Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Releasing a First Draft Outline of Climate Change Policy

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

For those who do not know, I had previously run for the United States Congress and I fully intend to do so again in the year 2014.   As a proponent of science and energy policy reform, the issue of global warming/climate change and how the US should respond to mitigate it is of special importance.

I have begun work on a detailed policy outline on the topic of greenhouse gas emissions and how to reduce them while maintaining a policy that does not result in draconian cuts on energy usage or resort to the use of carbon taxation.   This is accomplished by targeting sectors that produce the most greenhouse gasses and attempting to facilitate change through the creation of economically-beneficial alternatives.

The current draft is in outline form.  It is not a full report but only a skeleton version of the areas that will need to be addressed.   Still, it is sixteen pages long even as is.

It is very important to remember that this is only a draft.  This does not represent the final policy statement and is subject to change.   It is a first draft of what is expected to be several revisions before a final, detailed report is put together. Some of the items may end up being dropped if they turn out to be too expensive or have too little benefit.  In the first draft, all potential areas are included.  It thus may be viewed, at least in some ways, as a “wish list” of policies that should be considered.

The reason I am publishing this is I am hoping to get some constructive criticism and suggestions from readers.   I recognize that readers of this blog are often very insightful.  Also, I pride my campaign on being as open as possible and listening to others for input.

Full Outline in PDF Form

Again, remember it is not the final revision and is not what I have officially stated as my fixed policy.  It is only a draft under revision.

For the Record (On Christmas)

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

I cannot believe how many people ask me about this, so I’ll just state it here and hopefully be done with it:

1.  I most often call it Christmas, as opposed to the yuletide, the holidays, the season etc.   The reason for this is that I was raised that way and invokes the traditions I have generally been part of and the culture to which I am a member.  I don’t care what word or words you care to use.  They are all fine by me.

2.  No, I do not believe that using the word “Christmas” implies religion.  That is simply the name that is most recently associated with the midwinter festival, which has been called many things and symbolized many beliefs.  The fact that some modern traditions are based on Christianity means nothing.  Many others are based on paganism.  It’s an amalgam of different beliefs.  You can have a religiously-inspired festival and continue to celebrate it despite dropping the original religious basis.

This happened with Halloween.  We still go out and give candy and have parties, yet very few really stop and consider it to be “The Feast of All Hallows’ Eve.”  Hence, you can keep the name.  You can keep the customs and you can expand on the and invent new ones.  You don’t have to actually make it a religious thing.

3.  I will take any excuse to be festive and do things like give gifts, take off time, spend time with the family etc.  It’s not like we have enough of those to begin with.

4.  I’m opposed to the notion that Christmas, being religious in origin, should be dropped as a national holiday and I think the atheist groups that are for that are idiots.  You have to pick your battles.  If you are going to fight tooth and nail to take away everyone’s day off of work, you will gain no allies.  Lets face it, even religious Jews who in no way recognize Christmas like the fact that they generally get a day off work, and hence have established the Jewish tradition of “Chinese food day.”   So please, you are fighting to get rid of Christmas as an official holiday, find yourself something else to fight for.

5.  You can say Happy Holidays and I appreciate it and am not offended.  You can say Happy Yuletide, Happy Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Haunaka.  I appreciate the sentiment for all of them.   Personally, I tend to use “Happy Holidays” in general public discussion.  I tend to use “Merry Christmas” on the actual 25th of December and also in conversation with those I know to celebrate Christmas, but really, it’s all interchangeable and I don’t make a big deal out of it.

6.  Christmas does not end on the 25th and it is valid to say that “Merry Christmas” tomorrow and the day after.  Christmas day is the start of the twelve day Christmas celebration which ends with the Feast of the Epiphany.   Hence, it may not be Christmas Day tomorrow, but it’s still the Feast of Stephen and therefore, still Christmas.   Religious in origin?  Sure, but again, it’s an excuse to celebrate even if you secularize it.   It’s a “FEAST!”  Why on earth would you say no to a feast?  There can be no rational justification for turning down a reason to feast.

In many countries it is known as “Boxing Day,” which again, is a great excuse to celebrate.  The name, by the way, is of unknown origin, but may comes from the tradition of gift giving to workers, who would have been off on Christmas.  Regardless of the origin, it is almost certainly not related to punching people in the face, so please, do not celebrate Boxing Day by punching someone in the face.  (Well, unless they are really asking for it.)

7.  No, I don’t have a problem with commercialism.  If Christmas, as secularized, is associated with things like buying and putting up holiday lights and decorations, then fine.  I like flashy colorful things.  Who doesn’t?   If it is associated with shopping, then fine.  It’s good to give things to other people and consumerism is not inherently bad.

As long as it is not mean-spirited or dominated by stress, then I’m all for it.

8.  If you consider the stresses of implied expectations to be a bigger deal than the festive and happy aspects of the holiday, you are doing it wrong.   Take a deep breath and reevaluate it.  You are not *required* to get anything for anyone or to even observe it.   It’s supposed to be enjoyable.

9.  Holiday lights use up almost no electricity compared to major appliances.  Even the old incandescent ones are very low power devices and the increase in electricity as the result of holiday displays is hardly noticeable to utilities.  It’s nothing compared to the surge in the summer from air conditioning.  If I hear one more person suggest we should all turn off our festive displays because it’s killing the earth, I just might feel the need to celebrate boxing day as the name might imply.

10.  Merry Christmas to everyone reading this.

Some Reflections On The Recent Events In Newton CT

Monday, December 17th, 2012

This blog is obviously primarily about science, science reporting, skepticism and related topics.  However, being a resident of the southeastern portion of Connecticut, it would be impossible to continue on without mentioning the tragic shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown.   Connecticut is a small state to begin with, and Newtown, as it happens is only about twenty minutes drive from my home.  I’ve been to and passed through Newtown many times and I know several people who live in the town.

I did not know any of the victims, but in the past few days I have come to discover just how close I am to this tragedy.  The manager of my congressional campaign has worked for the state as a child advocate.   During a divorce and custody dispute, he was appointed to represent the interests of a young girl.  As is often the case, he became well acquainted with her and her family.  She was one of the victims who was killed on Friday.   My former nextdoor neighbors, who are also good friends of my parents, have a granddaughter in kindergarden at the school where the shooting occurred.  As it turns out, she was absent the day it happened, but no doubt the trauma of losing friends will be difficult for her and the family to deal with.  I have other acquaintances who have children who attend the school or who have lost friends or neighbors.  At my place of work, which, amongst other things, sells flowers, a number of orders were placed for sympathy arrangements for the families of the dead.

While there have been other shootings and tragic events, and indeed, human tragedies happen every day, nothing of this scope has hit quite so close to home and affected so many in my life before.

Of course, there is really no way to respond to such an event that will ever do much to change things.  None the less, some of the responses in the wake of the tragic events have been extremely disheartening.

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My Apologies for An Inacurate Picture

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Some time ago, I wrote a post about coal miners and the danger of “black lung disease.” The assertion and content of the post was accurate and I stand behind it.  Indeed, miners, even in modern coal mines do face an alarmingly high incidence of respiratory illness due to their work conditions.

However, one of the images and the caption I added were not accurate.  Here is the image as it appeared:

The image in question is one which I found on several websites using Google’s image search.  As it appeared in many non-cited examples, I believed it was likely an image that was either public domain or for which the original copyright owner was not attempting to control its distribution.   I also believed it was a West Virginia miner, as it was cited as such on more than one page.

This does not seem to be the case.  It has been brought to my attention that the miner in question is probably from Poland or elsewhere in Eastern Europe and that the image does not depict mine work as it normally is practiced in the US.  Also, he is not wearing a two-way radio, but more likely has a battery pack for a helmet-mounted lamp.  Thus, the picture could easily be decades old.

While I cannot verify the original source, I now accept that this is not a picture of a recent US miner and does not depict how coal mining typically occurs in the US.   United States miners do indeed have much more protection than this, although it is not adequate to stop all cases of respiratory disease from occupational exposure to coal or rock dust.

I apologize for this error and for the sloppiness in verifying the image.  I have been critical of the press for using inaccurate images before, and clearly I should not be doing so myself.   I take full responsibility for failure to exercise appropriate skepticism and verify all information.

I would like to say that this will never happen again, but I can’t do that with 100% certainty.  As a human, I am certainly prone to making such mistakes from time to time and I do not have the benefit of fact-checking editors.   However, I will certainly make an effort to avoid future errors.   Should I make one, please bring it to my attention in the comments or by e-mail.

Sorry again.

Paul Kurtz Has Died

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

It is with the deepest sadness that I must inform readers of the death of our good friend, one of the main founders of the modern skeptic, freethought and secular movement, Paul Kurtz. He was 86.   He will be deeply missed.

Sorry I do not really have it in me to memorialize Paul any further at this time.

Ten Revelations From Running For Congress

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

I have to say that running for office was by far one of the most educational experiences and important life events I’ve ever had.   One of the most important things I learned is that most of what I learned in civics and political science class is bullshit.  It’s a much more gritty system, often run through networking and knowing the right people more than procedure.  It’s a fascinating system too.  It can be dirty and difficult, but there are also a lot of good, dedicated people who are really involved in politics for the right reasons.  Sadly, there might not be enough of them, but they do exist.

It’s a perfect example of something that you can never really understand completely by reading about.  It must be experienced and you have to become part of it to really get it.  Just the same, I’ll try to relate, as best as I can, some of the biggest lessons and revelations.

I realize many readers are international, and these really apply directly to politics as it exists in the United States, but I am sure that many of these principles hold true elsewhere as well.

Here are some of the things I learned:

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I’m suspending my congressional campaign

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

To put it bluntly, I ran out of money and did not have enough contributions.

I suppose this can be expected to happen the first time around, but I made some good connections and I hope that in the near future I’ll be able to take things further. It’s rare to win a Congressional race when coming at it as an outsider, but if I choose to run again, I won’t be an outsider, so things may go much better.

I may reverse this decision if I get some more contributions, and in any case, any contributions I do receive on the Congressional site will certainly be helpful in paving the way to a 2014 run.

I’m not likely to be posting on here much for at least a few more days, however. I just need a breather.

A Modest Proposal To Reduce Hospital Infections

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

A few months ago my grandmother fell down and broke her arm.  (Before anyone asks, she is fine now.  They set the bone and she was in a sling for a couple months, but fully recovered.)  The day after she fell I went to visit her in the hospital.  She was admitted to Yale New Haven hospital and was staying in a bed in one of their general wards, about six floors up from the main entrance.  Yale New Haven has an excellent reputation and is regarded as the best hospital in the immediate area.

However, there is something that really struck me in a bad way upon visiting: it really seems the hospital could be doing a lot more to keep germs out.   Upon entering, I came to a receptionist.  She was barely paying attention, asked me to sign in and gave me a laminated pass (which I can only guess how many people had touched and how many rooms it had been to.)   She didn’t look me over to see if I looked reasonably clean or even if I appeared queezy and feverish.   I could have been coughing and had a runny nose and she probably would not have objected.

After getting the pass, I walked down the hall toward the elevators.  Before getting on, I stopped in the mens room and spent several minutes scrubbing my hands and forearms.  This was not required, of course, but there as a men’s room there so I figured it was a good idea.   Unfortunately, the lavatory had an air-type hand dryer with a nasty looking button to start it.  I pushed that with my elbow.   Then I kicked the door open (because it had a door, as opposed to the kind of lavatory where the door is open and there is a turn going in to keep it private).

As I approached the elevator, I encountered the first sign that the hospital cared at all about germs: a station where alcohol-based hand sanitizer is dispensed.  Depsite having washed my hands, I also used the hand sanitizer.  Of course, this was not mandatory and I saw plenty of people walk by without using it.  It seems it was little more than a suggestion, although a damn good one.

The elevator was operated with the standard grubby-looking plastic push button.  One would think in this day and age, there would be a better way, like some kind of proximity sensor you wave your hand in front of, but apparently this had either not occurred to the hospital or was not a priority.  The elevator, like all construction in the hospital, was made of the standard materials: rough plastic paneling, dry wall and so on.   I think I would have felt a bit better if more things had been made of stainless steel or porcelain, which give bacteria nothing to cling to and are easy to clean, or, better yet, anti-microbial copper plated material.

Am I overreacting?

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This post’s for you “Truthers”

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

The attacks on 9/11/2001 against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were carried out by a band of Islamic extremists by hijacking airliners and using them as suicide weapons.  There was no involvement or knowledge by the US Government, nor was the failure of the buildings in any way caused by placement of internal explosives or any other kind of special weapon of conspiracy.   There was certainly no nuclear weapon, laser beam, emp or anything else exotic involved.

It was a simple case of an attack we were not expecting by relatively simple means that had not been secured and carried out in a manner that we were not well defended against.   The structural failures were a clear cut case of physical and thermal stresses that vastly exceeded the buildings design capacity.

I’m sure of this.   I know all the claims out there.  I’ve seen the evidence.   I had even been to the sight shortly after the attack.  I know people who helped in the cleanup.   I have talked to experts.   I’m well aware of the history of government conspiracies (both the kind that really did happen and the ones that are false.)

You think I’m oppressing you?   You think you know better?   So sure you can prove it was all a big plot and I’m an idiot?

Well, be my guest.   Do it right here.   Conspiracy theorists make such claims on this website all the time.  I won’t silence you.  I won’t edit your comment.

I will, however, debate, examine and criticize it.   Others who visit this website will too.   I’ll call you on what you say and I might even call you crazy or an idiot.   Feel free to call me names back.   So here ya go.

For the record, the editorial policy of this website for comments is as follows:

  1. It’s my website.  When it comes down to a judgement call, I’m the judge.
  2. Comments that are clear-cut spam, such as product advertisements may be removed.
  3. Comments that make it difficult to read the post or other comments (such as containing malicious code or very long or numerous identical comments etc) will be removed.
  4. Comments that are excessively vulgar to the point of being a risk of getting the site listed on web filters will be removed.
  5. Comments that are direct threats may be removed and reported.
  6. Direct personal accusations or references to private matters which may have implications related to personal safety or other valid concerns may be removed.
  7. Blatantly off-topic comments are regarded as spam.
  8. Posing as someone else is grounds for removal of the comment and blocking of future comments.
  9. Repeat offenders may have their host and IP range blocked.
  10. Under no circumstances will a comment be removed simply because I strongly disagree with it, because it attacks a contention, opinion or fact presented in the post or another comment, because it calls me on an error, because it is dissatisfied with a conclusion, or even because it undermines or effectively disputes something on this site.

I’m just so sick and tired of “truther” idiots out there making this horrible tragic attack their own personal game of lies.   So bring it on.

Why I am so saddened by Neil Armstrong’s Death

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

My admitted sadness from the death of Neil Armstrong has been received in a way I didn’t expect.   A lot of people have asked me why it was such a big deal and what made me feel so personally affected by it.   Obviously, Neil Armstrong was a great guy, a highly accomplished test pilot and astronaut and someone who was willing to take on a mission of unknown dangers and extreme demands.  But why is it so sad for me, personally?   I never knew him.  He was 82, hardly a young age, and he died peacefully of natural causes.  Great, heroic people die all the time, and sad though it may be, we can’t sit around getting depressed over it.

So let me explain my reason for such sadness:

The Apollo program is often held up as the prime example of the United States and indeed Western Civilization at its best.   A goal of the grandest of proportions was proposed and achieved, in a relatively short period of time, with overwhelming success.   Only six missions landed on the moon from 1969 to 1972, but those few missions provided some of the greatest photographs, films and accounts humanity has ever known.

The Apollo Program is over.  That in itself is not tragic, as it was expensive and could not last forever.   What is tragic is what the past forty years of space exploration have been.  Lacking leadership, necessary finances and a worthy goal, NASA has wallowed as an agency with an uncertain future.  No serious attempt to reestablish deep space exploration has been undertaken since the Apollo Program.  After Apollo came Skylab, a brief, but accomplished program using Apollo technology.   But would become so underfunded and ill equipped that once they ran out of suitable surplus Apollo hardware, they had literally no way of getting to the space station, resulting in it crashing to earth.  Next came the Shuttle, a spacecraft with the worthy goal of making access to orbit cheaper and safer, but built with such design compromise that it achieved neither.

Today we have an agency in crisis.  Plans for exploration in deep space have been scaled back and have a questionable future.   While the rover Curiosity has been a triumph, the future of unmanned space exploration is uncertain.  NASA has spent more than thirty years perusing projects that produced little more than artist conceptual drawings before being scrapped.  We cannot even send a man into low earth orbit, much less beyond earth orbit.

Neil Armstrong was the greatest icon of the glory days of space exploration, and his past is yet another step away from that past.  With every death, the Apollo program is pushed further into our past.  Though he was the best known, the first, the most iconic of the men to walk on the moon, there were others.  Twelve men explored the surface of the moon.   Most of them (eight in total) are still alive, although now one less.   These men are getting older, the youngest being in their late seventies.    This, of course, won’t last forever.   There may not be any left in ten years.    Walking on the moon has thus passed from human memory to history.

Those who walked on the moon so many years ago believed they stood on the cusp of a new age of exploration and that they would live to see many more missions.   Sadly, Neil Armstrong would not live to see humans return to the moon, at least not after Apollo-17.  He would also not live to see the space program once again receive the funding, recognition and mission goals it deserves.   He died in an era of turmoil and uncertainty for space exploration.   That is tragic.