Susan's Musings

These musings—blog entries—are for the year 2013. Other years can be accessed from the blog's home page, use the link in the upper right.

140 characters
140 characters are the maximum length of a tweet. Is this really self-expression? Or a come-on for one-liners? Perhaps a digital form of Burma Shave highway signs? What does this say about our attention span? I'm keeping my distance. I like an essay or a book that takes time to read and effort to understand. And what about "Ulysses"? (12-29-2013)
Your private medical records in the cloud
The January 2014 issue of "San Francisco" magazine, on page 29 in a sidebar to an article about Digital Detox, cites five tech startups, among them Medisas, a cloud-based medical forms system provider. The problem it "solves" is medical errors based on paper medical records. Hmmph. I remain completely opposed to the digitization and sharing of medical records!! (1) The process of digitizing them will introduce new errors—who will do the proof-reading and who will pay them? (2) Hasn't anyone learned anything from Edward Snowden's ongoing disclosures and the pre-2013 hacking revelations? Any electronic file on a network can be read, altered, and deleted by unauthorized persons. So cloud-based medical records retain the risk of errors while adding the risk of loss of privacy. HIPAA is rendered irrelevant. (12-29-2013)
Salmon Creek Yacht Club
I recently enjoyed a Sunday afternoon drive south along the Sonoma Coast on which may have been the most gorgeous day in many years. I arrived at the beach at Salmon Creek, one of the locations of Sonoma Coast State Park, with great anticipation—the beach there is beautiful with many tall sand dunes. Salmon Creek rises in the hills of Occidental and runs west into the Pacific Ocean just north of Bodega Bay. On the south side of the lagoon is a small unincorporated beach community. It was there in the reeds along the narrow paved road leading to the beach parking lot, now closed for budget reasons, that I found a small sign: "Salmon Creek Yacht Club." No dock, no boardwalk, no boats. Adjacent to it was another sign:
  When you wish to cross\
  But cannot walk on water\
  it's Row vs. Wade." (12-26-2013)
Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela died today at age 95. Political prisoner, president, Nobel Peace Prize laureate—he gave new meaning in his embodiment of the phrase "we shall overcome." Rest in peace Nelson. (12-6-2013)
Dangerous modern attitudes
[elsewhere I wrote about God-given supremacy. I am responding to the Archdruid.] Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008) saw problems in the modern trend of "glorifying modern civilization and the idea that the material is almighty." (Sowing Seeds in the Desert) This reminds me of what the Archdruid wrote about in Nov. 2013. He writes about the religion of progress. I suspect there is more at play than just that. (12-4-2013)
Food drives for employees
In the past week or so Walmart and other retailers have gained notoriety by holding food drives for their employees. It has taken me a few days to catch my breath. Astounding! Admitting that you compete for consumer dollars by underpaying your employees. Asking your customers and even other employees to directly subsidize said underpaid employees. We already know the federal government, that is us taxpayers, are subsidizing these same underpaid employees with Medicaid and food stamps. Holding food drives is mindboggling in its crassness. The honest behavior is to pay a living wage. The world's largest company can either cover the salary increases with retained earnings (perish the thought) or raise prices. Certainly PR firms can pitch a wee price increase as a responsible American act. (11-30-2013)
Coffee makers for the masses
For many years I have been grateful to Williams Sonoma for the extensive collection of quality cooking pots and pans they sell near me. Most of my beautiful pots were bought from them. And I enjoy their catalogs for their attractive displays of gorgeous pots. I still enjoy them even though I have all I need.

And so I looked forward to enjoying their Thanksgiving catalog. On pages 10 and 11 I studied pictures of four different coffee makers. For me this is strictly academic as I do not like coffee and never drink it. But oh the gadgets!

Until I noticed their prices: $200, $1000, $1100, and $2750. For coffee? I get the $200 model, but the others? Who spends this much to make a cup of coffee? Well yes, they also make espresso. But how many people spend money like this when incomes for most of us are dropping? (11-19-2013)

Populism explained
John Emerson wrote a worthwhile article in 11-5-2013 CounterPunch "A Short History of Populism in America." ( I replied to him:

Thank you for this discussion. I have heard the word "populism" for years and not understood it. Sometimes I wondered if my own aversion to so many modern political values meant I was a populist. Now I know otherwise.

I am appalled in different ways by Democrats and Republicans. I find more variety in the Dems, and hope that more of them will agree with me. (Fat chance.)

I especially appreciated your discussion of education splitting students from common sense and their parents' values—"three impossible things before breakfast"! This must be why the public is silent in the face of the most outrageous statements by the President and the Federal Reserve Board/Treasury liars. We have a real hard time telling truth from fiction.

I now see that by not acknowledging human truths, education can construct an alternate reality that is believed as a matter of fact.

Where can such a society go? I'm starting to think that the post-industrial world waiting at the end of peak oil cannot come soon enough. (11-8-2013)

Gluten is a popular word these days. Gluten-free foods line the grocery store shelves and are advertised in the media. People talk about their gluten-free diets, but not so much about their reasons for such a diet. Before this phenomenon, the only reference I found to gluten was in bread recipes, as the standard leavened wheat bread relies on gluten in the wheat flour to raise.

I am skeptical of gluten allergies. This is based on my belief in the role of the whole foodstuff or natural remedy where the whole entity is the thing that interacts with and affects our bodies (and that of other animals). Herbalism uses the whole herb to heal. I believe the concept of the active ingredient is a mistake, it reminds me of our penchant for "silver bullets," single substances that can cure us without our having to make any changes in our life style.

Hence my doubt that gluten by itself causes health problems. If we react negatively to eating wheat, then I suggest it is the whole wheat stuff that is the source of the problem, not some component of the wheat. I find this finger pointing at gluten easy to understand in our culture. Doctors subscribe to the "just take this pill" approach to treatment, it's a lot easier than convincing their patients that not all wheats are created equal and it is likely that one of them is causing metabolic problems. Our marketplace resists disclosure of the identity and characteristics of food ingredients, so it is virtually impossible for individuals to discover just what was in that cracker.

Blaming the gluten lets the food producers off the hook. (11-6-2013)

5-26-2014 addendum: There are a number of factors in wheat flour that can injure our health, among them (as I am sure this list is not exhaustive) wheat variety, milling technique, and whether the flour is "whole-grain." What If Everything You Knew About Grains Was Wrong? by Twilight Greenaway at CivilEats is worth reading.

An article "Dysfunctional Island" by Jeb Sprague in the August 2013 CounterPunch, while about Hispaniola, contained the following sentence which seems relevant to America: "The right has no answers to the deepening ecological and inequality crises of capitalist globalism." It seems the American right needed Citizens United in order to have a clientele of individuals. Without their corporate masters they would have no takers, no audience, no constituency.

The advantage offered by corporate masters is the money to fund PR campaigns and the media channels to broadcast those campaigns to all Americans every day. It's been proven over and over that if you tell a story enough times it will be believed. Corporations deliver their stories constantly, lightly garbed in the image of the political right. (10-3-2013)

Carte blanche
In the 1700s carte blanche meant a man offered a prospective female sex partner access to his money. These days it describes a government's right to rape and pillage its citizens. (10-1-2013)
Public pension funds
Matt Taibbi has an article in Rolling Stone ( about the looting of public pension funds. These funds are meant to get contributions from public employees AND their government employer. Seems that many are underfunded or just plain not funded by the government employer. And the funds are managed in such a way that they pay high administrative fees and hold the worthless mortgage-backed securities that were behind the 2008 financial crisis. Now some self-serving crooks are suggesting the funds should be abandoned, that the employees should be stiffed, and more ways to extract fees should be implemented. So much for public gratitude for public service. Unfortunately for us chickens, the foxes do not wear name tags. What Taibbi wrote: The money may not be there, but that's not because the program is unsustainable: It's because bankers and politicians stole the money. (9-30-2013)

Professionalism vs. commodity
Software post-implementation reviews are rarely done these days—if they even appear on a work plan at all. Their intent was to provide closure to team members and assess what worked and what didn't—lessons learned. They supported a spirit of professionalism.

These days only some programmers (aka software developers) consider themselves to be professionals. When the success of a software project is judged solely on its adherence to a time and money budget, not outcomes, it reflects software development as a commodity, not a professional endeavor.

So it can be seen that health insurance and the fee-for-service billing model have reduced the practice of medicine to a commodity. (9-25-2013)

Obama is so done
Obama is so done. I turned off the radio this morning while he was talking about the economy and that jobs have been a problem for a long time and will be for a long time. Why does he waste my time on this, what a strange way to acknowledge his limitations.

I've probably said this before.

And I admit to being pissed over his claim that "we" have to "make him do it." It is my opinion that I voted for his campaign promises, that my vote was my statement of my desires. So why do I have to "make" him do what he already promised to do? I am fine with being given specific tasks, like phone my senator, if the president needs help. Let him ask for it. On the other hand, Obama has a long history of acting on his own in ways that are unconstitutional, so much for making him do anything. Clearly if he really wants to do something, he can. (8-29-2013)

Rattling the Sabers Over Syria
I heard Joe Biden on the radio this morning declaring loudly and forcefully how bad the Syrian government was for using chemical weapons. I am sure this is a script and it is his appointed task to make the noise. Obama will undoubtedly say he has been forced to act—and interfere militarily in yet another sovereign nation's civil war. Apparently the man will not learn.

Now, what about those chemical weapons that al-Assad is accused of using against his own civilian populations? Where did he get them?

Peter Grier in the Christian Science Monitor on April 26, 2013 wrote: "The roots of Syria's chemical weapons program lie decades in the past, perhaps back to the 1970s. Other countries were early suppliers. What's uncertain now is if Syria can make its own chemical weapons. . . . Today most experts agree Syria has large stocks of this weaponry." Grier's is the most thorough analysis I found. (8-28-2013)

2013 Yosemite "Rim Fire"
This fire is getting lots of attention, as well it should. The governor visited it and appeared on TV. This recalls the 1988 Yellowstone fires of which I was fortunate to see an exhibit several years later that showed how quickly the plants returned. The exhibit had been prepared by the Park Service and was at that time located in the Canyon Village Visitor Education Center. Highly recommended. It is in sharp contrast with the "stories" put forward by the timber businesses who want to "harvest" all the burnt trees and scrape the hillsides clear to tidy them up. This is absolutely wrong. The wrongness of this idea was illustrated clearly in the Yellowstone exhibit and can now be found on several websites, among them

I want to emphasize the speed with which plant and animal life return to undisturbed burnt areas. I expect that before the smoke clears in Yosemite, the timber companies will begin preying on the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the public, and anyone else whom they feel to be vulnerable to their lies. Just say "no"! (8-27-2013)

Rightful defence of western values
The April 2013 issue of Harper's Magazine has an excerpt from John Le Carré's latest novel and an essay titled "Afterword." I quote from the end of that essay:
"How far can we go in the rightful defence of our Western values without abandoning them along the way? My fictional chief of the British service . . . had no doubt of the answer: 'I mean, you can't be less ruthless than the opposition simply because your government's policy is benevolent, can you now?'
Today, the same man, with better teeth and hair and a much smarter suit, can be heard explaining away the catastrophic illegal war in Iraq, or justifying medieval torture techniques as the preferred means of interrogation in the 21st century, or defending the inalienable right of closet psychopaths to bear semi-automatic weapons, and the use of unmanned drones as a risk-free method of assassinating one's perceived enemies and anybody who has the bad luck to be standing near them. Or, as a loyal servant of his corporation, assuring us that smoking is harmless to the health of the third world, and great banks are there to serve the public." (9-18-2013)
The bearable costs of administration
Obama recently suggested a federal rating system for colleges that could be connected to student loans. Presumably students wanting a loan for a well-rated college would get a better interest rate than for a loan for a less-rated college. What an incredible administrative effort this would create, a true jobs program. Colleges already have ways to compete, mostly accreditation, quality of instructors, employability of graduates. They do not need the federal government making demands on their time. It seems that politicians have less resistance to the costs of administering a government program than outright gifts to the ultimate beneficiaries, private individuals—students in this case. Perhaps the need to assert their control takes precedence. (8-26-2013)
Friendly Persuasion
I recently watched this film, it was not the first time. I find it compelling. It is set in 1862 Indiana. At one point the woman minister (played by Dorothy McGuire) says a prayer which I liked so much, I rewound the DVD to get it all: "Lord, let thy children partake of thy love and the love of all men, rendering not evil for evil, nor violence for violence done, let swords be changed to ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, and children of peace learn war no more forever." The human animal seems to resist such peacefulness. (8-24-2013)
Cheaper to ban bad food
Consider: the poor are forced to choose to eat food that is poisonous because it is the lowest cost. And they get sick because of it. And then government programs, paid for by wealthier citizens, pays for the medicine to heal the poor poisoned by cheap food. The more wealthy choose to buy food that is nutritious and not poisoned, because they know the difference and can afford it. So, because our society refuses to disallow poisoned food in the "market," the less-indigent pay for the medicine for the indigent. Wouldn't it be smarter to prohibit poisoned food? That puts the compliance cost on the food companies, and removes it from the taxpayers. (8-22-2013)
Possibilities, 8-16-2013
We certainly have allowed commercial interests to get the better of us. The question is—is it possible to do otherwise? (8-16-2013)
Death in space, 8-15-2013 Arsenal in Hypocrisy: The Space Program and the Military Industrial Complex, a 2003 film produced by Randy Atkins, presented by Bruce K. Gagnon; written by Randy and Bruce; 59 minutes. A review at The speaker says several times that our world is dominated by the military industrial complex. The number one industrial export product is weapons. Worth every minute. (8-15-2013)
If at first
We have spent centuries enthralled to industrialism, capitalism, and consumerism, only to see the plagues of poverty, illness, poor education, poisoned environments, and violence worsen. We do have our amusements, but so did Rome. Why do we think that more of the same will improve our lives? (8-15-2013)
Mechanical models
I have attempted much earlier in this blog to address what I call the mechanical model. Here's another attempt. I studied physics in my undergraduate school. Mechanical physics is fascinating for its ability to match calculations of how fast an object can roll down a decline and how hard it can strike an immovable object with actual measurements. This is mechanical physics. It leads its students to believe they can calculate anything if only they had the formula. And mathematics, my major, enables this belief as it provides the formulas. It is difficult to be mindful that what looks to be cut-and-dried is really only a theory. That while evidence today is consistent with the theory, at some future date evidence will be discovered that is not consistent with the theory. This has happened so often and for so long that even this phenomenon begins to look like more fact than theory. I have come to the opinion that any mechanistic explanation, from what the heart does (e.g., pump blood) to why it rains, is wrong, that the mechanistic character of the model is sufficient to disprove it. (8-14-2013)
Wealth from poverty
Walmart has made its family owners among the wealthiest in the country. Their early stores were located in the poor South, they later moved out across the country, again setting up shop in low income areas. They compete on price, so they are marketing themselves to the poorest Americans. Their success is a testament to the ability of a few to extract major wealth from the poor. Obviously even the poor have money to spend. And there are enough of them to enrich the Walton family beyond measure. There is something uncomfortable about this. It's as if the poor are, in addition to being cannon fodder (as Army recruits), prey for bankers (sub-prime loans) and retailers. Clearly those people who feel an obligation to help the needy are missing the big picture: consumerism means wealth extraction. Government aid flows, with little interruption, into the coffers of Walmart and its ilk. Now, I do not want to be seen as complaining at successful businesses' profits. That is clearly un-American and will bring the NSA snooping into my mail. No, what I am trying to point out is the clever business model that realizes that even the poor spend money and will have little concern about the shabby treatment of Walmart employees. Nor do I want to be seen as complaining about government aid. I'm all in favor of it. But I do think it is worth reconsidering the form of that aid. Money payments help retailers more than the poor. Let's actually feed the hungry, instead of giving them vouchers for MacDonalds (as they do in LA). Let's actually house the homeless, instead of giving them money with which to pay rent. Let's see monetary aid as an important support for business, a kind of corporate subsidy. It lets businesses get rich while the poor stay poor. (8-9-2013)
Tech workers push out others 8-6-2013
CounterPunch had an article that I disagree with. Scalability is not a tech worker concern, it is at the heart of modern business: get big or get out. Tech workers are just smart knowing that scalability is an issue and if they have an idea they hope to commercialize, it needs to be scalable. Second, about the impact of presumably well-paid tech workers invading and transforming working class neighborhoods. Is this a bad thing? Isn't this what happens when an industry grows in a geographical area, their workers occupy nearby neighborhoods and as those fill up, they fill in outlier neighborhoods? I do not think the author meant to suggest that social planning is the responsibility of new workers. It is okay to moan the loss of working class neighborhoods, but cities and their populations are the proper ones to address this issue. Personally, I'm glad these highly paid workers have not invaded Marin (they did in 2000). And also consider what will happen to the neighborhoods when the tech jobs constrict, a receding tide. (8-6-2013)
Developing ideas about commerce and capitalism
I have been thinking about the role of commerce in oligopoly and capitalism, which has become oligopoly. Capitalists tell us they will do the right thing and that personal shopping choices can affect corporate acts. They avoid a discussion of the role of a republican government. Might it be that the growth of commerce is behind the concepts of private property and central government? We are told that the advent of agriculture shaped civilization. What I think it means is that food surpluses resulting from agriculture powered commerce and eventually private property and private wealth. I imagine that early traders decided that the profits were theirs exclusively and began reimbursing their "suppliers" with a lower scale. Private wealth emerged from commerce. And with it the need to get, even by coercion, government aid and support. Voilà, tariffs. America began without an aristocracy or monarchy, so it fell to businessmen to take control. More ideas to work out here. (7-30-2013)
Bradley Manning and contracts
Bradley Manning was acquitted today of aiding the enemy, but convicted of multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act. I read some of the comments in the NYTimes. Some say he should have followed the military rules while in the military. I do not feel that way. Perhaps it comes from realizing that marriage was not worth my life, and concluding there are times when the best action is to break a contract. I heard recently that more military people are suiciding than dying in foreign engagements. They made the decision to break the contract, unfortunately they saw only one alternative (I got close to that place). I imagine the whistle blowers find themselves in a place that is untenable, and feel that a greater good warrants an illegal act. I think humans are entitled to make such a decision. We know the law is enforced unevenly. Generals "get away with" sexcapades, behavior that is surely against their rules. None are imprisoned. I do not believe the law in and of itself has higher precedence than the public exposé of government wrongdoing. (7-30-2013)
Energy from biomass?
Still reading "Secrets of the Soil". Dear Archdruid, I have been reading your blog for about two years now and find it educational and engaging. I agree with you that "peak oil" is a real phenomenon. What I have not read, perhaps because you addressed this before I took up with you, is an analysis of alternative energy sources. The 1998 book "Secrets of the Soil" by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, who in 1973 authored "The Secret Life of Plants," in chapter 18, "Biomass Can Do It," explore several ways in which biomass such as corn, oil palms, and spoiled grain can be used to produce alcohol superior to petroleum-based gasoline in internal combustion engines and in sufficient quantities to make the USA energy independent. Note to me: research "alcohol in internal combustion engine" and alcohol in the Archdruid's blog before sending this missive. is an interesting read. Alcohol can be produced locally and without reliance/dependence on large corps like Standard Oil. What are the by-products of combustion? How to avoid the problem where food production is diverted to alcohol production for engines? Problems include the price relative to petroleum (sometimes this is favorable, sometimes not) and regulations especially those concerned with alcoholic beverage consumption. Generators use internal combustion engines to generate electricity, thus alcohol can be converted to electricity. (7-25-2013)
Trayvon Martin and vigilantism
Vigilante: is an individual or group who undertakes law enforcement without legal authority or illegal authority, per Wikipedia. A stand-your-ground law is a type of self-defense law that gives individuals the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves without any requirement to evade or retreat from a dangerous situation. So, vigilantism is now protected, even justified, by law in some places. Too weird. American communities have trained and authorized law enforcement people, they are called police and sheriffs. It makes no sense to allow other people, commonly called civilians, to shoot to kill a person they feel threatened by. We all feel threatened at one time or another, that is a common situation. What is uncommon, and uncommonly wrong, is to allow, even encourage, civilians to respond to a perceived threat by violence. This amounts to one wrong justifying another. And let it be admitted that the perception of threat is as often as not a result of fear by the perceiver rather than the result of any real and present danger. Allowing civilians to make decisions about potentially violent situations for which police are trained to analyze and handle is idiocy. I make the distinction between self-protection in your home or business from outsiders and discomfort walking down a street caused by the presence of a stranger. No law should be permitted to stand that allows the likes of George Zimmerman to murder the likes of Trayvon Martin. . . . Some thoughts on George Zimmerman who was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Regardless of the FLA "stand your ground" law, George acted as a vigilante. As an amateur cop. We train and "license" and oversee police activity. For a reason. Why an individual, untrained, a free agent, can be allowed to act like a cop is incredibly wrong. What mischief will the NRA make of this, they who like to advocate gun safety and gun use training. There was no evidence of such discipline in GZ's behavior. (7-24-2013)
The uncalloused scribe
This is too delicious to ignore. Just tonight I found a link to a blog "The Sacrificing Animal." Here's a provocative sentence: ". . . The ability to accumulate wealth and power overlaps almost exactly with the habits and methods of the sociopath." And then "The daily bread of a functioning society is the empathy, self-sacrifice, and respect for principles of its individual cogs—their willingness to identify with something larger than themselves." (7-3-2013)
What's up doc?
In 2013 corporations, including banks, have hijacked politics and the government. You and I are placated by such homilies as:

The lies are endless. Oh, did you not know they are lies? (7-3-2013)

Consumer economy
More thoughts. A consumer economy is one powered by domestic sales. It relies on a consistent volume of sales, and prefers an increasing volume. American consumers are primarily the poor and working classes, the really rich have more money than they can spend, and they like to watch it grow through investments. So we have a situation where the economic health of the country depends on purchases by the workers. And . . . fewer jobs and lower-paying jobs means inevitably fewer purchases. So once again the sacred capitalists and financiers have shot themselves in the foot: they sucked up most of the money, cut jobs, reduced salaries for many remaining jobs, and left their employees unable to perform their consumption. And so the economy subsides while the capitalist cheerleaders try to convince us that a reduction in unemployment of 1% is wonderful news, full recovery is right around the corner. Can I interest you in a bridge? (5-6-2013)
The concept of fault is central to much of our lives. As a culture we feel that an individual must pay when something bad happens to them that is their fault.

One example is car insurance. Traditionally if the loss is your fault, your insurance company pays. California is a "no fault" state, so any loss is paid by the insurer, they might later sue the other insurer if that driver was at fault.

Car accidents are largely a result of driver error. But what about illness? So many illnesses have many causes, and many of them are beyond our control and knowledge. In this situation is the concept of personal fault valid? I don't think so.

It is this situation that convinces me that the AMA-approved fee-for-service billing model is inappropriate. That the current private health insurance model, which also involves fault-finding, is also inappropriate.

Illness is a personal issue. It is also a family, neighborhood, and workplace issue. In other words, illness is a social issue.

Fault has its uses. Parents use it in the hope of teaching their children the value of responsibility: at-fault errors are punished. Business organizations reward success and punish at-fault errors; but employees quickly learn how to deflect fault, responsibiity, and blame — and many succeed. This deflection also exists in the political sphere.

The modern phenomenon of ascribing personal fault to illness smacks of some Old Testament righteousness. It was not advocated by Jesus. (This is one of many evidences for Christianity, named after Jesus Christ, being more founded on the Old Testament than the New.) (4-20-2013)

Vocabulary of violence
Thinking about the current noise about gun control as a way to prevent the kind of violence that caused the deaths of school children in Connecticut: it’s not just the availability of guns, or the use of violence to sell products (like films and games), it is also the daily vocabulary that embraces violence. Words like "fight" and "war." People on the radio and TV and "print" media constantly say things like so-and-so is "fighting" oppression, "War on Drugs," "War on Poverty," and now at the time of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, "war on women." Maybe, just maybe, adults can distinguish between public discussions of fighting an unwanted law and fighting another country, but children are less likely to make those distinctions. When you hear violent words used daily and no one flinches, how can a person, especially a young person, not be mislead? (1-25-2013)
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Revision: 3-16-2015.