The whole thing is a shitshow, meant to belittle the lived experience of LGBTQ people. 'Gay Pride' is about survival, the ability to live life openly, publicly, without fear of repression, suppression, or aggression. This 'Straight Pride' thing is about grievance against people who are merely claiming the rights they should have been granted all along. I'd dismiss it as mere trolling, but it is meant to elicit genuine fear, fear that the bad old days of authoritarian bigotry will return. It would be easy to ignore this sort of thing, dismissing it as a juvenile stunt, but I feel that I owe it to my LGBTQ friends not to turn a blind eye to people who wish to have a carte blanche to attack them.
The Bueso family has been in the United States legally for sixteen years and Isabel has, since playing a crucial role in the clinical trial for which she was invited to this country, graduated summa cum laude from Cal State University East Bay. Isabel Bueso has a tiny and helpless body, but a formdiable intellect and an irrepressible spirit, she is exactly the sort of individual who should at first rouse the protective instincts of anyone with a shred of humanity, and then gain their admiration for her extraordinary achievements. What has happened to our society that would possess our government to send a courageous, intelligent person to their death like this? There are videos of Isabel dating from before the New Cruelty, videos of her addressing an audience at Children's Hospital, her breathing labored but her sense of humor and grace apparent. Another video has Isabel describing her entry into college, her ongoing treatments, and her plans for the future:
At the end of the video, she muses about being married within ten years... the fact that she has lived for so long is a testimony to the medical treatments developed through her participation, and the very idea that the cruelty of a corrupt government could spell her death is abhorrent. This country came to be known as the place to which ill children could come for treatment, a rich and well-educated country in which decent people funded therapies for sick, indigent children. I would like to see Miss Bueso live as long a life as possible, to see her work with wheelchair-bound children, to see her get married on the timeline she envisioned... she deserves better. We deserve better.
While wandering throughout midtown Manhattan with my brother, his wife, and their kids, we remarked on how many people were smoking cannabis on the streets of the most 'law and order' neighborhoods of the city. In broad daylight, on the most heavily trafficked streets of the city, people were smoking up, and the sweetish smell of marijuana smoke wafted throughout the humid air. Frankly, I was surprised... in my experience, people tended to smoke in their outer borough neighborhoods, typically at night, in out of the way locales. My perplexity was cleared up when I read today that a partial decriminalization of marijuana went into effect yesterday. While, technically, people could have been stopped for smoking weed in public, still a violation, that didn't seem to put a damper on people's indulgence.
Personally, I believe in a broad spectrum legalization of drugs, with regulation and taxation being features of legalization. Basically, treat narcotics in the same manner in which alcohol is treated. My main concern is harm mitigation, by having narcotics legally sold by licensed distributors, fewer users would purchase products adulterated with fentanyl, PCP, or even formaldehyde. Full legalization with exoneration would also result in the release of non-violent offenders who never should have been incarcerated in the first place. Of course, operating motor vehicles or heavy machinery under the influence should remain a criminal offense... as I stated, treat narcotics like booze.
It seems like Peter Tosh's policy advice is being heeded after all:
Marijuana legalization just might be a big part of any 2020 electoral platform, on the local, state, and federal levels. Most people think that weed isn't a big deal, and there's revenue to be made. If legalization doesn't take place, though, I'd prefer that all elected officials be subject to mandatory monthly drug tests, with the results to be made public
The daughter of my youngest brother, Gomez, plays on a top-tier traveling ice hockey team, she is following in her father's footsteps, by which I mean skate ruts, though she isn't a goalie like her pop. This weekend, she has a tournament in New England, so Gomez, his wife, and the kids came up to New York City. It was my nephew's first visit, and my niece's first visit since she was a baby, when she came up for my brother Sweetums' wedding.
I met up with them in midtown Manhattan, the corner of 34th and 7th to be precise. We headed over to the Empire State Building, which I hadn't visited in years, and zipped up to the 86th floor observation deck, where the views are spectacular, though overcast conditions prevented us from seeing the wide horizons. I wish that the entrance fee was on a sliding scale correlating to percent-visibility, but that's me. As much as I love the Empire State Building, my favorite building in midtown is the Chrysler Building, with it's art deco style and prominent aquiline gargoyles:
We followed up with a circuitous route through midtown, stopping by the main branch of the NY Public Library, then hitting the gorgeous Grand Central Terminal so they could take a gander at the marvelous ceiling, adorned with depictions of constellations. They hit a Yankees branded store to pick up some merchandise for the obscure local baseball franchise (my brother's wife is from upstate New York, so she is a lifelong fan, as is my downstate-bred brother), then it was off to an NHL-themed store, where they could buy NY Rangers merch for my brother and niece, and Buffalo Sabres merch for my sister-in-law and nephew... they have a friendly rivalry in this instance.
I scored a major coup by treating them to a late lunch/early dinner at a pub which shares my sister-in-law's maiden name, and persuading the manager to sell us two of the bar's pint glasses, which bear not only the name, but the crest of the extended family. It was an unlooked-for victory, and the glasses are destined to be Christmas presents for Gomez' mother-in-law.
After dinner, we walked up the tony 5th Avenue, where we visited St Patrick's Cathedral, then headed up to... uhhh... Trump Tower, where my sister-in-law and the kids stopped inside, while Gomez and I lounged outside, talking about how New Yorkers have detested Trump since the 80s, when he reneged on his deal to save the decorative facades of the old Bonwit Teller building which he demolished to build his personal demesne. With this side-trek out of the way, we headed through the Artists' Gate of Central Park, and the kids climbed various large rock formations for funny photo ops. A brief saunter through the southern verge of the park, and it was out the Merchants' Gate and into Times Square, where we took in the spectacle of Spectacle. We pretty much kept to Broadway, which is lined mainly with retail stores, with an occasional restaurant. With a constant drizzle, hanging out outside wasn't that appealing a prospect. We eventually ended up a few blocks from where we began, the subway station at 42nd St in Times Square. We parted ways, with them headed downtown, and myself headed back to the Bronx, having gotten a lot of the touristy stuff out of the way so that we can concentrate on museums when next they head back up to my brother's ancestral homeland. Every once in a while, it's nice to play the tourist in the old hometown.
It's been a Big Bug Summer this year, by which I mean a big summer for bugs and a summer for big bugs. Even this month's Secret Science Club lecture was about insects, and typically large ones to boot. This weekend, Big Bug Summer got sexy when I found a couple of cicadas, each about as big as your thumb, making the 'beast with two abdomens':
It's been a pretty crazy month, so I decided to post a quick, as Tengrain would put it, palate cleanser tonight. This summer, the ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) which live adjacent to one of my worksites have been exceptionally active, or more accurately, I've been around more when they are out and about. They are oddly melodious raptors, and have been singing to each other at great volume pretty much all day, all summer. At dawn, they are singing in the conifers:
At dusk, they are singing in the dead tree by the riverbank:
At various times, they are winging overhead, and if we (and they) are lucky, we'll catch a glimpse of one clutching a fish. And have I mentioned that they are unexpectedly melodious? They do wonders when it comes to lending a sense of wonder to the place.
Ir's been a nutty day on the job. I started off at one site, locked it up at the end of the public visitation hours, then motored up to another site, where we had an event which nobody told me about before this morning. It's okay, I don't mind dealing with the public, and there's usually leftover food after the event, which is a huge bonus when you're working an overnight double shift
One of the attendees of the event was a woman who I have known for years. She used to volunteer for us a few years back. She's hard to pin down agewise, being perhaps late 60s to late 70s. She's an active senior, being involved in an English/Scottish dance group and a knitting group. She told me that she's had a run of bad fortune, the biggest problem being that her landlord of 42 years wants her out of the house, for whatever reason (probably wants to rent to a younger person at a higher rate).
She mentioned that she looked at a place the next town over, an apartment on the 8th floor of a big building. I told her that, at least, she'd have a nice view. She sighed, then said, "Yeah, I'll be able to look out and see trees... and if I see the saucers coming, I can go with them."
It wasn't quite a conversation stopper, but it DID almost break my usually unbreakable poker face. I admire her optimism, though I don't share it... if the saucers DO come, I fear that Fay and the gang might be right.
There's a certain cliche by which I do not abide, the very idea of not speaking ill of the dead. By speaking only platitudes about deceased persons, we elide their transgressions, their crimes, the damage that they have done to others. David Koch, who did croak, did incalculable damage to US society, to workers' rights, to the world's environment. He, along with his brother Chuck, bankrolled such fever swamps of bad ideas as the American Enterprise Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council to push oligarchy masquerading as libertarianism. Wherever bad legislation undermining workplace safety regulations or proper disposal of toxic waste popped up, there was the hand of David Koch. Wage stagnation and environmental degradation... Dave was there, pushing for it, and buying the politicians who implemented the policies which resulted in it.
Sure, David Koch has been described as a 'philanthropist' by a media reluctant to tell the truth about the man's legacy... sure, he donated money to performance venues and museums. A few years ago, I mentioned that the Koch name being attached to the dinosaur halls at AMNH used to chap my ass, until I realized that there could be no better tribute to the fossil fuel magnates than rooms full of extinct animals. It doesn't mean that I have warmed to the Kochs, though... the willful destruction of the Amazon rainforests (which provide 20% of the Earth's atmospheric oxygen) and the meltdown of Greenland bear the fingerprints of Koch's greedy, grasping hand. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing good to say about this particular carcass, and I sure as hell am not going to keep quiet about this evil man who wreaked such havoc through his 'giving'.
On Tuesday night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Jessica Ware, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at Rutgers University, who earlier this year received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The official title of Dr Ware's presentation was 'Insect Divergence: The Evolution of Termite, Dragonflies, and Damselflies.
Dr Ware began her lecture with an autobiographical note, joking that she and her twin sister, a performance artist, diverged early on. Her interest in science was sparked by her grandparents, residents of Northern Ontario, who 'tossed snakes and frogs' at their granddaughters. As a child, she engaged in the activities she now performs as a field biologist: hiking, collecting, asking questions, and indulging her natural curiosity. She decided to study insects because of sheer numbers... she can catch ten dragonflies in a shorter period of time than it would take to see one whale.
Dr Ware noted that there are approximately 5,500 mammal species on Earth, about 391,000 plant species, and approximately one million insect species. Insects are incredibly diverse- they run the gamut from herbivores to predators. Dr Ware said that, whatever humans have done, insects have done it before them. Insects wage war, take slaves, farm, and developed flight. One of Dr Ware's areas of research is determining how the various insect orders are related, and when they diversified. She is specifically interested in termites (which she described as 'fancy social cockroaches') and the dragonflies and their sister group the damselflies. She contrasted the key innovations of the termites (being sociality) and the dragon-and-damselflies (flight).
Dr Ware described the Odonata as pretty and showy, and have been used as decorative motifs by Tiffany and other designers. She launched into a very funny tangent, "Is your tattoo a dragonfly or an ant lion?" She conceded that the Neuroptera are also cool before noting that dragonflies have no antennae while ant lions have big antennae. She then joked that nobody has a tattoo of an aquatic dragonfly baby unless they are a top level entomologist. She noted that the aquatic dragonfly nymphs are voracious predators.
Dr Ware posed the question, who flew first? Was it the Odonata, the mayflies, or another insect lineage? What was flying around in the early days of insect evolution? What were the reasons why dragonflies evolved flight early on? Perhaps it was due to sexual selection- dragonfly mating involves indirect sperm transfer. Females mate with multiple males, and the males have a secondary 'penis'- they scrape the sperm of other males out of the female with which they are mating and use a 'secondary penis' in which sperm is stored to transfer the sperm after rivals' sperm is scraped out. Other basal insects use sperm packets to inseminate their mates.
Most Odonata systematics, Dr Ware explained, is based on wing venation- the degree of venation in an insect's wing (sparse vs high) is strongly correlated with flight syles, with the amout of veins determining the stiffness of a wing.
In the Carboniferous period, about 350 million years ago, a sister group to the Odonata, colloquially know as griffinflies, attained giant sizes, with wingspans up to two feet (Dr Ware quipped that, as a Canadian and a scientist, converting from metric units didn't come naturally to her). True Odonata appeared in the Permian, about 250 million years ago. The earliest branching lineage of the extant Odonata is the critically endangered Tasmanian damselfly Hemiphlebia mirabilis. Dr Ware somberly noted, "They may be extinct by the time you get home." The females use their abdomens to fling eggs haphazardly across the bogs which form their dwindling habitat. DNA sequencing revealed that they are a sister group to all other Odonata.
Dr Ware paused to inform us that she prefers dragonflies to damselflies before continuing with the lecture. She then went on to note that most of the organisms which prey on Odonata evolved after the Odonata did- frogs evolved in the Jurassic period, modern birds evolved in the Cretaceous period. She took a moment to joke: "Predators are jerks!"
Odonata have two egg-laying strategies: exophytic species lay their eggs outside of plants while endophytic species lay their eggs inside plants. Dr Ware amusingly described exophytic species as 'squirting their eggs out like ketchup', noting that they sometimes lay their eggs on cars, mistaking their reflective surfaces for bodies of water. The endophytic strategy may have been ancestral- in a case of convergent evolution, the Gomphidae (clubtails) and Libellulidae (skimmers) employ an exophytic strategy. They are not very closely related, so 'egg squirting' evolved twice, probably as a means to avoid predators.
Despite her preference for dragonflies, Dr Ware singled out a specific damselfly species for special consideration- the giant helicopter damselfly (Megaloprepus caerulatus) has evolved to eat spiders, plucking them right out of their webs. Some of the males have white, waxy patches on their wings, which are probably used in territorial displays to warn other males away from the water-filled tree holes which are necessary for mating. There is a geographical distribution between white patch dominant and no patch dominant populations.
Getting the coolest damselfly out of the way, Dr Ware then proceeded to her preferred Odonata, the dragonflies. The Aeshnidae (darners) are represented by 453 species of large, colorful dragonflies. Some of them can change color as the temperature changes, with pigment particles migrating to and from the surface of the abdomen, changing from blue to purple. Some of the darners are migratory- in one experiment, researchers glued tiny radio transmitters to the dragonflies with eyelash adhesive, but the transmitters interfered with the insects' flight, and most of the overburdened insects were eaten by predators.
The next family of dragonflies introduced by Dr Ware were the Petaluridae (petaltails), which are large dragonflies. Dr Ware then recounted the bizarre tale of one Perry Turner (PDF link), a student at Berkeley University who had borrowed a large collection of Petaluridae from various museums, including several type specimens. Turner was also a big believer in Sasquatch, and believed that Sasquatch ate Petaluridae. Turner disappeared without paying the rent on a storage locker, and his purloined Petaluridae ended up in an antiques shop.
Dr Ware then returned to the GomphidaeGomphidae (clubtails). which are exophytic egg-layers, their eggs being coated and weighted to they sink quickly to reduce predation by fish. There are over 900 species in the Gomphidae.
The Libellulidae (skimmers) are exophytic egg layers and some of the species are migratory. Dr Ware singled out the genus Pantala, which includes two species- Pantala hymenaea is a migratory species which ranges throughout the New World, and Pantala flavescens, which has a global (excepting Antarctica) distribution. Dr Ware joked that Pantala flavescens was her first dragonfly catch in Canada, Africa, and Australia. Pantala can thrive in areas which aren't hospitable to other dragonflies because their nymphs can develop in five weeks, which means that they can survive in temporary or transient bodies of water. Most dragonfly nymphs take one to five years to develop. Pantala also has a morphology conducive to gliding, with banded wing bases which can catch the wind. Pantala flavescens can be found also exhibits adaptive behaviors on windy islands, such as Easter Island, 'crouching' to avoid high winds so they aren't blown out to sea.
Dr Ware described a project in which the genomes of 700 Pantala flavescens specimens were sequenced to find shared genetic patterns, and to note where genetic outliers were found. A colleague of hers collected a Pantala flavescens while on a cruise, another colleague encountered a Pantala flavescens while on conducting research 100 miles out to sea. The origin of a particular Pantala flavescens can be determined through isotope analysis- since the nymphs develop in the water, they pick up the isotopes found in their native waters, which gets deposited in their wing chitin. Pantala flavescens in the Andes tended to have a local origin, while Pantala flavescens populations in Queensland and West Africa tended to have hydrogen signatures indicating that they originated elsewhere.
Dr Ware then shifted the focus of her lecture to termites (which I doubt anybody has a tattoo of). She described termites as fancy, myopic, dark-dwelling social roaches. They were formerly classified in their own order, the Isoptera, but they have recently been reclassified as Blattodea, along with the cockroaches. There are are approximately 4,500 species of roach and 3,100 species of termites. Most termite species are not pests, nor are all termites wood eaters- many termites consume fungi or grasses. Termite sociality probably evolved because termites need symbiotic bacteria to help them digest cellulose. These gut bacteria are lost as individual termites molt, and must be replenished by termites consuming probiotic anal secretions from other termites. Most termite studies involve the approximately 2% of termite species which are pests, though Dr Ware singled out termites which explode to defend their nest (if my beery brain recalls correctly, she recounted the discovery with a colleague, of an Amitermes species that "explodes like Mr Creosote" to defend the colony).
Dr Ware indicated that termite evolution is probably tied to the evolution of the flowering plants, the angiosperms, in the Cretaceous period. Determining the age at which insect lineages evolved can be complicated by flaws in molecular data and the difficulty of non-paleontologists in calibrating the age of fossils. It's generally believed that the first insects may have evolved around 450 million years ago, with roaches evolving around 250 million years ago. Piecing together the divergence of insect life does involve some cautious optimism.
Dr Ware ended her talk by discussing the future of entomology, stressing the need for public outreach, especially the need to get children involved. She discussed the role that her two children play in her fieldwork, displaying a picture with the funny caption: "Relax, my mom is an entomologist!" She talked about her early career, when women were often derided as 'net-holders', and said that she was the only woman in her entomological group in 2003. She disavowed the notion that women had to choose between fieldwork and child-rearing, noting that children are extremely good at collecting insects. She finished her lecture by stating the New Jersey has a particularly rich and diverse Odonata population, with 188 species inhabiting the Garden State.
The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. The first question involved dragonfly mortality- while predators take their toll on dragonflies, there are other dangers... dragonflies store fat in their tails, and there is a danger that they might run out of energy reserves. Another danger is that their wings get to wet to sustain lift, so they might drown. Mating is dangerous for dragonflies, the males have claspers on their tails with which they grasp females (or, by mistake, other males). The claspers can hurt the other dragonflies, and mating can be a violent affair. Dragonflies also eat other dragonflies. Another question involved polluted waters- dragonflies can sequester pollutants such as mercury and other heavy metals. The relative hardiness of dragonfly nymphs can be used to determine water quality. Another question involved dragonfly hunting strategies- dragonflies have spines on their tibia with which they catch prey on the wing (this is commonly known as 'hawking'), much of their food can be likened to 'aerial plankton'.
Some Bastard in the audience asked about the evolution of aquatic development in the Odonata. Aquatic development has evolved in numerous insect lineages, but the ancestral condition was terrestrial. Griffinfly nymphs are unknown, and there are some Odonata nymphs which aren't aquatic, with some species even found in trees.
A question involving the diet of early fliers elicited a grimly funny response from Dr Ware... "They probably ate each other." High atmospheric oxygen content allowed some griffinflies to reach their huge size. During the Jurassic period, an adaptation allowing twisting and bending of the wings evolved, which resulted in improved flight. During the Jurassic, though, there were more predators. Regarding Pantela flavescens, the species is a young one, perhaps a million years old, and small nucleotide differences among populations suggest numerous repeated colonization events on islands.
Regarding climate change, temperature in lab settings does effect viability, with many species operating optimally at a temperature of 25C. At 30C, mortality sets in, with temperature particularly effecting the behavior of aquatic juveniles.
Dr Ware was asked about the possibility of an impending Insect Apocalypse- yearly collections are used to determine biomass. There has been no difference in dragonfly biomass, but there is a difference in species distribution. Dragonflies are highly mobile, they can leave areas when conditions change for the worse. In one particular case, a dragonfly formerly limited in northerly range to North Africa can now be found in Sweden, and Arctic dragonflies now range above the treeline.
Another attendee asked about dragonfly longevity- the adults last for one hot summer, they have two to three months to 'get their business done'. Nymphs can range in lifespan from five weeks to five years, depending on the species.
Regarding the skinny abdomens of damselflies, Dr Ware noted that all damselflies are endophytic, and narrow abdomens are probably a result of this egg-laying strategy. Dragonflies, being more active, have invested more resources in a muscular thorax and a fat-storing abdomen. The need for heat dispersal might also affect abdomen size. Another question involved edibility- there are no venomous or poisonous dragonflies, and the thorax, being muscle, is pure protein.
There was a question regarding fear of insects. Dr Ware stated that it is learned behavior- her older child accompanied her in the lab much of the time, and has no fear of insects. Her younger child spent time in daycare with entomophobes while she was working on her doctorate, and is less comfortable with insects. She quipped that this was only a sample size of two.
Regarding aggregating behavior, aggregations occur around suitable mating sites, and sites where food is plentiful. Exophytic dragonflies produce large egg masses, which is good for the first nymphs to hatch, because they can eat their smaller siblings.
The final question of the night involved the exploding termites, about which not a lot is known. Dr Ware was collecting termites with a colleague using aspirators. While collecting termites from a strange-looking mound, they noticed that the aspirator was getting clogged with 'gooey' termites. Closer observation revealed that some of the termites had ruptured abdomens, but they noted that this might have been a result of collection methods. They didn't think it was enough to change the focus of their research, so they put the specimens in ethanol, and brought them back to New Jersey. They noted the explosions, which probably evolved to seal colony walls, later.
There's a concept which I call the 'Secret Science Sweet Spot', that particular combination of hard science fact, entertainment factor, and advocacy. I'm an entomophile, as longtime readers will know, and this has been a BIG BUG SUMMER for me, so this was a paricularly fantastic lecture. Dr Ware knocked it out of the park, with fascinating information, gorgeous photographs, engaging autobiography, and earnest advocacy for education, inclusion, and environmentalism. I only had one beef with her... I am firmly on team damselfly (I mean, I've never had a dragonfly interact with me like this), and jocularly chided her for her damselfly deprecation. All was well when she revealed her first Odonata tattoo, a male ebony jewelwing like the one that so patiently allowed me to relocate- she didn't want to subject the tattoo artist to having to depict wing venation, so she chose the Odonate with opaque wings. All is forgiven, good doctor! There were some other highlights- one of Dr Ware's old mentors brought a bunch of live insects to the beautiful Bell House, including Madagascar hissing roaches, a leaf-mimicking mantis, and a grasshopper-ish critter that was about four inches long. Also in attendance was entomophagy advocate chef Joseph Yoon. NJIT sent a contingent, notably Dr Phil Barden, who indicated that having a damselfly land on your fishing pole is good luck.
I have never been a Facebook user... my background in investigations made me leery of posting personal information on the internet (I’m largely anonymous online now). I have largely been insulated from targeted political ads. This, I really had no idea that yet another apocalyptic cult was producing a ton of pro-Trump content online. While it’s well-known that Christian end-timers are enthusiastic, even heretical, Trump supporters, the support of Trump by a syncretic Eastern cult surprised me. I was aware of Falun Gong through brief encounters with adherents in NYC, and news reports of persecution of believers by the Chinese government, but I had no idea that their doctrine was homophobic, anti-evolution, and eschatological in nature. Of course, there are aliens involved, but, like Scientology, that content is hidden from new converts.
The NBC story is essential reading, it lays out the Falun Gong leadership’s use of Donald Trump as a foil to... uhh... foil the Chinese government. The psyop campaign they have been running online has been broad, but subtle. Beware, though, the story opens up a rabbit hole which could occupy hours of your time- this is a pretty thorough introduction to the group from a former insider.
The big local story today was the guilty verdict leveled against two of the ‘Proud Boys’ for gang assault, stemming from a post-rally jumping of perceived foes on Manhattan’s Upper East Side last October. This comes on the heels of their bizarre rally last weekend in Portland. I have to note that the authorities in NYC are a lot less tolerant of fascist bullshit than the Portland authorities seem to be.
Generally speaking, New Yorkers as a whole are less tolerant of this sort of thing... we can be assholes, but we hate out of town assholes who try to out-asshole us. Our metro area is extremely diverse, unlike Portland, and we like it that way. The one intolerance we have is for the intolerant. Now that these two creeps are facing prison time, it’s time to seriously consider deporting Gavin McInnes, the Canadian doofus who modeled his pathetic gang on the violent football clubs in the UK. I suspect he read three-quarters of the way through Among the Thugs, and thought it was cool, never getting to the part where the hooligans are lured into an ambush by Sardinian police and beaten to a pulp. Hopefully, his dopey followers will realize that he sold them out, and grow the fuck up. Until then, incarceration is a pretty good remedy for these morons.
I avoid describing myself as 'not a racist', because it's not my position to make that determination. I endeavor to avoid racist and misogynist behavior, but this is a choice that must be made on a continuing basis- in any given situation, am I acting in a manner which doesn't negatively impact people of color or women? I'd like to think that I have a pretty good track record, but a lot of self-assessment and examination of biases is involved... in other words, it involves work. The determination of whether or not I am acting in a racist fashion must be made by others, not myself. Now that I have that preamble out of the way, I've often joked that the surest indication that someone is a racist is that they say, "I am not a racist". That's usually the preface to a clause which contains racist content.
But let's be very clear, it did not start with Donald Trump. I recall it being argued that Mitt Romney was a racist. I recall it being argued that George W. Bush was a racist. This has been going on a long time and I maintain my point earlier, even though what was really laid out clear earlier in our conversation, it was amazing, the honesty. Because I am white, I am not supposed to have an opinion on this and I am supposed to "shut up." That's the ultimate goal here. I maintain my opinion, it is not effective. We ought to talk about the actual policies and actions and the default it seems on the left is that if you agree with the policies, yes. that may disproportionately impact the community of color, that's automatically racist.
It is not so. I am just simply arguing in the marketplace of political discourse, it absolutely...and I did not say I was worried about Democrats and Republicans. I am talking about people in the middle. People we need to engage in this discourse. Even when we use these labels really cause people to put filters up and not listen. I think it would be healthy for our overall discourse, particularly for this point in time when we had historic levels of polarization that we go to the heart of the issue and sets some of the labels aside.
If the use of these labels causes people to 'put filters up and not listen', it's safe to say that those people are comfortable with racist policies, that they are unwilling to entertain the notion that their actions contribute to systemic inequality. Racism works on a societal level: the 'redlining' of African-American neighborhoods, the difficulty with which borrowers of color get credit- these are racist policies which aren't as overt as a burning cross on a family's lawn. In his subsequent statement, the Trump staffer tries to deny his white privilege by changing the topic to class:
I would argue -- you tell me my growing up at a trailer park in northeast Texas, being the first person in my family to go to college, working two full time jobs to put myself through college and that's white privilege?
NPR media critic Eric Deggans articulated a point that I have often made, that people of color are the 'canaries in the coal mine' of a society- they are affected first by negative policies. By tolerating such policies as subprime lending or militarized policing which disproportionately affect people of color, you increase the possibility that these policies will be 'coming to a theater near you'. Listen to people of color, listen to women, listen to LGBTQ people, and religious minorities... the warnings they sound may someday save your own asses.
I haven't been to Portland, Oregon in twenty-six years, when I stopped in the city while on a three month road-trip with some college roommates throughout the United States. We stayed with my roommate Pete's old high school friend, who was a student at famously lefty Reed College. It was a great stay, we went to a local punk club one night and visited the 24 Hour Church of Elvis. I spent an afternoon at Powell's Books, and had a great conversation with one of the clerks about the oeuvre of Portland native Beverly Cleary, who is still with us at the age of 103. I loved Portland- it was quirky and lively, though it wasn't perfect. As a Northeasterner, it was a bit disconcerting to see panhandlers my age on the street, but then again, I was the product of a stable middle-class family, so there weren't too many kids who had to flee abusive homes in my circle. I pretty much had my eyes open in my mid-twenties, when I worked a job which took me to some of the less desirable zip codes in New York City.
While it looks like the right-wing rally was pretty much a big bust, my instincts tell me that the dangerous time is now, when a bunch of raging assholes whose sometimes long-distance travel to engage in violence was frustrated, will be roaming the city looking for vulnerable individuals to assault, such as young people of color or perceived LGBTQ people. This sentiment is echoed by observers on the ground. These assholes didn't pay hundreds of dollars not to engage in violence.
I figured I needed a break from political content, and I had a fortuitous encounter which gave me some material to work with. While walking across a meadow adjacent to one of our on-site parking lots, I caught a glimpse of a rapid movement on the ground out of the corner of my eye. An inspection of the area revealed this handsome critter:
My typical rule of thumb is that the best way to learn exactly what you're looking at is to know generally what you are looking at. I'm a pretty good judge of local amphibians, and the question that I faced was is this a species of leopard frog or is it a pickerel frog? Both are in the genus Lithobates, but that encompasses all North American 'true frogs', including this chunky guy. I'm leaning toward identifying it as a pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris), given the shape and configuration of its back spots (leopard frogs tend to have some random spots, and rounder spots. I totally muffed the 100% identification, because I didn't flip the frog over to check out the color of its thighs and groin. Hey, I had just undergone a training session a couple of days ago, so I can't be going around checking out the groin of a co-worker who's in the Groundskeeping Department, Insect Control Division. The other way I could have determined which of the two frog types it was would have been to lick it, but that wouldn't even have resulted in a high, so I took a pass.
It's not technically the Ides of August, so I had to subtly change the title of this August 15th post. Today's fresh hell is the brigading of the Supreme Court switchboard by idiots who are convinced that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead and are demanding 'proof of life':
A QAnon follower calls the Supreme Court to ask for "proof of life" of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and speaks to a heroically patient and knowledgeable receptionist. pic.twitter.com/Q8e3Kz7LlN
The 'RBG is Dead' trope is based on wishful thinking by awful people, but it received a big boost last January, when Fox displayed a graphic announcing that the justice had died. It's a horrible trope pushed by horrible people, and I feel sorry for the dedicated public servants who had to deal with these idiots.
Sadly, I don't think things are going to get better anytime soon.
One of the axioms of political life is that Steve King (R- Idiots Out Wandering Around) is the Worst Person in the World. He’s even worse than Louie Gohmert, because he is slightly more intelligent. At any rate, King let slip a Freudian ‘tell’ at a recent Con convo- he stated that much of the human population is the product of rape and incest. I guess when people talk of inbred royalty, they are talking about Kings. I’m not a ‘Quilette’ style phrenologist, though I have had a phrenological evaluation, but I can see that Steve King’s physiognomy indicates that he is the product of generations of inbreeding by violent deviants.
Steve King is like a character from Stephen King, a creepy ‘child of the corn’ or a malevolent, alien clown. He wanted to attack women’s rights, and he did it by attacking the entire human species. He needs to be wished into the cornfield in 2020.
This morning, I attended, along with about forty coworkers, a mandatory training session on harassment and discrimination. After a continental breakfast, we were given a primer on the sometimes subtle distinctions among harassment, discrimination, and bullying. There were video presentations regarding different scenarios which could be considered harassment or discrimination- hilariously, the toxic ‘bro’ in the videos shared a name with one of our IT guys... he’s going to love that. Interestingly, the issue of transgender identity featured prominently in several of the videos, a welcome topic which I doubt would have been covered even five years ago. It’s nice to see progress in social mores, even though things sometimes look like they are deteriorating. We were also cautioned about unconscious biases, which can sometimes lead to inadvertent discrimination.
We had a short break to stretch our legs and top off our coffee cups. During the break, I jocularly apologized to one of the weekend crew: “I’m sorry I called you a hikikomori when you’re really a standard otaku.” She got a laugh out of that, but I have to confess, she’s not just a standard otaku, she’s a really gifted artist.
After the break, we were presented with different scenarios, and asked to determine whether harassment or discrimination were occurring. We all had a good sense for what was going on in each case. I remembered a rule of thumb that a mentor of mine used as his gold standard: “Treat everyone the way you’d want your mother to be treated.” I’d add a personal addendum: “Don’t bring shame upon your dojo.”
After the presentation, our head of HR gave us some statistics for the organization: our workforce is 71% female, with an average age of 54. The backbone of our staff is made up of women who have retired from previous careers. Some of them had stories, un fathomable to myself, of being pressured to quit jobs because of pregnancies. While the training itself was fairly basic stuff (the cliched ‘you should have learned this in kindergarten’), the stories from my older coworkers were eye-opening.
All told, it was a worthwhile way to spend a morning, though I do feel sorry for that guy in IT.
A few days ago, I ran into a Stag Beetle (Lucanus capreolus) while arriving to work the graveyard shift. The beetle was similar to one I'd photographed a few years ago. I took a picture, but it didn't compare to a photo snapped by the co-worker I was relieving, who found the beetle on its back and flipped it over with a stick. Check out the mandibles on this critter!
Don't let that mouth fool you, the adults feed on tree sap, and the males use their mandibles to wrestle with other males during the breeding season, like the stags from which they derive their popular name (which refers to their 'antlerlike' antennae).
I'm going to preface this post with an assertion that I am against the death penalty. That being said, if anyone deserved the death penalty, Jeff Epstein would have been a contender... he ruined hundreds of lives for personal gain, for the sating of his base appetites, for the power trip that a sociopath feels when destroying a helpless victim. Epstein was a monster, and he never should have seen the light of day again, but a society's support for capital punishment is a reflection not on the morality of the criminal, but on the morality of the society.
Thankfully, Epstein's death means that the search warrants for his abodes won't be challenged in court, so hopefully the extent of his sex trafficking will ultimately be revealed. I'm not holding my breath, though, the ultra-powerful tend to cover for each other. It's up to the public to make sure this story doesn't disappear. Throughout this whole horrorshow, the one consistent heroine has been Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald, who was unrelenting in her search for the truth. Hopefully, she will ensure that Epstein's sizable estate will be liquidated in order to pay some restitution to his victims.
It's a gorgeous day, and I think I need to log off for a while in order to clear my head of this whole sickening business. Last weekend, I had a couple of New Agey bros (nice guys, but a bit loopy) tell me that my workplace had 'positive energy'. I think I'm going to bask in it for psychic cleanse.
Recently, while poking around the t00bz, I found a reference to a rather bizarre, hilarious cooking channel on YouTube. You Suck at Cooking is the creation of an anonymous, faceless narrator who dispenses jocular abuse along with cooking instructions of dubious utility, stop-motion animated dramas about eggs, and goofy songs accompanied by nature scenes or video of dogs playing. My introduction to the series was a reference to a 'Turkey Sandwich of Justice'
There are hints about the identity of the narrator, expounded on in the comments section... verbal tics indicated that he's a Canadian, visual cues about the scenery of the outdoor scenes suggest that he's filming in the Muskoka region of Ontario. At any rate, the narrator has a droll delivery, and his special effects are well-done. As a nice touch, he's cooking in a pretty mundane kitchen, definitely not the sort of showpiece you'd see in Better Homes and Gardens.
The series is an entertaining way to waste time, and occasionally, one of the recipes looks good. If you like DIY videos and 'Pythonesque' humor, you'd probably enjoy it.
It's time I took a break from current events... everything is horrible, and things don't look like they'll get any better anytime soon. As is typical, it's time to take some solace in nature. This has been a good summer for bugs... we've had beetles the length of your finger and cute green caterpillars, so how about a cute green caterpillar as long as your finger? I found this critter climbing up the railing of the back entrance to the house:
Here's a closeup of the caterpillar's head, providing a good view of the leaf-munching apparatus of this (how should I put it?) very hungry caterpillar.
I kept tabs on this breakfast-sausage sized caterpillar for most of the afternoon, watching as it slowly worked its way across the yard, towards the tree from which it had fallen. If it makes it back to the canopy, it will develop into a huge, gorgeous moth.
As messed up as the United States is these days, I believe that the most worrisome story in the headlines is the vote in the Indian parliament to change the status of the Kashmir state. Kashmir, being disputed territory between India and Pakistan, has been a perilous region of the world for over half a century. By changing the Muslim-majority state to a union, with closer ties to New Delhi, Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Modi will ratchet up the sectarian violence that has plagued Kashmir. With India and Pakistan both possessing nuclear weapons, a conflict over the Kashmir is horrifying to contemplate. Even a proxy war fought with conventional weapons will exacerbate a global refugee crisis which has already destabilized Western Powers. If you think the worldwide right-wing backlash is bad now, it can only get worse as another region becomes a war zone from which people must flee.
I really can’t think of a single region on the planet which is stable these days... Barry McGuire, from whose best known song I took the post title, is more right than he was when he wrote the song.
8Chan, an Internet message board notorious for violent content, racism, and child porn, forms a common thread running from Christchurch to Poway to El Paso. There are posts encouraging mass shootings and exhorting would-be shooters to win a ‘high score’ by killing a high number of people. It’s the message board that shitposters too toxic for 4Chan migrated to.
It’s nice to see that this Ocean of Piss, this wretched hive of scum and villainy, is being driven off the t00bz. It has been a hotbed of radicalization, and with a mounting body count, not even a free speech argument has any merit concerning the site.
This afternoon, things were a bit weird on the job. The main data transmission line to the site was kaput. The landline phones weren’t working and internet service was kaput. One of our IT guys was able to jury-rig a workaround by connecting his cell phone to one of the visitors’ center computers so ticket and retail sales could occur.
The shop clerk told me, “I feel bad for him, because that’s his phone, what if someone calls him with an emergency?” I had to laugh before I responded, “That’s his work phone, so the only emergency calls would come from here... he’s glad not to have it!” Poor guy had been here both Saturday and Sunday, his usual days off.
It’s been a roller coaster of a day. Dawn was an idyllic time, shortly after sunrise, I was entertained by two very vocal osprey which have made one of our worksites home. As if that weren’t enough, we have young turkeys running around with mom, adding a comical element to the otherwise gorgeous show.
I had to drive to another site in order to unlock the parking lot gates and prepare for the influx of tourists... we are understaffed, so I am doing double duty on the weekends. While I was there, there was some drama involving our cleaning contractors. One of the employees was considered ‘no call/no show’ last week, so a manager came by with a substitute, telling the other employee to go home. This, as you can imagine, resulted in tears. I asked the chastened employee, who I have known for four years, what had happened. She told me that she had sent the manager a text message the Monday prior to last weekend, so he was lying about not receiving notice. I told her that I would speak on her behalf to the company owner, who I know well. She told me that the manager plays favorites, and described him (in a paradoxical fashion) as ‘bien malo’, which translates directly as ‘well bad’ or even ‘good bad’. It’s an intensifier- I would describe myself post all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ as ‘bien gordo’, ‘well fat’. I asked her if she needed a ride home, because the bus ride would take forever, and she asked me to drive her to a shopping center where she could pick up some day labor, because she’d already hired a baby sitter for the day. On the ride, she vented about the situation, and the ‘bien malo’ manager who plays favorites and gets cushier assignments for his friends. All the while, I cursed the system of perpetual part-time employment, the system in which one never can be quite secure, much less comfortable, in their job. When we parted, I told her to call or text me if she needed intercession with the boss, or even a letter of recommendation. I’m trying to be ‘bien bueno’ here.
The afternoon has been interesting, in a humorous way. Two guys, twin brothers, who went to school with the Manager on Duty, stopped by. Two guys, twin brothers, who are 6’6” and have a lot of shirtless pictures on the ‘net. They were super nice guys, but they had a bit of a ‘new age’ vibe to them... they were the kind of guys who talk about the ‘energy’ of a place, the kind of guys who talk about ‘healing modalities’. I had to tell them that we were closing, and they thanked me, remarking on the positive vibes they got from our lovely site and its benevolent genius loci. Needless to say, after they left, we ragged on the MOD about her two ‘Chadly’ admirers, and she got a good laugh about that. I needed that laugh, we all did.
Despite my relative indifference to clowns, one of my all-time favorite songs is Dave Davies' maudlin-yet-hilarious Death of a Clown. Scary clowns, dead clowns... I still haven't figured out why clowns are trending in my internet haunts this week.
The FBI intelligence bulletin from the bureau’s Phoenix field office, dated May 30, 2019, describes “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists,” as a growing threat, and notes that it is the first such report to do so. It lists a number of arrests, including some that haven’t been publicized, related to violent incidents motivated by fringe beliefs.
The document specifically mentions QAnon, a shadowy network that believes in a deep state conspiracy against President Trump, and Pizzagate, the theory that a pedophile ring including Clinton associates was being run out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant (which didn’t actually have a basement).
In a bizarre case of synchronicity, a lot of Qanon true believers showed up at Trump's rally in Cincinnati:
Lots of Q shirts here at the rally in Cincinnati and Trump pre-rally speaker Brandon Straka just said "Where we go one, we go all." -- a common rallying cry of the #QAnon movement. They even have an acronym for it. #WWG1GWA. pic.twitter.com/cOsAB3vLmC
Trump himself has retweeted Qanon boosters, which poses a threat to domestic security. Who is to say that Republican Party operatives won't try to goad some of the dead-enders into committing acts of politically-motivated violence? The Bully has the world's biggest bully pulpit, and he's not above engaging in 'stochastic terrorism', and now he has a cult that is hankering for a bloodbath. I really don't see how these people can be deprogrammed, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see some VERY BAD MOJO sometime soon.
The Big Bad Bald Bastard is a character played by Monsieur _______ of the City of Y______. The role of the Bastard is a handy one to play on subways, walking the streets, and in dive-bars, when being a nerdy, bookish sort is not to one's advantage.