Sunday, August 31, 2014


Just after 1AM, when I was driving home from work, I saw brake lights lighting up on the highway ahead of me. Just beyond the exit that I take to the road which brings me home, I saw two NY State troopers stopped side-by-side on the highway as if they were getting ready for a drag race. I realized that they were blocking the road for the presidential motorcade, the President having attended the wedding of his longtime friend and personal chef. Besides being President Obama's personal chef, the newly married Sam Kass is also the nation's second biggest arugula pusher:

Besides preparing the family's meals most weeknights, Kass is also a senior nutrition policy adviser and executive director of the first lady's anti-childhood obesity initiative.

Can't you just taste the peppery, delightfully bitter liberal fascism from where you're sitting?

I had to sit in traffic for about five seconds before I was able to exit the highway. How dare the Kenyan Usurper engage in a normal activity such as attending a friend's wedding... and what sort of fancy-pants elitist is so friendly with the help? Aren't those people supposed to enter through the side door and keep their eyes averted while serving their betters? Sheesh, what a tyrant.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Patina of Melancholy

Today was the first day of our surprisingly popular end-of-summer fundraiser. We had about 1,300 people descend on the site for a variety of activities- games, live musical performances, and a beer tent. It's a nice family atmosphere, with a lot of little kids running all over the grounds. It's also a good dry-run for our major fall fundraisers... staff members from all of our various sites converge on my primary workplace and a bunch of our fall contract players and temporary workers return to the site after a long hiatus.

Hanging over the normally joyous proceedings was a patina of melancholy, as word got out about a co-worker's near-fatal car accident. Details are slowly beginning to emerge- our director of Human Resources was able to ascertain which hospital our friend is in, and was able to visit her in the trauma unit, where she lies cocooned in bandages and hooked up to a machine. The manager who informed me of the situation in the first place was also able to visit her. The young woman is an only child, so it's been difficult for a bunch of non-relatives to visit and impossible to learn about her conditions (the privacy laws are rightfully draconian). When I got to work as the event was winding down (I'm the night-man), longtime co-workers would take a brief moment during a lull in the action to mouth a quick question or offer a vague update about our friend.

As I mentioned, the event is normally an occasion for mirth. One of the musicians playing the event is friend that I have known since the days I had a big blond 'fro. Three of our long-time contract entertainers are individuals that I am particularly fond of (the sweet NPR nerd, the moon-faced comedienne, and the flame-haired snarkslinger- for the record). I know all of the temps, and have even been involved in zany misadventures with some of them. Even the guy who comes across as Santa Claus' jollier brother was subdued. Everybody went through their paces with the usual aplomb, but there was just the merest patina of melancholy, which I doubt the visitors were able to pick up on.

When the event ended and everybody could drop the brave facade, the topic of the conversation turned to our friend. We filled in co-workers who hadn't heard the news (nobody knew before yesterday afternoon) and those who knew more details told what they knew. The number of hushed conversations would have led a distant observer to think that we were hatching a conspiracy. Tomorrow, the manager who had initially enlisted my aid will be working the event (she sent me a half-dozen text messages over the course of today), so I will be able to provide a sympathetic ear and a supportive shoulder.

Here's a melancholy number from our stricken friend's favorite band:

We'll get through this weekend's event, and few, if any, of our visitors will be aware that there's a sadness weighing on our minds. We'll get through, we always do.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bad Before It Began

The phone call came in at 3:46PM. Having worked the night-shift, I was half-asleep when the phone rang. My usual routine is to sleep from 5AM to 10AM, wake up so I can listen to the news on the radio so as to maintain some semblance of a grip on the outside world, then take a short nap in the afternoon before getting ready for work.

One of the managers on the job was on the line... one of her underlings hadn't shown up for work in two days. This young woman is very conscientious, and has been on the payroll for almost five years. She's not the type to blow off work. The manager told me that she and our chief operating officer had both called the young woman several times, with no answer, and a follow-up phone call to her emergency contact, her mother, had also been unsuccessful. Needless to say, the manager, who is a very caring, empathetic woman, was distraught. She asked me if I would accompany her to our missing comrade's apartment building to check up on the situation.

It's no secret on the job that I used to investigate questionable insurance claims back in the '90s and worked as a Census enumerator in 2010, and had a knack for "canvassing" a neighborhood for information about the whereabouts of an individual. I assured the manager that we'd follow a procedure which almost always worked for me- after trying the apartment, we'd contact the building superintendent and, if that were unsuccessful, we'd ask her neighbors if they'd seen her. If we'd exhausted those options, we'd look for her car in the vicinity and then inform the police that our co-worker was missing.

Before hanging up, I asked the manager if they had explored all of the avenues of inquiry that could be pursued in the office. The I.T. guys had checked her e-mail account to see if she had requested days off, nothing out of the ordinary there. I opined that, before heading out into the field, it's important to follow all of the leads one can, gain all of the information that could be gleaned. I asked her to double check the full range of procedures that they'd gone over with the head office, and told her I'd shower up and head out.

While I was performing my ablutions, the manager checked the missing employee's Facebook page, and checked out the various contacts. Sure enough, she discovered that our friend and co-worker, with her mother, had been involved in a serious car accident, and that the two of them were in critical condition in a hospital in New York City. I had two text messages waiting for me as soon as I got out of the shower, telling me that there was no need for shoe-leather work.

Needless to say, today has been a bad, bad day on the job... it was bad five hours before it began.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hadn't Heard This in Years

Yesterday, the awesome "Ten at Ten" feature (ten great songs from one great year) offered every weekday by the great local commercial radio station featured the year 1982. One of the "songs" featured in the playlist was David Johansen's awesome medly of "Animals" tunes from his live album, "Live it Up". Being a child of the radio, living in a home where we went long stretches without a television, I never even considered that there was a video of this great 3-fer:

Funny, in my entire "blogspan", I only mentioned Mr Johansen's band, The New York Dolls, in one post. Needless to say, I am a big "Dolls" fan. David Johansen eventually reinvented himself as the inexplicably popular (indeed, ubiquitous) lounge-lizard Buster Poindexter. Funny how an extended joke managed to become a genuine hit... didn't anybody realize that it was a piss-take? Anyway, the video I embedded remains an interesting relic of Mr Johansen's musical trajectory from his glam days to his novelty dance-pop days.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Git and the Pendulum

The big local news story is the letter written by Ed Mullins, the head of the NYPD Sergeants' Benevolent Association, wrote urging the DNC to not hold their 2016 convention in New York City, specifically downtown Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Mullins' letter is a masterpiece of dog-whistling and innuendo, invoking the "bad old days of high crime", and the return of "squeegee men" to the highway exits of the city.

Mullins letter opens up with a doozy of a paragraph:

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants the Democratic National Committee to designate the beautiful Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn as the site of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. But while the Barclays Center is still new and glistening, the great city in which it stands is lurching backwards to the bad old days of high crime, danger-infested public spaces, and families that walk our streets worried for their safety.

I doubt Mullins is referring to the families of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham.

Mullins then engages in a little bit of, as Roy would put it, "Ooga Booga" by hinting at an éminence grise noire acting behind the scenes in the DeBlasio administration:

But it is not just that we have fewer officers patrolling the streets. The Mayor has provided a public platform to the loudest of the city’s anti-safety agitators, instead of giving voice to the millions of New Yorkers who want to live and work in safety. Why would he kowtow to demagogues who push a political agenda? Does he really believe people in the city care more about politics than quality of life?

Today, Mullins appeared on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show, with predictably disastrous results. The entire segment is a train wreck, with Mullins bringing up the 1987 Tawana Brawley scandal. He continually comments that the "pendulum" is swinging back toward the "bad old days" depicted in this documentary:

Mullins gives the whole game away, though, when asked if the DNC has responded to him:

"No and I don't think they will reply... What many people seem to not realize is that New York is a Democrat state and their real value is not in New York."

Democrat state? Mullins seems to forget he's not talking to Boss Limbaugh. As an added bonus, Mr Mullins characterizes the protestors arrested during the 2004 Republican convention as criminals, rather than the victims they were. Listen to the interview, Mullins is a git, and he can shove his "pendulum" where the sun doesn't shine.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Running Errands Buzzed

The best thing about living in a neighborhood with a vibrant commercial district is that you can walk to just about any store to buy the necessities. Today being my day off, the only blessed thing I had to do all day was buy, as the owner of the hardware store put it, a flapper for my crapper. Today being my day off, after I took a lunchtime "constitutional", I poured myself a nice, fat fake gin and tonic when I got home. Remembering my plumbing errand, I headed out while I still had a decent buzz on.

My first stop was the bank, where I took out some cashola so I could make my necessary purchase, and other purchases that would be necessary later in the week. I crossed the main commercial street and stopped in the local butcher shop to see if they had any Cornish pasties- I settled for a Scotch egg, and got a house-made black pudding for later in the week. As an aside, the children of the butcher shop proprietor are so good-looking that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that half of the customers are vegetarians. Funny, I am now picturing lovelorn high schoolers saving their pennies so they can buy pork chops for the family, just so they could chat up the counter help. After making these purchases, I headed to the bakery to buy a sfogliatelle and a lemon ice to go. I then re-crossed the street to hit the pizzeria for a finger-sized pepperoni twist and a broccoli twist. As I was waiting for these diminutive snacks to come out of the oven, enjoying my lemon ice, I looked out the window, right at the hardware store. Holy friggin' mission creep! I had gotten totally distracted in my buzzed state.

I had to re-cross the avenue to get to the hardware store, where the proprietor (who was smoking a cigarette indoors- you'd never see that at a big chain) made the "flapper for the crapper" joke and led me, like Aeneas led Dante, to the plumbing section.

When I got home, I debated whether or not I should mix another drink, but I decided that I really shouldn't "plumb" while buzzed. It took all of thirty seconds to replace the flapper... then I washed my hands and fixed myself another stiff drink. While I was reluctant to work while buzzed, I figure I could always post while buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday, August 24, 2014

CNN, Now a "Dudebro" Comedy Channel

It's official, CNN has become a comedy channel with its story characterizing broken wine bottles in Napa as "heartbreaking". Being someone who... uh... occasionally likes to indulge in an alcoholic beverage, I've made goofy jokes like "every drop spilled is alcohol abuse" and the like- but I'm not a goddamn television news network. Here's the quote from CNN anchor, regarding an image of broken wine bottles:

"It's heartbreaking to see that image, especially if you are a wine lover. But also knowing that this impacts your livelihood."

There's a place for comments like this, or jokes about topers cutting their tongues while "salvaging" the wine from the cellar floors, but it's not on the goddamn 24/7 news network.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bigass Beetle

While on my regular walkabout on the job, I ran across a very large beetle, judging from its size and lovely reddish coloration, I'd have to say it's a Lucanus capreolus- a common Eastern North American stag beetle:

I'd guess that the critter was about two inches long. It was a remarkably patient photographic subject. I guess when you're that formidable looking, you don't have to move quickly.

I'm still amazed at the lovely color of the beast.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Disembodied Intellect

Oh, Dawkins, Dawkins, Dawkins... you've done it again. Richard Dawkins' latest controversial tweet, covered by Amanda Marcotte, concerned a hypothetical case of aborting a fetus with Down Syndrome:

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

My personal take on this ethical dilemma is that the decision is entirely the pregnant woman's to make, but the assertion that giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome is immoral squicks me out. For the record, I know a guy with Down Syndrome and he is a great guy- his mother has had to make sacrifices and concessions to raise him, but she's a productive member of society and so is he. I can't imagine her taking Richard Dawkins' comment in stride, nor should she.

Dawkins' principle flaw is that he's a disembodied intellect- while he is a brilliant thinker, his "EQ" is very low, and he often makes statements which may be logically correct, but seem to come from a complete lack of empathy.

Make an issue about sexual harassment? Sheesh, you don't have to deal with genital mutilation! You were sexually abused as a child? That's not so bad in some cases. You were raped by an acquaintance? Hey, that's not as bad as a violent sexual assault. In all of these cases, Dawkins, a man brought up in the bubble of upper-class white male privilege, thinks he's making a logical point, but all of these issues are emotionally charged... there's no way to coldly approach the subjects.

I've heard Richard Dawkins lecture, and he is a witty, urban, informative speaker. He needs to be a better listener, though, if he is to avoid making gaffes when making off-the-cuff remarks about touchy subjects... and for Darwin's sake, the dude has to stay off Twitter.
As a straight, white, middle-class male, I would advise Dr Dawkins to use his ears more often, his fast fingers less frequently.

In the "Pandagon" comment thread, there's a commentor who is lambasting Dawkins' critics in a hilariously cack-handed fashion... here's some real word salad from a guy who has vague memories of the original Star Trek and fancies himself a Vulcan:

Amanda, please leave this man alone. He is one of our greatest scientific and logical thinkers. Your last article seemed to simultaneously say he was wrong and offensive while the article you were responding to suggested that people should not be so emotional and reactive, but that facts and logic should dominate conversation. Your response was, in my memory, somewhat to argue that "we are all emotional beings who can be expected to respond and utilize our emotions in finding answers to questions we have both personally and as a culture and race." This was reasonable, but can't you understand that it is the emotions we carry with us are tools in the utility of evolution and not necessarily so important in the modern world. Is it not possible that the end result of evolution is to separate us from the individualistic chains binding us to our own emotions. Being controlled by our own emotions. Isn't is possible that humanity will only achieve it's pinnacle when we become pure logic. Aren't emotions a vestige of a world in which we are all trying to survive in a random world?

T'Putz isn't exactly winning over the other members of the commentariat:

As I have dubbed him. An over ASSuming ASSholier than thou poster.

Some snarky bastard had a theory about this:

His problem is that he's been practicing the "Vulcan Mind Meld" on the wrong end of the aliens he's encountered.

Hey, speaking about Vulcans and all that, Arlene Martel, who played Spock's betrothed in the famed "Amok Time" episode of Star Trek, died over a week ago. I wish I'd put up a post about her... she had a whole lot of television credits to her... uh... credit, but she had a knack for being able to appear completely different in each appearance- her website notes that she was nicknamed "The Chameleon" because of this ability. Here's a brief clip of her most celebrated role, as the one individual who was able to beat Spock in a battle of wits:

I bet T'Pring could have set Dawkins straight.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! Thundercats, Ho!... Just Thunder

After a very lovely time spent with my eldest nephew and my mom, I took a side-trip on my way home to visit Thunder. Thunder has always been unfailingly supportive of my blogging endeavors, and I have to say that, if it weren't for him and the mad genii at "Riddled", I don't know if I would have started this blog. In other words, you can partially blame him for my scribbles and screeds.

Besides meeting Thunder in person, I saw the lovely Lake Siri, the storied suet feeder which brings all the birds to the yard, and the long-suffering mountain laurels- I even saw one of the infamous laurel-eating deer on my drive through the beautiful West Virginia countryside.

I just want to thank Thunder for his hospitality, and for the opportunity to check out the deck which all of his readers have come to know and love. Thanks, chum! Next time, I hopefully won't be in such a rush.

Post title cribbed from this...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gas Taxes

I was planning on filling my car up halfway in New York, and then topping off in New Jersey because gasoline is cheaper there. Before heading out, though, I had a change of heart- my gas taxes pay for road maintenance in my home state, and I'd rather spend more money at a place owned by a local guy I'm on a first name basis with, with the tax revenue going to my community, than to spend my money in New Jersey, where the asshole governor held up a major trans-Hudson rail project. I decided to spend a couple of dollars more and have it go to a better place- it's worth the extra money just to withold a lesser sum from Chris Christie's regime. Also, my favored route is the westerly one diagonally through Pennsylvania, so I avoid the New Jersey Turnpike tolls.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Get Outta Town!

My eldest nephew will be going to Washington D.C. as a finalist in a national scholarship program- he's a great kid, as level-headed and good-natured as he is smart, and I mean that as a compliment. He's currently at my mom's house in Prince William County, Virginia, so I'll be driving down to spend some quality time with family as soon as I leave work at 1AM.

It's been a while since I've been to mom's place- my last vacation was spent traveling to Europe to see two of my brothers and their respective families. I call mom a couple of times a week, but it's been all too long since I've seen her.

Needless to say, I'll be taking a bit of a breather- I'll be traveling straight back to work on Wednesday, when I don't have to be in until 9PM.

In the meantime, I'll be driving all night, my hands wet on the wheel...

Shoulda used a sippy cup to avoid spilling my yerba mate.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

One! Two! Three! For...ty Years Ago

Forty years ago, to the day, four kids from Queens played their first gig. The music world was never the same since- the DIY approach that the punks ushered in informed electronic music and hip-hop. If four guys who can't play like virtuosos can be rock stars, so can you.

Enough of my yapping, how about a video of a live performance from 1974, just about a month after the band's first gig? Here's Judy is a Punk:

Now, how about that ode to teen responsibility, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue?

We'll finish off with I Don't Want to Go down to the Basement:

Gabba Gabba History, people!

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Schaden, as Thunder Would Say...

Freudes itself. When I heard the news of Rick Perry's indictment on the radio while I was getting ready for work, I actually took a pause in order to laugh uproariously. So much for Perry's pre-2016 tough-guy cosplay... the guy whose stupidity dashed his 2012 presidential hopes just might see his criminality dashing his 2016 presidential hopes- not that criminality stops Republicans from backing a crook or deadbeat.

Monsieur Bouffant excerpted the NY Times article concerning the indictment. This was the kernel of the article for me:

The investigation centered on Mr. Perry’s veto power as governor. His critics asserted that he used that power as leverage to try to get an influential Democrat and elected official — Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney in Travis County — to step down after her arrest for drunken driving last year. Ms. Lehmberg is Austin’s top prosecutor and oversees a powerful public corruption unit that investigates state, local and federal officials; its work led to the 2005 indictment of a former Republican congressman, Tom DeLay on charges of violating campaign finance laws.

While it initially looks bad for Ms Lehmberg, further reading reveals that she may have been railroaded:

One night in April 2013, Ms. Lehmberg was found by sheriff’s deputies with an open bottle of vodka in the front passenger seat of her car in a church parking lot in Austin and was arrested for drunken driving. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.

It looks bad, but was she actually driving in the church parking lot when she was arrested? Doesn't driving while intoxicated actually involve driving? Note that I'm not defending DWI perpetrators- when I get loaded, I do it within walking distance of home, or in a neighborhood to which I traveled by mass transit.

At any rate, Mr Perry's indictment still has me cackling with glee. It's nice to see a dumbass and a fraud taken down a peg or two. Here in New York State, our own not-a-real-liberal governor is facing an investigation about his dismantling of a contra-corruption commission that refused to back down from investigating Cuomo cronies. Maybe the two governors can end up as roomies in a federal hoosegow, rather than as candidates on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. That would make for an interesting "Odd Couple" type comedy.

Needless to say, here's a tip of the hat to Thunder.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

'Roids and Riots?

Watching the stomach-churning coverage of the violent situation in Ferguson, Missouri (scenes reminiscent of "Troubles" era Belfast- yeah, still on that SLF kick, or "intifada-era Gaza), I have to wonder if much of the overly aggressive police response can be attributed to 'roid rage. Sources as divergent as Police Chief Magazine and the Think Steroids website cite a 1991 article from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin concerning the abuse of anabolic steroids by police officers, the takeaway quote being:

“Anabolic steroid abuse by police officers is a serious problem that merits greater awareness by departments across the country.”

A simple Google search of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin archives reveals a bunch of items concerning police abuse of anabolic steroids.

I've always been fascinated by the topic of performance enhancement drugs, and I recall a conversation with an athlete who flat-out stated that everybody who reached a certain level of competition is using them. In the case of police use of performance enhancers, one reason oft cited is an escalating competition with "juiced" criminals (weight lifting in prisons is common enough to have passed into popular awareness, and itself is a result of escalating competition with other inmates for security)- prison inmates lift weights in order to intimidate and defend against other inmates, cops lift weights in order to defend against ex-cons. It could be likened to an arms (literally) race, if it were true... prison free weight gyms are largely a thing of the past, though the use of calisthenics and improvised weights still occur.

Another reason for anabolic steroid use is to bulk up to intimidating proportions in a quick, efficient manner (damn the consequences!). It's a lot easier to intimidate another individual when you're built along the lines of Gutboy Barrelhouse.

The links between anabolic steroid use and aggression need further study, and their synergistic effects of other drugs need to be explored as well.

That being said, every police officer involved in an act of aggression against an unarmed individual should immediately be placed on leave and testing for anabolic steroids should be conducted. The cost of random testing for anabolic steroids is prohibitive, but the cost of a post-incident test is warranted. If we can test guys who hit balls with clubs for steroid use, why can't we test guys who hit skulls with clubs?

Since I'm still on a Stiff Little Fingers kick, how about an appropriate song?

Law and order, they don't do what they oughta.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Killer Snails, Healing Venom

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Biochemist Mandë Holford, of the City University Graduate Center and the American Museum of Natural History.

Dr Holford began her lecture with a quick recap of her curriculum vitae, first identifying herself as a Brooklyn native, and noting that she was pleased to be giving a lecture in the borough of her birth. In her CV recap, Dr Holford joked about how she studied cone snails at the University of Utah, far from any ocean, under Dr Baldomero Olivera, the "Godfather of Snails". She characterized her work as studying biological organisms from a chemical perspective- the protein synthesis that she studies is dynamic in nature but static in the lab. She specifically studies venomous snails that prey on other organisms, notably fish:

As an aside, there's something disconcerting about watching an invertebrate killing an eating a vertebrate. Sure, it happens all the time, but I feel a bit of "chordate solidarity" when I watch it.

Dr Holford quipped that cone snails are not your garden variety of snail. These snails are highly venomous, and her specialty is studying the ecology of these venomous animals in order to discover new medical treatments.

The Conoideans prey on fish, utilizing toxins which paralyze their prey. The venoms employed by conoids have anywhere from fifty to two hundred neuropeptides which shut down the nervous systems of prey. Because the snails are slow, they have to neutralize their prey quickly. The venoms are fast and potent, just like an "ideal" drug. The peptides in the snail venoms shut down several parts of the nervous system- Dr Holford likened the effect to a cluster bomb.

The various neuropeptides in the snail venom block the neural pathways, acting as chemical blocks and interfering with electrical processes- various components of the venoms effect sodium channels, calcium channels and interfering with neurons' action potential. Analgesic compounds in the snail venom block pain signals in the snails' prey.

Dr Holford then went into a digression about the development of analgesics, using the term "venomics" to describe her field of study. She noted that the organisms she studies have evolved their venoms over millions of years, and the key for a "molluscs to medicine" effort is figuring out what compounds are involved in these evolutionarily honed venoms. In order to gain this understanding of venomics, a "family tree" of venomous snails has to be parsed out- which snails are interesting from a venomic standpoint? Which venoms can be the basis of analgesics? Which snails can be worked with? Besides the Conidae, Dr Holford also studies the venomous Terebridae, and Turridae. She joked that her laboratory is the tropical beaches of the world.

Dr Holford described fieldwork that she conducted in the vicinity of New Ireland's Kavieng peninsula. Specimen collection was accomplished through diving, snorkeling, and dredging. Much of the diving took place at night, as cone snails are nocturnal. The purpose of the collection was to determine species diversity and to discover new toxins.

Cone shells deliver their venoms with barbed "harpoons" that tether their poisoned prey. The harpoons are modified radulae and are connected to a venom sac by a venom duct. The taxonomy of the conoidea has yet to be fully sorted out, because a lot of diverse species were lumped together into a "junk" clade. The classification of cone shells involves a correlation of anatomical and molecular analysis- this figure represents the evolving understanding of Conoidea cladistics. It is generally accepted that the cone snails are derived from the terebrids.

The lecture then shifted to the pharmacological studies of the venomous snails. The amino acid sequences of the neuropeptides need to be figured out in order to allow the synthesis of them to occur. Because of the number of neuropeptides produced by the snails, a "kitchen sink" approach has to be used- which peptides operate on sodium channels, which on potassium channels, which on calcium channels? Additionally, the therapeutic goals need to be clarified- which diseases are to be worked on?

If the snail venoms were to be obtained from the snails, tons of snails would have to be collected- sequencing the neuropeptides bypasses the need for collection. The peptides are "fragmented" and analyzed using mass spectrometry.

Synthesized peptides are lineral, while the peptides produced naturally by the snails are "folded". In order to be used pharmaceutically, the peptides must be folded by cysteine and sulfide bonds.

One particularly promising snail peptide, known as Tv1 was found to not only kill cancerous cells, but to "distinguish" between cancerous and normal cells. Other peptides promise to be effective pain relievers that are not addicting like opiates. "Vampire snails" also produce antigoagulants as well as anaesthetics. Since different peptides target different analgesic pathways, a plethora of drugs can potentially be synthesizd, including drugs to treat epilepsy and myocardial infarcion. Since snail toxins affect the central nervous system, targeting is a problem- specificity has to be developed, the site of action and the delivery method have to be refined to target the peripheral nervous system. These toxins are much more complex than morphine. One promising delivery technique would be to use a "trojan horse" approach, coating a peptide in a "scaffold" of other proteins so the peptide can "do what it needs to do".

Dr Holford indicated that there's a lot more work to do in this field before the venoms can be used therapeutically. In the Q&A session after the lecture, some bastard in the audience asked her if the snail toxins were produced by symbionts (you'll recall that that is similar to the bastard's question last month- that bastard seems to be obsessed with symbiosis!). She answered that the snails synthesize their venom on their own.

Once again, the Secret Science Club has delivered a great lecture. Dr Holford's lecture hit that "secret science sweet spot"- a little bit of an adventure narrative and a whole lot of information about the biology of the cone snails and their relatives, and about the process of peptide analysis and development of pharmaceuticals. She knocked it out of the park!

Here's a short video of Dr Holford discussing the medicinal potential of snail venom. Pour yourself a vodka and grapefruit juice with a splash of Campari (the drink of the night, which was delicious) and soak in that Secret Science ambiance:

Here's a link to The Venom Cure, a PBS presentation that covered the same ground as Dr Holford's lecture.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Now, This is a Bummer!

I just heard the news that Robin Williams, who had battled addiction and depression for many years, took his own life. I can't say that I was his biggest fan (I thought his manic humor was a bit too forced and scattershot, and his dramatic roles a bit too treacly- but I'm a cynical bastard), but I recognize that he brought laughter and entertainment to millions of viewers. At any rate, his death is tragic and unfortunate... I'm reminded of Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem Richard Cory- the extent of his pain was hidden from his fans. Personally, I think the following parody was the funniest thing he ever did- a funny concept, executed flawlessly:

I also lament the missed opportunities that Mr Williams' death has robbed the public of... he would have been great playing a satirical doppelganger of Bill O'Reilly.

Rest in peace, funnyman...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pure Nerdbliss

Poking around the t00bz, I found this great blog post by Dr Maggie Greene, an assistant professor in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at Bozeman's Montana State University. The blog post dealt with a 1980-vintage Chinese comic book adaptation of the original Star Wars. As much as I loved that movie, I think I may prefer this Chinese version, probably because this particular Obi-Wan Kenobi was the proud possessor of a rocket-shooting motorcycle:

I also seriously dig his medieval armor, complete with plumed helmet- now that's panache!

Even better is the fact that Obi-Wan is enough of a Scotch drinker to warrant the presence of a barrel of J&B in his hermitage:

An enterprising gentleman named Nick Stember has translated the comic, and has a panel-by-panel breakdown of the work (you can also download a PDF of the whole untranslated comic at one of the links). The whole thing is a gem, with the "Star Destroyer" of the opening being replaced by the Space Battleship Yamato, and Darth Vader contemplating an attack on the Kennedy Space Center:

As if that's not enough, there's a kickass Frazettaed-out Darth Vader posing in front of a Triceratops:

This thing is one-hundred percent awesome, and you should really check it out. It's easy enough for fans to follow along, even with a language barrier, because it is very faithful to the movie's plot. The visuals are truly a treat, though- one gets the impression that multiple artists were working from a plot synopsis and a couple of promotional pictures from the second movie, while never seeing the first one. If you were a fan of that first movie, this comic is even better than disco Star Wars:

Well, maybe equally as awesome.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

In Keeping With My Last Post

Via Raw Story, here's a video of an Irish senator and human rights crusader criticizing Israel's conduct in Gaza:

In the comments, a right-wing troglodyte had this to say:

you can trust those Irish to know whats going on in Israel...especially if theyre left wing and perceive something as right wing, cuz that's okay, hes not pro-this or pro-that, hes decidedly neutral, hell he even has some Israeli friends. His own political bias would never effect his opinion on anything, and well, hes a member of Irish Government, he must know whats going on and be really really smart!hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah

To which some bastard replied:

The Irish know all too well what damage occupation and sectarian violence can do to the societies on both sides of the conflict. If you don't see the parallels, that's your issue, not his.

The Irish people have had more than their share of political and sectarian violence, they are the perfect messengers for an anti-occupation, anti-violence cautionary tale. The Troubles/The Intifada/Israeli Bombing- the similarities are readily apparent to anyone not blinded by ideology or tribalism.

The U.S. government has just approved sending an additional $225 million to Israel to fund their "Iron Dome" defense system. Looks like I'll have to go back to the "Stiff Little Fingers" well... just file off the "serial number" of Each Dollar a Bullet, change the names, and it's as topical as it was when it was released:

I think I'm going to mosh until I cray.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Saved By Punk

My great and good friend J-Co, knowing that I am a huge Stiff Little Fingers fan, sent me an article about the Belfast punk band's lasting impact. I first heard the band's music on college radio when I was in junior high school and was instantly hooked. To get an inkling of my devotion to the band and its music, one merely has to see the number of my posts that have mentioned them- yeah, still no post tags...

When I first heard the band's music, I was too young to really understand The Troubles, though the band's music inspired me to learn more about that particular history. Reading Stuart Bailie's article in the Irish Post is enough to give me goosebumps:

There were power cuts and no-go areas and murder gangs at large after midnight. Getting home from school was like a daily re-run of Warriors. On the local news, politicians carried themselves like street fighters, launching accusations across the studio, bawling and berating.

And so we endured the ring of steel and cement around Belfast, the body searches and the terrible sense of vacancy every evening. But then punk rock arrived, with a whole other vision.

It was a sound that related to the teenage rage, and there was no more appropriate place to make this heard. We were living in a hyper-real Clash song, the cheap holiday full of misery that nobody in England ever wanted to consider.

When I hear Suspect Device by Stiff Little Fingers, the mood is intensely revived. I grieve for the lyric at the start when Jake Burns sings about the 2,000 dead, because a further 1,000 would die before the situation improved.

I feel excited when I hear the rasping voice and the fierce guitar because it was the sound of a novel attitude — the idea that you might rewire the mentality of the Belfast youth and direct it against the warlords.

As Mr Bailie notes, the song, named after suspected improvised explosive devices, begins with an enumeration of the victims of the violence, commonly portrayed as sectarian, but also rooted in economic rivalries and an occupation by a foreign army (this is a timely subject, even though the names and places have changed since the 1990s). Singer Jake Burns then compares the hatred sown by the "powers that be" to the bomb of the title:

Inflammable material's planted in my head
It's a suspect device that's left 2000 dead

Their solutions are our problems
They put up the wall
On each side time and prime us
Make sure we get fuck all.

As the song progresses, Mr Burns implores his youthful audience to eschew the violence and conduct what could be termed the, please forgive me, Irish Spring:

Just take a look around you
At the bitterness and spite
Why can't we take over
And try to put it right?

The final verse is a defiant growl- a determination to subvert the rhetoric, to undermine the occupation:

We're a suspect device if we do what we are told
But a suspect device can score an own goal
I'm a suspect device the Army can't defuse
You're a suspect device they know they can't refuse

We're gonna blow up in their face.

It's a glorious example of sustained rage, a klaxon call for the youth on both sides of the sectarian divide (the band has had both Protestant and Catholic members) to forge an identity independent of the flawed adult authorities:

Another song mentioned in the article, Wasted Life, defies the sectarian organizations of both sides, as Mr Bailie put it:

It was a thrill to hear this song on the John Peel show and to reflect on the flip side, Wasted Life which mocked the act of joining a paramilitary gang.

I could be a soldier
Go out there and fight to save this land
Be a people's soldier
Paramilitary gun in hand
I won't be a soldier
I won't take no orders from no-one
Stuff their fucking armies
Killing isn't my idea of fun

They wanna waste my life
They wanna waste my time
They wanna waste my life
And they've stolen it away

I could be a hero
Live and die for their 'important' cause
A united nation
Or an independent state with laws
And rules and regulations
That merely cause disturbances and wars
That is what I've got now
All thanks to the freedom-seeking hordes

I'm not gonna be taken in
They said if I don't join I just can't win
I've heard that story many times before
And every time I threw it out the door

The last verse of the song is explicitly anti-fascist, sparing none of the violent factions:

Still they come up to me
With a different name but same old face
I can see the connection
With another time and a different place
They ain't blonde-haired or blue-eyed
But they think that they're the master race
They're nothing but blind fascists
Brought up to hate and given lives to waste

Mr Bailie also mentions Alternative Ulster, a song which could serve as the band's mission statement. As Mr Bailie put it:

And of course there was Alternative Ulster, a rather melodramatic charter for a new society that still provokes damage to a Belfast dance floor. The song told us that the answer was out there and that we could grab it and take it. In essence, we could be empowered.

The song's title is a play on words, a can admonition to alter the native land to an alternative land:

An Alternative Ulster
Grab it and change it it's yours
Get an Alternative Ulster
Ignore the bores and their laws
Get an Alternative Ulster
Be an anti-security force
Alter your native Ulster
Alter your native land

Jake Burns' growl is a plea here, as well as a challenge:

Just listening to all of those tracks gives me goosebumps, no matter how many times I've listened to them. The band will be releasing a new album next week. They'll also be playing in NYC in September, but, sadly, I probably won't be able to take a day off to see them.

I think I'll end this post with the first SLF song that I heard, the song which made me a lifelong fan of the band. Jake Burns notably said, “You’ve probably worked out by now, I don’t do “comedy” songs !!” I'd respectfully beg to differ, though, because Barbed Wire Love is a magnificent bit of black, black humor:

HANX! to J-Co and, of course, the great and good personnel of Stiff Little Fingers.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stealing Words

I was a little dismayed to read of Montana's John Walsh dropping out of his Senate race, because it was discovered that he had plagiarized sections of a research paper he had submitted while at the Army War College. As "Crooks and Liars'" Karoli noted, though, Rand Paul was found to have plagiarized sections of his speeches and a book and faced absolutely no consequences. Of course, allegations of plagiarism have dogged Joe Biden for decades- part of me wants to believe him when he states that it was a momentary failure to credit Neal Kinnock, but the bigger part of me believes that he should have come up with his own damn words.

Plagiarism is a funny thing in this age of the internet, where cut-and-paste jobs are easy to do, but a cut-and-search effort will reveal instances of stolen passages. Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today brings up the aphorism “To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.” and promptly excoriates it. I always endeavor to post links to sources when I write more substantial posts, especially my Secret Science Club recaps, but it's often hard to rephrase a concept without sounding obtuse or precious. Still, if any phrase sounds "too good", I plug it into a search engine to see if someone else has come up with it (this is especially important when I come up with what I think is a neologism).

I am reminded of an anecdote told about Paul McCartney's writing of Yesterday, in which the song came to the "cute Beatle" in a dream, and he agonized over whether it was an original song or not, playing it for several colleagues in an attempt to identify it. Yesterday sure sounds like it could have been a traditional ballad, which is one of the more humorous plot points of Tim Powers' wonderful novel, The Anubis Gates. Paul bent over backwards to make sure he wasn't stealing, and is a good role model for writers of good intention.

For me, plagiarism is a sin against the Muse, and a theft against oneself, as well as the writer(s) one is stealing from. I love the language, I love wordplay- stealing the works and words of others deprives one of the fun of writing. In an academic setting, it deprives one of the joys of true discovery- the seeking and utilization of multiple sources of information to gain a well-rounded understanding of one's topic. Plagiarism, is the sin of crass, lazy utilitarians- the sort of people who are content to gain a diploma without gaining an education. As someone who has gleefully scattered his various written pieces of various lengths across the internet, I don't just have scorn for plagiarists, but I have pity as well. You don't need to steal words- if you have the diligence and the patience, they come to you, oftimes unbidden.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Thinking About Ebola

The Ebola hemorrhagic fever has been in the news a lot lately. The bulk of my knowledge about the Ebola virus comes from Laurie Garrett's 1994 opus The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance . In other words, it's dated but fairly good. Dr Alison Campbell has a blog post about "alternative medicine" grifters descending vulture-like on people fearing a pandemic, while Vixen Strangely has a post about Donald F. Trump criticizing the CDC for bringing two Americans who have contracted Ebola to Atlanta's Emory University for treatment.

Personally, I think that the transportation of the two American Ebola patients back to the states was a smart move- not only will the two receive a level of care they would not be able to receive in Liberia (though a promising treatment was administered while they were still there), but the scientists and medical doctors at the Center for Disease Control will be better able to study this horrific viral infection. The news reports surrounding the outbreak tend to be sensationalized with regard to the lethality rate of the virus and the ease of transmission. The conspiracy-minded right wing fringehas even insinuated that the Obama administration is responsible for bringing Ebola to the States for some nefarious reason (and the linked post is from the "mainstream" conservative site Forbes). Even more stupidly, at least one Republican congressman has raised the specter of young Central American refugees carrying Ebola to the U.S., even though Ebola is unknown in the Western Hemisphere.. though there are hemorrhagic fevers endemic to Latin America.

"Tropical" diseases such as Ebola and Dengue are largely neglected by the big pharmaceutical corporations because they occur in countries populated by "those" people- poor folks in the developing world aren't profitable to treat, unlike rich old guys with erectile dysfunction. The CDC now has an invaluable opportunity to study the virus under ideal conditions and will hopefully act to contain the outbreak in West Africa.

I would exhort everyone to read Laurie Garrett's chapter on Ebola, even though it is dated. One major factor in the Ebola outbreak in Central Africa that she covered was the re-use of needles for inoculations and the administration of medicine. Another major factor was traditional funerary practices, in which the families of the decedents would prepare the bodies for burial without gloves or other protective gear, thus leaving them open to exposure. It's a heartbreaking read... one ruefully chuckles as beleagured nuns interpret the order to establish a cordon sanitaire as an instruction to use tape to delineate the precincts of an Ebola ward. Still, it's better to be educated about the disease than to rely on the sensationalism of the TV news.

Here in the NY Metro area, we had an Ebola scare which proved to be false. While the chances that there will be an outbreak here in the States is slim, it is not nonexistent. With study of the virus, and improved therapeutic measures, Ebola may cease to be as pants-wettingly scary as it is now, but we require cooler heads when we approach the subject.

A couple of days ago, I head a promotional blurb on NPR for a segment about how media consumers should approach with "Breaking News" segments. I didn't bother listening to the segment- when it comes to listening to "Breaking News" items, my advice is "don't do it".

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Today is the day of the company picnic. It'll be a light continental breakfast, a meet-and-greet with some trivia games, then a barbecue and lawn games. I usually camp out by the bocce court- reminds me of family gatherings at the ancestral homestead in the Bronx. I always get a kick at how quickly the bocce n00bs transform into cutthroat competitors. The games will be fierce come afternoon.

I've taken the precaution of slathering myself with a combination SPF 30 sunscreen and citronella-based insect repellent. I smell like a candle, which is better than smelling like a big, sweaty mook, which is a people repellent.

I had mistakenly believed that the festivities would start at ten (things start at eleven), so I arrived at my principle workplace around 9:30. The parking lot is spacious, so we carpool to the picnic site, which has a cramped lot. Right now, I am sitting in a picnic area overlooking a particularly pretty part of the property. It's been a while since I've seen the place in late morning. There's a woman typing away on her laptop at one of the tables, and a middle-aged couple were cuddling at another table. It's a nice spot- not a bad place to be stuck at work at all.

UPDATE: The picnic was a rousing success. It began with coffee and tea service, and then a special guest, an employee of New York State's Department of Parks, Recreation, and Conservation gave us a talk about the various parks in the vicinity of our main office. Her initial contact with our organization was to discuss eel conservation in one of our on-site bodies of water. She then led us on a hike along a trail adjacent to our grounds, pointing out invasive plants and discussing how the profile of plant life can give an indication of previous land-use. Certain plants are associated with former farms, and large, spreading oaks can be former "shade trees" from old pastures. It was a fantastic presentation, and the hike whetted our appetites. The catering was great- it was a BBQ with a wide variety of salads and entrees, including a savory corn pudding that the catering staff indicated was a secret recipe that the owner didn't even share with them.

After lunch, it was time for games. My department head is a "horseshoes" aficianado, so horseshoes is our official game. I was playing one of the guys on the day crew- a grueling match which came to a draw, when we both looked at each other and said, "I'm a paisan, you're a paisan, it's time for bocce. After a long, drawn-out bocce match, a couple of the ladies (including one of last year's bocce n00bs, now a seasoned competitor) joined us for a mixed doubles match, another fierce bout. We eventually stopped keeping score, because we were shooting the breeze as we played.

The band that played the event was great- The Ebony Hillbillies are an African-American string band. They are reviving a style of roots-music that tragically fell out of favor because white performers in blackface co-opted it back in the early 20th Century. Their performance was truly out-of-this-world.

Finally, as a dispatch from the school of snappy comebacks, my bocce doubles partner took one look at the shapeless, narrow-brimmed hat I was wearing to protect my glabrous noggin (it's a soft hat, the kind that can be rolled up and stuck in one's pocket-for the record, I hate wearing hats, even though they're a necessity in summer and winter), and said, "That hat does nothing for you." I quipped, "Nuh-uh, it decreases my chances of getting melanoma."

A good time was had- I got to see a lot of daytime employees I don't see that often, and everybody seemed to have a ball.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Major and the Mrs. and the Mourners

Today, I had a full dance card. I was out of the house shortly after 9AM, and took the number 4 train from Woodlawn to Brooklyn's Borough Hall. The plan was to meet up with Major Kong, the good Major's wife, and N__B, Mrs_B, and Mini_B, who is not so mini anymore. We rendezvoused at Brooklyn Bridge Park, right outside the Brooklyn Smorgasburg (sic). Our rendezvous point provided spectacular views of downtown Manhattan, just across the East River, and the Smorg provided an eclectic variety of food vendors. I made a beeline for the Bolivian Llama Party and got their delicious triple pork sandwich (festooned with picked onions, pickled carrots, and both brined jalapeño rings and a thinly sliced hot red pepper, then drizzled with crema and sprinkled with a grated cheese reminiscent of cotija). I got a lemonade/rosewater soda to wash it down. We dined at a table riverside, a most felicitous location for brunch. I work on Sunday afternoons, but I think I may make the "Smorg" an occasional stop on Sunday mornings.

After brunch, we parted ways with Mrs_B and Mini_B, who stayed at the park for some outdoor recreation, and took a leisurely stroll through the beautiful Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, where Ned pointed out the interesting architectural highlights, including the Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral, which features bronze doors salvaged from the ill-fated SS Normandie.

We parted ways at Borough Hall, with Ned and the Kongs taking the 2 train back to Manhattan and myself taking the 4 train back to Woodlawn.

I then drove to my place of employment and walked to a nearby establishment where a dear co-worker of mine was holding a fundraiser to cover medical expenses for her sister-in-law, who had succumbed to cancer at the all-too-young age of forty. Yeah, it's that bad. The family is holding together well, but there is an undercurrent of melancholy that will be lingering for a while. On a happier note, I got to know a couple of bartenders and one of the owners of the place, a place I don't visit nearly enough (I usually get out of work too late to bend an elbow, and I typically limit my drinking to establishments I can walk to, or need to take the train to).

After a couple of hours, I had to head to work, having bowed out of the fundraiser early. It's been a long day, but I made sure I brewed a pot of yerba mate to keep me from flagging. It's not often that I have friends from out of town coming on the same day as friends from the area are having an event, but I'm the sort of person who'll jump through hoops to see everybody.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Twenty Years of Trä

Tonight, it hit me- the best album of the 90's Trä, by Hedningarna was released twenty years ago. The music, which features both traditional Scandinavian instruments and electronics, simultaneously sounds progressive and prehistoric. The album is an "all killer, no filler" affair- the sort of album which is even better than the sum of its amazing parts. Seriously, folks, seek this one out- you'll never believe that you've lived your life without it.

Here's the official video for Vargtimmen

Wildly different, but obviously from the same band is the sultry Gorrlaus:

You don't need to know any Finnish to understand exactly what that song is about!

The entire album is spine-tingling. From the enigmatic opening Tass'on nainen to the rage-filled Min Skog through to the (literally) magical Tuuli and the heartstring-tugging final track Tina Vieri, the album is an emotional roller coaster ride... and it manages to pull this off even for listeners who can't understand a lick of the lyrics!

I've blogged about Hedningarna before, and I sure hope I've inspired some of my readers to buy some of the band's material. While even the "alternative" radio stations were playing crap bands like Oasis, there was some really amazing music which largely flew under the pop culture radar.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Ghost, Oh!

I can't believe that it's already August... the year has just flown past. Given the nature of my job, all I can think is, "Damn, it's practically October". October is our busiest month on the job. I had to come in early last Tuesday and I had a good long chat with a couple of guys on the day shift who are just about the nicest people I know. It helps that they are cat people- they were cracking up at the fact that Fred and Ginger had followed me all the way across the property when I came a callin'. Ginger promptly plopped herself on the cool floor of the room in which we were hanging out. These guys are already starting to set up for our major October fundraiser. There are all sorts of other tasks that are underway, but October's big ticket events pretty much take over everything until mid-November rolls around and everything is stowed away again.

The post title is a play on the Spanish translation of "August", but it also has some bearing on the job. Last year, we had the infamous "Waste of Big" incident, in which a new hire, a huge man by all accounts, didn't finish his first night because he was scared of the dark. He wasn't the first individual to check out before his first night was over- before I started on the job, a guy they'd hired called the supervisor to tell him that he'd seen a ghost, and that he wasn't going to stay. The supervisor, who lived about a mile from the site, told him that he'd be right over. When the supervisor got to the site, the new hire handed him the company cell phone and said, "I saw a ghost, I can't stay here. I quit." He was so freaked out, he ran the red light at the parking lot exit in his haste to get away.

My take on ghosts is that, if you don't believe in them, they don't believe in you. I've watched too much classic "Scooby Doo" to believe that ghosts are anything more than corrupt real-estate developers trying to scare people away so they can put up a condo development. Every so often, on the job, I'll get a call from "ghost hunters" who want to do a "paranormal investigation", and I refer them to the Public Relations department so they can get a denial from someone above my pay grade. A couple of weeks ago, I met an attractive, intelligent woman who firmly believed in ghosts, and as "proof", she cited a photo that her son had taken at an abandoned site near their home. I was diplomatic enough not to say anything about "double exposures" or the like... no need to inject an acrimonious air into an innocuous conversation over gin-and-tonics.

Ghosts, not scary, but the fact that it's already agosto? Terrifying!