Sunday, March 31, 2019
The idea that Kate Bush is a murderous occultist is absolutely ludicrous, but I won't rule out that she very well may be a murderous mad-scientist, because she was once tasked with finding a sound that could kill someone from a distance:
All joking aside, that is one terrific video, for my favorite Kate Bush song, it's a very effective little horror movie packed into four minutes and forty three seconds, leavened with some funny Easter eggs and several cameos by the adorable Ms Bush, who directed the video.
Saturday, March 30, 2019
"Hey, man, we could use a goalie for this game tonight, can you stick around and play?"
"Uhhhh... I gotta ask my mom."
"ASK YOUR MOM?!? What's up with that?"
"I'm still in high school."
Ice time being a precious thing, mom granted Gomez permission to play goalie for the FDY, and he comported himself well with the older crowd. Thirty years later, he is still playing goalie, he's coaching his kids' teams, and he is refereeing hockey games as a side gig. He's on the board of the local hockey association. He's doing well for himself, and for others. Happy birthday, baby bro!
Friday, March 29, 2019
Americans tend to be fooled by British accents, they tend to assume that Brits are educated, sophisticated people, forgetting that the UK is home to the football hooligan and the lager lout... and these knee-biters seem to be running the country. The populace of the UK hasn't exactly covered itself in glory, but as an American, I have to note that the entire Anglophone world seems to be suffering from a malaise, rooted in bigotry and exacerbated by Russian propaganda campaigns on social media.
I'm generally in agreement with John Lydon about the English people- they tend to be a decent lot, led by some of the most horrible people around. With Brexit, though, the damage was self-inflicted by plebescite. Good guys like Charles Stross have sounded alarm about availability of medicines, and there was talk of impending food scarcity should a no-deal Brexit ensue. The government of the United Kingdom has inflicted two major famines on colonized peoples, and it looks as if it's going to inflict a third, this time on its own people.
The whole situation is beyond fucked up, and the Irish border situation is cause for alarm, so how about a musical interlude to take our minds off of this bloody mess?
Weird, when that song was released, it was considered one of the Clash's few non-political songs.
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Georgie has a new toy, given to my neighbor by a cousin of hers (they are both immigrants from Northern Ireland) who isn't sympathetic to the MAGA agenda:
I have to confess that I enjoyed the toy more than Georgie did, there's something cathartic about throwing some ugly, ludicrous thing around the yard. Usually, when I throw something, it's beautiful and smart.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
One of my friends, Dan, is a Special Olympian. I met him on the job almost a decade ago, and in that time, he has competed in volleyball (for which he won a gold medal) and softball. Dan is one of those 'gentleman athletes' that preparatory schools are supposed to produce- he knows how to work a room, has a repertory of songs at his command, and has met all sorts of dignitaries (his typical greeting is a hug and a 'hey, buddy'... when he told me that he was going to a meeting with Cardinal Dolan of the New York Archdiocese, I joked to him and his aunt/godmother, "remember to address him as 'your eminence, buddy'").
Back in 2014, I wrote of Dan:
Having gotten to know mother and son, I have to say that it's heartwarming to see a man who would have been locked away a couple of generations ago living a happy, productive life- a life in which he has achieved splendid goals.
This is EXACTLY what is at jeopardy if DeVos' plan is put into action. By having outreach in the schools paid for by the taxpaying public, the government sends a message that people with handicaps are valued members of society, that they contribute to the common good. I judge the worth of a society by the way in which its most marginalized members are treated, and the current US isn't looking so good. Sure, there will be private and corporate funding for the Special Olympics, but a public funding component has a symbolic value.
While I am not appalled, I'm not exactly surprised at such a policy coming from the administration of a man capable of this:
The Era of Gratuitous Cruelty marches on.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
My biggest beef with this speech, aside from the general menacity, is Lee's assertion at 1:53 that the dinosaur Reagan is riding is a Velociraptor... velociraptors were small things, about the size of turkeys. Lee, being from Utah, should have recognized that bigass dromeosaur as a Utahraptor. It's only the state dinosaur of his homeland.
As expected, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has the best response to Lee's drollery, by which I mean trollery:
Like many other women + working people, I occasionally suffer from impostor syndrome: those small moments, especially on hard days, where you wonder if the haters are right.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 26, 2019
But then they do things like this to clear it right up.
If this guy can be Senator, you can do anything. https://t.co/vU4ChbTnnr
Weird, mediocre white guys like Mike Lee never seem to suffer imposter syndrome.
Monday, March 25, 2019
After every mass shooting, the trolls come out of the woodwork, with their accounts of 'crisis actors' and 'false flags'. This American Life had a recent episode about Lenny Pozner, father of Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner, and his efforts to turn the tables on the trolls who have hounded him from residence to residence with their accusations of deception and, in extreme cases, their death threats. Mr Pozner comes across as a tough, competent, experienced individual, the sort of person who can weather the barbs and brutalities of his tormentors. Sydney Aiello and the unidentified sophomore who took his life, were teenagers, more vulnerable to anonymous tormentors.
I can't fathom the sort of cruelty which would lead people to bully the bereaved. The natural human instinct, the natural mammalian instinct, is to console the suffering... what the hell is wrong with anyone who would harangue and harass someone who has been a witness to utter horror?
Sunday, March 24, 2019
QAnon is the 'one conspiracy theory to rule them all, one conspiracy theory to find them, one conspiracy theory to bring them all and in the darkness bind them in MAGAland, where the edgelords lie'. It's the unified field theory of conspiracies, with a basic premise that the Democratic Party and Hollywood elites are committing ritual child abuse and cannibalism on a global scale. It's Pizzagate on a combination of steroids and meth, the ancient blood libel trotted out for a 21st Century audience, with a lot of accumulated baggage, such as Ickean lizard people, Flat Earth lunacy, and a ton of Satanic Panic and eschatological evangelical fantasies. A lot of it is rooted, though believers may not realize it, in pop culture, with one central tenet of the conspiracy theory, the consumption of adrenochrome as a drug by the elite 'cabal', coming from Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and depicted in the movie based on the book:
Adrenochrome-as-drug is also alluded to in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, with 'drencrom' being an additive to the moloko-plus favored by the book's villainous main character. For the record, I'm not a fan of Kubrick's film adaptation, which traded in the gritty, grotty milieu of the book for an all-too-clean aesthetic which I feel glorifies the 'ultraviolence' the book portrays:
Adrenochrome being oxidized epinephrine, the easiest way to obtain adrenochrome is to let an epi-pen go bad. According to the conspiracy theory, though, regular adrenochrome doesn't cut it for cannibals such as Hillary Clinton and Tom Hanks- the good stuff has to be sourced from victims subjected to torture and murder. This is a major plot point in the first episode of the BBC police procedural Lewis:
The Sisters of Mercy weren't particular about sourcing their adrenochrome:
At any rate, the world is a weird place when a mob boss gets gunned down by a guy who believes in a hoax perpetrated by a 4chan/8chan shitposter. The idea of the Mafia sending a couple of bone-breakers to send a message to a couple of online grifters is surreal, the very sort of grotesque lunacy which seems to be a hallmark of this particular era.
Post title based on my favorite line from The Godfather.
Friday, March 22, 2019
At any rate, I figure I have to explain the post title now- it's adapted from a line from the Ramones' song The KKK Took my Baby Away:
The important thing is that the FBI isn't going to save us, impeachment is dead on arrival with a Republican dominated Senate. It's up to us to save ourselves, and next year's elections are going to be the most important ones of my lifetime, once again.
Thursday, March 21, 2019
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Throughout the two hours I was in attendance (I had to leave a 7PM in order to get to work early so my co-worker Jim could pay his respects), every five minutes or so, there would be a changing of the guard for the two uniformed service members flanking the coffin... the Westchester County Police would salute and the Cortlandt EMS would step up, the Yorktown Fire Department would be relieved by the Croton-on-Hudson ambulance corps. State police in uniforms, teenaged EMT trainees in maroon polo shirts with their affiliated insignia... all were there to honor the life and the generosity of a man who exemplified public service in many different capacities.
The funeral will be tomorrow morning, and the procession, much like the processions he participated in while serving in a formal departmental capacity, will probably be a mile long... the man knew everybody.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Dr de Waal began his lecture by mentioning Charles Darwin's book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals and noting that this book had fallen out of favor by the time he was a student. Scholars used to be able to talk about animal motions, but he was told as a student not to talk about thinking, feeling, or any inner states. The main objection to discussing inner states was the sin of anthropomorphism, (mis)attributing human feelings to non-human animals. Another objection is our inability to know what animals feel.
In Darwin's model of emotions, stimulus leads to emotion which leads to action, and emotions must lead to adaptive responses. For example, fear can lead to hiding. An alternate model of emotion, proposed by William James and Carl Lange, held that stimulus led to action which was the basis of emotion. The current model is that stimulus leads to emotion which leads to action and feelings. Actions are adaptive and feelings are awareness of emotion. Dr de Waal stated that he cannot know an animal's feelings, he cannot know your feelings, feelings are hard to access... not knowing how an animal feels does not mean that he cannot study its emotions.
Dr de Waal then tackled the subject of anthropomorphism, the 'sin' of attributing human characteristics to animals. In some cases, similar seeming behavior is due to convergent evolution, a process by which organisms which are not closely related appear to be similar due to adaptation- by independently adapting to similar environments, they end up looking similar. homology, on the other hand, involves similar traits shared by closely related organisms being due to shared ancestry. Dr de Waal contrasted two kisses... when kissing gouramis 'kiss', they lock their mouths in a form of fighting. Bonobos, which are closely related to humans, kiss for reasons similar to human reasons for kissing. In the case of bonobos, there is homology with human kisses, while the mouth-to-mouth contact of gouramis does not represent homology. Similarly, a chimpanzee forelimb, with its homologous structures, is referred to as a hand rather than a paw (as an aside, I have to note that this courtesy is not extended to monkeys). Dr de Waal showed us a picture of a baby gorilla laughing and quipped that, in the interest of avoiding anthropomorphism, this would be characterized as 'short vocalized panting', which elicited short vocalized panting from the audience. When a baby gorilla, a close relative of humans, laughs for reasons which would make humans laugh, call it a laugh, not vocalized panting.
Dr de Waal coined the term 'anthropodenial' to denote an a priori denial that other animals can have mental experiences or that humans are like animals. He opined that anthropodenial is more dangerous than anthropomorphism- the belief that humans are separate from nature is a major factor in our current ecological catastrophe.
When studying emotions, Dr de Waal advised us to start with the face, the window to the soul. Chimpanzees have as many facial muscles as humans. Inspired by Darwin, Dr Paul Ekman was a pioneer of the study of emotion. When Dr Ekman began his study of emotion, the prevailing belief was that emotions were expressed differently in different cultures- when he looked into this belief, there were no records, no photos... this belief was all in the theorists' heads. Dr Ekman studied emotions and categorized six major emotions: disgust, sadness, happiness,fear,anger, surprise. This model is still somewhat constraining, as there are subtler emotional expressions.
Dr de Waal's professor, Dr Jan Van Hooff, studied emotions and recognized differences between laughing and smiling. While smiling was thought to be a 'lower' version of laughing, Dr Van Hooff discovered that smiles are based on teeth baring behavior (often used to show aggression or submission) while laughter is rooting in play expressions. There are variations in behavior, nervous smiles and aggressive laughter. Aristotle famously wrote 'man is the only animal which laughs', but chimpanzees laugh under similar conditions that humans do. Chimps have the same tickle response that humans do:
Even though rats are ubiquitous lab animals, it was long thought that they didn't exhibit emotion through facial expressions, but when this was finally tested, it turns out that these animals were underestimated. Dr Jaak Panksepp even discovered that rats respond to tickling with ultrasonic laughter:
Showing us the video of the laughing rat, Dr de Waal joked, "As a student, I had a bunch of rats, they tend to multiply."
Studies of humor among apes are relatively new. In one instance, a zoo employee in a mask startled chimpanzees in a zoo, eliciting anger responses. On his last masked escapade, he took off his mask, and the chimpanzees laughed, suggesting that, like humans, they are amused by incongruity. Unexpected endings lead to laughter. When an alpha male allows a baby to chase him, it's funny. When a chimpanzee tricks her son and steals his nut-cracking rocks, she laughs afterwards:
An orangutan can be made to laugh with a simple magic trick:
Laughing represents a loss of control, it can be seen as animalistic- you can pee yourself, you need to catch your breath... why can't people just say 'this is funny'? Dr de Waal showed a video of Bill Clinton laughing uncontrollably, and causing Boris Yeltsin to laugh until he tears up:
A lot of emotional expressions affect our bodies deeply. The problem with the basic theory of emotion is that it is hard to study emotions that have no 'face'. Love, attachment, jealousy, hope, empathy... there are no facial expressions for them. Also, there are animals that don't expression emotions facially, such as cats and dolphins. Dr de Waal cited the example of the grieving orca which carried the body of its deceased young around for seventeen days. Chimpanzees are emotional beings, they express their emotion on reuniting with each other vocally.
Dr de Waal posed several questions: Are there uniquely human emotions? Are animals 'captives of the present'? Are humans the only animals with impulse control? Do only humans know disgust? He noted that he found this question the strangest of them all.
We don't know what animals feel, so the question of uniquely human emotions is unverifiable.
Regarding the notion that animals live only in the present, forgiveness involves a knowledge of the past. After fights, chimps engage in reconciliation- they have conflict resolution to shift from aggression to friendliness. The model for conflict resolution involves PC/MC (post-conflict/matched-control) observation, the reconciliation model is found in the wild and in captivity. Dr de Waal joked that he is from a family with six boys, so he is familiar with reconciliation. Besides primates, reconciliation behavior has been observed in most mammals- goats, hyenas, dolphins all reconcile. In an aside which I found particularly funny, he noted that reconciliation has not been observed in domestic cats. Among human preschoolers, reconciliation behavior was observed, and it was handled better by Japanese children than American children, probably because American teachers intervene in conflicts more frequently.
Dr de Waal displayed some pictures of Barack Obama and John McCain after a particularly contentious meeting, and Barack Obama has his cheeks puffed with air. A similar puffed cheek, bulging lip expression is used by male chimpanzees, and politicians such as Anthony Weiner, Bill Clinton, and others, probably to express regret. This expression is a male behavior, women don't do it.
Besides reconciling for past behaviors, animals also plan for the future. Psychologist Dr Wolfgang Köhler tasked chimpanzees with obtaining fruit that was hanging from the ceiling. The chimps were provided with boxes and poles and were able to employ them to get their reward. Köhler noted that the chimps solved the problem in their heads, not by a laborious trial-and-error process. Dr de Waal joked that this made him very unpopular with behaviorists. When he replicated the Köhler experiment, one particular female chimpanzee solved the problem by throwing a box and bringing down the fruit... she was the chimpanzee which brought down the drone:
Chimps can plan ahead, the collect tools and move them to areas where resources are available- they are not trapped in the present.
Animals can also exhibit impulse control. The standard laboratory test for impulse control is the marshmallow test:
Chimpanzees, like the children in the video, look around at other objects to distract themselves from temptation, they can hold out longer if given toys. Even some birds are able to pass the marshmallow test, with one African grey parrot holding out for fifteen minutes. Animals can control their impulses, such as a cat stalking a chipmunk rather than pouncing prematurely.
Subordinate animals in a hierarchy also exhibit impulse control. In the Menzel test, a chimpanzee is separated from the group and shown a hidden cache of food, which it must keep concealed from dominant chimps. Near the food source, the chimp will act nonchalant, an act of deception. If a low-value cucumber and a high-value banana are hidden, the aware chimp will sometimes lead the dominant chimp to the cucumber and grab the banana while the dominant one is occupied.
Animals feel disgust, it is an important adaptation to avoid contaminants and poisons. Psychologist Dr Paul Rozin opined that disgust seems to be uniquely human and is entirely or primarily cultural. Dogs were held up as exemplars of animals' lack of disgust- they eat feces and lick their testicles. Dogs do exhibit disgust, but only when presented with stimuli which disgust them, such as lemons:
Chimpanzees don't like the rain, and they try to keep their hands dry, hunching over and covering them. They tend to exhibit the wrinkled-nose disgust display when outside in the rain.
In one experiment, food was placed on plastic replica feces and real feces and macaques were observed eating food placed on plastic feces while rejecting the food placed on real feces.
Dr de Waal then discussed Dr Sarah Brosnan's primate fairness study, in which capuchin monkeys were given unequal rewards (a meh cucumber or a prized grape) for performing a task. The monkey receiving the poor reward doesn't take things well:
Inequity aversion is an irrational response- rationally, you should always take what you get. Reject the reward and you get nothing. Chimpanzees subjected to this test will sometimes refuse a grape until the other chimp gets a grape. Dr de Waal joked that this inequity aversion is lost in humans- one percent of us are grape monkeys, while ninety-nine percent of us are cucumber monkeys. In a not-so-funny coda, he noted that this is undermining our societies.
On a lighter note, parents are now doing this experiment on their children, giving one kid a whole cookie and another kid half of one. Dr de Waal also recounted a colleague who has a Great Dane and a Chihuahua which want the same amount of food.
Dr de Waal summed up his take on anthropomorphism: if two related species have the same response to the same stimulus, use the same term. Don't separate animals from humans.
Dr de Waal ended his lecture on a poignant note, addressing consolation behavior. All mammals show empathic concern. Among elephants, consolation takes the form of vulnerable contact- an elephant will stick its trunks in another elephant's mouth, a display of trust. Dr de Waal then turned to the subject of his book Mama's Last Hug. Mama was the alpha female of the Royal Burgers Zoo (Arnhem, Netherlands) chimpanzee colony. She was the most powerful chimpanzee in the colony, a mediator and decision maker, and important contact with human researchers- when she died, conflict arose in the group. At the age of eighty, Dr de Waal's professor, Dr Jan van Hooff, visited Mama, aged fifty-nine, as she was dying. Dr de Waal described the visit as 'two aging hominids meeting'. Typically, because chimpanzees are stronger than humans and are potentially dangerous, all interaction is done through a cage. On this occasion, Dr van Hooff decided to forego protocol and enter the enclosure to pay his final respects to Mama:
The hug, the arm around the neck and the patting, is reassuring behavior. Some viewers didn't expect such an emotional reaction and he felt the need to explain. Animal emotions can be studied objectively, cortisol levels and heart rates can be measured. Humans have no organs that aren't in a rat's body, while our emotions may be more sophisticated, they are not that different.
The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. One question regarded bad emotions- Dr de Waal noted that animals do kill conspecific animals in conflicts over mates, hierarchical positions, territory. Another questioner asked, do animals have emotions that humans don't have? Dr de Waal noted that cetaceans may have stronger affiliative feelings (which may be a factor in mass strandings), but the basics are similar. To find something foreign to human experience, one might have to look at more distantly related animals, such as octopodes. Regarding the lack of reconciliation among cats, Dr de Waal noted that domestic cats are solitary hunters, so they have less of a need of affiliation than other mammals. Lions, being social, might exhibit reconciliation behavior, but this needs further study. Another question involved altruism- the origin of empathy is thought to be parental care, in which the hormone oxytocin plays a role. Chimpanzees share food, but this may be a case of reciprocity, rather than altruism. Sharing just makes sense. The house was packed, so the Bastard was unable to get a question in until the post lecture book signing, when he asked Dr de Waal about the role of olfaction in the expression of emotion, and how this could be measured. As a primatologist who studies apes, he noted that smell doesn't play as big a role as visual and vocal cues, but that other mammals might communicate that way. The bastard also thanked Dr de Waal for his kindness to linking to the blog.
Once again, the Secret Science Club served up a fantastic program. Dr de Waal's lecture informed, enthralled, saddened, and amused- how appropriate for a lecture on emotions. To use a baseball term, he knocked it out of the park. Kudos to the good doctor, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.
Here's a recent interview with Dr de Waal concerning the topic of the lecture:
Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!
Monday, March 18, 2019
Dale's oeuvre is too numerous to encapsulate in a quick blog post, but the man performed into his 80s, because this country doesn't provide good healthcare to the elderly, displaying the same muscular playing style he did in his youth. Here's a live performance of his from June of last year:
I'm hoping for a break from the general suckitude of this month as I head down to Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring the triumphant return of Frans de Waal, who I am a big fan of. Dr de Waal was extraordinarily kind to me, linking to my recap of his lecture on his Facebook page, so there's one bright spot in this month, this month, this terrible month.
Sunday, March 17, 2019
This being St Paddy's Day, I figured I'd post a song appropriate for bereavement (nobody does bereavement quite like the Irish). The Pogues song Body of an American is part dirge, part tall-tale, part cryptolect rebel-song (the line about 'Spanish wine from far away' hints at gunrunning), whole-cloth rave-up. The song was featured prominently on the TV show The Wire, as an accompaniment to the police wakes depicted. I am partial to the live version from the 1986 Self Aid concert, featuring Spider Stacy playing a lick from The Guns of Navarone on the tin whistle:
I've posted clips from Self Aid before, it's a great snapshot of the Irish music scene in the 1980s. My favorite performance in the concert is the set by woefully obscure band In Tua Nua (if they had debuted five years later than they did, they would have been huge)... lead singer Leslie Dowdall still gives me heart palpitations to this day, and I'm not an adolescent anymore by any stretch of the imagination.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Barry had a background in facilities management, he managed a large manufacturing concern in the Bronx until the bottom fell out of heavy industry in the US. Before his illness, he was working two jobs, both of which he was overqualified for. A few years back, I had to write his evaluation and I approached the prospect with some trepidation... I felt like the manager of a junior college baseball team writing an evaluation of Hank Aaron. I ended up writing: "Barry has a by-the-book approach to the job and, with his experience, I suspect that he wrote the book." Barry wasn't shy about sticking to his guns no matter what upper management would say. Furnace malfunctioning in an outbuilding? Barry wouldn't allow anybody inside until someone with a carbon monoxide detector checked it out. Manager acting like a martinet and bawling out a subordinate? Barry called her out.
Barry was a perfect exemplar of civic virtue, he lived a life of service. He was a lieutenant in the county sheriff's department, which was an unpaid position. While much of it involved traffic control during events, he was also connected with the state Department of Environmental Protection. In one harrowing occurrence, he confronted a teenager brandishing a large kitchen knife during a fight in a fast food restaurant and got the kid to drop the knife so he could be apprehended and brought in for a psych evaluation. He was also a volunteer firefighter and, along with his wife, an Emergency Medical Technician for the local volunteer ambulance corps. He was unfailingly generous with his time and expertise. He was a good role model as well as a good friend.
He also had a way with animals, doting on his two dogs and our mutual friend Ginger. His knack with animals even extended to wild critters- I actually saw him reprimand an aggressive gander during the nesting/hatching season and, whether by sound or stance, got this goose to back off and calm down. It was just another of his talents.
Barry typically worked evening shifts, and I would come in early for the overnight shift to 'get the lay of the land'. The change of shift briefing usually involved shooting the breeze for half an hour or forty-five minutes, nerding out about astronomy, swapping recipes, exchanging information about favorite restaurants. Every once in a while, something unexpected would happen while we were conversing, and Barry would always respond with his typical good humor.
Even after getting his cancer diagnosis, Barry maintained his courage, grace, and humor. Having medical training and an engineering degree, he approached his illness like he approached all of the situations he encountered- he researched, he demystified the problem, he rolled up his sleeves and took the illness on. I thought he would beat this thing, we all thought he would beat this thing. None of us get out of here alive, but Barry gave us a good example of how to live. Today was a tough day, much of it spent getting the sad news out. Next week, we will gather for the memorial service and funeral. He would have wanted us to celebrate his life more than to mourn his death, so I will take my cues from him, and strive to be the bulwark of strength and compassion that will be needed... after all, he was a good role model.
Friday, March 15, 2019
The thing that strikes me is that this is the first 'Gamergate/4Chan/8Chan' mass shooting... it was announced on 8chan, livestreamed like a 'Call of Duty' tournament, and accompanied by a hard-to-penetrate metanarrative meant to obscure what is pretty much a bog-standard white supremacist campaign of terror. It's the metastasis of the path of radicalization of many alt-righties... 'ironic' 4chan racism and misogyny leads to earnest racism and then action, which most of them keep limited to putting up racist flyers in multicultural neighborhoods and an occasional street brawl. Predictably, the very right-wingers who push the 'invasion' narrative which helped to radicalize the shooter are backpedaling as quickly as they can, with a lot of them pushing the idea that talking about the shooter's radicalization is somehow 'what the shooter wants'. Weird, I didn't hear any of them questioning media outlets' attempts to suss out the radicalization of Western-born people who ran off and joined ISIS.
The important thing here is that forty-nine people are dead, and forty-eight more people grievously injured. This sort of tragedy is unprecedented in New Zealand, which is the home of several of my bloggerhood friends. To the people of New Zealand, Kia Kaha.
Thursday, March 14, 2019
For the record, I prefer savory pies to sweet ones. My sainted paternal Grandmother wasn't exactly the most elaborate cook on the planet, but one of her outstanding specialties was a lamb pie, small chunks of meat cut from the leg and baked in a double crust pie... a simple dish which perfectly highlighted the delicious, slightly gamey lamb. My favorite pie is steak-and-kidney pie, though Dad's family ate a lot of kidneys, they were typically consumed in stew for Sunday breakfast. Not having a lot of time, I think I might hit the local butcher shop to buy a steak-and-kidney pie before heading off to work.
Happy Pi Day to all! I'm not a big mathematics guy, though I am sympatico with people who are mathematics fanatics.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
The West Virginia House of Delegates recently passed legislature blocking the state Department of Environmental Protection from updating water quality standards. The proposed change in standards would have reduced the allowable concentrations of carcinogens in state waterways.
In an astounding display of Marie Antoinetteism, West Virginia Manufacturers Association president Rebecca McPhail told delegates why the presence of more toxins in the water was no biggie: West Virginians drink less water, eat less fish and are heavier than the national average. The EPA allows states to consider state-specific information about its population when proposing water quality standards.
Let them eat poison! McPhail seems to be suggesting that carrying an extra thirty or forty pounds means that benzene in the drinking water is okay. Meanwhile, the voters keep supporting politicians who enable this cartoonish supervillainy. I guess that capitalists putting toxins in the water is preferable to socialists taking away the hamburgers.
It's depressing that this story has taken a backseat to the story of rich Hollywood types paying bribes to get their spawn into Prestigious Bastions of Prestige. While both are examples of Mammon's malfeasance, causing yokels to die slowly of cancer is worse than getting Biff and Muffy into an Ivy, it's just that the college scandal will be flogged to a fare-thee-well because it highlights hypocrisy by 'Hollywood libs', and it will be, oddly enough, weaponized to undermine Affirmative Action (bookmark this!!!).
Anyway, this story is depressing as hell, and it's still the runup to the Solemn Feast of St Patrick, so how about a thematically appropriate song by the faithful, departed Phil Chevron?
In contrast, poison is alive and well in West Virginia.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
The problem is the people... while it's good that people have access to information, the problem is that people tend to want garbage. The World Wide Web was created by scientists, people with lofty goals of seeking out the building blocks of the universe and democratizing their findings. They wanted to release their findings to a grateful world... the world wanted porn, cat pictures, and the ability to anonymously harass others.
Instead of the Promethean dream of common people discussing particle physics, the Web gave us (DON'T GOOGLE THESE) Goatse, and Two Girls One Cup, Lemon Party, and ten hour Nyan Cat videos. It gave us shitposting, and dank memes, and a quicker way to distribute 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion'. It gave us Russian troll farms and crazy conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine hysteria on a grand scale. The Web, brilliant in concept and execution, fell victim to Sturgeon's Law. The flow of information, much of it garbage, can confuse people who don't have the time and training to sift through the dross to find the real facts (hey, I sorta got burned by this yesterday). That Stang fella and his buddies warned us about this:
Of course, I'm half joking about this... while there's a lot of crap out there, the worthwhile information makes the whole endeavor a, pardon the expression, net positive. I'd like to think that my particular corner of this crazy virtual space is one of the worthwhile stops on this information superhighway. Hey, I've even posted about CERN.
Monday, March 11, 2019
It's going to take awhile, the Saw Mill River needs a good dredging to accommodate these suckers...
The lunatics are especially hotted up these days because they believe that their enemies will be crushed before the month is over. They're gonna need a bigger boat if they're going to ship tens of thousands of people to Gitmo.
ADDENDUM: Oh, Lordy, I really needed to have read the original tweets more carefully... it's satire, when I thought it was an embed of a true believer's video. It's getting so damn hard to suss out the snark in these post Poe's Law days. Even acknowledging that I have egg on my face, I'm leaving this post up, because the image of high-tech speedboats racing alongside the South County Trail is hilarious. Looks like I'm not the only one to fall for it.
Sunday, March 10, 2019
One of the standout tracks on the album The Book of Invasions was Trouble (With a Capital T), which is still a popular music selection in the bars in my neighborhood. The song, despite its titular allusion to The Music Man, deals with the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a tribe of divine beings, to Eire. The song poses the question, "But are they gods or real folk?" It's the sort of question that one of the Fir Bolg would have posed when the sorcerous Danann host arrived on the island. At any rate, the song is a fun 1970s artifact, with a 'Jethro Tull' esque flute part:
Now isn't the arrival of a bunch of sorceror-kings with eldritch superweapons a bit more worrying than the opening of a pool hall?
Saturday, March 9, 2019
We only had two classes, rather than our usual four, so we spent some time cleaning up our locker room, and putting in order the displays that we will be setting up for April's New York Open Judo Tournament. It was an hour of tidying up, of assembling frames and support devices for posters and banners. We also emptied the bin that we keep the kids' gis in, and I gave it a quick wash. We will be sending the gis to a commercial laundry service for a much-needed cleaning.
We then had a ceremony for awarding new belts to our students who passed their promotional tests two weeks ago. We took turns placing a belt on a student, and then gave them the customary 'throw' for good luck. I have a running joke with the student I had to fight two weeks ago, an adorable six-year old- she seems to have a mental block regarding the pin known as kesa-gatame.
I spot quiz her, barking, "What is the name of the technique?"
She responds, "It starts with a 'K'."
I respond, "Kesa-gatame, say it ten times!"
"Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame, Kesa-gatame!"
For the record, she has the technique down pat:
At the luncheon, I had a nice conversation with her mom, who told me that she is totally obsessed with judo, and wants to practice every day. It's a sport that she has chosen without any pressure from her parents, who have her enrolled in a dojo where one of my colleagues works. Besides judo, she's a STEM girl through-and-through, she likes robotics and her favorite toy is a model of a car engine which she has been putting together. I knew there was a reason I liked the girl! I complimented her parents on raising her well, she has flawless manners and is a nice, clean player, just a good sport and an opponent who helps her fellow students learn.
During the luncheon, the kids sit together, the coaches and counselors have their own tables, and the parents sit with each other. I told mom about my little running joke with her daughter, and when she came by the table, I barked, "What is the name of the technique?" After the joke ran its course, I told her mom, "When she is competing in the Olympics in 2032, I'm going to bark that question at her. When I'm an old geezer in a nursing home, she's going to call me up and yell, 'Kesa-gatame you old goat!"
Best of all, Sensei Al brought his son, who is our new judo baby. If there's anything cuter than a baby in a judo gi, I don't know what it is:
He's a looker, just like his old man. It was hilarious watching a bunch of toughs oohing and cooing over this baby, and he was a hit with the kids.
I needed a break from the stress and sadness of this week, and I found it in my typical fashion, getting beaten up by a bunch of six to fourteen year olds.
Friday, March 8, 2019
Once again, Trump has been connected to a probable sex trafficker, and while there is no clear evidence that he himself engaged in sex trafficking (though there is a connection between employment at Mar-a-Lago and being abused by Epstein), the sketchy practices of his modelling agency, which included a sort of 'indenture' in which undocumented women were charged to stay in company-run dormitories are eerily similar to the 'debt slavery' which kept most of the undocumented women working in the Broward brothels, which also functioned as company-run dormitories.
The very idea that Trump is fighting an international sex-trafficking cabal is both grotesque and ludicrous.
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Today, I didn't feel so optimistic... listening to the BBC World Service today before heading off to work, I heard a sobering news item about the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (coverage starts around the 8:20 mark). While the treatments are more effective than previous ones, and survival rates are improving, the conflict in the DRC is thwarting efforts by Medecins Sans Frontieres, which had to shut down two treatment centers.
MSF International President Dr. Joanne Liu encapsulated the infuriating dualism of the current Ebola outbreak in the DRC:
"We have a striking contradiction. On the one hand, we have a rapid and large outbreak response with new medical tools such as vaccines and treatments that show promising outcomes when people come early. On the other hand, people with Ebola are dying in their communities, and do not trust the Ebola response enough to come forward."
Conflict drives people into the wilderness, where they come into contact with Ebola vectors, and it creates a climate of mistrust which causes people to avoid treatment. I had asked Dr Chandran about the relationship of Ebola to conflict, and his answer was much like Dr Liu's. The virologists and epidemiologists, supported by the medical personnel working in the field, are doing heroic work, but they are hampered by those individuals who would rather fight their fellow humans, rather than the virus.
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Bloomberg's popularity lies strictly with Beltway insiders and media 'both-sides' fetishists. Even here in New York, where he reigned as mayor, Bloomberg would probably lose in a primary against Fatberg.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Anyway, Mardi Gras just hasn't been festive, but I think listening to some Cajun music by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys will do something to lighten the mood.
When laissez le bon temps rouler doesn't work, a little Mardi Gras music can make the mal temps more bearable.
Monday, March 4, 2019
I didn't realize who Gorka reminded me of until last weekend, when he claimed that Democrats were coming after your ground-beef products:
Cartoon villain with a vague mitteleuropäische accent? SEBASTIAN GORKA IS THE BURGOMEISTER MEISTERBURGER!!! While he would be really successful playing the heavy in children's holiday cartoon specials, Gorka will no longer appear as a Fox contributor. Asked for comment, Gorka merely said:
I really shouldn't lump Sebastian Gorka in with the talented, comedy genius that is Paul Frees, a personal favorite of mine...
Sunday, March 3, 2019
I have spent much of the day contacting mutual friends in order to convey the bad news. The general reaction is shock- the very notion that we are losing such a vital, almost elemental, individual is particularly upsetting to people. Barry was a role model and a protector... just knowing that he had your back was reassuring. He was unafraid to confront management when he saw something he didn't like (we have one manager who can be a bit of a bully to her subordinates, and he was not one to abide by that). I always enjoyed working with him because we have similar values, similar attitudes. We would spend shift change waxing poetic about Wo Hop or swapping recipes or discussing science and technology or relating funny animal stories (he has two dogs he dotes on and has a knack for interacting wild animals). When his day job brought him to my neighborhood, we'd stop at the local fish and chips place and hang out for a while.
So now, I will continue texting our mutual friends (I have laryngitis and sound like Marge Simpson) and receiving the same, shocked response: "If anybody could beat this thing, I thought it would be Barry."
Saturday, March 2, 2019
The coverage of CPAC that I have been reading tends toward the unsympathetic, by which I mean the observers reported the proceedings as they occurred. If the conference seemed like a freakshow, it's because it was. Perhaps the Freak of the Week was a newly returned Michelle Malkin, who is channeling her inner Alex Jones by fantasizing that a civil war is imminent. The really messed up thing about this is that I don't see anybody in the party she supports talking the base away from the ledge. Mercifully, the base tends to be dim and lazy, so I can't see their civil war going much beyond some shitposting on Twitter.
Friday, March 1, 2019
I'm slightly offended by this trend... it's potentially a waste of food (though some of the cheese-ees are reported to have eaten the slice that was thrown at them), and it often involves babies or toddlers who probably get frightened by having something thrown onto their faces. The real offense, though, is that the individually-wrapped process cheez-food slices are being described as cheese. By heritage, I am a quarter-Italian, a quarter-French, and a quarter-Swiss... I take my cheese seriously. Hell, even the quarter-Irish part of me balks at calling this stuff cheese... there are some fine Irish cheeses out there. If you want to 'cheese' someone, use an actual cheese, just don't use a Pecorino Romano- that stuff is hard and can hold an edge sufficient to draw blood.
Also, haven't we heard enough about individually wrapped Kraft singles to last a lifetime?