Monday, September 30, 2019

Shana Tova, People! Be Careful!

Here's wishing a happy new year to my Jewish readers. I have always been lucky to have Jewish friends and neighbors, and we would often double up on holidays- we would celebrate Hanukkah with them, they would come over for Christmas Eve. I am still flabbergasted by anti-semitism in the US... this was one country where Jewish people, their religious freedom protected by the Constitution, could thrive, and thrive they have. The arts and sciences would not be what they are without the contributions of Jewish people. Personally, my first pair of glasses was outfitted by a Jewish optometrist, so MY academic potential wouldn't have been the same without this 'Jewish plot'.

I wish I could wish an unqualified happy new year to my Jewish friends, but nothing is straightforward these days. Anti-semitism is on the rise here in the 'States, from attacks on Orthodox Jews in NYC to synagogue shootings country-wide. Conspiracy theories abound, but they all seem to be rehashes of the old 'Protocols' style blood libel. Nothing is untainted by the current awfulness... I can post a picture of birds one day, but bird populations are plummeting. Cool bug pics are nice, but insect populations are declining. Those cute baby turtles I posted about will face the danger of plastic ingestion. Nothing is 100% happy, there's always a downside in this stupid, cruel era. I'd like to think that the bulk of the population is supportive of our Jewish neighbors, but there is a sinister undercurrent which the current administration has emboldened to go public. They aren't the norm, I tell myself, the decent people will defeat them, I hope.

Happy new year... but be careful.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Big Bug Summer Is Over, How About Big Bug Fall?

This summer was a banner summer for big bugs, from beetles to katydids. The big bug trend is continuing into the Fall, to my great delight. A couple of days ago, I saw one of the exemplars of North America's 'charismatic minifauna', a finger long woolybear caterpillar, the larval form of the moth Pyrrharctia isabella:

According to folklore, the wide brown band between the black anterior and posterior bands is supposed to presage a mild winter. Mild or not, these caterpillars are equipped with chemicals which protect them from cell damage so they can freeze solid throughout the winter.

It's been very warm lately, shorts weather is the rule, but this fuzzy caterpillar is a sure reminder that cooler weather is soon to come. What better reminder to get your sweaters out of storage is there than a fuzzy little buddy?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

An Uplifting Subject

This week and next week will probably be the busiest ones on the job this year- my department is understaffed and it's the busy season at work. Therefore, I figured I'd break from the political nonsense and post about a subject that is near and dear to my heart... caffeine. My love affair with, by which I mean addiction to, coffee started when I was in high school, when my first job was working in the local delicatessen- stocking the soda and beer coolers, washing pots and pans, sweeping and mopping up at the end of the day, even waiting on customers (though when I started, I was too young to run the slicers). During the lull after the lunch rush and before the end-of-day mop-up, there'd be a time when all of the counters were wiped down, and there would be a slow trickle of customers coming in- some of the local landscaping crews, mainly Mexican guys whose English was largely limited to 'king-sized Budweiser!', would come in for a couple of post-shift tallboys (I loved these guys, and they were instrumental in my maintaining the Spanish I was learning in school, because they encouraged me to practice it by joking around with them). In these quiet hours, the best way to pass the time was to have a cup of coffee- the aroma from the big coffee percolators was enough to tempt even the most bitterness-shy palate. Like most coffee n00bs, I started drinking the stuff with a lot of milk and a fair amount of sugar, until I rather quickly eliminated the sugar (appropriate for iced coffee, but I don't like it in hot coffee) and cut down on the milk. I was hooked.

Now, I drink the stuff religiously, and I love coffee paraphernalia like French presses, Italian Moka pots, and Vietnamese phin filters... all beside the old reliable 8 cup drip coffee maker so beloved of Americans. While I also drink tea and yerba mate, there's no real substitute for a good old 'cuppa Joe'. It's what makes the graveyard shift possible.

So, why am I waxing rhapsodic about coffee? BBC has a nice documentary about the stuff, delving into coffee's origin as a commodity, exploring the growth and harvesting of coffee in Brazil, the roasting of coffee by an Italian coffee maestro, and the growth of coffee culture in China, the largest expanding market for the stuff. It's an informative twenty-two minutes, and I found it particularly beautiful, being a caffiend. Oddly enough, I'm working at a site which is dominated by tea drinkers, so the coffee culture is pretty lackluster. I have a Lipton teabag steeping overlong in my site-mug, destined to be diluted into iced tea, but the night is long, I have to finish the night at another site, and my beloved java will be waiting for me.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Clueless Leader

It's a strange world we live in, a world in which a sports website features better opinion pieces than the 'paper of record', but here we are... David Roth of Deadspin wrote a post which echoes a lot of what I've said about Vulgarmort. This particular paragraph describes the Commander-in-Cheese perfectly:

The more worrying part of all this is that there is fundamentally nothing to know about most of what he talks about. Every rank thought-chunk that clears his blowhole is either some legacy beef or bigotry or something Trump learns from his television shows, which feed him attenuated suspicions, a list of ominous what-abouts that hint at some sort of outcome but stop well short of it, and a bunch of leading questions that, by design, cannot be answered. All of this is supposed to shore up a worldview and generate specific political outcomes, but mostly it aims to create a mood—a coiled and claustrophobic sense of being under siege, by someone—more than it does to answer any of the questions it hints at. It doesn’t really add up to anything, but also it can’t; the game is to accumulate.

This is a guy who can never forget a slight, never let go of a grudge. He is still pursuing a quarter-century feud with Rosie O'Donnell, he still smarts from the now-defunct Spy magazine's 1980's caricature of him as a 'short-fingered vulgarian'. He is the perpetual victim, the spoiler child who believes that every time he doesn't get his way is an attack. He is now, for the first time in his life, facing the prospect of being held accountable for his actions. He isn't up against a small contractor who he stiffed, he can't run out the litigation clock by forcing his opponent to run up legal fees. Trump is pure Id, the living embodiment of all seven deadly sins. Things could take a turn for the (more) dangerous when this cornered beast decides to strike out, or stroke out. Hopefully, he'll be holding a grudge against Nancy Pelosi a quarter-century from now, while rotting in a cell in Leavenworth.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Quick Cute Turtle Post

I have a whole bunch of contractors onsite, preparing for one of our Fall fundraisers, so I'm just going to put up a quick post. Here's a follow-up to the tiny turtle post from this past weekend. First off, here's the Turtle Crossing sign put up by the Manager on Duty and self-appointed Turtle Tiger Mom:

She prepared a makeshift terrarium out of a plastic interoffice mail bin, complete with water and some plants, and collected about another half-dozen baby turtles to be transported away from the footpath. When I arrived, I moved them to locations closer to the pond and the stream.

I also took a picture of the underside of one of the turtles, in order to show how small the plastron of Chelydra serpentina is compared to overall body size:

This lack of armor is offset by the turtle's powerful bite and aggressive approach to defense. It also allows for a lot of maneuverability in forelimbs and neck... these turtles can readily right themselves if turned on their backs, using that long, pythonesque neck. If you look closely, there's a round mark in the center of the plastron where the yolk sac was attached in ovo. In all, I'd say that all of us accounted for about twenty-six baby turtles in all, over the course of two days. They are on their own now, but we got them through that initial, awkward 'please don't tread on me' stage.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Exactly the Wrong Strategy

It's from Politico, so it should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, but some Democrats seem to want to limit impeachment inquiries to the current scandal involving Trump's interactions with the Ukrainian president. I think that is a huge mistake- any impeachment hearings should involve a broad spectrum investigation of multiple scandals, perhaps with a focus of violations of the emoluments clause and his self-dealing, which is looting the treasury. By playing up these scandals, rather than focusing the Ukraine kerfuffle, the Democrats can point out that Republicans are the party of neither strict Constitutionalism nor fiscally responsibility.

This is a brawl, and the Democrats need to treat it as such- they need to hit Trump again and again, to hit him with everything they've got until he's beaten... irrevocably. If they screw up impeachment efforts, they will enrage their own base while emboldening Trump's base. The Republicans didn't waffle when it came to investigating Hillary Clinton for the Benghazi attacks, they kept dragging her in front of Congress again and again. Decades earlier, they kept investigation Bill Clinton until they found something that would stick, if you'll pardon the expression.

The Democrats need to walk and chew gum at the same time, there are mountains of evidence against Trump, evidence of corruption so rampant that it's ubiquitous... and all of it should be investigated. By limiting their investigation to one aspect of this maladministration, they are only hurting themselves... tragically, this seems to be what the Democrats in Congress seem to do best.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

So, It Begins

It looks like the House Democrats have begun an impeachment inquiry. It seems as if the Ukraine scandal was the final straw in a farrago of crimes on the part of the maladministration.

I have vacillated on the impeachment issue- while I have long felt that Trump should be impeached, my feelings about the procedure have been strategic... impeachment should be held off until it can cause maximum damage to Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The Republican Senate will not vote to convict Trump, therefore, any trial should be avoided so he cannot claim to have been exonerated. Time the impeachment so that it throws him off his game- he has a fragile ego and a short temper, so keep him scared and angry. The problem is that every day he is in office, he is doing untold damage to the nation, so delay is dangerous. I don't envy the House Democrats, they are walking on a knife edge politically.

I'm not sure that the timing is optimal for the proceedings to begin, but they are necessary. Annoyingly, I've been dealing with work-related issues all day, so I haven't been able to concentrate on the news, but this process will unfold over the course of months. It has to, having the trial occurring too early might screw the whole thing up.

Monday, September 23, 2019

October Is a Moving Target

October is our busy season on the job, and my department is understaffed. Right now, I’m trying to cobble together a schedule with the staff I have, while dealing with moving goalposts. My boss, a saint, is trying to wheedle more hours from an overtime-averse executive branch to ensure proper coverage. Not only are the goalposts moving, but I’m on a moving platform trying to kick that field goal... and I’m not even a big football fan.

Right now, there’s a big ‘then magic happens’ gap in the schedule, pending word from higher up. I am the type of guy who likes to have everything planned out in advance, but that’s not an option in October.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Tiny Turtle Time!

Yesterday's post was all about how I missed out on some quality day drinking because I couldn't take a day off for the McLean Ave street festival... I did mention, though, that I had more fun on the job than is seemly.

I arrived on the job and was informed that we had a cute overload, a procession of baby turtles which were walking along the pedestrian path behind our Visitors' Center. The manager on duty, a kindly young woman, told me that she had stopped one of our visitors before he accidentally trod on one of these little critters... Then she decided that she should relocate it to the vicinity of the onsite pond. She walked, turtle in hand, to the pond, but she didn't like a particular drop on the bank, so she sought out a gentler descent near the outflow stream. All along, she was concerned about the stagnant water in one spot, the subpar aesthetics of another spot- all the while being bitten by mosquitoes and worrying about ticks and the possibility of toxic algae blooms. Rehashing an old 'Simpsons' joke, I told her not to worry, that all of the pathogens she might be picking up would cancel each other out. I also quipped that she shouldn't have worried so much about the little turtle, "They have more hit points than you would expect." Seriously, these little guys are like tiny tanks, they are muscular enough to dig themselves out of their nest and begin their journey, in this case about a hundred meters, to the water.

Then, it was on to the great turtle hatchling roundup. We cordoned off the area near the nest, which I located under some bushes behind the building. Our custodial contractor was particularly adept at spotting baby turtles, so I dubbed her 'the turtle detective'. She found one hatchling that wasn't moving, and we were all bummed at the prospect of it being dead, until it moved, and I joked that she should bring it home and name it Lazarus... I suggested that it would be fun to bring it to her AP Biology class on Monday (and that she could return it later that week). In about twenty minutes, we gathered a dozen hatchlings:

As I once noted, the little things look like Pokémon, though they are destined to be kaiju if they survive the rigors of youth. I mean, look at this cutie, wouldn't you want to capture it and make it fight other little animals?

"Chelydra serpentina, I choose you!"
"I'll bite your thumb, you big bum..."

When we locked up the site, and I bid everybody else adieu, I took the box full of hatchlings to a spot near the pond, and released them, putting them on a sheet of paper to make a group photo stand out:

I actually separated them into several groups, each placed in a different spot so as to avoid competition with each other. The site now clear of humans besides myself, I took a hands off approach, and noted that the procession of turtles continued, with the hatchlings pacing with about two meters between them. I watched the procession until sundown. Today, the MOD will enlist our resident artist to create a 'BABY TURTLE CROSSING' sign in case the parade continues.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

It's not the Leaving of Yonkers Town that Grieves Me...

...but my darling, when I think of beer. Today was a minor heartache, due to staffing issues on the job, I was unable to take a day off to attend this year's McLean Avenue street festival. It was a flawless day, the perfect day to be wandering up and down the tavern-lined street, a block-and-a-half from home, drinking pints of beer and browsing at not only the local eateries but vendor booths from outside the neighborhood... a Scotch egg here, a chimichurri-sauced gauchoburger there, sample shots of Jamesons from the liquor store's distributor. It was always a stellar day to go out, to meet friends and family, and to maintain a low-key beer buzz for hours before shuffling home... but not for me, not this year.

Getting out of Yonkers wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, there were some minor traffic snarls as people cruised for parking, but no major setbacks. I can't even complain much, because I had a very fun day at work (and here I am, sober as a Pioneer), which will be tomorrow's blog post- I left my charger/connector cord at home, so I can't upload photos from my phone right now. It was pretty much a festival on the job.

The post title is taken from a song which is probably getting some play at the **SOB** McLean Avenue post-festival revelry:

Friday, September 20, 2019

Duty Now for the Future

The heartening story of the day has got to be the Students' Climate Strike, which brought perhaps as many as a quarter-million people to Manhattan to join activist Greta Thunberg in demanding action on the ongoing climate change crisis. The climate strike spanned the globe, and involved millions of protestors. The young and earnest were challenging the old and corrupt to change the course which will render this planet unfit for human habitation. They will be inheriting an overheated Earth because corporate oligarchs refuse to look beyond next quarter's profits.

I've been blogging for almost ten years, and nothing has been done about the looming climate disaster- things are even regressing as the Dotard is rolling back energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs and is trying to nullify California's auto emissions standards. At the precise moment that humanity needs to get its act together regarding carbon emissions, the United States government is seeking to increase them, perhaps as a way to 'pwn the libs'... it's creating a suicide pact as a means to troll.

The young activists are wiser than the foolish, greedy elders who are pushing the narrative that climate change isn't real, and it isn't anthropogenic, and there's nothing that can be done about climate change anyway (yeah, I know that those are contradictory, but propaganda doesn't make those distinctions). They are going to live in a world long after David Koch croaked, and I don't think they are going to go home without becoming politically involved. They are not old enough to vote yet, but I trust them to kick out the fossil fuel fossils, I just hope they aren't too late. They have been failed by their elders, but they will be the ones to end up saving us.

Post title taken from Devo's second album title... how about a selection from Akron's weirdest?

I'd take a wiggly world over a broiling one, any day.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Bounty of Kousaberries

A few years back, I did something that is generally not recommended... I ate some mystery fruit, which turned out to be not-only-edible-but-delicious Asian dogwood (Cornus kousa) fruits. The fruits have a flavor I would vaguely describe a 'tropical', but there's not a lot to them- they are small, have a leathery peel, and are full of hard seeds. While each fruit delivers only a bare taste of delicious pulp, they grow in profusion, and the trees are ubiquitous ornamental plants:

This year, I think I will get creative- while the fruits are delicious eaten straight off the tree, I think they would better serve as the basis of a fruity rum infusion... this could be a dangerous experiment!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Curriculum Coincidence

I spent a few hours today taking an online course that is mandated by the program I coach for, a training module about sexual abuse, bullying, harassment, hazing, and inappropriate physical and emotional conduct. The curriculum featured videos with social workers and a forensic investigator who specializes in abuse cases. Needless to say, there were several trigger warnings throughout the course due to the nature of the subjects. After taking the tests after the various units and receiving my certification, I decided to do some web surfing.

There was a timely post at LGM about Joe Paterno, and the various apologists (appallogists?) who downplay his agency in the Penn State sexual abuse scandal... in this case, professional contrarian Malcolm Gladwell. There seems to be a cottage industry which seeks to rehabilitate Joe Paterno, typically by claiming he knew nothing of the serial sexual abuse perpetrated by his subordinate, Jerry Sandusky. Even when Paterno was informed that Sandusky was sodomizing children in Penn State facilities, these apologists like to portray him as a naïf who was too consumed by football to understand what 'raping children in the shower' meant.

The Penn State scandal, amplified by the subsequent serial sexual abuse perpetrated by Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, spawned an entire industry to combat the sexual and other abuse of young athletes. Before the Sandusky scandal, I never had to undergo a criminal background check and drug testing in order to coach. There weren't courses about mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to the authorities. There just weren't protocols put in place to guide respondents, we just had to rely on our moral judgment, which is where Paterno failed. Thankfully, I have never had to personally deal with a horrific situation like this, but I look at the Penn State and MSU horrors and I wonder why these institutions weren't razed to the ground.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

This Salsa is too Spicy for Me

Ugh, it seems like Dancing with the Stars is the go-to show for washed up right-wingers to embarrass themselves on National TV, though this sentiment hits the nail on the head... better to be seen as a clown than a monster. I find Sean Spicer's appearance on the show particularly disgusting, as this spokesman for an administration which is virulently anti-Latin plays the congas and dances in a Latin-inspired fashion. It's a gross example of cultural appropriation- a guy who made excuses for a president who abandoned Puerto Rico coopting a Puerto Rican artform. It's too bad that the late, great Tito Puente isn't around to set his soul afire with a slanderous mambo:

I'm headed out to bar trivia, but I figure I should post an actual Tito Puente song:


Now, THAT is a mambo to set your soul afire, in a good way. Spicy Spicer just gives me heartburn.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Since You're Gone...

Last night's Total Bummer News was the passing of Ric Ocasek, who loomed large over the soundscape of my youth. Reading the obituaries written for him, I am struck by how he was much older than I expected (he wasn't a kid when he formed the Cars) and that he had been in a couple of folksy bands in the 60s.

My introduction to the Cars (most people's introduction) was the second single from their debut album, My Best Friend's Girl. a pretty straightforward rocker, though one punctuated with synth-pop flourishes and a rockabilly riff. It's the lyrics which make this otherwise cliche story about lost love into something off-kilter, with slightly subversive references to 'suede-blue eyes' and 'nuclear boots'. Here's a wonderful live version of this immensely appealing singalong:

The band's first, eponymous album has often been described as a 'debut greatest hits compilation', as the saying goes, it's 'all killer, no filler', and it encompasses a range of styles, with I'm in Touch with Your World being particularly surreal. This video comically conveys keyboardist Greg Hawkes' talent with all sorts of musical geegaws:

The album ended on the glorious Moving in Stereo/All Mixed Up combo, which combined the vocals of second frontman Benjamin Orr (who we lost to cancer in 2000) with heavy guitar riffs, swooping synthpop flourishes, and melodic backing vocals. It's the sort of musical epic which must have driven headphone sales back in the late 70s:

To me, the Cars' second album, 1979's Candy-O had a slightly harder sound. The debut single, Let's Go, another Orr-fronted song, had a more upfront synthesizer sound than most of the songs from the prior album:

Perhaps the quirkiest number of the album is the The Dangerous Type, a closer which opens with the double query: "Can I touch you? Are you out of touch?"

The Cars' third album, 1980's Panorama didn't sell as many units as the previous two albums, but it might be my favorite. The sing;e Touch and Go is a lush soundscape with two different time signatures, punctuated by a blistering guitar solo by Elliot Easton:

I also think the album features Ric Ocasek at his funniest:

The Cars released their fourth album in four years, Shake it Up, in 1981. It was a return to the winning formula of the band's two albums, less experimental than Panorama. Here's the late, great Valerie Harper introducing a television segment with the band playing the album's title track:

I think my favorite track on the album is Since You're Gone (from which I derived the post title), in which a breakup song, one of the most tried-and-true tropes of popular music, gets that off-kilter Ric Ocasek treatment:

If I recall correctly, Ric's line 'I took the Big Vacation' was the first veiled drug reference that I understood in a song.

The band took a hiatus from recording, with their fifth album, Heartbeat City, coming out in 1984. It spawned the top ten hit You Might Think:

The plaintive Drive hit number three on the US charts, and was promoted with a video starring the future Mrs Ocasek, Paulina Porizkova. It's definitely the band at its most earnest:

1985 saw the release of a greatest hits album (one that isn't the band's debut. that is) and the previously unreleased Tonight She Comes (no embed code), which was originally intended for a Ric Ocasek solo project.

The band's final album before they broke up was 1987's Door to Door:

Ric Ocasek also released a bunch of solo albums, starting with 1982's Beatitude, which spawned the single Something to Grab For:

That's quite a stellar career as a performer, but I believe that Ric Ocasek will be remembered as much for his production credits as for his own career as a performer. He produced albums for a bewildering diversity of bands, including Bad Brains, Romeo Void, Suicide, Nada Surf, Weezer, No Doubt, Bad Religion, Black 47, and a whole lot of other artists.

He was also a quintessential New Yorker in his later days, and there are plenty of funny stories about people walking into obstructions because they couldn't stop staring at him and his supermodel wife. The general gist of the stories is that he was a nice guy, the sort of guy who wouldn't look askance at starstruck fans. The outpouring of love from musicians who worked with him is also a testimony to his decency. For instance, Larry Kirwan wrote a lovely tribute to the man.

The best way to memorialize the man is to listen to his music, and composing this post was sad, but also a pleasure... it's tough to write about the death of a favorite musician, but the memories brought back by compiling a partial discography are sweet. It's time to finish listening to his catalog now.

ADDENDUM: Of course, I WOULD have to find this after publishing this post. I also figured I'd link the Cars' 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Are You Going to Finish That?

For today, a flawless sunny day, how about a slightly macabre touch? Being close to the mighty Hudson, we have osprey living on or adjacent to most of our sites. Every once in a while, they leave remnants of their meals for us to stumble upon, as if they took pity on us land-bound schmoes and wanted to throw us a bone... literally:

It's not very often that one finds a fish carcass away from the shoreline... this is what first tipped me off to our local osprey population a few years back. I imagine the local raccoons are nice to receive an occasional gift from above now and then.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Half-Century of Derring-Doo (sic)

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the first episode of the classic cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (sic). In my internet recommendations, I found a great essay about the cartoon by a Columbia University PhD. I am in agreement with the themes of this essay... I have been a fan of the show since first watching it.

The original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (sic) championed skepticism and inquiry... the protagonists, those groovy 'meddling kids' used their senses and their intellects to pierce through the veil of superstition and fear that the villains employed to deceive the public in order to pursue their larcenous aims. The true monsters were invariably human (the most dangerous monsters of all), and careful observation, the amassing of clues, was the trick to beating them. The one show I can think of which comes closest to this theme is Mythbusters, and Jamie and Adam would have comported themselves well in that flowered van.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was also unabashedly pro-teenager- it was a good antidote to the 'wild in the streets' junior delinquent movies that the film studios churned out. These kids were smart (even if Shaggy came across as a stoner) and good judgment and ethics superior to those of the adults around them. The show conveyed a message that the kids were right to have a healthy skepticism of authority... if you have a sense that the adults around you aren't on the up-and-up, trust your assessment rather than their appeals to authority. Old Man Higgins could easily stand in for Coach Higgins, Reverend Higgins, or even Major Higgins, and a questioning attitude could save a kid a lot of pain.

The franchise took a turn for the worse when a later iteration when the monsters were real. It blew the original theme of the series out of the water, which is a shame.

Friday, September 13, 2019

One Ticket to Paradise

I pretty much gave up on 'Classic Radio' when I was eleven years old, when I found the storied WLIR on the left side of the dial, and then discovered college radio, in all of its glorious anarchy. That didn't mean that I didn't get an earful of 'Classic Rock'. One of the rock-and-roll 'journeymen' who played the sort of reliable background music for a kegger was Eddie Money, nee Mahoney, who succumbed to esophageal cancer and heart disease at the age of 70. I didn't know that he was a Brooklyn buy, but as Tengrain relates, he kicked off his rock career in the SF Bay Area.

My introduction to Eddie Money's music was Two Tickets to Paradise, a working class kid's plea to a girl that he can't afford to take on an exotic vacation:

“Well, I was going with a girl at the time. She was in college and I was in college and her mother wanted her to meet somebody that was actually making a living,” Money told Rolling Stone of the song’s inspiration in 2018. “She had been dating the mayor’s son and I didn’t have any money to take her to Bermuda or Hawaii or anything else like that. So I wanted to take her on a Greyhound bus ride to the California Redwoods. It would only cost maybe 62 dollars for the both of us. But she dumped me and it never happened, so who knows?”

Like a lot of rock stars, he had his problems with substance abuse, but he survived and recovered, and was upfront about this unfortunate phase of his life. In the mid-80s, his career had stalled, but he pulled himself out of his slump with a simple song about romantic, by which I mean erotic, yearning... in a genius move, his lyrics incorporated a reference to 60s girl group icon Ronnie Spector, who had been hounded out of the music industry by her abusive, powerful husband... and he invited her to accompany him on the song. The story of the collaboration is quite remarkable:

“I could hear clinking and clanking in the background,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Ronnie, what are you doing?’ She said, ‘I’m doing the dishes, and I gotta change the kids’ bedding. … I’m not really in the business anymore, Eddie. Phil Spector and all that, it was a nightmare.”

The resultant song, Take Me Home Tonight served its purpose, hitting number four on the Billboard top 100, thereby reviving Money's career and bringing Ronnie Spector back from exile and putting her back where she always belonged, at the top of the charts:

A simple song about wanting to bone became a transcendent comeback narrative for both artists, and led to a Ronaissance, as Ronnie headlined a Christmas concert series and collaborated with unabashed girl group fan Joey Ramone. Besides his own considerable body of work, I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Eddie Money for coaxing Ronnie back into the studio.

He also came across as a decent guy, married to the same woman for thirty years, father to five kids. He owned up to his mistakes, overcame them and maintained a good sense of humor about his life and career, with a knack for self-deprecation:

For the record, I think my favorite song by the guy was I Think I'm in Love, the video for which showcases a goofy sense of humor, which is refreshing for a RAWK GAWD:

I think he earned that ticket to paradise.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Arachnaphobia Test for a Repentant Homewrecker

It wasn't the sort of sight that bothers me, but I imagine it would make an arachnaphobe blanch... a fat Araneus, with an abdomen the size of a fingernail, sitting near a padlock I needed to get to in order to lock up one of the gates at work:

I'm pretty comfortable around spiders, even big ones, but spiders aren't that comfortable around humans who need to break up their homes in order to accomplish a task. The chain shifted, the web sundered, the poor spider beat a hasty abseil to the ground. Late summer and early fall are the peak of Araneus activity, and I have to confess that I have destroyed many a web while walking the site and performing my routine duties. I feel somewhat bad about this, because these critters must be doing a number on the local mosquito population... it's just that they often build their homes in inconveniently situated, by which I mean heavily trafficked, areas.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Another Year, Another 9/11

I still remember the day, a flawless late summer day eighteen years ago. For some reason, I was too lazy to ride my bike to work that day, which was fortuitous, because I ended up driving a coworker home after they evacuated our office building in Tarrytown, about 25 miles north of lower Manhattan. When coworkers told me about the first plane hitting the towers, I chalked it up to an accident, similar to the 1945 B-25 crash into the Empire State Building. A second crash, and I knew that it was war...

At the time, I lived near the intersection of Yonkers Avenue and Central Park Avenue, which is also the service road to I-87, the major thruway into New York City. The view of the NYC skyline at the intersection is clear, and I stood for an hour watching the cloud of toxic smoke rise into the sky to the south, as emergency vehicles rushed down the closed-to-the-public thoroughfares. I was shocked, but I certainly wasn't in awe, which only made the branding of the initial attack on Baghdad more repulsive to me. I had friends who worked in the World Trade Center, some of whom never made it out, some of whom did. I am reminded of that day when I see the family of a friend who succumbed to the toxic cloud a few years later, when I see a friend (a tough, gruff guy from Queens with a heart of gold who got all of his office mates out, barging into the bathrooms and telling the occupants, "Don't even bother to wipe your ass, GET OUT!") who doesn't even go into Manhattan anymore. I was on the periphery of the hellscape, though it could be seen for days and smelled for weeks when the wind blew in from the South.

I remember standing in line for hours to donate blood the next day, blood for victims who never materialized in the hospitals. I remember going to memorial services. Most of all, I remember the unity that we all felt, that feeling that all of us in the New York metro area were going to get through this ordeal together. Two of my great friends and mentors, men who I have known for years, are Muslim men from Morocco. They knew a lot of the victims I knew, they grieved with the rest of us, and anyone who makes a blanket indictment against all Muslims can go jump in a lake.

I remember the creeping sense of surrealism as the narrative shifted from an attack by Saudi Sunni extremists to an Iraqi connection, as the drumbeat for war increased, a war against an innocent, though not sympathetic, nation. I also recall the rise of the security industrial complex, the appearance of heavily armed police and national guard in the subway system. I was appalled at an idiotic show of force which would hamper the evacuation of busy midtown subway stations while peripheral stations in the outer boroughs were unguarded (this from a guy who would enter the system at 238th St and Broadway with a huge gym bag every Saturday from October to March). I remember finally visiting the three story tall pile of rubble a few weeks after the collapse of the towers, the evil miasma which clung to midtown. I also remember that the majority of the victims were roughly my age, they were go-getters just starting families and seeing their careers take off. If you had been a slacker that day, playing hooky to enjoy one last gorgeous summer day, you would have survived.

It's kind of weird to see all of the memorials by people who never experienced the loss. While I laud the well-meaning people who wish to acknowledge the tragedy, there are too many people who seek to use the day's events as a cudgel. The theocrats started blaming New Yorkers for the attacks in the immediate aftermath, the liberals, lesbians, libertines, and lushes were somehow to blame for another group of theocrats attacking the city. These victim-blamers still prattle on about the attack, much to my disgust.

Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be an impulse to make the day a national holiday, I mean nobody needs a repeat of this nonsense. The best way to remember those who were killed that day is to emulate them, to go to work, to carry out your duties as they did. Sure, you probably won't have to run into a burning building or sift through toxic rubble looking for survivors, but there is value in doing what you have to do, to embrace that New York work ethic that the occupants of the towers embodied.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Secret Science Club North Post Lecture Recap: The Universe Splitter

Tonight, I headed down to the scintillating Symphony Space, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, for the latest Secret Science Club North lecture, featuring all-star physicist Dr Sean Carroll of Caltech. Dr Carroll's latest book is Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime. This was not Dr Carroll's first Secret Science Club Rodeo, so I was prepared to be informed, entertained, and a little baffled by the quantum physics that Dr Carroll studies. After an introduction by Dorian and Margaret, Dr Carroll received a second introduction by Dr Brian Greene, Columbia University physicist and chairman of the World Science Festival.

Dr Carroll began his lecture with a humorous thought experiment, The Universe Splitter, a 'quantum-involved universe bifurcator'. He sent a signal to a particle accelerator in Europe, and the result of a sensor detecting a particle determined whether he would jump to the left or to the right. With the result he received, he ended up jumping to the left, and joked that, according to the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum physics, in another universe he had jumped to the right. He then noted that quantum physicists are good at making predictive models, but that they haven't succeeded in understanding the underlying reality. Regarding quantum physics, Richard Feynman once said: "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics." Quantum mechanics are necessary for the production of semiconductors, transistors, microchips, lasers, and computer memory... we use quantum mechanics though we don't understand quantum mechanics.

The classic Rutherford model of the atom consists of a nucleus surrounded by electrons in discrete orbits, but this model is incorrect. In this model, electrons should lose energy by radiation, which would mean that they spiral down to the nucleus, causing the atom to collapse. Electrons actually function in a wavelike fashion (a phenomenon known as the wave function). Even the single electron of a hydrogen atom should appear as a cloud, rather than a distinct particle. Wave functions over time are described by the Schrödinger equation, which describes the energy of a state and the rate of change- basically, how much energy and how fast it is moving. High energy states entail rapid movement while low energy entails slow movement.

When observed, electrons look like particles- Dr Carroll described wave functions as 'shy', they collapse when observed, appearing to be localized at specific values. This property of being undefined until observed is known as the Copenhagen interpretation, which posits two sets of rules for quantum mechanics- one when nobody is looking, another when there is an observer. This was considered by some physicists unacceptable as a fundamental theory of nature. There are two problems... the ontology problem can be summed up as 'what is wave function?' The measurement problem can be summed up as 'what does observation involve?'

Dr Carroll described Hugh Everett as a 'quantum therapist' who tried to get everyone to 'chill out'. He posited that wave functions don't actually collapse, but obey the Schrödinger equation. It is now known that the Higgs boson can decay into an electron and a positron. The Higgs boson has zero spin, while the resultant electron and positron have either upward or downward spin- when the Higgs boson splits, there is a conservation of spin as the resultant particles' spin cancels each other out. The particles are entangled, and as soon as the direction of spin for one is determined, that of the other can be determined as well. Hugh Everett proposed that there is really on one wave function, a Wave Function of the Universe with only one state, due to entanglement.

Dr Carroll then gave us a brief overview of the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment, comparing various classic and quantum models of the experiment. Everett posited that there was no 'collapse' of wave function on observation- in the experiment, the observer is in a quantum state as well as the cat, and opening the box involves a superposition, most people don't feel that they are in a superposition. Decoherence is the entanglement of quantum particles with the environment, and takes place before measurement can occur. Wave function splits represent different outcomes, and once diverged, will never effect each other again- as Everett described it: "It is as if they were in seperate worlds." When the divergence occurs, the universe isn't 'doubled', the existing 'amount of universe' is divided. Of course, there are objections to the 'many worlds interpretation'... the first is that it would result in 'too many universes'. The second objection is that the theory is not falsifiable, though Dr Carroll characterized falsifiablity as an outdated concept.

There are a couple of 'reasonable questions' regarding quantum mechanics... Why are probabilities of a particle being in a particular place, according to Schrödinger's equation, given by the square of the wave function? How does the classic world emerge from quantum processes? To answer the first question, probability is epistemic, not objective. Even unobserved wave functions can be explained by the equation. In finding the classic world, we still tend to privilege what we see over what is. Reality doesn't start off with the classic model and veer off into the quantum, it starts off in the quantum world.

Dr Carroll noted that interactions are local in space, that there is no real 'spooky action at a distance'- things interact with things that 'they bump into'. Space can be defined as the set of variables in which these interactions occur. Space is curved, and the distortion in space by objects is known as gravity. While there is a so-so 'quantum theory of gravity', Dr Carroll suggested that researchers not try to 'quantize' gravity, but to find gravity within quantum mechanics.

Quantum field theory posits that the universe is best modeled as a system of interacting fields, not particles. The relative proximity of objects is determined by their entanglement, and as more fields become entangled, geometry emerges... Dr Carroll advised us that this is just a hypothesis. The amount of entanglement of two systems is related to the entropy of either one. As particles are added to a system, entanglements are broken, increasing the energy and the entropy of the system. The geometry of spacetime can emerge from entanglement and the quantum wave function.

After this heady lecture, Dr Carroll advised us, "Stop doing whatever you are doing, and try quantum physics."

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. One funny question involved a 'conservation of embarassment'- is there a theory which is less 'embarrassing' than the many worlds interpretation, which doesn't involve other worlds. Dr Carroll told the questioner, 'Don't worry.' There's no need to be embarrassed because many theories have fallen by the wayside. A question regarding the heat death of the universe received a quick, jocular, 'Are you waiting for it?' The universe is fourteen billion years old, the future may be infinite, but with increasing emptiness. Dr Carroll advised, 'Live your life now, you only have ten to the fifteenth years left.' Regarding quantum mechanics and consciousness, Dr Carroll quipped, 'Nobody really understands either.' Regarding the 'simulation hypothesis', Dr Carroll talked about how theorizing about the construction of artificially conscious creatures led to the question, 'Could we be such creatures?' He dismissed it with a curt, 'I don't buy it.'

A question regarding the probability of wave action being the wave function squared was answered with the assertion that wave functions can interfere with each other, and action tends to follow the path of least resistance.

Another question involved the possibility of freaking people out with such esoteric subject matter as the many-worlds interpretation, and Dr Carroll joked, 'Freaking people out is a feature, not a bug.' The narrative becomes weirder because it deviates more from the traditional views of existence. He noted that he is not existentially worried about the existence of other worlds, and that how you live your life should be no different if there are many worlds or just one.

The last question was a simple 'What about time?' That, the good doctor said, was another lecture.

I didn't get a question in during the Q&A session, but I did ask Dr Carroll about quantum models of dark matter and dark energy during the post-lecture book signing. He said that dark matter is boring, it'll probably be just another particle eventually discovered, regarding dark energy, he tantalizingly noted that there is a section about it in the book.

Once again, the Secret Science Club has dished out a fantastic lecture. Kudos to Dr Carroll, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the scintillating Symphony Space for delivering the goods. It was a night of heady subject matter, but Dr Carroll was able to cover it cogently and coherently. Here's a video of the good doctor discussing the many worlds interpretation:

Pour yourself a refreshing beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Looks Like You Can Drown Your Problems in Alcohol After All

The conventional wisdom states that it's not a good idea to try to solve your problems with alcohol, but the conventional wisdom is wrong, if your problem is a rat infestation. The latest attempt to wage war on the unwanted four-footed population of New York City is a trap which drowns rats in an alcohol solution. I was immediately reminded of an old joke about a man who drowns in a vat of Guinness, but while looking for it, I found a darker rendition

I don't know if the rats suffer much while they are drowning in booze, but it seems like an epic way to go, a surefire passage into Fratboy Valhalla. Oddly enough, the one song about dying from overindulgence that I know best is by a Detroit girl group, The Pleasure Seekers. which was anchored by the Quattrocchi sisters, including 70s rocker Suzi Quatro:

What a way to die, indeed... I hope those authorities have chosen a libation that pairs well with pizza.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Trump Goes Full Streisand

Last week was the week when Trump embodied the Streisand Effect, his failed attempts to cover up his... uh... failures became manifest in a manner which would have embarrassed a non-narcissist. His weeklong attempt to push the narrative that he had been correct about Hurricane Dorian hitting Alabama has brought greater scrutiny on his administration's efforts to force NOAA to conform to the maladministration narrative.

The other big story of last week, the use of taxpayer dollars to prop up a Scottish airport crucial to the survival of a Trump golf resort, and to funnel military travel expenses to said resort, has resulted in greater scrutiny of other Trump chicanery in Scotland. In one particularly scummy instance, Trump unsuccessfully tried to pressure the Bank of Scotland to foreclose on a historic hotel overlooking St Andrews golf course so he could buy it for a cheaper price.

As a New Yorker, I have known for decades that Trump is a deadbeat and a scumbag, what Yiddish speakers and the New Yorkers they have inspired would call a gonif. Occupying the White House has merely expanded his scope for fraud, but the underlying conman nature is fundamentally unaltered. The fact that the mainstream media didn't cover this aspect of Trump's career in 2016 amounts to journalistic malpractice.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

When Daddy Can't Bail You Out Any Longer

It has long been known to news-watchers of the New York metropolitan area that Donald Trump was continuously bailed out from his serial business failures by his father. In one outré instance, Trump's daddy bailed him out with a $3.5 million purchase of poker chips. Despite his claims of being a self-made man, Trump's daddy propped him up for years.

Now, Trump is still plagued by failing businesses, in particular his golf resort in Scotland which is hemorrhaging a million dollars a year. His daddy is no longer able to bail him out, so he's going to his uncle, one Uncle Sam. It seems that military aircraft are making refueling stops in Scotland, spending $11 million on fuel at the Prestwick Airport (also hemorrhaging money) and spending nights at Trump's resort, all on the taxpayers' dime.

This is just the latest in Trump's long-running violation of the laws and norms regarding emoluments... and not even the only one this week. While Trump has donated his $400K salary to various organizations, he's raking in much, much more bailout money from his deep-pocketed uncle, by which I mean you and me. It's about time we all cried "Uncle!"

Friday, September 6, 2019

Toad the Line

The edges of each stair in front of the main building at my principal worksite are painted with reflective white paint in order to increase visibility for persons entering or leaving the building. They form a perfect background to highlight an ordinarily camouflaged critter who has succumbed to... you got it... camouflage fail:

This toad toed the line, so to speak. It's hard to 'read' a toad, so I don't know if this particular batrachian is tired, like Rocky Burnette:

I certainly wouldn't want to waste its precious time... time better spent trying to convince princesses to give it a kiss.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

8Chan Deposition

I've posted every couple of months for almost a year about the internet message board 8Chan, perhaps the most wretched hive of scum and villainy on the internet, which is saying something. Child porn, conspiracy whackaloonery, neo-Nazi recruiting, manifestos from mass shooters (accompanied by the cheers of the CHUDS who egg them on)... it was all to be found on 8chan, which has been offline for three weeks since it was dumped by its DDoS security provider Cloudflare.

The current owner of 8Chan was summoned to give a deposition before the House Homeland Security Committee. While the deposition took place behind closed doors, the owner of 8Chan prepared a statement (PDF) claiming that his platform adhered to 'free speech' principles, pretty much ignoring the torrent of death threats which aren't protected speech. The joint statement from Chairman Bennie G. Thompson and Ranking Member Mike Rogers after the deposition was noncommittal.

In the fever swamps of conspiracy pushers, the takedown of 8Chan is seen as a 'Deep State' plot to derail the 'QAnon' phenomenon- the huckster/hoaxster behind the lunacy informed followers not to trust 'outside comms' (though there may be a loophole). It's a bit maddening not to know the substance of the deposition, and the lack of transparency will play into the hands of the paranoid, but it looks like the site is down for the count, which is music to the site's founder's ears.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Secret Science Club Movie Night: The Sound of Silence

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for a joint film premier sponsored by The Secret Science Club and IFC Films. The film details the work of a self-proclaimed 'house tuner', who obsessively tests the pitch of various neighborhoods of New York City and consults with homeowners who believe that their anxieties are rooted in the ambient noise of their homes. The film's protagonist, Peter Lucian (played by Peter Sarsgaard) is a musician who lives in a converted city fallout shelter, who leaves his soundproofed lair with his array of tuning forks to suss out the various chords of the city's neighborhoods, and attempting to establish a connection between sound an human behavior:

In the movie, each neighborhood has a background chord which determines the character of the neighborhood... in particular, Central Park evokes a 'nostalgic' mood.

The movie largely concerns Mr Lucian's efforts to pinpoint the source of client Ellen Chasen's stress. Rashida Jones, whose television comedies I am somewhat familiar with, seems to play against type as the harried Ms Chasen. In the course of his consultation, Lucian determines that Ms Chasen's toaster is the source of the discordant note in her apartment. As he works further to isolate the problem, he interacts with academics who inspire him to submit his research to a scientific journal and with representatives of a corporation which seeks to emulate his niche business.

The film was visually dark, with a muted palette, the better to concentrate on the role of sound. Sarsgaard's Lucian is socially awkward- perhaps a genius, perhaps a crank. Variety's Peter Debruge characterized the film as a deeply silly movie that takes itself incredibly seriously, but concedes that this is the movie's strength. There IS an undeniably funny aspect to a self-proclaimed expert convincing a stressed-out yuppie to buy a new toaster because her old one hums at the wrong pitch.

I immediately thought of the movie as a mirror-reflection of Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 thriller The Conversation, which also portrayed a socially-awkward audio expert working for a client. The difference between Peter Lucian in The Sound of Silence and Henry Caul in The Conversation lies in the direction of their work- Caul seeks to isolate and amplify particular sounds in order to piece together a conversation, while Lucian seeks to isolate sounds in order to negate them to produce harmony. The anxieties of the city-denizens in The Sound of Silence come across as neuroses, while the paranoia in The Conversation is real, with the roles of villain and victim being ambiguous throughout.

Like all movies set in New York City, I keep a close look for the cues which say 'this is New York', and The Sound of Silence serves up crosstown traffic, subway and Metro North trains, the Roosevelt Island tram, and the various structures around Central Park. I had a lot of fun trying to pinpoint the various locations in the film.

After the film, there was a Q&A with neuroscientist Dr Bianca Jones Marlin of Columbia University (who delivered a SSC lecture last year) and movie co-writer Ben Nabors. The questions ran the gamut from the soundtrack to the creative process, to the science of hearing. Some Bastard in the audience asked Dr Jones Marlin about the role of aging in hearing perception (citing The Mosquito, inaudible to most adults)- could someone the protagonist's age really have a good shot at being a keen observer of background noise? She responded that the loss of perception of high-pitched sounds is due to the loss of hair cells as we age. She noted that she periodically tests her hearing, even though her research has shifted to the sense of smell. It was an engaging discussion, facilitated by the divine Dorian Devins.

As an aside, I was joined for the night by my great-and-good friend Handsome Johnny C, originally from Ireland but now a Brooklyn boy, his lovely wife, and their niece, who is in grad school in NYC. It was nice to bend an elbow with them. Johnny coaches soccer for the athletic program I coach judo for, and has been a great friend and mentor of mine for decades.

Kudos to the film's cast and crew, and Dr Jones Marlin for a night of thought-provoking entertainment, and high fives to Dorian and Margaret and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. If you are looking for a low-key drama about an eccentric crank/genius and his anxious client, you should check out The Sound of Silence... it's a nice meditation on the factors which might drive one to seek out 'alternative' treatments to physical or psychological problems, and the fine line between therapeutic measures and 'WOO!' that seekers of solutions have to navigate. While you're at it, pair it up with The Conversation, which is the perfect paranoid post-Watergate exploration of paranoia and the surveillance industrial complex.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Ray Davies Would Approve

My upstairs neighbor decided to squeeze one more eventful summer day in before the kids go back to school on Thursday, one last trip to the beach before the typical daily routine resumed. She sent me a text from the beach, asking me if I could let the dog out around 11AM so he could do his dogly deed outside. I like the little fella, so I was more than happy to spend some time with him. Today, he wasn't interested in wreaking havoc on a hapless ball:

He soon found a nice, sunny spot to lie on, and no soccer ball could tempt him from this spot:

Ray Davies would approve of this course of action. We hung out in the backyard, doing nothing much of all, until he got up to take a leak, then wanted back inside. I'll soon be Brooklyn-bound for a Secret Science Club event, but it was nice for this big, bald dog to laze about with a shaggy little dog for a while.

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Do-Nothing Labor Day

As luck would have it, I had a day off today, which is unusual for me on Labor Day. I decided to do absolutely nothing of substance all day. I couldn't even muster up the outrage to write a semi-radical post about the state of labor in the US, but Doktor Zoom wrote a post for the occasion that we all can admire. As far as my job goes... my wage is okay, but I have a lot of freedom on the job, typically being the only human employee on site for most of the time. I like my coworkers, and my boss is a decent, competent, conscientious guy. I realize that I am extremely fortunate, and don't regret leaving the toxicity of Corporate America fifteen years ago. Things aren't perfect, but I'm not the guy who can complain.

This is a very perfunctory post, something cobbled together after a big meal and a couple of drinks. I figure I should post some sort of labor-related song, but this is the song which is popping into my head right now:

Hope everyone enjoyed their long weekend, and hope the return to work goes smoothly!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Big Bug Summer Gets Noisy

My last two posts were a bit of a downer, so as Tengrain would put it, a palate cleanser is in order. In a continuation of Big Bug Summer, here's my latest encounter, with a finger-long singer of songs:

Obviously, this pretty green critter is a katydid, but I can't determine which of our native New York katydids it is. The real beauty of these insects is that they take over the night-singing duties when the amphibians, their love songs sung, go silent for the year (unless you startle them, whereupon they leap to safety with a comical squeak). The chorus remains, as romantic as it's been all summer, it's just the singers who change.

This isn't my first katydid post, these leaf-mimicking insects are spectacular, if you can find them... I just got lucky because of yet another case of camouflage fail.