Friday, July 31, 2015

So, what hasn't destroyed the Earth lately?

Let us make a list or two, shall we?

First, what hasn't destroyed the Earth in the past.
  1. Women getting the vote.
  2. Black people getting the vote.
  3. Social Security.
  4. Medicare.
  5. Fluoride in drinking water.
  6. Publically funded education.
  7. A nuclear arms reduction pact with the Soviet Union.
  8. Diplomatic relations with China and Vietnam.
  9. Electing a black man as President of the United States.
What hasn't destroyed the Earth very recently.
  1. Women serving in the military.
  2. Gays and lesbians serving in the military.
  3. Gays and lesbians being allowed to marry who they love.
  4. The Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare").
  5. Diplomatic relations with Cuba.
What probably won't destroy the Earth in the near future.
  1. Removing the trade embargo with Cuba.
  2. A nuclear arms agreement with Iran.
  3. Getting rid of all these so-called "voter I.D." laws and making it easier for U.S. citizens to vote, not more difficult.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

If you have to start our your statement with "I'm not a scientist, but..."

You know something?  That may just automatically disqualify you from having an opinion that will be taken very seriously by anyone who IS a scientist or trusts how actual, real-life scientists go about their business.

I get the sense that people (including prominent politicians) who say this when weighing in on global climate change or whatever think this is some sort of "Get Out Of Jail Free" card.  They can say what they think and demand to be heard and respected, but when someone calls B.S. on them, well, they get to fall back on the "I'm not a scientist..." trope.

One thing that just makes me really angry with the discussions ongoing in the public arena is how intellectually dishonest some people are.  Anything to win, even to the point of making up crap out of thin air.  If no one calls you on it, then you win!  And even if you do, that lie is out there and has a good chance of taking root even though it has already been thoroughly debunked.  The audience to which that was intended doesn't CARE if it isn't true.

When one side insists on playing by entirely different rules than the other side, no matter the context, then it is pretty certain that chaos will result and the concept of working together to solve problems is totally a waste of time, because the two sides can't even agree on the basic facts and ideas being discussed.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Highest resolution photo of Pluto yet.

The colors are enhanced to bring out the different regions.  You can certainly see how different the black areas are from the white plains, named the Tombaugh Regio after the discoverer of Pluto.

My own little theory is that region is where the mini-planet suffered a "swipe by" collision of another body, and this collision resulted in the dwarf planet's moon, Charon.  In fact, I just read the Powers That Be that decide such things are considering designating Charon as a dwarf planet as well.  This is mostly because the two bodies orbit each other around a point in space called the barycenter that is not inside either of the two bodies.

So, Pluto and Charon may not be planets, but they are something else that is pretty special, our first known example of a binary dwarf planet system.  That's pretty cool, too.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

New Horizons says goodbye to Pluto, takes this photo on the way.

Pretty cool, eh?

If modern birds are descendants of dinosaurs, I have a question regarding the evolutionary process.

First off, I do want to say that I am very dedicated to the scientific process in all subject matter, including evolution.  I actually love the concept that my chickens out in my pen that I keep for pets (and eggs) are somehow descended from dinosaurs that lived 125 million years ago.  I can watch them, how they move and run around, and imagine that is how small feathered dinosaurs acted.  Their eyes are especially interesting.  There is actually something very reptilian looking about a chicken's eyes.

So, I am not questioning evolution here.  I just have a question about the specifics that I actually have never seen answered before.  It involves knees.  Dinosaur knees.  Bird knees.  Specifically, which way they bend interests me.

Now, here is a picture of a modern ostrich.  Notice how the knees bend toward their rear, opposite of what our human knees do.

I picked an ostrich to illustrate because they have such long legs and you can see where their knees are quite easily.  All bird knees do this, they are just usually really short and it's difficult to make out their joints.

Now, take this illustration of a Deinonychus.  It lived around 110 million years ago and is related to Velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame.

Look at its leg on the left of the picture.  Don't be confused by the ankle, which is right above its toes.  It apparently walked around on its toes all the time.  The knees are the next joint up.  You can see on the leg on the left of the picture that it bends forwards, just like a human's knees do.

So, my question is this.  If dinosaurs to modern birds represents a direct line on the evolutionary tree, when and why did this transition take place?  I can't imagine a evolutionary step-change where an animal's knees just all of a sudden turned around in the other direction.  I also have difficulty imagining a slow change over time.  I am pretty certain we don't have any fossils of creatures whose knees bent out perpendicular to their bodies.  Could it have something to do when they started flying and that kind of leg made it easier to land in trees and such?  I don't know, but I wish I did.

I haven't made any kind of real effort to research this. But I do know that in all my readings on dinosaurs and modern birds, not only have I not seen an explanation of this, I have never seen this question asked before.  Yes, it would probably be helpful of me to go off an do some really in depth reading on this.  Maybe I have just missed something...  But it's an interesting question, don't you think?

Friday, July 24, 2015

There are just times that I am ashamed to be a white male in America.

These guys mothers must be so proud.  I love the guy flipping off bystanders and the fat clown in the tank top, who would appear to have absolutely nothing at all to criticize in other people.

Here is a different shot of the guy down front wearing the White Power Stormfront uniform.  Nice....

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Republican candidates for President? This is the best you can do?

We have a Republican candidate for the most powerful office in the world saying that he might bomb Iran on his very first day in office.

We have another who might try to start a war in three different countries if he gets elected.

One thinks that Americans should be working harder and longer, but they don't deserve to get paid any overtime for working more than 40 hours.

Sitting governors running for president apparently hate their flagship universities in their state.

One candidate is under criminal indictment.

Another could possibly be indicted but at the very least showed extremely poor judgment about his choice of governor's staff and close confederates such that they felt they could enact political revenge for their boss's sake using state funds and infrastructure.

One is a sitting senator and pretty much single-handedly shut the government down for several weeks last year for a reason that even he cannot explain.

One came from industry where she pretty much ran a major corporation into the ground.

And, although I could continue, who can forget the incredible large ego of the real estate broker and reality show host who has absolutely no filter between his brain and mouth.

And all of the think that global climate change is not a real issue and the most important thing that they must do when elected is to repeal "Obamacare" which has provided insurance coverage for over 12 million people who didn't have health insurance before.  That number would be higher if Republican governors would accept expanded Medicare like the plan originally envisioned.  Oh, and we mustn't forget gay marriage.

But yet, if you listen to Republicans, conservatives of all stripes, Fox "News", Rush Limbaugh, et. al., liberals are going to destroy this country.  It's all liberals fault, if not Obama's fault directly, for anything that happens in this country that they don't like.

That's why I feel like screaming.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Where was all the Republican hue and cry when John Kerry was getting swiftboated?

I agree with everyone who is saying that Donald Trump went way too far about what he said about John McCain.  I guess we just found out what line you can't cross when Republican.  They were quite OK when Trump was trashtalking immigrants, both legal and undocumented.  Brown people are an easy target, so that was OK.  But badmouth John McCain?!?  Horrors!!!!

Republicans once again prove themselves to be 100% pure hypocrites.  What was said about John Kerry and his Vietnam War service and his medals including a couple of Purple Hearts was perfectly fine with Republicans back in 2004.

SBVT asserted that Kerry was "unfit to serve" as President based upon his alleged "willful distortion of the conduct" of American servicemen during that war, and his alleged "withholding and/or distortion of material facts" as to his own conduct during that war.[2] This claim caused tremendous controversy during the election, particularly because these veterans, most of whom had not been in a place to assess Kerry, challenged the legitimacy of each of the combat medals awarded to Kerry even though most[3] of the Vietnam veterans who served alongside Kerry or under his command disputed the criticisms and supported Kerry's version of events and his presidential aspirations.

Fucking hypocrites....

Friday, July 17, 2015

Of COURSE we need mini-drones that shoot pistols!

Because, well, why not?  If the Second Amendment doesn't prohibit it, like maybe high powered military grade arms that can shoot one hundred rounds without reloading, then it is all perfectly legal!  Same for flying pistols.  What could possible go wrong?  Just like the gun fanatic lunatic who killed a 9th grade girl in a drive by shooting about three miles from my house, or countless other senseless acts of criminality by non-responsible gun owners, I am sure that no one would ever think of misusing this.  Or the slackers that have nothing better to do than point laser pointers at commercial jetliners which are landing...  I mean, that's just good clean fun, right?  Are you going to outlaw laser pointers now?

There is video if you click the link, which I don't know how to embed in a blog post.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Our dog kind of sucks at hide and seek.

After nine years in space, New Horizons has reached Pluto!

We should be getting a lot more photos over the next weeks, but these are spectacular for the first ones!  I can't wait to hear what the planetary scientists say about all these features.  My first questions are, where are all the impact craters?  Has this body undergone resurfacing in the past?  How?  When?  And if not, how did Pluto avoid all the collisions during the Late Heavy Bombardment that blasted all the other rocky worlds in the solar system?  Is it so far out that it escaped that fate?  What caused the huge variations in lightness and darkness on the surface?  Why is Pluto so much lighter than Charon?

I can't wait to see more photos, including some of the snaps of the other, tiny moons; Hydra, Styx, Nix, and Kerberos.  Those will be fun to see.

This is just so amazing.  For so long, Pluto was just a very faint dot of light that we could only imagine what it is like.  Then, with Hubble and quality ground based telescopes, we saw that Pluto was actually a disc with some light and dark patches.  And it had some moons!  I just felt like a kid again seeing this picture.

This is what makes me feel proud to be an American.  We actually still have the curiosity and the wherewithal to actually go out and find out things that we don't know about.  No one is going to get rich off this information.  It's that we know something about the tiny bit of the universe we inhabit that we didn't know before.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Clarksville Rock City

Conservatives have bizarre priorities.

I am at a loss to understand why most (not all, but most) conservatives in the U.S. these days seem to believe that the most important issues that need to be worked immediately include:

1.     Repealing “Obamacare” which would immediately take away basic healthcare coverage 6 to 12 million people who just got it.
2.     Not allowing any female to have an abortion in the country for whatever reason, including health of the mother, rape or incest.
3.     Letting anyone at anytime be able to purchase a weapon without any restrictions, paperwork or wait times.
4.     Not allowing gay and lesbian people to get married, because something to do with their particular interpretation of the Bible.
5.     Protecting the Confederate Battle Flag, which was a symbol of an army that revolted against government of the United States and has been used by very racist elements like the KKK for the sole purpose of proclaiming white supremacy and hatred of the entire black race.
6.     Refuses to believe in any scientific conclusion or theory if it happens to conflict with their own, already formed, beliefs.
7.     Make enemies of labor unions and vilify regular people who happen to work as teachers and government workers

I am not getting into the “political” arena, such as voter suppression and making or gutting laws solely for the purpose of benefiting the rich and powerful.  This is only about what I would term “social” issues.

Now, it just baffles me how thinking people who seem to be otherwise capable of functioning in society and making a living can think that taking away basic healthcare from millions would be a good idea.  I don’t care if your ideology demands you believe in a small government (“small enough to drown in a bathtub” per Grover Norquist’s edict).  How can people not believe that a large part of the role of any government body, regardless of the country, is to help and protect its citizens?  We have a huge flipping military whose sole purpose is to “ensure our freedom” or whatever the latest catchphrase is.  So why is protecting the population against something that might happen and spending trillions of dollars in the process more important than people have the ability to go seek medical attention when they need it?  That's important, dammit! 

One of the things we keep hearing from the “Pro-Life” faction of the conservatives in this country is how precious each and every life is, and abortion is murder.  And you know what?  I can actually see some validity in that argument.  I can sort of understand why people would believe that.  But conservatives just trash their own argument by the fact that they do not give one single goddamn about a kid once he or she is born.  Born to an illegal immigrant?  Too damn bad!  Back to Mexico or Guatemala for you, even though the kid has never been there before and the Constitution of the U.S. does have that bit about children born in the country.  Your parents are poor or disabled and can’t find work to put enough food on the table?  Too damn bad.  Get a job.  Oh, you’re black?  Well, never look suspicious when doing anything in your entire life, or else some vigilante or trigger happy cop might come along and gun you down. 

Yes, let’s talk about guns for a minute.  There are tens of thousands of people who lose their lives each and every year in the country due to violence using guns.  (Please note the careful language I am using as to avoid people being able to throw chaff into the argument about guns don’t kill...yada yada.)  This country loses anywhere from 2000 to 3000 kids, KIDS, each year to gun violence.  Yes, of course, some percentage is just what conservatives say it is, bad guys with guns.  That still doesn’t excuse it.  But a very, very large percentage seems to be (and we don’t know for certain because the NRA and its supporters won’t let statistics be gathered) accidental shootings, rage shootings where a gun is handy, mistaken shootings like some flipped out white guy shoots at black kids who play their music too loud or show up on their porch asking for help at 2:00 a.m. after they have been in a car wreck. As has been said a number of times already, if we lost this many kids per year and it could be blamed on Muslim terrorists, we would have already bombed two or three Middle Eastern countries already. But because it's just "regular ol' Americans" doing the shooting (like the guy who killed movie goers in Denver or the guy who killed a bunch of 1st graders in Sandy Hook or the guy who murdered 9 people, including their pastor and five or six elderly ladies, while having Bible studies in their church, ad infinitum), that's just stuff that happens.  Nothing to see here. 

Where is all this “each life is precious” crap now?  This, to me, is the absolute height of hypocrisy.  No abortions, ever, for any reason!  But if you happen to get killed with a gun, well, that’s just too damn bad because FREEDOM!!  As Joe the Plumber famously said after the massacre at Sandy Hook, “Your dead kids to not trump my 2nd Amendment rights.” 

I could rant about that one for ages.  I haven’t even touched the whole controversy about gay marriage and the Confederate Battle flag.  Let’s do another one of those comparisons, shall we?  Having government buildings and other facilities take down the symbol of an unlawful attempt to secede from the Union and that government taking up arms against the lawful government of the U.S. in order to protect an odious institution like slavery is of vital importance because we are trampling out country’s history, but allowing gay people to enjoy the same rights as everyone else in allowing them to marry who they desire will somehow be the end of our civilization.  That is, again, flipping crazy.  That makes absolutely no sense to me. 

I will be the first to admit that I do not understand homosexual attractions.  That’s probably because I am not a homosexual.  But I do understand how it can happen and that has nothing to do with me, personally, and does not somehow degrade or diminish my marriage to a person of the opposite sex.  I have known several gays and lesbians and they are just people.  Some can be annoying just like heterosexual people, but most are fine.  I have hung out with them, had a drink at a bar, worked with them on a team where they were designated “team lead.”  Big deal.  I just don’t get why people get so worked up about it. 

I could go on and on about this.  This is already much longer than I had anticipated.  I haven’t even gotten to the thing about ideology being more important than science.  That one drives me insane and should probably be saved for a post of its own in the near future.

I don’t expect anyone to be able to explain to me why the Right and the Left of this country are so at odds with each other and seem to have their own reality.  And if anyone feels like commenting, that’s great.   Do it.  If it too nasty, I probably won’t read it but I will likely allow it to be shown just because a lot of what I read today really seems to show (to me anyway) the truth in what I am saying.  

Friday, July 10, 2015

I changed my mind. I am alarmed by how much personal information about each of us is being computerized and stored.

Yesterday I was signing up for this free credit monitoring service the government is offering to those of us that had all our personal information hacked (Over 18 million served!).  At the end of the sign up form, there were a number of questions that were asked with the up front intention of making sure it was really me that was on the other end filling out this form.  (A bit "Locking the barn door after the horse is gone" kind of thing to me, but whatever.)  The last question asked what street address was I previously associated with.  One of the answers was a street name of the apartment I had back in the 80's. I can see where that came from, from old banking or credit card info, and I would expect a credit monitoring service to have access to that info.  Ok, that was the answer.  HOWEVER, another of the multiple choice answers was the last name of the girlfriend I had in college!  So, how in the living HECK did this credit service get that particular piece of information?!?  It isn't just some "usual" name like Johnson or Williams, so I have a difficult time believing that was just a Big Time Coincidence.  But what the heck?  I haven't been in touch with her, by either phone call or letter, since the early 80's and she certainly isn't in my friends thing in Facebook.  How did they get that name?  I am not one of the government workers who had to apply for a security clearance, so the government never contacted any of my friends or relations....

Jeez...  That's pretty scary to think of what else these various computerized systems they store on all of us.

No, sorry. The Civil War WAS indeed about slavery.

I find it fascinating that we, as a country, apparently are re-litigating the Civil War (aka The War of Northern Aggression as our Southern brethren like to say). Some of the discussions I have heard in the last week are just astounding to me. Whew...

I would like to point out that, for anyone who is really in doubt about what that terrible war was really about, you should go read the Declaration of Secession of the various states. I have read three of them; Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina. The one from SC (and remember that SC seceded before Lincoln even took office) includes the phrase "A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery." 
The declaration from Miss., all it talks about is slavery.  Here is a taste (my emphasis).  
"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

That really leaves little room for alternative explanations.  There really isn't any doubt about why the South seceded from the Union. None at all. It was about "states rights" only as it related to slavery. Period. The Confederacy took up arms against the United States of America in order to preserve slavery. If you go read the quote above, this is not an open question....
I just find it fascinating that no one is ready to move on from what should have been settled 150 years ago. That's just amazing to me.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Science is not an absolute, and that is perfectly fine.

"Sometimes scientists change their minds. New developments cause a rethink. If this bothers you, consider how much damage is being done to the world by people whom new developments do not cause a rethink."
I found this great quote in a Terry Pratchett book titled The Science of Discworld. It kind of encapsulates a lot of things I think about our current society and why science seems to has come to be something of a political football, where a person's political leanings dictate whether or not they are going to accept scientific results. And another thing that is hinted at is there is NEVER absolute certainty about science. Never. Newtonian physics was great for centuries until Einstein and modern physics came along, and Einstein was even unsure enough about his results that he deliberately inserted an error in his results. And finally, science is likely to give very strange results sometimes (like the universe might actually contain 11 dimensions) and ones that aren't particularly wanted. It doesn't matter. As Neil deGrasse Tyson says, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

If you don't know about Pratchett or Discworld, I am not going to explain here, other than give you an illustration of said Discworld (Painting "Great A’Tuin" by Paul Kirby). I recommend you check out these hilarious books.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Confederate Battle Flag is not really something that anyone should be proud of.

Last night, I watched Spike Lee's Four Little Girls, about the four girls who were murdered in 1963 when the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama was bombed. The film also covered the burning of black churches and attacks on peaceful protesters. I was struck by two things. How very, very similar that the rhetoric of those days from the white supremacists is to what I am seeing on television and reading on line today. The other thing I was struck by was how the Confederate battle flag, the one that is being discussed rather heatedly these days, was being used. I wish I could do some screen captures from that film, because there were just lines of white people waving the Confederate flag in the faces of the black marchers. It was obvious what that flag was being used for in the 50's and 60's. It's also a bit obvious why black people aren't really buying this whole "Southern heritage, something to be proud of" line that is being used today to justify the continued use of this flag. OK, you want to put it on your pickup? Sure. That's the 1st Amendment. But that symbol should not be part of any government building; national, state or local. White people do not get to tell black people to just get over seeing that flag after what occurred during the time that slavery was prevalent in this country and during the Civil Rights movement.