Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bush Waited Six Days To Discuss Shoe Bomber With No GOP Complaints

Look, the universe will undergo heat death before conservative Republicans will grant ANYTHING to a Democratic President. Consistency is not something they give a tinker's damn about. If Obama didn't get a dog then the conservatives would say "you know, I just can't trust a President who doesn't own a dog. Oh and don't Muslims consider dogs unclean". He gets a dog and conservatives complain that the dog will pee on the White House carpets. If Obama came on TV and said that we should wipe every Muslim from the face of the Earth, then the conservatives would suddenly claim that 'we're all Muslims now' and 'I have always loved and respected Muslims and can't we just let bygones be bygones on the whole 9/11 thing...' Since he hasn't said 'kill all the Muslims' the conservatives take the tact of "we should adopt a policy of 'shoot Muslims on sight'".

Part of me wishes that conservative Republicans would fully grasp that Obama (and liberal Democrats generally) breath oxygen and drink water JUST so they could try holding their breaths so that they weren't doing anything that a liberal Democrat might do.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Geek wall art

So I received my EMF poster from ThinkGeek today! Yes of all the things I could use geek points on this is what I chose.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another long day of training

I'm in Scrum/Agile training. Sitting in the world's least comfortable chair. This is day two. Will it never end?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Side-Hug: Youth Group Puts Down Sinful "Front-Hugs" With Rap (VIDEO)

Eye bleach please! I want to un-see it!!!!

Oh sweet and sour Jesus that was, perhaps, the cheesiest thing I've seen since I watched Plan 9 From Outer Space 25 years ago. One can only wonder if these "rappers" realize how completely and utterly pathetic they look.


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Large Hadron Collider Smashes Its First Protons

One cannot help but note that, all the hype that was going on here a year ago on the day of the Great On-Turning (sorry couldn't help the Douglas Adams reference) not-with-standing about the LHC creating a mini-black hole and destroying the Earth, the planet is still here.


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Large Hadron Collider Smashes Its First Protons

What, precisely, do you want to know?


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Dems To Vitter: Denounce Glenn Beck's Landrieu-Prostitute Analogies

While I understand the offense (and am offended by it) I think that the Democrats are making yet another tactical error. It's a well-worn one for Democrats and it is this: they are showing that language like this bothers them. While the Dems are *correct* that the comments are out-of-line and offensive, they make the twinned mistakes of a) believing that the conservatives will *care* (they won't) and b) that this makes the conservatives look bad.

What it does is make Democrats look *weak* and one thing we should all have learned on the playground is that you never, ever, show weakness to the bully. Never. Should Vitter apologize? Of course he should! Will he? Of course he won't! And every request for apology will simply make Limbaugh, Beck, et. al. gleeful at the perceived distress which will only spur them on.


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Kirk Cameron Confronted Over Evolution (VIDEO)

Who are these evolutionists who dismiss evolution? There's debate in the biology community on how powerful of an engine natural selection is as opposed to, say, sexual selection (which was also first articulated by Darwin) or what (if any) role group selection plays but I know of not a single evolutionary biologist who doubts that evolution *happened*. Names, please. I want to know who these evolutionary biologists are who deny evolution happened.


About Evolution
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Kirk Cameron Confronted Over Evolution (VIDEO)

Watched it. The movie is simply riddled with errors. In fact, I'm surprised that they managed to avoid getting Ben Stein's name wrong.


About Evolution
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Monday, November 23, 2009

Richard Tisei, Openly Gay Republican, Picked As GOP Gubernatorial Candidate's Running Mate

This will be interesting. Will the GOP base actually *support* someone who has an openly gay running mate OR will this person be put in the same category as the rest of us who are 'threats to traditional families'. The man, by the accounts I've read so far, is pro-gay--meaning that he's in favor of gays and lesbians having full and equal civil rights in this country (and not in that cheeky sense of "well, no heterosexual can marry someone of the same gender either so it's fair" or "well, people can lose their jobs for any number of reasons, losing your job because you are gay is the same as losing your job because you are incompetent").

This means that the GOP base has to make a choice now. How much do they REALLY mean their anti-gay rhetoric? If they mean it, then they cannot want and will not tolerate this man being a heartbeat away from the governorship. If they don't mean and can support him, then that means that they don't actually *mean* what they say about gays. If it's the latter case, then the Democratic party could find itself in serious trouble because if the GOP does *not* mean the anti-gay rhetoric, then it would behoove gays and lesbians to split their allegiances and try to move the GOP in a more inclusive direction. If, of course, they mean their rhetoric then it's the status quo ante.


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The things we do for love and science

I’m writing a paper on how New Agers misuse scientific language to bolster their claims of quantum flapdoodle. To do so, I am going to focus on What the Bleep Do We Know. I saw this at the Bagdad Theatre when it was first released in 2006. Not knowing what it was going to be, I thought it would be a very high-produc tion value version of “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene. I was wrong. I almost walked out of the movie but had to stay through the trainwreck.

Now I am watching it again. If I have to do this--then I’m sharing this with the rest of the world. Others have, I know. These are mine.

So Fred Alan Wolf has just proclaimed that even though his idiosyncratic view of quantum physics doesn’t allow for changing chairs into trucks but you can change how you feel about things. What a revelation!

So they just made the specious (and racist) claim that coastal Native Americans could not see the European’s ships because they had no idea what they were.

Interestingly they never identify their experts. I’m listening to some guy, with a guy who ‘looks like a scientist’ in a very ‘scientific looking’ environment.

Okay, so now we have Fred Alan Wolf as his super-hero Dr. Quantum alter-ego.

And Wolf butchers the double-slit experiment and he’d been doing so well!

There is liberal use of the word ‘super-position’ and very little on the value of h-bar. (the planck constant)

Intention imprinted electrical devices?

And now the Secret DVD

The first invocation of physics is how we can send rockets to the moon.

The second invocation of physics

Thoughts become things.

‘Thoughts have a frequency’

Thoughts are sending out that magnetic signal. (Joe Vitale)

Most people are thinking about what they don’t want. (John Assaraf)

Fred Alan Wolf, you can’t have a universe without the mind shaping it.

No one knows what electricity is. Bob Proctor.

“It has been proven scientifically that positive thoughts are more powerful than negative thoughts.” (Bob Proctor) Oh really Bob?

“Researchers tell us that we have 60,000 thoughts a day.” (Which researchers.)

Trust your feelings above and beyond all else.

Poor gets poorer. (Bob Proctor) Really? So the poor really are at fault for their own poverty.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Palin Booed By Book Tour Crowd

I fear Sarah, not because she says what she feels (although I would prefer she say what she thinks) but because of WHAT she espouses.

In Sarah Palin's America, gays and lesbians would be fired for being gay or lesbian and there would be no legal recourse.

In Sarah Palin's America, being a Muslim would be prima facie cause for profiling.

In Sarah Palin's America, pagans would be considered 'witches' and witches would not be tolerated.

In Sarah Palin's America, science would take a back seat to religion.

In Sarah Palin's America, educators would be beholden to the most radical religious beliefs.

These are based NOT upon some paranoia, simply upon her *own* statements.

She is in favor of profiling Muslims because they are Muslims.

She belongs to a church that engages in 'spiritual warfare' against 'witches'.

She believes the Earth has been around less than 10,000 years

She believes that research on fruit flies is a waste of time.

She believes that we can drill our way out of an energy crunch.

She believes that creationism should be taught in schools.

Yes, that scares me. There are conservatives I disagree with but they dont' scare me (John McWhorter and Shelby Steele leap to mind). Then there are Sarah Palin and her supporters--they scare me and that fear is justified.


About Bestsellers
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chaz Bono On GMA: Gender Is Between Your Ears, Not Between Your Legs (VIDEO)

I *really* wish HuffPo would stop running these articles about Chaz. He has, at no small amount of struggle, come to peace with himself. His chosen path to that inner-peace harms no one and, in fact, effects no one here directly. Yet, there are people here who see fit to dehumanize him (calling him 'it' is dehumanizi­ng---human­s, no matter WHAT you might think of them, are never, ever 'it') because they think that they know better what it is to be Chaz Bono than Chaz does himself.

It reminds me, a great deal, of the flack I get as a butch lesbian. Some feel that my being butch is license for them to ask me "why do you want to be a man", when that is not what being butch is. Some feel free to erase my relationship with my wife by calling her my 'friend' or my 'roommate'. This is why, whenever there is an article about transgender folks, I go into the thread to defend these queer brothers and sisters.

For those of you using the wrong pronoun--it is not for you to say what Chaz's gender is, it is for HIM to say. For those who are stating that transgendered people don't exist, again this is not for you to say.

Just because you cannot empathize with someone does not mean that they are unworthy of empathy.


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Jon Stewart, Lou Dobbs Discuss CNN, Argue Over Health Care Reform (VIDEO)

Okay, so, let's say that we were going to get rid of all of the people here without documentation. How would you go about it? Should they be rounded up? If so, how would you go about that? Who should we be looking for? (These are very practical questions which, I'm sure, you have given great thought to)

Should there be checkpoints in the U.S. where some guy in a uniform and mirrored sunglasses asks "papers please"? If so, should they be checking EVERYONE's papers or just SOME people's papers? If the latter, what characteristics should they use to determine if that person is suspicious?

Your honest answers are, of course, appreciated.


About Daily Show
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Palin Suggests Evolution Not Real In "Going Rogue"

Let me also suggest that you go to your local library and find a Nova program on the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board decision. You might find it very enlightening. If Kitzmiller were an isolated incident, then you might have a point but it isn't isolated. Kansas perennially has a move by the state education authorities to insert the teaching of creationism in public schools. A Texas university offers a graduate degree in Creation Science. Texas schools are constantly trying to teach creationism in school.

I worry because there's a large number of people who *would* have creationism taught in public school and a lot of other folks, whom I otherwise politically agree with, who in the name of 'fairness' dismiss the creationists as nothing more than a few hundred people scattered throughout the country.


About Bestsellers
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Gay Married Couples Suing The Government Over DOMA

As I said to someone else on this thread. When we weren't talking about same-sex marriage but just domestic partnership, the SAME people (perhaps even you yourself) were opposed to domestic partnership because it would grant "special rights" to homosexuals and was a "threat to the traditional family". When it was civil unions the SAME people were opposed to CUs because they would (sing it with me, you all know the chorus) "grant special rights" to homosexuals and was a "threat to the traditional family". It doesn't matter WHAT we call it, if it grants legal standing to same-sex couples conservatives will oppose it as being a threat to the traditional family.


About Marriage
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Palin Suggests Evolution Not Real In "Going Rogue"

Well, see, Jesus LIKES Creationism and he *hates* Marxism. Or something like that.

It's interesting that if someone suggested that we teach, say, the Hindu creation myth alongside evolution ('teach the controversy, right?') that would also go over like a lead balloon and yet we're supposed to believe there's no religious motivation behind wanting to see creationism taught in a science class.


About Bestsellers
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Palin Suggests Evolution Not Real In "Going Rogue"

So you think the ICR and the Discovery Institute are just a couple of fringe figures sitting in a basement someplace? No. Not even wrong.


About Bestsellers
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Palin Suggests Evolution Not Real In "Going Rogue"

No, Timny. Based upon the sincere comments of people here--yourself included---I genuinely believe that people who reject evolution ACTUALLY believe that, for instance, we should be seeing crockoducks (a la Kirk Cameron) or that fish one day became humans.

I'm sorry but if you read through these comments--or anyplace else where creationists are commenting upon that which they know nothing about--you realize that they aren't making jokes, this is what they ACTUALLY believe evolutionary biology teaches. That one day there were monkeys and the next day, in a one-step mutation, there were humans.

This, of course, is not what the theory teaches.


About Bestsellers
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Palin Suggests Evolution Not Real In "Going Rogue"

Evolutionary biology is NOT a theory of the origins of life. That is abiogenesis which is a subset of organic chemistry. Evolutionary biology is a theory about the *diversity* of life forms.

Also, natural selection is a non-random process.



(who is amazed that people who seem to know next to nothing about evolutionary biology seem to feel competent to reject that which they know nothing about)
About Bestsellers
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Palin Suggests Evolution Not Real In "Going Rogue"

There is NEVER such a thing as "stick a fork in it" proof in science. There are things that have not been falsified and things that have been falsified. That's it. That's ALL you can do. Creationism is not falsifiable even in principle and so does not deserve to be considered in the same class as evolutionary biology which *is* falsifiable.


About Bestsellers
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NASA on a crusade to debunk 2012 apocalypse myths

I don’t know what is worse, that our tax dollars are going to this kind of thing or that we need our tax dollars going to this sort of thing.
NASA has a page dedicated to debunking the various myths surrounding the Mayan ‘prophecy’ that the world will end (or change, or be transformed, or turned into a jelly donut) on 21 Dec 2012. Some of the more interesting bits are below.

The doomsday scenario revolves claims that the end of time will come as an obscure Planet X -- or Nibiru -- heads toward or collides into Earth.
The mysterious planet was supposedly discovered by the Sumerians, according to claims by pseudo-scientists, paranormal activity enthusiasts and Internet theorists.

“There is no factual basis for these claims,” NASA said in a question-and-answer posting on its website.
If such a collision were real “astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye,” it added. “Obviously, it does not exist.”

“Credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012,” NASA insisted.
Initial theories set the disaster for May 2003, but when nothing happened the date was moved forward to the winter solstice in 2012 to coincide with the end of a cycle of the ancient Mayan calendar.

Nibiru is a name in Babylonian astrology sometimes associated with the god Marduk. Nibiru appears as a minor character in the Babylonian creation poem Enuma Elish as recorded in the library of Assurbanipal, King of Assyria (668-627 BCE). Sumer flourished much earlier, from about the 23rd century to the 17th century BCE. The claims that Nibiru is a planet and was known to the Sumerians are contradicted by scholars who (unlike Zecharia Sitchin) study and translate the written records of ancient Mesopotamia. Sumer was indeed a great civilization, important for the development of agriculture, water management, urban life, and especially writing. However, they left very few records dealing with astronomy. Certainly they did not know about the existence of Uranus, Neptune or Pluto. They also had no understanding that the planets orbited the Sun, an idea that first developed in ancient Greece two millennia after the end of Sumer. Claims that Sumerians had a sophisticated astronomy, or that they even had a god named Nibiru, are the product of Sitchin’s imagination.

“Planet X” is an oxymoron when applied to a real object. The term has been used by astronomers over the past century for a possible or suspected object. Once the object is found, it is given a real name, as was done with Pluto and Eris, both of which were at some time referred to as Planet X. If a new object turns out to be not real, or not a planet, then you won’t hear about it again. If it is real, it is not called Planet X.
Eris is one of several dwarf planets recently found by astronomers in the outer solar system, all of them on normal orbits that will never bring them near Earth. Like Pluto, Eris is smaller than our Moon. It is very far away, and its orbit never brings it closer than about 4 billion miles. There is no secret about Eris and its orbit, as you can easily verify by googling it or looking it up in Wikipedia.

There is a telescope at the South Pole, but it was not built by NASA and not used to study Nibiru. The South Pole Telescope was supported by the National Science Foundation, and it is a radio telescope, not an optical instrument. It cannot take images or photos. You can look it up on Wikipedia. The Antarctic is a great place for astronomical infrared and short-wave-radio observations, and it also has the advantage that objects can be observed continuously without the interference of the day-night cycle.
I should add that it is impossible to imagine a geometry in which an object can be seen only from the South Pole. Even if it were due south of the Earth, it could be seen from the entire southern hemisphere.

Calendars exist for keeping track of the passage of time, not for predicting the future. The Mayan astronomers were clever, and they developed a very complex calendar. Ancient calendars are interesting to historians, but of they cannot match the ability we have today to keep track of time, or the precision of the calendars currently in use. The main point, however, is that calendars, whether contemporary or ancient, cannot predict the future of our planet or warn of things to happen on a specific date such as 2012.
I note that my desk calendar ends much sooner, on December 31 2009, but I do not interpret this as a prediction of Armageddon. It is just the beginning of a new year.

10. What is the polar shift theory? Is it true that the earth’s crust does a 180-degree rotation around the core in a matter of days if not hours? Does this have something to do to do with our solar system dipping beneath the galactic equator?
A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. It has never happened and never will. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-and-shift to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic polarity of Earth, which does change irregularly with a magnetic reversal taking place every 400,000 years on average. As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth. A magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia, anyway. But they falsely claim that a magnetic reversal is coming soon (in 2012) and that this is the same as, or will trigger, a reversal of rotational poles. The bottom line is: (a) Rotation direction and magnetic polarity are not related. (b) There is no reason to expect a reversal of magnetic polarity any time soon, or to anticipate any bad effects on life when it does eventually happen. © A sudden shift in rotational pole with disastrous consequences is impossible. Also, none of this has anything to do with the galactic equator or any of the other nonsense about alignments that appears on many of the conspiracy theory websites.

11. When most of the planets align in 2012 and planet Earth is in the center of the Milky Way, what will the effects of this be on planet Earth? Could it cause a pole shift, and if so what could we expect?
There is no planet alignment in 2012 or any other time in the next several decades. As to the Earth being in the center of the Milky Way, I don’t know what this phrase means. If you are referring to the Milky Way Galaxy, we are rather far toward the edge of this spiral galaxy, some 30,000 light years from the center. We circle the galactic center in a period of 225-250 million years, always keeping approximately the same distance. Concerning a pole shift, I also don’t know what this means. If it means some sudden change in the position of the pole (that is, the rotation axis of the Earth), then that is impossible, as noted in the answer to Question 10. What many websites do discuss is the alignment of the Earth and Sun with the center of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius. This happens every December, with no bad consequences, and there is no reason to expect 2012 to be different from any other year.

12. When the sun and the Earth line up on the galactic plane at the same time with the black whole being in the center couldn’t that cause something to happen, due to the fact that the black hole has such a strong gravitational pull.
There is a giant black hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and like any concentration of mass it exerts gravitational force on the rest of the Galaxy. However, the galactic center is very far away, approximately 30,000 light years, so it has negligible effects on the solar system or the Earth. There are no special forces from the galactic plane or the galactic center. The only important force that acts on the Earth is the gravitation of the Sun and Moon. As far as the influence of the galactic plane, there is nothing special about this location. The last time the Earth was in the galactic plane was several million years ago. Claims that we are about to cross the galactic plane are untrue.

13. I am scared about the fact that the Earth will enter the Dark Rift in the Milky Way. What will this do? Will the Earth be swallowed up?
The “dark rift” is a popular name for the broad and diffuse dust clouds in the
inner arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, which block our view of the galactic
center. The entire “galactic alignment” scare is pretty crazy. Late in
December the Sun is always approximately in the direction of the center of
the Galaxy as seen from the Earth, but so what? Apparently the con-men who are trying to scare you have decided to use these meaningless phrases about “alignments” and the “dark rift” and “photon belt” precisely because they are not understood by the public. It is too bad, but there is no law against lying on the Internet or anywhere else except in a court of law. As far as the safety of the Earth is concerned, the important threats are from global warming and loss of biological diversity, and perhaps someday from collision with an asteroid or comet, not the pseudoscientific claims about 2012.

16. All my school friends are telling me that we are all going to die in the year 2012 due to a meteor hitting earth. Is this true?
Your friends are wrong. The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs. All this work is done openly with the discoveries posted every day on the NASA NEO Program Office website (, so you can see for yourself that nothing is predicted to hit in 2012.

17. If Nibiru is a hoax, why doesn’t issue a denial? How can you permit these stores to circulate and frighten people? Why doesn’t the U.S. government do something about it!
If you go to the NASA home page,, you will see many stories that expose the Nibiru-2012 hoax. Try searching under “Nibiru” or “2012”. There is not much more that NASA can do. These hoaxes have nothing to do with NASA and are not based on NASA data, so we as an agency are not directly involved. But scientists, both within NASA and outside, recognize that this hoax with its effort to frighten people is a distraction from more important science concerns, such as global warming and loss of biological diversity. We live in a country where there is freedom of speech, and that includes freedom to lie. You should be glad there are no censors. But if you will just use common sense I am sure you can recognize the lies. As we approach 2012, the lies will be come even more obvious.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Butch Crew

Yesterday I went to the first meet-up for The Butch Crew at the Flying Cat coffeehouse in SE. It was fantastic! I feel like I’m watching a butch renaissance happening right before my very eyes. We had butches from all walks of life and covering two or three decades.

I could use more of that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I am NOT a nice woman

A couple of weeks ago, the following was posted on the Pharyngula blog. It features a homeopathic “doctor” named Charlene Warner giving a talk about light therapy. The level of stupid indulged in was painful.


I posted the following email to her after my eyes stopped bleeding from the dumb:

Dr. Werner:

You don't know me, but I saw a video of you giving a talk about homeopathy and light therapy. In it, you made a number of factual errors that I assume were well-meaning and unintended and so I thought that perhaps, I would write you privately to point them out.

1> You cannot remove mass from Einstein's special relativity. The amount of mass in the Universe is entirely irrelevant for the implications of this equations. The reason, for instance, that you can move a one-ton car 300+ miles on just 50 lbs of gasoline is because the burning of that small amount of mass releases a huge amount of energy.

2> Stephen Hawking did not create string theory. In point of fact, he has been largely hostile to string theory (for fairly good reasons). The Steven you are thinking of is Weinberg.

3> String theory, if it is true (and there are very good reasons to doubt that it is) has none of the implications that you state it does. The 'vibrations' of strings are, if they exist, a probabilistic quantum mechanical affect and should not be taken to mean something actually vibrating. Rather it is a fluctuation of energy within a defined range of probable states.

4> Even if string theory is true, it would have absolutely no implications that we would directly experience since a single string would still be smaller than the smallest particle and in the same way that you are not affected by individual Z-bosons, for instance, you would not be affected by any single string.

5> String theory is a mathematical description that seeks to explain certain interesting features of the Universe at the sub-atomic scale and in particularly intense gravitational fields. Neither circumstance is something you will ever experience.

6> While it is true, in a very limited and technical sense, we are mostly energy it is true only because E=mc2 actually does hold with mass intact. E=c2 is actually a non-sensical statement on its face sense if E=c2 then the value of E would be E-squared but that is NOT the value of E. This gets necessarily mathematical so bear with me:

If A=B then B = A. If A is squared then B is squared if the preceding is true. Therefore, if A=2 then B must also be equal 2. If A is 2 then A-squared is 4. This means that if A=B then B is ALSO equal to two and four respectively. This is a necessary and inescapable conclusion for the math. So your statement that E=c2 is non-sensical because that would mean that E is equal to the speed of light squared *directly* but that is manifestly not the case.

7> Your statement that 'nothing is really mass' is incorrect. The reason you are not floating away right now (and you aren't) is because the mass of the Earth warps space-time around it and creates gravity. The reason why everything in the solar system orbits the Sun is because the Sun is hugely massive and warps space-time around it. If what you said was true then gravity would not work since Einstein showed that gravity is the warping of space-time by mass.

I think that's pretty much it. Btw. I am not a physicist by training. Rather, I'm a graduate student in biomedical informatics but I read a great deal in physics (well, when I'm not in school) which is why the mistakes in your talk caught my eye.

Have a great day. I hope that you will take this email in the spirit in which it is given. As you are a medical doctor, I'm certain that the last thing you want to do is provide erroneous information to the public.

Like I said, I’m not a nice woman!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License By Louisiana Justice Of The Peace...

...but he’s not a racist, apparently.

(AP) NEW ORLEANS A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have. Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.
"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else." [Emphasis mine]
Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a mixed race couple. If they are, he does not marry them, he said.
Bardwell said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.
"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell said. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."
If he did an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.
"I try to treat everyone equally," he said. [Emphasis mine]
I thought that the passages in red deserved particular attention in light of some other musings I have been percolating on the subject of race.
Most germane to this discussion is the following passage from another blogger’s musings on race.
Many people would label a person as a racist for using the n-word, yet I have known many that use it, that have many black friends and hire black people and them well [sic]. Conversely, I know many, mostly liberal whites, who would ostracize people that would ever use the n-word, but who never hire blacks and have no close black friends.

I wonder if the author of the post would consider the justice of the piece a racist, given that he has “piles and piles of black friends” who he generously consents to let “use my bathroom”. This brings up the question of what is actually meant by racism?

My dictionary program (based on Webster’s) defines racism as: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

Perhaps Mr. Bardwell should go back to school.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize! Conservatives bust a gasket...

...and some liberals discover, suddenly, that they don’t like the Nobel Peace Prize.

Okay, so I think that the Nobel Committee made an interesting choice in choosing President Obama. It might even be fair to say that they made a premature and, from a domestic political point of view, bad choice (because of the downstream political implications not because of some inherent unworthiness of Obama). However, as I think about this award I begin to think that, perhaps, it is more understandable than it might seem at first blush. Now, I admit, my first blush thought was “why?” but then I thought a little more deeply about it as the day went on. Looking at America from the outside, which the Nobel Committee is doing, Barack Obama has already accomplished a couple of measures of astounding courage. Firstly, he went to Egypt and gave a speech where he claimed, right out front, that America was not the enemy of Islam. Let’s be real about current-day American politics, that took serious cast-iron cajones to do. Sure, sitting here in Portland, OR it seems like an everyday thing to say “members of my own family practice Islam” but while Portland is an American city, America is not Portland. There are places, many of them only a minutes drive from Portland, where saying “members of my own family practice Islam” is tantamount to saying “and I cheered as the planes crashed into the WTC and the Pentagon”. That alone took courage. Barack Obama has, in something less than a year, begun the rehabilitation of America’s image abroad. Secondly, Barack Obama’s election is a singular event in world history. It may not have occurred to people here but this is the first time in world history that a majority white nation (meaning European or its spin-offs) has ever been headed by a non-white person.

Now, I will admit that some of the critique of Obama--that he has not spun-down the Iraq or Afghanistan wars in six months is somewhat justified but only just barely. I recognize that, as liberals and progressives, we are not used to thinking about military matters beyond the knee-jerk, reflexive “military = bad” mantra. However, it may well be that, in fact, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cannot be spun down too much faster than they are and I am not entirely convinced that spinning down the Afghanistan war is the right thing to do. Certainly we cannot spin down the Iraq war tomorrow. Or next week. I would be pleased if our forces were largely out of that country by the Summer of 2011. Wars are complicated endeavors and, as much as we might not like to think in these terms as liberals, there are both tactical and strategic considerations that our war-planners must take into account. They must do so. It’s what we pay them for.

The Afghanistan war is a bit more complicated. On the one hand, I know enough history to recognize that Afghanistan is proof of Vincini’s (from the Princess Bride) Dictum: Never get involved in a land-war in Asia! It is the place where empires go to learn humility. On the other hand, whether we like it or not, we now do have a strategic interest in the region. That strategic interest is, Pakistan. It is not in our strategic interests for Pakistan to go the way of Afghanistan circa 1999. It simply isn’t. Iraq doesn’t have nuclear weapons. Iran probably doesn’t have them. Pakistan definitely does. We know this. The Taliban know this. Al Qaeda knows this and, most sobering, India knows this. India, by the way, also has nuclear weapons so it is in the best interest of all parties concerned for there to be a very stable region between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. So we are torn in two different directions. On the one hand, we don’t want to occupy Afghanistan. The Afghanis don’t want us there. And we know, because we watched the Soviets learn humility in these same mountains, that this is a lesson we would just as soon learn vicariously than by the blood of young men and women.

I have to take a moment to criticize my own political faction for a moment here. It is inexcusable for so many progressives who are on the right side of the cause of peace to be so dangerously naive about geopolitics and war. Yes, dangerously naive. We are reflexive in our opposition without thought. We do not, in the main, bother ourselves with considerations like strategic interests or tactical necessity. If we are going to oppose war, we should bother ourselves to understand, at some level, that which we oppose. I think, however, that some of our opposition is, again, merely reflexive and not necessarily principled. By this I mean that we are opposed to America making war. We are opposed to the West making war. We are opposed to Israel making war. But we are not opposed to, say, Palestine making war. I wonder how many progressives would howl and scream if China, say, invaded Taiwan (not Tibet) without provocation. How many would protest if China invaded, say, Iran? Why do I think that any outcry would be muted if present at all? Before you flame me, gentle reader, ask yourself why you are opposed to the Afghanistan war? (The Iraq war is a different situation because it was clearly not justified by any strategic or tactical imperative and so opposition to it is entirely justified.)

All of this to say that while I’m not sure that Obama is doing the right thing in Afghanistan, I’m willing to admit that he might not be doing the wrong thing. What if he is? Would we, as progressives, know? Would we care? One commentator I read on HuffPo observed that Obama didn’t deserve the Nobel prize because the United States maintains a large nuclear arsenal. Let us say, for sake of argument that we could destroy our nuclear arsenal in less than a year (we couldn’t) would it even be an intelligent thing to do? I would argue that it might not be. I would like to see us seriously draw down our nuclear arsenal and I would like to see the rest of the world agree to go to a zero-nuke state in my lifetime. I doubt that is going to happen. (And even if we did, the same people who are upset that we have them would become instantly upset at any plan conceived to dispose of them because of the wastes--at which point you have to make a choice. This is, by the way, what I mean when I talk about reflexive anti-Americanism.)

So, does Obama deserve a Nobel? Yes and no. As I said at the beginning of this essay, I think it is premature and that it creates a domestic headache that I’m willing to bet that David Axelrod would just as soon not have to bother with. On the other hand, I hope that this creates more pressure on Obama to rise to the occasion. He has been bestowed with the laurels of greatness. It is now up to him to live up to the great vote of confidence he has been given in the form of this honor.

Now, having said enough about progressive reaction to this news, let me express my utter joy and glee that conservatives are busting a gut over this. Every time the conservatives think “okay, now we’ve got him!” events intervene and change the dynamics on them. Last week conservatives were glorying in “world rejects Obama” because Rio got the 2016 Olympics. But now, they can’t argue that the world shares their view of Obama. In fact, the two groups they find themselves in bed with are two groups that they loathe---international peace activists (some) and Al Qaeda. You just can’t buy that kind of entertainment! As they usually do with all things Obama, conservatives are over-reacting and, once again, overreaching. Our President just won the most prestigious award you can be given and they hate it. It’s the little things that make life sweet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

HuffPo commenters bring the crazy to LCROSS

So, tomorrow, at 4:30 AM PST the LCROSS satellite will impact the Moon. (I’ll be up with my telescope to watch should be GREAT viewing conditions) Below is just one of the more sane comments posted on the web site (yes, this was one of the more sane ones). The scientific ignorance on display is absolutely breathtaking.

Bomb the moon? Are we insane? Are we space cowboys now? Why is everything we do to be bomb?
The moon shares a delicate etheric web with earth, which is why she controls the ebb and flow of tides, the menstrual cycle in women, enhances growth at night, responsible for gravity, and excites passion to poetry when gaze at. Bomb the moon? How about Bomb NASA! and save trillions of dollars of taxpayers money to be use to pay off our debt, help create universal healthcare, stimulate economic growth, and a dozen other matters of national urgency. NASA is not necessary anymore. It is outmoded, outdated, and without any real purpose.

Here are the numbers my colleague, Richard and I worked up:

   73459000000000000000000 kg  (Moon)
                      2366 kg  (Maximum mass of LCROSS Centaur Impactor)

                      3000 kg  (Hummer H2)
                         0.00000000000000009662532841448 kg (the "bug")

Mass of an average bacterium: 1 picogram. Weight of the "bug" above: 0.09662532841448 picogram.

So... if 1/10th of a bacterium hits the windshield of a Hummer, does it swerve?

Part 2:

So, I got up at 4:00AM (ouch!) and took my telescope out in the backyard on the hopes of being able to see the impact and the plume. Unfortunately, because I’m in Portland, it became overcast about 4;25 so I wan’t able to resolve much of anything. Frustrated, I went back inside to watch it on NASA TV which turned out to be anti-climatic. In my hopeful naivete that intellectual honesty is not just two, completely unrelated words in the dictionary, I went back to HuffPo to see what, if anything, the doomsayers were saying on the subject. Needless to say, my hope that someone anyone might have the courage to say “well, guess I was wrong” was ill-founded.

One person, SUSANINCOLUMBIA, posted a heartfelt and completely wrong-headed lament stating that she would “never be able to look at the moon in the same way”. Another poster, posted that “even though there was no reaction yet” there was sure to be one because “for every action there is a reaction”. The irony of her invocation of Newton’s Third Law was, apparently, entirely lost on her. I attempted to explain that there had been a reaction, which was the debris plume ejected from the lunar surface, and that this was the very reaction that NASA and every scientifically literate poster (all 9 or 10 of us) on that thread had predicted there would be.

At this point I began to despair. Not because the Moon would have its revenge in some vague, unspecified manner, but because I had believed that after the Bush administration and the reign of the non-reality based conservatives, the Progressives had ‘gotten it’ and decided to be the reality-based political faction in America. HuffPo has convinced me that, in fact, reality has no political constituency in America. These same people, who I have no doubt express frustration that conservatives reject the science of climate change for no scientifically adequate reason completely ignore the math and the physics of the LCROSS mission. Instead of ‘being humble before the data’ (which is readily available) they instead go on about vague prophecies of doom that will befall humanity or, just as stupidly, they draw a distinction between a meteorite hitting the Moon and a satellite hitting it as if the physics of those two events are fundamentally different, governed by different laws.

At one point, I had an epiphany that some of the opposition was the reflexive anti-Americanism that conservatives so often accuse liberals and progressives of indulging in. I began to muse upon the question of “what would the reaction be if it had been, say, India or Pakistan or China or Brazil?” I imagine that there would have been nary a peep or worry but because it was Americans this action had to be opposed. Why? Because it was, laughably, militaristic. That’s right, gentle reader, a physics experiment no more different, really, than dropping a stone into a lake observe the water ejected was an act of aggression. It made me embarrassed to be a Progressive, quite honestly.

I have known, for quite some time now, that Americans are scientifically illiterate but every time I think I have a grasp on the breadth and depth of the problem, something like this happens and I realize that we are in much more dire straits than I had imagined we could be.

To reiterate, opposition to the LCROSS mission falls into the falling species

  • The Moon will be knocked out of its orbital position.
  • It will throw off “the balance of the Universe” or the tides or gravity or women’s menstrual cycles or astrology.
  • It is an ‘act of aggression against the beautiful moon, the only one we have’.
  • It will lead to “Wal-Mart and Disneyland on the Moon” (SUSANINCOLUMBIA again)
  • The militarization of the moon (Einstein10--on whom more later)
  • “A reaction and it will be bad”
  • It will throw the moon off by ten or twenty feet and this will affect the tides (Einstein10 again)
  • We have no right to mess up the pristine moon until we learn how not to mess up the Earth (The typical anti-space program, anti-science mantra of the scientifically ignorant.)
  • The Americans are doing it therefore it is bad.
The problem with all of those arguments is that not a single one of them is specific. In fact, to call them vague is to give them altogether too much credit for being coherent thoughts at all! What’s more, they are all based on pure emotionalism. Not emotion but emotionalism. By that I mean that they are driven not by any facts carefully considered but merely by “I don’t like this”. All of the reasons are, in point of fact, backfill to attempt to justify a position that is entirely unjustifiable.

One poster even invoked the ‘hollow moon’ idea. Yes, the purpose of the mission isn’t what NASA stated it was but to determine if the Moon is hollow. Naturally, he invoked the ‘Great Scientific Conspiracy’ to cover up the truth. Now, what I find fascinating about this little gem is that it perfectly illustrates one of the problems with anti-science in almost all of its forms. On the one hand, scientists are, if anti-scientists are to be believed, a bunch of incompetent boobs stumbling about trying to find new and ever more expensive ways to piss of Nature. On the other hand, they are fiendishly secretive and capable of maintaining such perfect operational security that the NSA, KGB and Mossad can only look upon their opacity with awe, envy and wonder. It would appear that the scientific community can carry on conspiracies of such fiendish and byzantine nature that only the most dedicated can even suss them out or understand their convolutions. Yet, these same scientists can’t seem to get correct the mass of the moon, or explain its tidal locking, or the flight of bumblebees, or the evolution of species. One would think that their utter incompetence would preclude being able to maintain such incredible levels of secrecy but apparently not.

Then there was Einstein10 who does what anti-science proponents do so much, namely invoke the name of a Great Scientist, almost always Einstein and then quote him, almost always out of context, from his letters or from “Ideas and Opinions”. All this while being almost entirely unaware of or interested in his prodigious body of scientific work or the implications thereof. Einstein10 was one such poster on HuffPo. When challenged, he would quote Einstein at us but when challenged to provide a single prediction of specific doom OR to even give a description of either Special or General Relativity in his own words, he would either disappear or simply quote more Einstein. It is insulting to the memory of a truly great scientist to treat him this way in the name of “respect” but there’s not much that can be done about disrespect for the memory of the dead.

I will say that the last 36 hours on HuffPo has given me a much better understanding of why PZ Meyers of Pharyngula and Steven Novella of the New England Skeptics Society are encouraging scientists and scientifically literate people to boycott Huffington Post. In-between the decidedly pro-woo spin given to articles related to medicine and health and the pervasive anti-science culture there, I imagine that both Drs. Meyers and Novella are trying to keep a generation of scientists from going to an early grave, either from repeated blunt-force trauma to the head from banging on the desk or from aneurisms vessels brought on by sudden spikes in blood pressure.

Oh and although I doubt anyone reading my blog needs to be told this, the Moon does not cause gravity. Gravity is caused by the warping of space-time by mass. The Moon and the Earth are bound to one another because of their gravitational masses, and both were created by gravity and held together by gravity but the Moon does not cause gravity here on Earth and the Earth does not cause gravity on the Moon.

Stay rational.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Some things never change

Saw this at The Daily Dish and thought to spread the meme around.

One cannot help but notice the familiar theme of “that which I disagree with is communism” and “the person I disagree with is the anti-christ”. Can we just have a moratorium on the political use of the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ in this country until such time as our educational system gets around to teaching Americans that A> words have meaning and B> those meanings actually count for something.

If you don’t know what socialism is, then you shouldn’t be calling something you disagree with socialist. Because socialist isn’t a synonym for “I don’t like it”. The same applies for communism.

Living through history

“Where were you when you heard...” is the question of our time. Depending upon the generation you belong to, those moments may be different. For my parents, the seminal events are the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, JFK being shot, MLK being shot and killed in Memphis and men landing on the Moon. For my generation, it was the Challenger exploding, Reagan being shot, John Lennon being shot, the September 11 attacks and now, the election of the first non-white person as President of the United States. So much of the history we remember, those ‘where were you when’ moments, are negatives. Looking at the list above, all but two of them are really negative events. But those two! There are two things this nation has done in my lifetime that we, all of us, can be unrestrainedly proud of--landing on the Moon and electing a black man named Barack Obama to the highest office in the land. We have no reason to be ashamed of the Moon landing and even if you didn’t vote for Obama, one has to admit that this bursting through is an event that not only did many of us not imagine seeing in our lifetime but this event heralds a new day in race relations. I’m nowhere near naive enough to believe that this means that America is ‘post-racial’ or that we have somehow magically slain racism once and for all. This new day that has dawned is not THAT day. What has changed is that four-fold; how whites see black people, how black people see ourselves, how blacks are seen by foreigners and how America, as a whole, is seen by foreigners. The way whites will look at black people has forever changed. The President is a kind of temporary embodiment of the nation, in a similar psychological way that a king or queen was back when people really believed in the divine right of kings. That a majority white nation elected a black man to be that embodiment is a powerful statement about how far we have come. What’s even more amazing is that Obama won in the face of, perhaps, the most racially charged Presidential campaign since Strom Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat back in 1948! How black people see ourselves will also undergo transformation. A generation (let’s hope) is going to grow up and in their formative years will have seen a black President. The “Leader of the Free World” or “The Most Powerful Man in the World” now looks a bit like me. Young black children will now know that along with black doctors, black lawyers, black astronauts there is one more job, that most prestigious of all American jobs, that they can aspire to. What’s more important is that Obama shows a path for negotiating the minefields of race. Most of the time, as far as I read him, he moves through the world as if his race were not going to be an issue. When it becomes an issue, as it inevitably will, he addresses it. He does not pretend that it is not an issue but neither does he make it the core of how he projects himself into the world. It is a method and balance that I understand and hope that I, myself, manage to achieve on a more-or-less consistent basis. He pays proper homage and respect to those who came before him, while not behaving as if nothing has changed. Things have changed. In 1967, the year of my birth, there was NO WAY a black man was going to be elected President. Certainly not a black man named Barack Hussein Obama. Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, writing on the Friday before the election related the following story: (requires free login) The other day I had a conversation with a Beijing friend and I mentioned that Barack Obama was leading in the presidential race: She: Obama? But he’s the black man, isn’t he? Me: Yes, exactly. She: But surely a black man couldn’t become president of the United States? Me: It looks as if he’ll be elected. She: But president? That’s such an important job! In America, I thought blacks were janitors and laborers. Me: No, blacks have all kinds of jobs. She: What do white people think about that, about getting a black president? Are they upset? Are they angry? Me: No, of course not! If Obama is elected, it’ll be because white people voted for him. [Long pause.] She: Really? Unbelievable! What an amazing country! While this story addresses my last point, vis a vis how the rest of the world sees America, I want to focus on how the rest of the world views blacks first. Notice that this woman’s view of black Americans is that we can be janitors and laborers but not the President. When Barack Obama goes forth on missions of State he will be the symbol of America to the rest of the world. It is sad but instructive to note that Americans, in exporting our cultural products like movies, TV, music, have exported racism as well. Lastly, this will change how people around the world view America. One of the things I couldn’t help notice as reaction poured in from around the world was that people all over the planet, people who had no direct, first-hand knowledge of the struggle of black people in this nation were weeping, crying and I realized that it was because, in their view, they got their America back. I know that we progressives/liberals can be blind to this from time-to-time but people around the world believe in America. They believe in what we say we stand for and they think that we mean it at least some of the time. The last eight years has been like having a great, goofy golden retriever go full-blown Cujo on the family but the dog is so big and strong no one can take it down. The election of Obama is a sign that whatever madness had gripped us as a nation, might have begun to dissipate. I hope so. I am not alone in that. I imagine that there are the better part of 6 billion people on the planet (notwithstanding the 40 - 50 million Americans who voted for McCain) who agree with me. One other thing about Obama’s surprise election. I had long thought that if I saw a black President in my lifetime, the first one would be a conservative Republican of the Colin Powell model. Instead we got a center-left former community organizer who is a Democrat. I am shocked and it really does put the lie to the conservative mantra that we are a center-right nation. We aren’t. The Deep South is center-right, the Midwest is center-right, but the coasts, with the exception of the four Southeastern states below the Mason-Dixon line are center-left. We are NOT a left-leaning nation, we are a confusing mix of the two. We push too far in one direction, perhaps, and self-correct back the other. We went far, far to the right. So far to the right that it looked like we were about to rendezvous with history. We ended up having a rendezvous with history but not the kind that some of us feared was coming.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

And then it hit me

I live in a world without Ted Kennedy. I know I wrote about this earlier, but it wasn’t until I got home that it really sank in that he’s gone. I’ve been a political junkie a long, long time. I grew up in a family of Kennedy Democrats. When I was a young Republican (still weird to say that) he was the Enemy but I was aware of how he had always been on the side of the little guy. Conservative as I was, I was still black and as such a direct beneficiary of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. As I got older and came to something that could be called political and intellectual maturity and left my youthful conservatism behind, I came to truly admire Ted Kennedy. Was he a flawed man? Yes, all humans are flawed--myself as much or more than anyone. But he was a true liberal who, I believe, got really serious after Bobby Kennedy’s death and the tragedy at Chappaquddick. The grown-up Ted Kennedy became a consummate legislator, a statesman in the best and truest sense of the term, and a light for liberals.

He was able to compromise and negotiate with people with whom he might otherwise disagree vehemently in order to get something done. This is an art--the very core--of politics. Kennedy could do this better than most and probably better than anyone remaining in the Senate and, as such, was spectacularly capable. We can think Kennedy for the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

As I said in my earlier post, Ted Kennedy was always there just part of the background of American politics. Now there’s a hole in our national pantheon and we will likely not see his like for a long time to come.

Queer anarchists get it exactly wrong on DADT

Over at Queers Against Obama the following was posted:

If a George Bush policy had had the systematic effect of bringing death, injury, sexual assault, harassment, psychological trauma, and suspension of civil rights to poor queer and trans people, while expanding the might of the military, there would have been widespread outrage from queers, anti-war activists, and liberals. Yet President Obama is able to push forward such a policy under the guise of equal rights and with the hearty encouragement of spellbound liberals and wealthy gays.

This was my response:

I'm going to chime in as a minority opinion here. For the record, I am veteran of the US Army, a black lesbian, daughter of a WW II veteran, mother of a current soldier, sister of a retired Army officer, and a thorough-going progressive. I think that Ms. Ariel Attack gets it almost *exactly* wrong in her essay. In order to understand why, a bit more background is necessary.

I grew up in an upper-middle class family--my parents were college professors--and as such, when I enlisted in the Army there was much to-do about it. Kids from my class background went to West Point or Annapolis or the Air Force Academy, or they did ROTC at university. They didn't *enlist*. But I did. It was the first time in my young life that I had to *depend* upon people from the working-class. Before that working-class folks were my poorer relations in Louisiana and Alabama, my best friend Jeff and his mom, or the tenants my parents rented to. Because of that experience of having to depend upon folks who were from a wildly different class background than I was, I got a much needed education in class that took some of the winds out of my sails.

What's more--and this is the crux of the issue for me--I met people in the military who were from little postage-stamp towns where the only people who knew that the place existed were the folks who lived there, the postal service and the military recruiters. One woman in my unit, her nickname was Tennessee (and the first woman I kissed, incidentally), was from such a town. Joining the Army was her way to get out--to get an education, to see a bit of the world, to give herself a *chance* to have a skill she could levy into a job when she got out so that she could move someplace where being queer wasn't likely to get her killed. (This was the middle 80's, a very different America)

When I was kicked out of the Army for being queer (although my commanding officer called in a favor so that's not what my discharge papers say) I ended up moving to the Bay Area and came out. Once DADT was passed (to my horror, Clinton screwed that up) and I found myself having this exact same discussion in groups of my Queer Nation and Lesbian Avenger cohorts, I thought about Tennessee. The struggle for gays and lesbians to be able to serve in the military is about people like Tenn, who needed a chance out. Not some chance out in some utopian anarchist dream that isn't coming true as long as we are homo sapiens sapiens with our peculiar evolutionary history but in a foreseeable future. She needs that chance *today* when she's not got the grades or perhaps the money to go to school out of state, isn't going to follow the captain of the football team to university, and is just looking for some way to get herself started in the world.

I find it ironic that people who allegedly proclaim to love the working-class so much are so quick to look down on them for making rational, good choices from *within their own context*.

RIP Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy died at 77 from brain cancer. While conservatives may very well be dancing on the streets (or, more likely, there will be the predictable false claims that he was universally loved) or laughing along with Limbaugh, as a die-hard progressive who grew up in a family for which the Kennedy name was spoken in reference, I will be mourning. He was a great liberal champion--of labor and of health-care. At this point, I would like to see President Obama tell the Dems in both the house and the senate to go back, start the health-care reform bill over from scratch, and pass the bill that Kennedy would have wanted to see pass. That would functionally be Medicare-for-all (or at least all who want it).

I’m rather tired of the Democratic party pussy-footing about this trying to figure out which way to go. Write a truly liberal health-care reform package, understanding that with the possible exception of Snowe and Collins of Maine, it is vanishingly improbable that the President will get any Republican votes. So if you know that no matter what you do, with the exception of doing nothing, that the GOP is going to vote ‘no’ why even bother pretending that they’ll behave differently? Kennedy, who has worked around these yahoos since before I was born, understood this. I wish more Democrats in Congress understood it as well as he did.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Max musings in the morning

        I’ve been reading John McWhorter’s “Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority” and cannot recommend it highly enough. That said, I am also finding it a distinctly uncomfortable book because in his writings I find myself challenged to think about whether I mean it about a color-blind society. I am almost certain that I do and the frisson I feel is more fear of breaking with left-wing orthodoxy thus threatening my good Progressive credentials. I pride myself on having earned and kept my Progressive chops through the nineties, when I was in the streets with ACT-UP, Queer Nation, and the Lesbian Avengers. Even my first job in high-tech was at a Progressive ISP called IGC-APC which provided Internet service to organizations like Green-peace and the Rainforest Action Network.

        There is a Progressive orthodoxy about blacks in America that I think has played itself out and needs to be questioned. Specifically, the question of Affirmative Action needs to be looked at again. Not the goals which are completely laudable and which are clearly for the good. Rather, we who call ourselves Progressive or Liberal need to look at the real world effects of Affirmative Action and ask ourselves if the cost-benefit analysis comes down on the side of continuing the idea--at least in its current form. What are these real-world effects? They can be enumerated as follows:

  1. Affirmative Action clearly breeds resentment. Now, there are times when it may be more or less appropriate to say “well, that’s just the way it is”. For example, there was no paucity of white resentment over integration and to that I would have to say “too bad”. The goal of making certain that the Constitution fully covered all of America’s citizens outweighed the resentment recalcitrant whites might have felt over things changing. The same could be said about voting rights for either blacks or women. There are, however, times when we should look at what others are saying and really give it the most fair hearing possible. I have heard too, too many whites who grew up poor express resentment that “no one gave me a break” to dismiss that as mere free-floating resentment. Who needed a break more to get into a top-tier school? My partner, who grew up one of four children of a single-mother making less than $30K a year in Utah in the 90’s or me, youngest of two children who grew up in a house where my parents combined income, when I left home in 1985, was at least $120K? Clearly, the answer of any sane person would be my partner. A class-based Affirmative Action would be altogether more justifiable than a race-based one.
  2. Affirmative Action keeps an undue focus on race. I want to make it clear, I am proud of my heritage because in my veins runs the blood of people who took the worst that America had to throw at a people and who managed, somehow, to find the courage to get up every morning and keep on keeping on. However, as proud as I am of that heritage and as much inspiration I draw from it, their accomplishments are not mine and my accomplishments are not theirs. Ultimately, I want to be judged on my own competency and I would be profoundly insulted to find out that I had ever gotten a job or admitted to a school because I was less than the best possible candidate. What’s more, it is inconsistent to want favor to flow toward me because of my phenotype while simultaneously saying that I do not want disfavor to befall me because of that same phenotype. If the latter is actively happening to me then I have grounds on which to claim the former. But the converse is also true. If I gain the former, I have no standing upon which to reject the latter.
  3. Affirmative Action sets up a double-bind for blacks. While it has not happened at my current employer, I have had jobs where co-workers wondered, out loud mind you, if I had gotten the job because of Affirmative Action--if I was filling a quota. That is a terrible feeling and one that no one should have to experience. (Even though I have had a co-worker who asked if I was raised by a white family because of my diction but that’s a different story.)
  4. Affirmative Action is anti-meritocratic. Now, I understand that on the Left there is a lot of talk against meritocracy but if we are fair, we must recognize that meritocracy is the best chance we have for a truly fair and just society. Some of the critique of meritocracy is “who decides what is merit”. On one hand, that’s a valid question worth exploring. On the other hand, at some level we know what merit is. I work for a software company, we can tell the callers who know what they are doing and those who don’t. There’s no absolute standard or checklist, it is intuitive. If I have to explain what a file system is and the person on the other line has the job title of developer or system administrator, then that person is not competent because there is no excuse for anyone with those job titles to not know what one is. None. Ever. If your doctor is incompetent you know they are and you will no longer go to them. So in a very real sense the question “who decides what counts as merit” is a false question. No one would get on an airliner with a pilot who they heard asking “what do those big round things do” when pointing at the engines. If there is something with the potential for fairness that is greater than meritocracy, I am unaware of it.
  5. Culture matters. By this I mean you cannot expect that if black kids genuinely believe that doing well in school is somehow to be “acting white” that black kids will do well in school. The problem, then, becomes not the school but the culture that tolerates the utterance of the statement “doing well in school is acting white”. To see this one need only compare the varying fates of three groups---blacks born BEFORE 1950, Afro-Carribean blacks who have migrated to the United States, and blacks born AFTER 1965. Blacks born before 1950 grew up being taught that an education was the key to liberation and that the crime was NOT that we were expected to learn but that in many venues we were either not ALLOWED to learn (being barred from the best schools, etc.) or that our education counted for absolutely nothing (the old joke of “Q. What’s a black man with a PhD called in Mississippi? A. Nigger). But blacks born in that era did not believe that to be well-read was to be non-black. Rather, it was to be integrated and to be resistant to the slings and arrows of outrageous racial misfortune. Afro-Carribean blacks who migrated never bought into the idea that being educated was somehow to betray blackness. Thus we have the example of a Colin Powell (who also was born before 1950). It is only blacks of MY generation who were born AFTER 1960 who suddenly started propagating this meme which, as far as I am aware, sprung up quite independently in the black community, that to be educated and integrated was to be non-black. This meme operates entirely independent of whites and, in fact, is not something I can ever recall hearing from white students at school but heard from black students on a regular basis.
  6. Life is not perfect. It has never been perfect, it never will be. All you can do is the best with what you have.
  7. There is absolutely no way to guarantee equality of outcome. It simply cannot be done. For example, I have taken a couple of writing classes in the last few semesters to break myself of some bad habits I picked up posting on USENET groups. From day one, both my professors and my fellow students recognized that I was far and away a more sophisticated writer than most of the other students in the class. I had several advantages over these students and so there is no way that there could be equal outcomes in that class. The only thing that the professors could do is judge each student’s work on the same merit (although, quite honestly, I went to my professors and said that I wanted them to judge my work as they would someone in a 200 or 300 level class because I was taking the class to break bad habits and get through some pre-reqs, in the case of one class). My advantages are that I am older than most of the other students in the class, meaning I have had more time to do more reading. I grew up in an academic environment so I was exposed to writing and reading from a very early age. I also read very broadly. All of these are, in fact, advantages I have that most of my fellow students did not. Given that, there is no way that there could be equal outcomes between me and any other given student in that class. I was going to get an “A” in those classes unless I simply refused to work or worked below my abilities. We on the Left, who are perfectly comfortable with the idea that there are people who have artistic talent and those who do not, those who have musical talent and those who do not, and those who have athletic talent and those who do not must also accept that there are people who have intellectual talent and those who do not and that given the kind of society we live in, where the best money is to be made (the aforementioned athletics and music not-with-standing) is going to be made by those who are best at manipulating symbolic logic. In other words, mind workers. Lawyers will make more money than baristas. Doctors will make more money than cashiers. GOOD lawyers will make more money than mediocre ones. GREAT doctors will make more money than so-so ones. This is not a prima facie sign of discrimination or racism unless one is going to posit that ALL the GOOD lawyers are of one race and that the best lawyers of another race can achieve is mediocre. This may not be a comfortable truth but it doesn’t make it any less true. What we can do is to provide opportunities to people and to not allow non-relevant barriers to achievement be put up. What we cannot do is ensure that every one who wants to go to Princeton gets into Princeton. Nor can we ensure that every Princeton graduate makes $80K a year out of the starting gate. That is not achievable. Now, if what we find is that NO blacks get into Princeton ever--and by this I mean that a black student who has never gotten a ‘B’ in her life, got a perfect score on the SATs, etc. cannot get into Princeton--then we have a problem that needs to be addressed. The same goes for bank loans. If I and one of my colleagues, who make the same amount of money, have the same time in our careers, have the exact same credit rating cannot get the same loan from the same bank (in other words, if you hold every relevant variable constant) then the bank had better be prepared to explain why it is that two individuals who are identical on paper cannot be treated identically if the only difference is ethnicity.*
        Now, to say all of this is not to say that there are never situations where an employer might not want to go out of their way to find someone like me. I’m currently in school, debating whether to go the route of education (in which case I’ll teach high school biology) or public health (in which case I’d like to work for one of the local hospitals as an epidemiologist). In the former, I would not feel particularly adverse to the idea of the Portland School District seeking me out to teach in North or Northeast Portland. Since the population of that school would be largely black having a black woman with dreadlocks in biology class, involved with the science club, etc. would be immensely valuable to those students and provided that I otherwise met the qualifications and performed well as a teacher I see no reason why the district should not go out of their way to recruit me. However, the cart is still before the horse. I would be the best candidate for a teaching position and the fact that I was a black woman would be something the school gets “for free”. All of that said, it would still be unacceptable for the district to pass over, say, a white teacher who had a M.S. in Biology and 20 years experience over me if I only had a B.S. in Biology since she would be the far more qualified candidate. My argument, vis a vis the teaching position, is only valid in as much as the district might take some steps to find and recruit me but not to hire me if I were not the best qualified candidate who also happened to be black.

        However, in my current employment situation my being black does nothing for my employer. It does not matter and has absolutely no influence on either my job performance nor on the success of our customers. It would make no sense for my employer to go out of their way to recruit a black employee because there is absolutely nothing my race would bring to the table and any indirect benefits of my being black (diversity) are nice and shouldn’t be dismissed but they are completely irrelevant to the business we do. In the case of me as teacher, an argument could be made that I could be a figure of inspiration to my students and so if I can be found an effort should be made to find me.

        This, to me, seems a more sane way of navigating the treacherous waters. It avoids the problematic area of sticking students with a teacher who is not qualified while at the same time recognizing that there is a real, on the ground reality that black children do not see adult blacks who are scientists very often. Having a real, live, scientist who is black in the classroom on a day-to-day basis may provide a benefit down the road that is unforeseen. And it would only make sense in the very limited context in which I am speaking and is, ultimately, predicated on my being the best qualified person. Again, all I’m saying is that as a recruitment effort not a hiring decision, the district might be well served to seek me out however they might go about that.

        There’s a society that I believe is possible wherein we are functionally color-blind while at the same time recognizing that there are, from time to time, distinctly non-colorblind actions. For instance, the link below is about a decidedly non-colorblind action that took place in Philadelphia, quite ironically. What this means is that, for the Left, we have to recognize that equality of opportunity is possible while equality of outcome is not.,2933,531024,00.html



Monday, June 1, 2009

A fantastic weekend

        This was an amazing weekend. I was on-call but other than one very brief issue, nothing else happened all weekend. This left plenty of time to work in the yard. I made a healthy dent in getting rid of the blackberries in the backyard. Our BBQ was delivered and we’ve enjoyed two meals grilled.

Angus was supervising by laying in the shade.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prop 8 ruled constitutional!

This is a latter-day Dred Scott decision. The court has ruled that the rights of a minority can legitimately be put up to a vote by a majority.

Court upholds Prop. 8 but lets marriages stand
(05-26) 10:29 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- California voters legally outlawed same-sex marriage when they approved Proposition 8 in November, but the constitutional amendment did not dissolve the unions of 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who wed before the measure took effect, the state Supreme Court ruled today.

My first batch of beer

Well, I brewed my first batch of beer! It’s a hefeweizen which I am going to add some raspberry flavoring to before I bottle it. It went okay, not terrific. I forgot to take a hydrometer reading before I added the yeast and I’m now wondering if I overcooled the wort.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Roger Cohen wimps out on torture in the NY Times

In a very disappointing op-ed in today’s New York Times, Roger Cohen argues that President Obama is correct that we need to “look forward and not back”. I disagree strenuously. I voted for Obama, in no small part, on the strength of his policy that we do not torture and that we, as a nation, respect the rule of law in both our rhetoric and in our deeds. If crimes were committed, and by any rational definition of the term torture is a crime in both American and international law, then those who have done the acts should stand trial for them. I’m not saying that I we should round up every CIA agent and frog march them in chains. I would actually be willing to give the agents who did the torturing light sentences but Cheney and Zen Master Rumsfeld should definitely stand in the dock for their participation as should Condi Rice.

I would like to think that Obama would have the courage of his convictions. He knows what the Constitution demands in this situation. He should do it.

Op-Ed Columnist - No Time for Retribution -

Monday, January 12, 2009

Afrofuturism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I saw this the other day

or afro-futurism is an African diaspora cultural and literary movement whose thinkers and artists see science, technology and science fiction as means of exploring the black experience.
[1][2][3] Afrofuturist or afro-futurist may also refer to a futurist who engages in comtemporary foresight into long-term cultural, social, and political developments for black people, or simply a futurist who happens to be a black person.
In the late 1990s a number of cultural critics, notably Mark Dery in his 1995 essay Black to the Future, began to write about the features they saw as common in African-American science fiction, music and art. Dery dubbed this phenomenon “afrofuturism”.
In "Black to the Future," Dery writes,
Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture—and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future—might, for want of a better term, be called Afrofuturism. [...] If there is an Afrofuturism, it must be sought in unlikely places, constellated from far-flung points. We catch a glimpse of it in the opening pages of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, where the proto-cyberpunk protagonist—a techno-bricoleur “in the great American tradition of tinkers”—taps illegal juice from a line owned by the rapacious Monopolated Light & Power, gloating, “Oh, they suspect that their power is being drained off, but they don’t know where.” [...] Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings such as Molasses, which features a pie-eyed, snaggletoothed robot, adequately earn the term “Afrofuturist,” as do movies like John Sayles’s The Brother From Another Planet and Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames. Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland is Afrofuturist; so, too, is the techno-tribal global village music of Miles Davis’s On the Corner and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, as well as the fusion-jazz cyberfunk of Hancock’s Future Shock and Bernie Worrell’s Blacktronic Science, whose liner notes herald “reports and manifestoes from the nether regions of the modern Afrikan American music/speculative fiction universe.” Afrofuturism manifests itself, too, in early ‘80s electro-boogie releases such as Planet Patrol’s “Play at Your Own Risk,” Warp 9’s “Nunk,” George Clinton’s Computer Games, and of course Afrika Bambaataa’s classic “Planet Rock,” records steeped in “imagery drawn from computer games, video, cartoons, sci-fi and hip-hop's language,” notes David Toop, who calls them “a soundtrack for vidkids to live out fantasies born of a science-fiction revival courtesy of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind).” Techno, whose name was purportedly inspired by a reference to “techno rebels” in Alvin Toffler’s Third Wave, is a quintessential example of Afrofuturism. [...] Afrofuturism bubbles up from the deepest, darkest wellsprings in the intergalactic big band jazz churned out by Sun Ra’s Omniverse Arkestra, in Parliament-Funkadelic’s Dr. Seuss-ian astrofunk, and in dub reggae, especially the bush doctor’s brew cooked up by Lee “Scratch” Perry, which at its eeriest sounds as if it were made out of dark matter and recorded in the crushing gravity field of a black hole (“Angel Gabriel and the Space Boots” is a typical title). African-American culture is Afrofuturist at its heart, literalizing [the SF novelist William] Gibson’s cyberpunk axiom, “The street finds its own uses for things.” With trickster elan, it retrofits, refunctions, and willfully misuses the technocommodities and science fictions generated by a dominant culture that has always been not only white but a wielder, as well, of instrumental technologies.
According to the cultural critic Kodwo Eshun, the British journalist Mark Sinker was theorizing something very like Afrofuturism in the pages of The Wire, a British music magazine, as early as 1992.
Afrofuturist ideas were incubated and elaborated on the eponymous list-serve established by Alondra Nelson in 1998. Participants in those conversations include Alondra Nelson, Paul D. Miller, Alexander G. Weheliye, Nalo Hopkinson, Sheree Thomas, Art McGee, Ron Eglash, and Kali Tal.

Afrofuturism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia