Friday, August 31, 2018

Road Tripping Again

Today, most of the day will be spent road-tripping up to the rural interior of Maine, specifically the Kennebec river uplands. It is a trip of about nine hours, much of it on tiny rural roads through small towns and a couple of 'blinking traffic signal' communities.

I just finished work at midnight, and am driving straight up, so I will beat the bulk of the holiday weekend traffic, with my post sunup driving being on those lonely rural byways. There are benefits to being nocturnal, and driving with scant accompaniment is one of them. Since this is a muggy August overnight, my hands may very well be wet on the wheel.

I will have a couple of pre-written posts popping up in the next couple of days. Ciao, amici!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Vampire Hell Ants of the Cretaceous

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 paleontologist and entomologist Dr Phillip Barden of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the American Museum of Natural History. Dr Barden specializes in the study of fossils of social insects such as termites and ants.

Dr Barden began his lecture with a short definition of paleontology. Paleontologists ask two main questions: What is the history of life on Earth? How does evolution work? Paleontologists study finite events, such as the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. Life on Earth is 3.7 billion years old, with humans occupying a miniscule span of time. Most life is extinct, almost everything that has ever lived is now dead. Dr Barden asked the audience to picture a fossil, immediately following this up with the admonition that not every fossil is dinosaur remains. Some of the most famous non-dinosaur fossils are trilobite and ammonite fossils. There are also environmental remains of organisms, such as footprints. His concentration is the study of fossil insects.

Eighty percent of animal species are insects, While dinosaurs, being charismatic megafauna, attract most of the public's attention, there are spectacular insect fossils, such as that of Meganeura, a dragonfly-esque creature with a wingspan attaining over two feet which hunted in the Carboniferous skies, which had a higher oxygen content than our modern atmosphere- insects breath through treachea, so the surface area of these tubes limit body size. Dr Barden also displayed a fossil of a Jurassic Era lacewing which resembled a butterfly.

The best-preserved insect fossils are encased in amber, fossilized tree resin (NOT SAP!). Resin is secreted when a tree is injured, forming 'scabs' in which organisms can be trapped. When subjected to heat and pressure through geological processes, it becomes polymerized- Dr Barden joked that amber is 'OG Plastic'. Amber, known to the ancient Greeks as 'elektros', produces electric sparks when rubbed. Insects trapped in amber are preserved in three dimensions. Dr Barden accompanied this portion of the lecture with gorgeous photographs of amber-trapped insects, such as two ants trapped in amber while fighting (evidence of a social structure).

Amber is distributed worldwide, with particularly nice Cretaceous amber being found in New Jersey. Dr Barden showed us photos of various amber sources, such as an amber deposit in a Gujarati lignite mine (the remains of a forest compacted and rendered into coal), excavated amber mines in the Dominican Republic, and Baltic amber which is typically found on beaches or 'fished' from the sea. Amber is often fashioned into jewelry, sometimes including fossilized animal remains.

Dr Barden then showed us the 'Mr DNA' clip (though not the Mr DNA you were thinking of) from Jurassic Park, noting that the stand-in for the giant prehistoric mosquito in the amber walkingstick ornament is actually a crane fly and chiding anyone who killed a harmless crane fly as a 'giant mosquito'):

Dr Barden noted that the book Jurassic Park was released in 1990, and that in 1992, it was reported that DNA was extracted from an Oligo-Miocene termite, but that this study posed a problem of reproducibility. DNA from bones has a half-life of 521 years and that new techniques for DNA extraction are constantly sought.

Dr Barden continued to display images of amber encased animal remains, such as a thumb-sized, feathered dinosaur tail found in Myanmar, a tick attached to a dinosaur feather, and an ant queen (the wings identify it as such) transporting a symbiotic mealybug in her mandibles- mealybugs excrete honeydew, which ants consume. Another fossil was that of a lacewing larva with spines for collecting camouflaging detritus. Dr Barden noted that there are about as many ant fossils as there are dinosaur fossils, but that only he and a French paleontologists are studying them- he joked that his job prospects are good. Among these fossil ants was one the size of a hummingbird.

Dr Barden stated that the oldest ants were not like was expected- early ants were thought to be wasplike, having similar body plans. The oldest ants discovered were more like basal Hymenoptera than wasps, with the similarities in body resulting from adaptive radiation.

Dr Barden conducted 3D imaging of ant fossils at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, fluorescing specimens while rotating them to provide the three-dimensional images. He joked that he was the guy putting bugs in the machine. As a comedic aside, he displayed a stupid tweet by a Kardashian: Do ants have dicks? He then displayed a photo of a drone ant fossilized in amber, then zoomed in, showing us a dick pic of a 20 million year old ant.

The topic of the lecture then shifted to the vampire hell ants of the post title. Haidomyrmex scimitarus was a Cretaceous Era ant found in an amber deposit in Myanmar. A detailed reconstruction using animations based off CT scans of this ant suggested that it used its mandibles to impale other insects, and grooves in the mouthparts hint that these ants consumed the hemolymph of the impaled. Dibs on "Hemolymph of the Impaled" for the name of my Doom Metal band. The queen ant was found outside of the nest, and lacked fat storage, indicating that the queen had to forage like a common worker. The generic name Haidomyrmex is a combination of 'Hades' and the Greek term for 'ant', so Dr Barden decided to make 'Hell Ant' the popular term for these insects- he asked the audience members to 'hashtag' #hellant. Another similar 'hell ant', Ceratomyrmex had a horn as well as the impaling jaws. Then, a scan of an ant dubbed Linguamyrmex vladi revealed that the horn was so dense as to suggest that the horn contained sequestered metal, leading to such lurid headlines as: 'Meet the vampire ant from hell with huge jaws and a metal horn.' Dr Braden then displayed a succession of increasingly lurid and 'clickbaity' headlines about this ant. The good doctor then displayed an articulated model of this ant's head, about the size of an American football.

The hell ants thrived for about twenty-million years, during the Cretaceous Era. It is not known what happened to this diverse clade of ants. The earliest ants were social, there is evidence of different specialized castes among early ants. About fifty million years ago, ants became more abundant, ants now currently compose 50-80% of insects in tropical tree communities. The hell ants don't seem to have been all that ecologically impactful. There are many Cretaceous ant fossils. There is a gap in the fossil record until the Eocene, a sort of 'black box' from which only modern ants emerge, while having diverse behaviors, extant ants have similar body forms. Divergent forms, such as the hell ants, disappeared. Dr Braden likened this emergence from a 'black box' to the K-T extinction event, from which one lineage of dinosaurs, the birds, emerged.

Dr Barden posed a question: Does extinction mean failure? He displayed a picture of the thylacine, a wolf-shaped marsupial that was killed off by humans (as an aside, I am obliged to plug SSC goddess Margaret Mittelbach's Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger, co-written with SSC alum Michael Crewdson- it's a great book by good friends, a funny, sad, and informative read). Dr Barden offered his three measures of evolutionary success: Diversity of species (beetles, with over 350,000 species, are very successful), Ecological Impact (South African harvester ant foraging territories can be seen in satellite images, such is their ability to reshape their environment), and Longevity (Neandertals were around for 430,000 years while modern Homo sapiens has been around for about 300,000 years). Certain taxons were extremely successful- about twenty thousand trilobite species are known, which indicates that there were probably many more. The impact of the dinosaurs on other evolutionary lineages is difficult to understate. The hell ants were around for about twenty-one million years, great apes a mere eight million. We only see about .01, much of the evolutionary legacy is hidden.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session, as always. The first question regarded the phenotype of the hell ants- the 'archtecture' of the hell ant lineage has been lost, no traces last into modern ant lineages. The next question was, why did the hell ants go extinct? While this is unknown, it could be that their social structure was outcompeted by the social structure of modern ants which supplanted them. Perhaps the hell ants were 'painted into a corner' evolutionarily. Another question regarded evidence of the large structures which ants and termites build- fossil remains of these structures have been found, and Dr Barden likened this evidence to an 'extended phenotype' which provides clues to the behavior of the insects themselves. Regarding the gaps in the fossil record, new amber deposits have been found in Alaska and compression fossils have been found in Alberta- gradually, the 'black box' is being filled in. Regarding the half life of DNA, while DNA sequences degrade, partial genomes provide information valuable to researchers. Some Bastard in the audience asked about molecular evidence from insects trapped in amber- can inferences be made about pigmentation or the composition of venoms? Dr Barden noted that coloration is often preserved in amber, and stingers are often present in fossil insects, but no molecular structures for pigments or poisons have been found. Regarding prey items of hell ants, they have been found in association with a larva of an insect and a cockroach like insect. The musculature of an insect, useful in computer modelling, can be inferred from bulges in the interior of the exoskeleton, to which muscles, inside the skeleton, are attached. Regarding the caste system of social insects, insects from the same species have the same genome but different gene expression- while a worker has a lifespan of 1-3 years, a queen may live as long as twenty years- transcriptomes play a role in this sort of development. The earliest known modern style ant dates back to the Cretaceous, about ninety-two million years ago, and was found in New Jersey- the lineage probably split off from other ant lineages about 120 million years ago. Finally, asked about his application of the species concept, Dr Barden indicated that, due to the nature of his work, he applied the paleontological species concept, largely working off whether specimens look similar or different.

Once again, the Secret Science Club delivered a fantastic lecture. I make no bones about loving the life sciences the most, so this lecture was right up my alley, or allele... Dr Barden hit what I call the 'Secret Science Sweet Spot'- the lecture was specific, extremely informative about recent discoveries, accompanied by gorgeous images of fossils, and leavened with humor. I call it a grand slam. Kudos to Dr Barden, the staff of the Beautiful Bell House, and Margaret and Dorian for another great monthly event. It was also great to see both the NJIT 'swarm lab' crowd with Dr Garnier and the AMNH crowd, represented by Dr Hekkala and her husband, in attendance. High fives to everyone!

Poking around the t00bz, I found a fun video of Dr Barden giving a tour of the AMNH insect collections to a budding young entomologist:

I only have one quibble, and that's because bugs suck. The video, however, is great. Pour yourself a nice beverage, and watch two cool young dudes talk about SCIENCE!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Free Stuff Is for Those Who Don’t Need It

I’m at the Woodlawn subway terminal, on a 4 Train which has just embarked for Manhattan and Brooklyn. The MTA has provided free Wi-Fi for its underground stations, but not for the elevated train stations in the Bronx. Funny, the people up here have less money to spend on data plans than Manhattanites.

As usual, here in the ‘States, free stuff is not provided for the people who most need it.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Make America Weird Again

Funny, in all of my years blogging, I've never posted about 'Weird' Al Yankovic, though like most members of my age cohort, I consider myself a fan. At any rate, Weird Al just received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, in true Weird Al fashion, he was awesome about it:

Besides being a brilliant parodist and a wicked accordion player, Weird Al has a great human rights record. He's also a loyal friend, having early champion Dr Demento at his side for the Walk of Fame ceremony. From everything I've ever heard about the man, he's a genuinely nice guy, and the affection he inspires in others is not only genuine, but reciprocated:

For the record, my favorite Weird Al song is not a parody of a particular number, but his 1985 sendup of 1950s doo-wop:

Generally speaking, I am not a proponent of celebrity candidates, but I think I could get behind a WEIRD AL 2020 campaign.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

This Is Actually About Ethics in Video Gaming Journalism Culture

Another day in these here United States, another mass shooting, this time, at a video gaming tournament in Jacksonville, Florida. The shooter, who killed himself, was a competitor who lost a match, then returned to the venue and shot up the place. I imagine that the horrible people at 4chan, 8chan, and the various incel forums are already proclaiming him 'an hero'.

As exposed in the whole Gamergate fiasco, nerd culture is a cesspool of misogyny, racism, and general nastiness. The abuse, including rape and death threats, that women gamers face is horrific. The usual shit-talk that accompanies gaming has occasionally metastasized into something more sinister, including terroristic acts as 'SWATting', which have ended in fatalities.

I'm shocked, but not surprised, that toxic gamer culture has claimed its first mass shooting directly related to video gaming... though I in no way subscribe to the Conservative trope that violent video games 'cause' mass shootings- it's a distraction from the real issue of regulating access to firearms, and in this particular case, the video game the shooter played was a football simulation, not a First-Person Shooter. The culture of casual cruelty and entitlement that prevents a lot of these angry young nerds from handling setbacks in an emotionally appropriate fashion is the problem. Was it inevitable that this toxicity would lead to a case of mass lead poisoning? More importantly, will this mass-shooting be the start of a larger movement to defuse dangerous nerdrage?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

On the Whole, a Disappointment

The big story of the day has got to be the death of Senator John McCain at the age of 81. McCain had a storied career as a naval aviator, a prisoner of war, a senator, and a presidential candidate, but on the whole I viewed him as a disappointment.

Back when bipartisanship was possible, McCain actually worked with Democratic colleagues to pass legislation... famously, he co-sponsored a 2005 immigration reform bill with Ted Kennedy. By 2008, during his presidential campaign, he tried to shed his 'moderate' image and run as a right-winger. Besides inflicting Sarah Palin on the nation, he repudiated his former stance on immigration:

This didn't win him friends among the Tea Party wing of the GOP, who lambasted him as a RINO. He attempted to woo people who villified his young adopted daughter and denigrated his military service. He sold out his own politics in an attempt to remain a leader of a party which had abandoned any pretense of sound governance. As I said, I viewed him as a disappointment.

That being said, he did have a long, storied career as a public servant, and that cannot be taken away from him regardless of any late-career missteps. Condolences to his loved ones. I will try to remember the John McCain who addressed an over-capacity crowd at St Barnabas Church on the Bronx/Yonkers border, the man who we serenaded with an a cappella rendition of Fields of Athenry as he left the venue:

Goodbye, John, we'll always have Yonkers.

Friday, August 24, 2018

But Who Knows What He Tweeted to the Darkness?

It's disconcerting to see Trump's Twitter stream and see that the guy seems to be sleeping only four hours a night. I imagine he's under a lot of stress as his longtime Chief Financial Officer has just been granted immunity by prosecutors and New York State is going after the Trump Organization, which could lead to prosecutions of Trump family members which Trump has no authority to pardon. It's no wonder that Trump seems to be in a tizzy. I am reminded of a quote from Tolkien:

“But who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?”

Could it be that Trump, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, thinks that all his life seems shrinking, and the walls of his bathroom closing in a about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in? His Twitter activity seems to suggest it.

As an aside, I am on the record writing that I didn't like any of Peter Jackson's loose Tolkien adaptations (though I liked his early, low-budget films), and one of the major reasons is that he gives one of Gandalf's best lines to fucking Wormtongue. Ugh, Jackson's LotR, to crib another bit from Tolkien, seemed fair and felt foul, but I would probably watch the hell out of a Peter Jackson movie about the downfall of the Trump family.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Dog Whistle has Become an Air Raid Siren

It's not every day when you see the President of the United States parrot the fever dreams of foreign white supremacists, but Donald Trump is no ordinary President:

I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews

The myth of mass killings of white South African farmers is but one facet of the 'white genocide' narrative pushed by neo-Nazis and ethnonationalists. The white genocide conspiracy theory usually involves a Jewish plot to flood majority white countries with non-whites, who are portrayed as less intelligent than whites, in order to create a less-intelligent mixed-race population which can more easily manipulated by a Jewish (considered non-white by neo-Nazis) elite. Usually, it boils down to an alt-right boy's failure to get a date for Saturday night leading to claims of genocide.

The fact that the President of the United States is even contemplating this sort of rhetoric is very problematic.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Goth Jutsu

A week ago, an old friend, a contractor who directs one of our Fall fundraisers, asked me about judo- he occasionally watches MMA matches on YouTube, and he was curious about my sport. He's pretty much the quintessential Goth- he wears black clothes and always sports 'guyliner'. Yesterday, we were discussing the necessity of unbalancing before attempting a throw. I had him fit in for o soto gari (typically the first throw everybody learns), and like most beginners, he didn't step in enough, which left him off-balance and vulnerable to a counter-throw. I told him he needed to step chest-to-chest, driving forward so I would be unbalanced backwards. I had him perform some uchikomi drills so he got the balance right. He's a strong lad, used to the sort of manual labor a stage crew member engages in, so he has the potential to be a formidable opponent.

When we were done, I noted that I had a smear of eyeliner on my arm, which elicited peals of laughter from everyone present (three of his crew members were with us). I think I need to get a couple of black gis if we are going to continue this Goth dojo experiment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Why Was I Not Informed?

I am on the record as a big Paul Frees fan. He was good as the Burgomeister Meisterburger and fantastic as Boris Badanov. Today I discovered a vexing lacuna in my Paul Frees knowledge... Paul Frees did an album of cover songs, singing as celebrity impersonations. I never knew I needed Paul Frees impersonating Peter Lorre singing the Beatles:

Here's Mr Frees as Boris Karloff singing Dusty Springfield:

I am now a significant step closer to being a Paul Frees completist.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

You Have One Job

As soon as I get off of work this morning, I am hitting the road to visit my mother and my sister, plus her husband and kids, in Virginia. The car is gassed up and ready to go, my water bottle is chilling in my office fridge, and I am drinking a big cup of coffee. Mom had one request, she wanted me to bring her some creamed herring, because she can't find it in her local supermarkets.

I stopped at Stop and Shop and bought out their entire supply of the stuff, which wasn't a lot:

The small jar in the front, labeled Vita, is the premier brand. The two larger jars are an unfamiliar product, but you have to grab the herring that's there, not the herring which you want to be there. It's a Brooklyn product, so that is a promising note. Maybe it's small batch, artisanal stuff, processed by hipsters. I hope mom's not to cool for it.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Like Having Your Own Pit Crew

I will be taking a couple of road trips before Summer’s end, so this morning was the perfect opportunity to get an oil change and a check of fluids, belts, and hoses. After work, I drove to the Elmsford, NY Valvoline location, and my experience there was unlike previous oil changes I’ve had. For the record, I’ve changed my own oil years ago, but it’s not worth doing these days- I don’t have a garage, I don’t have the time, and I don’t want to deal with recycling used oil. Better to have professionals in a fully appointed workshop handle things.

I had been to this particular shop before, and it was a typical ‘give the manager your keys and wait forty-five minutes’ place. Today, I went to a drive-through facility- a very pleasant young woman verified my information in the system, and then I was off to the races, specifically a pit stop. I pulled up to the designated area and a whole team of mechanics checked the fluids, replaced the dirty air filter and fraying wiper blades, and changed the oil (I pay extra for full synthetic, it has a better lifespan). Within half an hour, I was ready to pull out and hit the road. I was so impressed by the staff, a bunch of African-American and Latin twenty-somethings, that I gave the manager a gratuity so she could buy them pizza for lunch. Don’t ever let somebody badmouth ‘these kids these days’ without challenge- the young people who worked on my car today were a marvel.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Titan Falls

One of the grand trees on my principal worksite was an enormous willow, growing not far from the bank of our local watercourse. It had a sprawling crown and dominated one of our open fields. Alas, it finally succumbed to horrible weather this year, splitting in half about a month ago, and finally falling to the ground this past week:

The still-green foliage of the fallen tree stands in marked contrast to the portion of the boll which had split off earlier this year:

This summer has been marked by inclement weather. Tonight is a stormy night, the sort of night which takes down tree branches. I had to travel to another site tonight in response to an alarm activation- the direct route is bad enough, going through a fairly congested downtown area, but tonight a tree limb had come down, hitting a couple of parked cars. The traffic was completely snarled up, making a typically annoying drive into a true source of frustration. I ended up driving back along a circuitous route in order to avoid the always-congested, now-constricted road.

I'm working a double shift, and between falling trees and the possibility of basement flooding, it promises to be a not-so-pleasant night. The loss of our ancient willow tree is genuinely sad, not merely unpleasant. It was a landmark onsite, a venerable living thing of great beauty.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Queen, Activist, Legend

It's a measure of someone's iconic status when news of their death is the headline story on another nation's national media. Aretha Franklin was a towering figure in 20th and 21st Century popular music, and her passing has inspired some moving tributes, Robyn Pennachia's Wonkette post collects a bunch of them, and serves as a beautiful memorial.

Aretha's storied career, with her first album being released at the age of fourteen, is a great précis of American postwar music, encompassing gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, and rock-and-roll... and she defined soul music.

Here's Aretha fronting the Ray Bryant Combo in a great jazz album from 1960:

Aretha was intimately involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960, lending moral, morale, and financial support to the movement. Her 1972 cover of Nina Simone's To Be Young, Gifted, and Black is a glorious paean to pride, to power, to excellence:

To many, her signature song is a cover of Otis Redding's Respect, which she transformed from a plea for domestic tranquility into a soaring anthem of the Civil Rights and Feminist movements:

I'm on record as being a huge fan of Puccini's Nessun Dorma and at the 1998 Grammy Awards presentation, Aretha sang it as a last-minute replacement for a sick Luciano Pavarotti:

The best testimony to a singer's power is their ability to elicit emotion in others, and this video of her performance at the 2015 Kennedy Center Awards ceremony perfectly showcases this, as she moves Carole King and the Obamas to tears:

President Obama's tribute to her was perhaps the single best take on her passing:

I sincerely hope that Aretha Franklin's full legacy is not glossed over- she was an activist as well as an artist. In an age in which the forces of repression and regression are trying to turn 'antifascist' and 'social justice warrior' into pejorative terms, it has to be stressed that Aretha was a fierce proponent of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

An Unforced Error, or Soundbitten

Almost a decade ago, I learned how to talk in soundbites, and to word responses to questions carefully, saying only what I wanted to see print. After a Secret Science Club lecture, a web-journalist wanted to interview some attendees, and I was approached to give my opinion regarding the lecture series. I gave a well-considered answer about how science wasn't a series of proclamations from an Ivory Tower, but a methodology, and that it should be accessible to the layperson, not intimidating. I considered my statements and articulated them... then I made a joke: "Now that we have a nerd in the White House, they're going to need a bigger venue!" Guess which utterance saw print...

This brings me to the latest local news kerfuffle, Governor Andrew Cuomo's ill-considered statement: "We're not going to make America great again. It was never that great." Andrew, Andrew, Andrew... you don't say that. Sure, the American Experience wasn't so great for people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities, but a seasoned politician doesn't just blurt out an easily decontextualized statement like Cuomo did. He could have conveyed a message counter to Trump's 'Make America Great Again' by saying that he wanted America to be great for everybody. This is the sort of soundbite which will be played ad nauseam by all media outlets, and amplified by right-of-center media. I'm not a huge Cuomo fan and would support many politicians, particularly Kirsten Gillibrand, over him in a 2020 Presidential primary... I think this pretty much spells the end of his national campaigning. He's running for re-election with Cynthia Nixon as a more liberal opponent, and I believe he will steamroll her simply by being an Establishment Candidate, but I think he blew his chances on the national stage. I can't say that I'm too upset at that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Weird War of Words

I have been on record criticizing the authorities of Saudi Arabia as the worst people in the world, with their oppression of women, corporal and capital punishment for ridiculous things like blasphemy and sorcery, their export of intolerant religious fundamentalism, their near-genocidal war against Yemeni Shiites, and material support for terrorist groups. I can't think of a more loathsome coterie of fanatics.

Currently, the Saudis are involved in a diplomatic conflict with, of all places, Canada, over criticism of the kingdom's human rights record. They have withdrawn diplomats, expelled Canadian diplomats, pulled students out of Canadian universities, and restricted trade. Sadly, other nations have not stood by Canada in this conflict.

The real bizarre dimension of this conflict is the hamfisted attempt by the Saudis to wage a disinformation campaign, complete with claims that Jordan Peterson is a political prisoner and allegations of camel abuse. I cannot think of a sillier international spat.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Not the Hero We Want, But Perhaps the Hero We Deserve

I have a confession to make... years ago, I watched a good bit of season one of The Apprentice- I was living in a house with a bunch of old friends, a sort of beach house without an ocean, and we often watched the show to see what a train wreck it was. Also, one of the contestants was a local girl, the daughter of the owners of a nearby pizzeria. Back then, I suspected that Omarosa was an actress, a 'ringer' who was hired to stir the pot and cause conflict in order to boost ratings. It was actually a pretty good role, especially for an African-American woman, an elegant, intelligent, and ruthless go-getter who was far from both the servile mammy or sexualized Jezebel stereotypes. She was a 'heel', maybe even a villainess, but she wasn't a stereotype. I'm still sort of shocked that there never was a 'reveal' in which she whipped out her SAG card and proclaimed it all an act.

The act took on a new, surreal nature when Donald Trump hired her to work in the White House... here was a live-action version of a Disney villainess spilling out into what passes for the real world. She was the perfect embodiment of the draining of the swamp (wetlands being vital ecosystems) and the installation of a cesspool- though she was always a minor villain compared to monsters like Pruitt, Bannon, Miller, and the like. Her firing seemed like yet another reality TV drama- no doubt she'd be rehired in time to boost the Sweeps Week ratings.

The revelation that she has recorded numerous conversations during her tenure in the White House (including her recording of John Kelly in the supposedly secure Situation Room) comes as a shock, but not a surprise. She is as familiar with Donald Trump as anyone outside his family could be, and she must know much of what ended up on the cutting room floor when The Apprentice was edited. She's the shifty, grifty conniver who knows exactly how to handle other shifty, grifty connivers. I sure hope she has a bunch of recordings secreted away with an attorney as a life insurance policy.

As much as I can't stand Omarosa, she has emerged as a genuine anti-hero with these recordings. She's unsympathetic, but she's not the sort of individual who wants sympathy, and she has managed to rattle her even more unsympathetic ex-boss like nobody before her. If her actions result in the downfall of PotUS Dotus, then she will have served her nation well. It's hard to root for her, but she's a damn sight better than her newfound enemies.

At any rate, this administration has been little more than a WEE style soap opera, and it seems like Omarosa may have done a major heel-face turn. Well, here's a little limerick inspired by this development:

A crafty gal named Omarosa
Recorded some things said sub-rosa.
She kept the 'receipts'
Eliciting tweets,
From Donald, the moron who chose her.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

It Was About Unity, After All

Thankfully, the Unite the Right 2 rally ended up being a total non-event, without about a score of sad-sacks ending up surrounded by thousands of counterprotestors and leaving in disgrace. The entire Unite the Right 2 effort was completely undercut and overwhelmed by the unity of average Americans who want to 'secure a future' for everybody's children.

This is exactly what happened in Boston last year, when alt-righties tried to conduct a hatenanny. Big cities, especially Northeastern ones with stringent firearms possession laws, are not friendly environments for concentrations of fascists. We like our diversity, we aren't sympathetic to authoritarians. Let's hope that this sad little 'rally' teaches these assholes to stay in their (mainly online) safe spaces.

I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to remember the life and work of Heather Heyer, who was murdered by a neo-Nazi terrorist. I would chalk up much of the repugnance toward the alt-right to the killing of this iinnocent young woman, and like many others, wish to see her martyrdom result in a more decent society.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Deny Them a Foothold

Tomorrow's Unite the Right 2: Ethnocentric Boogalo in DC promises to be a real shitshow. My suggestion for a counter to the rally is echoed in this plan to block attendees from parking at the Vienna, VA metro station. A similar denial of parking tactic used in Vancouver, WA, stymied transportation to the recent Portland 'Patriot Prayer' shitshow. The best tactic to use against these assholes is one of 'jamming'- force them to expend more effort to get to and from the destination- fill up the trains, cluster in the streets going toward Lafayette Park. Most of the attendees will be outsiders... force them to find alternative transportation, make them walk blocks out of their way to get to where they want to be. There's no need to engage with them, simply amble along the streets like clueless tourists, making frequent stops in order to obstruct the sidewalks. Make the out-of-towners feel 'all at sea', many of them aren't city folk, and are unused to the congestion of an inner city- frustrate them simply by living as an urbanite. Deny them a foothold, and do it in a manner that they can't even counter. Mess with their logistics.

Also, deny them any comfort, figure out where the public bathrooms are and occupy them, restrict them from your places of business, make them use up resources like gasoline and bottled water. It's supposed to be a stormy day in DC, deny them a place to get out of the rain. These people want their little war, give them confusion. I'm a judo player, and our sport is about controlling, rather than injuring them (though we are capable of messing someone up, it's not our purpose)... control the movements of these assholes, control the unfamiliar (to them) urban environment. There's no need to be confrontational, simply show them how insignificant they are in a large, diverse metropolitan environment

Friday, August 10, 2018

Rancho Del Rana

I have noted before that my jobsite is home to a plethora of large amphibians. We have the sort of bullfrogs that endanger even snapping turtle hatchlings. I mean, these things are all maw and hind legs! These are exactly the sort of beauties that could have earned you BIG BUX, because retro magazine ads never lie:

Yeah, back in the 1930s, frog ranching was the industry of the future... I mean, how could you possibly fail? It's just as easy as raising silkworms.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Not the New Branch We Need

The big policy story of the day is Mike Pence's speech at the Pentagon arguing for the creation of a Space Force, which promises to be an eight billion dollar boondoggle that will line the pockets of Marilyn Lockheed. Meanwhile, Russian hackers are targeting the US power grid and the Republicans blocked funding for electoral security... a cyberspace force would be more sensible, given the nature of the threats to our nation.

Well, with the increasing incidence of wildfires and storms due to climate change, a wide-focus scientific defense force would be the best response to the multiple threats that we face as a nation and a species. Longtime readers will know that I am talking about the creation of a Science Ninja Team. Groovy bell bottoms are optional:

Of course, with Pence involved, I can forsee an eight billion dollar 'creation science ninja team' boondoggle.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Was Geddy Lee Playing a Joke?

I have to confess that I actually like several songs by Canadian libertarian band Rush... though I find their earnest Libertarianism to be silly and their sci-fi lyrics are often goofy, I have to admit that a song like Red Barchetta gives me goosebumps. While poking around the t00bz, I found a reference to a Rush song I'd never heard, 1996's Virtuality, which in typical earnestly nerdy Rush fashion is about the internet:

It's certainly not the band's best effort, but it's inoffensive. What struck me about the song was lyrics of the chorus:

Net boy, net girl
Send your signal ’round the world
Let your fingers walk and talk
And set you free

I was immediately reminded of Elton Motello's 1977 trash classic Jet Boy, Jet Girl, which was recorded over the same background track later used in Plastic Bertrand's better known (because it's not filthy and problematic) Ça plane pour moi. Even though I am listening to it on the job, Jet Boy, Jet Girl is not safe for work (working alone has its benefits):

The Damned adopted the song as part of their repertoire:

I wonder if Geddy Lee and his bandmates were having some fun when he wrote the chorus to Virtuality, or if it was a fluke. While their oeuvre tends to be earnest, if not necessarily serious, Geddy was known to participate in a joke occasionally.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Many Abdominal/Gastrointestinal Afflictions

One of the platforms of Republicanism, which has been ramped up under Trumpism, is deregulation, sold as the removal of 'burdensome' or 'job killing' regulations. The reality is that Joe and Jane Schmo don't benefit from such deregulatory actions as bringing asbestos back to American industry.

Another effect of deregulation is the surge in food recalls due to cyclospora, salmonella, and listeria contamination. There was a scurrilous item in the book Fire and Fury which suggested that Trump eats at McDonald's because he fears being poisoned- one would think that he'd be a little more picky about the conditions under which the food supply is processed.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Broad Spectrum Banning

Holy crap, Facebook, Apple, Spotify, and Youtube have all banned Alex Jones in a multi-site deplatforming which can be likened to a decapitation strike against the Right Wing Conspiracy Industrial Complex. I would love to know what final straw caused multiple avenues of content distribution to drop Jones like a hot rock. I suspect it has to do with lawsuits against Jones by sympathetic plaintiffs- what company wants to be seen as a party to defamation of victims?

There is a lot of wangst among the Jonestown Flavor-Ade drinkers regarding Jones' First Amendment rights, but nobody has a right to a platform provided by a private entity such as Facebook or YouTube. Jones and his minions have no more right to a soapbox on Facebook and YouTube than Emma Gonzalez has a right to a soapbox on InfoWars... and I don't see Jones giving her or David Hogg access to his site. Regarding assertions that Facebook is a monopoly, those are bullshit as well- Myspace never went away, and Right Wingers are free to come up with their own social media platforms- they are just really bad at it. Also, there are always cesspools such as 4chan and 8chan for Jones to use for distribution... he's just mad that he is now relegated t:o a nutjob circle jerk.

One bizarre byproduct of the Jones ban is that most of his YouTube exposure will now be in the form of remixes... eventually, he may come to be seen as a alternative EDM act:

Seriously, these things are addictive:

If this entire sub-genre of electronica is Jones' legacy, then maybe his damage to the public discourse will have been worth it.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Hitting Close to Home?

I have a suspicion that Dotard is cracking under the pressure of the Russia collusion investigation, a suspicion that things are heating up, hitting closer to home for him... what other reason would he have to tweet this out?

Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!

This contradicts his earlier narrative that the meeting was about the adoption of Russian babies. I suspect that Donald Jr is going to be taken in for interrogation by Mueller's people, and that his dad is shitting a brick over it. There are allegations that Trump pere used to smack his son around in front of other people. If that is true, I imagine he will be regretting that if his son decides that he doesn't want to be a fall guy for his father.

Tengrain has a really good post on this topic, including some funny takes regarding Trump 'sacrificing his eldest son for the good of the country'. I really think Junior needs to figure out that his dad means for him to take the fall before it's too late.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Relieved About Portland

I really thought that the right wing rally in Portland, Oregon was going to be a lot more violent than it was. I had been expecting a melee, but it see that the violent parties were contained, for the most part. Sadly, it looks to me like the worst injuries were inflicted by gung-ho police using ‘less-than-lethal’ projectiles on counter protestors in an irresponsible manner... guess it’s clear what side they are on, and it’s up to the populace of Portland to demand accountability.

The real heroes in this whole mess were the business owners who prevented the righties from using their parking lots, interfering with their transportation logistics. It’s likely that they prevented the fascists from achieving a critical mass necessary for inflicting real mischief on Portlanders.

This is just a quick post before heading off to work, I will edit to provide links when I am ensconced at my desk later.

Friday, August 3, 2018

It Begins

I just locked up the building and closed off the parking lot after a crew of our Fall Fundraising Event contractors left a planning meeting on the premises. Every year, it seems like Fall has arrived earlier. I know everyone who was at the meeting, I have come to value their friendship over the course of almost a decade working together.

I also have to cobble together a Fall schedule, trying to ensure week-round coverage with five employees, including myself. I am plugging names and times into our web-based scheduling software, stopping to sigh, and saying, 'And this is where the magic happens!' I'm looking at six and seven day weeks for two months, but as long as HR and our comptroller sign off on the wages, I should be okay. I already told my neighbors that I would be pulling a 'Captain Nemo', not surfacing for long time.

It's the first weekend of August, and it already feels like Summer is over, but for the fact that it's hot and exceedingly muggy. I would like to take a day or two off before crunch time, but looking at our staffing needs, and our attenuated workforce, I don't know how feasible this will be.

Oh, well, it beats working 9-to-5 in insurance.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Ridiculous Rationale for a Stupid 'Solution' to a Manufactured Problem

Stupid and evil often go hand-in-hand, especially with the current crop of incompetent grifters in the Trump Maladministration. The latest atrocity is the proposed rollback of fuel efficiency and emissions standards for automobiles. Trump and his crony capitalist kakistocrats also seek to remove California's ability to regulate in-state emissions. It's a bundle of badness, guaranteed to boost fossil fuel corporations' profits, lower the cost of automobile manufacturing, and 'own the libs' by poisoning the air and ramping up anthropogenic global warming. Never mind that a chronic heat wave is gripping much of North America, doing something to mitigate climate change cuts into profits.

Adding insult to injury is the maladministration's claim that decreasing fuel efficiency standards will save lives:

The Trump administration says people would drive more and be exposed to increased risk if their cars get better gas mileage, an argument intended to justify freezing Obama-era toughening of fuel standards.

The maladministration also claimed that heavier cars are safer:

New vehicles would be cheaper – and heavier – if they don’t have to meet more stringent fuel requirements and more people would buy them, the draft says, and that would put more drivers in safer, newer vehicles that pollute less.

The equation mass x velocity puts the lie to this assertion.

This lowering of standards benefits only large corporations- fossil fuel companies, auto manufacturers, and the various support industries that prop them up, including mercenaries to fight in petrowars. The average person suffers from the effects of pollution, from extraction, from the conflicts that surround petroleum reserves, both abroad and at home. The very idea that any nation would work to stymie, even reverse, progress on fuel efficiency and environmental standards is monstrous.

It's here where I note that Russia's economy depends heavily on fossil fuels.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Keeping the Family Grifting Tradition Going

I thought that I had written a blog post about Jordan Peterson, the stupid person's idea of a smart person, but it seems I haven't... oh, well, the best characterization of Peterson I've ever read is Emma's comment at Smut's Place:

Maaaaan, but somebody needs to bring down the wrath of god on that irritating motherfucker like yesterday. I actually tried to read his awful Theory of Everything book last month! It was like Joseph Campbell got hit by a bus and no one noticed, and he staggered across the street to the public library with blood running down his head, and he read nineteen pages of The White Goddess, and three chapters of The Golden Bough, and then the last two-thirds of Émile Durkheim's Wikipedia page, and suddenly he understood the shape of the world beneath its shroud of falsehoods and deceits. And also he lost about 50 I.Q. points. And Peterson's fans are all so dumb they're unable to notice that not only is their Emperor naked, he's actually a horse. I don't know how that anthropomorphized clownshoe has been able to pass himself off as an intellectual for all these years. Are the hiring standards at Canadian universities a lot different than ours, or what?

Besides being an alt-right darling and a devotee of evil evo-psych bafflegab, Peterson is a scam artist, selling silly self-help platitudes to gormless nitwits. Now, it seems, his daughter has found a scam of her own:

It’s the “carnivore diet,” the latest food trend to sweep the internet, and the 26-year-old swears that it cured her depression and rheumatoid arthritis. Yes, she admits, it “sounds absolutely insane,” there is no research to back it up, and she isn’t qualified to give medical diagnoses. But now she’s offering Skype “consultations” about the diet for about $90 an hour, following in her famous dad’s financial footsteps.

Oh, dear, this is some really dubious lifestyle advice, though the thought of a bunch of incels and alt-righters paying for the privilege of contracting scurvy and arteriosclerosis doesn't seem to bother me for some reason.