The Town Scryer is a mixed bag of humor, socio-political observations and ephemera from the perspective of a eclectic Pagan veteran of the counter-culture.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

Or: "Why I Am Not A Poet"

Be seeing you.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Gospel According to St. Nightingale

    BEFORE BUDDHA OR JESUS SPOKE, THE NIGHTINGALE SANG, AND LONG AFTER THE WORDS OF JESUS AND BUDDHA ARE GONE INTO OBLIVION, THE NIGHTINGALE STILL WILL SING. BECAUSE IT IS NEITHER PREACHING NOR REACHING NOR COMMANDING NOR URGING. IT IS JUST SINGING.
D. H. Lawrence









Be seeing you.



Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"I Had a Friend"...

     That is a rough translation of the first line of the German military funeral hymn. "Ich hatt einen Kameraden." It is also the funeral hymn of the French Foreign Legion. On this the old enemies do agree. Death and loss make comrades of us all.

    It will have been thirteen years come August 11th since I spoke at the memorial service of my friend Jan. We had met the previous year by virtue of our common interest in the Lovecraftian role playing game, "Call of Cthulhu". He had been a television journalist in Norway. He had come to America with his new wife, and was trying to get work as a reporter here. I was trying to build a career in writing at the time myself and was just starting to be published in a couple of magazines. He was unable to get a work permit in spite of being married to an American citizen. In Norway he had covered the war in Kosovo and been wounded. Here he couldn't get a job. Thus they were trying to get by on what his wife earned and the occasional copy he could file to Norwegian TV over the telephone. He was still happy though because there was a baby on the way.

     Then one day when we were at a game session together he started complaining of the noise in the room and of headaches. When he started running a fever he wrote it off as a nastier than usual case of the flu. When his fever hit 102 we tried to talk him into seeing a doctor but, having come from a  country with free medical care he was afraid of going deep into debt.

    Then his fever spiked and his wife took him to the ER. After initially misdiagnosing him with influenza,  they found that he had viral meningitis. A little over a week later he was dead.

     He was 24 years old.

    It took less than a year for our national xenophobia and our profit-driven health care cartel to kill him.

     When his mother took his ashes back to Norway to scatter at the place of his birth, customs tested them for drugs.

      He told me once that in Norway they had national health care and unemployment covered you at 80% of your former wages for up to 5 years.

     We have wars and greed.


    We have to do better.


    We owe it to the dead.
   

     Be seeing you.


     

On Our New "Green" Bus Station

     The new Sacramento Greyhound station opened today. The Sacramento Bee has been making much of how "green" the new building will be:

"The terminal has vaulted ceilings and thermal field floors that help to lower the temperature in the building--reducing the need for air conditioning." according to today's Bee. This lower carbon footprint of the actual building will be more than offset by the fact that the nearest public transit is 1.3 miles away. There was a regional transit stop serving several lines half a block from the old station and the light rail was only two blocks away. Thus, arriving passengers are now faced with the choice of calling a taxi or a long walk in the Sacramento sun. 


If they could afford a taxi, most of them would not be on a bus. 


The real reasons for the new building are revealed in an older Bee article from the 13th of this month: 

"Right now, when people leave the state Capitol and go to L Street, they see the Greyhound station and they're like, 'Is this the best that Sacramento has to offer?' " Mayor Kevin Johnson said. "It's an eyesore and we're finally moving beyond that."



  Yeah. Got to hide all those icky poor people.

Of course there is a development deal in the works for that newly available piece of prime real estate.




Be seeing you.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When?



Be seeing you.

Reaping The Haboob



     Last week, when a massive dust storm scoured Phoenix, Arizona, a lot of people learned a new word when the meteorologists on the news began talking about "haboobs" as they tried to explain to their listeners just what it was that was stripping the paint off their new SUV. ("Haboob" is an Arabic word for this type of storm that has been is use for some time.)

    Of course, this being America, there was a lot of giggling over the use of any word that sounds like "boob", but because it happened in Arizona, where xenophobia isn't just a bad idea, it's the law, there were outraged callers complaining about the use of a foreign word, especially an Arabic one.

     From the New York Times:

 
  “I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob,” Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic...  “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”




     Diane Robinson of Wickenburg, Ariz., agreed, saying the state’s dust storms are unique and ought to be labeled as such.
“Excuse me, Mr. Weatherman!” she said in a letter to the editor. “Who gave you the right to use the word ‘haboob’ in describing our recent dust storm? While you may think there are similarities, don’t forget that in these parts our dust is mixed with the whoop of the Indian’s dance, the progression of the cattle herd and warning of the rattlesnake as it lifts its head to strike.”

Not everyone was put out by the use of the term. David Wilson of Goodyear, Ariz., said those who wanted to avoid Arabic terms should steer clear of algebra, zero, pajamas and khaki, as well. “Let’s not become so ‘xenophobic’ that we forget to remember that we are citizens of the world, nor fail to recognize the contributions of all cultures to the richness of our language,” he wrote.
     

     Be seeing you.

   Additional thanks to TYWKIWDBI, one of my favorite blogs and sources.

Ewe Swine! ...And Other Oddities.

This picture is not photoshopped, nor is it the latest GMO abomination. It is a Mangalitsa, one of three curly-haired varieties of swine raised in Hungary and the Balkans. 
"Baaaaa!" *ahem*, "I mean, "Oink"


     Snape: "It Gets Better" (Spoilers so beware)



    "I'm feeling much better now!"


     A 50 year-old South African man awoke to find himself on a mortuary table. He began screaming to be let out, giving the morgue attendants the fright of their lives. 
     His family has assumed he was dead when they were unable to wake him Saturday night and called the local private morgue to fetch him. 
    All told, the poor fellow spent nearly 24 hours in the morgue.


     "The two attendants later returned and called for an ambulance. The man - whose identity has been withheld - was treated in hospital for dehydration. "Doctors put him under observation and concluded he was stable," Eastern Cape health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said."




     I presume the gentleman in question is busy rewriting his will.




     Be seeing you.




Twenty-two Words and Nothing to do with Arborath

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cynical Thoughts on the Debt Ceiling Game



     Item: The Republicans keep walking out of talks on the debt ceiling adjustment. When they don't walk out, they insult the President until HE walks out.

     Item: Donald trump has advised the Republicans not to pass a new debt ceiling no matter what deal they are offered.


     Item: The price of gold went vertical in trading for a full 45 minutes this morning, reaching a new high of over $1,623 before settling back a bit to what was still a new high.  This was the first day of trading after the talks failed over the weekend. In general, any event that weakens the U.S. economy increases the price of gold.

     What if this whole charade is a cynical move to manipulate the price of gold to make some people who bundle commodity derivatives even richer? Goldman Sachs for example?

    Why not? Isn't that pretty much analogous to what they did to real estate? Would they pass up a chance to do it with gold when they can receive almost overnight returns?


     Be seeing you.

     

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Perspective

     What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage...

Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI



  It's easy to get discouraged these days. It's stark and harsh out there. It's getting hard to make your way and the old White men all seem to have an austerity fetish this year.

    It seems that in so many places the clock is turning back to the Winter of our discontent. In times like these it is good to remember that no matter what, there are some good things that endure.

    The other day I took the local bus to do some errand or other. At the next stop after I got on a young couple climbed aboard with their very new baby. Their faces had that special glow that only the very young and the very much in love can know. They kept looking at each other and then down at the baby as though to say, "Wow! We really made a baby! How wonderful and amazing!" The hard road ahead would plant the deadly little seeds of fear soon enough but for now love was all that there was room for.

   I couldn't stop grinning. seeing the two of them made my whole day. The young lady was African-American and her man was Caucasian...and it didn't matter at all. There were no whispers or rude remarks the way there would have been when I was their age. Oh sure, there were parts of town where there still might be and parts of the country where there still would be, but the people who do hate and hurt such as these know they are outnumbered badly and that will not get better for them...Not ever.

    Almost no one under 40 in California knows what the word, "miscegenation" means...or "mulatto". That means that we all have won something.

     Something Big. Something very, very important.


     Hold fast to that and cherish it when you watch the news and you want to weep.


     Like someone said:


     "It gets better."


     Be seeing you

Friday, July 22, 2011

Woke Up In The Future Today...

...Didn't Much Like It.

    When I was a boy I grew up with the space program. I was five when Sputnik was launched. I collected, not baseball cards, but cards with the pictures of the Mercury and Gemini astronauts on them.
     I grew up reading the great science fiction writers of my time: Clarke and Asimov, Heinlein and Blish...and of course Ray Bradbury. The future of manned space flight seemed so sure that by the time I was sixteen, Pan Am was actually taking reservations for the first commercial moon shuttle. They didn't have it built yet of course, but it was coming so soon that saving your place in line was advised. Hundreds of thousands of people did just that, as it cost nothing and my, but wouldn't it be fine!
     Now Pan Am is long lost to bankruptcy. The last space shuttle has landed and been consigned to a museum. The Ares 1/ Orion program that is supposed to replace it won't be ready to launch for at least another three years, and those estimates were made before Congress developed an austerity fetish. In the meanwhile, any Americans still on the International Space Station will have to hitch a ride home from the Russians...You know, the guys that Ronald Reagan used to brag about beating in the space race and the Cold War?
     They're running the show for the next few years.

     How the hell did we ever let it come to this? This was the thing we were most proud of. It was what we did better than anyone else. We were on the cutting edge of science and technology...and now we are not. Asimov and Clark and Blish and Heinlein are all gone. Ray Bradbury still lives though and the other writers that followed them are with us still, but the stars have become farther away than they once were.

    I woke up in a science fiction story this morning, but it was in the dystopian world of William Gibson and cyberpunk. The main story of the day is about a major media conglomerate hacking into  voice mail systems and bribing police detectives.  The greatest check on government and corporate misconduct is no longer the media, who have largely been absorbed by corporate behemoths, but free range hackers such as Anonymous and the Man Without a Country, Julian Assange and his great gadfly engine, Wikileaks.

    Meanwhile, in Massachusetts: "Civil libertarians are raising the alarm over the state’s plans to create a Big Brother database that could map drivers’ whereabouts with police cruiser-mounted scanners that capture thousands of license plates per hour — storing that information indefinitely where local cops, states, feds and prosecutors could access it as they choose." --(The Boston Herald)


     Excuse me. I seem to have something in my eye.


     Be seeing you.






     
     

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Child's Warfare Primer

   Or Clauswitz for Children


     After the U.S.Army got into the video game business a few years ago I suppose it was only a matter of time. Sure, the little tykes will shoot anything that moves, but they are such lousy strategists and tacticians.

    Enter the (I hope) tongue in cheek "The Children's Illustrated Clauswitz", which attempts to render the military strategy classic, "On War" from the early 19th century, which is still taught at the U.S. War College, into a children's book.


     Guten Morgen, Class! For our first lesson, we will talk about what war is, why we go to war, what we get from war, what some of its primary characteristics are, and a little of what it takes to be successful in war.

War is the use of force – Yes, Otter?



-What’s ‘force’ mean?

Violence, threat of violence, physical advance on territory, etc. – use of force to make the enemy do our will, to make him do what we want him to do. The aim is to disarm the enemy, to – Yes, Otter?



What’s ‘disarm’ mean?
It is to make it so he cannot strike back at us. In war, you place your effort against the enemy’s resistance – Yes, Otter?
What’s ‘resistance’ mean?



   I can hardly wait for the pop up book!

Auf Widersehen!


Monday, July 18, 2011

Space: The Russian Frontier

The Spektr-R radio observatory launched on a Zenit rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos


          Today the Russians launched the Spekt-R  radio telescope into orbit. The orbiting telescope will be synched with a ground-based telescopes across the world, creating the effect of having a single telescope the size of the earth.

Credit: Lebedev Physical Isntitute/Astro Space Center

     The primary mission of the observatory is to study black holes and pulsars. Maybe, if we ask nicely, they'll share with us. The Republican-led House's proposed budget cuts have eliminated funding for the American proposed orbital telescope pictured below.

     The $6.5 billion James Webb telescope would have replaced the 20 year old Hubble observatory.

     It is sad that the day has come when the Russians have passed us in space exploration.

     Of course they don't have a war in Afghanistan any more...or Iraq, or Libya, or Yemen, or Pakistan, or....




     Be seeing you.

Artist's concept of the Spektr-R satellite in orbit. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
     

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Great Emu War

       "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy."
       (Old German military maxim)




 In the aftermath of war there comes the problem of what to do with the sudden influx of former soldiers into the labor pool. This problem was especially severe after the end of the First World War. Nearly every able-bodied British male was called up by the war's end. In Australia the returning soldiers were given land to farm, and most of them managed to make a go of the proposition raising wheat or sheep. 


    Then came the Great Depression of 1929. Wheat prices fell and many farmers who had managed before were now having a tough time. 


      Then the emus struck.


     The emus had always been around, but the ready supply of water that accompanies farming attracted then and in 1932 some 20,000 marauding emus descended upon the soldier-farmers like a plague of well, emus. The soldiers, being a bit distrustful of the Ministry of Agriculture, naturally went to the War Ministry for help as they knew how to deal with its chain of command. Their efforts were rewarded and the Minister of War, Sir George Pearce, dispatched several companies of men armed with heavy machine guns to sally forth and save the crops.


    Alas, things did not go as planned. The emu, being a large flightless bird, does not travel in flocks and tends toward more solitary behavior. It also turns out to be extremely difficult to herd them, as they are the size of a man. In short, there was a great and prodigious expenditure of ammunition with very few dead emus to show for it. It is a wonder that where were no men lost to "friendly fire".


    From Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog:         

     "The greatest battle of the campaign took place on 4 November. An Australian machine gunner O’Halloran had set up a hidden gun behind a dam wall and watched amazed as a thousand emus approached his position. He waited till they were upon him and then gave the order to open fire. Twelve emus fell in quick succession and then the machine gun jammed…
A subsequent attempt to kill emus involved mounting a machine gun on the back of a lorry and driving it after a small group. Not a single bird was killed, not a single bullet was shot (the gunner had problems enough hanging on) and a stretch of fence was destroyed when the truck careered into it."

     The whole misadventure was ended by a series of mocking questions in a meeting of Parliament on Nov. 9 of that year. One of the members asked, with tongue in cheek, if any medals ought to be awarded for the campaign. The representative from Western Australia suggested that the decorations be awarded to the emus, as they had won every engagement.


    Be seeing you.


     

Idle Musings on the Economy...








Be seeing you.



Sloth Onleashed

Friday, July 15, 2011

Subterranean Blue



In September 2004, French police discovered a hidden chamber in the catacombs under Paris. It contained a full-sized movie screen, projection equipment, a bar, a pressure cooker for making couscous, a professionally installed electricity system, and at least three phone lines. Movies ranged from 1950s noir classics to recent thriller.





Be seeing you.