Susan's Musings

These musings—blog entries—are for the year 2015. Other years can be accessed from the blog's home page, use the link in the upper right.

The myths of techno progress and escaping to the stars
I am a regular reader of a blog by John Michael Greer, The Archdruid Report. He recently has turned to a fictional account of a near future which I find, as I am undoubtedly intended to, provocative. JMG is not interested in a future that includes techno progress or escaping to the stars, as he believes neither of these are likely. He does explore why they are endlessly attractive to so many: "Most versions of traditional Christian teaching place humanity at the center of the cosmic story: the world was made for our benefit, God himself became a man and died to save us, and as soon as the drama of human salvation is over, the world will end."

Reading his December 9, 2015 blog I remembered questions of my own and this time was able to answer them.

Who cares if our world is insignificant within the universe? Someone with an oversized ego.

Why is the notion of "escaping" to the stars so appealing? It certainly lets one off the hook of responsibility for the here and now. The notion that you only live once makes abandoning your home more appealing than staying put and learning to live within your means and the means of the planet. (12-10-2015)

Medical science is an oxymoron
Recently I've read a few criticisms about the practice we currently call "science." Science today is not as objective as we would like to think; it is quite subject to fashion, fad, and popularity as well as the pressures of funding. Medicine, as it is currently practiced, is not scientific. But some like to think that medical research is scientific. But so much of it is not.

And you know, the meaning of "oxymoron" is a contradiction in terms.

Darrel Crain wrote a thought-provoking essay on this subject in 2006: "Is medical Science an Oxymoron?". Books have been written about the possibility. It is not my intent to indulge in long-winded analyses, but to provoke you to further consideration. (12-9-2015)

Placing the blame
Is there a connection between the public vitriol, hate-filled rhetoric, and smear campaigns that plague what passes for campaigning and grandstanding in this country — and the recent tragedies in Colorado Springs and San Bernardino?

Surely we cannot blame the violence solely on the availability of guns? What about the effect of the lies and misinformation so firmly delivered on the minds of weak young people?

We should hold politicians to a high standard of truth and honesty. Perhaps we should also hold them accountable for the effects of their lies. (12-5-2015)

Another day, another mass killing
If the continued gun killings say anything about mental illness (as Paul Ryan claims), it is not the mental illness of the shooters, but the mental illness of the politicians who stand useless and inactive on the sidelines.

Ryan is more concerned about the civil rights of would-be shooters than the rights of the public to a free democracy untainted by the immense amount of private money that now controls our politics and government. (12-3-2015)

The latest challenge
President Jimmy Carter never overcame the political detritus from the 1979-1981 diplomatic Iran hostage situation (that some called a crisis). And now President Obama is confronted by the Paris attacks and the overt threat of ISIS. I wonder if in the years to come any parallels will be found. (11-21-2015)
Genetic Engineering
Beyond Biotechnology: The Barren Promise of Genetic Engineering by Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott, University Press of Kentucky, 2015.

I read a review of this book in Wise Traditions, Fall 2015 issue; quotes are from that review. I recall an understanding of what GE is, which I have always felt to be unnatural and creepy. A simple definition of GE: the modification of an organism's genetic composition by artificial means, often involving the transfer of specific traits, or genes, from one organism into a plant or animal of an entirely different species.

GE is based on a lie.

The gene is not an absolute, material thing that can be surgically modified. Instead it is "not a thing at all, but a way of ordering and interpreting phenomena . . . The gene is a thought-model, an abstract concept". In contrast DNA is a material object.

"On a fundamental level scientists are creating abstractions in the theoretical aspects of their work, then foisting the results on organisms that have their own reality, one that cannot accurately be reduced to these abstractions. As the authors remark, 'Genetic engineering is usually hailed as a precise new technique to make exact modifications. In reality, precision stops when the DNA leaves the laboratory and enters the plant. The scientists have to wait and see what the organism has made of their attempted manipulation.'"

GMOs have NOT been proven safe, although claims for their safety have been made by the likes of Monsanto. Ignoring the obvious conflict of interest, how can such claims be "taken as valid within a context in which we demonstrably don't know what we're doing[?] The ever-escalating list of unintended effects of GE (which can be found on The Nature Institute website bears this out quite clearly." [Look in the section Unintended Effects of Genetic Manipulation.]

"Even our understanding of DNA itself has been profoundly distorted by a naïve disregard for the assumptions we bring to the practice of modern science." DNA is involved in reciprocal relations within the organism. GE assumes otherwise, that DNA exerts a one-directional cause-and-effect relationship; this is another example of science's misguided and lazy embrace of the mechanistic model. (11-16-2015)

Whither APIs
There is a bright and shiny presentation on APIs, created by CA, a software company, on the site of the New York Times.

"APIs help organizations reinvent the way they do business. They provide a more efficient way of building new services. They're creating markets and closer ties with partners and customers."

Well, the bit about the reinvention may be true. But what I am noticing is the homogenization of e-commerce. When I went to business school, that uniformity was considered undesirable, students were taught to look for ways for their businesses to stand out from their competitors, to be unique.

Now e-commerce seems to be in a competition to offer the same tools to its customers, such as paying with their smart phone. Pretty soon we'll see comparisons of businesses that are restricted to check lists of these customer tools: pay-by-Smart Phone - check.

What APIs offer is commercially-available program code that does particular things. When business A can afford to buy a particular API, it can enjoy the functionality without having to deploy its own teams of software developers.

APIs carry with them the risk of unauthorized access. APIs can support a two-way communication, so that business A can reach back through the API to something else.

"Modern companies don't spend time and money building apps from scratch."

This is certainly true. Instead they spend time and money architecting their software and databases to accommodate APIs and to enable APIs to intercommunicate.

Has anyone surveyed the software costs of various businesses? Are there statistics of how these costs change over time? These costs have to be recouped in product prices, so the consumer is paying for these bright and shiny things.

Interestingly, an article from February 2015 on The Street reports "A major shift is taking place in enterprise-level software development as companies are looking toward using custom software instead of the prepackaged variety, according to a recent survey" by Nielsen/Harris.

Perhaps the CA presentation is simply a sales tool for themselves. It does not seem very informative for non-IT folk. (11-16-2015)

ISIS reaches out to Europe, will America be next?
Bombs and guns are hard to miss. Viewing the terrorist attacks in Paris, and these do qualify for the "terrorist" label, it's hard not to think about such a thing happening here. If the 2001 World Trade Center attacks were perpetrated exclusively by foreigners, and the jury is still out on that question (at least in my mind), then the US has already experienced terrorist attacks. More are likely. That doesn't mean that we should abandon our democratic government (or what remains of it). Our challenge is to remain committed to democracy regardless of adversity. And not to let our politicians trash it, as they are wont to do. What impact potential terrorism has on immigration policy and sanctuary is going to be talked to death. We need to find some way to evaluate the imperviousness of our borders with regards to the need of foreigners for sanctuary. Just saying "NO" to visitors, permanent and temporary, the equivalent of battening down the hatches, has never succeeded and we cannot expect it to succeed now. So we should avoid that possibility. We need to look for principles and actions that will not jeopardize our security while at the same time presenting a responsible face to the rest of the world. (11-14-2015)
The problem of regulating
We bemoan the revolving-door quality of the staffing of the regulating agencies and the businesses they are meant to regulate. We're told this is inevitable given the disparity of incomes and the possible influence and inside knowledge of a previous employee.

What if we "taxed" the regulated busineses at a rate that would (1) generously fund the operating budget of the agency and (2) begin to fund one-off projects? If such a "tax" could allow the agency to pay its lead employees at a level that would not force them into the arms of the regulated businesses when their federal employment ends? (11-13-2015)
Immigration, Asylum, and Refugees
In 2015 the numbers of Syrian refugees continue to overwhelm the European countries they are trying to enter. England is guarding the French entrance to the Chunnel in order to keep the refugees off English soil. America is relieved by its protective oceans at the same time the presidential candidates instigate fear of immigrants.

Students of history inevitably study the movements of peoples and cultures that have been in play for more than 12,000 years. It's ancient and still operative. People move for economic, security, religious, and political reasons. I personally don't like to move much, but my study of my family history has revealed that most people in my ancestral families moved frequently. And what about those Europeans who left their familiar family homes and sailed west to North America?

And what did they find when they arrived on these shores? Europeans who had emigrated before them and . . . the native, indigenous peoples. The history of the USA is full of the excision of the indigenous peoples from the locations and governments. Does this history make us, descendants of the "winning side," fearful that someone will do the same to us? Is this fear the underlying basis for racism?

How can a population preserve its identity in the face of a wave of immigrants that quantitatively threatens to overwhelm it? Is violence acceptable in this effort?

Some people like to think of the US as a melting pot with the successive immigrant groups eventually blending with those that preceded them. This is a big lie. The divisions remain. The Irish were rejected when they first appeared, and are still rejected, but not as obviously. The Africans were enslaved when they first were imported, and remained so until the 13th Amendment of 1865, but they are still subject to segregation and discrimination. Chinese laborers were welcomed by the builders of the transcontinental railroads, but their modern descendants are subject to segregation and discrimination. Japanese immigrants and their descendants were interned during World War II, 62 percent were US citizens. US trade policies, in particular NAFTA, have damaged the economies of Central and South American countries to the extent that many of their citizens can no longer support themselves and/or their families and have consequently moved to the US regardless of immigration policies and quotas. These Hispanic people comprise the latest round of "illegal" immigrants and continue to be victimized by employers and police and denigrated by politicians.

Americans find their national language (English), religion (Christianity), and culture (European) threatened by uninvited foreigners. Americans have been told by their political leaders and corporate masters that global is good, that a global economy is just what we need to thrive. We have not been told how to retain our cultural hallmarks in the face of immigrants and refugees. We don't really care about globalism, we just don't want highway signs in Spanish or Syrian. We fail to envision the jobs that should be created to absorb immigrants and refugees—to teach them English and Western civilization, to transform them into consumers and docile Americans. We could think of this as a jobs program, an opportunity to benefit economically from the woes of others. Except that our politicians will not spend one cent on such a project. Consequently we individually will be forced to accommodate at our own expense. It's hard to criticize the public resistance when the public is forced to pay the tab. (10-10-2015)
What does the word "collectivism" bring to mind?

Have you or anyone you know recently been concerned about the lack of "government" exhibited by Congress, and the Republican Congresspeople in particular? These elected representatives like to throw out what they must perceive to be witticisms about small government being best, as if doing so is enough to justify their salary. They apparently equate small government with no governing.

Perhaps the meanings of "governing" and "government" have been lost or forgotten.

A long time ago, in the ages of monarchs, monarchs made all the decisions, period. If the results were favorable, they took all the credit. If the results were problematic, they found scapegoats. If the monarch, or their appointees, did not do something, no one else could do it.

America's Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution so that the country could decide collectively what to do and then set it in motion. Let me clarify this: my dictionary defines "collective" as a cooperative unit or organization. Our Congress was established to work cooperatively, that is the members are meant to cooperate with each other to set the course of the country.

I like to think that the role of the federal government is to decide collectively what should happen to the country and its citizens in the near and not so near future, and then establish programs to ensure these futures happen. Possible subjects include education (how many people should be educated, how much education should they get), health (how many people should be healthy, how much health should they have and for how long, how best to protect the population from harm), environmental pollution (how much pollution can be sustained and for how long, how best to clean up pollution), family economics (how many people should be able to support themselves and their families, how well, and for how long), international security (how many people should be secure from attack from international forces, what kinds of security are warranted and for how long), and energy (how much energy is required for education, shelter, medicine, food production, and security, what changes will the population need to make to their way of living to accommodate changes in energy consumption, how best to reduce consumption to a sustainable level, how best to generate energy).

As far as I can tell, our government is not addressing any of these subjects. Why? Because they believe that real government is immoral and they have forgotten how to work cooperatively, collaboratively, and collectively. They have also drunk the green Kool-Aid of Neoliberalism, or laissez-faire economic liberalism. As such they believe it is correct to ignore their personal responsibility for government in exchange for letting the "market" solve problems and design the future. At the same time, they refuse to recognize that the ways and results of individual corporations pursuing their own profits at everyone else's expense are completely incompatible with Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, for the people."

I look forward to a return to collective government. (10-10-2015)
I've been reading histories and fiction set in the 1000s through the 1300s and found superstition was rampant. Much of the time it revolved around the conflict between paganism and Roman Catholicism with an emphasis on demons and spells. It is so easy to laugh at it from the safety of 2015.

But that would be a mistake. I believe superstition is still with us. In America it seems to revolve around the conflict of capitalism and humanism. Many of the beliefs of the conservative Republicans seem more like superstition than anything else. For example, "to help the down-and-out is to do them a moral disservice." Oh? How unChristian! "Big government is the problem," maybe for the businesses that do not want to be regulated, but personally I want to be protected against a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis and if big government will do it, I'm all for it. "Government is inefficient" in terms of what? Efficiency is always a ratio, usually units of output vs. units of input, but do we count employees paid a living wage as units of input? Why not? Do we count toxic wastes as units of output? Why not?

Today's superstitions rely heavily on the need of capitalism to maintain its hegemony. (10-5-2015)

Another mass shooting at a school
Aren't we tired of another mass shooting at school? I am equally tired of the standard response: prayers for the victims, analysis of the shooter's socio-mental deficiencies, and pass the ammunition.

The first thing to happen is that the local police capture the shooter, then the President goes on TV to mouth platitudes, then the media dissect the shooter's socio-mental conditions, politicians rant about gun control, the gun lobby throws oil on the water, and nothing happens.

I understand and sympathize with the gun lobby—it is people who kill other people, guns are merely their tool of choice. Better background checks and laws that restrict who can acquire what kinds of guns will never keep us safe as they rely on procedures that will never be free of error. What I mean here is that relying on a procedure to ensure that only "qualified" people can acquire guns is no sound solution, as it will be inevitable that these procedures are not always followed.

We should keep guns out of the hands of many. And we have to find a way to do this that doesn't violate our Constitution.

Frankly, I think we will all be safer with fewer people having guns, both civilian and police/militia. The police have proven to be just as deadly as disaffected students.

I propose that we limit gun ownership to those people who enlist in a military service, or possibly a civil conservation corps, for a minimum period of time during which they will be issued a gun, taught how to use it, supervised, and evaluated. At the end of their enlistment, they will be discharged. If they get an honorable discharge, they get to keep the gun, otherwise they forfeit it. If they get a qualified discharge, they cannot keep the gun but they can re-enlist and thereby get a second chance at an honorable discharge and gun ownership.

This would be the only way a person will be allowed to get a gun. It promotes voluntary military service and provides a long period of time during which the person is evaluated by a number of people as to suitability for continued gun ownership. (10-3-2015)
Viva ad-blockers
The Guardian published an article "The rise of ad-blocking could herald the end of the free internet" by John Naughton on September 27 with which I disagree. It mourns the hit to the advertising model that my personal use of ad-blockers will effect on commercial websites.

First of all, let me be clear. I pay for internet access, I pay more for fast internet access. And with all the ads I need all the speed I can ill afford. Ad blockers have become a valuable tool for me, they save me time, money, and aggravation—does anybody actually like the effect of Flash-based video ads that crash, after they begin playing embarrassing sounds?

One more point about ads. They either show me products I just looked at on other websites or products I have no interest in. In any case I would never click on an ad. If I want to buy a product I'll research it on other sites before I order it, if at all. Showing me an ad only irritates me—no one in the ad supply chain will ever benefit monetarily from me.

So offer me a subscription plan that works for me! The Guardian does not. It has two plans: (1) a "digital pack" with access to the UK version on my computer and mobile device and (2) a weekly paper that is delivered. I don't want the paper version. I do not have a mobile device. I do not want to be limited to the UK version. What I do want: all editions, ad-free, on my laptop. I am willing to pay $10 amonth. Are you listening? (9-27-2015)
The theory of everything
As an undergraduate student of science (physics and chemistry) and mathematics, I was exposed to the notion of a Theory of Everything, which some considered a kind of holy grail. Since then I've watched efforts to discover it as well as to continue to assert its existence, regardless of its elusiveness. Now "There Is No Theory of Everything" by Simon Critchley in the New York Times offers a fascinating explanation. He writes: Philosopy properly seeks answers for the meaning of life, but it is a mistake to believe that there is an answer. "The point, then, is not to seek an answer to the meaning of life, but to continue to ask the question. . . We don’t need an answer to the question of life’s meaning, just as we don’t need a theory of everything. What we need are multifarious descriptions of many things, further descriptions of phenomena that change the aspect under which they are seen, that light them up and let us see them anew." (9-14-2015)
It's not enough that America built a wall on its border with Mexico, now a presidential candidate is discussing a wall on the Canadian border. Is this merely a jobs program? I doubt it. How endangered must we as a nation feel from the possibility that unwanted people may cross our borders illegally—on foot or by vehicle? When have we ever suffered from such an event? The danger of invasion is by air, and that is a danger that the airport security forces have proved amateurish at preventing. If not actual danger, then perhaps walls are best at distraction—their existence provides a focal point that obscures other, more realistic threats.

The Hispanic people who are the main population of "illegal aliens," truly an odd phrase, are no threat to Americans. They take jobs that no natural American wants, and they undertake that work for employers who routinely violate labor laws. They live a precarious existence. Why are they here? Because there is no work in Mexico and its southern neighbors, no work because NAFTA killed jobs and killed the market for their agricultural products.

And why might Canadians want to live in America instead of their own country? Surely not for the better health care. Ah, but the candidate is selling the notion of terrorists entering America across the Canadian border. Of course, that is crystal clear. Terrorists must be lining up even now to do so.

What about international trade, you know the selling of American goods in Canada and vice versa? I don't know about selling between America and Mexico, but that must be affected by the wall as well. This trade is an invaluable source of income and economic prosperity to the border states, but hey, they too can join the poor of America.

And personally I think the emphasis on terrorism has worn very thin. It was a stretch when George Bush declared it in 2001, and it is even more of a stretch now after subsequent American misadventures in the Middle East. It is a fact that America does not share, not the way we teach our children in grade school. We are international bullies, throwing our money and our weapons around to control everybody else.

Americans must learn to ignore the electoral rhetoric and discover the real challenges facing the country. It's certain that politicians rarely act on their campaign promises post election, so why bother listening to them now? I think it's safe to say that we would be well served by looking into areas that politicians carefully ignore. There are real issues and problems, and only Americans as a society can address them and find real solutions. And please, hold the walls. (8-30-2015)
Citizens United redux
When was the Citizens United decision? 2010. I am still grinding on it. Today I see that the equation of money with speech in the context of elections as a disingenuous way of saying that is perfectly okay to buy an election. And such an admission is also an admission that our democracy is toast. As long as Citizens United stands, we can only pretend to have a democracy. (8-24-2015)
The health costs of atomic bombs
It's that time of the year when the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan in World War II get trotted out for a fresh analysis and, all too often, a fresh white wash. Uranium radioactivity killed many immediately and killed many others later, including children and grandchildren through damage to DNA. Chris Busby has written a worthy essay "After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a Third Nuclear Atrocity: the Corruption of Science" dated today and published in CounterPunch. (8-19-2015)
Smart meters and illness
Smart Meters carry the risk of health problems, due to constant exposure of RF radiation. Problems already reported include: migraines, nausea, vomiting, vision impairment, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), muscle spasms and nerve pain, heart palpitations, chest pain, and sleeplessness caused by intense bursts (pulsing) of radiofrequency radiation that has recently been classified as a "possible carcinogen" by the World Health Organization—in the same category as lead, engine exhaust, and DDT.

Of late I have been suffering from some of these symptoms: vision impairment, tinnitus, muscle spasms, heart palpitations, ocular migraines, and sleeplessness. How about you? (8-10-2015)
Computer privacy and net neutrality
CalPIRG's Summer 2015 newsletter has several articles that I want to comment on. "Recent Privacy Breaches Put Consumers At Risk" advocates government protections and private accountability. These measures are fine, but we must not forget that any information stored on a network-connected computer is NOT SAFE from unauthorized access. This includes your computer with internet access. Each of us must act to protect our privacy at home, i.e., protect our personal information that may be stored electronically. If it's sitting on your hard drive and your computer is connected to the internet, your data is not secure. Some advocate encryption, but that has proven to not be impervious to hacking. Physical separation is crucial.

"Victory: FCC Rules To Protect Open Internet" outlines the FCC's February actions to "preserve net neutrality" and "overriding state laws that denied the right of towns and cities to build out fast, lower-cost broadband networks." I am all in favor of the second item, and strongly so—it is an invaluable way to liberate a population from the market controls of firms like Comcast. As to the former, I am still mystified by the description of a two-tiered Internet with ISPs providing fast lanes for those that can afford them and slow lanes for the rest of us. My ISP, AT&T, offers several U-verse products that differ by speed and price.

Seeing a web page on my web browser involves several network steps:
(1) My browser sends a message to my ISP's DNS server to retrieve the IP address for the destination URL.
(2) My browser receives the return message from the DNS server.
(3) My browser sends a message to the IP address requesting a particular web page.
(4) My browser receives the requested web page and renders it for me to see.

As far as I can figure it out, each of these four steps takes place on the same network and is subject to the same speed limitations. AT&T's notion of a tiered internet would mean that content providers—websites—will be the ones to pay for the delivery of their content based on speed. That can likely be accomplished in several ways, one being parallel networks with routers programmed to route outbound messages based on their source, another being governors that control the speed based on the source. Any technique will cost money to implement, and guess who will pay that cost? Right, you and me. Furthermore, retail websites who pay for higher speed service will have to pass on their costs to their customers.

I favor "net neutrality" with no tiered pricing structure. (7-23-2015)
Open textbooks
"Open Textbooks: The Billion-Dollar Solution" is a February 2015 report by The Student PIRGS. It advocates free college textbooks, claiming that students pay on average $1200 to $1300 per year on textbooks and supplies, and that some textbooks cost more than $200, all of which constrains students on a limited budget. Textbooks can be made free and open-licensed: college teachers can choose textbooks that are "faculty-written and peer-reviewed like traditional textbooks, only published in a way that allows free access for all" meaning free online versions and inexpensive printed versions ($10–40).

I am not interested in protecting the textbook publishers, they have benefitted from a closed market for too long. My concern is that the authors be fairly compensated. While I personally cannot imagine a bound text book that is not printed on paper that I can hold in my hands, use Post Its to flag certain pages, and write in the margins, I will not deny the use of electronic media to others.

The open source software community on which this proposal is based is one where programmers work for free on the software of their choice. This software is largely optional for most users, that is it composes a market segment that is not required by any computer. Programmers code software they want for themselves and/or to prove that certain things can be done at all. Some open source software has become mainstream and widely used.

Textbooks are different. People write textbooks to share their own vision of the subject matter and to make money. Getting paid is fair—writing is a lot of work, and a textbook is an essential part of school study, thus it has value.

My own solution to the overpriced college textbook situation is to (1) pay authors fairly, (2) publish textbooks with a restricted markup, (3) publish books in paper and electronic formats, (4) enable a used book marketplace with a low overhead, and (5) provide all textbooks to students in public colleges and universities for free (with the government picking up the tab). (7-23-2015)
Racism and Confederate monuments
CounterPunch carries the text of Kevin Alexander Gray's July 4th 2015 speech at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia and in Charleston in the days following the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church murders. Reading this I am coming to a new point of view on the monuments to Confederate men. They are monuments to men who sought to split the United States in order to preserve Southern racism and slavery. Seen in that light, I cannot see why Americans would honor them. (7-10-2015)
Hazards in foods
There is a highly worthwhile article by Todd Oppenheimer (7-5-2015) on work done by Ernie Hubbard, a molecular biologist living in Marin County, CA, who discovered high quantites of thallium in kale, both organic and commercial forms. He believes the cruciferous vegetables, of which kale is one, have the ability to naturally concentrate ("hyperaccumulate") heavy meatals like thallium. High levels of thallium have been found associated with persistent symptoms of fatigue, hair loss, heart arrhythmias, nausea, and neurological problems. Hubbard's research is still in progress. (7-10-2015)
The mechanical model dissected
I have attempted several times in this blog to explain why I think the mechanical model, which is so pervasive today, is incorrect. Three days ago the Archdruid did this masterfully in his blog entry "The Dream of the Machine." Highly recommended! (7-4-2015)
Greece vs. the EU
The Greek EU bailout story continues. One thing is clear: the EU is not a club I would want to join. Clubs are supposed to benefit all members, perhaps not all equally, but none at the expense of others. The EU bankers don't want to write down their foolish loans, and are quite willing to destroy the Greek economy for a long time. So who needs the EU? (6-27-2015)
Pope Francis speaks for the environment
It's effing amazing that the Catholic Pope stands for the environment, so much so that he goes on record saying climate change is man-made and that we've got to leave fossil fuels in the rear view mirror ASAP. Way to go Francis! (6-27-2015)
Inherited trauma
"Auschwitz, memory and truth: how trauma passes down the generations" by Alison Pick, 6-27-2015. Discussion of how trauma persists through generations. This is true for Alison's Jewish ancestors and is undoubtedly true for America's descendants of African slaves and the white Americans affected by slavery. I've written here several times about slavery and the brand it left on America. Seeing it as authentic trauma may suggest useful strategies for healing it. (6-27-2015)
The Confederate flag
Lots of buzz these days about the Confederate flag. Here are my two cents. (6-26-2015)
Why unarmed black people are fair game for police
"The enemy is the state: how the US justice system started a civil war" by Sergio De La Pava, a New York public defender. Published 6-5-2015 on The Guardian.

A readable, coherent explanation of the police "system" that kills unarmed black people in such great numbers and incarcerates more.

"It's not too difficult to ascertain when US policing began to go wrong, or at least more wrong. In the late 1970s—an era not known for its pacific law-abidingness—US prisons and jails held fewer than 500,000 inmates. Today that number is more than 2.25 million. Recently a great deal of brilliant and desperately needed work has been done to expose and deconstruct this astonishing development, or rather devolution, which has come to be called 'mass incarceration'."

"The real explanation is that the US undertook a concerted programme to redefine and greatly expand law enforcement's role in society through an unjustified distortion of the concept of criminality, and an illogical recalibration of what conduct merits incarceration and how much it warrants."

"Decades of misguided practice have entrenched a mindset that is like a nefarious alliance between social control and commerce, while demonising the very people who are most victimised and yet powerless to effect change." (6-15-2015)
Canada comes to its senses
Three days ago Canada's Supreme Court issued a historic 7-0 decision that all forms of medical marijuana were legal, not just smoking. Oddly, this is not getting much news coverage here. Forbes has a story. (6-13-2015)
Compost in home gardens, or don't use municipal compost
As a home grower of food crops and herbs, you have likely read about the advantages of compost. You may have created a home composting system that turns kitchen waste into fertilizer and soil conditioner—naturally. Good for you! If your municipal trash collection service composts the garden and kitchen waste it collects from your green can, you might think of using that composted material in your garden.

Think again. Not all compost is beneficial. The industrial chemicals that polluted the source waste materials will remain in the finished compost. Those chemicals were ingredients in herbicides that were applied to the original plant material or were taken up by those plants from the soil in which they grew.

Which chemicals? Glyphosate (Roundup) persists in the soil, has been found in human bodies, and has been found to be deadly to human cells. Aminopyralid, first registered for use in 2005 under the brand name Milestone, renders soil incapable of growing any crop except corn for 3 to 5 years. 2, 4-D, the defoliant called Agent Orange, was first registered for use in agriculture in 2014 in a few mid-western states.

The municipal trash company likely does not test the raw material or the finished compost for these chemicals. In fact, there is no test for aminopyralid. Your only safe course of action is to avoid municipal compost.

And, if there's a chance this municipal compost is applied to public park turf, don't let your family members, especially your children, and pets walk barefoot on the turf. The hidden poisons in the grass can be absorbed through the skin on the soles of your feet.

More to read, in chronological order:
"Are we Roundup ready?" by Dore Burry, 1997 has a useful explanation of the persistance of glyphosate in the soil. The claims of human safety have been subsequently disproved.

"Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells" by Crystal Gammon, 2009.

"Have you spotted a strange curling disease in your home-grown veg?" by George Monbiot, 2011.

"Aminopyralid Residues in Compost" by Sam Angima and Andy Hulting, 2011. This article begins: "Several farmers and gardeners in Washington State lost most of their vegetable crops in 2010 due to the effects of aminopyralid herbicide residues that originated from composted dairy manure."

"Glyphosate (Roundup) Carcinogenic In the Parts Per Trillion Range" by Sayer Ji, 2013.

"Roundup: The “Nontoxic” Chemical that May Be Destroying our Health" by Stephanie Seneff, 2013.

"Glyphosate Testing Full Report: Findings in American Mothers' Breast Milk, Urine and Water" by Zen Honeycutt and Henry Rowlands, 2014. (6-13-2015)
Sovereignty or uniformity
The sovereignty of a nation is autonomy and freedom from external control, it is the supreme power over its own population. It is the sole authority of the nation to govern itself without external interference. The Revolutionary War was fought to establish the sovereignty of the American colonies as an independent nation.

International trade treaties are in service to businesses with international sales. The more uniformity in trade practices among the countries with whom they trade, the easier and less expensive it is to conduct such trade. Corporations see lack of uniformity as barriers to trade. Their solution is to trash the sovereignty of other countries, including their own. These multi-national corporations want to be the only game in town with real sovereignty. Why would you let them? (6-12-2015)
Duped by hope
As long as we allow our thoughts to be directed by others, especially by corporate media, we are doomed to a repeat of the travesty of Obama's presidency. He proved to be as good an actor as Ronald Reagan. He said one thing while doing the opposite. He made campaign promises that he rarely even attempted to meet, while acting in ways quite antithetical to those promises. And then he had the nerve to demand we "make him do it." (6-8-2015)
Why does socialism get such a bad rap?
I recently encountered a relevant quote by John Steinbeck: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
What do you think? (6-8-2015)
The worm in American capitalism
The capitalistic economic system that so thoroughly dominates the American way of life was born in slavery and continues to rely on slavery for profits and on white male privilege for its control of governments. Read my essay. (6-5-2015)
Compromise, a critical part of democracy
The hallmark of a successful democracy is the ability to sustain a functioning government—and that is by compromise. No two people will ever agree on everything. Let alone a million people. Making common cause with each other is central, even critical, to the ability to live amicably together. (6-1-2015)
John Nash (subject of the film A Beautiful Mind) dies in taxicab crash
The Guardian has a nice story about this. They quote Nash writing about his recovery from paranoid schizophrenia: "I gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort.” (5-24-2015)
Our government is largely irrelevant
Our government is largely irrelevant. Banks do what they want. Corporations ditto. The lack of well-paying jobs impacts too many American workers, both unemployed and underemployed. The quality of food, education, and medicine are an embarrassment in any comparison with other countries. The disasters of collapsing infrastructure, climate change, peak oil (peak carbon-based energy) are ignored by government.

Retirement pensions have been disavowed by corporations and communities who do not want to pay the cost for agreements made 30 years ago. Retirement savings have been diminished, even gutted, by a collapse in the value of some asset classes. The stock market has shown its true colors as an agent for the very rich, not the underclass.

And the Congress turns away from its constitutional obligations. Ditto the Supreme Court. And the Presidency is a stuffed shirt. There is no leadership in government. (5-22-2015)
Profit or life?
The corporations who rightly feel they own the federal government, given all the money they have spent on campaigns and other "contributions," resist all attempts to reduce their profits. Even when the price is loss of life. Life? So what? Who needs bees anyway? Whaddaya mean RoundUp has been found in the bodies of people who ate RoundUp-treated foods? So it kills them, we'll just sell that profit-maker to the . . . Indians, or Africans, or anyone else who can be bamboozled. (5-19-2015)
Terrorism has gone viral!
The Guardian has an article titled "Intelligence leaders cite Texas attack before deadline on NSA surveillance" in which it quotes Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House homeland security committee, as saying "Terrorism has gone viral." Well, do we really need our congress folk so rabid? So deliberately misleading? Or perhaps simply so poorly informed? This has all the hallmarks of a made-for-TV story justifying permanent war and permanent loss of freedom and privacy by American citizens, in short an abandonment of the Bill of Rights. It has all the hallmarks of an impending jobs program—just not the kind I need. (5-11-2015)
What to do?
The Guardian has an article " The fossil fuel industry is condemning us to climate disaster" by Bianca Jagger: "Science demands that average global temperature rises must stay below 2C if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. . . . The World Bank's sobering report, Turn Down the Heat, told us in 2013 that without serious policy changes the world will warm by an average of 4C by the end of the century."

Well, if we let transnational corporations continue to have their way, as they deem it their right to do, we'll be in a real pickle in no time. We cannot even find the words to express this situation. Rein in capitalism or die. What a choice. We have been unable to frame controls to capitalism during its heady trajectory. It is more important than us. Policy has for some time been the public assent to the wishes of capitalism, and those transnational corporations, to do whatever they want. We need a lot more spine than has been evident in the lifetime of the USA.

The question is, can an impending disaster challenge us enough to find it? Or will we, like the frog in the slowly heating water, stay where it is familiar until we are boiled alive? (4-25-2015)
Bottled drinking water
Today's Guardian has an article on drinking water bottled in California and sold outside the state. Hmm. I live in Marin County, CA whose drinking water is rain water collected behind dams. It is excellent quality—until the water district ruins it by adding chloramine (a form of chlorine that will not evaporate on its own or be removed by a simple carbon filter) and . . . fluoride, which also cannot be removed by a simple carbon filter. I personally believe, after a lot of research, that both chemicals are a danger to my health. My only means of protecting my health is to drink bottled spring water. I've been drinking Crystal Geyser, bottled near Mt. Shasta, and Pelligrino, imported from Italy.

Perhaps I should ask the water district to consider offering two different waters: the current one and one without chloramine and fluoride. They could sell these last two in bottles locally. I would be willing to buy them. (4-20-2015)
Science is science—until it is corrupted with money and political agendas
We like to think the federal government agencies that involve science, like the FDA, use science to set policy to protect us. Perhaps that expectation is unrealistic. Perhaps a government agency cannot be expected to (1) withstand corporate money and pressure and (2) embrace scientific research and conclusions without any political agenda.

Scientists, like artists, need patrons. Patrons to pay their salaries and fund their laboratories. Inevitably patrons want something in return. They want a practical application that meets one or more of their needs, be it a cure for some disease or the ability to screw with the natural genetics of plants and animals for commercial gain.

It is appropriate for the government to address our long-term health and safety. Doing so must involve science. Our challenge is to organize government and science in such a way as to minimize the political and commercial pressures on the methods of scientific research and the conclusions based on it.

And also to unite science with ethics. Just because we can build a hydrogen bomb does not mean we should drop it on our neighbor. Just because we can clone sheep does not mean we should switch from sexual reproduction of livestock, typically done outdoors in the fields with little-to-no human intervention, to petri dishes in a laboratory. Just because we can grow huge quantities of one strain of corn does not mean we should abandon all other strains. A diversity of food crops is essential to long term survival, especially in these days of obvious climate change. (4-15-2015)
Complaint about websites with AJAX
Lately commercial websites have adopted a technique whereby new content is supplied "just in time" as the user scrolls down through a page. I've found this technique used by newspapers (The Guardian, Los Angeles Times), retail stores (Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus), and social media (Facebook, LinkedIn). When this technique is done well, it is largely invisible, there may be only a slight hesitation during scrolling. But the great majority of times this technique is done very badly, so that the web page is rendered unusable while the scrolling is underway-and that is almost always in progress. On occasion I have had to close my web browser because it was seemingly paralyzed by the behind-the-scenes processing.

The technique has been called AJAX, an acronym that refers to asynchronous interaction between the rendered web page and the mother ship web server. Asynchronous simply means that the interaction is conducted without any direct involvement of the user.

AJAX works nicely for Google Maps: while you have been looking at the screen, the web page has been quietly retrieving the data it needs to render adjacent portions of the map without your involvement, so that when you drag the map around, the newly uncovered content is quickly produced.

Please, all you AJAX programmers, please adopt performance standards before you start coding. Set a maximum time limit to the disruption to the user's experience with the rendered web page that is caused by the AJAX processing. (4-6-2015)
Protecting assets in old age
Typically we remain healthy and capable into our 70s and 80s. But for all too many of us at some point our health becomes compromised, our bones break, our mobility is reduced, and worse, our minds lose their edge and may begin to fade away in dementia or Alzheimer's. When this process begins most of us turn to medical doctors who employ drugs and surgery to keep us going. But all too often this turns out to be only a delaying tactic, and our disintegration continues.

America is at heart a Calvinist country. We individuals are held at fault and responsible for what befalls us, be it heart attack, broken bones, or dementia. Treatment and home care are our personal financial responsibility. In old age disintegration requires ever increasing treatment and home care, and our financial resources can be decimated by the bills. The only protection we have for avoiding some of the costs is a living trust, which is a legal instrument created to protect assets from the risk of having to be being spent on medical and home care. A living trust becomes the owner of the financial assets. The only catch here is that a living trust can only be created when the people involved are in their right mind. People with dementia are allowed to cash in their financial assets to pay their medical bills, but they are not allowed to enter into legal agreements.

It falls to the younger generation to be sure that their parents truly understand the financial implications of old age and its medical miseries, and the protection that a living trust can provide. Children are not responsible for their parents' debts, but their inheritance can be shredded by them. Furthermore, they may face the awful situation of having to choose between contributing their own money towards their parents' care or watching those parents get substandard care. Legal protection is the smart thing to do. (4-6-2015)
Goodbye Sony Vaio laptop
I bought my first computer in 2000, a Sony Vaio laptop with Windows 98. I was thrilled to have a computer I did not have to share with my husband. It served me well. Until the operating system got old, the memory inadequate, and the battery died. At the end the web browser would not allow me to access emails via web mail. I acquired a desktop computer in 2004 with more horsepower and an up-to-date operating system, Windows XP. And a CD drive that let me write CDs, a key component of my file backup strategy, while continuing to use the laptop while traveling. Well, earlier this week it went to the great recycler in the sky. I paid someone to remove the hard drive so I could whack it with a hammer. I freed up space in my closet where it has long lived. And I'm feeling a wee bit sentimental. (4-3-2015)
Whither Microsoft Windows
I have been a user of Windows XP since it was new. I have invested endless hours into learning and mastering it. Why would I want to start over?

Microsoft has created many operating systems through the years. The Windows line started with 3, moved onto 95, 98, then XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 9 (abandoned), and now 10 (perhaps). This tells me that they still do not know how to design an operating system. Windows 10 is claimed to be an OS that will support desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. through what Microsoft calls the Internet of Things. Frankly I do not want an OS on my desktop that can also run a smartphone, why should my computer be burdened with lines of code that it will never run? I'm okay with a general structure that is shared by different device types, but the actual code should be optimized for the particular device type. Period. Oh, and I'd like my OS to work efficiently, accommodate peripherals, and protect me from intruders. (3-23-2015)
Measuring time
The advent of Daylight Savings Time is always a small shock for me. I eventually recover and settle to it. But this year as I watch the sky lighten at 6:45am I think about it differently. I chose several dates and calculated the number of night-time hours and the equidistant midnight, the time that is midway between sunset and sunrise, for each. And surprise, the equidistant midnight is close to the 12:00am ONLY under Standard Time! Read my analysis. (3-19-2015)
Portion size
I began a diet last November in order to improve my health and shrink my dress size. My first strategy was to stop drinking alcoholic beverages—wine and cocktails. That has worked very well. Now I am considering what other dietary changes I can make. I have been enjoying a post-dinner treat of tea and a sweet, either a cookie or chocolate. Last night I read the label on the Guittard chocolate bar I have been enjoying and was shocked to read that one serving is the entire 2 oz. bar! Egads, who eats that much at one time? I've been eating one-fifth of a bar at a time, about 60 calories. Nothing to be concerned about, thank you goddess. (3-17-2015)
Slavery and taxes in America
I recently finished reading American Taxation, American Slavery by Robin L. Einhorn, 2006. It explains how slavery and taxes influenced the formation of the USA, beginning with the Articles of Confederation (1781-1789) and the Constitution that replaced it in 1789. I found it highly worthwhile. I summarized my thoughts in a separate document. (3-11-2015)
Right-to-work laws are really no-rights-for-workers laws
Traditionally right-to-work laws prevent organized labor from forcing all workers to pay union dues or fees. This has been desired by some workers who resent being forced to pay union dues—for any reason, but especially when they do not think they benefit from the union. It is a godsend to employers as it reduces the forcefulness of union negotiations for wages and benefits. Unions finance their contract negotiations (collective bargaining) with employers on behalf of all employees with dues paid by members and non-members. Allowing non-members to opt out of paying the dues reduces the funds available for contract negotiations. And ultimately benefits employers at the expense of employees. This is a case of short-term gain (not paying union dues) at the expense of long-term loss (no increased wages and benefits).

Unions are perceived as corrupt by many, especially many conservatives for whom it is almost a mantra. Power is by definition subject to corruption, look at any government. Condemning unions is a cheap shot. Workers have no alternative way of negotiating with their employers, who can reduce their salary and benefits, move them, and fire them all without recourse. Workers need collective bargaining. They may have to work with the union to ensure their needs are met at the lowest cost. But better that than being kicked to the curb by an employer who treats their employees as expendable units of production. (3-9-2015)
California's cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases
In 2011, in response to global warming, the State of California adopted a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This program limits the amount of greenhouse gases certain industries can emit. Businesses may increase their legal limit by buying other businesses' excess allowances and by buying credits. I have summarized this program in a three-page document. This took me several days to compile. I began innocently expecting to find the whole program laid out in clear language, but no . . . it was difficult and time-consuming to pick out the details from several sources. Why is that? (3-8-2015)
IRS lawsuit scam
Today I got the second phone call ostensibly from the IRS advising me that they are about to file a lawsuit against me. And that I should phone a particular number. Did I phone? Of course NOT! This is clearly a scam. There is a useful blog post about this: FTC Consumer Information blog. That post has a useful link to FTC Complaint Assistant where you can file a complaint about a telephone scam. The FTC has a page "10 Ways to Avoid Fraud" which is worth a read—better safe than sorry. (3-6-2015)
The internet is full of good samaritans
I can learn how to use bobby pins! Hair pins! The best way to apply eye liner. Videos on so many useful things, for free. How generous we all are! (2-9-2015)
More on measles
Thinking about all the media hype on the measles outbreak. It is a form of yellow journalism—sensationalism, misrepresentation, no research. And nowhere a calm statement by a leading medical official. Overall it seems intended to spread fear and disturbance.

What is the problem with the measles outbreak? The story is that some people became ill with measles. All the sound and fury in the media is about the parents who thoughtfully refuse to vaccinate their children. But . . . there is no connection between the two. Presumably the people who became ill had been vaccinated, or else wouldn't the media be pointing the finger at them?

Some father, who is himself a doctor, explains his concern that his young daughter, who cannot be vaccinated because she has cancer, is endangered by the existence of an active measles case . . . somewhere. Surely he understands that contagion requires direct contact? And surely he is not taking his daughter to public areas where she could be unknowingly exposed to a sick person? And really, isn't measles way down on his list of things to worry about when cancer is so close at hand? It makes me suspect the media both misquoted him and baited him.

What the media is not telling us is (1) the measles vaccine is known not to grant permanent immunity, (2) the measles vaccine is known not to grant any immunity to some people, (3) the measles vaccine is known to cause the infection.

There is no need for hysteria. Measles is typically a benign childhood illness. You get sick, definitely worse than a cold, but sometimes not much, you get to stay home from school with lots of attention from mom, and after a week to ten days you are well and in possession of complete lifetime immunity to the virus. (2-5-2015)
Measles and vaccinations
The vaccination question has been placed front and center in the news media's efforts to please its big pharma advertisers. Public health is being pitted against personal freedom, to the dismay of politicians everywhere. Vaccination is loudly claimed as invaluable and necessary and safe. The truth is not on the pages of the New York Times. More . . . (2-3-2015)
Not only did agriculture feed a larger community than did foraging, it also produced a surplus. This is the original sin. A surplus, which we have observed to our amazement and dismay, or rather control over it, is the force that has attracted and compelled greed and tyranny.

We rich Americans trend to pity the poor. We never notice the price we pay for our surplus, illness and violence come to mind. We accept these as "natural" when they are decidedly not. In a way, we are enslaved by our surplus. (2-2-2015)
Agriculture, the way to lives that are nasty, brutish, and short
Every so often I am moved to contemplate "civilization" and the agriculture on which we believe it be be founded. I get to this point when my discouragement with civilization or agriculture gets the better of me.

Today I read a 1987 essay by Jared Diamond, "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race". This mistake is the turn from hunter-gathering to agriculture. "Forced to chose between limiting population [to match the wild food supply] or trying to increase food production [through agriculture], we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny."

Worth a read. (1-30-2015)
Climate change
The climate does change. Does anyone remember the Little Ice Age? Perhaps a little early for you, it started about 1300 and ended about 1870. There seem to be lots of natural causes of climate change, including volcanic explosions and the relocation of the earth's axis. And there are man-made causes. As was likely in your time, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigerators were replaced by substitutes in order to maintain the ozone layer. In the past few years scientists have been saying that the noticeable change in weather around the planet has man-made causes, chief among them being high levels of atmospheric carbon.

While the scientific community is uniformly in favor of this explanation, politicians unsurprisingly waffle. (Isn't that the definition of a politician?) In America, politicians do the bidding of corporations, which are, also unsurprisingly, resistant to changing their ways just to keep a little carbon out of the atmosphere. So the politicians claim they are not convinced by the man-made global warming theory, that even scientists are not convinced (definitely not true, but perhaps the politicians are happier believing it to be the case). And so there is no political action—in America.

In England there was a political response, the Climate Change Act 2008. But for politicians, or anyone, to claim that it will never snow again in some particular place is hilarious. And a tad worrisome that their constituents would believe them. But as worrisome is the response that the presence of snow means the politically-mandated reduction in carbon emissions is wrong. (1-19-2015)
The new math of light bulbs
Light bulbs exist to illuminate our interior spaces. The shift to lower wattage bulbs is a lie. I just read the fine print when replacing a 60 watt A19 lamp ("lamp" is the lighting professionals' word for "bulb") with a 57 watt one. So the new bulb uses 3 less watts, or 5 percent less electricity. But it delivers 780 lumens—this is the amount of light—which is 85 less lumens than the 60 watt bulb, or 10 percent less light. The package has the nerve to describe this 10% loss as "nearly the same." In what universe is a 10% difference nearly the same? Furthermore, I am not impressed that I am getting 10% less light for only 5% less electricity. Are you? (1-18-2015)
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Revision: 1-1-2016.