Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
   And whose shepherds mislead them
 Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
            Whose sages are silenced
  And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
 Pity the nation that raises not its voice
          Except  to praise conquerers
       And acclaim the bully as hero
          And aims to rule the world
              By force and by torture
          Pity the nation that knows
        No other language but its own
      And no other culture but its own
 Pity the nation whose breath is money
 And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
      Pity the nation oh pity the people
        who allow their rights to  erode
   and their freedoms to be washed away
               My country, tears of thee
                   Sweet land of liberty!
― Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 2007

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Scientists Discover the Saddest Song Ever

Following the recent death of his wife,  the illustrator and musician Geneviève Castrée, Phil Elverum, who records as Mount Eerie, wrote a whole album of songs expressing his grief and his processing of the loss.  This song opens the LP and it's hard to listen to without choking up at least a little, if not downright bawling.   It's actually not a song so much as a direct and honest expression of the rawest of emotions.

I honestly can't think of a song sadder than this.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

I finally got through the basic story line of Fallout 4 for real last week, and spent last week shoring up some settlements and running through some of the quests I missed on the first pass through.

I'm now on to Far Harbor.  Started yesterday (Saturday), and I'm already hooked. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017


In 1862, the British journal Westminster Review defined Bohemianism as, "To be young, to be fond of pleasure, to care nothing for worldly prosperity, to scorn mere respectability, and to rebel against rigid rule,—these are the qualities which alone may be regarded as essential to constitute the Bohemian.”

I'm way past the point of anyone considering me "young," and while I may care nothing for worldly prosperity, I've become inordinately fond of certain bourgeois comforts.  But otherwise, the Westminster description can apply to me, a Bohemian elder.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Everyone I meet, everyone I see on the street, everyone I pass in traffic or who passes me going in the opposite direction, all my cashiers and waiters and shopkeepers and clerks, the traffic cops and toll booth attendants and highway workers, my business colleagues and my clients and their extended circles of first-, second- and third-degree contacts, the talking heads and bloviators and lovely actors and actress I see on the television, everyone I meet or see or can even conceive of.  Everybody.

They're all going through some sort of shit about which I know nothing.  Personal matters, health issues, lost loves, or deaths in the family - they're all dealing with something.  Financial problems, marital problems, sickness, old age, or death.  And I have no idea.

Realizing this, we should all be kinder to one another.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Washed Out at Variety Playhouse, Atlanta

Last night,  Georgia's own Washed Out, perhaps best known for the theme song from Portlandia, played a triumphant set at Atlanta's Variety Playhouse.   Dega, another band of ATLiens currently residing in Joshua Tree, opened.

Dega are a male-female synthpop duo who play in a style reminiscent of Sylvan Esso and Purity Ring - she sings, he produces the beats.  It was a pleasant if formulaic sound, but we were turned off by the stage lighting, which consisted for their entire set of a single beam of light bounced off a static disco ball that shone directly into our eyes.  We could barely see the band for the glare.  It might have been an effective, attention-getting set-up in a small club, but if they want to tour and play the big stages, they need to up their game and engage the audience visually and not only sonically.  

Visually engaging the audience was not a problem for Ernest Greene (Washed Out).  Greene collaborated with Microsoft for this tour to blend his music with graphic effects using the Microsoft Kinect to produce an immersive live performance and a unique, psychedelic experience.

On top of that, Greene has revamped Washed Out's sound, amping up the former dreamy, chillwave sound to more energetic dance music.  It's still definitely identifiable as Washed Out, but more awake and immediate that we've ever heard him before.  

The band is now a trio, with Greene singing and playing pads, accompanied by a drummer and another pad player/guitarist.  Both musically and visually, Washed Out now has more in common with Todd Terje or the current incarnation of Animal Collective than his former chillwave companions.

It was a great show. The songs were all tight and often surprisingly short - just when it sounded like they were about to launch into an extended jam-based exploration of some riff, the song would abruptly end and the band would jump into the next song.  It was impossible not to be mesmerized by the kaleidoscopic, ever-changing visuals.  It was hard to stay still and not start dancing to the music. A great show.

Here's a little taste of what Washed Out sound like now, and to compare and contrast, a sample from their earlier sound.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Donald Trump.  Donald Junior.  Mike Pence.  Kellyanne Conway. Michael Flynn. That Kushner kid. Even Ivanka.  

Prison, Guantanamo, and impeachment are in all of their futures.

Meanwhile, for those of you keeping score at home, I didn't finish Fallout 4 last night.  Not even close.  It looks like the level I reached Monday night was a dramatic turning point in the game's narrative, but hardly the end of the game.  It looks like I've still got weeks left before the storylines all resolve themselves.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Not Dead Yet . . .

. . . but nearing the end of Fallout 4 (I think).  I haven't been posting much here as of late, mainly because most of my so-called "free time" has fallen into the black hole of game playing.  However, I think I've got to be near, if not the end of the game, at least the end of the Fallout 4 story line.  My character is now a General in the Minutemen and a Knight in the Brotherhood of Steel, and has managed to more-or-less unite the two factions. 

None of this will make any sense to you unless you've played the game, but I've managed to catch up with Virgil in the Glowing Sea, and killed a courser synthbot to get the microchip in it's head that's needed in order to build a teleportation device.  The teleporter is now up and running and I've already used it to infiltrate the shadowy Institute, and finally reunited with my long-lost son, Shaun (which is the central goal of the game - it's all about a mother trying to recover her kidnapped child in a post-apocalyptic Commonwealth of Massachusetts).  There's only a few more tasks left to complete as far as I can see and I think I can complete the storyline tonight, so excuse me if I don't post anything more here until I get out of the Institute and back to the Commonwealth. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Do Cats Have Mirror Neurons?

If I've got it right (and chances are good that I don't), mirror neurons are neurons that fire in response to actions observed by others instead of the individual self.  We see someone flinch when they get a paper cut and we instinctively flinch, too - those are the mirror neurons firing.  Watching someone yawn makes us want to yawn - mirror neurons.  They were first discovered in monkeys when it was noticed during brain scans that certain neurons in their brains were firing in the exact same manner as the other monkeys they were observing doing other activities.  It's been hypothesized that mirror neurons are the basis of empathy ("I feel your pain") and possibly even ego-consciousness when we create mental models of an "us" that can feel the same thing as the "them" that we're observing.

So humans and other primates have mirror neurons, but do other animals, such as cats?  I could see how having mirror neurons would be an evolutionary disadvantage for a hunter/predator (the last thing you need for survival is empathy for the prey), but we humans are apparently capable of ignoring our mirror neurons as we inflict great suffering on animals (just visit a slaughterhouse and see), so it shouldn't be surprising that animals can also ignore the signals fired by the mirror neurons when it's in their survival interests.

Two recent episodes have suggested to me that cats do indeed have mirror neurons.  First, Eliot recently contracted fleas from some source (probably something I dragged into the house, as he's now a totally indoor pet).  Part of his cure, the part he really hated even more than having pills forced down his throat, were his flea baths.  As everyone knows, cats don't like getting wet and when I had to dip him in a kitchen sink full of pleasantly warm water (at least to my senses - cats may perceive temperature differently than we do and how would we know?), he fought like a, well, wildcat.  He twisted and squirmed and tried to get away and while he didn't lash out at me directly, I still wound up with some scratches and cuts on my arms.  He also howled and eventually hit the most chilling, blood-curdling sound a cat could possibly make, one I never heard from him before, and his brother cat Izzy, who was watching all this, almost immediately emitted the same horrid tone, suggesting a shared response to what he was seeing and hearing.  Was this mirror neurons?

People say that cats don't care what happens to human people around them, and I've seen cartoons of cats just watching or grooming themselves while their human companions were, say, choking on a chicken bone or getting mugged by an intruder.  But last weekend, as I was walking out of the bathroom after a shower, I slipped on the wet floor and fell - hard - backwards onto my ass.  I was lucky I didn't hit my head on anything or break any bones, but it did jostle me pretty hard as I landed with a loud thud.  I don't recall, but I probably was making that "whoa" sound and an expletive or two might have been expressed.

The cats were sitting on the kitchen counter waiting for me to come out of the bathroom and saw the whole thing.  As I slowly got back up, I saw them staring at me with saucer eyes almost bugging out of their heads - I've never seen a look like that on them or any cat before.  They clearly were concerned and not a little shaken up themselves by what they saw just happen to me.  Was this also the firing of mirror neurons?

Of course, I googled the answer to my question "Do cats have mirror neurons" before composing this post, and the science seems to be "maybe."  Monkeys certainly do as demonstrated by brain scan experiments.  Ethically, we can't perform the same brain scan experiments on humans, but based on behavioral studies, the answer seems to be "yes," and besides, we're primates, too, so why should we be different?  Dogs apparently have them, too, and some articles state that cats do as well, but don't indicate the basis for their conclusion (neurology? behavioral studies? mere assumption?).  My limited research, based on flea bath and falls, seems to indicate that yes, they do, but I'm not about to see if I get the same results by repeating my little experiment and falling on my ass again.  

That part hurt.   

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Geology of Georgia - Part Whatever of a Very Occasional Series

Zits by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman (King Features Syndicate)
While the science of geology has relentlessly made new discoveries and breakthroughs, from plate tectonics to mass extinctions to evidence of ancient climate change, the fundamental concepts that geologists use for these discoveries, such as uniformitarianism (what's happens in the present, like lakes slowly filling up with silt, also happened in the past) and superposition (lower layers of rock are older than the ones above them), have been accepted and remained relatively static since at least the late 19th Century.

So it's not too often that we get new terms in geology that describe the layers of rock (strata) that are subject to uniformitarianism and superposition.  So it's significant, at least within the somewhat insular world of the geoscience community, that a new term has just been proposed - the xenoconformity.

If I've got it right (and chances are good that I don't), a xenoconformity is an interval in the rock strata that represents a fundamental, abrupt, and persistent change in the environmental conditions in which the strata were deposited.

As an example, consider that sediment that was filling the lake.  Imagine that as the layers of sediment were deposited on the lake floor, sulfur from a nearby volcanic eruption acidified the lake water causing the extinction of the fish within.  In this example, the lower layers of sediment would have lots of fish bones (fossils) and the usual minerals that form in normal pH conditions, while the upper layers of sediment would be devoid of fossilized fish and have low-pH minerals. The transition between the two sets of strata would be a xenoconformity.

For the record, the term was introduced by Alan Carroll of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the July 2017 issue of Geology (so it's pretty recent), and seconded, as it were, by Galen Halverson of McGill University in the same issue.

So if you want to appear hip, cool, and oh so au courant, especially among geologists, just casually drop the term into a conversation.  As it's always been our top priority here at Water Dissolves Water that our readers look cool, here are some examples of what you could say to get you started:
"I'm not as worried about our loss of global leadership from pulling out of the Paris Accords as I am how we will explain the inevitable xenoconformity to future generations." 
"Son, if you don't change the filter in that fish tank soon, you'll have a major xenoconformity in the bottom of the aquarium." 
"Any more bourbon in that glass of lemon juice and you won't have a whiskey sour so much as an out-of-control xenoconformity."
We think you're starting to get the hang of it, so we'll let you take if from here.  Happy geologizing!