Friday, June 28, 2013

Freaky Friday News: June 28, 2013

Plants Do Division

Earlier this week, there were several headlines proclaiming that "Plants Do Maths" because of some recently published research.  Always curious, I read a few articles before getting a bit frustrated because of the lack of explanation.  How do plants perform math?  And what math are they talking about?

I did a bit more research, and found the answer explained in paragraph of text.  Sigh.  Math is not English, folks.  That's why the words look nothing alike.  So without further ado, here's the formula that plants use:

F / T = G
where F = remaining food  
T = remaining time until daylight
G = rate of growth

The really cool thing here is that plants have a biological process that continually and dynamically calculates the rate of growth.  Scientists tried to trick the plants by faking early night and introducing an hour or two of sunlight in the middle of the night.  But the plants adjusted their growth to the conditions.

The implications of this finding is a bit overwhelming.  How many other living creatures uses math in their biological processes to regulate the consumption of food or other important tasks?  And can we use this knowledge to understand human biology better?

Texas Mom Runs Over Would-Be Thief

The kick-butt story of the week comes from Texas.  Dorothy Baker, a mother of six, took two of her kids shopping last week.  After exiting a CVS and driving away, a man pops out from the back of the minivan and demands money.  Here's where the story gets a bit confusing, because the news articles I read state slightly different accounts.  But what everyone agrees on is:

  1. Dorothy called 911 on her cell phone.
  2. The man threatened the kids, then came to the front of the van.
  3. Dorothy wrestled the knife away from the man and punched him in the face.
  4. She kicks the man out of her van.
  5. She ran him over in an attempt to stop him from hurting anyone else.
Let that soak in a minute - she ran him over with her minivan.

Dude, when I grow up, I want to be like Dorothy Baker.  It doesn't matter that the man is a convicted rapist; in fact who this man is is irrelevant.  What matters is Dorothy Baker protected her kids and those around her.

So here's a huge hat tip to Dorothy Baker.  If you ever make it to Atlanta, I will buy you a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Toyota Still Helping Out Victims of Hurricane Sandy

While most people and corporations stopped donating time and money to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, Toyota is still helping out. Earlier this year, Toyota made a video of how they helped a local food bank streamline their processes of packaging and delivering food to people in Rockaway (a part of Queens). Now, Toyota will pay for one meal for every view of the video, up to one million views.

So far, the video has just under 800,000 views, but I'm certain it will reach the million mark before July 19th, especially with your help.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Freaky Friday: June 21, 2013

Welcome to this Friday's edition of Freaky News!  Today we have:


Boston School District Hands Out Condoms

In a show of common sense, the Boston School Committee voted unanimously to hand out free condoms in their 17 high schools.  A student needs to ask and attend a quick talk about safe sex. Then the condoms will flow!

I love that the school board is trying a logical, practical approach to lowering teenage pregnancy rates as well as the rates of STDs. I know that some people worry that providing condoms will increase teenage sex, but I have never read anything that supports this speculation.  Just the opposite, there is evidence that condom availability only influences whether or not a teen uses one (Guttmacher S, Lieberman L, Ward D, et al. Condom availability in New York City public high schools: relationships to condom use and sexual behavior. Am J Public Health 1997; 87:1427- 1433.)

Supreme Court Rejects AIDS Funding Law

In 2003, the US government attempted to remove funding for organizations that operate overseas but do not have blanket policies against prostitution and sex trafficking.  When I first heard about this law, I naively thought it sounded good.  But organizations such as Pathfinders International objected to the law, and they sued the government.  The case bounced around our court system, with the law never becoming enacted.  Now that the Supreme Court rejected the law, it will never be enacted.

My question was - why?   What's wrong with an organization that objects to sex trafficking?

The answer?  Because these organizations are trying to reach out to everyone and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, and if they are forced to denounce prostitution and sex trafficking they will be limited in the good that they do.  As you can see in this chart, HIV/AIDS is still a worldwide epidemic.  We need to educate people about condoms and safe sex if we want to end this problem once and for all.

North Carolina Repeals Law About Racial Bias

The governor of North Carolina signed a law that repeals the Racial Justice Act.  I've read many articles that presume the governor wants to restart executing people in North Carolina, and that this is the first step towards that goal.

I feel torn about this act.  On one hand, our current criminal justice system is demonstrably biased against non-white people.  The Michigan State University College of Law even did a study on how North  Carolina and the racial bias present in charging, jury selection, and sentencing stages of a trial.  Racial discrimination is a fact in North Carolina's legal system.

But I do not think that the Racial Justice Act truly provided any "justice".  First off, a person had to be on death row.  What about all the people who are serving long sentence terms unjustly?  Second, instead of giving a person a retrial, the act merely changed a death sentence to life in prison.  In the end, I feel the law tried to sweep the problem under the carpet by moving someone from a more visible position to anonymity in the general population.

What North Carolina needs is a new way to deal with racial bias, a way the frees innocent men and women while making it harder for an innocent person to get sent to prison in the first place.  For as Sir William Blackstone said:

HPV Vaccine Works!

Researchers published a study this week finding that the HPV vaccine has cut the number of infected people by 56% in the four short years since its introduction to the general public.  This high number comes even though this vaccine has not been received well.

I find this news encouraging, because the transmission of HPV is preventable.  I know this vaccine will not eradicate cancer in the uterus, mouth, or throat.  But we as a society can greatly reduce these types of cancer.  So here's to science getting it done.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Madness!

An Anatomically-Correct Gargoyle??!?

A man in Arizona, David Smith, created a stir in his new neighborhood by placing a nine-foot tall metal statue of a gargoyle in his front yard.  The problem is that Mr. Smith attempted to make the gargoyle anatomically correct.  You can read up on the specifics on a variety of news websites, but what I find funny is that no one has asked the important question here.

How does Mr. Smith know what an anatomically correct gargoyle look like?

After all, gargoyles are not real.  A male gargoyle might look like a female until time to procreate.  Then he might suddenly have a violin sprout between his legs, that magically transforms into a bar of dark chocolate that the female eats to get pregnant.  It's all make believe.
Here's a happy dance for you!!!

Arizona Haters Smacked Down by Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court rejected the Arizona law requiring people to provide proof of US citizenship to register for federal elections.  I actually did a little happy dance for this one, because that law did not come out of reason or rational thought, but out of hate and fear.

FBI Still Searching for Jimmy Hoffa

Proving they never stop, the FBI is still searching for Jimmy Hoffa's body, this time in a field about 20 miles north of Detroit.  In 2008, a man called Tony Zerilli left prison.  An alleged mobster, Zerilli claimed to know where the body was buried.  The FBI investigated the claims, and now have a court warrant to search a large field for a shallow grave or for other signs of human decomposition.

While these actions might seem like madness, I think it's important for the FBI to continue to work cold cases.  Maybe they can provide any remaining family members with a real answer as to what happened to Mr. Hoffa.  Maybe they can send a message to other criminals out there that no matter how much they try, the FBI will always follow up and will find answers.  Maybe the general public just needs to know that the FBI cares enough to not give up, even on someone like Jimmy Hoffa.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The CIA and Facebook Walk Into a Bar....

Two years ago, the Onion New Network did a parody of Facebook and the CIA.  They reported on how the CIA extended the funding for their biggest information gathering platform - Facebook.

When I first saw this video, I laughed out loud.  Who would have thought that the Onion News Network actually came close to the truth?

While some people think that the CIA has a connection to Facebook, I find the facts scary enough without attempting to add in potential back door connections.  The fact that I'm speaking of?  In 1999, the CIA created its own venture capital company, In-Q-Tel, for the purpose of utilizing the private sector to create new technologies applicable to intelligence gathering. (For more information, see the CIA website.)

To be clear here, that means that the CIA is using tax money from the American people to create technology to spy on the American people.

Since 1999, In-Q-Tel has contributed to over 130 technological advances that help intelligence gathering, from creating longer-lasting, smaller batteries to facial recognition software to quantum computers to Keyhole, satellite-mapping software. Google bought Keyhole in  2004, and renamed it Google Earth.  In fact, Google based not only Google Earth, but Google Maps and all of its associated services on Keyhole.

If you want more information, you can find a list of all the companies currently working with In-Q-Tel here.  You can also find similar information on Wikipedia.

Before you point out that the CIA focuses on foreign intelligence gathering, let me ask you a question.  Do you really think that the FBI, CIA, and NSA don't share resources and technologies?  In fact, I hypothesize that the intelligence community might have picked the CIA to begin In-Q-Tel to make the situation more palatable for the tax payers.  Think about it - what kind of uproar would have happened if the NSA or FBI said that they want new ways to spy on Americans?

The big question is:  What will we do now?  Do we keep rolling over, accepting the false statement that safety trumps liberties?  Or do we fight to get our liberties back?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: "Dead Ever After" by Charlaine Harris

Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse, #13)Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Dead Ever After" begins right after "Deadlocked" ended. Sam's recovering from his death and rebirth, Sookie wonders what is happening with Eric, and Eric is still dealing with his marriage contract to Freyda, Queen of Oklahoma. Overall, the book begins on a depressing note that doesn't lift until the very end.

Ms. Harris changes the format of this book, having different chapters narrated by different characters. I like how this lets the reader hear first hand all the intricacies of plot as they happen, as opposed to a second-hand telling afterwards. And intricacies abound here, as various people from the past novels show up, all with one thing in mind - kill Sookie.

(Side note: There are a few "mystery" characters here that I had to look up as I read, because I'd forgotten who these people where.)

The main plot of this book revolves around Sookie discovering who is trying so hard to kill her, and around Sookie trying to sort out her love life. I liked the parts in which Sookie has to defend herself, if nothing else because so many people who Sookie has helped show up to offer her support. It's nice to see how many come together when Sookie needs a hand. I dislike the parts in which Sookie thinks about and interacts with Eric. Considering how much they have been through, how much Eric and Sookie love each other, I found this story dissatisfying.

I must admit, though I've enjoyed reading about Sookie and her adventures, I feel it's time for it to end. Ms. Harris seems to have run out of steam in this universe, and I look forward to reading what she writes next.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 10, 2013

False Freedom

This past week, the ugly truth about the NSA and our federal government stole headlines as people realize that all of our Internet communication, from emails to blog posts to status updates, has been collected indiscriminately by those who should be protecting our privacy and liberty.

I have known for years that the government collected information directly from the Internet, in black boxes hooked up directly to the T1s and other data lines that create the backbone.  These boxes appeared with no warning, and no oversight.   A quick installation and bam!  Instant access to... well, everything.

What the media has so far missed is that the federal government has been spying on its citizens since the 1990s, well before even George W. Bush became president.  Someone smartly decided that the Internet would be huge, and put in these boxes early on.  Who knows how many terabytes of data the government has already collected.

The question now is - what are we going to do about it?  Listen to politicians tell us that they didn't know?  Or listen to the White House claim, "What we're doing is right"?

Because at this very moment, we live in a gilded cage, a false freedom paraded about to keep you from looking at the bars.  Instead of ensuring we have the blessings of liberty, we have the confines of fake security.  The worst part is that we, the American people, have passively accepted the loss of liberty and the loss of privacy, until each new loss seems normal, more of the same, and not a gross violation of the trust put into the government.

We took off our shoes to get onto an airplane, even though no one successfully snuck anything onto a plane in their shoes.  We allow nursing mothers to be harassed about pumped milk, because every bottle with a liquid in it might be explosive.  We fear serial killers, locking our children indoors everyday instead of allowing them freedom to roam.  We allow the police to break someone's cell phone if that person videos the officer breaking the law.  We allow the police to violently break up peaceful demonstrations, using torture holds and pepper spray.

Now we allow the government to spy on American citizens without a warranty, and we have allowed this for years.

I fear the land of the free is just a mirage, kept up so that those in power can keep their power.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Remember Soldiers and War

I must have written this post a dozen times, but each time I deleted it because it didn't quite fit what I want to say.  So I apologize for the lateness.

Every Memorial Day, I feel a bit strange about the whole picnic and pool party scene.  I like going to hang out with friends as much as the next person, but I feel conflicted about our country's current military situation.  We are in wars that are based on lies and prejudices; our politicians seem poised on the verge of getting us into more military conflicts; veterans affairs does not have enough resources to help our current set of veterans, nevertheless those waiting for a discharge.

The problem is that while I support the men and women who volunteer to protect our country, I don't think our country supports them enough.  I understand the need for a military (though I think we as humans can overcome this need, but that's a different conversation), and I understand the need to show strength on the world stage.  But every time we engage in a military conflict, be it a "police action" or war, our soldiers get hurt.  Some get hurt physically; most sustain emotional and mental damage.  According to leading psychological theory, the training our soldiers go through does make them feel as a unit, as if everyone in their branch is a brother or sister.  The upside of this training - cohesive forces.  The downside - everyone feels guilt/stress if someone gets hurt.

This guilt or stress, known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), manifests as anger or depression.  It manifests suicide, domestic violence, and public outbursts.  Veteran Affairs calculated that about 22 veterans commit suicide every day.  The rates for domestic violence in relationships with a veteran are at least three times that of the general public. About two months ago, someone uploaded this video, showing a very angry man kicking the door of a minivan and using vulgarities.  He's a Marine at a local base who served in the Middle East.  Last December, a drunk Marine verbally and physically attacked a taxi driver.

I know that some out there will think that these men represent the outliers.  But to date, approximately 48,000 to 49,000 soldiers have been either wounded or killed since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan. During that same period, Veteran Affairs diagnosed over 200,000 soldiers with PTSD.  The problem is so large that the VA created a specialized website with information for returning soldiers and their families.

The point here is that war is more than numbers, weapons, and political statements.  War fundamentally changes those who fight in it, those who participate in any part of it. Even people who look whole on the outside are changed on the inside.  If we want to honor those who died for our country, we need to ensure that we value the lives of those men and women now standing on the line, and not engage in avoidable conflicts.

Freaky Friday News: Unicorn Licenses

Los Angeles County Gives a Young Resident a Unicorn License Last month, a resident of Los Angeles county, Miss Madeline, sent a handwritte...