Sunday, January 31, 2016

Six Decades of Serious Mischief

Today, I'd like to wish a happy 60th birthday to John Lydon, who has been quite the gadfly since the mid-70s, when he fronted the Sex Pistols, using the nom de guerre Johnny Rotten. It's been a while since I've posted about the 'Pistols or Mr Lydon, but I certainly consider Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols an essential part of my record collection, as well as being an essential document of late 20th century Western malaise. Johnny Rotten was the quintessential intelligent teenager faced with poor economic prospects and the resultant righteous rage... he used his keen wit to slash through the pretensions of a staid, stagnant culture with such sonic onslaughts as God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the UK. While the song Submission is perhaps my favorite 'Pistols song, my favorite political song of theirs is the album opener, Holidays in the Sun, which seems to be the pessimistic counterpart of David Bowie's "Heroes":

I still get a bit of gooseflesh when I hear John Lydon growl that opening line... "A cheap holiday in other people's misery!"

Mr Lydon's pinnacle of bird-flipping, his Johnny Rottenest moment, was his final question to the audience at the 'Pistols' last concert, at San Francisco's Winterland:

That's a question that could be asked by just about every denizen of the planet.

After his stint with the Sex Pistols, Mr Lydon formed the band Public Image Limited, with their first single, Public Image, being a kiss-off to the 'Pistols:

My favorite post-Pistols song by Mr Lydon was his collaboration with Afrika Bambaataa, 1984's World Destruction:

Mr Lydon continues on as a gadfly, even though he flogged butter for money a few years back:

To anyone who would accuse Mr Lydon of selling out, I'd have to point out that the Sex Pistols were originally founded to sell clothing, even though John Lydon was too smart and too independent to be anybody's mere pitchman.

The essential account of the Sex Pistols and the milieu in which they were formed is Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, a fascinating read with an indispensable discography in the appendices. I'm not a big 'rawk and/or roll' history reader, but this book was something quite greater than mere hagiography.

Happy birthday, Mr John Lydon. May you have another six decades of troublemaking ahead of you.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Malheur Malfeasance

The real damage of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 'occupation' by a bunch of yahoos has yet to be determined. In particular, the setbacks to scientific research in the preserve is what particularly chaps my ass.

The original inhabitants of the region, the Burns Paiute, denounced the occupation, as it impinged on territory they hold sacred and endangered artifacts. When Burns Paiute Tribal Chair Charlotte Rodrique indicated that the Bundy Bunch should leave, Ammon 'Hello, Dad, I'm in Jail' Bundy had a dismissive, somewhat racist response to her:

“I don’t know much about that. That is interesting,” he said. “They have rights as well. I would like to see them free from the federal government.”

Besides the archaeological damage the nutbags have caused, their occupation threatens the upkeep of the wildlife refuge right before the Spring migration season starts- Malheur is a critical spot along the Pacific Flyway. Among the many bird species that come to the Malheur site is the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis). These birds are known for their majestic mating dances:

Less majestic is the mating dance of the red-necked loon:

I think the incarcerated Bundy boys should be forced to watch that video over and over again.

At any rate, these fuckers sinned against science, and I find that unpardonable.

Friday, January 29, 2016

LaVoy Est Mort, Vive LaVoy!

Well, it's come to pass, the leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation were arrested, with LaVoy 'Tarpman' Finicum getting his damn fool self killed by Oregon State Police. Yastreblyansky put up a great piece about Tarpman's death, but that was before the unedited video of Finicum's ignominious demise was released. It's important to note that the Malheur malfeasors were traveling to another county in order to spread their sagebrush sedition in cahoots with nutty 'constitutional' sheriff Glenn Palmer.

Originally, I thought that Tarpman had committed suicide by cop- after all, he had stated that he would rather die than be sent to jail, and even if he weren't sentenced, he'd already lost his major source of income, taking government money to house foster children that he probably used as unpaid ranch hands. Funny how all of these anti-government types seem to be sucking on the government teat. At any rate, I thought that LaVoy figured that a quick death in the Northwest, and a subsequent Walmartyrdom, would be preferable to a slow death from starvation once the government cheese stopped coming his way.

I've actually changed my mind on the circumstances of Tarpman's death... I think he actually may have believed that he would be able to shoot his way out of his predicament. LaVoy had written a novel, by all accounts, a Mary Sue/Gary Stu wish fulfillment fantasy about, wonder of wonders, a rancher who takes on the government and wins. Excerpts of the book seem oddly prescient:

"A twinge of guilt pulled at me. What would dad think with me showing up at the ranch with so little food? Of course he would say nothing and in no way try to make me feel like I had let him down. But I had. How many times had he told us kids to lay up stores and supplies?"

Hapless dumbass didn't even take the lessons of his own book to heart... Anyway, here's another excerpt which seems to hint at what LaVoy thought was going to occur when he exited his crashed truck on that lonely stretch of Oregon highway:

“I did not cease to fire and the skill that was developed over a lifetime of shooting at game on the run paid off. Men were dropping and I was on my second magazine but they were closing fast as they kept repeating the four-second charges.”

LaVoy should have remembered that humans are the most dangerous game, and that shooting at law enforcement officers isn't like bull's eyeing womp rats back home. It's a huge mistake to believe your own hype, and in real life, LaVoy's fantasy fiction ran up against a harsh editor, who did a bang-up job. If there's to be a sequel, no doubt it'll be ghost written.

Regarding LaVoy's martyrdom, I think that's pretty much torpedoed by the video evidence and, more importantly, by the fact that LaVoy made himself ridiculous in his final days. In a comic strip featured in his School is Hell collection, Matt Groening offered this advice- don't kill yourself, they'll make jokes about you. Needless to say, jokes are being made.

LaVoy died as he lived- stupidly, violently, futilely. At least he had the good grace to die alone... this situation could have ended up a lot worse.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: A Sense of Porpoise

On Monday night, I braved the post-blizzard snowscape to head to Brooklyn's beautiful Bell House for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Diana Reiss of the Department of Psychology at Hunter College and the Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. Dr Reiss studies cetacean communication and cognition.

After a brief autobiographical introduction, detailing her career move from theatrical design to studying animal cognition, Dr Reiss introduced us to Tursiops truncatus, the common bottlenose dolphin. Dr Reiss described dolphins as true non-terrestrials- they have a totally aquatic lifestyle. They have big brains and complex social structures, and have been demonstrated to experience suffering. When Dr Reiss started studying animal cognition in 1979, not much was known about dolphin cognition. Her initial subjects were Delphi, the first dolphin she studied, and Circe, a dolphin captured at the age of four. After this brief introduction to her subjects, Dr Reiss digressed to state that dolphins need to be protected, and that wild dolphins should not be captured.

Delphi and Circe were trained to respond to hand signals, something which does not come naturally. One technique used in training animals is to give them a "time out" when they exhibit undesired behaviors. Circe was accustomed to eating fish which had been cut into sections, and preferred to eat the tail sections of mackerel which had had the spines removed from them. One one occasion, Dr Reiss gave Circe a mackerel tail with uncut spines and Circe responded by giving her a "time out". Dr Reiss decided to turn this anecdote into a study and learned that giving Circe uncut tails would lead to avoidance, which only occurred when the uncut fish tails were presented to her. Dr Reiss posed the question, "What do dolphins do with their big, highly encephalized brains?" She then noted that it was useful to see dolphins as partners, not merely subjects. Dolphin studies should be designed to enrich the dolphins, not only to study them. Also, dolphins should be protected as individuals, not just populations.

Dolphins are toothed whales, Odontoceti, as opposed to the baleen whales or Mysticetes (Dr Reiss gave us a pop quiz- which came first, the toothed whales or the baleen whales? Clearly, the toothed whales came first, as their ancestors were toothed, while the more 'derived' baleen whales have baleen, a novel structure, rather than the ancestral teeth). Dolphins have large complex brains- the average bottlenose dolphin has a brain that weighs 1,700 grams. The average human brain weighs 1,300 grams. Dolphins have bigger bodies than humans, though- in relative size, dolphin brains are second only to human brains. The brain to body size ratio is known as the encephalization quotient- humans have an EQ of 7, bottlenose dolphins have an EQ of 4.2, chimpanzees have an EQ of 2.3, orangutans 1.8, and gorillas 1.6. This number roughly describes how much bigger an animal's brain is than is needed for basic survival. Dolphin brains, like human brains, have a great degree of folding of the brain's surface. Dolphin brains also have two hemispheres, but these hemispheres operate differently than those of human brains. Dolphins, unlike humans, are voluntary breathers- living underwater, dolphins need to consciously breath. When dolphins sleep, one hemisphere of the brain remains conscious, while the other one rests- most of the time, both hemispheres are conscious.

Dolphins form highly complex societies. They exhibit culture, passing knowledge from individual to individual and from generation to generation- as an example, certain dolphin populations engage in tool use, even without hands, employing sponges to protect their rostra when they forage. Dolphins form fusion-fission societies, even though they form strong ties, groups continually break apart and come together. It is possible that large complex brains evolved in order to keep track of individuals in social networks. The best studies of dolphin social networks were conducted with Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) in Bimini and Belize (I'm stymied linking here due to all of the 'swim with dolphins in Bimini' sites). Even though dolphins are non-handed, they are creative and manipulative- for example, they play with seaweed, not only with each other but with humans as well. One particular aquarium dolphin, Shiloh, was sometimes observed carrying a rock on her rostrum and once ringed an aquarium drain with rocks. Dolphins have also been observed blowing bubble rings with their blowholes and playing with them (WARNING: video features New Age-y music):

Dolphins are capable of anticipatory behavior and planning ahead. They engage in cooperative foraging and child rearing. They even discipline youngsters with thumps. Recently, bottlenose dolphins have been observed off the coast of Floridamaking 'corrals' of silt in which to entrap fish:

As an aside, I'd have to note that Florida dolphins are smarter than Florida man, but I digress.

In 1993, Dr Reiss led a team which created a dolphin keyboard in order to determine what dolphins would do when given choice and control. The keyboard had distinguishable shapes which the dolphins could use to request things. Each key of the keyboard produced a sound and each key dispensed a non-food reward- it was basically a vending machine for dolphins:

One of the purposes for the audible signal was to ascertain the role of imitation in vocal learning among dolphins. At three months of age, dolphins learn how to echolocate. The keyboard was introduced to eleven month old dolphins, which quickly imitated the signals on a spontaneous basis- agter about twenty exposures, the dolphins were imitating the signals. Dolphin sonograms are graphed on a whistle contour (frequency) axis and a time axis. Different objects, for example rings and balls, had different signals, but eventually the dolphins were able to create novel combinations, for example a ring-ball whistle. To ensure the novelty of a combined signal, signals were considered separate if there was a half-second of quiet time between whistles. The dolphins exhibited self-organized learning, adding signals to their 'vocabulary'. They also made clear associations between sounds and objects, often making the signals for a particular object before hitting the key. This keyboard interface between humans and dolphins prefigured the Interspecies Internet that Dr Reiss and Peter Gabriel are bringing about.

The topic then shifted to the subject of Dr Reiss' book The Dolphin in the Mirror: Exploring Dolphin Minds and Saving Dolphin Lives, specifically Mirror Self Recognition in animals. One index of self awareness is the ability to recognize oneself in a mirror. The 'mirror test' requires selective attention, obtaining potential information, and interpretation of this information, be it conspecific or interspecies information. Mirror Self Recognition requires mental capacity and motivation- one must be motivated to view oneself. Baby humans begin to exhibit Mirror Self Recognition at 12-14 months of age, which is the age at which they begin to demonstrate empathy. Originally, Mirror Self Recognition was thought to be unique to humans, until it was discovered in the great apes- gibbons and monkeys do not exhibit it. The great apes also exhibit some degree of empathy. The basic approach to determining Mirror Self Recognition is to display a mirror and observe what happens. Originally, animals will exhibit exploratory behavior and then social behavior (reacting to the image as a conspecific), then more sophisticated animals will engage in touching and testing the image, which Dr Reiss jokingly termed the 'Groucho test'. Most animals will remain at the level in which they treat the image in the mirror as another individual of the same species. Humans, dolphins, and great apes will engage in contingency testing to determine that they are indeed the individual 'in the mirror', then they engage in self-directed behavior, basically checking themselves out:

In order to determine Mirror Self Recognition, researchers can administer the Mark Test- a part of the subject's body is marked and then the subject is exposed to a mirror and observed to determine if it touches the mark. About 50% of chimpanzees and a sizable number of human children are not interested in the mark. When subject to the Mark Test, dolphins exhibit extremely sophisticated behavior- they engage in no social interaction (my guess would be that their echolocation immediately reads the mirror as 'wall' and not 'buddy') but immediately rush to the mirror to check the mark.

Dolphins and humans are separated by tens of millions of years of evolutionary development but the same cognitive ability with regards to Mirror Self Awareness- this is known as Cognitive Convergence. Certain elephants also exhibit Mirror Self Recognition:

Magpies can also exhibit Mirror Self Recognition.

Dr Reiss then brought her doctoral student Eric Ramos, who is using drones to study dolphin behavior around Turneffe Atoll off the coast of Belize. Dolphins are long-lived animals and must be studied long term. While it's relatively easy to record sounds, it's difficult to observe dolphin behavior. Using drones, one can get a better view of different foraging strategies, and display patterns can be paired with associated sounds.

Dr Reiss then returned to the stage to wrap things up, eloquently arguing that the relationship between science and advocacy must be rethought. When she was beginning her career studying dolphins, the two were generally kept separate, science was supposed to be a 'neutral' endeavor. In her years of studying dolphins, she came to the conclusion that she needed to give voice on behalf of dolphins in order to protect them. She was involved in the production of The Cove, which documented a slaughter of dolphins near the fishing village Taijii, Japan. Dr Reiss stated that science must inform policy, and that knowledge must transcend geographic and cultural boundaries- facts can change policy and spreading facts can lead to change.

While the Bastard was unable to get a question in edgewise during the Q&A, he was able to ask Dr Reiss afterwards about, to use an unforgivably anthropomorphic term, dolphin 'dialects' (I prefaced it with 'distinct vocal suites'). Dr Reiss noted that the initial sound of dolphin contact calls tends to be geographically distinct. He also asked if interspecies communication between different cetacean species (say, bottlenose to spotted dolphin communication or common dolphin to pilot whale communication) had ever been observed, and she indicated that no real inquiry has been done regarding this topic.

Once again, the Secret Science Club presented a dynamite lecture featuring a speaker whose knowledge was matched only by her devotion to her cetacean partners in science. Dr Reiss filled us with information and then challenged us to act on behalf of dolphins, both as species and as individuals. Kudos go to Dr Reiss, Eric Ramos, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.

Here is a TED talk featuring Dr Reiss:

Here is another TED talk, specifically dealing with the subject of the good doctor's book:

There are also video accompaniments to Dr Reiss' book. Pour yourself a nice drink and get a tiny taste of that Secret Science ambiance... you won't even have to brave the snowy sidewalks of Brooklyn to do so.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weathered the Storm

The big news in the U.S. is the giant blizzard which buried much of the eastern seaboard. Here in New York's northern suburbs, we got about a foot of snow... this is the drinking fountain outside the front door of my primary workplace:

Whenever we get a forecast weather 'event', my first inclination is to hunker down and stay in place. At about 4:30AM Friday, I filled up the gas tank of the car. The rest of my waking hours on Friday were spent texting back and forth with other coaches concerning our Saturday morning volunteer gig (we all decided to cancel, most of the kids wouldn't be going anyway and those who did could be taken care of by those coaches who lived a short subway ride away) and cooking a big pot of red beans and rice to pack for a long weekend at work. I packed an extra thermal undershirt, an extra flannel shirt, and an extra sweatshirt in case I needed a change of clothing. I even packed my little hand-cranked radio in case we lost power, and I 'topped off' the batteries of my phone and my good rechargeable flashlight- it pays to be prepared. One of my co-workers texted me to let me know that he would be taking Fred and Ginger home for the weekend, so that they would be more comfortable than they'd be at work (not having cat care duties was one less thing for me to worry about, but it did scuttle my plans to stuff the cats under my sweatshirt if the site lost power).

I arrived at work at 9PM Friday night and I expect to leave at 1AM Monday morning. I am where I need to be, I'm sure that my home is fine, even though my beloved City of Yonkers probably received more snow than the worksite.

The worst conditions prevailed last night, when visibility was abysmal and a strong wind whipped snow particles around. I limited my time outside... the second time I took a spill on icy pavement (seriously, everybody, learn ukemi), I decided to remain inside unless there was an urgent situation- the alarm monitoring company alerts us of temperature drops which would indicate damage to a building. It's axiomatic that if you are injured, you can't react to emergencies. I pretty much stayed indoors most of the night binge watching, yeah you got it, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman... I finally finished the series, and the last fifteen or so episodes are a crescendo, a dramatic sci-fi tour de force. It was the perfect way to kill time during a blizzard.

Around 4AM, the plowing contractor sent a crew to plow out the parking lot and shovel/snowblow the pathways and sidewalks. At sunrise, the snowbanks were infused with a gorgeous rosy glow, which contrasted gorgeously with the blue shadowed areas to form a lovely impressionistic effect:

I was able to catch a few hours of sleep on a settee- I'm used to sleeping rough when I have to (I thank my parents for insisting on camping trips during summer vacation). When I finally got up, I brewed myself a cup of coffee, put on a couple of layers of clothes, and went on a daytime inspection tour of the site... no damage, the contractors did a great job plowing, everything was in order. On the road adjacent to the site, the municipal workers are doing a great job carting off the piles of snow:

This evening should be a quiet one, the perfect evening to do paperwork- composing next month's schedule and last month's expense report.

Mom, who lives in northern Virginia, is doing fine, even though her neighborhood received thirty-three inches of snow. She never lost power and one of her neighbors (one of her many 'adopted' children) will plow out her driveway. I made sure to call her when I woke up today.

The hard part will come after work... there are the roads to contend with, and a sure-to-be-bad parking situation in my neighborhood. I'm resigned to the prospect of shoveling out a parking spot at 2AM after leaving my car in a less-than-optimal place for the time being. I believe that the City of Yonkers cancelled alternate side parking rules in order to facilitate snow removal, but I'm not optimistic about finding a spot. In the grand scheme of things, I can't complain... due to a combination of planning and luck, I fared a lot better during this storm than a lot of people. I may have slept rough, but I slept safe and I slept warm.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Damn, Dusty's Dead

Late last night, I learned the tragic news that Dusty Taylor, of Leftwing Nutjob, is dead. The detective work was done by Zombie Rotten McDonald, who ascertained that Dusty was killed by her son... the details are particularly gruesome, as ZRM noted, something out of a lurid horror film. Dusty deserved better, she had allowed her son to move back in with her, and he betrayed her trust in the worst way, and for what? For a little bit of money.

Besides her website, Leftwing Nutjob, Dusty had a wonderfully unpolished and profane podcast, her self-described 'bitchfest' What Is Jerking My Chain this Week? Listening to these podcasts, it's evident that Dusty was the hardest working woman in podcasting, often working through the pain of a back injury unresolved by surgery. In this episode, Dusty namedrops both Thunder and ZRM. Before hosting her own podcast, Dusty was a contributor to the Here Be Monsters podcast- this episode was a particular treat, with shout-outs to ZRM and call-ins from vacuumslayer, Another Kiwi and M. Bouffant.

That's a sizable chunk of the bloggerhood represented right there in that audio clip... Dusty was an integral part of the group, even her arguments with mikey were legendary. To think that her wise, opinionated voice has been silenced forever is unspeakably tragic. It's been a rough day, and the eight inches of snow on the ground has nothing to do with it.

Dusty used to self-deprecatingly refer to herself as "Hell's most vocal bitch". I almost wish I were a believing man, so I could now call her "Heaven's most vocal bitch", but I just can't take comfort in that... I'm just mourning the fact that she'll be vocal no more. We really could use a vocal bitch like her these days.

Friday, January 22, 2016

In the Dark About this Luminaria

Last night, I noticed something out of the ordinary while at work... there was a luminaria on the road adjacent to the property:

Each of those lights is a paper bag, weighted with sand, and illuminated from within by a small candle:

Luminaria commonly decorate Roman Catholic churches serving Italian or Latino congregations on Christmas Eve, but this particular luminaria isn't near a Roman Catholic church, and a quick check of the liturgical calendar indicated that yesterday was the Feast of St Agnes, which is associated with the blessing of lambs (agnelli), rather than a luminaria.

Poking around the t00bz, I found a possible reason for this display of lights- luminaria are now associated with the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Discovering this probable connection made me a bit melancholy- to think that this unexpected, beautiful display most likely represents someone's loss to scourge of cancer is sobering. Let's hope that President Obama's call for a more aggressive fight against cancer leads to something more positive.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Not an Emergency, but a Crime

The latest example of GOP malfeasance is the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan- in a poorly thought out "money saving" measure, which will cost much more in the long term than the short term savings which lead (sic) to the problem, an unelected emergency manager appointed by Governor Snyder switched from using the Detroit water system (using water from Lake Huron) to using the contaminated Flint river. In typical fashion, the Republican mission to cut government spending to the bone has precipitated a crisis of epic proportions which right-wing bloviators are trying to blame on Democrats. Governor Snyder, which shouldering some of the blame, is simultaneously trying to weasel out of sole responsibility for the decision made by his emergency manager:

"Government failed you at the federal, state and local level," Snyder said. "We need to make sure this never happens again in any Michigan city."

Yeaaahhhhh... no, the feds have nothing to do with this emergency, and the local politicians were overruled by a Snyder henchman. As usual, regressive Republicans tried to balance their budget on the backs of poor, mainly African-American people. I've long maintained that African-Americans, far from being the leeches sucking the creamy goodness out of the taxpayers' purse, are the canaries in the coalmine, the initial victims of regressive and repressive policies which ultimately threaten to spill over into "white" neighborhoods. The Flint water crisis isn't really an emergency, it's a crime perpetrated on the populace, and one that must be placed in the context of a push for privatization of the water and sewerage of Detroit. Republicans propose privatization in order to loot the public coffers, they push "cost-containment" efforts in order to reduce the tax burden on their wealthy supporters. In the midst of this kleptocracy, what's a few poisoned children here and there... they're poor kids, they wouldn't exactly be elite college material anyway, and besides, there's money to be made incarcerating them in private prisons when the lead poisoning manifests itself in antisocial behavior.

UPDATE: Helmut Monotreme has it covered at the mothership.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Welcome to the Bloggerhood

If there's one thing that bloggers like, it's comments. Over the past few days, I noticed a new member of the commentariat, and she's got a blog herself. I am pleased to note that I have added Nasreen Iqbal's blog, Groves of Spears, to the blogroll. Her latest post is a very charming tale of a handsome little snake. As someone who is partial to snakes, I can totally dig this tale.

The bloggerhood is a fun, informative place, and it grows. Thanks to Nasreen for her comments and, more importantly, her wonderful blog.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Memorialize, Morons!

Something weird happens every Martin Luther King, Jr Day- people who would have been entirely hostile to MLK's life work feel compelled to claim him for "their team" because the man's popularity with mainstream culture has been solidified. One can trash King in private, among fellow yahoos, but one cannot attack him in public and expect to be invited to nice parties. Even media outlets which routinely attack the Black Lives Matter movement feel compelled to broadcast out of context snippets from King's speeches. I haven't quite had the intestinal fortitude to seek out "Martin Luther King would be a Ted Cruz Republican!!!" type articles in the grosser precincts of the t00bz, but I have no doubt they're out there.

More common is the tone-deaf stupidity of things like the Robins Air Force Base MLK Day fun shoot (I'll link later, I'm typing on my phone now)- the idea that one can commemorate the life of a man assassinated by a gunman with a trap/skeet shooting event boggles the mind.

There are appropriate ways to commemorate MLK- here in the NY metro area, prayer breakfasts and days of service are common. Martin Luther King, Jr Day is quickly losing its meaning to the broader culture, a culture that uses the day to memorialize its war dead by going to the beach. It could be worse, at least the post-Christmas consumption hangover seems to be keeping the malls from running huge whites sales...

At any rate, there's always a disconnect between solemn national remembrance and all-too-rare days off (working Americans have appallingly few days off from the job), it's almost a pity that the few holidays we do have are set up to be trivialized. Very few people would have been outraged by a Late January Monday Off Fun Shoot.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

I Remember Bowie

Last week, like most of my contemporaries in the Western world, was stunned and saddened by the news of David Bowie's death from liver cancer. Being preoccupied with personal matters, I felt I didn't have the time to properly address his career and its meaning to my life... now is the first opportunity I've had to properly post about the man.

David Bowie's body of work was an integral part of the soundtrack of my life... Bowie was not only played on 'classic rock' stations (well, the same three or four songs, that is), but on the storied alternative station and college radio stations I learned to favor when I received a transistor radio as a Christmas present and found the left of the dial. Bowie's particular genius was reinvention- the crafting of different musical personae, each with an accompanying style, for every album he released. Oddly enough, due to some dispute with his record label, Bowie's older albums were generally unavailable in the United States for much of the 1980s, so anyone trying to hunt them down would have to scour used record shops... I wish I could find documentation of this, but anecdotal assertions will have to suffice. I say this as a kid who used to scour used record shops, which is an activity which has sadly disappeared from today's youth culture (though the ability to google a snippet of lyrical content from a barely remembered song in order to find a downloadable file is quite the compensation). It's kinda weird to think that the only two Bowie albums on the shelves of record stores in 1983 would be Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and Let's Dance. While the 'hits' from Bowie's older albums received a great deal of airplay, it wasn't until my college years when I was able to listen to the 'deeper album cuts' from his catalog.

Well, enough of my yapping, how about diving into Bowie's discography? In the interest of completeness, I think I'll start with a pre-'Bowie' Bowie song, Little Liza by Davie Jones and the King Bees. I dig the song's 'roots rock meets Merseybeat vibe:

After noodling around with a number of bands, Bowie released a solo recording, a novelty song that plays like a Dave Saville number on acid:

Bowie's first eponymous album, released in 1967, was also fairly whimsical, and She's Got Medals is a comical portrayal of androgyny, a topic which pops up throughout Bowie's music, fashion sense, and lifestyle choices:

Bowie's second eponymous album, released in 1969, included his breakthrough hit, Space Oddity, which charted in the UK at number 5. Rather than showcase that ubiquitous song, here's the epic Cygnet Committee, which is a scathing critique of the ultimate failure of the 60's counterculture:

Bowie's 1970 The Man Who Sold the World had Bowie adopting a harder rock song... as Youtube commenter "TheGreaterGood80" brilliantly put it, the song All the Madmen, written for David's intstitutionalized schizophrenic half-brother Terry veers from Syd Barrett to Black Sabbath:

1971's Hunky Dory marked a return to Bowie's lighter pop fare, though the subject matter was as outré as anything Bowie had recorded up until then. Oh! You Pretty Things is a disconcertingly jaunty number about the eventual displacement of Homo sapiens by a Nietschean Homo superior (peachy Nietsche, indeed):

1972's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a science-fiction inspired concept album detailing the life of Bowie alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Five Years is a pending apocalypse tale, a song which has a particular poignancy in this era of catastrophic climate change, plastic-laden oceanic gyres, and an ongoing extinction event:

1973's Aladdin Sane was largely written while Bowie was on tour in the 'States. Drive-In Saturday is another Bowie dystopian number about the inhabitants of a future society which needs to relearn how to, uh, get it on, by watching old blue movies:

1973's Pin Ups was an album of covers... here's Bowie performing the Who's I Can't Explain, giving it a bit of heft and swagger:

1974's Diamond Dogs was inspired by Orwell's 1984, with Bowie taking on the persona of Halloween Jack, a resident of the dystopian Hunger City. The track 1984 is a funk-inflected tribute to Orwell, whose widow wouldn't grant Bowie the right to use the novel:

Bowie's next studio album was Young Americans, described by Bowie as his plastic soul album. The song Fascination was a collaboration between Bowie and up-and-coming soul star Luther Vandross:

1976's Station to Station marked the appearance of Bowie's Thin White Duke persona and the beginning of Bowie's Berlin era. Motorik masters Kraftwerk alluded to this era in their song Trans Europe Express. My favorite song from this album is TVC15, a tragicomedy about a man who literally loses his girlfriend to a television:

1977's Low was recorded in Berlin during a period in which Bowie was trying to overcome cocaine addiction. Iggy Pop and Brian Eno collaborated with Bowie on this album, and its two follow-ups (the albums have come to be known as the "Berlin Trilogy"). As a humorous counterpart to Low, rock-and-roll jester Nick Lowe released an EP titled Bowi. My favorite song from the album is Always Crashing In The Same Car, a lament about repeating one's mistakes:

Also released in 1977, "Heroes" also reflected Krautrock influences... while I've tried to post largely underplayed songs from Bowie's other albums, it would be criminal not to embed the video for the title track, an emotional tour de force about lovers trying to cope with living under a totalitarian regime... This is Bowie at his best, his most emotional- I can't listen to it without getting chills:

1979's Lodger lacks the emotional punch of "Heroes", how does anyone follow up on such perfection? The cheeky Boys Keep Swinging was a bit too racy to be the U.S. single, but there's a funny SNL performance in which Bowie (backed by guest vocalist Klaus Nomi!) pulls off a phallic joke on live television. Here's a clip of the whole song:

1980's Scary Monsters was his first post "Berlin Trilogy", and the title track is a hard rock onslaught. Here's a great live version with Frank Black of the Pixies collaborating. It's great to see the Thin White Duke and the Chunky Black Francis onstage together:

1983 saw the release of Let's Dance, which was a huge commercial smash. While the album spawned hit singles in Let's Dance and Modern Love, the track Cat People (Putting Out Fire), written in collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, is more interesting to me, with its moody vibe... perhaps a harbinger of New Romantic/Gothic pop:

I'm going to end this Bowie retrospective here... the guy released beaucoup albums under his stage name, and at the end of the 80s, fronted the band Tin Machine. Bowie was always present in the background soundtrack of my life. To LGBT persons, Bowie's importance cannot be overstated- for me, the idea of being a Bowie fan and being freaked out by androgyny or "queerness" were pretty incompatible. Bowie had his demons, fighting drug addiction and flirting with fascism in his 'low' period, a flirtation which he apologized for. He was, to put it succinctly, all-too-human. On the whole, I believe that his impact on the culture was good. Bowie was always entertaining and usually transgressive- nobody would have gotten thrown out of the Sex Pistols for liking Bowie.

Here's the video for the title track of David Bowie's album Blackstar:

After a fifty-year long career, involving numerous reinventions, David Bowie's last album is a product of his final, greatest self-invention- David Bowie, the man who struggled privately with his killer for eighteen months, "stepping through the door" with his dignity intact.

Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing we can do.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Eight Feet of Federal Soil

The big news out of eastern Oregon is the arrest of one of the Bundy bunch for allegedly stealing a government vehicle. This particular loony has a history of occupying federal land while intimidating the authorities and playing with munitions:

In 1995, Medenbach was convicted on federal charges for illegally camping on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state. He was ordered held in custody because of evidence that Medenbach poses a risk to the safety of other persons or the community because [he] acknowledges intimidation practices, references 'Ruby Ridge' and 'Waco, Texas,' and clearly would not follow conditions of release restraining his presence at the scene of the alleged unlawful activity," according to a federal appellate court ruling upholding his conviction.

The appellate ruling said there was "evidence that Medenbach had attempted to protect his forest campsite with fifty to a hundred pounds of the explosive ammonium sulfate, a pellet gun, and what appeared to be a hand grenade with trip wires. The government also proffered evidence that Medenbach had warned Forest Service officers of potential armed resistance to the federal government's continued control of the forest lands in question."

Since this guy likes to occupy government land, I say that the government should let him do so- he should occupy precisely eight feet of federal soil.

Post title inspired by King Harald's response to Earl Tostig when asked how much land he was prepared to cede to Harald Harðráða, which is one of the most badass retorts in the history of humanity.

Friday, January 15, 2016

New York Values

It's pretty much a given that I can't stand theocratic nutbar Ted Cruz, and I wasn't surprised to hear him disparage New York values:

"Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro- gay marriage, focus[ed] around money and the media," Cruz said. "Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. I'm just saying."

Damn straight, New York values are socially liberal, pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage, focused around money and the media. We have a tolerant, pluralistic society in which minority rights are largely protected (with the exception of some glaring police overreach leading to the deaths of several African-American boys and men), women can determine their reproductive destiny, and LGBTQ people can live and love without fear of persecution by their government. As far as the focus on money and the media go, New York money goes to bankroll 'red states' and New York media dominates because we have a lot of smart, creative people. Ted Cruz actually paid us a compliment, even though his dimbulb audience saw it as a 'burn'.

Donald Trump, as disgusting as he is, does bear some hometown loyalty, and he rightfully lit into Cruz:

"When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York. We rebuilt downtown Manhattan and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers. And I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made."

I would disagree that Ted's statement was insulting, it was the truth, and it's a truth that most New Yorkers would gladly acknowledge, but the important thing is that Trump clearly pointed out Cruz' dickishness.

So what kind of values does Ted Cruz espouse? Well, for one thing, he's totally down with stealing the stuff that belongs to people he considers 'wicked':

I'll take my honest New York values over Cruz-style theocratic thievery any day.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Major Acquisition

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I was preoccupied with errands this week... well, most of that time was occupied with one major errand, buying an automobile. It was time, my 2002 vintage car was getting a little tired, so I donated it to the American Diabetes Association. I was finally able to buy a small, economical 5-speed manual transmission 2013 Honda with an absurdly low odometer reading:

When I drove the car out of the dealership, it had 308 miles on it. Yeah, you read that right. The car handles nicely, I like the way it handles- the gear shift feels nice, and while not a fast car, it's a smooth ride. I've never been a leadfood at any rate. The car is small, but roomy, it' comfortable... all round, it's a sensible little ride, a perfect commuter car. I haven't named it yet, but I'm thinking of calling it Tamago-chan, or G-4 (yeah, still binge watching Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, currently at episode 69) because of the egg-like shape of the car.

Enough of my gushing over a bit of metal, glass, and plastic... how about a comical number from the Buzzcocks that's appropriate to the subject of this post?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


I've been slacking off on the blog for the past couple of days, having been inundated with errands. My timing was particularly bad because of Dejvid Bovi's death- I figure I have to write a post on the man because his music has entertained me for decades. Last night, I totally blew off watching the State of the Union Address because I needed a beer, and Team Trivia Warfare at a local bar took precedence (we won first place, with the attendant $60 gift certificate, which will be used on next week's tab). I can't be semi-serious all of the time.

Today, I was occupied with training a new hire. He's even bigger than I am, and just as bald. Once again, one of my subordinates is bound to say that the boss was looking to hire "another me". Needless to say, we hit if off at once- the guy is familiar with our organization and his fiancee has done seasonal work for us, so he was basically pre-vetted. I made sure to introduce him to the rodent abatement team and showed him some of the interesting hidden spots on the property. The biggest bit of advice I gave him was to have fun- it's not a normal job, the sites we work are not normal places. I often joke that my typical night is one long Scooby Doo episode, which is not to everyone's liking. The new hire is inured to bad weather and onerous conditions, so I believe he'll enjoy the new gig.

I should be back to a more productive blogging schedule in a couple of days. Like I said, it's been a busy week, and tomorrow will be a particularly busy day, but things will go back to what passes for normal in a few days.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Current Earworm, and Me and One Hit Wonders

A week ago, I wrote a post about binge-watching the early 70s anime smash Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. When I wrote the post, I was forty-two episodes into the series, and I am now at episode sixty-four. At some point, I had to take a pause, "Get a hold of yourself, you can't just watch SNTG episodes!"

Sooooo... I, er, um, watched a clip from the Star Blazers, a 1979 adaptation of the Japanese series Space Battleship Yamato, a space opera about an interstellar quest being undertaken by the crew of a restored Yamato which has been outfitted with a hyperdrive based on a design sent by a friendly alien in order that the humans can defeat a common enemy. The "ultimate weapon" of the eponymous Space Battleship Yamato was the Wave Motion Gun, a superweapon which used the energy of the spaceship's engine to devastating effect:

Poking around the t00bz, I found a song titled Wave Motion Gun by the band Marcy Playground. Now, I had heard of this band, their song Sex and Candy received quite a bit of airplay on alternative radio stations in the late 90s. I was pretty much indifferent to the song, finding it a bit of slacker-grungey mediocrity, so I never really pursued any of the band's other material. Damn, damn, damn... all along I was missing out on a neat little nerdy band whose one mediocre song appealed to radio station program directors. Wave Motion Gun is about the dangers of heroin, comparing the drug to the eponymous planet-busting weapon:

Wave Motion Gun" is a cool song. That's off Shapeshifter. That's a song that a lot of people seem to really dig. It's one of those impression songs. In the end, it's telling the story about me trying to convince my friend not to do heroin anymore. And that became a theme of my life because I went to college in Olympia, Washington, in the early '90s. It was sort of a port area in the Pacific Northwest where all the heroin trade was coming through. And everybody was on it at the time in the early '90s. And all my friends were sort of disappearing, and I didn't know where they were going. I found out they were all doing heroin. And they were doing it together, which is really a weird thing. But I never did it. It was not something I was ever interested in. In fact, drugs are something that never really interested me, except for some experimentation. But I just started watching friends die and disappear and drop out of school and stuff, and turning up in houses in San Francisco and shit like that. And my one closest friend I tried to convince to stop doing it, and that's kind of what that song's about.

The song is pretty damn addictive, I think I might write a song about being addicted to this song.

As far as "one hit wonders" go, it's almost invariably the case that the one song which captures the attention of the public is among my least-liked songs by any particular band. It's a shame that so many bands are saddled with this moniker when their deeper album cuts are so much better than their one hit. Of course, with royalties being what they are, I'm sure any band would rather be a one-hit wonder than a no-hit wonder.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


I had an errand that took me to downtown Yonkers, a place which doesn't have the best parking, so I took the bus across town. The bus travels through some economically disadvantaged areas (downtown's not so great, though there are luxury apartments on the waterfront). While traveling through a rough neighborhood, I spotted a sign which didn't exactly get my taste buds tingling:

Oh, yeah, budget meats! That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. I don't even know what this could mean... are the meats soon-to-expire? Are they from sub-par livestock? I'm not exactly sure what's going on here, and I'm not itching to find out. For the record, the store's sign also bears the cryptic message: HOME FREEZER SUPPLIERS. Are they selling freon or foodstuffs?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Dance, Dinos, Dance!

I was as happy as a schoolkid with a new crush when I read about the discovery of evidence that dinosaurs performed mating dances similar to those performed by their avian descendents. Just imagine a pair of forty-one foot (12.5 meter) long Acrocanthosauruses cavorting like cranes:

I can imagine the earth shaking under the impacts of such a dance.

Of course, this evidence is not conclusive, though it is highly suggestive. It's possible that these scrapes don't represent mating dances. Perhaps dinosaurs danced to demonstrate their victory over alien monster threats:

Can I get some grant money to watch kaiju films? I promise I won't drink all of it away, just a lot of it.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Little Hen in the Big City

While walking down my street, the next block over from my house in a city of almost two-hundred thousand individuals, I happened to glance down at the base of an oak tree and spy a familiar sight:

It's unmistakably a hen of the woods mushroom, a tiny specimen (about two inches in diameter), not like the monster I found two months ago. We've had a cold snap over the past few days, so I don't know if this baby will survive long. At any rate, it's on a fairly well-trafficked street with a lot of dog-walkers, so I'm not exactly fixing to eat it, even if it weren't eradicated by someone less-than-enchanted by ugly fungi.

It's funny how, once one attunes oneself to looking for certain things, they tend to pop up even in unexpected places.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bundy Cui Bono?

We have America's finest snark slingers have got the bizarre takeover of an Oregon bird sanctuary visitor center by armed right-wing whackos pretty much covered. I've even slung the snark in comments myself, especially laughing at the so-called anti-government survivalists' call for snacks to be sent to them via government agency. The runup to a potential Booby Ridge has been comedy gold, but the threat of violence certainly remains.

The one thing that has me scratching my head is the subdued reporting of this standoff by the Mainstream Media, and the laughable assertion that an armed takeover of a birdwatchers' playground is "peaceful". Being a cynical man, something clicked when I read an opinion piece on Crooks and Liars:

It is the latest example of militant extremism connected to land use issues in the western United States, a trend that has largely flown under the radar of national media and the Beltway.

In pondering the subdued coverage of this potentially explosive situation, I had to wonder about the reason for the blasé media response when it suddenly hit me... the real reason for the standoff is a desire to sell off federal land to private interests. Given the ownership of the media by megacorporations that stand to gain untold wealth in timber and mineral rights, I'd suggest that Y'all Qaeda is really doing the work of General Electric and Georgia Pacific, so the MSM doesn't want to portray their teahad as the act of fanatics. The bad guys don't need to build giant monster mecha to steal resources, they just need a good line of propaganda, and some useful idiots to act upon it.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Binging on Not-Quite-Nostalgia

The current rage in the entertainment world is 70s Science-Fantasy nostalgia. I admit to being susceptible to the phenomenon myself... no, I haven't seen the new "Star Wars" movie, I'll probably get around to it later this month when the crowds thin out. I'm currently binge-watching the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, a Japanese superhero cartoon that aired from 1972-1974. If I were the type to label my posts, I'd label this one with a "Helping Smut" tag, because the redoubtable Smut Clyde admitted in a comment on a recent post:

I do not know this Gatchaman.

Now, Smut is the sort of guy who'd give this guy a run for his money in the "science fiction superfan" category, so I was a bit stunned to hear that Smut wasn't familiar with Gatchaman. Well, to tell the full truth, I wasn't really familiar with Gatchaman per se until recently... let me back things up a bit to explain.

In 1977, an American television producer named Sandy Frank attended a media conference in which he viewed a Japanese animated series about a five-person superhero team which he figured he could adapt for American television to capitalize on the post-Star Wars science-fantasy trend. The episodes, imported from Japan in non-sequential order, were severely edited to remove violent and "suggestive" content to conform to "kid friendly" American television standards, and diced and spliced to "paper over" continuity errors. In an effort to "Star Wars-fy the series by ten percent or so" and clear up plot ambiguities, additional animated sequences of a "cute robot" sidekick/advisor/narrator were added in, and the original superhero series was re-imagined as a space opera, complete with added footage showing the team traveling through space. Thus, the seminal 1978 American anime adaptation Battle of the Planets was born, complete with a new introduction and theme song by Bastard fave Hoyt Curtain. The intro pretty much sums up the series, a planet hopping galactic adventure featuring five young superheroes (voiced by such stalwarts as Casey Kasem and Janet Waldo, with Keye Luke also being a notable member of the cast) dressed in bird-themed costumes, kicking alien ass:

The show certainly made an impression on me and my friends (a friend of mine recently joked that she had a crush on the "bad boy" second-in-command character when she was a kid), featuring incredible design elements and memorable action sequences. It was also a complete butchery of the original series, something which I learned from a Japanese-born high school classmate of mine (I still have a couple of old copies of Weekly Shonen Jump he gave me). Not having the foresight to see that nothing would truly go away in the coming internet age, I asked him to reveal the differences between the original and the kid-friendly, post Star Wars American re-imaging, and was surprised to discover that the original series took place entirely on Earth, with an occasional foray into Earth-orbit, with the "aliens" of the original series being a human terrorist organization and the superhero team bearing the awesome moniker of "Science Ninja Team Gatchaman".

I hadn't thought of this series for years, but was reminded of it during the pre-Christmas drive to New York to Virginia with my brother and his family, when the main soundtrack to the road trip was the kids' favorite CD, a compilation of original music from various anime... one of the songs, a pretty pop number sung by a children's chorus, particularly stood out:

I recognized the name "Gatchaman" in the chorus, and I figured I'd have to hunt down the original series on the t00bz, where nothing ever fades away. I found a bunch of episodes dubbed into English in 2005, with all of the formerly bowdlerized content restored and I've been watching at least two episodes a day during quiet moments. The original series has a few themes that I don't recall in the original "space opera" American dub- environmental conservation, international unity, and the ideal of world peace and prosperity are promulgated by the series narrator and protagonists. I have to note here that Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, with its environmentalist theme was released in 1971, making me wonder if there was a strong environmentalist movement in Japan at the time- at any rate, I really need to embed the totally groovy English version of the Godzilla vs the Smog Monster theme song (it's my blog, I can do what I want):

The heroes of the series, the eponymous Science Ninja Team, are four teenagers and one child of about ten, all trained in various "Science Ninja Techniques" by their mentor/adoptive father/Svengali Dr Nambu of the International Science Organization. The kids are tricked out in bird style- avian-themed superhero outfits with beaked helmets and bullet-and-explosion resistant "feathered" capes, the entire ensemble transforming into groovy teenage street clothes complete with bell bottoms and t-shirts bearing the wearer's rank (I'm one of five kids, it's a pity nobody released "G-Force" T-shirts back in 1978). The Science Ninja Team is the investigative unit and special forces team of the ISO, under Dr Nambu's authority (one plot point in early episodes is the need of the team to gain authorization to fire missiles). The kids are individually armed with outlandish signature weapons like razor-edged jet boomerangs, explosive bolas, and yo-yo bombs, and each has a signature vehicle which can be integrated into the team's supersonic, submersible superplane, the God Phoenix. The God Phoenix itself has an "ultimate" weapon, it can transform into a flaming flyer using the Science Ninja Technique: Firebird. Unlike the ultimate "Blazing Sword of "Voltron", which was used in every single episode, the "Firebird" isn't used in every "Gatchaman" episode. In most of the episodes, infiltration is portrayed as superior to frontal assault... these kids are "shadow warriors" after all, despite the brightly colored costumes.

The team members themselves are the typical Five Man Band featured in a lot of anime- with Ken the Eagle being the earnest hero, Jo the Condor being the passionate hothead who longs to push the big red missile button, Jun the Swan being the level-headed female electronics and demolitions expert, Jinpei the Swallow being the little guy, and Ryu the Owl being the Big Guy.

The villains of the series belong to Galactor, a crime syndicate/terrorist group headed by Leader X, a mysterious figure which relays its plans to its human second-in-command, Berg Kattse, a villain that even the Joker would advise to "get some help". Berg Katse is gloriously kinky, a fop decked out in a vulpine mask, lip gloss, purple double-breasted tunic, and red thigh-high hooker boots:

The various lieutenants of Galactor wear outlandish outfits, such as ant costumes with Elizabethan ruffs and gull masks. Each of them comes to a bad end, either being blown up by the Science Ninja Team or being executed by the insane Berg Katse for their failure. The mooks are a mix of terrorists, criminals, brainwashed captives, with the children of long-time members raised up to be elite soldiers. While most of them are mowed down by the heroes with impunity, there are a couple of episodes which achieve a genuine pathos by touching on the lives of the children raised in the organization, with no real chance of an alternative. The central mysteries of the show involve the identities of Leader X and Berg Katse, and the reason for Galactor's virtually unlimited resources and extremely advanced technology (it seems like they are years ahead of the ISO in this area). In one episode, they seem to realize that their organization has a serious ninja gap with the ISO, so they also train a bird-themed ninja squad.

While the series pretty much started out as a "monster of the week" show, with the typical plot being Galactor's use of mecha (usually animal shaped) to steal natural resources. As the episodes progress, certain threads are expanded on, with the typical "monster robot _____ heist" plot being used less frequently. A common theme in mid-series episodes is Galactor's attempts to foil the International Science Organization's attempts to develop non-polluting energy and to design clean, livable communities. One particular theme that runs through several episodes is the development of a "Mantle Project" to run cities with geothermal power and to reduce the danger posed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. As the plots become more complex, cumulative character development takes place- we learn the reason for Jo's thirst for revenge against Galactor, and of Ken's yearning to know more about the fate of his father, a test pilot who disappeared while on a mission. Jun and Jinpei's relationship as adopted siblings is expanded on, and Ryu's family life (he is the only non-orphan on the team) comes into play. In several episodes, internal tensions among the team members come up, though cohesion eventually wins the day. I'm forty-two episodes (out of 105) in now, and Jo has the most complex character arc.

The visuals in the series are gorgeous, with lovely backgrounds and clean lines. The character design ranges from realistic to stylized (the "big eyes, small mouth" style common to anime), to cartoonish (it seems that the younger the character, the less realistic the design). The various mechanical designs in the show are lavishly rendered. The version of the show that I'm watching is the 2005 English dub, which hilariously has the kids using 70s slang like "groovy" and "dyn-o-mite", and on at least one occasion, Ken urges the team to "stay fresh and frosty" in a time of peril. The salty language of original is kept, with the characters sometimes saying "damnit". In one episode, Ken observes a dangerous volcanic eruption, saying, "Holy hot shit the lava's flowing right towards the city." I don't remember that from the first English dub!

Regarding the portrayal of the characters, I have to note that Jun, the female member of the team, is portrayed as a full equal, perhaps the smartest and most competent member of the team. There is an element of fanservice to the character- while kicking ass, or being thrown around the God Phoenix by shock waves or risky maneuvers, there is almost invariably a panty shot. I'm not really a big fan of cartoon titillation (though I can't say I'm 100% against it), and it seems innocent enough, but it happens with some frequency in the show. In the grand scheme of things, I think the overall character portrayal outweighs the occasional up-skirt shot, and the guys are portrayed in skin-tight uniforms, after all...

Watching the original series is not-quite-nostalgia, it's about 75% distinguishable as the series I watched as a kid, but there are some interesting revelations... it's kind of like having an old school friend of yours tell you that he wore lacy panties under his jeans throughout his high school years and, oh, he had a side job kicking the crap out of gangsters. It's a lot of fun recalling certain scenes from the old series and then having my expectations upended.

Some of the plots are really weird, with one of my all-time favorites being "The Gluttonous Monster Ibukron", which involves a scheme by Berg Katse to steal the world's sugar supply in order to sow confusion:

Another trippy episode is "The Neon Giant that Smiles in the Dark", which comes across as a tribute to "Scooby Doo", complete with jokey ending:

I'm glad I finally took the time to track down this series, which was one of the landmarks of America's import of Japanese animation. As I noted before, it's not quite a nostalgia trip. The series is a blast, a glorious mashup of American superhero comics, James Bond films, and kaiju movies. The soundtrack is outstanding, with great incidental music and instantly recognizable themes for the various characters. I wonder what would have happened if it had been imported to the U.S. before the Star Wars craze... oddly enough, there wasn't any merchandising that I recall here in the 'States, and the current models are priced for collectors, often costing several hundreds of dollars. I imagine I would have gone nuts if I'd seen a similar toy under the Christmas tree back in '76 or '7.

I almost want to apologize for this post, I can see your eyes glazing over in my mind's eye... I'm not an otaku, I swear! I have a life. Just now, though, it involves watching sixty-five more episodes of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. NERD GO!!!!!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The World Is My Oyster... At Least This Mushroom Is

Before I headed down to Virginia for Christmas, I had another chance encounter with a highly prized mushroom, the delightful oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus). Pleurotus grows on dead or dying trees in "stacks":

The mushrooms are translucent and have widely spaced gills which run down their 'stems':

When cut, the mushrooms give off a faint fragrance which is often compared to anise. Cut off of the tree, they were delicious stir-fried in a little butter. December was wet and warm, perfect weather for mushrooms. It's gotten colder out now, so I'm not optimistic about these mushrooms growing back anytime soon. At any rate, I got lucky finding these beauties, and have marked the location (a moribund hardwood tree on a street near my primary workplace) for future harvesting. I left a lot of older, tougher fruiting bodies near the base of the tree, so this should be a prime foraging spot until someone decides to remove the tree altogether.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Looking Ahead to 2016

Last night, I posted a brief look back at 2015, so tonight I'll post a brief look forward to 2016. On a personal level, I think 2016 will be much like 2015 was. I don't ordinarily make New Year's resolutions, and when I do, they are always simple and concrete- the last New Year's resolution I made, a couple of years ago, was to do 100 pushups every weekday, an extremely specific task which I was able to accomplish with no fuss in a short amount of time. If you pressed me to name a resolution for this year, it would be to, as Archie Bell and the Drells would put it, "tighten up", be a little more disciplined financially and physically (for instance, there are a couple of services from my phone carrier that I could do without, and there are errands I can perform on foot). I don't see any large changes in my life, but I'm doing pretty okay.

On a political level, I think that 2016 promises to be "stupid season" as far as campaigning goes, but that the general level will mark a significant shift toward serious topics- the public will hopefully get more serious about domestic financial policy and foreign affairs and, goddamnit, they'd better get serious about down-ticket races. I wish I could trust the Democratic Party to run serious challenges to the troglodytes in Congress, but I'm not that optimistic.

In a comment on my last post, mikey makes a great point from a technological and scientific standpoint:

But the tech side is poised to do some great things. Big data analytics and machine learning are getting mature. Robotics and autonomous vehicles are ready for prime time. LHC restarts in May at 1400TeV.

Yeah, the Large Hadron Collider will be back online, and the physicists have big plans for the post "Higgs boson" particle physics experiments. There is big news on the feasibility of commercial space flight. The really smart people are accomplishing great things, but there's not a lot of trickle-down to a public which believes in creationism to an embarrassingly large degree. With climate change being the most dangerous problem facing humanity in the 21st century, the public needs to get a lot smarter, FAST.

I still remain somewhat pessimistic about the prospect of 2016 being a banner year for the acceptance of uncomfortable scientific fact, or for sweeping legislation to create jobs and infrastructure. I predict it will be another year of muddling through things, with half-assed measures to improve the lot of the public being the best we can hope for, and sustained political witch hunts being much more likely. I wish I were more "bullish" about the coming year, but I've been paying attention for too damn long.