Thursday, August 1, 2013

Homecoming countdown: Maramec, Oklahoma

The preparations to move back to what I consider my hometown are still under way. Progress is being made even if it is slower than I would like.

In the progress of preparations for my move, I found a video about the ghost town that is Maramec, Oklahoma. To me, these images are haunting. I recognize almost everything that is displayed there. I even lived within a few hundred feet of many of these pictures.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Enemies of science

Science always seems to be under attack. Basic scientific teaching has been under attack by creationists since evolution was first discovered. The only thing that has changed with time is that even more science is under attack from various directions.

Social, behavioral and economic (SBE) science research is the latest target by conservative Republicans. It seems like they are beginning to make have an effect on the budgets, and therefore the research, of the various sciences.

Roll Call reports on the cuts led by people like Tom Coburn (R-OK). They even include a plausible reason why they are making those cuts:
Despite such obvious benefits, critics of SBE (social, behavioral, and economic) programs have asserted that they provide few societal returns and are rife with examples of frivolous research. But there might be a more insidious reason for such opposition: a conviction that SBE research outcomes will not conform to conservative ideology.
The longer our nation operates by trying to ignore basic scientific research in order to meet nearsighted conservative goals, the more danger our nation is in of falling behind the rest of the world and seeing our economy reliant on other countries' prosperity. If that happens, we won't have anyone to blame but the rest of the idiot Americans.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Inhofe's Christian Crime Connection

While Sen Jim Inhofe (R-OK) might not have a formal Christian crime ring, his actions would make more sense if he did. I can almost imagine him saying something like, "Nice planet you got there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

I generally believe that there isn't anything inherently wrong with being a Christian. While I feel confident that Christians are wrong in their beliefs, I also don't feel like those beliefs steer them in a heinous direction. People can generally be good with or without god. It has to do more with someone's moral grounding which is mostly shared by the religious and non-religious. But Jim Inhofe gives a perfect example of why there is still a danger to the world from Christianity.

In a response to The News on 6 in Oklahoma, Inhofe said:
"The book of Genesis tells us that the cold and heat, summers and winters will not cease, and I believe the God who spoke these words is still up there and in control. We have seen environmentalists disregarded the term 'global warming' and adopt the phrase 'climate change,' because there will be cold, there will be heat, there will be summer and there will be winter, but the earth shall not cease. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of weathercasters recently polled for a study done by George Mason University believe that any global warming that occurs is the result of 'natural variation' and not 'human activities.' There is no question that we should be good stewards of what God has given us, but the global warming alarmists are using gloom-and-doom, fear-based tactics to advance their environmentalist agenda which will eliminate job opportunities and slow economic growth."
You can see my reply to his disingenuous portrayal of "weathercasters" (that would be meteorologists) and how he tries to misrepresent climate science on my blog, here. But the thing that stands out about this statement is the total lack of science, reason, or understanding.

He is absolutely wrong on climate change. Climate science is based on known scientific principles. There is no question about the science. What remains is an obvious example of using religion to damage the world and the people in it.

Jim Inhofe gives us the perfect example of where the usage of religion has gone wrong. This is exactly the type of danger that religion poses to the rest of the world. Ultimately it doesn't even matter whether he believes what he is saying or not. The simple fact that there are people out there that will believe what he is saying because of their shared religion is what makes him and religious people like him as dangerous as someone actively trying to destroy the world and everything the human race has built.

Slap a generator on that spin

I can't help but wonder whether Jim Inhofe actually believes the things he says or not. If he believes the things he says then he is one dangerous person to have in political power. If he doesn't, then he is even more dangerous because he has no interest in the truth or the people that the truth will hurt.

In a statement Jim Inhofe gave to the U.S. Senate Comitee on Environment and Public Works: "Climate Change: It’s Happening Now." he said:
Most meteorologists agree [with Allison MacFarlane, when she was asked about whether she thought the tornadoes in Oklahoma or Hurricane Sandy were extreme weather events, she said, “I would not call these events extreme. I would call them normal."]. A recent study by George Mason University reported that 63% of weathercasters believe that any global warming that occurs is the result of “natural variation” and not “human activities.” That is a significant two-to-one majority.
Here is a quote from the study (pdf) that Sen. Inhofe is referring to:
Weathercasters hold a wide range of beliefs about global warming.
Survey participants responded to a variety of questions assessing their beliefs in and attitudes about “global warming,” questions that have been used previously in our public opinion research. More than half of our respondent (54%) indicated that global warming is happening, 25% indicated it isn’t, and 21% say
they don’t know yet. About one-third (31%) reported that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, while almost two-thirds (63%) reported it is caused mostly by natural changes in
the environment. Half indicated that they have thought “a lot” about global warming, and a large majority said they are fairly or very well informed about the causes of global warming (93%), the consequences of global warming (89%), and the ways to reduce global warming (86%)—numbers that are much higher than public responses to the same questions. Over half of weathercasters indicated that humans could reduce global warming (58%), and that the U.S. should reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do (63%). Almost half (47%) felt they needed some or a lot more information before forming a firm opinion about global warming, and almost one-third (30%) said they could easily change their mind about global warming. Just over one quarter (27%) agreed with the statement by a prominent TV weathercaster: “global warming is a scam.”
The picture that the study paints -- even the paragraph that Sen. Inhofe quote mined -- shows that meteorologists are geared more toward doing something about global climate change (or global warming if you prefer) than are geared toward ignoring it. And only about one in four think that "global warming is a scam".

But there is more to this study than that. The study was done to gauge what the meteorologists knew about global climate change. It is climate scientists that are doing the science on global climate change, not meteorologists. This was a study to see if the meteorologists were keeping up with what the climate scientists were learning. And while the study shows that the meteorologists are better informed as a group that the average American citizen, they still have a long way to go.

The very next paragraph from the study demonstrates the problem. Sen. Inhofe would have been much more truthful to report this:
Only one third of TV weathercasters believe that there is a scientific consensus on climate change. Despite the strong scientific consensus among climate scientists, almost two-thirds (61%) of TV weathercasters think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening. Perhaps partly as a result, 79% of our respondents indicated that coverage of climate change science must reflect a “balance” of viewpoints just as coverage of political or social issues are covered. Prior research conducted by others, however, has shown that “balanced” news coverage about climate change is misleading in that it tends to give audience members the false impression that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.
Yes, global warming is happening. The science of the cause of global warming isn't new. The science has been well understood for quite some time. Greenhouse gasses make the atmosphere warmer. No one except the scientifically illiterate and the completely deluded would deny that. The deeper Jim Inhofe digs trying to find reputable people that believe the same way as he does, the more he will look like the bottom feeder that he is.

But you don't have to take my word for it. The study (pdf) isn't that long, and the findings aren't difficult to understand. Go read the study and you will discover just how much Jim Inhofe has to quote out of context to even bend the non-scientists to his viewpoint.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nokia, the best hardware you will never buy

Everyone seems quick to jump on the blame-anyone-but-Nokia-for-their-problems train, but I think the burden of Nokia's problems fall squarely on their shoulders.

Forbes reports:
I’ve been carrying a yellow Lumia 920 for about 8 months now and it is easy to spot in my purse. The battery life is spectacular compared to the phone it replaced.  The screen is easy to see and read.  Turn it 90 degrees and you can even read it with polarizing sunglasses when outside. Yellow was the theme of the day right down to yellow converse sneakers. Great excitement greeted the demonstration and the jaded journalists there applauded at different features. It was clear the phone was impressive and a hit.
And later in the article, they report:
It is hard to believe that Stephen Elop has now been at NOK for almost three years. He was correct in his initial assessment that the company was standing on the oft quoted ” burning platform” and needed to take drastic action.  He jettisoned almost all the company had left including its Symbian platform that was incapable of moving Nokia into the evolving future .  His options were really to become 1. another “me,too” Android offering or 2. to attempt to build an entirely new ecosystem around the Windows platform. Elop chose the later, tougher path but the only one which offered any chance of winning long term with something unique. Now that Samsung is so dominating the Android universe, by now any attempt at another Android phone would have left no hope for Nokia at all.
Which one is it? Is the phone hardware so great that it puts the phone in a class by itself, or is the software that needs to be different in order for them to build their own class?

I admit that I am bias. I was a faithful user of Nokia products up until they could no longer provide the features I needed on their phones.

Where I live we still suffer from spotty coverage due to the enormous distance between towns. Short of putting in cellular towers that support only one or two subscribers, you are going to find dead spots. When this happens, you want a handset that will be made to the most exacting quality so that it can get a signal when no other handset will. Those handsets were always Nokia.

I used Nokia handsets long after they had gone out of style simply because they were incredibly rugged and able to make calls where every other phone failed. I eventually had to give them up for a modern phone.

When Nokia had to choose between Android and Windows Mobile, I was really hoping they would choose Android. I knew that Nokia had the very best hardware, but I also wanted the very best software to go along with it. The software that I wanted was Android. They were the only ones that had a chance of getting the apps to compete with Apple.

Things haven't changed since then. You either use an Apple or an Android phone. There is no one else that has the apps, consumer backing, developer backing to make a splash in today's market.

When Nokia was making its decision, it had a place in the market. It was, and arguably still is, the best hardware manufacturer on the market today. If they hadn't hobbled themselves with software that no one is willing to use, it might be them as the leading Android manufacturer instead of Samsung. As it is, they manufacture the best hardware that no one will buy.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gun visibility to save a life?

I, like many people in the United States, have been thinking about the George Zimmerman/Trevon Martin confrontation. I wonder what kind of a culture we have created when society tells black boys and men that they must actively work to save their own lives at all times. I weep at the thought of the tension being so great between people of color and the police that people of color follow different rules from the rest of us when they are pulled over. I am dumfounded that a person can be considered suspicious for simply walking or driving no differently than someone that has a much lower volume of melanin in their skin.

I also wonder what would have needed to be different for the tragedy to be avoided, and apparently I'm not the only one. Ryan Grim, at the Huffington Post, wrote about six (or seven) things that could have changed the outcome of the Zimmerman/Martin encounter.

I was initially expecting the list to be things that Trevon Martin should have done differently. After all, it seems that society expects people of color to act impossibly innocent or be considered guilty by birth. What I didn't suspect was a rational list of what could have (and should have) been done to avoid an innocent death.

One of the things that jumped out at me was this suggestion:
4. If Zimmerman's weapon had not been hidden, Martin probably would have dealt with him differently.
When a man follows another, tensions rise. One way or another, those tensions led to a physical confrontation. But if Florida law barred concealed carry, Martin would have been able to see that Zimmerman was armed. Zimmerman defenders suspect Martin threw the first punch. But even if that's true, would he have done so if he knew Zimmerman was carrying a loaded weapon?
I live in the heart of gun culture. Every type of firearm that can legally be owned -- and some that can't be legally owned -- are all around me. It isn't uncommon for me to visit with someone that has an AK-47 in the front seat of their vehicle. In fact, there are very few vehicles on the road that don't have some kind of firearm in them. But the thought of switching from concealed carry permits to open carry permits simply for safety reasons? I hadn't thought of that.

I realize that open carry brings on a different set of problems. When someone is carrying a firearm in the open it is much more likely to be taken away from them. That could put them and those around them in more danger from people bent on committing acts of violence. At the same time, people that aren't intent on committing acts of violence can see that the person carrying a firearm is actually supporting a dangerous and potentially unstable condition through their choices.

I hate the thought of open carry laws being the best solution to protect ourselves from the gun nuts, but perhaps that is what we are reduced to. It would have probably saved at least one innocent life, and it could hardly make things more dangerous for the people of color that just want to live their lives in peace.

Of course there is a better solution. We could have better safety laws for firearms, better background checks, and fewer concealed or open carry laws. We could update our expectations from the wild west and bring society into the modern age. We could set up a society where everyone doesn't have to look at their fellow humans and wonder whether they are out to kill them or not.

Hmm, that seems like the best solution to me. Let's make a society where we are all safe and we don't have to fear that our neighbors are out to kill us. Let's create a society where firearms aren't brandished as a sign to tell those around us that we are ready, able, and willing to kill them regardless of whether it is right or wrong. It may be true that if George Zimmerman had telegraphed his intentions to kill Trevon Martin by openly carrying his gun that Trevon Martin might be alive today. But the better solution is to remove the gun from the equation all together.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Obamacare and the employers

It is frustrating to hear Republicans complaining about what Obamacare is going to do for the people in the future. Brevard Times has an article that gives us a perfect example to work with:
“Gatorland has 135 full-time employees. Gatorland currently pays 80 percent of the insurance cost for these employees," [U.S. Senator (R-FL) Marco] Rubio said. "But now under ObamaCare, evidently what they are doing is not going to be enough.  ObamaCare, first of all, requires them not just to provide insurance but to provide for them a certain type of insurance, a type of insurance that the government has decided is enough."
If this is indeed the case, then I suspect that the insurance that is being provided for the employees is virtually worthless.

My company provides me with what's called Mini-medical insurance. It has a relatively high deductible and a yearly cap on what it will pay. In addition, it won't cover many of the procedures I might find myself needing from a doctor or hospital.

I might have an insurance card in my purse, and it gives me less blank lines when I'm filling out paperwork for the doctor, but many hospitals put my in the category of uninsured because the insurance is so restricted. I could easily do better by paying my own medical bills without the insurance provided by my employer; the money I would save on premiums would more than pay for the substandard coverage provided by my insurance company.

One thing that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) does is to eliminate mini-medical insurance from the offerings. Since mini-medical isn't enough to actually help anyone, there is no point in pretending like it does. Obamacare is essentially telling employers that they have to provide real insurance instead of smoke and mirror policies.

The working people of America need real medical care, not the scraps that some employer decides they will throw our way. If we are going to end the cycle of sick people skipping care until they have to go the emergency room and leave the debt to the hospital, then we have to provide workers with something that will actually pay for their medical care. Any employer that wants to provide their employees with less is simply taking advantage of other people's needs so they can line their own pockets.

Obamacare didn't go far enough, but it is the best that we have right now. If the politicians (I'm looking at you Republicans) actually wanted to help the American people, they should be looking at how to get people even better insurance instead of trying to eliminate the progress we are making toward a better, and more healthy future for everyone.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Textual gems: Tiffanie Drayton

I survived because I was never able to make America my home. I never watched my childhood neighborhood become whitened by helicopter lights in search of criminals or hipsters in search of apartments. No state, city or town has been a mother to me, cradling generations of my family near her bosom, to then be destroyed by unemployment or poverty. No school system had the time or opportunity to relegate me to “remedial,” “rejected” or “unteachable.” I never accepted the misogynistic, drug-infested, stripper-glamorizing, hip-hop culture that is force-fed to black youths through square tubes. I am not a product of a state of greatness but a byproduct of emptiness.
It would be so easy to make others a part of our American family. If we could just get past the othering of people, we might create a country where the people we are are discarding could make the country great again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

You can't rely on Satan any more than God

The recent hubbub out of Texas has demonstrated that the Satanic church is split on moral issues as Yahweh's church.

The New York Post reports:

On the one hand you have the High Priest of the New York-based Church of Satan saying that Satanists are firmly in the pro-choice camp, according to a CNN report.
This seems like a pretty unambiguous statement to me. But this statement isn't the end. Just a little further down in the article a different branch (if it actually exists) has the following to say:
A few days later the UK Satanists expanded on their views.

    Why wouldn't Satanism be pro-life? What else is there? We are all free to make choices. Agreeable or not. Everyone is entitled to choice.
Hmm. This is a tough choice indeed. It seems exceedingly difficult to determine exactly where nonexistent entities stand on the various issues. I guess we'll just have to settle for our own human morality and make the gods come down here and explain for themselves if they have different opinions.

Link: I can't believe they said that on TV

They must be getting their information from Bart Simpson.

Video of pilots names.