Tuesday, June 30, 2015

America's Cafone Declares

Great, just great, Chris Christie, America's cafone, just announced that he is indeed running in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, or as Tengrain puts it, The Goat Rodeo. Although Christie is a mendacious bag of protoplasm, he's characterizing his run as "telling it like it is".

I have to confess that I have a fascination with Christie, much like I have a fascination with cane toads, which like Christie are bloated, venomous, and pernicious. I actually sat through his announcement speech this morning while pitting another haul of cherries. Most of Christie's announcement was a repeat of the self-hagiography he indulged in at the 2012 Republican convention, but there were a couple of things that caused my ears to prick up.

Christie, in a move that is sure to alienate the GOP base, paid lip service to diversity, in contrast with the other vulgar Northeasterner running in the primary:

See this place, this place that represents the most ethnically diverse state in the country. The most densely populated state in the country. We're all different and we're on top of each other like you're on top of each other in this gym. And what has come from that, what has come from that is the absolute belief that not only can all of us achieve whatever dream we want to achieve, because of the place where we live and the opportunities that it gives us, but not only can we do it together, but we have to do it together. We have no choice but to work together, this country needs to work together again, not against each other.

Chris, Chris, Chris, this is not going to win you friends in Iowa or South Carolina... it probably won't win you friends in New Hampshire either, seeing as it's the GOP primary you're running in.

Christie had some typical pablum about making the state work, even though one of his first acts as governor was to squash the construction of a trans-Hudson tunnel which would have provided numerous well-paying jobs and vastly improved the traffic flow in the New York Metropolitan Area:

When I became governor six years ago, we had a state that was in economic calamity and an eleven billion dollar deficient on a twenty nine billion dollar budget. A state that had taxes and fees raised on it one hundred and fifteen times in the eight years before I became governor. A state that no longer believed that any one person could make a difference in the lives of the people of this state so we rolled up our sleeves and we went to work.

Further on, Christie started talking like one of the Republican-funded "Third Way centrists" so beloved by the corporate media:

And both parties. Both parties have failed our country. Both parties have stood in the corner and held their breath and waited to get their own way. And both parties have lead us to believe that in America, a country that was built on compromise, that somehow now compromise is a dirty word. If Washington and Adams and Jefferson believed compromise was a dirty word, we'd still be under the crown of England.

I think Michael Bloomberg and the entirety of the Sunday morning talkers just got a "shiver up their legs". I don't see this playing well with the GOP base, though, and I don't see Christie running as a third party candidate, either. Like all "third way" types, though, Christie sure loves punching down on workers and retirees:

And now, as Livingston New Jersey turns it's gaze to the rest of America today, what do we see and what do we have to confront? We need a campaign of big ideas and hard truths and real opportunity for the America people. We need to fix a broken entitlement system that is bankrupting our country. We have candidates that say we cannot confront, because if we do we'll be lying and stealing from the American people. Let me fill everyone else in, the lying and stealing has already happened. The horse is already out of the barn. We've got to get it back in and you can only do it by force.

We've all heard this austerity pitch before, Christie, like Paul Ryan and Scott Walker, must be heavily invested in cat food futures.

Christie then started talking about jobs (which he has a bad record on) and, even more hypocritically, as someone who thinks that eliminating college debt is wrong, started concern-trolling about college graduates:

We need to get our economy growing again at four percent or greater and the reason we do is because we have to make this once again the country that my mother and father told me it was. That as hard as you work, that's as hard and high as you'll rise. That's not the case anymore, we can't honestly look at our children and say that to them. Because we have an economy that is weak and doesn't present them with the same opportunities that Mary Pat and I were presented with in the mid 1980s when we graduated from college. When we graduated from college, we weren't worried about finding a job, we were worried about picking which job was the best for us. We didn't worry about whether we were going to be successful; we knew if we worked hard we were going to be successful. This country and it's leadership owes the same thing to my children and yours I'm ready to give it to you.

Of course, no Republican speech would be complete without a dig at the "Kenyan Usurper":

Well, here it comes. After seven years. After seven years, I heard the President of the United States say the other day that the world respects America more because of his leadership. This convinces me, this convinces me. This is the final confirmation that President Obama lives in his own world, not in our world. And the fact is this. After seven years of a weak and feckless foreign policy, run by Barack Obama, we'd better not turn it over to his second mate Hilary Clinton.

I'd hate to break it to him, but President Obama is much more respected than his predecessor, and it's Christie who lives in his own world. In Christie's world, he thinks he has a shot at the presidency.

While listening to the post-announcement commentary, one thread that ran through the analysis is that Christie's real goal in 2016 is to position himself as the GOP Vice Presidential candidate. His geographic origin, his inability to speak in evangelical dogwhistles, and his suspect conservative credentials will sink his presidential ambitions, but his reputation as a bully and a bloviator will make him the perfect "attack dog" on a GOP ticket.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Happy Pride Day!

Here's wishing all my LGBTQ readers and their straight allies a happy Pride Day. In light of last Friday's Supreme Court ruling, today's pride events are going to have an extra special resonance. Like James Inhofe, I have gay friends, and I'm glad that their marriages will offer them legal protection throughout these here United States.

I do a Pride Day post every year, but I'll give a short précis about why I do so. The primary reason why I support LGBTQ rights is that I believe that every single human being deserves a chance to live a life without fear, and to have the opportunity to live happily as long as their happiness does no harm to others. Opponents of LGBTQ rights continually lie about gay, bi, and trans*persons, accusing them of posing an existential threat to society... accusations that are patently false. I want people to live truthfully, not to hide who they love out of fear. I think this is crucial to an open, healthy society.

On a personal level, my first encounter with anti-gay animus took place when I was about six years old, when I intervened when an older neighbor kid was bullying the nice, well-mannered kid next door, calling him a "faggot" and threatening him. Never having patience with bullies, I went after the jerk and ended up getting knocked on my ass and down a hill, with a sprained ankle that had me off my feet for several weeks... in the summer. Nice gay kid or bully, who's side do you take? That question has informed my attitude to the LGBTQ community ever since I was old enough to understand it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Easy Listening Music

Wow, I never knew that I was into easy listening music... Mr Burns was right when he remarked that minstrels can soothe jangled nerves.

Without further ado, how about some easy listening music?

Ahhh... let the waves of relaxation wash over you...

It's like you're wafting around on a cloud...

Blissed out yet?

Friday, June 26, 2015

It's About Time, America!

As Joe Biden would put it, today's ruling by the Supreme Court is a Big Deal... namely, same-sex marriage is legal in all fifty states. Finally, our gay friends can get married without fearing legal problems if they relocate or travel. Congratulations, folks, you won a shot at equal treatment under the law, bigots get stuffed.

Predictably, the right-wing has had conniption fits over the ruling, as Roy and Tengrain have documented. Sorry, people, but cessation of your ability to impose your dogma on others is not oppression, so stop playing martyrs. It's comical to see the hyperbole and hyperventilation with which they have greeted this decision, Linda Harvey having one of the funniest lines:

“We need an Emancipation Proclamation now to free America from the tyranny of sodomy.”

In this case, I think she means an Eman-on-mancipation Proclamation, but I'd venture to say that, given the definition of sodomy, the average person is perfectly okay with the "tyranny of sodomy".

Of course, the craziest reaction to this ruling comes from the insane Bryan Fischer... once again, Tengrain is on the case. Here's Fischer himself, being completely insane and offensive:

Yeah, Bryan, keep on fantasizing about towers, ya perv, real people were killed that day, some of whom I knew, so you can get bent. Nobody's oppressing you, it's just your warped moral sense that's torturing you.

Meanwhile, on planet Earth, real people will have real protection. When same-sex marriage was legalized in New Jersey, a friend of mine, one of the nicest and most generous individuals I know, was able to marry his partner of thirty-four years. He and his husband are not getting any younger, and now they are protected under the law if they have to make hard decisions regarding healthcare. This is what the same-sex marriage debate is really about, it's not about baking stupid cakes, or as Roy reported NRO's David French writing, licentiousness:

This is the era of sexual liberty — the marriage of hedonism to meaning — and the establishment of a new civic religion. The black-robed priesthood has spoken. Will the church bow before their new masters?

The righties are the ones couching this in terms of hedonism and sodomy. The people whose marriages are now legal nationwide are thinking in terms of commitment and responsibility.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

If There's a Bustle in Your Hedgerow

It just might be a local goofball in a mask, making a ruckus:

Last night, I stepped out of my office for a walkabout and I heard an uncharacteristic racket, and saw that one of our shrubs was shaking as if it were being battered by gale-force winds. Apparently, this goofball got stuck in the middle of the shrub, which doesn't even have any appealing fruit on it. Peering closer at the shrub, I noticed the glow of a tapetum lucidum shining back at me. My close presence didn't make this raccoon comfortable, so it commenced some real thrashings and bashings, to no avail.

I decided that the better part of valor would be conducting my periodic inspection tour while formulating a plan to help my masked acquaintance out of the bush. Luckily, while I was contemplating the use of a long, forked tree branch to push it out, the critter managed to extricate itself.

I don't know what's going on, but the raccoons seem to be even more comical than usual this year... I've got to check the property for unusual mushrooms.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

I'm going to preface this post with the declaration that I am against the death penalty. I feel that a nation should be judged by how it treats its most despised members, not its most beloved, and that the state should not punish evil behavior by engaging in evil behavior. Lest anybody comment that I'd think differently if a friend or loved one of mine were the victim of a crime, before I was thirty years of age, I lost one friend to a terrorist bombing and another one to an ambush by a guy he was going to arrest.

With that out of the way, I feel no joy that the Boston Marathon bomber was sentenced to death. I think that executing him would play into the "martyrdom" narrative beloved of fundamentalist Islamic extremists, while making our society more like that created by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Personally, I would force the Boston Marathon bomber to share a cell for the rest of his life with the Charleston AME Church shooter. Let the evil Jonas brother and the kid with Sandy Duncan's hair cohabit in an 8X10 for the next fifty or sixty years, boring each other to tears with each other's manifestos while arguing over choice of victims. Sure, that might be construed as cruel and unusual punishment, but goddamn it if those two young "holy warriors" don't deserve each other.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cherry Bombs!

One of the fringe benefits of my job, which very few of my co-workers avail themselves of, is the presence of several fruit trees on our various sites: apple trees, mulberry trees, black walnut trees (I use the whole fruits), at least one pear tree, and a couple of cherry trees. The cherry trees on site yield small sour cherries, which I like to eat out of hand, but which are less appealing to people who don't have a taste for tang (insert filthy joke, you dirty little lambies).

While I like to eat the sour cherries as is, they are perfect for making maraschino cherries. The maraschino cherry, here in the 'States, has mutated into a bleached, brined fruit that has been marinated in high-fructose corn syrup, almond flavoring, and red dye number 666, or put more succinctly, a crime against nature. By the way, the reviews for this pamphlet are hilarious, "T. Bartlett", I doff my cap to thee.

At any rate, I decided to replicate the genuine maraschino experience, beginning with picking about a gallon worth of sour cherries on the job. After washing the cherries in several changes of water, I took on the daunting task of pitting the perishers.

Not being a big single-purpose kitchen gadget type, I didn't want to spring for a cherry pitter (I make an exception for a lemon squeezer because I go through a ton of lemons in the course of a year). Instead, I used the chopstick method for cherry pitting, and spent about an hour and a half pitting cherries:

Then, I made a simple syrup, boiling equal parts sugar and water, and added a cinnamon stick and some almond extract. I reduced the heat to a simmer and dumped in the pitted cherries, cooking them for a couple of minutes. After turning off the flame, I added a bottle of Luxardo cherry liqueur. Check out the beautiful bottle:

The cherries have been sitting in the syrup-and-booze marinade for a couple of days now, and have taken on a lovely flavor, a mixture of sweet, sour, and spicy, with a hint of a boozy burn. I've never been a fan of the horrible commercial product (though bees seem to love the things), but these are a revelation. These little beauties are exactly what a cherry bomb should be... they'll have you singing:

Once you've had the real deal, you'll never go back, leave the evil red stuff for Brooklyn's bees.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers' Day Greetings

Happy Fathers' Day to all of the dads out there. For all of the "Crisis of Masculinity" hyperventilation that the media pushes, most of the dads that I know are doing okay, despite the real wage stagnation which affects them.

Anyway, here's a little number from Euro-Disco superstars Boney M:

Speaking of cool, the Bastard was most certainly doing "the roastation" today- the air conditioner in the office konked out today. There was a popup rainstorm this afternoon, so I couldn't even hang out outside for a good portion of the afternoon. Post-storm, I found some respite outside- there was a lovely storm-trailing wind playing over the site, and it promises to be a lovely night.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sympathy for the Culpable?

While listening to the news today, I heard something which infuriated me to no end, a nasty little tidbit which made it to The Daily Beast. In the bond hearing for the Charleston church mass murderer, the judge dropped this offensive statement:

“There are victims on this young man’s side of the family."

Let that sink in... there are victims on the murderer's side of the family? The shooter's father gave him the gun he used to kill nine innocent people. Knowing that his son had a drug problem and run-ins with the law, he bought his son a gun.

That's not a victim, that should be a co-defendant. This damn judge should be removed from the bench, or at the very least, from this case.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Of All the Horrors...

The horror story that has dominated the news today is the mass shooting of nine African-American churchgoers by a white supremacist. This story has understandably been dominating the national media, and I had toyed with titling this post "None Dare Call It Terrorism", but I was beaten to the punch. The coverage of the crime has focused on "lone wolf" violence and even "far left" New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has couched his remarks about the murders in terms of mental illness":

“We’ve got to take very seriously the fact that many of these tragedies occur and there are warning signs that we can act on if we are more aggressive about dealing with the question of mental health, and de-stigmatizing it, and opening up both the discussing and taking the actions we need on mental health in this city and in this country.”

I love ya, Bill, but this wasn't so much a mind ravaged by disease as a mind poisoned by racist calumnies.

The whole episode lays bare the racism that constitutes the United States' congenital birth defect, from the murders themselves, to the live apprehension of an "armed and dangerous" suspect (as opposed to the killings of unarmed black men), to the characterizations of these clearly racially-motivated killings as an anti-Christian attack (amazingly, all of the anti-christian attacks in this country seem to target African-American or liberal congregations).

Of all of the horrors that have come to light in the past twenty-four hours, the one that disgusts me the most is the fact that the shooter sat with the victims for an hour in a Bible study class- they welcomed him into their church, into their lives, and he rewarded their acceptance with murder.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Annual Ritual

She's an unlikely "twin", because she's slender to the point of reediness and has a glorious flow of lustrous dark hair to a point halfway down her back, but we share the same birthday (though she's fifteen years younger than I am). We used to work together, and we got along famously, even though we had a jokey rivalry over the wineberries on a jobsite, leading to our "raspberry summit", when we used the driveway and parking lot of the site as a line of demarcation- she getting the berries south of the drive, and I getting those north of the drive (for the record, my parting gift to her was a big jar of homemade jam).

Anyway, the first thing this morning, I received the traditional text message from my twin, and she taunted me by telling me that she knows where the gaps in the fence around the property are. Joke's on her... I decided that the best way to keep people from crawling through the gaps was to train the berry briars across the gaps, as a sort of "biological warfare"- of a purely defensive nature, of course. All kidding aside, I told her I'm planning on grabbing so many mulberries this year that I will have a big bucket of mixed berries with her name on it. We were only fruit rivals in our ongoing comedy routine... I learned long ago that bitter fruit rivalries only lead to a fruitless end. Besides, it's her birthday.

Postscript: Mom also called, and I received text messages from several friends. While I am working tonight, so things will be low-key, I went out for beer and trivia with a bunch of old friends last night, and am planning on going out for a gin-and-tonic or two with friends tomorrow evening. It's a funny week, two friends of mine celebrated their birthdays yesterday and one of my uncles celebrates his on the 20th. It's a busy week, a happy week.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Meanwhile, in the City of Y______

Today, our illustrious governor visited the City of Yonkers to announce a $28 million "bailout" of the Yonkers school system, which had been facing the prospect of laying off two hundred teachers and eliminating school sports programs.

As a guy who lives across the street from a school, I am very keen on keeping the children of my city educated and active. The governor couched the bailout in terms of property values:

“This investment in public education is not just an investment in education. It’s in the overall growth of Yonkers and the overall well-being of Yonkers. You want housing values to go up in Yonkers? You want more people moving in? Improve the school system."

I'd view the funding in terms of providing a future for the city's, the state's the country's children. It's nice to see that one governor (however illiberal many of his policies may be) believes in education- the oaf across the Hudson would rather saddle the kids of his state with debt, rather than inconveniencing the plutocrats with a slight increase in their marginal tax rates.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Pea Patch Pilferage

At my principal work site, we have a nice little garden, which features a variety of vegetables, among which are a couple of rows of peas. To the dismay of one of my co-workers, someone, or something, has been tearing up the pea patch, and not in the idiomatic sense. Last night, I came face-to-face with the culprit:

Doe, you are soooooo busted!

She's a lovely whitetail doe, with a beautiful, glossy coat. She's not shy at all, either. I was able to get within ten feet of her, and she merely wandered off at an amble when the human presence got too oppressive.

I'll have to post a printout of this photo on the wall of the employees' lounge as a "wanted" poster.

UPDATE: Done...

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mulberry Efficiency Expert

Longtime readers of this blog will know that, every June, I go nuts when the local mulberries make their appearance. A couple of blocks from my house, there is a plethora of mulberry trees, so much that some dude tried to start a silk industry in the Bronx (PDF) last century. Well, the first ripe mulberries have made an appearance this week, and I have been grabbing the few, precious fructose-bombs I have encountered.

This year, though, I am prepared for "peak mulberry"... I bought a dropcloth so I can harvest hundreds of mulberries with little effort. Ripe mulberries will drop off the tree with the merest jostle- I plan on spreading the dropcloth under a likely tree and shaking the individual branches until the delicious mulberries drop down. I used to consider this approach less "sporting", but I think I can be greedy in this regard. I don't see too many other people taking advantage of the bounty that's right in front of them every June.

Now I need to get my hands on a "food grade" bucket with a lid. Luckily, there's a big foodservice outlet not too far from home and my principal mulberry patch (to be completely candid, I've staked out mulberry trees all over the county, from my home up to my workplace).

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Better Stake Him, It's the Only Way to Be Sure

I was bummed to read of the death of Christopher Lee, though he lived a long, productive, and eventful life. I always saw Lee as a less-campy answer to my favorite horror actor, Vincent Price. While Price always seemed to be a ham no matter how straight he played, Lee always seemed "serious" no matter how lurid the film he starred in was. Even more importantly, Lee served as an awesome foil to the equally amazing Peter Cushing in a series of horror movies produced by the legendary Hammer studios. These period pieces were known for their lavish sets and appeal to the male gaze as much as for the bright gouts of gore. A former co-worker of mine was partial to Taste the Blood of Dracula:

My personal favorite horror film featuring Lee is The Wicker Man, which pitted Edward Woodward's pious Protestant police sergeant against Lee's pagan Lord Summerisle:

The end of the movie is one of the classic shockers of horror cinema (not quite as unexpected as that of Don't Look Now, but what is?), and leaves the viewer with the impression that, given a choice between Woodward's Calvinism and Lee's paganism, the correct answer is "run like hell away".

Even more significant that Lee's cinematic career is his career as a Special Operative during World War 2 and its aftermath. Now, that would be an amazing subject for a film! This has led to a meme which I just discovered today. Another thing I didn't know about Lee until today was that he was a paisan- good luck keeping that vampire away with garlic!

Here's a funny video of Christopher Lee extolling the virtues of booze, watching it, I have to think that a musical featuring him and Tim Curry would have been the awesomest thing ever:

It's a pity he didn't do more comedy, or more opera:

He would have made a kickass Figaro.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Upstate Flashback

The story that is dominating the news here in New York State is the escape of two convicted murderers from an upstate prison. Aside from all of the questions this escape raises, like how the hell could the prisoners use power tools in their escape without drawing attention, and what role did a prison employee play in the jailbreak?

Reading about the manhunt for these two fugitives, I was reminded of an incident that occurred about twenty years ago. Back when my friends and I had more free time on our hands, a bunch of us would travel to the Adirondacks and spend a weekend in a friend's family's cabin on a lake not far from Keeseville. We'd spend a weekend swimming, hiking and getting "back to nature". Sometimes we got back to the Paleolithic- there were two nearby hills, "Rattlesnake Mountain" and "Blueberry Hill"... paradoxically, Blueberry Hill was home to many rattlesnakes and the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain- you got it- was covered with wild blueberry bushes- I remember climbing Rattlesnake Mountain with a friend and the two of us just squatting down on the summit, cramming tiny, sweet blueberries in our mouths and communicating in grunts and monosyllables.

One year, we gathered at my friend's house in Yonkers and loaded up a couple of carloads of passengers and impedimenta after getting out of work for a night caravan to camp. One of my friends, whose father owned a transportation company, was driving a company vehicle, a Lincoln Continental, and I rode shotgun while my friend's sister and two of her classmates rode in the backseat. The ride was pretty uneventful (seriously, riding in this car was like sitting on a sofa in a moving living room) until we got to the vicinity of Lake George and were stopped at a roadblock set up by the state troopers. After a cursory glance into the car- two clean-cut, well-spoken guys and three girls peacefully dozing in the backseat- the trooper who stopped us informed us that a couple of prisoners had absconded from a work-release party, and that we shouldn't stop for any reason. We rode north and noticed the lights of the search parties in the woods to either side of the highway.

After we passed the area of police activity, I turned to my friend and said, "Do you know what this means?"

"What does this mean?"

"Every law enforcement officer in the county is on the search for the prisoners."

With that, my friend floored the gas pedal and buried the needle. The car was so smooth riding that we didn't seem to be going as fast as we were. After a couple of miles, the novelty wore off, and we agreed that it wouldn't be cool to crack up the car with the girls sleeping in the back.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

What a Turkey!

This weekend, I have been splitting time between sites- one of my part-time underlings started a full-time job a few weeks ago, and he has been unable to get to his (now) second job at his original hour. Because we have different visiting hours at our different sites, I start my Saturdays and Sundays at his typical worksite while he starts an hour later at mine- then I take up the baton from him when he finishes and work the rest of the night. Confused? Yeah, I'm not quite used to it and I suggested this juggling act. Did I mention that we're understaffed and Home Office doesn't see fit to address that issue.

Anyway, the site that I start off at on the weekends has a large wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) population- I once saw a flock of twenty-one turkeys making its way across the property. Today, I had the privilege of seeing one of the birds, a large male, through the window of my building's back door:

Longtime readers will know that this isn't the closest I've gotten to a "wild" turkey, but this is the closest I've gotten to one that was truly wild.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fatal Narcissism

Talk about a story, the U.S. Air Force used a "selfie" by ISIS fighters to target a headquarters building. For all of the hyperventilation over the Da'esh douches, the "Caliphate's" foot soldiers are just a bunch of solipsistic social media junkies.

Given the fact that every single cell phone on the planet is a tracking device, why isn't the CIA becoming the biggest cell phone vendor in the Middle East? With a decent business plan, they could even turn a profit while fighting the prophet's most rabid followers.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Deliciousness from the Sky

From the land of the ice and snow, with the midnight sun where the dumbkopfs blow, we have a story of lampreys falling from the sky. The arctic lamprey, a jawless, primitive fish, is a relative of the sea lamprey that is ravaging Great Lakes fisheries. Lampreys are also rumored to be extremely delicious, so much so that Henry I of England was supposed to have died from eating a "surfeit of lampreys". Sadly, Great Lakes sea lampreys have high concentrations of mercury, stymieing the creation of a commercial lamprey fishery. To my knowledge, there's no mercury issue with arctic lampreys, so rather than the "rain of horrors" that a lot of media outlets are describing, this somewhat outré occurrence should be reported as deliciousness from the sky.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

RIP, Tanith Lee

I was saddened to read of the death of Tanith Lee, a prolific author of fantasy, science fiction, and horror literature. My first exposure to Ms Lee's writing was reading The Dragon Hoard, her first published novel. Released when Ms Lee was only twenty-one, The Dragon Hoard is a side-splittingly funny send-up of the heroic quest, specifically the tale of Jason's quest with the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece. Along the way, Ms Lee skewered all sorts of fairytale tropes, from the fairy godmother's birthday gifts to the protagonist to the damsel in distress trope (there's a throwaway line about a beautiful monster which has to be saved from a ravening princess). The book never fails to amuse, and there are some laugh-out-loud bits, such as a recurring bit about the evil enchantress' unpaid flying serpent chariot rental fees. This introduction to Tanith Lee's fiction led to a lifelong infatuation with her body of work.

It was a bit of a surprise, though, to read the author's darker adult material. Far from the breezy comedy of The Dragon Hoard, Ms Lee's other fiction tended to address topics such as the allure of evil, the fluidity of gender, and the human potential for cruelty. In particular, her "Tales from the Flat Earth" series casts a dark spell on the reader, with the baroque narratives of Night's Master and Death's Master being spellbinding mélanges of beauty and grotesquerie, heroism and cruelty... the characters transition from gender to gender, from life to death, from victim to tormentor. The novels must have been very transgressive when they were originally published, and even now they pack a punch that even G consonant consonant Martin's "anti-Tolkienian" fantasy doorstops can't approach.

Tanith Lee had a special place in the hearts of feminist and LGBT SFF fans due to her willingness to address issues of gender fluidity and the development of feminine power. While many anti-feminists like to characterize feminist literature as "strident", Tanith Lee's fiction never hit any reader over the head with polemic, she was just hitting readers over the head with the mind-blowing products of her fertile, febrile imagination.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: The Upright Thinkers

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture- the return of physicist and prolific author Dr Leonard Mlodinow. Dr Mlodinow's lecture was a summary of some of the themes of his new book, The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos, sort of "natural history" of humanity's scientific progress.

Dr Mlodinow began the lecture by expounding on the increasingly rapid pace of human development- with the millions of years of evolutionary change leading to millennia, then centuries, then decades, now years of development. Genus Homo made its debut less than four million years ago, and its early breakout development was social intelligence. The social cooperation necessary for communal living spurred brain activity, and this increased mental capacity led to existential questioning.

Around ten thousand years before the present, the Neolithic Revolution occurred. Early farmers were actually less healthy than their foraging counterparts, but farming and its associated sedentism resulted in societies that cared for the sick and aged members more than wandering foragers could. In addition, families lived in close proximity to their dead relatives. As villages, in which dwellers tend to be self-sufficient, grew into cities, a division of labor developed to accommodate the increasing need for specialization. In Mesopotamia, a writing system was developed, which led to the creation of legal codes. A few centuries later, the Greeks were postulating physical laws and engaging in scientific inquiry.

Dr Mlodinow continued with a quick summary of the scientific method- one asks a question, states a hypothesis, then conducts experiments and analyzes the results. In scientific endeavors, failures are more common than successes. Scientific ideas can be wrong, but may lead to other avenues of inquiry- stubbornness and grit are more important than insight.

To illustrate the importance of stubbornness and grit in scientific endeavors, Dr Mlowdinow cited the example of Darwin. The initial question that Darwin asked was, "What should I do with my life?" Darwin failed at medical school, hating the sight of blood. He was a careful observer of nature, though, and published a book on barnacles before he published his most famous work. When he signed up for the voyage of the HMS Beagle, his primary interest was in geology. It was not until many years after he sailed on the Beagle that he published The Origin of Species. At the time Darwin published it, Alfred Russel Wallace was also developing a theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

Dr Mlodinow then shifted to a discussion of physics, beginning with the statement that the use of the Large Hadron Collider is the best current example of scientific cooperation, the search involving the work of about ten thousand scientists. Nobody had ever "seen" the Higgs boson, but its existence was inferred as an explanation for the Higgs field. The discovery of the Higgs boson meant that three out of the four forces of the Standard Model could be "explained" (gravity still remains a mystery).

The topic then shifted to a brief history of quantum mechanics, beginning with Max Planck's study of black-body radiation. Einstein was able to apply Planck's quantum model to the photo-electric effect. Planck's postulate displaced the not-entirely successful Rayleigh-Jeans Law. Planck was right where James Jeans was wrong- as Planck was supposed to say, "Science advances one funeral at a time."

The "home stretch" of the lecture was an overview of the strange career of Isaac Newton, who dabbled in alchemy and eschatology as well as in legitimate science. Newton's varied career perfectly embodies Thomas Alva Edison's adage, "To have a great idea, have a lot of them." Most ideas are wrong, but there is the occasional great idea.

The lecture was an entertaining history of science and a reminder that mistakes and misconceptions are critical to scientific progress, and that it's often observed that scientists love being wrong. The lecture did suffer somewhat from being overly broad, my favorite lectures tend to "zoom in" on a particular niche subject. The Q&A session afterword was very perfunctory- one bastard did manage to get in a question regarding the single biggest present threat to scientific inquiry and Dr Mlodinow answered, without hesitation, climate change denialism. After this truncated Q&A, Dr Mlodinow had a book signing event. Here's an audio excerpt from the book:

The good doctor is one of the great populizers of science working today, I just think he covered too much territory last night.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Happy Birthday, Sister Mine

As I do every year, on June 1st, I take an opportunity to wish my sole sister a happy birthday. Growing up in a house with four brothers, she was a tough tomboy... she still has those tendencies, though she has mellowed a bit. My sister and I are Irish twins, and every year, when we overlapped in age, we were a pain-in-the-ass to be around. Thankfully, our annual snappiness ended when my birthday rolled around, and the family breathed a collective sigh of relief.

My sister and her family are currently living in the L.A. metro area. One of these days, I'll have to return to California after a two-decade absence. I'll make sure to get the word out, I know people out there.