Tuesday, May 11, 2021

He Shamed His Dojo

One rule of thumb that I live by, stated half-jocularly, is "Do not bring shame upon your dojo."  It's partly a riff on the wuxia movie trope of one's pupils possibly going bad,  but it's mostly a sincere expression of the need for respect when playing a potentially dangerous contact sport.  When we judoka enter a dojo, we bow to show our respect- I liken this to acknowledging that we are entering an uncommon space where we must be better than our normal inclinations- and we bow to each other, to demonstrate trust and respect.

It is with this in mind that I am expressing my real disgust and horror at the story, out of Taiwan, of a seven year old boy who remains in a coma after a judo class run by an incompetent sadist:

A disturbing video has emerged showing him being thrown on a mat by an older classmate during judo practice.

As the lesson continues, he is heard screaming "my leg", "my head" and "I don't want it!" but his coach keeps ordering him to stand up and tells the older boy to go on throwing him. 

When Wei Wei is too weak to get up, the coach, much bigger than him, picks him up and throws him several times as well. At one point, the child vomits, but the "training" doesn't stop.

Altogether, his family says, he was thrown more than 27 times.

As a teacher of children's judo classes, I consider this a most egregious betrayal of a child who wanted to learn judo, of his trusting parents, and of the other students in the class.  I get sick thinking that this child, if he had caring senseis, could have continued playing judo until after his retirement age, rather than lying in a vegetative state at the age of seven.

We stress a safe environment in which to learn and grow together, and we closely monitor those occasions in which the children compete against each other.  We also make sure they have a strong grounding in safe falling techniques, and safe, clean throwing techniques.  When we have older students working with younger students, we trust them to treat the little kids with compassion.  We're lucky to have a great bunch of kids to teach, a bunch of kids who have a genuine love for each other.  A judo class shouldn't be a painful ordeal, it should be a joy.  This is what a workout should look like.

This Ho idiot in Taiwan brought shame upon his dojo, and his betrayal forces the rest of us to justify ourselves to the public.  Judo is supposed to have a moral component, one of the principles of judo, articulated by founder Sensei Jigoro Kano, is the concept of jita kyōei, harmony and cooperation for mutual benefit.  We're not saints, but we strive to be decent people, so an atrocity like the grievous wounding of seven year old Wei Wei cuts to the bone.

Monday, May 10, 2021

I'm Beginning to See a Trend

 For the third time in the space of a week, I'm able to riff off of a classic line delivered by Alec Guinness in the original Star Wars.  Yes, once again, it's a post about an elegant weapon for a more civilized age, and this one's a doozy, by which I mean a dookie...

There is no detail about the story of a crazy drunken man attacking police with a full colostomy bag that isn't perfect... the fact that it occurred at the 'Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N Roll Steakhouse' owned by Kid Rock (himself a colostomy bag) is perfect, the perpetrator's face tattoos, pefect!  Now THAT is an shitty elegant weapon for a more crappy civilized age!

This is truly the American Greatness that Donald Trump sought to recapture in his campaign and maladministration... what could be more emblematic in MAGAland than a drunken boor, enraged at being told not to block a safety exit, flinging his poo at those around him until he is forcibly stopped?  This is truly a man who exercises his Amendment Number Two rights.  If he is isn't incarcerated in 2022, he'd make a perfect GOP congressional candidate.

I can already see his campaign slogan: "What can brown do for you?"

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Happy Mothers' Day, to a Certain Extent

Here's wishing a happy Mothers' Day to all of the mothers in my reading audience. It's tough celebrating Mothers' Day while remaining socially isolated, but I think we've learned to make due with suboptimal holidays. I called Mom up this morning after getting home from work, and had a nice chat. I'm sure that my other siblings all followed suit, we being a devoted lot. The weather being pretty crappy here on the Eastern Seaboard, Mom had no real plans more than relaxing at home (something uncharacteristic of my active, hardworking mother). 

Mom received her second Pfizer inoculation last Thursday, so I can plan a trip to see her in a week and a half or so. I figure that she could use some help with her Spring planting, the weather being non-conducive right now for planting annuals. I mean, she was talking about temperatures hitting 40F (4.4C) tonight. I joked about the current conditions favoring procrastinators. 

At any rate, Mom is in good spirits, but I can tell she's champing at the bit to hit the road to see her kids and grandkids. That will come soon, and that is the best procrastinators' Mothers' Day present of all. Happy Mothers' Day, everybody.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

From the House Floor, I Stab at Thee

 It's not every week that I can write a second topical post using the 'elegant weapon for a more civilized age' trope, but this is not an ordinary week.  Arizona representative Ruben Gallego (D-7th district), a former Marine, used the elegant weapon of sarcasm on Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Cloudcuckooland), describing a search for an elegant weapon:


We live in a society in which the seemingly ever-present danger of workplace violence has led to discussions about the need to improvise weapons in case the unthinkable occurs, and the unthinkable occurring is largely due to the policies and rhetoric of evil mothers like Taylor Greene. I can picture Representative Gallego shopping for steel nib fountain pens the day after the Insurrection. Post title adapted, of course, from Moby Dick, by which I mean The Wrath of Khan.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Piecing Together the Extent of the Horror

Yesterday, I posted about the good news that my mother received her second COVID-19 inoculation, which has me feeling a great deal of relief.  The news on the national level is not so great, however, even though we seem to have turned a corner, as the idiom goes.  Via Tengrain, we have this sobering reminder that the COVID-19 death toll is, on a global scale, probably double that reported by various governments, in the case of the United States, the figure is probably about 38% higher, with a total death toll of over nine hundred thousand Americans.

This particular figure has been calculated by tallying excess deaths, over the statistical average, for the COVID-19 era.  Globally, there has been a discrepancy between official death counts and excess death statistics.

Months ago, I noted that the Former Guy actually stated that not testing for COVID-19 would drive the numbers down, and took away the FDA's authority to regulate COVID-19 testing kits.  Last July, the Trump Maladministration forced the CDC to stop releasing hospitalization and ICU statistics, handing the authority to the Department of Health and Human Services.  It has to be noted that the lowballing of COVID-19 deaths in the US was greatest in localities that supported Trump, though even in New York, nursing home deaths were underreported by the thousands.

A year ago, I predicted that a half-million Americans would die before the pandemic ran its course, and my co-worker countered by saying it would be a million.  I'm starting to think that I may have been a Pollyanna... and to think that I've always maintained that I'm a cynic!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

COVID Relief

Gradually, we seem to be finding our way out of the COVID crisis.  To my vast relief, my mom received her second Pfizer inoculation this afternoon.  I called her a couple of hours after her jab, and she told me she was doing fine- no pain, no fatigue, no adverse reactions at all.  Basically, her experience with the shot seems to be mirroring mine.  I advised her to drink plenty of water, but I'm sure she'll be fine.  Mom walks six miles a day, weather permitting.

The real significance of her second inoculation is that, in two weeks, I should be able to visit Mom without any qualms.  I figure it would be nice to help her out with some gardening, and the weather should be decent enough to do some planting by then (it still gets down to the 40s at night, so it's premature to plant any basil or tomatoes).  Even more importantly, Mom will be able to travel to see her grandchildren.  It's been too long since she's taken a good, long trip.

I don't worry about Mom, she's in good health and has a good local support network in her neighborhood.  She's well squared away, but it's nice to know that she'll be protected from this out-of-the-ordinary scourge. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Your Annual Warning Against the Marxican Threat

For years, I have been warning against the Marxican threat on Cinco de Mao, that perilous day when leftists celebrate the birthday of Karl Marx by drinking a lot of tequila, mezcal, and cervezas. 

Having completely capitulated to the Marxican menace, I signaled my surrender to the Cinco de Mao forces by stopping at a Pueblan restaurant not too far from work to grab some tacos before punching the clock. A lot of other persons had the same idea, the wait for takeout orders was a half hour, plenty of time to call Mom up and tell her I had submitted to the Marxist cause (Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo are Mexican names, no?). Unfortunately, there aren't taco trucks on every corner, but a guy makes do with the taquerias he's got in his various milieus. That being said, La Perla Poblanita puts out some fine cuisine.

Why am I using French vocabulary on this night which celebrates a Mexican vicory over a French army? No puedo decir! It's a pity I couldn't drink any tequila, this being a work night- I actually found some tripe on sale at the supermarket (it used to be cheap), and tomorrow I plan on cooking a world class hangover cure.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Petrol Pump Paladin

 Champions exist among us, those brave souls who, when faced by the evil deeds of evildoers, take arms against the malfeasors, leaving this world safer for the meek-but-law-abiding. Here, we have a veritable Jedi master, facing multiple opponents with an elegant weapon for a more civilized age:

It's not as clumsy or random as a blaster!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Dart the Reluctant

It's infuriating that a sizable percentage of the population is experiencing 'vaccine reluctance'.  It's even more infuriating that the talking points being deployed by the anti-vaxxers, who also tend to be anti-mask and anti-lockdown... being pro-pandemic for all intents and purposes.  The latest lunacy is that vaccinated people shed vaccine particles which interfere with menstrual cycles of those in the vicinity.  This is now being pushed by a QAnon whacko who ran unsuccessfully against Nancy Pelosi.  She believes that vaccines are satanic:


 At this point, we'll never achieve herd immunity with so many vaccine holdouts unless we take drastic measures.  It's time to shoot those idiots with dart guns firing vaccination needles.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Eerie Cries and Nazgûl Eyes

The common red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is an uncommonly beautiful animal, sleek of form and pleasant of hue.  We have them in my neck of the woods, but it is a rare occasion, usually around dawn, when I see one.  Hearing them, though, is another story entirely... it's enough to raise one's hackles.

Right around four-thirty this morning, I heard that screa suh m and rushed out to the field with a high-powered flashlight to get a glimpse.  While I could see the sleek profile of the wee beastie, the most prominent visible features were the twin glows of the animal's tapeta lucida reflecting back at me.  Needless to say, the cat wasn't too happy knowing that there was another predator in the vicinity.  She eagerly jumped onto my shoulder, even though the fox kept a distance of about fifty meters, and was glad when we eventually went back inside.

I'm not the sort of person who scares easily, I couldn't function in my job if I were, but there's something unheimlich about such a sound, even coming from a small, pretty animal.  Of course, my natural inclination is to investigate the sources... contrary to John Bellairs' advice: "Unexplained noises are best left unexplained."

I love my job, I find it a continuous source of beauty and wonder, but it's not for everyone.  To my knowledge, two new hires didn't even last a shift.  I like to think that it's my investigative bent which keeps me here... well, that and a certain level-headedness.  I know I'm the most dangerous animal onsite.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Hooray Hooray the First of May!

 Outdoor judo starts today!

Today was the return of my Saturday morning coaching gig.  In an ordinary year, this program runs from October to March, and takes place indoors- the model of the program being that the children would participate in school athletics in the Spring and Summer.  With social distancing guidelines still in place, we have adapted to the new conditions, and will be running an outdoor program throughout May and June, a semester of eight weeks rather than our traditional ten.

Judo being a contact sport, we haven't really been able to conduct complete classes in which the kids can compete with each other.  Today, we just went over the steps necessary for the throws ippon seoi nage, tai otoshi (my personal favorite), and o soto gari.  We were practicing in a gorgeous locale on the shore of Long Island Sound, and while the scenery was beautiful, when we started it was windy and a bit chilly for early May.

Of course the highlight of the morning was seeing everyone- administrators, coaches, parents, and kids.  We all compared vaccination notes, most of us have received the requisite number of shots (we're not getting any older), and we look forward to a day when we can return to our usual digs,  On a sad note, I learned that Roberto Rulli, loving father, doting grandfather, skilled judoka, brilliant mentor, and good friend, passed away at the age of eighty in Florence, Italy.  He was a kind man, but one who knew more than a few tricks to use on opponents.  Condolences to his loved ones.

After the program ended, a restorative lunch with friends at the venerable Mister Taco in New Rochelle was in order.  Some guacamole, a couple of tacos, and a glass of horchata were accompanied by a lively discussion of the infamous North Avenue bars, which from the late seventies to the mid nineties were positively overrun by underage drinkings (uh, I'm not admitting to anything).  Yes, until the mid nineties, when there was a drunk driving incident which claimed the life of a teenager, the neighborhood was pretty much a destination for free-range high schoolers looking to get loaded.  Thankfully, the county social scene shifted to my neighborhood, where the taverns are more professionally operated, at the time, leaving the former party district of North Avenue open to development by immigrant business owners from Mexico and Jamaica.  It was a hell of a nostalgia trip, with tales of debauchery in dives with fetid accommodations... quite the contrast to the morning's wholesome outdoor activity.  I think next week, I'll introduce my friends to the varied restaurants on New Rochelle's busy Main Street... there's a really good Peruvian place among the quality Mexican restaurants.

It's good to have this part of my routine return, even though it's not exactly what it was in the Before Times.  Someday, we'll be able to really play our sport (my great and good friend Gentle Jimmy G made it clear to me that he's looking forward to beating me up), someday soon.  In the meantime, we make do with imparting the bare fundamentals and figuring out how to teach under very limiting circumstances.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Humankind's Greatest Designated Driver

In a spooky sort of coincidence, I was listening to a discussion about the future of space travel on the day that the best-known pilot of a craft that traveled between two heavenly bodies died... yes, Michael Collins, history's greatest designated driver, left the earthly realm for the last time at the age of 90. A designated driver's sole mission is to ensure the safe return of friends from a foray, Michael Collins' role in the Apollo 11 mission was to get his companions, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, safe home to terra firma. 

Describing his role in the mission, Major General Collins wrote that failure would be the ruination of him

"My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the Moon and returning to Earth alone; now I am within minutes of finding out the truth of the matter. If they fail to rise from the surface, or crash back into it, I am not going to commit suicide; I am coming home, forthwith, but I will be a marked man for life and I know it." 

 No pressure! 

Michael Collins was well-prepared for his role piloting the Apollo 11 command module, having started as a test pilot in 1960 and an astronaut in 1963. He participated in the Gemini 10 spaceflight and served as Mission Control based capsule communicator for the Apollo 8 mission. 

After Apollo 11, Michael Collins, enjoying post-mission encomium, was tapped by Richard Nixon to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs during a fraught period of US actions at home and abroad. He served for about a year before securing a job for which he was better suited, as the third director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Michael Collins was also an advocate for scientific and engineering progress, urging humanity to explore space, specifically having a human presence on Mars. In a world increasingly being mired in whackaloonery, voices such as Michael Collins' are needed more than ever. 

Me being me, I would be remiss if I didn't post a Mekons song which perfectly encapsulates the wonders and horrors of the Space Age/Vietnam War era: 

 

Michael Collins is known for a peaceful mission, an endeavor which could be a source of pride for all humanity. We need achievments which unite the human species, and we need role models like Michael Collins to move these efforts along.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Secret Science Club Zoom Conversation: The Next 500 Years of Humanity

Last night's Secret Science Club Zoom program took the form of a dialogue between geneticist and computational biologist Dr Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine, who delivered two Secret Science Club lectures, one on a biodiversity study of the NYC subway system, and the other a study of the effects of space travel on the human body, and bioethicist/philosopher Matthew Liao, director of NYU's Center for Bioethics and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Moral Philosophy. The dialogue revolved around Dr Mason's new book The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds.

Dr Mason began his lecture by discussing the concept of planetary liberty, right now, our movements are limited to Earth and its near orbit.  He discussed the transition of Mars missions to sending transient crews to creating self-sufficient communities on the planet.  Around the time the human genome was being mapped, astronomers were discovering numerous exoplanets.

Dr Mason coined a term called the ESI: Earth Similarity Index- how close are a planet's conditions to terrestrial conditions?  How survivable would exoplanets be?  He then went over a timeline of bioengineering techniques in sequence (he discussed the concept of Cellular Liberty).  Genes can be reactivated, three parent embryos can be created.  He mapped these achievements along with astro-engineer progress.  In the face of a sixth mass extinction event, occurring rapidly, it makes sense to escape from Earth's nice, but temporary, environmental conditions (we are in a temperature 'canyon', between freezing and boiling).  We are the only animals that are 'extinction aware', and we could play the role of guardians.  We have a duty to all life: past, present, and future.

Dr Liao began his lecture with a discussion about the ethics of bioengineering humans to deal with climate change.  Millions could suffer from famine and flood as a result of climate change.  Geoengineering, the large-scale alteration of the Earth's systems, is very dangerous.  Human engineering, involving medical modifications of humans (voluntary, he is absolutely against coercion), could be a good substitute.  Perhaps engineering an aversion to meat (like the effects of the Lone Star tick's bite) could be useful.  Our ecological footprint is dependent on our size- could engineering smaller humans help reduce carbon emissions?  Lower birth rates, often associated with better education for women, also would help.  Many environmental problems are cooperative problems- oxytocin helps foster bonding and cooperation- could it be used to foster group-wide solutions?  As a more science-fictional solution, perhaps engineering tapetum lucidum to improve night vision would allow lower energy use in our cities.  He also suggested a system in which families could choose to have one large child, or two or three small children as a global warming hedge.

We should take human engineering more seriously than geoengineering, which could negatively affect the entire planet- the solutions aren't so drastic, and individual choices can come into play.  Win-win solutions are the solutions to be sought- look for these solutions, which are easier to sell. 

After the initial speeches, Dr Liao and Dr Mason began a lively dialogue.  Riffing off of Dr Mason's call for guardianship, Dr Liao asked Dr Mason if we had a duty to protect the coronavirus, then brought up the subject of reviving extinct species.  Dr Mason noted that we have a duty as self-aware genetic entities not only to protect ourselves, but to protect the genomes of other organisms.  He is pro-cognition, but matter agnostic regarding cognition, so he hoped that any Artificial Intelligences would see a duty to protect cognition.  He brought up the prospect of sending organisms with the potential for sentience, such as apes, dolphins, or octopuses, to planets with conditions conducive to their becoming guardian species, aware of their genetic duty.  Regarding coronvirus, Dr Mason noted that smallpox has been preserved in labs, and while unethical to allow it to escape, preserving the information in the DNA is useful if it doesn't pose a threat.

Dr Liao brought up the subject of cellular liberty, with regards to creating new species- could we engineer species which could supplant existing species?  If we engineer a new sort of human, how do we preserve old humanity?  Dr Mason noted that cellular liberty would mean that you shouldn't be beholden to the shuffled genetic deck you were dealt at birth,  Would it be ethical for deaf parents to ensure that their child be deaf in order to preserve the culture?  Could something be toggled on and off, giving temporary night vision if it is feasible and safe?  The science exists, but would 'full plasticity' be ethical?  Dr Mason noted that humans evolving on different planets could speciate, being incompatible from a reproductive standpoint, but quipped, "I hope they stay nice."

Dr Liao brought up a hypothetical situation in which a person could choose to be a temporary psychopath- Dr Mason noted that the genetic underpinnings of mental states aren't well known enough.

Dr Liao brought up the topic of exowombs, which Dr Mason proposed for nurturing embryos on a hypothetical generation starship.  Riffing off his own book, The Right to be Loved, he asked how would these children, gestating outside of a human uterus, be nurtured?  The development, touching and other human contact, would have to come later- but could be supplement with hormones.  Could snuggling with a newborn baby be replicated artificially?

Dr Mason noted that some individuals, true misanthropes, ask if humans should even be preserved.  He categorically rejected such a notion.  Humans have to improve the job that they are doing to preserve other life forms.

This lively discussion was followed with a Q&A session.  The first question involved digitizing human consciousness and transporting the information.  Dr Liao asked, who survives?  Can our identity survive in a digital form?  If the brain is digitized, but the body is not destroyed, which personality is genuine?  Which one is you?  If a brain is copied a hundred times, which one is you?  Dr Mason asked, "If half of your brain is replaced with part of another brain, are you still you?"

Another questioner asked about life on other planets- humans would have to set up microenvironments, akin to greenhouses.  If we find life on other planets, it might have a completely different biochemistry, such as different nucleotides.

Dr Mason noted that Earth is the best home we will know for a long time, but that it shouldn't be our only home.

Should we be concerned about combining capitalism and germ line editing?  Dr Mason noted that outcomes are not evenly distributed in a capitalist system, and genetic engineering would only increase those disparities- imagine wealthy persons living hundreds of years longer than common people.

Regarding genetic diversity, we've always been beholden to accidental genetic diversity, but is all genetic diversity good?  Is the gene for Tay-Sachs disease important to maintain diversity?

Some Bastard in the audience asked about the spaceflight risks which could be mitigated with human engineering.  The big risk is background radiation, but astronauts are hardy folk. Microgravity's effects can be mitigated with exercise.  He also asked the good Doctors about the Science Fiction reading lists they had, having heard plot points from books by Brian Aldis, David Brin, and Gene Wolfe. While both are fans of various science-fiction authors, they both read more non-fiction

Another question regarded the potential weaponization of genome editing. Dr Mason noted that most technologies are a double-edged sword, whether physics or biology. Dr Mason noted that every bioengineered protein would have to be scrutinized to see if it resembles a virus. Regarding generation starships, Dr Mason noted that we already live on a generation spaceship. Hopefully, the inhabitants of a generation spaceship could reach a nearby star within twenty generations. The discussion ended with a call from Dr Liao to always keep human rights in mind when it comes to the issues of human engineering and equity in access to the benefits of bioengineering. This was a lively, fun conversation, a neat dialogue between two geniuses from different disciplines, talking about a subject which is quite romantic. Kudos to Doctors Liao and Mason, and Margaret and Dorian. For a taste of this topic, here is Dr Mason talking about preparing humans for an interplanetary future: Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Pfizer-Man

Pfizer-Man, Pfizer-Man

Double dose is the Pfizer plan. 

Second jab, in the arm. 

Now I feel safe from harm, 

Oh, yeah, I am the Pfizer-Man. 

Did it hurt? No, siree! 

Just a prick, but no agony. 

If it hurts, what is pain, 

Compared to life again? 

Oh, yeah, call me the Pfizer-Man 

Today, I received my second dose of vaccine, and I currently feel fine. The worst feeling post-jab was discovering after the fact that the current vaccination model doesn't necessitate a trip to one's original vaccination site. Yeah, I probably could have gone to a location in Yonkers, but I figure that not messing with a sure thing was worth the road trip to Middletown, NY. 

I have to say that having the second inoculation under my belt, by which I mean under my skin, is a good feeling... inocelation is how I put it.  Now, it's a matter of drinking a lot of water and waiting for any possible side effects to kick in.  In a couple of weeks, I figure I'll buy a new MTA Metrocard and get my ass to Chinatown for a day out.

Post title taken from this cartoon classic theme.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Taking the Grift National

One of the current outrages in the news is the announcement by the administration of a private school in Florida that they will ban any faculty members who decide to get the COVID-19 vaccine.  Their letter explaining the policy is a farrago of pseudoscientific nonsense:

Yeah, apparently, vaccine recipients emanate some sort of miasma or radiation which adversely affects others... sounds legit. I tend to have an eye for details, so the name of one of the school's proprietors, Leila Centner, whose signature that crazy letter bears, jumped out at me when I saw it on a poster for an upcoming Q-adjacent, antivaccine rally: My guess is that Ms Centner is looking to take her grift national. I'm not exactly sure how remunerative her private school endeavor is, but the timing of her anti-vaccine employment policy anouncement, so close to her appearance at this 'health and freedom' rally, suggest that she is looking for the big bucks, the Michael Flynn, Lin Wood, Sidney Powell sort of payout.

Monday, April 26, 2021

They're the Meatmen and They Suck

 The latest salvo in the stupid right wing culture war is an assertion that Joe Biden would limit Americans' red meat consumption to four pounds a year.  This bullshit story originated with the UK tabloid The Daily Mail.in a poorly sourced story which also claims that Biden would force car buyers to spend money on electric cars.

The idea that the Democrats would limit Americans' hamburger consumption is a hoary trope, by which I mean tripe, among conservatives, as this old clip from Sebastian 'Blimphead' Gorka reveals:

Naturally, it also played into hatred of AOC.

The funny thing is that meat was difficult to come by a year ago, when the Trump Pandemic disrupted supply lines.  Personally, I subsisted on bean dishes cooked with a bit of chorizo or ham hock for flavor.  Trump limited burger consumption more than Biden ever will.

I take my omnivory seriously, even engaging in occasional entomophagy.  That being said, I have been endeavoring to cut back on my meat consumption for health as well as environmental reasons... I also embrace the rooter-to-tooter model of meat-eating, and actually prefer cuts like shanks to more expensive 'normie' cuts.  I firmly reject the weird performative masculinity that conservatives attach to meat-eating, with it's weird pseudoscience about plant estrogens.  I suspect that the rumors that Biden is trying to make everybody a near-vegetarian has some roots in right-wing fear of emasculation.

Post title taken from this nastily transgressive cultural artifact.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

A Preview of 2022

I've predicted that next year's Republican primary elections are going to be an absolute nightmare as the terrible Tea Party politicians are primaried by an up-and-coming class of full-on QAnon conspiracy theorists.  For those unfamiliar with the QAnonsense, it's basically a mashup of the ancient antimsemitic blood libel conspiracy theory with Illuminati/Freemasonry conspiracy theories, and the added twist that Donald Trump, of all people, would bring down the Cabal that secretly runs the world, using the rest of the population as cattle.  It's bad, and it's violent, and it's taking over the GOP, starting at the local level:

Tracy 'Beanz' Diaz was instrumental in moving the original 'Q Clearance Patriot' shitposter from the fever swamps of 4Chan to the 'normie' precincts of the internet, such as Reddit, YouTube, and Facebook:

Diaz, a YouTube poster and Pizzagate proponent, basically acted as a 'midwife' for the QAnon bullshit, and is reputed to have authored some of the Q Drops before the whole Qit-and-Qaboodle moved to 8Chan, where it was most likely taken over by Ron and Jim Watkins, the proprietors of that online filthfest. 

Now, she's an official Republican apparatchik in a South Carolina county.  It's not really a case of the serpent eating its own tail, the Quroboros is a snake with its head wedged up its ass, by which I mean cloaca.  Expect the electoral processes in the Republican Party to descend into a maelstrom of madness in the runup to the 2022 midterm elections.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Authoritarianism Kills

 The news out of India is horrifying, as a second wave of COVID-19 sweeps across the country, with 332,730 new cases being reported on Friday.  Oxygen is scarce, as are ventilators and even hospital beds.  The reported death toll is 189,549, which is considerably less than that here in the US, which stands at 585,075.  India's Modi government, like the Trump government here in the 'States, and the Bolsonaro government of Brazil, has responded to the pandemic in disastrous fashion.

CNN's report is eerily familiar, evoking a sense of déjà vu in this American news consumer:

State ministers and local authorities, including those in hard-hit Maharashtra, have been warning about the second wave and preparing action since February. In jarring contrast, there appears to have been a vacuum of leadership within the central government, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi staying largely silent on the situation until recent weeks. 

Opposition politicians have been quick to blame Modi, who like Trump, decided to hold rallies as his country was suffering:


 

Just over a year ago, when the pandemic was first becoming manifest in the 'States, I partook in a conversation with an Indian-American friend, the man who heads up the athletic program for which I coach, and the topic of the pandemic numbers in India came up.  My friend, who travels to India to visit relatives every couple of years, flat our stated that the numbers could not be trusted, "The government lies."

The United States, Brazil India... all nominally Democratic societies which chose their elected leaders poorly, all chose heads of state who were more invested in nationalistic, authoritarian power grabs than in running functioning governmenst.  All of these societies have been ravaged by the pandemic.  Authoritarianism kills, pure and simple.

Friday, April 23, 2021

New Guy, Gadfly

Last year, in a surprising upset victory, Jamaal Bowman beat long-term (since 1989) incumbent Eliot Engel to become my US Representative.  Engle, a decent enough man, just seemed to lose his idealism, and was replaced by a more activist representative.

Next week, Representative Bowman will deliver a response to President Biden's address to a joint session of Congress on behalf of the Working Families Party (he ran on a Dem/WFP ticket):

Bowman ... said the response is intended not to be critical of Biden but rather to credit him as appropriate and cue him for what the left wants to see next.

"It's a balancing act. He's already done a lot that I love. And he's going to say a lot of things that I like, as well," Bowman said in an interview. "But if we relent, it doesn't mean that what's been going on so far is going to continue. It's important for us as progressives to continue to push and continue to organize."

I'm digging this, because I elected him to be a gadfly, working to move the party in the direction that he, and I, want it to move.  There is no sense in engaging in a dialog with a Republican Party that is increasingly residing in Cloudcuckooland, the real debate is between centrist Democrats and the left-wing of the Democratic Party- the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party.  Biden has already governed far to the left of where I suspected he would, but I'm glad that up and coming members of the party, like Rep. Bowman, are putting some pressure on him.

Eliot Engel is a decent man, but my district needed somebody with a little more fire in the belly, and it looks like we got exactly that.  I'm looking forward to following Representative Bowman's career for years to come.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Critiquing the Critics

 It's been a pretty rough week, news-wise, so I figured I'd take a night off for something fun.  I recently discovered a hilarious Twitter account that chronicles reviews by critics that, in retrospect, are laughably bad.  This particular review was the one that caught my eye, but all of the highlighted reviews are terrible:


Now, I went on a pretty deep dive into Kraftwerk's oeuvre when Florian Schneider died last year, so I am a little biased. That said, Trans Europe Express was a wildly influential album, described in 2014 by LA Times music critic Randall Roberts as "the most important pop album of the last 40 years."  It was a landmark, inspiring hip-hop, rock, electronica, and industrial musicians for decades.  

The thirteen minute song that the reviewer compared to a sleeping pill,

The 13 minute track that the reviewer compared to a sleeping pill is a bonafide dance classic, guaranteed to get everybody out on the floor:


That's some soporific!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

And You'll Know that They Are Christians by Their Love

Predictably, the latest right-wing culture war, the war on transpersons, has taken a disturbingly violent turn, as bigots inundate Kai Shippley, a 4th grade transgender student in Texas, with death threats.  Kai made the national news when she testified in front of the Texas state Senate, making a case for her mere existence:

Young Ms Shippley's testimony showed eloquence beyond her years, indeed a maturity beyond that of the assholes who would attack her for her gender identity.  She also had the savvy to turn Senator Charles Perry's religious excuse for bigotry against him, saying,""God made me. God loves me for who I am, and God does not make mistakes." Well played, Kai!

Now cue the violent rhetoric from online psychos:


I'm sure that the legislators who are making things more difficult for kids in transition all claim that they are 'protecting the children', never mind that they are the ones putting targets on the backs of young people like Kai Shippley. 

The right-wingers lost the battle against same-sex marriage, and this war on transpersons is the new front in their culture war. I have no doubt that they would see harm to Kai and those like her as 'collateral damage'. The bigots are losing, they've been losing for the past quarter-century, and we'd better make damn sure that they lose this battle as well, because if they succeed, they will have no qualms about revisiting the old fronts of their culture war. 

Post title is a sarcastic usage of a line from a Christian ecumenical hymn.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Not Getting Away With Murder

I have to confess that I was surprised when Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing George Floyd.  I would quibble with the 'unintentional' aspect of the second-degree murder charge, because cutting off someone's carotid artery flow for NINE MINUTES is pretty much guaranteed to kill anyone.  I'm not conversant with the minutiae of the law, though, so I guess the verdict is about as good as one could hope for.

Hopefully, the precedent set in this trial (the verdict will no doubt be appealed) will make police officers think twice before they decide to appoint themselves judge, jury, and executioner in minor criminal cases, such as selling loose cigarettes or possessing a counterfeit twenty.   Our society being what it is, though, I believe that the bill to end qualified immunity that passed the House has more potential to get law enforcement officers (so called) to seek less violent means of doing their job.  Derek Chauvin's conviction is a new development, a novel case of a jury holding a killer cop accountable... allowing civil suits against violent cops will probably have a greater overall effect on policing... paying penalties that vaporize pensions will do that.

The right-wing fever swamps are afire with rage tonight, ranging from run-of-the-mill racism to more outré expressions of dismay.  There is genuine anger that a police officer was held accountable for his actions, there is genuine anger that a black man's death was considered something that a white authority figure would have to pay for.  It's going to be a strange, ugly week, even though the verdict itself was heartening.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Wicked Pisser

I worked the graveyard shift this morning, and when I arrived last night, shortly before midnight, a weird mood has hanging over the workplace like a bad smell.  The cat was nowhere to be found, and the human coworker I was relieving was in a peevish mood.  To put it succinctly, he was pissed off because he was pissed on...

It's not a common behavior, but female cats occasionally spray, typically when stressed, but also as a marking behavior.  After a particularly affectionate display toward her human coworker, Ginger marked him with an atomized spray of pee, claiming him as her property (goodness knows she doesn't have a lot of stress).  While the amount was miniscule, it was directed squarely at his sweatshirt, right underneath his collar, so the aroma was unavoidable.  Needless to say, he wasn't exactly pleased, so he yelled at Ginger, something to the effect of, "What the hell did you just do?"

While I was absorbing this tale, the culprit ascended from the basement, no sign of contrition on her feline visage.  I was laughing at the whole sorry story, and noted that, to my knowledge, Ginger had never peed on me (though if the amount were miniscule, who's to say I would notice having my pantleg sprayed?).  My coworker laughed, "That's because she so thoroughly owns you!"

After my human coworker left, Ginger continued on in a bit of a fey mood for about an hour, perhaps she did realize that she had committed a faux pis.  She quickly ascended the stairs when she heard me pop open a can of food, though, and, after dining, resumed her typical position lying on top of my sweatshirt... no need to spray it, her claim is pretty secure.

At one point in the wee hours of the morning, I raised the thermostat a couple of degrees, so she moved to the top of a radiator cover, one of her favorite sleeping spots:

 


Look at that smug face!  Ain't she a wicked pissah?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Tragedy as Farce

 Karl Marx, commenting on Hegel, noted that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.  While I agree in broad terms with Onkel Karl, I think he isn't 100% correct- history repeats itself more often than he suspected, but it has degenerated into 'tragedy as farce'.

The FedEx shooting in Indianapolis was certainly a tragedy, a gunman murdered eight people who were simply working.  Because four members of the city's Sikh community (having a centuries old tradition of working as drovers and teamsters, many Sikhs are drawn to the transportation industry) were killed. I suspected a racial motivation for the massacre, and I still haven't ruled that out... though things get weird.

The gunman, who was a former employee of the FedEx facility, was visited by the FBI last year, his mother having warned the authorities that her son might try to commit 'suicide by cop', and a shotgun was confiscated from the home.  Of course, the fact that he was able to get his hands on semiautomatic weapons is a testimony to the abysmal state of mental health care AND firearms regulations in the United States.  Wasn't there a way to monitor this unwell individual?

Now, about the weird angle of this horror... apparently, the shooter was a 'brony', a member of the 'My Little Pony' fandom, and had an... uhhhhh... erotic fascination with one of the characters, as evidenced by a Facebook post:

"I hope that I can be with Applejack in the afterlife, my life has no meaning without her. If there's no afterlife and she isn't real then my life never mattered anyway."

The real problem here is that, in this all-too-online age, just about everything is overlaid with layers and layers of irony.  The adult male 'My Little Pony' fanbase became prominent on internet sewer 4Chan, with a lot of right-wing extremists latching onto the children's cartoon and creating Nazi depictions of its characters in order to be 'edgy'.  Of course, 'ironic racism' is still racism, and online extremists use an ironic pose or a 'just joking' frame to 'hide their power levels'- itself a phrase adopted by 4Chan users from anime to describe hiding one's affiliations with extremist groups.  Once again, it is difficult to separate the jokey obfuscation from the genuine hate.  It very well may be true that the Indianapolis shooter was using a pose as a sexually frustrated cartoon pony fetishist to hide the fact that he was a racist, right-wing extremist.

Meanwhile, the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been pulled from use because of six recipients experiencing serious blot clots, but nothing is being done about the continuing death toll caused by mass shootings... now THAT's what I call a farce!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Moleman Messiah

 Oh, dear, it looks like actor Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's religious torture porn film The Passion of the Christ (I'll put a fun fact in as a footnote), has decided to go full QAnon.  He was, via teleconferencing, a special guest at a COVID Conspiracy Convention featuring a coterie of QAnon and MAGA celebrities, many of them also rans who never quite made it as real stars:


 

I'm not exactly proud of this, but I recognize more of those names than I'd care to admit.

Caviezel did not disappoint, spinning a yarn about the adrenochrome harvesting conspiracy theory.  Cavaziel, will be playing Tim Ballard, a 'human trafficking expert' who is under investigation for sketchy practices, in an upcoming movie.  In a 'blink and you'd miss it' moment, Cavaziel goes full-on Mole Children conspiracy:

You have to know the lingo to understand what he's saying: "Because they're pulling kids out of the darkest recesses of hell right now, in DUMBs and all kinds of places." DUMBs are Deep Underground Military Bases, which in certain conspiracy circles are the sites of sinister goings-on, such as the breeding of Mole Children slaves, and meetings between high ranking officials and aliens/demons/Sleestaks. This is basically the Shaver Mystery with the serial numbers filed off, a pulp horror adventure bridging the gulf between fairy abduction lore and the modern UFO abduction urban legend. Also, I dig the way Caviezel turned 'adrenochrome' into a verb. 

Caviezel continued in very confused fashion, elaborating on the harvesting of adrenochrome:

The precious line here is: "It's the worst horror I've ever seen, the screaming alone, even if I never, ever, ever, ever saw it." Ho-Kay, he never ever saw the worst horror he's ever seen? Looks like somebody needs some pineal gland stimulation, or better yet, extensive counseling. Talk about dumbs!

How Cavaziel has fallen since the early days of the Oughts, when he played Jesus Christ on the big screen in a blockbuster movie. Now, he's got to be content with playing the Moleman Messiah in a straight-to-video crapfest... and he's going to blame the result of his poor life choices on some sort of sinister 'cancel culture', undoubtedly by (((those people))), by which I mean DEROs.

POSTSCRIPT: When The Passion of the Christ came out, I was dating a girl from Krakow.  She mentioned the movie, and I told her, "You really don't want to see it, it will only make you upset."  A couple of days later, I met her after work, and she asked me, "Are my eyes red?  I've been crying all afternoon."  Sure enough, she had gone with a friend of hers to see the movie after their English class had ended.  I immediately thought to myself, "Damn, it's not just a movie about an innocent man being tortured and murdered, but you kinda know the guy... if you're seeing it, you probably have a picture of him on your wall."

Also, Robyn Pennachia covered this item at Wonkette.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Inocelation

Yesterday, my mom received her first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination, meaning that she will be eligible for her second one on May 6.  It was quite the production getting her this initial appointment- apparently, vaccine distribution in Virginia is on a county-by-county basis (unlike New York, where it is a statewide effort handled by the National Guard).  My sister-in-law, my brother Gomez' wife, did a yeowoman's work checking out the State Department of Health website, and even making a bunch of phone calls (she and Gomez also live in Virginia) until she spoke with someone who was able to render assistance and earmark a vaccination for Mom.

She reported no side effects when I spoke with her after her appointment.  This has come as a big relief to me, although Mom is strong and healthy, she IS 79 years old.  The post inoculation elation, the inocelation if you will, was palpable... there is an endpoint in site, and she should be able to travel to visit family by mid-May.  This is the best thing about receiving the vaccine, regaining the freedom to move about the cabin country.

 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Annual Tax Day Post

For the first time in four years, I actually felt good about paying my taxes again.  In contrast to last year, when I took advantage of the COVID-19 filing extensions and didn't send in my return until July, I prepared my return and sent it in in February.  For the record, I typically end up owing money, and last year, I wanted to give the gonif in the White House as little time to spend my tax dollars as was possible. 

A perusal of past years' April 15 posts will show that I am not the sort of person who complains about paying taxes.  Taxes are the membership fee we pay to live in a functioning society (when, of course, our society functions).  This year, I am optimistic that the $2.3 billion infrastructure bill will go a long way to improve the pay of essential healthcare workers, provide jobs that cannot be outsourced, increase the percentage of power generated by renewable resources, and improve roads, bridges, rail, broadband internet, and water purification and distribution.  While much of this infrastructure budget is supposed to be paid for with corporate tax hikes, I'm perfectly happy to pay my share.  I've often noted that I'd rather pay $500 extra in taxes to avoid a $600 bill when my car is damaged by hitting a pothole that could have been fixed by a competent administration.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ending the Endless War

President Joseph Robinette Biden continues to exceed my expectations of him (I make no bones about being Team Warren during the primaries), and his decision to pull most of the American and NATO troops out of Afghanistan by September 11 is, I believe, the right thing to do.  The United States has had a military presence in Afghanistan for twenty years now, with little progress to show for it, I believe that it's 'magical thinking' to believe that a continued military presence would somehow start to work after two decades of stagnation and failure.

Personally, I was against a wholesale military invasion of Afghanistan (doubly so against an invasion of Iraq).  I remember at the time saying, "This is a job for a 'James Bond', not for a 'Patton'."  The campaign against Al Qaeda should have been a police action with a small footprint- a handful of CIA spooks backed by a unit of Special Forces should have been deployed against Bin Laden... one doesn't swat mosquitos with a sledgehammer.  As it was, the US military never got Bin Laden in the Afghan theater of war.

There is a role for UN personnel and employees of NGOs in Afghanistan, to carry out much needed development work, but this is not work for the military.   More than 2,300 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, with about 20,000 wounded... it's time to end the seemingly endless war, enough blood has been spilled, American, NATO, and Afghan.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Northern Aggression

 I've been disconcerted by the recent uptick in violence in Northern Ireland.  I have ancestors from Roscommon, in the Republic of Ireland, and the subject of 'The Troubles' has fascinated me since I was a wee laddie.  My upstairs neighbor is an immigrant from Armagh, and her parents, both lovely people, still abide there.  

Thankfully, nobody has died during the current unrest, though youths are hurling bricks and Molotov cocktails, and a bus was hijacked and torched in Belfast.  The cause of the unrest seems to be complications of Brexit over customs and borders, and a failure to enforce masking and social distancing mandates during a funeral for a deceased Sinn Fein leader.  Politicians on both sides of the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border have called for calm.

Me?  I have one thing to say... you don't want to live in a Stiff Little Fingers song.  The members of Stiff Little Fingers were the last people who wanted to live in a Stiff Little Fingers song:

The rioters are too young to remember the 1998 Omagh bombing, an indiscriminate terrorist attack that killed 29 persons and injured more than 300.   The horror of that massacre, committed by an IRA splinter group, was a major catalyst for the peace talks... even the main body of the IRA was appalled at the violence.  The kids trying to ramp up the violence need to be forced to meet with survivors of the bombing to get 'scared straight'.  Nobody needs a return to the bad old days.

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Big New Front in the Culture War

Those who follow right-wing pundits are familiar with the ramping up of the culture war against transpersons. The 'thought' leaders of Movement Conservatism march in lockstep, so this refrain has been loud lately. Brynn Tannehill has a good exploration of the new wave of anti-trans legislation, and it basically boils down to the fact that the Religious Right lost the culture war over same-sex marriage, so they had to find a more marginalized community to attack. 

Even some well-meaning liberals find gender nonconformity baffling, and the topic is not easy for many people to comprehend- much of what I know about trans-identity, I learned from Cerberus/Mazikeen of Sadly, No!... plus, I have studied enough biology to know that gender isn't strictly binary, and I listened to this in high school. My governing principle is maximizing human happiness and human potential for everyone whose desires don't limit the happiness and potential of others. If an individual needs to transition to another gender identity to live a full life, that person should be allowed to do so without hindrance. 

The kerfuffle about women's athletics is a bit of concern-trollery, right wingers have never had much use for women's sports to begin with. Personally, I think that a non-binary grouping of athletes according to muscle mass would be a better way to handle athletics going forward. The real truth of the current right-wing war against trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming individuals is that it's yet another 'holding action' being fought before a backlash... the right-wingers, if successful, won't be content with the status quo, and will try to roll back the gains made by gay and lesbian Americans:

The purported moral outrage is just so much blather, meant to obfuscate what these bigots really want to do. These people claim that they want to protect 'the children' by keeping Rachel Levine out of high school girls' bathrooms, but they are perfectly fine with Matt Gaetz being in there.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Biden and Science

 Last week was a busy one for me, which is reflected by my blog posts from the week.  Because of this, some news items almost slipped by me, such as the GOP outrage over the EPA chief firing almost 45 Trump-appointed 'science advisors' from the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.  

Predictably, the Trump Maladministration ousted EPA scientists from academia and replaced them with fossil fuel and chemical industry flacks back in 2017, so this is a corrective measure.  Of course, when Republicans do this, it's not political- only Democrats are so churlish to politicize science (or morals, or 'family values' or...).  GOP representatives James Comer and Ralph Norman had the gall to write this to EPA chief Michael Regan:

“Traditionally science advisory boards are bipartisan panels used to provide advice to the administrator. Unfortunately, it appears the Biden administration is continuing to purge officials in the government who do not share its political beliefs.  The midterm firing of science advisory board members within the first months of a new administration .... raises serious concerns about the politicization of the EPA.”

Here is where I note that the same 'researchers' who are trying to cast doubt on the connection between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels were the monsters who tried to obfuscate the link between cigarette smoking and cancer.  There's no need to give these prevaricators a seat at the table when discussing such a crisis as global climate change.  They just aren't good faith actors, and they would do their level best to derail any discussion of climate crisis mitigation.

Joe Biden has the Herculean task of cleaning out the Augean Stable that Former Guy turned the government into, and thankfully he's willing to do the necessary work.  Starting with four dozen hired guns posing as scientists gives me hope that he is up to the challenge. 

Even more importantly, President Biden signaled his commitment to science by elevating the role of Science Advisor to a cabinet position.  The only thing that would make me more excited would be Biden's formation of a Science Ninja Team:

 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Vacation's Over, Missy!

 There are certain VIP employees who get privileges not extended to the rank-and-file workers, essential personnel who nevertheless get a couple of month's vacation with accommodations provided by management.  So it is with my co-worker Ginger, the head of our Rodent Abatement Team, who returned to work yesterday after spending a couple of months at a manager's apartment:

 


As much as I missed her, I am glad that she wasn't onsite when we had three feet of snow on the ground, especially during the three-day stretch during which we were buried under two feet of snow.  While Ginger's usual accommodations are perfect for a cat, they are a bit 'rustic', so a few weeks spent with All Mod Cons was a good change of pace for her (it also allowed us to turn the heat down in her usual spot to fifty, which is pretty much minimum for ensuring the pipes don't freeze).

Now that she's back, I'm grateful for the companionship.  I imagine she's happy to be able to accompany me while I Scooby Doo (is too a verb) around the property, and she reconnoiters her demense.  I'm also glad to be able to provide the spicy Ginger content that everybody craves.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Don't Vote for Failsons

The biggest problem in the United States, from a political standpoint, is that there are just too many damn failsons involved in our gocernment.  George W. Bush is a failson, and he damn near destroyed the country with his wars of choice and his laissez faire economic policies which tanked the economy.  Donald Trump is a failson, and he was even worse than Dubya.  Matt Gaetz?  Failson...  

Here in New York State, Andrew Cuomo has turned out to be quite the failson.  Who better to challenge this failson in the upcoming gubernatorial election than another failson named Andrew?  Andrew Giuliani has stated that he is running for the governorship of New York, despite never have served in an elected position- he was involved in Former Guy's Associate Director of the Office of Public Liaison, but we all know that Former Guy's maladministration was a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Andrew Giuliani's campaign is pretty much dead on arrival, as New York is a heavily Democratic state.  I suspect that Andrew Cuomo's campaign is also dead on arrival, he just has too much baggage.  Personally, I even find our lieutenant governor too conservative for my tastes, and would rather see our attorney general or senate majority leader running for the office.

We don't need another failson in a position of authority... ever.  Don't vote for failsons, not in the primary, not in the general.  Just don't ever vote for failsons.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Servitor of Gates

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It is by the will of Gates alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the shots of Pfizer that thoughts acquire speed, the bots acquire signals, the signals become a warning. It is by will of Gates alone I set my mind in motion.

All kidding aside, I really didn't even feel any adverse reactions to the first Pfizer inoculation.  I woke up at 6:30PM today and thought, "Damn, I'm really fatigued..." Then I thought for two seconds, and realized that this is exactly how someone should feel after leaving the house at 2PM, taking a 150 mile round trip, getting a shot, and working an overnight shift.  

Truth be told, I was pretty much bouncing off walls last night, and didn't actually get to sleep until about 10AM this morning.  Part of this is, no doubt, due to the feeling of relief that accompanies receiving the first shot and knowing that I am in line for the next one in three weeks.  Even better is the knowledge that many of my friends are currently receiving the vaccine.  

I'm looking forward to experiencing the small pleasures of life, such as sitting at a bar, drinking a draft beer and shooting the breeze.  I'm not a big one for new year's resolutions, but this year I resolved to just socialize, because I missed it last year.  Already, my next-door neighbor is making plans for a big backyard BBQ.

That would make becoming a cyborg servitor of Bill Gates worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Date with a Prick

No, no, no, this post isn't about Matt Gaetz, it's about my upcoming appointment for my first inoculation with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.  Local sites were booked solid until 5/21, so I decided to book an appointment at the NY state vaccination site at SUNY Middletown, about seventy-eight miles away.  If things go well, I get my poke at 5PM, with a follow-up on 4/28.  

I haven't been on a decent road trip in a while... I'm earmarking two and a half hours for travel (an extra hour according to the Google directions) just to take into account traffic problems and possible wrong turns (I've studied the map, and I wrote down the route, so I doubt this will happen).

I have to confess that I didn't sleep well last night.  I kinda felt like a kid on Christmas morning, feeling a sense of anticipation.  Even now, there's this sort of timeless feeling, a weird combo of 'you don't have to leave yet' and 'you should get on the road'.  I really can't wait until this is all over, and I think the first thing I'm going to do on 4/29 is to buy a new Metrocard, then on my first day off, head down to Chinatown... it's been over a year since I've been to Manhattan.

It will be nice to get back to some semblance of normality, even if it takes not one, but two dates with a prick to do so.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Secret Science Club Zoom Lecture: This Subject Is for the Birds, Literally

 Tonight, my great and good friends of the Secret Science Club are presenting a Zoom lecture by naturalist and field researcher Scott Weidensaul, author of A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds.

As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, he became obsessed with the Appalachian Mountains, raptors, and migration.  In the 1990s, he traveled throughout North America studying migration patterns, and he recently has traveled the world

North America has lost about a third of its birds in recent decades.

Grassland birds, such as bobolinks and meadowlarks, are particularly hard hit.  Waterfowl have rebounded due to efforts to protect and restore wetlands.  If we put the same time, effort, and money to restoring grasslands, these birds should rebound as well.  Progress is being made to restore migratory bird populations, and our ability to crunch massive amounts of data has revolutionized research.  Miniaturized tracking devices also help, some are small enough to place on migratory butterflies.  We also have better ideas about bird physiology- some of these birds can spend months on the wing while they migrate.

Not all birds migrate, but the dusky grouse migrates uphill in the Rockies by foot.  The semipalmated sandpiper migrates thousands of miles to and from its Canadian breeding grounds.  To compare birds to even the most elite human athletes is to shame the birds.  The sandpipers gorge on crustaceans called Corophium, stocking up on Omega-3 fatty acids before migratiing.  Most birds migrate at night, using celestial navigation.  Birds also have magnetic sense, with a form of quantum entanglement (spooky action at a distance), using a visual pigment called cryptochrome, which becomes magnetized, allowing the birds to sense the Earth's magnetic field.  Every goose pooping on the golf course has this magnetic sense.

Just about everything humans can do, birds can do better, certain birds, such as bar-headed geese, can fly higher than the 'death zone' for human climbers.  Birds have a respiratory system superior to mammals' lungs- their lungs are attached to air sacs accessed through hollow bones.  Bar-headed geese have special hemoglobin which allows them to fly at excessive altitudes.

Alpine swifts migrate to Africa for the winter, flying from Switzerland to western Africa without stopping for two hundred days.  Common swifts fly continuously for ten months, feeding on the wing on flying insects.  Great frigatebirds, being native to the Galapagos, have little fear of humans, and are easy to have transmitters affixed to.  The birds are not waterproof, so they fly nonstop to hunt fish- they undergo unihemispheric sleep on the wing, and after feeding their young, sleep on the nest for long periods.  Even the migratory birds in our yards, such as warblers, undergo unihemispheric sleep.  The birds need food resources at both ends of their migratory route.  Certain birds, such as bar-tailed godwits, engage in hyperphagia, overeating, for days before migrating, and their digestive systems atrophy for the trip, and regrow their guts when they arrive.  The most important foraging sites for bar-tailed godwits are mudflats on the Yellow Sea, which teem with invertebrate life.  The loss of these habitats to the construction of seawalls and aquatic farms are injurious to birds, a twenty-one mile long seawall in South Korea resulted in habitat loss which decreased the red knot population by one-fifth.  The spoon- billed sandpiper, which migrates from Eastern Russia to the Chinese coast, is down to a population of about 400.

Conservation efforts are underway on the Yellow Sea coast, with the authoritarian government of China halting all development on the mudflats.  Certain sites are now UNESCO sites.

Bird trapping is also a problem, with birds such as the yellow-breasted bunting, once among the most abundant songbirds, experiencing catastrophic population decline.  If they go extinct, this would be the equivalent to the extinction of the passenger pigeon.  Bird trapping in the Mediterranean is rampant, with about eleven million migratory songbirds being killed in Egypt, France (where the ortolan bunting is a prized dish), and Italy.  The 'black hole' of  bird loss is Cyprus, where up to three million birds are trapped, usually using birdlime, a sticky substance smeared on twigs, which can trap birds.  In Cyprus, the birds are plucked and fried in an illegal dish called ambelopoulia.  Much of the poaching has occurred on British military bases, with local police, at considerable risk, using drones to catch poachers, and British conservationists send anti-poaching specialists.  Scott Weidensaul had to wear a bulletproof vest while observing these personnel.

Climate change is the biggest problem facing birds, changing distribution patterns.  He doesn't care if you believe in climate change, the birds do.  Many species of birds have changed their migration schedules due to warming.  Some birds, such as fox sparrows and eastern phoebes, have show flexibility in migration, but most of these are short or mid-distance migrants.  Long-distance, such as black-throated green warblers, are adversely effected by climate change.  Certain birds, such as pied flycatchers, time their migration to exploit the emergence of caterpillars, but the caterpillars emerge earlier now.  North American birds, not having to cross a desert and a sea, are less affected.  

Climate change doesn't cause uniform warming- in portions of the Canadian Arctic, falls and winters are colder, but summers are much hotter, so insects emerge earlier so chicks can starve.  The Audobon Society modeled bird habitats and determined that scarlet tanagers will lose about ninety percent of their oak-and-beech forests  by 2080, and the habitats won't be able to shift to keep up with warming.

Advances in computing power can help in bird conservation.  Doppler radar stations can be used to monitor bird migration, even allowing determination of bird size, direction of travel, and the calculation of bird numbers per cubic meter.  Shifts in migration can be shown.  Radar data allowed researchers to determine that 2.9 billion birds have been lost.  Radar cannot determine taxonomy, so birders on the ground, using the E-bird system, can verify what species of birds are migrating.  Using this data, optimal habitats, such as pop-up wetlands on farmland, can be created- payment to farmers would be cheaper than buying land outright.  City lights can confuse birds that navigate by starlight, drawing them to cities.  Automated alerts to building owners can inform them to dim lights as large flocks of migrating birds approach.  Urban bird habitats in city parks can also be more effective than buying undeveloped land.  GPS units that transmit data cellularly can track birds, with Project SNOWstorm being an effort to track snowy owls.

Small songbirds and migratory insects and bats can be tracked with the Motus system, and numerous local projects are expanding the receiver station network.

This is an amazing time, and a terrifying time, for migration.  It's easy to despair, but there is hope that the challenges of migratory birds can be met.  Scott Weidensaul cited the Amur falcon migration from Siberia and Eastern China to Southern Africa.  Nagaland, in eastern India, is a state characterized by conflict between a local Burmese ethnic population espousing a Baptist Christian religion, it was discovered that falcons that typically gorge on breeding termites before migrating were being trapped by farmers whose fields had been flooded by the construction of a dam.  The starving farmers literally believed that the falcons were manna from heaven.  There was an outcry among the international press, leading to an effort by conservationists and the hungry Naga to stop the hunt overnight, with former poachers guarding nesting sites, and efforts to jumpstart a tourism industry, which is difficult to put into place due to Nagaland's remoteness and an anti-India insurgency.  Mr Weidensaul painted a picture of bad roads, bandits, and Baptist headhunters.  Tourists are arriving, but the tourist economy is not as egalitarian as the falcon trapping economy.  Trappers-become-tour guides don't have equal access to prime roosting grounds or the ability to install western style facilities for tourists.  Roads bring development, logging, and hunting- they are the worst threats to birds... but they would be a boon for Nagaland ecotourism and conservation.  Strides have been made, but how sustainable are they?

Every bird that makes that leap into migration is ordinary, and extraordinary.  They have evolved amazing systems to navigate the migration process, but it's not enough now, the birds need our help.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  The first involved the evolution of migration patterns. Scott believes that this is an incremental process, migration is genetically coded, and some birds are born with 'bad software', with some taking riskier routes, such as oceanic routes, but success among a few would be selected for.  During the Ice Age, sea levels were lower, so now overseas routes would have been overland on a geological time scale.

Another question involved the use of birds as climate change 'surveyors'.  Cornell's eBird program has gathered data, and almost no migration routes have been unchanged by temperature change and shifting wind patterns.  The difficulty for birds is that they tend to depend on stable weather patterns, which are being perturbed.

Another question involved the banning of DDT, which decimated raptor and common loon populations.  Bald eagle populations have quadrupled over the past couple of decades, which does have a ripple effect on other bird populations, such as tern populations.

How do magnetic pole shifts affect birds?  Birds' magnetic senses aren't cued to polarity.  There might be some confusion, but birds don't function as compasses, and should be able to handle things well.

How do scientists band birds?  Banding is the most effective and least effective method of tracking birds.  Marking birds as individuals is crucial for determining migration, longevity, and mating practices.  Most birds return to nesting spots and overwintering spots.  If you find a dead bird, check for a band- the return on banding is pretty slim, only a fraction of the bands are recovered.  GPS locators are more effective.  Birds can be netted using audio lures and the geolocators can be evaluated.  One great thrush in Denali park has been tracked to the upper Orinoco over seven migration seasons.  Other thrushes living in proximity in Denali shared a similar proximity in southern Argentina.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic effect bird migration?  Differences in observed migration was probably more due to increased observation rather than decreased activity.  People suddenly started noticing nature, started observing birds.

There are migratory birds, semi-migratory birds, irruptive birds that migrate due to changing food availability.  

Scott plugged the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its Merlin Bird ID app.

Another question involved Ducks Unlimited- whatever your opinion of duck hunting is, duck hunters have raised a lot of money to preserved wetlands.  There is enlightened self interest involved, but the effectiveness cannot be denied.  The single largest anthropogenic factor in bird deaths is the domesticated cat- keep the cats inside, they kill billions of birds each year.  Trap, neuter, and release programs maintain large predator colonies- keep your cats inside.

Some Bastard in the audience (and another person in the chat), asked how even apartment dwellers can help birds.  Plant native plants, especially ones with fruits with a lipid content.  Choose your coffee well, pay more for certified shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee sown in forest habitats, subsidize small farmers who grow their coffee bushes under native forest canopy.  Look for the Smithsonian label.  Certain co-ops are engaged in reforestation efforts, improving bird habitats.

Migratory birds can carry pathogens, such as avian influenzas, which are carried by waterfowl such as gulls.  Birds can also be used as sentinels for pathogens, such as West Nile virus, which decimated many wild bird populations.

Another city dweller asked for resources about city-living birds.  Migratory songbirds don't typically migrate in large flocks, but they make calls to avoid collisions.  Rooftop antennae, available for about twenty dollars, could pick up migration calls to give a more granular picture of birds in transit, giving a detailed picture of the night sky.

The lecture was fantastic, accompanied by wonderful pictures.  It was sobering, but Mr Weidensaul challenged us, and gave us hope.  Kudos to this Pulitzer prize finalist, and Margaret and Dorian.  For a taste of this lecture, here is a lecture by Mr Weidensaul from last Fall: