Sunday, September 30, 2018

Angst Abounds

Things have been weird in the few days since the Blasey-Ford/Kavanaugh hearings of last Thursday, and not 'good weird'. I can't recall a time when television pundits scoured Urban Dictionary to suss out the arcana of toxic teenage bro culture. Listening to music radio, DJs are remarking about what a tough week it's been. Several of the women I work with approached me to tell me about how they have been having a rough week. There is a psychic/emotional pall over the country, and it's not just my perception- calls to crisis hotlines have doubled since Thursday. Decades of PTSD are being brought into the open, wounds that have never been healed are made manifest.

This week doesn't promise to be any better- there is a creeping feeling of inevitability about the ascension of a probable serial sex offender and a definite ugly drunk with memory issues (PDF) and perjurer to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

This is a week when men need to shut up and listen to the accounts of the women (and men, let's not forget) who have been victims of sexual abuse and harassment. I don't describe myself as a feminist, precisely because I believe that that status must be conferred, not claimed, and too many a 'joke woke bloke' tries to don the mantle while remaining a cad. This is a week when trying to be kind is the most important task facing decent men:

We owe it to women, we owe it to society, we owe it to ourselves.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Flake I Can Get Behind

This week, we discovered that the fate of the nation lies in the hand of a flake, which discomfits me. Jeff Flake isn't the sort of flake I would place my trust in. There is, however, another flake in the news- a prolific ditty writer who has written over eighty-eight songs about municipalities in New Jersey. One of the songs aroused my curiosity, being titled Possibly the Best Song About Union City:

Who's going to break the news to Debbie Harry?

Poking around Mr Farley's YouTube page, I hit paydirt:

He GETS us, it's like he lives here! I especially liked his bit, one I joke about myself, about Yonkers being NYCs 'sixth borough'. He even works in Yonkers' nickname as 'The City of Hills', but tactfully leaves out the punchline: 'Where nothing is on the level'.

In these dark days, you take the flaky heroes you can get.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Comfort Food for an Uncomfortable Day

Like many Americans, I spent much of the day listening to a radio broadcast of today's hearings regarding Brett Kavanaugh. It was an uncomfortable day, so I decided to make some comfort food. Thankfully, due to the current meat glut, I was able to buy some osso bucco at about a thirty percent discount. At the risk of sounding like a stereotype, it was an offer I couldn't refuse. I put on the radio broadcast of the Senate Judiciary Committee and began browning the veal shanks in a Dutch oven. As I was waiting for the Maillard reaction to take place, I was listening to Dr Blasey Ford describe the role of the hippocampus in remembering traumatic events. Science works in everyday life, people.

After browning the veal shanks, I removed them from the Dutchie and started cooking the soffritto, to which I added two anchovy fillets (called 'Italian MSG' by Chef John), a couple of dried hot red peppers, and a generous dollop of tomato paste. I let these ingredients cook together until slightly caramelized, then put the shanks back in the pot, added a splash of white wine, a bay leaf transfixed with a single clove, a minced clove of garlic, and water to cover everything. Not having any thyme on hand, I crushed a couple of ajwain seeds in a pestle and added them to the pot, then turned the flame down to a simmer.

Speaking of simmering, I was simmering throughout the coverage of the hearings- I fumed at the cowardice which had the all-male Republican cabal on the committee hiring a woman to handle the questioning of Dr Blasey Ford. Throughout the proceedings, I had one ear on the radio while I followed Even Hurst's liveblog. I subjected myself to Kavanaugh stating that, while he likes beer, he has never been blackout drunk, and any of the 'ralphing' mentioned in his yearbook was due to a weak stomach. My personal view is that, when you are accused of being a bad drunk, and your high school yearbook entry is chock full of references to boozing, admit to at least the typical base level of inebriation which is almost a rite of passage for American teenagers. Even if you wish to claim not to be a falling-down drunk, the idea that he was a responsible social drinking is silly.

There were cringeworthy moments- particularly Kavanaugh's assertion that his daughter suggested that the family pray for Blasey Ford. That's a lot of wisdom from a ten year-old, but there was a lack of wisdom among the old white guys in the room. Lindsey Graham was especially fatuous today... for the record, no allegations of sexual misconduct were made against Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.

As the hearings simmered on, my pot simmered on, and I started another pot boiling to cook some polenta, the perfect bed for osso bucco. With two pots simmering, and the hearings drawing to an end, it was time to whip up a quick gremolata. By the time the hearings ended, I was thoroughly discomforted, so a dish of comfort food was a welcome respite- soon followed up with a decontamination shower.

The one takeaway I have from the hearings is that Dr Ford's testimony rang true- we do remember details of traumatic or shocking events. I can tell you where I was on 9/11/2001 and what I did throughout the day... the 'Remember 9/11' crying eagle meme crowd should be the first to admit that trauma is memorable.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

In Need of a Midweek Palate Cleanser

I spent much of today trying to catch up with the news, which is a total shitshow. Yesterday, after I finished my eight-hour certification training, I went to bar trivia, which meant that I was away from internet access for more than eight hours. The news being awful, I figured I'd post what Tengrain calls a 'palate cleanser'.

I've been a fan of UK indie band Wolf Alice upon first hearing them. They remind me of the best hard-rocking, woman-fronted 'alternative' bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Well, this band won this year's Mercury Prize for best album in their island homeland. Their performance at the awards ceremony started off with a shaky vocal performance by Ellie Rowsell, but she rallied and pulled off a wonderful rendition of the pretty Don't Delete the Kisses:

In the midst of this morass of misogyny, shitty politics, and environmental catastrophe, it's nice to know that there is beauty, and grit, to be found in this flawed world.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Out of the Loop

I will be heading out soon for an eight hour class necessary for my professional licensing. It will feel weird to be isolated from the news for so long, especially with the Kavanaugh controversy and Trump’s bizarre performance at the UN. With world affairs being so volatile, eight hours can spell a period of massive change. I’m not a deep sleeper- I’m not out of the loop for eight hours even when I’m in the Land of Nod.

I sure hope nobody in power breaks much while I’m in class.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Trigger Warning Week

Listening to the news today, I noticed that every broadcast on NPR and some on CBS had content warnings due to sexual content surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination. I kept thinking, “This is not normal. This is way beyond the Clarence Thomas shitshow.” This entire week needs a trigger warning.

I’m going to take a moment to address trigger warnings- a certain breed of asshole, typically male, uses the term as an insult. My take on it is that trigger warnings are for SURVIVORS, they are meant to protect people who have lived through traumatic incidents. I’d be willing to bet that the typical conserva-bro using the term in disparaging fashion would not be able to handle such trauma.

It’s been a rough week, and it’s only Monday. I know that some commentators at blogs I visit are having bad time with the misogyny on parade in the media. The news reports are carrying trigger warnings, it might not be a bad time to take a breather. We’re going to need all of our strength in the coming weeks.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

I'd Say that the Sexual Misconduct Is a Feature, Not a Bug

Last year, when the story of a fatal fraternity pledge incident dominated the local news, I posted about the code of bromertà- the omertà-like behavior of men who engage in violent, usually misogynistic behavior. A teenager who covers up sexual misconduct or the injury, even death, by misadventure of a peer will grow up to be a man who will cover up corporate, political, or sexual malfeasance.

That brings me to the Kavanaugh nomination- here's a guy with a growing litany of allegations of sexual misconduct. Add to that his sketchy financial history, and a picture of an easily compromised individual emerges. This is a guy who is vulnerable to blackmail at best, a serial criminal at worst.

The very idea that this creep, who makes Robert Bork look like a moderate jurist, would gain a lifetime position on the Supreme Court is utterly repugnant. Given the Republican Party's recent string of candidates with histories of sexual misconduct, it's utterly predictable.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

It's That Time of the Year Again

Once again, today is the day of the local street festival, which, because I live in the Tavern District of the City of Y______, involves a lot of beer drinking:

I have plans to meet up with some cousins for the festivities, and I know that my neighbors will be out in force. It's a sure bet that the craic is going to be fantastic, we denizens of the neighborhood wouldn't tolerate things otherwise.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Swarming Bacteria

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring Dr João Xavier, computational biologist and director of Sloan Kettering's X-Lab. Dr Xavier's topic was experimental evolution and swarming bacteria.

Dr Xavier began his lecture with a quote from Richard Dawkins:

My eyes are constantly wide open to the extraordinary fact of existence. Not just human existence, but the existence of life and how this breathtakingly powerful process, which is natural selection, has managed to take the very simple facts of physics and chemistry and build them up to redwood trees and humans.

He followed this up with a beautiful tribute to biodiversity, first showcasing the human diversity of New York City's populace with pictures from the subway system, then showing pictures of animal biodiversity, then expanding his focus to include plants, fungi, and bacteria. Dr Xavier then took a brief digression to note that he entered into the field of biology relatively late- he was initially more interested in math and physics, but eventually felt the call to apply his knowledge of those fields to biology. He followed up this digression with a brief overview of Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection: put succinctly, successful individuals will be 'selected' by natural processes to pass on their traits to their offspring, and this selection will drive the direction in which a species will evolve. The basic mechanism of biological inheritance was formulated by Gregor Mendel, who observed the passing of traits in plant lineages. The central dogma of molecular biology, as formulated by Crick et al. is that DNA is the molecular entity behind evolution. DNA encodes genes which make proteins. DNA can be transcribed- it is copied when a cell divides, and sometimes there are errors in the copying, known as mutations. Most mutations are harmful to an organism, but occasionally they may lead to better survival outcomes. Diversity emerges through mutations, and the fittest organisms tend to propagate.

Dr Xavier then noted that everyone alive today descends from a common ancestor, then he amended this statement to note that every living organism on Earth comes from a common ancestor. He noted that this is a hard-to-grasp concept, so some people refuse to believe it. This refusal to believe led to the creation of the 'Intelligent Design' movement, which posits a director/designer in the evolution of life. The bacterial flagellum was considered the icon of Intelligent Design creationism, but Dr Xavier noted that the proteins behind the flagellum are understood- complex structures look precisely adapted to their environment, they look designed, but their evolution in incremental steps is explainable.

This talk of flagella then segued into the real topic of the lecture- the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a human pathogen. Dr Xavier uses Pseudomonas to investigate the fundamental facts about evolution and their direct implications in medicine. Bacterial evolution can be deadly- Dr Xavier recounted a case in which a patient needed a bone marrow transplant, which involved suppressing their immune system. Ten days before the transplant, while the patient's immune system was compromised, the patient developed a Pseudomonas infection which was resistant to most antibiotics. The patient was treated with aztreonam, but the bacteria evolved resistance to this antibiotic through a mutation, sepsis set in, and the patient died. Antibiotics select for resistance against themselves- they kill off non-resistant bacteria, then the small population of resistant bacteria propagates. The evolution of antibiotic resistance is fast, and it happens all the time.

Dr Xavier then followed this cheerful news with another quote from Richard Dawkins:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

Bacteria evolve quickly because they reproduce quickly. The Pseudomonas bacteria form a swarming collective, they have motility due to their flagella. Dr Xavier studies this swarming behavior in petri dishes. Separate bacterial swarms in a petri dish repel each other. The bacteria need flagella to swarm, and this is the natural condition of the wild type. A non-swarming, non-flagellated form, known as flgK was developed in the lab. Dr Xavier then showed us a series of videos comparing the spread of swarming wild-type bacteria to the spread of non-swarming mutants:

Parallel experiments were conducted in different petri dishes, and they demonstrated the heritable and stable tendency to evolve into hyperswarming bacteria with multiple flagella, a new feature that evolved in the laboratory. Genome sequencing revealed the precise mutations which caused hyperswarming. Some bacteria evolved an excess of flagella, and too many 'tails' prevented swarming... the right number of flagella was needed. Hyperswarmers, though they move more quickly to exploit new resources, grow more slowly than the ancestral type bacteria- multiple tails require more resources.

Dr Xavier likened the petri dishes with different bacterial strains as to 'fighting arenas' in which the strains were pitted against each other. Different strains were stained red or green, and hyperswarmers were pitted against ancestral types. The hyperswarmers expand quickly and find nutrients, while the non-hyperswarmers are stuck in regions in which nutrients are exhausted. Faster speeds can come with a trade-off, though. Dr Xavier cited the invasive cane toad as an example of such a trade-off... in areas in which the toads are expanding their range, they evolved longer legs which enabled a faster spread. Dr Xavier joked that there was an 'Olympic village of cane toads' down under. The trade-off is that the longer legs, while enabling faster movement, also resulted in more spinal injuries among the leggy toads. In the case of Pseudomonas, hyperswarmers are not found in natural environments or in hospitals- while they can move quickly, they are bad at forming biofilms. In the fighting arena of the petri dish, the slow bacteria will eventually take over- in nature, the fast bacteria don't do well. It's difficult to evolve a change in the structure of the flagellum, the icon of the Intelligent Design movement. Dr Xavier got another dig in at the ID crowd- when the New York Times ran the headline “Watching Bacteria Evolve, with Predictable Results”, a creationist publication describing itself as 'a great tool for countering pro-Darwin propaganda' countered with the rejoinder 'They're still bacteria.' CHECK AND MATE, POINDEXTERS!!!!

Dr Xavier then went on to discuss the use of swarming bacteria to study social behavior- how do social behaviors evolve? Social behaviors can have a different impact on actors and recipients. In mutualism, everyone benefits- actors and recipients. Altruism is costly to the actor and benefits the recipients. Selfishness benefits the actor and is costly to the recipients. In the case of spite, everyone loses. Game theory uses mathematics to analyze behavioral choices. Dr Xavier cited the example of the prisoner game to illustrate game theory:

Kin selection explains many altruistic behaviors- altruism is more likely among relatives. When asked if he would lay down his life to save his brother, biologist J.B.S. Haldane was quoted as saying that he wouldn't, but that he would for two brothers or eight cousins. Altruism makes sense when it results in evolutionary fitness benefits.

Among bacteria, the whole population benefits from swarming, but swarming involves sacrifice among individuals. Non-swarming bacteria tend to consume all available nutrients in their environment until they cannot grow their population. Resources are spent to propagate a swarm, and the tiny contributions of individual bacteria can add up to an impressive spread. Alone, on-swarming bacteria cannot spread, but they can hitchhike along with swarming bacteria. In this cooperative situation, the ratio of swarming to non-swarming bacteria remains stable. Cheating is hard due to metabolic prudence- bacteria cooperate when they have excess metabolic resources to devote to swarming. Dr Xavier ended his lecture by joking that metabolic regulation of good behavior is not only found among bacteria- citing a study of judicial records which suggested that judges at parole hearings tended to become less lenient as they got hungrier, but exhibited renewed leniency after lunch.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. Some bastard in the audience, thinking back to Dr Paul Turner's SSC lecture on phage therapy, asked if there had been experiments to use selective pressure to 'breed' less harmful versions of pathogenic bacteria by selecting and propagating less virulent individuals. Dr Xavier replied that this hasn't been attempted, but that it would be possible for less harmful bacteria to out-compete their dangerous relatives. There's no good model for this sort of study, but it could be evolved... of course, as in the example of the introduction of the cane toad to Australia, things could go awry, as organisms don't necessarily behave in the wild as they do in the lab. The Bastard missed a bunch of questions while taking a break to micturate, but when he returned to the main auditorium, the question regarded cancer- cancer cells have an initial propagation advantage over 'normal' cells, but are an evolutionary dead end as they kill their hosts... they are successful for a while, then they fail utterly. He also mentioned the transmissable cancer that is devastating Tasmanian devil populations as a particularly horrific example of this sort of thing.

Once again, the Secret Science Club served up a fantastic lecture. I am particularly struck by the sheer coolness of a Professor Xavier setting up clashes among mutants in a battle arena. The multiple videos of the petri dish battles were gorgeous:

Kudos to Dr Xavier, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

MTA Trolling?

The day being beautiful and temperate, I decided that I would leave my car parked near home, and would start my journey to the beautiful Bell House for tonight’s Secret Science Club on foot. I walked to the MTA Bx34 bus stop at Katonah Ave and 237th St and waited, and waited- the 4:55 bus was not in evidence.

At 5:06, the 34 bus arrived, with a second 34 bus close on its tail. At the intersection of Katonah and 233rd St, they were front to back, and they kicked for position the length of 233rd St. Transit, like comedy, is a matter of timing- in this case, I think the MTA was playing a prank on us. Thankfully, I made the transfer to the 4 Train with a minute to spare, so I can laugh at the joke this time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Beto'd Ban Barbecue? Bah! But Beto'd Better Ban Booger-Binging

I don't expect much from Texas politics, but Ted Cruz has brought proceedings to a new nadir of stupidity- at a campaign stop, he made a remark, passed off as a joke, that Beto O'Rourke would ban barbecue:

"When I got here someone told me that even PETA was protesting and giving out barbecued tofu, so I got to say, they summed up the entire election: If Texas elects a Democrat, they're going to ban barbecue across the state of Texas."

This is a companion piece to his campaign's stupid assertion that Beto would bring tofu, silicon, and dyed hair to Texas, as if those things weren't already there:

"We are seeing tens of millions of dollars flooding into the state of Texas from liberals all over the country who desperately want to turn the state of Texas blue. They want us to be just like California, right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair."

Weird, I'd bet actually folding money that Cruz himself dyes his hair, as does his wife, the vegetarian.

At any rate, Ted Cruz has nothing to worry about, because whatever the hell this thing is, it sure as hell isn't barbecue:

But whatever it is, I wouldn't mind a ban on eating it.

Monday, September 17, 2018

No Trip Like the Nostalgia Trip, by Which I Mean the Fantasy Trip

The Tor Books site has a fun post about the 1977 Television special presentation of the Rankin/Bass animated film of Tolkien's The Hobbit.

I recently watched the animated film< and I believe that it holds up well. The character design is inspired by the illustrations of Arthur Rackham, a personal favorite of mine. Here's the Rankin/Bass version of Thorin and Company:

They look similar to Rackham's depiction of Henry Hudson and his crew from Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle:

The animation in the film was done by Japanese company Topcraft, a precursor to Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. The voice acting, featuring such Bastard favorites as Paul Frees and Don Messick, was excellent, with a standout performance by 'stand up tragedist' Brother Theodore as Gollum:

Yeah, not to badmouth Andy Serkis, who did a credible job as this creepy junkie analogy, but this is the real deal. Also, Peter Jackson put WAAAAAAAYYYY too much of this character in his movies.

Veteran actor Richard Boone also did a bang-up job as Smaug, perfectly portraying the arrogant, jaded dragon as a bully and a braggart playing cat and mouse with an unknown intruder:

The film, released in 1977, was a watershed moment in nerd culture, as the Tor piece asserts. A good portion of the kids viewing it ended up picking up the celebrated 1977 Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set and fantastic literature crystalized into a sub-Tolkienian orthodoxy... though it must be said that, judging from his gloriously purple prose, Uncle Gary was more of an A. Merritt fan.

Now, speaking of both nostalgia trips and fantasy trips, this year is seeing the resurrection of role-playing game The Fantasy Trip, which author/designer Steve Jackson was able to regain control over after it was killed off by an unscrupulous publisher who let the IP languish rather than sell it back to Mr Jackson at a reasonable price. This game, based off of a couple of skirmish-simulation microgames, was a favorite to play during short school breaks due to its speed and simplicity. I played quite a bit of it at school, and became adept at finding the more outré character builds while everybody else was stuck in that mighty sword rut... you see, I was also a big A. Merritt fan.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Dogwood Days of Summer

You've heard of the dog days of summer, but this tail end of the season is, for me, the dogwood days of summer, the days when the delicious Kousa dogwood fruits ripen. For the record, I didn't know they were edible when I first tried one, but they have become part of the foraging menu. They have an undeniable visual appeal:

The yellowish pulp inside has the sweet deliciousness of a tropical fruit, but there's not a lot of substance to these beauties. Give each a couple of licks, then move on to the next one. There are plenty of them to be had, because these ornamental trees are everywhere.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Realistic Threat Assessment?

Think of the dangers that a hurricane poses- rising flood waters, high winds propelling objects-rendered-projectiles through the air, falling trees, downed power lines that can electrocute bystanders... then think of this danger that the godawful New York Post decided to highlight. Yeah, snakes... right, they are really something to worry about amid the general mayhem.

This raises the perennial question:

Why did it have to be snakes? Well, many people have an irrational fear of snakes, and the target audience of Rupert Murdoch's Post are fearful, ignorant people, the sort of people who regularly make poor threat assessments. In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those individuals who loves snakes- I find them fascinating, elegant, beautiful creatures, creatures which are generally beneficially to humankind, even though venomous snakes can pose a danger to humans who frighten them.

Florence is an unfolding disaster, but somehow Murdoch 'journalism' can make things even worse.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Florence and the Rain Machine

I've been periodically checking in on the progress of Hurricane Florence, and I am reminded of 2011's Hurricane Irene and 2012's Superstorm Sandy. Florence, like Irene, is a slow moving rain machine- while 'only' a category one hurricane at landfall, the main damage will be due to storm surge, largely an effect of the storm's 500 mile (800 kilometer) diameter, and the flooding rainfall. Here in the Northeast, Superstorm Sandy's destructive effects were due to storm surge while Irene wreaked havoc in New England due to its slow pace and heavy rains. Florence looks like it'll hit the Carolinas with a combination of both.

The real 'elephant in the room' is the development of the Outer Banks, the barrier islands along the North Carolina coast, which are being inundated, and other low-lying coastal areas. Even under the best conditions, barrier islands are ephemeral- they go, move, shift with the currents. I'm not a big Bible reader, but there's something to be said about not building a house on a foundation of sand.

To compound the dangers of flooding, North Carolina is infamous for its pig manure lagoons which, if flooding causes them to overtop their 'banks', will contaminate rivers and groundwater before the fecal flood pollutes the coastal waters, possibly causing algal blooms and sea life die-off. Even worse than the pigshit is the coal ash from power plants, which contains heavy metals, which are even worse than fecal coliforms. I'm of the opinion that a 'war on coal' is a good thing, but I'm one of those 'nanny state' regulation junkies.

One concern that I have is that the coastal devastation in the wake of Florence will result in an orgy of Disaster Capitalism. One particularly vulnerable population is the Gullah Geechee community of the low country and offshore islands, who have largely preserved their African heritage through the centuries. The Gullah Geechee are already beleaguered by global warming and predatory developers, and a destructive storm might be the factor which pushes them over the edge.

At any rate, I have a suspicion that Florence will be another unmitigated disaster, partly due to Trumpian incompetence, partly due to rapacious disaster capitalism.

Post title taken from one of contemporary pop music's most dramatic performers...

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Most Unusual Primary Election Day

I arrived at work in the predawn hours this morning, because my workplace is a polling site and today is the day on which a bunch of primary elections take place. Typically, election days are on Tuesdays, but Rosh Hashana falling on Monday and Tuesday pushed the election back to a Thursday this year. My role on election days is to open up the building and to help the poll workers set up the voting machines, the 'Plan B' backup scanner, and the various tables and privacy desks provided by the Board of Elections. I'm also the guy who remembers where the 100 foot 'no electioneering' sign goes.

The big election today is the NY State Democratic gubernatorial primary. Governor Andrew Cuomo is being challenged by Cynthia Nixon, who is best known as a 'Sex and the City' actress. I'm a little leery of celebrity candidates, especially given the reality TV turkey in the White House, but Ms Nixon has been a good foil for Governor Cuomo, forcing him to tack to the left on numerous issues. Cuomo is an opportunist, and a bit too much of a centrist for me, but I suspect he will steamroll Ms Nixon. This is why the distribution of a flyer accusing Ms Nixon of antisemitism was a bizarre, as well as a nasty, campaign strategy, no matter who drew it up. The lieutenant governor race pits NYC councilman Jumaane Williams against current lt gov Kathy Hochul. Hochul is an upstate conservadem, while Williams is more likely to prioritize the needs of downstaters such as myself.

The other big semi-local election is the primary against Democrat-who-caucuses-with-Republicans asshole Jeff Klein. Christ, I hope the people of the Bronx vote his ass out of the state legislature.

I'm only here for four hours- once 9AM rolls around, the dayshift will be here, the onsite gift shop and cafe will be open, and tourists will be mingling with the voters. I will be going home to my beloved Yonkers to vote in the primary, after which I shall pass out and sleep the sleep of the just.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Trivia You Learn on the Internet

Being an individual of a certain age, I am a fan of post-punk/proto-Goth band The Cure, though my one post mentioning them name-dropped their one-off project with their mailman on lead vocals. Lately, I have been listening to the band quite a bit because of a conversation with a friend who is also a big fan.

One of the band's most atmospheric songs from their early career is the 1981 single Charlotte Sometimes, a moody number about a girl who sometimes is 'dreaming while the other people dance'. Poking around the t00bz tonight, I found a video (disavowed by singer Robert Smith) for the song, and learned that the song was based on a 1969 novel of the same title. The video for the song is a nice visualization of the novel's plot, which involves a protagonist, Charlotte naturally, who exchanges bodies periodically with another girl from forty years before her own time:

The Cure - Charlotte Sometimes from Nexus on Vimeo.

Put into its proper context, the song takes on a whole new meaning- it's not a song about a doomed romance, but something much more fantastic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Getting Political This Year

I was thinking about putting up an anodyne, apolitical post about 9/11 this year (I am a New Yorker, I had friends killed in the attack, and friends who died of illnesses related to the attack, and friends who are suffering the aftereffect of the attack), but then I saw Dotard's Twitter feed and decided to take the gloves off.

9/11 was a Republican disaster, pure and simple.

The attacks succeeded because a Republican president, unelected but installed by a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, decided to ignore the intelligence warning of a coming terrorist attack on the United States.

The Republican mayor of New York City, advised to put the emergency command center in downtown Brooklyn's Metrotech, put it in World Trade Center 7 as a favor to a well-connected real estate mogul, putting the nerve center right in the middle of the city's biggest target. There is a reason why Rudy was wandering the streets of downtown Manhattan, gaining an undeserved iconic status- it was his incompetence, not his valor.

After the attacks, the Republican administration decided not to go after the perpetrators of the attacks, but to prosecute a war against the innocent population of Iraq, ending up in the deaths of countless Iraqis, thousands of American servicemembers, and resulting in a destabilized Middle East and a refugee crisis which is now destabilizing Europe. The Republican administration also put into place a surveillance state which still threatens the civil liberties of all Americans.

Most of the Republicans in Congress voted against a benefits package to aid ailing first responders, even filibustering against it in 2010. Jon Stewart was instrumental into shaming Congress into voting the act into law.

Trump himself has a shameful record regarding his statements and actions in the aftermath of the attacks, and even today, he can't help but bring an immature note of triumphalism into what should be a sober day for reflection.

9/11 was a Republican disaster, the responses to 9/11 were a Republican disaster. 9/11 should have marked the end of the Republican Party, but complicit corporate media persisted in portraying Republicans as 'strong on national security', all evidence to the contrary. 9/11 has degenerated into Right Wing Christmas, with all sorts of crying eagle kitsch (as an aside, those eagles would have gone extinct if environmentalists hadn't pushed for DDT bans). I hereby invite all of the Deplorables, MAGAts, Teabaggers, and the like to shove all of their kitsch, their victimhood, their false piety, their jingoism up their asses. Real people suffered, and are suffering, because of the incompetence of the people you voted and vote for, leave them to their remembrances. This isn't your day, assholes.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Shana Tovah

Here's wishing a happy new year to my Jewish readers. This Rosh Hashana, I am perplexed by the prevalence of anti-semitism in the United States in the year 2018, by which I mean 5779. As a non-Jewish person with many Jewish friends, who is interested in fields in which Jewish contributions loom large, such as science and the arts, I am perplexed by anti-Jewish attitudes. There is a whole Conspiracy Industrial Complex which pushes the idea that there is a Jewish cabal which seeks to overthrow 'White' cultures with a blend of multiculturalism and 'degenerate' art and culture... you know, stuff people like for entertainment.

Being a New Yorker, I have always had Jewish friends and neighbors- we celebrated each others' holidays together and, in contravention of Tucker Carlson's assholery, appreciated each others' culture. Yiddish terms such as schlep, nosh, kvetch, and mishegas season my vocabulary. I often joke that I'd make a good shabbos goy.

This post, besides being a Happy New Year wish to my Jewish readers, is also a statement of solidarity. The United States has been one country in which Jewish people have been allowed to thrive, and their contributions to our society are immeasurable. They have been at the forefront of medicine, science, the arts, and civil rights movements- the latter being a major factor in the hatred that authoritarians feel toward them (besides their role as the perpetual 'other'). I am confident that things will get better later this year, but if things get worse, I will do my utmost to be among the Righteous.

Shana Tovah, friends, and be of good courage.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Horror of Spider Dock

Last week, when I was in Maine for my cousin Val's wedding, a bunch of my young next-gen cousins regaled me with a tale of horror... The had swum out to a floating swimming/diving dock not far from the family cabin. While there, they encountered a creature of nightmare, which they took to be a humongous wolf spider with an egg sac, lairing on the side of the dock near the waterline. They were somewhat daunted by this creature, but they bravely took up their position on the dock, which makes a lovely platform from which to jump into the lake. Then, the unthinkable happened, the egg sac burst open, releasing a swarm of spiderlings onto the dock. In the face of this arachnid onslaught, my young cousins vacated the dock.

After recounting this tale of shuddery, spidery grue, they (naturally) insisted that I accompany them on a swim to Spider Dock. When we reached this woeful sight, they pointed out the gruesome creature, a spider with a legspan of over two inches. Me being me, knowing that knowledge is better than comfort, I revealed the truth, even more dreadful than they imagined:

"Guys, that's not a wolf spider, it's a fishing spider. It didn't stow away on the dock while it was towed away from the land, it got here on its own, and if you managed to dislodge it, it would just return on its own."

I am happy to say that this revelation was met with grit- even as the spider was revealed as a creature more formidable than they originally thought, they lost any fear of the beast. That's what the trips to the North Country are for- to put fear behind, to learn the beauty of the dark, the enchantment of eerie noises, to realize that mysteries are exercises the intellect can solve.

Friday, September 7, 2018

That Most Southern of Actors

It's perhaps weird to consider that the recently-deceased Burt Reynolds, that quintessentially 'Southern' actor, was born in Michigan. Burt was a monster star in the 1970s and 1980s, typically playing a good-old boy or a bad boy. As a kid, my favorite movie of his was 1978's Hooper, in which Reynolds played an almost autobiographical role, an aging stuntman one crash away from incapacitation. Seen with the perspective of a more civilized age, the movie, though good-natured is a paean to bad behavior:

Reynold's best film, albeit one that is difficult to watch, is 1972 Southern Gothic opus Deliverance, based on James Dickey's 1970 novel. In it, Reynolds plays a Georgia businessman who embarks with three friends on an ill-fated whitewater canoeing trip. The movie is a jarring juxtaposition of horrific actions and gorgeous scenery, and Burt Reynolds' Lewis, a skilled outdoorsman, readily takes to the violent mindset needed to survive an ordeal resulting from an attack by the locals:

The movie is a harrowing exploration of violent masculinity in a world in which the one unfailingly decent man on the expedition gets killed while his three compatriots call on their more 'primitive' instincts in order to thwart the murderous intentions of their surviving attacker. Reynolds' character receives a battering from the elements, and Reynolds himself rode the canoe down the dangerous rapids:

The trailer of the movie perfectly showcases the beauty of the scenery and Reynolds' almost feral masculinity:

After this bravura performance, Reynolds played a plethora of roles as Southern scoundrels with a basically decent core facing genuine villains, in such films as White Lightning and it's sequel Gator. Back in 1993, on a cross-country road trip, my college roommates and I stopped at a Louisiana gator farm (closed because an almost-unprecedented snowstorm had rendered the gators torpid) which prominently displayed an airboat featured in Gator. While not involving an airboat, here's a scene, with some cringeworthy racial content, depicting an airborne boat:

Burt followed this up with a string of car-chase action-comedies for the rest of the seventies- a couple of Smokey and the Bandit movies, a couple of Cannonball Runs. He also hearkened back to his days as a football player with such films as The Longest Yard and Semi-Tough. As Arnold Schwarzenegger noted, Burt was the template for the wisecracking action hero, the charismatic macho man who is always ready with his fists and his mouth. Even the list of roles he turned down is an epic roster of action heroes.

Hell, the guy even sang:

Late in his career, he had some comedic roles in movies such a Boogie Nights and Striptease, a 'second act' after he'd aged out of the puncho puncho run run roles of his earlier career.

There won't be another like him- they guy was a one-man box office machine, with some fantastic movies and some turkeys, with a ton of fun-yet-simple movies to his credit as well. While I'm not a big fan of car chase movies, I will be watching some of his better clips, the ones that showcase his good-humor and considerable charm.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Mr Jones Goes to Washington

In a spectacular case of scoring an 'own goal', Alex Jones' trip to Washington resulted in a permanent Twitter ban. Ironically, he had traveled to DC to attend a bogus hearing on an alleged social media campaign against right-of-center figures. While in DC, Jones couldn't help but let his unhinged video personal bleed into meatspace: getting into Marco Rubio's face, heaping abuse on CNN reporter Oliver Darcy, and (perhaps the final straw) seeking out a confrontation with Twitter head Jack Dorsey.

The funny thing about Jones' banning is that it probably wouldn't have happened if he had stayed at home in Texas. His schtick is even less appealing in real life than it is on the internet.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

What a Week to Come Back to the News Cycle

Last weekend, I was staying in a remote area with spotty communications and no electricity, so I was in a blissful news blackout. Now that I am back in urban America, I have had a chance to catch up, and boy howdy is it a messed up news cycle. Trump is crying treason after the anonymous regime insider op-ed in the NYT, a theocratic authoritarian is probably going to be seated on the SCotUS, and things are generally looking like a shitshow. I should have stayed in the woods!

My favorite news story of the day was the three-ring circus that resulted from hearings regarding a made-up controversy over social media corporations 'shadowbanning' or otherwise censoring right-wing voices. This hearing featured such sideshows as moron Laura Loomer being drowned out by a GOP congresscritter 'auctioning off' her cellphone and Alex Jones accosting Marco Rubio during a break in the action- to his credit, Rubio doesn't even acknowledge that he recognizes Jones' name. I think it's funny to see so called 'free market' proponents trying to get government to force private corporations to grant them special privileges.

At any rate, the rest of the week promises to be just as nutso, and the allure of the North Woods becomes all the more appealing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rusticity Done Right

While I have been following the news today, I thought I would post about the family cabin in Maine before returning to reality. The Beaver Shores Club started off as a branch office for a logging company, the cabin being built in the early 1900s. My grandfather, still a teenager, pooled his resources with a bunch of friends and family members from Framingham, Massachusetts and bought the cabin in 1926. It was a rustic, two room building with a wide porch, and no electricity or plumbing. It sported a white paint job until recently, when it was outfitted with a pretty green metal roof and given a yellow preservative stain. Here's what the building looks like, viewed from the dock:

As you can see, the cabin is right on the shore of the 'great pond'- step off the porch and you are in the water:

While the most rustic building in the vicinity, it has the choicest site- new buildings have to be two hundred feet from the water. Beaver Shores Club actually predates the great pond, which was formed by the damming of a local tributary to the mighty Kennebec River to provide drinking water for the local communities. It and a handful of older camps have been grandfathered in, most of them owned by families from nearby towns or other Framingham families who decided to follow in my the tradition of my grandfather and his cohort.

The panoramic view from the front porch never fails to stir my heart:

It was hear that my siblings and I, like our aunts, uncles, and cousins, learned how to rough it- to split logs for the stove, to transport potable water five miles down the road from a spring, to handle boats. More importantly, it was where we learned to associate eerie late-night cries with the local loons, to see stars invisible in our New York skies, to live according to nature's schedule- up with the sun, asleep not too much later than sundown. It is a beautiful place, a perfect place for city folk to gain an appreciation for rurality.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor of Love

I’m back from Down East. My cousin’s wedding was a smash success. The food was delectable, including the best lobster you could ever want, salumi and imported cheeses from the storied Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and a taco station anchored by a whole roast pig. Val looked absolutely luminous, one of the bartenders took a look at her and told me, “I want that gown for my own wedding.” One of my eleven year old cousins was tasked with helping her older cousin with the veil and train. When he walked Val up the aisle, my uncle Tom wore a top hat- he’s the only man I know who could pull that off, being one handsome, dapper man.

Cousin Val just earned her doctorate in pharmacology and her husband is a rocket scientist- could there be a more perfect union? His family is from Texas, and his sister, her husband, and their kids drove up in a minivan with “MAINE OR BUST” stenciled on the rear window- need I say that I took to them instantly? For the wedding, the boys wore bolo ties and big belt buckles- the youngest, carrying the rings, wore a scaled down ten gallon hat.

Among the highlights of the party were my Aunt Barbara and two of her grandchildren- she had given them a crash course in dancing the lindy the night before the wedding, and those girls did their grandmother proud. I had a blast cutting a rug with my little cousins.

One of the funniest things about the wedding was my encounter with the boyfriend of my cousin Val’s cousin on her mother’s side. Our conversation ran like this:

“I’m from Yonkers.”
“Where, I’m from Yonkers too, by McLean and Kimball.”
“I’m from the Midland Ave area, by the tailor shop.”
“The owner is a family friend, I went to school with his son.”
“He does all my alterations, he did this suit. I also have his record.”
“I have his record too, he’s the best!”

I’m planning on getting a whole crew of cousins and my cosin’s cousin and her boyfriend to hang out at the upcoming street festival.

The day after the wedding, I had to help my Uncle Richard and my cousin Matt close up the camp for the season- with school and work schedules, the cabin won’t see any use until the Spring. Shutters were put up, propane lines shut, the septic system was to be flushed and winterized with antifreeze (the toilet is a recent addition, but being a traditionalist, I used the outhouse, which involves much less work). I also don’t use the shower that was installed, there’s something hilarious to me about jumping into the lake with a bar of Ivory soap (it floats) and taking a lake bath before putting on a suit (unprecedented for me in Maine).

On the way down, I had my Uncle Richard riding shotgun, and had two generators and his stuff in the car as well. It was a less frenetic drive than my solo drive up, and the company was welcome. He’s the keeper of a lot of the equipment for camp, so we had to unload the generators at his place- when I finally got home to Yonkers, I was wiped. I called mom to tell her I was safe and sound, and to give her a précis or the weekend, then promptly passed out after brushing my teeth.

It was a busy weekend, a weekend devoted to love. Congrats to my cousin and my new cousin- centi baci!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Makes Mainers Mighty, Might Make Me Mighty

I have written about Moxie before. It's been a while since I've been up to the family cabin and stocked up on the stuff, which tastes like root beer with a bitter purple gentian root aftertaste. I drink the stuff mainly to be contrary, and to remember my paternal grandfather, who drank it unironically.

I was first drawn to the stuff by its distinctive logo, featuring a dapper fellow pointing in almost accusatory fashion, as if to say, "I dare you to drink this fierce stuff!" On first taste, the bitter edge is the defining characteristic, and this is where most people jump off the Moxie train. The tale goes, though, that if you can drink it three times, you are a lifer.

Here's the classic label which caught my eye as a child, with the accusatory Moxie Man:

The can sits, unopened, on a bookshelf as an example of classic Americana. The logo was changed to a more generic one, a tragic branding misstep in my view. Here is a more modern can, from the reserve supply I maintain, irregularly replenished by family and friends who have returned from New England:

I figure on picking up a couple of cases to bring back to New York with me. Moxie was originally marketed as a nerve tonic, formulated to prevent 'softening of the brain and loss of manhood', neither of which I fear I am subject to. Even though it's illegal to market as a patent medicine, the axiom 'Moxie Makes Mainers Mighty', which inspired the post title, is still in use. Oddly enough, while writing this post before heading up to a rural spot with no electricity, much less internet access, I found an article about the Coca-Cola Corporation's purchase of the Moxie brand. I know that Coca-Cola is based in Atlanta... maybe those southron boys still fear Mainers and want to render their Moxie ineffectual.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Maine Matrimonials

My Maine road trip is on account of the wedding of my cousin Val, who has been mentioned on this blog previously. Val is my second-youngest cousin, with her brother, Thomas Aquinas, being the youngest of our generation. When Val was born, my siblings and I were instantly smitten with her, as a baby she looked remarkably like my brother Sweetums baby pictures. She has a classic face of the family- in her, I see echoes of other cousins and photographs of my grandfather as a young man.

Val has been working on her graduate degree in pharmacology in Texas, so I haven't seen her in a while. Not too long ago, she and her fiance vacationed in Europe, where they met up with my brother Sweetums and his family. With a family as big and far-flung as ours, one family reunion isn't sufficient.

Anyways, I can't think of a better occasion than the wedding of a beloved cousin, so here's to the health and happiness of my cousin and the new addition to our family.