Monday, July 31, 2017

Arrivederci Scaramucci

I arrived in northern Virginia around 11AM today and spent some time shooting the breeze with mom. After a small lunch I took a short nap, our plan being to head over to my sister's place around 4PM, in time to meet my eldest nephew when he got home from work. On our way to my sister's place, we didn't even bother to turn on the radio, we had more interesting topics to discuss with each other.

When we met my nephew, he broke the news, Scaramucci had been fired... Mooch, we hardly knew you! The disarray in the executive branch is impacting my brother in law, who recently retired from the Air Force- he is a civilian employee of *REDACTED* now, and he would be a liaison to the White House science and technology department, if it still existed. While we all got a laugh at Mooch's firing, there is an existential crisis in the executive branch that even the Scaramucci shots how can't distract us from.

On the way back to mom's place, we put on WTOP to hear details of Mooch's ouster, but they were sketchy, like Mucci himself. Che mondo pazzo!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Hitting the Road

Late July is a weird time... it feels like the summer is over. Accordingly, on the spur of the moment, I decided that a visit to see my mom and my sister and her brood in Northern Virginia would be in order. My eldest nephew will be returning to college around August 20th, and I would feel like a total slug if I missed seeing him.

I will be hitting the road in the early morning hours, before the morning rush, and aim to drive back straight to work on Wednesday. I haven't been down to Virginia since February, when I helped my mom unpack from her recent move. I am really looking forward to seeing my nephews, they are really great kids.

I will try to put up a post or two in the upcoming days, but I don't anticipate keeping up with the national news, which is a shitstorm... much better to keep up with the family news, which is great.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Busy Day, Albeit a One-Shot

Today, we had a low-key fundraising event, a showcase for local storytellers that mainly appeals to the NPR set... you know, nerds like myself. On a typical weekend day, I can lock up at 7PM, and I have the place to myself for the rest of the shift. Tonight, I just finished running around and locking up everything after the event ended. It was a busy night, but I was able to score a couple of delicious samosas and bhel puri from one of the featured caterers, and a slice of blueberry pie from the other caterer. Needless to say, that was some good carbo-loading for the post-event dash.

It's now quiet, maybe a little too quiet, so I think I've going to blast my current earworm, which is Saint Motel's Destroyer:

I love the catchy lyrics, though in this live version, the chorus is muted in comparison with the studio version. The saxophone knocks this single out of the park, though, lending it a slightly sleazy 'Electric-Six'-esque vibe.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Channeling Blofeld

Like most of us who follow the news, I'm scratching my bald pate at the firing of Reince Priebus from his position as Trump's Chief of Staff. Priebus was a representative of the Republican Establishment, having chaired the Republican National Committee for years. He was a wonk's wonk, somebody who went about the party business with little fanfare. It's sort of bizarre to see him ousted so quickly after Scaramouche went on the attack on him, but I'd chalk that up to Trump viewing Scaramucci as a sort of mini-me, a fast-talking Noo Yawk bullshit artist/legitimate business man. I would feel sorry for Reince, but for the fact that he's a scumbag, albeit a calmer one than Trump or Scaramucci, he really shouldn't have expected loyalty from Vulgarmort.

Trump now seems to be in full-on Blofeld mode, being willing to fire a chief of staff of six months' duration seemingly at the behest of a new hireling. I expect to see more of these firings, similar to Blofeld's downsizing of his Japanese Regional Manager:

Given the fact that Trump is surrounded by frickin' idiots, I expect that other firings will follow as his stated agenda, the real agenda being lining his pockets, continues to stall:

If I had to make a prediction, I'd guess that Southern barbecue is next on the menu.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Passing of a Comedic Titan

I can't be alone in saying that another part of my childhood is gone... the legendary voice actress June Foray has died. Like most Americans who grew up in the latter half of the twentieth century, June Foray was a part of my life, having voiced some of the great classic cartoon characters. I would characterize the late Ms Foray as one of the greatest comedic talents in the American entertainment industry. Alongside such comic duos as Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello, we have Foray (as Rocket J. Squirrel) and Scott (as Bullwinkle J. Moose), with June playing the long-suffering, though eternally loyal, straight man to Bill's good-natured doofus:

In the very same show, we have the comic duo Foray and Frees, playing the villains Natasha Fatale and Boris Badanov (one of the greatest character names ever):

Happily, there's an interview with June, discussing her roles in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Her account of her skepticism concerning a show about a moose and squirrel evaporating with her second martini is precious:

My favorite 'Rocky and Bullwinkle' episode is the 'Goof Gas Attack', which was turned into an electronic dance tune in 1986:

My favorite line is when June, as Rocky, channels Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men.

June also had a memorable career working with the producers of Warner Brothers' 'Looney Tunes', with my favorite character of hers being the cackling, unhinged Witch Hazel:

Another memorable role, which had June collaborating with Looney Tunes' director Chuck Jones, was her poignant turn as the trusting Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

Writing this post, the one question I have is, why didn't June Foray have a career as a storied film actress? She was a remarkable beauty:

One clip I did find was from a largely forgotten movie, Sabaka, which features a white cast (ugh) playing Indian characters:

At any rate, June's talent as a live-action actress is better showcased in this clip from The Johnny Carson Show:

It's dated, but June was great in her role.

Most importantly, June was a tireless advocate for the art of animation, being instrumental in the formation of ASIFA, the Association Internationale du Film d'Animation. Besides her devotion to the art of voice-over, June recognized the value of the animated film- besides being one of the founders of the Annies award, she was a champion of awarding Oscars for animated features.

There is a certain breed of troglodyte which insists that women aren't funny, but June Foray's stellar career proves these jerks wrong. I grew up with June Foray, she was funny to me when I was a kid, and she is funny to me now, even though I'm shedding a tear for her.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An Unconvincing Fundamentalist Turn

The big story in today's news was Trump's tweet about barring transgender folks from serving in the military. Besides trampling on the right to self-expression of people who have chosen to serve their nation, Trump broke another campaign promise, albeit one that few people really believed, to protect the rights of LGBT people. Huh, who could have seen that coming?

The best response to Donald Trump's disgusting betrayal of servicepersons has been Senator Tammy Duckworth's... here is a distinguished veteran who left two limbs in a warzone, speaking about how it's the service which counts, not the gender.

One rationale cited for banning the service of transgender personnel is the cost of gender transition, estimated to be from $2.4 million to $8.4 million annually, which is a fraction of the cost of Trump's stupid cruise missile attack on a Syrian airstrip, which accomplished nothing.

I believe that, unless Mike Pence has stolen Trump's phone, that Vulgarmort is cynically trying to appeal to his fundagelical base, a suspicion that is furthered by an all-caps follow up tweet:


Bud, some of us don't worship either. The real sickening thing about this tweet is that Trump has never worshiped God, he's worshiped himself, and above all, Mammon. Deep down, the fundamentalist evangelical Trump voters know this, but their own leaders have been worshiping Mammon for many a decade now, so they are used to turning a blind eye to this grift.

None of the rest of us are convinced, though.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

If I Were a Nine Year-Old

I'd want to hear some old gee Ed in a bad wig talking about a cocktail party thrown by Steve Ross, the best people, big league!

I really have to wonder if Vulgarmort even realized he was talking to kids, with his weird insinuations and Dick-swinging anecdotes. I'm appalled that he trash-talked his predecessor in front of kids in what is suppose to be a non-partisan setting. This kind of garbage can't be good for the future of scouting.

Unless they are going to award misogyny merit badges for hitting anchorwoman with gendered insults.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Transit Tales of Terror

In the interest of full disclosure, when I traveled to Broolyn last week for the Secret Science Club lecture, the ride from Woodlawn in the Bronx to the 9th St/4th Avenue stop in Brooklyn took over an hour and forty-five minutes. That day, the entire subway system was a mess, a crappy day in what has been dubbed a Summer of Hell. Currently, the state and local officials are engaged in a blame game and the transit situation just seems to worsen.

Coincidentally, my current reading obsession is pulp tales of morlocks/ghouls/deros/CHUDS- those creepy, subterranean people-eaters that seem to crop up periodically in lurid tales from questionable magazines and low-budget movies. One of the best of these 'cannibalistic mole-people' stories is Robert Barbour Johnson's Far Below, which seems to build on one of the most memorable lines in H.P. Lovecraft's ghoulish Pickman's Model:

There was a study called 'Subway Accident,' in which a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform.

Far Below elaborates on this theme, chronicling a secret police division tasked with protecting commuters from the hungry creeps which inhabit the tunnels 'far below' the subway system... it also has a nice, shuddersome take on the perils of fighting monsters. The story also serves as a precursor to Clive Barker's The Midnight Meat Train, which also concerns a secret cabal of government operatives working in the subway for arcane purposes.

Counterintuitively, last week, the subway train I rode on at midnight was much more crowded than the 5PM train I rode to Brooklyn. Part of that is due to the fact that fewer trains run at night than during the daylight hours, but it also speaks to the reality of work in this day and age. Far more people are working night shifts than did before- office cleaners, maids, restaurant workers, CNA's and nurses... a lot of the hard work of the city is done between 3PM and midnight, and there is another crowd that starts work at 11PM to midnight. Many of these people live in places like the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. The very idea of a quiet 'midnight meat train' in which shadowy killers can stalk their prey is pretty far-fetched these days... can't have a meat train when everybody is packed in like tinned sardines.

Now, who needs a pulpy mole-man subway horror story? The real horror is the ride itself.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Most Republican Story Ever Told

Playing off of Tengrain's title, the saga of Sean Spicer and the mini-fridge has got to be the most Republican story ever told:

“[Spicer] dispatched a top aide to a nearby executive office building where junior research employees are crammed into a room, surviving on Lean Cuisine frozen lunches. Mr. Spicer wants your icebox, the aide said, according to people familiar with the incident. They refused to give it up.

So Mr. Spicer waited until sundown — after his young staffers had left — to take matters into his own hands. He was spotted by a fellow White House official lugging the icebox down the White House driveway after 8 p.m.”

It's a metaphor for the past four decades of Republican policy- an employee asks his boss for a simple benefit, is refused, then steals from the employees lower down on the food chain, rather than rectifying the situation himself. Party of personal responsibility, my ass, this is the party of 'screw the little people, I can't let them have something nice that I don't have'. It's the sort of party which has, as one of its tenets, the notion that anything which benefits persons of lesser stature is theft from their 'betters', while theft from lessers is just 'business as usual', if not actively virtuous in a Randian sense of the word.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Another Clown in the Media Circus

Tengrain has a contest to come up with a moniker for Donald Trump's new White House Director of Communications. While I don't believe that 'name equals destiny' (with one notable exception), I find it amusing that Anthony Scaramucci shares a name with one of the famous clowns of the classic commedia dell'arte. Well this clown certainly is joining a circus.

Already, Scaramucci is doing the fandango as he's deleting his Twitter history. Given the fact that the administration he's joined has a tenuous relationship with the truth, it's a good that that he can't distinguish the real life from just fantasy.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Witchy Women, Tenure Battles

Longtime readers will know that I am a big fan of Fritz Leiber, a criminally unsung author whose influence is as pervasive as it is unacknowledged. Such stories as 1941's The Smoke Ghost and 1949's The Girl with the Hungry Eyes are foundational documents in the 'dark urban fantasy' genre which is so popular these days.

One of the lacunae in my Leiber reading was the 1943 novel Conjure Wife, a tale of witchcraft set in a small university. The protagonist of the novel is John Saylor, a sociologist who has recently completed a survey of folk-magic practices with the assistance of his wife Tansy, culminating in an upcoming monograph, The Social Background of the Modern Voodoo Cult. Saylor and his wife are nonconformists stuck in a conservative institution, yet are thriving despite not being quite as staid as the administration would wish them to be.

One day, on a whim which he acknowledges as being childish and perhaps illicit, Saylor decides to go through his wife's dressing room and discovers that she has drawers full of the trappings of witchcraft- graveyard dirt, hair-and-nail clippings, horseshoe nails, and flannel mojo hands. A social scientist, he is appalled by this evidence of superstition on the part of his wife. On her return home, he confronts her with his discovery and makes her promise not to engage in these practices, and combs through the house finding flannel mojo bags and other talismans everywhere.

After he destroys the items, bad things start to happen- he is accused of sexual harassment by a student-employee, he starts lecturing about controversial topics, he puts his path to a department chairmanship in jeopardy. Being a rational person, which is never a plus in a dark fantasy, he chalks these things up to coincidence. The reader, of course, susses out what's going on pretty quickly.

The threats that accumulate against Saylor culminate in a supernatural attack on his house by an architectural grotesque that adorns one of the campus buildings, and hints of a fatal curse placed on him by an unknown antagonist. Tansy, unknown to her husband, takes the curse upon herself in order to save him, and receives a compulsion to flee the university. In one particularly creepy scene, John tracks down Tansy and, finally realizing that his rational worldview is not up to the task of saving his wife, decides to use supernatural means to save her... too late. Having largely failed to save his wife from a soul-stealing enchantment, he has to find a means to return her trapped soul to her and discover the source of the supernatural attacks on them.

The weird thing about this novel is that it portrays every woman on the planet as being a witch. Tansy, the other university wives, a young hotel maid... all of them use magic to one extent or other. The rudiments of the practice are handed down mother-to-daughter (uh, no explanation for how orphans learn it), but each individual woman continues to the extent of her abilities, using trial-and-error to achieve more mastery of the craft.

The novel then shifts into a spiritual battle between Saylor, who uses his analytical skills to approach the supernatural arts, and the witches who have tormented him and his wife. His struggle is reminiscent of a video game, in which he has to face a succession of increasingly powerful 'level bosses', until he finally finds the authoress of the couple's misfortunes.

The book was a fun read, if dated. There is the typical mid-century sexism, of the 'women being conscious of the moon-pulls and earth-tides' variety, and African-American conjure-men working their mojo, but it's not as toxic as a lot of other mid-century pulp fiction. The book also had me looking up the folk-practices that it describes, and I found a great Lightnin' Hopkins song about a mojo hand as a result:

One mark of my enjoyment of a book, movie, or television series is the series of internet searches that the work inspires... I love works which set off a cascade of queries.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Continual Source of Disappointment

The big political story today is John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis. I wish that Senator McCain successfully fights the glioblastoma with which he is inflicted... I've had a conflicted view of McCain for many years- the media has long portrayed him as a 'country before party' guy, but my observations have put the lie to this conventional wisdom.

My biggest beef with McCain, one which I take personally, is his flip-flop on immigration reform. In 2006, I attended a pro-immigration reform rally at St Barnabas Church on the Bronx/Yonkers border which featured McCain as a speaker. Back then, he was an advocate of immigration reform, having co-sponsored a bill on the subject with Teddy Kennedy.

I also had a beef with McCain about his flip-flop on the release of POW Bowe Bergdahl... as a POW himself, McCain should have unequivocally supported Bergdahl's rescue, but he decided to use it to score political points.

I just don't see McCain as the principled 'Maverick' that he's played in the media's imagination- even in this current political climate, he's voted with the man who denigrated his military service almost ninety-percent of the time. Now that he's facing a long battle against a pernicious cancer, he's probably going to vote to prevent the middle-class, working-class, and indigent people of the U.S. from receiving affordable diagnostic care like he did. An elderly man, with numerous pre-existing conditions, McCain would never receive affordable coverage from any of the private insurance carriers that we peons are forced to deal with.

I wish Senator McCain a recovery from glioblastoma, but I would wish that for anyone. Basically, I wish that every single American citizen could receive the 'gold standard', taxpayer funded healthcare that McCain will be receiving. Tragically, Senator McCain doesn't seem to agree with me. Once again, McCain has proved to be a source of disappointment. I hope he recovers, but I won't be singing Fields of Athenry to him anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: An Earthshaking Topic

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture by Yale University geologist and geophysicist Dr Maureen Long. Fr Long, an observational seismologist, described her job as dreaming up questions that nobody has the answers to and traveling around the world (a perk) to seek the answers.

Dr Long began her lecture by noting humanity's fascination with the world beneath our feet, a fascination which has cropped up in popular culture for a long time. She displayed a simple, elegant image of the Earth's layers as characterized by current geology. Beneath the cool crust of the Earth, there is a rocky mantle which surrounds a liquid outer core primarily composed of iron (about 80%) and nickel (about 20%) surrounding a solid iron-nickel inner core. The interior of the Earth is characterized by dynamic processes.

Approximately 4.6 billion years ago, the Earth accreted from a planetary disc- collisions between accreting dust particles created kinetic energy which was stored as heat, the present day source of much of the interior's heat. The Earth has been cooling slowly to the temperature of the surrounding space, which will eventually result in a slow heat death billions of years from now. The Earth radiates 46 terawatts of heat- it is thought that approximately one half of this heat is residual primordial heat, and one half results from radioactive decay. Heat loss fuels plate tectonics and localized disasters such as earthquakes. While the Earth radiates 46 terawatts of heat, it receives 170,000 terawatts of heat from the sun, which can cause atmospheric disasters.

Dr Long indicated that the heat lost by the Earth is lost by convection- although the mantle is solid, there is a slow convection as rocks near the surface cool, become denser, and sink and rocks near the core heat up, become less dense, and rise. The process is slow, rocks move one to ten centimeters a year... to help the audience visualize the process, Dr Long likened it to the speed at which one's fingernails grow. Dr Long compared the process to the motion of the blobs in a lava lamp and joked that, as a geophysicist 'of course' she has a lava lamp. Plate tectonics is a surface expression of the convection in the mantle. Subduction zones are the regions in which the plates of the Earth collide and one plate slides under another plate. Oceanic spreading zones are regions in which plates are moving away from each other. Plate tectonics in boundary zones is the cause of earthquakes and vulcanism. Dr Long stressed the need to understand the physical properties of the Earth to mitigate disasters.

Dr Long then shifted the topic to methodology- how do we study the Earth's interior? Much of what we know about the interior is the result of studying seismology. Earthquakes are recorded at monitoring stations all over the planet- the 'wiggles' of the seismographs give researchers insights into the structure of the Earth. There are different sorts of seismic waves, such as body waves which move through the interior and surface waves. Body waves are further divided into primary P-waves (or compressional waves) and S-waves (shear waves). Seismic waves continually pass through the mantle of the Earth and the data can be compiled to create seismic tomography, in a process analogous to medical tomography. Images can be constructed from seismic waves. Dr Long showed us a gorgeous tomographic image of the mantle underneath the United States:

The blue regions are characterized by fast seismic waves traveling through older, colder, stiffer rock, the red regions are characterized by slow seismic waves moving through hotter rock with more vigorous seismic activity.

There are seismic stations all around the globe- a lot of earthquakes occur, providing a lot of data. While earthquakes are, as Dr Long put it, super-common, most of them occur in remote places, deep in the earth. A Global Seismographic Network with about two-hundred monitoring stations uploads data in real time. Earthquake occurrence is not evenly distributed, and oceanic monitors are difficult and expensive to place. With a global network, a seismic tomography of the deep earth is being compiled. One recent discovery is that subducting plates can form slabs which sink towards the core. Dr Long noted that many of the features observed in the deep Earth look like the predicated models, but that there are surprises- not all subduction slabs act alike, some slabs are slowly sinking all the way to the core-mantle boundary. Beneath Japan, one subduction slab sinks to a depth of 900 kilometers then stops sinking. Dr Long posed the question, why do some slabs sink to the mid-mantle level while others sink to the core-mantle boundary? All of these slabs are made of the same stuff.

There are also rising rock 'plumes'- solid rock rises up through the mantle. Dr Long cited the work of UC Berkeley geologists Scott French and Barbara Romanowicz who found slow velocity hot rock plumes under such volcanic hotspots as Hawaii and Iceland. Some of these plumes are one-thousand kilometers in width. There are also 'superplumes', more properly known as large low-shear-velocity provinces located at the base of the mantle and having low shear-wave velocities. There is a large low-shear-velocity province underneath the Pacific Ocean, and another under Africa. Dr Long characterized these LLSVP's as 'superweird'. Nobody knows what they are- they are at the base of the mantle, and they are hot, but they don't seem to be rising. Dr Long wondered if these structures had a different minerology/chemistry from other mantle sections and if they were formed shortly after the birth of the planet. LLSVP's remain a mystery. She recommended a TED talk by Dr Ed Garnero of Arizona State University on the subject:

Dr Long then brought up the topic of Earthscope, the largest earth science project funded by the National Science Foundation. Earthscope was designed to make transformative discoveries about the structure of the North American continent, earthquake physics, and the Deep Earth. The data derived from the project is free and open. The USArray placed approximately twenty-five hundred seismic systems throughout North America- before Earthscope, there were about one-hundred seismometers in the US. Dr Long contrasted the pre-Earthscope era to the present day using an analogy- it's like studying astronomy with a pair of binoculars versus studying astronomy with the Hubble Space Telescope. I seemed to detect a bit of 'football spiking' when Dr Long told us that PopSci, in 2011, named Earthscope the most awe-inspiring project of the year, edging out the LHC.

The Earthscope observatory nearest to the beautiful Bell House is N61A in Milburn, New Jersey. The USArray is a flexible array- detectors can be earmarked for specific seismic experiments. Dr Long's specific experiment is the poetically named MAGIC: Mid-Atlantic Geophysical Integrative Collaboration. The goal of the MAGIC project is to determine the seismic structure of the eastern United States, and to reconstruct the plate tectonics processes which formed the region. The geology of the eastern United States is largely covered by vegetation and I-95. It's a complicated geology- about 350 million years ago, the Appalachian Mountains were young, tall mountains like the Himalayas. At about 200 million years ago, the supercontinent of Pangea was splitting up, with present-day Africa separating from present-day North America- meaning that the current Eastern Seaboard would have looked much like Africa's Rift Valley. There are dramatic remnants of the Triassic Rift in the Hudson Palisades, part of the Newark Basin and New Haven's East Rock (visible from Dr Long's office), part of the Hartford Basin- both the Palisades and East Rock are lava formations, dramatic evidence of ancient tectonic processes.

Dr Long's MAGIC project is set up to determine the effects of tectonic processes on the deep structure of the crust and mantle underlying eastern North America- what lies beneath? Eastern North America has not been a plate boundary for 200 million years, but the seismic tomography indicates a couple of unusual features- red 'blobs' underneath New England and Central Appalachia, indicating slow velocity seismic waves. Dr Long chose to study the Central Appalachian 'blob'- what does the crust/mantle region look like in Appalachia? Central Virginia is known to experience earthquakes. Dr Long characterized the geology of Appalachia as 'superbizarre'- there are 500 million year-old rocks in the region, which should not be found in a passive-margin region with no plume or hotspot. Put succinctly, the structure is anomalous. MAGIC deployed 28 seismometers in Appalachia between 2013 and 2016. Dr Long announced her 'hot off the presses' findings... in the Central Appalachian region, the lithosphere, thought to be 100 kilometers thick, turned out to be a mere 70 kilometers in thickness, way thinner than was expected. At some time, perhaps 50 million years ago, some part of the lithosphere dropped off into the mantle. The dropped chunks of lithosphere may explain the earthquakes in this region. This unexpected finding raised other questions- is this region of thinness unique to the region, or is it a characteristic of old mountain ranges? What's special about Appalachia?

Dr Long ended her lecture with a plug for the Earthscope project and told us to stay tuned for new amazing discoveries, transformative discoveries, to come. Deep Earth research is important to understanding life, and to understanding hazards.

In the Q&A session following the lecture, some bastard in the audience asked Dr Long about the feasibility of earthquake prediction (impossible by today's standards). She noted that earthquakes cannot be predicted, but that broad forecasts can be made about which regions are earthquake-prone. While nobody can indicate if an earthquake is imminent, knowledge of risk factors can lead to better building codes in quake-prone areas. She indicated that there's not a lot of progress, and we may never get there, but increased knowledge can lead to better policy.

Another attendee asked if convection is random or if the LLSVP's play a role in the process- Dr Long indicated that nobody knows what factors control convection patterns. A question about the Chicxulub impact's effect on the planet had Dr Long stating that, while the impact was a mass extinction level event in the biosphere, it had little effect on Earth's deep structure... that being said, extinction events are often associated with volcanic flood basalts. Another question about our knowledge of extraterrestrial seismic studies had Dr Long talking about seismometers on the Moon and the Insight mission to place seismometers on Mars. Another question regarded the anomalous rise of upstate New York's Adirondack Mountains which is occurring 'faster than it should be'. The last question regarding the heat death of the Earth, and Dr Long noted that there are differing calculations depending on how much one attribute's Earth's heat to primordial kinetic energy or to radioactive decay- at any rate, we have tens of billions of years until it happens, and as Dr Long wisely put it- 'we have bigger problems'.

After the formal Q&A, Dr Long hung out at the beautiful Bell House for an informal chat session. One topic which came up was the discovery of a fault line not too far from the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Dr Long also broke the news to me that Dr Leo J. Hickey, gentleman and Renaissance man, had passed away four years ago.

Dr Long's lecture hit what I call the 'Secret Science sweet spot'- it was an entertaining and informative blend of hard science fact, methodology, and travelogue. In other words, the good doctor hit it out of the park. Kudos to Dr Long, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. If you want a taste of that Secret Science effect, here's a video of the good doctor lecturing on natural disasters:

Crack open a beer and soak in that SCIENCE!

Monday, July 17, 2017

I Have a Feeling He'll Be Back

Another Titan has fallen- George Romero, the father of the modern zombie/ghoul/living dead horror genre, has died, but I suspect he'll be back. Romero's films, made on tight budgets with casts of unknowns, are notable for their political content as well as for their gore. The original Night of the Living Dead was notable for featuring an African-American protagonist, and while the political message is in the background, the practically subliminal racial tension is a factor in the dynamics of the group almost as much as the tension between the living and the not-exactly-dead. The ending of the movie is one of the great shocking twists of cinema history.

Dawn of the Dead, in my estimation Romero's grand opus, is a savage satire of consumer culture, as rival groups of survivors (particularly cops and outlaw bikers) ensconce themselves in a mall to withstand a siege by ghouls. The breathers and the shamblers are all obsessed with consumption- the undead at least realize that humanity is the product.

The Tor article I linked to is an essential read for Romero fans- the sheer ubiquity of the tropes the Romero started served to drown out the oeuvre of the man himself, leaving little room for an auteur who preferred to work with modest budgets and practical effects.

One thing that I have to note about Romero is that he had a sense of humor, albeit a grim one. One particular scene comes to mind, in which the female protagonist's brother tries to scare her:

My favorite line in any of Romero's movies is the deadpan-snark description of the undead uttered by the character of the police chief who is leading the local response to the zombie uprising:

Night of the Living Dead, surprisingly, is in the public domain. It's a bit gruesome, but not over the top like some modern splatter films. Even if you're not a horror movie fan, it is an interesting watch, because of its genre-defining status. Just keep the lights on, because George might be coming to get you.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Can't Save Them All

When I arrived on the job today, one of my co-workers, a sensitive artistic woman, greeted me with a dilemma... she had found a distrait bird in front of our main building. Acting on the instinct of providing a 'nest' for an injured bird, she had placed it in a cardboard box lined with paper towels:

The bird, a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) looked to be in rough shape. It had a tendency to shiver and to occasionally flop over. My friend had called a couple of wildlife rehabilitators to ask for assistance, but had to leave messages with them because they were unavailable. I took the box with the bird from her (I am fond of nuthatches, they are comical little birds which often climb head downward along one of our wooden outbuildings, looking for tasty bugs) and tried to figure out how best to deal with the little thing. I figured I'd see if I could get it to drink from a drip-feeder improvised from a wet paper towel (having no eyedropper in my office) and eat a bit of cat-kibble (not having sunflower seeds or peanuts available). Sadly, the bird expired while I was trying to figure out how to provide sustenance for it.

About an hour after she had left, my co-worker returned to see how the bird was doing- the whole situation weighed on her so much that she had to return to see how the bird was doing. I broke the bad news to her, and then we had a talk about how birds which have ended up on the ground are often sick to begin with. I told her that she had done everything correctly to the best of her knowledge, and how I had tried to get some water and food into the bird. She had heard back from one of the rehabilitation experts, who pretty much told her the same thing I did, even down to the whole 'try to feed it sunflower seeds or cat food' bit. This is a prime season for animal injuries, so all of the local wildlife rehabilitation experts have their hands full. My friend is an idealistic woman, but she's also a realist, so she took the news of the bird's death in stride... she did a yeoperson's job, but even a yeoperson can't save them all.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Liberté Égalité Covfefé

Today being Bastille Day, I figured that I'd post about President Trompe le Monde's Mission a Paris. Despite an awkward opening 'line' from Trompe (quel dommage dumbass), President Macron responded with genuine statesmanship and hit the PotUS with a full-blown Parisian charm offensive (bonus points to the French military band for playing a 'Daft Punk' medley during the Bastille Day parade) and making him feel at home in the rococo, by which I mean tacky, Élysée Palace.

I have to grudgingly express admiration for President Macron's discretion and diplomacy for not trolling Trompe with a succession of tumbrels during the Bastille Day parade, but the man took the high road. The 'conventional wisdom' is that Trompe is typically influenced by the last person with whom he's spoken, so Macron's display of amitié toward Trompe might move him to a more moderate stance towards America's allies... dining in the Eiffel Tower just might make him conflate the Paris Agreement with La Ville-Lumière, and reconsider his position.

I'm not holding my breath, though, Trompe's lune de miel is over, and now it's back to the harsh reality of the Russian hacking scandal and low approval ratings. As the lovely Veronique Vincent sang, prends l’avion pour un autre là-bas...

But someday you have to fly home to face the music... at any rate, this is a story to follow.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

When Someone You Can't Stand Covers One of Your Pet Topics

I pretty much view the whole 'Freakonomics' phenomenon with contempt, especially given the authors' blase approach to climate change, with the belief that geoengineering can save the day, is boneheaded, though not the most boneheaded approach. Generally speaking, I can't stand these guys, but while changing radio stations on my way to work last Saturday, I actually stopped and listened to their radio show, because they were covering a topic which has long been a mini-obsession of mine... the American obsession with lawns.

My take on lawns is that they are only appropriate for athletic fields of various sorts- they are wasteful monocultures, costly in terms of money spent and biodiversity lost. To me, the best symbol of the idiocy of the lawn is the suburbanites' war on the dandelion, a plant which is useful in every part, in order to grow turf grass, which is only useful to ruminants. To use potable water in order to grow this useless, invasive turf grass is extremely wasteful.

Personally, I think that a combination of native wildflower and herb/vegetable gardens is the way to go... people should at least consider having a couple of milkweed plants in their yard. I would even advocate a 'million milkweed median' program for the national highway system in order to bolster the endangered monarch butterfly population.

I listened to the entire 'Freakonomics' show, and I note that their characterization of lawns as 'carbon sinks' is flawed because it doesn't take into consideration the carbon costs of lawn maintenance and the transportation infrastructure used to support the industry, and the fact that mown turf grass doesn't remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as most plants, especially trees. I still hold the 'Freakonmics' staff in contempt, but I am pleased that they at least covered this topic.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dirty Dog for Director

I have serious misgivings about Donald Trump's nominee for director of the FBI. This guy was Chris Christie's 'Bridgegate' defense attorney... while I realize that a defense attorney has to represent a defendant no matter how scummy they are, I don't have to trust said defense attorney. By the way, the architect of the Bridgegate ratfuckery has avoided prison time, leaving a couple of flacks to take the heat and do the time.

Even more troubling, Wray was a member of Dubya's Department of Justice and redacted documents provide tantalizing clues suggesting that Wray was probably involved in implementing the use of torture in prosecuting the 'Global War on Terror'. Wray's role in the response to the reports of inmate abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison suggests that he is the sort of person who values subservience to a regime over adherence to the rule of law.

Given the fact that the current administration is packed with oligarchs who view their positions as opportunities to steal, Wray's involvement in the Bush torture regime and his defense of Christie's vendetta against Democratic politicians and the commuters they serve, I doubt that Wray really would resign before dropping an investigation into his bosses... he has a loyalty to the loathsome, not the law.

Monday, July 10, 2017


One of the big local stories that has been dominating the airwaves in the NYC Tri-State Area is the hazing death of a young New Jersey man while pledging a Penn State fraternity. Particularly appalling is the callous response of the fratholes who knew that there was something going terribly wrong with their supposed friend. They chose not to seek medical intervention, hoping that the problem would 'go away'.

All too often, young men witnessing bad behavior embrace a code of Silence reminiscent of the Mafia's omertà- a bromerta, if you will, which enables much of the behaviors which characterize toxic masculinity. Rape culture, bullying, hazing- all are fostered by this complicity of silence. These behaviors tend to grow even worse in young adulthood, leading to such ills as the "blue wall of silence" which protects bad cops, and to unethical business practices.

In many universities, the Greek System is a pipeline into the Old Boy Network, and the fact that some fraternity brothers perpetuate a system of hazing and complicity should give everyone pause- if a house full of bros are willing to let a pledge die in order to "make a problem go away", what would they be capable of doing to complete strangers to further their business interests later on in life?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How About Promoting an Arsonist to Fire Chief?

Ah... Sunday morning, the time of week when nothing goes on, a good morning to sleep in after a long, late night. Hey, let me check the t00bz while I hit the commode... WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!?!?

Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..

I realize that the current occupant of the White House is a dumbass and a nutbar, but this is beyond the pale! If President Obama had so much as hinted that he wanted a joint cyber-security unit with even our closest allies, such as Canada or the UK, it would have caused a meltdown in Congress and the media. The very idea that Vulgarmort would even consider a joint cyber defense pact with the unfriendly (to the US and the EU) regime which hacked the US electoral system and, even more alarmingly, US nuclear power plants is enough to give a thinking person the creeping horrors.

This really should be the beginning of the end for dumb Donald, but the feckless GOPers are the types to criticize, then do nothing... for instance, Marco Rubio criticized Trump, but can't be relied on to stop the insanity- he's all hat tiny bottle no cattle water.

The really crazy thing is that Trump is still rambling on about this issue hours after his initial tweet:

The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a ceasefire can,& did!

This is not normal, and whether he's trolling or he's actual nuts makes no real difference. Either way, he is doing irreparable harm to our security apparatus. The real tragedy is that the GOP Congress can't be relied on to 25 45.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Island of Doctor Moreau Moron

From the fever-swamps of the right wing conspiracy theory industrial complex, we have the assertion by possible Trump 'advisor' Alex Jones that there are human-animal chimeras enslaved in labs throughout the country. For those of you have have the fortitude to watch the blithering idiot raving on, it's a bad bit of science-fiction.

Back on Planet Earth, there are immunocompromised mice which, due to their inhibited immune systems, won't reject grafts from other organisms, so they are used in tumor research or things which look to the uninformed like transgenic human-animal hybrids, such as those another Texas dumbass warned us about. The idea that the people in the white coats are creating gorilla-human or pig-human chimerae for the hell of it, or to engineer a breed of super-soldiers is ridiculous- funding for biological research is too damn low as it is... plus, there are plenty of humans on this planet that are exploited cheaply, why would 'the global elite' fritter away resources to produce expensive, inferior thralls?

The real kicker here is that Jones has ranted about 'life extension technology' that 'the elites' are withholding from him... if he thinks that his lifestyle-ravaged viscera can be replaced without techniques developed through studies like that involved in the creation of the Vacanti mouse, he's even stupider than I originally thought.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

If There's a Hereafter, He's Jamming with Delia

In today's news, there was an obituary for electronic music pioneer Pierre Henry, who was an instrumental (heh) figure in the development of Musique Concrète, in which recorded sounds (often 'found' sounds from nature or industry) were incorporated into the production of music 'from the bottom up'. The use of tape loops as raw materials allowed for all sorts of distortions and sound manipulations:

Henry's most 'accessible' track was Psyche Rock, a fun number which starts out in a 'Morricone-esque' fashion, then morphs into a fun garage-rock number punctuated with bells and flute trills until finally channeling a bit of Guantanamera:

It's hard to believe that the song was recorded back in 1967, it really has a timelessness about it... making it an appropriate inspiration/foundation for Christopher Tyng's Futurama theme:

I always love listening to these paleo-electronic tracks from the 1960s, and admire the musicians who had to splice together loops of tape and program unwieldy synthesizers to achieve their effects. If there is a hereafter, I have no doubt that Monsieur Henry is jamming with my beloved Delia Derbyshire.

EDIT: There seems to be some ambiguity over whether or not the long version I posted is a remix, so here's a more concise 1967 version of Psyche Rock:

The song is so fun, betcha listen to both versions back-to-back.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I Do Declare!

These days, I tend to wake up and, before I turn on the radio, wonder what sort of fresh hell is awaiting me in the news. This morning, it was hearing that an appalling number of Trump supporters were freaking out over NPR's tweeting of the Declaration of Independence, believing that the public radio network was fomenting revolution against their God-Emperor. I can hardly fathom how anyone so ignorant of the foundational documents of our nation can claim the mantle of patriotism.

My favorite quote from Al Franken is:

If you listen to a lot of conservatives, they'll tell you that the difference between them and us is that conservatives love America and liberals hate America. ... They don't get it. We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, they love America like a 4-year-old loves his mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world. That's why we liberals want America to do the right thing. We know America is the hope of the world, and we love it and want it to do well.

Love should be rooted in understanding, and love of country should be rooted in learning the unvarnished history of America and, as Al Franken exhorted us to do, to improve the culture. The lofty ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness) were espoused by men who owned slaves, who denied women full participation in civic life. Our society has evolved to the extent that women and minorities are considered, in principle if not practice, full citizens... much to the dismay of some on the Right.

Perhaps the most cringeworthy response to NPR's Declaration tweetstorm was this guy's... as an added bonus, he blames feminists for his 'blacklisting':

Ex-writer for big news. Blackballed media journalist thanks to left wing/feminist job lynch mob.

I guess it's easier to blame a bunch of womyn for your failure than to admit that it's due to your dumbassitude.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

As Is Typical on July 4th

One of my weekly rituals is to stop by a local supermarket to pick up 'provisions' for my office fridge for the week, typically a half-gallon of milk for the nightly coffee ration, and whatever catches my eye, by which I mean is on sale. I am on a first name basis with much of the staff of the place- I never use the self-serve checkout, firmly believing in the whole 'the job you save may be your own' approach to workplace automation.

Last week, I was chatting with two of my friends at the store, and asked them if they had the 4th of July off. They told me that, not only was the store open, but it would not be closing early for the holiday. At least they were getting overtime pay, which is some small consolation.

Ordinarily, I have Tuesdays off, Mondays and Tuesdays are the days when our sites are closed to the general public, though we do accommodate school groups on these days. This year, though, because of the holiday, we are open to the public... I will be working a four-hour shift to help the Manager on Duty at one of our sites close up. I don't have to start until late afternoon, so I have time to hang out with some old friends who are having a lunchtime cookout. The job's not a bad gig, because once I lock up, I have the glorious place all to myself, and can usually catch a bit of a couple of local fireworks displays from a private vantage point at the end of the shift. I'm 'essential personnel', and I am the top dog in the department, so I feel obliged to cover these odd shifts so none of my subordinates has to do so. It's not like I'm standing at a cash register, ticking down the minutes to midnight, when I can go home.

One of my all-time favorite songs, one that I've posted about before, is 4th of July by Dave Alvin, a song about a poor working stiff, "on the lost side of town, in a dark apartment", who comes home from work to find his partner in a funk... though I like to think that it has an optimistic ending. The definitive version is by X, here's their 1986 Farm Aid performance of the song, with Mr Alvin on guitar:

This one goes out to all of the working folks, mainly low-paid women and people of color, who have to work today. I sure hope that people show them the appreciation they deserve.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Target Audience

Last week, I posted about the latest NRA ad, which has been construed as inciting violence against liberals. In the past couple of days, I have come to the conclusion that, counterintuitively, the ad is meant to scare liberals into buying guns.

While the NRA has been spouting right-wing talking points for as long as I can remember, the organization is primarily a lobbyist group for the arms industry. The raison d'être of the NRA is to sell guns. The main technique employed by the NRA is to stoke fear (PDF), largely racialized fear. For the past eight years, the gun lobby has convinced its original right-wing target audience that the United States' first African-American president would confiscate guns, all to drive up sales. Anticipation of a Clinton presidency fueled a gun-buying frenzy last year. With a right-wing president occupying the White House, and the right-wing gun purchaser having a glut of firearms, gun sales, and firearms manufacturer stocks, have plummeted. Gun manufacturers have to expand the market for firearms if they want to stop this downward spiral.

This current ad, suggesting that conservatives arm themselves and fight back against violent 'leftists', protesters-at-large, and people who criticize the president, has been scaring the bejeebers out of liberals, some of whom now feel the need to arm themselves for protection against a reactionary backlash. A subset of people concerned with Trump's violent rhetoric and jingoistic policies, have gone and purchased shooting irons. This has been a market largely untapped by the rightist NRA, but I think that, in a bit of marketing 'jujitsu', they have made an extreme right-wing ad that is actually targeting a left-of-center audience.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mars Needs Women Sanity

Wow, there are a couple of 'cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs' stories regarding the Red Planet lately- the first is that the main purveyor of lunatic fringe right wing buffoonery has featured a guest who claims that there is a pedophile ring on Mars, claims the resulted in a response from NASA to the contrary. For the record, the purveyors of this lunacy received White House press credentials from Vulgarmort. I know I've posted the Dead Milkmen song Stuart on numerous occasions, but this 1988 release perfectly encapsulates the lunatic-right worldview:

It's appalling to see how 'normalized' this sort of idiocy has become... far from a small operation based from a P.O. Box in Pueblo, Colorado, this shit is now big business.

The other whacko story is the President stating that he wants to land a human on Mars within his first term, probably using a coal-powered spacecraft. This stated goal doesn't mesh with Trump's general attitude toward science and education.

If Trump does decide to land humans on Mars, I suggest that he starts by sending a corps of right-wing conspiracy theorists to investigate the Martian pedophile ring- these people did such a bang-up job at Comet Ping Pong.

The post-title riffs off of this piece of glorious Sci-Fi cheese, which starred the dear, departed Yvonne Craig:

The movie inspired a gloriously cheesy 1980s song of the same title by Peter Wolf:

The movie also inspired the Hoodoo Gurus' song Mars Needs Guitars, a personal Bastard favorite:

Anyway, I wouldn't mind seeing Trump sending an 'Ark B' to Mars... it's not like anybody needs a telephone sanitizer anymore.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ceding the Future

I am a nerdy guy- I am a firm believer that evidence-based, peer-reviewed science is the key to understanding the universe, to the extent that I made a decision to recap the monthly Secret Science Club lectures. I even took a vacation day to participate in the NYC March for Science. Needless to say, I was really bummed out to read that the Science Division of the White House Office of Science and Technology now has zero staffers. It's bad enough that the current PotUS is obsessed with revitalizing an obsolete, polluting technology and has a Secretary of Education who wants to dismantle our secular education system, but letting the office which should employ the makers of science policy just wither and die really hammers home the point that our current administration is ceding future technological dominance to foreign governments, whether China, the European Union, or New Zealand.

The president is an ignoramus and, like most ignoramuses, has an inflated view of his own cognitive abilities. The fact that he doesn't even seem to care that there is no-one guiding a coherent science policy is rather depressing to me, though at least he isn't putting fundamentalist loons in charge of science policy... yet.