Haiti relief

January 14, 2010

As many of you have already heard, there was a recent major earthquake in Haiti, January 12 at 5:00 measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale. Some discussion can be found here and here. From the latter,

“It’s incredible,” Preval (the President –lt) told CNN. “A lot of houses destroyed, hospitals, schools, personal homes. A lot of people in the street dead. … I’m still looking to understand the magnitude of the event and how to manage.”

Preval said thousands of people were probably killed. Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, but conceded that nobody really knows.

“Let’s say that it’s too early to give a number,” Preval said.

This is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, ill-equipped to handle a catastrophe of this magnitude. They need help. I’ve heard from a few charity organizations that instead of trying to give food, water, etc., the most effective help that they can use is money. One place to donate is The Red Cross. Under “Getting and Giving Involved” scroll to “Donate” and there’s several options on ways to donate. If you select “online”, choosing the “International Response Fund” is apparently the appropriate choice for Haiti relief.

Several other good secular options are listed at Highly Kaffeinated (nice name). Just for convenience (and raise their Google rankings), they include, Doctor’s Without Borders, Operation USA, Direct Relief International, and Humanist Charities. All good choices.

Let’s get some help out there.

Harvesting cash

December 17, 2009

Seeing so many of these “Harvest” bumper stickers everwhere, I felt obliged to to comment on a particular story. Apparently, demons are responsible for taking money away from charlatan, conman, preacher, Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church. So, he is asking for a little help.

The headline of the appeal for donations reads: “Will you help me take back what the devil stole?”

He really needs help.

When asked to comment yesterday, Parsley’s World Harvest Church issued a statement saying the recession caused a decline in member giving in 2009, which has led to a fourth-quarter deficit of $3 million despite a 30 percent reduction in the budget.

That’s quite a deficit. Wait, also we have:

This year, the church settled for $3.1 million with a family whose son was spanked at its day-care center in 2006, to the point his buttocks and legs were covered with welts and abrasions.

The boy, then 2, said he was spanked with a “knife” by a substitute teacher. His parents, Michael and Lacey Faieta, believe it was a ruler.

Clearly nothing suspicious going on there. That nasty demonic recession has had effects not even I could have forseen.

Not dead yet!

December 2, 2009

After an unplanned stressed out recession-induced blogging hiatus, I’m back. More or less. Certainly a lot has been going on, and most of it I haven’t been able to keep with lately.

However, there certainly has been a few news items I’ve been unable to run away from. It seems a certain golfer, while backing out of his driveway backed his vehicle into some obstacle on his property. Aside from this golfer and his family, who cares?. Mrs. LiquidThinker just a wreck herself not too long ago where somebody backed into her vehicle. It is a standard everyday thing that happens to almost everybody. Insurance eventually took care of it and the media was not alerted. But we are ceaselessly bombarded with endless news about Tiger backing into a mailbox or whatever. The news media is just pissing me off and I keep having to turn it off. Is there really nothing else of import happening on this planet? Really? No link to that story is provided here, as you are probably as sick of it as I am.

But, yes, there is other news. The other news item concerns one Sarah “Quitter” Palin. She is taking full advantage of the opportunity to cash out selling her very quickly ghost-written hack book. When golfers crashing into mailboxes is not being lambasted from every news source, we get painfully pummeled with Palin. Why anyone any longer gives a flip about this empty-headed, narcissistic, walking right-wing sound-bite is beyond me.

Oh yeah, and apparently we’re sending 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

Introducing Kanye Wilson

September 15, 2009

So much to write about these days, but unfortunately too little time in which to write it. So, at the risk of giving too much attention to people who do not deserve it, I’d like to make a very quick proposal for a new comedic musical duo. Based on events I’ve heard about over the last few days, I’d like to see combined the musical stylings, uncontainable ego, and microphone swiping antics, of Kanye West with the unfettered and uninformed outbursts of Rep. Joe “You lie!” Wilson.

Think of it! The merged talents would provide background noise music for any occasion, from inconsequential award shows to presidential addresses. This duo would be untouchable, meaning probably nobody would touch it. I can imagine:

I see the emotion in your eyes, that you, try not to show*
— You lie! You lie! –

The audience gamut would be covered, from, what is in Kenye’s mind, the voice of a generation, to the voice of stark raving right wing lunatics. Well, to be fair, Wilson may not be totally stark raving, but they do seem to have found his voice. I suspect that was calculated. Also, to be fair, contrary to the sentiment expressed during his short temper tantrum, he has voted for providing taxpayer money for healthcare for illegal immigrants in the past, which Bill HR 3200 (the bill in question) will not do.

* From West’s song “Addiction”. Not being my style, I’m not that familiar with his material, but tried to find something vaguely health care related, for what it’s worth.

2012 — The end of the world as we know it

September 10, 2009

As some would like to get you excited about anyway. Lately, the History Channel has been apparently trying to boost ratings by getting people excited about the end of the world coming shortly. In 2012, to be precise, and Dec. 21, 2012 to be even more precise. Of course, the world was already supposed to have ended in 1914, 1936, 1945, 1952, 1969, 1981, 1982, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, among other dates, including as early as 247. In 2013, we’ll likely be able to add 2012 to this list of failed dates.

So, why? Any google search will tell you that this particular date is the date that the Mayan calendar ends. In fact, as the above link shows, it seems likely that the Mayans had some notion of an age of enlightenment beginning with that new cycle. See here for more on the Mayan calendar end. Their calendars appear to be inspired from spiritual cycles, but based on the motions of Venus and possibly other planets. They were quite good at naked eye observational astronomy, great at making accurate seasonal predictions (useful for growing crops) based on those observations, and fantastic architects. They also seemed to think that blood letting is effective method to keep harmony in the universe and the gods happy to ensure good crops. So maybe in any case, the ancient Mayans are not the go-to guys for a useful model about how the universe works. There is still much to learn about the universe, of course, but nothing in astronomy, plate tectonics, or anything else suggests that an ultimate calamity is set to occur during 2012.

From what little I’ve seen on the programs on the History Channel, they don’t seem to be taking this more sober approach though. In fact, in their advertisements, they proclaim that many of the great prophets such as Nostradamus all point to a coming doomsday in 2012. In fact, I can’t find anywhere where Nostradamus makes a prediction specifically for 2012. The closest I’ve found is this famous quatrain:

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.

Well, that’s clear. Let’s see, what happened July 1999? Ah, the Liberty Bell 7 from the Mercury program was lifted out of the Atlantic ocean. Man, Nostradamus was spot on after all! Oh wait, he said “Mars”, not “Mercury”. Must have been a typo. But 2012? Huh? Oh, I get it. Nostradamus was talking about Jupiter and the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy. The five comet fragment that slammed into Jupiter. After all, Jupiter is the “King” of the planets, and to any Jovians living on the gas giant, those comet fragments must have seemed like a terror in the sky. But that was from 1994, five years off from 1999. Perhaps there was some perturbation Nostradamus forgot to calculate, or maybe five years is symbolic? Plus his quatrain would make the comet the king. Oh well, I’m sure somebody can think of some way to make it fit and it will be wonderfully poetic and symbolic.

Now I’m sure in 2012, somebody will find something that will twist some vaguely worded quatrain or prophecy to seem like that’s what was meant. One of the token skeptics on the History Channel said that these so-called prophets shoot a lot of arrows and later people draw targets around them to make it look like that’s where the arrow was meant to go. Shoot enough arrows and people will find ways to draw targets around them. I couldn’t say it better myself.

Of course, no mention of famous doomsday prophets is complete without Edgar Cayce. Someday I’ll have to do a full write up on this guy. The History Channel again seems to link up Cayce with 2012. So far, I’ve found no mention that Cayce predicted anything specifically for 2012. But that would seem to be irrelevant anyway. One of the major gifts he was supposed to have was psychic healing and diagnosis. In fact, there is no reliable evidence this ever worked. He seemed to rely on old homemade remedies and homeopaths and the like. What Cayce fans point to as evidence in favor of his psychic diagnoses is, in fact a scatter shot of arrows towards which they could point at one of the arrows in a diagnosis to claim victory. According to what I saw on the History Channel, he opened up a psychic hospital to perpetuate his fraud, er. self-delusions, er, cures. If his method was so successful, we would have expected this to have become a booming medical center. In fact, it went broke (albeit in a really bad economy), a fact one would think would have been “forseen”. For James Randi’s write up on Cayce, see here.

For another great take, and a rare agreement from me for this site, check out God and Science for another perspective on all the 2012 hoopla. For a taste:

The 2012 disasters are such good violence and mayhem that they would make the ultimate disaster movie. Hey, somebody needs to make a lot of money…

Well said.

So, in short, when the big bad asteroid comes to destroy the earth, the prophets and seers will not be the ones to tell you about it. It will be the astronomers, with telescopes pointed at the sky and scribbling down orbital mechanics calculations. Unless, of course, one of the prophets also happens to be one of the afore-mentioned astronomers.

District 9 review

September 8, 2009

Well, we finally went out and saw the movie District 9. For its intent, this movie was quite well done. In the extremely unlikely event aliens would ever come here, and if they were in the sad shape these aliens happened to be in, I would hope that the outcome would be different. Sadly, in this hypothetical situation, I can see this movie as being not too far off the mark. In the movie, the worst of humanity was put on display for our visitors. Humanity’s inhumanity to others who are different, to themselves, along with a healthy dose of greed and superstition. The reason this is somewhat plausible is because this is stuff we’ve seen before. With European colonization of the Americas, to apartheid in South Africa, to Nigerian witchhunts, to the genocide in Rwanda. The fact that people do notice these things and that there is moral outrage is a sign of progress, but it seems we have a significant ways to go to raise the bar.

Possible spoilers below the fold.
Read the rest of this entry »

Bible oddities

September 3, 2009

Not too much time to post today, so I’ll leave you to ponder one of the many strange inexplicable stories from the Bible. This come from the book of Mark, chapter 14. Judas has just betrayed Jesus to a multitude sent by the chief priests, elders, and those totally bad-ass scribes. Jesus says basically, “Dude, you guys saw me everyday and could have taken me anytime. Why this way? Can’t we all just get along?”. O.K., he didn’t say the last part, but mentions something about the “scriptures need to be fulfilled”, although which ones exactly he doesn’t say. This does beg the question, if they knew who he was, as Jesus implies, why did they need Judas to identify him? I guess we need a plot device to heighten the drama. Immediately after this, we have verse 51 (my Revised Standard Version).

And a young man followed him with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

Ooookay. Until now, I don’t think we have ever heard about this young linen-clothed man, and we never hear about the young man, now sans linen cloth, again. So, there’s a story in there somewhere, just waiting for somebody to bring it to life.

Palm Oil and orangutans

September 2, 2009

In a quick little, but important news item that caught my eye, it seems that 20,000 orangutans were killed/poached or removed from their natural habitats in Indonesia over the last 10 years, all illegally, without one prosecution. According to the article, fewer than 50,000 of the endangered animals remain (of the Bornean variety, only 7,300 of the Sumatran orangutans).

International trade in orangutans is forbidden under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and orangutans are protected in Indonesia, where it is illegal to kill, capture, transport or even injure one of the rare apes.

And yet, the killings continue. “The problem is, the law is never enforced, largely because the Ministry of Forestry has never shown any interest in serious wildlife or habitat protection,” says Sean Whyte, director of Nature Alert.

As to why so many orangutans have been killed, it basically boils down to one word: greed. It’s not the orangutans themselves that have commercial value. Rather, it’s the land that they live on, which is being burned down to make room for massive (and often illegal) palm oil plantations. Palm oil is a common ingredient in many processed foods. Around 90 percent of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Processed foods? Well, that’s o.k., right? Not exactly. It doesn’t look like processed foods are healthy for you either, but that’s a different story.

What about the palm oil plantations? From the Scientific American article:

The palm oil plantations are “miles and miles long,” he says. To make matters worse, “it’s a monocrop that destroys the soil. When satellite imagery is taken of the region, you see scorched earth where the forests have been destroyed.”

Hardi Baktiantoro, director of the COP [Center for Orangutan Protection, puts that into context, with the following prepared statement: “The palm oil industry must be one of the worst, maybe even the worst, environmentally damaging industries in the world.”

Granted, I’d like to see some numbers that support Baktiantoro’s claim, but I suspect he is not far off. So, orangutans are destroyed to plant an environmentally damaging crop, largely to make foods that are likely not healthy for us. This doesn’t sound like a winning situation to me. Granted, there are probably people whose livelihoods may depend on the plantations, but with work, environmentally safer work could be found or created.

In the meantime, how can you help? As the article suggests, check the ingredients on the food you buy and stay away from palm oil. Cadbury’s has already promised to remove palm oil from their chocolate due to consumer pressure from Europe. We here in the U.S. can have certainly have an impact if we put our minds to it. The orangutans will thank you. That is, I’m sure they would if they could track you down and, well, speak.

Thanks for not using palm oil

Thanks for not using palm oil

A prayer for South Carolina

September 1, 2009

Recently, in Columbia City, South Carolina, at the urging of possible mayoral candidate Tameika Isaac Devine, a resolution to open city council meetings with a prayer was unanimously passed with no discussion. It should go without saying that this totally violates the separation of church and state and thoughtlessly tramples over the sensibilities of those present who may not share the religious beliefs espoused in whatever magic words are incanted. Did I say thoughtlessly? No, Devine did put some thought into it.

Devine says she was surprised that City Council had not been starting its meetings with an invocation. “And I totally respect the whole separation of church and state,” she says.
But Devine says council members have an important job to do — the will of the people.

“And I think starting with an invocation gives you that importance and sets that tone,” she says. “But it’s definitely our desire to give voice to a diverse group.”

Although Devine does seem to have some dim glimmering that there is such a thing as separation of church and state, it is clear that she is pretty unclear on the concept. But to be fair, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and offer a prayer that can be used in the city council meetings that will reflect the diverse system of beliefs and non-beliefs of all humanity.


Dear God and Jesus Christ our Savior, we know you are a jealous God whose name is Jealous, so please forgive mention of all these other gods and give us your blessings anyway. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. O Allah, you are all great and merciful so we submit (and really we didn’t mean to pray to Jesus above, really). Lord Krishna, please aid us in our cosmic journey to put our city in harmony with the cosmos. Ganesha, please remove obstacles from the paths to reach our goals for our city. Lakshmi, please give us luck in our plans and make us beautiful and wealthy. Agni, we offer oblation, please don’t burn us. Vishnu, please help us create great plans, and Shiva, let us destroy old unworkable plans so we may begin anew. Great Spirit, help us in our hunt on this vision quest. Lord Buddha, help us make the city such that all our people can escape the endless cycle of suffering, perhaps by adding more light rail to ease traffic congestion. Jah, we promise to legalize ganja to let people engage in spiritual quests. Satan, thanks for getting us into that whole “Tree of Knowledge” thing; it’s working out pretty well. Athena, give us wisdom. Thor, please don’t strike us with lightning, and Loki, please don’t start causing mischief in our fair city. Blessed be the Goddess, by whichever name you know her, and may her blessings be bountiful upon us. We recognize the way of the Tao, which if can be named is not the eternal Tao. [insert appropriate incantations from other faiths, Judaism, Sikh, Bahai, Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. etc. here]. Finally, we acknowledge that it is possible that none of these gods or goddesses exist so you should quit worrying and enjoy your life.

Now that this prayer is ended, it is the end of the day and time to go home.

On second thought, maybe a city council should just focus on doing the city’s business.

A big hole in the ground

August 28, 2009
Pot of gold at at Grand Canyon

Pot of gold at at Grand Canyon

It was sort of a last minute thing, but we just spent a few days in the Grand Canyon from which we’re now back. A magnificent site. Besides the size, of course, one gets the impression of age. This is an ancient place. The Colorado river has worn away rock over millions of years to open up this expanse. The exposed rocks and formations are themselves ancient. We have near the bottom a group of layers called the Tonto group which consists of Tapeats sandstone (beach sand deposited around 550 million years ago), Bright Angel shale (calm water sediment from 540 million years ago), and Mauv limestone (sea sediment from 530 million years ago). Fossils from these layers include jellyfish, trilobites (some of which we saw in some of the exhibits, unfortunately the memory card on the camera was full), and others. Near the top is the Kaibab formation, which are old sea sediments from around 250 million years ago. Fossils here include trilobites, sponges, brachiopods, etc. In between there are deposits from swamps, flood plains, ancient rivers, etc. A snapshot of earth’s ancient history.

The corroborative techniques of radiometric dating, fossil layers, and other techniques all point to the same answers for the ancient ages. What about the canyon itself? How old is it?

As late as last year, a report pointed to a strong possibility that the canyon may have formed, or at least started forming, 55 million years ago. From the article:

The team believes an ancestral Grand Canyon developed in its eastern section about 55 million years ago, later linking with other segments that had evolved separately. “It’s a complicated picture because different segments of the canyon appear to have evolved at different times and subsequently were integrated,” Flowers said.

The ancient sandstone in the canyon walls contains grains of a phosphate mineral known as apatite — hosting trace amounts of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium — which expel helium atoms as they decay, she said. An abundance of the three elements, paired with temperature information from Earth’s interior, provided the team a clock of sorts to calculate when the apatite grains were embedded in rock a mile deep — the approximate depth of the canyon today — and when they cooled as they neared Earth’s surface as a result of erosion.

Apatite samples from the bottom of the Upper Granite Gorge region of the Grand Canyon yield similar dates as samples collected on the nearby plateau, said Caltech’s Wernicke. “Because both canyon and plateau samples resided at nearly the same depth beneath the Earth’s surface 55 million years ago, a canyon of about the same dimensions of today may have existed at least that far back, and possibly as far back as the time of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago.”

Of course, some literal fundamentalist Creationists would like people to accept their hypothesis, if it could be called that, that the canyon was formed during Noah’s flood where it rained 40 days and more water that exists on our entire planet covered it for a period of time. So that instead of 55 million years towards which the evidence points, they would like to advance the idea that the canyon was formed in about a year, I guess. So here’s what I suggest to Creationists to test their ideas. Since the time scale suggested is so short, this should be easy. Scale model. Get some limestone (We’ll only deal with the top Kaibab layer here, to give a starting point) of some thickness, and perhaps combined with shale as well. Put on top of it the appropriately scaled volume of water. Allow it to drain for an appropriately scaled amount of time. This will probably 2 weeks to a month, depending on how much limestone you have and I’m too lazy to work out the numbers. It will be up to you to convince scientists that the appropriate amounts of rock, water, and time were chosen. See if you make a small canyon. I eagerly await your results.

Of course, I suppose also for literal fundamentalists, the well known optical laws of refraction and reflection (see here or here) did not exist before Noah’s flood.


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