Thursday, December 31, 2020

Glad to See an End to 2020

 I cannot lie, this year was terrible, and it lasted for a couple of centuries.  Spring seemed to drag on forever, with shortages of certain items at the supermarket, and my tendency was to squirrel away a package of beans and a package of some sort of grain product every time I went grocery shopping.  I ate a lot of beans this year.

I've been one of the lucky people, my job duties have been diminished in no way, and my wages were unaffected.  I can't say the same for most of my co-workers... the seasonal part-timers who form the bulk of our workforce were on furlough for most of the year, though we had a truncated season with a couple of outdoor events to placate our big fans who purchased annual memberships for this non-starter of a year.

Regarding the actual pandemic, I lost two friends to the disease, while two other friends of mine had it and recovered after a couple of weeks of suffering.  One friend related to me his call to an ambulance service when he had a temperature of 104, and was told not to even bother calling again unless he was having difficulty breathing.  I've been lucky, all things told- I spent the last week of February and the first week of March taking the subway quite a bit, though I haven't been to Manhattan since March.

Yeah, I'm glad to be able to put this interminable year behind me, as I'm sure many people are.  I hope everybody reading this has a safe and healthy 2021.  It'll  be rough going for a couple of more months, but at least there seems to be an end to this crisis in sight.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Stumbling in the Home Stretch

 Predictably, the Trump Maladministration is screwing up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.  In the home stretch of the race against the pandemic, the response teams are stumbling, mainly due to a failure to prepare for the vaccination effort.  The federal government has neglected to put an infrastructure in place, so the individual states will have to work to create it.

So far, only two million (out of a potential twenty million) individuals have been vaccinated, and with the slow pace of vaccination, doses might expire before they can be administered.  A competent administration would have rolled out the military to speed the distribution of the vaccine, much like Governor Cuomo rolled out the NY National Guard to help the pandemic response efforts in the early New Rochelle hotspot.  That would be a better use of the military than asking them to arrange a coup would be.  With the current glacial pace of vaccination, it will take about ten years for herd immunity to be achieved... and I thought 2021 would mark a genuine change in this shitshow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Just in Time for 2020's End: A New Horror

 Great, with only a couple of days left in this terrible year, we hear news that the new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 has appeared in the 'States.  This strain of COVID-19 is thought to be 70% more contagious than the old novel coronavirus.  Of course, if it's been discovered in a patient in Colorado with no travel history, it's been here for longer than we suspected.  Appallingly, the Trump Maladministration has not mandated COVID screening for travelers from the UK.  It almost seems like Trump and his minions are pro-pandemic.  

The real horror here is that this new plot twist in the 2020 disaster narrative comes just when there seems to be hope for a resolution of the plague.  If we could just hold out another six months, we could put this pandemic behind us... 2020 gets the last laugh, though, and another post-holiday spike seems inevitable, with an even worse version of the pathogen.

As pessimistic as I am, I didn't have this on my '2020 Bingo Card'.

Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 Music Retrospective Part Two

 For part two of my 2020 music retrospective, I figured I'd showcase two young musical acts which I've been kind of obsessed with over the second half of the year.

The first of these acts is Boston-based band Sweeping Promises, who sound as if they've plundered their parents' record collections for all of their circa-1979 post-punk albums.  Listening to Sweeping Promises, I hear a blend of Joy Division, Kleenex, The Slits, maybe a hint of Gang of Four.  The band has a spare sound buoyed by vocalist Lira Mondal's sweet vocals.  I'm partial to groovy bass lines punctuated by jagged, staccato guitar licks, synth noodling, and bubblegum vocals- so this is right up my alley.  Out Again, the first song I heard by the band, immediately grabbed my attention, but I believe my favorite song by them is Hunger for a Way Out, which is a perfect description of my feelings about this terrible year:


My post-election theme song is Rot, by Allegra Krieger.  I dig her voice, and I like the crunchy guitar song of the track, but it's the lyrics which have me obsessed, as they describe the situation of the current Occupant of the White House perfectly:

Give a little, take a lot
And live out your days like some sanctified parasite
And when your empire begins to rot
Return to the earth without a question without a fight 

He's not really fighting, just allowing his increasingly deluded surrogates appear to do so in order to extend the scam.   Here's the song for your listening pleasure:


With the pandemic, live music has been dealt a blow, and I sincerely hope that young artists such as the acts I've highlighted in this post can hunker down until we get this thing behind us, and have a successful 2021.  Being cooped up at home, good music is one of the necessities of life, and I hope we are able to repay the artists that kept us entertained in this hard time once the world restarts.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

2020 Music Retrospective Part One

This being the end of the year, I figured I'd put out a brief music retrospective for the year.  I also decided that I'd split it into two parts to reflect the developing zeitgeist of the year, and I am choosing two songs by old stalwarts to begin.

Perhaps the signature song of March and April was the April 2020 release Living in a Ghost Town by The Rolling Stones.  Lyrically, it captures the pandemic year mood perfectly:





Yeah, Mick, you said it... you summed up 2020 in less than four minutes:


The other song by an old stalwart that I chose is Got to be Tough by Bastard faves Toots and the Maytals, which references the social injustice that the Black Lives Matter movement was founded to shed light on.  It's also a good prescription for living in a year in which everything was terrible:


This song takes on an uncommon poignancy given that Toots succumbed to COVID-19 in September.  This combination warning and pep talk was his last gift to the world.

The topicality of these songs are a perfect illustration of the ability of clever artists to continue to release relevant material while old enough to collect social security checks... the Stones and the Maytals released music as up-to-date as cable news headlines, and provided solid grooves while doing so.  These songs aren't happy by any stretch of the imagination, but they possessed the sort of dourness which manages to be uplifting.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Someone's Having a Bad Christmas

Today is Boxing Day, a day traditionally occupied by giving small presents to the neighbors and public servants (such as letter carriers), after the big family celebration on Christmas Day is over.  I made sure I gave out presents to the neighbors on Christmas Eve, preparatory to submerging into a weekend of work.  It's also the Feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, which in my neighborhood, with its many Irish immigrants, is a big pub day.  I have to be at work at midnight, but in a normal year, I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to meet with friends for a hot toddy before having to get ready to go in.  This year, that's just not an option... maybe tomorrow would be a good whisky day.  I do plan, though, on making some 'virgin' eggnog tonight on the job to see what the fuss is about (I can spike the leftovers tomorrow when I get home).

It's been a 'blah' Christmas, pretty much spent hunkered and bunkered at home or at work, but I've heard from family and friends, so I can't complain.  Via Tengrain, though, we learn that Vulgarmort has spent this festive season complaining about being a loser.  Even with his large family and his vaunted, flaunted wealth, the guy is miserable.  He has a teenage son and a passel of grandkids, one would think he'd put down his goddamn phone and live for once.  I'm glad he's in a blue funk, though, because through his incompetence and venality, millions of Americans have had their Christmases (and Hanukkahs, and Diwalis, and Thanksgivings, and... you get the picture) ruined.  He's even worst than Scrooge, old Ebeneezer only immiserated a handful of people, and had a redemption arc at the end.

I sure hope he spends the rest of the year simmering... like a pot of water made fragrant with the addition of cinnamon and clove, ready to be added to a small glass of whisky with lemon and honey.  I hope his digestion is off all week, maybe from a bit of underdone potato.  I don't foresee a redemption narrative for the guy, no Scrooge or Grinch he, so his running chronicle of angst all week has been balm for me... since Weihnachtsfreude is in short supply this year, I'll settle for Schadenfreude.

Friday, December 25, 2020

As Merry as it Can Be

 Here's wishing everyone a merry Christmas, as merry as it can be in this terrible, horrible, no good year.  Here in the NYC metro area, the holiday began with a tropical storm- gale force winds and torrential rain, so the drive home from work was no picnic.  It was good sleeping weather, though.

When I awoke, I texted back and forth with siblings, called mom, and texted various friends and relatives.  Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, though the general tone was that we'd throw insane parties when this plague ends.

I decided on a fancy-yet-simple dinner, luckily I found a nice steak on sale at the supermarket a couple of nights ago.  Plated with mashed potatoes, pureed celery root, and Swiss chard sautéed with garlic and red onion, it formed a nicely balanced meal.  While dining, I listened to a reading of a slightly abridged version of "A Christmas Carol", a novella I read every other year.  It should be required reading for all policy makers, especially in fraught times like this year.  

I have to go to work at midnight, so I'll probably nod off and nap when I finish this post.  I'm used to the sort of raucous Christmases typical of a large family, so a Noel nap seems a bit off, but it's appropriate for this strange, solo Christmas.  I can hold out for a big summertime blast in six months.  

Merry Christmas, stay safe, be well.  May 2021 be the best present EVER.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Socially Distant Christmas Eve

 Social distancing and quarantining being the order of the day, working on Christmas Eve really isn't a hardship.  Yesterday, I did my shopping for the day, buying several varieties of seafood so I could do whatever sort of take on the fish thing that I could pull off on the job... I do have a hotplate, toaster oven, and microwave here.  I also picked up a couple of bottles of prosecco for my upstairs neighbor, who always puts together a plate for me when she knows I've been working on a holiday, gift cards for her children (because they are good kids, unfailingly kind to the small army of peers who are always over to shoot hoops or do homework), and a bottle of whisky for my next door neighbors.

I left my apartment and handed over the wine and gift cards to my upstairs neighbors elder child, then as I left the house, I ran into the new upstairs neighbors, who moved in at the beginning of the month (the previous tenants relocated to Buffalo, NY, when the husband acquired a government job).  After a brief chat, I went next door, and as I was knocking on the door, my neighbor pulled up.  I gave him the bottle and we had a nice chat.  He told me that, in case of bad snowstorms and worse parking situations, I could always park in his driveway.  I joked that this was the reason I brought over a bottle of whisky.  

Earlier this year, he and his wife lost their yellow lab, Sétanta, to old age and hip pathology.  Sétanta was the first neighbor that I met when I moved onto the block, a big, friendly dog who was the perfect sidekick to my good-hearted, sociable neighbors.  My neighbor told me that he and the missus were getting a black lab puppy named Finn, keeping up the tradition of naming dogs after heroes of Irish legendry.

I arrived at work early, covering the afternoon shift so my coworker could spend Christmas Eve with his family.  It's been an uncharacteristically warm and windy December day, with torrential rain in the forecast.  I'm glad I prepared last night for tonight's 'festivities', having stocked the fridge yesterday.  Tonight, it's the cat and I holding down the fort.  I made sure to call mom and text other friends and family.  One of my aunts checked in as well, she's also spending an uncharacteristic solo Christmas Eve, away from the kids and grandkids.  

The cat has been kinda... well... catty tonight.  I gave her a small piece of fish to see if she would be interested, but it held no appeal for her.  Later, of course, she wanted MY fish, paying an unseemly amount of attention to a pasta-with-sardines dish I had thrown together, and my follow-up dish of scallops sauteed with garlic and rosemary also elicited some interest on her part.  Then I made the mistake of opening a tin of smoked oysters, emulating the sound of a cat food can... big mistake, she really wouldn't stop trying to climb my shirt to check out what I was eating.  Besides getting her typical half can of cat food, she also has a small piece of fish that she's left untouched... and she's not exactly a candidate for starvation.  Again, my vittles have more appeal than hers, in her estimation.  

I still have some fish to sautee with a soy/brown sugar glaze to finish up the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, and I suspect that Ginger will suddenly develop an interest in the same fish which, unglazed, lies in her bowl.  She's been well fed, as have I, but I'm sure that she'll develop a covetous streak.  She's scheduled to get her customary half can (about three ounces) of food before I leave, but again, MY food is more appealing to her... I still don't have the heart to put her on the naughty list, though.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

This Year's Been Black and Blue

It's no secret to longtime readers that  my favorite Christmas carol is O, Holy Night, and my favorite secular Christmas song is A Fairytale of New York.  I'm always happy to hear new Christmas music that isn't awful, and listening to college radio makes this possible. 

This year, my new Christmas music find is by Glasgow band There Will Be Fireworks.  I recently heard an interview with their lead singer about their song In Excelsis Deo, and it was a tale of a long distance relationship between the Glasgow based songwriter and his girlfriend in the south of England, and how they persevered until they were able to marry and live together.  It's a sweet song about survivng a 'black and blue' year with hopes of a white Christmas.  It's a nice slice of life, and it's good to know that the ending was a happy one:

The funny thing about the interview is that it took place on a New Jersey based radio station, so the song's references to Bruce Springsteen did not go unremarked upon.  I also like the recondite references to Glasgow (the Dear Green Place which also happens to be an Old Grey Town)... nothing like a bit of a puzzle to figure out.

I think this one is going into the Christmas rotation, it's a sweet song that happens to absolutely shred at the end.  With so much sub-par Christmas music out there, it's nice to add a quality song to the playlist.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Straight Talk, no Malarky

It's refreshing to hear a president-elect who can speak in full sentences, especially one who can tell the truth without sugarcoating it or burying it in heaps of denial and obfuscation. In his press conference today, Joe Biden told the cold, hard truth about the COVID-19 pandemic and the sacrifices it will demand of Americans: Joe Biden is the sort of person who trusts Americans to rise up to the challenges of the day, not a coward who lies to people in an attempt to 'avoid panic'. Trump has governed as an evil version of Zaphod Beeblebrox, it's no wonder that he believed that not seeing the peril would somehow avert the peril. The one thing that gives me some misgivings is Joe's trust that the Republicans, faced with an existential crisis, will join with the Democrats in order to protect their constituents:

He spent so much time in the Senate, he actually came to believe in the congeniality of political discourse, while those of us on the ground get an eyeful of the absolute hatred with which the Republican rank-and-file view anybody to the left of... I was going to write 'Mitt Romney', but they hate him too. My hope is that Biden knows that the 'kumbaya' stuff is a pipe-dream, but that he will position himself as 'healer in chief' while letting his younger, more assertive surrogates go on the attack for him. 

Biden's approach just might work, and might even be necesary in the unthinkable-yet-not-improbable event that the Republicans maintain control of the Senate. At any rate, it's good to hear someone in a position of authority who can speak in complete sentences, cogent ones even. I'm actually willing to forgive the man an occasional gaffe and a snipe at the press.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Not a Christmas Present Anybody Would Want

 Via Tengrain, we have the disconcerting tale of Christmas travel during this plague year.  It's possible that the recent spike in COVID-19 cases resulted from Thanksgiving travel, so an uptick in travel mere weeks before a major vaccine rollout seems ill-advised.  In speaking with my mother, I put it this way, "Hold out for Easter."  Giving the 'rona as a Christmas present just when there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel seems ghoulish, a wicked twist out of a 'Twilight Zone' episode, albeit a stupid one.

 Tengrain, being a snarky fellow, put it in snarky terms, the only appropriate terms for this tragifarcical age we live in: Gonna make “Grandma Got Run-Over By A Reindeer” look like a matinee as the nation’s MeMaws all keel over dead by new years eve.

 The appropriate response is, you got it, snarky:


Grandma got infected by the 'rona,

At the family dinner Christmas Eve

Cousin Rudy don't believe in masking,

And wipes his goddamn boogers on his sleeve.


These people really deserve to get coal in their stockings.   Can't they defer their gratification by a mere three or four months?

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Very MAGA Christmas

 In a recent conversation with my Mom, she noted that Christmas shopping for the family just wasn't going very well- the stores are poorly stocked and what is there is picked over.  Since travel is out of the question, presents have to be sent, and the US Postal Service is still a mess because Trump's postmaster general threw a spanner in the works (even getting rid of, and sometimes destroying sorting machines).  I quipped, "Remember that old TV special, The Year Without a Santa Claus?"  She immediately got what I was hinting at.  Soon after, I found a picture comparing Trump and Pence to the not-quite-villains of the Rankin/Bass animated show:

Trump and Pence are a lot more evil than the 'Miser' brothers, and I'm sure they could never pull off a spectacular song-and-dance number:


This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Rankin/Bass animated classic Santa Claus in Coming to Town, and I immediately thought that the Trump Maladministration would make for a great Rankin/Bass style Christmas special. As our main villain, we have the Callous Queen who hates Christmas:


She even uses her magic powers to change Christmastown into a blood-red horror-land while her ogre husband brings plague to the land. I'm going to have to apologize to the late great Paul Frees for this (I'm a big fan), but Sebastian Gorka would make a great stand-in for his classic mitteleuropäische villain Burgomeister Meisterburger:


Gorka's burgomeister would, of course, blame Santa Claus for wanting to take away the people's hamburgers, necessitating his hording all of the burgers in his own vault: 


There are also the cast of naughty children that Santa will have to punish for their misdeeds... The Trump Maladministration has all of the makings of a Rankin/Bass Christmas special, albeit a singularly dark one. At least the ending will turn out okay... a song and dance number: 


Then the Good Guys save the day... truly a post-Christmas miracle.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Cuckoo Coup

 In a year of disquieting news, here's another disquieting item, just in time for Christmas... Trump had a meeting with 'Kraken' crackpot Sidney Powell, who he wants to retain as a counsel for his 'election fraud' cases.  Things took a particularly worrisome turn as Trump inquired about deploying the military in a bid to stay in offic ploy suggested by disgraced former general Michael Flynn:

Thankfully, our military personnel take an oath to serve the Constitution, not to serve a president. The odds of having the Marines serve as his personal Praetorian Guard are slim-to-none. The real problem is that Trump has always gotten high off his own supply, and his ego is being fed by Powell and Flynn, who occupy a strange, liminal role between the grifter and the True Believer.

Meanwhile, the fever swamps are abuzz with sedition, with calls for Trump to cross the Rubicon, notably from 8chan/8kun administrator, probably 'Q' contributor, and total creep Ron Watkins, who Trump has retweeted.  Notably, Watkins resides in Japan, so he's basically the kid yelling from across the street for two other kids to beat each other up.  The rank-and-file seem to have caught the rally cry, and have responded as they always do, by making ridiculous 'memes' and posting them:

The real tell here is that, by crossing the Rubicon with a legion, Caesar was considered to have treasonously declared war on Rome. This forever put an end to the Roman Republic- do the MAGA morons really want Trump to declare himself dictator?  Caesar is said to have uttered 'the die is cast' as he crossed the river... and we all know that Trump failed at running casinos. More cogently, we all know how Caesar ended up, even right-wingers know that. If Trump does decide to cross the Rubicon, casting that losing die, who will be the senator to stab him? Will his last words be Et tu, Marco?

Friday, December 18, 2020

Silly Libs, It's Just a Little Vigorish

The genius of Republican ideology is that, working under the premise that government is the problem, Republicans can govern in a corrupt and incompetent fashion and prove that premise correct.  CHECK AND MATE, LIBS!!!!

The revelation that Trump family insiders formed a shell corporation that looted about half of the 2020 Trump campaign coffers is a prime example of the Republican proclivity to loot... thankfully, only the funds of donors were stolen in this case (this is not to say that Trump insiders didn't line their pockets with taxpayer dollars).  The prolonged denial of the November election results keeps the grift going, as Trump has funneled approximately sixty million dollars of post-election donations into a poorly regulated Political Action Committee.  That vaunted Kraken has been dipping its tentacles in the pockets of Trump dead-enders.

Trump has long been known to have ties with organized crime,  so he's got to be familiar with the concept of vigorish... it's no surprise he liked to wet his beak in everything.  Those shell companies?  The fact that seventy-five percent of donations goes to Trump's organization?  That's just the vigorish, libs!

Brad Parscale's big sin was stealing millions of dollars from the campaign without being a family insider.  How dare a commoner dip into the till?  Also, he didn't steal enough... only a piker would be content to steal forty million when there was over a billion dollars to be had.  No Trump would have settled for such small potatoes.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Ghoulish, Simply Ghoulish

 Today's enraging news story is the revelation that Paul Alexander, a science advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services , advised assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo to pursue a 'herd immunity' approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here's where I shout to the rafters that the very concept of herd immunity is meaningless without a vaccine... from the WHO website: 

‘Herd immunity’, also known as ‘population immunity’, is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached.

Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.

Vaccines train our immune systems to create proteins that fight disease, known as ‘antibodies’, just as would happen when we are exposed to a disease but – crucially – vaccines work without making us sick. Vaccinated people are protected from getting the disease in question and passing it on, breaking any chains of transmission. Visit our webpage on COVID-19 and vaccines for more detail.

With herd immunity, the vast majority of a population are vaccinated, lowering the overall amount of virus able to spread in the whole population. As a result, not every single person needs to be vaccinated to be protected, which helps ensure vulnerable groups who cannot get vaccinated are kept safe. 

Without a vaccine, herd immunity is not achieved, contagion is.

Getting back to the ghoulish Paul Alexander:

“There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD."

"Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…"

COVID-19, this disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is not well known, and the acute and long-term risks of infection are a mystery.  Children infected with the virus occasionally developed a multisystem inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease, and "characterized predominantly by shock, cardiac dysfunction, abdominal pain, and markedly elevated inflammatory markers".  Among a small number of young adult athletes, COVID-19 caused myocarditis and an elevated risk of cardiac arrest.  The pandemic has killed over three-hundred thousand Americans, and it may very well permanently impair the physical fitness of millions more.  When Alexander stated that young and middle aged individuals with no conditions have zero to little risk, he probably wasn't considering the college basketball player who loses his cardiovascular health and his scholarship, or the pharmacy clerk who has trouble walking up the stairs to her second-floor apartment.  

The phrase 'we want them infected' is horrific, inhuman, the utterance of a ghoul devoid of compassion, of public virtue.  The pandemic could have been checked by a strategy of testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and the use of PPE... if a proper strategy had been enacted rather than a reckless plan to infect a majority of the population, masquerading as 'herd immunity', perhaps we could have reopened the economy with a minimal loss of life.  Paul Alexander, like many another Trump Maladministration appointee, really needs to spend some time behind bars.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

First Winter Storm of the Season

The big local story here in the NYC metro area is the arrival of a major winter storm which is forecast to dump about a foot (30.48 centimeters) of snow on terra firma.  The winds are supposed to reach gale force (50mph/80.46kph).  Suffice it to say, the roadways are going to be a mess.

The gentleman who is typically scheduled to work the 5PM-9PM shift told me yesterday that he has been tasked to stay overnight at his other job, the one which actually pays his bills.  Accordingly, I have arrived early and, like him, plan on camping out overnight.  I'd rather have my car safely parked in a lot than on the street, and sheltering in place makes a lot more sense than trusting myself to the tender mercies of the roadways.  I anticipate having to work the afternoon shift tomorrow as well, so I made sure that I am well-provisioned.

I made sure to stop by a couple of local grocery stores on my way to work- the first being a major supermarket and the second being a mom-and-pop produce market that has amazing prices on fruits and vegetables.  I decided that the best way to fortify myself for a long haul in wintry conditions would be to make a pot of bigos, which is the sort of dish which lends itself to overnight cooking.

Here's hoping that it will be an uneventful night, just the cat and I hanging out by the radiator while the snow quietly blankets the landscape. This being 2020, though, I am prepared for just about any contingency.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Another Spy Novel, but Stupid

Now that John LeCarré has died, people have to come up with their own thriller fiction, and boy, is it stupid:

The real mystery is how those trees managed to hold onto their foliage in mid-December, in Maine.

Funny, a Chinese invasion of the US would seem to be newsworthy, especially with Canadian complicity, so I guess the Lamestream Media is in on the plot to overthrow 'Murrica, along with those perfidious Canadians. I dunno, it's kinda weird that fifty-thousand Chinese soldiers could be holed up for so long in a bunker constructed in a town with a population of 574:

Luckily, they were laid low with a single thirty-thousand pound 'bunker buster' bomb... it's really difficult to get proper town-sized bunkers constructed these days.  I suspect that one of Trump's fly-by-night construction contractors built the thing.

The source of this lunacy is a religious fundamentalist who believes that Obama was nominated from Satan's throne, that chemtrails are real, and that cannibalistic giants exist.  The fact that this cockamamie tale has been taken as gospel truth by a not-insignificant cadre of Trump dead-enders is a bit worrisome... I sure hope that the Biden Administration is formulating a plan to deal with the troubling number of Americans who have become completely delusional.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Joe Biden Wins Again

 Back in 2016. at a political rally in Albany, NY, Trump told his audience that they would be tired of winning.  I guess this now applies to Joe Biden, who just won the Electoral College vote as well as the popular vote.

In a bizarre attempt to muddy the waters politically, Republican electors in Wisconsin and Michigan met to hold a 'parallel universe' electoral vote in Trump's favor.  The video of the 'GOP electors' trying to get into the Michigan capitol is particularly pathetic:

 I can't even imagine how the media would have responded if Democrats had tried to pull a stunt like this back in 2016.  The next Republican attempt to interfere with the election will take place on January 6, when at least one GOP congresscreep will try to mess up the congressional certification of the vote.  I'm looking forward to seeing Trump lose the election yet another time.  A less narcissistic person would just put on a Smiths record and move on after a short mope.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Another Grim Milestone

 It was one of those moments which snuck up on me because I was preoccupied with the current political circus, but the United States surpassed three hundred thousand COVID-19 deaths.  The real horror of this current surge of coronavirus infection is that Intensive Care Units in hospitals around the country are filling up.  The latest surge has added over two hundred thousand new cases, with over two-thousand deaths per day, even as a vaccine rollout is underway.  If only people could have held out a little longer before congregating for holidays and MAGA marches, things wouldn't have gotten so out of control.

 Back in March, I predicted that at least half-a-million people would die from this pandemic before it ran its course.  I think we will reach that threshold around the one year anniversary of the virus hitting our shores... and I wish I had been wrong.  I didn't even anticipate the anti-mask, anti-social distancing, and soon-to-come anti-vaccine backlashes when I made that prediction.

The true damage of COVID-19 isn't even being discussed... the number of people who will have 'recovered' with life-altering effects: diminished cardiovascular capacity, brain fog, fatigue, depression, loss of taste and smell... This is no mere flu, though the flu is nothing to diminish, either.  This pandemic will leave many individuals with long-term deficits in physical and mental health.

And a lot of the carnage could have been mitigated.  That's the real tragedy.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

MAGA Mulligan March

 The MAGA morons are at it again, having thrown another rally in DC, an act of denial to help them cope with the fact that their Orange Savior has lost the 2020 election multiple times.  For news of the day's events, I checked DC based 'Daily Beast' reporter Will Sommer's Twitter feed.  Independent journalists Ford Fischer and Brendan Gutenschwager have also documented the day's events, and the chaotic situation which is following.  Activist Molly Conger has also posting a running summary of the day's events.  Journalist Chuck Modi has provided more 'on the ground' coverage, including a brief interview with a young Black Lives Matter activist who has perfectly summed up the thesis of working-class white supremacy:

Nailed it! Your relative lack of melanin is not an accomplishment. 

The rally itself seemed to be a surreal mixture of prayer meeting and putsch, and featured some young neo-nazis calling for the destruction of the Republican Party.  On an unsettling note, Trump did meet with one of the Proud Boys leaders  in the White House.   

The rally itself just seemed sad, a couple of thousand dead-enders unable to process the fact that Trump was soundly beaten.  In the end, the rally just fizzled out as lunatic Alex Jones exhorted the crowd to throw a street party (with no preparation, no pre-bought refreshments, and no entertainment) outside a Marriott hotel:

Of course, it is in the aftermath of events like this that things become fraught, as drunk, angry right-wingers prowl a city looking for fights.  It looks like brawls have broken out throughout downtown, and there's a real danger to persons traveling alone or in small groups.

The whole situation is severely messed up, and this shitshow is sure to be a COVID superspreader event.  I sure hope it's the last gasp of the organized Right, one last mass rally before the inauguration of Joe Biden.  The weather will be getting more inclement, the holiday season is upon us, the pandemic still rages unchecked... let's hope that this is the event which destroys their momentum, but first, the people of DC will have to get through it.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Don't Mess with Us, Texas

 The big news story of the day is that the Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General which sought to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania. Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin in an effort to overturn Joe Biden's election.  The lawsuit claimed that Texan voters were harmed by illegal measures that these states put in place to facilitate voting during the pandemic.  Notably, the lawsuit didn't name any states that Trump won.  Thankfully, even the terrible, partisan Supreme Court rejected the suit, finding that the Texas AG had no standing:

"Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections."

Finding in the AG's favor would have set a terrible precedent, a possibility that all elections could be challenged from across the country.  How soon before some whacko in Idaho decided to sue New York state because he thought that AOC was a socialist menace?   On the flip side, how about the eventual possibility that asthma sufferers in New Jersey sued Texas for voting for representatives who voted to deregulate power plants?

In an extremely shameful corollary to this lawsuit, 106 Republican representatives filed an amicus brief in support of Texas' lawsuit.  I don't ever want to hear these assholes talk about 'States' Rights' ever again.  On the ground floor, the rubes are itching for a military coup now.

For any Texas voters who believe that the results in PA, GA, MI, and WI 'nullified' their votes, I'm a resident of a big, deep Blue state who has seen his vote 'nullified' in the face of an antidemocratic Electoral College on many occasions, so screw off.  Trump lost the election, he lost in the majority of the cases brought on his behalf, and he has lost in the Supreme Court case.  It's over, Trump has now lost to Biden every week since his initial loss.

Post title taken from a Texas anti-littering campaign that got out of bounds.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Happy Hanukkah, Be Careful

The calendar on my office wall has a note for today: Hanukkah begins Traffic, Civil and Small Claims, 3PM.  Here's wishing my Jewish readers a happy Hanukkah, but be aware that antisemitism seems to be on the rebound.  We can see antisemitism in current conspiracy theories, in right-wing rallies, in petty acts of vandalism, in synagogue shootings.  A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with a Jewish co-worker in which I mentioned that I had a conversation with a mutual friend of ours about how we'd end up having to hide friends in our attics if Trump's anti-immigrant policies got any worse.  She replied that she knew other people had it worse, but that any rise in xenophobia eventually ends in attacks on Jews, and noted that her mother had a backup plan to leave for Costa Rica if things got really bad.  I thought to myself, "Gonna have to make more room in the attic."

Hanukkah is all about survival in the face of an oppressive regime.  Most Jewish holidays seem to be about survival, and the Jewish people have survived for two millennia since the Diaspora, their ethics and traditions largely intact.  Here in the 'States, they have been at the forefront of pretty much every civil rights movement... which has earned them the wrath of reactionaries of all stripes.  

Thankfully, it looks like our political system will be pulled from the brink of fascism, which will allow all of us to sleep better at night (this is why I actually embrace the 'Sleepy Joe' moniker for President-elect Biden).  People in marginalized communities will face less danger with a non-sociopath in the White House.  If the removal of the tyrannical Trump isn't a Hanukkah miracle, I don't know what else would be. Seasons greetings, be careful, because things can still get stupid.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Secret Science Club Zoom Lecture: Handprints on Hubble

Yesterday, I goofed, thinking that this month's Secret Science Club Zoom lecture was to take place last night.  Tonight, my great and good friends at the Secret Science Club are featuring the triumphant return of Dr Kathryn Sullivan, scientist, deep sea explorer, astronaut, former head of NOAA, author, and general supercool individual.  Dr Sullivan is the first American woman to have walked in space, and was instrumental in getting the fabulous Hubble Space telescope into orbit.

About a year ago, in the Before Times, Dr Sullivan delivered a lecture for the SSC North at the scintillating Symphony Space.  The lecture, which began with a tale of an almost-aborted launch straight out of a techno-thriller, was broadcast on C-Span's Book TV and can be seen at this link.

Dr Sullivan began the lecture by congratulating the eighteen astronauts chosen for the Artemis mission.  She then celebrated the lifespan of the Hubble Space Telescope (twice the expected time) and the skill of the engineers (not just the pocket protector crew, but individuals of great imagination and passion) and astronauts who created the tools and techniques which allowed for the repair of the invaluable telescope.

The lecture proper began with a celebration of Hubble, the bus-sized orbital telescope which started taking shape in the early 1970s.  The telescope had to be maintained by astronauts in bulky spacesuits (picture two snowmobile suits, heavy gloves, and a bucket on your head), in orbit.  In 1985, Dr Sullivan was chosen to shepherd Hubble into orbit, and had to undergo training with various tools to make sure that mishaps would be avoided.  The training took place in water tanks in which a mockup of the telescope was submerged.  Much of the work involved choreography, some involved fine detail work, such as replacing electrical connectors with specially designed tools (she broke two ninety-degree connector tools, ratchet wrench-like devices designed to remove connectors, before a proper tool was built).  Platforms used to lock astronauts' feet into place so they could turn a connector rather than spinning themselves around, had to be designed.

In 1990, another platform with a rigid tether had to be developed (the shuttle's robotic arm had to hold the Hubble in place) for the repair of the Hubble's mirror.  This tether is still in use.  Hubble was designed to be maintained and repaired in modular fashion- instruments were built into various boxes which could be swapped out for upgrades as detectors, electronics, and cameras improved.  Dr Sullivan characterized the Hubble as being one thousand times better than the original space mirror.

Dr Sullivan then pivoted to the topic of exploration of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, part of the Hadal Zone, below six thousand meters depth, which contains about 40% of the oceans' water.  The Challenger Deep is approximately 10,994 meters in depth.  The surface ship involved in this exploration is the DSSV Pressure Drop, a former submarine chaser purchased by explorer Victor Vescovo.  The Pressure Drop plays host to a submersible which is approximately 12x15x5 feet in dimension.  The submersible, which has a manipulator arm, takes about four hours to submerge to the bottom of the Challenger Drift.  An oceanographer, Dr Sullivan noted that the dimples on the ocean floor indicated that the muddy bottom was 'busy' with polychaete worms and sea cucumbers.  The seafloor is cold, dark, and food poor.

Dr Sullivan noted that her greatest source of pride lays not in her individual achievements, but in the team activity that has allowed humanity to achieve feats never before accomplished.

The Zoom lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  The first question came from a young listener, about Dr Sullivan's role as a pioneer- again, Dr Sullivan's pride is a pride in exploration more than a pride in being in the record books.  The next question regarded space junk- space junk cannot be tracked, statistical analysis has to be employed... Hubble cannot 'dodge' space junk.  The next question came from a seven year old who wants to be the first astronaut on Mars and wanted advice- Dr Sullivan joked that she would have to race her, and stated that learning as much as possible is the key... a student must be 'all in', and must continue learning every single day.  Another question involved spacesuits, of which there are many types.  During a shuttle launch, sealed pressure suits are worn, but for space walks, another type of suit must be worn.  The suits are pressurized to sea level, so there's no ear-popping like one would feel on an airplane flight.  The next question involved the hours of training involved- Dr Sullivan noted that space walks are not physically demanding, microgravity being delightful, but that the academic requirements are stringent, equivalent to graduate level crash courses in aeronautical/astronautical engineering, physiology, and the particular tasks one has to perform.  Asked about the pressure at depths of 30,000 feet below sea level, Dr Sullivan joked that the pressure was the equivalent of a hippopotamus wearing a single stiletto heel standing on every single square inch of the submersible.  Regarding the budget for space exploration, and whether that money would be better spent elsewhere, Dr Sullivan noted that only half a penny per dollar spent goes to NASA, and the satellites which NASA and NOAA maintain allow weather monitoring and ocean analysis- the benefits from the space budget are invaluable.  Even more valuable is the pride in space exploration, the motivational and aspirational effects on young people, the unifying nature of projects such as Apollo.  She would round that expenditure to one whole penny.  Another question involved Dr Sullivan's wildly divergent adventures in highly specialized craft- she joked that there was a 'Magic School Bus' effect, but her engineering training gave her a familiarity with the conveyances.  The real surprise is voyaging into exotic, lethal environments.  She could eat a tuna fish sandwich while wearing shirtsleeves while voyaging in a place she had no business being in.  The one experience which took her breath away was seeing the Earth from orbit for the first time.  A question regarding the submerible... it's an untethered craft.  Asked about her favorite space movie, she mentioned that 'Space Cowboys' had laughable physics but the jokes rang true.  Her favorite space movies are 'Apollo 13', based on a true story, and 'The Martian', a fictional movie (no dust storm could knock over a craft like that) but one which was a celebration of the scientific method, and problem solving.

Once again, Dr Sullivan delivered a fantastic lecture, hitting that 'Secret Science Sweet Spot' which encompasses hard science, adventure narrative, and advocacy, leavened with humor.  Kudos to the good doctor and to Margaret and Dorian.  As an added bonus, which warmed my heart, several of the questions in the Q&A were from children.  I miss the Bell House lectures, but having an all-ages audience is a benefit of these Zoom lectures.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Aero/Astro Pioneers Day

 Today, for me, is all about aeronautical/astronautical pioneers...  First up, we have the sad news of the passing of Chuck Yeager, the first human being to break the sound barrier in 1947.  Chuck lived to the age of 97, a testimony to his skill as a pilot who was often strapped into experimental aircraft such as the Bell X-1 which literally rocketed him into the history books.

On a happier note, tonight my great and good friends at the Secret Science Club will be hosting a Zoom lecture with Dr Kathryn Sullivan, astronaut (first woman to walk in space), author, former head of NOAA, and geologist/oceanographer.  This marks a triumphant return to the SSC for Dr Sullivan, who delivered a fantastic lecture for the Secret Science Club North just over a year ago.  That lecture was broadcast on C-Span's Book TV.  The opening of Dr Sullivan's lecture was straight out of a techno-thriller, involving a possible fuel leak due to a valve failure.  It was a great moment of tension to draw us in before moving on to the meat of the lecture.  Definitely watch this, and if you can get a message to the SSC, see if they can get you in on tonight's Zoom.

This is the best way to pay respect to our aero/astro heroes, past and present.

CORRECTION: The Secret Science Club Zoom lecture is to take place tomorrow night.  If you're interested, contact them via their blog.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Threat Response

Today is the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, a Japanese sneak attack on a naval harbor in Hawaii which drew the United States into World War 2.  The attack killed 2,403 Americans (PDF), and goaded the citizens of the US to take on heroic sacrifices for the war effort (to this day, my mother refuses to eat oatmeal because she, born a few months before the attack, subsisted on the stuff due to rationing).  To this day, most Americans remember the attack, as we were exhorted to do (CONTENT WARNING: ethnic slurs)... hey, I'm posting about it 79 years later.

79 years later, we have recently seen five days which each saw a higher death toll than the Pearl Harbor attack, yet we cannot seem to mobilize as a country to fight the pandemic.  It's an easier fight than WW2, I mean all people have to do is to wear masks, maintain social distance, and practice basic hygiene.  There is no a sense of urgency among a sizable minority of the population, and the authorities in charge of pandemic response are a fifth column.  There is no shared sense of purpose.

Is this because the enemy is intangible?  Do we need to hate a human opponent in order to mobilize a war effort?  Why are we so paralyzed as a society?  If we can use Pearl Harbor as a watchword for the need to mobilize against an implacable foe 79 years after the fact, why can't we use this memory to mobilize us against the implacable, yet intangible, foe that we are fighting now.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

An Unpardonable Crime

I am one-hundred percent in agreement with the sentiment expressed in this tweet by a Charlottesville, VA activist, and the rhyme just makes it even better:

Back in the before times, I would go to an Indian lunch buffet about every two or three weeks. I would change up which restaurant I hit so as not to give them the impression that I was some sort of ravenous nemesis. 

 Last week, I had to get out of the neighborhood for a couple of hours because my car was parked in an 'alternate side parking' area, and the street I usually park on was closed off due to the ongoing replacement of gas mains in the county. From 1PM to 3PM, the best course of action was to leave town for a while. I decided to head over to Tuckahoe, New York to have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Spice Village, an establishment in which I have dined many, many times. 

 Upon arrival, the proprietor offered me two choices- the first choice was to order something off the menu, the second was to order a 'tiffin buffet'. Intrigued, I decided to take the second option. The tiffin buffet turned out to be a large metal platter, in the center of which was a mound of rice, topped with some naan and papadum,  surrounded by nine little metal bowls containing a variety of dishes, a sort of 'greatest hits' of the subcontinent's cuisines: chicken tikka masala, goat curry, yellow dal, saag paneer, tandoori chicken, sambar, poriyal, and a salad.  It was a generous portion, and a good introduction to Indian cuisine for a first timer.  It wasn't as satisfying as the full buffet, but it was an ingenious workaround by unfailingly gracious host.  There's a reason I've been coming to this restaurant since it opened.

This being 2020, the story wouldn't be complete without a melancholy side note- the venerable Epstein's Dry Goods store is closing after 87 years of business.  Online retail was the mortal blow, but the COVID-19 outbreak was the final, fatal stroke.  I remember shopping for clothes here with my mom when I was a wee lad, and it was still the store I would go to if I wished to purchase a pair of jeans.  I hope that Indian buffets make a comback after the pandemic runs its course, just as I hope that mom-and-pop stores make a comeback... but I'm not so optimistic about the latter.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

A Birthday Zoom Conference

 Today marks the birthday of my older brother, Sweetums.  Sweetums received his nickname from my Super Sarcastic Sister while he was in college.  In a conversation with one my brother Vincenzo and my cousin Big Leo, who were contemplating skipping out on a high school pep rally the day before Thanksgiving, my mother told them, "Well, your (ELDEST BROTHER/COUSIN) would never do that."

My sister responded, "He's such a perfect little Sweetums, Sweetums would never skip out on a school function."

No sooner did these words leave her mouth when in walked the young man in question.  My mother, surprised, exclaimed, "I thought you were coming home tomorrow."

My brother responded, "I was offered a ride home, so I bagged a couple of classes so I didn't have to take the bus."

My sister acidly retorted, "Sweetums would never skip class!"

Sure, the nickname was bestowed on him sarcastically, but this didn't last too long.  After some thought, and consultation among ourselves, we came to the conclusion- yes, he is a perfect Sweetums, no joke.  Sweetums, as the eldest, set precedents, and he was a tough act to follow.  He set the tone, and we endeavored to meet the high standards he embodied.  There was never any real rivalry among us, but we internalized the same values, and I'd like to think we've all been successful human beings.  

Sweetums and his family have been living in Switzerland for just about sixteen years.  I called him quickly at 4AM Eastern Standard Time, while working the graveyard shift, and set up a Zoom conference.  I got to say hello to the kids, and commiserate with Sweetums about this crap year.  Things are going better in Switzerland than they are here in the 'States, but that's not a high bar to clear.  Of course, Christmas is going to be yet another washout, which is a super-bummer because I happen to love WeihnachtsmarktenIn the Before Times, Sweetums had floated the idea of a big family reunion in the 'States as a summer plan, but that was rendered impossible... I sincerely hope that the world returns to normal so we can make this thing happen.  That's not too much to ask for a birthday wish

Friday, December 4, 2020

Their Witnesses Are a Rogues Gallery

 Yesterday, I wrote a post about how the freelance lawyers/grifters bringing suit on behalf of the Trump campaign have been splitting the Republican party.  I figured that I would put up a post about the off the wall 'witnesses' that have been brought to court to plead their case for Trump's victory.

First off, we have the racist lady who speculates about what might happen if some 'Chow' shows up to vote without identification:

Yeah, that really turned out well... I even learned a new racial slur from a woman of color! 

Next up, we have a seemingly drunk woman in Michigan, who claimed to be an IT contractor for Dominion voting systems, ranting about poll books to a Republican state representative:

As added bonuses, she turns out to have a profile page on a website for actors and models... she deserves an Emmy for this particular performance. The crowning glory, besides her mop of hair, is the fact that she is on probation for committing computer crime

Then we have the truck driver who claimed that he was tasked with shipping fraudulent ballots from New York to Pennsylvania... and claims that his family is haunted by shadowy supernatural presences:

Dude's living in an A. Merritt novel, albeit a stupid one.  Shadow people, shadow ballots... he seems credible.

Thankfully, everyone involved in Trump's attempt to call a mulligan on the election is an idiot, from Trump on down.  Marx famously said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.  Right now, we are witnessing history as tragedy AND farce.  We're still not out of the weeds as a nation, there's always the possibility of violent response to Trump finally losing power, but somehow even that violence will be farcical.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Circular Firing Squad Forms

Lindsey Graham is a mendacious little twerp, but he made one prediction back in 2016 that is coming to fruition now:

In the aftermath of Donald Trump's loss to Joe Biden, there are rifts among Republicans, with crazed attorney Lin Wood urging Trump supporters not to vote in the upcoming Georgia senate runoff elections:  

"Do not be fooled twice. This is Georgia, we ain't dumb. We're not going to go vote on January 5th on another machine made by China. You're not going to fool Georgians again. Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election? For God's sake, fix it. You got to fix it before we'll do it again." 

 Wood's partner in the scam, Sidney Powell, is also echoing this bizarre strategy. This isn't going over well with mainstream Republicans, such as Newt Gingrich, have determined that Wood and his gang of grifters, pose a danger to Republican electoral prospects:

Poking around social media sites, it would seem that Breitbart, with its criticism of Wood, will be the next right-wing media operation to be determined insufficiently pure of ideology.  The right-wing is fracturing into factions in the aftermath of Trump's loss, and a Dolchstoßlegende is being written in real-time.  The 2022 and 2024 Republican primaries are sure to be a three-ring circus, with QAnon adherents, mainstream MAGA morons, and traditional Republicans jockeying for position in a party that has gone completely around the bend.  The circular firing squad has started to form up, and I keep scratching my head, pondering why they are tearing themselves apart over an incompetent con artist who managed to hijack their party.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Bourne Stupidity

Conspiracy theorists are those persons who reject the precepts of Occam's Razor, the simple explanation is to be eschewed in favor of byzantine plots and counterplots... I call this tendency Jones' Gluegun.  In the current political climate, Trump supporters are incapable of accepting that their candidate had a terrible record on the pandemic raging through the US, that African-Americans in cities vote, and that Trump's attacks on voting by mail led his supporters to eschew it, while Democratic voters embraced it.  No, Trump had to have been cheated out of victory by Sleepy Joe Biden.

The explanations for Trump's defeat have been manifold and bizarre.  My favorite conspiracy theory about this loss concerns a tale of a gun battle between U.S. Army Special Forces and CIA operatives in a CIA run server farm in Germany, a battle in which the military secured a server used to flip votes for Biden.  In some of the more baroque versions of the tale, CIA director Gina Haspel was injured, or perhaps killed, in the battle, so if she shows up in public, that means that the Deep State Cabal has cloned her.  Funny, this gun battle in Frankfurt never made the news in Deutschland, a country not known for mass gun violence.  In a sop to the QAnon crowd, who believe that an anonymous shitposter on a toxic internet imageboard is a high-ranking military intelligene operative, this narrative also posits that the 'Kraken' referred to by various MAGA morons, notably Sidney Powell, is the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion, never mind that this battalion is composed of trainees, not seasoned operatives.

On an even more sinister note, the minions of the Democratic Party arranged for an entire county to Michigan to just disappear.  Why couldn't the military prevent this from occurring?

The MAGA lunatics have given up on real life, substituting a whackaloon spy narrative for the mundane truth of electoral processes.  Understanding the reality of the situation would require study, which is anathema to these slugs. Why settle for a hum-drum tale of mail-in ballots and inner city vote tallies when you can have a high-octane thriller to occupy your imagination?  It's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with  the Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV guy as the protagonist... or, better yet, Jason Bourne, only stupid.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Mild Mannered Muscle Man Made Malevolent Masked Menace

 Some fictional characters are just too epic to be encompassed by a single actor.  When I was a wee boy, I saw the original Star Wars in the theater.  In the opening scene of this whiz-bang science-fiction film, depicting a shootout in a gleaming-white spaceship corridor, a discordant image appeared, a dark knight right out of a sword-and-sorcery movie:



Like most kids who first saw the film, this was a bit of a freakout, a menacing figure of nightmare, or perhaps knightmare, lending a Gothic touch to a space opera.  Appropriately, this archetype out of dark fantasy was played by a man who could have stepped out of a Frank Frazetta painting:


Well, David Prowse, who incarnated Darth Vader's menacing physique (James Earl Jones lent his sonorous voice to the villain), passed away at the age of 85 from COVID-19 complications:

By all accounts, he was a lovely man, well-loved by his costars and his legions of fans, though his relationship with Star Wars creator George Lucas soured for some time.  The conventional wisdom is that Mr Prowse wasn't exactly happy that James Earl Jones' voice had been dubbed over his without his knowledge:


James Earl Jones, magnanimously, elected to remain uncredited for the first two 'Star Wars' movies because he felt that David Prowse's physicality defined the performance.

Mr Prowse didn't always play villainous roles, he was an iconic figure in public safety announcements (which were pretty crazy in the 70s) in the UK, playing superhero Green Cross Code Man, confronting children who crossed streets in unsafe fashion:


Hilariously, he resumed the role, which garnered him the Order of the British Empire, in the 21st century, telling adults to cross the street responsibly:

The man lived a good life, having a career as a bodybuilder and weightlifting champion before his acting career took off, and I recall reading that he developed a line of travel dumbbells which could be filled with water for working out and emptied to be packed in luggage.  Just reading people's reactions to his death, he comes across as a jolly, kindly man- the sort of guy who would let kids sit on his massive arms when he visited schools for his safety campaign, the sort of guy who would gladly pose with fans at conventions.  It's amazing that such a nice fellow could so adequately play the most iconic villain in the pop-culture canon.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Vincenzo's Birthday 2020

 Today being November 30, I am continuing my annual tradition of celebrating my brother Vincenzo's birthday.  We would always double up the celebration- Thanksgiving, then Vin's birthday.  On one epic occasion, we managed to collect a large group of Vin's high school friends and sneak them into the house (they all parked around the block) while Vin was sent off on an errand.  Vin had no idea that the plot was afoot, and his surprise to see a few dozen friends in our living room was total... my older brother, Sweetums, managed to snap a photograph of the look of utter bewilderment on Vin's face when he realized what had happened.

A few years back, while the U.S. Army had Vin stationed in Vicenza, Italy, I visited him and his family for Thanksgiving, and stayed until his birthday- Sweetums came down from Switzerland, and I traveled with him to Zurich to spend his birthday with his family.  It was a perfectly timed vacation, hitting a holiday beloved by my family and two sibling birthdays.

Unfortunately, the pandemic put the kibosh on any travel this year, so the traditional Thanksgiving/Vin's Birthday combo had to take place via text messages.  I even miss catching Vin's spirited doggo, who is inordinately happy that Vin is working out of home, chewing on my sneaker.  On Thanksgiving, I told my slightly bummed-out mom to hold out for Easter of next year as the earliest feasible holiday to salvage.  This is a busy time of year for us, with holidays and family celebrations, so there is a real sense of missing out, so if things take a turn for the better, 2021 is going to be a banner year.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

I Remember When These Were a Thing

A friend of mine who works in a museum shop knows that I am a sucker for renewable shopping bags, so she obtained for me a bag promoting Museum Shop Sunday, a counter to the ubiquitous Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and a companion to Small Business Saturday. It's a nice little bag that conveys the message without flash or fanfare:

I remember when museum shops were a thing... indeed, when museums were a thing. I haven't taken a trip to a museum in about a year... no dinosaur bones or sculpture or archaeological material for me. I used to be a big museum nerd, I still would be if things weren't shut down. How civilized this Earth used to be. It's these small, humanizing trips, journeys of the mind as well as the feet, which spice things up... it's their loss which contributed to the interminable stretch of this year. 

As the daily number of cases nears 200,000, it seems as if museum trips aren't coming back for a long while.  I miss the quirky shops, usually staffed with charming, witty people like my friend, and I sure hope that the smaller museums, often on unsteady financial footing to begin with, will survive.  I bummed out enough about the dinosaurs being extinct, it would be unbearable if museums go extinct.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Quantum Physics Explained Meme Style

Quantum physics is generally considered a complicated topic, a topic which often stymies the layperson.  One of the most mind-bending topics of quantum physics is the Copenhagen interpretation, the proposal that the position of subatomic particles cannot be determined until they are observed, and that only probable positions can be estimated.  There are two sets of rules, one for unobserved particles and one for particles under observation.  I recently found a hilarious, easy explanation of the Copenhagen interpretation that employs the Distracted Boyfriend meme:

This is a masterpiece of science communication, a simple, memorable illustration of a complex scientific principle, using a funny, broadly recognized image as a delivery device. It's nice to see that someone is out there making science fun for contemporary audiences.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Buy Nothing Day? Do Nothing Day!

 Black Friday has never held any appeal for me.  I've never been a conspicuous consumer, and the idea of taking the day after Thanksgiving, a day meant for having out with the family, eating leftovers and playing board games, to drive around from rugby scrum to rugby scrum in search of bargains, seemed terrible.  Never mind putting poor, underpaid retail workers through the tortures of the damned... I don't want to buy into that sort of oppression.  This year, with the pandemic roaring back, the whole spectacle seems particularly horrific.  I'm not willing to die, or to kill, to buy a large-screen TV for 50% off.

I haven't even seen any reports of Black Friday sales figures, having spent most of the day sleeping.  For me, it hasn't been so much of a buy nothing day, but a do nothing day.  It's been a busy week, and I have to be at work at midnight, doing nothing is the greatest luxury there is these days.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A Somewhat Reserved Happy Thanksgiving

Here's wishing my readers a happy Thanksgiving for a not-so-happy year.  For most of the year, there has been little to be thankful for, so I will reserve my gratitude for next year, which I sure hope is a comeback year.  

I'm spending the holiday on the job, which is the best place to be on this socially-distant holiday.  I have a small pot of gravy simmering on a hotplate, and will soon be making a small stuffed turkey meatloaf in the toaster over.  For a treat, I gave Ginger a bowl of milk, and she'll be getting a bit of turkey later.

I made sure to text my siblings, and everybody is doing well.  My brother Sweetums, in Switzerland, busted out the XXL fondue pot to celebrate Thanksgiving in Swiss fashion.  My brothers Gomez and Vincenzo, and my super snarky sister, Pickle, are doing well.  I just heard from one of my uncles, and he reminded me to follow the governor's orders to hunker down, which pretty much describes a typical workday for me.

I spoke on the phone with Mom at some length.  She is in a bit of a melancholy mood because she's not used to a Thanksgiving spent apart from at least a portion of our large family.  Of course, travel was out of the question, especially given the fact that one of my nieces is awaiting a COVID test after a classmate of hers tested positive.  Even Christmas shopping was a wash for Mom, she went to a couple of places to look for gifts to ship to the grandchildren in Switzerland, and the pickings were slim.  I told Mom to hold out for Easter, when a vaccine is likely to be available and a regime better equipped to handle the pandemic is in place. That's something to be thankful for...

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving, to the extent to which it's enjoyable.  Right now, I have a 'dorm room turkey dinner' to finish assembling.  I'm thankful to have a toaster oven right now.