Monday, October 31, 2016

Hallowe'en in a Suburb

Today, this being Halloween, I figured I'd post H.P. Lovecraft's poem Hallowe'en in a Suburb. I post about the Old Gent from Providence quite a bit, sometimes exploring his racism, sometimes poking gentle fun at his tales of terror, which I often find funny because I don't share the hangups which inspired him. At any rate, here is the poem, which is a charming, slightly creepy piece:

The steeples are white in the wild moonlight,
And the trees have a silver glare;
Past the chimneys high see the vampires fly,
And the harpies of upper air,
That flutter and laugh and stare.

For the village dead to the moon outspread
Never shone in the sunset’s gleam,
But grew out of the deep that the dead years keep
Where the rivers of madness stream
Down the gulfs to a pit of dream.

A chill wind weaves thro’ the rows of sheaves
In the meadows that shimmer pale,
And comes to twine where the headstones shine
And the ghouls of the churchyard wail
For harvests that fly and fail.

Not a breath of the strange grey gods of change
That tore from the past its own
Can quicken this hour, when a spectral pow’r
Spreads sleep o’er the cosmic throne
And looses the vast unknown.

So here again stretch the vale and plain
That moons long-forgotten saw,
And the dead leap gay in the pallid ray,
Sprung out of the tomb’s black maw
To shake all the world with awe.

And all that the morn shall greet forlorn,
The ugliness and the pest
Of rows where thick rise the stones and brick,
Shall some day be with the rest,
And brood with the shades unblest.

Then wild in the dark let the lemurs bark,
And the leprous spires ascend;
For new and old alike in the fold
Of horror and death are penn’d,
For the hounds of Time to rend.

As far as suburbs which are becoming synonymous with Halloween, I present to you Sleepy Hollow, New York, a location I also post about from time to time. Sleepy Hollow is the sort of place which would haunt Lovecraft's dreams, the sort of working class village without enough work that has a population which is slightly over half Latino, with many recent immigrant residents. Lovecraft had a fear of the immigrants who were settling in his beloved New England (people like my paternal grandfather's parents, who Lovecraft would probably have characterized as the 'highest quality of Latin sorts, and have viewed their son as someone much like the 'young intelligent, and well-educated' parish priest of The Haunter of the Dark). The same nativist, fear-mongering forces that haunted Lovecraft, who I believe had started questioning many of his racist assumptions toward the end of his too-short life, are at play here in the United States. While the immigrants portrayed as a threat in Lovecraft's day have assimilated well, and now all-too-often join the ranks of modern xenophobes, the fear persists- the 'Other' is a threat to Our Way of Life. Me? Over the years, I have met, worked with, and befriended many immigrants, and have come to appreciate the gifts they bring to the culture of the United States- their values, their work ethic, their additions to the glorious patchwork that is our nation (put a taco truck on every corner, right next to the local pizzerias and Chinese takeout places). Fear is a powerful emotion, as Lovecraft himself put it:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

The true danger is that fear can drive people to perpetrate horrors. Next week, an individual who has been stoking fear for the last year has a chance, however slim, of gaining an inordinate amount of power, making a truly horrific regime a possibility. For those who have any fear, I implore them to visit Sleepy Hollow, since 1996 at true 'Hallowe'en Suburb'. The immigrants who comprise half of the populace are good people, hardworking people, and even the number one monster of the neighborhood is an immigrant.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

In the Home Stretch

This weekend has been the busiest one of our fall fundraiser. The traffic is horrendous, the crowds are huge, a good portion of visitors are drunk. It's all behind us- tomorrow is my final day of dealing with big crowds at work.

Most of the people who attend our events are lovely. They are nice people, and they help us keep our doors open. We actually had to cancel one major event tonight because we had a pop-up torrential downpour which inundated the parking lot. The event manager took a photograph of the site and forwarded it to the event manager at the site I typically work. A lot of attendees go to a couple of our events in a night, so I was able to tell people who told me of their plans to attend the other event that the event was cancelled, and show them the picture of the swamp which they would have been unable to extricate their cars from. I don't tend to have people 'jump bad' on me because I look like the guy in the profile picture, and having a picture to show them of the bad situation makes people even less likely to grouse and fuss.

I had another attendee politely complain to me that her group was split up because of a ticketing mixup and one thirteen year old girl was separated from everybody for about fifteen minutes. I heard subsequently from a co-worker that the woman had yelled 'fuck you' at her, and I wish I had known that at the time... this particular co-worker is a very sweet, shy college-aged girl who looks younger than her nineteen years, and she shouldn't be the one chewed out by a disgruntled visitor. Oh, well, she was joking about the woman's rudeness after we closed, and I immediately figured out who she was talking about. Oh, well, we can't all look like the guy in our profile picture, and some people like to 'jump bad' on people who are sweet.

Speaking of sweet people who don't have anybody 'jump bad' on them, my friend Kickass Sue came to the event with another judo player, a petite, pretty young woman who just happens to have been a nationally ranked judoka in Ecuador. They had a good time, and afterwards, they came to the gift shop, where Sue was able to speak Schweizerdeutsch with one of the shop assistants, whose family is from Graubünden. Sue was supposed to come back tonight with some other friends, but they wimped out because of the downpour... if she had been here, she could have given the rude attendee the old heave-ho.

Most people, though, were very sweet, very polite. The thing about politeness is that it is self-propagating. I had one very nice woman approach me with a plastic bag full of clothes- she had been caught in the downpour and the clothes she had been wearing were drenched. She asked me if we had a locker in which she could put her wet clothes, and I actually did something I don't normally do- I let her hang her wet clothes on a coathanger in my office so that they would dry out to a greater extent than they would in a plastic bag. After the event, she returned and the clothes were damp, but not saturated. It goes to show you, always have a handy change of clothes, and always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS be polite.

Tomorrow is the final day of our fundraiser, but it's not sold out by a longshot- a lot of people in the NY metro area go to the huge Halloween parade in lower Manhattan, other people go trick-or-treating or have parties. I only have to work half-a-day, and hopefully we'll be able to close up early. On Tuesday, things get nice and quiet... I can't complain about the month of chaos, though... it's 'paying my dues' for the tranquility of winter, and more importantly, it ensures that my paychecks don't bounce.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Four Years Ago

It was four years ago that Superstorm Sandy hit the New York Metropolitan Area. I worked the overnight shift the night Sandy hit, and aside from the loss of power to the worksite, escaped any major consequences. In the subsequent week, though, the unavailability of fuel (no gas to be had in my home neighborhood, no electricity to run the gas pumps near the jobsite) forced me to camp out on the job for four days, eating canned sardines and lamenting the fact that I was working in a dark, unheated building while I'd never lost power at home.

My Sandy experience was a walk in the park compared to that of a lot of New Yorkers and New Jerseyites, but it convinced me that the United States needs a major infrastructure overhaul. As I recall, and I blogged about the storm soon after it hit, Sandy was mainly characterized by strong sustained winds which created an unprecedented storm surge- if the power lines in the neighborhood in which I work had been buried, I probably would have spent the time with light and heat, not to mention the internet. This country needs jobs, and building an improved power grid and improved transportation system would be a lot better for us than building some goddamn stupid wall.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Get a Brain, Moranodon!

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I am enamored of dinosaurs. I never quite grew out of that dinosaur mania that all young children gain and some of us never lose. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to hear the news that a probable fossil of a dinosaur brain was recently discovered. The fossil, thought to be that of an ornithischian dinosaur related to Iquanodon, appears to be similar to the brains of crocodilians and birds, the closest living relatives of the dinosaurs:

One seemingly odd thing about the dinosaurs is that modern birds are descended from the saurischian, or 'lizard-hipped' dinosaurs rather than the ornithischian or 'bird-hipped' dinosaurs. The bird hip of the ornithischians is thought to have a 'swept back' pubis in order to accommodate big intestines in order to cope with a vegetable diet. The maniraptoran dinosaurs, including the birds, also have backwards pointing pubic bones... if I recall correctly, this is thought to be an adaptation to improve balance.

Modern birds aren't that closely related to the Iquanodon-like dinosaur which had its brain structure preserved, so extrapolating intelligence for this dinosaur is a risky enterprise. That being said, certain birds exhibit a remarkable degree of intelligence. Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that dinosaurs cared for their young (in one case of tragic character assassination, Oviraptor was dubbed an 'egg thief' because a specimen was found sitting on its own nest). I personally have no doubt that dinosaurs were not the stupid, ungainly creatures that mammal supremacists deemed them to be through much of the 20th century. The dinosaurs evolved into diverse forms and held their own for hundreds of millions of years and still remain in the form of birds, they had to have something going for them to be so successful for so long.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Snap Judgments

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 Dr Jon Freeman, Director of NYU's Social Cognitive & Neural Sciences Lab.

Dr Freeman kicked off his lecture by noting the importance of transferring information to the general public, especially in light of public funding for research. He then launched into an overview of evolution- the brain evolved to solve certain problems. The most important function of the human brain is getting into others' minds... others' behavior, thoughts, and feelings are complex, and figuring them out is important. Minds are invisible, they can't be directly observed, so any information about them must be gleaned from what information is available, most importantly from facial cues. Facial recognition is important to perceivers- who is a particular individual? Is a particular person a stranger? Evolutionarily, it is critical to determine whether another is friend or foe because of the threat of coalitional aggression. It is important to recognize threats or competition for resources.

Infants have an early ability to recognize faces, and humans have a tendency to see faces where they don't exist. The ability to divine emotional expression is important- is an individual appeasing or posing a threat? An expression of fear is a signal of the likelihood of an impending threat, the recognition of which has an important outcome.

In 1872, Charles Darwin wrote The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, in which he compared human facial expressions to those of other mammals. Paul Ekman built on Darwin's work on 'mapping' emotions and their corresponding facial expressions. He theorized that expressions for fear, anger, joy, sadness, and surprise are genetically hardwired and are spontaneously expressed and recognized. The idea that the expression of emotion is hardwired is an enduring idea.

Robin Dunbar's Social Brain Hypothesis (PDF) turned a lot of thought on brain development on its head, so to speak. Human brains possess a huge neocortical complex. Dunbar noted that the size of an animal's neocortex correlates with the mean social group size of the species. Originally, it was thought that brain size was driven by the development of general intelligence, and social complexity 'spilled over' from general intelligence. In Dunbar's model, the development of social intelligence 'spilled over' into general intelligence.

What are the brain mechanisms for snap judgments? Most of the consequential decisions we make are snap judgments- dating, hiring, electing presidents... In order to determine these mechanisms, Dr Freeman indicated that functional brain imaging, computer mouse tracking, electrophysiology, and computational modelling.

When an individual makes a snap judgment about something, there are typically two dimensions- what is that person's intention and what is that person's ability? Is an individual's intention to be friendly or hostile? Does an individual have the ability to be helpful? Is an individual dominant or not? Is an individual competent or not? Dr Freeman displayed a graph with ability as one axis and intention as the other, and noted that humans have complex emotions regarding the placement of individuals along these axes- trust, disgust, pity. Facial models tend to be judged by subjects using cues- trustworthiness decreases as a facial model frowns. Judgments of trustworthiness subtly overlaps with emotional expression- trustworthiness tends to correlate with joy, untrustworthiness with anger. There is an amazing consistency with subjects' judgments, but are we accurate? Gauging accuracy is difficult even though people demonstrate consistency of judgment. These perceptions matter! How competent a face appears is a predictor of elections. The attractiveness of a face has many consequences. The trustworthiness of a defendant's face is predictive of trial outcomes.

One controversial area of study involves measurement of one's bizygomatic width to determine formidability, it being thought that one's testosterone levels during puberty might predict aggressive behaviors. Do hockey players with a certain facial type spend more time in the penalty box? Both male and female subjects tend to 'puff up' in the lab to express aggression. The 'trustworthiness' markers of an individual's face are the brows and cheekbones.

Much research has been done on how quickly the brain can judge facial expressions and the neural pathways involved in the process. The amygdalae are the structures in the brain which drive rapid responses- Dr Freeman quipped that the amygdalae are fast-acting but 'dumb'. The neural pathway for a quick response involves the amygdalae and the thalamus, using a sub-cortical route. In the longer neural pathway for responses, visual stimuli traveling to the visual cortex in the back of the brain for processing. This long pathway is also quick, even without the shortcut. Functional imaging can help researchers determine these pathways- using MRI, researchers can determine which neurons activate because associated blood vessels dilate in order to provide oxygen and glucose. This hemodynamic response can be tracked to determine brain function. The amygdala was the subject of an 2010 SSC lecture by NYU's Dr Joseph LeDoux... I really stepped up my lecture writeups over the intervening years.

In one experiment, subjects were presented with computer-generated images of faces, with real faces interspersed for the sake of comparison. The subjects were unaware of the faces due to backward msking, these faces were displayed for thirty-three milliseconds, and the images were 'masked' by a display of another image for one-hundred and sixty-seven milliseconds to terminate the visual processing. This was done to determine if subjects needed conscious awareness to perceive trustworthiness. The amygdalae showed a lot of responses to stimuli, and the brain could process untrustworthiness even in cases in which there was no awareness that a face had been shown. This process is beyond our conscious control.

This is not the end of the story- there is a certain degree of malleability as subjects get to know individuals and actively judge faces. In one study, subjects were given prior knowledge about a depicted individual- a label indicating that an individual 'left clothing in the dryer' would have an effect on perception while a neutral bit of information 'the tide is usually low that time of day' would not. If context matters, can it change responses? If subjects aren't allowed to get to know individuals, the amygdala plays a greater role. If a subject is given information about an individual, there is a greater neocortical response involved, with the tempoparietal junction playing a major role.

One problem in processing facial expressions is that we don't have a single image of ourselves. Every aspiring actor or model would be able to tell you that headshots communicate something, but are there some dimensions of social perspectives that are immutable? Trustworthiness is malleable, being related to emotional expressions. There are dynamic facial cues and static facial cues- Dr Freeman joked about resting bitch face and its counterpart, resting nice face. While the facial musculature can change these chronic expressions, the underlying skeletal cues don't change. Dr Freeman also mentioned the 'Bouncer Effect', whereby an individual spontaneously assumes a more dominant, tougher looking expression.

Dr Freeman then posed the question, is it a special process to stereotype another? Stereotyping is part of the general social process, the categorical structure which causes us to lump individuals together is adaptive, it streamlines cognitive resources and reinforces cultural associations. Can we act non-prejudicially in light of cultural associations? By measuring computer mouse movements, intentions can be revealed- the trajectory of movement of a mouse between two facial images (e.g. caring vs aggressive, black or white) can reveal implicit bias despite a subject's intentions. In the case of gender bias, female political candidates in conservative-leaning districts have to maintain a certain degree of conventional physical attractiveness in order to win elections, and more attractive candidates are generally seen as more competent.

Dr Freeman then asked, how can our biases change how we see others? Visual information 'fans out' from the visual cortex to other parts of the brain, from the back of the brain to the front- this information is colored by the higher functions of the neocortex, resulting in a compromise between actuality and expectations. The brain is 'too lazy' to do a complete job of processing visual information. He then presented us with this image:

Prior knowledge changes perceptions- the brain incorporates expectations into perception. One wouldn't expect to see an elephant in the beautiful Bell House... expectations form an adaptive context, in social context, stereotyping results. It has been theorized that a fusiform face area is involved in perceiving faces.

In one study to determine if perceptions can be changed with regard to stereotyping, a series of computer generated faces in a range of pigments was displayed. In the middle range, the appearance of the face was racially ambiguous- in these cases, the attire displayed in the image was an important cue. A racially ambiguous image of a man in a suit and tie was more apt to be deemed 'white' while a racially ambiguous image of a man in a mechanic's coverall was more apt to be deemed 'black'. The brain has expectations and will apply them to a face. Men's faces are more likely to be seen as angry, women's as appeasing. At what level are stimuli biased? White subjects are more likely to perceive African-Americans as hostile or angry.

Thankfully, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex can correct snap judgments. Is ter a pattern code in the fusiform face area for emotion? By adding the dimension of race, can a face's anger or happiness be changed? Visual representation is biased by stereotypes but individual differences matter. Stronger stereotypes predict bias and similarities in the cortices of the brain- these are not hardwired, they depend on the stereotypes. This is an unfortunate consequence of a perceptual system which is meant to carve up a complex world. Dr Freeman asked, can we change vision to reduce bias? Mixed-race individuals form the fastest growing 'racial group' in the United States- how do we process ambiguity? In areas with low minority populations, such as Utah, racial breakdown of mixed-race individuals is unstable, and category shifts are easily achieved.

Experience matters in perception- Dr Freeman noted the split-second decision involved in deciding whether an individual is holding a gun or an innocuous object. If we acknowledge bias, what effect does this have on vision? Is it a wallet or a gun, and is a misperception a matter of black or white? Bias trickles down to effect vision. We automatically make a lot of snap judgments, often beyond our conscious control. Unconscious bias can alter visual 'reality'. We can change to some extent, this involves a shift to an evolutionarily more modern system.

While the bastard in the audience didn't get a question in during the formal Q&A, he did have a brief conversation with the good doctor after the lecture, in which he asked about our perception of deceptive or 'wrong' emotional cues- the insincere or even minatory smile, the false sorrowful face. Dr Freeman indicated that this would be an interesting matter of inquiry. All told, his lecture was thought-provoking, especially in light of police responses to African-American suspects versus white suspects. Amazing how such an interesting lecture can also be sobering.

Here's a quick video of Dr Freeman, explaining the process of making snap-judgments:

Pour yourself a libation and soak in that Secret Science Club experience. Once again, kudos to Dr Freeman, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. High fives, all around, people!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Oh, No, Not Black Leaf Jack Chick!!!

Proving the adage that only the good die young, outsider artist, fundamentalist, and bigot Jack Chick has died at the age of 91. Chick was known for his religious tracts in comic strip form and for his damn near universal bigotry- hating Catholics, gay people, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, gamers, Hindus, hippies, and you, you snarky liberal!

As tools of evangelism, Chick's tracts were failed propaganda- they were so over-the-top, so hateful, that they didn't have a chance to convince anyone not 100% in Chick's camp. As outsider art and unintentional comedy, they were top-notch. His overwrought "Dark Dungeons" strip, a key document in the "Satanic Panic" of the 70s and 80s, is a perennial favorite with gamers. His anti-evolution "Big Daddy", with its "evolutionist" professor ripped straight out of an early 20th century "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is popular among biologists and atheists. My Hindu roommate used to burst out laughing when someone quoted the anti-Hindu tract:

"There are six-million gods in India... AND ALL OF THEM ARE SATANIC!!!"

Similarly, my electrical engineering major roommate would howl with laughter at Chick's stab at modernity, with his Devils describing a technological innovation in Hell:

"We've added microchips to increase the pain!"

Chick's world was certainly an outré one, with the Vatican not only creating Islam and Mormonism, but communism as well. His was a kitchen sink approach to finding theological enemies, a conspiracy theory worthy of a pulpy novel by Roberts Shea and Anton Wilson. Chick's tracts have been satirized by gaming nerds, Lovecraft nerds, and atheist nerds. Reading comment threads on posts about Chick's death, though, has been a sad experience- as an urban northeasterner from a family that values education, I was never exposed to the sort of fundagelical bigotry that leads to shunnings and false accusations (even, in cases such as that of the West Memphis Three, imprisonment on death row). Somehow, the laughable Chick tracts have some power over the small-minded and cruel-hearted. People who burn books (a book burning forms the "happy ending" of "Dark Dungeons") often end up as people who burn people.

I'm hastily typing this post out on my phone before heading down to a science lecture in a bar (you know, a meeting of the hellbound), so I haven't added any links or images. I'll add those later, plus some examples of Chick's oeuvre, including some of his unintentionally(?) homoerotic "Crusaders" comics. There are also some wonderful parodies of his works. Tomorrow, I'll have time for editing the post, I just wanted to get this up before rigor mortis set in the old bigot's body. In the meantime, I have to email my old roommates.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Peggy Tsunami

I'm catching up with current events after a long, busy weekend on the job and at my volunteer gig. The big story of the weekend is the wave of women voting early in battleground states, a wave of women voters which promises to swamp Donald J. Trump, asshole. Donald Trump is the asspotheosis of the creepy Republican misogynist- he's the sexually harassing boss, the leering peeping Tom, the groping sexual predator, the anti-choice authoritarian. Trump is everything that is wrong with toxic masculinity, and he's going to get schlonged in November.

This election is shaping up to resemble the movie Nine to Five, reimagined as a horror film. Luckily for the country, every woman of voting age in the country can play the role of final girl defeating Orangeface. The most rabid Trump supporters are whining that the 19th Amendment should be repealed, it's going to be nice to hear the lamentations of these troglodytes in two weeks and two days.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Tallow Drips Upon a Withered Hand

It's October, my busy month, and I'm swamped at work every weekend... time to set up a post in advance. Halloween being right around the corner, I figure I'll post something appropriately creepy... One of my prized possessions is a copy of the first paperback edition of Katharine Briggs' British Folk Tales and Legends: A Sampler, a gift that my father purchased for me while on a business trip that took him to London. Yeah, I was a nerd from day one.

One of the most outré bits of folklore in the book involved the Hand of Glory, a black-magic talisman used by thieves breaking into a house or business. Creating a hand of glory is a grisly affair, involving the amputation of a hanged murderer's hand. From clergyman and folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould's monumental Curious Myths of the Middle Ages:

The Hand of Glory .. is the hand of a man who has been hung, and it is prepared in the following manner: Wrap the hand in a piece of winding-sheet, drawing it tight, so as to squeeze out the little blood which may remain; then place it in an earthenware vessel with saltpeter, salt, and long pepper, all carefully and thoroughly powdered. Let it remain a fortnight in this pickle till it is well dried, then expose it to the sun in the dog-days, till it is completely parched, or, if the sun be not powerful enough, dry it in an oven heated with vervain and fern. Next make a candle with the fat of a hung man, virgin-wax, and Lapland sesame.

In this particular tale of the hand of glory, the hand has the power to render the sleeping unwakeable and to open all locks:

Several stories of this terrible hand are related in [William] Henderson's Folklore of the Northern Counties of England. I will only quote one, which was told me by a laboring man in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and which is the same story as that given by Martin Anthony Delrio in his Disquisitiones Magicæ, in 1593, and which is printed in the Appendix to that book of M. Henderson.

One dark night, after the house had been closed, there came a tap at the door of a lone inn, in the midst of a barren moor. The door was opened, and there stood without, shivering and shaking, a poor beggar, his rags soaked with rain, and his hands white with cold. He asked piteously for a lodging, and it was cheerfully granted him; though there was not a spare bed in the house, he might lie along on the mat before the kitchen fire, and welcome.

All in the house went to bed except the servant lassie, who from the kitchen could see into the large room through a small pane of glass let into the door. When everyone save the beggar was out of the room, she observed the man draw himself up from the floor, seat himself at the table, extract a brown withered human hand from his pocket, and set it upright in the candlestick; he then anointed the fingers, and, applying a match to them, they began to flame.

Filled with horror, the girl rushed up the back stairs, and endeavored to arouse her master and the men of the house; but all in vain, they slept a charmed sleep; and finding all her efforts ineffectual, she hastened downstairs again. Looking again through the small window, she observed the fingers of the hand flaming, but the thumb gave no light: this was because one of the inmates of the house was not asleep.

The hand cannot be extinguished through conventional means:

The beggar began collecting all the valuables of the house into a large sack -- no lock withstood the application of the flaming hand. Then, putting it down, the man entered an adjoining apartment. The moment he was gone, the girl rushed in, and seizing the hand, attempted to extinguish the quivering yellow flames, which wavered at the fingers' ends. She blew at them in vain; she poured some drops from a beer-jug over them, but that only made the fingers burn the brighter; she cast some water upon them, but still without extinguishing the light. As a last resource, she caught up a jug of milk, and dashing it over the four lambent flames, they went out immediately.

Uttering a piercing cry, she rushed to the door of the room the beggar had entered, and locked it. The whole house was aroused, and the thief was secured and hung.

The Hand of Glory has made it into several modern works of fiction- in my mind, most notably in John Bellair's The House with a Clock in its Walls. A variation on the theme plays a major role in Charles Stross' 'Laundry' books, in which the talismans can provide protection from observation and be used as projectile weapons- in a further deconstruction of the trope, they can be made from pigeon feet. The hand of glory also figures prominently in the 'weird tale' Dead Man's Hand by Manly Wade Wellman, a tale which also introduces Wellman's take on a particularly 'Lovecraftian' subject- the survival of hostile not-quite-humans in what Robert E. Howard dubbed the dark corners of the earth.

The hand of glory lends its name to the title of a Smithereens song I first heard as a high schooler, the lyrics of which the title of this post references:

The Smithereens song is actually a cover of a song by the late Jimmy Silva.. As Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken explained to music journalist Joe Clark:

Joe: All right. What is the song "Hand of Glory" about, and what are the damn fucking lyrics that I can't understand?

Dennis: I'll give you Jim Silva's number. You can call him. He's the guy who wrote that.

Pat: Jimmy Silva was a--

Joe: He sung it. He must know.

Pat: I sung it. I always felt I did a very piss-poor interpretation.

Dennis: It's an obscure kind of lyric. It's about this medieval ritual to ward off evil spirits froma a person's house, where you take the hand of a freshly-hung felon, chop it off, pickle it with these various herbs and things in, dip it in tallow, light the fingers, run around the house several times, and what it's supposed to do is, for a robber that wants to rob the house, it makes the people inside the house asleep.

Jim: No, it's an unborn hand. It's a--

Dennis: Well, that's another interpretation of it. So there''s your answer.

Pat: But anyway, to make a long story short

Jim: That's some weird shit, man!

Joe: [Laugh] That's even weirder than what I thought it was [namely, finding a severed hand in a railway yard]!

Pat: I could never get behind the lyric of that song. It was more the type of song that had a lot of energy live and it always went over great, and we thought we'd give it a shot in the studio, and it wound up on the album.

I hadn't heard the original before, but the Smithereens cover is a pretty faithful rendition:

I love it, I'm going to have to second musician Scott McCaughey's take on the song- the combination of macabre subject matter with a nice jangle-pop song is particularly appealing to me.

Now, to make things even creepier, Yorkshire's Whitby Museum has a purported hand of glory in its collection. Don't go to sleep tonight!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Single Best Moment of Tonight's Debate

I listened to tonight's presidential debate, much to the dismay of those on the left, especially myself. I had to admit that I laughed when I first heard Trump's trademark debate sniff. The crowning moment of the debate was when Trump said this:

We have to keep the drugs out of our country. We are ­­ right now, we're getting the drugs, they're getting the cash. We need strong borders. We need absolute ­­ we cannot give amnesty. Now, I want to build the wall. We need the wall. And the Border Patrol, ICE, they all want the wall. We stop the drugs.


I imagine Trump's coke trafficker is one 'bad hombre' Donald doesn't want to stop.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Remember These Two?

Longtime readers of my blog will have noticed a conspicuous absence over the past few weeks. I haven't posted any pictures of mah preshus kittehs. I've been so busy with our Fall fundraising events that I have not had any time to spend with my beloved Fred:

And my adored Ginger:

For a change, I am at my principle jobsite for a 5PM to 9PM shift rather than an overnight. I was supposed to have a night off, but one of my subordinates texted me to know that his brother-in-law had bought him a ticket to see Steely Dan at Manhattan's Beacon Theater as a birthday present. I couldn't say no to him, and I couldn't say no to an opportunity to frolic with my precious, precious kitties.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Not Deplorable, Just Sad

This afternoon, I had to cover one of my worksites because we have an eight-week afterschool program for one of the local elementary schools. After touching base with the managers on duty, I hung around the parking lot to make sure that no unauthorized individuals entered the site, which is normally closed on Mondays. I like to take a low-key approach, informing anyone who enters the front gate that we are closed, but that some other local points of interest are available for visitors.

While I was lounging around the parking lot, I saw a vehicle enter, driven by a man who appeared to be in his sixties or seventies. He had an older man sitting in the front passenger's seat. The driver had long hair, a beard, and spectacles- he could have passed for an aging hippie, or an aging biker, or an off-duty new-age guru. I introduced myself and told him that we were closed, but would be open to the public Wednesday through Sunday. We spoke briefly about local affairs, and he told me that his dad, the ninety-five year-old man in the passenger's seat, used to work in the area until the 1970s and wanted to see his old stomping grounds.

The talk went very well until, somehow, the guy brought up politics, and noted that 'one of the candidates should be in jail' (oddly enough, I think I agree with him on the point, but with one significant difference). He lamented how corrupt politics had become, and I reminded him that politics have been corrupt since before the Teapot Dome Scandal. He lamented how bad things had become, and I reminded him that it was the rich who screwed things up so a worker couldn't put in thirty to forty years of honest work and retire with a wristwatch and a pension. Every point he brought up, I countered, gently bringing up the reality behind the rose-colored vision he had of history.

The conversation remained cordial, for the most part. He did drop a hint about 'even the poor black people were honest', which I deflected by noting that a lot of the necessary grunt work of the country was performed by poor black women who deserved much higher pay and decent benefits. For the most part, we talked about local affairs- even though the guy was now living in Colorado (I made a point of reminding him that this is a Spanish name), he grew up in the same neighborhood in Yonkers that I inhabit, going to middle school in the school across the street from my place. He asked me if I could help to locate the building where his dad worked decades ago, and I referred him to the local historical society, providing him with an address and a phone number.

After our talk, he tended to his dad, a World War 2 veteran, for a brief while, making sure his oxygen tank was properly connected and giving him a cup of water. We parted on good terms, but when he left, I felt a certain amount of melancholy. Here was a guy who isn't a bad man, he's just misinformed, and the gaps in his knowledge, or better yet, memory, have been filled with poison. I don't think he was a hateful person, just a scared and uncertain person. While I think he will make a deplorable choice in November, I don't think that he fits in the 'deplorable' half of Trump's 'basket'. He wasn't deplorable, just sad.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

October is Halfway Over

October is halfway over, and I haven't put anyone through a wall yet. Yesterday, I returned to work at 5PM and was greeted by the sight of a tour bus in our parking lot, backed into our Fall fundraiser 'will-call' tent. The tent was canted at an angle, but no damage was done, and nobody was hurt. I tapped on the bus window and explained the situation to the bus driver, who pulled up a couple of feet- no harm done.

Last night, our organization sponsored a 'Moth-esque' storytelling event at another site. The organization had received a grant to foster literacy and the storyteller's art, and this event was attended by a lot of our mucky-mucks... the President, the head of HR, and a couple of Vice Presidents were all in attendance. I have to note here that this was the first nighttime event at this site in eight years, and nobody 'scouted out the terrain' beforehand to see what the current conditions are. Needless to say, the parking lot lights weren't functioning. The event manager who was there called me to note that my subordinate, who was scheduled to be there, was nowhere to be seen. I sent him a text message, and he replied that he was in a hospital emergency room (he's okay now). Murphy, as they say, was an optimist.

I was stuck working the Fall Fundraiser, so I called another subordinate, who was having his first night off in two weeks, and explained the situation to him. He told me that he was just about to have the first beer of the night, but that he'd forgo it and save the day. This particular co-worker is a ball-buster, but he's got your back when the chips are down. Suffice it to say, I love the curmudgeonly snarker. He's also a big flashlight nerd and perhaps the best dumpster-diver I've ever encountered... he's actually made a pretty penny salvaging discarded objects and selling them on the internet in the ten years I've known him. He just happened to have a big inflatable emergency light tower that he fished out of a dumpster on site when the organization discarded it. He showed up with his big inflatable light tower and saved the day on a night when all of the organization mucky-mucks and some high-profile guests were in attendance. That's what I call a major coup, and the crowning glory of it all is that he had been scheduled for forty hours this week, so the four hours he put in were overtime, so he made time-and-a-half. Afterwards, he stopped by on his way home to bust my hump... did I tell you I love the guy?

Tonight, in comparison, was pretty low-key. The weather was gorgeous, there were no crashes in the parking lot. There's one potential wrinkle in this fantastic evening- my curmudgeonly, day-saving co-worker called me to inform me that his copy of the master key broke off in the lock of a door that has been a recurring problem- last year, one of the IT guys broke his key in the lock of this door. I might have to drive up to the site in order to lock up any other buildings that may be unlocked. I have to e-mail our boss in order to tell him that we need a new key and a new cylinder and, hopefully, new hardware for the door so this situation doesn't recur. Should he make the call, I can drop off some of the ice-packs that arrived last week.

Two weeks from now, things will get nice and quiet on the job. My standard line is that my job is cushy, except when it's not, and this month I am earning my keep... we all are.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Everybody, Repeat After Me: Conservatives Cannot Comprehend Consent

Four years ago, I wrote a post titled Conservatives Cannot Comprehend Consent, and this week, events have borne this out. Rush Limbaugh actually came right out and demonstrated that he does not understand the concept of consent:

You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it's perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there's no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.

Yes, rush, consent is the magic key. If three or four or more individuals want to dress up in fursuits or latex bodygloves and engage in a mass orgy involving vegetables and baked goods (but not animals, which cannot give consent), then it is perfectly fine. Kink is not immoral or amoral if everybody is consenting and the safety of the participants is taken into consideration.

This is pretty much sex education 101- one should not use another's body without affirmative consent. Conservatives such as Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh hate women. Trump may bloviate that the women who have accused him of sexual assault were 'too ugly' to grope, but this is patent bullshit- sexual assault is about dominance, not sex, which is something that Trump pathologically tries to assert over those around him.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Shuddersome Old Gringo

Tonight, I am preoccupied with work, so I decided in advance to compose a chilling little tale by Ambrose Bierce: author, satirist, gadfly. Bierce disappeared in revolutionary-era Mexico after accompanying Pancho Villa's army for a while. Bierce's disappearance was the subject of the 1989 film Old Gringo, hence the title of this post.

Bierce's place in 'weird fiction' will forever be secure by virtue of such horror works as The Damned Thing (which manages to be blackly funny even as it puts a chill up one's spine) and The Boarded Window. Bierce's An Inhabitant of Carcosa, slight as it is, spawned a major horror franchise which still resonates with current writers and fans of the weird.

The first story by Bierce that I read, in 7th grade, was An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. SPOILER AHEAD- READ THE STORY When The Sixth Sense came out, one of my co-workers told me I HAD to see the movie, and I would never guess the big twist was. I guessed the twist immediately, which kinda freaked her out, and I immediately thought, "She really needs to read her Bierce!"

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Matthew's a Disaster, But Pat's a Catastrophe

Seeing news of the flooding caused in North Carolina by Hurricane Matthew, I was instantly reminded of my experience of Hurricane Irene- two of the buildings on my jobsite were flooded hours after the storm passed, when the small river on site crested and overtopped its banks. It was sunny at the time, and I and the one human co-worker on site really thought we were out of the 'soup' so to speak... until we saw the crest of dirty, debris-laden water. I can totally understand the disconnect inherent in seeing flooding occur on a beautiful, sunny day.

Seeing the pictures of the devastation wreaked by Matthew, a storm which right-wingers had poo-poohed, I have to ruefully note that North Carolina governor, bigot, and asshole Pat McCrory raided his state's disaster relief fund in order to defend his homophobic HB2 legislation. Looking at the pictures of flooded out homes and ruined towns, I have to sigh in relief, "At least a transwoman isn't peeing in a women's public bathroom in Asheville." Priorities, people.

While I don't object to federal aid for the people of North Carolina, not a single dime should be given to the state until it replaces the funds transferred to the HB2 defense fund. Republicans have a knack for creating fake problems and allowing real problems to go unaddressed. In the meantime, McCrory is facing an uphill re-election slog... it's time for his opponent, state attorney general Roy Cooper to hammer him on his proposal to waste a half-million earmarked for disaster relief to defend an indefensible bill which has already cost his state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. Hurricane Matthew was a disaster, but it pales in comparison to the damage inflicted by bad Republican governance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Secret Science Club North Lecture Recap: The Journey of a Word

Last night, I headed down to the scintillating Symphony Space on Manhattan's Upper West Side, for the latest Secret Science Club North lecture featuring linguist and pundit Dr John McWhorter of Columbia University. Dr McWhorter's new book is Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like, Literally).

Dr McWhorter began his lecture with a quick overview of the processes by which languages change. New words are needed for new things, foreign words are adopted into a language, and slang and idioms are adopted. Dr McWhorter stressed that, even in the hypothetical case of a society trapped in a cave for a thousand years, the language of this isolated society would change over time. A dictionary page is merely a snapshot of a particular language at a particular time.

Dr McWhorter offered us the example of the word 'silly', which originally meant 'blessed'. Over time, meaning of the word silly changed, with the word becoming a synonym for innocent, then harmless, then weak, then slow on the uptake, until it finally arrived at its current meaning of 'goofy'. Originally, the word 'wort' meant a plant used as food (as an aside, I have to note that this sense of the word remains in plant names such as butterwort),but has been supplanted by the word 'vegetable'. Similarly, the word 'meat' meant 'food'.

To illustrate the change of language over time, Dr McWhorter cited the difficulty in understanding Shakespearean English while attending a play... while reading, one can use reference works to improve one's comprehension. He quoted a bit from Act 1, Scene 2 of King Lear:

Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue?

In this passage, the word generous is better understood as meaning 'honest' rather than having the same meaning it has in modern English. Words evolve over time. Dr McWhorter followed this up with a passage from Act 1, Scene 7 of Macbeth:

Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off

In this case, 'faculties' has the meaning of the modern word 'authority', 'clear' means 'pure', and 'taking-off' would best be expressed by 'knocking-off'. Dr McWhorter then 'adjusted' Shakespeare to modern English:

Besides, this Duncan
Has borne his authority so meekly, has been
So pure in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his knocking-off

One major factor in language change is the evolution of words' implications and overtones as well as changes in meaning. Regarding 'proper' language, Dr McWhorter had some choice words- logically, no community of speakers can use a word the wrong way. The meaning of a word has to change if failure to change interferes with clarity of communication. Language change is a communal thing- one individual cannot change a language.

Dr McWhorter coined the acronym FACE to describe the characteristics of a language: Factuality, Acknowledgment, Counterexpectations, and Easing. In the case of factuality, the word 'really' is often used to show sincerity... he also cited the use of 'believe me' by a well-known politician for similar purposes. In the case of 'literally', the word originally meant 'by the letter', but has transformed into an intensifier. The current use of the word 'literally' to mean 'figuratively', which has annoyed many members of the self-appointed language police, first appeared in the Frances Brooke's novel The History of Emily Montague:

"He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies."

The novel was published in 1769. Literally has now joined the illustrious ranks of contronyms, words which have two meanings which are the opposite of each other, such as fast, bolt, bound, seed, splice, and dust. Dr McWhorter joked that the current use of literally is no great crime.

Regarding acknowledgment, Dr McWhorter cited the phrase 'you know' as a prime example, then noted that said phrase is also older than most people realize, with Chaucer using the equivalent 'thou woost' in The Canterbury Tales. Dr McWhorter recalled speaking with a centenarian, and asked him, "What did flappers say to annoy you?" The one-hundred and five year-old responded "You know."

Counterexpectation was my particular favorite characteristic- Dr McWhorter cited the use of -ass as a suffix, using such examples as 'a big-ass pot' or 'a long-ass opera'.

Easing is the equivalent of using meaningless chuckling during a conversation in order to keep it light- in the case of text messaging, the use of LOL accomplishes the same function. The development of emojis allows the 'humanization' of text messaging.

Dr McWhorter then spoke about the changing meanings of words that are usually used as auxiliary verbs- 'can' originally meant 'know', a definition which is reflected in the modern words 'canny' and 'cunning'. 'Ought' originally meant 'owed'. The suffix '-ly' is a contraction of 'like', a word which originally meant 'body' (as an aside, I have to note that Clark Ashton Smith's beloved word 'lich' is a holdover of this)... in the case of a word such as slowly, the original form would have been 'slow-like'. As a hypothetical case of contraction, Dr McWhorter noted that 'let us go' has been contracted to 'let's go' and postulated that a future Martian linguist would record it as 'tsgo'. In the case of past tenses, a proto-germanic term like 'walk-did' would become contracted to our 'walked'. He then engaged in another bit of speculation about the use of 'I'm all' as a verb form giving rise to a new irregular verb- 'I maw', 'you raw', 'he zaw'. After joking about how Spanish speakers are proud of such irregular verbs as 'tener', he quipped that misunderstandings can become standard.

The topic then shifted to vowel shift... sounds just change over time. Dr McWhorter told us to forget about the whole 'A,E,I,O,U (sometimes Y)' thing and showed us a chart of vowel sounds related to their position in the mouth. He used the consonants B and T in combination with the vowel sounds:

Front of mouth beat bit but boot Back of mouth

bat bet bought boat


Vowels move around the mouth. Recently, starting in California, the 'bit' sound is starting to shift towards 'bet'. When vowels move, they push each other around, so 'bet' is starting to shift towards 'bat'. Women are at the forefront of language change. Another vowel shift that is now occurring is a shift from 'awww' to 'ahhh' when a younger English speaker sees something cute. Dr McWhorter then treated us to a pronunciation guide from the early 20th century, with such preferred pronunciations as com-PEN-sate, ce-LIB-a-cy, bal-CON-y, pre-CED-ence, and ca-NINE. He also talked about backshifts in pronunciation to form verbs from nouns- rebel, outlaw, and record being examples. We now have about one-hundred years worth of recorded speech, so we can hear that a 1950's speaker would say superMARKET, and the cast of the Mary Tyler Moore show would say Chinese FOOD in 1972.

Dr McWhorter then touched upon compound words, jokingly referring to the combination of two words as 'word sex'. Such words as 'bluebird' and 'blackboard' would originally have taken the forms 'blue bird' and 'black board', but then became applied to specific things. The Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) is distinct from a blue bird from Papua New Guinea, and the black boards of the Symphony Space stage are not blackboards, which are often green or white. There are also compound words which are only recognizable as such if someone informs you of their origin- 'daisy' is a contracted form of 'day's eye', 'sheriff' was originally 'shire reeve', and 'hussy' is a contraction of 'housewife'. In even more cryptic cases, compound words reflect a combination of words which are no longer used in modern English- the root of the word 'barn' is a combination of words meaning 'barley' and 'house'. The word 'world' is a contraction of 'were', meaning man, and 'eld', meaning 'age'.

The topic then shifted to the word 'like', which can (to the dismay of many on the left) perform all of the FACE functions: factuality, acknowledgment, contraexpectation, and easing. 'Like' can perform adverbially, in such structures as 'slow-like', and can take on grammatical functions 'she was like...'

In conclusion, Dr McWhorter reiterated that print serves as a Polaroid snapshot. A word is not something that is, it is something that is going on... words are processes.

The lecture was followed up by a brief Q&A session. The best question regarded the use of profanity in modern speech- is profanity playing a bigger role in current English? Without missing a beat, Dr McWhorter quipped, "Abso-fucking-lutely". This was followed up by an entertaining discourse on cuss words, with the erudite and genteel doctor contrasting such place names as 'Phila-fucking-delphia' and 'Cinci-fucking-nati' with 'Fucking LA' and 'fucking New Jersey'. He noted that scatalogical and blasphemous terms are not typically considered vulgar nowadays, while terms that attack the identity of individuals- the 'N' word and the 6-letter 'F' word are. He noted that he is not going to bother telling his daughter that 'shit' is a bad word because he doesn't want her to experience a disconnect when she is older and everyone around her is saying it. Eegarding a question about texting, Dr McWhorter emphasized that texting shouldn't be considered writing per se, but speech using the mechanics of writing.

Once again, the Secret Science Club has served up a fantastic lecture. Kudos to Dr McWhorter, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the scintillating Symphony Space. After the lecture, I asked Dr McWhorter about vocal fry, which was briefly the bugbear of the language police about five months ago. He noted that, like most linguistic change, it was initiated by women, and that it crept from California speak to the airwaves of NPR. He covered vocal fry and the role that women play in the evolution of language in this article. He kindly referred me to his Lexicon Valley podcast for additional linguistic topics.

Here is a video of a TED talk by Dr McWhorter, addressing texting:

Pour yourself a libation and soak in some science.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Locker Room Talk

Today is another busy day, but I figured I'd write a quick post about Donald Trump's jocular admission of sexual assault and a certain segment of society dismissing it as "locker room talk". Yesterday, I was in a locker room, after teaching three children's classes. I ran into my friend Sap, who is pushing sixty. We talked about how, from April to October, he has had a pain-free tennis season. Sal has a daughter who I am privileged to know- not once has he ever referred to her as a "piece of ass".

I also had a nice long talk with Danny, the locker room attendant, lRgely about his college course load this semester. I assured him that he could keep the physics textbook I loaned him last December so he could get a leg up on his physics prerequisite for engineering. Danny was born in Mexico's Federal District and immigrated as a child. He wants to get an engineering degree so he can expand his father's construction business. Sometimes, Mexico does send its best and brightest.

Anyway, that's what I consider locker room talk, but then again, we're not a bunch of assholes.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Tailfeathers Dragging

Yesterday, the real fun of this October began- the third of three concurrent fall fundraisers commenced. I was scheduled to start at 9PM, but I arrived at 5PM in order to give a quick orientation to the newest member of my department, who was hired in January. I hadn't seen him in a couple of weeks- he's working another site most days. I showed him where various light switches and important outdoor electrical outlets were and introduced him to the crew leader of our parking contractor, a man who I have come to value as a friend over the years.

After introductions were made and important utilities pointed out, I left to get dinner and run some errands before returning to work at 9PM. Everything went smoothly, and I was finally able to lock up after the last techies left the site after 1AM. We are using a site adjacent to our property for general visitor parking (patrons with handicapped tags can park in our typical parking lot). This temporary parking lot is used by three local organizations, each having keys to one of three interlocked padlocks. I kinda look at the key we are trusted with by the town DPW as if it were made of plutonium- handle with care and don't let anyone unauthorized get anywhere near it. Better yet, it's like the eye of the Graeae- I locked it up in a box in my office during the event, then after locking the lot, handed it off to one of the managers who typically works days- it's now locked in his desk. I'm not sure he really wants it either, it's a pain in the tuchis to have such responsibility.

Right now, it's quiet... as it usually is at half-past three AM. I've already set my alarm for half-past seven so I can head down to NYC for my volunteer gig... we have three classes, from half-past nine to ten after eleven. I should be able to go home and nap for an hour or two before returning to work.

With the big pre-event Hell Week behind me, I should be able to set up weekend posts ahead of time. Just in time for Halloween, I found a few archives of old pulp magazines, so I have so weird fiction to write about for the rest of the month. I just need a little time, which isn't going to happen on the weekends.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Weather Reports Have a Liberal Bias

As Stephen Colbert noted, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." Conservatives would rather believe in bullshit than in facts, sometimes to their peril... The latest example of pig-headed denial of reality is the conservative media's downplaying of the dangers of hurricane Matthew, which is bearing down on Florida's Atlantic coast:

Yet in the face of those pleas conservative aggregator Matt Drudge, who has a house in Florida, tweeted that “The deplorables are starting to wonder if govt has been lying to them about Hurricane Matthew intensity to make exaggerated point on climate,” and “Hurricane Center has monopoly on data. No way of verifying claims. Nassau ground observations DID NOT match statements! 165mph gusts? WHERE?”

At the risk of sounding, uh, deplorable, I really don't care if the deplorable deplorables decide to believe their media darlings and decide to ride out the storm on the coast. Florida is a swing-state, and the notion of thousands of Drudge/Trump acolytes being swept out to the briny depths a month before election day is not exactly tragic. Conservatives, President Obama wants you to take to higher ground- you can't let the perfidious Kenyan boss you around like that.

Even funnier is a libertarian website's decision to preemptively blame Obama for the destruction of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort (if it gets flooded in a storm surge, Donald can change its name to Mar Debajo Del Mar):

“SHAMELESS: Obama Refuses to Act as Hurricane Matthew Heads Straight for Trump’s Estate in Mar-A-Lago,” the Heatstreet headline blared.

I sure hope that the post is satire, but we live in a post Poe's Law world. If not, I'm not sure if the headline writer thinks that President Obama, like King Canute, should attempt to hold back the tide, or if Obama should merely rein in his weather smurfing machine, but either way, he's complicit.

Roy's latest post covered conservative butthurt over liberal contempt for 'heartlanders', but it's crap like Drudge and Limbaugh's patent lies about the government overplaying hurricane dangers that leads to this disdain. Conservatives tend to rely more on government assistance than liberals, they receive more tax dollars than they pay out, yet they see government perfidy even in storm warnings that are meant to save their dumb asses.

And, no, I really don't want a bunch of GOP yahoos swept out to sea because they believed their lying 'thought leaders', but I'd be lying if I said I'd mourn such an occurrence.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Make Gilead Great Again

In the midst of the Vice Presidential debate, Mike Pence dropped a brief statement that I considered to be extremely creepy:

PENCE: ... bring the -- let's welcome the children into our world. There are so many families around the country who can't have children. We could improve adoption...

KAINE: But, Governor...

PENCE: ... so that families that can't have children can adopt more readily those children from crisis pregnancies.

Put in stark terms, Mike Pence wants women with unwanted pregnancies to serve as broodmares for childless couples. Forget any agency, jezebels, you're just here to serve as wombs for the righteous. Also, if these children should have congenital medical conditions, you're on your own, Pence's favored couples don't want a baby that looks like that.

This particular stance on forced birth to provide children for childless couples (this being Pence's stance, LGBTQ couples need not apply) is straight out of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale. Just like conservatives tend to view Orwell's 1984 as a how-to manual instead of a cautionary tale (they even adopted Newspeak, so to speak), the fundamentalist evangelicals see The Handmaid's Tale as a blueprint for their ideal society. While Donald Trump is running on the 'Make Donald Trump Great Again' platform, Mike Pence's secret platform is even more troublesome... 'Make Gilead Great Again'.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Kansas on the Hudson

The big local news story these days is New Jersey's proposed gasoline tax hike. New Jersey has long had low gas taxes, and cheap gasoline. Years ago, whenever I took a trip that had me passing through Jersey, I, like many New Yorkers, would top off the tank before heading over the bridge, but I stopped doing that when Chris Christie was elected governor- I would rather pay higher gasoline taxes and have the revenue accrue to New York State than to save money by spending in Jersey. Yes, I do voluntarily pay higher taxes and, yes, fuck that Jersey asshole.

Buried at the end of the news story is the fact that the tax increase on gasoline is supposed to coincide with an elimination of the estate tax. Yet again, a Republican administration is shifting the tax burden from the extremely wealthy to the middle and working class to an even greater extent. This is the same sort of chicanery that Governor Brownback pulled in Kansas, but it's even worse- gasoline purchases are necessary for most Jerseyites, and rising fuel costs will increase the prices of all consumer goods.

I'd feel sorry for the folks across the river, but they voted these regressive assholes into office. In fact, I have to confess that I'm feeling a bit of relief here- now I won't even be tempted to top off the tank in Jersey on the way home.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Feeling a Bit Waspish Today

October is our busy month at work. I don't know the exact figures, but I would have to guess that our October visitation rate equals that of the rest of the months combined. Accordingly, I sent an e-mail to my boss, the various site managers, and our event production team leaders requesting an inventory of our first aid supplies. Before we open for the season, I put together an order for first aid supplies, and my boss arranges the purchase. Predictably, we were running low on chemical cold packs and additional small self-adhesive bandages would be necessary. We also had a request for sting and bite pads because the local wasps and hornets seem to be more aggressive than usual this time of year. Last week, my boss received the supplies and dropped them off in my office so I could divvy them out into three care packages, one for each of our principal sites. Last night, I brought one of these 'care packages' home so I could drop it off this afternoon on my way to work at my usual site. My plan was to bring the other package of supplies to the third site after clocking out at 9PM tomorrow.

Sundays in October are usually a wash for me- with my ultra-busy Saturday schedule, I typically don't even think about waking up before noon on Sundays in October. Today, I got a call from one of my subordinates, whose fiancée also works for the organization. She was working this morning, and a volunteer helping out the day shift was stung by a hornet. The one first aid kit that everyone knew about was in a locked building, and no-one who had a master key was on site at the time. I don't know what went wrong with the scheduling, because someone with master-key privileges should be onsite at all times... fall staffing is always a complex situation for us. One of our contractors knew that an upstairs window in the building was partially open so that cables could be run from a power source in the building. He pried the window all of the way open, and climbed into the building to obtain the first aid kit, setting off all of the motion detectors in the building. My subordinate's fiancée called him, they live less than a half-mile from the site, and he was able to travel to the site, reset the alarm, and inform the local constabulary that there was no emergency.

Being a conscientious man, he called me to inform me of the turn of events, and I audibly groaned, "Sheesh, there are two-hundred 'Soothe-a-Sting' pads sitting in my office, and I was going to deliver them on Monday night." Murphy's Law, people, is a thing. At any rate, even if these supplies had been delivered, they probably would have been locked up, and the same situation would have occurred. Tonight, I am sending an e-mail to all of the mucky-mucks to suggest that we keep a small first-aid kit (an ice pack, some bandage-strips, a couple of antiseptic and bite-and-sting swabs) in one of the tents that we use for the big outdoor events. I don't mind getting that '3AM phone call', which in my case is an 11AM phone call... it goes with the territory, but if I can avoid any needless emergencies, I will certainly do so.

It's the first weekend of October, and we have a single bee-sting and a burglar alarm activation... it's going to be a SPECTACULAR month.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Bastard's Basket

One thing which compounds the madness which is my October is the fact that my volunteer coaching gig starts on the first Saturday of the month, roughly coinciding with the start of the incredibly busy season on the job. Today, after getting three hours of sleep, I took the subway down to Manhattan to get to the dojo. The kids and parents had an orientation session to begin the season, a session which I could skip, being an old hand at this sort of thing. According to the schedule e-mailed to me by the athletic coordinator, we were supposed to have one judo class, a group of six, seven, and eight year old girls. I arrived about a half-hour before class was to begin, so I could see all of the other coaches and catch up on the local scuttlebutt.

I was surprised to see that the dojo was full of young girls, a smattering of parents, and my friend Suzy, who had been promoted from soccer coach to athletic director. This was an unexpected change, but I managed to line the girls up, distributed gis to them, and give them a very basic overview of the sport. Luckily, a good number of the older girls had been with us last year. A few minutes into my spiel, the other coaches started filtering in... Frenchy, Kickass Sue, Big Al, and the Moroccan George Clooney. Gentle Jimmy G. arrived at the end of the class- he comes after work mainly to beat us up, more than to teach the kids. We spent the rest of the class teaching the girls zenpo kaiten ukemi by having them roll over those big inflatable exercise balls. The balls force the kids to maintain a proper form, and remove some of the intimidation factor of the rolls:

The next period, we had a group of eight year-old boys. I instantly took a liking to two new kids who just had a great attitude and worked well together on their introduction to the sport. We went over falling techniques then taught them basic kuzushi, the proper grips to use while fighting and the means by which they can unbalance an opponent. They were a really great group.

Today, the program's start was a bit hectic, and much of the confusion was due to the older counselors being absent while taking the SAT, the three hour 'permanent record' examination which plays a large part in determining which colleges or universities will accept the testee (snicker). Most of the counselors present today were newly minted- kids who had gone through the program as students and had been hired to chaperone the students from activity to activity. I made sure to take them aside and tell them the big secret which nobody ever told them as students... the counselors, even though they are teenagers, outrank the adult coaches. The counselors make the program run smoothly, and if they need to pull rank if a coach is going overtime, they shouldn't even hesitate. That's a pretty big trip for a sixteen year old- yeah, you outrank the men and women who are old enough to be your parents.

After the program, I got a ride back to the Bronx from Gentle Jimmy G. and drove home from the subway station. I had enough time to take an hour-long nap and wolf down a quick lunch before heading off to work. I'm pretty beat now, as I will be for the rest of the month, but I wouldn't change things. Why do I do it? Why do I juggle volunteering and work on Saturdays? I'm going to riff off a line from Hillary Clinton... looking around at a bunch of small children in neat white uniforms rolling over large inflatable balls this morning, I told myself, "I've got a basket, a basket of adorables."