Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why Aliens Probe?

In an interview with Chris Hayes Neil Degrasse Tyson revealed a big fear of his:

“My great fear is that we’ve in fact been visited by intelligent aliens, but they chose not to make contact, on the conclusion that there’s no sign of intelligent life on Earth. How’s that for measures of intelligence?”

I think Dr Tyson is onto something here. Maybe the aliens saw our small brain size, and started anally probing abductees in the hope of finding a second brain in the pelvic region.

Pedantic bastard has to note that, alas, Stegosaurus and other large dinosaurs did not actually have second brains in their pelvic region. Pedantic bastard just stepped on the joke's dong. Pedantic bastard also doesn't believe in the alien abductee narrative. Jerky pedantic bastard...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Fuzzy Buddies

It's been a grim week- the headlines were full of the all-too-often horror show that characterizes this country, and the responses from the "blame the victim" crowd compounded the ugliness of the week. Thankfully, we can find a "balm" for our cynical spirits in our fuzzy little buddies.

This cottontail makes its home in an open field by one of our site parking lots:

I see the little critter when I lock up for the night. It lives on the other side of the property from my feline companions... though it's a big enough rabbit to probably give them pause. It's not too shy around humans- I was able to get fairly close to it in the course of my routine.

We also have a whole lot of cute, fuzzy goslings running all over the property.

The parents are protective- they hiss and make "intimidating" displays with their wings when anyone gets too close to the young-uns. Different geese have different dispositions, though... not all of them have the same "protective radius". Unfortunately, it's hard to tell them apart, so you never know which of them will go berserk while you're trying to do your job. Even the most aggressive ones, though, are paper tigers... they'll only go so far in their threat displays before discretion kindles in their breasts. Things calm down considerably when the goslings get larger and the adults finish moulting their primary feathers. This time of year, I tend to give them a wide berth, and the cats won't go anywhere near them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sleep Well, Maya!

In a week characterized by bad news, the announcement of polymath Maya Angelou's death was just another sad tale. Ms Angelou had a storied career as a teacher, activist, author, poet, and dancer. My personal favorite performance by her was her narration of a video at the Hayden Planetarium, a tour de force about the vastness of the cosmos, delivered in her inimitable voice. Sadly, I can't find any audio for this presentation, but it was a recording that I would listen to with delight every time I visited the place.

Ms Angelou combined the keen eye of a journalist with the humanity of a survivor... even when dealing with difficult subjects, she conveyed a love of life, a love of people. Her passing was, as she put it in her eulogy of Nelson Mandela, "expected, but still unwelcome"- after all, she made it to 86. Here is "His Day is Done", her panegyric to Mandela:

Maya Angelou's eulogy could have applied to herself in many ways- she never lost her grace in the face of difficulty. Her wisdom was hard-won, her humanity undiminished by the cynicism or despair that would have consumed many under similar circumstances.

I'm going to finish this post with a video from 1957's Miss Calypso album. Stone Cold Dead in the Market is a song about a woman who, after a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her husband, kills him in public. Given the details of her biography, I imagine that Ms Angelou was singing with some empathy, though she found a more felicitous release from the horrors of her youth:

Sleep well, Maya, you articulated truths that had been too long ignored, with a lyricism that never faltered.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

MRA and NRA, a Toxic Synergy

When I wrote yesterday's lighthearted post, I was ignorant of the details about yesterday's horrific mass shooting near UCSB. On Saturdays, I work until 4AM, wake up at 11AM, listen to NPR for a couple of hours, and return to work at 5PM. At work, I am in a bubble for the first couple of hours- I have to interact with the public for an hour-and a half, and then have to run around closing the site up after operating hours. Whoa, did I have a horror story awaiting for me when I checked out the web in my first quiet moment.

Now that I'm catching up with the coverage of the shooting, two things strike me- the first is that the killer had a history of making misogynist and racist comments on "Men's Rights" sites, and the second is that he wrote a lengthy manifesto describing himself as a "good and pure" individual suffering at the hands of "brutal and twisted humanity". Two toxic cultural narratives, the MRA narrative of evil women "withholding" sex and love from "worthy" males, and the NRA narrative of the "good guy with the gun" defeating the "evildoers" combined in a poisonous synergy that ended up with seven corpses.

Reading snippets of the killer's "manifesto", one sees a picture of a bitter guy, obsessed with the facts that the "hot" women go out with "brutes" (in a number of instances, a racist obsession with blonde women going out with "dark-skinned Mexicans" and “ugly black filth” comes to the fore). Hypocritically, the guy excoriating women for not seeing his worthy qualities was solely concerned with women's superficial attributes. He was a shallow person, railing at the shallowness of others. In one jaw-dropping statement, he railed that women “should not have the right to choose who to mate with”. Aping the MRA obsession with "alpha males", he decided that his ticket to "alpha" status would be the ability to kill- after the purchase of a Glock 34, he asked, “Who’s the alpha male now bitches?” Whatever personality deficits he had, his dive into the fever swamp of online misogyny caused him to make the transition from an awkward youth to a wannabe supervillain straight out of a Jack Vance novel.

The other evil thread running through this sordid narrative is the idea that violence is the answer to all of life's problems- the "good guy with a gun" being the preferred hero of the tales Americans tell themselves. In the case of this killer, he was the newly-minted "alpha male", armed and ready to kill the "bad" people: “How sweet it would be to slaughter all of those evil, slutty bitches who rejected me.” Distilled to its essence, his warped view of the world could be summed up by his assertion that “the ultimate evil behind sexuality is the human female.” Fit into the narrative pushed by the gun-lobby, he was the "good guy" and the women that he hated were the "bad guys".

While the prevailing media narrative is going to be that the killer was "mentally ill", this is unfair to the already marginalized mentally ill community. No matter what was going in his head, the killer's embrace of misogynistic websites aggravated his problems- a toxic blend of MRA and NRA talking points combined in a synergistic fashion, resulting in a horrific tragedy.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Carl Who?

Last Saturday, I wrote about Carl Kasell's retirement from NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!. Today, when I listened to the show, I was immensely pleased- one of my all time favorite journalists, Bill Kurtis, has taken on the role of announcer.

I primarily know Bill Kurtis from his classic A&E true crime/police procedural shows, Investigative Reports, American Justice and Cold Case Files. It seems that all of the forensics/police procedural dramas on network television build on the foundation laid by Mr Kurtis' excellent A&E series. As an aside, I have to note how far from grace A&E has fallen, with idiotic fake-swampbillies like the Robinson clan (or should I say klan?) being featured instead of fine journalists like Mr Kurtis. The other titan of A&E was City Confidential frontman and beloved actor Paul Winfield, who passed away in 2004.

I used to work with a woman who was also an American Justice fan, and she thought that Bill Kurtis was a fine-looking older gent. Yeah, there are Bill Kurtis fetishists out there. Every so often, we'd joke about Bill Kurtis, mimicking his onscreen mannerisms while we were conversing (yeah, there were some big nerds in that office). Bill's shows were compelling television, and he, with his perfect anchorman's voice, was a great host. Picking out an episode of Cold Case Files at random, I am amazed at how compelling the show remains years later:

Mr Kurtis also has a great sense of humor, as this self-effacing clip shows:

I could not have hoped for a better replacement for Carl Kasell than Bill Kurtis. Already, he fits into his announcer's role comfortably... this week's show was a nice surprise.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Watch the Skies

There are a couple of items of astronomical interest in the news. The easier story to wrap one's head around is that this weekend will be characterized by a meteor shower which is expected to be spectacular. I'll be working in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow, so I'll find a likely spot and settle in to watch the show with a couple of friends.

The other, more perplexing astronomical story involves U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearings on SETI funding. The House of Representatives basically being a jobs-creation program for troglodytes, things didn't go so well during the hearing. The booby prize for this hearing goes to Representative Chris Collins who, to my shame, represents upstate New York. Collins decided that this hearing was a good time to go full Von Däniken (never go full Von Däniken):

"Have you watched Ancient Aliens and what is your comment on the series?"

Yeah, that's a guy who's got his hands on the purse strings.

There has been valid criticism that the Republican-led committee has held more hearings on extraterrestrial life than on climate change, but the GOP has made AGW denialism a facet of the party dogma. The fact that they are at least willing to conduct hearings with a couple of astronomers would suggest that there could be a glimmer of hope... if the congresscritters weren't so damn misinformed.

A few months ago, I yukked it up at a pronouncement by SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak about evidence for extraterrestrial life being discovered within the next twenty-five years (the joke was inspired by the old saw that workable fusion power is always "twenty years in the future"). I firmly believe that SETI is performing valuable work. I have no doubt that the inhabitants of Earth are not alone in the universe (though I do not believe that extraterrestrials have visited us). Sadly, our current government is unable to walk and chew bubblegum at the same time, and the representatives are blinded by a toxic combination of fossil fuel funds and scientific illiteracy. I hope we can vote in a more competent congress this November, and I would exhort anyone, before you cast your vote, watch these guys.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Post Lecture Recap: I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for the latest Secret Science Club lecture. This month's lecture featured the triumphant return of NYU microbiologist Dr Martin Blaser. As you may recall, Dr Blaser's last lecture focused on the bacteria which live inside the human gut, with a special spotlight on the H. pylori bacterium, which is endemic to the human stomach. This month's lecture was a companion piece to Dr Blaser's new book, Missing Microbes:How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues.

Dr Blaser began his lecture with a discussion of the conundrum of early life antibiotic exposure. Each and every human being on the planet has a plethora of microbial symbionts. These symbionts are ancient- all animal lineages have them, which is evidence for such symbiotic relationships having existed among the first animals to evolve. These symbionts are "niche"- different microbes thrive in different regions of the body, with oral bacteria differing dramatically from gut bacteria, skin bacteria, and urogenital bacteria. These symbionts are persistent and conserved- after infancy, an individual's interior biome becomes remarkably stable throughout one's life. Finally, these symbionts are host-specific. Each individual has a unique microbiome. Humans harbor more bacterial cells in their bodies than "human" cells. 70-80 percent of the cells present in and on the human body are microbes. Even more dramatically, 99 percent of the genes present in the human body are microbial genes.

Dr Blaser then discussed the effects of microbial symbionts during pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy, the microbiome changes. In a study of germ-free mice introduced to bacteria taken from the gastrointestinal tracts of women in the third trimester of pregnancy, the mice gained weight and exhibited "diabetic" traits. The gut bacteria of pregnant individuals seems to "mobilize" calories in such a manner to benefit the developing fetus. The bacterial symbionts have co-evolved with the host... such coevolution can been likened to a dialogue between the host and its microbes. One of Dr Blasers main areas of inquiry is what happens when this relationship is perturbed.

A disappearing microbiota results in a changing human ecology- altered microbe composition affects physiology. The early microbiome affects development, with early antibiotic exposure correlating with the incidence of obesity. The geography of obesity and the geography of antibiotic use correlates in a very suggestive manner. It has long been known that subtherapeutic use of antibiotics will promote growth in farm animals. The earlier in life this antibiotic use occurs, the more efficient its results.

Studies indicated that the subtherapeutic antibiotic treatment (STAT) will result in greater muscle mass. Add fat to STAT, and the antibiotics pontentiate fat gain. A study was performed to determine if increased adiposity was durable with limited antibiotic exposure- administration of antibiotics for four weeks was sufficient to cause long-term adiposity. In subjects exposed to antibiotics from birth, the weight gain was more pronounced. Mice exposed to early antibiotic "treatments" down-regulated their immune systems. With time, the "fecal community" of microbes can revert to normal after the cessation of antibiotic exposure, but the effects on body mass are permanent. Antibiotic exposure need not be persistent- "pulse" doses of antibiotics are sufficient to affect immunity.

During development, an organism's stem cells receive signals from its microbial symbionts. In early life, there is a more diverse microbiome, which tends to stabilize as one grows into adulthood. One antibiotic dose can decrese microbial biodiversity, which can alter development. It is estimated that the population in the U.S. has lost 20% of its microbial biodiversity- antibacterial activities have "collateral damage".

Dr Blaser enumerated a plan to address the diminishing microbial biodiversity. Research about the consequences of overuse of antibiotics has to continue. Education about the risks of antibiotic overuse needs to proceed. The development of narrow-spectrum antibiotics which target deleterious microbes while doing minimal damage to helpful symbionts needs to be prioritized. Remediation of damaged internal biomes with probiotics needs to be promoted, with the reversal of the loss of biodiversity the end goal. Finally, the recovery of "lost" microbes needs to be investigated.

Once again, Dr Blaser delivered a thought-provoking lecture on a topic which has far-ranging implications on human health. In the Q&A session, he went into more depth on such subjects as fecal transplants. Some bastard in the audience asked about the implications of antibiotic overuse on autoimmune maladies. Dr Blaser indicated that a diminished internal biome has been implicated in some forms of asthma, and there are now studies concerning the role of a diminished microbiome in type one diabetes.

To get a taste of Dr Blaser's congenial lecturing style, here is the man himself being interviewed on The Daily Show:

For a more substantial interview, here is Dr Blaser's appearance on Leonard Lopate's radio show.

Needless to say, last night's lecture was yet another phenomenal presentation of the Secret Science Club. Here's a tip of the hat and a heartfelt thank-you to Dorian, Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.

EDIT: Holy cats, I left out a crucial part of the lecture, having been rushed when I was composing this post. One of the most important items was a timeline of antibiotic development- as microbes evolved resistance to antibiotics (it's a simple matter of evolution- any bacteria not killed by an antibiotic will reproduce, and their descendents will be resistant). New antibiotics have been developed to counter microbial resistance, and the microbes would develop resistance to the new antibiotics. We are now at a stage where there are multiple-resistant strains of various microbes, with MRSA being a particularly pernicious example. Sorry about this lapse, folks!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Feast of San Jose de la Selva de las Colinas

On this day in 1951, Joey Ramone was born. I've written about Joey and the band before, so I figure the best way to commemorate Joey's birthday is to post an entire Ramones concert from the height of the band's career:

For an read sure to interest Ramones fans, this blog has been dissecting all of the Ramones' tracks in order. It's been a while since I've caught up with my reading.

Wow, two "dead rock star" posts in a row. I must be waxing nostalgic here.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Talented, Doomed, Lamented

On this day in 1980, Ian Curtis, the frontman of post-punk legends Joy Division, took his life after years of suffering from depression and debilitating epilepsy. I can think of no better way to memorialize Mr Curtis than to blast Transmission, my favorite Joy Division song (this particular video is preceded by a snippet of Jonathan Cooper Clarke's Evidently Chickentown):

The band's best known single, the posthumous Love Will Tear Us Apart, is a dark eidolon set up to mock the sunny Love Will Keep Us Together:

The sonic profile of Love Will Tear Us Apart prefigures the sound of New Order, the band which rose from the ashes of Joy Division. One can draw a line directly from "LWTUA" to New Order's Ceremony, with Bernard Sumner's lead vocal seeming to emulate Mr Curtis:

Mr Sumner would develop his own vocal style, and go on to record some of the finest dance music in the history of ass-shaking:

Twenty-five years after Ian Curtis' death, New Order memorialized him by performing a live version of Transmission in concert:

Pity Mr Curtis did not live long enough to leave us a more extensive body of work.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Wait Wait... Don't Leave Me!

Today was a bit of a bummer- Carl Kasell, formerly of "Morning Edition" had his last "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" broadcast today. I always loved Carl's turn on the show- for a VERY SERIOUS JOURNALIST, Mr Kasell had one hell of a sense of humor. Listening to him was reminiscent of my brilliant grandfather cracking a joke- always a treat to hear such an intellect being exercised in the service of jocularity.

I made sure I woke up in time (having returned from work at about 4:30AM) to listen to Carl's last episode. As always, the man nailed it- he was effortlessly professional. Peter Sagal's retrospective of his career with Carl is a portrait of a wonderful, caring friend and mentor. Some guy named Barry also bid a fond farewell to Carl Kasell, and his "parting words" ended the show.

I know I'll still listen to "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!", I'm too much of a fan of bad poetry to give it up, but I will miss Carl Kasell's mellifluous voice every week.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Revolting Are Revolting!

I have not experienced such sustained belly laughs in a l-o-n-g time... the snarknado surrounding Operation American Spring has to be the funniest sustained joke I've encountered in years.

The whole revolution was a joke before it even began. On one of the more fringe-y right wing sites, a concerned "patriot" wrote:

I sure hope you have researched the colonels bio since he served at NSA and was in army intelligence with a book written in psychological warfare.

I joined for a few months and watched the chat site. The colonel says 10 million, but I talked to one of the organizers and that person told me no more than 2 million. Then, there was the resignation of 4 or 5 of the original organizers of the OAS. For me, I was told that I was a troll because I asked a few decent questions such as bathroom facilities provided, where to meet, etc. At the most the chat site had from 12-36 people and they were clannish to outsides.

The concept is wonderful, but I doubt if they get more than 100 people show up and they being mostly from the east coast.

How many revolutions were thwarted by inadequate access to toilet? As Morrissey would put it, "I would revolt tonight, but they haven't got a shitter there."

Meanwhile, the fever swamps of Free Republic (not gonna link) are strangely quiet, with only two threads concerning the event, which many of the Freepers have concluded was a false flag event, though there are some hilarious conspiracy theories:

Those motel/hotels could have been booked by Democrat Politicians to prevent Marchers from having a place to stay. When they call for a room, well we have no vacancies. This should have been co ordinated with a huge political backing and reservations to be successful. Now it looks like the people aren’t interested in taking the country back.

Ah, Freepers...

Meanwhile, far to the west, a couple of Bundy supporters took to crowdsourcing sites to fund their efforts, with predictably hilarious results. I imagine old Cliven will tell them to shove it when they come to him for a handout.

It's been one hell of a week, and I, for one, am LOVING IT!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pres in My Neck of the Woods

Yesterday's big local story was President Obama's appearance at the Tappan Zee Bridge to discuss the need for spending billions of dollars to repair our crumbling infrastructure. I've discussed the Tappan Zee before. While I applaud the new bridge construction, I maintain that the proposed new bridge is, basically, crippleware because it will lack a light rail component. Back in 2011, I wrote:

The very idea of nickel-and-diming infrastructure projects until they are "built broken" is asinine. The whole disposable culture has got to end. Remember when things were built to last, and one paid a fairly high price for durable goods? Now, we buy cheap crap that we have to continually replace, which is wasteful and stupid. It's wasteful and stupid when such items as shoes, clothing, and small appliances are concerned, it's tragic and suicidal when major infrastructure is concerned.

Here's the video of the president's speech, which took place in an area I know very well, the beautiful Tarrytown waterfront:

In the opening to his Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving described Tarrytown in terms which would be accurate today:

In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic.

While Tarrytown is a lovely place in which to... uh... tarry, the I-287 corridor, with the Tappan Zee Bridge bottleneck, is not the place to do so. I imagine the president's visit snarled traffic even more than is typical for the already congested area, but his theme of improving infrastructure and creating jobs is one of importance. I don't know how long he tarried in the area, but I sincerely hope he made a side trip to Lefteris Gyro, my favorite restaurant in the area.

I also appreciate his shout-out to the NY congressional delegation- I am a huge fan of Nita Lowey, a former representative of mine, and Eliot Engel, my current rep. I was glad that he excoriated congress as a whole, however. Hopefully, the president will campaign for Democratic congressional candidates in the crucial upcoming mid-term election.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Slaughter of Innocents?

A couple of nights ago, I noticed that several containers of standing water on the grounds of my principle worksite were teeming with mosquito larvae. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water and the larvae swim around feasting on microorganisms and organic detritus. They look much like our benevolent friends the Sea Monkeys, but they are destined to pursue a career of evil when they mature, at least from our anthropocentric viewpoint. Sure, they may be cute and innocent now, but they'll feast on your blood if you let them get the chance. Not countenancing this sort of thing, I decided to engage in some proactive vengeance, so I dumped several containers of water, sending the little swimming critters to their doom. I then sent a text message to one of the daytime managers to inform him that we would have plenty of wee squatters if we don't periodically change the water in these vessels. It's pretty gratifying to dump larva-infested water onto the ground- let the mosquitoes breed as they will, and send their multitudes of progeny to their doom. Muhuhuhuhahaha!

On a county-wide level, the Department of Health is distributing free fathead minnows, which are native to the region. Our "larvae menace" is confined to containers which can be readily dumped, so we have no need of minnows. As an added bonus, single-handedly destroying a thriving community of tiny, helpless critters allows me to engage in my darkest kaiju fantasies in a constructive manner.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Monster Machine Muse

Mad Swiss genius H.R. Giger, whose art scared the beejeebers out of millions and probably titillated a small coterie of pervs (a dream to some, a nightmare to others!) died of injuries sustained in a fall.

Like most people, I know Giger primarily from his design work for the movie Alien, though his infamous "Penis Landscape" poster insert in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist was better known to my teenaged self. The aesthetic Giger brought to his "Alien" designs was dubbed biomechanical- his most famous material seamlessly blended aspects of organisms and machinery. His creepiest work, in my estimation, was his material which fell into the uncanny valley- the "humanoid" aspects giving his aliens a more horrific aspect than that of Lovecraft's completely non-anthropomorphic aliens. It has to be said, though, that Alien, with its "humans are insignificant specks living in a completely unknowable and perilous universe" subtext, has a very "Lovecraftian" theme.

Perhaps more interesting than Giger's involvement with the wildly successful "Alien" movie franchise is his involvement in one of the great failures in science-fiction cinema, the aborted Alejandro Jodorowsky film of Frank Herbert's Dune:

Jodorowsky's Dune was not only to have employed Giger's talents, but those of Mœbius. Strange that the last movie featuring Giger's designs to be seen on the big screen concerned a major flop. Apparently, there was an earlier "making of" feature, detailing this legendary trainwreck:

For a more extensive retrospective of Giger's life and work, this Wired profile is a good start. Rest in peace, Mr Giger, even though you ensured that many of us spent some sleepless nights.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Let's Smack Our Churls!

As if the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organization wasn't bad enough, at least one American right-winger is making light of the situation, presumably because Michelle Obama made a heartfelt plea on behalf of the girls on Saturday.

One could chalk Hoft's jape up to mere sexism and racism- heh, they're only girls, and it's only Africa, doncha know- but I believe that the right-wing doesn't wish to take this atrocity seriously for a more existential reason. "Boko Haram" translates as "Western Education is Sinful" and the group not only targets Nigerian Christians but Muslims who are not seen as sufficiently pure in their devotion. A similar fundamentalist group in Mali burned manuscripts in a Timbuktu library that represented centuries of Islamic jurisprudence. The Boko Haram group is a bunch of nihilists, seeking to destroy anything which doesn't adhere to their particular narrow vision of the Islamic faith.

Here in the U.S., a common refrain among religious fundamentalists is that secular education is undermining traditional American values- "western education is sinful" or, to put it succinctly, Boko Haram.

Basically, the raison d'être of Boko Haram and, for instance, the American Family Association is identical- they both want to purge their respective societies of secular values. It's no wonder that Hoft, a right-winger through-and-through, wants to make light of the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls who were slated to be sold into arranged marriages in order to "control" them. With the American Right's mania about "purity" and the evils of secular education, one would have to suspect that Hoft would back a similar kidnapping of female students by a fundamentalist organization that would force them into "traditional" marriages- he'd just disagree about which "holy" book's precepts were used to justify the crime.

I want to see two things happen- bring back the girls and let's smack our churls!

Cross-posted at Rumproast.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers' Day

Here's wishing happy Mothers' Day to all of the mothers in my readership. To express my appreciation for the mothers of the world, here's the inimitable Mr T., articulating all of the emotions that I feel:

Una cantata bellissima, like the voices of angels! Happy Mothers' Days, moms, and I pity the fool who hasn't spoken with mom today.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sundays Are Ruined FOREVER!!!

It's official, Michael Sam is now the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL franchise, the St Louis Rams. After he was picked in the seventh round of the NFL draft, he did what any person would do, he kissed his significant other. In the aftermath of this completely normal human activity, the sound of heads exploding must have echoed throughout certain regions of the U.S.

With that kiss, Michael Sam has utterly ruined watching big, muscular guys in tight spandex getting physical with each other every Sunday after church! FOREVER!!!

Here's wishing a long, successful career to Mr Sam, and a happy life together for the couple.

Cross-posted at Rumproast.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Tonight, I have to cover two sites on the job- it's what happens when corners are cut. I'll be leaving soon, so I don't have time for a substantial post... I think I'll post a video and hit the road. Today, the local radio station played an oldie-but-goodie by Joan Armatrading. I haven't heard Drop the Pilot in years, but hearing it today was a nice nostalgia trip.

Now, it's time to get my butt up to the other site... hopefully the radio will provide another nostalgia trip on my trip.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Thoroughly Nettled...

Aunt Snow's latest post shows a picture of a lovely dinner that her son cooked. The last thing I cooked was a big pot full of delicious, nutritious stinging nettles. Every spring, I subsist largely on nettles- they grow profusely on a couple of my jobsites, so they are free and plentiful. Even better, they are packed with protein, and historically were a crucial post-winter food, bridging the lean period between the end of winter the the appearance of late spring's bounty.

To be entirely candid, I merely parboiled the nettles to neutralize the "sting" of their urticating formic acid-filled hairs. Now that they are parcooked, I will treat them in the same way I treat spinach. I can now use them to make nettle pesto, nettle soup, creamed nettles, nettle fritters, nettle pie, nettle omelets... thankfully, unlike this guy, I actually like the basic component of my spring diet. The nettles are good until their flowers develop, which in these parts typically occurs in late June- after that, phytoliths in the leaves can harm the kidneys. Given their ubiquity on-site, they'll be a major component of my meals for the next month and a half.

I am always happy to see the nettles appear on the property, though I believe I am the only one who feels this way- the wineberries receive a much warmer reception.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Given up on Fighting the Marxicans

For the past two years, I have warned about the dangers of the Marxican threat. Well, this year, I decided to give up the fight, and to succumb to the Marxican invasion.

Having a day off from work, I headed over to the City of New Rochelle, which has a large Mexican population, mainly from Jalisco and Michoacan states. Yeah, I know Cinco de Mayo is a Pueblan holiday, but I figured that, just as the owners of a bar in Seattle wouldn't bat an eye at people drinking Sam Adams Boston Lager to celebrate Patriot's Day even though it is New England's holiday, the Jalisco-born owner of a family hole-in-the-wall wouldn't mind a big gabacho eating in his place to celebrate a Pueblan holiday.

Accordingly, I traveled to the "Queen City on the Sound" to dine at the redoubtable Mr Taco, a tiny restaurant that I have been patronizing since the days I had a big blond 'fro. The restaurant has the been owned by the same family for the past twenty-plus years. The owners are a diminutive man with a bright smile (how does he stay so skinny working in this place? It must be the frenetic pace at which he plies the griddle and the stove-top full of simmering cauldrons) and his sweet-natured wife. The place has all the atmosphere of the waiting room of a municipal bus terminal, but the food is amazing. I ordered a taco de carnitas, a taco de chorizo and a taco de lengua. To accompany my meal, I had a bottle of Dos Equis- as the proprietress handed me the bottle, I cracked a joke: "El sabor del éxito." which earned me a chuckle.

Authentic Mexican food is a lot subtler than the Tex-Mex stuff served up in chain restaurants... there are no globs of sour cream or mounds of grated processed cheese food product. At a genuine Mexican restaurant, the meat is well-spiced but not too hot (the proprietors have a bottle of strong homemade hot sauce for those who wish to heat up their food- I joked to the proprietress that I needed the hot sauce because I wanted to cry lágrimas del fuego. The sauce isn't so bad that I cried tears of flame, but it might just get me in the end. Anyway, the food is well-prepared, the carnitas are crispy little chunks of pork, the chorizo is crumbled into well-browned bits redolent of spices. The tongue was long-simmered and mild. Each taco was topped with finely diced raw onion and a couple of torn leaves of cilantro. The plate was accompanied by half a lemon- a squeeze of lemon juice, a squirt of hot sauce, and I was experiencing total culinary bliss. I should have taken a picture of the plate, but I was pretty ravenous. There are a couple of pictures on "Yelp", if you need to see what Mr Taco's fare looks like.

After my lunch, I headed across the street to La Flor de Michoacan to get a couple of paletas- on this visit choosing an eggnog popsicle and a lime popsicle. Mexican popsicles are made with fresh ingredients- the lovely lime popsicle was a beautiful green slab of pulpy deliciousness, the eggnog popsicle had a nice hint of spice. If you have a paletería anywhere in your vicinity, by all means go there, and bring a cooler so you can stock up on popsicles to take home.

For all of my joking about the "Marxican threat", I have long had an appreciation of the various cultures of Mexico. When I was a high-school kid working in the local deli, I got to know a lot of Mexican guys who were working as gardeners. They'd come in after work to buy Bud tall boys, and often the only words of English they knew were "Keeng Size Booweiser!" They thought it was a hoot when the blond kid behind the counter could shoot the shit with them in Spanish. For all that Mexicans are demonized by the right-wing in this country, the Mexicans I have known have embodied the virtues that right-wingers claim are uniquely American- they tend to be religious, they value their families, and they have a remarkable work ethic. The main problems in Mexican culture can largely be laid at the feet of the United States- the post-NAFTA maquiladora boom went belly-up as factories moved to China, where labor costs were even cheaper and environmental regulations more lax. The average Mexican farmer was hit hard when cheap American corn hit the Mexican market, forcing many of the campesinos off the land. The drug trade which has devastated wide swathes of Mexican society is driven by demand in the United States. My feeling is that the average Mexican and the average American are suffering from the effects of the same policies which benefit a tiny minority of oligarchs. It's a pity the average American is swayed by anti-immigrant propaganda to realize what the San Patricios quickly figured out- the enemy is not the peasant of a different race, but the exploiters of all races. I value my Mexican neighbors and their contributions to American society, and I was happy to partake of their culture today.

Hey, how about a number from Frontera Bugalú? I had to pleasure of meeting these folks and I immediately took a liking to them (they reminded me of a bunch of groovy grad students), and they certainly can rock the house:

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Goose on the Roof

Yo, what the hell are you doing up there on top of that shed?

You're not fooling anyone with that weathercock routine! Chanticleer you're not.

Maybe some dramatic back-lighting would give you some flair...

Needs a little work, bud. Maybe a theme song:

Goose, goose, goose on the roof,
Goose, goose, made to goose you.

Needs work... now GET DOWN OFF OF THERE!!!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Opening Day

Today was the first day of the regular tourist season. We've had various group tours and a couple of special events, but this was the first day the doors were open to the general public for regular tours. I got to work with two of my favorite co-workers, a sweet woman who, like my mom's mom's mom had, has Graubünden roots, and a hilarious, flamboyant rocker gal who wears a ton of eccentric jewelry and used to be in an almost-up-and-coming band in Germany in the late 70s (the latter took these pictures last year). Visitation numbers were good- several tours had to be added to the schedule.

When things quieted down, I ascertained that the loon is still on site- my first sighting of it was two weeks ago. As an added treat, there was a osprey on the premises, perched in a tree in the same vicinity that the loon tends to occupy.

Behind our visitors' center, the gorgeous flowering bushes (I'm pretty sure they're Viburnum) are giving off a most delightful fragrance:

The daffodils are still doing quite well. More importantly, my stinging nettles are coming in like gangbusters, and I plan on picking a bunch of them tomorrow so I can make creamed nettles on my day off- I've gotten pretty good at making Yorkshire pudding over the past month or so, so I'll probably split the little things open so I can fill them with nettles.

I'm happy to say that our opening day was a success, and I hope that it portends a great upcoming season. I'm actually pretty optimistic here.

Friday, May 2, 2014

May Madness

So it begins... tonight is the first night of our new "swing for the fences" spring fundraiser. Our board wants to recapture the October magic that rakes in the majority of our organization's income. This morning, the technicians working on last-minute adjustments didn't leave until after 3AM. I am at my usual worksite, but will be heading to the site that's hosting the fundraiser in a few minutes. After locking up the place and checking to see that all is well, I have to return to the usual place in order to ready it for the first day of our regular season. I already turned on the public drinking fountain in front of the building- I don't expect any sudden freezes at this stage of the year.

My co-worker **REDACTED** will be heading up to shut down and lock up after the fundraiser tomorrow, so I'll be in the usual spot, closing up after opening day. I'll have some time to play around with the cats, and to harvest some of the stinging nettles which are finally coming out of the soil after a harsh winter.

The past couple of weeks have been a lot like October... I haven't done the full "Captain Nemo" act like I do then (I go down in the "submarine" and won't surface for a month), but if this new fundraiser is a hit, then it will be expanded, because nothing succeeds like success. It'll be another month of craziness, but anything that brings in cash helps to ensure my continuing employment.

In instances like this, one has to defer to the wisdom of Wreckless Eric: