Tuesday, April 7, 2020
In hyperlocal news, I spoke with my next door neighbor while I was putting the recycling out, and he told me that his brother was sick with COVID-19, but was well on the way to recovery. Since his case wasn't life-threatening, there really wasn't any treatment, it was just a matter of letting his immune system cope with the virus. He himself is essential personnel at work, being on the maintenance crew of a hospital, but it's masks and gloves at all time for him. My upstairs neighbors are doing well, throwing an impromptu one-on-one half-court basketball tourney, with the kids trying to best mom, with little success. I think the tables will be turned by summer's end, when they end up with a height advantage.
The neighborhood abides, with local merchants collecting donations for out of work bar and restaurant staff. I imagine that, when this thing finally runs its course and the stay-at-home order is lifted, there will be a bacchanal that makes the Solemn Feast of St Patrick look like an ice cream social. Goodness knows everybody is a little stir crazy.
Secondary title cribbed from this classic bit of B-Movie sleaze
Monday, April 6, 2020
Next up, I set up Zoom on another device so I can have two running conversations while gaming and blogging. I am in a new, golden age of multitasking, though all of the tasks are frivolous.
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday is the beginning of a Holy week for many people of Faith and a great day to lift our voices in Prayer. I will be tuning into Pastor @greglaurie at @harvestorg Church in Riverside, California tomorrow at 11:00 A.M. Eastern. https://t.co/2eTaKsZVT4— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 4, 2020
I bet he had a tab open to a porn site while he was streaming the service...
The real surprise was Trump's post COVID-19 task force meeting presser. In a 'greatest hits' callback, regarding the antibiotic erythromycin, he once again asks, "What have you got to lose?"
Dr. Trump touts unproven and potentially dangerous drugs: "Erythromycin, which will kill certain things that you don't want living within your body. It's a powerful drug ... what do you have to lose?" pic.twitter.com/UDQovyhbGx— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 5, 2020
What have you got to lose with this medicine which doesn't affect viruses? Well, for one thing, your beneficial bacterial symbionts.
Trump, predictably, also touted the wonders of the poorly tested (for COVID-19) hydroxychloroquine:
Trump on why he's giving medical advice even though he's not a doctor: "What really do we have to lose? ... we don't have time to go and say, 'gee, let's take a couple of years and test it out' ... it doesn't kill people." (This last point re: hydroxychloroquine is not true.) pic.twitter.com/zE0aN4iSFW— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 5, 2020
Then he tried to muzzle Dr Anthony Fauci, questioned about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine:
"I answered this 15 times. You don't have to answer." -- Trump prevents Dr Fauci from answering a question about hydroxychloroquine pic.twitter.com/8R1K1hDsaX— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 6, 2020
Yeah, this Palm Sunday is more like a Facepalm Sunday:
Can some enterprising reporter throw a shoe at Trump? I'd pony up for a defense fund. and unlike Trump, I'm not a liar.
Saturday, April 4, 2020
The one individual in the country who knows the importance of honest, competent disaster relief is General Russel Honoré, the hero of the otherwise incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina, and the man is livid at the Trump Maladministration's handling of the COVID-19 crisis. The man's last name says it all, and he seems to have no tolerance for the dishonorable.
I can't see this situation remaining sustainable any longer. NATO allies are accusing the US of diverting medical supplies. The supplies sent to US hospitals are sometimes non-functional due to a lack of maintenance sparked by a dispute over a contract. The pandemic hasn't even crested in the hotspots, and it's going to hit the elderly-skewing populations of Florida and Arizona like a two-ton heavy thing.
Friday, April 3, 2020
I go in to work every day, I receive my briefing in person from the gentleman working the shift before me, and I end my shift by disinfecting the company cell phone and placing it on the desk for the hand-off. I haven't used this teleconferencing software at all. Hell, I don't even Skype or FaceTime, preferring audio phone calls so my attention isn't divided. The poor security protocols for these teleconferencing apps makes me disinclined to start using them. There are a lot of disaffected people out there with poor socialization, and they are bored... that's not a recipe for good outcomes.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
I see a parallel between the demonization of Dr Fauci and the demonization of climate scientists- these are people who tell 'inconvenient truths', and the cult members who are wed to the right-wing narrative would like to see them silenced, even if that silence is through violence. Ignorance and partisanship just might doom this country.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
There's room for a certain grim humor these days, it's one of the few things that allows us to cope. With a whole lot of snarky people being stuck at home with little to do, it's a banner time for gallows humor:
So, now that every day is a 'fools' day', I'm not going to single out this one particular day.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Poking around the archive, I found a rare novel by my beloved Jack Vance. Written in 1965 and published under Jack's full name in 1967, John Holbrook Vance's The Pleasant Grove Murders is a murder mystery set in the fictional San Rodrigo County in northern California, a few hours drive southeast of San Francisco. It would seem that Jack Vance was in a 'mystery' phase of his career during the 60s, as even his Science Fiction tales, such as 1961
s The Moon Moth (one of my absolute favorites) and 1964's The Star King and The Killing Machine were mysteries. The Pleasant Grove Murders itself is a sequel to The Fox Valley Murders, published in 1966... which I foolishly found after I'd read The Pleasant Grove Murders.
Jack Vance didn't use quite so flowery an idiom in his mysteries as he did in his Science Fiction and Fantasy fiction. The long, flowery dialogues between amoral reprobates in decadent settings are absent from his contemporary fiction. Nevertheless, The Pleasant Grove Murders is unmistakably Vance- the novel begins with a long introduction to the cast of characters, providing a suitable array of suspects. There's the haughty girl from a wealthy family, the obsessive teenage boy who hates her as much as he years for her, the snobby aristocratic boy... all typical Vance archetypes. The protagonist, Sheriff Joe Bain, is a typically competent individual, but not a macho wish-fulfillment figure- his wife left him for a 'cowboy singer', he lives with his mother and headstrong teenage daughter, and lives in the shadow of his predecessor, the flamboyant Sheriff Cucchinello (the sort of showoff who'd ride a white horse in the county parade, but send his Deputy, Joe Bain, to handle a dangerous situation. Joe Bain fits well into the tradition of rural police officers thrown into incongruously violent circumstances, such as Marge Gunderson. Faced with a growing body count on a street populated by the town's wealthy and influential, he frets about the future of his electoral prospects. As he conducts the investigation, he contends with a hostile newspaper publisher, an alluring 'New Agey' type who fancies herself an alien, and a deranged ranch hand who precipitates a violent standoff (Vance uses this sideline to highlight Sheriff Bain's cool-headedness and guile in the course of duty).
If you are a fan of whodunits, I would suggest that you give John Holbrook Vance a try. His descriptive passages are gorgeous, his character studies well-sketched in economical fashion. For me, the book didn't reach the empyrean heights of his better-known SFF fiction, but my opinion is nuncupatory.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Like everyone, he's hoping that things will return to normal by the end of April. This is where I have to note that, for me, life is pretty much 60% normal- work is going on as usual, though my social life has taken a major hit. One thing I have to note is that I am getting about double the amount of text messages that I'd typically get, people are communicating more, just to say that they are okay. Fortunately, everybody is doing well, even their pets are ecstatic to have them home all day. By the end of this quarantine, hopefully we'll all have kickass gardens and card files full of all of the recipes we've finally had time to try out.
Wow, an optimistic post... it's been a while!
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Trump brags about how his press briefings about a deadly pandemic that is killing Americans get ratings comparable to "The Bachelor" or "Monday Night Football" pic.twitter.com/d3WCvQpSDL— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 29, 2020
I can't wait for the day when the CDC releases the Sweeps Week ratings!
On an even more bizarre note, Trump seems to be implying that medical personnel are stealing personal protective equipment:
"How do you go from 10 to 20 to 30,000, to 300,000 -- even though this is different. Something is going on. And you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going?" -- Trump suggests that there is some sort of New York nurse conspiracy to steal masks pic.twitter.com/6vubm89vgQ— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 29, 2020
It's as if he doesn't even know that this equipment is meant for single use. He is on the record stating that hospitals should be sanitizing masks with 'liquids'.
The entire press briefing was a farrago of nonsense and duplicity, I don't know why media outlets even bother covering these lie-fests. Why give the asshole the ratings he craves?
Saturday, March 28, 2020
Here's Trump saying of the coronavirus that "you can call it a flu ... I'm not sure that anybody even knows what it is." (It is not the flu.) pic.twitter.com/47Fx8ZpaF1— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 27, 2020
That sentence, "you can call it a flu ... I'm not sure that anybody even knows what it is" should terrify anyone with half a brain. Trump actually has less of a handle on what needs to be done to soften the blow of the outbreak than the author of Space Raptor Butt Invasion does. Among the brainless, the magical thinking about the pandemic is absolutely horrific- the looniest of the lunatic fringe actually thinks the disease is a divine mechanism to destroy their perceived enemies. They have truly devolved into a suicide cult:
Uh oh. pic.twitter.com/iInoIhPPUm— Travis View (@travis_view) March 28, 2020
In the face of such profound stupidity, no doubt magnified by trolls and bots run by hostile powers, how can responsible authorities get the real facts out to the public, especially when the loons believe they are the architects of the disaster? Experts know the nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, they know the strategies to use to reduce the rate of transmission, and they are being ignored or vilified by the very people who should be deferring to them.
Friday, March 27, 2020
This number could be considered advice for those hit by cabin fever:
My introduction to the band as a pup was through the storied WLIR. Maybe I'll be bored enough to count all of the time that the listeners awarded them the 'Screamer of the Week'.
Thursday, March 26, 2020
Personally, tonight was the first night that things genuinely seemed to break down. Having subsisted largely on a 'perpetual stew' that's been on my stovetop all week, I decided that getting some slices of pizza would be a welcome change of pace. Every place I stopped by on my way to work was closed. I'm not the type of person who freaks out, but the closure of habitual haunts isn't exactly comforting, especially when you don't know if the closures are due to supply chain disruptions, the illness of well-liked proprietors, or some other factor. I expect that things are going to take a turn for the worse over the next couple of weeks. A LOT WORSE.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Meanwhile, overburdened hospitals are setting up makeshift morgues in anticipation of the rising death toll. It's like the nation is suffering from a split personality, with half of the population hunkered down while the other half is 'punking' others by putting them in danger. If this nonsense doesn't stop, we're going to have to bring back the stocks and pillory.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
The song's refrain was
Not content with just mashing up African music, jazz, and funk, Manu Dibango added classical music to the mélange with his work fronting Safari Symphonique:
Monsieur Dibango's eclectic work is the perfect introduction to jazz for pop, funk, and rock listeners. Here's an entire 2018 concert by the legend, so you can let the 'Africadelik' sounds sweep over you:
It's an odd feeling to be so sad while feeling the urge to boogie.
Monday, March 23, 2020
I know that times are tough, so I wouldn't ask anybody to spend money they could not afford. If you have a couple of bucks, though, consider adding them to this benefit fund... if you are a fan of my Secret Science Club recaps, consider throwing a fiver in the till. The Bell House is also the home turf of the entertaining Ask Me Another puzzle/trivia gameshow. Years ago, when I worked in a large office for a Fortune 500 company, I would ride in a multiple sclerosis bike-a-thon every October (I can't do that with my current work schedule), and my fundraising approach would be to ask everybody for two dollars, pretty much the cost of a cup of coffee and a roll at the time. My opinion is that getting two dollars from one hundred people is better than getting one hundred dollars from two people (most people ended up giving ten). It also gave me the opportunity to go around the office like this:
A couple of bucks would go a long way to help out my good friends at the Bell House, the bartenders, bouncers, sound and lighting techs. I've known these folks for many years, and have come to love them well, and I wouldn't be asking if I didn't.
Sunday, March 22, 2020
"Okay, Margaret, there's an issue here of where we're coming from. The president has heard -- as we all have heard -- what I call anecdotal reports that certain drugs work. So what he was trying to do and express was the hope that if they might work, let's try and push their usage. I, on the other side, have said, I'm not disagreeing with the fact that anecdotally they might work. But my job is to prove definitively from a scientific standpoint that they do work. So I was taking a medically, purely scientific standpoint and the president was trying to bring hope to the people. There's this issue of trying to separate the two of us. There isn't fundamentally a difference there. He's coming from it from a hope/layperson standpoint. I'm coming from it from a scientific standpoint."
Clinical trials are needed to determine if Hydroxychloroquine is actually effective against COVID-19, and if it is, what dosages are safe. The drug can have hazardous side-effects, as self-medicating Nigerians have discovered the hard way. Even worse, the drug is used to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and those afflicted with these conditions cannot get the drug because unscrupulous monsters are hoarding it. This is a hell of a lot more serious than toilet paper hoarding. I'm kinda taking this one personally, a woman I used to work with died all-too-young of lupus complications and another friend of mine, also a former co-worker, has been fighting lupus for years.
The combination of apathy, mendacity, idiocy, and an obsession with political calculus emanating from the White House is getting people killed, and not only COVID-19 sufferers will die. This country is the goddamned Demeter, careening toward the Whitby coast, and Stupid Dracula is at the helm. Hey, I know we're living in a horror narrative, but I figured I needed to give Poe a break.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
Yeah, who knew that Kenny Rogers could have given Roky Erickson a run for the money in the psychedelia business? As if that weren't weird enough, the reversed guitar intro to the studio version of Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) was played by that other pop-country juggernaut, Glen Campbell.
The other big hit for First Edition was a melancholy number which is completely antithetical to the typical macho swagger of both rock and country music:
Not exactly the typical pop music song... While Kenny Rogers sang a lot of love songs, perhaps his weirdest hit as a solo artist was basically a Sam Peckinpah film rendered as a pop-country ditty. The lyrics are... uhhh... disturbing:
It's pretty mind-boggling that this song became a major hit in 1979. I don't think it would have charted in today's social climate. At least he never sang this one with the Muppets:
Amid all of the encomiums and accolades (rightfully) heaped upon this pop-culture titan, I figured that someone had to note the weird little discordant notes in the man's copious body of work.
Friday, March 20, 2020
The prospect of a vacation spent in this time of social distancing reminds me of that most perfect of pop songs, Vacation by the GoGos, in which Belinda Carlisle sang that vacation was 'meant to be spent alone', though I don't think she meant quarantine-style:
At the risk of losing 80s kid cool points for not knowing this, or gaining 80s kid cool points for finding this out, I only recently learned that the song Vacation was a carry-over tune from GoGos bassist Kathy Valentine's first band, the Textones:
I like the rawer energy of this song, though I have to confess that it doesn't quite match the pure pop bliss of the confection that the GoGos' studio version achieved. In Totally GoGos, a 1981 promotional video released by the band's label, the version is, in evolutionary terms, a transitional form... it's reworked from the taut, spare energy of the original, with the more melodic form of the eventual album version:
For me, the fun is seeing an old favorite as a work in progress, and gaining an appreciation for the songwriter's craft. The next week or two is largely going to involve staving off boredom, and if this is time meant to spent alone, there's plenty of time for deep dives into waters once thought well-charted.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
The roads were pretty empty, and I got to work just in time to see our contract cleaners, two Colombian-born gentlemen, on their way out. I bid them 'adios' from quarantine distance, and thanked them for doing an extra-thorough job of disinfecting the place. The frontline workers in this disaster, besides the medical personnel, are the cleaners, the counter-staff, the cashiers and shelf-stockers... people who don't get the accolades they deserve, but who are holding this country together.
At any rate, the streets are pretty bare, people have taken the 'shelter in place' message to heart around here. Because of this, the one song that has been going through my head is Ghost Town by the Specials:
The song was originally written about the unemployment crisis sparked by Margaret Thatcher in 1980s England... weird how Conservative policies always seem to end up in economically depressed ghost towns.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Welp, Oprah is the top trend in the United States because QAnon people completely made up that she was arrested as part of their fictitious baby eating ring.— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) March 18, 2020
These people's delusions are extremely unwelcome at this moment. https://t.co/7W3ree2c6D
Ah, yes, late in the 'States means working hours in Russia, so I believe that this trend was amplified by Russian trolls, but it originated with a homegrown whackaloon, a sovereign citizen type who claimed to have video of a raid on Oprah's home in Key West:
Tracked down the source of the Oprah sex trafficking arrest hoax, and it's just this weirdo talking in a parking lot for ten minutes. Now it's the top trending topic. pic.twitter.com/TMW4pXcgxq— Respectable Lawyer (@RespectableLaw) March 18, 2020
Unbeknownst to most of us, this weirdo has been fighting for the freedom of our asses:
That “weirdo” has a name, which is TANK. And @Kre8change, along with many others have been on the frontline fighting for the freedom of your ass, which most of you didn’t even realize you signed away.— Peter Luis Venero (@peterluisvenero) March 18, 2020
I, for one, am grateful that my ass is free, even at the cost of a hit on Oprah's reputation. I have to think, though, that this ass-freedom fighter is going to be in a world of hurt soon, because the Queen of Daytime Television, or someone on her communications team, has become aware of his character assassination attempt:
Just got a phone call that my name is trending. And being trolled for some awful FAKE thing. It’s NOT TRUE. Haven’t been raided, or arrested. Just sanitizing and self distancing with the rest of the world. Stay safe everybody.🙏🏾— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) March 18, 2020
It's about time that someone lowered the boom on these maniacs, who are so quick to level accusations of child abuse at their perceived enemies. Oprah has deep pockets and a broad fanbase, so she is exactly the person to squash the trolls who are accusing her of the most heinous crimes imaginable. If she can accomplish this, I'll consider myself a fan, WOO platforming notwithstanding.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
It's been a pretty quiet day, all told, though the supermarket was fairly busy when I went this morning (sure enough, there were chicken hearts aplenty, normal suburbanites haven't twigged on to the fact that they are muscle, like a breast or thigh). People were quiet and reserved, but well-behaved... no fistfights in the paper goods section that I've seen.
It'll be an uneventful Paddy's Day, one spent responsibly, a day on which we beseech the Blessed St Patrick to drive the COVID-19 from these shores... though Tullamore Dew might be the germicide of choice today.
There's no wearing of the green
When you're under quarantine.
The streets of New York City,
Are the emptiest I've seen.
This is, of course, a play on The Wearing of the Green:
That's a fine rebel song, and it shares a tune with the even better rebel song The Rising of the Moon:
No rebellion for me, not today... it's a time to knuckle under for the next couple of weeks.
Monday, March 16, 2020
Trump ghoulishly bragged about Friday’s stock market gains during a news conference about the deadly coronavirus pandemic pic.twitter.com/HkHJpmRKZv— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 14, 2020
To demonstrate how bad Trump's 'reverse Midas touch' is, the Dow lost almost three-thousand points, the largest single loss in history. Not even the promise of a massive bailout package could stop the financial carnage.
I'm not looking for financial salvation from an individual who has bankrupted as many businesses as Trump has. He has been the recipients of bailouts before, including a whacko $3 million gift his father engineered by buying poker chips at his stupid son's casino. His father's bailouts didn't save the idiot's businesses, the Fed bailout won't save Trump from being branded a recession president.
I'd find this all very comical, but real lives will be ruined by this idiot's malfeasance and incompetence.
Sunday, March 15, 2020
TODAY IS A NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER. GOD BLESS EVERYONE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2020
At least a good deal of the respondents are praying for his removal from office. On the other hand, some more stupid craw-thumpers are ignoring the advice of healthcare experts in order to appear like God's Own Tough Guys:
Right-wing pastor Rodney Howard-Browne is not about to cancel church or prevent congregants from shaking hands because they are not a bunch of "pansies." pic.twitter.com/C36kBIEWqF— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) March 15, 2020
Other right-wing 'influencers' are also trying to set their followers up for a Darwinian experience, such as Sheriff Flair:
Lesser luminaries are revisiting the old paranoid tropes in order to angry up the militia subset of MAGAstan:
I first spotted shared lunacy about Ohio around 6:30. pic.twitter.com/JuowTqmwtu— Melania's Belts (@MelaniasBelts) March 16, 2020
Meanwhile, at work most of the staff has been directed to work from home, or to take furlough if they can't work remotely. Even Ginger has gone home with one of our managers because of the reduced staffing. I'm essential personnel, and work alone most of the time, so my department is unaffected. Not all of the country is engaging in Oppositional Defiance Disorder, by which I mean contagion, in order to own the libs, by which I mean put vulnerable populations at risk.
On a personal note, I'm pretty well stocked here at home. Going camping every summer as a kid has taught me well about what to stock up on (lot of canned sardines, rice and dried legumes). My general lack of squeamishness has worked to my advantage, attested to by the large pot of chicken gizzards currently simmering on my stove. Before I finish up this post, I figure I'll relate an amusing anecdote about a trip to the grocery store yesterday (when I garnered said gizzards).
I got out of work at 7AM and figured I'd hit the Stop-n-Shop near work to see what pickings could be had. A big block of cheese, several packages of chicken gizzards, a box of Wheat Thins, and several cans of sardines packed with hot peppers later, I got on line for the cashiers. The gent in front of me had an eighteen pack of Michelob Ultra in his cart, and I joked, "Can't face an apocalypse without beer!" The general mood was chaotic but good-natured. No fights, a little grim humor, a feeling that we'd get through this crisis together by getting through it alone. When he approached the cash register, he got the bad news... by law, the store couldn't sell the beer until 8AM (it's noon on Sundays). Rather than getting angry at the cashier, a patient girl, the two came up with a clever solution- he would give her the money so he could take his groceries to the car, wait a couple of minutes, then return so she could scan the 18-pack without necessitating his return to the customer queue.
In trying times, get smart. Piety and defiance won't save us, but cleverness and mutual regard will. A Day of Prayer wasn't needed on this Ides of March, but a Day of Decency or two, by which I mean twenty, will see us through.
Saturday, March 14, 2020
Portis was not a prolific writer, having penned only five novels, but his second, and best (but not my favorite) novel, True Grit, was a bestseller made into two movies, in 1969 and 2010. The 1969 adaptation ensured Portis' fortune, so he never had to resort to writing potboilers to pay the bills (one common trope in biographies of Portis was that he 'retired to a fishing shack in Arkansas'). I wrote a fairly extensive blog post about True Grit shortly after the release of the 2010 film. If you've never read it, get it now and read it, and then read it again... we're all supposed to be under quarantine, you're going to need reading material and this book is perfect.
Portis' first novel, 1966's Norwood, is best described, like most of his novels, as a picaresque... the protagonist, Norwood Pratt (Portis was once the London bureau chief of the Herald Tribune) is a young Marine granted a hardship discharge upon the death of his father, in order to care for his sister, 'a heavy, sleepy girl with bad posture... old enough to look after herself and quite large enough, but in many ways... a big baby'. Portis sends him from Ralph, Texas to New York City to collect a seventy dollar debt from an old military buddy. As luck would have it, a chance run-in 'Grady Fring the Kredit King', who needs someone to transport a car to NYC, sets him on his journey, where he eventually meets such characters as a 'college educated' chicken, 'the world's smallest perfect fat man', a Jewish travel writer who doesn't travel, and, eventually, the love of his life. The novel, which reads much like Midnight Cowboy reimagined as a comedy, was made into a film (which I've never seen) starring True Grit leads Kim Darby and Glen Campbell in 1970:
Portis' third novel, The Dog of the South, mines a lot of the same material that Norwood did, it is a picaresque whose protagonist, bookish Arkansan named Ray Midge, chases after his wife, who has run off with her ex-husband, a scoundrel named Dupree. To make matters worse, the pair have stolen Midge's car, a shotgun, and credit cards. Charles Portis' keen eye for all details automotive is on display as he describes the clunker that Dupree has exchanged for Midge's car:
In exchange for my car, he had left me his 1963 Buick Special. I had found it in my slot at the Rhino Apartments parking lot, standing aside a red puddle of transmission fluid. It was a compact car, a rusty little piece of basic transportation with a V-6 engine. The thing ran well enough and it seemed eager to please but I couldn't believe the Buick engineers ever had their hearts in a people's car. Dupree had shamefully neglected it. There was about a quarter-turn of slack in the steering wheel and I had to swing it wildly back and forth in a childlike burlesque of motoring. After a day or two I got the hang of it but the violent arm movements made me look like a lunatic. I had to stay alert every second, every instant, to make small corrections. That car had 74,000 miles on it and the speedometer cable was broken. There was a hole in the floor on the driver's side and when I drove over something white the flash between my feet made me jump. That's enough on the car for now.
Using the receipts from his stolen credit cards, Midge deduces that his quarry has traveled south to Mexico, and he remembers that Dupree's family owns a property in British Honduras. As in Norwood, the protagonist, a 'gringo of goodwill in a small Buick', meets a variety of weirdos, such as petty criminal Dr Reo Symes, the owner of a bus with 'The Dog of the South' painted on its sides. The book is, like most of Portis' novels, alternately hilarious, sad, and trenchant, and was optioned for a film treatment by Bill Hader.
Portis' last novel, 1991's Gringos, like The Dog of the South, is also set in Latin America, specifically the Yucatán. The protagonist, Jimmy Burns, is an expatriate American who earns his living by taking on transportation jobs, occasional black-market dealing of artifacts, and other odd jobs... though he is 'the very picture of an American idler in Mexico, right down to the grass-green golfing trousers'. The plot of the book involves a search for a missing American girl who may have run away from home with an ex-con self-styled New Age guru, a false prophet who has joined an influx of hippies hoping for mystical experiences. Burns is a mercenary, but he isn't quite the antihero that True Grit's Rooster Cogburn is. The book contains what might be characterized as Charles Portis' keenest commentary on his fellow Southerners:
Dorsey was still looking for the catch. He couldn't size me up except that he was pretty sure I didn't report to work every morning. The back of his neck, a web of cracks, was burnt to the color and texture of red brick from much honest labor in the sun. A badge of honor, you might think, but no, it was the mark of the beast. The thanks that Dorsey and his people got for all their noonday sweat was to be called a contemptuous name. Few rednecks actually had red necks these days, but Dorsey Teeter had one that glowed.
I'm holding off on writing about Charles Portis' 1985's Masters of Atlantis. This book is perhaps my favorite comedic novel, a wild farrago of true believers in recondite 'lore' and the grifters who see them as a means to make a fast buck. While I read this novel, checked out from the public library, as a high-school student, mom actually checked up on me because I was laughing so hard I was having trouble breathing. I'm going to save this book for another post, such is my intense love for it. After the 2010 release of True Grit, now-disgraced WNYC host Leonard Lopate did a segment of Portis.
Roy Blount Jr once observed that Portis “could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he’d rather be funny.” Even in his books which are punctuated by violence, such as True Grit and Gringos, there is no reveling in gore, and the action is punctuated by comedic scenes. If you haven't read anything by the man, please do... at least read True Grit. See for yourselves what being a member of the Portis cult is all about.
Thanks, Sweetums, for breaking the news to me... you have the wisdom of a Pletho Pappus!
Friday, March 13, 2020
When I arrived, I found the parking lot full, so I parked across the street. Upon entering the store, I saw that the line for the cashiers stretched the length of the store, and the shelves were denuded of large bags of rice and various forms of ‘dal’. I pretty much left as soon as I saw I’d have little success there.
I then stopped by a small supermarket close to work, where I picked up a couple of containers of star anise (a precursor to Tamiflu- hey, even I occasionally engage in magical thinking). I checked out all of the aisles and, sure enough, about eighty-percent of the TP was gone (I bought a 12-pack two weeks ago, having been down to my last roll). Most of the dried beans were also gone, but I picked up a couple of bags of yellow split peas (alas, the pigeon peas were sold out) and some bulgur. The bread section was practically empty.
I imagine most local supermarkets are similarly cleared out. People have taken the self-isolation message seriously. Personally, I am holding out for foraging season to begin, the nettles, knotweed, and poke should be coming up any day now.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
It's heartbreaking to see such a vibrant community brought to its knees by a microorganism. I'd say that my heart goes out to the people of New Rochelle, but my heart's always been with them.
Post title taken from Phil Coulter's tragic ode to Derry- I've been remiss in my pre-St Patrick's day posts, so here is the song in its sad glory:
Once this COVID-19 thing blows over, I will go on a long-overdo 'foodie' tour of New Rochelle. I owe them, and I owe myself.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
This is when the true impact of the virus response hit home, there's a lot of work that goes on to produce these events, all brought to nought. Of course, erring on the side of caution is the sensible course of action- who wants to be the jerk responsible for an outbreak of a nasty disease?
Monday, March 9, 2020
I have to observe, though, that, despite being known as the 'Party of Business', the Republicans are terrible at running functioning economies. The last stock market crash before this current one took place on Dubya's watch, now this crash is taking place under Trump's watch. You want recessions? Vote Republican! Meanwhile, I think I'll stop looking at the financial reports... on paper, I've lost thousands of dollars. I'd be tempted to make some stock purchases to take advantage of the current low prices, but the money I'd use has been earmarked for, you got it, my 401(k). At least the stinging nettles are coming back into season, so I'll be getting my hands on SOME green.
Sunday, March 8, 2020
Welp, now it seems that I wasn't too far off in that speculation:
BREAKING: "The American Conservative Union has learned that one of our CPAC attendees has unfortunately tested positive today for coronavirus."— Philip Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) March 7, 2020
A cadre of Trump inner circle jerks were at that circlejerk... as was Trump himself. I'd bet he's regretting pulling this creepy stunt:
I'm getting a strong Prospero (and not the one you think I'm thinking of) vibe from Trump... his CPAC 'party' during an outbreak of a novel disease has a The Masque of the Red Death vibe to me, with Trump's soon-to-end imprisonment of cruise ship passengers standing in for Prince Prospero's bolting of the iron gates of his fortress to keep the peasantry out.
While I was working in the wee hours, I read a tweet which exactly echoed my thought's about Trump's grotesque response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an own-goal, Trump forwarded a 'meme' containing a QAnon slogan, but the photoshop accompanying the slogan suggests that he is, Nero-like, fiddling while Rome, by which I mean America, burns:
Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me! https://t.co/rQVA4ER0PV— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 8, 2020
This sort of 'self-pwnage is what occurs when you shut yourself in a bubble with your sycophants, unable to realize that your isolation won't save you, because the plague is already inside your gates.
Friday, March 6, 2020
AZAR tries to explain that more tests are coming, but Trump waves him off to jump in.— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) March 6, 2020
TRUMP: “Anybody that needs a test gets a test…. the tests are all perfect like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. Right? This was not as perfect as that but pretty good.” pic.twitter.com/A3hgYOJLUt
The man has always been subject to weird obsessions, such as his decades long feuds with Graydon Carter and Rosie O'Donnell. His spite seems to be second only to his greed. Even worse, Trump's assertion about test kits is a lie.
Vulgarmort DID provide a moment of comic relief, when he suggested that he could have become a research scientist because of his Big League Brain:
Trump muses that he could’ve become a research scientist instead of president.— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) March 6, 2020
TRUMP: I like this stuff. I really get it… every one of these doctors said, ‘how do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. pic.twitter.com/9ppWsjwN2v
Trump is a perfect exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger Effect at work- he is simply too stupid to realize that he is stupid. This would be dangerous at any rate, but the danger is compounded by his maladministration's efforts to downplay the danger of the outbreak in order to obfuscate their lack of preparedness. The world is burning, by which I mean coughing, and Trump is trying to blame the situation on Obama. We need someone serious to handle this outbreak, and there's not a single competent individual in Trump's orbit. I don't think he'd be able to coordinate a competent response even if there were an outbreak among Mar-a-Lago members.
Thursday, March 5, 2020
In this clip, Trump:— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 5, 2020
1. Denies WHO's coronavirus death rate based on “hunch"
2. Calls coronavirus "corona flu"
3. Suggests it's fine for people w/ Covid-19 to go to work
4. Compares coronavirus to "the regular flu," indicating he doesn't get the difference pic.twitter.com/uC9c03zX31
He's making up mortality rates that contradict WHO estimates and telling people to go to work sick. Meanwhile, CDC officials don't seem to be aware of the statements the president is making about the outbreak:
Q: Is it helpful to get your message out when you're being countermanded by the president on TV?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 5, 2020
NIAID DIRECTOR FAUCI: I don't think I'm being countermanded
Q: He was on TV last night suggesting people w/ Covid-19 could go to work
FAUCI: I haven't heard that
AZAR: Me neither pic.twitter.com/uv7jLDXe3U
Vulgarmort is citing poll results (from about two weeks ago) to suggest that his response to the outbreak is adequate:
Gallup just gave us the highest rating ever for the way we are handling the CoronaVirus situation. The April 2009-10 Swine Flu, where nearly 13,000 people died in the U.S., was poorly handled. Ask MSDNC & lightweight Washington failure @RonaldKlain, who the President was then?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2020
During a 'town hall', he also suggested that an outbreak which causes people to eschew international travel benefits the US economy:
Trump tries to find a silver lining to the coronavirus during Fox News town hall: "I have to say, people are now staying in the United States, spending their money in the US -- and I like that." pic.twitter.com/lbERhrSq6t— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 5, 2020
Trump's rhetoric is incoherent, his advice is horrendous, and the response of his administration consists mainly of obfuscating infection rates and virus virulence. We need smart people running the country in a situation such as that which we are facing, and smart people are in short supply in Trump's kleptocracy. Hat tip to Vox journalist Aaron Rupar for covering this topic in such detail.
Now, excuse me while I juggle the work schedule because one of my key colleagues will be recuperating at home for the better part of a week.
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
At his day job, this worthy gentleman works with a lot of elderly folks, many of them traveling abroad for extended periods of time. I'm not overly concerned about contagion- generally speaking, I'm a healthy beast. When I got to work, though, I used a paper towel to pick up the phone and gave it a once-over with some hand sanitizer, which we have in our retail shop in profusion.
Today's post title is a bit overly dramatic- I feel okay, I even feel optimistic. I told him that I could come in early tomorrow if he doesn't feel well, which pretty much means that I will be covering for him (he's now clocking in at 102.4). I'm not a worried man, so no worried song from me, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy to see that big pump bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter on the job.
UPDATE: You know things are bad when you get the text message 'I have the flu and need to take off for five days' and think 'that's good news!'
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
I'm of the opinion that all of the state primary elections should be held on a single day, the idea that borked caucuses and early primaries in demographicallt non-representative states can be hailed as harbingers of voters' sentiment on a national level is repugnant to me. It would be better to get the whole process over with in one fell swoop, early in the year... how about a national primary day the day after Presidents' Day? Make it a four day weekend, and I'd be even happier! The voting process should not be so damn Byzantine.
Monday, March 2, 2020
To me, it has a real 'you can't fire me, I quit' vibe, as he faced public outrage over comparing Bernie Sanders' Nevada win to the Nazi invasion of France and criticizing Elizabeth Warren for believing a woman's allegation of sexual harassment by Michael Bloomberg. In my estimation, this day of reckoning for Matthews has been a long time coming. I mean, he has said engaged in some extremely problematic behavior toward his female colleagues:
The sexual harassment demonstrated in this clip isn't even the creepiest thing about it... the gaslighting is what gets my hackles up, the insinuation that there was a technical glitch which caused Erin Burnett to do a double-take, doubting her own perception of the circumstances of the exchange: "I'm going to have to look at the tape."
By leaving, Chris Matthews opens up a programming slot which could be occupied by a woman, or a person of color. He's made his pile of money... hell, NBC could hire a bunch of straight news reporters for what they were paying him. I'm a not-so-young straight white guy, and I can say that it's time to put the old guard out to pasture, and to let some younger, better-behaved folks have a chance to fix the broken aspects of our society. The fact that three septuagenarian white men seem to be the ones vying for the presidency doesn't exactly make me happy... Warren is seventy herself, but she seems like a product of a different age entirely.
Sunday, March 1, 2020
The really disturbing thing about this story is the sheer number of American-based corporations that are benefiting from this forced labor. You probably have a product made by one of these corporations in your home... I have one in my pocket right now, and I'm typing this post on another. I'm not big into consumerism, but even I have stuff. The use of slave labor is unacceptable, even if it is hidden overseas and covered up with bland corporatespeak. With our silence, and our buy-in, we are complicit- I'm not exempting myself from guilt. It's time to make our outrage known, let's hope that we can shame our 'Masters of the Universe' into acting like human beings.
Friday, February 28, 2020
Meet the anti-Greta, a young YouTuber campaigning against "climate alarmism" https://t.co/R03zXGx6jr— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) February 24, 2020
Besides the fact that this kid is backed by fossil fuel interests, it also turns out that she is a white nationalist. Anti-immigrant? Antisemitic? Yep, she's the complete package, wrapping up all sorts of loathsome right-wing lunacy in a baby-faced package. The fact that she's German is just the final joke in a bad farce. Meanwhile, oil industry creeps in Alberta have been circulating sexualized cartoons of Greta Thunberg while their young industry spokesmodel crashes and burns almost as soon as she took the stage.
The Shadow can only mock, it cannot make... Greta Thunberg is a genuine activist, inspired by a righteous anger that her generation is being robbed of its birthright by a tiny minority of obscenely wealthy profiteers. The shadowy petrochemical industry groups attempted to come up with a counter to Greta, and they rolled out a twisted simulacrum... it's time to send this little neo-Nazi back to Mordor.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
The sad, sick fact of our current dilemma is that, amid other CDC budget cuts, Trump disbanded the US Pandemic Response Team in 2018, ostensibly as a cost-cutting measure, though Trump's self-dealing golf cart rentals have cost taxpayers over a half-million dollars. The CDC response to the outbreak is incoherent at best.
The creepiest thing about this potential calamity is that Trump has long been skeptical about vaccines. An anti-science fanatic who has gutted the non-partisan governmental agencies which respond to emergencies is the last person we need to respond to a medical crisis such as we're facing.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
I actually used to observe what for me was the ultimate Lenten discipline... I would go coffee free for the forty-day season. Being a caf-fiend, this was quite a sacrifice, though it would end up with me 'resetting' my coffee addiction, returning to coffee the punch it should have. Now, I couldn't even be bothered, it's not like I live a profligate lifestyle, why give up an inexpensive luxury, even as an exercise in secular self-discipline?
I actually continued my Mardi Gras celebration into Ash Wednesday, meeting with friends at a Mexican restaurant not far from my workplace for a nice pre-work dinner. Who needs fasting and abstinence when one could have a nice, somewhat luxe dinner with close friends? Giving up Lent for Lent was a gradual thing for me, the cultural associations with not eating meat on Fridays used to be a point of pride, a mark of solidarity to a community. I'm a member of other communities, though, most of which haven't forced me to choose sides in a culture war that I would never have chosen.
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
A few years back, I wrote a post about that song most associated with 'Mardi Gras', Iko Iko. Back in the 1960s, three teenaged relatives (two sisters and a cousin) had a hit with the song:
I found a performance by the group, now mature women, which demonstrates that they still maintained that sass and charm they had as schoolgirls:
I'm glad I wasn't drinking a Sazerac when Rose said she was 'moving her motor to the beat of the music'. Anyway, the world won't be getting any better or much worse within the next twenty-four hours, so might as well enjoy Fat Tuesday. There's always Ash Wednesday for reflecting on the current Badness.
Monday, February 24, 2020
We're saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://t.co/Tl3tsHAfYB pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW— NASA (@NASA) February 24, 2020
Largely ignored for the contributions that allowed white men like Alan Shepard and John Glenn to (rightfully) be lauded as heroes, Katherine Johnson, an African-American woman, finally received the adulation she and her colleagues deserved, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, and ending up as one of the subjects of Margot Lee Shetterly's 2016 book Hidden Figures (the basis of the eponymous movie). That's a little late for someone whose mathematical work in the 1960s allowed the Apollo lunar modules to synch up with the orbital command modules to safely bring our Moon Men back to Earth.
I feel obligated to point out that sexism and racism ruin everything, and that Civil Rights are crucial to allowing humans to reach their potential. Katherine Johnson was able to succeed in a thirty-three year career with NASA despite the racism and sexism of American society, but it wasn't enough to make her a household name. Things have improved since the not-so-good old days, and NASA created a lovely tribute to her:
While I often rail against the short-term silliness of humanity, I believe in the long-term success of our species... provided we get over our bigotries and our greed. Sure, it looks as if the lunatics have taken over the asylum, but there are enough dedicated, brilliant people, such as Katherine Johnson, to maintain my faith in us.
Sunday, February 23, 2020
One of the mysteries of the universe is the prevalence of matter- if the Big Bang had produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter, the opposite-charged particles would have annihilated each other, resulting in No Universe At All. A small asymmetry at the beginning would have resulted in the current mass (heh heh) asymmetry. It's all very heady stuff, but suffice it to say that real discoveries are being made, and nobody has to plaster themselves onto the desert floor to make them.
Antimatter has come up in a few of the Secret Science Club lectures I have recapped. I imagine it will become a more common subject as physicists better learn how to create and maintain the stuff, even if it really wouldn't be so good for power generation.
Saturday, February 22, 2020
It seems as if his grasp of aeronautical/astronautical engineering was a sound as his grasp of astronomy and geology. Protip: steampunk is a genre of fiction.
There's something to be said, though, about dying in the pursuit of one's passions... it beats, say, dying of starvation in the gutter. Sure, he didn't contribute anything to the sum total of human knowledge (besides a cautionary tale to wannabe daredevils), but the world needs its Quixotes.
This one's for Mad Mike:
Just, like, pretend the song is stupid...