What I learned this week, January 31, 2014

Bob Mankoff picks his 11 favorite New Yorker cartoons ever

Not from the New Yorker:


(Not Quite Their Sense of Humor)
This was from an ad (a blow-in card to be exact) for the National Lampoon, back in the mid-70’s. I’m not sure why, but at the time I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I still sorta think it is.

I was thrashing around late last night in a fit of mountain cedar allergy related insomnia and turned the television on for distraction. I caught the end credits for some movie and was reminded that there is an actress named Imogen Poots.

Imogen Poots! What a great name. It seems to be her real, given name, too. I wish she wasn’t real, beacuse I’d love to use that as a character name.

Now I can’t.

Paleo-Powered Breakfast: Eggs Baked in Avocado

Paste Magazine has been going state to state, listing up and coming bands. They finally get to Texas.

12 Texas Bands You Should Listen To Now

Now! Dammit!

Dallas bands Fox and the Bird, and Mystery Skulls (though they are now in LA) are listed, plus Metroplex Music Quaker City Night Hawks (Fort Worth), and Bonnie Whitmore (Denton).

This Is the Williamsburg of Your City: A Map of Hip America

Cleaning your DSLR Sensor: Tips and Advice

7 Things You Must Carry in Your Car This Winter
Every car should have an emergency kit that includes supplies such as jumper cables and first-aid supplies. But there are some essential winter items you need to carry once the temperature drops. Plus: Why you should buy those winter tires.

The Barber of Seville Simulcast at the Cowboys Stadium

Another opera at the Death Star. B there or B []

The opposite of Paranoia isn’t Sanity, it’s Ignorance.

Mending Postboxes

Design District, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

Design District,
Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

Something there is that doesn’t love a postman,
That sends the cardinal steel twisting willy nilly.
And spills the upper hemicycle lines akimbo,
And makes the lid lean for two arms too bent.
The work of welders is another thing:
I have come after them and tried to make repair,
To find their fiery alchemy is too staunch,
Where they have left not one steel plate on plate,
But they would have the parcels and pouches out of hiding, exposed to the rain and sleet.
To please the yelping dogs.

And all know dogs don’t love a postman.

I think I’ll send an email.


They come like apocalypse, like all ten plagues rolled in one, beating across the sky with an insidious drone, their voices harsh and metallic, cursing the land. Ten million strong, a flock that blots out the huge pale sinking sun, they descend into the trees with a protracted explosion of wings, black underfeathers swirling down like a corrupt snow.

—-A Bird in Hand, T.C. Boyle


I ride my bicycle through the morning cold, along the trail, on my way to work. The concrete is suddenly sullied, covered in a crumpled layer of bird shit. The dank ammoniacal stench pierces the chill still air and my snot stoppered nose. Overhead the black mass screeches, ignoring the brakes in the road and the bike below. I wait for a green light and watch the thick clusters of foul fowl – some finally flee, caterwauling about, off for the day.

The patch of busy road has a Wendy’s and a McDonald’s flanking a deserted grocery store. There are a few patches of green grass and some lonely copses of trees. Plus a great parallel picket of equidistant wires high in the sky – carrying who know what in its copper cores – but working fine as a gargantuan perch for a hundred thousand starlings every night.

I have no idea what attracts the birds to this spot, but it surely must not make the owners of the restaurants very happy. Not too many customers enjoy the pelting of guano they get walking from their cars, or the Hitchcockian fright the geometric arrangement of squawking birds stirs in the soul.

The light turns green and I ride on.

The Birds, Hitchcock

The Birds, Hitchcock

After work I fight the urge to fall asleep and surf the web for a second. Today’s viral video is one that a couple of women shot from their canoe. It is a murmuration of starlings.

The comments are all about the amazing sight and the wonderful bounty of nature… but I can’t help but thing of the filthy mass of starlings that I have to deal with on my bike ride.

I settle down to finish a book I’ve been working through for a while. It’s a collection of Short Stories by T.C. Boyle, Greasy Lake and Other Stories. A few weeks back, I read about half of them (very good BTW) and went off for some other fare and am now returning to finish the text off.

I come across an interesting two part story, A Bird in Hand.

The first section, subtitled 1980, concerns a farmer trying to get a murmuration of starlings to leave a stand of trees on his property, the only bit of woods that he has. He tries to scare them, to poison them, to hunt them down, but they are too stubborn. It ends with his defeat, with the sound of his chain saw.

The second part of the story is set a hundred years earlier. It is the true story of the American Acclimatization Society – a group from New York City that was dedicated to introducing every bird species mentioned in Shakespeare’s writings to the New World.

In Henry IV, Part 1, Hotspur says, “I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but “Mortimer,” and give it him, to keep his anger still in motion.”

That single mention of “starling” by the bard inspired Eugene Schieffelin of the American Acclimatization Society to free a few hundred European Starlings in Central Park.

They now have become one of the most hated and damaging invasive species, causing the collapse of native bird populations, untold crop damage, and even the disruption of air traffic.

It did make for a good story, though.

Red and White

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

The aliens of Altair Six developed an interstellar drive – but it required such immense amounts of energy that the probe sent through the time/space vortex could be no larger than a mote of dust and the temporal rift so unstable that only one blurry image could be sent back.

They had established Earth as a good candidate for life and the high priests had blessed the probe (they had long ago abandoned the difference between science and religion – both relied on faith) and were confident that if life existed on the distant rock, it would show up in the image.

They were right. The single image returned showed an ordered collection of what were undoubtedly life forms. But exactly what were they looking at? Why were the individuals on one side all bedecked in bright white, while the others shone blazing red?

The debate raged on Altair Six. The accepted theory is one of racism – the photo showed a border with the white-lighted denizens restricted on one side, the red on the other. There is obviously no mixing of the two races – the apartheid is complete.

Others believed the dichotomy was age-based. Noting that the white creatures shone brighter than the red, the theory was advanced that the red were larval forms, while the white were full-grown. It was thought that they were separated to keep the developed individuals from eating the fry.

One controversial idea, put forth by Professor Yo’rin Cake of the University of Vultur Volans that the objects in the image aren’t actually life forms, but some sort of dwelling. The color of the lighting, red or white, is merely a marker to help delineate different neighborhoods.

This was dismissed by the learned councils out of hand. It was considered impossible to have that many dwellings in the image without capturing any of the life forms themselves.

Still, the debate between these and many other factions, some completely ridiculous, others more studied and mainstream, continued and only grew in intensity and cacophony. In an attempt to find an answer to this question an enormous portion of Altair Six’s economy was dedicated to building a huge power facility and a corresponding time/space vortex generator. The plans were laid to send a larger probe with a better camera and more sensors to finally answer the mysteries of the rock called Earth.

Unfortunately, their reach exceeded their grasp and the interstellar probe complex broke down and exploded. It was a terrible planet-wide disaster and set the society back by millennia. They were reduced to a level of advancement only slightly higher than ours.

And Shipping is Always Free

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

After church the three ladies liked to buy sack lunches from a truck and a bottle of Chianti from the shabby old liquor store on the way down to the river. They would sit on the bank by the rapids with their lunch and catch up on the weekly gossip.

There used to be old men fishing down there. The fishermen would sometimes whistle or shout at the ladies, which they, correctly, took as a complement. Now, though, the levels of polychlorinated biphenyls in the fish have been determined to be unsafe and the fishermen have been run off by the police. Sometimes the women miss the fishermen a little – but they also enjoy the quiet.

The ladies have a little pool going. Every week each kicks in a ten dollar bill and the first one to spot a body floating down the river wins the pot.

“There's one!” the lady in the middle shouts.

“That doesn't count, that's a swimmer.”

“It's a body isn't it?”

“But the bet is on a corpse, and you know it.”

“OK.” She sounds disappointed.

“There's one!” the lady furthest upstream calls out.

The middle one is not happy. She gives the object a close look. “Wait, I don't think it's a body, I think it's an inflatable woman.”

She pulls her Sig Sauer P229 out of her purse and lets off a round. She is an expert shot. The inflatable pops and shrivels up into the churning water. The ladies hear giggling from a copse of willow trees upstream. The ladies have been pranked.

“Those kids! At it again. Where did they get that thing?” They shout at the kids. “Where did you get that thing?!”

A reedy voice, hard to hear over the roar of the rapids, comes giggling back from the willows. “Dealdash Dot Com.”

“Children now-a-days. What is this world coming to?” the lady in the center complains. The other two nod in agreement. She pulls a little kit out of her purse, screws the handle on the end of the aluminum rod, and begins to swab out the barrel of her handgun.

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness. That's what my mother taught me.”

The other two nod in agreement again, but don't move their gaze from the water. They want to win the pot.

Steel, Rivets, and Concrete

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

What I really wanted was rivets, by heaven! Rivets. To get on with the work—to stop the hole. Rivets I wanted. There were cases of them down at the coast—cases—piled up—burst—split! You kicked a loose rivet at every second step in that station-yard on the hillside. Rivets had rolled into the grove of death. You could fill your pockets with rivets for the trouble of stooping down—and there wasn’t one rivet to be found where it was wanted. We had plates that would do, but nothing to fasten them with.
—-Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad