Recent Articles

The open views of western Texas

I miss the open vistas of western Texas, where I was outside for much of the past six days looking at fossil sites. It’s not the same back here in Missouri. You can’t allow your eyes to stretch out for 10 miles in every direction, and there aren’t many spots where you can look way down and way up at mountain tops from the same spot. I took more than a few handheld HDR series in Texas and crunched them on a program called Photomatix over the past couple of days. They are a pretty good reminder of the types of things I was seeing.

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January 29, 2014 | By | Reply More

Senators must raise 10K per day

This is an astounding fact that, in and of itself, shouts for overhaul of the system:

“A senator has to raise $10,000 every day that they are in office to make the average amount that’s spent today in a Senate race.” So who are the Senators going to spend most of their time with? You and me, so that they can raise $50 or $100, or with big corporations and powerful trade organizations? And what type of legislation are they going to tend to support?

Senator raising money

Here’s another example from represent.us:

We decided to target Jim Himes because he’s emblematic of a much larger systemic problem: Our Congress is being corrupted by big money and no longer represents the people. Rep. Himes co-sponsored and helped push a bill called H.R. 992 through the House. 992 would further deregulate derivatives, a financial instrument that played a major role in the 2008 crisis (source).

Our organization doesn’t have a position on derivatives trading. What we do have a position is corruption, and this is a textbook case. The New York Times revealed that 992 was written by big bank lobbyists — 70 of the 85 lines in 992 were written by lobbyists for CitiGroup.

January 28, 2014 | By | Reply More
Riding A Hobby Horse

Riding A Hobby Horse

Hobby Lobby is suing to be exempted from certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case . . . The question at the heart of this is, should a company be forced to pay for things with which it has a moral objection? [More . . . ]

January 28, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

7 parenting behaviors that stunt children’s growth

This is a worthy seven-point article from Forbes. The topic is 7 parenting behaviors that stunt their children’s growth. Here are the titles to the sections:

1. We don’t let our children experience risk

2. We rescue too quickly

3. We rave too easily

4. We let guilt get in the way of leading well

5. We don’t share our past mistakes

6. We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity

7. We don’t practice what we preach.

Immediately after reading this Forbes article, I stumbled upon this parenting article from The Atlantic: “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.” Lots of common ground between the two articles.

[U]nderlying all this parental angst is the hopeful belief that if we just make the right choices, that if we just do things a certain way, our kids will turn out to be not just happy adults, but adults that make us happy. This is a misguided notion, because while nurture certainly matters, it doesn’t completely trump nature, and different kinds of nurture work for different kinds of kids (which explains why siblings can have very different experiences of their childhoods under the same roof). We can expose our kids to art, but we can’t teach them creativity. We can try to protect them from nasty classmates and bad grades and all kinds of rejection and their own limitations, but eventually they will bump up against these things anyway. In fact, by trying so hard to provide the perfectly happy childhood, we’re just making it harder for our kids to actually grow up. Maybe we parents are the ones who have some growing up to do—and some letting go.

January 21, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

What it’s like to never have enough – the story of a Wall Street hedge fund trader

This is what it’s like to never have enough. It’s the autobiography of a Wall Street hedge fund trader, published in the NYT:

I noticed the vitriol that traders directed at the government for limiting bonuses after the crash. I heard the fury in their voices at the mention of higher taxes. These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses. Ever see what a drug addict is like when he’s used up his junk? He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix. Wall Street was like that. In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighborhood in “The Wire” when the heroin runs out.

I’d always looked enviously at the people who earned more than I did; now, for the first time, I was embarrassed for them, and for me. I made in a single year more than my mom made her whole life. I knew that wasn’t fair; that wasn’t right. Yes, I was sharp, good with numbers. I had marketable talents. But in the end I didn’t really do anything. I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist. Not so nurse practitioners. What had seemed normal now seemed deeply distorted.

January 19, 2014 | By | Reply More

Bill Moyers discusses religion with Isaac Asimov

In this 1988 interview, Bill Moyers discusses religion with Isaac Asimov. Can religion be “reconciled” with science? Asimov says yes, as long as the players are reasonable and as long as religion is not confused as science.

January 18, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

How to eat a lightbulb

You can really eat a light bulb. I saw this done at a fair a few years ago. Fascinating. The instructor says, “Don’t try this at home.”

January 18, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

Real NSA Reform

President Obama kicked off a meek and week NSA reform effort. The EFF has described what real reform would involve. [Reposted with creative commons permission by the EFF):

1. Stop mass surveillance of digital communications and communication records.

It doesn’t matter what legal authority is being cited—whether it’s the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act, or an executive order—the government should not be sweeping up massive amounts of information by and about innocent people first, then sorting out whether any of its targets are included later. The NSA has disingenuously argued that simply acquiring this data isn’t actually “collecting” and that no privacy violation can take place unless the information it stores is actually seen by a human or comes up through an automated searches of what it has collected. That’s nonsense. The government’s current practices of global dragnet surveillance constitute general warrants that violate the First and Fourth Amendments, and fly in the face of accepted international human rights laws. Obama needs to direct the NSA to engage only in targeted surveillance and stop its programs of mass surveillance, something he can do with a simple executive order.

2. Protect the privacy rights of foreigners.

The NSA’s surveillance is based upon the presumption that foreigners are fair game, whether their information is collected inside the US or outside the US. But non-suspect foreigners shouldn’t have their communications surveilled any more than non-suspect Americans. The review group recommended limited protections for non-US persons and while that is a good start, the president should do more to ensure that actual suspicion is required before either targeted or untargeted surveillance of non-US persons.

3. Don’t turn communications companies into the new Big Brother: no data retention mandate.

Obama’s review group recommended ending the NSA’s telephone records program, which we strongly agree with, but then indicated that a reasonable substitute would be to force American communications companies to store the data themselves and make it available to the government. The group ultimately recommended a data retention mandate if companies won’t comply voluntarily. But companies shouldn’t be pressed into becoming the NSA’s agents by keeping more data than they need or keeping it longer than they need to. To the contrary, companies should be working on ways to store less user data for less time—decreasing the risks from data breaches and intrusions like the one that just happened to Target. Data retention heads in the wrong direction for our security regardless of whether the government or private parties store the information.

4. National Security Letters need prior judicial review and should never be accompanied by a perpetual gag order.

One recommendation of the review group we heartily endorse is reining in National Security Letters. The FBI uses these letters to demand user data from communications service providers with no judicial review. Providers are forbidden from talking about receiving NSLs, which means the letters also serve as perpetual gag orders. EFF was successful in convincing a federal judge to strike down these NSLs last year. The case is on appeal but Obama can remedy the situation more quickly by instructing the FBI not to issue NSLs without prior judicial review, and to limit its use of gag orders.

5. Stop undermining Internet security, weakening encryption, and infiltrating companies.

Recent revelations show that the NSA is undermining Internet encryption, making us all less secure when we use technology. These practices include weakening standards, attacking technology companies, and preventing security holes from being fixed. As the president’s review group recognized, this has serious consequences for any industry that relies on digital security—finance, medicine, transportation, and countless others, along with anyone in the world who relies on safe, private communication. Obama should follow the recommendations of his review group and immediately stop the NSA’s efforts to undermine or weaken the security of our technologies.

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January 18, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

Problems with Orifices

What kinds of things do people stick into their orifices? It’s limited only by their imagination, it seems. This article summarizes hospital reports and it’s an eye-opener—wait, I shouldn’t have said that, because some of you might now try to stick something in your eye. The data comes from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

Here’s a sample of things people stuck into their ears:

Ear:
SEED
PAINTBRUSH
“SOME BALLS”
SLAG
MAKEUP BRUSH
PATIENT TOLD PARENTS THAT THE CATS STUCK SOMETHING IN HER EAR
GASOLINE
BUTTERFLY
HERSHEY KISS
“CLASSMATE PUT A ROCK IN EAR, HAS PIECE OF PAPER IN OTHER EAR”

Check out the article for lots more.

But now I must mention that I once attended a deposition of a doctor in Atlanta. On his bookshelf, he had a big jar of screws, nails, coins, nuts and bolts and other metal things. It all weighed more than a pound. The doctor related that a man came to the ER complaining that he didn’t feel good. An x-ray revealed all of this crap in his stomach. The medical staff did surgery to take it all out. Shortly thereafter, “the man died of something else.” Go figure.

January 18, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More