Sunday, June 26, 2022

Intersectional Pride Day

Today was Pride Day in NYC, and for the first time in two years, the march was packed with participants... people were confident to step out during this weird, not-quite-fraught stage of the pandemic, and more cogently, people wanted to show defiance in the face of the Supreme Court's bad rulings.  NYC Pride actually kicked off with Planned Parenthood, which released a statement: 

"Pride was born of protest and will always be a space to fight injustice and discrimination. Join us as we advocate for bodily autonomy at this year's NYC Pride March."

I've long said that intersectionality is the key to fighting for human rights- any attempts to compartmentalize human rights issues can lead to balkanization, which makes divide-and-conquer easy.  In particular, reactionaries have a talent for using fear and misunderstanding of marginalized groups as a Trojan horse to revive culture wars that people assumed they had already lost.  This year, their campaign against transpersons was a pretty transparent attempt to roll back LGB rights as well.

Reactionary authoritarians have been pretty upfront about wanting to roll back many matters considered settled law.  Not content with overturning Roe vs Wade, Clarence Thomas has stated that he would like to overturn Griswold vs Connecticut, which grants married couples the right to contraception, Lawrence vs Texas, which grants individuals the right to engage in certain sexual acts (sodomy), and Obergefell vs Hodges, which grants the right to same-sex marriage.  Like the Terminator from the movie, he will not stop, ever, until the rights of non-fundamentalist Christian men are dead.

It's heartening to see that the organizers of Pride teamed up with pro-abortion rights activists.  They know that any attack on bodily autonomy will negatively impact them.  It's going to be a long summer of rage, at least it kicked off with a party.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Rage at the Moment of Triumph

The American Right has won their greatest victory against civil society in fifty years, but the rank-and-file don't seem happy about it.  Their backlash against protests was predicted by the FBI, and it has materialized:

Meanwhile, the online rhetoric from right-wing misogynists has been predictably vile: At least a multi-pronged approach to fighting for abortion rights is coalescing, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exhorting young pro-abortion rights activists to be 'sand in the gears': Personally, I believe that a coordinated boycott of all things Red State is in order, and a general strike, followed by an extended 'buy nothing essential' period. Hit the reactionaries in the wallets, where it hurts. In the meantime, an executive order rescinding Trump's expansion of tax cuts for politically active churches should be enacted immediately. It's going to be a slog, but we didn't choose this war. We'd damn well better win it, though.

Friday, June 24, 2022

A Day We All Saw Coming

It's finally happened, the six reactionary religious fanatics of he Supreme Court have overturned Roe vs Wade, which almost two-thirds of Americans support.  It's the most egregious example of minoritarian rule- six individuals lording it over 64% of the populace.  Republican states have already put 'trigger laws' into effect, laws which will ban abortions as soon as Roe has gone the way of the dodo.  If you had asked me ten years ago, I probably would have opined that I suspected that Republican opposition to abortion was merely a culture war issue to rile up the base and get them to the polls,  but that was before the GOP gained a critical mass of authoritarian fundamentalists on the Supreme Court.  I was disabused of this notion before the 2016 election.

Thankfully, states such as New York and New Jersey are adopting safe haven policies for red state girls and women seeking abortions.  Of course, without organizations such as the Brigid Alliance, which help patients in need seek abortion care, this is only helpful to girls or women who have the ability to travel.  Abortion bans only effect poor women, the daughters and mistresses of Republican senators can always go on 'spa vacations' to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

To compound the danger, the GOP Supreme Court won't be content to abolish legal abortions, Clarence Thomas has already announced that he will try to overturn legal birth control, same-sex marriage, and even sex acts that deviate from heterosexual vaginal penetration with the penis:

I don't exactly know how this will all end up, these unpopular policies are being supplemented by voter suppression policies, so even overwhelming numbers at the polls might not be sufficient to move the needle in Republican-ruled states.  In the short term, I would suggest boycotting Red States, and the products they make, all the while pressuring corporations to push back against this War on Women.  I also support a general strike, in which non-essential abortion supporters (if you are in a state that bans abortion, I'd even skip essential work) refuse to work, or even to purchase non-essential items.

The Republican war on bodily autonomy and privacy has been ramped up considerably, it's time we start fighting back in earnest.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Secret Science Club Secrets Lecture Recap

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring experimental psychologist Dr Michael Slepian of Columbia University, he is also the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics.  Dr Slepian has recently released a book, The Secret Life of Secrets: Hoe Our Inner Worlds Shape Well-Being, Relationships, and Who We Are, and the current lecture concerned having and keeping secrets.

People think about secrets every day.  In a typical day, a typical person speaks or writes seventeen thousand words, the equivalent of forty-eight pages, double-spaced.  About 30% of these words are used to disclose personal experience.  About 18% of the words are small talk.  About 3% of the words are saying nice things about people, and about 5% are saying not-so-nice things about people.

Secrecy is common, it is all around us.  Dr Slepian cited secrets such as Coca-Cola's formula, the NSA, and Scientology.  Secrecy is an intention to keep some piece of information unknown by one or more people.  Dr Slepian asked, "What is it like to keep a secret?"  Secrets are a burden, they can be draining, they can form a gulf between ourselves and others.

Secrets feel heavy- perception and behavior are scaled to the costs of acting on our environment- more resources are used, the world is more challenging to interact with.  In one survey, participants were asked to estimate the slope of a hill- individuals keeping a big secret judged the hill to be steeper than individuals without big secrets did.

About ten percent of the subjects in one survey were preoccupied with infidelity. This can actually make tasks such as carrying groceries or walking the dog more difficult.  Thinking about secrets makes one feel more burdened.  Dr Slepian said that he would have stopped studying secrecy, but another researcher failed to replicate his work, so he had to continue.

Whether one sees a secret as big or small is not as important as how preoccupying a secret is.  Big secrets are not always preoccupying, people learn to live with them.  The burden of secrecy is less about what the secret is, and more about how often the secret is on one's mind.

As an example of a secret, Dr Slepian brought up infidelity.  Among Americans, 30% of respondents have been unfaithful to a partner (not necessarily a current partner) at one time, the figure worldwide is about 20%.  If individual A is in a long term monogamous relationship with B, and has a one-night stand while on a business trip, A has a secret at the moment A decides not to inform B.  Even when B is not present, this secret will be a burden.

There are different ways to keep secrets, such as concealment, dodging the question.  This is a small slice of the secrecy experience.  Secrecy can result in mind-wandering, unresolved goals, and a failure to seize opportunities to take actions to solve problems.  It's not necessary to actively hold back secrets, they can spontaneously come to mind.

In one study, respondents were asked to categorize experiences, and asked to list the ones they kept secret:

A typical respondent kept 13 secrets at a time.  We keep the same kind of secrets.  People think of their secrets far more than they conceal them.  Secrets cause people's minds to wander more often than non-secrets.  This matters for well-being.  Frequently. concealing secrets doesn't harm individuals as much as preoccupation with secrets does.  The stereotype of concealing a secret being harmful does not occur often... most secrets never come up in communication.  People are ready for the moments in which they will conceal a secret, but not for the mind-wandering and preoccupation.

Dr Slepian noted that more data sets were required to gauge the harm of keeping secrets, and he displayed several diagrams concerning various dimensions of secrets and the harm they cause:

Each dimension of secrets has a degree of harm, such as causing bad moods or shame.  Secrets can make us feel ashamed, feel isolated, and feel uncertainty.  The paradox of secrets is that concealment is not usually harmful, but thinking about a secret is.

Can people think about secrets in better ways?  While people can prepare to conceal secrets, can they prepare to think about them?  Confiding secrets to a third party can help- it doesn't reduce concealment, but it does reduce mind-wandering.  A small glimmer of hope can have a big effect- confiding leads to people feeling more capable.  People tend to choose the right people to confide in, compassionate, assertive people.  Would a confidant be burdened by a secret?  It's best to choose someone slightly removed from the situation, someone whose morals are aligned and won't be scandalized (and prone to reveal a secret as a punishment).  For confiding to backfire, it has to fail spectacularly.  It takes a really negative response to make people second guess revealing secrets.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  The opening question, from some Bastard in the audience, involved cultural/religious factors in keeping or revealing secrets.  Dr Slepian immediately picked up on the subtext about the sacrament of confession in the Roman Catholic church.  He noted that, in comparing cross-cultural differences, it is useful to keep in mind how collectivist or individualistic a society is.  In collectivist cultures, there is an inauthenticity to keeping secrets- it breaks norms, there is a greater expectation of revealing in order to keep order.  That being said, in certain societies in which marriages are arranged, divorce is not an option, and social networks are small, there are more secrets.  In societies in which you find a partner on your own, it's easier to leave on your own.

Another question involved the positivity or negativity of a secret, what's the difference between keeping a birthday party secret and keeping an affair secret?  Positive secrets feel good because the point of concealment is to make the big reveal more exciting.  Such secrets make us feel in control, and add to well-being.  

Are there secrets we should never reveal?  What harm would result from revelation?  If you want to reveal something to make yourself feel better, you should nevertheless consider the harm revelation would do to others.  Dr Slepian cited Dan Savage's "one time secret" model, but noted that repeat offenses aren't covered... ask yourself what your partner would want.  Even with a one-time lapse, 77% of respondents stated that they would want to know.  Dr Slepian also noted that there's no reason to figure this out on your own- seek a second opinion.  There's no reason to be alone with your secret.

In one study of HIV positive men in the 1990s, men who concealed their sexual orientation had worse health outcomes and died sooner than men who were open about it.

Asked about methodology, and the candor of respondents, Dr Slepian noted that, in internet surveys, the level of detail is shocking, people want to talk about their secrets.

What differences are there between children and adults when it comes to keeping secrets?  Children will deny even when there is evidence to the contrary (cooking crumbs on their shirts), they don't have other strategies.  Adolescents are better at holding back secrets, which can cause problems

Regarding neurodivergent individuals, there is not enough data.

Journaling might be useful, as long as it isn't rehashing the past or merely chronicling a harmful record. Dr Slepian mentioned PostSecret as an anonymous way to write a secret down and anonymously reveal it. 

Some secrets just 'time out', they simply lapse.

What's the utility of secrecy?  A world without secrets would be less functional.  Secrets protect the feelings of others.  The optimal level of secrecy is not zero.

Regarding the difference between guilt and shame, guilt is "I did a bad thing", shame is "I am a bad person".   

Once again, the Secret Science Club has dished out a fantastic lecture.  Kudos to Dr Slepian, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.  High fives all around.  For a taste of the Secret Science Club experience, check out this video with the good doctor:


Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!!!

POSTSCRIPT: After the lecture, I joked with Dr Slepian that he should go into a Catholic church and participate in confession, just to experience the process of revealing a secret anonymously to a complete stranger.  I told him that he could find movie scenes depicting the sacrament so he could do it in the traditional fashion.  He joked that he would need a 'wingman'.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Brooklyn Bound

I'm headed down to the Gowanus section of Brooklyn this afternoon for this month's Secret Science Club lecture.  It's nice to have this particular routine back in my life, the ritual of taking the subway from the end of the line in the Bronx to downtown Brooklyn.  In this year's trips, I've been walking from the Atlantic Avenue subway station to the beautiful Bell House, which I've been doing since the shooting on the R Train, my usual transfer from the 4 Train.  Luckily, there's a really good Middle Eastern bakery along the way.

It's comforting to be able to return to this important part of my life after two years, and even better to see my Brooklyn friends, who are actually from the entire NYC metro area.  Being able to recap it for you folks is the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Return of a Fan Favorite

Longtime readers will be happy to know that my beloved Ginger has returned to work.  She's still cone-laden, but my coworker who took her home for her convalescence left town for a couple of days, so he brought her back, though she is under 'house arrest' for two or three more days, when the vet will evaluate her and, most likely, remove the cone.  

Ginger is like the kid who had the accident late in the school year, and has to spend summer vacation in a cast.  Here she is, begging to be let out, which is a no-no under her current circumstances:

Right now, she is confined to the building which houses the employee break room (she also has the run of an activity room and the building's spacious basement). The cone definitely cramps her style, though- it impedes the catlike grace which is supposed to be her birthright.

It's nice to have Ginger back, but it's a shame that we can't have any adventures together onsite.  Hopefully, by the weekend, we'll be on the scout around the grounds, without cones or stitches to cramp Ginger's style.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Signal Boost for an Important Perspective

One of the important functions of social media is creating interpersonal connections.  I'm new to the whole mainstream social media thing, but I did have a nice exchange on Twitter with Jeremiah Prophet, a Dallas-based journalist with cerebral palsy.  Jay writes entertainingly about a variety of topics, such as writing political advocacy for Beto O'Rourke as early as 2019.  His tale of having his computer hacked reads like a scary little techno thriller, with the details of the features he needs to operate his computer adding a terrifying angle to the story... it's as educational as it is gripping.

Give Jay a read, his is an important voice, and an entertaining one.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Juneteenth, Firmly Established

I figured that I would post about Juneteenth on the actual day, even though it being a federal holiday, it can be celebrated on Monday, 6/20.  I've been posting about Juneteenth for over a decade, because I had the great good fortune of working with an East Texas gal, a history buff, who had grown up celebrating the holiday with her family.  Workplace diversity is a strength, dear readers, and having a friend group from many backgrounds just makes you smarter.

Unlike, say, Memorial Day, which seems like it should be more somber, Juneteenth being a party day is appropriate- the holiday celebrates the actualization of what Independence Day promises, the prospect of actual implementation of the Declaration of Independence's lofty prose.  I can't think of a better way to celebrate than a cookout (after reflection on the holiday's meaning)... it being a cornerstone of African-American culture.  The foods typical of American summer celebrations are rooted in African-American foodways, as historian, chef, and activist Michael Twitty has so ably documented.  

Have a happy Juneteenth, and think of it as a supplement to the Fourth of July.  Sure, racism is still a problem, and there is a vicious backlash against teaching about the true role of race in these here United States, but this is an occasion to celebrate gains that were made.  The fight can be resumed tomorrow, must be resumed tomorrow.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Learning With Lizzo

Last week, there was a bit of a pop music controversy revolving around the use of an ableist slur by all-around good girl Lizzo.  In her new release, Lizzo used the word 'spazz', which is extremely offensive in the United Kingdom, a slur against persons with cerebral palsy.  Lizzo, whose oeuvre embraces inclusion and body positivity, issued an apology to the disabled community and rereleased the song with different lyrics, with the offending term excised.  Thankfully, she was forgiven, because she's way too fine to be this stressed.

In Lizzo's defense, the word in question is is not nearly as offensive in the USA, where it is typically used to denote simple clumsiness, often in a self-deprecating fashion.  The situation is pretty much the flipside of the use of the C-word, a show-stopper in the US, but not that big of a deal in the UK, as all-too-many English web commenters will tell you.  It's to Lizzo's credit that she took the concerns of disability advocates seriously, embraced this learning experience, and made the necessary change.  Intersectionality is important, and Lizzo executed it well.

It's often said that the US and the UK are two countries divided by a common language.  I'd say that we are two countries united by Lizzo.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Another Lap Around the Sun

It's that time of year, another successful completion of a lap around the sun...  I'm of the opinion that birthdays should be multi-day affairs, and accordingly, started celebrating last night with the bar trivia crew.  Oddly enough, tonight, the very night, will be the most low-key night.  I'm writing this at work, and don't have any real plans for the night.  Tomorrow, I'll be meeting friends for dinner and a couple of seasonally appropriate gin-and-tonics (while Chick Drink Summer is ongoing, I feel it unfair to order complicated cocktails while at a busy bar).  The festivities will continue into next week, as I coordinate with some June Baby friends... one friend asked me, "What do you have in mind?"  My answer: "A return to a semblance of normality."

When my mom called me this morning, she jokingly asked if I felt any different.  I can't say I do, but it's nice to be able to feel like I have a birthday again after two years of Nothing Much Going On.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Chalk Repatriation

What a difference a year and a half makes... back in Fall 2020, I pilfered requisitioned a box of sidewalk chalk from the art supplies of the children's activity center of one of our sites so I could draw social distancing marks on the pavement outside of my principal workplace, a polling site, for the November 2020 elections.  Knowing that it would be a big day, with many voters coming to the site, I prepped the place in advance, marking out six foot intervals and opening up a side door to maintain an one-way flow of foot traffic.  Those were the fraught days, before the vaccine rollout... they were politically fraught days too.

This year, we are reintroducing events that had been canceled during the height of the pandemic, beginning with a family-friendly event which is to take place next month.  Not having a need for the box of chalk at my principal workplace, I will be repatriating the sidewalk chalk... back to its proper place in the children's activity center art supply.

The chalk served me well.  It served the public well.  I was able to draw cheerful rainbow social distance markers to enhance the safety of the local voters.  Now, it's time for our young attendees to use the chalk.  I have no doubt that it will serve them well.

It's been a strange two years, it's nice to feel that some return to normality is taking place.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Calls for Sedition Are Coming from Inside the House

It's damning footage, the images of Georgia representative Barry Loudermilk leading a tour of individuals (who later ended up storming the Capitol) through the various Congressional office buildings and the Capitol itself: 

The optics aren't so good, especially the scenes of these creeps taking photographs of security checkpoints and stairways... not exactly tourist stuff.  The video from the following day, in which one of these monsters shows off a spear improvised from a flagpole, while calling for Nancy Pelosi's scalp, only drives home the horror:

This certainly looks like sedition to me, and Loudermilk should be dragged off in cuffs and leg irons for his role in the insurrection... it sure looks to me as if he enabled a reconnaissance of the vicinity in advance of the attack, an attack which probably would have proved fatal for Democratic lawmakers. 

Thank goodness he was providing intelligence to people of little intelligence.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Big Bastard Buys Big Boy Camera

A couple of months ago, so right-wing nincompoop asked me, "How is Brandon working out for you?"  I responded that I was doing well, that the high gas prices (still much lower in the US than in the rest of the world) weren't affecting me that much because I drive a small car, live in a region with top-notch public transportation, and dwell in a neighborhood in which I can conduct the vast majority of my errands (and recreational activities) on foot.  I made fun of MAGAs for driving oversized pickup trucks with immaculate beds because they were invested in performative masculinity to cover their insecurities.

I have to note that I am still doing well in the Biden Economy, well enough that I was able to indulge in some crass consumerism... I actually bought a good camera, the sort of camera one buys when one wants to learn the rudiments of serious photography.  Here is a picture of the camera, a Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR (say that ten times fast), taken with my cell phone camera:

My primary reason for purchasing this camera is the presence this year of some really spectacular birds at my various worksites.  I figured I owed it to them, to my readers, and to myself to take better photographs of them, and the other fauna and flora onsite.  

Right now, I am learning how to use the camera as a camera, and hope to learn how to use the camera as a data storage/transfer device in the coming days.  Hopefully, I'll have some good photos by week's end.  In the meantime, one of my coworkers (the all-around Good Guy who takes care of Ginger when she's on medical leave) is very knowledgeable about photography, and told me to ask him for advice anytime.  Another coworker told me that she had a similar camera sitting in her office, and needed to practice how to use it effectively.  I joked to them both that we should form a workplace camera club.

Thank you, Brandon!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Upper Class Twit Sends Warning

There are few people on this planet worst than the UK's Prince Andrew, serial sex pest and all-around disgusting person.  I have to note that one of his exes is pretty bad as well... a certain Lady Victoria Hervey a paranoid gun nut who totes a gun around Los Angeles because she is terrified of the proles committing crimes against her.  In a particularly disgusting bit, this member of the UK nobility has a warning about proposed post-Uvalde gun control measures:

Lady Victoria said the Texas shooting was 'terrible' but claimed taking the right away  [to carry guns] 'could be disastrous'.

She controversially claimed: 'It could lead to mass genocide if the government was to go to war against its people.'

Mass genocide, eh?  Of whom?  Countless millions of Native American, Aboriginal Australian, Irish, and Bengali people couldn't be reached for comment.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Perilous Pride

Given the fact that right-wingers in the US have tried to spark a new satanic panic, featuring LGBTQ Americans (transpersons in particular) as the current scapegoats,  researchers monitoring the far right have warned that Pride events could be under attack this year.

In Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, this is precisely what happened, as various far-right groups decided to menace a Pride event.  In a surprising, though heartening, turn of events, the police (not known to be simpatico with LGBTQ persons or, indeed, left-of-center individuals) actually arrested members of neo-Nazi group Patriot Front, who had apparently brought weapons to the vicinity in a rental truck.  Thirty-one fascists were charged with conspiracy to riot.

Christopher Mathias of the Huffington Post wrote an in-depth article on far-right efforts to turn Idaho into a fascist fiefdom, also appearing on the QAnon Anonymous Podcast to discuss this issue.  Put succinctly, Idaho has a serious neo-Nazi problem, but I have no doubt that other Pride events in smaller cities nestled in the bosom of Trumpland could also face potential attackers.  Fascists disrupted a Pride event in Dallas last weekend.   Here in the NYC metro area, there is a critical mass of LGBTQ individuals and their allies that I'm not overly concerned about Pride events here, though such attacks certainly occur even in the most gay-friendly neighborhoods.

It's depressing, this Culture War which once seemed won by tolerant people, has been jolted back to life, pushed by righty media giants as well as neo-Nazi edgelords.  I don't believe the regressives will win, but I'm sick of the fact that these 'last gasps' never seem to be the end of the bullshit.  Stay safe, people, protect each other, and defy these assholes with every fiber of your being.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Sanctuary in NYC's Southeastern Suburbs

The Biden administration still manages to surprise me in pleasant ways, such as the proposed creation of a marine sanctuary in the Hudson Canyon, an underwater trench approximately 100 miles (180 kilometers) southeast of New York City.  The Hudson Canyon originated as the former mouth of the Hudson River, carved out by erosion during the Ice Age, when ocean levels were lower than the present levels.

The video from NOAA concerning this announcement is gorgeous:

A few years back, I attended a special presentation at Yonkers' own Hudson River Museum which celebrated the Hudson River, including a topographic representation of the New York Bight, including the Hudson Canyon.  The Hudson Canyon also came up in a couple of Secret Science Club lectures, one by Columbia University's Dr Vicki Ferrini about mapping the ocean floor, and one by Dr Mercer Brugler of CUNY's City Tech about using submersibles to explore the ocean depths.  It's gratifying to see the Biden Administration moving to protect this region, so close to the metro area I love so much, and the interesting, diverse residents of this suburban neighborhood.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Career Advice

Yesterday, I received a phone call from an old friend, a guy I'd gone to high school with.  He's a hapless sort... every friend group seems to have one of these, but generally well meaning.  He called me to tell me that the CVS chain of drugstores was administering COVID vaccine booster shots.  Readers of mine will recall that I had already gotten my COVID booster on Monday.  Like I said, he's generally well meaning.

In the course of our conversation, he decided to give me some career advice, even though he's been unemployed for four years.  THANKS, BUD!  Although he's never heard me complain about work or money in all the years he's known me (I had a big mop of curly blond hair when we met back in MUMBLEMUMBLE), he told me that he thinks that I would get higher pay and a better benefits package if I took a job at the Yonkers Raceway Casino.  Please note that he has no idea what my pay and benefits are like.  I noted his concern, and told him that I preferred working in a position which gives me a lot of outdoor time in the fresh air, observing the flora and fauna, and (when she's not out on sick leave with a cone) playing with a delightful cat (Ginger should be out for another week-and-a-half) than working in a windowless building, probably in a dark room watching camera monitors for the subtle hints that someone is tampering with a slot machine.

Of course, he's not the sort of person who ever takes advice himself- for instance, a mutual friend told him to pare back his resume to one page, and even offered to edit it, but he declined her offer because he thinks that someone in a Human Resources department cares about his high school extracurriculars.  Yeah, he's smarter than everybody around him, as is evidenced by the sound decisions he has made throughout his life.  Every friend group seems to have one of these guys.

As an aside, the pandemic was the best thing that ever happened to this guy- he was just about to lose his last unemployment extension when COVID hit, and he was able to receive a pandemic-related continuation of his unemployment benefits.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Gonna Catch up with the Hearings Later

This morning, the DJ on the local commercial music station made an offhand comment about having to use the split-screen feature on his television to watch the Rangers playing in the NHL conference finals and the 1/6 hearings simultaneously.  Me?  I'm taking a night off for bar trivia (it's my weekly ritual with good friends, well, ONE weekly ritual with good friends, along with a weekly online game night).  I figure that I can catch up later, no matter how important it is... we'll be dealing with the aftermath of 1/6 for years to come.

The importance of the hearings into 1/6 can be gauged by the responses that even 'polite' Republicans have to it- via Tengrain, we have the oleaginous David Brooks:

Using the events of Jan. 6 as campaign fodder is small-minded and likely to be ineffective. If you think you can find the magic moment that will finally discredit Donald Trump in the eyes of the electorate, you haven’t been paying attention over the last six years. Sorry, boomers, but this is not the Watergate scandal in which we need an investigation to find out who said what to whom in the Oval Office. The horrors of Jan. 6 were out in public. The shocking truth of it was what we all saw that day and what we’ve learned about the raw violence since.

Yes, David, the horrors of Jan. 6 were out in public, but the networks that put those horrors into motion were not out in public, and that's what the hearings are about.  The big players who funded the insurrection and transported the perpetrators are still out there, still in positions of power.  Damn right, the events of Jan. 6 are campaign fodder.  Hell, the campaigns of politicians who participated in the insurrection in any way should be suspended, and the roles of those politicians cannot be ascertained without the hearings.

I'm sure it will be riveting television, but a ritual is a ritual, so I will have to watch it in reruns.  At any rate, I think I deserve a night off.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Conservatism Kills

Put succinctly, Conservatism kills.  Sure, right-wing policies towards firearms kill, but the culture of death goes even deeper, on a more basic level.  There is currently a 'mortality gap' between heavily Democratic and heavily Republican counties and it is widening. 

The team compiled data from more than 3,000 U.S. counties in all 50 states and found mortality rates decreased by 22% in Democratic counties but dropped only 11% in Republican counties, according to the study published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.

This gap is apparent across a wide range of pathologies, medical and social:

Mortality rates in Democratic counties dropped from 850 deaths per 100,000 people to 664, but in Republican counties, mortality rates declined from 867 to 771. The mortality gap widened across leading causes of death in the U.S. including heart disease, cancer, drug overdoses and suicide.

Democratic counties also saw greater reductions in deaths from chronic lower respiratory tract diseases, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease.

The driver of this mortality gap is a disparity between health incomes for white Democrats and white Republicans, with health outcomes being better for white Democrats.  Black and Hispanic Americans tend to have worse health outcomes than white Americans, but their death rates are falling more rapidly than those of white Republicans.  

The Affordable Healthcare Act, aka Obamacare, played a role in the decreasing mortality rate in Democratic leaning counties, but personal choice also plays a role.  Democrats are more likely to engage in healthy habits, such as receiving vaccinations, exercising (we love our bike lanes), and eating well (unlike Republicans, we don't think that eating vegetables is 'gay' and don't see hamburgers as a lifestyle).  

As a progressive, I really want to see an improvement in longevity and quality of life for all Americans, but if Conservatives insist on remaining in a death cult that is killing them, can't they speed things up in time for the November midterms?


Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Another Kitchen Ordeal, Courtesy of Fox

Via Tengrain, we have a Fox segment about the travails of living under California's environmental regulations which actually reveals the complete culinary ineptitude of the Fox entertainers:

My favorite bit is the bullshit about the '45 minute fried egg'. That sounds more like a sacrifice to a volcano god.

 Now, a real pro doesn't even need a stove to cook, but then again, this fine fellow was a true-blue liberal:

Fox cooking segments tend to be disastrous, because of the stupidity of the individuals involved.  I'm reminded of those old Ronco commercials, which made routine tasks look fraught with angst, peril even.  My favorite Fox cooking segment involved Diamond and Silk making a 'no sugar added' banana pudding, with hilarity ensuing:


I'm sure you all see the flaw in that technically true 'no sugar added' claim...  I also love their distinction between 'Nilla Wafers and vanilla wafers, though that's not as stupid as a forty-five minute fried egg.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Shots on Both Sides

This afternoon, I received my second COVID booster shot.  I had been planning to get it before mid-June, and a workplace mandate merely moved the date up a week or so for me.  Since the big government-run vaccination sites have closed, I went to a local CVS store for the inoculation.

This not being a big COVID injection site, while registering for the booster, I was given the option to receive an additional vaccine.  I chose the initial shingles shot.  My brother Vincenzo had the shingles and declared it the worst pain he'd experienced in his life.  A coworker who had it said that he was bedridden for two days, his body alternately feeling like it was on fire or it was being stabbed with multiple pins,,, with a barely endurable constant itching as a background bad feeling.  Shingles shot, please!!!  

The pharmacist at CVS. a consummate pro, gave me the COVID jab in the left arm, and the shingles shot in the right arm.  She told me that I might experience redness and swelling around the shingles injection site, and instructed me to drink plenty of fluids.  She told me that I should come back in two months for the second shingles shot.  Four hours after receiving both shots, I feel fine, though after running some brief errands, I plan on being home for the duration, drinking water and generally loafing around.  Yeah, what a way to spend one's day off!  At least it's a nice afternoon for sitting in the back yard, counting my blessings for having a high tolerance for injections.

Post title a paraphrase of the title of this post-punk classic:

I think I'll pump my fists a bit... I've heard tell that arm movements help distribute the fluid from the injection sites, lessening the incidence and duration of injection site soreness.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

I Am Not a Number, I Am a Free Deer!!!

This year, a new minor character joined the cast of this blog, a handsome young fellow with a mysterious past.  I'm talking about Deer 58, a young stag wearing a radio collar and a pair of ear tags bearing the number which serves as his name.  He's relatively tame, and settled into his role on my worksite with aplomb.  He was later joined by Dear 57, another stag which is much more skittish, not nearly as amenable to being photographed.

Yesterday, my coworker learned about the mysterious past of Deer 58 (and Deer 57).  While he was working the afternoon shift, he spotted two young men in our overflow parking area, standing next to a car bearing a sign for White Buffalo Inc, a wildlife management company.  Two young men, perhaps not so different from 57 and 58, were standing next to the vehicle, searching for something.  That something, my coworker was told, was the radio collar used to track 57 and 58, and thirty other deer in the region.  The radio collars have small charges installed, which blow the collars off when a particular study has finished.  Deer 57 and 58 were now free of their collars, though they still bore the ear tags, which sometimes fall off and sometimes don't.

The White Buffalo employees were looking for one of the collars, they get paid a bonus for every collar they retrieve.  My coworker joked about getting a cut if he found the collar before they did...  In the course of their conversation, my coworker learned that 57 and our friend 58 tended to move from our site to a nearby park- they favor the park in the winter because of the many oak trees on the premises, which provide a bounty of tasty acorns which help tide the deer over in the lean season.  They move to our site in more clement weather in order to take advantage of our varied ecological niches- meadow, forest, and marsh.

White Buffalo is also conducting a similar deer survey on Long Island, and will compare and contrast the data from the two locales.  Here's where I note that our sizable campus is near a broad swathe of green space, and the deer even wander into downtown areas such as the pretty village of Tarrytown (it's a good town).

It's my sincere hope that Deer 58 won't be subject to a cull, or the like.  He makes for a charming presence on the property, and I kinda look at him as a coworker.  If he's calm and contentedly hanging out on site, it probably means that no unauthorized persons are skulking about.  As far as I'm concerned, he's on the payroll, albeit on a more informal basis than myself or Ginger.  I'd like to see him having the run of the place, a free deer.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

He's Supposed to Be One of the Smart Ones

I'm a 'better dead than crimson' kind of guy, and every so often my contempt for that institution is vindicated, and I'm not even prepared to go into the really egregious stuff today.  Right now, I'm just talking about a guy who is supposed to be a right-wing intellectual, whose main claim to fame is 'destroying' college libs with 'facts and logic', but whose actual debate tactic is a Gish Gallop.  Yeah, I'm talking about Republican wunderkind Ben Shapiro, who has some thoughts about school shootings:

He even invokes his vaunted 'logic' in his bizarre rant, though he sounds deranged, especially when he says that he's 'unaware of any situation in which the threat of a good guy with a gun has not ended a situation with a bad guy with a gun '.  Ben is notably ignorant, or perhaps wants to bury the existence of that right-wing terrorist altogether.

Ben is supposed to be one of the 'smart ones', but he's deranged- what kind of loon would think that broaching this topic is a smart rhetorical move?  Ben's an idiot, but that's been apparent for years.  Like I said, I'm a 'better dead than crimson' kind of guy, and practically every day proves me right.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Jersey Bound

Today will be a busy day.  My baby brother, Gomez, and his family will be in Northern New Jersey because my niece is playing in a hockey tournament all weekend.  She's a whiz on the ice, as well as being an academic powerhouse.  Her dad played hockey in high school, and currently plays in an adult league, as well as working part-time as a referee.

I have to work, but will be able to meet them after the first game for dinner.  I haven't seen them since before the pandemic started, since they came to visit NYC in Summer 2019.  We had a blast back then, and I'm sure tonight will be a lot of fun... I just have to look up places to dine in the greater Wayne, New Jersey vicinity.  The only business I know of in Wayne is the now-closed lawn ornament place these guys took their name from:

 Jersey being the Land of Diners, I'm sure I'll find a spot pretty easily.

Thursday, June 2, 2022


It's been a rough week for my coworker Ginger, who in an eerie repeat of  last year, got herself a problem with swelling of the pinna of her ear (the other ear this time).  The swelling didn't go down, so Ginger once again has been coned.  She looks like a punk rocker with her head half shaved:

Like last year, Ginger will be spending the next few weeks at a manager's house because she shouldn't be outside with her ear like that. As I noted, it's a weird case of déjà vu all over again.  The real bummer this year is that we are open to the public, so Ginger won't be able to strut her stuff in front of an adoring audience.  She's like the kid whose arm breaks just before school ends, who has to spend the entire summer vacation in a cast, watching the other kids splash around in the pool.  She'll be getting TLC, no doubt, but it would be better for her to be gallivanting around the grounds, playing in the sunshine.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Happy Birthday, Sis

Today, I commemorate the birthday of my super sarcastic sister, nerd extraordinaire and bestower of nicknames (she was the one who dubbed my older brother Sweetums and my youngest brother Gomez, both 'nyms which have stuck).  She is currently in the process of settling in back in Northern Virginia, where she'd lived for a long stint, after a two year stint in the SF Bay area, which she didn't enjoy... she's too much of a curmudgeonly Yankee to really like California.  It's also nice that she'll be living a half hour's drive from Mom.

I texted back and forth with her a bit.  She and the family are doing well- the youngest is enrolled in Tae Kwon Do classes, and her middle child is working crazy hours during his summer break.  Her oldest is in LA with the Space Force, the perfect situation for the son of two literal rocket scientists.  Besides the hectic nature of moving cross-country, things are going well.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Secret Science Club Zoom Lecture Recap: The Last Stargazers

Tonight, my great and good friends of the Secret Science Club are presenting a Zoom lecture with astronomer and astrophysicist Dr Emily Levesque of the University of Washington.  Dr Levesque's new book is The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers.  Dr Levesque has used some of the most sophisticated telescopes, including using NASA's SOFIA flying observatory.

Dr Levesque has studied the birth and death of the most massive stars.  The Last Stargazers is her first popular science book.  She noted that 2020 was a difficult year for releasing books, and noted that, at a library association meeting, the topic of the importance of first lines in books are extremely important.  She joked that the first line of her book is: "Have you tried turning it off and on again?"  It was uttered to her while she was a 24 year old grad student working at the Mauna Kea observatory on her PhD thesis on the topic of the environments where stars were dying.  There was an unsettling 'bloonk' noise, and the technician noted that she thought it was okay, because she didn't hear the crash of the mirror falling off its supports.  In a worst-case scenario, the secondary mirror would crash into the huge primary mirror (about nine meters in diameter).

She was the astronomer in charge and she'd heard horror stories about the destruction of telescopes, such as the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia.  She knew that leaving the telescope would mean giving up research time if it were a false alarm, but if there was a worse case scenario, she would have presided over the breaking of the world's largest piece of glass.

Dr Levesque noted that images of space are beautiful and fire the public imagination.  She briefly touched on the image of the astronomer as a man in a white lab coat, an image she wants to supplant.  She wanted to be a scientist ever since she was a six year-old.  The summer after her second year as a physics student in MIT, she worked at the Kitt Peak observatory.  She was advised by her professors' colleagues to make sure to drink coffee, but not too much, to remember to order a nighttime lunch, and was warned that there were scorpions that matched the color of the carpets.  She listened to stories of lightning strikes and raccoon run-ins, and was itching to make stories of her own.  These stories of behind the scenes adventures make up her book.

Dr Levesque had adventures of her own while writing the book, visiting telescopes and labs she'd worked in before, interviewing fellow astronomers.  She's not an investigative reporter, but she figured out how to glean stories from researchers, and piece together a common thread

What is your most memorable observing story, whether firsthand or tenth-hand?  She wanted not only anecdotes, but legends of the field, such as the Green Bank collapse.  One major topic of interest was a 2007 discovery by the Parkes Observatory in Australia of weird radio bursts, a strange signal to encounter.  The data was filed away to be researched later.  A lot of things give off latent radio signals, such as cell phones, spark plugs, all sorts of electronics.  A grad student, Emily Petrov, decided to research these mysterious signals, dubbed Perytons.  A lot of these Perytons occurred around lunchtime, so the microwave was considered suspect.  The scientists acted like astronomers, not hungry people opening the microwave a bit early, which was detected by the radio telescope as a Peryton... except for the initial burst, which was determined to come from Elsewhere.  These fast radio bursts occasionally occur, and might emanate from dying stars.

In the case of the LIGO gravitational-wave observatory, which uses miniscule (1/1000th of the diameter of a proton) 'squishing' of the arms of the observatory to detect gravitational waves.  The sensors are good at filtering out signals from trucks or footsteps, but one hot summer, suspicious readings were apparent- due to iced over pipes of liquid nitrogen.  Local ravens were pecking the ice condensed on the pipes as a source of water in the eastern Washington desert.  The raven was caught in the act, and measures were taken to prevent these peckings from occurring in the future.

What would surprise people the most about our jobs?  One major thing is that the telescopes now in use typically don't have eyepieces.  Also, the job is more exciting than most people would realize.  Dr Levesque mentioned the SOFIA flying observatory, a plant-mounted infrared telescope.  Infrared light often doesn't reach the Earth's surface, it bounces off of atmospheric water vapor.  SOFIA is above that layer, and Dr Levesque used the telescope to research dying stars.  She noted how excited six year old her would have been about the prospect of flying in an experimental plane over Antarctica and seeing the Southern Lights.  She talked with astronomers who did research at the South Pole and up in Svallbard.  She talked about astronomers using weather balloon mounted telescopes.  She mentioned George Carruthers, inventor of ultraviolet cameras, including one transported on Apollo 16 to the moon.   She also mentioned Doug Geisler, who on May 18, 1980 at the U of Washington's Manastash Ridge observatory, having a lovely clear night... the next day, he woke in the midst of an ash cloud resulting from the Mt St Helens eruption, which resulted in a lost night of observation.

How has astronomy changed since you began observing?  The biggest answer was improving technology.  Up until the 1980s, images were made using thin glass plates covered in silver nitrate.  Kodak would send many plates, but they had to be cut to size and tweaked to improve image quality before being inserted into telescope cameras one-by-one.  Amazing research was conducted using these plates.  Astronomers using these glass plates figured out the shape of the universe.  Now, digital images are created, the difference is incomparable, with dust being visible, and the shape of a galaxy's arms being detailed beautifully.  The work of astronomers has differed- astronomers used to have to apply for observation time, and travel to observatories.  Now, telescopes such as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory under construction in Chile, will be taking continual images of the night sky through an automated process.  Dr Levesque and her colleagues don't have to apply to use the data, they can just log in and download data.  The adventure and experience will be differed, involving fewer scorpions and raccoon encounters

Dr Levesque brought up the topic of Thorne-Zytkow objects, binary stars orbiting each other, in the process of dying.  One star will collapse into a neutron star and get swallowed by the companion, which transforms into a red giant with a core replaced by the neutron star.  Dr Levesque's team discovered a potential Thorne–Żytkow object using the Las Campanas observatory in Chile.

This wouldn't have been discovered using the pre-programmed Rubin observatory, but the Rubin observatory can provide data which can prove to be Thorne-Zytkow objects.  Giant observators such as Rubin are needed, as are smll mountaintop observatories, SOFIA type creative telescopes, and radio telescopes.  Curious stargazers are needed as well as computational processes.  We must combine these approaches to continue the process of discovery.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  The first question involved the depiction of celestial phenomena in art, such as a 1054 supernova depicted on a cave painting, the supernova that resulted in the Crab Nebula.  Are any of these telescopes open to the public?  Kitt Peak observatory in Arizona and Mauna Kea were open to the public during the day, but nighttime visits are off-limits because of light polution from headlights.  Another question involved Vera Rubin's discovery of dark matter through observational methods- at the time, women couldn't be lead researchers, though they had made many astronomical discoveries at the time- Vera Rubin noted gravitational anomalies that proved dark matter existed.  Regarding the imaging of a black hole, the discovery was made by 'a telescope the size of the entire planet', an array of radio telescopes worldwide that obtained that fuzzy donut picture that everybody loves.

Some Bastard in the audience asked about the James Webb Space Telescope, infrared telescope in space, in a cold, dark place far from Earth.  This telescope will be invaluable for studying dying stars.  Recently, Betelgeuse dimmed because it puffed off a cloud of dust that is bright in infrared.  This is going to fill an important niche in studying dying stars, it's the telescope that might find evidence of extrasolar life, it will look further and further back in time than other telescopes.  All astronomers are excited about the 'first light' from this telescope.

Another question involved the collapse of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.  She had never visited Arecibo, though it was on her list.  She received a lot of anecdotes about Arecibo, but it collapsed the year after she released the book.  It was an unparalleled tragedy in the astronomical world... Arecibo detected the first evidence of planets around other stars.  It's the dream of many astronomers to rebuild the observatory.

Another question involved the role of time as well as distance- the universe is about 13.8 billion years old... the naked eye can see objects 400 light years away, from 400 years ago.  As telescopes become more powerful, they reveal the universe at older time periods.

How about extraterrestrials?  Every astronomer dreams of discovering it.  Even Dr Levesque had a moment when she encountered a weird signal at an observatory in the Netherlands, but then realized  that the signal was stronger closer to the admin building, so it was probably someone heating up a stroopwaffel or sending a fax.  She joked that the best phrase in science is not "Eureka!", but "That's weird!"  There are people working on the alien issue, and if they ever discover evidence of aliens, they won't be able to keep it secret.

What pending discoveries is Dr Levesque excited about?  The possibility of detecting life, even intelligent life...  Observing black holes...  Gravitational wave detction... The ability to go from 'we found this one weird thing' to a data driven approach.

How about multi-telescope arrays, interferometry (the use of interference to make multiple telescopes act as one) has to involve closely tracking multiple telescopes such as the Event Horizon Telescope under difficult conditions (such as shifting ice near an Antarctic telescope).  Astronomers dream of setting up an observatory on the Moon and syncing it up with a terrestrial telescope.

How about crowdsourcing science with programs such as Zooniverse, in which citizen scientists can identify different galaxies, such as spiral or elliptical galaxies.  A new form of galaxy was distinguished by citizen scientists.

Where in the universe would Dr Levesque want to go?  She can't pick one place, she wants to discover all sorts of weird stars, but she would love to visit Betelgeuse and that Thorne-Zytkow object she discovered.

Another question involved light pollution, which is an unfortunate occurrence.  There was also the topic of Starlink satellites interfering with observations of the night sky.  These passing satellites rob astronomers of data, producing radio light as well as reflecting visible light.  Astronomers have no say in the regulation of satellite launches, and want to fix the problem of running out of space in space, fundamentally changing the appearance of the night sky.

Another question involved the observed expansion of the universe- distant galaxies appear to be speeding away from us, with more distant galaxies moving at a faster rate.  This discovery was made by Edwin Hubble, using those glass plates.  The best way to determine the possible fate of the universe is through using the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the expansion.  This conundrum has been extremely contentious among astrophysicists, and some evidence (numbers not agreeing) suggests that the expansion might have changed over time.

Regarding getting involved in science, Dr Levesque suggested taking all of the math and computer science you can.  For astronomical observations, a simple pair of binoculars and astronomy apps on your phone are a good start- no need for expensive telescopes.

Who is regulating what goes up into space, if not scientists.  The FCC regulates it, though Dr Levesque notes that there is a conflict of interests.  Scientists and people driven by profits should both be involved.  The American Astronomical Society should get involved to sort out this chaotic situation (a rich enough person can launch a car into space).

Once again, the Secret Science Club has dished out a fantastic lecture.  Dr Levesque's enthusiasm for the topic was infectious, and she hit what I call the 'Secret Science Sweet Spot', that blend of hard science, adventure narrative, and advocacy.  Kudos to Dr Levesque, and Dorian and Margaret for a fun, informative program.  For a taste of the Secret Science Club experience, here is a video of Dr Levesque lecturing on this topic:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!!!

Monday, May 30, 2022

Memorial Day 2022

I've always felt conflicted about Memorial Day- it's an odd holiday, one meant for somber reflection on those who lost their lives, ideally, in defense of this nation, but which in reality is about cookouts and the initial beach trip of the season.  I don't begrudge people engaging in fun stuff on a day meant for solemnity- it's not as if Americans have a lot of national holidays to begin with.  Still, it's a weird contrast of stated purpose and actual practice.  Maybe the holiday should be moved to a more somber month... 

This year, though, Memorial Day is extra weird.  Currently, the US is not involved in a large, publicized shooting war for the first time in twenty years (though there's no doubt we're involved in sub rosa conflicts around the globe).  Sure, we are providing 'lethal aid' to the beleaguered Ukrainians, but American service personnel aren't be shot at in earnest.  American civilians are, though... Gone are the collections of photographs of military members killed in action, replaced by collections of photos of slain grocery shoppers and schoolchildren.

The real war is at home, the constant ache of mass shootings, the murders and maimings of ordinary Americans trying to perform ordinary, everyday tasks.  I've come to the conclusion that the victims should be memorialized along with those killed in war overseas... and you can be damn sure that I someday hope for a domestic Armistice Day.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Showy Critter Blending In

It's one of the showiest critters present at my principle worksite, but sometimes it's in a location in which it blends in beautifully...  Here is our resident great blue heron (Ardea herodias) nicely camouflaged against a backdrop of rocks on the bank of our small onsite river/brook:

It's not so easy to make out this large, showy bird, is it?  Normally extremely shy, this heron seems to be getting accustomed to the human presence.  Typically, it would take off, squawking in desultory fashion, whenever I approached within twenty meters, but now it's not so shy.  A couple of days ago, I sat about fifteen meters from it and watched it as it preened its feathers, showing no sign of imminent flight.  I'd post pictures, but they show a prominent feature of my worksite in the background, and I'm a bit circumspect about identifying my location.  

I wonder if this great blue heron is getting less shy because it's not cool with the black-crowned night heron grabbing the prime fishing spot on the premises.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Puffed-Up Pavo

Longtime readers will know that one of my workplaces is home to a large flock of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo).  Today, when I arrived at work, one of the male turkeys was in full 'Thanksgiving card' mode, trying to impress the lady turkeys with his impressive plumage:


 From the back, one can see the 'architecture' of the tail display, with its prominent  radiating quills:

The post title takes its name from the Spanish word for turkey, which is based on the generic name for the peacock. Sir Alec Issigonis, the designer of the Mini Cooper, famously said "a camel is a horse designed by committee."  I would assert that a turkey is a peacock designed by committee- it has a sleek, subtly colored body on which a grotesque vulture head is grafted.

I'm hoping the mating season lasts a while, because it is comical to see these birds puffed up in such dramatic fashion.  They are a picturesque addition to this charming spot, especially when they strut about in such fancy dress.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Goodbye Good Fella

It's just another bummer item in a bummer week, but Ray Liotta's death at the age of 67 was a nasty surprise.  Tengrain predicted that everyone is going to go with Goodfellas, and I'm going to be predictable here.  I'm neither much of a cinephile or much of a ranked lists guy, but if I were pressed, I'd have to say that Goodfellas is definitely in my top ten movies of all time... 

Despite the brutal violence depicted in this movie about evil men, the film manages to have improbably comic moments, with Ray Liotta playing the role of straight man, as in this iconic scene, in which he literally plays off a funny guy:

Liotta-as-Henry-Hill also serves as Virgil, leading the audience deeper into the circles of Hell, introducing us to the outlandish cast of devils... expository voiceover isn't really supposed to work in films, but the script, and Liotta's delivery, was perfect:

Liotta's narration also made mundane scenes, such as the prison cooking scene, into highlights of the film...  I'm not the only one who has recreated this sauce at home, using the 'very good system' for slicing the garlic:

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is stolen by Martin Scorcese's mom, with the line about Henry Hill 'not talking too much' being a nice bit of foreshadowing:

Ray's best scene in this movie of perfect vignettes is the climax, in which Henry Hill has a no-good, rotten day.  He conveys a harried paranoia as he mixes ordinary tasks with his criminal enterprises:


The details are what make the scene for me, with a lovely amount of detail given to Henry's cooking 'Sunday gravy' for his brother, followed by an equally enticing dinner scene:


Liotta conveys a lot of emotions in this scene as a counterpart to his matter-of-fact narration: paranoia, frustration with his superstitious accomplice, glee at tricking his girlfriend, and finally, a wry social commentary about the police who finally arrest him.   It's a bravura performance, perhaps my favorite scene in any movie.

Sure, Ray Liotta made other movies, and excelled in them, whether making emotional content for guys, or creeping out audiences.  At least he went out in his sleep, while filming a movie, and didn't have to live out the rest of his life like an average nobody, like a schnook.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

International Talk Like a Jack Vance Character Day 2022

Today, we eschew the quotidian dialectical paradigms to commemorate the esteemed Jack Vance.  We heap encomia on the departed grandmaster, and emulate the diction of his fictional creations.  Today is a day for rodomontade and braggadocia, for remonstrating with mountebanks, and fulminating against churls and hoydens.  Use your sagacity to overcome obstreperous mooncalves and caitiffs!

 Musicians, ply your euterpean arts to perform panegyrics... let your ukuleles and kazoos ring out!


There is time tomorrow to return to mundane modes of communication, but today, we dazzle with declamations, baffle with blatherskite, and confound with corruscating conversation!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Meddling With the Primal Forces of Nature

Hungary's fascist head-of-stat Viktor Orbán is riding high these days.  He just won a fifth term in office and he hosted CPAC, the fascist freakshow of American movement conservatism.  It's no wonder that he's feeling a bit spicy, but I feel that he's about to experience a major setback:

Orbán assumed wartime powers due to the Russia-Ukraine war and is planning to use national security as a pretense for making multinational corporations pay a percentage of their 'excess profits' into Hungary's coffers to fight inflation and build up the military.  While I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea of clawing back 'excess profits' from multinational corporations to fund government, I don't believe Orbán is operating out of good faith.  At any rate, I don't see this turning out well for him or his regime.

Put succinctly, Orbán has meddled with the primal forces of nature.  I can easily see multinational corporations simply pulling out of Hungary.  I can even see him getting fragged by mercenaries on the payroll of Coca-Cola or Disney.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Getting Damned Sick and Tired of This Story

It's happened again, a week and a half after the last headline-grabbing massacre (one of many that occurred that week)... another mass shooting, this one killing fourteen elementary school students and a teacher.  The shooter was an 18 year old high school student from the same town, Uvalde, Texas.  It's monstrous that someone that age, indeed any age, would kill little kids.

As sad as I am, I have to note that I am fortunate to know many kindhearted and responsible teenagers.  My upstairs neighbor's children are very good at helping their mom watch over the gaggle of kids that descend upon their place every afternoon while their parents are still at work.  They help watch over a coterie of younger children, and ensure that everybody is well looked-out-for.  

I also have to pay my respects to the teenage counselors who work at the athletic program in which I am a volunteer coach.  These youths, many of whom came up through the program, and who I have known for years, are responsible for looking after the kids in the program, making sure they move from class to class in orderly fashion, and chaperoning them on water and bathroom breaks.  I really can't say enough for these caring, responsible young women and men.

It breaks my heart to read of teenage mass murderers.  I'm not a naive person, but it boggles my mind that boys (yeah, it always seems to be boys) could be so cruel, and could obtain the instruments of death so easily.  How did their parents, and our society as a whole, fail so that these killers are produced?

It's a conundrum, and one which our society seems particularly blasé about trying to solve.  I'm not in the mood to watch the coverage, with the same empty calls for thoughts and prayers.  I wouldn't even describe my feeling as déjà vu, because that would imply that this is a discrete prior feeling I've experienced before, whereas this is a continual occurrence, without even time for recovery.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Hey, There IS a Genocide Going On

The stated motive for the Buffalo shooter was his fear of  'white genocide', a conspiracy theory which states that Jews are trying, through immigration policies, to reduce the percentage of white people in the United States, resulting in a browner, 'more docile' population that they can control.  It's all a lot of bullshit, but there IS a genocide going on in certain regions of the US (hint: most of them).

Of course, this genocide is not being waged against white people:

“About a third of our population is African American; African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality. So, if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear,” Sen. Bill Cassidy said in an interview with POLITICO for the Harvard Chan School of Public Health series Public Health on the Brink. “Now, I say that not to minimize the issue but to focus the issue as to where it would be. For whatever reason, people of color have a higher incidence of maternal mortality.”

Cassidy is basically saying that African-Americans aren't 'real' members of Louisiana's population.  He has no intention of addressing maternal mortality among people of color.  This dehumanization and callousness toward death among the out group are classic features of a genocidal campaign.  The real sick thing about this is that Cassidy belongs to a party which has been pushing the white genocide nonsense.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Reminds Me of a Song

At my principle work site, we have had the presence of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) for as long as I can remember, but sightings aren't all that common because the animals are clever and shy.  Every so often, though, I'll see a flash of tapeta lucida at night or hear their unheimlich screams at night.  It is a rare, lucky occurrence when one catches a glimpse of one of these elegant critters in the light of early evening:

Now, THAT is an elegant little beast, dressed in its colorful finery.  

Seeing this glam animal, I immediately thought of glam rock:

The classics are classic for a reason, and the red fox, that 'dog hardware running cat software' is a true classic.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Pizzeria Pep Talk

Thursday night, after bar trivia, I decided that I wanted dessert, so I walked across the street to the pizzeria to get a slice.  Katonah Avenue in the Bronx is part of the tavern district in my neighborhood, which straddles the Bronx/Yonkers border, so there were quite a few revelers out and about.  Standing in front of the pizzeria was a slender-rangy red-haired Irish guy, who I'm going to say was exactly 21.  He was a friendly fellow, who gave me a greeting as I passed by.

I entered the pizzeria and approached the counter.  As I did so, a drunk, but not impaired, woman sidled up to me and slipped her arm under mine.  She gave me a sidelong glance and told me that the neighborhood was terrible.  I noticed the pizzaiolo rolling his eyes.  

She continued, "Everybody in this neighborhood hates me.  I'm the dumb c___ of the neighborhood."

I admonished her, "Don't be down on yourself.  If you're not in your own corner, nobody else will be."

At this point, the young Irishman entered the pizzeria.  I asked him, :"How long have you been in New York?"

He answered, "Three days!  I've from Cavan, THE STICKS!"

I replied, "Welcome to New York, welcome to the Bronx."

Then I turned to the woman and said, "The whole neighborhood doesn't hate you.  There's a lot of turnover in this neighborhood.  He's been here only three days, wait a couple of weeks and it'll be a completely different neighborhood!"

This is particularly true of the summer, when young Irish folks, on school break, come to New York to work in construction, or the restaurant/bar industry.  I'm sure my Cavan chum will find work helping one of the local immigrant carpenters or floor installers, or he'll find work as a barback.

This observation of neighborhood turnover seemed to mollify the self-deprecating lady, or at least to confuse her.  It was a weird sort of pep talk, a Bronx sort of pep talk, and I hope it worked.

In the interest of full disclosure, it was also a pep talk for the neighborhood, which I love.  Everybody in the neighborhood likes me.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Gonna Disagree with John Bellairs on This One

Longtime readers will know that one of my all-time favorite novels is The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs, who went on to become a bestselling author of creepy, 'gothic' young adult fiction.  The Face in the Frost, written for an adult audience, presages Bellairs' later works by combining whimsical humor with genuinely unsettling set pieces- he puts his good-hearted, good-humored protagonists into increasingly unnerving situations, achieving a creeping sense of dread, wisely leavened with comic relief.  If you are the sort who likes a bit of spooky fun, give the book a read.  

I do have to disagree with the late Mr Bellairs about one thing:

I'm the guy who'd die first in a horror film: "What's that bloodcurdling sound?  I've got to find out!"

A few nights back, while on a Zoom conversation with friends during a graveyard shift, I heard a sound which, to me, is familiar, thought not exactly pleasant:

Those high pitched background noises are raccoons squabbling over something, probably a juicy frog or maybe a crayfish.  It's not a sound for the faint of heart.

Right now, my boss is going over applications for a couple of positions in my understaffed department.  I told him that one crucial question to ask candidates is: "Are you afraid of the dark?"  Weird noises, shifting shadowy conditions, the gleam of eyes just outside a flashlight beam... all part of the job.  I love them all, but then again, I'm not necessarily normal.  Thank goodness it's just a job, not a horror movie.