Saturday, March 31, 2007

This is the American Dream? More Health Care Nightmares.

Following up on previous posts about the bankrupting experiences non-insured individuals face in our society, there is this story from the San Francisco Chronicle. It details how a Bay Area man was charged $12,000 (almost twice his annual income) for an emergency room which turned up.... (wait for it...) a cracked rib.

It also underlines the importance of universal coverage that guarantees affordable health care to anyone, anywhere -- a goal that's become a central issue in California and in the current presidential campaign.
"We are the only developed country that doesn't cover all its people," said Stan Dorn, a senior research associate at the nonpartisan Urban Institute. "We also spend a lot more than the rest of the developed world."
The United States spent an average of $6,102 per person on health care in 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Canada spent $3,165 per person, France $3,159, Australia $3,120 and Britain a mere $2,508. At the same time, life expectancy in the United States was lower than in each of these other countries and infant mortality was higher.

The article also states that 47 million Americans have no insurance. They don't cite their source for this statistic, and it sounds a little low to me, but we'll go with it. The US census population clock estimates the current US population at 301 million, so we have what like 1 in 7 Americans with no coverage. Again that estimate sounds awefully low to me.

This is so insane, I can't even think about it. I mean, I don't have any coverage, and being over 35 now, it's time I start to watch my blood pressure.

Sweet Folding Concept Bike

Thomas Owen's prototype One Bike is sure pretty to look at, and I can easily understand how it all might collapse down, but my non-engineer brain can't quite puzzle out how the pedals are connected to the wheel. If this ever made it into production, I could see it becoming the ipod for urban bikers... easy to take on a bus or train, when you get to work, you just stuff it under your desk. When you get home, cram it under the coffee table.

Piaggio Carnaby

Just happened upon this article from the Belfast Telegraph on the new Piaggio Carnaby, a very bright and happy scooter which will supposedly be offered in 125 and 200cc models. No information on the PiaggioUSA site, but there is a stand alone, which has English and Italian versions, and you can choose USA as a country when requesting more information... so we'll see if this one comes stateside or not.

From the Belfast Telegraph:

From behind, the all-new Piaggio Carnaby resembles a cartoon owl. A pair of big, round tail-lights sits above a protruding number-plate illuminator that looks like a beak. It is friendly, but not entirely unique. This latest big-wheel scooter from the giant Italian group is simple and practical, not spectacularly original. And that makes its name perplexing.
The idea is clear. Carnaby means Carnaby Street, which means Swinging London, mini-skirts, Jean Shrimpton and The Kinks: or, for a fresher generation, Austin Powers, Felicity Shagwell and Dr Evil. Which would all be fun if the little machine exuded essence of Sixties freedom and charisma.

Edit--1:49 am 03/31/07 John from Combat Commuter informs me that:
"That's a re-badged Aprilia CityStreet. John"

Thanks, John!

Steampunk Party Pics

The nefarious Sky Cosby, over at Pirate Papa, has a post up on Steampunk babies. His photo comes from this shoot over at Darren Mincke's gorgeous website. Though the photo set is only titled Steam Punk Party 2007, since the talented Mr. Mincke is the Staff Photographer/Videographer for SXSW, I'm going to assume these come from the recent EFF Steampunk Extravaganza at SXSW this year... If anyone can confirm or contradict this, that would be great.
Anyway looks like this party, wherever it was, was quite the shindig.
Goggles galore!

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Invincible Dragon

Just got quoted in the online follow-up to the New York Magazine article "The Young Invincibles" which I commented on here.

The quote in question: "Never has Johnny Rotten's prediction of 'No future for you,' seemed more accurate."

Of course this is slightly taken out of context, it makes a lot more sense as:
It doesn't mention that recent college graduates, besides facing a sluggish job market where finding one salaried job with chances for promotion that will see you through to retirement is a nostalgic fantasy, face the highest amount of student loan indebtedness ever seen in this country, are also looking at a housing market which is prohibitively inflated to many. Never has Johnny Rotten's prediction of "No Future for you," seemed more accurate.

Man, I'm going to have to start writing better, if respectable media sources are going keep quoting me.

Heh, heh, heh... Oh well, at least it's not "Well duh!" this time... although considering the obvious pandemic lack of adequate health care coverage for young people in this country, perhaps it should have been "Well duh!"

CSI: The Seelie Court

During one of my regular paranoid/self-absorbed searches to see how folks find out about this blog, I found this.
The mummified remains of one of the fey folk found in a hollow hill in Derbyshire. The site apparently gave up several mummies.
Morbid, yes, but also enchanting.
For those who feel like investigating this grim bit of whimsy the title link will provide you with more photos of this dead fairy, some disturbingly close and detailed.

via icesixxx at StumbleUpon

Honky-Tonk Heroes

The Dragon has been holed up in the studio quite a bit in the last couple of weeks. The previously mentioned Steampunk Stamp was part of this activity, but the bulk of my time has been spent getting my airbrushing chops back up to snuff.
Much of this time has been invested in boring skills drills, like practicing lettering and alphabets. More interestingly, (at least to me) has been the series of monochrome airbrushed portraits on t-shirts. Like a lot of airbrush artists, I'm hoping to use t-shirts as a springboard into custom painting cars, motorcycles, and, of course, SCOOTERS. Hopefully, the t-shirts will generate some income, whilst I'm trying to break into custom painting.

Anyway, above you will see a classic Johnny Cash pose, modeled by the lovely Ms. Auerbach. Some will think this should have been rendered on a black shirt, but it was intended for Jes, as a talisman against surly customers in her job as a bartender. And Jes likes purple, so there you go.

Below, is actually the first one I painted, of Honky-Tonk poet laureate, Charles Bukowski.
I'm going to be putting this one up on, here pretty soon. Or if anyone is interested in purchasing it directly from me, let me know in the comments.

The going rate for airbrush portraits, of at least this caliber, online seems to be $60. I'm going to start my pricing at $50, before shipping. So if you'd like a portrait shirt, drop me a line. Once I have a backlog of orders, I'll be raising my prices to the industry standard...
As you can imagine, there will be more along these lines, posted soon....

Darth Vader at the Washington National Cathedral

This would be the perfect place for a "transition from Republic to Empire" joke, but I'm coming down with a cold and am not feeling very snarky today. Instead we will simply file this under "Sometimes Reality is Cooler than You Expect."

Darth Vader is one of the numerous carved grotesques on the Cathedral. Like gargoyles, grotesques carry rain water away from the building’s walls. Gargoyles carry away excess water via pipes running through their mouths; grotesques deflect rainwater by bouncing it off the top of their heads, noses or other projecting parts, and away from the stone walls.
How did Darth Vader, a fictional villain from the Star Wars movies, end up on the wall of Washington National Cathedral?
In the 1980s the Cathedral, with National Geographic World magazine, sponsored a competition for children to design decorative sculpture for the Cathedral. The third-place winner was Christopher Rader of Kearney, Nebraska who submitted a drawing of this futuristic representation of evil.

Airship Post: Standard Rates still at a ha' penny!

The lovely and eloquent Grand Duchess, over on the Steampunk Forum, recently commisioned me to create some postage for her realm. So I bring you, what I believe to be the first ever Steampunk stamp.
More creations from the Honky-Tonk Dragon Studios soon to follow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Resolution of the Human Eye

How does our inate vision weigh against our technology? Well...

After weighing the scanning abilities of stereo vision comprised of rods and cones, hogofdestruction over on deviantart comes up with:

this translates to ...576 megapixels of available image data.
Curiously - as a counterpoint to this - most people cannot distinguish the difference in quality between a 300dpi and a 150dpi photo when printed at 6x4", when viewed at normal viewing distances.
So: although the human eye and brain when combined can resolve massive amounts of data, for imaging purposes, 150dpi output is more than enough to provide adequate data for us to accept the result as photographic quality.
But don't forget that women have more cones and men have more rods - I kid you not.
Therefore the ladies see colours brighter than gents but can't see as well when it gets dark.

Of course this only applies to humans... we mutants and Dragons perhaps can distinguish a few more variations of shades of both color and grey...

Kudos to Scooter in the Sticks

Steve Williams, over at Scooter in the Sticks, had a particularly hairy ride awhile back. He's posted twice about it, the first time describing the ride itself, and the second time meditating on the experience with some hindsight. These posts have generated some controversy in the comments on his blog, and I feel moved to comment as well.

From the first post:

I admit at this point it is a challenge. I want to know if I can do it and I assess the risk to be manageable. It is close to the edge though. The route now has seen much less traffic and the quality of the snow on the road is different, deeper, and much slicker. Feet come down more often. The wind is worse when I get to the open areas and I'm breathing heavily from the effort only making the visor problems worse. I stop to take pictures mainly as a chance to clean the visor.

From the second post:

When I began riding again less than two years ago I read a lot of motorcycle training books. I remember one warned against riding at night and in the rain. Ever. And it provided strong arguments in support of that position. Riding in the snow was at best a fool’s errand. So how have I arrived at a place where I ride in rain, at night, and in the snow?

I am not indifferent to the risks posed by these conditions and have considered them carefully while sitting in the comfort of my living room, while standing in the doorway making a decision about riding, and while on the back of the scooter. I ask myself if I am up to the ride technically, physically, and mentally. I run through the potential pitfalls. And finally I ask if I am ready to accept the consequences of my decisions.

Now personally, I don't wanna ride on ice. Period. I can handle a quick ride with a few light flurries, if that's all there is... but I know that I can't ride safely through icy roads AND deal with other traffic. If I was on deserted roads, and could slow to 15 mph, I think I could manage it, but around here, even if there is ice on the road, other drivers are just not considerate enough. That's my assessment of my skill level and my scoots. If I had an automatic, "twist n' go" scoot, I would have to reconsider that assessment.

At the same time, I ride regularly in the dark and rain. I am extra cautious, of course, but I am also aware that these are risks that are within skills. Every rider, every time they get on their two wheeled conveyance, and for every instant which they are on it, should be making these kinds of calculations. "What is the risk level? What is my skill level? Is this a ride which, though challenging, I am prepared for physically, emotionally, and technically?" I think these posts by Steve, illustrate this process better than most motorcycle safety books. They also illustrate an often overlooked, but vitally imporant part of the riding experience, which processing the ride for lessons afterward.

My comments to Scooter in the Sticks:

Steve, I wasn't gonna comment on this, but since you haven't posted in a few days, I figured you could use some encouragement.

A)You assessed your skill level, and the risk level.
B)The risk level grew to greater than your original assessment.
C)You constantly reassessed the skill/risk equation.
D)It got hairy, but you arrived home with scoot and self in one piece.
E)Like any ride that gets hairy, after the adreniline wears off, there is a part of you that wonders "What in the name of Buddha was I thinking?"
F)At no point did you imply that your skill/risk calculations apply to anyone else.

My concluscion: A right fine post using extreme riding conditions to illustrate dilemmas every rider faces every time they thumb or kick the ignition. There is a reason you won that "best blog" my friend, and this post was a great illustration of that.

My hat is off to you, sir.

More then just those of us who choose to commute on a Vespa, a scooter, or a motorcycle, Life is constantly a game of making these kinds of assessments. Risk versus skill, risk versus reward. For many they are part and parcel of why we choose to get around on two-wheels.

Until next time, becareful out there, kids.

The Young Invincibles

A New York magazine article about the endemic lack of insurance coverage for those under 35. Depressing reality.
The article mentions how young kids just out of college face a job market of "permalancing" or working as contractors potentially for years before (if ever) getting a "permanent" position that provides full benefits. It doesn't mention that recent college graduates, besides facing a sluggish job market where finding one salaried job with chances for promotion that will see you through to retirement is a nostalgic fantasy, face the highest amount of student loan indebtedness ever seen in this country, are also looking at a housing market which is prohibitively inflated to many.
Never has Johnny Rotten's prediction of "No Future for you," seemed more accurate.
If you are young, underpaid, uninsured and live in New York, the last page of the article does list some resources. Otherwise, until the powers that be are willing to consider ... What was that dirty word, Sentator Bullworth?... Socialized health care, the Dragon sincerely wishes you good health.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cabinet of Wonders Blog

Here's my shameless attempt to pay my dues to the mutual appreciation society.
The Dragon just recieved a lovely notification from Heather McDougal, proprietor of the Cabinet of Wonders Blog, that she has added the Dragon to her blog-roll. The Cabinet of Wonders blog has only been around for less than a week, so I hope I'm excused for not stumbling across it yet, but I encourage you to check it out. Her enigmatic and intriguing mission statement:

What we have here is a Cabinet of Wonders, a place where things of interest are set out, in possibly bizarre, possibly fetishistic presentation, for perusal by the discerning, who understand that presentation, and scientific interest, are all a form of magic. Warning: I am a writer so these tend to be essays, not soundbites.

So far Heather seems to be doing an exemplary job at creating an HTML cabinet of wonders, with great posts on clockworks, automata, fossils and a cursory introduction to the Enlightment practice of assembling Wunderkabinetts and Wunderkammers. She claims some of her inspiration for starting the blog came from steampunk, but she is more interested in covering Enlightment era gadgets, artifacts, curiosities, and things of wonder. It looks pretty dang cool so far!

Now one of these days, I gotta get around to updating my own link-list...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Great Music Blog

Oh, the wonders of Web 2.0!
Yes, it's a cheesy marketing term, but the Dragon does love how some of the newer social networking sites allow him to discover gems in the HTML manure pile... Take the most excellent myspace blog of Amy. It's a great collection of music videos. The Jam, John Prine, Bob Marley, old-school B-52s, Steel-eyed Span, Fairport Convention, the Moody Blues, The Kinks, the Buzzcocks, all sorts of great rare and obscure footage here, and the lyrics are all provided before the videos... Check it out the next time you have some time and bandwidth to kill.

Friday, March 23, 2007

People Have The Power

(This post is about Rock and/or Roll, and is therefore, very likely, NSFW)

When I was sixteen, I wrote a poem contemplating what it would like to be an old punk... at the time I think 25 seemed liked it would a pretty ancient age for a punker... back then, I was attending a Fine Arts Magnet High School. One of my classmates, whom I soon came to greatly respect was Stacey Mackey. Stacey came from a good Southern religious home, and both of her brothers, older and younger, went to our school as well. All the Mackey's were friendly, personable, and intelligent kids, but Stacey was something special. I remember at one point, when she was still a fervently practicing Christian, she confided in me that she thought George Bush (the first) might be possessed by a demon. And as she got older, graduated, and came into her own, she only became more amazing.
I mean, I could tell you some stories about Stacey. Like the time her and her long-time boyfriend stayed with my mother and I, because their apartment had burned down, and her parents wouldn't accept her back home, because Vic, the aforementioned BF and quite a mover and shaker in the Little Rock punk scene in his own right, was black. But the thing is, I only have a limited perspective. I knew her coming up, and despite my respect and affection for her, our interaction since High School, has mostly been limited to that of friendly acquaintances. But still, I have had the privilege of watching this fine young woman grow.
Somehow, I didn't discover Patti Smith until years after High School, which makes me sentimental and sad. I have imaginative nostalgic fantasies about what it would have been like to listen to Patti Smith with Stacey Mackey, and maybe cajole her into smoking pot for the first time, whilst discussing the music. Because I know, that some day Stacey will be receiving similar recognition for her accomplishments as a poet, songwriter, and muscian. When I see Patti Smith, as this fiery, rebellious, intelligent woman and artist, who has stuck to her guns throughout the years, I see Stacey Mackey, thirty years from now, articulate, self-effacing, inspiring, and inflamatory. Stacey Mackey is a Rock and Roll Nigger.

This post was initially inspired by some great gushing over Patti Smith that appeared on bOINGbOING recently. Their impetus was this NYT op-ed piece by Patti on her recent induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Should an artist working within the revolutionary landscape of rock accept laurels from an institution? Should laurels be offered? Am I a worthy recipient?
I have wrestled with these questions and my conscience leads me back to Fred and those like him — the maverick souls who may never be afforded such honors. Thus in his name I will accept with gratitude. Fred Sonic Smith was of the people, and I am none but him: one who has loved rock ’n’ roll and crawled from the ranks to the stage, to salute history and plant seeds for the erratic magic landscape of the new guard.

Ultimately, both here and her acceptance speech, she mentions accepting the recognition for Fred Sonic Smith, of Grandpa proto-punk band the MC5. (I highly recommend that you click the title link of this post to view her acceptance speach and performances from that night.) It is worth checking out her acceptance speech for an inspiring example of how punkrock piss-and-vinegar can age and mature into real class without betraying the ideals and righteous indignation of youth. Zach de la Rocha, of Rage Against the Machine, delivered a sincere and respectful induction speech, in which he mentions Smith as "one of the sparks that started the punk prairie fire," as well as "Patti Smith, the poet, revealed truth regardless of the social and political consequences," "Fearless when she put Bush and his administration up on the poetic firing line for this illegal war and pulled the trigger," describing the initial experience of exposure to her genius as "then you hear that voice, and you think nothing could be this haunting and nothing could be this healing, at the same time," and mostly simply and eloquently mentioning her "outsider's dignity."

Those two words come the closest to capturing my respect for this woman. Her emotional acceptance speech was extremely humble, and humbling. I am not ashamed to admit that my eyes watered several times watching this and her performances. The one performance most likely to turn on the faucet is the final All-Star Jam which features Grand Master Flash, REM, Ronnie Spector, Eddie Vedder, Stephen Stills, Keith Richards, Sammy Hagar, Paul Schaeffer, and Ms. Smith of "People have the Power." This performance alone makes me thank the Great Spirit for allowing me to live in the same time as this damn fine woman. Who else could inspire such a spirited performance from such a rich cast of talent, of such a deep Rock and Roll political truth.
Her other performances are "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones which she describes as a "great anti-war song,", accompaning REM on a rendition of Iggy and the Stooges "Now I wanna be your Dog," "Because the Night," "Rock & Roll Nigger" which she prefaces as being the song her mother's deathbed request when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "When you do sing your mother's favorite song, the one I like to vacuum to." She starts the song out with "I haven't fucked much with the past, but I fuck plenty with the future, and the Future is NOW!" Right on, Patti. Right the fuck on.
While I find the "N-word," as offensive as the next bloke, I find the concept that a certain segment of humanity is lesser than any other segment, more offensive. And to me, that is much of the philosophical underpinnings of punk. At least in the American south, where I first embraced punk, to be punk, cast you as being the same as being African-American in many people's eyes. Ms. Smith's usage of the "N-word" is similar to the Icon of Fudo Myo as embodiment of the Bodhisattvic ideal. It is a voluntary renouciation of privilege, a renuncitation of the values of privilege, and an embracing of the values of the gut, of feeling, of intuition. An embracing of the concept that the value of a person was based on the content of their character, and nothing else. Not the color of their skin, not the color of their hair, nothing. And what could be more Democratic than that?
I am going to go out on a critical limb here, and declare that Patti Smith was not just a proto-punk, but that she was the Mother of Punk. Horses is a documentation of her labor pains to the child first fertilized when she heard the spasming aural ejaculations of the MC5 kicking out the jams. Watching her on stage, I didn't feel like a burnt out old punk, I felt like an enthusiastic, pissed off young punk, with a lot to live up to. Thanks, Patti, and Congratulations.
I'll leave you with some choice quotes from Ms. Smith, from this historic occasion.
"We have joy, we have reason to celebrate, take that positive energy and make change in our world right now. We can start right now. We can build a new world. Tonight! "

"Do you like the world around you? Are ready to behave?"

"That the people have the power to redeem the work of fools...Don't forget it, USE YOUR VOTES!"

The Dragon says, "Rocketh Onth!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Awesome Steampunk Toolbox

OK, so this is only steampunk in terms of being 19th century, tool-centered, artisan crafted of fine hardwoods and brass... and well wait, that makes it pretty freaking steampunk! The Dragon's lovely resident woodworker, the beautiful Ms. Auerbach, informs us that building a tool chest used to be a kind of thesis project for apprentice woodworkers, once you'd constructed an adequate one it functioned as a sort of masterwork portfolio piece. I know I wouldn't feel any qualms about commissioning this gentleman for any fine carpentry projects around my manor!

Massachusetts piano maker Henry Studley built his magnificent tool chest over the course of a 30-year career at the Poole Piano Company. The chest lived on the wall near his workbench, and he worked on it regularly, making changes and adding new tools as he acquired them. Using ebony, mother-of-pearl, ivory, rosewood, and mahogany -- all materials used in the manufacture of pianos -- he refined the chest to the point that now, more than 80 years after his death, it remains in a class of its own.
Tauton press has desktops for free download of another shot of this chest. In these photos, you can more clearly observe that within the compass there is a "G" and it is flanked by the pillars Jachin and Boaz. If we can indeed know a man by his work, then I'd hazard a guess that Henry Studley was a brother who was on the square, and on the level.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Congratulations Scooter in the Sticks!

Honky-Tonk's Hombre Steve Williams over at Scooter in the Sticks has won best blog from MBI (Motorcycle Bloggers International) this year. That's quite an achievement, but it is most deserved. You could interpret this as sign that scooterists are gaining more acceptance in the larger motorcycling community, but I interpret more as recognition of Steve's accomplishments as a blogger. He really does have a damn fine blog, and his essays are worth reading whether you brave the world on two wheels or not.
I've stated a few times in the past, how the face of scootering is changing in the 21st century, it's no longer the exclusive domain of college students, mods, and ska-obsessed punk kids. Some bemoan the loss of subculture comraderie which they see coming hand-in-hand with this mainstreaming of American scooter culture. Nuts to that, says I. It still takes a special kind of person to hop on a scoot in our car-obsessed culture, and whether that scoot is a classic Lambretta, a top of the line fresh off the showroom floor limited edition Vespa, or a no name Twist-and-Go from China.
Congrats again Steve, and you look out for that black-ice, ya hear?

Worst SF and Fantasy Cover Art, EVAH

Have you had your daily dosage of snotty snarkiness?
Well, if not, then you should check out this nasty, mean-spirited, spiteful and wickedly hilarious survey of the worst cover art for Fantasy and Science Fiction books, on the Cracked site. It's funny in that low-hanging fruits snide David Spade commentary sort of way. I mean, it is an open secret that some artist for this genre have contracts which forbid them from reading the book they are doing the cover for. I'm serious. Have you seen any of those Boris Vallejo style early 70's covers for the Elric books, where Elric looks like Conan in an Edgar Winter wig?
But really guys, there is no challenge in picking on these guys... Did you run out of Fabio jokes for ripping on the Romance covers? What are you doing, covering for your own inadequacies or something?
Oh wait a second, Cracked... like Cracked Magazine? I remember that rag, it was kinda funny... although I liked it better the first time... When it was called MAD magazine.

(Insert Nelson Muntz "Ha ha" here.)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Neal Stephenson on 300

There is a nice little article on the film 300 in today's New York Times, by one of my favorite authors, Neal Stephenson. I always enjoy Stephenson's takes on the geekier aspects of Pop Culture... He's got enormous geek cred (the man wrote the classic hacker fantasy Cryptonomicon, as well as the non-fiction classic In the Beginning was the Command Line) and he also has an interesting take on American culture and politics. And this article exemplifies both of those qualities.
I watched an episode of the highly underrated final season of Northern Exposure last night where the ex-con biker intellectual DJ Chris sits through his orals for his M.A. in comparative literature. This was one of the few episodes of the series I hadn't seen, and I wish I had before I went back to school. The conflict in this subplot is between the deconstructavist perspective, and the more traditional modes of understanding literature. For those of you who weren't Lit or Philosophy majors, deconstructuralism is a very popular post-modern school thought which supposes that the author's intentions have no bearing on the "correct" interpretation of a work of art.
What does this have to do with 300? Well, the deconstructivists are having a field day with 300, just as they did with last three installments of the Star Wars saga, or with the film adaptations of the Lord of the Rings. We are told that these are reactionary, Imperialist tales, of whites versus people of color, East versus West. That these stories are thinly veiled propagandistic parables of a fascistic will to power.
Well, actually I take that back. At least in the case of 300, I can partly understand the other side of the debate. Unlike Star Wars or LOTR, 300 is loosely based on historical events. And, having been derived from comicbook source material, it is an epic tale told in broad strokes. The good guys are dashing, handsome, and brave. The bad guys are depraved, perverse, and haughty. And since there are modern cultures who still look back on these ancient cultures as their noble ancestors... Well, let's just say the modern Persians, or Iranians as they are now called, are none too pleased with the film. And of course, the timing is none-too-good for an American film which demonizes Persians.

Stephenson's approach to this controversy, is simply to step out of it.

The less politicized majority, who perhaps would like to draw inspiration from this story without glossing over the crazy and defective aspects of Spartan society, have turned, in droves, to a film from the alternative cultural universe of fantasy and science fiction. Styled and informed by pulp novels, comic books, video games and Asian martial arts flicks, science fiction eats this kind of material up, and expresses it in ways that look impossibly weird to people who aren’t used to it.

Not every piece of fiction is some kind of cultural Freudian slip. 300 is not an exhaustively researched and documented historical epic. It is historical fantasy, based more on a comic book than any rigorous academic study.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Obscure facts about your humble narrator.

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Honky-Tonk Dragon!

  1. The air around Honky-Tonk Dragon is superheated to about five times the temperature of the sun!
  2. Honky-Tonk Dragonomancy is the art of telling the future with Honky-Tonk Dragon.
  3. Three seagulls flying overhead are a warning that Honky-Tonk Dragon is near.
  4. Honky-Tonk Dragon can eat up to four kilograms of insects in a single night.
  5. All of the roles in Shakespeare's plays - including the female roles - were originally played by Honky-Tonk Dragon.
  6. Duelling is legal in Paraguay as long as both parties are Honky-Tonk Dragon!
  7. The eye of an ostrich is bigger than Honky-Tonk Dragon.
  8. You would have to dig through four thousand kilometres of Honky-Tonk Dragon to reach the earth's core.
  9. Oranges, lemons, watermelons, pineapples and Honky-Tonk Dragon are all berries.
  10. Ancient Chinese artists would never paint pictures of Honky-Tonk Dragon.
I am interested in - do tell me about
Straight from Surrealist Encyclopedic Archives of Tlon, we bring you these top ten things you didn't know about Honky-Tonk Dragon.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Adventures in the Kitchen

Feeling really adventurous?

I just came across this PDF from website for 7th grade science students in New Jersey, which contains advice and recipes for engaging in Entomophagy... better known as eating bugs.

Allen Ginsberg Interviews MP3

I swear I'm not having a special Beat day or anything... just by a strange synchronicity, I also happened to stumble across this radio interview today.

It caught my interest because I happened to be lucky enough to be in Hot Springs for the poetry reading mentioned on the page.

There's over a half hour audio here, I'm just getting into these.

Anyway, enjoy

On November 5, 1994 I interviewed legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Ginsberg was appearing as part of the annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, which was showing the very compelling documentary "The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg." He also gave an enthusiastic and well received live performance, which he allowed me to tape and broadcast, along with the interview on Little Rock community radio station KABF. But because of potential copyright conflicts, I'm only including sound from the interview here.
At the time, in addition to an alternative rock show, I was hosting a weekly spoken word program on KABF. Joining me for the interview was Sam Caplan, who was host of "The Poetry Show" on KABF. He too had been interested in talking with Ginsberg and I thought it would be good to do the interview together because we both had different subjects we wanted to talk about and together would be able to hit on a broad range of topics. I also felt that since Sam knew more about formal poetry than I that he would be good to have with me. We recorded the interview in his room at the Arlington Hotel. He had just finished a poetry workshop that afternoon and talked with us before doing his performance that evening.

A Vision of Jack Kerouac as The Shadow

I just happened upon this. A mini-comic that delves into the lingering influence Sal Paradise has had on a certain type of working-class intellectual in America up to this day. This comic really nailed some of the things that lead to my obsession with Jack in my late teens and early twenties. Many kids who are infatuated with the Beats seem overly drawn to the "wine, women, and song," aspects of the subculture, coupled with rebelliousness and anti-authoritarianism. And, hey yeah, that's cool and all, but what kept me coming to Jack, and still does to this day, was (and is) the heart-breaking search for empathy and meaning in a spiritually bankrupt America. Most of his critics, and all too many of his fans, never grasp the full impact of this. Jack was like Jacob, wrestling with an angel, wrestling with God. Seeking a blessing for his ragtag entourage, stumbling through the desert, trying to find their home.

This six page comic about two guys in Indiana talking about Kerouac was called "nice sympathetic work on Kerouac" by Allen Ginsberg soon after it was written in 1989. Previously only available in a hand-photocopied version of less than one hundred copies, this entire story is now available to read on this site. Click on the cover and proceed through the six pages. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Steampunk: Like a stray cat in your Intertubes

There is a discussion on the Steampunk Forum currently contemplating, "What if there had been an Victorian Internet, and what if it were actually made up of tubes, pneumatic tubes?" This of course ultimately led to the discussion of the horrors of InterTube spam, and how other Internet phenomena might manifest in such a Steampunk system. The erudite Marcus Rowland even created a version of the "I'm in UR fridge" to fit this. Above is a little something I just scratched out as a response...
I think it also kind of captures some of how the Steampunk phenomena has flooded the Web of late.

My New Favorite Cookbook

So the other day amongst other errands, I had to go by the Borders Bookstore. Jes had a couple of gift cards to this establishment, that were, I suspected, so old that they would no longer be valid. Gift cards and certificates are a great profit generator for many businesses, if they are allowed to expire, well then the store has made pure profit. If they are used as intended, then the store has gotten some extra foot traffic, and often the customer will spend more than is on the card, generating more income.
Happily, these cards which might have been as much as four years old, were still valid. My mission: use them up. Jes had some requests, which I filled, and found a couple other titles I thought we might both enjoy. Knowing there was still some credit left, I decided to check out the cookbooks. I was hoping to find a copy of Alton Brown's first book, which my Grandma had given my Mom a couple of years back.
Now, unlike my mother, I don't have much use for cookbooks. For a long time, I have been satisfied with the Joy of Cooking and an internet connection. When I'm trying something new out in the kitchen, I usually Google it. After looking over three or four divergent versions of the same recipe, and comparing them against my experience, goals, and preconceptions, I usually have good concept of the basic patterns behind the dish. A good enough idea to experiment from. And if the first attempt is not a total success, rubbing it up against the general concepts of cooking I've gleaned from the past, and Jes's refined palette, gives me a good idea of how to improve it the next time.
Which is why I was looking for Alton's I'm just here for the food. I appreciate how he goes into the science of how certain techniques work, and how they apply to peculiarities of particular ingredients. To use a musical analogy: it is less like a collection of scores, than a jazz instruction guide, giving you some basic riffs to build on, to improvise with.
Now with all that being said, Borders didn't have Alton's first book, though they had his second and third, which would make great presents for my foodie mother, but which I really wouldn't be able to put to much use at this point in time. But there is another cook out there, who having been introduced to on Food Network, I am quite fond of.
By way of explaining my personal aesthic to other creative friends, I use to say that I wanted to be the love child of Captain Kangaroo and William S. Burroughs. I want to synthesize a certain sense of whimsy, with a darker, edgier side. In the culinary arts, Alton Brown represents the geeky, playful side of that equation. The edgier, more punk side is best represented by Anthony Bourdain. And fortunately for me, Borders had his Les Halles Cookbook in stock.
Now, I've never really had any aspirations to master French cuisine. I always viewed it as hoity-toity and pretentious. My predilictions have always been towards simple, basic peasant fare, with perhaps a little something extra added, but built on a solid working class foundation. Of course, the more I have managed the kitchen in our household, the more this working class frugality has led me to do things like save every bone that comes off a plate. I'm using more and more stock in my cooking, and it seems ridiculous to pay the exorbitant prices grocery stores ask for what tastes like sea water with a hint of meat flavor.
And the more I learn about basic French cuisine, the more it seems that not only is it the basis of much of Western cooking, but also that it too is firmly rooted in this peasant aesthetic of wringing every last bit of nutrition and flavor out of the things that find there way into the kitchen. And having seen and totally enjoyed a handful of episodes of A Cook's Tour, and read a couple of online interviews with Bourdain, I respected his opinion. Plus, just flipping through the book at random, I landed on the recipe for steak tartare, which Jes, who prefers just about everything raw, has expressed quite a bit of interest in.
So I added the book to the stack of historical fiction for Jes.
I can not express how happy I was to dig into this book, and soak in Bourdain's caustic no-bullshit wit. Nor how happy I was to read this paragraph in his long, ranting introduction:

The kind of French cooking we're talking about here, the most beloved, old-school, typical, and representative cooking, the wellspring of all that came after, did not originate from cooks with a lot of money to throw around. Most of these preparations and recipes evolved from shrewd, enterprising, hard-pressed, dirt-poor people who, like all great cooks, in all great national cuisines, were simply making the best of what they had. Which, in many cases, was sweet fuck-all.
We have always looked to France as the greatest of chef-driven (as opposed to ingredient driven) cuisines because France had no other choice but to cook well. For much of its history, French cooks had to be good. Or they'd starve, or go broke. For the most part, good cooks were hungry, they were downtrodden, they had - until the revolution- to continue to please cruel, oppressive, and capricious masters. Every scrap, every root, every snail,, every crust of bread was potential money or sustenance.

As you can tell from this excerpt, this book is not for the faint of heart. Anthony is crass and cultured, speaking with a voice both vulgar and educated. I have spent a little time as a dishwasher and prep-cook, and can tell you this is the dictatorial voice of a head chef, a tempermental artist who is also a general who will accept nothing but speedy obedience from his minions. And when he gets it, the results can be genius.
So this isn't a book for everyone. At the same time, I have to say, I haven't laughed as hard as I laughed reading the initial chapters of this book, in I don't know how long. In the chapter extolling the virutes of having and maintaining a quality knife, after recommending mastering proper knife sharpening technique, he offers this alternative:

For the timorous and feebleminded among you - and for any for any howler monkeys in the tertiary stages of syphilis who might be reading this - some manufacturers now sell a clever little device that clips to the back of the blade and rolls your knife at exactly the right angle on the sharpening stone - thus obviating the skill almost entirely.

A yep. Not a cookbook for everybody. I, however have been ROTFLMAO.
Also, not a book for vegetarians. This is old school French Bistro, or Brasserie cooking, which means MEAT. But since I have a metabolism which causes me to start to consume myself from the inside out if not constantly stoked with heavy protein rich fatty foods, and my beloved is allergic to beans, eggs, and soy, this is perfect for our household. And since these are basically recipes with roots going back at least a few centuries, with these final forms going back to the cafe/bistro culture of the era of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, it is also recomended reading for those happy few, who like myself, are interested in creating a Steampunk culinary culture.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

CombatCommuter's Ongoing Maintenance Essays

John over at Combat Commuter has a new post up about liquid coolant and the proceedure for it's replacement. John used to be a motorcycle technician, and has a detailed yet easy going voice in his DIY scooter maintenance articles. Though none of the scooters in our stable are liquid cooled, I highly recommend this tutorial for those of you with more modern scoots or motorcycles.

I have attempted to go a long time without changing my coolant in the past and paid for it with a premature water pump change. Water pumps on cars are relatively easy. Motorcycles and scoots can be involved. Trust me, just change your coolant every 4 years, or have it done!
Because I am a bit of an environmentalist, and because I like quality products, I bought some Engine Ice, made by Cycle Logic. It is a propylene glycol formula, non-toxic.
I believe in non-toxic coolants, as I had a beautiful grey/black brindle Whippet who died from drinking coolant my father had just drained from his truck. That's not to say this coolant couldn't kill an animal, it would just take alot more than a few sips.
This brand is also produced using de-ionized water, supposed to reduce scaling and deposit build-up.
Changing coolant is not difficult, but does require time and patience.

RIP Captain America

I'm sure all the comics fanboys are aware of this already, and judging by the press coverage I've seen online, probably just about everyone else, as well. Captain America has fallen to a sniper's bullet. The hero who once punched Hitler in the jaw, was frozen in an iceberg towards the end of WWII, only to be revived in the 1960's to join the ranks of the rest of Marvel Comics' contemporary heroes.

A lot of the reactions I've seen online have centered around, the lameness of Cap as a character, and the symbolism of this death, which again many commentators see as lame.

I've got a slightly different take on this.

While I never really followed Cap's title, I had a certain affection for him as a character, especially the aspect of him being a man-out-of-time. Here was a member of what Tom Brokaw would later call the "Greatest Generation," who while still in his prime is active in contemporary society. Reading about Cap was like being able to hang out with a version of my grandfather who was still a young man, and had super-powers to boot. He represented a more decent, hard-working, less cynical America to me.

I've ruminated before on what I see as the cultural symbolism of Captain America. In that post, I commented on the Marvel Comics Civil War series, the over-arching plot which ultimately led to Cap's demise. Some of the commentary I have seen recently on this series has included the sentiment that casting Cap as a dissenter in the super-hero registration act saga was not true to his character. I must, respectfully, disagree with this view.

Because, as I said earlier, Captain America, while embodying the idealistic patriotism of the Greatest generation, was unencumbered by the cyncism and bitterness that can come with age. This paradox was part of his appeal. Just because he was the uber-patriot, and a government employee, didn't mean he was a government stooge. For instance the role he plays in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's classic Daredevil storyline Born Again, is more akin to Fox Mulder than Ollie North. You could say that while the government employed Steve Rogers, Captain America's true alliegance was to the American Dream. And ultimately, it was this interior conflict which indirectly killed him.

One of my favorite Captain America tales, was not an official part of the Marvel Comics canon. It was a "What if" story, from the series of the same name (issue #44), entitled "What if Captain America were revived today?" The link here is to a great essay on this issue that was published the day before the 2006 election. In this story, Cap is not revived until the mid-80's. In the mean time a Red-baiting imposter Cap from 1950s has been revived earlier, and has been used by a fascist conspiracy to turn America into a neo-fascist nightmare. The image above is a scan from that issue.
So the Dragon, for one, mourns the loss of our greatest fictional patriot. I agree with the reactions of Cap's creator Joe Simon, "We really need him now," and long time Cap writer Stan Lee, "He was the ultimate patriot, and I imagine we could use all the patriots we can get today."
Twenty-one shots for you, my friend. Three planes fly overhead, in a four plane formation. And one bugle blows "Taps."

"Well, I say America is nothing! Without its ideals--its commitment to the freedom of all men, America is a piece of trash! I fought Adolf Hitler not because America was great, but because it was fragile! I knew that Liberty could as easily be snuffed out here as in Nazi Germany! As a people, we were no different from them!
When I returned, I say that you nearly DID turn America into nothing! And the only reason you're not LESS than nothing-- is that it's still possible for you too bring freedom back to America!"
Captain America, 1941-2007

Friday, March 09, 2007

Rudy Rucker's Transrealist Manifesto

(Warning: the above link is to a PDF document, not an HTML page)

I think I may have mentioned before that "Rudeboy" Rucker is my favorite underrated author. This manifesto of his is old news by many folks reckoning, but I just came across it, and it illuminates for me, much of what I love about his writing, and some of my own opinions about crafting a creative work which has versimmilitude and does not feel contrived.

The Transrealist artist cannot predict the finished form of his or her work. The Transrealist novel grows organically, like life itself. The author can only choose characters and setting, introduce this or that particular fantastic element, and aim for certain key scenes. Ideally, a Transrealist novel is written in oscurity, and without an outline. If the author knows precisely how his or her book will develop, then the reader will divine this. A predictable book is of no interest. Nevertheless, the book must be coherent. Granted, life does not often make sense. But people will not read a book which has no plot.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Steampunk Music

No, this isn't a post about Vernian Process or Abney Park (though I hope to do be doing something on Vernian Process soon, and there is a nice interview with Abney Park in the first issue of Steampunk Magazine.)

No, this post is about a strange of link our resident expert of the strange, Iain de Sane, sent me.

Yes, friends and neighbors, this is about the Stroh Violin, seen above. This odd duck of a stringed instrument, (or chimeric combination of strings and brass) was patented in 1899 by Johannes Matthias Augustus Stroh. Apparently the recording equipment of the time did not pickup the notes of a violin well. The Stroh Violin compensates for this by being much louder, through using a metal horn which is similar in appearance to a gramaphone speaker, as a resonator instead of the traditional wooden sound box. Advances in microphone technology in 20's pretty much did away with them, though that wacky old Tom Waites has been known to use one in his recordings. The sound while louder, is more metallic and lacks the warm depth of tone which comes from wooden violins. You can hear some samples here. has a model with an aluminum bell for $405 USD and a brass model for $445.
Readers across the pond may wish to order from the German site Phonofiddle who offer two similar models for 360 Euro and 400 Euro, respectively.
Could be just the thing for entertaining folks in the cavernous common room during a transatlantic Zepplin cruise...


In my post awhile back, US Secretary of Transportation is a Biker, I mistakenly reported that Secretary Peters advocates making helmets mandatory in all 50 states. Well I recently recieved the below email, which clears up the matter:

Just for clarification purposes...
In your post on February 19, 2007 titled "U.S. Secretary of Transportation is a Biker," you stated that Secretary Peters advocates for making helmets mandatory in all 50 states. This is not correct.

Secretary Peters does not advocate making helmets mandatory. She believes that riders should make the right choice to wear a helmet, but that the federal government should not be in the position of mandating helmet use. In addition, Secretary Peters personally wears a helmet every time she rides and refuses to ride with anyone who is not wearing one.

Thank you.

Jennifer Hing

DOT Public Affairs
Office of the Secretary

Sorry for the misinformation, friends.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

History of Honda

Just ran across this rather indepth (for a blog post) history of Honda Motors. It is interesting to note that Honda had similar beginnings to Vespa, turning surplus wartime motors into a solution to peacetime transportation shortages. The Honda A-type, described below, was more a moped than a motorcycle or scooter. But boy-oh-boy was it pretty, in a Dieselpunk sort of way.

Honda's first motorcycle was born out of necessity in immediate post World War II Japan, where public transportation was desperately overcrowded and gasoline severely restricted.

Looking for a solution to his, and thousands of others', personal transport problems, Honda came across a job lot of 500 war surplus two-stroke motors designed to power electric generators; nobody else wanted them so Honda picked them up cheap.

His aim was to adapt them for attachment to push-bikes and, by October 1946, his small factory in Hamamatsu was making complete, makeshift motor bikes using proprietary cycle frames. Because gasoline was in short supply, Honda adapted his motors to run on turpentine, a fuel that he himself distilled from pine trees and sold throughout Japan. Turpentine (or gas thinned out with turpentine) was not the best thing for powering motorbikes, and required a lot of strenuous pedaling to warm the engine up enough before you could get going.


In November 1947, the 1/2 horsepower A-Type Honda was being manufactured and sold as a complete motorbike. Because the motorbike gave off a lot of smoke and a stench of turpentine it was known as the "Chimney".

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Steampunk Community

I haven't been posting as much as usual, because I have been spending an inordinate amount of time on the new Steampunk Forum. I have been wary of cross-posting from the forum, because I am really begining to enjoy the company of the artists, mechanics, tinkers, tailors, and tinkers there. I would hate for them to think I was just there to siphon links... plus, I borrow or share links from Brass Goggles enough, as it is.

Now don't get me wrong, there are other, older steampunk online communities. I've glanced over some of these, but the new one served up by Brass Goggles and the Aether Emporium was just the right approach at the right time, as far as I'm concerned. The timing was genius in fact, almost directly coinciding with Jake Von Slatt's web documentation of his steampunk keyboard project. This project dominated the aethernet over the last week, being linked and noticed, all over the place. Indeed google blog searches for "steampunk" last week could turn up pages of posts just to that keyboard.

A while back I read the wikipedia entry on Steampunk and it implied that some folks were interested in a steampunk lifestyle, or subculture. This got me thinking at the time, and perhaps made me more open to all the steampunk links I have posted since then.

Well folks I'm here to tell ya, there is something interesting going on over at the Steampunk forum. Though we might prefer it if you refered to it as Steampunk culture or community, rather than Steampunk subculture. After all, it is quite an international group of gentlepeople who gather there to discuss tinkering, steampower, airships, movies, games, and of course goggles.

Hanging out in the forum is like being in a technophilic salon. Discuss literature with engineers. Or airships with Muscians. Or both at the same time.

There is an old Indian story about Coyote. It seems Crow was upset with Coyote, for some past slight. So Crow snatches Coyote while he sleeping. He carries him way out into the desert, and plops him right in an endless sea of sand.
Coyote awakes and in confronted by nothing but sand, between him and the horizon. He travels for days before he finds a small puddle, a small spring. He rests there, but there is no food. Eventually, maddened by hunger, Coyote is forced to backtrack, and consume his own scat. He of course, returns to the spring. Here new scat is made of the old, and seeds which were contained in the old, are deposited near the spring, and watered by Coyote's liquid wastes.
Soon Coyote not only has fresh water, but fresh vegetables as well.
The next time he sees Crow, he is languidly enjoying his new oasis.

The moral of the story is, sometimes we must go back for what we have left behind, we must examine our own leavings, for those things of value which we might have overlooked.

I see a lot of this in the steampunk community. It seems there have been a lot of folks in the last few years who have independantly been persuing Steampunk themed projects. A lot of people who were inspired by just the idea of the term "Steampunk," as well as Science Fiction stories, role playing and video games, tv and movies, and just a generally apreciation of antique tech. Gathering a lot of these folks together, as well as people who are just becoming aware of the aesthetic due to a surge in aethernet coverage, is inspiring, to say the least.

Another example of the emergent steampunk culture is Steampunk Magazine, whose motto is "Putting the Punk back into Steampunk." This motto represents a perceived factionalization in the Steampunk community between Victorian reenactors, and anarchistic DIY tinkers. Like any polar dichotomy, the reality it describes is actually much more a greyscale, if not technicolor in origin. Still, like most incendiary Punk rants, I enjoy much of the Steampunk magazines editorial voice. I enjoy a little DIY self-sufficiency with my Steampunk. Though I do hope that in the future the mag will be more inclusive of all members of steampunk fandom.

The wonderful Jake Von Slatt uses a signature line on the forum of, "The industrial revolution... this time it's personal." I just love that sentiment.

What will Steampunk become? Fandom like the Trekkie and Anime communities? Some strange reactment society, somewhere between the SCA and LARPs? An actual culture as well as an aesthetic, manifesting into reality strange and arcane artifacts, ala Borges' Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius?

I don't know, but I can't wait to see.

Life imitates Alex Grey

This is gorgeous!