Tuesday, May 26, 2020

2020 International Talk Like a Jack Vance Character Day

Troubadours, ply ukulele and kazoo to herald this momentous occasion, for the International Talk Like a Jack Vance Character Day is, once again, upon us:





On this anniversary of the loss of our most estimable sage, we sing panegyrics and intone encomia. To supplement our nuncupatory eulogies, we inscribe our elegies. Those of a terpsichorean disposition, let them praise with corybantic measures!

For those unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Jack Vance, the man was a master of the English vocabulary, taking up the linguistic mantle of Clark Ashton Smith and passing on the baton to a legion of acolytes, among them the speakers of High Gygaxian. The works of Jack Vance are a feast for the ear, a banquet for the mind, an armory for the castigating tongue.

To celebrate Talk Like a Jack Vance character properly, one should haggle with a mountebank:


Wandering the crumbled streets, he put the languid inhabitants such a spate of questions that one in wry jocularity commended him to a professional augur. This one dwelled in a booth painted with the Signs of the Aumoklopelastianic Cabal. He was a lank brown man with red-rimmed eyes and a stained white beard.

"What are your fees?" inquired Guyal cautiously.

"I respond to three questions," stated the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue."

"First I must inquire, how profound is your knowledge?"

"I know all," responded the augur. "The secrets of red and the secrets of black, the lost spells of Grand Motholam, the way of the fish and the voice of the bird."

"And where have you learned all these things?"

"By pure induction," explained the augur. "I retire into my booth, I closet myself with never a glint of light, and, so sequestered, I resolve the profundities of the world."

"With all this precious knowledge at hand," ventured Guyal, "why do you live so meagerly, with not an ounce of fat to your frame and these miserable rags to your back?"

The augur stood back in fury. "Go along, go along! Already I have wasted fifty terces of wisdom on you, who have never a copper to your pouch. If you desire free enlightenment," and he cackled in mirth, "seek out the Curator." And he sheltered himself in his booth.



For a celebratory feast, one should consume a meal of alien, even dubious, culinary origin, perhaps some fine Darsh provender:


Gersen read from the sign "'Chatowsies Pourrian Ahagaree' Do you have your appetite with you?"

"Not really. I am a fastidious eater I may taste a bit of this and that."

Gersen, who often had gulped down food he dared not think about, only laughed. "A keen journalist doesn't know the word 'fastidious'."

"Somewhere we must draw the line," said Rackrose. "It may be here, at Tintle's Shade."

They pushed through the door into a hall. Ahead stairs led up to the upper floors, to the side an arch opened upon a white-tiled chamber heavy with a musty stench. A dozen men drank beer at a counter tended by an old woman in a black gown, with straight black hair, dark orange skin, and a black mustache. Posters announced exhibitions and novelty dances, at Rath Eileann and elsewhere.


.........................................................................

The woman behind the bar called out: "Why do you stand like hypnotized fish? Did you come to drink beer or to eat food?"

"Be patient," said Gersen. "We are making our decision."

The remark annoyed the woman. Her voice took on a coarse edge. " 'Be patient,' you say? All night I pour beer for crapulous men; isn't that patience enough? Come over here, backwards; I'll put this spigot somewhere amazing, at full gush, and then we'll discover who calls for patience!"

"We have decided to take a meal," said Gersen. "How are the chatowsies tonight?"

"The same as always, no worse than any other. Be off with you; don't waste my time unless you're taking beer.. . . What's this? Smirk at me, will you?"

She seized a mug of beer to hurl at Maxel Rackrose, who alertly jumped back into the anteroom, with Gersen close behind. The woman gave her black mane a scornful toss, twisted her mustache between thumb and forefinger, then turned away.

"She lacks charm," grumbled Rackrose. "She will never know me as a habitue."

"The dining room may surprise us," said Gersen.

"Pleasantly, so I hope."

They started up the steps, which, like the beer-chamber, exhaled an unpleasant vapor: a compound of strange cooking oils, offworld condiments, and a stale ammoniacal waft. At the first landing Rackrose halted. "Candidly, I find this all a bit unsettling. Are you sure that we actually intend to dine here?"

"If you have qualms, go no farther. I myself have known places both better and worse."

Rackrose muttered under his breath, and trudged on up the steps. A pair of heavy wooden doors opened into the restaurant. At widely separated tables small groups of men huddled like conspiators, drinking beer or eating from platters immediately below their faces.

A massive woman stepped forward. Gersen judged her no less formidable than the woman who tended the beer spigot, though perhaps a few years younger. Like the woman below, she wore a shapeless black gown and her hair hung in a rank tangle; her mustache was not quite so full. With glittering eyes she looked from one to the other. "Well then, do you wish to eat?"

"Yes; that is why we are here," said Gersen.

"Sit yonder."

The woman followed them across the room. When thev were seated she leaned forward portentously with hands on the table. "What is to your taste?"

"We know Darsh food by reputation only," said Gersen. "What are your special dishes?"

"A ha! Those we reserve for our own eating. Out here we serve chichala and you must make the best of it."

"Whiat of the fine Darsh provender you advertise? The chatowsies, the pourrian, the ahagaree?"

"Look about you. Men are eating."

"True."

"Then that is what you must eat."

"Bring us portions of all these dishes; we will give them a try."

"As you like." The woman departed.

Rackrose sat in glum silence while Gersen looked around the room. "Our man is not among those present," said Gersen at last.

Rackrose glanced skeptically from table to table. "Did you seriously expect to find him here?"

"Not with any confidence. Still, coincidences occur. If he were passing through Rath Eileann, this is where we would hope to find him."

Maxel Rackrose surveyed Gersen dubiously. "You are not telling me all you know."

"Should that surprise you?"

"Not at all. But I'd like a hint as to what I'm getting into."

"Tonight you need fear only the chatowsies and perhaps the pourrian."


.........................................................................

From the kitchen came the black-gowned woman, with bowls and platters. She thumped them down upon the table- "Here is the food, Chatowsies. Pourrian. Ahagaree. Eat your fill. What you leave returns to the pot."

"Thank you," said Gersen. "By the way, who is 'Tintle'?"

The woman gave a derisive snort. "Tintle's name is on the sign. We do the work; we chink the coin. Tintle keeps his distance."

"If possible, I'd like a few words with Tintle."
The woman gave a derisive snort. "You'd like nothing whatever from Tintle; he's stupid and dull. Still, for what it's worth, you'll
find him in the backyard counting- his fingers or scratching himself with a stick."

The woman moved away. Gersen and Rackrose gingerly addressed themselves to the food. After a few moments Rackrose said:
"I can't decide what tastes worst. The chatowsies are fetid, but the ahagaree is ferocious. The pourrian is merely vile. And the lady seems to have washed her dog in the beer. . . . What? Are you eating more?"

"You must do the same. We want to establish a pretext for returning. Here; try some of these remarkable condiments."

Rackrose held up his hand. "I have taken quite enough, at least on the basis of my present salary."

"As you wish." Gersen gulped down a few more mouthfuls, then thoughtfully put down his spoon. "We have seen enough for this evening." He signaled to the woman. "Madame, our account, if you please."

The woman looked over the platters. "You have eaten ravenously. I will need two or, better, three Standard Value Units from each of you."

Rackrose cried out in protest. "Three SVU for a few mouthfuls of food? That would be exorbitant at the Domus!"

"The Domus serves insipid gutch. Pay your account or I will sit on your head."

"Come now," said Gersen. "That is no way to attract a steady clientele. I might add that we are waiting to meet a certain member of the Bugold Clan."

"Bah!" sneered the woman. "What is that to me? A Bugold outcast robbed the Kotzash warehouse, and so now I live here in this place of dank winds and curdled rheum."

"I've heard a somewhat different story," said Gersen with an air of careless omniscience.

"Then you heard nonsense! The Bugold rachepol and that scorpion Panshaw connived together. They should have been broken and not poor Tintle. Now pay me my coin and so your way. This talk of Kotzash has put me out of sorts."

Gersen resignedly put down six SVU. The woman, with a triumphant leer toward Maxel Rackrose, swept up the coins. "As for the gratuity, another two SVl' will be considered adequate."

Gersen handed over the coins and Madame Tintle departed.

Rackrose gave a snort of disgust. "You are far too obliging. The woman's avarice is matched only by the vileness of her cuisine."



Most importantly, one must remonstrate with a mooncalf, preferably in minatory fashion:


Cugel grasped the pommel of his sword. "It seems that I must speak without ambiguity. I command you: depart, and never return! I understand your purpose and I warn that you will find me a less indulgent enemy than was Iuconou! So now, be off! Or I inflict upon you the Spell of the Macroid Toe, whereupon the signalized member swells to the proportions of a house."


So, now, be off! Venture forth, my picaroons, and belabor the crass and addlepated in the fashion of our beloved Grand Master.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day for a Society with no Memory

I've always been weirded out by Memorial Day, it's a day on which Americans are supposed to memorialize the Heroic Dead, but ours is a society in which memory is not at a premium. This year, as we approach a stateside civilian death toll of one hundred thousand, our lack of memory is taking on a particularly macabre significance. Seeing the photos of people congregating in public across the country, I was struck by a lack of awareness of the seriousness of this pandemic, and a callousness towards service workers and medical personnel. We're supposed to be the descendants of the people who sacrificed to beat fascism in the mid 20th century, but we can't even forgo a weekend of drinking shitty beer in crowded swimming pools. My mom grew up during WW2, and while I don't think she'd say she grew up in conditions of privation, but she certainly grew up in conditions of austerity, and she impressed upon myself and my siblings the need for frugality and social responsibility that seem quaint in this profligate age. I am also astounded by the sudden resurgence of once-forgotten information about the century old influenza outbreak, and our responses to it... and our failure to learn from such mistakes.

I wouldn't say that I am in any way depressed, but I do seem to be feeling a low-grade anger much of the time. I remember telling a coworker that it will be a miracle if I don't put someone through a wall before this national crisis is over, and I have to confess that I was only half joking.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Health and Immunity!

I've been sorta remiss in my runup to International Talk Like a Jack Vance Character Day. As I noted last week, I've had Jack Vance on my mind lately. There are a couple of reasons for this... one is that a podcast I like, which looks at fantasy and science fiction literature using St Gary's famous Appendix N as a starting point, covered The Star King in a recent episode.

The primary reason I've had Vance on the mind is that I've been using "HEALTH AND IMMUNITY!" as a greeting and farewell lately. This was inspired by a passage in The Palace of Love, in which protagonist Kirth Gersen, honed by his grandfather into an instrument of vengeance against the pirates and slavers who destroyed their community, visits one of the Planets of Hats (WARNING: TV Tropes, may cause hours of lost time) that pop up in the series, in this case, a planet on which poisoning is an art form. The visit, prompted by a news item concerning the upcoming execution (by poison, of course) of a guildmaster 'venefice' for selling poisons to the Big Bad Evil Guy of the book, involves contacting a local guide and poisoners' guild member to allow Gersen to interview the condemned man in the hope of obtaining information about his quarry.

In typical Vance fashion, this episode in the novel is all about mordant humor, cultural relativism, and verbal repartee, with a side order of an off-putting culinary exposition. One of the highlights involves a pre-interview visit to a forest, in which the local guide shows off local flora and fauna to Gersen and his female companion, who is beginning to weary of Gersen's role as an obsessed avenger:


"Very well," sighed Edelrod "The interview may be conducted later this afternoon In the meantime what are your wishes^ Would you care to explore the countryside5 The weather is fine, the woods are ablaze with flowers, sultnes, pop-barks, there is a well-drained path " Alusz Iphigenia, who had been restless, rose to her feet Edelrod led them along a path which crossed a brackish river and plunged into the forest. The vegetation was a typical Sarkovy melange trees, shrubs,cycads, bubble-shells, grasses of a hundred varieties The high foliage was for the most part black and brown, with occasional splotches of red; below were purples, greens, pale blues. Edelrod enlivened the stroll with a discussion of various plants beside the way. He indicated a small gray fungus. "Here is the source oftwitus, an excellent selective poison, fatal only if ingested twice within a week. It ranks in this respect with mervan, which migrates harmlessly to the skin, and becomes a lethal principle only upon exposure to direct sunlight. I have known persons who fearing mervan kept to their tents for days on end."

They came to a little clearing. Edelrod looked sharply in all directions. "I have no overt enemies, but several people have died here recently . . . Today all seems well. Notice this tree growing to the side." He pointed to a slender white-barked sapling with round yellow leaves. "Some call it the coin-tree, others the good-fornought. It is completely inoffensive, either as a primary or an operative. You might ingest the whole of it leaves, bark, pith, roots, and note nothing other than a sluggishness of digestion. Recently one of our venefices became irritated at such insipidity. He made an intensive study of the coin-tree, and after several years finally derived a substance of unusual potency. To be useful it must be dissolved in methycm and wafted into the air as a fog or a mist, whence it enters the corpus through the eyes, causing first blindness, then numbness, then complete paralysis. Think of it' From waste, a useful and effective poison' Is this not a tribute to human persistence and ingenuity?"

"An impressive accomplishment," said Gersen. Alusz Iphigema remained silent.

Edelrod went on: "We are frequently asked why we persist in deriving our poisons from natural sources. Why do we not immure ourselves in laboratories and synthesize? The answer is of course that natural poisons, being initially associated with living tissue, are the more effective."

"I would suspect the presence of catalyzing impurities in the natural poisons," Gersen suggested, "rather than metaphysical association."

Edelrod held up a minatory finger. "Never scoff at the role of the mind' Eor instance—let me see—there should be one somewhere near . Yes. See there—the little reptile."

Under a mottled white and blue leaf rested a small lizardlike creature.

"This is the meng. From one of his organs comes a substance which can be distributed either as uigar or as furux. The same substance, mind you' But when sold as uigar and used as such, the symptoms are spasms, biting off of the tongue and a frothing madness. When sold and used as furux, the interskeletal cartilage is dissolved so that the frame goes limp. What do you say to that? Is that not metaphysics of the most exalted sort?"

"Interesting, certainly... Hm... What occurs when the substance is sold and used as, say for the sake of argument, water?"

Edelrod pulled at his nose. "An interesting experiment. I wonder... But the proposal encases a fallacy. Who would buy and administer an expensive vial of water?"

"The suggestion was poorly thought out," admitted Gersen.

Edelrod made an indulgent gesture. "Not at all, not at all. From |ust such apparent folly come notable variations. The graybloom, for instance. Who would have ever suspected the virtue to be derived from its perfume, until Grand Master Strubal turned it upside down and left it in the dark for a month, whereupon it became tox meratis? One waft will kill; the venefice need merely walk past his subject."

Alusz Iphigema stooped to pick up a small rounded pebble of quartz. "What horrible substance do you produce from this stone?"

Edelrod looked away, half embarrassed. "None whatever. At least none to my knowledge. Though we use such pebbles in ball mills to crush photis seed to flour. Never fear; your pebble is not so useless as it seems."

Alusz Iphigema tossed it away in disgust. "Unbelievable," she muttered, "that people should dedicate themselves to such activity."

Edelrod shrugged. "We serve a useful purpose, everyone occasionally needs poison. We are capable of this excellence and we feel duty-bound to pursue it." He inspected Alusz Iphigema with curiosity. "Have you no skills of your own?"

"No."

"At the hotel you may buy a booklet entitled
Primer to the Art of Preparing and Using Poisons, and I believe it includes a small kit of some basic alkaloids. If you are interested m developing a skill—"

"Thank you. I have no such inclination."

Edelrod made a polite gesture, as if to acknowledge that each must steer his own course through life.



The macabre tour continues in town, as the guide escorts them to the poisoners' guildhall, where Gersen will attempt to convince, that is bribe, the guildmasters to use a quick, painless poison rather than an experimental toxin for the execution so the condemned man will give him the information he needs:


Subdued and depressed, Edelrod took them through the bazaar. Only in the Poison Quarter did he recover his animation, and pointed here and there to bargains and especially noteworthy preparations. He seized a ball of gray wax. "Observe this deadly material. I handle it without fear: I am immunized^ But if you were to rub it on an article belonging to your enemy—his comb, his earscraper—he is as good as gone. Another application is to spread a film over your identification papers. Then, should an overofficious administrator hector you, he is contaminated and pays for his insolence."

Alusz Iphigenia took a deep breath. "How does a Sarkoy survive to become an adult?"

"Two words," Edelrod replied, holding two fingers didactically high. "Caution, immunity. I am immune to thirty poisons. I carry indicators and alarms to warn ofcluthe, meratis, black-tox and vole. I observe the most punctilious caution in eating, smelling, donning garments, bedding with a strange female. Ha—ha. Here is a favorite trick, and the overimpulsive lecher finds himself in difficulties. But to go on. I am cautious in these situations and also in passing downwind of a covert, even though I have no fear of meratis. Caution has become second nature. If I suspect that I have or am about to have an enemy, I cultivate his friendship and poison him to diminish the risk."

"You will live to become an old man," said Gersen



When time comes for the public execution, which takes the form of an entertainment accompanying a banquet, the friendly guide and poisoner uses the salutation that I adopted a couple of weeks ago:


As if in response to her question Edelrod appeared bowing in absurd punctilio. Tonight he wore a long gown of green cloth, a tall fur cap "Health and immunity'" he greeted them. "Do you attend the poisonings? They are scheduled for the hotel rotunda, for the education of gathered notables "


Health and immunity, everybody!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Is One Hell of a Pandemic Response

Tengrain is a must-read. He brings the facts, the funny, and the fury in equal measure... and he has always been unfailingly supportive of smaller bloggers. He put a post up today summarizing a Washington Post newsletter about the pandemic:


The virus is still spreading at epidemic rates in nearly half of U.S. states, with Texas at the top of the list, according to a study by Imperial College London. “There’s evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country,” Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at the college, told The Post.

There’s good news, too: The study found that the virus’s spread has slowed to a trickle in some states. But the numbers look grim across much of the South and Midwest.



I have come to the conclusion that America's greatest misfortune in the course of this pandemic is that it began in largely liberal areas. The Red Staters say experts like Dr Fauci and governors like Andrew Cuomo advocate social distancing and mask wearing, and a certain Oppositional Defiant Disorder kicked in... because these liberal 'foes' are advocating these policies, they have become Culture War issues. Not wearing masks and clustering around, both contagion-conducive behaviors, are done to 'own the libs', and that is pretty much the only position these people have anymore. It's not even about personal freedom- these people don't believe that others should be wearing masks, to the extent that they have been harassing and even assaulting reporters who wear masks.

I don't usually indulge in counterfactuals, but in this case, I wonder what a hypothetical pandemic that started off in a solidly Republican -led state, such as Georgia or Texas, would have looked like. If Brian Kemp had been the early public face of gubernatorial responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, would a culture war around simple transmission mitigation efforts have been launched?

Right now, much the country is in 'hot stove touching' mode... New York state should have served as a cautionary tale, the outbreak hit before the pathogen was understood (it's still not sufficiently understood) and the early response was incoherent to a deadly extent. We learned our lessons the hard way, and the spread of the pandemic has slowed. Right-wingers took exactly the wrong lesson from New York's COVID-19 trajectory, and they seem to be heading for a spectacular, tragic phase of this disaster. At least they will be able to claim that they 'owned the libs' as the body count mounts.

Friday, May 22, 2020

COVIDbaggers

If there's one thing New Yorkers don't need, it's out of state assholes coming in to tell us how to run the state. To make matters more obnoxious, these COVIDbaggers are a soft drink heiress and a wanker, in the literal sense of the word. The really infuriating thing about this stunt is that they did it in the Williamsburg neighborhood, which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

Even worse, they weren't arrested for their display of arrogance and a disregard for the lives of New Yorkers. If they do contract COVID-19, I have no doubt that they'll loudly blame New Yorkers for their self-inflicted plight.

As a hilarious footnote to this post, the guy who was busted for whacking it in the back of an 'Uber' is president of a Melania Trump fan club...

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Postcard from a Vacationing Coworker

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, my workplace is running on a 'bare bones' mode for the foreseeable future. We have a skeleton crew of essential staff working on our sites, but our seasonal staff, the backbone of our workforce, are on furlough. Wow, a lot of anatomical references in this post so far. Because we have such a diminished staff, my co-worker Ginger has been vacationing with one of our managers, the man who is tasked with buying cat food in bulk and taking her for her regular veterinary checkups. He stopped by to do some work that he couldn't accomplish at home, and he dropped off a couple of photos of Our Precious Kitty, among them this hilarious 'primal scream' pic:




Yeah, I get it, Ginger, we're all getting a bit of cabin fever, even those of us who are vacationing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Maundering Mooncalves Mismanage Masks

I was thinking of giving this post the title 'Night of the Living Dumbfucks', having just had the following exchange on the job with three persons walking through our parking lot toward a picnic area we maintain for visitiors:

"We're closed!"
"We know!"
"I'm asking you to leave!" By this, I meant, "I'm telling you to leave." I try to initiate confrontations in a tactful manner, and it works the vast majority of the time. A mentor of mine drilled into my head, "If you start off loud, you have nowhere to go but ugly."

Anyway, they got the hint and left in timely fashion. Most people don't want conflict... even the Oppositional Defiance Disorder Poster Boy didn't curse out our National Costco Hero until he was out of earshot. It's amazing how quickly bravado turns to cowardice among the toxic masculinity crowd.

I've been in a bit of a pissy mood most of the evening. Most of my ire is the result of seeing a bunch of people wearing their masks in improper fashion... typically, they have their noses sticking out over the tops of the masks. Yeah, great, that's effective. I have to say, though, the instructions for mask-wearing tend to be pretty bad. The package of masks sitting in my office doesn't have an indicator of which side goes out, though it does make clear that the mask should cover both mouth and nose.

Longtime readers, or sci-fan fans of good taste and breeding, will readily figure out that the post title is a reference to the late, legendary Jack Vance, possibly my all-time favorite author. Jack Vance had a thing or two to say about masks in one of my favorite short stories, The Moon Moth (PDF), originally published in the August 1961 issue of science fiction magazine Galaxy (PDF). It's a fun read, a murder mystery combined with an anthropological mystery, with a hapless protagonist who has to navigate the intricacies of an alien (though human) culture while hunting a criminal who has several 'legs up' on him. The alien nature of the culture in which the protagonist, a junior diplomat on his first assignment, is summed up after an in medias res opening:


Masks are worn at all times, in accordance with the philosophy that a man should not be compelled to use a similitude foisted upon him by factors beyond his control; that he should be at liberty to choose that semblance most consonant with his strakh*. In the civilized areas of Sirene- which is to say the Titanic littoral- a man literally never shows his face; it is his basic secret.


Here on 21st Century Earth, it's the attitude toward wearing masks that reveals a person's basic secret. Is the person a dumbass who can't figure out how to wear a mask? Is a person a self-centered asshole who doesn't wear a mask, believing that endangering others in order to buy stuff is a right?

The seventh anniversary of Jack Vance's death is coming up, I think I might write some more Vance posts (as has been my tradition from the beginning) as a panegyric to this paragon. I've actually been re-reading his 'Demon Princes' novels, along with some critical analyses of the books. I need a break from 'all COVID all the time' posting, and what better escape is there than escapist fiction?


*Prestige, used as currency in the society described in the story. Footnotes are a typical Vancian trope.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

On the Menu, Rice-a-'Rona

I don't know if this was a loyalty test or if Trump truly hates the Republicans in Congress, but in the age of COVID-19, a buffet lunch doesn't seem like the smartest way to meet. Even the optics are bad, with this luncheon taking place right after Japanese broadcaster NHK released this video:





Here's where I confess that, a couple of times a month, I would go to one of the local Indian restaurants (on a rotating basis, so as not to overwhelm one place) for their lunch buffet. It was a good way to sample a variety of different dishes, without committing to one, and to eat one belly-buster of a meal for the whole day (leaving behind a weeping proprietor). Sure, I'd stuff myself like a cafone, but I'd always leave a hefty tip for the hefty lunch. I don't know if these restaurants will ever go back to this particular model of luncheon service, but takeout tiffin lunches are still a thing, though having to choose between chicken vindaloo or saag paneer will be difficult.

Right now, though, the idea that a man who's valet tested positive for COVID-19 exposure held a buffet for his colleagues has a sinister feeling to it... it's a 'Bond Villain' maneuver, seemingly meant to weed out the disloyal. Behind closed doors, did he reveal to them that they've all been exposed, and he can sell them hydroxychloroquine tablets for one million a pop?

Monday, May 18, 2020

He's Going Full-On Jonestown

Today's atrocity is Vulgarmort's assertion that he is taking a medication which a guy in his condition really shouldn't be taking:



I don't believe that he's telling the truth, primarily because he's a serial prevaricator. The real 'tell' though, is his anecdote about a doctor in my home county who hasn't lost a single patient that he's treating for COVID-19:



A one-hundred percent success rate strains credulity. I suspect that Trump's 'Westchester Doctor' is actually Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, the psycho from across the Hudson who made a similar claim back in March. As for Trump's motive, I think it's mainly desperation, seasoned with 'magical thinking'... he needs a cure, or his goose is cooked, and HCQ is the one item in the pharmacopeia that he's clinging to. Dad isn't around to save his bacon, so he needs the miracle he's been hoping for since February.

I've gotten to the point where I'm just past caring. If Trump's supporters, many of whom have co-morbidities, want to pop hydroxychloroquine tablets at the behest of their Dear Leader, they should go for it. The MAGA cult looks to be entering the Jonestown stage, all we need is for a Trump-branded sugary drink to wash the tablets down with. I doubt he's taking it himself, but if he's pushing it, it's the second most dangerous drug he's selling, the first of which is hate.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Fellowship of the Bad Ex-Boyfriends

I figured I needed a change of pace from the All-COVID All the Time posting, a sort of funny diversion from the typical litany of awfulness. Last week, writer Alex Arrelia started a funny Twitter thread about the male (are there any other?) characters of The Lord of the Rings as bad ex-boyfriends:



I shared it with several of my Tolkien nerd friends, and our general consensus was that it was hilarious, but that it was more about the movies. I am on record stating that I am not a big fan of the movies... I seriously think that Peter Jackson really wanted to make a big-budget reboot of Hawk the Slayer, but knew that no studio would greenlight it. At any rate, the LotR bad-boyfriends thread leaves out characters from the books that never made it to the movies. I figure that Tom Bombadil would be a good choice, but would end up just being 'Tim Benzedrine' from Bored of the Rings, plus some incel type tried to portray Bombadil as a good catch. Maybe Barliman Butterbur would be a better choice:

Forgets birthdays and anniversaries
Basement taken over by home-brewing setup
Inferiority complex with regard to tall, brooding types

I know Beorn was a character in The Hobbit, but he'd also qualify:

Sneaks out to bear bars at night
Questionable home decor
Tendency to take in large groups of weirdo wayfarers

The whole thread is a hoot, but the guy who elaborated on Shadowfax was the winner.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Partial Refund for a Faulty Product

It finally came in the mail, my 'Economic Impact Payment' with Asshole's name on it:




Twelve hundred bucks, just barely enough to cover a month's expenses, excluding things like food and phone bill. It's a good thing that last week's paycheck came in and next week's will as well. As a cherry on top of the sundae, my monthly mileage reimbursement check from work arrived in the same batch of mail.

When I joked about getting the check, my upstairs neighbor laughed and asked, "Are you going to rip it up?" "Nah," I told her, "It's my money, and I'm going to spend it on things that would make Trump mad." A sizeable chunk of it will go to paying my New York State and City of Yonkers taxes (I plan on putting the IRS payment off until July, just before the deadline, to give this Maladministration as little time to spend my money as possible), I plan on getting new brake pads, and I will definitely use a chunk of it to pay left-of-center organizations and alt-media groups. Just for added LULZ0RZ, I am planning on sending AOC's PAC some of my TRUMPBUX. I'm toying with the idea of sending a postcard delineating this to the White House, as soon as I can figure out an acrostic which spells 'FUCK TRUMP'. I have free time now that my social life has been largely curtailed.

Right now, the check remains undeposited. I'll get it into the bank sometime next week, as soon as I figure out that acrostic.

Friday, May 15, 2020

If You Ignore the Problem, It Will Go Away

It has long been known that the best way to solve a problem is to stick your head in the sand and pretend that it's not a problem:



"If we didn't do any testing we would have very few cases" is a real Galaxy Brain take from a Very Stable Genius, the sort of brilliant public servant who believes that the virus will simply go away miraculously.

Back in late March, in a conversation with a coworker during our regular shift-change BS session, I predicted that the death toll in the United States would be just around half-a-million. He, being an optimist, opined that it would probably hit a million. Even then, the top browser result for our company smartphone was 'Worldometers', a data aggregation site which has become a fascinating, terrifying read. Right now, reported US deaths from COVID-19 amount to over eighty-eight thousand, and the piss-poor testing regime, compounded by the President's desire to delay testing to keep from driving numbers up, makes me suspect that the actual number is over one hundred thousand.

I don't believe that the pandemic will slow down appreciably, with a push to reopen non-essential businesses, a steady procession of protests in which social distancing is disdained, and a weird opposition to wearing masks to decrease the possibility of viral spread. Sure, if we can just stop the testing, the numbers won't fo up, just ignore the bodies being stacked up at the local skating rink. I still stand by my prediction of a half-million deaths, but remember, mine was the less cynical prediction.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Rethinking American Foodways

There are two nonfiction books which occupy places of pride on my bookshelf, Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and there's a current overlap in their subject matter, a crisis involving the intersection of epidemiology and food supply chains. COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in meat and poultry processing plants, and disrupting the entire food production industries. Anecdotally, I've seen weird fluctuations on grocery shelves- a couple of weeks ago, I joked that my dedication to omnivory would be my saving grace... chicken hearts and gizzards always seemed to be in supply. This week, I went to the nearby H-Mart, and there was not a heart or gizzard to be found. Chicken necks (good for stock, but not really worthwhile purchases) were on the shelves in profusion, as were chicken livers (too rich to eat often, and I had my fair share of them last week).

I find that I am eating less meat these days. In some ways, I am eating in a more 'European' fashion, using smaller amounts of meat almost as a condiment... a bit of sausage to flavor a bean soup, a small chunk of pork simmered with an onion and a head of cabbage. I've also found that the mom and pop stores have been reliable- the local butcher shop is going strong, and the old reliable Eastern European specialty shop is a decent source for flavorful additions to perpetual stews. I haven't really discussed their meat sources, but I wouldn't be surprised if they dealt mainly with farmers within the state.

In case of a complete collapse of the meat industry, I have a couple of aces up my sleeve (and I'm not even talking about eating this guy). During a trip to a not-too-far Asian supermarket, I picked up two huge jars of pork floss, one of them mixed with shreds of seaweed and sesame seeds. Again, it's something to use as an 'accent' for a bowl of rice porridge.

Meat does seem like it might be more of a treat than a dietary staple, if the current trend continues. It's weird to think that Donald J. Trump, failed purveyor of subpar steaks, might be the guy who turned America's burger-loving Heartlanders into vegetarians. I, myself, have been trying to reduce my meat consumption (on one occasion, I went three months without eating meat), and I don't see carnivory as part of my psychosexual identity, so I can view this with detached irony. I'm not so sure the MAGA crowd will handle it so well, but they've been among Trump's victims (albeit ones with Stockholm Syndrome) from the start

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Science Goes ZOOM!

My good friends at the Secret Science Club are engaged in a grand experiment, an online lecture. This inaugural lecture is a talk by Dr Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale University. Dr Natarajan is a SSC alumna, or as Margaret put it a 'repeat offender'. Since this is an experiment, Margaret asked me not to post the ZOOM ID and password, because she didn't want a 'Zoombombing'. She assured me that the presentation would be posted online at a later date.

Dr Natarajan's intro was quite lovely, she expressed a strange feeling about doing astrophysics research when the needs of the here and now are so dire, but that it is important to have dreamers pondering far away matters.

Right now, there are over four hundred participants in this event, if you want to get on the mailing list, check out the Secret Science Club site and get on the list. Margaret and Dorian will be working to expand this series. In the meantime, you can check out my writeups of Dr Natarajan's previous lectures.

When the video of the lecture is available, I will most assuredly post it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Killer Combination

For the record, I did not spend the day in a rage, stewing over the actions of a government that seems determined to botch the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a beautiful sunny day, so I ran some much needed errands, buying fresh vegetables and shelf-stable staples. Now, though, I'm raging, and it's all about, via Doktor Zoom, the defunding of virologist Peter Daszak's EcoHealth Alliance, which studies the ability of viruses like the one that causes COVID-19 to jump the species barrier. The EcoHealth Alliance was cut $3.7 million in taxpayer funds, an amount which wouldn't have been sufficient to purchase a 30-second Superbowl ad. The real tragedy is that Dr Daszak's on record in 2004 talking about the need to research emerging viruses, specifically SARS coronaviruses:





*Insert half-despairing 'who could have predicted?' joke...

The real sticking point is Dr Daszak's payment of one-hundred thousand dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to fund a collaboration, which was spun by the right-wing media as a $3.7 million dollar payoff:





Right-wing bloviators, and some Trump administration officials have tried to promulgate the idea that the COVID-19 outbreak originated as a Wuhan Institute of Virology engineered bioweapon.

Part of this scandal is the attitude that anything which might benefit China is automatically to our detriment, that the United States shouldn't act in a manner which benefits all nations. There's also the racist 'yellow peril' narrative which has been pushed since the existence of an emerging respiratory infection was made public. The combination of xenophobia and a tendency to see life as a 'zero-sum' game will be our downfall. The United States is disarming in the epidemiological war at precisely the time that a redoubled effort, in conjunction with the international scientific and medical communities is needed, and people are dying because of it.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Kenyan Crimer!!!

It's been evident that Trump has hated Obama for a long time, at least since the White House Correspondents' Dinner, but his derangement has gotten the best of him, as he latched on to the bot-pushed 'Obamagate' nonsense that trended on social media over the weekend. Trump isn't smart enough to compile a cogent case against the Wily Kenyan... he can't even describe what Obamagate is, giving the game away:



I suspect that the accusations against Obama are merely a means to deflect attention away from the growing body count, and to excite the racist Republican base, but it does seem like these idiots are going to drag Obama through a bogus legal charade of some sort:



For the record, that's Jim Jordan, who helped to cover up serial sexual misconduct while a college wrestling coach.

I can't imagine this fake scandal going well. At the very least, it will drive angry voters to the polls, at the worst, it will lead to mass demonstrations. President Obama had a scandal-free presidency, and this attempt to paint the first African-American president as the most corrupt president in the history of the United States while the country is going down in flames is enough to infuriate over half of the country. It's a desperate gambit by a bunch of trapped rats, and I'm not that confident that the media won't try to play along.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Social Distancing Mothers' Day

Happy Mothers' Day to all the mothers out there. I called my mom soon after getting home from work this morning. She's in good spirits, but this social distancing is leading her, like all of us, to a bit of cabin fever. She was unable to travel to anybody's home for Easter, and being a good grandmother, she hasn't been able to buy birthday presents for various grandchildren, though everybody has told her that birthdays are basically on hold until the madness abates.

These days, mom is occupying her time with a lot of reading (she's always been a voracious reader) and long walks on a wooded trail in her neighborhood. Regular calls from family help her cope as well. Mom is a tough gal, she was born shortly before the US got involved in WW2, so she's used to austerity, and can readily find sustenance even on largely denuded supermarket shelves ("Hey, a jar of pickled beets, SCORE!!!) She's a gregarious woman, and though she can't meet with friends for lunch, she does get in 'social distance' conversations with neighbors who now suddenly find themselves at home as well. In a couple of weeks, one of my nephews will be spending a few days with her, since he has to travel back to college to pick up the personal belongings he left in his dorm room after classes were suspended shortly after Spring Break, so she will have an opportunity to spoil him rotten.

I hope some semblance of normalcy returns by July, so I can road-trip down to her place for her birthday- I sure hope birthdays aren't still suspended. I call her a couple of times a week, but I usually visit her for a couple of days in the Spring, before things typically get busy at work.

Anyway, I hope that everyone had as good of a Mothers' Day as is possible... I guess that a decent brunch can be cobbled together from pantry staples. I'm partial to pickled beets, myself- just like mom.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Millie Small, Big Loss

This week has had nothing but terrible news about titans of popular music. I will definitely post about Little Richard's death, but that post is going to involve hunting down a bunch of links. Tonight, I am going to commemorate a singer who could be seen as a 'one hit wonder', but her one hit was a titanic smash worldwide. Jamaican-born singer Millie Small died of a stroke at the age of 72. She is primarily known for her 1964 bluebeat/ska rendition of doo-wop song My Boy Lollipop, with arrangement and rhythm guitar work by Bastard fave Ernest Ranglin. The teenaged Ms Small's cheery warble and wholesome charisma catapulted her to the top ten throughout the anglophone world. The song's appeal is immediately apparent on one listen:





With this one song, the first song by a Jamaican artist to become an international hit, Millie Small opened the door for other artists, such as Desmond Dekker, Phyllis Dillon, and Bob Marley, Prince Buster, Toots Hibbert, and John Holt. The next big boost for a second wave of Jamaican music worldwide was the 1972 release of The Harder they Come.

Millie Small was also instrumental in the rise of Island Records, which grew to become a music juggernaut.

Ms Small didn't shy away from political content, releasing a musical rebuttal to racist politician Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood', countering it with the observation about Jamaicans living in England: They work all week to keep the British country running. The song begins with a brilliant musical accusation that Powell is a fascist:





Millie Small's discography might not be very extensive, but her affect on popular music was enormous. Her international ska ambassadorship ultimately paved the way for artists playing a succession of musical styles, such as rocksteady and reggae, and hip-hop.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Life is Timeless, Music Endless

It's yet another bad occurrence in a bad, bad year- the death of Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider, who succumbed to cancer in April. I've never made bones about being a big Kraftwerk fan, having first heard their single Tour de France on the Storied WLIR as a youth. It was like hearing music from the future, a song that Captain Kirk would listen to on a classical music station. The impact of Kraftwerk's oeuvre on subsequent popular music cannot be underestimated- not only were they a major influence on electronic music genres, they were also a big influence on hip-hop and rock and roll. Simply put, they've been sampled by a wide variety of subsequent artists, as attested to by the numerous tributes to the man and his music. Billboard has a staff pick of the 10 best Kraftwerk songs that I find no fault with, and it's a nice introduction to the band's music. Kraftwerk's DNA is embedded in subsequent music, as Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield put it, they rewired popular music.

Described as a 'sound fetishist' by longtime collaborated Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider started off his career as a multi-instrumentalist, playing flute and saxophone, violin and guitar. Then something happened:

"I had studied seriously up to a certain level, then I found it boring; I looked for other things, I found that the flute was too limiting... Soon I bought a microphone, then loudspeakers, then an echo, then a synthesizer. Much later I threw the flute away; it was a sort of process."

Herren Schneider and Hütter got their start in a band called Organisation zur Verwirklichung gemeinsamer Musikkonzepte, which released one album, Tone Float, before dissolving. Milk Rock gives us a hint of what is to come, with its sweeping electric organ, but the funky bassline is 'messier' than Kraftwerk's eventual precision:





Unfortunately, Kraftwerk seemed to have disavowed their earlier albums, not playing any of the songs live, not re-issuing the early catalog, and generally ignoring their pre-1974 work as non-canon. It's a shame, because their earlier material is more experimental, being messy and fun, a blend of jazz, electronic noodling, and musique concrete. Their later material, the result of successful experimentation, is polished and lush, stripped of any acoustic anarchism. Here's a live version of Ruckzuck from 1970's Kraftwerk, the band's first album, featuring Florian Schneider on flute:





I dig this a lot... Florian Schneider could have been the Ian Anderson of techno! One can also detect the origins of the band's hit Trans Europe Express in the flute riff.

1972's Kraftwerk 2 opens with Klingklang, a seventeen minute sonic odyssey which gave its name to the studio the band opened in Düsseldorf. I would characterize it as a 'mission statement', but for the fact that it is among the early material abandoned by the band:





In 1973, Kraftwerk contracted to a duo, and released the album Ralf und Florian. They were joined by future bandmate, percussionist Wolfgang Flür, for a promotional video for the gorgeous Tanzmusik:





1974's Autobahn, marking the debut of Kraftwerk as a four-piece, marks the beginning of the band's 'canon' and the beginning of their international success. The album version of the title track is a side-long epic of almost twenty-three minutes. The song's chorus 'Wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn' seems to echo the Beach Boys' Fun Fun Fun, but the song is not about driving to get a hamburger, but about driving to Hamburg, Herr. Here's a shorter version of the song, recorded for American television:





Kraftwerk's 1075 Radio-Activity marked the band's transition to full electronic instrumentation, and the wistful, almost plaintive title track plays on the dual meanings of 'radioactivity' and 'radio activity'. I particularly like the use of the electronic drum pads to simulate static:





Later versions of the song eschewed the dualism of the original, transforming the song into an environmentalist anthem (STROBE EFFECT WARNING):





Commonly regarded as the band's masterpiece, 1977's Trans-Europe Express is a love letter to Europe. The title track name drops Iggy Pop and Dejvid Bovi as well as Bovi's Station to Station album, and the coda Metal on Metal, which emulates the noise of a train, is a nice example of musique concrete and a proto 'industrial' music track:





1978's The Man-Machine can be seen as a mission statement, being rooted in a concept described by Florian Schneider in a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone:

“Kraftwerk is not a band. It’s a concept. We call it ‘Die Menschmaschine,’ which means ‘the human machine.’ We are not the band. I am me. Ralf is Ralf. And Kraftwerk is a vehicle for our ideas.”

The title track of the album bookends the album, like opening track, Die Roboter, having similar subject matter. To me, Die Roboter is the more interesting of the two songs:





The band's signature look at this stage was gently lampooned in The Big Lebowski.


1981's Computer World was a paean to technology, with Computer Love presaging the internet dating app era with its mention of 'data dates'. Meanwhile, Pocket Calculator is perhaps Kraftwerk's funniest song, with a self-deprecating bit about what happens when the 'special key' is pressed:





A special musical calculator
was developed to promote the single, something I wish I'd known as a teenager.


In 1983, the single Tour de France, my introduction to the band, was released. In a testament to the band's popularity in New York City, the song is used to open up the Tour de Bronx bicycle ride every October:




The band went on a recording hiatus, but released Electric Café in 1986. My favorite song from the album is The Telephone Call:





After Electric Café, the band released a bunch of remixes and live albums, with 1991's The Mix being a good introduction to the band, a sort of 'greatest hits' album of rerecorded tracks. As an example of the updated sound on the album, here's the uptempo 1991 version of The Robots:





Florian Schneider left Kraftwerk in 2008, but he released another environmental track, Stop Plastic Pollution, in 2015 Here's a video of the man himself talking about the importance of ocean conservation before playing the song:





So long, and thanks for all the beats, Florian!

This post took a while to compose, most of the time gloriously spent listening to Kraftwerk's discography, a lot of that hunting down the obscure early stuff that I wish the band had embraced in its maturity, stuff which I now rank among my favorite Kraftwerk songs. I even tracked down a bunch of tributes from musicians who were inspired by Florian, including a hot take that I agree with.

Years ago, I found a documentary on Kraftwerk's influence on electronic music. It's a fun film, for anyone interested in a deep dive:





Rest in peace, mein Herr, you're place in the pantheon of popular music is assured.

Post title inspired by the glorious Europe Endless and the amusing Music Non-Stop

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Horror Anthology

I know I've been joking about the relevance of horror fiction in this current Age of Plague, but, Lordy Loo, events this week are really reminiscent of a horror anthology. Two months ago, I wrote a post titled The Masque of the Orange Death, riffing off of Poe's masterpiece, and now it looks like the Orange Death has entered Stupid Prince Prospero's castle.

A week ago, I referenced Robert Chamber's The King in Yellow in a post, and now we have the tale of the King in Orange unmasking:



The gaslighting attempt is farcical, and it really comes across as a scene from the eponymous play in Chambers' story cycle:


Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.

Stranger: Indeed?

Cassilda: Indeed, it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.

Stranger: I wear no mask.

Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda) No mask? No mask!



Meanwhile, the real horror story continues, and the Orange Death is poised to sweep rural America at a time when the MAGA people are agitating for opening up for business. Meanwhile, Trump is claiming to be a warrior in the fight against COVID-19. and I'm getting a real Staff Sergeant Matthew McKeon vibe from him.

NOTE: My familiarity with the Ribbon Creek Incident is due to family history... one of my mother's cousins was there, and being raised on Pelham Bay in the Bronx, was a strong swimmer who was able to save several other recruits from drowning. This was why she drilled into us the importance of learning how to swim at a very young age.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Subgenre of Science Fiction Nobody Asked For

From We Hunted the Mammoth, we have an example of a science fiction subgenre that nobody needs: INCELPUNK. Proprietor David Futrelle introduces readers to a lurid futuristic fantasy in which an incel muses about a world in which married men are subject to forced cuckoldry, and a underground industry serves the needs of 'low value' men risking execution to get it on with sexy robots. Like most incel fantasies, it involves a high body count.

I was going to make a joke about the opening sentence of William Gibson's debut novel and 'roasties' (don't google that if you value your sanity), but I didn't want to commit such an atrocity. At any rate, the title of an upcoming incelpunk novel has got to be (what else?) Noromancer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Cinco de Mayo, Dos Mil y Veinte!

2020 just isn't a year for snarking, something which breaks my heart. I think this blog reached its pinnacle of snark exactly eight years ago, with my Cinco de Mao post. I had something really stupid to riff off- a right-wing dumbass conflating the Kenyan Usurper's campaign kickoff, Marx' birthday, and los hombres peligrosos from our dreaded southern neighbor.

This Cinco de Mayo, social distancing style, I am uncharacteristically working on a Tuesday because one of my co-workers needed off to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary. Before the lockdown, Tuesday was a drinking night, a weekly team bar trivia contest and beer fest. I had to improvise a nacho plate with chips, salsa, and chorizo purchased at the supermarket.

I figured I'd take an opportunity to mention that I find Mexican people likeable. I have an appreciation for their culture, foodways, and music. As a high schooler, I worked at a local deli near a large contracting firm's headquarters. Every morning, the Mexican work crews would come in for their egg sandwiches, and every afternoon, they would come in for their after work beers. Some of the laborers' English was limited to 'king size Budweiser!' I would always shock them by speaking honors high school Spanish to them, and they loved me for it. I have to say that just shooting the breeze with them was just as important in my learning the language as the classroom instruction was. For most of my working life, I've had the privilege of working with people of Mexican heritage. On those rare Sundays when I had a day off, I would sometimes join the Club Deporte de Jalisco in the venerable Mr Taco for tripe soup and a bottle of Negra Modelo. When Trump tried to portray Mexicans as criminals, I was appalled- my primary thought was, "If these people are so bad, why do Americans hire them to care for their children and to work in our food production processes from sowing to cleaning the dishes after dinner?" Trump himself was known for hiring undocumented workers.

The demonization of Latin Americans still appalls me, especially considering how dysfunctional this country has become. The way things are going here, Mexico actually will pay to build a border wall.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Star Wars Day 2020

Being a person of a certain age, I am a 'Star Wars' fan, albeit not a huge one. The first movie was mind-blowing in regards to the special effects, and though a mash-up of Flash Gordon serials, samurai movies, Arthurian legend, and westerns, it seemed original and fresh. It did, however, inspire the more studious fans to seek out its inspirations, thereby pointing us to Kurosawa and John Ford. It also perfectly captured a certain 'sense of wonder'... I mean, who's heart doesn't soar when the music swells as Luke contemplates a binary sunset?





Sure, the movie was hokey, with some clunky dialog, but there were some brilliant lines, which have passed into the vernacular:





The movie that we saw in its original form was pared down from a mess into a fun, summer movie:




The 'prequel' movies suffered from Lucas' free rein, nobody seemed to be on hand to constrain his clunky dialog and excessive attention to minutia. The 'sequel' trilogy suffered from a lack of a strong vision, and its denoument both undermined the arc of the original trilogy and ended up as a vampire film in space, but not a particularly groovy one:





The franchise is now in the hands of the fans, who have been producing 'content' for decades. Hopefully, Disney won't crush these efforts. In the meantime, the best thing about the 'Star Wars' franchise is that it inspires young engineers to use their powers for good, in one particular development, the development of prosthetic arms inspired by the movie's technology, with these efforts publicized by national treasure Mark Hamill.


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Noisy Neighbor, Protective Parent

In a comment on my last post, reader Anathema Device mentioned the plovers that play chicken with the cars in the neighborhood. The timing of the comment was fortuitous, because I've got plover content... After last night's shift change, I walked through the parking lot so I could close off the exit, and while walking on a median, I was chided by a loud, irate parent. Yep, it's perhaps my favorite season, killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) season, and the local killdeer had scraped out their comically inept nest on the median. Immediately, I went into 'killdeer nest detection' mode, and inched along, bearing the angry chattering, until I'd located the precious eggs.

When dawn arrived, I located two traffic cones in order to mark the location the nest, which as you can see, is a perfunctory affair:




Sure, enough, there were the typical four perfect eggs, camouflaged as rocks, and nestled between two exposed tree roots:




Killdeer are famous for their 'broken wing' behavior, feigning injury to lure predators from their nests. When dealing with large herbivores, who pose no threat to an adult bird, but a terrible, though inadvertent, trampling hazard to a nest, the birds straight up charge and stand their ground, seemingly fearless. Since I wasn't making any threatening overtures, but was perilously close to the nest as I flanked it with the cones, this brave bird remained at my feet, so close that the red rims of its eyes are visible in this photograph:




If all goes well, and I'm looking at YOU, local raccoon population, we'll have four adorable, noisy fuzzballs on stilts running around the site in a month and a half or so.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Site Overseer

While it seems like the human world is imploding, the planet goes on as usual,,, the birds have returned, the daffodils have been in bloom for a while, the pond is alive with amorous amphibians. I recently caught a glimpse of a beautiful red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) on a tree branch overlooking the pond:




SQUIRRELS BEWARE!


Times are stressful, and it's nice to be able to take solace in nature. I am fortunate enough to work in a site with a good deal of green space, where the neighbors are lovely.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Austin Ass Eater

I'd heard it on Wednesday, on the Knowledge Fight podcast, but now it's gone viral... Alex Jones ranting about how he's contemplating cannibalism:





In only a minute, Jones packs in a lot of crazy. Of course, there's the slang meaning of 'eating ass' that is having everyone in stitches, but I think the most important part of this rant is the 'tell':

You think I like sizing up my neighbor, hell I'm gonna haul him up by a chain and chop his ass up?

I mean, he's already described in great, gruesome detail how he's going to accomplish this:

I'm literally looking at my neighbors now and going: I'm ready to hang them up and gut them and skin them and chop them up, you know what? I'm ready.

His odd specificity is reminiscent of Trump's creepily detailed tale of women bound with blue duct tape and trafficked. Both of them seem to be speaking from experience.

The fact that his reason for wanting to eat his neighbors is especially creepy, considering that he is currently in a child custody battle with his ex-wife:

My daughters aren't starving to death, I'll eat my neighbors... I'll do it! My children aren't going hungry! I will eat your ass!

Now, if this doesn't become 'Exhibit A' in determining his fitness as a parent, I don't know what could be.

If the whole rant weren't grotesque enough, Jones invokes the Gentle Nazarene in his pro-cannibalism meltdown:


You're not – we're gonna dig you out of those bunkers, we're gonna dig you out of those holes, you make us eat up – let me tell you something right now: I swear to god if it's the last thing I do I'm gonna get my hands around your throat and you know that's why you're beggin' for peace right now. You should've thought about that when you turned out Christ a long time ago. You wanna meet with me you satanist!? Meet with me!? How about you get on your knees to Christ, you'd meet with my boss right now! But you can't do it. You think you can meet with some low-level nobody? I'm nobody! You think Christ would eat somebody? He would never eat do that? He would never do that. I will.


It's been a while since I've read the Bible, but when Jesus said 'turn the other cheek', he didn't add 'on a spit'.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Illinois Is Not Sending Us Their Best Strippers

Every once in a while, a non-COVID-19 related news story pops up, and it is a relief to recount it. Yesterday's tale was the arrest of a distraught woman from Illinois in the vicinity of the USS Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, which she believed was the USNS Comfort hospital ship. Being a high-class publication, the NY Post coverage makes clear that the woman is a stripper... that's precisely the titillating content that this Murdoch rag promulgates.

Of course, the deranged woman is a QAnon follower, and she ranted about Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, and spoke about taking down Joe Biden. Apparently, she's been a Trump supporter for a while, but she's active in the QAnon community for a couple of weeks and had a rapid downward spiral into madness. The fact that she had eighteen knives is her car suggests that she was no longer willing to 'Trust the Plan' and sought to take matters into her own hands. Eighteen knives! I don't even have that many knives in my house, including the flatware.

The video of her arrest is unsettling, but she was apprehended without incident and sent to a hospital for evaluation:





The whole QAnon thing fascinates me... I believe it started out as a LARP started by a troll, but morphed into a grift that morphed into a cult. I am reminded of the titular play in Robert Chambers' The King in Yellow, a work of art that has the power to unhinge the reader:


During my convalescence I had bought and read for the first time, The King in Yellow. I remember after finishing the first act that it occurred to me that I had better stop. I started up and flung the book into the fireplace; the volume struck the barred grate and fell open on the hearth in the firelight. If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening words in the second act I should never have finished it, but as I stooped to pick it up, my eyes became riveted to the open page, and with a cry of terror, or perhaps it was of joy so poignant that I suffered in every nerve, I snatched the thing out of the coals and crept shaking to my bedroom, where I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled with a horror which at times assails me yet. This is the thing that troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask. I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with this beautiful, stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth—a world which now trembles before the King in Yellow. When the French Government seized the translated copies which had just arrived in Paris, London, of course, became eager to read it. It is well known how the book spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent, barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by Press and pulpit, censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain, nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterward with more awful effect.


The QAnon Conspiracy Complex is perfectly tailored to further radicalize Trump dead-enders. It posits that Trump is a super-genius of sterling moral character, that his opponents are evil beyond all possible redemption, and that all of the Deplorables' foes will meet a sticky end, tried and executed by military tribunals. The end result is supposed to be a utopia in which the formerly despised conspiracy theorists will become revered leaders, recognized for the wisdom which led them to see what the 'normies' were unable to see in time. It's a heady narrative, but the fact that it's not coming to fruition is driving people to madness... in a very real sense, as Chambers would put it, the very banality and innocence of the first act only allows the blow to fall afterward with more awful effect.

Title taken from this infamous Trump quote.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Trump's Vietnam

It's official, the toll of Americans lost to COVID-19 has surpassed the toll of Americans lost in the course of the Vietnam War. Cadet Bone Spurs has failed upwards to become Commander Brain Spurs, and lord love a duck, the country would be better off if he went AWOL. Reporter Olivia Nuzzi asked Trump the real question, regarding his fitness for office, and received a rambling response which ducked the issue.

It's odd that an infectious outbreak would turn out to be Trump's Vietnam, considering that, in 1997, Trump joked to Howard Stern that sleeping around was his personal Vietnam. I was a mere pup when the Vietnam War ended, but I saw the effect it had on my parents' generation, and indeed, on members of my own extended family. The war was a disaster, fought to prop up the dying vestiges of colonialism, in contradiction to our (and France's) stated revolutionary ideals. Trump, who used his dad's money and connections to avoid combat, made light of the war and its toll... that should have been a major warning sign that he was a sociopath who had no compunctions about Americans dying. The fact that COVID-19 is disproportionately killing people of color might even give Trump and his Deplorables a frisson of delight. Maya Angelou imparted perhaps the greatest bit of advice regarding the navigation of this life:





Trump showed us what a callous monster he was, and enough people gave him the benefit of the doubt... sixty-thousand dead Americans later, the very idea that some people still support him is baffling and enraging. Do they really think Trump needs to destroy America in order to make America great again? Actually, I don't think I want to know the answer.