Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Vin's Birthday 2021

Here's wishing a happy birthday to my brother Vincenzo, who hosted me for Thanksgiving last week.  It has been traditional in our family to celebrate Vin's birthday as a continuation of Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception.  Vin's in the Huntsville region, and the presence of the space center there has meant that there are several really good German restaurants in the region, so we had a nice gemütlich celebration of his natal day.

Vin has always exhibited limitless generosity and boundless hospitality, and last week was no exception.  Soon after Vin entered the army, he posted the family address on a bulletin board, letting his comrades know that they had a place to have a good meal and to stay while on leave.  His generosity and hospitality hasn't diminished one bit.

Vin and his wife, also generous and family-oriented, have raised their children well, instilling in them the values that they embody.   They are smart kids, generous, and talented (they are all musical and the girls paint).  Vin himself, retired from the Army, has been working for an aerospace-related company.  He's able to work out of home, which has made the family dog ecstatic, but he maintains the 'strack' discipline that was instilled in him as a teenager- he's out of the house by 5AM to hit the gym every morning.  He's found a great work/life balance that gives him plenty of time for his family.

I'm proud of Vin, his wife, and the kids, and grateful to be related to them.  THAT is the main reason why Vin's birthday has always been a continuation of Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Back in the Proverbial New York Groove

I just got back to New York around 11PM last night (heading to work, rather than home), and already my vacation seems like a dream.  Looking back over last week, I realize that I accomplished a lot.  Mom was able to get her booster shot at a drugstore in Alabama (there being a paucity of vaccines in her Virginia environs).  I got to see my nieces taking riding lessons and help out their friends at the stables.  I got to hear my nephew practice singing for his upcoming Christmas recital.  I got slobbered on by a very large dog on several occasions.  I set up a Thanksgiving Zoom that all of my siblings and most of my nieces and nephews were able to participate in.  After driving my mom back to her home, I was able to catch up with another nephew and meet his girlfriend (who in retrospect comes across as someone I've known for years), and tried out a great Uyghur restaurant not far from Mom's house.

The ride from Virginia to New York was surprisingly uneventful, given the travel day I picked.  I left Mom's house after 5PM, aiming to cross the mighty Hudson in plenty of time to work the midnight shift.  I honestly think at aiming to be at one's destination at an off-hour was the key to my success... I mean, who in their right mind wants to arrive at midnight?  The shift itself wasn't bad, I had taken a nap the prior afternoon.  At any rate, it was nice to see Ginger.  I got home in time to say good morning to my upstairs neighbor, who was getting ready to take the kids to school, and slept most of the day away.

As I said, last week already seems a bit unreal.  I'm already in 'Long Winter' mode- the deal I made with my coworker was that he'd work Thanksgiving (a London boy, it's not a holiday that resonates with him) and I will work Christmas so he can spend the day with his family.  I'm back in the New York groove, I just hope that, with a new COVID variant, it won't be a New York rut.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Second Leg of the Return Trip

Today, my plan is to leave Mom's house in northern Virginia and drive straight to work the midnight shift in New York's lower Hudson Valley.  Before hitting the road, I am planning on meeting Boy B, my eldest nephew, son of my sister, for lunch.  He's currently in the Space Force (no joke) and traveled from Cape Canaveral to Washington DC to spend the holiday with his girlfriend.  I'm looking forward to meeting her, she was brave enough to participate in a Thanksgiving Zoom with various aunts, uncles, and cousins, and seems like a sweet young lady.  She's currently in grad school for political science, so she's a bright gal, too.

Timing the departure is the difficult part, because traffic will probably be heavy.  The fact that I am hoping to reach my destination at an odd hour should work in my favor.  I won't be in any hurry for lunch to end.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

First Leg of the Return Trip

Today, I tackle the first leg of the return trip, post-Thanksgiving.  We'll be leaving soon, heading out at the same time my nieces leave for their horse riding lessons... there's no urgency to leave, and we want to maximize our time together.  

Mom and I spent a good chunk of Wednesday watching the girls ride, and more importantly, of watching them help their friends out- they ride horses owned by other riders, many of whom have nine-to-five jobs, and are trusted to exercise these animals.  I also watched, with pride, the girls helping an older friend, a recent college grad, load a balky horse onto a travel trailer, using a companion horse to reassure the reluctant one to enter.  They are smart, kind kids, and I just love spending time with them.  I'm a bit bummed that we don't really have time to see them in action for another day.

Yeah, there's no urgency to leave, no 7AM start to adhere to. Mom and I are going to stick to the winning formula of our trip down- a light breakfast, supplemented by occasional snacking on the drive.  The goal is to avoid stops as much as possible while we are traversing what Charles Portis dubbed 'pelagic America'. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Fuzzy Buddies, 'Bama Style

I just wanted to put up a quick post after a long day of hanging out, goofing off, and eating leftovers.  First, I wanted to post a picture of Trick or Treat, a perfect Halloween cat.  I first met 'Tricky' as a kitten, when I visited my brother and the family in Italy while he was stationed there.  This tiny little black kitten was sleeping in the middle of the bed that had been prepared for me in the guest bedroom.  He's bigger now, a solid 18 pounds, and as I said, a perfect Halloween cat:


And then there's Lupin, my goddaughter's 90 pound Belgian shepherd.  She wanted to get as 'wolfy' a dog as she could find in the shelter, and Lupin fit the bill:


As soon as he saw me, he went berserk, jumping up on me and covering me with slobber.  Tonight, before we went out to a nice restaurant to celebrate Vin's birthday, he coated my entire head in slobber, despite my telling him, "If you want to kiss me on the lips, you'd better buy me dinner!"  So far, he only stole one of my socks, once... I honestly feel flattered that he finds me so fragrant.  Honest.  He's a goofball, and very popular in the neighborhood, among both two and four-legged inhabitants.  I met a bunch of his friends as I tagged along on walks with this dog.  My goddaughter chose wisely, though I know she really wanted a dragon, and had to settle on a dog, albeit a wolfy one.  Oh, well, we're still working on our unholy plan to genetically engineer dire wolf/corgi hybrids to unleash an army of terrifying dire corgis on an unsuspecting world.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving 2021

Here's wishing my American readers a happy Thanksgiving, and all of my other readers a great Thursday.  I am particularly happy to be spending the holiday with family for the first time in a couple of years.  I'm even more thankful that we all get along. I know family relationships can be stressful, even fraught, for many people, and that makes me a bit sad.

Anyway, here's a fun little Thanksgiving-appropriate song by droll Australian songwriter Courtney Barnett:

I hope your list is long... and thanks for all of your support over the years.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Hunting Season Peril

The annual deer hunting season is starting in many US states, and in true pandemic era fashion, it's probably going to be fraught with peril... the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been found in deer throughout the country.  This is disconcerting, because this zoonotic virus now has new, common hosts in which it can mutate into new strains which might infect human hosts.

The immediate danger is that hunters will be exposed to the virus while field dressing the deer they kill.  It might very well be a case of who's culling whom?  Well, those hunters are in danger of overpopulation, anyway.

Post written and scheduled pre road trip.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Non COVID-19 Death Rates

One interesting side narrative to the pandemic horror show that has dominated the news for almost two years is that COVID-19 vaccine recipients have lower non-COVID mortality rates than the unvaccinated:

After standardizing mortality rates by age and sex, this study found that COVID-19 vaccine recipients had lower non–COVID-19 mortality than did unvaccinated persons.

I don't know why this is true, but I have a hunch- I suspect that vaccinated persons are more risk-averse than the unvaccinated.  I know that I have been more careful since the pandemic started, less inclined to go through yellow traffic signals, less likely to take shortcuts in routine tasks.  Simply put, I don't want to end up in a hospital emergency room when resources are scarce and pathogens are high.  Additionally, vaccinated persons aren't taking dangerous off-the-wall 'remedies' for COVID symptoms, as unvaccinated persons are.

Post written and set up before my road trip.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Alabama Getaway

Today, Mom and I drive down to the greater Huntsville metropolitan area for a Thanksgiving celebration with my brother Vincenzo, his lovely wife, and their beautiful, talented children.  As I noted in yesterday's post, the idea of flying during the continuing pandemic, with alarming incidents of passengers assaulting airline staff, was not appealing to my Mom.  Living in Virginia, where the vaccine distribution system is not-so-great, Mom hasn't been able to get her booster shot.  Thanks, Virginia healthcare system!

Most of our journey will be along Interstate 81, which cuts through the heart of Appalachia and terminates in Tennessee.  I've done this drive before, and it's a beautiful ride, though it gets tedious.  We'll split the driving duties, which is a good thing, because it'll probably be a fourteen hour drive.

Post title taken from one of the 'poppier' Grateful Dead songs:

Truckin' would have been appropriate here as well...

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Virginia Bound

Today, I will be driving to Mom's house in northern Virginia, on the first leg of my Thanksgiving vacation trip.  The plan is to stay overnight, then hit the road early tomorrow on our trip to Alabama, where my brother Vincenzo lives.  Seeing the news coverage of assaults on airline personnel, and disruptions in air travel, convinced Mom that flying would not be a pleasant prospect.

I have to confess that I am a little behind the 8-ball this morning... drinking a lot of whisky the night before tends to do that.  It's a good thing that I pack light, and plan on wearing sweats for most of the week.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

A Surprise Guest Star

A couple of days ago, I got a text message from my great and good friend, J-Co, who I have known since high school, indicating that he would be coming down this weekend, and staying at the house of Kid, another high school friend.  We made plans to have lunch in a pub at 12:30PM, and were joined by Scott, who worked with Kid in college.  These guys are family.

As is typical, we mused on old times, and joked about aging- middle age is a hell of a time to find out one is lactose intolerant.  We spoke of old friends gone silent (a couple of them went through an obnoxious crank stage), and kids gone noisy- when your adolescent boy knows that saying '69' is hilariously transgressive, does one even bother to determine if he knows what it means?

J-Co had lovely things to say about my mother, and her ability to conduct long, meaningful conversations with younger people, noting that his mother didn't have that knack, but his wife does.

I had worked the graveyard shift, and was feeling a bit punchy, but we made plans to hang out at Kid's house, with me heading to the Irish butcher's shop to buy bangers (a particular favorite of J-Co's) and other ingredients for a full-breakfast to be eaten at dinner time.  We will probably drink whisky and play video games, maybe watch a classic bad movie from our youth.  There's no trip like the nostalgia trip, and here I go...

Friday, November 19, 2021

Open Season

I can't say I'm surprised about the Kenosha Killer verdict.  I'm not privy to the jury deliberations, but the judge sure didn't seem impartial.  Needless to say, I don't agree with the verdict, and am legitimately surprised that they didn't even get the defendant on weapons possession charges.  It's a verdict entirely predicated on our nation's demented laws, which serve those who seek to act with lethal violence... provided that they are politically correct.

The truly disconcerting thing about the verdict is that, indeed, the shooter lived out the greatest MAGA fantasy, he killed some 'libs' with impunity.  These are the people who pushed for hit-and-run down protestors bills, after all.  Gunning down white people who stand in solidarity with Black people is also a longstanding right-wing tradition.  I can easily see an uptick in right-wing violence, as other creeps decide that they want to kill others for fun and profit.  These are the people who venerate mass shooters as 'saints', and this verdict is pretty much an early Christmas present for them.

Already, they are yearning for more violence, more killing: The whole situation is beyond fucked up.  As a New Yorker, I tend to feel like a spectator to this violence, due to our sane gun laws, but the right-wing judiciary is poised to export the killing to our state.  While there's always been an undercurrent of murderous violence in this nation, it's now looking like Open Season.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

From the Conspiracy Fever Swamps

Tonight, I've seen a bit of conspiracy whackaloonery I'd never seen before.  QAnon Anonymous podcast host Julian Feeld is conducting a Twitch stream in which he's watching the QShaman, who the podcast hosts met last year, expounding on conspiracies about the UN teaming up with Antifa, Gay Cannibal Sex Clubs, Hollywood Satan worshipers, and other lunacy.  I'd hunt down the video, but I don't even know what platform it's on, and frankly, QShaman is pretty damn boring.

Among the bizarre tidbits is the claim that Dr Anthony Fauci is Mother Teresa's son.  I feel somewhat embarrassed that I haven't heard this one before.  The big feature of conspiracy culture is claiming that there are secret connections between and among individuals, that there is a shadowy cabal of interconnected actors, weaving their sinister web to entrap the normies of the world.  EVERYBODY of note is in on the conspiracy, or has been deputized to fight it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Real Sin is Biden's Win

 At Mock Paper Scissors, Tengrain has a post about the upcoming internecine battle in the Republican Party, couching it as a violation of Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

The Republican powers that be are livid about the GOP congresscritters that voted for the infrastructure bill, though in typical Republican fashion, those who voted against the bill often try to take credit for the benefits of the bill.  

The infighting is not actually due to the legislation being passed, or even to GOP members of the House breaking ranks with the Party... the real sin is Biden's win.  Failure to block Biden from achieving a policy success is unforgivable.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Secret Science Club Zoom Lecture Recap: Our Gambling Brains

Tonight, my great and good friends at the Secret Science Club are presenting a lecture by neuroscientist and biomedical engineer Dr Sridevi Sarma of associate director of the Institute for Computational Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.  Today's lecture was the annual SSC/Dana Foundation collaboration.

Dr Sarma's subject was the role of the brain in gambling, and the choices that one takes while betting.

Human decisions vary even when the options stay the same- even going to the same store with the same ice cream flavors, we choose different flavors.  This is subtly different in a casino, where a person receiving the same cards might bet different amounts, even though the odds are the same.  Emotions, confidence, motivation, all these dynamic motivational biases, change over time.  What is going in the brain as these internal biases change?

We access human brains through non-invasive ways, such as non-invasive functional MRI.  Snap decisions, such as slamming on brakes while driving, are made in hundredths of a section- how does one get a snapshot of a quick decision?  

SEEG implantation is used to aid patients with drug-resistant epilepsy- seizure onset zones can be located and removed- invasive monitoring needs be to used to locate these zones- for ten patients, electrodes are implanted through holes drilled in the skull to make intracranial EEG recordings.  The electrical signals have to be examined to locate the pathological section of the brain.  While in the hospital waiting until a seizure occurs, subjects get bored, so they are provided with games, including games in which they can 'gamble'.  Their neural activity while gambling is monitored.  Why are some people more comfortable with risks?

The gambling task assigned by Dr Sarma elicits internal bias- the game is akin to War, but with an infinite, though limited deck with only five cards (2,4,6,8,10).  The patients are dealt a card, and must choose to bet 5 or 20 virtual dollars on whether or not their card is higher than a second dealer (computer) card.  If a draw ensues, no money is awarded or lost.  If, say, a player receives a 2 or a 4, it stands to reason that the lower bet would be made, an eight or a ten would probably result in a 20 dollar bet if someone wants to maximize their reward.  If a 6 is played, a risk averse person would bet five virtual dollars.

Decision strategies vary across subjects and trials.  Most subjects bet in a fashion similar to that of the Zoom lecture card- with high or low cards, decisions are made quickly- with the ambiguous 6 card, the decision is made more slowly.  Oddly, not everyone bet twenty dollars on a ten card or five on a two card- sometimes, they bet five on a ten or twenty on a two, even though ten is a sure win and two is a sure loss.  Some players elected to make poor, irrational bets.  

Across the ten subjects, there were three types of gamblers- static gamblers make the same decision on each card, always betting high on an eight or ten, low on a two or four, and low on a six.  Typical gamblers bet high on eight or ten, low on two or four, and flip-flopped on a six.  Dynamic gamblers changed their bets on every card, even it it didn't make sense- perhaps these irrational choices were due to emotions.  This has implications on gambling addiction, perhaps a subject feels lucky- 

Dr Sarma had a hypothesis about dynamic gamblers: an internal bias is causing variability within subjects and can predict behavior.  How can we test this hypothesis?  Computational modeling can help.  A gambler on a winning streak can experience an emotional bias which changes strategy- past results can be recorded and models based on it.  Behavior with fluctuate with internal states and cards receieved.  There are two strategies in a betting decision- a logical input decision and an internal state decision, and the internal state decision should be based on past results, such as winning streaks.  Internal state cannot be measured, but models can be extrapolated based on the past. This model is a state-space model of a system.  In this casee, the probability of a high bet on a 6 card is plotted against a bias signal over time- high bias signals tend to result in high bets on a 6.  Among the ten patients, there was a spectrum between logical players, who don't allow internal bias to alter their behavior to biased players, who are flip-flopping on all cards.

After this, an attempt was made to quantify the gamblers- some gamblers believed in a hot hand fallacy, allowing winning streaks to bias their opinions, while some believed in a gamblers' fallacy, with winning streaks causing pessimism, even though the odds aren't altered.

What separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?  Neuroscientists will answer 'cerebral cortex', Jerry Seinfield said 'money'.  Money causes people to act irrationally.  Why do people gamble poorly?  What makes them make bad decisions?  Something in the brain must be encoding bias.  Neural recordings were made of the ten patients as they gambled.  Multiple signals were measured in their brains, and the regions of the brains activated by the trials were marked.  Frequency domain analysis was made- the brain is measured much like a radio- different brain areas work at different frequencies, and a spectrum map can be made over time.  The power of neural signal oscillations and their frequencies can be used to determine which areas of the brain are active.

The insular cortex, which is involved in emotion, is involved in encoding changes of bias state.  The left side of the brain tends to increase activity when bias is low, while the right side of the brain increases when bias is high.  Encoding bias occurs at high frequency.  Bias is a right-left push-pull system.  Dr Sarma joked that it is like the old trope of the devil and the angel whispering in a character's ears.  

If a researcher knows where bias is encoded, can she decode the bias?  Can she predict intent from the bias signals of the brain?  Can bias be estimated from the results of reading a brain?  Yes, emotion can be tracked without asking a subject how he or she feels.

Dr Sarma thanked a bunch of colleagues and sponsors, including neurosurgeon Dr Jorge González-Martínez of the Cleveland Clinic, who has performed a lot of surgery on drug-resistant epilepsy patients.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  The first question involved the effect of having fat stacks on decision making- Dr Sarma noted that the mere fact of having a lot of money can increase bias, as one's cash makes them more comfortable with risk.  Another question involved the subjects- these were all subjects with brain pathologies, and this was taken into account when bias encoding maps were made.  Regarding TBIs, if someone is young, their brain will rewire to some extent, with less of an incidence of this among older patients with less plastic brains.  

Dr Sarma cited Patient H.M., who underwent radical surgery for epilepsy which impaired his short-term memory, but not his long-term memory, and Phineas Gage, who had a traumatic brain injury which resulted in personality changes.

In the test, the individual with the highest executive function was playing the most rational game, and won the most money, but did not pay much attention to the game.  The individual who flip-flopped the most also paid little attention to the game.  None of the testing occurred while the patients were seen to be in danger of a seizure.  Even when inter-seizure neural activity spikes were observed, that data was discarded.

Another questioner asked if she thought that a quick course on probability would change behavior- Dr Sarma believed so.  Another question regarded the role of boredom- are subjects doing the irrational thing because they are bored?  Attention in signaled in the brain by an alpha power signal, and it was determined that bias is not a byproduct of lack of attention.  The best player was not paying much attention.

Bias is distributed throughout the brain- the push-pull system involved in go/no-go decisions is not located in one space. Depression may have played a role, one-third of epilepsy patients suffer from depression.

Another questioner asked if this information could be used to help in investment decisions.  Dr Sarma noted that there are ethical considerations.  Could brain stimulation be used to alter decisions?  Magnetic stimulation (TMS) could be used, but would that be ethical?  Could altering risk-seeking behavior have military applications?  She is not involved in that sort of work.

Addiction involves a hijacking of the risk, reward system- we feel good when we are rewarded, but the rewards aren't always the ones that were selected for evolutionarily.  Most of our evolution didn't occur while monetary systems were in existence.

Are these discrete brain studies being collated to make a grand map of the brain?  Dr Sarma noted that hers was the first study of gambling behavior and brain activity.  Other studies have involved memory, emotion.  All parts of the brain are being mapped out, the major conferences have about 30,000 attendees, so it's difficult to make one superimposed map of the brain.  Access to human patients is limited, but the NIH has special panels that evaluate studies of the patient population.  Dollars are being thrown at it, ten years ago such studies were not funded on the same level.  The community is more accepting, small studies are more common, and government funding is at a high.  The puzzle pieces are coming together, but a big project is in its infancy.

Right now, most of Dr Sarma's research is involved in improving the treatment of epilepsy patients.  While she is studying decision making and motor function in these patients, most of her work is modeling brain activity before the onset of seizures.  She is bringing computational power to clinicians, working on 'heat maps' of the brain to pinpoint seizure activity.  She is also studying chronic pain- can neural patterns in patients with chronic pain be restored to a more healthy state?

Once again, the SSC has delivered a fun, informative lecture.  Kudos to Dr Sarma, and Margaret and Dorian and the good people of the Dana Foundation.  While I haven't been able to find a video of this lecture subject, here's an interview with Dr Sarma about individualized medicine:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!

Monday, November 15, 2021


This morning, after working the graveyard shift, I decided to attempt to get my COVID-19 booster shot, known as a borcester shot in Massachusetts.  The state-run vaccination site at the Westchester County Center opens at 8AM each day.  Upon arrival at the Center, the very polite, very professional National Guard personnel told that, indeed, walk-ins were welcome.  

At 7:55AM, I was the second person queued up.  The man ahead of me, a 60-something Latino, told me that he didn't speak English.  His name was Carlos, and he had taken the bus from Port Chester to get his booster shot.  When we were admitted after a temperature check, I told him that, if he needed any translation help, I would be happy to assist.  

I gave my ID and vaccine card to the pleasant guardswoman at the desk and told her that, although I wasn't immunocompromised, I would be spending the Thanksgiving holiday with my eighty year-old mother, so I wanted to get the shot before heading down to her place.  I finished the initial interview at the same time as Carlos, and the two of us proceeded down a couple of corridors to the actual vaccination area.

One of the healthcare workers asked me, "Are you together?"

"Not really.  We came separately, but if he needs help, I guess we're together.  He's a new friend, met this morning."

We were ushered into the same small room for the injection.  The nurse administering the jab spoke pretty good Spanish, and between the two of us, we were able to make sure Carlos knew about any contradictions, alergias por ejemplo,  Eleven minutes past 8AM, I received the needle stick... I didn't even feel a thing.  The kindly, good-humored nurse reminded us 'no cervezas' tonight, that we should drink plenty of water.  Carlos and I were given slips of paper reading 8:26, the end of our post-shot observation period, and we were shown the way to the observation room.  At exactly that time, I told Carlos, "Podemos irnos."  "We can go."  

When we left the building, we shook hands, and we parted ways, he to the White Plains TransCenter, I to my car.  I ran a few errands on my way home, and crossed the threshold of my apartment by 9:15.

I have a little bit of soreness at the injection site, but otherwise feel fine, just like I did after the first two inoculations.  Needless to say, I slept much of the day, but have been drinking plenty of water.  So far, I haven't manifested any weird magnetic superpowers, and the only friend I made today was a man named Carlos from Port Chester.  I wonder if I should feel slightly let down...

Sunday, November 14, 2021

A Most Disquieting Read

The Guardian has a most disquieting article about the Republican Party's efforts to subvert democracy, primarily by filling Secretary of State positions with Trump loyalists, who would presumably refuse to certify any elections won by any Democratic, and democratic, candidates.  Infamously, Trump pressured the Georgia Secretary of State to 'find' just enough votes to overturn Biden's victory.  To his credit, Secretary Raffensperger refused to do Trump's bidding.  We may not be so lucky if the GOP stacks the deck, not only with voter suppression measures, but with corrupt election officials on the state and local levels.

Even more disturbingly, right-wing whackos are threatening election officials, leaving one-third of them feeling unsafe.  The Electoral College already shifts a great degree of power from high-population, heavily Democratic states to rural, heavily Republican states... if Republicans are allowed to appoint 'alternative electors' to thwart the will of voters, it will further distort the electoral demographics in this country.

All told, the article is a troubling, though important, read.  The time to counter these antidemocratic, anti-Democratic measures, is now, and the Democrats in Congress (yeah, it's only a couple of right-wingers) are not exactly busting their humps to do anything.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Mascot Punished More than the Head Coach

Out of all of the 1/6 insurrectionists, the one who stood out the most, due to his outlandish demeanor and outrageous behavior, was the moron known as the QAnon Shaman, who prosecutors want to sentence to approximately four years in prison.  While the idiot wrote a menacing note to Mike Pence, and was carrying a spear-headed flagpole, he didn't appear to have engaged in any violent behavior during the Cuckoo Coup.  The proposed sentence is ten months longer than that faced by a creep who actually assaulted a police officer.  The cultural appropriater is primarily guilty of being the most visible of the rioters, the individual who became the painted face of the movement.  I'm not excusing his behavior, and he needs to face some consequences for his actions, but I think he (and society) would be better off with him getting mental health treatment.

The real reason for this post is that he will most likely receive a harsher sentence than the leaders of the insurrection, from Trump on down.  He was the mascot of this losing team, but will face stiffer penalties than the head coach and the first-string players.  I guess that's typical of this society, the little people bear the brunt of the penal system rather than the real criminals.  At least he'll get organic shaman chow while he's in the pokey.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Anti-Vaxxers Now Un-Vaxxers

It looks like the anti-vax crowd has come up with a new scam, un-vaxxing.  The influencers, by which I mean grifters, are telling the rubes how to draw the vaccine from their bodies:

This recipe for a 'detox' bath, as hot as one can stand, sounds like a prescription for all sorts of skin ailments:

I imagine that emergency rooms will experience a rush of patients presenting with bad cases of beef scrote, a not-necessarily-welcome change from horse paste ass

Wonkette's Robyn Pennacchia wrote a very funny post about this subject. In her post, Robyn mentions the conspiracy whackaloonery about the vaccines containing parasites and graphene oxide to nourish them into chestbursters... for a genuine example of this lunacy in action, here's an asshole mentioning it around 5:40 in this video by stalwart chronicler of American decline Andrew Callaghan: 


I suppose this particular development in the anti-vaxx community is a win/win... people are getting the vaccines due to mandates, but the idiots who don't believe in vaccinations are subjecting themselves to self-inflicted pain and suffering, a just punishment for their stupidity and selfishness. The one caveat here is that these creeps are probably subjecting their children to these treatments... they have a bad record of child abuse.  For those assholes, prison sentences are a proper prescription.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Our Annual Veterans' Day Post

Another year, another Veterans' Day, that strange day when the veterans of the US military are lauded, while the needs of many veterans are left unmet.  As of 2019, there were over 67,000 homeless veterans in the United States.  Reliable statistics indicate that approximately 12.9% of veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Since 9/11/2001, over 30,000 veterans have taken their lives.

I'm not a fan of empty platitudes.  We owe our veterans better care, financially, socially, and psychologically, than they receive.  We are bombarded by exhortations to 'thank the troops' while neglecting to care for them in a meaningful fashion.  Military personnel and veterans are used as political props, as long as it is convenient, but attacked when they are seen as political opponents.

We need to do better as a society.  We need to be more judicious about military deployments, we need to better support military personnel in the field, and we need to provide better benefits when they return home.  In short, we need to treat our veterans as valued members of our society, rather than backdrops for photo ops.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Clean Up Your Own House

I used to love the New York Times, I used to believe that reading the Times was instrumental in garnering a deep understanding of current events.  The love affair ended when I realized that the Times was a mess, particularly the op-ed section.  I don't even click links to the Times that I find on other websites.  The Times now announced that it would assign a reporter to the misinformation/disinformation beat:

I sure hope he turns his attention to the New York Times, with its mendacious Maggies and their cast of Douthats, Stephenses, and the like.  Clean your own house before you seek falsity elsewhere.  And, goddamnit, get me my damn magazine cover shoot!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Live Takes on Last Year's Faves

I make no bones about 2020 being perhaps the worst year I've experienced, but one bright spot amid the sadness and horror was the fantastic music which was released last year. Perhaps my favorite album release was Boston-based Sweeping Promises record Hunger for a Way Out, which evokes the best of late 70s post-punk with its sparse sound, with melodic basslines and jagged guitar riffs, punctuated with short bursts of synthesizers. The heart of the band is Lira Mondal, whose sweet vocals and chunky bass define the band's sound. 

 In the post-vaccine world, the band has been touring, and they sound even better live than they do in the studio (I miss the synth-noodling though), with the vocals taking precedent in the mix. Here's the title track for their debut album:


 I've always been partial to upbeat songs with somewhat downbeat lyrics, and Lira's opening "You're older" sets the tone for this short, sharp song about aging and regret. There's nothing about this song that I don't love. For pure comedy, here's the song Atelier, which I think could have been called 'Etsy Regretsy', with its tale of a craft-disaster perp contemplating a masterful artist who even has a nail color named after her:


 While I love my job, working weekends does has its disadvantages, as the band played in Brooklyn recently, while I was stuck on the job. Here's Out Again, my introduction to the band: 


It's good to know that this terrific new band has been able to tour. I sincerely hope that they will be able to record a follow-up to last year's fantastic debut, and continue to tour safely in a post-pandemic-ish future.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Ahistorical Nonsense Is Their Stock-in-Trade

For all their claims to love the past, Conservatives are always shoving history down the Memory Hole.  I've long maintained that the symbol of the GOP should be a mayfly rather than an elephant.  Perhaps the greatest example of this is historian Kevin Kruse's long-standing denouncement of Dinesh D'Souza's revisionist history about the Democratic Party and racism (hint, Democrat and liberal are not synonyms).

The current revisionist history is particularly disgusting... Dennis Prager, who is supposed to be one of the 'smart ones', has a particularly deranged take on the AIDS crisis:

I'm old enough to remember the 1980s, and Prager's assertion that gay men and intravenous drug users were not pariahs is grotesque and mendacious... but grotesquerie and mendaciousness is all thes people have.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Toxic Masculinity Caucus

Republicans have a special talent for finding non-existent problems to crusade against. Today, we have Josh Hawley vowing to protect problematic d00ds:

To paraphrase myself, masculinity isn't inherently problematic, but toxicity is. 

As someone who is 12 out of 10 on the manliness scale, I have to not that 'real men' don't opine on what makes a real man. Sensitive guys, gay men, transmen... every individual gets to determine what his approach to masculinity is, to hell with the authoritarian assholes like Hawley. 

It's here where I note that the performative masculinity promulgated by the Republicans is stupid and silly.  As an example of this stupid bro shit, Ted Cruz released a video of himself using a rifle to cook bacon, a stunt disrespectful to both bacon and firearms.  When Ted Cruz had an opportunity to 'man up' and take on a defender's role, he fled a disaster (more a consequence of bad policy than natural) and left his constituents to freeze while liberal women did the work of helping stricken Texans.

As not only a manly man, but a member of 'the left', I will echo Hawley and say that, indeed, he and Cruz and the rest of them are part of the problem.  Hawley and Cruz are both graduates of elite universities, they should know at least a smattering of Latin.  The problem is that their concept of virility is void of virtue.  I sure hope Hawley tries to make this bizarre new front in the culture war a thing... I can't wait to see what sort of ridicule results.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Texas Brain-Flaw Mass-o-Q

On Monday, I posted about QAnon watchers discovering that the QCumbers were gathering in Dealy Plaza in Dallas for the return of JFKs, Jr AND Sr.  According to some of the crazier members of this pack of crazies, JFK Sr would reveal himself to be alive, reinstate Trump as President, Trump would name JFK Jr as his Vice President, then JFK Jr would declare Trump, I shit you not, King.

It seems that the Q crowd never left Dallas, even though neither of the Dead Kennedys showed up.  Last night, they held one of their disingenuous 'save the children' (from Killary's pizzeria basement sex dungeons) rallies, and returned to Dealy Plaza this morning for another Qtenanny.

Once again, Dallas-based journalist Steven Monacelli is doing a yeoman's job covering this madness:

As always, it's the little details which are truly amazing. In this case, the attendees were instructed by a man with a parrot on his shoulder to look for a pyramid which signifies that the Illuminati murdered a 'good guy' at that location:

Apparently, the QAnon people were trying to reverse the curse that the Illuminati cabal placed on Dallas on that fateful November morning. I would find this all very perplexing, but I've read this book before


Friday, November 5, 2021

Can't Spell Joe Biden Without J-O-B

It looks like the October jobs report is pretty damn good, with 531,000 non-farm jobs being added, and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6 percent.  It looks like Sleepy Joe has not been sleeping on the job.  Once again, a Democrat has been tasked with fixing an economy that a Republican regime had destroyed, which proves that Socialism works.

It will be interesting to see how the Republicans and their MAGA rank-and-file will try to attack President Biden.  They already lied about the price of milk, inviting ridicule, but it seems like of their attacks on the JOeBiden President will stick.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

A Bit Late for Florian

I'm not one to place too much stock in the Rock and/or Roll Hall of Fame's induction process... the institution has some incredible blind spots, and it virtually ignores entire subgenres of rock.  This year, though, the Hall of Fame finally inducted German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk.  Of course, this is a year and a half too late for Florian Schneider to have witnessed the celebration.  I went on a deep dive into Kraftwerk's discography in my memorial post for Florian, so I figure I'll post a couple of Kraftwerk's most influential tracks on this post, the ones which were instrumental in the development of Electronic Dance Music, Techno, and Hip-Hop.

The first track I'm choosing is Trans Europa Express, which was sampled in Afrika Bambaataa's early hip-hop track Planet Rock:


The second is Heimcomputer, released in 1981, which presaged the increasing presence of computers in our homes and lives:

As I noted, I embedded a bunch of Kraftwerk tracks, from all stages of the band's career, in my memorial post for Herr Schneider, and an overview of the band's influence on subsequent musicians.  It's nice to see them get their 'official' accolades from the Rock and/or Roll establishment (hideous that such a thing exists), but it would have been nicer to see this recognition come during Florian's lifetime.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Virginia Postmortem

I was initially bummed about the Virginia gubernatorial election result, but I am now more optimistic- after all, the former heart of the Confederacy is now a swing state.  McAuliffe was a Clinton-era retread, a middle-of-the-road candidate who didn't exactly set the world on fire.  Also, Virginia has been Ground Zero for the new culture war issues.  The real issue is, perhaps, sheer contrariness on the part of Virginia voters:

I don't quite get it, saddling one's state with a whacko for four years in order to 'punish' a president who's been in office for ten months, but I'm not subject to Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which seems to affect about one-third of our population.

That being said, Purple Virginia wasn't something I would have expected twenty years ago.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Election Day 2021

Today is Election Day here in NY State.  I had to work a 9PM to 9AM overnight because my principle workplace is a polling site.  I had to open the place up for the poll workers at 5AM (a half hour earlier than previous years), and facilitate their setup process.  Before they arrived, I cordoned off sections of the building that are not open to the public, placing a display shelving unit in front of the stairs down to the basement, where there are offices and an employees' kitchen.  Our two main bathrooms are closed to the general public, and to block off the area where the accessible bathroom has been designated for the poll workers, I strategically placed a large folding table.  My one saving grace is that I can do a lot of 'two person' jobs single-handedly, being a bit of a brute.

The main local race is for the County Executive.  I have received mail from the local Republican machine attacking George Latimer, the incumbent Democrat, for somehow being a party to a fiendish plan to bring in tens of thousands of immigrants from 'South of the Border'.  I've made my position on this clear.  Locally, the mailers for the Republican candidate for City Council in my district-and-ward basically say in not-quite-dogwhistles, "MY OPPONENT IS BLACKITY-BLACK-BLACK!!!"  I can't abide by this race-baiting bullshit in my diverse city.  It was a pleasure to vote against these GOP assholes, who have no positive accomplishments to recommend them to non-bigoted voters..

Monday, November 1, 2021

Spooky Season in QAnon Land

According to folklore in the Western World, we are in the middle of a time (All-Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day) when the veils between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead are thin.  Today is All Saints' Day, when it is traditional in the Catholic world to venerate saints, those individuals who are abiding with God due to lives of remarkable holiness.  Tomorrow, All Souls' Day, is when the Faithful Departed who abide with God due to lives of common decency, but not outstanding sanctity, are commemorated... in the tradition of the Mexican diaspora, it is marked by offerings made to departed family members.

I QWorld, this time in which the veils between the living and the dead are thin is marked by the return not only of JFK, Jr (who survived a murder attempt by Killary Killton and might even have become two individuals), but of his parents:

This tweet is beautiful on so many levels, from its reference to a grassy noel (sic) to its prediction that the Julian Calendar will be restored, resulting in a second Halloween this year.  Two Halloweens, Two JFK, Jrs?  What could be better?  Not only would that result in a longer period in which the veils between the worlds are thin, it would also mean that there would be s second Half Price Candy Day. 


Oh, dear!