Friday, February 28, 2014

Mixed Signals

Today, it's pretty damn cold- currently the mercury is at 11 °F (-11.7 °C) in the City of Y______. Another winter storm is bearing down on the region, with snow accumulation predictions ranging from six to eighteen inches. This afternoon, though, I heard the herald of spring for much of North America, the trill of the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus):

It's a serious case of mixed signals- the landscape and the air are stuck in the deep freeze, but the feisty little birds are singing a different tune. I don't expect a thaw anytime next week, and I sure hope the early blackbirds don't suffer from the brutal cold. I'm sure looking forward to seeing their beauty after the snow:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

But... But... I Have a "Support the Troops" Bumper Sticker!

Ah, Republicans- the party of patriotism, if by patriotism you mean blocking a bill to fund veterans' benefits. Once again, Republicans have totally screwed over the very people they love to use as props in photo ops, something the do with appalling regularity.

It's amazing how hypocritical the Republicans are, quick to accuse political opponents of being a fifth column, but quicker to shaft the men and women who have served in the armed forces. It's going to be an interesting mid-term election, and I can't see this cowardly, greedy stance helping the Republican cause in November.

As always, Senator Bernie Sanders seems to be the one guy who is fighting hardest to actually help a constituency composed of actual human beings:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Freedumb Francs

A good rule of thumb is that, whenever Ron Paul speaks out about economics, whatever he has to say is 100% grade-A bullshit. In the case of Bitcoins, the Goldbug Geezer had this to say:

"There will be alternatives to the dollar, and this might be one of them," said former U.S. congressman Ron Paul. If people start using bitcoins en masse, "it'll go down in history as the destroyer of the dollar," Paul added.

Bitcoins seem to have replaced the gold standard in libertarian economic fantasies (I've been referring to unregulated free-market theories and the inevitable bubbles as "the moonbeam economy" since first reading about credit default swaps in the 'noughts). The more quixotic libertarians (or the most cynical scam artists- hard to tell with this lot) have dreams of leaving the tyrannical state and it's dependent moochers behind. Tellingly, the real "producers" involved in the project would rather take fiat currency than magic beans or jars of moonbeams:

"Our farm workers and suppliers still want to get paid in pesos,” Ken Johnson, the project’s founder and managing partner, explains.

Hilariously, about two months after Ron Paul's prediction about the demise of the dollar, hackers have stolen "millions of dollars" worth of bitcoins using malware (note scare quotes), and a major bitcoin exchange has collapsed. Double bing-bang hell, I just found out via Thom Hartmann that the MTGOX exchange was started to exchange game cards.

Unlike the "fiat currency" printed by the Fed, bitcoins are backed by the full faith and credit of a handful of grifters and the libertarian cranks they are taking to the cleaners. Tellingly, early adopters of bitcoins have had the opportunity to sell the fake currency at inflated prices in order to make a killing, which is a hallmark of a classic pump-and-dump scheme. Even the pro-bitcoin crowd would have to acknowledge that it was easier to "mine" bitcoins at the start, making the whole process seem like a Ponzi scheme:

Libertarians tend to overstate their intelligence, giving rise to the term Dunning-Krugerrand to describe Bitcoins. I imagine quite a few of the John Galt wannabes were taken to the cleaners by investing in these Freedumb Francs. Most of them will, no doubt, claim that the free-fall in the value of these magic cyberbeans was due to a conspiracy by governments or central banks.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Blazing Blur of Fiery Fur

The ass end of winter tends to be unlovely in these parts. The piles of snow and ice by the side of the road are grey with intermingled soot and grit- even the most pristine snowfield has bits of schmutz on its surface. The world presents a dreary face, a monotone gray expanse. Happily, I had a run in with a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) which blazed across my path like a russet comet. While I didn't have an opportunity to photograph the speedy beastie, I took a picture of the tracks it left across our property:

Note the almost perfect "single file" exhibited by the prints, a characteristic of wild canids. In contrast, our canine companions leave two parallel tracks more often:

Those tracks were made by a friend of mine, the companion of my co-worker **REDACTED**. My co-worker sometimes brings him to work, because the property is perfect for an active, intelligent beagle/shepherd mix:

He's a handsome dog, well behaved too. I always enjoy when he comes to the site, though not all of my co-workers agree with me on this.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ukraine Pain

I have been following news of the violent crackdown on Ukrainian protestors with dismay. While the departure of Viktor Yanukovych from Kiev may be a positive development, the situation on the ground remains touch-and-go in my estimation. On a happy note, Orange Revolution organizer and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (widely viewed during her ministerial tenure as the world's best looking head of state) may be freed from prison.

Back in 2005, I worked as an equipment operator for The Gates project in Central Park, a vast outdoor art installation in which over 7,000 orange banners (Christo and Jean-Claude insisted they were saffron-colored) were erected in Central Park. One of my co-workers on the project was a Ukrainian artist who took great pleasure in the project as the orange banners flapping in the wind reminded her of the revolution taking place in her homeland. Eight years later, would she have anticipated the bloodshed in the streets of Kiev?

To a large extent, the unrest in the Ukraine represents the failure of late 20th/early 21st Century American foreign policy. I was about to type that I believe the United States should have given the Ukraine more aid in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution, but I came to the realization that the problem encompasses more than the Ukraine. The United States totally blew a great opportunity by not implementing a program similar to the Marshall Plan in the former Soviet Union and its breakaway republics. After the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved, the United States government basically "spiked the football" and walked away. There was no attempt to rebuild the nation's economy or to create the institutions necessary for democratic governance. Of course, with the creeps from the Chicago School of Economics having inordinate sway over the contemporaneous regime, this was doubtless a feature, not a bug. In the absence of a civil society, the mineral wealth of the world's largest country by landmass could be looted. Of course, the long-standing problem posed by the Iranian regime is also rooted in a bid to loot the natural resources of a nation.

The current problem spots in the world, with the exception of North Korea (which is merely the playground of a mad cult of personality), are all places where the United States has failed to live up to its stated ideals, all in the interests of oligarchs. I sure hope that the Ukraine can recover from the violence that has shaken it this week, but I have to hang my head for a moment when considering the last century's lost opportunities to foster healthy societies throughout Eastern Europe.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Carcosa Courier Bestseller List

Imagine my surprise when the local news radio station mentioned one of my favorite collections of "weird tales" from the 19th/20th century cusp- sure enough, Robert Chambers' King in Yellow is now on the Amazon bestseller list due to the popularity of the Cable TV series True Detective.

The tales which make up Chambers' "King in Yellow" sequence are in the public domain. The first The Repairer of Reputations, is a science fiction story set in New York City twenty-five years in the future (1920), when suicide by means of "Government Lethal Chambers" has been made legal. The second tale, The Mask concerns a fatal love triangle among Parisian artists, one of whom has invented a chemical which can petrify organic matter. The third story in the cycle, also set in Paris In the Court of the Dragon, is about a man obsessed by a "hateful" church organist. The final tale, The Yellow Sign returns to a Manhattan setting and involves an artist who is coming to grips with his new-found love for one of his models.

The common thread among these stories is the fictional play The King in Yellow, a literary work that has the power to drive readers to madness:

I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with this beautiful, stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth—a world which now trembles before the King in Yellow. When the French Government seized the translated copies which had just arrived in Paris, London, of course, became eager to read it. It is well known how the book spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent, barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by Press and pulpit, censured even by the most advanced literary anarchists. No definite principals had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain, nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterward with more awful effect.

Chambers drops vignettes from the play into his stories- the play concerns the inhabitants of Carcosa, a locale borrowed from a short-short story by Ambrose Bierce. The Carcosa of Chambers' play-within-a-story is a dreamscape of black stars and twin suns:

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is

Lost Carcosa.

SF author James Blish "added" to Chambers' text of The King in Yellow in his story More Light, and other authors have attempted to "reconstruct" the entire play. Of course, if the entire "play" could be produced, the resultant work would leave madness and horror in its wake... could this explain the rise of the Tea Party?

Here's some bonus content regarding The Court of the Dragon featuring commentary by everyone's favorite sexy antipodean Doktor. In honor of Herr Doktor Awesome, here's Blue Ă–yster Cult's E.T.I., which references the "King in Yellow":

Now, after writing all that about Robert Chambers' book, I feel I may have to track down the TV series that sparked its newfound popularity. Any readers out there hooked on the show?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Goodnight, Bob #2

Via Tengrain, I learned of the death of Devo guitarist Bob Casale. Bob, the brother of Devo co-founder Jerry Casale, was dubbed Bob #2 to distinguish him from Bob Mothersbaugh, brother of Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh. About two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a sprawling, two-part post about Devo... you can tell that I've long been a fan. Devo was always more than just a band- they could best be described as a performance art group. They were formed in the wake of the Kent University shootings, when it truly seemed as if "de-evolution" were at work in our society.

By the time Devo scored a mainstream hit with Whip It, they were largely characterized as a "synth band", but their early recordings were guitar driven subversions of roots rock. I figure the best way to memorialize Signore Casale is to highlight some of his outstanding playing.

Here's an early demo version of Freedom of the Choice, a song which, in radically different form, was the title track of their breakthrough album:

Here's a live version of Smart Patrol/Mr DNA, preceded by a recitation of Devo's "position statement", cribbed from a creationist pamphlet titled Jocko Homo Heavenbound:

I think Devo's best full-on guitar attack is perhaps my favorite Devo song, the goosebump-raising Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy, paired here with Mongoloid, another Bastard favorite:

Rest in peace, Bob #2, and thanks for decades of quality, thought-provoking, ass-shaking inducing music!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Yet Again!

Once again, it's snowing here in the NY Metro area. We're expected to get anywhere from one to six inches of snow, dependent on one's proximity to the coast. Already, the accumulated snow is knee high. At least the fresh snow is covering up the gray, sooty piles of snow by the sides of the roads. As always, the workplace looks gorgeous:

With all of the thawing and freezing, there are some large icicles onsite- this one is almost two feet long:

The snow on site has accumulated to knee-depth in general, with higher drifts:

Of course, some of my coworkers aren't very keen on the snow, much preferring a perch atop a radiator cover:

Some are even desperate enough to squeeze into a tight spot between a radiator cover and a counter:

I'll probably cool my heels at my workplace until the rush hour traffic subsides, having an aversion to driving among knuckleheads who don't clean their cars off thoroughly and don't know how to drive properly in adverse conditions. My new car handles really well in the snow- I haven't even had problems getting into and out of parking spots. There is quite an accumulation of snow in my typical parking spot, but stick shift makes parking easy- I get up a nice "head of steam" while the car is in second gear, and "hop" atop the snow pile. On a couple of occasions, I've had to do some digging in order to exit my spot... I always keep a small coal shovel in the back of the car for this purpose. It's a lot easier to dig with a nice steel shovel than with a big plastic thing that's meant to push the snow around like a miniature snowplow.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Paging Mr Gray!

If you don't read John Gray's blog, you are doing yourself a disservice. John writes with humor, grit, and compassion about life, love, and work in, as he puts it, "a tiny Welsh village". One of my favorite recurring topics on his blog is his adoption of Camilla, a foundling Canada goose (Branta canadensis), far from her ancestral homeland. I don't know if John is in the market for another Canada goose, but I almost tripped over an injured goose while walking on a very slippery site on a beautiful moonlit night. I managed to "herd" the goose to one of our buildings, where it would be able to take shelter:

Here's a closeup of the bird's head

The flash produced a nice eyeshine in the goose's eye, but nothing on a slow lotis' eyeshine.

I'd ship the goose to John at Trelawnyd, but the freight costs would be prohibitive. I left a note for the day shift, and left out a list of animal rehabilitators that we keep in our logbook. Usually, with a wild goose, the rehabilitator will release the bird back on our property (though certain of my coworkers would no doubt prefer relocation). There's a slim chance that this goose would end up as a roommate for our old friend George.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Dear readers, here's wishing you all a very happy Valentine's Day. At the mothership, some bastard brought up famous record producer and disco impresario Giorgio Moroder. This being Valentine's Day, a day which has become synonymous with amore, I figured I'd post a video for an appropriate song by Don Moroder, a disco masterpiece featuring a vocal by legendary diva Donna Summer:

Here's hoping you all feel love on this day.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Not Monkeying Around

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring primatologist and conservation biologist Dr Mary Blair of Columbia University, who is also assistant director of the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

Dr Blair kicked off her lecture by posing the question: What is biodiversity? Her comprehensive definition of biodiversity is "The variety of life on all levels, from genes to ecosystems and the evolutionary and ecological processes that sustain it." Biodiversity is under threat- the International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a red list of species that are critically endangered. Any attempt to address threats to an endangered species involves gathering data- new knowledge must be gained in order to allow conservation action to take place. One crucial endeavor is bridging the gap between producers of scientific knowledge and the users of said knowledge, between the scientists and the conservationists. A conservation plan involves identifying needs, setting targets, developing the knowledge base, applying the knowledge gained to conservation action, monitoring the effectiveness of the plan, refining the methods, and broadcasting the lessons learned.

Dr Blair's particular focus is on primate conservation. 40% of primate taxa are threatened with extinction. Primates tend to live in high risk habitats- the arboreal and tropical habitats that harbor the majority of primate species are affected by accelerating deforestation. Primates are also subject to hunting pressure and capture for the pet and biomedical trade. Conflict is also particularly dangerous for primates- the genocidal Rwandan conflict particularly hurt the mountain gorilla population. Primates, being closely related to humans, are often vulnerable to the same diseases that affect humans. Besides logging, mining, which necessitates road building, can disrupt primate populations. Climate change and subsequent problems such as the degradation of habitat and the distribution of disease vectors, is also a major threat to primate species.

Primates are particular susceptible to threats- they are long-lived, with slow reproduction rates, the are large bodied, and they are sensitive to disturbance. It is difficult for primate populations to bounce back. Primate conservation is particularly important because primates play an important role is seed dispersion via POOP. Primates are also "flagship species"- they are charismatic and they bring in the dough from donors.

The next topic in the lecture dealt with how evolutionary biology can inform conservation. What does conserving biodiversity entail? Is a menagerie an adequate "preservation" of biodiversity? Dr Blair illustrated this question with the Gary Larson's "Animal Preserves" cartoon. The goal of conservation efforts is to conserve species as dynamic entities capable of coping with environmental change. It involves preserving the processes, links and context necessary for evolution.

Dr Blair continued with a discussion of her work with Central American squirrel monkeys in Costa Rica. She quipped that studying squirrel monkeys is like attending a party where everyone is drunk already. Because of the difficulty of obtaining DNA samples from the hyperactive monkeys, she resorted to obtaining DNA samples from monkey poop. She described a veritable "rain of poop" from the canopy, and eventually collected 400 vials of poop from 300 individuals. The Costa Rican population of the Central American squirrel monkey is a critically endangered subspecies- it is thought that the population consists of 2,000 individuals, and genetic diversity is low. During the course of her study, there were only seven "immigrant" monkeys, so gene flow does occur, albeit slowly.

A good way to model genetic diversity is to compare it to electronic circuits (this subject cropped up in a previous lecture)- high gene flow is due to habitat connectivity, in this case, the connectivity of forest canopy. In the case of the Costa Rican squirrel monkeys migration between populations was rare due to low forest connectivity. Manuel Antonio National Park is a popular destination for ecotourists. Ironically, development due to the ecotourism trade lowers forest connectivity. There is now an effort underway to build biological "corridors" to connect animal populations in order to prevent the loss of genetic diversity.

Dr Blair then gave us an overview of her work studying slow lorises in Vietnam. Vietnam has a great diversity of biomes- ranging from subtropical to tropical, with a high degree of of altitude variation, numerous microhabitats, and great diversity of biogeochemistry. She described Vietnam as a hotspot for interesting evolutionary processes. Vietnam has a over 25 indigenous primate taxa, 90% of which are threatened with extinction. Dr Blair referred us to the IUCN's "Primates in Peril" list of the 25 most endangered primate taxa. She noted that the "most endangered" mantle typically vacillates between the primates of Madagascar and the primates of Vietnam.

Slow lorises are nocturnal primates- they are rare, have low population densities, and their populations are in decline. Since they are hard to find, they have not been adequately studied. The lorises secrete a chemical from a brachial (arm) gland which is similar to the allergens in cat dander. The lorises lick this gland and then lick themselves and their young in order to distribute this chemical over their fur. Loris bites can cause anaphylactic shock in individuals susceptible to cat dander allergans. Lorises which are captured often have their teeth removed.

Slow loris taxonomy is disputed- no comprehensive study of loris diversity has been undertaken and various authorities have posited anywhere from two to five species, with up to eleven subspecies (there is a great diversity in markings). Deforestation and habitat loss is a major threat to loris populations. The wildlife trade is also a huge threat to loris populations. Vietnam is a major thoroughfare for trade in exotic wildlife for traditional medicine and the pet trade (seriously, DON'T BUY PET LORISES!). Figuring out the provenance of confiscated lorises is crucial for returning them to their proper habitats and breeding populations.

In order to study the genetics and morphology of slow lorises to develop the knowledge base crucial to conservation action (especially the question of how many loris species are extant), loris seekers must set out at night. Dr Blair produced a headlamp with a red filter (red light interferes less with the animals' eyesight and is less injurious to their eyes) and cast a beam around the Bell House after telling the staff to cut the house lights. She then showed a slide of loris eye shine. Eyeshine is due to the tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer behind the retina which increases available light for vision in dim conditions. Among primates, lemurs and lorises possess a tapetum lucidum. The tarsiers, while nocturnal, lack the structure, but make up for it with large eyes. Monkeys and apes, including ourselves, lack a tapetum lucidum as well. Besides obtaining DNA from lorises in the field, DNA is also being obtained from museum specimens for genetic analysis. Morphological analysis, typically involving fur pattern schematics, is also being undertaken to improve a database to make species identification better, with the goal of improving conservation management strategies.

Conservation efforts embrace multiple disciplines- biology, anthropology, economics. In the case of loris conservation, the wildlife trade must be addressed, the factors which underlie the trade must be ascertained. Such trade is illegal, but it persists. The cultural drivers of the trade are complex, and need to be studied- are wealth and status factors? Are regional demand and international demand more important factors than local demand?

Dr Blair cited the slow loris as a good test case for conservation efforts. Biodiversity conservation stretches the knowledge base, with socioeconomic knowledge being as important as scientific knowledge in a rigorous multidisciplinary project. Additionally, local populations must be brought into these efforts in order that endangered species can persist. Dr Blair concluded with two questions crucial to conservation: HOW? WHO?

In the Q&A, some bastard in the audience asked Dr Blair about efforts to address the conservation of non-charismatic species. She answered that there was just as much passion among the biodiversity conservation experts for these critters as for the "charismatic" ones, to the extent that even the biodiversity of parasites has become a hot topic in conservation circles. Other questions involved the impact of the Vietnam War on biodiversity in Indochina.

This month's lecture was another Secret Science Club slam dunk- Dr Blair's talk was equal parts adventure narrative, hard science lecture, and conservation advocacy, all leavened with a good portion of humor. And, seriously, folks, I don't care how cute they are, DON'T BUY SLOW LORISES!!!

NOTE: I also have to note that a large, hairless primate was pressed into holding the "SSC tip jar" and a glass of the night's featured cocktail (a delicious blend of bourbon, pineapple juice, and Jamaican ginger beer with a hint of angostura bitters) during the lecture's introduction, Secret Science goddess Dorian Devins having had a singing gig. This large primate was a poor substitute for the divine Ms Devins, but managed not to drop anything on stage.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Long Distance Relationship?

SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak has stated that it is likely that there is a good chance that evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life will be found within the next twenty-five years. The discovery of extraterrestrial life, like the development of workable fusion power plants, is, as they say, always "twenty years in the future".

If, of course, our calls to interplanetary craft succeed, they could result in tragic long-distance relationships:

I mean, it's not like there's an interstellar Casey Kasem out there...

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Via Tengrain, here's a great insight into the mind of the conspiracy theorist- a bunch of nutters believe that the government blanketed the South with fake snow. My favorite theory is that the faux snow, or snaux, is made up of nanobots. Here is a hilarious video from a conspiracy maven:

My favorite part of the video is when he exhorts his slack-jawed sidekick to smell the blackened snowball- the butane from the lighter is a commonly abused ("huffed") substance.

Meanwhile, in the reality-based community, it is known that snow that is exposed to flame doesn't melt, it sublimates- the ice transitions immediately from a solid to a gas. In the case of these videos, the snow sublimates and is blackened by carbon from the butane lighters.

Conspiracy theorists have long had serious problems understanding the water cycle. One of the longest-standing conspiracy theories posits that the condensation trails left in the wake of an airplane's engines are a global conspiracy to achieve a nebulous, nefarious goal. Funny how simply conflating "contrails" with the made up word "chemtrails" has achieved such longevity. My go-to authority on aviation is Major Kong, a man I have had the pleasure of meeting in real life. As a former USAF and current commercial pilot, this was his terse take on chemtrails:

Yeah, like we’re going to give up valuable cargo space so we can spray chemicals.
We could put a lot of chickens where those chemical tanks would have to go.

It's one thing when the nutters claim that the government is using a weather-smurfing machine to create storms, but it's an entirely different stratum of wrongness when they believe that countless nanobots were dumped across a wide swath of the U.S.

Of course, I could be in on the conspiracy...

Cross-posted at Rumproast.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Geese at Peace?

We have a fair number of Canada geese overwintering on my primary worksite. Here's a small group of them peacefully eating some straw that was strewn across an icy path on the property:

Things looked so quiet and peaceful, you just know that this tranquil moment wouldn't last too long:

Oh, noes! A rapacious feline interloper! She sure looks nice with a snowy background... I particularly love the contrast of her white fur and the whiteness of the pristine snow:

Look at that musculature, she looks kinda like a miniature bear cub:

Her brother, on the other hand, is being much lazier today:

Excuse me, you're sitting on my chest!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Frozen Wave?

One of the buildings at my principal worksite features a greenhouse which is a popular place for our visitors to sit and have a bite to eat. With the recent snowstorms, the roof of the greenhouse has been covered with a light coating of snow and ice, which is melting to create an unusual formation. It looks a lot like a wave caught in mid-crest:

Here is the formation from a slightly different angle:

The pity is that, where you see it abruptly end, I had to use a broomstick to knock down a portion of the formation which was hanging over a doorway like a cold, translucent Sword of Damocles. I don't even want to think about how much that beautiful thing must have weighed, seeing that it could have come down with crashings and smashings on my poor, tender head.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bread and Circuses Milk

Today we're having our second winter storm this week. I'm working the graveyard shift, and the snow started falling right around 1AM. Before I work the graveyard, I typically hit the supermarket to buy something for "lunch". Because of the bad weather forecast, there was a run on the supermarket which, hours later, had the manager still talking about the horror of it all. On a hunch, I took a stroll over to the dairy case, even though I have enough milk for my coffee for the week. Sure enough, this is the sight that greeted me:

Last Friday, I stopped by a clothing store I frequent (it's a uniform supply place, I tend to wear Carhartt pants on the job) and the owner showed me this topical video:

It happens every time the forecast is a little hinky, and the forecast by me is for anywhere from three to six inches, with six to ten forecast for the area in which I work. I'll be okay, the new car is good in the snow- it's a stick shift, front wheel drive, and I keep a small coal shovel in the back of it. I'll probably stick around the workplace for an hour or two to let the plows work and to let the rush hour subside.

Now, the real question is, what the hell are people doing with all that bread and milk? It's not like you can make a milk sandwich!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cry Wolf? No, Coywolf!

A week and a half ago, PBS ran a documentary about the coyote/wolf hybrids that have populated the Northeast. Just over a year ago, I had a rather comical run-in with one of the beasts on the job. I finally got an opportunity to watch Meet the Coywolf (link for Canadian readers).

Personally, I love these critters, they are handsome beasts, and merely having them around in the precincts of one of the world's largest cities is a testimony to their adaptability. Being a few miles north of Manhattan and hearing a chorus of them singing in the wee hours of the morning is stirring... a little taste of the great wilderness in the world's most urban environment.

Also, after watching it, how could I not want one of those pups?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Something's Going On Tonight, Right?

I'm working tonight... for years, I covered this particular Sunday night to allow one of my co-workers to attend a party that his daughter throws. I used to enjoy going out to watch the game- most of the bars around me run food and drink specials, and it's a great night to meet women. Nowadays, I just can't be arsed caring... chalk it up to reading Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle. A billion-dollar testosterone-and-consumerism extravaganza played at ear-splitting volume? Maybe I'll just have a nice, quiet night on the job.

I can't even get excited about groundhog day, since my rodentine nemesis kicked the bucket over three years ago.

It is Candlemas... and that's a good Lovecraftian day. Of course, by Candlemas, I mean it's Imbolc... Syrbal-Labrys, hanging out in her labyrinth, is the go-to blogger on Imbolc.

Yeah, there's something going on tonight, alright, but I'm opting out. I'll be sitting here at my desk watching an old Wire performance:

So much for a quiet night...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Childhood Icon Gone

It was with sadness that I read of the death of Arthur Rankin, Jr, one half of the holiday special juggernaut Rankin/Bass Productions. Rankin/Bass produced numerous films using both stop-motion and traditional animation... some of Rankin/Bass traditional animation team in Japan eventually joined animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli. I can think of no better memorial to Mr Rankin than a selection of videos from his body of work.

Perhaps the best known Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated special was 1964s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Here's the poignant-yet-hilarious "Island of Misfit Toys" scene from the show:

Here's an interesting "psychedlic" number from 1970 "superhero origin tale" Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the clip is a mixture of stop-motion and traditional animation techniques... that mean Mitteleuropäische chap at the beginning of the clip is Rankin/Bass villain par excellence Burgomeister Meisterburger, portrayed by Bastard favorite Paul Frees:

In my opinion, the greatest song in the Rankin/Bass songbook was Heat Miser's paean to himself in 1974's The Year Without a Santa Claus:

From 1974's Twas the Night Before Christmas, here's Even a Miracle Needs a Hand sung (!) by Joel Grey:

Moving on to 1977, the Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit played a huge role in my lifelong foray into nerdery. Peter Jackson can go suck eggs, this is the real deal (with bonus Thurl Ravenscroft content):

Oddly enough, while Rankin/Bass didn't get the rights to film the entire "Lord of the Rings", they did get the rights to film a woefully truncated version of the third book after Ralph Bakshi's total LotR cockup. Oddly enough, the 1980 cartoon version of The Return of the King has a much more nuanced view of the villains than Jackson's movies for "grownups" did. In this number, the orcs come across sympathetically:

Pity the music wasn't orchestral... I blame the disco era for that.

In the 80's the one standout Rankin/Bass production was The Thundercats, a sci-fi/fantasy mashup which featured a bunch of furries in fighting an undead antagonist straight out of a Robert E. Howard pulp story (without the gratuitous Howardian racism):

I wasn't aware of this, but in 2001 (after I'd given up my TV machine), Rankin/Bass produced a Christmas special with an African-American cast led by Eartha Kitt and Gregory Hines- Santa Baby. Nice to know that they made a show portraying a black family. Sadly, I haven't been able to find out much about it in this cursory retrospective. I could have included so many more great clips.

Thanks for the body of work, Mr Rankin... Christmas would not have been the same without you and Mr Bass.