Thursday, May 06, 2021

Delayed reaction to Laura Italiano's delayed reaction

It's been over a week now since the news hit the news that NY Post reporter Laura Italiano resigned because she'd been "ordered" to create some fake news. That fake news was an article making the claim that undocumented children arriving in the US were being given a goody bag that included Kamala Harris' 2019 kids' book, Superheroes Are Everywhere

Superheroes everywhere? Ah, would that it were true. 

Anyway, here's some of how the real news on the fake news came out:

“The Kamala Harris story — an incorrect story I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against — was my breaking point,” Laura Italiano tweeted Tuesday [April 27th] afternoon, several hours after her viral article about the books had been deleted from the Post’s website and replaced with corrected versions. (Source: Washington Post)

The real news behind the fake news was that some folks in Long Beach, California, had run a drive to collect items - clothing, toys, books - to be stuffed into 'welcome kits' for these poor kiddos, and someone donated a copy of the VP's book. 

By the time Italiano spilled the tea, her story had been out for a few days and the right-wing rage factory -  including Fox "News", ultra-righties like Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep Jim Jordan, and the amazingly awful Ronna Romney McDaniel of the amazingly awful RNC - had been in the highest of dudgeon-y dudgeons. The braying was predictable. Can you imagine if a Republican had squandered taxpayer money to buy a book like this? Is Harris personally profiting from Joe Biden's border crisis?

Also by the time Italiano spilled the tea: the Washington Post Fact Checker had debunked her story.

So her reaction was just a tad bit delayed. 

It goes without saying that I can, of course, imagine a Republican squandering taxpayer money on all sorts of pocket-lining grifts. It pretty much also goes without saying that The New York Post, a right-wing rag that used to be NYC's ultra-liberal tabloid, is owned by none other than Rupert Murdoch.

And, of course, there is something so delish about McDaniel moaning and huffing about whether or not Harris was making bank if not illicitly, then sneakily.

McDaniel’s tweet is somewhat ironic. The Washington Post reported this month that the RNC used more than $400,000 in donated funds last year to buy copies of books written by Republican authors, potentially generating royalty payments.

Laura Italiano has been at The Post for over 20 years. Given that, it can't have been easy to up and leave. And especially given that newspaper jobs are drying up. Still, one would have wished that, rather than her delayed reaction to this issue, she'd spoken up right away. 

Easier said than done, of course. Giving up a paycheck? Outing the colleague who would have been forced to write the false story in her stead if she refused to do the deed? Exposing an organization that you presumably liked, if not loved. Even if it is The Post. Which does have its moments. It's not all tawdry BS. 

Twenty year is a long time. In stay-in-one-job terms, it's an eternity. Infinity and beyond. 

And Laura Italiano is no kid, either. (Her Linkedin profile is pretty sparse, but if she's been at The Post for 20+ years, she's at least in her mid-forties.) So, harder to look for and find a new gig, when newspaper employment is contracting.

So if quitting isn't exactly a profile in courage - or what passes for such these days - it ain't nothing. 

She does have at least one iron in the work fire: a musical.

PERP! is the brainchild of New York Post editor, writer and crime reporter Laura Italiano, who, in true Tabloid fashion, has been living a secret double life as a Thespian.

PERP! is a full-length book musical for six actors, and is currently under development, with Laura writing the book, music and lyrics and longtime arranger-collaborator Dewey Fleszar valiantly turning her cryptic pencil scrawlings into sheet music.

PERP! has had three developmental readings in NYC, including an Equity Cast Reading for the New Works Series of Emerging Artists Theatre. (Source: PERP!)

Not that this is likely to turn into anything, or at least anything that makes any money. (Plot: sweet Midwestern young naif finds herself in court, accused of being a serial puppy killer.) But it's still something.  

So good luck, Laura Italiano. However delayed your reaction, you broke whatever code of silence keeps journalists from speaking out/freaking out when they're required to write fake news. Now you've got time to focus on PERP! Why don't you go out and break a leg! 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Move over, Mayflower descendants

I read somewhere that there are 30 million folks who can trace their roots back to the Mayflower. Even after 400 years, this still sounds pretty wild, given that there were only 102 passengers and 30 crew members. Whether it's true or not, I'm 100% certain that I'm not one of the 30 million (or whatever the actual number is) descendants of the Mayflower.

My Irish antecedents - four paternal great-grandparents - emigrated in the 1870's. My German antecedents are a lot more recent. My grandparents, my toddler mother in tow, came over in the 1920's. Not much ante in that cedent! 

Years ago, I took my young nieces on a tour of a replica of the Mayflower, which is tied up in Plymouth Harbor, a stone's throw from Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims most likely didn't step their first toe in the New World in 1620. Make that most likely impossible that their first land onto new world land, given that the Pilgrims had first come ashore in Provincetown. 

What I remember most about the Mayflower was how compact the ship was. (Sorry: couldn't resist; Mayflower Compact? Get it now?) This tiny primitive boat, crammed full of people, heading into the unknown.

In comparison, my Irish great-grandparents, and my German grandparents and mother, came over in relative luxury. Comparatively speaking, their experiences, while not exactly luxe, was probably closer to what one might experience on the Queen Mary than to what was suffered by the Mayflower-ees.

While on their way, the Pilgrims had to contend with rough waters. Cold. (The Mayflower left England in early September 1620, and arrived on these shores in mid-December - just in time for a good old fashioned New England winter. During which nearly half of the new arrivals perished.) Spoiled water. Ghastly food. Scurvy all round. Sea sickness galore. Boredom. Rats. 

And I can't begin to imagine what the Mayflower smelled like. I suspect that, back in the day, folks went nose-blind pretty quickly.

And yet enough of them survived to spawn, over the centuries, 30 million descendants. Alright, alright, alright.

They'll be getting more company from a different branch. Only these descendants won't exactly be human. They'll be more advanced technologies that are spawned by all the sensors, analytical tools, and AI that's manning the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (AS). The Mayflower 400 is heading this way soon, coming across the Atlantic with nary a captain nor crew member on board. 

As the good ship next-gen Mayflower makes it from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, it will be "the first unmanned vessel to navigate its own way across the Atlantic Ocean." (The ship is also referred to as the  Mayflower 400 because its voyage was supposed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the original Mayflower
The vessel has artificial intelligence technology and in-built computer systems to measure sea levels, the chemical content of the ocean, and record audio to track whale populations.

The goal is that autonomous ships like the Mayflower 400 will allow the collection of much more data than manned vessels alone - and be far less expensive...

The ship will be monitored from land using the cameras and sensors aboard and can be remotely controlled in an emergency. The AI-trained "captain" - the vessel's onboard computer - has been trained using thousands of images and collision avoidance rules that it gradually learns from.(Source: EuroNews)

This is all completely cool and interesting. Sure, Mayflower AS might run into terrible weather and rough seas. But there'll be no rats, seasickness, or scurvy. The place won't stink. 

No Plymouth Rock to disembark onto, but that's no great loss. I hope the landlubbers monitoring the trip will at least break out into an occasional sea chanties.

Meanwhile, I wish the good ship Mayflower AS fair winds and following seas. 

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

How much is that doggy up for lease now? The one with the waggly tail?

Honestly. I really do want to get a dog. I just haven't gotten around to it. Yet. Which is not surprising, given that there are plenty of other things I haven't gotten around to. Yet. And that medium-long list includes filing my taxes for 2020. (I've got until May 17th. What's the hurry?)

But I do have dog hunger, and am happy to live in a doggy building, where there are four doggos to pet.

The one I know best is Frankie, some sort of yellow lab mix mutt who was rescued from South Carolina last year. He's still a pup - maybe a year old - and until my friend and neighbor, Brian, acquired him, he'd never been indoors

I usually see Frankie every day, at least for a quick hello and scratch under the chin (his, not mine). He is most definitely a cutenik. 

Frankie is a funny bunny. For one thing, for a dog who started out on Tobacco Road, Frankie is pretty fussy when it comes to snacks. When Brian told me that the Frank-ster preferred soft chicken snacks, I got the best ones that CVS had to offer. Frankie turned his snout up at them. (I don't blame him: they smelled pretty nasty.)

So I went to the South End Polka Dog, part of a small Boston pet store chain that specializes in handcrafted, artisanal dog treats. There, I bought two types of handcrafted, artisanal dog treats. Frankie doesn't like either. 

Fortunately, Frito, an ancient, roly-poly chihuahua who doesn't live here but visits frequently, is fine with anything. So I get to unload some of the handcrafted, artisanal dog treats when he blows in. 

Still, it amazes me that Frankie is such a snack snob.

Nonetheless, I'm quite fond of him and enjoy my daily mini-visits with him.

The other day, headed out for a walk, I ran into Brian and Frank and volunteered to take Franko out for a spin. Brian a) warned me that Frank's a tugger, and b) couldn't find the harness leash. So out I went with a regular old leash, and quickly found out that Frank is, indeed, a tugger. At one point, I thought he was going to pull my shoulder out of its socket. Not to mention that he's not yet fixed, so he feels the need to squirt on every street light, trash bin, bush, wrought iron fence, and bush that he comes across. 

Other than that, it was a very pleasant walk: a beautiful day, out with a cute dog. 

What's not to like?

When I do get around to getting my dog, I'll be happy with a rescue like Frank or a breeder-bought dog (in which case: Lab). My only rules are no pit bulls and no little yappers. And although I'm not going to deny that cuteness doesn't matter,  the dog in my future doesn't have to be as cute as Frankie.

What I will not be doing is going to a pet store to purchase the doggy in the window, the one with the waggly tail. 

And the last thing I'd ever do was lease a dog, a practice that I had never heard of until I saw an article the other day about a couple of (where-else) Nevada-based companies that:

...waived dog-lease balances totaling more than $126,000 after they allegedly illegally leased dogs in Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office announced Thursday...Dog leases function similarly to those of cars where the consumer is required to make monthly payments for the duration of the lease before making a final payment and taking ownership of the dog. If a dog owner misses a payment, the dog could be repossessed by the pet store, Healey’s office said. (Source: Boston Globe)

These outfits were violating Massachusetts law, which forbids dog leases in our fair commonwealth, in part because the interest rates charged our pretty hefty - in some cases more than doubling the cost of the pet. Not to mention that it's just plain awful, all the way around, if a leased dog - as opposed to a leashed dog - is repossessed. 

The good news for anyone who bought their pup through a retailer and took out one of these leases is that any balances owed are now wiped out. Plus any payments made since January 1st are being refunded. And everyone gets to keep their dog. 

I understand why someone would want to get a dog. This year especially, there's been a huge demand for them. When I checked last fall with the area's largest rescue shelter (the place where my sister had gotten her late, beloved rescue Jack) they'd closed their waiting list. That list had 14,000 names on it. 

So you want a dog. There are no rescues. Going to a breeder for a healthy pure-bred dog is a costly proposition. But you want a dog. And that leaves dog-napping or the pet store in the mall. (Not that pet store dogs are cheap; they're just likely to be less expensive than a dog raised by an AKC breeder - as long as you don't factor in the finances charges)

When it comes to acquiring a dog, pet stores do have some advantages (however dubious those advantages might be). They're more convenient that seeking out a good breeder. There's no background checking. And you can make an impulse buy. 

While I would never go the pet shop route, I get why someone looking for a dog might walk by some pet shop and fall in love with the doggy in the window. Even if that doggy in the window is likely to be a poorly bred puppy mill pupper with health and temperament issues just around the corner. And if you can't afford the upfront costs and someone offers you a lease, and you really want that dog, I'm sure it's pretty easy to take on a lease.  

And leasing fits with the overall leasing/renting vs. owning trend. People rent clothing for fancy occasions, rent hats for British weddings. I know a ton of people who lease their cars rather than purchase them outright. 

But that's a hat. That's a car. 

Not a love-bug doggo who becomes part of the family. Sure, it's not as bad as leasing a kid. But it's right up there.

There's a common meme on Twitter that goes "we don't deserve dogs."

And dogs sure don't deserve to get accustomed to a home and then get ripped out of it when their owners can't make the rent payments. 

A big arf and a woof of tail-wagging approval to our AG Maura Healey. 

Monday, May 03, 2021

Bwana Wayne LaPierre, failed big game hunter

IMHO, there's not much to like about Wayne LaPierre. On the contrary, there's plenty to despise about the fellow who heads the odious and malign National Rifle Association. This is, after all, the man who, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre of so many sweet little ones, told those of us clamoring for some gun regulations (we were all thinking if not now, when?) that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Even, I guess, if that good guy with a gun would need to have been a first grader. 

Wayne LaPierre. What's not to despise?

As I've said many times - in fact, just a week or so ago - I am not anti-gun. If people want to go deer hunting, fine. I eat meat, too. If people want a handgun for "protection", have at it: just make sure your kids can't get at it. But our rabid gun culture is beyond belief. And I really hate those hunts where "hunters" kill nearly-penned in animals. Where they use assault rifles to do their dirty deed. And when they murder non-game animals - like elephants - for the hell of it.

In any case, I wasn't surprised to learn that it's just come out that, a year after Sandy Hook, LaPierre went to Botswana to bag an African bush elephant, "the largest land mammal on Earth."

The trip was filmed by a crew from “Under Wild Skies,” an N.R.A.-sponsored television series that was meant to boost the organization’s profile among hunters—a key element of its donor base. But the program never aired, according to sources and records, because of concerns that it could turn into a public-relations fiasco. (Source: The New Yorker)

That fiasco would have come about because it turns out that Bwana Wayne is not much of a shot: 

After LaPierre’s first shot wounded the elephant, guides brought him a short distance from the animal, which was lying on its side, immobilized. Firing from point-blank range, LaPierre shot the animal three times in the wrong place. Finally, a guide had the host of “Under Wild Skies” fire the shot that killed the elephant. Later that day, Susan LaPierre showed herself to be a better shot than her husband. After guides tracked down an elephant for her, Susan killed it, cut off its tail, and held it in the air. “Victory!” she shouted, laughing. “That’s my elephant tail. Way cool.”

"Way cool," huh? Have I already used the words odious and malign?

I have long suspected that Wayne LaPierre isn't exactly a gun nut. He was born in Schenectady. His father worked for GE as an accountant. He went to Siena College, then Boston College. Not that you can't have a conversion experience, but none of this suggests someone primed and ready to become a big time gun aficionado. More the cynical executive type, who knows a good thing when he sees it. And he saw a good (ka-ching) thing in the NRA. 

As we learned during the NRA bankruptcy trial (oh, boo-hoo), and from other legal findings, Wayne likes living in the lap of luxury. It has been revealed, among other things, that the NRA dressed Wayne in $300K worth of Ermenegildo Zegna over the course of 14 years.

All the while, the NRA was running ads saying that:

...the group’s coalition includes “steelworkers,” “cowboys,” “hard-rock miners,” “swamp folks in Cajun country who can wrestle a full-grown gator out of the water,” “the mountain men who live off the land,” and “the brave cops who fight the good fight in the urban war zones.”

Do hard-rock miners and swamp folks wear $4,000 suits? Asking for a friend. 

Wayne didn't wear Zegna on his safari:

The footage of LaPierre in Botswana first shows him walking through the bush dressed in loose-fitting safari attire and an NRA Sports baseball cap. 

The everyman's gear didn't improve his hunting skills much. 

He got off a shot, but it was ill timed and wasn't a shoot to kill. The animal was still alive. The guide brings him over to finish things off, but Wayne shoots the poor creature in the wrong place. He shoots again and misses. Despite the fact that the guides are guiding him every step of the way. Then there's another misguided miss. A friend accompanying the expedition finishes the elephant off.

“That’s it,” the guide declares, before turning to the N.R.A. chief to congratulate him.

Congratulate him for what, exactly? Maybe you had to be there.

The friend who actually killed the elephant has nothing but praise for his buddy: 

“You dropped him like no tomorrow.”

Well, no tomorrow for the elephant, anyway. 

As noted, his wife Susan was a better shot:

“That was amazing,” Susan says, patting her chest. “Wow. My heart is racing. I feel great.” She walks over to the elephant. “That was awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.” She inspects the elephant, bends at the waist, and seems to think the elephant is still alive. “Aww, he’s still there. Look at his eyes.” She places her hand on her chest, laughs, walks around the elephant, and pats one of its tusks. “Beautiful animal,” she says, and then, speaking to the elephant, “You’re a good old guy. A real good old guy.”
She grows emotional and appears to choke up, then asks a guide about the elephant’s age.“Must be close to fifty years old, I would say,” the guide says. “You think so?” she asks. “That’s exactly what I wanted. An old bull. Near the end of his age.”

Wayne LaPierre is 71, so Susan has another old bull on her hands. Or maybe he's just an old bullshitter.

I hope he's good and embarrassed that this video has finally come out. It would be too much to hope that he'd be good and ashamed. 

Anyway, this whole scene is another elephant on the table of the NRA: their big dog, Bwana Wayne LaPierre, can't hunt.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Unmasking Day

This is me. Out for a walk early last April. When masks were recommended but not yet fully mandated. That came in early May of 2020.

I am wearing a primitive mask, fashioned - following instructions found on YouTube - out of a linen table napkin and rubber bands. None of the masks I'd ordered (in a frenzy) from Etsy had arrived yet, and my friend Joe hadn't yet dropped off a box of the blue "hospital style" masks for me.

Each day, I tracked the many Etsy vendors I'd ordered from. Everything was back-ordered. Shipping dates were vague - or well in the future.

I made another DIY mask, this time using a bandana and rubber bands.

My sister Trish got out her sewing machine and made me a couple: a nice red plaid and another using a remnant of the blue-butterfly-on-cream-background material my mother had used to make me a cute little cotton jumper when I was in college. Fifty years ago.

Trish drove the masks into Boston, and I had a masked, curb-side meeting with her and my niece Molly. I gave them a packet of off-brand Walgreen's toilet paper I'd managed to scrounge.

I kept checking on Etsy for the whereabouts of all the masks I'd ordered. For the black cotton knits with the ear loops. For the black cotton knits with the grey stripe down the middle. The white cotton ones with the double elastics that reminded me of the scratching bras I'd worn in high school. (My family didn't yet have a dryer. Those bras came off the line stiff. It was painful to put one on, until your body warmed it up.) Everything was backordered. Everything was delayed. I pictured Etsy-ers around the country frantically running their sewing machines to take advantage of the bonanza demand for masks.

On Amazon, I ordered a couple of gaiters for my brother, figuring they would be easier to get on, given that he wears a hearing aid. They weren't. I ordered boxes of the "hospital blues" for myself, my brother, my cousin. Some latex gloves while I was at it.

The Etsy masks began to arrive. And I now had some of the disposables. 

Even in the worst, early days of the pandemic, I took a walk every day. Most of the days, I recall as overcast and gloomy. 

No one was out. Just me and my homemade - and later Etsy - mask.

Other than on weekends, if it were nice out, there was no one on the Esplanade. It was a bit scary. I stopped walking there. No one was in the Public Garden, either. It wasn't as scary, but I mostly stopped walking there, too. Other than on weekends.

When I walked downtown on my infrequent trips to the grocery store, there was no one about, other than menacing men approaching me for money. I took to carrying a supply of five-dollar bills. I couldn't blame any of these guys for not wanting to go into a shelter. They had deathtrap written all over them.

On the sidewalk near Government Center, I didn't step out of the way fast enough, or in the right direction, for the hefty, late middle-aged man barreling towards me on a bicycle. We both swerved, avoiding a collision. He called me a "fucking ho." (He was a white guy, by the way.) Me? A "fucking ho?" Right.

I took to walking only on streets where there was a bit of activity. I paced up and down Charles Street, and when I was feeling more adventurous, I walked on Boylston.

There weren't many people out walking. Everyone had on a mask. When I made a rare sighting of a mask-less person, I thought to myself: out-of-stater, Trumpist.

I bought a nice mask at a gift shop on Charles Street: a scene of the Boston Public Garden. Almost too nice to wear.

I ordered a couple of Red Sox masks. One barely fits. They must have sent me kiddo-size by mistake. The other is high end - made by the same folks (47 Brand) who make all the ball caps.

As fall approached, I ordered a bunch more masks from Etsy: Halloween themed (jack-o'lantern, candy corn). Christmas/winter themed (snowflakes, holly, a fun scene of Christmas shoppers). One with a tri-color shamrock for St. Patrick's Day. 

On Zazzle, I "designed" and ordered some masks with the Christmas in the City logo and mailed them out to some fellow volunteers. (Christmas in the City is a Boston-charity that is primarily focused on holiday events for families living in shelters or otherwise in need.) I made a few more up, which one of my fellow volunteers "sold" in exchange for a donation to CITC, so we raised a bit of money for the cause.

Wearing a mask was a drag. I could breathe just fine, but no matter what trick I tried - a small wad of kleenex, a foam press-on nose strip -  half the time my glasses fogged up and I ended up taking them off. 

I yearned for the day when the mask requirement would be lifted.

Monday evening, I headed out for a little spin around the 'hood to top off my mileage for the day. I was halfway down the block when I realized I'd gone out without wearing a mask. I bolted back home for it. I didn't want anyone to think I was an out of towner, an anti-vaxxer, a Trumpist.

Boston, at least where I am, has been about 99.9999% mask compliant. It has been rare and startling to see anyone without a mask on. But things were starting to crack. I'd occasionally - but still rarely - see people, usually couples, about my age, going mask less on their walks. And they didn't look like out of towners, anti-vaxxers, Trumpists. 

Still, I remained cautious. Compliant. 

On Tuesday, the CDC announced that it was okay (if you were vaxxed, and I am!) to be outside without a mask on. Masks off! Immediately!

For some reason - power move? - our governor, Charlie Baker, decreed that the mask requirement wouldn't be lifted until Friday, April 30th. No reason given. No why it was medically important to wait until Friday. Just because.

But there really didn't seem to be any compelling reason to wait. So on Wednesday, I decided to venture out mask-less. 

It felt liberating. It felt good. It also felt a bit edgy, deviant. That also felt good.

It was rainy and gloomy when I began my walk. I barely passed a soul. Other than for a fellow about my age who walked by mask-free, his mask dangling from his wrist. "Feels pretty good, doesn't it?" I said. "Sure does," he replied, smiling. Later on during my walk, the sun was burning through. On the Esplanade I passed more folks without masks. Most were like me: old geezers who I assume were fully vaxxed. We all smiled and nodded as we passed each other. 

Some of the runners out were going mask-free, as well.

Who cares?

When I got back to Charles Street, where it's more crowded, I did put my mask back on.

Everyone was wearing one, other than this one 50-ish guy - beefy, florid-faced, sockless loafers: looked like a classic aging DB - who was swaggering down the street without a mask on. Trumpist, for sure.

The pandemic isn't over-over. We're still a long way, especially if the know-nothing anti-vaxxers persist in their stupidity and the covid variants take off.  And I'm going to be wearing a mask when I'm in a store for the foreseeable future. Maybe even beyond that. 

But it's starting to look like the beginning of the end. 

So happy to be able to celebrate Unmasking Day, even though I jumped the gun on it a bit. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Robots? Human-ape hybrids? What do you want replacing you?

On the one hand, we have to worry about robots, chock full of AI, taking over and replacing us. Now, I guess, we'll also have to contend with the fear - that, admittedly, has been lurking there at the back of our minds for a good long while - that scientists, milling around their labs in their little white lab coats, have been up to no Petri dish good. And we were right to have that lurking little fear.

As I recently saw in the news, those wily scientists "have created embryos that are a mix of human and monkey cells." Well I'll be a monkey's uncle. Or aunt. Or something.

The embryos, the journal Cell, were created in part to try to find new ways to produce organs for people who need transplants, said the international team of scientists who collaborated in the work. But the research raises a variety of concerns.
"My first question is: Why?" said Kirstin Matthews, a fellow for science and technology at Rice University's Baker Institute. "I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we're just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do." (Source: NPR)

When it comes to that first question, I'm with Kristin Matthews. And not that I want to take part in a proper conversation, but I sure hope the scientists and ethicists, and the scientific ethicists, and the ethical scientists, are having that convo. 

I understand the importance of organ transplant. I have a cousin whose husband got about twenty bonus years out of life thanks to his heart transplant. A close friend's cousin was kept alive for about the same number of years with a double lung transplant.  My father died in his fifties of kidney disease. Perhaps if kidney transplants were more of the norm back then, and there'd been a kidney out there with his name on it, he'd have gotten a few decades more, too.

Demand for organs outstrips supply, and plenty of people die while on lists, waiting for some unlucky person to get killed in a car crash and have their organs harvested. So, yep, there's definitely a need for more organs. 

And I realize that just mucking around with a few cells suspended in agar (or whatever they suspend cells in nowadays) isn't necessarily going to end us up with Zira and Cornelius from Planet of the Apes. Nobody's  - at least nobody that we know of - is trying to create a hybrid human. Yet.

Such mixed-species embryos are known as chimeras, named for the fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology that is part lion, part goat and part snake.

Sure, there's part of me - a fully human part, I must say - that wouldn't mind seeing something that was part lion, part goat and part snake. But part human, part monkey. Not so much. That little DNA mix is a tad bit too close for comfort. Then there's another crazy killer virus to worry about if, say, the monkey had been in touch with a carrier pangolin or a bat.

Nonetheless, I'm sure that, from a scientific perspective, this fiddling around could produce something valuable. Still...

But this type of scientific work and the possibilities it opens up raises serious questions for some ethicists. The biggest concern, they said, is that someone could try to take this work further and attempt to make a baby out of an embryo made this way. Specifically, the critics worry that human cells could become part of the developing brain of such an embryo — and of the brain of the resulting animal...Another concern is that using human cells in this way could produce animals that have human sperm or eggs.

And if one of those boy monkeys with human sperm ends up meeting up with a girl monkey with a human egg, say by swiping right on Tinder, the rest could be a mighty gruesome history. 

Of course, we all know it's going to happen. Not in the well-run, supervised labs at universities or the NIH or the CDC. But in some crazy rogue lab somewhere, staffed by crazy rogue scientists.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather be replaced by a robot than by something that's half human/half ape. (Now that I think of it, when I look around at some of the folks out there, maybe half ape wouldn't be half bad.)

So much to worry about, so little time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tis the season for the swag bag

On Sunday night, the Oscars ceremony was held. 

In keeping with tradition, I didn't watch it.

Even when I was in my film-going prime, the Academy Awards have never been all that interesting to me. The one year I remember watching was the year "Spotlight" won, which made me happy. But not so happy that I'd turn the Oscars on again. Even before we had the word 'meh' in our vocabulary, I was pretty much 'meh' on the Oscars. Too long. Too self-indulgent. Too self-congratulatory. Meh. And it's even meh-ier because I see so few movies. 

I just looked at the list. Most of them, I'll get around to seeing. Eventually. But a couple I've never even heard of.

What I do like looking at, however, is what's in the annual swag bag - the rich-get-richer goodies given to the nominees for the primo awards (best actor, actress, and director).   

The bag is stuffed - by marketing firm Distinctive Assets - with gifts valued at $205K (down by $20K from last year; talk about austerity). Stuffed with stuff that nobody actually needs (and that plenty of people just plain don't want), but it's a pretty good way to get some publicity for your products and services. (One year "Amy Adams was photographed wearing the “Strong is the New Skinny” T-shirt the day after her bag was delivered." ) And if you ask the company that puts them together, the swag bags serve a higher purpose.

“We did want the bags to feel like they had a bigger purpose than just, ‘Here's a bag full of free stuff,’” said Distinctive Assets 49-year-old founder Lash Fary, whose marketing company takes pains to make it clear the Academy has no association with the freebies. “So all of the bags that we've been doing have been from female-owned businesses, black-owned businesses, disabled entrepreneurs and companies who give back — even ones that you wouldn't necessarily think give back.” (Source: Forbes)

Side note: who names their kid Lash? Especially if your last name is Fary. 

What's in there?

  • Little munchies like cookies and nuts
  • Workout sessions with a celebrity trainer I've never heard of, unless you count my having heard of him in a previous post of a swag bag of yore
  • A liposuction treatment
  • Project management for the giftee's next home reno project
  • High end covid masks
  • An intravenous, immunity-bolstering vitamin infusion
  • Antioxidants
  • Breast health supplements 
  • Candles made using essential oils (but of course: they don't call them oils essential for nothing)
  • An acupuncture disc "which uses soundwaves instead of needles to promote healing" (and which I might actually look up; too bad I'm not nominated for anything. Wait until next year!)
  • 24-karat gold vape cartridges 
  • CBD sleep capsules
  • Hemp salve (might be good in combo with that acupuncture disc!)
  • A coffee table book called the "Don't Cookbook", which includes a QR code you can scan to find out which nearby restaurants can deliver avocado toast to your door. (Higher purpose alert: "A portion of the proceeds from each sale benefits restaurant workers affected by the pandemic.")
  • Fancy tequila, bourbon, and vodka infused with "23-karat edible gold flakes." (What? No 24-karat edible gold flakes available?)
  • For non-imbibers: tea
  • Three pairs of sneakers selected by a personal shopper (selections chosen on the basis of a "style quiz" you've taken).
  • A sweatshirt. Socks.
Most of the things in the bag are hang-around-the-house stuff. But there are two getaways in there: a four-night stay at a fancy SoCal spa, and a three-night stay in a lightkeeper's cottage (converted into a boutique hotel) on an island off the coast of Sweden - nicely socially distanced, this one!
Among the more eclectic gifts: A PETA emergency hammer to save dogs trapped in hot cars; the Poetry for Neanderthals game from Exploding Kittens (which comes with its own 2-foot inflatable club for bashing opponents); Tractive, a GPS location and activity tracker for pets; and the Muse S: The Brain Sensing Headband sleep tracker. And, in a nod to one of the media's latest fascinations, a non-fungible token. AdVenture Media and Taillard Capital will drop an NFT into each nominee’s gift bag that authenticates a piece of digital artwork to be auctioned off with proceeds benefiting a charity of the nominee’s choice. Funds raised from the sale of a Chadwick Boseman tribute NFT will benefit colon cancer foundations. The actor, who died in August at the age of 43, is nominated posthumously for a lead actor.

I'm not sure whether the Oscars are in-person or virtual this year, but the swag bags are being delivered via Postmates. 

I've got to say that some of the goodies look pretty good. But spare me the NFT and the "Brain Sensing Headband sleep tracker." I'll sense my own brain, thank you.

And in case you're wondering: giftees have to pay taxes on any gift they accept. 

Hurray for Hollywood!