Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fractured Narratives

Lately, the local independent radio station has been playing the single from the brand-new Death Cab for Cutie album, which is named for a Japanese art of piecing together broken pottery to reveal a history of an object's history and use.

In a comment on my last post, short woman linked to a Think Progress article detailing the deaths of five African-American women in police custody this month. Piecing together various local news stories reveals a sinister pattern. Similarly, the endless incidence of police killings of African-Americans (and, it must be added, Native Americans)can now be connected, local news story to local news story, through the use of the internet, resulting in a narrative of a slow civil war on minorities.

The history of the United States has long been characterized by fractured narratives, the unseemly aspects of American society buried, necessitating the unearthing of fragments which had to be carefully assembled to form a counterbalance to the sanitized, comforting legend. Currently, a true view of American society has to be pieced together from the narrow columns of local news outlets. In the case of gun violence, the GOP-dominated congress has extended a ban on CDC studies on gun violence statistics. Any broad narrative about gun violence has to be pieced together from local news stories, those narrow columns in low-circulation, narrowcast newspapers. The true extent of gun deaths, the majority of them suicides, is obscured by the difficulty in compiling the data.

A healthy democratic society depends on the compilation of accurate information, laboriously piecing together various shards to discern a true picture of our nation is simply not good enough. kintsugi is a charming approach to pottery conservation, but it's a really bad approach to assessing the health of a culture.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Local Iteration of the National Disgrace

Dominating the local news is the story of the death of Raynette Turner, a 43 year-old African American woman, while in police custody. Ms Turner was being held while awaiting arraignment for shoplifting, a crime which does not merit the death penalty in any jurisdiction I am aware of in the US.

This case is an eerie echo of the death of Sandra Bland while in police custody.

I used to live in Mount Vernon, and occasionally blogged about it, and I currently live a mere three blocks from the border. Mount Vernon is a pretty rough town, but I can't recall an incident like this occurring there. So far, an investigation hasn't taken place, but the statistics for death while in police custody are appalling, as is the long duration of pre-arraignment jail terms. Cruel and unusual punishment is supposed to be considered unconstitutional, but it seems to be altogether too common.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Appropriate for Today's Soundtrack

It's almost midnight, I think I'll fall back on the 'post a video' gambit in order to get a post in for the day... One album that I have listened the hell out of was Strange Times by The Chameleons, a band from the greater Manchester metropolitan area which combined a guitar-heavy wall of sound, driving rhythm section, and deep, distinctive vocals. Despite having this album on heavy rotation, I really never sought out the band's other albums until recently. Tonight, I was struck by how prophetic the song title A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days is:

The band's sound was well-developed from the get-go, a moody body of work that seems to occupy a space in the soundscape midway between Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. I guess I'll be listening to their entire discography over the next couple of days.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sleek, Elegant

While on the walkabout on the job this evening, I had the good fortune to see a sleek, elegant critter, resplendent in pinstripes:

The eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is one of the most common reptiles in the New York metro area, perhaps second to the diminutive brown snake (Storeria dekayi). The site where I ran across this beauty is a garter snake paradise- a nice mix of meadow and forest, with a small body of water. Eastern garter snakes operate as well in the water as they do on land, and take a variety of vertebrate and invertebrate prey. This particular snake is well situated.

The little critter was valiant- it coiled up as if to strike rather than fleeing when the hairless ape waved a camera in its face. I admire a little beast with moxie.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Kepler, FTW

Here's some timely news, about a week after I attended a Secret Science Club lecture about the search for earthlike planets around distant stars, the Kepler team found a rocky planet orbiting in the habitable zone of another star. Phil Plait describes the planet in Slate thus:

This doesn’t mean the planet is Earthlike, though. For one thing, it’s bigger than we are: Its diameter is 1.6 times that of Earth. We don’t know its mass, unfortunately, and without that we can’t know its density. The density is what gives us our first clue about what the planet’s made of; water has a density of 1 gram per cc, but iron is 8. Rock is 2–3.

If the planet has the same stuff in it as Earth does, it’ll be more massive; four times Earth’s mass*. In that case, its surface gravity would be 1.6 times Earth. If you weighed 100 pounds on Earth, you’d weight 160 pounds there. But only if it’s rock and metal like we are. If it’s less dense (more rock) than, the surface gravity will be lower; if it’s denser (more metallic), it’ll be even higher.

Sounds like Jack Vance was onto something... at any rate, it's great to read that Kepler has had such a resounding success. How soon before we're watching alien sitcoms, picked up by radio telescopes?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

For The Record, I Did Not Scream Like a Baby

When it's really hot outside, I typically wear shorts to work. Recently, I had to get something out of a low cabinet, and while sitting on the floor, I saw this critter about three inches from my knee:

That is one of the biggest house centipedes (Scutigera coleoptrata) I've ever seen, probably about an inch and a half in length but looking a lot longer, due to the length of its legs.

House centipedes are uncanny critters, fast, alien, and venomous, though they seem not to be "biters". I'm not the squeamish sort, but the idea of this unheimlich beast being so close to my skin was pretty freaky. For the record, I did not scream, but I did jerk my knee away in a fashion which would have been very comical to a bystander. Good thing I was working alone.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Being a guy who works long hours on the weekend, I didn't have time to address Bernie Sanders' Netroots Nation kerfuffle, so ably covered by Tengrain, who also ably covered the ensuing media freakout.

Personally, I consider myself a liberal, not a Democrat per se, and that the "Black Lives Matter" protestors were present to ensure that the primary concern of the African-American community, typically a solidly Democratic voting block, is addressed by the Democratic presidential candidates. I've read some website comments taking them to task for putting Bernie Sanders, who has a 97% rating from the NAACP, on the spot, but they are literally fighting for the lives of their loved ones. At the very least, Bernie should have been better able to extemporize a response, even if it were merely a promise to listen. Bernie's a prickly old Brooklyn boy, and he was thrown off his game by an unexpected confrontation.

Class matters to the African-American community, it has since the first African slaves disembarked in the British colony of Jamestown in 1619. African-Americans have always been the canary in the economic coalmine, the first to suffer in times of privation. Class issues, though, currently take a backseat to the problem of systemic racism, particularly in the death of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement authorities.

Bernie should appoint an African-American advisor to coach him on issues of concern to the black community- the population of Vermont is over 95% white, so Bernie needs to improve his ability to communicate effectively to minority voters.

In the meantime, the media response to Bernie's gaffe was absolutely atrocious, with Ruth Marcus taking the prize for being stupid and obnoxious:

It's obvious that Ms Marcus doesn't consider African-Americans, who are concerned with the appalling death toll in their community, are "normal voters", let's hope that Bernie doesn't make that mistake... we need the guy in the race to ensure that economic justice remains an issue in the upcoming election.