I watched it, I watched the whole damn thing- that stupid excuse for a presidential debate. I'll admit it, I mixed up two pint-sized szarlotkas to make the viewing less of an ordeal... the first was one-third vodka, two-thirds apple juice, the second was half-and-half. Sure, I got a buzz, but it didn't help. The main takeaways from the debate are that Trump constantly talked over Biden and that Chris Wallace is a shitty moderator. The mics used for these debates should be on timers- after the alloted two minutes, they should simply shut off... we have the technology.
I wish Biden had been a little more barbed, ready with snappy comebacks to Trump's lies and distortions. It was cathartic to hear Biden tell Trump to shut up and to hear him call Trump the worst president that America has ever had:
The most surreal moment of the debate was when Trump accused Biden of a disastrous handling of the H1N1 flu outbreak, with 14K deaths, to the current COVID-19 pandemic, with over 211K deaths and counting:
At least he followed this up with a zinger about Trump's disastrous COVID-19 prognostications:
As Trump baselessly suggests that a coronavirus vaccine will be available as soon as next month, Biden interjects to say, "this is the same man who told you by Easter this would be gone away. By the warm weather it'd be gone ... maybe you can inject some bleach in your arm." pic.twitter.com/47mH71xo9J
Trump's response was a failure- one does not make sarcastic statements about a deadly pathogen.
It was also nice to hear Biden call Trump a clown, especially given Trump's excessive application of facepaint that night:
It was a terrible debate, and the general consensus is that it was a Scheißeanzeigen, and I'm sure it didn't change any minds. I can't imagine that the next two proposed debates will be any better... at least I'll have time to restock my supply of Żubrówka.
ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention the elephant in the room, Donald Trump's exhortation for a right-wing gang to 'stand back and stand by'. Luckily, last weekend, with three and a half weeks of preparation, a national muster of these assholes couldn't assemble more than three-hundred or so in Portland:
"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by": It bears repeating -- there has been no presidential debate moment more disqualifying than this pic.twitter.com/n7hRT7P2g0
The Republican line of attack on Joe Biden has been that he's old and senile, hiding in a basement (this is a weird detail, the guy presumably has at least one comfortable residence with multiple rooms). At tonight's debate, though, Trump will be facing the real Joe Biden, rather than the right-wing cartoon version of the man, which bodes ill for the abysmally stupid Donald. Already, the right-wing noise machine is claiming that Biden will use some sort of chicanery to defeat the infallible God-Emperor.
So far, we have claims (originated by conspiracy asshole Jerome Corsi) that Biden has received the debate questions in advance, though if Biden were a doddering dotard, how would he remember those questions. There is also the bizarre notion that Biden will be wearing an earpiece so he can be coached during the debate.
The longest-running conspiracy theory regarding the upcoming debate is that Biden has been taking performance-enhancing drugs since the primary debates, an accusation echoed by Trump's whacko White House doctor. I was convinced that Biden was taking Alex Jones' Brain Force Plus, with lead:
I now realize that I got it wrong, and that Biden will probably eat a kid before the debate:
Yeah, nothing beats the performance-enhancing power of sweet, sweet adrenochrome...
It seems clear to me that the Republicans know that Biden will wipe the debate stage with Trump tonight, so the excuses/accusations are flying thick and fast. It's a stupid runup to what promises to be an exceedingly stupid night.
If one were to ask me what my single finest line of prose were, I would unhesitatingly say it is the aphorism: "The problem with toxic masculinity is the toxicity, not the masculinity." Toxic masculinity is the cornerstone of the MAGA movement, with Trump himself being credibly accused of beating his first wife.
My first reaction on hearing that Trump's former campaign manager Brad Parscale was arrested and hospitalized for threatening to kill himself was a bit of Schadenfreude, a jokey quip that he had, after 43 years, finally watched the end of Star Wars:
For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign (Death Star). It is firing on all cylinders. Data, Digital, TV, Political, Surrogates, Coalitions, etc.
There was speculation about whether Russian oligarchs were coming after him for ripping off the Trump campaign, for which he's accused of laundering $170 million, to finance his lavish lifestyle. Then there was the speculation that he was trying to distract the media from the unraveling Trump campaign.
The reality turned out to be just plain gross and sad... the police were called by his wife, who accused him of beating her before grabbing a gun, which caused her to flee the house:
NEW: The Fort Lauderdale PD has released body worn camera video of Trump campaign advisor Brad Parscale walking out of his house with a beer and being tackled by police after police noticed bruises on his wife:
She started saying all this ****... the call of the serial abuser. My gut feeling is that the manipulative creep threatened to turn the gun on himself to distract from pulling the gun on his wife. At any rate, if he is genuinely suicidal, I hope he gets the help that he needs and lives a long life, most of it spent in prison.
This isn't the only MAGA domestic violence story to hit the news. An attendee of the right-wing rally in Portland who attacked a Black journalist has a history of domestic violence. Trump's White House staff has had a domestic violence problem.
As bad as racism is in this society, I firmly believe that misogyny is an even bigger problem (the two usually go together like untreated sewage and cholera). The whole culture is toxic, this is what we have to vote out and, when that is done, root out.
This time of year, ads for 'Back to School' sales are ubiquitous on all media platforms. In this year of the pandemic, I heard the sort of ad I'd never heard before on a local commercial radio station... it was an ad for a 'Back to School' sale at a local wine store.
The ad played up the difficulty of keeping up with schooling requirements given remote learning protocols, and noted that the parents' helpers at the wine shop were eager to deliver 'survival kits' to help people to cope.
I know that jokes about drinking have been common this year, but hearing a joke about drinking used as an ad pitch wasn't something I expected.
Today was supposed to be the day of a right-wing invasion of Portland, Oregon by a nationwide horde of blackshirts. This 'day of reckoning' had been in the works ever since a right-winger was killed last month, but thankfully the turnout was low:
The attendance for the Portland rally was predicted to be in the thousands by the Proud Boys.
If that is all the force they can muster from around the country, it's a good sign that their numbers aren't that great. Maybe the realization that their opponents can shoot back has dampened the spirits of those who aren't using these organizations as a money making scam.
Of course, the danger remains- these assholes didn't drive hundreds of miles with their Tacticool toys for a short rally. They will probably try to jump anyone appearing to be a leftist, or LGBTQ, or undomiciled, but as far as a real force to be reckoned with, they turned out to be a damp squib... thank goodness.
It's just about time for me to hit the road after a productive week at Mom's house in Virginia. I'm mainly packed, I'm just waiting to drop some ballast before setting off. I didn't write a post travel report on Monday night, but the one thing to relate is that restaurant bathrooms are off limits and rest stops are closed. I could have used a 'pit stop' in Pennsylvania but ended up, hours later, pulling off the highway and peeing on the side of a stretch of road where concrete barriers hid my dastardly deed from the eyes of innocent motorists.
My goal is to start off slightly dehydrated and sip from my 100 oz Camelback as needed. I've done numerous long distance bike rides (the rule for those is to hydrate until your pee is clear, then sip water, with the expectation that you will sweat a lot, which won't happenin the car), and have a cast-iron bladder and a high tolerance for discomfort- I only want to stop to gas up.
The pandemic has made road trips almost unbearable, like much else.
Last night, I logged onto a Zoom lecture sponsored by my great and good friends at the Secret Science Club. This was the 2020 Lasker Foundation collaboration with the SSC, and featured immunologist Dr Arturo Casadevall of Johns Hopkins University, who is chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Dr Casadevall's topic was the Deployment of Convalescent Plasma against COVID-19, and the good doctor began his lecture with a history of the use of serum/plasma in combatting disease. This historic overview started with an account by Thomas Hall Shastid of the use of antitoxin to combat an 1890s diphtheria outbreak. The disease often creates a 'pseudomembrane' in the patient's throat which obstructs breathing, and the treatment typically involved a tracheotomy. While accompanying a physician, Dr Shastid observed the use of an animal-derived antitoxin on a patient:
I found the boy very ill, the whole back of his throat being like white velvet. I had never used the new remedy before, but determined to try it to save the boy's life. I injected a small quantity under the skin of the stomach and watched the throat. I can only compare the marvellous result to the disappearance of snow under a hot sun. After the second dose every trace of the membrane disappeared, and the boy soon recovered.
German physiologist Emil von Behring discovered that immunity to disease can be transferred by serum and Danish physician Johannes Fibiger carried out the first randomized controlled trial in medicine in 1898 to evaluate diphtheria antitoxin. At the time, researchers didn't know that antibodies were proteins.
Dr Casadevall noted that serum therapy is difficult to use, serum typing is needed to apply it. Plasma therapy, which requires blood typing, also came into use- there is no therapeutic difference between plasma and serum. Plasma, is simply obtained from blood, serum derived from coagulated blood and separated out- both contain antibodies.
Antibody therapy was used in 1918 to treat influenza-related pneumonia, and in 1934 to combat a measles outbreak in a private school. Recovery tends to be rapid with antibody treatment. The antibodies were sourced from animals or from human convalescents.
From 1940-1950, with the introduction of antimicrobial drugs such as tetracycline and pennicillin, antibody therapies to treat infectious diseases fell off- with improper screening, other pathogens can be introduced to patients. Hepatitis was discovered through the use of plasma treatment, an outbreak led to a backlash against plasma use. Antibody therapy was still used to treat certain cancers.
There are three principles involved in antibody therapy:
1. Specificity- antibody use must target specific pathogens.
2. Quantitative- a sufficient amount of antibodies must be used.
3. Temporal- early treament is necessary for efficancy.
These three principles are necessary for successful therapeutic use. During the recent Ebola outbreak, an antibody therapy trial was not very effective because the amount of antibodies in the serum was insufficient. A recent flu therapy trial was unsuccesful because it started too late.
Dr Casadevall then shifted to the topic of the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning with a brief timeline, beginning in January, when there were increasing concerns that the outbreak was not containable. He noted that the history of antibody-based therapies was not well known. Accounts of the public response didn't mention plasma therapy. He realized that he needed to get the word out about antibody therapy, and shopped an article around to various media outlets. Eventually WSJ publihed op-ed and the dissemination of information followed. Even non-immunologists who used plasma in surgery spread the information.
Initial contacts created the leadership of the plasma project- not necessarily composed of immunologists. A National COVID-19 Plasma Project website was built by Amazon in March. In March 2020, things were moving fast as Michael Bloomberg and Maryland governor Larry Hogan allocated money to the project. On March 27, the first patient was treated with plasma therapy. The FDA exteded ab Extended Access Protocol and contracts with the Mayo Clinic to allow access to these therapies.
Dr Casadevall noticed that there was an imminent science crisis- the literature contains papers suggesting that antibodies can enhance symptoms. He looked at the literature and noted that the dangers were overblown, most therapies were successful. He turned to the wisdom of antiquity, but got conflicting messages: "fortune favors the bold" but "boldness is the beginning of action but fortune determines the end".
The first plasma therapy for COVID-19 took place at Houston Methodist Hospital. Thousands of COVID-19 patients were treated in the US, most occurring outside randomized clinical societies. Members of New York's Orthodox Jewish communities, hit hard and early by the outbreak, were mobilized to donate plasma.
Is antibody therapy safe? It's as safe as typical plasma therapies. Most of the plasma in hospitals is used for bleeding problems. Safety in therapeutic use clears the way for other therapies, including vaccines. Is antibody therapy working?
There are many encouraging reports of good patient outcomes.
In an Extended Access Protocol Data Analysis, 35,000 patients were analyzed. One study showed that, if plasma is given in first three days, mortality is 27% lower than if given after day for. The dose must be specific to SARS-Cov-2, and the dose must be sufficient. Increasing numbers of anecdotal case reports show efficacy of antibody treatment in immunocompromised individuals.
Dr Casadevall noted that there are strong precedents for efficacy based on historical use. This is strong theoretical support for efficacy based on knowledge of antibody action, and there are encouraging signs from clinical trials. He told us that his opinion has become more optimistic over past few months.
He drew our attention to studies of prophylaxsis protocol- typically giving plasma to family members of patients. Early administration enhances immune response, late administration can help lower viraal loads. Antibodies made during early and late convalescence are different, but they tend to lower viral load, inflammation, and respiratory effort.
There are issues- poverty is a factor in receiving therapies. Controversies make the job harder but he focuses on the science. The FDA, though cautious, was ready to go ahead with plasma therapy by June. He is avoiding political statements, but has nothing but good things to say about the government scientists.
He concluded with a recap of his observations throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, hitting on the following points: Convalescent plasma is available throughout the US, plasma use in the USA is under Emergency Use Authorization, plasma supplies are plentiful as a result of recruitment campaigns, deployment of plasma is driven by physicians and scientists- this is not a money making endeavor.
There are no pharmaceutical sponsors- this involves local generated therapy. All plasma units are different, defining useful units is difficult. There is a great advantage to antibody therapy- it is low tech, easily deployable, and inexpensive. Antibody therapy will continue to be used against COVID-19 and for future epidemics. The current challenge is to figure out how to use it effectively for future knowledge. Our plasma experience established the safety of antibody therapies, cleared the way to mAbs, gamma globulins, and vaccines. Currently antibody therapy remains the only therapy for COVID0-19, but is a stopgap until better treatments, such as a vaccine, are available.
The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. The best plasma seems to be from symptomatic patients who do not require hospitalization. If you have had COVID-19, please donate. How was diphtheria antitoxin available in the 19th century? They used cultures similar to bacterial cultures, but did not know what antibodies were. What about post-COVID patients? Dr Casadevall urged his friends at Methodist Hospital to follow up on COVID-19 patients on a long-haul basis. Plasma units differ- even one patient can produce two diverse units on two different days. How many units are needed? The typical does is 200cc, but units come in different sizes. It seems that the more one gets, the better the outcomes are. Dr Casadevall noted that most of the effort is grassroots, driven by scientists, doctors, and community organizers. He is optimistic- if we have a good plasma therapy, we will likely end up with a good vaccine. Humanity has never seem this virus before, but we are successfully fighting it off.
Can we pool plasma units to make them more complex and more standard? There is a risk as more plasma is used- one unit could contaminated a pooled plasma supply... this happened in the 1930s with hepatitis. Zika went away before plasma study, Ebola plasma therapy was insufficient. It took a month to get plasma studies set up for COVID-19. This current model will ensure more rapid responses in the future, giving a big boost to antibody therapies, even for illnesses as the seasonal flu. Does it remove the incentive for randomized control trials? Criticism was driven by doctors in community hospitals. There are ethical concerns- randomized control trials are needed to establish efficacy of plasma, but when there a crisis, it's ethical to use a generally safe therapy. A lot has been learned and no harm has been done. Remdesivir reduces viral replication, it and other antivirals have had a great effect on treating HIV and other virals.
Some Bastard in the Zoom audience asked: What factors distinguish viral pathogens to which the body can gain some degree of immunity, such as chicken pox, and viral pathogens for which the body does not gain such immunity? every virus is different- to survive, they need hosts, so they are experts at defeating immune systems, or they will go extinct. Every virus has a different strategy, some are fast breeders. COVID-19 is new to humanity, and we are fighting it,
Another question involved knowledge of virus genetics and the role of mutation- plasma use creates selection pressure, the evolution of the virus is an open-ended question. Antibodies prevent access of virus by blocking proteins, viruses can mutate to chage their proteins.
Once again, the Secret Science Club and Lasker Foundation combined to present an excellent, timely lecture. Kudos to Dr Casadevall, Margaret and Dorian, and the good people of the Lasker Foundation. Socially-distant air high fives all around!
The lecture was recorded, and will be available at a future date, but in the meantime, here's a video of Dr Casadevall discussing the state of antibody use to combat COVID-19:
Now, THAT is a perfect intersection of science and current events, which is a perfect example of the Secret Science Club sweet spot.
Today was a second day of odd jobs, the main one being the replacement of a toilet seat...
"How long has this hinge been broken?"
"About three years. The glue I used is really terrible."
Okay, then! It was a simple matter, and I had an evil thought: a lot of these minor household repair jobs are like putting Legos together (socket set not included), perhaps I could enlist 8-year olds as handypersons and trick them into thinking they are playing. I could even bill their parents, claiming it was a 'Junior Engineering Daycamp'. Let the profits roll in!
The other major task was moving a large flowerpot into the kitchen to accomodate an almost-meter tall avocado plant (one of three) that Mom has grown from a pit. Mom has quite the green thumb, and the centerpiece of her old house was a Ficus tree that was languishing in my brother Sweetums' apartment until Mom took custody of it- she nursed it from a one-leaf tragedy into a ten foot tall behemoth that was just too big to move. At the same time, she had another avocado tree, a five-footer that one of the movers, a Latin American immigrant, immediately recognized. Mom told him that it was too heavy for her to bring to her new place, so she bequeathed it to this gentleman, who would no doubt cherish it... after one of his colleagues helped him load it onto the bed of his pickup truck.
This particular job was simple grunt work, it basically involved being a large brute who could wrestle a large flowerpot full of potting soil (a legacy from the annuals which had previously occupied the pot) up a flight of stairs. Who needs a subtle approach when one can just 'Large Adult Son' a solution?
It's been one of those vacations, the sort in which I've accomplished more than I do on a typical work day. First thing today, I helped mom clear up an email problem she'd had for two month, getting her gmail account back on line. Oddly enough, I had originally thought that her computer was on the blink, so I bought her a tablet to tide her over until she could resolve the issue (in this age of remote learning, I couldn't find a laptop for under $800). I fixed her email issue, but still went ahead setting up the tablet for her- she's not big on tech, but a quick Zoom meeting with my brother Sweetums in Switzerland removed any skepticism on mom's part.
Then we moved onto more mundane, or rather hydrological, concerns. Mom needed to replace a shower head and a toilet flapper (not to be confused with
Louise Brooks. We headed to MUMBLEMUMBLE (the only hardware store in town) to buy the materials, and I spent the afternoon playing glorified Legos. Thankfully, everything is in good working order. Tomorrow ids yardwork day, with one task involving the transfer of a grown-from-the-pit avocado sapling into a larger pot.
In the meantime, I also spoke to baby brother Gomez, and will try to arrange an all-siblings Zoom for later in the week.
I'm going to need a vacation to recover from such a busy vacation!
Today will be a travel day- Mom needs some help with some tasks, and this is my one window before the Fall work schedule kicks in. I'm headed down to Virginia for a few days, and it will be my first time out of New York State since the pandemic hit.
It will be a weird road trip, one without exuberance. I only plan on stopping to gas up, no need to check out any restaurants or attractions on the way. Those were diversions for the Old Times.
Posting might be sporadic for the week, but I will make an effort to blog. It's not like the world is going to stop for a few days.
Back in March, in a conversation with a co-worker, I predicted that a half-million Americans would die of COVID-19 before the pandemic runs its course. That was even before the whole 'anti-mask' movement developed, and anti-lockdown protests became a thing. Well, now the US death toll from COVID-19 has exceeded 200,000, and most of the country is trending in the wrong direction numbers-wise. I have no doubt that over a quarter-million Americans will have died of this thing by Election Day, and even if Biden wins, no substantial changes in pandemic response policy will be implemented until January. I stand by my prediction, though if I'm right, it will be a source of sorrow more than smugness.
On an anecdotal level, I've heard about how extremely bad this thing is... In a local branch of one of our giant chain pharmacies, a clerk, a woman who looked to be in her mid-fifties to sixty told me that she had been hospitalized for two months, and now has residual cardiac damage. She's one of the survivors, one of the lucky ones who now has trouble going up a flight of stairs... so much for this disease being just like the flu.
Two-hundred thousand deaths... in what is supposed to be the most advanced nation in the world. Two-hundred thousand unique lives ended because of a mendacious humbug in the White House and his moronic minions who despise science, indeed all learning. The cold weather is returning, and people will be huddling inside more regularly. Back in March, in a conversation with a co-worker, I predicted that a half-million Americans would die of COVID-19 before the pandemic runs its course. I'm starting to think that I was too optimistic.
With RBG's passing, there is no doubt that the Republicans will try to seat another Justice of the Supreme Court despite their howls in 2016 that the President should not nominate a Supreme Court justice in an election year. Principles? Those are for suckers! Suddenly, the next four months are much more fraught, and the country is already overstressed.
If Biden wins in November, there will be talk of packing the Supreme Court with more justices (the current tally of 9 was set in 1869) to remedy decades of Republican dirty trickery regarding judicial nominees. I have to confess, though, that I am legitimately freaked out when I ponder the conventional line of thinking that the survival of the society in which I've grown up depended on the continued survival of a single elderly cancer survivor, no matter how celebrated.
The shock has worn off, we're in the mourning period, but the time for fighting is upon us. The early voting figures in Virginia and Minnesota seem promising... it's up to us to deluge the Orange Ogre with so many votes that the election cannot be stolen. We lost RBG, we'd better not lose America.
I need a break from asinine political stories and personal accounts of sleep deprivation... how about a genuinely exciting news item? Scientists have found possible signs of life in the atmosphere of Venus! Venus has long been considered a Hell World, with surface temperatures of about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (465 degrees Celsius) due to a runaway greenhouse effect. The atmosphere is largely toxic to life as we know it- with clouds of sulfuric acid at crushing atmospheric pressure.
Life, though, finds a way... even here on Earth, there are microorganisms which thrive in conditions hostile to human life. Perhaps the upper layers of Venus' atmosphere harbor life, which is what the discovery of phosphine gas through spectrographic analysis seems to suggest.
If these traces of phospine are of biological origin, this is the discovery of the millennium- the existence of extraterrestrial life. Finding life in such an extreme environment would further push the boundaries of our understanding of life itself... such organisms would have to possess a biochemistry radically different from that of terrestrial organisms. The corrosive effects of sulphuric acid, so prevalent in the atmosphere of Venus, are dramatic, and rapid.
A decade ago, I jocularly proposed a plan to terraform Venus using dirigibles which could house photosynthesizing cyanobacteria, thereby introducing terrestrial organisms to the less hostile precincts of Venus. If Venusian life exists, I have to rethink the ethics of such a project.
This bit of nerdery was a welcome respite from the stupidity of the present political climate, which is every bit as corrosive as that of Venus. Another welcom respite is turning up the volume on the song from which I cribbed the post title:
I still wouldn't want to have to write an ad campaign for travel to the planet, though
Today just wasn't ideal... I arrived at home around 4:30AM, but the only parking spots available in the neighborhood were on a stretch of road that is a no parking Thursdays 8AM-Noon area. The streets must be cleaned, and for some reason, this particular roadway needs a four hour window, rather than the neighborhood standard two hours. Not wanting to oversleep and earn myself a $65 ticket, I decided to stay up, and finally moved my car to another parking spot at 7:30.
The main reason why parking is so tight is that Consolidated Edison, our local utilities conglomerate, is replacing gas mains in the neighborhood. My street is dug up, with steel plates on the spots where the gas main breaks out into the lines for the individual houses. As luck would have it, ConEd is replacing mains all over the county, so the sidewalk outside my principle workplace is also dug up, and has sections of pipe stacked up against our perimeter fence.
I finally crawled into bed around 8AM... and then the jackhammering began. Today was the day on which ConEd would replace the gas line leading into my house. Between the noise and vibrations of the pneumatic drill, and the clanging of the workers coupling the new gas pipe to the house, I didn't get much sleep. I'm not a deep sleeper to begin with, and can usually ignore background noise, but this was too close, and too physical- I felt the construction as much as I heard it. After a few hours of this, a ConEd representative had to enter my apartment to restart my stove/range after the gas had been cut off for so long. I imagine I looked a mess, all groggy and disheveled, but these workers regularly enter people's homes so they must see it all.
When it was all over, I was able to catch a couple of hours of sleep before having to wake for work. I really didn't feel so hot when the alarm sounded. It's been a bad week for sleep for me... thankfully, the cat won't be able to see that my peepers are a bit bloodshot.
Yesterday was a long slog at work, so when I got home, I crashed pretty hard. For the second day in a row, I had an unusual 9AM start at work. Thankfully, today was a 'work at home' day, a three-and-a-half hour Zoom workshop about conflict de-escalation in preparation of our uncoming-albeit-truncated Fall fundraising program.
The workshop largely consisted of intuitive tactics- stay ahead of problems, make sure communication is unambiguous with a consistent message, don't allow yourself to get trolled and lose your control, and keep conversations with difficult persons from getting derailed. A large portion of the workshop dealt with dealing with mask-noncompliance. Thankfully, we have the full weight of the state and local governments behind us, and the tickets for the events clearly delineate our mandatory mask policy and social distancing rules.
One of the more interesting topics in the class involved intervening in conflicts that have escalated to the disruptive stage, such as shouting matches between a recalcitrant visitor and a staff member. Some of the more novel approaches involved confusing the aggressor by approaching and asking a totally unrelated question, such as a query about a local sports team's prospects. My favorite technique was something the lecturer termed the 'soft shock'- this is an action which startles the individuals in conflict, such as feigning a stumble or dropping an object... draw the attention of the individuals-in-conflict away from each other by basically pulling a Clouseau:
The lecture was actually fairly entertaining. We split up for a bull-session, we workshopped potential situations, we exchanged anecdotes from previous years. It was three and a half hours well spent, but spent is the key word here- as soon as it was over, it was naptime for me. My traditional shift on Wednesday starts at 9PM, and I'd spent the last two days temporally displaced (I think 'Temporal Displacement' is a D&D spell). After this blog post, I'll be doing a bit of catch-up with current events.
It sorta snuck up on us... a local election postponed from March. Not even our hyper-competent office manager, the heart of our organization, had much advance notice when the county Board of Elections dropped off the voting machines yesterday afternoon. I got the call around 11PM, a coworker told me the machines had been delivered and that we needed election day coverage. He was working the overnight shift, and agreed to stay for an additional four hours. The usual Tuesday afternoon worker flat-out told the boss that, due to COVID-19 concerns, he would not work today- for the record, his primary job is in a facility that houses elderly residents, and they lost thirteen senior citizens in the early days of the pandemic.
I set the alarm for 6:30AM and drank a quart of water (this is 'setting the kidney clock'). When I arrived, I saw that my predecessor had used stanchions and 'CAUTION' tape to cordon off most of the building, and furniture was strategically placed in front of the entrance to the basement, and the large public bathrooms. Our handicap-accessible bathroom is the one designated for use in these fraught times, this reduces the amount of surface area that needs to be disinfected every day (our cleaning contractor comes in once a week for a thorough deep-clean of the whole building. My boss was also present, he stopped by to check up on a major construction project onsite, and caught us up with the Main Office scuttlebutt regarding the upcoming Fall season. We get along very well, he's got an irreverent sense of humor that meshes well with my own snarkiness and that of my even more sarcastic co-worker.
It's late morning now, and with the warming conditions, I have set up a small folding table in front of the building so I can remain outside. It also gives me a good vantage point from which I can ensure mask compliance... everybody has been good about this, probably because we all know people who have contracted COVID-19. I can also visualize the potential complications which will await us in November, when the polls will be busy. I am already envisioning chalk marks every six feet, and will suggest that we open up a side door for use as an exit to provide a one-way traffic flow.
There's been a slow-but-steady trickle of people coming in to vote, and the general consensus among those who have spoken to me is that this is the dry run for the critical November election. One elderly woman spoke poignantly about how her mother told her about not being allowed to vote in the Poland of her birth, other seniors have spoken about how cloistered they've been since March.
I plan on voting early in my beloved City of Y______. November will be busy, and I want to make damn sure I've exercised my franchise before possibly working another twelve hour day. In the meantime, I have seven weeks to request the necessary supplies for the day- additional caution tape and chalk for starters. It's going to be a L-O-N-G day, but it'll be good practice. Hell, even staying away during these unaccustomed hours will be salutary.
Jesus, lady, Biden has been a private citizen since January 2017, but hopefully he won't be for much longer.
Of course, if Biden had been president, he would not have responded so poorly to the pandemic crisis. In October of last year, he even warned the public about the potential for a disastrous pandemic:
We are not prepared for a pandemic. Trump has rolled back progress President Obama and I made to strengthen global health security. We need leadership that builds public trust, focuses on real threats, and mobilizes the world to stop outbreaks before they reach our shores. https://t.co/1qqpgayUEX
Sleepy Joe Biden has spent 47 years in politics being terrible to Hispanics. Now he is relying on Castro lover Bernie Sanders to help him out. That won’t work! Remember, Miami Cubans gave me the highly honored Bay of Pigs Award for all I have done for our great Cuban Population!
Apparently, he conflated a 2016 endorsement by a group of Bay of Pigs invasion operatives with an award. Well, I'm going to give him a Bay of Pigs Award. The Bay of Pigs invasion was an ill-conceived attack on a nascent revolutionary country, conducted on the behalf of American corporations and the wealthy. It was poorly executed, with little support, and it failed. The failure set back American foreign interests worldwide for decades, and gave the Russian government a greater foothold in the Western Hemisphere. A failure, on behalf of the rich, which sets back American interests for a generation or two, and increases Russian influence worldwide? What could be a better descriptor for the Trump Maladministration?
Give that Pig a Bay of Pigs Award already!
Like so many musicians, Toots got his start singing in a church choir as a kid, and throughout much of the 60s, he sang in vocal groups. Things get particularly interesting with the release of Bam Bam, which in 1966 became the first Jamaica Independence Festival song winner:
Toots career was briefly sidelined when he served a jail sentence for marijuana possession, an experience that inspired his anthem 54-46 That's My Number:
He was instrumental in the formulation of reggae music (here's a good primer on the distinctions between ska, rocksteady, and reggae music), and his song Do the Reggay lent its name to the genre:
1969 saw the release of Pressure Drop, the song which ultimately formed my introduction to Toots' body of work. The song was featured in the film The Harder They Come, which brought Jamaican music to a global audience:
Toots had a knack for singing about the plight of the disadvantaged, and Time Tough is a perfect anthem for the overstressed and undercompensated:
Toots wasn't always a poet of privation, many of his songs were joyful, and Monkey Man, a tale of losing a girl to a dummy, managed to be simultaneously lugubrious and hilarious:
Pomps and Pride, the 1972 Jamaica Independence Festival Popular Song winner, is an exhortation to stop crying and to be happy in the moment:
In the mid 1970s, Funky Kingston was conceived as a project to bring Toots music to an international audience familiar to funk and R&B music:
I'm saving my favorite song by Toots and the Maytals for last... I'm not one to claim a particular favorite song, because my musical tastes tend to depend on mood, and it's impossible to narrow down any 'favorite', but if I were injected with sodium pentothal and put under duress to name a favorite song, there's perhaps a 70% chance I'd say Sweet and Dandy, a song I posted an analysis of years ago. It's a... uhhhh... sweet and dandy song about a family talking through a young couple's pre-wedding nervousness, and it's a pure, unadulterated joy to listen to. Here's the song as featured in The Harder They Come:
Could there be a more perfect song? Years ago, I went to a local coffee shop to see a friend play, and after the performance, the barista and I started talking about music, and he ended up putting Sweet and Dandy on repeat and we sang along multiple times. About a year afterward, he ended up working at the cafe at my workplace, and we instantly returned to Toots.
Toots was a nonesuch. He may not be as well-known as Bob Marley, but I think he was more of an innovator. I have to confess that I prefer Bob Marley's Redemption Song, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't listen more to Toots:
Thankfully, Toots left us with one last album before he went on to the Great Beyond, one last, appropriate gift to help us cope with these tough times:
If you are new to Toots, here is a full concert with Toots at the height of his powers:
And here's a documentary exploring Toots' role in the evolution of Jamaican popular music genres:
What a life! What a performer! It's been sad to hear of Toots' illness, sadder still to learn that he succumbed to it, but the way to remember the man is to blast his music, and there are hours worth of sheer listening pleasure. I've already listened to Sweet and Dandy a half dozen times today, which goes a long way toward making the sadness bearable.
It's that time of year again... the 19th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack to occur on American soil, on New York soil, my soil. Every year I post about the day, a perfect late summer day in New York that turned into absolute horror. Friends of mine died in the attack, friends of mine died after the attack due to illnesses related to the attack. Friends of mine got out of the towers with their coworkers (one tough-but-tenderhearted Queens guy I know barged into both men's and women's restrooms, bellowing, "Don't even wipe your ass, get out now!"), giving rise to PTSD and survivors' guilt. I was at work when the planes hit, but we were released early. Uncharacteristically, I didn't bike to work that morning because I was procrastinating, and ended up driving a coworker, a fellow Yonkers resident, home because the bus service had been canceled. When I got home, I walked to the corner of Yonkers Avenue and the New York State Thruway and stared at the thick smoke rising from lower Manhattan as emergency vehicles roared to the site.
I remember the aftermath of the attack, days spent on lines at blood banks (donating for survivors that never materialized), the missing persons notices popping up all over the city, the unreality of the changing narrative that inexorably shifted the blame from Saudi nations to Iraq, the coverups by the commission tasked to investigate the attack, the assertion that the administration which failed to keep us safe was our only hope of safety, the ridiculous security theater, and the growing xenophobia. I remember the dawning realization that the response to the attack would be inappropriate, disproportionate, and lucrative for the reigning Vice President.
Out of all the songs that were inspired by the attack, perhaps the one which best reflects my recollection is by a local band called 68 A.D. (n.b. Facebook link). The song is a narrative, without metaphor, and perfectly captures the feelings of worrying about a loved one, the impossibility of reaching Manhattan, the growing 'poison hate' felt while watching the news. It's also a cautionary tale concerning the diminution of freedoms, the divisions driven between Americans in the aftermath of an attack which should have united us.
Learn about your history
Fear is your greatest enemy
Hold onto your liberty
Bite the hand of tyranny.
If only more of us had taken that lesson to heart.
I was disheartened to read of the death of Dame Diana Rigg, star of stage and screen, author/editor, and raconteuse. Like most males born in the late 20th century, and beyond, I am most familiar with her work in campy 1960s espionage romp The Avengers where her iconic 'Emma Peel' combined a gaminesque prettiness with perfect comic timing and the lethality of a wuxia protagonist. This ensured her status as an international icon... I can't even begin to imagine how many fetishes this one scene embodies:
If it ticks off any boxes for you, please note it in the comments.
No mere sex symbol, Diana Rigg always exuded intelligence and competence as well as erotic appeal. All throughout, she also radiated a playfulness, in keeping with the campy nature of the show. Diana Rigg was kinda what Audrey Hepburn would have been if she had been an action star (not that big a stretch, given her ballet experience). She even looked dazzling in dazzle camouflage:
It was criminal that someone so central to the success of the show was underpaid, earning less than a cameraman.
I have to confess that I haven't seen Diana Rigg in any stage presentations, but I do note that her acting debut was playing a part in Brecht's I have to confess that I haven't seen Diana Rigg in any stage presentations, but I do note that her acting debut was playing a part in Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, one of my favorite plays, and that she subsequently joined the Royal Shakespeare Company... she would have been great in a hypothetical kung-fu Hamlet ("Alas, poor Yorick, his kung-fu was not all that good..."). She did rack up an impressive collection of Tony and Emmy awards.
I have to say that I'm not that familiar with her work on the big screen, but she did take a deliciously villainous turn as Vincent Price's daughter/accomplice in the camp-horror classic Theatre of Blood.
She was also an accomplished angler, and in a wonderful and witty interview, she compared dry fly fishing to acting.
I Do have to confess that I'm primarily a Diana Rigg fanboy for all of the wrong reasons, but even at her most fetishized, she still managed to be both fierce and funny:
Sure, that's pure fanservice, but what's wrong with being sexy? At any rate, Diana Rigg's career was both groundbreaking and far-ranging. She played the ingenue, the action girl, the tragic heroine, the villainess, the dowager in a career spanning seven decades. As far as icons go, I can think of few more influential ones, if any.
"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward on March 19, even as he had declared a national emergency over the virus days earlier. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
I, for one, would rather have seen a panic than a pandemic. March 19 was just about a week after things were shutting down anyway. Of course, the initial shutdown was predicated on initiating a testing regime which would allow persons without COVID-19 to return to work... it's just that the testing regime was not put into place in a coherent fashion. Six months later, and I find that my volunteer coaching gig is untenable due to safety concerns, and my workplace's fundraisers will be diminished due to social distancing needs. Yeah, a little panic in March would have gone a long way toward avoiding these detriments to my current quality of life.
The craziest thing about these revelations is that Trump didn't just downplay the crisis, but claimed that it was a 'Democratic hoax' to damage him politically. Ironically, if he had acknowledged the hoax, and rallied the country behind him to combat the spread of the virus, he could have used the resultant political capital to cruise to re-election. His current predicament is completely due to his laziness and mendacity, and 195,000 deaths later, with no end in sight, he's reduced to using statistical manipulation in a failed attempt to make his pandemic response seem better than the Obama/Biden response to H1N1.
I just hope the goddamned media doesn't try to play these tapes down... with thousands of Americans still dying, this campaign is a death race, not a horse race.
At least the Sturgis attendees got to hear a ZZ Top cover band and Smashmouth... indeed not the sharpest tools in the shed. Twelve billion dollars and a few thousand deaths are a small price to pay for that, no? Plus, living in a state of arrested development, saddled with anxieties about one's masculinity, is priceless. Looking at photos of the event, it looks as much like a comorbidity convention as a motorcycle rally. I just feel sorry for the barmaids, 'booth babes', and strippers who were compelled to work the event because of the poor government response to the unemployment crisis.
For years, I've worked on Labor Day. It's not as if I lack class solidarity, it just tends to be a cushy day for me. I actually arrived early in order to meet up with my upstairs neighbors, who I had obtained staff tickets for. I revealed my big secret, that work is pretty easy, but then I've never complained about the job.
It's been an afternoon of watching the ospreys (coincidentally the name of my 13 year old neighbor's soccer team) and the turkeys... and one of the kids found a praying mantis. Yeah, kids, this is my job, once my duties are performed. I will forward your resumes to HR in a few years
I also spent some time with a visitor who had recently lost her job, handling event logistics for large public sporting events, such as the NYC Marathon, to the COVID-19 crisis. I will forward her resume to HR in a few days.
Right now,, everyone has gone, and it's just me and the critters . I still have an hour on the job... it's work, on Labor Day, but it's not laborious.
Because no one died, or was seriously injured, the sinking of several boats in a Lake Travis, Texas 'boat parade' for Trump is Pure Comedy Gold. This particular disaster weren't a perfect enough metaphor... larger boats being operated in an unsafe manner causing wakes which swamp smaller boats, that's Republicanism in a nutshell. Who needs regulations, just make sure you're the guy who swamps the other loser! The stupider MAGA pundits, eschewing Occam's Razor as always, denied the evidence of their own eyes to see evidence of a sinister leftist plot:
Besides today's Lake Travis swamping, there was a boat fire at a Lake Havasu, Arizona Trump boat parade (the linked thread has a hilarious Trump cultist claiming that boat fires are common. There was also a report of boat sinkings in Oklahoma. My favorite comment describing the event, which I have been attempting to track down for linkage and attribution, described these inept boaters as graduates of the Trump Naval Academy.
As for Trump himself, he doesn't seem to have kept up with the news, leading to this own goal:
Sigh, I also wish he could join them. At any rate, I sure hope this is a foreshadowing of November, with a Blue Wave washing all of the MAGAts out of political power... All it would take is a few more rats fleeing a sinking shit.
Charles R. Saunders should be better known, especially in light of renewed interest in the 'weird tales' of the early 20th century pulps. His early works were responses to, and rebuttals of, those problematic works, but they transcend response and rebuttal, standing on their own as entertaining adventure yarns in their own right. If you are a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, check out his work as a welcome change from 'the elfy stuff' and join in mourning the loss of this pioneer.
This morning was largely occupied with sending text messages back and forth with the other coaches I volunteer with in a fall to winter youth athletic program about the coming semester. The program directors have secured an outdoor space which is perfect for soccer, track, and the like.
One of the directors asked me if the judo coaches could put together an appropriate curriculum.
Judo is an intimate sport, it could be described poetically as a fight which looks like a waltz. It's a high contact contact sport, two combatants could be cheek-to-cheek for practically five minutes in a match. There's no way to practice social distancing, and in the rough and tumble, masks would surely come off. Even teaching only tumbling and breakfalls (ukemi), we'd have to worry about how to sanitize the mats, never mind having to transport them.
Senior sensei made the decision to postpone classes until it is safe to do so.
I'm relieved, my policy this year has been 'don't be that guy', in this case, don't be the guy who makes it into the headline: YONKERS' GREATEST MONSTER INFECTS FIFTY SCHOOLKIDS WITH COVID-19.
This just might be the year we tell the kids, "Just play video games, the contact sports can wait."
Tuesday night has, for a long time in the Before Time, been Team Bar Trivia night. I'd meet up with a bunch of friends, old and new, and we'd have a few beers and engage in a table vs table bar trivia contest. Now, with the reality of COVID-19, the trivia event is largely online, with our redoubtable Master of Ceremonies running a Zoom meeting in which he reads out the questions, with scoring being done through a multiple choice polling app.
Because he is a loyal fellow, and a guy with an infant daughter at home, he broadcasts the online trivia from a rotating roster of the bars he would conduct trivia nights at... in the Before Time. Most of the bars have outdoor seating areas, so even New York City venues can host him. When possible, we attend the live events out of loyalty to our friend, and out of gratitude for all of the bar nights when we've had much of the tab defrayed by our winnings.
On Tuesday, the live event took place at the Rambling House, in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, which is about ten blocks from my house. The Woodlawn neighborhood merges seamlessly with my neighborhood in Yonkers, only the police cruisers and buses differ.
During the remote trivia nights, the MC conducts a dance contest after the third round (the music recognition round). It's a fun opportunity for people cooped up at home to shake what their mothers gave them. For the live audience, he has some sort of jocular prize or other.
Last Tuesday, I won the dance contest by performing a vigorous rendition of the bus driver dance, with the prize being a thirty five ounce jar of Utz Cheese Balls. Cheese balls being light, this damn thing is bigger than my head:
After offering the other patrons a taste of my balls, I brought my bounty home. Now I am wondering who I should tackle this bigass ball bounty, should I eat them ten at a time, or devour the entire jar at one sitting, so my upstairs neighbor can find me sprawled out in the backyard, covered with an integuement of orange dust?
Ah, yes, progressives weaponizing Progresso... If the leftist hordes want to create false flag attacks to frame MAGA minions, they can chuck cans of Goya products at their foes, black beans for black bloc, if you will.
Of course, this weaponization of soup, particularly the stockpiling of big bags of soup in strategic locations is a worrisome development, and Ted Cruz should be taken into custody as the world's least interesting Person of Interest.
Today, my landlady had an electrician over to replace some exterior lights that had malfunctioning light and motion sensors. This gentleman was intelligent, after all, he was doing skilled labor which is potentially dangerous, and personable. We had a great conversation about his career- he learned his trade while serving in the US Navy, and had worked as an electrician for about thirty years. He had a small audio player on which he played a well-curated Pandora playlist of classic soul and R&B tunes, with some seventies rock thrown in to mix things up. We got along very well, and then the conversation took a weird turn: "Do you know why Bill Gates retired last year?"
"Uh... he had enough money?"
This friendly, loquacious skilled tradesperson then proceeded to tell me about the dangers of 5G. I 'learned' that 5G radiation mimics sunlight, but doesn't produce Vitamin D, which triggers the body to produce coronaviruses. The first 5G towers were installed in Wuhan, China, and the installation spread to Italy, then Spain, and eventually the US. He informed me that he had worked on the installation of some 5G towers in New York City. The 5G installation scandal led not only to Bill Gates' retirement, but caused the resignations of the CEOs of financial institutions which bankrolled the 5G rollout...
I have to say that he wasn't a Trumper by any stretch of the imagination, he asserted that Trump himself had secretly stepped down and was now merely a figurehead. In a perfect illustration of the conspiracy theory maven's obsession with semantics, he claimed that this was telegraphed by TV news chyrons which described him a 'President Trump', but not 'President of the United States Trump'.
Like Lady Gaga, whose grandparents were old neighbors of mine, I have a damn good poker face, so I was able to 'Yup-Uhuh' as I absorbed the Cursed Conspiraboomer content. All the while, I was wearing one of my Secret Science Club T-shirts, but the blue-on-blue color scheme made the logo, which screams ILLUMINATI CONFIRMED, had to distinguish. Yep, I was wearing a shirt depicting Leviathan while listening to confirmation that the normies have figured out the sinister 5G plan, delivered by a genuinely nice guy who was on top of a ladder installing new light fixtures.
Thankfully, the conversation never turned to the subject of Teh J00z.
The Big Bad Bald Bastard is a character played by Monsieur _______ of the City of Y______. The role of the Bastard is a handy one to play on subways, walking the streets, and in dive-bars, when being a nerdy, bookish sort is not to one's advantage.