Monday, April 30, 2018

A Musical Counterpoint to Internet Misogyny

I decided that I would follow up yesterday's post with a musical coda...

One of the recording artists who caused my ears to perk up last year is Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, whose droll songs delivered in a deadpan style I found very amusing. Ms Barnett's new single, which incorporates Margaret Atwood's most famous quote, tackles online misogyny and its spillover into the real world:

The catchy melody belies the dark content of the lyrics, and the video images hilariously satirize the toxic internet culture which fosters misogyny, but one look at the comments on the video is enough to prove that Ms Barnett is one-hundred percent correct.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Bodyshame Boomerang

The big topic on certain midsized liberal blogs has been the threat posed by 'involuntarily celibate' men in the wake of the 'incel' terrorist attack in Toronto and the subsequent bloviation by an
'academic' who suggested a morally repugnant 'sexual redistribution' scheme. Note, thinking of sex as a commodity is creepy- sex is communication, recreation, procreation, and should be shared by consenting adults, preferably in committed relationships... it's not like pork bellies or tungsten.

Wading through the filth of the 'blackpilled' groups, I noticed a bizarre fixation with physical attributes that well-adjusted people tend not to even notice. This became especially apparent when a CHUD (Celibate Horrible Undesirable Deplorable, as opposed to Chad) started whining in this comment thread about how Chad's rock-hard jawline and physical features brought all of the women to his yard. This individual then made reference to his negative canthal tilt and wrote an all-caps cri du cul about how someone else should pay for 'corrective' plastic surgery. Yeah, you read that right- these idiots are obsessed with such physiognomical features as canthal tilt and philtrum to chin ratios... there is a meme about how the difference between Chad and a 'beta' male is just a few millimeters of bone. Suddenly, something clicked in my mind- these CHUDs were gaslighting each other and themselves about appearance.

There has been a long, disgusting history of bodyshaming women, lately a lot of it is in service to the Beauty Industrial Complex, though trolls engage in it for their entertainment. It's so bad that even a supremely physically conditioned woman is subject to bodyshaming. In an infamous 4chan hoax, a troglodyte tried to conjure up yet another physical attribute with which to cudgel women- the bikini bridge. Social media was yet again being weaponized against women. It seems to me that this bodyshaming has now boomeranged against the malcontents who seem to infest the 'chans' and make up the 'incel' community. The canthal tilt is the equivalent of the bikini bridge- the /B/tards were hoist on their own petards. I'd almost feel sorry for these creeps, but they are causing a lot of harm to innocent people.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Pro-Confederate Northern Aggression?

From the trials, travails, and tribulations of the troglodytes, we have this story of 'Crying Nazi' Chris Cantwell getting arrested for public intoxication and cursing in Leesburg, Virginia.

Cantwell exhibits a strange dualism, to be sure- he's a fan of the Confederacy, but as a New York-born New Hampshirite, he's also a perpetrator of Northern Aggression against the people of Virginia.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Viewing Art, Meeting an Artist

Today was dreary day, cool and overcast, punctuated by drizzle. Needing inspiration, but being far from Philomath, I decided to visit the lovely Union Church of Pocantico Hills before heading off to work. The Union Church is renowned for its stained-glass windows. The church was built in 1921, at the behest of John D. Rockefeller Jr. The rose window of the church was designed by Henri Matisse, to memorialize Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Marc Chagall, who had escaped from Nazi occupied France, was commissioned to design a stained-glass window depicting the Parable of the Good Samaritan to memorialize John D. Rockefeller, Jr. After the large 'Good Samaritan' window was designed, another Chagall design was commissioned to Michael Rockefeller, who had disappeared in the waters off Papua New Guinea. After that, the rest of the windows were replaced with Chagall-designed stained glass windows.

In the middle of my tour, a charming nonagenarian, accompanied by his lovely daughter, entered the church, and I told my wonderful tour guide that I would be perfectly happy for her to restart the tour for the benefit of the new arrivals. In the course of our conversation, the gentleman introduced himself as Bob Jones, an illustrator and commercial artist who worked as an inbetweener for the classic Warner Brothers animation studio, and designed the Esso Tiger (we all got a kick out of the fact that this commission was for a Rockefeller corporation, and we were in the heart of Rockefeller Country). He also did a lot of magazine illustration work (I made a joke about him working for the glossies). Mister Jones was a perfect gentleman, an interesting man with an impressive body of work, who worked with the Titans of Termite Terrace. Altogether, it was a great way to brighten up a dreary afternoon.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Science is GORGEOUS!

John Keats wrote 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' which is certainly true of the beautiful images of our galaxy obtained by the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft. Verily, these pictures are gorgeous.

The real beauty of these images is the impact they will have on astrophysics for the foreseeable future. I mean, hypervelocity stars... I don't think it gets cooler than that.

My favorite quote from the coverage of Gaia has got to be from Dr Jackie Faherty from AMNH: "This is the data we're going to be working on for the rest of my career. Probably no data set will rival this. It's the excitement of the day that we see it. It's why we were up at 5 a.m. to get here. It's exciting to be around each other and trying to get the data all at once. It's a day we're going to remember."

The future of many careers, all from one data set, from one space mission. Now, that's what I call a successful project! Getting back to Keats, he went on to write: "that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know", and that is a statement that I can't get behind! There's plenty we need to know, and the journey to knowledge doesn't get more gorgeous than Gaia.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Another Voice from my Childhood Silenced

It's with a sense of melancholy that I note the passing of Bob Dorough at the age of 94. Bob was the genius behind the Schoolhouse Rock! series of three minute educational musical vignettes. These wonderful cartoons combined Mr Dorough's jazzy musical stylings with important factual content.

To this day, I can't recite the preamble to the US Constitution without hearing this tune:

The Schoolhouse Rock! series was some of the classiest children's television content ever broadcast. Bob Dorough's catchy songs illuminated science and engineering:

They described grammatical concepts:

The first of Bob Donough's Saturday morning educational songs was 1973's Three Is a Magic Number:

The song was adapted by hip-hop group De La Soul in a fun track:

Here's a video of Bob Dorough performing the song live, after his explanation of the series genesis:

Bob Dorough collaborated with Miles Davis and, oddly enough, Sugar Ray Robinson, but for me he will always be as much of an educator as a jazz man, and I am grateful to him for this.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Special Election

The major local news story, which has statewide implications, is today's special election for New York's 37th Senate District, my district. I just got back from voting for Democrat Shelley Mayers, currently an assemblywoman from my beloved City of Y______. I used to be reticent about which candidate I voted for in any election, but those days are long past. I just can't vote for anyone running under the aegis of a party which has gone full Gohmert (never go full Gohmert).

The election is a crucial one, because it will determine whether or not the Democrats can take the NY State Senate. Because of this, over three million dollars have been poured into the district, mainly for attack ads against Mayers. Predictably, these ads have been hamfisted, trying to portray Mayers as a sinister 'DeBlasian' socialist. I like New York City mayor Bill De Blasio, so I find these ads hilarious.

Yesterday, WNYC's Brian Lehrer hosted both of the candidates on his radio show, and Killian ducked the issue of Trump and the national GOP's positions, which for me are the elephant in the room... especially since the GOP tax plan specifically targets the wealthy Blue State homeowners who inhabit the wealthier precincts of the 37th district. As I said before, there's no way in hell I will vote for any Republican candidate, and I suspect that a large cohort of formerly Republican voters in the region will act similarly.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Fibbin' Nazi Sequence

Poking around the t00bz, I found this hilarious picture of Donald Trump's head conforming to a Fibonacci spiral:

It's similar to a golden spiral, which is appropriate for a gilded turd like The Donald. It's also appropriate that a fibbin' Nazi would have a Fibonacci head.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

2018 Earth Day Musings

Shortly after dawn on Earth Day, I walked the site, opening up the parking lot gates for the public. It was 36F (2.2C) at 6:30 in the morning, in late April. Paradoxically, the cold Spring weather can be chalked up to warming in the Arctic, which disrupts the jet stream.

Having written this blog since December 2009, I have a pretty good indication of the conditions in my environment for the past eight and a quarter years. I can look back and figure out when the animals were becoming active, when the plants were starting to bud. This cold Spring, I've heard the spring peepers singing their love songs, I've seen the Canada geese building nests, heard the red-winged blackbirds trill to announce their presence. The nettles are poking up through the frost-bedizened ground. It doesn't FEEL right, though- wearing a watch cap and a fleece under my sweatshirt at this time of year is foreign to me. We humans have broken our planet (but not THE planet- there are plenty of organisms which will thrive in the fucked up world we're producing).

The current maladministration, with an Environmental Protection Agency being run into the ground by a fossil fuel flack, a rollback of fuel efficiency and carbon emission standards (though higher gas prices will curtail some driving), and general hostility to regulation, is an environmental disaster. The Resistance to the GOP, the drive to flip Congress to the Democratic Party, takes on additional urgency. Electing GWB in 2000 was a disaster- a regime hostile to environmental concerns at exactly the wrong time, and electing Donald Trump represented a doubling down of this huge environmental failing.

I'm an outdoorsy fellow- much of my work takes place outdoors, as does much of my recreation. I'm a biology nerd as well. I value our fellow denizens of Earth, but it goes beyond that- environmentalism is about human health, human happiness, human quality of life. The environment we are altering is our environment, destroying it would be our collective suicide... and that is too high a price to pay for maximizing next quarter's profits, or 'owning the libs', or trying to make up for one's deficiencies as a tough guy.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

My Entire Job Experience, Encapsulated in One Day

I often joke that my job is cushy, except when it's not. It ranges from 'wow, I'm having fun' to 'oh, shit', with a baseline of decent job satisfaction. Yesterday, ran the gamut... We are having our family friendly Spring fundraiser this weekend- it's the kickoff of our open season, the first event which has the seasonal staff back in force, doing their thing. I arrived at work, and there was a fair degree of prep work going on. I helped one of the IT guys move some equipment- he's a good friend and has done me some favors in the past when I've had computer issues, plus I like to think that I am, in the grand scheme of things, one of the people who contributes to the success of others rather than undermining them. I also had to open up the facility for an employee of another not-for-profit which is helping us with our fundraiser so he could drop off some material that we would be borrowing for the event. Again, I like it when everybody benefits, and both of our organizations are healthier for the collaboration.

After locking things up, I returned to the main parking lot, and the building in which my usual office is located. I noticed three individuals standing in a picnic area next to the parking lot, and was surprised when they greeted me by name at a distance of fifty feet or so. I had met these friendly folks when they attended our big Fall fundraiser, and they remembered me. They had an errand in the locality, and were planning their return to New Jersey when they decided to stop by after grabbing dinner in the locality. I spent a half-hour chatting with them about the upcoming event season, local scuttlebutt, and even about affordable places in the Lower Hudson region (one of them is totally enamored of the area and would like to move here). After a lovely discussion, I suggested that they check out my neck of the woods, the Yonkers/Bronx border region- go to a couple of bars, see if they could find out anything about available apartments. All told, it was a fun time, and I was tickled pink that they would stop over to visit me. It doesn't happen very often, but a few times a year, somebody that I have met through our events will drop by for a friendly chat.

About two hours after the trio departed, I received a phone call from the company which monitors our alarm systems. A motion detector in the maintenance garage of another site had been activated. The standard procedure is to instruct the monitoring staff to hold off on dispatching the police so we can perform an in-house check of the premises and make the determination ourselves. Generally speaking, one motion detector going off is a mouse- if multiple motion detectors go off, it's a marauder. One one occasion, we had a repeating activation of one particular motion detector, and I ascertained that convection currents from a radiator were moving a drape, and setting the detector off- shutting the radiator valve stopped that. At any rate, alarm activations are rare, but they do happen.

I won't say that burglar alarm activations are routine- even though I have never personally encountered someone breaking-and-entering, the very act of going to the site of an alarm, even one set off by a mouse, isn't a picnic. Last night, I drove to the site and there was a car parked in the entrance driveway, with its headlights on. This is not usual, and my immediate thought was: "Sketchy car, suggestive timing." I drove to the exit gate driveway, killed the headlights of the car, and quietly opened the exit gate. I drove onto the site and locked the gate behind me, not wanting any surprises. I exited the car, and ducked behind a tree in order to call the local police non-emergency number. I explained who I was, and where I was, and gave a quick précis of the situation- I had received a motion detector alarm, and arrived onsite to investigate, whereupon I saw a car which didn't belong in that spot at that time. I gave a description of myself and what I was wearing, told the desk sergeant that my car was locked onsite, and that I would be checking out the alarm panel and the buildings. I'm not the sort of person who gets scared easily, and I generally trust my instincts, my knowledge of my home turf, and a certain physical competence when it comes to conflicts- I figured the police could check out the car while I checked out the site. That being said, I went slinking from shadow to shadow as I made my way to the maintenance garage, which happens to be the site of the main alarm panel. The doors were securely locked, there was no sign of intruders- everything was in good order.

When the desk sergeant called me back on the company phone, he informed me that the driver of the car had broken down and was awaiting a tow truck. I told him that everything on site was in good order, and that the whole incident appeared to be a bizarre coincidence. I waited onsite until a flatbed tow truck arrived and the car was removed from our driveway. My initial 'OH, SHIT!' moment turned out to be no big deal.

It was one of those nights which served as a perfect illustration of the job- an absolute joy one moment, a task fraught with tension another moment. I know which of these moments I prefer, but I like to think that I handled both with equal aplomb.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Shock that Still Resonates

It's been nineteen years since the Columbine school mass-shooting, and the pain is still palpable. For nineteen years, there's been a lot of talk, but no action, regarding mass-shootings, and one got the sense that people were feeling helpless in the face of pervasive gun culture and a powerful gun lobby. The pain, the shock, the loss still reverberate, but kids who weren't even born when the massacre took place have decided to push back with a series of school walkouts throughout the country. This walkout has received support from several VIPs.

The student movement against gun violence keeps gaining momentum, these teenagers who have never lived in a world in which mass school shootings were unknown are displaying a wisdom and a courage that previous cohorts of teenagers weren't able to muster on such a scale. Being organized, being righteous, being savvy, these kids are going to accomplish something transformative- I predict some amazing things from this generation and I am profoundly grateful.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Death of a Real News Titan

On Sunday, I wrote a piece about the death of a fake news man, so it's appropriate to write about the death of a real newsman- we lost NPR's Carl Kasell last Tuesday. I have long been a fan of Carl Kasell, the consummate news anchor... the serious, unflappable reporter with the deep, well-modulated voice and the perfect sense of gravitas. The man was also extremely funny, as his tenure on Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me proved- his chemistry with Peter Sagal was genuine.

Carl Kasell was one of the greats- he was level-headed and trustworthy, he never sensationalized the news, he was a steadying force in times of tragedy, who just happened to have comedic flair when it was appropriate. Here's a great interview with Mr Kasell:

It's been a while since I've spent a Saturday morning with Mr Kasell, but he was always good company.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Dowager Dies

The death of Barbara Bush at the age of 92 has dominated the airwaves today, and the hagiography has been nauseating. The coverage of her death is glossing over just how horrible Babs was. Her comment on Good Morning America two days before her son's disastrous attack on the innocent people of Iraq is about as repulsive as a statement can be:

But why should we hear about body bags and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or that or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it's not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that, and watch him suffer?

Yeah, why concern yourself with contemplating the hell that your idiot son is going to rain on some poor brown people half a world away? Hell, those benighted barbarians don't count as people, none of them has ever been Junior League material!

Almost as repulsive as that quote was her statement on Marketplace regarding the post Katrina evacuees hunkered down in the Houston Astrodome:

What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.

This statement was completely dehumanizing, characterizing people who had lost loved ones, who had lost family homes which represented their sole intergenerational wealth, who had been forced to flee from their vibrant city, their incredibly rich culture, as a bunch of lucky duckies. I suspect that Babs, in an unguarded moment, would have told anyone near enough to hear that black people don't feel pain like white people do.

I know that the cliche is to not speak ill of the dead, but this is a copout- awful people shouldn't be given a pass just because they croak. Barbara Bush wasn't the saintly matron being portrayed in the media, and being one of those liberals (cursed to remember things), I won't give her a pass. I'm just glad that she stuck around long enough to watch her favorite son get his ass whipped by a vulgar boob, and the political party that she was affiliated with degenerate from a patrician enterprise to a den of cretins and thugs. Of course, being a Bush, she wouldn't have been disturbed by the Nazis in the Republican Party.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Oh, the Lewd Hannity?

Perhaps the greatest source of schadenfreude is the revelation that a moral scold is guilty of behavior that doesn’t jibe with the code of conduct he claims to espouse. That being said, it was a real hoot to learn that Fox’s Sean Hannity is a client of Trump’s incompetent ‘fixer’, Michael Cohen:

Given Cohen’s portfolio as a conduit for hush money payments to porn stars, it would be irresponsible not to speculate why Hannity would need to avail himself of his services. The funniest take on it that I have read was the suggestion that Seannie had a tryst with Milo Yabbadabbadopolous.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fake News Juggernaut Dies

Fittingly, purveyor of paranormal and paranoiac misinformation Art Bell died on Friday the 13th. Bell was the originator of the syndicated Coast-to-Coast AM radio show, which began in 1992 as yet another right-leaning AM radio talk show, but quickly moved into paranormal subjects, such as Bigfoot, UFOs, psychic ability, and other exemplars of WOO! Until recently, I thought that Bell pioneered the late night weird radio format, but it turns out that he largely took the schtick of John Nebel, a late-night radio host who broadcast tales from crazy people from the 1950s to the 1970s. Bell took the Nebel model and ran with it, far.

As someone who has long worked an unconventional schedule, I have to confess that I have on occasion hate-listened to 'late night Sasquatch radio'- I am a fan of weird pulp fiction, and Bell's guests were spinning yarns that they, unfortunately, tried to pass off as true. Bell played straight man to the various lunatics that he invited to the public airwaves- he maintained a neutral pose: certainly not skeptical, but not particularly credulous. While he took calls from random weirdos with bizarre narratives, many of his guests were well-known weirdos such as UFO encounter auteur Whitley Streiber, reactionary religious crank Malachi Martin, ancient aliens loon Erich von Däniken, and clairvoyant grifter/doomsayer Ed Dames. UFOs, demonic possession, remote viewing, cryptids, hybrids, bottomless pits, solar flare 'killshots', and killer Planet Xes- all sorts of bizarre topics were aired by Bell. Basically, anybody who cheated on their 'psionics roll' in the role-playing game we call life was a prime candidate for guest spot on 'Coast'.

A search of YouTube will uncover a plethora of full 'Coast to Coast AM' episodes, but I wouldn't torture my readers with three hour psychological onslaughts (yeah, do you really want to listen to three hours of a fake psychic trying to spy on Satan with clairvoyance?). There are a couple of shorter clips of Bell doing his thing, such as this clip of him with von Däniken:

Here's another clip of Bell receiving a call from some guy claiming to have worked at Area 51:

If you have a strong stomach for this sort of material, there's a shitton of it out there. Personally, I believe that Art Bell had a pernicious effect on our society, paving the way for such cranks and hucksters as Alex Jones and newcomer Liz Crokin. The garbage 'Ancient Aliens' content on formerly respectable cable TV channels can be laid at his feet to a large extent. He made his living peddling parsnormal pablum and paranoia, preying on the mentally ill, the misinformed, the credulous... kinda like a secular version of a particularly scammy preacher. Sure, in small doses it can be entertaining in the same fashion as the Weekly World News was entertaining, but too many people have been snookered by this sort of crap.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Wuxia Wonderland

Last Tuesday, at bar trivia, I received some fantastic news from one of my teammates- the Yonkers location of the Alamo Drafthouse will be showing one of my all-time favorite films, the 1978 Shaw Brothers classic Five Deadly Venoms. As soon as the trivia competition was over, my friend bought a bunch of tickets so we could see this film on the big screen. Five Deadly Venoms is a classic martial arts film, beginning with the dying master of the Venom Clan tasking his last student, Yang Tieh, with protecting the clan's reputation by investigating five former pupils, ascertaining whether they are using their skills for good or ill. The beginning monologue, accompanying a montage of the five 'venoms' displaying their animal-inspired fighting styles, is a classic moment in the kung fu genre:

Trained in the rudiments of the five venom styles, Yang Tieh is informed that he is no match for any of the 'venoms', so his best course of action is to determine which, if any, of the former pupils has remained righteous, and to team up with them to defeat the malfeasors. Dissembling as a smudge-faced bumpkin, he starts his investigation, which is complicated by the fact that the five deadly venoms wear animal-themed masks while they are practicing their fighting arts.

The great appeal of Five Deadly Venoms is its combination of mystery movie with martial arts action. Yang Tieh has to use his wits to suss out the situation, and risk his safety by placing his trust in one or more of his predecessors. The martial arts in the film are fantastic, with each fighter practicing a highly distinctive, outlandish style of combat, each with its strengths and vulnerabilities (the discovery of the weaknesses of the fighters is a major plot point of the film). The movie has its emotional moments, with the death of one of the 'good guys' being especially tragic and most memorable. It even has a mild political subtext, with corrupt magistrates being just as much of a scourge on society as rogue martial artists.

As often as I've seen the film, I've never seen it on the big screen before, so I am excited for the opportunity to watch it with good friends in a well-appointed theater with a good beer selection.

EDIT: It's funny how the mind works- I remembered seeing the film on the big screen before while the manager of the theater was mentioning other Shaw Brothers films- he mentioned the film Dirty Ho and I immediately recalled going to Lincoln Center in Manhattan to see this remastered version of Five Deadly Venoms. I've seen the film enough to not even recall having seen the clean print projected on a full-sized silver screen.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Oxy Addiction, or Love is the Drug

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 neurologist Dr Bianca Jones Marlin of Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute. Dr Jones Marlin was lecturing on the hormone oxytocin and its effects on child-rearing.

Dr Jones Marlin began the lecture by 'setting the mood', playing a bit of Marvin Gaye, and stating that oxytocin changes a subject's internal state, dictating the subject's behavior. Oxytocin sets the mood, effecting how parents and babies interact, how parenthood biologically occurs. Babies have a limited repertoire of responses to stimuli- their laughter or crying elicits responses from adults. To illustrate this, she showed a video of two babies laughing, then showed a video of a crying baby, commenting 'somebody let that baby cry while videotaping it', then admitted that it was her daughter (who was in the audience with the good doctor's husband).

Dr Jones Marlin studies the effects of oxytocin on mice in her laboratory. Baby mice make ultrasonic vocalizations when they are cold, or uncomfortable. These cries alert adult mice- a mother mouse will retrieve a pup and place it in the nest while virgin female mice tend to ignore or even cannibalize crying pups. Motherhood changes the response of a mouse to a pup's vocalizations, and oxytocin is the trigger.

Oxytocin is produced in the paraventricular nucleus of the brain's hypothalamus and is released by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Oxytocin is released during sex (especially during orgasms), birth (uterine contractions cause the release), breast feeding, touch, and eye contact. Among prairie voles, oxytocin plays a role in monogamy- remove oxytocin and the voles sleep around. Oxytocin has also been implicated in human ethnocentrism, leading to newspaper headlines such as 'The Dark Side of Oxytocin' and 'Oxytocin/Schmoxytocin'.

Dr Jones Marlin wanted to study the hard science of oxytocin... Where does it act? When does it act? How does it change behavior? She specifically wanted to study the auditory factors, the sound cues which trigger pup retrieval in mothers and cannibalism in virgin mice. There are receptors in the auditory cortex of a mouse's brain which react to oxytocin. The left-side hearing area (corresponding to Broca's area and Wernicke's area) has double the amount of oxytocin receptors as the right-side does. This finding was an early discovery of lateralization in a non-human brain. Hormones such as oxytocin can play excitatory or inhibitory functions in cells. Dr Jones Marlin made a funny school bus analogy- excitatory hormones are the mischievous kids on the bus, riling things up, while inhibatory hormones are the quiet kids on the bus. Oxytocin is found in inhibitory neurons which regulate maternal roles. Introducing Muscimol to the left auditory cortex prevents pup retrieval by experienced mice- it makes mice into bad moms by interfering with distress messages.

After locating the region of the brain effected by oxytocin, Dr Jones Marlin wanted to find the time scale on which it operated. Oxytocin can be injected into mice, but the production of endogenous oxytocin can be induced through optogenetics- specifically, blue light can activate the release of oxytocin in transgenic mice with added DNA from marine algae. In Dr Jones Marlin's research, she stimulated oxytocin release every three hours for three days straight- she quipped that it was "a long PhD". Inducing oxytocin production in virgin mice can make them into successful 'nannies'- they will retrieve pups which make distress cries and return them to their nest.

The 'language' of the brain is electrical- the neurons speak through spikes of electrical activity. To measure this, a craniotomy is performed on a subject and a glass 'straw' is inserted- a metal probe in the straw can 'listen in' on the spiking electrical output of the neurons. Among subject mice, the neurons of the auditory cortex would spike when a recording of a pup's cries could be heard. Among mother mice, the neurons would fire at the same time when a cry was played, forming a coherent code. A naive virgin mouse has neurons that fire, but there is no encoding of a message. An experienced virgin mouse, exposed to oxytocin, learns the coherent code. Bad nannies can be made into good nannies. Neurons in the hearing area of the brains of transgenic mice can be exposed to blue light, which floods the brain with oxytocin- paired with a pup's cry, a coherent response emerges, and a subject mouse goes from a 'virgin' response to a 'mom' response. The brain knows to release oxytocin during birth- release is triggered by the uterine contractions.

Dr Jones Marlin then went on to discuss her personal reasons for studying oxytocin... In the United States, four to seven children die each day from abuse or neglect. The brains of neglected children have less white matter than the brains of well-treated children, and individuals who suffered child neglect have a life expectancy twenty years shorter than that of their well-treated peers. Dr Jones Marlin took time to thank her great parents, who cared for foster children. She was motivated by the lack of agency that her foster siblings expressed. She wanted to study how parents can be better, by studying transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.

Dr Jones Marlin's lecture was followed by a Q&A session. The first question regarded the role of oxytocin in relationships- it is released through interaction and strengthens bonds. Another question regarded post-partum depression, specifically if oxytocin could help alleviate it- more research is needed in humans. Some bastard in the audience asked if injections of oxytocin could make male mice into good nannies. The gestation period of a mouse is twenty-one days. Males will often eat pups, but twenty-one days after copulation, they will cease this behavior, but pup retrieval is exclusive to female mice. After five days of oxytocin injection with no change in behavior, the injections were stopped. At one point in her talk, Dr Jones Marlin's daughter cried out, and the good doctor joked about leaving the stage to retrieve her, but her husband soon had matters well taken care of.

Another question regarded the interaction between oxytocin and cortisol- oytocin tends to calm individuals, while cortisol is a stress hormone, but their interaction is largely unknown. Yet another question regarded the stimulation of oxytocin production, and Dr Jones Marlin stated that the best answer is "SEX!" She joked that using blue light was impractical, then wondered aloud about why red lights are used to denote the vice district (I would suspect that it's because red light tends to interfere less with night vision). Dr Jones Marlin dismissed the idea of oxytocin supplements: "I would not buy them off of Amazon." She noted that studies on autistic persons suggested that oxytocin improves eye contact, then reiterated that the best way to promote oxytocin production was to make eye contact, to look at people, to kiss, to touch, to have sex. Now, that's not only good advice, but it's good SCIENCE!

Dr Jones Marlin ended the Q&A session by noting that, as a basic biological scientist, she would be at a disadvantage listing the prosocial effects of oxytocin. She studies the biological underpinnings of behavior. She studies the mechanisms so that others can use her research to study the effects of oxytocin in autistic persons or the possible role of oxytocin in countering child abuse.

Here's a 2014 video of Dr Jones Marlin talking about her inspiration for becoming a neuroscientist, and explaining her methodology for measuring neuron activity:

Here's a cute recent video of the good doctor on a local news broadcast taking questions from laypersons on the street:

As you can tell, she is a good sport as well as being a great neuroscientist. Kudos to Dr Jones Marlin for a fantastic lecture. Thanks to Dorian and Margaret and the staff of the beautiful Bell House for presenting another great Secret Science Club event, and high fives to Dr Jones Marlin's nice husband and gorgeous baby girl for their good fortune in having such a wonderful lady in their lives.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Title Had Better Be Pounded in the Butt by the Chuck Tingle RPG

I'm going to be heading down to Brooklyn, King of Counties and County of Kings for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, which promises to be about oxytocin, the 'love drug'. On the topic of love, there's some exciting news regarding Chuck Tingle, whose life mission is to prove that love is real. I haven't covered Chuck much, but he did a great job of exposing right-wing foolishness concerning Hugo awards.

The big news is that Chuck is working on a Tingleverse Role-Playing Game, so mere mortals can emulate Tingleian protagonists without danger of injury. I'm hoping that a vampire night bus is a character option supported by the rules.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Promise of Spring

So far, this spring has been pretty lackluster- it's been cold, with a lot of precipitation, including some wet snow mixed with rain last night. There are some signs of better weather to come, with the crocuses and daffodils coming in, in defiance of the cold:

In even more heartwarming news, I heard the first of the spring peepers of the season early Tuesday morning. There may still be piles of snow in the parking lots, but it's spring in the ponds. I needed this break after the heavy posts of the last couple of days.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Brexit and the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which is regarded as the end to The Troubles, the largely, though by no means entirely, sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. The issue of the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland divide seemed to become all-but-moot when Poblacht na hÉireann and the United Kingdom joined the European Union and the border between the two nations basically melted away.

With the 'success' of the Brexit vote, the issue of border control has risen like a zombie (RIP Dolores) to trouble policymakers and inhabitants of both sides of the border. Discussions concerning the border have involved invoking the specter of paramilitary activity as well as the issue of tariffs and trade. At any rate, 55% of the residents of Northern Ireland voted against the Brexit, and thousands of northerners who commute to the Republic of Ireland would be adversely affected if passport controls were instituted. Long-term, the pro-Republic Sinn Fein party considers the border issue to be a possible factor in Irish reunification, which would be triggered if a majority of voters on both sides of the border vote in favor of it. It's a long shot, but it could be that the old song becomes a prophecy:

The twenty years of peace bodes well for a peaceful solution to the border issue, even though workers could be boned if the border is 'hardened'. I doubt that the bad old days described by my favorite Welsh songsters, who condemned both sides of the violent conflict, will come back to plague the border:

Of course, there are always the dead-enders who might cause problems, but they thankfully seem to be kicking the bucket due to old age.

Monday, April 9, 2018


I'm not a timorous fellow, but I am concerned that the ascent of John Bolton to the position of national security advisor bodes ill for the nation. With Trump 'vowing' a response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria, and the FBI's seizure of Michael Cohen's records, I really think that the Trump maladministration may escalate the American role in the Syrian conflict. Even worse, with a psycho like Bolton having the president's ear, I am concerned that any escalation may blow up into an an attack on Iran. The neocons have always had a hardon for Iran, and even though some of them joined the 'never Trump' contingent, I think that an attack on Iran would bring all of them to Trump's yard.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Gilded Shithole

Another post about a local news story- there was a fatal fire in an apartment at Trump Tower yesterday, a four-alarmer which claimed the life of a 67 year old art dealer and resulted in injuries to six firefighters. This has been the second fire this year in the building, which was completed before the installation of sprinkler systems was mandatory. When legislation which would have required the retrofitting of buildings with sprinkler systems was proposed, Trump lobbied against it.

Despite his gaudy, gilded image, 'The Donald' is still a slumlord at heart. He employed undocumented immigrants to build Trump Tower, stiffed them on their paychecks, and failed to provide them with safety equipment. The gold-leaf in the building lobby probably hides sub-standard wiring and other code violations. I'm one of those crazy individuals who believes that regulations are important, that tenants should expect safe conditions in their dwellings. At the very least, fire suppression systems should be in place in big buildings to protect firefighting personnel. I imagine that the high-rollers who inhabit Trump's high rise death trap believed that their apartments were safe, but placing one's trust in Donald Trump is perilous.

Friday, April 6, 2018

You Have Brought Shame on Your Dojo

One of the big local stories of the week has been the arrest of UFC fighter Conor McGregor on multiple charges for attacking a bus filled with other fighters with a hand truck. Ordinarily, in circumstances like this I would crack a joke like 'the hand truck, an elegant weapon for a more civilized age', but this incident sticks in my craw. Two fighters are unable to compete due to injuries sustained in the incident.

I'm a fighter, and I coach children in judo classes. As odd as it seems, there has to be a moral component to potentially dangerous sports- we stress fair play and concern for each others' welfare. Most importantly, keep the brawling in the ring, on the mat, in the dojo. McGregor cheap-shotted a bunch of unsuspecting persons with a potentially deadly improvised weapon, and two people were injured, and it affected their livelihoods. It's one thing to knock somebody's ass sideways in a match (injuries happen, they are even to be expected), but this was stupid and craven.

Years ago, when mixed martial arts were just gaining in popularity,somebody asked sensei (the large, formidable gentleman in the right background of this picture) what he thought of MMA, and I will never forget his response: "It lacks warmth." In our dojo, there is a welcoming atmosphere, an emphasis on learning together, on improving together. Anyone who would think to assault another player would be sent packing. Every once in a while, a parent will ask me about the safety of our sport, and the standard answer I have come to make is: "Look at how many of us have gray hair, or no hair, and are still playing the sport. This isn't true of most contact sports." Not having assholes in the dojo is a big factor in our longevity as players. I know McGregor is involved in a different, but related sport. He's not the norm- most fighters are good people, you can pick them out on the subway, and we like to talk, sometimes even having friends in common (usually Gentle Jimmy G). Stupid, gratuitously violent bullshit affects all of us negatively, and McGregor really, really messed up- hopefully, the governing body of the UFC will sanction him, but I suspect that the monied interests won't do so because notoriety tends to bring in cash.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Dada Turned Deadly

While I was driving home from my vacation in Virginia, I was listening to the YouTube campus shooting coverage in realtime. The initial shocker was the reveal that the perpetrator was a woman. My initial suspicion was that a right-winger, incensed by YouTube's decision to remove gun-related videos, had decided to shoot up the joint. As details emerged, I was starting to believe that the shooting was a domestic violence incident- a post breakup rampage. The truth of the matter was so much weirder- the shooter seems to have been incensed that YouTube policies had cost her ad revenue. Her parents had alerted the authorities that she had gone missing, and the police had located her, but she was released, in possession of the gun.

The real bizarre thing is that Nasim Sabz' videos are now garnering more views than they ever did while she was alive, and boy howdy are they outré. They have a sort of Dada-esque quality to them, being farragoes of chiptunes and outlandish imagery:

It is a pity that she decided to take up arms against a sea of troubles, injuring three, terrorizing hundreds, and killing herself. She could have pursued a career in stoner comedy if only she hadn't been able to obtain a firearm.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

No Simulacrum He, No Sanitizing Him

On this half-century anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King's assassination, I figured that I would defer to Dr Cornel West, who was featured in a remarkable segment on the Brian Lehrer Show. I like Cornel West, he's an important voice in the public discourse, and even as a secular person I occasionally enjoy the preacher's cadence he employs.

Dr West has the audacity to address Dr King's latter-day despair, verging on nihilism at times. It's a refreshing antidote to the overly sanitized version of King's life, calling attention to the pushback King received from the American political mainstream, even from the liberal establishment of the time. King was attacked for his opposition to the Vietnam War, he was criticized for his skepticism regarding a social system which was hopelessly corrupt. Dr West cites Harry Belafonte quoting King's despair: "Am I integrating into a burning house?"

Dr King decried societal failures concerning war, poverty, materialism, and racism- Dr West notes that we are still not doing well in these areas. King was a radical, an anti-imperialist. West states, "Martin King was the real thing- he was not a semblance, he was not a simulacra of the real thing." He also calls out those who claim to honor King, but don't challenge empire, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia. West is describing intersectionality, an interlocking approach to resistance to power, combining feminism, economic justice, LGBTQ rights. King was killed when he was in Memphis supporting a labor action. A year before his death, he had come out against the War in Vietnam, exacerbating rumors that he was a Communist.

King was perceived as a dangerous radical when he was murdered at the age of thirty-nine. He was certainly not hailed as the hero that he is largely portrayed as now, and he most certainly wasn't the 'safe', sanitized figure that the media wants to replace him with, burying the moral titan whose challenges to the racist, patriarchal, capitalist, imperialist status quo are as cogent now as ever.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hitting the Road

My current vacation is drawing to an end, and I will be hitting the road shortly. It was a good time, I spent Easter with a good chunk of family and spoke to other family members on the phone. Everybody is doing well, everybody is busy in a good way. It feels a bit strange to have been away from the job for over a week, which means that I really haven't taken a standard vacation in a long while. I have had a run of short vacations, a couple of days to make a long weekend here and there, but it was good to get out of Dodge for a while. It'll be good to be back in the Homeland soon, but I'm the only one of my siblings who is still there.

At any rate, I plan on taking it easy on the ride home, leaving well after the morning rush hour. As much as I kvetch about driving, a long highway trip is about the least annoying driving a person can do.

Monday, April 2, 2018

No Need for a Nutcracker

I don't often eat lobster- it's expensive, so I only buy it on rare occasions when it is on sale. I also never order it in restaurants because I would make a scene. On those rare occasions when I eat the things, I put on a ratty T-shirt and shorts, keep a bucket of soapy water nearby, and eat outside. I pretty much disarticulate the whole bug with my bare hands, sea otter style, and extract every available molecule of meat from the exoskeleton, even the small muscles in the joint connecting the walking legs to the body. and the flat bits of meat inside the tail fins. Naturally, I eat the green globule behind the head of the lobster.

My mom had a frozen lobster tail that we decided to split for a real 'mixed bag' dinner. I broiled it with butter and lemon pepper. It wasn't as messy as a whole lobster, but I ended up disarticulating the shell and splitting the meat with mom. At the end, there was just a pile of ineffectual armor plates:

I realized that I eat lobster just like the mermaid in Splash did:

When you're built like a skull-cracker, you don't need a nutcracker.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Easter, No Foolin'

Today was a great day, mom and I stayed over at my sister's place in the near DC suburbs (within Metro range) so we could maximize time with my sister, her husband, and their sons. The interplay between the boys is hilarious- a mixture of mild smack talk and genuine affection. My brother-in-law, ever the scientist, decided to conduct an experiment- he hid Easter eggs for the young 'uns, then timed each of them, replacing the eggs in the same spot. Then, he had the kids hide the eggs for the adults, timing each of us. He graphed the results of the egg hunts, showing an early spike in egg discoveries, then a leveling off as the more difficult hiding spots were sought, with a second small spike as hiding spots are ruled out. This is how science nerds have fun.

After dinner, mom and I took Boy B, my oldest nephew, to Dulles Airport for his flight back to school. He is in his last semester of senior year, and will be graduating in May. He's a mechanical engineering major, so he has a couple of projects to finish before graduation. Mom and I figured we'd save my sister a trip to the airport, because mom lives in a further DC suburb not too far from Dulles. Besides, it gave us more time to talk with the lad, and the topic of a summer trip to New York came up. If he comes to NYC with his girlfriend, I'll have an opportunity to buy event tickets for them ahead of time. It's always good to have a connection on the inside when you visit a place.

Easter was a fun time- there was some serious nerding out, which I consider fun.