Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallows Eve

Halloween has arrived. I think for today most people in the Philadelphia area are grateful that hurricane Sandy is gone. Some of my friends in New York City and North Jersey are taking the storm damage in stride. The kids stuck in one college dorm (the school to remain nameless) are planning a flash mob of zombies for today to celebrate both Halloween and the storm apocalypse.

The word from New York City is things are a mess but generally okay. New York is known as a city of wry humor. The bad news is the subways have been flooded and it might be up to a week before they're all working again -good news is many of the stations will no longer smell like urine,

Once upon a time Halloween was a much scarier holiday. For any of the purists out there I'd suggest a book of short stories by H. P. Lovecraft.

Like Mardi Gras and Carnival, Halloween is a big celebration before a long season of depredation. Tomorrow is November and the beginning of cold, short and miserably damp days. It's that unpleasant season where everything tastes like pumpkin and everyday is filled with the anxiety of Thanksgiving Dinner with the whole family or Christmas shopping.

One nice feature about Halloween it's a day when even an ugly guy has a chance for a date.

Part of Halloween will always be a children's holiday. It's difficult and maybe even morbid to explain to a child that all things in life are passing. Much the same as you can't tell a little child that the world does have real monsters in it, people who are criminally violent and sadistically unbalanced. So we tell little children tales about the Big Bad Wolf and teach them never open the door for strangers.

Tonight I do plan to go a party. There will be a psychic there. I'm told he's very good but pretty much a skeptic, probably because a I knew as so called psychic back in New Jersey. She was as fake as a three dollar bill -but very entertaining.

Happy Halloween. May today be everything you want it to be.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

First a word before returning to our scheduled program .....

"Hey there baby" -I wish I could say that like Cassandra Wilson. It was wild night with hurricane Sandy, it seems we're all okay here but like I said before I'm a 100 miles (160 km) inland so we were saved from the worst of the storm. Once the roads are clear of fallen trees and flooded sections I plan to drive down to the Atlantic City Area. 

For friends and family back in New Jersey. At least Atlantic City has the advantage of averaging 3-5 feet above sea level instead of the ninth ward of New Orleans that averages 15 feet below sea level.

The Cult of Money

What I'd rather write about is being creative, living the good life and just making the most out of this time here together but one thing keeps coming up -money. There aren't many subjects that don't have a major economic element to them.

There are few things that always bothers me about money. It seems the more you have the cheaper you get. As one friend, who is a talented painter, lamented that he dislikes selling his work to well off patrons. Most of them look at his art as investment and rarely ever enjoy his work as art. He hates the constant haggling over prices but what he found ever worse was all the requests for free art to be sold at charity auctions and dinners. Not that he's against charity but he resents being asked to contribute his work for an event where clueless people pat each other on the back for being generous enough to eat, drink and snap-up a painting at deeply discounted price -for the benefit of "poor" people. 

Who are the "poor" people? Over the years I've known a few families that have money; and asking them about poverty is provocative question that tells you more about a person's viewpoint than real economics. What amazes me is level of ignorance that some people have about the lives of others -like if you own an $80 microwave oven from Wal-Mart, then you're not poor.  

One thing that I enjoy about New York City is it's place where rich and poor live close and at times even rub shoulders. As cities like Huston, the poor live on one side of town and the rich on the other with several neighborhoods in between that are economically stratified and equally segregated. At least on the surface money as become the "fair" way to measure the worth of a person -and the idea of equality a messy inconvenient thing.

A few of my childhood friends have done well for themselves. They can laugh and joke about their struggles, the hard work and lucky breaks. What scares me is their children, most them young adults with very soft hands and very hard hearts. These kids have seen very little outside of their private schools, ivy league colleges and tight circle of equally privileged peers. 

In one household where I am welcomed or maybe better said where I am welcomed by my friend Dan (not his real name ) and barely tolerated by his wife. Both have come from modest backgrounds, done well in business and have become locally prominent GOP leaders. Over coffee Dan's wife digressed into a little monologue on how entitlements are bankrupting the nation and how recipients of food stamps are the new welfare queens. That was very hard to listen to. I know people who needed food stamps and I think it just as important to protect citizens from destitution as it is to protect them from terrorism. The other reason why this was difficult to hear that crap was I knew Dan's wife had a past. She was married once before and her husband left her. While trying to make ends meet and raise a child as a single parent, she collected food stamps and went government funded job training classes that started her on a successful career path. Out of diplomacy I said nothing, it would have messed with her myth of the self-made woman.

Like any cult, the cult of money has its own mythology. Segregate the members and repeat the same stories over and over until it's taken in as Gospel truth. Segregation is very important because you don't want outside facts and experiences challenging the cult's core beliefs. Over the last 20 years I have seen a rapid acceleration of  the "gated community" mentality. It's compounded with the fear of a diminishing future that could only be saved by giving more money and special breaks to the "investing class" -instead of asking if the problems we have now is because we already give too much to the top 1%.

Out of all the possible irritation thoughts in history this one rates right up there with tulip bulb speculation in 17th century Holland, though it could have even more devastating consequences. The concentration of wealth does not create jobs unless it takes risks and creates new industries. In the past great pools of wealth usually create an atmosphere of risk aversion. Look at Medieval Europe, a thousand years of where 90% of the wealth was owned by 1% of the people (the people with royal tittles). In reality Medieval Europe was a pretty dark and brutish time where progress stood still, most people were slaves or serfs and ancient world of the past represent a better place than the present. It wasn't until Renaissance things began to really change, a period of time when wealth started to be created from the bottom of society instead of one royal family declaring war on another royal family. It was the development trade guilds that start a small middle class that lead to the Enlightenment a couple of centuries later. The royalty of  Europe was further hammered by the industrial revolution where the middle class iron monger became the dynamic generator wealth.

The middle class of America has lost faith in itself. Poverty is made more scary and punishing by ending entitlements and aid. And everyone but the top 1% is made to work harder and longer for less.

It has been said the nature abhors a vacuum -and power abhors an unfettered back. Money is power and the money elite are looking a lot like the royalty of Medieval Europe. In the American Revolutionary War, the founders of the United States threw off the aristocracy of English rule. Maybe it's time to curb the power of our own homegrown aristocracy -they don't have royal tittles but exert the same level of power over the average citizen.

Before the elections this November 6th -everyone should see this movie -The Yes Men Fix The World. If your political views are firmly set either right or left, this movie will only confirm your world view but if you have a doubt this movie will give you something to think about.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ready for the big one

Yes we have spent the last three days getting prepared for hurricane Sandy. In out pantry we have a can of spam from Y-2K, that great disaster that never happened. Later on to appease the gods we'll bring out that 13 year old can of spam to scare away the storm.  

I'm about 100 miles inland and the weather is really bad. From what I've heard from friends and family in New Jersey, they are being hammered. The first electrical blackouts have been reported and the eye of the storm is still 250 miles (400 km) out to sea.

Since last last Wednesday bands of hurricane Sandy have been effecting the weather in eastern Pennsylvania.   Each day has been cloudy, with some light rain and an unseasonably warm southern breeze. It's been like waiting for an invading army to arrive and now the battle has started.  

This will surely be an historical event. Near one of my old homes in Pleasantville NJ, there was a street of tiny houses built in the 1930's for the fishermen that tended the clam beds in the bay. One house had marked on the kitchen wall the height and date of each past flood. With a predicted storm surge and high tide of 11 feet (3 m) it's possible that whole section of town could be flooded like New Orleans was with hurricane Katrina.

Nature can still humble the hubris. It will be interesting to see if Sandy effects the conversation on climate change. The joke is "science is so liberal - it accepts facts with out moral scrutiny".  I consider myself very lucky, I have a solid house on high ground. So many other people are not that lucky and many more will be in shelters today, tomorrow and who knows how long if there are wide spread blackouts.  

So tomorrow when the hurricane is suppose to pass we'll find out if it's going to be our lucky day or not.

While shopping for batteries, bottled water and easy to prepare comfort foods there was time to roam around. James Enders is a nationally recognized artist and one of those hard to describe local characters that makes Pottstown unique. Saturday morning at the Democratic Election Headquarters in Pottstown James unveiled his larger than life portrait of President Obama.

The volunteers at the Democratic headquarters where moved. Normally an unveiling would have drinks and hors d'oeuvres but it was only nine in the morning. The coffee good.

James has his gallery on High Street in Pottstown, originally from San Diego CA, James Enders is an active member of the arts community in Philadelphia, Miami and the West Coast.

There are no Vikings in Pennsylvania. This is for the Firebird in Phoenixville PA. Each year they build and burn one of these in a winter celebration that draws over ten thousand people.

Of course it takes a few of months to design and build, with volunteer labor, a 30 foot high (10 m) phoenix.

I came to see Henrik. I believe he has been involved with Firebird Festival from the beginning some twelve years ago. Henrik moved to Phoenixville from Denmark. The crew was busy securing the half finished Firebird as Sandy approaches. 

The Firebird was designed by Bret an art student graduating next spring from college. For years I would bring both my sons for the Firebird Festival and a couple weeks later to the Christmas Eve service at the Moravian Church -it was a nice way to balance the holiday season.

The Winter Solstice has always been a good reason for a big communal bonfire. Also it one more example on how the arts and artists help boost the local economy. 

This is Bret's Mom and girlfriend -they're both very proud of Bret. For more information go to

If you're in the storm please send me word (and pictures) in how you're doing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Polaroid Memories

I am of a certain age where the above picture makes sense. Just in case you're under 25 and not into old stuff, that is Andy Warhol holding a Polaroid camera. He's been dead since 1987 but Andy Warhol was a visionary and saw the future of mass media when he said "everybody will have their fifteen minutes of fame". That statement has become the foundation and premise of every reality TV show that pollutes the airwaves as well as hope behind every self produced Youtube video with the expectation of going viral.

Maybe fame has become even more fast, furious and fleeting -maybe all we get is one good tweet.

Back to the Polaroid camera. Invented in 1937 it became an icon of the instant gratification. Yes there were some professional uses for a camera that developed its own photograph in 60 seconds but I'm willing to bet the vast majority of all the pictures taken where of women. The Polaroid was as much a part of the sexual revolution in America as Playboy magazine. They both made sex respectable and easily available to the middle class. Of course now both are laughably quaint.

It's difficult to explain that at one time you had to take your film to the drug store or some other location to get it developed and then have prints made. And up until the mid 1970's it was common policy for a commercial developer to destroy prints and negatives that were "lewd or immoral". If you took those kind of pictures you either needed access to a darkroom or a Polaroid camera.

So much has seem to changed. Film and the cameras as I remember them is almost extinct, something ready for the museum. Only last month I was offered a really nice 35mm camera for free. The owner had it up for sale on Craigslist and Ebay without one single inquiry -and no I didn't want the camera either, film and processing is just too difficult to come by these days.

It is amazing the unprecedented access to images we have today. So many images that I think people might be reaching a saturation point. On the Internet where there are few boundaries of morality and taste I'm noticing a trend away from pornography to old style pin-up photos. Now with all the abundance of skin on-line what catches people's attention is the artful and teasing display of the risque instead of the graphically exposed.          

                                     In the Mail Box

Doing this blog is a blast. I have been getting a bunch of emails about past posts

I was chastised for not mentioning Timothy Leary's birthday last Monday. Godfather to the 1960's counter culture and subject of one Moody Blues song, if Timothy Leary wasn't dead he would have been 92. In truth I'm not a fan Timothy Leary, he's one shining example of what's wrong with America -the idea of getting something at little or no cost. He sold a generation on the idea that "expanded consciousness  was only a sugar cube away. Well you don't have to be a fan of Pink Floyd to know not every trip had a happy ending. If you have the time The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe is still worth reading.

Expanding consciousnesses is a life long pursuit, which brings me back to the hard working people at Local Sphere in Phoenixville PA. They still have space in a few of their classes. Local Sphere supports local artists including recording artist. Several groups and performers have their CDs on sale at the store and you can sample their music at , once on the site go to and click on Artists/musicians. Happy listening.

On my posting about the Day Trip to Hopewell Furnace, one person mentioned how the historic village looked like the movie set to M. Night Shyamalan,s The Village. Not so coincidentally the movie set for The Village was built in Chads Ford PA about 20 miles (32 km) away.

How about a movie pitch? "The Village Revisited", the same village now 20 years later. Elizabeth (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and Lucius (played by Joaquin Phoenix) now run the village, they both continue to keep the outside world a secret. Then one night a group of college kids break into the preserve just to see what's in there; they are spotted and chased off by the villagers. During the case an I-Phone falls out of the pocket of the escaping college kids. The I-Phone is found by one of the teens in the village and it becomes a portal to the world outside as the batteries slowly run down.

So M. Night Shyamalan if you're reading this -keep me in mind.  

Halloween is still on it's way but right now the Philadelphia region might be ground zero for the "Frankenstorm" that could make landfall either Monday or Tuesday. It looks a like a hurricane that going to collide with an arctic cold front and another storm from the northeast. The weather perdiction is snow, rain and 80 mph (130 kph) winds.

Last year we had a freak snowstorm a week before Halloween. Many trees snapped under the weight of the snow that clung on to the leaves. Our electrical power was out for two days but we were lucky, families that live out of town had no power for up to ten days. We're getting prepared for the worse.

As part of my childhood Halloween would not be complete without Zackerle. Like Vampira in LA, Zackerle hosted horror movies on TV but he would also do a Halloween special on WNEW 101.5 FM out of New York. He was the 'cool ghoul" on the radio station that pioneered the FM alternative to the AM Top 40's format.

One last thing to share is Raphael Saadiq's Sure Hope You Mean It.. The big soul sound is still popular even after the loss of Amy Winehouse and Adele going all Hollywood. Can't have a party without good music. Again Happy Listening.

Please feel free to send me your messages, images and suggestions.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween is coming

Halloween is almost here. The decorations are going up and because the holiday falls on a Tuesday most of the adult parties will this Saturday night.  

As you can see one of my neighbors is in the holiday spirit. This reminded me of an old favorite song Phantom 309 which both a ghost story and sad ballad. I remember hearing this song for the first time, late at night on the car radio. I was on a dark road near Pittsfield Massachusetts and had at 4 hours of driving ahead of me.

The original version, written and performed by Red Sovine. Red had a long career in Country & Western music where many of his songs depicted life on the road and the experiences of long haul truckers. He also helped Charlie Pride break into the Country & Western music scene back in the day when African-American performers were extremely rare in Nashville.

So what is Halloween? There are several evangelical churches in my area that denounce the holiday but two local towns have Halloween parades for the kids. In America people spend more on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas.

Not long after graduating college I keep in contact several fellow alumni. They were still living in a big old house that rented the bedrooms out separately, it was cheap place to live that catered to college students. One of the new roommates was Kumar, though we all called him Q. Q studied hard, graduated and he planned to go back to Iran until he received a fateful phone call from his parents in Terran.

It was the middle of the Iran-Iraq War and Q's draft notice arrived at his parents house. It was the worst all possible situations. If Q went back he would most likely sent to the front where death was close to certain. If he did not answer his draft notice in 30 days there would be an order issued for his execution.

We all immediately realized Q's best chance for survival was staying here in America. Several months of anxiety later, Q was on the road to becoming an citizen. It was October  and Q said if this is going to become my new adopted country then I want to really be an American -so what's the deal with Halloween?

In a way it was like a Sacha Baron Cohen routine. Explaining to Q the pagan roots of the holiday, how the early Christian Church co-oped the celebration to gain converts, and that the whole evolved in to a day when kids dress up in costumes of monsters, vampires and scary things so they can go door to door and beg for candy. The whole time Q's eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger as he repeated "no, you're kidding me".

A couple of weeks later we took Q to his first Halloween party. That night he looked at me and said "I can't believe you, you drink like a Turk". A few years later I was to find out exactly what Q meant -but that's another story.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The future is never what you expect it to be.

My friend Tom the Collector of Everything was always known as a friendly man who threw outrageously good parties. At one party I met Nick a member of an organisation called ART (Artists Resorting to Terrorism). In their manifesto one of their goals was to destroy all art so that a new generation of expression and meaning could rise up without the prejudices and filters of the past. It sounded to much like a Cultural Revolution for the creative class and knowing how bad the Cultural Revolution was for the Chinese -I politely said I wasn't interested.

At another one of Tom's parties I met a group of people that referred to themselves as "extreme historians". They were a truly fascinating bunch of amateur intellectuals and I mean amateur in it's more archaic definition -where somebody does something purely for the love of it. Though I was a little intimidated when the first one looked up from his half finished pint glass of Irish Whiskey and asked "where the hell is my flying car". This lead to a discussion about the "history of the future" or maybe better said how people in the past anticipated what the future will be.  

Later on I was handed a cylinder head. It was about 21/2 inches tall (70mm) and had a 1 inch bore (25mm). It seem too small for a motorcycle and too heavy for a model airplane. I guessed it came from a chain saw

It actually came from a gasoline powered vacuum cleaner, just like the one in the picture on the left. In the early 1900's people thought electricity was only for the cities. Edison had promoted DC electrical power. It had a huge drawback because it could only be transmitted a couple of miles from the power plant before the resistance in the copper wires reduced the current to a trickle. Tesla was yet to win the Current Wars and AC current became the standard, making it possible to bring electricity economically to remote areas.

Even then America didn't start electrifying the country side until the mid-1930's when FDR used New Deal legislation to bring electricity to every home in the country and help stimulate the economy out of the Great Depression. So as bizarre as it seems now, a gasoline powered vacuum cleaner was not so strange a century ago.

And some old ideas still persist, as you see the love for huge over-sized engines and vehicles is still around. But I guess some people will always need to compensate or show off.

I believe the future will belong to the small and efficient. I love art but I'm also intrigued by science and engineering. Each of these things effect the other.  

Norbert Mueller of the University of Michigan has developed a new type of internal combustion engine called a "wave disk" engine. It appears to follow some of the same principals a jet turbine but boasts to have a thermal efficiency of 60% or more with a 90% reduction of of emissions. Also there is no need for a transmission, crankshaft or cooling system. One of these in a Prius would triple the gas mileage, 

The wave disk design isn't the only super efficient engine that might be coming to production in the next few years. This is a Liquid Piston X2 Diesel Rotary Engine. It claims to have a thermal efficiency of 75%.

The average automobile engine has a thermal efficiency of 15 - 30 % which means only 15-30% of the energy in the fuel is turned into mechanical motion and the rest is wasted as heat.

Above is the world's smallest liquid fuel piston engine and it is powerful enough to run a watch for a couple years on only a few drops of fuel. Instead of batteries that run down and are difficult to recycle, the new wave in technology might be a step back with the revival of the internal combustion engine. It's not hard to imagine a tiny engine and few drops of fuel replacing all the batteries I use in my portable electronic devices. These days landfill are loaded with rotting batteries that were not properly disposed. Sometimes being green takes counter intuitive pathways.

From the smallest to the largest internal combustion engines, these engines will probably be with us for another couple of generations. Though as another friend once said "the future never really turns out what you expect it be".

As I'm typing here it could be quite possible the next world changing technology is being created. be it a super efficient electric cell or the mini home fusion reactor. I look at the future optimistically, that we may reach a time when the world will be in balance and there will be enough the material goods and services so everybody will have the time to be "amateurs" -pursuing those things they really love.

250 years ago the world was a place were 90% of the work was done by muscle and 90% of the human population was either serf, peasant or slave.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day trip

I have written once before about French Creek State Park in Pennsylvania. It's 50 miles west of Philadelphia    south of Route 422 near Elverson. Part of the park is the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, which is a preserved 19th century iron making village. 

The village has the forge, the remnants of a working farm, the company store, the owner's home and several homes of the iron workers.

This is one of the earliest locations where the industrial revolution started in the Unites States. There was coal, iron ore and water power all near by. Most of the work here was in producing cast iron stoves for homes and kitchens.  

During the week they have scheduled demonstrations on iron making mostly for school class trips. On the weekends the village is pretty much empty except for a few park employees and only a handful of visitors. Most of the buildings are open to tour and the illusion of going back in time works best when there only few people around.

 Max and Chloe, both Percherons and probably just like the big draft horses that pulled the ore wagons over 150 years ago. Max and Chloe are retired plow horses from local Amish farms.

Surrounding Hopewell Furnace are miles of hiking trails. When you pay to enter the park ($3 per person) you will get a trail map. It is possible to hike from Hopewell Furnace to St Peter's Village. Most of the trails are moderate. A thick sole shoe or hiking boot is recommended

If you look in the lower right hand corner of the map you'll see St Peter's Road.

By trail St Peter's Village is about 3 miles east of Hopewell Furnace. St Peter's Village it self is not in the park, actually it is separated by 300 acres of state game lands. There are connecting trails but they are not well marked but you'll know that you're close to St Peter's Village. 

If you don't feel adventitious it's only a 5-10 minute drive to St Peter's Village. The village is big enough to justify spending a pleasant afternoon there,  

The Inn at St Perter's Village is a bed and breakfast as well as a restaurant. There's an open dinning area on the side that over looks the creek.

A few doors down is the bakery. Excellent coffee, confections and light meals. Sometimes they entertainment too. They have a balcony in the back with the best view of the creek.

Outlet for the West Hanover Winery and for the Halloween season there is a "haunted" tour of the town.

And my favorite place is the Village Arcade. There they buy, sell and trade pin ball machines and other similar arcade attractions. They are open every Saturday and Sunday and best of all you can play with any of the machines on display. 

Right now the autumn are reaching their peak colors and the weather had been unusually mild. Last we we got hit with an unexpected Halloween snow storm that blocked the roads with fallen trees and left many of the local residents without electricity.

Other than another freak snow storm Hopewell Furnace and St Peter's Village combined make an excellent day trip before Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter get here. best of all it fits in with my own philosophy in having fun without spending a lot of money doing it.