Monday, January 30, 2017

Dorian Day

All tooth gnashing and no play makes BBBB a dull boy, so I am heading down to the Cornelia Street Cafe in Manhattan's West Village to celebrate the new album release by my great and good friend Dorian Devins. As an added bonus, it is also Dorian's birthday celebration, though the divine Dorian hasn't aged a day since I met her a decade ago.

Here's wishing a happy birthday to Dorian- intellectual, raconteuse, torch singer, friend, and all-around diva. All the best on your natal day, and best wishes to Lou, the best side man anyone could wish for.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Creepiest Thing that Happened Last Week

While the executive order banning entry to the US by persons from seven majority-Muslim countries has been getting a lot of coverage, something even creepier happened quietly last week... Donald Trump used an executive order to place Steve Bannon on the National Security Council, while reducing the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence. Trump is putting a dangerous ideologue, a purveyor of fake news and the proprietor of a racist website, in a position of great power. Bannon views the press as the opposition, and he is now in a position to target the press, in clear violation of the First Amendment.

I used to believe that Trump was the Trojan Horse's Ass that was being used to put Mike Pence in the White House, but now I realize that he is something much scarier- the Trojan Horse's Ass that is being used to put Steve Bannon in the White House. While I'm not unconvinced that the Trump Maladministration isn't jonesing for a war against Iran, my principle fear now is that the Trump Maladministration is really jonesing for a war against the United States.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Jillion Juggalo Journey

With all of the ire levied at Washington today, there are all sorts of groups taking to the streets of the capital to register their disgust, their concern, their desire for change. The latest march to be announced is the Juggalo March on Washington, a display of dismay by Juggalos at the FBI's portrayal of the fandom as a 'hybrid gang'.

I have to confess that I feel a contempt for the Insane Clown Posse, almost entirely due to the revulsion, not unmingled with amusement, I feel when I watch this NSFW clip, which I am watching at work:

Yes, I think the ICP is utter crap, but I really can't hate Juggalos. While they are pretty messed up, there is a sense of community among the group's members which I didn't appreciate until I read the story of a gravely-ill teenager who asked the Make-a-Wish Foundation to send him to the Gathering of the Juggalos, where he received an unsolicted free lap dance from a Juggalette. While the Church Fathers would not have recognized this as a Corporal Work of Mercy, I would say that Rendering Erotic Comfort to Horny Stricken Youths should qualify. Yes, I cannot stand the Insane Clown Posse or their music, but I have an admiration for a community which can selflessly grant a wish that a direly sick boy would actually make, with no desire or expectation of reward.

Thus, I solidly support the Juggalo March on Washington. Enough of this stupid FBI witch hunt targeting Juggalos, so similar to the anti-metalhead witch hunt which landed three innocent youths on death row. There should be room in which to be a freak in these here United States, to dress in outré fashion, to listen to strange music. The Juggalos, despite the ignorance in which their heroes wallow, are standing up to an oppression which is overtaking many non-mainstream Americans, and that is enough reason to get behind their day in the streets.

Friday, January 27, 2017

CSI: Duck Pond

Yesterday, I had to arrive at work at 5PM, rather than 9PM... we were hosting an event at our main office and the guy who usually works 5PM-9PM had to work the event, basically making sure things went smoothly and locking up after the event caterers left. One of the day shift workers on site told me that there was a duck carcass on site, on the verge of a path that goes around our pond. Checking out the location he indicated, I noted with relief that the dead duck was a male mallard, rather than one of our resident wood ducks:

The culprit was one of our resident red-tailed hawks. While my co-worker didn't witness the murther, he was lucky enough to see the hawk feasting on the carcass. When it had finished eating the duck's prodigious flight muscles, it flew ever so silently off to perch in a nearby tree.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump Acts in Jacksonian Fashion

Roy summarizes for us an attempt on the Right to connect Trump to a thread of conservatism that has run through the country since its inception... for example, Bloody Bill Kristol's son-in-law blurts: "He draws strength from his gut connection with Jacksonian America". There's a connection, alright, Andrew Jackson immiserated Native Americans and Donald Trump will immiserate Native Americans.

I didn't post about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests this past fall- it's a topic which was covered by the news media here in the East, but between an arduous work schedule and my apartment hunt/move, I really didn't feel like I had enough time to pay the topic the attention it deserved. Generally speaking, I am against any moves to double down on fossil fuel use (I believe that fossil fuels should be viewed as 'startup capital' to help humanity develop the technological base necessary for building an economy based on renewable energy), and I believe that the treatment that Native Americans have received at the hands of the various European-derived governments that have sprouted up on this continent has been disgraceful. The very re-routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline away from the City of Bismark was an egregious form of environmental racism (really, Republicans, if this pipeline is so necessary, and so safe, why not put it in white people's backyards?). The whole issue hits on a number of points of interest of mine- environmentalism, energy technology, and race relations- I wish I had had more time to write about it.

For a brief time, it appeared as if President Obama had solved the issue by having the Army Corps of Engineers put a stop to the pipeline project, but this victory was short-lived as the Orange Ogre won the Presidential election.

I have no doubt that Donald Trump will have no qualms about oppressing the Native Americans who have been at the heart of the fight against this pipeline. Donald Trump has a history of maligning Native Americans. When the St Regis Mohawks attempted to open a casino in New York's Catskill Mountains, Donald Trump, and his creepy flack Roger Stone, approved attack ads that amounted to character assassination, characterizing the St Regis as violent criminals and drug dealers:

If Donald Trump was venal and greedy enough to engage in character assassination of a Native American ethnic group in a petty dispute over upstate casino gambling, he's sure to be even more of an evil, racist asshole given the financial stakes involved in this pipeline dispute. He's not quite as bad as Jackson, but then again, this isn't the 19th century... on both a social justice and an environmental basis, this executive order is a terrible, horrible thing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Just When We Needed Him Most

Last week, we lost Wayne Barrett, one of New York's venerable investigative reporters. Barrett's contributions to the Village Voice, his regular exposure of venality and corruption, made the paper a must-read- the perfect accompaniment to a ride from Manhattan to the Bronx. Barrett was one of the go-to sources on local boor-and-bigshot Donald Trump, who is now an international boor-and-bigshot. Wayne's passing, the night before the Trump Inauguration, is especially tragic because his ethics, his tenacity, his devotion to the truth are needed now more than ever. Wayne, you were always a good companion on the subway, a guide and a teacher... why did you leave us at this inopportune time?

Post title inspired by this bit of 70s schmaltz... I had to look it up because I didn't know who sange it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Watcha Gonna Do in this Day and Age?

It's not often that I post repeat song videos, but I am reposting a video for a song that I referenced in a post about the Scott Walker recall attempt. The inspiration for this post was a comment by Nasreen, who you should be reading, because she's awesome:

So much of the work needs to be about education, I think. I have done work with the Green Party, and it's frustrating, because simply putting up better or more progressive candidates on the ballot isn't enough.

People need to understand corporate power, women's rights, poverty, health care issues, the environment, American history, etc.before having a better candidate on the ballot matters.

I'm amazed by how many people say they became aware of the real situation either through the writings of Noam Chomsky or through the teach-ins that occurred in the Seattle WTO protests in 1999.

Education has to come before electoral successes, it seems to me. I'll do what I can.

The key to implementing change is to focus on a tangible goal, namely increasing the percentage of women holding political office, which is well below the percentage of women in the United States population. The various women's marches across the United States, and the world demonstrated the agitation that women have felt since an admitted sexual predator has ascended to the highest position in the United States. The next step, as Nasreen has so eloquently stated, is education- there is a need to learn about the structure of power and how to mobilize against it. Finally, there has to be organization, people need to network in order to ensure that better political candidates espousing better policies are able to win elections. I sure hope that a lot of contact information was exchanged at the rallies last Saturday. Agitate! Educate! Organize! Sounds like a chant from an anthem, doesn't it?

For the record, That Petrol Emotion featured guitarist Damian O'Neill of Bastard fave The Undertones, which meant that they never lacked for a killer riff.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Gaslighting and the Streisand Effect

It's no surprise that a megalomaniac who always thinks of himself in superlative terms would be upset that his inaugural attendance was dwarfed by that of his predecessor, but sending a flunky out to lie about something that we can see with our own eyes is a ridiculously inept attempt at gaslighting. This gaslighting attempt is particularly bizarre because it creates a Streisand Effect- the attempt to shove the reality down the Memory Hole has only drawn more attention to the poor attendance.

To compound matters, Trump's SpokeHessian Kellyanne Conway has doubled down on the Orwellian nightmare by characterizing Press Secretary Sean Spicer's lies as 'alternative facts'. Thankfully, even lackluster CNN is calling out the bullshit.

The truly bizarre thing about this debacle is that it serves no purpose but to stoke the overinflated-yet-fragile ego of a thin-skinned wannabe tyrant. I have no doubt that the spin, the lies, the 'alternate facts' about the inaugural attendance came from the top of the shit heap... it's appalling that one of Trump's first acts as 'Precident' of these United States is to push foolish lies about a petty subject.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Resistance Kicks Off, Big League!

Saturdays are pretty much a lost cause for me, my typical schedule is to return from work around 5AM, sleep for two-and-a-half hours, then go to Manhattan to coach children's judo classes from 9:20AM to 11:45AM, returning home by about 1:30PM and napping for an hour and a half before getting ready to work at 5PM. This morning, though, I was sick as a dog- it might be a bad cold, but I'm feeling kinda beat up, so it could be the flu. I sent a blanket text message to the other coaches, telling everybody that I wasn't in a sharing mood. I blasted my sinuses a couple of times with my neti pot, set my alarm for 11AM, and spent the better part of the day sandwiched between the covers, listening to the radio. I may have been a non-starter today, but I listened to the coverage of the multiple marches for women's rights while I lay still, continuously blowing my nose.

WOW, is all I have to say, this global movement, the day after Vulgarmort's lackluster inauguration, has the potential to be a true game-changer if its momentum is maintained. Women are tragically unrepresented in congress- about twenty-percent of Congresscritters are women, while women represent about fifty-one percent of the population. As much as I had mocked the 'Tea Party' movement on the right, those fuckers got out and voted, and they supported candidates from the local level to the federal level. I sure hope that the marches, which were impressive, will lead to workshops, which will lead to networking in order to increase the percentage of women in the government. Liberals and progressives tend to have a bad track record when it comes to voting in midterm elections... this is a mistake that must not be repeated. The women of the United States demonstrated their potential power, now they have to grab it- the Orange Ogre shouldn't be the only one grabbing what he wants. Pussy Power is one thing, but Poll Power has to be the long-term goal.

Friday, January 20, 2017

From Hope to Carnage

It's typical for incoming presidents to have a theme that they plug, a vision for America. With past president *sniff* Barack Obama, the theme was 'HOPE', immortalized in Shepard Fairey's iconic graphic (Mr Fairey created new posters for today's inaugural). The newly-minted president of these United States had an entirely different theme to his inauguration:

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

Looking around my somewhat hardscrabble city, I really don't see the bloodbath that Trump describes. I sure as hell, though, don't see an education system flush with cash (with notable exceptions...), I sure don't think the local teachers' lounges have teak paneling.

Even worse is Trump's self-characterization as the hero who will lift the cowed, beaten down masses out of poverty and despair:

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down.
America will start winning again, winning like never before.

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.

We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.

We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.

This is coming from a man who's merchandise is largely made overseas and whose hotels are largely staffed with foreign guest workers. For a real golden shower oldie, Trump's signature property was built by illegal immigrants who were told to work without safety equipment.

I don't put a lot of confidence in the words of an individual, especially a blowhard like Vulgarmort- I look at their actions. Trump's words, though, are offensive, mendacious, divisive, and larded with dogwhistles about political foes. His speech is a calumny against wide swaths of the American people, and a pack of lies about his plans for them.

I'd take hope over carnage any day, even if the carnage is, for the time being, fake.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Goodbye, Normal Society?

Tomorrow, Vulgarmort ascends to the position of Commander-in-Chief... that's a pretty bizarre notion in and of itself. I'm an unabashed liberal, I believe that a good, competent government that provides checks on corporate power and ruthless individual behavior is to be desired... I also firmly believe that a society is to be judged by how its least fortunate residents fare- there are plenty of failed states in which there are very rich individuals and families. Tomorrow, though, a thin-skinned oligarch who is completely amoral and has a tenuous grasp on reality, will become the most powerful individual on the planet, and he is surrounding himself with other oligarchs, both related and non-related. In disquieting fashion, he even stated that he is going to stage Soviet-and/or-North Korean style military parades- he's not even hiding his desire to be a tinpot despot anymore.

The really bizarre thing is that my day-to-day existence really won't change at all, even though the United States of America has been kidnapped by kleptocrats and replaced with some sort of Changeling America. The Days of Dubya were surreal enough, but the coming administration is going to be some sort of grotesque farce. Still, though, tomorrow I will head off to work as usual, on Saturday, I'll get up early and take the subway to Manhattan to teach. I doubt the mood on the train will be as bad as it was post-election, and our conversation between classes will probably be similar to the conversations we've had for the past three months. Still, something has fundamentally changed. We will have a president who picks fights with actors on a social media app, a president who blithely talks about disbanding treaties that have held for over half-a-century. Everything has changed, but the routine for me will be the same, with some unsettling exceptions... occasionally, I will have to have conversations with immigrant, Muslim, and LGBTQ friends that I've never had to have before, even in the worst days of Bush 2.0. I've had those conversations in the past three months, but now the challenge is to back up reassurances with actions if need be. Tomorrow, everything changes, I know it intellectually, but it will take a while before reality sinks in on a 'gut' level.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Barack Obama's Last Press Conference

I listened to President Obama's last press conference today, and I was suffused with melancholy... this is the last time we will hear an articulate, calm, and competent American executive speak for the foreseeable future. I'm going to miss hearing an educated person speaking in multisyllable words as if he were talking to adults. I going to miss it Big League. The president threw down a gauntlet to the press, which they will hopefully take to heart:

That does not of course mean that I’ve enjoyed every story that you have filed, but that’s the point of this relationship. You’re not supposed to by sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics, you’re supposed to ask me tough questions. You’re not supposed to be complimentary, but you’re supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here. And you have done that. And you have done it for the most part in ways that I could appreciate for fairness even if I didn’t always agree with your conclusions. And having you in this building has made this place work better, it keeps us honest, it makes us work harder, you’ve made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we’re able to deliver on what’s been requested by our constituents. And, for example, every time you’ve asked “why haven’t you cured Ebola yet?” or “Why is there still that hole in the gulf?” it has given me the ability to go back to my team and say “will you get this solved before the next press conference?”
I’ve spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy. IT goes without saying that essential to that is a free press. That is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment in self-government has to work. It doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive information about what is taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and democracy needs you. We need you to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress. So my hope is that you will continue with the same tenacity that you showed us to do the hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves. And to push this country to be the best version of itself. I have no doubt that you will do so. I’m looking forward to being an active consumer of your work, rather than always the subject of it. I want to thank you all for your extraordinary service to our democracy, and with that I will take some questions.

The preamble to the press conference can be summed up as: "Do your jobs!" President Obama gave some subtle digs at Trump for planning to move the press corps out of the White House, and challenged the press to play the necessary role of check on political power. In his inimitable 'no drama' way, he lectured the assembled press corp to push back against the 'fake news' that has so tainted this political cycle.

As a nerd-American, I am going to miss this intellectual president. While he wasn't the 'liberal messiah' that his detractors believed his supporters believed he was, he was measured and prudent... something to be cherished after the unabashed, irresponsible adventurism and kleptocracy of his predecessor, seemingly ramped up to eleven by his successor. President Obama's tenure in the White House was unmarred by scandal, free of major blunders- all in the face of Republican hostility and intransigence. If he had had a loyal opposition, one which hadn't attempted to sabotage his every accomplishment, I imagine he could have achieved truly great things.

At the very least, I will remember the past eight years as a dreamtime during which a president could string together coherent sentences, a near-decade of sagacity sandwiched between the misrules of C-plus Augustus and Pee-plus Augustus. Le sigh...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Maya Angelou Was Right

The late, great Maya Angelou coined an aphorism which should be rendered in needlepoint and hung on the walls of every American: “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” Oddly enough, though, some people really don't get this- exhibit A being: "I voted for Donald Trump because I wanted to see change in our country. One change I didn’t want to see was access to health care at Planned Parenthood blocked."

Le sigh...

Besides choosing virulently anti-choice Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump came out and said that he'd defund Planned Parenthood during one of the GOP debates:

I'm still wrapping my head around the notion that people would vote for a guy who made clear-cut statements about his policy proposals, believing that he wouldn't follow through with them. Not too long ago, one of Trump's spokescritters exhorted the public not to pay attention to Trump's words, but to 'look into his heart' (funny, all I see is arteriosclerosis)... basically, she was urging people to trust him precisely because he's lying.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Via Tengrain, we have a hilarious juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane that was sent to him by zrm. This reminded me of a similarly-themed bit of artwork I came across in Brooklyn:

Now, this is a Holy Family for our debased age, a perfect blending of the sort of religiosity and consumerism that leads to televangelists selling potato slop on the t00b. It's still not as crass as the prosperity gospel, though.

Friday, January 13, 2017

About that Canadian Drug Importation Bill

I'm going to have to sound a somewhat contrary note regarding the thirteen Democratic senators who didn't support the bill to allow the cheap importation of drugs from Canada. The issue of cheap Canadian drugs is a red herring, because these drugs are typically American-made drugs which are exported to Canada at low cost because the Canadian Health Services buy in bulk and can negotiate low prices. Here in the 'States, the Republicans placed a ban on Medicare negotiating directly with the pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of medicines. The solution to the problem is not to buy back our own drugs from Canada, but to give Medicare the power to use leverage on the pharmaceutical industry to lower prices. I love Canada, and Canadians (check out my blogroll), but I don't see them as the saviors of sick Americans, Canadian drugs are a poor solution to an engineered problem. We need to free Medicare to buy the pharmaceuticals at low cost... personally, I'd nominate Dick Valentine to head up such an effort:

The sick joke behind this whole tragic mishegas is that American taxpayers foot the bill for the development of the drugs that bring huge profits to Big Pharma.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: SSC Goes to the Dogs

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club, featuring Dr Alexandra Horowitz, director of Barnard College's Dog Cognition Lab. Dr Horowitz' new book is Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell.

Dr Horowitz began her lecture by noting that the study of dog (n.b.: in this recap, dog refers to Canis lupus familiaris) cognition is a young field. Much of the study of animal cognition involves looking for play behavior, as play is useful for developing cognitive abilities, and the preferred animal subjects tended to be primates. Dr Horowitz recounted taking her dog to the park while casting about for subjects to study, when she had the inspiration to study dogs. It took her two-and-a-half years to convince her advisor that dogs were proper subjects- dogs are ubiquitous, and they were perceived as being 'changed' by humans. The dog cognition expert Dr. Ádám Miklósi noted that the natural place for the existence of dogs is an anthropogenic environment created by humans. The dog 'wilderness' is among humans.

To some extent, dogs have a sense of social cognition- dogs look at humans for cues, they follow the human gaze to a point of interest. Dr Horowitz cited a proverb attributed to Confucius: "When a wise man points at the moon, a fool looks at his finger." While a dog can locate food based on cues given to them by a human, a chimpanzee would be unable to do so. Dr Horowitz expressed this in a particularly beautiful manner: "Dogs can see the mind behind our eyes, they pay attention to our attention." In one experiment, dogs were presented with food but instructed not to get it, and the time it took before the dog disobeyed was measured- they tended to disobey most quickly when the testers turned their backs, taking more time when testers closed their eyes. Dogs have some perception of language- in one case, a border collie was trained to distinguish labels for over one thousand toys. Although dogs were known to respond to linguistic cues, their potential cognitive capacity was largely unknown. People weren't studying dogs- the prevailing attitude could be summed up as "we know about dogs, they share our beds". Dr Horowitz posed the question, "Are we right?"

People tend to anthropomorphize dog behavior, with one particular doggy look being interpreted as a guilty look. In a 2009 study, Dr Horowitz endeavored to decipher this 'guilty' look. Dogs were presented with food, but instructed not to eat it. Obedient dogs didn't eat the food, disobedient dogs ate the food. The dogs owners were instructed to greet the obedient dogs and to scold the disobedient dogs. In some cases, the owner was given wrong information, and the disobedient dogs were greeted while the obedient dogs were scolded. The guilty look was not determined by 'guilt', but by the owner's reaction- dogs which were scolded assumed the guilty look, while greeted dogs did not. The guilty look was most prevalent among obedient dogs which were scolded. The 'guilty' look (eyes averted, paw up, even belly up) is a submissive posture, behavior designed to avoid punishment.

In 2012, Dr Horowitz set up an experiment to determine if dogs had a sense of fairness. Can dogs be jealous? In this experiment, trainers could be fair or unfair- they could dole out equal rewards or unequal rewards (fair trainers tended to give one treat to each dog while unfair trainers gave one treat to the subject and three to the control) to the subject dogs and 'control' dogs. The subject dogs did not favor the 'fair' trainer over the unfair trainer, they affiliated with the unfair trainer because she had more food than the 'fair' trainer and could potentially give out a bigger reward- Dr Horowitz quipped that dogs are optimists.

Dr Horowitz referenced Philosopher Thomas Nagle's paper What Is it Like to Be a Bat?, which posits that humans will never know what a bat experiences. Dr Horowitz joked that this is the philosophical approach, which is why she went into science... such things are knowable.

Dogs live in an olfactory world, and any study of dog cognition must take into account the olfactory experience. Humans have about five million olfactory cells while dogs have two-hundred million to one billion olfactory cells. These cells are packed into the olfactory epithelium at the back of the nose. Doctor Horowitz characterized the dog nose as a two-part structure... The 'first nose' tends to be at the end of a long snout. It has a wet, 'pebbled' surface and nostrils which have a unique musculature and act independently- dogs have stereo olfaction. Dog nostrils have slits on the side which allow exhalation without disturbing scent-causing molecules in front of the dog. Dogs sniff 'better' than humans do, their nostrils provide an 'olfactory route' for air as well as a 'breathing route'. Humans only have the 'breathing route'. Dogs sniff five to times per second while humans sniff once ever one-and-a-half seconds- dogs get more 'odor pictures' than humans do. With the exhalation of air out of the side nostril slits, more molecules are stirred up with the expired air, ready to be inhaled. The long snouts of most dogs are lined with convoluted turbinate bones lined with mucous membranes which humidify inhaled air and remove irritants. Humans have three turbinate bones. The 'second nose' of a dog is a vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson's organ. The vomeronasal organ is vestigial in humans, but it allows dogs to detect pheromones, which are water-soluble, non-volatile, particles with low molecular weight. Dogs can detect the hormones which signal that a female is ready to mate, and the hormone which signals aggression, cortisol.

The somatosensory cortex processes the input from the various sensory organs in an organism. Different animals have different levels of commitment to different body parts. Dr Horowitz used the example of the star-nosed mole, which has a set of fleshy appendages on its snout which are used as tactile sense organs. She characterized the star-nosed mole's sensory cortex as being 'overcommited' to these appendages. The human sensory cortex is traditionally illustrated by a figure known as a sensory homonculous, which depicts human body parts with sizes relative to sensitivity- the fingertips, lips, and genitals are the most sensitive parts of the human body. An analogous depiction of a dog would feature an extra large nose, representing the 'overcommitment' to olfaction.

Tracking dogs can detect different concentrations of odor-producing molecules between the first and fifth footprints of their quarry, typically representing a two second difference between steps- thus they are able to determine direction of movement through scent. Trained explosive-sniffing dogs can detect a picogram of TNT. Dr Horowitz displayed a photograph depicting the path a dog takes to track a dragged pheasant to illustrate the dog's use of scent to determine directionality. Dogs can be trained to sniff out a myriad of items- explosives, drugs, insect pests... in one particular case, a dog in the Seattle metro area has been trained to sniff out orca feces. Dogs being trained to sniff out victims of building collapses learn their tasks in centers in which subjects hide in large pipes so the dogs can locate them. The ability of dogs to sniff out cancer is currently being studied.

Studying the cognitive abilities of dogs necessitates looking at the experience of a dog qua dog, it shouldn't conform to our human, primarily visual, senses. In the case of quantity discrimination, though, dogs don't distinguish quantity by smell alone- cues from a dog's owner can influence a dog's choices, though by visual means, a dog can determine that three hotdogs are preferable to one. Owner enthusiasm can influence a dog to choose a smaller quantity- though dogs tend to be attracted to a larger plate, they act on what their owners present them. Being smell-oriented creatures, environments which are too clean can 'turn off' dogs olfactorily- dogs in an odor-deficient environment will follow their owner's cues more than their own noses. Recently, an organization called K9NoseWork has provided olfactory play-spaces for dogs.

Dr Horowitz then brought up the subject of mirror self-recognition among dogs. Chimpanzees, bottlenose dolphins, and some Asian elephants can come to recognize themselves in a mirror- at first, they interact with a mirror as if it were another individual, eventually they will learn to use the mirror for self-examination. Dogs don't pass the mirror self-recognition test, do they lack a sense of self, or do they not 'care' about marks on their bodies? In order to test self-recognition among dogs, an olfactory component needs to be introduced. The right test needs to be implemented- do dogs recognize themselves with odor as they recognize others? In one experiment, urine was collected from several dogs, some urine was altered olfactorily. The experimenters then determined how long a particular dog would smell various samples- the urine of other dogs was typically smelled for a longer period of time. Dr Horowitz noted that, when one walks a dog, the dog doesn't typically turn back to sniff its own pee. While not exactly parallel to the mirror self-recognition test, dogs did tend to recognize their own urine. Dogs engage in chemical communication- they sniff each others' rears where anal glands and tail glands are located. Many dog behaviors can be interpreted olfactorily- dogs wag their tails to distribute scent from their glands and a dog drying itself off by shaking can disseminate a whole lot of odor-producing molecules.

In a particularly poetic turn of phrase, Dr Horowitz noted that dogs smell the passage of time- weaker odors are older odors, the future is on the breeze. Who will come is on the air. She then digressed, talking about her efforts to emulate her dogs- she sniffs what they sniff, she underwent olfactory training, studying under such scent senseis (scentseis!) as 'smell-mapping' artist Kate McLean and Secret Science Club alumn Dr Leslie Vosshall. She studied perfumery, wine odorants, animal tracking. She advised us, be more like a dog, master your sense of smell.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session, which Dr Horowitz prefaced with a funny quip- a lot of questions in her Q&As are prefaced with 'my dog does this...' One dogless bastard in the audience asked about the funny, higher pitched 'dog voice' which was used even by serious scientists- has the role of auditory cues in dog cognition been studied? Dr Horowitz noted that the primary reason for speaking at a higher pitch is to signal to the dog that it should pay attention. Another question involved the olfactory abilities of brachycephalic dogs, and Dr Horowitz joked that there are very few bomb-sniffing pugs. Why do dogs roll in dead things? It's possibly to camouflage one's scent, it's also an attention getter. Perhaps the best question was, does anything smell bad to a dog? Dr Horowitz noted that humans have a binary attitude towards odors- there are good ones, there are bad ones. To a dog, though, all odors are information.

Dr Horowitz' lecture was entertaining and informative, and her love of her subjects was expressed throughout the talk. Once again, the Secret Science Club dished out a fantastic lecture- high fives to Dr Horowitz, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.

Here's a nice, informative cartoon based on Doctor Horowitz' research:

Dr Horowitz showed this cartoon, teaching viewers the art of smelling:

Here's a longer video on the subject of dog cognition with the good doctor:

Crack open a beverage, if you're lucky enough to have a dog, give it a good ear scritch, and soak in some SCIENCE.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Vexing Lacuna in My New Zealand Music Knowledge

I fancied myself a bit of an aficianado when it came to music from the Not-So-Drouthy Antipodes, having listened to a radio documentary about Flying Nun records that Another Kiwi clued me in to. Yesterday, though, I learned better when Alicublog commentor billcinsd posted a video for a song by Blam Blam Blam, who were signed to Propeller Records... also aviation-oriented, but no Flying Nun. Anyway, Blam Blam Blam was almost as eccentric as early Split Enz:

They also knew their way around political satire:

Now I have to wait for the radio documentary about Propeller Records to come out... anyway, I'm Brooklyn bound this afternoon, so it'll have to wait until I come home.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Titan of the Alternative Press Passes

While listening to NPR this afternoon, I learned of the passing of Nat Hentoff- alternative press giant, first amendment absolutist, jazz aficianado, fixture of New York's liberal 'elite'. Mr Hentoff, who attained the venerable age of 91, was eminently readable, sometimes exasperating, never boring. The Village Voice was a must-read, not only because it was a free paper to read on the subway, but because of writers like Mr Hentoff and, of course, Roy. Of course, Nat was bounced by the 'Voice' in 2008, much to the dismay of some on the left.

The tragedy here is that voices like Mr Hentoff's, even though they could sometimes infuriate even sympathizers, will be needed more than ever now that we have a vindictive kleptocrat taking power.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Best Song Ever Written About Elvis

Today is the Solemn Feast of St Elvis, the anniversary of The King's birth. Besides being a genuine rawk gawd, Elvis ascended to the broader pantheon of deified culture heroes... kinda like a Southern-fried Gilgamesh. Elvis has inspired a vast array of songs, films, books, and an 'impersonator' industrial complex. Among all of the Elvis tributes and shout-outs, perhaps my favorite is Kirsty MacColl's There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis :

This song belongs to a musical tradition that I particularly like- a jaunty, funny number about a sad topic:

There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis
Just like you swore to me that you’d be true
There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis
But he’s a liar and I’m not sure about you

Speaking of sad topics, Kirsty MacColl and Elvis share a tragic distinction- both died in their early forties, altogether too young. I'd like to think there's a kinder, better alternate universe in which they both lived long, productive lives, a universe in which they sang a duet of There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis in a Las Vegas nightclub.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Yonkers: City of Light, City of Magic

Tonight, on my way to work, I drove across town to visit the beautiful Untermyer Park, with its wonderful gardens. The walled garden of the park is currently hosting its Grand Illumination event, which will be going on through this coming Sunday.

The vista revealed upon entering the garden was glorious, with the reflecting pools having been swapped out for 'rivers' of light:

After entering, I approached the information booth and had a nice conversation with a member of the Irvington Garden Club, who took my donation and gave me a cup of hot cocoa to fortify myself for my garden stroll. A rotating roster of members of various local garden clubs has been staffing this event. I then returned to my inspection of the lights. The 'ruined' rotunda was lit with an austere white:

The sphinxes were dolled up for the occasion:

In the uncertain light, each possesses an aura of mystery, most appropriate for these most enigmatic of monsters:

The garden was suffused with loveliness, an air of enchantment quite different from the darker magical miasma which once clung to the park. I'm not a superstitious individual, and don't believe in occult hogwash, but as a high-schooler I visited this park with a couple of intrepid, smartass friends and the place was genuinely creepy. I can't imagine any adolescent getting a frisson of fear from this place anymore.

Post title taken from my favorite Randy Newman song.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Crocs, Revisited

On Monday, I visited the American Museum of Natural History to see two of their temporary exhibits on their last day. The second of the exhibits I saw (the first being Dinosaurs Among Us) was Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World, which I had attended a month and a half ago. I spent more time at the exhibit this visit, and will cover some topics I glossed over in my last post.

One of the highlights of the exhibit was the overview of the bewildering array of fossil crocodilians, featuring a colored-in version of Darren Naish's crocodylomorphs illustration, featuring a host of extinct crocodilians of various types:

Hoplosuchus kayi was a seven-inch long crocodilian with relatively long limbs from the Upper Jurassic. It most likely ate insects and other small vertebrates. Simosuchus clarki was a small, probably-herbivorous crocodilian from Late Cretaceous Madagascar. Sarcosuchus was a huge croc, attaining lengths up to forty feet, which lived in Cretaceous Era Africa and South America. The alligator-like Deinosuchus, which haunted the waterways of Cretaceous North America, attained lengths of about thirty-five feet, and there is evidence that it even fed on such formidable prey as tyranosaurs such as Appalachiosaurus. Thecachampsa antigua was relatively recent, living from the Oligocene to the Middle Pleistocene in present day Florida- it's closest living relative is the false gharial. Steneosaurus was a Jurassic Era marine crocodilian, as was Metriorhynchus. Kaprosuchus was a 'boar-tusked' terrestrial crocodilian from Cretaceous Era Africa, and Anatosuchus was a 'duck-billed' crocodilian, also from Cretaceous Era Africa.

Another section of the exhibit dealt with crocodilian biology, detailing nesting behavior and parental care, the crocodilian immune system, croc vocalizations (crocs are the closest living relatives of birds, like them they use sound to communicate a wide array of behaviors), bite strength, and cognition (crocodilians have been observed using tools).

The highlight of the exhibit were the live crocodilians, four species worth- including adorable baby American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), African Slender-snouted Crocodiles (Mecistops cataphractus), African Dwarf Crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis), and the critically endangered Siamese Crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis). One highlight of the visit was seeing one of the young Siamese crocodiles clambering from the water to a high-and-dry spot... a bunch of us joked that we had caught the beast at its best, and it would be a couple of hours before it moved again. A centerpiece of the exhibit was the mounted carcass of Gomek, a saltwater crocodile which attained a length of 17 feet 9 inches and a weight of almost a ton.

Once again, my preference is to visit these exhibits multiple times in order to catch everything. This particular exhibit is a traveling production... if it comes to a venue near you, please check it out, it's gorgeous.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Revisting 'Dinosaurs Among Us'

On Monday, I returned to the American Museum of Natural History for the last day of the Dinosaurs Among Us exhibit, which I had covered in a previous blog post. As I mentioned in that previous post, one of the centerpieces of the exhibit is a life-sized model of Yutyrannus huali, a thirty-foot long feathered tyrannosaur. There was also a cast of the fossilized skeleton of Yutyrannus, demonstrating the feather impressions.

Among the models I didn't cover in my previous post was Beipiaosaurus inexpectus, one of the unusual Therizinosaurs, herbivorous Maniraptoran dinosaurs with large foreclaws that are thought to have lived in a manner similar to that of the extinct ground sloths.

One non-dinosaur archosaur featured in the exhibit was Effigia okeeffeae, a relative of the crocodilians which, through convergent evolution, resembled the ornithomimid dinosaurs that evolved much later.

Amid the gorgeous reproductions of feathered dinosaurs, there was another interesting specimen was Jeholornis, which had the asymmetrical feathers conducive to flight.

Perhaps the most unusual dinosaur in the exhibit, represented by a small placard, was Yi qi, an oddball dinosaur from the Late Jurassic which, while feathered had membranous wings similar to those of a bat. Yi was probably a glider, and it represents a 'failed experiment' in dinosaurian flight... the fact that flight, or at least gliding, evolved in two vastly different forms in the dinosaur lineage is pretty mind-blowing.

The other displays, displaying evidence of nesting behaviors and casts of brains, didn't fail to amaze on a second visit. One pelvis of an oviraptorid dinosaur provided evidence that these dinosaurs had two oviducts, 'egg tubes', while modern birds have one:

Also, there was a life-sized model of a Velociraptor, resplendent in dove-gray feathers:

These dinosaurs were about the size of a wild turkey, and would not have served well as threats in a Spielberg movie.

This local news story gives a brief snippet of the exhibit. If it arrives in a museum near you, I would advise you to check it out, but in the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge dinosaur nerd.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Adiós, Archosaurs!

I'm going to preface this post by saying that I am not antisocial- I have a job which often involves interacting with the public, I have friends and acquaintances from a diverse array of backgrounds, who I have met through a diverse array of activities. That being said, I typically prefer to go to museums alone. When you go to a museum with a bunch of people, you spend time figuring out what you want to see, and if you decide to split the party, you spend time figuring out a rendezvous point and you spend time traveling to said rendezvous point. Don't get me wrong, I love to go to museums with people, but when I really want a museum experience, I go alone... this is precisely why I have a membership to the American Museum of Natural History- I have the luxury of attending the museum every single day of its operation, should I wish to go.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours nerding out at the museum. It was the final day of both the Dinosaurs Among Us and the Crocs exhibits. I attended both of these exhibits with friends, and had a great time watching their kids learning about these creatures, but I wanted a solo archosaur immersion for a few hours. Birds and crocodiles are both archosaurs, the birds being the descendants of dinosaurs and the crocodilians being distant cousins. I missed some details of the exhibits in my previous visits, which is precisely why I attend these exhibits multiple times... membership has its benefits, besides being able to waltz past the long general admission lines. I will post addenda to my older posts over the next couple of days.

I would do it tonight, but I'm headed out for bar trivia night... as I wrote, I'm not antisocial.

Monday, January 2, 2017

'Midst Mallards

I typically don't make New Year's resolutions, they tend to be vague and to stress people out. If I do make one, it's a very specific, very concrete thing- for instance, to do one-hundred pushups every weekday for a year (I actually saw this one through a few years back). This year might be the year I finally break down and buy a decent camera... something I've been kicking around almost as long as I've been blogging. The phone's camera is okay, good for capturing images spontaneously, but not really adequate to the task of serious photography. Case in point, there's a goregous male wood duck (Aix sponsa) in the middle of this scrum of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), but you'd be hard pressed to pick this blur out of all of the other blurs:

The fact that a pair of wood ducks is still on the property at this time of year has me simultaneously happy and concerned... I'm happy because I genuinely love these shy birds and am glad to have them around, and I'm concerned because THIS ISN'T NORMAL, it's one of those subtle hints that point towards a truth which is being obfuscated by bad industrialists, lazy media companies, and stupid consumers. As far as the birds go, they are lovely- the male is showy, the female extremely skittish, always the first to take wing with a high-pitched alarm call, sending the entire group of ducks into the air. I think her fears are a bit misplaced, I'm much less of a threat to her than those godawful mallards.

Seriously, though, I really need to get a good camera, and I have the funds to do so now... and I want to buy it before Vulgarmort takes to D.C., I don't want to contribute more to 'his' economy that I absolutely have to.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year, We're Gonna Need a Lot of Snark to Cope

I have long believed in the use of gallows humor as a coping mechanism. Tonight, I received a... shall we say... superchunk of snark in the form of Mac McCaughan’s darkly brilliant Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again):

It's a remarkable song that can be catchy, tragic, bleak, and inspirational all at once... exactly the sort of music that I tend to favor. The last verse of the song is one of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard from a musician:

So gather with your retrograde relations at the table,
Nursing hangovers of hatefulness and fear.
Remember who needs to get out and see the world.
Play the long game, muster up some cheer,
’Cause if they believe that nothing really matters
All that winning might end sooner than they think.
We might not have democracy or freedom anymore,
But resistance will be hatched around this drink.

Bottoms up!