Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Goodnight, Bob Hoskins

Now here's some news that bummed me out, Bob Hoskins died of pneumonia at the age of 71. Mr Hoskins was best known for playing the human lead in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but I think his best role was as the lead in one of my all-time favorite films- The Long Good Friday. In the film, Mr Hoskins played the head of a British crime syndicate who becomes aware that the people in his organization are dropping like flies around him. As the snare in which he's caught steadily tightens, he engages in a desperate struggle to determine the nature of his enemy. In one memorable scene, he has his operatives round up a bunch of associates and bring them to an abattoir in order to interrogate them:

Ultimately, he learns that his foes are implacable- they are not the "reasonable businessmen" or corruptible law enforcement officers that he is used to dealing with, and therefore he is out of his element in his efforts to save himself.

Mr Hoskins totally owns the movie, no small feat playing opposite Helen Mirren. While most of his career was spent as a supporting player (you know, "that guy" in a spate of movies), in The Long Good Friday you can see him as a forceful lead, playing an almost entirely unsympthetic character that is nonetheless fascinating.

While I am not much of a filmgoer, I have long been a fan of Mr Hoskins. I'm gonna miss the guy so much, I'll even give him a pass for starring in Super Mario Brothers, the movie.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New Pixies Album

It's been a l-o-n-g time, but The Pixies have released a new album titled "Indie Cindy". The single Bagboy, released last year, had that typical Pixies' guitar crunch, but the lyrics were delivered in a deadpan spoken-word performance which contrasts with the older Pixies "power pop from a warped alternate universe" soft/loud delivery. Sounds like they'd been listening to a lot of rap and a bunch of Cake singles:

I'm digging the new stuff so far, and more importantly, the Pixies are out and about, touring and making live recordings in various venues:

If there's one fly in the proverbial ointment to temper my Pixiesbliss, it's that bassist/vocalist Kim Deal was ousted from the band last year. I have to confess that I get a little weak in the knees everytime I hear her backing vocals in the outré song Debaser, a personal favorite:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rupture, Not Rapture

Via Tengrain, we have the tale of Alex Jones calling out Glenn Beck for insufficiently supporting deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy. Jones believes that Beck is working for the Kenyan Usurper, setting up the right-wing loons up for the jackbooted thuggery of the latte-sippin' lefties:

“They’re positioning him as a Judas goat to lead the liberty movement. It all just clicked. He is actually Benedict Arnold, he actually works for Obama. And I’m sorry I have to say that. He really does!”

Poor Beck, he steals Alex Jones' schtick, then backpedals in one instance, and now he's Benedict Arnold. On his end, perhaps because he sees the coming backlash and his getting drummed out of the loonbertarian fringe, Beck is seeking the refuge of religious whackaloonery... because religion is the last good refuge for an utter scoundrel. Addressing the commencement of Liberty University's graduating class, he's gone full-on "Rapture Ready" fundagelical millennialist, claiming that God is coming back "to settle scores".

One could chalk up Glenn's "Road to Dumbasscus" moment as an example of Jerusalem syndrome, but I have a more cynical view. I suspect that Beck sees the coming Rupture among the far-righties, so he's going to switch gears and talk about the Rapture to reinvent himself as a religious figure, having failed as a political pundit. Unluckily for him, Glenn is a couple of horsemen short of an apocalypse.

Cross-posted at Rumproast.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sainthood So Soon?

Today, the local news was dominated by the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. I seem to recall that the canonization process took place at a slow pace, with several stages in which a candidate was evaulated. In 2005, upon the death of Pope John Paul II, the cry of "Santa subito!" echoed through Saint Peter's Square, but I'm of the opinion that the man's canonization was altogether too subito. I figure someone will have to play the role of devil's advocate, even if it's after the fact of canonization.

Karol Wojtyla's biography is a heroic one- as a young seminarian in Nazi-occupied Poland, he played a minor role in the resistance, about as much as could be expected from a young seminarian, and his resistance to the Soviets was genuine, though largely overblown, until his triumphant return to Poland in 1979. Wojtyla is rightly revered as a symbol of resistance and survival by the valiant, long-suffering Polish people. He was also instrumental in improving relations between Roman Catholics and Jews, both as a bishop and as pope.

On the other hand, he was very conservative from a theological perspective and resisted efforts to give women a larger role in the church. He was resistant to the liberalization of the church's stance on birth control and same-sex relationships. He was unsympathetic to the liberation theology movement in Latin America- seemingly willing to turn a blind eye to the excesses of capitalism due to his understandable fear of Soviet-style communism. By far, his greatest sin was his utter failure to address the sexual abuse scandal which rocked the church worldwide.

John Paul's virtues were the virtues of an individual- He was able to inflame the hearts of his fellow Poles in the face of decades of oppression. He was able to forgive his shooter. His vices were institutional- he failed to root out an evil element of the church which preyed on the most vulnerable members of his flock. He failed to modernize the church's attitude toward women and LGBT people.

In the grand scheme of things, John Paul II was a flawed man (as all humans are flawed) who accomplished much good in the world outside his control, but failed to curtail a great evil in the one sphere in which he could wield authority. He was a canny political player, but he allowed internal politics to interfere in an accounting of the modern Roman Catholic Church's most heinous crime. While I would generally consider that his good deeds outweighed his bad deeds, I would hesitate before I considered him a saint.

Being a cynical man, I'd have to say that his canonization is an obfuscation of his one fatal flaw, and an attempt to downplay the scandal he failed to address... more an example of public relations than of sanctity.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Night of Mucky-Mucks

I have a feeling that tonight is going to be pretty crazy on the job. The organization is previewing a new spring fundraiser, a "swing for the fences" extravaganza that's costing beaucoup simoleons. Besides the technicians who will be swarming all over the place making last-minute adjustments (the crew was on-site until 2AM last night, and returned mid-morning), a lot of the organization's bigwigs will be present. I guess I'll have to shave before heading out to work.

Next month will be occupied by the fundraiser itself. To make things even crazier, our normal season starts next weekend as well. I had to cobble together a tentative schedule for the month, which could change as the department head reassesses staffing needs. This is the first time the organization has endeavored to hold such a grandiose Spring fundraiser (Fall is our crazy season). Before I hop into the shower (can't catass when there are mucky-mucks around... it's okay to catass when you're just working with the cats- just kidding!), I think I'll post an appropriate video from The Vapors (funny how this UK band didn't use the British spelling of the word, something that just hit me tonight):

The Vapors are largely seen as a one-hit novelty act, due to the popularity of their song Turning Japanese. It's a pity, the entire album New Clear Days is fantastic. I'd listen to the album in its entirety, but for the fact that I'll be kept hopping all night.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Coda to My Last Post

Tonight, I have a bunch of technicians crawling all over the site that I am working, so I don't have time to compose a lengthy post. Instead, I will link to a couple of the august residents of my blogroll concerning Tuesday night's speaker.

I will start with the brilliant Smut Clyde, who OBS believes is asking to borrow the keys to the "Riddled" time machine in roundabout fashion.

Next up are a couple of posts at the indefinitely suspended House of Substance- "COME BACK, MR McGRAVITAS!!!" In the comments, Thunder rightly notes that Dr Pinker's veritas sux. I'd add, "Better dead than crimson."

Anyway, I enjoyed the man's lecture last night, even though some of his findings are controversial. It's nice to hear something optimistic about the "arc of history" once in a while. I generally don't moderate comments (obvious spam is an exception, though the filter picks up most of it), so anybody who wants to hurl batteries is free to do so.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: A History of Violence

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 psychologist Dr Steven Pinker of Harvard University. Dr Pinker's lecture, which covered the subject of his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, concerned the decline in violent behavior throughout human history.

Dr Pinker began his lecture by stating that (contrary to the impression one might get while watching the news) violence is in decline. The decline is not steady, it's not guaranteed, and violence will probably never disappear. This decline is occurring on all levels- from wars and genocides to the treatment of children and animals. Dr Pinker characterizes this decline as happening in a series of "Great Pacifications".

According to Dr Pinker, the first great decline in violence was the pacification processm which occurred with the end of the state of anarchy which characterized most of human existence. He referenced Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan which characterized human lives in the absence of society thusly:

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

The alternative view, promulgated by Rousseau (who never used the term "noble savage"), was that human nature was fundamentally sympathetic to other humans. Both Hobbes' and Rousseau's views were purely speculative.

In order to make a better determination of the nature of violence in prehistoric societies, forensic archaeologists (Dr Pinker likened them to CSI: Paleolithic) began to collect evidence of unhealed wounds in human remains. While estimates vary, Dr Pinker put the figure of death by violence in the "State of Nature" at fifteen percent. The rate today, even given the lethality of modern war and related violence, is three percent.

Ethnographic studies of hunter/gatherer or horticulturist societies suggest that the rate of violent death in these societies is 524 per 100,000 people. In contrast, even given the carnage of two world wars, the rate of death by violence in 20th Century Germany was 144 per 100,000, the rate of violent death in 20th Century Japan was 27 per 100,000 and the rate of violent death in the U.S. was 3.7 per 100,000. While warfare in "primitive" societies tends to be ritualized and less lethal than modern war, raids and ambushes make up a larger percentage of violent acts.

A second "great pacification" was named "The Civilizing Process" by Dr Pinker- involving the rise of states and the resultant "Paxes", with the Pax Romana being the best-known example (as a TV Tropes junkie, I'd refer to it as the "trope namer"). With centralized authority, the incidents of raiding and feuding are reduced- retribution tends to be handled by the state rather than through ongoing private vendettas. Dr Pinker displayed several graphs depicting the downward trend of homicides in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era (with a slight uptick in the 20th Century, with its war and genocides). Much of the period involved the consolidation of principalities and the resultant rule of law. The growth of trade also had an effect- zero sum plundering gave way to mutually beneficial trade.

The third pacification was the "Humanitarian Revolution", in which punishment by torture, mutilation, and execution began to fall by the wayside. A succinct expression of this humanist revolution is the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

In 18th Century England, there were 222 capital crimes, which dwindled down to four capital crimes by 1861. The vast majority of European countries have abolished the death penalty- Dr Pinker quipped, the Europeans have "lost their taste for death".

The humanitarian revolution also saw the end of witch-hunts, the drastic reduction in religious persecution, and the abolition of slavery and bloodsports. Dr Pinker cited the invention of printing and the subsequent increase in literacy as a major factor in the humanitarian revolution- the explosion of literacy led to the Enlightenment, in which knowledge replaced superstition, undermining the rationale for many violent behaviors. As Voltaire put it, roughly condensed: "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

Another factor in the humanitarian revolution was cosmopolitanism- with increased contact between societies, an expansion of the "circle of empathy" resulted.

The fourth pacification Dr Pinker termed the "Long Peace", which occurred after the end of World War Two. While the 20th Century is often characterized as being extraordinarily violent, the 19th Century was characterized by destructive wars beginning with the Napoleonic Wars, through the Taiping Rebellion in China, the War of the Triple Alliance in South America, Shaka Zulu's conquest of South Africa, and the American Civil War. Dr Pinker cited "atrocitologist" Matthew White's The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities, which posits that World War Two, with all it's carnage, was probably 9th in the ranking of the world's worst wars from 500 BCE to 2000 CE.

The "Long Peace" of the post 1946 era was characterized by no wars between the U.S. and Russia, no use of nukes in war, no "great powers" wars since Korea, and no European wars. Before 1945, there were two new wars in Europe per year. Between 1946 and 2008, battle deaths declined as well. Dr Pinker cited Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch as an inspiration of the Long Peace- the spread of democratic governance and international community should lead to peace.

The fifth pacification Dr Pinker termed the "Rights Revolutions"- the civil rights, women's rights, children's rights, gay rights, and animal rights movements led to a decrease in violence. Lynchings are down dramatically, and hate crimes legislation is working to reduce violence even further.

Dr Pinker then discussed reasons for the decline in violence. He asserted that the decline has happened to rapidly to be evolutionary. The decline in violence is due to social/institutional changes. Dr Pinker then enumerated different categories of violence and discussed the neural pathways involved in such behaviors.

His first reason for violence was rage, which is generally thought to involve the amygdala. Dominance is another reason for violence, which is thought to involve the amygdala and the insula. The rage and dominance "circuits" are distinct but similar. Revenge is believed to involve a two-step process- the first involving the amygdala, insula, and the second stage involving the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex- it's similar to the striving/seeking "circuit" and dopamine is involved, meaning that revenge is, indeed, sweet. Instrumental violence is violence as a means to an end- predation, plunder, conquest, the elimination of rivals- it involves higher cognitive functions- reasoning. Utopian ideologies, the belief that violence can lead to a greater, even unlimited, good, also involves higher cognitive functions, such as cost/benefit analysis. To use a crude proverb, one cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

Dr Pinker then described the neurology of our "better angels". Empathy involves the insula and the orbitofrontal cortex. Moral sense involves the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the temporoparietal junction. Reason primarily involves the frontal lobe.

Regarding social reasons for the decline of violence, Pinker cited several. Gentle commerce is one- plunder is a zero sum game while trade is a positive sum game- both parties benefit from fair trade. An expanding circle of sympathy- an "elastic" empathy that allows us to think well of the "other" makes us less likely to engage in violence with said "others". An "escalator of reason" allows people to rise above cruelty- violence is seen as a problem to be solved, not a contest to be won.

Dr Pinker then asked why so many forces push us in the same direction, and answered that violence is a dilemma- it is less of a benefit to the victor than a loss to the victim. All of the forces reducing violence improve outcomes for a vast majority of people. Dr Pinker concluded by exhorting us to examine what we are doing right, and to reassess modernity- modernity is better than nostalgia.

In the follow-up Q&A session, the Bastard was not able to get a question in edgewise in the packed house (the line for the lecture went down the block). Here's a short video of Dr Pinker being interviewed about the subject of his talk. Crack a beer or two (or six) and bask in the boozy, brainy Secret Science glow:

As an aside, back in 2009, when the lecture was still taking place at the lovely Union Hall, I joked to a reporter from NPR that the SSC would eventually have to move to Yankee Stadium. The last couple of SRO lectures convince me that our wonderful hosts, Andy and Jim (and their great, great staff) are going to have to open up a bigger venue. Once again, I can't say enough about what my great and good friends Margaret and Dorian are accomplishing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Big Green Goes Green

I'm headed down to Brooklyn (on public transportation) for tonight's Secret Science Club lecture, but I couldn't let Earth Day pass without an acknowledgement. Since I'm rushed, before I hit the subway, I'll merely post the hilarious title song from Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster, an epic kaiju film in which our favorite radioactive reptilian rumbler fights a giant turd:

Save the Earth, Godzilla implores, with the possible exception of Tokyo (we all have our blind spots)... even big green nuclear nightmares can put up a green front once in a while. **Nervously looks north...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bastard's Beloved Boston

As I New Yorker, I don't know if I'm supposed to admit it, but I love Boston. My grandfather was born and raised in Framingham, Massachusetts and he never lost his New England accent, or his taste for Moxie (a taste that I have cultivated, largely out of contrariness), throughout all his years in the Bronx. As a small boy, I lived in Waltham, Massachusetts while my father was a graduate student. I have vivid memories of visiting Old Ironsides. One of my all-time favorite books is Make Way for Ducklings, which will always remind me of the beautiful Boston Public Gardens, with its Swan Boats... and of the amphibious Duck Tours, with their repurposed landing craft. Throughout high school and college, there were trips to Boston, where I'd invariably run into religious kooks in Faneuil Hall with whom I'd engage in weird discussions (my great and good friend J-Co, who now lives in the Boston Metropolitan Area, still likes to recount an incident in which a beret-wearing proselytizer, upon hearing me opine that a lot of people get caught up in dogma while ignoring basic precepts of ethics, dramatically intoned, "This man speaketh the truth!"). On occasion, I'd get into a drunken lip lock with a tipsy charmer at the Róisín Dubh. Yeah, Boston's a great town, and the Bostonians are wonderful people.

I was relieved to hear that this year's Boston Marathon finished without a hitch after last year's horror. The stories of bombing victims returning to finish the race, some in spite of grievous injuries, were heart-warming and tear-jerking.

Yeah, I'm a New Yorker, always has been, but Boston will always occupy a large space in my heart. Love Boston, love Bostonians.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Chocolate War

I hope those of you who celebrated Easter today have gotten over your sugar hangover, because battle has been joined. There is now an, admittedly half-hearted/half-assed, War on Easter, declared by Fox News.

The "war" stems from a display erected in Daley Plaza by The Freedom from Religion Foundation, extolling **GASP** reason and the separation of church and state. Even worse, this "War on Easter" is **HORRORS!** unholy. What kind of unholy monsters would advocate for reason and the separation of church and state? What sort of monsters, indeed?

Those who would undermine the separation of church and state make the dubious assumption that their particular brand of church would be the established one. The Founders, with the horrors of the Thirty Years' War still scarring the European psyche, well knew the tyranny of established religion.

As an aside, I have to laugh at the use of the word "unholy"... almost everything on the planet is "unholy". For example, with one notable exception, hand grenades are unholy.

I think the real issue is that, for most people, the Easter eggs and bunnies, and the baskets full of candy have supplanted the religious festival to a large extent. The fundies have lost The Chocolate War so now they're throwing a temper tantrum:

Cross-posted at Rumproast.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lunacy on the Job

Despite the fact that I will be ribbed for this, I am happy to report that there is a loon on the premises at work. This afternoon, I found a common loon (in contrast, I'm an uncommon loon) fishing in a small body of water on site:

Here's another shot (poorly focused... I blame the phone!) to show the distinctive white breast:

Again, this is the first time I've seen a common loon on site... indeed the first time I've seen one in the area (I am very familiar with loons from the "great pond" by the family vacation home in Maine). The bird is merely stopping here in the middle of migrating to the great northern lakes, but the enchanting quality the bird lends to the site will linger for a long time in my mind.

Two loons in one week... pretty amazing!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Una Tristeza en Macondo

Now, this is a bit of sad news, the Colombian dean of letters Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez died in Mexico City today. My personal favorite work of Márquez (everybody's favorite work of Márquez) has got to be One Hundred Years of Solitude (original title Cien Años de Soledad), one of the pillars of the magical realist body of literature... Gene Wolfe described it simply as fantasy en Español: "Magic realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish."

One Hundred Years of Solitude struck me with its dreamy quality- the backdrop behind the saga of the Buendía family being populated with ageless gypsies privy to arcane knowledge, tragic beauties with arresting eyes, foreigners both benign and rapacious. The story is, in many ways, a microcosm of Colombia itself.

I recently started re-reading a translation of the novel while concurrently reading an edition of the Spanish original (purchased for a quarter at a library book sale). It's pretty slow-going (I used to be smarter... I recently shamed myself when I stumbled across a term paper I'd written in college about sycretism in Central American religious traditions that yo había escrito en Español) but I'm able to bask in the beauty of the language, twice. It's tempting to find traces of other works in the novel- a duel is reminiscent of Borges' El Sur, a panther eyed woman calls to mind Asturias' Hombres de Maíz). I'm taking my sweet time- this is literature to be savored.

Rest in peace, Sr. Márquez. artist, intellectual, activist... I hope that the distant afternoon that you remembered on your last day was marked by a pleasant discovery.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Pretty Crazy Day

After a weekend characterized by unseasonably warm temperatures, the temperature has plummeted this week- to the extent that we experienced a wind-driven snow in the wee hours of the morning and many people awoke to cars that needed to be hit by the ice scraper. I had the day off, and was lounging around the house when the power went off- the neighborhood was hit by an unexplained power outage. After ascertaining that several of my neighbors had called the electrical utility, I decided to head over to the local public library so I could plug in the old laptop and avail myself of a benefit I gladly pay for.

When I got home a couple of hours later, the power had come back on, but I decided that my time would better be spent napping before working the night. I slept about an hour and a half, when my department head called me to tell me that my presence would be needed at a different site than my usual one, because we have a small crew of technicians working on a big spring fundraiser, and that there would be i's to dot and t's to cross when they leave. I'm an i-dotter and a t-crosser... it's my raison d'etre. While throwing together a quick breakfast, I heard my landlord's distinctive laughter coming from outside, so I stepped out so say hello. For the record, the landlord is a great guy, and I have come to value his friendship. He had been planning to sell the house (it's a three-family house, but he moved out a couple of years ago when he bought his uncle's house)- he's had a couple of deadbeat tenants in the last couple of years, and one apartment is currently vacant (the tenants scarpered off, leaving no forwarding address). He is planning on sticking it out, and giving any new tenants more scrutiny.

After shooting the breeze with the landlord and the top-floor tenant, I realized that I'd have to shake a leg because I had to pick up the company phone from my usual jobsite. I wanted to make sure I left myself plenty of time to travel to take into account the detour. Right now, I'm sitting in the office, drinking some coffee left over from the afternoon crew... the head technician (he's a contractor) told me to avail myself of his Keurig machine (he's also a very nice guy), but I'm not down with the multiple plastic cups necessitated by the machine. I can no longer drink bad beer, but bad coffee is okay with me... I can drink java that's been used to wash dogs, and the stuff in the pot is not nearly that bad.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lunacy? Just a Loon

Yesterday's post was about the lunacy attending the lunar eclipse tetrad, but today's post is about a single loon. This morning, I set my clock at 3AM to get a gander at the eclipse, but the sky was too overcast to see the moon at that time. I reset the alarm for 7AM so I could get out of the house in time to meet a co-worker at the train station so we could carpool to our annual all-staff meeting. I arrived in the vicinity of the train station twenty minutes early (I had been concerned at a series of dire weather reports, but conditions weren't so bad) and decided to kill some time in a park across the street from the station. While in the park, I saw a spectacular sight, a loon (probably a red-throated loon in winter plumage) fishing in the Hudson River:

Here is a picture of the bird spreading its wings:

I have never seen a loon on the Hudson before, despite my regular jaunts on the river's banks. It was a nice, quiet moment before my trip to the train station and our subsequent trip to the all-staff meeting.

The meeting went well- the President went over the challenges faced by non-profits and the organization's response to these challenges. He discussed a trip to D.C. to testify before congress about the need for funding of the Humanitites, and the constant chasing after grant money. Over a hundred of my co-workers attended the meeting, many of whom I hadn't seen since autumn. I joked about the seasonal staff returning like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, and noted that I was just as happy as the birders who congregate for their return. The meeting went well, boding a more optimistic outlook for the year.

All in all, it was a pretty good day- I even got to take home a pound and a half of a kickass quinoa salad that was part of the luncheon provided by management. Pretty hard to beat that!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bloody Lunacy

Tomorrow, in the wee hours of the morning throughout much of the United States, there will be a total eclipse of the full moon. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth is positioned between the moon and the sun, and the moon is obscured by the shadow (there are two regions of shadow, the penumbral and umbral regions)- during a total eclipse of the moon (as opposed to a total eclipse of the sun or of the heart), sunlight passing through Earth's atmosphere colors the moon a shade of red. This reddish hue has inspired the term "Blood Moon" for eclipses of this sort.

Religious nutbars being what they are, whackaloon John Hagee believes that four coming lunar eclipses signal Earthshaking events, perhaps even the dawn of the "End Times". Religious fundies can even spoil the beauty of the celestial dance.

Religious people are often characterized as humble people, but I think that's total B.S. Every religious fundamentalist sees him-or-herself as the center of momentous events, a witness to the climax of history. In reality, each and every one of us is a tiny speck of matter on a slightly larger speck of matter, as Douglas Adams put it far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy, and I would add, not even a particularly distinguished galaxy at that.

We are not that important in the grand scheme of things, no matter what interpretation of an ambiguous passage in a book written by Bronze Age goatherders and passed through many translations over the course of the last couple of millennia is favored by a crazy religious fundamentalist in Texastan. Get over yourselves, fundies. Enough of this bloody lunacy.

Cross posted at Rumproast.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wonderful Weekend at Work, With One Sad Note

This weekend was great- it being the first weekend that the workplace is open for visitation. The weather was lovely, the wonderful seasonal part-timers who make up the bulk of the organization (most of them retired from other careers, people with several part-time jobs, or people whose spouses are the primary breadwinners) the crowd was nice (I had to yell at a father and teenage son who were wrestling a bit too intensely to "take it down a couple of notches"- it's all fun and games til someone loses and eye... and then it becomes a sport), and the daffodils were in profusion:

With a few dozen staff members and a few hundred visitors on site, Ginger was in her glory, jumping on people's laps and making sure she was the center of attention:

The real story here is that Fred has largely come out of his shell- he would typically run like hell and hide when large crowds descended on the site, but today he plopped himself down in a comfortable spot and gloried in the attention of visitors who wanted to give him friendly ear scritches. Here is an "introspective" looking Fred:

After the crowds left, I ran around for almost an hour locking the place up for the night. Now that everybody's away and the cats are tucked away in their assigned meesing locations, I am enjoying a gorgeous, warm night under an almost-full moon:

There's one bummer to report- one of my co-workers just received a diagnosis of Huntington's Disease over the winter- she is now working out what combination of long-term disability insurance and early retirement benefits (she has twenty years with a department of the New York state government) will suffice to keep her afloat. Her neurologist told her that her high level of activity (she volunteered as an EMT as well as working two jobs) will have an impact in offsetting the neurological deficits she is undergoing. One major goal of Huntington's treatment is fostering plasticity in the brain- gotta keep those neurons connecting. I was hit hard by this revelation because this woman does not have an ounce of meanness in her body- she's one of the most generous spirits I've ever encountered, and I've been lucky to know some fine, fine people all of my life. She's tough, and an optimist, so she's coping as well as anyone I've ever known, but it pains me to see such a skillful person hit with such a debilitation condition.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hanging Out with the Beaumonts at Work

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to hang out with Major Kong at my workplace, where my co-workers gave him a warm welcome. Today, N__B, the Lovely Mrs _B, and Mini_B came up for a visit. Today was our kickoff event of the tourist season, and the weather could not have been better. Mini_B had a lot of interesting things to check out and N__B got an eyeful of some interesting buildings on site- I'm very proud of our **REDACTED** which is a very good example of early "skeleton supported" architecture. N__B also met Ginger and immediately noted the importance of her role as a working mouser. Kudos, Ginger, you count among your admirers a very smart, hardworking individual who realizes that you're not just a pretty face. Fred doesn't like sizable crowds (though he was friendly to the Major and our friends from Ireland) and hid himself for the duration of the event.

It was good to see the __B family, and all of my seasonal co-workers who have returned after a rough winter. The event went really well, which hopefully portends a good season for us. Any other readers, if you are coming to the NY Metro Area, just let me know when you'll be by- it would be great to bring you folks to work.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Synthethized, but Haunting

At the mothership, paleo left a comment about the CNN coverage of the missing Malaysian airliner. For some reason, I was reminded of one of my favorite tunes by synthpop superstar Thomas Dolby. While synthpop is usually thought to be icy and emotionless, Mr "Dolby" brought a certain warmth and emotional depth to his work. As another musician put it, "All this machinery making modern music. Can still be open-hearted. Not so coldly charted, it's really just a question. Of your honesty, yeah, your honesty."

One of Thomas Dolby's most emotionally wrenching songs is One of Our Submarines is Missing, a five-minute opus about the death of his uncle, while serving on a WW2 submarine crew. I just listened to the song three times in succession, and its descriptions of the crew slowly dying in their floundering "Spam tin" give me goosebumps:

The red lights flicker, sonar weak
Air valves hissing open
Half her pressure blown away
Flounder in the ocean

In the chorus, he seems to be singing of the futility of maintaining an empire on which the sun never sets, and the cost in lives that keeping such an empire entails:

Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Shallow water - channel and tide
Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Tired illusion drown in the night

The single was released in the immediate aftermath of the Falklands War, and it is not a stretch to believe that the song was a response to the conflict.

Here is a live performance of the song, in which the ordinarily cerebral Mr Dolby aims for the listeners' hearts, and scores a direct hit:

I just had to update this post to include a video of a 2008 performance by Mr Dolby, in which he is totally rocking the Big Bad Bald look:

I have to write him to ask if he's a long-lost cousin...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What We Missed on Sunday

My great and good friends at Secret Science Central have posted the results of the "Carnivorous Nights" taxidermy contest, and linked to a Village Voice slideshow covering the event. The grand winner of the night was Coney Island stalwart and eccentric genius Takeshi Yamada, who is a genuinely nice guy.

Here's a nice video introduction to Mr Yamada and his gallery of whimsical horrors and fancies:

He was also featured in an AMC show about rogue taxidermists. Here's the finale of the show so ****SPOILERS AHEAD****:

It was too bad I missed the event, what with being stuck at work and all. I imagine what confronting that multi-headed beast after drinking seven or eight beers would have been like...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Take a Major to Work Day

Yesterday, Major Kong left this comment at the mothership:

BBBB – I’ll be in your neck of the woods Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

For those of you who don't know the good Major, he is a pilot who, after an extensive and fascinating military career, now flies for a major freight carrier. Basically, he's a cross between Race Bannon and Santa Claus. Since he is a commercial pilot, when he says "I’ll be in your neck of the woods Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week" he doesn't mean he'll be in your neck of the woods from Tuesday until Thursday- he means he'll be in your neck of the woods on Tuesday, then he'll be back on Wednesday, and he will return on Thursday. Yeah, even more than myself, he's the sleep-deprivation poster boy.

At any rate, we made plans to meet up today- he flew into the region around six-thirty in the morning and sent me an e-mail telling me that he'd arrived and would probably sleep until about noon. Around eleven o'clock, I started driving upstate, to the greater Fishkill metropolitan area, then I pulled over at the three-quarter way point to check my e-mail for the message that the major was ready to road-trip. Shortly before one o'clock, we rendezvoused at his hotel and drove south to my workplace. I had called the site manager earlier in the day to tell him that I would be bringing a friend to the site, and got the all-clear.

When we arrived, there were quite a few co-workers on site, preparing for a spring fundraiser that is taking place this weekend. I introduced the major to the I.T. guys and a few other members of the day shift. While I was making introductions, I noticed that a pleasant-looking young woman had entered the building. I informed her that the site was closed, but I would point out some of the site's salient features. Next thing you know, her parents arrived, and I learned that the three were Westmeath residents on vacation to New York for a week. Since I immediately took a liking to them, I took them along with the major on a tour of our site. My co-worker **REDACTED**, who had just finished giving a tour to a school group, decided to give us an impromptu tour of the site, including a wonderful demonstration of the onsite **REDACTED**, a piece of machinery which I always watch operating with the raucous glee of an eight-year old.

In the course of our tour, I introduced the Major, who is a cat person, and our new friends from Ireland to Fred and Ginger. Atypically, Fred was not shy around strangers and Ginger did not try to climb up the Major's shirt. We bid a grateful farewell to my co-workers, both two- and four-legged and went together to another nearby tourist destination.

While there, I showed friends old and new the **REDACTED** of **REDACTED**, upon whom the character **REDACTED** of **REDACTED** was modeled. We then took a stroll to the **REDACTED** of **REDACTED**, who starting the whole thing off back in the day. The Major and I then took leave of our friends from overseas, it being time we headed north, the major having to report back to work by 7PM.

We took the scenic route north to Fishkill, including a ride on the "goat path" atop the cliffs on the east bank of the Hudson. I hadn't been that way in a long time so I was glad to play the "at home he's a tourist" game. The scenery along this particular stretch of road is nothing short of breathtaking.

When we finally got back to the greater Fishkill metropolitan area, we had an early dinner at a very pleasant local diner and I dropped the Major off at his hotel with plenty of time to spare.

It was a good afternoon- time spent well with friends old and new, and an opportunity to rekindle my love of the place I spend my workdays. Special thanks go to my co-worker **REDACTED**, who went out of his way to provide us with a fantastic experience.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Atlantean Prayerbook

After running some errands and eating a gut-busting lunch at a local Indian restaurant with a buffet special, I headed over to the local brick-and-mortar bookstore and picked up a copy of the newly released Penguin Classics edition of The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies, a collection of the prose and poetry of the Atlantean High Priest Klarkash-Ton.

"You silly Bastard", you might say, "All of that literature is available at the excellent website The Eldritch Dark- a website you've linked to a number of times!" You might also point out the fact that I have produced cut-and-paste documents of a lot of the material on that website, converted them to PDF, and arranged them into folders with the pertinent groupings, such as "The Averoigne Tales" and "The Commoriom Myth Cycle"... and you'd be correct. Why? Why? Why, did you buy a copy of this book?

There are two main reasons for my purchase, one noble and one kingly. The noble reason for buying the book is that steady sales will guarantee that it stays in print, and on the shelves of the few bookstores that remain standing, so that an individual browsing the shelves may happen upon it and buy it. The kingly reason for making this purchase is because it's a lot easier to read a paperback book than it is to read a PDF file when I am cogitating on my porcelain throne in my tiled inner sanctum. Can't be booting up the laptop every time nature calls.

Postscript: I was somewhat surprised that The Seven Geases, one of Smith's best known tales, and a major inspiration for Bastard fave The Eyes of the Overworld, isn't in this book. It's just as well, though, that tale has been anthologized numerous times... nice to see some of the more obscure works make it back into print.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Missing the Dead Things

Tonight, I am a sad bastard. My dear friends from the Secret Science Club are hosting the seventh "Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest" and I am stuck at work (though, to be sure, I have always preferred the live fuzzy things to the dead ones- as yesterday's post implied). Still, I have always enjoyed the "Carnivorous Nights" event, and even presented pieces on behalf of artist, table tennis champion, and gentleman Peter Cua. I am there in spirit with all of the attendees... my friend Chris A. is texting me updates from the event- a mandolin fashioned from an armadillo shell is the highlight so far.

On a more important note, the taxidermy show was started as a promotional event for the wonderful book Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger by my friends Margaret Mittelbach & Michael Crewdson. The book is a fantastic read, and I am not saying that because they are my friends- it is an informative book which manages to be funny even though it is suffused with the melancholy appropriate to the disappearance of a remarkable animal from the face of the planet just as conservation efforts were being proposed by, of all people, Errol Flynn's father- for a taste of the book, here's a Washington Post article written by Margaret and Michael on the subject.

Just so everybody can be even sadder than the Bastard, here's a video of the last known Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus), a marsupial masquerading as a rather handsome dog with a huge head and an impossible gape of the jaws, which died in a zoo in 1936:

Seriously, folks, get your hands on a copy of Carnivorous Nights, you'll alternate between laughing and crying, and will heave a huge, sad sigh once you're done, lamenting yet another example of humankind's thoughtlessness.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

You're Lucky I'm Alone!

Last night was a drizzly night, punctuated by brief, torrential downpours. As is typical on such nights, my co-workers didn't even want to leave the building they were "meesing" in at all. Typically, I let them out so we can "go on adventures" for a spell, then I let them into another building which needs meesing for a few hours. Longtime readers will recall that we lost a beloved mouser last year. At any rate, I was pulling solo duty last night when I ran into this little critter:

In the light, you can see some more detail:

While I am no expert in rodent identification, I'd guess that this little critter is a white footed mouse, the most common native rodent in these parts.

At any rate, the little sucker was lucky I was working alone.

Hey, since I posted a couple of videos from Australian bands yesterday, how about a rodent-themed number from Brisbane garage/punk band The Screaming Tribesmen?

There are a couple of live versions of Two Blind Mice on teh t00bz, but the sound quality is sub-par. It's good to see that they are still gigging.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Boss and the Saints

I was somewhat surprised when I turned on the radi-adi-o and heard that some fella named Bruce Springstone covered one of my favorite songs by The Saints, an Australian band which released the first non-US punk single (a personal favorite of mine).

According to teh wiki, he debuted a live version in Australia, and followed it up with a single release this year:

Here's a recent live version by The Saints:

I'd compare The Saints to X- a band which matured from its punk roots to a more "rootsy", country-inflected sound. Hopefully, nobody in The Saints has become a 'bagger-friendly whackaloon. Yeah, that would be a bad thing.

Now, which other Australian punk bands are going to get a big American rawkstar to cover them? How soon before I hear a song by the Celibate Rifles:

Or the Radio Birdman (never knew their name was a mondegreen until today):

On the radi-adi-o?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Playing at Being a Monster

Via Tengrain, we have the story of a "Law and Order" Republican who indulges in Vampire LARPing on his time off. I have nothing against LARPers- there's something kinda charming and wholesome about slinging lightning bolts in the fresh air. Plus, do I not LARP as a big, bad, bald bastard? To me, the guy's conservatism is freakier than his vampire fantasies, although those seem to cross a line into a misogynistic power fantasy:

At first I thought you were just stupid and I wanted to stick my dick in your mouth to shut you up while I snorted a line off my new machete that was blessed by Rui (sic) but then I remembered that you were typing so my dick would really have to be in your hands to keep you from typing but since you are walking in Omaha that’s not really realistic right now.


You shouldn’t believe everything that people tell you or you’re going to end up naked and sore, tied to the floor of a van marked “Free Candy.”

And stop letting people torpor (sic) you.

Now, that's the kind of creepy, sexualized, violent imagery that is sure to help him in a Republican primary. He's running as a GOP congresscreep because he's sick of roleplaying a vampire and wants to become a real predatory monster, feasting on the blood of innocents.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Drama in the Sky

This afternoon, I hauled my carcass to Tibbett's Brook Park for what passes for fresh air in the megalopolis and some sunshine (living at night isn't helping my complexion). In the course of rambling around the pond, I saw (gasp!) an osprey flying overhead:

I noticed something trailing from the bird's legs, which it was attempting to dislodge with a complicated set of aerial maneuvers. Thankfully, the bird was able to dislodge the thing, which turned out to be (yeah, you probably guessed it) a plastic bag:

The damn thing was too far from the shore to fish out of the pond. Thankfully, NYC, our big neighbor to the south, seems to be moving quickly toward forcing stores to charge ten cents per plastic bag, to reduce this waste that will outlive our nation (the Atlantic has its own floating garbage gyre now).

On a happy note, there is at least one osprey in Tibbett's Brook Park. At the mothership, the subject of DDT came up- DDT use led to severe declines in osprey populations. Seeing an osprey today was a happy coincidence.

Sadly, I missed the one shot which would have been best for this post. After its aerobatics to dislodge the plastic bag, the bird took a plunge into the water and emerged carrying what appeared to be a "liberated" goldfish (judging by the color) in its talons. Hopefully, the osprey will establish residency in the park... if that happens, I'll have to apologize to the wood ducks for not considering them my Tibbett's favorites anymore.