I'm not going to sugarcoat things, but 2021 was a bad year, a sort of continuation of the bad year 2020. While there were similarities between the two years, during 2021 I never experienced the strange time dilation of Spring 2020, when the days and weeks dragged on interminably, while the months flew by. The only times I forgot what day it was this year were during the two-month stretch when I had no days off from work due to a coworker's illness.
The cruel joke of 2021 was that there was a brief respite from the pandemic during the summer, after I and my friends were fully vaccinated, and before the Delta variant cropped up. A semblance of a social life returned, though for the record, I never stopped wearing a mask while indoors. Now, with the rise of the omicron variant, this respite is over. Currently, I have five friends who are dealing with COVID (not terrible cases, because they've been vaccinated), and a coworker whose wife and daughter have it is now isolating, so I don't foresee having a day off for a week or so.
The main difference between 2020 and 2021 for me is psychological. Throughout 2020, my main feelings were sadness and horror- the Spring was characterized by a constant wail of sirens carrying doomed patients to beleaguered hospitals, and by stories of mass graves being dug in NYC's Potter's Field. For 2021, my initial feelings of hope, due to the prospect and then reality of vaccines, were replaced by anger at idiots who selfishly, and foolishly, refuse both masking and vaccination, torpedoing the possibility of an end to the pandemic. I also noted the near-annihilation of my empathy... I simply don't give two shits about the fate of anti-vaccination contrarians. I'm comfortable with the prospect of MAGA morons dying in droves, but I'm not quite comfortable with that. I console myself by reminding myself that these people would be ecstatic to harm people I care about.
I'm not optimistic about 2022. As I said, I have five good friends who are fighting COVID, and COVID is robbing me of time off from work. Omicron is raging across the nation, with the New York City metropolitan area being, once again, an epicenter of the pandemic. I'm resigned to going into 'hermit mode' for a couple of months, in the hope, perhaps misplaced, that the omicron wave will run its course, leaving a bunch of antibody-laden people in its wake.
I also feel that 2022 will be a shitshow politically, particularly with GOP primaries that see Tea Party assholes challenged by QAnon whackos. Things are going to get real stupid, real fast. I think I'm going to try to get over 2020's sadness and 2021's anger, and adopt a pose of stoic resignation for 2022. I don't know if my magnanimity has any hope of returning in the coming year.
I suspect that 2022 will be a continuation of 2020 and 2021. Wags are already terming it 2020 2, and this is one sequel that I am not too keen on. I hope that I'm wrong in my pessimism about the pandemic, it would be nice to be able to plan a huge family reunion, and to do some traveling. That being said, I think that my pessimism is a good defense mechanism... low expectations seem to be the key to maintaining one's equilibrium.
I made the decision to use this last week of 2021 to look back on the year that was, and between Christmas weekend and today, several meaningful deaths have taken place, deaths of good men and true. Harry Reid was a lion of the Senate, with the mixed legacy of members of that august body- he usually tried to do the right thing, but he was prevented from being a real firebrand by the stagnating influence of the position- the US Senate is supposedly a collegial place, which means that it is a stultifying place. This is by design, the Senate protects Establishment interests, so even a good person can't accomplish much to effect real change.
Desmond Tutu was, simply put, a moral titan, a force for civil rights and equal justice... he crusaded against apartheid, acted as a midwife to help birth the multiracial government of South Africa, and headed that nation's Truth and Reconciliation commission. He was an exemplar of intersectionality, campaigning not just for racial justice, but for women's rights and LGBTQ rights. If anyone is a candidate for sainthood (I don't know how this works in the Anglican church), it is he.
On a less rarefied note, John Madden, football coach and sports announcer, was one of the great ambassadors of American football. He used his coaching expertise (a .759 winning percentage) to explain the game with his 'chalkboard' (sometimes used for comedic purposes) and he was entertaining, with his exclamations of "BOOM" after spectacular plays. He was a nonesuch and he revolutionized sports commentary.
I'm going to cheat a little bit, and mention a death that I should have been aware of when it occurred. Back in August, mad reggae/dub genius Lee Scratch Perry died. Perry was instrumental in the development of reggae, producing and recording such artists as Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Upsetters, and Junior Murvin. He was also a pioneer of dub music, which incorporates a lot of studio wizardry, such as the use of reverb, tape loops, and faders. I'm chagrined that I didn't learn of Mr Perry's death until a few weeks ago.
I really don't have the time to do deep dives into any of these deaths, but I would have felt remiss if I didn't mention them before year's end. At least all of these men lived long, productive lives, generally benefiting humanity to some or other extent. That's about the highest praise I can think of to heap on anybody.
In yesterday's post I wrote about 2021 releases by music industry stalwarts whose careers began in the 1970s. Today's post will be about emergent artists who have released notable music this year. It's going to be a fairly short post because I considered one musical act to be the 2021 juggernaut, and not the one you're thinking of.
There were other bands who released fantastic debut singles, but the one band that steamrolled all competition was Isle of Wight based Wet Leg, who's debut single I posted about in August. This band has it all: an off-kilter sense of humor, a visually arresting lead singer, a unique Amishesque fashion aesthetic, and most important of all, the ability to absolutely shred.
I first heard them on college radio, and watched closely as they achieved viral stardom with the hilarious Chaise Longue. The last time I felt this way about a band was when The Chats went viral two years ago. There are parallels in the two bands' DIY video style (compare the titles at the beginnings of the videos to Chaise Longue and Smoko), slightly demented senses of humor, and even striking redheaded lead singers. Bands rise and fall on the strength of their music, though, and both bands deliver.
I feel a slight pang of FOMO about missing Wet Leg's Brooklyn debut due to work and the 'rona, but life and livelihood are kinda important to me. I predict the band will be around for a while, maybe I'll catch them in a stadium show in a couple of years.
Here's a video of the band playing NPR's Tiny Desk, a performance which captures well not only the band's musicality, but the deadpan snarker (WARNING: TV Tropes link, therefore time sink) affect of leads Rhian and Hester which I find so appealing:
Sure, other bands emerged this year, but the competition for best new arrival is no contest... there can be only one.
This being near the end of 2021, I figured I'd better start a music retrospective for the year. I'm going to begin with a post about some older men who had some interesting 'comeback' releases this year. I'm using the trope 'Class of 1977' for this post, even though one of them got his start in 1976... close enough when you look though the gauzy haze of nostalgia.
I'm going to start with the 76er in the bunch, Billy Idol, who got his start in the punk band Generation X. With Bitter Taste, his first single in about seven years, the former Mr William Broad explores the lingering trauma of a near-fatal 1990 motorcycle accident. It's a fantastically moody song, almost a country rocker, in which Mr Idol lays bare the physical and emotional scars of his near death:
The second song I'm highlighting here is by that Stang feller,who got his start in 1977 with The Police. Sting has been fairly active lately, including recording material with Jamaican-Brooklyn reggae/dancehall artist Shaggy a few years ago. This year, the former Mr Gordon Sumner has come back with Rushing Water, a song which sounds like a return to the form of his early post-Police solo material. I've heard him on a couple of radio interviews, and he is a funny, charming guy, very different from his 'full of himself' reputation. The song itself is a welcome return to form for this rock-and-roll yeoman:
The last Class of 1977 member who I will highlight in this post is Gary Numan, who formed Tubeway Army that year. Gary Numan had a knack for creating sci-fi dystopias with his concept albums, mixing urban anomie, Cold War paranoia, and an ambivalence toward the emerging technologies which allowed him to create his futuristic soundscapes but also threatened the freedom and well-being of late 20th/early 21st century humanity. Gary Numan's new album, Intruder, is uncannily, even terrifyingly, prescient, being a nightmarish exploration of the Gaia Hypothesis, detailing a world that has, literally, become sick of humanity, and is fighting back in self-defense. The former Gary Webb (sense a pattern here?) was legitimately freaked out when the pandemic hit, and it seemed as if the planet were indeed striking back against its dangerous, ungrateful children. If there were a 'thesis statement' for the album, which gives me goosebumps, it's probably Is This World Not Enough? Just like he did back in 1977, Gary Numan is a nonpareil when it comes to dancing across the line between dream and nightmare:
It's good to see these aging workhorses, old friends all, releasing such quality music in the sixth decade of their careers. I'd have to give the edge here to Gary Numan, because of the scary topicality of his new album, but all three men have proved that they are still forces to be reckoned with in 2021.
The new, highly contagious omicron variant of COVID has been surging in the NYC metro area, with one in sixty Manhattanites testing positive for the virus. On a personal level, I have two friends who are currently dealing with mild cases of the disease, and another friend whose husband and son have tested positive. Thankfully, everyone is vaccinated, I believe they are boosted as well, and their symptoms aren't life-threatening. The pandemic hit our region hard in Spring 2020, so most people take it seriously.
There are exceptions, the anti-vaccine and mask assholes who have been harassing restaurant workers in NYC are at it again, indulging in a particularly masturbatory bit of self-aggrandizement. There's no heroism in harassing low-wage fast food workers, putting them at risk of getting ill when they probably don't have paid sick days.
Personally, I'm pretty much in hermit mode. Because of the holiday weekend, I didn't even see a human coworker for the past three days. I suspect the next month or so will be spent this way, involving travel to work and to buy groceries, but not much else. I sure hope 2022 isn't as godawful as these last two years have been, but I'm not optimistic about omicron.
More properly known as Václav, Duke of Bohemia, Wenceslaus was responsible for the expansion of Christianity in Bohemia, though his mother was a pagan. He built churches and invited priests into his duchy, but he also agreed to pay tribute to a Frankish king. He was probably 24 years old, when his brother, Boleslaus, known as 'the Cruel', either had Wenceslaus assassinated, or provided an opportunity for others to murder his brother.
The topic came up in a discussion thread on Wonkette, when commenter MRK asked:
Why do I now think there was a King/Duke after him who was in charge of
Bohemia for decades, kept things safe and prosperous (for the era), and
was always annoyed when people went on about the 'good King' who got
himself killed playing with lances?
Apparently, though he was dubbed 'the Cruel', Boleslaus Got Shit Done. According to teh Wiki, which never lies:
He is notorious for the murder of his elder brother Wenceslaus, through which he became duke. Despite his complicity in this fratricide,
Boleslaus is generally respected by Czech historians as an energetic
ruler who significantly strengthened the Bohemian state and expanded its
territory. His accomplishments include significant economic development
due to an expansion in trade, the introduction of silver mining and the
minting of the first local coinage, the Prague denarius.
Now, reading this, I immediately thought of Scottish matters, and pondered why that rat Shakespeare couldn't have written a play about Boleslaus the Bad, rather than writing a scurrilous hit piece on Good King Macbeth and his Gentle Lady, Gruoch. Then I realized that nasty Bill wasn't sucking up to Czech royalty. The carol Good King Wenceslas was written by John Mason Neale, who used the duke, now given kingly brevet rank, as an exemplar of moral rectitude. While it was apparently poorly received by the intelligentsia of Neale's day, it's a banger.
Christmas has been low-key... I am working the day, having made a deal with a coworker to take Thanksgiving off so he could take Christmas off. It's quiet here, but I was able to participate in a Zoom call with Mom, all of my siblings, and a bunch of nieces and nephews. Everybody is doing well, I'm happy to say. If things ever return to a semblance of normality, we will be planning a big family reunion. It's been too long.
I'm planning on making dinner soon, a sort of 'deconstructed cordon bleu', a layered casserole of sauteed chicken, cubed ham, and a Mornay sauce. It'll be another night of hotplate and toaster oven cooking, so I won't be pounding cutlets flat and rolling them up. Who's got time for that?
Working on Christmas isn't a big deal in this age of social distancing and 'remote' events. It's not like a big family gathering was in the works. Meanwhile, the phone has been chiming with Christmas wishes from the extended friend network.
Tonight being Christmas Eve, I will be throwing together the traditional 'fish thing', known officially as La Vigilia, on the job. While, after Italian-Americans achieved a measure of prosperity, La Vigilia usually means a feast of seven, or twelve, or however many fish and seafood courses, it traditionally just involves abstaining from the consumption of red meat and poultry. I'm not the kind of person who would tell anyone else how to be Italian, so if you want to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms, or a slice of pizza margherita, or an entire 'sharing size' bag of almond M&Ms (glances furtively into wastebasket), that's your prerogative. I have a friend who doesn't like seafood, so she typically eats eggplant parmigiana as her Vigilia main event. Another friend, the son of Calabrian immigrants, is, to his great sorrow, allergic to shellfish (we used to joke about him chowing down on shrimp while taking shots from an epipen).
For me, I am throwing together some seafood, using the hotplate and toaster oven at work. I already ate an eighth course, a can of smoked clams, on crackers, so I will cook up the remaining seven seafood products (as a joke, I decided on using shells in my pasta course) in a bit. Here's a precursor shot, similar to what will be my mise en place in a half-hour or so:
Note the complete absence of Goya products, prominently featured in previous years... no way am I lining the pockets of such an obsequious Trumper ever again. That's a lot of seafood for just one man, but I figure I'll be eating this stuff (particularly the shrimp) for days... I might try my hand at making an approximation of a moqueca.
In honor of the holiday, I bought Ginger a can of fishy catfood:
Now, before you chastise me for imposing my culture on the cat, I have to say in my defense that she imposes her culture on me every time she sticks her butthole in my face.
Alright, people, enjoy your Christmas Eve. I've got some cooking to do.
I know a lot of people experience stress over the holiday season, but that isn't typically the case for me. My family is far-flung these days, but close-knit, but when we were all together, we always had a blast during the holidays, sometimes even 'blowing off' opening presents until Boxing Day because we were too busy carousing with family and friends.
This year, my only source of stress regarded what Mom would be doing for Christmas. I was able to take a week off for Thanksgiving to drive Mom down to my brother Vincenzo's home to celebrate, but I made a 'I'll take Thanksgiving off, you take Christmas off' deal with a coworker. Thankfully, my baby brother, Gomez, will be picking Mom up and driving her to his home for Christmas. Mille grazie, fratellino (the joke here is that baby brother is built like a brick house)!
I don't have stress out over the holidays, knowing that Mom will be fêted by Gomez and his family. It's also meaningful because she hasn't hung out with his in-laws in a while. Now, I can concentrate on the mundane tasks, such as hanging out with the cat while working on Christmas.
I finally got a chance to parse President Biden's speech concerning the omicron variant of COVID... he was appropriately scary, but I think he was a bit too optimistic about the percentage of the population that refuses to get vaccinated. The federal government is assisting in increasing anti-pandemic measures nationwide:
Three weeks ago, I laid out a COVID-19 Action Plan for this winter that prepared us for this moment. Today, we’re making the plan even stronger.
First, we’re setting up our vaccination and booster efforts — we’re stepping it up significantly. In the past two weeks, we’ve seen the highest vaccination rates since last spring. And we aren’t as vaccinated, as a country, as we should be, though. That’s why we have added 10,000 new vaccination sites on top of the 80,000 sites that are already we had — we already had in place, and even more will open in January.
I know there are some parts of this country where people are very eager to get their booster, where it’s harder to get an appointment.
So starting this week, I’ll be deploying hundreds more vaccinators and more sites to help get the booster shots in people’s arms.
I’ve ordered FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency –- to stand up new pop-up vaccination clinics all across the country where you can get that booster shot.
We’ve opened — we’ve opened FEMA vaccination sites in Washington State and New Mexico recently as cases have increased. And today, I’m directing FEMA to stand up new sites in areas where there is high demand.
That's all well and good, but the big problem is reluctance on the part of idiots to take advantage of these vaccination opportunities. You just can't save people who are hell-bent on self-immolation. The President laid out his case for vaccinations, but the people who hate him won't take heed:
The answer is straightforward: If you are not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned. You’re at a high risk of getting sick. And if you get sick, you’re likely to spread it to others, including friends and family. And the unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in a hospital or even dying.
He's appealing to the better nature of people who have no better nature, people who see his gentle rebuke of the idiots prolonging the pandemic as threats.
Biden's speech was appropriately scare, with not a trace of malarky, but the people who need to heed it are hostile to the truth, and those who listened without prejudice have no need for pandemic guidance. I don't think we'll ever see the end of this plague.
Since early November, a breakaway QAnon cult has been camped out in Dallas, waiting for JFK Jr (and some believe even JFK Sr) to reveal that he (or they) had faked his (their) death(s) in order to thwart the evil plans of the Deep State, or the Illuminati, or the Clintons. According to their canon, Trump is still President of the United States, and one or both of the JFKs will reveal this news, like John the Baptist, and usher in a new golden age in which the libs will be owned once and for all.
Joe Manchin is truly the worst. Sure, he's not as nutty as a Marj Green or Madison Cawthorn, but there's a certain cruel edge to him that those deranged lunatics can't quite match, because Manchin tries to couch his cruelty in terms of concern...
Damn, he's so concerned about his constituents, he doesn't want to allow them to keep more money because they will spend it on drugs, the methamphetamine which allows them to work odd hours on swing shifts, and the opiods which allow them to work while hurt. Or maybe they'll spend their money on the epipens that their children with allergies need, which Manchin's daughter set astronomical prices for.
I can't imagine voting for someone who would hold me in such contempt, and I hate the fact that this makes me see Manchin's constituents with more contempt than pity. How masochistic does one have to be to vote for such a cruel asshole, who has the nerve to state that he is helping those he betrays? I'm reminded of a vote by the West Virginia House of Delegates to block more stringent water quality regulations because the average West Virginian is fat, so higher doses of toxins are required to poison them (never mind that adipose tissue can store toxins).
It enrages me that these asshole voters, who are loathed by their elected officials, are holding the rest of the country hostage.
When I arrived on the job today, I found a printout of an email, placed on the reception desk of our main building by one of our managers. It conveyed very special birthday wishes to a very special coworker. We have always had mousers on the payroll, and these working cats get regular checkups and medical care at a local animal hospital. The veterinarian, who took over the practice from our vet of long standing last year, had sent Ginger an estimated birthday card:
Ginger came to us eleven years ago, as a package deal with her (dearly departed) brother Fred. given to us by an old site director, who cared for feral cats in her neighborhood. Fred and Ginger were about six months old when they came to work with us, so the vet was able to extrapolate a probable birth date.
Ginger looks pretty good for a twelve-year old, even though she is overworked and overstressed:
It must be a strange time for Ginger- our site has been closed to visitors since Fall of 2019, the pandemic coming on the heels of our usual off-season. In a typical year, she was surrounded all day long by doting human coworkers and friendly human visitors. For the past two years, we have had a skeleton crew staffing the site, so it's up to the night crew to spoil our Precious Kitty... and spoil her we do.
She's a very affectionate cat, aloof at times like all felines, but typically very sociable. Her companionship has meant a lot to me (and I can vouch for other coworkers) during this trying time, when I typically see only three human coworkers on a weekly basis (October was an exception, we did have a couple of fundraisers, but very much more low key than in the Before Times).
Needless to say, she got plenty of treats for her birthday, but as the vet admonished, not too many treats. She's spoiled, to be sure, but she's not spoiled rotten.
In the list of conservative pundits who really hit their stride, by which I mean showed their asses, during the pandemic, one Bethany Mandel is of particular note. I had never heard of her until she wrote an utterly sociopathic tweet last year, in the early stages of the crisis. Yeah, good times! I mean, fuck those immunocompromised weenies, I want a zoo story of my own!
I had blissfully forgotten about BM until this week, when she showed her ass again, writing a scathing letter to the editors of Highlights for Children magazine for depictions of people wearing masks:
I DEMAND NORMAL CONDITIONS FOR MY CHILDREN I shout as I type a unabomber letter to highlights magazine and post it online pic.twitter.com/HzuyyQakVR
Determined to be social media's Jackass (or is that Jillass) of the week, Mandel kept on acting the Goofus and demonstrating that she has the memory of a gnat. Not even a week after a school shooting, this idiot tweeted this out:
What I find truly evil about all of the jokes embittered millennials make whenever a parent objects to the dystopia our kids are being raised with is they didn’t have to grow up with any of this. They had stable school scheduled and learned to talk and read without masks.
The Millennials grew up in an era of active shooter drills in schoool, an era of proposals to provide bullet-resistant backpacks because legislators don't have the guts to get a handle on gun violence in these here United States. Thankfully, she's been taken to the woodshed in the responses.
What goofery will this girl Goofus come up with next? 'Highlights' should draw a special edition cartoon featuring her and her COVID derangement.
Of course, I had to buy a package of this product, and to my delight, it's a Colombian hot chocolate flavored with clove and cinnamon. After jokingly demonstrating the package to my coworkers, I have made it a habit to make a cup of the stuff every evening as I wait for my coffee to steep in the French press. I'm not a big hot chocolate drinker, and don't think I will rush to replenish the supply when it runs out, but I'm glad that a product I bought as a joke turned out to be so good.
One of the localish news stories that has gone national is a kerfuffle caused at a Cheesecake Factory in NYC's Queens Center Mall when a bunch of anti-vax assholes (that's redundant) decided to cut the line for tables and demand service in the vaccine-mandated establishment:
A group of 30 + antivaxxers claiming to be doing a “sit in” refused to check in at the host stand, skipped waiting customers, and sat themselves across multiple tables in a Cheesecake Factory in NYC.
A MAGA shitshow ensued, which ended in four MAGAssholes being arrested for criminal trespass because they refused to leave when Cheescake Factory employees told them to do so.
Now, the War on Cheesecake Factory has been declared: Cheescake Factory delenda est!
Josephine Valdez, MAGA conspiracy theorist who organizes “Freedom Rally” actions with other conspiracy theorists, went full Karen last night in an Applebees telling the NYPD “Now I see what BLM was talking about calling you guys pigs… I lost my job over this bullshit.” pic.twitter.com/0pDtLA5cDq
Questions remain... as a New Yorker, I have to note that New York is a cheesecake town, what are people doing in a Cheesecake Factory in New York City? That being said, I will note that Brooklyn has its famous Juniors (with outposts in Manhattan) and the Bronx has the storied S&S Cheesecake, but I don't know where to get a great New York cheesecake in Queens.
Also, the Borough of Queens is the most ethnically diverse community in the world, why go to the Cheesecake Factory? I mean, even in the Queens Center Mall food court, wouldn't you rather go to Burmese Bites? On a serious note, I don't hate Cheesecake Factory- I can see a Filipino, or Bangladeshi, or Guatemalan, or Haitian family going there to enjoy an 'American' meal at a fancy-ish establishment on a special occasion.
On the whole, the Cheesecake Factory corporate office is handling this shitshow well. I don't know how they treat their employees on a day-to-day basis, but we all know the restaurant industry is problematic, with workers forced to rely on tips for their livelihood. At any rate, they aren't taking any nonsense from anti-vaccine whackjobs. There's a Cheesecake Factory near my home, and I might have to pick up a slice of cheesecake in solidarity against the MAGA war against them.
With the terrestrial news being, for the most part, a shitshow, I decided that I'd post about science for a second day in a row. Cast your minds, but not your eyes, heavenward... NASA's Parker Solar Probe (would it have hurt to call it Icarus?) has flown through the sun's corona (finally, a positive corona story!). The mission was to sample particles and to observe Sol's magnetic fields. One goal of the mission is to research the solar wind, that stream of particles which bathe our planet and its celestial neighbors.
The Parker Solar Probe (would it have hurt to call it Icarus?) has already revealed some of Sol's mysteries, including reversals, dubbed 'switchbacks', of the star's magnetic field. On the current flyby, which took it through the corona, the probe revealed that the corona is not uniform, but has peaks and valleys, which astrophysicists will try to correlate to surface features.
It's good to know that, even in this current period of malaise among humanity, there are still remarkable achievements being accomplished. Stories like this prevent me from feeling despair about our species, we just have to get our act together and stop letting the stupidest, most corrupt people grab the reins of power. Oh, hell's bells, there goes my sense of optimism again.
Post title taken from my favorite Pink Floyd song:
Yeah, I know the Parker Solar Probe (would it have hurt to call it Icarus?) isn't set to plummet into the heart of the sun, but indulge a guy who just wants to groove out on some Space Rock.
Tonight, my great and good friends of the Secret Science Club are presenting a Zoom lecture with University of Southern California neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy professor (and director of their Brain and Creativity Institute) Dr Antonio Damasio, whose new book is Feeling and Knowing: Making Minds Conscious.
Dr Damasio began his lecture by noting that consciousness permeates our entire lives, though we do not often think about it. It is so pervasive that there are few conditions in which it is not present: anesthesia, fainting, certain periods of deep sleep. One may be more or less alert, but consciousness is usually turned on.
Consciousness is what happens when one is in the act of perceiving. The things in one's conscious minds, are known with certainty to belong to oneself. Consciousness not only involves perception, but this ownership- you are the captain of your perceptions. No other definition of consciousness is necessary.
Understanding how consciousness comes about is not a new endeavor. As long as there has been science, consciousness has been entirely attributed to brain function, and considered the most exalted product of the brain. Dr Damasio doesn't entirely believe with this model- the brain is undoubtedly involved, but he believes that consciousness is not produced by the brain alone.
As researchers studied the brain more and more, they became more and more convinced that understanding consciousness was an insurmountable problem. Dr Damasio believes that this was largely due to flawed definitions of consciousness and a limited view of consciousness being a product of the brain only. The brain is a physical object, how is a physical object able to create something mental? The belief that a physical object cannot produce a mental state has complicated the study of consciousness. Some philosophers opined that consciousness is a property of all matter, present in the elements which produce our minds. He doesn't believe this for a moment, it ignores the biological nature of consciousness.
Dr Damiano then went on to describe what he considers consciousness to be.
Consciousness is a biological process, it is a complex biological process with many moving parts, but not a recent biological process. Many organisms, from fruit flies to elephants, possess some degree of consciousness. The difference between a dog's consciousness and a human's consciousness is not exorbitant, it is a matter of degree, not kind. A human's consciousness is more complex than that of a fish or a fruit fly- it involves the use of reasoning, of memories generating ideas, of turning ideas into creation- translating thoughts into creations. Consciousness is distributed through all aspects of mind, available as a commodity which allows us to maintain coherence as our self-owned ideas arise.
Consciousness does not arise spontaneously. Consciousness is not a product of the brain alone- brain activity does not explain consciousness completely. The brain is necessary to generate consciousness, but consciousness requires non-neural parts of the body, a two-way interaction between the nervous system and the processes of life which occur in the living organism. The way in which we express the interaction of the nervous system and the non-neural body is feeling. Hunger, thirst, pain, desire, well-being... all translate into mental terms, though they originate in rest of the body, such as the viscera. Feelings provide knowing, they create knowledge. Hunger, a mental state, is also a product of the stomach. Thirst, hunger- these feelings tell us the state of our organs, tell us that we should correct the state of our body. Knowledge is presented through feeling and is spontaneously conscious. Feelings are spontaneously conscious, and no complex process is needed to explain this. Feeling is the inaugural event of consciousness. Evolutionarily, when feeling arose, consciousness arose.
Organisms such as bacteria have homeostasis, which allows the regulation of biological processes, but not feeling- needs are taken care of, but not 'known'- without a nervous system, representations of states are impossible. Feelings involve representations of states, which require nervous systems.
Consciousness is a vital connection between the world of the body and the world of the interior- it should not be understood as just a series of tableaux. It is a close interaction. What distinguishes a human's feeling of pain from the feeling of looking at one's surroundings? The difference is clear- on the surface, things from the outside come in from distinct probes (retina, cochlea, etc) . Feelings of pain or well-being come from a particular part of the nervous system. Whereas the way of seeing and hearing are dependent on parts of the nervous system which are modern- myelin-sheathed neurons from complex sensory organs. Feelings of pain or well-being originate in older-type neurons, largely unmyelinated and more interconnected. Spinal ganglia are not affected by the blood/brain barrier, there is a commingling of body and nervous system, aided and abetted by our anatomy. The nervous system which allows communication between humans is very different from the nervous system which signals pain. This is why the world of feeling and the world of perception are discrete.
All of this has to do with homeostasis, the process of regulating life. None of this makes sense without realizing that we are are imminently perishable living organisms. We are vulnerable and have distinct beginnings and end. Balance must be maintained to regulate life, to continue existing. Pain is a signal that life is not being well-regulated, while well-being is a signal that life is well-regulated. Homeostasis is a very important aspect of this story.
Feelings serve all perceptual modalities. A few decades ago, some neuroscientists were very taken with the problem of consciousness. Most of them wanted to connect consciousness with complex processes, such as perception. Vision in particular, was used as a model to study consciousness. Consciousness is exactly the opposite, connected as something which 'came with the furniture' from older organisms with less complex nervous system. Feelings give us self, they give us the notion of who we are. Feelings pervade our mental representations. The key point to remember is that consciousness is the complex interaction between nervous system and body.
The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. Non-human animals can have consciousness, all of rhe animals in the zoo have consciousness. It is not a private property of humans. Even fruit flies have some sort of consciousness, but the human brain is able to make wide representations of the world. It is a matter of quantity in the mind, not the consciousness system. How and why did the nervous system evolve? Complexity- multiple-cell organisms evolved specialized cells, and as organisms enlarged to thousands and millions of cells, they evolved dozens and scores of cell-types. Once an organism hits a certain level of complexity, a coordinating system was needed- not every cell can communicate with every other cell, which would be chaos.
Language is not a vital component of consciousness, but it can help us expand our consciousness. Are there levels of consciousness? They would be related to our attention to surroundings, not just our perceptions
The SSC has, once again delivered a thoughtful, informative lecture. Kudos to Dr Damasio, and Margaret and Dorian for another fantastic night of learning.
Here is a video of a lecture with Dr Damasio on this subject:
Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!
Some pearl-clutchers are up in arms about 'incivility', but Paul knows that Democratic politicians aren't going to block aid to his state. It's the worst sort of hypocrisy and cowardice.
Compounding the horror is the role played by Republican policies in the disaster, the combination of fighting carbon emission regulations, sound building codes, and labor protections. This incident, in the context of the Illinois Amazon warehouse collapse, is horrific:
Horrifying details are emerging about the tornado disaster at Amazon's warehouse in Illinois, where at least 6 workers were killed on the job.
Before he died, Larry Virden reportedly texted his girlfriend: "Amazon won’t let us leave." He leaves behind four children. pic.twitter.com/3ZRLik9VIs
Republican policies kill. I'm not against GOP voters in the Heartland receiving relief that their representatives wouldn't seek for people I know who suffered from recent disasters. That doesn't mean that I am above holding them in contempt. I may be a Bad Bastard, but I'm not a monster.
Last week was a bad week for entertainment renaissance men, and the latest blow to the music world is the death of Robbie Shakespeare, bassist, producer, and musical innovator. With drummer Sly Dunbar, Shakespeare formed the famous Jamaican rhythm section and production team Sly and Robbie.
Sly and Robbie ushered in a whole variety of reggae substyles, particularly the harder rockers style, and were sought-after session musicians and producers from the 1970s onward. Sly and Robbie also formed the Taxi record label, a subsidiary of Island Records.
One of Robbie Shakespeare's early musical roles was as bassist for session/backup band the Aggrovators, who were pioneers in dub music, which is characterized by its use of tape loops, volume fades, and other sonic trickery:
A breakthrough hit for Sly and Robbie was The Mighty Diamonds' Right Time, released in 1976. Here is the outstanding title track, featuring Sly and Robbie as the rhythm section:
Sly and Robbie also backed reggae great Peter Tosh:
They performed with Black Uhuru, and received a special shoutout in this concert clip:
The pair also saw the utility of electronic drums in the studio, reviving a practice started by mad dub genius Lee 'Scratch' Perry (how did I miss his death, what was I doing in August?). They played on Grace Jones' hilariously suggestive 1981 club hit Pull Up to the Bumper:
In 1987, Sly and Robbie released the nonesuch hit Boops (Here to Go):
In the 1990s, Sly and Robbie were involved in the upcoming dancehall genre, producing such standout hits as Ini Kamoze's Here Comes the Hotstepper:
In 1999, they had an international hit with Superthruster, which was promoted with a cyberpunk-inspired animated video:
Perhaps my favorite material with Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar is the live stuff they played with legendary session man and music pioneer Ernest Ranglin and jazz titan Monty Alexander. If any combo had claim to being a Jamaican 'supergroup', it was these gentlemen. Here is Robbie singing vocal on the track Surfin':
It's just a pleasure to see these genii in action:
Robbie Shakespeare also collaborated with such artists as Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Joan Armatrading, No Doubt, Paul McCartney, and Britney Speares. He was a towering figure in modern music, though a largely behind-the-scenes one. I only scratched the surface with this profile, which involved a deep dive into the labyrinthine pathways of late 20th-21st century Jamaican popular music. Robbie was there for most of the journey, from the sixties to the present day. It was a pleasure, albeit a melancholy one, to make that journey with him.
No sooner did I post about the passing of a beloved-though-obscure singer-songwriter yesterday than the news came out about Mike Nesmith's death.
While Mike Nesmith, the son of Liquid Paper inventor Bette Nesmith Graham, is primarily known as a member of made-for-television band The Monkees, he was not only an actor, comedian, and singer, but a songwriter and a video production pioneer. The Monkees were often dismissed as the Prefab Four, brought together by television executives to perform in a television comedy series that would mimic the Beatles' films such as A Hard Day's Night.
Sure, they were a prefabricated band, but they were made out of some sound components- Davy Jones was meant to appeal to Beatles fans, Peter Tork (an accomplished musician) was a straight man, Micky Dolenz was the zany one, and Mike Nesmith was the country boy, complete with Texas drawl and droll mannerisms. He also was a fine musician in his own right, and wrote several songs for the band, which mainly performed material written by other people... as did many musicians of the era who didn't earn the scorn of critics. I used to watch the Monkees' show in syndication as a kid, and have to note that I am an unabashed fan. I mean, what kind of churl wouldn't like the band (with Dolenz performing lead vocal) goofing around with Julie Newmar to the tune of Mike Nesmith's composition The Girl I Knew Somewhere?
As far as vocals went, Mike Nesmith excelled in singing lead on such songs as What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?, which was a sort of non-violent counterpart to the tragic Streets of Laredo, about a 'loudmouth Yankee' who has a tryst with a Mexican girl, and a year later wonders why he isn't riding the train to San Anton' like he should (details are fuzzy, is he regretting staying or leaving?):
Nesmith left the Monkees due to a lack of creative control, and went on to form country rock group First National Band. He was a bit ahead of the times, though, releasing singles such as Joanne before country rock acts blew up into stadium fillers:
Besides his musical output, Mike Nesmith was a video pioneer, forming the Pacific Arts Corporation and pursuing video production as well as music production. His Popclips music video show was a precursor to MTV:
In 1981, he released Elephant Parts, an anthology of whacky music videos and comedy sketches. Songs such as Cruisin' perfectly showcased his off-kilter sense of humor:
My favorite clip is the short 'Art by the Pound' bit:
Being a good sport, he also included a self-parody in the compilation:
He followed this up with a short-lived television series called Television Parts, which featured one of my favorite bits by him:
Mike Nesmith was also a producer of the punk sci-fi satire Repo Man:
He was also involved in home distribution of PBS programs, which ended in an acrimonious lawsuit over royalty payments, which he won: "It's like finding your grandmother stealing your stereo. You're happy to get your stereo back, but it's sad to find out your grandmother is a thief."
In the 21st Century, he founded the Videoranch website, and resumed touring with former bandmates. This year, he went on tour with Micky Dolenz, who wrote a heartfelt tribute:
I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost a dear friend and partner. I’m so grateful that we could spend the last couple of months together doing what we loved best – singing, laughing, and doing shtick. I’ll miss it all so much. Especially the shtick. Rest in peace, Nez. All my love, Micky pic.twitter.com/xe8i5jmNgL
I decided that I would save my favortie Mike Nesmith song for the coda to this post. He performed Different Drum, written before he joined the Monkees, as a gag in a Monkees episode about a talent competition:
Being a low-key, self-effacing guy, he jocularly acknowledged Linda's ownership of his song after a live performance:
Mike Nesmith was a polymath, a true renaissance man who got his big break in the entertainment industry as a member of a 'prefab' band, and the general consensus is that he was a lovely, gracious man. As I noted, I have been an unabashed Monkees fan since I was a kid watching the old episodes in syndication, and my appreciation for Mike Nesmith grew as I learned more about his other endeavors. I'm genuinely saddened by his death, he provided such entertainment with his music, his comedy, and his production work.
It's only a few weeks before 2021 is over, and still 2020 keeps getting worse. Yesterday, I learned that it was revealed in 2020 that a favorite singer of mine had died in 2005... Alex Taylor was the lead singer of Edinburgh's Shop Assistants, a band which was catnip to me, a lad who loves noisy indy rock with sweet vocals, and uptempo songs about downbeat subject matter, both of which the Shop Assistants delivered in spades. My introduction to them was hearing the single I Don't Wanna Be Friends With You on college radio:
It's the perfect balance of acid lyrics with honeyed vocals, all overlaid with a layer of fuzz and feedback... pure catnip for myself.
Poking around the t00bz, I learned that their first single was Safety Net, which was a favorite of John Peel, a champion of the band:
John Peel recorded one of his famous Peel Sessions with the band in 1985, before the release of their album:
I particularly love these performances, because they showcase Alex Taylor's gorgeous voice particularly well.
My favorite song by the Shop Assistants has got to be Seems to Be, which embodies that Bastard-pleasing combination of jaunty music and world-weary, cynical vocals. Could there be a better bitter breakup song?
An absolute hero posted an entire 1986 concert by the band:
After the breakup of the Shop Assistants, Alex Taylor formed the band Motorcycle Boy with future members of the band Jesus and Mary Chain, and continued the streak of noisy pop with her melodious vocals. News of her death surfaced when another member of the band tried to contact her in advance of releasing old material, and was informed by her widower of her passing in 2005.
Motorcycle Boy's best known single was Big Rock Candy Mountain, an unusual breakup song, in that the subject is leaving a loving husband due to ennui and stagnation. It's not portrayed as an abusive relationship, just an unfulfilling one, so her disappearance, even though she wishes her soon-to-be ex well, is somewhat surprising. It's a subversive feminist track, one which demands that women deserve something more than settling, with no obligation to stick around with a boring bice guy:
Another standout track by Motorcycle Boy was Trying to Be Kind, which was covered by Canadian indie darlings Alvvays:
Here's the posthumously released Valentine... when Alex sings 'no more tears', it's a cruel joke:
I'm going to end this post with another live performance by the Shop Assistants from 1986, when they were at the height of their powers. The sound quality is not so great, but that just heightens the noisy lo-fi appeal of the band:
This has been a melancholy post to write... it's sad that Alex wasn't around to stage a 21st comeback with the release of a new album. That being said, the idea that she would be forgotten is unthinkable, and this post fulfills my obligation to her for years of listening pleasure.
The strange thing here is that, for decades, Republicans have painted liberals as baby killing Satan worshipers, yet they are upset that these heinous criminals won't go out with them... what gives here? We've all heard the Limbaughs and the Hannitys and the myriad lesser luminaries of the Right call us evil, why would we be so alluring to rank-and-file Young Republicans?
Personally, I really don't want to be friends with Trumpers. The last Trumper in my social circle became increasingly argumentative, always bringing up Nancy Pelosi or some other left-of-center bête noire in conversations as a complete non-sequitur, then getting petulant when the rest of us razzed him. Of course, he became increasingly more misogynistic and ethnocentric (while dating a Central American woman who had overstayed her visa). Finally, in an incident which I missed (I was working that night), he told a bunch of my friends that he wanted to shoot a woman talking loudly at the bar, and another friend's girlfriend flat-out said, "I don't feel comfortable around him, if he's invited, I'm out." It took a while for the right-wing meme poisoning to get to that stage, but the end was pretty much inevitable- these people always end up defaulting to violent ideation.
For my part, the simple matter is that I don't want to be friends with people who would force me to choose loyalties- my immigrant, PoC, and LGBTQ friends (contrary to right-wing paranoia) don't badmouth my straight white male friends. Over the Trump years, I've had a lesbian friend tell me that she was afraid to marry her partner for fear of ending up on a list. I've had immigrant friends tell me that they were afraid to open the door... it even got so bad that blonde, freckled faced soccer moms in my neighborhood were concerned that they'd be pulled over near the Thruway entrance to have their immigration papers scrutinized. The fear was palpable. Why would I want to be friends with people who were ecstatic about good people being afraid?
Hell, I'm a cishet white guy, how much worse would is it for women, LGBTQ folk, and People of Color? Why would they want to be friends, or even date, people who wish them harm, who at best want them to be second class citizens? The pushback on Trump administration lady was strong. Why go out with people who are proud to be deplorable? Why would normal people go out with people who yearn for a civil war, or at the very least the execution of their political rivals, who won't even date them?
Even conservative women, like this Glenn Beck employee, don't want to go out with neo-Nazis:
How do you get leveled by a question as simple as this and not wonder where your life went terribly off track. https://t.co/cJTMDYnpen
I'm old enough to remember when Conservatives all seemed to be talking about leaving liberal society, culminating in Rod Dreher's silly Benedict Option- we liberals just beat them to the punch.
Post title taken from a boyhood favorite of mine:
In the course of writing this post, I learned that the lead singer died in 2005, but this information was not made public until last year. Tomorrow's post will be a tribute to her, because she deserves broader recognition.
Today marked the one year anniversary of the last 'Q Drop', after which the shitposter known as Q disappeared after a singularly low-effort post:
Today marks a year since the last ever Q drop, a YouTube link that no longer exists.
Q is gone, but Q's conspiracy theories will be with us forever, so will be the millions worldwide who still believe in QAnon, as well as their loved ones whose relationships have been destroyed. pic.twitter.com/HhK1gk8Hmb
How did QAnon last for so long, and expand to absorb all sorts of conspiracy theories involving a sinister cabal of Illuminati/Jesuits/Aliens/Communists/Jews? Well, it's very syncretism was a key factor... whether you believed in a Flat Earth, or the imminent return of JFK Jr, or hostile angel/human hybrids, there was a place in QAnon for you. Even if the posters behind the Q account on 4 and then 8Chan straight up told you that you were wrong, Q told his/her/their followers that disinformation is necessary, so any contradictions could be chalked up to Q dissembling to throw off the cabal.
QAnon combined its all-encompassing conspiracy theory with an online puzzle game, offering cryptic clues to be decoded by its adherents, codes which were necessary to thwart the efforts of the cabal to decipher this information. It was the DaVinci code for dullards, and it appealed to Trumpers who could never admit that their hero was a dumbass. All of those spelling and grammar errors? Those were intentional utterances meant to stymie the cabal, or to transmit coded threats to them. There's no way that Donald J. Trump, God-Emperor, could merely be stupid. Solving these puzzles also allowed the 'anons' to feel smart, they were privy to a secret knowledge that their smug, college-educated liberal brother-in-law was completely unaware of. To add a frisson of bloodlust, the QAnon conspiracy theory always ended up with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and that weirdo couple driving a Volvo and shopping at Mrs Green's getting executed for their myriad-though-unevidenced crimes.
Q has been gone a year, but as long as there are bucks to be grifted, rubes to be fleeced, merch to be sold, QAnon will linger. As long as MAGA dead-enders keep insisting that Donald Trump is a super genius playing 17D chess to defeat his enemies, QAnon will linger. Sure, it sounds like a transparent con or hoax, but so does Mormonism, or Scientology, or (truth be told) any sect with a well-remunerated hierarchy. Who knows, maybe we are witnessing the birth of a new religion in realtime.
The fact that it is a wholly bloodthirsty religion, demanding mass executions of its enemies, is disconcerting.
When I read news that the omicron variant was detected in NY State, I joked that I might go into hermit mode for the next six months, and that plan seems even more appealing now. This time of year, I typically only see three human coworkers in the course of a week. In the meantime, I received confirmation that the HR department deemed my emailed photograph of my COVID Vaccination Card sufficient proof of vaccination (no proper scan and export as PDF needed)- failure to provide proof by 12/8 would have meant suspension without pay. I'm totally cool with that policy.
People living in counties that went 60% or higher for Trump in
November 2020 had 2.7 times the death rates of those that went for
Biden. Counties with an even higher share of the vote for Trump saw
higher COVID-19 mortality rates.
In October, the reddest
tenth of the country saw death rates that were six times higher than the
bluest tenth, according to Charles Gaba, an independent health care
analyst who's been tracking partisanship trends during the pandemic
and helped to review NPR's methodology. Those numbers have dropped
slightly in recent weeks, Gaba says: "It's back down to around 5.5 times
This trend can be chalked up to anti-vaccine attitudes among Republican voters, which led to them being the largest group of unvaccinated individuals in these here United States. These are people who believe the disinformation campaigns about the contagiousness and lethality of COVID, the efficacy of mask wearing, and the utility of quack remedies. These are people who believe Facebook randos over epidemiologists. Personally, I've lost all sympathy for these people who reject a freely offered vaccine. I just can't feel bad about their deaths, especially since they actively seek to harm people I care about. I even have nasty thoughts about COVID being a remedy for Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression. I'm comfortable with these MAGA loons dying, and that makes me uncomfortable.
Today is the birthday of my older brother, Sweetums, who earned that moniker by being, simply put, perfect. My super sarcastic sister bestowed the nickname on him years ago, when my mother was admonishing my brother Vincenzo and a cousin of ours not to skip out on a pre-Thanksgiving school pep rally: "Your brother wouldn't do something like that!"
No sooner did those words leave her mouth when Sweetums came in through the kitchen door, a day earlier than expected. When he saw the looks of surprise on our faces, he explained: "I was offered a ride down from school, so I bagged a couple of classes so I didn't have to take the bus home."
Sister dear was delighted by this, and started joking, "Oh, he would never cut class because he a perfect Sweetums. Sweetums would never do that because he's so perfect."
The name stuck because he's, simply put, perfect. He was always a good role model, an upstanding young man who modeled proper behavior in all walks of life- familiar, civic, academic, you name it. We all did well in school and avoided the pitfalls of adolescence, and he was the eldest, the one who set the example for proper living. Mom set the bar high, and Sweetums showed us his way of clearing that bar, which we all did in our own ways.
I called Sweetums in Switzerland this morning... he knew it was me because nobody else would be calling from the 'States at 4AM. He's going to celebrate his natal day in low-key fashion, taking one of the kids to high school entrance exam preparation, and then enjoying a nice meal at home with the family. Most of our call was about Mom's well-being, and I was happy to report that, at eighty, Mom is with-it and active. I was happy to know that Vincenzo gave the same report to Sweetums last week, Sweetums is a devoted son, as well as a devoted big brother- that's why he's Sweetums.
Over a month ago, I posted about the QAnon subsect that descended upon Dallas for the imminent (HA) arrival of JFK père et fils, who would announce that Trump is being reinstated as president with JFK Jr as his vice president. Well, the group is still out there, and Twitter user 2021 Karma has been doing a yeowoman's job of covering the madness in detail from her Australia base of operations. Yesterday, she made an ominous revelation about something she'd heard on a group chat:
Apparently -48 and his group will be attending a Christmas Parade in Dallas tomorrow. One of his inner circle just said they have organized something “Special” and they’re planning to make a big “Splash” with it.
They hooted and hollered for a while, and their leader railed against 'sheepnesia' (you read that right), but declined to jump the barriers and join in the parade. The fact that this didn't escalate into something more disturbing is a relief, as disgusting as this whole phenomenon is. Twitter user Hot Tub Twin also has some great coverage of this event, complete with some information about financial hanky-panky and infighting.
The hosts of the QAnon Anonymous podcast posted an outstanding episode this week covering this gathering, with commentary by 2021 Karma and Dallas-based journalist Steven Monacelli. The highlight of the episode, though, is an interview with a woman whose sister has fallen prey to this cult, and is gallivanting with them around Dallas.
Today, nothing of note really happened, but I can't escape the feeling that this group is headed for a bad end, even beyond the exploitation that has already occurred.
The Big Bad Bald Bastard is a character played by Monsieur _______ of the City of Y______. The role of the Bastard is a handy one to play on subways, walking the streets, and in dive-bars, when being a nerdy, bookish sort is not to one's advantage.