Thursday, January 31, 2019

These People Can Ruin Everything

Gripped in a frigid polar vortex, people have to come up with ways to cope with the bitter cold. In a video which has gone viral, a woman outside of an Ohio coffee shop flings hot coffee into the air, and it freezes into coffee snow and blows away. It's an exuberant moment in the midst of a trying time, and it rightfully became popular. Of course, lunatics can make everything suck... the 'chemtrail' conspiracy theorists have glommed onto this video. Just wait until they figure out what the queers are doing to the soil.

It's getting so a guy can't even enjoy freezing his ass off these days.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Vortex Hath Arrived

Checking the weather app on my workplace cell phone, I see that it is 4F (-15.5C) outside, with wind chills making it feel like -15F (-26C). Yep, the polar vortex which has been gripping the Midwest has finally arrived. Needless to say, I have put on multiple layers of clothing, including a pair of flannel lined jeans which are tailor made (heh) for nights such as this. I also plan on limiting my exposure to the elements. While my work tasks involve some outdoor time, on a night like this, I can slack off on these to some extent for the sake of personal safety.

Earlier today, there was a brief snow squall which led to whiteout conditions on the roads throughout the Northeast, and not the good kind:

Luckily, this squall hit hours before I had to leave for work. All things told, though, I can't complain about the cold- I am well-equipped to deal with it. Besides, I've been getting regular updates from my old college roommate, who lives in St Paul, Minnesota. The cold snap we're having here in New York is positively balmy compared to the Twin Cities.

UPDATE: Went out to handle some tasks in the one o'clock hour, and the temperature was, according to the workplace cell phone, a flat zero degrees Fahrenheit, with the wind chills making it feel like minus eighteen. Needless to say, I didn't tarry outside for long. Ginger, I am happy to say, is happily ensconced on one of the radiator covers in the building in which she spends nights that are sufficiently cold to require something 'stronger' than her heated bed in an unheated building.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Two Grifts for the Price of One

Rick Perlstein's The Long Con article in The Baffler is required reading for anyone attempting to understand the current state of American conservatism. There are various forms of the grift, and I think I found my favorite iteration of the form, a sort of twofer that combines stolen valor militarism/toxic masculinity and religious-based xenophobia... behold, Tactical Tea:

It's guaranteed to be sourced from countries which aren't dominated by Sharia law, and it's TACTICAL, like an overpriced flashlight or camo-cargo pants. Plus, it's not politically correct, which means I shudder to see what they call black tea, which is tea grown on the Democrat Plantation.

Well, I'm off to Tuesday Night Bar Trivia, and I have to tell you that Rudy's had better have Tactical Beer on tap!

Monday, January 28, 2019

What Did We Learn?

It is tempting, and not unreasonable, to think that the government shutdown was called off because a 'sickout' on the part of the air traffic controllers led to the ground stop of LaGuardia Airport. All told, the government shutdown is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to have cost the US economy eleven billion dollars. Trump is running the government like he runs his businesses... in a really shitty manner.

The one lesson to take away from this shutdown shitshow is that workers have more power than we believed we have, even with union participation being abysmal in the United States. Six sick air traffic controllers were able to throw a huge proverbial monkey wrench into the nation's transportation system. The head of the flight attendants' union even called for a general strike if the shutdown weren't ended. It's an idea that has gained quite a bit of traction in the last couple of weeks, and if there's another shutdown in three weeks, it just might happen.

It would be ironic if the guy whose trademark line was 'you're fired' turned out to be the guy who revived the labor movement in the US. He's long be a shitty boss, and a hypocrite when it comes to immigration. Back in the 1980s, he hired undocumented workers to handle demolitions work when he transformed the old Bonwit Teller building into his original Manhattan Trash Palace. Currently, his organization is firing dozens of undocumented employees of his Westchester County, New York country club... conveniently, during the winter slow season.

Trump has never engaged in a fair fight before- he has a history of stiffing contractors and employees who didn't have the means to pursue legal action for long- he would just 'run out the clock' on his plaintiffs and 'win', if that's what you call stiffing people. Now, he's up against a determined opposition and he's getting his overinflated head handed to him. While the House of Representatives can investigate him and block his agenda, the real lesson is that the general public has the power to fight back, not only against the current maladministration, but against other bad actors in the corporate world, we just have to remember how to flex our muscle.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Old Friends, Old Times, Old Jokes

I’m headed down to Manhattan to meet up with some old college friends. It’s funny how the years drop away under such circumstances. Old jokes remembered, cryptic references to decades old shenanigans... it really is remarkable how easy it is to become a nineteen year old again.

It’s just too bad the body doesn’t regress to that earlier time along with the mind. I don’t recall having to take long, scalding showers just to be able to move after a workout back then.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Bad Day in MAGAland

Put succinctly, today was just bad for MAGAts. This morning, I woke up to answer the 'call of nature' around 7AM and made the mistake of checking out the news. Upon finding out that Roger Stone was arrested, I had a hard time trying to get back to sleep, but eventually crawled back into bed so I could get some sleep before working a double overnight shift. I woke up just in time to hear Trump giving his speech about caving on both government shutdown and border wall... GOOD TIMES!

With those two big news stories foremost on the radi-adi-o, I decided to check out what the MAGA people were saying, and it was pure comedy gold. There were accusations of Trump being a wimp, accusing Trump of consuming soy products, whining about Pelosi winning twice in one week, and experiencing religious schisms over the divinity of their God Emperor. The Schadenfreude is exquisite.

Personally, I believe that the government shutdown was ended because LaGuardia Airport was shut down. Trump really isn't interested in what the rubes who voted for him want, but he sure would love to be accepted by the Manhattan glitterati- with one of the three major airports serving New York City closed, the shutdown was starting to impact the Wall Streeters and 'swell set' whose love the Dotard yearns for. Sorry, Red Staters, he's just not that into you.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Gonna Start a Tab at the Stop and Shop

Oh, dear, in a 'Marie Antoinette in MAGAland' moment, the Dotard is suggesting that government employees impacted by his shutdown start running tabs at the grocery store:

“When they go for groceries, they will work along. They know the people. They’ve been dealing with them for years. And they work along.”

I do know the people at the grocery stores in which I typically shop, and if they set up a tab for me, somebody from corporate would fire them. It's not like the old days, when my eight-year old grandmother could stop in a local tavern, have the publican fill her parents' growler with beer, and put it on the monthly tab.

This idiocy is a follow up to Wilbur Ross' advice that furloughed workers take on debt in order to make up for their lack of pay:

“The banks and the credit unions should be making credit available to them,” he said, noting that the government would give federal employees back pay. “There really is not a good excuse why there really should be a liquidity crisis.”

“True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest. But the idea that it’s paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea.”

I can't think of a more perfect Republican 'disaster capitalism'- create a problem and then use that problem to extract money out of the hapless proles affected by it. Forget the Dow and the NASDAQ, the smart money lies in investing in tumbrel futures if this sort of cruelty continues.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Grift Leads to Rift

There's trouble a-brewing in the fever swamps of the right-wing conspiracy mill... the merely deluded are catching on to the fact that some of the bigwigs in the 'movement' are making bank. Inevitably, there are accusations of being members of the Cabal, accusations of threats and doxxings, and the term 'Nazi' even gets thrown around. It looks like the movement is fracturing into factions (largely over whether JFK Jr is alive or dead, and there's a Flat Earth contingent as well that less loony members shun). Some few even come close to realizing that the whole game is a scam. This mirrors the personal lives of these 'too online' individuals, who often are isolated from family and neighbors because of their outré beliefs. Who could have guessed that a bunch of paranoid cranks would have problems getting along?

I'd feel bad for these people, but they are truly... uh... deplorable. Many of them believe that Nancy Pelosi was attempting a coup against Trump and that there are tens of thousands of sealed indictments for their political and cultural foes. I predict that the movement will devolve into competing sects due to these differences, but that many of the adherents will remain faithful, even in the face of evidence to the contrary of the Conspiracy Theory. Cult members tend to double down on their beliefs when they are proven wrong.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Back to the Same Racist Playbook

In the runup to the 2008 election, a particularly nasty ratfucking strategy was attempted, the assertion that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, and was ineligible to serve as President. The current occupant of the White House was one of the big proponents of this conspiracy theory. Conservatives being both racist and non-creative, one particularly weaselly MAGAt is trying to use the same tactic on Kamala Harris.

This sort of attack is a testimony to Ms Harris' strength as a candidate. There are some questions for Democrats regarding her tenure as California attorney general, but those are left-versus-centrist issues which will be worked out in the primary election. Ratfuckers like Wohl have no say in this matter, they are merely trying to poison the well, and the mainstream media outlets look like they are going to fall for this bullshit.

Monday, January 21, 2019

MLK Day Mendacity

As always, Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Day brings out the natural mendacity of right-wingers. Shakezula is on this beat in spectacular fashion, as are Doktor Zoom, Michael Mora, and Stephen Robinson at Wonkette. Every year, this national holiday is characterized by bad faith and bad takes.

At least there was coverage of some pushback against the commodification of King, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being especially poignant about the 'sanitization' of King's legacy. The man was an unabashed leftist, and sweeping his support of labor unions is particularly egregious. It seems that the fact that Socialism and Christianity are perfectly compatible in an American context is something that the Plutocrats want to put the kibosh on.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

While the Boss is Away

This weekend has been characterized by inclement weather. We missed out on the three to six inches of snow that were forecast for the reason (sending local governments, caught off guard by the first snowstorm of the season, into a flurry of preparation), but received copious amounts of chilly rain, seasoned with occasional snow and sleet. Today was characterized by falling temperatures, with tonight expected to be bitter cold, with lows in the single digits and wind chills supposed to hit minus twenty Fahrenheit.

Because of this, one of the managers at work made an executive decision to bring the boss, by which I mean Ginger, home. Ordinarily, she is overseeing me, sometimes literally:

In this picture, she is standing atop a set of shelves in my office. She had been standing on my shoulders, as she often does for ease of head scritches, when she decided to jump up to check out the 'air up there' under the ceiling tiles and fire alarm units.

I missed Ginger over the weekend, but it's nice to know that she is off on a 'spa vacation' on such a brutal stretch of days.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Missed the March but Did my Part

Today was the day of the 2019 Women's March in NYC. There were attempts to gin up controversy concerning the marches and alt-right/neo-Nazi attempts at ratfucking in some communities, but NYC seems to have pulled it off well, with one kooky moment. I was march adjacent for a while, the route of the march went by the dojo where I volunteer coach:

We were teaching class during the march, but could see it out of the windows during breaks in the action. I was particularly struck by a large banner bringing attention to the plight of indigenous women in Bolsonaro's Brazil.

While I wasn't able to attend the march, I like to think I did my part in the empowerment of girls. Here is a picture of two of our first-grade aged students, a tranquil, even tender moment:

Of course, this was merely a prelude to close-quarters combat:

I find both of these pictures equally adorable. Our students made me extremely proud today. They range in ages from five-and-a-helf to fourteen, and they take good care of each other in our sometimes rough-and-tumble sport. There is a nice egalitarian atmosphere, with the older kids being respectful towards the younger kids and the boys being respectful of the girls.

I have to say that working with these children was even worth missing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' speech:

It was even worth it to feel sore and creaky on the subway ride home.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Caves and Crocodiles

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture. Last night's lecture marked the triumphant return of Dr Evon Hekkala, evolutionary biologist at the American Museum of Natural History and biology professor at Fordham University. Dr Hekkala lectured back in 2013, so this wasn't her first time at the Secret Science rodeo.

Dr Hekkala began her lecture with a simple declaration: Surprises should be part of science. She noted that sometimes things will be what you don't expect, citing the unexpected discoveries of Rosalind Franklin, Luis and Walter Alvarez, Raymond Dart, scientists whose discoveries upended prevailing conventional wisdom. She noted that life is full of good accidents, citing her own PhD woes, when she was unable to study lemurs, and settling on crocodilians as a field of study instead. She noted that ideas come from everyone and everywhere because people start out with curiosity... she joked that a child who overturns a container of milk is performing an experiment. In her case, she started out studying art history and anthropology.

She characterized art as depicting hypotheses, specifically citing the dioramas at AMNH, each of which depicts a particular moment in space and time. Museum collections are archives of the natural world. Museums started off as curiosity cabinets, collections of wonders from around the world. Most museum specimens are not on display- there are vast collections of preserved specimens behind the scenes. Archives are specimens, Dr Hekkala cited a 1930s-era letter in the AMNH archives concerning the danger of extinction faced by the indri, a letter she described as 'a smoking gun for a changing planet'. Dr Hekkala also noted that museums besides natural history museums have important scientific evidence- for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a crocodile mummy.

Dr Hekkala's particular specialty is the study of crocodiles. Two decades ago, it was thought that Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) were well known, but people were wrong about a lot of things, especially by thinking that crocodiles were 'living fossils'. One mystery about the crocodiles of Madagascar is whether there are separate species on the island. Back in the 1970s, African crocodiles were in danger of extinction, but were brought back by the introduction of sustainable crocodile leather production- economic value was an important factor in conservation. Alligators are approximately as closely related to crocodiles as humans are to bats, having split from each other approximately sixty-five million years ago- they have a similar form because this particular submarine predator physique works well. The extant crocodile populations of African can be divided into two species, with Crocodylus suchus inhabiting West Africa and Crocodylus niloticus inhabiting East Africa. The crocodiles of the New World are more closely related to the East African crocodiles than to the West African ones, with the lineages splitting between three and six million years ago. C. suchus and C. niloticus were long considered the same species, until Dr Hekkala ran DNA tests on samples of Egyptian crocodile mummies, finding them to be a distinct species, C. suchus. She joked that she was 'scooped' by a couple of centuries by French naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire who noted differences between the two species. Saint-Hilaire was inspired by the works of Herodotus, which described two separate, distinct populations of African crocodiles. Dr Hekkala is at the forefront of a new era, extracting ancient DNA from old specimens... she has been responsible for mummy genomic projects, extracting DNA from temples and museums full of crocodile mummies. She noted that the Egyptians could distinguish between niloticus and suchus, even without the benefit of DNA sequencing. Crocodile mummies are also being scanned, with one mummy actually containing almost fifty crocodile hatchlings and two larger specimens.

Dr Hekkala noted that crocodilians were considered important by many cultures that were in contact with them throughout their range- Egypt, Australia, Mexico, Madagascar. People observe the animals they live with, and crocodiles were considered to have various powers. The apothecary alligator crops up in art throughout the ages, and crocodilians were considered to have healing powers. Crocodilians' blood has antibiotic properties.

Dr Hekkala then narrowed her focus to the crocodiles of Madagascar. Once considered a separate species, Crocodylus madagascariensis, the Malagasy crocodile is now considered a subspecies of Crocodylys niloticus. Prior to the arrival of C. niloticus to the island, there was an endemic crocodilian species, Crocodylus robustus or Voay robustus (also known as the horned crocodile), which is now extinct, along with other Malagasy megafauna such as gorilla sized lemurs, dwarf hippopotomuses, and elephant birds. The extinction of Madagascar's megafauna is a big whodunit- was it people or pathogens or environmental change? What happened to the endemic horned crocodile of Madagascar? The Nile crocodile only arrived on the island about two thousand years ago. Humans started sporadically colonizing the island about twelve thousand years ago, with a sustained human habitation being achieved about two thousand years ago. Did the two crocodile species coexist? Up until the 1860s, explorers described two types of crocodiles. Did the horned crocodile succumb to human overexploitation? The horned crocodile is allied with the dwarf crocodiles, but only seven complete specimens are known. Did the Nile crocodile outcompete the horned crocodile? Did it 'swamp out' the horned crocodile through hybridization (if they were closely related enough). This being a whodunit, she went to the archives for clues, perusing the account of shipwrecked sailor Robert Drury for descriptions of wildlife.

In a stroke of luck, while watching a video of cave divers collecting lemur bones in a flooded Madagascar cave, Dr Hekkala noted a crocodile skull:

It turned out that PBS wanted to produce a program on the crocodiles of Madagascar, which led to what Dr Hekkala comically referred to as 'In Search of Lost Crocodile Lineages of Madagascar, or What I Did on my Summer Vacation'. I have to note that it just wouldn't be a Dr Evon Hekkala lecture without a generous dose of globetrotting adventure. She had twelve days to head to Madagascar with a film crew which would visit four locations on the island. She joked that it seemed impossible for this expedition to be pulled off in such short time, but a local 'fixer' was able to sort things out for them. They started off at the Croc Farm, then visited some sacred crocodile lakes (in local legend, crocodiles are ancestors of the populace- they were inhospitable people transformed into crocodiles because of their nastiness). While she and the crew weren't able to touch the crocodiles in the sacred lakes, where zebu are sacrificed to the crocs, they were able to collect DNA from traces in the water. They then traveled via boat and zebu cart (Dr Hekkala quipped 'planes, trains, and automobiles') to the spiky karst landscape of Ankarana Special Reserve. All the while, she was obtaining evidence- DNA from footprints, signs of 'robustus' among the crocodiles at Croc Farm. She kept the audience enthralled with pictures of lemurs, of giant baobabs, of rugged landscapes. The cave which the team visited was accessible by a forty foot ladder- originally, spelunkers would have to climb down a banyan root into the cave. There are numerous birds in the cave- raptors, kingfishers. The water in the cave is about 80F. The expedition was headed by Dr Laurie Godfrey, who Dr Hekkala photographed holding a lemur femur.

The cave was a trove of bones- four extinct lemur species could be found in one meter of sediment, and the bone collectors hit their specimen limit in four hours. The Madagascar Cave Diving Association provided the divers for the expedition. Dr Hekkala related a funny anecdote about falling in the mud in the cave, whereupon it took twenty minutes to extract her. To make matters more unpleasant, in order to maintain 'continuity' for the filming, she had to wear the muddy clothes the following day.

The cave dive was productive, a small 'robustus' skull was quickly found. The divers eventually found thirty crocodile skulls 'grinning' from the cave walls, though only two skulls were removed from the cave. Unfortunately, the team only had permits to collect lemur bones, not crocodile skulls, so Dr Hekkala took a tooth from one skull in order to obtain DNA samples. DNA testing will resolve the question of whether these crocodiles were a relic population with low genetic diversity or if they hybridized with the newly arrived Nile crocodiles. The two skulls examined by Dr Hekkala increased the diversity of known 'robustus' specimens by almost thirty percent. The twelve day trip was an accident, a happy one, and left Dr Hekkala resolved to obtain cave diving certification (as if she's not 'Indiana Jones' enough as it is!).

Dr Hekkala wrapped up her lecture by noting that, in order to understand the future, sometimes we have to visit the past. The study of biodiversity is crucial to our human survival. Also, outreach to children is crucial to the future success of humanity. so she is dedicated to teaching little kids as well as graduate students and, on occasion, barflies.

The lecture was followed with a Q&A session. Regarding the relationship between New World crocodiles and East African crocodiles, the divergence took place between the two lineages took place three to six million years ago. In a somewhat macabre aside, Dr Hekkala ruefully noted that the crocodiles probably drifted along the same currents that slave traders ended up using. The Nile crocodiles of Madagascar probably originated from the Zambezi River. Saltwater crocodiles have been encountered seven hundred miles from shore, so crocodiles are capable of long sea voyages. Since the construction of the Aswan Dam, crocodiles have gone extinct in Egypt, so no DNA is available for comparison.

Another question involved the cave ecology- pollen trapped in speleothems can provide clues about conditions in the cave, whether it was wetter or drier at various times. The crocodile remains are intact and articulated, so the crocs died in situ. Banyan trees near the cave entrance tend to attract animals, but perhaps the crocs came in through another entrance.

Another question involved the diversity of crocodilians- along with the birds, crocodilians are one of the great surviving archosaur lineages. There are two alligator species, several true crocodile species, dwarf crocodiles, caimans, and slender snouted gharials. These lineages diverged about sixty-five million years ago.

Another question regarded the suchus/niloticus divide in Africa- the suchus crocodiles are smaller and less aggressive than their eastern counterparts. It's possible that some hybridization occurs, but the extent is unknown.

Another question involved the antibiotic properties of crocodilian blood. Croc blood plasma was effective in killing staphlococcus, E. coli, and streptococcus bacteria. Additional testing is needed to gauge the extent of croc plasma antibiotic properties.

Some bastard in the audience asked Dr Hekkala to speculate why New World crocodiles haven't penetrated into the territory of the American alligator while the Chinese alligator has a tiny geographic distribution... could alligators have better cold tolerance? Dr Hekkala noted that there are crocodile populations at high elevations in Madagascar where the crocodiles are exposed to cool temperatures.

One again, Dr Hekkala knocked it out of the park... she hit what I call the 'Secret Science sweet spot'- a heavy dose of hard science with revelation of new discoveries, combined with adventure narrative and science/conservation advocacy, the whole shebang leavened with humor. Kudos to Dr Hekkala, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. Now, here's a video of Dr Hekkala giving an overview of the 'Crocs' exhibit at AMNH:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!!!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Jesu Christo, un Cocodrilo!

This post is going to be a quick one before I head down to Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring my great and good friend Dr Evon Hekkala. For the record, Dr Hekkala's 2013 lecture was one of my favorite Secret Science Club lectures- it really hit that 'secret science sweet spot', being a heady blend of hard science lecture, adventure narrative, and science/conservation advocacy. In the subsequent years, I have come to know and love Dr Hekkala and her husband- they reliably show up at pro-science events such as lectures and the March for Science. I can't say enough about how awesome they are.

Anyway, the post title comes from my favorite episode of my beloved Italian Spiderman. Seeing a still of Peter Parker in Venice from the upcoming Spider-Man movie inspired me to rewatch Italian Spiderman in all of its glory. Perhaps my favorite episode is the third one, when Italian Spiderman interacts with members of the two extant archosaur lineages:

That scene with the chicken never fails to crack me up.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Creepy Elite ISREAL

One of the axioms of the QAnon conspiracy which is the end-stage of MAGAitis is that there is a shadowy cabal of elite globalists who harvest the bodies of ritually sacrificed young people for adrenochrome, which in the real world is oxidized adrenaline, but in the fever swamps of conspiracy theorists, is the fictionalized version claimed by Hunter S. Thompson to be derived from the adrenal glands of living humans. According to conspiracy theorists, it's the ultimate high combined with a youth serum meant to keep the Illuminati youthful.

In a creepy corollary to the adrenochrome urban legend, a recent startup called Ambrosia will sell you a blood transfusion from a young donor for a mere eight grand a liter... twelve grand for two liters. It's a legal procedure, even though it poses dangers to recipients, by virtue of the fact that blood transfusions in general are legal, therapeutically important procedures. It has been reported that James Bond villain Peter Thiel was interested in obtaining blood transfusions from the young because he thinks that death is merely a problem to be solved.

The whole thing reeks of lurid legend, with images of sanguivorous vampires and evil countesses (here's where I plug the novel The Countess by Rebecca Johns, which portrays Elizabeth Bathory as something scarier than a vampiress, namely a boss from hell). The very idea of the Masters of the Universe consuming the blood of the young is unsettling, though as St Joseph sang 'it's the best years of your life they want to steal'.

When this therapy inevitably fails, maybe these Tech Titans will go for the stronger stuff that the QAnons are yammering about... after all, in true Randian terms isn't Kokkor Hekkus merely a 'disruptor'?

NOTE: I decided to go Vancian because of a recent post at Tor Books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tapp Out

The big local story for the day was the controlled demolition of the old Tappan Zee Bridge. The eastern portion of the bridge's superstructure was unstable, so dismantling it by crane would have posed a danger to the demolition workers. The Tappan Zee Bridge was the major Hudson River crossing in my beloved Westchester County, so I have blogged about it quite a bit over the years.

I had toyed with the idea of watching the demolition, but decided against it. I finished work at 4AM, and though I work not too far from the bridge site, I really didn't want to hang around after work for seven hours... a guy has to sleep, after all. Taking a nap and driving to a place with a view of the old bridge wasn't appealing- the roads were a disaster this morning because of the demolition. Plus, it was below freezing this morning, and I had already been out and about during my shift- a nice warm bed was more appealing than watching the demolition. That being said, the footage of the demolition was interesting:

I didn't need to see the bridge being taken down... I had already seen it falling down for years.

Monday, January 14, 2019


Recently, I came across a BBC radio adaptation of one of my favorite horror tales by H.P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The BBC adaptation presents the tale as an episode of a 'Mystery Machine' podcast, with a couple of journalists tracking down the facts pertaining to the disappearance of the titular Charles Dexter Ward from a locked room in a mental hospital. The adaptation is set in the present, rather than being a period piece... it is to be noted that Lovecraft himself usually set his stories in contemporary times, even though his horror derives from atavistic survivals of previous ages, often pre-human eras of Earth's development. It changes a lot of the particulars of the original novella, but the needs of radio drama are served well by such changes.

I'm currently halfway through the dramatization, and I'm finding it a lot of fun. I like the interaction between the principal cast members, they have the chemistry of old friends and colleagues, often joking and needling each other, providing nice breaks in the bleak horror narrative that they are unraveling. The whole production is a good mélange of investigative procedural with supernatural elements slowly creeping in as the story unfolds. If you are a fan of pulp tales such as True Detective or Stephen King's oeuvre, I heartily recommend it.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The One Bank She's Qualified to Head

One of the stranger stories to hit the news last week was a rumor that Ivanka Trump was under consideration to head the World Bank. Ivanka Trump's international business expertise is limited to selling knockoff shoes made in sweatshops, so it's odd that she would even be in the running for heading up the World Bank. That being said, if an incompetent boob like Paul Wolfowitz could be head of the bank, a complicit twit like Ivanka could, with the same degree of cronyism and corruption.

In my estimation, she would be a disaster as leader of the World Bank- the only bank she's qualified to lead is her father's spank bank.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Pseudo Sous-Vide

In the course of an online conversation, the topic of sous-vide cooking came up... sous-vide is a technique in which foodstuffs are placed in vacuum-sealed bags and immersed in hot water, as hot as the desired internal temperature of the finished dish, for hours. The technique prevents the food from drying out and ensures an evenly -cooked product.

Wanting to try the technique, but not having the funds for an expensive sous-vide immersion heater and a vacuum-sealer, and uncomfortable with the amount of plastic needed to seal every meal, I decided to try a workaround. Kitchen wizard J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats came up with a method to use a beer cooler to mimic a sous-vide machine. I had found leg-o-lamb on sale at a supermarket near my workplace before starting my shift, and I knew that there was a cooler as well as an electric kettle in the woefully underused kitchen of my workplace:

The deboned leg-o-lamb went into the cooler, followed by a couple of gallons of hot water:

After a few hours, it was time to go home, so I took the pseudo sous-vide lamb home. The technique doesn't brown the meat, the temperature never gets hot enough for the Maillard reaction to occur. To get a proper finished product, I had to pop the lamb into a 350F degree oven for about forty-five minutes, after rubbing it with a blend of salt, coriander, cumin, savory, and fenugreek. The final product was juicy and tender, but no better than a traditional roast. I think I started with the wrong cut of meat- I prefer my lamb medium-well, rather than the medium rare best achieved with sous-vide cooking. Next time, I will try something smaller and less forgiving of overcooking than a leg of lamb- the technique seems tailor made for cooking boneless chicken breasts.

With the cost of equipment being high (though not as expensive as before), I don't foresee sous-vide cooking being widely adopted in home kitchens anytime soon, but I can see how it is an indispensable cooking technique for commercial kitchens- it cooks food to a consistent standard and food can be precooked and kept warm for hours without overcooking, to be quickly finished with a sear in a pan or on a grill. The beer cooler workaround was fun to try, but I can't see myself doing it very often... though it would be fun to arrive at a cookout with a cooler and start pulling cooked chicken breasts out of it, it would be even more fun to pull cold beers out of said cooler.

Friday, January 11, 2019

King of the Airwaves?

Last night was a first for me, perhaps a first for anyone since the 1970s. In the space of approximately an hour and a half, I heard two King Crimson songs on the radi-adi-o. The local commercial radio station that I usually listen to, WXPK, runs a fun feature every weekday (with a repeat block on Sunday afternoons) called The Ten at Ten (tagline: ten great songs from one great year), which showcases ten songs from a particular year, accompanied by news clips, movie trailers, even commercials from that year. As you probably surmised, the feature runs at 10AM, with a reprise at 10PM.

Last night's Ten at Ten featured the, in my estimation, Robert Chambersesque title song The Court of the Crimson King:

On my dive home from work, I was listening to WFUV, the radio station of Fordham University in the Bronx. On Thursdays, they have a feature called Throwback Thursdays, and the theme of the day was debut albums. Sure enough, they decided to play a selection from In the Court of the Crimson King, in this case the pretty I Talk to the Wind:

As soon as I got home, I frantically googled Robert Fripp's name to make sure that he was okay.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Who Could Have Predicted Such Corruption?

The acting Defense Secretary is a former Boeing executive, so even a casual observer of the Trump kleptocracy could have predicted that the guy would turn out to be corrupt as hell. I am a cynical man, but I still wouldn't have predicted that such corruption would be manifested so quickly: the Air Force will now accept Boeing KC-46 aerial tanker planes with a flaw in their refueling systems.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had rejected the defect-plagued planes, but their purchase was approved by under-secretary for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord. Supposedly, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recused himself from the decision, but I am not convinced that he refrained from pressuring his subordinate to buy the damn things... Trump infamously declined to put his businesses into a blind trust and has ridden roughshod over the Constitution prohibition against emoluments. If the screwhead of state can engage in such chicanery, why wouldn't his subordinates act likewise?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Lunch with the Boss

Today, the bulk of the employees who fall under the aegis of my immediate boss met for lunch after the end of a successful season on the job. Twelve of us (three of my subordinates couldn't make it because they had to work their day jobs) met at an upscale Greek restaurant chosen by the woman who runs our grounds and gardens crew. Her taste in dining establishments turned out to be impeccable... the staff was hospitable, the food delicious. We're a pretty hang-loose group, so most of us had a single beer with lunch. We're also close with our boss, who has been with the organization for just about two years. He's a good guy, a drummer, a comedian, the sort of department head who isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and get in the trenches when tough situations arise... the sort of boss who enjoys hanging out with his various teams for two hours, joking around and candidly discussing the foibles as well as the successes of the organization.

On one of our sites, a major renovation of an onsite structure is underway. The head of our maintenance department took some wood from the structure and fabricated keepsakes from it, adorned with pictures of the structure and shellacked to a mellow smoothness. We each got one of these curious as mementos of the construction project. It was a thoughtful gesture, a labor of love undertaken by a master of his craft, and a gentleman who happens to be, like the boss, a drummer.

We are currently in our seasonal lull- the tourists are all gone, the bulk of our part-time seasonal employees are off for the next few months. It's a quiet time on the job, a time earmarked for special projects that can't be accomplished in the open season. It's also a perfect time to take a few hours to enjoy each others' company, to spend some time just catching up socially, since we're largely caught up with work.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Good Night to Tune Out

As a guy who works on the weekends, I tend to go out on Tuesday nights, luckily, that's the night that team bar trivia is held. It's a night spent with friends, in a friendly competition with rivals that we have come to value as friends. It's a good night to not watch the president's prime time television address. The president has been lying about immigration for years, and his assertion that four thousand terrorists were caught at the border is a howler.

I look at this effort by the president as a last-ditch effort to save face. His shutdown is already a disaster, and will rapidly become a catastrophe as paychecks and benefits payments become due. If Stephen Miller is the individual tapped to write the address, it will be an utter disaster.

I am going to head out to drink beer with my friends, there will be plenty of time to digest the address and rebuttal when I wend my way home. I really don't need to reward the media outlets for airing the address in the first place.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Bloody Good Fun

I figured I'd take a break from the news media today, so I spent some time poking around the t00bz for interesting reads and interesting podcasts. I found a gruesomely fun podcast, Hynogoria, which deals with scary stories, scary movies, and an occasional macabre folktale. The podcast host, Jim Moon, also contributes to the SFFAudio Podcast, which covers classic Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, with a website which is a treasure trove of PDF scans of classic pulp 'weird fiction'.

I particularly like the folklore episodes, such as this episode about Lancashire river hag Jenny Greenteeth and other legendary monsters around the world which drown people. It includes audio from a particularly creepy PSA narrated by Donald Pleasance:

Another good episode explores the bizarre folklore surrounding toads. As someone who loves toads, the notion that toads used to be considered familiars of the devil, especially by rural people, is mind-boggling... I mean, didn't these people ever notice that these critters were gobbling down agricultural pests?

If you are a fan of weird tales or scary movies, this is a fun podcast hosted by a genial fellow with a pleasant voice. If you need some background audio for doing chores, you might enjoy Hypnogoria.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Deadbeat Dotard

In the latest bit of grotesquerie that is the current maladministration, Donald Trump has something to say about government employees who aren't receiving their pay, even though they are expected to work:

"I can relate, I'm sure the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. People understand what's going on. Many of those people that won't be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I'm doing."

Trump can relate? Trump has a history of not paying employees and contractors. Back in the 1980s, he hired undocumented laborers from Poland to handle the demolition of the old Bonwit Teller building in order to make room for Trump Tower, shithole central, and he stiffed them. When he built his trash palaces in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he stiffed contractors and employees. He has stiffed contractors in Florida as well. It's common knowledge that Trump hasn't paid income taxes for many years.

Put succinctly, the guy doesn't like to pay anybody, preferring to stiff people in order to line his pockets. Even in the context of the current shutdown, he made an exception for park rangers working in his DC hotel. It's long been known that the guy is a deadbeat... did people expect him not to engage in this sort of behavior when they voted for the creep?

Friday, January 4, 2019


Funny, some idiot recently said that important science is no longer being conducted at a moment when a third human-built construct is hurtling out of our solar system while beaming back amazing images of Kuiper Belt objects. I'd say that science is doing alright, even as it weathers attacks from corporate flacks and fundamentalist ideologues.

Here's where I am blegging on behalf of my friends at the Secret Science Club who are running their yearly fundraiser. I write monthly recaps of the Secret Science Club lectures and consider them the most important posts that I write, and the most involved. It usually takes me four or five hours to recap a one hour lecture, due to the need to hunt down links for those readers who want to go more in-depth than my spare recapitulations. The lectures are free, they are accessible to the layperson, they are a good demystification of scientific topics.

If you find these summaries worthwhile, please consider sending some funds to my friends. Five bucks, ten bucks... every little bit counts. The forces of disinformation are well-funded, the forces of enlightenment typically operate on shoestring budgets. I know that money is tight for many of us, especially with the stock market volatility wreaking havoc on retirement funds, but if you've got it, consider sending a sawbuck FOR SCIENCE!!!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Adults Are in Charge of the House

Finally, the wait is over, and the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives. It's nice to see Nancy Pelosi back in the saddle as the Speaker of the House. She managed to articulate her legislative priorities while calling for responsible governance in DC:

In a cute move, she invited first her grandchildren, then all children present, to join her as she took her oath of office:

It's nice to see her instilling civic virtue in the youth. Speaking of youth, the average age of the Congress will drop by ten years, though the incoming class of Reps is more mature than the spoiled 'Freedom Caucus' fratholes who dominated the previous Congress. The 116th Congress also has the most women and people of color in history. While the GOP Senate and the asshole in the White House will ensure that no substantive legislation gets passed by the House, the very fact that they have investigative power is, as Joe Biden would put it, a big fucking deal. In one predictable, but welcome, development, Maxine Waters indicated that she would spend 'some of her time' on subpoenas and investigations:

It's nice to see some adults in the Capitol building, albeit a younger crowd than usual. Already, 2019 is looking like it's going to be a better year than the last two.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

President of 4chan

Other blogs have covered Vulgarmort's insane cabinet meeting of the day, but I am going to fixate on one bizarre detail... a detail that I would have suspected had been photoshopped into pictures of the event, but turned out to be real:

The poster on the wall is a blow-up of an internet meme image such as the 4chan Trump-fan crowd cranks out on a regular basis, with this particular poster being based on an ad for HBO's Game of Thrones. I can't imagine who the hell greenlit the placement of such a bizarre prop in the Situation Room, a cartoonish intrusion into a space formerly regarded as deadly serious.

How long before Trump is using a 'Pepe' meme as his official portrait?

We don't even have a reality TV president anymore, we have a shitpost president.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019 Wish: Accountability

My number one wish for 2019 is accountability- I want serious investigations into corruption to take place and for the people who are guilty of it to be penalized... if not incarcerated, then fined and prevented from ever holding a government position. With a Democratic House, I think that this is possible. I expect an avalanche of subpoenas to bury the Trump maladministration, and Once-and-Future Speaker Pelosi is just the woman to accomplish that. I expect Vulgarmort to be sweating bullets for the foreseeable future.

Oddly enough, people on the far right also want accountability, though in a fucked-up manner- they believe that military tribunals have already started convicting 'Deep State' operatives like John Brennan, Barack Obama, and their greatest bugbear, the hated Hillary. Sure, they want to hold their 'enemies' accountable for nonsense like interplanetary sex trafficking rings, cannibalism, suppressing unlimited 'zero point energy', and the periodic vanishing of the McRib, but they want the people they think are holding them back held accountable.

All I could think of is the cliche movie line:

That's all we really want, some accountability. Whether that means dragging Zinke in to testify about the hundreds of thousands of dollars he looted from the treasury, or the whisking away of sixty thousand Democrats, celebrities, and liberal boogeymen to be executed at Gitmo, the wish is really the same. Either way, 2019 is looking like it's going to be the year that accountability matters.