Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Annoyance Day

There’s a local primary election today, and my workplace is a polling site. I had to arrive at 5AM to open up the building for the poll workers. For some reason, they have been super annoying today. At one point, they asked me for an extension cord for an optical scanner, and I told them that I didn’t have one, so they would have to move the machine. One of them had the nerve to tell me, “You’re unprepared.” I told her, “I’m not with the Board of Elections, this has nothing to do with me.”

A half hour later, another one asked me if I had a roll of duct tape, and I told him no. He said, “You’re unprepared.” Hearing this a second time, I shot him a dagger-glance and hissed, “My job was to open the doors, turn off the alarms, and turn on the lights. My job is pretty much done. YOU are the one who’s unprepared.” He scooted away pretty quickly, which was good, because I was tempted to add, “I’m still here to make sure you don’t steal anything from the gift shop.”

At another point, one of them couldn’t get a backup scanner (Plan B) to turn on. She asked me if the outlet was good, and I pointed out that the power strip on light was lit. I suggested that she call the Board to see if they could determine the problem. It’s after ten AM, and nothing has been resolved.

A couple of them asked me for the company WiFi password and I told them that the guest WiFi comes online after 9AM.

Even the voters are annoying today. Our retail staff is in Manhattan for a trade show, so nobody is here to work the shop. I put stanchions up to block access. One ninny walked in from the rain and placed her umbrella on the floor on the verboten side of the stanchions. Again, I gritted my teeth and barked, “Don’t put your wet umbrella by our merchandise.” What kind of asshole thinks that’s acceptable?

I’m here until 2PM, when my sarcastic colleague takes over. I’m usually patient, but today has been a string of annoyances- I’m going to warn him about what to expect. Then, I’m going to grab a couple of well-earned beers.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Really Big Easter Eggs

I’m not a really big movie-goer, but I knew that I would end up seeing Godzilla, King of the Monsters on the big screen. I am a big fan of both the serious original 1954 Gojira and the gloriously goofy 1970s Godzilla monster bashes. More significantly, I know one of the motion-capture actors who played monsters in the movie, and I like to support my people. The new Godzilla movie navigates a middle course between the two styles of kaiju movies- there are scenes of human suffering as cities have to be evacuated from ‘the Titan menace’ and there are strangely beautiful monster fights, with prehistoric menaces flinging brightly colored radiation beams at each other.

The movie definitely demands suspension of disbelief... after all, it does feature a moth larger than a jumbo jet as a main character. Put your skeptical adult brain in neutral, embrace your inner eight year old, and bask in that nostalgia, because there are tons of Easter eggs- callbacks to other kaiju movies. Zang Ziyi’s Dr Chen shows pictures of her mother and her twin sister conducting research on Infant Island, calling to mind the pixies from the classic Mothra movies. The three-headed monster is known as ’Monster Zero’ before Dr Chen identifies it as King Ghidorah by perusing old legends. An oxygen destroying missile, reminiscent of the device used to kill Godzilla in the 1954 movie, is deployed against Godzilla and Ghidorah, with unexpected results, revealing the true nature (and true danger) of Ghidorah. Even Ken Watanabe’s (as Dr Serizawa) viral ‘let them fight’ line is referenced by another character.

The plot is a mishmash of Gaia hypothesis (an ‘eco-terrorist’ villain describes the Titans as the ‘immune system meant to bring ecological balance to a world undergoing a mass extinction), military thriller (terrorists vs international monster monitoring organization), and family drama... but you’re really here for the monster battles. There are topical scenes of child separation in refugee crises, and a nod toward the need for finding a balance between humanity and nature... but you’re really here for the monster battles.

The movie does convey a sense of wonder- such scenes as the emergence of Mothra from her cocoon were gorgeous. There are moments of pathos as well- particularly when Dr Serizawa approaches a stricken Godzilla and intones ‘goodbye, old friend’ in Japanese. Watching the movie, I became an eight year-old again, which was a nice way to spend two and a half hours, in a world where real monsters dwell.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

ICE Threat Chilling

Today, I was reminded of how the political has the potential to become personal in a matter of moments. This morning, the cleaning contractor, a gentleman from Peru, came in and remarked that his neighborhood was in turmoil due to rumors of Trump's proposed mass deportation push. Trump indicated that he would postpone the mass raids, but people in my friend's neighborhood are laborers who don't have much time to keep up with the news... and they have no reason to believe that the White House Occupant is telling the truth. Suffice it to say, people were scared, and in this era of cruelty, that was probably the reason for the proposal in the first place. The people who wash dishes in restaurants and mop bathroom floors in office buildings were terrorized: Mission Accomplished!

This afternoon, I returned to work, albeit at a different site. Typically, the first two people I see are both South American women. One is a gift shop clerk about my own age from Buenos Aires. She's a sophisticated lady of European descent, who would look at home in Madrid, or Milan, visiting museums or working in a boutique. She was appalled when I told her about my conversation of the morning, and we had a dolorous conversation about the cruelty and capriciousness on display- she asked my why there weren't mass demonstrations on the streets, and I didn't have a good answer for her. We Americans tend to be more passive than Europeans when it comes to making our displeasure known en masse. Her husband is a US citizen, and her daughters are fine, upstanding young Americans who are just now approaching the age at which they will become politically involved... and involved they will be.

The other South American woman, a cleaning contractor who works for the same company as my Peruvian friend, is a Chilean teenager who has only been in the 'States for three years- she's a perfect example of what José Vasconcelos termed 'la raza cósmica', a walnut-complected girl with a sweet, expressive face. Her mother emigrated to the US specifically so that she could receive an education, and she has plans to study nursing, and then pathology, so she could become a medical examiner. She seemed to be unaware of the planned ICE raids, and I wasn't about to bring the topic up because she already has to deal with her remaining NY State Regents Exams. She's a hardworking girl, and she quickly became an indispensable help to the staff of the site, even going out of her way to help organize supplies for school groups. She is exactly the sort of person you would want to move to your city or town, a National Honor Society member who is working hard and pulling good grades in school.

It bothers me that good people, good friends of mine, feel like they have targets on their backs. These people contribute to our society, their potential should not be scorned. It bothers me even more to have to work out ways in which I could protect them if things take a turn for the worse. A gauntlet has been thrown down, and I have to figure out the best way I have to pick the damn thing up.

POSTSCRIPT: The ACLU has a good primer on what to do if the raids go through.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Definitions, Pondering Definitions

Today was a glorious day, the sort of early summer day in the scenic Hudson River Valley that is exceeded only by the sort of late summer days we get here. I work in spectacularly beautiful surroundings with lovely people... as I often say, my life is okay. Still, there's an existential horror occurring in this land that I have loved, something which intrudes even on days such as today... this week was particularly disquieting because it involved the mainstream media splitting semantic hairs over the definition of 'concentration camps'- I imagine Merriam-Webster is getting a ton of web traffic these days.

As is typical of the post-November 2018 mediascape, the 'controversy' was ignited by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the favorite bête noire of right-wingers and the idiotic media flacks who 'bothsides' issues to a fare-thee-well. The hair-splitting also plays into the hands of Holocaust deniers, who often dispute the fact that the Nazis intentionally killed Jews in an industrialized fashion.

The real problem here isn't the definition of 'concentration camps', it's the definition of 'Americans'... who are we? What have become?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Madman Theory Gone Wrong?

The only time I ever posted about 'the Madman Theory' was when I wrote a review of the 'Ellery Queen' novel (actually written by my beloved Jack Vance) The Madman Theory. The 'Madman Theory' was attributed to Richard Nixon by H. R. Haldeman:


I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, "for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button" and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.


The basic gist is that an opponent would be reluctant to provoke a madman... Trump's decision to retaliate against Iran for shooting down a drone was immediately followed by a reversal, supposedly ten minutes before the planes were to have been sent to strike Iran. Trump claimed that his change of policy was motivated by compassion and a sense of proportionality, but cynical persons aver that his boss called him to tell him to back off. While Trump said the military was 'cocked and loaded', it seems that the Republican congresscreeps were cockblocked. Whether or not Trump is bluffing or actually had a change of heart regarding an actual attack on Iran, all I can really say is that I am thankful that my brother Vin retired from the Army in April.

The problem with the Madman Theory is that it doesn't work if the person using it is actually a madman.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Opposite of Philanthropy

I am a believer in science, an adherent to the proposal that humanity can better itself with knowledge, with peer-reviewed research, and policy rooted in fact. My wish is for a society rooted in progressive policies, informed by science and scholarship... the sort of society which could, for example, eradicate measles. Even now, I believe that I once lived in such a society.

It was enraging to read that a wealthy billionaire couple has donated an ungodly sum of money to an organization which spreads anti-vaccination propaganda. These people are engaged in action deleterious to human welfare... they are squandering their riches on disinformation which is immiserating children, putting innocent individuals at risk. Whatever their motivation, they are making things worse for humanity.

I am all for Elizabeth Warren's proposed wealth tax- it's only fitting that the ultra-wealthy should be forced to pay to offset some of the damage they are inflicting on our nation.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Day Three of the Birthday Bender

Birthdays should be celebrated on the Hanukkah model, they should be multi-day affairs. Luckily, I have a bunch of friends who were born in mid-June, and unluckily, my work schedule is heavily weighted towards weekends, which luckily means that I have three days off each week. Yeah, I’ve had some booze, but I think that made sense.

Tonight, I met with a coworker whose birthday was last Saturday and a former contractor we have become close with whose birthday is today- his husband rounded out the group. We hit the Maya Riviera restaurant in the village of Briarcliff Manor, about seventeen miles north of the City of Y_____. It’s a nice, old school Mexican restaurant, but not particularly ‘Mayan’ (they don’t serve the typical Yucatán dish cochinita pibil, which is pork stewed with blood orange juice and black peppercorns in a banana leaf and served with pickled onions). I ordered chicken mole poblano, which is sauced with an elaborate melange of chocolate, nuts, and spices. It’s a culinary tour de force, the kind of dish that involves a lot of grinding and mixing- I’ve only made it once, for a special occasion, years ago.

It was one of those slow dinners, very talky, pretty boozy... just the kind of dinner between old friends celebrating getting older. The birthdays continue until next week, but the bender ends tonight- this guy’s work schedule is heavily weighted towards weekends, after all, and with maturity comes responsibility.