Friday, June 27, 2008

This is why

"Civil Union" or "Domestic Partnership" is not an adequate substitute for marriage. A woman who was prevented from seeing her dying spouse- despite having a power of attorney in hand- is suing the Hospital involved. The hospital has not made a statement, but I doubt they can claim any medical reason for keeping her out- brain aneurisms are rarely communicable. details here

P.S. See Why pro-marriage equality is a conservative position

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The $300 million challenge

proposed by Senator McCain for the development of a better battery for electric cars would be a waste of tax dollars, because the battery is not the limiting factor for electric cars.

What do I mean? Suppose there were a battery that was the size of a pack of cigarettes, held enough power for a family of four to travel 500 miles, was non-flammable, non-toxic, biodegradable, and cost $0.29 to manufacture- it still wouldn’t make the electric car viable. Why? Because the battery has to be recharged- and we simply don’t have the electrical capacity to do it.

Look- a gallon of gas is equal to 36.6 kw/hrs. We go through 400 million gallons of gas a day. That equals 14.6 gigawatt/hrs/day. We generate 4 million gigawatt/hrs per year... divided by 365, that makes 11 gigawatt/hrs/day. If we did nothing but recharge our cars every day, we’d still have only 2/3 the electrical capacity needed. Even if you assume vast improvements in efficiency for the electric car, we still can’t generate even a fraction of the electricity needed for electric cars. Heck, we can’t even generate enough electricity to avoid rolling brownouts on really hot days as is.

McCain was on a better track when he proposed building 45 nuclear power plants by 2030- the only thing wrong with that was its timidity. We need 400 more nuclear power plants, not 45. France gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear- we only get 20%. If we got 80% of our power from nuclear, we’d cut our carbon footprint far, far below Kyoto standards... if we doubled that we could then have our electric cars as well, and not only be independent of foreign oil, but take our carbon emissions back to 1890 levels, not 1990.

If anyone can tell me why it wouldn’t work, I’d love to hear it.

Saved by the bra

Had this woman been an old-school feminist, she'd be dead by now.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When you're away from home...

... and you really gotta go, who you gonna call?!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

God is alive, magic is afoot...

Talking with some people about my post, All's right with the world" , I realized that many did not get the reference, so here's where it's from- words: Leonard Cohen; music: Buffy Sainte-Marie; from the album Illuminations, 1969:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"Wisconsin's Selena Fox says pagans abuzz about "unicorn.""

So says the headline of this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. While Ms Fox does not speak for me, I must admit the unicorn is pretty cute!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in race relations

The Good: Barack Obama took up Bill Cosby's fight for black families in this Father's Day speech at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, calling for more involvement by young black fathers in their children's lives. This is not a new issue for him: "Obama often speaks about the importance of parental involvement. In Washington, he sponsored legislation to get more child support money to children by offering a tax credit for fathers who pay support, more efficient collection and penalties for fathers who don't meet their obligations."

The Bad: In this interview with Alicia Keys at, she explains that "Gangsta rap" is a government conspiracy:
"“‘Gangsta rap’ was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other,” she says, putting down the sandwich. “‘Gangsta rap’ didn’t exist.”

Come again? A ploy by whom?

She looks at us like it’s the dumbest question in the world. “The government.”"

Perhaps she listens to too many of Rev. Wright's sermons.

The Ugly: A company in Utah is selling- I'm not making this up - sock monkeys dressed as Barack Obama. *sigh* I suppose I should say that they claim no offense was intended, that they were just naive... hmm... as naive as we would have to be to believe that?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A war on the Summer Solstice

Anyone who remembers Bill O'Reilly's complaints about a "war on Christmas" will be amused by this article from the Roanoke Times.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A photograph of the soul?

So claims Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania, according to this story from the St. Petersburg Times. He uses a process called single photon emission computed tomography, or SPECT, to scan the brains of deeply religious people such as monks and nuns while they are praying or meditating, and has discovered unusual functioning of two portions of the brain while they were doing so.

"The frontal lobes got especially busy. They're the part of the brain he calls the "attention area." The meditators had clearly tapped their frontal lobes to focus on their task.

He also saw the thalamus kick in. That's a pea-sized piece of the brain atop the brain stem that, among other things, sends sensory information to the frontal cortex, where much of our heavy thinking happens. Whatever was happening in meditation, the thalamus was making it feel very real.

The surprise was elsewhere, in the parietal lobe, the part of the brain that helps us orient ourselves in relation to things around us. Newberg discovered that the nuns and Buddhists had actually shut down that part of the brain, suspending their senses of space and time. It was then that they entered the peak of their transcendent experiences — altered states of "timelessness and spacelessness."

If religious devotions are a brain function, that may answer the question I raised, Do we choose to believe?

Friday, June 13, 2008

All's right with the world

I saw the first fireflies of the season in my backyard last night. "Magic is alive, God is afoot..."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Questionable judgment

The Marines have been performing urban warfare exercises here in Indianapolis for a few days now, and aside from the inevitable protests, they have come off smoothly. This afternoon I was able to witness some of them directly.

A helicopter gunship much like this one did a number of "touch and go" landings in Ellenberger Park, 100 yards from my house. Between the landings a number of aerobatics were performed; some obviously attack maneuvers, like tight turns and dives at treetop level, some defensive, such as a zoom climb that began at treetop and went up like a gray comet. The heavy thumping sound of the rotor blades spoke of vast power barely controlled, but the aerial maneuvers were a graceful dance that belied their purpose. It was beautiful to watch.

It was also completely irresponsible.

This wasn't an air show, where all aerobatics- by law- are performed along the flightline or over empty fields beyond, so that should an accident occur, there is only ground to fall on. These maneuvers were being performed above homes full of families. They weren't being performed at thousands of feet; sometimes not even hundreds of feet- when I said "treetop", I was speaking of tens of feet altitude. Should something have happened, it would not have been a choice of whether a house would be hit, but which one.

I'm not being Chicken Little here- accidents do occur. Even the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds have had their accidents, and helicopters are by their very nature the least reliable of all flying machines. Don't tell us here in Indianapolis, where in 1987 an A-7 D Corsair crashed through the lobby of a Ramada Inn, that it can't happen.
Yes, I know that statistically the odds of an incident were very low, but it was a risk that need not have been taken at all. The ground troops need a live city to practice urban warfare in, but helicopter units do not. There are abandoned neighborhoods, and in this economy, a lot of abandoned industrial parks they could have used- if, for some reason, they couldn't have used mockups. Nothing happened this time, but only because they had a good dice roll. I hope policies are changed before they come up snake eyes.

Global Warming may occur faster than we thought

From a scary article in the New York Times:

"Adaptation -- the peaceful shifting of food-growing areas, coastal populations and so on -- seemed possible, if difficult, when abrupt change meant a few degrees in a century," he wrote. "It now seems a much more formidable task, requiring global cooperation with swift recognition and response."

The new studies found that the average global temperature can change as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit in a couple of decades during interglacial periods, Dr. White said. The current average global temperature is 59 degrees Fahrenheit."

The interesting thing about this is that this article is from 1993, and is referring to climate events 250,000 years ago. Damn, did cavemen have SUVs?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A question not asked

In the speculation about whether or not Senator Obama will pick Senator Clinton as Vice President, the question I’ve not seen anyone ask is whether she should accept if asked. I think she’d be wise to refuse.

If Obama wins, she will get no credit for it- even in a normal year, it is conventional wisdom that people vote for the top of the ticket, not the bottom; and this time, with the Republican party at its nadir and Obama being so charismatic, she’d be seen as unnecessary icing on the cake. Should Obama lose, rightly or wrongly she'd be blamed for the loss, as Ferraro was before. There is simply no upside for her in the campaign.

Should they win, Obama could not afford to give her any real power. If she had power and success, the Cheney to his Bush, then with or without her permission her followers would paint her as the power behind a charismatic figurehead- it would be the perfect setup for her own run eight years from now. Obama could not allow that, and not just for his own ego; it would be the ultimate irony if the first black President was seen as a token figurehead. There's no way he'd accept that legacy. On the other hand, should she be given power and fail, President Obama would get the blame in the end, and rightly so; "the buck stops here." Therefore, should would never be given any real power in an Obama administration.

If she were to serve as Vice President without any specials powers, she'd suffer the fate of all such vice Presidents: instant obscurity. That would give Nancy Pelosi another eight years as the most powerful woman in America, making her a serious threat to Senator Clinton's chances to become the first female President. On the other hand, should Hilary stay in the senate, then given Senator Kennedy's poor health and the fact that Senator Byrd can't last forever, she will quickly become the public face of the Senate, a perfect place to launch her next campaign from. the one and only thing she gains from serving as Vice President is the chance to become President without standing for election should the unthinkable happen, and the last two Presidents who reached the office that way, LBJ and Ford, were not successful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This wasn’t in the owner’s manual

A new use for your cell phone!


Hmm… I wonder what portion of the brain is next to our ears?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Missing the point

I was struck once more while reading blogs and talking with friends about Obama quitting his church that many- if not most- Unitarians never understood what the real issue was in the first place. The source of this misunderstanding is the very nature of UU itself.

Uus share a great many things- values, community, a love of good coffee. We share the humanist (small h) principle of putting our values into action, working to make the world a better place. The covenant let into the wall of my congregation begins “Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law…” But the one thing we do not share is belief.

A Unitarian who agreed with everything he heard from the pulpit would be nervous; no two Unitarians in the entire denomination would agree with each other on everything- not even that statement. This being the case, it’s hard to understand the uproar over the things said by Obama’s pastor- “Of course he doesn’t agree with that, but so what? I disagree with my minister over a lot of things! They’re just trying to play the patriotism card or the race card.”

But a “John 3:16” Christian is very different. They don’t share “values”; they share beliefs. Beliefs are the only way to heaven, the only thing that matters. They do not fellowship for the purpose of doing good works; indeed, the Baptists- I know, I was raised one- actually warn against “trying to buy your way into heaven with good works”. To them, good works are the result of salvation, not the cause, and none of the good you’ve done in your life will save you if you don’t believe.

No such Christian, therefore, would stay in a church where he had any serious disagreement with the Pastor in any matter of faith or interpretation of scripture. If a lot of his fellow congregates agreed with him, he’d call for a vote to dismiss the Pastor- I know, I have witnessed such proceedings more than once; if not, he’d leave to find a congregation or denomination he’d more compatible with. That’s why there are so many different denominations to begin with.

This is why Obama had to quit his church. Some fundamental Christians will believe that he did it for political reasons only, but others will give him the benefit of the doubt, believing that he was tempted to stay as long as he did because he had friends there… but once having his nosed publicly rubbed in what was being preached there, staying would have been a public declaration to many tens of millions of Christians of his agreement with it, by their lights. Even if he were not running for President, becoming a public figure removed the option of staying with a church whose Pastor he disagreed with, no matter how comfortable he’d been there.