Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Remember These?

Oddly enough, my most "popular" post by far has been a somewhat perfunctory post about some unknown fruits that I found and decided to taste before I knew they were edible. For some reason, this post seems to have attracted all of the spambot activity I get, and the post has gotten almost three hundred thousand hits as a result, hence the scare quotes around the word "popular". There is an edibility test for plants that I applied to these fruits, which turned out to be Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) fruits, which are, indeed, edible. Hilariously, at the same time, Jim of Wisdom of the West also ate one of these fruits, against the advice of his wife.

Anyway, 'tis the season, so I managed to grab a few while taking a stroll:

There's not a lot of substance to them, they have a leathery skin and are full of hard seeds, but there's a little bit of sweet pulp inside, comparable to a watermelon in taste. Isn't that what life's about, though? You have to find all those fleeting moments of sweetness whenever you can.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sacrifice in Support of Scholarship

When you find a puffball mushroom the size of a person's head, word gets out. A friend of mine teaches early American history, specifically folkways and foodways. She's the sort of person for whom Peter Kalm's Travels in North America is essential reading material. When she found out that I had found a puffball, she mentioned that she had been reading a primary source that included a receipt for puffballs, she wanted to know where she could get one. She likes to have samples of medicinal herbs and other material for hands-on demonstrations. Her current curriculum involves a discussion of the use of soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) in colonial American folk medicine. Please note that she is very careful about stressing that the information she presents is strictly for scholarly purposes and not for actual medicinal use, she underscores this point with an 18th century document that extolled the medicinal properties of mercury.

As luck would have it, I knew of the location of a second puffball bigger than my fist, approximately the size of a softball. I grabbed this second puffball and gave it to her so she could use it in her lessons. I also tracked down an article in the Journal of Ethnobiology listing Native American medicinal uses for puffballs. She's a scholarly type, so she'll track down additional sources for puffball information.

I have to confess that I didn't give up this fungus without a slight pang, but as someone who believes in the sanctity of learning (I swore an oath in this regard), I had to do so. There's a third puffball in the vicinity, another large one, with a deeply cracked surface, but I'm going to leave that one alone so it can spread its billions of spores. While I didn't swear a sustainability oath, it's something that I sincerely believe in... I'm not so greedy I'd spite my future self.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

September Lunacy

Tonight, after contemplating a glorious full moon peeking out from behind a thin curtain of cirrus clouds...

while anticipating the upcoming lunar eclipse, I decided to revisit the "blood moon" lunacy that's been bandied about by all sorts of nutbags. The usual Protestant evangelical eschatological crowd, has been joined by a coterie of Mormons, which necessitated a response from the church hierarchy... can't have any freelance prophets horning in on the grift, now.

As an aside, I just stepped out for a spell and there is a nice 'bite' taken out of the moon's face... soon, the moon will be in the Earth's shadow, around 10PM locally.

As if the eclipse lunacy weren't bad enough, there was a parallel end-of-the-world prediction concerning an asteroid impact that was supposed to wreak havoc on September 23rd or 24th. Yeah, there were two competing apocalyptic predictions concerning what has pretty much turned out to be a routine month. The funniest/saddest thing about the asteroid link is the number of linked Youtube videos which have now been removed- those people who were convinced that the government was lying to the public about the upcoming catastrophe have all gone chickenshit and removed their stupid 'warnings'. It's probable that a small number of them will remain convinced of their eschatological fantasy, even though they were burned again.

Another aside, it's 9:40 PM, and about half of the face of the moon is obscured now...

The mainstream media has some complicity in this lunacy, particularly by using the term 'blood moon'. Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, I'd never heard a total lunar eclipse referred to as a 'blood moon' until last year, when this end-timer lunacy about the eclipses began. The very term sounds like something a bunch of Bronze Age goat-herders would have come up with, it's not the sort of thing that a species that has set foot on the moon would call the moon.

It's a beautiful night, the moon is looking particularly gorgeous, and it will look gorgeous when it is obscured by the Earth's shadow. I'll be heading out to look at it any minute now. It's a disgrace that so many people are freaking out about something which should be a wondrous spectacle. They need to get their noses out of their books of magic and to look at the sky. My life is pretty good, and the planet is a pretty fine place even with all of its problems, why the hell would I want such a place to meet its end?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Humungous Fungus

At two o'clock this morning, I ran into an unexpected bounty, a giant puffball mushroom (Calvatia gigantea), while doing my regular walkabout at work:

The giant puffball is edible while it is immature and a uniform white color, when it ages it turns brown and emits a cloud of spores. The puffball is a boon to the beginning mushroom hunters because the large ones have no poisonous lookalikes... well, there's one, according to Wildman Steve Brill:

Caution: Beware the false giant puffball, a.k.a. the poison goalpost fungus, common in grassy fields throughout much of the Earth.

This mushroom is so deadly, merely inhaling the spores rearranges your brain's neural synapses, making you race endlessly back and forth across a field, stopping occasionally to jump up and down and cheer or curse insanely, never resting until death from exhaustion ensues. Poisoning is so virulent, relatives of the victim, especially the parents, have been known to succumb as well!

This particular puffball was as large as my cranium, and bore an uncanny resemblance:

Puffballs have a mild flavor, comparable to that of a typical white button mushroom. They go well sauteed in a little butter or olive oil. This particular beauty is large enough to act as the central component of three meals. Of course, I'm not the first guy on the puffball beat, but I'm happy to continue the proud puffball tradition.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Condolences to My Sister-in-Law

On Tuesday, I received sad news. Mr Teruo Asakura, the father of my brother Sweetum's wife, succumbed to a long illness. I was lucky to have spent some happy times with Mr Asakura during the celebrations of my brother's wedding, in New York City and in Tokyo. He was, to fall back on the old trope, a gentleman and a scholar. During the New York wedding reception, he read a prepared statement in English that brought down the house- as the best man, I had a hard act to follow when I delivered the toast.

He was also the consummate host- the rehearsal dinner in Tokyo took place at the family restaurant- the sort of place in which commuters would stop in on their way to and from work for a quick bite. The restaurant, (the best comparison is to a local mom-and-pop coffee shop here in the 'States) packed with books and periodicals, is exactly the sort of place I'd patronize in my neighborhood. On the night of the family dinner, it was closed to the public, and we all enjoyed a multi-course meal in a homey atmosphere.

Mr Asakura was a proud father of four very accomplished children, and a doting grandfather. My condolences go out to my sister-in-law, my brother, and my nephews and niece. He was well-loved on three continents, which is as amazing an accomplishment as a man can achieve.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Secret Science Club Lecture Recap: Love Those Lemurs

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 primatologist Dr Patricia Chapple Wright of Stony Brook University, who founded Madagascar's Centre ValBio Research Station. Dr Wright has won numerous awards, including a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and the 2014 Indianapolis Prize. She was one of the subjects of the recently released IMAX film Island of Lemurs, along with the eponymous island and its endemic primates.

Dr Wright began her lecture with a quick account of her pathway to a career in the sciences. After a childhood in Buffalo, New York, she determined to make her way to a warmer clime, joking, "In my dreams, I thought I'd go south of Buffalo, I'd go to New Jersey." She and her husband made it all the way to Brooklyn, in the days when she could see Dzimi Hendriks at the Filmore East for five dollars. In a pet shop near the Filmore, she was enchanted by an Aotus monkey, which she purchased. The purchase of the monkey inspired her to learn all about furry animals and the monkey's dissatisfaction with being alone when she and her husband went out at night drove her to take a leave of absence from work so she could travel to Latin America to find her monkey a mate, a project in which she succeeded. While in Costa Rica attempting to ascertain whether Aotus was present in that country, she was stuck in San Isidro by a cyclone. While there, she fell ill and, after a battery of tests to determine if she'd picked up an illness, she learned that she was pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter right around the time that her pet monkeys had a baby (at this point, she displayed an incredibly cute picture of her adorable young daughter with an adorable baby monkey perched on top of her head).

After the birth of the baby monkey, she noticed that the father took care of the baby about 90% of the time. The mother would nurse the baby, but the father would take care of it when she had finished. She wanted to learn how the division of parental care between males and females evolved, but first she had to learn how a non-academic would begin such a study. Her initial impulse was to write a letter to Jane Goodall. After receiving no reply, she wrote to the National Geographic Society and was informed that she would not be eligible for funding without a PhD. She called her mother for advice, and her mother was able to have upstate philanthropist George Eastman advise her- without a university affiliation, she wouldn't be able to get grant money, if she were to obtain affiliation, she would be able to get funding. She was able to contact a staffer at The New School who told her that, for a 25% fee to cover overhead, she could receive affiliation. At around the same time, her mother, a habitual clipper of newspaper articles, sent her an item about a City College professor studying monkeys in the Amazon. She then called CCNY, where she informed Dr Warren Kinzey that she wished to study Aotus. His immediate response was, "You know they're nocturnal?" She was able to secure funding and eventually wrote her doctoral dissertation on Aotus.

After obtaining her dissertation, Dr Elwyn Simons of the Duke University Primate Center (now the Duke Lemur Center) contacted her- he had received a grant from the NSF to study tarsiers, and had sent five researchers to obtain the nocturnal primates, with no success. Hearing that she was the nocturnal primate expert, he wanted to send her to Borneo to bring back tarsiers. She was able to obtain twelve tarsiers in Borneo and twelve tarsiers in the Philippines.

After this successful foray, she was presented with a big problem- since a 1972 revolution had occurred, there were no primatologists working in Madagascar. Nothing was known about the current state of the island's lemurs. In particular, it wasn't known if the greater bamboo lemur (Haplalemur simus) had gone extinct. In 1986, Dr Wright was sent to ascertain whether or not the animal were extinct. When she traveled to Madagascar, it was one of the poorest countries on the planet- there were no roads, no cars, the medium of exchange was barter, and the country's only ally was North Korea. After a month of searching, she looked for lemurs in the forest behind the old hotel in which she was staying. Her first clue that there were lemurs about was a shredded bamboo trunk surrounded by green pellets- lemur turds! While she didn't find H. simus at this time, she discovered a species new to science, the golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus). Happily, she found greater bamboo lemurs in 1987.

At around this time, timber exploiters were coming to Madagascar to cut trees in the forest in which a new species had been discovered and a lost species rediscovered. A national park was needed, but money was needed to form a park. If she were able to get money, the government of Madagascar could create a park. Put starkly, if she did nothing, these animals would go extinct. She was able to raise $3.8 million dollars from Liz Claiborne and the MacArthur Foundation, and then contacted the timberers and all of the villagers in the vicinity in which she'd located the bamboo lemurs, explaining the need for a park. In turn, the villagers spoke of their needs- they needed schools, they needed healthcare, they needed economic aid, and they needed a soccer ball. Dr Wright noted that the Malagasy people are extraordinarily organized, so once their needs were met, they acted quickly- in 1991, Ranomafana National Park was created. USAID provided a new bridge to replace the terrifying old bridge that gave access to the area, and soccer balls were obtained for the villagers.

After her account of her career, and her triumph in creating a refuge for lemurs, Dr Wright proceeded to discuss the primates themselves. The ancestors of lemurs arrived at Madagascar about sixty million years ago, not long after the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. When these early primates colonized Madagascar, there wasn't much animal life there, so they were able to adapt to a multitude of environmental niches, eventually radiating to over 100 species. Members of the order Carnivora didn't reach the island until about twenty million years after the lemur ancestors did, and there weren't a lot of birds or bats on the island, though some of the birds were spectacular. She introduced us to a bunch of representative lemurs- the bamboo lemurs, which have adapted to a cyanide-rich diet,being able to excrete cyanide in their urine rather than having it blow up their red blood cells. The dwarf lemurs hibernate for about six months- Dr Wright quipped that they are the world's laziest mammals. The frugivorous black-and-white ruffed lemurs swap babies from nest-to-nest among related groups in a form of animal 'daycare'- the males care for the babies while the females feed, thus increasing the chance of survival for all offspring. The nocturnal woolly lemurs are noted for their night calls. The sportive lemurs have a high tolerance for alkaloids in their diet. Red-bellied lemurs form female-dominant groups- males are colorblind while females have color vision... it is thought that high-status females use their color vision in order to better forage for fruits.

There was a wonderful aside concerning the otherworldly Aye-Aye. Aye-Ayes were needed at the Duke University Primate Center, so Dr Wright was charged with bringing them to the U.S. Regarding the task, "It's easy, climb tree and pull the Aye-Aye out of its nest." After poking around one-hundred and thirty-five nests, no Aye-Ayes were obtained... thousands of dollars, and no Aye-Ayes? Finally, two Aye-Ayes were found... both male, no breeding pair- what kind of biologist brings back two males? The males were brought to the primate center, and another expedition was sent to obtain females. Finally, a pair of female Aye-Ayes were found, a mother and her daughter, were found on the first day in the field. They were supposed to be transported in dog carriers, but one of them was able to gnaw its way out of the carrier- it had to be pushed down into the carrier, which was hastily repaired with duct tape. Facing a six month quarantine for the animals (a critical delay), Dr Wright was referred to KLM being told "They like animals." She was reluctant to show the animals to the KLM agent, thinking "look at that face!" She relented and showed one of the animals to the agent, who promptly exclaimed "That's an Aye-Aye!" and produced a picture clipped from National Geographic magazine. The only seats available were in the first class section, but the agent exclaimed, "This animal deserves first class." While Dr Wright had beetle larvae in her pocket to feed to the Aye-Ayes, the KLM stewardess decided to feed them a banana, which they ate- until that stewardess in the first class section of that KLM flight fed them that banana, it was never known that they ate fruit. At some point in the flight, the animals were let out of their carriers with the permission of the other passengers. When the female Aye-Ayes arrived at the primate center, the formerly silent males began calling out and now there are thirty-two Aye-Ayes in the center. A female Aye-Aye enters estrus every three years, when it calls out and mates with a single male, which she grabs with her hind feet, whereupon they copulate for one to two hours.

The Aye-Aye has big ears and long fingers- it taps on dead logs in order to listen for insect larvae (a technique known as percussive foraging). It then gnaws holes in the wood with its beaver-like teeth and spears the grubs with an alarmingly skinny finger- its feeding style is best compared to that of a woodpecker.

Another fascinating aside concerned grey mouse lemurs. In the 1950's a bunch of mouse lemurs were brought to Paris by French researchers. In captivity, the lemurs are subject to dementia and type two diabetes. In 1991, it was discovered that the mouse lemurs of Paris got plaques and tangles in their brain neurons (for some Secret Science synergy, see the recap of last month's lecture). A NSF grant was earmarked to study if lemurs in the wild were subject to dementia, so a number of animals were caught, chipped, and tracked. Old lemurs, twelve to eighteen years of age, were found in the wild, but out of a sample of 650 individuals, none exhibited symptoms of Alzheimer's. The wild lemurs eat a lot of insects and berries toxic to humans, but only captive lemurs exhibit symptoms of diabetes and dementia.

The heart of the talk was the history of Ranomafana National Park and the Centre ValBio facility. From 1986-2003, researchers had to camp in tents or cabin. In 2003, a grant came in to build a grander facility, and provisions were made to train Malagasy students. In 2012, the facility was expanded- the expansion involved a great deal of labor, with bricks being handmade and the stones being chiseled by hand. The expanded facility includes a molecular biology lab and an infectious disease lab. Currently a reforestation project is underway- in twenty-two sites, ten thousand endemic trees are being planted in order to restore degraded habitats. Thirty-thousand tourists are expected to visit the park per year, and 50% of the park entrance fees goes to support nearby villagers. With improved horticultural techniques, the fruit-to-flower timespan for most of the native trees is about eighteen years. The reforestation efforts are first being put in place along riverbanks.

There are conservation education outreach programs- the future of lemurs depends on educating the next generation. To benefit the local Malagasy population, cyclone relief is provided as needed and there is an economic development component to the center's work- local people are employed full-time and there is a mobile wellness team to provide care for locals. A certain amount of parkland is earmarked for vanilla and cacao production- cash crops among the endemic trees. The center also is expanding university connections and sponsors four "study abroad" sessions per year. There's also a Music and Arts "embassy" program. Madagascar's Minister of the Environment is working to create a constellation of connected sites for lemur conservation and research. There's hope for Madagascar, and there's hope for lemurs.

After the lecture, as a special treat, Dr Wright had Ben Mirin, a musician who combines his "human beatbox" schtick with lemur calls, give a brief performance:

Ben, seems like a really likeable, idealistic guy, but I'd be lying if I said most of us weren't hoping for a live lemur.

In the Q&A, some bastard in the audience asked about discoveries of extinct lemur species, and Dr Wright went on a glorious digression about an amazing discovery of subfossil remains, including the bones of lemurs the size of gorillas. When presented with sacks of large bones, Dr Wright hired fifteen laborers to dig for fifteen days in an area of fifteen meters, uncovering hippo bones, Aepyornis bones, crocodile bones, and tortoise bones dating to approximately ten thousand years ago- humans did not reach Madagascar until about two-to-three thousand years ago. More recently, a treasure trove of remains was found in an underwater cave, and among the giant lemur remains, the remains of a giant fossa were found.

Dr Wright delivered a fantastic lecture- part superhero origin tale, part introduction to a fascinating branch of our primate family tree, part conservation procedural, part earnest argument for development and conservation spending, and part well-deserved victory lap with cautious acknowledgement that the important work goes on. Her love for science, her love for lemurs, her love for the Malagasy people, and her love for Madagascar were palpable. She informed the audience that she'd be flying to Madagascar in a couple of days, and I wish her a heartfelt bon voyage.

As an added bonus, Secret Science superstar and Madagascar adventurer Evon Hekkala was in attendance, along with her awesome husband. Over a post lecture beer, Dr Hekkala mentioned that she had asked Dr Wright for some of the prefossil crocodile remains. It's always good to know that Secret Science synergy is actually a thing.

Thanks to Dr Wright, Dr Hekkala, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. Once again, a standing room only crowd was treated to a fantastic, informative lecture. High fives all around.

Here's the trailer for Madagascar: Island of Lemurs:

Crack open a beer and soak in the gorgeous visuals and the mellifluous tones of Morgan Freeman's narration, and you'll have some sense of the Secret Science Club ambiance.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Someone Adapt this for Trump's Theme Song

Roy's latest column name dropped one of my all-time favorite bands, Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers. Needless to say, I've been on a big SLF kick for the past couple of days. With Donald Trump's campaign slogan being "Making America Great Again", I figure somebody could adapt SLF's song "Fly the Flag" as Trump's theme song:

Gimme a country that's red white and blue
Gimme the British way honest and true
Gimme the chance to be one of the few
Gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme

Gimme a kingdom where people are free
Free to do and free to be
Free to screw you before you screw me
Gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme

'Cause I'm alright
I'm alright, Union Jack
Fly the flag

Gimme a Britain that's got back the Great
A race of winners not cramped by the State
And only the helpless get left at the gate
Gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme

Substitute "U.S." for "Britain" and "Stars and Stripes" for "Union Jack", and you've got the perfect distillation of the GOP frontrunner's platform... the third verse is pretty much the GOP ethos in a nutshell.

Here's another great live version, from a performance in Germany... the spoken intro is great, and the band cleverly substitutes the "Deutschlandlied" for "Rule, Britannia!" in the bridge:

Somebody please adapt this song for Trump, that dumbass wouldn't even realize that it's a mockery of his campaign.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Curse of the Drinking Classes

As Oscar Wilde wrote: "Work is the curse of the drinking classes." I had planned to take a vacation day today in order to attend the Fifth Annual McLean Avenue Festival, which takes place on the main commercial drag in my neighborhood. I had planned to spend an evening bending an elbow, so to speak. That all changed when my co-worker, whose wife works in an office on the avenue, fell and broke his arm. Can't be taking off when we're short-staffed... that would be a dick move.

Being a community booster, and having an old high-school chum who is one of the architects of the festival, I headed out of the house at 1PM and walked a couple of blocks to the main drag. The street was closed off, with two large stages at either end of the festival route, and several smaller stages set up for students of local dancing and music schools. There were a couple of rides for the kids, and a bouncy castle. On the eastern end of the festival, I ran into a part-time co-worker of mine who was representing the organization she works for in her 'regular' full-time job. She was participating in a fundraiser, so I gave her organization a couple of simoleons, because they do good work.

As I wended my way westward, I stopped at one of the local taverns (I live in the pub district), all of which had sidewalk taps set up along the festival route, and purchased a beer. I figure that, if one sticks to two to four beers over the course of two hours, one may as well be drinking soda. Sadly, I had to turn down an invitation to participate in a cannoli eating contest, because I figured it would mess me up for the afternoon- fifteen cannoli in five minutes? I might have handled that... I did end up purchasing two cannoli, after stopping by a couple of local businesses for a moving breakfast- the local butcher shop was selling sandwiches made from house-cured corned beef, as well as sausage rolls and Scotch eggs. A small corned beef sandwich and a Scotch egg is a good precursor to a second beer, which I ordered from a former upstairs neighbor of mine who was slinging pints in front of a typical watering hole of mine.

Further west, I passed a couple of booths from which raffle tickets were being sold for medical benefits, including one for a five year-old girl who was stricken with a brain tumor which caused her to have stroke. The bars in my neighborhood run a lot of fundraisers for locals who have met with misfortune and need help with medical expenses, or families which face funeral expenses. The neighborhood is tight-knit, and people tend to look out for each other.

I also ran into the guy who runs the Tuesday night trivia contest that I attend when I'm not in Brooklyn at the Secret Science Club lectures. He's a great guy, and he was doing some pro bono MCing at one of the smaller stages, introducing step dancers and young musicians.

After two hours and four beers, it was time to call it a day and get ready for work. As I walked home, I jealously eyed the small groups which were walking to the festival grounds. In the next couple of hours, the character of the festival would change- the families with small children would go home, and the rides and bouncy castle would be deactivated. The action would slowly move from the sidewalks to the bars. It was this transition that I had hoped to make when I requested the day off, but duty beckoned. I made my appearance, showed some support for my friends and neighbors, dropped some coin in the local coffers. My neighborhood is a wonderful place, with a lot of mom-and-pop businesses. It's got a lot of character, and a lot of characters, both of which I cherish.

I can't really complain about having to work... I am fortunate to move in a bunch of social circles. Having obligations is a sure sign of belonging- occasionally, there may be schedule conflicts, but that's better than having an empty dance card.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What Kind of Chemicals Are They Putting on the Turf?

Something very odd is happening in New Jersey... the sports pages are looking a lot like the police blotter. First we have the sordid tale of five current and two former Rutgers University football players being charged with a crime spree. As if that weren't bad enough, this was followed up by a domestic violence incident involving another member of the Rutgers squad. We now have a NJ high school football player bashing another player on the head with his own helmet. Last year, the big NJ football story involved hazing and sexual assaults in a high school locker room.

What kind of chemicals are being used on the turf of New Jersey's high school and college football fields? Something has got to be causing this weird uptick in violent misdeeds being committed by the Garden State's gridironers.

ADDENDUM: I am a judo player, and the modus operandi of our sport is to throw one's opponent to the ground or to force them to surrender by not-so-pleasant means, but there is an emphasis on safety and mutual respect. We do some potentially dangerous stuff, so moral conduct and good sportsmanship is of paramount importance. When players enter the dojo, we bow, we also bow when we step onto the mats, and we bow to our opponents before and after we practice a technique. I always tell the kids I coach that the etiquette and rituals remind us that we have to be better than our typical selves. I haven't ever seen anybody cheap shot another person in all of my years of playing, and while I have seen rare injuries, they have all been accidental- a guy getting the wind knocked out of him, two guys accidentally knocking heads while approaching each other during a match. Anybody coming onto the mat with a chip on his shoulder, or looking to hurt another player would be asked in no uncertain terms to leave. There's even a noticeable lack of macho bullshit, on one occasion, one of my fellow coaches taught the mother of our gymnastics coach how to execute a major outer reaping throw and he was glad to let this septuagenarian throw him, and she was positively thrilled. I don't know what the hell goes on in other sports, but it really seems like student athletes have to be told to be good citizens, not just good players.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kenyan Usurper Fails to Tyrannize Texas

Jade Helm 15 has ended. The tyrannical Kenyan Usurper has failed to confiscate the guns of God-fearin' 'Murricans, and the Chinese/Mexican axis the Marxicans has failed in its 20,000 year trans-beringian plot to annex Texas. Remember the Alamo? Sure, the Illuminati want you to think that it doesn't have a basement, but it's connected to Walmarts by a network of tunnels so the Blue Helmets, in league with the Deros, could quickly overrun the Lone Star State.

The very codename Jade Helm 15 symbolized the Chinese Mexican alliance, and alludes to a plot to summon a fierce Mesoamerican god-monster (Jade Helm 15/Seven Macaw, what's the difference?) which would force all of the schoolkids in Texas to learn about evolution in the schools, or something like that.

Thankfully, a plucky coalition of patriots coalesced to defend Texistan from the Kenyan Usurper's horde of blue-helmets, Marxicans, deros, FEMA staffers, Muslim Brothers, and the Dixie Chicks. It was touch-and-go right up to the end, when Texas' greatest defender returned to his native soil to lead the resistance.

Texas is safe for now, but true patriots must remain forever vigilant. The gun-grabbers and FEMA campers are on the run, but the Walmart tunnels remain, and the Usurper's tyrannical ambitions are as strong as ever they were. The next threat will be more insidious... Jade Helm 15 was thwarted, but never forget the perennial threat, what the queers are doing to the soil.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Current Pokémon, Future Kaiju

This evening, my friend Allie, who is one of our seasonal contract workers, found an awesome surprise on the paving stones outside our visitors' center:

That, dear readers, is a hatchling common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). The characteristic "Godzilla" tail is a dead giveaway. Given a couple of decades and a lot of luck dodging predators (in the immediate vicinity, I can think of raccons, great blue herons, bullfrogs, and larger turtles), this cute little critter could become a monster, with a carapace a foot-and-a-half long and weighing in at over twenty pounds. Sure, it's a cute little handful now, but it could take your finger clean off given time and growth. That being said, these suckers are only aggressive if they are bothered- in the water, they will avoid larger, threatening animals.

Allie dutifully transported this little turtle to the nearby pond and released it so it can have a chance of being the terror of the pond. With a time and luck, maybe one of us will be picking up and photographing one of its offspring.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Well Met at Dusk

Tonight, shortly before a rain-obscured sundown, I ran into a princely beast:

It's pretty safe to say that this is a smallish American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) because it lacks the dorsolateral ridges characteristic of the green frog (Rana clamitans):

This frog was a great photographic subject- it didn't even flinch when I stuck a camera in its face. If one is to have a career as a prince, one has to be able to deal with the pondparazzi.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Our Usual Anniversary Tradition

On 9/11, I typically put up a post remembering the terrible day on which a scintillatingly beautiful New York City was transformed into a scene of horror. I make it a point to link to Ned, who experienced the tragedy at a much closer vantage point... I was fifteen miles north of the WTC when the towers came down.

Sadly, the deaths continue, as the recent death of Marcy Borders demonstrates all too poignantly. Personally, I lost a friend to post-9/11 lung cancer seven years ago- I see his daughter on a regular basis because she is a student in the athletic program for which I volunteer. Her dad was one of the first kids I coached, when I was only a few years older than him. She has a strong support network, I wish all of the kids who lost parents in the attack were as fortunate as she is.

The deaths still occur... people dying all-too-young of cancers resulting from exposure to the toxic debris cloud that enveloped lower Manhattan for days. Thankfully, The James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act was signed into law in 2011 by President Obama, after years of shameful Republican foot-dragging.

The Republicans have long made a mockery of 9/11, despite the fact that the WTC attacks were the result of the incompetence of Republican administration. Today, they are planning on making a big stink about the Iran nuclear proliferation deal, even though Iran never had anything to do with the attacks, and the country provides a Shiite counterbalance to the Sunni fundamentalist terrorists which currently threaten the Mideast, the successors to the Sunni fundamentalist terrorists that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. I honestly think that the majority of them wouldn't be happy with any resolution that didn't involve attacking Iran... another war based on false pretenses, cynically waged in the names of the people who died fifteen years ago. We need to take care of the living, rather than trying to avenge the fallen by targeting innocents.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

One of those Days

Today, there is a local primary election, and my workplace is a polling place. Monday being a holiday, the usual Tuesday election is superseded by a Thursday one. Normally, I would have worked until 5AM, then my co-worker would have relieved me and worked a twelve hour shift, to be relieved by the normal afternoon guy at 5PM. As luck would have it, the guy who would have relieved me at 5AM is out with a broken arm, and the 5PM guy has a parent-teacher conference at his son's school. I'm going to work until 9AM, when the regular day shift comes in, then return at 5PM to work the overnight. Yeah, it's going to be really sucktastic. Our site is typically closed on Tuesdays, so our regular day staff is not present, necessitating somebody from my department to ensure that everything runs smoothly. The regular day staff is well-equipped to handle the voters along with the regular visitors, so none of my guys has to be present- I hope that management doesn't realize that this could become regular policy, an additional twelve hours for the part-timers in my department is a nice bonus.

I had toyed with the idea of spreading a blanket out in a nearby park and sleeping in the shade of a nice tree while catching a breeze, but the weather is supposed to be foul. Guess I'm going to drive home to catch a few zzzzz's before braving the weekday afternoon traffic.

In about twenty minutes, the poll workers will be arriving. I'm going to try to fake it and pretend to be happy to see them. I have come to know the regulars, so faking it will be easy, and will eventually develop into a genuine camaraderie. My happiness upon seeing the regular day shift will be genuine.

UPDATE: Alright, it just got a bit weird. One of the poll workers was a manager at a former workplace of mine, back in the days when I worked in a Fortune 500 cube farm. She left on disability before I broke up with the company, so I had to tell her about the day I gave notice. I sat across from my manager and said, "Janet, it's just not working out... oh, God, I just broke up with the American International Group."

It's always a bit weird when you see someone 'out of context', especially when you used to see them every weekday.

SECOND UPDATE: Yeah, it's a weird day alright. A young woman just came into the building. She had been driving her boyfriend's twenty year-old pickup truck to work when the brakes gave out. Luckily, the vehicle had a manual transmission, so she was able to downshift, though she said the gas pedal also gave up the ghost. I told her that she could leave the truck in our parking lot so that her brother or her boyfriend could arrange a tow. I gave her directions to the nearest bus stop so she could get to work, and asked her to write down her contact information so I could pass it along to the manager on duty when he comes in. She wrote down her name and phone number and an explanatory note: UGLY PICKUP IN LOT.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Time to Circle the Wagons

I would have posted this earlier, but I realized that my readership would drop off a bit over the long holiday weekend... At any rate, Samantha, the daughter of Mock, Paper, Scissors co-conspirator grs, needs our help. I can't think of anything more terrifying than having misfortune befall one's child. The Mock, Paper, Scissors crew has always been unfailingly supportive of me, and many another small blogger, and now it's time to repay the favor. A crowdsourcing page has been set up to raise funds for Samantha's medical expenses.

In a day and age when small-town bigots get big crowdsourcing paydays to reward them for their bigotry, it's time to go their enablers one better and show how generous we can be in service of a good cause. Times may be pretty rough financially for many people, but generosity is more important in tough times than in easy times. Time to circle the wagons, one of our own is in need.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Little Labor Day Music

In honor of Labor Day weekend, here's a little music about work, from the days when Ministry was a synthpop combo, before they went industrial:

I know that Al Jourgensen tends to downplay his earlier material, but the band did put out some damn fine music, fake British accent notwithstanding.

Happy Labor Day all! I actually have the day off, Monday being my typical day of rest. I see a few beers in my near future. Speaking of work, I seem to have worked up a thirst.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Rough Gig

My standard jokey description of my job is that it's extremely cushy, except when it's not. I typically break it down to 80% cushy, 15% slightly annoying, and 5% scary (typically bad weather events- hurricanes, thunderstorms, blizzards). All told, I can't complain, and I don't complain.

Regular readers will recall that one of my co-workers broke his arm in a common, though complicated fashion, and will be out for a few weeks. Ours being a small department, the rest of us are working extra shifts to cover the shifts that our injured comrade typically works. One of my co-workers, an all-around good guy, is now working seven days a week... I had a bit of a guilt trip asking him if he'd be willing to do so.

Today, when I got to work, he called... the site he's working today is a particularly bucolic and picturesque site. He brought his young son with him, and the boy had a ball- he was fascinated with the site, and enjoyed spending a lovely afternoon helping his dad out and having the run of the place. I'm relieved that the lads had fun, that goes a long way towards dispelling the guilt trip. Even when it's a rough gig, the job is pretty sweet.

Friday, September 4, 2015


Last night, I had a close encounter with one of the neighbors:

The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), the only marsupial in temperate North America, is an unlovely beast, often characterized as looking like a rat's ugly cousin. In the picture I posted, though, the face evinces a certain cuteness, looking more like a wallaby's face than a rat's.

Its profile is less flattering... Montgomery Clift it ain't:

Possums are stupid beasts, and slow, but they are proficient arborealists. I came upon this critter while on the walkabout, and it took a while to get hip to my presence, whereupon it started climbing. It got to about head height, but I probably could have nabbed the sucker if I had wanted to. Possums are extremely short-lived creatures, largely because they are easy prey- on one particular island off the Georgia coast, they tend to live for a couple of more years than usual. Despite being dumb, slow, and short-lived, they are increasing their range... if anything, they are survivors, as put-upon as they are. I happen to like them, they have an underdog's undeniable charm.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Gays Ruined Her Marriages!

M. Bouffant is on the case, posting about the checkered marital history. Being a typical "born again" Christian, she would claim that she isn't the same person she was when she went through a spousal revolving door, but that sort of bullshit is the biggest cop-out in the world. Sorry, you may be "washed in the blood of the Lamb", but all of your less-than-savory deeds are part of your history, you don't get to wipe the slate clean.

Meanwhile, this crazy craw-thumper would have denied my friend a marriage license, even though he's been with the same guy for thirty-seven years.

The one benefit to the hypocrisy of the Christian Right is that, with their mean-spiritedness and their utter lack of decency, they have lost the war on LGBTQ people. They are fighting a, pardon the expression, rearguard action, and as their influence wanes, they become smaller and meaner. Soon, even their small-town tyranny will be a thing of the past- thank you Kim Davis, for being a total shitbag.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media coverage of this sordid little kerfuffle has been downright crappy- for the most part, they have been eliding the right-wing theocratic connections of crazy Kim's lawyer. Is there any "conservative" who isn't given a pass by the so-called liberal media?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

All Hands on Deck

Just about two years ago, the organization for which I worked hired a new employee for my department (a prior hire didn't work out, hilarity ensued). The new hire is a guy whose resume was eerily like mine. He's a big fellow (bigger than I am), he has a similar work ethic, similar values, and is a voracious reader. When he was hired, one of my subordinates joked, "When the boss hired him, he was hiring you again."

Last week, one of my subordinates fell and broke his arm- in the best-case scenario, he'll be out for six weeks. The "new guy" was on vacation last week, enjoying some time off from both of his jobs. He returned yesterday, and the department head called him to inform him of our co-worker being on the injured reserve list. The boss danced around the subject of covering additional shifts, but he needn't have worried- the guy is willing to work seven days a week to ensure coverage. The guy is a solid citizen. When I called him yesterday, I couched the question with a qualifier:"I hate to even bring up the subject but could you?" He's such a good sport, he joked, "It'll help me pay off the vacation bills."

I've always maintained that you are only as good as the people that have your back. It's going to be a rough couple of months, but everybody is pulling together. Did I ever mention how much I value my co-workers? And not just the furry ones!