Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Bit of Philosophy: What is the Truth?

I heard a story once about a man in a psychiatric ward who thought he was Napoleon.  One day, the man told the doctors that he was cured.  So the doctors hooked  him up to a polygraph and asked him if he was Napoleon.  The man answered no, but the machine said he was lying.

While I like the story for the general humor of the situation, I think it brings up a valuable point about humans:

If someone wants to believe something enough, he can convince himself it's the truth regardless of reality.
Think about it a minute.  There is a group of people who believe the earth is flat, contrary to an overabundance of scientific evidence to the contrary.  You can visit the Flat Earth Society and visit the International Flat Earth Society's forums (website still coming).  Despite evidence to the contrary, people also believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, going so far as to present what is supposed to be a logical "proof" to back up their belief.  A recent poll showed that about 20% of Americans still believe in witches, as in Samantha and Sabrina.  People also believe that the rotational patterns of giant balls of gas millions and billions of miles away from Earth effect their own, individual personal lives (astrology), that the sun rotates around the Earth, that people rode dinosaur (Creation Museum), that people leave ghosts when they die, and that the Loch Ness Monster will someday be found.  If you put aside your desire for these things to be true,  your desire for those giant balls of gas to excuse your behavior and bad luck, your desire for magic and magical answers, and look at what's around you, really look, you will see how silly these beliefs are.

Voliva's flat earth map. Modern Mechanics and Invention, October, 1931.
But most people never look.  They never realize that Santa Claus is a great game of make-believe between parents and their kids.  They spend so much time trying to justify and artificially quantify the insanity that they don't have the time or energy to focus on their own lives.  Because with a little bit of effort and a lot of belief, you can make astrology real to yourself. Then BAM!  Instant excuse for the crap in your life and eternal promises of "It will be better tomorrow".  It all depends on what you want the truth to be. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Freaky Friday News: March 21, 2014

New Happiness Study: Google Got it Right

Last month, the University of Warwick released a study called "Happiness and Productivity".  In the study, they set about gathering evidence to either confirm or deny the belief that happier employees are more productive employees.  Not surprising, it turns out that happy employees are on average 12% more productive than neutral employees, while unhappy employees are less productive.  Or as Google so succinctly put it:
We want to make your life better and easier.
Here’s the secret sauce to our benefits and perks: It’s all about removing barriers so Googlers can focus on the things they love, both inside and outside of work. We’re constantly searching for unique ways to improve the health and happiness of our Googlers

Fred Phelps is Dead, but Bigotry Lives on!

Susanne Atanus
Fred Phelps Sr. from the Westboro Baptist Church died this week at the age of 84.  But fear not, his particular brand of bigotry continues to haunt us.  First, Susanne Atanus won the Republican primary for the Chicago area's 9th Congressional District.  Atanus is on record as stating that natural disasters and mental disorders, such as autism, are God's punishment for our advancements in LGBT equality.  

Next, Dr. James David Manning of the ATLAH Missionary Worldwide Church in Harlem put the following messages up on the church billboard:
Obama has released the homo demons on the black man.  Look out black woman. A white homo may take your man.
Jesus would stone homos 
A local lesbian, Jennifer Louise Lopez, dropped by the church and asked for her stoning.  As of now, they refuse to stone her.

Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick
Third, a group in Maryland who call themselves Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government (website at and Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick) are working hard to convince everyone if the Fairness for All Marylanders Act passes (making discrimination against transgender people illegal), then women everywhere will be attacked by cross-dressing men in bathrooms.  On the positive side, over 70% of Maryland residents support the act.

If only we had a vaccination for bigotry...

Alabama State Congress Approves Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana

That's right, folks.  In a move that shows Alabama is more than just country music, the state congress passed a bill called Carly's law, after a toddler who needs the medical marijuana to help treat her seizure disorder.  The governor has indicated he will sign the bill, making the state the 21st to allow medical marijuana usage.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Legacy of Fred Phelps Sr.

Update: Added link to the Patriot Guard Riders website.

News emerged this past week from Kansas - Fred Phelps Sr. of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) fame is dying. After 66 years serving as a minister, 58 years leading his own primitive Baptist church, 23 years of leading public protests, acting as one of the subjects of 2 BBC programs (The Most Hated Family in America, 2007, and America's Most Hated Family in Crisis, 2011), parodied by Kevin Smith (Red State), and disbarred from practicing law, Phelps now lays dying in a hospice bed, excommunicated from his church and repudiated from some family members.  The excommunication came last August, when Phelps wanted to offer more kindness to church members and the church elders disagreed.  The repudiation is ongoing, as some of Phelps' children left the fold to heal from years of alleged violence and beatings. (Alleged only because no one has pressed charges.)

Yet this man, who enthusiastically spewed hatred and angry rhetoric at every opportunity, leaves behind a legacy not in the form of the WBC (which we all hope will soon fall apart without Phelps).  Instead, Phelps leaves behind the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcyclists who act as an honor guard at funerals.  He leaves behind Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act and the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, both of which set up boundaries for picketing military funerals.  Phelps leaves behind communities of people who might never have met or become friendly had they not needed to protect themselves from the WBC.  In the path of his hatred, people learned to be kind to one another and help one another.  By seeing his example, some may even have learned tolerance towards others.  That is Phelps' real legacy, the love and kindness created by communities in response to the WBC, the increased public support of gays and lesbians everywhere.

In light of this legacy, I will not be picketing Phelps' funeral or memorial service.  I only hope that we remember our tolerance and kindness from now on, and that society doesn't need another Fred Phelps Sr. to show us what happens when these attributes are lost.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Strandbeests - Living Art

Compilation from Strandbeest on Vimeo.

Theo Jansen creates these beautiful skeletons that walk across the sand with the wind. I find myself almost hypnotized by the movements.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Budapest Memorandums of Security Assurances, 1994

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had the third largest stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons in the world.  The country had more nuclear weapons that Britain, France, and China - combined!  To foster peace and help the world recover from the Cold war, the U.S., Russia, and United Kingdom got together in 1994 with Ukraine to hammer out a deal that dismantled Ukraine's nuclear weapons in exchange for some protections for Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.  These protections included acknowledgement and respect of each country's borders as stated in the first two provisions of the Budapest Memorandums of Security Assurances:
1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine;
 2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations;
Now Russia has broken the treaty with its brazen invasion of Crimea.  And what are we, the international community, doing about it?

Sadly, not enough.  We aren't publicly going after Russia's economy by upping our gas production to fulfill Europe's need.  We aren't publicly pushing for the U.N. to react to the situation.  We aren't publicly funding alternative fuel sources.  We haven't even put economic sanction in place yet.

I wonder if those in power know that we are potential playing right into Putin's hand.  After the lack of a strong international response to Georgia, Putin is betting on the same type of response now.  Without outwardly saying it, Putin is using Crimea and Ukraine to tell Belarus, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Moldavia that they need to play by his rules or thy will be next because no one is willing to stop him.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Little Brag about Homemade Stew

Blue Butterfly, back when she was 8

Last week a wonderful thing happened at home.  It was the end of a long day, and I didn't feel like cooking.  But dinner waits for no one, so I headed for the kitchen intent on finding something to make.  Low and behold, my lovely daughter, Blue Butterfly, volunteered to make dinner.  She said, "Don't worry, Mom. I'll just throw something together."

What she threw together was a wonderful, vegetable stew with three types of beans, corn, tomatoes, and a pinch of curry!  It smelled amazing, tasted amazing, and overall made a wonderful meal!  Not only that, but I have leftovers to eat for lunch. Mmmmm, mmmmm, good!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reality Mirrors Movies in Ukraine

In 1997, New Line Cinema released the movie "Wag the Dog".   The movie begins with scandal as an unnamed American president gets caught in a compromising situation 11 days before the next presidential election.  One of the president's advisers calls in a spin doctor, who arranges for a fake war on television to keep everyone attention off the real world scandal and focused on fantasy nonsense.  The movie title comes from this joke:
      Why does the dog wag its tail?
      Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
      If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog.

I couldn't help but compare the situation with Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea to this movie.  Ukraine wants to join NATO in an effort to better their economy and get all the benefits of a better economy (such as more stability).  But Russia doesn't want to lose an ally, so Putin sends troops into Crimea under the false pretense of hostility towards Russian nationals.  Putin thinks he's smarter than the rest of the world, so he is attempting to wag the dog.

As a result, Russian soldiers are being separated from the families and put into an awkward situation of not being at war and yet not being at peace.  Residents of Crimea are now fearful of the future.  Russian residents worry that Putin might be truthful and non-Russians will become violent towards them.  The Tatars worry that Russian will deport them from their homes again, if not worse.  Local media have been told to be quiet, stop reporting news.

Everyone in Crimea is now paying the price for Putin trying to wag the dog to keep Ukraine out of NATO.

How do we get Putin to pay instead?

I think we need to figuratively hit him where it hurts - his wallet.  We have the means to lower fuel prices and replace some of the fuel that Europe buys from Russia.  We also have the means to develop more technologies not reliant on fossil fuels.  We can work on LIFTR reactors to generate energy, then produce more electric cars to use said energy.  All we need to do is drop our prejudice against non-fossil fuel answers, act smarter than the tail, and reduce Putin's economic power.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review: "Half-Off Ragnarok" by Seanan McGuire

Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid, #3)Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Half-Off Ragnarok", as the third book in the InCryptid series, held certain expectations for me, in terms of characters and universe. Seanan McGuire not only delivered on those expectations, she knocked it out of the ballpark.

The book begins a few months after the last book ended, with Alex Price, Verity's brother, as the main character. Alex is working at the local zoo, officially studying frogs and reptiles in the local swamps, and unofficially basilisks and other cryptids. He's trying to get a love life with a visiting Australian researcher, Shelby Tanner, while living with his grandparents to help take care of his cousin, Sarah, who is recovering from blowing out her telepathic abilities. Luckily, Alex's administrative assistant, a gorgon named Dee, helps feed the animals and remind Alex of his dates with Shelby.

McGuire sets up this tangled mess of responsibilities for Alex, and then plops in the murder of one of Alex's interns. Since the man was partially petrified, Alex knows that a cryptid was responsible. So now he has to find out if the death was an accident or a murder, not get arrested for the crime, and try to keep Shelby as a girlfriend.

The story moves along nicely, maintaining a good pace without either losing me or boring me. The overall voice in the book is different from the former books, which is good since Alex is speaking instead of Verity. That had been one of my concerns, that this book would sound like the other books even though the main character is different. The author even manages to make a solid, twist ending, though looking back I see foreshadowing, it isn't obvious enough to spoil the story.

Overall, I love this book and I hope that Seanan McGuire writes more book in this universe.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Musical Interlude: Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

I discovered the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain a few years ago, and now I'm trying to learn ukulele on my own instrument. These men and women bring humor and wonderful musical talent to the stage. Here's one of my favorite videos. Enjoy!

Genetics and Babies: The Future is Here

Last week, newspapers reported that the U.S. and British government are considering allowing scientists to create 3-parent babies using parts of eggs from two women and the sperm from one man.  The scientists want to cure mitochondrial diseases.  The governments worry about Frankenstein babies and the rise of eugenics. As for us regular people?  I think we need a bit more information.

First, let's talk about mitochondrial disease.  Mitochondrial disease is a disease of mitochondria.  Mitochondria are small units within every cell of the human body, except red blood cells, and are responsible for converting food into energy for the cell to use.  Think of mitochondria as the batteries for a cell.  Simple enough.

What happens when there is a problem with a person's mitochondria?  Diabetes mellitus and deafness (DAD), Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), Leigh syndrome, myoneurogenic gastrointestinal encephalopathy, myoclonic epilepsy with ragged red fibers,...  All of these are inherited, genetic conditions and none of them is harmless.

The interesting thing about mitochondria is that a person receives all their DNA encoding for it from their mother, thereby allowing the proposed mitochondrial replacement to potentially work.

The big question here is - do we applaud the scientists and queue up for the procedure, or do we thank them for the lovely thinking exercise and refuse to let them continue with live trials?

I believe that we need to either admit that we are going to jump start evolution with designer babies and begin by investing in the three parent babies.  Or we need to tell both men and women with genetically inheritable diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia or one of the mitochondrial diseases, that they need to stop having babies.  I know that this sounds cold, but what's the alternative?  Giving birth to someone who will have a short, unhappy, pain-filled life?

And what is truly so bad about designer babies?  Eventually, we will be able to have babies without diseases, with lowered risks for cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.  I'm not talking about making generations of blond hair, blue eyed babies, but let's be real.  We need genetic diversity to continue as a species.  But that doesn't mean we can't create healthier babies.

What do you think about this?

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...