Monday, March 26, 2012

Voyage to the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea...

Over the weekend, film director James Cameron got in a submarine specially built to withstand the intense pressures of the bottom of the sea and took a ride to the deepest known point on Earth, the Challenger Deep. It took him two and half hours to get to the spot, seven miles down, and he stayed for almost three hours, taking samples, photos and video to bring back to scientists on the surface. He is only the third person ever to reach Challenger Deep, the other two having done so in a two-man sub back in 1960. He is the first to make the trip alone. He made the dive with the cooperation (and, I suspect, the money) of the National Geographic Society, for a documentary he is apparently making with them.

I'm not sure what to think about this.

On the one hand, it proves that the man has guts. It was a dangerous thing to do, and he did it and survived. A million things could have gone wrong, and most of them would probably have meant a watery grave for him and his submarine. The dark so far below the surface of the ocean is profound, and the pressures immense. To have gone and returned is an amazing accomplishment. To have done it alone, in a small submersible, down in the dark and silence...I have no words.

But, while he is apparently not inexperienced in making deep-sea dives like this (from what I understand, he made about a dozen dives while making the film "Titanic", and has made others since then), Cameron is not a scientist. And there is a big part of me that believes that it should be qualified scientists doing things like this, to get the most benefit of new knowledge from this place that is so difficult and dangerous to visit that only three people have done it over the space of a bit over half a century.

I guess I envy him a bit, as well, truth be told. He has seen a place that almost no one else has seen, ever. That is a huge, amazing thing. It's like (and he compared it to) going into space, considering that the bottom of the ocean is such an alien place and completely hostile to terrestrial life. It must have been truly amazing to be able to do what he has done. Must be nice to have the money and clout to do things like that.

I'm glad this dive went well for Cameron. I keep thinking of the many things that could have gone wrong. As it is, he had to return to the surface after only half the time he had been scheduled to stay at the bottom of the bottom of the ocean due to what were reported to be difficulties with the sub's hydraulics system.

But, other than the few samples and the pictures he brought back, I wonder exactly how valuable this event really was. If it leads the way to more visits to the area, and to the gathering of more knowledge of the planet we live on, it is a good thing. I will be disappointed if it turns out that it was mostly a publicity stunt, with little or no real knowledge gained in the process.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


So many idiots in the world.

First, there's Geraldo Rivera. Not that we haven't known for awhile that he's a few sandwiches short of a picnic and all. I had figured that out by the time he opened Al Capone's hidey hole and found precisely...nothing.

But now, Geraldo has decided in his great wisdom that the real reason George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin was that the boy was wearing a hoodie.

What the hell? That's right up there with, "That woman wouldn't have been raped if she hadn't been wearing...", or "That person wouldn't have been shot if they weren't wearing red [or blue, or some other color identified as a "gang color"].

Way to blame the victim, Geraldo. It couldn't have been because George Zimmerman appears to be a wanna-be cop who has bigotry issues, could it?

So, okay. We knew Geraldo was an idiot. But then I opened up Wikipedia (yeah, I know) and it's feature article of the day is all about something called the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.


Yeah. Apparently this group was founded in 1991 and has as its goal convincing everyone in the world to quit having kids, so that human beings will become extinct so that that Earth can heal itself. Or something.

Well, good luck with that. It isn't going to happen. Still, I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of hate someone would have for themselves and their fellow human beings to propose that the best thing that could happen would be for the species to commit suicide.

I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that there are people who think this is a good idea, but somehow it does. There is, after all, PETA.

And Peter Singer, who thinks it's a good idea to kill babies who are disabled, and who disabled activists have accused of believing that the lives of disabled people are not worth as much as the lives of people who do not have a disability. Singer claims he is misunderstood, but I'm not so sure about that. An article from the UK Guardian in 2009 calls Singer an "intellectual heavyweight", whether or not one agrees with him. I'm even less sure about that. What he comes across to me as, is someone who thinks he should be able to make decisions about other people's lives based on his own prejudices rather than letting people make their own decisions about whether their lives are worth living or not.

In other words, another idiot, and one who has been able to gain fame while going around making shit up.

Sort of like Geraldo Rivera, come to think of it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

This just in...

A couple of posts back, I wrote about how the Utah legislature had passed a bill outlawing sex education in the public schools, and that the governor was widely expected to sign the bill.

Well, in an unexpectedly delightful turn of events, the governor of Utah has, according to a report on MSNBC's website, veoted the bill. I applaud him on his sanity in doing so, and on the cojones it took for him to stand up for sanity in a state where the far right has so much political and cultural power.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

In which Mitt Romney appeals to (religious) authority...

What is it with Mitt Romney?

According to a story on CNN's website, Romney was asked during a radio interview in Alabama recently whether he believes that "America is the new 'Promised Land'," which the interviewer characterized as something taught in the Book of Mormon. The interviewer asked for a yes or no answer.

But Mitt, being both Mormon and politician, couldn't - or wouldn't - commit. His answer was, according to the CNN story,"You're gonna have to go to the church and ask what they think about that." He continued by saying, "There's no question about the fact that Israel is the 'Promised Land.' That's what the Bible tells us. And my guess is that they're the lands of promise to other people."


Mitt, Mitt, Mitt. The interviewer didn't ask you what the LDS church teaches about the location of the Promised Land. He also didn't ask you what the Bible says about the question (which could actually be two different things). He asked what you believe about it. It doesn't speak well of your independence from your ecclesiastical leaders that you have to depend on them to answer a simple question about what you, as an individual, believe about a question touching on spiritual beliefs.

I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that Mitt wouldn't commit. Mormon theology is slippery that way, and oftentimes even the highest authorities in the church won't give a straight answer about the church's beliefs to those who are not LDS themselves. Still, I worry about someone who won't answer a simple question about their beliefs. If you're ashamed of what you believe, maybe you should rethink your belief system. And if you're afraid to say what you believe because it will lose you votes, well, that's just lying for personal gain. It makes people like me wonder what else you might be waffling on in order to win elections. How can I be sure anything you say is what you really think?

Well, I don't trust Mitt anyway. He's a politician. And, as a former Mormon, I'm very familiar with the way that the LDS church, and its members, often have one set of answers for the faithful and another for the members of the church. They call that "milk before meat", and as far as I'm concerned all that means is that they will like about what the church really teaches in order to snag converts. This is not something I'm guessing at; I know this to be a fact because it happened to me when I converted to the LDS church when I was a teenager. But that's another post for another time.

Right now, the issue is Mitt and his reluctance to state his beliefs, deferring to the institutional church when the question clearly asked what he believes, not what his church believes. What his appeal to the authority of the church reminds me of more than anything is how LDS parents will take their toddlers, children who can barely speak a complete sentence, up to the stand on Fast Sunday - usually the first Sunday of the month, when LDS faithful abstain from two meals and give their sacrament meeting over to the congregation to bear their testimonies - and then whisper in the child's ear, for the child to repeat, "I know the church is true..." It is an exercise in ventriloquism. And it isn't attractive when the ventriloquist's dummy is any adult, much less one who aspires to the Presidency.

Friday, March 09, 2012

La, La, La, La, La....or, I'm ignoring the news tonight

I had to turn off the late evening news tonight. It was just too depressing.

I hate it when that happens, because I really think it is my obligation, and everyone's obligation, to keep up with what's going on in the world, if only to keep those in positions of power on their toes. Because, you now, I think a good proportion of them would be happiest if no one knew what they were doing. Ever.

And they've been up to a lot lately. In just the past couple of days I've had items come over my Facebook feed about legislative shenanigans in both Utah and Arizona, and none of it was good. In Utah, the state legislature has sent a bill to the governor for his signature that would ban sex education in the public schools. Nothing good can come of this, but if the governor signs the bill, the only thing teachers in Utah will be able to tell their students is that they shouldn't "do it" until after they're married.

Apparently the good Republicans in that state (the vote ran, so one of the stories I read said, pretty much along party lines, with the Republicans voting for the measure and the Democrats against it) believe that if you just don't talk about sex, teenagers won't have any sex. Of course, their stated reasoning for the legislation was that school isn't the place to talk about such things. Unfortunately, I think their assumption that all parents talk to their kids about these things is a little optimistic. Goodness only knows, my parents never did.

I'm afraid, thought, that ignorance is never bliss, and that if this bill becomes law, both the teen pregnancy rate and the rate of STDs in teenagers will skyrocket in a state that already has an interestingly high rate of those things for a place that is supposed to be so religious and conservative and abstemious (I wonder what the Blogger spell-check is going to do with that word, because I know I didn't spell it correctly...and I was right).

And then, if that wasn't bad enough, Arizona is in the process of passing a law that will allow doctors to not tell pregnant women if there is something wrong with the baby they are carrying if they are concerned that the woman might use that information to decide to get an abortion. There is some controversy over whether this keeping of secrets would also extend to not informing a woman who has a condition such as a tubal pregnancy that could very well kill her as well as the baby if the pregnancy is snot terminated. But even if that is not the case, don't these politicians think that if a woman is carrying a baby that could have some medical issue at birth, the parents would like to know that so that they can plan for what they will have to do when the baby is born, rather than being taken by surprise when the baby is born?

And that's the the news on the ongoing war on women. There's also the continuing bad economic news. Oh, they keep trying to spin it as if they economy is coming along just fine. But here in my county the unemployment rate is still at 16.9 percent, a bit over double the national average. This is not good news for those of us who are in need of work. Nor is the news that fuel prices are continuing to rise. And so on, and so forth.

I was appalled to read, just today, in a thread on a forum I frequent, posts from not a few people who were bragging about the fact that they don't watch or listen to news reports at all any more, and they don't read newspapers or news sites on the Internet. I believe that we all have an obligation to keep up with what's going on in the world.

But some days, I just can't take it and I, too, have to turn the news off and just go off to my happy place for awhile and pretend that everything is just fine.

Monday, March 05, 2012

An open letter to Rush Limbaugh...

Mr. Limbaugh:

So, you apologized to Ms. Fluke for calling her degrading names just because she dared to speak her mind about the availability of insurance-covered birth control. Just because, you know, you don't agree with her.

So. I don't agree with you about a lot of things. Most things. Well, just about everything. Does that mean it's fine for me to call you degrading names?

Yeah. I didn't think so.

I also don't think your apology counts for much, since it didn't come for several days, and then only after calling her even more names and having some of your advertisers pull their ads from your show. I might buy it if you had used your "poor word choice" once, that first time. But when you did it again, on a completely different day, you lost the right to claim that you just used your words poorly, in the heat of your - what did you call it? - your "attempt to be humorous". What is ever humorous about calling a woman what you called Ms. Fluke?

There are things I could call you that you would find insulting. I won't do that, because I was brought up to believe that one just doesn't do that. Ever. And especially in public, in an attempt to gain ratings and earn money.

I am not personally an advocate, Mr. Limbaugh, of calling for people who do and say things I don't agree with to be fired from their jobs. Not even when their job is, as yours is, being a syndicated broadcaster who should know better. But, you know, I might be willing to make an exception in your case. You've been doing this for years, publicly assassinating the character of anyone you don't agree with. Even defenseless pre-teen or teen-age girls who did not ever ask to be in the public eye, but were only there because of the position of their parents. Yes, I remember what you said about Chelsea Clinton when she was very young and you insulted her looks in the very same venue where you insulted Ms. Fluke.

So, you know, Mr. Limbaugh, if you were sincerely sorry, you would take some time off and think about what you did, and what you do so often as part of your very privileged place in front of a microphone five days a week. You can afford it. Just think about what you do, how you seem to believe that anyone you don't agree with deserves to have their very reputations ruined in your attempts to be "humorous".

I'm sorry, Mr. Limbaugh, but I don't find you to be very funny.

Still, I'm not demanding that you be fired. All I'm asking is that you take a little time off and think, really think, about whether your part of the problem in broadcasting generally today, where character assassination seems to be completely accepted as a legitimate form of discourse, or whether you might be willing to be part of the solution by criticizing positions that you do not agree with rather than taking cheap shots at the people who hold those positions.

I'm not asking you to abandon your beliefs, or the beliefs that you seem to think you need to espouse in order to keep your ratings. I'm just asking you to limit your criticisms to the ideas without assassinating the character of the people who express them. That is what civilized discourse is all about.

I'm old enough to remember when that was common practice in this great country of ours. You are slightly older than I am, sir, so you should be able to remember that time, as well.