Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not a Lot of Buzz About this Announcement

I am one of those individuals who never grew out of that childhood phase during which one is compelled to turn over rocks and logs to see what kind of creepy-crawlies are living underneath. I love my precious little bug buddies- I also like lectures about insects, even eating insects. Needless to say, I was bummed out by listening to a report of the rusty patched bumblebee being placed on the endangered species list, with the Trump maladministration reversing its policy of undoing federal regulations in this case- of course, the bumblebees are crucial pollinators, the loss of which would be an utter disaster for humans.

The main threats to the rusty patched bumblebee are the loss of suitable nesting space (they lair underground) to development, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and pathogens. Steps should be made to reduce the use of neonicotinoids and to preserve suitable habitats for insects. I have long considered the modern obsession with well-manicured lawns to be pathological, and would suggest a shift to yards which combine native wildflowers, ornamental plants, and herb/vegetable gardens. Well-manicured grassy spaces are more appropriate for municipal athletic fields. I also think that highway margins and medians should be devoted to the planting of native plants (with patches of milkweeds at least every quarter-mile). The maintenance of such plantings would be more costly and labor-intensive than simple mowing would be, but don't we need jobs to make America great again?

I fondly remember watching the bumblebees hovering around the azaleas in the backyard of the family home, those improbably chunky flyers with their noisy wings. I would be upset if this buzz were silenced forever. The implications of the collapse of pollinators are terrifying, though I can imagine a joint venture between Monsanto and Raytheon to manufacture pollinator microdrones after killing off the beneficial insects, which terrifies me even more.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Last night, the call came... my subordinate let me know that the County Board of Elections had dropped off a bunch of voting machines. Somehow, management spaced out on this, and I didn't have any advance notice, so I hadn't arranged coverage. No biggie, I had to handle this one myself, though it would mean I'd get about three hours of sleep. I always joke that the job is very cushy unless it isn't. I was up by three-thirty, out the door by four-fifteen, and at work before five. I received a briefing from the overnight guy and opened the building up for the poll workers, who were expected at five-thirty. Being the guy with the institutional memory, I was able to tell the poll workers where to plug in the voting machines, the best places to put the voters' tables. I know about half of this election's crew, a lot of poll workers are repeats every year.

Shortly after ten, a school group, a bunch of fourth graders from Connecticut, came in for a workshop. They filed into the building in orderly fashion to use the facilities and headed outside for their program. After a few hours, they filed back into the building and had their lunch in a greenhouse behind our gift shop, which still hasn't opened for the regular season. They were very well behaved students, they were quiet, and the poll workers remarked on the kids' manners... they didn't distract from the proceedings in the room next to the greenhouse, where the polling site had been set up.

The election has been quiet- it's a local election, and most of the positions are uncontested. I wonder how many of the voters have showed up to cast write-in votes to show that they still have the power to choose. I don't think a dozen voters have crossed the threshold. I've spent a good deal of time doing paperwork- I am cobbling together the April schedule for my team. Our custodian treated me to lunch in return for me entering his business expenses (mainly mileage) into the requisite Excel spreadsheets and sending them off to the main office.

It's been a quiet day, but I have to admit that I am one tired fellow. My relief comes in around five, and I think I'll just crash for twenty minutes before even contemplating getting behind the wheel of my car.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Infernal Equinox

Today is the vernal equinox, though looking at the amount of snow still on the ground here in the City of Y______, one would be hard-pressed to think of Spring. Rather than discussing the vernal equinox, this post concerns an infernal Equinox, a low-budget horror movie, produced by a crew of amateurs, released in 1970. While not very scary, the film does boast some not-terrible stop-motion special effects- from a practical effects standpoint it 'punches above its weight', given the low budget and inexperience of its creators. The plot, concerning a college student's search for his geology professor, who has gone missing from his cabin in the mountains while trying to decipher a mysterious grimoire, is very reminiscent of the first two films in the 'Evil Dead' horror franchise.

I'm not a big horror movie buff, though I do rate for the 'Evil Dead' films, being a fan of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. It was interesting to watch Equinox with an eye to comparing the films. My primary interest in watching the movie was its casting of Bastard fave and fantasy juggernaut Fritz Leiber as the doomed professor. While not a speaking role, it was fascinating to see one of my literary heroes on the screen, even in a bit part. Here is the movie in all of its cheesy, low-budget glory:

Oh, and if you ever meet a guy named Asmodeus, run like... uhhhhhh... Hell.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Multigenerational Bummer

I was saddened to hear of the death of Chuck Berry, even though the man was ninety years old and had not only reached the pinnacle of his craft, but hovered a height above the pinnacle. Roy, a rock-and/or-roller himself, has a post about Chuck which lays out the man's importance rather well. Was there anybody who quite defined an entire genre of music as Chuck Berry defined rock-and-roll, the outgrowth of rhythm and blues music that he helped to birth? I can't even think of anyone who played lead guitar in popular music before Chuck Berry blazed that particular path.

I believe it was Greil Marcus who wrote the the opening of Johnny B. Goode was the greatest opening of any popular song, and a riff for the ages:

As far as openings go, it's right up there with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor... I think the guy who wrote Roll Over Beethoven would be sympatico with Bach's virtuosity.

Besides being a fantastic songwriter and a blistering guitarist, Chuck Berry was also a humorist, as his tale of romance frustrated by a seatbelt attests:

My particular favorite by Mr Berry is Memphis Tennessee, which is an emotional number with a surprise ending:

Chuck's was a towering talent, and the man himself managed to navigate the perils and pitfalls of being a black man in the segregated United States- reading between the lines of Back in the U.S.A., one can divine the legacy of Jim Crow in the lyrics (despite his fame, Chuck would have needed the Green Book while touring).

Mom introduced us to Chuck Berry's music while we were kids... she raised us right. I spoke to her on the phone today, and she was bummed about his passing- she had seen him in concert at Brooklyn's Paramount Theater while still a teenager. There's a timeless quality to Chuck Berry's music, the sort of quality that led to a multigenerational fandom, and with his passing, a multigenerational bummer. He had a long life, and a storied career, but he will be missed.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Local Shindig

Today marks the local St Patrick's Day parade, which wends its way through the commercial district of my heavily-Irish neighborhood. Here's local band Shillelagh Law performing the neighborhood's theme song:

Luckily, I have another carry-over vacation day from last year, so I'll be able to bend an elbow for a second day in a row. It's supposed to start snowing (AGAIN!) in the afternoon, so a little bit of antifreeze is in order.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Solemn Feast of St Patrick

Today being the solemn feast of St Patrick, I decided to use a carry-over vacation day from last year so I could pour some libations (down my gullet). Before I head out, I just have to rant... in the wake of the horrors that have been exposed in Irish institutions that masqueraded as helpers of the indigent, that the Irish people have long been preyed upon by authority figures, by bigoted foreign conquerors (who attempted a genocide), by the various predatory religious hierarchies who abused and divided the common people. I look at my kindly, generous friends and neighbors and I wonder how a people so given to hospitality and good-heartedness could have let their worst elements wield such power over them. The popular vote to legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland signaled a major shift away from the patriarchal dominance structure that prevailed even after Irish independence was gained, a shift from authoritarianism to a generous-spiritedness more natural to the tribe.

To a large extent, the Irish (like the Jews and African-Americans) are a diaspora people, forced to leave their homelands by hostile outside forces, and finding ways to not only survive, but to thrive despite the hardships they have faced. The heritage that I celebrate is the tenacity, the hard work and sheer grit that my forebears exhibited, and that I endeavor to maintain. For the same reason, I admire Jewish and African-American people, who have inherited the same determination to overcome oppression. The flip side of that is that I find Irish-American authoritarians (I'm looking at a couple of FOX hosts here) to be particularly repugnant- they are the sort of people who have thrown in their lot with the oppressors, rather than the underdogs of the world.

I'll be heading out for a wee dram or two... or three... Before I head out, here's a number from Mary Courtney, friend of the Bastard and Star of the County Bronx,

The Patriot Game, with lyrics by Dominic Behan, perfectly encapsulates the conflicted nature of the Irish people, the morass of patriotism, sectarianism, nationalism, and violence that has so long held sway on Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore. Things have gotten a lot better in the past twenty-years, which is reason enough to raise a glass of Tullamore Dew in celebration.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Make America Sick, Dumb, Hungry, and Dirty Again

Egads, the Trump Budget Plan is a true horrorshow, not хорошо at all. This particular bit struck me as especially troublesome:

Trump’s first budget proposal, which he named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20 percent at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency.

This means a whole lot of deregulation, a wholesale degradation of environmental and labor standards... this is particularly a victory for extractive industries which are particularly dangerous to workers and the environment. The simultaneous increase in defense spending and decrease in State Department spending seems to put the lie to the whole 'Hillary Clinton is a warmonger so vote for Trump' trope pushed during the election last year. I have long been a proponent of the use of soft power in America's dealings with the rest of the world, but it looks like the only tool in the Trump Maladministration toolkit is a hammer, by which I mean high-explosive ordnance. At least we didn't elect a warmonger... not one in a pantsuit, at any rate.

Trump also wants to wage the culture war by using the power of the purse:

It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.

Besides the fact that eliminating these positions works counter to Trump's stated goal of creating jobs (maybe those EPA inspectors can be sent down into the coal mines to dig, rather than regulate), these cuts will further impoverish the culture- I work for a not-for-profit, and we receive NEH grants for some of our programs... this time, it's personal.

Not surprisingly, the budget also cuts programs that help the poor: home heating fuel subsidies and community block grants which are often used to combat homelessness. One real puzzler is the proposal to privatize the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control- wealthy people fly more often than poor people, and I can't imagine a privatized FAA, concerned with cost-containment, making air travel safer.

Perhaps the worst feature of the budget is the gutting of funds earmarked for research into clean, renewable energy and climate change mitigation:

The proposed budget extensively targets Obama programs and investments focused on climate change, seeking to eliminate payments to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund — one key component of the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate agreement — and to slash research funding for climate, ocean and earth science programs at agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At the same time, clean-energy research, heavily privileged by the Obama administration, would suffer greatly under the budget with the elimination of the ­ARPA-E program (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) at the Energy Department and an unspecified cut to the agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Yep, at the worst possible time, we have a government which is putting the pedal to the medal in the race along the road to, well, The Road. It's here where I reiterate my line that we aren't destroying the world, we are destroying our world... best of luck to our hardy Coleopterous planetary heirs.

Meanwhile, the budget funnels money to charter schools and private schools... gotta pay for school-wide bear defense.

Then, of course, there's the Wall:

And he requested $1.7 billion in new funding this year and an additional $2.6 billion in new funding in 2018 to begin construction of a wall along the border with Mexico. Trump proposed creating this wall during his campaign and had said Mexico would pay for it. A number of congressional Republicans appear to be cooling on the idea.

By the time Trump guts everything which makes this country liveable, there won't need to be a wall on the southern border... maybe the Canadians will start building one of their own, they'll need it.