Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Trump Has Meddled with the Primal Forces of Nature

It was bound to happen, Donald uttered a blasphemy regarding GUNS GUNS GUNS:

“A lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court to get the due process procedures. Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Hoo, boy, the righties really aren't having any of this. In need of some Schadenfreude, I decided to check out Red State's and Breitbart's coverage of Trump's statement, and I damn near overdosed. There's a lot of freaking out, a lot of pining for a Ted Cruz presidency. Pretty soon, they'll all be saying that Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia to get Trump elected as a fake Republican to confiscate guns so the Illuminati/New World Order/Antifa/Whoever can build landing strips for gay Martians. There have even been rumblings about impeachment- hilariously, some of them hope the GOP Congress will do it before the midterms so a hypothetical Democratic majority won't protect him. We're through the looking glass now, and who knows if Trump will be able to recover from this particular gaffe. He has meddled with the primal forces of nature, but it's unclear if he will be able to atone.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Coming to a School Near You?

In the aftermath of the Parkland school mass shooting, the proposed right-wing 'solution' to regular school shootings is arming teachers. This proposal serves to shift the topic of the conversation away from limiting unstable individuals' access to guns through proper vetting procedures and its implementation would serve to create a new market for firearms, which is the primary concern of the NRA. Gun sales are in the toilet, what better way to boost sales than to put the burden of school defense on a cadre of newly-armed teachers? It's not like schools are funded properly to begin with.

The big wrinkle in this plan is training- teachers need to teach, learning to handle firearms properly is time-consuming and expensive, and teachers should really be developing pedagogy, not pistolry. The very idea of poorly-trained individuals engaging in gunplay under stressful situations gives me the creeping horrors. Watching a recent video of a Tulsa, Oklahoma liquor store shootout has reinforced my feelings... I'm not a gunslinger, though I have handled shooting irons, even having engaged in trap shooting on an annual basis for a period of my life- the sight of the mother/daughter liquor store owners standing in close proximity to each other while shooting the sawed-off shotgun wielding scumbag who robbed them gave me a headache- the robber could have gotten a two-for-one special with a single shot. Even crazier, the daughter shot the robber in the back while he was grappling with her mother- there was a good possibility that she could have hit her mother, that the ball from her pistol could have gone through the robber and hit mom. I showed the video to a friend of mine who is in law enforcement and he was incredulous- when you shoot, you need to be cognizant of where your bullets could end up, anyone downrange of a target is potentially in danger. Popping off shots while mom is mano-a-mano with your target is not advisable.

Thankfully, only the perp was perforated (I don't have any sympathy for the creep, he chose the wrong career to engage in, and he bumped into a predictable occupational hazard), though I'd chalk this up entirely to dumb luck. I wouldn't want this particular sort of engagement to become the norm in our nation's schools.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

As Tengrain Would Put It, a Palate Cleanser

It's been a pretty heavy news cycle for the last... uh... two years or so. I figure that it's time for, as Tengrain would put it, a palate cleanser. It's a grey, rainy day here in the NYC metro area, so I figured I'd post something fun, with a bit of a faux-tropical vibe. I make no bones about being a big Kraftwerk fan, so I was tickled pink by a comment at Roy's place which embedded a cumbia take on Trans Europe Express by German composer/arranger Uwe Schmidt recording as Señor Coconut:

There is a whole album's worth of Kraftwerk covers by Señor Coconut, and Homecomputer seems particularly well suited to afro-latino percussion:

It also has a nice Juan García Esquivel-esque space age bachelor pad vibe to it (which I am not the first to notice)... now I am pining for a Krafwerk/Esquivel collaboration that never was, further proof that we are living in the wrong timeline. Oh, dear, looks like I muffed the palate cleanser.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Pyeongchang Princesses?

The 'feel good' story of yesterday concerned Ivanka Trump's arrival in South Korea for the close of the Winter Olympics. Already, her visit is being compared to that of Kim Yo Jong, who has been characterized as the Ivanka Trump of North Korea. Personally, I don't think that Kim Yo Jong is the Ivanka Trump of North Korea at all- Kim Yo Jong is a propaganda asset, employed by a tyrannical dynasty to put a more human face on its corruption, warmongering, and appalling human rights record- all the while furthering the family's business interests.

Kim Yo Jong isn't the Ivanka Trump of North Korea, Ivanka Trump is the Kim Yo Jong of the United States.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Loathesome Loesch

Two days after CNN's 'town hall' and I am still scratching my bald pate about their invitation to loathesome Dana Loesch, mendacious NRA spokescreature. Did they really need to 'balance' grieving friends and family members with a serial prevaricator and pusher of stochastic threats? Just because Loesch can almost convincingly play a simulacrum of a pretty human (note: it's all about the glossy raven tresses, probably a dye job- even Christy Moore might be fooled) doesn't mean that she deserves to be on television, not even in a sitcom.

Predictably, Loesch mendaciously played the victim, claiming that she was rushed by an audience of individuals screaming 'Burn her!' It was an odd assertion, seeing as there were cameras all over the auditorium (the 'town hall' being put on by a television network and attended by thousands of social-media savvy teens with phone cameras), and video clearly shows her exiting without any peril, though being shamed and booed. Dana not being the most stable individual on this planet, she probably thought the crowd was yelling 'Boo-urn her!':

That's pretty much all the courtesy that this slimy bottom-feeder named after a slimy bottom-feeder deserves.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


I've had robots on my mind all week, and not even sexy robots. On Monday, I attended a lecture about robots, on Tuesday I wrote a post about the lecture about robots, and on Wednesday I woke to the news that Twitter purged a whole lot of bots, causing a meltdown among the Deplorable set. Even Vulgarmort himself seems to have lost beaucoup followers in the botpocalypse (but not the kind of robot apocalypse you're thinking of), merely a housecleaning.

The meltdown really shows a great deal of immaturity on the part of the emo-boy Nazi crowd. My beloved Joan Jett had the best advice concerning fake friends:

Well, nothing to lose but the sense that yours is a mass movement, but Boston was all the proof needed for that.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Simon and the Swarmbots

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 the triumphant return of biologist, transportation expert, and all-around fantastic human being, my great and good friend Dr Simon Garnier of New Jersey Institute of Technology's Swarm Lab. Dr Garnier delivered the December 2015 SSC lecture and has been a regular attendee of lectures since then. Over the years, I have become an unabashed fanboi, but don't let him know that... he has a knack for self-deprecation, so he might be embarrassed.

I have to confess that I arrived at the lecture late, after a two-and-a-half-hour MTA ordeal. I boarded a 4 Train at the Woodlawn station, as usual, but train traffic was delayed because of a fire at 51st St in Manhattan which closed down the Lexington Avenue subway line. At 161st St, an announcement was made, suggesting transfer to the B/D line, which ends up going down 4th Avenue Brooklyn, which is exactly where I was headed. It was a no-brainer, but for the brainlessness of the MTA holiday second-stringers who were on duty- the platform for the B/D trains was closed, no trains. I had to wait for another 4 train, and take it to 149th St, to transfer to the 2 Train, which ordinarily would have taken me to Brooklyn, but for construction. I had to transfer to the N/R train at Times Square. The N train was slow-going, but I might have made the lecture on time but for the boobery of the conductor of the train, who never mentioned that there was no local service along 4th Ave. I exited the N at Atlantic Avenue and I dutifully waited on the platform for an R train to take me two measly stops... no R trains were forthcoming. On a hunch, I boarded the third N train that stopped at the station, whereupon I learned that I would have to take the train to 36th St, then transfer to a Manhattan bound local train to get to 9th St. Facchinello!

I finally arrived at the beautiful Bell House and I have to say that EVERYBODY had been worried about me, because the only lecture I'd ever missed was on the date of my father's death. I was greeted effusively by staff, Dorian and Margaret, and the regular crowd- here's a big hug and molto amore to everybody- thanks for being so great. I had arrived about halfway through Simon's lecture, and he was showing a video of swarm-robots combining to pull a child across a floor:

As usual, don't read the YouTube comments, it seems that there are too many people who refuse to see the practical applications of this technology to post-disaster rescue efforts.

One conundrum in coordinating robot 'swarms' is whether a central control should be implemented- a centralized control system would require a lot of computing power and would be hard-pressed to adapt to changing conditions. For example, a centrally-controlled swarm of aerial drones could be stymied by the presence of birds. To illustrate the capability of swarming drones, Dr Garnier showed us a video of Intel's drone exhibition for the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics:

There are three rules to being able to swarm like a flock of seagulls starlings: If too close to another individual, move away. If too far from another individual, move closer. Align movement.

Using these three roles, the European Union is developing swarming drones with no central control, in a venture called the COLLMOT Project:

Predictably, the project is receiving major funding from military organizstions. To illustrate the potential dangers of weaponized swarming drones, Dr Garnier showed a brief clip of a fictional short titled Slaughterbots:

Suddenly, the idea of package delivery by drones is a lot less appealing...

The topic of the lecture then shifted to transportation infrastructure (my particular travail of the evening). It is estimated that $120-305 billion worth of productivity is lost to traffic each year in the United States. Dr Garnier joked that, if there were a percentage bounty for solving the problem, he'd take it. Much of the transportation infrastructure in the country is too old, was designed for less traffic, and bad behavior on the part of users compounds traffic problems. Dr Garnier displayed a video of a simulation of phantom traffic jams similar in subject matter to this video. He followed this up with Hyundai's 'Empty Car Convoy' commercial, which illustrates the 'too close slow down but not too much' approach to traffic control:

During the video, he called our attention to the 'terrible moment that didn't happen', and noted that undisciplined drivers could be helped by robots. He capped off the segment on robots by posing the question: Autonomous swarms- problem or benefit?

Dr Garnier then pivoted to the subject of morphogenesis- processes leading to the formation of functional structures. He emphasized the importance of functionality. This portion of the lecture involved discussion of structures formed by social insects. Dr Garnier displayed a diagram of an African termite mound. These structures, built by blind workers with tiny brains, can be several meters in height and have a complex 'architecture'- the queen is housed in the core of the mound, and there are multiple nurseries and fungus gardens. A central shaft provides ventilation, 'breathing' in or out in response to temperature changes. Dr Garnier noted that such ventilation systems could be incorporated into skyscrapers.

Dr Garnier then brought up to topic of stigmergy, the mechanism of communication through modification of the environment. He joked that every internet post ever is an example of stigmergy. To illustrate stigmergy among social insects, he began with the example of paper wasps- the first cell made by an individual wasp stimulates the construction of the next cell, and the process is continued until an entire nest is constructed. Put simply, the rule is 'observe what is done and make the best next step'. The simple probabilistic rules used by the wasps result in regular structures. Different rules result in different shapes, and in computer simulations, rules are modified to create new structures.

A potential application for this type of construction would be the use of swarming robots to build structures on Mars before the arrival of human explorers or colonists. Dr Garnier displayed a video of Harvard University's robot swarm construction crew:

In typically droll fashion, Dr Garnier joked 'robots are better at Lego than you' and followed it up with a hashtag: #childhoodruined. Other robots are pre-programmed self-assembly units, with the body of the robots being the actual construction materials:

Dr Garnier then brought up his particular specialty- ants, which are capable of using their own bodies with much flexibility. He opened with Australian weaver ants, which form chains in order to form nests:

He joked, "do not let these ants get on your body, they bite and they inject acid into you and they are hard to get off- I am speaking from experience."

He then displayed a video of fire ants forming rafts in order to survive floods, then shifted to the topic of army ants, which form nests out of the own bodies to protect their queen, then move and reassemble the nest. These temporary nests can conform to any environmental condition- filling tree cavities or depressions in the forest floor. The Harvard University kilobot swarm mimics the ability of army ants to form specific shaped structures:

One particularly useful skill of army ants is their ability to form self-repairing bridges:

The Harvard lab developed a climbing microbot which could possibly be developed into temporary patches for weak spots in bridges until the money is available for a more permanent fix:

Self-repairing infrastructure, it's what's needed when nobody is repairing infrastructure.

Dr Garnier finished his talk by noting that these robots in development are individually stupid, but collectively capable. I would editorialize that humans tend to be the opposite.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. One individual asked about ant castes- ants often have a diversity in body shape along with a diversity in purpose, but swarming robots tend to be uniform. Regarding the danger posed by robots, Dr Garnier noted that the danger lies in how humans use them- will the robots be delivering packages or less nice things? Dr Garnier noted that he wasn't a complex AI expert, but that swarming robots were dumb, easily controllable. He noted that swarm behavior can be exploited- for example, dolphins and sharks can often exploit swarm behavior to catch fish. Regarding computer viruses, they can exhibit swarm behavior, overwhelming computer systems through sheer volume. Some bastard in the audience asked if swarming organisms changed their behavior when introduced to novel environments, and Dr Garnier brought up the example of invasive Argentine ants- in their native environment, ant colonies are territorial, and fight each other. Introduced to alien environments, a lack of genetic diversity has led to the formation of megacolonies, such as one which stretches from the Portugese littoral along southern Europe to Italy. These colonies seem to be collapsing though, probably due to the lack of genetic diversity which led to their formation. One final question concerned Von Neumann machines, which Dr Garnier noted are far from development.

Once again, the Secret Science Club has delivered a fantastic lecture, so thanks to Simon, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House... and sincerely, thanks to everybody for your concern- I love you all. I also have to note that SSC alum, good guy, and rockstar Mark Siddall was in the audience as was the NJIT crew and some Rockefeller University scholars. The ride to the Bell House was horrible, but I would not have turned around for any reason!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Presidents' Day 2018

Presidents' Day is a bit weird this year- I worked an overnight double shift because my co-worker and I swapped shifts so I wouldn't have to travel to work in a snowstorm on Saturday night for the Sunday graveyard. We decided that the best course of action for both of us was to stay off the roads. Tonight, I will be celebrating Presidents' Day in traditional fashion- traveling to Brooklyn to hear a smart, funny Frenchman lecture about army ants and highway infrastructure.

Presidents' Day is the combination of Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays. Like most Americans, at least in the Northern and Western precincts of These United States, venerate both of these badasses. It's important, though, not to venerate these flawed men as demigods- Washington in particular had some glaring character flaws (I highly recommend this book to everybody). Lincoln, though not perfect, was one of the more enlightened white males of the 19th Century (along with Charles Darwin), and the one thing that he can be legitimately criticized for was, in my estimation, necessary. Yeah, Washington and Lincoln were flawed, but I feel that their virtues outweigh their flaws, indisputably in the case of Lincoln.

That brings me to the current occupant of the White House... I can't think of any virtues that the guy embodies. Wisdom, temperance, mercy, eloquence- all are foreign to him. Hell, one could say that he loves at least one of his children, but even that has a creepy vibe. Hell, one can't even say that the guy is making the trains run on time. All flaws, no virtue... I might have to drink more tonight than is usual.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Gender Neutral Canadian Anthem

I'm late to the party, but I figured that, given the fact that my blogroll conforms to Can Con (and Kon Kan) standards, I should weigh in on the gender-neutral lyrical changes to the Canadian National Anthem, which I'm pretty sure is Fantasy by Aldo Nova:

The lyrical changes, which have upset conservative talking heads, really shouldn't be controversial, as they are minor, and convey a better sense of Canadian society.

The line: See the girls with the dresses so tight give you love, if the price is right has been changed to See the peeps with the dresses so tight give you love, if the price is right. As Tengrain chronicles in his Fashion Week posts, dresses aren't limited to the girly type persons.

The second verse of the song required the most revision:

Outta sight, buy your kicks from the man in the white
Feels all right, powder pleasure in your nose tonight
See the men paint their faces and cry
Like some girls, it makes you wonder why
City life, sure its cool, but it cuts like a knife, it's your life

Again, the changes are a better reflection of Canadian culture:

Outta sight, buy your kicks from the person in white
Feels all right, powder pleasure in your nose tonight
See the mimes paint their faces and cry
Like some kids, it makes you wonder why
City life, sure its cool, but it cuts like a knife, it's your life

The Canadian martial-arts community is a diverse one, and you are just as likely to get kicked by a woman in a white gi as by a man, and don't even think about going mano-a-mano with a senior citizen or a member of the First Nations.

The bit about the mimes is a call-out to the French contributions to the Canadian art scene. Finally, the original assertion that only girls make you wonder way was insufficient to explain the Canadian spirit of inquiry.

All told, the new gender-neutral language in the Canadian national anthem is a welcome change, and it is to be expected that Aldo Nova will be changing his name to Aldx Novx to better reflect his greatest contribution to the Canadian songbook.

Oh, and a belated happy National Flag of Canada Day to my Canadian readers. Fess up, Flag Day is celebrated in February because that's the month in which the Canadian flag instills fear in any and all rival nations.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Monstrous Proposal

It seems that, after every mass school shooting, right-wing troglodytes vie to determine which one of them will utter the most outrageous proposal to deal with the problem of gun violence in order to derail any conversation about sensible gun regulation. The post Parkland shooting news cycle has Fox' Gret Gutfeld taking the prize in this dubious endeavor- he believes that school children should be trained in hand-to-hand combat:

You have to be rational about it, which means hardening soft targets through drills and training. Learning combat. Learning hand-to-hand combat. This works, by the way, for terror, if there’s a terror attack, and it works for school shootings.

...How do you improve upon this rationally? Well, you train them. That simple.

I teach children's judo classes, I teach hand-to-hand combat to children as young as five. It would be a gross dereliction of duty and a violation of any sane code of ethics to suggest to my students that they should attack an assailant armed with a firearm. I would expect to be run out of the dojo if I told the children to emulate scenes from Walker, Texas Ranger. I've had to sit through 'Run Hide Fight' videos yearly for quite some time now, and I would tell my young students to run like hell or to find a really good hiding space.

Gutfeld isn't alone in this idiotic stance- a few years back, new WaPo hire Megan McAddled opined that children should rush an active shooter. Swarm tactics can effectively be used on active shooters, such as the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church gunman, but the effectiveness of this approach is predicated on having the knowledge to recognize when a shooter is preoccupied, and the body mass to subdue that individual. It's really not an option for kindergartners.

The real problem with this sort of foolishness is the misuse of public airtime to distract from the real issue at hand- the ease with which an unstable individual with a history of making threats and of torturing animals can get a gas-operated killing machine. I believe in the Second Amendment, with one critical caveat- that the whole damn thing be enforced, particularly the clause regarding the 'well-regulated militia'. If you want an Armalite rifle, you should have to prove your competence, not only in the use of said firearm, but in navigating the day-to-day business of living. I would also advocate a probationary period, similar to that which beginning drivers are subjected to. Can't undergo three months of training and evaluation to take control of your shooting iron? Well, you are not mature or stable enough to have it. Teaching hand-to-hand combat to children, promotions are dependent on testing, not only of the students' knowledge and ability to apply it, but of their ethics, the way they approach the sport, the way they approach each other. Incidentally, we promoted a bunch of our beginning students to yellow belts- last week, we told them to engage in self-directed play for a half hour, observing them as they practiced the techniques they have learned and occasionally asking them questions about vocabulary or history. They weren't even aware that they were being tested. The kids are well-regulated, and someone who seeks the awesome responsibility of owning an instrument solely designed to kill humans should be subject to an even greater degree of regulation. No obfuscating bullshit about untenable 'solutions', our society needs action to curtail the low-grade civil war which is putting our children in the morgue, in the hospital, in grief-counseling.

The title of the post is cribbed from Jonathan Swift's masterpiece of Juvenalian satire, but the Gutfelds and McArdles of the world aren't being satirical, they are merely monstrous.

I'll be leaving for Manhattan soon in order to teach, and I will make sure to cherish the kids in our classes. I won't act surprised when our five year-old hand holder grabs one of my meaty paws, I will praise our serious fourteen year-old for her kindness in playing with her younger cohorts. A few weeks ago, the mother of one of our five year-olds asked me about the safety of the sport, and after rattling off statistics, I paused and asked her to look at the adults on the mats- look at the gray hairs, look at people in their forties, fifties, and above playing the sport. My sincere wish is that her daughter decides to stick with the sport, and still plays it long after I haue ſhufflel’d off this mortall coile. I sure hope that she will live in a society which isn't plagued by regular blood sacrifice.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Meanwhile, on the Home Front

Days after the story of brave high school faculty members sacrificing themselves to protect their students, we have a local horror story- twin brothers, one of them a teacher, from the Bronx have been arrested in a bomb plot targeting children: “Under the full moon the small ones will know terror.”

To compound the horror of it all, the teacher, who had been caught having an affair with a fifteen year-old girl, had enlisted the aid of students in dismantling fireworks for bomb-making material. In the annals of bad teachers, I think this asshole is in the running for top dog.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Eagles, Not Puppies

Today's news coverage was depressing, but there was a ray of hope- an interview with survivors of the mass shooting in Florida instilled a sense of pride in me... these kids were compassionate, grateful, and defiant. Their parents have every right to be proud of them. The victims of the shooting were exactly the sort of people this nation needs, generous kids and valiant adults taken from their friends and loved ones by a nonentity who never should have been able to obtain a firearm.

Meanwhile, in the scummy precincts of the internet, the right-wing conspiracy crowd is trying to claim that the shooter was a registered Democrat and an antifascist, contrary to evidence, and the woman-hating contingent is trying to claim him as their latest anti-feminist hero. Needless to say, the Powers that Be won't do a goddamn thing about our mass shooting problem, with the number of 2018 shootings clocking in at thirty. As a matter of fact, Republicans in Congress want to lower the bar for concealed carry to the lax standards of the ungovernable Southron hinterlands- as a New Yorker, I don't want some creepy Florida Man type bringing his shooting irons into Times Square for a little turkey shoot/suicide by cop.

What the fuck would it take to have sanity prevail when it comes to the acquisition of firearms? Frankly, I'm a supporter of the Second Amendment, particularly the first clause, which tends to be elided by the NRA and their minions. I doubt that asshole shooter boy would have been able to last for a day in a bonafide well-regulated militia.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ya Know, I Used to Love the Times

Years ago, I took great pleasure in reading the New York Times. On Sundays, the routine would be 'put on a pot of coffee, make some breakfast, and read the Times'. Once, when a bunch of my brother Vincenzo's West Point classmates came down for a free weekend, one of the regulars, Whisky Joe, and I went to the local Borders bookstore after a long drinking binge and picked up the Sunday Times. Hung over, we split up the paper, he reading the front section, me doing the crossword puzzle, when it hit me... I turned to Joe and said, "Some people have yahooism thrust upon them, they just don't know any better, but we choose to be yahoos- we're sophisticated, educated yahoos." Thus was born the Educated Yahoos Club- the Sunday morning hangover spent with the Times. Back in the day, the Sunday Times was a formidable chunk of paper, and it was a rare treat to read it cover to cover, all while nursing a major hangover.

Since the 90s, though, the Times has left me cold. Their Iraq coverage in the runup to the second Gulf War was appalling, and their habit of hiring mendacious right-wing hacks is maddening. Recently, though, they went too damn far and hired a racial-and-homophobic-slur-slinging apologist for Neo-Nazis to head up their opinion page coverage of tech issues. A simple Google search would have revealed Norton's history of bigotry, yet someone in the organization decided that she would be a good fit. How the hell can I trust the 'paper of record' to chase down the details of a news item when they can't even vet a prospective employee? At this stage, the New York Times is about as credible as the Washington Times, an observation that gives me no pleasure. Would it be possible to liberate Will Shortz somehow?

Monday, February 12, 2018

There Are Consequences to Putting Grifters in Power

I have had the flu on my mind lately- one of my fellow coaches at my volunteer gig has recently gotten over a case of influenza that had her bedridden for three days, and she is indomitable. Additionally, my upstairs neighbor told me yesterday that her two kids are just getting over the flu. There's a full-blown flu epidemic occurring, an epidemic which is believed to be responsible for approximately four thousand deaths per week. I'm not a public health professional, but if I were, I'd be in crisis mode... because there's a crisis going on now, one compounded by the low rate of flu shot effectiveness this season.

In light of the ongoing epidemic, the fact that the current administration had appointed a grifter who purchased tobacco stocks before assuming her position as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be considered a major scandal. Tragically, the constant cavalcade of scandals and the resultant fatigue has muted coverage of what I perceive should be the current number one domestic policy disaster. The last thing we need is a CDC head who has “certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director”, but having no CDC head is almost as bad. Yet again, the Republican war on good government, as exemplified by Ronald Reagan's particular brand of idiocy, which has metastasized in the GOP:

The premise that government is a problem is a self-fulfilling prophecy- government will become the problem. With an influenza epidemic of more-than-common virulence happening, this is a problem.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

North Side Story

I've been busy lately, between work and volunteering, so I haven't been following the Winter Olympics much, but reading about Mike Pence's embarrassing performance in Korea put the grotesque-yet-amusing-to-me notion that Pence would engage in a torrid affair with North Korean first sis and Martin Shkreli doppelganger Kim Yo Jong, then defect to the DPRK. Oh, wow, that would be some tale of star-and-DMZ-crossed lovers.

The upshot of this bizarre little fantasy is that I now have the musical North Side Story running through my head:

Kim Yo-Jong
I just met a girl named Kim Yo -Jong!
And now the USA, just seems so dull and gray. TO MEEEE!

Kim Yo-Jong, say it soft and it sounds Byronic, say it loud and it sounds atomic!

It's going to take a lot of soju to dislodge this earworm from my skull.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

I Used to Like Driving

Like most Americans, in my youth I actually enjoyed driving. The American love for driving is legendary, and I used to buy in to some extent. Those days have been over for a while- driving is now an annoying task that has to be undertaken in order to get from point A to point B. This week has been a terrible week on the roads of the region. On Wednesday morning, there was a twenty-five car pileup on the Tappan Zee Bridge during a snowstorm. Luckily, management cancelled a meeting concerning our company health plan that was scheduled for that morning, so I didn't have to fight the horrors of rush hour compounded by some serious dumbassery.

Yesterday, while driving home from work at stupid o'clock, I passed a terrible accident that had occurred in the opposite side of the highway, a wrong-way crash that landed seven people in the hospital and closed the Bronx River Parkway for six hours. Seeing the extent of the police activity, I immediately turned out the all-news radio station for the litany of horrors. Luckily, I wasn't affected by this crash, which was eerily similar to another wrong-way crash which delayed my homecoming for over an hour a few years ago.

Theoretically, I should enjoy driving- I have a small car with a manual transmission that is fun to drive under ideal conditions... it's the conditions that leave something to be desired. The roads are in rough shape, and the drivers are worse- people are distracted, they are aggressive, I have noticed recently that a lot of them have trouble even staying in lane. More and more, the roads seem like the 'suicidal race' that that Stang-fella sang about decades ago. Fun fun fun, my ass!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Trump Taint

By this time, it seems that Donald Trump has a corrupting effect on just about everybody he comes into contact with. Take, for instance, John Kelly, who rose through the ranks of the US Marine Corps, then was nominated Secretary of Homeland Security before being appointed White House Chief of Staff. If Kelly had refused to serve under the Trump administration, he probably would have been remembered as an honorable and good man, a dedicated public servant. Well, that's all gone to shit, like anything that falls into Donald Trump's clutches.

Kelly has revealed his rather lackluster racism (heh, lazy Hispanics are going to steal your jobs, paradoxically) and now he's on record as having defended a serial wife-beater. Put simply, this man with a remarkable career has turned out to be a shitbag. The real question about the Trump taint is whether Trump surrounds himself with deplorable people, or whether being around Trump actually makes people more bigoted... it's probably a mixture of the two- Trump chooses people with unsavory characteristics as his minions, and the normalization of vileness makes them even more unsavory.

I really can't muster any sympathy for Kelly. I could be intoning 'how the mighty have fallen', but the guy chose to throw in his lot with the most contemptible politician in US history, so his sink into a moral morass was entirely predictable.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Pyongyang on the Potomac

Yet another entry in the 'this is not normal' column, Donald Trump wants a military parade, a canned show of force that allows him to swagger with vicarious valor. The U.S. really doesn't have a tradition of this sort of thing, which is more characteristic of Pyongyang than Peoria:

Trump is basically Kim Jong Un with an even worse hairdo... he's a trust-fund kid who rode on his more talented, ruthless father. This new wrinkle, this ego-boost on the taxpayers' dime and the use of soldiers as props, demonstrates the depth of Trump's venality and an alarming-yet-cartoonish authoritarian streak. While Trump's parade would be a waste of money and resources, veterans' benefits are not being properly funded. Even more egregiously, the war in Afghanistan continues, with the Taliban resuming control of large regions of the country. Throwing a parade without a victory is reminiscent of Suetonius' anecdote of Caligula's 'war on the sea' after his failure to invade Great Britain:

Finally, as if he intended to bring the war to an end, he drew up a line of battle on the shore of the Ocean, arranging his ballistas and other artillery; and when no one knew or could imagine what he was going to do, he suddenly bade them gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds of their gowns, calling them "spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine." As a monument of his victory he erected a lofty tower, from which lights were to shine at night to guide the course of ships, as from the Pharos. Then promising the soldiers a gratuity of a hundred denarii each, as if he had shown unprecedented liberality, he said, "Go your way happy; go your way rich."

Then turning his attention to his triumph, in addition to a few captives and deserters from the barbarians he chose all the tallest of the Gauls, and as he expressed it, those who were "worthy of a triumph," as well as some of the chiefs. These he reserved for his parade, compelling them not only to dye their hair red and to let it grow long, but also to learn the language of the Germans and assume barbarian names. He also had the triremes in which he had entered the Ocean carried overland to Rome for the greater part of the way. He wrote besides to his financial agents to prepare for a triumph at the smallest possible cost, but on a grander scale than had ever before been known, since the goods of all were at their disposal.

Looks like a case of history repeating, with Little Gloves taking on the role formerly played by Little Boots.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dotard's Dow Down, or The Trump Slump

It's been rather annoying to hear Donald Trump taking credit for a stock market that has been rising since the Bad Old Days of the 2008 crash, so it's with a rueful sense of irony that I note the karmic retribution that is the current stock market dip on the very day that Little Gloves is in Ohio touting the economy. I actually hold a lot more stock than is typical for someone at my pay grade, and am frugal enough to be able to sock away the maximum I am eligible to put into my 401(k). I'm not happy about this seeming free-fall in the stock market, but I was long convinced that it was a bubble to begin with. At least this should shut up that asshole in the Oval Office for a while. In the meantime, I think I will invest some money in booze stocks- they are bound to be profitable the way people are being driven to drink.

Also, if Democratic strategists don't start hammering home the 'Trump Slump' meme, they aren't worth their consulting fees.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Succumbing to Sportball Spectacle

It's that time of year again, the great Debordian spectacle that is Superbowl Sunday. I typically work during the game, not giving a hoot about the superb owl, but this weekend I've been working a run of graveyard shifts, so I will be free during gametime. The plan is to meet a bunch of friends at a local bar and indulge in Mass Consumption of beer and chicken wings (in other words, just like a typical Tuesday).

This year's game pits a loathsome team against a team with loathsome fans, a matchup which promises to be the greatest display of Northeastern d-baggery since these assholes palled around:

The Superbowl is a weird institution, a broadcast in which the commercials are as important an element as the event itself. I don't even have a television, but if I hear the phrase 'Dilly Dilly' again, I'll plotz. It's going to be weird to be in a place that's broadcasting the game for the first time in a decade or so, but it's an opportunity to hang out with some good friends, in a place where we are valued regulars... that's worth being subjected to 'Dilly Dilly', the Pats and Philly.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Nothing New from Nudnik Nunes

The first clue that Devin Nunes' memo would be a ridiculous waste of time was its scanty page count. If you are going to shock and astound in only four pages, you had better be (PDF)Fredric Brown. Morons were expecting something more substantial:

There was a reason why this was 'nowhere in the press'.

Nunes' (PDF) four page memo, roundly ridiculed on websites and by Democratic Congresspersons.

The target of the FISA warrant, Carter Page, attracted the notice of the authorities as early as 2013. The opposition research referenced in the memo was initiated by the conservative Washington Free Beacon, though it was picked up by the law firm Perkins Coie on behalf of the DNC. To me, the memo, bizarrely, serves to elevate the profile of Carter Page at exactly the time when the Trump Administration should be shoving him down the Memory Hole. The release of the memo also serves to antagonize the FBI, which has historically supported right-of-center political causes. As one internet commentor noted, the FBI may be the organization which prevents the truck bomb from going off, but they are also the organization which participates in witch hunts, particularly right-wing ones. This newfangled antagonism between GOP and FBI was an unforced error on Nunes' part... this is the kind of shit which happens when you put an idiot in charge of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Channeling New Order?

I figured I needed a break from politics and current events, so I'm falling on the old 'post a video' gambit. I have long been a fan of Portland band The Decemberists, I mean, how could I not love a band that released an album named after the Táin Bó Cúailnge. For the record, I am also a big fan of Horslips.

The latest Decemberists track is pretty anomalous, being uncharacteristically synth-heavy, but once Colin Meloy starts crooning in his unmistakable voice, everything falls into place:

While the synthesizers have a bit of a Giorgio Moroder vibe, the guitar has a sound reminiscent of New Order:

It's an interesting stylistic shift for the Decemberists, a much more radical departure from earlier sounds than when they channeled the jangly college-radio rock sound of REM:

It'll be interesting to hear how the new single sounds when performed live.