Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Amphibians -- are they going extinct or not?

OK.  This week I read an article in "American Scientist" claiming that virtually all amphibians all over the world had gone extinct and that an entire niche in our eco-systems was now empty with all kinds of unknown and dread consequences likely to ensue.

Then, not two days later, I read an article about harmful, invasive coqui frogs taking over the islands of Hawaii.  This frogs are allegedly harmful, but all I could tell from the article about their alleged harm is that they make a lot of noise and keep people awake == but they're regarded as pests.

Now people, which is it?  Are they dangerous pests multiplying out of control, or are they tragically, nearly extinct?

You just can't make this stuff up.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm Alice through the looking glass.

Friday, December 23, 2011

North Korean succession

Listening to the preposterous myth making coming out of North Korea, the question that comes to my mind is:  "How on earth did anyone ever think that this was a communist country?"  How were we talked into that viewpoint?   This is clearly a situation of medieval type royalty, nothing at all to do with communism.

How did so-called "communist" countries ever get suckered into thinking that this regime was one of them?   They seemed to lay claim to some moral high ground at one time, looking at us supporting petty tyrants throughout the world -- us looking for all the world like Johns frequenting any prostitute that would take our money and tell us what we wanted to hear -- and yet here it seems they did the same.  They bought into the idea that North Korea was a communist country, because at least North Korea hated us and that was all they needed to hear.

My enemy's enemy is my friend, even if that "friend" stands against every principle I hold most dear?  


I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose.  I had somehow believed those communists to be worthy adversaries, people with some kind of austere principles, different from ours, perhaps, but principles nevertheless.   Why should I think they should be any different from us?

But did we ever support anyone this weird?  I'm curious.  If you're reading let me know.

Is it possible, now, that with
   - the wikipedia leaks that show even China frustrated with the North Korean regime and
   - these revelations of a bizarre personal cult of the leader of the country,
no one will any more be able to give even a pretense of civil relations with these leaders who can only be described as creepy at best?

Do these leaders get to the point where they believe that drivel that is spoken about them?   Delusional sociopaths with nuclear weapons?

2012 looks worse and worse all the time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lakes on Europa

     I read with interest the recent articles about the  renewed suspicion that there is liquid water somewhere under the surface of Europa -- a moon of Saturn.  Water is something that would be very useful if one were thinking of trying to establish a space colony.  Water can be a source of oxygen, and, of course, it's important for drinking and watering crops.  The speculation was that there might even be life in the water already.
     Of course, the mere existence of liquid water does not solve all the problems associated with trying to establish a space colony. 
      First, there is the difficulty of getting to those distant places.  I gather we've crashed half the spacecraft we've sent to Mars, which is closer than Saturn.  I gather the Russians just had a Mars bound spacecraft fail as well.  This technology of space travel is still very primitive.
     Second, the conditions on Europa are hardly favorable.  The sun is very small and dim at that distance and would not be a good source of much solar power.  Moreover, the temperature is frigid, far colder than the earth, even colder than the Antarctic.   The atmosphere there would be thin at best.  Gravity there is quite light, which would likely cause long term health problems for humans
     It just does not seem like a very hospitable place for human astronauts to try to establish a space colony.
     But then I wonder if we might genetically engineer something that might live there, something with a human brain that could communicate with us but with a different body, maybe more like a fish, something that could live underneath the crust of Europa, in the dark, in frigid water.  I wonder whether various kinds of genetically engineered astronauts adapted to different conditions on various planets might not be a general solution to the issues associated with colonizing space.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Conservatives in Egypt

Let us hope that our knee jerk response to politics we do not completely understand does not send it down the very direction we most fear. People can be conservative of dress and nevertheless humane and merciful. 

In this country, so-called "conservatives" embrace a politic of anger. When our politics is angry, it breeds anger elsewhere. We bring forth what we put out there.

As Yoda said in Star Wars "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hatred. Hatred leads to suffering."

Let us try to give these Egyptians the benefit of the doubt in their faltering first steps toward democracy.

Remember Viet Nam? We fought so hard in fear against the communists. Then they took over, and within a few years they wanted to be our friends. They still control Viet Nam, and yet no one now regards them as a serious threat to us. What were we so afraid of?

Islam and conservative Muslims are the new communists in the simple-minded, jingoistic us v them gloss that our fear mongering press puts on the news -- the sound byte news.

Let us reject descriptions of people in other countries as sound bytes. Let us seek after a more sophisticated understanding. Let us look for ways to turn this into a win-win situation, rather than an us v them thing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Tragedy of Lucia Micarelli

Please note: this blog is out of date -- I am keeping it here for historical purposes

Lucia Micarelli is currently acting in a television show named "Treme."

Before that, she was a violinist.

For me, the world violinist in fact is insufficient to convey what she was.  I grew up with parents who were classical music fans.  I heard violins all the time.  I never liked them much.  I was ok with the lower strings, but not violins.  As a result, I've never been a huge classical music fan, unlike my parents.

Then I heard Lucia Micarelli play the violin.  This was on YouTube.  There were recordings of her performing with Josh Groban.  I was dumbfounded.

I enjoyed listening to her play.  It was the first time I had ever enjoyed listening to the violin.

Part of it was her high drama stage presence,  drama that has translated into substantial acting ability on TV, but there are other violinists with stage presence.

She also has a unique bowing style.   If you watch her play, you can see that she is holding the violin and moving the bow ever so slightly differently from other players.  The sound is different as well.  Her unique bowing style gives her a unique voice on the violin.  She is a great genius, like Miles Davis on the trumpet.

For me, her "Kashmir" on Josh Groban's awake DVD was like Michael Jackson doing the Moonwalk at the 25th anniversary of Motown.  After I saw it, I could never look at the violin quite the same way.

She played other places, too, with the Transiberian Orchestra, with Chris Botti, on her own CDs -- a long string of utterly amazing performances.

Then she had an accident.  She hurt her hand.

Fortunately, she got surgery and can now play again, though she apparently still is not quite 100%.  She is playing the part of a violinist on Treme -- sometimes she actually gets to play the violin on the show -- not so often, but enough that you can hear that the voice is still there; but the character does a lot of other things as well, and is also sometimes not featured in some of the episodes.

Micarelli says that in her new album, she will be singing, writing songs, and playing the guitar, in addition to playing the violin.

Thus the voice of Lucia Micarelli on the violin has fallen largely silent -- or so it seems to me.   I guess she is not unhappy with the situation, herself.  She feels this is a growth experience -- but I am unhappy.  I want to hear her play.

How can the entertainment industry allow this to happen?   How can so few people notice the silencing of the voice of a great genius?


Addendum: 8/2/13  She did finally go touring with Barbra Streisand this year, which was something of a relief, but, still, I don't feel she's adequately appreciated.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On occupying Wall Street

I don't know if this is the best approach.  We have to think out very carefully what it is we want changed in our financial institutions and propose an alternative structure.  Just protesting does not give an alternative.  Just overthrowing a structure and leaving nothing in its place leaves chaos

There are several points that I think are important.

1. Computerized trading that makes automatic trades based on mathematical trends in the market should be illegal.
2. There should be no hedge funds that are not subject to governmental oversight and hedge fund managers should not be able to take investor funds without the same controls that are in place at brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch
3. There need to be stricter regulations on the trading of various instruments, especially petroleum futures and derivatives based on real estate mortgages
4. no one should be able to borrow money, buy up the public stock of a profitable company, and the loot the company to pay off the loan (thereby destroying lots of jobs)
5. imports of goods and services should be regulated more to make sure that the imported goods and services are not artificially low in price due to: unfair or unsafe working conditions *or* currency exchange rates that do not reflect the real values of currencies.  (which can be checked by the price of a Big Mac, for instance, in the various countries)
6. Executive pay at corporations needs to be regulated so that executives do not abuse their positions of power to loot company assets and stockholder initiatives need to be binding rather than advisory on the board of directors

This is going to require some thought and careful drafting of legislation.  Just protesting is going to accomplish nothing or worse than nothing.  If there is a reasonable alternative, we might have a chance of doing something constructive.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

regarding taxing fats -- a la les danois

The Danish law is entirely misconceived.  Those who propose that the US might imitate this measure must be roundly denounced.

Fat is not the evil that is so often depicted.  Fat is an essential nutrient.  Cholesterol is in every cell membrane of every cell in your body.  Fat is crucial in the formation of the myelin sheaths around your nerves.  Fat is used in the digestion of carbs.  Cholesterol is critical in brain development of fetuses.  Children under 2 should get at least half their calories from fat.  There are suspicions that people with certain brain disorders ought particularly to have fat and cholesterol, e.g. people with autistic spectrum disorders.  Cholesterol has been connected with preventing cancer.

Low fat diets were never supported by any medical evidence whatsoever.   They are a complete myth.  Low fat diets are partially responsible for the current obesity crisis.  People who try low fat diets end up bingeing on fat, because they are deprived of an essential nutrient.  This starts a yo-yo diet cycle, with every bounce taking the victim higher.

This tax is completely misconceived and very unhealthy.

update: 11/14/12

I was happy to see that this legislation was ultimately eliminated in Denmark.  Yay!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reflections on the 10th anniversary of 9-11

Someone asked me about my experience of 9-11.  I live in the suburbs of New York City.  

I recalled how I had been in a PTA committee meeting that day, how one of the other women in the committee normally worked in the twin towers, how I watched her face as she watched the television and saw what might have been her co-workers jumping in a vain attempt to save themselves.  Her face was such a picture of horror!   It punctuated the horror on the screen, humanizing and deepening it for me.

We adjourned the committee and went home.  I, who never watch TV, watched the TV for the rest of the day.  I saw the towers fall at least a dozen times.  I heard wild rumors about what might be happening elsewhere.  I called my brother, who was cocooning with his newly adopted daughter, who he managed to get into this country only a couple of days before 9-11 shut down the airports.  I told him to turn on the TV.  When he demurred, because he felt too busy, I found myself almost at a loss for words to try to explain to him why he should turn it on -- and just kept repeating "Turn on the TV," though perhaps I managed to offer some clarification, because he did finally turn it on.  My ex, who I was still married to at the time, worked nearby.  I was very concerned for him as he walked to Grand Central Station, through that black cloud of smoke; and as he went back to work day after day, falsely reassured that the air was safe.

It was a very dramatic time for me.

And, yet, looking back on it, I find that I cannot bring back the sense of horror, loss, fear, and drama that pervaded my consciousness then.

Instead, what comes to me is the much greater horror that some in this country felt justified in visiting on the nation of Iraq in response to the events of 9-11: the unprovoked war, the overthrowing of a stable government and leaving a state of violent anarchy in which upwards of 600.000 people were killed, mostly civilians.  The deaths in the war on Iraq came on the tail of the 500,000 Iraqi children who died as a result of the embargo instituted at our behest after the first Gulf War.  In other words, the blood  of well over a million totally innocent people is on our hands -- a figure that dwarfs the number killed in 9-11 here in the USA.

And the people in Afghanistan and the mountains of Pakistan, who were allegedly hiding Osama bin Laden, when in fact he was in a totally different place -- people who we attacked repeatedly in a vain search for him -- what of them?

It is so easy not to notice suffering thousands of miles away.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own rather parochial view of events.  It is so easy to pretend that we are the ones wronged.  It is so easy to pretend that we were justified in causing these massacres of the innocent.

When I look at people commemorating the events of 9-11, I cannot see them.  I see instead the specter of the greater wrong, what we did elsewhere.

addendum of 9/12/12:

I find myself wary of telling my 9/11 story.  I feel my story -- and the stories of so many other people -- were abused.  Our trauma became a justification for visiting trauma on others.  I do not like my story being used this way.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why rigid creationism is inconsistent with Christianity

Rigid creationism, for me, is when a person so literally interprets the wording of scripture, especially the book of Genesis, as to feel compelled to deny the possibility that dinosaur fossils are tens or hundreds of millions of years old.  Such denial stands in the face of a great mass of rigorous research by intelligent, careful,  highly educated, and well-trained people.

This essay will discuss why I think such rigid creationism is inconsistent with Christianity.

Jesus, the founder of Christianity, lived in Israel at a time when Talmudic scholarship was becoming well-established.  For those who are not familiar, Talmudic Scholarship is a branch of thinking within Judaism that uses an extremely literal and legalistic interpretation of scripture.  Decisions interpreting scripture, within the Talmud, are made like decisions of a court of law.  

Jesus seems to have disagreed with this process.  He stated "Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered." Luke 11:51-53 (King James Version)  This passage does not refer to the practice of law in civil courts, but rather religious courts, because the context of the passage is in challenging religious authorities.  Therefore, he is confronting religious lawyers, telling them that their legalistic interpretation is wrong.

Jesus's confrontations with religious authorities of his time were defining aspects of his ministry.  They were what got him crucified.  We must not suppose that he said these things lightly.  These pronouncements are therefore to be taken very seriously -- really at the heart of his teachings -- by those claiming to be followers of Jesus.

Yet rigid creationists, while claiming to be Christians, are in fact doing precisely what Jesus preached against in Chapter 11 of Luke.  They are interpreting scripture so rigidly as to preclude the gathering of knowledge.

These same scriptural passages in the Old Testament, especially Genesis, can be interpreted more flexibly and metaphorically.  What was a day for God?  What was a day before light and dark were created?  What was the intent of the original story teller here, as opposed to those who came later and tried to make the story into law?  These words do not have to be interpreted as literally, legalistically true.

Not accepting the story of creation as literally true is not the same as rejecting the idea that God created the world or life.  God could have created life by creating evolution.  God's processes may be beyond our understanding, not describable in words.  Words might be a bit like an impressionistic painting, creating broad stroke impressions, without precision.

The brain, reason, the ability to gather knowledge -- these are God-given gifts.  Using the Bible as a mental trap to prevent their use is not Christian.  Using the Bible this way is being a rigid, religious lawyer: exactly what Jesus inveighed against.

These fundamentalists who claim that the Bible is contrary to evolution are in fact not Christians.  They should be denounced by anyone who really cares about what Jesus said.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On accommodating the weak of bladder

I belong to a very large, but little discussed, handicapped group. This is the group of people who have weak bladders. This group includes everyone under 5, most people over 60, and most women who have born children -- which is probably the majority of the population at this point.

Despite the large size of this group, it is little discussed -- no doubt due to embarrassment at discussing the topic.

Due to the general lack of discussion, little has been done in the way of accommodating group members. Many public facilities are not accessible to this group, due to lack of adequate toilets.

For example, I live in the NY metro area. I would very much, some year, like to attend the ball dropping event on New Year's Eve in Times Square; however, I believe this is impossible. In order to get into this event, one must show up five or six hours in advance. Then one is confined to a standing area by police barricades. And one is expected to stand there until the even occurs.

If there is no public restroom in the area where one is confined, and, if one leaves the area, one will not be able to get back.

I know I cannot stand and wait for five or six hours without using a restroom. Most people cannot.

I would like to propose legislation that every retail merchant must provide a toilet to the general public, not just their customers or employees. The merchant should be allowed to charge for use of the toilet, so long as charges are non-discriminatory. People leaving a mess in such toilets should be chargeable with a ticketable violation.

Moreover, public parks should have toilets as well.

These measures are necessary for public accessibility to members of my handicapped group.

In addition, we should have public toilets that are available all night long, even when parks and businesses are closed.  I often find myself walking through New York City and night and toilets are extremely rare.  This is an even bigger problem for the homeless. I think the right to access to a toilet is a basic human right.

How do you feel about improved accessibility of restrooms?

Addendum: 4/28/17

In view of the recent incident with Delta Airlines kicking off a passenger for needing to use the restroom, I thought this blog of new relevance, so I'm re-posting it.  This idea that a passenger has to pee himself while on the taxiway is not a good one.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Stock Market Reaction to Events

S&P downgrades US Treasury notes.  People sell their stocks?

Europe has debt issues, particularly in the PIGS countries.  People sell their US stocks?

The US debt situation raises fears of currency devaluation.   People sell their *stocks,* and put the money in their bank accounts?  The bank accounts will likely loose value if currency is devaluated.  At least in the German inflation of the 1920's, stocks retained values while the currency became worthless.

To me, these reactions do not pass the Darwin test.