Spock is Dead

Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame died today.

Mr. Spock as played by Leonard Nimoy, who died Feb 27, 2015, at age 83

Mr. Spock as played by Leonard Nimoy, who died Feb 27, 2015, at age 83

Leonard Nimoy, who played the role of the coolly logical alien with the one-word name, died at the age of 83 in his Southern California home. The cause of death was advanced-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). That is the disease that ultimately killed my mother and with which I have recently been tentatively diagnosed, so it hits even closer to home that it otherwise would have.

Mr. Spock was my favorite Star Trek character. I always had an inner image of myself as a resolutely rational man. I was an atheist because rational people didn’t believe in religious or spiritual mumbo-jumbo. In high school, I’d set my sights on becoming one of the first professional xenobiologists, thinking about and studying alien life forms.

More recently, Nimoy had made an off-screen voice appearance on my favorite sitcom of all time, “The Big Bang Theory,” whose protagonists are also fans of his.

This New York Times obituary was a great read and brought up a lot of memories of the non-Spock Nimoy, including his stint on another of my favorite TV series, “Mission: Impossible.”

So Spock goes on to greater adventures and I can only say to the great man who played him, “Live long and prosper.”


I Clearly Don’t Get It With Netanyahu

If the United States and Israel had Facebook pages, the status of their relationship would certainly be, “It’s complicated.”

Is it ever!

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is engaged in what appears to be a tough re-election fight coming up next month, has committed the diplomatic equivalent of a turd in a punch bowl. He accepted an ill-conceived and hugely insulting (to the Administration and standard diplomatic protocols) invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress. The invitation was extended by John Boehner and his House Republicans rather than the usual and expected State Department.

As haughty as it sounds (diplomacy often does), this kind of thing just isn’t done. Not in civil society. But then, civil society is something about which the current crop of conservatives in power in the GOP continually demonstrate they neither understand nor care about. So I guess I sort of understand their invitation to Netanyahu, an increasingly isolated ruler in his own country.

What I really don’t understand is his acceptance of the invitation. I guess there’s some domestic political edge that he perceives but he risks alienating his main protector and big brother without whom the Israeli state would likely not last a year, at least without launching nuclear missiles.

Secretary of State John Kerry has openly questioned Netanyahu’s judgment. He and VP Joe Biden have deliberately (it seems) planned to be out of the country while the Israeli chief is in the U.S. for his undiplomatic mission. President Obama has made it clear he won’t meet privately with Netanyahu. Senate Democrats declined an invitation to meet separately with him. A growing number of Democrats plan to boycott his speech to the joint session. It’s almost as if he was a saber-rattling warmongering outcast of a leader. Which increasingly seems to be his desired public perception.

Netanyahu certainly knows he won’t suffer any loss of support among American Jews who have always stood by Israel through thick or thin, regardless of how much of a rogue state they’ve been and completely irrespective of international sanctions and condemnation, including by the United Nations. Many of them will probably see this latest act of poor manners to be some sort of statement of courage and independence.

But my guess is that the Israeli leader may be underestimating the negative impact his ill-considered decision — to make Americans draw partisan lines in their overall support of his nation — will have on future support for his tiny country. At some point in the future, the realpolitik of the Middle East will strike some American president and his team as being skewed far too much in Israel’s favor. If and when that day comes, Israel will be forced to concede that Netanyahu’s planned unofficial U.S. visit was the beginning date for the deterioration of relations that will force Israel to play a more sane and cooperative role in world affairs.

I hope but do not expect that Netanyahu will yet have a change of heart and cancel this very bad plan.

Me, Too, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Warren, American progressives’ loudest, clearest and sanest voice on the national political scene, says she wants to see what Hillary Clinton wants to do before she decides whether she’s progressive or not.

Me, too, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Warren: A Nearly Lone Liberal Voice in the Wilderness

Elizabeth Warren: A Nearly Lone Liberal Voice in the Wilderness

In response to a question by MSNBC “newsman” Al Sharpton about what Warren would say to those who question HRC’s progressive bona fides, the Massachusetts Senator said, in essence, “I question that as well.” Warren, despite national movements afoot to draft her into accepting the Democratic Party nomination in 2016, has insisted that she will not be a candidate and has said frequently that she hopes Clinton makes a run.

But if there’s a single real progressive in this country who believes for a nanosecond that Hillary is going to adopt any truly liberal positions on important social issues, they must be deaf and blind. She and her husband are both center-right Corporatist Democrats, or what I call Republicrats. She is definitely to the right of President Barack Obama, who is clearly not a progressive in most senses of the word.

I’m somewhat less enamored of a Warren candidacy than many of my lefty friends. For one thing, she’s a bit raw and inexperienced for my tastes; the party got excited about Obama as president but his political naiveté and inexperience have been extremely costly to the nation and to the party. For another, I’m not sure a well-placed Senator doesn’t have more influence over the long haul than a President and I think she might be smart enough to get that.

But in any case, I don’t think she’ll run and barring a run, she doesn’t have a chance in Hades of getting the nomination as a “dark horse” drafted nominee. Hillary will have the convention locked up along time before the party gathers. So as a practical political matter, I don’t see a Warren candidacy and as a practical reality, I’m not sure she’s ready.

But we surely need some pressure from the left on the party and on Hillary if we have any chance of seeing a progressive agenda — even a small portion of it — become law. Warren could, if she chose, supply that pressure but only at the cost of party ostracism which would blunt her effectiveness as a Senator. That’s probably too high a price to pay for too little reward.


Potential Double-Edged Precedent in Ohio Oil Drilling Suit; Why Do States Have Such Authority?

An Ohio State Supreme Court ruling today that slammed the door on local communities’ rights to prohibit or license tracking that was permitted by state law could be a double-edged sword if it gains a national judicial following.

In the case, an openly fragmented state court ruled 4-3 that the town of Munroe Falls, a suburb of Akron, could not require an energy company to get local drilling permits before proceeding with a well for which it had already obtained state licensing. Ohio’s constitution, somewhat unusually, has a “home rule” provision that gives cities and counties more say in such matters than is true in most other states (though, notably, not Texas, where they can exert even greater control).

If municipalities can’t overrule states in such matters, it could be argued that by analogy states shouldn’t be allowed to overrule Federal regulations. That would result in a uniform national policy on oil drilling and particularly the dangerous practice of tracking.

I’ve often wondered why states are permitted any regulation over natural resources and related phenomenon which clearly do not recognize state boundaries. For example, when a state writes its own rules about air pollution that undercut those of the federal government, the dirty air their states’ manufacturers and cars are then permitted to generate doesn’t stay in their states; it flows over into adjoining states…and even those beyond immediately adjacent. So why should they have any authority to impose their filthy air on the residents of other, more appropriately behaving states?

Using the logic of this court ruling — which is obviously not legally binding outside Ohio — it may someday become possible for the Feds to regulate clean air and water for an increasingly mobile and national society.

And that would be a good thing indeed.


Belief in Special Creation is Not a Harmless ‘Difference of Opinion’

It probably doesn’t surprise you that less than half of Americans believe in evolution by natural selection. (According to this piece, it’s actually 48%, with much smaller percentages of conservatives accepting what has long been accepted science.)

By way of comparison, only 9-17% of UK residents believe creationism is the correct explanation for human life. Similar numbers, though trending somewhat lower, prevail elsewhere in Europe. (For a detailed analysis of the state of this belief situation in 2006, check out this piece.)

Until recently, I’ve dismissed these ignorant-by-choice citizens on the grounds that it’s basically harmless whether or not they buy into evolution, unlike the colossal worldwide and nearly universal damage that is being caused by their scientific cousins, the climate change deniers.

I think I was wrong.

If you believe that a God (who is only accessible through a specific spiritual path) created everything in the Universe — or at least on Earth — specially and individually, then you believe that mankind is unique and that it stands at the pinnacle of that creation. By creating a completely fictional disconnect between mankind and the entirety of remaining creation, you remove from homo sapiens any obligation to nurture, care for or even care about any other animal or plant life on the planet. This makes you believe you live outside the ecosystem that is planet Earth. In that name of that superiority you can justify slaughter, deprivation of habitat, extinction, enslavement and other abuse of fellow creatures of all varieties.

Creationists_ReadOneBookToon450OBut it is even more dangerous than those observations would indicate. If you are the result of an act of special creation by God, what of those who are different from you in your own race (by which I mean humanity, not ethnicity)? Are they also equal and superior? Broad evidence fails to support that hoped-for observation. Western Europeans who invaded and colonized North America slaughtered millions of natives who had lived on the land with various degrees of peacefulness for many centuries before their arrival, all in the name of superiority and by demonizing and declaring savages those who stood in the way of their expansionism, to which they felt Divinely entitled.

Do American conservative Evangelicals and Republicans believe, e.g., that all Muslims were also specially created by God? That we are all part of one humanity under God? Again, broad evidence suggests the contrary. The same may be said, of course, of those fanatics who form the lunatic fringe of any religious grouping.

A belief in special creation is completely incompatible with a belief in our inherent and Divine Oneness as a species. And, as I’ve written many, many times over the past decade or two, until we grasp and integrate our Oneness, we cannot solve the myriad of problems we face as humanity, problems which transcend national, cultural, racial and religious borders. Resisting Oneness is another insidious effect of the belief in special creation.

It really is essential that we begin working together as humans to eradicate this unfounded mythological belief. So much good will derive from such efforts.

In Montana, Nudity Can Bring You a Life Sentence

I’m not making this up. You can’t make up this kind of stuff.

A story came across my Inbox this morning about a Montana legislator who introduced a bill extending the definition of “indecent exposure” in his state to encompass yoga pants. Rep. David Moore, a Republican (I know; redundant, right?) David Moore introduced the bill, which a committee of the legislature immediately tabled among much chuckling. Moore, however, was undaunted. He allowed as how he wouldn’t be opposed to arresting people for “wearing such provocative clothing such as tight-fitting beige garments.”

As strange as I found that account, I was stunned by the closing sentence on the AP wire story on the incident. “Currently, a person convicted of indecent exposure three times in Montana can be sentenced to life in jail and up to $10,000.”

See? Not all of the backward thinking in this country takes place south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Big Sky Country can get into the act as well.


Truths About Christian History Cause Right Wingers to Blow a Fuse at Obama

The Christian Right has its hair on fire. Again. Its target: President Barack Obama. Again. The extreme fringe partisan rhetoric that has become the watchword of American politics — particularly when any hint of religion is mixed in — is in the headlines. Again.

The President’s offense? He dared to tell the truth about early Christianity and the religion’s role in the slavery and black oppression movements in the United States. Without uttering a single falsehood, without overstating a single fact, the President drew the blistering fire of an unthinking right wing fundamentalist movement in this country.

He did it by reminding us Christians of our role in the Crusades, during which likely upwards of a million people died. It is impossible to know anything resembling exact numbers for a host of reasons but based on contemporaneous accounts, archeological findings and projective estimates, it was probably no fewer than 200,000 and could have been as high as 5 million.

He did it by reminding us Christians of our purely internal purge called the Inquisition in which at least 10-20,000 were reported to have been killed.

He did it by reminding us Christians of the number of African-Americans hanged, burned, shot and otherwise murdered during the days of slavery and up through the 1960’s, a social upheaval that continues to this day albeit at a much slower pace.

He didn’t even mention the Salem Witch trials or dozens of other wars, crusades, scourges and attacks carried out in the name of Christianity or its founder.

These are historic facts. But apparently if you bring them up, you are providing cover for those who brutally execute Jordanian air force pilots, behead dozens of Western captives, and kill thousands and thousands of their own in the name of Q’ran.

The President was attempting to bring historical and religious perspective to a significant world problem caused by religious and spiritual intolerance and bigotry. In doing so, he got his facts right.

For that, the Right would crucify or impeach him.

“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”

No, he hasn’t. He’s offended only every Christian who believes as Gilmore does. And this:

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison.” What we need more is a “moral framework from the administration and a clear strategy for defeating ISIS.”

Yep, what we need as we attempt to emulate the God of Peace and the Christ of Forgiveness is a moral framework for war. Yeesh.

Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, said in a statement that Mr. Obama was trying to “deflect guilt from Muslim madmen.” He said the president’s comparisons were “insulting” and “pernicious.”

Sound reasoning, that.


Unofficially, Net Neutrality Scores Huge Win

While it’s not yet official public policy, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s op-ed piece in Wired signals the strongest possible government support for Internet neutrality. It has advocates of the Open Net jumping and dancing and shouting with glee. If my knees weren’t so bad, I’d join them!

Wheeler, who had earlier indicated strongly that he was leaning against full support for Net neutrality and even favored some restrictions on the long-sought policy, planted both feet firmly on the side of President Obama and advocates in his piece. He said he would bring the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act, which means it will be treated as other public utilities in the same space.

That sounds the death knell for cable companies, phone companies and other major ISPs who wanted the right to provide multiple tiers of service based on who was willing to pay for priority access. In essence, it was a pay-to-play strategy that would ultimately make it all but impossible for smaller content providers to deliver their products and services over speed-restricted Internet connections while the Big Guys got their content sped through on wider pipes.

I have soured on President Obama as a Chief Executive in the past couple of years but this one goes squarely to his credit. He did the Right Thing and that pushed his appointed chairman to the right side of the regulatory decision-making.

It’s the harbinger of a grand day for the Internet!

Another Amazon Post. Must Be Their Turn

I am ill this week so I’m sleeping more, thinking less intensely and writing much less. I don’t know why but that seems to have resulted in my thinking a lot more than usual about Amazon.com. This is one of my favorite companies in many ways. Not that I’m a fanboy. And I know about some of their politically incorrect excesses. Still, I use their services a good deal, including not only their retail presence but also Amazon S3.

The multiplicity of reader apps available for the Kindle format which is Amazon’s proprietary design for reading materials is fundamentally a good idea. I read Kindle books (and PDFs for that matter) on a Mac desktop, a Chromebook netbook, an iPhone 5, and a Kindle Fire HD tablet. While the interfaces vary somewhat from platform to platform, I seem able to adjust to those for the most part.

But  one aspect of the different functionality of these apps really bugs me. About half of my reading is non-fiction. I use Kindle books to quote from other writers’ works on my blog, in my many articles, lessons, classes and ebooks that I write, and in private discussions with friends over email. The question of whether you can copy from the contents of a Kindle eBook isn’t consistent. Most surprisingly, there is no way, as far as I can tell at least, to copy text from a Kindle eBook when I’m reading it on my Kindle tablet. Now that seems to me to be just silly. If I choose their hardware platform, I  can’t copy-paste a tidbit for another editorial use.

I understand, particularly as an author, limiting the amount of copying a reader can do from a given title. And it makes sense to me to limit the size of any one clip based on what might constitute fair use under copyright laws. But on the Kindle — and only on the Kindle hardware — the fact that I cannot copy any content at all makes no sense.

So, hey, Amazon! How about opening up that capability to those of us who use your systems to read your books? Whaddyasay? It just seems fair, doesn’t it?


Amazon Smile, A Great Program That Needs a Little Work

Some time ago, I discovered the Amazon Smile program (which you can access by going to smile.amazon.com). This program enables you to have many of your purchases produce a donation to a charity of your choice.

amazon-smileYou simply go to amazon.smile.com and select the charity you want to support. Thereafter, every time you make a purchase from the Smile portal of the Amazon.com site, a percentage will go to that charity. The program is pretty well designed. Not only is it transparent to use, Amazon.com even reminds you from time to time when you forget to type in the “smile” in your URL that you have a charity you’re trying to support and, with one click, transfers you there.

I wish this service had a couple of features that I think could strengthen it considerably.

First, I’d like to know, after I make a purchase at smile.amazon.com, how much I just contributed to my cause. It would be nice if I could see the total I’d contributed to the cause over time using smile.amazon.com.

Second, I’d love to see the overall impact of the smile program on my charity. How much has been raised altogether? How many people are contributing this way?

Third, I’d like to see this group of people supporting this charity turned into an ad hoc community. This would enable me to perhaps interact with other people who are supporting it, permit me to invite friends to join in the contribution fun, and otherwise “communitize” this experience.

I applaud Amazon.com for this great idea and for its excellent implementation. Now let’s take it up a notch!