A Trend Towards Dehumanization


On January 9th, a chemical leak from Freedom Industries* contaminated the water of nine counties in West Virginia, depicted above in red. School closed in some places. Residents cleared out packaged water from stores. A state of emergency went into effect. The Kanahwa-Charleston Health Department ordered any business with a health permit to close immediately (1,500 businesses in the two counties affected by this ruling shut their doors). All this was triggered because the Department of Environmental Protection noticed an issue with air quality near the Elk River.

Only a handful of people were injured by the chemical contamination. The culprit, a “sudsing agent” used in the coal mining process, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, does not typically kill people, although it is a severe irritant and should not be ingested.

Today, the 13th of January, West Virginia American Water* announced that water has begun to flow again in West Virginia, starting in the capital city of Charleston. West Virginia has an unlucky history with chemicals and water safety. Films like Gasland made mega-hay out of tap water spouts that caught on fire. There’s this video from 2010 of a CNN Story about a WV family who strike a flame on a water bottle full of their tap water.

In November of 2010, Rolling Stone published an article about a lot of the back dealings in the coal industry that have made resident’s health not even a tertiary concern when dealing with profits.  After the article was published, and due to numerous other scandalous accusations made of Massey Energy, then-CEO Don Blankenship’s retirement was announced by the board at Massey. Yes, that grammar is deliberately awkward. Blankenship was retired by his company, he did not retire himself.

Getting back to Gasland: it made clear the accusation that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has just as bad of a track record at keeping water safe to drink. Many residents in the film were forced to switch to complicated filtration systems or were receiving a regular supply of clean water from local mining outfits. Despite these similar problems, natural gas is still much cheaper than coal and has put the fiscal hurt on its competitor in the fossil fuel industry.

Approaching this from another angle, books like Eating Animals dealt with another aspect of business that takes advantage of the health of West Virginia’s citizens. Reports like these and others cited at the time by author Jonathan Franzen explained the damage that large scale slaughterhouses and feed lots have on the environment. Specifically, fatalities from the practice of spraying fields with the abundance of manure from feed lots or from making cesspools of pig shit. These deaths occurred because people were overcome by the toxic air surrounding the cesspools, or from falling into the cesspool (because of the smell and high SO2 and H2S content of the air). At other times, the runoff from storms or overflow of cesspools into rivers contaminates large swaths of water, affecting hundreds of thousands of families. This runoff issue has drawn concern from some doctors – and take this with a grain of salt – for the increased incidence of asthma, autism, allergies, and other respiratory or developmental issues in commonly affected regions.

The trend to take away from this, and I am going to leave this very simple: what’s wrong with West Virginia and the numerous other states that take part in the mining of coal and natural gas? And why do the profits from one industry outweigh simple Western Society stuff like drinkable water?

I don’t have the answer, but I hope someone does because I can’t imagine these people would stand for it that much longer.



Tackling Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac

Radiolab did a fantastic piece a few years back on the story of Abraham sacrificing the only son he loved – he had two sons, God said kill the one you love which is Isaac, Abraham – being kind of a dick dad – had a favorite son. Its very confusing, but the Radiolab show makes it clear. In doing so they shed some light on tragedy and the human condition in our own time.

Give it a listen and then come back and read the below response.

Although, Robert Krulwich accepts the religious intention of the tale, I think Thomas Paine puts a nice cap on it with his view on the goodness of murder and sacrifice in The Bible.  Krulwich definitely struggles with wanting to conclude with Paine, but makes the fatal error common to all religious minds of “prostituting one’s Reason” as Paine puts it., thus “[preparing] himself for the commission of every other crime.”

As written by Thomas Paine, in “The Age of Reason”.

It seems as if parents of the Christian profession were ashamed to tell their children anything about the principles of their religion. They sometimes instruct them in morals, and talk to them of the goodness of what they call Providence, for the Christian mythology has five deities- there is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the God Providence, and the Goddess Nature. But the Christian story of God the Father putting his son to death, or employing people to do it (for that is the plain language of the story) cannot be told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankind happier and better is making the story still worse- as if mankind could be improved by the example of murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery is only making an excuse for the incredibility of it.

There’s an online version of The Age of Reason and “ctrl+f” makes my life super easy. Check it out if this interests you.

Misleading Math in the Liberal News

Today, this story ran on NPR’s Morning Edition. In it, a high-paid and self-admitted overworked emergency room doctor that exclusively works overnight shifts bemoaned the potential impact of the Busa era tax cuts expiring. NPR avoided talking openly about the math and went for a dumbed-down story that presents the issue in a misleading way.

Doctor Hamilton Lempert works 40-70 hours a week, in the ER, on the overnight shift. For our purposes we can assume he’s well-paid and recieves bonuses on top of his regular pay because of overtime and incentive pay for both the ER and overnight shift.

This is how NPR covered his taxes:

When he runs his financial information through an online calculator to figure out how his tax bill would change if the Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire, he gets a shock.

Lempert would take about a $20,000 tax hit.

That seems like a lot. But given the doctor’s information and what we know about the Bush tax cuts we can assume he earns more than the average American family – more than $250,000.00. We also know the Bush tax cuts range around three to five percent.

So we divide $20,000.00 by .03 and .05 (the range of the tax rate) to estimate his income.

That means Dr. Lempert earns between $400,000.00 (if his taxes increase by five percent) and $666,667.00 (if his taxes increase by three percent).

Which presentation of the data is more reasonable? Does the doctor seem underpaid or overpaid? Yes, $20,000.00 is a lot of money. But so are $400,000.00 and $600,000.00 dollars. Maybe the doctor didn’t want to give his income, but NPR could easily have surmised a range for his income.

Instead, they scrub the income. That’s tantamount to reporting how outrageous Mitt Romney’s taxes would increase if his went from 15 percent to where most Americans pay around 23 percent. The presidential candidate would face an increase of $1.6 million on his taxes, or if you prefer zeros: $1,600,000.00.

Boo-fucking-hoo. Let’s hear him whine about putting off vacation or a new car like the good doctor.

In fairness, NPR reached out to a tax expert who put a nice cap on it, although I don’t think this is anywhere near as clear as just stating his income.

Virtually everyone in his income category will see their taxes rise in average about $14,000,” says Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “That’s about a 5 percent reduction in their after-tax income, and 5 percent is something that even at that income level [is] noticeable.


Mars Landing (Must Watch in HD)

[youtube http://youtu.be/Esj5juUzhpU]

Science Sunday

A great talk with a few scientists on why science will likely play zero role in the forthcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates.

In fact, I tend to disagree with the disappointment of the speakers. They even prove my point by offering a clip of Sarah Palin handily swatting back a climate science question. If she can do it, I can’t see why any debaters seeking the highest office in our country cannot either.

Maybe there’s room to argue for a full debate about science intiatives, but I can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater on this. I think if we can get Romney and Obama to both tackle the fundamental question proposed in this talk – What will your administration’s approach to science and science-based initiatives do to get the country moving on climate change, new sources of energy, and new scientific sources of industry? – then we’ll do just fine.


Vegan Astronauts… Don’t You Mean Cosmonauts?

NASA has planned their menu for the scheduled 2030 mission to Mars and it is 100% vegan. NASA explains their compulsory vegan astronaut diet because:

Meat and dairy products can’t be preserved for long enough to last for the entire mission, so the six to eight Mars astronauts will eat vegan diets while on the mission.

Not only that, but the Mars crew will probably have a hydroponic farm to grow bell peppers and carrots.

And, exhale. Holy shit I can be an astronaut! To Mars! And stay vegetarian!

Source and Source

Addendum: Of the top five hits on “NASA Mars Menu” or “NASA menu” or “Mars astronaut menu”, all five either completely botched and buried the whole vegetarian menu thing or failed to mention it entirely.

Notably, the top three all confounded the vegetarian menu discussion in the following exact pattern. First, they stated the three year mission length would not allow meat and dairy in the menu as it would not stay edible. Second, they all mentioned a hybrid hydroponic system to allow Mars astronauts to add their own vegetable produce to pre-packaged foods. Then, they mentioned under some systems they may have meat in their salads (precisely like that: a hybrid system may allow for meats in their space-grown salads. What about no meat/dairy? They gave absolutely no explanation of this confounding of disparate ideas). Finally, they mentioned any Mars astronaut would have to embark to space with a temporary vegetarian diet for the three year span.

Evolution v. Intelligent Design – Proving the Religious Link

[youtube http://youtu.be/8hTZ5AYzs8o]

This is somewhat out-dated stuff, but in many ways just as integral to our discussion about American religiosity as the Scopes Monkey Trial.

I invite you to keep in mind a few disparate thoughts while watching:

  • Do the self-identified fundamentalist embody the humility, decency or honesty of their faith?
  • Do the scientists who identify as ID believers have a worldview that’s compatible with their position as faculty at a university?
  • What aspects of arrogance play out in those ID professors, fundamentalists, Darwinian biologists, and so on? i.e. who is the most arrogant? Who is being unreasonable or unprofessional or indecent?
  • Just what’s up with the Catholic author of the Biology textbook and the protestant science teachers (who are anti-ID) at the Dover school?
  • Who are they fooling and does this glimpse by PBS indicate a bias away from the necessary atheism that’s really on trial here?

I especially found this excited because the Biology textbook with the iridescent dragonfly is the biology textbook I had in 9th grade. In fact, I was in ninth grade maybe a year or two before this trial took place. If you’re of my generation, this behind the scenes has a whole other level of complication.

Bullet-Proof Contact Sports

“We’re seeing evidence, in football and hockey especially, of the risk of brain degeneration following repetitive concussions,” said Dr. Charles Tator, a brain surgeon at Toronto Western Hospital and an expert on concussions. “This is serious, because we don’t have a treatment for it, or even a test to diagnose it during life. We don’t even know why this tau protein accumulates in the brain.”

In typical American fashion, Wired reports that the head of a Kevlar bullet-proof armor company, Unequal Technologies, is offering their product to solve the NFL and NHLs epidemic of concussions and traumatic brain injury. A problem that did not exist before the arms race of better padding and increasingly unrealistic television interest in the blood lust of sport.

The entire article can be summed up by those two points. This rise in concussions comes from two factors. Players are getting bigger and padding is getting stronger. Kevlar’s promise to make the padding better, according to those rules, fundamentally seems unable to address the problem. So far, evidence bears this out:

“Kevlar has come up at some of our meetings, but nothing substantial,” said Dr. Henry Feur, a member of the NFL’s Head Neck and Spine Committee and a team physician for the Indianapolis Colts. “Reducing the G-forces in a collision may help with concussions, but it has yet to be proven. I don’t think Kevlar is going to address the ultimate problem, which is the brain crashing against the skull.

Source http://www.wired.com/playbook/2012/07/kevlar/all/

The Higgs is Real

I’m going to try to help make this sensible. But first I have two summary videos describing what the Higgs-Boson particle is and what it means. Further down, I have a few lines describing how we know its there, followed by some links to more detailed information.

Click here for Scientific American’s video on what the Higgs particle is.

For the following TED talk, the post 10 min. mark is where Prof. Cox gets into the importance of this discovery, but if you want a good summary of the search for the Higgs particle, just watch the whole thing.

[youtube http://youtu.be/_6uKZWnJLCM]

The Universe has once again done something wonderful — let us peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse of its inner workings.

Never forget this either: we humans did this. The discovery of this new particle, and the vast potential it has, was all because we’re curious. This huge machine, the LHC, was built solely because we wanted to find things out, and some people had the vision to fund it and build it. When we wish to explore, when we wish to see what’s over the next hill, wonders unfold before us. (Source)

More detailed bits here, here or here.

For fun: http://havewefoundthehiggsbosonyet.org/

Food: Well, it appears you really thought about this

Can’t say it’s all good thinking though. I don’t really feel like hashing out the problems with some of Joel Salatin’s logic in this space. But, if you do happen to go to the below link and watch the hour long talk with local food legend and compost revolutionary, Joel Salatin, feel free to engage in a discussion and I’ll bring my problems to the front.

Otherwise, please, give it a listen, there’s plenty of good information here mixed in with some very dumb logic.

Video (Fora.tv)

Hint: The guy thinks everyone should abandon cities and the internet and TVs. No joke.

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