Saturday, April 30, 2022

Saturdays Are Busy Again

Today is going to be a busy day.  I'm at the tail end of the graveyard shift, but will be going to the first Saturday morning of this semester of my volunteer gig.  We are still in COVID mode, so we'll be outside again, but I will be bringing a portable crash pad so the kids can practice ukemi.  We might not be playing actual full-contact judo, but we will be able to practice the basics so our classes don't fall too far behind.

After classes end around noon, I will be going to my friend Kid's house to celebrate his sons' opening Little League baseball game.  As an added bonus, our great and good friend J-Co will be coming down from Boston for the festivities.  

It's going to be a good day, albeit a busy one, a day spent with old friends and young friends- guys I went to high school with, men and women I've coach with for many years, and young student athletes.  I'm going to be one tired guy at the end of the festivities, but that's the price one pays for being involved with people.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Breathtaking Bronx

In yesterday's post, I promised that I would provide photographs of my visit to the orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden with the lovely and brilliant Dr Jen as soon as I could connect my phone to my laptop.  I'm glad I got the logistics of the trip covered yesterday, so I can concentrate on the breathtaking beauty of the flowers on display.

We'll begin with the venue of the flower show, the 1902-vintage Enid Haupt Conservatory.  As we wended our way along the winding paths of the Botanical Garden, we suddenly saw a flash of sunlight on glass, signaling the location of this massive greenhouse.  Dr Jen made a quip about how, when she was studying pathfinding in the US Army, she learned how important it is to look up to get one's bearings.  The centerpiece of the conservatory is the glass dome, which is impressive when viewed from inside or out:

The conservatory was a perfect sanctuary on an uncharacteristically chilly (40F 4.44C) late April morning, though the warmth and humidity necessitated the removal of outerwear and hats.  The environment was perfect for a profusion of orchids, though:


The orchids weren't the only stars.  Climbing up a metal stairway to the canopy of the conservatory revealed some spectacular plants- I was particularly taken with this epiphytic cycad, Zama pseudoparasitica:

There was also this interesting bloom in the canopy, though I wasn't able to ascertain its identity... I love the color of this thing:

Many orchids are also epiphytes, such as these orchids being photographed by this fine specimen of Doctoria jenensis, out of her natural environment:

I have to confess that I was extremely lazy about checking out the Latin binomials of these flowers because I doubt they have common names that a layperson would recognize, but there was a riot of wonderful forms and colors.  

This burgundy beauty was particularly striking:

The form of this flower is wonderfully ornate:

If I had to guess, I imagine that this lovely specimen is a lady's slipper orchid, some species of which can be found in these here United States:

The cumulative effect of all these beautiful colors was inspiring, and the fragrance of the flowers was a constant background note:

In such a wonderland (you know, the Bronx), can one fail to be happy?

Look at those two merry adventurers, grinning ear-to-ear in a tropical paradise nestled in the heart of New York City's solitary mainland borough.  My goal was to convince Dr Jen that she should love the Bronx, as I do, and I think I achieved my goal.  I mean, how can one not love such a breathtaking borough?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By

Today's blog post was going to be a no-brainer.  This morning, an uncharacteristically chilly morning, I wended my down to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to meet Dr Jen.  My mission?  I was going to convince her that the Bronx is a place that is worthy of love.  My methodology?  To take her to the orchid show at the NY Botanical Garden.

The expedition was characterized by skin-of-the-teeth transfers... I caught the Bx34 bus at 8:06AM and arrived at the Woodlawn terminus with the 4 Train leaving in one minute.  By the time I swiped my Metrocard and hustled up the stairs, I was striding onto the train as the iconic 'Stand Clear of the Closing Doors' message played.  I had a leisurely two minutes to transfer to the 2 Train at the 149 St Grand Concourse station and arrived at our meeting place a minute early.

Jen and I then boarded the 2 Train and took it to 125th St, where a brisk walk took us to the Metro North Railroad station just in time to board the train.  There is a surcharge for buying tickets on the train, but the kindly conductor allowed Jen to download the MTA app so she could purchase tickets without this penalty.  We arrived at the Botanical Gardens station five minutes before the 10AM opening.

Dr Jen had a time constraint, an important call with a client at noon.  We had a whirlwind tour of the orchid show and our skill at making transportation connections ran out- we missed the Metro North train back to Manhattan by two minutes.  There's always a plan B, so we took a walk through the beautiful Bronx along Bedford Park Blvd to my beloved 4 Train.  We bid each other adieu, myself heading back north, and Jen heading downtown, where she would transfer, like I did, at 149th St Grand Concourse, to the 2 Train, which stops a couple of blocks from her domicile.  She made it back in plenty of time for her call.

So, why the technical difficulties when everything worked out to our advantage?  Well, I was going to post pictures of the orchid show, but I left my iPhone to USB cable at work, and the new charger cable for the phone is some proprietary BS which is incompatible with the laptop.  Trust me, I have plenty of gorgeous pictures on my phone.

Those pictures will have to wait for tomorrow's blog post, please stand by.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Gonna Call This One Early

2022 is not even one-third over, but I am going to make the call for best record release of the year.  Last year, I was taken with a song I declared the weird hit of the summer, Chaise Longue by Isle of Wight songstress/comediennes Wet Leg.  The band has been releasing singles on a regular basis and finally released their debut album, which is all-killer-no-filler.  Each of the tracks sound distinct, but all of them are unmistakably Wet Leg... the band's blend of off-kilt humor, low-key salaciousness, and guitar-shredding musicality are apparent in each release.  Their videos are also of-a-piece, with visual callbacks to prior releases.

I figure I should post videos for their last two releases, so you can compare and contrast them with last year's raucous breakout.  Here's the gorgeous Angelica, with its beautiful, layered vocal harmonies and dream-pop sound punctuated by aggressive guitar bursts:


Here's the droll UR Mom, which calls out PUA/negging BS in hilarious fashion.  It's here where I note that the 'Scotty and the Soft Boys' reference is probably a shoutout to Isle of Wight resident Robyn Hitchcock's first band.  I can imagine Rhian and Hester jamming out with Uncle Robyn, weaving together hilarious, surreal material.  The song is a classic putdown, but the video has a happy, timely ending:

For a good taste of the band's range, musicality, and sheer joie d'vivre, here's a live performance by Wet Leg... BLAST IT!


I know April isn't even over, but I'm calling this one.  There's no way that a better album than Wet Leg by Wet Leg is getting released this year... or perhaps any year.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Why so Tense? He's a Friend!

Yesterday, while on the scout, I noticed that Ginger was wagging her tail, which in 'cat speak' is not a sign of happiness and contentment:

I was wondering what got her dander up, and I noticed an old friend was lounging around the property as if he owned the place:

That handsome fellow is my old chum Deer 58, who is festooned with a radio collar and a couple of earrings.  I still haven't ascertained who's tracking him, or if he's on some sort of stag parole, but I figure he likes it here and plans on staying.  Ginger will just have to get used to him.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Bye Bye Birdie?

The big business news of the day is that Twitter's board accepted a buyout deal from Elon Musk, though the current shareholders could always put the kibosh on the deal.  If the buyout goes through, the app will probably degenerate into a shithole.  For all of his money, Musk is a troll with the mentality of a 12 year old... he's the sort of individual who accused a genuine hero of pedophilia in a fit of pique.

I think that MAGA infiltrator Amanda Moore has the best description of what will be in store if the deal goes through:

Yeah, having the world's biggest troll in charge of a major platform is bound to make it into a, shall we say, unappealing location on the web.


I just recently signed up with the platform, because it stopped being functional for readers who didn't sign up.  I'm not saying that I would automatically leave if it gets more toxic, but it would be funny if a mass exodus of users caused Muskie to lose a shitton of money.  If an exodus does occur, though, I want to remind people that Myspace still exists.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Tengrain Brings All the Folks to My Yard

In addition to posting the picture of the hilarious beef-free spicy beef sandwich on this blog, I posted it on my Twitter feed, and forwarded it to Tengrain for his running bad signs series.  Tengrain, being a magnanimous sort, and an unfailing supporter of moi,  Tengrain retweeted me and started a campaign to nab me over 100 followers by day's end:

The current count stands at 121.  Thanks, Tengrain!  You've always been the Patron Saint of the Small Bloggers (even us big ones), and you've always shown me nothing but kindness... love ya, man!

A perusal of my followers list will reveal that there are a lot of members of this here bloggerhood, a lot of the Wonkette commentariat, a handful of meatspace friends, and people who have found me via comments on other threads.  My follower growth was organic, incremental, but Tenrain changed all that.  This morning, my count was 84 followers, today's gain was the 'Grain gain.  I promise to use my powers for good, by which I mean snark.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

I Have Questions About Item 13

A couple of days ago, I stopped at a local delicatessen, and I noticed something odd about one of the items on their specialty sandwiches display:

I have questions...  

Here's where I confess that, despite my confusion regarding this sandwich and its anomalous name, that looks like one hell of a sandwich.  Actually, both of the sandwiches on display here look super delicious... I just don't think anyone should order the Spicy Beef Sandwich by name, not if they want that delicious-sounding item number 13.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Ponderous Possum

On April 2, I posted a comical video in which a rather chunky opossum ran right towards me until, within less than a meter, it realized that I was a monstrous bipedal threat.  Going through my photo collection on my phone, I realized that, before I realized that a video would be better I had taken a still photo of the possum squabble that precipitated that encounter.  I noted then that the possum in that video was considerably smaller than its adversary, which is the larger, paler blob in the still photo:

I'm reasonably sure that this diesel Didelphis is a male, because they get considerably larger than female conspecifics, and this is the largest opossum I've ever seen.  As I was leaving work in the morning, I took a brief, non-optimal video of this chunk while juggling a couple of bags.  Check out the massive cranium on this critter:

Needless to say, I am a fan of this absolute unit.  I don't know what the growth rate for Virginia opossums in New York State is, but one thing that bums me out is that these critters rarely live more than two years in the wild (with the exception of populations on predator-free islands), so I'm going to have to enjoy the company of this chonky boy while I can.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Rooting for Injuries in a Battle of Titans

It seems that every time Florida is in the news, it concerns a shitshow... I mean, when's the last positive story you've read out of the Sunshine State?   Well, the current shitshow is a battle between titans, both of which I have no use for... I am not a fan of Disney at all (I find their content to be saccharine, reactionary, and disrespectful of source material which is WAY more interesting, they own way too much of the Media/Entertainment industry, and their efforts to change IP laws oppressive to creators), but I absolutely loathe the Republican Party.  Therefore, I am watching the DeSantis/Disney battle with much glee, and I hope that both parties inflict grievous injury on each other.

The current fracas between Disney and the Florida GOP involves legislation to end a special self-governing deal that Disney was granted in 1967, which basically created a corporate fiefdom in which Disney was free from local regulation and taxation.  For once, I am in favor of a piece of Republican legislation.  That being said, the reason for this change is a Republican campaign against Disney for their tepid pushback against Republican anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.  I firmly believe that Disney should not be exempt from paying taxes, and should have limited scope in setting regulatory agendas, but the Republicans still manage to be the bad guys here.  I'd say I'm rooting for Disney, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to see them brought down a couple of pegs (especially regarding tax abatements).

One thing that I would like to note is that the number of votes DeSantis won by in 2018 is roughly equal to the number of Disney employees in Florida.  I sure hope this knock-down, drag-out fight continues.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Cult of Set Responsible for COVID?

From the annals of fake epidemiology, we have the conspiracy theory that COVID is caused, not by a virus, but by snake venom being used to poison tapwater supplies.  This whackaloonery was spread by right-wing crank Stew Peters in a QAnon-adjacent bit called 'Watch the Water'.  The Vatican is behind a plot to use snake DNA to turn humans into human/snake(devil) hybrids:

Never mind that not all religions consider snakes to be evil, evil overlords know that turning into a snake never helps Making people afraid of turning into snakes does help, though... it helps separate fools from their money:

  Filters?  There goes my plan to market antivenin pumps that you can hook up to your sink!

I'm old enough to remember when the anti-vaxxers were touting viper venom as a COVID cure. It's weird how fickle these fools are. At any rate, I suspect the Cult of Set might be involved... two, three years ago, COVID was just another coronavirux, but now it's everywhere: 


On a serious note... while the grifters are using this malinformation to scam the rubes out of money, it's baffling the lengths to which the rubes will go to avoid the reality of a viral pandemic which can be mitigated with vaccines and mask use.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Former Saint Now Eligible for Beatification

Today's bummer news is learning that Chris Bailey, the lead singer of seminal Australian punk band The Saints, died at the age of 65 this month.  The Saints formed in Brisbane in 1973 and their 1976 single (I'm) Stranded was the first punk single by a non-American band.  With its distorted guitar onslaught and raw vocal, it still sounds dynamic and timeless:

(I'm) Stranded was chosen for the title of the band's first record.  The band's second single was Erotic Neurotic, and it follows that same model of guitar onslaught backing raw, deadpan vocals:

For their second studio album, Eternally Yours, the band mixed their punk sonic onslaught with R&B style horns.  Know Your Product wass the standout single from the album:

As was No, Your Product:


The third album Prehistoric Sounds presaged the breakup of the original lineup of the band, with Chris Bailey wanting to pursue a more traditional rock-and-roll sound while lead guitarist Ed Kuepper wanted to move in a more avante-garde direction.  Here's the Bailey-penned Take This Heart of Mine:

Mr Bailey kept soldiering on throughout the 1980s, releasing the poignant Ghost Ships in 1984:

In 1986, the Saints released the album All Fools' Day, which hit the Australian charts and was a commercial success in the United States.  The lead single, workingman's anthem Just Like Fire Would, became a bit of a standard, and was even covered by that Springstone fella:

Chris Bailey and the Saints were instrumental in inspiring other Australian musical legends such as Nick Cave.  Mr Bailey's career was stellar, his music ranging from raw DIY punk to R&B to an antipodean take on Americana music.  As always, the best tribute to the man is to blast his music on full volume.

Monday, April 18, 2022

One Long Setup for a Grift

One of the latest viral sensations coming from the right-wing fever swamps is Tucker Carlson's hilariously homoerotic screed about the crisis among men.  The whole thing is cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs, but Media Matters for America analyst Nikki McCann-Ramirez distilled it down to its Chuck Tingle-esque essence:

Besides the homoeroticism of the clip, I am struck by the performative bullshit of it all, particularly the slipshod manner in which these guys are performing their manly feats. The guy who's shooting shirtless will probably get burned by hot, ejected casings, the guy grilling is using flames which are way too high, the wrestler goes for a lackluster 'shoot for the leg' manuever... my favorite is the guy with the axe, who is 'choked up' on the handle too much, and keeps his hands together, which prevents him from building the momentum for proper chopping. These are actors, not men performing tasks in a competent fashion. 

As someone who is 12/10 on the manliness scale, i have to say that this whole farrago of macho posturing was extremely funny. And then there's the real nutty stuff, such as the ball-baking content:

Uh, there's a reason why the testicles are stored in a little bag dangling outside the body, but who am I to tell MAGA males not to nuke their sperm counts? That being said, it's entirely appropriate that the Swanson's TV dinner heir is telling his rubes to stick their family jewels into an Easy-Bake Oven. 

As soon as I saw this trailer, I smelled a grift, and I suspect that Tucker Carlson will launch a line of 'male vitality supplements' like those that Alex Jones has been hawking for years. Carlson has got to know that Jones is in financial trouble, and is probably moving in on this particular scam, though Jones is too stupid to see it:

There's no honor among scam artists.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Happy Easter 2022

Here's wishing all of my readers a happy Easter.  I'm currently working the graveyard shift, which entails preparing the site for any daytime activities.  This year, that means hiding Easter eggs for the annual egg hunt.  Since most of you aren't local, I can get away with giving you folks a hint...  I've hidden eggs under half the the geese on the property:

Actually, it's early in the season, so the Branta candadensis population onsite is jockeying for prime nesting sites. Doing research on these birds, I learned that they can reach ages in the thirties, even in the wild.  While I can't be sure, not being skilled in telling individuals apart, I think this bold goose might be this guy, who I have a history with.  If so, he's mellowed considerably, and he knows that I won't back down to his bluster, so he gets close and noisy, but avoids any physical conflict these days.

Happy Easter, everybody... it's a good day to make a truce with a goose.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Clean Bill of Health

A couple of days ago, on Thursday, my coworker Ginger had her annual veterinary checkup, and she was given a clean bill of health, with the only issue being some wearing of the old choppers.  She certainly looks the very picture of feline salubriousness:

As you can see, she's resting on top of my human coworker's laptop bag.  When I arrived at shift change last night, she was on his naughty list because she took a stroll across his keyboard and managed to rotate his screen display 90 degrees.  The acrimony was short-lived, a simple CTRL-ALT-Arrow key combo was enough to set things aright.

I'm happy to say that we will be open to the public in three weeks, so Ginger will have a larger captive audience for her antics.  There's nothing she likes better than showboating, such as carrying a dead mouse around in front of a group of visitors.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Paying My Dues for Living in a Society

Although this year's tax deadline is 4/18, today marks the traditional tax deadline that looms in the public consciousness.  As is typical, I make no complaints about paying taxes- the roads I use are paved, the water I drink is potable (for now), and the refuse I leave behind is picked up... ever since my first paycheck, I've looked upon paying taxes as the dues I pay for living in a somewhat functional society. 

Not all Americans feel that way, and those who seek to reduce the financial constraints on the already wealthy also want to remove the regulatory constraints on them... even going so far as removing states' abilities to set clean water standards.  The conservative judges (can't call them 'justices') on the Supreme Court believe in clean water, they just don't believe in affordable clean water.  I'm sure that the individuals they want to reduce taxes on will be able to buy all the clean water they want.

Me?  I believe in the common good, for the common people.  I pay my taxes into the common fund... that's just common sense.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The New Satanic Panic

I have vague memories of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, though it never took root in the Northeastern territories that I call home.  The culmination of the Satanic Panic was a witch hunt based in fears of Satanic ritual abuse of children... you see where this is going?

The new culture war, centered on fears of transpersons, is a rehash of the Satanic Panic, and it also involves accusations of institutionalized child abuse and the sexual 'grooming' of children... and as Robyn Pennachia notes, it's going to get somebody killed.   My belief is that the Right is still incensed about losing the last big battle in the Culture War, over same-sex marriage, that they are using anti-transperson bigotry as a Trojan Horse to roll back LGB rights as well... and they won't stop, they will also roll back women's rights.  

The promulgators of this campaign are perfectly willing to see people killed, LGBTQ people, straight allies, teachers, low-level Disney employees and theme park goers... These are the same people who made up the 'Pizzagate' lie that ended up with a pizzeria in DC getting shot up and the shooter thrown in prison.  They don't even care about the welfare of their dupes, much less the welfare of their perceived political enemies.

The things that concern me the most about this current round of Satanic Panic are the fact that the country seems more awash in guns than ever before, the political rhetoric has gotten more polarizing and dehumanizing, and the pundits just don't seem to understand that this is stochastic terrorism- they will 'bothsides' a goddamn shooting at a Disney store in a mall if one occurs.

As a coda, I'm going to show what one of the so-called 'smartest guys in the room' has to say about disinformation:

He comes so close to getting it, but he muffs it up.  Misinformation is being employed in this election season precisely because the Republicans lost the last two election cycles based on their being "broadly in line with what you might expect given underlying economic conditions, etc."

If some whacko shoots up the entrance queue at Disneyland, I'm sure he'll have some theory about why Republicans are not to blame.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Triumphant Return of Live Secret Science Club Events

Last night marked the resumption of Secret Science Club live lectures at the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.  It also marked the end of my two-year-and-two-month exile from the borough. Time being a strange thing, as I walked down 7th Street on a gorgeous afternoon, I felt like it hadn't been any time at all.  I was ecstatic to see the usual Tuesday night bartenders were working- I absolutely love them, and was greatly relieved to see that they had weathered the pandemic unscathed.  My greatest concern for the past two years has been the prospect of people I know missing from my favorite establishments.  So, yeah, major sigh of relief here.

I am also happy to report that the lecture was by a man who I have long admired, primatologist Dr Frans De Waal, professor emeritus of Emory University and former director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center Living Links Center.  I have noted earlier that I read a lot of Dr De Waal's academic papers while in college, and I had enjoyed his prior SSC lectures.  Last night, I also had the great good fortune to be able to speak one-on-one with the good professor before the lecture.  Needless to say, I was unabashedly 'fanboying' the whole evening.

Last night's lecture by Dr De Waal concerned gender, the topic of his new book, Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist. I joked to Dr De Waal about his prescience in writing a book about gender in time for it to be released while an acrimonious Culture War regarding gender is raging throughout the United States.  It's going to take intelligent, compassionate, level-headed voices like Dr De Waal's to get us out of the mess we're in.

Dr De Waal began his lecture by commenting on the importance of live events.  While the Zoom lectures were a success, humans want to see, hear, and smell people in person.  He then joked that he would be lecturing on gender because he wanted to pick a topic that's non-controversial, that we all agree on.

The lecture then started in earnest with a discussion of Sex vs Gender.  Sex is determined by biology, it is a matter of chromosomes and hormones.  Humans exhibit less sexual dimorphism than the other great apes.  Men and women don't have many differences in physical capabilities, the one significant difference being males, on average, having more upper body strength.  Gender is how we define ourselves.  Sex is largely, but not entirely, a binary.  Gender is a social construct and is not binary.  As far as the nature vs nurture part of the equation, it's not a big deal.

Dr De Waal, noting that human sexual dimorphism is tiny compared to that of the other apes, illustrated this in hilarious fashion by displaying a picture of himself and his five brothers towering over their diminutive mother.  He noted that growing up in a household of six boys made him curious about gender.  He stated that humans are apes, being large tailless primates, and noted that our closest relatives, chimps and bonobos, are more sexually dimorphic than humans but less sexually dimorphic than gorillas and orangutans.  Male chimps are built like bodybuilders and have larger canines than females, and males are dominant.  Bonobos form social groups in which females are dominant.

The topic then shifted to gender among our ape relatives.  Gender is an important concept for humans.  Humans are culture-oriented, we mature slowly because we need to learn many things.  Apes also mature slowly, a chimpanzee can be considered an adult at 16, they are dependent on their mothers until age 10, and typically become weaned around 4 years of age.  Apes are culture-oriented, they need to learn things from others, such as tool use, what to eat, and, of particular importance, social behavior.

Mothers are the important models for behaviors- they teach their young how to, for example, use twigs to 'fish' for termites.  It's been observed that female chimpanzees tend to follow the examples of their mothers more closely when it comes to the duration of  'dipping' for termites and the form of their twigs.  Males tend to emulate male role models, and often show greater variation in twig length and dipping duration (this raised quite a chuckle from the audience).  When it comes to self-socialization, the young emulate models of their own gender.  In the case of the self-socialization of transgender children, models of the opposite sex are emulated.

Dr De Waal then introduced us to Donna, a gender non-conforming chimpanzee at the Yerkes center.  Donna had been studied since she was two.  Her build was similar to that of a male, and she enjoyed wrestling with other males in her youth.  She also exhibited the long hair typical of male chimpanzees, and would experience less genital swelling than other female chimpanzees.  She was largely asexual, best described as infertile and peaceful.  Donna was well-integrated with the group.  Dr De Waal then noted that some males are atypically non-confrontational.  These males, like Donna, tend to be individually well-accepted- pigeonholing is not done, apes don't play those games.

Chimpanzees and bonobos are equally close to humans genetically, but they contrast greatly with each other behaviorally.  Chimps frequently engage in conflict, and males dominate in social groups.  Bonobos have female dominated societies marked by little conflict.  Dr De Waal noted that the posture of dominant male chimpanzees is best described as a bipedal swagger, but that even the swaggering alpha male usually depends on the support of powerful older males that cease to fight for dominance:


Chimpanzee societies are territorial, they often attack, and sometimes even kill, neighbors.  There have been 151 documented cases of violent deaths in chimpanzee conflicts, but only one suspected case of a bonobo killing another bonobo.

Bonobos have high-pitched voices, and before they were recognized as a separate species, were confused for young chimpanzees.  Bonobos are more anatomically similar to humans than chimpanzees are, having longer legs.  Bonobos are known for their sexual ways- they like sex in all positions and combinations, and use sex for social reasons.  Bonobos came to be known in the popular culture as the 'make love not war' apes.  Bonobo sexual activity is often elicited by food- food excites them, and they have sex.

There are 120 bonobos in captivity worldwide, and all of their social groups are led by females.  This dominance is a collective dominance, individual females cannot dominate on their own, so they team up.  This dominance isn't always nice, biting does occur.  

Bonobos are not territorial, and when different groups meet, the females like to mingle and share food.  They will even adopt orphans from other groups.

Dr De Waal then went on to discuss gender preferences in toys.  Young female chimps and bonobos are attracted to dolls, they will care for dolls and even build nests for them.  They will even improvise dolls from logs that they carry like infants.  Young males have a more technical interest, they often rip dolls apart to see what's inside.  

Among macaques, females will handle other mothers' infants, and even juvenile females will handle babies.  Males are not nearly as interested in babies, and mothers are not as willing to let them handle them.  Young females often act as baby sitters, which allows mothers to spend more time feeding and grooming.

Male chimpanzees are more prone to rough-and-tumble play, which provides them with the skills they will need in their adult life.  Adolescents will learn how to control their strength and learn to be gentle with babies.

Regarding intelligence, Dr De Waal noted that, for centuries, belief in male intellectual superiority was used as an argument for inequality.  Even Darwin, so right about many things, was terrible about women's intellectual equality:

“The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is [shown] by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain — whether requiring deep thought, reason or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.”

Dr De Waal stressed that there is no data to indicate intellectual differences between males and females.  

He then shifted the topic of the lecture to displays of intelligence among chimpanzees, such as Ayumu, a chimpanzee which excels at memorization tasks, beating humans at this game:

He then showed us a video of Lisala, a female bonobo, transporting a rock a kilometer to a place with a hard surface in order to crack nuts.  This necessitated planning ahead.

Dr De Waal reiterated that there are no sex differences in males and females when it comes to intelligence.  Intelligence evolved in tandem between the sexes.  He drove this point home with a video of a group of female chimpanzees which conspired to take down a drone that they despised:

Dr De Waal quipped, "Meet your ape overlords."

The topic then shifted to alpha males, and Dr De Waal noted that not all bullies, and that many notions about alpha males are really excuses for societal inequality.  Using the hamadryas baboon as an example, the males are much larger than the females, but many of the assumptions about their behavior were the result of a study of a captive population in a London zoo composed of 100 males and 5 females... while wild baboon societies are not always nice and gentle, they aren't at all like this London nightmare scenario.

Most ape societies are functional.  Alpha males tend to keep the peace by defending the underdog- females from males, juveniles from grownups.  They generally regulate aggressive behavior.  Effective alpha males are popular, are good leaders, are protective, and well-supported.  Bullies are dealt with, sometimes even killed.  To illustrate good alpha behavior, Dr De Waal showed us a video of a male standing in a road while the group crossed it.  At least half of alpha males are effective leaders, not bullies.

In bonobos, females are the leaders.  Even chimpanzee societies have powerful females- dominance and power are not equal.  Alpha males need support, and powerful matriarchs, such as the famous Mama, can be helpful in this regard.  Dr De Waal posed the question: Who is more powerful?  All societies have hierarchies, which is more important, the dominance or the support?  He joked that the concept of the pecking order comes from hens, not roosters.  Both sexes are hierarchical.  Then, there's the case of Japan's Monkey Queen, a young female which wrested control of a huge macaque troop.

Often, powerful females are mediators.  Mama was known to interpose herself between fighting males until a reconciliation would be reached.

Males are sometimes known for care of juveniles, but they protect rather than nurture.  In Uganda, a respiratory disease killed many chimps, leaving orphans which were often adopted by older siblings. In one case, an alpha male named Freddy adopted an orphaned male named Oscar.  Males have the capability to care for the young when necessary. Things are easier in human societies, in which the nuclear family is important, and males have stronger paternal tendencies.

Dr De Waal concluded his lecture with a list of point, noting that he is a biologist working in the psychology department.  It's useful to distinguish between sex and gender, but they cannot be completely disconnected.  All hominids have genders and behavioral differences exist. Differences are often assumed about topics like female hierarchies and male friendships- lines can be blurry between rivalries and friendships.  There is no difference in intellectual capacity between males and females. 

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session, and some Bastard in the audience noted that the timing of the release of this book could not have been more fortuitous, given the current culture war over gender identity.  Dr De Waal noted that this conflict is primarily over transgender issues, and that primates don't discriminate in this way.  He supports transgender rights, but feels that the issue of competitive sports, while overblown, needs to be, and will be, sorted out, though transgender athletes compose only about one-thousandth of competitors (in our one-on-one, I suggested getting rid of gendered athletics, using body mass and height as neutral qualifiers).  Regarding Donna, the gender non-conforming chimp, no studies were made of her genetically or hormonally- Dr De Waal said, "We took her as she was."  Regarding mental abilities, the only difference between males and females is that males are slightly better at spatial orientation and the rotation of 3D objects- this might be because in most mammal species, males travel from female to female while females tend to have their own territories.

Asked about transphobia, Dr De Waal notes that language does not cause it, but it doesn't help.  Apes can't vocalize about gender or racial differences.  Colombian spider monkeys come in many colors, but there's no labeling.  Labeling can increase pigeonholing due to different appearances.  Among chimps and bonobos, not too many males act in a feminine fashion, but homosexual behavior is pretty common.  Even sex is not a binary- about one to two percent of the population is non-binary or intersex.  Gender is certainly not binary.  Transphobia and homophobia are not observed in chimps or bonobos, the only thing that is greeted with intolerance is disturbing the peace.

The Secret Science Club has returned to form, serving up a fantastic, topical lecture by Dr Frans De Waal, who hit what I call the 'Secret Science Sweet Spot', that heady blend of hard science, advocacy, and entertaining narrative, in this case the exploits of various apes.  Kudos to the good doctor, to Margaret and Dorian, and to the beloved staff of the beautiful Bell House.  I'm overjoyed to be back, learning while intoxicated, with such wonderful people.  Hugs all around!

For a taste of the Secret Science experience, here is Dr De Waal lecturing on alpha males, a topic he touched upon in his SSC lecture:

Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

A Pall Hangs Over a Homecoming

Tonight will mark my return to Brooklyn after a two-year-and-two-month absence.  It is the return of live Secret Science Club lectures to the beautiful Bell House.  As if that weren't enough, tonight's lecture will feature a personal hero of mine, Primatologist Frans De Waal, who has been working for decades not to bridge the divide between humans and animals, but to point out that there really is no divide.

Today would be an unambiguously glorious day, but for one event which casts a poll over the day, the borough of Brooklyn, the New York City metro area, and the country- a shooting at a D/N/R station at the 36th St stop which claimed ten lives.  Longtime readers might recall that my typical Bell House trip involves a ride on the 4 Train from the Bronx to the Atlantic Ave stop in downtown Brooklyn, then a transfer to the R train.  Looks like I'll be taking shanks' mare down 4th Ave this evening.

I can't complain, this is a minor inconvenience at worst, a chance to check out interesting restaurants at best.  People were killed, people are wounded, that's the thing to remember.  Those deaths sadden me, but I refuse to live in fear.  Brooklyn, here I am come, but with my gladness tempered for sorrow for the fallen.

CORRECTION: None of the ten people shot has died, all in all, 29 people were injured, but there were no fatalities, thank goodness.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Public/Private Service Arrangements

I am happy to say that, at the beginning of last week, I had three pressing tasks which had to be completed on a deadline, and that today I finished the last of the three, all of which were done in time.  This last task was mailing in my tax returns for both federal and state/local governments.

Yes, I mailed in my tax returns.  In order to file electronically, one needs to set up an account with a private, third-party provider, and I really don't want to navigate various websites for various programs of varying dubiety.  How many of these services are bait-and-switch providers who will end up charging for nominally free services?  I really don't feel like having to read more fine print than even the Internal Revenue Service puts you through.  

In contrast, one of the other tasks I had to accomplish was filing a vision test with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles in conjunction with a mail-in license renewal.  The state gives you some time to get this done, and with the pandemic, I admit I had been procrastinating.  One factor is that the DMV doesn't allow walk-ins, and with my work schedule, making an appointment would have been difficult.  The DMV does partner with vision test providers, and I discovered that the local chemists' shop, an easy trip on foot, accepted walk-ins.  In five minutes, I was there, and in five more minutes, the charming clerk administered the shockingly easy (the vision requirement is 20/40) test:

"Can you read line six on the chart?"

"That's it?  That seems too easy."

(Laughing) "OK, read line eleven."

So I did...

After the actual test, I paid the fee and the clerk informed me that the shop would file all of the information with the DMV, that my work had finished with the actual examination.

There's a contrast between two public/private service arrangements- one in which the private provider adds layers of complication to a task which should be strictly between taxpayer and government, and one in which the provider does the bulk of the actual work.  I know which one I prefer.  I usually post about my attitudes toward taxes on April 15, the usual Tax Day, though one which often doesn't constitute the real deadline.  I think I shall this year as well.  Today, I just wanted to talk about one arrangement done right, and one which isn't quite ideal.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Migrants Over MAGAs, Any Day

With one notable exception, I tend to publish one post per day, so I am a couple of days behind on the story of Texas governor Abbott's declaration that he would bus border-crossing asylum seekers to Washington DC:

At a press conference on Wednesday, Abbott unveiled a stunning plan that sent a shockwave through the immigration rights community: Texas would place state troopers in riot gear to meet migrants at the border and bus them straight to the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., where he said the Biden administration "will be able to more immediately address the needs of the people that they are allowing to come across our border."

Sure, it's unconstitutional, but Abbott succeeded in his goal of trolling the libs.  Personally, I would much rather have migrants as neighbors than MAGAs.  Donald Trump infamously said that Mexico wasn't sending its best people, but the people that Mexico and Central America are sending are a damn sight better than Trumpers.

On a serious note, the crises in Central America are the result of American policies, specifically Republican policies- whether its climate change exacerbated by Republican denialism, or the societal crises rooted in Reagan's support of violent right-wing regimes in the 1980s.  We owe a debt, or more properly punitive damages, to Central and South American peoples, and satisfying that debt would go a long way toward ameliorating the border crisis that Abbott is trying to overplay in this election year.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Sad News About a Bastard Favorite

Via Malaclypse, I have learned that a Bastard fave, 'Jazz Butcher' Pat Fish, died last October at the all-too-young age of 64.

My first introduction to Mr Fish was as a youth listening to college radio.  The album Distressed Gentlefolk was a particular favorite of the young Bastard, with it's mix of jangle-pop and droll lyrics:


A few years back, I was sent on one of my period binge-listens to The Fall after hearing Southern Mark Smith (the joke being that Mark Smith is decidedly Northern):

Mr Fish seemed to be channeling Mr Smith in his surreal, kinda-disturbing 1984 track Caroline Wheeler's Birthday Present:

A posthumous album was released, and the single Time is particularly poignant in light of Pat's passing:

Of course, the best way to commemorate musicians is to blast their music, and I've found a live 1985 performance by Pat Fish and the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy.  This is a good introduction to the man's music and drollery

I'm bummed out at hearing of Pat Fish's passing, but the musical legacy he left behind is some consolation.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Palate Cleanser: Unplugged but not Unbowed

The political discourse has gotten particularly stupid and nasty, the Ukraine situation is unremittingly horrific, and COVID is still a problem, so I figured I needed a break.  In times like this, it's nice to hearken back to a simpler time, when things were still pretty bad, but youthful optimism still holds out.

In my case, I have been an unabashed Joan Jett fan from the get-go.  I love Joan's music, but I love Joan herself... besides having a fierce sex appeal that doesn't diminish from her badasssery, Joan is valiant, a crusader for justice, a savior of the helpless... there's nothing about her that I do not love LOVE LOVE.

In an interesting change of pace from her loud, hard-rocking oeuvre, Joan has released an album of acoustic versions of her classic hits.  Here's an almost plaintive version of her signature tune Bad Reputation:

For a particularly topical song, here's an acoustic version of her cover of the Replacements' Androgynous, a particular favorite song of mine:

If Joan Jett is on your side, you're on the right side.

The whole album is great fun... Joan sounds just as bad in campfire singalong mode as she does in stadium concert mode.  It's not-quite-nostalgia, the old songs being a different style, but it's nice to hear new aspects of old favorites.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Another Historic Biden Nominee

Back in the 2016 Democratic primary season, I was 100% in Liz Warren's camp.  Having followed Joe Biden's career, I found him to be too much of a centrist, a corporation-friendly Delaware guy, for my comfort.  I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the man's 'presidenting'.  I am especially pleased with Biden's historic nominees for his administration- the first Black female Vice President, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior.  Biden, that old white man, had surrounded himself with talented women of color.

And here we have what an earlier Biden himself would call a Big Fucking Deal, but this is a bigger deal than the Affordable Healthcare Act- the confirmation of America's first Black woman as a justice of the Supreme Court.  The Republican attacks on her were disgusting (claiming she was soft on sexual predators, and allegations that she wasn't well qualified, and the perennial 'most liberal nominee to the Supreme Court' assertion that they think sounds bad.  She's brilliant, she's had a career which perfectly suits her for the position, and she is a history-maker.  The naysayers' tears are delicious.

Again, I thought that Biden was going to be sort of a 'placeholder' president, one to keep things steady as the country moves to dig itself out of the ditch The Former Guy put it in, but the only placeholding he's doing is holding places open for a new generation of public servants who, in the aggregate, more resemble the population of These Here United States.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Spring Is Here, Ouchy and Delicious

Among the welcome signs of early Spring, among the sound of the red-winged blackbird, and the sight of the American robin, is the emergence of the stinging nettles on the property.  They are small and unobtrustive at this point, but will be good eating when they get a bit taller.

Nettles have a high protein content, so their emergence in the early Spring was fortuitous for our forebears, who needed nutritious foodstuffs after a Winter of preserved foods... if they were lucky.

Back in 2020, when grocery shelves were bare (one night, the only stuff in the entire frozen food aisle at Stop-and-Shop were bags of okra, necessitating Gumbo Week), the one thought that kept me going was 'you just have to hold out for nettle season'.  Once the nettles came up, the bare grocery shelves didn't loom so large.

It helps that nettles are delicious, and, once parboiled to remove the 'sting', can be used for any applications that one would use spinach or kale for.  Even better, the emergence of the nettles is the harbinger of other plants emerging- the lambs quarters, the pokeweed... the promise of greater bounty.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Yonkers Loves Ukraine

Last weekend, I headed to Yonkers' celebrated Ukrainian butcher shop to pick up some of their famous house-made kielbasy, and to see if they had put up a collection jar for relief for the Old Country.  Needless to say, they were flying the Ukrainian flag outside:

A couple of doors up the street, the Catholic Slovak Club (memories are long, and atrocities not so old) had a message of solidarity posted in the window:

Closer to home, in my neighborhood, many businesses had Ukrainian flags displayed, including the Aisling Community Center, which was formed to support the Irish immigrant community which makes up the backbone of the neighborhood.  Most of the bars, such as Fagan's Ale House:

The Heritage:

And Keane's were displaying the flag:

As well as such restaurants as the Irish Coffee Shop:

And the Healthy and Hearty takeaway shop:

These are only the businesses I passed by today while running errands before heading off to work.  As I noted in an earlier post, the valiant resistance of a people against a hostile, larger neighbor (that uses famine as a weapon of genocide) is one that resonates among the people I am proud to claim kinship with through my paternal grandmother.  Back in the not-so-good days, the neighborhood still had some 'IRA Bars' (don't ask to many questions) running funds to the holdouts, but I haven't seen any evidence of gunrunning to Lviv.  Not yet.

In June, the Ukrainian Festival will be taking place at St Michael's Ukrainian Church, with all proceeds going to relief agencies.  It's important that our Ukrainian neighbors know that we stand with them in the face of this senseless war.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Bucha Butchery

The news out of Ukraine is particularly horrible, with reports out of the town of Bucha pointing to a genuinely genocidal campaign.  I'll spare my readers any of the graphic pictures, but this particular fact hints at an extensive catalog of horrors:

The worst thing about it this report is that it gets worse.  Not to get too upsetting, but if this is the treatment that adult males received... yeah, no need to dot an 'I' that big.  

Even just a month in, it is evident that, even if the country is victorious, it will take generations for Ukraine to recover from this shocking, unprovoked violence.  The crazy thing is that, even if they are victorious, Russia will be reeling from this war for generations... I don't recall a time when the world was as united as it is now, and Russia has already become a pariah state.  I can foresee sanctions against Russia for the rest of my lifetime, and rightfully so.

The strangest thing about the revelations of Bucha is the effect that it has had on the American Right.  The nadir of this Putin worship came when Tucker Carlson gushed: Putin has never called me a racist.  The disgusting thing about the American Right's love affair with Putin is almost entirely based on his campaign against LGBTQ persons.  Tulsi Gabbard, a virulent anti-LGBTQ crusader, who still rants about 'sexually woke' policies, was forced to post a tepid show of disapproval, though some cynical Bastard had some doubts about her sincerity:

I honestly don't know how the West should ramp up its response- the proxy war continues, but actual 'boots on the ground' support might escalate the conflict into World War 3, albeit one in which Russia and a couple of puppet regimes square off against the rest of the world.  Given Russia's nuclear arsenal, that's not an ideal situation.  

I've seen calls for the UN to expel Russia, or at the very least, boot them from the Security Council and Human Rights Council.  That would be a major re-ordering of the post-WW2 global order.  Maybe that's exactly what we need, especially since the horrors of that not-so-far-off period have come back to haunt us.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Ginger Takes Point

Yesterday was Marsupial Day on this blog, a day dedicated to those placentaless weirdos that have been underfoot (literally) at my workplace recently.  Today, I am back on Team Placenta, courtesy of my dear friend and coworker Ginger.  I know I post a lot of pictures of the cat lounging around like a housepet, but she's a working cat, a crafty little hunter who certainly earns her pay- free lodging and a can of cat food (plus treats) per day.

This morning, while Scooby-Dooing (is too a vertb) around the property in the pre-dawn hours, I let Ginger take point.  I said to myself, "Ginger will lead, wherever she goes, you go."  She was in a weird mood, tense and tail-twitchy, going to all sorts of obscure corners of the grounds.  As she went, she sniffed constantly, and stopped periodically to look around.  Knowing that we have foxes and coyotes onsite, I made sure to stay close on her heels, but I made no effort to lead her or to keep her from going where her instinct led her.

Ginger eventually made it to the ass-end of the property, where our maintenance crew has their shop.  She examined the area underneath the dumpster next to the shop, and sniffed under the vehicles which comprise the small fleet that the maintenance and grounds crews use.  All the while, her tail twitching, her disposition alert...  Here's a shot of Ginger in action, blurry because of the poor lighting conditions:

It's a departure from the typical photo of the cat lounging on my desk, or standing, as if in disapproval, on my keyboard, but it is a good indication of the dear wee beastie at work.  Eventually, she led the way back to the core of the site, having made sure that the outskirts were safe for domesticity.  For her efforts, I gave her some delicious treats when I admitted her to her normal post inside one of several of our buildings.

For my part, I was most pleased to see a professional at work.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Marsupial Nopes Out

 At midnight shift change, my coworker and I broke up a fight.  Sadly, I was a bit too slow on the draw to capture the squabble as it was occurring, but here's the denoument:

At first we thought that the 'squabble' might have been a matter of l'amour, but we changed our assessment when the two possums parted ways in a hurry.  I managed to get some footage of the smaller of the two beasts, which was, nevertheless, a chunk:

This video is pure comedy gold, with the possum getting within a meter of my feet before realizing that it should be scared of the two big bipeds.  On my part, I really wanted to be friends.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Why April Fools' Day

I remember when April Fools' Day was a day in which tomfoolery could be indulged in, even at media outlets.  In one epic prank, the storied WLIR, a music station, had morning news briefs about an earthquake on Long Island, The first reports were brief and fragmentary, calculated to be plausible, even though no other media outlet was reporting on such a momentous occurrence.  Additional reports became more elaborate, and a narrative emerged that that shifted the borderline between Nassau and Suffolk counties... though such a line is an arbitrary mark on a map.  Subsequent reports contrasted the two counties, with reports that towns that had been shifted to Suffolk County were now inundated with flannel-wearing guys with questionable taste in music.  Individuals who had been listening to the morning show from the get-go eventually clued in that this was a prank, given the increasing outlandishness of the reports.

It was a brilliant prank, a harmless bit of satire on the demographics of the core listening area.  A good time was had by all, even those who were slow on the uptake.  It was a perfect April Fools' Day joke.

April Fools' Day just isn't fun anymore... disinformation, I would even use the neologism malinformation, is ubiquitous these days, and it is killing people.  Besides, what is the point of April Fools' Day when every day of the year is devoted to hoaxes and pranks?