Thursday, April 27, 2017

Batrachian Bings

Our pond at work is a sexy, sexy place, and the toads in the ponds are singing their seductive songs, a bunch of batrachian Bing Crosbys crooning their little amphibian hearts out. I managed to spy this sizable specimen heading off to the aquatic orgy:




In a couple of months, the place will be overrun by loads and loads of tiny toads, which always makes me extremely happy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Demme Dead

Today's bummer is the death of Jonathan Demme. My introduction to Mr Demme's oeuvre occurred in high school, when I went with a bunch of friends to see Stop Making Sense. We were all Talking Heads fans, but we weren't old enough to get into most venues that the band would play. The film was a great outing for a bunch of smart-aleck kids who were just on the cusp of their concertgoing years. The opening of the film, with the jittery, angular David Byre, practically lost in an iconic oversized suit, appeared on the stage alone, with an acoustic guitar and a 'boombox' which served as a visual shorthand for a rhythm track played through the soundboard. to play the paranoiac classic Psycho Killer:





The beauty of the film is that the band gradually assembles onstage, with Tina Weymouth being the first to join Mr Byrne for the song Heaven:





This incremental approach to taking the stage loans the documentary a certain sense of drama- this isn't a mundane music film, it's somewhat reminiscent of the 'assembling the team' scenes from The Seven Samurai, with David Byrne playing the Takashi Shimura role.

David Byrne remains the visual centerpiece for most of the film, with his eccentric movements and a jacket which threatens to engulf him. I particularly like his almost-martial performance of the song Swamp:





Another highlight of the film for me was the sublime This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody):





On the whole, Stop Making Sense is sheer perfection- the band was at the height of their powers, and Mr Demme showcased them to perfection. The one part of the movie where David Byrne cedes the center of attention is when he leaves the stage to allow bandmates to perform as the Tom Tom Club, with perennial New Wave crush Tina Weymouth taking center stage, and our hearts along with it:





Is it just me, or is her outfit definitely the inspiration for Daisy Ridley's 'Star Wars' outfit? Daisy, put four strings on that staff of yours, and join a band! Back to Stop Making Sense, this Byrne-less interlude gave the man enough time to put on his REALLY BIG SUIT, and take the stage- Mr Demme's direction for Girlfriend is Better being sheer perfection, as we initially see a looming shadow before the big reveal:





I could go on about Stop Making Sense for paragraphs... the film made such an impression on me. Of course, there's the rest of Mr Demme's filmography, from his directorial debut with the trash-auteur Roger Corman distributed Caged Heat to the horror-film-with-ambition Silence of the Lambs or black-comedy Married to the Mob, but it's Demme's ability to capture musicians' personalities as they perform which never ceased to amaze me. Here's Demme's video for New Order's The Perfect Kiss, which beautifully captures the band interfacing with their equipment:





I'm going to end this post with Jonathan Demme's film Storefront Hitchcock, who is one of my all-time favorite musicians. Here's Uncle Robyn playing the gorgeous-though-melancholy Airscape:





Needless to say, I have been a fan of Jonathan Demme since before I could legally drive. It was nice to think that this accomplished person had tastes similar to mine, producing art which showcased some of my favorite performers. His political views also tended to align with mine- he was a champion of human rights. In all, he was a remarkable spirit, and I know I will miss his continuing artistic endeavors.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Everything Is Political

Today, I attended the annual all-staff meeting at work. It's always a nice event, most of our staff is made up of part-time, seasonal workers, so the meeting is a really sweet reunion. After working nights and weekends all winter without seeing too many people, catching up is a lot of fun. I also had a good long talk with my new supervisor (my old supervisor retired on April 14th). I let him know about a couple of things that I am concerned about, and we made arrangements for him to stop by at night and see what my typical work experience is. We get along well, and he is 'on the same page' about certain projects I suggested.

There was an undercurrent of uncertainty, though... we are an educational not-for-profit and we have $960,000 in grant money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. With a regime hostile to the NEH and the NEA, this funding may disappear, putting us in the hurtbox.

I don't mention my employer by name on the blog, but I love to bring visitors to our sites when they come to the NY metro area. For instance, I have taken Major Kong to visit while he was on a delivery run. The mission of the organization is important, the values the organization espouses align with my values. Our President noted the challenges we may be facing, and told us that we weren't alone in the fight, then he urged us to call our congressional reps. He noted that Kirsten Gillibrand and Louise Slaughter are very supportive on the arts and the humanities. It was the first time that he has ever been explicitly political, but the political has become personal, and we, like many others, are fighting for our lives.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What Do We Want? SCIENCE!

Yesterday was a great day- I took a vacation day and headed down to the NYC March for Science. I met up with
Yastreblyansky (nice to put a face to the name) at 65th and Broadway and we had to walk up to 68th St to queue up for the march due to the number of attendees. The crowd was amazing- there were a lot of really smart people, a lot of kids were in attendance with their parents and teachers. The signs were awesome, a lot of them played on Pi and the square root of negative one. Many signs, including my own, played on the whole 'Alternative Facts' dope-trope. Another popular theme was 'small hands can't grasp big facts'. One woman had a heart-wrenching sign... eight years of primary school, four years of high school, four years undergraduate college, seven years of graduate school, four years post-doc, under one year to take it away.

It was a coldish, rainy day- my sign started soaking up water before we hit Times Square- but spirits were high. It was fun meeting physicists and psychologists, and school kids, all of whom were advocating for funding science and for basing public policy on evidence-based science. There were a couple of places where the crowd started booing- passing a 9/11 'Truther' and passing the The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Columbus Circle. The march ended in Times Square, where, by happy coincidence, a samba group was drumming. The overall vibe in the Broadway pedestrian plaza was festive. I ran into Secret Science diva Dorian Devins, along with her fantastic husband and a couple of other SSC regulars. I also ran into the awesome scientist/adventurer Dr Evon Hekkala, her fantastic husband, and their lovely children. I had a great conversation with some folks from Jersey who had met at the NYC Women's March and were continuing their resistance activities (nevertheless, they persisted). I also ran into an alumnus from my Prestigious Bastion of Prestige who had graduated a few years ahead of my enrollment, but we had several biology professors in common. We must have spent an hour shooting the breeze about the teachers we had in common, about current mutual acquaintances. He hinted to me that Morbid Anatomy might be rising, Phoenix-like, from the ashes.

Finally, around 3PM, I decided that, in desperate need of a piss-break, I would retreat to the shelter of a tavern. After a warming shot of Tullamore Dew, I was fortified for the subway ride back to the Bronx- I passed small groups from the march and we greeted each other warmly. I walked all the back to Columbus Circle, and there were a bunch of Fordham University students hanging out outside the subway station. We shouted one of the slogans from the march:

WHAT DO WE WANT?
SCIENCE!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?
AFTER PEER REVIEW!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

FOR SCIENCE!

This Saturday, I am planning on attending the NYC March for Science, so I registered tonight. My great and good friends at the Secret Science Club are planning on attending, though I imagine that any attempt to organize a group ahead of time would be like herding cats. Suffice it to say, the rally starts at 10:30AM at Central Park West and 62nd St, so any of the SSC regulars can rally there.

Longtime readers will know of my love for science, and my feeble layperson's attempts to promote it. It's time to put my moxie where my mouth is and to step up for evidence-based policy. If you are in the NY Metro Area, and are planning on attending, please let me know. I'll be the guy who looks a lot like the profile picture at the right, so I won't be that hard to find.

And on a lighter note, here's a whimsical number from nerd-approved They Might Be Giants:





That might be considered an unofficial theme song for the march.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Black Holes, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring physicist Dr Robbert Dijkgraaf, former president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies. Dr Dijkgraaf lectured on the narrow topic of 'basic questions about space and time'.

For a long time, scientists believed that space was infinite and rigid, and that time flows universally on... the universe was the perfect stage on which humans could act. Einstein came onto the stage in the early 20th century and posited that time was merely a 4th dimension, and that space and time were actually unified- spacetime. Dr Dijkgraaf then displayed an animation of a 4-dimensional cube being rotated, similar to this video, noting that this is actually a 2-dimensional rendition of a 4-dimensional cube being rotated. He noted that, the retina being flat, the eye doesn't see in three dimensions, but the brain fills in the third dimension when the image is interpreted. Dr Dijkgraaf joked about a colleague who, on seeing a representation of a 4th dimension hypercube casting a shadow onto the third dimension, commented, "It's more simple to see in five dimensions."

Dr Dijkgraaf compared spacetime to a roll of film, with each particular instant being a frame- he displayed a video of two particles moving through spacetime, then displayed an image of the video broken down into a stack of frames, so that the image of the particles' motion appeared as two strands- he noted that everything happens at once in spacetime. He then joked that every formula should fit on a T-shirt, using Einstein's E = mc2 as an example. The equal sign in the formula connects the two sides of the equation, connecting two different worlds- in the Energy/Mass equivalence formula, energy and mass are 'talking to each other'- a small amount of mass can be converted into a vast amount of energy. Walking across the stage, Dr Dijkgraaf noted that he weights more as he moves across the stage (about one millionth more) than he does while he is standing still. He then displayed an image of Einstein's Field Equations:




He noted that, according to General Relativity, mass tells spacetime how to curve and that spacetime tells mass how to move.

Dr Dijkgraaf then presented a basic history of the Theory of General Relativity, noting that Arthur Eddington's 1919 observation of a total solar eclipse (PDF) offered proof that light was deflected by gravity- the stars behind the sun were visible due to this deflection. Einstein quickly became famous after this proof of his Theory of General Relativity, though communications were fairly slow in those days. Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz acted as the intermediarycommunications-relay between Eddington and Einstein. The NY Times responded to the news with a whimsical headline:




Einstein was hailed as a 'new giant in world history' in the German press.


Einstein's calculations indicated that the universe is not static, but is expanding. At one stage, the universe was smaller, perhaps even a mere point. Einstein believed in a static universe, and added a cosmological constant to his equations in order to achieve a static universe. Urban legend has Einstein labeling the cosmological constant as his 'biggest blunder'. The model of an expanding universe was first proposed by Belgian priest and astrophysicist Georges Lemaître, who pioneered the Big Bang theory with his model of a 'primeval atom' or 'cosmic egg'. Edwin Hubble observing a redshift in light from distant galaxies, proved that space is expanding. In 1965, engineers Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation as they adjusted a radio telescope. Dr Dijkgraaf joked that the engineers had scooped the physicists, who were working on the problem of finding evidence for the Big Bang. The immediate post Big Bang period is known as First Light... and for people familiar with the old broadcast televisions, about 1% of TV static was due to radiation from the Big Bang.

In 2003, the WMAP satellite created an image of the cosmic microwave background radiation, an image refined by the Planck spacecraft. Dr Dijkgraaf likened the image of the 300,000 year old universe (from 13.8 billion years ago) to the universe's 'baby photo':




Dr Dijkgraaf noted that instruments cannot 'see' farther than the pointillist painting obtained by WMAP and Planck.

After the Big Bang, matter condensed, stars formed, and galaxies coalesced- the cosmic evolution started to be pieced together in the last one-hundred years, and a different history of the universe is being written. There are unknown facts, but the cosmologists know what they don't know. Dark matter is one mystery, it comprises five times the mass of baryonic matter... Dr Dijkgraaf stated that 'transparent matter' might have been a better name for the stuff. He likened dark matter to a Christmas tree, with the baryonic matter being the lights. Dark energy is the name proposed for the force which causes the increasing rate of expansion of the universe, the force in empty space which pushes the universe apart. Between dark matter and dark energy, 96% of the universe is 'missing', only 4% is known to us. Dr Dijkgraaf noted that other scientific fields work with a lot of 'dark knowledge'- for instance, paleontologists have to reconstruct evolutionary relationships with a fossil record that has huge gaps.

The topic of the lecture then shifted to black holes. There are two broad categories of black holes- stellar black holes are extinct stars which collapse under their own gravity while galactic black holes, also known as supermassive black holes, have a mass of millions or billions of stars. These galactic black holes spew vast radiotion plumes as gigantic, violent explosions constantly occur on their periphery. Stars in the galactic center revolve around the galactic black hole in elliptical orbits. A proposed Event Horizon Telescope would look into the center of the galaxy to obtain more information about the conditions around the black hole in the the galactic center.

Dr Dijkgraaf also noted the discovery of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory- this gravitational wave detector observed small waves which probably resulted from the interaction of binary black holes merging into one larger object. The LIGO is sensitive enough to measure the gravitic effects of an overhead cloud- Dr Dijkgraaf joked about 'lying on your back, feeling uplifted'.

A collision between two black holes detected in September 2015, which occurred over 1.3 billion years ago, resulted in the most violent explosion ever measured, a cataclysm which released more energy than that released by the entire visible universe.

Dr Dijkgraaf then shifted the topic of the lecture to particle physics and the Standard Model. He displayed a diagram of the years from concept to discovery:




Looking at the scant duration between theorizing about the existence of the muon and it's discovery, he noted that the joke concerning the discovery was, "Who ordered this?" The Higgs Boson took five decades to find. Peter Higgs, 86 years old when the discovery was made, stated that he was happy that the boson which bears his name was discovered during his lifetime. In contrast, it took a century between Einstein's proposal about gravitational waves and their discovery. Dr Dijkgraaf noted that science is a relay race, and that researches must pass the baton on to their successors.

Black holes took a longer time to discover- in the 18th Century, John Michell proposed the existence of stars with gravitational forces which were so powerful that light could not escape. In terms of mass, if the earth were compressed to the point where its gravitational field was so strong that light couldn't escape, it would be a mass two centimeters in diameter. In 1939, Robert J. Oppenheimer and Hartland Snyder described how a collapsing mass, such as a star collapsing under its own weight, could form a black hole. The black hole itself can be likened to a gravitational singularity, the boundaries of a black hole are known as the event horizon. An object within the event horizon is doomed. Dr Dijkgraaf noted that, if our sun collapsed into a black hole, it would have an event horizon three kilometers in diameter, which he jokingly described as 'Brooklyn sized'.

Time inside the event horizon flows differently, possibly stopping altogether. If the Big Bang represents time's beginning, black holes represent an end of time. The term black hole was coined by John Wheeler, who noted that black holes were a paradox- the laws of physics that we know break down. Nevertheless, the universe works, and we need to formulate a new theoretical framework. Originally, Einstein did not like the Big Bang and black holes, preferring a static universe, but he changed his mind as new evidence accumulated. Dr Dijkgraaf quipped, 'Sometimes, a theory is smarter than its discoverer.'

The topic then shifted to quantum theory- Dr Dijkgraaf posed the question, 'Why is every electron the same, does Nature have a perfect electron factory?' Richard Feynman recounted a telephone call from John Wheeler on this subject:

I received a telephone call one day at the graduate college at Princeton from Professor Wheeler, in which he said, "Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass" "Why?" "Because, they are all the same electron!"

Dr Dijkgraaf asked us to consider an electron moving up and down through spacetime, making copies of itself and weaving a Big Knot- is the result many particles, or are they all the same? Richard Feynman drew diagrams representing the behavior of particles, showing the splitting and recombination of particles. The Feynman diagrams even graced the family van. In quantum mechanics, there is one edict- 'Everything which is allowed is obligatory, everything which can happen will happen.' The duplication of particles through quantum mechanics might form an explanation for dark energy.

The Planck length (×10-35 meter range) represents the size of the tiny 'pixels' which make up the universe, while the Hubble Scale (×1025 meter range) represents the size of the universe. About smack dab in the middle we find the scale at which life is organized (×10-5 meter range). The hot Big Bang was preceded by a period of rapid expansion of space known as the Cosmic Inflation Period. The classical density perturbations, the small disturbances at the quantum level, determined the large structure of the universe... the very small determines the structure of the very big. Dr Dijkgaard quipped that empty space is an exciting subject, and that more money should be dedicated to the study of Nothing.

Thermal energy, known as Hawking radiation is expected to be emitted from the event horizon of a black hole- two particles are thought to be produced at the event horizon, one which cannot escape and one of which is liberated due to quantum mechanics. Dr Dijkgraaf paused in the lecture to joke, 'What is the sound before the Big Bang? Oh, shit!" He noted that black holes are the most mysterious objects that we are aware of... they are the most complex objects, the objects which collect the most 'information'.

This formed Dr Dijkgraaf's shift into string theory and the role of black holes in string theory. He brought up such topics as AdS/CFT correspondence and the holographic principle, noting that a 'holographic universe' can be projected on black holes because of the physics that occurs on the event horizon. Space can warm and time can wrap. The visible universe can be explained by the interaction of light and matter, but the interactions are complicated and chaotic. The basic building blocks of the universe, though, are simple. Particle physicists see simplicity, but complexity can be seen in the interaction of molecules in a glass of water. Hydrodynamics and thermodynamics are emergent properties... the laws that regulate spacetime might emerge from something more simple, perhaps pure information acting as a matrix.

In the Q&A, some bastard in the audience asked the good doctor to comment on this recent model calling into question the role of dark energy. He responded that physics is an ever-changing field and that, ten years from now, the entire model might be different due to refinements and new observations, though it must be noted that Einstein was usually correct. In response to another question, Dr Dijkgraaf recounted an amusing family anecdote- his son asked him, 'What happened before the Big Bang?' He replied, 'That's what Daddy is working on.' The next day, his son asked, 'And?'

All in all, Dr Dijkgraaf delivered a great lecture- it was a combination of grand overview of physics and mind-bending string theory that I really need to read up on more. He is an engaging, informative lecturer who has a huge following online... if you can read Nederlandish, he has a lot of material. Once again, the Secret Science Club dished up a fantastic lecture- kudos to Dr Dijkgraaf, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. I'll try to hunt down video links to illustrate these topics, but right now I have to run out for a second night of beer-drinking in a row. It's bar trivia night, and what better way to celebrate Useless Knowledge is there?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hothead's 'Holiday'

It's been interesting to see advertisers bailing on Billo after the latest round of sexual harassment allegations. Seeing as his audience is a bunch of sexist regressive types, it's no surprise that ratings for his show are healthy, even as O'Reilly takes a vacation while the shitstorm rages.

If I had to guess O'Reilly's vacation destination, I would suspect that he would relive his glory days by visiting the Falklands war zone (hey, he could have contracted cirrhosis of the liver from those fine Argentine wines). My real motivation for joking about O'Reilly traveling to Las Malvinas is that it's a perfect excuse to post the video of one of my all-time favorite anti-war, anti-corporate media, and anti-government manipulation songs, the New Model Army's blistering Spirit of the Falklands:





The natives are restless tonight, sir
Cooped up on estates with no hope in sight
They need some kind of distraction
We can give them that
'Cause they'd kill if they only had something to kill for
They'd die if they only had something to die for
They'd cheer if they only had something to cheer for
We can give them that



Oh, yeah, Billo gave them that... with any luck, his career of giving them that will soon be over.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

Here's wishing all of my readers a happy and healthy Easter. I always loved the Easter holiday, because it signals the promise of Spring, with all that it entails. The daffodils and crocuses are in full bloom, the warm-weather birds have come back, my delicious stinging nettles are finally ready to be collected. Everything is coming awake... the toads are singing their love songs. I even saw one of our resident bullfrogs in the pond.

Today has been uncharacteristically warm (85F, 29.4C), so in accordance with recent Easter tradition, I had to yell at a couple who had jumped the fence at work. Seriously, people, there's a sign on the gate that says 'STAFF ONLY', can't you people read? There were a couple of folks in a picnic area adjacent to the parking lot... I have no problem with people on-site as long as they don't jump a fence and they know to clear off at sundown. I don't mind people looking for hidden Easter eggs, I do it myself, but they can do it in their own places.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Tax Day Post Rant

I know that tax returns are actually due on the 18th, but April 15th being the traditional tax day, I typically post about taxes, and my attitude toward them, this time of year. Ordinarily, I would post about how I don't mind paying my taxes, as I see them as the dues I pay to live in a club I call 'civil society'. This year, though, my attitude is different... somehow, something's changed. While I didn't attend any of the tax day protests (I decided to save my time off for next week's March for Science), I am pissed that the head kleptocrat hasn't released his tax returns.

Even more infuriating is the fact that he and his corrupt maladministration are hoovering up taxpayer dollars with their conflicts of interest. Even when the fucker in the White House is goofing off, he's dipping into the till. Ordinarily, I don't mind paying my taxes, but nothing is ordinary anymore.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Transit Travails

If there is one politician that I cannot stand, it's gotta be Chris Christie, I have been pointing out Christie's venality for years, starting with my contempt for his botching of a cross-Hudson rail tunnel. This month, Jersey's transit woes seemed to metastasize, with a couple of derailments, delays in track repairs, and in a grand finale of suckitude, a police-incident sparked stampede among pre-holiday weekend commuters waiting for already delayed trains.

New Jersey's transit system is a bleeping disaster. As much as I kvetch about subway delays and service changes involving slower shuttle bus travel, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority has a fine track record when it comes to getting people from point A to point B. Of course, we don't have a governor who is hostile to infrastructure spending like that asshole in Jersey. Part of me would feel sorry for the Jerseyites stuck in Penn Station, a rathole if ever there was one, but these assholes sent Christie back to the governor's mansion knowing that he had no interest in commuters' concerns. Elect a particularly nasty, bullying authoritarian, don't expect things to work out well for you.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I'm Concerned He's Got a War Boner

Two weeks, two countries, two bombings... Donald Trump's regime dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb on a militant stronghold in Afghanistan. I have a concern that, after his missile attack on a Syrian airfield, Trump has developed a taste for the sort of violence that only the world's most powerful military can bring to bear on 'those who hate our freedom'... I'm especially worried that he's going to launch an attack on 30 Rockefeller Plaza to 'take out' his enemies.

Now that Trump has dropped the Mother of All Bombs, how does he escalate in order to pursue that 'splodey 'splosion' high? He's sending an 'armada' to North Korea's territorial waters... even though his description of this fighting force sounds really stupid: “We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier.”

Will Trump try to outdo his MOAB assault? Time will tell, but the phrase 'Trump family atomics' is creeping me out... I live close enough to the New York Times headquarters to be within the fallout zone.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Part of Me Has Just Been Ripped

Another part of my childhood gone... J. Geils passed away. While Centerfold was a ubiquitous hit, I have to say that my personal favorite moment from the band was always the cynical-yet-hilarious Love Stinks, which is anchored by the late Mr Geils' crunchy guitar:





I'm also partial to Must of Got Lost, from the band's earlier, bluesier days- I always crack up when Peter Wolf shouts "Hey, Raputa the beauta, let me climb the ladder of your love!"





I always found the band to be humorous- their songs having a slightly warped comedic edge to them. As a snarky bastard, I heartily approved.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Neil Before Your Corporate Overlords

Watching the horrific video of the Doctor being forcefully, brutally removed from a United Airlines flight filled me with disgust. Here was a man who expected a modicum of decent treatment from the airline, but was beaten and ejected because the airline overbooked the flight he was on.

In light of Neil Gorsuch's dissent in a court decision regarding a trucker in danger of dying of hypothermia, I have to wonder if he would rule in favor of United Airlines should this passenger sue. In Gorsuch's world, does some random customer of a big corporation have a constitutional right not to be bloodied?

Pardon the lack of linkage... I'm dashing this one off quickly on my phone before heading out for recreational purposes.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Clever Girl

As I noted in my Saturday post, the Canada geese are breeding, so the site is overrun with aggressive geese, squabbling over prime nesting sites. Then there's this clever girl:




Her nest is built on one of the supports of a small bridge onsite- it's adjacent to a heavily-trafficked area, but there's a fence between her and the pedestrian walkway. If you didn't know she was there, you probably wouldn't notice her at all. Even more significantly, she's in an elevated spot with only one approach, safe from flood conditions and easily defended against predators:




As far as the local geese go, she's pretty sweet-natured, unlike this jerk. She's found a good spot to raise her family... she's a clever girl, which is appropriate for a maniraptoran dinosaur:





I wouldn't mess with her.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Lining His Pockets Shooting Off Rockets

In an infuriating yet predictable turn of events, Trump owns Raytheon stock, which rose after the missile attack on a Syrian airfield. Suddenly, I am getting flashbacks to Dick Cheney's profiteering from the Iraq War.

The entire raison d'etre of the Trump kleptadministration is to line the pockets of the Trump family and their cronies. There's no coherent foreign policy, unless it's one which funnels billions into offshore bank accounts.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Big Fat Goose Egg

I continually run into bizarre situations on the job, things which require a bit of puzzling out- a sizeable fish on the lawn, fifty feet from the water, hints at the presence of osprey in the vicinity. On Thursday night, while walking on a footpath on site, I encountered a big, fat goose egg:




It was an unexpected sight- a pristine white egg sitting in the mud of the path. The Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are breeding, and I suspect that this egg had been blown out of a nest by the 30mph(42kph) winds and rolled to this particular spot. Being a forager, I have to confess that I took a good, long look at the egg before deciding against grabbing it for a meal... I honestly don't know how long the egg had been sitting around, and I generally don't go for animal matter of unknown origin. The funny thing is that I have eaten balut, so the prospect of finding a little occupant in the egg wasn't the dissuading factor, but the prospect of bringing a rotten egg into the house lessened the appeal of a free-range goose egg.

I left this potential golden bounty for one of the site's raccoons or crows to find... those critters are a lot more forgiving of 'past sell-by date' comestibles.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Bombing, Not Even Three Months In

Back in December, when asked by my friend Frenchie, who (naturally) is Italian, if I thought that Trump would launch a nuke, I replied that I didn't think he would, but that he would attack Iran, a long-held Republican fantasy. While this hasn't come to pass, Trump's Tomahawk missile barrage on a Syrian airfield occurred not even three months into his presiduncey. This new policy on Syria contradicts Trump's old attitude toward President Obama's potential courses of action in Syria... I guess that the Kenyan Usurper's use of America's penis substitutes was beyond the Pale for Vulgarmort.

The idea that Trump was motivated by concern for the 'beautiful babies' is belied by his refusal to succor refugee children. Why actually rescue children when you can bomb the hell out of an airfield?

This attack on Assad's regime is a puzzler- the area is such a quagmire, is the U.S. really going to fight against two sides in a multi-pronged civil war? Is ISIS the number one enemy or is Assad's regime? This is a repeat of the muddled U.S. policy in Yemen, in which our military is fighting both the extremist Sunni group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Shiite Houthi rebel group. Fighting against both sides in an armed struggle only makes sense if one is playing the two sides against each other for personal gain... and in a creepy sidenote, Raytheon is making a fistful of dollars since the Tomahawk strike, Syrian civilians and American taxpayers be damned.

In one odd turn of events, the alt-right Trump base has gone ballistic because of the strike, though, as a leftist, I would dispute their assertion that the attack appeals to 'leftists'. Chuck Schumer is a centrist, despite his support of fillibustering Gorsuch.

My primary concern at this point, being an observer of current events and a cynical bastard, is that Trump, citing Iran's support for Assad's regime, will pivot and launch an attack on Iran. I predicted such a move back in December, and I sure hope that I am wrong.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Making Money Making Mean

Another legendary entertainer gone... Don Rickles passed away at the age of 90. I first became aware of Don's schtick after his heyday, when he starred as an abrasive Chief Petty Officer in the sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey. For a guy who made a living by playing a mean S.O.B., the guy seemed to be genuinely nice when he wasn't in character:





By today's standards, Don Rickles' schtick would be considered non 'politically correct', but the people who tend to attack political correctness want to engage in attacks on people with no power without receiving censure- they want to engage in 'kiss up, punch down' behavior targeting people who can't fight back. Don Rickles was an equal opportunity jerkass- he made fun of people with more fame and money, and he made fun of people of all races, creeds, and cultures... and he did it to their faces, actually putting his own nose on the line. The fact that he never ended up in traction is a testimony to his ability to act mean without being mean- the decent human being was evident behind the abrasive, borderline abusive façade.

In some ways, Don Rickles opened the floodgates for lesser, meaner 'comedians', but I think his only competition in the funny/mean cohort was Joan Rivers. Personally, I tend to prefer surreal comedy to the broad insult comedy, but I do recognize that Don Rickles was a master of form, and that, behind the causticity, there was genuine affection:





I know Don is roasting now, but it sure isn't in Hell.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We Can Go Our Own Way on Healthcare

The big fuckin' deal in local news today is the passage by the state assembly of a bill authorizing the creation of a single-payer health insurance system for New Yorkers, a bill which passed 89-47. The big hurdle that single-payer has to clear is the state senate, which is bogged down by a power-sharing agreement between the GOP and these shitbirds. I'm hoping that enough upstate residents will be motivated to contact their GOP representatives to pressure them to vote for a single-payer system.

I have health insurance through my job, but I wouldn't mind being a participant in a 'Medicare for all New Yorkers' type system. We New Yorkers pay pretty high state taxes, and the services we receive tend to be high-quality. Given the absolute disaster that is the federal government, I would prefer to rely more on the state and local governments. I've had enough of reading the various 'Heartland Whisperer' narratives, and I sure as hell have had enough of having good governance held hostage by the GOP knuckle-draggers that the Heartlanders tend to elect... it's about time New York and other blue states went ahead and passed the liberal legislation that we need in-state. If the federal government decides to throw monkey wrenches into the works, it'll be a Tenth Amendment issue, and with any luck, the SCotUS will be in disarray for months to come, thus forestalling a legal battle.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Wait Up, Brother!

Today was gorgeous, weather-wise. It's hard to believe that a mere two weeks ago, there was a foot of snow on the ground. It was the first really nice weekend day since the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. Accordingly, I spent a good long time wandering the grounds with Fred and Ginger at the start of the shift. Fred tends to be the more affectionate of the two, but Ginger spends more time underfoot:




She can be needy at times, having a typical 'cat disposition'... alternatively aloof and clingy. Fred is more like a Labrador retriever trapped in a cat's body.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

All Fools' Day

Today is April Fools' Day, but one wouldn't really know it without looking at the calendar. In an era in which fake news, 'alt-facts', and hoaxes perpetrated by Eastern European teens, the very idea of one particular day set aside for playing pranks and jokes on people seems passé... what good is April Fools' Day if every day is a fools' day?

At any rate, All Fools' Day was the seventh album released by Australian band the Saints (I posted about the Saints on All Saints' Day... All Saints', All Fools', all good). In another post, I compared the band to LA's X, noting their transition from punk aggression to a more mature, rootsier sound. At any rate, here's the title track from All Fools' Day:





As an added bonus, I'll throw in a video for the 1984 single Ghost Ships:





Watching older Australian promotional videos, I am struck by how bright the pubs are... I don't think that look would fly here in the NY metro area, where dark wood and dark moods are the norm. Also, antipodean bands of the 1980s seemed to have a strange fascination with ghost ships... was it something in the water?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Environment? What Kind of Tree-Hugger Needs a Clean Environment?

Trump's executive order eliminating the Obama Administration's actions on climate change has got to be the worst action of any US president since the invasion of Iraq, courtesy of the Bush Maladministration. The Trump administration is loosening environmental regulations as the melting of Antarctica's ice sheets grows apace. This is the worst time for a coterie of stupid, corrupt, and venal persons to be running the world's most powerful government, and eliminating rules on the most deleterious of industries.

The idea that this executive order will help to stop the 'Heartland' from hemorrhaging jobs is ludicrous. Low natural gas prices have undercut the value of coal, and with mountaintop removal mining being industry standard, fewer miners are required for coal extraction. Loosening regulations will only increase the profits of coal barons who will employ a skeleton workforce. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of coal country will be further immiserated by the contamination of their water sources by the dumping of coal waste.

I have blogged about coal before, specifically how it should have been seen as 'startup capital' used to allow the development of a mature energy technology based on renewable resources. With the prospect of cheap, printed solar cells looking more feasible, the fact that our leaders wish to emphasize the use of coal to generate electricity is unforgivable. Never has a policy benefited so few while imperiling so many. As I've noted before, our profligate fossil fuel use is the equivalent of blowing our seed money on hookers and blow, and with the dangers of fossil fuel use being so manifold, those hookers all have STD's and the blow is adulterated with ground glass and PCP... maybe that's why Donald Trump sees the appeal of coal.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Baby Bro's Birthday

It is our tradition on this day to wish a happy birthday to my baby brother, Gomez. Gomez retired as a major in the US Army a couple of years ago, and now works in Eastern Virginia, not too far from my mom and my sister. He has a sideline job as a hockey referee, and he coaches his daughter's ice hockey team as well. Gomez used to be a tiny little elf as a young boy, but grew into a brick house around age nine or so. It was a big joke in the family that, after high school hockey practice, as a goalie he would be approached by adult players who needed someone to tend goal (goalies are the drummers of hockey, they are in high demand because there aren't a lot of them), and would shock the hell out of them by replying, "I'll have to ask my mom if it's okay." Most of the other players assumed he was a college kid because of his size and his skill on the ice and in the net (for a goalie, he had great fundamental skating skills). It's good to know that, not only is he still playing, coaching, and ref-ing as an adult, but that his daughter shares his interest in the sport. If I'm not mistaken, he's good enough to be certified to referee on the collegiate level.

Happy birthday, baby brother, stay cool.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

About Last Sunday

Last Sunday was the 2017 New York Open Judo Tournament, the premier judo tournament in the United States. France, Israel, and the United States sent both women's and men's teams, and Germany sent a men's team. The Israelis, both men and women, won first place, with a really amazing showing by top-flight athletes. While Kayla Harrison, 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medal winner, didn't compete, she was there as a legendary figure, a defining figure in both American judo and women's judo. The entire match was taped by the folks at Judo Market:





The woman doing the play-by-play (audio kicks in around the 23 minute mark) is my friend 'kickass' Sue, who brings the same enthusiasm she brings to the commentary to everything she does. She told me that she felt a little self-conscious about her English, but I assured her that her English is perfect, pleasantly accented even, and that her Japanese vocabulary would be more important on this occasion. She's absolutely great.

One thing that I have to observe is that the players tend to be, to put it bluntly, good-looking. I have to say that I think the best-looking one is the largest of Israel's female fighters, who weighed in at 70 kilograms (174 pounds). I'm not someone who believes that 'traditional' gender roles are beneficial, but I am a straight guy and I have to say that that is one drop-dead gorgeous woman, as formidable as she is. Even one of my female friends, Frenchie's wife, remarked on how pretty she was.

Watching the video, I have to note that the warmups look very aesthetically pleasing- with no resistance, the throws are perfect, they look like dances. Between the preliminary events and the finals, there were some exhibitions- two skilled New York judokas displayed a variety of throws, a couple of Brazilian ju-jitsu fighters did a gi-less demonstration of techniques and related them to both judo and wrestling, and a pair of 7 year-old twins fought two grownups in luchador masks. All throughout the match, old friends from other towns met up with each other and the beer flowed. One friend of mine, a wrestler who has started playing judo noted, "For a bunch of fighters, these people are blissful and Zen-ed out."

The day did have a melancholy moment, a memorial for judo legend Mel Appelbaum, who left the dojo last year. That moment of sadness aside, the mood of the rest of the day was overwhelmingly positive.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bad Florida Policy Goes National

Listening to the news on the radio, one big topic today has been the push to drug test recipients of government benefits. Being someone who always asks 'cui bono?' when bad legislation is passed, I immediately realized that this is a welfare program to funnel tax dollars to companies which provide drug testing... in Florida, Governor Rick Scott pushed for drug testing welfare recipients while a company run by his wife stood to potentially benefit. If the Republicans make drug testing mandatory, which well-heeled political supporters will be the recipients of such largesse?

The real bad joke here is that welfare recipients have a lower rate of drug use than people who are employed... no money means no money for drugs. The idea of forcing welfare recipients to undergo drug testing is merely a 'punch down' policy, meant to demean people who are already down. I have only undergone one drug test in my life, a background check and drug test was implemented for all of the coaches in the kids' athletic program I coach for in the post-Penn State atmosphere of due diligence in coaching. It wasn't pleasant- I was given a tiny juice cup while I have a tall boy bladder... I had to choreograph a dance between the tiny cup and golden stream (doesn't quite rhyme). To make matters worse, I couldn't even run the water to wash my hands until I handed the cup over to the testers (can't be reconstituting 'clean' urine now). I basically had to waste half a day to engage in an activity which, at best, wasn't all that pleasant.

Being someone who operates by the 'good for the goose, good for the gander' principle, I suggest that all members of Congress should undergo monthly drug tests until they stop treating the indigent and the unfortunate like shit- these congresscritters receive a hell of a lot more money from the government than some poor unemployed schmo ever will. Hey, maybe Trump can collect all of these samples to usher in a new golden age.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

International Love Fest Masquerading as Brawl

I'm on my way to the annual New York Open Judo Tournament, a team competition held at the New York Athletic Club every March. The US, France, Israel, and Germany have teams representing them. As usual, the main draw is Kayla Harrison, who won gold in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. If anyone represents excellence in the sport, it is this remarkable young woman.

The event draws an international crowd from the NY metro area- I have friends from Morocco, Italy, Switzerland Poland, Brazil, Japan, Albania, Uzbekistan, and the Bronx who will be attending. It's the premier judo event in the tri-state area, and the vibe is wonderful. The action on the mats may look rough, but the event is all about love.

I'm hastily typing this out on my phone on the subway, but I will clean up the post and provide links later on.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dulce et Decorum Est pro Capitalismus Mori

Tuesday was a busy day for me, between work and drinking, so I didn't have a chance to watch the Gorsuch nomination hearings. Reading The Rude Pundit, I decided to check out Al Franken's grilling of Gorsuch regarding his dissent in a decision about a truck driver who was fired because he abandoned a trailer which had frozen brakes and a non-functioning heater. Put in stark terms, the man had a choice- disobey the orders from his company or die of hypothermia. He disobeyed orders and was fired, then filed a complaint with OSHA about the firing, and Gorsuch dissented from the decision, which supported the truck driver's case. Gorsuch's family made its fortune by retailing ski clothing- the idea that the guy wouldn't know how deadly being stuck without heat in minus-fourteen degree temperature is ludicrous. Here's Franken's amazing grilling of Gorsuch:





Gorsuch's attitude is that Alphonse Maddin, the truck driver in question, should have followed orders even unto death. Basically, he should have been a martyr to capitalism, and obediently frozen to death so as not to negatively impact the company's bottom line.

As much as I've thought Chuck Schumer, my senior senator, has been a Wall St flunky, I am proud that he will fillibuster Gorsuch's nomination. Sure, the excesses of Wall Street are villainy, but they aren't the sort of 'Dead Peasant' cartoonish supervillainy that Gorsuch is comfortable with.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Second Assassination

This week's big local story was a terrorist attack- a white supremacist fatally stabbed an elderly black man in the back. Now, that's deplorable, but even more deplorable was the manner in which Murdoch rag The New York Post covered the fatal hate crime. Not only did they describe the white perpetrator as 'well-dressed', but they reported the 66-year old victim's arrest record... news flash, he was the victim of the crime, stabbed in the back in cowardly fashion while collecting empty cans and bottles for the deposit redemption value. All too often, minority crime victims are treated as if they are the guilty parties- I'm surprised the 'Post' didn't write that Mr Caughman maliciously stained his killer's blade.

Timothy Caughman was assassinated by a white supremacist who wanted to kill a black man in the world's media capital... afterwards, his character was assassinated by a scurrilous rag in a white supremacist's media empire.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not a Lot of Buzz About this Announcement

I am one of those individuals who never grew out of that childhood phase during which one is compelled to turn over rocks and logs to see what kind of creepy-crawlies are living underneath. I love my precious little bug buddies- I also like lectures about insects, even eating insects. Needless to say, I was bummed out by listening to a report of the rusty patched bumblebee being placed on the endangered species list, with the Trump maladministration reversing its policy of undoing federal regulations in this case- of course, the bumblebees are crucial pollinators, the loss of which would be an utter disaster for humans.

The main threats to the rusty patched bumblebee are the loss of suitable nesting space (they lair underground) to development, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and pathogens. Steps should be made to reduce the use of neonicotinoids and to preserve suitable habitats for insects. I have long considered the modern obsession with well-manicured lawns to be pathological, and would suggest a shift to yards which combine native wildflowers, ornamental plants, and herb/vegetable gardens. Well-manicured grassy spaces are more appropriate for municipal athletic fields. I also think that highway margins and medians should be devoted to the planting of native plants (with patches of milkweeds at least every quarter-mile). The maintenance of such plantings would be more costly and labor-intensive than simple mowing would be, but don't we need jobs to make America great again?

I fondly remember watching the bumblebees hovering around the azaleas in the backyard of the family home, those improbably chunky flyers with their noisy wings. I would be upset if this buzz were silenced forever. The implications of the collapse of pollinators are terrifying, though I can imagine a joint venture between Monsanto and Raytheon to manufacture pollinator microdrones after killing off the beneficial insects, which terrifies me even more.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

BiZZZZZZZZy

Last night, the call came... my subordinate let me know that the County Board of Elections had dropped off a bunch of voting machines. Somehow, management spaced out on this, and I didn't have any advance notice, so I hadn't arranged coverage. No biggie, I had to handle this one myself, though it would mean I'd get about three hours of sleep. I always joke that the job is very cushy unless it isn't. I was up by three-thirty, out the door by four-fifteen, and at work before five. I received a briefing from the overnight guy and opened the building up for the poll workers, who were expected at five-thirty. Being the guy with the institutional memory, I was able to tell the poll workers where to plug in the voting machines, the best places to put the voters' tables. I know about half of this election's crew, a lot of poll workers are repeats every year.

Shortly after ten, a school group, a bunch of fourth graders from Connecticut, came in for a workshop. They filed into the building in orderly fashion to use the facilities and headed outside for their program. After a few hours, they filed back into the building and had their lunch in a greenhouse behind our gift shop, which still hasn't opened for the regular season. They were very well behaved students, they were quiet, and the poll workers remarked on the kids' manners... they didn't distract from the proceedings in the room next to the greenhouse, where the polling site had been set up.

The election has been quiet- it's a local election, and most of the positions are uncontested. I wonder how many of the voters have showed up to cast write-in votes to show that they still have the power to choose. I don't think a dozen voters have crossed the threshold. I've spent a good deal of time doing paperwork- I am cobbling together the April schedule for my team. Our custodian treated me to lunch in return for me entering his business expenses (mainly mileage) into the requisite Excel spreadsheets and sending them off to the main office.

It's been a quiet day, but I have to admit that I am one tired fellow. My relief comes in around five, and I think I'll just crash for twenty minutes before even contemplating getting behind the wheel of my car.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Infernal Equinox

Today is the vernal equinox, though looking at the amount of snow still on the ground here in the City of Y______, one would be hard-pressed to think of Spring. Rather than discussing the vernal equinox, this post concerns an infernal Equinox, a low-budget horror movie, produced by a crew of amateurs, released in 1970. While not very scary, the film does boast some not-terrible stop-motion special effects- from a practical effects standpoint it 'punches above its weight', given the low budget and inexperience of its creators. The plot, concerning a college student's search for his geology professor, who has gone missing from his cabin in the mountains while trying to decipher a mysterious grimoire, is very reminiscent of the first two films in the 'Evil Dead' horror franchise.

I'm not a big horror movie buff, though I do rate for the 'Evil Dead' films, being a fan of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. It was interesting to watch Equinox with an eye to comparing the films. My primary interest in watching the movie was its casting of Bastard fave and fantasy juggernaut Fritz Leiber as the doomed professor. While not a speaking role, it was fascinating to see one of my literary heroes on the screen, even in a bit part. Here is the movie in all of its cheesy, low-budget glory:





Oh, and if you ever meet a guy named Asmodeus, run like... uhhhhhh... Hell.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Multigenerational Bummer

I was saddened to hear of the death of Chuck Berry, even though the man was ninety years old and had not only reached the pinnacle of his craft, but hovered a height above the pinnacle. Roy, a rock-and/or-roller himself, has a post about Chuck which lays out the man's importance rather well. Was there anybody who quite defined an entire genre of music as Chuck Berry defined rock-and-roll, the outgrowth of rhythm and blues music that he helped to birth? I can't even think of anyone who played lead guitar in popular music before Chuck Berry blazed that particular path.

I believe it was Greil Marcus who wrote the the opening of Johnny B. Goode was the greatest opening of any popular song, and a riff for the ages:





As far as openings go, it's right up there with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor... I think the guy who wrote Roll Over Beethoven would be sympatico with Bach's virtuosity.

Besides being a fantastic songwriter and a blistering guitarist, Chuck Berry was also a humorist, as his tale of romance frustrated by a seatbelt attests:





My particular favorite by Mr Berry is Memphis Tennessee, which is an emotional number with a surprise ending:





Chuck's was a towering talent, and the man himself managed to navigate the perils and pitfalls of being a black man in the segregated United States- reading between the lines of Back in the U.S.A., one can divine the legacy of Jim Crow in the lyrics (despite his fame, Chuck would have needed the Green Book while touring).

Mom introduced us to Chuck Berry's music while we were kids... she raised us right. I spoke to her on the phone today, and she was bummed about his passing- she had seen him in concert at Brooklyn's Paramount Theater while still a teenager. There's a timeless quality to Chuck Berry's music, the sort of quality that led to a multigenerational fandom, and with his passing, a multigenerational bummer. He had a long life, and a storied career, but he will be missed.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Local Shindig

Today marks the local St Patrick's Day parade, which wends its way through the commercial district of my heavily-Irish neighborhood. Here's local band Shillelagh Law performing the neighborhood's theme song:





Luckily, I have another carry-over vacation day from last year, so I'll be able to bend an elbow for a second day in a row. It's supposed to start snowing (AGAIN!) in the afternoon, so a little bit of antifreeze is in order.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Solemn Feast of St Patrick

Today being the solemn feast of St Patrick, I decided to use a carry-over vacation day from last year so I could pour some libations (down my gullet). Before I head out, I just have to rant... in the wake of the horrors that have been exposed in Irish institutions that masqueraded as helpers of the indigent, that the Irish people have long been preyed upon by authority figures, by bigoted foreign conquerors (who attempted a genocide), by the various predatory religious hierarchies who abused and divided the common people. I look at my kindly, generous friends and neighbors and I wonder how a people so given to hospitality and good-heartedness could have let their worst elements wield such power over them. The popular vote to legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland signaled a major shift away from the patriarchal dominance structure that prevailed even after Irish independence was gained, a shift from authoritarianism to a generous-spiritedness more natural to the tribe.

To a large extent, the Irish (like the Jews and African-Americans) are a diaspora people, forced to leave their homelands by hostile outside forces, and finding ways to not only survive, but to thrive despite the hardships they have faced. The heritage that I celebrate is the tenacity, the hard work and sheer grit that my forebears exhibited, and that I endeavor to maintain. For the same reason, I admire Jewish and African-American people, who have inherited the same determination to overcome oppression. The flip side of that is that I find Irish-American authoritarians (I'm looking at a couple of FOX hosts here) to be particularly repugnant- they are the sort of people who have thrown in their lot with the oppressors, rather than the underdogs of the world.

I'll be heading out for a wee dram or two... or three... Before I head out, here's a number from Mary Courtney, friend of the Bastard and Star of the County Bronx,





The Patriot Game, with lyrics by Dominic Behan, perfectly encapsulates the conflicted nature of the Irish people, the morass of patriotism, sectarianism, nationalism, and violence that has so long held sway on Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore. Things have gotten a lot better in the past twenty-years, which is reason enough to raise a glass of Tullamore Dew in celebration.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Make America Sick, Dumb, Hungry, and Dirty Again

Egads, the Trump Budget Plan is a true horrorshow, not хорошо at all. This particular bit struck me as especially troublesome:


Trump’s first budget proposal, which he named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20 percent at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency.


This means a whole lot of deregulation, a wholesale degradation of environmental and labor standards... this is particularly a victory for extractive industries which are particularly dangerous to workers and the environment. The simultaneous increase in defense spending and decrease in State Department spending seems to put the lie to the whole 'Hillary Clinton is a warmonger so vote for Trump' trope pushed during the election last year. I have long been a proponent of the use of soft power in America's dealings with the rest of the world, but it looks like the only tool in the Trump Maladministration toolkit is a hammer, by which I mean high-explosive ordnance. At least we didn't elect a warmonger... not one in a pantsuit, at any rate.

Trump also wants to wage the culture war by using the power of the purse:


It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.


Besides the fact that eliminating these positions works counter to Trump's stated goal of creating jobs (maybe those EPA inspectors can be sent down into the coal mines to dig, rather than regulate), these cuts will further impoverish the culture- I work for a not-for-profit, and we receive NEH grants for some of our programs... this time, it's personal.

Not surprisingly, the budget also cuts programs that help the poor: home heating fuel subsidies and community block grants which are often used to combat homelessness. One real puzzler is the proposal to privatize the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control- wealthy people fly more often than poor people, and I can't imagine a privatized FAA, concerned with cost-containment, making air travel safer.

Perhaps the worst feature of the budget is the gutting of funds earmarked for research into clean, renewable energy and climate change mitigation:


The proposed budget extensively targets Obama programs and investments focused on climate change, seeking to eliminate payments to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund — one key component of the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate agreement — and to slash research funding for climate, ocean and earth science programs at agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At the same time, clean-energy research, heavily privileged by the Obama administration, would suffer greatly under the budget with the elimination of the ­ARPA-E program (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) at the Energy Department and an unspecified cut to the agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.


Yep, at the worst possible time, we have a government which is putting the pedal to the medal in the race along the road to, well, The Road. It's here where I reiterate my line that we aren't destroying the world, we are destroying our world... best of luck to our hardy Coleopterous planetary heirs.

Meanwhile, the budget funnels money to charter schools and private schools... gotta pay for school-wide bear defense.

Then, of course, there's the Wall:


And he requested $1.7 billion in new funding this year and an additional $2.6 billion in new funding in 2018 to begin construction of a wall along the border with Mexico. Trump proposed creating this wall during his campaign and had said Mexico would pay for it. A number of congressional Republicans appear to be cooling on the idea.


By the time Trump guts everything which makes this country liveable, there won't need to be a wall on the southern border... maybe the Canadians will start building one of their own, they'll need it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Iowa, Land of Intrigue

Roy has a piece up about the right-wingers' reactions to Iowa representative Steve King's racist, xenophobic tweet, and some bastard wrote a waggish comment that he now feels compelled to post on his own blog... the comment was directly inspired by Helmut Monotreme's bit about Iowa's hog farms and feed lots and dairies big enough to suck the water table down to bedrock and drown your favorite lake in a tidal wave of liquid manure:


Hog farms and feed lots and exploding silos,
Even a college that won't invite Milo.
Ponds full of Round-Up that make your eyes sting.
This is the state that elected Steve King.

Big butter sculptures and hot dogs in batter,
Is it a wonder the people get fatter?
Blonde, corn-fed beauties who make your heart sing,
This is the state that elected Steve King.

When the darkies, have their babies, and I'm feeling fright,
I just remember Iowa's Steve King, and he'll keep our country White!



This is, of course, a parody of My Favorite Things from "The Sound of Music", but reading it over again, I find myself running up against Poe's Law- the chorus of this parody could pass as a campaign slogan for Steve King.

As a coda to this post, I have to note that Conservapedia's definition of Poe's Law is a perfect illustration of, you got it, Poe's Law. The post title is *yoinked* from an old "Bloom County" parody of National Geographic which I can't seem to find on the t00bz.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Yesterday was 'Prep Day'

The big news story here is the nor'easter which is hammering the area... we're supposed to get anywhere from six to eighteen inches of snow before the storm abates. Tuesdays are typically a day off for me, but I brought the company cell phone home with me on Monday afternoon (I had to go to a staff meeting about changes to our retirement plan) so I could monitor conditions on the job if any of my subordinates had a problem getting to work. If the trains are running, I can get to the job in a pinch if there are any problems. I hope there are no problems.

I decided not to come in before the storm and camp out because I don't want to leave my neighbors in the lurch, sticking them with all of the snow-shoveling. I did all of my shopping on Sunday after work, braving the pre-storm crowds. My plan is to put together a big pot of sancocho (I worked in the South Bronx for fifteen years y conozco el sabor) and leaving it at a slow simmer while I shovel snow. Traditionally, I put a big pot of something, usually a ragù, on the stove during blizzards before going out to shovel snow. I haven't made a big pot of anything in a while... having all of winter condensed into a day and a half in March isn't typical.

I'm hoping I can sit at home all afternoon eating sancocho- I don't need to be standing on a train platform in a blizzard because there's a crisis at work.





Monday, March 13, 2017

The Blueprint for GOP 'Charity'

In a comment on yesterday's post, friend of the bastard OBS linked to a Washington Post article concerning Tuam, which I referenced in my post. The article is a tough read, it concerns the life of a young, unmarried pregnant woman who gave birth at “The Home for Mothers and Babies” run by the Sisters of Bon Secours. Her infant son was separated from her and she was confined to “The Magdalene Asylum”, until she escaped and fled to England to avoid further punishment.

Her son was confined to the Home for Mothers and Babies, where the healthiest children were often sold to adoptive parents, mainly from the U.S. His mother attempted to contact him numerous times, but he had been convinced that she was a 'woman of ill-repute'. He was finally able to reconcile with her after becoming an adult, learning that his mother hadn't been the evil individual throughout this whole ordeal.

I firmly believe in a government-run social safety net. Conservatives often talk about how private charities, usually churches, should be the organizations which provide succor to the poor, the sick, the unfortunate. FUCK THAT SHIT... I don't believe that these organizations act in, if you'll pardon the expression, good faith- they confine their aid to 'worthy' individuals (as defined according to their dogma), they attach strings to their aid (typically aggressive proselytizing), and they perpetuate a patriarchal dominance structure which is hostile to women and indifferent at best towards children. The GOP wants to bring a theocratic government to the United States, exactly the sort of government which created such misery in Ireland and which creates misery in places like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. We need less religion in the public sphere, and we cannot trust religious organizations to care for vulnerable individuals, especially not women and children.

Rather than fuming about this story and bursting a blood vessel, here's The Innocent and the Honest Ones, an appropriate song by bastard fave In Tua Nua, fronted by the incomparable Leslie Dowdall:





I've posted the song before, but it's an important one, one of the most poignant agnostic hymns ever written. If your religion involves mass graves, then you really need to reconsider your faith. I reconsidered mine, and I sure as hell don't want theocracy to be implemented in these here United States.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The 2017 Runup to the Solemn Feast of St Patrick

I am firmly of the opinion that holidays should be modeled on Hanukkah, at least as far as duration goes... they should be multi-day affairs. Today, I am working an uncharacteristic day shift- the local municipality's St Patrick's Day parade takes place today, and management has allowed the town to use our main parking lot as an overflow lot for parade participants. I had to arrive before 9AM to open up the lot, though we didn't get a trickle of cars in until almost noon. It's been a quiet day, the weather is cold and windy, so nobody has shown any desire to linger on the premises. Basically, I've spent most of the day watching videos. One peculiarity of the parade is that it takes place on the main thoroughfare in the region, rather than the main commercial drag of the town, which is not majorly significant from a transportation point-of-view. A couple of people have shown up in the parking lot looking for a way around the area... after an initial faux-Mainer 'you can't get there from here', I explain to them how they can go north and east to get south.

It's tough getting around the area on a day like this, which reminds me of one of my favorite 'trad' Irish tunes, The Rocky Road to Dublin, which recounts, in humorous fashion, the travails encountered by a young man traveling from Tuam in search of work. Here's a great version by the Pogues, a band near and dear to my heart:





This track was never featured on any of the band's albums, though they featured an instrumental version of the song in their medley on the album 'If I Should Fall from Grace with God'. I'm hoping that I don't have a 'Rocky Road to Yonkers' when my relief comes in a half-hour or so.