Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Human Trafficking Is Evil!!! Except When Our Guy Does It

 The central tenet of the QAnon conspiracy theory is that a powerful cabal of well-connected individuals is engaged in human trafficking, specifically for the purposes of the sexual exploitation of underage persons, with the loonier proponents of the theory claiming that the children's blood is harvested for adrenochrome, oxidized epinephrine, which can be obtained by letting an epi-pen go bad.  So pernicious is this human trafficking that giant cargo ships full of trafficked children loom large in the conspiracy narrative.

Given the premise of QAnon, the trafficking of children by powerful elites, one would think that the QCumbers would be ecstatic about the FBI's allegations that Congresscreep Matt Gaetz trafficked an underage girl across state lines.  This is right in their wheelhouse- a powerful figure gets caught with a young girl he is sexually involved with... this is exactly what they have been harping on since October 2017.

The warning signs were there (besides Gaetz' DUIs), his was the sole vote against a human trafficking bill.  Nevertheless, the Q people are defending Gaetz because he is on 'their team'.  These people also defended Trump's friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, both serial sex traffickers.  Despite all of their 'Save the Children' rhetoric, these people never cared about real victims.  Accusations of sexual misconduct are to used as a cudgel to attack their perceived enemies, nothing more.  They are incensed about Hillary Clinton trafficking fictional mole children, tunnel tots, and boat babies, but they don't care one whit about the real girls exploited by Matt Gaetz (or Donald Trump himself, for that matter).

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Baby Brother's Birthday 2021

 Today is my baby brother Gomez' birthday.  Some baby, he's built like a house... one of the best Gomez stories is the tale of how, after high school hockey practice at the storied Murray's Skating Rink, he was approached by a member of the Yonkers Fire Department and asked, "Hey, man, our goalie wasn't feeling well, do you want to tend goal for us?"

Gomez replied, "Uh, I have to ask my mom if it's okay."

"Your mom?  What's up with that?"

"I'm only fourteen."

Of course, Mom approved of his playing in a YFD/YPD hockey game, ice time being ice time, and freebies being rare.  Gomez at fourteen held his own in a game with a bunch of grownups.  In the succeeding decades, he's never lost his love for the sport, and besides playing in an adult league, he also coaches for his kids' teams and referees local games.

I wished Gomez a happy birthday this morning, and we commiserated about the pandemic protocols being a drag.  Hockey is one of those sports which can be practiced while maintaining some social distancing, and his birthday plan was to run a hockey clinic for little kids with an assist from his own kids, and possibly grab some chicken wings for dinner on the way home... a simple, but classic way to celebrate an occasion.  Myself?  I'm really jonesing a draft beer, consumed at the bar, when this thing has finally been beat, some chicken wings would also be welcome.

It's his second birthday in the pandemic times, but he's spending it well, doing something that he loves, with people he loves, and imparting his love of hockey to other youngsters.  Sure, I call him baby brother, but he's got this whole adulthood thing figured out better than most people.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Orgy in the Pond!

 It's loud, loud enough to hear while pumping gas at the gas station across the street, but I wouldn't call it a din, because it's really a lovely, musical sound.  From close up, one can hear individual voices, but the effect is that of a chorus, as answering calls ring out, and distance and waveform interference and amplification change the pitch.  I figured that I'd use my phone camera to obtain an audio recording, though the light was insufficient to get more than a fuzzy impression of a couple of lights from the main road:

I didn't expect it so early in the year, because the spring peepers haven't started peeping, but the American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) having a major orgy in the pond at work.  These little critters are sex machines, they breed until May, in ponds, water-filled ditches, and vernal pools.  

I believe the low, growly sound is a pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris) that somehow got mixed in with the toads, perhaps looking for a prince.  Longtime readers will know that I have a fondness for amphibians, and working at night in a place with extensive grounds with mixed habitats (pond, bit of wetlands, bit of woods, bit of grassland), I encounter them on a regular basis.  I am overjoyed that I have a loud musical background to my worknights, and that this music signals the imminent arrival of another generation of little batrachian buddies.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Performative Peril

 Republicans love to put on shows to stoke the fears of their non-plutocrat constituents, and this past week has been no exception.  The particular tactic they have been using is the pose that they are in danger... I mean, look at them arming themselves and taking a gunboat voyage on the Rio Grande:

This is nothing more than Apocalypse Now cosplay, calculated to convince their voters that Mexicans are a threat to these here United States... Christ, I wish these assholes would never get out of the boat, their pointless drifting on the river is less offensive than their pointless drifting in Congress. To make this stunt even more ridiculous, these are the sort of people who denigrated John Kerry's very real experience of danger on a swift boat in Vietnam... I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Republicans love stolen valor, and will choose a fauxrior over a warrior any day. 

 The other big display of performative bravado in the face of nonexistent peril was Lindsey Graham's 'Rambo' fantasy (well, his other Rambo fantasy) about defending his home from 'gangs' with an AR-15:

This is a guy who has a security detail, and in any case of natural disaster and cibil unrest, protecting his house would be a priority for local police. In the real world, despite hus racist framing of a gang assault, the biggest threat to Graham come from deranged Trump dead-enders who don't think that his callow obsequiousness constituted sufficient loyalty to the Former Guy. 

Unfortunately, cringeworthy displays like this seem to play well with the Republican base, despite how laughable they are. Hopefully, as the pandemic subsides and the economy rebounds, these fear tactics will be laughed away as genuine hope becomes a viable campaign strategy.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

A Titan of Children's Literature

There are certain individuals I periodically google just to reassure myself that they are alive, and I recently lost one...  children's literature titan Beverly Cleary died yesterday at the age of 104.  Beverly Cleary's particular genius was writing slice-of-life books about regular middle-class children living normal middle-class lives, typically in the northeast Portland neighborhood of Grant Park, specifically Klickitat Street.  Every superhero has an origin story, and Beverly Cleary's superhero origin took place when, as a children's librarian, a boy asked her, "Where are the books about the kids like us?"  

Beverly Cleary's response was writing the book Henry Huggins, the story about a boy in the third grade who meets a stray dog, thin enough to earn the name 'Ribsy', and brings him home.  Henry and Ribsy make an appealing pair, with Henry being a responsible, enterprising boy (when he loses another boy's football, he supplements his paper route by hunting for worms in the park to sell as bait to fishermen.  In the book's final chapter, Ribsy's original owner finds the dog, and a positively Brechtian denoument ensues.

Henry Huggins also introduced Beverly Cleary's greatest creation,  Ramona Quimby.  Introduced as the younger sister of Henry's friend Beatrice (nicknamed Beezus by the pronunciation-challenged four year-old Ramona), Ramona eventually took the mantle of main character in the series.  In Henry and Beezus, Henry yearns to buy a new bicycle, collecting empty bottles to earn a penny apiece until the smart Beezus tells Henry how to take advantage of an unexpected windfall.  Ramona is the perfect foil for the smart, conscientious Beezus- imaginative and rambunctious.

In Beezus and Ramona, Beezus gets top billing (though, tellingly, a 2010 film adaptation is titled Ramona and Beezus, proving that naughty girls get the attention).  A serious, thoughtful girl, Beezus has to contend with her 'pest' of a little sister while learning how to embrace her own imagination.  In the end, she realizes that, while she doesn't always like her 'exasperating' sister, she does love her.

Eventually, there were eight 'Ramona' books, as well as appearing in the six 'Henry Huggins' books, with Ramona the Pest being a particular favorite of mine.  Ramona is a gloriously naughty figure, the sort of girl who pulls on a classmate's 'boing boing curls', wipes fingerpaint off her hands with the neighbors' cat, takes a single bite out of every apple in the root cellar because the first bite is the tastiest (forcing her mother to make applesauce out of the remains), and getting in the way of her older sister and her friends- in Henry and the Paper Route, she takes the newspapers off customers' lawns and throws them on other lawns because she wants to play paperboy.

While generally writing about middle-class characters with stable family lives and ignoring the headlines of the day, Beverly Cleary wasn't afraid to tackle topical issues- in Ramona and Her Father, Mr Quimby loses his job, so Mrs Quimby has to work full-time to make ends meet, and Ramona does her best to help out the family, even paring down her Christmas list drastically.  A compulsive reader of fan mail, when asked to write a book about a family effected by divorce, she wrote Dear Mr Henshaw.

Also set in Portland were the books Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford, a series about a good girl plagued by the antics of a mischievous boy- when the naughty Otis finally exceeds the bonds of good-hearted shenanigans by cutting off a lock of Ellen's hair just as it was getting long enough for her to grow pigtails, the good girl gets her revenge on him in a satisfying manner.

While most of Beverly Cleary's books were realistic vignettes of convincingly real children growing up in Portland, she did write a series of fantasy novels about a talking mouse who rides a toy motorcycle.  This was a departure for her, she had previously satirized such fantasies by mocking Ramona's love for a book about Scoopy, a steam shovel which has adventures.  She also wrote the standalone novel Socks, about a cat dealing with the birth of its humans' baby, eventually coming to see it as not a rival, but a person to cherish- this book inspired the name of the Clintons' cat.

Back in 1993, in the course of a cross-country road trip, I stopped in the storied (HA!) Powell's Books in Portland and chatted at some length with one of the clerks about Beverly Cleary and her books that so prominently featured the city.  I joked that I wished that I had more time to stay in town so I could go picking huckleberries on Mt Hood.  A few years after that, while dating a girl from Krakow who was in the US on a student visa, studying English, I figured that Beverly Cleary's books were the perfect reading material for someone who wanted a grasp of English grammar, written consistently and plainly in an entertaining manner.  I bought her a bunch of Cleary's books and she was immediately taken with Ramona, who she immediately pronounced a wyrodna.

Beverly Cleary lived a long, productive life and was much-beloved by millions of fans.  I'm bummed out, but hitting 104 is as good a run as anyone can expect.  She also enjoyed good health for over a century, and kept her sharp wit, as for instance, joking on her 100th birthday, "I didn't do it on purpose." 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Yet Another Trash Take from the Times

 I take no pleasure in saying this, but the New York Times is trash.  That's a hard thing to say, sitting down with the Sunday Times, reading the bulk of it and doing the crossword puzzle, used to be a great way to spend a Sunday morning nursing a hangover.  It even took on the form of a ritual- we'd go to a local Borders Books (remember when they still existed?) to buy the paper, and browse for other reading material. 

One day, unshaven and hung over, I said to my brother Vin's army buddy Whiskey Joe, "Some people have yahooism thrust upon them, they have no choice but to be a yahoo.  We choose to be yahoos, we're educated, sophisticated yahoos."   Thus was born the Educated Yahoos Club, membership whoever was around to buy and read the NYT while hung over.  Yeah, reading the Times was a pleasure, until a decades-long run of trashy journalism (hello, Iraq War!) and trashier opinion columns (hello, Brooks et al.)  convinced me to give up the paper cold turkey.  Not even Will Shortz could bring me back into the fold.

I have no regrets about giving up the NYT, I mean look at this garbage:


A looming glut of vaccines?  How the hell could this be couched as a dilemma by a sane person acting in good faith?  Sure, it's about a future time, perhaps in the summer, when vaccine production is in overdrive, but Christ, I haven't been able to find a vaccination site since I became eligible earlier this week.  Why even talk of future gluts until everybody in the 'States gets their pokes?   The framing is also some nationalist garbage- what is described as a 'glut' really means an opportunity to ship vaccine doses to developing countries, to help out Brazil, or Chile, or Angola... wherever.  Maybe a concerted effort to get the vaccine distributed globally would help restore our standing in the world.  Needles, not drones!

The framing is trash, and I really suspect less-than-above-board reasons for it... merely hinting that high vaccine production levels pose a 'dilemma' for the current administration is monstrous.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

News Break, Current Earworm

I figured I needed a bit of a break today, because the news is uniformly stupid and my personal life is pretty much in stasis... the one thing I accomplished all week was picking up two new pairs of glasses.  For the record, I haven't received a single item of mail all week, and an waiting for several important items which should have arrived by now if there were a functioning postal service at this time.  I just feel like I'm spinning my wheels, going to work, checking the mailbox fruitlessly, perusing the NY State Department of Health website to see if there are any vaccines available withing a hundred miles (I just became eligible for a vaccine this week). 

It's time to post a music video, and the song Mother Sky by krautrock legends Can has been my earworm for the past couple of weeks.  My last Can post was just about three years ago, so I figure I'm overdue.  Mother Sky was featured on the soundtrack of the 1970 film Deep End, and it is a marvel of progressive rock, clocking in at over fifteen minutes:


 

 

For the record, I like both kinds of music, songs by Damo Suzuki and songs about Damo Suzuki.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Cabal Canal

The world is a bizarre place, with weird occurrences happening all the time.  It's a human tendency to look for causation, to seek connections when coincidences pop up, and conspiracy theorists go out of their way to fit these bizarre occasions into their narratives.  With this in mind, I present to you the conspiracy theories concerning a container ship blocking the Suez Canal.  As luck would have it, the ship's call sign is H3RC, so let the fun and games begin:

Yes, the QCumbers believe that this ship is transporting trafficked children at the behest of the Clintons. It's basically last year's Wayfair child trafficking conspiracy writ large: The amount of creativity that goes into forging connections between the vague content of the 'Q drops' and news headlines actually makes me somewhat envious, though I pity anyone who is fooled into thinking these narratives are true: There's an undeniable power to the QAnon conspiracy complex- the posts, while proving to be trash when scrutinized by a critical thinker, are just suggestive enough to make for an intriguing game. A bored individual, looking for order in a chaotic world, knowing that something just isn't right in the world, can while away hours trying to find connections in the cryptic posts, can play the role of an insider privy to recondite knowledge, can cast himself or herself as a hero in a Good vs Evil narrative. It's heady stuff for thousands of Walter Mittys... I mean, who doesn't want to be a hero, especially if it doesn't even entail leaving the house?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Q Sent Him!!!

One of the more bizarre (and that is saying something) stories of the week is the tale of an armed loon attacking a convoy of Texas National Guard personnel transporting COVID vaccines and holding them at gunpoint.  The perpetrator tried to force the vans in the convoy off the road, then blocked their progress and held the passengers captive until the police took him into custody.

The crazy thing about this incident is that, although the convoy was transporting vaccines, the attacker was not motivated by an anti-vaccination sentiment... he actually believed that the uniformed guard personnel had kidnapped a woman and a child.  I immediately thought that the individual was motivated by the QAnon narrative of child trafficking networks-  this attack on the convoy was basically the 'Mole Children' conspiracy in microcosm.  

The QAnon conspiracy adherents have had a history of low-level violence since almost the beginning, a history of violence overshadowed by the mass-shootings that occur with disturbing regularity- the very story I am commenting on was driven from the headlines by a massacre in Boulder.  I have a sinking feeling that this low-grade violence will be perpetrated by the more impressionable 'anons' for the foreseeable future.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Social Media for Sociopaths

 Being aware of the dozens of failed Trump businesses, I am tickled pink by the idea that the Former Guy wants to start his own social media platform:

"I do think that we're going to see President Trump returning to social media in probably about two or three months here, with his own platform," Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told Fox News' "#MediaBuzz" on Sunday. "And this is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media, it's going to completely redefine the game, and everybody is going to be waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does."

Besides the fact that he failed at selling vodka and steaks, running airlines, football teams, modeling agencies/escort services, and operating casinos, Vulgarmort isn't exactly tech-savvy, so, if he's not just blowing smoke,  he would probably outsource any coding to some Russian outfit which will lard it with all sorts of malware.  Being greedy, I imagine any 'social media' company run by him would operate on a subscription basis, offering much worse service than the free platforms out there, but also selling users' personal data.

The prognosis for a Trump-owned social media platform is pretty bad, for reasons other than the guy's incompetence.  While right-wingers love their epistemic closure, their raison d'etre is to antagonize liberals.  In a closed system, without 'libs', their trolling would be impossible- it's not like these people would use a 'right-only safe space' to debate each other over marginal tax rates and the role of the federal government in an idealized 'Reaganite' republic.  If Trump manages to pull it off, it'll last six months, maybe a year.

Trump was actually offered a 40% stake in Parler if he agreed to use the platform exclusively, but nothing ever materialized, and Parler is a disaster.  This is probably as good an offer he'll ever get from an existing social media platform, but Trump being Trump, he muffed it.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Stumbling in the Home Stretch?

 Ah, Florida... the Land of Bad Ideas... you are now one of the epicenters of the plague.  Not only is the home of the Former Guy a COVID-19 hotspot (as was his old home), but Spring Break crowds have descended on South Florida, eschewing social distancing, masking, and curfews.  In Miami Beach, the police shot pepper balls into a crowd in an effort to get people to disperse, a case of local authorities having to take action because the state government took a hands-off approach.  While some news outlets have characterized DeSantis as being successful, the situation is less rosy, and the State Health Department reported lower death tolls than medical examiners did, so the medical examiners were told not to release statistics.

Despite what some random clown says, COVID is not over.  The vaccine rollout is proceeding apace, this is no time to congregate in maskless crowds, getting drunk, and passing along pathogens, whether STI's or not.  This isn't a case of stumbling in the home stretch, it's a case of voluntarily throwing the race.

ADDENDUM: That's not to say that the fact that the authorities cracked down harder on Spring Break revelers harder than they did on Capitol invaders isn't totally messed up.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Most Welcome Spring

 This past winter was a fairly harsh one, with a two-foot snowfall setting the stage for a cold end to a season which eventually dumped a yard of snow on the yard.  Thankfully, I live in a functional state (despite our Governor turning out to be a shithead), so the harsh winter was a minor inconvenience.  Sure, there were weeks when I simply left my car at work, but I have a workplace, and the public transportation infrastructure is fantastic.

Still, I'm glad winter is over.  I can put the flannel-lined jeans in storage.  Even more importantly, old friends are returning: i heard the trill of a red-winged blackbird resounding from the marsh on the property, on the drive home I see skunks gamboling throughout my neighborhood, my beloved stinging nettles are poking through the leaf litter. Soon, the spring peepers will be chiming their love songs by the pools of meltwater throughout the night.  The robins and mourning doves have returned.  

More importantly, it's more comfortable being outside, in conditions more salubrious than cramped indoor spaces.  Soon, it will be feasible to take the old laptop outside and work al fresco.   The social isolation of a pandemic winter will be mitigated.  With the prospect of vaccines being broadly available, it looks as if a genuine spring awakening is on its way.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Sleepy Joe's Busy Day

 The one characteristic of 'Sleepy Joe' is that he is accomplishing a lot of good things.  Today was a particularly busy day for President Joseph Robinette Biden and VP Kamala Harris, as they traveled to Atlanta to address members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community and visited the CDC, taking time to meet with Stacey Abrams, the Atlanta mayor, and Senators Warnock and Ossoff.  When does Sleepy Joe even have time to sleep?

Introduced by a moving preamble by Vice President Harris, President Biden's speech was an appeal to the hearts and the minds of the American people.  The president decried the 'skyrocketing' number of attacks on Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and stated that xenophobia and violence against the elderly and women have no place in the US.  Americans must stand together against hate.  The epidemic of gun violence must be addressed.  He then went on to praise the scientists of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and confirmed his administration's commitment to science, as embodied by the public servants at the CDC.  He called upon the public to continue to practice COVID-19 mitigation procedures.  The president also stated the importance of voter rights legislation, and committed to protecting voting procedures.

While President Biden doesn't deliver the oratorical heights of a Barack Obama, he speaks with conviction and emotion.  He reminds the American people that they have obligations to society, and he takes his obligation to the public seriously.  He really does come across as the right person for the right time, a hardworking, decent person who can rally the American people to work hard and be decent.  President Biden continues to exceed my expectations.

About the title... I decided to fully embrace the 'Sleepy Joe' moniker bestowed by the Former Guy.  Now that Joseph Robinette Biden is at the helm of state, everybody is sleeping better.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Hate Metastasizes

 Just last month, I wrote about the alarming uptick in attacks on individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.  I saw a call for amplification of this news, and decided to use my small platform to call for solidarity with a community that has always shown kindness to me.

This week, the horror metastasized with the murder of eight persons, six of them Asian women, in two mass shootings in Georgia.  While two white persons and a Latino man were shot, the murderer specifically targeted women of Asian descent.  The attack was a perfect synergy misogyny and racism, perpetrated by a creep who simultaneously sexualized these women and blamed them for his sexualization of them, referring to them as a 'temptation', causing him to succumb to sexual addiction.  

Sexual addiction is not real.  Two nights ago, I listened to a lecture by a neurobiologist specializing in addiction studies.  Sexual addiction is not a thing, it is a term made up to help creeps weasel out of culpability for behaviors that normal, healthy people wouldn't even consider bad.  This shooter cited the bullshit sin of sexual incontinence as the cause of his real sin of mass murder.  Right-wingers have a tendency to fetishize women of Asian descent, simultaneously viewing them as submissive, sexually permissive, and family oriented, a perfect storm of various bigotries.  The coverage of the attacks also takes as granted the proposition that the victims were engaged in sex work, which plays to stereotypes as well... not that sex workers should face violence in any way.

To compound the heinousness of this mass murder, the county sheriff who was spokesman for his department, claimed that the shooter had 'had a bad day', a cack-handed attempt to garner sympathy for a monster.  It subsequently turned out that he amplified anti-Asian messages on social media.  In the aftermath of the mass murder, I've also seen a proliferation of trolls on blog comment fields and Twitter feeds who are trying to deny a racist angle to this crime, for instance, the Twitter feed of actress and activist Olivia Munn is full of trolls trying to deny that the crime was racially motivated.

The Georgia shootings represent the full horror of this year-long uptick in attacks against Asian-and-Pacific Islander Americans, but the reality is that assaults have become a common occurrence, with well over two-thousand assaults taking place between March and December of last year.  In my neck of the woods, an elderly Korean-American woman was assaulted in White Plains, NY, about ten miles north of my beloved Yonkers.  

This rash of violent attacks has me sickened, and I wish to reiterate my support for the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.  At least President Biden seems to be willing to combat this scourge of violence.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Low-Key St Paddy's Day

It's a low-key St Paddy's Day for me, the second in a row due to the pandemic... can't be kissing strangers while socially-distancing, no matter how Irish or winsome they are.  I figure I'd post a couple of pretty songs on the occasion, and the traditional folk band Altan has an entire catalogue of lovely, low-key songs from a career which began in the 1980s when fiddler/singer MairĂ©ad NĂ­ Mhaonaigh and flautist Frankie Kennedy joined forces, eventually marrying. Sadly, Mr Kennedy contracted cancer in the 1990s and eventually lost his fight with the scourge. 

I'm choosing two songs in Gaelic by the band. The first is Moll Dubh a' Ghleanna, ostensible a love song about a dark haired country beauty from a glen, but in Donegal, the song is a cryptic message about illicitly distilled poteen. It's a gorgeous tune, whether about love for a ruddy-cheeked, black-haired girl or about love for a wicked strong distillate: 

 

The other song I'm posting is DĂșlamĂĄn, perhaps the finest song ever written about seaweed, specifically Pelvetia canaliculata. DĂșlamĂĄn, the seaweed, was commonly used as animal feed, and was used as human food during times of famine. DĂșlamĂĄn, the song, is a dialogue between two seaweed-gatherers, one of which wishes to marry the daughter of the other, who meets his suit with skepticism, necessitating an elopement: 

 

As a side note, there are several edible seaweeds common to Ireland, among them the chewy, salty dillisk, which is another food which was integral to the survival of coastal dwellers during An Gorta MĂłr. Additionally, the various types of carrageenan, are ubiquitous, used as thickeners in everything from ice cream to toothpaste. I, myself, prefer the stuff prepared in the Jamaican style, as a punch, and might have to pick up a can at the supermarket before work tonight, even though I'd rather be drinking some Moll Dubh a' Ghleanna.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Secret Science Club Zoom Lecture: The Vulnerable Brain

Tonight, there's a Secret Science Club Zoom lecture featuring neuroscientist Dr Yasmin Hurd, professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and pharmacological sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, director of the Addiction Institute at the Mount Sinai Behavioral Health System, and Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience. Dr Hurd is a member of the Dana Foundation, and this lecture is the annual Brain Awareness Week collaboration between the Dana Foundation and the Secret Science Club. 

Dr Hurd began her lecture with an overview of her topic, pathways to and from addiction. She noted that 30 million Americans have substance use disorders, which pose a trillion dollar problem to the US, reducing the quality of life for many. We are in an epidemic of overdose deaths, placing the healthcare system under siege. She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has many people affected by stress and social isolation, and substance use disorders are up as a result. Individuals with substance use problems are vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Addiction is a clinical disorder and the DSM-5 lists 11 characteristics of addiction.

We know a lot about the Nucleus accumbens Amygdala VTA-ventral reward pathways. The drugs that are addictive impact many neurotransmitters- dopamine, glutamate, endogenous opiod and cannabinoid transmitters Nucleus accumbens activation/dopamine Addiction is not a disorder of reward, though reward often kicks it off. it's a disorder of plasticity.

Addiction risk is effected by neurodevelopment, involving such factors as genetics and environmental exposure.  There are genetic and epigenetic factors. Heritability studies indicated that cocaine and opioid addictions have significant genetic underpinnings. Mu opioid receptors mediate the effects of opioids.  A single nucleotide polymorphism in the genome is associated with high risk of opioid use disorder and overdose.

Cannabis use disorder affects 30% of cannabis users, and mimics other substance use disorders- higher negative affect, neurosis, anxiety. Many people consume cannabis without cannabis use disorder, genetics in synergy with negative affect cause disorder. 

Dr Hurd then discussed environmental causes- childhood trauma plays a role in adult addiction risk. A study of cocaine use disorder affected adults with childhood trauma showed prefrontal cortex irregularities. Low dopamine D2 levels can play a role in substance abuse disorders. Social isolation and stress (usually among subordinate status individuals) lowers dopamine D2 levels. The endocannabinoid system plays a critical role in neurodevelopmental processes during childhood and adolescence. 

Dr Hurd posed the question, "What is the role of cannabis in development?" There is a perception that cannabis is largely safe. The cannabinoid receptor in the brain is critical for the hardwiring of the brain, helping neural pathways to grow. In utero cannabis exposure can cause impairments in fetal brain development. What are the long-term consequences on adult behavior? Animal studies show that a decrease in the dopamine D2 receptors in animals exposed in utero to cannabis. Prenatal THC exposure also tends to cause an increase in opioid use among lab animals. Dr Hurd joked that she is a masochist, and her 'even more masochistic' colleague Yoko Nomura decided to study the development of children exposed to cannabis in utero throughout their lifetimes, starting with studies of the mothers' placentas. Young children exposed to cannabis in utero tend to have higher stress hormone (cortisol) levels. Prenatal THC exposure also increase one's desire for reward- for example, subjects will push a button a hundred times for a chocolate. Cannabis exposure changes epigenetic mechanisms, helping to turn or or turn off genetic mechanisms. Epigenetic effects can change brain plasticity, leading to protracted changes in behavior. 

Adolescent cannabis exposure is associated with a greater incidence of other drug use, and can alter behavioral traits, including an increased risk of suicide. Adolescent THC use can reduce the complexity of neurons in the prefrontal cortex. A complete reorganization in the cortical gene profile occurs, linked to changes in epigenetic processes and plasticity. Heroin and cannabis use have similar effects on plasticity. 

Can we use what we learned to find a pathway out of addiction? Glutametergic disregulation and epigenetic disruption correlate to years of heroin use. These changes are very specific, and can be studied in lab animals. Cancer medicines which effect epigenetics can decrease heroin self-administration among lab animals. Perhaps, epigenetic mechanisms can be targeted to reduce heroin use. Cannabis contains 500 chemicals, including 140 cannabinoids. THC is the cannabinoid that gets users high, and is the best studied cannabinoid. Dr Hurd wanted to study cannabidiol CBD, which reduces heroin seeking behavior in lab animals. CBD can also slow the deterioration of plasticity and glutametergic effects. Among heroin abstainers, CBD reduces heroin cravings, it also reduces cue-induced anxiety among heroin abstainers. CBD reduces cortisol levels and heart rates among cue-induced heroin abstainers. Clinical trials are being developed to study CBD. Dr Hurd noted that CBD is being added to everything from ice cream to hamburgers to dog food, and noted that we need to return to a medical approach to determine the utility of CBD to treat addiction. 

The lecture was followed with a Q&A session. The first question involved tobacco use- most cannabis users also smoke tobacco, and the synergy needs to be studied further. A question about Dr Carl Hart's book about responsible adult drug use elicited a response that recreational drug users should be identified early on so that medical treatment should be started... there should not be a stigma about addiction, which should be treated as a medical issue, not a criminal justice issue. Opioid addiction is real and it destroys individuals and families. Asked about cannabis being a 'gateway drug', Dr Hurd noted that lab animals presented with a rich environment are less likely to use heroin- if the choice is 'heroin or nothing', heroin is a likely choice. She noted that people choose to use marijuana because it has a certain effect, but that THC concentration has increased dramatically since the 1970s. As far as CBD being put in everything, Dr Hurd noted that the concentrations are much lower than those used medicinally, but that CBD sources are not regulated, and that adulteration is a potential problem. Regarding gambling or sex addictions, non-chemical addictions, Dr Hurd noted that she has a bias, studying chemical addictions- chemical addictions are much stronger than behavioral addictions, a hit of cocaine is much stronger than hitting a jackpot. Epigenetic changes are associated with behavioral addictions, but more study is needed- there are shared neurobiological conditions involved. Another question involved the utility of studying the genetic polymorphism that leads to increased opioid vulnerability as an adjunct to pain management, to avoid opioid addiction... Dr Hurd indicated that this is a sound policy, and should also be used in determining methadone dosages for recovering heroin addicts. There is no staging of addiction- psychological and social factors should be taken in consideration as well as genetic factors. Dr Hurd noted that she doesn't need a cheek swab to know that a particular patient may be at risk. As far as 'repairing' the brain, epigenetics can be reversed, the changes are not mutations, so they are not permanent. Addiction is not a lifetime damnation, recovery is possible, but there is no grand playbook to bring it about. Dr Hurd noted that opioids are critical therapeutic substances, but the problem is with high-use, high-dose opioids. Smaller doses, perhaps in conjunction with cannabinoids, are preferred therapeutically. Small doses aren't a 'big hammer to the brain'. Some Bastard in the audience asked Dr Hurd to contrast the effects of alcohol with the effects of opioids and cannabinoids- alcohol has a broader effect on the brain, but its effects on plasticity and brain epigenetics can be mitigated with CBD- very few individuals only use one drug.

Kudos to Dr Hurd, Margaret and Dorian, and the fantastic people of the Dana Foundation for providing this fantastic lecture.  For a taste of Dr Hurd's knowledge, here is a video of her lecturing about the neurobiology of addiction:


 Pour yourself a nice beverage, sit back, and soak in that SCIENCE!!!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Disease Vectors

 Accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic is another pandemic, one just as dangerous because it acts synergistically with the novel coronavirus to make it more contagious... this is the disinformation pandemic.  One particularly rage-inducing news item has been the revelation that, on Facebook, the worst vaccine disinformation comes from 111 individuals, who are allowed to continue to spread deadly falsehoods because they don't officially break the rules.  I've never had a Facebook account, feeling that the entire site constituted an unbearable invasion of privacy.  Also, do I really need to know that some guy I worked with one summer twenty-five years ago is a right-wing loon?

Certain social media users are falsehood superspreaders, for instance, election disinformation dropped over 70% after Trump's Twitter ban.  In the case of anti-vaxxers, the effort to curtail disinformation has been going on for years, though the tepid response from management suggests that they do not take this threat seriously enough.  This is especially infuriating now that we seem to be in the home stretch, with more and more people receiving vaccines.  There are sure to be holdouts who refuse the vaccine, thereby imperiling at-risk persons who cannot receive it.  

Surely, Facebook can nuke a little over a hundred accounts to stem the tide of bullshit at this critical juncture in the crisis.  I'm not holding my breath, though.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Have an Irrational Pi Day

 Here's wishing everyone an irrational Pi Day.  I'm sorry to say that I didn't participate in any mathematical activities, nor did I eat any pie... though the local butcher makes really good steak-and-kidney ones.  To be honest, I make a decent steak-and-kidney pie myself.  The typical family pie, though, has got to be a simple lamb pie that my sainted grandmother used to make, but on the rare occasions I make one, I use a fair amount of garlic, which she wouldn't have put in there.  As far as dessert 'pies' go, there are a couple of places I go to for Portugese egg tarts, which are also popular in China.

Alas, no pie for me... I worked the graveyard shift and, by the time I crossed the threshold of my apartment, I was pretty knackered so I slept all the doo-dah day.  I assure you, though, as I slept, I dreamed of Pi, trying to calculate this most crucial of irrational numbers to as many digits as I could.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Yankee Joe of Old Mayo

This being the runup to the solemn feast of St Patrick, I figured I'd post a song on this quiet Saturday.  I've noted before that, if he were to visit beautiful Yonkers, I would gladly sing Fields of Athenry to Joe Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, and specifically his family's roots in County Mayo.  Via the Twitter feed of CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, I found a cute little ditty about the man and his roots:


 

 The tune of the song is reminiscent of the rebel song The Rising of the Moon, which is appropriate, seeing that Biden toppled an authoritarian regime in the making:  

On a more melancholy note, when Joe Biden visited Mayo about four years ago, a local band, keenly aware of the bereavements that he had suffered, sang the ballad The Briar and the Rose to their beloved diaspora son:

  

If President Biden ever decided to visit the City of Y______, I'm sure he'd get the same sort of treatment.

Friday, March 12, 2021

President Biden's Anniversary Speech

One of the most persistent right-wing tropes for the past six months is the false assertion that Joe Biden is senile- they adopted the former guy's moniker of  'Sleepy Joe' (which I have decided to embrace because we are all sleeping better now) and joked about how he was hiding in his basement (this makes no sense, because he's a wealthy guy with a big house- why the basement?).  I know that right-wingers ensconce themselves in a bubble, but President Biden has had a consistent winning streak from day one.  For a guy who had a reputation as a gaffe machine, the man never misspeaks when he's speaking about matters of personal loss... in these tragic times, his eloquence has been notable.

In his first prime-time address to commemorate the one year anniversary of the pandemic, Biden started off with the all-too familiar observation that the world stopped, that feeling of demarcation between the 'before time' and the plague year:

Good evening my fellow Americans. Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about where we are as we mark one year since everything stopped because of this pandemic. A year ago, we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months.

That led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, and more loneliness. Photos and videos from 2019 feel like they were taken in another era. The last vacation, the last birthday with friends, the last holiday with extended family.

This really hit home.  He acknowledged the sorrow that permeated everyday life, then found reason to be optimistic (here's where I repeat my assertion that Biden embodies this quote from Tolkien: "His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.") 

While it was different for everyone, we all lost something -- a collective suffering, a collective sacrifice, a year filled with the loss of life and the loss of living for all of us. But in the loss, we saw how much there was to gain in appreciation, respect, and gratitude. Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do.

In fact, it may be the most American thing we do. And that's what we've done. We've seen frontline and essential workers risking their lives, sometimes losing them, to save and help others. Researchers and scientists racing for a vaccine. And so many of you, as Hemingway wrote, "Being strong in all the broken places."

 Could you imagine the former guy quoting Hemingway?  Also, Joe Biden made sure to give accolades to the common working people who have kept our society running during this crisis.  I can't imagine the former guy, who sees everything in transactional terms, expressing his gratitude to anyone, let alone a bunch of peasants.  With his talk of  'American carnage' back in the not-so-bad days back in 2016, the former guy found darkness in the light.

When Biden speaks about emotional matters, he speaks with authenticity.  He incorporated personal tales of his father losing his job.  He spoke about the loss of those social rituals which were made impossible by the pandemic, as he put it:

It's the details of life that matter the most, and we miss those details, the big details and the small moments, weddings, birthdays, graduations, all of the things that needed to happen but didn't.

The president also called for unity, and condemned the worrying trend of attacks against Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent:

The things we used to do that always filled us with joy have become things we couldn't do and broke our hearts. Too often, we've turned against one another. A mask, the easiest thing to do to save lives, sometimes it divides us. States pitted against one another instead of working with each other. Vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed, and scapegoated.

At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, they're on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives, and still, still, they are forced to live in fear for their lives, just walking down streets in America. It's wrong, it's un-American, and it must stop.

President Biden exhorted Americans to pull together, and committed himself to telling the truth to the American people (no deception to avoid panic, because he trusts us) : 

Look, we know what we need to do to beat this virus. Tell the truth. Follow the scientists and the science. Work together. Put trust and faith in our government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people. No function more important. We need to remember the government isn't some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it's us. All of us. We, the people.

For you and I, that America thrives when we give our hearts, when we turn our hands to common purpose. And right now, my friends, we're doing just that. And I have to say, as your president, I am grateful to you. Last summer, I was in Philadelphia, and I met a small business owner, a woman. I asked her, I said, "what do you need most?" I will never forget what she said to me. She said, looking me in the eye, and she said, "I just want the truth. The truth. Just tell me the truth."

President Biden went on to detail his plan to get Americans vaccinated, and to get children back in school.  He's taking the 'war on the virus' seriously, and he urged all Americans to join the war effort:

But I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part. And that's not hyperbole. I need you. I need you to get vaccinated when it's your turn and when you can find an opportunity. And to help your family, your friends, your neighbors get vaccinated as well.

It was a relief to hear a speech from a man who has promised 'no malarkey'.  President Biden hit the proper emotional notes, he refrained from blaming others for the current sorry state of the nation, he articulated actual policy goals, and he called upon what President Lincoln termed 'the better angels of our nature'.  Once again, Joe Biden has shown that he is the right person for the Herculean task of cleaning out the Augean stables that the former guy's maladministration left him with.  If you haven't seen the speech, it's a welcome return to an era in which government competence is valued:

And to think that Republicans are trying to claim that this man is senile...

Thursday, March 11, 2021

I Voted Against It, But I'm Taking Credit for It

 Republicans... is there any broad category of more despicable human beings?  President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, a bill which passed with no Republican support.  There are a couple of strategies that elected Republicans are using to respond to this popular policy- the McConnell strategy is to pre-emptively claim that an economic boom was inevitable and the stimulus bill will only add to the national debt, which wasn't an issue when the Trump tax cuts for plutocrats were pushed through.  Rick Scott even exhorted Republican governors to eschew the stimulus money, also claiming to care about the debt, but we all know that Red State governments never refuse to take money from Blue State taxpayers.

Even more cynically, Republicans such as Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker are taking credit for relief funds earmarked for independent restaurant owners.  No thanks, to you, Rog, you asshole... there were no Republican votes for this bill.

Republicans have a knack for taking credit for popular measures that they oppose.  A decade ago, the big joke was that you'd know that Obamacare was successful when Republicans stop calling it Obamacare.  Likewise, they will try to diminish Biden's role in getting this legislation past a Democratic Congress.  Sadly, the so-called liberal mainstream media will probably give these toolburgers a pass on false claims about relief bills.  Thankfully, the current Democratic regime has signaled that it is done with trying to make deals with Republicans... bipartisanship really isn't desired by anybody outside the media bubble.  Now they need to ensure that Republican opposition to this bill gets tied around the Republicans' necks like a goddamn millstone.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Today marks the one year anniversary of the last normal day before the pandemic shutdown.  It was Tuesday, my regular bar trivia night.  Of course, the looming pandemic was a major topic of conversation, much of it speculation about upcoming cancellations.  The trivia night MC, the father of a newborn girl, knew that he'd have to curtail his entertainment company's business, having a little one in the house.

This was when the fate of the 2020 St Patrick's Day parade (eventually cancelled) was uncertain.  Soon after, the March 24 New York Judo Open, a big social event for US judoka, was cancelled.  As the month progressed, the restrictions became more stringent, the event cancellations stacked up.

Abruptly, my social life ground to a halt.  The days started dragging, each one blending into the next.  Luckily, my work was in no way curtailed, so at least I had to leave the house five days a week.  The basic routine at work remained unchanged, the only addition to the daily tasks was wiping down the phone with a disinfectant swap at the end of every shift.  Still, with a skeleton crew in place, I only saw the same two coworkers during the course of a week.

The supermarkets were a wasteland of empty shelves, with uncertainty about supply lines for the foreseeable future.  Luckily, I had purchased a large package of toilet paper in February, when it wasn't scarce.  On one visit to the supermarket, the only items available in the frozen foods aisle were bags of okra, so I pretty much ate gumbo for a week.  I made sure to gradually stock up on non-perishables every week, buying a bag of dried legumes and a bag of dried grains (rice, barley, hominy, the like) every time I shopped.  Luckily, this was before I stopped buying Goya products... even just last week, I took a long, hard look at a bag of peeled fava beans (this time of year, I typically make a big batch of falafel, using a 50/50 chickpea/fava blend) and then went searching for another brand.  Even more fortuitously, Spring is nettle season, so I knew I'd be okay as long as I could stock up on carbs.

It was a surreal period of time, when days seemed to drag on interminably.  It really felt as if the Earth stood still, and nobody had the power to just say "COVID Barada Nikto" and put an end to the peril.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

But Democrats Are the Real Racists!!!

 One of the 'axioms' of the right-wing is the false narrative that Democrats are the real racists.  This narrative completely ignores the policy realignment that occurred during the Southern Strategy, that Republican outreach effort targeting white southerners who opposed the Civil Rights movement.  Conservative pundits are infamous for claiming that historians suppress the history of the pre-1960s Democratic party, but are laughed out of the room by real scholars.  Yes, the Democratic party was the political home of pro-slavery politicians in the 19th century and pro-segregation politicians in the first half of the 20th century, but which party in the 21st century is defending Confederate monuments?

Democrats are the real racists... and that is why Republicans are running racially charged attack ads against two women of color nominated for top jobs at the Department of Justice.  It's a cynical ad, showing pictures of fires set during riots, and describing a push to commute all federal death sentences as as benefiting white supremacists and terrorists.  The ad is particularly grotesque in the aftermath of the January 6th insurgency, in which MAGAs killed a police officer and assaulted numerous others.  The very idea that the GOP is the party of 'Law and Order' is a farce at this juncture in the space/time continuum.

My personal feeling is that, while not a great solution, if Joe Biden has to push through nominees without confirmation, to stack his cabinet and various agencies with 'acting' personnel, so be it.  Trump filled numerous high-level jobs without Senate confirmation, so a precedent (not an ideal one, to be sure) has been set.  Let the GOP run race-baiting ads against nominees of color, there's no need to answer these charges.  Tie that racism millstone around the necks of Republicans who don't disavow these tactics.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Bad Week for Royalty

 It's been bad week for royalty, with tales of the British royal family being a bunch of racist troglodytes who treated biracial Meghan Markle very poorly.  You know it's bad when this guy is the least Nazi member of the family.  I'm a quarter-Irish, so I've never been a fan of the English royal family, nor any royal family for that matter (then again, I'm also a quarter Swiss and a quarter French).  As an American, I have to wonder why anybody here would be a fan of royalty... I mean, we fought a war over this.

Even the Burger King has shown himself to be a sexist toolburger, sending out a tweet about women belonging in the kitchen.  Rule number one of corporate communications: don't try to be funny, especially if you're going to be using antiquated, sexist tropes that need to be explained in a follow-up.  A woman's place is where she wants to be.  If a woman wants to work in a kitchen, commercial or otherwise, that's okay...  I'm all for a Gal Fieri being elected mayor of Flavortown.  That being said, at a time when the Curiosity Mars rover team is composed largely of women, such retrograde humor really isn't helpful, and I can't believe that the corporation's social media team allowed this joke to pass.

At any rate, my stance against royals remains strong, and this week's royal assholishness merely bolsters my view.


Sunday, March 7, 2021

A Year of Exile

Today marks the one year anniversary of my last visit to Manhattan, the heart of the metropolitan area I call home.  Typically, I travel into Manhattan via subway once a week, a half hour journey costing $2.75 each way.  My last trip to Manhattan was also marked by my last fight (against my friend Francesco, the two of us have subsequently demonstrated throws in socially distanced classes to prove to the children that, yes, judo is actually a sport in normal years, not characterized by social distancing).  It was also my last semi-formal occasion, a luncheon and awards ceremony to mark the end of the semester for our athletic program.  I remember the big joke that day was that, since we weren't supposed to shake hands, we would have to settle for 'corona elbow bumps' on a day when hugs are the norm... that was before mask wearing was mandated.

My last visit to Brooklyn, typically a monthly destination, was on February 18th, for that month's Secret Science Club lecture at the beautiful Bell House.  I followed up that journey with a visit to the venerable Wo Hop to show my solidarity with the people of Manhattan's Chinatown.

I haven't banished myself from New York City completely, since I live two blocks north of the Bronx, and the neighborhood encompasses both sides of the border... I've just avoided the areas of the city which I'd need to use public transportation.  There's no need to expose myself or others to pathogens just to get something to eat at Mamoun's or walk the High Line.  I really felt it when, for the first time since 1993, I ceased to have an active MetroCard- they (foolishly, by my way of thinking) have expiration dates, so after the card was depleted, I just used exact change for fares on my rare local bus trips.

I miss Manhattan and Brooklyn.  I see the skyline of Manhattan on my drive home, the towers peeking over the relatively low-lying terrain of the Bronx.  Exile is a difficult thing to endure... even the bread tastes different.  In the interest of full disclosure, Bronx bread rivals anything from Manhattan, especially since Morrone's in East Harlem closed.  It's been a year, but I hope it won't be much longer, I hope that the vaccines become more readily available.  I don't know if I'll kiss the ground when I finally return, but I will make it an effort to patronize my favorite spots more frequently.  I owe myself, and I owe the City.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Whiskey Joe

What subject is more appropriate for the runup to the Solemn Feast of St Patrick than the price of whiskey?  In a move which will please all partakers of the rare auld mountain dew, the Biden administration is dropping tariffs on Irish and Scotch whiskeys, which were 'collateral damage' in a dispute over aviation industry subsidies.  Yeah, in order to punish the EU for unfair protections for Airbus, Trump made whiskey, imported cheeses, and olives more expensive... something that I considered a personal attack.  For four months, the whopping 25% tariff on these products will be suspended as a more permanent solution is figured out.

A big strong man like me shouldn't be afraid of a little boom boom, so I always keep whiskey in the house.  Since the pandemic began, and my tavern patronage pretty much ended, I haven't been drinking as much beer as I was accustomed to- bottles really are no substitute for a freshly drawn pint of draft beer.  My regular drinking whiskey is Tullamore Dew, which is smooth as watered silk and sweet as mother's milk.  When I'm not feeling so nationalistic, and a Scotch is welcome, there's always Balvenie single malt, and Glenmorangie (I'm partial to the port-barrel aged stuff).  It'll be nice not to have to be penalized for drinking the Water of Life.

This being the runup to the Solemn Feast of St Patrick (which, like last year, looks to be shaping up to be a non-event, another casualty of the pandemic), I figure I'd post a video for the Pogues song Streams of Whiskey, in which Shane MacGowan dreams about meeting the poet/playwright/revolutionary Brendan Behan:

As Cousin Shane from the Old Country sang, 'there's nothing ever solved by a wet thing called a tear', not even a trade war.  I've noted before that I would have no qualms about toasting Joe Biden, and would even sing Fields of Athenry for the man... now such a toast would be less expensive.  Even better, I'd love to get Uncle Malachy and bonnie Sandy from the Bronx, and we could serenade the man properly.


Friday, March 5, 2021

Manic Pixie Nightmare Senator

Kyrsten Sinema is... well... an exasperating public figure.  She burst on the scene as a potentially game-changing figure, an openly bisexual, openly atheistic senator with a daring fashion sense.  She beat GOP loony Martha McSally, which solidified her as a Democratic celebrity.  With her foxy librarian glasses, and her colorful pandemic wigs, she became a sort of manic pixie dream girl for a certain class of political pundits.  

With her opposition to a national minimum wage of fifteen dollars, Senator Sinema has cemented her position as a conservadem, a problematic wrench-thrower along the lines of a Joe Manchin, of for those of us who remember this far back, a Joe Lieberman.  She may look like the slightly kooky hipster of a twee rom-com, but she's no progressive... she just looks so SASSY when she's consigning working-class Americans to poverty:


 

 That cute skirt, though, and that handbag!  Not to mention that hipper-than-thou insouciance!  Marie Antoinette herself couldn't muster such insouciance.  This manic pixie dream girl sure turned out to be a nightmare.

I sure hope her ass gets primaried.  The conventional wisdom holds that Arizona is not the sort of state which sends liberal Democrats to the Senate, but Mark Kelly sure looks like he's a lot more liberal, in all senses of the word, than Sinema.  Surely, someone (I'm holding out for Rob Halford) can run against her from the left.  I'm sure there are plenty of Arizonans who would welcome a doubling of their hourly wages.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Stupid Inauguration Day

 March 4th is pretty much a done deal, here on the Eastern seaboard... today was the day when Trump dead-ender conspiracy theorists believed that Joe Biden would be arrested and Donald Trump would be inaugurated as the 19th president of the United States.  It's a convoluted belief, rooted in a conviction that the United States ceased to be a nation in 1871, and transformed into a corporation, with Ulysses S Grant being the last 'real' president of the United States.

As a short primer regarding this bizarre conspiracy theory, I recommend watch QAnon Anonymous Podcast host Travis View's brief explanation of this intersection between MAGA cult tenets and sovereign citizen legalese:

Thankfully, none of the militia groups that were suspected of trying to storm the Capitol again met in DC. I think it's a case of post 1/6 jitters... Stupid Icarus flew too close to the sun, the public saw what a right-wing insurrection looks like, and any popular support for a re-installation of Trump is now toxic. Also, playing a 'Call of Duty' LARP just isn't fun when there are thousands of National Guard troops in DC... these people would prefer to shoot unarmed targets. 

Meanwhile, with the anonymous 'Q' having been absent since December of last year, many of the 'influencers' trying to grab control of the narrative had backed off of the 3/4/2021 prophecy, claiming that plans for an insurrection were a false flag to further discredit Trump supporters. QAnon debunker Mike Rains is discussing the dissention among the Q-influencers tonight. Thankfully, nothing occurred today... a lot of militia adherents were arrested in the aftermath of the 1/6 insurrection, and DC is crawling with troops and a Capitol police force which won't be taken unaware again. This is not the sort of odds that cowards would find acceptable. 

The one disquieting thing about the whole 3/4 lunacy is the intersection of the QAnon belief system and sovereign citizen orthodoxy. These communities have intersected before, but not on this fundamental level. These groups are increasingly subsuming white evangelical churches, creating a monolithic, conspiracy-obsessed Right, which bodes ill for our society.  

ADDENDUM: One of the best reporters on this issue is CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, who comes across as nothing so much as a foreign anthropologist, venturing into the ungovernable hinterlands to see out the charming folk beliefs of the authochthones.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Most Unusual Culture War

 I've read with a great deal of amusement about the right-wing culture war over the discontinuation of six books by Dr Seuss.  The books, which have been criticized for containing racialized imagery, are older books in the Seuss canon.  My suspicion is that these books are being phased out of print, not because of pressure from 'The Left', but because the publishing house doesn't want racial depictions of people of color in six lesser-known books to drag down sales of Dr Seuss' later blockbusters, such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horton Hears a Who (not to be confused with his 'blue' work Horton Hires a 'Ho).  The last thing Dr Seuss' heirs need is to have the sales of the good doctor's funny animal books tank because of a couple of images straight out of a Sax Rohmer pulp story.

I actually have a bunch of Dr Seuss' racially insensitive imagery in my collection, in the form of the book Dr Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel.  His images of Japanese politicians and soldiers is jarring, but that's propaganda for you.  For the record, even with the caustic depictions of Japanese persons, Dr Seuss was vehemently anti-Nazi, and condemned antisemitism and anti-black racism.  We all have our blinders, and propaganda DOES involve dehumanization... even the lovable cutups at Warner Brothers animation division got involved in this ugliness.  It's not ideal.  Dr Seuss recanted his anti-Japanese sentiment and wrote the book Horton Hears a Who! after a postwar visit to Japan.  

Besides his little foray into anti-Asian imagery, for which he atoned, Dr Seuss has consistently advocated for liberal values.  Besides the anti-bigotry message of Horton Hears a Who!, Dr Seuss wrote the Cold War satire The Butter Battle Book, the anti-discrimination tale The Sneetches, the anti-authoritarian Yertle the Turtle, and the environmentalist fable The Lorax.  In a particularly delicious bit of irony, Fox News, the very media outlet which is decrying 'the Left's' 'cancellation' of Dr Seuss, featured a scare story back in 2012 about how The Lorax is leftist indoctrination.  Do these people remember anything?

I'm all for right-wingers buying up tons of Dr Seuss books because they believe that Dr Seuss works have fallen prey to 'cancel culture'.  Yes, righties, bring the liberal propaganda of The Lorax and The Sneetches into your homes to instruct your children about how driving species into extinction and judging people based on superficial differences are bad things.  Keep fighting your stupid culture war, Pyrrhic victory after Pyrrhic victory, fighting stupid battles over topics you don't understand.  Meanwhile, thinking people can examine the career of one Theodor Seuss Geisel, recognizing that even the kindest of people can harbor prejudices, and that the true measure of a human being lies in putting aside one's darker tendencies and seeking absolution.  I don't think this particular culture war will last long- some fan of Fox is going to crack open one of Dr Seuss' later books and decry it as Marxist propaganda, and Fox will be blamed for trying to indoctrinate children.  Meanwhile, the sales of Dr Seuss books will go on as usual, with nostalgic parents buying them for their children, and fans of funny cartoons about weird animals buying them for themselves.  The books have broad appeal, and the excision of a handful of them from the canon will ensure that said appeal will apply to a global market.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

We Need to Talk About Andrew

 I've been on the record stating that Andrew Cuomo really wasn't my first choice in his primary races, being way too centrist, and an opportunist to boot.  Still, it's a bit jarring to see the barrage of sexual misconduct accusations that have been leveled against him this week... and I really can't address the issue better than this post at LGM.  I mean, 'the picture' is problematic:

 


The optics are bad... a young woman grimacing as the older governor touches her while sizing her up as if she were one of the prosciutti hanging in the background.  If you told me that it was a picture of a kindly uncle consoling an upset niece at her father's funeral, it wouldn't seem so bad, but that's a wedding picture.  Of course, the other allegations, involving inappropriate conduct toward subordinates, is worse.

I believe that these allegations against Cuomo should be investigated, and Leticia James, our Attorney General, is the perfect person to do so- she's smart, and no-nonsense, and won't let partisan politics blind her.  Speaking of partisan politics, Lindsey Graham has been particularly gross, suggesting that Democrats 'follow the Republican model' when dealing with Cuomo.  If I were a prominent Democrat, I'd make a deal- we'll get rid of Cuomo as soon as the Republicans get rid of Trump, Jim Jordan, Madison Cawthorn... need I go on?

The other big Cuomo scandal to come to light involves downplaying nursing home deaths due to COVID-19.  In the early days of the pandemic, hospitals released recovering COVID patients to nursing homes before they were completely cured, a procedure which was blamed for the horrific death tolls in nursing homes.  It was a bad decision, made at a time when there were no good decisions- the hospitals were filled to capacity, and nursing homes have the wherewithal to provide for a level of care necessary, but not as intensive as ICU care.  It was a Catch-22 situation.  I used to work in a nursing home from time to time, and I know how terrible conditions can be during outbreaks (I worked during a norovirus outbreak which ended with entire floors being quarantined), but there was no better alternative for these early patients.  That being said, the coverup was really bad, and unnecessary- we need authorities who tell us the truth, especially during crises.

If Cuomo gets bounced, I certainly won't shed a tear for the guy.  Lieutenant governor Hochul, an upstate conservative Democrat, is no prize pig, but if Cuomo is found to be a serial harasser, I will support her ascent.  Going forward, though, I think I'm only going to vote for women in the foreseeable future, and non-nepotism hires going forward.  Enough with toxic males in power.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Flashbacks in the Toy Aisle

 Before going to work tonight, I stopped by the local H-Mart in Yonkers to pick up some produce.  This is exactly the place to purchase a seven pound head of napa cabbage and a radish the size of your forearm... as you can probably tell, I love the place.  While strolling the aisles, I saw a toy display, which featured several doll playsets with a cooking theme, and one immediately caught my eye:

 


Cake and fondue... it takes me back to my youth.  I'm a quarter-Swiss, so I can eat fondue non-ironically.  In fact, the typical birthday treat for myself and my siblings was fondue, it's a fun centerpiece for a celebratory meal.  Being a quarter-French (an eighth Alsatian), our preferred form of fondue was the fondue Bourguignonne, in which cubes of beef are boiled in a screamingingly hot pot of oil.  It's just the sort of meal to serve to a bunch of children, each with their own long hafted, sharp fork.  Nobody had their eye poked out, and the only burn injury at the table was a coffee spill.

I love this toy, because it reminds me of my youth, and there's a perverse appeal to a depiction of a toddler entrusted with a fondue pot, a sort of baby with a nail gun vibe.  I hope some child receives it as a gift and grows up to love fondue, both ironically and non-ironically... and nobody needs to be hospitalized.