Wednesday, December 28, 2011

 
Wishing everyone who comes here a very Happy New Year and much happiness, health and love in 2012.

A Republican Panic Button:

Cartoon from Mark Huffaker's Scuff Productions blog

I took it as somewhat encouraging that a number of Republican Representatives bolted and voted for the payroll tax cuts, knowing that the American people are beginning to catch on about where the obstacles are coming from that keep the economy in crisis.  A comment was made on last Friday's Washington Week in Review that Speaker Boehner's power is eroding now among Republican Party backers and financiers as it becomes obvious he cannot deliver what he promises.  I don't see him as completely down and out as he's too arrogant, and too determined to kill anything that would help the people of this country if it has the slightest Democratic Party origin.  But I do think that as economic indicators show improvement and job numbers rise, it can only help the president as people now understand that Republicans cannot be identified with any trend to economic recovery.

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Facebook exchange just before Christmas:
Mike Mennonno (status) Fruitcakes in the news  (link follows, about the auction of a fruitcake baked in 1941 -- don't ask)
Will (comment) Oh, when you said Fruitcakes in the news, I thought you meant Gingrich, Bachmann, Santorum, Romney and . . . my, but the list goes on!
Mike Mennonno (Like)

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I saw a comment on the story about how Newt Gingrich failed to gather a measly 10,000 valid signatures to allow him to appear on the Virginia Primary ballot.   He's not on another major state Primary ballot as well but Virginia is Newt's current home state and the whole mess is very embarrassing.  Republican political strategist Karl Rove even lambasted Newt for his failure, which he made worse when he and his campaign director compared it to the attack on Pearl Harbor (Newt brings up Pearl Harbor a lot as one of his books that he is currently huckstering on the campaign trail is about that fatal attack that led the US into WWII).  At another point in the original statement, Gingrich even evoked the image of Auschwitz -- which has been expunged from the copy on the web because such a comparison is way too controversial.  But the Pearl Harbor analogy stays and could be a political disaster for him. 


But is it perhaps a PLANNED disaster?  One young man who blogs under the name JeepBear said the reason for the Primary disqualifications should be self-evident (I paraphrase): A) Gingrich does not really want the presidency, but  B) Gingrich wants to sell his books; however,  C) a book tour is a very expensive thing to do, so  D) by staging the book tour to look like a presidential campaign Gingrich can pay for it with campaign funds, because  E) Gingrich is greedy and doesn't want to spend his own money.

Make sense?  It may be true, even though nothing else makes much sense with the Republican candidates so far. 


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Home made bread, topped with toasted sesame seeds and bits of ground ginger.  This one was ready for Christmas Eve morning.

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A Christmas Meme
 Erik Rubright, blog friend and tattoo artist extraordinaire, featured this meme on Christmas Day.  Here is my take on it:


1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Gift bags for giving wine, otherwise wrapping paper all the way.

2. Real tree or artificial tree?
Real.  Fritz started planting Christmas Trees years ago and we keep planting as they're cut down and used.

3. Angel on the tree top or a star?
This year nothing, as the tree is too tall for us to reach from our household step ladder.  But if you stand in just the right place in front of it, the top of the tree lines up perfectly with a multicolored glass ball hanging high in the living room's gable window and you can pretend.

4. Favorite ornament, theme or color?
Hand made ornaments of any kind.

5. When do you put up the tree?
5 days to a week beforehand.

6. When do you take the tree down?
Mid to late January.

7. Favorite gift received as a child?
A complete recording of Verdi' La Traviata conducted by Arturo Toscanini at age seven -- it started me on my life-long collection of opera and symphonic music recordings.  And yes, all the signs were there very early, weren't they?

8. Hardest person to buy for?
The person who has everything, needs nothing and says so when asked what (s)he might like.

9. Easiest person to buy for?
Fritz, because when he opens my gifts he gets all sentimental and weepy which leads to all kinds of laughter and hugging.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Mail always.  I am not a Luddite, but I believe in putting in the effort to send personal greetings.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
A child-sized fedora hat my parents bought so I could look like a "little gentleman" and to train me for a life of wearing hats, suits, ties and wing-tip shoes when I went into the business world.  From earliest childhood I did, and still do, loathe hats.  I went into the arts where you wear what you want to wear, and don't have to look exactly like everybody else.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Oxymoron (no, it's not the name of a movie).

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Any time in the year I see something that's right for somebody.   By September I'm usually very far along.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
I probably have but can't remember an instance right now.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Champagne with anything good.

16. Favorite Christmas song?
None of the dreck on the radio.  Cantique de Noël aka O, Holy Night by Adolphe Adam, preferably in the original French.
 
17. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
In my family it was always flexible depending on which relative offered to host and when everybody could travel.  Christmas was literally a "movable feat."

18. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?
Yes.

19. Can you name all of the 7 Dwarfs?
Yes, but I'll echo Erik by asking, what do they have to do with Christmas?

20. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
In my family it was Christmas Eve at my house and Christmas Day at my grandmother's.  Fritz and I do it after coffee and Christmas stollen (preferably with the marzipan filling) on Christmas morning.

21. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?
"The Little Drummer Boy" drives me batshit crazy, particularly when sung by a group of kids directed  to look or sound pathetic, poor, and/or downtrodden.  Sentimental claptrap.

22. Do you hang mistletoe?
No, I have never had any problem kissing the one I want to kiss -- I don't need the help of a parasitic plant.

23. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I was maybe seven years old but probably six.  The family Christmas gathering was over and I went to bed wired so I didn't fall asleep, although I was very still.  My father, who was not the most graceful of people, came clomping into my bedroom shoving gifts into my stocking.  His tread was unmistakable, so the secret was out.  But I didn't let on I knew for several years because I was afraid if I did the presents would stop coming.

24. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you?
People gathering together, catching up on recent news, seeing the various children growing up, eating together before not seeing many of them for another whole year.  We've just come back from such a gathering in New York City hosted by my younger daughter and son-in-law and it was incredible fun.

25. What did you want for Christmas this year?
I am always grateful for anything I get (OK, OK, the fedora didn't make the cut).  I keep an Amazon wish list which usually lists books I'd like to have, an occasional CD or perhaps a needed kitchen gadget.  What I got this year from Fritz that I would not have thought to ask for was a Kindle Fire.   One of it's big virtues is that we'll be able to get on the web when we travel instead of hauling the big MacBookPro  around.

But I may discover a lot of new uses for it in my life.  For example, a NY Times article on the most significant stories in classical music in 2011 praised "the Borromeo String Quartet, for performing with laptops instead of sheet music; and Jeffrey Kahane, the pianist and conductor, who used an iPad as a score to lead the New York Philharmonic."  Somehow or other I suspect the Kindle may become an interesting design tool for me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

 

Vatican Porn, "Holiday" scorn, and Opera Boston forlorn

Good morning and a very Happy Christmas to all of my wonderful readers and blog friends.  I say this every year, but it always remains true: you have enriched my life, given joy, widened my perspective; and many of you have become dear and valued friends which is the greatest gift of all!

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It's pretty well known that for much of the medieval period and for all of the Renaissance the Vatican was an openly corrupt place -- thus the Protestant Reformation and break from Rome led by Martin Luther.  I recently came across an article on the Slate site about a remnant of that decadence in the form of a small bathroom that survives in the Vatican to this day.

Above is an artist's rendering of Cardinal Bibbiena's bathroom.  He was a member of the internationally influential Bibbiena Family of theater artists and architects who knew a thing or three about art, spectacle, illusion and self indulgence.  Here are excerpts from Slate's article:

Inside the Vatican’s pornographic bathroom.

By Tony Perrottet | Posted Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, at 7:06 AM ET

"Rumors that the Vatican is filled with perverse artworks are as old as the palace itself. Most of the stories are fabrications. But one is not: In 1516, the Renaissance master Raphael decorated a bathroom within the Papal Apartments with erotic frescos. Today, the wicked gallery is called the Stufetta della Bibbiena, the “small heated room of Cardinal Bibbiena,” after the worldly official who commissioned the work. It was, of course, a different era, when Bibbiena, like most papal officials, was a patron of the arts more than a servant of God. He was also the author of risqué plays and an erudite man-about-town. Like his peers, Bibbiena was entranced by the ribald pagan imagery that was being unearthed in Imperial Roman ruins. He asked his friend Raphael to decorate his lodgings in the fashionable classical style, complete with naked nymphs being spied upon by lusting satyrs, with no anatomical detail hidden.

"Subsequent residents of the Vatican Palace were unimpressed. The Stufetta has been defaced, whitewashed over, and even turned into a kitchen before a Catholic art expert rediscovered it in the mid-19th century. But access remained limited, to say the least—largely because, after 1870, this section of the palace was turned into the pope’s own residence, and Cardinal Bibbiena’s ancient bedroom was used for official diplomatic meetings with visiting heads of state. Stories of the restored bathroom filtered out amongst the cognoscenti, but only the rarest visitor was permitted a viewing."

[There follows a lengthy account of the complicated, contradictory, frustrating, and infuriating process of getting permission to view the Stufetta]

"But then we were inside. That tight, vaulted room—twice as high as its 8-foot width—was covered with cavorting naked deities. Raphael had designed his frescoed panels like a graphic novel, recounting the adventures of Venus, the goddess of love, and Cupid, the god of erotic desire, for Cardinal Bibbiena to admire as he lounged in his hot tub. At knee level, the original silver faucet was crafted into the face of a leering satyr. One panel showed the naked goddess stepping daintily stepped into her foam-fringed shell. In others, she admires herself in a mirror, lounges between Adonis’ legs and swims in sensual abandon. A couple of the frames, even more risqué, had been destroyed. One, recorded by an early visitor, showed Vulcan attempting to rape Minerva.

"Embarrassingly, I had to ask the monsignor to stand aside, so I could get a proper view of the most notorious image, of the randy goat-god Pan leaping from the bushes with a monstrous erection. I was shocked to see that the image had been vandalized. Someone had etched out Pan’s manhood and filled in the gap with white paint. This, of course, made the object even larger and more noticeable—another parable about the futility of censorship."

The Stufetta is part of a suite of rooms, Bibbiena's private apartments, now used for official functions and off limits to the general public.  The almost never approved visit (Perrottet's journalistic colleagues and he speculated for hours afterwords on the motives for his being allowed in), sadly without photography allowed, were a quick peek at the work of one of the greatest Renaissance painters in subject matter he probably would not have dared portray in public.


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The Religious Right, Christian Republicans and their many camp followers, have mounted their annual attack on referring to "the Holidays," or use of Xmas instead of Christmas when referring to December 25.  In the case the latter, they show their ignorance, because the X in Xmas is the Greek letter Chi and is the initial for Christ.  Use of Xmas began in the early Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches and unquestionably has the same meaning as Christmas -- in point of fact, it IS Christmas.  The nuns in grammar school were always saying "when you say Xmas, you're crossing Christ out of Christmas" and weren't always too happy when I told them the actual situation.  (In fact they weren't always too happy with me in general.  :-)

So I got a laugh out of the invitation, below, for the big Republican National Committee Chris . . . er . . . Holiday party. 


And here's the Official message from Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2003.  The governor, now presidential candidate, makes campaign advertisements trumpeting his Christian faith, saying he isn't afraid to call himself a Christian, but his seasonal messages at least through 2010 wished the people of Texas Happy Holidays.


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Yet another litmus test thrown down before Republican candidates for office to gain the support of the most virulent Right Wing organization.  This one is from Phyllis Schlafly's PAC, and for a document created by a woman it's more than moderately anti-woman.  Anti a lot of people, actually.


1. Will you vote to protect the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?
2. Will you vote for federal school appropriations to require informed, written parental consent for curricula, surveys, classes or books that may be privacy-invading or offensive to religion or conscience?
3. Will you support legislation for Congress to use its Article III power vote to deny jurisdiction to the federal courts over areas where we don’t trust them, namely, the definition of marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, the Cross on veterans’ memorials, and the Boy Scouts?
4. Will you vote to prohibit the federal courts from hearing challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or similar state laws respecting the definition of marriage?
5. Will you oppose federal hate crimes laws?
6. Will you vote against any legislation to help Puerto Rico to become a state?
7. Will you vote against any legislation to pretend that the District of Columbia is a state or entitled to a state’s representation in Congress?
8. Will you vote to end federal funding of so-called bilingual education (teaching immigrant children in their native languages) which the voters of CA, AZ, and MA have rejected?
9. Will you vote to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens who betray their oath of U.S. citizenship by claiming “dual citizenship” with their native country?
10. Will you support federal funding for abstinence-until-marriage education instead of for explicit sex education programs, school-based clinics, and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?

The above are just some highlights.  The three-page Questionnaire also calls for candidates to work against the National Endowment for the Arts, The Violence Against Women Act, the repeal of DADT, the UN's treaty The Rights of the Child, the revival of the Equal Right Amendment, any control of education on the National level, and any Discrimination Against Women laws.  And even that is just a sampling of the bile from the Questionnaire that would have the US return to the era of Jim Crow laws in the South, the second class condition of women, and would move to destroy the Separation of Powers by putting the Judicial Branch of the government under the control of the Legislative Branch, something also advocated by Newt Gingrich.

And does everyone notice that these people are always screaming for States' Rights, except when THEY want something -- then they want Federal laws to ban certain things nationwide?  On one blog where this had been posted, there was a comment asking what Schlafly could have against DC and Puerto Rico becoming states.  I replied "Because DC is full of black people and Puerto Rico is full of hispanic people and she doesn't want "them" getting any more traction in the House and Senate than they already have."  He commented back "They really do hate everybody, don't they?"

Yes.


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Opera Boston closes down

From the Boston Globe Arts Desk  23 December. 2011
"Opera Boston is closing down. The city’s second-largest opera company issued this statement this morning:
Board Chair Winifred P. Gray and Board President Gregory E. Bulger announced today that the Company, facing an insurmountable budget deficit, is closing its doors on Jan. 1, 2012. They cited lackluster fundraising in a tough economic climate as the chief reason for the closure. According to Gray, “The Board realizes that this development will come as a shock to the Boston arts community, and it is not a decision we made lightly. The Company has had many artistic triumphs in its recent history, and has many fans. However, as the end of the year approaches, we find ourselves in a financially untenable situation, and the responsible thing is to work with our creditors and cease operations.” The staff was notified on Thursday, Dec. 22."

The decision was made and announced to the press so precipitously that the artists engaged for the February production of Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage learned that they were out of work in the newspapers before OB's management had a chance to inform them personally.

New England has now lost three major regional opera companies: The Connecticut Opera, The Granite State Opera, and Opera Boston, while Opera North (also a New Hampshire company) is working hard to survive the catastrophic loss of its entire scenery, costume and props storage in the severe flood brought on by Hurricane Irene last summer.  The closing of these companies means a significant loss to the cultural life of their respective communities and to the states which they served.
 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

 
Here's a video that makes me so happy to live among the people of New Hampshire.  We're gearing up for a second, and more serious legislative challenge to same sex marriage, beginning in the new year.  A seemingly comfortable majority of New Hampshire citizens are against the repeal attempt, but nothing can be predicted with certainty given the bizarre and poisonous rhetoric of the day. In case the video doesn't play (I'm not very skilled at this kind of thing), go to YouTube and search for "It's Not Who We Are" -- the quote marks are part of the title; the video's short and very moving.


The young man with his wife is a Marine who has been extremely active in the Marriage Equality movement on behalf of his gay brother whose chance at a happy gay marriage some day he wants to see assured.  Fritz and I worked with him and NH Freedom to Marry last year during the preliminary  challenge.  They're a great young couple and typical of the fairness of the majority of NH's citizens.

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I think the internet has changed the relationships among people in profound ways.  Early in my blogging career I had blog friends in England, Austria, Australia, and from coast to coat in the US and Canada. Writing back and forth on our blogs, and then privately, allowed me to know some wonderful men, which sometimes led to meeting them during travel (theirs or mine) and some valuable friendships.

But there were also men who turned out to be impostors, who got people care about them and support them through crises that turned out to be invented.  There was an Australian who blogged under three different identities that I learned of eventually, and endured a horrific gay bashing -- that turned out never to have happened. In one notorious instance, an older woman posed as an idealistic young man, poetic writer, and gay single parent father of two adorable adopted sons.  Two young men from the east coast who had each talked back and forth with "him" fell in love.  One was encouraged to travel to British Columbia -- and to traumatic discovery.  The unraveling of the entire story was a fairly major internet event.   (I was involved; as a gay single parent of two adopted Korean orphans, I responded to "his" requests for information, and engaged in long written conversations, encouraging and mentoring "him" through what I learned was a totally fictional adoption process. Many others were stung in a similar manner).

People tend to be forthcoming on the web to a astonishing degree. From their written words (which may or may not be true) and some photographic evidence (which may or may not be of the author) it's possible to form an idealized image of someone that may reveal more about the reader than the writer.   In the process, a lot of personal information goes out into the ether and lands we know not where, an entirely different problem.

I've either been prudent or lucky.   I chalked up the British Columbian boy to instructive experience and know that my life has been enriched by the many genuine friends I've made via the internet, friends I would never have met otherwise.


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This little fellow had quite a bit of fun recently and proved himself a determined explorer.

(CBS News) 
A seal pup had a risky adventure and gave Welcome Bay, New Zealand homeowner Annette Swoffer a scare on Thursday. According to New Zealand's Department of Conservation, the animal, nicknamed Lucky, broke into Swoffer's home through a cat door and decided to take a nap on her sofa.

Swoffer told the Sydney Morning Herald that she first encountered the seal in her kitchen. After sniffing around and not finding anything to its liking - including her confused dog and cats - Lucky proceeded to waddle up her stairs, jump on her couch and take a nap. He was there 45 minutes later when a DOC ranger came to send him back home.

The DOC added that the seal came from nearby Tauranga Harbour and managed to cross the road, go up Swoffer's driveway and use her cat door to enter the residence. Officials told the New Zealand Herald that Lucky had already been brought back to the sea after visiting local neighborhoods twice before.  Lucky was eventually returned to the Tauranga Harbour again - but not before he escaped from his container in the car and turned on the radio.

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But it may be declared one if some people who are running for office get elected in sufficient quantity. I realize that many LGBT people are severely disillusioned with President Obama and are threatening not to vote, at least not for him, in the coming elections. But the alternative is unthinkable. The Republican candidate field has with justification been called a big clown car, a combination of willful misinformation, faulty economics, ignorance of American history, and a strategy based on demonizing gays and lesbians with outrageous charges and then presenting us as a malignant threat to children, American culture, religion, the country's security, and whatever else they can think up to toss into the mix.

I think it is essential that the President be re-elected along with as many Democratic Senators and Representatives as possible.

Friday, December 16, 2011

 
 You are looking at the ruins of a French Bergere.  I have owned the pieces of this chair for so many years that I can no longer remember how I came to own it.  I only know that I have always wanted to see it restored and have it my living room.  It is in French Second Empire style, and whenever I researched chairs of its style I could never find any that had the kind of openwork carvings on the wings like the dragon panels below.

It is not complete.  The crest rail, the piece at the top of the back that unites the side pieces, was missing when I got the chair.  The two legs on the left have worn off or broken bottoms (note that I have blocked up the left side).   But recently, I found a chair maker/wood carver who is unquestionably the man to bring this chair back to life.


The "skirt" piece, below, may become something of a model for recreating the crest rail.


Or, the female busts on the wings may suggest a female face in the center of the new crest rail. 


Fritz and I recently decided to have two partially broken side chairs of his sister's restored as our Christmas gift to her.  I had saved the business cards of two woodworkers the last time Fritz and I went on the open studio tour of members of the Deerfield, NH Art Association.  Because Greg Brown listed himself as chair maker as well as woodworker, we went to him with the chairs.  He's a relatively young man, extremely extroverted and a great deal of fun to talk with.  He is also a very fine artisan whose work appears on the covers of woodworking magazines, and his drawing skills are highly developed.

We gave him the job and he returned superb work.  At that moment I decided to discuss my chair with him.  A week or so later, we brought the pieces go his studio and, in discussing the chair and what the job would entail,  it became obvious that I was probably going to have him do the extensive work required.  He knew immediately that it was an early 20th century reproduction of a French original, when and how it had been made, and how it had probably been marketed by catalog in this country.  I took the pieces home to do the clean up work of removing all the old tacks and dry rotted shreds of upholstery.  In a follow-up eMail Greg used the term French Bergere and I have to research why the name Bergere, because in French it means a shepherdess -- and nothing about this chair has anything to do with country style.

At any rate, once I've finished removing the literally hundreds of tacks from the frame pieces, I'll take them back to Greg and he'll do the work that includes designing and carving the new crest rail.  I'll do the upholstery and post pictures when it's all finished.

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The house is decorated for the holidays.  The pine cone swags are a couple of years old but still in excellent condition.  This year Fritz suggested filling the planters across the front and sides of the house with hemlock boughs and bittersweet that grows wild on parts of the property, a look I really love.  I don't want to put a lot of artificial decorations on the house because it has such a wonderfully natural "of the land" look to it.

This is our front door.  Because of the 4' overhangs, the windows and most of the siding of the house, all of which is cedar, will not weather.  But here in the front where there's a large concrete slab in front of the entry, rain splashes up off the slab so the lower parts of the walls are weathering down to an natural cedar gray.  The contrast isn't quite as strong as my digital camera made it out to be.

We installed a new door "bell" recently, an antique style bicycle horn.  Yes, it is loud enough to be heard inside the house!


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I found this striking picture on the National Geographic site.  It's one of the prize winners in their annual photo contest.  The subject is a man-made "reef" in the form of an underwater sculpture park off shore at Cancun, Mexico.


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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

 
Joe Jervis's Joe.My.God blog always has interesting things besides current LGBT politics and assorted local NYC phenomena.  Here's a recent entry on:

A planet has been discovered in a distant solar system that exists in the same kind of sweet spot (astronomers call it the "goldilocks zone") for temperature in relation to its sun as the earth has with our sun.  It's been given the name Kepler-22b and the astronomical community is excited as it appears to be the best discovery yet of a planet that could sustain life similar to that on earth.  The Kepler solar system isn't something that can be viewed by telescopes from earth.  It was discovered by the Kepler Telescope out in space and the images of all six planets, including K-22b, that rotate around a star said to be very much like earth's sun were relayed back to earth.

There's no indication yet as to what kind of surface, if any, the planet has.  In fact, because it's almost three times the size of earth, there's speculation that it might be a completely gaseous body.  But the conjectural depiction of K-22b above shows it with an earth-like atmosphere, clouds indicating the presence of water on the surface below.  The key for the discoverers is the possibility of finding water, which was stressed several times in their report as requisite for the existence of life.  And life, it should be kept in mind, could mean anything from microbes to intelligent beings.  


I found all this very interesting, so I made the following comment on the item:
"All this talk of where liquid water could exist is all well and good, but it totally ignores the fact that life of some kind or other (which could take all sorts of forms other than sensate beings) might be based on something other than water.  It is an intriguing possibility, no?  We are used to thinking aquacentrically (have I just coined a term?) but shouldn't fail to consider other possibilities, life based on other than carbon and water that might exist outside what we consider a solar system's habitable zone."

Joe's blog has an enormous following; 150 to 200 comments on an item is not an unusual occurrence, which doesn't allow for much discussion as new comments pile up fast.  I was surprised and delighted, therefore, when a small clutch of comments specifically discussing my point developed very quickly.  I'm obviously not a scientist (don't let my 32 years at MIT fool you), and I've never been much into science fiction (beyond my addiction to Captain Video and His Video Rangers on TV as a kid) but I found the responses fascinating.  Here are some excerpts;

"While other kinds of life have been hypothesized - other chemistries (silicon-based life is a scifi staple), electromagnetic/plasma, even nucleonic life in neutron stars -  carbon-based life is all we have any real experience with.  I have read of biochemists and physicists putting forward explanations why carbon-based chemistry is "favored" (it's so hard not to anthropomorphize) as the basis for what we recognize as life.   

"I'm curious to know whether researchers would even be able to easily recognize other kinds of life, given the "bias" all our techniques and technologies have toward carbon-based life.   I think it woud really fantastic just to encounter different encoding mechanisms than DNA/RNA while still being carbon-based." ~justinw

"If -- as is theorized -- the Earth got all of its water from comets, it stands to reason that the same could happen in other solar systems too." ~pch1013

"Let's not forget about "photonic-based" life!!!! Just watch the documentary, "Bride of Chaotica!" for ALL the proof you need!  ;) " ~Guest


"I know you are kidding... but just for the sake of reality a photonic based life form is not possible.  Photons have no mass and thus travel at 'c' (light speed).  Anything with mass (like a lifeform) can not travel at 'c' by definition.  Also note that from the 'perspective' of a photon, there is no time (e.g., the photon dies the moment it was created - from its perspective, even if it traveled for 13 billion years from our perspective).
Basically... it really sucks to be a photon." ~KaneHau

"Justinw, great points. Through my misspent youth I have devoured a lot of Sci-Fi. Several books explored different biology's, I can't remember there titles right off hand. Some posited Electromagnetic Solar based life, IOW's we are just cockroaches living in the walls. Methane based, poor power to mass ratio opposed to oxygen burners. Copper based vs iron based metabolism, again power to mass, Life universally, if evolutionary controlled would tend to favor Carbon, Iron, Oxygen life forms as these would be the most efficient (successful) evolutionary paths. Good old Carbon will form bonds with just about anything, kind of like me after 4 drinks. (different story)." ~Mike O'Beirn
 
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One thing I've been noting more and more as today's Republican party declines into madness is how at odds it is with traditional Republican policies and values to which it frequently offers reverent homage.  Clearly, despite its lionization of the Founding Fathers, the Party and its members forget Separation of Church and State and many now are even denying there ever was such a doctrine.  George Washington, perhaps the ultimate F.F. is on record (see November 29 blog entry) as saying that the government should be completely free of the influence of clergy.  And except for the homophobia, none of the current candidates has anywhere near the understanding of Ronald Reagan that they claim.
I was delighted to find the above example by Teddy Roosevelt, perfectly understanding the need for Separation of Corporation and State.
 
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Another item from J.M.G. about an apartment tower complex that has caused some understandable shock and opposition.  Scheduled to be completed in Seoul, Korea in three years, the architect's rendering appears below.


"An architecture firm said Friday it “regrets” a bizarre design for two high-rises in Korea reminds people of the twin towers exploding on 9/11. A mockup shows two soaring skyscrapers connected in the middle by a “pixelated cloud” that evoked the clouds of debris that erupted from the iconic World Trade Center towers after terrorists flew planes into them. “What the hell were these architects thinking?” asked the headline on a Gizmodo article about the plans for the Seoul apartment buildings. MVRDV, which is based in the Netherlands, insisted in a statement that it didn’t notice the uncanny similarity that struck many observers instantly."

The moment I saw this picture, and before I had read a word of the above text, the only thing I could think of was 9/11.  Particularly given the intense speculation in the architectural community about why the towers had fallen, I find it hard to believe an architectural firm of obviously international stature could not have been aware of what they were proposing. 

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And a tag line to today's rather serious post:


Saturday, December 10, 2011

 
I have never liked cheap disposable stuff.  Fritz and I recycle everything we possibly can from both the house and the Center.  We're big paper recyclers because of the amount of junk mail we receive, increased enormously by the glut of holiday shopping catalogs.  One example is the West Elm catalogs that have come every year before Christmas, one a week, sometimes two a week, beginning in late October.  Every year it's the same catalog every week and the fact that I don't buy from them doesn't seem to register.  The amount of paper wasted in sending a dozen duplicate catalogs to a non-customer is staggering and I can only presume there are thousands and thousands of us out here in Consumerland who get this continuous stream of West Elm catalogs.   I also get Bits 'n Pieces, L.L. Bean, Duluth Trading, Hammacher Schlemmer, Brookstone, Tiffany, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chicago Institute of Art, Picture Frames.com -- and a leather catalog that's sadly nowhere near as interesting as it sounds.

Fritz's Center is an informal, warm place sheathed inside with classic weathered New England weathered barn board.  It does not have a maintenance staff these days.  When a group comes in for a weekend, Monday morning finds the two of us down there first thing to do the clean up.  The first things I hit are the trash and the recycling.

It used to be all trash but when I moved up here full time and started helping him, I began to notice the amount of paper towel, cardboard and other paper products that were going into the dumpster.  So although it's not always the most pleasant job in the world, I go through all the bathroom trash (99.8% of which is just used paper towels) to eliminate non-recyclable material and, by the end of a weekend with 25 to 30 people in residence, I usually end up with two well-filled garbage bags of prime paper recycling.

At the house we process everything possible to avoid producing  garbage.  Despite very high property taxes in New Hampshire (everybody thinks it's dirt cheap to live here because there's no sales tax and no state income tax but you have to pay for services somehow) it turns out that garbage pick up is on a pay as you go basis.  We have to purchase town insignia garbage bags, packaged in three sizes, at the local super market.  There are something like a half dozen of the small bags, the size we use in our kitchen waste basket, sold for $7.50.  Pick-up is on Tuesday mornings.  We recycle all our paper, cans, bottles, metals and plastics, including used aluminum foil, cling wrap and approved styrofoam, and we compost all our vegetable kitchen waste.  We put out a bag no more often than once a month or sometimes five weeks.

I wish it were possible to take a broken appliance to a repair center and have the one part that's failed replaced without hearing that the repair would cost more than a new appliance.  I wish people would consider handkerchiefs that can be laundered and used for years rather than boxes and boxes of tissues that are gone in days.  I wish garbage-fired power plants could be developed with a clean enough effluent to not increase pollution and global warming, that could produce enough electricity to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

 
From Abraham Piper's site, 22 Words:

You may know Syd Hoff as the author of classic children’s books such as Danny and the Dinosaur and Sammy the Seal. Or you may know his cartoons from The New Yorker.

In addition to these more famous works, he is also the author of a little collection of political cartoons called the The Ruling Clawss published in 1935 under the pen name he used for his more radical work, A. Redfield. It is a collection of his contributions to the communist newspaper “Daily Worker.”

It satirizes the ruling class by featuring everything from a cop after a long, hard day clubbing protesters to rich old ladies praising the virtues of Nazi-occupied Berlin. Here are some of these cartoons…









I picked several of them that seemed newly relevant in the wake of the OWS demonstrations and police response to them, and Newt Gingrich's smarmy comment about why don't the demonstrators take a shower and get a job. What job, Newt? Much of the OWS energy is devoted to protesting the lack of jobs for desperate, willing workers.

And speaking of the demonstrations, I was in the Metropolitan Opera house last Saturday evening for a performance of Gounod's Faust. Just before the beginning of the second act, after the house lights had dimmed out but before the conductor had entered the pit, a loud and deep voice roared out of the score desk area of the top balcony yelling "Occupy Wall Street" six or eight times rapidly. He got a rather nice hand from the audience.

MET Opera security was on the scene in seconds, searching in the aisles but without delaying the performance. They remained in the area throughout the act, sometimes providing a distraction. I later saw it reported that he had been found and escorted from the building. Unless I've missed something in the reporting of OWS demonstrations nation- and world-wide, this was the first demonstration within a theater during a performance.

Friday, December 02, 2011

 
As we approach Christmas, groups all over the spectrum from top professional orchestra/choral ensembles to local church choirs are scheduling performances of Handel's Messiah.  Here's one that didn't work out quite as planned:  Handel Disaster

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A weird story from the Daily Mail's International Business times:

'Alien Skull' Discovered in Peru: From Indiana Jones to Real-life Find

By: Melanie Jones 
November 23, 2011 8:25 PM EST

"Peruvian anthropologist Renato Davila Riquelme has discovered what appear to be the mummified remains of an alien-like creature, including a "triangle shaped" skull nearly as big as its 20-inch-long body.  Riquelme himself posits that the remains are those of a child. Peruvian news site RPP however, has interviewed several (conveniently anonymous) Spanish and Russian scientists who claim the remains are actual those of an extraterrestrial, supported by the clearly "alien" skull.


"The reasoning behind the anonymous scientists' claims, which are not backed by either Riquelme or his anthropological team at the Privado Ritos Andino museum in Cusco, Peru, centers on the alien-like formation of the skull.




"An alternative explanation for the bizarre discovery is that the skull was artificially deformed as part of a tribal ritual.  The practice of skull elongation - to signify group affiliation or social status - dates back 9,000 years.  Common in various tribal cultures around the world (such as Mayans, North American natives and Australian Aborigines), the head moulding styles fell into three groups: flat, round or conical.


Painting by Paul Kane, showing a North American Chinook child having its head flattened, and an adult after the process


"To achieve the desired shape, the head was wrapped in tight cloth.  In the case of cranial flattening, the head was placed between two pieces of wood.  The technique would usually be carried out on an infant, when the skull is at its most pliable.  The cloth would be applied from a month after birth and be held in place for about six months."

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2063486/Alien-skull-Peru-Mystery-giant-headed-mummy-city-Andahuaylillas.html#ixzz1fFbvIAtZ


OK, but I remembered something about the famous heretical Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his entire family, that they had elongated heads and large eye sockets and looked much like the little Peruvian skeleton's skull. 


"As for the shape of Akhenaten's head, Yale University School of Medicine's Irwin M. Braverman, M.D. attributes this to a condition called craniosynostosis, in which sutures, the fibrous joints of the head, fuse at an early age, and interfere with the process of skull formation. The specific condition, called a sagittal suture, is dominantly inherited. Dr. Braverman says he observed this abnormality in the king's daughters as well as in Queen Hatshepsut, daughter of Tuthmosis I, founder of Akhenaten's paternal line, and in King Tut, who ended this line. 


Skull of a member of Akhenaten's family, possibly of Akhenaten himself

"Sutures normally expand as the brain expands and typically do not fuse until the age of 25 to 30. "At first, I wondered whether they bound the heads of infants to get this effect," says Dr. Braverman, "but there is no mention of this in Egyptian literature."
~from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

I'm always skeptical when everything unusual is credited to space aliens.
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Sean Breen of the blog Idle Eyes and a Dormy put this lovely sentence on his Facebook page the Monday morning after the Thanksgiving weekend.  I was struck by the poetic feeling of it:
"The weekend made sweet love to me for days until I fell asleep in his arms last night, then he slipped away in the wee hours and I woke to find him gone :-( "
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From ABC News:
No More Kisses for Oscar Wilde's Tomb
Oscar Wilde’s famous tomb in Paris will now be getting a lot less love. Devoted fans of the “The Importance of Being Earnest” author have long journeyed to his tomb in the city’s famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery to plant a lipstick smooch on the tombstone, but not anymore.

On the 111th anniversary of Wilde’s death, the cemetery is unveiling a cleaned up monument with a glass barrier around it to prevent tourists from kissing the stone.  Cemetery officials determined that the grease from the kisses was damaging and eroding the stone, according to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper.
 
“Every cleaning was causing a bit more stone to wear away,” Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland told the paper.  Holland called a lipstick a “serious problem.”  “From a technical point of view, the tomb is close to being irreparably damaged,” he said. “Each cleaning has rendered the stone more porous necessitating a yet more drastic cleaning.”

"Wilde was buried there in 1900, but it wasn’t until the 1990's that literary buffs began kissing the monument. Authorities imposed a fine of $12,000 for kissing or writing on the tomb, but it proved very difficult to enforce.

"The famed cemetery was established in 1804 and is one of the most visited in the world, according to a U.S. website dedicated to the cemetery, created by the authors of the book “Meet Me at Pere Lachaise.” It is 118 acres and houses over 70,000 monuments.  Other notable people buried there include singer Edith Piaf, painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani, writer Marcel Proust, dramatist Moliere and musician Jim Morrison."

To which I will add Marie du Plessis, the famed Lady of the Camellias, and her most famous interpreter on the spoken stage, Sarah Bernhardt, as well as Chopin and a huge host of other greats in the arts and letters.


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