Friday, May 31, 2019

RIP Roky

Today's bummer is news of the death of Roky Erickson, the frontman of pioneering psychedelic rock band The 13th Floor Elevators. Being a college radio listener, I have long been a fan of the 'Elevators, and had referenced them in a couple of blog posts. Even more than Roky's distinctive vocals and jangly guitar, the main feature which made the band's sound so unique was their use of the electric jug, showcased perfectly in such songs as the epic Slip Inside this House, an anthem of the psychedelic era.

Perhaps my favorite song by the band is She Lives (In a Time of Her Own), which might be an ode to a woman...

Roky had his fair share of mental and legal issues, both of which were exacerbated by his use of, and praise for, mind-altering substances. It's almost a miracle that he survived as long as he did. His legacy as the leader of one of the most outré bands in American popular music will remain secure, at least among us weirdos.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Secret Science Club Belated Post-Lecture Recap: Making the Moral Mind

On Tuesday evening, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring social psychologist Dr Daniel Yudkin of Yale University’s Crockett Lab. The topic of Dr Yudkin's lecture was the development of the moral mind, specifically the growth of third party punishment to regulate behavior.

Dr Yudkin began his lecture by recounting Damon Dash's statement that he wanted to slap Harvey Weinstein because of his maltreatment of women, noting that this is a great topic of study for psychologists. What underlay Mr Dash's desire to punish Mr Weinstein- he was not directly affected my Mr Weinstein's misconduct, but he couldn't look the other way. This phenomenon is known as third party punishment- when A harms B, and C, who isn't directly affected, punishes A. This behavior is rather more common than most people think. Individuals often protest on others' behalf, usually out of a deeper feeling about justice. This often serves to make society more fair.

Our behaviors are the result of evolution... more fairness is thought to increase the ability of humans to cooperate over long periods of time. While individuals may have an incentive to take more than their fair share, interventions to maintain fairness maintain a fairer distribution of resources. One motivation for this behavior is reputational, acting fairly makes oneself look good. Another motivation is true justice, when individuals truly care about bad behavior. The issue faced by psychologists is how to distinguish between these two behaviors. Dr Yudkin took a developmental approach. There are advantages to studying children- they are more gullible than adults. The development of reputational concern occurs over several years, at about five years of age, children start to care about their reputations. Third party punishment is a product of reputational care.

Dr Yudkin developed an experiment, an experiment which had to be comprehensible to children in which the children had to exact a costly punishment in order to ensure personal investment. The experiment was conducted with a play group of children in a museum, consisting of two hundred children of diverse backgrounds, ages three to six. The children were first allowed to play on a slide, then they were instructed to draw a picture for a book, then they were told a story about two participants- one of whom was asked by the other to guard the picture shed had drawn. In a video shown to the children, the girl tasked with guarding the picture destroyed it, which created a sense of outrage. The subjects were then given a choice to punish the bad girl by disallowing further use of the slide by everyone- they could punish the malefactress, but at a personal cost. The experiment tested assumptions about punishment, conditions of transgression and compliance were created. When there was no transgression, 0% of the subjects chose to close the slide down, but in conditions of transgression, 60% of the subjects closed the slide, a strong confirmation of the basic assumption about third party punishment. The children were asked for a verbal explanation of their choice, and 77% of those who closed the slide mentioned bad behavior. Those who chose not to close the slide explained their decision by stating that they had a desire to go down the slide.

Age affected the results- only 25% of 3-4 year olds closed the slide, while 60% of 5-6 year olds closed it. The 3-4 year olds tended to act out of a true justice motive, they were not worried about their reputations. Children have a sense of justice, they are willing to punish rule breaking. Protest isn't just about virtue signalling. Dr Yudkin quipped about the typical misogynist's feelings about men who attended the women's marches: "How many beta males are attending the Women's March just to get laid?" He countered by stating that most of the participants genuinely cared about women's rights.

Dr Yudkin also tested for the role of group membership in the meting of third party punishment. For much of human history, close knit communities competed for scarce resources, leading to tribalism, an Us vs Them dynamic. This tribalism can be based on nationalism or religious affiliation, as Dr Yudkin illustrated with the famous Rabbit God/Duck God cartoon:

There are two hypotheses about who gets punished- the first is that in-group punishment would be more prominent in order to ensure that group members behave, the second is that out-group punishment would be more common due to xenophobia. To test this, group affiliation was manipulated- in some instances, the girl in the video was identified as belonging to 'our museum', in others, she was described as being a member of a 'Boston museum'. The out-group punishment rate was more than twice that of the in-group punishment rate. On a societal scale, the higher sentencing rates of African-Americans can be chalked up to out-group discrimination, which poses the problem of how to erase such discrimination.

Leadership might evoke a desire for fairness. The roles of leadership and responsibility were tested by giving certain children sheriff's badges and telling them that they were in charge of the group. Approximately fifty percent of the children took these symbols seriously. The 'sheriffs' tended to punish the in-group more than the out-group, they were more invested in policing their own community. While children demonstrate the beginning of out-group discrimination, a sense of leadership can mitigate or even reverse discrimination.

Dr Yudkin then tested the role of political formulation in third party punishment. Parents were asked whether they identified as very liberal, somewhat liberal, somewhat conservative, or very conservative. The experiment being conducted on Manhattan's Upper West Side, these results were somewhat skewed... He then gauged the relationship between parental politics and children's behavior. At age 3-4, the relationship between parents' politics and children's behavior began to emerge. The children of liberal parents tended to punish in-group members more, and possession of a badge did not change this significantly. The children of conservative parents tended to punish out-group members more and badge bearers tended to punish more often. The children of liberal parents were more attuned to fairness and care, while the children of conservative parents were more attuned to loyalty, authority, and purity. The conservative-leaners were more lenient with the in-group, had a stronger sense of Us vs Them, and a stronger emphasis on authority.

Children are influenced by their parents' politics at a young age. This can result in different sets of moral priorities... a breakdown in communication is ingrained early by different moral languages. This problem can only be addressed if there is an awareness of these different moral languages.

Dr Yudkin presented the audience with several takeaways: Altruism isn't just about doing good for others, it is also about protesting injustice. Humans are capable of acting on 'true justice' motives. Outgroup discrimination emerges at a young age, but leadership can mitigate it. Political differences emerge at a young age- different moral foundations emerge, as if different moral 'lenses' lead to different views.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. Some bastard in the audience asked about the specter of radicalization later in life (I used to believe in women's equality until I was red-pilled by some cartoon frog memes). Dr Yudkin chalked this up to a product of the Nature vs Nurture divide, while parents can model certain attitudes for their children, Nature probably plays a large role in one's moral attitudes. Conservatives have been shown to have strong disgust responses than liberals tend to have. Another question involved our closest relatives- regarding chimpanzees, while chimps and humans have many common behaviors, Dr Yudkin stated that third party punishment has not been observed among chimps. Regarding true justice motives, it's not known whether these are a result of observed behavior or a deep seated desire.

Dr Yudkin delivered a thought-provoking lecture, one which was grounded in his experiment, so I didn't have to hunt down various links around the internet. The one important link here is to a video concerning his experiment: that bad girl looks like she's having a blast destroying that picture! Once again, the Secret Science Club served up a fantastic lecture- kudos to Dr Yudkin, Margaret and the traveling Dorian, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. It was the sort of night when a guy would brave the storm to see some SCIENCE!!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I, Bonehead

In an extremely bone-headed move, I spilled coffee on my laptop and use have shorted something. While the laptop functioned normally after a reboot and BIOS check, the battery wouldn’t charge. I spent the afternoon watching the battery percentage dwindling, even though the icon noted that the charger was plugged in. I wouldn’t be so pissed off if this weren’t the day I was going to post a lecture recap, which is tough to do using my phone.

Tomorrow, I will visit the local mom-and-pop computer store, which specifically mentions repairing spill-damaged electronics. Have I mentioned that I live in the city’s tavern district? At any rate, I will write the recap tomorrow, when I will have access to a computer at work. In the meantime, I will curse my clumsiness.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Poison, Poison, Tasty Flowers!

We have quite a few black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees at our various sites. While the wood is brittle, it is rot resistant, so it is often used for fence posts and pier pilings. The locust tree's foliage, wood, and bark are toxic, to the extent that it's not recommended to eat even prized mushrooms growing on locust trees. The flowers of the locust tree, however, are edible and as delicious as they are showy:

Locust honey is, by all accounts, prized, but I am not a beekeeper, so I stick to the flowers themselves, which appear after redbud and wisteria bloom. The post title is taken from a classic 'Simpsons' scene.

Monday, May 27, 2019

A Most Confusing Holiday

Memorial Day has long struck me as an odd holiday... on the one hand, it is a holiday set aside to commemorate military personnel who lost their lives in service to the nation, on the other hand, it is a day most people celebrate by going to the beach or throwing barbecue parties. As far as the meaning of Memorial Day goes, nobody has articulated it better than Eric Bogle.

I can't criticize anybody who spent the day at the beach or at a party- it's not like Americans get too many paid holidays, and these days of the gig economy even paid vacation time is becoming increasingly rare. I'm at work, but it may as well be a holiday- after an initial hour of dealing with the public, including a visitor who set off alarm bells with the manager on duty because she strayed away from her tour group on three occasions (I had to do an inspection tour to make sure she didn't pocket anything), I have our lovely property all to myself.

Part of me thinks that Memorial Day should be moved to a time of year when the weather isn't so gorgeous. It's hard to be solemn when it's sunny and warm outside. Maybe Presidents' Day and Memorial Day can be swapped- February is a much better time of year to be contemplative.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Herbivore Showdown

On Friday afternoon, I got a glimpse of a 'showdown' between representatives of the two great endothermic terrestrial animal lineages... put in normal person terms, a woodchuck got into a standoff with a family of geese:

This showdown was preceded by a tiff between two woodchucks, with one chasing the other right past the geese until the pursuer set off the parenting instinct of the adults. Confronted by two hissing theropod dinosaurs, the large rodent decided to beat a hasty retreat.

I had the advantage of being on a raised porch above this particular fray. I doubt that the woodchuck would have approached the vicinity if I had been at eye level.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Tough Talk Fail: The Dragon Kraken of Budapest

The funniest political story of the week was wannabe Bond villain Seb Gorka trying to talk tough about the enemies of Donald Trump being crushed:

Ah, yes, 'the kraken has been unleashed'. I'm sure that Gorka thought it was cold-blooded shit to say, but it's really just a line from a kiddie fantasy flick (and its remake). It's the sort of thing that I say jocularly when I get to work and open the door to let Ginger, who hasn't been fed all day, out. Even on the terms of the movies, though, releasing the kraken is ineffectual- even with both versions of the fight, the kraken only lasts about ten minutes... not much of a threat, is it?

Poking around the t00bz, I found that ineffectuality of the kraken inspired a jokey song by a nerdy band... besides failing as a tough guy, Gorka also fails as a nerd.

I wrote this post on a computer at work, and I'm blocked from embedding videos. I'll clean this one up later in order to embed the linked YouTube videos.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Escape from New York

A standard joke of mine is that the movie Escape from New York didn’t have to be a Sci-Fi flick- a simple documentary about getting out of the city on a weekend would have sufficed. Today being the Friday before a three day weekend, I knew what I was potentially facing, so I left the house a half hour earlier than usual. Thankfully, I only ran into heavy traffic along a half-mile stretch of highway, though the Tappan Zee bridge bound traffic looked like hell.

I will be working all weekend, which suits me fine. I have become curmudgeonly, and really have no patience for crowds. Who needs to sit in an overheating car, stuck in traffic en route to the beach on a weekend like this? Having gotten to work, I had visitors tell me that they had fought traffic jams on their way up from the city. I’d rather be a designated non-combatant. Hopefully, the traffic will be thin on Saturday and Sunday, and on Monday, I will be going against the flow of vacationers returning from the Catskills and the Jersey shore. I have all midweek to go gallivanting.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Thinking Conspiratorily About Abortion Bans

The big news of the week has been the GOP push to enact abortion bans in several states. As Tengrain puts it, part of the continuing War on Women. While the Cons aren’t coy about jailing abortion providers, they tend to be mum about punishing women who seek abortions. The optics of jailing desperate girls are pretty bad, even for theocrats. Even if long sentences aren’t levied against women, felony records often nullify voting rights, especially in the states banning abortions. This might be a push for a huge voter purge, as well as a bid to control women’s bodies. The GOP will stop at nothing to hold onto power, and this seems like a prime strategy to disenfranchise probable Democratic voters.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I Believe the Legal Term Is ‘Whomp Whomp’

It’s not a good week for fascist bro culture. At the beginning of the week, the Proud Boys announced that they would be suing the SPLC for slander because the SPLC designated them a hate group. As luck would have it, later this week, reporter Andy Campbell of The HuffPost published messages from a Proud Boy Discord server planning armed, premeditated attacks on ‘leftists’. The timing is impeccable.

I was dubious about the validity of a lawsuit in the first place- I doubt that any of these guys really wanted to go through with the discovery phase. With the evidence of a conspiracy to assault others, indeed to engage in terrorism, this lawsuit pretty much has to go the way of the dodo, because it won’t go the dodos’ way. Once again, the fact that these modern fascists are dumbshits has been the one bright spot in the perennial shitshow.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Most Dangerous Grift

In an age of infuriating news stories, this one is particularly enraging scam artists are using social media to convince parents of autistic children to dose them with caustic bleaching agents. The two mothers who are combatting these creeps are doing heroic work.

The ‘bleach cure’ scam was formulated by a former Scientologist, and is being pushed by Qanon freaks, which tells you everything you need to know about it. This scandal is a perfect synergy of snake-oil sales, scientific illiteracy, conspiracy theorist paranoia, and the stigma against neuroatypical people. It’s a toxic stew of fearful parents, taken in by greedy con artists and tricked into feeding their children a toxic stew. The stories related in the NBC item are stomach churning and heart breaking... and the monsters pushing these horrors online really need to be stopped before they harm more children.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Poultry Section

This afternoon, I am working at a site which houses a large community of wild turkeys, the site where I was able to snap this picture a few years back. As is typical, when our visitors leave, the critters take over the place. Here we have geese to the left of me, turkeys to the right:

Here I am, stuck in the middle with poo.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Keymaster

There's one building on the job that I don't have they keys to... nobody does. I have three keys to get the keys- a master padlock key to get me onto the site, a master door key to open the building in which the keys are stored, and a key to the keybox in which the precious keys are kept. Needless to say, the building these keys open is one I feel squirrely about entering- even though I am not a clumsy person, it's a building in which I feel like a bull in a china shop. It's the one building you might have heard about.

Tonight, our director of special events will be coming with a local bigwig, a model, and a photographer to hold a promotional photoshoot for the region- it's to boost tourism, and it will benefit us as well as the nearby towns. I have to open the gates and then open up the Very Sensitive Building so this process can take place. Thankfully, I won't be the only company representative onsite. Our director of special events is one of my favorite co-workers, she's got a good work ethic and a better sense of humor... she's the type of individual who, regardless of her rank, would pick up a mop and clean up a spill that posed a slipping hazard during an event. She started with the organization in the month of August a few years back, and by the end of our busy fall season, three months later, I felt like I had known her for a decade. She's THAT kind of person, the sort of person who readily instills both loyalty and camaraderie. She's the sort of person you want around when you're holding a key that you treat as if it were a plutonium rod. She's not the kind of person who'd allow herself to be possessed by Zuul:

Funny, poking around the t00bz, I found an ankylosaur named Zuul crurivastator- while the generic name is indeed modeled on the Ghostbusters demon, the real funny joke is the species name, which translates to 'Destroyer of Shins'.

UPDATE: I talk a good game when it comes to pessimism, but everything (of course) went smoothly. It was even fun hanging out with my coworkers (one of the photography crew is a guide at one of our sites) and the other folks involved in the photoshoot. One big joke was that if anything DID happen, we would have to leave the country to escape the ire of our head of curation. Our director of special events told us that we could move in with her parents in England. I called dibs on the room above the garage.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Wee Weird Waterfowl

This afternoon, I had a weird encounter with a gosling at work. At first, it was sitting in a grassy area, not making a peep, and its parents were nowhere nearby. It made no move as I approached it, then walked past it on an errand. On my way back from the task at hand, it started to peep, and I approached very closely to inspect it:

The gosling was mobile, but it had a galumphing gait which suggested a minor leg injury. Oddly, the parents didn't mob me when I leaned over the little critter, suggesting that maybe they knew it was injured and would concentrate on guarding their other offspring. Eventually, as I receded from the vicinity of the wee birdie, they approached it and proceeded towards the water with it. I had never gotten so close to a gosling without its parents going completely bonkers, and I am still wondering why such an occurrence happened.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Teddy and the Pirates

Oh, boy, it never ceases to amaze me when morons exceed their competence level. This week, Ted Cruz claimed that a Space Force was needed to protect US interests from 'Space Pirates' and other threats on the 'space landscape':

It seems like Ted, like myself, has been watching a bit too much Space Ghost lately. Unlike myself, Ted doesn't have a sense of humor, so he got upset that the Twitter CEO allowed 'the left' to dunk on him. He also doesn't seem to make a distinction between pirates and the military forces of our geopolitical, or in this case astropolitical, rivals. I would suggest sending Ted Cruz on a one-way mission to set up a military base on Uranus, but the real danger is that he would become a pirate himself- after all, he was charged with bringing loot back to theocratic despots. Even if Ted doesn't go rogue, he's not very bright and would fare poorly against a real space pirate:

Title adapted from this bit of comic-strip pulp.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Don't Scapegoat Us, Scapegoat Them!

The epicenter of the measles outbreak in the NY metro region is the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community which shuttles back and forth between Brooklyn and Rockland County, which lies directly across the mighty Hudson from my beloved Yonkers. It's not surprising that anti-vaccination ideation has hit this community- it is a community which has traditionally been targeted by hostile government forces, and a community which places little, if any, value on secular education. Distrust of secular authority plus scientific illiteracy seems to be the combination which has led to suspicion regard vaccines.

Last Monday night, members of the ultra-Orthodox community met in Rockland County for an anti-vaccination symposium. There, they were subjected to misinformation peddled by opportunistic quacks. The most striking statement recorded during the symposium, though, was a statement by a man who should have known better... a statement by a Holocaust survivor:

Just one of the event’s five speakers, who were introduced as “distinguished personalities” and the “cream of humanity’s crop,” was from the Orthodox community. Rabbi Hillel Handler, who has likened vaccination to “child sacrifice” in the past, told the crowd that according to “medical research,” if you catch “measles, mumps and chickenpox, your chances of getting cancer, heart disease, and strokes goes down 60 percent.”

He also said that Hasidim were being scapegoated by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who he called “a very, very sneaky fellow” and a German.

The Jews are our misfortune,” he said, bringing up how Jews were stigmatized in Nazi Germany. “We Hasidim have been chosen as the target in order to distract from the virulent diseases that are sweeping through the city from illegals.”

The emphasis is mine... this is a particularly grotesque quote because Rabbi Handler is participating in the same sort of stigmatization that he decries. The lack of self-awareness on display here is stunning. My take on this whole sorry affair is that the Hasidim are being victimized by a bunch of grifters and anti-science loons, and in turn are victimizing their own children. Playing the blame game, and trying to paint Latin Americans as a threat is beyond the pale- it's playing from the same anti-semitic conspiracy theory handbook, merely changing the name of the enemy. I'm not Jewish, but I can recognize a shanda fur die goyim when I see one.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Mar-a-Lago Beanfield War

This is a quick, snarky post before I head out for bar trivia... I might clean it up later.

The big news is that Trump is hammering American soybean farmers with his trade war against China.

I think we’ve all seen this movie before...

Monday, May 13, 2019

Jump, now Jump Again!

I typically describe my job as 'cushy, except when it's not'. Of course, Murphy's Law being the operating principle of this particular universe, when things happen, they tend to happen simultaneously. Yesterday afternoon, I arrived on the job around 4:30PM, and the first thing I do when I arrive at this particular site is to lock the entrance gate to the parking lot. We close at 5PM, and nobody needs to deal with some person who shows up in the Visitors' Center at 4:40, only to find out that tours are over and it wouldn't be worth it to buy a grounds pass. As soon as I locked the gate, I received a text message from the Manager on Duty, who told me that one of our visitors had mobility issues, and would have problems walking up the slope of our pre-ADA main access path. I parked my car and bid goodbye to two of my co-workers who were leaving, and walked down to the Visitors' Center so I could confer with the family of the woman with mobility issues and arrange to meet at our handicapped/emergency/service gate so they could drive up to the Visitors' Center and arrange a pickup. I had a brief conversation with the woman, but her family was still doing touristy stuff, so her son, the designated driver, wasn't around to plan their exit.

At this time, one of my co-workers walked down to the Visitors' Center and told me that the other co-worker who I had bid adieu to couldn't start her car. She had left her headlights on, and her battery was drained. We walked up to the parking lot, and I confessed to this co-worker that I didn't have jumper cables in my car because I hadn't had a battery issue in years, I drove stick shift, and I lived on a hill in a city of hills and parked on a hill. Luckily, she had a set of jumper cables in her car, so I pulled my car up to the stricken car. Coincidentally, both cars are the same make and model, so I made a joke about our two cars each giving birth to a new car, then attached the cables. I gave the car some juice and asked the driver to try turning it over. It was then that my other co-worker noted that she still had her headlights on, so she told the driver to turn them off so as not to drain power unnecessarily. I am going to firmly state here that the driver, who I love to pieces, is an extremely intelligent woman, an educated, cultured woman who is aces when it comes to discussions of the humanities- she can speak authoritatively on matters of history, art, philosophy, and the philosophy of art history. I'd be tempted to call her, as my mom would put it, a 'disembodied intellect', but she is well-versed in the practical skills of an earlier time... she can use a spinning wheel, knit, even weave, she just isn't up to date on 21st Century tasks.

She turns off the headlights, and a few minutes later, she has enough juice to start the car. The car battery being jumped, she turned off the motor, right after I had disconnected the cables. My other co-worker shot me a look, and we both gave a rueful chuckle. After all, we both know our co-worker well, and we know that she was born two centuries late. She told her that she needed to let the car run after it started, and I gave her a quick 'alternator 101' talk so she knew how the battery normally charges. I hooked the cables up one again, and finally got the car jumped again. I advised my co-worker to get on the highway and drive at a sustained, somewhat rapid speed until she got to one or two exits beyond her usual exit, then turn around to go home. I also told her to wait half an hour, then start the car again to make sure that the battery held its charge, and to give her enough time to call her husband to tell him to take a cab home from the train station if it didn't. Luckily, the charge held, and she was able to drive to work today with no incident.

Then it was back down to the Visitors' Center to meet with the family who needed the handicap/emergency/service gate opened, tell the son how to get to the gate, then open the gate and wait until the family was exited so it could be locked again. Of course, Murphy's Law being the operating principle of this universe, it was raining the whole time.

Thankfully, the rest of the night was, as typical, cushy. To tell you the truth, though, the cushy times don't make for such amusing reading.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mothers' Day 2019

Here's wishing all of the mothers out there a happy Mothers' Day. I called my mom to extend my best wishes. I'm one of five kids, and we are all doing well, so mom must have done something right. Mom made sure to model for us the values she wished to instill in us- there was never a hint of hypocrisy about mom. She gave us a lot of freedom growing up- we never really had a curfew because she believed that a kid who would get in trouble at midnight would have gotten in trouble before 9PM. In the summertime, we would spend all day outside, and she would summon us to a late dinner by ringing a big ship's bell mounted on the kitchen wall. Because she maintained an open door policy in the house, she knew all of our friends, so she knew that we weren't hanging out with assholes. With five kids under the roof, having twenty kids in the house wasn't much of a stretch. To this day, she gets Christmas cards from friends of ours from all over the country.

Mom's one inviolate rule was that we had to keep our grades up, and everything pretty much proceeded from there. She provided us with books, and took us to museums and parks. Even though we often wore hand-me-downs, there was always money for classes and enrichment programs. One of the biggest jokes among my circle of friends concerned the amount of window decals from prestigious institutions of higher learning stuck on the rear window of mom's beat up old station wagon.

Mom's example has continued down the line, and I see my nieces and nephews continuing on in the family tradition regarding scholastic, athletic, and creative endeavors. The standards that she set have been the norm for the succeeding, in all senses of the word, generations. I can confidently state, and I am sure that my siblings would agree, that I wouldn't be the man I am if it weren't for mom's values, mom's standards, mom's example, mom's support, and most of all mom's love. Thanks, ma mère.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

For All My Years of Fandom

I make no bones about being an unabashed Ennio Morricone fanboi... the man is a legend, his movie scores are invariably interesting, even those he wrote for not-so-interesting films. In all of my years of fandom, I never knew that his theme for A Fistful of Dollars, perhaps my favorite of his pieces, was based on his arrangement of Woody Guthrie's 1941 paean to migrant farm workers, Pastures of Plenty:

Ennio Morricone collaborated with American singer Peter Tevis, with whom he recorded the unintentionally hilarious A Gringo Like Me ('there's just one kind of man you can trust, that's a dead man, or a gringo like me'... uh, that's two kind of men, guys). Morricone's arrangement of Pastures of Plenty adds a lot of bells and whistles to the song, literally:

Strip out the vocals, add some sort of ocarina sound, change the lead guitar riff a bit and, hey presto, you have the makings of fantastic opening theme for an oater:

I think Woodie would have approved of his song being used to score a film by an Italian socialist.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Yonkers Hanami

I live in the fourth largest city in New York State, a city of about 200,000 residents. My particular neighborhood is a blend of single-family homes, multi-family houses, and an assortment of apartment buildings of various sizes, all bounded by commercial strips to the south (McLean Avenue) and north (Yonkers Avenue). My particular street has a nice variety of trees lining it, including a couple of gorgeous cherry trees:

Yonkers isn't exactly the first place one thinks of when one thinks of hanami, but that is probably all for the best... I mean, who wants to elbow their way through throngs of cosplayers just to grab a slice at the local pizza joint?

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Time to Get Smart About Stupidity

In a somewhat disturbing turn of events, law enforcement officials really don't know much about 8chan, the anonymous imageboard on which the Christchurch and Poway shooters appear to have self-radicalized.

First amendment limitations do bind the hands of law enforcement officials as far as online content goes, but I sure as hell hope that someone is monitoring threads on imageboards, trying to glean information about where anonymous posters could be located in case one of them decides to carry their threat over into the real world. We've had two 8chan related mass shootings so far this year, I can easily imagine that this trend continues unless it is nipped in the bud, and I don't think the 8chan moderators care about doing so.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

A Shot Across the Bow or a Softball Over the Plate?

Via Tengrain, I heard the news that Donald Trump Jr has been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Community. Seeing as the GOP holds power in the Senate, I am suspicious of this maneuver... Chairman Burr doesn't seem to be the sort of guy to break ranks with his party. I have a feeling that the Senate Intel Committee will lob softball questions at dopey Donnie (funny that pop culture portrays Eric as the stupider of the two) so he can cobble together a narrative that he can fall back on in case testimony before a hostile House takes place. Steve Bannon infamously opined that Bob Mueller could crack Don Jr like an egg, and I imagine that Adam Schiff could do the same.

I can't imagine Donald Sr taking this lying down, but I haven't seen any indications that he has turned on Burr or the rest of the Republican Senate. This leads me to believe that he knows it's a softball lazily lobbed so his son can hit it, rather than a shot across the bow. I'd like to believe that Burr is genuinely perturbed by the dictatorial turn which the PotUS has taken, but I just don't trust him or anyone in his party.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Patina of Nostalgia Makes Junk Look Shiny

Last weekend, the topic of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon Space Ghost came up. The original series, which ran from 1966-1968, featured characters created by comic book legend Alex Toth, and was a whiz-bang space opera rendered in six-and-a-half minute episodes in which the titular superhero, accompanied by his twin teenage sidekicks and a monkey, fought a variety of alien weirdos bent on anything from simple hijacking to galactic conquest. The first episode, though, has our hero harassing a simple-minded native of a very unscientifically plausible Jupiter when he just should have left the planet, and the poor-harried 'bad guy' alone:

The show is total cheese, featuring redundant plots and a kinda thick-headed character who's a one trick pony (he relies on his Swiss-army power wristbands for practically everything). The hero almost invariably gets captured and the monkey is the one who ends up saving the day (seriously, Blip comes across as the real brains of the operation). The 'science' is ludicrous, with our heroes zooming around through space without protective equipment, and Space Ghost being able to travel more quickly without his space-cruiser. The show is saved by fun character design, including a wonderful assortment of alien monsters, voice acting by such luminaries as Keye Luke, Ted Cassidy, Hanna-Barbera legend Don Messick, and my beloved Paul Frees. Gary Owens lends his distinguished voice to our lunk-headed hero. The theme song was by the brilliant Hoyt Curtin:

In the 1990s, the titular character was resurrected as a dopey talk show host, with several of the original cartoon's most memorable villains cast as his bandleader, technical director, and sidekick in Cartoon Network's Dada-esque Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Here's the epic science-fiction crossover episode featuring Mark Hamill:

The show lent itself to some really nice détournement by internet pranksters:

I'm about twenty episodes into the original 'Space Ghost' series, and each episode follows pretty much the same format- villain emerges and imperils civilians or sidekicks in order to draw out Space Ghost, Space Ghost shows up and gets captured, losing power bands, monkey saves Space Ghost, Space Ghost kicks villain's ass and leaves him for the Galactic Patrol to pick up. Jeeze, Space Ghost, figure out how to rig your power bands so you don't need both hands to activate them, already. The show is totally goofy, but the bright colors, fast action, and beautiful character design carry the day as long as you don't think too much or watch too many in succession. It's junk, but it's fun junk (SPAAAAAACE JUNK!!!).

Monday, May 6, 2019

Welcome to MY World

I work nights, I've worked nights as long as I've been with the organization, even though by nature I think I am a 'morning person'. For years, I have suggested to our head of human resources that we should hold an all-staff 'jamboree' at night so everybody could get a taste of what I and my team experience... and I'm only half joking. So far, the main office hasn't 'greenlit' this proposal.

Tonight, though, I will be my immediate boss and representatives of our events production department at 8PM on one of our sites. Sunset is at 7:55. They want to assess the lighting conditions on-site in advance of a proposed new nighttime event in October. A few years back, they had a nighttime event at this site and nobody asked the night crew what conditions were, nor did anyone check out the site to ascertain conditions for themselves. The parking lot was pitch-dark as I could have told them. As luck would have it, I called one of my subordinates, who is a big flashlight nerd, and he showed up with a portable, inflatable emergency light tower and saved the day night. I cited this 'out of left field' solution to an unforeseen problem as a reason to hire him full-time (this happened this pay period, after seventeen years of part-time status).

I'm going to suggest that any lights for the event be temporary. I prefer to have the site largely dark at night because it is a sizable green space, a haven for deer, turkeys, osprey, and other wildlife. Tonight, the spring peepers will be chiming their ancient love songs, and I want them to have as natural a dark night as can be found in the New York metro area.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

American Ambivalence Day

Today being Cinco de Mayo, I have to note that I doubt that I will ever top my snarky 2012 post, though my following year's post came pretty close. This year, I think I'll be earnest...

White Americans tend have a weird relationship with Mexican culture, a fear of Mexican people combined with a love of Mexican food- hate Tuco, love tacos. Similarly, there's a weird mix of a disdain for black people but a love of black culture (which leads to appropriation) among many white people. Today, many Americans will scarf down fajitas and burritos, washing them down with margaritas and bottles of Dos Equis beer. Many of these same people will make excuses for imprisoning asylum seekers at the southern border and agitate for the construction of a border wall.

Personally, I have an appreciation for Mexican culture, and I find that the vast majority of Mexican immigrants in this country are likeable people. They tend to be hardworking, family-oriented people who embody the very traits that Americans claim to possess. Like Americans, Mexicans deserve a better government, one that serves the needs of the general populace. I am working a split shift today, so I won't be able to go to a Pueblan restaurant for some chicken mole poblano, and I certainly don't have the time for all of the roasting and grinding necessary for making the dish at home, but I do have chorizos in the fridge and tortillas in the cabinet. I personally don't feel ambivalence toward Mexicans and their culture, I have an appreciation for the cultures of all three Mexican countries.

Here's hoping that everybody has a great Cinco de Mayo. If you're eating tacos, buen provecho. If you are drinking beer or tequila, salud. To everybody, felicidades.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Sad 'Star Wars' Day

It's May the Fourth, so that means it's Star Wars Day. This year, there's a melancholy vibe to the proceedings because of the recent death of actor Peter Mayhew, a 7'3" hospital orderly who answered the casting call to play the iconic Chewbacca. The 'Star Wars' movies are so ubiquitous now, but I imagine that the pitch for the role must have been pretty outré back in the mid-70s:

Yeah, about this character... he's kinda like an ape, he's kinda like a dog... he's two hundred years old and he's got the genius level IQ necessary for navigating a starship and repairing cybernetic systems...

Peter Mayhew's particular genius lay in his ability to convey emotion without words, and with his face covered by a hairy mask. With merely a tilt of his head, his posture, or a sudden start, he could get across the disposition of this alien character. The audience could sense this hairy 'monster's' decency, his loyalty, the fact that he acted as the 'conscience' of his amoral partner. This particular scene from the first movie is a nice, understated example- Peter Mayhew's interaction with Harrison Ford, accompanied by merely a dubbed growl, tells you everything you need to know about the moral compasses of the two characters:

One comment that I read noted how Peter Mayhew's warmth and gravitas transformed what could have been a schlocky B-movie character into a beloved icon. While the character was tasked with providing some of the comic relief of the movie, Peter Mayhew was able to convey genuine moments of pathos, such as this scene in which Chewbacca voices his anguish as his heterosexual life partner rides off into danger to save their imperiled friend:

By all accounts, Peter Mayhew was just as kind and loyal as the iconic character he portrayed. The tributes from his co-stars all portray a lovely man, as did his director. The stories of fans and convention workers all say the same- he was the star who would give a kind ear to a fan, the guest of honor who would have dinner with 'the help' after the event. The pictures of him horsing around with the other cast members are heartwarming, and he was genuinely devastated by Carrie Fisher's death:

Again, we lost one of the Good Guys, who was one of the good guys. I can think of no better tribute to Peter Mayhew's acting ability than this bit by Rian Johnson:

But beyond his acting ability, there was the real man, and the tributes to him that have been coming in from all over the galaxy also testify to his True Legend status. Luminous beings are we, and Peter Mayhew shone brightly.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Social Media Cleanup

I'm not involved with social media apps, never having had a Facebook account or a Twitter handle. Back in the 90s, I had a job as an insurance claims investigator, so I have an aversion to putting too much personal information online. Besides, do I really need a Facebook account so I can find out that someone I worked with over a summer thirty years ago hates Jewish people? I have friends, I prefer to see them in person when possible, and to talk on the phone when it's not. The idea that a sizable portion of the population of the US uses Facebook as a news source is enough to give me hives, especially because of the amount of disinformation disseminated via the 'network'.

The the banning of a rogues gallery of bad actors by Facebook and Instagram should serve to slow down the pipeline of bullshit a bit, but it took a good long while for multiple violations of the Terms of Service to trigger the bans. Particularly amusing to me is the right-wing outrage of the characterization of Louis Farrakhan as a right-winger... it just goes to show you how the entirety of right-wing culture in this country is motivated by an animosity towards African-Americans when righties can't recognize a theocratic, anti-semitic, homophobic religious fundamentalist as a fellow traveler. A common response to left-of-center calls to deplatform neo-Nazis was 'why don't they ban Farrakhan?' I don't see any lefties crying over him getting bounced along with Yiannopoulos, Loomer, and Jones.

The one bad thing about this wholesale deplatforming is that it destroys a source of some high-quality schadenfreude- I mean, I find this sort of shit hilarious. Of course, I'm not the sort of person who right-wing nuts and conspiracy loons target for harassment. Schadenfreude is a luxury I am willing to give up to make life more pleasant for the innocent victims of the assholes who were banned and their vicious brigades of followers.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Bite Me, or My Bid for Superpowers

I'm not an arachnaphobe by any stretch of the imagination, probably because we don't have brown recluse spiders in my neck of the woods. That being said, it's not like I seek out physical contact with spiders, but when the spider in question is a jumping spider, I am not inclined to brush it off immediately. I mean, isn't this sucker cute?

I let it hang out on my arm for a few minutes, watching the uncanny way it appeared to 'blink' like Eugene the Jeep due to the speed and distance of its jumps. Part of me was hoping that it would bite me so I could enter the Spiderverse like this guy.

Oh, and lest I forget and have Smut Clyde chastise me, I need to file this post under Helping Jennifer.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Shifting to New Grifting

In a surprise move, chronic embarrassment Candace Owens will be leaving College Republican scam organization Turning Point USA in order to pursue a new grift. Her stated goal is to increase African-American college enrollment, but I somehow doubt that she will give the United Negro College Fund a run for the money. She will undoubtedly play up her Blexit grift, and her use of terms such as 'the Democrat plantation' is sure to bring all the old white Republicans to the yard.

Candace Owens was a fraud evven before she discovered the right-wing scam machine, and it seems that she's merely outgrown TPUSA and her former boss Charlie Kirk. Being one of the premier Blacks Against African-Americans is a potentially lucrative gig, and TPUSA was merely a booster rocket that needed to be jettisoned so Candace can blast off beyond the right-wing grifter stratosphere. Personally, I look forward to her lining her own pockets and pissing away millions of wingnut welfare dollars like a common Milo Yiannopoulos. Fleece 'em, Candy!