Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Speak English!

Last year, I was cruising South down the Florida coast, headed for home and minding my own business.  The VHF radio was on, monitoring channel 16 as per custom and the rules and a voice came on, a bit weak, saying something in Spanish to another vessel too far away for me to hear.  They were certainly in international waters along with countless other vessels steaming past the US en route to somewhere else.

"SPEAK ENGLISH!" blasted a nearby voice.

I can't really think of a suitable word to describe that sort of ignorant insolence, nor for the sort of person who thinks, probably in the name of freedom, he can dictate to others what language they can speak or is too caught up in the common Conservative low brow reflex to hearing some language he can't understand.

I have to admit that sometimes I feel the same way when listening to the American news media. It's not so much that I'm forced to learn useless vulgar neologisms like "twerking" but more that I simply and all too often have no idea what they're talking about.  Take HNN's recent discussion of a young woman having been beaten to death in front of witnesses and cameras.  I don't know why, because every reference to the story I can find tells me it was about a "photobomb."   Every one, because the media in their hysterical lust to sound trendy ( in the old sense of the word since trend now means something entirely different) has run off the linguistic rails.  Somehow a very attractive young woman was murdered for having done some insignificant but mysterious thing and I will never know why.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This Land is Your Land

Despite the continuing efforts of the Republicans

I was never a big Pete Seeger fan, but my college years having coincided with the folk music revival, I certainly heard him a lot. I appreciated that he came from the time and conditions that produced Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck and a lot of skepticism about how well our version of Capitalism served freedom and democracy.  Those folks and many others weren't well received by the same sort of  -- I hesitate to use the word bastards, but it fits -- who are still calling everything and everyone Communists for every spurious reason they can.  Seeger has my respect, for his courage more than for his musicianship. He used his humor and his banjo against the union bashers and skull crackers, stood up to the Joe McCarthy thugs and the war mongers and spawned a generation of musical protest that seems strangely absent at a time when much of what he fought is metastasizing like a cancer. We still need to be reminded just who it is who owns this land, the Koch Brothers,
Roger Ailes, the Tea Party or the voters.

Pete Seeger died yesterday at the age of 94 after a very short illness.  4 days before he entered the hospital he was chopping wood, says his grandson. He died in the hospital 4 days before he could collect the Woody Guthrie Prize.  So long Pete, it's been good to know ya but your conscience still sings to us.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Island time

Capt. Fogg is out to sea again - seeya next week

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bloody revenge

"Oh, my God," said Amber McGuire as she watched her father die, strapped to a table like a sacrificial victim snorting and  gasping for air for almost 25 minutes. Dennis McGuire was guilty of  the rape and murder of a pregnant woman, there's no doubt about it.  The only doubts, and there are quite a few, is whether killing him was so urgent a matter to the State of Ohio that they had to use a new method, yet untried and without any particular regard to the chances of yet another, screwed up execution or should I say, state murder.

No pig or other animal was harmed in this experiment, only a human. Since the manufacturer of the three-drug killing machine drugs refuses to sell to executioners and Doctors refuse to administer far more humane injections, it's left to the kind of loathsome creeps that manage executions to choose how to kill people and besides, as Assistant Ohio Attorney General Thomas Madden said over the objection of McGuire's lawyers that while the U.S. Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment, "you're not entitled to a pain-free execution." Not any more than you're entitled to humane imprisonment, entitled to be protected against unwarranted search and seizure or due process these days. And apparently we like it that way. We won't give it up. We won't stop finding lame excuses for doing it.  Unusual?  Sad to say, no. Cruel?  Well not if you're angry enough 

I have no idea whether the electric chair produces severe pain.  I suspect that in some cases it does and of course it's so gruesome to observers that the very first time it was tried, the witnesses fled the scene sobbing and vomiting, but that was then. This is now.  We are a far more hard hearted country, or at least the negative pole of our polarized country is. Read any news report that allows public commentary, watch Anderson Cooper with the viewer comments crawl and you skin may begin to crawl at the bloodthirsty rage of Americans.  It's as though we were still the land of barbaric public executions cheered on by the drooling bloodthirsty multitudes.  America treasures it's rage.  I'm sick at listening to people so in love with killing that any chance for doing it legally is a necrodesiac. They want death, they want it NOW and they want it as gruesome as those effeminate, whining, WWJD bleeding heart liberals will let it be.   Mad dogs are treated with far more compassion that mad humans in Ohio. A simple injection and the dog drifts painlessly away. 

So when the family of McGuire's victim says they have forgiven them but he still has to pay, I once again have to give up on Homo Americanus. Payment after all is not punishment. the offended party is not reimbursed nor made whole and the dead remain dead no matter what you do to the man, strapped helplessly to a cross, arms spread wide for the nasty accomplices to pump him full of agony.  While America smiles at the divine bookkeeping entry.  One family feels better, another has to live with having sat by and watched the state of Ohio kill her father. Surely that makes God smile in approval, seeing his books balanced.

Only a few countries execute people.  We're taught to see those countries as barbaric tyrannies.  Statistics don't show any preventative value, we do it because we can and because it's a chance to indulge our blood lust without guilt and so may of those who try to tell us this is a Christian Nation are firm supporters of killing people in cold blood.

I've never been closer to simply getting on a boat and sailing away

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Holy, holy, holy

I just knew that bearded duck-calling dipshit would come out of this a hero.  You can still smell the stink of the phoney outrage about his getting suspended for review for a few days, but as of yesterday there was a big new display of Duck Dynasty crap at the Winn-Dixie and today Fat Matt Barber of the Far Right radio station Liberty Counsel is scheduled to air his encomium to the hero who stood up to the bullies. Bullies, of course being the "gaystapo" and his employers who pay him to jape and mug and act like the stereotypical redneck with money.

Funny though, isn't it, that when any other employee stands up to an employer who doesn't pay enough or provide safe working conditions and decent benefits -- that's Communism. Hypocrisy?  Hell no, it's the national disease. It's the national sickness.  It's the death of freedom, Democracy and human decency: it's Christian fundamentalism and it's being preached all over the land every day of the week.

But no, says the pious patriot. Ol' Phil stood there on "principle" and spoke with "love" against the "tyranny of the minority" and after all what's more tyrannical than asking for dignity and  equal protection under the law?  What's more loving than slander, insult and condemnation?  No, submitting to common decency and the law of the United States would be like "negotiating with Terrorists"  Like submitting to "Homofascism."

“This tyranny of the minority has been taking place for too long now and Americans, when they stand up, when the double down and say ‘no, I’m not going to waiver from biblical truth on matters of human sexuality, it’s like okay, what are you going to do now? Nothing. They go away and lick their wounds.”

Or so he wishes.  If he's right, America has no future.  The rest of the world will have to destroy us for their own good and safety.  If he's wrong there will be a long line waiting to piss on his grave.

I see it as a opportunity - or should I say another opportunity for decent people to shout him down from every pulpit in the land, an opportunity I'm dead certain will be missed, passed over in favor of defensive mumbling, disclaimers and smug piety.  It's not enough to say we had nothing to do with this.  It's barely enough to go out in the street next Sunday -- by the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. It's barely enough to take responsibility for centuries of looking the other way at best and participating at worst. It's your original sin. Stand up and tell these subversives, tyrants and Biblical blowhards they're wrong, they're enemies of freedom and not patriots. Stand up and deal with it before it deals with you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hope - and profit - springs eternal

This will be the umpteenth time I've emitted exasperation and frustration and disgust about the clouding, muddling and obscuring of matters scientific and medical by fraudulent, devious marketers.  As a rule, if it's something to do with making you lose weight, look younger, be smarter, it's bogus. If it references "the proven science of the glycemic index"  will you ask yourself how an index can be a science, proven or otherwise? Will you ask if all those "clinical trials" really exist or whether the clinic was really an ad agency or if the "study" wasn't just conjecture?  From looking at the billions Americans spend on such things, the answer is no.

The FTC seems at long last to be paying attention to the purveyors of miracle berrys and magic laxative powders whose clinical trials consist of hiring people in white coats to sign off on what are not scientific studies, don't appear in peer reviewed journals and often don't exist at all.  Skin creams "based on the Mediterranean life style,"  hormone drops that produce weight loss only when you eat less than 800 calories a day sell briskly on the false claim that they're FDA approved.  I'm only scratching the surface.

"Simply sprinkle Sensa on, eat all the foods you love and watch the pounds come off, it's that easy." 

 raves a commercial.  The stuff sells for $59 bucks for a months' supply and Sensa has made over $360 million selling it over the past 4 years.  I'm sure it works too if you eat 800 calories of  'all the foods you love' and start running marathons.  Anything will and yet we keep paying for false hope and eating double bacon cheeseburgers. Real or false, it springs eternal.

Of late the FTC has been going after them for false advertizing. Sensa will pay $26.5 million although they claim it's not an admission the stuff is snake oil.  Of course to some political persuasions, such regulation is anathema as the right to bilk the public is divinely sanctioned, as long as the profits are shared by public officials or the people who support their campaigns.  

With all the talk about declining educational standards, the absence of art, music and even physical education in schools, maybe there should be some new emphasis on teaching healthy skepticism, on teaching what science really is and how legitimate research is conducted.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dark matters

I've always been uncomfortable with the term "Dark Matter."  Whatever the phenomenon behind unexplained gravitational forces might be, leakage from an alternate universe or MOND or TeVeS we're only guessing what it is from the observable world where mass has gravity.  Yes, it's presumptuous of me to talk about things so far over my head (pun partially intended) but when I heard  Neal DeGrasse Tyson explain to Bill Moyers that the existence of such invisible "stuff" was only suggested by habit I was impressed, as I usually am when someone otherwise impressive agrees with my muddy observations.  “What it truly is is dark gravity. Boom,”  Sounds right to me and right to the point. We see what habit primes us to see.  Obviously a genius.

I have to like the guy and although some astrophysicists seem to have fled out into the cosmos  to escape the rest of us and others dislike scientists who make the effort to share their enthusiasm for science with the world, seeing that as an effort to sell ideas without peer review, I don't think his regard and his enthusiasm for public understanding of what's going on at the frontier of knowledge is a fault. I'm looking forward to the rest of his series  The New Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

I have to like the guy even more after reading this excerpt from his new autobiography: The Sky is not the Limit

"When combined with the dozens of times I have been stopped and questioned by the police for going to and from my office after hours, and the hundreds of times I am followed by security guards in department stores, and the countless times people cross the street upon seeing me approach them on the sidewalk, I can summarize my life’s path by noting the following: in the perception of society, my athletic talents are genetic; I am a likely mugger-rapist; my academic failures are expected; and my academic successes are attributed to others."

If that doesn't resonate with you somehow, perhaps only that alternate universe hypothesis can explain it.  Dr. Tyson is an exceptional man and not only for being able to do the math that stumps a brain such as most of us have, but for succeeding at doing what society has constantly told him he couldn't, shouldn't and wasn't suited to do.  An example for the young, certainly, but more deliciously a slap in the face for smug, condescending attitudes from those who think they know something important about you by referring to a stereotype. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mischief and Punishment

We hear of cases like this too often and the only thing that distinguishes this one from most in my mind is that it's from Canada, a country that I somehow am inclined to see as more rational, less hysterical than the United States. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if  a 16 year old girl sends 'explicit' JPEGs of her 17 year old boyfriend's ex-girlfriend to a few of her acquaintances via cell phone it isn't the kind of "child pornography" we pass draconian laws to suppress. It's perhaps more of an example of adolescent lack of control and the kind of hurt that young people are likely to feel at rejection. 

Canadian courts have none the less found her guilty of distributing child pornography and she is awaiting sentencing.  Somehow I agree with her attorney that although the deed was inappropriate and perhaps actionable in some way, the kid isn't a "child pornographer" and that the laws in Canada and the US weren't designed to punish such childish acts with huge prison sentences.

Is there really a "law" of unintended consequences?  I have no idea, but there's a strong tendency to write bad law in proportion to the ire of the zealots and activists that draft them.  There's a strong connection between "zero tolerance" for misdeeds and zero forethought.  There's a strong tendency to force events into the scenarios provided by our own fears and loathings and anger and it applies not only to failing to discriminate between people who prey on children and children doing childish things. The six year old who plants a kiss on another six year old isn't a rapist and doesn't deserve to be branded as one.  The 12 year old who takes a picture of  herself, of another kid isn't a pornographer and deserving of our pious rage and punishment. 

Perhaps sometimes our own best motivations make us blind, stupid, pompous and inhuman.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Of rats and men

When I watched Dennis Rodman's drunken rant the other day, I was astonished, dumfounded and amazed that none of the commentary included the compelling, obvious, unavoidable  observation that the man was dead drunk:  smashed, stewed, tanked, wasted, three sheets to the wind and shitfaced.  It was probably more obvious to the sheepish players sitting next to him who were, I'm sure, worried about any open flame in such hazardous atmosphere.  If we needed any further reminder of the somewhat erratic journalistic and public  tendency to forgive athletes for their often disgusting outbursts, perhaps here we have it.

None the less, we now have the inevitable apology from the man who might not give a rat's ass about being a rat and an ass himself  but just might respond to worries about the financial consequences on those too rare occasions of sobriety.  I'm not expecting any such retraction from the Reverend Jesse 'Hymietown' Jackson who not only couldn't find the strength to criticize the friend and defender of a grizzly mass murderer and psychotic tyrant, but still defends him.  "I had been drinking" says Rodman through a face full of hardware.  No shit! reverberates throughout the cosmos.

Is it time at long last, for America to examine the way it selects people for elevation to the status of hero, prophet and role model for our children - examine the reasons we give to explain our support or condemnation? 

Shhhh - what's that sound?   NO SHIT! says the universe.

Monday, January 06, 2014

What You See Is All There Is.

Or Night of the Radio Frequency Dead

Remember the Alar scare from the 80's?  Feed mice enough of the stuff they used to spray on apples to choke a hippo -- about 5000 gallons a day scaled up to human proportions,  and they sometimes might get sick and so therefore according to what passes for logic in America, it's TOXIC and so much so, there were instances of people calling up toxic waste facilities to ask whether apple juice was too dangerous to dump along with the nuclear waste.  Flush it down the toilet and the world might just end. Of course in the real world, nobody really could demonstrate any ill effects.  There are after all enough people who don't feel well at one time or another to keep the Chicken Littles clucking about toxins and selling us things to make it go away. People still believe it's deadly, but then people still believe lead foil on the outside of a wine bottle will make the wine poisonous and that degradation of  someone's DNA would turn it into OJ Simpson's and WiFi at Starbucks will lower your sperm count.

Does eating Gluten give you "grain brain" and make you fat?  No reason to think so but that some entrepreneur wrote a book and advertises on the internet, but all it takes is a handful of people who say they feel good after eating Doctor Bonkers' breakfast cereal to provide "clinical results" and don't bother to teach them about statistical regression or the Placebo effect or deprive them of that holier than thou status one gets from a gluten free diet.  I mean there's a "study" of mummies that proves wheat killed off the Egyptian aristocracy even though it's total fact-free bunkum. It's all I know, so that's all anybody knows.

Think we've learned anything?  No, we haven't and with statistical and clinical support or without it - especially without it -we're still willing to fear that something is making us sick even if we're not sick - something other than the double bacon cheeseburgers with special sauce or the cigarettes or all that TV and video game couch time. Besides it doesn't matter if you buy the magic berries of the week and it must be true if it's on Oprah.  I'm tempted to say there is no truth, no science, no knowledge any more, only marketing.

I remember when TV would make you blind and color TV would give you cancer and you would get melanoma  even on a cloudy day in Yellow Knife wearing a shirt and ski mask. Nuclear testing would produce giant ants and medical advance would piss off God as much as building a ziggurat over 70 feet high once did. None of us are old enough to remember the scares about how taking a train that went over 20mph would make your blood boil and the Telegraph would leach away the electricity from your brain and give you neurasthenia and of course there were dire predictions about electric light and the Telephone - and Ohmagawd, now there's radio and there are "activist groups" to make sure we're properly misinformed and hysterical.

Absence of evidence always seems to trump evidence of absence.  That cell phones after extensive research don't really seem to cause cancer or kill bees, has little effect on belief nor does the fact that police radios put out far,far more power and the police aren't keeling over from neuresthenia - nor the ham radio operators with their 1500 watt transmitters for that matter. That Fluoride in the water doesn't melt your bones and that the Measles vaccine really does prevent measles and condoms really do work for prevention of disease is as demonstrable and more so than than the hard fact that Neill Armstrong didn't take one great leap for mankind in some studio in Pasadena.  It doesn't matter. As Barnum said, there's one born every minute and not one of them has a clue about what a 'study' is, what statistics teach us or what scientists are doing these days.  

An article in the local paper the other day told us about the "environmental activist group" that was suing to opt out of the "Smart Meter" program that eliminated meter readers and that can tell the electric company if your power is out and what you peak usage time is.  They use "radio frequencies" insist the activists and although not one of them can cite any evidence that the microscopic amounts of RF these meters use will in any way affect anything living or dead and despite the many years of research and the 100 years of experience users of high power radio equipment have logged, they're convinced that these meters will produce immense ecological damage.  Of course in this town there's a contingent that is sure the meters are only there to let Obama listen to your thoughts.  I wish I were joking.

These are the same kind of people that will become hysterical about "cell phone frequencies" without any idea what those frequencies are, how they behave, what other equipment uses those bands at much higher power levels and are likely to mumble something about roulette when asked about the inverse square law.  Are they the same people who talk about 'going green' and  'saving the planet' when they unplug their cell phone charger to save a milliwatt hour per year?

Who knows?  So anxious is the human mind to find causal relationships in chaos.  When one unrelated thing follows another, it's enough and as the man from the paper says, "maybe these meters are the reason we have so much more autism."  Maybe indeed and the less information he has about radio frequency emissions or human developmental problems the more speculation seems justified by random events. One always prefers a plausible story to a discussion of mathematical probability and the more so when the plausibility is based on ignorance.  As Daniel Kahneman calls it:  WYSIATI, or What You See Is All There Is.  If I don't know the science, there is no science.  I've always called it the "I don't know, therefore. . ." fallacy or the Argument from Ignorance, but either way if I don't know exactly how the pyramids were built, even if someone else does, it must be space aliens and by the way, my front porch light burned out yesterday and my knee hurts this morning -- those compact fluorescents emit radio frequencies after all.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

All I have to do is dream

Phil Everly  1939 - 2014

Summer of  '58 - the Everly Brothers, a friend's back porch, his older sister's little 45RPM machine.  13 years old and I know about those dreams, the world on the horizon, just out of reach almost too much to hope for and just aching not to be just a boy any more.  Tail fins and chrome bumpers like big breasts on two tone cars and Little Suzie in the back seat. Drive in movies and hot dogs and big Schwinn bicycles with springer forks and how I wished it was an Indian.

Year before I had rigged mom's Motorola 5 tube, battery radio to take earphones. WJJD in Chicago and when she took it back, those batteries were expensive, I built a germanium diode radio with a one transistor PNP audio amp and a wire out the window and Rock & Roll under the blankets late at night like a new 283 cubic inch, fuel injected V8 world coming to replace the old one.  Fuelie Chevy, Duntov cam - three speed trans. Everly Brothers on a Summer night.  All I have to do is dream.

Good night Phil, good night
We gotta go home.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Much ado about plastic.

Evidently, the "printable gun" bogeyman still has the ability to scare people (and increase ratings) because there's little sign that the scaremongers will let it go away before they have to. In fact it's acquired a cute new name:  Wikiweapons.  It has a certain ring to it and the notion that we can push a button and some advanced weapons system will pop out of a cheap printer like popcorn from your microwave and that will be so undetectable that you and it can waltz right on to an airplane undetected, is more deliciously scary than Global Warming or Zombies or designer viruses.

Looking at the plastic firearm CNN tells us was just acquired by the V&A museum in London for their design collection, one has to have some doubts about undetectability.  Having been stopped and searched at Miami International two years ago because the detection equipment saw an aspirin tablet in my pants pocket, this toaster sized thing isn't likely to go unnoticed and is way too big to fit into your pocket.  Of course the ammunition won't get past even the crudest metal detectors.  I should point out that plastic daggers are readily available right now. They generally do get detected. They generally aren't used in crimes.

If anything, this is a perfect illustration of people's tendency to  reach a snap decision on the limited information presented without asking how complete a picture they've been given,  When you want to scare the public, it's best to keep the unknown threat as vague and inaccurate as possible and to use only the data that support your gambit.  Few people will do the work, many won't have enough facts and those facts that may arise can be disposed of by citing the "gun culture" as cause for disbelief.

When the printable gun hoopla hit the press last year, it featured stories about how one could print a marginally useful receiver for popular semi-automatic weapons and with no serial numbers. That certainly looms less alarmingly when you learn you can buy a metal one that needs only a cheap hand drill to finish (and works vastly better) for less than 30 bucks from any number of sporting goods catalogs. In fact you can buy kits and plans for the whole Kalashnikov shebang. And of course it is already illegal to possess  firearms with missing or obliterated serial numbers,  so we really don't need to start passing more laws to make the illegal 'illegaler'  But the question we should be asking here is:  With guns readily available over and under the table, why obsess about the threat of "Wikiweapons" 

It doesn't take a lot of skill to make a simple handgun using something like a Unimat, a small combination drill press, lathe and milling machine. and those things are far cheaper than 3D printers. Even if you make it out of brass or soft steel, it will be a better, more reliable and longer lasting weapon than your hot off the press Delrin Derringer. I can make a plastic gun the old fashioned way too and far more cheaply -- and yet we don't seem to see such things used in crimes, now do we? And more importantly, plans, instructions, parts, kits and blueprints  are available on line to make your  own AK or M14 or M4 civilian semi-auto  or make the one you buy at Wal-Mart into a fully automatic machine gun.  

Pump up the panic! Play down the facts.  Look, isn't the real problem that underage and demented people can buy guns already?  If I can walk into one of several gun shops large and small around here and buy ten civilian AK-47 rifles, file off the serial numbers, convert them to full automatic and all for a tenth of what I can buy a printer for, than I think panic about plastic is unwarranted.

As I said above, blueprints for guns are available everywhere and on-line. Yes, although it's easier to build a simple firearm, legal or not, from metal, cheaper to use tools you can buy for a few hundred bucks than to make "wikiweapons,"  It is  the most simple thing of all just to buy, borrow or steal one already made! 

So I ask you why we are banning the software if we have freedom of the press and speech?  Why is Cody Wilson one of the "15 most dangerous men in the world" and why, if it is legal and easy to obtain the blueprints for nuclear weapons is it so horribly wrong just  to look at a blueprint for a clumsy and nearly useless version of something already legally available?  Because fear sells and fear of the unknown sells best.