Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Raping the environment (again)

I live in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This is where I grew up. For most of my life I have lived amongst the ruins of the great industry that fueled much of this nation's expansion and provided for its energy needs in the 19th and 20th centuries: anthracite coal mining. Culm banks - piles of shale, slate, low-grade coal, and other mine tailings - once dotted the landscape everywhere, and while some of these are being removed to have their coal extracted, many still remain.

Culm banks between Nanticoke and Honey Pot, Pennsylvania
Water that flows through abandoned mines becomes acidic and leaches out traces of iron, sulfur, and other contaminants, developing a cheerful orange-brown color and a stench like an open sewer.

Contaminants scar the land along the Nanticoke Creek, deposited when the creek overflows its banks after heavy rains. This is less than a quarter mile from the Nanticoke Little League field. Note the cheerfully green water in the "stripping pit" in the lower right.

Solomon's Creek, also known as "The Shit Crick" for its color and odor. Fun fact: my friends and I almost landed in that creek upside-down one icy Sunday afternoon back in 1992 or 1993.

A large complex of culm banks, about half a mile wide, just off Route 29 in Hanover Township. Note the contaminated water at the bottom center and the group of houses to the left of center. Part of the Hanover Mall is visible at the top.

I've lived with this stuff for as long as I've lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Everyone here has, at least everyone in coal mining territory. We know a little bit about the damage unrestrained greed can do to the environment. We know what happens when you let an industry do its thing without restriction or meaningful oversight.

So when we tell you that the systems and methods being used to extract natural gas deposits from the Marcellus Shale are a bad idea, you damned well better listen. Because we know what we're talking about. And we know what the consequences will be.

Mark Cour at Wilkes-Barre Online (and later Circumlocution for Dummies) has been talking about this for a very long time, since well before most residents of these parts had even heard of the process. See what he wrote about two-thirds of the way down on "Frickin' fracking?" from July of 2008, and his interview with clean-water enthusiast Kayak Dude about halfway down on this entry from January of 2009. Mark also links to a helpful post that explains what fracking is.

Kayak Dude - also known as Don Williams - was all over this back when the rest of us, if questioned, might have identified Marcellus Shale as the heavy in Pulp Fiction. Now that the rest of us have heard a little more about it, and possibly read or heard news reports of problems with gas extraction. Don's still on it. Check out his blog, The Susquehanna River Sentinel. (Unfortunately, his blog is not structured for direct links to specific posts, so you will have to step through using the "Next" button at the bottom to find relevant entries. However, as long as natural gas extraction continues to be an environmental threat, and continues to damage freshwater resources, you won't have to look very long.  UPDATE 3/29/2012: A while back Don switched to a different platform that allows easier access to individual posts. His new site is at

Today Gort from Gort42 posted a link-heavy blog entry that included an open letter from Don on the issues associated with natural gas extraction. You should read the whole entry, the letter, and the linked articles as well.

Here in coal country, we've been through this sort of thing before. We know what can come of it. And we know that problems will linger long after the corporate entities that caused them have moved on.

Coal mining in this area ended with the Knox Mine Disaster on January 22, 1959. That was more than fifty years ago. We still haven't healed the scars or repaired the damage. How long will it take to overcome the damage caused by irresponsible and environmentally destructive natural gas extraction processes?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two thousand and some

I realized the other day that I had published my two thousandth blog post some time ago. But which post was it? According to my Blogger Dashboard, "Masterpiece" was published post #2024. So, going to my list of published posts and counting backwards - and then forwards, and then backwards again, because I was up all night and am very tired and am having a hard time with sophisticated mental tasks like "counting"* - I determined that post #2000 was "Another Monkey as a Cloud." Odd that this milestone post should actually be a post about my own blog!

And yet it moves. To infinity, and beyond!

*For a while I thought this was post 2000. Turns out it's actually post 2001. Or 1999. Something.

Monday, September 28, 2009


The winner has been announced for NPR's latest Three-Minute Fiction contest. It wasn't me. Here's my submission, with an afterword.

The nurse left work at five o'clock. It had been a long night, and he was glad to be done with it.

Jacob Figby had reached the pinnacle of his creative career the previous evening with the debut of his Seventh Symphony. The morning's headlines would tell of his glorious achievement, the capstone of the great composer's life. They would also tell how, six hours after the curtain fell, surrounded by family and friends, Jacob Figby had killed himself at his reception.

Never to grow old, never to become decrepit. Suicide had once been the domain of the depressed and the despairing. Death would lock a life into its lowest, darkest moment, a final failure that could never be redeemed.

But that was long ago. Now the fashion was to die only after achieving the masterpiece of one's life's work. Die too soon and you have left great works undone. Wait too long and you spend your days trying to match past accomplishments. Old age was for failures who became burdens on society.

Jacob Figby had entered into immortality by dying in the afterglow of his greatest creative triumph. But these after-parties tended to run late, and it was not permitted for the attending nurse to leave before the guest of honor's body had been removed. Then there was the paperwork, the forms in triplicate, the official documentation for the disposition of Figby's assets to his heirs. By the time it was all done, the first hint of dawn was showing red in the Eastern sky.

At least the trains weren't too crowded for the ride home.

The nurse climbed the ladder to the coffin-sized bunk that served as his apartment. He looked out across the city with its teeming millions, all struggling and striving to achieve their life's work. Where will I be assigned tonight?, he wondered. And when will I get to create my masterpiece?

He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. When will it finally be my turn to die?

I tried to play around with assumptions in this story. The words "nurse," "work," and "five o'clock" all carry with them unconscious assumptions: all nurses are women (just as all doctors are men); nurses work at hospitals: five o'clock is in the afternoon. Of course these are all nonsense, but I have to wonder how many of the submitted stories involved female nurses leaving hospitals in the late afternoon.

Long-time readers may recognize the setting of this story from
a post I did in April of 2008. This is how I described the scenario for a dystopian tale:

Scenario 2: A society where suicide is not simply encouraged, it is expected. You create your masterpiece and then you die at the peak of your glory, never to become a burden, never to have your light dim. But choose to die too soon and you have wasted your talent; wait too long and you are pressured to achieve more, and more, always trying to reascend to the pinnacle of your life's work - so that you may then die without shame.

I originally envisioned this as a story about someone who has missed the right moment, and has spent the years since in a frantic struggle to match and exceed his past accomplishments. But I don't think I have the ability to squash that story into this format - at least, not in the brief time I had to actually write and submit the story.

Oh, well. Better luck next time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The nurse left work at five o'clock...

NPR is holding a contest called "Three Minute Fiction." In the current version of the contest listeners were challenged to come up with a short story that begins with the words "The nurse left work at five o'clock." The winner will be selected shortly. I submitted a story, one which was based on a theme I suggested some time ago. I'm pretty sure my story isn't in the running, but in any case I'll hold off on presenting it until the winner is announced.

On yesterday's All Things Considered there was a story about "The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, an online serial story written by a posse of children's authors. " I have heard of the Exquisite Corpse collective writing technique, in which a series of writers build upon a previous writer's contribution until a complete story is created, one sentence at a time. I learned about the Exquisite Corpse technique (which started out as a parlor game) a few years ago from the Wikipedia entry while trying to find out more about the journal of the same name. It has occurred to me that this could be an interesting writing exercise to do with the many, many writers I know online. Maybe someday I'll get around to inviting people to join in on this. If you think this sounds interesting, feel free to get the ball rolling yourself!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bloomsburg Fair

The Bloomsburg Fair began...ummm, yesterday. I was going to say "today", but my sense of what day it is gets all screwed up with this shift. Not that it matters most of the time; either it's a work day or not a work day. Today is a work day.

(Hmmmm. I seem to have found a bug on Blogger. The "search blog" function only searches back so far, and no farther. The earliest reference it finds to "Bloomsburg" is January 2008, though I know I did posts on the fair earlier than that. This isn't the first time I've spotted this.)

The Fair runs through next Saturday. But at the moment, the only days I'm not scheduled to work between now and then are Wednesday and Thursday Tuesday and Wednesday* - and I have to mow two lawns then, and I'm scheduled for a blood donation on Thursday Wednesday*, and I may get tapped for a third day of overtime for one of those two days.

We'll see how things go.

*See sentence #2.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Glorious Dawn (Carl Sagan featuring Stephen Hawking)

Wow. There are folks out there showing that Autotune can be used for good as well as evil. This is from YouTube user melodysheep. Check out all of melodysheep's stuff at colorpulse music.

If you've never seen Carl Sagan's Cosmos, you should. Even after nearly 30 years it is still stirring and inspiring.

Thanks to Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy.

Fading fast

Better head for bed soon. Just wanted to mention that it looks like the current 6x2 schedule is about to become a 7x1 schedule.

So much for the Bloomsburg Fair.

I miss you guys. Someday I'll be back, all the way back.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's going to take more than just a PSA

I had my doubts when I saw the British texting-while-driving PSA. Too long, I thought. Too mawkish, too theatrical. Overdone and tedious. Will the kids even listen?

Some did, I think. One of my younger Facebook friends posted the PSA to her page, along with her reaction. Her friends chimed in with similar reactions. The PSA had struck a chord with them. Would it do the same with other people in the same age group?

Well, no. Not all of them. Going through the comments to the linked video, it's obvious that some kids have fairly predictable reactions: Those sorts of things happen because people are stupid and don't know how to multi-task. Doesn't apply to me. I'm smart and I'm a good multi-tasker. I can text and drive at the same time. Don't worry about it.

It's scarier to listen to the teen drivers interviewed in this piece from yesterday's All Things Considered.

But the bottom line is -are Americans, especially teens, ready to give up driving distractions? Not these teens.

Ms. BRITTANY LUI: Heck, no.

Ms. PREE TAUTELLI: I would break here right then, heck no. I mean, we would not even go near that. We don't need that.

BRUNDIN: It's two o'clock, school's out and Pree Tautelli and Brittany Lui and friends are piling into a Mini Cooper in Salt Lake City. They didn't like the thought that their parents would have a device in their car to block calls and texts.

Ms. TAUTELLI: I love texting and driving. It's the in thing.
Are these kids the norm? Or just idiots? Or is there perhaps considerable overlap between the two groups?

Texting while driving is enormously dangerous. It involves far more focusing of awareness than most other distractions. Why do kids want to do it, feel the need to do it? Maybe it's the forbidden fruit thing, or it's a way of being rebellious. Maybe it's the thrill of living dangerously, of knowing that you're getting away with doing something that could easily kill you. Maybe it's a sense of having superior skills, being better at doing stuff than the poor dumbasses who can't text and drive at the same time.

I don't know what the solution is here. My kneejerk reaction is to suggest Draconian punishments - say, suspension of license until age 21 for a first offense - but I doubt such a thing would fly. How about giving cell-phone bill-payers the ability to turn selected services on and off at selected times? Most kids probably aren't paying for their own cell phones, but are sponging off their parents. So why not allow parents to decide which services they want their kids to have access to? (There's probably a very big financial "why not" in the minds of the telecoms; kids racking up text messages in excess of their monthly allotments are likely a major source of income for these companies. )

Maybe texting is just a passing fad, something that will be gone with raccoon coats and hula hoops and 23-skiddoo and hunkering and telephone booth stuffing, something that will be supplanted by future technological developments and eventually wind up looking as cool as the programming on a Commodore Vic-20. Maybe not. Maybe it will take something really major to change kids' minds. I don't know.

In any event, I think it will take a lot more than a PSA.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back to work

The money is nice, but I would love to have time to do more than just mow my lawn and my mom's lawn. I'm not really contributing to any sort of economic recovery if I'm not participating in the economy.

Odds are, in a few months I'll have plenty of time but won't have the money to do anything.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Remember the REAL victims

You've probably already seen this...but if not, check it out!

Too true.

There's a hell of a lot of money being spent to protect the status quo in health care. Repugs are accusing the Democrats of trying to "rush through" health care reform - which brings up the question: WHAT THE HELL HAVE THEY BEEN DOING SINCE THEY REJECTED THE CLINTON PROPOSAL? Surely in all that time they've come up with one or two ideas. (Actually, maybe the current health care system we have IS their best idea.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tired, but understandably so

Worked all night last night, my sixth twelve-hour night in a row. Now I'm off until Wednesday night.

I came home by way of a supermarket that will be closing by year's end. It's a locally-owned place, and once was part of a small local chain. Now it's the only one left. I stopped going there about five years ago, after they got rid of their magazine section. (At the time I bought most of my magazines on grocery shopping trips, and if I had to go to another supermarket to complete my shopping list, I figured I was probably better off just going to the other place first)

Came home. Fed the cats, did some stuff. Went online for awhile. Maybe more than a while. Settled into a state of torpor, a waking sleep state. Eventually decided to get a start on mowing the lawn. Ended up mowing the entire lawn. So now that's one thing I don't have to do tomorrow.

As of now I've been up more than thirty-one hours. I think I'll be going to bed soon.

In the meantime, here's a quick survey from the Pew Research Center to test your knowledge of general - headline-level - science. If you take it, I'd be interested in knowing how well you did, and which questions gave you trouble.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pearl Jam, Girl Scouts, Piracy, and Ironic Incompetence

Pearl Jam has a new album out. Backspacer is available today, semi-exclusively at one major retail outlet and hundreds of independent record shops, including locally in Northeastern PA at the Gallery of Sound.

Backspacer was produced and is being distributed independently of any major music label, as is described in this report from All Things Considered. I appreciate the fight that Pearl Jam is putting up against the music industry, where major corporations routinely exploit, bleed dry, and toss aside musical acts as a matter of everyday business, and I hope that their new album sells as well as it would have if they were still associated with their former label. As soon as I get some time off, Ill pick one up.

I used to work in the music industry. (I used to work in a lot of industries for a lot of different companies, all while staying in the same place. Life is strange.) So I can also appreciate the industry's constant battle against music piracy and illegal downloading. Which is why I was a little surprised this morning when I heard a spot for, a project of the Girl Scouts, in which two girls sing a song to the tune of "Miss Mary Mack" in which they sing the praises of technology - especially technology that allows you to download music off of the Internet. Now, I'm not sure if they were talking about the joys of illegal bittorrents or the wonders of Apple's iTunes store, which apparently has allowed people to walk around with $150 iPods loaded with $10,000 worth of songs downloaded a dollar at a time. (How does that work, anyway?)

I wanted to find the actual ad itself so you could hear what I'm talking about. I haven't found it yet, but I did find a page on the that has links to all of the ads that are currently running. (Apparently this campaign has been going on for five years now.) Go to that page and try clicking on them.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Is it more sad or amusing that the ad links on the Girls Go Tech website don't work? I wonder how much else on that website isn't working. Maybe they need a team of Girl Scouts to swoop in and fix the site?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Joe Wilson: Douche

Well, Joe Wilson didn't pull a Budd Dwyer at his little press conference yesterday. Apparently he used the national platform he was given by CNN and other media outlets to do a bit of grandstanding, from what I'm reading. Typical Repugnicant. He shouts at the President during an address to a joint session of Congress, and then tries to claim victimhood. Please send money to ease the pain.

I'll have more to say in a planned post, so I'll hold back for now. Instead, please enjoy these cartoons of this jackass. (Note the expressions of shock and surprise on the faces of Wilson's fellow Repugs at his spontaneous outburst. ...oh, wait, they don't look surprised at all. Almost as if they knew that he was planning to do this in an attempt to derail Obama's address and turn the national spotlight on himself. Well I guess that makes him a liar, doesn't it?)

These may be a bit hard to read, so click through for larger sizes. (Facebook users: you may need to click through to the original post to get these full-sized. And shouldn't you be reading all this on Another Monkey, anyway?) The original blank is courtesy of Dr. Isis.

Feel free to make your own captions!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Obama at last

Nearly two weeks after it was originally given, my nephews will finally be allowed to see President Obama's address to the children of America today. As the President is telling kids to work hard and stay in school, I wonder how many parents will have their kids stay home and miss a full day of school because of their own political motives?

I'd love to see a rundown of what the school districts that chose to display blatant disrespect for the democratically elected leader of the United States of America have done as a follow-up. How many of them will never get around to showing it?

Prior to this speech I predicted that the children of brainwashed right-wing partisans would engage is disruptive actions and shout-downs during the address. Little did I suspect that it would be an adult, and an elected Representative of the state of South Carolina, acting up while the President was speaking.

This will probably get its own post someday, but just be aware: not everything is as it seems. Not everything has the most obvious motive. All this Sturm und Drang in response to Obama's speech, or the protests against health care reform, have very little to do with Obama's speech or health care reform - and far more to do with the Republicans desperately wanting to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats in the November's elections. Keep that in mind as you watch events unfold this next month-and-a-half.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Too tired to write

I am going to bed soon. I am exhausted - and this is only day one of my four-day rotation. Day two for me, with overtime.

I miss my friends. I miss being able to talk with them, and visit them, and even chat online. Now my off-time is taken up by kittens, yard work, and not much else. Any free hours are strictly timed. I miss having the luxury of time. As soon as I have it again I will be trying to make up for everything I'm neglecting now.

Last year whenever I was laid off I felt ashamed, inadequate, unwanted and unneeded. Now, when the time comes again, I will face the prospect with open arms, and revel in the free time.

This overtime helps to cushion the impact of being laid off again eventually. My financial situation in general much better than it was last year, when I was earning paychecks based on a 40-hour week. Now I'm typically putting in five twelve-hours days (well, nights) which translate into 70 hours of pay each week - plus a shift differential for being on nights. The money is paying the bills now, with a promise of more money in the inevitable unemployment checks.

Whatever. I am very tired. Time for bed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Outliers and Joe Wilson

Once again I'm too tired from having worked all night to do an actual piece, not even the one I have planned and already written, most of all.

For a truly condensed version, here's a heavily-edited version of a comment I left on another blog:
If I hadn't misplaced my copy of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers for a few weeks after I got it, I wouldn't just have read the chapter called "Harlan, Kentucky" today. I think the culturally-determined behavior Gladwell describes there may help to explain WIlson's allegedly spontaneous outburst. Here's an excerpt:

In light of what Gladwell says here, I have changed my opinion of Joe Wilson.

And another comment I've left in two places on Facebook:
Wilson called Obama out, challenged him in public in a no-lose situation. Malcom Gladwell has a chapter in "Outliers" on this behavior.

Unfortunately, the only appropriate response within the paradigm in which Wilson is operating would be for Obama to respond the way that Keyser Söze responded to the men who had attacked his family. Since that's not going to happen, Wilson wins. And the Repugnicants look even more Repugnant as a result.
Eventually you'll get to see the whole thing...maybe.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some dreams

I have a longform post that I spent a lot of time on yesterday, though it's still nowhere near complete. It's actually mostly assembled from comments I left on another site. By the time I write it it may be irrelevant.

Instead I'll write about some dreams I had last night.

I had two dreams shortly after I went to bed. I know this because I woke up about two hours after I had started sleeping. Waking up during a dream-state is a prerequisite for remembering the dream, I believe.

I don't remember the first one. I had tried to force myself to remember both of these dreams, but one has slipped away. The other is going fast.

I don't remember all the details, or the dream-reasoning behind it. It involved the ruins of Skatarama, which were now an elaborate complex of decaying buildings rather than just the wreckage of a garment factory that had been turned into a bowling alley and skating rink. It also involved girls - several of them, in their twenties, who were apparently sociologists studying something. Possibly me. I don't know. But I remember in the end, two of them had lingered longer than the others, who had already left town, and I insisted on giving them my contact information. But the first time I tried it was with a dull pencil on cheap paper, and I wrote in a large, sprawling hand, and wrote far too much information that was impossible to read. Next I grabbed what turned out to be a gel pen, only this left a line that looked more like cake icing or gel toothpaste - and promised to smear once I handed them the paper. As they waited with increasing impatience, one of them insisted that they leave right away. I was finally able to jot down my e-mail address and blog address in ink on paper.

I just remembered the other dream from this period. It involved me on a bicycle. I had started out from Olyphant, where I work, and I was headed for upstate New York in the Catskills, where a friend's family has a lake house. But I got seriously lost and ended up in Baltimore, completely in the other direction and about twice as far away. I got a map and got my bearings and decided to set out again, but this time by car. My car happened to be in Baltimore. Only it wouldn't turn over. So I decided to roll it down a hill to try to catch it in gear. Only after I started downhill did I remember that this was an automatic transmission vehicle, and the "start it by catching it in gear while rolling downhill" trick wouldn't work. Also, the brakes wouldn't work without the engine running. I guess I should have stuck with the bicycle.

The third dream was hours later, before I woke up now. It involved zombies. Fun fact: I hate zombies. Zombie movies freak me out. In this dream I was hiding out in a complex of buildings that may have been my old high school. I was with at least one other person, and the landscape outside was infested with zombies. We concealed ourselves by stringing clotheslines across the rooms and hanging clothes on them to block the windows. At one point one of the zombies - a surprisingly articulate female standing just outside one of the very large windows - noted that she could see one of the shirts we had hung up moving, and speculated that there might be people inside. They were coming to find us. I hate zombies.

So. That's how I finished up my shortened off-days. Now, it's back to work for at least five nights.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Goodbye, Patrick

Patrick Swayze has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 57.

I had the privilege of working on a DVD project with Patrick and his amazing wife Lisa Niemi several years ago, in another job with the previous incarnation of my company. I never had the opportunity to meet them in person, but for several weeks I was in frequent contact with them regarding all of the details of their DVD.

Things did not go entirely smoothly. Some of the assets on their project required considerable massaging and polishing to get them into shape. In mid-project our company had one of its periodic reductions in force. One of the people working on correcting a problem with the assets, who had been in daily contact with Patrick and Lisa, was suddenly no longer with the company.

Patrick was not pleased. He called, angry, outraged, apparently ready to pull the project and take it somewhere else. How could we be so stupid, to get rid of someone so critical at such a time?

I was on that call. Several others explained to him that it wasn't our decision, that we were blindsided by this as much as he was, but we had back-up plans in place to ensure a seamless transition. That calmed him a bit.

"Patrick," I said, "sometimes it feels like somebody's playing 'Jenga' with us. See how many pieces they can pull out before we collapse entirely."

There was a pause. And then Patrick could be heard shouting to someone in the background. "Hey, Honey, he says it feels like somebody's playing 'Jenga' with them!" Then he laughed. And everything was back on track.

I made Patrick Swayze laugh once. That was one of my proudest achievements in that job.

Goodbye, Patrick.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Worked last night. Went shopping afterwards. Came home. Transferred some photos to CD. Went to church. Gave one of the CDs to a friend - it was of his band playing out last week. Went to the donuts and coffee social afterwards. Went grocery shopping with my mom.

Came home. Ate. Passed out for four hours.

Got up. Gradually pulled myself together. Hauled myself over to my house to mow the lawn.

And then the sun set.

Dammit, when did the sun start setting so early? I guess I've been spending so many evenings indoors at work lately, I haven't noticed the sun setting earlier and earlier. By 7:45 tonight it was too dark for me to even see what I was mowing. I only got about half the yard mowed, and none of the weed whacking.

So tomorrow I will have to mow the other half of my lawn, and all of my mom's lawn.

Tuesday night I go back to work for at least five nights.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fifth day

Working overtime tonight. A little unexpected - I had thought things were backing down, but it turns out we'll keep being busy for a while.

I'm also working overtime Tuesday. That was one I had been planning for. Then I'm back on schedule for Wednesday through Saturday.

Just scheduled some vacation time to take part in this year's Sideshow Gathering, November 6 - 8. I'm not actually supposed to be working the 7th or the 8th, but with the way overtime has been lately, if you want to be sure you're actually off on your days off, you need to take vacation time.

Just found out that one friend has suddenly vanished from Facebook - and everywhere else, it seems - and another one has unexpectedly joined up. Not sure what's going on in either case, but I'll try to find out what's happening.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Erasing the Towers

On September 11, 2001, the producers of Spider-Man realized they had a problem. The teaser trailer for their upcoming film - designed to ignite interest and create a buzz while not necessarily showing anything that would actually be contained in the finished product, which was scheduled to be released the following summer - prominently featured a web spun between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center served as a landmark and reference for New York City in countless movies and TV shows. Much like the Eiffel Tower for Paris or Mount Fuji for Japan (played up to ridiculous effect in Goldmember), the towers provided a shorthand way of establishing the location of a scene immediately.

When the towers fell, it suddenly seemed to be in extremely bad taste to keep their images in these establishing shots.

I disagreed with this decision. Any given image of the buildings also contains, hidden away, a record of the existence of their occupants. For anyone who worked in the towers, each image is a moment in their life. For anyone who lost a loved one on September 11, 2001 when the planes hit, when the fires burned, when the towers fell, each image is a souvenir of the time before. Who knows whose face might have been turned to the visible windows at the moment any given photograph or video was taken? Who knows what long-lost friend or loved one might be smiling and waving microscopically in those establishing shots?

But the decision was made, and down came the towers.

At least one movie bucked this trend. Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002) ended with a sequence of images showing the development of the New York City skyline from 1863 through modern times. It ends with a shot that includes the World Trade Center. To remove the towers to reflect the events of September 11, 2001 would be at once superfluous and incomplete: any person watching the film could have access to the information that the towers were destroyed, but from his viewpoint in 2002 Scorsese had no way of knowing what would come next* - that information can be supplied by the viewer, current for whenever they are watching the movie.

The towers live on, in photographs and movies and TV shows. Each time you see them, try to think about all those people who were working in those towers, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. And think about all those who died in those towers on September 11, 2001.

Never forget.

*Indeed, from my viewpoint in September 2009 it is unclear what, if anything, will be going on the spot once occupied by the World Trade Center, and when it might be being built.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bits and pieces

Each new rotation it's like I'm just coming into the world for the first time, at least as far as squeezing in an update goes.

I've got lots of ideas floating around, but insufficient time to write them down - in part because they are long and involved, in part because I just spent the last hour and a half taking out garbage, feeding the cats, making an excellent omelette (with dehydrated onions, sesame seeds, ham, and three types of cheese), eating the excellent omelette, and catching up on friends' posts on their blogs and Facebook. So now I am too tired to write down any of the stuff I was thinking about all last night.

"No one should die because they do not have health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick." That's the health care reform manual meme that's been kicking around Facebook the past few days. But I'd like to expand it with a few real-life examples from my life and the lives of family and friends.

Forgiveness. Under what circumstances do you find it impossible to forgive something? Under what circumstances is it appropriate not to forgive?

The Lunatic Fringe of the Republican Party: vocal minority, the new majority, or useful idiots providing a smokescreen and helping to sway the soft-minded? (And what sort of precedent has Joe "You lie!" Wilson set? )

Complex Actions: A new web comic by the husband of a friend. If you're a fan of World of Warcraft or other fantasy MMORPGs, you may find this interesting. If you have no idea what that last sentence meant, you might want to check it out anyway.

...aaand I'm sure there were a few other ideas. But I have to go to bed now.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I have a friend who's...well, it would trivialize it to say she's in a bit of a mood. She's got reasons, damned good reasons, for feeling the way she does right now. I don't know if there's anything I can do to help her, but I do know she's not in a receptive mood right now. I miss - well, that's just being selfish. I want her to get back to where she needs to be, not necessarily where I want her to be.

Almost the same goes for another friend who has to find her way back into this world. I'd like things back the way they were before, but that would be very destructive for her.

I had a dream about another friend a week or so ago. This was a friend I knew from about 1999 through 2003, but the dream was set, as far as I can gather, in 1986. College. My sophomore year. I've realized whose apartment it was set in, and all the feelings I associated with the person who lived there.

1986 was a long time ago. Nearly a quarter of a century. Just two years after the first time I had fallen completely, insanely in love. Then, as now, as always, I was stumbling through life, trying to figure things out as I went along. In 1986 the future branched out before me in an infinite number of pathways. In 2009 the same thing is true. But in the peculiar way of the mathematics of infinity, the infinite number of pathways available in 2009 is much, much smaller than the infinite number of pathways available in 1986.

I press my shoulder against the machinery of the universe, trying to nudge things back into a configuration I am more comfortable with. Some things I can change. Some things I cannot.

It pains me to see friends in pain. It is worse to see them standing on a precipice. Will they step back to safety? Or forward into the unknown? I don't know.

I am tired. First night back at work after four days off. Now I will sleep. Maybe I'll have more dreams. Maybe they'll remind me again of who I once was, and who I am now, and what I can be, and where we can all go.

Update, 9/15/09: I think Ryan North is now cribbing Dinosaur Comics ideas from my site - specifically, the fourth paragraph in this entry! That, or we think along the same lines. Both good!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Back to work, if I remember how

For the first time in what seems like forever, I have had four days off in a row.

It hasn't really been that long. I just took several days off at the beginning of the month to go to a friend's wedding, and depending on how the overtime situation worked that way, that may have added up to four consecutive days off. But going to a wedding hardly counts as a day off. Wedding usually make for long days and nights, and when you factor in the four total hours of travel, it was a pretty full day.

I wasn't really expecting four days off this time. I had planned to put in for one day of overtime but circumstances demanded that I put in for two, lest I be mandated to work on Sunday, when I was planning on having a birthday celebration for my mom. As the overtime wheel rolled, I was at the bottom of the roster for Friday, and near the bottom Saturday, and my overtime was cancelled both days.

I was grateful for the time off. Though the money would have been nice, too.

So now I start back to work, Tuesday through Friday. I will put in for Saturday so I might get in sixty hours for a seventy hour paycheck. And I will put in for the following Tuesday for the same reason. And the Tuesday and Wednesday after that, and the Monday after that, and... well, we'll see how things go.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Bishop Martino

Joseph Martino, the abrasive, divisive, and controversial Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, has stepped down from his position - and retired at the age of 63, twelve years before the mandatory retirement age.

I've been pretty clear on my feelings about this bishop in the past. An excellent timeline of the controversial events during the bishop's six-year reign at the Diocese can be found here. A full archive of Citizens' Voice articles about Bishop Martino can be found here. And of course, the always-take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt Wikipedia entry on Joseph Martino can be found here.

This weekend an article appeared that analyzed the events that led to the bishop's resignation. It's an excellent analysis. Some of the most chilling comments come from Reverend Patrick Sullivan, formerly of the Diocese and now based out of Boston. I reprinted an open letter from Father Sullivan to Bishop Martino in February 2008, and one of his other sermons (he was on the rotating roster of assistant priests in Nanticoke for the past few years) was the basis for this post. From this most recent article:
The Rev. Patrick J. Sullivan, C.S.C., a longtime professor at King's College who is now the executive secretary and chaplain of the Labor Guild in the Archdiocese of Boston, once published a letter questioning the bishop's decision to de-recognize the Catholic teachers' union after his letters and phone calls to the bishop about the matter went unanswered.

It was significant, he said, because many priests felt they had to watch what they said to avoid censure by the bishop.

The Rev. Sullivan, who is also an expert on local ethnic history, would not participate earlier this year in a Sunday Times article about ethnic Catholic parishes. He said at the time he feared the bishop would take away his ability to say Mass if he was quoted in the piece.

"He had built up an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among laity and religious and priests, that depending upon the issue or how he read it, one could be suspended or not suspended,"
he said. "That was my fear at that time. I could be wrong on it, but that was not only my opinion, it was the opinion of other people."

For years I have had my own little prayer that I have said whenever I thought about Bishop Martino and the things he has done to the Diocese of Scranton - my diocese:
Lord, grant our Bishop wisdom, compassion, and understanding,
Or, failing that, please grant us a new Bishop with these qualities.
It remains to be seen how this prayer will be answered.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The ISS by moonlight?

I saw a UFO tonight.

I see a lot of UFO's, honestly. I live in the flight path of an airport, and along many other flight routes, and I constantly see these unidentified airplanes flying to somewhere from somewhere. I could look them up, I suppose, to find out what flights they were, what kind of planes they were, where they were coming from and where they were going. But that would take some effort, and I really can't be bothered.

This was different.

I was leaving the house to go to my car around 8:40 Saturday evening. I was headed out to see some friends play at a club, starting at 9:00. I was going to be late, but that wasn't unusual.

I stepped out of the garage and headed to my car, reflexively looking to the West to scan for planets low in the sky. There were none. But I saw a light coming up out of the northwest. It looked like a plane, but it was very bright and an unusual color - a sort of yellowish-orange.

It was bright enough that I thought it might be a helicopter with a spotlight. I strained to see running lights but saw nothing. I strained to hear rotors or engines but heard nothing.

My cell phone was in my car. My camera was around my neck. I had a tripod in one hand and a cooler with caffeinated sodas in the other. My keys were in one of my hands.

The light moved at a steady pace higher in the Western sky.

What to do? I hurried to the car and opened the door, threw in the tripod and cooler and grabbed the phone. I could use my camera to take pictures. I could use my camera to take a silent movie. I could use my cell phone to take pictures or a movie.

I thought I squeezed off a single photo with the camera while I dialed my mom with the other hand. "Go to the front door and look up in the sky!" I said.

I ran to the front sidewalk to continue to track the light. It did not speed up noticeably as it went through its highest point - with a satellite, this is the closest it gets to you, and it covers a lot more sky per unit of time than when it is farther away. But it quickly began to dim as it passed into the Southwest, and then faded away as it got further South. It was gone before my mom made it to the door.

OK. That's the way satellites disappear. So it was a satellite. But which one?

It was bright. One of the brightest things I've seen in the sky. Brighter than Jupiter or Saturn. Not quite as bright as Venus. Maybe as bright as when the moon rises yellowish-orange through a hazy sky. About the same color, too.

I looked it up on Heavens-Above. I thought I found a listing for the International Space Station that corresponded to what I had seen, though it was ten minutes later than the listed time. But it turned out I had the wrong day, and the track was on the wrong side of the sky.

I looked for passes of the ISS for Saturday, September 5. There were none. According to the site, there were or will be passes visible from Nanticoke on August 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, September 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15...but NOT September 5.

I decided there must be a glitch in Heavens-Above's calculation. So I double-checked with the ISS homepage.

Nothing listed for my area for September 5.

Now it's possible, just possible, that Heavens-Above and NASA are using the same program to calculate visibility of the ISS. And maybe they both have the same glitch for September 5. Maybe.

I checked other possibilities. Other satellites. Even Iridium flares. Nothing. Nothing in the right place, at the right time, with the right brightness.

So if it wasn't the International Space Station and it wasn't a known satellite,what did I see?

An airplane? Maybe. But why the bright orange light, visible both when it was approaching and departing, only to fade away exactly as a satellite would? And why no running lights, and no noise?

An unlisted satellite? Possibly. Heavens-Above doesn't list everything. But this would have to be very big to be so bright. How many large satellites are in orbit right now that would show up like that?

A meteor? I have seen large, bright, slow-moving meteors before. The one I saw in January of 1990 from Newark, Delaware looked like the light of an airplane - with a large, flaming tail. This thing didn't have a tail. I checked.

An asteroid? Perish the thought. For it to be so bright, it would have to have been very large and very close. Unless it was scraping the atmosphere, in which case it could have been somewhat smaller but terrifyingly close. Somebody other than me would have noticed that.

A weather balloon reflecting the light of Venus refracted through swamp gas? No.

A satellite illuminated by the Full Moon? Hmmmmm. It was opposite the Moon in my sky. I'd have to work through some stuff, and see where the moonlight terminator would be. (Great album title there. Better make a note of that.) That would explain why it wasn't listed, and even the color - sunlight reflected by the Moon, maybe refracted by the Earth's atmosphere, giving a sunset tinge to the illumination... Actually, that sounds incredibly reasonable.

It could even have been the ISS. As far as I know, only the ISS has enough surface area to light up like that. If I could find an orbital track for the ISS for that time period, and confirmed that it was to the West of Nanticoke, PA, moving from North to South at about 8:40 PM Eastern Time on September 5, that would clinch it.

OK. I think I've convinced myself. I just changed the title of this post from "So. What did I just see?" to "The ISS by moonlight?" If I'm right, this will be something to look for in the future!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Another Monkey as a Cloud

Just for the heck of it I added a "Label Cloud" to my site. This (in theory) represents each label (or tag, or category) in a font more-or-less proportional to its frequency. This proportion isn't exact; "Blogs and blogging", with 395 references, does not appear that much larger than "yarrrrddddd ", which has only one.

Judging by this cloud, Another Monkey most often deals with Blogs and blogging, Photos, Politics, Social Commentary, and Working. These have 395, 231, 255, 227, and 236 referenced posts, respectively.

TITLE REFERENCE: "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wordsworth.

Lunatic Fringe Ascendant

Extremists, a co-worker once told me, are the only legitimate voices in politics, because they are the only ones who care enough to get their messages across. That was back in 2004. How much more so in what was once the the Republican party?

I heard a description a week or so ago of the political evolution in Iran in the last thirty years. After the Revolution, the dominant party split into the Moderates and the Extremists. The Extremists became dominant, and quickly purged, exiled, imprisoned, and/or executed the Moderates. After a period of time, the Extremists split into the More Extreme and Less Extreme factions - with the More Extreme side doing to the Less Extreme side what they had together previously done to the Moderates. The process then repeated it self over and over, with the dominant party gradually becoming more and more extreme - until we have the situation in Iran we have today.

It's not exactly the same in the United States. But the vocal extremists on the right - the folks I (and others) have dubbed "Rupugnicants" - have decided that they have a new target for their extended two minutes hate: President Obama's planned address to the students of the United States.

If you're on Facebook, you really need to check out the comments on this poll. It's quite an eye-opener to see what kind of people you're sharing the planet with.

When the Dixie Chicks said at a concert that they were "ashamed" of President Bush, they were widely condemned by the "Right" for treasonously showing disrespect for the President. How much worse is THIS massive show of hatred, contempt, and disrespect?

And how can anyone declare this presentation "political"? How much more so than, say, the President's Physical Fitness Award? I was never in any danger of winning one in high school, but if I did I had no intention of acknowledging it, lest I be mistaken for a member of the Reagan Youth. When a teacher once - incorrectly - thought he heard me making a disparaging remark about Ronald Reagan, he threatened me with detention. Will the same sort of disciplinary standards apply now?

Douglas Adams said that predicting the future is a mug's game, but I'll go out on a limb and predict this: The children of the Brainwashed Dittoheads will engage in shout-downs and disruptions during the presentations, much as their parents have been doing in town hall meetings. And if there are any consequences or repercussions, their parents will declare that their children's Constitutional rights are being trampled upon.

What next from Operation Chaos?

UPDATE: From John Cole, Scranton Times-Tribune cartoonist:

Friday, September 04, 2009


I'm not working overtime tonight. This wasn't a huge surprise, as I was at the very bottom of a long list of people scheduled. Still, I am the only one not working, and the message for tonight mentions me specifically. (Normally it would list the people who are working overtime, but this way is more practical.)

So, today I will:
- get an oil change
- mow my lawn
- pay some bills
- sleep

Saturday night is another story. I'm not at the very bottom of that list, and tomorrow is the first Penn State football game of the season, so I wouldn't be surprised if there are call-offs. The extra money will be good, but the extra time today is also good.


I was able to rouse myself enough to get the car to the service station just after 10:00. I dropped off the key, confirmed that they had my number, and then walked across the street to my house, carrying the handle from a broken reel mower to replace the broken handle of the mower I have there. (It didn't fit, I later discovered. So the duct tape will have to hold a little longer.)

I went into the house, set down the handle, made my way to the bedroom, opened the windows to let the breeze blow through, crawled into bed, and fell asleep.

I woke up at 3:30 when my mom called. After I got off the phone I realized that the service station would be closing soon, and I'd better hurry over to settle my bill.

As I descended the steps from the front porch, I mused that I didn't recall parking my car in front of my house. But there it was.

The door to the service station was locked. The bays were all closed. It wasn't quite 4:00.

I ran into the owner coming out the back, dressed in street clothes. He had closed up early and parked my car in front of my house. (I slept through the phone call at 12:30 telling me it was ready.) He had already shut down the credit card machine, and I didn't have enough cash on me to cover the bill. He said not to worry about it, that I could pay on Tuesday, which is the next day that they're open.

I spent the next two hours mowing my lawn, which normally takes just an hour when it isn't massively overgrown. Plus I chewed the fat for a while with my neighbor, who told me stories about dealing with mosquitoes while fishing and the problems of quality control in Studebakers and Fords in the 1960's.

This evening I paid my bills, everything that's due through the end of the month, except for the ones that haven't arrived yet.

Life in a small town is sometimes very nice.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cryptids of the Susquehanna

Loren Coleman, one of the best-known and most-respected cryptozoologists, recently posted an entry on his Cryptomundo blog with a local twist: Ken Mauer of Herndon, PA, a licensed fishing guide, related the story of how he and others have observed something big moving in the waters of the Susquehanna.

Cryptomundo » Susquehanna’s Mystery Thing

The original of this story can be found here:

The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA - Mystery of the ‘thing’ deepens

One interesting coincidence: As far as I can tell, the description of whatever is in the Susquehanna near Sunbury sounds a lot like the "muck monster" that has gotten so much attention lately.

Cryptomundo » Florida Muck Monster Filmed

The people involved in both of these stories are quite experienced and have almost certainly seen a broad cross-section of the native inhabitants of their respective waterways. Why are these unseen wave-makers suddenly catching their attention now? Could it be that some non-native species has entered both of these environments and is making its presence known?

Have you ever observed some critter in your local environment that looked out of place, that you knew just didn't belong there? I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Too wet to mow in the morning. There has been heavy dew these past few days.

The grass is getting long.

The grapevine has exploded with growth. Unfortunately, Black Rot has taken most of the fruit. At the end of the season, I need to prune the vines back quite severely.

I pulled two huge carrots out of the garden today, as well as a dozen or so Chadwick's Cherry tomatoes - the ones that hadn't split from the heavy rains.

I'm on the overtime list for Friday and Saturday. I'll probably work both days. I really wish I had more of a break in-between rotations. I really need to get my car looked at, the sooner the better.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

To bed with me

My month of writing letters to a friend who is offline is up. It was really more like three weeks, but still...

This means I will probably be changing my sleep habits and maybe getting to bed sooner after I get home from work each day, since I don't have to compose and craft a new letter each morning. I may also put off my blog posts until the afternoon.

More overtime coming up. Money is good, but this is starting to get to me. If I go to bed soon I may still get nearly five hours of sleep today.