Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween Home Stretch

Tonight will be the last night of the Fall fundraiser that I have been working all month.  After about eleven o'clock, things will get substantially easier (after a 12 hour Monday night-to-Tuesday morning slog preparing for Election Day.  For this evening, the Manager on Duty is a veteran co-worker who is not all that familiar with the site she will be managing tonight.  Luckily, the rest of us are well-versed in working both site and event, the event itself has a shallow learning curve, and she is a seasoned pro at dealing with large events.  I'm looking forward to working with her, it's been a while since we've been teamed up.

Things will get really quiet after tonight's event, which should be fairly easy.  I will be going back to working with Ginger five nights a week, rather than the three nights a week all November.  Since she outranks me, being a cat, I will let her set the pace for the upcoming winter.

I'm just hoping for no tricks tonight, before I earn my November treat.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Madame Speaker Masquerade

Here's another just-in-time-for-Halloween story, a gruesome tale of an undead entity taking on the form of a living human who has been imprisoned in a secret dungeon... yep it's more QAnon shit, this time a post about how Joan Rivers never died, but is impersonating Nancy Pelosi, who has been sent off to Gitmo:

Joan Rivers has been a MAGA hero ever since she averred that Barack Obama is gay and Michelle Obama is a transwoman.  Yeah, they love their homophobic, transphobic trash, so this idiot is claiming that she is a 'White Hat', fighting against the Democratic threat.

While this tweet encompasses, in its brevity, several lurid pulp horror tropes, the real horror of it is the spelling and grammar.

Friday, October 29, 2021

A Local Legend Gets Her Due

One of the more intriguing figures of local reputed, mentioned in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as 'a High German doctor', is Hulda, sometimes known as Hulda of Bohemia.  I have mentioned her in a couple of blog posts, having learned of Hulda's demise, at the hands of a band of Redcoat raiders, as a teenager.  Besides being a Wise Woman, Hulda was a sharpshooter, and a local partisan.  According to Edgar Mayhew Bacon's 1897 book Chronicles of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, Hulda supported the local militia with her uncanny skill with a shooting iron:  

At last one day a force of British landed from one of the transports that had sailed up the Hudson and commenced a march which was to bring them, by means of the King’s highway to the rear of Putnam’s position at Peekskill. As they marched in imposing array a volley greeted them from behind walls and tree-trunks….Not to be repulsed this time, Hulda fought with her neighbors, using her rifle with great effect, so that she was singled out for vengeance; and before the redcoats retreated to their boats they had…overtaken and killed the witch.

Because she wasn't a congregant of the Old Dutch Church, and was reputed to be a witch, Hulda was granted a Christian burial but was buried in an unmarked grave on the outskirts of the burial ground.  In 2019, this slight was remedied, and a headstone bearing her name was erected in the churchyard.

Hulda of Bohemia Died c 1777 
Herbalist, Healer, Patriot 
Felled by British 
while protecting the Militia  
Buried here in gratitude 
for her sacrifice

This year, Friend of the Bastard Carla L. Hall is presenting a performance which pays tribute to Hulda, and to the enslaved women of Philipsburg Manor's upper millworks.  A second event devoted to Hulda is being staged at night in Rockefeller State Park.  After years as an obscure local figure, Hulda is finally getting her due, even though she still plays second fiddle to our handsome Headless Boy.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Four Years of Q-Lunacy

The QAnon conspiracy compendium (it collates a whole bunch of conspiracy theories into one unified whole) turns four years old today.  To understand the QAnon phenomenon, one must know that it started as one of many 'insider anons', anonymous shitposters claiming government insider status on the imageboard 4Chan.  Before QAnon, there was White House Anon, FBIAnon, CIAAnon, Highway Patrol Anon, and the like.  Even QAnon's first post, four years ago, was a response to another anonymous shitposter who claimed that Hillary Clinton's arrest was imminent:

It should have been an inauspicious start, because Hillary Clinton is still at large, haunting the imaginations of Trump rank-and-filers.  Even other 4Chan anons pegged 'Q Clearance Patriot' as a fraud, but the whole thing took on new life as a small coterie of Trumpers amplified it on larger platforms, such as reddit and Facebook, exhorting older Trumpers to avoid the confusing sewers of 4Chan in favor of other aggregator sites. Later, the Q-poster took his schtick to 8Chan, 4Chan's even more toxic counterpart, and 8Chan's proprietors Jim and Ron Watkins, took the reins.

QAnon's success is largely due to two things- it is an optimistic fantasy for awful people, portraying Donald Trump as a competent, even genius leader, and themselves as heroic 'digital soldiers' winning a 'meme war' against their enemies by posting stupid images online... and it is a game in which participants seek meanings for the cryptic puzzles and allusions posted by the mysterious Q.  Since most of the actual content was created by the marks, the conspiracy complex absorbed all sorts of whackaloon material- aliens, a living JFK Jr (who might be a schlubby paisano from PA), mole children, vampiric elites, Democratic sex cults, demon worship, time travel... all have a place in the big Q umbrella.

In an evil genius move, the Q-poster, criticized for failed predictions, told his followers: "disinformation is necessary."  This thought-terminating cliché could be spouted by QAnon adherents as a counter to all criticism... whenever Q messed up, it was a calculated move to throw off adversaries.  Now, THAT is a Get Out of Jail Free card.

If you want a deep dive into this material, the go-to guy is Mike Rains, Poker and Politics, whose 'Q Is Always Wrong' thread is the most comprehensive debunking of the whole sorry mess.  Other debunkers are listed by Sara, a grad student studying extremist movements.

Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with this topic.  I am fascinated by conspiracy theories, though I hate the fact that they destroy families and relationships, and always seem to boil down to antisemitism.  This topic is interesting, but the phenomenon has done incalculable damage to our society.  It's been four years, four stupid years, of this nonsense, and tragically, it doesn't seem to be going away, no matter how many of its predictions failed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Melts in Your Mouth, Not on Your Peen

Hunter Biden's nine-and-a-half inch penis has been stuck in conservatives' heads since Rudolph Giuliani claimed to be in possession of Hunter's laptop during the 2020 presidential election.  This was a widely panned sequel to the 2016 Anthony Weiner laptop scandal, brought up to regain that strange, viral magic which led to Trump losing the popular vote in 2016.

The presence of Hunter's tallywhacker lodged in their heads has made Republicans... well... strange:

This is a screenshot from Fox's highest rated commentary show.

The crazy thing about these stories is that they make Hunter Biden seem a lot cooler than he is, provided that his partner was a consenting adult, not coerced into sex work.  Sure, placing M&Ms on one's peen is kinda weird, but who would even give a crap about such an inconsequential kink?

With continuing coverage of these bizarre Hunter scandals, which never seem to pan out for right-wingers attempting to discredit his father, Hunter's peen will forever be stuck in conservatives' heads:

I'm sure Hunter would appreciate that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Stupid Civil War and the Nap Until Ft Sumter

Talk of a second civil war in these here United States has become quite common on the Right, and some of the less astute righties, such as some young toolburger at a Turning Point USA rally, are asking "when do we get to use the guns?"  I'd say that they yearn to kill people, but they've been doing that for as long as I remember, with the current violent trend starting in August 2017.

Meanwhile, the response at all levels of government is rooted in denial that there is a violent backlash to the proper functions of democracy brewing.  Recent news stories of a judge releasing a woman who threatened to shoot Speaker Pelosi before she serves time for a misdemeanor, and of Austin police palling around with mask-off neo-Nazis, are infuriating... at best, the authorities are sleeping until another Fort Sumter event (besides the abortive attempt to take the Capitol), at worst, they are planning on throwing in with the fascists.

I know that the wheels of justice grind slowly, but damnit, the response to a widespread march to mass murder ala 1990s Rwanda is cartoonishly incompetent.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Rogues in the House

The latest must-read in our ongoing litany of horrors is a Rolling Stone article alleging that there were communications, including planning meetings, among the 1/6 insurrectionists, White House staffers, and Republican Congresscreeps.  White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is implicated, as are some other familiar names:

“I remember Marjorie Taylor Greene specifically. I remember talking to probably close to a dozen other members at one point or another or their staffs.”


“We would talk to Boebert’s team, Cawthorn’s team, Gosar’s team like back to back to back to back.”

One of the sources even stated that Representative Gosar of Arizona held out the promise of blanket pardons for insurrectionists:

“Our impression was that it was a done deal, that he’d spoken to the president about it in the Oval … in a meeting about pardons and that our names came up. They were working on submitting the paperwork and getting members of the House Freedom Caucus to sign on as a show of support.”

It looks like there is finally some movement regarding the insurrection, and that the insurrection leaders and their Republican enablers might finally face some consequences.  It's crucial that these traitors are punished because an unpunished coup is a practice coup.

Post title stolen from one of Robert E. Howard's best known Conan stories.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

MAGA Masquerade

Just in time for Halloween, we have the denouement of a somewhat bizarre story that I have followed for a while in fractured fashion, through tweets from a sometimes private, to reduce the chance of giving herself away, Twitter account.  It's the story of a woman who, unable to make a living because of the pandemic, decided to live for a year in the very heart of MAGAland.  Just about a month short of her goal, and concerned about being doxxed, she revealed herself to the internet:

It's a fascinating, darkly humorous tale of an intrepid investigator who put her health and well-being at risk hanging out, recording scumbags.  I'm hoping for a book and/or a documentary covering her expedition into the sewers of American culture, and will be among the first in line to purchase it.  Check out her Twitter feed, it's a fascinating mix of revelations about MAGA and QAnon (are they even separate anymore) whackaloons and hilarious cries from butthurt trolls who are attacking her.

I sure hope she has decent security where she lives, because she must be protected at all costs.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Brief Respite from Work

My great and good friend Peter F______ is is town, visiting from California, where he has hung his hat for quite a few years.  This being the busy season for me, I had to block out a couple of hours of time to visit him and his lovely mother, who is considering selling the homestead in Yonkers to move to California, where both of her sons now reside.

We'll probably have a light lunch (I will be stopping to pick up some cookies from a nearby Italian pastry shop) in the somewhat limited time we have.  I have to be at work at 4PM and, in a very sweet development, Peter will be taking his mom dancing down in NYC.

I'm not complaining about work, although it is the busy season, but it's nice to be able to stop for a while and make a social call with some old, dear friends.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Another Spooky Season Plug

This being Spooky Season, and me being busy, I figured I'd post about a weird fiction podcast I recently found.  The Elder Sign Podcast takes its name from a glyph, or perhaps a gesture, mentioned in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and his numerous imitators.  In turn, the Elder Sign is probably inspired by the Yellow Sign from the weird fiction of Robert W, Chambers.

The Elder Sign Podcast, after an initial introductory episode, jumped right in at the beginning of American weird fiction with a two-parter about Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, an auspicious beginning.  Other authors covered are Lovecraft, Chambers, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, and my beloved Jack Vance.  As you can surmise, this stuff is catnip to me.

It's a fun listen, if you are familiar with the source material, and good listening for a crisp October night when one is in the mood for discussions of spooky stuff... as I would be if I weren't working.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Secret Science Club Zoom Recap: Let There Be Light

Last night, I listened to the latest Zoom lecture presented by my great and good friends of the Secret Science Club, featuring psychiatrist and bioengineer Karl Deisseroth of Stanford University.  This lecture was cosponsored by the Lasker Foundation, which presents an annual lecture with the SSC.  Dr Deisseroth's book Projections: A Story of Human Emotions came out this year.

This is going to be a somewhat short recap, because I accidentally deleted about half of the original post I was pretty much liveblogging.  It was a long day, and I was beat,,,

Dr Deisseroth began his lecture by describing the discovery that free-swimming green algae could move towards light sources.  These algae have rudimentary eyespots, which interact with flagellae which enable them to swim.  There is a correlation between activation of the eyespot/flagellum connection and an electrical current.  Among these motile algae is the colonial alga Volvox.

This discovery ultimately led to the discovery of rhodopsins, proteins activated by light.  A variety of rhodopsins, channelrhodopsins, are ion channels, which allow ions to move across membranes in a cell.  There are three families of channelrhodopsins.

The study of channelrhodopsins allowed the development of the field of optogenetics, in which channelrhodopsins are inserted into neurons to allow the manipulation of nerve impulses through the use of light.  Biological drives, such as hunger and social drives can be manipulated by shining lights of different colors onto neurons in which channelrhodopsins have been inserted.   For example, a mouse can be induced to walk in circles by the use of light.

One of the fundamental challenges of neurobiology is the determination of what particular cells do. Optogenetics can help determine what is going on in the individual cell, through the use of markers in neurons.

As a psychiatrist, Dr Deisseroth studied dissociation, a conscious state where normally integrated cognitive procesess selectively uncouple from affective responses.  Dissociation can be caused by PTSD, certain drugs, psychilogical disorders, trauma, and epilepsy.  Dissociation can be studied through optogenetics.

Studying mice dosed with ketamine, a dissociative drug, researchers determined that a layer of the 

unbiased screen with optics- surface of mouse brain observed as saline or dissociative drug ketamine added, brain activity occur.  Ketamine affects retrosplenial cortex, interfering with the typical oscillation of nerve impulses.

Using optogenetics, researchers mapped out connections between the retrosplenial cortex and the deep structures of the thalamus to determine the neural pathways involved in dissociative disorders

Again, I apologize for the truncated nature of this post.  It was demoralizing seeing the bulk of a post disappear as I fat-fingered a link. 

Kudos to Dr Deisseroth, the Lasker Foundation, and Margaret and Dorian for delivering a fantastic lecture which I have not done justice to.  Here's a video of the good Doctor explaining the use of optogenetics in studying the brain:


Pour yourself a nice beverage, and soak in that SCIENCE!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Just Like a Smiths Song

Today, the plan is to drive to Hudson, New, about two hours up the line, with Dr Jen W.  She's located in Manhattan, so she'll be taking the 4 Train to Woodlawn, the end of the line.  The best place to pick up passengers in the area is outside the storied Woodlawn Cemetery- there's plenty of room to turn one's vehicle around, without having to deal with the traffic on Jerome and Bainbridge Avenues, and the northbound NY Thruway is a quick drive..

Of course, meeting someone at the cemetery gates is very much like a Smiths song:

Let's hope that Keats and Yates are on everybody's side today!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Fun Guy to Bring to a Party

Tomorrow, I will be heading up to Hudson, NY, about a two hour trip north, with Dr Jen.  The occasion is a meetup with several Wonkette commenters.  My plan for the potluck is to make chicken marsala made with an old friend, the hen of the woods mushroom which fruits every two years at the base of an oak tree at one of my worksites.

Tonight, I harvested one of the fruiting bodies, a sizeable one:


Now, THAT is the sort of fungi to bring to a party, a choice specimen of a beloved mushroom.  They tend to be a bit astringent, so I will parboil the mushroom before sautéing it in some butter and adding marsala wine and some chicken stock.  

There's plenty of the mushroom left, to be gradually harvested as the month goes along.  I imagine that I will be sick of it by Halloween.

Monday, October 18, 2021

NEVER Trust Republicans

I found out about the death of Colin Powell via Tengrain... what can I possibly say about Colin Powell?  He was a Bronx boy (I used to work near his old home on 'Banana Kelly'), the son of Jamaican immigrants, who ended up at the pinnacle of American power.  He was the first African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the first African-American Secretary of State.  He also used his gravitas and trustworthiness to lie the United States into the evil, disastrous Iraq War.  He sold his soul for the Bush Maladministration, and that will forever taint his legacy.  Sure, he spoke out against Trump and all his works, but that doesn't expiate his guilt for the death toll that resulted from Bush's wars.  I'm on the record saying that I ranked Bush as a worse president than Trump until last year, when Trump accumulated an insane domestic death toll... and Secretary Powell was complicit in Bush's crimes.

Never trust Republicans, they will lead you to perdition, especially if you are perceived as trusted and honorable.  Hell, even his death due to COVID-19 complications (he was a cancer survivor, and although vaxxed, had several comorbidities), could be laid at the feet of Republican malfeasance and incompetence. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Coye Illustrates Irving

A week ago, I posted about Karl Edward Wagner's short story Sticks, which is a love letter to pulp horror fiction, and an homage to illustrator Lee Brown Coye.  Composing that post was a lot of fun, besides revisiting a story I like, I checked out a lot of Mr Coye's illustrations, which I am partial to.

While tracking down Coye's oeuvre, I came across an illustration he drew for a publication of one of the United States of America's oldest and greatest 'ghost' stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Reading the 'Legend' is a yearly ritual for me, it is a local story, taking place about fifteen miles north from where I live, by a local hero.  While people who haven't read the original story misinterpret it as a Gothic tale, I consider it the original 'Scooby Doo' tale, a comedy with some purportedly supernatural elements that a skeptic could debunk by using investigative techniques that the superstitious protagonist fails to employ.

Anyway, Coye drew a nice sketch of Irving's Ichabod Crane (so different from the real Ichabod Crane), a depiction of Crane riding his horse while reading a book, perhaps a lurid book by a religious fanatic:

He was, moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather’s “History of New England Witchcraft,” in which, by the way, he most firmly and potently believed. 

The illustration  does not depict Crane on the night of his autumnal encounter with the Headless Horseman, as one can divine from the skunk cabbages drawn in the foreground:

I really like this illustration... if I have one beef with it, it's that Coye's Crane's nose doesn't have the leptorrhine quality that Irving so lovingly described:

The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person. He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield. 

All the other details check out.

As luck would have it, the Stuff You Should Know podcast had a short episode which combined the origin of the Jack O'Lantern with details about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  They discuss the historical Ichabod Crane, who really should be better known.

My annual re-read of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow always reveals something new about this charming story.  While the story about the Crane/Van Tassel/Van Brunt love triangle (all three characters are pointedly not particularly nice people) is entertaining, the story's main appeal to me is Irving's gorgeous, detailed description of the Lower Hudson Valley, a region I know and love, a region Irving knew and loved.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Last Super Busy Day?

Today is the closing day of the semester of my volunteer coaching gig.  Because of COVID-19, we moved from our indoor facilities to an outdoor venue.  Deprived of our dojo, we have been conducting facsimiles of judo classes (can't play contact sports while social distancing), using elastic bands to teach kuzushi and improvising throwing dummies from goalpost pads.  The 'new normal' has forced us to be creative, though we certainly miss being able to actually spar with each other.

After classes, we will have a luncheon and awards ceremony for the kids who have shown the most progress in the various athletic endeavors... and then I'm off to work one of our fall fundraisers.  I don't expect to get back home until about 1AM tomorrow.

This will be the last day of October on which I will be out of the house from 9AM to 1AM the following day.  The next couple of weekends will be busy, but today is the last super busy day.  I will actually be able to have some semblance of a sleep schedule for the next couple of weekends.  A semblance of a social life is still out of the question, though.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Movie Villain, Real-Life Good Guy

Longtime readers will know that I am a big Vincent Price fan.  Vincent Price was a deliciously hammy actor who camped up tons of low-budget horror movies, relishing the roles of aristocratic villains... diabolical noblemen, well-bred mad scientists, vengeance-seeking scholars.  

Though typically a villain onscreen, Vincent Price was a good guy in real life.  He recorded public service announcements denouncing racism and religious bigotry, and, a polyamorous bisexual, supported LGB (I have no doubt he'd have publicly supported transpersons' rights if it were a more well-known issue in the 1970s) rights, criticizing homophobic bigot Anita Bryant for spreading harmful propaganda.

As if Price weren't awesome enough, here we have a Twitter thread, via Wonkette, detailing his championing of Native American art and artists:

A noted art collector, Mr Price 'curated' a line of inexpensive art prints for Sears, to make fine art accessible for Joe and Jane Schmo, and he made sure that indigenous artists were represented. He and his wife endowed the free Vincent Price Art Museum in East Los Angeles, with a progressive, humanistic mission to provide artistic education for students and the general public:  

The mission of the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College is to serve as a unique educational resource for the diverse audiences of the college and the community through the exhibition, interpretation, collection, and preservation of works in all media of the visual arts. 

It's always great to see that the individuals you are a fan of are decent, kindly people... even when they are known for their over-the-top, campy villainy.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Real Reason for Supply Chain Problems!!!

Disruptions in global supply chains are a big international news story, with many factors cited by the Lamestream Media- a shortage of shipping containers, a shortage of truck drivers, a shortage of dock workers...  Images of a cargo ship gridlock off the LA coast are all over the internet, and consumers are urged to buy Christmas gifts early because of forecast shipping delays.

The 'normie' narrative just isn't that exciting, though, so the fever swamps have conjured up a more lurid narrative, one involving their favorite conspiracy theory about the Global Elite and their esoteric drug habit:

Oh, yeah, baby! My favorite drug is whacko conspiracy narratives, and this (complete with misspelling) is quite the fix...  My one beef with this particular story is that it completely ignores the Mole Children imprisoned in Deep Underground Military Bases beneath US cities... I mean, how can these people claim to be Making America Great Again when they prefer imported adrenochrome to domestic?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the struggle against the baby eaters continues:

Let's take a deeper look at this, shall we?  Leader Jeanette Archer says the royal family "are not even human".  I'm certainly no fan of the British royal family, but seeing this nonsense leads me to believe that Johnny Rotten has a lot to answer for!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Ireland's Musical Ambassador

Yesterday's bummer story was news of the death of Paddy Moloney, multi-instrumentalist and founder of influential Irish folk band The Chieftains, who made their debut in 1962.  The Chieftains were, along with The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners, were great revitalizers and popularizers of Irish traditional music in the mid-to-late 20th Century.  His contributions to Irish culture, and his introduction of it to the Whole Wide World were honored by Irish president Michael Higgins.

The Chieftains were particularly known for their collaborations with other artists, and their championing of World Music, particularly Galician music.  They collaborated not only with rock artists, but with astronauts (a particularly lovely story).  There could be no better celebration of Paddy Moloney's life than a brief review of his musical career, so here's a sampler.

From the Chieftain's first album, released in 1964, here's s;ow air/jig/air/reel combo:


From their second album, here's Brian Boru's March


From the 1970s, here's The Timpán Reel, which incorporates the hammered dulcimer into the band's sound:


In the 1980s, the Chieftains recorded an album with Van Morrison, beginning a tradition of collaborations with rock and pop musicians which continued for decades: 


Here's The St Stephen's Day Murders with Elvis Costello: 


They also released an album of American country music, here they are will Willie Nelson:


Perhaps their best-selling album was The Long Black Veil, on which they collaborated with a cast of rock-and-pop groups. Here's one of my favorite trad songs, The Rocky Road to Dublin performed with the Rolling Stones:


Here they are with an orchestra and Luciano Pavarotti singing the 19th century Neapolitan pop song Funiculì, Funiculà:


A particular favorite of mine was a collaboration with Irish pop group the Corrs:


I've saved some of the more global collaborations between the Chieftains and other artists for the tail end of the post. Here are the Chieftains with Bastard fave Akiko Yano:


 Perhaps my favorite song by the Chieftains is Guadelupe, a Galician folksong they originally recorded with Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos. Linda Ronstadt was unable to appear during a live performance which would have made Los San Patricios proud:


Here's NASA astronaut Cady Coleman playing with the Chieftains:


Now, here's a real marvel, Frank Zappa leading an ensemble consisting of Johnny Guitar Watson, Mongolian tuva singers, and the Chieftains. It's great fun: 


I figured I'd end with a concert performance by the Chieftains and the Pogues, a collaboration between two generations of musicians, the great virtuoso elder statesmen and the younger, punked out enfants terribles:


One thing I've noticed in the live performances is the ever-present look of joy on Paddy Moloney's homely, kindly face. By all accounts, he was a gentleman, and he just radiates a beatific look. Here was a man who loved music, and loved sharing his love of music with others. The news of his death is a genuine blow... pun originally unintended.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Words to Live By

Every year, I have to undergo 8 hours of coursework in order to renew my professional license every two years.  Last year, I lucked out, having scheduled the class for February, a month before the world stopped.  This year, I had to apply in advance and pay by credit/debit card, rather than the show up the day of the class and pay cash model of the Before Times.  As you can imagine, class size is now limited.

I have had the same instructor for the past three or four years, and he is a good guy.  He begins the class by telling us, "Don't complain about eight hours of class every year, beauticians need to attend one thousand hours of class before they can get licensed."  I typically reply in half-joking fashion, "But a beautician can really mess somebody up."

He then goes on to delineate his two main rules: "Treat everyone the way you would want your mother to be treated, and if you don't write it down, it didn't happen."  I always keep a pocket-sized pad in the bag I bring to work.  

He's also a stickler for telling us about the dangers of blood-borne pathogens, and I have to say that everything he's talked about has had applications during the COVID-19 pandemic.  He was all about the hand-washing before it was ubiquitous, and adjured us to carry hand sanitizer on our persons, and to don mask and gloves if it were necessary to touch someone who didn't look well.  Yeah, he was right about pretty much everything.  Whenever he'd announce the bloodborne pathogen curriculum, I'd always quip, "This is the content we all crave."  I'm going to specifically thank him for this thorough coverage if he teaches this afternoon.

Right now, I am waiting for a coworker to come to my neck of the woods, so we can carpool to the school in Mount Vernon, one town over from my beloved Yonkers.  We'll probably go back next February, as his license expires in April, and it's wise to give NY State a couple of months to get the paperwork in order.  The curriculum doesn't vary, we cover the same topics every year, but it's useful stuff, especially when it can help you avoid contagion, infection, and death.  Next year, I will thank our teacher profusely again... his words were, in the context of two back-to-back plague years, words to live by.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Indigenous Peoples' Day 2021

As an Italian-American (indeed a Ligurian-American), I don't feel that Christopher Columbus, a horrible person by all accounts (even his own) embodies the virtues that my contadini ancestors lived by, and brought to their new home.  Columbus Day was instituted in the US for interesting reasons, and was proclaimed a national holiday in 1934.

The European colonization of the Americas involved a crime so vast, it changed the climate of the planet... active genocidal campaigns and the passive onslaught of  'Old World' diseases largely depopulated North and South America.  Columbus kicked it all off with his numerous crimes against the Taino, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas are still suffering.  Women in indigenous communities in North America are often victims of violence, and Brazil's Bolsonaro has waged war on the nation's indigenous people.  Even Canada, gentle Canada, is grappling with its history of violence against First Nations peoples.

There are some encouraging developments, though, beginning with the issue over honoring Columbus with a national holiday.  The Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, the nation's first Native American cabinet secretary, has pledged to address issues faced by Native Americans, particularly the epidemic of violence against indigenous women.  The Biden Administration also restored the culturally significant Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to their original size after the former Maladministration reduced their size.  

The Biden Administration's treatment of Native Americans seems to mark a significant change for the better, even making an official proclamation of Indigenous Peoples' Day.  As always, we need to keep tabs on the government, and hold them to their promises, but at least there seems to be some hope for better conditions for our Native American population.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

A Shuddersomely Entertaining Tale

Looking through the archives, I see that I only made one post referring to Karl Edward Wagner's much-anthologized short story Sticks, originally published in 1974 in the fanzine WhispersKarl Edward Wagner was a titan, literally and figuratively, of late 20th century horror publishing, perhaps being best known for editing DAW Books' The Year's Best Horror Stories anthologies from 1980 to 1994.  In 1973, he founded Carcosa Press to publish collections of stories by authors who published in the 'weird' pulps decades earlier.

Wagner knew the genre in-and-out, and Sticks is a love letter to pulp horror stories.  If you've seen The Blair Witch Project, the creepy stick lattices seem cribbed directly from this story, which cribbed them directly from the work of artist Lee Brown Coye, who often incorporated weird stick lattices in his later artwork.  The story begins with a protagonist, based on Coye, encountering an isolated farmstead surrounded by such stick figures, apparently inspired by an incident in Coye's youth.  The story then takes a turn to the macabre as the Coye-character interacts with characters based on August Derleth and H.P. Lovecraft and eventually learns the significance of the figures.  Gruesome fun ensues...

Sticks is a fun read, but its primary appeal is to readers familiar with the old pulp artists, writers, and publishers.  It's a fan-work, but a really well-done one by a superfan who ascended to the ranks of beloved professional author and editor.  Even if you aren't well-versed in the old pulp personnel, there's still a creepy story for your Halloween consumption:


As I noted, it is much-anthologized, but I'm not sure how well it's known outside of the pulp fandom community.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Day-Glo Horrors

The aesthetics of Gothic horror, indeed most Western horror works, are gloomy, tenebrous... the aesthetics of a castle brooding on a crag at midnight, of foggy bogs, and dark alleys.  Very rarely does one see horror depicted in bright colors, so when one comes across a property which delivers the shudders in bright, primary hues, one takes notice.

The 2006 Japanese anime series Mononoke a spin-off of the Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales series, grabbed my attention with its imagery rooted in the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings of the 17th through 19th centuries.  Its protagonist is a not-quite-human (he has elfin or vulpine features) 'medicine seller', an itinerant exorcist who wages his battles against destructive spirits by figuring out the shape, the truth, and the reason behind the spirits, a who's who of yōkai ranging from the umibōzu to the noppera-bō.  These spirits are the product of negative human emotions, and the hauntings invariably stem from secret misdeeds, typically evil events in family histories.

While the visuals are bright, the subject matter is dark, dealing with the aftermath of violence and abuse, so here's a content warning.  The typical plot is fascinating, though, taking the form of a supernatural police procedural as our exorcist protagonist divines the shape, truth, and reason behind a haunting, often with opposition from the haunted, who are reluctant to divulge their sordid secrets.  It's heady, sometimes disturbing stuff, but always fascinating.

Here's the opening of the show, which will give you some idea of the art-style, which manages to be beautiful even when depicting horrors:


There's also a fan-edited trailer, which beautifully conveys the animation style, with its elaborate depictions of the vulpine medicine-seller, using his various exorcist-skills against a variety of supernatural foes.

I pretty much binge-watched the entire 12-episode series once I found it, having been hooked from the get-go.  I can't guarantee that my readers will be equally enthralled, the subject matter can be disturbing... the horrors it depicts, even though supernatural, are human horrors.  It's subject matter that hits the viewer in the heart, not the stomach.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Horror History

This being the Halloween season, and my busy time at work, I figured that I would post a link to the Hypnogoria podcast, which I have posted about before.  Host Jim Moon delivers, in a charming English accent, well-researched lectures about 'the weird and the wonderful'.  This year, he delivered a multi-part exploration of Universal Pictures' classic horror movies.

If you like watching Dracula, Frankenstein, and all those old groovies, I suggest you give Mr Moon's series a listen.  It's a fun, detailed dive into cultural history and film studio economics... a lot better than my précis could ever be. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

That's Not Benevolent!

The big local story here in the NYC Metro Area is the resignation of Ed Mullins, the head of the NYPD Sergeants' Benevolent Association after FBI raids on his office and his home.  While the FBI did not reveal the nature of the allegations against Mullins, the buzz is that it involves mismanagement of funds.

Mullins is, in a word, garbage... he has shared racist videos with the SBA membership, and has a history of making racist statements on social media platforms.  There is evidence that he is at least QAnon curious.  Of course, he is being portrayed as a martyr by right-wingers, who have a high tolerance for both racist behavior and fiduciary misconduct.

It's nice to see a terrible person like Mullins get his comeuppence, and it will be fascinating to see what sort of spin the Deplorables will put on this sordid tale.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Secret Science Club Zoom Lecture: Arbornaut's Adventures

 Tonight, my great and good friends of the Secret Science Club are presenting a Zoom lecture by biologist, ecologist, forest canopy study pioneer, and explorer Dr Meg Lowman of the TREE Foundation and a professor at the National University of Singapore, Arizona State University, and Universiti Sains Malaysia. Her latest book is The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us.

Dr Lowman began the lecture by noting that trees don't talk, and pondered how her career would have been different if she had decided to study primates or dolphins.  She decided that, like the Lorax, she would speak for the trees. Over the last century, we have lost half of our primary forests and we will be in big trouble if we lose our trees.  Much of her career has been dedicated to perfecting methods to study tree canopies.

Dr Lowman began her studies as a child in upstate New York- she was a great collector of specimens such as flowers, birds nests, and the like.  While in the fifth grade, she won second place in the NY State science fare, with a presentation about wildflowers.  She was inspired by environmentalist Rachel Carson and by Harriet Tubman, whose ability to navigate in forests was well-honed.  She grew up in an area characterized by deciduous trees, and was astounded at the age of 23 by the tropical forests in which the trees keep their leaves year-round.  She joked that her grandfather put his botanical expertise to use as a distiller of moonshine during Prohibition.

Dr Lowman was a pioneer in developing equipment that allowed her to study forest canopies- she sewed her first harness from seatbelt material, made a welded metal slingshot, and employed hot air balloons.  50% of land-based plants and animals live in our treetops, only 10% has been discovered to date.  She was one of the first researchers to study whole trees without cutting them down, causing birds to flee and insects to be crushed.  In 1979, she sewed her harness, made her slingshot, and borrowed ropes from the university caving club to study subtropical tree canopies in Australia.

In 1985, she created the first canopy walk for an ecotourism site in Queensland, allowing many eyeballs to be trained on the canopy at once.  Facing sexism in the Australian outback, she returned to the US.  In 1992, she employed construction cranes in research and created a canopy walkway at WIlliams College.  In 1994, she started using inflatables such as blimps and balloons.  In 2000, she made the first public canopy walkway in the US, in Sarasota, Florida.  She then created the TREE Foundation to facilitate funding for canopy studies.

Trees are worth untold millions to countries that sustainably utilize them.  Trees filter water, provide oxygen timber food clothing, are instrumental in soil conservation, are home to 50% of terrestial species, are the greatest carbon storage on Earth, are the greatest climate control mechanism on earth.  We need to keep our forests intact, they even work while we sleep.

Dr Lowman showed a picture of a canopy walk in Penang, Indonesia, in an area threatened by oil palm plantations.  By putting in the canopy walk, she turned the area into a tourist destination.  Kids love trees, she has had programs to involve girls and disadvantaged groups.  She has had third graders discover a new weevil species, and had a group of wheelchair-using students discover tardigrade species in Kansas.

Ethiopia has lost all but 4% of its forests.  One of the remaining forests surrounds a Coptic church, the priests of which have joined in her pro-forest crusade.  She has shared knowledge and trust with the Orthodox hierarchy to have them educate their congregations to build conservation walls, made from stones removed from farmers' fields, to protect forests from farm animals.  She wrote a book, Beza, which is provided in Amharic on a one-for-one basis with English book sales.

The acccelerating rate of deforestation represents an existential threat to humanity.  Forests are genetic libraries, sustaining diversity.  Wildfires devastated Australia, North America, Siberia, as did the continual burn of the Amazon.

Dr Lowman, inspired by Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue, founded Mission Green to protect ten crucial forests.  It is a project to foster biodiversity, employ indigenous people as ecotourism workers, educate local populations to provide scientsts.  Logging is a 'one way street' economically, seedlings take hundreds of years to become big trees.  Sustainable industry is preferable for trees and people.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  How do animals adapt to canopy walkways?  Mammals interact with walkways.  Canopy walks are less intrusive than trails on the ground which damage the soil.  They are a safe way to allow people to study forests.  Some bastard in the audience asked about the dangers posed by invasive species, such as the eucalyptus trees in California... eucalyptus trees are fire adapted, planting them in California was like putting oily rags in an attic, creating fire hazards.  In Florida, invasive species such as Burmese pythons are changing the Everglades ecosystem.  We are looking at a problematic world, and the culling of invasives will be a huge political issue.  Having big primary forests of large, native trees is the best defense.  

Asked about studying forests on all continents, where does Antarctica have a canopy?  Dr Lowman joked that even a two foot canopy on a stony, icy land is worthy of study, and she has found tardigrades in this canopy.   A tenth grader asked about getting involved in studying the Amazon, and Dr Lowman cited organizations that could help her with scholarship money, and provided her contact information.  Dr Lowman also told her to get involved in bio-blitzes and other activities.

Asked about the Japanese practice of daisugi, Dr Lowman noted that she didn't know much about the technique, but that wealthy countries had access to practices that poor countries do not.

Can city trees make up somewhat for lost forests?  Urban trees are important: they may be the only trees city kids see, they provide shade and habitats for animals and other plants.  Sadly, most urban trees only survive nine years or so, being subject to cutting due to road projects and the like.  We need to respect our elders, and cherish older, larger city trees.

How did the kids discover a new weevil species?  They took pictures of bromeliads with holes in them and this provided evidence of the weevil.  Kids have great eyes.  How do we address invasives such as porcelain vine?  Invasives have no pests in their new homes.  Governments have budget constraints, so the problem is largely 'under the table', even as landscapes change.  The laternfly poses a huge problem in the Northeastern US.  We need diverse forests to help individual species.

Why do sloths poop on the ground?  One of Dr Lowman's students studied this phenomenon- there is a complex food web involving a moth that lives in the sloth's fur and algae that grows on the fur.

Asked about the boreal forests, some of the last large forests, Dr Lowman noted that the Russian taiga is not well known.  One danger in the northern realms is the melting of the permafrost, which releases methane.  Even here in North America, redwood trees, our most iconic trees, are not well known.  We know more about Mars than we know about Earth's forests.

Why did Dr Lowman use a slingshot?  She couldn't train a monkey to climb up with a rope, and she had to make her own slingshot to fling a fishing line over high branches to pull up a nylon twine which she used to pull up her climbing rope.

What advice would she give to forest services?  Protect big old trees and diverse forests.  They produce the most biodiversity and the most oxygen.  Cherish them like you cherish your elders.

Another question involved tree communication- tree leaves give off chemical signals when they are munched on.  They also interact through microrrhiza.

Deforestation plays a role in pandemics- organisms such as bats, which don't normally interact with humans, are exposed to humans and pathogens transfer.  When we hurt our forests, we hurt ourselves.

What are the most common insects encountered in forests?  Beetles.  Regarding other organisms, tardigrades are also extremely common as well, though they cannot be seen.

Tree plantings in cities and suburbs are good projects, with stress on native plants being a good idea.

Regarding a plan to use GMO trees to revive the American chestnut would not bring back the functionally extinct tree in its original form, but it would provide lovely trees.  We can't bring the passenger pigeon back, but we might create something which fills the same niche.

Why save big trees?  They are most efficient at providing habitats, and oxygen.

Why aren't more scientists studying canopies?  Dr Lowman describes this as 'hit you over the head science', most ecologists stuck to the ground... a doctor wouldn't examine a patient's nose to determine an eye or ear problem.  The big issue is funding, there is little big money for ecological research, especially the small-scale studies of a young student climbing a tree.  There is no big global mission to keep trees alive, the money just isn't there.  Dorian joked about harnessing pop culture to help out.

Asked about her feelings about being in the canopy, Dr Lowman described the concerns involved in climbing, and the elation of emerging from a dark forest floor into a bright, noisy canopy.  She exhorted all of us to find a canopy walk.

Once again, the Secret Science Club has served up a fantastic lecture.  Kudos to Dr Lowman, Dorian, and Margaret.  This was an entertaining, informative lecture served with a side of advocacy and a hint of adventure narrative.  It hit that 'Secret Science Sweet Spot; that I often mention.

Here's a video of Dr Lowman lecturing on this subject:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Only Way to Win Is Not to Play

I've never had an account with Facebook, the social media titan which made the news yesterday for a mass outage which also took down its affiliates Instagram and WhatsApp.  Years ago, when I was formulating the Big Bad Bastard (the Bald came a bit later), I worked as a private investigator, mainly investigating suspicious auto accident claims.  Even back then, I was appalled at the amount of information that was available about people online, mainly through subscription research services.  When social media came along, all I could think was, "We used to have to hunt down information that people are now willingly putting online for public consumption."  Got a workers' compensation claim?  Well, what is this picture of you doing kegstands at a party all about?  Also, I really didn't need to know that a guy I worked with one summer years ago hates Jews.  Yeah, no Facebook for me!

That being said, social media platforms have their use, particularly in communities in which phone service or other internet platforms may be lacking.  Facebook's ubiquity was not a foregone conclusion, the user base is largely to blame for its primacy:

The real problem with Facebook is that the platform is a pernicious vector of disinformation and radicalization, a veritable pipeline of propaganda and hate speech.  Thankfully, Progressives in Congress are discussing breaking up the monolith, which had gobbled up the pre-existing Instagram and WhatsApp.  Personally, my take on Facebook is that its users allowed the company to get overly large, and evil.  There are alternatives to Facebook for those ready to break Zuckerberg's yoke... I mean, Myspace never went away.

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Real Horror of Spooky Season

October being our busy Fall fundraising season, I find myself working fundraising events three evenings per week, which means that I am only at my principal workplace for two overnight shifts.  While I have been enjoying the events, especially seeing my human coworkers, this means that I only have two nights of the week to hang out with my precious Ginger, who seems unfazed by this:


The real horror of Spooky Season is separation anxiety.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Bookended by Dumbfucks

Yesterday, everything went smoothly during our Fall fundraiser, except for two minor blips, one at the beginning of the evening, one at the end.

Our first performance of our program took place at 6:30PM.  As usual, we lined up ticket holders and asked them to have their tickets (electronic or otherwise) available for scanning- each ticket has a QR Code, and we can scan peoples' smartphones, or for traditionalists, printed tickets.  This process went smoothly, and everyone was lovely, but I saw a couple try to sneak past the 'gate' with two dogs (forbidden onsite).  They cut through a small grove of lilac bushes, and I cut them off at the pass.  

I bellowed, "That is not an entrance, turn around now!"

The woman decided to go full-blown 'Karen' on me, "Jesus-"

I didn't have time for her BS, I yelled, "SHUT UP!  Leave!"

In a quieter tone of voice, I said, "I don't want to have to involve the authorities."

She got the hint.  The coworker I was with thought the whole exchange was the height of comedy.

For the record, I left the house at 8:45 in the morning for my volunteer gig, and wasn't exactly in a patient mood.

The event went well, the performers are old pros, the Manager on Duty (a new hire this year) learned the ropes well on yesterday's opening day, and is a great guy to work with.  The crowds for the three performances were great.  

At the end of the night, around 11PM, after setting the alarm and locking the buildings, it was just myself and our custodial contractor, a young lady who I consider a close personal friend, having come to know her very well over the past two years.  We were preparing to walk the path to the parking lot, when two guys walked down the path towards us... obviously, they had come in through the yet-unlocked entrance gate.

"We're closed!"

"Can we just see the main building?"

"No, we don't keep nightclub hours."

"Is it that light over there?"

"No, it's not visible from here.  You have to leave, there are tickets available for tomorrow."

They were nice enough, and left without an argument, though they really should not have been on site at all.  Funny how a modicum of respect will get you less harsh treatment that brazen disregard for procedure followed by an urge to argue.  Ain't nobody got time for that bullshit... especially not this time of year.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Beginning Spooky Season on a High Note

When it comes to horror fiction or horror movies, I am a fan of the classics.  Slasher movies strike me as crass and typically misogynistic (oddly enough, I like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which in my headcanon is a satire made by radical vegetarians... and I have decided that iconic villain Leatherface is... I don't bother with sequels... the matriarch of the family).  Give me an old Vincent Price movie, or a Gothic tale of an aristocratic family going mad in a castle, or a Weird Menace tale of a scientist who has Gone Too Far, and I am happy.

In that... uhhh... vein, I was ecstatic to find a treasure trove of five hours of Edgar Allan Poe stories read by Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone at Open Culture.  This is a combination of some of my favorite shuddersome tales and poems recited by two of my favorite 'spooky' actors.  Could there be anything more appealling (and appalling) for October listening pleasure?

Friday, October 1, 2021

Commencing Submarine Mission

It's October, our principal fundraising month on the job.  I am transferring from a mode of operation in which I tend to have free time (though I must always keep one eye on things) to busy mode.  Three days out of five, I will be working an event, which entails being 'Johnny on the Spot'.  This month, I won't even be seeing Ginger more than two nights a week!

I always characterize this time of the year as 'Going Captain Nemo'... I will surface in a month.  Typically, in October, I set up weekend blog posts in advance, typically blog posts about spooky stuff, in accordance with the prophecy season.  The initial post, though, is typically submarine-related, as befits a Captain Nemo type.  I figured that, this year, I'd post my third favorite song about submarines, a woefully underknown number from 1991 by a woefully obscure band:

"I'm not drowning, I'm just going under" perfectly encapsulates the month of October for me.