Monthly Archives: September 2012

Citizen Science II

In my last post I talked about ways that we can participate in science using the computing power of our home computers. BOINC (The Berkeley Open Infrastructure Computing) projects use screen saver type software to crunch everything from space data to climate models to malaria transmission rates.

These are all passive activities though, requiring just our machines and electricity.It’s a valuable contribution, to be sure, but what if there was more that we could do?

Well, there is. SETI@home’s original goal of proving the value of distributed science was a big success, as other scientific projects have expanded to use citizen scientists such as ourselves to help with the massive amounts of data that have been gathered.

Galaxyzoo is one of these. A multi-university collaboration, GalaxyZoo was designed to help get through the data gathered by the Sloan Sky Survey. The original goal for us users was to identify if a galaxy was present, if it was spiral or globular, and if spiral, if a bar was present. The project explained that human eyes could accomplish these feats where computer analysis could not, making our participation both more intimate and more valuable.

And it was fun! Every frame was a picture of deep space, and you never knew what might appear. At least one new object was discovered by a citizen scientist, and it now bears his name. Is that cool or what?

Around two dozen scientific papers have been written as a result of citizen analysis, and what we thought we knew about galaxy formation and growth has been challenged and expanded.  And I helped, in my spare time, from the comfort of my easy chair!

The U.S. Geologic Society (USGS) has the Bird Phenology program. Over the years, citizen birders have kept log cards of bird species. A literal mountain of paper is hard to study though, so they electronically scanned the log cards and gave us a browser page to read the card and enter the information into a database form. I’ve transcribed cards from as long ago as 1899. Besides the value to ornithologists of having thousands of first hand accounts catalogued by year and species and location, there’s an added value, a personal connection, in reading the name and handwriting of a person who thought it important to note the date that the robins returned to Indiana in the spring of 1912.

Then there’s Seafloor Explorer, a project by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in partnership with the Citizen Science Alliance. It’s my current favorite.  Just as Galaxyzoo used the Sloan Sky survey, Seafloor Explorer uses the WHOI HabCam survey of the ocean floor. Like in Galaxyzoo, the citizen scientist is presented with a frame of the ocean floor, and is asked to identify types of floor sediments (sand, shell, gravel, cobble, boulder), then to distinguish the life that may be present (scallops, sea stars, crustaceans, fish).

Every picture is both a mystery and an adventure, so much so that it’s almost addicting. You find yourself saying ‘just one more’ over and over, in anticipation of what you may see next. Will there be strange fish, or parts of a shipwreck? Or like in Jaws, just a too close up picture of the eye of a previously unknown sea beast?

But the work of science is mostly tedium. Mostly, it’s sand and shell, gravel and cobble. Mostly it’s sea stars and scallops, with a few sponges and fewer fish.

So far… like new galactic objects, finding new underwater species is inevitable.

People make our world better by using science to study and understand our surroundings, whether it is deep space, the deep ocean, or the microscopic world of sub-atomic particles. Modern techniques in gathering information have far out paced our ability to analyze it all in a timely fashion. Our computers and internet connections give us all the ability to jump in and lend a hand to help speed up the advance of human knowledge and understanding, and all in our spare time. Thanks to partnerships between government, the public and private sectors, we can all be citizen scientists helping to make the world a better place.

It’s easier than you think, and it’s a great way to give a little back for all we’ve received.

Citizen Science I


“She blinded me… with Science!” — T. Dolby

One of the unsung results of the rise of the home computer (thank-you, Woz and Steve!) and the internet that connects us all together is the capability for us to participate in science.

Not the kind of ‘science’ that counts begats and announces the age of the Universe as dogma, nor the kind that deduces that vaccinations cause mental retardation because someone on a street corner told us so. I’m talking tried and true, real science that works to better our understanding of the world around us.

Take SETI@home for instance. SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life) was a NASA project that began in 1971, They used radio telescopes to scan the heavens for radio signals that didn’t come from earth. While it’s true that in space, no one can hear you scream, the universe is a noisy place in the radio part of the spectrum. Sweeps of the sky were recorded, and computers were programmed to filter out white noise and star songs from ET calling home.

By 1999, priorities changed, funding changed, and SETI lost computing capabilities. They still had recorded sky surveys to process, so they came up with a rather novel idea… they would use home computers to help process their data. Yes, home PC’s were no longer rare and their use was booming. SETI would design a screen saver that would show the results of the calculations being performed, and the calculations would only run when the screen saver came on, so no user activity would be impacted.

SETI@home was released in 1999 and has been running ever since. They announced two goals, one of expanding scientific observation to detect extra-terrestrial life, and one showing that the citizen science concept can work.

Then there’s BOINC  (The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) which started out by taking over the client software for SETI@home.

Like many of our modern advances, BOINC is the result of partnerships between government and the private sector. Besides SETI@home, BOINC now provides access to a growing number of science projects for us to participate in, all while you are resting from your computer.

ET not your bag?  You can try, an Oxford based project that creates computer models of the earths climate and then monitors how changing variables, like carbon dioxide or loss of ice, would play out over time.

Einstein@home takes observations from orbiting satellites and crunches the numbers to try and detect gravity waves predicted by Einstein.

There’s FightMalaria@home and that measure different aspects of a disease that affects tens of millions.

If your PC is tricked out for gaming, try Rosetta@home, which helps determine the optimal 3D structure of proteins. Knowing the shape of specific proteins yields great rewards, both in understanding physiology and in the design of new drugs to fight a spectrum of diseases.

If you are a social cyber butterfly, you can even join teams (I’m a proud member of Paddy’s in Space) and engage in competitions.

Who’d a thought that we could individually contribute to the knowledge base and help make the world a better place while our PC’s and laptops were on hold?



Better off?


The question is not “Am I better off today than 4 years ago?”, the questions we should be asking is   “Is the Country better off, and Is my State better off, and Is my City better off?”  In other words, it’s “Are we…?”, not “Am I…?”

Ok, I admit I dig JFK’s ‘Ask not…’ speech, the one that says we all have a duty to help make the USA a better place. It says that when we contribute to making the Country better, whether in our own, small way, or by placing the needs of the Country above our personal, selfish one’s, our actions make the place better for all of us.

We, not I.

We elect Presidents and Senators and Representatives to go to Washington to run the country, Governors, State Senators and Representatives to run our States, Mayors and Councilmen and women to run our cities. We expect them to work together to get the job done. It’s the way we’ve done it for over 200 years.

If that job isn’t getting done, if things aren’t as they should be, then we deserve to ask why not?

In the case of the Country, there is little doubt that improvement has been made over 4 years ago, despite the obstructionist Congress we’ve had.

Harry Truman said that his Congress in ’47 did so little that he called them the ‘do-nothing Congress” for only passing 900 or so pieces of legislation (most were pro-business).  The Congress of 2012 has passed only a fraction (close to 16%, or one sixth) of that. In Founding Father terms, that makes this year’s Congress 1/6th of a Do-Nothing in terms of representation.  Ayn Rand would sneer at their ‘productivity’.

Four years ago, as a result of self-inflicted finance and housing sector chicanery, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month, every month. Millions had already lost their jobs when the Obama administration took office. Today, instead of losing almost a million jobs a month, as we had under the Bush administration, we gain 100,000 or more jobs every month. That’s simple math, folks.

Four years ago we had our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers fighting and dying in the sand, in two wars that we started in two different countries, neither of which can be easily justified. Today, we’re down to just one, and it is winding down. That’s a better than 50% improvement, or twice as good.  Again, that’s simple math.

Four years ago the finance sector and Wall Street were able to run roughshod over our mortgages and pensions, thanks to a GOP deregulation mania that removed protections put into place as a result of the Great Depression, and a concerted lack of funding to enforce the regulations that existed. We have survived (maybe) the Great Recession that resulted, and today, against all odds, we have the Consumer Protection Finance Bureau, which is already successfully cracking down on such practices and punishing those who steal from working Americans. All despite incredible opposition from Wall St. and the GOP, who have vowed to dismantle it as soon as they are done with the EPA and FDA and Federal Reserve.

Four years ago the auto industry, and all of the suppliers (think glass, steel, plastic, nuts and bolts, wires, tires, stereos, electronics, upholstery) who depend on the auto industry, were on death’s door, and Osama Bin Laden was laughing at America while training and sending others to kill more of us.

Today, the auto industry is well on the road to recovery, the suppliers are still in business, and Bin Laden sleeps with the fishes. I’ll take that one any day.

Compared to 4 years ago, only the factually challenged can deny that we’re not better off today as a Country. Despite the challenges of what he inherited from his predecessor, and a Congress who said little but “NO”,  the President has made remarkable progress.

In the States, however, there is little doubt that most are NOT better off than 4 years ago. Overwhelmingly, the self-imposed austerity measures from both Congress and the GOP Governors have resulted in lay-offs at the county and municipal levels, primarily in public schools where bus routes have been shut down, sports teams dismantled, and students go without books for lack of enough to go around. Teachers, police and fire services have all taken personnel cuts.

The Recovery Act was meant to spur the economy,  in large part by helping the States meet their obligations to us peeps and our families. The GOP Congress made sure there wasn’t enough money to do the job.

Then the GOP Governors refused to take what money was offered, choosing instead to blame Unions and the poor for budget shortfalls, and firing teachers and cops to make their point.

Then they declared the President and the Recovery Act a failure for not helping the economy.

Why would they do that? Their  #1 stated goal of making the current President a one-term guy.  We thought their #1 goal was to run the Country, and not off the cliff, thank-you very much!

But wait a minute… we elect these people to run the Country, not to do the work of their Party, not to make sure that the President, (this President in particular), gets no credit for helping America. But not helping an America in crisis, for any reason, is by definition, not running the Country.

Nor is ignoring an America in crisis patriotic, as some would have us believe. Rather, I submit that it’s treason against their oath to the Constitution, as is holding their oath to the non-elected Grover Norquist and his teenage wet dream above their duty to America.

How many of us working people without car elevators would last on a job with that kind of performance, that level of dereliction of duty?  The answer is obvious… we lose our jobs for much less.

So should they.

We the People hold the key, and it’s in the voting booth. The president has been saying “Here’s how we can make things better for everybody”, and the GOP responds with “NO, Nobody gets help but the rich and the Corporate, and NOT from you”. Behind closed doors their candidate says nobody deserves help but the rich and corporate. Now think about that for second…

It’s no surprise then that the GOP is into voter suppression the way football fans are into workplace pools and tailgating. Not enough Americans benefit from GOP policies for them to win anything fairly.  Most Americans suffer from their policies, so will not vote for them. The only way for them to win is to go back to Jim Crow laws to suppress those people, the non-rich and non-corporate of color, from voting…

… and to scare the rest of us with lies.

How un-American is that?  










Self Borked

According to the Oxford English Dictionary: bork (verb) “To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way.”

I’d add …”as a result of the public discovering (a persons) real views.”

Once upon a time in the 70’s, there was a Judge named Robert Bork.  He was number three in rank in the office of the U.S.  Attorney General. Watergate was going on at the time, and when the Special Prosecutor the president appointed insisted on listening to tapes of conversations that the President had, the president ordered him fired. The Attorney General knew it was wrong and probably illegal (it was), so he resigned, as did his second in command. Judge Bork became acting Attorney General, and followed the President’s orders. It was called the Saturday Night Massacre.

By 1980 all that had died down. Ronald Reagan was sufficiently impressed by Judge Bork’s conservative credentials and service to the Party that he nominated him to the Supreme Court.

Talk about an uproar…

Here’s what Senator Ted Kennedy had to say on the floor of the Senate about Judge Bork’s views:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy … President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.

That came about because the originalist interpretation of the Constitution held by Judge Bork ran counter to the sensibilities of modern society in the latter fifth of the 20th century.

Just as they should here in the first fifth of the 21st century.

Among his beliefs, he opposed broad protections of free speech, he questioned rights to privacy, he opposed racially integrating public facilities, and he did not believe that the Constitution guaranteed equal rights to women and people of color. He vowed to vote to overturn Roe v Wade and several other landmark civil rights decisions.

Originalists are like that. Judge Bork mentored Justice Scalia, also an originalist, who believes that we don’t have a guarantee to privacy in the Constitution, nor should we expect that our movements won’t be electronically tracked without a warrant as long as authorities don’t touch our cars to do so.

Justice Scalia did a better job of soft pedaling his thoughts, as Judge Bork’s nomination failed by the widest margin of any in history.

He is now Chairman of Mitt Romney’s Justice Advisory Committee, and Romney’s stated choice for a Supreme Court Justice. Now think about that for a second…

Which brings us back to the definition of bork (verb).

What happened to Judge Bork may have been tainted by Watergate, but that’s hard to believe, as justice triumphed on that one years earlier, and it was known that Bork may well have been just caught between a rock and a hard place.

I think what happened to Judge Bork is that his ultra conservative, originalist views were just 30 years ahead of his time (and 100 years late). His judicial beliefs didn’t fit into an age of race and age and gender equality, of societal progress after 40 years of doldrums.

Those beliefs didn’t fit in, and they did him in as a result.

In Boca Raton, Mitt Romney showed his beliefs about the rest of us who don’t own car elevators.  Those beliefs don’t fit in today either, and thanks to the faceless man who fills their water, he’s borked his own self.


Without a Net

There’s an interesting notion that ‘our children’ cannot afford our present ‘safety net’ promises to take care of our seniors and impoverished, of providing adequate education and nutrition in our schools, and of ensuring that the foods we eat and the products we use are not tainted with poison.  We’re told that in order to progress, a little rape of the earth and ourselves with toxic by-products is a necessary thing.

My Dad used to like to point out that physicians used to come by the house, and hospitals were “where you went for surgery, not to die”. “Nowadays”, he’d say, “more people die in hospitals than die anywhere else”, with the implication that hospitals were killing people. When he was growing up in the 1930’s, most people couldn’t afford to go to hospitals, and many of the doctors who made house calls were paid not in legal tender but in goods or services, whatever the family had or grew that could be used as a payment. Ask any old country Doc, many times payment was made in chickens, or greens, not greenbacks.

Parents who lived too long moved in with their children once they were unable to care for themselves. In a single wage earner world that was hard enough. In a two wage earner household it became impossible. Nursing homes boomed. Medicaid boomed as a result. Most Americans do not realize that the majority of Medicaid recipients are our parents and grandparents in nursing homes. End Medicaid, and they’ll have nowhere to go but back to their children. The dominoes of real costs to our children start accumulating from there.

Before the ‘safety net’, what we consider today to be relatively simple maladies resulted in yesteryear’s deaths.

Expectant mothers received no prenatal care, deaths during childbirth, of mother or child, or both, were not uncommon.

Children died of measles and whooping cough.

Grandparents succumbed to colds that resulted in simple pneumonias that, left untreated, ended their lives prematurely.

Working fathers were subject to job conditions that directly impacted their health and lifespan… black lung, cotton lung, asbestosis…  all easily preventable, yet they took thousands of lives in the 20th century.  Items like hard hats and steel-toed may shoes seem like a no-brainer on a construction site, yet thousands of workers have lost fingers, toes, eyes, arms, legs, and lives to worksite hazards.

Since the safety net, the data is clear: maternal and infant mortality and job related disability and deaths were all much higher in my father’s day. Average life expectancy was much lower as a result.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP, think of it as the wage of the USA), median family income, personal education level, and pretty much all of economic indicators are much higher today than in my father’s time. And so is life expectancy.

What has made the difference?

It’s been Government.

It’s been government-sponsored education for all.

It’s been government programs, demanded by the public, that protect us from toxic substances in our food and water.

It’s been government programs, demanded by the public, that protect us from the diseases that ended our grandparents lives prematurely.

It’s been a social conscience that realized that health and welfare trump profit at any cost, and that productivity and innovation are greater when the workforce is educated and healthy.

While this may seem to many to be progress, Businesses and the GOP fought, and continue to fight, advances that bring benefit to the common worker and their families.  Their argument? The regulations are unnecessary. The costs are too high. Regulations kill jobs. Accidents happen. It’s nobody’s fault.


As I said, the data is clear: Since implementing these social policies, these entitlements, these (pick your term), the U.S. has experienced the greatest period of growth and prosperity, both nationally and individually, than in any other period in our history. Think about that for a second…

The safety net could hardly have been bad for business,  bad for the economy, or bad for profits (well, except to those math deniers out there). And while living longer, healthier lives with less disease may not be necessary, I think we can all agree that it goes an awful long way to contributing to the Pursuit of Happiness.

And that’s one of our inalienable Rights.

But there’s a group that wants us to think that the safety net is a bad thing. They want us to think that the regulations preventing our food from containing poison are bad for the food industry and the reason we have high unemployment. They want to do away with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that prevents profit driven business practices from poisoning us and our unborn children.

They want us to think that regulations ensuring that workplaces are safe for workers are the reason unemployment is so high. They want to turn back the clock to ‘the good ol’ days’ when Business made the rules, and the One Rule was profit above everything.

They want to do away with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which makes sure that our cough syrup isn’t snake oil and our tomatoes aren’t covered in e.coli or flesh eating bacteria.

They want to do away with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that requires safe workplaces for us. They want to do away with the rules and inspectors that ensure safe and accepted procedures and protocols are followed when working in the Gulf of Mexico, or the gas fields of Pennsylvania, or the mines of West Virginia.

Despite their record otherwise, they want us to believe that Companies will conduct themselves safely, on their own recognizance, without any oversight.  Because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.

Who here can think of a mining disaster that didn’t involve a company with a long history of documented safety abuses? I didn’t think so.

Who here remembers that BP took shortcuts to meet profit deadlines, resulting in an ‘accidental’ dumping of millions of barrels of oil on our shrimp and grouper and sport fishing fields.  Is it any wonder that the gas and oil industry has pumped millions of dollars into ads to defeat President Obama, who insisted that BP pay for their damage done.  The other Party apologized to BP for the treatment they were getting after so many of us lost our jobs and livelihood during the cleanup, calling the fines and mandated cleanup fund the ‘real tragedy’. (1)

They want us to think that Medicare and Social Security are ‘nanny state’ entitlements, and that real Americans take care of themselves, by themselves. Any infirmity should be dealt with by picking oneself up by the bootstraps, not looking for a government handout. Craig T. Nelson, of Coach fame, says it all when he complained about people looking for help from the government. “I’ve been on food stamps and welfare, did anybody help me out? No.” (2)

They want us to think that health care is a privilege reserved only for those wealthy enough to pay. The simple fact that public health ended the polio epidemic, the scourges of pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus, childhood deaths from measles, and a range of maladies from rickets to scurvy do not deter efforts to disband public health in the name of abstinence education and protection of the unborn.

They attack public health, telling us that vaccinations cause cancer and autism, when in fact it’s industrial toxins that are linked most closely to cancer (a list too long to, well, list) and increasingly implicated in Autism. (3)

Despite all evidence to the contrary, they want us to go back to the days when health care was a privilege of the wealthy.

Why? Because healthy people are more capable of learning. Because educated people make informed decisions. Because informed decisions lead to voting one’s own interests. Because there are way more of us (99%) than there are the wealthy (1%). Because wealthy interests rarely cross over to the rest of us. Trickle down has been tried and repeatedly shown to be a marketing gimmick.

They have vowed to disband public health and public education and public protections from industry, including (especially) Wall Street. Not to make the Country better, or to save our children’s future, but because they believe that by virtue of their wealth and station in life that they are better than the rest of us.

You can’t get more un-American than that.





A Sad Day in Benghazi

My heart aches today for Ambassador Stevens and the Marines who died in Benghazi, Libya.  They were over there in the sand, away from family and friends, doing the work of Our Country, a bigger, nobler job than most of us will ever have. They deserve our gratitude and our utmost respect, neither of which can ever make up for their sacrifice.

The people in Libya who were responsible will get theirs, of that I am sure. What goes around, comes around, and we have a pretty good record of coming around.

The other people responsible for this tragedy… unfortunately, I don’t see them being held accountable. They’re the people who bankrolled the film, made the film (evidently, by lying to the cast about what it was about), and then released it to the public. There’s no way, on our mutual God’s green earth, that I’ll ever believe that this group of Jewish financiers didn’t think it might inflame the Arab world.

I’m not picking on Jews, Baptist preacher and hate monger Terry Jones did the same thing when he threatened to publicly burn a copy of the Koran. He weighed in today on the movie:

“The film is not intended to insult the Muslim community, but it is intended to reveal truths about Muhammad that are possibly not widely known. […] The fruits of the religion speak for themselves. For example the recent outbreak of violence and deaths is not because of the film, it is not because of the activities that we have done and that we will continue to do. These types of violent activities must be totally rejected. These people must be held accountable.” (1)

Not intended to insult the Muslim community?  I call BULL %$#@!  on that one.  I haven’t seen the movie, or the trailers. I don’t expect to, as I don’t watch trash.

Evidently, it shows Muhammad frequently womanizing, having sex, and into pedophilia and massacres. It sounds like Caligula.  And it’s not intended to insult the Muslim community? Really? What world can they be living on?

Change ‘Muhammad’ to ‘Jesus’ and imagine how that depiction of Christ in a movie would make Christians feel, especially if non-Christians did it.

Change ‘Muhammad’ to ‘Moses’ and imagine how Jews might feel if the Muslims released it.

Mel Gibson made a movie about Jesus that had none of those things in it, and he still hasn’t lived it down.

I can agree with Terry Jones that the people responsible must be held accountable. I just see more people than he does, as he sees just the Islamic ones.

As it turns out, it may not have been the rioters who did the deed, but another group that had been planning an attack for some time. Whether the riot was the cause, or a convenient diversion for others, there’s no doubt that the movie created the spark.

I know that Christian nations wouldn’t turn into riotous mobs if Muslims made a movie showing Jesus to be … whatever.  Then again, Turkey,  Yugoslavia, The UK, Germany, the good ol’ USA… all have a recent history of Christian intolerance of other religions.

Our (the US) official view is that we never support putting down other religions, but that violence is never an acceptable solution. In other words, the Muslims should chill and take it with grain and stop rioting. I wish they would too.

But you know what, as people are different, Religions are different. They’re not going to have the same rules, or act the same way, nor should they.

To survive in nature, you have to know how to interact with anything that you might encounter. Look a bear! Is it a grizzly bear, or a florida black bear?  BIG difference. Look, a snake! Is it a garter snake that eats vermin, or is it a water moccasin that will strike because I looked at it wrong? Again, BIG difference.

We’ve learned what animals are naturally docile, and which seem eager not to be. The prudent treat them differently. The Indigo Girls sang “the snake will always bite the hand that feeds it”.  You can’t change a leopard’s spots, and you can’t domesticate snakes. They are what they are, and we have to recognize that to co-exist with them. Expecting a cottonmouth not to bite you just because you tossed it a frog is just insane.

I believe that Catholics and Protestants and Baptists and Mormons and Muslims and Jews are what they are. The different religions exist because of the differences in people around the world. Like people, each religion is different in personality and temperament. It’s worth remembering that all worship the same God.

Muslims are hot-blooded when it comes to defending their faith. That’s who they are. They’ve learned that in the Netherlands, where newspapers published cartoons of Muhammad that led to riots, burnings, and deaths. Salman Rushdie learned it, having had to live for 10 years underground, with a death sentence on his head for writing a book; Theo van Gogh learned it the hard way. He was killed for making a film criticizing how Muslims treat women.

Terry Jones knew it, and played it up. Rather than lighting up a Koran during a Sunday morning sermon, or at a Wednesday prayer meeting, he announced ahead of time and made sure there was plenty of press and plenty of furor.  It was easy for him, in the safety of redneck Florida, to rouse up the Arabs by attacking their Bible.

For our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and nieces and nephews serving around the world… not so much.

We don’t need to look at Muslims as right or wrong, or even agree with them, but we do have to recognize their nature in order to co-exist.

If co-existence is the goal, of course. Which brings us back to the financiers and the guy who made the movie. Like Terry Jones, they knew full well what result this movie would create. What they’ve done is more than the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater. They’ve knowingly roused the people outside the theater to burn it down with people inside. That’s murder in my book, plain and simple, and it cries out for accountability.

I’m all for free speech. I believe in freedom of artful expression.  Neither should cover what these guys did, because what they did was purposefully hateful and dangerous to others as a result. They should be prosecuted.

Here in the USA, we should be all about freedom to practice religion, or not, without having to fit into a mold. That’s an even bigger thing than our gun fixation (1st Amendment, vs 2nd). It’s a big reason why many of our forebears left everything they knew and came to these shores.

What that means is that we have to respect others that practice their religion as well. That shouldn’t be a stretch, especially for Christians who have read what Jesus had to say about fighting and getting along with one another.

I think that we can all agree that making fun of someone else’s Prophet or Messiah or Buddha or Incarnation or other-planetary Being… is just asking for a fight. More importantly, it shows no respect, and it is frankly, by definition (there’s that pesky 1st Amendment again) un-American.

May God keep Ambassador Stevens and his team and their families close in His arms. They deserve it.

Source: The Art of Sadness



(1)     ambassador-to-libya-killed_n_1876544.html#91_terry-jones-responds-to-libya-attacks-film-controversy

Guns aren’t the problem…

Now that a few weeks have gone by since the last mass shooting, time for the knee-jerk defensiveness to die down, as it were, I wanted to touch on an issue that I feel lies at the core of that defensiveness.

That being the idea that if assault weapons, and other military size and grade weapons and accessories are restricted, the next step would be the government taking away our hunting rifles and target pistols.

Full disclosure: I am a gun owner, several times over. This is a frequent topic of conversation among my family, notably with my uncle and youngest sister. Both have long careers in law enforcement, both have my enduring respect. And both are “card carrying members” of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  I am not.

Neither believes, in principle, that people on the street (as in, criminals) should have access to body armor, or to armor-piercing rounds, or to high-capacity magazines. Those things just kill cops.

Both are absolutely convinced that any effort to legislate or control their availability will result in the ‘Democrats’ taking away all of our gun rights.

I hear their fear that the godless, faceless ”they” will take away all of our guns. It’s a real fear to them, so real that they’re willing for the bad guys to be better armed than most of the good guys. Now think about that for a second…

But it’s a fear that is not grounded in reality.

Here’s an easy to remember statistic: Number of times that our Government (including Dems, Reps, Whigs, Know-nothings) has tried to take away all of our guns… 0* (zero, zilch, nada). With an asterisk.

The asterisk is for the South during Reconstruction, which passed laws prohibiting blacks from owning, well, just about everything, pistols included. Those laws are no more, and wouldn’t stand today, even with the current makeup of the Supreme Court.

But if the government hasn’t tried to take our guns away in the past (like they did our BEER), why do people feel so strongly that they will?

Guns aren’t the problem, the NRA is the problem

I read that somewhere recently. I wish I had said it first. Full disclosure: I am a gun owner. Several times over.

The NRA was formed in 1871 in response to Union General Ambrose Burnside’s comment that Yankee soldiers only hit 1 Rebel in 1000 rounds shot.

Marksmanship classes were clearly in order, and the group was formed to address the need.

The NRA’s legislative efforts began in earnest with the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Federal Firearms Act of 1938. The Acts initiated licensing for gun dealers and high taxes for machine guns. The NRA supported both. The 2nd Amendment, remember, was written circa 1789, and was well-known to the NRA of the 30’s, which had no problem with Congress regulating guns, nor fear that our Remingtons would be next.

The NRA has many good programs geared towards gun use and safety, especially for kids.  It serves as a social community for gun sport enthusiasts, sponsoring tournaments, clinics, evaluations and seminars.

It wasn’t until the election of 1980 that the NRA started picking candidates for general election.  It’s gone down hill since then, with the NRA pouring millions of dollars into campaigns to further the notion that ‘democrats’ are out to take away all of our guns.

While I don’t believe that corporations are people, I’m ok with a corporation/association having a political position. What I’m not ok with are the things that the NRA is against:

  • Against waiting periods for gun purchases.
  • Against background checks of any kind (felony, mental illness, terror watch list).
  • Against restricting automatic weapons like were used to shoot 34 people at Columbine High.
  • Against restricting 100 round drum magazines like the one used to shoot 70 people at the Batman movie in Colorado.
  • Against restricting 33 round pistol clips like the one used to shoot Gabby Giffords and 19 others while standing on a corner in Arizona.
  • Against restricting the military assault rifles used in each case.
  • Against restricting armor-piercing ammo, which make police vests useless.
  • Against restricting gun shows, which remain an effective legal black market for military grade weapons, devoid of waiting, licenses, checks, or sanity.
  • Against taking the advice of prosecutors and law enforcement officers who argued against ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws written and pushed by the NRA.
  • Against carry restrictions in parks, movies, schools… pretty much anywhere but the halls of Congress. (Gotta protect their investment after all!)

I’d just like to point out that none of the above are used in sport shooting or hunting anything but people.

Their rationale? If military guns can be outlawed, then it’s just a matter of time before the democrats take the rest. It’s the old ‘slippery slope’ argument.

Here’s a quote from the NRA about recent efforts, in light of the Tucson and Aurora shootings, to reenact the ban on large capacity magazines that was part of the Federal Assault Weapons ban from 1994-2004:

“The  magazine ban was a failed idea from the Clinton era, and will have no impact on criminal misuse of firearms, now, or in the future.  It only serves to limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. NRA strongly opposes this amendment.  We will work with our allies to defeat this anti-freedom proposal, and will track any vote on the amendment if it is allowed under Senate rules.”  (1)

In fairness, I was going to list the mass shootings that occurred during this time, as proof that the ban was a failed one.  I only found one. Columbine happened, but with weapons that were obtained through the gun show loophole that the NRA insisted upon.

Nor did I find any evidence that the slippery slope of regulation led to further, more restrictive, gun laws directed at our hunting and target sports. AK-47’s were illegal for 10 years, yet no one came for my shotgun(s).

That reduces the NRA to little more than a lobby for the gun sellers, not for us users. Think Wall St. lobbyists who pay Congress for lax rules when playing with our pensions. Think Big Oil lobbyists, who successfully pay Congress to get taxpayer subsidies in the face of record profits every quarter. Think Big Pharma lobbyists, who pay to get their drug approved even though, in bringing down your cholesterol, it causes more strokes and heart attacks.

If somebody came out with ‘anthrax ammo’, is there any question that the NRA would push for it to be legal, even though just 1 shot could kill an entire auditorium full of kids? To channel Bill Murray in Stripes, “There’s something wrong with that. Something very, very wrong with that.”  It makes no sense in regards to freedom, the Constitution, or even American individualism, for a group to fight to keep military grade weapons in the hands of the mentally ill, as the NRA does. How far they’ve fallen since the 1930’s.

Some Common Sense

I believe that we can control weapons of mass people destruction without jeopardizing our hunting and sporting guns. We license EVERYTHING else that hurts people… cars, trucks, bikes, food, beer, smoke, pharmaceuticals, baby chairs, bibs, boats, fishing, walking downtown, selling hot dogs or T-shirts at bike week… and yet we responsible people still have access to all of those things.

There is no (reasonable) reason why it wouldn’t be the same if assault rifles and large capacity magazines were controlled like, say, race cars. Them good ol’ boys at Daytona cain’t drive those cars home on Daytona streets after the race, but they CAN have cars that are safe to drive on Daytona streets with the rest of us . Nobody has taken our cars away from us, unless of course we’ve shown to be unsafe while driving them… which I believe they should.

Because a (card-carrying NRA) crazy used a truck full of fertilizer based explosives to blow up a building full of kids, you can’t get trucks close to airports, you can’t buy hundreds of pounds of nitrogen without raising flags, and repeat incidents have been discovered and prevented by such measures. Why are assault rifles any different?

I recently came across an opinion piece (2) that decried the fact that there are over 80 million gun owners in the US, yet only a fraction of us belong to the NRA. The author wanted all 80 million of us to join the NRA to protect our rights against… the Democrats, who are trying to take our right to hunt rabbits .

What I see… is that there are 80 million gun owners in America, the majority of which cannot support the extreme, irrational, politically motivated positions of the NRA as they apply to military grade weapons in the hands of the non military. It is clear that a healthy percentage of Americans own and use guns, that the majority of Americans support gun ownership, and polls show that the majority of Americans think that high-capacity magazines should not be available to the general population, that military grade assault weapons should not be available to the general population, and that those with a history of mental illness or felonies should not be able to purchase firearms capable of taking out an entire Applebees at rush hour. The NRA is clearly out of touch.

Because of the NRA, what we have instead of ‘when guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns’, is more like “when military weapons of mass destruction are freely available, criminals and crazies will use them with great success in our children’s schools, against law-abiding citizens and law enforcement officers.”  The only ones who win in that scenario are the people who sell the guns and ammo. Like Pushers, they don’t care who buys and uses, who lives or dies, as long as they get the sales. We the people don’t win. The 20-year-old who is struggling to find his place in the world and is able purchase multiple assault rifles, thousands of rounds of assault rifle ammo and a drum magazine to get through it all quickly… and all of it legally… he doesn’t win. The 70 people he shot, they didn’t win.

Who came out ahead? The sellers did. Why? Their lobby, the NRA.  Both seemingly want to see it happen again and again and again… because, well, it’s profitable, and that’s the American way.

And there’s something very, very wrong with that. As Hoyt Axton wrote… “God damn the Pusher”.

(photo by geo)




Organic or Not?

I’m weighing in on the recent hoopla created by the news from Stanford researchers,  that organically grown fruits and vegetables are no more ‘nutritious’ than those not carrying the label.

This should not be news.

The study did show half the bacterial contamination and only a fraction of the pesticides in the organic produce versus the other. Again, this is to be expected.

The purpose of organically grown produce is twofold: protecting and nurturing the soil, and the vital micro-organisms living there, and protecting nature and the rest of us from pesticides.  More vitamins was never part of the bargain.

The benefits or organic farming are well documented, as are the results of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Monsanto had a TV commercial years ago that proclaimed “Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible”, and true it is. But consider that with chemicals in the wrong concentrations, life itself is indeed impossible.  Here’s an easy example: All animals need oxygen, but only at 21%. Breathing 100% oxygen for more than a few days is a recipe for death. Not immediate death, mind you, but the kind where the damage is done and the wheels set into motion way before symptoms are felt. A line of death is crossed, and it’s invisible until it’s too late.  Clearly, more is not better.

Same with fertilizers. Soil is not just inanimate dirt. Soil is alive. It teems with life, life that enables organic material to break down into nutrients, life that enables plants to absorb those nutrients and grow.

Unless that life gets poisoned,  like it does when chemical fertilizers are used.  Soil that is ‘pumped up’ with chemicals rapidly loses the beneficial micro organisms common in rich soil.  Like lung tissue that burns in the face of too much chemical oxygen, soil burns and dies in the presence of too much chemical fertilizer.  Now think about that for second.

Years ago, the first farmers figured out that some crops needed rotating, and that fields needed to be left fallow, or not planted, in order to recover their fertility.  Our modern, profit maximizing solution is to pour on the artificial chemicals, fertilizers for plants, hormones for animals, and force much higher productivity.

As with most profit maximizing solutions, this one is short-sighted. Killing the soil and passing hormones into the food supply have to be considered, at the least, unwelcome  outcomes.

The harmful effects of pesticides on both the environment and humankind is without question. Society often makes trade-offs… this one is enough food to throw away, keeping prices low, or having poison free food.

I choose poison free whenever I can get it. I think you should too. And If we can help keep the soil from having too much of it,  then we all win.(photo by geo)

Hello world!

This blog will feature mostly writing; musings, rants, maybe some photography that I feel complements the topic of the day. I profess no particular expertise or wisdom other than that acquired during my rather normal American life, if there is such a thing.  I like to tell my new friends that I’m southern, with the benefits of a “nawthen” education. Not yet old, even if the server gave me a seniors’ discount at lunch the other day, but I recognize that I’m definitely no longer young either. Well, physically anyway.  I still think I can do everything I did at 20.

Most of what follows will be social and political in nature. I’m influenced by music, science, tech, and nature. I’m the product of a strongly patriotic (and paranoid) age, one in which the principles of the Constitution were revered as much as the document itself, and more so than it’s authors, the *deep voice* Founding Fathers. It was equality*, and it was freedom of… and freedom from… that were held up as the American Way in the cold war with the USSR.  It was also a time of great racial and generational unrest. Even to my formative mind, I could see that we were telling the Russki’s and everybody else that all men deserved freedom and equality, and we were telling our black neighbors here at home (as American as I by definition, but somehow 2nd class in practice) that they didn’t deserve such things. We told 18 year old men that they were old enough to be called up against their will, fight and die, yet told them as kids they weren’t old enough to buy a beer until they were 21. We said we were about peace and democracy yet fought wars of aggression and assassinated another nation’s democratically elected  leader. Now Think about that for a Second.

I believe that individual people are almost always good, even if they aggregate into rednecks.  The line from the movie (I can’t remember which one)** was something like “a person is reasonable, people are an angry mob.”  Living in the Deep South for as long I have, I’ve seen it, firsthand, many times. Not saying that all people are good, they’re definitely not. Some are just too mean for society.

I also believe that we individually and collectively have an obligation to make things better. All things. Not just for our kids, for all kids. Terry Kath (Chicago) sang “We can make it happen” and he was right. I’ve also seen that firsthand.

So I grew up being shaped by those things; the conflicting story, the hypocrisy of our society, the duality of individuals who, at the fish fry in the evening could be hateful  to those that they were good Samaritans to in the morning, and the feeling of responsibility to help change things and make them better. They’re ingrained in my psyche, a big red button that gets pushed and sets off the air raid sirens.*** They spark my interest, my sense of injustice, and make commentary necessary.

For me anyway.

* White men only, people of color and women not included.

** It was a good movie, apologies to them for not remembering the title. I’ll find it and give it special treatment down the road.

*** My kids have never heard the sirens, never had to ‘duck and cover’. I’ll write about that too.