Sunday, May 26, 2013

So....Where do the Fast Pedestrians Walk?

Where do the fast pedestrians walk? I've always wondered this when I see this sign across the street from my office. It's not one of the sidewalks that Abigail and I walk on, but I'm not sure at what speed we would be considered "slow" or "fast." I've always had the same thoughts when I see a sign on a residential street that says, "Slow Children Playing."

It's been another busy week, both politically and otherwise. And the questions just keep coming at me. But first, I have to say how happy I was when I saw two articles this week. One was about a large retail outlet that targets a particularly young demographic. They met with some bad publicity this week when a company executive made comments about not wanting something about fat chicks. Why this would surprise anyone is beyond me. I went into one of these stores in Champaign, IL once, in the midst of the Christmas rush, to buy a gift card for a nephew, and the staff there made me feel as if I didn't belong there. It was very humiliating, and I would never go into one of those stores again, even if I were a tall, skinny blonde twenty-years old again. So when I read that their sales had dropped a great deal after all the bad press, I couldn't help but smirk to myself. Hey, Dude, fat chicks may not be able to shop in your store, but we do have friends with jobs. We have people who love us, who have money. And we don't have to be oppressed by shallow jerks like you anymore.

The other article that made me inexpressibly happy had to do with how germy our dogs are, and how good that is for us. It seems that our best friends bring in microbes, introduce them to our immune systems, put them to work and makes them stronger. So, when my Abigail kisses me on the mouth, or I pet her, I am building my ability to fight disease. There are lots of medical professionals who have been voices in the wilderness for some years about our unhealthy fear of germs, and how it is compromising our ability to fight disease, and has also led to (theoretically) increased allergies in our children. This study on dogs has shown them to be right-it is exposure to microbes, not freaking out and using hand sanitizer every five minutes, and running to the doctor for antibiotics with every sniffle, that helps us fight disease. Would anybody like a kiss from Abigail? It will make you healthier!!! And she is usually willing.

Sometimes I start one of these things, and get bored with the stuff I've noted to write about. Or something happens to change one of the questions-I find an answer, or the question changes. This happened yesterday, due to a Facebook comment from an old friend. He is ex-military, and I am from a very military family. I've made the list before; my dad, two of my three sisters, two of my brothers-in-law, I think all five of my mother's brothers, etc, etc. I had something snarky to say about wishing people a "good holiday" last week, not because of what this holiday celebrates, but because so many people freak out about the word "holiday" at..."ahem," other times of year, when they want their meaning, and only their meaning applied to the word. But my friend reminded all of his friends what Memorial Day is really about; remembering those who have died in the service of this country. And so I thought better of my original comment, and would like to take this moment to remember those who have paid the ultimate price for us. I am grateful to them, and wish more than I can express that their sacrifices would not be in vain.

From there, the military has been very much in the news the last week or so, and how the current and previous president wage war. In particular, the use of drones to commit "surgical" strikes against enemies of the United States. The people of this country tend to be for the use of drones overseas because we don't like it when our soldiers die in battle. But drones have also been used to kill some American citizens without their constitutional right to due process and trial by a jury of their peers. This is a big problem to many people, myself included. However, there is a large matter of definitions here. What President Bush began was, as labeled by himself, a "War on Terror." I'm sure I've talked about this before, but the whole idea of a "War on Terror" is a silly one, in my view. As so many before me have said, terrorists are not soldiers, and terrorism is a tactic, not an army that we can face off and fight. This is why only drones can be used to fight them...we are not talking about "The Redcoats," with whom we can line up on a field and do
battle. This is why terrorism can never be defeated-the goal of a terrorist is to create terror. This being said, there will always be a crowded event planned wherein a bomb can be placed. It doesn't have to kill a great number of people in order to create an environment of fear in the community. There will always be a bus on which some guy can board with a bomb beneath his jacket and blow up himself along with the bus and all its passengers. If we have intelligence that says this will happen with an individual or a small group, it is possible that the only way to stop them is with a targeted strike, such as a drone. There will be "collateral damage;" a term I have always hated, because it makes it seem as if the people who were not terrorists and were killed anyway, did not matter. The babies, the innocent bystanders, the wedding celebrants are human beings who do matter. So we need to decide this Memorial Day weekend what kind of country we want to have, and what kind of wars we wish to wage. The world has changed, and our war machine must change with it, thoughtfully. Conventional warfare cannot fight terrorism. But surgical strikes, just like regular bombs, do kill babies and the elderly, and other innocents. I personally believe in the US Constitution, and the use of drones on Americans is onerous to me.

Another onerous thing to me is the Department of Justice's use of the phone records of reporters to get information on people who leak information to the press. I spoke about this last week, but this week the scandal got bigger. I was amused at hearing that a certain Fox News reporter was particularly picked on because getting his phone records would at least get true information, when Fox has just made stuff up about President Obama from day one. But I can't bring myself to see this as humorous in any way. What this is saying to me is that at least Attorney General Holder, and probably President Obama at some point, are so afraid of leaks that they are willing to violate the constitutional right of the American People to an unfettered free press. We need to remember that a free press is not for the benefit of the press, but for the benefit of the people. We need to know what the government is up to. In general it is people doing bad things who want what they are doing to be kept secret, and we want the bad things the government does to be exposed somehow. I truly hope this means that the press will change its more looking into what the government is up do, and less into what the Kardashians are up to. I'm not angry about this because the Obama administration has done it...this has been done for at least decades, if not longer. Using the press, using the IRS to punish people who do things the government dislikes. Both parties do it, and we need to remember a particular case, the Viet Nam war, in which it was democrats who were in charge of the war, and used the press, the DOJ and the IRS to get back at people. This is politics as usual, and the only way it will EVER change is for the PEOPLE to stop the two party system, and put these people out of work.

This brings me to the idea, being spouted everywhere, that Hilary Clinton will run for president in 2016. This seemed like a nice idea to me a few months ago. We need a woman to be elected, and I believe she did a good job as Secretary of far as the people can know. I have two big "but...s" here. First of all, I've emailed several news organizations immediately after the 2012 election and begged them to place a moratorium on discussing the 2016 presidential election until, AT LEAST after the 2014 midterms. Sigh. Alas. This was (unsurprisingly) not to be. The twenty four hour news cycle must have something to talk about, and so they have to speculate about stuff to fill all those hours of useless talking head time. But my light feeling of warmth at the notion of Hilary running, and polling so well right now,  was wiped out I saw an article entitled, "Clinton vs. Bush 2016?" Not that I really care who runs, since, as I just stated above, we will have business as usual in Washington until We the People decide to fire both parties and start over with parties who have not been bought by giant corporations and long ago stopped caring about "The People's Business." But those two names on the ticket again? That is just business as usual overkill. We need to move on. Barbara Bush was absolutely right when at  President Bush's "library" opening last month she said, "We don't need another Bush in the White House. We've had enough." I agree with her, but will the people say she was right? I certainly hope so. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hints of Darkness

Oh my, what a busy week for political junkies. Junkies on the right think they've finally proven what a horrible man President Obama is, and junkies on the left think this is all much ado about nothing. The truth, of course, is always somewhere in the middle. But, as always, life happens outside the media, especially outside the Washington media, and there are always, always, always questions. Not all the questions life has presented to me this week have anything to do with government scandals, but some do.

1. Why do people keep talking after they claim to be speechless? There is no real answer for this one, but lots of theories. So, the question stands.

2. What have we done to man's best friend? The reason I'm asking is, of course, Abigail. Three times in the last year I've seen her predatory instincts take over, and she killed something that dogs in the wild would certainly eat if they killed it. These were two birds and a rabbit. In both cases with the birds, she killed them, and then, holding the lifeless body in her mouth, looked at me as if to ask, "Now what?" She wound up dropping the birds and leaving them behind. I really would prefer that she eat what she kills so that she isn't behaving like humans, and killing for no good reason. But she has no need to eat what she kills-she never lacks for food. But what I want to understand is this; have we so domesticated dogs that they no longer understand why they are driven to kill?

3. I've been involved in many conversations about cosmetic procedures, and how freaky some of them make women look. I guess the thing that baffles me about it is that many of the women who do it are gorgeous to begin with. Which both confuses and makes me sad as it hints to me that they have spent their lives feeling validated only by their looks, and it they lose their looks to age, they no longer have anything to offer. But that's not my question this time. The question is this; I've heard that botox and lip injections only last about six months. So, if someone...say, a famous movie star, has them, and then all the press and/or opinion say that she really looked better before, can she stop? Would her lips go back to normal if she skipped the injections next time, or would they look weird and deflated?

4. Okay, so here's my tree-hugger question of the week: The past two weeks we've seen all kind of stories about these cool 3D printers that can create plastic stuff, including a gun that fires and can't be detected by airport security systems. But mostly they are being used to make little plastic figurines. These printers will supposedly rewrite the book on manufacturing in this country, make it possible for small business entrepreneurs to skip the lead-filled Chinese stuff. But remember, plastic is a petroleum product, and it will pretty much never decompose. Are they using recycled plastics for any of this stuff? Is the technology too "Gee-whiz!" yet to think about long-term consequences of all this plastic mania? Every piece of plastic that has been created since the 1920s still exists, much of it lying in landfills never to go away. This is pretty scary stuff to me.

5. There has been much talk this week about the Department of Justice tapping the phones of several Associated Press reporters. The story is apparently that the AP was about to break a story that the CIA had stopped a second terrorist panty bomber. The DOJ asked them to hold the story, which had been leaked to the AP for national security reasons. But apparently the DOJ was so pissed about the leak that it decided to secretly try to find out who leaked the story with these secret wiretaps. Yes, this is petty and supremely unconstitutional. Freedom of the press in this country is sacrosanct, and necessary to prevent the government from acting is secret and doing terrible things to citizens. The government has been known to do such things, and not one party or the other, but liberals and conservatives have abused power in this way. But the story for me, just a couple of weeks after the big, fancy party in which the government and the press dress up and party together for all of our entertainment. I have never, ever liked the Correspondents Dinner, and have said for many years that it breaks down the tension that should exist between the media and the government. So the question in this story for me is, what did you expect? The government is not your friend!!! Your job is to keep them honest, and expose them when they are not. Stop the chummy act, and do your job.

6. I'm watching a story right now on "60 Minutes" that only supports and enhances my next question, which is basically, again, what do we expect? To all my friends who take a different position than me in the gun argument, I promise you, the government taking your gun is not the place in which your freedom is being taken away. It's in their ability to follow you everywhere. And it's not just the government, it's also business and marketing. And we are complicit in the giving up of our secrets. The government has basically been told that it's okay-we don't care about our own privacy anymore. We are on Facebook, and Twitter, and on and on. We all want a reality show to follow us all the way down to our ugly bathrooms and physical limitations. We can't have it both ways-either we want our privacy, and we will act to protect it, or we will have no idea who out there has access to our every meal, and where we ate it. We have GPS on our phones, other people post pictures of us and put our names on them. I've done it-and I've only had a couple of friends who asked me to remove posts that included their information. Why so few? NOW we want to be upset that the government can tap into our phone calls and emails, and all of our internet accounts? One cannot be the next reality TV sensation AND keep their private information safe. None of us are very good at seeing the road ahead-we only know that the idea of a road trip sounds cool and fun. But if we aren't careful, when we get to the end of whatever journey we're on,  it may be too late to keep Big Brother from having hidden in our trunk.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Honeysuckle Spring

Well, here we are at spring time again. The weather is heating up in Texas, and the wild fields are full of blooming honeysuckle. I know this subject may be tiresome as I've mentioned it around this time for the last three years, but when Abigail and I take our evening walk, and that heavy, romantic smell is in the air it makes me feel as if the warming is a good thing. Of course, the fact that it comes earlier and earlier, and that earth has just now passed the supposed tipping point of 400 PPM of carbon in the air, and then I feel as if I should not allow myself to enjoy the moment. I do manage to watch Abigail enjoy chasing a squirrel or a rabbit, and then I realize that these pleasant moments are all we really have. The fact that we have now passed that carbon milestone tells us it is too late, and that there has never been the will to make any changes that would keep earth's environment in the balance that has allowed us to enjoy several millenia of a fairly balanced climate. So, now we are fighting about the Keystone pipeline, and some experts warn that this, and other methods of keeping our addiction to fossil fuels fed will prevent the changes from escalating. And we are on the way through one one geologic/climactic cycle to another. First there were bacteria and other living creatures that gave off carbon as a byproduct, and humans would never have been able to survive there. But then, as a result of this, plants began to thrive and they gave off oxygen as a byproduct, and this allowed the animals to spring up; each of these eras lasting multi-millions of years. More years that most of us can imagine.

Yes, I'm giving up my liberal, tree-hugging cred here (not the first time) because I see the pattern here, and I'm not about to start hyperventilating (too much carbon release.) This occurred to me last week en we had a very unusual cold snap-if you can call it that. The daytime temperature dropped from upper-80s to the mid-60s for one day. A coworker and I were standing at the fax machine, and she (who is a raging conservative, fundamentalist) made a snarky remark to me about how true global warming is. I didn't bother to mention that science has nearly 200 years of daily records to watch long term trends, and the long term trend is warming. One odd cold snap can't erase that, but the conversation would be wasted with someone who is so certain of her certainty. But as I was thinking about it later, and watching a four-part series on PBS about the evolution of life and how well preserved it is in Australia, I realized that a HUGE part of the reason people can't grasp the facts of global climate change is that almost no one, particularly laymen, can wrap their heads around the amount of time it takes for these changes to occur. Just like the folks who say that we couldn't have come from the sea because their is no fossil of a fishman, and we couldn't have come from apes because their is no fossil of an apeman-they will never understand that we have large numbers of transitional fossils. They just simply show small changes for millions and millions of years before they show another small step. Yes, there are some animals in which we can see evolution take place in real time-such as the British coal region moths, and beaks of finches, etc. But for very, very long times that we cannot fathom because of our very limited lifespans.

So this post was really supposed to be about the long term costs of doing nothing. Not willing to pay the true cost of fossil fuels today is creating changes so immense that we cannot perceive it. Not willing to pay the true cost of keeping water clean, reducing family size, stopping the waste of food and water, and on and on. But my mental acrobatics and ADD simply will not let me stop in the next fifty years, or the next century. If earth survives, and it may not, the animal life will be so different than humans that we would not recognize them as our descendants if we were able to travel forward in time to see them, any more than the sea worms that spawned us would recognize us as their infinitesimally related great grandchildren. It's about time, and we can't conceive of it. All we know is what we are, and that the things we are doing will change our chances for survival. But, as I've said before, we will simply become something different. If the giant meteor, volcano or earthquake don't end it all sooner.

The truth is that I have kept a note about watching people in Texas taking their children and puppies for photos in the large fields of bluebonnets that bloom here in the spring. The pictures are undeniably beautiful, and the fact that a couple of people start it, and then everyone does it until the wonderful blooms are trampled and won't come back until next year. How many golden retriever puppies have been sold by being photographed in a fabulous field of these wonderful blue/purple flowers. I always wonder about fire ants, too, in those wild fields of flowers. Their bites are pretty painful, and they are everywhere!!! Sorry I got distracted by laymen's level evolutionary biology. I still admit to being an unapologetic science groupie.

Another thing I've thought a lot about the last few weeks is an explosion that happened in a plant about
100 miles from where I live. This (ironically) happened while the governor of my great state was traveling about the country bragging about how little regulation occurs in our businesses in Texas. The truth about Texas and business regulation is that in Texas we may have lots and lots of jobs, but we also have a much larger percentage of low wage jobs, and uninsured workers than many other states. So the truth is that unless the governor is bragging about being a shark in an ocean full of defenseless baby seals, there is little to brag about. It turns out that this plant was in violation of hundreds of business regulations, and had not been inspected since 1985. That this explosion happened should not surprise anyone. It's not a tragedy, it's a travesty. And the truth is that this is an endemic problem-and the reason that there will have to be a giant worker's rebellion and a return to unions before anything at all will get better. Business will never, ever regulate itself. Those at the top have only one goal in mind, and that is to make more money. In order to do that, short cuts must be taken, and they must ensure that the smallest possible workforce must do the most possible work with the fewest possible benefits. This fact should not be read as anything explosive-I try to be rational and reasonable, though I often fail. But I think this one succeeds in that. The explosions will be coming from more factories and plants that are unregulated in Texas, and the injured from these explosions may well be without health insurance, and will be among the millions in this country that we hear about who go bankrupt due to medical bills.

Lastly, I would love to get away from the gun debate. I haven't seen any reasonable or rational discussion of this since December, or ever, truth be told. But last week I was driving home from work, and saw a bumper sticker that said, "The Constitution Guarantees My Right To Bear Arms." This is true. There can be more than one way to interpret the Second Amendment, but the words do say what this bumper sticker asserts. And then a thought washed over me, which may not be original to this argument, but I've never heard it before: The Declaration of Independence guarantees me The Right To Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." These two needn't be mutually exclusive if reason were to prevail. But reason doesn't seem to do that in this conversation, in my opinion, particularly on the gun rights side. Reason would not suggest that an AR15 would prevent the government from becoming tyrannical. Reason would not suggest that such guns would be useful in a home invasion in which there was more than one person in a household. Reason would not allow that a locked up gun with a safety lock would be useful to a homeowner with an intruder in the home. Reason WOULD, however, allow that if your aim hits me just right, whether deliberately or by accident, you have taken away my right to life. If that shot doesn't kill me, but paralyzes me, you have denied me my right to liberty. And if your gun kills my child, or if your gun designed for a child is used by your child or my child to kill one of my children, you have denied me my ability to ever, EVER pursue, let alone discover happiness. The parents who have lost children to gun violence will never recover, though they may find a way to carry on. Balance that, People of Reason.

Whether these are formed as questions or not, there are still intense questions being asked here, and likely no answers to be found. But, as always, I welcome conversation, debate, answers and more questions.