Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Conman Versus the Khans

This weekend's outrage from the campaign trail has been Donald Trump's bizarre vendetta against the family of Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American officer of the United States Army who lost his life in Iraq in 2004, inspecting a suspicious vehicle himself while instructing his subordinates to hold back. Donald Trump, responding to a speech by Khizr Khan, the father of Captain Khan, made light of Mr Khan's loss by trying to claim that he had made comparable sacrifices. Even worse, he intimated that Ghazala Khan, Captain Khan's mother was prevented from speaking from a culture of subservience that seems to exist only in Trump's head:

“He was very emotional and probably looked like a nice guy to me. His wife … if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say, you tell me,” Trump continued. “But a plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet and it looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that.”

The fact that Donald Trump couldn't recognize Ghazala Khan's silent grief as something as old as death and as universal as life is proof of his bigotry- he is inferring a sinister otherness from a reaction that would be seen as stoicism if it had come someone he considered a 'real American'. Thankfully, Ghazala Khan is far from silent, as her eloquent rebuttal in the Washington Post amply demonstrates.

Trump's attack on this fine family would be inconceivable, except for the fact that Trump is a solipsistic sociopath, unable to consider that any opponents could be honorable people. The fact that he was able to conduct a sustained attack on the Khans is a evidence that he has no campaign personnel who are able to check his id, or even to filter his communications so he avoids showing his true black soul. Trump's entire weekend of lambasting Khizr and Ghazala Khan can be summed up in one sustained howl of rage:

Let's just say that William Shatner wears a toupée better than Trump.

The Khans represent the best of American society, while Donald Trump represents the worst... I'd much rather have the Khans as neighbors than the conman.

P.S.: I hope this experience, especially the bigoted crack about being silenced by religious-fundamentalism inspired subservience, inspires Ghazala Khan to run for public office. It would be heartening to see a Muslim woman of South Asian descent in the Congress... far from being silent, she would make an eloquent speaker for the people in her district.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Pokémon Patrol

It's been three-and-a-half weeks since the Pokémon Go game was released, leading to an influx of Pokemongers to one of the sites I am responsible for at work. Because the site was named a Pokémon Gym, I have had to assign my subordinates to work nights to ascertain whether players are stopping by, and if so, how many. More importantly, they are there to dissuade any 'friskier' players from ignoring the 'SITE CLOSED' sign on the gate to the property.

For the most part, the site hasn't been overrun, though on some days over a dozen people have shown up and told that they must come during hours of operation and must pay the entrance fee to come onto the property. Generally speaking, people have been pretty cool. In the meantime, I forwarded the webpage for Pokémon de-infestation to my supervisor. He submitted a request for removal, but due to the volume of requests, it hasn't been processed yet. I was instructed to schedule two more weeks of Pokémon Patrol, and to re-assess the situation at the end of the fortnight. I have to say, my subordinates are happy for the extra hours.

I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the craziness which has accompanied this game, and am bemused by the total lack of forethought put into the game's locations by its developer, which is now promising to be 'more respectful of reality'. It's only been a month, and the disruptions, injuries, and crimes are too manifold to list. I understand the basic appeal of the game, 'gotta catch 'em all' can be an entertaining pastime, I just can't understand the lackadaisical approach to respecting the 'reality' that the game is 'augmenting'.

The problems will eventually be ironed out, and I have to confess that a tangible benefit is accruing to me and my co-workers, but I won't be sad to see our 'gym' decommissioned and to see this craze die down.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Closing the Tiny Toad Gap

West Virginia tends to get tiny toads before New York does, but New York eventually catches up:

I found this little critter at the bottom of the basement stairwell of the building in which I typically work. As I do on a regular basis, I relocated it to a nice pachysandra patch at the top of the stairs. Can't have the little beastie stuck at the bottom of a stairwell which it can't get out of... though there are plenty of delicious ants down there, so it's not a bad place to spend some time. I figured I had to do this toad a favor, because it just might be the child of a friend of mine.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Chelsea's Mom Has Got It Going On

While drinking beer on Tuesday night, I glanced at one of the televisions on the tavern's walls and saw footage of Chelsea Clinton in the audience at the DNC. Coincidentally, the DJ who accompanies the Trivia Night MC was playing a clip of the comical indie pop smash Stacy's Mom, and I suddenly had 'Chelsea's mom has got it going on' running through my head. Well, tonight, Chelsea's mom pretty much knocked it out of the park, presenting a vision of America fundamentally different from that of Donald J. Trump. The assertion that we are stronger together is a direct rebuke of Donald Trump's assertion that he alone can fix America's problems. It's the democratic repudiation of Trump's strongman assertion.

I think Hillary's opening, talking about her family, was a good one- despite all the vitriol thrown at them for many years (including heinous jokes about young Chelsea), the Clintons have stuck together while the 'family values' Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Mark Sandford have had their own adultery scandals. The pivot to the Obama administration, her running mate, and her principal opponent was a good move- stressing party unity before transitioning into the bulk of her speech, which largely concerned national unity.

Hillary reminded listeners of the legacy of the Democratic Party, invoking the words of FDR: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” She countered the fearmongering of her opponent and the GOP at large, offering shared effort as the solution to the problems that our country faces. Hillary is aware of her historic status and made clear that feminism helps everybody, not just women:

Tonight, we've reached a milestone in our nation's march toward a more perfect union:

the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for President.

Standing here as my mother's daughter, and my daughter's mother, I'm so happy this day has come.

Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between.

Happy for boys and men, too – because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit.

So let's keep going, until every one of the 161 million women and girls across America has the opportunity she deserves.

Later, she joked about criticism of her appeals to female voters:

We're going to help you balance family and work. And you know what, if fighting for affordable child care and paid family leave is playing the “woman card,” then Deal Me In!

Let's see the misogynistic troglodytes try to counter that one!

Much of her speech was a point-by-point takedown of GOP positions- the anti-science, anti-environmental, anti-immigrant, and anti-worker policies. She leavened the speech with an occasional zinger, with this being my particular favorite:

Now, you didn't hear any of this from Donald Trump at his convention.

He spoke for 70-odd minutes – and I do mean odd.

And he offered zero solutions. But we already know he doesn't believe these things.

Hillary listed her policy solutions for our problems, she took Donald Trump to task for his bombast, mendacity, and foolishness. She was funny at times, no mean feat for someone widely seen as a bit of a wonk. Listening to her speech, my Tuesday night earworm came unbidden to mind: Chelsea's mom has got it going on!

Chelsea's mom has got it goin' on
She's all we want and we've waited for so long
Chelsea, can't you see your mom rocked the DNC?
She'll make the nation strong so cast a vote for Chelsea's mom.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

First Time I've Ever Done This

Tonight was a first... I actually called the police on a couple of dimwits. While doing my walkabout, I noticed a firework, subsequently identified as a bottle rocket, arc across our property. I rushed to the area from which it seemed to emanate and saw two twenty-something dimbulbs hanging out. I hit them with the light and told them they were in deep doo-doo... then I called 911, something which I haven't done since the days I worked in a nursing home. I interposed myself between one of the guys and the entrance, while the other guy started walking away. The guy I cornered whined, "You're letting him get away?" I replied, "I got you. That's sufficient. Don't even think of moving an inch or you really won't be happy."

The local gendarmes arrived in a matter of minutes, two officers and a lieutenant. They grilled the dumbass I'd cornered, a twenty-seven year old sad-sack who whined about his friend from Chicago who had just lost his job and wanted to blow off some steam. Why, he purchased his fireworks legally en route from Chicago to New York. Why were they trespassing? They didn't want to set off their fireworks in a residential neighborhood. Poor dumbfuck was in tears. After delivering a lecture about trespassing, the police officers mentioned 'arson', which reduced the guy to mush... yeah, he's lucky there weren't any signs of combustion.

In the meantime, the lieutenant informed me that there was a detective out looking for the other guy, who the on-site guy said fired off the fireworks. The police on site told the remaining dumbass to call his friend to tell him to return or the consequences would be grave. Poor naive fucker, probably thought his friend would stick by him. As far as I know, the local constabulary is still looking for him.

In the end, I declined to press charges- the organization likes to keep a low profile, and this is certainly the most serious incident I've ever dealt with. On the rare occasions when we've had trespassers, they are drunks who take the wrong 'shortcut' or hop the perimeter fence to take a post last call piss, nothing in which to involve the local constabulary. In the nine years I've been on the job, this is the first time I've had to call the police emergency number. I've called the non-emergency number a couple of times to report abandoned bicycles, but tonight was something very out of the ordinary.

At any rate, the guy I stopped was grilled to the extent that he cried his eyes out... I bet he didn't even know that there was anybody on the premises at the hour. I may be a big fellow, but I've taken a couple of levels in Ninja, he was shocked that somebody materialized out of the dark, somebody serious, and nabbed him. I bet this guy won't be coming anywhere near the property in the future, and hopefully the word will get out that it's not the best place to be after dark (though I have to say that it's a pretty awesome place to be after dark). I still can't wrap my head around the stupidity that inspired these numbnuts to pull their Grucci Family act near our sensitive site, on a hot, dry summer night. If they had just been trespassing, I would have told them to shove off, but adding open flame to their shenanigans forced my hand... especially since Ginger is working in the building closest to the bottle rocket's trajectory.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thanks for the Linky Love!

Here's a hearty thanks and a high five to Friend of the Bastard bspencer, who has been a member of the bloggerhood since the days she was slaying vacuums. Thanks, and welcome to any and all new readers. A special thanks to bloggerhood member Major Kong, who is also an all-around awesome guy. The major's aviation diaries at DKos are must-reads for all airplane buffs and anyone who has an interest in engineering and avionics.

This is going to be a short post, as I'm heading out for Tuesday night bar trivia (last week we took first place after a drawn out tiebreaker concerning an enniedecahedron- whodathunk that 'ennie' would be a synonym for 'nona'?). I figure I can catch up on the DNC coverage tomorrow, and put up a post. Tonight, it's all about cold beer and fierce competition.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Beyond Trumpy Tangerine

In the midst of last week's Republican National Convention, there was a 'blink and you'll miss it' moment which, in my estimation, lays bare the whole rotten scam. It was a seven minute and eight second speech, railing against burdensome tax rates and onerous regulations, delivered by a stern-looking Valkyrie in a dress with weird pauldrons:

It's funny to see this particular individual railing against regulation, because she's a shill for a multilevel marketing scam that peddles bogus dietary supplements. While investing sites warn against the Youngevity MLM, they only scratch the surface of the awfulness. Youngevity is associated with a scam artist named Joel Wallach, a veterinarian who was pushing colloidal minerals as a cure-all for everything from cancer to cystic fibrosis to crippling ennui. Of course, these cures were being suppressed by the sinister medical establishment- Wallach first came to the world's notice with a tape titled 'Dead Doctors Don't Lie', detailing the perfidy of physicians and making counterfactual claims that medical doctors have a lower life expectancy than the general population. The names of the scams may change, but the basic claims are the same- don't trust anybody with actual expertise- the simple country veterinarian will somehow cure your ass-cancer with colloidal minerals sourced from faraway lands and that, yes, even Lyme disease and the Zika virus are somehow related to sufferers' failure to get enough molybdenum or shark cartilage in their diets.

If Trump makes it to the White House, he'll probably make Joel Wallach his Surgeon General... five years ago, Trump himself got involved in a multilevel marketing supplement scam. Maybe he can revive this particular scheme by lending his branding power to the grifting power of Wallach. By law, the FDA cannot regulate dietary supplements, due to a 1994 law passed by legislators with ties to the industry. These are the 'burdensome' regulations that Van Etten labors under... yeah, virtually no regulation. That 'Tangy Tangerine' shit might be made out of pulverized skin flakes falling from Donald Trump's oddly orange epidermis.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trying to Get in from the Heat

It's been really hot for the last couple of days as the 'heat dome' which has been cooking the Midwest has moved east. The Manager on Duty on the dayshift spent a good portion of the day running jugs of cold water to the folks who had to work today, and handing out refrigerated bottles of water to visitors as soon as they arrived on site. Ginger parked herself in the air-conditioned break room until her end-of-shift meal was forthcoming and she took up rat patrol duties after 5PM. Shortly before sundown, I let her and Fred out and gave them a good brushing, releasing clouds and clouds of hair.

It's still hot out, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.66 Celsius), so even the cold-blooded denizens of the site are enviously eyeing the air-conditioned interior of our main building:

Hey, buddy, I'll let you in, but you've got to get me VIP passes to Toad's.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Hillary's Pick

The big political news today is that Hillary Clinton picked Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate. This move seems to involve a lot of political triangulation... Kaine was the governor of a Southern swing-state, he speaks Spanish fluently, and comes across as someone who personally espouses moderately conservative values but upholds moderately progressive government policies. He's not a liberal firebrand, but he has fought on the behalf of the disadvantaged as a youngish lawyer.

He comes across a lot like Joe Biden, who I tend to like... I sorta wish she had named Biden as her running mate. There are no term limits for Vice Presidents, so Biden would be eligible for the office. While 'President for Life' is a clear-cut signal of a failed state/banana republice, 'Vice President for Life' is merely comical... I think Biden would fit nicely in the role.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Warlord Trump

Donald Trump is supposed to deliver his acceptance speech as the Republican presidential candidate tonight. Given the fact that his wife's speech the first night of the convention cribbed a lot of content from a speech delivered by Michelle Obama at the DNC in 2008, I imagine that Trump is going to crib a lot of content for his speech:

Watching that clip again, I have to notice that Wez' boyfriend, who gets the boomerang in the noggin, looks a lot like that caveman Milo Yabbadabbadoopolis.

I'm not worried about the outcome of this election, I'm heavily invested in razor-edged boomerang futures.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It's the Only Way to be Sure

I didn't watch any of last night's GOP convention- I was too busy drinking beer and kicking ass at bar trivia to bother with watching a two minutes' hate that's been going on for days. I did listen to coverage of last night's shitshow and I was struck by turn that the convention took from opposition rally to full blown witch hunt.

As Tengrain relates, the centerpiece of last night's RNC was a kangaroo court proceeding run by the "Hudson Harkonnen", leading to multiple chants of "Lock her up!" As if that weren't enough, one of Trump's more unhinged (and that's saying something) supporters calling for Hillary Clinton's execution by firing squad. The Secret Service should be busy for the next couple of months investigating these threats to Hillary Clinton- it's kinda like that Pokémon game: gotta catch 'em all, preferably before November.

This sudden 'prosecutorial' turn by the GOP might spectacularly backfire- the Republicans have signaled to Hillary Clinton that, should she lose, her freedom, maybe even her life, could be at stake. Hillary Clinton now has every incentive to run a completely ruthless, knock-down-drag-out campaign... and she is both smarter and tougher than her opponents. She'd be a fool not to employ the most thorough opposition research not only on Trump, but on the GOP ringleaders. Put succinctly, she needs to pull a 'Ripley' on the GOP:

She needs to nuke the Republican Party from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Plagiarism or Plea?

One of the big kerfuffles from last night's GOP convention was Melania Trump's speech, which cribbed a lot of content from Michelle Obama's speech at the 2008 Democratic convention. While allegations of plagiarism are being levied at Ms Trump 3.0, I suspect something else is at play here.

I think Melania is getting back at her loutish husband by parroting the words of the wife of a hated rival. Melania has had too much Botox to allow her to blink out "HELP ME" in Morse code, so this is her best outlet for seeking help. It's not plagiarism, it's a plea.

That doesn't explain the Rickroll embedded in her speech, though. She might have been expressing contempt for the convention goers, perhaps for the entire population of a country which would allow her more vulgar half to come alarmingly close to the levers of power... then again, she might be pleading for Rick Astley to save her.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Beacon in the Darkness, Literally

Yesterday, the news was too depressing- with the cumulative effect of coverage of the Nice massacre and the Baton Rouge ambush dominating the airwaves, I decided that I needed to get out of the house early, so I headed to the Lighthouse at Sleepy Hollow for one of their annoyingly rare tours. The lighthouse, finished in 1883 and decommissioned in 1965 when the lights of the Tappan Zee Bridge rendered it superfluous, is accessed from the gorgeous Kingsland Point Park, one of the jewels of the county parks department.

The tours are run in a perfunctory fashion- while there is a sign declaring "you must make a donation for the tour", there is nobody to collect the money, merely a box which one would fill on the honor system. Being an honorable guy, I put in a fin. Here's where I note that anybody could have run off with the till, so kudos to the honest people visiting Kingsland Point Park. While I stood around waiting for something to happen, I took in the spartan surroundings of the first floor living quarters, with its antique stove and store of firewood:

In the foreground, on the table, you can see the cashbox- it's a rather nice box, and I suspect that one would be more tempted to steal the box and leave the money than to steal the money.

As I was taking in the surroundings, I met a really nice New Jerseyite who was visiting with his two teenage children. He was a lighthouse aficianado and showed me his "lighthouse passport", stamped with the sigils of various lighthouses he had visited up and down the Eastern Seaboard. After a brief discussion, we decided that I would ascend the stairs in order to find a tour guide. The second floor was even more spartan than the first, merely festooned with posters describing the typical ships of the Hudson River fleet and nautical charts of the vicinity. With its porthole windows, the lighthouse has an appropriately nautical air:

As one climbs higher, the place becomes even more austere:

When one emerges at the top, one is greeted by a gentleman from the local historical society who explains that there is no structured tour, but if one has any questions, one merely need voice them and they would be answered to the best of his ability. The view from the top of the lighthouse was magnificent, with a particularly nice vista of the Hudson Highlands rising to the North and Northwest:

I descended and explained to my new friends from Jersey that the tour was pretty much self-guided, then climbed again to take in the glorious view- here's the new Tappan Zee Bridge rising just north of the old, increasingly dilapidated TZB:

And a view of the metal gangway leading to the island on which the lighthouse stands:

That post-industrial moonscape visible at the top of the photo is the site of the former North Tarrytown General Motors Assembly Plant. Old-timers will tell you that you could tell what color they were painting cars by what color the river was running. There's a reason why one is not supposed to eat Hudson River seafood more than once a month.

After taking in the view, I spied one of my co-workers walking across the gangplank with her two tall, rangy sons. I had a nice chat with them before leaving, noting that the scarcity of tour dates was what led to our meeting, that and a desire to get out of the house on a scorchingly hot summer day. It was a nice bit of good fortune, I hadn't seen her boys in months. After bidding them goodbye, it was time to head over to work. Visiting the lighthouse was a nice way to spend an afternoon, I just wish that it were open more often. I'd recommend a visit to anyone, but they'd have to either plan it out well in advance or be really, really lucky.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Recycled Raccoon

Just imagine, you've found a snug little place to live, within easy walking distance of your favorite dining establishments, then everything goes all to heck when you are rudely awakened by people throwing empty plastic bottles at you... When I arrived at work this afternoon, there was a minor commotion going on- a raccoon had gotten into a can-and-bottle recycling bin outside our visitors' center. The gift shop staff and cleaning contractors decided to wait until I arrived, I'm the guy who's known for dealing with weird animal situations. Sure enough, I looked through the aperture in the lid of the recycling bin and spied a scared, snarling furball under a layer of plastic bottles. I decided that this was no time for subtlety, so I tipped the recycling bin over:

Now, why would anybody pitch a perfectly good little raccoon in the recycling bin?

We were then confronted by a scared and angry raccoon that had no desire to leave the confines of the plastic bag that lined the bin. I stepped on the bag while the gentleman from the cleaning contractor pulled the metal bin away. I then hoisted the bag, with the raccoon in it, over the low retaining wall separating a small ivied area from the main pedestrian walkway in front of the main entrance- it wouldn't do to release a very scared, very angry wild animal into an area with heavy foot traffic. Now I had a very snarly, very scratchy raccoon in a plastic bag to deal with... I grabbed the cul-de-sac and yanked it, depositing the raccoon, one of three immature goofballs on site, in a nice, vegetated area. After giving me a baleful glare, it made its way through the mix of English ivy and poison ivy to a nearby sycamore tree:

As the little critter mounted the tree, I had a fleeting desire to give it a reassuring pat or ear-scritch:

This was outweighed by my desire to keep all of my fingers.

I have a genuine fondness for the three young raccoons on the site, but they sure can be a pain in the neck sometimes. I have to confess, though, that even when they are being difficult, they manage to be very comical... and I seem to be the main butt of their jokes. I'm comfortable playing the Margaret Dumont role in the nightly slapstick routine that is my job.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Shedding Light on Dark Matter

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture. This lecture featured the triumphant return of Dr Priyamvada Natarajan, of Yale University's departments of astronomy and physics, the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and the University of Delhi, India, to the Secret Science Club event horizon. In 2014, Dr Natarajan kicked off the Secret Science Club North with a lecture about dark matter. Last night, Dr Natarajan's lecture was in support of her new book, Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos.

After a brief autobiographical introduction, detailing her childhood in India and her education at MIT and Cambridge University's Trinity College, Dr Natarajan gave a brief overview of science. Science is in the business of rethinking ideas- discarding or refining them as needed. She characterized the current time as a "golden age of cosmology", an amazing confluence of theory and technology, with astronomical discoveries occurring every day. Dr Natarajan described science as the arc of acceptance of radical ideas and stressed the need to demystify the techniques of science, which is the best way to understand nature and to make sense of the universe. Initially, there tends to be pushback towards new ideas, until a preponderance of data convinces skeptics. Fundamental to science is the interplay of ideas and instruments.

Dr Natarajan gave a brief overview of the history of astronomy, displaying images of the Nebra sky disc and the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa as early astronomical artifacts. She then displayed an image from Riccioli's Almagestrum Novum depicting the muse Urania discarding the Ptolemaic cosmology and weighing the semi-geocentric model of Tycho Brahe (with the planets orbiting the sun and the whole orbiting the earth, which Riccioli favored) against the wholly heliocentric Copernican model:

Dr Natarajan then quickly pivoted to modern astronomy, specifically the mapping of the universe- citing the Hubble space telescope as being instrumental (HA). The main goals of astronomy are describing the contents, expansion, and eventual fate of the universe. To illustrate this combination of goals, she cited the example of the Cosmic Microwave Background which is a relic of the time shortly after the Big Bang.

Dr Natarajan's lecture then focused on two particular topics- dark matter and black holes. She contrasted the discovery of these two enigmatic phenomena- the existence of dark matter was determined through empirical observation (gravitational effects on other astronomical objects) and the existence of black holes was determined through theoretical modeling.

The topic shifted to dark matter, which was the subject of her fantastic Secret Science Club North lecture. The universe is composed of approximately 70% dark matter, approximately 25% dark matter, and approximately 5% baryonic matter. The existence of dark matter was first proposed by Fritz Zwicky in order to explain the observed behavior of galaxies in the Coma Cluster. In the 1970s, Vera Rubin and Kent Ford observed unexpectedly steady rates in the rotation of galaxies, evidence that there was a 'halo' of matter around these galaxies that balanced out the greater concentration of baryonic matter at their core. While dark matter has never been observed, it has an impact on dynamics- the motion of stars and galaxies and an impact on light rays. In a solar system, the dominant gravity is that of its star. In a galaxy, there is a lot of 'gravitating' dark matter at the edge. Dark matter is lumped and clumped and smeared all over galaxies, but has no interaction with other matter, except through its mass.

Light is both a wave and a particle, it can be bent through a process known as gravitational lensing. This gravitational lensing can be used to observe far distant astronomical features in galaxy clusters. The current model of the universe posits filaments of dark matter with galaxies at the intersections of filaments. The nature of dark matter is encapsulated in its smoothness- using its lensing effects on observable astronomical features, dark matter can be mapped with a high degree of resolution. It is thought that dark matter is cold, with few collisions between particles... Dr Natarajan noted that she was somewhat disappointed that this was so.

While dark matter has not been observed to interact with baryonic matter, except through gravitational forces, there are attempts to detect it- the Large Underground Xenon experiment is an attempt to detect WIMPS (weakly interacting massive particles), which are considered candidates for dark matter. So far, these haven't been found- we are stuck with cold dark matter, but we don't know what it is.

The topic then shifted to the second major focus of the lecture- how black holes became real. Black holes were predicted mathematically, the mathematical models were borne out observationally, to the extent that gravitational waves were recently detected. In science, mathematical models have to be squared with actual objects. Dr Natarajan wryly noted that the term 'black hole' entered the English lexicon in 1756, to describe the Black Hole of Calcutta, the proverbial place of no return. In 1783, John Michell proposed a dark star, and object so massive that light (which in the original Newtonian model was thought to have mass) could not escape its gravitational field. According to Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, mass bends spacetime, theoretically, an object could be so massive that it effectively 'punctured' spacetime. The term black hole was applied to this astronomical phenomenon by John Wheeler.

The first observational evidence of black holes came in the form of mysterious objects dubbed 'quasars' which have been determined to be X-ray emissions from black holes. Black holes are collapsed stars so massive that light cannot escape their gravity once past the event horizon, so dense that, were the Earth to collapse into a black hole, it would measure one cubic centimeter in volume. According to General Relativity, mass bends the curvature of spacetime into 'holes'- the more mass, the deeper the hole. Black holes are infinitely deep, the laws of physics that we know break down in the vicinity of a black hole. The curvature of spacetime due to gravity was described in Einstein's field equations- Karl Schwartzschild proposed a solution describing slowly rotating spherical objects and New Zealander Roy Kerr proposed a solution modeling gravitational fields around supermassive rotating objects.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, pondering the fate of stars, formulated the Chandrasekhar limit, the maximum mass of a star which will form a white dwarf- according to the Chandrasekhar's theoretical model, more massive stars will collapse into neutron stars, even more massive ones will collapse into black holes. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, while a graduate student, discovered the first pulsar, which turned out to be a radiation-emitting rotating neutron star, empirical evidence for one of Chandrasekhar's theoretical end-term stars. The first empirical evidence of a stellar mass hole was the discovery of Cygnus X-1, a stellar mass hole which is pulling matter from a blue giant companion star.

More massive by far than stellar mass black holes are supermassive black holes. In 1963, Maarten Schmidt of Caltech discovered the first quasar, an extremely distant, extremely black object which was determined to be a scaled up supermassive feeding black hole... the brightness of the 'quasar' results from a 'flare' of matter ejected from the accretion disk of the black hole at high temperature and high velocity.

Major questions remain about black holes... boiling down to three 'F's'- formation, fueling, and feedback. How do they form? How do they grow? What do they do? Where do black holes reside? Does every galaxy harbor a supermassive black hole at its center? What are the 'seeds' of black holes? Do they result from direct collapse? How do they grow? The formation of a black hole would have to involve a lot of gas- everything would have to be right for one to form. Gravitational waves were discovered emanating from colliding black holes by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, is a project to develop a more sensitive gravitational wave detector.

As Dr Natarajan wrapped up her lecture, she displayed a NASA animation simulating a stellar mass black hole, a groovy visual accompaniment to a thoroughly groovy lecture:

The lecture was followed by a Q&A in which the Bastard was unable to get a question in. One of the most involved questions involved dark energy, which Dr Natarajan likened to the 'gas pedal of the universe', resulting in the increasing speed of the universe's expansion. She postulated that dark energy is a property of spacetime, but that more research was necessary. In the course of the Q&A, she uttered a line which cannot be stressed enough, so I'm putting in all-caps: NOTHING CAN SUPPLANT THE POWER OF DATA.

Dr Natarajan's return to the Secret Science Club, and her debut at the beautiful Bell House, was triumphant one. Kudos to Dr Natarajan, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. For a taste of Dr Natarajan's scientific virtuosity, here's a video of the good doctor giving a brief lecture on the subject at hand:

Also, I'd like to give a hearty high-five to Dr Natarajan for the publication of Mapping the Heavens... congratulations! It's nice to see someone who can so perfectly articulate these cosmological concepts on a level that the layperson can understand. At the end of the lecture, Dr Natarajan addressed the packed house and quipped, "I thought I'd be speaking to ten people." I chided her afterwards by noting that her Symphony Space lecture was delivered to a full house. The good doctor has star power, which is entirely appropriate for an astrophysicist. Again, congratulations are in order.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Underground Odyssey

In a case of exquisite timing, the entire subway system is borked following a power outage on the day I'm supposed to head to Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture. I decided to leave home an hour early, and am now at the mercy of the MTA. They have a good track (HA!) record, so I have no doubt about getting to Gowanus, but it may be a slow ride under Manhattan.

It sure beats braving the NYC traffic, though.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mom's Birthday

I just got off the phone with mom, who is celebrating her birthday today. Mom is having a ball, my sister, her husband and the boys have moved back East and are staying with Mom until the end of the month, when they move into their new place. Needless to say, Mom is spending a lot of time with the grandsons, and her throwing arm is getting a workout as she and boy A teach the youngun how to play baseball. Mom certainly doesn't act her age, not even on her birthday.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Déjà Vu, Is that a Fire Pokémon?

We have squirrels on site, and we have turtles on site, but until recently, we've never had a Squirtle on the premises. Don't get me wrong, we've had Pokémon on site before, but things have gotten crazy recently...

Today, one of our managers came up to me with some news he knew would pique my interest... one of our sites was visited by five individuals who were playing a new "augmented reality" game titled Pokémon Go. Apparently, this game superimposes images of Pokémon on the 'real world' scene at various rally points, and players can 'capture' the Pokémon by swiping their phone screens. There have been reports of hazards associated with this game, though all of the players on our site have left with their persons and wallets intact.

I immediately had a flashback to the great Ingress onslaught of '13, which resulted in adults showing up at my principle workplace at all hours of the night and early morning. Sure enough, this new game was designed by the same company that designed Ingress... Niantic, my nemesis. We were able to solve the Ingress dilemma by contacting the moderators and asking them to move the rally point to a site across the street from us. I think the current augmented reality problem could be solved if we built giant spherical traps which we could use to capture the players of the game who show up on our site at odd hours... gotta catch 'em all!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Bleak Song for a Bleak Time

Given the pretty bleak mood of the country this week, how about an appropriately bleak song? I have long been a fan of the English band Gang of Four, as longtime readers will know. The band's songs are all good lefty polemics, critical of war, the media, consumerism, sex roles... a wide range of topics, but they were all as danceable as all get out- righteous rage with a serious groove.

One of there least danceable tunes, one with a noticeable lack of throbbing bass, is 1978's Armalite Rifle, a scathing ode to the AR model series of rifles, made famous by the nightly news of mass shootings, which was favored by members of the Provisional IRA back in the not-so-good old days. The song, with barbed tongue firmly lodged in cheek, catalogues the 'virtues' of the eponymous rifle:

It sounds like an ad for the weapon, and some of the Y00t00b comments reveal that there are a bunch of people who don't realize that the song is a perfect example of Juvenalian satire, as topical today as it was back in '78.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Massacre, a Microcosm

Like most people (there may be exceptions, but they're psychos), I was shocked and appalled by the Dallas mass shooting that claimed the lives of five law enforcement officers. I see this mass shooting as a microcosm of everything that is wrong with our society: a toxic intersection of racial animus, untreated mental illness (PTSD), and, of course, the preponderance of high-powered firearms that can fill the air with hot lead at an alarming rate.

I don't think that this latest attack is going to change anything- hell, the massacre of twenty kindergarteners and their brave teachers didn't change anything. Meanwhile, I have no doubt that the mainstream media will strive to pin the blame on the Black Lives Matter movement and the Kenyan Usurper. At least the Dallas police chief seems to be a really good guy, I just have a sinking feeling that the demagogues with the megaphones will outshout any calls for reconciliation and healing.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the surreal bit about a bomb wielding robot being used to take down the shooter... it seems that somebody set up us the bomb will become a major component of police emergency response. Hopefully, the robots will be unable to differentiate between skin colors, it's the root of the problem.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Swampy Night Visitor

It's a pretty swampy night here in the NY Metro Area... after a real scorcher of a day, it's still 73 degrees Fahrenheit (22.7 Celsius) out and humid to boot. Scattered thunderstorms dumped a considerable amount of rain on my worksite. Yeah, it's pretty dank and swampy, perfect weather for an amphibious visitor:

This is a handsome American toad(Anaxyrus americanus), sitting on the 'safety' painting on the edge of the front steps. We have a lot of toads on site, much to my delight. Pretty soon, we should have this year's baby toads emerging from the pond. We tend to get them a little later than West Virginia does.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nutkin with a Muffin

Oh, Nutkin, what are we going to do with you? Nutkin works on the trash-diving day shift:

The night shift is covered by the Fearless Furball. Between the two of them, the custodians have their work cut out for them in the morning.

On a tangential note, there are three young raccoons which have the run of the property... they are of the age when mom kicks them out to fend for themselves. During shift change one night last week, my co-worker and I were shooting the breeze (we call it the shift change briefing), and we saw Moe, Larry, and Curly (natch!) poking around the area. All of a sudden, one of them rushes towards me, and I literally jumped backwards three feet. Oddly enough, I didn't get an aggressive vibe from the raccoon, it seemed like a mix of curiosity and playfulness, but needless to say, I don't want to play with a little fuzzball whose idea of fun is a friendly biting contest.

I wish I'd had my camera out at the time, it was an interesting enough occurrence. Hopefully, these three fuzzballs will learn to distrust two-legs. It may be comical when they approach, and it makes for good blog posts, but I like my wild animals wild.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

'Lady' Liberty?

OOF, just when I think that the public discourse can't get any stupider, I read about the Fox and Friends team running a bit on speculation that the Statue of Liberty may depict a man, and that the Frenchies may have 'pulled a fast one' on the good ol' U.S. of A. Oh, the Gaul of those French people! Anywhere, here's the whole stupid segment:

It's been a long time since I've heard anyone obsessing over what the Statue of Liberty has got under that robe:

Of, course, that was a joke, and a mighty fine one... one of my all-time favorites by XTC.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Working on the Fourth

As is often the case, I am working on the Fourth of July... it's not a bad deal, it's only a four-hour shift on top of my usual full-time workload, and I'm getting double-pay. Ordinarily, I have Mondays off, but all of our sites are open so it's 'all hands on deck' for my four-man department. It's a pretty cushy gig- I show up towards the end of the regular hours of operation to lock everything up, and I'll stick around the site after clocking out so I can catch a glimpse of some fireworks displays without having to deal with any crowds or traffic.

Not everybody has it so cushy, there are plenty of people working in rough, service jobs (here's where I note that I don't always have it so cushy- the basement of one of our buildings flooded when a torrential thunderstorm caused storm sewers to back up, and I had to deal with an unpleasant slog). These people are essential personal, the people who form the bedrock upon which our economy is built- pumpers of gas, stockers of groceries... the people who provide the necessities that the 9 to 5 crowd need to thrive.

One of my all-time favorite songs is The Fourth of July by LA's X, which is written from the standpoint of a man who has to work a low paying job on the Fourth, and whose relationship with his wife or girlfriend is suffering from economic uncertainty and a paucity of hope:

She's waiting for me when I get home from work
Oh,but things just ain't the same
She turns out the light and cries in the dark
Won't answer when I call her name

Here's a live version of the song from, appropriately enough, 1986's Farm Aid concert:

I've always believed that the song ends on a bit of an optimistic note, a feeling that the couple has a chance of making it, even though it won't be easy. It's certainly not a sugary view of our society, but it captures an essential grit that I feel that hasn't been beaten out of people. Here's a salute to all of those folks who have to work today, especially those of you who don't have a cushy workday.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Shanda fur die Americans

Gonna make a quick post, it's been a busy night at work with a fundraiser, but I have to note that it's really, really bad that, on the same weekend, Elie Wiesel, who tirelessly fought for justice for the victims of genocide, died and Donald Trump tweeted an anti-Hillary Clinton ad prominently featuring a Star of David, dollar bills, and a blurb about corruption.

Just when the presidential candidate for a major American political party goes full-on 'Protocols', the most tireless pursuer of Nazis shuffles off this mortal coil. Elie, Elie, we need you back, this isn't supposed to happen in these here United States.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Egad, Bad Ad!

While surfing teh Y00t00b, I was subjected to this really, really bad advertisement:

Why, you ask, is this ad so horrible? Well, it turns out that tampering with a vending machine in a manner such as this can get your ass killed. Statistically, an individual is more likely to be killed by a vending machine than by a shark. I haven't written to Hillshire Brands to complain about this ad, but perhaps I should. How many bros may fall victim to the vending machine menace because they emulate the actions of a 6'5", 310 lb former professional wrestler who is assaulting a (probably fake) vending machine under highly controlled circumstances? How many bros, indeed? Maybe I'd better wait until after the upcoming elections to register my complaint. Maybe Hillshire will try to buy me off with a lifetime supply of beef jerky...

On further consideration, the more beef jerky you eat, the shorter your lifespan probably is.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Florida Inundated by Pond Scum... and an Algae Bloom

From the Sunshine State, we have an appropriate disaster... a 'tide' of foul algae has inundated Florida's 'Treasure Coast'. According the the Guardian, the tide of slimy, toxic, stinking sludge was released by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent a bigger catastrophe:

The algal bloom has been triggered by high rainfall, soaring temperatures and nutrient-rich water. Excess water in Lake Okeechobee placed pressure on an aging levee; the US army corps of engineers released water to prevent people south of the lake from being inundated.

Read closely, it would seem that the blame for the algal bloom can be laid at the feet of climate change. Of course, Florida's slimy, toxic pond scum governor, who has forbidden employees of state agencies to mention 'climate change' or 'global warming', has figured out the real cause of the cyanobacteria bloom... you got it, the Kenyan Usurper:

“Because the Obama administration has failed to act on this issue, the US army corps of engineers continues to discharge millions of gallons of water into the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, resulting in the growth of blue-green algae, which is now entering residential waterways in South Florida.”

Yeah, the blue-green algae and the black tyrant are working hand-in-hand. This has nothing to do with a synergistic effect of climate change and a sugarcane industry headed by well-connected creeps that has wreaked havoc on Florida's ecology.

It's a perfect sort of disaster, an all-too-predictable onslaught of slimy, toxic scum brought to you by slimy, toxic scum.

Here's a good take on the subject by veteran Florida journalist and novelist Carl Hiaasen.