Monday, October 27, 2014

Ebola II

Many people have been asking me about Ebola lately. The following are some of my personal views on the subject. They do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which I may be affiliated, and should not be interpreted as any official communication by anyone.

Boatloads -literally- of money has now been spent responding to the wildly out-of-control Ebola epidemic in Western Africa, and it appears to be having a measurable impact on the progression of the epidemic. Both case levels and number of deaths continue to trend significantly less than the simple exponential model would suggest. The number of cases ending in death also appears to be decreasing. It is much too early to tell if this very positive development will be enough to stop the epidemic, but it is appears to be very promising.

Because of the striking symptomology, and relatively ease with which the infected can be contained, it is not surprising that large-scale active intervention could reverse the horrible trends the epidemic was following. It is possible that simple intervention could wipe out this epidemic, but a vaccine still remains the best hope for completely stopping it with the least number of casualties.

In the following graph I’ve tried to re-create the graphic from my last post. Instead of a simple exponential regression curve I have created a curve that mimics what we would have expected if the epidemic continued to increase exponentially. As of October 23rd we would have seen 3,779 more cases, and 1,191 more deaths if the severity of the epidemic had continued to increase exponentially.

This shows the trend of EVD cases and mortality for the 2014 Western Africa epidemic (as of October 23rd).  The red and green lines show WHO reported cases and deaths respectively.  The blue and purple lines are exponential models drawn from a regression analysis of WHO data from the first 100 days I followed this. 


It is not overly jaded to suggest that it took exporting Ebola patients to more developed nations to mobilize the effort that appears to be yielding results. However, this reduces recognizing the amazing efforts of those men and women who are making a difference to some kind of moral-political statement about the collective conscience of developed nations. These men and women have earned recognition, and we should provide it.

Unfortunately blog posts like this one do a much better job of making moral-political statements about the collective conscience of developed nations.

Before we began exporting the wholesale help that appears to be making a difference we had been exporting a commodity we make way too much of: stupidity. Before the antivaxers began mobilizing against the fantastical mind-control purpose behind the Ebola vaccines now in trial. Before the teabaggers began clutching at any possibility of the Obama administration being in any way associated with the possibility of misstep in any response to Ebola patients in the US. Before the xenophobic isolationists began demanding a shutdown of any movement of people of African descent. Before any of this we had begun exporting the “real” reasons for the epidemic, and a host of “effective cures [they] don’t want you to know about”.

This type of foolishness might sound like nothing more than the discardable musings of internet trolls, and from the perspective of most of the readers of this blog it is. However, to people using limited resources to combat an impossibly expanding horror it could be more; it could provide much needed hope and blame.

“The US Department of Defense (DoD) is funding Ebola trials on humans, trials which started just weeks before the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone. The reports continue and state that the DoD gave a contract worth $140 million dollars to Tekmira, a Canadian pharmaceutical company, to conduct Ebola research. This research work involved injecting and infusing healthy humans with the deadly Ebola virus. Hence, the DoD is listed as a collaborator in a “First in Human” Ebola clinical trial (NCT02041715, which started in January 2014 shortly before an Ebola epidemic was declared in West Africa in March.” -- Cyril Broderick, A Liberian scientist and a former professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Liberia’s College of Agriculture and Forestry.

A major Liberian newspaper published an article blaming the US department of defense of creating the epidemic. A patent created in the pre-supreme court decision on patenting existing life forms rush to patent everything was found for a strain of Ebola; this proved Ebola is a GMO. Motives were fielded for why an Ebola epidemic would be profitable; arguments for the potential validity of the motives became arguments for the validity of the conspiracy theories themselves.

Response in West Africa took a turn for the worst when quarantines upset important food distribution networks. Ebola patients reportedly escaped “treatment” facilities in search of food because they knew Ebola only killed 50% of its victims, while starvation killed 100%. People hid their sick friends and relatives because the state was not going to provide the “effective cures [they] don’t want you to know about”. Tracking people exposed to the virus was replaced by trying to keep track of those who died. Eventually it became impossible to provide accurate information. Bodies were being cremated before relatives knew the patient was sick.

In mid September eight aid workers were killed, and their bodies shoved into a latrine. It was thought that the disinfectant they were spraying was actually the Ebola virus.

I could pontificate about the dangers of rampant stupidity, but what good does that do? I doubt readers of this blog are even aware of even half of these Ebola conspiracies; unless they are ferreting them out for enjoyment.

It is not as if good information was unavailable. It is not even a situation where good information was hard to find. It is just that the extreme blame and hope of the fringe spokespeople in the US is much more compelling.

Possibly more important than compelling is the fact that people who got good information are doing stuff, and it appears to be working. Homeopaths Without Borders did not swoop in and cure everyone with distilled water. The citizens of West Africa did not simply cut gluten out of their diet. The drones spraying Ebola were not shot out of the sky. No.   Real people did real stuff.... and sometimes that works.





Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ebola

Many people have been asking me about Ebola lately. The following are some of my personal views on the subject. They do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which I may be affiliated, and should not be interpreted as any official communication by anyone.

Ebola Virus causes a nasty disease. The current Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in Western Africa is running almost unchecked through a population ill-prepared to counter it.

It is unlikely that EVD will cause a global pandemic. The progression of the EVD epidemic is slow, and those who are sick are easily contained. There is also an effective vaccine on the near horizon. The EVD epidemic will be stopped; my notoriously unreliable crystal ball tells me it will be fully contained by next summer. Unfortunately it is out of control now, and it is likely that tens of thousands of people will die of EVD in Western Africa before it is stopped.

It is so likely that tens of thousands will die that it is possible to assign a statistical confidence to that prediction. Simply plotting the reported numbers yields a trace that displays an uncanny adherence to an exponential growth rate. Through a statistical process known as regression analysis one can generate an average trace of the data (shown as the black lines in the following chart).

Total cases and mortality data from WHO-reports as of 5 October 2014 Click to view larger


The mechanism for generating the average trace also generates a statistic –called “R-squared”- that tells us how well the average line describes the data. An R-squared value of 0 would mean that the trace described none of the data, and an R-squared value of 1 would suggest that the average line described 100% of the variability of the data. The R-squared value I generate for the average trace of the mortality data from the last several months of the EVD epidemic is 0.9951.

An R-squared value of 0.8-or-so for an exponentially increasing average line would strongly suggest that the epidemic was out of control. An R-squared of 0.9951 suggests that none of the response measures implemented to date have had any measurable effect on the progression of the epidemic. There is no fine detail in this trace, and it may be that unexpected setbacks have perfectly offset any effective countermeasures. However you look at it these data are very “not good” in a bad way.

The trace also provides a strong reason not to worry about this EVD epidemic breaking out and creating a global pandemic. The upward “slope” of the trace is just not steep enough. Almost a hundred years ago today, peaking in October and November of 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic swept through the world’s population. In just a few months it infected as many as half a billion people; killing as many as 60 million. By the time the Spanish influenza epidemic was over it infected as many as 800 million people and killed as many as 100 million; all between January 1918 and December 1920. EVD is not fast enough to outpace the world’s response in the way that Spanish Influenza did.

Notice, in the above description of the Spanish Influenza epidemic, my use of wishy-washy soft-data language. I use “as many as” four times. This is because we do not really know how many people died of the Spanish Influenza. In 1918 the social structure needed to even count the people dying became too overburdened to operate effectively. The lower number of people killed worldwide is half as large as the maximums I provided. There are mass graves.

The social machinery which counts the number of EVD deaths in Western Africa is showing signs that it is being pushed beyond its breaking point. There is informed speculation that as many as several EVD cases actually exist for every case reported. There have been reports of bodies left to rot in the street, or forgotten to ripen in some back bedroom of some apartment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was, until September, providing disease outbreak news every couple of days; until some WHO healthworkers caught EVD, and died. Now they are providing Situation reports every two-to-six days; sometimes significantly revising the numbers of previous reports. Without a means of protection at least as effective as a good vaccine some of the first to succumb to an epidemic are the people needed to properly track the epidemic’s progress. With a super-rapid epidemic like Spanish Influenza in the informationally-challenged early 20th century the obstacles to effective data management must have been insurmountably huge.

To understand why EVD is less contagious, and therefore less likely to cause a global pandemic, than a disease like Spanish Influenza it is worthwhile to look at the basic biology of viruses.

Viruses are not really alive. They are essentially a sticky capsule of bad instructions. The instructions essentially say “make more virus”, and the sticky outside of the capsule cause it to attach to cells that can load and run the bad instructions. In some cases, like for HIV, the instructions say something like “make more virus slowly for a long time”; for viruses like influenza and Ebola the instructions say “make more virus as fast as you can until you explode”. The sticky capsule can be specific for certain types of cells. The tiny Polio virus capsules preferentially attach to nerve cells, and so the polio disease is characterized by paralysis. Influenza capsules attach to cells in the throat, and so the virus is shed into the phlegm that is converted into airborne droplets when someone with the Flu coughs or sneezes.

Ebola virus attaches to many different cells in the body. As it circulates through the body in the bloodstream it is presented first to capillary walls. When the thin capillary walls are weakened by the liquefaction of cells that died while furiously making new virus the capillaries themselves begin to leak.  At  this early stage of infection the body mobilizes defenses which cause the temperature of the body to rise. It is possible for a person who has been properly exposed to Ebola to fight off the disease in this early stage, before it manages to cause much damage; otherwise exploding capillary cells continue to spew more and more virus into the bloodstream, and the infection spirals out of control.

Most of the noticeable symptomology of hemorrhagic diseases like EVD occur in places where there are large concentrations of capillaries. Most EVD patients die in this intermediate stage of failures in capillary-rich internal organs, like kidneys. Given luck, or competent supportive care, an EVD patient can live into the final stages of the disease.

The fact that only about 5% of western African patients are surviving to the spectacular terminal phase of EVD probably suggests a lack of comprehensive supportive care. The first active Ebola case in the US (Thomas Eric Duncan ) received such comprehensive supportive care that relatives declined to view him via remote video (he was in an isolation unit) because it was “too disturbing”.

In the terminal stages the capillaries become completely porous, and begin leaking blood as well as fluid. The sclera of the eye fills with blood; there may be blood tears. Blood leaks through the capillary-rich intestinal linings into the digestive tract, and from there gushes out the rectum; the patient uncontrollably vomits blood. Blood begins to ooze from mucous membranes; the gums bleed, the nose bleeds, the genitals will bleed. The skin itself will begin to boil in blood-filled blisters. Grape-sized blisters will erupt from the skin, and burst to release virus laden bloody fluid.

All of these copious fluids are infectious. They are not easily handled. Sticky virus-laden goo gets in everything. Untrained individuals can get it in their hair, and noses, and in their car, and bring it home, and all without noticing. It is unsurprising that EVD spreads; even without the formation of the respiratory droplets which worked so well for Spanish Influenza.

The voraciousness with which viruses like Influenza and Ebola eat through their target cells actually makes it more likely that effective vaccines can be made against them. Good vaccine candidates have already been created for Ebola. Ramping up production of at least one of those candidates will only take months rather than years. It will likely be the fielding of a vaccine in the first half of 2015 that will end this epidemic.

The fielding of the vaccine will stop the epidemic in its tracks. Over a hundred thousand corpses will likely be left in its wake, but it will be impossible for any future EVD epidemics of the Zaire strain to reach the numbers we see even today.

So, should you be scared of Ebola? Yes. Ebola causes a terrible-horrible-scary disease which will kill tens of thousands of people in the coming weeks. That sort of thing is scary. It scares me.

Will Ebola destroy civilization as we know it? No. Not even close.







Thursday, August 14, 2014

Canaan's Ark

We have had enough soaking storms lately to turn the neglected parts of my lawn green. The storms have not been gentle either. One of the last one whipped up electrical pyrotechnic displays, and generated weather service severe storm warnings. In celebration of this “Utah is not like California in a good way” situation I rented the movie “Noah” from RedBox.

Yesterday brought flooding to everywhere in the country making nowhere like California. A couple mountains in Southern California managed to scrape a deluge from the humidity passing overhead, but in general it is very dry in California this year, very dry.

“The National Weather Service had not, as of Monday morning, issued any official flash flooding watches or warnings. But as sure as an "R" designates the seemingly eternal political affiliation of a super-majority in the Utah Legislature, Utah’s slot canyons, usually dry washes and burn scars are at risk for inundating storms.” – Bob Moms for the Salt Lake Tribune “Utah forecast: The monsoon strikes back” 11 August 2014

Recently I have been told that Noah’s biblical flood is best explained as some sort of local phenomenon, and that “40 day’s simply means “quite a long time” in biblical speech. It sounded like some sort of reductionist-apologetic dancing; if it could be right in some small way the bible could still be true, but they were trading away relevance.  Some confusion is understandable if god really did come to earth a couple pages of Genesis later and “confound all the world’s languages” as the bible suggests. I would think it difficult to have any cogent history until a couple generations after The Tower of Babel; let alone a tediously specific train of begats.

However, it does little good for god to promise not to destroy the earth again if he never really did so in the first place. And if god was promising not to have any big local flooding like the localized version of Noah’s flood then… well there are some folks who will be returning to their cars in low lying long-term parking lots at Baltimore Washington International airport that may have some questions for god.

Darren Aronofsky has added a narrative clarity to the story of Noah that was impossible before the invention of CGI. He captures the general nastiness of old-testament life by filming almost everything on treeless landscapes (until god magics up some trees from Methuselah’s trufula seed to generate wood for Noah’s ark) and color is hard to come by. Darren even creates some baby killing Abrahamic tension to make some indistinct old testament morality tension, and he makes all of the wives of Noah’s sons primary relations to multiply the magnitude of incest needed to repopulate the earth. It is like Darren said unto his script writers “Bringeth forth some evil old-testament plot elements to createth dramatic tension”, “And the evil old-testament plot elements did cometh forth”.

“ And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” – Genesis 22:10-12 KJB

However, Darren muddled up one of the most evil old-testament plot elements in the entire old-testament. An evil story that actually occurs to Noah and his family. Darren ignored –mostly- the curse of Canaan.

“Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.”

He also said,

“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.””
-- Genesis 9:20-27 NIV

The curse of Canaan is a bit severe. For many generations it has been used to justify the existence of dark skinned people, and using them as slaves. I was a teenager in the 1970s, and as a young child this story was used to explain the creation of black people to me; a liberal minded lay pastor told that the curse was a bit capricious, and that it might be ok to raise voice against the use of water cannons being used every evening on the nightly news to knock the descendants of Ham back to their rightful place in society.

Instead of a curse Darren pens regret into Noah’s alienation from his son Ham. Ham holds a grudge for his father’s refusal to save a woman he was fond of from a bear-trap facilitated drowning. There is no talk of slavery… Ham just heads off into the draining horizon .

I also like the way Darren re-wrote god’s specific instructions to Noah. In the bible “god says”, and in the movie Noah hallucinates.

I think Hollywood screenwriters should re-write the whole bible; at least the old testament.

Or, perhaps we could just agree on a cannon of film noir movies to show our children. Nothing after the invention of color, except maybe the wizard of Oz.







Thursday, July 31, 2014

Antarctic Ocean Ice

It looks like we are headed towards an historic record maximum ocean ice extent in Antarctica. It will likely beat the previous record of 19.47 million square kilometers (7.51 million square miles) set in September of 2013. The 2013 record beat the 2012 record of 19.44 million square kilometers. All of these records are somewhere in the neighborhood of a million square kilometers above the accepted average.



“The paradox of expanding Antarctic sea ice has troubled scientists for many years. Although climate models predict southern sea ice should shrink, it has stubbornly refused to do so.” -- Julia Rosen from the LA Times

Our planet’s annual tilt races towards its autumnal minimum, and the length of day in the southern hemisphere increases more and more each day. It is still cold –very cold- in Antarctica, but it is averaging little less very cold each day. It will soon be springtime in Antarctica, but right now it is still winter. Winters in Antarctica are VERY cold. Even if greenhouse warming increased Antarctic temperatures by several degrees Celsius the Antarctic winters would still be freezing cold; literally. The lowest temperature ever recorded was -89.2C at the Antarctic Vostok station in 1983.

The extent of ocean ice at the poles is not limited by whether-or-not the temperature drops below the freezing-point temperature; it will likely do that every year regardless of the amount of greenhouse warming the planet experiences (by all estimates). An increased temperature will decrease the length of the year where temperatures are below freezing, and decrease the overall rate at which energy is removed from the freezing portion of the sea.  In other words –all else being equal- one expects an increase in temperature to decrease the amount of ocean ice.

We are seeing average temperatures increasing in the Antarctic. They have increased by as much as 2C since 1970 at some stations. Ocean ice in Antarctica has also increased during that period.  An alternative hypothesis for the relationship between temperature and ocean ice in the Antarctic region is needed.

Some data re-analysis has called into question the amount of sea ice increase, but it has not called into question the fact that the amount of ocean ice has been increasing. Geographically there is nothing around Antarctica to physically impede the growth of ocean ice. The ocean ice can continue to form without ever running out of open ocean to form in. This is not the case in the Arctic. Small changes in the large expanding margin of the Antarctic ocean ice extent can result in large changes in the official amount of ocean ice.

I have written several posts concerning the extent of Arctic ocean ice; using this metric as a measure for the extent of warming in our current state of global climate change. I do think it is a good measure, but I often neglect to point out that the melting of Arctic ocean ice will have little effect on human civilization. In fact all of the Arctic ocean ice could melt and –if it were not for the other effects of the factors causing the melt- we might not notice much difference.

The main threat to humanity from melting ice is from rising sea levels. Ocean ice does not contribute to this threat. Ocean ice is already floating in water, and melting it all would result in no major change in sea level. In order to increase sea level the ice on land must melt, and most of that land ice on the planet is in Antarctica. So much land-ice is in Antarctica that it accounts for almost 70% of the total fresh water on the planet. The fact that ice is frozen fresh water, as opposed to frozen seawater, is important.

Ocean salt water has an average concentration of about 35 grams per liter of salt; as low as 30 near the deltas of large rivers. Freshwater is pretty-much anything with less than a third of a gram of salt per liter. There is a lot of water on the planet, but only a tiny amount (2.5%) of it is fresh. The average depth of the oceans is four and a quarter kilometers; so putting all the freshwater into the oceans at once would only raise them by a little over 100 meters. Melting all of Antarctica would only raise the level of the ocean by about 70 meters. This is enough to cause big problems for the majority of the world’s population, but not me; I live over a thousand meters above current sea level.

Salt water requires much lower temperatures to freeze. There is a direct relationship; increase the saltiness of water, and it has to be that much colder for the water to freeze. Partially freezing salt water in a container will result in a separation; the ice will be mostly fresh, and the remaining unfrozen water will be saltier than the water sample was before freezing.

I use the term “ocean ice” (though I use ocean ice interchangeably with sea ice in other posts) to mean ice that is floating in the ocean. This could be ice that broke off from the land or ice that froze out at sea. The later is the species of ice that is properly termed “sea ice”.

The species of ice called sea-ice begins forming as hair-like crystals of freshwater freezing out of the salty ocean water. When these coalesce into blocks of ice they typically trap little droplets of salty liquid brine. These trapped brine droplets make new sea ice taste salty. As the sea ice ages the droplets of brine will slowly melt down through the ice, giving the sea ice characteristic microscopic vertical striations. The saltiness of water in which sea ice forms therefore affect both its rate of formation, and, until most of the brine ages out of it, its stability once formed.

This means that if you were able to decrease the salty of a water body… say by melting a sizeable portion of 70% of the world’s fresh water into it… it would actually freeze as fast as undiluted salt water exposed to lower temperatures.

Ocean salinity measurements around Antarctica show a steady decrease in overall salinity of as much as 0.03 grams per liter every decade. These lower salinity data are the result of the mixing of huge amounts of freshwater from some source with vast amount of saltier ocean water. There has to be a huge source of fresh water to make sense of these data. A further decrease in salinity is expected as one physically approaches the source, and the water has had less time to dilute by mixing into the ocean water. The temperature difference in freezing points for seawater at river deltas whose salinity is around 30 grams per liter (5 grams per liter less than the open ocean) is about 1.78 degrees Celsius. This is close to the increase in temperature observed in Antarctica since 1970.

Once ice has formed in seawater it is fairly stable until the temperature rises considerably. Ice that is floating in seawater that is cold enough to start the sea-ice formation process will not melt. A patch of ocean is considered “covered” by sea ice if it is really at least 15% covered. The forces of diffusion facilitated by wind and weather would move ice away from areas of rapid formation/ high concentration to more open ocean. In this way smaller areas of substantially lower salinity could create many square kilometers of sea ice.

Land ice does not just melt into the sea. The gigantic glaciers –huge rivers of ice- flow into the sea in solid form. When the glaciers meet the ocean seawater cuts under them, and float off massive chunks as icebergs. These icebergs in turn break into smaller blocks, which in turn float off in a multitude of directions. This floating former land-ice contributes to the high Antarctic ocean ice coverage values.

A better direct measurement of the effect of greenhouse warming in the Antarctic would be a measurement of land-ice. How much is left? How thick is it? Unfortunately these direct data are extremely hard to acquire. Sea ice coverage is a much easier measurement to obtain.

Antarctic ocean ice coverage values appear on first blush to not provide direct evidence for global warming. However, if this hypothesis is correct, they do appear to provide direct evidence for a significant impact of global climate change, and these may be more valuable data. There is no real need to use satellite imagery metrics as a huge thermometer as we have data from actual thermometers showing warming trends; although I do like the gigantic data sets because they are impressive, and changes in them melodramatic.

Because the changes observed in the Antarctic may be evidence of actually bad things happening to the planet as a result of global warming they may even be worthy of more attention that the Arctic data.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rainbow Explosion

Over the weekend my daughters and I bought some chain at a local farm-supply store in town. The store is not necessarily cheaper than Home Depot, but it is a fifth the distance, and the people who work there are amicable enough; even when confronted by some of my more bizarre answers to “what are you going to do with this stuff?” The chain and cold forged links were for a rather mundane task of hanging a heavy bag in my garage so the checker’s banter turned to more interesting possibilities.

“Who you going to chain up with that?” She asked.

“I had not really thought about chaining anyone up… Perhaps it would help keep my daughters in line!?” I replied while turning to them implying the question.

“I wish I had chained up my son” The checker added. “He got drunk and started fighting up at Country Explosion. Now he is in jail. I guess that will keep him out of trouble.”

Monday morning saw the last steady trickle of camper-trailers leaking out of what had, over the weekend, been “Country Explosion”. Organizers of the three-day music festival claim to have brought “thousands” to Tooele for “Utah’s largest music festival”.

It is hard to find coverage of any problems associated with the participants of “Country Explosion”. Fights, shots fired, at least one death, and a woman with severe head injuries who leapt out of a car that was traveling at 40 mph. Local law enforcement is quoted as saying that “There is always 10 percent who make trouble”, which would make for a couple hundred offenders given the reported number of participants. There appears to be no desire to publically catalog the offenses, or to identify the offenders.

Facebook is awash with “Country Explosion” pictures of duck faced girls boasting large cans of beer, but the duck-faced selfie is not a legal crime.

About two weeks ago a similar trickle of trailers was passing through Heber; another small rural Utah town. Every news channel in the state had been providing nightly coverage of the event leading up to that exodus. The Rainbow Family of Peace and Light had been gathering in the Uinta foothills outside of Heber. One local station even created a mosaic picture comprised of a couple dozen mugshots they had gathered from local police. Police spoke with concern about potentially overflowing jails in interviews.

There were problems. There was a fight a few days before the event started that involved a knife, and one person died of “Natural Causes”, and several marijuana possession citations.

Overall the number of criminal problems with the Rainbow Family gathering appears to have been  similar to, or less than, the Country Explosion gathering just two weeks later. The level of media coverage of the problems was very different.

Facebook also suffered a tide of pictures from the Rainbow Family gathering. Instead of girls and boys posing with beer in the hopes of appearing to be underage drinkers the Rainbow Family pictures feature people from many generations who appear to smile at nothing in particular. I saw several pictures featuring people with wind teased hair smiling right out of the pictures at me; they could have been mouthing the words “welcome home”.

I had wanted to take my daughters to the Rainbow Family gathering. Unfortunately the media did its job, and scared me off. I was afraid of open drug use, and what tales of open drug use might do to the strained parenting relationship I have with my daughters’ mother. Some days I feel like I have a huge custodial parent target painted on my chest at which is aimed any number of threadbare accusations of misconduct. I second-and third- guess the spontaneity out of most days.

I did, however, get myself a new pair of sandals.

Sandals that I may or may not wear with socks.

Rainbow-striped socks.






Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This is not THE place

This Thursday there will be another in the continuing series of mass resignations from the LDS Church. So, if you have not done so already, come on down and mail your letter.If you have mailed your letter then come on down to show support.  If you have never been a member of the LDS church then come on down, talk to some folks who are resigning, and fill up your gratitude tank.

The last mass resignation coincided with both the LDS general conference, and the Atheists of America convention that was held in Utah this year. That event fell on a weekend.

Why hold a fabulous event -like a mass resignation- on a Thursday?

This coming Thursday is a special day for Utahians. The 24th of July commemorates the day that Brigham Young came into the Salt Lake Valley, and proclaimed that “this is THE Place”. There will be parades all over the state, and fireworks, and family friendly fun of all sorts; events that will now include a mass resignation.



There is even a park called “This is THE Place” park . Brigham Young stands tall, larger than life, on his plinth overlooking the city he declared was THE place. If you live in the Salt Lake Valley he has been watching you do all sorts of things; always with the same determined expression.

The event group is apparently still finagling a special use permit so the exact location is TBD.  Check the event website [http://ldsmassresignation.com/]for more competent information than you can find here. 



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dry Paint

The next few weeks will be an exciting time for the melting of ice. Ice melting, second only to the drying of paint, is a popular metaphor for the ironies of unbridled joy, and by unbridled I mean wildly pervasive, and by joy I mean tedium. Still, July is the month, in the Northern hemisphere at least, when ice does melt rapidly. And of all the great places to watch ice melt in the Northern hemisphere none is more compelling than the Arctic sea.

Sometime, in the next few weeks, there is the possibility of a major arctic sea ice melting event which could make 2014 a record-breaking year. Already large pockets of open ocean called polynyas have started to form within the ice-covered arctic sea.



The truth about Arctic sea ice coverage is not exactly what I generally picture in my mind. An area is said to be covered in Arctic sea ice if it is at least 15% ice covered. This means that much of the area covered by arctic sea ice could be as much as 85% open water, with just chunks floating around. In other words a really big storm could appear to be a major melting event by pushing all the sea ice from one part of the ocean to another.

Whatever the major melting event actually is there has been one in the June-July time frame for most of the record-breaking years. The major melt event for the 2012 all-time record occurred earlier in June, but the one for the 2007 record that stood until 2012 occurred later in July. Any day now! Isn’t it exciting!

The Arctic ice is currently tracking at slightly less than the 2007 year trace, and parallel to, but significantly higher than, the 2012 trace.

In March I predicted the maximum sea ice extent about a week before it happened. There was a rapid expansion event that took 2014’s maximum out of the running for a record low. I caution anyone from mistaking any of my guesses for predictions with any discernible intrinsic certainty.

In the Antarctic the amount of sea ice is increasing rapidly. Antarctic sea ice is very different from Arctic sea ice. The Antarctic data are not as pretty as their Arctic cousins. First of all, the sea ice almost completely melts off in the summer. Secondly, its rapid increase may not be a good thing.

In the Antarctic we want the ice to stay on land; by “want” I mean that melting the land ice in the Antarctic could raise the level of the oceans by many feet causing major breakdowns in social structure, wars, pestilence, biblical-level-mad-god plagues, and other “do not want” stuff. If it is in the water it could mean that it has come off the land.

A recent study suggested that some of the major Antarctic glaciers were oozing off the land into the sea at incredible rates. This is not good. To image the movement of glaciers into the Antarctic seas I picture squeezing toothpaste into water. The toothpaste eventually disperses into the water, and the level of the water rises in proportion to the amount of toothpaste squeezed into it. This, however, is an unsatisfactory metaphor as realizing it physically will result in additional dishes, and wasted toothpaste. Only a very foolish person would try it in a bathtub as it makes a significant mess, and one has to waste lots of toothpaste to get the water to rise at all; although if the tub water is really warm and soapy the toothpaste disperses quickly.

Not only does ice melt quicker in July, but paint also dies quicker. Here in the Utah high desert a freshly painted wall can go from glossy-wet to matt in minutes. I’ve got a project planned that involves knocking holes in walls and power tools. After I am almost done I will repaint, call AYD and AOD into the room with me, and I will explain that the drying paint we are watching is a metaphor for an ecological disaster destroying the fabric of humankind’s culture on this planet. Choosing one’s metaphors carefully can save a lot of scrubbing.

“Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then 'tis time to do't.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our pow'r to accompt?” -Macbeth Act 5, scene 1




Thursday, June 19, 2014

The beepocalypse will NOT be televised

Every single day, usually a half-dozen times a day, some social media informs me that the beepocalypse is nigh. It isn’t.

It would be incorrect to state that there are not real problems –big political and biological problems- with commercial beekeeping. There have been problems for some time, and there are some new problems. The problems which social media tells me are going to cause the beepocalypse are very specific. There is one class of chemical insecticide, and sometimes GMOs. The beepocalypse will be catastrophic because between 75% and 90% of all human food is the result of honeybee pollination.

The warnings of the beepocalypse are a blend of truth, and hyperbole, and misinformation. I often get sidetracked when discussing it as I believe there are problems that can be addressed, and I reflexively believe that it is always better to point out a solution than a problem. In this post I am just going to ignore my reactionary personality and just point out a couple problems with the idea of a beepocalypse:

  1. There is no imminent beepocalypse
  2. Focusing on eliminating neonicotinoids threatens to harm agricultural workers.

The reason I say there is no imminent beepocalypse is that there has been no reduction in registered hives in the US. The numbers of bees have to drop below some critical level for there to be a beepocalypse , and the bees are simply not dying off. The number of managed hives has even increased slightly. Honey production in the US, which is a crude measure of overall hive health, is up 5% this last year, with the average yield per hive increasing by 1%.

Statistics compiled by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture.
Downloaded from http://www.daff.gov.au/__data/assets/image/0011/1942481/graph1.gif on 19 May 2014


Despite the fact that there are lots of happy honey-producing hives there are an alarming amount of bees dying. However, there are fewer dying than there were a couple years ago. The overwinter death rate (OWDR), which represents the largest loss of hive statistic, is two thirds of its eight-year average. Still, the OWDR is over 20%, and that is too high.

Summary of the total overwinter colony loss (October 1 – April 1) of managed honey bee colonies in the US across the 8 annual national surveys (red bars). The acceptable range (blue bars) is the average percentage of acceptable loss declared by the survey participants in each of the 8 years of the survey. Downloaded from http://beeinformed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/ColonyLossWinterup2014-v2.png on 19 May 2014


A 20% (one in five) annual death rate sounds catastrophic, and if bees reproduced like humans it would be. Of course if humans reproduced like bees then a child entering kindergarten could have over 50 kids, more than 1,000 grandkids, more than 20,000 great grandkids, more than 300,000 great-great grandkids, and more than 2,400,000 great-great-great grandkids. There are only about 2,500,000 commercial honey bee colonies in the US. Of course honeybee queens usually die by age 4 so they would not make it to kindergarten, and honeybee hives are usually not induced to create the maximum number of queens, but you get the idea.

At this point you may be asking: “What about those real problems you mentioned?” There are real problems. The greatest of which appears to be weakening of hives by Varroa mite infestation. Nosema infection is another. There are a handful of viruses that are causing issues. Air pollution is a big problem in some areas. Insecticide exposure can be a big problem as insecticides are chemicals designed to kill insects, and bees are insects. The one problem that captures most headlines is Colony Collapse Disorder.

In 2006-2007 a new problem was documented in hives. Some hives experienced rapid (less than two weeks) loss of workers; leaving the hive empty except for ample honey stores, and even a queen with drones. This was a bizarre event, and was named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Groups and commissions were formed to study this phenomenon. If CCD spread it would be catastrophic. Fortunately CCD did not spread. The discovery of CCD was not followed by an overall decrease in viable commercial hives in the US, and the numbers of CCD hive losses has decreased in recent years. Unfortunately “CCD” sounds dramatic, and it has become synonymous with all causes of honeybee colony death.

The oversubscription of the term CCD is not exclusively due to the scientific illiteracy of journalists. Even respectable apiologists (bee scientists) confuse the term to create hyperbole. Alex Lu and collegues at Harvard recently published a widely quoted paper linking neonicotinoids to CCD-like behavior. The introduction to the paper states: “The persistence of CCD worldwide was highlighted in a recent United Nations report (UN News Center, 2011), which calls for changes in honey bee colony management in order to save this important insect.” A search of the “UN News Center, 2011” article they link to in their bibliography turns up no mention of CCD, although it does present a host of problems impacting bees worldwide. The actual UNEP report the article summarizes does talk a little about CCD; stating that :"CCD only accounts for about 7% of losses in the USA [2008-2009] and even less in Europe."

One of the most used neonicotinoid insecticides is called Imidacloprid. It is the chemical used by Alex and his colleges in the Harvard study. It is a moderately toxic chemical, and as little as 21 grams might kill a 70 kilogram human if they drank it pure. One of the non-neonicotinoid insecticides that has been used in huge quantities worldwide is called parathione. If a 70 kilogram human got a little over a tenth of a gram (0.14 grams) of parathione on their food they would have the same chance of dying. That is just a drop. Many agricultural workers who were used to working with the much less toxic DDT were poisoned when it was replaced –because of concerns about how DDT affected the environment- with parathione.

Because parathione is so toxic there has been some successful efforts to replace it with less toxic materials. Monocrotophos is almost 10 times less toxic than the parathione it replaces. Just last summer 25 school kids in India died when their lunch was contaminated with small amounts of monocrotophos. Un-noticeable amounts of these organophosphate insecticides in food can cause severe poisoning and death.

Banning of neonicotinoid pesticides will likely result in replacing of them with much more toxic chemicals. This will put agricultural workers, and their families, at risk. Who are these agricultural workers in the US?

The 2001-2002 National Agricultural Workers Survey conducted by the US department of labor talls us a little about who these people are that would be put at risk in the hopes that bee mortality would be decreased. 83% of them identify as Hispanic. 87% of them did not finish high school. The wages and career prospects of agricultural workers are shockingly low. In other words the term “Agricultural Worker” is essentially synonymous with a racial/class group that is regularly subjected to racist attacks by the privileged minorities more prevalent in social media.

What does it say that the remote possibility of decreasing some bee deaths is worth more than an agricultural worker’s life? Do you really want to be telling another person that they are of less importance to you than an insect?




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Apostasy Roast

Lately the word “Apostasy” has been all over the news, and the talking heads say it with disdain; as if “Apostasy” was a bad thing.

Not surprisingly the LDS-church apostasy all over the recent news is not the big story about apostasy from the LDS church. The big story is just too big for the news to cover.

a•pos•ta•sy
əˈpästəsē/
noun
noun: apostasy; plural noun: apostasies
1. the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.

Based on the dictionary definition apostasy should be something easy to do. Just stop going to church, then think about other –more interesting- things, and then (and this step should be optional) realize that that old dusty belief structure was hauled off with the trash. This abandonment route is the road Marco Rubio took "out" of the LDS church. A road is a good metaphor here; one starts walking out of town, and eventually you pass the city limits even if you do not notice the sign. It is so easy and comfortable to just give up on an awkward belief system that many people don’t recognize they have left till they arrive someplace else.

In some churches, like the LDS church, the most popular form of apostasy is to have never been a member at all. The vast majority of LDS church members exist outside of the United States. One can compare census data for countries that include religious affiliation on their census with what the church provides as membership numbers. Latin American countries typically have around a quarter the number of self identifying Mormons as are counted by the church offices. This means that as many as 75% of the Mormons in Latin America have committed Apostasy simply by actively identifying themselves as not being Mormon.

Most Mormon apostates find apostasy somewhat contrived and bureaucratic. Lately a few dozen former Mormons made a show of their apostasy by marching around temple square with letters of resignation, which they then respectfully mailed, and which the LDS church could have refused. Recently these apostates have been receiving official acknowledgment of their apostasy. I have not heard of anyone actually being refused their apostasy, but the mechanism is there should the LDS church decide to stop letting members officially leave.

The LDS church is concerned about apostasy. Starting in 2012 they have been addressing the issue head on. The effort appears to be spearheaded by a General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by the name of Marlin Keith Jensen. He called for "a strategy to get church history onto the Web,". Specifically Marlin wanted an official response to what Mormon scholar Terry Givens described as a "discrepancy between a church history that has been selectively rendered through the Church Education System and Sunday school manuals, and a less-flattering version universally accessible on the Internet”.

"Maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I'll call it apostasy, like we're having right now." -- Marlin Keith Jensen (General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) 3 January 2012

The LDS church has a two-tiered (at least) system for Mormons. There are “members” and “temple recommend holders” (which I sometimes call real Mormons). Each temple recommend is a serial-numbered bar-coded identification card whose unique number is in a database which can be simultaneously retrieved from the computerized verification stations at the entrance to every LDS temple. During a pre-consecration tour of a temple I was personally shown the desk where the holiest of computers would be installed, and given a brief description of what they would be used for.

The LDS church has very accurate and specific statistical and demographic data concerning real Mormons, but it instead only releases the loose membership numbers for public consumption. Based on some surveys and numbers of temple marriages it may be that only 45% of self-identifying Mormons in the most devoutly Mormon areas are real Mormons, and only 2% of self-identifying Mormons in areas outside of the USA are real Mormons. Since, in some areas outside of the USA only 25% of LDS church identified Mormons self-identify as Mormons, this would mean that in some areas 99.5% of the LDS church identified Mormons could be apostates.

My calculations are based on available numbers. My definition of apostasy is a somewhat rigid interpretation of the dictionary definition. It is likely that manipulation of the definition coupled with re-interpretation of the available numbers would yield slightly different results. Any apologist worth their salt could point out the weakness in my information. The only rock-solid interpretations that might be possible rely on the LDS church releasing temple recommend data. So even the most true believing LDS apologist will not counter with a position that is significantly stronger.

One of the problems most apologists have with understanding apostasy is that they see it as a bad thing. Apostasy leads to discipline; the worst form of which is excommunication. It surprises me each time I think about it; excommunication is seen as a horrible discipline by a church that both vigorously cooks the books in order to make it appear to have a large number of members, and makes it difficult to actually leave. One can not tithe, not go to church, and even state that they are not a Mormon, but they still won’t be officially recognized as abandoning the LDS church.

What is official apostasy? There are two instances that are making the news.

The most popular new apostate is a woman by the name of Kate Kelly who is a leader in the “Ordain Women” group. To people who are not familiar with the LDS church the notion of ordaining women as priests might sound a bit modern. Males (most do) receive their priesthood when they are 12 years old. Picture a 7th grade classroom; do you see a room full of priests? Now, still picturing the room of 7th graders, imagine why the little girls should not be priests. Don’t try too hard to reason out why having 7th grade girl priests is more damaging than the idea of having 7th grade priests of any type as thinking too hard about it can get icky.[The priesthood in the LDS church has several divisions, Baptism at age 8, Aaronic, or preparatory priesthood at age 12, and Melchizedek priesthood at age 18]

The other newly famous apostate is a blogger by the name of John Dehlin. John has been addressing the actual apostasy issue on his “Mormon Stories” blog. I think John is an apologist. I bet John thinks of himself as an apologist. He has presented reasons why Mormons should remain Mormon despite the LDS church history. He has also provided modern moral synthesis for LGBT issues, and is generally concerned with people staying members of the LDS church.

They have already revoked John’s temple recommend, so he is not a real Mormon anymore. Next week it is likely that he and Kelly will be excommunicated. For the sake of their families, and their personal pride, I hope they do get excommunicated. It sounds so much more exciting than “I mailed a letter”.

However, I do hope they take their excommunication in a more positive way than Lavina Fielding Anderson. She was excommunicated in September of 1993 with a group of Mormon intellectuals who have been dubbed “The September Six”. Lavina wrote about ecclesiastical abuse at a time before such a term would sound lake soft-pedaling sexual abuse by priests [Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring 1993): 7-64.]. The concept of ecclesiastical abuse, as Lavina envisioned it, is rather convoluted. The way Lavina handled her excommunication is rather convoluted as well. Lavina never stopped going to her LDS church. She still insists she believes. She does not have an active temple recommend, and she may not be able to get into the good heaven all the 7th-grade boys will get into, but she has been an active participant in the LDS church for the 20 years since they kicked her out.

I hope Kate and John can revamp their testimony after the Mormons kick them out. It will be much more inspirational, at least to their kids, to have a testimony about coming to understand the world as a rationalist and a skeptic; a testimony that begins: “I believed as hard as I could, but it was still wrong, so the Church kicked me out. Only then did I give myself the opportunity to stop believing, and I discovered Love, and Beauty, and the person I always wanted to be.”.

Even if they do not excommunicate you I want to personally welcome you, Kate and John, to the Dark Roast Side.  Bring Lavina if she is not too busy.



Thursday, June 12, 2014

Htrae

The planet Htrae is a cube shaped world where coal is used for money, and words are spelled wrong. Created on what must have been a slow day Htrae is a silver-age Superman opposite world. The jokes from Htrae (also called Bizzaro world) get old as fast as trying to get around with one’s pants on backwards gets old, but the typical silver-age comic book was only a couple dozen pages long so the jokes were only getting stale by the time the book was finished.

At some point the irony that covers the modern libertarian movement like candy sprinkles goes full bizzaro world. “Religious Liberty” has become code for “power to oppress people on religious grounds”. “Defending Marriage” has become “Preventing Marriage”. “Defending the Second Amendment” has become “Providing good reasons for enhanced gun control legislation”. “Patriotism” has become “Terrorism”. The list is long. We are going full-fascist bizzaro.

This weekend’s shooting spree in Nevada is getting scarier every day. Apparently the male shooter was, just a couple months ago, blocking traffic on I-15 while openly displaying a firearm. The display of firearms in a confrontational situation is an implied threat of violence. This is not the complete opposite of a non-violent demonstration, but it is not really a peaceful demonstration at all. This weekend the Millers took their creative nonviolence full-fascist bizzaro, and began shooting people to death.

On a Venn diagram of topics I’ve covered in this blog the Millers would fall on one of the tiny polygons of multiple overlap. She identified with Hobby Lobby, and he with Cliven Bundy. They both were white supremacists. They thought that owning a tool for killing gave them special freedoms. Each time I read about them the confused patchwork of their apparent mindset picks up yet another thread from my blog. It is as if they were avid followers of a bizzaro version of my blog.

I used to like the idea of Htrae. I used to say that my misspellings were just the Htrae version of the word I meant. Before the advent of spell-checking software I said this a lot.

The word “Htrae” is surprisingly hard to pronounce.

I have begun to flinch at mundane instances of bizzaro world events. Even those that are not full-fascist bizzaro are disturbing. I know relatively sane and surprisingly intelligent people who listen to Alex Jones or Glenn Beck; saying “Not everything they say is way off base”. I want to say “Why isn’t the way off base stuff enough to cut power to their transmission? “

In the instant before I can condemn these teabagger reactionaries I call friends I picture myself reading some article from Mother Jones or the Huffington Post. I readily read through some articles; dismissing some parts as spin, and accepting others as partial facts. Maybe I support going part Htrae on the news as long as it is in the right direction?






Thursday, May 29, 2014

MVK

“See. Look at how Fabulous I look” -- Elliot Rodger 2014

The wake of the killing rampage by the Mad Virgin Killer (Elliot Rodger) is washing up the same paranoia as all recent mass shootings appear to. Within hours the details were being decried as fabricated. Grieving parents were identified as actors, and the whole thing dismissed as some great big hoax; the purpose of which is to take away people’s guns.

“your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights” - Samuel “Joe the Plummer” Wurzelbacher

Significantly less crazy, and somewhat less reprehensible, the gun control spin-masters have framed the MVK’s killing spree as a mass shooting. Telling phrases like “Seven killed and more than a dozen injured by Gunman in Isla Vista” or “Seven killed and over a dozen wounded in Isla Vista shooting spree”. This is deliberately misleading as half of the victims (other than MVK’s suicide) were killed with claw hammer and/or machete, and many of the injured were people run down by MVK with his BMW. Part of this misdirection was likely do to chaos reporting as the story broke, but the following day responsible figures were apparently giving misleading quotes despite the fact that they must have known the contextual error in what they said.

“Seven people, including the gunman, were killed and seven others wounded in the May 23 mass shooting” -- Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown 24 May 2014

The current story of the killings suggests that first three victims of the MVK were lured one-by-one into his apartment where they were savagely attacked with claw hammer and/or machete. The intimate nature of those killings contrasts with that of a drive-by shooting. MVK had to look into the eyes of his first victims and lie to them. Then he felt the exertion of hacking away at them. He witnessed the huge wounds his crude weapons caused; watched the agony as they died. Then he went and did it again, and again. When he ran out of available male victims he went out and shot some folks. In a drive by shooting the victim is often out of reach, the expression on their eyes may be hidden, they are left to die alone. Shooting someone may be a much more effective way of killing someone, but it is much less personal.

It is easy to glean the misogynistic message from MVK’s YouTube videos; it would be hard to miss it on purpose. The message resonates to the words of MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists) and PUAs (Pick Up Artists); these are mostly on-line groups with rather distasteful misogynistic messages. MVK goes on about how beautiful blonde women ignore his attentions. He provides very little additional description of them; they are mostly just blonde and beautiful. He even goes to a specific sorority that housed a concentration of blonde and beautiful women who spurned him, but the two women he guns down when he gets there were actually women visiting from another sorority, and neither of them was really blonde. He dispatched them as impersonally as he could, and then ran off to gun down a guy, shoot randomly at pedestrians, and then run down a couple guys on bikes with his expensive car. For someone whose misogynistic rage was driving him to massacre women he spent a lot of energy killing males in intimate ways, and the women he did target he killed impersonally without noticing the details he had suggested were of importance to him.

MVK missed a lot of details about women. Firstly he was surprised that women did not pay attention to him. This is staggeringly bizarre, sure the personal rejections sting a bit, but there are over 3.5 billion women on the planet, and statistically so few of them will even know some particular male exists that the probability of being noticed is essentially zero. To be more specific; if you are wildly popular enough to have a dozen women display sexual attraction to you in a year then the probability of any particular woman on the planet displaying sexual attraction to you is 0.000000002, which is zero on most calculators. Hitting the Powerball lottery has better odds. He spoke as someone who  had a divine right to such rare attentions rather than someone who could appreciate them.

MVK also spoke about beautiful women as if they were a rarity. Most heterosexual men discover early on that most women are beautiful. This is a biological fact that has helped our species be as successful as it is. The notion of beautiful women as a class distinct from most women is a notion created for the consumption of women consumers by advertisers and fashion designers, and the stereotypical fashion designer is a gay male for this reason. MVK did not speak like a male who really desired women. He did not obsess over the specific details that might make any potential mate particularly attractive. The only person he repeatedly described as exceptional, or “magnificent”, was himself; a male.

Perhaps if MVK had come out of his closet he would have discovered that the world is a better place than he imagined it to be. Perhaps by embracing himself, and other similarly inclined males, he would have contributed to the amount of love in the world rather than silencing the loving voices of his victims.

It is likely that MVK’s repressed homosexuality frames the only worthwhile enduring lesson to be learned from this sequence of senseless tragedies. I for one will not be able to hear another empty PUA boast or MRA whine without catching the echoing cries of a closeted homosexual. We must teach them that their lack of attraction to women does not have to be disgust transparently camouflaged by misogyny.




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paul Bundy

Nineteen children were killed nineteen years ago on April 19th.

Ten days ago, on April 19th , the American people casually checked off the 19th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. One hundred and sixty eight people were killed. Nineteen of them were children; the youngest was only 3 months old. On that Wednesday in April Timothy McVeigh drove a rented truck filled with explosives through downtown Oklahoma City, lit a two minute fuse, and then parked it in a drop-off space under the daycare room of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building; he was protesting government overreach.

Ten days ago a small group of armed people were milling around in the Nevada desert sporting “Domestic Terrorist” nametags in the hopes of heaping ridicule on Senator Harry Reid who had likened their activity to domestic terrorism. Dinesh D’Souza recounted seeing the “Domestic Terrorist” nametags in a post to Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze”. The inhabitants of “Camp Tripwire” were milling about carrying their AR15s and AK47s with nothing to intimidate; their armed closure of interstate 15 had resulted in an apparent victory. Several days earlier the widely held belief was that “The Battle of Bunkerville” would erupt into a shooting battle before the anniversary of the Mount Carmel fire. By April 19th the cows were home and the only important thing they had left to do was protest government overreach.

David Koresh's Mount Carmel compound outside of Elk Texas burned to the ground on April 19th 1993 after a fifty-one day siege by federal agents. The federal agents tried knocking down walls and pumping in tear gas while inside the members of “The Students of the Seven Seals” Christian Cult set up fires and shot each other. When the rubble was cleared the bodies of 76 people were discovered, 20 of them had been shot, and one three year old had been stabbed to death. During the 51-day siege, out on Elk road, a disorganized group of protestors and gawkers assembled. Amongst them was Timothy McVeigh.

The similarities between Bunkerville’s “Camp Tripwire” and Mount Carmel’s gawker camp are striking. Both contained people with wide ranging fluidly heterodox religious views; often focusing on the second amendment as some great commandment sent from god. They both contained people who firmly believed that the US government is implanting microchips in people’s butts. Both camps also had a large number of ex-military who believed that show of deadly force was needed to counter some perceived threat in civilian America. At Tripwire many ex military were organized under the banner of the “Oath Keepersorganization; at Mount Carmel Timothy McVeigh would emerge as the most famous ex-military gawker.

The rhetoric emanating from both camps also made repeated mention of a shooting that occurred on August 31st 1992 in Ruby Ridge Idaho. There two members of a family of extremely religious white supremacists were killed in an operation that FBI director Louis Freeh would describe as "synonymous with the exaggerated application of federal law enforcement".

One important difference between the Mount Carmel gawker camp and Camp Tripwire was that the religious wingnuts at the center of the storm were isolated from the armed militia by armed FBI agents. At Camp Tripwire Cliven Bundy regularly got up on stage and proclaimed the content of specific auditory revelation he had received directly from god.

Cliven Bundy’s racist remarks eventually led to his becoming a pariah to the right-wing personalities. It is a bit scary that so many people would come in armed support of such a transparently racist individual. It is, perhaps, scarier that the right-wing pundits and the armed militiaists would not balk when the Mormon father of 14 began providing the details of his personal revelation. God spoke directly to Cliven Bundy and provided him with specific instruction for the armed militia, and the armed militia went and did some of the stuff. Stuff like dressing up in military fatigues, strapping a semi automatic rifle to their back, and stopping traffic on the only transportation artery in the area.

“It come to my mind real plain — the good Lord said, ‘Bundy, it’s not your job, it’s THEIR job.’ So we come back over here and heard that they had brought some cattle back. So I want you to understand... This is not my job, it’s YOUR job."
-- Cliven Bundy

I fear that the perceived success of the militia in the “Battle of Bunkerville” will facilitate the hardening of dangerously violent people like Terry Nichols, Michael Fortier (and his wife Lori), and timothy McVeigh; or new individuals driven to extreme lengths by some Birther-Oathkeeper-AntiVax-Truther-ChipButt- Heterodox (BOATCH) paranoia.

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
― H.L. Mencken

Many politicians, from local wanabees to Rand Paul, jumped on the media frenzy over this standoff. They did so in order to promote their own brand, but ended up validating the echo chamber of fantastical hysteria that these armed militias are developing. They maintain that there is some lofty fight against government overreach that ties them to the spirit of the Camp Tripwire crowd, but it begins to sound more like they are promoting themselves to a group they see as gullible enough not to look for reasonable truth behind what they can use for justification.

Rand Paul is a first-term senator; the sitting president of the USA was a first-term senator when he was first elected POTUS. While running for senate Rand supporters famously subdued MoveOn activist Lauren Valle who had shown up at a Rand rally with a sign; the Rand supporters wrestled her to the ground and stomped on her head. With an armed militia to add firepower to his cause he may be ready to attempt a presidential bid in 2016?

"But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word 'Fascism' and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty."
-- Sinclair Lewis


Monday, April 28, 2014

Cliven Hooves

When I first heard about the “Battle of Bunkerville” I assumed that the name Bunkerville was some kind of cute name for the fortified encampment outside of Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch.  A name designed to invoke some kind of military feel. I imagined the heavily armed inhabitants of the camp referring to their Winnebagos as “bunkers”. I pictured each recreational vehicle being given a number, and the night air being filled with the sounds and smells of the portable generators which give life to the multitude of televisions tuned for the hope of at least the briefest glimpse of the RV’s owner on the closest Fox affiliate. I was wrong; the name of that place is “Camp Tripwire”.

I should have known that “Bunkerville” is an actual town name. I have done biology stuff in the deserts of Nevada for long enough to have familiarity with all the rustic exits off of highways 93 and I15.

Bunkerville is the birthplace of Juanita Leone Leavitt (b 1898) who would grow up to take on the last name of "Brooks" and write a famous account of the "Mountain Meadows Massacre".   The most amazing thing about Juanita Brooks's account of Mormons massacring non-Mormon pioneers is perhaps the fact that she was not excommunicated for writing it.  For years her account was considered definitive.

Juanita was undoubtedly related to Raoul and Ruth Leavitt who sold Cliven's parents his ranch in 1948.  Two years later (1950) Juanita would publish her book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and four years after that (1954) Cliven's parents would begin raising cattle.   In 1993 Cliven would be taken to court and be found in arrears for his cattle grazing fees. 

Bunkerville proper is hidden in the shadow of Mesquite Nevada, and Mesquite is the type of border gambling town that palpably urges me to drive on by. I’ve stopped there for gas at least once, but I’ve never cruised down highway 170 to take in the charm of its neighborhoods.

Online real estate brokerages suggest that, had I taken in the Mesquite sights, I would have been treated to a study in contrasting lifestyles. Bunkerville real estate varies in price from $33K mobile homes perched on what look to be cinder blocks to $2.5M stucco homes with central air. If one (courtesy of Google Streetview) continues about a half mile on the south side of the Virgin river by heading out onto New Gold Butte road just before 170 loops back across the river to I-15, one comes to a gravel driveway announced by a sign advertising melons and beef; Bundy Melons.

From Google Streetview


I suppose that down this road, surrounded by the rusting remains of old equipment and automobiles, Cliven Bundy raised his 14 children. I wonder how often Cliven’s location facilitated the disturbance of his late night peace by drunken tourists, bloated with all-you-can eat buffet, and lost on the way to I15 from the casinos of Mesquite. I wonder how many of his children lost their way only to find themselves in adult-sized trouble the handful of miles away in the casinos?



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If none of Cliven’s 14 children sell the family property off for development then one of the (currently) 52 grandchildren certainly will. The history of the Bundy ranch will prove to be as disposable as the income people are throwing away just up the Virgin river in Mesquites casinos.




Monday, April 14, 2014

Watership Down is for Real

On Wednesday the long anticipated film adaptation of the long-running #1 bestseller “Heaven Is For Real” will hit the big screen. It is the story of a preacher’s son who has a near death experience (NDE) in which he goes to Heaven, and meets all sorts of nice people with wings.

Tickets are available now


The NDE is often accepted as a means for divine communication. The death part of the NDE helps to distinguish the words of one’s deity from other types of psychosis. One might understand why it is important to know which disembodied voice in one’s head is coming from whom. The NDE is characterized by trauma, blood loss to the brain, and often heavy medication; clues which apparently help to prove that the voice is that of some god.

On March 5th 2003 Colton Burpo underwent surgery for a burst appendix; he is said to have been saved from death by Jesus himself, with a little help of modern medicine. Also on March 5th 2003 a car bomb went off at the Davao City airport in the Philippines and 19 people were not saved from dying by Jesus or anyone else. Also on March 5th 2003 a car bomb exploded in Cúcuta Columbia where 7 people were not saved by Jesus. Also on March 5th 2003 a bomb exploded in Haifa Israel, close to Jesus’s hometown, and 10 people were not saved.

On March 13th 2003 poor Colton underwent another surgery. Abscesses were drained. At 7:45PM local time a bomb went off in the first-class ladies compartment of a Mumbai Suburban Railway train pulling into Mulund station. Another 10 people were not saved by Jesus.

Colton’s descriptions of heaven, Jesus, and the nice winged people he met inspired his father Todd to work with Lynn Vincent to write a book. Lynn Vincent is famous for co-writing Sarah Palin’s first book: “Going Rouge”.

The Wednesday before Easter Sunday is an auspicious day for opening a movie about resurrection. Called “Holy Wednesday”, it is thought by many fundamentalists to be the actual day of Jesus’s crucifixion.

The Wednesday crucifixion argument relies on a Sunday resurrection, and Mathew 12:40. The passage from Mathew states that Jesus was in the ground for three days and nights, and the only way to do that is schedule a crucifixion for a Wednesday.

“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” – Mathew 12:40 (KJB)

Easter itself is scheduled each year for the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (The paschal moon ). The rules for determining when Easter is are so divinely inspired that the calculation has its own branch of study called “Computus”; a name from which many important modern fields of study can be linked.

Whenever Jesus was resurrected the entire Christian world knows that he was crucified either the Friday (Good Friday) or Wednesday (Holy Wednesday) before Easter Sunday. Many Christians will celebrate the torture and mutilation of their Lord and Savior by filling baskets with cellophane grass and suggesting that a magic rabbit lays chocolate eggs for good little boys and girls.

I’ve always liked the part about the rabbit.