Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Rage, Reversal

The one news story that had me pig-biting mad today was the news that FEMA would be ending its shipments of food and water to Puerto Rico, though a recent update indicates that FEMA will continue to send aid. This seems to be a reversal, rather than an initial error in reporting, no doubt due to public rage and the perception that the cessation of aid was 'revenge' for San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz' attendance at the State of the Union.

The crazy thing is that the story about FEMA abandoning Puerto Rico is altogether too plausible... the response to the crisis there has been so bad that the term 'ethnic cleansing' is being bandied about. Meanwhile, there has been an influx of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans into Florida, which is a swing state with twenty-nine electoral votes. This diaspora, while tragic, will remake the face of national politics for the forseeable future, and I don't think that the boricuas will have any love for Republican candidates.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Secret Science Club North Post Lecture Recap: A Glorious Ignorance

Last night, I headed down to the scintillating Symphony Space on Manhattan's Upper West Side, for the latest Secret Science Club North presentation, featuring particle physicist Dr Daniel Whiteson of the University of California at Irvine and CERN, teaming up with Dr Jorge Cham, recovering robotics researcher and the genius behind the Piled Higher and Deeper comic. Drs Cham and Whiteson have a new book, We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe. Their presentation concerned the topic of the book and was a celebration of a certain type of ignorance- that ignorance which inspires inquiry, that ignorance which seeks to remedy itself with discovery.

The good doctors first decided to combine their talents a few years back when Dr Whiteson approached Dr Cham to ask if he did commissioned work. They combined forces and produced a video which has been described as the best explanation of the search for the Higgs boson for the layperson:

The video was a distillation of eight hours of conversation between Dr Cham and Dr Whiteson, a brilliant 'editing' job on the part of Dr Cham combined with his charming cartoon art.

The presentation was lovely, a casual tour through millennia of inquiry with a recap of the current state of particle physics. I pretty much just sat back and enjoyed the lecture, which had Dr Whiteson lecturing in front of a screen displaying Dr Cham's art, with Dr Cham improvising comical additions to the background. As such, I figure that the best way to recap the lecture is to present a video of it (seeing as Dr Cham's drawings are an integral part of the program):

I had a lot of fun- the interplay of Drs Whiteson and Cham was funny, and they quickly imparted a fantastic overview of the state of physics to an audience ranging in age from grammar school children to senior citizens, from second graders to PhDs. The talk covered such topics as dark matter and dark energy and particle physics. There were some hilarious moments, such as Dr Whiteson's observation that, even as a kid, he was one to smash rocks together to see what they were made of, and Dr Cham's characterization of his life as a grad student as reminiscent of a video he made of a cockroach-modelling robot on a treadmill occasionally getting smacked by an offscreen aggressor. There was a brief Q&A session afterwards, during which the bastard asked about antimatter, and possible reasons why it is in such short supply compared to regular matter- Dr Whiteson indicated that it is unknown whether there was a higher proportion of matter from the beginning of the universe, and that there might actually be entire sectors of the universe that are composed of antimatter, joking that the residents of such an area would call it matter. There were a lot of questions about dark matter- could it even be considered made of 'particles', is there a fifth force which determines how it interacts with the universe?

The night was a love-fest, I have to note that, in particular, Dr Cham is held in esteem and affection by the world's grad students... my friend Dr Garnier noted that Dr Cham's cartoons are ubiquitous in university offices worldwide. At any rate, the presentation was fun and informative, and I do not hesitate in plugging Dr Cham's and Dr Whiteson's book.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Binging on Nostalgia

For some reason, I was in a nostalgic mood, so I went poking around for information about some old computer games I had played the bejeezus out of and I found Old Games, a website which allows users to download vintage computer games which have been configured so no older computer emulators such as DOSBox are needed. For just under six bucks, a user gets a day of unlimited downloads, for under ten, a month of unlimited downloads is available. I, uhhhh, kinda went nuts and downloaded a shitton of games I used to play, and a bunch of games I had seen reviewed but never played. Now, I can replay computer games I haven't played since the 1980s, when the song Computer Games could be heard on the radi-adi-o:

My one saving grace is that my precious kitteh is at my job, not my home, so there will be no catassing going on.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Native Americans and Recent Arrivals

Here's an idea to shelter the DREAMers, those undocumented child immigrants who have been given protection from deportation under the DACA program, those undocumented child immigrants whose protection Trump seeks to rescind. Native American CJBakken has hit upon opening reservations as sanctuaries:

As a Native American I just had an epiphany about undocumented DACA people. How big of a coronary would trump and ryan have if the tribes welcomed the DACA folk onto the reservations, affording them protection under the sovereignty of the tribes......

MSBellows proposed an enhancement of this strategy:

What if a tribe offered tribal membership to any undoc immigrants with indigenous blood (ie, 99.9% of those from Mexico/Central America) in exchange for the ability to tax their income?

While the reservations do fall under federal immigration statutes, there is some leeway concerning membership in a Native American nation:

As a general rule, an American Indian or Alaska Native person is someone who has blood degree from and is recognized as such by a federally recognized tribe or village (as an enrolled tribal member) and/or the United States. Of course, blood quantum (the degree of American Indian or Alaska Native blood from a federally recognized tribe or village that a person possesses) is not the only means by which a person is considered to be an American Indian or Alaska Native. Other factors, such as a person’s knowledge of his or her tribe’s culture, history, language, religion, familial kinships, and how strongly a person identifies himself or herself as American Indian or Alaska Native, are also important. In fact, there is no single federal or tribal criterion or standard that establishes a person's identity as American Indian or Alaska Native.

There are major differences, however, when the term “American Indian” is used in an ethnological sense versus its use in a political/legal sense. The rights, protections, and services provided by the United States to individual American Indians and Alaska Natives flow not from a person's identity as such in an ethnological sense, but because he or she is a member of a federally recognized tribe. That is, a tribe that has a government-to-government relationship and a special trust relationship with the United States. These special trust and government-to-government relationships entail certain legally enforceable obligations and responsibilities on the part of the United States to persons who are enrolled members of such tribes. Eligibility requirements for federal services will differ from program to program. Likewise, the eligibility criteria for enrollment (or membership) in a tribe will differ from tribe to tribe.

While I doubt that such attempts would be successful, the real goal would be to tie up individual cases in the court system until this current regime is removed from power. Trump has a history of hostility toward Native Americans. It would be fitting if they could thwart him in his campaign against the DREAMers, 85% of whom are from Mexico and Central-and-South America, regions which have populations with majority mixed-autochthonous heritage.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


Now, this is an embarrassing little tidbit- conservatives, including Congresscreep Trey Gowdy (R-Uncanny Valley), have been promulgating a conspiracy theory that there is a 'Secret Society' in FBI that is attempting to undermine President Vulgarmort. Predictably, Fox has been pushing this narrative to a large extent.

Predictably, the whole conspiracy theory has been spun out of a joke between two FBI staffers:

"Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society."

Now, I am not a member of a secret society... well, maybe a not-so-secret one... I have a hunch that members of actual secret societies don't exactly yap about it through text messages. Even psychotic fictional bros know this:

As usual, the right-wing reverse Ouroboros (a snake with its head up its ass) has been played due to their wish-fulfillment fantasies. It's exciting to believe in secret societies arrayed against your heroes, to believe that you are playing a role to preserve what you hold dear, and that makes you susceptible to believing bullshit. It's not some grand conspiracy that is targeting Trump unfairly, just the normal, everyday law enforcement apparatus. Sometimes, even these SERIOUS PEOPLE need to blow off steam by snarking... they're not the Illuminati, but sometimes they're the ILOLminati.

ADDENDUM: On the Media had a pretty good distillation of this topic.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Like Losing a Beloved Uncle Who Turned Into a Right-Wing Crank

I was surprised and saddened to read of the death of Mark E. Smith, frontman of celebrated Manchester post-punk band The Fall, a Bastard fave. Mr Smith was always an irascible figure, but in his later days, he went full-on right-wing nutjob. Rather than dwelling on his unpleasant political and social stances, I figure I'd celebrate his music. The Fall's early singles were jagged, discordant- you can detect their DNA in bands such as The Pixies and Sonic Youth, bands that could mix melody and aural assault.

To convey some idea of The Fall's early sound and transgressive lyrics, I can think of no better example than Spectre vs Rector, from the band's second album, 1979's Dragnet. The song casually name-drops M.R. James and Lovecraftian Elder Entities, and merits at least one trigger warning:

In the 1980s, the band went through an almost accessible phase, with 1988's Hit the North from The Frenz Experiment album being decried by some hardcore fans as a 'sellout', the band's flirtation with disco. I've always thought it was a fun song, a love letter to a quirky Mancunian culture:

The band released a second 1988 album, I Am Kurious Oranj, which yielded the single Big New Prinz:

Another almost-pop single was 1985's Cruiser's Creek from This Nation's Saving Grace:

Smith also wrote a play about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I, Hey! Luciani: The Life and Codex of John Paul I. The title song of the play was almost poignant:

Mark E. Smith had an interesting career. He was always a prickly fellow, a curmudgeon from day one and a crank at the end. I've long been a fan of his, since first picking up a college radio station on my transistor radio while in middle school. He was always interesting, even if listening to him took some effort... especially when listening to him took effort. As soon as I hit 'publish', I'm going to go on one of my periodic 'Fall' binges.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hope I Didn't Sit in Qusay's Chair

Today, I attended a luncheon thrown by my boss, who heads up not only my department, but several other departments in the organization. At noon, twelve of us met at the Guadalajara restaurant in Briarcliff Manor, NY. Unfortunately, this place gained a degree of notoriety when asshole Eric Trump celebrated his birthday there, donning a sombrero despite his father's racist attitude toward Mexican immigrants.

I had never dined at Guadalajara before, writing it off as a Tex-Mex place... when it comes to Mexican food, I prefer to patronize hole-in-the-wall places, the sort of places that serve buche and menudo. To be fair, though, the meal was very good. We were immediately presented with freshly fried tortilla chips and a decent mild salsa. After this start, we ordered several servings of guacamole, which was prepared tableside and served in molcajetes. The guacamole was excellent, having just a hint of a bite to offset its richness. The menu consisted mainly of tacos, burritos, tostadas, sizzling fajitas... pretty much standard Tex-Mex fare. I ordered chicken enchiladas mole poblano and was pleasantly surprised at how excellent the incredibly complex chocolate/chiles sauce was. One of my usual Mexican food destinations, the taco stand on 4th Ave and 9th St in Brooklyn, is owned by folks from Puebla, and when I asked them if they made mole poblano, the owner joked, "I make it at home." It was nice to have something this rich for lunch, though my tastes still run toward buche and tacos al pastor. Guadalajara also makes a creditable horchata, fragrant with cinnamon.

Of course, the best thing about lunch was the company. I love my co-workers, they are a great bunch. One particular co-worker, who emigrated from Ireland twenty-one years ago, had us in stitches with tales of her exploits... one of her best stories involves her driving off with the gas nozzle still in her car's intake, ripping it off of the pump. When she stopped and offered financial restitution, the owner told her, "Just leave and never come back!" Yeah, it was funnier delivered in her charmingly accented, mile-a-minute manner. At one point in her narrative, one of her closest co-workers chimed in, "Notice how she never completes a sentence?" It was a jocular lunch, and it went on for two hours... two hours of just hanging out and yukking it up. I may not be making a gajillion dollars, but I dig my job (my coworkers being a major factor).

All told, Guadalajara is a good Tex-Mex place, with touches of authenticity for people who know what to look for. The service was excellent, and we were able to hang out for two hours without being rushed. The fact that they served asshole Trump scions is actually a feather in the staff's cap- they are better than any of Donald's spawn. Plus, if any restaurant owners decided not to serve assholes, they'd be out of business in a day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Word for Bereavement Is Sadness

I was just about to run out of the house for bar trivia, when I made the mistake of checking the web- Ursula K. LeGuin has died. LeGuin was a titan of the science fiction and fantasy community, the sort of author who helped the genres mature from whiz-bang wish-fulfillment to social commentary. I am running out the door, so this is a quick post, but I will expand upon it later. Needless to say, I am saddened by the loss of a beloved author.

Monday, January 22, 2018


I take a dim view of anyone who says that they are going to run government like a business, especially if they have a string of business failures behind them. The latest indicator of how badly Trump's businesses are run is the revelation that the kitchens of gilded shithole Mierda-Lago were dinged with over a dozen violations. Ay, che schifo! It's amusing to think the Trump's well-heeled supporters were shelling out one hundred grand For the privilege of getting dysentery.

Nothing about Trump withstands scrutiny, from his hideous hairstyle to his mealy steaks, to his serial bankruptcies, to his presidential ineptitude. There's a glittering foyer, but the kitchen is a festering E. coli culture. The real tragedy is that he's turning the whole country into a shithole.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Make America 'Bate Again

Here's a little bit of awfulness for you, which... uhhh... went down on the night of the Women's March, via Ken Vogel of the NY Times:

Who said the Trump wasn't bringing jobs back to America? Well, gigs at least...

The whole Stormy Daniels thing manages to be hilarious, with some gross notes added in to 'spice' things up:

Yup. He bragged about his daughter quite a bit though. He was very proud of her, which is nice. He told me once that I was someone to be reckoned with, beautiful and smart just like his daughter. She is smart and beautiful, so I guess that’s a compliment. But as far as family, that’s all he ever said. He definitely is very proud of her, as he should be.

Well, that's pretty damn creepy, especially in context. My favorite passage from the InTouch interview concerned Vulgarmort's fear of sharks:

You could see the television from the little dining room table and he was watching Shark Week and he was watching a special about the U.S.S. something and it sank and it was like the worst shark attack in history. He is obsessed with sharks. Terrified of sharks. He was like, “I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die.” He was like riveted. He was like obsessed. It’s so strange, I know.

The worst shark attack in history occurred after the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis- in the grand scheme of things, the sharks were a lot less dangerous than good old H. sapiens. I like sharks, even the mutant ones, and I am concerned that Trump would interfere with NOAA's efforts at conservation of endangered shark populations. I'd also like to point out the Trump that sharks are the least of his problems:

Getting back to the topic of Stormy Daniels, the really weird thing is that I remembered her name from her short-lived Republican primary campaign against Davd 'Diaper' Vitter:

I guess that Trump won't be putting her on his staff, well, not in the future.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Year of Trump, a Day of Pushback

Wow, a mere year after Vulgarmort's inauguration, the U.S. Government has entered shutdown mode. Working the graveyard shift, I pretty much listened to coverage of the shutdown in real time. Asked by a Nederlander in a comment section about my feelings of being without a government, I replied 'without this government?'

I left work around 8AM and headed down to my volunteer coaching gig in Manhattan. As I typically do, I drove to 238th St and Broadway in the Bronx to take the 1 Train down to 59th St. At 225th St, a contingent of women in pink hats boarded the train, headed down for today's Women's March. I struck up a conversation with them about the awfulness of 'little gloves', and it turned out that they were from Westchester County, from a couple of towns not far from where I work... a couple of them actually had friends in common with me, and we whiled away the train ride swapping scuttlebutt about various individuals we knew. As they exited the train, I exhorted them to kick ass and take names.

We had four classes, going from 9:30 to 11:45, and we decided that the kids knew enough so that we could let them play randori, which is fighting without scorekeeping. The kids are trustworthy, they played hard against each other, but they played clean... they are a great bunch, very supportive of each other.

After class had ended, I headed out into streets packed with marchers. The mood was exuberant, though there was a sense of righteous anger at the depths to which the current maladministration had sunk. I decided that I really wasn't going to join the marchers because I was carrying a really large gym bag laden with a sweaty double-weave judogi that is heavy as hell... I really didn't need to get probed by NYPD for carrying a suspicious duffel. Also, I had to return to work at 5PM, my coworker who was originally scheduled to work Saturday afternoons had a training session for another job. I entered the 59th St station and the train that pulled into it was so packed that I had to run four car lengths before finding a car that I could squeeze into. There were a lot of passengers in pink hats. Standing next to me were three twentysomething year old women, and I joked that Trump would rue the day that he was inaugurated. One of the women laughed and said, "He pissed off the girls!" The train practically cleared out at 72nd St, near one of the staging areas of the ongoing rally. As they exited, I cheered on the girls, "Give him hell!"

From what I could see, the march, which was attended by tens of thousands of protestors (one traffic reporter estimated a crowd of over 100,000), was multigenerational and multiracial. One of the common themes I saw on signs was a demand for intersectionality. Another common theme was the need for voter turnout- wave imagery was common. Perhaps the funniest thing I saw was a young kid in a shark hat.

Now that I've been at work for a few hours, I've had some time to check out coverage of the marches across the country, and it is truly amazing. People are even more fired up than they were last year, and if this momentum can be sustained until November, the GOP is in deep, deep doodoo.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Betrayals Most Foul

In a week of repugnant news stories, the harrowing tale of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse of multiple girls is perhaps the worst. The fact that Nassar cloaked his depredations in the guise of medical treatment is a horrific betrayal of a medical doctor's duties, generally held to be sacred. He betrayed the trust of his victims, and their parents, some of whom were convinced that their daughters were mistaken concerning Nassar's conduct. Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics failed to protect their charges against Nassar, eerily echoing Penn State's failure to protect children from a sexual predator... Nassar was able to abuse scores of girls over the course of decades, leading some victims to commit suicide or to seek solace in drugs.

I've long held a repugnance for high level competitive gymnastics, as detailed in Little Girls in Pretty Boxes... I look at Kerri Strug's perfect landing with an injured ankle as a more of a horror story than a triumph:

Don't get me wrong, that was a display of guts, but it points to a disregard for the well-being of girls, an attitude conducive to a predatory culture. Nassar had a one-man reign of terror, but it's hard to see any good guys involved in the sport.

Part of the reason which I find this especially repugnant is my volunteering as a coach for a children's athletic program. After the Penn State scandal became public, all of the adults involved in the program had to undergo background checks. I'm a judo player, and our sport had a sexual abuse scandal- Kayla Harrison, the most accomplished American judoka ever, was abused by a coach and fought depression and suicidal ideation. She is now a tireless crusader against child abuse.

Besides screening adults who are involved in children's activities and making sure that there is no unsupervised contact between kids and adults, it is crucial to believe children when they reveal that they have been abused (I was enraged by the tale of the woman whose parents didn't believe her tale of Nassar's abuse), and it is crucial to instill in them a healthy skepticism of authority figures. For all the characterization of 'stranger danger' being the major threat to children, the tragic fact is that abuse is usually perpetrated by trusted adults- clergy, coaches, teachers... it's often the stranger who notices that something is wrong and puts an end to the abuse.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Shocking Death

Here's a tragic companion to yesterday's post- Dolores O'Riordan, the lead singer of the Cranberries, has died at the all-too-young age of forty-six. I don't recall the 1990s as being a banner decade for music, but the standout bands for me were rock bands that were fronted by charismatic female vocalists. Among these standout bands was The Cranberries from Limerick, Ireland. Their first album, released in 1993, happened to coincide with an Irish Renaissance in the New York metro area- a poor economy in Éire drove a wave of immigration to NYC and much of the Irish immigrant community migrated from the Norwood section of the Bronx to the Woodlawn/McLean neighborhood which straddles the Bronx/Yonkers border (my neighborhood). Locally, the storied Rory Dolan's pub opened in 1994, and internationally, Riverdance swelled into a cultural juggernaut (for the record, I still chuckle at Michael Flatley jokes). The decade was perfect for the release of a debut album by a Very Irish band, and the Cranberries fit the bill.

The band immediately made an impression on me with the ethereal single Dreams, a perfect showcase of Ms O'Riordan's vocal range, from breathy to belting:

It's here where I confess that, if I can be said to have a 'type', it's gaminesque Black Irish heartbreakers like Ms O'Riordan, which is a factor in my fanboi status and my current melancholy.

The band's 1994 second album opened up with the political song Zombie, written to protest a 1993 bombing by the provisional IRA, a splinter group of which committed the horrific Omagh bombing. The song charted throughout the world, having resonance wherever bitter dead-enders cling to their hatred and violence:

In 1994, I went with a bunch of friends to see the band play the Beacon Theatre, a really amazing music venue on Manhattan's West Side.

After a run of albums throughout the 90s, the band seemed to fizzle out, but they recently mounted somewhat of a comeback:

The best way to remember Ms O'Riordan is to blast her music, so here's a 1999 concert video by The Cranberries:

News of her death came as a dreadful surprise, but the, forgive the expression, lingering melancholy is knowing that a voice which formed a big part of the soundtrack to a fantastic time of my life has been stilled.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Unlikely Survival

Today, something which I never would have believed thirty years ago happened... Shane MacGowan turned sixty years of age. My love for Shane has been documented over the years, I just didn't think that this hard-drinking, hard-drugging, hard-living rapscallion would live to be eligible for a senior citizens' discount. Here's a guy who's public debut was a journalist-documented earlobe biting at a Clash show:

Who would have thought that that bloody kid would survive decades of self-abuse to become a beloved elder statesman? While I am a huge Pogues fan, I figure it would be fun to post a video of a song by Shane's first band, The Nipple Erectors- here's King of the Bop:

A cute number, but perhaps not indicative of the man's glorious songwriting skills. A few years later, the guy was writing epics such as The Sickbed of Cuchulainn:

It looks like Shane had a blast on his birthday, but I'd be remiss if I didn't add (as everyone does) that I'll always be shocked that he outlived Kirsty.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Racists and Reactionaries

On this Martin Luther King Day, in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination, the individual who holds the highest office in the land is fresh off of a scandal in which he was heard to malign immigrants from developing nations which are still contending with the aftereffects of colonization and post-colonial exploitation. The general consensus among Trump watchers is that Trump was motivated by racial animus, though the cretin won't own up to his racism.

Back in the happier times of the Obama presidency, there were murmurs that the United States had entered a post-racial stage, though anyone who could decipher the 'dogwhistles' of the racist reactionaries could tell a contrary tale, a tale of a backlash against an African-American president seen as a sinister 'other'. Now, the White House is occupied by one of the chief proponents of this racist conspiracy theory.

The racist reactionaries now seem more emboldened than every, feeling no qualms about repeating the basest racist calumnies. The rank-and-file righties aren't shy about expressing racist views, often cloaking their racism in psuedoscientific bafflegab. Outside of this core of unabashed racists, there is the so-called ironic racism exhibited by people who would never consider themselves to be bigots, an 'ironic' racism indistinguishable from other forms of racism.

I'd like to think that this new reactionary culture is merely a societal 'hiccup', a last gasp of a reactionary white culture that blames its lessening fortunes on people of color, rather than on the corporate culture that has been driving the race to the bottom. Among all of the pieties and platitudes that will be expressed today, though, there's a nagging suspicion that America's congenital birth defect will continue to haunt the body politic for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

This Is Not a Charade

The latest, and most worrisome, outrageous news story has got to be the false ballistic missile alarm which had Hawaiians freaked out for over half an hour. Apparently, a single individual was able to mistakenly confirm an initial false alert. What the hell ever happened to the 'buddy system', whereby one person cannot make such a momentous decision as calling for a ballistic missile alert? Shouldn't there be fail-safe systems so that one dumbass or psycho can't cause an entire state to shit a collective brick? In my estimation, false nuclear alerts are a mark of shithole countries.

The post title is taken from Fishbone's Party at Ground Zero, perhaps the most fun song ever written about Mutually Assured Destruction:

Thankfully, there wasn't a missile attack on Hawaii, and thankfully the guy with the big nuclear button was too preoccupied with golfing to launch a 'retaliatory' nuclear strike against North Korea.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Bros, the Pinkertones Were Joking

Via Tengrain, perhaps the most disturbing story in a week chock full of crazy shit, attendees at a tech conference in Las Vegas were, I kid you not, entertained by robot strippers. Ordinarily, I am not even phased by paraphilias, as long as consenting adults are involved, but this particular event offered a view into the maelstrom of misogyny that is the Damore wing of Silicon Valley:

For the club itself, the stunt is undeniably about money as much as exposure. Men at the event seemed to think it was hilarious to throw wads of cash at the animatronic women to spite the female human dancers.

“Just look,” said Eric, a Las Vegas resident, “they’re throwing money at the robots, not the real women tonight.”

One of the pillars of the 'involuntary celibate' culture is the idea that women will be replaced by sexbots, perhaps with Swiss-engineered artificial vaginas. Of course, this would come as a relief to women forced to work with these creeps, though I imagine any robot forced to be a cyberconcubine would quickly come to violate at least two of Asimov's Laws of Robotics. In the meantime, the whole sex robot thing is as ridiculous as it is creepy. People, the Pinkertones were joking about sexy robots:

I'm pretty sure Asimov was serious, but these robot stripper tippers might have caused him to rethink things.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Come Hell or High Water

Today is going to be fun... it is supposed to hit a high of 57F (about 14C), with torrential rains. There is quite a bit of snow still on the ground, but what really has me concerned is the fact that the body of water on the jobsite has been well-frozen for a couple of weeks, so I am concerned that the danger of flooding will be similar to that posed by a hurricane. Hurricane Irene flooded a couple of our buildings back in 2011, and it was no picnic dealing with that.

I advised my boss to have the guys on the day shift pile sandbags around a couple of basement doors which could be vulnerable to flooding. I don't have to be back on the job until midnight, and I sure hope that I won't have to deal with subaqueous conditions.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Newsflash: Local Scumbag Accused of Acting Scummily

Here's a local story which comes as no surprise to followers of New York State politics... state senator Jeff Klein has been accused of sexual misconduct by a former senate employee. Klein is the head of a group known as the Independent Democratic Conference, a coterie of assholes who campaign as Democrats but caucus with Republicans. In instances in which we can't have nice things in the state, it is due to these assholes. Tellingly, Klein represents a senate district which has been gerrymandered to a fare-thee-well in order to group together every white voter in the Bronx.

My state senator, George Latimer, was recently elected County Executive, beating the Republican incumbent, so the seat is vacant, but the neighboring district is represented by the wonderful Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the state senate's Democratic caucus:

It will be interesting to see how the good senator, an eloquent proponent of the 'MeToo' movement, will deal with Klein after these allegations. The real victory would be getting rid of Klein, who is now being challenged by a primary candidate who describes himself as a real Democrat. Just before the allegations against Klein were made public, a woman also decided to throw her hat in the ring, but the Democratic establishment denied putting her up to it. Hopefully, the allegations against Klein will be the factor that knocks him out of the Senate, where he has been an impediment to progress.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

SSSSecret SSSScience Club Post Lecture Recap: Secret Serpent Club

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring Dr Frank T. Burbrink of the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Vertebrate Zoology, the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, and the Richard Gilder Graduate School.

Dr Burbink began his lecture by noting that most of science involves contrast, for example control groups vs experimental groups. As a biologist, he is concerned with how organisms evolve, and how they speciate. He is also concerned with the topic of evolutionary hotspots. He described the species as the biologists' 'atom', a basic unit. There are believed to be about ten million non-microbial species on the planet, but it's estimated that only about 20% of species have been delineated. It is difficult to find new species, but it is crucial to understanding biodiversity. It used to be that species were described by how different they look, but this can be misleading- to illustrate this, he displayed photographs of three conspecific rat snakes with different color morphs, then three distantly related but similar looking racer species. He noted that these racer species had diverged around seven million years ago, approximately the same age when chimpanzees and humans diverged.

Speciation generally involves a separation in time and space. When populations become isolated, there is reduced gene exchange. Genetic drift and adaptation to different ecological niches then occur to further divide populations. Computer programs that summarize gene sequences are instrumental in determining the relationships between organisms. DNA can be traced back to a common ancestor, and gene flow (and when it stops) can be modeled. Divergence is a matter of reduced gene flow and adaptation to a new environment. Certain species are wide-ranging and exhibit diverse morphologies- Dr Burbrink gave the example of the milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum). In areas in which milk snakes overlap with venomous coral snakes, they tend to be more colorful, a case of Batesian mimicry. Dr Burbrink joked that coral snake recognition poems can kill you, morphologies being variable.

Dr Burbrink displayed an image of a snake cladogram similar to this one:

The nodes are divergences. DNA sequencing can be likened to a 'time machine', the timing of divergence can be reconstructed. In the case of the milk snake, the species diverged from its nearest relatives in the Miocene.

In researching the process of speciation, certain topics are of particular interest. How does the rate of speciation change over time? What causes speciation? Factors such as climate change, the opening of ecological niches, and the effects of disease play a role. In the case of the ray-finned fishes, which comprise about thirty percent of vertebrate species, the K-T extinction event which killed off about seventy-six percent of the Earth's species, the effects were relatively insignificant. The morphological changes among these fishes occurred after the asteroid hit. One major controversy among biologists is the question over whether ecological niches can be filled to capacity, so speciation is limited. The current extinction event poses a problem- if species are lost, information useful to reconstructing the 'tree of life' is lost. Deforestation and new pathogens are particularly dangerous- recently observed fungal infections are ravaging amphibian, bat, and snake populations. In a poignant moment, Dr Burbrink displayed a photo contrasting a gorgeous healthy fox snake with one infected by a fungus, then noted that the first snake he caught as a boy in Illinois was a fox snake.

The spread of this fungal infection was modeled using an AI, in an effort to determine how many species could be infected. It is now believed that all snakes, or at least all Nearctic snakes, are at risk. Dr Burbrink noted that we stand to lose a lot if we lose snakes, which control rodent populations and help to suppress Lyme disease. The origin of the fungal infection is unknown, but it is currently limited to Europe and the Nearctic.

The subject of the talk then shifted to Madagascar, which he described as an 'upside down world' and a hotbed of discoveries of snake species. Dr Burbrink delivered an entertaining Madagascar travelogue. He ignores the lemurs, joking that all mammals bite, but only twenty percent of snakes do. He displayed pictures of the Avenue of Baobabs, of rival churches in towns. He displayed a picture of a fossa and a recounted a cautionary tale from a guide, "If it smells blood, it will destroy you!" He described a land with no bridges, river crossings being done with ferries. Camp is then set up, and a lab. The specimens are split between the institution and the authorities on the island. The beer is bad. While the suspension bridges are dodgy, the trails down the sharp karst formations are even more harrowing. He displayed beautiful photos of the plentiful gecko species, numerous chameleons (among them a tiny critter), snakes galore, and a rare Old World iguanid. One of the best sources of genetic material comes from recently road-killed snakes. Dr Burbrink joked about grad students eating jerky while collecting dead snakes. Outreach, while crucial, can be frought... many people believe in black magic, so an illness coinciding with a visit from the snake people can do a lot of harm. One particular arboreal snake, possessing a red tail, is believed to drop from trees, impaling hapless persons or cattle passing beneath. In one field season, the DNA of 730 individual snakes was sequenced and forty new species were found.

It is believed that the snakes of Madagascar arrived at the island from Mozambique twenty million years ago, and are descended from arboreal forebears. The speciation rate is fairly even, with 109 species expected to diverge over twenty million years. Dr Burbrink displayed a graph depicting the speciation rate of snakes on the island and noted that there was a 'dip' vis-a-vis expected numbers. The is speculation regarding the dip, does it represent species which remain to be found? Was there a 'saturation' of available niches? One of his colleagues, who discovered the 'ghost snake' has a knack for coining evocative species names. One particularly interesting snake species has unusual probosces and exhibits sexual dimorphism- males having spear-shaped noses and females having ones shaped like glaives but not glaive-glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaives. Despite the difficulties, a lot of headway is being made in the search for new species.

Dr Burbrink then offered up a quick autobiography, noting that as a youth he was inspired by two guys named Chuck D. He advised the audience to listen to a wide variety of music, to watch transgressive films, to be stable geniuses, and to have cool families-he showed a picture of his wife thrusting her hand into a rat snake hybernaculum in upstate New York (noting that torpid snakes can become active very quickly), and pictures of his older son catching a snake and his younger son holding a giant marine toad. Actually, his advice was pretty good for all endeavors.

The lecture was followed up by a Q&A session. The first questioner totally ninja'ed the Bastard by asking about the evolution of venom production in snakes. Venom pops up all over the snake family tree, with the viperids and elapids being the best-known groups. It is possible that all snakes are venomous to some extent, but that most snake species produce venom that is not harmful to humans (a controversial theory). Another question regarded the snake-infecting fungus- it is possible that it was historically prevalent, but has only recently become dangerous due to environmental factors. The bastard asked about snake cladistics, and snake evolution- all snakes are, biologically speaking, lizards. There are thirty extant lizard groups that have lost their limbs, notably the glass lizards and amphisbaenids. All snakes have a common ancestor and basal snakes had limbs. Among lizard groups, the iguanids, agamids, and chameleons are more closely related to snakes than to other lizard groups such as geckos. Some classification schemes propose lumping snakes and some lizards into one group. The explosion in snake diversity occurred about twenty million years ago, in the Miocene Epoch, and snakes became one of the most successful tetrapod (though they lack legs) groups. The fossil record shows numerous speciation events, but most species go extinct. The fossil record in North America is good, but Madagascar has a poor fossil record- the best known extinct species from Madagascar are the elephant birds, which survived into historic times, pygmy hippos, and an alarmingly sized frog dubbed Beelzebufo. Another question concerned the evolution of limblessness- getting rid of limbs is useful in three means of locomotion- swimming, burrowing, and 'grass swimming'. Another question involved the defining of species- as Dr Burbrink put it 'the million dollar question'. The biological concept of a species is a population that breeds true, with viable offspring that can successfully reproduce. Certain closely related species cannot reproduce because there are portions of the genome, known as genomic islands, which inhibit gene flow. Other closely related species may be prevented from interbreeding due to morphological or ecological differences.

Another fellow asked the derivation of the common name for the milk snake, and Dr Burbrink recounted a common folktale- ignorant lummoxes, seeing the snakes in barns, surmised that the snakes were sucking milk from the teats of cows, rather than hunting for the tasty rats that can infest barns. Dr Burbrink pronounced this folktale udderly ridiculous. He then joked about the color variations among milk snakes, with southern populations being brighter than northern ones... it would suck to mimic a species which isn't there.

A question about hibernation elicited a digression about snakes' ability to reduce their gut size between feedings. They can shrink their guts to a thin cell layer, then rebuild them after ingesting prey. The snakes come out of hibernation active, Dr Burbrink quipped that this would be a good model for astronauts' cryogenic sleep.

Another question concerned the origin of limblessness in snakes, the probable 'locomotive' reason for the group losing its legs. Certain features of snakes suggest an origin as burrowers- a lot of burrowing animals have degenerate eyes. Snake eyes are weird- they focus their eyes by moving the lens back and forth rather than by bending it, and their eyes contain oil drops. It is possible that they were burrowers who regained more functional eyes.

Being a lover of snakes, this lecture was right up my alley, hitting that 'Secret Science Sweet Spot'- that combination of hard science, beautiful imagery, adventure narrative, and personal journey. Dr Burbrink lectured with passion and humor, making a great case for the importance of snakes, the importance of studying snakes and working to protect them. Kudos to the good doctor, the staff of the beautiful Bell House, and Margaret and Dorian. High fives all around! Here's a video of Dr Burbrink giving a lecture on the snakes of Madagascar:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that science.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Brooklyn Bound, Blegging

I'm headed out the door for this month's Secret Science Club lecture. I figure that this is a perfect time to bang the drum for the Secret Science Club fundraiser. The SSC has been delivering hard science lectures, accessible to the layperson but not dumbed down, since September 2006. With the Trump administration ramping up the Republican war on science and attempting to censor scientists, a public platform for scientists to disseminate information, to explain their methodology, and to advocate for continuing research is crucial.

Back in 2006, during the dark days of the Bush administration, attending science lectures in the basement of the Union Hall bar really felt countercultural, this was resistance. In late 2008, I was actually interviewed by a journalist who, rather than printing the cogent arguments I made for science popularization, decided to print an offhand joke about how, with a nerd ascending to the White House, the SSC would come out of the basement and eventually need a stadium for a lectures. When the beautiful Bell House opened in 2009, the performance space could accommodate three times the attendees, and it's been pretty much standing room only every month. Healthy people want to be smart, and smart people are needed now more than ever. Margaret and Dorian, the staff of the beautiful Bell House, and the coterie of lecturers who have taken the stage are fighting the good fight. In my small way, I am trying to do my part. If you like the monthly lecture recaps, please consider sending a Hamilton their way.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Helter Stelter

This year has been an interesting one, and we're only eight days into it. My favorite occurrence this year has got to be the odious Alex Jones' utter meltdown over, of all things, CNN media analyst Brian Stelter:

I tend to think that it's all an act (equal parts fire-and-brimstone preacher, carnival barker, and professional wrestler), but the guy really seemed like he was about to explode... having an extreme distaste for Jones and his schtick, I would find this apoplexy comedic, but for one fact- this rant is loaded with antisemitic tropes as hoary as they are horrific. Just take a gander at the transcript:

But just look at [Brian] Stelter again. Put him on screen. I think that's all the broadcast should be, is just a photo of Stelter smiling. Ugh. Ugh. Oh my gosh. Oh, hell on earth. He wants to run your life. He wants to control every aspect of your life because he knows he is a cowardly degenerate sack of anti-human trash. I pledge before my heavenly father that I will resist them every way I can. These people are the literal demon spawn of the pit of hell. Look at him. And you know what, he is better than you if you keep letting him run your life. He runs your kids, he runs the schools, he runs the banks. This guy, this spirit, this smiling, leering devil that thinks you can’t see what he is. He is your enemy. Period.

All the narcissistic devil-worshiping filth. I see you enemy. I see you enemy. Enemy. Enemy. You are my enemy. And I swear total resistance to you with everything I’ve got. Disingenuous, fake, false, brokeback, twisted, a defiler, a betrayer, a back stabber, a devil. You will pay. Yeah, you don’t think I see your face, scum? You don’t think I don’t see you, Stelter? I see you, you understand me? I know what you think of me and my family. I see you right back. You understand that? You understand that, Stelter? [Grunting noises] Stelter. You will fall. You will not bring humanity down. God is going to destroy you. Get him off the screen. [Crying] Oh, God, they’re so evil. Just please God, free us from them. They’re drunk on our children's blood for God's sake. OK, I’m going to stop right now.

We have allegations banking conspiracies, anti-theism, blood libel all in a two-and-a-half minute cri du cul... could there be a more distilled version of anti-Jewish bigotry? Jones serves it up uncut, like his lead-tainted supplements. He would have delivered the perfect two minutes hate, but he wasted twenty-nine seconds because of his bellowing and hyperventilation. For his part, Mr Stelter is taking things with good humor. Meanwhile, Jones has appeared in a video, which I won't link to, challenging Stelter to a three-minute bare-knuckle boxing match. Judging from the video of Jones' original rant, I think he'd stroke out in the first round.

I'm toying with the idea of occasional long posts about the taxonomy and evolution of conspiracy theories, sort of like a cladistics of the paranoid fringe. I read The Illuminatus! Trilogy, so I have a decent grounding, and I've been reading a lot of weird old pulp fiction lately, and there's a lot of that incorporated into the conspiracy industrial complex.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Something to Be Said for Maintaining Radio Silence

Yesterday, I was up before 7AM, having decided to rely solely on public transportation to get to my volunteer gig... I really didn't want to move my car from the parking spot I had found on Friday morning (truth to tell, I managed to park in one of my usual spots, half a block from my house). I braved the single-digit temperatures and walked a couple of blocks to the nearest stop for the 25 Bus to the Nereid Avenue station for the 2/5 Train, a departure from my usual 1 Train trip, which involves driving to the vicinity of Gaelic Park. I had to leave early to get to my volunteer gig, but the trip only took an hour.

The volunteer gig lasts from 9:30AM to noon, hours spent without having the phone on one's person. On this particular day, we introduced the kids to the basics of ne waza by having them play a sort of tag, in which the bulk of the students had to crawl past three of their peers, who were tasked with putting their peers onto their backs- when a kid was 'caught', he had to join the catchers. It's pretty rough-and-tumble, and the kids had to learn that teamwork was the key to taking down larger opponents until we could teach them some basic turnover techniques. Needless to say, it was funny to watch the game, especially to see the various stratagems that kids used to get past the catchers- whether sneaking, barrelling through, or using another kid as a 'shield'. We had a couple of new students in our 5-7 year old girls group, so we practiced O Soto Gari with them and then had them compete against each other.

When I came home, I braved the frigid blasts of air down the concrete-and-glass canyons of Manhattan to get to the 59th St station for the 4 Train, then transferred to the Bx 34 Bus, which drops me off about three blocks from home. The walk home was relatively pleasant, free from Manhattan's biting winds.

It was around 2AM when I finally returned home... I spent seven hours completely cut off from the media world, so I missed perhaps the craziest twitstorm ever. I should have stayed in the bubble that is the real world.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Just Sit Tight Until It's Done

Yesterday was the infamous bomb cyclone's pounding of the Northeastern coastal regions. Under normal conditions, I would have gotten off of work at 7AM, but the radio traffic reports were so heinous that I decided to 'shelter in place'. It was a good thing, too- the governor declared a state of emergency, telling all non-essential drivers to stay off the roads. Also, several of my part-timers had obligations at their other jobs, pretty much doing the same thing I was doing.

The storm itself was pretty brutal, with high winds and an accumulation of 6-8 inches of snow, creating the 'whiteout conditions' that inspired the song I took this post title from:

I actually had to 'batten down the hatches' at one of our onsite buildings due to the windy conditions. The damage onsite was minimal, an outside screen door of one of our buildings was ripped off of its hinges, but nothing major transpired. This morning, I'm just waiting until rush hour dies down before hitting the road. It's currently 7F (-14 C), but feels like -11 with the wind chill. The site looks gorgeous, but being outside in all that beauty just isn't pleasant:

The wind has blown the snow into pretty, intricate patterns:

The day crew has begun to filter in, so I'm just sitting at my desk drinking a cup of coffee before hitting the road. I have a bit of a crappy ulterior motive for taking my sweet time before heading out... I figure that some poor working stiff with a conventional job schedule will have left me a parking spot on the street. Yeah, it's kind of a dick move, but my car was off the street for the past 36 hours, giving the snow removal crews some additional room to maneuver when it was needed.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Maybe the Oceans Aren't Polluted Enough

In another case of the Trump administration doing something stupid just to nullify the Obama legacy, the Kleptocrat in Chief wants to expand offshore oil drilling along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards, which had been banned by the Obama administration. With crude oil prices being fairly low, there's no need to expand drilling. Besides, we really need to be investing in renewable, non-polluting energy sources.

Trump seems to be lifting this ban just to troll the coastal states, 'triggering' environmentalists and people who like to eat seafood that's relatively free of contaminants. In this case, he's jeopardizing the tourism industry, which hearkens back to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which inspired the offshore drilling ban on the Pacific continental shelf. Trump's policy is so bad that even a corporate malfeasor such as Rick Scott of Florida opposes the policy. The Gulf of Mexico is already a disaster, we don't need the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to become petrol-polluted hellscapes as well.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Somebody Set Us up the Bomb Cyclone

This winter has been pretty brutal already, with a long run of frigid temperatures. Yesterday, with a high of 26F felt positively balmy. Tomorrow, though, we are in for a treat, a storm known colloquially as a 'bomb cyclone', or bombogenesis- which occurs when a maritime storm picks up energy from warm ocean waters and meets up with a frigid Arctic blast moving in from the west. This combination should sound familiar to all inhabitants of the Atlantic littoral.

Here in the NYC metro area, the storm is supposed to slam eastern Long Island with up a foot of snow, snow accumulations in the city are supposed to be up to six inches. The real danger of this storm will be winds gusting up to 55mph. Mayor Bill DeBlasio opted to close the public schools for the day, a course of action which previously would have seemed unthinkable. I chalk it up to his support for working families, it would be cruel to force working mothers to scramble to provide day care on a day when they are struggling to get to work themselves.

In my neck of the woods, we are supposed to receive less snow than the city, but our president made the decision to close the office. I'm on the job already, and am prepared to hunker down for the duration. At any rate, I will probably leave the car in the parking lot and take public transportation home... if I go home.

The post title is taken from this hoary meme culture gem:

I hope I am not on the way to destruction... this isn't my first blizzard though, so my internal voice is saying 'You know you doing.'

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Yo, Jimbo!

Via Tengrain, we have news that the Texas state legislature has passed legislature allowing the open carry of machetes and swords. Being a big Kurosawa fan, I have to say that this is friggin' awesome. Soon, downtown Waco will look like a Chanbubba film. I envision it as sorta like Yojimbo with bigass belt buckles and truck nuts. This gives me an excuse to post the theme song to the movie:

Oh, Texas, the libs will never laugh at your mighty sword again!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Meal Magic

It's a tradition of mine to head over to some good friends' house for New Year's Eve dinner. One of my high school chums married a gal from the Florida panhandle, and she cooks a traditional Southern New Year's Eve meal of ham, black-eyed peas, and collard greens, a topic I wrote about many years ago.

The second best thing about the meal, the first being is that it's really delicious, is that it serves as sympathetic magic- the green leafy vegetables, through the Law of Similarity, resemble greenback dollars, so eating them presages prosperity in the coming year. The black-eyed peas have a less clear 'magical' effect (besides their ability to sing hours after they've been eaten)- is the fact that they swell an omen of a swelling bank account, or do they look like coins? Beans being a cheap source of protein which can be stored for a long time, it just makes sense to eat them, especially in the winter, when fresh food is not so easily obtained.

While the sympathetic magic angle is interesting, the real magic is having a good meal with old friends... and that's the best tradition of all. Happy New Year, dear friends!