Thursday, April 30, 2015

Walpurgisnacht 2015!

Yesterday's post on some local sorcery was premature... tonight is Walpurgisnacht, which, as longtime readers will know, is one of my favorite holidays. Of course, in the pre-Christian Celtic religion and modern neo-paganism, it's Beltane, a time to celebrate "fertility", which is commemorated in a classic schoolyard poem.

I don't practice any sort of goety (or goatse, for that matter), but if I did, I know just the cat to employ as a familiar.

If I lit a huge Beltane fire on the job and indulged in some "extracurricular activities", I'd probably bring down the wrath of the local Fire and Police Departments and lose my job. I'll have to content myself with maybe re-reading The Dreams in the Witch House, which apparently was adapted for cable-TV a decade ago:

The Dreams in the Witch House is an oddball tale- witchcraft as an esoteric branch of mathematics. Lovecraft sure had a weird hangup about angles... he had weird hangups about a lot of things. Something tells me he wouldn't have had much fun at a Beltane celebration.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Touch of the Macabre

Today was a beautiful sunny day- absolutely flawless, not too hot, not too cool. I decided that I would take a nice long walk, and headed south, in order to circumambulate Woodlawn Cemetery. The walk along the eastern edge of the cemetery is along a particularly deserted stretch of Webster Avenue, sandwiched between the cemetery and the Metro North Harlem Line tracks. Traffic is light, and I saw one other person along this stretch of road, a guy who was preparing to do some work on his car.

My route took me south to Gun Hill Road, away from the cemetery. I walked up Decatur Avenue (mentioned in the now-disbanded-and-mourned Black 47's Our Lady of the Bronx), where I witnessed a heated argument between two latino guys- one who seemed to have loaned his motorbike to his buddy, who proceeded to ride it at an excessive speed, messing up the works. The borrower was trying to convince the lender that it wasn't so, but the lender had the mechanical evidence. Oh, well, I hope they worked out some sort of amicable settlement of the kerfuffle.

Turning west on 211th St, I walked along the southern edge of the cemetery, and found a macabre little detail... if you're on the squeamish side, you may want to skip the photos here. I first noticed the carcass of a turtle on it's back, inside the cemetery fence:

Judging from the coloration of the plastron and limbs, I'd have to guess that this hapless turtle was a red-eared slider. Poor critter!

To the right of the turtle carcass, I found the carcass of a chicken, partially obscured by a garbage bag:

Here's a panoramic view of this grisly tableaux, encompassing the two animal carcasses:

A little further down the street, I found the a chicken head which I'd venture to guess belonged to the bagged bird:

I don't practice Santeria, but I suspect that this was a case of animal sacrifice related to the religion, or one of the other syncretic religions that employ animal sacrifice- apparently, the incidence of such sacrifices is increasing.

Every once in a while, I'll encounter some weird hint of sorcery on my rambles, but this one was the most off-putting by far, so far,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It's Like He Knows Me

This evening, one of the guys in my department called me about the upcoming month's schedule. I was unable to answer the call so he left a message: "Are you sleeping, or are you drinking?"

When I was finally able to answer the phone, I had to come clean: "Nah, I was pre-drinking."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hoist On His Own Pootard

Thunder has a saying, "The Schaden freudes itself." From the Schadenfreude Department, we have a serious case of unforeseen circumstances biting a bigot in the ass- the infamous Pastor Martin "Eat Da Poo Poo" Ssempa has been accused of promoting homosexuality in Uganda.

If you don't know who Pastor Ssempa is, he's a homophobic propagandist who, possessing more gay porn than the Castro District, travels throughout Uganda in order to promote anti-gay legislation by showing extreme scat porn. His infamous "Eat Da Poo Poo" tirade went viral, spawning a bunch of parodies and spoofs. Tengrain often blogs about Matt Barber, an anti-gay activist who thinks about gay sex more than the most promiscuous rentboy in the West Village- Ssempa is a lot like this, the guy thinks about the most extreme gay sex acts more than all of the Pride Day marchers combined.

It's only appropriate that he got caught up in a law that he has relentlessly promoted... he was hoist on his own pootard.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ode to Billy Joe Bobby Jindal

Via Tengrain, we have news that Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is looking to pass an Indianesque "religious freedom" law to let bigots off the hook when they persecute LGBT folks. Meanwhile, his budgetary lunacy will force Louisiana State University to cut down to the bone. Nice priorities, eh? With that in mind, how about a little poem dedicated to pie-ish (he's not a real pie, he may be flaky but he's only half-baked)?

Jesus don't really care about your buttsex.
Jesus don't really care about your kink.
To Jesus it just doesn't even matter,
If you stick it in the brown or in the pink.

Jesus don't really care about your buttsex.
Jesus don't really care about your freak.
Why don't you read what he said in the Bible?
Shouldn't you start to turn the other cheek?

If you want to consider yourselves Christians, start acting like Jesus, not like some Deuteronomy-cherry picking authoritarian. Time to put the Christ back in Christianity.

Friday, April 24, 2015

It's Supposed to be SPRING!!!

Tonight, I had to hunt for my winter hat before heading off for work. It's supposed to dip down to right around the freezing point. Last week, the mercury hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) and I was wearing shorts as I strolled throughout the neighborhood. I'm glad I didn't plant anything (I have some butternut squash seeds I plan to plant in a corner of one of our sites) yet.

I have a suspicion that the temperatures are going to jump from the current lows to a summery heat in the course of the next couple of months. If last year is any indication, it'll be a crappy year for wild berries. Oh, well, at least the lambs quarters will be plentiful.

Thunder keeps trying to send redbud flowers my way, but Old Man Winter keeps sending them back to dormancy. He's got his redbud already, so I see a redbud salad in his near future. I'll have to make do with my nettles for the time being.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Daffodils Are Nice, But...

We have a profusion of daffodils at several of our sites, and they happily were in full bloom around the time of our Spring fundraiser. The daffodils are lovely, but the resurgence of the stinging nettles makes me happier than their blooming. Long-time readers will know that I eat a lot of stinging nettles in the Spring.

Nettles have a high protein content for a green vegetable. Being one of the first herbaceous plants to emerge in the Spring, nettles were an important food in the days before fresh produce could be shipped from distant parts. This onetime "make it or break it" food has fallen off the radar for most people, but there are a handful of nettle adherents out there.

For the next two months, I'll be subsisting on nettle soup, nettle fritters, creamed nettles, nettle hortopitta, nettle pesto, nettle quiche, nettle omelets, nettle... I think you get the picture. I'm kinda like Yosemite Sam in Rabbitson Crusoe with his coconuts, but I actually love nettles:

I don't know if you can eat daffodils... nah, the very dedicated gardeners of our grounds department would have my head.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day: Brooklyn Style!

I celebrated Earth Day by taking a nice walk through my neighborhood, down to 233rd St, the northern edge of Woodlawn Cemetery, which is a beautiful green space in a surprisingly green section of New York City. My neighborhood, which straddles the Yonkers/Bronx border, is home to many trees, as a perusal of this lovely NYC tree map (warning: TIME SINK!!!) will confirm.

Meanwhile, in another Outer Borough, an intrepid environmentalist, a clean-water advocate, swam in the most polluted body of water in the United States. The Gowanus section of Brooklyn is near and dear to my heart, being the location of the beautiful Bell House. I am no stranger to the canal, if I arrive in Gowanus early on Secret Science Club lecture nights, I will sometimes walk up 3rd Avenue to take in the forlorn beauty of the polluted waterway. My friend Margaret told me about the canoe trips sponsored by the Gowanus Dredgers, but I haven't had the time to sign up for a paddle.

At any rate, the intrepid Christopher Swain swam the Gowanus Canal, but cut his swim short due to impending thunderstorms. At the end of his swim, he rated the water quality: "It tasted like mud and poop."

I'm sure it tasted like victory.

Mr Swain's stalwart stunt did bring a lot of media attention to the waterway. His closing statement was a wonderful example of idealism: “We deserve a Gowanus Canal that’s a jewel, that’s a diamond, that sparkles in the sun.” As someone who has gazed over its waters, I agree with him one hundred percent.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Where's a Jedi Knight When You Need One?

Via Raw Story, we have news that William Shatner is trying to "crowdsource" a project that would bring water from the Seattle area down to California:

The “Star Trek” star has told Yahoo! Tech journalist David Pogue he intends to start a crowdsource campaign on to raise $30 billion for a pipeline to bring water from the Seattle area for use by thirsty California.

Well, the big problem with this idea is that Washington state is experiencing a drought, and the residents would take it ill if their water were stolen. A better solution would be to expand efforts to build ocean desalination plants along the California coast.

At the risk of igniting a "Star Trek vs Star Wars" fight, I have to opine that Mark Hamill should counter William Shatner by proposing a moisture vaporator project throughout California. There are moisture laden breezes wafting off the coastal waters, how about harnessing that moisture?

On a serious note, George Lucas is a socially responsible guy, maybe he can fund a feasibility study... why not be SoCal-ly responsible as well?

Monday, April 20, 2015

We Interrupt the Quotidian Rhodomontade

The redoubtable Smut Clyde, a hero of bravery, has reminded us that today is the annual "Talk Like a Jack Vance Character Day". Let all indulge in a salmagundi of rococo repartee so as to avoid the obloquy of individuals of taste and distinction.

I have been remiss, a mooncalf and a villein, in not posting about Jack Vance since that worthy made his transition to an empyrean realm. I shall endeavor to correct such deficiencies in future.

Getting back to the prosaic everyday tongue for a moment, I have to note that spellcheck really doesn't dig the Vancian linguistic mode- infernal machine!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Grim Anniversary

Today, as Tengrain and M. Bouffant noted, is the twentieth anniversary of the Bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. The bombing was perpetrated by a right-wing whit supremacist extremist named Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001, and his accomplice, Terry Nichols, who is serving a life sentence in prison.

I don't believe in the death penalty, and I have a suspicion that McVeigh's death prevented a more comprehensive investigation into the right-wing extremist terrorism that plagued the United States during the Clinton Administration (there were a string of bombings throughout the South, perpetrated by right-wing extremist Eric Rudolph, with a bombing during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics being the most infamous of these bombings). McVeigh (and Rudolph) were involved in a broader white power, right-wing extremist movement. The violent attacks perpetrated by home-grown right wingers (as opposed to the Muslim right-wingers who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks) largely went on hiatus during the George W. Bush maladministration, and, thankfully, right-wing terrorism has been spotty and incompetently carried out during the Obama Administration.

The real horror of the Murrah Building bombing was the callous, almost clinical, nature of the attack- perpetrator McVeigh described the children killed in the bombing as collateral damage, a DoD euphemism for dead civilians. McVeigh was radicalized, but his rhetoric had a chillingly bureaucratic "flavor". McVeigh was a monster, but he was also a product of a monstrous system, a system which reduces dead innocents to cold equations, mere "collateral damage" to be tallied up by so many bean counters.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Opening Day

Today was the first day the site was open for visitation this year. This weekend, we're having our annual family-friendly spring fundraiser, which I posted about last year.

Before the event, I ran into a glitch- I turned on the water to the drinking fountain in front of our visitors' center and noticed that it was leaking water, so I had to turn it off again. I had turned off the water last November, so I don't know what the hell could have happened, but I'll put in a work order... too late for this weekend's crowds.

The best thing about this weekend is that a small army of our season part-time workers descends on the scene. I see a lot of people I haven't seen all winter. I am happy to report that my friend with Huntington's Disease looked a lot better this year than last- her neurologist has hooked her up with some physical and occupational therapists, so she has been able to mitigate a lot of the effects of the disease. She has retired from her "day job" as well, so she has been able to devote a lot more time to her health.

There's usually a bittersweet note to work- this year, I learned that two of the younger part-time staff members will be relocating upstate to work at a similar not-for-profit that will give them more hours. These two are recent college grads, and they are relocating to strike a balance between their love of what they do and their need to earn more money while paying less in living expenses. Luckily, they found an apartment together, as the new job is seasonal as well. I joked with one of them, who I confess I have a bit of a crush on, that she should look for bartending work as well, as a sideline. She studied abroad and tended bar in England, so she knows the business. A few weeks ago, I had a long conversation with the parents of another part-time recent grad (they came to the site to pick up their daughter after she'd gone with a co-worker to a workshop, and I "confronted" them, thinking they were parking so they could make out, which had them laughing, saying, "We're too old for that!"), and I had to ruefully note that their daughter had a "wonderful part-time job", but that she'd need to find a sideline in order to make a better wage. Education is not as valued in our society as hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts. I'm going to miss my two friends, and I hope my third friend finds a good sideline.

On a happier note, a local cable news station sent a camera crew to the site to film a cute little puff piece pre-event. They interviewed a co-worker of mine who is a Renaissance woman (literally, she belongs to the SCA), a power-nerd who is into martial arts and historical re-enactment, who writes erotica and owns a small catering company. She gave them a great sound bite. The film crew also had some nice footage of Fred and Ginger. My two-legged co-worker told me that Fred had sat perfectly still in a "perfect cat pose, with his tail curled around his body" while the film crew set up for the shoot. As I noted a year ago, he has considerably mellowed- he used to hide when the site got too "exciting" for him.

It was a beautiful day, a great day to welcome everybody back to the site and to catch up on the scuttlebutt and to see my part-time co-workers in their glory. They are a dedicated bunch of people, and it's a pleasure to watch them interacting with the public, imparting their wisdom and expertise. I missed them all winter.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Now, THAT's What I Call Fiscal Responsibility!

From the Party of Fiscal Responsibility files, we have a local story about New Jersey's bond rating has been lowered for the 9th time in five years. Oh, yeah, that Chris Christie, the Hudson Harkonnen, really knows how to be a financial steward for his state.

This is the same sort of fiscal responsibility that is reducing Sam Brownback's Kansas to a third-world Thunderdome. Back in the day, I noted that Chris Christie is a reasonable man. Kansas, though, fits the "post-apocalyptic dustbowl hellhole" image better than the Garden State, though:

I'm sure Sam Brownback is a reasonable man...

We'll be hearing more about "fiscal responsibility" in the upcoming presidential election. Remember, though, no matter what any Republican candidate tells you, if elected, they will mess up the finances of any polity they are elected to run.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thanks, Smut!

I was authorially uninspired today, so I figured I'd post an embedded video. Thanks to Smut Clyde, I have decided to post the video to Shriekback's Nemesis. I thought that I had posted this video before, but I merely linked to it. The song, which is one hell of a dance number, takes its title from a comic-book character which is referenced in the video:

I've always taken the song to be about the allure of evil, and the cognitive dissonance it takes to perform atrocities while claiming a moral high ground:

We are no monsters, we're moral people
And yet we have the strength to do this
This is the splendor of our achievement
Call in the air strike with a poison kiss

I can picture Dick Cheney, or the Gitmo torturers spouting this verse without irony.

There's a remix version with an introduction culled from Apocalypse Now, hinting at another inspiration for the song. At any rate, the song's meaning is ambiguous enough so that one can ponder it while tearing up the dance floor.

Thanks again, Smut!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Secret Science Club Recap: Trompe L'Oeil... FOR SCIENCE!!!

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Susana Martinez-Conde, the director of the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience at Brooklyn's own SUNY Downstate. Dr Martinez-Conde is a renaissance woman, being a professor of ophthalmology, and physiology & pharmacology besides being a neurologist.

Last night's lecture dealt with illusions, beginning with the question, "Is everything an illusion?" She showed a clip from The Matrix, joking that the philosopher Keanu Reeves had posed this question, then noted that "reality" is actually the product of an individual's neural matrix. Dr Martinez-Conde defined an illusion as a subjective perception that doesn't match the real world. There are three broad categories of illusions: seeing something that is not there, the failure to see something, and seeing something that is different from what is actually there.

Illusions depend on the brain "deceiving" us- everything we perceive is relative in context, and neural limitations lead to neural "deceptions". Our brain fills in blanks in sensory input- Dr Martinez-Conde illustrated this by having the audience members locate their "blind spot by joining our thumbs at arms' length and moving our hands toward our faces until one thumb tip disappeared. She noted that the brain "fills in" the gap in the visual field, but this can relate in errors- she joked that you can "decapitate" people because the brain fills in the background using the information around the gap, and cannot reconstruct a figure.

The brain seeks structure in the things it perceives, which Dr Martinez-Conde illustrated with the "3 Pac-Men" figure, in which the brain mistakenly perceives a triangle:

The brain organizes information, even if organization must be imposed.

The brain also imposes narratives- to the extent that choice blindness can occur... In one experiment, subjects were asked to rate pictures of female faces and to choose the more attractive of each pair. The majority of subjects were unable to detect when the pictures had been swapped using sleight of hand and were able to confabulate reasons why they had to justify why they thought that a picture they initially hadn't chosen was the more attractive of a pair. Dr Martinez-Conde quipped that it doesn't matter what choice you actually make, you can convince yourself that you've chosen otherwise.

Dr Martinez-Conde noted that the illusions that have been studied often come from the art world. The use of size and occulsion to create the perception of perspective was developed in the Renaissance. She noted that there will always be ambiguity in perception, but the visual system needs to make sense of ambiguity. Artists and architects are able to exploit this fact by creating distortions such as Borromini's forced persective tunnel in the Palazzo Spada in Rome which appears to be about four times as long as it actually is. Illusions such as these work because such trickery is not normal in the natural world.

Dr Martinez-Conde then displayed the Leaning Tower Illusion, in which the rightmost of two identical images appears to lean more because the brain perceives objects to "converge" in the distance. In the image of two towers, the failure to converge is interpreted as looking like divergence.

The next illusion Dr Martinez-Conde displayed was the impossible triangle. At first sight, the impossible triangle seems acceptable, but further observation reveals the flaws. A three-dimensional sculpture of an impossible triangle looks radically different from different vantage points.

She then displayed a visual puzzle, a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, his wife Josephine, and their child, disguised as a depiction of violets:

Spoiler, look for the white profiles of the trio.

The topic then shifted to the infamous blue-black/white-gold dress. Color perception is subjective, ambiguous, and illusory. Dr Martinez-Conde joked that, with illusions, not everything is black and white. The images we perceive are not static, and context can make identical colors appear to be different. To demonstrate this, she showed us Akiyoshi Kitaoka's "grey-eyed girl" illustration, in which two identical gray eyes are perceived to be different colors:

Context is everything. In one dramatic illusion, demonstration 14 on this site, two identical-colored tiles on the image of a cube appear to be different. demonstration 12 shows the effect of "illumination" on color perception, with identically-colored tiles appearing very different under blue or yellow illumination. The visual system discounts the source of illumination when perceiving colors- color constancy causes humans to perceive colors as similar under different lighting conditions. Color constancy can be "fooled" under certain lighting conditions, allowing alterations of color perception, such as that in the "gray-eyed girl" illusion. In the case of the dress, the different perception was due to different perception of illusion. The visual system evolved to deal with sunlight and a blue sky, so golden light and blue light can be confusing.

Perception involves making shortcuts and putting things in context. Dr Martinez-Conde finished her lecture by demonstrating that not only the visual system is subject to trickery, presenting a funny video which involves an audio deception, a "misheard lyrics" take on Oh, Fortuna! from Carmina Burana:

In the Q&A, some bastard in the audience asked Dr Martinez-Conde if any illusion studies had been performed on other primates- she answered that animals perceive illusions, but that no chimpanzees had been asked about "the dress". Other topics she covered were the possibility of visual prostheses and machine vision, which the study of illusions could refine. One young fellow who was standing next to the bastard asked about "illusions" affecting other senses, such as touch, taste, and smell. Dr Martinez-Conde asserted that these senses can be tricked, but that it was harder than visual illusions. I reminded him of the "hot warm cold" trick after Dr Martinez-Conde responded. Regarding the "Best Illusion of the Year" contest, she told us that she had thought that the first year would have been a "greatest hits" type of situation, but that the illusions continue to be top-notch year after year.

Dr Martinez-Conde and her husband, who is her Best Illusion of the Year co-creator, stuck around after the lecture to hang out with audience members. Some bastard joked that she should buy "the dress" to wear during the presentation. She responded that the trick would only work under the proper conditions of illumination, whereupon said bastard, who is no stranger to theatrical lighting, ruefully noted that there are more people in NYC who studied stage lighting than there are positions for lighting designers on Broadway. I asked her husband if he had ever introduced her to the mad genius of the MAD fold-in, and answered that he hadn't but that she'd probably like them. One could not meet a nicer couple.

The lecture was really great, with some wonderful visual accompaniment. Throughout the lecture, I was thinking, "The good professor is messing with our heads... and it's awesome!!! Once again, the Secret Science Club delivered a fantastic lecture by an informative expert who looked like she was having a ball. Here's a hearty round of high-fives to Dr Martinez-Conde, the staff of the beautiful Bell House, and Margaret and Dorian. Thanks yet again!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Busy Bastard

Today is one of those days on which I am a busy, busy boy. This morning, we had our all-staff meeting at work. I woke up before dawn and drove to my principal worksite, where I met three co-workers in order to carpool to our headquarters, which has a smallish parking lot. This being the week of our season opener, I hadn't seen a lot of my co-workers since December. It's great, as one of the year-round skeleton crew, to see the eight-monthers return.

After a lavish breakfast, our head of HR and our president spoke- we heard the yearly talk about how to boost site visitation with fundraising events in order to finance our educational mission. It was pretty much standard boilerplate.

After a brief break, one of our site directors, who is pretty much the nicest guy in the room (seriously, he is one of the most hospitable persons I have ever met), gave us a presentation about the restoration work being done on his site, including the lifting of a building so a new foundation could be installed- fascinating stuff.

Then, our head grant proposal writer gave a presentation about the various funds she had lined up from national and state funds, and institutional and private donors, to pursue some remarkable projects, including remote learning and artistic collaborations with schools in The New York Metro Area. Her presentation was captivating- she is a compelling writer and she was able to pull off some remarkable feats on a very short notice. I think I've kinda got a crush on her, she makes my continued employment more likely.

The final presentation was by the head of our education division. He's typically a mellow fellow, but is very impassioned about his field of study. He gave an account of the challenges of increasing school groups in a time of budget cuts and an emphasis on "Common Core" learning. Besides figuring out how to convince schools to send more grade cohorts to our sites, he summarized some video courses that were being produced with local scholars and artists. He knocked it out of the park, despite starting off with a big dose of self-deprecating humor: "I want you to lower your expectations. I used to drive a Ford Pinto, and I gave my wife a vacuum cleaner for an anniversary gift." I think I have a crush on him too, even though he doesn't look like a pixie.

I returned home and took a nap, and am now heading to Brooklyn for the SSC lecture. North for work, south for play... Busy busy Bastard!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Let the Games Begin BENGHAZI!!!!

I finally had an opportunity to check out Hillary Clinton's announcement of her 2016 presidential run. I think it's great that there is a serious female candidate for the presidency, though I have to confess that the very prospect of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton was so distasteful to me in 2008 that I was relieved that Barack Obama won the nomination (I also didn't want the 2008 presidential campaign to be a referendum on what the candidates were doing during the Vietnam War era).

While a lot of the commentary is dealing with the "baggage" that Hillary Clinton has accumulated over the years, I'd pooh-pooh that as typical media "horse race" B.S. Most people don't have the particular obsessions that right-wingers have, so mentioning Vincent Foster will draw blank stares from normal people and Hillary Clinton value meal "jokes" will offend them.

The main line of attack against Ms Clinton will doubtlessly be the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Republicans aren't too swift, they tried to use the Benghazi attacks as an issue in the 2012 presidential election, and they failed. Their multiple attempts to make the Benghazi attacks into political hay have become a grotesque punchline, and their current hearings led by Trey Gowdy (R-Uncanny Valley) promise to be a grotesque farce.

A lot of the right-wingers' rage hinges on semantics regarding Secretary of State Clinton's rhetorical question about the motivations of the Benghazi attackers, ripped out of context and distorted to make it seem as if she were indifferent to the deaths of four State Department employees. It's a lie, but we're going to hear a lot of lies during the upcoming Stupid Season.

I think Hillary Clinton should flip the bird to all of her GOP opponents by choosing this as her campaign theme song:

I imagine a lot of Republicans will be getting cease-and-desist letters from The Moz.

Postscript: Truth to tell, I'd still be happier with an Elizabeth Warren candidacy, but that's just not going to happen.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Ration of Abuse From a Goose

It's nesting season for the Canada geese again. While walking through a soon-to-be heavily trafficked area of the site, I wondered why a particular pair of geese were freaking out. Sure enough, mom was in the initial stages of building a nest... while there is no structure to speak of yet, she seems to have her heart set on the spot, and her gander has his dander up. He was angry enough to get right up in my face:

If you've ever had an angry Branta canadensis up close and personal, you'll know that they hiss like pythons. At times like these, they sure live up to their therapod ancestors' image.

Here's our heroic gander channeling the Rolling Stones logo or perhaps Miley Cyrus (another descendent of therapods):

Next week, we have a fundraising event, and there will be a lot of people on the site. I'm going to have a talk with the day crew to determine if we need to force these geese to relocate to a more secluded area before mother goose lays her eggs. As it is, they are immediately adjacent to one of the busiest areas of the site. I have no problem fending off an irate gander, but we'll have a lot of little kids running around, and they'd probably get clobbered.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Living with Gusto, Dying with Grace

This morning, after getting two hours of sleep, I headed down to Manhattan for a memorial service for my friend Richard Grace, who succumbed to a brain tumor three weeks ago. I knew Richard through the children's athletic program I volunteer for. He was a physical fitness trainer and the athletic director for the program. As such, he'd pop his head into the dojo every week to make sure the kids were getting to their activities on time, and to shoot the breeze with us coaches.

Richard was the very picture of health, six-foot-four and a fanatic fitness buff. He was the consummate ladies' man without being a cad, and if you want an indication of how handsome he was, he married a Rockette. He was most emphatically not the sort of guy you'd predict would not see the age of sixty.

About a year and a half ago, he fell. It turned out that he had a brain tumor that caused his finely-honed body to rebel against him. He had always lived with gusto, tempered with his sense of duty to the kids he mentored. When he became sick, he took on the challenge of fighting his illness with the same bravado with which he did everything.

Today, the eulogy was delivered by another one of the coaches of the program, who had known Richard since they were both seven. He had cut short a Hawaiian vacation to attend the memorial service, and had arrived at the church directly from the airport. His eulogy was perfect- a humorous yet poignant celebration of Richard's life. He recounted a visit to Richard after he'd gotten a craniotomy: "I told Richard, 'Even after what you've been through, you look better than me.' Richard laughed his inimitable laugh and I asked him if it hurt when he laughed. He responded, 'No, it hurts when I don't.'"

Richard came down every Saturday that he could, even though the right side of his body was paralyzed and he was wheelchair bound. When one of our sixteen year old counselors tearfully came up to him and said, "I'm so sorry", Richard took her hand and whispered to her, "No, be thankful." He fought his illness with bravery, and a determination to boost the spirits of his friends and family. Up until his final hours, he was a rock.

At today's memorial service, I sat with a bunch of my colleagues- soccer coaches, judo coaches, wrestling coaches, track coaches, swimming coaches, administrators- and families of children who were enrolled in the program. An entire church pew was occupied by old girlfriends of Richard's, which prompted my friend Frenchy to joke, "He really was a 'Hall of Famer'." Our taekwondo coach, who a year ago had been fighting for his life from a kidney ailment, made it to the memorial- he's another guy who had almost died, and his survival was due to the fact that he was in such incredible condition so that he could live until he received a kidney transplant.

The memorial service was uplifting and humorous, just as Richard would have wished. Even as he dealt with his weakness, he was a source of strength and inspiration for his friends. He was a guy who, as the cliche goes, "did everything right", but it wasn't enough. He was strong in middle age, he should have lived to a spry old age... the fact that he's gone is shocking and sobering. "Be thankful", he'd say. Every day is a gift. Every friendship is a gift. Before he died, we all made a promise to Richard that we'd be there for his young son. Remember the departed, but live for the living.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Current Earworm: Courtesy of the Everymen

Every once in a while, there's a situation on the job with requires a trip to another site- the best way to characterize my workplace is as a central locale from which I am responsible for other satellite sites. 95% of the time, I stay put, but there are times when I have to saddle up and travel. On Sunday, I had one such situation, so I drove to another site, a round trip of about fifteen miles. While on the road, I had the radio tuned to the local college radio station. The DJ played a tune by a New Jersey band called The Everymen. I really dig the lead singer's voice, and the lyrics caused me to prick up my ears and take notice:

Here's a link for the studio version- while I liked the live version in the embedded video, I think the recording levels here are better.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Unconditional Surrender Day

Taking a page out of Tengrain's book, I have decided to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the surrender of the traitor Robert E. Lee and the defeat of the Confederate States of America, a nation rooted in racism, sustained by slavery, and birthed in treason. It is unfortunate that the ringleaders of the Confederacy, such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, weren't hanged like the traitorous dogs and war criminals they were.

Many years ago, I visited the battlefield at Gettysburg for the first time. While standing on Cemetery Ridge, overlooking the site of Pickett's Charge, I overheard an elderly woman lamenting, "If only we'd won, things would be so much better today." I started chortling and snorting in derision, noting that she was probably of the "cannon fodder" class that died so that plutocrats could own people even more poor and degraded than they were. I have no doubt that, had she been a resident of a late 20th Century Confederate States of America, she would not have had the right to vote, and she probably wouldn't have had the right to own property.

It's amazing that people still believe in the nobility of the Southern Cause, and pine for time when they would be worse off than they are, only taking solace in the fact that "those people" were still chattel.

Happy Unconditional Surrender Day! Let us honor the great heroes of the United States such as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, who defeated those who committed Treason in Defense of Slavery.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Too Evocative a Name to Lose

In the midst of some really horrible news, here's a bright note- the name Brontosaurus will be restored to an iconic sauropod dinosaur. The name Brontosaurus was in 1879 to a nearly complete fossil dinosaur discovered by Othniel C. Marsh. In 1877, Marsh had given the name Apatosaurus to an incomplete sauropod skeleton he had discovered. In 1903, Elmer S. Riggs determined that Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were one and the same, and the rules of binomial nomenclature mandate that the earlier name for a genus takes precedence (this can be circumvented in the case of misidentified organisms- for instance, the cane toad was originally lumped into the genus Bufo but now is more commonly included in the genus Rhinella).

In the case of Brontosaurus, a recent analysis of fossil remains by a team led by Paleontologist Emanuel Tschopp of Portugal’s Universidade Nova de Lisboa has determined that there were sufficient anatomical differences between Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus to restore the generic name Brontosaurus.

Brontosaurus has had a pretty strange "journey"- before the name was retired, the "type" specimen of the fossil lacked a head, so a "conjectural" skull largely based on fragmentary remains of a skull of the sauropod Camarasaurus was mounted with the skeleton. Camarasaurus had a much blunter head than those of diplodocids such as Apatosaurus and, once and now Brontosaurus. The Apatosaurus in Rudolf Zallinger's famous mural in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History portrays this "pug faced" dinosaur.

I'm happy that the name Brontosaurus has been rescued from its non-official status. Its meaning, "thunder lizard", is too evocative to lose... imagine the rumble that a herd of them would have produced as they traversed the landscape!

Monday, April 6, 2015

It's a Two-fer!

Being a bigot can be profitable if you're an early adopter- it's kinda like a multi-level marketing scam, that way. The owners of the pizzeria that wouldn't cater a gay wedding have received about a million dollars through a "Go Fund Me" site set up by affiliates of Glenn Beck. Being a cynical person, I imagine that quite a bit of the money won't find itself to the pizzeria bigots ("finders' fees" and all that...).

Besides being a show of solidarity among anti-gay social conservatives, this influx of cash also bolsters an economic conservative agenda- John Steinbeck famously noted:

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

What better way to keep the Republican "useful idiots" addicted to low income tax rates for plutocrats than to demonstrate that they, too, can become sudden millionaires just by being shitty people? Now, gullible people don't need to hold out for the miniscule chance that they win the lottery, they just need to be the right kind (meaning the Right kind) of asshole at the right time, and they just might hit the jerkpot. It's the perfect synergy of the two broad varieties of right-wing nuttery- country and western, bigotry and greed.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

I always liked Easter- the holiday always seemed embody the promise of Spring. Until Easter, Spring can be pretty harsh here in the northeastern United States (this Spring has been one of the rough ones). Finally, on Easter, Spring actually feels, uh, Spring-y. The daffodils won't be too far behind now.

I always liked Easter... I also like Easter Everywhere, now there's some really good psychedelia. Come to think of it, colored eggs and neon-bright marshmallow peeps are pretty psychedlic. Gotta get a sugar high and give a listen:


Come to think of it, I always liked Mitch Easter, that guy was a pop powerhouse back in the days when I had hair. Hell, I even had hair like Mitch Easter's back in the day. I always liked the song Blue Line, and an Easter Egg with a blue line on it would be pretty cool. Not as cool as a Let's Active reunion, and it's cool to know that the band got back together for a benefit concert:

Here's wishing a happy Easter to everyone, and wishing that Mitch Easter is happy as well. Now, get your sugar high on, and rock out, people.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Now, That's What I Call a Moon!

Here in the northeastern United States, we didn't experience the lunar eclipse, but we sure have a gorgeous full moon tonight. I'd always been taught that Easter fell on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, but the calculation of the date of Easter caused a great controversy in the early Christian church, and Orthodox churches calculate the date differently. This year, the Orthodox Easter falls on the 12th- I always make a note of it because it usually means that I can pick up a leg of lamb or two for a lot less money than I'd usually spend.

I just came back from my regular walkabout, and took time from glorying in the gorgeous moonlight to tell a nice couple that they had to leave the premises. I know the view is pretty, and the spot you were in was easily accessible from the street, but I can't have you tripping, falling, and suing. Sorry, people, my rent money is more important than your mood.

As usual, religious fundamentalists ruin everything- they look at a beautiful celestial phenomenon and they lose their shit over it. Forget the assertion that "people of faith" are humble, they think that they are the center of the universe. Imagine, looking up at the sky and reducing its majesty to something small enough to fit into their narrowly-interpreted book.

Tengrain has done his Blog Against Theocracy bit, so I guess I'll consider this post and yesterday's post as my contributions. Seriously, these people need to shut their book and take a look... if they truly believe in a transcendent God, they shouldn't try to interpret an astronomical marvel into a sign of such parochial matters.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday, Bad Policy

Today being Good Friday, I have to confess that I have long pondered the fact that so many self-described Christians are pro-death penalty. One would think that people who claim to worship a deity that manifested as an innocent man who was brutally executed would be against the execution of criminals... especially since eventual exonerations are not uncommon. The incompatibility of the death penalty with the teachings of the Gentle Nazarene becomes even more stark when one ponders the actual words of the Gospel (in this case Matthew 5:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

It's almost as if death penalty supporters don't really care that innocents have been executed... it seems that other considerations are at work in the application of the death penalty.

Bumper stickers that say "Keep Christ in Christmas" are quite popular... maybe we need ones that say "Keep Christ in Christianity".

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Class Naval Warfare

From the "what the hell were they thinking?" file, we have news of a tax break on yachts valued at more than $230,000. This isn't really a tax break for the "one percent", it's a tax break for the merest fraction of the one percent. Seriously, how many "mere millionaires" are going to be purchasing boats that expensive?

Basically, this means that some poor schmo buying, for example, a used Honda Fit will pay a higher percentage sales tax than a plutocrat buying a twenty-billion dollar yacht. Meanwhile, a proposed hike in the mimimum wage has failed. Needless to say, there has been a public outcry, but NY State has a majority Republican legislature and a conservative Democratic Governor.

I don't think I've ever seen so stark an example of a "fuck you" to the working and middle classes in this state. I sure as hell can't think of a more regressive tax structure being implemented. Of course, apologists for the yacht-building industry claim it's a jobs program and will lead to a tax revenue-increase.

I'm sympathetic to the boating industries, having spent much of my childhood in a place with a storied nautical history, but I think this legislation is giving too much away to the yachting type:

Wow, never thought I'd have an excuse to post that video for a terrific-yet-obscure New Wave band and have it be on topic.