Saturday, March 31, 2018

Il Lavoro Della Cucina

Today was largely spent in the kitchen. Mom and I were tasked with the duty of making manicotti and stuffed pasta shells for Easter dinner, my nephews being a big fan of pasta. It was out with the big pot, and on with the oven. Mom and I spent a few hours shooting the breeze while we stuffed pieces of pasta, sharing old family anecdotes and current family scuttlebutt.

At the risk of souding immodest, the manicotti were picture perfect:

We ran out of the ricotta/mozzarella filling, so we had to improvise a sausage and cheese mixture to fill out the rest of the stuffed shells:

We'll be hauling this bounty to my sister's house this afternoon, and spending the night over there so we can continue in the morning with Easter brunch.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Baby Brother's Birthday 2018

Today is the natal day of my baby brother, Gomez. Gomez is currently on the road with his daughter, a hockey prodigy who is competing in a national tournament this weekend. She is following in the footsteps, by which I mean blade tracks, of her dad. Gomez began his ice hockey career around the age of ten, if my memory serves me correctly. Being a stalwart lad, he decided to become a goaltender. Unlike most goalies, he worked on his serious skating skills, rather than just acting as an obstacle in the net. Goalies are like drummers- they are always in demand, and they always get 'gigs'.

My favorite Gomez hockey story took place when he was in high school, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old. He was at hockey practice at the venerable Murray's Skating Center, in the City of Y______. At the end of practice, he was approached by an adult, who was going to be playing in a friendly cops vs firefighters pickup game in the next time slot. The adult, thinking that the brawny Gomez was a college kid, told him, "We could really use a goalie, and you were impressive in the net." Yup, goalies are like drummers. My brother told the guy, "Uh, I'd like to, but I've got to ask my mom." The adult, cop or firefighter, I don't know, was surprised to say the least, "Ask your mom? You gotta be shitting me." Gomez told him, "I'm still in high school." Mom, knowing the value of ice time, allowed Gomez to play with the grownups, and he comported himself well.

He kept on playing hockey throughout college and whenever possible during his military career (a stint at Fort Drum helped in this regard). Now that he is retired, he is playing in an adult league, coaching his daughter's team, and refereeing on both the adult and youth levels. He recently was appointed chairman of the hockey program. My niece has taken to the sport, even playing goalie like her dad. Even though she's still in middle school, she's certified to referee the peewee games, which is a good, paying gig for a kid her age. Like her dad, she's also a STEM whiz, so she wants to pursue an engineering career.

Anyway, Gomez and my niece are on the road, kicking ice and taking names. I can't think of a more appropriate way for him to spend his birthday.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Lazy Vacation Day

A couple of years back, mom decided to sell the house she had bought twenty years ago, it being too big, with too big a yard, for her to maintain. She moved into a cute townhouse in a nice development, and has a postage-stamp sized lawn in the back. Unlike previous visits of mine, there's no grunt work for me to do. No tree stumps to dig out with a mattock, no bags of mulch to put down. It's a little weird not to have to break a sweat doing some task. Tomorrow, the only job I have is to start the lawnmower and make sure it is in good working order. Then it's off to my sister's house to hang out with the nephews and help out in the kitchen- basically a day of hanging out, three generations of the family goofing off.

We're also going to be celebrating the birthday of my nephew, Boy A, a day late. I spoke with him on the phone earlier today, interrupting him while he was watching the Boston Red Sox season opener- my sister is a diehard Yankees fan, so I think he roots for the Bosox just to needle her. His grandfather, a Framingham boy, would be proud of him. I bet the boy would drink Moxie if it were available in the DC metro area. He's planning to go to college somewhere in New England, so he might just cultivate a taste for the stuff.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Old Dominion

Today was a slog- I drove from my beloved City of Y______ to my mom’s place in Northern Virginia for Easter. My sister and her family live nearby, and my eldest nephew is on his last Spring Break before he graduates from college and gets commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, following in the footsteps of both of his parents.

The drive down wasn’t too bad, once I made it past the horrible traffic on the George Washington Bridge. I had planned to hit the road around 5AM in order to beat the traffic, but whiskey shots happened last night. Put more precisely, something called ‘picklebacks’ happened- shots of whiskey chased with shots of pickle brine (a crazy 22 year old introduced us old folks to them). The pickle juice is supposed to cut the whiskey burn... and it did, though I like the burn, and whiskey tastes better than pickle brine.

I ended up sleeping until ten and hitting the road by eleven. I think the pickle brine was the deciding factor in my tardy start.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

I just broke up a relationship that I’ve been in for fifteen years. Yeah, I finally droppedAT&T as a cellular provider. The catalyst for the change was the battery in my iPhone4, putchased in 2013, giving up the ghost. For a couple of months, it was a glorified wall phone cum diminutive desktop computer. I’d unplug it and it would expire by the time I hit the sidewalk in front of the house.

As far as changing carriers, well, AT&T lobbied against net neutrality, so leaving was easy once I got over my inertia. Sadly, all of the telecoms suck equally. Verizon, my new carrier, also lobbied against net neutrality. The deciding factor in my decision was receiving a19% comment any discount on the data bill, a not insignificant sum. I replaced the phone with a diminutive iPhoneSE, which fits in my palm and easily slips into a pocket. I don’t need a big screened monstrosity, nor do they need cutting edge technology.

The transaction took over an hour. To determine my identity, the Fraud Unit asked me a bunch of questions, including one I couldn’t answer, about a supposed old telephone number. Afterwards, I realized that ot was a phone line that I used for dialup internet service back in the 20th century. Nice move, fraud unit!

To prove my bona fides, the customer service rep had to send a copy of my driver’s license and car registration to the fraud unit. It took him about six or seven scanning attempts for him to get a facsimile of my ID photo that was satisfactory for the fraud unit. Christ, I don’t think the Secret Service vets applicants so thoroughly.

Well, at any rate, I have a new phone, almost indistinguishable from the old phone. I’m still in thrall to big telecom, but I changed behemoths. I also recognize that this phone, like the old one, was made by wave slaves cooped up all n factory dorms, but I will protest that I kept the old phone for over four years, until it ceased to function, and I plan on keeping this one for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to be virtuous in this debased age, it I’m trying to mitigate the harm I do.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sixty Minutes With Stormy

Tonight is the night that Stormy Daniels, the porn star previously best know for seeking to challenge David Vitter for his senate seat, is appearing on 60 Minutes to talk about her alleged affair with Cheeto Benito. In not looking forward to watching her describe Messolini's weenie, but I will probably read about the sticky details tomorrow on the t00bz. At any rate, I have to note that things are weird when a news magazine show has a title more apropos for a porn flick- Sixty Minutes with Stormy sounds like a best-seller at the Adult Video Store.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Busy, Bizzy, Bizz-AY

Today was one of those days- the sort of at on which 24 hours would be insufficient. I left the house this afternoon to catch a bit of the Yonkers St Patrick's Day parade before catching the Bx34 bus to the Woodlawn terminus of the 4 Train. I road a s-l-o-w 4 train from Woodlawn to 59 St/Central Park South, the end of the March for Life. I was able to see a few cohorts of students as I walked to the storied New York Athletic Club, the venue of the NY Open Judo tournament. The tournament was packed- besides comphopped etitors from the US, Canada, Poland, Israel, and France, there were judoka from all over the metro area. I was happy to see a couple of students, and made sure to tell the kids who came to watch the show to greet two time Olympic gold medalist, defender of children, all all-around warrior queen Kayla Harrison. Kayla is the most accomplished judo player in the States, and is a stellar role model.

During the Open, I had a couple of beers, so I hopped on the 4 train sans pain, and transferred to the Bx34 bus, which runs along Katonah Ave, the heart of Woodlawn Heights. I hopped off the bus near the Rambling House, where a friend of mine was spinning records. He took a bow and let local heroes Shillelagh Law play the headline- they are a fun band, mixing Irish trad and rock and/or roll, anchored by a couple of FDNY members who are all-Ireland fiddle and accordion prodigies. I had a number of beers before deciding to go home and sober up. I had a funny over-the-fence conversation with my neighbor about the quality of the craic today.

It's been a day, a busy day, a fun day. There was one melancholy note- my friends Francesco and Tomasso lost their mom to Parkinson's disease. I conveyed my condolences to the fratelli and their father, who is a great judo player in his regard. It was a busy day, but I paid my respects to the neighborhood, the students against gun violence, my friends' mother, and the judo community. It involved a lot of running around, but that's what you do when you have obligations.

Friday, March 23, 2018

No Horror at Red Hook

Last night, I headed down to the Grindhause in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, to hang out with some Wonketteers, including the Editrix and her lovely family. It was a good time with some funny, smart people.

After the soirée, I received a ride back to the Borough Hall subway station from Brooklyn Bred Brian, a Wonkette lurker who is an all-around great guy. He saved me a half hour wait for the B61 bus. We immediately hit it off while discussing pub crawling. When he mentioned the venerable Rocky Sullivan's, I immediately thought, "Now, this is the kind of drinking buddy everybody needs." We also talked about the changes in Brooklyn over the last twenty years. He's a Rafa Avis, a Brooklynite who was born and raised in the borough. I made sure to mention the Secret Science Club to him, first round on me. Some of the other attendees work in STEM fields, and I look forward to seeing them at the beautiful Bell House.

Once I got to Borough Hall, the trek became complicated. The Borough Hall station is, as Dotard would put it, a shithole. The entire station was dripping dubious liquid from the snowmelt above. The 4 Train was running to 138th in the Bronx, with shuttle bus service to 149th St, where service to Woodlawn resumed. There was no guidance at 138th St, a crowd was hanging out near a sign reading 'Discharge Only', with pickup taking place around the corner. All told, the commute was a slog. Still, the event more than made up for the ride home.

Post title taken from this charming tale.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Disinformation Campaign Begins

One of the biggest stories on the national news this week has been a spate of bombings in the Austin, TX metro area which killed two individuals and injured three. The initial two victims were two African-American men, Stephen House and Draylen Mason, who attended the same church- this suggested that the bomber was a white supremacist targeting prominent Austin African-Americans.

The bomber, who set himself up the bomb when the police were closing in on him, left behind a blog in which he detailed his pretty run-of-the-mill conservative views. He was homeschooled and a member of a survivalist group called Righteous Invasion of Truth (RIOT) which seems to have been pretty heavily into LARPing.

This terrorist left behind a video confession which was summed up thusly by an interim police chief: "It is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his life that led him to this point." To me, this is the ultimate expression of toxic male privilege and entitlement: "I hate my life so you must suffer." Maybe he just saw his victims as NPCs rather than as prominent members of a hated community, though the end results were the same.

Already, though, there have been attempts by the MAGA crowd to portray the perp as a liberal:

The 'tell' here, besides the tortured grammar, is the use of 'Democrat Party'. This particular right-wing shibboleth isn't the sort of thing that a background search company would use. To make the incompetence of this campaign is the misspelled hashtag- #AustinBoming. Uncle Vlad isn't getting his ruble worth out of these morons.

Enough ugliness for now, here's a performance of a song composed by Draylen Mason:

There are videos of Mr Mason playing the bass, but the uploader expressed a wish that media companies not use them. It's unspeakably tragic that this brilliant young man made national headlines for his death, when he should have made future headlines for his talent.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


That's what they're calling it- the fourth nor'easter to hit the area in three weeks. The news radio station is broadcasting predictions of six to twelve inches of snow, with certain areas hit by up to eighteen inches of the stuff. Wind gusts are supposed to hit gale force. Needless to say, the governor has declared a state of emergency and urged everyone to refrain from non-essential travel.

So far, there are maybe two or three inches of snow on the ground. I left the house around 2PM and headed up to work for an overnight campout. This is the third one so far this month. The local roads in Yonkers were pretty messy, and the two downward slopes in the City of Hills (where nothing is on the level) gave the anti-lock breaks a bit of a workout- luckily, I was able to downshift so losing control of the car was never a danger. Once I hit the Sprain Brook Parkway, I had smooth sailing, being able to stay to main roads. The first thing I did was send a text message to my boss, to let him know that I had reached work in one piece and was equipped to stay overnight.

He immediately called me to ask what the weather conditions were like. He lives north of here, and the snow hadn't hit there yet. He had bought eighteen gallons of gasoline for his generator because he lost power in the last nor'easter. He asked me to send a picture of the snow, because his wife was skeptical about there being snow on the ground. I have to say, it looks absolutely lovely, though I could live without this beauty in late March:

The color doesn't show up well in the photo, but there are yellowish-green leaflets (Nature's first green being gold) on the trees waaay in the background of the shot, center right. It's Spring, and I saw some robins that I'm now worried about, but we might be shoveling snow until April if this storm picks up and becomes the monster that they predicted.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Our Partisan Brains

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 Jay Van Bavel of NYU's Social Perception and Evaluation Lab. The topic of this month's lecture was "Our Partisan Brains".

Dr Van Bavel opened the lecture by showing the pictures contrasting Trump's inauguration crowd with Obama's inauguration crowd:

He then showed the text of Trump spokesman Sean Spicer saying that Trump had the largest inauguration crowd of all time, which led to Kellyanne Conway's infamous comment about Spicer relying on alternative facts. He compared these two 'blurbs' to a line from George Orwell's 1984: The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. The 'alternative facts' kerfuffle landed 1984 on the bestseller lists last year.

A majority of poll respondents indicated that fake news has left them confused about basic facts. There are fact checking organizations such as Politifact. He also noted that scientists are in the fact-checking business. After seeing a report that 15% of Republican voters believed that Trump's inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama's even after being shown pictures, Dr Van Bavel wanted to answer a simple question: WTF? He noted that humans have highly partisan brains, and that our partisan brains shape our beliefs.

Democrats and Republicans are more divided than in the past, which is both a cause of and a consequence of the Trump phenomenon. Dr Van Bavel displayed a graphic from the Pew Research Center displaying this polarization:

There is evidence that liberals and conservatives have different brains. Identical twins are likely to share attitudes even if raised apart- there is a huge genetic component to an individual's attitudes. The actor Colin Firth was involved in the publication of a neuroscience paper concerning the brains of liberals and conservatives- the study indicated that liberals have more gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex and conservatives had more gray matter in the amygdala. As an editorial note, and because Smut insists on accuracy, this is a controversial study.

Studies of political partisans show that there is a similarity between partisanship and sports fandom, with the parties being analogous to teams. Cheerleaders may say that they believe something to be true even if they don't actually believe it. Strip away the conflicts over resources, and there is a history of strictly Us vs Them conflicts, perfectly satirized in this cartoon by Paul Noth:

In one study, participants were assigned to a group, either Rattlers or Eagles, according to a coin toss. They were asked to state their political affiliation as well. When their brains were scanned, there was similar activity when they were shown 'team' affiliated images and political images. The arbitrary in-group affiliation led to activity much like their political affiliation... the subjects divided themselves into tribes at the flip of a coin.

Dr Van Bavel then displayed screenshots from the Wall Street Journal's Red Feed/Blue Feed site, which displays a side-by-side comparison of Conservative and Liberal Facebook feeds. To some extent, the information we receive is curated by social media algorithms. It's profitable for media corporations to show us what we want to see. On the Twitter platform, there is a sharp Red/Blue divide. The posts which are more likely to go viral include moral and emotional words, with 'shares' going up about twenty percent per moral-emotional word. Dr Van Bavel joked that the best way to get a social media post to go viral is to put the word 'disgusting' in it.

People create echo chambers with little crosstalk- there is a moral-emotional divide, a 'you are with me or against me' attitude prevails, with much communication taking the form of virtue signalling. This divide has been weaponized against Americans by Russian operatives. Classic Russian propaganda emphasized images of Russian strength, the new Russian social media propaganda often plays on Americans' cultural divide. Propaganda involves pushing people's buttons, and knowledge about American psychology allowed these trolls to push our tribal buttons. The firm Cambridge Analytica used social media profiles to push a political agenda. In a study published in Science Mag, a team of researchers at MIT confirmed something that has long been held to be true:

"Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information."

As the maxim goes, "A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on."

This article was the 9th most discussed article in the history of Science. The issue of the dissemination of falsehood goes beyond crowd size- global warming matters, vaccination matters- commonly believed falsehoods adversely effect crucial policy discussions. The lateral prefrontal cortex plays a role in memory, and memory can be messed up by politics- a falsehood can fit into one's memory if it fits into one's preferred narrative. The problem is that it is hard to have a serious discussion about carbon taxes or carbon credit swaps if the science behind anthropogenic climate change is distorted.

The value placed on the validity of knowledge depends on accuracy goals. In science, finance, and prosecutorial matters, accuracy is important. In politics, belonging goals are important in the formation of communities. Epistemic goals, existential goals, status goals, system goals, and moral goals also play roles in political matters. If other goals are more important than accuracy goals, trouble can result- people can believe falsehoods. People's goals effect their calculations about what to read and what to share.

Dr Van Bavel displayed an example of the 'old', obvious fake news- the classic Weekly World News cover story about Bat Boy. He noted that even the fake news could dabble in political satire. It's often hard to tell fake news from real news now- especially if links are coming from trusted friends. In the recent political scene, both Trump and Clinton have been in the public eye for so long that they have had quotes on both sides of many issues, such as the Iraq war and LGBTQ issues. Liberals tend to value equality and environmental conservation, while conservatives tend to value authority and security- each tended to give more credence to quotes which matched their confirmation bias, while being skeptical of quotes which didn't.

There was a study of fake news sites which utilized items from the satirical Empire News website. There were stories about Hillary Clinton wearing an earpiece during a debate, of Florida Democrats voting to impose Sharia law on women, of Donald Trump imposing a 'one child' policy on minorities. When presenting the fake news stories, there was a 'control' condition in order to determine if subjects would believe any bullshit, such as a story about Leonardo DiCaprio flying an eyebrow stylist 7,500 miles to groom him for the Oscars ceremony. Generally, Democrats believe bad fake news about Republicans and vice versa. Democrats have a better ability to sort out complete bullshit than Republicans- Democrats tend to default to skepticism while Republicans tend to default to credulousness, so there is an asymmetry in bullshit detection.

One in four Americans has shared fake news with others. Dr Van Bavel confessed to sharing three fake news stories, but was called out by scientist friends. Democrats are more reluctant to share fake news than Republicans, an important asymmetry. He illustrated the change in attitudes toward truth with two quotes. The first, attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts." The second, by Stephen Colbert, is: " It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty." This shift is really worrisome in its implications. Facebook is concerned with news sources, and is attempting to collate trust scores for different media outlets. The number one fake news story of the 2016 election season was the story of Pope Francis endorsing Trump, which originated with an openly fake news site, WTOE 5. The fake news outstripped the real news. The big problem with having the news crowdsourced through social media is that it is susceptible to hivemind.

The antidote to fake news is increasing accuracy goals. This involves self-reflection. The concept of naïve realism leads us to believe that people who disagree with ourselves are idiots or jerks. We must engage in self-criticism, we must value accuracy. We must also make people publicly accountable for spreading fake news. We should strive to open minds- if belief emerges from identity goals, then challenging the belief threatens identity. The best way to open a mind is to affirm a person's worth while correcting them. For example, pounding antivaxxers with evidence often ends up entrenching their beliefs.

Dr Van Bavel noted that scientists are working on the fake news problem and urged the audience to help them with fix it.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. The first question concerned gender differences in attitudes towards fake news, but the sample sizes were too small. Comparing Twitter feeds of men and women, it turned out than men tend to be more emotional regarding politics than women. Regarding the density of brain neurons, there are certain interesting changes that can take place in the brain- London cabbies were found to have high neuron density in the area of the hippocampus that processes spatial memory. Regarding political identity, the 'Dems Left/'Pubs Right' dichotomy is of relatively recent origin- there used to be liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, but now the party affiliation is aligned right vs left. Regarding the Nature/Nurture debate, Dr Van Bavel described it as a bad dichotomy. He compared the political system of the US, with its two major parties, with that of his native Canada, with five major parties, nothing that Canadians had a harder time sorting out an Us vs Them narrative. Some bastard in the audience asked about the role of spite in the political arena, noting that one party tends to elect politicians which want to fund retraining for unemployed Kentucky coal workers while the other party tends to elect politicians to make sure that New Jersey commuters are boned by not funding needed infrastructure. Dr Van Bavel characterized this as Negational Affect toward the outgroup, which is characterized by Schadenfreude toward members of that group, joy at their suffering. He described politics as having gotten as bitter as the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, partisanship so bad that it is damaging. The bastard in the audience then implored him to study the asymmetry of spite. Because the bastard mentioned Trump's refusal to fund a trans-Hudson rail tunnel, a subsequent questioner referred to him as 'the Jersey guy', much to the bastard's consternation. A question about approaches to identity elicited a great line from Dr Van Bavel: Identity is formed on all levels from neurons to nations. Regarding the dichotomy between 'amygdala oriented cons' and 'cortical oriented libs', Dr Van Bavel noted that conservatives attend to threats, while liberals are attuned to curiosity. In threatening environments, sticking together is a good strategy, while curiosity is a good trait in a safe environment (is this why conservatives want more a more dangerous society?). These are different solutions to evolutionary problems- partisan me has to note that one side of the partisan divide tends not to believe in evolution.

Dr Van Bavel gave an entertaining, lively lecture, even if I personally would have preferred him going 'the full driftglass'. At any rate, here is a video of him discussing the partisan brain:

Relax, pour yourself a beverage, and soak in that SCIENCE! Kudos to Dr Van Bavel, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House for yet another fantastic Secret Science Club lecture.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Drinking on St Joseph's Day

I've been joking for years that the Feast of St Joseph, March 19th, should also be a drinking day, that mid-March should be a multi-day bender, like Carnival in New Orleans. It's traditional to eat zeppole, or sfingi, which are like French crullers filled with custard or cannoli cream, but drinking isn't a big part of the festivities... until now. I went out to get a zeppola this afternoon, but the real event takes place later- I'll be heading down to Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture. I'm going to exercise discretion when it comes to imbibing, though, I have to be at work at 5AM tomorrow. I can make it up tomorrow during bar trivia.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hangovers, Leftovers

Last night was, in the Irish vernacular, good craic. Good friends, good food, and plenty of beer to wash it all down. Then came the whiskey shots- generous shots of Jameson's to be exact. I'm more of a Tullamore Dew man myself, but I'm no a fool who'd say no to Jameson's or Powers or Black Bush or you get the picture. At no point in the night did I feel more than a warm glow, but I sustained that glow for hours.

This morning, I woke up early in order to chug a quart of water, then slowly crawled back up the evolutionary scale. Late morning, I met with friends for breakfast- homemade corned beef hash made from last night's leftovers, capped with slightly runny poached eggs and washed down with plenty of Irish breakfast tea. By 1PM, I was actually in the mood for a bottle of lager.

Tonight, I'll be going out with a bunch of friends to celebrate the birthday of an old high school chum. Every year, he chooses to go to a Brazilian rodizio restaurant, which is weird, because he is one of those people who likes his meat extremely well-done, and the rodizio is an orgy of dripping red meat, rare to medium rare. He always asks the waiters to take a portion of each skewer load back to the kitchen and cook it well-done, and after everybody's eaten, he is starting on his plate of leathery chunks. I don't know why he even bothers going to a place that is a temple to rare meat, but he does to himself this every year. The rest of us enjoy it way more than he does- he spends most of his time minutely inspecting the offerings, then issuing instructions to the befuddled waitstaff. He'd be better off eating at an Applebee's or stealing the immolated offerings off of an altar to Moloch.

At any rate, there will be drinking tonight as well- gotta have at least one capirinha and maybe an Argentine Malbec to balance the carnivory. Tomorrow, the hangover may be back, but there will be no desire to eat any meat of any sort.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Solemn Feast of St Patrick

Oddly enough, I didn't post a big runup to St Patrick's Day. I chalk it up to the fact that this year has been an insane cavalcade of crises and scandals. Well, 'tis the day itself, and I'm going to run out for a beer before heading over to some good friends' house for a fine Irish-American corned beef and cabbage dinner. Time to post a couple of videos, like I typically do to celebrate.

The visit of the openly gay taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the US has been entertaining, with wags on both sides of the Atlantic taking the Mickey concerning Mike Pence's private breakfast with Mr Varadkar. I'd hazard to guess that Pence had bangers on his mind, if not the menu, IYKWIMAITTYD. At any rate, same-sex marriage has been legal for almost two years, so bigotry really isn't an appealing message to the Irish people, least of all the openly-gay, half-Indian Leo Varadkar.

As a show of scorn for the current administration, I figure I'll post two tunes by the late, great Phil Chevron. The first is Under Clery's Clock, a song about a closeted gay man worrying about whether or not his lover will meet him under the clock at the now-defunct Dublin department store Clerys:

The second song is Phil's incredible emigration song Thousands Are Sailing:

The United States took in refugees from Ireland throughout Irish history- people fleeing famine, war, poverty, and oppression made their way to these shores and, to put it in the current idiom, Made America Great... just like all immigrant groups did. Sláinte to everybody reading this, bad luck to the orange ogre, and celebrate your heritage. The Irish are a diaspora people, and have intermarried and intermingled with people from all over the world. We have an especial affinity for Mexicans, another strike against the assholes running this country.

Friday, March 16, 2018

New York State Lost a Champion

This week has been a bad one, as far as the obituaries are concerned. NY 25th district representative Louise Slaughter died at the age of 88 after a fall at her home last week. Representative Slaughter, who represented Rochester, was a breath of fresh air from the northwestern reaches of New York state, a region which all too often causes embarrassment to us liberal downstaters. Louise Slaughter was different, a champion of women's rights, of workers' rights, of access to healthcare. She was a microbiologist as well as a congressional representative, and she advocated for science funding. Most importantly, she advocated for her constituents in the economically disadvantaged district.

Slaughter was an ethical representative and a principled one. Because of her stance on healthcare reform, her office was vandalized and her family was threatened. You can tell the character of an individual by the type of enemies they have, which gives an indication of what a great representative Louise Slaughter was. New York has lost a champion, at a time when we need one the most.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Beware the Ides of March, Orange Julius

Wow, it's funny that March 15th would be the day on which it was revealed that Robert Mueller subpoenaed the Trump Organization concerning its dealings with Russia. This isn't some fake attack on Trump, this is the moment when, in American vernacular English, shit gets real, really real. I imagine the shredders will be working overtime at Trump tower.

The real question is who will inspire the 'Et tu, Brute?' reaction when they spill their guts to the Feds. For a guy who demands loyalty from underlings, Trump certainly doesn't demonstrate this virtue- just ask his wives, the contractors who had the misfortune of working on his projects, his creditors, his investors, his administration's employees. The very idea of some minion volunteering to take the fall for Trump out of some sense of loyalty, or even of omertà, is laughable. I could even see Jared Kushner pulling a Brutus on his father-in-law, just like I could see Trump throwing Jared to the wolves.

At any rate, this administration is playing out as a tragedy which is simultaneously a farce, starring a main character who is both emperor and clown.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Brilliant Star Extinguished

It was with a considerable sense of melancholy that I heard about the death of Dr Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and beloved populizer of science. Diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963, Dr Hawking wasn't expected to live to gain his PhD, but he beat the odds and coped with his disability through the use of a motorized wheelchair and his signature voice synthesizer which he joked provided him with an American accent.

Dr Hawking's particular genius lay in formulating theories reconciling physics at the quantum level with physics at the galactic level- the itsy bitsy and the biggie wiggie. With Roger Penrose, Hawking authored a series of theorems regarding singularities, one of which he later revised, which held that the Big Bang began as a singularity.

Dr Hawking lent his name to Hawking radiation. It was thought that black holes had an inescapable gravitation field, not even light could defy the force of gravity. Hawking theorized that black body radiation could be emitted from a black hole due to quantum effects. While Hawking radiation hasn't been observed, analogues have been analyzed in labs.

Hawking's big debut in the popular imagination was the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, a worldwide bestseller. He quickly became a celebrity, even showcasing his self-deprecating humor in sitcom cameos. In 2005, Hawking released a shorter edition of A Brief History of Time in collaboration with Dr Leonard Mlodinow, who delivered two Secret Science Club lectures. Sadly, I have never seen Dr Hawking in person.

Dr Hawking didn't shy away from politics, or current events- he set the record straight when anti-Obamacare hacks claimed that he would have been allowed to die if he had been British. He also spoke elegantly about the dangers of global warming, specifically calling out Donald Trump. Right wingers seemed to have had bugs up their asses about him, as Stephen Colbert hilariously pointed out.

Stephen Hawking was beloved, and the tributes to him from other scientists have been touching, as was our beloved nerdy former president's tribute. Dr Sean Carroll's tribute to him for the BBC was particularly beautiful- Dr Carroll also delivered a Secret Science Club lecture. Dr Neil Degrasse Tyson, another of the great populizers of science, interviewed Dr Hawking on a recent episode of Star Talk:

My favorite Stephen Hawking moment was his flight in microgravity, when he was freed from the tyranny of the weight of his frail body:

It's a beautiful moment- he looks positively beatific, and his attendants are treating him with genuine tenderness. It takes a lot to get this cynical Yonkers boy to get misty-eyed, but this does it. I was hit by the news of his death, but I will remember him for his brilliance, his passion, his humanity, and his ability to instill his sense of wonder in others, including myself.

As a postscript to this blog entry, I am posting links to three Secret Science Club lectures which mention Hawking radiation- Dr Charles Liu's Astrophysics Endterms Lecture, Drs Gubser's and Pretorius' Tag Team Black Holes Lecture, and Dr Robbert Dijkgraaf's Black Holes, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory Lecture. I can't help but think that Dr Stephen Hawking would rather have seen us nerding out than crying... not that I'm not doing both. It's been noted that Hawking, who was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death, died on Pi Day and Einstein's birthday, which is perhaps the best nerd joke of all time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lamb the Sham?

Wow, what a news day! I woke up to the news that Rex T. was ignominiously defeated by an ape. Then there's Trump's announcement that he's forming a Space Corps so he can emulate Leader Desslok. I need to rush off to bar trivia, so I will give a brief take on the congressional race for Pennsylvania's 18th District, which could end up in a Democratic win in MAGAstan. Even though the district will be dissolved due to redistricting, PACs have dumped over ten million dollars into his opponent's coffers in order to forestall a demoralizing Republican loss... and what an opponent! Rick 'Sack-o-Crap' Saccone has accused Democrats of hating God, Trump, and the US, truly a scoundrel's gambit. Lamb is no liberal lion- he's said stupid things about Nancy Pelosi and he's pretty much cast in the Manchin mode. Still, he's a damn sight better than any Republican out there.

And then there's Trump's involvement, Trump dubbed Conor Lamb 'Lamb the Sham', presumably in order to portray Lamb as a Messican who will bring sharia law to Pennsylvania:

Don't fall for it, Pennsylvania, let's not be L7.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Sick of Stormy News!

Stormy news has been dominating the local airwaves, and I'm not even talking about Trump's porn actress affair scandal. The NYC metro area will be hit by the third nor'easter in ten days. It is supposed to drop a couple of inches of snow here in the City of Y______, but slam eastern Long Island and New England with over six inches of snow.

I have the day off, so I won't have to deal with sloppy commutes, or camp out at work. We lost a few trees, one of our sites was without power for five days, and I was tasked with chronicling much of the damage. One of our important buildings was almost creamed by a falling tree (missed by inches). I should be sitting out this storm, not having to be back at work until Wednesday night. Tomorrow, the plan is to get up around 7AM to shovel what snow we do get, then to loaf around reading for the rest of the day. That being said, anything could change with a phone call. This March came in like a lion, I hope it doesn't leave like a grizzly bear.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Little Time Travel Device

Since today marks the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, which involves a shift of an hour, I figured I'd post a link to a cute joke from a supposedly soulless corporation... plutonium not included. It's too bad they had to include a legal disclaimer, though.

Of course, there are also more salacious jokes out there.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Day Started Off Well

Today has been a real mixed bag- I was supposed to have the day off, but one of the guys in my department had a schedule conflict. The morning went beautifully, it was the last day of the semester for my volunteer coaching gig, and we had a fun class followed by a lovely luncheon and awards ceremony. We promoted four kids to yellow belt, doing the promotion and presentation of belts in front of the assembled kids and parents. Our affectionate five year-old hand holder was one of the kids we promoted. We then tested three additional students and they passed the test, and will get their yellow belts as soon as we can arrange it.

The luncheon was great- one of our fencing coaches came up through the program and is now a bigwig in the organization... I've known her since she was a nine year-old. For some reason, the topic of the day Kovacevic Sensei poked my eyes and kneed my balls came up in conversation- I had forgotten that she had been one of the students present at my literal downfall. In retrospect, I think I find this funnier that she did, but at the time it was terrible. There's no trip like the nostalgia trip. Also, there were the conversations about counselors graduating from high school and going off to college. Needless to say, I am very proud of these young folks.

After the luncheon, I headed straight to work in jacket and tie, having packed a bag of my typical work clothes the night before. When I got to work, there were text messages aplenty- the oil furnace in one of our buildings isn't venting properly, so fumes have been leaking into the building. I opened the windows in the building to prevent a carbon monoxide buildup and placed a call to our furnace contractor. The acting manager was leaning on me the entire time I was on hold with customer service:

Oh, yeah, Ginger's back after our nor'easters. Hopefully, the weather will improve soon so we can spend some quality time outdoors. The warmer weather wall also put an end to our furnace issues. Now, I'm waiting for the repair technician to show up, anytime between now and eleven PM. I hope Ginger is patient!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Looking Forward to National Women's Day

I've been preoccupied at work with post nor'easter matters, so I missed the whole International Women's Day celebrations yesterday. Today, I have to check out a site which has been without electricity since Wedneday, so I'm just going to make a quick post: while International Women's Day is a big deal, it will be dwarfed by National Women's Day, which is going to take place on Tuesday, November 6th.

Now please excuse me, I have to find a way around a section of road that's been cordoned off by Con Ed.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Nor'easter Nabe

Before leaving the house yesterday, I knew that I would be stuck at work for the long haul due to inclement weather conditions. I really didn't have time to cook anything to brown-bag, so I decided that I would cook on the job. I hastily sliced onions, carrots, and cabbage and packed some atsuage, fishballs, a bag of garae-tteok, and a bottle of soy sauce mixed with sesame oil and a 'glug' of sriracha. My plan, which could have been unsound due to the danger of a power outage, was to make a stripped down nabemono on the job, cooked on an electric burner purchased for the purpose of cooking nabemono. As luck would have it, things turned out well:

When I arrived at work, I texted my boss to let him know that I had made it one piece, and he called me 'intrepid' Yeah, the roads were bad. Around 5PM he texted me to tell me that he had lost power and heat at his house. He's a good guy, so I felt sorry for him, especially as I was just starting the process of cooking a somewhat elaborate menu item that would serve to fill me up throughout the night. I think I'll refrain from sending him that picture...

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Twice in a Week?

For the second time in less than a week, the NYC metro area is getting hit by a nor'easter. This one is differing from the last one because it is bringing snow to the region- in my locality, perhaps up to a foot. As I was cleaning off my car for the drive home, I saw a flash of lightning, so thundersnow is go.

I left for work four hours early in order to beat the worst of the weather and the mad homeward rush of most commuters. It took about an hour for me to get to work, about thirty-five minutes longer than usual. My plan, as is typical, is to shelter in place overnight, then head home when the coast is clear tomorrow, most likely traveling via public transportation. I already touched base with the boss to let him know that I am here to keep an eye on things.

It should be a quiet night for the most part... I don't expect anybody to stop by except for our plowing contractor. Ginger is enjoying a 'vacation' at the house of one of our managers. For most of the time, it'll be me, the wind and snow, and whatever trees decide to drop in. My standard line about the job is that it's very cushy except when it's not, and tonight will firmly be in the 'not' column. I have always been up front about this to the boss- I make no bones about spending summer nights on the job reading, playing with the cat, and generally enjoying myself... it's the scary nights when I 'pay my dues', and I just happen to be paying double this month.

Monday, March 5, 2018

We're Living in Gary's World Now

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the death of E. Gary Gygax, the mad genius who codified an idea developed by Dave Arneson, who decided to create a modification of a pseudo-medieval fantasy wargame by Gary Gygax (confused yet?), a modification in which players took on the roles of individuals rather than military units. The resultant game, published in 1974, was dubbed Dungeons and Dragons. The best short summary of the game was written by blogger Jeff Rients: "You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula."

Gary Gygax's genius was coming up with a bunch of mathematical formulae, inherited from the tradition of miniature wargaming, to use as parameters for the various 'denizens' of an imaginary world. The players' characters, their allies, their foes, and the miscellaneous non-player characters of the game, were rated numerically- for instance, a character physical and mental attributes were expressed as a range of numbers from three to eighteen, calculated by rolling three six-sided dice which results in a bell curve. The success of a character's actions is determined by rolling additional dice in the hope of hitting a target number. Early on, funny dice based on Platonic solids were used to generate the random numbers used for task resolution. Even later, the pentagonal trapezohedron was added to the dice bag, but there are some who claim that that merely leads to madness and death.

Gary was largely responsible for creating a shared methodology and a common vocabulary for elaborate games of 'make believe'. His was the framework by which disparate individuals could pool their imaginations to create a shared illusion, what Tolkien would call a sub-creation. Luckily for him, his work followed quickly on the heels of the first Tolkien fantasy boom, which began with Ballantine Books publication of the first authorized edition LotR in the 1960s. Gygax himself seemed to be more of an Abraham Merritt fan than a Tolkien fan, but players of the game wanted to pretend to be elves and hobbits so the game catered to that demographic- resulting in legal action. The game's audience was pretty much stuck in the Tolkien paradigm, even though an occasional non-Tolkienian laser gun would occasionally show up. The funny thing about D&D is that it pretty much ate up fantasy literature, transforming the original Tolkien-style tropes into D&D tropes which then became conflated with Tolkienian tropes, a sort of Ouroboros of fantasy that, ironically, left little room for the Eddisons of this world. The genre seems to be slowly lifting itself from the elfy stuff, but it was the dominant form of fantasy for decades.

Gary himself was more simpatico with the pulp fantasy tradition, which he immortalized in the famous Appendix N from his 1979 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (rumor has it that the 'advanced' edition was rolled out in order to squeeze Dave Arneson out of the game- showing that Gary had the capability of being as ruthless as any powergamer). Again, to my ears, the High Gygaxian of Gary's best-known works most closely echoes A. Merritt, with flashes of Jack Vance. Glories abound in the holy trinity of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books... as adolescents, we were exposed to such wonderful sentences as:

Assassins are evil in alignment (perforce, as the killing of humans and other intelligent life forms for the purpose of profit is basically held to be the antithesis of weal).

Gary's most purple passage was actually about purple hues, his description of the subterranean Vault of the Drow:

The true splendor of the Vault can be appreciated only by those with infravision, or by use of the roseate lenses or a gem of seeing. The Vault is a strange anomaly, a hemispherical cyst in the crust of the earth, an incredibly huge domed fault over 6 miles long and nearly as broad. The dome overhead is a hundred feet high at the walls, arching to several thousand feet height in the center. When properly viewed, the radiation from certain unique minerals give the visual effect of a starry heaven, while near the zenith of this black stone bowl is a huge mass of tumkeoite -- which in its slow decay and transformation to lacofcite sheds a lurid gleam, a ghostly plum-colored light to human eyes, but with ultravision a wholly different sight.

'The small "star" nodes glow in radiant hues of mauve, lake, violet, puce, lilac, and deep blue. The large "moon" of tumkeoite casts beams of shimmering amethyst which touch the crystalline formations with colors unknown to any other visual experience. The lichens seem to glow in rose madder and pale damson, the fungi growths in golden and red ochres, vermillions, russets, citron, and aquamarine shades. (Elsewhere the river and other water courses sheen a deep velvety purple with reflected highlights from the radiant gleams overhead vying with streaks and whorls of old silver where the liquid laps the stony banks or surges against the ebon piles of the jetties and bridge of the elfin city for the viewers' attention.) The rock walls of the Vault appear hazy and insubstantial in the wine-colored light, more like mist than solid walls. The place is indeed a dark fairyland.

Better break out that unabridged dictionary, kid! My high school Latin teacher (2 years Latin, 4 years Spanish, bay-bee!) told us that studying Latin pretty much guaranteed an extra 200 points on the verbal portion of the SAT, and I'd wager that being conversant in High Gygaxian was good for another 200 points. Yeah, we were nerding out on ten-dollar vocabulary words and on-the-fly mathematical calculations while we were playing... better add another 200 to the math score. Thanks, Gary!

The peak of the D&D fad was the early 80s, when the game was featured in blockbuster movies and set off a major component of the satanic panic. The game was even covered in a 60 Minutes episode:

The real irony here is that Gary himself was a church-going man.

Hard to believe while watching the bizarre panic of the 1980s, but we are living in Gary's world- the nerds won. A perusal of the top grossing films of all time shows a list heavily weighted toward matters fantastical. D&D isms such as the alignment chart have entered into the public lexicon, and the computer gaming industry is largely based on such gaming parameters as 'hit points' and 'experience' points. Even 'serious' media personalities can talk about the game in public:

Even given the current anti-intellectual climate that seems to prevail, the nerds won. D&D is a current cultural touchstone, with Ready Player One being a smash hit (I haven't read it, but I tend to believe its detractors). Stranger Things is steeped in D&D lore. Gary's been gone ten years, but he's still with us- the memes he released into the world have embedded themselves in the culture. It's not everyday that you hear someone use terms such as 'puissant' or 'milieu'... It's not often that someone starts a conversation about polearms... but Gary's out there all the same, playing in our heads, the ultimate adventure sites. It's appropriate that a nerd movie won the Oscar for best picture on the anniversary.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Alex Alienates Advertisers

Right now, my greatest source of Schadenfreude is seeing companies removing their ads from Alex Jones' YouTube channel. Jones is perhaps the worst thing to happen to American discourse- a mendacious grifter who sells hate and paranoia along with the snake-oil. Caught lying about the Parkland, Florida school shooting survivors being 'crisis actors', he's one 'strike' away from being banned from YouTube. More broadly, the platform seems to be cleaning house, suspending the accounts of multiple right-wing provocateurs. It's about damn time, it's a cesspool out there, and irresponsible d-bags are going to get people hurt.

The Schadenfreude is particularly delicious because Yannoflopolous is now hawking snake-oil for Jones, so he will be negatively impacted by sanctions levied against Jones. Now, that's a better two-fer than a Tangy Tangerine sale!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Ernest Always Gets an Upvote

Last night was a rough night- the nor'easter which hit the area (the wind is still gusting fiercely) took down a bunch of tree branches on the property at work, and at home the barbecue grill was knocked over, so I will have to right it when things get calm. Locally, an eleven year-old boy was killed by a falling tree limb. Driving to work had a surreal edge, truck traffic was halted on certain roadways, and passing a quarter-mile line of eighteen-wheelers isn't something that I'm used to.

It's still windy and cold, maybe it's time for a tropical breeze. At Roy's place, billcinsd and I were waxing lyrical about legendary Jamaican guitarist, composer, and arranger Ernest Ranglin. As far as I know, his greatest chart success as a session musician was playing behind Millie Smalls' worldwide hit My Boy Lollipop, and he was instrumental (heh) in defining the sound of Jamaican popular music forms ska, rocksteady, and reggae. He was also a titan of jazz, and collaborated on many recordings with countryman and piano legend Monty Alexander. The two have a great way of revealing the jazz roots of Jamaican popular music, with this Ranglin, Alexander, Sly & Robbie take on Surfin' being a standout (with Robbie Shakespeare's vocal performance channeling an old bluesman):

Mr Ranglin also does a great version of Augustus Pablo's seminal dub track King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown. Dub, with its recursive loops punctuated by snatches of melody, marries well with jazz:

There's a great live video of Ernest playing NPR's 'Tiny Desk' music series, and generally being awesome:

One of the jewels in my record collection is a promotional disc of Ernest Ranglin and Monty Alexander, purchased from a music archive housecleaning sale. I'm not a huge jazz fan, but Ernest always gets an upvote from me.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Another Bomb... Cyclone, That Is

Tuesday was a glorious day in the City of Y______. I spent some time strolling around the neighborhood, running errands. While perambulating, I ran into a neighbor and we chatted about the beautiful weather, and I pessimistically noted that winter wasn't over, and that last year a blizzard had hit just before the Solemn Feast of St Patrick. Now, a mere three days later, we are getting hit by the second bomb cyclone of this winter, a classic Nor'easter which is dumping a lot of rain on the region, and might end up as a snowstorm. Gale force winds are expected.

On the job, we have erected flood barriers in the basement of our low-lying office building, and other buildings have been sandbagged prophylactically. Ginger is on vacation at a manager's place. I don't have to be in until the graveyard shift, but I will coordinate with the gentleman working the afternoon/evening shift in case the roads are a godawful mess, necessitating a shift swap so neither of us is caught in dangerous road conditions. I will also play going to Manhattan for the volunteer gig by ear- if it's a total mess, I'll take a day off.

The real kick in the pants here is that there are harbingers of Spring- most notably, I have heard my beloved killdeer chattering up a storm in several locations... I guess I can blame them for this storm?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

One Two Three Four, I Want a Trade War!

This guy, this fucking guy- Trump wants to impose hefty tariffs on aluminum and steel, prompting calls for retaliation from allies such as Canada and the EU and wreaking havoc on the stock market. Isn't it great to have a businessman in charge of the country? It takes a special kind of moron to get the United States involved in a conflict with Canada, of all places... just wait until he renegotiates NAFTA.

The GOP congresscritters don't seem to be digging it, it's another crime against the Free Market, not that Republicans really believe in it. At any rate, I imagine the 'Heartland' base will be pissed off if the price of a sixpack goes up because of this- though, truth be told, Joe Sixpack usually gets dinged by Republican economic policy.