Friday, October 24, 2014

How do you judge the vectors of disease?

Do you hate or blame the person who has a cold and you end up catching it?  What do you do when you contract communicable disease from someone, do you seek revenge?  How do you feel about exotic parasites or viruses or bacterial and fungal infections?   Here’s an ethical question:
You are in the largest and fanciest hotel in a large city and you (as an observant and knowledgeable biologist), find and capture a live bed bug in your room.  You knew immediately what you had captured, but you took a minute to Google it and were now 99.99% sure…  What do you do?  What do you expect the hotel staff to do?
I recently found myself in this position.  I dropped the little bugger into a vial of 70% isopropyl alcohol (something that we biologists always carry), and took it down to the concierge (someone of whom I had no idea of the extent of his authoritative powers).  I suggested that he or his superior might want to speak with me confidentially (my thoughts were to not set off a panic among the other guests if in the crowded lobby they overheard us use the term: “bed bug”). 
Surprisingly, my suggestion of confidentiality was rejected (possibly in retrospect, ruefully) and I explained the situation and displayed the obligate parasite of Homo sapiens,  Cimex lectularius  - the common beg bug, right there at the desk.  I will say that at this point Mr. Gilbert X became very attentive and began to deal with the situation promptly and professionally.  We were offered the resources of the hotel to move us to a presumably uncontaminated room and to clean our luggage and personal effects.  All well and good but we had to surrender all but the clothes on our backs for a 24 hour period and then repeat the process the next day in order to not go naked during a conference (I am fine with nakedness in certain situations but this wasn’t one of them).  During this inconvenience we missed a significant part of the proceedings.
Before check out time, I requested a meeting (again quiet and confidential) with the concierge to discuss our bill.  I suggested that I might have done them a large favor with my observant and quick and effective action.  I suggested that, had I been a lawyer or someone out to make the most of every situation, they might have had an even bigger problem.  Much like a negotiation with a car salesman, he offered nothing except: “What are you willing to pay?”  Not a good negotiator, I was waiting for his offer…  We ended up paying half price for our stay.  Probably a great deal for them… then again, I’m not a lawyer or the other names you often hear them called.  I’m satisfied.
However, I hope that I get a letter of thanks from the parent company.  I know that I saved their asses and didn’t even try to get a free drink at the bar.

What would you have done?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What planet do you live on?

What planet do I live on?  I’ve been asking myself this question for years.  What planet do you live on?  Do you live on a planet where so-called educators in Texas are paid good money to write text books stating that Adam and Eve rode around on dinosaurs?  Does your planet then have schools adopt these texts and with the full authority of teachers and adults, make little children read these books?  How about text books suggesting that slavery in America was a pretty good deal for Native Americans and the blacks kidnapped by the tens of thousands from Africa?  Is this the best history that money can buy?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live on that planet. 

Do you live on a planet where hundreds of millions of dollars earned by fossil fuel companies are spent telling you that climate change, AKA global warming, is a plot by scientists who are getting rich by lying to us all about it?  Oh, the horror of the conspiracies by people that actually pay attention to verifiable data!  You don't ever want to trust someone who actually pays attention to something that isn't in the fossil fuel propaganda stream.  Unfortunately, I live on that planet, but I'm not happy about it.

Does your planet have people that are more upset about “rude behavior” on FB than they seem to be about Ukraine, Palestine, ISIS in Iraq, or the governor of Texas with a 50 caliber machine gun on the Mexican border?  Do they unfriend you for saying that you don’t understand what Rick Perry even thinks that he is saying?  If you question things that you believe to be obviously indefensible, do you get push back from people that you thought were rational?  That’s not a planet I want to live on.

Does your planet have people that think that George W. Bush/Dick Cheney was/were better presidents than Barack Obama?  If you ask them to explain why they think this way can you discuss with them the merits of their facts/beliefs?  Can you really understand anything that they are saying?  Can they understand anything that you are saying?  

If money is speech, the more money you have, the more you get to speak.  Therefore, you get to shop for the kind of speech that you want to be true.  And if you have enough money; you can make anything true.

Rupert Murdoch lives on this planet and he has confused way too many people, and they are making me wonder where I want to live.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I've got a Question; If you could get away with it....

Let’s do a thought experiment!  

Let us suppose that every one of the seven billion plus humans on planet earth are instantly given the individual ability to have just one other person on earth die immediately, and that there can, and never will be, any repercussions of any kind, to any person who has accepted this power and used it, neither on Earth nor in Heaven forever and ever, Amen.

How many people do you think “we” would get rid of?  How many people would be still around?  Would you be one of them?  Are you sure?

It seems to me that even given the in-place Laws against killing, vigilante actions, and simple revenge in the heat of the moment, (not to mention, the religion based promises of severe eternal retribution for willful murder), there still seem to be too many folks out there that are just OK with other people being killed, if not by them personally then by “the good guys” (or, mere complicity with, or inaction against, or self convenient support of governmental policies: WAR.), but that's another question.

Could it be that it is really the getting away with it that is allowing this to happen?  Does your God or government let you get away with it?  The majority of the earth’s people say that they believe in God.  Is He on the side of killers?  If not, where does this all come from?  The majority of people on earth obey their governments' laws.  Is your government on the side of the killers?  Which side, which killers?  If all the governments say that they are right, and all the various “Gods” are right, who is doing all this “wrong” killing?

It probably won't keep me alive, but I've decided to not kill anybody, even given a guaranteed chance to get away with it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Assume

The important stuff is being taken care of, right?

Just maybe, we all take too much for granted.  We assume that the important things are being taken care of, or maybe even the things that might someday be important are as well.  In 1572, with his naked eye, Tycho Brahe noticed a super nova (a tiny star that suddenly wasn’t so tiny any more) in the constellation Cassiopeia. This observation more or less proved that the heavens were not unchanging original works of God.  In 2014, this information has informed our astronomers where to aim their very high tech instruments and we are still learning a great deal from this one small point in the sky.  As the kings pondered the deployment of their armies and the farmer milked his cow, do you think that they too, assumed that the important things in our universe were being observed and recorded?
We take advantage of discoveries made by people who are trying to understand our world, but for every researcher there are a thousand soldiers and the American government alone spends as much money on armaments as the rest of the planet combined.  Are you sure that there are enough people paying attention to what is really important?  We just might miss something if too many of us attend to the wrong things most of the time.  I wonder if Tycho was hungry back then.  What if he had been very very hungry?  

What if he had been drafted to fight in a stupid war?  Now, that Louis Pasteur guy and Jonas Salk...


On August 4, 2011, gold closed at about $1650 per ounce. That's about 22% in six months. This is likely reflects the level of confidence so many folks have in our House of Representatives. Unfortunately for us little investors, the really big investors and Governments don't have to pay that 15% charge every time they buy or sell something (nor the tax on transactions), so they're in a position to push the price up and down to their advantage.

The financial pundits are always making fun of the "cash under the mattress" people. Burying stuff in your back yard ala Erskine Caldwell may seem dumb; right up until you pick up the paper and see that your NYSE stocks have lost thirty percent of their "value" in a week, and then they lose another 20 % over the next month or so... Don't we wish we had had all our money in gold in September 2008 (when it was about $700.)?

We need to remember that those same pundits called "no money down, no principal paid the first year loans" for super over priced houses _SECURITIES_! (House prices propped up by Greenspan's super low interest rates.  "Hey! I can afford to pay for more house than I can use for more money than I have because the Government has interest rates WAY below the inflation rate! And I get to deduct the payments from my taxes! And the house will double in value in three years.*" And the real estate people obliged by hawking the "no risk" investment potential of houses and there were TWO TV shows about "flipping houses" for big bucks.) Now let's bundle the loans and sell them to other banks! Oh Boy!

SECURITIES! Secured by what? A promise to pay made by someone who is spending 130% (average American family debt) of their income on restaurant meals, cars, and vacations? (Also "secured" by a family home "equity" loan. Equity that only exists and only on paper because the real estate sales people SAID the house would sell for big bucks because *see above*). SO, does anyone ever ask just exactly where the big bucks sales commissions for Realtors come from? Or where the two billion dollars came from that the Sandler couple walked off with just prior to the implosion of their World Savings Bank? Their bank was so Ponzied with fake "securities" that it brought down Wachovia, the purchaser.

The worst thing in the world that can happen to you is for a realtor to tell you that your house is worth twice what you thought it was IF YOU AREN'T PLANNING ON MOVING! And maybe even if you are, because you have to live somewhere and you'll have to buy another house that's probably over priced by the realtors."Everything is worth what someone will pay for it." said Publilius Syrus about 2100 years ago. But that is only true if there is money out there. How much money disappeared in the fall of 2008? Everything is worthless in dollar terms right up untill it's sold. A house (realestate) is two things; an investment and a place to live. don't confuse the two.

We give lip service to the fact that everything comes from somewhere and you don't get something for nothing, but if you're just buying and selling things, houses, and companies, you're not creating anything, you're just moving money around so fast you get to keep some of it (Ayn Rand). Now, just where did all those "profits" come from? It's too complicated, say the pundits, you wouldn't understand.
Back in the 17th century there was a bubble for tulip bulbs in Holland. You could buy two or three houses with the right kind of tulip bulb because the bulb was GOING TO BE WORTH SO MUCH MORE TOMORROW! Forever and ever.
I'm still reading that the housing industry isn't back to "normal". Normal like what was going on in Las Vegas? I wouldn't live there if you gave me a mansion.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

If it's worth saying, share it.

After plowing twice yesterday, I went out with the tractor this morning (a little hard starting at 10 degrees, I had starting fluid, ether [spell check?]).  Myrtle, the tractor, got hot (she was low on coolant) and I got cold (wind chill is real, and people, if your boots are tight, you are not improving the insulation factor - I know, I did it with my gloves inside of gloves today.  I can't remember when my fingers have been colder).  But we are in great shape, the County even plowed the road and the mail came too.  No wind here either (this is what spell check kept giving me for ether).

Wednesday is our hearty breakfast day, eggs and grits and lots of toast.  It helps to put fuel in the belly on a cold day.  I have had to put a little extra wood in the shop stove too, I didn't drain the "plumbing" and I've got some Jerusalem artichokes in there...  But I melted some lard from my disastrous attempt to make cracklin's at the store the other day, and I've made some high fat cakes for the poor little birds out there in those single digit temperatures.  Man!  How do they do that?   Those little tiny fluff balls.

Plus I've spent some highly inappropriate time on some American chestnut staffs (with silver soldered reinforcement rings, aluminum spikes in the bases, hand checking, and melted bee's wax wood finishes).  My wife, Chris, writes books that will be around for centuries (if the human race survives) and I try to make a few thingies that someone will want to keep a hundred years from now (if the human race survives) because they might appreciate the time, trouble, materials, and attention to detail, that I put into them.

Now, considering the fact that I believe that when I die, the “me” will be as ephemeral as the bacterium that you obliterated with some soap and water when you washed your arm pit this morning…  Why am I still trying?  Why does anybody still try?