Monday, November 30, 2020

Vincenzo's Birthday 2020

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

I Remember When These Were a Thing

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Quantum Physics Explained Meme Style

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2020

Buy Nothing Day? Do Nothing Day!

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A Somewhat Reserved Happy Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Worst Holiday EVER!!!

This Thanksgiving Eve has been declared a holiday by the MAGA dead-enders who have placed their hope in a shameless con-artist posting as an attorney: These idiots just can't let go of that whole 'Kraken' thing, and they have even come up with a new plot point... the Kraken is not a reference to a children's fantasy-action movie, but a reference to a sophisticated Department of Defense computer program being deployed against the Deep State:

It's amazing how quickly these idiots move the goalposts... I do love the bit about Trump's Space Force playing an instrumental role in this war against Joe Biden and the Democratic Cabal.  In the meantime, Sidney 'Kraken Releaser' Powell has set up a fundraising site and stands to make bank by scamming gullible Trumpers who just can't acknowledge reality.  

With Thanksgiving coming tomorrow, I have to say that I'm thankful that these people are too stupid to effectively pull off this attempted coup.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Another Icon Gone

Today's bad news is the the death of David Dinkins, New York City's first, and , African-American mayor. Dinkins' term ranged from 1990 to 1993, a period of time in which the crime rate dropped, and a lot of community revitalization took place, trends for which his successor, Rudy Giuliani, took credit. Shortly after Dinkins' term, I worked in a South Bronx neighborhood which was heavily revitalized during Dinkins' administration. Mayor Dinkins also initiated the 'cleanup of Times Square. 

Giuliani's campaign against Dinkins, predictably, played on racial anxiety, particularly regarding the Crown Heights Riot, during which Jamaican-Americans protested the death of a child struck by a car in a Hasidic convoy, and a Hasidic student was knifed to death. Mayor Dinkins was unfairly accused of favoring the Jamaican-American protestors, while actually trying to defuse a difficult situation impartially. We all know how Giuliani turned out. 

I met David Dinkins in the early 2000s, at a fundraising dinner. He was a gracious, lovely man. He deserved a lot better than he got, his successor's reputation as the man who cleaned up New York was largely stolen from David Dinkins. In a particularly poignant turn of events, Mr Dinkins died mere weeks after his wife. My sincere hope is that the Dinkins legacy receives the scrutiny, and reassessment that it deserves.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Sic Semper Petty Tyrannis

Emphasis on the petty... It looks like Trump has finally authorized the creation of a transition team, even though he has not officially conceded, and probably won't ever do so: The general consensus is that he didn't write that, it's just too literate. The lawsuits are failing, the legal team a coterie of krakens crackpots. Internecine fighting has broken out among the gang that couldn't shoot law straight. Only the most dedicated dead-enders are clinging to the hope that this is all a plan by Agent Orange to entrap Biden, Harris, and the entire Democratic Party for some non-defined plot to steal the election. some grifters will rise, others fall, but it looks like the Grifter-in-Chief has thrown in the towel. 

 Trump is a coward, he probably won't make a grand spectacle out of leaving office, just engage in a slew of petty moments of 'revenge'. He actually WOULD have a flunky remove the J's from White House keyboards. I can't wait to hear the final whimper.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Cozy Kittty

 With the political situation being what it's been for the past MUMBLEMUMBLE months, I realized that I haven't posted any pictures of my beloved coworker Ginger in a while.  This is a case of the blog not being a reflection of real life, because I've been spending more time than usual with her.  Because we're down to a skeleton crew, we have shifted some of our work practices a bit, and Ginger and I have been occupying the same building for longer periods of time per shift.  

Needless to say, she's gotten really comfortable with the current situation:

Hey, my charger/data cord is in that bag... how do you expect me to post about you?

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Fiddling While Rome Burns

 Via Tengrain, we have the story of Trump skipping out on a G20 summit discussion of COVID-19 preparedness.  Donald decided to fiddle while Rome burns, going to the golf course while the leaders of Germany, South Korea, Argentina, and France attempt to "foster international cooperation and to find solutions that protect people’s lives and livelihoods".   It's no big loss, Trump has absolutely nothing to contribute to such a discussion, with the US leading the world in COVID-19 deaths, and cases spiking nationwide.  I wouldn't expect a children's welfare agency to invite Ghislane Maxwell as a keynote speaker.

The real kicker is that he's billing the taxpayers for golf cart rentals to his Secret Service detail.  his farcical-and-tragic reign can't end soon enough.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Swanson's Turkey Gets Carved in Night of Long Knives

In the aftermath of Trump's electoral loss, I have been sporting a perpetual Schadenboner, and perhaps the most delicious part of it is the internecine fighting that has broken out among right-wingers.  A Night of Long Knives is a-brewin', and it looks like frozen food heir Tucker Carlson is going to get carved up like a turkey destined for a TV dinner.  Carlson, who is the Fox 'pundit' most beloved by white supremacists, made the fatal mistake of criticizing last best MAGA hope Sidney Powell by pressing her for evidence of voter fraud.  BIG MISTAKE!  Now the Donald Dead Enders are proclaiming that Tuck is a cuck,  Even flat-out neo-Nazis are rejecting the one Fox figure they thought was one of their own.

It wasn't so long ago when Republicans were touting Tuck as a 2024 presidential candidate... he's an authoritarian like Trump, and probably even more racist, but he is smarter and a better speaker.  He would have been a lot more dangerous than Trump, able to keep a lid on the bad stuff a lot better.  Now, he's quickly becoming yet another Emmanuel Goldstein for the far-right, a public enemy in a two-minutes hate that goes on for years.  The next Republican primary is going to be a disturbing spectacle, to say the least.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Killer Capitalism

 I don't complain about my job... I'm pretty much left to my own devices, and my immediate boss is very responsive when I bring a concern to his attention.  When the COVID-19 outbreak occurred, the Main Office assembled a coronavirus care package for all employees on duty- a box of fifty face masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer.  Nitrile gloves are provided at all sites.  Suffice it to say, I don't work for a bunch of sociopaths.  It seems like I am one of the lucky ones...

Supervisors at a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa were found out running a betting pool concerning the number of employees who would contract COVID-19.  These same supervisors canceled safety meetings and downplayed the incidence of the virus in the plant.  By May, over a thousand plant employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The negligence of the plant supervisors that led to the spread of the coronavirus is horrific enough, but the callousness with which the supervisors treated the peril in which they placed their employees is even worse.  The prospect of dead peasants was merely a joke to these monsters.

I will make sure I avoid any products put out by Tyson and its subsidiaries until they put a stop to these horrible practices.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Release the Krakhead!

It was just about a year and a half ago when I was making fun of Sebastian Gorka for using the catchphrase 'release the kraken', trying to sound tough by uttering a line from a children's fantasy adventure movie, and, in typical right-wing fashion, totally muffing up the pop-culture reference.  I mean, the kraken pretty much lasted less than five minutes:

Well, now there's a new kraken in town, ready to be released... QAnon favorite lawyer Sidney Powell (best known for messing up General Flynn's plea deal) is trying to overturn the recent presidential election by claiming that the Dominion voting machines flipped the election to Biden, and threatened to release the kraken:

My favorite take on this is that she really meant 'release the Karen'.  I suspect that, like the kraken in Clash of the Titans, this stupid conspiracy theory promulgated by a grifting shyster, will last all of five minutes, and the next conspiracy theory will be extruded through the right wing social media-to-professional media pipeline, Human Centipede style.

Once again, we have a culturally non-savvy person (if they hate Hollywood so much, why do they always quote movies?) thinking that saying 'release the kraken' makes her sound tough, and once again, the kraken will accomplish nothing and the war will be lost

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Secret Science Club Zoom Recap: Exercise Your Noggin!

 Tonight, the Secret Science Club is sponsoring a Zoom lecture with neuroscientist Dr Wendy Suzuki of NYU's Center for Neural Science.  This lecture is the Secret Science Club's annual Dana Foundation Brain Center lecture.  The topic of the lecture concerns the astonishing effects of exercise on the brain, and I will attempt to summarize the lecture as it proceeds.  Dr Suzuki's book Healthy Brain, Happy Life was adapted into a PBS program.

Dr Suzuki began the lecture by telling us that there was something we could be doing to change our brains, and to increase our brain health by exercising.  Physical activity has immediate, longterm, and protective effects on our brains.  She began to conduct an experiment on herself by harnessing the transformative effects of exercise.

Dr Suzuki's main area of interest is brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to change the brain. Dr Suzuki, as a freshman at Berkeley, studied under Dr Marian C. Diamond, the first neuroscientist to study the effects of environment on the adult brain.  Dr Diamond took two groups of rats, one of which was placed in a 'Disneyland for rats', full of toys and other rats, while another group was sent to an impoverished environment, with food and water, but few other rats and little variety.  As a neuroanatomist, she observed that the cerebral cortices of the rats in the rich environment had thicker outer layers.  Dr Suzuki was inspired to study the role of plasticity in the formation and retention of memories.  

The formation of long-term memories is dependent on the hippocampus.  Dr Suzuki wondered how a momentary experience. such as a first kiss, could form a lasting memory.  She studied the neurons' action potentials in the hippocampus as memories were formed.  She noted that she could have continued on in this field for years, but was inspired to change her topic of study when she gained twenty-five pounds when she was seeking tenure at NYU, grinding academically and subsisting on takeout.  On a river rafting vacation, she was dismayed to find that she was the weakest member of the expedition, and determined to get in shape.

Once she started exercising, she had more energy and better focus, and found a workout class mixing kickboxing, aerobic dance, and spoken affirmations.  She rebalanced her diet, lost the weight, and. while writing a multimillion dollar grant proposal, realized that her writing had improved due to improvements in focus and memory.  The grant proposal was dependent on her ability to memorize details from various papers.  She then decided to examine the literature concerning the effects of exercise on the brain, and saw that Marian C. Diamond's measurement of the cortices of blood, neurotransmitters, and brain angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels  was  increased by environmental enrichment, which also increased hippocampus neurogenesis.   What factor is critical for these changes?  The exercise wheel was a major factor in these changes.  As Dr Suzuki was examining the positive effects of exercise on her brain, she received a call from her mother, who told her that her father had gotten lost on his drive home from a favorite coffee shop.  While her focus, attention, memory, and mood were improving, her father was on a downward trajectory.  She studied the effects of exercise on the brain, even having her students exercise in class.  Even high-functioning students in a prestigious college could improve their performance with exercise.

How does exercise improve brain function?  Dr Suzuki displayed a photo of a brain she keeps (Betty, the most photographed brain in Manhattan), and displayed the hippocampus and the profrontal cortex, both of which benefit from exercise, both of which are vulnerable to aging and neurodegenerative disease.  

Acute exercise immediately changes the neurotransmitters coursing through the brain- dopamine, neuroepinephrine, and serotonin levels increase. Neurotrophins, such as BDNF, which repair and maintain the brain, increase.  Dr Suzuki jokingly described exercise as a 'bubble bath for the brain'.  Exercise improves mood, focus/attention, and reaction times immediately.  The long-term effects of exercises that improve cardiovascular fitness are evident in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus by increasing neural growth factors.  Dr Suzuki quipped that she wants brand new shiny neurons in her hippocampus because they function better than her old ones.  Regular workouts help to grow new hippocampal cells- for a strong hippocampus, get a strong body.  Glial cells, support cells in the prefrontal cortex, also increase, and synapses improve.  There are functional changes in the prefrontal cortex due to exercise.

How much exercise is needed to create improvements?  In an experiment in conjunction with the exercise-cycle gym Swerve, these improvements were measured in low-fit subjects exercising three times a week.  The Swerve model actually measures caloric outputs for teams, using team competition as a motivating factor.  A control group played group video Scrabble.  Predictably, the spin classes raised heart rates more than video Scabble.  In the spin class group,mood was improved as was motivation to exercise more.  Attention and reaction times improved.  Hippocampus-dependent recognition ability improved in the spin class group.  Spatial memory improved with exercise. 

Physical exercise also has protective functions, the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are vulnerable to neurodegenerative effects of aging.  Exercise shores up these areas of the brain, and larger cortices and hippocampi take longer to degenerate.  A study of middle aged women in Sweden over 44 years showed that highly fit women experience dementia an average of nine years after their low fitness counterparts.

What is the most effective form of exercise that will maximize your brain functions?  Dr Suzuki formed a company called BrainBody to provide a two minute brain evaluation before and after workouts.  Asked to give an thirty minute lecture to incoming NYU freshmen, she delivered a ten minute lecture followed by anxiety tests followed by ten minutes of exercise and a second anxiety test, which reduced anxiety by fifteen points.  She then led us in a three minute exercise session to end the lecture.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  One question involved the role of exercise in improving cognitive biases, but there are no real studies.  A question about the benefits of martial arts elicited the response that these activities involve aerobic activity, resistance, and mediation so they are beneficial- she will be starting a ChiGong study soon.  Are there gender differences in the benefits of exercise?  Studies suggest women may see more improvement.  As far as time of day goes, Dr Suzuki indicated that exercise is best done before one needs cognitive productivity, but there are no systematic studies.  People have different circadian rhythms, though.  Regarding the effects of marginal increases, there is no study to show what an optimum rate of exercise is.  Anecdotally, her BrainBody work has shown that subjects who state that they are working out to their limit need more recovery time to show improved cognitive function.  A good, sweaty workout keeps the good doctor functionally well all day.  Regarding ADHD, there are a handful of studies being conducted- self experimentation, working out and documenting the effects, can help individuals track the improvements they see.  Some Bastard in the audience asked if there were studies concerning the relative benefits between working out in complex environments (e.g. biking on a bike trail) versus working out in an enclosed environment (e.g. stationary bike in a gym)- there are no studies, it's hard enough to get subjects to work out in a gym, much less outside.  For her, a living room workout suffices.  Regarding the pathways involved in the exercise/brain connection, muscles release a protein which passes the brain/blood barrier and increase production of BDNF, the liver also releases a ketone which stimulates growth factors.  There might be stimulants which could mimic this, but exercise is known to be beneficial.  Regarding cortisol stimulation induced by exercise, exercise is a stressor, but the cortisol improved doesn't seem to have deleterious effects.  Another question concerned the effects of the microbiome on brain health, and Dr Suzuki noted that diet as well as exercise played a critical role in brain health.  Another question regarded the brain's motivation to exercise... why is sitting on the couch so addictive?  The brain does indicate that junk food and vegging out are bad, but it takes conscious motivation to exercise.  Is a certain intensity of exercise necessary?  Not everyone has to be a triathlete- a second lap around the supermarket could suffice.  If you are just starting out, you have to do the least amount of exercise to see improvements- get the heart rate up with a power walk.  Find a workout that makes you feel like you worked, though.  Asked how to get involved with one of her studies, Dr Suzuki told the questioner that her subjects are NYU students, and most of her studies involve the effects of exercise on anxiety.  A high school student referred to the lecture asked about the evolutionary history of our need for exercise, and if our sedentary lifestyle is a 'self-induced disability'.  Dr Suzuki noted that we evolved to move, and modern individuals need to move more- she uses a standing desk, but she still can't be moving around a lot while writing.  BDNF and neurotransmitter levels in human subjects are studied through blood tests.

For a taste of that Secret Science Club experience, here is a video of Dr Suzuki lecturing on this subject:

Now, get up, shake your booty, and bask in that SCIENCE!!!  Kudos to Dr Suzuki, Dorian and Margaret, and the good people of the Dana Foundation.

Monday, November 16, 2020

But Who Knows What He Tweeted to the Darkness, Alone, in the Bitter Watches of the Night?

 It looks like Donald Trump is continuing on in a deep state of denial.  Finally, the stink of failure has clung to this serially bankrupt, serially divorced trust fund kid, and he doesn't like it... not one bit:


It would be Pure Comedy Gold if he weren't capable of doing real damage to our society, indeed to the world.   One really gets the sense that his life seems shrinking, and the walls of his bower are closing in about him, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in.

When I contemplate the last days of the Trump Maladministration, I picture them being like the end of Werner Herzog's Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, with Trump playing the role of a corpulent, partially-melted Klaus Kinski, raging at his followers as he denies his imminent downfall and plots a grandiose scheme of conquest:

Hell, there's even a creepy incest angle to both 'Aguirre' and 'Trump'- if it were legal, I suspect that Trump would make Ivanka his 'queen' when he ascends to his throne as God-Emperor... and if he ascends to his throne as God-Emperor, he would make it legal.  Thankfully, with his slew of lawsuits contesting the election all failing, it seems more and more likely that he's just a deranged tyrant floating aimlessly downstream, surrounded by frightened, chattering underlings that want nothing more than to abandon ship.

Post title taken from the Good Professor's works.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Get Chuck Tingle on the Line!

I figured I'd take a break from the stupid, bad news of the day, and post about an awesome subject... the first discovery of a dinosaur poophole/peehole/sexhole. Yep, paleontologists have found fossil evidence of a dinosaur cloaca, that Swiss army knife of a hole that birds and crocodilians, the closest living relatives of dinosaurs, use for the elimination bodily wastes and for reproductive purposes. 

The cloaca in question belonged to a psittacosaur, a parrot-beaked, hornless relative of the celebrated Triceratops. Paleontologists can even surmise the color of the beasts' hide by studying the shape of melanosomes, which are pigment-bearing cells. Psittacosaurus was determined to be brown, with a lighter underbelly... no technicolor dinosaur here! 

The discovery of an impression of a dinosaur cloaca now raises questions about... uhhhhhh... how dinos did it... Some birds just perform a brief cloacal contact to transfer sperm, others have large, alarming dongs that ballistically launch out of the males' cloacas. It's probable that large dinosaurs, had titanic tallywhackers to compensate for their lack of maneuverability during coitus... tortoises have improbably large dicks, one would imagine that similarly encumbered dinosaurs would be just as comically hung. It looks like Chuck Tingle was right all along!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Marching MAGA Morons

 I got home from work around 8AM, so I've spent most of the day sleeping, waking up intermittently to use 'the facilities' and to check a couple of Twitter feeds that were covering today's MAGA march in DC.  The raison d'être for the march was supposed to be to 'stop the steal' of the election from Trump... so it's basically a shitshow to muddy the waters so the right-wing media juggernaut can attack the Biden Administration's legitimacy in perpetuity.

While the serial prevaricators claimed a million attendees, the best estimates I've seen pegged the crowd at about ten thousand attendees. As usual, Will Sommer of the Daily Beast provided great coverage of the event. Zachary Petrizzo of Daily Dot also provided good coverage, as did Right Wing Watch's Kristen Doerer and WaPo's Marissa Lang. Hilariously, the crowd turned against Fox and Republican legislators. On a not-so-humorous note, this rally will surely turn out to be a superspreader event, with poor mask compliance among the attendees. Also, this is a fraught time, when isolated individuals are subject to attacks from roving bands of angry people who haven't gotten the violence fix they were looking for. Thankfully, DC has stringent firearms regulations, so the right-wingers couldn't bring their shooting irons, but there have been reports of fistfights and other assaults. Go home, MAGA people, Trump lost... and try not to get the emergency personnel in your hometowns infected. Post title yanked from Cyril M. Kornbluth.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Jason Voorhees Has Got Nothing on Your Dad

It's Friday the Thirteenth, a day which lent its name to an interminable franchise of slasher movies. It's also the day when Dumbass Junior decided to make a joke:



What indeed, dumbass? It's the day that the COVID-19 death toll in the US will finally exceed 250,000 Americans. Donald Trump Sr, due to his repeated failures in addressing the coronavirus pandemic, is a more prolific killer than the fictional Jason Voorhees was over the course of twelve films... and he doesn't even have the courtesy to hide his ugly mug behind a hockey mask.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Sláinte Joe and Erin Go

Joe Biden is a man who talks readily, and with pride, about being an Irish-American guy from Scranton, Pennsylvania... this led to a hilarious Biden quip in response to a BBC reporter:

Ah, yes, that's our Bonny Biden Boy! Watching this, I thought to myself, I would sing Fields of Athenry to this man. For those unfamiliar with the song, it's a real tearjerker about a man sentenced to penal transportation to Australia for stealing grain to feed his children: 




It's also a rebel song, about a man who refuses to bow down to an evil, incompetent government during a national crisis:




The last politician I sang Fields of Athenry to turned out to be a big disappointment, but I think Bonny Joe Biden will be responsive to the advice of younger, more progressive colleagues when he assumes the office of the presidency. 

At any rate, the people of Ireland have been proud to claim Joe as a son of the diaspora.  For his part, Joe Biden has stated his continuing support for the Good Friday Agreement, and for using trade deals to ensure that Brexit won't lead to a renewal of conflicts on the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border.  In my neighborhood, there is a sense of relief... earlier this year, there was a slight panic as even pale, blonde soccer moms who might have overstayed their visas were spreading a rumor the ICE was pulling people over at a traffic stop on the nearby highway.  The fact that Biden could be a distant cousin is merely a bonus.

Post title taken from one of Shane MacGowan and the Pogues' most remarkable songs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans' Day in the Age of COVID

I figured that I would take an opportunity this Veterans' Day to check out the COVID-19 statistics for the military and the Department of Veterans' Affairs.  According to the national summary, there have been 85,242 cumulative cases of COVID-19 in the VA healthcare system, with 9,364 current cases, and 4,247 deaths.  The VA national survey also has an interactive map which indicates the number of cases, the number of convalescents, and the number of deaths associated with each Veterans' Administration medical facility.

In contrast, the reported numbers of COVID-19 among active duty military personnel are 91,892 cases and 111 deaths- active duty personnel tend to be younger and in better physical condition than veterans.

At any rate, the current death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic exceeds that of the combined deaths in WW1, Korea, Vietnam, and the two Gulf Wars.  Many elderly persons receive their primary medical care through the Veterans' Administration- they shouldn't have to face 'double jeopardy' by being exposed to the novel coronavirus in the facilities they use.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Bad Year for the Skeptics Community

 As if 2020 weren't bad enough, I recently read of the death of animation giant Ken Spears, co-creator of  the classic television cartoon Scooby Do Where Are You! (sic).  To compound this bummer, I also learned that Ken Spears' friend and collaborator Joe Ruby died last August (and am somewhat chastened by not having known this when it happened).  The original 'Scooby Doo', which I blogged about last year on its 50th anniversary, was an improbable mélange of slapstick comedy, Gothic trappings, bubblegum pop, and mystery procedural.  Each episode was formulaic (the 'gang' would drive into town in their groovy van and encounter a mystery involving a haunting, then hijinx would ensue until the gang could determine the nature of the mystery), but the formula was a winner.  There would always be a slapsticky chase scene accompanied by a pop song, brainy Velma would amass clues, clever Fred would build a Rube-Goldberg contraption to thwart the 'monster', accident-prone Daphne would trip a secret door and disappear for a bit, cowardly gluttons Shaggy and Scooby would inexplicably find the ingredients to make enormous sandwiches, and a cast of malfeasors voiced by Don Messick would be exposed by the meddling kids.

The Scooby Doo series was, in an era in which there was a mainstream backlash against the subversive youth culture, unabashedly pro-teenager.  The meddling kids invariably foiled the plots of petty crooks who used deception to further their own ends... we could have used them for the past four years: 


The show was also unabashedly pro-reason... the supernatural manifestations always turned out to be smoke-and-mirrors illusions perpetrated by local crooks trying to scare people away so they could bring their nefarious plans to fruition.  Empiracism beats superstition, inquiry beats fear.  By keeping your eyes open and your wits about you, and trusting your friends, you could figure out what's really going on and save the day.

Ken Spears and Joe Ruby went on to form their own production company in 1977, and among other cartoons, produced the post-apocalyptic Conan-Meets-Star Wars adventure cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian in collaboration with comic book titans Jack Kirby and Alex Toth.  Too bad there wasn't a Scooby Doo/Tundarr crossover, with the Mystery Gang pitting their wits against savagery, super-science, and sorcery.  Still, if their only contribution to cartoon history was creating the Scooby Doo Industrial Complex, they would be considered titans.

Again, the original Scooby Doo series was a beacon of reason in an era which produced supernatural thrillers such as Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist... and told us that the Devil wasn't the villain of the story, only greedy Old Man Higgins from the opening scene.

As a coda to this panegyric for Messers Ruby and Spears, I have to note that skeptic and debunker James Randi also died this year after a lifetime of exposing fraudulent claims of the supernatural and paranormal.  I don't know if he was a fan of the cartoon, but I imagine he would have supported its premise.

Monday, November 9, 2020

What Is a Bummer?

 Back in the days when I had nothing to fear (a true sign of straight, white, male privilege), I used to joke that I was afraid the Alex Trebek was a secret dumb-dumb.  It wasn't true, of course, as Mr Trebek, who we lost to pancreatic cancer, took the same qualifying test that Jeopardy contestants take.  The conventional wisdom is that television dumbs viewers down, but that is an unfair categorization of Mr Trebek's show.  While Jeopardy might not have imparted an overview of particle physics to its viewers, it did spark intellectual curiosity- it was the sort of show which would send you to the bookshelf to look up Lake Baikal in an atlas.  Jeopardy also loomed so large over the Trivia Gameshow Industrial Complex that other gameshows often feature disclaimers that answers don't have to be phrased as questions.

I could joke about how Canada-born Trebek was a sinister exemplar of the secret Canadians that lurk among us, virtually undetectable among the throngs of America, but the only sinister thing the man did was a rather funny, self-deprecating cameo on The X-Files:

By all accounts, Alex Trebek was a kind and decent man.  I myself may have been sent to the bookshelf to crack the encyclopedia or atlas after watching Jeopardy, but others have had truly profound reminiscences of the show:

That's not an ordinary television viewing experience, and no, I don't have tears in my eyes.  While some television viewing is a waste of time, Alex Trebek's show actually made its fans better, a little smarter about a lot of things.  It fired curiosity, cajoled its viewers into digging for deeper understanding of the world after gleaning bits of trivia.  Sure, Alex Trebek's sometimes exaggerated pronunciation of names like Lake Titicaca will never not be funny, any jokes I made about the man were purely affectionate.  I was a fan from day one, I admire the manner in which he confronted his own mortality, and I am genuinely bummed out that he is no longer among us, quizzing us about the world, tweaking our brains to seek out knowledge.  In a world in which learning is deprecated and expertise suspect, Alex Trebek was an unfailing champion of information, and losing him at this particular moment in history is upsetting.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Worst Take I've Seen All Century

 I'm not one hundred percent sure the article isn't mere clickbait, but Carli Pierson's article in the The Independent, titled Now Trump has lost the election, Pence could pardon him — but it’s Biden who should, has got to be the worst take I've seen all century.  The premise of the article is that Biden should pardon Trump to keep him out of the limelight, thus preventing him from overshadowing the presidency.

Putting Trump on trial would not place him in the limelight, it would place him in the withering glare of scrutiny, something he has been able to avoid for five decades.  Trump's crimes are manifest- collusion with hostile foreign governments, tax evasion, fraud, and a small matter of perhaps negligent (perhaps malignant) mass homicide verging on genocide.  As a society, we cannot let Trump escape the consequences of his crimes... at the very least, we need investigations to determine just how extensive the damage he's caused to our nation.

The problems of our polity arise from not holding powerful persons accountable...  By allowing the financial wizards who tanked the economy in 2008 to escape scot-free, we allowed them to keep exercising an undue influence on the world economy, making subsequent crashes more likely.  By not going after the architects of the Iraq War, we allowed them to get away with engineering the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis... and they continued influencing politics in the Obama and Bush eras.  By not going after the architects of the Iran-Contra affair, which funneled weapons to both Saddam Hussein and Central American death squads, we allowed those neocons to plan the Iraq War.  So it goes, on and on, until we come to the failure to prosecute the leaders of the Confederacy, those traitors who continued their white supremacist policies, which damage our society to the present day.

Pardon Trump?  Jesus, lady, we haven't even begun to figure out the depths of his corruption and depravity.  By pardoning him, we set the stage for the next demagogue, itching for a white ethnostate, or some other flavor of fascism.  Forgiving powerful malfeasors has gotten us into trouble for the past century and a half, it's time to hold these men accountable for their crimes.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Schadenfreude und Freudefreude

 Today, there was a palpable sense of relief among my coworkers over the victory of the Biden/Harris ticket.  The Orange Ogre is on his way out, soon to be replaced by Joe Biden, a decent man and Kamala Harris, a truly transformative figure, being the first woman, African-American, and Asian-American US VP.

There is a pure, unadulterated joy about this victory, and an incipient return of an America that had been stolen from its crib and replaced by a grotesque changeling.  There is also the Schadenfreude of seeing right-wingers, truly members of a cult, melting down.  For all of their talk of liberal snowflakes, they are experiencing true angst.

Meanwhile, the party goes on, with joyous crowds in the streets.  I'm stuck at work, but I'm getting my jollies watching the various reactions to the news. This music video is particularly amusing:

It's back to searching for despondent deplorables content now...I can't drink alcohol on the job to celebrate, but I can get drunk off of rightie tears.

Friday, November 6, 2020


 I was in the waiting area of a local automotive repair shop while having a tire replaced when I saw the results on the TV- Pennsylvania and Georgia were called for Biden/Harris.  The agonizingly slow vote count was over, and Sleepy Joe (because he won't keep you up at night) had the 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Women of color, particularly African-American women, saved the day.  The faced the usual voter suppression tactics favored by the GOP: polling sites closed, voting machines in short supply... this year, even the postal service was tampered with.  Nevertheless, they persisted.   In particular, Stacey Abrams played a heroic role in the protection of votes in Georgia.  This is just as much her win as Biden's.  I hereby pledge not to forget the role of these brave, persistent women in the fight against an incipient fascist movement.  I suspect that the mainstream media will spend more time seeking out MAGA dead enders to interview on their interminable Cletus safaris, but I'm a liberal, so I will remember.

The fight is not over, not by a long shot, but the end is in sight.  It's now up to us to stay engaged, to exhort others to stay engaged.  That being said, I think I will take the rest of the evening as an opportunity to indulge in some well-earned Schadenfreude.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Let's Threaten the Guy Best Equipped to Fix this Mess

 I know that Steve Bannon is pretty much on the outs, even among the Trump maladministration, but he still has a following, so this stochastic terrorism is troubling:

Bannon doesn't specify Fauci's crimes,crimes so dire that the man deserves to be executed.  I suspect that, if pressed, he would claim that Fauci's adherence to sound scientific principles was due to insufficient loyalty to Covid CommanderSmut Clyde once wrote that, in a rapidly warming world with rapidly dwindling resources, the last litre of petrol would be used to burn the last climate scientist at the stake... the targeting of Dr Anthony Fauci by Trump dead-enders has the same vibe.

Let's get the vote count finished so Biden can put an end to the influence of these monsters.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Today's One Certainty

 Well, the election has been a shitshow, and its outcome won't be determined until all of the ballots are counted, even though Trump (as we knew he would) declared victory around 2:30 this morning (putting some teeth in the WaPo's 'democracy dies in darkness' motto).

The only thing which is a certainty is that COVID-19 has not gone away after the election, as Eric Trump said it would.  His disgusting father has echoed this lie on numerous occasions: 



I don't expect anyone to stop talking about it- the country approaches a death toll of a quarter of a million Americans.  The Trumps traffic in mendacity, and liars tend to believe that others also lie.  Even if the election results favor Joe Biden, the casualties mount, and it will be a miracle if we don't lose a million Americans (in March, I predicted a half-million deaths in the US)  before this thing runs its course.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Gonna Be a Long Day

 Last night, I wrote about how today feels like Christmas does to a kid... I woke up at 4AM and couldn't get back to sleep.  I had planned on hitting the polls at 6AM, but the line around the school which serves as my polling place was around the block, so I decided to go to work early... part of me was guilt-tripping because I had last night off, so my two subordinates were tasked with prepping the building for voting.

When I arrived, the parking lot was almost full, and there was a line of people out the door of the building.  I entered through a side door, conferred briefly with my co-worker, and fed my beloved Ginger.

I had planned out voting in the COVID-19 era, having voters enter through the front door and leave (handicapped voters excepted) through a side door.  We have a table set up to block one hallway to force people to go around.  To my dismay, the poll worker manning this table isn't being assertive enough in maintaining a unidirectional flow of foot traffic.  I actually had a talk with him about this, and he's putting down an arrow delineated in tape.

I pilfered requisitioned chalk from the children's arts and crafts table in our activity center to mark out social distancing lines, which will be useful this evening when the after work voting crowd arrives.  I won't be around then, I'll be back in Yonkers, among the after work voting crowd.  I'll have a few hours to wait on line tonight.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Gonna Be a Long Night

 Tonight is going to be a weird one... a night of anticipation, like Christmas Eve, but with the possibility that there's a small chance that Santa Claus might leave a biological weapon under the tree.  I believe that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will win- it's hard for an incumbent to run on his record when he's got a six-figure body county on his tiny, reddened hands.

I have the alarm set for 6AM.  I don't have to be at work until 9AM, but I plan on voting before heading out on the road.  I had planned to vote early last week, but the lines to the early polls were wrapped around two sides of the local library.  For the record, I've never had to wait more than ten minutes to vote in my usual polling place, two and a half blocks away.

I don't know what to expect tomorrow- I imagine many of the voters either voted by absentee ballot or voted early.  I don't expect any shuttle buses from the local assisted living community near work this plague year.  

I really should try to get some sleep, but it's not that easy, given the sense of anticipation, and for many people, of dread.  I will vote for the Biden/Harris ticket to ensure that fewer people have sleepless nights.  Maybe Vulgarmort is onto something when he calls Joe Biden 'Sleepy Joe''s just not Joe who's sleeping.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

MAGA Max: Führer Road

 In an ugly political campaign, I can think of fewer uglier tactics than assembling a caravan of trucks to surround and impede the progress of an opponent's campaign bus:

This oddly familiar scene is intimidation, pure and simple, and possibly a prelude to other acts of intimidation at polling sites.  Incidents of voter intimidation have already occurred, but the Main Event is on Tuesday, and Trump called for armed 'poll watchers'.  Trump isn't going to disavow these dogs of war, but unlike the Lord Humungus, Trump is not a reasonable man.