Thursday, March 31, 2022

Trans Day of Visibility 2022

Today marks the Transgender Day of Visibility, and I am here to reiterate my support for transgender rights.  My personal credo is that everyone deserves a chance to live their lives to the fullest, as long as that doesn't interfere with the rights of others.  Gender-affirming surgery saves lives, full stop, and proposed legislation in states such as Texas, Arizona, and Florida, pushed by so-called 'pro-life' politicians, puts those individuals at risk.

Right-wingers are using anti-trans legislation as a Trojan Horse to roll back human rights on all fronts- they lost badly in the Culture War during the same-sex marriage battle, and they are looking for a do-over.  They won't stop with rolling back LGB rights, they will continue their assault against women's rights, and even seek to make interracial marriage illegal once more.  Ignore their assault on the rights of transgender individuals at your peril.

Thankfully, President Biden, who is a lot more progressive than I had hoped he'd be, articulated his support for the transgender community in the face of Republican oppression, singling out the plague of violence against transgender women of color and the need for compassionate care for transgender seniors:

Dear transpersons, you are seen, you have allies.  You are valued, you are loved. We'll beat these bigots.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Gomez' Birthday 2022

Today, being March 30, I'm celebrating the birthday of Gomez, by baby brother.  The nickname was bestowed upon him by my super-sarcastic sister, the one who dubbed my older brother 'Sweetums'.  I'm happy to report that Gomez, his wife, and the kids are doing well.  He opted for a nice, low-key evening at home.

The last time I saw them all in person was pre-COVID, when they came up to NYC for some fun and frivolity.  Needless to say, like all of us, I am looking forward to a time when the whole family can get together for a big reunion. Thankfully, Gomez and the Gang were able to have Mom over for Christmas, Gomez handling round-trip transportation for Mom.  For those keeping score, I had to work on Christmas, making the typical 'I'll work Christmas if you'll work Thanksgiving' with my coworker.

So here's to baby brother (he's built like a brick house, natch), happy, happy birthday!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Secret Science Club Zoom Discussion Recap

Tonight, my great and good friends of the Secret Science Club are presenting a discussion about dwindling insect populations between Guardian environmental correspondent Oliver Milman and New Yorker contributing author and environmentalist Bill McKibben.  This topic is near-and-dear to my heart because I am a Big Bug Guy.  Oliver Milman's new book is The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires that Run the World.

Bill McKibben noted that the topic of this talk is grim, but necessary.  He noted that the prologue to the book seems like a tribute to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  He noted that the book somewhat takes the shine off of modernity, and that while the topics are grim things, they are not fated things.  He asked Mr Milman about entomologists and citizen scientists chronicling the decline of insect populations throughout the globe... Mr Milman noted that insects seemed so 'legion' that their numbers were n98% mologists, the few people who kept count, had been trapping insects in nature reserves, noted that the weight of trapped insects dropped by 76%.  Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany had lost three-quarters of its insects.

In Puerto Rico, an entomologist found that 98% of insects seemed to have dropped, judging from his glue traps, and the numbers dropped by about 80% in the canopy.

A Danish naturalist decided to experiment by driving around in a beat-up car and checking the windshield for smashed insects, and the numbers had dropped dramatically.

The biological crisis is multiform- about 90% of tigers have disappeared, sea ice is down dramatically, and insect populations have dropped 70,80,90 percent.  Our insect studies are heavily weighted toward North America and Europe.  Beetle populations in the US are down, bumblebee populations are in decline, and the monarch butterfly migration in California is down to about one percent of what it used to be.  We know enough to be alarmed, but we need to act more quickly than we are for the climate crisis.

What are the causes?  Pesticides, particularly neonicotinoid pesticides, play a major role.  DDT effected birds' eggshells, but neonicotinoids are seven thousand times more toxic to bees than DDT.  Neonicotinoids are water soluble, so they end up in the groundwater.  Big Ag even sells seeds coated in neonicotinoids, which then end up in the plants themselves.  These pesticides also kill slugs and end up in human bodies through ingestion of foods.  Neonics don't discriminate, they kill beneficial insects as well as pests.  Insect predators are wiped out, reducing their ability to regulate ecosystems.  These insects, such as wasps, also function as pollinators.  If insect pollination were eliminated, starvation would ensue.  Rice and corn are wind-pollinated, but most fruits are insect pollinated.  Cherry production in many areas is reduced due to reduced pollinator populations.  Clearing forest to create farmland would aggravate the climate crisis, more intensive cultivation would result in more toxic farmland.

European farmers have not suffered from the discontinuation of neonics, they are also planting wildflowers throughout their fields, providing biodiverse habitats for insects.  In the US, the producers of pesticides have a lot of clout with their lobbyists.  These are extremely wealthy corporations with a lot of power over farmers.  

Just getting rid of neonics doesn't get insects out of the woods- climate change also poses grave threats.  The symbol of climate change is an image of a sad polar bear, but insects, usually seen as survivors, may be more vulnerable than most creatures.  With a warming of 3%, many insects, which have limited mobility, will be pushed out of their temperature comfort range.  Other insects, many of them deleterious to humans, are expanding their range, such as the mosquitos which transmit Dengue fever.  We won't lose all insects, we're just changing the composition of populations- we'll lose bees and butterflies and gain cockroaches and mosquitos, which thrive in warm, damp environments full of human waste products.  In the US, ticks are also increasing their ranges- Mr McKibben quipped that humans aren't always at the top of the food change.  

Mr Milman noted that humans are scrambling the seasons- birds nest earlier, plants bud earlier.  Many insect and bird populations are being thrown off by the plants not being in sync with them.  

Mr McKibben waxed lyrical about the incredible organisms at risk, such as the monarch butterflies profiled in a book by his wife.  He cited the behaviors of ants and bees, and wondered why so many humans have a learned revulsion toward insects.  Mr Milman asked a cultural question- what colors our attitudes toward insects, which kindergardners tend to be fascinated by.  People are 'bugged' by others, and are disgusted by 'creepy crawlies'.  Often, our interactions with insects involve a swatter.  Mr Milman noted that he had ants in his kitchen while he was writing the book.  He waxed lyrical about the hive 'intelligence' of bees, which are an organized strata of life which upholds the rest of us.

In the case of monarchs, as their wintering grounds warm, they retreat further up the mountains they shelter in.  If we lose them, we lose beauty, even more than utility.

The two gentlemen opened the conversation to questions- how do scientists use non-lethal methods to count insects?  They often gassed forests, and there is also the windshield count.  There are probably emerging techniques, but Mr Milman isn't aware of them.  He noted that scientists aren't driving the killing of insects.  Mr Milman describe working on the book and noting that pollination is so important that there are bee brokers (one only had to work two months per year) and bee thieves.  Wild bees are suffering even more than domesticated bees.  He joked about being stung in the face by a bee, and having beekeepers laugh at him.  

Post Maria, there was a lot of habitat loss in Puerto Rico- were population counts made both before and after the storm?  This topic is discussed in the book, a tale of damaged equipment/

Some Bastard in the audience asked about the role of invasive species on insect populations.  Invasive plants can crowd out native plants that native insects need.  Ironically, the most successful invasive species in North America is the honeybee.  50K honeybees can live in a hive, and they are voracious- they can outcompete native bumblebees.  

How about the importance of cultivating native plants?  This is an aesthetic issue, people like beautiful, tidy things, having a revulsion to weeds.  Our obsession with well-manicured lawns, the most intensively irrigated crop in the US, creates biological deserts- close-cropped, poisoned with herbicides and pesticides... Mr Milman urged us to 'let things go a bit', plant wildflowers, stop cutting plants.  Mr McKibben urged us to get to a wild place, the hear the background hum of life.  Dorian urged us to get rid of 'Vanity Ag'.  

One of the best features of the night was a question from a child who asked what we could do to help, besides doing things she was doing, like planting beneficial plants.  Mr Milman noted that he's not all gloom, and that insects are great survivors.  If we give them a bit of a chance, they will bounce back.  He talked of milkweed plantings and rooftop gardens. If you have a yard, plant a variety of things and create oases for insects. Mr McKibben told her to tell others to read Charlotte's Web, so we can learn about our friends in the dark corners of the room.

Another question involved an upcoming food insecurity crisis due to falling pollinator populations.  In China, teams of hand-pollinators are pollinating fruit trees.  Mr Milman noted that the notion of robot pollinators is fanciful- they are no real substitutes.  Regarding the eating of insects, Mr Milman noted that insects are a good source of proteins, and can be raised in shipping containers with low environmental impact.  Eating insects shouls be beneficial.

An evolutionary biologist in the audience asked about adaptions to climate change- Mr Milman noted that monarch butterflies have evolved larger, stronger wings as their food sources become more distant.  

Is the US catching up with Europe in the banning of toxins?  No.  Neonics banned in Europe won't be banned in the US for at least the next 15 years.  Mr Milman noted about a lack of a precautionary principle in the US- products are often rolled out before we find out if they are safe.  Mr McKibben noted that Europe's regulation of pesticides is due to political power- if the power of corporations isn't curbed, no changes will be forthcoming here.  Both Mr Milman and Mr McKibben noted that 'fossil fuel industry' and 'Big Ag' could be interchanged.  Mr McKibben noted that agricultural states have oversized political power due to the composition of the Senate.

To what extent does organic farming help insects?  It's better than industrial farming.  Regenerative farming, diversifying crops to reduce monoculture, would help far more.  Mr Milman quipped that we're producing a 'world full of chips', spraying less chemicals would be good, but creative biodiverse farmland would be better.

Another question came from an individual who researches wild bees in the Catskills- what sort of data would provide the most impact when it comes to advocacy for harmonious coexistence with insects?  Mr Milman noted that people like bees, and cited Bavaria as a farming location which enacted a great bee protection referendum- reducing monoculture, discontinuing pesticide use, bringing back hedgerows.  He urged the questioner to keep on banging the drum about bees, noting that any Mars colonization effort would have to involve bringing bees along.  Mr McKibben noted that the Catskills and Adirondacks are New York's gift to biodiversity.

Development boxes in insect populations, reducing genetic diversity.  Insects in cities now tend to do better than rural insects due to greater diversity of plants in yards than in crop fields.

Another question involved the eradication of mosquito populations using genetic engineering- as bad as mosquitos are, they do provide sustenance for bird, bat, and amphibian species, and pollinate some plants.  Often, when we tamper with nature, it blows up in our face due to unintended circumstances.

The final question to Mr Milman was, how do you maintain a positive outlook?  He noted that his day job is writing about climate change.  He maintains some hope, but is worried about the speed of change, and our difficulty in countering it in time.

Once again, the Secret Science Club has dished a fantastic program.  Kudos to Margaret and Dorian, and Messers Milman and McKibben,  I like to talk about the 'Secret Science Sweet Spot', and tonight's discussion hit that spot, with its combination of scientific fact and advocacy.

For a taste of the Secret Science Club experience, here is Mr Milman discussing his book:

Pour yourself a nice beverage, and imbibe that heady mix of science and activism.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Slap Happy

As a White Man With Opinions, I figured I should weigh in on The Slap.  My suspicion is that Will Smith was possessed by Thalia, Muse of Comedy, and used as an instrument of vengeance against Chris Rock for his unfunny, unoriginal, low-effort 'joke'.  Sure, Will Smith exhibited toxic behavior, but I am of the opinion that Chris Rock's punch-down crack at a woman with an autoimmune condition was more toxic.  Rock's greater sin was making a lazy reference to a movie that was released in 1997.  For the record, I think Will Smith's greater sin was not giving Rock a chance to defend himself.  As a guy who actually likes to fight, cheap-shotting someone is morally repugnant in a one-on-one altercation... if you're going to engage in toxic masculinity, at least be a man about it.

Here's where I note that I am more of a fan of Chris Rock's oeuvre than that of Will Smith.  Will Smith specialized in amiable, breezy comedy in his music and television careers, then transformed into a wisecracking action movie hero.  Chris Rock's comedy was rooted in Pain and Truth:

Maybe that slap was really a wake-up call: "Get your act together and go back to real Comedy, not just shock jock bullying."

UPDATE: Watching that clip after not seeing it for a while, I have to note that Rock's humor was extremely ableist.  Maybe Will Smith should have slapped him decades ago.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Broaden Our Outrage

Like most of the world's population, I am outraged at the carnage that is happening in Ukraine at the hands of Putin's invading army.   I cannot recall another time when the world seemed so united in support of a common cause.  That being said, I feel that we need to broaden our outrage... there's this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that the world should be just as outraged at other atrocities.  There's also a nagging feeling that the outrage about the invasion of Ukraine is driven in large part by feelings of kinship... the Ukrainians, besides being valiant, are a photogenic people.  I remarked to a coworker, "It's like Putin invaded a country of supermodels."

While we are outraged about Ukraine, we really need to band together against ALL genocidal regimes around the world.  The Biden Administration's determination that Myanmar's campaign against the Rohynga is a genocide is a start, but more needs to be done globally.  Given Saudi Arabia's genocidal war in Yemen, the sale of weapons to the Saudis is a utter moral failure.

Similarly, the Russian-backed Syrian regime should be censured, and punished, for its attacks on civilian populations, as should China's policy of ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation against its Uyghur minority.

Perhaps the greatest failure of American foreign policy in the 21st Century is the failure to protect the Kurds, who have been steadfast allies.  To countenance aggression against these people, as valiant as the Ukrainians, by allies such as Turkey as well as rivals such as Russia, is a betrayal.

I'm outraged by the hideous war perpetrated on Ukraine by Putin's regime, but I've had a near-bottomless well of outrage for the entire 21st Century.  My outrage extends to all murderous regimes, including the one which unleashed carnage upon the Iraqi people, and allowed a disproportionate reaction for the 9/11 attacks to be visited upon the poverty-stricken, cleric-bedeviled Afghans.  We need a broader outrage, a global outrage.  The genocide in Ukraine is horrific, all genocides are horrific- now is the time we should rally against all of the perpetrators.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Controversial Snack Choice

Memo to myself: when you buy a bag of shelled pistachios to snack on at work, realize that the packaging, look, and sound of the product are almost identical to those of cat treats:

"Mister, if you know what's good for you, make with the kibble!"

Luckily, there's a stash in the desk drawer, so all is right with the world:

I figured I should put up a Ginger post to give us a break from bad news.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Overly Optimistic

Just about two years ago, I predicted that a half-million Americans would die of COVID before the pandemic ran its course, whereupon my more cynical coworker responded, "I predict it will be a million." Well, I had no idea how pervasive anti-vaccine and even anti-masking attitudes would be in these here United States.

Vixen Strangely scooped me regarding the million-dead milestone, and the Worldometers website indicates, at time of writing, a US death toll of 1,002,259.  Now, THAT is what I call American exceptionalism- with all of our vaunted science and technology, we account for about a sixth of deaths worldwide.  For the record, Brazil and India, both nations in the grip of right-wing nationalist movements, are two and three in the death toll.  

It boggles my mind that my then-almost-unthinkable figure of a half-million dead Americans was so off-the-mark, and I say that as a man who lives in the region of the US hit hardest, fastest by SARS-CoV2.  Spring 2020 was a nightmare season, a period in which ambulance sirens were ubiquitous, and bodies were being buried in mass graves.  I like to think of myself as a rational person, the sort of person who keeps abreast of scientific developments, and I made the crucial error of thinking that the vast majority of Americans had similar attitudes.

Two years later, COVID (I dropped the '19' a while back, this being '22') is not beaten, despite the general trend in policies toward mask and vaccine mandates.  Here in New York, entertainers are exempt from mandates, and  schools no longer require most students to wear masks.  Still, tales of COVID infections can be read between the lines of seemingly unlikely websites, such as scented candle reviews on e-commerce pages. We're not out of the woods yet.

I'm just glad that I didn't make a wager with my coworker... though now I'm starting to think that too might have been too optimistic.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Nature Is Healing, Praise Lakshmi!

A particular tweet by a Richmond-area antifascist activist has haunted me for a year and a half:

Yeah, I was feeling this one, being a big fan of Indian food in general and Indian lunch buffets in general. I'm happy to report now that the venerable Royal Palace restaurant in White Plains, NY has resumed its lunch buffet from Thursday to Sunday.  Luckily, I was able to visit the restaurant for lunch today, and while the buffet is not as sumptuous as it was in the Before Times, it presented a nice 'greatest hits' sampler of Indian cuisine, dishes such as chana dal, saag paneer, butter chicken, samosas, and various pakora.  Accompanied by fresh-made naan, and finished with gulab jamun, it was a royal feast in a Royal Palace.  

I'm not overly emotional, but it took all my resolve not to cry tears of joy.  Similarly, I'm not a religious man, but I think I might have to mouth a simple prayer to Laskshmi for her bounty.

Still, Donald Trump should be dragged to the Hague.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

This Is Why Republicans Don't Appear on 'Star Trek'

Conservatives have a bizarre relationship with the Star Trek television, movie, and book franchise... the show has always promulgated liberal values from the beginning, portraying a multiracial cast of humans exploring the reaches of space with extraterrestrial allies.  So important was the original series' progressive message that Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr implored Nichelle Nichols to continue playing Lt Uhura, as positive Black role models were rare in the media.

Conservatives can't help liking 'Trek', though.,, it's a whiz-bang adventure narrative, and the original series features a two-fisted manly man who kicks ass and beds gorgeous aliens (the special effects budget wasn't high enough to show him banging a big bug), and while peaceful solutions are preferred, the use of overwhelming military force is always a Plan B.

Now, the conservatives who are dense enough to believe that 'woke culture' ruined Star Trek are in a tizzy over the casting of Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate, voting rights advocate, and all-around superstar Stacey Abrams as President of United Earth.  I imagine their grandparents howled just as much when a beautiful, brilliant Black woman was portrayed not only as a commissioned Starfleet officer, but a communications expert who serves as the initial representative of Humanity for a cosmic mission.  Stacey Abrams absolutely radiates joy as she describes her role, and her love of Star Trek:

Now, let's contrast this progressive, science-fiction loving Democrat with a GOP candidate for California Secretary of State...  this individual believes that Jesus himself, hiding in her closet, mandated that she run for office:

This nonsense is precisely why Republicans don't guest star on Star Trek episodes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Plaguers' Town, or Contagion Convoy

In perhaps the most predictable development of the year, the rhymes-with-truckers, who are protesting vaccine mandates aren't feeling so well:

Oviously, rhia was an anthrax attack perpetrated by Joe Biden using bioweapons from Ukrainian laboratories. Surely, it cannot be a highly contagious respiratory disease which has killed almost a million Americans. At any rate, the Contagion Convoy seems like it's headed to a tragic-yet-farcical denoument as the rhymes-with-truckers either croak from 'rona or try their hands at suicide-by-cop:

These idiots were emboldened by the kid-gloves treatment they've been receiving from the local authorities, but if they try pulling citizen's arrests of DC police, they will quickly find out that their 'posse comitatus' nonsense just doesn't play back East. 

Coincidentally, in the latest Adventures in Hellwqrld, host Poker and Politics had a fascinating interview with attorney Allie Mezei about the 'sovereign citizen' and 'posse comitatus' movements. Expect to hear a lot of Sovcit BS from the rhymes-with-truckers as they bump up against the authorities in the coming days.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Pray for the Intercession of St Joseph of Strummer

This year, more than any year since his death in 2002, I've thought, "We need Joe Strummer now more than ever."  Joe sang with a righteous anger, but he always sang with a fierce love of humanity.  We could use Joe's wisdom, goodness, and anger in these days of war and civil disturbance, and Ukrainian punk band Beton, operating on that principle, reworked London Calling into a call for aid from the world:

For his part, Joe called for peace, for soldiers not to heed to call-up, to see the wheatfields over Kyiv and down to the sea.  Beton, under shelling from the Russian army, has issued the call-up, asking for the world to intervene.  I'm not saying that Joe never had to live in fear of bombing, but his sort of sainthood is hard to achieve when the ordnance is flying.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Feast of St Cuthbert

Poking around the nerdier precincts of the internet, I am reminded that today, in the liturgical calendar, is St Cuthbert's Day.  The historic St Cuthbert is most associated with the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, which straddled the modern northeast England and Southeast Scotland.  Cuthbert lived in, shall we say, interesting times, an era in which there were tensions among pagans, adherents of Celtic Christianity, and adherents of mainland Western European Christianity, based in Rome.  

After Cuthbert's death, his supposedly non-putrefied body, a sign of divine favor instrumental in his canonization, was transported from place-to-place due to the Danish invasion of England, and finally came to a rest in Durham.

The reason why St Cuthbert resonates with modern nerds is that he is the namesake of a parody character popular in gaming circles, St Cuthbert of the Cudgel, who represents the more-lawful-than-good subset of law-and-good.  If I recall correctly, St Gary originally just used the Church of the Blinding Light as the main religion in his roleplaying game, but he really couldn't steal this wholesale when he published his game, and St Cuthbert of the Cudgel is a perfect devotee of such a faith.  As enumerated in the 'adventure module' The Village of Hommlet (itself a comedic name). the creed of the Church of St Cuthbert of the Cudgel is a perfect parody of conservative Christianity:











Given the time and place in which he lived, I imagine the historical St Cuthbert would have endorsed this creed, whether or not he had the strong thews and mighty cudgel to back it up.

As for my celebration of this feast, not having to work tonight, I am pounding my own skull with coffee spiked with kahlua and amaretto.  I don't know if this capricious behavior will bring a knot to my head, but perhaps it's a bit unwise.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

St Paddy's Parade on Feast of San Giuseppe

If I were tasked to write a one-sentence history of Dad's side of the family, it would be: "Guido and Mary loved each other very much."  Accordingly, I take a syncretic approach to culture, I like to draw on all of the traditions of my ancestry to create a blended American, particularly Northeastern, set of practices.

On the liturgical calendar, today is the Feast of St Joseph, which is a big deal in Italy, celebrated by the consumption of zeppole or sfingi, which in their fanciest form are akin to French crullers stuffed with custard or cannoli cream.  They aren't exactly the sort of thing which should be consumed on a regular basis, but are a rich, decadent treat to be enjoyed in the middle of the austere Lenten season, much as the traditional Irish boiling-bacon-and-cabbage, and its American successor, corned-beef-and-cabbage, are Carnivale-style indulgences in the middle of Lent.

On the social calendar, today is the Yonkers St Patrick's Day parade, which returns after a two-year hiatus resulting from the pandemic.  I suspect it will be a triumphant return, though the weather is supposed to be inclement, because people generally want a return to some semblance of a normal social life.

In my syncretic fashion, I plan on celebrating both of these feast days, meeting up with friends for some socializing and maybe a bit of parade spectating... there are plenty of pubs in the neighborhood in which to duck to get out of the predicted rain, though getting rained on is a particularly Irish tradition, which in the US diaspora community is typically celebrated in the Pacific Northwest.

I should be easy to spot, I'll be the guy who can alternate between Marina and Roddy McCorley.  Wait a minute, this is Yonkers, so half of the parade attendees will be able to do this...

As an addendum, I have an ace up my sleeve... my very English coworker asked me if I needed him to work a double, covering my upcoming midnight shift so I can get loaded.  I told him that I figured on bending an elbow for a couple of hours this afternoon, so he should expect me.  He responded, "I'll consider covering for you." 

Now. THAT is a definite yes.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Irish Solidarity with Ukraine, Yonkers Style

Yesterday, the Feast of St Patrick was a raw, rainy day, not ideal for walking a parade route.  Tomorrow, the day of the Yonkers St Paddy's Day parade, the weather forecast calls for rain.  Some luck of the Irish, huh?  As luck would have it, today has been a glorious, sunny day, with temps currently at 69F (21C).  

Running errands locally, I noticed that a lot of folks were out and about, enjoying this beautiful weather.  Some of the local businesses, notably bars such as Kean's and Moriarty's, were flying the Ukrainian flag as well as the ubiquitous Old Glory and the Irish Tricolor.  I'm proud of the Irish response to the Ukrainian crisis, including aid to Ukrainian refugees and a convoy transporting aid to Ukraine.  I'm proud of my paternal grandmother's people, and I sense a kinship with the Ukrainians, who are so like the Irish martyrs eulogized in The Foggy Dew:

While the world did gaze with deep amaze
At those fearless men but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light
Might shine through the foggy dew.
The Irish government released a video to show solidarity with Ukraine.  I note here that one does not simply play Fields of Athenry for just anybody:

There's a certain kindred feeling between two nations which have long had larger, aggressive, imperialist neighbors which have waged genocidal conflicts using famine as a weapon.
  Here, on this gorgeous day in my beautiful Yonkers, there's a certain feeling of unreality about the whole tragedy.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

St Patrick's Science! Deep Brain Stimulation

Today was a raw, rainy day, not exactly the day for a parade and other festivities.  Besides, my department is down to two persons on active status... luckily, my friend Jim is recovering from surgery, though in his inimitable fashion, he noted 'they cracked me open like an oyster'.  Suffice it to say, I am at work, and in a quiet moment, I will be listening to tonight's Secret Science Club lecture featuring psychiatrist and biomedical engineer Dr Alik Widge.  Dr Widge is affiliated with the University of Minnesota, and tonight's lecture is the annual Dana Foundation neuroscience lecture.

Dr Widge began his lecture, titled Brain Stimulation, Brain Circuits, and Mental Health with an invitation to an overview of what goes on electrically in the brain, and how the brain 

Brain is an information processing engine- brain problems are disruptions in circuits and need circuit-oriented treatment... specific communication pathways in the brain.  Circuit oriented treatment, nudging the brain's circuitry, is promising, but is expensive and difficult to do.  

Mental illness is a public health crisis.  $201 billion/year healthcare spending and up to ten times that in lost productivity.  Mental illnesses, typically beginning in one's teens or twenties, kill slowly.  They can often be treated through medications or talk therapy, but often cannot be cured.  Even patients who are successfully treated can have relapses.  There are long periods of trial and error in medicating patients, which is discouraging to patients.  These treatments aren't focal, they flood the brain with an neurotransmitter in the hope of fixing a problem.  Mental disorders are network disorders, they aren't simply chemical.  One of the streets in the brain has potholes or other traffic problems- the illnesses are hard to see because they result from subtle problems in the brain's pathways.

Electrical solutions to brain problems have been around for about a half century- in particular, electroconvulsive therapy, a controlled seizure under anaesthesia (Dr Widge noted that it's way more boring than what is seen in movies).  It is hard to scale up, requiring anesthesia and multiple MDs, but it works on about two-thirds of patients.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is much easier, requireing no anesthesia, and few side effects.  It uses strong magnetic fields to manipulate electrical activity in highly targeted areas of the brain.  It works for treatment-resistant depression in about two-thirds of patients.  It is not useful for other mental illnesses, and it does involve regular office visits, making it difficult for individuals not residing in large cities.  Also, patients tend to relapse in a year, requiring additional treatment.

An invasive approach is Deep Brain Stimulation, involving a pencil graphite sized wire implanted in the brain and attached to a pacemaker-type electrical system in the chest.  It was first used for Parkinson's and other tremor disorders.  The deeper one goes in the brain, the 'older' the brain is- evolution added layers to the brain, culminating in the cerebral cortex which makes us human.  

Deep brain stimulation was used in patients that other therapies could not treat- Dr Widge noted that the word 'miracle' was thrown around a lot.  It's rollout coincided with his graduation from medical school.  He noted that random trials were conducted with all subjects getting implants, but only half of the implants were activated.  The placebo was inactive, but the examiners would pretend to turn on the systems.  Eventually, all of the systems were activated, but the action can be manipulated in various ways- Dr Widge noted that this is a blessing and a curse... they are customizable, but the proper treatment is largely trial-and-error.  If a patient is lucky, the treatment is immediately successful, but if a patient is unlucky, it can take time for a doctor to 'dial in' a proper treatment.  Sometimes, a successfully treated patient will have the system turned off, and will relapse, necessitating a reboot.  This is also a test of instances in which the batteries run out.

These invasive treatments are expensive and it's hard to predict in advance who will benefit (proper fine-tuning is needed).  When people get better, the results are dramatic even in patients who do not respond to less invasive treatments.

There is a need for getting more specific, targeting cognitive flexibility... Dr Widge told us to think beyond 'depression', the term really doesn't work.  There are 500 symptom clusters which can result in a diagnosis of depression... what if someone from the wrong subset of patients is chosen for invasive procedures?  How can we tell if a patient's primary problem is depression or generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, or something from the addiction cluster?  

Why can't we tell these disorders apart?  They have overlapping symptoms.  There is a need to go deeper, to ask questions about symptoms- is a patient afraid, impulsive, taciturn, labile?  Is a patient stuck?  For every depression study, there is an OCD study, which had similar results from deep brain stimulation... the diagnoses are not considered related, but they are regulated by similar locations in the brain.  People with OCD and depression get 'stuck'- an OCD patient is temporarily stuck until a ritual is performed, while people with depression get stuck in long-term low points.  Does deep brain stimulation target one's cognitive flexibility?  Does it 'unstick' the brain, resulting in more flexible thought processes?  It's usually a 5%, maybe 10% improvement in decision-making speed, resulting in a subtle behavioral effect.  

Can the responses be quickly measured in order to do some fast auto-tuning?  Experiments were not conducted on psychiatric patients, but epilepsy patients with temporary electrodes in the brain implanted in areas close to sites used in deep-brain stimulation.  Auto-triggered simulation, a closed loop therapy applied when the brain needed a boost, as way more effective than non-oriented stimulation.  

Can patients be 'nudged' towards healthier, disease-fighting behaviors?  These treatments wouldn't directly cure mental illnesses, but they could initiate and self-help, leading to recovery- not just for depression, but OCD, PTSD, and addiction.  This would be a new rehabilitative/assisting model of mental health treatment.  The difficulty is getting this model out of the lab and into the real world- the equipment is expensive.

If we can understand the difficulties in connections in the brain, we could determine how to improve flexibility.  Dr Widge compared the firing of brain cells to a radio wave or heartbeat- there are rhythmic waves which can synch up, becoming coherent.  These electrical rhythms, synced up between areas, act as carrier frequencies to help information transmission.

In epilepsy patients, numerous electrodes are implanted in the brain in order to locate the area of the brain in which the seizures originate (typically in order to excise that portion of the brain).  Because these patients are bedridden while this detection occurs, they are often asked to perform tasks so neurologists can measure other brain functions- these tasks help to alleviate boredom.  In measuring brain engagement, multiple brain connections contribute information, allowing 'wiring diagrams' to be made to determine how to used targeting stimulation to increase flexibility.

By listening to one brain region, and using a single electrical pulse to nudge another brain region, brain areas which don't 'want' to sync up can be forced to synchronize.  Similarly, communication between brain regions can be decreased.  Eventually, the goal is to shrink down the equipment to something which can be powered by a cell phone battery.

We are on the cusp of changing the way that mental illness is treated, using electrical nudging when it is needed.  We need to start talking less of depression and more about brain flexibility issues, network problems.  Cognitive inflexibility is a low-hanging fruit, other mental health problems are more complicated- the toolkit needs to be expanded, doctors need to speak 'engineer', and equity must be achieved... black, brown, and poor persons have less access to clinical health trials and expensive treatments.  The taxpayers who fund these studies must benefit from them.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  How do researchers know that brain problems are electric?  Patterns of electrical activity have been measured among a wide array of animal subjects.  Physical changes in the brain lead to electrical changes- the brain is an electrical organ.  

Are there activities which can improve brain flexibility?  There is no set procedure, Dr Widge suggested doing something new on a regular basis- give the brain novelty, that's your best bet.  

Another question involved treatment of obesity- the issue is that it is unknown whether obesity involves an addiction or not.  Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa are better known- they tend to be related to OCD, and involve getting stuck into thought patterns.  Obesity is much more of a multi-factorial issue.

Asked about borderline personality disorders, Dr Widge noted that treating them was a major inspiration, he is working to set patients free from the parts of their brains that are preventing them from doing what they want to do.

Can patients get habituated to deep brain stimulation?  Absolutely, sometimes the electricity must be turned up.  By only activating the stimulation when needed, it is hoped that this habituation can be prevented.

Regarding autism, this work has not been tried.  Given connections between autism and OCD, there might be success in using DBS.  Most of the work is done in clinical depression, though, because that is where the money is.  To expand these studies, major medical device manufacturers need to get involved, and they want to treat the largest amounts of patients.  Once depression is tackled, other diseases can be knocked down one-by-one.

Individuals with depression have electrical 'wiring' problems, and these problems often result from trauma- environmental, familial, and other factors play a role in damaging the 'circuitry'.  A lot of times, people can develop the flexibility to make changes to their lifestyles, such as moving out of unhappy homes or seeking employment.  When Dr Widge has his 'doctor hat' on, he takes a holistic approach, despite specifically talking about DBS technology tonight.

Regarding the need for invasive implants, Dr Widge noted that most medicines start out with intravenous injections, then oral versions are eventually developed.  The physicists are at work as well as the neuroscientists, so less invasive devices may be around in his lifetime, if not the next five years.

There is a danger to self-administration of DBS- one side effect is euphoria, which can lead to behavioral problems.  In the case of people who are feeling 'too good', and engage in problematic activity, the stimulation needs to be toned down.  Total control over one's brain is dangerous, just as totally accessible machinery would pose risks to untrained persons.  Future doctors will have to engage in shared decision making with patients, weighing their needs and wants.

Are there ethical implications to having access to a chip in the brain?  Dr Widge joked, "Trust me, I'm a doctor."  He noted that there are ethical studies regarding this research.  He also noted that mind control is not possible.  He might be able to nudge a patient about 5%, but couldn't make them walk through the door.  Ethicists are on-hand to conduct interviews with patients, and most of them articulate that the therapy allows them to be their true selves.  The same ethical fears were applied to medications like Prozac.  Dr Widge then held up his empty glass and noted that his alcoholic beverage involved an ethical choice, and consuming it posed ethical issues, such as the ethics of driving.

Are there off-target effects to Deep Brain Stimulation and Cognitive Flexibility Therapy?  There's no such thing as a free lunch, but any side effects are unknown at this time.  Could there be deleterious effects, such as temporary deficits in mathematical skill or changes in impulsivity, that need to be quantified?  Stay tuned!

Regarding DIY TDCS, it's a Wild West situation akin to getting meds on a website.  It's not voodoo, but it's not well-studied.  Use with caution! 

Dr Widge ended the session by noting that he was taking baby steps.  He joked that he's involved in a mission to the Moon, but the questions he's receiving concern interstellar missions.  He needs to integrate his work with the work of others, using multi-pronged approaches.

Once again, my great and good friends of the Secret Science Club, in conjunction with the good people of the Dana Foundation, have served up a fantastic lecture.  Kudos to Dr Widge, Dorian and Margaret, and the folks at Dana.  For a taste of that SSC experience, here is a video of Dr Widge discussing brain network stimulation:


Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

2022 Reunions

Today has been a bittersweet day.  My friend and coworker Jim started his bypass surgery at 7:30AM, and that is an occurrence which will overshadow everything else work-related for the near future.

Things took a turn for the better at noon, when I attended our belated multi-department Christmas luncheon.  Everyone who answers to my immediate boss was invited, and with the exception of Jim, everyone was there.  Our head of grounds has quite a bit of pull in the organization, and she gets to choose the venue- this year it was a fairly upscale Italian restaurant, Tesoro D'Italia in Pleasantville (yes, it exists).  

I hadn't seen some of the luncheon attendees in about two years- COVID and my nights/weekends schedule keeping me from seeing even some essential personnel in the organization.  It was a nice reunion, and I had the pleasure of sitting next to one of our gardeners who is friends with my upstairs neighbor because both are involved in the GAA.  When I asked my neighbor if she knew my coworker, her response was hilarious: "Is she really good-looking?"  "Yes", I responded, "that's her."  Her son is now working in Galway, not too far from his grandparents.  I'll probably run into her at the Yonkers St Patrick's Day parade this coming Saturday, and I told her if she found me face down in the gutter, to make sure I was face down.

It was also good to hang out with my immediate boss, who I genuinely like.  He's super-competent, funny, and an interesting guy.  He's a drummer, even occasionally giving lessons.  He's also an architect, and has accomplished some major renovation work at several of our sites, so his reputation as an achiever is secure.  Right now, he's trying to obtain old plans for our properties so he can locate any pitfalls (literally, in some cases- there's an old well in a copse on one of our sites that has been largely forgotten) and bring the infrastructure up to 21st Century standards.  He kept the conversation informative and entertaining... I think we all appreciate him for his ability, his fairness, and his acknowledgement of our abilities.  We hung out for two hours, and the time flew by.

I also got to meet a new hire, who worked as an IT temp during our fall event season, but whose real love is for carpentry.  He joined our maintenance and restoration department, and has been busy at work preparing our sites for the upcoming Spring reopening.  It was nice to put a face to the name in the COVID-tracing sign-in book.

Currently, I am at my usual worksite.  When I arrived, the president of the organization was present, along with two vice presidents, and our new head of human resources.  They were interviewing a candidate for head of our education department, a very lovely woman who had put in a couple of decades in a public school system.  Again, I enjoyed seeing the bigwigs, though I did have to bear the unfortunate news about Jim's surgery.  They thanked me and Tim for jumping through hoops to cover the work that needs to be covered.  I also appreciated putting a face to the name of our new HR head, and joked about being the guy who he'll have to chase because of the weird nights and weekends schedule.  He's a good sport, at least he was a good sport about me telling him that my computer security system blocked the last form he sent me.

All told, it was a generally good day, though with a tinge of melancholy.  I was glad to see everyone that I saw, and I'm glad that our sites will be opening in a month-and-a-half.  I am hoping that 2022 will be the year of the comeback, though my optimism is cautious.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Ides Aren't Ideal

Recalling Roman history, we are told that Caesar was instructed to beware the Ides of March.  Well, the Ides are not ideal.  Last night, I received a call from one of my coworkers- the stents he had received last summer are not working, so he's going to need bypass surgery.  He'll be out for an undetermined amount of time, if he's able to come back at all.

Obviously, I told him that his health is of paramount importance, and that he sfrhouldn't even concern himself about this part-time, second job.  I value him as a friend as well as a colleague.  We have similar values and similar attitudes, and we just get along famously.

Today is an election day, and we are a polling site.  Because we are short-staffed, I started at 9AM and will be working until 9PM.  For the record, the one other gent in my department handled the 9PM to 9AM overnight, and will be back at 9PM, when the poll workers will still be present, sealing up the voting machines and waiting for the Board of Elections personnel to arrive to do their magic.

I have to say that the poll workers are, generally speaking, nice people.  That being said, one of them is a bit nosy, and kept asking me questions about the job, including what hours I work... I thought to myself, :"I work alone at nights, there's no way that I'm telling anybody what hours I'm covering the site."  If she wants to find out, she can try to sneak onto the site.  As if that weren't bad enough, she started complaining about the number of conservative media outlets on her cable package, and I had to tell her that she's getting a bit too close to breaking the 'no electioneering within 100 feet of a polling site' rule.  I might agree with her, but rules are rules.  She's the poll worker, she should know better.

Yeah, the Ides are not ideal, but at least I have a twelve hour period to cobble together a schedule for the upcoming weeks...

Monday, March 14, 2022

We Continue Our Countdown to 2022's Solemn Feast of St Patrick

I've been preoccupied for much of the past week, so I haven't been keeping up on my traditional countdown to the Solemn Feast of St Patrick.  This year, I have been posting about lesser known Irish rock bands, and today's post concerns The Fatima Mansions, led by curmudgeonly frontman Cathal Coughlan.  From their 1989 debut, 'Against Nature', here's Only Losers Take th Bus

The band played on for not-quite-a-decade, releasing their final album 'Lost in the Former West' in 1994. To illustrate the band's blend of hard-rock and scathing social commentary, here's Popemobile to Paraguay:

Mr Coughlan is still releasing material and holding the powerful to account.  In light of the revelations about Tuam and the Magdalene Laundries, I will note that he's been right all along.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

MAGA Donner Party?

Yesterday, much of the eastern seaboard of the United States was hit by a nor'easter, which is a cold gale, similar to a tropical storm, minus the tropical part.  Here in the NY metro area, there was snow and rain, accompanied by high winds.

In Hagerstown, Maryland, the temperature fell to 17F (-8.3C), with wind chill making it feel like 6F (-14.4C), but the diehard morons in the MAGA convoy remained hunkered down in their temporary lair:

Misinformation researcher CoolFaceJane relayed a somewhat grim account of the scene: She reported that the organizer of this shitshow addressed his followers this morning, acknowledging their hardship and urging them to continue their struggle, even if it means going home to their own states: It's supposed to be another frigid night for the Confederate Convoy on Cold-and-Stupid Mountain. It's a miracle that nobody seems to have died up there, and it's appalling that the MD Department of Health and Child Protective Services didn't intervene to make sure that any children in the convoy were cared for. It's not over though, this thing still could degenerate into a MAGA Donner Party.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Well Met at Sheetz

I'm a fairly loquacious person, with no qualms about striking up conversations with strangers.  On the drive home yesterday, in Gettysburgh, Pennsylvania, I stopped at a Sheetz gas station to fill up.  At the pump next to me was a gentleman, white, about sixty-fivish, I would guess.  He had a full head of hair, spectacles, and a pleasant face, and was filling up his sensible, mid-sized car.  

We greeted one another, as is appropriate on a warm, sunny afternoon, during a break in a drive.  He and his wife were from Philadelphia, and were on a weekend trip- he noted that they didn't do a lot during the week, saving their money up for weekend activities, such as a longish drive.  I answered, "Sometimes, you just have to get out of Dodge."

After a cursory comment about gasoline prices, he made a joke about guys who drive 'lifted' gas-guzzling pickup trucks, solo, to their office jobs.  I added a crack about these trucks invariably being spotless, without a scratch in their beds.  We both had a chuckle about the performative, macho masculinity these drivers had bought into.

He then noted that gas had only gone up about a dollar per gallon in price, and that this wasn't an unbearable increase, given the current geopolitical situation.  I replied that I was grateful that my wee car gets about 37 mpg average.

When we parted, we exchanged farewells, mine being the typical 'safe travels'.  I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this conversation, which took place in a locale which is typically seen as a Conservative stronghold.  I really shouldn't have been, we outnumber 'those people' by about seven million.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Paging Dr Xavier

I'll be homeward bond in less than an hour or so- I want to avoid any right-wing convoy lunacy, and I have to be at work at midnight.  I came down to help my Mom out, and to spend some time with her and with my sister, who is staying with her until she can get re-established on the East Coast after a California sojourn.

I'm happy to report that Mom is doing fine.  She had surgery yesterday to reduce scar tissue from a previous surgery, a routine procedure done to improve comfort and range of motion,,, sort of like a cleanup, or maybe more properly, a defrag.  When I picked her up at the hospital yesterday evening, she didn't look like she had just undergone surgery.  She was alert, even coming down from general anesthesia.  For the record, Mom will turn eighty-one in July, though you'd never guess it.  

This morning, she was up and about as if it were a normal day.  None of that 'you may be stuck in bed for a couple of days' for her.  She was told not to operate heavy machinery for a few days, and she can't shower until the 13th because of the Dermabond, but regarding her medical procedure, if you didn't know, you wouldn't know.  She reported that she is in no pain

I'm starting to think that Mom is an X-Man, given her preternatural recuperative powers. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Day the Earth Stood Still

It was exactly two years ago when the world ended.  Well, the old world ended, the Before Times when I could have said that I lived in a society which, by no means perfect, wasn't enthralled by a suicide cult.  It was Tuesday, I can tell you that without consulting a calendar because it was bar trivia night in an establishment which no longer exists, yet another casualty of the pandemic.  I met up with the usual gang, faced off against the usual rivals, in a contest run by the usual Master of Ceremonies.  We actually discussed the probability of event cancellations- his decision was easy because he had an infant daughter at home.  

Other upcoming events, such as March 17th's St Patrick's Day parade and the 2020 NY Judo Open Tournament, were canceled in the subsequent days.  After some initial mixed messaging about masks, largely because masks and other PPE were needed for medical personnel, I bought my first mask, mandated by NY State, in a 7-11 near my workplace.  Eventually, we all got care packages from management, a box of masks, a box of nitrile gloves, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and (inexplicably) a bottle of water.  

The real problem for me, a guy who works night shifts, was the diminished hours of all sorts of stores.  Most of the grocery stores in the area started closing at 7PM, which made buying coffee and milk for a midnight shift a frustrating task.  I recall driving on deserted roads to get to work, and upon arrival, watching my coworkers from a distance as they disinfected the company smartphone, and at the end of my shift, disinfecting the smartphone and putting it in the lockbox, then disinfecting the lock.  All sorts of rituals in a similar vein were adopted.

Yes, it was Tuesday, it was March 10th, when the old world ended, and a Changeling Earth (though not the one you're thinking of) was left in its place.  Things seem to be returning to life now, though nothing will ever be quite the same, especially in light of the revelation that a sizable percentage of the population is actively pro-pandemic.  It might happen again, another variant might cause the Earth to stand still once more.  COVID barada nikto!

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Family Fun Time

Yesterday, I arrived at Mom's house right around 6:30 in the morning, having had an uneventful overnight drive to the Washington DC metro area.  Suffice it to say, after having a perhaps-breakfast/perhaps-dinner with Mom, I ended up sleeping the rest of the morning.

My super-sarcastic sister, having gotten a new job in NoVa a couple of months ago, is staying with Mom while her husband is staying in the SF Bay area to sell their house.  I hadn't seen her in a while (pre-COVID), so dinner was a good opportunity to catch up on what's going on with my nephews.  It was also nice to have a taste of pre-pandemic normality for a change, even if it was something as simple as a low-key family dinner.

Today, I will be running some errands with Mom and making sure that her lawnmower starts after sitting idle in the garage all winter... typical suburban stuff that I haven't had to deal with because I rent an apartment.  Tomorrow is the big day, when I have to drive Mom to a doctor's appointment for a follow-up to a procedure she had a while ago.  It's the real reason I drove down here.   

This is a 'working vacation', but I'm having a good time hanging out with Mom and Sis.  We've had some catching up to do.  Hopefully, sometime in the near future, we'll be able to get the entire extended family together... we haven't all been under the same roof in altogether too long.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Leave Early, Avoid Idiots

I'm just about to hit the road to visit my mom in northern Virginia.  She needs some help with some stuff, and I try to be a dutiful son.  I figured I'd leave around midnight because I am used to working graveyard shifts, and I want to arrive at Mom's house around dawn, before the convoy of idiots hit the road later in the morning. 

I'm going to try to post each day while I am in Virginia, but I make no promises.  I'm going to try to keep abreast of the news while out-of-state, but I'm grateful for some distraction.

Monday, March 7, 2022

The Countdown to the Solemn Feast of St Patrick 2022

There's a countdown going on, and I'm not talking about the countdown to WW3 right now, though I wouldn't discount that.  I'm talking about the countdown to the Solemn Feast of St Patrick, which pretty much had been canceled for the past two years.

It's the custom of this blog to count the days to St Paddy's Day by posting videos of Irish music, typically traditional songs or modern ballads rooted in traditional or historical themes.  Today, though, we begin this year's countdown with a band that Friend of the Bastard J-Co mentioned today in a text conversation.  Zerra One, a new wave band formed in 1982, actually supported such 80s juggernauts as the Cure, U2, and the Boomtown Rats on tour, but quite found mainstream success.  The song I remember being played on the storied WLIR in my youth was Rescue Me, which peaked at 82 on the UK charts (CONTENT WARNING: 80s hair):

It's a good song, with a workmanlike sound, not very distinct from a bunch of other songs which became monster hits.  As a result of writing this blog post, I found an earlier single with a rawer sound, and will spend some time listening to more of their oeuvre:

Special thanks go to J-Co for reminding me that this existed... there's no trip like the nostalgia trip!

Sunday, March 6, 2022

American Nutjobs Workshopping Russian Propaganda

There is a contingent of anti-Trump activists who believe that QAnon was a psyop created by the Russian regime to divide Americans, though I am firmly of the belief that this conspiracy theory conglomerate was result of typical 4Chan shitposters who managed to hit the jackpot with their trollery.  That's not to say the foreign bad actors didn't amplify the conspiracy theory with bots and trolls, but they didn't create the narratives pushed by Q and Q acolytes.

Russia had a changing role in the QAnon lore, but on the whole, the QCumbers ended up casting Putin as a good guy- a friend of Trump, a man maligned by Hillary Clinton, an anti-LGBTQ fanatic fighting against a satanic New World Order or Deep State.  Putin was one of the 'white hats' fighting alongside Donald Trump against the sinister Globalists.

Now, with Putin engaging in an unprovoked invasion against a smaller, supposedly weaker nation, the American nutters felt compelled to continue their championing of this aspirational imperialist.  The conspiracy theory, workshopped by QAnoners and anti-vaxxers, holds that Putin is invading Ukraine in order to destroy bioweapon laboratories creating pathogens for the sinister Dr Fauci.  Now, the Russian Ministry of Defense is pushing these claims that the invasion force is destroying these bioweapons.

The circle is now complete, and the Russian propaganda machine is pushing American propaganda- the fact that it is American anti-American propaganda is just an indication of how insane things have gotten.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Convoytus Interruptus

I've been keeping an eye on coverage of the pro-Trump 'Freedom Convoy' which was hastily assembled in the wake of the 'trucker' occupation of Ottawa and several Canada/US border crossings.  An earlier convoy-adjacent rally in DC was a farce drawing about a score of people.  The current incarnation of the 'People's Convoy' is larger, but seems to be stalled in Hagerstown, Maryland- a directionless mob of morons. Once again, the intrepid Zachary Petrizzo of Daily Beast is on the job:

All is not well in the People's Paradise of Truckerstan, though: To heighten both the tension in Hagerstown and the comedic value of this shitshow, right-wing wannabe dirty trickster Jacob Wohl was forced out of the trucker rally for trying to incite them to some sort of action: Meanwhile, the convoy seems to be stalled for the moment, interrupted if you will, as some sort of vague plan for future action needs to be formulated: As always, though, heroes arise in dark times, and in Hagerstown, one particular man has ascended to internet demigod status:

Nothing like a nice bowl of ham-and-beans before a long day spent on the road with little access to public lavatory accomodations... 

I'm sure that these morons will be ecstatic about the prospects of camping out in a racetrack parking lot all night, before sitting in Beltway traffic on a day when most government officials are off from work. I just hope that none of them get frustrated enough to do anything really stupid. 

 Meanwhile, government should simply use the tools of mundane bureaucracy to thwart these idiots, making them pull into weigh stations and subjecting them to truck log perusals. These people want to disrupt DC- how about disrupting the disruptors?

Friday, March 4, 2022

A Blink-and-You'll-Miss-It Moment in the SotU Speech

I had meant to post about Biden's State of the Union Address, but other things got in the way these past two days.  In the midst of a speech about the COVID and Ukraine crises, there was a blink-and-you'd-miss-it moment in the context of the response to the Russian invasion:

Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression they cause more chaos.   

They keep moving.   

And the costs and the threats to America and the world keep rising. 

I can't have been the only person who thought that Biden was also talking about Trump, and his reluctance to concede to the peaceful transition of power.  In light of the January 6th Select Committee alleging that Trump and his cronies engaged in a criminal conspiracy, this quote takes on added significance.  Sadly, I'm not holding my breath for Garland's DoJ to aggressively pursue members of the Trump Maladministration.  I sure hope he's taking his time because he's thorough, not because he's cowed by the idea of a political firestorm.  Merrick, take the hint from Joe, and get moving.

Needless to say, 2022 continues to be a maddening year, though back in January, I had some feeling that the second half of the year would mark some improvement.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Headbanger's Holiday

One of my subordinates, the part-timer who works the afternoon/evening shift from Monday to Friday, is a big fan of all genres of music, but his two big loves are old, classic blues and various genres of heavy metal.  I'm not a big metalhead, preferring the stripped-down and strident punk rock- I know that people might say 'thrash is thrash', but I always preferred punk's political content to the typically apolitical metal.

I'm not against metal, and a bunch of my friends were, and still are, into it.  One of the guys I went to high school with specifically attended Seton Hall University so he could be a DJ at the storied WSOU (yes, one of the most celebrated heavy metal stations in the US is based in a Catholic university), where he swapped out his consonant-freighted Polish surname for the METAL 'Steve Steel'.  My coworker and I often talk about various bands, and share a taste for various bands with umlauts in their names.

For the last couple of weeks, he was on the fence about seeing the classic thrash metal band Overkill play a venue in Poughkeepsie.  Nobody in his circle of family and friends was interested in going to the show, though he's not the kind of guy to give up on a concert just because he's going solo.  I told him that if he changed his mind, and decided to attend the concert, he could just text me and I'd cover him.

This morning, he texted me right before 8AM to tell me that his brother called him up, expressing interest in the concert.  He jokingly asked me if I had discussed this with his brother last night.  It's funny, I'm perfectly cool with someone taking a night off to rock out and drink some beers- it's a personal day, meant to be taken for any reason, so if he wants a headbanger's holiday, more power to him.

Years ago, when I still worked for Corporate America, I had a manager who, every so often, would announce that she would be taking an 'FTO' day.  Needless to say, I learned well from her when it comes to management style.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Giving Up Blogging for Lent?

Today, Firefox has been very temperamental.  I've logged on and off several times, earning for my efforts 'connection timed out' and 'server not found' errors.  The past half-hour has been very frustrating as I've opened up my task manager and clicked 'cancel' on Windows attempts to alert Microsoft of my plight.  I still don't know the source of my difficulties.

This being Ash Wednesday, my frustration caused me to ponder giving up blogging for Lent.  Doing so wouldn't have been a sound decision, since Lent is a season for penitence, and trying to log in was an exercise in self-flagellation.  Besides, I gave up Lent for Lent.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Putin Has Brought Shame Upon His Dojo

 This post is a response to comment that Buttermilk Sky made on a recent post: You must be happy that Vlad is no longer honorary president of the Worldwide Judo Federation.  The IJF's statement is terse, but firm:

In light of the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine, the International Judo Federation announces the suspension of Mr. Vladimir Putin’s status as Honorary President and Ambassador of the International Judo Federation.

As a judoka, I would say that one good rule to live by is, simply put: "Do not bring shame upon your dojo."  When Jigoro Kano formulated judo in the late 19th Century (founding the Kodokan in 1882), he envisioned judo as having moral, physical, and spiritual and components.  It is significant that, when Sensei Kano adapted techniques from jujutsu (gentle, in the sense of supple or yielding, art), adapting the combat art into a sport and educational activity, he renamed it to mean gentle way- the 'do' suffix indicating that there are moral and philosophical underpinnings to the activity.  The moral code is pretty succinct, but covers a lot of bases.  It's a necessary thing to have in a sport in which we engage in potentially dangerous activities with friends.

Vladimir Putin has broken this moral code in an unforgivable fashion with his invasion of Ukraine.  Read the list enumerated in my link above, and you can tick off the precepts that he has violated.  Basically, Putin has brought shame upon the dojo by bringing shame upon himself.  

When Putin first became president of Russia, there was a buzz in the judo community because he was a highly ranked judoka.  We had a copy of an article about Putin's iconic face-off with 10 year-old Natsumi Gomi posted on the bulletin board in our dojo.  That was a humane moment, in which an adult player faced a young opponent in a spirit of fair play and pedagogy.  While I have no illusions that Putin was any great shakes back then, he wasn't quite the monster he is now.  It is a relief that the organization which represents us as a community has repudiated him.

I just want to note that we are not the only people serious about this 'do' concept- World Taekwondo has stripped him of an honorary black belt.