Saturday, August 31, 2013

Not the Solstice, but the Longest Day of the Summer

Today was the first day of a new end-of-summer fundraiser for my organization. The pre-ordered ticket sales were lackadaisical, but somehow, in the course of the day, the event took on a life of its own. I don't know where they came from, but over a thousand people descended upon the site, and a good time was had by all. There was live music by two bands, and a beer tent. The contractor who "conceptualizes" the special events was dumbfounded by the sudden influx of visitors.

Of course, the temperature was pushing 90, with high humidity. Much of my day was spent walking the grounds with a half-gallon jug of water, refilled periodically at the water cooler/filtration system, making sure that all of our employees were well-hydrated. Whenever someone has a medical problem, such as heat prostration, I have to fill out paperwork. As it is, I have to fill out two incident reports- one woman fell in our parking lot and injured her knee, and EMS was called, whereupon they took a blood pressure reading and iced her knee. She declined further medical attention. About three hours later, another visitor twisted her ankle and, once again, EMS was called. Once again her ankle was iced and she and her husband decided that they would return to New Jersey and visit hospital closer to their home if it were warranted. He was a really nice guy, and she was a trouper.

I'm working a double, due to a thinly-spread workforce in my department. I have time to fill out two incident report based on the notes I took while EMS was on site. The day involved a lot of running around and I have to admit that I didn't even realize that I was sore and chafe-y until I slowed down after everyone left for the day. Sure, it wasn't the summer solstice, but it was the longest day of the summer... and will be until tomorrow, when I get to repeat the fun.

I'd go home and drink a shitton of beer, but I have set the alarm for eight AM. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Blinded by the Light

This morning, I headed over to the local focal mill to get a new pair of glasses. Before picking out a set of frames, I needed an eye examination. I was a walk-in, but I got to the optometrists' office just as the staff was raising the gate, and was seen before any of the people who had made appointments.

As part of the full eye exam, I had to have my pupils dilated. If any of you haven't had this procedure done, the doctor puts some eyedrops into your eyes that fully dilate your pupils for a few hours. Of course, this makes your vision somewhat blurry for about half an hour, and admits a lot more light into your eyes than is typical. It also makes your eyes look freaky, with your iris looking like a slender ring around your huge pupils. I always find myself compulsively staring into the mirror after this procedure.

After picking out frames and getting a measurement of my melon done, I headed out the door of the optometrists' office and blinked in the barely tolerable glare for a moment before donning a hilariously hideous set of disposable sunglasses made out of cardboard and cellophane. Luckily, I live close to the office, so I was able to get home without incidence.

Having a few hours to kill before having to get ready for work, I decided to take a nap. My eyes still weren't 100% back to normal, do I figured that the path of least resistance was the path of wisdom. There's no need to be blinded by the light when one can just sack out, no matter what Bruce says:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cynical About Syria

Not even a day after celebrating the legacy of America's most famous pacifist, the President is discussing military strikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. President Obama indicated that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would constitute a red line, which is to say, his line of death. The decision on the part of lawmakers in the UK not to join in on military strikes against Syria is not going to matter much, the ramped-up war rhetoric is great for Lockheed Martin's stock price, and a barrage of cruise missiles would be even better.

Meanwhile, the Armageddon fans are as giddy as schoolkids with first crushes.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Conservatives Have Dreams Too!

This being the 50th Anniversary of the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, conservatives are in full bull goose loony mode. Conservatives make laughable claims about King being a conservative (these depend on conflating "Republican" and "Conservative", and completely ignoring The Southern Strategy, which encouraged racist southern whites to flee the Democratic Party into the warm embrace of the GOP) and making false assumptions about what King really believed. Black conservatives claim that liberals are appropriating King's legacy while remaining silent about a white lunatic ham-fistedly trying to appropriate it. Conservatives tend to get even stupider than usual when confronting MLK's legacy.

This year, we have some extra-stupid conservative proclamations... you see, conservatives have dreams too! America's Dead Beat Dad, Joe Walsh dreams that black males won't do what he himself did unapologetically. Jonah Goldberg dreams that he has something relevant to say about King. Perhaps the craziest dream of all is Laura Ingraham's dream in which Representative John Lewis' speech is silenced by gunfire (of course, John Lewis bled for the civil rights movement, and faced numerous death threats, so this "proxy assassination" is nothing new).

Of course, the Conservative dreams are a nightmare to others, but at least they dream, much like Cthulhu.

How about scrubbing those nasty Conservative dreams from your brain? How about a listen to MLK's speech, the most memorable portion of which was delivered extemporaneously inspired in part by a spirited performance by Gospel great Mahalia Jackson?

Here's Mahalia's song, as an added bonus:

Cross-posted at Rumproast.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I've Been to Weird Places on the Internet

This is a weird time of year... the end-of-summer doldrums have set in, bringing with them writer's block and low visitation/commentary. Combine that with a work schedule that has largely unmoored me from the typical temporal tides of the Eastern Time Zone, and you get a recipe for weirdness. Anyway, I've been to weird places on the internet lately.

Perhaps the greatest thing I found in my delvings was a picture of Captain Kirk and Mr Spock as six-legged centaurs. On first seeing the picture, I thought, "Hmmm... two centaur d00ds about to get it on", then I noticed they bore the faces of Kirk and Spock... whoa... then I saw that they had six legs. I think I love you, internet. The story illustrates a slashfic in which, you got it, Kirk and Spock get it on as six-legged "centauroids". I know I love you internet.

Further poking around the internet reveals that Star Trek Centaurs are, as the kids would say, a thing. In the interest of diversity, here's Kirk as a merman riding centaur Spock. Here's one of Mr Spock as a centaur sporting a "Slave Girl Leia" braid.

Gotta love the "fanfic" community, they're the ones smart enough to see the awesomeness of a pregnant Harry Potter or the erotic potential of a Kirk/Horta encounter. Why, I even found some crazy bastard who wrote Yukon Cornelius/Abominable Snowmonster slashfic.

Yeah, I'm not down on the fanfic or even the slashfic community. As centaur Dick Valentine would say, "Everybody's cool!"

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Company Picnic

Today, the organization is going to have it's staff picnic. It's a great opportunity for everybody from the various sites and divisions to gather together to socialize. Typically, one of my co-workers gives a presentation... we're a talented bunch, all told... and we have a variety of games and activities. This year, there will be a dessert contest and my co-worker **REDACTED** made some strawberry margarita jello shots to enter into the contest. Things should get a little interesting, as most of my co-workers don't seem to be big boozers (I hold up my end of the bargain).

I'm at the tail end of a graveyard shift, so I'll need to shave and clean myself up to make myself presentable before heading to the picnic site. I always bring a change of clothes to work- when there are visitors on site, I wear "business casual", but I change into a T-shirt and gym shorts or sweats when I am alone on site holding down the fort. Today, I'll reverse the trend.

I just hope I don't konk out face-first in the macaroni salad.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

After Yesterday's Ifukube Lovefest

Yesterday's post was one long love letter to Japanese composer Akira Ifukube. I have to confess, though, as much as I love Ifukube's work, my favorite classic Japanese movie soundtrack is Satô Masaru's more jazz-inspired score to one of my all-time favorite movies, Akira Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo, a brilliant, bloody film that Sergio Leone remade as A Fistful of Dollars. With no further ado, here's the opening theme to Yojimbo:

If you haven't seen the movie, you really need to get your hands on a copy of it now. The movie is a blackly humorous, violent period piece about an amoral man who manipulates two factions of even worse men into a conflict so that he can profit from the ensuing chaos. If you have an entire day to fritter away watching movies, a Yojimbo/Fist Full of Dollars double feature would give you an entire month's recommended allowance of badassery.

A while back, I envisioned Paula Deen playing her fans' stomachs off against their pancreases in order to make money. I think one more coffin is needed for her career.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hey, I Can Lift My Knuckles From the Ground!

Back in the mid-90's, when my two younger brothers were still in college, their friends would often descend upon the family abode for a weekend of partying and letting off steam. Oddly enough, after a Saturday night of drinking enough to float a sizable sailing vessel, a couple of us would hit the local bookstore to pick up the Sunday New York Times and we would pass it around while eating a large "hangover mitigation" breakfast. One morning, while on the paper run with "Whisky Joe", we decided to stop at a table in the bookstore cafe to guzzle a cup of coffee. There we were, two rough looking customers amid the post-church crowd. I turned to Whisky Joe and intoned, "Some people have yahooism thrust upon them, they don't have a choice in the matter, but we choose to be yahoos. We're sophisticated, educated yahoos." From then on, the Sunday paper run became known as "The Educated Yahoos Club".

As an educated yahoo, I have to confess that my exposure to the works of composer Akira Ifukube was strictly through the soundtrack work he did for Toho films. Ifukube was the genius behind the outstanding 1954 Godzilla soundtrack, including the iconic "roar" of the monster:

Poking around the intert00bz, I found one of Ikufube's earlier classic compositions, the beautiful 1935 Japanese Rhapsody:

Ifukube was also an ethnomusicologist... as a youth on the island of Hokkaido, he became acquainted with the music and culture of the Ainu people. Here is an excerpt from his 1949 vocal composition, Three Lullabys of the Native People of Sakhalin

Amazing what you learn when you decide to lift your knuckles off the ground and explore the more "highfalutin'" aspects of the career of a guy who's mainly known for his gorgeous sountracks for movies about giant moths.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hail and Farewell

Today was another bittersweet day on the job. One of my coworkers is leaving the organization in order to pursue a masters in education. His last day is tomorrow, but there was a "hail and farewell" party for him this evening. This young man has been a dedicated employee for the past five years- always taking on interesting side projects while an ordinary mortal would be content to stick to the day's regular tasks. His creativity and work ethic is unequaled, and I'm sure he'll pursue his graduate degree with the same dedication he brought to the job. Our loss will be the gain for countless students.

While he will be attending grad school, my soon-to-be-erstwhile coworker is also involved in an alt-folk, avant garde-ish band that's getting some buzz in the Northlands. I always joke about bands that look like a group of grad students, now I actually have a prime example of one.

Here's wishing the best of luck to an esteemed comrade. Fare thee well and kicketh some ass, bro.

POSTSCRIPT: This morning, as I was readying the site for the day shift, I read my friend's last log entry. He wasn't too happy about the big "realignment" the organization decided to undergo last January. The last sentence of his last entry read: "Keep fighting for this place." The sentiment is shared by all of us who are on the "ground", so to speak.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: This Indecision's Bugging Me

Last night, I headed to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club lecture, featuring neurologist Dr Anne Churchland of the Cold Spring Harbor laboratories. Dr Churchland seeks to bridge the gap between our knowledge of sensorimotor reflexes and more complex behavior. Specifically, she studies the decision-making process.

Since time immemorial, humans have wondered what makes us who we are and what makes us decide to do what we do. Disease states and drugged states played some role in elucidating the mysteries of the brain, but the brain was largely unknowable. Now that we have the ability to measure neuronal activity, and to perturb neuron groups, we can begin to understand the neural circuits which give rise to behavior. The ability to understand the brain's "circuitry" can also help us solve clinical problems, such as depression, which has a major cost. Approximately one in seventeen individuals in the U.S. suffers from severe mental illness.

Dr Churchland covered the topic of reflexive behavior, ranging from such simple, easily understood behaviors as the knee-jerk reflex to the more complex vestibulo ocular reflex, which stabilizes images when one moves one's head. Dr Churchland ran us through some tests to demonstrate the vestibulo-ocular reflex, having us move our fingers in front of our eyes and asking us if the image were blurred (she joked about how the beer-guzzling audience would naturally see blurred images).

She then showed us some headlines from the popular press which made a butchery of neuroscience, including the embarrassing NY Times Headline "You Love Your iPhone. Literally.", which cited activation of the insular cortex as evidence of "love" when one handled one's iPhone... though the insular cortex plays a role in disgust responses as well as love.

Dr Churchland posed the question, "Why is understanding the brain so hard?" One reason for this difficulty is the complexity of the brain- the brain is composed of eighty-six billion neurons, which form various structures within the brain. Another difficulty is that introspections about brain function are misleading. Dr Churchland used the game of chess as an example of incorrect intuitions about brain functions... while most laypersons believe that understanding the various chess moves is more difficult than understanding how the actual pieces are physically moved- in 1997, a computer was able to outplay a chess grandmaster , but the development of artificial intelligences which can manipulate objects is in its infancy (Dr Churchland showed a tragicomic video of a robot hand trying to pick up a coffee cup). Additionally, brains do different things in different animals. Dr Churchland cited bats and mice as two mammals with very different brains. One can look to see how problems are solved in animals- this works well for kidneys and hearts, which are very similar in different animals, but brains are much more diverse. A model system has to be chosen carefully due to the evolution of brains to serve different needs for different ecological niches.

Dr Churchland's major goal is to bridge the gap between sensorimotor reflexes and complex behaviors. Reflexes are "locked in" timewise- when one's knee is tapped with a mallet, the reflex occurs in an inflexible timeline. Complex decisions take place on a more flexible time scale, and integrate many systems of sensory input. Dr Churchland cited the purchase of a car as an example- one uses various sensory inputs to evaluate a vehicle, and there is no stereotypical time scale on which a final decision is made.

Dr Churchland went on to demostrate multisensory integration, and the differences between our processing of stimuli. Auditory stimuli are not very good in a spatial sense- it is often hard to pinpoint where a sound is coming from. Visual stimuli are very good at spatial resolution. As an example of this disparity, Dr Churchland cited a ventriloquist, who is able to exploit our poor auditory special recognition by providing a deceptive visual stimulus- we are "fooled" by the dummy's mouth moving, so it seems like the sound is emanating from the dummy. As a more glaring example, she pointed to the speakers around the room, from which her voice was emanating, and noted that none of us had any problem perceiving her as the source of her voice.

The visual system is not particularly good at timing, while the auditory system is much better at it- by flashing a dot once, but sending out two "beeps" in rapid succession, she was able to "fool" the audience into believing that two dots were flashed.

Subjects weigh incoming information according to its reliability- Dr Churchland cited a 2002 paper by Ernst and Banks (PDF) which dealt with the integration of visual and haptic (touch) stimuli- when deceptive visual stimuli are presented, a subject can use touch to correct perception. The brain can change from one stimulus to another moment-to-moment, with regards to environmental statistics- multisensory integration is geared towards a statistically optimal condition.

In her lab, Dr Churchland uses rodents as subjects- rodents are able to judge stimuli rates to be high or low. A subject was confronted by an array of LEDs and speakers and would respond to the auditory and visual stimuli in order to gain a reward, a drink of water. A low stimuli rate would indicate that the rat would be rewarded by placing its snout in the left-hand dispenser, a high stimuli rate would indicate the right-hand dispenser. Twelve "events" per second was chosen as the arbitrary "cutoff" between high and low rates. While the task that had to be performed by the rat was unnatural, it nevertheless tapped into natural neural pathways. A rat could be trained to shape its decision making behavior (at this point, Dr Churchland showed a hilarious "training" montage accompanied by the song The Eye of the Tiger). After showing video of the rat performing the necessary tasks, Dr Churchland called for a volunteer from the audience, and a game fellow named Issac was brought up to the stage to undergo the same "test" as the rats. He scored a whopping 85% success rate, better than any rat. For his efforts, Dr Churchland awarded him with a packet of string cheese.

Of course, studying behavior is only the first step in the "journey"- imaging of the brain was conducted while the rat was engaged in the decision making process. To supplement brain imagine, tetrodes fifteen microns in diameter were placed in the rats' skulls to measure neural activity. There was evidence of neurons firing in the posterior parietal cortex, which is imaged in this video, which indicates that the PPC plays a role in decision making.

In the Q&A some bastard in the audience asked Dr Churchland how the rats dealt with conflicting stimuli, say a high rate visual stimulus combined with a low rate auditory stimulus. She indicated that, in the case of conflict stimuli, the more reliable stimulus was the basis of the decision- a bright visual stimulus would be weighted more heavily than a low auditory stimulus. Another questioner in the audience asked about the role of glia in the brain, and Dr Churchland indicated that the glia play a "scaffolding" role- they help to define the structure of the brain.

Once again, last night's lecture was another triumph of the Secret Science Club. Dr Churchland gave a great presentation about the workaday aspects of a scientist's research, and gave a wonderful view into the efforts to increase our knowledge about the "divide" between simple reflexive behavior and complex behavior. For a brief taste of the subject of the lecture, here's a video of Dr Churchland discussing research that she had conducted using primates as subjects:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Goodbye, Gray Mouser

Last week started off on a happy note, we had a surprise visitor on site and were able to find him a home. The week took a turn for the worse, though, and I have to confess that I have been bummed out since Friday, when I received some bad news on the job. In the interest of topicality, I decided to wait until today to reveal my melancholy mood.

Back in 1998, my former co-worker Peter, who relocated to Virginia a few years ago, found a tiny gray fuzzball in his neighborhood and named it after basketball great Moses Malone. He brought Moses the kitten to work, where he found employment as a mouser. Moses pretty much had the run of the property for a good fifteen years, and came to be loved by staff and visitors alike. When I started working here in 2006, I was immediately taken by the cat, with his luminous amber eyes and his silky gray fur. I'm a cat person to begin with, the family always had cats when I was growing up. Moses was something special- I've met many wonderful cats in my day, and Moses ranks pretty high up in the pantheon of felines.

Last Thursday, when the three site cats were brought in to the local animal hospital for their annual checkups, the veterinarian noted that Moses had lost two pounds since his last vet visit late last winter. Moses had been looking a little gaunt lately- he had been on thyroid medication for a couple of years, and had had a couple of teeth pulled recently. Well, on Thursday, the veterinarian discovered that Moses had an inoperable cancerous tumor in his mouth. The site manager who brought the cats in to the veterinarian returned to the site and revealed the bad news to everyone. He contacted Peter, who had found Moses and brought him to share in our work and our lives. Peter gave his consent to the agonizing decision to euthanize Moses to end his suffering. Today, the site manager is bringing Moses to the veterinarian who had taken care of him during his tenure here for the last time. As you can imagine, everyone in the organization is devastated. The plan is to cremate Moses' remains and scatter his ashes throughout the site he "ruled" for fifteen years after a memorial service.

When Moses was a kitten, Peter would place him in the hood of his sweatshirt in the colder months, and Moses would snuggle in it, contented. As an adult cat, Moses loved to jump on his human friends' shoulders and would often stay on one's shoulders for up to half an hour while one went about one's tasks. Here's a picture of Moses sitting on my shoulders on Christmas 2011, the most attractive "scarf" that I have ever worn:

This moment was captured by the talented Zombie Rotten McDonald. I will bring the sketch into work when we conduct our memorial service for our beloved coworker.

Our company e-mail server has been filling up with eulogies of Moses. One former co-worker sang his praises, and put him in the great company of mousers that have guarded mills and granaries since time immemorial. A great and admirable bunch! Another coworker related a touching story about a pair of cat lovers who met Moses on a visit to our site:

Our good friend Moses was sitting - posing, more like - on a bench... A middle age couple came by - instantly recognized as cat people - and began admiring Moses as so many visitors have.
Of course, I happily regaled them with his who and what abouts. Then, as he scratched Mo on the head and chucked his chin, the gentleman declared simply:

"Yep, he's the right cat for this place!"

Just that; not a word more or less.

Yep, Moses in summation, ..."The right cat for this place"

The right cat for this place indeed... the place won't be quite the same without him. Goodbye, Gray Mouser, you will remain forever enshrined in the hearts of your coworkers.

NOTE: Post title *yoinked* from Fritz Leiber.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Paucity of Beat

I hastily added a footnote to last post to explain that its title was lifted from the song Spar Wid Me by the band known here in the States as The English Beat, a "Two Tone Ska Revival" band from Brummagem. In looking through the archives, I noticed that the one prior entry mentioning "The Beat" was the post I wrote concerning Maggie Thatcher's death in which I embedded a video for the song Stand Down, Margaret. As kids, my siblings and I played the hell out of "Special Beat Service" and an album which compiled singles from the band's other two albums "I Just Can't Stop It" and "Wha'ppen?" I feel that I must now rectify this lack of "Beat" on my blog.

Here's one of my all-time favorite songs by the band, Best Friend from "I Just Can't Stop It", a snarky song about the difficulties of dating someone conceited:

Mirror in the Bathroom had an altogether darker theme, the descent of a self-absorbed narrator into madness:

Jeanette is a humorous account of a one-night stand, starting with a pair "meeting cute" and ending with them swapping false addresses after an unforgettable night:

I'm going to cap off the video embeds with Ranking Full Stop, which beautifully showcases the rapidfire vocal virtuosity of "toastmaster" Ranking Roger:

It must be noted that "The Beat" had to add a national descriptor to their name here in the states because a contemporary American band was named The Beat. The American Beat was a power pop outfit which rose from the ashes of a band called The Nerves, known best for the song Hanging on the Telephone, which was a hit for Blondie. Here's America's Beat:

Apparently, there was no animosity resulting from the sharing of names across the Atlantic and the two bands went on a Transatlantic Beat Tour last year.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Because We All Know That Elvis Died Fat

Today's the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, if you believe the mainstream news narrative. Last night, I headed over to the nearby Empire City Casino in order to meet some friends to see a Bronx paisan' Elvis interpreter put on a show. It was funny to hear him switch back and forth between his "Elvis" voice and his "Noo Yawk" accent. Hey, Elvis could have passed for a paisan', and he did a creditable version of Santa Lucia:

Being a smartass, my favorite Elvis song is the song Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey from Clambake which, while probably being Elvis' worst movie, is my favorite Elvis movie. To confess, I didn't know the title of the song (a lackluster one, to be sure) until tonight, I always thought of it as "The Goop Song":

Chalk it up to seeing the cheesy movie on the T.V. machine as a kid- the scene in which Elvis instructs his sidekick to swing a hammer at a "goop" treated guitar, and the hammer bounces off had me rolling as a kid. Bronx Elvis had a decent between-song patter- he told the audience that, as a child, the only movies on after school were Elvis Movies, Planet of the Apes, and "Abbott and Costello" movies and, had things turned out differently, he would have ended up as a Dr Cornelius interpreter. I imagine that Cousin Declan arrived at his stage names after watching a similar diet of afterschool movies.

Now, regarding the whole "faked death" thing, and Elvis' body of work in the film industry, I have to say that, while my favorite Elvis movie is Clambake, my favorite "Elvis" movie is Bubba Ho-tep. One has to love any movie that starts out as a cheesy horror-comedy film featuring a scene in which Elvis fights a giant scarab beetle in a nursing home with a bedpan:

And ends up an elegiac portrayal of the plight of the aged in a youth-obsessed America.

Postscript: For a somber footnote, last night I learned that Yonkers' own Dr Nazar Sayegh, aka Dr Elvis, passed away in May of this year at the age of 53 after being struck by a brain embolism in 2010. By all accounts, he was a fine man and a good doctor, and I can attest that he put on a hell of a show. Here's a profile of the good doctor from a happier time.

NOTE: I forgot to explain the title of the post title, which is lifted from Spar Wid Me by The (English) Beat.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Every Time We Lose a Bar, Jesus Weeps

I pretty much knew that bad shit was going down as I was drifting off to sleep... a helicopter was hovering within earshot, which is never a good sign. Today being a lovely day, and my day off, I decided to take a leisurely stroll in the neighborhood, running casual errands. I popped into a pizzeria on Katonah Avenue, on the other side of the Bronx border and saw on the local TV news that a three-alarm fire tore through two businesses a couple of blocks south of my location. After my lunch, I walked down to assess the damage, Emerald Pharmacy and Behan's Pub were gutted.

As far as I can tell, Behan's was named after brilliant author, playwright, and convicted IRA member Brendan Behan, but I never confirmed my hunch because, if one wishes to keep one's well-formed noggin attached to one's shoulders in this neighborhood, one does not bring up topics tangential to The Troubles. On one occasion, my old friend and former housemate SeanO, a loquacious and curious fellow, was admonished by a bartender, "If you're going to keep asking questions, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

In order to get the local scuttlebutt, I popped into The Rambling House for a couple of pints and the scoop. I have to confess that I love drinking when it's bright out, because it feels so licentious. There was no real news about the fire, but two pints of Goose Island went down very smoothly.

As I wended my way up Katonah Avenue to the Yonkers border, I ran into my upstairs neighbor Mo, and we briefly discussed the fire before coming to a parting of the ways. As she took the left hand turn, she told me, "I hate to love you and leave you." I gave the only logical response, "As long as you love me, I can bear the parting." Mo's a good gal, with a quick but understated wit.

As far as the fate of Behan's Pub goes, there were some guys already beginning the interior demolition. The neighborhood being home to countless individuals in the building trades, I have no doubt that it will be back in business soon. As a tribute to Behan's Pub, and Behan himself, how about a song from Brendan Behan's first, and best known, play The Quare Fellow? Here's The Auld Triangle, written by Dominic Behan for his brother Brendan's play:

Here's wishing best of luck to the business owners who suffered loss because of this fire.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago, I and about fifty million other people in the Northeastern quadrant of the North American continent experienced a major blackout. I was at work when the power crapped out and, being a cubicle drone, was unable to accomplish anything sans power. It being a beautiful summer day, I had ridden my bicycle to work, and my ride home was actually quicker than a typical ride- I didn't have to stop for any red lights and actually gave a hearty Nelson Muntz laugh while passing a line of stopped cars on Route 119 on my way to the South County Trail. Dinner was a hearty barbecue that utilized the perishables in the fridge. After dark, I decided to take a long walk in order to take in an uncharacteristically vivid night sky, and wended my way to McLean Avenue to check out the bars, which were operating by candlelight. All told, it was a lovely time, people were enjoying themselves, and there was none of the looting that took place during the 1977 New York metro area blackout. Stores were giving away free ice cream, people were hanging out, barbecuing and having a good time.

My great and good friend J-Co, one of my high-school buddies, was working in Manhattan at the time and, being stuck in the city with the loss of commuter train service, spent the night sleeping in a church after hitting the pub. He eventually returned home the next day, taking the commuter bus home to his abode in the Northeastern Yonkers neighborhood of Crestwood. When he got off the bus, he immediately popped into a grotty old-man bar to check out the news (and, truth to tell, grab a beer). Apparently, all conversation stopped when a youngish guy in as tie stepped through the door.

The next day, I knew the power had returned when I heard the subtle hum that accompanies the appliances. I returned to the office the next day, a few hours later than my typical start time, but it was a leisurely day, everybody was too busy yakking about the blackout to accomplish much.

The extent of the blackout was mind-boggling, and I have come to the conclusion that the power grid should be decentralized and supplemented by rooftop solar panels. Every region of the country should pursue appropriate alternate means of electricity generation, with small scale solar arrays, wind turbines, and hydroelectric plants being developed. For New York City and the Hudson Valley, small low-flow turbines should be installed in the huge aqueducts that bring water to the city- hell, even skyscrapers could install low-flow microturbines to capture energy from the flow of waste water. While the U.S. hasn't experienced such a major blackout in the intervening years, there should be an effort to modernize the power system in the states. It would be good for the environment, and would provide thousands of good jobs.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Feathered Foundling

This post is dedicated to Mr John Gray, who opens up his heart and his home to take in strays.

As regular readers of my blog know, my job is not a normal 9-to-5 gig at all. Well, that goes for most of my co-workers as well. Sunday night, when I arrived to work the Monday graveyard shift, my co-worker **REDACTED** greeted me with some excitement and told me that he had something he had to show me at once. Something which wasn't an emergency, but something of interest. He led me to one of the sheds on site and introduced me to George:

At some time on Sunday, a wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) (PDF link) showed up on site. The bird, a young male (the horn-like projection on the head or "snood", the dewlap, and the "beard" on his breast indicate that he's a boy), was so tame that he'd approach humans, so the Manager on Duty surmised that the bird had been taken and hand reared by someone who decided that he was getting too big to keep, and decided to "dump" it over our fence. Our property is spacious and verdant, and there have been previous incidents of unwanted animals, usually chickens, being heaved over the fence.

After the day shift left, my co-worker **REDACTED** received a call from his son, who was instructed by mom to run some errands, but needed to borrow some cash from dad. After the cash exchange and the supermarket run, the father-and-son team managed to herd the bird into one of our sheds for shelter during the night. The son dubbed the bird "George" (I didn't know he was old enough to know this meme).

George found a nice roost in the shed and settled down for the night. When it got light out, I headed out to the shed to check up on him. Here's a closeup of George's head, so you can see his varicoloured skin:

George generally looked healthy, but his tailfeathers and wing primaries were ragged, perhaps from confinement in a cage:

Before heading out to the shed, I grabbed some wind-fallen apples and cut them into chunks, which he eagerly gobbled up from my hand:

I left a note with the day shift so they knew to expect a turkey in the shed, and noted that he liked apple chunks. When I got to work at quarter to eleven, I noticed a cut-up apple near the shed, and am sure that they took a shine to him. Meanwhile, my co-worker **REDACTED** has made some calls to wildlife rehabilitators and tried to determine if any nature center would be able to take him in. He will probably need some acclimatization to the wild, but I think he could be relocated to one of our locations where there is a sizable flock of wild turkeys.

If it were feasible to ship George to Wales, I have no doubt John would welcome him to the farm.

POSTSCRIPT: When I work the graveyard shift, one of the last duties I have to perform is opening up the site for the day shift and for the influx of visitors. While performing these tasks, I checked out the log that the day shift keeps (it's in another building on site, so I didn't check it beforehand) and there's a note that George has been taken to the Bear Mountain Trailside Museum and Zoo. It's nice to know that he'll have a good home, shared with other rehabbed birds, and that he will be a marvel and a joy to the visitors. I sure hope a whole lot of kids will be charmed by him, just as I was.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pacific Pilgrimage

Yesterday's bizarre story was the tale of a family of religious whackos who fled Arizona, a hotbed of abortion, homosexuality, taxes and the state-controlled church and ended up adrift in the Pacific Ocean for 91 days, before being rescued by the crew of a fishing vessel from the socialist haven of Venezuela.

While much of the comments on the story deal with the fact that the parents should lose custody of their two small children, and that they should be forced to pay for all costs incurred in their rescue and subsequent return to the land of abortion, homosexuality, taxes and the state-controlled church. In all of the commentary, one question seems to have gone unasked... what kind of god would send the faithful on an aimless cruise around the vasty deeps of the Pacific?

Indeed, what kind of god would bid worshipers to embark on an ill-fated Pacific voyage? Crikey, the fanatic Gastonguay family was actually trying to locate the corpse-city of R'lyeh, to liberate the dread Cthulhu from its slumber. It's all so clear to me now, even the stars are right!

Postscript: Raw Story commenter jgkiefer asks, regarding the fundamentalist whackos:

Can we not find a nice island somewhere where ALL of them can sail off to? I am sure we can take in donations on the guarantee that they do not return.

I suggest that such an island be named The Island of Misfit Goys.

Second Postscript: Funny how the best jokes come hours after the post:


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Meteors and Me

This morning, in the wee hours, I found a comfortable spot outside and settled down for a while with mah preshus kittehs by my side, so I could take in the Perseid meteor shower. I was not disappointed- besides seeing about a half-dozen ephemeral "shooting stars", I saw three impressive meteors, including the most spectacular meteor I've ever seen, a vivid "fireball" which left a luminous trail that lingered in my vision for a few seconds.

My technique for viewing the sky involved keeping my eyes relatively unfocused, so I could take in a good portion of the sky to the northeast, a sort of thousand-parsec stare, if you will. Being able to recline is not a bad thing, though I didn't do that this morning.

I've always been fascinated by meteors, ever since I first saw the meteorite collection at the Hayden Planetarium- the Willamette Meteorite is a personal favorite, it even looks otherworldly.

In the course of a 1993 cross-country road trip, my college roommates and I visited the Meteor Crater site in northern Arizona. After a bit of hemming-and-hawing about how it was a bit off the beaten track, we decided that, in the context of a road trip that encompassed thousands of miles, a side trip of a couple of hundred miles would be trivial. Besides, The Bronson from Wisconsin is the son of a professor of physics and astrophysics, so he would have kicked himself if he had blown an opportunity to see a crater he'd read about as a child. While I have no desire to visit Arizona in these current Jan Brewer/Joe Arpaio days, I am glad that I "got my licks in" when the country was still sane.

Yeah, I like meteors, I'd even say that my favorite story by Uncle Howard is about a meteor, a story that got a horror/comedy treatment in the Stephen King/George Romero collaboration Creepshow, which was adapted as a graphic novel:

Yeah, I like meteors alright, but I'd make sure I steered clear of meteor shit.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

This Weekend's Free Show

The best entertainment value this weekend is the Perseid meteor shower, which will actually peak on Monday and Tuesday. I am lucky enough to be working the graveyard shift this weekend, so I will be awake and alert during the best meteor-watching times. The proximity of New York City, with its all-night lights, will somewhat curtail the amount of meteors that I will see, though.

That being said, I saw four really nice "shooting stars" in the wee hours of this morning. I didn't even make any preparations for meteor watching, mainly because yesterday was a cloudy, rainy day and the skies cleared pretty late- I just happened to look up at opportune times. Tonight and tomorrow night, I'll be better prepared... I'll stake out a comfortable spot on the property and settle in with a couple of friends for this weekend's free show.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Euro Sci-Fi Disco Environmentalism

So... this whole thing began innocently enough, a Google search that looking up old German New Wave Bands- a pretty typical internet search for me. Well, I was watching some old Nina Hagen videos and listening to Wir Leben Immer Noch, a cover of Lene Lovich's Lucky Number, which got me looking up Ms. Lovich's biography (the storied WLIR used to play a lot of songs by Lene Lovich, but I never thought to look up her biography. Anyway, poking around, I found out that she wrote the lyrics to a smash Euro-disco science fiction hit which is scarily prescient (there must have been something in the air in the 1970s, because the album "Germfree Adolescents" by the X-Ray Spex was as perspicacious as any document put out by a contemporaneous trend-watcher or science fiction author). Supernature is a cautionary tale about agricultural chemical runoff mutating creatures which then take their revenge on humankind. You can also dance your ass off to it:

The song's sound is way ahead of its time, if you added some autotune, it could have been this year's "Daft Punk" release rather than a 1977 release. In 1986, Lene Lovich released her own version of the song:

Until tonight, I had never known that there existed Euro-disco sci-fi cautionary tales. Previously, I thought the only Euro-disco cautionary tales were of a historic nature.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting to Know the Family

I was excited to read that the largely complete fossil remains of an ancient proto-mammal lineage previously known from scattered dental remains were found in Outer Mongolia.

The fossil of Megaconus, as the critter was named, was characterized by a furry pelt, but it had a primitive middle ear- the three tiny "bones" in the mammalian ear are derived from bones in the original reptilian jaw, and Megaconus retains this primitive condition. The discovery of this mammaliform specimen indicates that furry mammal ancestors are approximately as old as the dinosaurs, both lineages dating to the late Triassic. For those who aren't total paleontology nerds, the iconic Dimetrodon, which dates back to the Permian, is actually more closely related to we humans than it is to dinosaurs.

The discovery of a largely complete proto-mammal of this age is an awesome boon to those who study evolution. It's nice to get a good idea of what your great, great, great, great, great, great (need I go on?) grand-uncle looks like. Hey, how about a nice musical number from They Might Be Giants, relevant to this subject?

Here's Part 1 of a video series on the evolution of the mammals:

Getting to know the family is such a pleasure!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Casting Choices

I may have to turn in my nerd card for admitting this (and paleo and zrm will probably disown me), but I've never been a Dr Who fan... I have nothing against the show, but it has never grabbed me. Indeed, I believe I have seen the "Brain of Morbius" episode more times than I've seen every other episode combined. That being said, I should be happy that the new Dr Who will be a paisan- it'll be nice to see a Vespa-riding, Capezio-wearing, cappuccino drinking Dr Who. There's a part of me that's a little disappointed, though, that Shane MacGowan wasn't given the role of the Doctor. Who wouldn't like a drug-addled, foul-mouthed, snaggle-toothed Doctor Who?

Just to make myself a little sadder at what could have been, here's the hilariously filthy Bottle of Smoke, in
which Cousin Shane drops a ton of F-bombs, singing about a big gambling win at the track:

By now, I'd bet that you are also miffed that Shane wasn't cast as Doctor Fucking Who.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Today's big story is the production of a hamburger made from lab-grown meat. As Reuters reports, one of the lead scientists in the project is Mark Post, a vascular biologist at the University of Maastricht. Being a Nederlander, Mynheer Post made a "burger" that seems more like a bitterbal:

To prepare the burger, scientists combined the cultured beef with other ingredients normally used in burgers, such as salt, breadcrumbs and egg powder. Red beet juice and saffron have been added to bring out its natural colors.

I, myself, would quibble that the addition of beet juice and saffron don't really bring out the "natural" colors of the vatmeat, they bring out the natural colors of beet juice and saffron.

Steak eating madman and bonafide rock star tsam wants something more ambitious from the meatmakers:

Also, if you’re gonna manufacture meat in a test tube, go for the ribeye or porterhouse, not fucking HAMBURGER. Geez. WTF?

I have to say, the thought of being able to grow my own ribeye and bacon is awfully intriguing. I LIKE IT.

I churlishly pointed out the fact that ribeyes and porterhouses require ribs and that T-shaped bone by definition. I suppose that some sort of bony lattice could be built so that the meat could be grown on it. Perhaps a robot "skeleton" could be made so that the artificial muscle fibers could be exercised in order to provide for a better texture.

Of course, the growth of meat in a lab can be taken to disturbing extremes- it raises the possibility of cannibalism without murder, should human meat be grown in a lab. Would eating the vat-grown meat of endangered species be unethical? How about eating meat cloned from extinct animals? Are there "Flintstones" style brontosaur ribs in our future?

Would eating meat that is genetically "human", but had been grown from a swab of cheek-lining epithelial cells be evil? If Sergey Brin bankrolled the cultivation of human meat in a lab for human consumption, would that violate Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto (the motto that Google routinely violates with its data mining operations)? Would it be considered autocannibalism if one grows lab-meat from one's own flesh and eats it? If Doctor Post told you "Eat Me!", would he mean it literally?

So many questions, operational and ethical... (for the record, I think cruelty-free meat would be great) at any rate, as the technology improves, the prospect of vat-grown meat becomes more likely. This disturbs me a lot less than the prospect of poop patties.

Note: Post title riffs off Fatburger. In a weird sort of synchronicity, I just learned that a Fatburger opened up in Manhattan.

Postscript: Damn, if the Shroud of Turin were authentic, and meat could be cloned from Jesus' cells, it would give the Eucharist an entirely new meaning.

The hits keep on coming: A Sergey Brin funded cloned human meat product could be called Soylent Brin. It could be made into Brinburgers.

Final Update: Cross-posted, most appropriately, at America's Meatiest Blog.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Strange Dualism, To Be Sure

I constantly joke about how my job is cushy, except when it's not. Some days, like today, it's a weird combination of cushy-yet-asskicking, due to scheduling idiosyncrasies. I worked from 4PM yesterday to 8AM today, and find myself back at work for a 4PM to 8PM half shift because one of the guys in my department had a family obligation. While having to get to work after four and a half hours of sleep is no picnic, now that I'm on the job, it's a pleasure to be here. The grounds are beautiful, the weather is gorgeous.

The first hour on the job, I was able to hang out with the day shift, all of whom I like immensely, and our site visitors, who tend to be a warm, happy bunch. I even ran into one guy who came to the site I was working yesterday at the end of the day, to whom I gave some information about booking visits online- he took my advice and spent the entire day visiting our sites, which pleased me to no end.

I spent a good portion of the remaining time walking the site, concentrating on the hilly sections. I am toying with the idea of walking the length of the Old Croton Aqueduct and want to toughen up the ol' footsies.

Right now, I am full of vim and vigor, but I know I'll be dragging my tailfeathers around when I get home. It's funny, I can go hell-bent for leather for a couple of days, but there's an inevitable crash... I'm not in my twenties anymore, and look back on the days when I could go out all night and be okay for work or volunteering the next day after three hours of sleep with a sigh.

Now, I can take only so much of an asskicking, which makes me appreciate the general cushiness of my situation.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Era of Blonde Pop-Rock Goddesses

It's 11:30, and I want to put up a quick post... I've been busy on the job, with the little free time I've had spent looking up orgeat recipes. Anyway, time to post a video... I decided to post a bit of bubblegum pop, with a theme that I usually abhor (of the "I can't go on without you" variety). For some reason, I think that Burst by Wales' Darling Buds transcends the genre:

Now that's a perfect slice of pure pop bliss, clocking in at just under three minutes. It's a pity the band didn't receive a greater measure of commercial success, a situation probably brought on by the fact that they were hard to distinguish from bands such as The Primitives:

And, of course, Transvision Vamp:

Hmmm... the late 80's and early 90's were a good era for guitar-pop bands fronted by seriously babelicious blondes. Ah, who am I kidding? Any era is good for that.

UPDATE: I'd be remiss if I didn't pay respects to my favorite blonde 80's-90's guitar goddess from this side of the Atlantic, namely the gorgeous and talented Tanya Donnelly:

I think mikey would disown me if I left Ms. Donnelly out of the equation.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Nostalgia Trip, Mine and His

Today, the local commercial radio station that I listen to featured the year 1965 in their weekday "Ten at 10" feature, in which the program director plays "ten great songs from one great year". Well, 1965 was before my time, but the music selection was awesome. Anyway, the mention of the year 1965 reminded me of the opening line of the Smithereens' song Behind the Wall of Sleep. Despite the Lovecraftian title, the song is really about lead singer Pat DiNizio crushing on a girl:

I love the fact that the band looks like a bunch of grad students.

The girl that Mr DiNizio was enamored with had hair like Jeanie Shrimpton back in 1965, so I guess her 'do looked a lot like the 'do sported by Ms Shrimpton on her Newsweek cover.

Funny thing, nostalgia, hearing 1965 referenced made me nostalgic for an 80's tune written by a guy with 60's nostalgia... is this a case of metanostalgia?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I Love It When They Fight

I've been cracking up at the war of words between turds, Chris Christie and Rand Paul. Christie mocked Paul's libertarianism (of course, Rand Paul's version of liberty is not for chix!), while Rand Paul countered with a not-so-veiled crack at Christie's weight, dubbing him the "king of pork", even though New Jersey pays more money into the treasury than it receives, while Kentucky receives more than it pays out.

Like I said, I'm tickled pink at this rift within the GOP, with the "could fake it as a moderate" Christie having been a huge favorite among conservatives until his photo ops with the Kenyan usurper. I guess Rand Paul wants to garner that conservative love from those who felt spurned by Christie. I even like the optics of the fight, with the toad-like Christie and the snake-like Paul squaring off like a couple of wingnut wuxia whiners. Even better, the squabbling Christie and Paul remind me of these two guys: