Saturday, September 19, 2020

2020 Continues to Be Terrible, 5781 Is no Better

What could be a worse occurrence on Rosh Hashanah than losing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? RBG was such a judicial legend that she passed into meme status. She was unabashedly liberal, unabashedly feminist, unabashedly committed to civil rights. If ever there was a liberal lioness, it was she.

 With RBG's passing, there is no doubt that the Republicans will try to seat another Justice of the Supreme Court despite their howls in 2016 that the President should not nominate a Supreme Court justice in an election year. Principles? Those are for suckers! Suddenly, the next four months are much more fraught, and the country is already overstressed. If Biden wins in November, there will be talk of packing the Supreme Court with more justices (the current tally of 9 was set in 1869) to remedy decades of Republican dirty trickery regarding judicial nominees. I have to confess, though, that I am legitimately freaked out when I ponder the conventional line of thinking that the survival of the society in which I've grown up depended on the continued survival of a single elderly cancer survivor, no matter how celebrated. 

 The shock has worn off, we're in the mourning period, but the time for fighting is upon us. The early voting figures in Virginia and Minnesota seem promising... it's up to us to deluge the Orange Ogre with so many votes that the election cannot be stolen. We lost RBG, we'd better not lose America.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Hey, Venus!

I need a break from asinine political stories and personal accounts of sleep deprivation... how about a genuinely exciting news item? Scientists have found possible signs of life in the atmosphere of Venus! Venus has long been considered a Hell World, with surface temperatures of about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (465 degrees Celsius) due to a runaway greenhouse effect. The atmosphere is largely toxic to life as we know it- with clouds of sulfuric acid at crushing atmospheric pressure. Life, though, finds a way... even here on Earth, there are microorganisms which thrive in conditions hostile to human life. Perhaps the upper layers of Venus' atmosphere harbor life, which is what the discovery of phosphine gas through spectrographic analysis seems to suggest. If these traces of phospine are of biological origin, this is the discovery of the millennium- the existence of extraterrestrial life. Finding life in such an extreme environment would further push the boundaries of our understanding of life itself... such organisms would have to possess a biochemistry radically different from that of terrestrial organisms. The corrosive effects of sulphuric acid, so prevalent in the atmosphere of Venus, are dramatic, and rapid. A decade ago, I jocularly proposed a plan to terraform Venus using dirigibles which could house photosynthesizing cyanobacteria, thereby introducing terrestrial organisms to the less hostile precincts of Venus. If Venusian life exists, I have to rethink the ethics of such a project. This bit of nerdery was a welcome respite from the stupidity of the present political climate, which is every bit as corrosive as that of Venus. Another welcom respite is turning up the volume on the song from which I cribbed the post title: I still wouldn't want to have to write an ad campaign for travel to the planet, though

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Today Was a Gas

Today just wasn't ideal... I arrived at home around 4:30AM, but the only parking spots available in the neighborhood were on a stretch of road that is a no parking Thursdays 8AM-Noon area. The streets must be cleaned, and for some reason, this particular roadway needs a four hour window, rather than the neighborhood standard two hours. Not wanting to oversleep and earn myself a $65 ticket, I decided to stay up, and finally moved my car to another parking spot at 7:30. The main reason why parking is so tight is that Consolidated Edison, our local utilities conglomerate, is replacing gas mains in the neighborhood. My street is dug up, with steel plates on the spots where the gas main breaks out into the lines for the individual houses. As luck would have it, ConEd is replacing mains all over the county, so the sidewalk outside my principle workplace is also dug up, and has sections of pipe stacked up against our perimeter fence. I finally crawled into bed around 8AM... and then the jackhammering began. Today was the day on which ConEd would replace the gas line leading into my house. Between the noise and vibrations of the pneumatic drill, and the clanging of the workers coupling the new gas pipe to the house, I didn't get much sleep. I'm not a deep sleeper to begin with, and can usually ignore background noise, but this was too close, and too physical- I felt the construction as much as I heard it. After a few hours of this, a ConEd representative had to enter my apartment to restart my stove/range after the gas had been cut off for so long. I imagine I looked a mess, all groggy and disheveled, but these workers regularly enter people's homes so they must see it all. When it was all over, I was able to catch a couple of hours of sleep before having to wake for work. I really didn't feel so hot when the alarm sounded. It's been a bad week for sleep for me... thankfully, the cat won't be able to see that my peepers are a bit bloodshot.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Out of the Loop All Day

Yesterday was a long slog at work, so when I got home, I crashed pretty hard. For the second day in a row, I had an unusual 9AM start at work. Thankfully, today was a 'work at home' day, a three-and-a-half hour Zoom workshop about conflict de-escalation in preparation of our uncoming-albeit-truncated Fall fundraising program. The workshop largely consisted of intuitive tactics- stay ahead of problems, make sure communication is unambiguous with a consistent message, don't allow yourself to get trolled and lose your control, and keep conversations with difficult persons from getting derailed. A large portion of the workshop dealt with dealing with mask-noncompliance. Thankfully, we have the full weight of the state and local governments behind us, and the tickets for the events clearly delineate our mandatory mask policy and social distancing rules. One of the more interesting topics in the class involved intervening in conflicts that have escalated to the disruptive stage, such as shouting matches between a recalcitrant visitor and a staff member. Some of the more novel approaches involved confusing the aggressor by approaching and asking a totally unrelated question, such as a query about a local sports team's prospects. My favorite technique was something the lecturer termed the 'soft shock'- this is an action which startles the individuals in conflict, such as feigning a stumble or dropping an object... draw the attention of the individuals-in-conflict away from each other by basically pulling a Clouseau: The lecture was actually fairly entertaining. We split up for a bull-session, we workshopped potential situations, we exchanged anecdotes from previous years. It was three and a half hours well spent, but spent is the key word here- as soon as it was over, it was naptime for me. My traditional shift on Wednesday starts at 9PM, and I'd spent the last two days temporally displaced (I think 'Temporal Displacement' is a D&D spell). After this blog post, I'll be doing a bit of catch-up with current events.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

All the Doo-Dah Day

It sorta snuck up on us... a local election postponed from March. Not even our hyper-competent office manager, the heart of our organization, had much advance notice when the county Board of Elections dropped off the voting machines yesterday afternoon. I got the call around 11PM, a coworker told me the machines had been delivered and that we needed election day coverage. He was working the overnight shift, and agreed to stay for an additional four hours. The usual Tuesday afternoon worker flat-out told the boss that, due to COVID-19 concerns, he would not work today- for the record, his primary job is in a facility that houses elderly residents, and they lost thirteen senior citizens in the early days of the pandemic. I set the alarm for 6:30AM and drank a quart of water (this is 'setting the kidney clock'). When I arrived, I saw that my predecessor had used stanchions and 'CAUTION' tape to cordon off most of the building, and furniture was strategically placed in front of the entrance to the basement, and the large public bathrooms. Our handicap-accessible bathroom is the one designated for use in these fraught times, this reduces the amount of surface area that needs to be disinfected every day (our cleaning contractor comes in once a week for a thorough deep-clean of the whole building. My boss was also present, he stopped by to check up on a major construction project onsite, and caught us up with the Main Office scuttlebutt regarding the upcoming Fall season. We get along very well, he's got an irreverent sense of humor that meshes well with my own snarkiness and that of my even more sarcastic co-worker. It's late morning now, and with the warming conditions, I have set up a small folding table in front of the building so I can remain outside. It also gives me a good vantage point from which I can ensure mask compliance... everybody has been good about this, probably because we all know people who have contracted COVID-19. I can also visualize the potential complications which will await us in November, when the polls will be busy. I am already envisioning chalk marks every six feet, and will suggest that we open up a side door for use as an exit to provide a one-way traffic flow. There's been a slow-but-steady trickle of people coming in to vote, and the general consensus among those who have spoken to me is that this is the dry run for the critical November election. One elderly woman spoke poignantly about how her mother told her about not being allowed to vote in the Poland of her birth, other seniors have spoken about how cloistered they've been since March. I plan on voting early in my beloved City of Y______. November will be busy, and I want to make damn sure I've exercised my franchise before possibly working another twelve hour day. In the meantime, I have seven weeks to request the necessary supplies for the day- additional caution tape and chalk for starters. It's going to be a L-O-N-G day, but it'll be good practice. Hell, even staying away during these unaccustomed hours will be salutary.

Monday, September 14, 2020

President Biden's Term Has Been a Disaster!!!!

I've commented on this before, but it still strikes me as odd... the Republicans are conducting their 2020 campaign as if Biden were the incumbent: Jesus, lady, Biden has been a private citizen since January 2017, but hopefully he won't be for much longer. Of course, if Biden had been president, he would not have responded so poorly to the pandemic crisis. In October of last year, he even warned the public about the potential for a disastrous pandemic: The Obama Administration prepared a pandemic playbook, which the Republicans have denied. Trump also disbanded the National Security Council's Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, supposedly as a cost-cutting measure. The very idea of the RNC chairwoman calling into question Biden's COVID-19 response is a grotesque-yet-inept example of gaslighting. The Trump 2020 campaign is running on the thesis that 'Biden's America' is a disaster. In November, I'll take that risk and vote to see what Biden's America really has in store for us.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

I'll Give Him a Bay of Pigs Award

Bizarrely, Trump has been bragging about receiving a Bay of Pigs award from a Cuban exile group in Miami: Apparently, he conflated a 2016 endorsement by a group of Bay of Pigs invasion operatives with an award. Well, I'm going to give him a Bay of Pigs Award. The Bay of Pigs invasion was an ill-conceived attack on a nascent revolutionary country, conducted on the behalf of American corporations and the wealthy. It was poorly executed, with little support, and it failed. The failure set back American foreign interests worldwide for decades, and gave the Russian government a greater foothold in the Western Hemisphere. A failure, on behalf of the rich, which sets back American interests for a generation or two, and increases Russian influence worldwide? What could be a better descriptor for the Trump Maladministration? Give that Pig a Bay of Pigs Award already!