Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Most Symbolic March

I missed the marches against family separation today- we've been short staffed at work, so I had to work both graveyard and afternoon shifts today. The march in New York City was particularly well-routed, the thousands of marchers began at Foley Square in Manhattan, the civic heart of Manhattan, went over the Brooklyn Bridge, which affords spectacular views of New York harbor, through which countless immigrants, including my great-grandparents and my mom's dad, who was born at sea between Buenos Aires and New York. The march ended with a rally in Cadman Plaza, in the civic heart of Brooklyn. I like the significance of linking both borough government centers, a nice show of rejection for federal policies which don't comport with our prevailing values. While I didn't have an opportunity to march, I am pleased that more people attended the major marches than attended Vulgarmort's inauguration.

In morning, before I left work, I was participating in a discussion of various slogans to put on signs at the march. My contribution was: "You can't be the party of family values if you don't value families." Another possible slogan for me would have been: "Juntos somos poderosos, juntos podemos cambiar el mundo." Alas, a particularly rough weekend at work sidelined me.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Genre Gadfly Gone

This is going to be a quick ‘placeholder’ post which I will elaborate on later... Harlan Ellison, the writer most responsible for the American ‘New Wave’ in science fiction, has died:

He was a controversial figure- he was notoriously litigious, and groped Connie Willis at the 2006 Nebula Awards, but he also championed women, people of color, and LGBTQ science fiction writers at a time when the genre was overwhelmingly white and male. His 1967 anthology Dangerous Visions was a game changer in the field.

I will elaborate on this post tonight- Ellison’s body of work is formidable, and his legacy complicated, so I have some homework to do. At any rate, the science fiction community has lost another titan.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


Well, it happened again, like we knew it would- five people were killed in a mass workplace shooting at Annapolis, MD paper Capital Gazette. Among the slain was editor Rob Hiaasen, brother of journalist and novelist Carl Hiaasen. The alleged gunman had a long-standing feud with the staff of the paper for reporting on his stalking conviction (violence against women being a common feature among mass shooters) and just about everyone in Anne Arundel County- and as a bonus, he seemed to be a fan of a certain reporter-threatening ogre.

I am flabbergasted that an individual with his rap sheet and lengthy history of threats could own a firearm- he seems like exactly the violent sociopath that gun laws are supposed to weed out. As for the customary "thoughts and prayers" spouted by everybody who wants to distract the public from the need for gun regulation, reporter Selene San Felice has the last word:

“I just don’t know what I want right now, right? But I’m gonna need more than a couple days of news coverage and some thoughts and prayers because it’s — our whole lives have been shattered. And so thanks for your prayers, but couldn’t give a fuck about them if there’s nothing else.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Those Eyes! Those Cheekbones! Those Policy Positions!

The big local story, which has gone national, is the victory of 28 year old political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over ten term incumbent Joe Crowley in NY's 14 district. Her political ad was powerful, and if you watched it with the sound turned off, it could be the trailer for a TV drama about a young professional trying to make it in the city, because Ms Ocasio-Cortez looks like an actress-model:

You could set your watch to those cheekbones! I think the mainstream media is going to freak out about her because she is too gorgeous not to put on the TeeVee, and she is too intelligent to fall into their stupid traps, with even 'liberal' NPR trying to get her to badmouth Nancy Pelosi. One take on Ms Ocasio-Cortez' message discipline is that she grew up in the social media mindscape, so she knows that unconsidered utterances never go away.

I am also impressed by her unabashedly socialist platform: Medicare for all, the disbandment of the hopelessly corrupted ICE, and a real effort to mitigate climate change. She is as passionate as she is disciplined, advocating policies which would actually benefit those who suffer from genuine economic anxiety. In a year in which women will play a major, hopefully a transformative, role in politics, she is a pacesetter.

As if all weren't enough to make you swoon, she has an asteroid named after her. Not every rising star has a space rock.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Simple Solution to a 'Final Solution'

Today was a pretty shitty day from a news standpoint, what with two really bad Supreme Court decisions (but, hey, at least Susan Sarandon didn't have to sully her moreliberalthanthou purity), but I will be headed out for Tuesday night bar trivia, and don't have the time to write a detailed post. Here's a quick bit about a has-been troll making threatening comments about journalists...

Milo Yiannopoulos has started issuing reporters threatening messages when asked to comment for stories.

“I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight,” the right-wing nationalist told Observer over text message, in response to a longer feature in development about an Upper East Side restaurant he is said to frequent.

The simple solution to this kerfuffle is to stop asking this asshole to comment for stories. His fifteen minutes of fame is over- hell, I even feel dirty posting about him, but then this is low-hanging fruit on a barley-drinking night.

Monday, June 25, 2018

My, What Teeth You Have!

In the apartment directly upstairs from me, there lives a lovely family. Mom is an immigrant from Ireland, and she has two wonderful children, a boy and a girl, who she has enrolled in all sorts of activities. Besides playing basketball and soccer for their grammar school< the kids play for a Gaelic Athletic Association affiliated league. The kids compete in Gaelic football and hurling/camogie. For the past two Saturdays, the kids have had all-day tournaments, so mom asked me if I could let the family dog out in the middle of the day so he could pee.

Georgie is a wee little terrier mix, about the size of my beloved Ginger. He's a cute little fuzzball:

Being a terrier, he's got a bit of a fierce streak... His idea of play is to fetch a ball, and then to viciously maul it in front of you, biting into it and shaking it until you distract him with another toy, say a short length of rope with afraid not. Here's a picture of his handiwork:

Look at those choppers, getting ready to sink into that poor, abused soccer ball as soon as I move to snatch it up and throw it across the yard. I'm glad he likes me!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Annual Pride Day Post

Here's wishing all of my LGBTQ readers a happy Pride Day. The New York parade has a different route this year to accommodate more marchers. This year's parade should take on an added significance as a memorial for local gay rights pioneer Dick Leitsch, who died last week. Also, the Pride festivals feed into the Resistance movement because Trump has been bad for LGBTQ rights, among other things nominating judges who decide to legalize bigotry under the guise of religious freedom.

Since last year, I have had LGBTQ friends express to me their fears about the direction in which our government has been heading. One friend even told me that she was afraid to marry her partner because she was concerned that she'd end up on a watch list. As someone playing the game of Life on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, I can't even begin to comprehend that sort of fear.

Anyway, here's hoping that everyone is safe and happy on Pride Day. If things do get worse in the short term, you have friends and allies... and we'll figure out a way to make sure that things get better in the long term.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Architect of Much of My Musical Taste

On Tuesday, the local NPR affiliate had a really great interview with Seymour Stein, who co-founded the Sire Records label with musical genius Richard Gottehrer. Mr Stein was one of the godfathers of the NYC punk scene of the 1970s, having signed my beloved Ramones, Talking Heads and Dead Boys. He also brought such overseas bands as the Undertones (Derry's Ramones), Echo and the Bunnymen, the Smiths. He also signed the Pretenders and some woman named Ciccone, who sang lead on some Sex Pistols effort. He also signed the Replacements and Ice-T to Sire Records.

Needless to say, Seymour Stein has had an outsized influence on my musical tastes, since I was a wee lad. The list of artists recording for Sire encompasses much of my music collection. One of my favorite stories about Seymour Stein was recounted by Joey Ramone's brother Mickey Leigh in his memoir I Slept with Joey Ramone, an account of Seymour's distaste for a particularly transgressive song recorded for the first Ramones album:

(Sire Records executive) Seymour Stein came up to the studio in the afternoon and complained, "You can't say, 'I'm a Nazi baby, I'm a Nazi, yes I am,'" referring to the opening lines of the song "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World," which had become the Ramones' signature closer at live shows. It was kind of ridiculous, but not to Seymour. The words are:

I'm a Nazi, baby; I'm a Nazi yes I am
I'm a Nazi shatzi, y'know I fight for the Fatherland.
Little German boy, being pushed around
Little German boy, in a German town

It didn't offend me, and I'm a Jew.

It didn't offend my brother.

Tommy, whose parents had narrowly escaped the death camps during the Holocaust, was more sensitive to this issue but acquiesced so as not to impede the band's artistic freedom and black humor. To me, the song conjured up the image of a weak, skinny German kid, who after being bullied in his own little burg, found a way to become one of the bullies. It was like a glimpse into the mind-set of a typical Hitler Youth member, brilliantly summed up in two lines.

Seymour was insistent that the band change the lyrics. The Ramones were sticking to their guns. A heated and emotional argument ensued; it looked as if this could be a deal-breaker.

Then they started talking about alternatives and came up with the line, "I'm a shock trooper in a stupor, yes I am."

Even that was too much for Seymour; to him, it was equally offensive.

But after a big struggle he finally gave in and allowed them to go with "shock trooper."

"I don't know if I should admit it," Seymour later confessed, "because I got over it pretty quickly, but I wasn't pleased with the Nazi references in the songs. You can't throw away twenty years of Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn."

If you are at all a fan of any of the bands signed to Sire Records, the NPR interview is a fun listen. After many years of playing songs by bands Seymour Stein signed, it was nice to hear the voice of the man himself.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Arbeit Macht Klug!

I am disconcerted by the Trump Maladministration's proposal to merge the Department of Labor and the Department of Education. On one level, it seems like another stupid Republican 'drown government in a bathtub' downsizing plan. Given the rise of children's internment camps throughout the country, such a merger takes on a more sinister edge- would merging Education and Labor pave the way for schools becoming child labor facilities? Just imagine, Ivanka Trump could put those tiny child hands to work making her crappy merchandise.

I am snarking here, but some of the children have apparently been whisked off by a DeVos funded 'charity', and I wouldn't put it past her to make them pack Amway products while charging the US taxpayers thousands of dollars per child to 'care' for children separated from their parents.

ADDENDUM: This makes my blood boil!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Death of a Cat Lover

Just about a year after the death of a beloved feline companion comes the sad news that a beloved celebrity cat lover has died. Like many people around the world, I am saddened by the death of Koko the lowland gorilla at the age of 46. There were controversies regarding Koko's handling and her actual linguistic ability, but her attraction to cats won her the love of millions, including myself. Traditionally, I had always been skeptical regarding the anthropomorphizing of animals, but if Frans De Waal says it's okay to some extent, I think I can lighten up.

At any rate, I am sad to see this remarkable gorilla leave us, she brought a sense of wonder to an all too cynical world. I can think of no better tribute to her than to cherish a feline companion. It's what Koko would do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Astrobiology and the Anthropocene

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 astrophysicist Dr Adam Frank of the University of Rochester. Dr Frank is the host of NPR's 13.7: Cosmos And Culture and has recently released a book, Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth.

Dr Frank's talk riffed on the topic of the book- the research behind it came out of being a science writer who specializes in outreach. In the book, he wanted to address climate change denialism. An astronomer looks at what happens to planets undergoing climate change differently than a typical climate scientist. Regarding climate change, the problem can't be solved unless it is understood, and it can't be understood unless its story can be told. Anthropogenic climate change being a recent phenomenon, there is no broad story about it. The story that must be pieced together is: what is the human future on a climate-changing planet? Currently, there is an anthropogenically driven change in the planetary climate state from 'warm and moist' to an unknown state. Climate change will be accompanied by resource depletion, most dangerously, a depletion of potable water.

The effects of increasing carbon dioxide levels has been a source of concern since at least the 1960s, with President Johnson making this declaration in a special message to Congress in 1965:

"Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Entire regional airsheds, crop plant environments, and river basins are heavy with noxious materials. Motor vehicles and home heating plants, municipal dumps and factories continually hurl pollutants into the air we breathe. Each day almost 50,000 tons of unpleasant, and sometimes poisonous, sulfur dioxide are added to the atmosphere, and our automobiles produce almost 300,000 tons of other pollutants. "

Currently, climate change denialism is another aspect of our political polarization.

In 2000 publication, Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer coined the term Anthropocene (PDF) to describe the current geological epoch in which human activity is a fundamental driver of coupled Earth systems. Humans are altering the planet to the extent that researchers a million or two years in the future could be able to detect isotopic evidence of human activity. Humanity is pushing the levers on climate, biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle, and the phosphorous cycle. In 2009, Johan Rockstr├Âm of the Stockholm Resilience Centre led an effort to describe the planetary boundaries within which humanity could thrive and to foster stability. Dr Frank described the Anthropocene with a wonderful turn of phrase: We have reached a mythic power regarding planetary change.

Dr Frank characterized his fusion of astrobiology and the Anthropocene as the 10,000 light-year view. Astrobiology is the study of life in an astronomical perspective. The difficulty in astrobiological studies is that it involves an N=1 problem because we only know of one life-bearing world. That being said, there were three revolutions in the field: the first being the discovery of exoplanets, the second being the exploration of the solar system, and the third being an exploration of Earth's distant past.

The existence of life on other planets has occupied the human imagination for millennia, with optimists and pessimists vying for public acceptance. Epicurus believed that extraterrestrial life was common while Aristotle believed that Earth is unique. Newton believed in extraterrestrial life, but by 1900, pessimism regarding life beyond Earth was ascendant. In 1995, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope detected the first concrete evidence of an exoplanet. Since then, planets have been found wholesale- almost every star has planets orbiting it, with one in five stars having planets in the Habitable Zone- that region around a star in which liquid water can exist.

The exploration of the solar system has proceeded apace, with all sorts of objects (planets, asteroids, comets) being visited. Climate is the generic status of all planets with an atmosphere, and climate models exist for the other planets of the solar system (PDF). Climate is a universal planetary phenomenon. Mars used to be a blue world, with a vast amount of liquid water. Dr Frank described its current state as hellish, a cold and nasty place, and joked 'bring your blanket!' He then noted that you can change your planet, it might not be the one you grew up on.

Dr Frank then showed us an image of various planets and asked us to identify them- they all turned out to be artists' conceptions of the stages of Earth's development, much like depicted in this gorgeous painting. At one stage, the Earth was molten. At another stage, before the formation of continents, the only landmasses were cratons. At another stage, it is believed that there was a Snowball Earth. During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, it is believed that Earth had no sea or land ice. Dr Frank quipped that the Earth has worn many masks.

The study of the Earth's past involves the study of many Earth systems: the co-evolution of the atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. The Holocene, the geological epoch which encompasses our current Anthropocene, is one of many interglacial periods. AlL of human history has taken place in this epoch, approximately the last 10,000 years. Dr Frank posed the question, what would you experience if you landed on Earth three billion years ago? The answer is that you would asphyxiate because of a lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. The presence of free oxygen in the atmosphere is due to life- the Great Oxidation Event occurred when cyanobacteria 'farted out' oxygen as a waste product of photosynthesis. Life has changed the atmosphere over and over again. Successful species are numerous, but such success can lead to catastrophes- the cyanobacteria changed the atmosphere enough that it killed most of them off.

In 1979, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis formulated the Gaia Hypothesis, the idea that the planet changes to maintain life. The hypothesis was controversial due to the notion of a teleological planet, a planet that 'wants' life, even though evolution is a blind processs. The idea of a 'living' planet led to some loopy interpretations in the public imagination, which led to some pushback, but it is undeniable that life plays an enormous role in Earth's systems dynamics. Earth and its life have been evolving together as a coupled system for a long time.

Dr Frank's research involves the study of astrobiological systems to determine if sustainable versions of our type of civilization are possible. Do industrialized civilizations like ours burn out in two hundred years? Astrobiological studies can inform us of new perspectives on our trajectory into and through the Anthropocene. How common are 'anthropocenes'? How fatal are 'anthropocenes'? What is the average lifespan of an industrial civilization? What are the characteristics of planets that survive an 'anthropocene'? Dr Frank urged us to take the prospect of exocivilizations seriously.

At this time, I will leave off the recap for now because bar trivia beckons- what good is learning while intoxicated if one cannot follow it up with showing off intellectually while intoxicated? I will finish this recap tomorrow...

By which I mean today!

Different stars have different characteristics. A star with a different spectrum from our sun would mean that photosynthesis on a planet orbiting it would differ from terrestrial photosynthesis. There are no tools in the toolbox to constrain our models focusing on the co-evolution of civilization and planetary systems. One definition of civilization involves the use of energy by intelligent lifeforms. A problem with studying astrobiology is the bad prosthetic forehead variety of science fiction- aliens provide a snicker factor. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence can be refined, as Dr Frank put it, "This is not your grandfather's SETI." Mentioning the excitement over the discovery of a possible extrasolarian megastructure, he exhorted us: "Consider the possibilities!" Within the next thirty years, we may have data relevant to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. For example, atmospheric signatures of industrial civilization include methane and CFCs.

The theoretical studies of exocivilizations involve a battle between optimists and pessimists. Astronomer Frank Drake formulated the Drake Equation, a theoretical exercise to estimate the possible number of detectable extrasolar civilizations, expressed as:

N is the number of detectable civilizations. R* is the average rate of star formation. Fp is the number of stars with planets. Ne is the number of those stars which have planets which can sustain life. Fl is the number of those planets on which life develops. Fi is the number of those planets which develop intelligent life which can produce civilizations. Fc is the number of those civilizations which have developed detectable communications technologies. L is the duration of time in which those civilizations release detectable signals.

Dr Frank posed the question: What sub-questions in the Drake Equation can be answered? Are we the only instance in cosmic evolution that intelligent life evolved? This ultra-pessimistic view would be a one in ten billion trillion chance. Even a pessimist like Ernst Mayr was ten million times more optimistic than that. Most pessimists would get a universe full of civilizations of two hundred years' duration.

Building world civilizations involves planetary feedback- 'anthropocenes' have probably happened before. We now know enough about planets and how they respond to to anthropocenes to begin how species will drive planetary feedback. Science is about constraining imagination, and the astrobiological/archaeological models are based on the predator/prey population models formulated by Lotka and Volterra:

Predator numbers tend to go up after the amount of prey increases, and crash after the prey numbers crash. Dr Frank used similar equations for population and planetary temperatures- he quipped that planets are machines, push hard enough and they go off. The models used for the equations were based on the population of Easter Island, as detailed in his May 2018 article in The Atlantic. Running multiple scenarios, he determined that there are three main results. The first is a mass die off as population exceeds the planet's carrying capacity. The second is the achievement of sustainability- a soft landing to a steady state is reached. The last is a true collapse, perhaps a runaway Venus scenario.

Dr Frank posed the question, what does the astrobiological perspective change? He joked that he is from New Jersey, so he is naturally combative, then noted that this is not a battle to save the planet- as Lynn Margulis joked: "Gaia is a tough bitch." The planet has been the scene of five known mass extinctions, and the only reason why we are here is because the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, leaving ecological niches for our ancestors. What are we trying to sustain? What moral imperatives do we invoke to do so? Dr Frank showed the picture of the polar bear stranded on a melting ice flow and noted that it is an apex predator that would easily kill you. He then stated that humans can no longer practice ecological hooliganism. Even if humans are successful in reaching sustainability, there will be no more ice ages. Climate change poses a probably existential threat to the project of civilization, but Earth will survive even if we do not. Ecologically, the Earth's phytoplankton is more important than the charismatic megafauna usually invoked in ecological pleas.

Dr Frank urged activists to stop with the human hate- the goal should be to sustain the climatic conditions that are amenable to the project of civilization. Sustainability goals should balance a technologically advanced, energy intensive, high population with quality of life. 'Hockey Stick' diagrams won't change the narrative, stories are needed and the wrong story is 'we suck'. Cities are ecosystems just like forests, they have just been invented recently. The wrong question to ask is 'did we change climate?' The right question is 'what did we expect?' When oil was discovered, humans did not set out to change the climate, it was a mistake resulting from one particular sort of energy production. Our mistake now is to keep using fossil fuels. Climate scientist Raymond Pierrehumbert characterized climate change as 'Humanity's Final Exam'. Through right action and skillful means, we might just pass it. If we acknowledge that planets have rules, and achieve sustainability, we might create an 'awakened' planet on which the biosphere and civilization can flourish together, and the Gaia hypothesis can be realized.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. The first question involved mass extinctions, and Dr Frank noted that the biosphere would be happy to move on without us, and the burden falls on us to 'think like the biosphere' to benefit ourselves. Some bastard in the audience asked the good doctor for his opinion on the theoretical notion that a planet had 'one shot' to produce a high-tech civilization, because a failing civilization would 'spend all the startup capital' and impoverish any successors. Happily, Dr Frank's colleague Gavin Schmidt posed a speculative scenario in which a high tech civilization evolved millions of years before humanity. What sort of evidence would survive, say, thirty-five million years? Could climate change end one civilization and set up the cycle of fossil fuel production for the next civilization? Would a wind powered civilization be possible? What does a planet provide? What would our footprint be millions of years from now? It would be weird isotopic anomalies.

Regarding Mars, it is not Planet B. There is no way to move a mass of population and enough resources to sustain them to the red planet. Dr Frank then joked that we should 'fuck up' Mars- as we are triggering climate change, we are becoming spacefarers, and the price for climate change is the rest of the solar system.

Regarding the lifespan of technological civilizations, Dr Frank joked that, two hundred years ago, anyone traveling more than thirty miles per hour would be falling to their death.

Regarding the Fermi Paradox, Dr Frank noted that SETI funding has been slim, and that, if space were an ocean, we have only looked at at thimble. If there were aliens which could travel at approximately the speed of light, they could have disseminated throughout the galaxy in six thousand years, but if they had visited Earth, any traces would have been lost, so researchers should (shades of Arthur C. Clarke) look on the moon. I have my own theory about the Fermi Paradox.

Asked for the most effective story about climate change, Dr Frank opined that climate change shows us how powerful we are. He advised us not to bother talking to hardcore climate denialists, and noted that carbon dioxide doesn't care who you vote for.

Regarding Easter Island models, he noted that in most cases the population of the island exceeds its carrying capacity... sustainability is almost impossible. Carrying capacity studies for the planet use real climate models, with the parameters being based on energy sources. Even using wind power as a parameter, a two-degree change is expected. He noted that doctors don't only study sick people, and that many models are needed.

Asked about what technologies are needed, Dr Frank noted that we must get off fossil fuels and develop renewables. He noted that, near his Rochester campus, there are four bits of transportation infrastructure: the Erie Canal, a railroad, a highway, and an airport. Infrastructure changes, technologies change.

Dr Frank delivered a really great lecture- while much of it was speculative, it was a valuable intellectual exercise, and a call to action. I particularly dug the almost Lovecraftian evocation of vast periods of time, unburdened by Lovecraftian cosmic indifference and other less pleasant baggage. This was a superfun think piece. Kudos to Dr Frank, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. Here is a video of Dr Frank discussing his new book:

Pour yourself a libation and soak in that SCIENCE!

ADDENDUM: Here is a short, sweet video featuring Dr Frank:

Now, that's a quick shot of SCIENCE!

Monday, June 18, 2018

After Yesterday's Rant, Something Lovely

In the wee hours of the morning, while listening to my favorite college radio station, I heard a lovely song by Melody's Echo Chamber, fronted by French singer-songwriter Melody Prochet, who is recovering from a traumatic accident. The whimsical video for Breathe In, Breathe Out looks to me as if it were inspired by Moebius' artworks:

I like to think that the action depicted in the video takes place in a more verdant, gentler part of the same planet on which this video takes place.

I must say, though, that French musicians seem to have a lock on really cool animated song videos.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

For Fathers' Day, a Meditation on Masculinity

First of all, here's wishing a happy Fathers' Day to all of the dads out there. Have an excellent day and be excellent. Masculinity has been a hot topic in the news these days, with a 'crisis of masculinity' being cited for, among other things, a recent spate of mass shootings by men. The so-called Men's Rights Movement, while citing dubious statistics about how men have it worse than women, elide the fact that men are the cause of most men's problems... Murdered? Imprisoned? Sent to die in a war? Yeah, the responsible party or parties was probably another man. Also, for so-called rights advocates, these guys never seem to want to solve the men's problems that they complain about before they get down to their primary business, which is bashing women.

Toxic masculinity usually involves racism as well as sexism, and a lot of the rage felt by angry young men (the sort of 4chan/incel types who use 'cuck' as an insult) is inspired by racialized sexual fears, or sexualized racial fears- the apotheosis of this rage taking place three years ago to the day.

The 'crisis of masculinity' narrative has spawned its own snake-oil industry populated by grifters who, oddly enough, all seem to have the sort of high-pitched voices that don't exactly scream 'smoldering volcano of testosterone'. Most of them seem to have self-help books in which they, like Sgt Rock, promise to help their young marks win their own small battle of the sexes. My favorite moment in this cottage industry is lampooned by Sam Seder in this video:

They money quote is the one in which this boob finds a slippery slope between snowball fights being forbidden by schools (seems the dumbass hasn't heard of liability lawsuits) and the ravishment of your daughters by wild boys:

Increasingly, among my students, I see young men who don’t know how to be good men. My son wasn’t allowed to throw a snowball, for example, in elementary school. It was against the rules for him to even pick up snow off the ground. It is in that manner that decent boys are made to feel guilty about their masculine impulses. So, they withdraw, confused. The more aggressive, psychopathic boys? They simply don’t care. So they’ll be the ones fathering your grandchildren, in the future – if tomorrow’s woman can find a man to sleep with at all. That’ll keep the testosterone flowing

I am hearing it, the poetry of Mu
! Canadian loon actually believes that women want to be involved with men who abuse them, which makes me suspect that his contact with women tends to be limited. The problem with toxic masculinity isn't the masculinity, it's the toxicity.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Cumbia Crash Course

I have a busy day tomorrow... I am in the middle of a double overnight shift, and will be working until 8AM. My upstairs neighbor will be taking her two kids to an all-day Gaelic Games tournament- she constantly has her kids enrolled in activities of various sorts, and they are nice, responsible kids. While she and the kids are away, she wants me to let their dog, a wee terrier mix, out so he can take a pee outside. Then, I will be driving to Peekskill, New York for the 12:30PM christening of the twin babies of Maria, who is one of the weekend cleaning contractors at my workplace.

The post-christening party will start at 7:30 PM, also in Peekskill. I will have to head home to Yonkers to rest up a bit, and will let the neighbors' dog out again for a pee break, then head back to Peeksill for the party. Maria, who is from Ecuador, warned me that I will be expected to dance to cumbia:

Tonight, I will be studying the dance steps, sort of a crash course in cumbia. Luckily, I am pretty skilled when it comes to cutting a rug. One of Kovacevic sensei's favorite quotes was one attributed to various sources, most commonly Confucius: "Never give a sword to a man who cannot dance." Of course, I'm not a fencer, but I am known to be a dancer.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Damo Suzuki Steered Me Wrong!

It's that glorious time of the year when the maternally-inclined snapping turtles in the vicinity leave their various watery homes in order to lay their eggs. While doing the workday walkabout, I saw this beauty returning to our onsite pond after laying her clutch of eggs:

At one point, I contemplated the feasibility to stick my foot next to this turtle in order to show a size comparison, but I thought better of it because I like my toes, as unlovely as they are. As it is, I would estimate the length of her carapace as approximately fourteen inches, and she looked like she clocked in at thirty pounds. I watched her stroll to the pond, even recording a video which I can't embed... nuts to you, Blogger!

Because snapping turtles have small plastrons, they walk with their hind legs directly underneath their bodies, while their front legs display that typical 'reptilian' sprawl. At any rate, when Damo Suzuki sang my favorite Can song, he didn't have Chelydra serpentina in mind:

I've been looking for an excuse to post this delightful bit of nonsense, because it's been an earworm for me since I heard it on college radio a couple of months ago.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Procrastination Is Unscientific!

Grrr, I am one mad bastard, mad at myself for failing to buy a ticket for tonight’s Secret Science Club North lecture. I logged on to the Symphony Space website last night and there were tickets available, then went out for bar trivia before buying... I mean, what are the odds that someone would buy a ticket overnight. Today, I logged in to buy a ticket and saw the dreaded words: SOLD OUT. Cue the sad trombone sound.

I apologize to Margaret and Dorian, to my readers, and most of all myself. It’s been a busy month, but I should have taken care of purchasing a ticket well in advance.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Tonight is the retirement party for one of our managers on the job. We are having a potluck, so I spent yesterday grinding fava beans and chickpeas in order to make falafel from scratch. I was taught how to make it by a Coptic woman who lived downstairs from me years ago. Today was spent in the kitchen, frying the falafel and making tahini sauce from scratch. I figured I would bring something vegan, in case anybody on the job has dietary restrictions, self-imposed or not.

The coworker who is retiring has been with us about eight years, he rose through the ranks to his management position, like myself. I will miss him, though I occasionally run into him at the 238th St/Broadway subway station. Hopefully, this will happen more frequently when he's retired.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Imagining their Meeting

Just dashing off a quick post between errands (I’ve been in the kitchen all day, preparing for a potluck at work tomorrow). The big pending news story is the summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim. I have a suspicion that they will spend their one on one meeting as a mutual gripe fest about their overbearing fathers.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

PR: Pride, Resistance

Today is National Puerto Rican Pride Day, and the streets of Manhattan will play host to an estimated two million attendees. I occasionally post about Puerto Rican matters- in the course of working in the South Bronx for fifteen years, off and on (I was a rover, having assignments all over the NYC metro area), I developed an appreciation for Puerto Rican culture. My friends and co-workers, solid working and middle class people who came from humble origins, embraced me and taught me about their music, their food, their solid family values. I was introduced to the music of Eddie Palmieri and reveled in the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater's annual performance of scenes from my beloved Don Quixote. Working Sunday mornings with a solid mountain-born boricua, I ate so much mondongo that another co-worker was convinced that the two of us were 'a couple of drunks'. Puerto Ricans, and the diaspora Nuyoricans, are an integral part of the metro area's fabric- they tend to work as civil servants: police, firefighters, health care professionals, teachers.

This year, though, in the wake of the revelation (no surprise) that almost five thousand people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, the parade takes on a new urgency. This year, the parade will not only be about pride, but about resistance. The Puerto Rican people were abandoned by the federal government, led by a chief executive and a coterie of advisors who have an antipathy for people of color, especially people de la herencia latina. Last month, a Republican candidate opined that Puerto Ricans who settled in Florida in the aftermath of Maria should not be allowed to vote. As a mental exercise, could you imagine a political candidate suggesting that New Jerseyans resettling in Pennsylvania after Sandy should not be able to vote? Actually, PA being a swing state, don't answer that... Not only are Puerto Ricans US citizens, but Puerto Ricans have a tradition of service in the US armed forces. I find it shameful that such loyal Americans have gotten such a raw deal in their hour of greatest need, but I have hope that they will be a major force in reclaiming the government of the nation. Yo tengo fey en la alma de mis amigos puertorrique├▒os, y esta fey me da esperanza.

This being a post about Puerto Rico, I can't finish off without posting some good salsa, so here is Puerto Rico by Frankie Ruiz:

Al fin, recuerdan que no son olvidados.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

And the Summit Will Feel Like a G6

Well, it looks like Trump is messing up at the G7 summit, with his talk of imposing tariffs and his sermon that Russia, which has a smaller economy than Texas should be reinstated after being kicked out of the G8 for annexing the Crimea. At any rate, Trump is alienating key US allies with his insults, and confusing them by reversing his rhetoric by later claiming that eliminating all tariffs should be considered. This volatility, or mendacity, is what makes dealing with a dotard so dangerous. With Trump isolating the US from its closest allies, this summit has been described as G6+1, which reminds me of a catchy but rather silly song from about a decade ago:

Tweeting insults from the bowl like a dummy
Donnie got no poker game, just rummy.
D00ds that have to act like this got wee dicks,
And the summit will feel like a G6.

I don't think that next week's summit with North Korea will go any better, I just dread what song it may remind me of...

Friday, June 8, 2018

Adieu, Anthony

Like the vast majority of people who love to cook and to eat, I was shocked and saddened by the death of Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain could be prickly at times, but he was refreshingly candid, unfailingly honest, and devoted to the idea that humanity could be brought together through mutual understanding, obtained over a good meal and a frank conversation.

Back when my older brother, Sweetums, was planning his wedding, we decided to kick off his bachelor party at Anthony Bourdain's Brasserie Les Halles on Park Avenue South- the perfect place for a hanger steak with some pommes frites, and an even better place for boudin noir.

Of course, it was Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential which really put him in the public eye. As someone who worked in the local deli throughout high school and college, I enjoyed this unvarnished look at the commercial kitchen- while my kitchen experience lacked the frenetic pace of the restaurant industry, cooking and peeling twenty pounds of potatoes a week and washing a sinkload of steam table trays every day was quite the education. Bourdain's book rang true, especially when it described the economizing measures that cooks use to make sure that the profit margins, always razor thin, aren't obliterated by waste. My equivalent of 'don't order fish on Mondays' is 'bread pudding is on the menu so the day old bread can be sold at a good price'... for the record, I like bread pudding. Also for the record, when the stale bread not used for bread pudding gets as hard as a rock, it gets thrown in a blender and ground into crumbs used to make meatballs/meatloaf and to coat cutlets.

Kitchen Confidential
got Bourdain out of the kitchen and onto television screens, where he played the globetrotting bon vivant, sorta like James Bond without the violence. In this role, he was an educator, an ambassador- he exhorted people to get outside of their comfort zones, and to trust the locals:

The observation that the street food is safer than the fancy hotel buffet food was echoed by parasitologist and GOOD GUY Mark Siddall- the stuff in the hotel steam tables has probably been sitting around for hours...

Bourdain was also a tireless champion of the Latin American immigrants who form the backbone of the food service industry.

One of my favorite Bourdain moments was his foray into my beloved Bronx, where he went to eat cuchifritos:

Watching that clip has me craving some morcilla, though I have to confess that my favorite cuchifritos place in the city is the place on 116th St right by the 6 Train stop.

Anyway, the man is dead, and his fans, including myself, feel the loss. Here's an old interview, unfortunately conducted by a total b00b, in which Anthony describes what his ideal last meal would be:

I admire his patience with such a dull-witted individual... For a sharp-witted individual's take, Tengrain posted heartfelt tributes to Anthony Bourdain, advising us that the best tribute to the man's life is to eat and drink with friends. It's the least we can do to memorialize this chef, diner, globe-trotter, humanist, and educator.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mars' Carbon Footprint

Here's a bit of news that I find very exciting- NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover detected carbon-based molecules in sedimentary rocks on Mars and seasonal methane variations in the Martian atmosphere. While this doesn't mean that NASA discovered life on Mars, it does mean that, at least at one time, life was possible on Mars. With the discovery of these tantalizing hints that life may have existed on Mars, the Mars 2020 Rover mission takes on a renewed urgency.

I periodically blog about Mars- in fact, Mars came up as a subject of last month's Secret Science Club lecture. I feel that humanity eventually needs to get it's ass together and colonize other planets, or put succinctly:

Learning more about the red planet is crucial for humanity's long-term goals, especially in light of stupid geopolitical events, which are increasingly looking like an explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Recipe for Ratfucking

I've been scratching my glabrous pate lately about the 'jungle primaries' that took place in California, that bizarre 'top two' system that makes one-party elections possible. Everything fell into place for me when I learned that the system was pushed for by then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger- on the face of it, the system sounds like serious Republican ratfucking:

“We want to change the dysfunctional political system and we want to get rid of the paralysis and the partisan bickering,” then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who championed the electoral reform into reality, said in celebrating its approval by California’s voters in 2010. “Those are huge changes that will change everything in the future.”

The reason why he wanted to get rid of partisan bickering is because, in California, the Republican party has slipped to 'third party' status- partisan politics is deadly to a rump party.

The 'top two' primary system can be manipulated by unscrupulous Republicans running fake Democrats or fomenting internecine Democratic squabbling in order to split votes. The whole damn thing is a mess.

For a reliably progressive state, California sure has some insane state laws... I'm looking at YOU, Prop 13! Luckily, the two tier primary system didn't adversely affect the electoral prospects for Democrats this year, but things could have gone differently, as intended by the architects of this bullshit legislation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Somebody, Please, Think of the Wankers!

Seems like a lot of people, by which I mean d00dz, are upset that the Miss America pageant is dumping the swimsuit competition.

It’s getting so a guy can’t even catch a glimpse of ankle these days, so it’s no wonder that guys are in a tizzy. As if that weren’t bad enough, this is a harbinger of a slippery slope... next thing you know, Penthouse Magazine is going to feature architectural photos in the centerfold.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Pushing the Bounds of Acceptable Discourse

I’ve been grappling all day with Trump’s morning tweet about how, as president, he could pardon himself. On the face of it, it’s a ludicrous assertion. While Trump is not an intelligent man, he is a man of low cunning (to crib a joke from an old Life in Hell panel, he is “stupid like pig but cunning like serpent”)... there is a very good reason for this ridiculous statement.

Trump is floating a trial balloon, by which I mean a pre-trial balloon: by introducing the bizarre notion that he can pardon himself, he is pushing the boundaries of acceptable discourse. He, his minions, and the corporate propaganda outlets that back him will repeat the notion in order to normalize a previously unthinkable position. Given the piss-poor performance of the mainstream media in holding Trump accountable for his atrocities and the complicity of the Republican Congress, this strategy just might work.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

With Boredom Comes Mischief

It's a quiet night on the job, the weather is foul outside, so I had some time for some mischief... idle hands and all that. Poking around the t00bz, I ran into Vic Berger's photoshop of Trump and wondered why nobody had made an animated GIF using it. Dicking around with GIMP and an online GIF maker, then adding a soundtrack, I came up with this:

I'm surprised I haven't run into this before... after all, even the guy's fans picture him as a frog.

Hat tip to Smut, he's a master of the animated GIF.

Feel free to share, even to improve if your photomanipulation skills are better than mine, which they are.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Walking With and Without Ginger

Yesterday, I arrived at work shortly before 5PM, and my initial task was to help the tail end of the day shift lock up the joint after the tourists left. Oddly enough, everybody was out shortly after 5, rather than the usual 5:30 weekday exodus. After everybody left, I decided I'd spend some quality time with my beloved Ginger. I had to do an inspection tour of the site, and Ginger usually trots along behind me as I make sure everything is ship-shape.

About halfway through my walkabout, Ginger decided to plop herself down on a convenient perch. I suspect that she was reluctant to follow me through a section of the property occupied by about twenty or thirty geese. Most of the geese onsite are overly tame, but Ginger, being small and a predator, would probably have faced a gauntlet of angry birds. I perambulated the property and at one of the distant corners, I ran into a critter which probably would have been scared off by Ginger:

It was a relief not to have to deal with death and dismemberment, though this cottontail was probably big enough to challenge my feline associate.

I walked back the way I had come, through the gauntlet of geese, and reconnected with my precious kitty:

What a precious, precious kitty! It being a muggy day, I decided to groom Ginger a bit, merely using my fingers to comb some excess fur off of her muscular form. Ginger is one of those easily distracted cats, she typically never sat still long enough to brush, but I learned my lesson, and decided to apply operant conditioning. If you want the cat to behave in a particular manner, reward that behavior... a handful of kibble, a small mountain of fur, and Ginger was as pretty as a picture.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Traditional June First Post

As is typical, I take time out on the first day of June to extend birthday greetings to my super snarky sister. As Irish twins, in our childhood we were impossible to be around for the days we were the same age, and the family basically resigned itself to constant bickering until my birthday rolled around and I 'lapped' her agewise, so to speak.

Things have mellowed considerably, and there is no bickering between us at this time of year. She's been particularly busy lately, having gone to Berkeley for her oldest son's graduation. She is now playing host to three of his college buddies who road-tripped east with the lad (two of them had never been to the east coast) and are now staying in the DC metro area for a few days. To make things even more hectic, my nephew's girlfriend is coming to DC for a summer internship, so the house will be pretty crowded for a while. We were raised in the tradition of hospitality, so she is continuing the family practice of amassing an extended family. It's what we do... we nerd out and we take in additional 'relatives'. I have no doubt that my sister's birthday party this year will last all weekend-long.