Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Valuable Social Distancing Resource

In these days of social distancing, one has to derive one's entertainment mainly from solitary pursuits, of which reading is perhaps the best (no jokes, now!). Thankfully, the Internet Archive has instituted a National Emergency Library for great justice the common good.

Poking around the archive, I found a rare novel by my beloved Jack Vance. Written in 1965 and published under Jack's full name in 1967, John Holbrook Vance's The Pleasant Grove Murders is a murder mystery set in the fictional San Rodrigo County in northern California, a few hours drive southeast of San Francisco. It would seem that Jack Vance was in a 'mystery' phase of his career during the 60s, as even his Science Fiction tales, such as 1961
s The Moon Moth (one of my absolute favorites) and 1964's The Star King and The Killing Machine were mysteries. The Pleasant Grove Murders itself is a sequel to The Fox Valley Murders, published in 1966... which I foolishly found after I'd read The Pleasant Grove Murders.

Jack Vance didn't use quite so flowery an idiom in his mysteries as he did in his Science Fiction and Fantasy fiction. The long, flowery dialogues between amoral reprobates in decadent settings are absent from his contemporary fiction. Nevertheless, The Pleasant Grove Murders is unmistakably Vance- the novel begins with a long introduction to the cast of characters, providing a suitable array of suspects. There's the haughty girl from a wealthy family, the obsessive teenage boy who hates her as much as he years for her, the snobby aristocratic boy... all typical Vance archetypes. The protagonist, Sheriff Joe Bain, is a typically competent individual, but not a macho wish-fulfillment figure- his wife left him for a 'cowboy singer', he lives with his mother and headstrong teenage daughter, and lives in the shadow of his predecessor, the flamboyant Sheriff Cucchinello (the sort of showoff who'd ride a white horse in the county parade, but send his Deputy, Joe Bain, to handle a dangerous situation. Joe Bain fits well into the tradition of rural police officers thrown into incongruously violent circumstances, such as Marge Gunderson. Faced with a growing body count on a street populated by the town's wealthy and influential, he frets about the future of his electoral prospects. As he conducts the investigation, he contends with a hostile newspaper publisher, an alluring 'New Agey' type who fancies herself an alien, and a deranged ranch hand who precipitates a violent standoff (Vance uses this sideline to highlight Sheriff Bain's cool-headedness and guile in the course of duty).

If you are a fan of whodunits, I would suggest that you give John Holbrook Vance a try. His descriptive passages are gorgeous, his character studies well-sketched in economical fashion. For me, the book didn't reach the empyrean heights of his better-known SFF fiction, but my opinion is nuncupatory.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Brother Gomez' Quarantine Birthday

Today is baby brother's birthday, so I texted Gomez (a nickname bestowed on him by my super snarky sister decades ago) to wish him a happy natal celebration. Like most of us, he has working from home for the past two weeks, and the kids are doing the remote-learning thing. Predictably, the kids' hockey season has been cancelled, and his second job, refereeing local hockey games, is on hold. He's spending his newfound free time gardening, which is something that a lot of people have been taking up in these trying times of social isolation.

Like everyone, he's hoping that things will return to normal by the end of April. This is where I have to note that, for me, life is pretty much 60% normal- work is going on as usual, though my social life has taken a major hit. One thing I have to note is that I am getting about double the amount of text messages that I'd typically get, people are communicating more, just to say that they are okay. Fortunately, everybody is doing well, even their pets are ecstatic to have them home all day. By the end of this quarantine, hopefully we'll all have kickass gardens and card files full of all of the recipes we've finally had time to try out.

Wow, an optimistic post... it's been a while!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sure, the Death Toll Is Appalling, but the Ratings Are Great

When you elect a reality TV star president, you shouldn't be surprised that the subject of TV ratings is more important than the subject of an impending death toll of nightmarish proportions:

I can't wait for the day when the CDC releases the Sweeps Week ratings!

On an even more bizarre note, Trump seems to be implying that medical personnel are stealing personal protective equipment:

It's as if he doesn't even know that this equipment is meant for single use. He is on the record stating that hospitals should be sanitizing masks with 'liquids'.

The entire press briefing was a farrago of nonsense and duplicity, I don't know why media outlets even bother covering these lie-fests. Why give the asshole the ratings he craves?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

An Enemy Unseen, but not Unknown

One common description of the COVID-19 outbreak is that it's a war against an unseen enemy. The enemy is not unknown, though, coronaviruses were first described in the 1960s, and various coronavirus-related disease outbreaks have been documented. Tragically, the one person who has been tasked with the safety of all Americans refuses to acknowledge the expertise of the scientists who are fighting the outbreak- this ignorance, or simple refusal to admit he was wrong, is unforgivable:

That sentence, "you can call it a flu ... I'm not sure that anybody even knows what it is" should terrify anyone with half a brain. Trump actually has less of a handle on what needs to be done to soften the blow of the outbreak than the author of Space Raptor Butt Invasion does. Among the brainless, the magical thinking about the pandemic is absolutely horrific- the looniest of the lunatic fringe actually thinks the disease is a divine mechanism to destroy their perceived enemies. They have truly devolved into a suicide cult:

In the face of such profound stupidity, no doubt magnified by trolls and bots run by hostile powers, how can responsible authorities get the real facts out to the public, especially when the loons believe they are the architects of the disaster? Experts know the nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, they know the strategies to use to reduce the rate of transmission, and they are being ignored or vilified by the very people who should be deferring to them.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Quarantine Soundtrack,80s Synthpop Edition

Just a quick post before I head off to work the midnight shift... Perversely, a couple of Depeche Mode songs have been running through my noggin in these troubled times. This is not without reason:

This number could be considered advice for those hit by cabin fever:

My introduction to the band as a pup was through the storied WLIR. Maybe I'll be bored enough to count all of the time that the listeners awarded them the 'Screamer of the Week'.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

He DID Say He'd Make the US Number One

I don't think that Trump intended this to be a part of his 'America First' agenda, but the United States is now number one in the number of COVID-19 cases. The news out of New York City is horrific, with hospitals setting up makeshift morgues to handle the expected surge in the death rate, and underequipped, overworked medical personnel are at the breaking point.

Personally, tonight was the first night that things genuinely seemed to break down. Having subsisted largely on a 'perpetual stew' that's been on my stovetop all week, I decided that getting some slices of pizza would be a welcome change of pace. Every place I stopped by on my way to work was closed. I'm not the type of person who freaks out, but the closure of habitual haunts isn't exactly comforting, especially when you don't know if the closures are due to supply chain disruptions, the illness of well-liked proprietors, or some other factor. I expect that things are going to take a turn for the worse over the next couple of weeks. A LOT WORSE.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Newsflash: The Young and Stupid Are Young and Stupid

I swear, stupidity is going to be the death of this human species... in the face of a global pandemic, we have idiots throwing coronavirus parties and licking toilets (apparently more than one) and dry goods. We have idiots swimming in shared pools while awaiting test results, and unlicensed dermatologists telling young people that coronavirus parties are a good idea.

Meanwhile, overburdened hospitals are setting up makeshift morgues in anticipation of the rising death toll. It's like the nation is suffering from a split personality, with half of the population hunkered down while the other half is 'punking' others by putting them in danger. If this nonsense doesn't stop, we're going to have to bring back the stocks and pillory.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Legend Lost: Dibango Dies

I have been listening to college radio since I was a preteen... one of the best features of college radio is that it is not subject to the genre balkanization of commercial radio stations. Among the many artists to whom I was exposed was Cameroon-born jazz juggernaut Manu Dibango, who succumbed to COVID-19 at the age of 86. Like most people, my introduction to Dibango's music was his 1972 jazz/funk fusion hit Soul Makossa, which was anchored by his blazing saxophone virtuosity:

The song's refrain was ripped off adapted by Michael Jackson for his Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'.

Not content with just mashing up African music, jazz, and funk, Manu Dibango added classical music to the mélange with his work fronting Safari Symphonique:

Monsieur Dibango's eclectic work is the perfect introduction to jazz for pop, funk, and rock listeners. Here's an entire 2018 concert by the legend, so you can let the 'Africadelik' sounds sweep over you:

It's an odd feeling to be so sad while feeling the urge to boogie.

Monday, March 23, 2020

We Must Protect Them at All Costs

There's a current meme online which consists of the sentence 'we must protect _____ at all costs' used to express admiration or gratitude. In these uncertain days, we are called upon to protect each other. In this vein, I am engaging in one of my rare 'blegs'. A fundraiser has been set up to provide money for the staff of the beautiful Bell House, currently shuttered due to the COVID-19 Quarantine. This hub of social activity has been adversely affected by the need for social distancing.

I know that times are tough, so I wouldn't ask anybody to spend money they could not afford. If you have a couple of bucks, though, consider adding them to this benefit fund... if you are a fan of my Secret Science Club recaps, consider throwing a fiver in the till. The Bell House is also the home turf of the entertaining Ask Me Another puzzle/trivia gameshow. Years ago, when I worked in a large office for a Fortune 500 company, I would ride in a multiple sclerosis bike-a-thon every October (I can't do that with my current work schedule), and my fundraising approach would be to ask everybody for two dollars, pretty much the cost of a cup of coffee and a roll at the time. My opinion is that getting two dollars from one hundred people is better than getting one hundred dollars from two people (most people ended up giving ten). It also gave me the opportunity to go around the office like this:

A couple of bucks would go a long way to help out my good friends at the Bell House, the bartenders, bouncers, sound and lighting techs. I've known these folks for many years, and have come to love them well, and I wouldn't be asking if I didn't.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Hopeful Layperson, Better Described as 'Idiot'

I pity Dr Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease specialist who has been playing the role of a hostage in Trump's daily press briefings about COVID-19. I imagine he's been tactful regarding the ignorance and apathy his boss displays daily because he doesn't want to be fired in a fit of presidential pique. He's the right man for the job, but his need for tact can be frustrating... such as when he characterizes the mendacious Trump as a 'hopeful layperson'. Trump's only hope at this stage is the hope of salvaging his ruin of a presidency. Dr Fauci, in mild terms, tried to put Trump's insistence that an untested drug cocktail be approved for COVID-19 treatment:

"Okay, Margaret, there's an issue here of where we're coming from. The president has heard -- as we all have heard -- what I call anecdotal reports that certain drugs work. So what he was trying to do and express was the hope that if they might work, let's try and push their usage. I, on the other side, have said, I'm not disagreeing with the fact that anecdotally they might work. But my job is to prove definitively from a scientific standpoint that they do work. So I was taking a medically, purely scientific standpoint and the president was trying to bring hope to the people. There's this issue of trying to separate the two of us. There isn't fundamentally a difference there. He's coming from it from a hope/layperson standpoint. I'm coming from it from a scientific standpoint."

Clinical trials are needed to determine if Hydroxychloroquine is actually effective against COVID-19, and if it is, what dosages are safe. The drug can have hazardous side-effects, as self-medicating Nigerians have discovered the hard way. Even worse, the drug is used to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and those afflicted with these conditions cannot get the drug because unscrupulous monsters are hoarding it. This is a hell of a lot more serious than toilet paper hoarding. I'm kinda taking this one personally, a woman I used to work with died all-too-young of lupus complications and another friend of mine, also a former co-worker, has been fighting lupus for years.

The combination of apathy, mendacity, idiocy, and an obsession with political calculus emanating from the White House is getting people killed, and not only COVID-19 sufferers will die. This country is the goddamned Demeter, careening toward the Whitby coast, and Stupid Dracula is at the helm. Hey, I know we're living in a horror narrative, but I figured I needed to give Poe a break.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Outré Notes from a Most Mainstream Voice

When I was a young boy, the late, lamented Kenny Rogers was a ubiquitous presence on top 40 radio. His ballads fit in with a bunch of radio formats: country, pop, adult contemporary... the man was as mainstream as an artist could get, having a knack for duets with performers as diverse as Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie. It came as a surprise to an older me that he got his start with a psychedelic number, originally done by Mickey Newbury, with the band First Edition:

Yeah, who knew that Kenny Rogers could have given Roky Erickson a run for the money in the psychedelia business? As if that weren't weird enough, the reversed guitar intro to the studio version of Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) was played by that other pop-country juggernaut, Glen Campbell.

The other big hit for First Edition was a melancholy number which is completely antithetical to the typical macho swagger of both rock and country music:

Not exactly the typical pop music song... While Kenny Rogers sang a lot of love songs, perhaps his weirdest hit as a solo artist was basically a Sam Peckinpah film rendered as a pop-country ditty. The lyrics are... uhhh... disturbing:

It's pretty mind-boggling that this song became a major hit in 1979. I don't think it would have charted in today's social climate. At least he never sang this one with the Muppets:

Amid all of the encomiums and accolades (rightfully) heaped upon this pop-culture titan, I figured that someone had to note the weird little discordant notes in the man's copious body of work.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Meant to Be Spent Alone

Timing is everything, the saying goes, and the timing of the COVID-19 outbreak has coincided with what was supposed to be a busy week on my social schedule. I actually took two carryover vacation days so I could help set up for, and then attend, the NY Open Judo Tournament, which was cancelled. These are 'use 'em or lose 'em days', so I'm not exactly broken up about not being able to do anything more momentous than running to the supermarket to buy my allotment of now-rationed eggs or dish detergent.

The prospect of a vacation spent in this time of social distancing reminds me of that most perfect of pop songs, Vacation by the GoGos, in which Belinda Carlisle sang that vacation was 'meant to be spent alone', though I don't think she meant quarantine-style:

At the risk of losing 80s kid cool points for not knowing this, or gaining 80s kid cool points for finding this out, I only recently learned that the song Vacation was a carry-over tune from GoGos bassist Kathy Valentine's first band, the Textones:

I like the rawer energy of this song, though I have to confess that it doesn't quite match the pure pop bliss of the confection that the GoGos' studio version achieved. In Totally GoGos, a 1981 promotional video released by the band's label, the version is, in evolutionary terms, a transitional form... it's reworked from the taut, spare energy of the original, with the more melodic form of the eventual album version:

For me, the fun is seeing an old favorite as a work in progress, and gaining an appreciation for the songwriter's craft. The next week or two is largely going to involve staving off boredom, and if this is time meant to spent alone, there's plenty of time for deep dives into waters once thought well-charted.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID-19 Soundtrack Part 1

Tonight, on the way to work, I stopped by a pizzeria I have frequented for about twenty years. It's been a week of eating a 'perpetual stew' that I started off on the stovetop on Monday. I figured that getting a couple of slices was a necessary change of pace, and I also wanted to throw some business to people who have been good to me, at this time of their need. When I arrived, there were two other customers waiting for takeout, everybody maintaining their distance. I placed my order, then the proprietor, Sicilian-born Dominic, and I started talking about current events. His business was doing okay, but numbers were down, then we shifted to other numbers, commiserating about Italy surpassing China in the reported number of COVID-19 cases. He mentioned that his children and grandchildren in NYC were all cooped up, working out of home. I made sure to leave double the usual tip. You support your people, you need them to survive this thing.

The roads were pretty empty, and I got to work just in time to see our contract cleaners, two Colombian-born gentlemen, on their way out. I bid them 'adios' from quarantine distance, and thanked them for doing an extra-thorough job of disinfecting the place. The frontline workers in this disaster, besides the medical personnel, are the cleaners, the counter-staff, the cashiers and shelf-stockers... people who don't get the accolades they deserve, but who are holding this country together.

At any rate, the streets are pretty bare, people have taken the 'shelter in place' message to heart around here. Because of this, the one song that has been going through my head is Ghost Town by the Specials:

The song was originally written about the unemployment crisis sparked by Margaret Thatcher in 1980s England... weird how Conservative policies always seem to end up in economically depressed ghost towns.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coming at the Queen of Daytime

I can't say that I'm a fan of Oprah Winfrey, mainly because she provides a platform for terrible WOO-slingers. With that caveat out of the way, I believe that she is a decent person who came from impoverished means and is grateful for the mega-success she has achieved. It was pretty weird seeing her trend on Twitter in the wee hours of the morning, for most bizarre reasons:

Ah, yes, late in the 'States means working hours in Russia, so I believe that this trend was amplified by Russian trolls, but it originated with a homegrown whackaloon, a sovereign citizen type who claimed to have video of a raid on Oprah's home in Key West:

Unbeknownst to most of us, this weirdo has been fighting for the freedom of our asses:

I, for one, am grateful that my ass is free, even at the cost of a hit on Oprah's reputation. I have to think, though, that this ass-freedom fighter is going to be in a world of hurt soon, because the Queen of Daytime Television, or someone on her communications team, has become aware of his character assassination attempt:

It's about time that someone lowered the boom on these maniacs, who are so quick to level accusations of child abuse at their perceived enemies. Oprah has deep pockets and a broad fanbase, so she is exactly the person to squash the trolls who are accusing her of the most heinous crimes imaginable. If she can accomplish this, I'll consider myself a fan, WOO platforming notwithstanding.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Solemn Feast of St Patrick, Social Distancing Edition

Today being the Solemn Feast of St Patrick, I have to note that, for once, it's actually a solemn one. The parade in Manhattan, as well as the local parades of last weekend and this coming weekend, was cancelled. I had actually had a big beer week planned, with bibulous activities scheduled for last night, tonight, and Saturday pretty much all-day, but the quarantine has pretty much caused those to evaporate. I DID, however, use a portion of a bottle of beer last night to make a Welsh rabbit out of some sharp cheddar I had purchased before the dairy aisles were cleaned out.

It's been a pretty quiet day, all told, though the supermarket was fairly busy when I went this morning (sure enough, there were chicken hearts aplenty, normal suburbanites haven't twigged on to the fact that they are muscle, like a breast or thigh). People were quiet and reserved, but well-behaved... no fistfights in the paper goods section that I've seen.

It'll be an uneventful Paddy's Day, one spent responsibly, a day on which we beseech the Blessed St Patrick to drive the COVID-19 from these shores... though Tullamore Dew might be the germicide of choice today.

There's no wearing of the green
When you're under quarantine.
The streets of New York City,
Are the emptiest I've seen.

This is, of course, a play on The Wearing of the Green:

That's a fine rebel song, and it shares a tune with the even better rebel song The Rising of the Moon:

No rebellion for me, not today... it's a time to knuckle under for the next couple of weeks.

Monday, March 16, 2020

His Father's Bailouts Didn't Save His Businesses, Either

Last week, the Fed cut interest rates to zero, earmarked $700 billion for quantitative easing, and the NY Fed promised to inject $1.5 trillion into the economy to stabilize the tanking financial markets, leading to a bounce which the Occupant of the White House lauded during a press conference that was supposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic:

To demonstrate how bad Trump's 'reverse Midas touch' is, the Dow lost almost three-thousand points, the largest single loss in history. Not even the promise of a massive bailout package could stop the financial carnage.

I'm not looking for financial salvation from an individual who has bankrupted as many businesses as Trump has. He has been the recipients of bailouts before, including a whacko $3 million gift his father engineered by buying poker chips at his stupid son's casino. His father's bailouts didn't save the idiot's businesses, the Fed bailout won't save Trump from being branded a recession president.

I'd find this all very comical, but real lives will be ruined by this idiot's malfeasance and incompetence.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Begone, the Ides of March!

On today, 2020's Ides of March, we have been fortunate enough to have the PotUS tackle the COVID-19 outbreak in an effective manner... by declaring a Day of Prayer:

At least a good deal of the respondents are praying for his removal from office. On the other hand, some more stupid craw-thumpers are ignoring the advice of healthcare experts in order to appear like God's Own Tough Guys:

Other right-wing 'influencers' are also trying to set their followers up for a Darwinian experience, such as Sheriff Flair:

Lesser luminaries are revisiting the old paranoid tropes in order to angry up the militia subset of MAGAstan:

Meanwhile, at work most of the staff has been directed to work from home, or to take furlough if they can't work remotely. Even Ginger has gone home with one of our managers because of the reduced staffing. I'm essential personnel, and work alone most of the time, so my department is unaffected. Not all of the country is engaging in Oppositional Defiance Disorder, by which I mean contagion, in order to own the libs, by which I mean put vulnerable populations at risk.

On a personal note, I'm pretty well stocked here at home. Going camping every summer as a kid has taught me well about what to stock up on (lot of canned sardines, rice and dried legumes). My general lack of squeamishness has worked to my advantage, attested to by the large pot of chicken gizzards currently simmering on my stove. Before I finish up this post, I figure I'll relate an amusing anecdote about a trip to the grocery store yesterday (when I garnered said gizzards).

I got out of work at 7AM and figured I'd hit the Stop-n-Shop near work to see what pickings could be had. A big block of cheese, several packages of chicken gizzards, a box of Wheat Thins, and several cans of sardines packed with hot peppers later, I got on line for the cashiers. The gent in front of me had an eighteen pack of Michelob Ultra in his cart, and I joked, "Can't face an apocalypse without beer!" The general mood was chaotic but good-natured. No fights, a little grim humor, a feeling that we'd get through this crisis together by getting through it alone. When he approached the cash register, he got the bad news... by law, the store couldn't sell the beer until 8AM (it's noon on Sundays). Rather than getting angry at the cashier, a patient girl, the two came up with a clever solution- he would give her the money so he could take his groceries to the car, wait a couple of minutes, then return so she could scan the 18-pack without necessitating his return to the customer queue.

In trying times, get smart. Piety and defiance won't save us, but cleverness and mutual regard will. A Day of Prayer wasn't needed on this Ides of March, but a Day of Decency or two, by which I mean twenty, will see us through.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

News of a Day Long Dreaded

The call came as I was just about to disembark from the Bx34 bus, in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, about two blocks from my home. It was my older brother, Sweetums, calling from Switzerland. After catching up on family matters and general chitchat, the call took on the timbre of a wellness call: "As a regular reader of your blog, I have to note that you seem to be remiss in blogging about the death of Charles Portis." I could detect a hint of concern in his voice... knowing how big a Charles Portis fan I am, something was up. I don't set Google alerts, and I have to confess that I had actually looked up Charles Portis back in January, as I do occasionally, so I wasn't expecting news of his death of Alzheimer's complications at the age of 86. BUMMER. That call took place two weeks ago, but a post like this isn't so easy to write... it involves quite a bit of re-reading.

Portis was not a prolific writer, having penned only five novels, but his second, and best (but not my favorite) novel, True Grit, was a bestseller made into two movies, in 1969 and 2010. The 1969 adaptation ensured Portis' fortune, so he never had to resort to writing potboilers to pay the bills (one common trope in biographies of Portis was that he 'retired to a fishing shack in Arkansas'). I wrote a fairly extensive blog post about True Grit shortly after the release of the 2010 film. If you've never read it, get it now and read it, and then read it again... we're all supposed to be under quarantine, you're going to need reading material and this book is perfect.

Portis' first novel, 1966's Norwood, is best described, like most of his novels, as a picaresque... the protagonist, Norwood Pratt (Portis was once the London bureau chief of the Herald Tribune) is a young Marine granted a hardship discharge upon the death of his father, in order to care for his sister, 'a heavy, sleepy girl with bad posture... old enough to look after herself and quite large enough, but in many ways... a big baby'. Portis sends him from Ralph, Texas to New York City to collect a seventy dollar debt from an old military buddy. As luck would have it, a chance run-in 'Grady Fring the Kredit King', who needs someone to transport a car to NYC, sets him on his journey, where he eventually meets such characters as a 'college educated' chicken, 'the world's smallest perfect fat man', a Jewish travel writer who doesn't travel, and, eventually, the love of his life. The novel, which reads much like Midnight Cowboy reimagined as a comedy, was made into a film (which I've never seen) starring True Grit leads Kim Darby and Glen Campbell in 1970:

Portis' third novel, The Dog of the South, mines a lot of the same material that Norwood did, it is a picaresque whose protagonist, bookish Arkansan named Ray Midge, chases after his wife, who has run off with her ex-husband, a scoundrel named Dupree. To make matters worse, the pair have stolen Midge's car, a shotgun, and credit cards. Charles Portis' keen eye for all details automotive is on display as he describes the clunker that Dupree has exchanged for Midge's car:

In exchange for my car, he had left me his 1963 Buick Special. I had found it in my slot at the Rhino Apartments parking lot, standing aside a red puddle of transmission fluid. It was a compact car, a rusty little piece of basic transportation with a V-6 engine. The thing ran well enough and it seemed eager to please but I couldn't believe the Buick engineers ever had their hearts in a people's car. Dupree had shamefully neglected it. There was about a quarter-turn of slack in the steering wheel and I had to swing it wildly back and forth in a childlike burlesque of motoring. After a day or two I got the hang of it but the violent arm movements made me look like a lunatic. I had to stay alert every second, every instant, to make small corrections. That car had 74,000 miles on it and the speedometer cable was broken. There was a hole in the floor on the driver's side and when I drove over something white the flash between my feet made me jump. That's enough on the car for now.

Using the receipts from his stolen credit cards, Midge deduces that his quarry has traveled south to Mexico, and he remembers that Dupree's family owns a property in British Honduras. As in Norwood, the protagonist, a 'gringo of goodwill in a small Buick', meets a variety of weirdos, such as petty criminal Dr Reo Symes, the owner of a bus with 'The Dog of the South' painted on its sides. The book is, like most of Portis' novels, alternately hilarious, sad, and trenchant, and was optioned for a film treatment by Bill Hader.

Portis' last novel, 1991's Gringos, like The Dog of the South, is also set in Latin America, specifically the Yucatán. The protagonist, Jimmy Burns, is an expatriate American who earns his living by taking on transportation jobs, occasional black-market dealing of artifacts, and other odd jobs... though he is 'the very picture of an American idler in Mexico, right down to the grass-green golfing trousers'. The plot of the book involves a search for a missing American girl who may have run away from home with an ex-con self-styled New Age guru, a false prophet who has joined an influx of hippies hoping for mystical experiences. Burns is a mercenary, but he isn't quite the antihero that True Grit's Rooster Cogburn is. The book contains what might be characterized as Charles Portis' keenest commentary on his fellow Southerners:

Dorsey was still looking for the catch. He couldn't size me up except that he was pretty sure I didn't report to work every morning. The back of his neck, a web of cracks, was burnt to the color and texture of red brick from much honest labor in the sun. A badge of honor, you might think, but no, it was the mark of the beast. The thanks that Dorsey and his people got for all their noonday sweat was to be called a contemptuous name. Few rednecks actually had red necks these days, but Dorsey Teeter had one that glowed.

I'm holding off on writing about Charles Portis' 1985's Masters of Atlantis. This book is perhaps my favorite comedic novel, a wild farrago of true believers in recondite 'lore' and the grifters who see them as a means to make a fast buck. While I read this novel, checked out from the public library, as a high-school student, mom actually checked up on me because I was laughing so hard I was having trouble breathing. I'm going to save this book for another post, such is my intense love for it. After the 2010 release of True Grit, now-disgraced WNYC host Leonard Lopate did a segment of Portis.

Roy Blount Jr once observed that Portis “could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he’d rather be funny.” Even in his books which are punctuated by violence, such as True Grit and Gringos, there is no reveling in gore, and the action is punctuated by comedic scenes. If you haven't read anything by the man, please do... at least read True Grit. See for yourselves what being a member of the Portis cult is all about.

Thanks, Sweetums, for breaking the news to me... you have the wisdom of a Pletho Pappus!

Friday, March 13, 2020

First Signs I’ve Seen of Panic

Last night, I left for work early so I could run some errands. My first stop was an Indian grocery about halfway between home and work... if disruptions occur, and I have to subsist on rice and legumes for a while, I would need spices, and this is a place to buy them in bulk for an inexpensive price.

When I arrived, I found the parking lot full, so I parked across the street. Upon entering the store, I saw that the line for the cashiers stretched the length of the store, and the shelves were denuded of large bags of rice and various forms of ‘dal’. I pretty much left as soon as I saw I’d have little success there.

I then stopped by a small supermarket close to work, where I picked up a couple of containers of star anise (a precursor to Tamiflu- hey, even I occasionally engage in magical thinking). I checked out all of the aisles and, sure enough, about eighty-percent of the TP was gone (I bought a 12-pack two weeks ago, having been down to my last roll). Most of the dried beans were also gone, but I picked up a couple of bags of yellow split peas (alas, the pigeon peas were sold out) and some bulgur. The bread section was practically empty.

I imagine most local supermarkets are similarly cleared out. People have taken the self-isolation message seriously. Personally, I am holding out for foraging season to begin, the nettles, knotweed, and poke should be coming up any day now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A Town I Love so Well

Years ago, when I still had a head of luxurious golden curls, I used to live in the City of New Rochelle, which is in the center of a containment zone due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I still have a deep, abiding love for New Rochelle, a city of about 80,000 residents. It's a pretty city with a diverse population and a myriad of dining and entertainment options. I am especially perturbed by this outbreak because I have friends who are congregants of the Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue. I know that neighborhood well, even back in my high school days, I patronized the businesses affected by the containment zone... H&R Bialy in particular was a required stop before trips to Jones Beach.

It's heartbreaking to see such a vibrant community brought to its knees by a microorganism. I'd say that my heart goes out to the people of New Rochelle, but my heart's always been with them.

Post title taken from Phil Coulter's tragic ode to Derry- I've been remiss in my pre-St Patrick's day posts, so here is the song in its sad glory:

Once this COVID-19 thing blows over, I will go on a long-overdo 'foodie' tour of New Rochelle. I owe them, and I owe myself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Cancel Culture?

No, no, I haven't been hit by Cancel Culture, not being on record for engaging in problematic speech or action... the new culture of cancellation is strictly COVID-19 related. Next week was supposed to be a busy one pour moi, but the novel coronavirus has pretty much stomped all over my plans. Monday's Secret Science Club lecture has been postponed, and the beautiful Bell House has added a COVID-19 response statement to their website. The upcoming NY Open Judo Team Tournament, scheduled for March 21 has been cancelled... this was an agonizing decision made by my friends, but it's important to consider the safety of the audience, and the competitors, who need to be healthy for the upcoming Olympic games (if they aren't cancelled).

This is when the true impact of the virus response hit home, there's a lot of work that goes on to produce these events, all brought to nought. Of course, erring on the side of caution is the sensible course of action- who wants to be the jerk responsible for an outbreak of a nasty disease?

Monday, March 9, 2020


After working the graveyard shift today, I had to stay up for a few hours so I could run some errands before hitting the sack. I spent the time between getting home and the opening of the businesses I had to visit checking out the financial news... big mistake! When I was young and immortal, I used to joke that my retirement plan was an early grave, and everytime I went out on a weekend bender, I was 'paying in'. Now that I am older, wiser, and conscious of my eventual mortality, I max out my 401(k) because, when I began paying into a 401(k) it seemed like a good idea. Even though the Dow dropped more than two thousand points, I'm not freaking out- I'm not planning on retiring for a while, so there's time for the market to recover enough so that, while I will still be eating nettles, they won't be my sole source of nutrition in my latter years.

I have to observe, though, that, despite being known as the 'Party of Business', the Republicans are terrible at running functioning economies. The last stock market crash before this current one took place on Dubya's watch, now this crash is taking place under Trump's watch. You want recessions? Vote Republican! Meanwhile, I think I'll stop looking at the financial reports... on paper, I've lost thousands of dollars. I'd be tempted to make some stock purchases to take advantage of the current low prices, but the money I'd use has been earmarked for, you got it, my 401(k). At least the stinging nettles are coming back into season, so I'll be getting my hands on SOME green.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Masque of the Orange Death

I ended my last post with a speculation about how Trump would fail to coordinate a proper COVID-19 response even if it hit close to home: I don't think he'd be able to coordinate a competent response even if there were an outbreak among Mar-a-Lago members.

Welp, now it seems that I wasn't too far off in that speculation:

A cadre of Trump inner circle jerks were at that circlejerk... as was Trump himself. I'd bet he's regretting pulling this creepy stunt:

I'm getting a strong Prospero (and not the one you think I'm thinking of) vibe from Trump... his CPAC 'party' during an outbreak of a novel disease has a The Masque of the Red Death vibe to me, with Trump's soon-to-end imprisonment of cruise ship passengers standing in for Prince Prospero's bolting of the iron gates of his fortress to keep the peasantry out.

While I was working in the wee hours, I read a tweet which exactly echoed my thought's about Trump's grotesque response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In an own-goal, Trump forwarded a 'meme' containing a QAnon slogan, but the photoshop accompanying the slogan suggests that he is, Nero-like, fiddling while Rome, by which I mean America, burns:

This sort of 'self-pwnage is what occurs when you shut yourself in a bubble with your sycophants, unable to realize that your isolation won't save you, because the plague is already inside your gates.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Another Volume in the 'We're so Boned' Narrative

The Dipshit in Chief went to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, and all I got was a freakout... The craziest thing about this visit is that Trump's obsession with his phone call with Ukraine's president bled into his speech about coronavirus test kits, which he dubbed 'beautiful':

The man has always been subject to weird obsessions, such as his decades long feuds with Graydon Carter and Rosie O'Donnell. His spite seems to be second only to his greed. Even worse, Trump's assertion about test kits is a lie.

Vulgarmort DID provide a moment of comic relief, when he suggested that he could have become a research scientist because of his Big League Brain:

Trump is a perfect exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger Effect at work- he is simply too stupid to realize that he is stupid. This would be dangerous at any rate, but the danger is compounded by his maladministration's efforts to downplay the danger of the outbreak in order to obfuscate their lack of preparedness. The world is burning, by which I mean coughing, and Trump is trying to blame the situation on Obama. We need someone serious to handle this outbreak, and there's not a single competent individual in Trump's orbit. I don't think he'd be able to coordinate a competent response even if there were an outbreak among Mar-a-Lago members.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

PotUS Is Going to Get People Killed

It was a weird day today, getting a text message from my coworker reading 'I have the flu and will need to take the next five days off' and thinking 'that's good news!' He's a responsible guy, he doesn't want to get anyone sick, so he will stay home, rest, and get plenty of fluids. Unfortunately, the Occupant of the White House is not acting in a responsible fashion:

He's making up mortality rates that contradict WHO estimates and telling people to go to work sick. Meanwhile, CDC officials don't seem to be aware of the statements the president is making about the outbreak:

Vulgarmort is citing poll results (from about two weeks ago) to suggest that his response to the outbreak is adequate:

During a 'town hall', he also suggested that an outbreak which causes people to eschew international travel benefits the US economy:

Trump's rhetoric is incoherent, his advice is horrendous, and the response of his administration consists mainly of obfuscating infection rates and virus virulence. We need smart people running the country in a situation such as that which we are facing, and smart people are in short supply in Trump's kleptocracy. Hat tip to Vox journalist Aaron Rupar for covering this topic in such detail.

Now, excuse me while I juggle the work schedule because one of my key colleagues will be recuperating at home for the better part of a week.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Really Not Feeling so Super

Yesterday, I titled my post with a snarky bit about not feeling so super on Super Tuesday, but it seems like it's now prophetic. Tonight, after stepping out of the shower in preparation for going to work, I received a phone call from the co-worker I would be relieving: "Hey, I'm not feeling so well, I have chills wracking my body and I used one of those temperature strips and found that I'm running a fever of 101." I told him that, if he felt so ill, he should go home as soon as he felt up to it, and that I would leave as soon as possible: "Don't worry about the phone, just leave it in the regular place, I don't think any calls will come in in the next half-hour."

At his day job, this worthy gentleman works with a lot of elderly folks, many of them traveling abroad for extended periods of time. I'm not overly concerned about contagion- generally speaking, I'm a healthy beast. When I got to work, though, I used a paper towel to pick up the phone and gave it a once-over with some hand sanitizer, which we have in our retail shop in profusion.

Today's post title is a bit overly dramatic- I feel okay, I even feel optimistic. I told him that I could come in early tomorrow if he doesn't feel well, which pretty much means that I will be covering for him (he's now clocking in at 102.4). I'm not a worried man, so no worried song from me, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy to see that big pump bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter on the job.

UPDATE: You know things are bad when you get the text message 'I have the flu and need to take off for five days' and think 'that's good news!'

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Not Feeling so Super

Super Tuesday has finally arrived, that day on which fourteen states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia) are holding primary elections. It's still early, and I'll be heading out for bar trivia around the time the polls begin to close, but it looks like the frontrunners being pushed are Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. I'm firmly in the Warren camp, as she seems to have the least baggage out of the candidates, but the NY State primary isn't until April 28.

I'm of the opinion that all of the state primary elections should be held on a single day, the idea that borked caucuses and early primaries in demographicallt non-representative states can be hailed as harbingers of voters' sentiment on a national level is repugnant to me. It would be better to get the whole process over with in one fell swoop, early in the year... how about a national primary day the day after Presidents' Day? Make it a four day weekend, and I'd be even happier! The voting process should not be so damn Byzantine.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Taking His Hardball and Going Home

In a bit of a surprise move, NBC's Chris Matthews quit his Hardball show at the beginning of tonight's broadcast:

To me, it has a real 'you can't fire me, I quit' vibe, as he faced public outrage over comparing Bernie Sanders' Nevada win to the Nazi invasion of France and criticizing Elizabeth Warren for believing a woman's allegation of sexual harassment by Michael Bloomberg. In my estimation, this day of reckoning for Matthews has been a long time coming. I mean, he has said engaged in some extremely problematic behavior toward his female colleagues:

The sexual harassment demonstrated in this clip isn't even the creepiest thing about it... the gaslighting is what gets my hackles up, the insinuation that there was a technical glitch which caused Erin Burnett to do a double-take, doubting her own perception of the circumstances of the exchange: "I'm going to have to look at the tape."

By leaving, Chris Matthews opens up a programming slot which could be occupied by a woman, or a person of color. He's made his pile of money... hell, NBC could hire a bunch of straight news reporters for what they were paying him. I'm a not-so-young straight white guy, and I can say that it's time to put the old guard out to pasture, and to let some younger, better-behaved folks have a chance to fix the broken aspects of our society. The fact that three septuagenarian white men seem to be the ones vying for the presidency doesn't exactly make me happy... Warren is seventy herself, but she seems like a product of a different age entirely.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Slave Labor Being Used to Make Stuff for Us

As if the epidemiological news out of China weren't bad enough, now there's a revelation that tens of thousands of Uighur's are being forcibly relocated to factory towns and coerced into working in factories, making consumer goods for multinational corporations. This is the next phase in China's ethnic cleansing campaign against this ethnic and religious minority, an ethnic cleansing campaign couched in the terms of 'national security' and 'the war on terror'.

The really disturbing thing about this story is the sheer number of American-based corporations that are benefiting from this forced labor. You probably have a product made by one of these corporations in your home... I have one in my pocket right now, and I'm typing this post on another. I'm not big into consumerism, but even I have stuff. The use of slave labor is unacceptable, even if it is hidden overseas and covered up with bland corporatespeak. With our silence, and our buy-in, we are complicit- I'm not exempting myself from guilt. It's time to make our outrage known, let's hope that we can shame our 'Masters of the Universe' into acting like human beings.