we’re talking the fomite, y’all

Okay, there are facts and there are suppositions based on facts. It’s a fact that the Renaissance painter Titian (who actual name was Tiziano Vecelli, which takes a lot longer to say) made a portrait (seen below) of Girolamo Fracastoro. It’s also a fact that Fracastoro was a poet, an astronomer, a physician, a geographer, and a mathematician (because back during the Renaissance everybody seemed to do everything). But it’s just supposition that Titian painted this portrait in exchange for Fracastoro (in physician mode) treating him for syphilis.

Girolamo Fracastoro (also known as Hieronymus Fracastorius because everybody in the Renaissance had like half a dozen different names).

You guys, Fracastoro invented syphilis. Not the disease (which apparently came from the Americas, brought back by a crewman on one of Columbus’ ships — I know, irony, right?), but the name of the disease. In 1530 he wrote an epic poem (we’re talking a trilogy — seriously, a three-book poem written (and I am NOT making this up) in dactylic hexameter; when these guys decided to do something, they didn’t fuck around) about a shepherd boy who insulted the god Apollo, who responded the way gods always seem to respond: he gave the boy a horrible disease. That unlucky boy in the poem was named…wait for it, wait for it…Syphilus.

The foul Infection o’er his Body spread
Prophanes his Bosome, and deforms his Head;
His wretched Limbs with filth and stench o’er flow,
While Flesh divides, and shews the Bones below.
Dire Ulcers (can the Gods permit them) prey
On his fair Eye-balls, and devour their Day.

Yikes, right? Three books of this. So many different forms of torture. Anyway, our boy Fracastoro made his bones (so to speak) by treating communicable diseases. He came up with the concept of fomes, which is the plural of fomite.

Syphilus being warned against yielding to temptation (temptation in the form of that chick with the lute — I mean, just look at those ankles).

So you’re probably thinking “Hey, Greg, old sock, what the fuck is a fomite?” Well, I’m going to tell you. And stop calling me ‘old sock’. Actually, I’m going to let Fracastoro his ownself tell you.

“I call fomites such things as clothes, linen, etc., which although not themselves corrupt, can nevertheless foster the essential seeds of the contagion and thus cause infection.”

In other words, he’s talking about the way disease can be spread. Fracastoro was a proponent of the notion that epidemics were caused by “spores” — transferable tiny particles — that could infect people (or animals) by direct or indirect contact, and that was how diseases moved over long distances. This was 300 years or so before folks came up with the idea of germs.

Oh, and fomes? That’s the Latin term for kindling or tinder — the material you gather together in order to start a fire.

Makes sense now, doesn’t it. Now you’re thinking of Covid-19, right? Now you’re thinking of all those anti-bacterial wipes you can’t find on the store shelves. Now you’re thinking about all those doorknobs you touch every day, and about the handrails on stairways and escalators, and about the handle of the coffee pot at work. Now you’re thinking about the table at the diner where you put your cell phone while you eat your salad, and how maybe the person who sat there before you touched an infected doorknob before sitting at that table and left ‘spores’ on the table that are now transferred to the back of your cell phone case, which means it’s now on your hands. And you’re thinking “Lawdy, my cell phone is a goddamned fomite! And that table, a goddamned fomite. And I’m surrounded by goddamned fomes!”

Which is exactly what you should be thinking. All those things you touch during the day? That’s kindling. You spread that kindling, you create a forest fire.

That’s fact, no supposition. Keep Girolamo Fracastoro in mind everywhere you go. I’d suggest you get a tattoo of Fracastoro on your forearm, except the tattoo gun is a goddamned fomite.

Wash your damn hands, people.

head explodes

One of the many unacknowledged problems with having a fuckwit as president is the frequency with which logical folks have to hip-check less-than-logical folks about really stupid stuff. Take, for example, this recent adventure in Trumpian fuckwittery:

“[T]hey say the noise [of wind turbines] causes cancer.”

It’s blatantly and profoundly stupid, right? But in an effort to be fair to Comrade Trump, some folks — even intelligent folks — might ask if there’s any basis in reality for the claim. Here’s a non-Barr summary of a conversation I had this morning:

Friend: I dunno, maybe the deep thrum of a wind farm can maybe possibly cause some form of cancer? Maybe?
Me: Nope.
Friend: I mean, if noise at a certain frequency can make your head explode, then why can’t it also cause cancer?
Me: What? I mean, what?
Friend: Sound at a specific frequency can make your head explode. You know…like glass.
Me: No it can’t.
Friend: I think it can.
Me: I’m pretty sure it can’t.
Friend: Pretty sure?
Me: Fuck you, it can’t. It just can’t.
Friend: Pretty sure?

So I — and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this — checked. And hey, I was right. It turns out a dry skull does have some acoustic vulnerabilities, mostly between the 9 and 12 kHz frequencies. But even prolonged exposure to concentrated sound in that range will, at most, cause a dry skull to vibrate a bit.

But here’s the problem: we’re not walking around with dry skulls. We’ve got them encased in layers of soft, soggy tissue and muscle. It’s like wrapping your head in a thick coat of bacon. That’s not all; inside that skull is a thickish fluid, and floating in that fluid is a hefty wad of squishy brains. All of that wet material would act as an acoustic dampener and would prevent your skull from shattering and your head exploding.

The low-frequency infrasound of a turbine farm might give you a headache, but it’s not going to give you cancer. And sound can’t make your head explode. Listening to Comrade Trump speak might make you wish your head would explode. But sorry, nope, ain’t gonna happen.

two presidents, two speeches, one astronaut

First, a bit of history. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a satellite into orbit around the Earth. This was what scientists call ‘a big fucking deal’. It caught the U.S. entirely off guard, and it took about a year for us to get our shit together.

That really began when President Dwight Eisenhower created the National Space Council, with the idea that the nation really needed an agency dedicated to developing policies regarding space. You have to remember, this was back when the idea of human space flight was still pretty much science fiction.

Three years later, the Soviets launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the Earth. And once again, the U.S. was standing around with its thumb up its collective butt. But this time President John Kennedy sat down with the National Space Council and they came up with the most audacious policy goal ever. They decided “You guys, you know what we should do? We should totally go to the goddamned moon.”

“Our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men.”

At that point we were still having trouble putting folks in orbit. Sending them to the moon was completely nuts. But Kennedy liked the idea and announced the policy in a speech given in (I’m not making this up) Texas. It was a terrific speech. Kennedy quoted William Bradford, one of the founders of the Plymouth Bay Colony:

“[A]ll great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”

And Kennedy was just getting started. He said:

“[T]he eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.”

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

What’s equally astonishing is that Kennedy told the American public that it was going to cost them to send people to the moon. He flat-out told them “all this costs us all a good deal of money” and informed them their taxes would be raised to pay for it. That’s not all; he also told them there wasn’t any way for them to know if it was going to be worth it. “I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.”

And hey, the people responded and said “Dude, let’s go do it.” And we did. We went to the goddamned moon, inspired by a president who was adventurous and thoughtful and wicked smart. Over time, the idea of space exploration became less interesting to people, and we returned to the practice of standing around with our thumbs up our collective butt.

“Our journey into space will not only make us stronger and more prosperous, but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bring us all closer together. Wouldn’t that be nice? Can you believe that space is going to do that?”

Until a few days ago. That’s when Comrade Trump signed an executive order that re-established the National Space Council. Like Kennedy, Trump gave a speech.

“The future of American space leadership — we’re going to lead again. It’s been a long time. It’s over 25 years, and we’re opening up, and we are going to be leading again like we’ve never led before. We’re a nation of pioneers, and the next great American frontier is space. And we never completed — we started, but we never completed. We stopped. But now we start again.”

Yeah. We’re starting again. With another crazy idea. Not inspirationally crazy — actually crazy. Trump asked NASA to conduct a study to see if we could put astronauts on the first test flight of the agency’s new rocket and crew capsule. Got that? He wanted to put living people in the first test flight of a new rocket. Because he feels strongly about space and security.

“I’ve felt strongly about it for a long time. I used to say before doing what I did — I used to say, what happened?  Why aren’t we moving forward?

And security is going to be a very big factor with respect to space and space exploration.  At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say how did we do it without space?”

I’m pretty sure at some point in the future, people will look back and say ‘What the fuck is wrong with this guy?’ I’m pretty sure people were saying that even while Comrade Trump was ad-libbing from the remarks some speechwriter wrote for him.

Buzz Aldrin, fondly remembering the days when they sent monkeys into space.

“It is America’s destiny to be at the forefront of humanity’s eternal quest for knowledge and to be the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown.  And I could say the great and very beautiful unknown.  Nothing more beautiful.”

Nothing more beautiful than the unknown. What a fucking idiot. Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, attended the signing ceremony and stood near Comrade Trump while he spoke. After his speech, Trump made a show of signing the executive order. Aldrin, who was clearly unimpressed, looked over Trump’s shoulder and said “Infinity and beyond” — the catchphrase of Buzz Lightyear, the buffoon-hero character from Toy Story. Trump’s response?

“This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don’t really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right? Okay.”

It has to be something. It could be infinity. Right? Sweet Jeebus Galileo, this guy is actually the president. I weep.

HAL, close the pod bay doors, please.

i blame einstein

It all makes sense now. Day dawns in the rock garden. I see the light. I thought a lot of Republicans — like, say, Marco Rubio — were just stupid. I thought they were tossing out bullshit political statements, trying to justify why nothing was their fault. Why nothing was ever their fault.

A peek into Marco Rubio's brain.

A peek into Marco Rubio’s brain.

I mean, c’mon. How else can you explain this, by Rubio:

“I do not believe the president should appoint someone. It’s been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court Justice.”

A ‘lame duck’ is, of course, a politician who is near the end of his term of office. Now, you may think that President Obama, with eleven months of service still ahead of him, isn’t really a lame duck. But wait a moment. Here’s more Rubio:

“The responsibility of 9/11 falls on the fact that Al Qaeda was allowed to grow and prosper and the decision was not made to take out the leader when the chance existed to do so. [President Clinton] made a decision not to take out its leader, which I think ended up being there, the situation that happened with 9/11. And my argument is, if you’re going to ascribe blame, don’t blame George W. Bush, blame a decision that was made years earlier, not to take out bin Laden when the opportunity presented itself.”

Now, it may appear that Rubio is talking out of his ass. You may be asking yourself ‘How is it possible that Bill Clinton’s responsibility as President of These United States extends eight months into George W. Bush’s term, but President Obama’s responsibility as president ends eleven months before his term expires?’

I’ll tell you how it’s possible. Albert fuckin’ Einstein.

Blame this crazy motherfucker.

Blame this crazy motherfucker.

A hundred years ago, this Einstein fellow predicted gravitational waves would result in a distortion of the space-time continuum. As the waves move through the universe, space and time would contract and expand. Clearly, the collision of two massive black holes in space a billion years ago caused Clinton’s term in office to expand, which resulted in the contraction of Obama’s term.

It’s science, you guys.

standing in the doorway to scientific progress

First Guy — So then, did you hear about this guy from Georgia?

Second Guy — Which guy from Georgia?

First Guy — Him, the guy that’s opposed to human-jellyfish hybrids.

Third Guy — The fuck?

First Guy — Kirby, that’s his name. Tom Kirby. He’s in the Georgia legislature, if you can believe it. Says the people of Georgia are opposed to the mixing of human embryos with jellyfish cells to create glow-in-the-dark humans.

Second Guy — He wouldn’t be a Republican, this Kirby fella, would he?

First Guy — He would.

Third Guy — Can they do that? Can they, the science johnnies? Jam some jellyfish muck into a human embryo and create a…

First Guy — Pffft, don’t be an idjit.

Second Guy — Would this be the same nitwit who wondered if a woman could swallow a wee camera and let doctors do a gynecological exam over them internets?

First Guy — No, that nitwit is from Idaho. Also a Republican, though.

Third Guy — Be cool, though, wouldn’t it, if they could. Totally cool. Except for the poor bastard who was out there glowin’ in the dark like some fuckin’ human exit sign.

Second Guy — This wouldn’t be the same nitwit who said parents with sick children shouldn’t be forced to get them medical treatment, would it? The one who said if the children die they’d be with god and all his bright angels?

First Guy — No, that’s an entirely different nitwit. Also from Idaho, though. And yeah, a Republican.

Third Guy — His electricity bills would go down, though, wouldn’t they. The human jellyfish, I mean. Wouldn’t need a readin’ lamp, would he. Be handy for him, though, if he was one of them guys, the ones who explore caves and all? Them plunkers or whatever? Handy for that, glowin’ in the dark.

Second Guy — Would it be the same nitwit who thinks cancer is some class of fungus, then?

First Guy — No, that nitwit is from Nevada. Also a Republican, though.

Third Guy — He’d be rubbish as a ninja, though, wouldn’t he.

Second Guy — Would it be the same nitwit, then, the one who thought food workers shouldn’t be forced to wash their hands after using the toilet?

First Guy — No, that nitwit is from North Carolina. And yeah, before you ask, also a Republican.

Third Guy — D’ya reckon he’d be able to sting folks too, this guy, the human jellyfish? Tentacle-thingies at the ends of his fingers. Make it hard to be wearin’ gloves. And countin’ out change? Or playin’ at cards? Screw everything up, that would.

First Guy — Will you shut the fuck up? There isn’t any human jellyfish. There aren’t any glow-in-the-dark humans.

Third Guy — No, and there won’t be so long as your man in Georgia keeps standin’ in the doorway of scientific fuckin’ progress.

Editorial note: The aforementioned nitwits, in order, are Tom Kirby of Georgia, Vito Barbieri of Idaho, Christie Perry of Idaho, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

yay engineers, mostly

Okay, if we’re so amazingly smart that we can land a spacecraft on a comet (You guys! We totally landed a spacecraft on a comet!), why can’t we convince guys that wearing a “fun shirt” with “illustrations of glamorous women” is…well, completely fucking stupid? Let me amend that. At best it’s completely fucking stupid.

The European Space Agency just accomplished one of the coolest engineering feats ever. All over the world, men and women and boys and girls who love space and science were watching this astonishing event. And Dr. Matt Taylor, the Rosetta Project Scientist with the cool tattoos, shows up on live television wearing a shirt that basically says “I place great value on women who have big tits and wear skimpy outfits.”

Dr. Matt Taylor

Dr. Matt Taylor


I mean, yeah, they didn’t make him the Rosetta Project Scientist because of his sensitive social awareness. They made him Rosetta Project Scientist because he’s an expert in space plasma physics (whatever the hell that is). He’s clearly good at his job, and yeah, that’s what counts when it comes to landing spacecraft on comets. Nobody would dispute that. But lawdy, wasn’t there anybody at the European Space Agency who might have said “Dude, maybe change shirts”?

And if the shirt isn’t bad enough, what does Dr. Taylor say about the spacecraft’s mission to lad on the comet? He says:

“This is sexiest mission there’s ever been. I said she was sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

Taylor’s stupid sexist shirt and his stupid sexist comment doesn’t minimize what ESA accomplished. They landed a spacecraft on a fucking comet! But this sort of bullshit has to be discouraging to women and girls who might also want to work in a field where they’d have a chance to land spacecraft on various orbiting objects. It’s got to be disheartening for women and girls who want to be engineers and scientists to see that the Rosetta Project Scientist — the person in charge of this really amazing enterprise — has the emotional age of a 13-year-old boy.

Really good job on the comet landing, Dr. Taylor. Fine work and congratulations on a truly marvelous engineering and scientific achievement. Now please, just grow the fuck up.

Addendum: Dr. Taylor truly seems to have had one of those learning moments. Today he apologized for the shirt, and seemed genuinely distressed by the furor he created. You can see the apology here at about 15:30 into the interview.

It also turns out the shirt was given to him by a women friend for his birthday. And yes, it was a clueless choice of clothing and words, but good on Dr. Taylor for learning from the experience and making a sincere apology for it. Having seen so many phony non-apologies, it’s gratifying to see one that’s genuine.

blood simple

The National Review Online — which, despite all the similarities, is NOT the Onion — just published a classic Conservative editorial. By that I mean it’s almost completely devoid of fact and overstuffed with wrong-headed opinion fueled by free-floating anxiety and unfocused anger over a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s titled Kari Hickox, Selfish Hero.

Strictly monitored house quarantine — de facto house arrest — is undoubtedly an abrogation of civil liberties. But 21 days of it — lavishly state-funded — to be followed by perfect liberty assuming no problems, seems like a minimal sacrifice to ask of those who put themselves voluntarily in danger. When it comes to a disease that liquidates your internal organs and pushes blood out your eyeballs, “Better safe than sorry” would seem a dictum to which everyone could agree.

Where to start? Maybe with the fact that doctors and nurses have been volunteering to help in the West Africa Ebola outbreak since August (which is when the World Health Organization declared the epidemic to be an international public health emergency). Most of them did their volunteer work then quietly returned home to the U.S., where they went on with their lives. Without being quarantined. And they didn’t infect anybody.

kaci hickox

Or maybe with the fact that even if Kaci Hickox was infected with the Ebola virus, she wouldn’t be contagious until she became seriously symptomatic. Even if she developed the earliest symptoms — headache and fever — the risk of contagion would be extremely low. You’d have to lick the sweat off her forehead AND have a cut on your tongue before you’d be at risk (which shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement for licking Ebola patients).

But as stupid and offensive as the editorial is, the comments — well, you can guess. Stupid and offensive on steroids. For example:

Let’s be honest, anyone this self-centered went to Africa to prove how wonderful they are. Everything is about them.

This woman is a perfect example of the I, I, I, me, me, me, first person. She and her desires are more important than anyone else’s well being or health.

Every once in awhile you see a woman that makes you involuntarily think, “I pity the guy that marries her.”

She is a Democrat and an Obama supporter, whu [sic] works for the CDC. Yes, she is an Obama operative. She is challenging state governor’s on behalf of Obama. She speaks about science, just like the Obama people are doing. They are taking a superior position, backed by science, and everyone else is just hysterical. I do not know what Obama hopes to gain from this game, but it is a dangerous one.

Lawdy. It’s been three weeks or so since Eric Duncan died. That’s more than enough time for the American people to have educated themselves about Ebola. Three weeks. In three weeks you can teach a flatworm to follow a path in a maze. A fucking flatworm — a simple bilaterian, soft-bodied, unsegmented invertebrate. But can conservatives learn the actual level of risk involved in dealing with Ebola in that same period of time? No. Can elected officials learn the actual level of risk? No.

Why? Because they’ve gone blood simple. That’s a term coined by Dashiell Hammett in one of his early novels, Red Harvest. It describes the addled, irrational, conspiratorial, violent mindset of people who are exposed to long-term, escalating, chaotic fear.

“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.”

I know the feeling.