Sign found in Indiana.

Religious Freedom - Bakery

It is aberrations like the Indiana law that make me realize again why religion has no business in politics and public life. Religion belongs behind closed doors. We should never allow religious preferences of some groups affect innocent citizens adversely.

flushable_wipesAre you flushing baby wipes down the toilet? Or – ahem – condoms?

Recently there was some media attention on this, originally triggered by a piece by Matt Flegenheimer in the New York Times. It was also picked up by All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. Chris visited a New York sewer treatment plat and showed what the workers have to go through, removing the wipes from the sewer. Large containers of unimaginable “trash” fill up every twenty minutes. Workers have to remove the stuff from the works, which get gummed up by the unimaginable “trash.” Fortunately the TV does not transmit the stink.

Flushable in Pipes

Then I saw this article on the blog grist.org talking about flushing condoms down the toilet.

We have this idea that whatever we flush down the toilet magically disappears from the world. That dead fish or mouse may well make it out of our apartment or house. That condom likely slips along, that baby wipe is small enough to be whisked away. But somebody down that long line of pipes will have to remove it from the water and haul it to a landfill.

So rather than throwing things down the toilet – which is not a recycling unit that we see on spaceships in science fiction movies – it would be a lot cheaper for society to put that stuff in the trash. The trash truck is a lot cheaper than the entire chain of events it takes to remove the condom from the water and put it into a – you got it – trash truck to be hauled to the landfill.

I learned a lot from the New York Times article, the MSNBC piece and the Grist blog entry. If you are buying “flushable” wipes, if you are “buying it” that these wipes just disappear in the sewer system, you might be interested in researching these articles I am linking to.

Let’s not flush money down the toilet.


Norbert Haupt:

A very informative blog entry with lots of statistics about arable land by country. There are many surprises here. Europe has a high percentage overall, so does India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, surprisingly. The United States is lower on the curve than I would have thought.

Originally posted on PROPEL STEPS:

Arable land is land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops.

Non-arable land: Land which is unsuitable for arable farming usually has at least one of the following deficiencies: no source of fresh water; too hot (desert); too cold (Arctic); too rocky; too mountainous; too salty; too rainy; too snowy; too polluted; or too nutrient poor. Clouds may block the sunlight plants need for photosynthesis, reducing productivity. Starvation and nomadism often exists on marginally arable land. Non-arable land is sometimes called wasteland, badlands,worthless or no man’s land.

A permanent crop is one produced from plants which last for many seasons, rather than being replanted after each harvest. Traditionally, “arable land” included any land suitable for the growing of crops, even if it was actually being used for the production of permanent crops such as

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The 15 most Spectacular Photographs of National Borders.


In this house, you can sleep in the Netherlands and eat in Belgium, every day.

Check out these 15 photographs and then answer these questions:

What’s wrong with India?

Should we be proud of the way our border with Mexico looks?

… or so this Monsanto Lobbyist says:

He says you could drink it. The interviewer counters, and offers him a glass. “I am not an idiot,” he says.

The hypocrisy of this guy is appalling. Then he calls the interviewer a “complete jerk” as he walks off the set in panic.

Departure200 passengers board a Boeing 777 in New York, bound for London. The plane crashes in the woods somewhere in England. Nick Stone has the presence of mind and courage of spirit to get right to work helping his fellow survivors rescue as many of the victims who didn’t die. Harper Lane is a young British writer who finds herself in the middle of  the rescue, against her better judgment. Sabrina Schröder is a German research physician and the only doctor on board, with plenty to do patching up the injured passengers with not much more than a first aid kit and very little medicine. Yul Tan is a Chinese-American computer scientist who is on the cusp on inventing the next generation of the Internet.

When days go by and no rescue crews show up, these four unlikely protagonists quickly discover that the world they landed in is not quite right. As they slowly unravel what happened to them, they are thrown into a conflict much larger than they could possibly have dreamed.

Departure is an “accidental time travel” story, meticulously plotted and told in the first person by Harper and Nick, alternating, in journal-style. To make it even more unusual, the story is told in the present tense. This gives the action intense urgency and realism.

After recently reading a few amateurish novels that lacked editing, this was refreshing. Not a grammar error to be found, not a word missing or misspelled anywhere to distract me.

I have to say, however, that while the first third of the book was a page turner, the rest of the book, with perhaps the exception on the last 5%, was too contrived for me. There was lots of action, lots of intricate story development and plot, sometimes to the point where it was hard to follow. I must admit there were sections when I just skimmed and turned the pages to make it through those boring – or rather – overdeveloped parts so I could get on with it.

Overall, Departure was a fun, quick read, and it helped that it was about time travel.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

Now that Ted Cruz announced he is a presidential candidate, his views are getting analyzed more carefully by the experts. This debate should be fun over the next few months.

Ted Cruz on Global Warming:

My view actually is simple. Debates on this should follow science and should follow data. And many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem cause the science doesn’t back them up. And in particular, satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years, there’s been zero warming. None whatsoever. It’s why — you remember how it used to be called ‘global warming’ and then magically the theory changed to ‘climate change’? The reason is it wasn’t warming, but the computer models still say it is, except the satellites show it’s not.

Summary by Chris Mooney in the Washington Post:

In claiming the globe hasn’t warmed in 17 years, Cruz selectively highlighted satellite temperature data, rather than other data (which NASA and NOAA recently used to call 2014 the hottest year on record). He also selectively focused on one year (1998), rather than examining the aggregate temperatures of many years or decades. And finally, a key scientist who studies this type of satellite data, and whose work was cited by Cruz’s spokesman (as backup), criticizes Cruz’s approach.

— Washington Post

Art Expedition

Norbert Haupt:

An online artist friend traveled to Nuuk, Greenland. I loved the imagery, and especially the song in the background. Otherworldly.

Originally posted on Katherine Scrivens:

Inspirational visit to Nuuk, Greenland. Journey with me as I experience the beauty of this Country and create a few paintings along the way.

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Browsing the Forbes Magazine Special Issue Meet the Richest People on the Planet, I found Mark Zuckerberg with a fortune of $33.4 billion as number 16 on the list. Footnote: I just tried to get you a link to this article on-line. Forbes website sucks. It is choked with video ads to the point where you can’t find the content. Click on this link at your own risk.

As of today, Facebook’s market cap is $234 billion and rising. Facebook has about 7,000 employees according to Wikipedia.

How does a company that young, with comparatively few employees, have such immense value? 7,000 employees is VERY LITTLE for a company that large and valuable. For comparison, J.P. Morgan Chase has a market cap of $230 billion, about the same size as Facebook, but it has 63,000 employees worldwide. Both Target and Wal-Mart have over 300,000 employees each and have less market cap than Facebook.

Who are the job creators in this country? Well, it’s not Facebook.

I have “used” Facebook for many years, but I cannot say that I ever paid a penny for it. Ever.

The Facebook posts inserted in my feed are always ticklers with interesting headlines that have me clicking quite often to find out more, only to be redirected to some aggregator site that is so choked up with advertisements (I have seen pages with 20 ads within the user’s view) that the actual content is very hard to find. The sites are also so cumbersome and slow, it’s painful to navigate and it’s difficult to page through the content without accidentally hitting some advertisement. This is an example from today. Click on it and see what I mean.

In summary, the ads that Facebook leads me to are so annoying that I have conditioned myself to resist even clicking on content that looks vaguely interesting.

However, Facebook does have 1.3 billion users, 800 million of who log in every day. I am one of them. I check what’s going on with my friends. That takes about 5 minutes in the morning. I finish up clearing all my posts older than a few days – so my “wall” is usually empty, and I get out of there.

So how is it that something that creates so little stuff that can be sold, that really doesn’t CONSTRUCT or BUILD anything, creates such enormous wealth for its founders and owners?

The economy of the United States is built on companies like these now. They create value, but not a lot of jobs and really no “goods and services” that are pumped back into the economy. A few people and engineers in Silicon Valley get very rich, but the middle class across America does not get jobs out of those. Apple, by far the most valuable company on the planet by a factor of two, does most of its manufacturing overseas. Few jobs in America.

For America to be competitive, for the middle class to thrive, we have to “create jobs” here in this country. And unfortunately, it’s not something the politicians can do, no matter what the loud-talkers like Scott Walker, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush trumpet.

I have spoken, and now on this sunny Saturday afternoon, I go back to work on the stuff I didn’t get done last week at the office.



My first job was when I was 12 or 13, picking potatoes in the fields of southern Bavaria. The tractor would plow up the plants so the potatoes would lie on the ground in the dirt. We used baskets and walked bent over, with bare hands, picking up potatoes and filling up our baskets. When the basket was full, it was just light enough that one person could pick it up and carry it to the trailer behind a tractor parked off to the side. All day long, we would be bent over at the hip, walking slowly along the rows, up the field, and then back down the field. Getting up and stretching to carry the basket was a relief. The days were endless. The hours crawled on. Flies and gnats would buzz around our sweaty faces. And our backs were on fire. The next day, we’d do it all again, all day.

My first job was also my hardest job ever. I learned what work means when I was 12 years old working in those Bavarian fields. When I now drive up Highway 99 in the Californian Central Valley, and I look over the endless fields with Hispanic laborers hunched over, tending to the plants or harvesting, I know what their work is like. I know they work harder every day than I have done since that first job at age 12.

McFarland is a small farming town north of Bakersfield on Highway 99. I have driven through it many times on my way driving to Fresno or Modesto. I have never exited the freeway and stopped.

But now, after watching the movie McFarland, USA, I will stop next time and look around.

The movie tells the true story of Jim White (Kevin Costner), a high school teacher and football coach who has trouble with his temper, and thus he has lost job after job. In 1987, he moves to McFarland with his wife and two daughters to take a job at the high school. They go through culture shock. The all-Latino school population does not have much respect for the new white coach. They call him Blanco. He gets dismissed from the football team within the first week.

When he observes some of his students as they run home after school so they can work on the fields with their families, he notices that they can run fast. After a bit of investigating, he decides to start a high school track team and hand-pick seven boys. Whether these boys who just attend high school between work shifts can become athletes is not clear to anyone when they first get started. Their families, their community, their school, everyone thinks of the boys as day laborers that have to go to school as an inconvenience.

But coach White reaches through the outer layers, and touches their souls. Soon the boys find their spirit and their hearts soar, and they run. Their successes not only transform their own lives, but they give their school and their entire community a new purpose and spirit.

I was glad that the movie theater was dark, because that allowed me to let the tears run freely. I found appreciation for the Hispanic culture built around family, family values and hard work. I enjoyed every minute of McFarland, USA and when the credits rolled I remembered the endless rows of potato fields of my youth, and I was glad that I had had the opportunity to learn about hard work, dedication and willpower.

Rating - Three and a Half Stars


A candid and focused interview of Obama on the big issues of our times. It’s refreshing to just see these two men talk about these subjects, without the usual bluster the mainstream media (Fox News, MSNBC).

CanvasBoar is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmer, which came to denote the descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century. They were originally Dutch farmers that eventually escaped British rule in South Africa by trekking north into the unknown North, the frontier.

Canvas under the Sky is a historical novel that plays in the 1830s in South Africa. Rauch Beukes is a young Boer of 17. As the story opens, he travels with his father to Cape Town to purchase supplies for the homestead. The trip takes several weeks each way by horseback and wagon. When they come home, they find the farm plundered and burned by the Xhosa natives. Rauch’s mother and sisters are dead. His brothers and their servants and slaves had found refuge with a neighbor. The family starts rebuilding.

Eventually, the Boars decide to leave the English colony and trek north. The migration is eventually known as the Great Trek. Rauch narrates the story of the trek, the hardships the settlers go through, and the many battles they fight against hostile natives of the Xhosa, Zulu and many other tribes that outnumber them fifty to one. The leaders of the trekkers are Potgieter, Retief, Maritz, Trichardt and Cilliers, among others, and reading Canvas under the Sky, some of those leaders come to life for the reader.

Reminiscent of the conquest of the American western frontier around the same period, the treks of the Boars in South Africa are not as well-known or documented, at least not to the average American reader, like me. While I knew there was a violent and bloody period, reaching all the way to modern times and Apartheid, I had never had the opportunity to familiarize myself with South African history and the details of the colonization. This book opened my eyes.

But not sufficiently.

I got a sense of what the hardships of the settlers were, and how difficult it was to survive on the frontier. In America, we had the Indians. In South Africa, they had the Xhosa and Zulus, who didn’t appreciate the Europeans invading their lands and upsetting their customs. The book illustrates many bloody battles, where thousands of natives were mowed down by western guns and cannons, with casualties for the whites only in the dozens, if any. But I never really got the sense of where the wars were going. The whites are constantly portrayed as those with God on their side. They thank the Lord for the battles that they won, with thousands of black corpses surrounding them. No credit is given to the natives, who are portrayed as nothing but bloodthirsty wild animals that wanted to harm innocent God-fearing settlers.

The author loves to show battle after battle. The battles are always the same.  They do not really portray the underlying conflict. A naïve reader will put the book down and hate the blacks, who were really the ones that were violated in that period of history.

The author most also have been given bad advice about how to make a history book interesting. Rather than spending time and effort on painting an accurate and realistic historical background and environment, he decided to make the narrator a horny teenage boy who does most of his thinking with this genitals, and thus Canvas under the Sky is part historical novel, part soft porn for teenage audiences. The two just don’t work together.

In Rauch’s life there are three women: Amelia is the daughter of an English settler, who is fifteen when he and his father, at the beginning of the book, come home from Capetown to find the homestead devastated. Rauch falls in love with her, but inexplicably, she loves his father, who is around 40 years old at the time, and she marries him instead. Amelia’s character never really makes sense, all the way through the story.

Then there is Katrina, the mulatto former slave come prostitute, who likes to service Rauch and eventually bears him a son. She is actually the woman that is most thoroughly developed in this book, whose motivations make sense and who cares about Rauch. But for some reason we don’t understand, he casts her away.

Finally, there is the beautiful Marietjie who loves him – why I can’t figure out – but who is married to an abusive English officer named Roddy. She also gets pregnant by Rauch.

Rauch’s Pa is also an old lecher who cheats on his wife (when she is still alive) and then steals the girl of his son. Pa comes across as a 40-year-old teenager who is interested in nothing but getting laid.

The sex scenes are plentiful, explicit and unfortunately also awkward and repetitive. Rauch always “kisses tenderly.” There is no normal kiss, just a tender kiss. Whenever a woman looks at him “he feels himself getting aroused.” When he orgasms, it’s always “indescribable.”

The sex scenes do the book a disservice. The motivations of Rauch and his women don’t make any sense. They seem to be contrived and appear to exist only to make a historically shallow book spiced up so it would appeal to high school kids.

If I want soft porn, I read Fanny Hill. If I want to read historical novels, I read Jeff Shaara books. It’s a pity, because the author really does seem to have a passion for the history of his country. More history, more detail, perhaps a map or a chart, would have helped the book much more than the side plot of Rauch and his adolescent urges.

Rating - Two Stars

Birds are dinosaurs. Imagine a naked chicken and make it 20 times bigger, and you have a velociraptor. Make it 50 times bigger, and you have a T.Rex. Now we know what dinosaur would have tasted like: Chicken. If only we had been around then.

Here is a wonderful article about dinosaurs, birds and the wild and crazy variety of the bird world. I couldn’t stop scrolling.

I just finished reading a few books (example and example) that were full of trite expressions and poor grammar. The writing was so bad, it distracted me from the story. As writers, we should not use trite expressions. There are some words in the list below, that almost always elicit a paired word. For instance, if you read the word avid, the next word that comes to mind is reader.

Let’s test this theory here. Below is a list of 10 pairs or expressions where I just list the first word. See if you come up with the second by yourself:

  1. Avid
  2. Dire
  3. Heated
  4. Reinvent
  5. Pregnant
  6. Stark
  7. Humble
  8. Trials
  9. Bated
  10. Moot

— Scroll down for the answers —










Here are the answers, and behind each expression I have listed the number of results a Google search returned when I searched for the respective pair in double quotes:

  1. Avid reader – 3,490,00
  2. Dire consequences – 723,000
  3. Heated debate – 2,060,000
  4. Reinvent the wheel – 674,00
  5. Pregnant pause – 396,000
  6. Stark contrast – 5,700,000
  7. Humble abode – 540,000
  8. Trials and tribulations – 5,730,000
  9. Bated breath – 644,000
  10. Moot point – 749,000

The simple answer is: As writers we should not use such two-word expressions. As speakers, we should avoid them “like the plague” <—

Reading Robin Binckes’ novel Canvas under the Sky, starting at page 178, I found a scene that was remarkably like something I had seen before. I searched on Google using the keywords “Buffalo, Lions, Crocodile” and the second entry was this video titled Battle at Kruger, which had been a viral video years ago.


Is this plagiarism?

Plagiarism: the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.

The act of using another person’s ideas – if a YouTube video is an idea – which I would think it is, qualifies.

This YouTube has been viewed 75 million times. Why would Binckes retell a story that 75 million potential readers had already seen in a video, and not give credit?

Here are pages 178 – 180 of Robin Binckes’ novel Canvas under the Sky, and you can judge for yourself:

Early one morning, a week after the funeral, Jan and I set off to hunt lions that had killed three cattle the night before. We tracked the spoor of a pride for some miles until the trail ran cold at a small stream. We climbed off our horses and concealed ourselves behind some bushes. While we studied the terrain for signs of lion, a herd of some forty Cape buffalo emerged from the scrub about fifty yards downstream and across the river from us. Jan started to ready his Sanna for a shot but the buffalo became agitated and began to move farther downstream, tossing their heads and swishing their tails. I guessed they had picked up our scent as the wind was blowing in their direction.

Jan nudged me in the ribs. “Look,” he said, pointing.

Five lions were stalking the buffalo through the long grass on the riverbank. They were thirty yards away when the buffalo started to move away, firstly at a walk, then at a brisk trot. The lions broke cover and the buffalo panicked, running wildly in different directions. A lioness singled out a buffalo calf. Totally focused, she ignored the larger animals as she bounded past. Within a few strides she leaped onto her prey, her claws gouging its sides. The whites of the calf s rolling eyes showed its terror. The rest of the pride joined the attack. The young buffalo crashed to the ground, surrounded, before slipping down the riverbank and splashing into the water. Standing in the shallows, the lions savaged the animal, with throaty roars and grunts until their coats were seeped with blood. “He’s had it,” Jan whispered.

I nodded. We were totally engrossed in the scene until my gaze was drawn by a movement in the water, a few yards away. Two giant crocodiles were silently approaching the battle scene. The jaws of one crocodile emerged from the muddy waters. Mouth agape, it raced the last few yards, reared out of the water and grabbed the kicking, twitching back legs of the young buffalo. With a shake of its scaly head the crocodile started to pull the prey into the water. The calf had become the prize in a mortal tug-of-war.

As we watched in amazement the crocodile, realizing it was losing the struggle, summoned all its energy and power and heaved out of the water so that its jaws clamped the buffalo’s rump. Shaking its tail, it began to pull the calf deeper into the water. The lions, angered by this intrusion into what should have been an uncontested kill, let out a barrage of roars and intensified their mauling of the calf s throat and then, almost as if by command, pulled together. The crocodile held on but was yanked up behind the buffalo until, with a shake of its head and a thrashing of the tail, it let go. The crocodile sank beneath the waters to sulk in the muddy depths below.

“The lions have won,” exclaimed Jan.

“No they haven’t. Look there,” I whispered. “I can’t believe this. It’s not over yet. The buffalo have come back.”

The buffalo had regrouped as a herd and returned. The lions looked up from their anticipated feast, aware of the approaching buffalo moving menacingly at a determined trot in their direction. There was no doubt what their intentions were. The lions clambered nervously to their feet, moving cautiously away from the approaching herd that had formed itself into a wall of muscle. As the speed of the buffalo increased, the nerve of a lioness broke as she slunk away from the others. A huge buffalo bull trotted after her, faster, then faster, and with a sweep of his horns, gored the lioness in the side and tossed her a full five feet into the air. When the lioness hit the ground her legs were like pistons which pounded the ground as she fled. The buffalo trotted back to the herd which had now surrounded the remaining lions.

At that moment there was a flurry of dark brown from among the lions and the buffalo calf—bitten, mauled and almost drowned—staggered away from the lions and disappeared into the protective ranks of the herd. Having dealt with one lioness, the buffalo drew closer to the remaining four, which slunk away along the riverbank. It was all over. The buffalo had won and the buffalo calf had survived … for the time being.

Jan breathed in one mighty rush. “Whew! That is something! I have never seen anything like that before.”

I shook my head, “There’s no point telling any of the others,” I said. “They’ll think we’ve had too many brandies.”




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