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.

Link: how ethnic groups are voting

This New York Times opinion piece gives a breakdown of how the different groups are voting:

"Despite occasional attempts to widen its appeal, the GOP has effectively defined itself as the party of white Christians — and there are still a lot of historical memories that go with that definition."

Link: Malala speaks at the UN

We would all do good to have even a portion of the bravery and spirit of Malala.

From USA Today:

"My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same and my dreams are the same," she said. "I am not against anyone. Nor am I here to speak against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak up for the right to education of every child."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Who shouldn't allow whom in the restroom

I didn't want to write about this. I want to ignore it like I have in the past, but my mind just won't let me. The misunderstandings inflicted upon trans people by the general population is staggering, and it doesn't seem to be getting better. There is even an argument to be made that the treatment of trans people is getting worse as the public becomes more and more aware of us and it is more difficult to just be left alone to go about our lives.

LGBTQ Nation is reporting that Alex Wilson, a nursing assistant going to school to become a licensed practical nurse, has been threatened to be jailed and kicked out of the nursing program if she continues to use the restroom congruent with her gender.

Until Monday, Wilson said she has been using the women’s facilities, but that came to an end after another student complained to the school’s administration, reported WFLA-TV.

Wilson said she was pulled out of class and told her alternatives: “If I continue to use the female restroom that I would have charges pressed against me. And that because of that I would be removed from the program as a nurse.”

The thing that bothers me so much about this is the implicit idea that trans people are somehow the 'other' in all things. When we go to the bathroom, it can't be just to use the facilities, there must be some other reason. While most people won't put a reason on to it, the ones that do seem to think we use the restroom for sexual gratification instead of out of necessity.

The people that shouldn't be allowed in the restroom are the ones that sexualize the thought of using the restroom and then try to use the power of the state to prevent other people from carrying out a biologically necessary function. That's right: if no one has done anything out of the ordinary in the restroom and you still think you should complain about them? You are the one that needs to be restricted to a special, single occupancy restroom across campus.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Moving a house to make a home

Pat and I will be moving before too long. Neither one of us are much for upsetting our routine, but the time has come.

Pat and I live in a little shit-hole. The trailer park we live in looks like it has roads that were imported from Iraq just after operation 'Shock and Awe'. Some of the holes are large enough that they will swallow anything smaller than a midsized four wheel drive. You can forget about getting smaller down here.

But it isn't just the roads. Since we have been here we have replaced the electricity, air conditioner, water, and eventually the trailer house simply because the landlord wouldn't fix them. We did it because we didn't have any choice.

A little over ten years ago I inherited some land and we tried to move out trailer to it. Unfortunately the land was nothing more than pasture land. There weren't any utilities at all around the area. There was no electricity, water, sewer, or natural gas anywhere close to the property.

At the time, we thought we could afford to pay to have the utilities brought in and we could move. We were wrong.

We were told that the rural water lines were only about a quarter of a mile away when we were planning our budget. When we contacted the rural water company, we discovered that we had to bring the water about a mile to our property.

What could we do? We had to have water, and since the property was heavily drilled for oil, natural gas was extracted using fracking, and there were saltwater injection wells still running all over the property, we didn't want to take the chance of getting a good water well. Besides; regardless of how crazy it sounds, I like clean, tested, monitored, and fluoridated water.

The sewer system turned out to be just as problematic as the water. We were required to do a perc test prior to having a sewer system installed. It failed. Failing the perc test doesn't mean that you can't install a sewer system, it just means that you have to install an expensive system instead of one that relies on the natural absorption of the ground to function as disposal portion of the sewer system.

Finally we tried to install electricity on the place. I thought electricity would be easier since there was already electric lines on the property for oil wells. I was wrong. The electric lines that supply the oil wells potentially run at a different voltage and can't be used for residential electricity.

Electricity was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. We were already out of money, we didn't have any utilities finished, we couldn't borrow anything from the bank because the land was undivided, and we still had to have thousands of dollars to move our trailer house. And that doesn't even begin to solve the logistical problem of where Pat and I would sleep when the trailer was in the process of being moved or where we would store our stuff since the trailer has to be empty to haul it.

With empty bank accounts and broken dreams, we were forced to stay right where we were.

Fast forward a little over ten years. We have given up television and every other luxury that we could to save money. Pat inherited a little bit of money from her family. We paid off every bill that we had. The had the land that I inherited divided so we have a clear deed on it. We saved enough for a down payment. And we are building on all the partial work that we had to abandon over ten years ago. The end result is that we should be moving in about three weeks.

Moving is going to take every penny that we have, and working with contractors that can't give firm estimates for costs is a little frightening. We ran out of money before and had to give up on the move. If things fall apart this time, we won't live long enough to move to our place.

On top of that, we don't have the money to finish everything like it should be finished. There is no money to fence the yard from the rest of the cow pasture, and there is no money to pay for skirting, porches and ramps will have to wait, and the driveway will remain mud and clay.

None of the downsides matter to me. Pat's health won't stand a move if we wait too much longer. I also suspect that if we can actually get out there, we will be able to finish the rest of the work over a period of time. Getting out there is our last hope and dream. Moving takes the place of every vacation we skipped; years of television, movie theaters, and restaurants; and any perks that couldn't be paid for from pocket change.

Pat feels like this is her last chance to get to our place where she can live in peace. I would try to steal the stars if it would put a sparkle in her eyes. Dreams don't die easily. We will move out there or we will go broke trying.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Kansas insurers threaten to pull coverage from schools over firearms

USA Today is reporting that Kansas is having trouble finding insurance for schools that allow firearms in schools.

"Insurers simply don't know how to price the added risk yet, he said, but they know it's there."

So far it seems like none of the schools are allowing teachers or janitors to carry firearms in school. Let's hope they keep it that way for r the students' sake.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Is your mobile data being sold?

Tech Crunch has an article about changes to AT&T's privacy policy. They are thinking about selling your data to advertisers. Little did I realize that all the other major mobile phone carriers were already selling your data.

This isn't the end of the world, I suppose. It's nothing like what the NSA is doing, but it is one more drop in the bucket and erodes our privacy just a little bit more. The good news is that it's easy to opt out. All you have to do is follow the link to your phone company (all the major carriers are included) and add your choice to not participate in their program.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tim Huelskamp Introduces Anti-Marriage Constitutional Amendment

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) introduced a bill that he hopes will change the US Constitution to better represent his anti-gay views. Of course there is no chance that, in today's climate, the Constitution could ever be amended in such a way.

As near as I can tell, the main purpose for the bill is to give Rep. Huelskamp something to show the voters back home. It also provides a vehicle for other like-minded politicians to tout their anti-gay views for their constituents.  The Huffington Post has the following Representatives listed as cosponsors:

... Its cosponsors include Republican Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), John Fleming (La.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Ralph Hall (Texas), Andy Harris (Md.), Randy Hultgren (Ill.), Sam Johnson (Texas), Walter Jones (N.C.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), James Lankford (Okla.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Randy Neugebauer (Texas), Steven Palazzo (Miss.), Stevan Pearce (N.M.), Robert Pittenger (N.C.), Joe Pitts (Pa.), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Bill Shuster (Pa.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Steve Stockman (Texas), Tim Walberg (Mich.), Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) and Frank Wolf (Va.)

Including Rep. Huelskamp himself, that makes the map of elected officials seeking to write their own prejudicial views into the US Constitution looking something like this:

The red area isn't limited to the Bible belt, even if it includes most of it. Nor is the red area limited to the South, again, even if it includes most of it. What it does show us is the place where we, the people for equality, need to do the most work. Here is where they are still electing anti-equality legislatures. Here is where we need the most help from the kind, decent, and caring people to help bring the entire United States into the light of freedom for all.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The House divided and fractured

I knew that the Republican party was fractured, but I never really thought about it from this perspective (Washington Post).

"Others point to the effects of redistricting, the decennial drawing of congressional lines across the country that, over the past several decades, has made the vast majority of House members untouchable in general elections because of the clear partisan lean of their districts. The only thing they fear, politically speaking, is a challenge from the ideological right in a primary, and they protect against that possibility by hewing as closely as they can to the desires of the conservative base."