31 July 2011


Here's a study that has already prompted controversy. The Sunny Side of Smut argues that for "the more casual exposure typical of most porn users, recent research shows that moderate pornography consumption does not make users more aggressive, promote sexism, or harm relationships. If anything, some researchers suggest, exposure to pornography might make some people less likely to commit sexual crimes." While most Europeans would find little surprise in the findings, we Americans take our prudishness seriously. Porn has been a hotbed (as it were) issue for many years. As one researcher reminds us, "There's absolutely no evidence that pornography does anything negative. It's a moral issue, not a factual issue."

It is perhaps telling that our attitudes toward porn say more about ourselves as individuals, than about pornography's effect or lack of effect. For instance, regarding the alleged link between porn and sexism, "The survey respondents who were most sexist were generally older men who voted for a right-wing political party, lived in a rural area, and had a lower level of formal education." In short, porn is falsely indicted by association with mindsets which are already predisposed to sexism, aggression, or shaky relationships.

Caveat: the conclusions cited refer to adults viewing adult porn, not to bestiality or child porn. Check out the study (including the comments left by readers), and see what you think. Also, what do you think of the image of abstract art shown above? Is it sexually suggestive to you? Why, or why not? Would you consider the image pornographic?

While we're considering our attitudes and behavior surrounding sex, consider My Mixed Feelings About Slut Walks. A slutwalk is a public demonstration by barely-clad or provocatively-clad feminist women, intended to challenge our assumptions about women's clothing, sexual assault, and personal responsibility (among both women and men). The demonstrators contend that how a woman dresses is irrelevant to how a man behaves in response. A lone woman dressed stylishly, or in a manner which celebrates her body, is a more likely target for harassment or sexual assault than a woman who dresses more modestly, or so the rationale goes. "She's asking for it," is a cruder way of defending the indefensible ~ men who take it upon themselves to behave like boors at best, and like animals at worst.

The author's mixed feelings derive from her own past experience with being raped. Her essay is sobering, and well worth the read.

30 July 2011


Here are two new developments in the realm of travel ~ each is the most recent iteration in a long line of predecessors. The first is a velomobile, a human-powered vehicle which is enclosed for improved aerodynamics and protection from weather and collisions. The newest version, called the Versatile (see image above), places the rider in a recumbent position, and is so light that it requires a fraction of the energy needed to propel a bicycle. Given its easy cruising speed of 25 mph and its increased range, it offers a viable alternative to the automobile for city commuting. Here is an entertaining slide show demonstrating an assortment of manufacturers and riders.

The second development is a roadable aircraft (or flying car, depending on how you view it), the Model 367 Bipod Hybrid (see image below, and click on the link for another slide show), designed by legendary aerospace engineer Burt Rutan. The pursuit of such a crossover vehicle has gone on for decades. Rutan's design takes the radical step of incorporating not one passenger compartment, but two, contained in twin fuselages forming a four-wheel chassis. For ground operations, the wings and tail can be stowed in the aerodynamic booms linking the two fuselages. Each fuselage has a 450cc engine which provides electrical power to the wheels or to the propellors.

Interestingly, ground operation is controlled from the left cockpit, while flight is controlled from the right cockpit. Thus the vehicle provides travel for one, but with little cargo or passenger capacity. To this extent, the Model 367 may not provide as much utility as the Terrafugia, described in earlier posts. But the presence of Burt Rutan in the field of designers adds a definite aura of credibility. Perhaps the sky really is no limit after all.

29 July 2011


My thanks to Irene and Melody for the link to one of the finest essays I've ever read on the nature of democracy, and how our founding principles are being undermined and betrayed by the rise of neocon, Tea Party ideology within the Republican party. The essay is titled Why Democracy Is Public: the American Dream Beats the Nightmare. The authors take us back to basics, and remind us of how much we stand to lose if we allow the current drift away from moderation and toward radical conservatism to continue. This should be committed to memory by every Senator and Representative, at both federal and state levels. It should be committed to memory by every citizen. Here's why ~

"Democracy, in the American tradition, has been defined by a simple morality: We Americans care about our fellow citizens, we act on that care and build trust, and we do our best not just for ourselves, our families and neighbors, but for our country, for each other, for people we have never seen and never will see.

"American Democracy has, over our history, called upon citizens to share an equal responsibility to work together to secure a safe and prosperous future for their families and nation. This is the central work of our democracy and it is a public enterprise. This, the American Dream, is the dream of a functioning democracy.

"Public refers to people, acting together to provide what we all depend on: roads and bridges, public buildings and parks, a system of education, a strong economic system, a system of law and order with a fair and effective judiciary, dams, sewers, and a power grid, agencies to monitor disease, weather, food safety, clean air and water, and on and on. That is what we, as a people who care about each other, have given to each other.

"Only a free people can take up the necessary tasks, and only a people who trust and care for one another can get the job done. The American Dream is built upon mutual care and trust.

"Our tradition has not just been to share the tasks, but to share the tools as well. We come together to provide a quality education for our children. We come together to protect each other's health and safety. We come together to build a strong, open and honest financial system. We come together to protect the institutions of democracy to guarantee that all who share in these responsibilities have an equal voice in deciding how they will be met.

"What this means is that there is no such thing as a 'self-made' man or woman or business. No one makes it on their own. No matter how much wealth you amass, you depend on all the things the public has provided ~ roads, water, law enforcement, fire and disease protection, food safety, government research, and all the rest. The only question is whether you have paid your fair share for all we have given you.

"We are now faced with a nontraditional, radical view of 'democracy' coming from the Republican party. It says that 'democracy' means that no one should care about anyone else, that 'democracy' means only personal responsibility, not responsibility for anyone else, and it means no trust. If American accepts this radical view of 'democracy', then all that we have given each other in the past under traditional democracy will be lost: all that we have called public. Public roads and bridges: gone. Public schools: gone. Publicly funded police and firemen: gone. Safe food, air, and water: gone. Public health: gone. Everything that made America America, the crucial things that you and your family and your friends have taken for granted: gone.

"The democracy of care, shared responsibility, and trust is the democracy of the American Dream. The 'democracy' of no care, no shared responsibility, and no trust has produced the American Nightmare that so many of our citizens are living through.

" .... If we are to successfully overcome the Republican demonizing of government and shared responsibility, we must restore faith in the mutual enterprise itself. Rather than simply defend government and government programs, we must positively advance the moral values of American democracy and the Dream, not the Nightmare."

The essay goes to to specify the language Republicans have used to distort our understanding of democracy, and also specifies the issues which most demand our focus and clear thinking. It is an elocutionary treasure, and a reality check. Being reminded of concepts like the commons, public services, and government of, by and for the people, is like awakening from a bad dream ~ a nightmare indeed. Alas, the nightmare exists in our waking life. It is up to each of us to clarify the real issues, stand up for the true American dream, and challenge the new wave of Republican swindlers and fast talkers at every turn. Unless we do, we will no longer be a democracy. We will be an oligarchy, and we will deserve the servitude we have chosen.

Here's one fact which supports the author's contention that Republican greed lies at the heart of our current social and budgetary crisis ~ if corporations and households taking in $1 million or more in income each year were now paying taxes at the same annual rates they did back in 1961, the federal treasury would be collecting an additional $716 billion a year .... the federal debt to investors would almost totally vanish over the next decade. Think about that the next time you see some Republican talking head on TV calling for cuts to human services, cuts to Social Security, cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, while defending tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations. Note: Social Security is not an "entitlement" ~ it is a trust fund into which most of us have made deposits over the course of our working life. It is our money, not subject to revision or cancellation.

In further support of this assertion, here is an interview between Chris Matthews and the treasury secretary under President George H.W. Bush (and a policy advisor to Ronald Reagan) ~ a rare instance of a Republican with the integrity to come out of the shadows and state the obvious, that the George W. Bush tax cuts lie at the root of the U.S. fiscal meltdown. Listening is five minutes well spent in self-education.

28 July 2011


The moon is not Earth's only orbital traveling companion. According to a PBS Newshour report, a team of Canadian astronomers has found "an asteroid caught in a synchronized orbit with the Earth (see image above), dancing back and forth relative to our planet as both orbit the sun. The object is a Trojan asteroid, meaning that it is held in a delicate balance between a gravitational tug from the sun and an equal gravitational tug from the Earth. [The discovery has been designated 2010 TK7.]

"It's long been known that Jupiter, Neptune and Mars have Trojans orbiting alongside them, but this is the first time one has been found alongside our planet .... Trojans are found in areas called Lagrange triangular points (see illustration below, click to enlarge), where the gravitational pull between the host planet and star ~ in this case Earth and the sun ~ balance out. This Trojan is found at L4, which is 60 degrees ahead of the Earth .... its distance from the Earth ranges from 49.7 million miles to 12.4 million miles."

When you click on the link, be sure to scroll down to the GIF (animated) display of the orbits of the Earth and our Trojan companion as they circle the sun. The more we learn about the solar system (and the cosmos in general), the clearer it becomes that we have so much more yet to learn.

Case in point ~ Science Daily reports that the European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory "has shown that water expelled from the moon Enceladus forms a giant torus of water vapour around Saturn. the discovery solves a 14-year mystery by identifying the source of water in Saturn's upper atmosphere .... Enceladus expels about 250 kg of water vapour every second, through a collection of jets from the southern polar region .... Although most of the water from Enceladus is lost into space, freezes on the rings or perhaps falls onto Saturn's other moons, the small fraction that does fall into the planet is sufficient to explain the water observed in its upper atmosphere."

Enceladus is the only moon in the Solar System known to influence the chemical composition of its parent planet. So far.

27 July 2011


In the United States, one out of one hundred adults resides in prison. No other nation on earth incarcerates such a high proportion of its citizens. The ostensible goals for imprisonment are punishment and rehabilitation. The punishment goal is met many times over for each inmate, in the form of prison overcrowding, cruel and violent living conditions, a poor diet, and isolation from the loved ones who might bring a touch of humanity to an inmate's life.

The rehabilitation goal has never been seriously undertaken in any meaningful, systematic way. Counseling is spotty to nonexistent. Prison libraries are stocked with obsolete and irrelevant books. The only training programs widely in use are those which serve the immediate needs of the criminal justice system ~ cheap labor, busy work, facility maintenance. In reality, prison is a very effective crime school. Someone incarcerated for a minor, victimless offense suddenly has access to those who murder, steal, extort, or otherwise perform and teach a wide range of felonies. A very, very few inmates are able to earn their high school equivalency degree (G.E.D.), and almost none are able to take college courses to better their lives upon release.

Until now. As reported on the PBS Newshour, Bard College has established a B.A. program in the New York State prison system, affording inmates access to the same rigorous education available at any Ivy League school. Rather than offering specialized degrees in fields which may be obsolete within a year or two, the program's emphasis is on a broader liberal arts education which "develops the student's rational thought and intellectual capacities. And inmates are eager for the opportunity. There are so many applicants that for now, only one in ten is admitted to the program. The inmate students have proven to be intellectually ambitious and deeply invested in their education. They read more thoroughly, think more deeply, and ask more penetrating questions than their younger counterparts on college campuses. And once they graduate, they put their training to use in the outside world, becoming engaged and productive citizens. In Part II of the report, a graduate of the Bard prison program returns to share his success story with former fellow classmates, and employers positively evaluate the quality of prison graduates.

I've worked with incarcerated felons, both juveniles and adults. I've seen how horribly the system has failed them, over and over. Most inmates, given half a chance and a bit of respect, rise to the challenge and seek to better themselves, even in the barbaric conditions of today's prisons. The Bard College initiative is a model for the nation. To read the transcript or view the eleven minute segment, click here.

So what, I hear you asking, do the letters G.I.F. or gif signify? Literally, the acronym stands for Graphics Interchange Format, an image format that supports simple color animations. gif has become increasingly popular online, especially at social network websites. It is also used in games, line art, and low-resolution illustrations. Below are an example of gif art. Note the repetitive motion, not unlike a closed-loop film clip. And here is a collection of gifs called cinemagraphs. My favorite is a park scene in which passersby are apparently frozen in position, like a photography, except for the solitary man sitting and flipping through his newspaper. Alas, since this website does not allow importation of gifs, please click on the gif link above for more examples. Enjoy.

26 July 2011


CORPORAL PUNISHMENT. My gratitude to Andrea Kuszewski for posting this link to a study on the effects of corporal punishment in school (and by implication, at home). Aptly titled "Spare the Rod and Develop the Child", the study compares the effects of a harshly punitive environment (where routine discipline includes public beating with a stick, slapping of the head, and pinching) with the effects of a non-punitive environment (where routine discipline includes time-outs and verbal reprimands). Children in the punitive schools "performed significantly worse in tasks involving 'executive functioning' -- psychological processes such as planning, abstract thinking, and delaying gratification .... The findings suggest that a harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on children's verbal intelligence and their executive-function ability .... These results are consistent with research findings that punitive discipline may make children immediately compliant, but may reduce the likelihood that they will internalize rules and standards. That, in turn, may result in lower self-control as children get older.

"This study demonstrates that corporal punishment does not teach children how to behave or improve their learning."

I find it unutterably sad that so many otherwise well-meaning adults cling to the notion that striking a child (beating, spanking, slapping, or worse) is constructive. I've long felt that the only lasting effect is to teach the child that violence is an acceptable solution to a problem. How many bullies must we encounter, how much domestic abuse must we endure, before we learn at long last to communicate? A strong case can be made that those who suffer violence as children, go on to inflict violence as adults. In the U.S. 19 states still allow corporal punishment in schools (see map below ~ the 19 states are in red). With evidence that we are actually crippling our children's development, that number should plummet to zero ~ no violence in schools, no violence at home. Period.

DEBT CEILING. I know, this subject has become crushingly dull through repetition in the media. I bring it up because unless the U.S. raised its debt ceiling, it will go into default on its loans from other nations. The blindingly stubborn Republicans in Congress must disenthrall themselves from Tea Party ideology and actually negotiate in good faith with their Democratic counterparts and with the Obama administration. Last night Barack Obama addressed the nation on television, clarifying the issue in clear and forceful terms. He and the Democrats in Congress have bent over backward, making concession after concession, and each time they do, Republicans still refuse to give an inch. Conservatives' hypocrisy is reflected in Speaker John Boehner's response to the presidential address ~ trotting out tired old platitudes that are irrelevant to the current crisis. Small wonder that a NYTimes editorial summarizing the situation is entitled The Republican Wreckage. The U.S. has become a laughing stock among nations, our global credit rating is about to take a nosedive, and all Republicans can come up with is to cut benefits to the poor and elderly, while protecting tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations. Lewis Carroll would feel right at home.

Make your voice heard ~ to contact the White House and your senators and representatives, click here and follow the appropriate links. Anyone who fails to vote or take part in the democratic process, has no room to complain about the results.

25 July 2011


In recent days, a passionate discussion has arisen over the use of pseudonyms online, in particular on social networks like Facebook and Google+. In a perfect world, we would be free to use our own names ~ but we don't live in a perfect world. Many are at risk when using their real (i.e., legal) names. As set forth in Geek Feminism Wiki, those who may be harmed by a 'real names' policy include women, LGBT people, children, parents/caregivers, people with disabilities, people from certain racial/ethnic/cultural/religious backgroungs, people with unusual names, victims of real-world abuse and harassment, political activists, people in sensitive employment, or people with long-standing pseudonyms. Not to mention writers who adopt controversial stances, like Mark Twain (above) or ~ dare I say it? ~ myself. Click on the link for a much fuller description of each group, and the risks they face.

Despite the need for protection of its members, Google+ has recently instituted a "no pseudonyms" policy, and has closed the accounts of individuals who appear to be writing under names they've adopted. The response among users has been swift and decidedly negative. Witness Denim and Tweed, who bears witness to the silly shortsightedness of a newborn network excluding many of the most talented and original writers now online.

Witness En Tequila Es Verdad, who correctly points out that "A 'nym is not an unknown. Names are easy to fake. Reputations are not. Over the months and years, pseudonymous folk build up a reputation, and that reputation follows the 'nym. So let's not pretend that a pseudonym is the same as anonymous .... Allowing people to use their pseudonyms will not throw open the gates to barbarians and trolls. Disallowing 'nyms won't prevent people from being assclowns .... There are better ways of guarding against undesired behaviors. Such as, banning the people who actually engage in those behaviors, regardless of whether they use their real names or not."

Witness Does Google+ Hate Women?, which echoes the observation that "It's about behavior, not names. If your website is full of assholes, it's your fault for not holding people ~ whatever name they go by ~ accountable for their behavior. Online behavior doesn't have to be polite or full of everyone agreeing with each other. Conversations just need not to be bigoted, hateful or destructive."

Each of the above links provides access to a petition which urges Google+ to reverse their no-pseudonyms policy. And each link describes if fuller, eloquent detail the many legitimate reasons people may have for writing under a pseudonym (particularly the first link). The issue is nuanced and complex, and deserving of discussion. Part of the complexity lies in the darker side of using a false name ~ reduced accountability for those inclined toward cruel or abusive behavior. Sheril Kirshenbaum discusses just this issue here. And in a Facebook post, science writer and neuropsychologist Andrea Kuszewski thoughtfully commented "Think: Stanford Prison Experiment. Stanley Milgram's Obedience Study. When we detach from ourselves or the other person, there is an increased likelihood of violence, aggression, or unethical behavior. Not a CAUSE, mind you, but an increased likelihood. Anonymity makes that easier."

So yes, the use of pseudonyms is a necessary protection for people at risk of attack or abuse. And yes, the use of pseudonyms may make the work of attackers or abusers easier, at least temporarily. As I suggested in a previous post, those who experience abuse have several levels of recourse. I'm inclined to agree with those who say that using a pseudonym is not the same as anonymity ~ I know dozens of intelligent, playful, responsible, good-hearted people online only by their adopted names, people whom I might never have met if pseudonyms were banned, as Google+ seeks to do. I also know dozens of people with those same traits who use their 'real' names. Pseudonyms are not the problem. Behavior is.

Incidentally, Google+ during the first 24 days of its meteoric rise in popularity achieved a milepost that Facebook required 1152 days to reach ~ 20 million users (see graph below, click to enlarge). G+ is a more sophisticated, user-friendly, and less cluttered platform than FB, but I suspect that both sites will be around for a long time, and that some users (like myself) will continue to use both, simply because some friends appear on one, some on the other. Peace.

24 July 2011


This is one of those potpourri posts with entries ranging from the whimsical to the profound. I invite you to explore, giggle, and wonder ....

Whose Ideal Was This, Anyway? ~ the blog "Cabinet of Wonders" traces the evolution of our visual ideals for both female and male appearance during the 20th century, with images and commentary. This one is a lot of fun ~ buxom to winsome, buff to willowy.

Mobius Cake ~ self-explanatory, if you know what a mobius strip is (see image above). But I can't help wondering whether more than one flavor of cake batter was used, and if so, how they might intertwine inside.

You Suck at Photoshop ~ part tutorial, mostly a scathing video commentary on art and relationships.

How Algorithms Shape Our World ~ a longer, more serious video on, well, how algorithms shape our world. You'll be surprised.

The Beer Can Theory of Creativity ~ actually a scholarly paper on the evolution of culture and creativity. It may be academic, but it is far from dull.

Toyota demos augmented-reality-enhanced car windows ~ I'm not making this up. The concept in essence turns a car window into an interactive, multimedia computer screen, allowing a passenger (hopefully not a driver) to zoom in for a closer view, gauge distances, identify objects and translate them into another language, save a traced image, even identify constellations. Check out the video demonstration. Minority Report, here we come.

Last Kiss ~ an ingenious John Lustig webcomic which inserts modern dialogue into scenes drawn in the style of the 1940s and 1950s. The results are hilarious. You can click on the tiny blue < arrow to the upper right of the comic to view previous installments. New ones appear several times a week. A sample appears below, a sly reference to the much-hyped (and failed) May 2011 End Times Prediction. Have fun !!

23 July 2011


HACKER UNDERGROUND. The term "hacker" may refer simply to one who enjoys writing computer programming, and who may use that knowledge in ways that original software designers did not intend. But in recent years it has taken on a more perjorative connotation, i.e., one who writes computer programs to gain illegal access to a computer or computer network. In the latter usage, hackers may invade other's computers for entertainment, for the challenge, to show off their skills to other hackers, or with a specific goal in mind ~ for instance, corporate sabotage to further a social cause. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is a prominent example of the "hacktivist" movement, and so is the group Anonymous, which has committed numerous cyberattacks in the name of civil disobedience. Seen wearing their trademark Guy Fawkes masks in the image above, members of Anonymous have provoked much controversy in the computer security industry and in social media conversation threads.

Here is an informative PBS Need To Know interview with Gabriella Coleman, a professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University. Coleman explains some of the broader implications of hacker activism, and introduces a few of the key players like Anonymous.

Lest there be any doubt, whatever one's elevated motivations, hacking is illegal without the express consent of the targeted entities. As was true with the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing corporate or government malfeasance does carry the risk of arrest, trial, and possible imprisonment. If you suspect that your computer has been hacked, there are a number of measures you can take to protect your files and identity, and to trace the hackers. Assuming that your computer already has virus/malware protection, perhaps your first step might be to contact a security firm to test the effectiveness of that protection. If you feel you are the victim of an unauthorized hacker, you can contact the U.S. Department of Justice at their cybercrime website.

HALE-BOPP. Difficult to believe that sixteen years have already passed since the discovery of Comet Hale-Bopp. As Wikipedia notes, Hale-Bopp (see image below, click to enlarge) "was arguably the most widely observed comet of the 20th century, and one of the brightest seen for many decades. It was visible to the eye for a record 18 months," and reached maximum brightness as it passed perihelion (its closest approach to the sun) on April 1, 1997. At the time I lived in the foothills northeast of Vancouver, Washington, and one of my fondest memories is watching the comet from a forest clearing with my son. For some experiences, words are completely inadequate.

22 July 2011


WILEY POST. On this date in 1933, aviator Wiley Post became the first pilot in history to complete a solo flight around the world. He was assisted by one of the first autopilots and a radio direction finder, instruments which replaced the human navigator who had accompanied him on a previous aerial circumnavigation. Post was a pioneer in high-altitude long distance flight, and was instrumental in the development of a workable pressure suit. His career came to a premature halt when, two years later, he and American humorist Will Rogers died during a takeoff attempt near Point Barrow, Alaska, in an experimental aircraft. A photo of the two friends appears above (Post stands at right), and an image of Post's beloved Lockheed Vega "Winnie Mae" is seen below (click on image to enlarge).

OCEANIC WARNING. A Look Into the Ocean's Future, a new report by an international coalition of marine scientists, "makes for grim reading. It concludes that the oceans are approaching irreversible, potentially catastrophic change. The experts .... found that marine 'degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted.' The oceans have warmed and become more acidic as they absorbed human-generated carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They are also more oxygen-deprived, because of agricultural runoff and other anthropomorphic causes. This deadly trio of conditions was present in previous mass extinctions .... Changes in the oceans, caused by carbon emissions, are perhaps 'the most significant to the earth system,' particularly because they will further accelerate climate change."

What is puzzling to me is that this should register as news. During my undergraduate studies in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology thirty years ago, issues like the greenhouse effect, global warming, climate change, and species extinctions were already being discussed, both in university classrooms and in professional journals. It's not like the evidence hasn't been around, or that warnings have not been issued all along.

But perhaps it is not so puzzling. Humans tend to lead their lives reactively, responding blindly to changes in their lives, rather than leading their lives proactively, using their well-endowed intellects to observe, consider possible consequences, and planning for the most favorable outcomes. Our collective myopia will be our undoing. How sad that we will take so much of the planet with us.

21 July 2011


Jennifer Ouellette, writing in Scientific American online, describes several incidents in which women receive unwanted romantic or sexual advances from men ~ and then those same women are held up to ridicule or abuse if they protest, however mildly. The experience is called "a chilly climate, and it describes not only overt sexism or sexual harassment -- which most people agree are unacceptable, at least in theory -- but the myriad unconscious diminishing behaviors that seem to proliferate in any male-dominated environment, whether it be a classroom, a boardroom, an Internet chat room, World of Warcraft, or an international physics laboratory.

" .... What constitutes chilling behavior? A teacher calls on the boys in class more than the girls. A CEO ignores what a woman says in a meeting but listens intently when a man makes the exact same point. A conference emcee mentions a female speaker's appearance rather than (or in addition to) her accomplishments, but feels no need to comment on the appearance of male speakers. A guy at an atheist/skeptics meeting hits on a young woman in an elevator at 4 A.M., ignoring the fact that she just spent the evening talking about how she hates being objectified at such gatherings.

"All these sort of things may seem tiny and insignificant by themselves, but they add up, and this produces a cumulative chilling effect that makes women feel unwelcome .... With all the other trouble in the world, why should we care about this? It's because those climate issues chase many women out of the hard sciences -- and indeed, out of any male-dominated community .... [Science blogger Rebecca Watson has been] vilified for over-reacting, for being a diva, a 'media whore', an attention-monger, a bitch, a man-hating feminazi, and a troublemaker who is deflecting attention away from far more important issues. She was accused of being anti-sex (as if), calling all men rapists (she did not), and was threatened with sexual assault .... Those who spoke up and came to her defense received similar treatment."

Given that neglect and abuse are changeable behaviors, Ouellette offers a Manifesto For Change, which includes the following suggestions:

~ "Ladies: even though you might not feel 100% welcome, grit your teeth and show up anyway, because there is power in numbers. Studies have showns that these chilling effects start to dissipate as communities approach 50/50 gender ratios.

~ "There are women out there who do not believe that this is an issue because they haven't personally experienced it, or have experienced things they feel are far worse. Please do not diminish the experiences and emotions of your sisters with skepticism.

~ "Foster top-down change. Leadership, especially male leadership, needs to set the tone for what is and is not acceptable in a community.

~ "Foster bottom-up change. Men at the grassroots level need to reinforce the leadership position and make it clear to their peers that such behavior is unacceptable."

Ouellette winds up nicely with these words ~ "Guys, why wouldn't you do this for people you claim to value and respect? These women are smart, sassy, strong, and yes, sexy. They're amazing. And they're your sisters in arms. It's time to step up and start acting like brothers. The next time you see a guy acting like a jerk around a woman, call him out: 'Dude, not cool .... you're going through life thinking girls don't like you cuz you're a nerd, when really it's because you're an asshole.' (see image below, click to enlarge) .... If a woman calls you out on your behavior, instead of getting angry or defensive, just say, 'Wow, I never thought of it like that. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable. It wasn't intentional.' Cop to the behavior, and we can all move on."

A few thoughts of my own. As a self-changing man who has been a feminist/humanist for forty years (and I'm still learning and evolving), it amazes me that we're still having this conversation. But it shouldn't, I suppose. Gender roles and attitudes that were centuries in the shaping, will probably persist ~ though I'm happy to report that sexism, racism, and many other -isms are less prevalent among the young than among my generation, or my parents' generation.

There is one issue which bears thinking about -- when some individuals are challenged for making offensive remarks which denigrate an entire group of people (based on their gender, their race, their sexual orientation, their culture, their religion, their age, their disability, or their ideology), those individuals often attempt to deflect the challenge thus: "Oh, I'm so damn tired of always having to be politically correct. People have become hypersensitive, and they need to get over it." Wrong. YOU need to get over yourself, and realize that words are important. Language is powerful, and it matters. It is just as foul (not to mention wrong) to say "All men are pigs" as it is to say "All women are bitches." All group stereotypes ultimately hurt everyone, by limiting our thinking. The world is an amazing, diverse place, and if you cut yourself off from a chunk of humanity based on your own bigotry, it is you who loses.

Don't get me wrong. Some men do behave like pigs, and some women do behave like bitches. That's behavior ~ it doesn't define the total person, and it surely doesn't define whatever racial, gender, cultural, religious, age, or ideological group to which that person belongs. Whining over having to be politically correct isn't about the thought police or having to conform ~ it is a cover for refusing to take responsibility for one's own unfounded prejudices. I'm just sayin'.

20 July 2011


$400,000 ~ salary of the U.S. president.

$180,000 ~ salary of retired U.S. presidents.

$223,000 ~ salary of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

$193,400 ~ salary of Congressional majority/minority leaders.

$174,000 ~ salary of House/Senate members.

$ 13,000 ~ my annual Social Security disability benefit.

Does anyone besides me see a disparity here? And yet, and yet, and yet, the most recent deficit reduction plan, the so-called Gang of Six Plan, would reduce Social Security benefits by $1300 per year. Yes, these highly-paid "public servants" who not only make a fortune off our taxes, but make even more from paid public appearances and gifts from lobbyists, want me to sacrifice 10 percent of my income, while requiring NO sacrifice from the wealthy or from corporations. I'm reminded of a line from Lewis B. Puller, Jr.'s autobiography Fortunate Son ~ "I thought wryly of the differing degrees of sacrifices demanded of a pig and a chicken when forced to contribute to a breakfast of ham and eggs." There seems to be an inordinate number of wealthy chickens making legislative and fiscal decisions which impact the pig population.

Here's the supreme irony ~ Social Security is already solvent until 2037 and does not contribute to the deficit. Why in the name of sanity is Social Security even in this conversation?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, Social Security provides the majority of income for three-fifths of Americans age 65+. "The average Social Security retirement benefit in 2009 was $13,406.40, slightly above the $10,289 federal poverty line for individuals age 65 and older, and less than the minimum wage .... Originally designed to complement savings and retirement income, Social Security has instead become the primary source of income among this group (see graph below, click to enlarge) .... Social Security benefits are not a windfall, but a lifeline. With benefits so modest, Congress should be focused on raising them, not cutting them by reducing the cost-of-living adjustment or raising the retirement age."

Not to mention by decapitating existing benefits under the transparent guise of deficit reduction. The sheer, galling hypocrisy of heaping more financial burden on those who can least afford it, while righteously protecting the assets of the wealthiest 5 percent of our population, calls for immediate and emphatic reform, including the recall of those legislators who would suck the life blood from those who survive on meager Social Security benefits -- benefits which we ourselves earned by contributing from our paychecks over the course of our lifetimes. This issue is not negotiable.

19 July 2011


A Huffington Post video cites two studies which demonstrate the effect which Google, Wikipedia, and other online resources have on how much and how well we remember facts. In the first study, reported in the NYTimes, "subjects were significantly more likely to remember information if they thought they would not be able to find it later [on a computer]." In the second study, "people were better at remembering where to find facts, rather than the facts themselves."

So are we tech addicts? Have online search resources become a crutch to our self-crippled thinking, or might they be simply the newest iteration of non-memory aids we've always sought out ~ a library, a well-informed friend, a teacher or mentor? I would suggest, a little of both. It has always been important to understand where to find information which we don't know. To that extent, online search engines and encyclopedias are legitimate, useful, accessible, and quick. Google, Wikipedia, and other resources are especially useful to us as we age and begin to experience slight memory lapses.

However .... it is also true that increasingly, looking it up online has to some degree lessened the extent to which we commit information to memory in the first place. When I compare my instant recall of math (times tables, decimal-percent equivalents, mental calculations, algebra), of geography (quick, without looking at a map or a globe, where is Botswana? Sri Lanka?), of U.S. or world history, of language and literature .... when I compare my recall to that of people in their 20s and 30s with comparable education, there's no contest. Those who grew up with the technology cannot get through a day (even an hour) without it ~ like an artificial appendage. Young people know a lot about where to find information, but how much information do they themselves really know?

I would suggest that it is critical to cultivate both skills -- information retention and information retrieval from outside sources. To neglect either is to impose a needless disadvantage on oneself. The quickest and best thinkers I know are those people (scientists, artists, educators, voracious readers) who are today's Renaissance Men and Women, with varied interests, lively curiosity, open minds, and a thirst for understanding.

ORGANIC MYTHS. High praise to Christie Wilcox and her blog Science Sushi at the Scientific American website for her illuminating piece titled Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture. This is informed, persuasive, and balanced science writing at its best. Far from being an attack on either organic or conventional farming, Mythbusting seeks clarity in a field obscured by hype. Each myth presented is defined, then examined closely to reveal what is actually true (or false), and why. Here are the four myths she addresses:

~ Myth 1: Organic farms don't use pesticides.

~ Myth 2: Organic foods are healthier.

~ Myth 3: Organic farming is better for the environment.

~ Myth 4: It's all or none.

What? WHAT? Can this really be true? Well, yes. Wilcox' information is supported by clear research, and her conclusions are both logically and intuitively inescapable. Must reading for anyone who includes organic foods in her/his diet, not to mention anyone who does not. Did I leave anyone out?

18 July 2011


DAWN. On Saturday, July 16 (my mother's birthday), NASA's robotic spacecraft Dawn became the first spacecraft to penetrate the solar system's asteroid belt, going into orbit around the asteroid Vesta. Dawn (see image above) is scheduled to investigate Vesta from orbit until 2012, when it will divert to the dwarf planet Ceres for a similar orbit and investigation. Dawn's mission is "to study two large bodies in the asteroid belt in order to answer questions about the formation of the solar system.

"Ceres and Vesta were chosen as two contrasting protoplanets, the first one apparently 'wet' (that is, icy) and the other 'dry' (rocky), whose accretion was terminated by the formation of the planet Jupiter .... Ceres is a dwarf planet whose mass comprises about one-third of the total mass of the bodies in the asteroid belt .... Smaller Vesta has experienced significant heating and differentiation. It shows signs of a metallic core, a Mars-like density and lunar-like basaltic flows. Both bodies formed very early in the history of the solar system, thereby retaining a record of events and processes from the time of the formation of the terrestrial planets."

Dawn is the first spacecraft to orbit an extraterrestrial body before continuing under powered flight to a second such body. Previous multi-target mission -- such as the Voyager program -- have instead been planetary flybys. The asteroid belt occupies an orbital space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, as shown in the image below (click to enlarge).

GRADE INFLATION. The following news does not surprise me in the least. In A History of College Grade Inflation, Catherine Rampell reports that since 1940, historical data on letter grades awarded by more than 200 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. reveal that in both public and private schools, higher grades are awarded for work that would have received lower grades in the past .... i.e., grade inflation (see chart below, click to enlarge).

"The authors don't attribute steep grade inflation to higher-quality or harder-working students. In fact, one recent study found that students spend significantly less time studying today than they did in the past. Rather, the researchers argue that .... more generous grading can produce better instructor reviews, and can help students be more competitive candidates for graduate schools and the job market.

" .... More disturbing, they argue, are the potential effects on educational outcomes. 'When college students perceive that the average grade in a class will be an A, they do not try to excel. It is likely that the decline in student study hours, student engagement, and literacy are partly the result of diminishing academic expectations."

Ya think? When I was in high school, an A was awarded for grades between 95-100 percent, a B between 90-94 percent, a C between 80-89 percent, a D between 75-79 percent, and an F anything below 75 percent. Period. When you earned As and Bs, it meant something. Now most schools allow 10 percent for each of the upper four grades, and some schools allow even more. How is lower the bar doing a service to students, or to society? Answer ~ it is not.

Notice something on the graph below ~ until the 1960s, an A grade fell somewhere in the middle of the grade distribution, and Cs were most common. This is what one might expect from a normal distribution (bell-shaped curve). With the advent of grade inflation, As skyrocketed, Bs were stable, but Cs and Ds plunged. Is it any wonder that we have high school and college graduates who don't understand essential math skills; students who have to resort to Google or Wikipedia to learn the facts they should already have absorbed in history, geography, science, or the arts; not to mention students who must struggle to put together a competent research paper? Lowered expectations yield lowered performance, which is precisely why students from the U.S. are falling further and further behind students from other developed countries. Rather than breeding excellence, we are breeding mediocrity.

17 July 2011


GLORIA STEINEM. When I was an undergrad at the University of Arizona, back during the Punic Wars, for two years I minored in Women's Studies. I'd been a supporter of the second wave of feminism for a long time, had thought and read about feminist/humanist issues of equality, and was a charter subscriber to Ms. magazine. All of which was well and good, but I sought a more direct, interactive involvement.

Back then, men made up 10 percent or less of Women's Studies students. Without exception, my professors and the director of the program were welcoming. Some of my women classmates, less so. I accepted their suspicion, or uncertainty, or animosity, as an opportunity to experience what most women feel in a male-dominated economy and culture. The classes themselves were a revelation -- women in American history, in philosophy, in literature (both as author and as protagonist). I'll always treasure that time as an essential part of my maturing.

Feminism doesn't seem to make the news as much these days. Clearly women remain an economically and socially oppressed group by any measure. Some gains toward equality have been made, but many remain unattained. Perhaps our attention has been diverted by other causes ~ war, unemployment, immigration, the increasing chasm between the wealthy few and the rest of us. If so, that is unfortunate. Women are half the population, nearly half the work force, yet they continue to be woefully underrepresented in politics and in corporate boardrooms.

One of feminism's icons (and one of my personal heroes) appeared recently in a "Need To Know" interview on PBS. The video segment, Gloria Steinem on Men, Women, and Power, is essential viewing for anyone who seeks to understand the roots of the social problems we face, not to mention the vast untapped reservoir of women's talent and creativity needed to solve those problems. Gloria Steinem (seen above, in 1972) is articulate, informed, and at ease ~ the kind of person one would wish to have for a friend and ally. She co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972, founded the Women's Media Center in 2005, and has written half a dozen well-regarded books over the years. Watch the video and see if you are not impressed, regardless of your political persuasions.

GOOGLE+ GUIDE. For Facebook users who may wonder what all the fuss is about, and even for those who feel they have no use for social media, Ben Parr's Google+: The Complete Guide is a handy tool. From "why would I be interested?" to "how does Google+ compare to Facebook?" to "what does this feature do?", this comprehensive article has the answers, complete with illustrations. I maintain a presence on both FB and G+, and find the latter to be superior on several levels. To learn why, check out his article.

16 July 2011


Ever since the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (image above) went online in 1985, it has been a lightning rod for controversy and protest. The plant is located at Avila Beach on the Pacific Ocean, 12 miles from San Luis Obispo, considered by some to be the "happiest city in America". It is also located with in a network of geographic faults, including the Hosgri Fault 3 miles offshore (west), and the San Andreas Fault inland (east), both of which roughly parallel the coast. Additionally, a series of faults form a segmented line less than a mile offshore from the plant.

Until recently the Nuclear Regulatory Commission incorporated seismic, construction, and safety data from the plant's owner, Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE) in ascertaining whether the plant should be authorized to operate. Following the earthquake/tsunami-generated Fukushima nculear disaster earlier this year in Japan, renewed attention has been directed at nuclear power plants worldwide. Germany has announced plans to phase out its nuclear plants entirely, and several other European nations are poised to follow suit.

In the wake of Fukushima, the NRC is (belatedly) developing its own independent criteria for measuring plant safety. On Wednesday a special NRC task force released its findings on the preparedness of American nuclear plants, as well as twelve recommendations which include a call to strengthen oversight of plant safety. As reported on the PBS program Need To Know, in a segment titled Double Fault, California State Senator Sam Blakeslee (R-15th District) is spearheading a serious critique of the NRC, PGE, and specifically the Diablo Canyon plant. Blakeslee is not your usual legislator -- he is a research scientist and a geophysicist with expertise in seismology, and his concerns clearly have a sound scientific foundation. For six years he has been pressing PGE for substantive data to back the company's contention that Diablo Canyon is safe to operate. The response has ranged from stonewalling to specious manipulation of information on the fault system. The video clearly illustrates with commentary and maps that in fact (contrary to PGE's claims), the segmented offshore faults (see map below, click to enlarge) and the Hosgri Fault form a single integrated network extending for hundreds of miles. A major earthquake anywhere in the system would be transmitted through th entire network ~ catastrophic news for Diablo Canyon, which is only constructed to withstand a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

Given the ongoing repercussions of the Fukushima disaster, given the egregiously unstable location of the Diablo Canyon plant, and given that prevailing winds would carry any released radiation inland in a plume which would endanger cities in California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico at the very least, it is long past time that we reconsider our reliance on nuclear power. Or rather, our reliance on power produced by nuclear fission. As I proposed in a post four days ago, power generated by nuclear fusion is an entirely different story, and an idea whose time has come.

15 July 2011


ELEPHANTS IN CRISIS. "Highly emotional and completely guileless, elephants mourn their dead -- and across Africa, they are grieving daily as demand from China's 'suddenly wealthy' has driven the price of ivory to $700 a pound or more. Tens of thousands of elephants [are] being slaughtered every year for their tusks, raising the specter of an 'extinction vortex'." Thus begins Alex Shoumatoff's investigative report Agony and Ivory on the slaughter of Africa's wildlife icon.

He reveals that even in heavily-patrolled game reserves like Amboseli National Park in Kenya, highly mobile poachers armed with automatic weapons make the task of protecting resident elephant herds not only difficult, but lethal. When the 2008 global recession struck, Kenya's tourism was cut in half, further eroding protection. Native Maasai herders, who once coexisted with wildlife, have been lured by the prospect of easy money to assist poachers in their deadly pursuit.

"There had been almost no poaching around Amboseli for 30 years before a Chinese company got the contract to build a 70-mile long highway just above the park. Since the road crews arrived in 2009, four of Amboseli's magnificent big-tusked bulls have been killed, and the latest word is that the poachers are now going after the matriarchs -- a social and genetic disaster, because elephants live in matriarchies, and removing the best breeders of both sexes from the gene pool could funnel the Amboseli population into what is known as an extinction vortex.

"Unfortunately, this problem isn't limited to Kenya. Across the continent, in their 37 range states, from Mali to South Africa, Ethiopia to Gabon, elephants are being killed at the rate of around 100 a day, 36,500 a year .... Gabon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania are losing thousands. Chad, home to 15,000 elephants in 1979, has less than 400 left. Sierra Leone is down to single digits.

" .... This new crisis is being driven by China's nouveaux riches, or bao fa hu (suddenly wealthy), who are as numerous as the entire population of Japan. The main consumers are middle-aged men who have just made it into the middle class and are eager to flaunt their ability to make expensive discretionary purchases. Beautiful ivory carvings are traditional symbols of wealth and status."

This story breaks my heart. I've never visited Africa, but part of me has belonged there since I was a child. I have no words (and even less tolerance) for those who wantonly murder wildlife for "sport", trophies, obscure and mythical medicinal properties, or vanity. The cancer that is human overpopulation, coupled with human greed, has already driven countless species large and small to extinction, on every habitable continent. The genocide can occur as direct hunting, or less obviously masked by destruction of habitat for human development (synonymous with the rape of nature). Illegal poaching should be a capital offense worldwide, and rigorously enforced. In Kenya, perhaps Africa's most enlightened nation when it comes to conservation, park rangers are armed and authorized to shoot to kill. I only wish that every nation adopted such rigorous measures to protect what little remains of the natural world.

ASSATEAGUE FERAL HORSES. In the U.S., feral horses inhabit other ranges in addition to the American West. On Assateague Island, a barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, a population of 113 resident feral horses is undergoing culture shock. Like black bears in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, Assateague's horses have been approached, fed, photographed, and treated like pets by tourists. And like black bears, the horses have become habituated to humans, addicted to handouts, and sometimes aggressive when people come too close. It is a situation we ourselves have created, by not respecting their home and their integrity. The Assateague ponies are related to, and share ancestry with, Chincoteague ponies just up the coast. Both groups were once one herd, and are thought to be descended from 17th-century horses which were either survivors of Spanish galleon shipwrecks, or set loose by colonists to avoid livestock laws and taxes on the mainland ~ depending on which story you believe.

Here is a Washington Post article describing the deteriorating situation, and here is a brief slide show demonstrating human/horse interactions.

14 July 2011


Going-To-The-Sun Road, the only highway which runs through the interior of Glacier National Park, finally opened for traffic along its entire 50 mile length for the first time this summer. Crews have been working steadily to clear the road of unprecendented deep accumulations of winter snow, often hampered by avalanches which clogged already-cleared roadway, as late spring sun and episodes of rain combined to soften upslope snowfields. It has been an epic year in Glacier ~ this was the latest Sun Road opening since the inaugural opening in 1933. Visitors driving from the west along Lake McDonald and upward, or from the east along St. Mary Lake and upward, can now reach the road's summit at Logan Pass (see image above) on the continental divide for the first time since the road was closed due to snowfall last autumn. Regarded by many as one of the most visually breathtaking drives in the world, Going-To-The-Sun lies in the backyard of my youth. I grew up along the northern Rocky Mountain Front, and spent many family outings and Boy Scout campouts in that stunning landscape, including a 50-mile, weeklong hike through the backcountry in the summer of 1962. The group was privileged to see everything from mountain sheep to moose and marmots, pileated woodpeckers to ptarmigan, mountain goats to grizzleys, even a very elusive Canada lynx (see image below, click to enlarge). High times indeed.

13 July 2011


Today I'm (partially) clearing out my backlog of links to whimsical and "oh my, really?" websites. Have fun !

~ Sex with a Stripper before your Wedding? How men sometimes cheat just to impress other men.

~ From the Scientific American blog Symbiartic: The art of science and the science of art ~ 5 Reasons Your Camera Won't Steal My Job. A scientific illustrator contends that:

- Photography can't capture small things.

- Photography can't capture distant things.

- Photography can't capture extinct things (see image below).

- Photography can emphasize the wrong things.

- Photography is just one tool.

Having trained in both graphics and photographic scientific illustration, I don't necessarily agree with every contention, but the text and images are fascinating.

12 July 2011


FUSION ENERGY. The NYTimes article How Seawater Can Power the World reveals a viable, clean, and nearly limitless source of energy which could entirely replace the world's dependence on the combustion of petroleum products ~ nuclear fusion . Until recently most governments associated fusion (the opposite of nuclear fission) with apocalyptic weaponry, but its most promising application lies in fusion power production .... enough power to supply the needs of the entire planet, indefinitely.

Here is how Steward C. Prager describes the situation ~ "Debate about America's energy supply is heating up: gas prices are rising, ethanol is under attack, and nuclear power continues to struggle in the shadow of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. But an abundant, safe, and clean energy source once thought to be the stuff of science fiction is closer than many realize: nuclear fusion. Making it a reality, however, will take significant investment from the government at a time when spending on scientific research is under threat.

"Harnessing nuclear fusion, the energy that powers the sun and stars, has been a goal of physicists worldwide since the 1950s. It is essentially inexaustible and it can be created using hydrogen isotopes -- chemical cousins of hydrogen, like deuterium -- that can readily be extracted from seawater.

"Fusion energy is created by fusing two atomic nuclei, in the process converting mass to energy, which appears as heat. The heat, as in conventional nuclear fission reactors, turns water into steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity, or is used to produce fuels for transportation or other uses.

"Fusion energy generates zero greenhouse gases. It offers no chance of a catastrophic accident. It is available to all nations, relying only on the Earth's oceans. When commercialized, it will transform the world's energy supply.

" .... Seven partners -- the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States -- have teamed up on an experiment to produce 500 million watts of fusion power for 500 seconds and longer by 2020, demonstrating key scientific and engineering aspects of fusion at the scale of a reactor. However, even though the United States is a contributor to this experiment, known as ITER, it has yet to commit to the full program needed to develop a domestic fusion reactor to produce electricity for the American power grid. Meanwhile other nations are moving forward to implement fusion as a key ingredient to their energy security.

" .... What has been lacking in the United States is the political and economic will. We need serious public investment to develop materials that can withstand the harsh nuclear environment, sustain hot plasma indefinitely, and integrate all these features in an experimental facility to produce continuous fusion power."

So. Given the dangers of existing nuclear fission plants, the non-renewable aspect of oil reserves, and the unacceptable tradeoffs of biofuels, what's the holdup? When in doubt, there is no doubt. The answer is money ~ who stands to benefit from maintaining the status quo for as long as possible, preventing widespread development and deployment of alternative power sources like solar, wind, tidal, or fusion energy? Clearly big oil, steel, Wall Street, and the politicians who serve these financial behemoths have been, and continue to be, the roadblock barring our entry into the future. If they didn't suffer from terminal myopia, not to mention an absence of dedication to the public good, these entities would be actively leading the way in alternative energy development, most notably in fusion power.

SOLAR ERUPTION. Speaking of things solar, check out this amazing set of videos from NASA ~ Dark Fireworks on the Sun. The blast of a medium-sized solar eruption (a common occurance) "was triggered by an unstable magnetic filament near the sun's surface. That filament was loaded down with 'cool' plasma, which exploded in a spray of dark blobs and streamers. The plasma blogs were as big as planets, many larger than Earth. They rose and fell ballistically, moving under the influence of the sun's gravity like balls tossed into the air, exploding like bombs when they hit the solar surface." The videos are large and may take a few moments to download, but they and the accompanying commentary are well worth the time.

CARLIN. George Carlin, arguably America's preeminent and most intelligent standup comedian, social critic, actor, and author, is sadly no long with us ~ he died in 2008. But his legacy of acerbic realism lives on in his books, audio and video recordings. Case in point: a 3-minute exerpt from his stage monologue The American Dream. The clip contains strong language, and even stronger observations which challenge the assumptions many of us hold regarding who is in control of our country. I happen to agree with every word, every syllable of Carlin's exhortation, as readers of past posts to this blog will attest. I dare you to listen, and not be moved by the elemental truths with which Carlin confronts us.