Tuesday, May 23, 2017


I have to say that I am not an Ariana Grande fan- I am a cynical man in his forties who really doesn't dig her brand of pop music. That is precisely why I am so horrified at the suicide bombing which killed twenty-two of her fans. The attack specifically targeted young people, particularly girls. The survivors of the attack, including Ms Grande herself, will carry a bit of survivors' guilt and a great deal of anxiety... something that I wouldn't wish on anyone, especially an adolescent.

There's a certain surreal quality to this particular tragedy, the role of social media in disseminating information about the fallen. The goofy selfies and whimsical photomanipulations culled from the kodds' various apps are jarring when contrasted with the stark crime scene images.

Around noon, I just had to get away from the media coverage- I headed down to the American Museum of Natural History to immerse myself in the butterfly exhibit. At first, it felt a bit unreal, standing in a warm chamber full of friendly people while enchanting, bejeweled creatures flitted around us... but then I realized that THIS was reality- the ideologies and theologies which lead a fanatic to murder children are unreal, not the marvels of nature. Then realization hit again, the beauties of the natural world are imperiled by human foolishness, just like the beautiful lives of children who just want to enjoy a night of music and joy. Solace achieved, solace abandoned...

I'm not an Ariana Grande fan, but I have friends whose children are, and that is precisely why the Manchester madness has me so angry.

Monday, May 22, 2017

In the Spring a Not-So-Young Man's Fancy Lightly Turns to Thoughts of Eating Something Poisonous

Last year, after posting about pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), I finally tried the stuff out, even though the stuff is poisonous. Thrice-boiled pokeweed (with the water changed after each boil), known formally as poke sallet, is a staple of rural southern foodways.

Today, after locking up at work, I picked a mess of poke, which will be boiled tomorrow:

I also picked a bagfull of nettles, which pack a whallop of a sting, but have no toxins... though the mature, flower-bearing plants accumulate phytoliths, which can irritate one's urinary tract. I tend to parboil the nettles to kill the 'sting', though drying them has the same effect.

As the old maxim goes, the dose makes the poison, and even such commonly eaten plants as the ubiquitous red kidney bean and spinach contain toxins. The best way to deal with these toxins is to eat a variety of plants, which is pretty much what I get when I forage- I throw the miscellaneous greens together into a food processor and puree them into a green slurry, the composition of which varies as the foraging season progresses. Now, pokeweed will join the nettles and dock and garlic mustard and lambs' quarters and dandelion greens in the mix.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I Demand a Set of Chaps and a Top Secret Security Clearance

From the great fount of derangement that is Texas asshole Alex Jones, comes the ass-ertion the CIA is a cabal of gay leather daddies because he sees a lot of guys with shaved heads in the 'deep' (heh heh) security state. Well, if a shaved head means that a guy is a leather daddy, I guess I'd better get a damn set of leather chaps and a top security clearance if that's the case. Also, Jones sees a 'gay conspiracy' everywhere.. it's a recurring fantasy of his to the extent that I suspect he's got a clear working knowledge of the GOP public bathroom toe-tapping code. Jones also knows very well what the queers are doing to the soil.

Getting back to the whole CIA bald leather daddy situation, I suspect that Mike Pompeo is just a figurehead, and that the de facto director is Rob Halford:

Hey, he even admits to being hip to the security state...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Interminable Workday

I always joke that my job is pretty cushy, except when it's not. Today was firmly in the 'not' category. I left the job this morning after 4AM, and after running a couple of errands, got home after dawn. I ran into my next-door neighbor as he was walking his yellow lab, and we chatted for a bit about our respective jobs (he works at a medical center which has been taken over by a larger healthcare organization, so his job security is uncertain), and I turned in for the morning. I finally hit the mattress after 7AM.

At one minute to nine, my phone rang... one of my co-workers had left her work-keys at home, and had to have the site open for the first wave of visitors at 10AM. I hastily threw on some clothes and drove to the site. I never check my phone while I am driving- I am 100% against texting while driving, or reading while driving, or putting on makeup while driving, or doing anything but driving while driving, with allowances for a change of radio stations (my newish car has radio presets and volume control buttons on the steering wheel). At 9:25, my friend had texted me to tell me that one of our gift shop managers had arrived, and she has a set of keys for the site. As luck would have it, I never read this message, and when I arrived, I learned that the shop manager's key didn't work on the particular lock for the Visitors' Center. I seem to have one of the few master keys which actually works on every lock in the organization. If I had read the text message and turned around to return home, I would have received another text message a half-hour later, telling me to come back, and the place wouldn't have been ready for our ten o'clock tour.

When I got home at half-past ten, I ran into my next-door neighbor walking his lab for the second time of the day, and he did a double take... "You're not asleep?" My job is cushy, except when it's not, but when my people need help, I step up. Support your people, that's the most important thing to do in this life.

I had to be at my principle workplace again by 5PM. We had a low-key fundraising event today, and I actually wanted to attend for a bit, but the traffic was so horrendous that I had to take a roundabout route to bypass a couple of snarl-ups and arrived a mere five minutes before my start time. When I arrived, everything was lovely- we had some very nice visitors, some wonderful entertainers that have performed for our fundraiser for many years, and a cadre of my great co-workers. I like being on the job, and the curveballs that I occasionally get thrown (unexpected emergency phone calls, for instance, or four-day campouts without heat or electricity after a hurricane) are the dues that I pay for a generally easy-going job.

Just about the time I ordinarily lock up our visitors' center/gift shop, I received a frantic cry for assistance- one of my co-workers slipped on a floor tile in our basement and banged her chin on the ground. A couple of additional co-workers had arrived at her side before I did, and I told one of the young guys to run to the manager's office for a first aid kit. An alcohol wipe, a gauze pad, and a 2X4 adhesive strip, and she was patched up, but we had to ask her if she wanted us to get her to an emergency room. In a depressingly, uniquely American twist, she told us that she didn't want to go to the ER because she really couldn't afford the copay... A couple of us explained to her that, because her injury had occurred on the job, it would be covered by Workers' Compensation insurance. By this time, the manager had arrived, and I told him that I had to attend to the locking-up duties, leaving him to fill out the incident report.

My co-worker who fell is a fellow Yonkers resident. The manager, who is just about as solid a guy as you could ever meet, drove her home after we made arrangements for me to pick her the following day and bring her back so she could retrieve her car. I told her that I'd be working until 1AM, and that if she had any need to get to a medical center, she shouldn't hesitate to call me until about 2AM.

I was finally able to get a bit of a breather after 8PM, when I could settle into my comfortable routine. This day, which should have been a tad more busy than a normal Saturday, was characterized by bad luck, so it just d-r-a-g-g-e-d on. Of course, we'll all be laughing about it at the staff picnic in a couple of months, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't beat right now.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tweety Amin

The very prospect of Donald Trump going to Saudi Arabia gives me the creeping horrors. The Saudi Royal family, with their support of a fundamentalist regime that promulgates blasphemy laws, literal witch hunts, and lingering laws against women is perhaps the only family on the planet more repulsive than the Trump family.

I can't see this trip going well, with Islamophobe Stephen Miller writing the speech Trump is supposed to deliver to the Wahhabist regime, and the guy who promised to put a boot up the ass of the 9/11 attack backers is scheduled to play a concert in front of an all-male audience which will most likely include some of the very backers of those attacks. To make things worse, Jared Kushner pressured the CEO of Lockheed Martin to give a price break to the Saudis on arms which will probably be used to further Saudi interests in the Yemeni civil war. This whole trip just seems like a major disaster just waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, the probe into collusion between the Trump maladministration and the Russian government is closing in on a senior Trump administration official even as Trump embarks on what promises to be his foreign embarrassment tour. With any luck, he'll decide to take refuge with the Saudis to escape the consequences of his actions. The Saudis notoriously gave sanctuary to Idi Amin, maybe they will do the same for Tweety Amin.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hard Right, Soft Porn

A popular aphorism avers that only the good die young, so Roger Ailes death today at the age of 77 is ethically appropriate. Ailes was the midwife who birthed that particular Fox News brand of hard right politics and soft core pornography, a heady mix which was modeled on the Rupert Murdoch brand of sexual titillation and hypocritical moral outrage. Billy Bragg had the best commentary on this particular brand of yellow journalism:

Here in the States, the apotheosis of this paradoxical blend of umbrage and voyeurism was perhaps the 'expose' of Spring Break shenanigans complete with footage of young, scantily clad women. Never has moral indignation been accompanied by such hateboners... gotta sell that Cialis to the angry geezers.

Besides lowering the tone of political discourse to a troglodytic level, there is something more sinister going on- the Fox Effect... Fox viewers are, as a whole, less informed on current events than Daily Show viewers. News, trumped by comedy... thanks Roger!

Then there's the frathole atmosphere that Ailes fostered at the network, a vile miasma of sexual harassment and racial discrimination which comes as no surprise to those who have observed the constant belittling of women and minorities that was the network's stock-in-trade.

It came as a bit of a surprise that Ailes died so soon after his ouster from Fox, but his ghost will haunt the American brainspace for years to come, a ghost largely manifesting as a paranoia and hatred that seeped outward from Ailes' mind and poisoned vast swathes of America's population. If there is a single individual who could claim the title of worst American of the 20th century ever, Ailes would certainly be in the running for the title.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Secret Science Club North Post-Lecture Recap: Trail Blaser

Last night, I headed down to the scintillating Symphony Space on Manhattan's Upper West Side, for the latest Secret Science Club North lecture. Last night's lecture marked the third appearance of microbiologist and medical doctor Martin J. Blaser, Director of the Human Microbiome Program at the NYU School of Medicine and author of the book Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues.

The first lecture by Dr Blaser that I attended concerned the human microbiome, with a focus on the role that the bacterium H. pylori plays in the gastrointestinal tract. The second lecture was a more generalized overview of the role of the microbiome on health, touching on such topics as the possible role played by antibiotic overuse/misuse in the world's growing obesity epidemic- it corresponded with the initial release of Dr Blaser's book.

Last night's lecture could be characterized to a 'greatest hits' compilation- it was a broad overview of the subject of the human microbiome and the role that antibiotics play in the relationship between us and our bacterial symbionts. Much of the talk revolved around the findings of the graduate students in Dr Blaser's lab.

The human gut is home to over one hundred trillion bacteria, most of which are harmless or even beneficial to us. Recently, the overuse of antibiotics, much of which can be attributed to the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics to promote growth of farm animals, has adversely effected our internal biome, resulting in lower internal biodiversity among residents of the developed world. Dr Blaser displayed an array of gorgeous graphics to illustrate the relative biodiversity among the Venezuelan Yanomami, residents of Malawi, and residents of the developed world, with the Yanomami, who currently have little contact with outsiders, having a very high degree of internal biodiversity.

Dr Blaser noted that most of a newborn's microbiome is inherited from its mother, largely through vaginal birth, but also through close contact as breast-feeding, kissing, and in the case of some cultures, pre-mastication of food by mom. Babies born through C-sections tend to have less-developed gut bacteria than those born vaginally. By the age of three, an individual's gut microbiome is similar to that of an adult of the same cultural group.

Much of the lecture was involved with discussions of the role of antibiotic use in weight gain and possibly the onset of type 2 diabetes. While most of the experiments with mice involved sub-therapeutic levels administered over time, other studies mimicked the way in which people generally use antibiotics- pulses of high antibiotic use given to combat infection. Dr Blaser likened this to giving the mice antibiotics the same way parents would give antibiotics to a child with an ear infection. The 'pulsed' use of antibiotics early in life resulted in similar outcomes as the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics.

Dr Blaser made sure to note that the development of antibiotics was a civilization-altering occurrence, and that the use of antibiotics has hugely benefited humanity. The study of the relationship between individuals and their bacterial symbionts is a relatively new field, and Dr Blaser and his team are on the cutting edge of it. Dr Blaser jokingly told an anecdote about he and his staff sending stool samples off to have genetic testing of the microbiota performed, and not knowing exactly how to interpret the results. Our internal symbionts have evolved with us over the course of millions of years, but our relationship is just beginning to be parsed out.

Dr Blaser devoted a significant portion of his lecture to the work of his colleges and students, presenting their achievements in succession with a palpable sense of pride. For a talk about germs and poop, there was a genuine sense of joy about the topic.

Dr Blaser devoted a considerable amount of time to a Q&A session- he knows that there is an intense public interest in his research and its health implications. There were a lot of questions about probiotics and ways in which to 'reboot' (perhaps re-butt) one's internal biota after a course of antibiotics. The topic of fecal transplants came up, with one wag in the audience (of whom I am jealous) referring to them as trans-poo-sions. One bastard in the audience asked if anyone had done research concerning the effect of antibiotic use on the onset of menarche, but Dr Blaser noted that lower ages for the onset of puberty predated the development of antibiotics by about a century, and should be attributed to overall improvements in nutrition.

All told, the lecture was wonderful- entertaining as well as informative. Dr Blaser has a remarkable knack for making his subject matter accessible for the layperson, something crucial when it comes to a topic as intimate as one's relationship with one's one trillion closest friends. Kudos to the good doctor, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of Symphony Space... once again, the SSC has knocked it out of the park.

Here's a video of Dr Blaser lecturing on this topic at the American Society for Microbiology:

Crack open a beverage and soak in that Secret Science Club ambiance.