All Now Mysterious...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Two Jokes

 In reviewing my blog posts of the last several months, I realized – to my horror – that  most of them had been political in nature. That will never do. So, here's something amusing to break up the monotony. You're welcome.

--

A guy went to see his psychiatrist. He said, "Doc, you've got to help me!"

"What seems to be the problem?" the psychiatrist responded.

"Whenever I meet somebody new, instead of saying 'Hello' or 'How do you do', I just blurt out, 'What's new, pussycat?' It's weird, but I just can't help myself."

"Very interesting", the psychiatrist said. "It appears that you have developed a condition called Tom Jones Syndrome."

"Tom Jones syndrome?" the man asked. "I've never even heard of it. Is it rare?"

"Well," the psychiatrist responded, "it's not unusual."

-

A man found himself standing at the pearly gates before St. Peter. He gave his name, his address, and a few details of his life. Saint Peter then said, "I have located your information, and it looks like we have you listed for provisional acceptance into Heaven. It doesn't look like you've committed any particularly serious sins, however you haven't really done anything to distinguish yourself for the side of Right, either. If you could tell us about something you've done that was particularly courageous or heroic, it would really make the issue a lot easier to resolve."

"Well," the man said, "I was walking home from the pub when I looked down a dark alley and saw a young girl on the ground, surrounded by five or six tough-looking bikers. They had her trapped, and I could tell their intentions weren't honorable. I don't know why, but it made me really angry. I knew I had to do something.

"So I turned and walked right down that alley, right towards the biggest, toughest-looking one. He turned around when he saw me coming, and before he could do anything, I kicked him right in the family jewels, if you take my meaning. He dropped like a rag doll, and the others started to close in on me. Well, I picked up a piece of metal pipe and brought it down right on the next guy's head. He dropped, too.

"By then they'd hesitated for a minute. So I shouted at them. I said, 'All right, you scum, that's enough! I've never seen a more disgusting collection of human filth in all my life! You're all animals! You leave this poor girl alone, you freaks! Now get lost, before I give the rest of you a serious lesson in pain!' "

"Wow," St. Peter said, "that's quite remarkable. That would certainly qualify you for entry into Heaven. When did this happen?"

The man replied sheepishly, "About two minutes ago."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

In Which I Lament the Unfortunate Juxtaposition of Football and Politics

Okay, Broncos 'fans', let's get one thing straight here: The Broncos did not lose today's game because a number of players knelt for the National Anthem. It wasn't 'karma' or 'justice' or any of that nonsense.

I mean, a number of Buffalo players also knelt for the anthem, and clearly they weren't suffering 'karma' or 'justice'. Think about it.

No, the reason the Broncos lost today was because they couldn't make big plays at key times and Buffalo could. That, and maybe Von Miller's late flag. That's it.

So please knock it off with the "They lost because they disrespected America" crap. It's just not true. You're smarter than this.

And while we're on the subject: Those players who knelt during the National Anthem weren't disrespecting the flag, or America, or the nations veterans.

They were protesting the profane and inappropriate remarks made by our increasingly provocative and belligerent President.

Consider this: If the President of the United States publicly calls for a private organization to fire its employees over a protest, that's tantamount to government suppression of free expression--and that is expressly forbidden by the First Amendment.

President Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. He's not doing that.

And the players have every right to call him out on it, in whatever nonviolent way they see fit.

President Trump owes those players he referred to as "sons of b*****s" a serious, legitimate, and very public apology.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

In Which I Address Food-Related Science Quackery

[WARNING: Rant Mode ON. Maximum verbosity enabled.]

I realize that what I'm about to post probably won't make a bit of difference to anyone.  The people who, in my humble opinion, would benefit most from reading this, almost certainly won't make it to the end; and even if they do, it won't change their minds. They 'know' what they 'know', and any words from a science shill like me will only serve to prove to them that they were right all along. Nevertheless, I'll say it.  As Satai Dukhat once said, "When others do a foolish thing, you should tell them it is a foolish thing. They can still continue to do it, but at least the truth is where it needs to be."

So here we go.


#1: For The Love Of All That Is Good And Holy, Stop Saying "Chemical Free"

The phrase "chemical free" is a lie, pure and simple. There is no such thing.

The reason there is no such thing is that everything, literally everything we see and touch and eat and know, is made of chemicals. Water is a chemical. Oxygen is a chemical. High fructose corn syrup and Splenda© are chemicals, of course, but so is pure cane sugar, and every other sweetener you can name. Sodium benzoate, a commonly used preservative, is a chemical, but so is salt (including sea salt and Kosher salt), and it's been used as a preservative for millennia. Vitamins, minerals, proteins, chamomile, oil of peppermint, eucalyptus extract, David Avocado Wolfe's hair conditioner--they're all chemicals.

The fact is that all matter on Earth is composed of chemicals. Period. The only matter of which I'm aware that might reasonably not be called 'chemicals' is Dark Matter and neutron star matter. And nobody currently living on Earth is ever going to have to worry about those things--or if they do, it'll just be the one time.

So stop telling everyone that your food or your cosmetics or your sunscreen is 'chemical free'. It's just not true. And claiming to be 'chemical free' is not something to be proud of--it identifies you as someone lacking information, and an easy mark for hucksters.


#2: Genetically Modified Organisms Are Not 'Frankenfoods'

For thousands of years, human beings have engaged in the practice of genetically modifying organisms to make them serve our own needs. For most of this time, this was done by selective breeding. For example, our ancestors chose those plants and animals that had characteristics we liked and bred them with each other to reinforce those characteristics. Over the course of generations and centuries, we turned these naturally-existing organisms into the kinds of organisms that we waned them to be. This process of genetic modification is now known as 'domestication'.

Today, our scientific knowledge and technological expertise allows us to accomplish the same goals, but in a drastically reduced period of time. Now that we know about genes and DNA--discoveries made only in the last couple of centuries--we can alter an organism's genetic code to reinforce desirable characteristics (high yield, resistance to disease, etc.) directly.

So please don't waste your time (or mine) telling me about the benefits of non-GMO corn or non-GMO beef or non-GMO chick peas.  Because they don't really exist. The fact is, all of these foods--and, in fact, all food from domesticated sources--is GMO food, and has been for centuries.

"But wait," I hear you cry. "Genetic engineering and selective breeding aren't the same thing!" You're right, of course. Genetic engineering is much more precise and reliable--and much more heavily regulated--than traditional crossbreeding methods.

"But wait," I hear you cry again. "We don't always know what genetic modification of an organism will do!" Well, that's true. But we don't always know what traditional crossbreeding will do, either. The fact is that due to random mutations inherent in the reproductive cycles of all forms of life, crossbreeding is much more likely to produce unexpected results than genetic modification.

"But wait," I hear you cry yet again. "GMO foods aren't safe!" Let me be direct: You don't have any evidence that that's true. I have yet to see a single scientific study published in a recognized, peer-reviewed scientific journal that supports the assertion that GMO foods are unsafe at any level. Oh sure, I've seen articles/blog posts by the Food Babe and Natural News decrying the dangers of GMO foods. Those aren't scientific publications. They're marketing sites with an agenda (and related products and accessories!) to sell. Get on the website. Look at their prices. Where does that money go, do you suppose?

Anyway, on the issue of GMO food safety, all I can say is this: Saying that GMO foods are unsafe doesn't make it true. Show me the evidence.  I'll wait.


#3: Organic: I Don't Think That Means What You Think It Means

First, let's get some terminology out of the way. In terms of chemistry, 'organic' means 'containing carbon'. And other than water and a handful of minerals, all food contains carbon.  In other words, all foods are organic foods, scientifically speaking. So as a description of what the foods are actually made of, 'organic' isn't terribly useful.

Now, 'organic' as a marketing term for foods? Well, that's something else entirely. Some food producers use different methods for growing foods, mainly involving which fertilizers and pest control methods they use, in order to appeal to more environmentally-conscious or health-conscious consumers. And that's fine. Foods produced in such a fashion are usually labeled 'Organic', and usually sell for a higher price than non-'organic' items.

But what does this label really mean? Well, as it turns out, not necessarily a lot. Standards for 'organic' food production are not consistent, and they are not always rigorously enforced. And a few unethical producers don't even bother with the process at all; they just market all their food as 'organic' because the profits outweigh the risks of getting caught. Additionally, there's not a lot of evidence that 'organic' foods are nutritionally superior to their mundane (and less costly) counterparts. Research in this area is ongoing, of course.

As a food descriptor, 'organic' is often just a synonym for 'expensive', sadly.


#4: All-Natural Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better

Here's a simple comparison. Cyanide is produced naturally in the pits of stone fruits (peaches, apricots, etc.) and will kill you dead, dead, dead. Medicinal insulin is synthetic (and produced by GMOs, no less!) and saves the lives of millions of people every day. So, which is better, natural or synthetic?

That's actually a trick question. The correct answer is this: It doesn't matter. Not at all. The source of a molecule (the basic unit of a chemical, you know) has nothing whatsoever to do with its properties. The molecule doesn't know or care if it's from natural or synthetic sources. It makes no difference whatsoever.

Now don't get me wrong, I prefer real vanilla extract to the artificial stuff. It tastes better. That's because it has ingredients (chemicals) in it that are not produced by the synthetic process. But the primary molecule found in both real and artificial vanilla is exactly the same, despite the difference in origin.

If you feel better about 'all-natural' foods, cosmetics, and supplements, then good for you. But if you're claiming that the same ingredients derived from synthetic sources are somehow different or inferior, that's just not true.


Okay, that's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading.

[Rant Mode OFF.]

Friday, January 20, 2017

RINO No More

I celebrated today’s inauguration of President Donald Trump by changing my voter registration from Republican to Libertarian.

I first registered to vote when I turned 18, back in the Reagan administration. I've been a registered (if not always enthusiastic) Republican my entire adult life. I haven't always agreed with the policies and positions of the Party, but I always felt that the Republican Presidents (or Presidential nominees) and other Party leaders were basically good people who genuinely wanted what was best for the nation.

But I don't feel that way about the current Republican leadership. In the last few weeks, Republican leaders in Congress and elsewhere have demonstrated an astounding recklessness in their actions. Their first act in Congress was to try to abolish the independent ethics panel that oversees them.  Who decided that was a good idea? They want to tear down the Affordable Care Act--which, almost without exception, they refer to derisively as ‘Obamacare’--and replace it, eventually, it with something else. But nobody seems to know what that is.  Oh, sure, I’ve heard people talk about about ‘Health Savings Accounts’.  I suppose they’re okay, if you’ve got so much money that you don’t need insurance anyway. At this point, even I am starting to think Canada’s single-payer system looks pretty good.

And as for President Trump?  He’s even more disturbing. He has no background and no experiences to prepare him for this job--no legal, military, government, or public service experience whatsoever. Worse, his temperament and personality make him entirely unsuited to the position. He’s erratic, combative, and unprincipled. He gets in Twitter fights with people who criticize him. He can’t be told ‘No’, because as far as I can tell, he doesn’t consider himself answerable or accountable to anybody.  His lack of concern for possible Russian interference in our country’s affairs is astonishing. Didn’t Republicans used to want to fight the Russians? And his choices for Cabinet? Incomprehensible. He says he wants to ‘drain the swamp’--but he keeps nominating tycoons and insiders. And not even tycoons and insiders that make sense. He wants a brain surgeon in charge of Housing and Urban Development, an enemy of public education in charge of the Education Department, and a Wall Street executive as Secretary of State. To be fair, I suppose it’s fitting that his nominees are as inexperienced and unqualified as he is.

So no, I don’t feel like the Republican Party is where I belong at this point in time.

But fear not, my friends. My decision to change my registration to Libertarian doesn't indicate a seismic personality shift on my part. I haven’t become a soulless Objectivist automaton or dope-smoking hippie. In reality, my political party membership is less important to me on a daily basis than, say, making sure I leave the house in the morning with socks that match--something I do worry about (and accomplish) pretty much every day. Labels don't mean that much to me, and political party affiliation isn't even in the top ten of how I self-identify.

Changing my voter registration to Libertarian means mostly that I've grown tired of the two-party chicanery our nation has endured for the last twenty years or so. Looking back, I don't feel that my political positions have changed that much. Perhaps the years have made me more moderate in those positions (and likely more cynical), but I have pretty much the same ideas about government that I've always had: that government exists solely to protect the rights, safety, and freedom of its citizens; that government must represent the interests of all its citizens, not just those belonging to the Party currently in power; and most importantly, that government operates by consent of the governed.

I don't think either major political party, Democratic or Republican, operates that way any more (if either or both ever did). Both Parties are more like mega-corporations now, completely amoral and bereft of any genuine concern for the common people in their power-driven chase for ever-increasing market share. We're no longer people that they represent; we're consumers, targets of their greedy and self-promulgating marketing schemes. “Blind men [and women] in the market,” as Rush says, “buying what we're sold.”

Well, I'm not buying any more. Not now, anyway.

I already know that I won't remain a registered Libertarian indefinitely. When the next round of caucuses and primary elections rolls around, I'll change my registration back to Republican in order to participate. Utah is so heavily Republican that the primaries are where most elections are really decided, and the G.O.P. holds closed primaries. So I'll hold my nose and switch back, because it's what I'll have to do to have a voice. And then, in all likelihood, I'll switch back to Libertarian again. Or maybe, two years from now, there will be another option. I doubt it, but maybe. No need to worry about that just now, I suppose.

But for now, I'm no longer a Republican. The G.O.P. won't miss me (and my one vote) or even notice that I'm gone.  And that's okay. The Libertarians will likely be excited to have another name on their roster. If the helps the get more third-party involvement in future elections, then I’m glad to do it.

But mostly, I just can't be a Republican right now.

America's Choir

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is performing at today's Presidential inauguration. There are people who have criticized the Choir for accepting the invitation to perform. I can understand the sentiment, but I feel perhaps these people don't understand what the Choir does or what its mission is.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir will perform between the Vice Presidential and Presidential oaths of office. They will perform one number, "America the Beautiful". The performance will, of course, be beautiful, powerful, and executed with technical brilliance, because that's the only way the Choir does it. Many people will be moved by the Tabernacle Choir's performance today. For some people, this song will be the only happy or hopeful memory they'll have of this day.

That is why the Choir is performing today: not to endorse President Trump or the Republican Party, but to endorse America. To remind the President and the American people that this nation is, in fact, good and great and beautiful. To honor those who more than self their country love, and to encourage us all to a greater love of mercy. To recall to our minds that American dream yet undimmed by human tears. And to encourage us all to beat a thoroughfare of freedom across our contemporary wilderness.

What better message could this administration--and this nation--hear right now? And who is better suited to the delivery of this message than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?

So if you feel the need to demean, disparage, or boycott the Mormon Tabernacle Choir today, do your thing. But as for me, I'll be playing their music loud and proud all day long.

God bless the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and God bless America.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Didn't See That Coming . . . .

So, Donald Trump defied conventional wisdom, flipped several blue states to red, and got himself elected to be the 45th President of the United States.

Huh.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Why You Won’t See Me on Facebook for the Next Two Weeks

The Unites States Presidential election takes place one week from today. Based on everything I’ve seen for the past several months, I anticipate seven full days of anger, name-calling, ad hominem attacks, distortions, misrepresentations, threats, and outright lies. And that’s just from the candidates. Their followers on social media are, inexplicably, even more poorly-behaved. I don’t need a week of that.

I expect the week after the election to be even worse.  I foresee seven days of unrelenting negativity including gloating, accusations of election fraud, smug self-righteous I-told-you-so’s, calls for secession, threats of violence, or even actual violence --plus everything in the previous paragraph. Again, I don’t need a week of that.

So I’m taking two weeks off. Maybe more. We’ll see.

There were a few things I wanted to say before I left, though. Take these for what they’re worth.

1. Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. Yes, I know that today’s poll numbers show Donald Trump with a one point lead over Clinton. Doesn’t matter. Polls don’t decide the Presidency--the Electoral College does.  And Trump can’t win enough of the battleground states to earn the requisite 270 electoral votes. One report I read today shows likely electoral votes based on states that are solidly in favor of, or leaning toward, one of the two candidates. In this scenario, Clinton already has 263 electoral votes, while Trump has 180, with 95 still up in the air. That means Trump has to win at least six of the following seven battleground states: Nevada, Arizona, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and/or Florida. (And that’s assuming he wins Utah, which is no certain thing at this point.) Sorry, folks, but that ain’t happening. Trump is toast.

2. I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton. It’s not because I dislike her, or because I think she’s untrustworthy. Although, to be honest, I don’t like or trust Secretary Clinton, the main reason I’m voting against her is because I disagree with her vision of what government should be.  She stands for bigger government--more government involvement, more government interference, more government control. She thinks only the government can solve all of the problems of America and Americans. There’s no doubt that there are problems to be solved. But I don’t think bigger government is the answer. Isn’t our government big enough and intrusive enough as it is? Realignment and restructuring? Absolutely, and the sooner, the better. But expansion? Again? No thanks. Any government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything you have.

3.  I will not be voting for Donald Trump, either. Yes, I am a Republican (RINO, in the eyes of some) and have been since I first registered to vote back in 1986. But Party loyalty is not reason enough to vote for Donald Trump. Even if I thought Donald Trump were an actual Republican (which I don’t) or agreed with his policies, such as they are (which I don’t), the simple fact is that the man is not qualified to be the President of the United States. His shortcomings are numerous and well-documented, and I have no wish to spend the next two hours listing in detail all the reasons he is not fit to lead any nation, never mind the United States. I will simply say that Trump shows no signs of being able to handle the day-to-day rigors of being a world leader. He lacks the knowledge, the experience, the temperament, and the self-discipline to be the President.

4.  A vote for a third party isn’t a ‘wasted’ vote. I’ve heard all manner of “A vote for anyone but Trump is a vote for Clinton”, as well as the inverse. It’s all bovine scatology. It’s vote shaming. It’s bullying in the classic sense: the use of threats or intimidation to coerce someone to comply with one’s own will. Sorry, kids, but I’m too old and too smart to fall for that. I will vote for the candidate I think is the most qualified, conventional wisdom be damned--and I encourage everyone else to do the same. The only ‘wasted’ vote is one that doesn’t represent what you really feel is best for the nation.

5.  My one vote isn’t going to affect the Presidential election in the slightest. Since I don’t live in Nevada, Arizona, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and/or Florida, I know that my single vote will not influence the outcome of the Presidential race one iota. That’s just how the system works. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Now, does that mean my vote doesn’t matter? Absolutely not! By voting for a third party, I might just help someone other than House Donkey and House Elephant get a seat at the table in future elections. What might happen if someone other than a Republican or a Democrat gets some electoral votes next week? How would it shape future races? Imagine what the election process would look like if the candidates actually had to earn their votes amid a multiplicity of choices, instead of just pandering to one side or the other! The Two Party System™ is long past broken; it’s time to raze it to the ground and build anew. Voting for someone other than Trump or Clinton is a good place to start.

6.  I’m not worried about Hillary Clinton stacking the Supreme Court with ultra-liberal judges. This has been floated as one of the main reasons to vote for Donald Trump in spite of his many glaring flaws. This is a scare tactic by the GOP. The fact is that Clinton could nominate Bozo the Clown to the Supreme Court, but he won’t become a Justice until he’s confirmed by the Senate. Remember Merrick Garland? Yeah, he’s the man President Obama nominated to replace Justice Scalia back in March--more than seven months ago. Why isn’t he on the Supreme Court? Because the Senate not only hasn’t confirmed him, they haven’t even talked about him (although he’s likely to be confirmed quickly once Senate Republicans realize that President-elect Clinton could withdraw the nomination in January and replace him with someone they find even more unpalatable. Heck, President Obama could do the same thing the day after the election!). The way to keep the Supreme Court ideologically balanced, in this circumstance, is to keep the Senate in the hands of the Republican Party. That’s where the GOP should be focusing their efforts, because Trump is frankly unelectable. If the Republicans lose the Senate as well as the Presidency, well, they’ve got nobody but themselves to blame.

7.  The Presidential election isn’t the real issue, anyway. Do you want safer neighborhoods? Lower property taxes? Better schools? More responsive government? Because the President doesn’t have anything to do with any of those things. For that matter, neither do your Senators or Representatives. These issues are decided locally by mayors, school boards, and state legislators. Local ballot initiatives will also be important. These are the elections that will affect our lives the most on a day-to-day basis. Most of us, however, know little or nothing about these races. So forget about the national elections for a week and concentrate on the local races. You (and your community) will be glad you did.

That’s all I have for now, I guess. I’ll see you all again on or around November 15th. Try not to yell at each other too much while I’m gone.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In Which I Lament the State of the Republican Party in2016

The problem with the Republican Party today is that there really isn't one. George Will is quoted as saying, "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Amusing as that sentiment is, it's more literally true of the GOP today.

The Republican Party isn't really a single entity with a unifying vision and platform. It is instead a loosely-organized coalition of competing and often internally contradictory factions. They are, to borrow from Battlestar Galactica, a ragtag, fugitive fleet, on a voyage to they-know-not-where. Meanwhile, Republican leaders are forced to pander to as many of these splintered factions as possible in order to get anything done. Republicans squabble amongst themselves almost as often as they squabble with Democrats.

Among the factions currently claiming affiliation with the GOP: the Gun Rights faction, the Anti-immigration faction, the Rich White Folks faction (Hillary Clinton notwithstanding), the Shouting Evangelical faction, the Get The Gummit Outta My Life faction, the Anti-Islam faction, the I'm-Mad-As-Hell-And-I'm-Not-Gonna-Take-It-Anymore faction, the Obstructionist Tea Party faction, the Anti-Vax/Climate Change Denial/Anti-Science faction, the Anti-Common Core/Pro-Homeschool faction, and maybe, somewhere in all of that, a few actual Reagan-era conservatives. These vastly disparate groups are united (if that's the right word) by just one thing: for one reason or another, they all dislike President Obama and/or Secretary Clinton.

That's no way to win an election. (See 'Kerry, John' for details.) There's no way any one candidate--or even any one Presidential/VP ticket--can hope to satisfy all of those factions. 

The Republicans have lost the last two Presidential elections--and if you ask me, they're on track to lose the next two--because  the Party no longer has any idea who the Hell they are or what they stand for. All they know is what they're against.

For my money, the 2016 Presidential election is already lost. Dysfunctional as the Democratic Party might be at the moment, nobody seriously doubts that the rank and file will eventually fall in line behind Hillary Clinton in November. As much as Democrats might dislike Clinton, they're not going to vote for Trump instead. Meanwhile, Utah, arguably the reddest of the Red States, is currently polling Trump at 29%, Clinton at 27%, and Libertarian Gary Johnson at 26%. Statistically , it's a dead heat. If, as a Republican, you can't win Utah convincingly, what chance do you have of winning the nation?

I expect that there will still be a Republican Party after November, but I have no idea what it will look like. But the GOP can't go like this much longer. Eventually, the Party is going to implode.

With luck, it'll be sooner rather than later. The sooner it happens, the more time the Party will have to figure out what the Hell it wants to be. They'd better get working on that quickly. It's only four years until the next election....