Friday, February 28, 2020

The Shadow Can Only Mock, It Cannot Make

There's a scene in J.R.R. Tolkien's Return of the King in which Frodo and Samwise are reunited after Frodo's capture by the villainous Orcs. Upon freeing Frodo, Sam speculates about the nature of the twisted, malign creatures, and Frodo answers: The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. So it is with the climate change denial industry, which attempted a rollout of a shiny new product, a young counterpart to teenaged climate activist Greta Thunberg. The Washington Post buried the lede in its initial coverage of the 'Anti-Greta':

Besides the fact that this kid is backed by fossil fuel interests, it also turns out that she is a white nationalist. Anti-immigrant? Antisemitic? Yep, she's the complete package, wrapping up all sorts of loathsome right-wing lunacy in a baby-faced package. The fact that she's German is just the final joke in a bad farce. Meanwhile, oil industry creeps in Alberta have been circulating sexualized cartoons of Greta Thunberg while their young industry spokesmodel crashes and burns almost as soon as she took the stage.

The Shadow can only mock, it cannot make... Greta Thunberg is a genuine activist, inspired by a righteous anger that her generation is being robbed of its birthright by a tiny minority of obscenely wealthy profiteers. The shadowy petrochemical industry groups attempted to come up with a counter to Greta, and they rolled out a twisted simulacrum... it's time to send this little neo-Nazi back to Mordor.

Thursday, February 27, 2020


It's funny when you see your thoughts echoed perfectly in the posts of others, but Doktor Zoom and Scott Lemieux perfectly echoed my sentiments regarding Mike Pence's appointment as Coronavirus Czar... this is a guy who allowed an HIV epidemic to hit rural Indiana on his watch. While there is no stigma attached to COVID 19 like there is to HIV, the fact remains that an anti-science bigot is going to be heading up the anti-pandemic efforts when we need for someone to be serious for a second.

The sad, sick fact of our current dilemma is that, amid other CDC budget cuts, Trump disbanded the US Pandemic Response Team in 2018, ostensibly as a cost-cutting measure, though Trump's self-dealing golf cart rentals have cost taxpayers over a half-million dollars. The CDC response to the outbreak is incoherent at best.

The creepiest thing about this potential calamity is that Trump has long been skeptical about vaccines. An anti-science fanatic who has gutted the non-partisan governmental agencies which respond to emergencies is the last person we need to respond to a medical crisis such as we're facing.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Gave up Lent for Lent

A while ago, I wrote a post about how authoritarian Christians decided to adopt a 'no Fat Tuesday, all Ash Wednesday' brand of Christianity. Even more worrisome, they adopted a bizarro form of Christianity entirely devoid of Christ... the gentle Nazarene was thrown over in favor of his smitey Old Testament dad. I used to be a fairly devout Catholic, but the sexual abuse scandals combined with a conservative orthodoxy which made friends of mine into second class citizens shunned by their families, made me decide to give up religion for Lent.

I actually used to observe what for me was the ultimate Lenten discipline... I would go coffee free for the forty-day season. Being a caf-fiend, this was quite a sacrifice, though it would end up with me 'resetting' my coffee addiction, returning to coffee the punch it should have. Now, I couldn't even be bothered, it's not like I live a profligate lifestyle, why give up an inexpensive luxury, even as an exercise in secular self-discipline?

I actually continued my Mardi Gras celebration into Ash Wednesday, meeting with friends at a Mexican restaurant not far from my workplace for a nice pre-work dinner. Who needs fasting and abstinence when one could have a nice, somewhat luxe dinner with close friends? Giving up Lent for Lent was a gradual thing for me, the cultural associations with not eating meat on Fridays used to be a point of pride, a mark of solidarity to a community. I'm a member of other communities, though, most of which haven't forced me to choose sides in a culture war that I would never have chosen.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

When the World Seems Like It's Going to Hell, Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!

Sure, the world is going to hell, with the COVID 19 outbreak seeming to approach pandemic status, violence breaking out in India during Trump's visit, and the stock market tanking, but it's also Mardi Gras, so I'm taking a breather to go eat a po'boy before going out drinking. Carnival may have been cancelled, but the good times must roll ever onward.

A few years back, I wrote a post about that song most associated with 'Mardi Gras', Iko Iko. Back in the 1960s, three teenaged relatives (two sisters and a cousin) had a hit with the song:

I found a performance by the group, now mature women, which demonstrates that they still maintained that sass and charm they had as schoolgirls:

I'm glad I wasn't drinking a Sazerac when Rose said she was 'moving her motor to the beat of the music'. Anyway, the world won't be getting any better or much worse within the next twenty-four hours, so might as well enjoy Fat Tuesday. There's always Ash Wednesday for reflecting on the current Badness.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Remarkable Trajectory

After yesterday's triumphant post about science, here's some sad news, Katherine Johnson, the NASA computer whose mathematics skills were crucial to the success of the United States' manned spaceflight projects, has died at the age of 101:

Largely ignored for the contributions that allowed white men like Alan Shepard and John Glenn to (rightfully) be lauded as heroes, Katherine Johnson, an African-American woman, finally received the adulation she and her colleagues deserved, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, and ending up as one of the subjects of Margot Lee Shetterly's 2016 book Hidden Figures (the basis of the eponymous movie). That's a little late for someone whose mathematical work in the 1960s allowed the Apollo lunar modules to synch up with the orbital command modules to safely bring our Moon Men back to Earth.

I feel obligated to point out that sexism and racism ruin everything, and that Civil Rights are crucial to allowing humans to reach their potential. Katherine Johnson was able to succeed in a thirty-three year career with NASA despite the racism and sexism of American society, but it wasn't enough to make her a household name. Things have improved since the not-so-good old days, and NASA created a lovely tribute to her:

While I often rail against the short-term silliness of humanity, I believe in the long-term success of our species... provided we get over our bigotries and our greed. Sure, it looks as if the lunatics have taken over the asylum, but there are enough dedicated, brilliant people, such as Katherine Johnson, to maintain my faith in us.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Meanwhile, Real Science Proceeds Apace

Yesterday's post was about a self-taught 'engineer' conducting an experiment in an attempt to prove a pseudoscientific thesis... it was nice to see him using empiricism in his quest for knowledge, though his efforts... uhhhh... fell flat. Today, I am more interested in real science- the CERN crew has been able to create and maintain antimatter for up to twenty-four hours.

One of the mysteries of the universe is the prevalence of matter- if the Big Bang had produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter, the opposite-charged particles would have annihilated each other, resulting in No Universe At All. A small asymmetry at the beginning would have resulted in the current mass (heh heh) asymmetry. It's all very heady stuff, but suffice it to say that real discoveries are being made, and nobody has to plaster themselves onto the desert floor to make them.

Antimatter has come up in a few of the Secret Science Club lectures I have recapped. I imagine it will become a more common subject as physicists better learn how to create and maintain the stuff, even if it really wouldn't be so good for power generation.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Flight of Stupid Icarus

There are those of us who fly to Empyrean heights while others trudge through the mud and muck. The peril, though, is that these heroes can fly too close to the Sun, which is small, close to the Earth, and trapped within the dome of the firmament. Such a hero was Stupid Icarus, aka 'Mad' Mike Hughes, who died as he lived, launching himself into the wild blue yonder in a steam-powered homemade rocket in another attempt to prove that the Earth is flat:

It seems as if his grasp of aeronautical/astronautical engineering was a sound as his grasp of astronomy and geology. Protip: steampunk is a genre of fiction.

There's something to be said, though, about dying in the pursuit of one's passions... it beats, say, dying of starvation in the gutter. Sure, he didn't contribute anything to the sum total of human knowledge (besides a cautionary tale to wannabe daredevils), but the world needs its Quixotes.

This one's for Mad Mike:

Just, like, pretend the song is stupid...

Friday, February 21, 2020

White, Far-Right, and Out of Sight!

It happens every February, when the 'why isn't there a White History Month?' crowd comes out of the woodwork... right-wing white guys decide to opine about civil rights matters. It isn't pretty:

Yes, white people deserve credit for ending the evil, hypocritical policies that white people put in place- where is Bull Connor's participation trophy for not gunning down marchers?

It gets even worse, as the lunatic fringe seeks to efface the first African-American president from history, and laud a racist buffoon instead:

This is a quick post, written just before I head off to work. I'll have time to expand upon it during the quiet, pre-dawn hours. For now, though, I just have to note that these nutbars are disgusting, and entirely too predictable.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

I Can't Believe It's Not Trump!

I didn't watch last night's Democratic debate, having spent much of the evening attending a state-mandated annual training course for licensing purposes, and the rest of the evening writing about using pulsar timing arrays to detect gravitational waves. I did, though, watch Elizabeth Warren's evisceration of Bloombito, and it was a thing to behold.

Bloomberg is basically Trump Lite, being a champion of racist policies and having a history of sexual harassment. Sure, he's a self-made billionaire, and a lot smarter than Trump, but his piggishness is merely better hidden than that of true vulgarian Trump. Trump's history of misconduct is buried by NDA's, and so is Bloomberg's history of misconduct:

I'll be voting for Elizabeth Warren in the primaries. It's time that a woman take the reins of power in order to get this country off of the calamitous course that greedy, regressive old men have followed. I can't help but think that Bloomberg is running merely to protect the huge tax cut he got under the GOP. If he thinks that Trump is embarrassing, he should run as a Republican... fix the party of Trump, Gohmert, and Gaetz. He should be escorted off the Democratic debate stage... it's too bad that we don't have Sandman Sims around anymore.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Taking the Pulse of Gravitational Waves

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring Dr Chiara Mingarelli of the University of Connecticut and the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics. Dr Mingarelli is also a member of NANOGrav, the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves. Taking the stage, Dr Mingarelli started off with a joke: "Thank you for clapping for my new tenure track position."

Dr Mingarelli started her lecture by acknowledging Black History Month and calling attention to the accomplishments of three African-American women... Katherine Johnson, is a former NASA computer who calculated orbital mechanics necessary for NASA's early forays into space, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. Dr Jedidah Isler, is Yale University's first African-American woman PhD in astrophysics, and is an expert on blazars, the supermassive black hole powered galactic nuclei. Shirley Ann Jackson, MIT's first African-American woman PhD recipient, who was Chair of the NRC, president of RPI, and invented a portable fax machine.

After this topical introduction, Dr Mingarelli took us back to the deep past, the days soon after the Big Bang, when dark matter filaments spread throughout a very early universe. One billion years after the Big Bang, galaxies began to form as matter in halo clusters. Then galaxies began to form in spiral and elliptical shapes, the elliptical galaxies being the most massive galaxies, which have lost their spiral structure. Galaxies have supermassive black holes in their centers. Twenty four thousand light years from Earth, the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*, thought to have 4.6 million solar masses, lies at the center of the Milky Way. Stars near Sagittarius A* have randomly distributed orbits, but further stars have regular orbits. Dr Mingarelli showed us an animation by Dr Andrea Ghez depicting the orbit of stars around the Milky Way's center, similar to this video:

Galaxies merge, and Dr Mingarelli noted that the supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies merge as well. This merging creates gravitational waves, ripples in spacetime which actually cause distance to stretch and squash. To illustrate this, she performed a funny 'gravitational wave dance'. She then turned the topic of the lecture to pulsars, which she likened to cosmic lighthouses. Pulsars are excellent clocks, as accurate as all but the most modern atomic clocks, flashing radio waves at regular intervals (though gravitational waves can change the distance between a pulsar and Earth). Pulsars were discovered by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, whose supervisors at Cambridge University tasked her with looking for quasars. She discovered a periodic radio signal and was told to drop study of it, but she suspected that she would be kicked out of the program soon, so she studied this radio source with diligence. She initially called this radio source a 'periodic star' but a reporter gave the object the catchier name 'pulsar'. Her male supervisor won the Nobel prize for this discovery.

Pulsars serve as clocks, accurate to withing 100 nanoseconds over a decade. Redshift and blueshift in pulsars is caused by gravitation waves stretching and squashing distance. This doesn't happen very frequently, in fifteen years, no gravitational wave activity has been noted, suggesting longer wave periods or weaker gravitational waves. It's possible that, with better instruments, the entire galaxy may be purposed as a gravitational wave detector.

There are other means for detecting gravitational waves, such as LIGO, a ground-based laser interferometer. Dr Mingarelli had another dance to demonstrate how LIGO works, with one arm extending while another arm at a 90 degree angle contracts. She noted that the signal from two black holes colliding was about 100 hertz in frequency, which is audible. The colliding black holes which triggered LIGO were stellar mass black holes. When two supermassive black holes merge, they emit radiation from all over the electromagnetic spectrum: x-rays, UV light, radio waves. The LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) mission, slated for 2034, is designed to create a new avenue to explore the universe, meant to detect galaxy formation and mergers, subject important to cosmology and basic physics.

Dr Mingarelli then returned to the subject of timed pulsar arrays- the data sets are sufficiently long and of sufficient quality that the lack of results in signal detection is significant. Are there some sort of hangups in black hole mergers that reduce merger rates? Could black holes not be as massive as thought? One of the big problems of astrophysics is the Final Parsec Problem (PDF). Black holes sink to the bottom of gravitational wells until they get within a parsec of each other. Using only gravitational waves, it would take longer than the age of the universe to get the black holes to merge. The centers of galaxies are also filled with gas and stars, which might interact with black holes which 'slingshot' out matter, shrink, and lose energy so the black holes can finally merge after billions of years. If there are not enough stars, no merger will take place. Dr Mingarelli showed us a NASA video simulation of two black holes colliding:

As the black holes merge, their outer gas rings merge to form a circumbinary accretion disk. The merging black holes send out 'messengers', radiation and gravitational waves- by measuring the amplitude of these waves, we might be able to find out how the black holes merge, overcoming the final parsec problem. Dr Mingarelli posed a mind-bender of a question: do local conditions apply everywhere? It sounds ridiculous, it may be ridiculous, maybe there is no solution to the final parsec problem. In galactic mergers, a third galaxy results, with matter and energy ejected in the merger.

If no results are found through pulsar timing arrays by 2030, scientists will have to ask some hard questions- do all galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centers? Dr Mingarelli asserted that the science is doable, and scientists are doing it. She hinted at something exciting occurring, with detection possibly occurring within three years. She posed the question, do the models reflect reality? Do black holes have less mass than thought? Are their 'weirder' factors at play? The binary supermassive black hole problem should be resolvable, and one possible binary has been found using 'maps' of the cosmos. Not a lot of weird stuff has been detected by using pulsar timing arrays, but they may help astrophysicists figure out which galaxies harbor supermassive black holes, though such supermassive black holes might be decoupled from their gas accretion disks when we find them. There is probably a 'sweet spot' for supermassive black holes, bigger might not be better. At ten to the tenth power solar masses, mergers might take place too quickly, at lower masses, the energy of mergers might be hard to detect. The 'goldilocks zone' might be around one billion solar masses.

Dr Mingarelli noted that the Sombrero Galaxy might be one of the best candidates for the search while M87 might be too big, to difficult to detect a supermassive black hole in. The object of the search is to learn how galaxies develop and grow.

Dr Mingarelli followed the lecture up with a Q&A session. The first question regarded LIGO, and its limitation to low-frequency waves- Dr Mingarelli joked that if the wavelengths are too long, LIGO is no-go. Another question regarded dark matter- if dark matter follows the MACHO model, it could interact with black holes, but such interaction is hard to detect.

Asked about the ten year time frame, Dr Mingarelli noted that the most pessimistic model has the gravitational waves discovered withing ten years, if not, then something is broken with the model.

A question about Jocelyn Bell Burnell's biography elicited a sad tale of sexism... she had a child while getting her PhD, so she worked an array of temp jobs, as did her husband. Her salary was capped because, combined with her husband's salary, the family income would have exceeded that of her department head. She was also an Irish woman working in the UK during the Troubles. When she was finally awarded the Breakthrough Prize, she donated the winnings for a scholarship for refugees and migrants. Dr Mingarelli half-jokingly referred to her as St Jocelyn of the Pulsar.

Asked whether she herself faced discrimination, Dr Mingarelli said yes, but not as much as women of color typically face. She noted a subtle discrimination, having comments ignored, then attributed to male colleagues. She stated that things could get better, but that topic is a different talk.

I make no bones about having a bio bias, so it's important for me to pay heed to the physics and astrophysics lectures. Dr Mingarelli spoke about some heady subjects and leavened her talk with humor, so the brain-bending was accompanied by funny bone tickling. Her lecture also combined both the joy of discovery and the righteous indignation of an advocate for better representation of underserved populations in the STEM fields. This combination of hard science and sound policy is exactly what I expect from the Secret Science Club. Kudos to Dr Mingarelli, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.

Here's a video of Dr Mingarelli lecturing about pulsar timing array and black hole mergers. This video is bound to stretch and squash your brain like gravitational waves stretch and squash signals from pulsars:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Chinatown HO!

Last week, a drive-by commentor decided to challenge me regarding my dedication to the proposition that sanctuary cities are a good thing. In typical fashion, it was a bit of a stupid 'gotcha': Be sure to give sanctuary to the Asians that may be carrying the shiny new virus.

Aside from the fact that various governments have cracked down on travel to and from the city of Wuhan, and no cases of the COVID-19 virus have been reported in New York, businesses in New York City's Chinatowns are suffering because of fear of an outbreak and bias attacks against persons of east Asian descent have been reported. I refuse to live my life in fear, so I will be stopping in Manhattan's Chinatown either on my way to (if I can get my ass in gear in time) or from (the venerable Wo Hop is 24 hours) tonight's Secret Science Club lecture.

I'm a New Yorker, I refused to let the 9/11 attacks cause me to fear my Muslim neighbors, it's not like some epidemic nineteen years later is going to cause me to fear my Chinese immigrant and Chinese-American neighbors.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Geekly Day of Obligation?

I'm thinking of seeing The Rise of Skywalker tonight, more as the nerdly equivalent of a holy day of obligation than a burning need to see the film. To be honest, I'm more excited about Mark Hamill being cast as Skeletor in a 'He-Man' reboot (though Henry Rollins being cast as Triclops is even funnier). I figure it won't be in the theaters much longer- as it is, it's not playing in any of the cinemas in Yonkers, so I will probably see it in a mall theater the next county over. Luckily, this being President's Day, traffic probably won't be too bad.

I figure I'll add on to this post after I see the film. It hasn't garnered very good reviews, and I imagine it won't be as entertaining as the last 'Star Wars' project I watched, but it is supposed to finish a story arc that began in 1977, which contains some of my favorite films (Phantom Menace, natch!). I'm not one for nerdrage, but I'm also not one to gild a turd. Rest assured, though, if the movie is terrible, it won't have retroactively ruined my childhood.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Firmest Pillar of Good Government Has Toppled

Years ago, I had an investigative job which took me to various courthouses around the NY Metro Area on a somewhat regular basis (mainly to get duces tecum subpoenas for medical records 'so ordered' by a judge). I remember taking great inspiration from the inscription about the New York County Courthouse:

For those who don't wish to squint at the photo, it reads 'THE TRUE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IS THE FIRMEST PILLAR OF GOOD GOVERNMENT'. Words to live by, if you are interested in good government. Those who see government as an obstacle to their private gain are uninterested in the true administration of justice... so here we have over a thousand former Department of Justice employees calling on AG Barr to resign. Barr is not interested in the true administration of justice, nor in good government- he's a bagman for oligarchs, trying to garner preferential treatment for the president's cronies.

Right-wing dead-enders often talk about a 'Deep State' that is undermining the Trump administration. In reality, the people who constitute the 'Deep State' are the largely non-partisan public employees who keep things running in government agencies. These are the men and women who deplore seeing the agencies that employed them degenerate into political machines for corrupt regimes. Barr isn't going anywhere, and there really isn't a mechanism to get rid of him at this time, but it's important that his misdeeds are noted, for historic purposes. Hopefully, we'll get through this rough patch for our nation, and keeping a record of how our norms were violated is an important part of warning future citizens that the mistakes of 2016 don't get repeated.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Personal Favorite

Today was a fun day, though I am feeling it now... I can still take a beating at my age, but I feel it later. We spent about half an hour teaching my personal favorite judo throw, tai otoshi, to our advanced students. Tai otoshi is a funny throw, a hand technique which looks like a leg technique. In this video, watch the instructor's hands as he finishes the throw, it's that push/pull combo which impels his partner over his extended leg:

We had our students practice the technique from both standing (traditional) and kneeling (emphasizing that they can follow up with the kesa gatame pinning technique). We also encouraged them to get creative, playing with one handed variants (being a brute, I used to play around with a one-handed technique emphasizing the lapel grip, while my main sensei prefers one that emphasizes the sleeve grip... a matter of push versus pull). One of the girls, at the wise age of seven, figured out that tai otoshi is a good follow-up to an unsuccessful shoulder throw, seoi-nage... clever girl! I was very proud of everybody, they played well with each other, and they are a mixed group- we had students seven to fifteen, white belt to green, and they mixed it up regardless of relative size and experience. They are a wonderful bunch of kids. I especially loved the fact that they were taking so well to my favorite throw, a throw that plays well with other techniques. Even better was the fact that some of them figured out how to incorporate it into a suite of techniques, something which we've demonstrated to them with other combos.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Romance With a Side of Whimsy

It was while I was on line at the supermarket checkout (I don't use the self-scan... remember, the job you save may end up being your own) last night, purchasing provisions for the graveyard shift- the guy behind me, a gent of about sixty or so, had flowers and two Valentine's Day cards. I put the divider on the conveyor belt and joked that he had a good memory for calendar dates. I then busted his hump a bit about having two cards, "One for your wife, and one for your mistress?" He took it in good humor, then contrasted the two cards... one of them had a sincere message, and the other one was a 'Peanuts' themed popup card that played Linus and Lucy when opened, which tickled him pink.

I joked about how buying his wife two Valentine's cards would earn him some brownie points. He was a nice guy, and I imagine that his wife, being the sort of woman who'd get a kick out of a 'Peanuts' card, is a jolly gal. Romance with a side of whimsy, what a nice idea. The trope of tragic love is unhelpful to anyone, maybe we all should be slightly goofy when it comes to matters of the heart.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

In New York, We Don't Negotiate With Terrorists

In a clear case of 'do what I want or your airports get it', Donald Trump is trying to extort the government of New York into dropping investigations into his fiduciary chicanery:

Put succinctly, Trump wants to exclude New York airports from security pre-screening 'Trusted Traveler' programs unless the state drops its 'sanctuary' policy. Sanctuary status ensures that undocumented persons aren't afraid to go to the authorities if they are victims of crime. By keeping immigrants afraid, exploiters and abusers, such as Trump himself, are allowed to exploit and abuse their victims with little fear of their misdeeds coming to light.

Thankfully, our attorney general, Letitia James, isn't having any of it, reminding Trump that he is picking a fight with someone who has no responsibility for the lawsuits against him:

As a New Yorker, I can say that I have had a disdain for and disgust with Trump for decades... we deplored him before it was cool. It's nice to see that Tish James is continuing this grand tradition of dunking on The Donald. Besides, the people being discomfited by this policy are people who can afford regular air travel, so it's not as if the average New Yorker can't wait out this stupid conflict until our attorney general kicks Trump's ass.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Civil War 2.0 Pre-Enactor

Ugh, here's a dispatch from the fever swamps of the Right- a disgruntled right-winger ejected from a Civil War re-enactor troupe sent death threats (and a pipe-bomb) to his former faux comrades under the guise of 'Antifa'. Of course, he's a registered sex offender... most of these creeps seem to be. The perpetrator really laid it on thick, with a popular antifascist symbol used as the return address on the envelopes he sent.

A letter he sent to his former buddies is so incoherent that it suggests that the guy is an 'English only' nutbag- these people never seem to have a firm grasp on the language they claim to champion:

“Don’t think metal detectors will help, we have plastic pipe bombs. If you won’t stop this celebration of slavery than maybe we need to hurt the participants to stop it instead of just the visitors…We are the ones that did it to you last year, we used a bad bomb guy his mercury switch, and rocket launch wire didn’t work on the pipe bomb covered in nuts, just so you know we are real and returning.”

Thankfully, his little game was given away by his failure to obfuscate his detailed knowledge of the group, and an animosity toward a particular member. Even better, while serving a previous prison sentence, the d00d drew diagrams of pipe bombs, similar in design to the bomb he sent.

I think the guy would make a great cellmate for the MAGAbomber, though the way things are going, Trump will probably pardon them both and appoint them to high ranking positions in the DoJ.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Current Earworm: There's Great Danger

One of the best things about listening to college radio is that the DJs, not constrained by market studies, can play whatever they want. I recently heard a classic late-70s number by Wire, one I hadn't heard in a while, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. Here's Ex Lion Tamer from the band's first album, a two minute and nineteen second barn-burner with droll, cryptic lyrics that hint at deeper meaning:

"Next week will solve your problems... fish fingers all in a line.
The milk bottles stand empty. Stay glued to your TV set."

Is this a riff on the hand-to-mouth existence of poor people, eating cheap processed food while letting some services lapse for lack of money? Is it just a piss-take? Stuff to ponder while I'm driving to bar trivia tonight, to be sure.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Beautiful Settings for Ugly Policy

I like 'classical' architecture, the sort exemplified by the James A. Farley general post office in midtown Manhattan, itself the homely little sister to the late, lamented Penn Station. I like the idea of public buildings being 'civic temples', resplendent with Tuckahoe marble. I'm not married to the aesthetic, though, and there are examples of modernist architecture which I find appealing. I'm adamantly opposed to Trump's plan to issue an executive order mandating classical architecture for new federal building projects- the plan, dubbed Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again (PDF) , seems tailor-made for corruption, for no-bid, cost-plus projects awarded to connected contractors who will deliver kickbacks. It also smacks of fascism- the Nazis were big on a particular national aesthetic. Trump really should butt out of the minutiae of government projects, especially considering his tastes run to a parody of the rococo. He can't even perform his current job functions, why even bother getting involved with construction projects across the country?

'Pretty courthouses for ugly policy' would be one hell of an aesthetic- he wants to expand upon the death penalty for drug dealers (excepting the Sackler family, to be sure). With the gloves off now that his impeachment was quashed by a corrupt senate, he's looking to go full Duterte. So much for criminal justice reform!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Yeah, Uh... Oscar Night

I don't like to think of myself as a philistine, but I'm not really that knowledgeable about the current film industry, having always been more of a reader than a filmgoer. Therefore, I'm looking over the list of Oscar nominees and I realize that I haven't seen a single one. The only film I saw in the theater last year was the big kaiju throwdown, which I saw on the big screen because I am a sucker for goofy monster movies and I know one of the actors involved in the motion-capture scenes.

I'm amused that Joker is nominated, because it's a 'comic book movie'. From what I've heard, it's also an homage to Scorcese, a man the Academy has snubbed for many years. I do have to note that all of the individuals nominated for best director are men... liberal Hollywood, my ass!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Makeup Application Gone Awry

The problem with being an abusive employer with no loyalty to anyone is that your underlings don't warn you when you do something stupid. Keeping that in mind, behold the 'Alpha Male' in the White House:

This guy is supposed to be a billionaire, why does he always look like a wreck? Even funnier than that unflattering picture is a follow-up, describing Trump as 'dancing with the sunset and strong winds when he walked to the Oval Office from the Marine One on the South Lawn'. This is an example of laying it on too thick, it actually overshoots the DPK-style propaganda and lands firmly into parody territory. I can't imagine that this thread isn't a subtle undermining of an emperor who has no clothes. At any rate, it left a mark on the vain, vapid, venal one's psyche.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Post About Pokeweed

I'm not a Southerner by any stretch of the imagination, but I recently added pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) to my foraging repertoire. It's toxic, though tasty, and it comes up in the early spring, right around the time that my beloved stinging nettles are poking (heh) out of the ground. It was with some surprise that I recently found a post about pokeweed from the Saveur website.

It's a good article, but the idea of pokeweed making it to farmers' markets isn't plausible to me... after all, the stuff is toxic (though so are the ubiquitous kidney beans we eat worldwide). They are delicious, when boiled thrice, then cooked with oil or bacon drippings or what-have-you, but they do, as food historian and chef Michael Twitty noted in the article: “It will clean you out from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.” I don't know if it's because the body is trying to unload the stuff, but it gives Plantago a run (heh) for the money. For the record, I also eat Plantago, but it's not very high on my list.

This post also gives me an excuse, as if one were needed, to tout Michael Twitty's work- the man is a national treasure from a historical, sociological, and culinary standpoint:

My first exposure to the man was through his collaboration with the good folks at Townsends, with his period re-enactor cooking demonstrations being a good introduction to his oeuvre:

Akara are delicious, they'd go really well with a side of poke sallet.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Silver for Safety

Today, I learned that my beloved Yonkers was named the second safest city in the United States by the WalletHub website, ranking number one in their 'Home and Community Safety' category. According to a WalletHub analyst:

"Yonkers is the second safest city in the U.S. It ranked first in terms of home and community safety. There are a large number of active firefighters per capita, a large share of sheltered homeless and a low number of traffic and pedestrian fatalities per capita,"

This comes as a surprise to me... though I love my beautiful Yonkers, it wasn't so long ago that Yonkers had a hard reputation (CONTENT WARNING BOTH LINKS). I've never had any hassles in the City of Y______, but I figured that even my safe middle/working class neighborhood had occasional bar fights. I guess that it's not as rowdy here as I thought, does this make by 'Big Bad Bald Bastard' persona obsolete?

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Mitt Grows a Spine?!?

Today's shocker was Mitt Romney's vote to convict Trump in the impeachment shitshow. I never knew the guy had the spine to buck the Republican ranks. Mitt cites his religious faith as the reason for his vote, and I have to note that the Mormons do have an interest in protecting the rights of religious minorities, being members of a religious minority themselves. I also suspect that Trump's anti-immigration policies are seen as problematic by a Mormon church that sees immigrants as potential converts.

I also imagine that Romney's current act against Trump was inspired to some extent by chagrin at his former subservience to the crass, vulgar Queens lout... the political manifestation of the emotions conveyed in this picture:

Oh, Mitt, you knew back then that you were doing something craven, at least you found your spine a few years later. I'm not ready to call Mitt's vote a 'profile in courage', it's more of a 'profile in not being utterly craven', but it's a start. He's already taking flak from Trump and his cult, and will probably be drummed out of the Republican party. I can't imagine him becoming a Democrat, but it seems a foregone conclusion that he will become an independent of some sort. If he can inspire other adherents of the LDS Church to follow suit, that would be a big blow to the Religious Right, with Mormons having an uneasy political alliance with evangelical Christians (much as conservative Roman Catholics do). I'm no Mitt fan, but if he can hasten the demise of the GOP, then I figure I could say something nice about him.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Seeing an Old Favourite With Heterochrome Eyes

One of my favourite podcasts is the SFFaudio, which concerns science-fiction and fantasy fiction. The hosts are genial and knowledgeable, and often engage in digressions about politics and current events. They also have a really good collection of PDFs of old pulp magazine scans, which are catnip to nerdy fellows such as myself.

This week, the subject of the show was The Lurking Fear, a particularly lurid early work by H.P. Lovecraft. At its heart, the story is a morlock/CHUD/troglodyte tale, set in a rural Dutch-American community in the Catskill Mountains. The episode starts off with a dramatic reading of the story, followed up by a discussion, in which the hosts bring up some possibilities which I never considered, but (given HPL's obsession with the downfall of families) seem natural. To engage in somewhat of a SPOILER, they bring up the idea that the story covers much of the same ground as the better known, better regarded The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The website also displays the original illustrations of the tale from its publication in Home Brew magazine, illustrations rendered by 'Bastard fave Clark Ashton Smith.

The story itself is a fun, albeit gruesome, horror tale, featuring some of Lovecraft's must purple prose- especially in his descriptions of the vegetation growing in the low, rolling mountain setting. Like most Lovecraft tales, it's somewhat marred by Lovecraft's racism against, of all people, the Dutch. This has passed into trope status in the Tor Lovecraft reread, termed by Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth as 'The Degenerate Dutch'. If you are at all a fan of subterranean anthropophage tales, give it a listen, and stick around for the commentary afterwards. I certainly looked at the story differently after listening to it, and I don't even have Martense eyes.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Caucus? Sounds Raucous!

It's not very often that I cast my eyes Iowards... Iowa is one of the few states I've never been, the sort of state that Wisconsin friends would dismiss as 'Idiots Out Wandering Around'. It's not a very diverse place, and it's the sort of place that sends a creep like Steve King to DC... and this is why I wonder why the rest of us tolerate its outsized importance in our political processes.

That being said, the Iowa Caucuses actually sound like they'd be fun, once. Generally, I don't have the time to devote to a drawn-out process like a caucus- while I enjoy seeing my neighbors, I like being able to get to the polls, vote, and get out in ten minutes. When I meet with neighbors, booze is typically involved... that's the sort of neighborhood in which I reside. The caucus seems byzantine, the sort of cryptic contest in which a coin toss can place someone with no national appeal into the spotlight for a brief moment before the more representative states catch up.

For the record, I will be voting for Elizabeth Warren in the primary. She's smart and organized, able to bring twenty-something rentboys to their knees, and would make a good counterpoint to the abysmally stupid current occupant of the White House. I have a weird feeling that a centrist candidate such as Biden (or, indeed, Klobuchar) will win Iowa, but suspect that this will be just a blip. Maybe one countrywide primary election is the solution to the issue of Iowa, and the similarly not-so-diverse New Hampshire, playing a disproportionate role in national politics. The caucus may be a quaint historical artifact, but quaintness isn't exactly benefiting the country.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Super Bowl... or SATAN BOWL?!?!?

I've long maintained that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the greatest trick the authoritarians ever played was convincing the world that the Devil exists. What better perpetual enemy than an invisible, immortal, irredeemable Adversary, one which couldn't be reached for comment to sort out the reasons for conflict? Even better, by claiming their human enemies are in league with this enemy of God, the authoritarians can portray them as irredeemable, worthy of nothing short of death.

The 'Satanic Panic' subset of conspiracy weirdos are claiming that the Super Bowl is one big Illuminati ritual to honor Moloch:

It seems that some of them have even figured out that 'Super Bowl' can be misspelled, as a hoary joke, as 'Superb Owl', and that this has a sinister significance:

I'm always amazed by how everyday terms and tropes come across as mysterious revelations to the malcontent shut-ins.

My personal favorite tweet in that thread is the one in which the nutbar refuses to consent to the 'energy harnessing' ritual of the halftime show. This is the first time I've even seen a MAGA fan concerned about consent. I don't know how they figure their energy would get drained by watching a show on the TV, but they should be so lucky to have Jennifer Lopez and Shakira drain their precious bodily fluids.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Happy Ever After Is at the End of the Rainbow

Via LGM, this news comes as a genuine blow: Andy Gill, guitarist of Gang of Four, has died at the all-too-young age of 64. Emma Goldman famously said, "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution." I have no doubt that Emma would have been a huge Gang of Four fan- the band combined trenchant satire, lefty politics, and an amazing groove. Andy Gill supplied the jagged guitars which formed a counterpoint to bandmate Hugh Allen's funk-inspired bass lines and lead singer Jon King's biting, juvenalian lyrics and haunting melodica playing.

I consider the band's first album (Entertainment!) to be essential listening. During the Iraq War, I compulsively listened to the album after watching the nightly news, while pounding away at a heavy bag... it was a good way to sublimate the wrath that I felt at the time. The opening track, Ether, was written about 'The Troubles', but with a quick edit, it could have been about Operation Iraqi Liberation, swapping out Gitmo for Long Kesh and Mosul for Rockall:

While singing songs of righteous rage, the band also managed to combine their anger with humor, such as describing a bikini-clad actress on television as 'dressed for the H-bomb' in I Found that Essence Rare (perhaps my favorite song by the band):

This humor comes to the fore in To Hell with Poverty, which perfectly showcases Andy Gill's discordant guitar playing:

In later releases, the band toned down the dissonance to produce some danceable music, but the leftist satire remained a key component of even their most 'commercial' sounding songs:

Sadly, the band's material remains as topical as it did back in the late 70s:

It is fitting that Andy Gill was touring until the end of his life, his message being so necessary in these dark and stupid days. The message that history is not made by great men is important in a day and age when stupid, venal men are in charge over much of the world:

I'm going to spend much of the overnight shift listening to Andy's music, and the message conveyed in the songs he helped to craft. It's not a comforting message, but it is a challenge to act for positive change... and it's danceable as hell. This is the sort of music that Emma Goldman would approve of- what better tribute to Andy Gill could there be?

ADDENDUM: I think I found that better tribute, from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello- "His jagged plague disco raptor attack industrial funk deconstructed guitar anti-hero sonics and fierce poetic radical intellect were formative for me,"