Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Che Orrore! Che Tristezza!

Today has been a bit of a downer- the earthquake which hit eastern Lazio, in Italy, and pretty much destroyed the village of Amatrice is upsetting. Those old buildings weren't designed to be earthquake resistant, which explains the extent of the destruction. The timing of the earthquake, after 3AM, was really bad- the poor sleeping victims of the quake were sitting ducks.

While I've never visited Amatrice, I have been to similar small villages in Italy, tiny towns where all the residents know each other, where turisti on the passeggiata stand out, but are taken in, and shown a hospitality that is second to none on earth. It's the sort of place celebrated in song, a place similar to the village which formed the values instilled in meby il nonno mio, my dad's dad, whose parents grew up in a town not dissimilar from Amatrice in most respects. The fact that the very beauty of the place, the quaint, antique architecture and the dramatic tectonics-produced mountain geography, combined to up the casualty count, is particularly horrific.

Il cuore mio is with the people of eastern Lazio and western Abruzzo tonight, and I need to send something to the NIAF for the relief effort. Bad as it was, the timing of the earthquake could have been even worse- a major pasta festival was scheduled for the coming weekend, which would have resulted in a large influx of visitors. In the meantime, I need to make myself some bucatina all'Amatriciana for dinner tomorrow, it's hard to grieve on an empty stomach.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Myanmar was also hit by an earthquake today- it's a part of the world that is often forgotten, but I'm not the kind of guy who likes to think that his admitted Western biases go unexamined.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


A few years back, a study suggested that conservatives have larger amygdalae than liberals. The amygdala is involved in fear responses, suggesting that conservatives suffer from anxiety more than liberals do (they are also "carriers" of anxiety).

With the rise of Donald Trump as the new GOP standard bearer, I am starting to believe that conservatives have different brain chemistry as well, with their primary neurotransmitter being dope-and-mean.

Housekeeping note: I composed this post on my phone, and it's acting up when I'm trying to embed one last link... please pretend that I linked to an article about dopamine until I can edit this baby.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cellar Serpent

People tend not to be 'lukewarm' about snakes, they either hate and fear them or love and cherish them. I am firmly in the latter camp. The idea of killing a snake, unless you are going to eat it, is repugnant to me. I dig the Ophidia.

Yesterday, while in the basement of the building which houses my office, I noticed a diminutive visitor:

This young Dekay's brown snake (Storeria dekayi), not to be confused with Australia's eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) which is venomous enough to kill Wyoming, was in very unfriendly surroundings- the cool, smooth basement tiles really aren't conducive to the health and happiness of an ectotherm which gets about in a legless fashion.

I was reluctant to pick up the snake, out of fear of harming it (gotta watch that grip strength), so I tried to coax the little thing to climb onto my hand... the snake's impulse was to try to take shelter under my hand. Our brown snakes are known as city snakes, they thrive in an urban environment, even one as congested as New York City, largely because they can shelter under all sorts of debris, including big, meaty hands.

I ended up picking up the snake, as gingerly as I could, and placed it outside in a nearby patch of Pachysandra. Before placing it in its new digs, I hastily snapped a picture, the quality of which is not so great due to my haste and the somewhat poor lighting:

I was careful to place the snake on the other side of the building from this fine critter, I really don't want my new friend getting eaten by one of my old friends.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dark Horse, or White Horse?

If there's one redeeming feature of Mormons, it's their aversion to threats to religious freedom for adherents of minority faiths, an aversion born while the Mormons were hounded until they migrated to Utah by the dominant cultures of 19th Century America. Distaste for Donald Trump is even jeopardizing the once-reliable Mormon Republican vote. Of course, it must be mentioned that the Mormons did back California's hideous Proposition 8 , and they still tend to vote Republican.

Because of Mormon distaste for Trump, elements of the Never Trump wing of the GOP have put forth cipher Evan McMullin as an alternative candidate. Mullin is pretty much a Dark Horse candidate, pretty much a complete unknown... or is he a White Horse? Mitt Romney failed to be the 'one mighty and strong', could McMullin be the McMulligan, the Mormon hero do-over? Since it's too late for him to gain ballot access in crucial states, McMullin's campaign is a non-starter. No white horse for this dark horse...

McMullin is pretty much a bog-standard establishment Republican, he's just a lot more polished and polite than Vulgarmort. McMullin is the nice, well-scrubbed co-religionist who's been proposed as an alternative in order to keep the rank-and-file Mormon voters from becoming Dem-curious. He's like the 'nice boy' blind date concerned conservative parents set up for their probable-lesbian daughter... "You're not really into voting Democratic, you just haven't met the right candidate yet."

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Let Them Eat Play-Doh

Via Tengrain (I seem to be relying on him for blog-inspiration a lot lately), we have pictures of Donald Trump handing out cases of Play-Doh to survivors of the recent Louisiana floods:

Generally speaking, if you are going to disrupt a relief effort in order to have a photo op, it's best to hand out actual emergency supplies rather than Play-Doh. While Play-Doh is, strictly speaking, edible, it is not a foodstuff and really shouldn't be eaten unless one is in extremis. Maybe Trump thinks it's what the lower classes eat, probably because his fans are a bunch of paste-eaters, but "let them eat Play-Doh" shows a callousness beyond that attributed to Marie-Antoinette, at least she was said to enjoin the peasants to eat real food.

Friday, August 19, 2016

This 'Free Range Children' Movement Has Gone Too Far

A few years back, the whole 'Free-Range Kids' philosophy was all the rage. I can sympathize with the idea, growing up we had a lot of free time- in the summer, we were allowed to play outside until sundown, and our mom would ring a big brass bell to summon us to dinner, which usually lasted until after 10PM. We were ramblers and rough-housers, with parental supervision typically being stringent only in the case of academics. Mom knew she raised us with ethical standards, so she wasn't afraid of us having the run of the neighborhood. That being said, as Tengrain reveals, the free-range kids thing can go too far:

It's a cookbook!!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Non-binary Competition?

It was with great interest that I read about Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was born intersex. Being a science-nerd, I have to point out that human genetics is a lot more complicated than most individuals think, and that the binary gender model, while applying to most people, is not sufficient to explain the full range of human sexual phenotypes. When one intently researches human genetics, one encounters individuals with XYY genomes, chimerae who have two separate genomes, and intersex individuals of various genetic origin.

My personal feeling is that the binary model of men's and women's athletics may be outdated. Perhaps a competitive model which groups cohorts of competitors by testosterone levels and muscle mass without assigning individuals to a particular gender is the best solution. I don't think, though, that the conservative International Olympic Committee would be willing to do that anytime soon. By not separating competitors into a female/male binary, perhaps coverage of women's athletes wouldn't be so damn sexist.