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Teacher on LSD

A teacher in Santa Cruz took a class of 40 high school students on a walking field trip. The plan was to take them to the local bookstore, then visit the Community Center, and if there was time left hang out in the park.

Shortly after getting underway, he became light-headed and eventually he realized that somebody had slipped him some drug. Fortunately he had the presence of mind to identify the one student who would be stupid enough to do that and confronted him. The student admitted putting LSD into his coffee.

The teacher had to make a quick decision while he still could. There was one teaching assistant with him. He could explain, hand the students over to him, and go home. But he didn’t want to ruin the trip for everyone.

He made the decision, for better or for worse, to ride it out.

Here is his report in all the flashing, melting and pulsing detail: Field Trippin’.

Traffic lights? We don’t need no stinking traffic lights!

7billion

From Founders and Funders.

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will be built on a mountaintop in Chile.

An artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

[artist's impression - click for picture credit]

It will be the largest telescope in the world by far. Its size will allow us to see further into the distant past of the universe than ever before. There will be enough resolution to see planets around distant stars in our own galactic neighborhood. We will even be able to distinguish surface features, like changing of ice caps over seasons as well as changes of coloration on the surface. We will have a way to “see” life on different planets. And it will all happen within the next 15 years. Here is a good The Guardian article with lots of detailed information.

The project will cost over a billion Euros.

From frequently asked questions:

The total cost of the E-ELT is 1083 million euros, spread over ten years, in 2012 euros. The funding of the E-ELT project is in three parts. About one third comes from the normal ESO budget. Another third comes from the accession of Brazil and its future payments. A final 435 million euros comes from additional commitments from the other 14 Member States.

In my research I could not find any American involvement or American money, and I experienced a peculiar sense of bitter-sweetness.

First, bitter, because I am used to America being on the very forefront of technological advances, and I am used to being proud of being an American for that reason, among others. This time, America is noticeably absent, and it gave me a twinge.

Second, sweet, because I am glad American money and power is not involved. Our government and its funding have proven fickle when considering decade-long projects. We’re good at blowing money at alarming rates to fill the coffers of defense contractors and fossil-fuel companies. But when it comes to science and technology, I don’t trust our Congress, and its Committee on Science, Space and Technology, I don’t think they have the best interest of the country and the advance of science in mind.

Just see my recent post that shows that 27 cents of every tax dollar goes to the military, and 1.1 cent goes to science!

Just look at some of the ranking members of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology:

Rep Broun

This picture is right off the site of Rep. Broun. Check out the gun! In case you don’t know, Rep. Broun is a medical doctor, therefore a scientist, I’d think, but he calls evolution “lies straight from the pit of hell.”  He also believes that the earth was created in six days. I’d say he might not be very interested about what happened before the earth was formed 4.6 billion years ago.

Rep Neugebauer

Here is Rep. Neugebauer. This is right from his congressional site. This is the congressman who berated a female park ranger on national TV last fall when she was doing her job keeping people out of a closed National Park during the government shutdown. The image right next to his face is a derrick, one of those most scientific of objects. You might take a wild guess about where Neugebauer’s priorities lie.

So, I think it’s sweet that American money is not involved in the construction and operation of the E-ELT. That way it’s safely kept away from the purse strings of our people, congress and the dumbed-down Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

[click for photo credit]

Excellent tile work, though. Nobody has ever accused Nazis of not being good tradesmen.

Now I really want to see pictures of the rest of the house.

Yes, I didn’t say I missed an IRS deadline – which always comes to mind when reading the two words IRS and Deadline together.

According to this article in the Dailydot.com, the IRS has 110,000 computers running Windows, and only 52,000 of those have been upgraded to Windows 7. The other ones are still running Windows XP.

The problem is that Windows XP is now retired and no longer supported by Microsoft. The IRS, as well as the rest of the tech community, has known about this deadline since 2008. They blame budget cuts for the delays in upgrading.

Now they will have to pay Microsoft for very expensive “custom support” to eventually upgrade those machines, or buy new ones altogether.

It must be nice to be a company that can push the IRS around. It took Microsoft almost 40 years to get to that position, but apparently, they have arrived.

Today I had a late afternoon flight out of New York and nothing on my agenda for the morning.  So I decided to drive the half hour from the Kennedy Airport area to Oyster Bay to visit President Theodore Roosevelt’s grave.

I must admit that I hardly ever visit graves. To me, this was more a visit of historical education.

Fenced In Grave

The grave is nicely fenced in so there is no direct access. Of course, I was able to stick my camera through the bars and get a good view of the gravestone.

Roosevelts Grave

Looking into the other direction to the right,  Oyster Bay is visible behind the April-bare trees.

Oyster Bay

While I was there in a contemplative mood, two separate and distinct feelings hit me:

Roosevelt was only 61 years old when he died. That’s only four years older than I am right now. I have a tendency to compare myself and my stages in life with famous people, and the outcome is usually awe of what they accomplished, and motivation for me.

Then it struck me that while I was there, there wasn’t another soul around. In fact, I venture to say that I was the only person in that entire cemetery this Good Friday morning. Roosevelt, powerful and popular as he was when he was living, his grave is now solitary, and anyone can walk up to it, sit at the bench, and most likely be there all alone for hours in reflection, with no interruption from anyone.

This place, that must have been the center of the American stage when Roosevelt was buried in 1919, is now an empty place of solitary reflection.

Today, it was there only for me. I had my moment.

IMG_1214

Today I visited an agency in New York. We had a meeting in the 19th floor penthouse of their building. I looked out the window and saw this view.

On the left side is the newly completed “Freedom Tower” or One World Trade Center. With 1776 feet tall to the top of the antenna, it is now the highest building in the United States (and the 4th highest in the world).

To the right, in the same photograph, is the famous Woolworth building, which was  the world’s tallest building just 100 years ago in 1913 at 792 feet tall.

The top 30 floors of the Woolworth Building are currently being converted to luxury apartments. They will sell for an estimated $3000 per square foot when they are completed in 2015.

Here is an old picture showing an entirely different background.

Woolworth Building

[click for picture credit]

 

 

Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy, a physician and instructor at Harvard Medical School with a stellar reputation. The surgeon general has no influence at all over the regulation of guns. The job of the surgeon general is to educate the public about health issues by providing insightful information and to guide the federal government in its public health efforts. The regulation of guns falls exclusively under the already anemic and underfunded Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is in no way related to the surgeon general.

So why would the National Rifle Association be so opposed to a star physician’s nomination? Because Dr. Murthy supports stricter gun regulations. The gun lobby makes broad claims about gun ownership and how it helps the public health. Those claims don’t even hold up to the most trivial studies which clearly demonstrate that gun ownership leads to increased rates of injury and death by suicide and homicide, and has little impact on self-defense in general. In short, the NRA’s claims are bogus at best, and I personally would interpret them as fraudulent, deceptive and possibly even irresponsible. But that, of course, is only my opinion.

I have a general problem if a special interest group actively needs to block information from the public to uphold its argument or case. This is reminiscent of the 1970s, when big tobacco lobbied that smoking was not dangerous or addictive. They blocked or discredited valid studies by disinformation and a general campaign of dumbing down the public to keep their racket going as long as they could. Of course, eventually, the public figured it out and they had to concede.

The gun lobby has the same problem right now and they know it. This is the only reason I can think of why they would try to block Dr. Murthy’s nomination. They are afraid of a prominent physician doing his job and disseminating proper scientific and data-driven information to the public that would, of course, expose the gun lobby’s claims as bogus.

The NRA is blocking Dr. Murthy’s nomination because it is scared.

Recently there have been many headlines about problems with meat in China. While China has food safety rules, they are often not followed or companies don’t even know them. Wal-Mart buys a lot of meat products from China and has therefore suffered from some of these violations, both in China and the US. Some major restaurant chains have also been caught in the crossfire.

Examples cited are that DNA tests have shown that meat passed off as lamb contained fox or rat meat. Meat labeled as mutton was actually 95% duck. Wal-Mart in China had to recall donkey meat because it contained large quantities of fox and other animals. This is a frightening thought to me. And what’s up with donkey meat?

I have not eaten any red meat, venison, sausage, cold cuts, or processed meat of any type for over 30 years. The exceptions in my diet are: I eat chicken and turkey, usually in the native form where I recognize the actual animal. However, I have made exceptions when eating chicken strips or nuggets, or chicken in Chinese food. My only “processed meat” exception is pepperoni on pizza.

So, overall, this news about tainted meat from China does not affect me too much – but just writing this has made me think hard about chicken in Chinese food. How do I know that Chinese food chicken isn’t actually rat, fox, cat or dog?

I don’t!

Maybe it’s time for a change.

It’s tax day. Most Americans do not think of April 15 as a happy day.

taxdollars

nationalpriorities.org

The chart above shows where our tax dollars actually go. Note that Social Security and Medicare taxes are not included here. This just deals with the federal income taxes.

I am surprised how big a chunk the military and veterans benefits together make up. I am also surprised how large the healthcare slice is. Healthcare should be paid by the individuals and their insurance companies and funded by premiums. Why are we spending tax dollars on this?

I am also surprised how small the portions for science and education are. Really?

This chart shows in stark figures where our nation’s priorities lie – pun intended – I got this from nationalpriorities.org.

A nation’s values come alive when you examine what a nation spends its money on. Ours spends it on military, healthcare and interest on debt.

We are NOT spending it on education and science.

This will catch up with us, it’s just a matter of time.

わかりました

(Hai Wakarimashita – Yes, I understand.)

I find it disconcerting that a bird speaks better 日本語 (Nihongo – Japanese) than I do.

Savage HarvestThe subtitle of Savage Harvest is “A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art.”

For me, reading Savage Harvest represented a vicarious journey into a world that is hard to believe still exists today in 2014, a journey into the stone age. It blew my mind wide open, and now has me pondering primitive art (I am going back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as I can get back to New York City), cannibalism (and the fact that is most likely still exists in today’s world in remote places), and exotic travel.

Carl Hoffman, the author of Lunatic Express, which I reviewed here four years ago, has made several journeys to Papua New Guinea, investigating the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, who vanished in New Guinea in 1961 at the age of 23. Michael was the son of Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York, soon to be Vice President of the United States, and one of the most powerful and definitely richest men in the world. He was interested in primitive art and was on a quest to bring some of it home to New York by immersing himself into the culture in Papua New Guinea with the Asmat people.

The photo below shows the young Rockefeller surrounded by Asmat villagers in what appears to be a jubilant dance.

Savage Harvest 1

Picture Credit National Geographic Magazine

On November 20, 1961, he disappeared without a trace. All the power of money and government swarmed down on New Guinea, yet nobody could find a clue. Michael Rockefeller had vanished.

Reminiscent of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, Carl Hoffman meticulously retraced Rockefeller’s steps in New Guinea, searched records in the Netherlands and many other parts of the world, and unraveled the mystery of the disappearance one tedious step at a time. Since what happens amongst stone-age primitive people cannot be researched by reading archives, Carl immersed himself with the Asmat.

Savage Harvest 3

Picture Credit: The Washingtonian

Here is a picture of Carl with some of his Asmat friends when he lived with them while researching Savage Harvest.

What fascinated me about this book was that there were people in 1961 who were so untouched by the rest of the world, so remote, that most of them had never seen any white people, save a few forlorn missionaries. They were a very violent culture, practiced cannibalism as an accepted ritual as they had done for thousands of years. The Dutch and later Indonesian authorities and the Catholic Church worked on eradicating cannibalism with the Asmat. I can imagine that there are, today in 2014, still isolated tribes in the interior of New Guinea, and possibly other remote places in the world, that have not been touched by any civilization from the outside, save the contrails of modern jet travel, who still practice cannibalism today.

Savage Harvest delves deeply into the soul of the Asmat people, shows how they think, how their culture works, and why they might have practiced such a gruesome and repulsive practice, seemingly without any reservation. Their culture is so distant, so alien, so removed from anything we know in the modern world, we can’t even begin to understand. Here is a comment someone named “Scotty” wrote below the Smithsonian article with some interesting insight:

Savage Harvest 2

comment in Smithsonian article

I had started Twitter and email exchanges with the author after my review of Lunatic Express in 2010. Then, two years ago, I contributed to the author’s kickstarter project to fund his second trip to New Guinea, and in return I received my own hardcover signed copy. Thanks, Carl, for a great project completed. It lived up to all its promise and more. Savage Harvest 4 Rating: ****

[Click here to order this book from Amazon]

Movie Review: Noah

Noah1

I was looking forward to the movie Noah. The trailers looked like it would be a truly epic movie. Here is a post I wrote about the story of Noah and Ken Hams theme park.

Then I read Orson Scott Card’s extensive review. Here are a couple of leading paragraphs:

Even though Aronofsky is a self-proclaimed atheist, I find that Noah actually does a far better job of representing the Bible and Judeo-Christian teachings in general than most films by pious believers.

But first, and most important, it’s simply a powerful movie, well-invented, well-written, and well-acted. Set aside the fact that it’s based on a story from a work of scripture that is believed in by millions of people around the world, and it’s still a first-rate film.

Card is a devout Mormon. So it came as no surprise to me that he would not only review the movie, but delve into an extensive analysis of the movie versus scripture. Among other things, he says:

While Bible literalists are outraged by Noah, and writer/director Aronofsky is quick to tell people that he’s an atheist and Noah is the “least biblical” movie of a Bible story ever made, I have reached a very different conclusion.

I think Noah is not only the most faithful depiction of the story of Noah ever made, it also offers one of the most powerful expressions of Judeo-Christian values ever presented in film.

Clearly, Card liked this movie a lot, and since I often agree with Card’s reviews on other items, with the exception of Mormonism in general, I, the self-proclaimed atheist that I am, went to see the movie with Trisha yesterday.

When we walked out, she said:

That was a one and a half star movie. Say No to Noah. They were trying too hard and didn’t stay in the genre. If you want a biblical story, you have to stay within the parameter of biblical believability. If you are a Christian, you will likely be insulted by this movie. If you are an atheist, you’ll be confirmed.

To me, it wasn’t that simple. Too much in this movie seemed hokey. One of the central elements of the plot were the “Watchers.” I had never heard of Watchers before so I had to look it up afterwards. Here is what I found in Wikipedia:

In the Book of Enoch, the Watchers are angels dispatched to Earth to watch over the humans. They soon begin to lust for human women and, at the prodding of their leader Samyaza, defect en masse to illicitly instruct humanity and procreate among them. The offspring of these unions are the Nephilim, savage giants who pillage the earth and endanger humanity. Samyaza and his associates further taught their human charges arts and technologies such as weaponry, cosmetics, mirrors, sorcery, and other techniques that would otherwise be discovered gradually over time by humans, not foisted upon them all at once. Eventually God allows a Great Flood to rid the earth of the Nephilim, but first sends Uriel to warn Noah so as not to eradicate the human race. The Watchers are bound “in the valleys of the Earth” until Judgment Day. (Jude verse 6 says that these fallen angels are kept “in everlasting chains under darkness” until Judgment Day.)

from Wikipedia

So watchers are fallen angels that apparently were punished by God. They now served the descendants of Cain, the villains in this movie, but get turned around by Noah and serve the good cause.

The problem is: Watchers are giant lava-rock creatures, vaguely humanoid, but with many “arms” who talk English with a voice that you would expect from lava-rock creatures. Their eyes are glowing spots in the lava.

I have seen rock giants in movies before, more recently in the Hobbit:

HobbitRock500

[click for picture credit]

This looks like where Aronofsky got the idea for the lava-rock monsters, the Watchers, in Noah. The problem I had with the Watchers is twofold.

First, they were just hokey. CGI generated monsters out of rock reminded me of the old Godzilla movies of the 1960s, no better. Just ridiculous.

Second, these rock-monsters not only serve bad guys and then good guys. Later they are the main workers to build the ark; the rock monsters become woodworkers and carpenters. Finally, they are the warriors that hold off the evil, depraved hordes that want to enter the ark when the flood finally comes, and they slaughter humans like giants would slaughter ants, by crushing them, throwing them, tearing them apart.

Where did that come from? There is nothing in the story of Noah in the Bible about Watchers helping Noah, so all this stuff is made up.

Since I think of the Bible as a big book of made-up fables, I really don’t care of a movie follows the Bible, but sorry, I need to know WHAT I am supposed to follow when I watch something called Noah. I expected to get a biblical story, but this was not it. Was it science fiction like Starship Troupers? No. Was it fantasy like the Hobbit? No. What was it?

When I researched about biblical accuracy in Noah, I found articles by people much more learned than I am. Here is a good one that points out many facts or rather, discrepancies.

I felt disappointed about the depiction of the animals in the ark. I wanted more about the animals, entering the ark two by two. In this movie, the animals came in three waves: First came the birds, swarms of them. They flew into their cages and “passed out.” Then there were snakes by the gazillion, and insects. Finally came the mammals. I wanted to see some elephants, and tigers, and lambs, going in together. There was none of that. For a story where animals are essential, there were no animals in this movie. All the animals seemed to be totally hibernating for all the months of the journey. Very convenient. Then there was not a single shot of the animals coming out of the ark when the journey was over, going about their ways populating the earth again and multiplying.

I also found it difficult to believe how Noah obtained his mission. Here is a man who spends decades of his life building a big boat, and then many months floating on it, ready to kill even his own grandchildren, just because it was the will of God. But we never see how God communicated this stuff to him. We see a few repeated vignettes of dreams he has, where he is under water along with all manner of animals. That’s where he learned that God wanted to wipe out all humanity? It’s pretty far-fetched. I would have liked a more credible communication from God. Then, whenever doubt set in, Noah looked to the grey cloudy sky and pleaded with God to tell him what to do. And God treated Noah with nothing but grey sky. Nothing.

As a movie, I actually thought the acting was excellent. The characters interacted believably and there were many tear jerkers. I found myself emotionally engaged, and my eyes watery at times, not because of the story of Noah, but because the actors showed their pain, their passion and their love so very well.

So while I would rate the movie Noah about one and a half stars overall, I thought the acting was actually very good. Therefore:

Rating: **

I think churches should pay taxes like the rest of us, and our businesses. Churches are businesses, in my opinion.

In 2013, churches would have paid over $83 billion in taxes. Compare that to $76 billion we pay for food stamps for everone in the country authorized to receive them. This means if churches paid taxes, food stamps would be paid for. Don’t churches preach about feeding the hungry?

We would still have $7 billion left over. That would be enough to house all the homeless in the country.

But for some reason, churches don’t pay taxes.

Yet, when people go to church schools for “education” our government subsidizes them by paying for their childcare while they are “learning.” Check this article about Hasidic Jews in New York, which deals with exactly this subject.

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