Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Retrospective

As is typical, I'm working this New Year's Eve. I have long considered the holiday 'amateurs' night': establishments jack up their prices, people who can't handle their booze do stupid things. I'm here for a double shift- arrive in the afternoon, leave in the morning, avoid any of the idiocy which might take place on the roads around midnight. The fact that I'm getting holiday pay for the 12-8 shift doesn't hurt, either.

Anyway, the weird thing about 2018 is that I have been doing okay, but am distinctly aware that the shit is hitting the fan in these here United States. I'm insulated from the worst of it, being a straight white male with a full-time job, as John Scalzi put it, the 'lowest difficulty setting' for a human, but I have immigrant friends who are still very concerned about the way things are going in the country.

It seems like the Parkland school mass shooting took place ages ago, but it was February of this year... Trump years are like dog years, each one seems longer than the time it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun. The lack of action in the face of additional mass shootings is infuriating.

On the climate front, the findings are dire, but the United States, which should have been at the vanguard of the renewable energy vanguard since the 1970s, is stuck with a maladministration which refuses to budge on the fossil fuel problem.

Happily, some of the big right-wing funders are scaling down their support for the GOP and alt-right groups. I guess pissing millions of dollars down a rathole didn't work out well for them. Meanwhile, among the right-wing proles, things aren't going so well.

The situation at the southern border is sickening, especially in light of two children dying in the custody of the Border Patrol, and the appalling, inhumane conditions in ICE detention facilities. We can't even pretend to be 'the good guys' anymore.

I'm doing okay financially, I actually received a decent raise on the job, but part of me is kicking myself for maxing out on my 401(k) and I don't even want to think of how many thousands of dollars (on paper) that I've lost in the stock market. Thankfully, I'm young enough to ride out this downturn. Nothing material has changed, I'm a 'hold your assets' kind of investor.

The biggest thing to be happy about is the Blue Wave that won back the House of Representatives. This promises to usher in a new year of investigations and accountability in DC. Hopefully, the GOP rout will intensive in 2020. It's good to know that the public woke the fuck up, and decided to exercise some civic responsibility, especially in the face of voter disenfrachisement.

2018 has been a mixed bag- some personal gains, some personal losses, though nothing major. Politically, culturally, existentially, it's been a disaster, but I am confident that the pendulum is swinging back to a sanity here in the 'States. I sure hope so, and am looking forward to looking forward.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Brief 2018 Music Retrospective

I just don't remember 2018 being as good a year for music as last year was. Old fave Neko Case's new album opened with a nice single, with Bad Luck having some cute lyrics (I particularly like her description of love as 'the most contrary asset of them all'):

The one album that I most eagerly awaited in 2018 was the debut LP by Australian band Middle Kids, who I posted about last year. The first single of their album was the fantastic Mistake, which has a heavier sound than their earlier releases:

I'd have to say that my expectations were exceeded with this release. If I can think of more outstanding songs from this year, I will post addenda. Now, readers, have there been any 2018 musical releases that stood out for you?

ADDENDUM: No sooner did I hit 'post' when I remembered that Courtney Barnett's Nameless Faceless, a brilliant sendup of toxic male behavior on the internet, was released this year. The video perfectly captures the subject matter:

I even posted about this one when it first came out here in the 'States.

SECOND ADDENDUM: This year also saw the release of Leon Bridges' second album. He's got a great 'retro' sound, and the song Bad Bad News is fantastic:

His vibe is so smooth, it's smoove, and the backing vocals are terrific.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Paul Ryan Leaves, Objectivist Morrissey Returns

There really isn't a lot I need to say about Paul Ryan leaving the House of Representatives. I think the guy is awful, by which I mean offal- he's the classic case of the guy who wants to pull the ladder up behind him- he received Social Security survivor benefits after the death of his father yet claimed to dream of cutting government benefits since he was a frathole at keggers. Yeah, I'd come to bury Ryan in snark, not to praise him, but I think he's pretty much done- the House is lost to his party, which is lost to Trump.

Back in 2011, I went through a manic phase while working a split-shift at work, a graveyard shift followed by an afternoon/evening shift. In these heady conditions, I wrote 24 blog posts in 24 hours, one of which imagined singer/songwriter Morrissey as a hardcore Objectivist. This led to a spate of writing Objectivist parodies of songs by Morrissey's old band, the Smiths, and even its own short-lived blog which ran its course because there aren't a lot of Smiths songs to parody and, well, Morrissey became a far-right loon so imagining him as a hardcore Randian became unnecessary and not-so-fun.

There is a bit of unfinished business, though, back in the 2012 election season, my older brother, Sweetums, suggested that I write an Objectivist Morrissey parody about Paul Ryan. I had a half-finished piece rattling around my head, but the election season wasn't fun until B. Hussein Obummer won, and I left the piece unfinished, unposted. Now, with Paul Ryan seemingly leaving the public eye for good, I figured I'd post the parody, though it is now woefully dated:

We're cryin', Mister Ryan, at this sickening mess,
And this Kenyan Usurper who'd penalize success.
You must stand fast, and athwart history
And you must reclaim GOP mastery.

Greed, greed glorious greed,
It despises the people in need.
But I'd rather be greedy
Than righteous or holy
Any day, any day, any day.

But frankly, I am more inclined
To be lobbyist courted and wined.
I want to cut and I want to slash.
I want to do something that others may deem rash.

We're cryin', Mister Ryan, at this sickening mess,
And this Kenyan Usurper who'd penalize success.
Oh, I didn't realise that you wrote policy.
I didn't realise you wrote such poor despising policy, Mister Ryan.

Frankly Mister Ryan since you cut
You are a pain in a socialist's butt.
I do not mean to fluff you so,
But I can't be lying, Mister Ryan.

Don't give them your money!

This bit is a parody of the bouncy Frankly, Mister Shankly:

Cross-posted at, where else?

Friday, December 28, 2018

The War on Saturnalia

Never mind the War on Christmas that Fox TV pundits have been pushing for the past decade or so, the real news is a war on Saturnalia, by which I mean that the planet Saturn is destined to lose its signature rings.

The idea of Saturn losing its rings is just a tad upsetting to this nerdy boy. I mean, Saturn without rings is sad and weak, like Uranus It's a good thing that the Cassini probe visited Saturn in its be-ringed glory days, another hundred million years or so, and it may have been too late.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Light, a Glow Over the Horizon

Leaving the Stop and Shop around half past nine tonight, I saw an unprecedented blue-white glow backlighting the houses on the hill to the south of the parking lot. It was pronounced enough to inspire a young couple to record it using their phone cameras. My first reaction was 'Oh, shit, some bad mojo is going down.' In this case, it was a transformer explosion at a Con Ed facility in Astoria, Queens... dubbed by some wag the Astoria Borealis. Listening to the news radio, this problem has caused delays on the number 7 subway line and shut down LaGuardia Airport for some time.

Videos from locations closer to the event are quite dramatic. The news reports indicate that nobody was hurt in the event, but there were power outages. Personally, the lesson I take away from this is that our tax dollars would be better spent on an updated electrical infrastructure rather than a vanity wall on our southern border.

Post title is lifted from a song with a silly video.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Bonespurs Goes to Baghdad

In a surprise move, Cadet Bonespurs decided to visit American military personnel in a combat zone, and the reviews are mixed- even some conservative pundits are dinging his performance. The worst thing about the visit is that Trump compromised the identities of members of SEAL Team Five
conducting covert operations in the region by tweeting out a video of his visit. This is, as Jon Stewart would put it, a Mess-o-potamia. Adding insult to injury, he falsely claimed that he would be giving military personnel a ten percent raise.

Meanwhile, in Internet Crazy Town, some of the MAGAnons are fantasizing that Trump left the US so he would be safe while his 'good guys' are purging the Deep State... go far enough into the rabbit hole, and they are salivating at the prospect of Obummer and Hitlery ending up in Gitmo. In a cute bit of goalpost moving, they are now claiming that the 'D5' reference they used to interpret as meaning December 5th (when the Criminal Elite or Illuminati or Lizard People would all be arrested at Bush 41's funeral) now refers to the fifth day of the government shutdown. I expect there will be a lot of unhappy conspiracy theorists tomorrow- will their bloodlust ever be slaked?

Regarding the post title, I know he actually went to Al Asad Airbase, but I decided to use poetic license to get that alliteration I love so much, and to pay tribute to one of the few overtly political songs my beloved Ramones recorded:

Dearest Joey spoke for all of us: "My brain is hanging upside down."

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

I'm Dreaming of Indict Christmas

Actually, I'm just joking about the political aspect... here's hoping that everybody had a good Christmas. I worked a double overnight shift because we are short-staffed and I took a full week off for Thanksgiving. I don't want to be 'that guy', the manager who takes all of the plum time off and leaves his subordinates holding the bag. It was a quiet night, and the predawn hours were positively glorious- the moon was a shade off full and Venus was a convincing Star of Bethlehem substitute in the southern sky.

When I got home from work, I sent out a text message to all of my siblings to wish them a merry Christmas. Everybody is doing well- Sweetums is hosting mom, Pickle is in Florida with the family spending time with her eldest who is with the USAF, Vin and family had just opened their presents, Gomez and the kids got a 'synthetic ice' floor so they can practice ice hockey in the garage year round. I then crawled into bed before noon and slept until six PM.

I figure the rest of the night is best spent vegging out- a brief listen to the news reveals that things are still the pits. I have friends to catch up with, so the shitshow can wait. Best wishes to all.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Two Hundred Years of Silence

Listening to the radi-adi-o earlier this week, I heard a bit about the bicentennial of the beloved Christmas carol Silent Night. I had heard the legend about the organ of the church in the Austrian village of Oberndorf being damaged before Christmas, necessitating the composition of a song suitable for guitar. Even if only a legend, it's a pretty bit of backstory for a pretty song.

The central image of the song, the holy mother and child, is an appealing one- beautiful, simple, as human as it is divine. The song, written to be accompanied by the common person's musical instrument, and portraying a common domestic scene, given transcendence by divine power, is understandably popular. It's a good, simple summation of Christian theology- God made flesh in order to bring peace to the world.

The main problem with Christianity, indeed all world religions I can think of, is that it was hijacked by authoritarians. Religion is all-too-often a tool for oppression, repression, suppression. The simple message of a simple village parish's priest and musical director is lost in these days of the Christian Right. The War on Christmas is really one that has been waged by individuals who took on the mantle of Christianity.

I'm pretty open about my favorite Christmas song, but as far as religious carols go, Silent Night is one of my favorites. Here's a nice rendition of the Stille Nacht, the song in the original German:

Here's the song in English translation, given a Motown update by The Temptations:

Because there are thousands of nominally Christian children incarcerated at the southern border, I figure that I should post a version of the typical Spanish adaptation of the song, Noche de Paz (night of peace):

The song has had a great two-century run, and remains as lovely as it always was. For the record, though, my favorite religious Christmas carol is O Holy Night.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Getting a Sick Sense of Déjà Vu

While I have always had misgivings about the role of the US in the Syrian civil war, I think that Trump's sudden planned withdrawal of American military personnel from Syria will be a disaster... Daesh hasn't been completely defeated, the Syrian government isn't exactly a 'good' player in the conflict. More worrisome to me is the utter selling out of our Kurdish allies. Out of the peoples of the current Middle East, the Kurds seem to align best with American values, embracing religious pluralism and women's rights to a greater extent than their neighbors.

So now, the Turkish army is massing at the Syrian border, our nominal NATO allies moving against our allies of the recent conflicts in the region. This is the same abandonment of allies that I mentioned in my post about Bush 41, who suggested to the Shiite marsh Iraqis that they should rise against Saddam Hussein, then abandoned them to get slaughtered. This sends a horrible message yet again- the United States is not to be trusted, so why ally with the US?

Any withdrawal from the theater of war should be well-considered, but the erratic, sudden actions of an irresponsible executive will do permanent damage to our standing in the world.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Shutdown Shitshow

It's official, the Trump shutdown begins at midnight. True to form, the mendacious Trump is trying to blame Democrats for the shutdown, even though he indicated otherwise a scant ten days ago:

That's the 'art of the deal' for you- lie your damn fool head off.

As luck would have it, my mom flew out this afternoon for a Christmas vacation my brother Sweetums and his family in Switzerland. Thankfully, she didn't have to deal with a TSA and FAA staffed by employees who aren't getting their checks. She'll have some time in a country with a functioning government, and when she gets back, hopefully the shutdown shitshow will have run its course... that is, if she doesn't decide to cool her heels in the Confoederatio Helvetica until these here United States start to function as a civil society again.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Reinventing the Wheel, but in a Stupid Manner

Tech-bros... are there any more annoying people on this planet? Today, I listened incredulously to the news report about Elon Musk's plan to build highway tunnels under the surface of Hawthorne, California. Congratulations, Muskie, you invented a subway system, albeit a stupid one... these tunnels are meant for individual automobiles to navigate, rather than moving vast quantities of people in an efficient manner. It's not a mass transit system, but a masters' transit system- a sort of transportation network in which the Master of the Universe tech titans can travel free not only of freeway traffic, but of the presence of other human beings, sometimes indigent or incoherent ones. Why put up with the common people, even people suffering afflictions, if you can travel alone in your own private tubeway? These tech titans, unlike the original Tubeway Army, won't even have to disconnect from anyone, not having made any connections with the hoi polloi:

As an individual who loves the subway system of NYC, even with its frustrations and discomforts, I find this plan ridiculous, and cannot escape the conclusion that it is based on class, and I would even say racial, animus. It hints at a dismal future in which public infrastructure is allowed to deteriorate while a second, parallel infrastructure earmarked for wealthy users is constructed in its stead. To some extent, this parallel infrastructure exists, especially in the field of private aviation, but Musk wants to ramp it up by constructing what promise to be members only subpar subways.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Man of La Milpa

After reading of the death of seven year old Jakelin Caal Maquin while she was in Border Patrol custody, I knew that I would have to post on this tragic, disheartening subject. It took a while for me to build up to this post, though... I spent much of my Saturday surrounded by healthy, well-loved children of Jakelin's age, and while on the 4 train home, there was a girl on the train who looked somewhat like a slightly older Jakelin, a girl with a solemn-looking Mayan face like hers:

She sure looked like a threat to these here United States...

Years ago, I did a lot of consulting work in the Longwood section of the south Bronx. This worksite was a large facility, with multiple shifts worth of employees, but the busiest shift was the day shift, when the office staff and management joined the essential personnel who performed the day-to-day operations of the facility. The day shift kept the local delicatessen busy, and I got to know the deliveryman pretty well. He was a Guatemalan man who appeared to be in his early twenties. In the course of one of our conversations, I made a passing mention of Miguel Ángel Asturias' novel Hombres de Maíz, which takes its title from the folk belief that modern humans were created from maize. He smiled and told me that he was 'el hombre de la milpa'. The milpa is a raised plot on which corn, beans, and squash, the characteristic three sisters of all Native American agriculture, are grown, along with chiles, avocados, and other fruits.

Even in the far-flung concrete canyons of the Bronx, here was a man who maintained his love for, in a very literal sense, his native soil, the soil of the milpa which sustained him in his youth... a love of a land which could not sustain him in his adulthood, one celebrated by peasants the world over. He was of the milpa, from the milpa, but no longer in the milpa.

Jakelin Caal Maquin was a daughter of the milpa, a Q’eqchi’ Maya girl from a poor village in a country still impoverished by decades of civil war which often targeted indigenous people, the commercial growth of cash crops on large plantations, and climate change. The land, the sacred milpa, could no longer sustain her family, so she and her father took the perilous journey north, where she died in the custody of agents of the government of my nation, a nation which I am finding it more difficult to be proud of. I think back on el hombre de la milpa, riding his bicycle on the potholed, rough streets of the Bronx, and I think of the solemn faced girl on the 4 train last weekend, and I feel a melancholy... it's not easy to make it here in the 'States without a formal education, but I sure wish that Jakelin had been given a chance. She didn't die on the journey, she died while being in the power of our authorities, who could at the very least have performed a wellness check on this poor child.

This is a difficult post to write, it's not easy to face the fact that your own dear homeland is being run by monsters. At any rate, I would hate to have this post be nothing but a downer, so here is an animated version of the Q’eqchi’ Mayan epic Popul Vuh with images inspired by Mayan polychrome pottery:

I've posted this video before, as it remains a favorite of mine. When the news is mainly composed of downers, it's important to take comfort in things that you value. Of course, the post title is taken from the musical based on Don Quixote, and Cervantes' novel is another favorite of mine... we sure could use more idealism these days, maybe that famous caballero manchego wasn't so crazy after all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Binge Listening to a Fun-Yet-Scary Podcast

I spent most of the day in bed, bundled up and fighting off a cold. Being laid up, I decided that a good way to spend the day would be to binge-listen to the QAnon Anonymous podcast- the podcast is the opposite of Coast-to-Coast AM, being a critical exploration of the conspiracy theories that 'Coast-to-Coast' uncritically promulgates. The hosts of the show seem to be a couple of 'Bernie bros', often being critical of establishment Democrats, from a further left perspective. They have some great guests, though, including Jared Holt of Right Wing Watch and Will Sommer of The Daily Beast.

The podcast is a deep dive into the fever swamps of the mother of all conspiracy theories (one that even old conspiracy mavens are grafting onto in order to continue their grifts). I confess to being a big fan, albeit a 'hate-fan' of conspiracy lunacy, so hearing a bunch of wags ripping onto this nonsense is right up my alley.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Head Full of Garbage

No, I don't mean that my head is filled with metaphysical garbage such as propaganda, calumnies, hatreds, or the like... my head is literally, and I literally mean literally, filled with garbage. For some reason, last night might sinuses filled up to the extent that I could not breathe through my nose. I spent much of the day bundled up under the covers, mouth breathing like a... uhhhh... like a mouth breather. I did spend about twenty minutes shut up in the bathroom, putting the stopper in the tub and running the shower at scalding temperatures to simulate a poor man's steam room. After opening up the old nasal passages, I blasted my sinuses with my trusty neti pot.

In the meantime, I decided to cook a stew based on the Iberian classic olla podrida, having soaked some chickpeas overnight. Because of my sinus congestion, I went heavy on the spices- an overly generous shake of black pepper, several cumin and ajwain seeds, a whole head of garlic, five dried hot red peppers, four jalapeños, and a dried chipotle (I didn't have any smoked paprika, and wanted some smoky notes in the stew). Breathing in the steam from the pot was quite therapeutic, but I know why capsicum is used as a non-lethal chemical weapon.

Right now, I'm not nearly as congested as I was... my all-out war on my sinuses has paid off. I figure I will run the shower again, fix myself a hot toddy, using the bottle of Tullamore Dew I always keep on hand for medicinal purposes, and then bundle up again in a welter of covers. I need to clear the old head, and again, I mean that in the most literal sense.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Question for Racist Tucker

Tucker Carlson, the Fox pundit most beloved by white supremacists, went on a classic racist rant about immigrants making our country dirtier: "We have a moral obligation to admit the world's poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer, and dirtier, and more divided."

If immigrants are making our country dirtier, why are they the people doing all of the cleaning jobs? In the 19th century, the Irish immigrant domestic worker was common in the Northeast, when young women island due to famine, poverty, the difficulty of obtaining the dowries necessary for marriages. Now, Latin American and Eastern European domestic workers are common, and many commercial cleaning contractors are staffed in the main by immigrants from El Mundo Latino. Work late, and Roberto and Maria, Cesar and Lourdes will be coming into the office to empty the garbage receptacles and vacuum the carpets. Throughout the history of the country, African-American domestic workers have worked in the homes of the well to do, and the trope of the Southern patriarch who hates the majority of black people while loving the black nanny (one of the 'good ones') is a hoary one.

On a somewhat related note, Paul Ryan wants to provide more work visas for Irish people. I live in a neighborhood with a lot of Irish immigrants, many of them working in the construction or hospitality industry. I have to note that these Irish immigrants tend to be a lot more liberal than the average American- Ireland voted overwhelmingly to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage. The modern Irish immigrant isn't trapped in a 'toora loora loora' timewarp, he or she probably aligns more with former bartender Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than with Paul Ryan.

I figure I should post a video here, and can think of no better song than Black 47's Living in America, in which my great and good friend Mary Courtney memorably poses the question "Is this what I was educated for, to wipe the arse of every baby in America?"

It's nativist assholes like Tucker Carlson who dirty this country by polluting people's minds.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

No Time for that Jazz

Oscar Wilde is credited with coining the quote: "Work is the curse of the drinking classes." More broadly, work gets in the way of all sorts of endeavors. Last weekend, I was saddled with work (we're understaffed), so I missed out on an appearance of perhaps my favorite jazz musician in a club mere miles from my workplace. I've never been much of a jazz fan, though Secret Science Club goddess Dorian Devins and her awesome husband have done their best to educate me in the genre.

At any rate, I do have some favorite jazz musicians, and at the top of the list is Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander, who I mentioned in a previous post about Jamaican guitar maestro Ernest Ranglin. Monty Alexander has played with the jazz greats of the latter half of the 20th Century and the early decades of the 21st. He has interpreted reggae standards in a jazz idiom, and generally comes across as a great guy. Here's Monty playing a rendition of Bob Marley's Running Away:

I was unable to catch Mr Alexander playing in an intimate local setting, but there are a good number of videos of him playing live in concert, so I listened to some while sitting in my office. Here's a video of a live 2016 performance:

At approximately the eleventh minute, Monty busts out a melodica and performs a nice rendition of dub classic King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown. I can think of no other musician who could pull off a feat like that.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Six Years, No Progress

Six years ago, practically in my backyard, twenty children and the six teachers and administrators who defended them were slain by a disturbed young man whose mother stockpiled guns out of fear of her neighbors should an economic collapse have occurred. I was hit hard by the news of the massacre, having to spend the next morning with children, many of them the approximate age of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The very idea of harming helpless little kids is unspeakably horrifying.

In the six years since the Sandy Hook slayings, things have not gotten better. 2018 surpassed other years in terms of school shootings. No legislation regulating gun purchases and possession can pass the Republican dominated Congress and the Dotard's veto pen. A growing number of Americans want gun regulations, but the, as Dashiell Hammett would have put it, red harvest continues. I'd characterize it as an intractable problem, but there is a potential solution, and that would be putting the Republican Party out of our misery... our ballots vs their bullets.

Oddly enough, as I was hitting 'Publish', I realized that this song was playing on the radio:

It never made me melancholy before.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Quantum Physics, It's What's for Breakfast

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 Chad Orzel, of Union College's physics and astronomy department. Besides teaching at Union College, Dr Orzel has written science books for the general public, including How to Teach Physics to Your Dog and his newly released Breakfast with Einstein: The Exotic Physics of Everyday Objects. Last night's lecture riffed off of Breakfast with Einstein, the central trope of which is an exploration of the role of physics in a typical American's morning routine.

Dr Orzel began his lecture with a declaration- you may thing that quantum physics is weird and exotic, remote from everyday life. This is a self-inflicted wound on the part of physicists, with even popular science writers publishing books with words such as 'enigma' and 'puzzle' in the title. Physicist Niels Bohr notably said: "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." Dr Orzel quipped that scientists inhabit the same world that everyone else does- they glean clues from everyday objects. He started with breakfast, specifically the glow of the heating elements of an electric toaster. The color of the glow is not dependent on the material of the element, but on its temperature. The color of an object dependent on its temperature was expressed by Wien's law. Black-body radiation is the thermal radiation emitted from an opaque, non reflective body :

The physics behind the problem of the black-body radiation spectrum is a hard problem to crack- there is a lack of radiation at ultraviolet wavelengths. A simple, obvious approach doesn't work to solve the problem. Black-body radiation can be modeled using a box with a small hole in it- light entering the box bounces around inside before escaping, most of the entering light gets absorbed by the walls of the box- what an observer sees in the hole doesn't depend on what entered- there is only a tiny leak of light from outside. A good analogy of this box model is a pipe organ- the pipes of an organ can be considered boxes with holes, only certain sound frequencies can occur in specific pipes, which accounts for the different pitches they produce. As waves travel back and forth, they interfere with each other, creating peaks and valleys. The symbol for wavelength is a lowercase lambda, with a single wave being defined as the distance for a wave to attain a peak, then descend to a valley, and return to the starting point. A single up-and-down motion is half a wave:

Light works in a similar manner as sound does- shorter wavelengths have longer frequencies. With the interaction of waves bouncing around within a box, there are lots of ways to produce various wavelengths. With the interaction of waves, a heating object, according to the classical physics model of the time, should emit an infinite amount of ultraviolet light and x-rays. Since this does not occur, this model was termed the ultraviolet catastrophe- Dr Orzel joked that this would be a great band name. Max Planck resorted to a 'desperate trick' to resolve the problem of black-body radiation, proposing that there were 'oscillators' in the walls of the box producing light, each oscillation having a characteristic energy which it can emit only in multiples of one. Planck was never quite satisfied with his 'solution' to the problem of black-body radiation. Quantum processes eliminate the problem, eliminating high energy. Dr Orzel then showed us an infamous image illustrating black-body radiation. Planck thought his solution was ugly, an inelegant trick. An 'obscure patent clerk in Switzerland', as Dr Orzel joked, proposed another solution- though light acted as waves, it was also made of particles, dubbed photons. A look at hot objects like toaster heating elements resulted in the start of quantum physics.

The second part of the morning routine which Dr Orzel invoked in his lecture was a beeping alarm clock. Neils Bohr observed that atoms of a particular element absorb and emit light at certain frequencies, each element has its own spectrum, producing bright bands at certain wavelengths:

By observing the different spectra, new elements could be identified. Dr Orzel advised us to think of electrons orbiting an atom's nucleus- an electron emits light when it moves from a high energy orbit to a low energy orbit. He described electrons as being 'happier' in certain orbital states, emitting light as they move between sites. Time is measured by the oscillations of cesium atoms, with one second being equivalent to 9,192,631,770 oscillations of a cesium atom. The U.S. Time Reference site derives the official time from atomic clocks, in which cesium atoms are cooled down, then released into a vacuum cavity in which they interact with microwave sources which measure oscillations- one of these atomic clocks could run continuously for one billion years before deviating by one second. Cell phones interact sync with these atomic clocks. A plug-in alarm clock syncs up with the alternating current from the wall outlet, sixty cycles per second. Dr Orzel quipped that even a cheap alarm clock uses quantum physics.

Dr Orzel joked that it takes three things to make a talk, so he moved onto his third example of everyday quantum physics- the internet. Computer operation depends on the most infamous thought experiment ever conceived, the Schrödinger's cat though experiment. In this thought experiment, a cat is placed in a diabolical device, a box equipped with a source of poison which can be triggered by the radioactive decay of an element also placed within the box. There is a fifty percent chance of the radioactive decay triggering the release of the poison within an hour. At the end of the hour, will the cat be alive or dead? According to quantum theory, the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened, and the state of the cat is observed. According to Bohr, the special state of electrons explain the light bands of the spectrum, but this can't explain all states. Bohr attempted to find reasons why some states are special. In 1923, Louis de Broglie theorized that electrons, while particles, have the properties of waves, and that special states are due to oscillations. The theory that electrons behave as waves can be empirically tested through the 2 slit experiment- light shone through a barrier with two slits will create light and dark spots, an interference pattern. Atoms emitted through two slits will also create an interference pattern reminiscent of light waves. As hydrogen waves move through space, they spread out and electrons are shared between atoms over time, and electrical bonds are shared through atoms. The uncertainty of which electrons belong to which atoms are similar to the uncertainty about whether that cat in the box is alive or dead. A computer's silicon chips work via the control of electrons moving through a solid- the internet exists, as Dr Orzel joked for cat pictures, and because of Schrödinger's cat.

Dr Orzel wrapped up his lecture by stating that the ordinary activities we engage in every day are quantum at their roots, but that the discovery of quantum mechanics was a towering intellectual achievement, and that the people responsible for quantum theory are titans. Dr Orzel ended his lecture with a beautiful statement- he doesn't want to drag quantum theory down to the mundane level, he wants to elevate everyday occurrences.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. The first question involved the relationship between quantum mechanics and the standard model- quantum mechanics involves very small things, while the standard model works for bigger things. He noted that there is a smooth transition between quantum and standard wave models. Another question involved the possibility of quantum computing, which has generated a lot of buzz- the idea behind it is that the quantum mechanics can be mapped onto traditional systems so that a value can be either 0 or 1 or both. This would be useful for computing large values rapidly, and would be invaluable for code-breaking. Some bastard in the audience, wanting to open up a can of worms, asked whether Dr Orzel thought that string theory has any theoretical value- Dr Orzel, with good humor, noted that string theory has opened up some useful mathematical queries, but has not modeled anything. The following question involved the many worlds hypothesis, which posits that all possible measurements of atoms can occur- electrons are in many states, observers are in many states, and instruments are in many states. Heady stuff, that... A question regarding relativity elicited a funny response from Dr Orzel- quantum physics and special relativity play well together, up to fifteen decimal places, but quantum physics doesn't play well with general relativity. The problem is that quantum physics is 'spiky', and spikiness doesn't mesh well with the smooth spacetime of general relativity. Black holes are the one phenomenon where both play well together. Regarding math- physics depends on the, as Eugene Wigner put it, 'unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences'- the rapidly increasing computational power available to researchers has had a great effect on the sciences. The last question of the night involved quantum entanglement, Einstein's 'spooky action at a distance'- if two entangled particles are separated, even at great distances, effecting one will effect the other in similar fashion- the action will occur faster than the speed of light, even over arbitrarily large distances. The particles are in an uncertain state until measured, which prevents entanglement from being used for faster-than-light communication... the confirmation takes place at a rate slower than the speed of light. Well, so much for the ansible...

Dr Orzel delivered a great lecture- mindbending concepts served up as sweetly as a plate of waffles. His bringing the everyday tasks of a morning to the lofty heights of quantum theory was done with charm and humor. Put succinctly, he knocked it out of the park. Kudos to the good doctor, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. Dr Orzel has a lot of videos on YouTube explaining various concepts in physics. Here is the video which is the precursor to his speech of last night:

Start your day with SCIENCE!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Just a Quick Thought on the Border Wall

I'm headed down to Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, so I don't have time for a detailed post. Before heading off to the 4 Train terminus in Woodlawn, I figured I'd post a quick observation...

Besides the fact that he made it a central point of his presidential campaign, I believe that there is another reason for Trump's insistence on the construction of a border wall- he knows that, with a five billion dollar construction project handled with no-bid contracts, he stands to get millions in kickbacks. His greed perfectly explains his urgency.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Play in Two Acts

Today, we have two related items.... in the first, Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai why a Google image search for the term "idio" resulted in pictures of Donald Trump:

Meanwhile, down the street, The Donald himself gave the answer:

Funny how Nancy Pelosi got Trump to hang any government shutdown around his neck like a goddamn albatross. In her own quiet, composed way, she forced his hand... I just don't trust the media not to shove this exchange down the memory hole if a government shutdown actually occurs.

Monday, December 10, 2018

This Comes as a Genuine Blow

Via Roy, I found out about the death of one of my all-time favorite band frontmen- Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks passed away on December 6th. I have posted about the Buzzcocks before, their compilation Singles Going Steady, purchased by a teenaged Bastard, was the one album which most affected my musical tastes going forward. The band's sound was an incongruous mélange of aggressive, distorted guitar onslaught and warbled, emotional vocals... a perfect blend of punk aggression and pop sweetness.

The band specialized in songs about unrequited love, expressed in non-gendered terms by Mr Shelley (born Peter McNeish, he took stage name from the name his parents would have given him if he'd been born a girl). One of my favorite songs by the band, You Say You Don't Love Me, starts off with Pete singing about his unrequited love, then coming to the realization that he is okay with being, as the angry boys say, 'friendzoned'. It's a remarkably mature approach to teen emotional angst, with Shelley realizing that the word love 'entails a few things that I would be well rid of', at least in terms of this particular relationship:

What Do I Get? is a more straightforward tale of heartache, with the 'heart on sleeve' lyrics contrasting nicely with the crashing cymbal and driving, buzzsaw guitars:

The Buzzcocks also liked to subvert the typical machismo of rock-and-roll, with the song Fast Cars being a comical riposte to the typical Chuck Berry/Beach Boys/Dick Dale love of hotrods:

The band also had some more experimental songs, with Are Everything, covered later by Heaven 17, being a less straightforward song than their earlier oeuvre:

After the Buzzcocks broke up, Pete Shelley embarked on a solo career, in which he dabbled in electronic dance music. The single Homosapien is classic Shelley sexual ambiguity, expressed with good humor:

Telephone Operator was another great Shelley solo effort, an ode to an aural (or oral) stimulator which calls back to Pete's early, earnest tales of longing:

The Buzzcocks reformed for live shows, and even toured this year. Here's the band from a Mexico City appearance on this year's tour, singing their biggest hit, Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)?:

The audience's singalong with the band tells you everything you need to know about the band and its fanbase. Pete Shelley gave us some great, heartfelt music with emotionally true, wise lyrics. His songs were always about tolerance, about maturity in relationships, about working through one's heartaches to find happiness:

Well, I'm not happy nowadays, now that I found about about losing Pete, but this shall pass. Pete wouldn't want us to grieve for him... the best way to memorialize him is to blast his body of work at full volume and work through the tears. Life's no illusion, love's not a dream, now I know just what it is... Pete told me that when I was still a kid, and for that I'm grateful.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sick of Christmas Music Already?

I love Christmas, always has, ever since I was a child. I even like most Christmas music, but I really don't like to hear it immediately after Thanksgiving. I mean, I lost The Little Drummer Boy challenge before November was over. There are some exceptions, however, Christmas songs which are appropriate all year round. For the most part, though, Christmas music should be confined to a two or three week period centered on Christmas.

Tonight, however, the fantastic DJ who has a two-hour Sunday night program on my favorite local commercial station played a weird comedy number by satirist Don Novello:

Now, doesn't that beat a Christmas donkey?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Trying to Drive Snarky Liberals to Gab?

In the wake of the guilty verdict leveled against the Nazi creep who killed Heather Heyer, neo-Nazis are losing their shit. They have tried to portray him as an innocent victim of leftist violence, acting in self defense- they have even portrayed him as a prisoner of war. In particular, the Crying Nazi is declaring war, in the form of a Campaign of Terror on the libs:

This creep's violent bravado doesn't jibe with his tearful demeanor when facing actual setbacks:

I suspect that Crying Nazi is actually working on a marketing campaign for the fascist-infested Gab platform. The management at Gab probably wants liberals to join the social network just to dunk on this asshole.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Overdosing on Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude is supposed to be a shameful feeling, but I have to note that it is extremely satisfying to see a total piece of garbage fall, and fall hard. I find the crash and burn of Milo Yianonothingjonsnowpolous to be hilarious to an almost useemly degree. This one-time gadfly of the alt-right is now over two million dollars in the hole, and there doesn't seem to be any way that he will ever recover... his flippant remarks concerning pedophilia caused him to lose the favor of most of the American right, and he lost a book deal, having to self-publish his magnum dopus. This past summer, he blamed his dwindling fanbase for his fall from the lofty heights of right-wing shitlord status. At one time, he was able to muster troll armies to harass actress Leslie Jones to the extent that she had to abandon social media. Now, he can't even rattle a tin cup for donations.

As delightful as Milo's fall into penury has been, I am even more gleeful about the fact that his billionaire backers pissed so much money away on a grifter who spent it on pedicures and poppers, rentals and rentboys, and the now-infamous 'crabs and cocktails'. Better that Mercer money go to waiters and pool boys than to be spent on political action. Besides stiffing the 'whales', Milo has boned a bunch of deplorables- Gamergaters, Islamophobes, Sad/Rabid Puppies, and assorted cobags. His debt spreadheet reads as a who's who of disgusting people:

I don't think he will ever recover from this fall- he blew too much money and dicked over too many people for him to recover. He isn't big enough to get away with non-payment, like Dotard was, he isn't interesting enough to get an actual journalism job (he infamously took credit for his minions' work), and he is too toxic to stage a redemption narrative. He's done... I just hope his cleaning lady gets paid.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Q-Waitus Interruptus

I confess that I am afflicted with a morbid fascination with conspiracy theories, the more outré the better. So far, I have only written three posts about this Pizzagate-on-steroids farrago of Bircherite paranoia, satanic panic, blood libel, and sexual angst. The conspiracy theory, also known as The Storm, posits that Global Elites, mainly Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, and rootless cosmopolitans are running child trafficking rings for the purposes of pedophilia, cannibalism, and the production of adrenochrome, which is purported to produce super-highs.

Rather than consume coverage of HW's state funeral yesterday, I figured that I'd dive into the fever swamps of right-wing whackaloonery to see how the fringe covered the proceedings... Some members of the QAnon crowd, exemplified by genuinely mentally ill Liz Crokin, believe that this sickly 94 year-old man was executed by a military tribunal in order to cause the elite to assemble in one place for mass arrests/executions... which never materialized. The Q crowd was so hopeful that their December Death Day, D5, would come- they were excited that a charter bus with paper signs reading '5' and 'D' would whisk the evildoers off to a swift execution. Today, after the letdown of Q-waitus interruptus, they are backpedaling, claiming that the 'good guys' raided the homes of funeral attendees, some of them have decided, in true Camping fashion, that they forgot to carry the potato when they divided, so they muffed the date. I expect that the true believers will double down, in a true When Prophecy Fails manner... they really, really want their Pain. I would feel sorry for them if they weren't so damn bloodthirsty- I mean, these people are idiots who believe that Trump's chronic misspellings are coded messages.

Since this topic has the potential to be depressing to people who aren't as sanguine about this sort of lunacy, I figure I should end it with one of my all-time favorite songs, Stuart, by the Dead Milkmen:

It's the perfect distillation of right-wing lunacy- it captures the evangelism, condescension, paranoia, and Dunning-Kruger style self-assurance of the conspiracy theorist. Released in 1988, the song is even more topical these days than it was when it was written.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sweetums' Birthday 2018

Today is my older brother Sweetums' birthday. Sweetums' nickname was bestowed upon him by our super-snarky sister, who, when mom made a comment that 'your brother would never cut class', sneered, 'he's so perfect, he's just a sweetums, Sweetums is just perfect'. After the hilarity of Sweetums unexpectedly coming home from college a day early ('I bagged a couple of classes so I could get a ride down') immediately after mom said he'd never cut class, there was a general meeting of the minds... 'you know, she's right, he IS perfect, he really IS a sweetums.' The name stuck, often shortened to the monosyllable 'Tums'.

Sweetums has always been a good role model, ever since he was a young boy. You could do well in life if you asked yourself 'What Would Sweetums Do?' and acted accordingly. He has always been a great older brother, he still is... after all, he is still Sweetums, always has been Just ask our sister, she'd admit it, without a hint of snark.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Youth and Passion Just Might Save Us

I've been a fan of soon-to-be-seated Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez since she rose to regional, then national prominence. I am ecstatic about her call for a Green New Deal during a town hall meeting last night. Coverage of this plan for a grand plan to combat global warming on a scale equal to the Apollo Project or the Marshall Plan has been mixed- the Guardian stresses that she did not discuss how this would be achieved, ignoring the fact that the plan will employ thousands of scientists and engineers who will do the 'heavy lifting' regarding the technological innovations that will have to be implemented. There's no single approach, no magic bullet, but there are hundreds of magic shotgun pellets- renewable solutions will have to be tailored to local conditions: wind, solar, hydroelectric and tidal, biomass/biofuels, perhaps the Wheel of Pain, as conservatives would think. Improved, efficient appliances would also be part of a Green New Deal. The installation of solar panels and the manufacture of wind turbines and green machines would create countless jobs.

The number reported for the cost of this program, thrown out by a nameless analyst, is two trillion dollars over the course of a decade. While this sounds expensive, the Iraq War cost over one trillion dollars in direct costs, with over half a million Iraqis killed, 4,491 US service members killed, and tens of thousands maimed and injured. While war profiteers like Dick Cheney and Erik Prince made billions of dollars with no-bid, cost-plus contracts, no real lasting jobs have resulted from this war.

Two trillion dollars is a small price to pay for clean energy, a chance to mitigate global warming, and to create a long-term jobs program (giving preference to veterans of the Iraq War in hiring would be a nice gesture, especially in light of the VA's disastrous handling of the GI Bill). Given the ongoing costs of climate change and increasingly deadly weather events, two trillion would be a bargain.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will be the youngest Congressional representative ever, is going to have to live in the future that assholes like James Inhofe and Louie Gohmert will be leaving her. She's idealistic, passionate, and tough as hell... just the sort of representative we need if a sustainable future is to be built.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Name Gives Away the Game

Listening to NPR today, the topic of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. I was surprised at the amount of attention this low rated glorified commercial was receiving. The show is sexist, transphobic, lookist... it caters to the Male Gaze and furthers the imperatives of the Beauty Industrial Complex. In short, pretty much all of the commentary concerned how reactionary the fashion show was.

I have to note that none of this should have come as a surprise to anyone... I mean, the very name of the corporation says everything that anyone needs to know about it.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Happy Hanukkah 2018

Here's wishing all of my Jewish readers a happy Hanukah. A couple of weeks ago, before leaving for a week's Thanksgiving vacation, I had to clean out the perishable items from refrigerator and cupboard. Having a half-full bag of potatoes, I decided the most expedient way to get rid of them was to shred them in my food processor and make hash browns... now, two weeks later, I can totally get in the mood to make some latkes- the mixture of potatoes and onion fried in a lot of oil just works, and I'm not even Jewish, man.

I'm on the record saying that I like to celbrate EVERYBODY's holidays- Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah... I love them all, the one's I was raised celebrating and the one's I've adopted. Growing up, we'd often double up on holidays with friends and neighbors- Passover at their place, Easter at ours. In this era of polarization and ethnic-based bigotry, sharing our joyful occasions with each other is more important than ever. Hanukkah, like Diwali, is often referred to as the 'Festival of Lights', and we need light more than ever these days.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Had it with the Hagiography

I spent most of the day away from all sorts of media, being preoccupied with my volunteer gig all morning and with work all afternoon, but I did catch snippets of commentary regarding the death of George H.W. Bush at the age of 94. Most of the coverage was sickeningly anodyne- even so-called 'liberal' pundits and Democrats were talking about how 'civil' Bush the Elder was- not as clumsy or random as a Trump, an elegant Republican for a more civilized age. I say 'balls' to all that... the guy was a bad egg, bad for America, bad for the world. I am relieved that one pundit, Medhi Hasan of The Intercept, has written an article critical of Bush 41, that I am not alone in my rancor.

First of all, Bush 41 was Reagan's right-hand man, and probably wielded much of the presidential power while Reagan was slipping into dementia. Bush was the keynote speaker at my college graduation, and I have vivid memories of a distraught woman running up the aisles screaming 'Asesino!', referencing the Reagan administration's heinous Latin American policies, until security dragged her off, still screaming. I was young, I wasn't very political at the time, but this was a woman unprotected by my white male privilege.

Bush was comfortable using racism to further his political ends, with the Willie Horton ad against Michael Dukakis being a textbook example of stocking racialized fears while portraying Democrats as 'soft on crime'.

The first Gulf War was largely based on propaganda, depicting Iraqi soldiers as vile creatures who pulled Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and left them to die. While Saddam Hussein was truly a despicable creature, it seems as if he had been set up by the Bush 41 Administration when envoy April Glaspie told him that the United States had no position on Arab-Arab disputes. The fact that this followed upon years of Republican administration apparatichiks selling chemical weapons to Iraq while simultaneously selling weapons to Iran, Iraq's bitter foe in an eight year long regional war- while playing both sides in a conflict against each other for personal game makes for a great thriller, it makes for a shitty foreign policy. Gulf War One was the fount from which much of our current global shitshow sprang- it inspired the rise of Al Qaeda, immiserated Iraqis for a decade, and set the stage for the even worse sequel. In one particularly cruel twist in the First Gulf War, the US government encouraged the mainly Shiite Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq to revolt against Saddam Hussein, but gave them no support.

The litany of Bush's missteps, crimes, and atrocities has been ignored by the mainstream media, which is content to run the sanitized version of his tenure in the government. As Driftglass has often noted, liberals are cursed with memory... I can't forget living through the Bush years, especially watching the news media covering the war as if it were a sporting event (I vividly remember watching the initial airstrikes on Baghdad while drinking a beer in a bar and thinking, 'Weird, I guess we're at war now.').

Oddly enough, the people who seem to be most critical of the Bush hagiography are the QAnon loons, who ignore the man's actual crimes and accuse him of being an elite pedophile and the killer of JFK... I guess that Bush's 'New World Order' is still catnip to conspiracy whackaloons. I imagine that, if I were to delve deeper into their cesspool, there would be far-right trolls claiming that this frail 94 year old had been executed for his 'Deep State' crimes (these idiots believe that John McCain was executed by a military tribunal).

Enough of the conspiracy-mongering, I think I'll end this post with the guy who had the last word on HW and his 'thousand points of light' nonsense:

Sometimes, it takes a Canadian to tell it like it is about these here United States.