Friday, January 31, 2014

Dealing with Government Bureaucracy

Yesterday, I replaced my old car. A friend of mine had purchased a new car a couple of years ago, but kept his old car as a spare because the dealer had offered him a mere $500 for a trade-in deal- the car is a stick shift, which to a dealer knocks off about a grand in value. This week, he offered it to me for the self-same $500 that the dealer had offered him two years ago. If he had kept the car, he would have been saddled with almost $500 in registration and insurance fees. All told, it was a win-win situation for both of us.

I had to register the car with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. I had contacted my insurance carrier to switch the insurance over as soon as my friend signed the title over to me. I hopped on the Number 4 Bus (PDF) at the corner of McLean and Central Avenues and took it to Getty Square in downtown Yonkers. I had to pop into the Riverfront Library to print my insurance card from the PDF that my carrier had e-mailed to me. I then popped into the DMV office next door...

I spent less than half an hour at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Of course, I had filled out my paperwork before even leaving the house, but seriously, I wasn't expecting to breeze through the DMV in the time I did. The first thing everybody does when they enter the building is to head to a "gatekeeper" who assigns numbers to the clients. A very pleasant man gave me my ticket, and about five minutes later, I met with an absolutely lovely woman who cheerfully and courteously assisted me in registering my motor vehicle. All told, the transaction took about ten to fifteen minutes.

After bidding adieu to the helpful clerk, I headed across Larkin Plaza to Maggie's Seafood Spot, where I ordered a sandwich of three beautiful, perfectly fried flounder filets (I originally wanted whiting, but Maggie, a jovial Korean woman with the gift of the gab, managed to "upsell", and I got the buck-fifty more expensive flounder). I ate my sandwich on the way to the Yonkers train station, where I caught the 25 Bus (PDF) home. Because I spent such a short time taking care of these various errands, I got a free bus transfer for the ride home.

A lot of people, especially "small government" idiots, like to badmouth public employees in general and DMV clerks in particular. I have to stick up for the public employees with whom I dealt throughout the course of my errands yesterday- the two public transit workers, the library staff, and the DMV clerks. All were dedicated, professionals, all performed their duties with pride and care. I have come to the conclusion that the anti-public employee narrative is largely rooted in racial animosity. The government has, for decades, had to comply with anti-discrimination standards more stringent than those faced by private sector employers. The civil service has long provided minorities with a path to middle-class status that was denied to them by industry. Now that private employers have been outdoing each other in the race to the bottom, those public jobs look much better in comparison to private sector jobs, and the aggrieved underemployed seem more interested in dragging public workers down with them than in building up private sector unions. For the record, all of the public employees I dealt with yesterday were minorities, half of them were women, and every single one of them provided stellar service. Dealing with government bureaucracy was a pleasure!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One Ton Tomato

Last night, while reading the tributes to Pete Seeger, I ended up watching videos of him performing the Cuban song Guantanamera, the tune of which is attributed to musician and radio host José Fernández Diaz, but which, in its currently accepted version has lyrics by poet and "Apostle of Cuban Independence" José Julián Martí Pérez. The imagery of Martí's poetry evokes a love of the countryside and the common people, both of which were loved by Seeger himself:

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar:
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar.

I'd translate this as "I want to give my wishes for luck to the poor of the earth. The stream in the mountains pleases me more than the sea". Damn, that's a very sweet way of looking at the world. Pete Seeger's arrangement of Guantanamera exposed a greater audience to Spanish language music, as this great Billboard article affirms. Here's Pete's original Carnegie Hall performance of the song:

Here's a great version of the song performed by Pete and his grandson Tao Rodríguez-Seeger in 1993:

What a dynamite performance, and the audience participation speaks to the near-universal popularity of the song.

Of course, me being a snarky bastard, I also rate for Mike Nesmith's parody of the song:

I just wish Mr Nesmith had given more attention to the verses of his parody... I'd rewrite the first verse as:

Tengo un hambre sincero,
Podría comer caballo.
Tengo un hambre sincero,
Podría comer caballo.

I bet Pete loved this parody.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lefty Legend, Local Legend

This morning, at the tail end of my workday, I heard the news of the death of American music legend Pete Seeger at the age of 94. Pete lived a longer, fuller life than just about anyone.

Pete Seeger was right, by which I mean Left, about just about everything- he was a tireless champion of environmentalism, an opponent of McCartyism, a labor organizer, an anti-war activist, and an advocate of equal rights when taking such positions involved considerable personal risk. If there was one thing he was wrong about, it was a naivete about the evils of Stalinism, which (of course) he came to see long before his critics would admit.

Locally, Seeger was instrumental in pushing for the cleanup of the Hudson River, building the Clearwater, a replica of the sloops which plied the Hudson before the era of steam. The Hudson's waters have improved to the point where bald eagles can thrive on the river and its tributaries, when not so long ago, the river ran the color of the industrial effluents which were dumped into it.

Musically, Pete took up the baton passed to him by the legendary Woody Guthrie, with whom he played in The Almanac Singers, among whose songs was the anti-Hitler song Dear Mr President, which also exhorted FDR to improve American society for black and Jewish Americans:

In the late 1940s, Pete was a co-founder of The Weavers (named after a play about the Silesian weavers' uprising). Among the most famous Seeger co-compositions of the Weavers period was If I Had a Hammer:

For a good overview of the Weavers' career, the documentary Wasn't That a Time? is indispensible:

The 50's were a particularly rough time for Seeger, who broke with the American communist movement when news of Stalin's enormities emerged, though this was not enough to keep him from being dragged in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Peter defied HUAC not by pleading protection under the Fifth Amendment, but under the First. From a 1985 interview with Terry Gross of NPR:

So in effect I was defending myself on the basis of the First Amendment. The Fifth Amendment in effect says you have no right to ask me this question. But the First Amendment in effect says you have no right to ask any American such questions.

Pete was held in contempt of Congress for his defiance and sentenced to a year in jail, but the charge was eventually dismissed, just in time for Pete to participate in the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Pete helped to popularize an adaptation of the gospel songs I'll Overcome Someday and If My Jesus Wills, which came to be known as We Shall Overcome:

In his later years, Seeger was a fixture at the Newport and Clearwater folk festivals, both of which were started by his wife Toshi, who died last year. A good friend of mine, a volunteer at my workplace with whom I have spent many a Sunday morning as my graveyard shift ends and his volunteer stint begins, was heavily involved with the Clearwater festival for years, and knew Seeger personally.

In a call-in to WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show this morning, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr related a story about Pete enlisting the aid of future Riverkeeper John Cronin in building a dock, likening Pete to St Francis of Assissi, exhorting Mr Cronin, "Follow me!"

Pete Seeger's music has insinuated itself into the DNA of America... here in a moving performance from last year, he notes that his voice may not be strong, but that the audience's voices are, as he leads them in a rendition of Turn! Turn! Turn!:

Pete Seeger was a national treasure, and particularly a local treasure. I'd mourn his passing, but he'll live on through his body of music and the legacy of his activism. Rest in the peace that you advocated, as Bruce put it, you outlasted the bastards.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Tourist from Upstate

I often joke that my job is very cushy, except when it's not, and yesterday was a "not" day, even though one of the guys on my team had a much rougher go of it than I did. In the middle of a bitter cold snap that we are experiencing, we had a furnace malfunction in one of our buildings. Despite a yeoman's effort by our understaffed maintenance crew, the pipes froze in at least one location. When the heat was restored to the building, my predecessor discovered that a pipe had burst in the building, and he had to deal with a veritable cascade of water. He was accompanied by a new hire (who, thankfully, is not afraid of the dark) undergoing on-the-job training. At least the "new guy" found out first hand that, while the job is often cushy, there are times when one has to jump through hoops of fire, or (in this case) water. Needless to say, the water had to be shut off in the building to prevent further leaks.

I arrived at work at midnight, to find my co-worker beat and miffed... it had been his worst day on the job. I basically just had to do some mopping up (literally) after he had had his ordeal. I filled a mop bucket with the stuff remaining on the floor, then monitored the temperature in the building periodically throughout the rest of the morning. I stuck around for a few extra hours until one of the guys on the day shift came in to assess the ongoing situation. Because it was a Saturday, and the site was closed, he decided to bring his dog, a handsome collie-beagle mix, to work with him, much to the dismay of those on the left Fred, who ran like hell and hid himself in some obscure corner of the property.

While the morning was a major hassle, I am actually glad that I stayed on the property for a couple of extra hours, because I witnessed a tourist from the North Country flying in to take position in a scenic overlook onsite:

Pity the iPhone camera doesn't have the best zoom- you can make out the bird-shaped blob in the middle of the frame, and the white head stands out in front of another tree limb... yup, we had a gen-u-ine bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) hanging out on our property for a good portion of the day. It was a nice coda to a not-so-nice day on the job, and it's not even tourist season!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Slightly Bummed by a Good Thing

This afternoon, I will be attending a "Hail and Farewell" party for one of my favorite co-workers. I know you're not supposed to play favorites, but it's so difficult not to do so. Besides, she's a favorite co-worker of everybody- everybody on the job loves her, all the visitors love her, I bet even supercute fuzzy animals love her. Personally, I think so well of her that I never even begrudged her scrumping my wineberry patches (actually, the summer before last, we had a "berry summit" in which we drew a line down the property: "Everything north of the line is mine, everything south of the line is yours").

Anyway, she got a job with a smaller organization in which she will be able to take on more autonomy and more authority (as an added bonus, it's an easier commute for her as well). While I will miss working with her, I am happy on her behalf.

I wrote a maudlin, treacly e-mail to her earlier in the week, telling her what a pleasure and a privilege it has been to work with her and wishing her good fortune in her future endeavors. I felt it was important to get that sort of thing out of the way early, because this afternoon will be spent trying to comfort disconsolate co-workers. In particular, an assistant site manager who worked closely with her for years (a self described "big mush") is going to be a big, sobbing mess.

Me? I'm kinda bummed, but I'd be a poor friend indeed if I weren't happy for her.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Desperate for False Equivalence

Given the extensive coverage of New Jersey governor and GOP Establishment darling Chris Christie's ever-widening web of scandal, right-leaning types have been desperate to find some false equivalence. Yesterday, Rupert Murdoch owned rag The New York Post tried to blame Mayor Bill De Blasio for poor snow removal on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Hilarity ensued...

The writers at the "Post" insisted that De Blasio botched snow removal on the wealthy UES as political payback because he didn't garner the percentage of votes there as he did in other neighborhoods:

“It really is a tale of two cities — this time with the tony Upper East Side getting the shaft!”

Of course, when these people receive the exact sort of service that the residents of the Outer Boroughs receive, they perceive it as an attack. It's particularly frustrating because the neighborhood is well-served by public transit. One entitled chucklehead interviewed on the radio whined about having to take five cabs to get from the 70s to the 90s, when a ride on the Lexington Avenue subway line would have gotten him there with no problem.

Even more hilariously, part of the perception of shoddy treatment resulted from a malfunctioning GPS unit which failed to update progress made by a plow that was operating in the vicinity. Yeah, a WATB sitting in a Starbucks checking snow removal performance on his iPhone would have thought that nothing was being done, while a glance at the street would have revealed the truth.

The recent snowstorm was no picnic- I spoke to a Yonkers police officer on line at the supermarket, and he indicated that there were auto accidents all over the place... and NYC received more snow than the City of Y______. The simple fact of the matter is that the snow removal proceeded at a normal pace, and the wealthy Upper East Siders had to get in line with everybody else in the city.

You know they've got nothing when, not only do they want to conflate a slow snow response to an actively hostile lane closure, but they have to lie about the speed of said snow response.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Yonkers Yeti

I have a terrible time buying footwear. My ideal shoe size would be 11.5/EEEEE, but EEEEE shoes just don't seem to be made, so I get by with size 12/EEEE footwear. In many cases, a style of shoe or boot will "max out" at EEE, so I am limited in the "model" of shoe that I can wear. My last purchase of footgear was a nice pair of workboots, purchased before the first big winter storm of the season. I bought one of the few pairs of boots that even came in an acceptable width, specifically a boot which had a uniform width along its length (it doesn't taper towards the "toe box"- see, buying footwear is such a pain in the ass foot that I actually know a lot of the terminology of the trade now). Basically, I am the podiatric equivalent of one of Cinderella's wicked stepsisters.

We had a pretty major snowstorm starting yesterday and running into the wee hours of the morning today. I decided that I would run to the supermarket to buy something to throw in a slow oven to help warm up the house. On my way home, I passed another pedestrian, a slender woman of average height. After we exchanged greetings and parted company, I looked down and noticed that the contrast between our footprints was startling:

Man, look at that big ol' bootprint, I'd better watch out or "Bigfoot" hunters are going to try to track down the Yonkers Yeti.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rip Revisited

It's been a while since I've touched upon the topic of Rip Van Winkle. This weekend, an errand took me to the village of Irvington, which is named after beloved local figure and American literary pioneer Washington Irving, who lived on the Irvington/Tarrytown border in his sunset years. In front of the Irvington Middle School, there is a statue of Irving's beloved literary creation, commissioned by the village board in 2001 and sculpted by Richard Masloski:

The statue, which depicts Rip Van Winkle newly awakened after his twenty year slumber, reminds me of the famous statue of the Dying Galatian. Rip's pose is similar, though he is not in a state of dishabille. His head is up, ready to gaze on the new nation in which he has awakened, unlike the poor Galatian gladiator, with his downcast, dying gaze.

Rip Van Winkle was originally published in Washington Irving's 1820 Sketchbook of Geoffery Crayon, Gent., and purports to be a tale found in the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker (the "marketing" campaign Irving used to publicize his "History of New York" is startlingly "modern" and "viral". Like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, it involves nested pen names- Irving writing as Crayon writing as Knickerbocker. The tale, in which a loyal English subject of Dutch descent wakes up in an independent United States, is in the public domain. I read it every couple of years to "re-up" my local literary credentials.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: The Mathiverse

On Wednesday, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the monthly Secret Science Club lecture, featuring physicist and cosmologist Dr Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Tegmark has just released the book Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. On a biographical note, Dr Tegmark informed us that his father was a Brooklyn boy who relocated to Sweden, where he married a local girl, so his Bell House appearance was a return to the Motherland.

Dr Tegmark began the lecture by stating that humans tend to underestimate two things, the size of the cosmos, and their ability to comprehend it. Any observation of the cosmos involves a "journey" not only through space, but through time as well- the light from the sun takes approximately eight minutes to reach the earth, so we are observing the sun as it was eight minutes previously. The delay is greater for more distant objects. As one looks further away, one looks further back in time, the more distant stars are seen in their younger forms, and then one finds a "dark" area as one peers further back into time, when hydrogen atoms were forming, when nucleons were forming, when quarks were forming. There is evidence that the universe is expanding, light from objects moving away from an observer "shifts" toward the red end of the spectrum due to the Doppler effect. Ever since the Big Bang, approximately 13.8 billion years ago, the universe has been expanding. As a gas expands, it gets cooler, and the "older", hotter gasses behind the galaxies we are able to observe form an opaque "screen" of plasma. This opaque plasma background was detected by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP. The Planck satellite was developed to "map" the universe's Cosmic Microwave Background. Dr Tegmark had his wife inflate a ball which depicted the map of the universe, and toss it into the crowd, whereupon it made several passes through the audience during the course of the talk.

Dr Tegmark then reiterated his statement that humans have long underestimated the size of things and what we can figure out about them. He observed that we have no clue about the composition of 95% of the universe, and wryly noted that "dark matter" and "dark energy" are fancy words for our current ignorance (he did not use the word in a pejorative sense). The observable universe is a a core of observable matter and a background of plasma separated by a vast uncharted territory. The hydrogen in the non-observable part of the universe gives off radio waves. Doctor Tegmark then broke for a video interlude, showing the construction of an inexpensive radio telescope by a crew of MIT students:

Dr Tegmark continued, exhorting humans to "think big". Ever since the days when our ancestors looked up at the sky (something they did more often in the days before pollution and television- perhaps a redundancy, I'd note) and saw patterns, we have had the power to figure things out. Nature is characterized by patterns- Pythagoras noted that numbers rule the universe and Galileo described mathematics as the language of the universe. Nature is full of recurrent patterns and shapes- a parabola describes the trajectory of a object thrown into the air, an ellipse describes the orbit of a heavenly body. He gave a pop quiz to illustrate the usefulness of mathematics in science, citing the use of math to locate the planet Neptune, to predict the presence of radio waves, and to model the existence of the Higgs boson. Dr Tegmark noted that the physicist Eugene Wigner wrote an essay about the "Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences"- the universe can be described in mathematical terms.

Dr Tegmark then posed the question, if everything in space exhibits mathematical properties, does space itself have mathematical properties? Space has three dimensions, and it can be described in terms of dimensionality, curvature, and topography. Space is a purely mathematical structure, it has no properties besides mathematical properties. He noted that, if space has properties that cannot be described mathematically, then our knowledge of physics effectively hits a "roadblock", beyond which we cannot model the universe, but if there is no roadblock, then our only limit to understanding the universe is imagination. He told us not to let our egos get crushed by the sheer size of the universe- the human brain is the most complex thing that he have so-far discovered, and we have the power to understand, shape, and improve our world. He opined that humanity needs to realize its cosmic potential- the most urgent risks faced by humans are largely self-inflicted, but if we can get our act together, we can take on greater risks. He sadly noted that Justin Bieber is more famous than Vasili Arkhipov, who single-handedly forestalled a nuclear exchange during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He compared the funding for scientific research with the vastly greater sums spent on tobacco marketing and military budgets.

The lecture ended with a reiteration of our capacity to understand the world around us and to improve it, and an injunction to make a difference. We need to experiment, to measure, and to question everything around us, even our own preconceptions.

In the Q&A session (the Bastard didn't get a question in, he's more of a biology/geology/paleontology kind of guy, and deferred to audience members who are more passionate about physics), a mathematically inclined individual asked why, if the universe is math, why are irrational numbers, like pi, so important. Dr Tegmark replied that we assume that irrational numbers are considered infinite because it is convenient to do so. On the topic of dark energy, he noted that understanding dark energy would be equivalent to understanding the future of the universe... dark energy does not like to be diluted- if the space it occupies expands to twice the volume, the stuff still has the same density while other stuff gets diluted. Understanding the properties of dark energy would help us understand if the fate of the universe is a Big Chill, or a Big Crunch, or a Big Snap, or a Big Rip, or...

Another questioner asked Dr Tegmark why we seem to be in the center of the universe, and he indicated that we are in the middle of a "fog space", there's a certain radius beyond which we cannot see. Because of this, he titled his book "Our Mathematical Universe", not "The Mathematical Universe".

Another question involved the mathematical modelling of consciousness, and Dr Tegmark went on a digression about the need to integrate information. Only recently have physicists and neurologists started to work together to integrate information. Science has involved a process of integration, with energy and matter being integrated- and electricity and magnetism, and space and time. The integration of mind and the outer world has only recently begun.

Before he concluded his presentation, Dr Tegmark gave us a charming description of his personal trajectory as a physicist- saying that, at one point in his career, he was humbled by the vastness of the universe, but that, since then, he has done a U-turn... as far as we know, we are the only intelligence in the universe. We use our intelligence to describe the universe, therefore, we give meaning to the universe.

Here's a brief, casual interview of Dr Tegmark by his wife (the woman who tossed the "universe" to the crowd), in which the good doctor touches on the thesis of his talk:

Here's a longer talk by Dr Tegmark, in front of a crowd of philosophers and scientists:

The Brooklyn crowd was considerably less staid.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Another Meeting

I haven't had time to do my SSC post lecture recap... I have to head out for a department meeting on the job. Last year, at about this time, was when the "downsizing", I mean"realignment" took place. My department head assures me that this meeting will entail good news, and our staff is cut to the bone, soI'm pretty sure it won't involve further cuts. Hopefully, we'll get our annual raises, even a bit more cashola would not be unwelcome.

As the say in Italy, in culo di balena, speriamo che non cache.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mixed Signals

This is a first, I am posting from a subway car on the number 4 line in the Bronx. There are extensive delays on the Lexington Avenue line due to signal problems. A very patient train operator is moving the train station to station... If I were composing this on my laptop, I'd embed a Bowie or Kraftwerk link. We riders were advised to transfer to the D or B train at 161st St. If I were composing this on my laptop, I'd embed a dB's link.

I have an hour and a half to get my ass to Brooklyn, I'm not optimistic.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Who You Calling Clumsy?

The conclusion by a British researcher that cats view their human associates (owners, ha!) as "larger, non-hostile cats" is getting some mileage in the blogosphere, usually with the proviso that the felines view us with pity due to our lack of cat-like grace (ninjas and gymnasts not included in this category).

I've often heard the analogy that cats tend to look at us as mother-substitutes. In the case of my feline associates, I'd best be likened to the cloth mother- the cats have typically been fed by the day shift (plus all the meeses they can get their claws in). I, working the night shift, have always been more of a playmate- the two cats follow me around the site when I do my periodic walkabouts, Fred typically at my heels, like a little dog, and Ginger running back and forth, stalking me.

Last week, during the cold snap, I think the cats looked at me like some sort of librarian or shop clerk, arranging them on shelves, Ginger on the left and Fred on the right:

The "shelf" that they are sitting on is actually a radiator cover... the photo was taken on a night when the mercury hit single digits. Whatever they think of us humans, cats are no dummies when it comes to finding comfortable spots.

Here's a comical picture of Ginger, the more curious of the two, trying to figure out what the shiny object in my hand was:

I hope she's not wondering how I can work such a complicated device while being so clumsy and oafish...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Alexandria All Over Again

My blogroll complies with Canadian Content laws, and one of my Canuckistani compatriots is the Real Interrobang, who alternates between posting dispatches from Whitebreadville and aggregating quotes from the blogs and websites she frequents. If you're not checking out her "Live Journal", you're missing out on some great material.

Her most recent post involves a disturbing trend in the Harper Administration- a full-on War on Science, likened to a book burning, on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.

Book burnings have taken place throughout history, motivated by religious fanaticism, overly aggressive pastoralists, and the like. To think that modern multinational corporations, in cahoots with the democratically elected government of a civilized country, are engaged in the wholesale destruction of scientific research in order to obfuscate the environmental damage wreaked by their industry in the interest of short-term profits is monstrous.

Get the word out, this attack on science needs to be brought to the world's attention.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cuppy Power!

Some bloggers of note have been commenting on the intelligence of one S.E. Cupp. I have not gone to the Cupp... er... well in quite some time.

Personally, I don't think that S.E. Cupp is the dumbest pundit working, although she has produced some of the stupidest punditry to assault the airwaves and t00bz. Cupp is actually pretty canny, having crafted a pretty sophisticated media image. Cupp's M.O. largely consists of titillation, her "naughty librarian" image, much like that of Sarah Palin, appeals to a conservative male fan base... she's basically a pinup for pinheads. I guess you can't spell fanservice without "S.E."

On a deeper (though certainly still shallow) level, Cupp's schtick is trollery. Almost inevitably, a male reader will make a sexist comment on a post. In the linked "Pandagon" post, a commenter left this charming little nugget:

She is exactly the sort of person about whom it could reasonably be said that the smartest thing to ever come out of her mouth was probably someone's cock. And by "someone," I mean literally anyone capable of fogging a mirror. Wearing sexy librarian glasses may get a few tongues wagging among the aging Fox News demographic, but it obviously does nothing for her reasoning skills.

I, of course, referred the commenter to Dr Noisewater's post on the Hustler flap. Cupp sets a trap, and those who take the bait enable her to spin a "both sides are equally bad" narrative, while excoriating Women's Rights Groups, who are too busy fighting to preserve women's freedoms to scan porn mags and the internet for sexist depictions of S.E. Cupp, for not coming to her defense. Sometimes it's hard not to fall into the trap- her act is deliberately provocative. Hell, I myself have to shamefully confess that, if I delivered a pizza to her house and she asked me if I had her "large pepperoni", I'd be hoping for the bass to kick in.

After the big Hustler flap, it has to be noted that S.E. Cupp, who didn't thank Sandra Fluke for standing up for her, thanked Larry Flynt instead for the free publicity. If that's not a supreme act of trollery, I don't know what is. In the course of the controversy, Cupp made a false equivalence between "liberal" (yeah, right) Larry Flynt and Rush Limbaugh, she lambasted women's groups, and she claimed to have scored a public relations coup. She's awful, but she's certainly more clever than the typical right-wing bloviator.

Though she may have produced some of the dumbest punditry, Cupp is not the dumbest pundit. It's a subtle distinction, but one that I feel must be made. Cupp is a crafty performance artist, playing her multifarious roles, sex kitten, aggrieved victim, corporatist shill, libertarianesque hipster, with a facility that would make Lon Chaney, Jr blush under his monster makeup.

As a postscript, I have to confess that the real purpose of this post is to throw up some weapons-grade snark...

I believe that S.E. Cupp's public persona was crafted after watching post shark-jumping Scooby Doo. S.E. Cupp is pretty much Daphne, wearing Velma's glasses, after having had Scrappy Doo's hyperactive, abrasive brain transplanted into her body. Given her track record of wrecking cable shows she's cast in, there's another point of comparison between S.E. and Scrappy.


Cross posted at Rumproast.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Highway's Jammed by Right Wing Zeroes on a Fat Chance Power Trip

I've written quite a bit about New Jersey governor Chris Christie, aka the Hudson Harkonnen, America's cafone, and Phony Soprano. The latest Chris Christie news is a rapidly ballooning scandal, the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge by Christie Administration Port Authority apointees which caused major traffic snarls, seemingly to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who didn't endorse him in his gubernatorial race. Predictably, Christie is blaming an underling for this d-baggery. Christie is just the sort of vindictive creep who'd place the lives of ordinary people at risk (the lane closures have been implicated in the death of a woman due to a delay in the arrival of medical help) to "punish" an "enemy".

To tell the truth, Christie's handling of Port Authority matters has been awful from the beginning of his tenure as governor, when he put the kibosh on a Hudson River rail crossing that would have been funded by the federal government. Even when he's not motivated by spite, the guy is an utter disaster.

I wonder if, had Christie's incompetent-at-best and depraved-at-worst Port Authority hires been exposed in November, the jerk would have won the gubernatorial election. By making people's commutes longer and more tedious, his administration hit people "where they live". I don't believe that even the most rabid GOPer would countenance a policy which directly harmed him... not only "those people" were affected by these traffic snarls.

Got buyers' remorse, Jerseyites?

Cross posted at Rumproast.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Coping With Cold

Like much of the country, the NY metro area has been trapped in the grip of a polar vortex (I think it's kinda like a remorhaz. Working the graveyard shift last night was not fun at all, the mercury dipped to three degrees Fahrenheit (about sixteen below Celsius). High winds made it feel even colder (about minus fifteen Fahrenheit, minus twenty-six Celsius). Needless to say, I reduced my outdoor exposure, but the demands of the job entailed being outside for about twenty minutes on a few occasions. Again, it was not a fun night at all. The crazy thing is that the temperature dropped more than fifty degrees over the course of a mere twenty-four hours. I wasn't too uncomfortable, I made sure to bring plenty of layers of clothes, and I slathered myself nose to toes with plenty of Queen Helene Cocoa Butter Lotion before getting dressed. Just as Gertrude Ederle did before her English Channel swim, I greased myself before heading out.

Even after sunup, the temperature didn't break single digits. There weren't a lot of people on the roads at 8AM, and I wonder if a lot of people decided to take a day off, or were granted a weather-related work delay. I hit the supermarket on my way home from work and bought a pork shoulder to roast, mainly because I wanted to keep a slow oven going all day long. Needless to say, I haven't left the house since getting home. Tomorrow, the temperature is supposed to jump to a balmy twenty-five, and by Saturday, it'll be pushing sixty once more.

It's weird having half-a-year's worth of weather fluctuations in the space of a week.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

It's been a weird day. I worked the graveyard shift this morning and, even though it was fairly warm out, the ground didn't get the memo. The fine, misty rain froze as soon as it hit the pavement, resulting in really slippery sheets of black ice. I almost did several faceplants as I was walking through the parking lot at work. The temperature continually rose through the wee hours of the morning, until it was pushing 60F. The dangerous black ice situation resolved itself by 4AM.

When I finally got home this morning, it was about fifty degrees and a light rain was falling. I found my next door neighbor, who is retired and is living with her hundred year-old mother, juggling an umbrella and a snow shovel, and attempting to clear a mound of snow in front of her house in order to clear a parking spot for her sister, who often comes over to watch mom when my neighbor runs errands. I couldn't watch my neighbor try to pull off this juggling act, so I decided to lend a hand.

I spent about half an hour breaking up the large mounds of snow in front of our two houses, and scattering the resultant chunks throughout the gutter so that the combination of warmth and water could melt them. I don't know why this isn't done on a grander scale- in these parts, the mountains of dirty snow tend to linger until April, especially in large parking lots.

Currently, there is very little snow remaining from Friday's storm, which dumped almost a foot of fine powder on the ground. As tonight is supposed to be characterized by an extreme drop in temperature (we're talking a sixty degree drop over the course of twenty-four hours), that's a good thing.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Out of the Blue

I left work at 1PM today- after the graveyard shift, I had to work another site for half a shift. Staffing is an issue, my department is down to three people, so we have to stretch to cover everything. When I left the site, the sky was an incredible azure (it was still fairly cold, so insert an Azure Agony joke as you see fit), as the cliche would have it, there was not a cloud in the sky:

When I finally got home from work, I put on the radi-adi-o, and heard the breaking news that a small plane had made an emergency landing on the Major Deegan Expressway. The fact that there were no fatalities boggles the mind.

When I was a 'ute, I always used to joke about Major Deegan, the guy who lent his name to the expressway- this line of jocularity was kicked off by a classmate of my brother Sweetums who, before a jaunt to Yankee Stadium, claimed that "Me and the Deegan are like this (holding his index and middle fingers together to denote closeness)." Who the hell was Major Deegan, and why is there a major highway named after him? Is he a made-up character, like Cap'n Crunch, or a fake officer like Colonel Sanders? In due time, I actually did some research and found out that he was a major in the Army Corps of Engineers, an architect, and a local politician of note. Of course, this information is now at one's fingertips- a current-day wag would pose that "who is that Major Deegan guy?" question, and someone would say, "Google it, knucklehead!" before the wag could get the gag going.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Abominabald Snowman

It's currently seven degrees Fahrenheit (almost -14 Celsius) out, and strong winds are blowing the snow into drifts about a foot deep. It's not pleasant out, but it looks pretty- I particularly love the patterns in the iced-over surface of the body of water on site:

The cliche is that the site looks like a scene from a Currier and Ives lithograph... in fact, Currier and Ives printed a lithograph of the site I am working at, and a couple of another of our sites. Of course, it's impossible to dig up any 19th Century American artifacts without finding a nasty underbelly... so, Currier and Ives fans, prepare to be shocked and appalled. Yeah, nasty, aren't they? They are a far cry from the saccharine winter scenes and stirring depictions of historical events.

Sorry about that jarring interlude, but I felt I had to drag that unpleasantness into the light of day. Getting back to the body of the post, around 5AM, I took a picture of myself bundled up before heading out for a half-hour site inspection tour (though it was hard to see anything in the near whiteout conditions).

That snow ninja! I pretty much covered up from head to toe- layering a moisture-wicking thermal undershirt, a long-sleeved waffle-weave T-shirt, a sweatshirt, a button-down flannel, and a hoodie, topping it all off with a nylon windbreaker to keep an excessive amount of snow from soaking into my ensemble. Yeah, I was pretty much ready for anything Old Man Winter or, if you prefer, the Cailleach could throw at me. If the getup sounds a bit much, I have to note that the heat is set low during the night, high enough to keep the pipes from bursting, but not much hotter. Stuffing Ginger down my shirt was not an option, at least not a sound one.

Right now, the snow is still falling, but the fine powder that had already fallen is being whipped up by the wind, so it's hard to tell the provenance of any one flake. Today, I'm the only flake I can be sure of.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Tonight is pretty brutal, weather-wise, here, in the the trailer park Greater Yonkers Metropolitan Area. As my inclination on nights like this is to stay put, rather than to travel, I switched shifts with tonight's "midnight man" to obviate the need for both of us to travel. It's not a fun night, but it's bearable, as long as one wears plenty of layers of clothes... and as long as (dare I tempt fate?) the power isn't affected by high winds. As a precaution, I collected a bunch of candle stubs in case of a power failure.

My typical line regarding work is that it's a cushy job, except when it's not, and tonight is clearly in the "not" column. I can't complain, I packed as if I were going on a campaign trip, and I have mah preshus kittehs to accompany me. It's going to be a tough night, but not a terrible one.

Post title explained... I missed out on the "Gersberms" phenomenon (for the record, when it comes to scary Young Adult fiction, I'm a big John Bellairs fan), but author R.L. Stine seems like a pretty good guy.