Thursday, February 28, 2013

What's Lost in Community?

Everyone talks about "community".  The intelligence community did this...The international community should do  this... Call me old fashioned, but these phrases illustrate a weakening sense of accountability and responsibility.  We used to be much more specific and talked about the nations of the world, the cities and town in a county, the families, churches and civic organizations in a neighborhood.  If a "community" effort falls short, no one is to blame.  On the other hand, if a sovereign nation, bound to another by a signed treaty, fails to act in accord with the treaty, then it is clear who is accountable.  It is a sign of our time as we seek more and more ways to equalize everything that we lose sight of the heirarchy of responsibility that is the essence of civilization.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cheaters Go Long

It seems that in politics there will always be an opportunity to go deep for a long pass and get back into the game.  My first exposure was the Ted Kennedy event - scandal? - in which he drunkenly ran his car off a bridge killing his young lady friend who was not his wife.  In recent times the stunning success of President Clinton to cheat on his wife, lie about it, and remain not only in office but embraced by public favor. New York Governor  Eliot Spitzer, caught whoring with his pants down (but his socks on) surfaced several years later on CNN, and then with a show on Current TV.  And now John Sanford, former Governor of South Carolina,  as the Washington Post headline smirked, "Hiking the comeback trail".  Sanford told whoever needed to know that he was walking along the Appalachian trail when he was actually in Argentina with his lover.  His wife understandably left him.  Sanford is running for the seat in Congress that years ago was the first step in his political career.  He is thought to have a good chance of winning, and has attracted top contributions.  What to make of this trend?  Should we congratulate ourselves that we can forgive transgression?  Should we be ashamed that we are so voyeuristic that we want to see more of these men in hopes they will titillate again?  Should we accept the fact that no one is perfect and sins of the flesh don't diminish political abilities?  Do we have a threshold for forgiveness?  Let's await the fate of John Edwards, former North Carolina Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry's pick as his running mate in the 2004 Presidential race.  Remember, Edwards fathered a "love child" and then paid his campaign aid to claim the child was his.  This dirty laundry aired while Edwards' wife lay dying of cancer.  I do not believe that voters will choose him again. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Shout Out for the Skilled Trades

I have been following Curiosity, NASA's $2.5 billion robot-rover as it goes to work on Mars.  Visit the NASA web page and learn about Curiosity.  My favorite picture is of Curiosity in the foreground  and tire tracks coming from far off in the distance.  Curiosity has now successfully drilled into a rock and extracted a core sample that will be analyzed using an on-board test kit.  Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA developed the kit.  In a recent interview a drill systems engineer talked about the high tech operation and the complex software challenges they have overcome.  He concluded his interview with a comment about a low-tech worry that has not proved to be a problem.  After all that drilling and scooping, the welds at the crucial corners of Curiosity's scoop held.  That's one big shout out to the skilled trades. 

Monday, February 18, 2013


Every time I drive north on I-5 and pass McCord Air Force base I think of our dog Sue.  Every time. For seven years. West of the freeway, in the flight path of planes returning to McCord, is the veterinary clinic where we said good bye. Sue enriched our lives for  12 years. She was bred in California from working stock. She had distinguished lineage, a direct descendant of a legendary Welsh herding champion. She spent most of her life in Alaska where she roamed the forest trails and rode eagerly in skiffs and fishing boats. She was smart and fearless. She knew when to turn back from danger and took a stand in the face of it. She learned the dog sport Agility with ease, and had a clean run on her first competitive trial. Long after her hips weakened she would still run through a tunnel with the joy of a puppy. She loved her toys, playing elaborate games with her people and demanding our full participation. Sue never met a person she did not like. At the end of her life, when she was totally deaf she would wiggle her way through any crowd of dogs to find the human with them. After 14 months of surgery, chemotherapy, repeated blood draws and urine samples she still pulled forward on her leash into the clinic to greet the staff. Sue told us when it was time to go. Her kidneys were failing. She did not prolong the inevitable. She was a champion to the end.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Get a Grip

Get the media a paper bag to breathe into.  They are hyperventilating.  Their oxygen-deprived brains cannot distinguish between the horrible things that happen to people, and the merely inconvenient.  The plight of the Carnival Triumph was certainly inconvenient - grossly inconvenient.  But "horror at sea" as the headlines screamed?  If those five days were a horror, what is left to describe the plight of miners trapped under ground?  Of elementary school children at the hand of a man with a gun?  Of people in the path of a tidal wave? 2.5 billion people in the developing world lack flushing toilets and running water.  They would be glad for the primitive improvisation provided to the Triumph passengers by their hard working crew.  Our rich societies suffer from learned delicacy.  Get a grip. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fight or Flight or Settle Down and Get on With It

Anxiety is an ally.  That is what we are told when we learn about the adrenal glands in our kidneys.  When our brain perceives a threat it sends a message to our adrenal glands and they secrete adrenalin.  Adrenalin keys up our bodies for fight or flight.  Trouble is, in our sophisticated and very rich society we engage in safe activities that trigger the same chain of events.  I mean safe in the sense that we are not likely to be chased down or clubbed to death by the piano we are about to play, or by our friends sitting nearby anticipating our song.  It seems that the brain makes no distinction between performance anxiety and an on-coming train.  And that explains everything.  If I am in the path of a charging bear, a flood of adrenalin is the primal defense system I will need to save my life.  My rapidly beating heart will pump blood to the areas of my body with which I will prepare for my fight or flight  My fingers apparently are not needed which explains why I have cold clammy hands as I open my music.  My deepening and accelerated breathing is providing the extra oxygen my body will need to run as fast as I can, which explains why I feel a smothering tightness in my chest.  My rapid breathing decreases blood to my brain which is why I feel detached from the music I know by heart.  And my mind shifts its focus to the charging bear, which is why I cannot remember the first note. I'm sure this has never happend to you.  So, just saying, I'm glad to know this adaptive function works so well.  You never know when you might encounter a bear. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Despite Compelling Evidence to the Contrary

Throughout the United States and Europe parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children against infectious disease.  Twenty five years ago polio, measles, mumps and rubella were all but eliminated in the Western countries.  Two and a half million deaths are prevented annually by vaccination.  But among anxious parents there are those who blame vaccines for serious maladies, especially autism, or who favor "natural " remedies, or who simply don't trust the motives of the pharmaceutical industry.  As trust in vaccine declines so does the coverage rate of children entering school.  States yield to parental pressure and provide an "opt -out" option in their immunization policy.  Reading about this trend brought to mind the evolution of the advertising campaign for DuPont.  In 1935 DuPont introduced one of the most successful, and longest running slogans in American advertising: "Better Living Through Chemistry".  In the years following World War II public trust in science was high.  By the last quarter of the 20th Century public opinion had changed.  Science and scientists lost ground.  Along with politicians (and used car salesmen) their reputation fell.  DuPont responded to this loss of trust with a new slogan introduced in 1982: "The Miracles of Science".  Apparently the inexplicable was more trustworthy than the trial and error method of scientific discovery.  Too bad for the children who go without vaccine.  Last month the US Institute of Medicine published a report that found "no evidence of major safety concerns".  Nevertheless,  The U.S. National Immunization Survey in 2009 showed that only 60% of parents of children under age 3 adhered to the recommended vaccination schedule. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Never Too Old Part 2

The day was mild, warming into the low 70's.  The rainy season had passed.  Although February is the coolest month on the island, the temperature would stay in the 50's overnight.  A restless mother listened to the "tap, tap, tapping" and watched for her chick's beak to break through the egg.  She was not alone.  Close by was her mate with whom she bonded for life.  Surrounding her were others.  Many others.  One and one half million others.  70% of the world population of the Laysan Albatross make this island their home.  It is best known for the important World War II naval battle. Today 500,000 acres of land and water harbor the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  The new chick has only  a 66% chance of survival.  One of the greatest hazards for the chick is the so-called "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" - the surrounding seas of the Pacific Ocean whose peculiar,  localized winds and currents create a gyre of marine litter.  Each year 5 tons of plastic are fed to Albatross chicks by parents attracted to the debris.  The new chick is carefully guarded by her mother - not surprising for a mom who has raised about 35 chicks.  Mom is carefully watched by biologists who attached a band around her leg in 1956.  At 62, she is thought to be very old by Albatross standards.  She is called Wisdom by the people in the bird banding program of the U.S. Geological Survey.  Read about Wisdom and her new chick here

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bring on the Puddy Tat

In football stadiums, concert halls, high school drama performances and elementary school spelling bees several in the audience are tweeting.  Kids walking, moms waiting, boy friends and girl friends, perfect strangers are sending 140 character messages.  Tweets have made their way into mainline news.  Tweets are shown on a lower-screen crawl.  Tweets are referred to and shown full screen during a story.  Not just tweets from those in the news or making the news.  Tweets from us - the folks.  Tweets from whoever sends them in.  Why?  What is the relevance of a 140 character comment from someone like me? Theaters are now setting aside seats in the rear for people who want to tweet.  Who wants to read this stuff?  In vintage Warner Brothers, Tweety Bird vanquishes the foe.  Its time to turn the tables.  Bring on the Puddy Tat.