Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Secret Science North: The Trek's Not That Far

Tonight I'll be heading down to Manhattan for the inaugural Secret Science Club North event at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For once, I won't be the guy trekking on the train for an hour- I will be able to take my beloved 1 Train from 238th St in the Bronx to 96th St. Me being me, I look at this subway route as leading from one El Malecón location to another. The trip will probably take no longer than a half-hour. I'll miss the wonderful staff of the beautiful Bell House, but there's an upcoming SSC event there in October.

The last event I attended at Symphony Space was a performance of Carmina Burana by the Young New Yorkers' Chorus, a group to which a friend and former co-worker belongs. Tonight, though, the Symphony Space is going to be transformed into Science Space.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Make Mine a Double!

I live in the tavern district of the City of Y______. When I returned home a couple of nights ago, I had a sinking feeling that I had had too much booze... I was seeing double:

Technically, I suppose this is a double-double, although the folks at both Tim Horton's and In-N-Out Burgers would beg to differ. At any rate, I shouldn't have been drinking doubles... nor should the street-painting contractor.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Oh, Piliones!

Last week, I was lucky enough to enjoy some beautiful weather on my day off, so I headed over to the local, lovely Tibbett's Brook Park for a good, long stroll. While I was sauntering along the beautiful pathways, I caught a couple of harvestmen (locally known as "daddy longlegs") making the beast with sixteen legs, IYKWIMAITTYD:

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine repeated the myth that daddy-longlegs are the most venomous arachnids of all, but that their "fangs" were too small to pierce human skin. I had to set her straight- the opiliones lack venom glands, so they aren't poisonous at all. You want to most venomous arachnid of all? Smut's got that covered.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Banned Books Week, Eh?

Via Tengrain, I realize that this week has been Banned Books Week. Here's a rundown of the ten most "challenged" books for the past fourteen years.

My mother never forbade us from reading any book, no matter how young we were. She always figured that reading anything was better than reading nothing at all, and that she had instilled her values into us when we were little children, so we could "handle" just about any material. She herself had been granted full access to an uncle's library when she was young, and she followed his example of allowing full access to the family library. Hell, even a collection of salacious medieval tales (much along the lines of the saltier sections of The Canterbury Tales) wasn't off limits... and Till Eulenspiegel was a favorite character of mine even as a child. Even if there had been a copy of the dreaded Necronomicon around, mom would have placed no limitations on it.

Banning books is always a foolish attempt to ban thoughts, a theme similar to the concept of "Newspeak" enumerated in George Orwell's sometimes banned 1984- if you haven't read this particular book, it's doubleplusgood. My attitude is that, if your view of the world can be utterly changed by reading one particular book, then the problem is with your view of the world. Sound ideas cannot be destroyed that easily. I have to confess that I don't celebrate Banned Books Week myself, seeing that I'm a proponent of reading everything any week of the year. Just as I've long suspected that Valentine's Day is a plot to sell cards, flowers, and chocolates, I suspect that Banned Books Week is a plot to sell Captain Underpants books- not that there's anything wrong with that. While I don't celebrate the week per se, I fully support those who do, largely to spite the sort of people who support book burning.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Quiverfull of Queer

Ordinarily, I don't think about the quiverfull movement all that much. I was reminded of this Dominionist subset by TBogg's latest piece about **shudder** the Duggars giving advice about sex. Given the number of kids they have, odds are that one or two of the Duggar brood are LGBTQ. I sincerely hope that all of the Duggar kids are gay. A "Quiverfull of Queer" would be awesome! Hmmmm... wasn't Quiverfull of Queer an album by the Smiths?

Hey, how about a hymn from the Smiths?

Heaven knows I'm miserable contemplating the Duggars bumping uglies.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rouhani's Right

While I think that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is a scumbag, having presided over a surge in executions (though, as a citizen of the United States, I really can't take the moral high ground here, even though I am against the death penalty), I have to say that the guy was correct when he stated that the western powers have helped to spread terrorism around the globe- in Rouhani's own words, translated into English:

I deeply regret to say that terrorism has become globalized: From New York to Mosul, from Damascus to Baghdad, from the Easternmost to the Westernmost parts of the world, from Al-Qaeda to Daesh [the Arabic acronym for Dawlat al-Islamiyah f'al-Iraq wa al-Sham]. The extremists of the world have found each other and have put out the call: extremists of the world unite. But are we united against the extremists?

Extremism is not a regional issue that just the nations of our region would have to grapple with; extremism is a global issue. Certain states have helped creating it and are now failing to withstand it. Currently our peoples are paying the price. Today’s anti-Westernism is the offspring of yesterday’s colonialism. Today’s anti-Westernism is a reaction to yesterday’s racism. Certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hand of madmen, who now spare no one. All those who have played a role in founding and supporting these terror groups must acknowledge their errors that have led to extremism. They need to apologize not only to the past but also to the next generation.

Tragically, one cannot argue against that... the current conflagration is largely a result of the ill-conceived, poorly executed U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent power vacuum and sectarian conflicts. Even more tragically, the roots of the decades-long quagmire in the Middle East date back to the Sykes-Picot agreement, which partitioned the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Additional problems in the Middle East can be laid at the feet of the toppling of the democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in the 1950s at the behest of British Petroleum.

Rouhani further stated:

To fight the underlying causes of terrorism, one must know its roots and dry its source fountains. Terrorism germinates in poverty, unemployment, discrimination, humiliation and injustice. And it grows with the culture of violence. To uproot extremism, we must spread justice and development and disallow the distortion of divine teachings to justify brutality and cruelty.

I'll gloss over his religious platitudes, not sharing them myself, but his assessment of the recent military campaigns of the West is spot on (I have always been of the opinion that the "War on Terror" should have been conducted surgically, involving good intelligence and appropriate use of special forces on highly specific targets- one does not swat mosquitoes with sledghammers). In Rouhani's words:

The strategic blunders of the West in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucuses have turned these parts of the world into a haven for terrorists and extremists. Military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and improper interference in the developments in Syria are clear examples of this erroneous strategic approach in the Middle East. As non-peaceful approach, aggression, and occupation target the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people, they result in different adverse psychological and behavioral consequences that are today manifested in the form of violence and murder in the Middle East and North Africa, even attracting some citizens from other parts of the world. Violence is currently being spread to other parts of the world like a contagious disease. We have always believed that democracy cannot be transplanted from abroad; democracy is the product of growth and development; not war and aggression. Democracy is not an export product that can be commercially imported from the West to the East. In an underdeveloped society, imported democracy leads only to a weak and vulnerable government.

When generals step into a region, do not expect diplomats to greet them warmly; when war begins, diplomacy tends to end. When sanctions set in, deep hatred for those imposing them also begins. When the atmosphere of the Middle East is securitized, the answer will be of the same nature as well.

The interests of Western countries in our region are tied to their recognition of beliefs and the desire of the people for democratic governance in the region.

The experience of creation of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and modern extremist groups have demonstrated that one cannot use extremist groups to counter an opposing state and remain impervious to the consequences of rising extremism. The repetition of these mistakes despite many costly experiences is perplexing.

The rest of his speech degenerates into self-serving statements regarding Iranian intentions, and condemnations of "Zionists" in the Levant, but his criticism of the western powers' role in the germination and spread of Islamic extremism and terrorism was embarrassingly accurate. The fight against ISIS has to be conducted in an intelligent fashion, though the fact that one of our "allies" in the region (you know, the one which attacked the U.S. in the first place) had a hand in creating ISIS has me concerned.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Boule Bandwagon

I'm not exactly the trendiest guy, but every once in a while, something which "goes viral" will catch my attention. For instance, something called a shooter's sandwich has gained cult status- even getting the know your meme treatment. Well, as luck would have it, I found a sourdough boule in the "yesterday's bread" section of one of my local supermarkets (I always check out the day-old bread section, ever on the lookout for the main ingredient for a strata, and oftimes it pays off). Even more serendipitously, I found sirloin steaks on sale as well... it was as if fate wanted me to make this sandwich. It was a simple matter of picking up some mushrooms. I used onion and garlic instead of shallots- I've never understood the primacy of shallots over onions- I agree 100% with Craig Claiborne's 1964 quote regarding the humble onion:

ALTHOUGH many people eschew all forms of it, the onion is probably the most versatile of culinary blessings. It inspired Dean Swift's lines, now the most labored of gastro­nomic platitudes, “This is every cook's opinion; No savoury dish without an onion.” And there has been much speculation on the thought that if the onion were as rare as caviar it would be the most coveted of foods.

Assembling the shooter's sandwich is a fairly easy process- the most involved part of the whole affair is pressing the damn thing for a few hours (I wrapped the sandwich up, placed it between two boards, and put a 35-pound kettlebell on top to "smush" everything down). The sandwich is a very good one, but certainly not the "Best Sandwich Ever". In fact, in my opinion, it wasn't even the best sandwich I had all week... those honors would go to an eggplant parmigiana sandwich I made, with the typical gut-busting deep-fried, breaded eggplant typical of a good old American red sauce joint.

I jumped on the boule bandwagon and made the trendy sandwich of the moment. I'd agree with Epicurious' J. Kenji López-Alt that the shooter sandwich is not better than the sum of its parts. Luckily, while I was shopping, I also picked up a ciabatta loaf, so I may make a sausage-and-pepper "pressed" sandwich using the trendy technique of the moment.

For the record, the most decadent sandwich I ever made was an "appetizer combo sandwich" with chicken fingers, jalapeño poppers, and mozzarella sticks, dressed with blue cheese dressing and hot sauce. Damn near killed me, but a guy's got to live on the edge once in a while.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thanks Obama Iriving!!!

Tonight is the first episode of season two of the television show Sleepy Hollow. While I am not a T.V. watcher, I watched the first episode last year because the show touches on local interests of mine. I have periodically posted about Sleepy Hollow since my second year of blogging, and I like to visit the area, made famous by Washington Irving's story of the Headless Horseman. Note, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow is not a legend, and there was no town named Sleepy Hollow until 1996 (I covered that in my first linked post)- "Sleepy Hollow" referred to the valley of the Pocantico River as it wound through the hills on the North Side of a village named North Tarrytown.

Now, regarding Irving's story... there was a real man named Ichabod Crane. Washington Irving met Ichabod Crane in 1814- he was aide de camp to Daniel D. Tompkins, then governor of New York State. At the time, the War of 1812 was in full swing. Irving accompanied Gov. Tompkins on an inspection tour of forts on the border of our hated Canadian enemy, where he met Ichabod Crane.

Irving wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820 while living in England- the story was written by Irving under the psedonym "Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman" and attributed by "Crayon" to the fictional "narrator" Diedrich Knickerbocker... pseudonyms all the way down, it would seem. The 1820 Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. was a popular best seller on both sides of the Atlantic shortly after it was released. The real Ichabod Crane went on to have a distinguished military career, and was a colonel on active duty when he died in 1857. I'd love to know what Crane's feelings were about sharing his name with a wildly popular but somewhat ridiculous comedic character.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sustainable Ecology, Sustainable Economy

I missed out on the big climate change awareness march in Manhattan today. I work weekends, and heading down to Manhattan for a spell before rushing back to Westchester in time for work was just not an option. I don't think that this was a cop-out on my part. I cover "green" issues fairly regularly, and the presence of one more person at the rally isn't as important as the presence of a voice consistently harping on green issues.

To me, the biggest problem facing our society is our utter failure to look beyond the immediate future: the next quarter, the next election cycle, the next ratings period... these occupy the thoughts of our policy makers to a far greater extent than a long-term, sustainable future. The symptoms of this underlying failure to develop a long-range plan, better yet, a multi-generational blueprint for the future, can be see in all walks of life- bubble economies, boom-and-bust cycles, environmental degradation, and infrastructure delapidation. Tragically, I don't see any changes being implemented until it's too late. Hell, at this point, I'm convinced that the best we can do is to lessen the impact of the coming crash, but big business and bad government actors are doing their damnedest to put the pedal to the metal.

I've long maintained that fossil fuels should be considered "startup capital" to be used to usher in a sustainable energy economy. The problem is that Homo sapiens has been burning (quite literally) the "seed money" with little effort to develop the next generation of energy sources. My personal feeling is that biofuels developed from algae or small, quick growing plants suck as duckweed. Carbon capture would best be achieved through reforestation efforts.

At any rate, the most important change that has to occur is that we, as a species, have to think of a future beyond the next quarter.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Missed One of the Year's Biggest Dino Stories

I can't believe that, for a week, I missed one of the biggest paleontological stories of the year... actually one of the biggest paleontological stories in the history of the field. It was revealed a week ago that the largely complete fossil remains of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus were discovered in Morocco. Spinosaurus has long represented an enigma... the remains of the "type specimen" were destroyed by an Allied bombing raid on Munich during WW2. Comparisons to other Spinosauridae such as Baryonyx (which has been determined to be a fish-eater due to the presence of scales found among the remains of a specimen), suggested a piscivorous lifestyle. The largely complete fossil Spinosaurus found recently exhibits a plethora of aquatic features:

I'd liken Spinosaurus to a therapod dinosaur playing at being a crocodilian, which amuses me because the crocodilians are the only surviving archosaur group besides the dinosaur-descended birds. In addition, this staggeringly large (estimates range up to almost sixty feet in length) crocodile-mimicking dinosaur shared its habitat with Sarcosuchus, a crocodilian which reached a length of about forty feet. One has to wonder what the hell was in the water in that time and place!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Declining the Despot

I can't say I was surprised when I read that 56 million credit cards were affected by a security breech at Home Despot (sic). Let that sink in for a bit... fifty million credit cards were affected... that's one credit card per person for more than one-sixth of the population of the U.S. (yeah, I know that certain people have more than one credit card, and there are international customers, but the number is mind boggling. I have a low opinion of Home Depot anyway, CEO Ken Langone is a whiny plutocrat and Republican donor who groused about Pope Francis speaking out against income equality and the indifference of the rich.

Earlier this week, I went to the independent hardware store within working distance of my home. I had a pleasant walk to the store, where I purchased an 18" fluorescent bulb. The proprietor got it off the shelf for me, and wrapped it in paper to protect it on the walk home (with detours to the bakery for a sfogliatelle and the butcher shop for a store-made black pudding and some delicious pork-and-leek sausages). All of the proprietors of the stores I visited are local people, and I consider them all friends (I've known the baker since I was a teenager).

I live in a neighborhood with a vibrant commercial district. I'd rather travel by shanks' mare to patronize stores owned by careful, attentive local people than to drive to a big box store with sub-par customer service and an abysmal attitude toward the security of their customers. Luckily for me, I have that option, unlike a lot of Americans.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Caledonian Road to Autonomy?

There's a tongue-in-cheek discussion about Scottish secession over at Roy's place. I'm agnostic on the topic, though it would be interesting to see what sort of ripple effect an autonomous Scotland would have on the rest of the United Kingdom- particularly, would Northern Ireland secede and join Scotland in a reunited Union of Dál Riata? Personally, no matter what the result of the vote is, the Scottish people should force a formal declaration exonerating Macbeth from the calumnies leveled against him.

One of the most cogent arguments for Scottish independence was put forth by political philosophers Charlie and Craig Reid:

Another argument for Scottish independence is the United Kingdom's utter failure to take the extraterrestrial threat seriously... Secretary of Defence Fay Fife is fully aware of this menace:

The program director of my great local commercial radio station played this appropriate song by the late, lamented Stuart Adamson during his shift as a DJ today:

Well, played, good sir! Well played.

The post title refers to a song by my beloved, woefully unknown Shop Assistants:

My "spider sense" tells me that Scotland will still be part of the UK tomorrow... I don't think the plutocrat class will idly allow a proper plebiscite to take place. No matter how the vote turns out, let's hope that it shakes things up so that voters, especially the teenagers allowed to vote in the election, will achieve better representation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

So What? Owl

I'm trying to play as if I'm indifferent, but I have to confess that I am actually really jealous that one of my co-workers, the resident flashlight nerd (he has a big honking portable lamp that he could signal passenger jets at cruising altitude with), spotted an owl on the property at night:

I'm pretty sure this is a northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), but I can't be sure. I saw one myself a couple of years back, right after sundown. It was a tiny little creature with an enchantingly pretty face. Here's a video of a bird that, according to the uploader's blurb, flew into a glass door:

While a very cute little beastie, I always cringe when people express a desire to own a wild animal like this as a pet. There are plenty of domesticated animals that need homes, and the wild animal trade is harmful to threatened species. It's a rare treat to see an animal like this in the wild, holding one captive seems like cheating.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Wow,yet another horror story involving a pro football player- and the offender insists he's not a child abuser. Here's a hint, if your family photo album looks like scenes out of Abu Ghraib, you are most certainly a child abuser.

I'm getting to the point where I not only think that Goodell should resign, I'm mow thinking that the NFL should be disbanded. Monday night spelling bees, anyone?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Beer Truck Hit My Liver

Yesterday was a Big Beer Day. Officially, it was the local merchants' association parade, and many of the merchants are purveyors of booze. I uncharacteristically took a day off on a Saturday evening. As usual, I worked the overnight, hitting the sack at 5AM and waking up in time to listen to Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! I finally hit the streets around 1AM and met a bunch of friends at one of the local taverns. I put away my first Tullamore Dew on the rocks shortly after 1PM. I was sober when I declared my undying love for the hostess, one of those breathtakingly gorgeous Tipperary girls with raven hair and blue eyes... that's the type I've always been weak in the knees for. I was also sober when I offered to buy a nun a beer- "Sister, when you took holy orders, you didn't take a vow of teetotaling." I think the reason she declined the offer was because we were in a very public setting, and the last thing she needed was a Facebook post featuring her hoisting a pint.

In an uncharacteristic moment of restraint, I declined to enter the Irish sausage eating contest (three pounds of sausages in as quick a time as possible)- I didn't want to have to call it quits early after a pork binge, and I decided that browsing from the different food vendors was the way to go. I totally missed the cannoli eating contest, which is just as well. I also exercised a modicum of restraint at the tent in front of the liquor store where a couple of lovely ladies were giving away free samples of Jameson- I had a couple of shots, but as good as Jameson is, I'm a Tullamore Dew man through and through.

The weather was drizzly, which provoked quite a bit of jocularity- it's a largely Irish neighborhood, so drizzly conditions lent an air of authenticity to the festival. There were beer tents and bars in which to take shelter when the rain picked up. I have to confess that I love to drink outdoors- being able to carry an open container of beer in the context of a good, long pup crawl is something that I enjoy immensely. I think there's a slight aura of licentiousness about drinking outside.

The best thing about the festival was that it was a great economic boost for the local businesses, which is the whole raison d'etre of the festival. The vast majority of the businesses are mom-and-pop specialty stores, which lends the neighborhood its unique character. Being able to take in the whole neighborhood with a couple of thousand of my closest friends for a whole day was a delightful experience.

Waking up today, after hours of boozing was another thing entirely... I had to check for tire tracks because it felt like a beer truck hit my liver.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Craic in the Road

Today is the fourth annual McLean Avenue Merchants' Association festival. The main thoroughfare in my neighborhood will be shut down for the day for a big party. There will be four stages for live bands and for music and dance schools- the music is great, and the talented kids can entertain their families.

I took a day off so I could show my civic pride, and drink a whole lot of beer. I love my neighborhood, and I make it a point to support my local merchants, the vast majority of whom run independent stores that produce quality products. The neighborhood is also home to a multitude of bars, which form the backbone of the district's economy. People come from all over the metro area for the craic. I plan on meeting up with a bunch of folks around noon, and I plan on being buzzed by two PM at the latest... which can easily be accomplished in this neighborhood. How many neighborhoods have their own theme song?

The crawl home isn't too far, thank goodness.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Seeing AI's

Last night, I headed down the the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Rob Fergus of NYU and Facebook's Artificial Intelligence lab. Dr Fergus' lecture concerned the development of visual systems for artificial intelligences.

The lecture began with a question- can computers see and make sense of their surroundings? Dr Fergus' project is to build machines that can see with deep learning. The goal is to build intelligent machines... such machines need to be able to perceive- they need visual recognition and understanding of that which is perceived. Until recently, this problem was unsolved, interpreting images is not straightforward to a computer. The human visual system is complex, involving not only the eyes and optic nerve, but multiple parts of the brain- the pathway from eyes to decision making area of the brain is complex.

AI developers aren't copying natural visual systems because the understanding of the brain is still vague, and the "architecture" of the brain isn't the best model. Compared to computer processors, the human brain is made up of slow but parallel systems, while computers have fast but linear systems. The ideal artificial visual processor would be able to outperform nature's designs and constraints. Convolutional neural networks are the networks with special connectivity designed for computer visual systems.

The first problem of developing a visual system is image classification. Can a particular description of an image match a single label? The key to image description is making the best prediction for an image. Pixels have to receive a class label, one per image, the image and label forms a data set.

Training has to take place- a model needs to be chosen to map images to the labels- the training involves incrementally upgrading the parameters of the data sets to reduce a loss of visual function. After the training is accomplished, test data needs to be added- overly complex models can impede training.

In order to achieve Deep Learning, models with hierarchical structures need to be built. These hierarchies become increasingly complicated, building to a desired stage. The initial "layer" of the image is a simple filtered image, and each subsequent layer extracts features from the previous layer. The pixels are filtered through a non-linear dimension, and the process occurs in a "learned" direction. Multiple filters, hundreds or thousands in practice, are used to create "feature maps".

Pooling of the feature maps the occurs, serving to create invariant output despite multiple inputs... ideally, changes in the input won't result in changes to the output. As pooling increases, smaller local models accumulate, with higher convolution layers adding up to a whole picture.

Dr Fergus then gave us a brief history of this field, from 1989 to 2012. One major breakthrough occured in 2012 with the creation of the ImageNet database, which includes about 14 million images from about twenty-thousand classes. Another breakthrough was the implementation of Graphics Processing Units in visual systems. Current visual models have filters which can be retrained late in the filtering process to improve performance. The CLARIFAI image recognition system is able to autotag processed images.

The talk then proceeded to a demonstration of the different layers of filters in a hierarchy. Due to the visual component of this part of the talk, it's hard to encapsulate it in a blog post. Luckily, here's a video by Dr Fergus- the camera-work insufficiently covers the slides, but a viewer should get some idea of the different filter values:

After the lecture, some bastard asked Dr Fergus what sort of progress has been made in AIs' ability to process novel images. He indicated that this is a subject which is just now being broached- getting AI visual processing up to its present standard has been difficult enough even with labelling.

Once again, the Secret Science Club presented a fine, fine lecture. Kudos to Dr Fergus, Secret Science goddesses Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Just Not Afraid

Today being the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, one should expect to hear a lot of fearmongering from the lower circles of our media hell. Getting the jump on the idiocy was perennial pants-pooper Ted Nugent, who excreted a particularly odious rant about a conflagration- the death toll will be more brutal and widespread than all the peace & love dreamers could ever imagine. Ted's answer to everything (except the threat of communism in Indochina) is Guns! Guns! Guns!

Those who carry guns had better gun & ammo up no matter where you go, carrying at least 10 spare mags or 10 spare speedloaders because the allahpukes are confident they will once again methodically slaughter walking cowering whining cryin helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance. To gullible naive embarrassing ill prepared targets, there is still time to firepower up ASAP. Head for cover but retain an attentiveness in order to identify the evildoers and dbl tap center mass, then two to the head.

Ted will no doubt be in his bunker, armed to the eyeballs and waiting for the hordes to come over the nearest grassy Texas knoll. Why? Because he's afraid, just like he was when he went through extraordinary (and extraordinarily disgusting) lengths to avoid being shipped to Vietnam.

Me? I'm not afraid. I'll be getting on the subway in the Bronx and going on a three-borough train ride- no guns needed. I'm a New Yorker, like most New Yorkers, I'm just not afraid. Like most New Yorkers, I lost friends to the terrorist attacks thirteen years ago. This anniversary will be marked by melancholy, as it is every year, but I sure as hell won't let it be marked by fear.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Da Cuomo a Cuomo

Today's local political story of note was the shot fired across Governor Andrew Cuomo's bow by primary candidate Zephyr Teachout. Cuomo's recent woes began in earnest when it was revealed that his vaunted anti-corruption was restricted from investigating the governor's office. Cuomo's recent campaigning was strictly bush league, beginning with his attempt to have Dr Teachout removed from the ballot. In a very petty move, he refused to debate Dr Teachout, and the NYC NPR affiliate arranged a debate between Teachout and the Repblican gubernatorial candidate. In a particularly boorish display, Cuomo ignored Dr Teachout at the NYC Labor Day parade. Despite overspending Teachout by an overwhelming margin, she was able to tweak Cuomo's nose by pulling in more than a third of the vote.

Cuomo is no progressive, despite the liberal legacy of his storied father. He's a corporatist and an opportunist through and through. There's a hell of a lot of difference da Cuomo a Cuomo... a reference to one of my favorite Ennio Morricone compositions, from 1967's Death Rides a Horse:

That being said, I'll be holding my nose and voting for the guy come November, Astorino's desire to bring fracking to New York state is simply unacceptable. I'll take the crumb-bum in the governor's mansion over the 'bagger executive of my home county any day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Forgot in Four Years

Four years ago, I posted a video for a charming song by charmers, and I stopped following the larger project that it was attached to. Anyway, the film has been released and it looks like a chick-flick... I'm totally man enough for chick-flicks. The film is playing in a theater in Yonkers this Saturday, which I actually have off (first time in nine months!). The timing is not so great, though, I specifically took Saturday off so I could attend the local fall festival and drink a lot of beer. I like beer better than chick-flicks.

Anyway, here's the gorgeous Come Monday Night from the soundtrack:

I thought I posted this back in the day, but I can't find evidence of it. At any rate, I hope to see this film. I've been a sucker for cute Scottish movies since Gregory's Girl (Clare Grogan FTW!).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chupacabra Sighting

Tonight, as a nearly full moon was climbing the celestial vault, and the setting sun painted the western welkin a lovely orange, I had a rare treat... I saw a chupacabra. No, this wasn't the chupacabra of urban legend, but a real old-school goatsucker... and no, it wasn't Mickey Kaus.

In the deepening twilight, I had the pleasure of seeing two common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) in flight. These birds are easily identified (if rarely seen) by long, narrow wings, each marked with a large white patch. They are very graceful in flight- more aerobatic than a jay or a crow, but less than a swift or a swallow- as an aside, my mind was damn near blown the day I learned that the swifts and swallows are not-closely related... this is a really beautiful example of convergent evolution. The nightjars have a feeding style similar to that of the swifts and swallows (and bats)- snapping up insects on the wing. Their aerial dance was something to behold.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Song for Dreadnoughtus

This week's number one paleontology story was the discovery of Dreadnoughtus schrani, an astonishingly complete fossil Titanosaur. The importance of the Dreadnoughtus fossil lies in the fact that it is seventy percent complete. Most fossil finds are fragmentary, and Titanosaur remains recently found in Argentina hint at animals up to 130 feet in length. The Titanosaurs were the last of the long-necked Sauropod dinosaurs, and most remains come from Gondwana, specifically South America.

Here's a short, somewhat dry (I prefer these to the "Fieri'd" up "extreme" sort) video about the differences between Titanosaurs and other Sauropod lineages, concentrating on the genus Saltasaurus:

Me being me, and thus snarky, here's a little long-distance dedication to Dreadnoughtus:

Yeah, of course I know that dinosaurs aren't lizards, but reading over the estimated weights for Dreadnoughtus, the line "and you should see the way it shits" popped immediately into my snarky, snarky mind.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fiscal Responsibility: Christie Style

Under fiscal conservative Chris Christie's leadership, New Jersey's debt has been downgraded for the second time this year and the fifth time overall. Once again, Republican policies fail to improve the fiscal standing of a Republican-led polity. I'm beginning to think that Republicans aren't about fiscal responsibility at all.

As if the debt downgrade wasn't enough, the Atlantic City casino industry is imploding, with the closing of a ,much-vaunted luxury casino being the start of what is probably an irreversible death-spiral for the city. Oh, well, a government pinning its economic hopes on gambling revenue (and Christie muffed the amount of cashola that legalized internet gambling would bring in to the state's coffers) is as stupid as an individual pinning his economic hopes on lottery tickets.

Christie's been an unmitigated disaster for New Jersey, all of the bombastic bloviation in the face of his critics can't hide the fact that he has done nothing to improve the economic standing of either New Jersey or New Jerseyans.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fry-Cook Felons

For me, the big local story of the day (Joan who?) was the arrest of nineteen fast-food workers at a Times Square strike for a living wage. The average wage for fast-food cooks in the U.S. is $9.07. These people do hard labor, often under dangerous conditions (seriously, commercial kitchens are chock-full of pitfalls- boiling hot oil, slippery grease-slicked floors, harsh cleaning chemicals, hot surfaces and open flames. In the U.S., low wages and high risk (actual risk, not the "risk" that the MotU types claim is their bailiwick) go together like chopped meat and E. coli.

McDonald's stock is doing well and the corporation pays out a generous dividend. The profits are being made on the backs of the employees, who don't make enough money to dine at the crappy restaurants in which they work.

It's a national disgrace that the striking workers were arrested... they are not the criminals in the organization. These people aren't asking for a lot, they don't need DeLoreans, velour jumpsuits, and disco balls:

They just need a wage they can live on.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Municipal Net?

I've long been of the opinion that municipalities should be able to provide internet access to their residents. The internet itself is the product of government action, why let private corporations act as its gatekeepers? In my estimation, the internet should be a public utility, like the electricity, water, and sewerage providers (yeah, I know that those utilities have been privatized in many regions, and I think that's a disaster).

It's interesting that a corporation should be fighting against state laws aimed at nipping municipal internet providers in the bud, but Netflix is a competitor to the huge cable companies. That the anti-public internet legislation was written at the behest of the cable companies is self-evident... these monsters are fighting to keep their near-monolithic control at the expense of just about every other business in the country. The fact that one of the largest internet providers in the country crapped out for over an hour and a half underscores the foolishness of allowing a handful of corporations to control the vital business of information exchange.

Letting Comcast's and Netflix' lawyers battle this out is insufficient... it's time to get vocal about this issue. Municipal internet is the answer. Our tax dollars created the internet, our tax dollars should be used to provide connectivity to everyone.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Mute Witness to Human Horribleness

One century ago, the last passenger pigeon on Earth died in captivity. When Europeans reached these shores, flocks of the birds darkened the skies- sixty years before the last of the birds expired, an individual described the vast numbers of birds as they migrated:

`There would be days and days when the air was alive with them, hardly a break occurring in the flocks for half a day at a time. Flocks stretched as far as a person could see, one tier above another.'

Sixty years later, the last one died quietly in a zoo. Despite the vast numbers of birds, each female laid one egg a year, making population replenishment virtually impossible once the wholesale slaughter began.

As with the extinct thylacine (by the way, everybody should buy and read Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger by my friends Margaret and Michael), there are efforts underway to clone passenger pigeons in a "de-extinction" effort. I'm on the record as saying that "de-extinction" wouldn't bring these animals back, but would bring into being simulacra... and such simulacra would probably be housed in captivity, rather than being viable species with sustainable wild populations. We need to try to keep what we have, rather than to bring back what we've killed off. A guilty conscience is not the best arbiter of policy. Besides, why would we bring "back" a species into a rapidly changing world in which it may very well go extinct again? The loss of the passenger pigeon is one of Homo sapiens big screwups, but it doesn't hold a candle to the extermination of numerous indigenous societies that accompanied the kill-off of the birds. Sometimes, it's better just to admit that our forebears did some monstrous things and to work to prevent further monstrosities.

Since this is Labor Day and I need to get a little bit of politics into the mix, I'd have to note that the unions are in danger of going the way of the passenger pigeon, and we'd better start fighting back against the anti-union forces. Lately, the local "all-news-except-when-the-Yankees-are-playing" station has been running anti-teachers' union ads from the Center for Union Facts (if that name doesn't raise a huge red flag, you're not paying attention). They have a lot of nerve running these ads around Labor Day, but these sort of mendacious shitbags are shameless.

Hope I didn't bring anyone down on their day off, but if I did, then I just have to say that you should have gone to the beach in the first place.