images of Perseus A and its gas "envelop". The gas is not uniform in structure- ejecta from the black hole forms "bubbles", which are the dark patches in the linked image. These bubbles float outward and form ripples. While, in a typical situation, hot clouds of gas can cool and condense to form stars, the ripples produced by the black hole bubbles inhibit the formation of new stars.

Supermassive black holes are closely linked to the nature of galaxies. The ratio of mass between the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy and the cluster of stars around it tends to be 1:1000. The Milky Way seems to be an exception, it is a "bulgeless" galaxy, so it is difficult to determine the mass ratio between our black hole and our galaxy. Supermassive black holes affect the nature of galaxies, because they affect the formation of stars, which produce the elements that form planets, chemistry, and life. Galaxies which are still producing large amounts of stars are known as blue galaxies, they are still making stars- big, hot, young, short-lived stars. Red galaxies are not making new stars, which means they aren't making planets. Between the blue and red galaxies are green valley galaxies, among which is our Milky Way. Star formation in green valley galaxies is slow, the process is probably shutting down. The supermassive black holes in the centers of green valley galaxies tend to be the "busiest" of all black holes. The black hole at the center of the Milky Way has formed two enormous bubbles, as Dr Scharf quipped, "We don't live in a quiet place."

Dr Scharf ended his lecture with the assertion that black holes are not a peripheral subject, but a vital piece in the disposition of our universe.

Here's a link for an animation of how a black hole effects the development of galaxy 4c41.17, which is 12 billion light years from Earth (so the image is of a "teenaged" galaxy, 12 billion years before present), the link contains a bonus interview with Dr Scharf.

Dr Scharf also mentioned that, in the next 12-18 months, a gas cloud will "fall" into a black hole in the Milky Way, providing a unique opportunity to observe the process.

Once again, the Secret Science Club lecture was a rousingly entertaining, informative affair. As a side note, some bastard in the audience was interviewed by a reporter from the Associated Press. I'll post a link when the article pops up in the news.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Analysis

A few months ago, I wrote about having to submit to a background check in order to continue in my volunteer coaching gig. A drug test is part of the background check process for the organization I volunteer for. Having a big bladder, I held out on the piss test for a while- work has been busy lately, and, like I said, I can "hold my water" like a camel.

Today was the day I could get my ass to the testing center, which is in the vicinity of Union Square. It being a gorgeous September day (September is perhaps the nicest month, weather-wise, in New York State, though May gives it a run for the money), I decided to take a nice walk to Woodlawn station in the Bronx, which is the end of the 4 line, which, along with the 5 train, makes up Manhattan's Lexington Avenue express. Because I knew I had to piss when I got to my destination, I stopped at Artuso's for a tea biscuit and a small coffee. In the interest of full disclosure, I went to high school with the owner. That being said, he's a good guy and he makes some damn fine pastries. While walking past Van Cortlandt Park, I saw a pile of junk by a car bearing a prominent sign saying, "REPENT, JUDGEMENT DAY IS AT HAND". For once, I agreed with this- I was going for a piss test, "judgement day" would probably come in six-to-ten days, as far as my pee was concerned. All the while, I was laughing at the ridiculousness of my errand- the sole reason for my trip to Manhattan was to take a piss- something that I could have done at home, or at any of the restaurants I passed on my walk to the subway, or behind a bush in the park (the area of the park abutting Jerome Avenue is well-wooded).

When I finally got to the testing center, I knew I'd be able to deliver the necessary testing materials, so to speak. I submitted my paperwork and waited anxiously for my name to be called. When my name was called, I proceeded to "Room 1" and waited for the charming lab tech to handle things. She came in and handed me a plastic cup which looked to hold about eight ounces. I took one look at the cup and thought, "What the fuck is this? I piss like a goddam racehorse, I could use a bigger cup... at least something I could dangle my ding-a-ling in when I'm whizzing away. Did Mike Fucking Bloomberg limit the size of piss cups?"

Seriously, it's a pain in the ass when you know you can piss a pint, but you only have a small cup- I basically stood over the bowl and let fly, and, at an appropriate seeming time, moved the cup to intercept the stream. Of course, the goddam cup didn't have a handle- I mean, what the fuck? These people handle thousands of piss tests, you'd think they'd have a nice long handle for their piss cups (and, in interests of "quality control" or "security", you can't flush the toilet or wash your hands until you hand over the cup- I wouldn't have minded the technician watching me handle my business, or holding my dingus and aiming during the process, for that matter). Really, it was a minor pain-in-the-ass but a major turn-off trying to piss in a small cup that you're holding in your hand, knowing full well that you could overfill the damn thing if you're not careful. If I have to do it again, I'll bring a nice wide-mouthed, thirty-two ounce jar to piss in, then transfer the "liquid gold" to the sub-par lab cup.

Anyway, the whole process took a few minutes, and I was able to wash up after handing over the cup. No real mess was involved... I really just wanted to cheap-shot Mayor Bloomberg (ain't I a pisser?). After the test, I stopped at a nearby Turkish restaurant and got an order of "cigarette" börek filled with feta and parsley (sadly, they had no nettle börek) and a kofta kebab sandwich, all washed down with a cup of Turkish coffee as thick and gritty as mud (and super delicious). The day being gorgeous, I decided to walk to Grand Central and hit a couple of bookstores before catching the 4 train home. When I got to 32nd St, I stopped at Mandoo Bar in Little Korea to get a small plate of Korean dumplings to tide me over for the last ten blocks.

It was a weird day, best summed up as "go for the piss, stay for the shopping and dining". That's my analysis... what's your analysis?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reflections on Upper Class Marriage

This post is inspired by two of my favorite humorists. The first of these humorists, Substance McGravitas left a comment on my blog regarding Ann Romney:

Also Ann Romney internal dialogue: "Is marrying scum so bad? I got a pony!"

The second of these humorists, Ogden Nash, was master of the short form poem:

Reflections on Ice-Breaking
by Ogden Nash

Is Dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.

Inspired by these two rapscallions, I hereby present, Reflections on Upper Class Marriage:

Wed a phony,
Get a pony.

Please, post any similar couplets that come to mind in the comments. Hilarity is sure to ensue.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Won't Somebody Pity the Plutocrat's Poor Wife?

These days, it's not easy being the wife of a plutocratic sociopath who is seeking a political office. Consider the plight of Ann Romney...

Ann's husband Willard has had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. To compound matters, this was supposed to be the week of Mitt's glorious reboot. Mitt's reboot week was derailed by a video surreptitiously recorded at a $50,000/head fundraiser, no doubt by a scurrilous, low-class server. Just imagine, a perfidious prole had the temerity to violate the confidentiality of quiet rooms, the Seal of the Boardroom as sacred as that of the confessional! Poor Ann had to take time from her busy schedule to inform the slack-jawed troglodytes that Mitt doesn't hold them in the disdain that they so truly deserve.

To compound matters, even though she'd never admit it in public, Ann can't be happy about her husband's lack of confidence in her appeal to human beings. One can't let a trivial thing like self-respect crack one's "Stepford wife" facade. If she can convince herself that Mitt doesn't disdain the poor, she can convince herself that Mitt doesn't disdain her.

As if things weren't bad enough, she also had to chide other Republicans, who should feel lucky that one so one Mighty and Strong would deign to run under the mantle of the GOP. Here's a word of advice to stupid Peggy Noonan- just drink and drink until Mitt becomes indistinguishable from the Sainted Ronnie Raygun. You owe it to Mitt, you antiquated hack.

If the media and the GOP establishment don't knuckle under and kiss Mitt's ass in public, Queen Ann's revenge is not going to be pretty. Already, things are building to a head- she's got so much smoke billowing out of her nostrils that she forced a charter plane to land prematurely.

POSTSCRIPT: I don't know what the hell is up with Blogger- I actually had paragraph breaks in this post. To get an idea of what the post is supposed to look like, it's cross-posted at Rumproast.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hating the New Interface

Just about five months after I rejected the new "Blogger" interface, the new Blogger interface is back. C'mon, Google, why the hell are you doing this to me? If it wasn't bad enough to have this ugly interface, I attempted to add another blogger to my blogroll, and the entire "front page" was altered. The look was completely different... it was like I was a newbie on my own goddamn blog. To compound matters, MY BELOVED BLOGROLL WAS MISSING!!! All my lovely compatriots, in limbo. My beautiful bloggerhood, leveled. I was able to get the old look, and my blogroll, back, but I'm composing this post on an ugly interface, a bland white screen with some orange "buttons"... and I actually dig the orange-and-white color scheme most of the time. So, now I have to figure out how to get back the old interface or, barring that, figuring out how to add to my blogroll without muffing up the "front page". I think I shall now throw a tantrum.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hark, Ye Scurvy Dogs!

Today be Talk Like a Pirate Day, mateys... ah, crap, I'm constitutionally inclined not to write an entire post like this, and I wouldn't inflict it on my dear readers. Yar, that be what comment sections are for, ya scurvy blighters!

Ever since I was a young boy, I've dug pirates. Maybe the appeal the swagger, the tattered finery, that peer into a dangerous world from a safe place (much like the typical child's fascination with dinosaurs). As I've grown older, I've learned that the pirates of YAR!!! yore actually had some really progressive ideas.

Many of the pirate crews operating during the "Golden Age of Piracy" were run in a shockingly democratic manner. Potential members of these pirate ships signed a document known as Articles of Agreement before signing on. The articles spelled out the division of loot, proper conduct, and adjudication of disputes. Disputes were typically adjudicated by juries. In cases where a crew member were injured, a bounty was paid, a precursor to modern Workers' Compensation insurance. The compensation for the loss of the use of a body part is remarkably like the modern Scheduled Loss of Use, in which a percentage of the use of a body part (determined through a medical examination) corresponds to a dollar amount equal to a number of weeks' salary.

The officers of a pirate ship were not backed by the force of an autocratic government, so life on a pirate ship was typically better than life on a naval vessel, where the rum, sodomy, and the lash model, though perhaps exaggerated, held sway.

Even the depredations of the pirates weren't all that bad compared to the near constant state of war that characterized their era. They were thieving cutthroats in a age of thieving cutthroats. They were bit players in an age of unconstrained plunder. As "Black" Sam Bellamy is reputed to have articulated (hat tip to Thom Hartmann):

Damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They villify us, the Scoundrels do, when there is only this Difference: They rob the Poor under the Cover of Law, forsooth, and we plunder the Rich under the Protection of our own Courage.

Now, that is a quote that is as appropriate in this day and age as it was when Bellamy uttered it. Maybe we don't need "Talk Like a Pirate Day", maybe we need "Live Like a Pirate Day".

For the record, my favorite pirate is Granuaile, who I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts. She was a revolutionary and a feminist as well as a pirate, a true role model for fierce, fearless women. She was also a wit- she chided a son who tried to hide behind her in a battle by yelling something like, "Are you trying to crawl back to where you came from?"

As far as local history goes, Captain William Kidd was active in the Hudson and was reputed to have engaged in smuggling with the slave-holding plantation owner Frederick Phillipse I.

Enjoy your Talk Like a Pirate Day, folks, and remember to thank the scurvy sea dogs who helped to lay the foundation for our democratic society.

Now, how about a little 1980's style goofiness?

I think Adam Ant is a hoot, though the opinion is far from universal. It's funny, though, I think that Malcolm MacLaren must have inspired the whole "piracy" thing, because Bow Wow Wow also referenced piracy in one of their songs from the era. It's like MacLaren took the Sex Pistols' version of Frigging in the Rigging and decided to launch a mini-career based on it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

About that 47% Thing

The big political story today is about Mitt Romney's assertion that 47% of Americans are moochers (check out the first result, even "Forbes" magazine is calling Romney out). My awesome cohorts at Rumproast have written extensively on this latest Mittastrophe. Of course, the reality of the situation is more complex than Mittens or right-wing pundits would have us believe. Ironically, many of the "non-tax payers" paid a higher percentage of their income int taxes than Mitt Romney did, and these "moochers" tend to be overrepresented in heavily Republican states.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, the whole "47%" thing started as a wingnut response to the Occupy Movement's discusssion of the "99%". It reached its culmination, its "asspotheosis" if you will in a tumblr site started by Erick bin Erick. The We are the 53% blog is a bit of a train wreck- a lot of the people are proud to be working long hours for low wages in dead-end jobs, all of them would benefit from union representation. Just perusing the archives, I am struck with the pathos and horror of it all. These people are fools, backing an ideology that denigrates both actual work and fiduciary responsibility, backing a candidate who never broke a sweat in his life and doesn't pay taxes. They are the perfect patsies, proud to be taken to the cleaners by the grifters.

Monday, September 17, 2012

One of Those Weeks

It's been a hell of a couple of days lately- I had to work Friday afternoon until midnight, then work Saturday from 10AM to 7PM, then worked from midnight to 8AM then 4PM to 8PM Sunday, and finally returned for Monday's midnight to 8AM shift (the guy who was supposed to work it had a family medical emergency). Oddly enough, with a few minutes to go, I'm not dragging my ass.

Later, however, I'll probably be knackered... I'm supposed to meet a friend of mine in the late morning and take a trip to, of all places, two of my worksites (she has the day off, and wants to get out of Manhattan). It'll be weird seeing the people I said goodbye to a few scant hours earlier.

I think Warren Zevon wrote the perfect sountrack for the last couple of days:

I'm not gonna complain, these past two days have been good practice for October, when the fun really begins.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Red States, Blue Movies

Via Tengrain's place, we have a Think Progress piece that indicates that Mitt will be going after pornography if he wins the presidential election. As an aside, given Mitt's notorious flip-flopping, he probably has a stack of porn that can be seen from space.

If Mitt pursues this crusade against smut (and in the interests of full disclosure, the best smut on the internet can be found here), Mitt could possibly lose the conservative vote. Put bluntly, Red Staters do love their porn, with Utah residents widely reported the top consumers. Conservatives have long had a conflicted relationship with porn- in the 1980's, the regressive Meese Commission compiled its report on the dangers of pornography after viewing a staggering amount of porn, and infamous fundamentalist pastor Jimmy Swaggart had a high profile sex scandal.

Of course, this is not to say that Mitt himself likes porn. There's no evidence that he has cyber sister wives so he can engage in polygamy by proxy. There's absolutely no publicly available evidence that Mitt is a "brony", and no reason to believe that he blew off Rafalca's performance in London out of fear that the NBC cameras would catch him "clopping", rather than clapping. That being said, Mitt may claim to hate porn, but he sure loves that porn money. Mitt Romney sat on the board of the Marriott hotel chain (which makes millions of dollars off of pay-per-view porn) from 1992 to 2001. Mitt was even characterized as a "major pornographer" by a critic in his 2008 presidential bid. As is typical, Mitt takes an "I've got mine, screw you" approach to porn- he's made his porn money, but he wants to pull up the ladder behind him, leaving up-and-coming entreporneurs destitute.

One is also left to wonder whether retired porn star Jenna Jameson will reconsider her support of Romney, of if she also takes that "IGMSY" attitude toward up-and-coming performers.

This unsolicited hard-line attitude toward porn could represent another unforced error on the part of Romney. The GOP conservative base and the disaffected libertarian wing of the party seem to love their porn, let's see if they tell Mitt that he can take their porn when he pries it from their lubed, dead hands.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

You Want to See what You're Missing?

I set this post up last night, since today is a crazy day at work. I'm working an event, so I'll be out-of-doors all the doo-da day and won't have time to post. Anyway, here's a video of the Secret Science Club lecture that I summed up in this post. Grab yourself a drink or two, and get prepared to absorb some serious SCIENCE!

Also, if you're in the greater New York metro area, get your ass to one of the lectures- you won't regret it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Best Pin-Up Calendar EVER!!!

This post is an expansion of a comment I made at bbkf's great blog in response to this sentence:

hubbkf and i were cleaning out the basement and this had been hanging above his workbench for lo these many years…so, now it’s new home is his new shop…hopefully right next to his mn vikings cheerleader calendar…a man can dream, right?

My snarky comment was:

It could be worse, he could have a Cofanifunebri calendar up there.

Ah, yes, the Cofanifunebri calendar... a pin-up calendar put out by Italy's finest manufacturer of coffins.

A few years back, a friend of mine bought a house, and a bunch of us moved into it with him- it was like a beach house without an ocean. It was the sort of house that a female friend would walk into and shake her head, saying, "God, this is such a bachelor pad!"

My buddy J-Co, whose father was a second-generation undertaker, so he, perforce, had an irreverently morbid sense of humor, thought that the perfect accent for our home would be the infamous Cofanifunebri pin-up calendar, which figured pictures of scantily-clad women draped languidly, seductively even, over coffins. The best thing about the particular calendar he gave us is that it didn't feature pictures of models, but of employees- a finish carpenter would be posed in lingerie standing over a coffin with a drill in her hand, a secretary would be lounging on top of a coffin with a phone. They weren't the typical fantasy girl, they were the sort of ladies you'd meet at a salumeria, or playing bocce in the park... if they weren't spending so much time lounging on coffins.

Women tended to hate the calendar. My buddy's girlfriend took one look at it and yelled, "These women aren't even that pretty, why do you have this up?" Then we told her to take a closer look, and she yelled even louder, "WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH THOSE COFFINS?" She failed to see the humor in the juxtaposition of cheesecake and death (you don't have to choose between cake or death, you can have cake and death.).

The Cofanifunebri calendar garnered quite a bit of attention on the internet... it was perfect fodder for the irony-seeking post-post-modernist. Then something horrible happened... the calendar was discontinued:

The Sexy coffin calendar is no longer available becuase censored by italian law.

Very sorry!
Stay tuned or follow us on facebook for more info

Ay, che tristezza!

Hmmmm... I wonder if Ornella Vanoni ever posed for a Confanifunebri calendar back in the 50's or 60's...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Secret Science Club Recap- To Antarctica Via Brooklyn

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club event, a screening of Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, preceded by a short lecture from Dr Stephen Pekar of the Queens College School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Dr Pekar's field is paleoclimatology, much of his work involves drilling in the ocean floor to examine microfossils in sediments.

The study of paleoclimates is crucial in determining possible climate trends. It's necessary to study past climates because, as Dr Pekar noted, the future is data poor. From about 4,000 BCE to the present, the planet has enjoyed a remarkably stable climate. With the addition of carbon dioxide in large quantities to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, this stability is endangered. One alarming discovery is that there are climatological tipping points- small amounts of atmospheric CO2 can have large, often unexpected, implications in temperature increases. In the middle of the Eocene epoch, the Earth's temperature peaked due to a greenhouse effect, and Antarctica was not covered by an ice sheet (if you'll recall a former lecture, the Arctic Ocean was, to a large extent, filled with huge mats of vegetation during the Eocene). The sedimentary rock from Eocene Antarctica contains fossilized pollen from subtropical plants.

Much of Dr Pekar's lecture was a discussion of the nuts-and-bolts methodology of a working field scientist. In an experiment known as the Anvil Project, in which an air gun is used to cause vibrations in the ground which are picked up by geophones in order to determine the type of rock below the surface. Drilling is then performed in layers of sedimentary rock.

Dr Pekar then gave a brief discussion of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, an international organization which conducts drilling in ocean floor sediments and shared photos and stories from his work on the drilling ship JOIDES Resolution. The lecture was very entertaining, but somewhat brief due to the time constraints imposed by the film screening.

I'm going to preface this with a confession that I have been a huge Werner Herzog fan since seeing Aguirre, the Wrath of God. That being said, Encounters at the End of the World is an incredible film. It's a film of great beauty, with some extremely funny scenes, and some poignant ones. If this trailer doesn't make you want to see the movie, I'd consider dropping the banhammer on you for life:

Seriously, folks, get your hands on, and feast your peepers on, this movie. It's really an amazing film. I look forward to Werner Herzog's sequel to Aguirre 2: King of the Monkeys, in ***SPOILER ALERT*** which the conquistador's raft floats down the Amazon, then drifts to Antarctica- Aguirre 3: King of the Penguins.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Give up the 9/11 Mythology

Typically, nobody makes a big deal about an eleventh anniversary. Last year, I put up a post on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. My great and good friend Ned, whose "9/11 connection" was so much more intimate than mine (I was at work, about twenty miles north of Manhattan, on that morning, but the plume of smoke and debris was visible from my Yonkers home, just north of the city) always puts up a post discussing the attacks from an engineering standpoint and links to a heartrending piece written by a friend of his.

This year, I'm not going to be nice. The American right-wing has been pimping the 9/11 tragedy since day one- after the attacks, Congress (shamefully, in a display of bipartisanship) passed laws injurious to civil liberties, the administration ginned up a war against a nation which hadn't attacked us, and political hacks accused liberals of being soft on terrorism. The American Taliban and conservative hacks blamed the attacks on the liberal mores generally regarded as characteristic of New York. A large portion of the country lost its mind after 9/11... notably, most New Yorkers did not- the typical response in the immediate aftermath of the attacks was to head to the blood bank to donate (sadly, unneeded) blood. While most New Yorkers wanted Bin Laden's head on a pike, there was widespread sentiment against the invasion of Iraq, and the general sentiment regarding the war was "not in our name."

The outgoing mayor of New York, whose visibility on 9/11 was due to his foolishness in locating his Office of Emergency Management in a vicinity previously targeted by terrorists, made his subsequent career running off of his undeserved reputation as a security expert (famously skewered by Joe Biden), and his now-imprisoned right-hand man almost got the nod as the director of the Department of Homeland Security (as an aside, I don't think I'm the only one creeped out by the use of the term "homeland" in a non-ironic sense, I'd never heard it applied to the U.S. before the Bush maladministration).

The post-9/11 milieu was characterized by "security theater"- I call it "securitism". I first clued in to the B.S. nature of it all when I took the 1 train from 238th St in the Bronx, where there was absolutely no security procedure in place, to Times Square Station, which was crawling with heavily-armed police and national guard, where most of the entrances (and, as those familiar with the subway system know, exits) were locked. Yeah, anybody could have gotten into Times Square Station with a bomb, but getting out of the station post-disaster would have been extremely difficult. Much of this security theater is unnecessary, but a passel of well-connected hacks have been making big bucks off the "new normal". As the decade progressed, and the responses became stupider and more brutal, I felt myself more of a New Yorker, but less of an American. My love of the city grew simultaneously with my distrust of the direction the country was headed in.

Even now, eleven years later, the right-wing lunacy about 9/11 persists- some say that the annual 9/11 commemoration is not religious enough (even though the 9/11 attackers were largely motivated by religion) and a not-insignificant minority of Republicans credit Mitt Romney for the death of Bin Laden. Give it up, right wingers, 9/11 happened on your watch, and you failed to get the main plotter behind the attacks. You blew it, the entire failure of our national security apparatus is your fault. To compound your failure, you blocked the act which would have provided health care for the first responders you love to be photographed with. Don't try to use 9/11 as a political cudgel against liberals, you lost any credibility long ago.

Postscript: Oh, and people in the Heartland, enough of the 9/11 kitsch. Sure, we know you mean well, but knock it off. The real tragedy if 9/11 is ongoing- it manifests itself in empty seats at tables, cancer-stricken cops, firefighters, construction workers, EMT's, orphaned children, widowed spouses, familiar voices silenced. Please, come and visit, but be sober and reflective.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Watch it, Turkey!

One of the jobsites I work at is home to a sizable flock of wild turkeys. While they occasionally congregate in large groups (in the spring, I saw a flock of 21 birds on the grounds), they typically range in smaller groups of two to five birds. Today, I was able to approach a pair of the birds (I moved slowly and quietly, and I had some "cover" from a low wall), and one of them approached within about six feet of me... I think it saw my bald, ruddy head and assumed I was its mother. I could even hear the quiet "ripping" sound as it pecked at the grass. I only had my sub-par cell phone camera with me, but I was able to snap a quick pic:

Wild turkeys are a strange mix of the ugly and the beautiful- their warty heads are comically small, but their feathers have a pretty hint of iridescence. They certainly look like something out of the Mesozoic... they definitely look like relatives of this charmer. The turkeys that we have on site are almost as tame as dogs- I promise I'll bring a better camera to work so you can get a better image of these pretty/ugly birds.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why Did He Have to Use an AEI Approved Term?

I hate to sound a sour note after a generally rousing Democratic Convention, but there's something that really stuck out and stuck in my craw in President Obama's otherwise inspiring speech:

You can choose the path where we control more of our own energy. After thirty years of inaction, we raised fuel standards so that by the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas.

We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines and long-lasting batteries. In the last year alone, we cut oil imports by one million barrels a day – more than any administration in recent history. And today, the United States of America is less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in nearly two decades.

Now you have a choice – between a strategy that reverses this progress, or one that builds on it. We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we’ll open more. But unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country’s energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers.

We’re offering a better path – a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that’s right beneath our feet. If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.

Why, why, why did the president have to use American Enterprise Institute weasel words in his nomination speech? There is no such thing as clean coal, "clean coal" is a corporatist right-wing term that is as false as "job creators" and as cynical as "entitlement reform". Coal extraction is dangerous to workers and the environment, the burning of coal adds carbon and mercury to the atmosphere, and coal ash contains a variety of toxins (as if that's not bad enough ash disposal protocols are shoddy at best). To put it in vulgar terms, clean coal is as imaginary as petroleum-pissing unicorns and nuclear-powered rainbows.

This isn't the first time that President Obama pissed me off with the use of this term. The fossil fuel industry will always support his opponents, so why does he use their P.R.B.S. (insert Reince Priebus joke) terms?

Now, for the typical B.B.B.B. fossil fuel rant... Fossil fuels should be considered "startup capital" or "seed corn"- they are the energy source that allowed the wide-scale industrialization necessary for the development of alternative energy sources. Over thirty years ago, President Jimmy Carter warned the citizens of the U.S. of our profligate energy use, and the need to develop alternatives:

Tragically, nothing substantial was done in the intervening decades... we're blowing through the startup capital, eating the seed corn. As Gene Wolfe (whose Seven American Nights is a beautiful, baffling, unsettling depiction of American decline) might put it, we're "doing nothing, sitting around waiting for the money to run out". In his short story The Adopted Father (written in 1980 and included in his collection Castle of Days,) Wolfe wrote a depressingly prescient paragraph:

"That's coal smoke, the technology of the Nineteenth Century brought into the Twenty-First and hard at work. They could have conquered the solar system and harnessed the sun, but they did this instead, because there was no fun involved. Their great-grandfathers had done it, and they knew it would work."

Hearing the president mentioning this "bridge to the 19th century" as a beneficial policy marred an otherwise decent speech. Sure, I'll be voting for the guy because the alternative is unthinkable, but I really wish he wouldn't participate in moving the Overton Window further to the right.

In the interests of thoroughness, I'd also like to mention my second "beef" with the speech- would it have hurt the president to stress the importance of the down-ticket races? He devoted some time to pretending that bipartisanship would be possible, when he should have been lambasting the no-good, obstructionist GOP congresscritters. While Bill Clinton did a good job of making this point in his barn-burner of a speech, President Obama should have continued the tirade.

Cross-posted at Rumproast.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

You Get What You Pay For

Now, from the annals of class warfare, we have an extremely wealthy individual indicating that Australian miners should be paid two dollars a day, because miners in Africa receive such low wages. Oddly enough, she thinks that demanding decent wages for dirty, dangerous jobs amounts to class warfare:

"We must be realistic, not just promote class warfare. Indeed, if we competed at the Olympic games as sluggishly as we compete economically, there would be an outcry. The evidence is unarguable that Australia is indeed becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export- orientated business, Africans want to work. Its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day."

I think I support this deal, with one proviso... Gina Rinehart should pay Australian miners two dollars a day, as long as she is willing to be killed by them in the resultant riot.

All snark aside, what the hell is wrong with the überrich these days? The strain of sociopathy runs deep in the ownership class... they won't be happy until they reduce the populace to serfdom.

To scrub the awfulness of Gina Rinehart from your brains, here are some Australians with a more humane position on mine workers:

Midnight Oil was one of the most astute political bands of the 80's, championing aboriginal rights and environmentalism. Lead singer (and Big Baldie himself Peter Garrett has had a long career as an activist and politician. One of my all-time favorite Midnight Oil songs is Read About It, which was my introduction to the band:

Amazing how timely the song remains, so many decades after it was written... and by "amazing", I mean "depressing as hell".

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

For the past decade, it's been extremely difficult to distinguish genuine right-wing whackaloonery from over-the-top satire. While Poe's Law applies specifically to creationists, I tend to expand it to encompass the entirety of right-wing cogitation. I usually refer to this expansion of Poe's Law as Ruppert's corollary, after the infamous "is he a real troll or a parody troll?" Gary Ruppert. The latest bit of "so over the top, I have a hard time believing it's true" lunacy is a group calling itself Protect the Polls (nod of the naked noggin to Sadlynaut Thread Bear). "Protect the Polls" is, if not a Juvenalian satire of the darkest hue, the vile son of ALEC and the NRA:

Over the past year Voter Fraud has become an important issue in Florida. Governor Rick Scott has spearheaded the issue by creating new Voter ID laws to curb illegal voting. But the fear remains that it may be too little too late. Florida gun owners are uniting to bring a new law to the table called Protect the Polls. The logic behind Protect the Polls is simple. If you are a legal gun owner in the state of Florida and you suspect someone on Election Day is committing voter fraud you can shoot him or her with your licensed weapon and not be charged with a crime. Precedents have already been set allowing these rights, like the important Stand Your Ground law, and in this case, there is more at stake than just one person’s life; this is for the life of this great country.

There is a video from the group posted on teh Youtuber:

I'm usually pretty good at sussing out satire... I figured that Christwire was a piss-take from the get-go, and even commented there as a crazy right-wing uncle type for a while, but I can't determine whether or not "Protect the Polls" is the real deal. The domain name ends in .com rather than .org, but that's not a definite "tell". They are selling overpriced T-shirts with a bloodthirsty slogan, but this sort of over-the-top bloodlust is not out of place in today's right.

Of course, the post title comes from the song Poehemian Rhapsody:

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Electoral landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
I'm just a wingnut, voting G.O.P.
Because I'm easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows, doesn't really matter to me, to me

Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head,
Bastard voted as a Red.
Mama, life had just begun
But now I've gone and thrown it all away
Mama, ooo
Didn't mean to make you cry
If Romney doesn't win this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters.

UPDATE: It seems that "Protect the Polls" is, indeed, a hoax. Alternet issued a correction in their article. It's hard to be a snarkster in the post-satire world.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Goodnight Moon

Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, known pejoratively as "The Moonies", has died. Back when I was a young, mop headed lad in the late seventies and early eighties, the Moonies were uniformly portrayed as a sinister cult, brainwashing the unsuspecting youth of America and conducting mass weddings, usually of strangers. Yeah, the Moonies were portrayed as a major threat to American security, but then something weird happened...

In 1982, Rev. Moon founded the Washington Times, a right-wing tabloid. The "Times" was a favorite of Ronald Reagan, and employed a lot of children of prominent conservatives. In 2000, the Unification Church bought the venerable UPI wire service. The Reverend himself seemed to vanish from the headlines of mainstream papers, his reputation as a sinister Svengali was largely forgotten.

Moon's "rehabilitation" proceeded to the extent that, in 2004, Moon conducted a "coronation" ceremony in the U.S. Senate building, which was attended by congresscritters from both parties.

Moon was virulently anti-communist and anti-gay, and his comments on the "Love Organ" have got to be read to be believed:

"Man's convex love organ, thousands of your ancestors culminate there. When these two organs meet together, lineage is mixed. Through that, new life is created. Do you think that new life would want to get involved in the dirty, filthy lineages of its parents? Will the newborn try to run away from this filthy abomination? 'I would rather not be home,' it might say ... If you create a mixture of black and white, maybe not in your generation but down the road (a few generations) a sign of this mixture will emerge. The worst possible man and woman meet together and have a relationship, and then won't they create the worst devil? They both inherited Satan's lineage. Do you think they can separate it from them? If you young people do something, you will create a worse thing than the atom bomb ... We should love our enemy, but what about our love organ and lineage. You sisters look so gentle and pretty, but your lineage is filthy and dirty. You need a blood transfusion. But there is only satanic lineage? What can you do? Where can you find God's love? That is why throughout human history God created many religions through which he trained people to receive the Lord of the Second Advent. The role of the messiah is to clean the filthy blood lineage and give God's blood to mankind ... Satan is like a prostitute. Don't we all have that kind of mind? Perhaps a Westerner may feel 'If I sleep with this oriental man, it will be good.' We all have this problem, no matter how old. Sometimes old women have the urge to live with a handsome young man. Among six billion people, there are all kinds of handsome men and women all over the world. If you become a promiscuous person, you can commit all kinds of sin ... What about young Americans who go to nightclubs and dance and have one-night stands? They mix their blood. Your lineage is so filthy; there is no way to clean it ... We possess the most fearful organ, the love organ. Unless we become one mind and body, we cannot enter the kingdom of God. Even after forty days of fasting, you forget meal time. But to unite mind and body, you still cannot enter ... As a man, in your right front pants pocket is a small inside watch pocket. Keep pliers there, and when you go to the bathroom, once a day, pinch your love organ. Cut the skin a little bit as a warning. If your love organ does not listen to your conscience, then you should cut off the tip. Even if it takes that extreme measure, we have to make sure our mind and body become one ... Without going through that kind of enlightenment stage, you cannot become a true man ... ," excerpted from a 2001 Moon speech entitled "Purity, Lineage and the Love Organ."

Goodnight, Reverend Moon... no longer will you illuminate our land as a benevolent heavenly overseer, an "earth-bound moon", if you will. It's a shame that your passing wasn't revealed to the West earlier, so the Republicans could honor your memory at their convention, and acknowledge the fact that their recently adopted platform was largely inspired by your millenialist, authoritarian teachings.

For a sober, "balanced" view of the Moonies, this article is a good read, although this is money-quote by my estimation:

No matter how absurd or repellent the beliefs of the Rev Sun Myung Moon may appear, they are hardly odder or more dangerous than those of the Rev Pat Robertson, and other millennarian fundamentalists.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thanksgiving Feasts for Some, Barbed Wire Fences for Others

Note: I'm adding a caveat to my original post, Rumproast commenter D. Johnson indicated that the video I embedded in this post is of dubious provenance. Accordingly, I deleted it, and the portion of my "Rumproast" post referring to it, out of deference to my hosts. I'm leaving it here and will only take it down if I receive evidence that it isn't kosher.

In this post, I'm going to reveal my "Johnny Roughnuts" side... after all, I'm not the Big Benevolent Bald Bunny, now. To put it bluntly, when I watched a speech by a Romney friend on Thursday regarding Mitt's generosity, I was unimpressed. While the speech hit some emotional notes, I think the context undermines the premise of Mitt as philanthropist.

The opening of the speech gives the game away:

n 1982, my husband Grant and I moved from California to Massachusetts, with our newborn son.
Being a church-going family, we looked for the nearest chapel and soon found ourselves in a congregation led by a clearly bright and capable man, named Mitt Romney.
I knew Mitt was special from the start.
We didn’t own a dryer, and the day he stopped by to welcome us, I was embarrassed to have laundry hanging all over the house. Mitt wasn’t fazed.
In fact, as we spoke, without a word, he joined me and started helpfully plucking clothes from around the room and folding them.
By the time Mitt left, not only did I feel welcome, my laundry was done!
As Grant and I juggled school, jobs, church and family, we grew to love the Romneys.
They became role-models and friends, and we were honored when Mitt and Ann regularly trusted us to stay with their five rambunctious – but very loving – sons when they traveled.

Mitt wasn't merely a generous friend, he was the equivalent of a Catholic or Episcopalian bishop presiding over a small Mormon community in a northeastern state, the leader of a minority faith group in an indifferent, or even hostile, territory. Significantly, Mormons tithe, they relinquish a portion of their earnings to their church, and some of the money tithed goes towards maintaining bishop's storehouses, which are used to provide assistance to persons deemed worthy by the religious authorities. It is in this context that one has to view the following:

It was when our daughter Kate was born three and a half months early that I fully came to appreciate what a great treasure of friendship we had in Mitt and Ann.
Kate was so tiny and very sick.
Her lungs not yet ready to breathe, her heart unstable, and after suffering a severe brain hemorrhage at three days old, she was teetering on the very edge of life.
As I sat with her in intensive care, consumed with a mother’s worry and fear, dear Mitt came to visit and pray with me.
As our clergy, he was one of few visitors allowed.
I will never forget that when he looked down tenderly at my daughter, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached out gently and stroked her tiny back.
I could tell immediately that he didn’t just see a tangle of plastic and tubes; he saw our beautiful little girl, and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her.
During the many months Kate was hospitalized, the Romneys often cared for our two-year old son, Peter. They treated him like one of their own, even welcoming him to stay the night when needed.
When Thanksgiving rolled around, Kate was still struggling for life.
Brain surgery was scheduled, and the holiday was the furthest thing from our minds.
I opened my door to find Mitt and his boys, arms loaded with a Thanksgiving feast.
Of course we were overcome. When I called to thank Ann, she sweetly confessed it had been Mitt’s idea, that most of the cooking and chopping had been done by him.
She and the boys had just happily pitched in.

While it may be a heartwarming tale of generosity, I can picture Mitt saying, "I can't let these people go hungry, I'm stake president, for Pete's sake." Simply put, Mitt pretty much had to assist this family. As the equivalent of a bishop, would he have risked alienating his flock by ignoring the plight of this family that had fallen on hard times? As someone raised in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, I can vouch for the fact that bad bishoping has a deleterious effect on the size and devotion of congregations. For a leader of a minority faith community, the need for cohesion in a "foreign" area is crucial.

Now, while Mitt showed compassion and generosity to a subordinate member of his church community, he probably wouldn't show such compassion to someone he perceived as "other". Let's hear Mitt's idea of compassion for foreigners, members of a different culture, agroup of "others":

Listening to that, I am struck by the fact that Mitt bought the patent bullshit that the fences around the factory compounds were meant to keep people out. This doesn't pass the smell test. Furthermore, if Mitt were truly compassionate, wouldn't he have insisted that the living conditions for the workers fenced inside the compound be improved? I imagine Mitt could lie to himself, saying, "They're different from us, they don't value privacy." It's the same impulse that leads someone to say, "Using Hellfire missile strikes on wedding parties doesn't matter because they don't value human life like we do." It's the sociopath's "out".

I've developed a jaundiced view of the concept of "charity", which seems to be an obsession for right wingers. Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann all opined that uninsured Americans should rely on charitable organizations to provide healthcare. This poses a few major problems. First, and most significantly, charities do not have to provide help to all individuals, just ones that they find "worthy". While Mitt was perfectly happy to hand carry a Thanksgiving feast to the home of a congregant, would he have shown such noblesse oblige to a poor lesbian, or a sex worker, or an atheist? It's easy for a rich religious leader to dip into the community chest to resdistribute the tithes he collects to one he considers in the "us" category, he's much less likely to help one of "them" (as Jesus H. Christ famously noted. Secondly, charities aren't always on the level- for example, the Susan G. Komen controversy shed quite a bit of light on the outrageous compensation packages for top executives. Additionally, a lot of charities operate on the "Bad Samaritan" model- even though the "Samaritan" stops to help the wounded traveler at the side of the road, he's the guy who hired the brigands to rob and beat the man, and took a cut of the take. Mitt helped a family that he was personally involved with, then turned around and laid off thousands of other breadwinners, and we're supposed to think he's a good guy? Charitable donations are often a way to assuage the guilt of the corporate shark, while putting a publicly pious façade on the rapacious.

Personally, I trust the government more than I trust the churches and the private charities. The New Deal was the single greatest anti-poverty measure in the history of the planet. Public servants aren't skimming millions of dollars off the top in the form of salaries and expense reimbursements. They don't flaunt their "largesse" over their lessers, but quietly and competently get the job done. I don't mind paying my taxes, and I don't think that the miniscule number of scammers should inspire the demolition of the safety net. I want to see the government do more to alleviate poverty, to expand healthcare coverage. If that means the death of private charities, so much the better.

I don't want a world of "Thanksgiving feasts for some, and barbed wire fences for others".