Slack. More slack.

I’ve been slipping up. Our local grocery store, Willie’s, only reluctantly and belatedly started insisting on customers and staff wearing masks, which was why we’ve been driving an hour each way to do our shopping. But lately I’ve been ducking into Willie’s for quick items — like today, I was hoping for a fresh salad for dinner tonight, and taking a few hours to get that was too much. They’ve also been much better about requiring the workers to mask up.

But today…four separate clueless idiots wandering the aisles, maskless, and no one said a word. I guess we’re going back to driving long distances to find stores with responsible management, because this place is not trustworthy.

Are we ever going to get out of this pandemic mess? Not at this rate.

“I, a 38 year old man, was dating/not dating a 17 year old girl”

Well, this isn’t surprising. Matt Gaetz is under investigation for a relationship with a 17 year old teenager.

The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz — a Florida Republican considered a close political ally of former president Donald Trump — over an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl, according to people familiar with the matter, though the probe has been complicated by the congressman’s assertion that his family is being extorted.

The investigation into Gaetz began some time last year, when Trump was still in office, after a criminal case against a different Florida politician led investigators to allegations that the congressman had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travel, a person familiar with the matter said on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. As that probe was underway, the person said, Gaetz’s family raised allegations that the congressman was being extorted, and the FBI is separately exploring those claims.

“Under investigation” does not mean he’s guilty, of course. There could be an innocent explanation. What’s suspicious, though, is his response. He went on Tucker Carlson, and his argument was: a) Hey, Tucker, you were once falsely accused, too; b) he denied that he travelled with a 17 year old and had travel records to prove it, and c) someone tried to extort $25 million from his daddy to hide the evidence.

That’s just weird. Trying to recruit Carlson as a supporter is irrelevant; that Carlson might have been falsely accused does not mean Gaetz is also innocent. No one thinks that being on a plane with a teenager is a crime. The accusations have emerged out of a federal investigation of a sex trafficker, so what he should have denied was that he was dating or had sex with her, which he didn’t do. Was he dating someone less than half his age or not? The next phase in his denial is right here:

What really mystifies me, though, is why is the extortionist running to Daddy Gaetz? Matt Gaetz is 38 years old and presumably an autonomous adult human being. If I were trying to blackmail or extort money from a victim, I’d go straight to them, terrify them with my wicked claims, and let them go running to a big-money source.

It’s all very strange. I’m sure more info will be emerging. Perhaps Gaetz will consult with a competent lawyer and come out with a logical, coherent explanation. Although it seems he’s sounding out an alternative strategy.

Separately, Axios reported Tuesday that Gaetz was telling confidants he was contemplating not seeking reelection and possibly leaving his post early for a job at Newsmax, a conservative media outlet.

Sad day in the lab

With great sorrow, I must report the passing of a member of the lab family. This beautiful golden spider my wife caught in Colorado in January of 2020 is no more. She was the wrong species, Steatoda triangulosa, for the work I’m trying to do, but I kept her around because she was lovely and vivacious, with her golden color and zig-zag stripes, and she was always eager to kill anything I put in her cage. She’s so pretty her picture is my cell phone screen.

I’d noticed she was a bit lethargic lately, and wouldn’t respond to flies in her web. Yesterday, she was slumped low in her cobweb — they usually favor a high position — and was only feebly responsive to a gentle touch. Today, I found her corpse lying on the floor, legs curled inward.

It’d been a year and a quarter since she was caught as a fully grown adult, so she may have been a year and a half, possibly even just shy of two years old. That’s a long, long life for these little spiders.

Could you be a little less obvious in your hints, Death?

I mentioned before that there is a company that has a “natural organic reduction” process that allows them to compost dead bodies. That’s great! Sign me up! Also, curiously, the company is based in Kent, Washington, the town where I grew up — they have a discreet warehouse in downtown Kent with 10 vessels for processing corpses.

Now I grew up in Kent. However, my parents moved to Auburn, Washington while I was away for my first year of college (they thought they were so clever, but I had a quarter of a bachelor’s degree and was so smart that I managed to track them down). My mother still lives in Auburn, as do several of my brothers and sisters, so it’s kind of a second hometown to me.

Which makes it a little weird that a second, larger composting facility has opened in Auburn.

What happens next is analogous with composting. In this case, the mix and the body reach a temperature just south of 140 degrees, which is almost cooking heat. The process is aerobic, meaning oxygen flows continuously in and out of the vessel. It takes the microbes in the body and puts them on hyper-drive, making them work incredibly fast. Typically, it takes many years to get that done, leaving behind soil.

“It’s what nature meant us to do. We just do it faster,” Truman said.

Carefully-trained technicians monitor the process. An air-filtration system informally called “The Octopus,” which is attached to all 72 pods, carries the odors to a machine where they are treated.

Within a month, the body is gone, leaving only the bones, which workers reduce and then return to the soil in the pod.

Wait, a key part of the system is called “The Octopus”? Is fate sending me a message, calling me home? But I’m not ready yet!

This could be me, in the distant future, I hope.

I have a sense of dread over the Chauvin trial

As I’m sure you all know, the trial of the cop who murdered George Floyd is going on in Minneapolis right now. I’ve been watching it out of the side of my eye because the whole thing is ominous. What is worrying me is that Chauvin is indefensible, and his lawyers are floundering, and the prosecutors are firing on all cylinders. Everything appearing in the conventional media is uncompromising.

The witnesses are so damned effective. They brought in a series of teenagers who witnessed the killing and the casual disregard of the cops for the life of that black victim. It’s horrifying testimony.

“When I look at George Floyd, I look at look at my dad. I look at my brother. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black,” Frazier said. “I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them.”

“It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologized to George Floyd for not doing more,” she added. “And not physically interacting.”

Shortly before she was dismissed from the stand, Frazier added that she tries not to blame herself or the other bystanders for what happened to Floyd.

“It’s not what I should have done,” she said, before referencing Chauvin, seated several feet away in the courtroom. “It’s what he should have done.”

The defense line is that Chauvin was “distracted” by a violent mob and that it’s the fault of the witnesses that he didn’t release pressure on Floyd’s neck, and tried to portray them as a milling gang of thugs threatening the police.

You may think that it’s a good thing, that Chauvin is going down, that justice will be done.

Let me remind you of the usual fate of cops arrested for murder.

In the United States between 2005 and 2020, of the 42 nonfederal police officers convicted following their arrest for murder due to an on-duty shooting, only five ended up being convicted of murder. The most common offense these officers were convicted of was the lesser charge of manslaughter, with 11 convictions.

I see this as a crap shoot. The end result is going to hinge on the decision of a jury that has spent a lifetime soaking in the rancid broth of white supremacy and implicit racism, and is going to be, in many cases, trying to find excuses for Chauvin, and will be looking longingly at convicting him for lesser charges. The more powerful the prosecution, the stronger the public reaction if he gets nothing but a slap on the wrist.

I’m afraid that if Chauvin is not convicted of murder, Minneapolis is going to erupt in righteous outrage (this is not an argument that he should be convicted to satisfy the public). There will be demonstrations all over the place. Freeways will be blocked by protesters. I will join in the protests. Remember: no justice, no peace.

I sure would like some peace.

The mantle has passed

Our new representative for modern atheism that will scare the fundagelicals pantsless is a gay black man, Lil Nas X.

I’ve never been as heretical as that. I approve.

Although the stupid shoe is ugly and overpriced, I appreciate that he’s just thumbing his nose at corporate exploitation, and his apology was excellent.

Between Lil Nas X and Cardi B, the Christian Right is suffering from apoplexy. Good work!

Lab time, and a whatsis

Yesterday, Mary startled a jumping spider which had been hiding under a mysterious small object. That object was also attached to the wall of our house by strands of spider silk. Is it an egg sac? I put it under the microscope, and no, it is not.

It is something tiny, about 2mm long, and botanical. I know nothing of botany. It is not a spider thing, which is enough for me.

While I was in the lab anyway, I tended to the spiders, who are all doing fine. Here’s one just relaxing in a spider-like way.

[Read more…]

Glenn. What happened to you, man?

I used to appreciate Glenn Greenwald, back in the Bush years when he was a loud voice against the American war machine, defender of Chelsea Manning, etc. But then he got weird, and in his efforts to oppose the Establishment became increasingly aligned with what were fringe political perspectives that have since become mainstream Republicanism, and he never seemed to notice. He resigned from the Intercept because he thought they were neglecting marginal voices.

On Thursday, Greenwald penned a lengthy resignation letter ripping the publication he helped co-found, saying it is “completely unrecognizable” from its creation in 2014.

“Rather than offering a venue for airing dissent, marginalized voices and unheard perspectives, it is rapidly becoming just another media outlet with mandated ideological and partisan loyalties,” Greenwald wrote on Thursday.

So now, to avoid those “mandated ideological and partisan loyalties”, he has decided that the “marginalized voice and unheard perspective” he must support is that of… Tucker Carlson?

It’s good to see that I’m not the only one who has been dismayed by his strange and obvious rightward turn — not just a turn, by a headlong rush into the arms of Carlson and Jimmy Dore and other pundits who try to pretend to be brave centrists while parroting the Republican party line.

At this point, Greenwald seems to have almost no ideology besides reflexive contrarianism. Perhaps this is simply the end result of spending hours on Twitter every day for years, or spending two (or four?) years focused laser-like on the Russia inquiry. His incessant—and often finely detailed, and articulate—criticisms have transformed the man into a kind of fanatic.

More problematic, obviously, this tendency towards contrarian criticism has increasingly aligned him with the far right. Some of this can clearly be chalked up to the simplification of information within the context of social media; self-reinforcing media bubbles are created. But we pick our bubbles, and Greenwald appears to be comfortable with his niche.

It is worth noting that the rhetorical overlap between Greenwald and the far right was always there, but could, in the past, usually be plausibly discounted as both-sides hostility towards a corrupt elite—consider the comparisons between Trump and Bernie. Or at least that’s how I felt. No longer. Take a look at Greenwald’s Twitter feed, which reads as an unending stream of right-wing grievance against cultural liberalism, and/or specific and almost exclusive amplification of right-wing media.

Right now, he is just another media pundit with “mandated ideological and partisan loyalties” of the kind he deplored — and worse, he has incomprehensibly hitched his star to the wagon of Trumpism and far right conservatism. I’d say that’s too bad, but after four years of incontrovertible empirical evidence that that political wing is incompetent and evil, I just have to say … screw him.

People, it’s not over yet

Do I need to announce this every day? The pandemic is not over. If you drop your guard, it can still get you.

New coronavirus cases in the United States continued to rise in the past week, jumping by as much as 12 percent nationwide, as senior officials implored Americans to stick to public health measures to help reverse the trend.

The seven-day average of new cases topped 63,000 for the first time in nearly a month, according to data compiled by The Washington Post, while states such as Michigan, Vermont and North Dakota reported substantial spikes in new infections. The nation appeared poised for a fourth wave of illness even as vaccine eligibility is expanding in many states.

Michigan led the nation in new cases with a 57 percent rise over the past week. The state, which relaxed covid-related restrictions earlier this month, also reported the largest increase in coronavirus hospitalizations, which grew by more than 47 percent.

The virus is still circulating everywhere. You’re swimming in it. The prevalence is still high, so even if you personally have been vaccinated, the virus still has tentacles of infection everywhere. We aren’t really safe until almost everyone is safe. Right now, I’ve got students going into quarantine and dropping out of our ongoing genetics experiment, and it’s not the kind of thing where you can take a few weeks to recover and pick up where you left off — the flies keep doing their thing whether you show up to analyze them or not. So I’m suddenly faced with a need to make all kinds of accommodations, and hope that enough students stay healthy that we can carry through to the end. This does not feel like the pandemic is over. It feels a lot like March of last year, when so many students were getting sick that we had to shut down the lab for the remainder of the term.

Meanwhile, we got people like the Libertarians of Kentucky, who make odious comparisons between more pandemic safety and the Holocaust.

Right. We’ve got a country full of assholes who consider the ability to spread disease to be an essential part of “human liberty”.

Everyone who is not a selfish, entitled git: get vaccinated, get tested, wear a mask, maintain social distancing, don’t start partying in bars just yet.

Good news, everybody! Beelzebub has come to town!

Mary kicked me out of the house this afternoon — she told me to get some exercise, I’ve been moping around the house too much, she said, or at least, implied — so I went for a walk with my camera. I discovered…

Yay! Lots of flies on the ground, on the trees on the walls (not so much flying, though, it’s pretty windy today). Beelzebub has arrived! And you know what that means, boys and girls?

The Lord’s holy angels, his minions of righteousness, the noble spiders, will be arriving soon to smite them! Praise the Arachnida! Can I get an “AMEN!”?