Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Mother Jones reviews the wild side of environmentalists today. Highlighted is the Miss Earth Beauty pageant held in the Philippines. Contestants promote environmental awareness by planting trees and other earthy acts during the competition. STOP, WAIT! Why is this one of the headlines on MOTHER JONES, a source supposedly "in tune" with environmental issues, while the story of the coal slurry disaster in Tennessee is nowhere to be found? Water for millions of homes in the southeast U.S. is currently being poisoned because of an epic environmental catastrophe that began when an earthen retention wall holding in a 40 acre pond of sludge failed. The sludge consists of a chunky coal slurry laden with radioactive material and dissolved heavy metals. Though our collective attention span is ever diminishing, some stories need SUSTAINED ATTENTION. Like this tragedy in Tennessee that was presented to the media only yesterday, after a week of zero coverage. I hope the goddesses got your attention, now let us go back to Tennessee and meditate on the magnitude of such an event!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tennessee's Katrina!!!

Utter Environmental Carnage!
Coal sludge spill in Tennessee, 100 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill! This happened one week ago and is only now receiving some media attention! Yell Fire Fire Fire!!! This story needs to be heard!!!
CNN's headline claims that the spill shames an agency. Stop pawning off the blame! Sure the agency played (or did not) play its role, but this shame is to be shared by the country as a whole. Again I say "listen to Larry" on the real cost of coal.
Hey politicians, does this LOOK like "CLEAN COAL" to you?

"Ghost Dance"

A Post from the Ghost...
Each date is filled with as many joys as sorrows. 118 years ago today, approximately 300 Oglala Lakota, including the Sioux Chief - Big Foot, were massacred at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, just south of the badlands. This firestorm marked the last major battle between the U.S. government and any Native American peoples. Though ephemeral spirit auras do not float in an ether surrounding us on this date, eye-witness accounts of the events that transpired at Wounded Knee have the power to tingle our collective nervous system more than a century later. This is the cause of Tom Paine's Ghost; to raise the consciousness through interactive memory, to rekindle the embers of the promise of America, and to renew our independence by engaging the citizenry.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Awareness awareness

Recently, I came across a website showing a tour of 80 optical illusions. Since then, I have been modestly obsessed with visual phenomena, being the moderate extremist that I am. This morning I received an email containing the following YouTube clip about awareness.

I really appreciate the multi-faceted message this video campaign is promoting and I felt obligated to help propagate it. This message hit a resonating chord with me from my exposure to the encounters of bicyclists with motorists and vice versa. Despite the serious nature of the video, I couldn't help myself from finding this video painfully funny I must confess. And then I thought WOW, awareness really does laugh in the face of reality! You know? Of course, the compulsive nature of YouTube beckoned me to peruse "related" videos. I found all the parodies of the awareness test laughable indeed. I also came across the following optical illusion.

Beyond optical, we have the capacity to convince ourselves of anything. This capacity can be projected upon the perception of others. Just try to be aware of this! Extend this idea to politics, to the media, to everything you have ever learned! Why does human nature gravitate towards habit and tend to fear change? Why do zombies love fireworks? If modern science concluded that the universe is completely holographic in nature could you believe this? Only by unlearning and realizing how much we don't know, can we peer through doorways to "knowledge." Question everything and when your world is turned upside down, give it a spin! Once you are swept away in an infinite universe you may just find that you are closer to home than ever before.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free expression in a winter wonderland

Merry Christmas - from a secular progressive
Happy Holidays - from the department stores.

As the nights grow to the longest of the year in the northern hemisphere I come back to this film year after year and take away some new "positive magic." The right to speak freely also entails an obligation to listen freely. Progress is not achieved through ideological "wars" where one idea is diametrically opposed to another, where foes are demonized and enemy lines are not to be crossed. It comes through the raising of a common consciousness, a common sense.

A book of the same name has also affected me and perhaps made me more receptive to the message in this Jimmy Stewart classic. In the fall of 2007 a "young earth" physicist named Dr. D. Russell Humphreys spoke at Colorado State University. He spent two hours in front of a podium explaining that the observed rate at which helium atoms leaked from zirconium crystal collected from a salt mine in New Mexico indicated the earth was only about 10,000 years old. When I asked the man how humans could observe stars that were more than 10,000 light years away and sometimes even millions of light-years away his response was not scientific at all. He explained that during Genesis and the "great flood" God sped up the space-time continuum to bring the light beams to our eyeballs... After the seminar I left the auditorium in shock and disbelief that this man was paid to speak at a university, then I realized why it was worth it. In the lobby I was surrounded by the student group who invited him and engaged in a two hours long discussion about the age of earth and evolution. I described to them the progression of life as evidenced in the soft bodied fossils in the Burgess shale in British Columbia. I told them how this showcase of evolution and evolutionary timescales was eloquently described by Stephen Jay Gould in his award winning book "Wonderful Life." They had never heard of the Burgess shale and I think I piqued their interest and maybe a few students followed up on investigating this evidence on their own. Even though I was initially shocked that the university would allow such a seminar to be commissioned on campus I eventually realized the beauty of it all. The ensuing conversation between 20+ creationists and myself would never have taken place had this seminar not happened. Free speech is like white light, shining in all directions. Ideas like "life is a wonderful thing" have the power to reign in the poles in the culture wars, forcing us to acknowledge one another and move forward together.
Merry Christmas,
from TPG

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Return the House of Representatives to the People!?

435 "politicians" can NOT faithfully represent a population of 305,000,000 US citizens. This is the stance maintained by thirty-thousand.org. ThirtyThousand.org is a non-partisan and non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to representative democracy in the United States of America and argues that the number of representatives in the House must be increased substantially. I recommend that all US citizens read the short list of questions and arguments at the link above. ThirtyThousand.org introduces their arguments with respect to the intentions of the framers of the constitution and the bill of rights. While I am a proponent of understanding, learning from and considering the intentions of our founding fathers, I am also a proponent of progressive and dynamic government. It is impossible that our founding fathers could have foreseen all the issues that the United States of America has since and will yet come to face. Fortunately, our founding fathers had the foresight to bestow an inherent ability to amend the constitution upon the citizenry. The nature of viability and of life itself is that of change and of growth. That which becomes static and ceases to grow wanes towards death! Notwithstanding, the government of The United States of America. For this reason, I find the arguments and suggestions for improvement at ThirtyThousand.org stimulating. I would like to draw particular attention to the discussion of questions 6, 7, 9 and 10. The citizens of the United States of America should not and can not assume that any aspect of it's government does not necessitate improvement nor that any element is immutable!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Steve Chu, our new energy guru

I first encountered Dr. Steven Chu's visage on the internet last spring while preparing a presentation explaining optical trapping. Dr. Chu's work involving the manipulation of single atoms and molecules earned him the Nobel prize in physics in 1997. As a professor of molecular and cellular biology Dr. Chu has a uniquely biological perspective into the realm of alternative energies. This perspective is traditionally lacking in heavyweight energy politicians. His leadership skills, honed as director of the Lawrence Berkley National labs, also positions him well to take charge at the DOE. Despite all these positive aspects Dr. Chu has drawn fire from some blogs and news agencies for his involvement with negotiating the largest oil-company/academic-institution partnership in history. Mother Jones reports about the formation of "the $500 million Energy Biosciences Institute, to conduct biofuels research. The proposal sparked fierce opposition from faculty and students at the University of California-Berkeley, which will host the institute. Biology professor Ignacio Chapela called the partnership the 'coup de grace to the very idea of a university that can represent the best interest of the public.'"

Ignacio Chapela is a vocal genetics professor at Berkley who gained authority in the anti-GMO movement with his studies on corn genes that had been modified by scientists found freely migrating into wild corn (tiosinte) in Mexico. He appears in the documentary the Future of Food describing his research and explaining his position on GMOs. Of course these criticisms should be investigated, but I must say, Steven Chu should not be written off as someone who is owned by the corporations! Of all the oil companies British Pertolium has been cited time and time again as the most environmentally conscious. The Sierra Club reports that BP is the least of all evils when it comes to filling your gas tank. A global approach to remediating climate change will require cooperation and regulation of the multinational companies not an all out boycott. A revolution from within the system is required to change the energy infrastructure of the United States. Even the giants can tell which way the wind blows. Besides, any scientist that can quote Faulkner can not be all bad.

I am using this post as an excuse to experiment with embedding a power point presentation. Below is the presentation explaining single molecule optical trapping using focused laser beams. The drawback is that you can not see the animations. If you have problems viewing the ppt please comment. We at TPG hope you like the recent header upgrade. Expect more upgrades over the coming weeks.
Optical Tweezersv2

Transparency Disclaimer: My sister in-law worked for BP for about 5 years in early 00's. She is an adamant environmentalist/conservationist/lover of nature and had nothing but good things to say about this company.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mr. O'Reilly's head explodes during conversation with intelligent woman.

"Everyone, all the crazies, come and comment."
~Megyn Kelly

In O'Reilly's head the atheist's message is "hateful" and therefore should be censored as violating the decorum standards set by the state of Washington. This is an Opinion. Celebrating the birth of a child conceived after a ghost impregnated a betrothed virgin could also be considered hateful. The wall of separations allows every single person the right to their opinion. Mr. O'Reilly toils to bring that wall down while reaping his fortune because of its very existence.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mayan Calendar 2012

Such a strange universe I find myself in today. Or is it the other way around? Oft confused as to which is being mirrored. Never mind that. Forget about all coincidence you should happen upon as well. What is intuition anyway? The other day I found myself sitting on a rock in the desert. No big deal really, except that I time traveled. Have you ever forgotten who you are and where you are? Even if just for a moment... perhaps you can't remember? I guess if you didn't remember that you forgot, well then you would not have forgotten in the first place. Crazy talk. Sitting there on this rock, I recalled something that died in me, years ago in another desert. Me. The linear concept of time existing independent of ourselves is a misleading fabrication. More accurately, we are time. Right then and there in the desert, I died again. Of course, I realized that the only reason I knew this death was because there was rebirth. Literally, not symbolically. Or wait, am I switched around again? Hmmm... I certainly knew this before. Within our lifetimes we will all die many times, in passage and in evolution, in change and in growth. Everything is manifest through cycles. Cycles within cycles, cycles begetting cycles. From the microscopic, to the outer reaches of the universe, we observe cycles.

This brings me to the Mesoamerican long count calendar (aka the Mayan calendar). Although NASA has predicted that an upcoming peak in the solar cycle "around" this time "could" have a "significant" impact on telecommunications, air traffic, power grids and GPS systems, 2012 doomsday prophecies are misconstrued. The Mayan calendar doesn't really end on December 21, 2012 as it is often said. It cycles! Just like the Gregorian calendar. Doomsday prophecy based on the Mayan calendar “ending” is equivalent to predicting the end of the world every December 31, based on the end the Gregorian calendar. The Mayan calender will reach on December 21, 2012. This will mark the end of the thirteenth b'ak'tun and the start of another series of b'ak'tuns (1 b'ak'tun = 144,000 days). Mayan culture is amazing and fascinating. Perhaps there are many lessons to be learned from the Maya. We have drifted very far from nature and its cyclic and renewable tendencies. We should view December 21, 2012 as a symbol of cyclic transformation and as a sign to realign ourselves with our planet and sustainable living practices!
 We should look towards 2012 with a mind to initiate cyclic transformation of ourselves and of all human action on earth.

The reiterated theme, cycling. Yes, we should all be thinking about riding bicycles, but I really mean to point to the nature of cycles or I mean the cycles of nature. Chapter 14 of the Tao Te Ching reads, "Approach it and you will not see a beginning; follow it and there will be no end."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Solzhenitsyn, Happiness, and the "Free" Market

"One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to."
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This sentiment has been ringing in my ears since hearing it on the Writers Almanac this morning.
Can we not define happiness as the feeling affection for each other generates?
Liberty - Liberal - Sovereignty - Freedom - all defined as we go, why not happiness?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

John Milton and 400 candles

Happy Quadracentennial to John Milton, a champion of free expression and clarifier of self evident truths, born this day 9th December 1608. If Thomas Paine had authored a blog he may have called it "John Milton's Ghost." Enjoy an excerpt from Milton's "Lycidas" a woeful tale of a shepherd's friend drowned in the Irish sea which also predicts the demise of a corrupted clergy. The reading of these lines brings visions of artifacts from pre-christian times reaching up to earth with moss covered limbs to receive the dead in shrouded folds of forgotten history.

But O the heavy change, now thou art gon,
Now thou art gon, and never must return!
Thee Shepherd, thee the Woods, and desert Caves,
With wilde Thyme and the gadding Vine o'regrown,
And all their echoes mourn.
The Willows, and the Hazle Copses green,
Shall now no more be seen,
Fanning their joyous Leaves to thy soft layes.
As killing as the Canker to the Rose,
Or Taint-worm to the weanling Herds that graze,
Or Frost to Flowers, that their gay wardrop wear,
When first the White thorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to Shepherds ear.

Where were ye Nymphs when the remorseless deep
Clos'd o're the head of your lov'd Lycidas?
For neither were ye playing on the steep,
Where your old Bards, the famous Druids ly,
Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,
Nor yet where Deva spreads her wisard stream:
Ay me, I fondly dream!
Had ye bin there — for what could that have don?
What could the Muse her self that Orpheus bore,
The Muse her self, for her inchanting son
Whom Universal nature did lament,
When by the rout that made the hideous roar,
His goary visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore.

For the entire poem and very helpful definitions and explanations of the text visit this site.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Celebration - Hyperrealism

By Kristopher Hite

Free expression through sculpture. I wanted to write a tirade today about how much I loathe the work of Mark Rothko but instead decided to accentuate the positive with a tip of the hat to a relatively new realm of art - hyperrealism. My first encounter with this style was at an actual art gallery in Akron, Ohio. I turned around the corner after scratching my head in front of some post-modern canvas splats into a clean white-walled gallery where I was startled at the sight of a naked giant sitting in the corner. This was part of a traveling exhibit by the Australian sculptor Ron Mueck. He uses silicone and fiberglass along with paint and polyesters applied directly to cast molds of the human form. This creates an effect that surpasses reality in fooling the observer into thinking the piece has a heartbeat, bluish veins and all. By constructing the works on anomalous scales from the very large to the very small the impressive effects of these works are amplified. It was not shocking for me to learn that Mr. Mueck had worked with Jim Henson, specifically collaborating on The Labyrinth and the Story Teller series with John Hurt, as the later had a lasting impression on my imagination as a child. Trolling the web for the antithesis of Rothko I came across the works of another hyperrealist worth noting, especially considering the slant of her subject matter. Patricia Piccinini has a new exhibit at the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Sydney, Australia. Along with Mueck's brand of stark realism, she injects a healthy dose of organic philosophy into her sculptures. She forces the observer into an uncomfortable state while captivating attention with the painstaking detail. Her interest in the areas of bioethics and the environment show themselves to the observer through the human spirit buried within her monstrosities. Artists and artists like this seem to be ushering in an era of real post-post-modernism. Gone are the easy days of slapping some inky utensil around on a surface and asking the world to think about it. To do what these artists do a great deal of training and practice is necessary. This gives the artist's class a renewed respect as focused innovators rather than frizzled drug addicts, while still maintaining a radical voice in abstraction!

The work of Patricia Piccinini brings the philosophical/scientific ven diagram into focus. If we have the ability to do something new, should we? or would it result in something ghastly? This question was recently asked in Slate about cloning Neandretals and has been the topic of debate since the publication of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. No one knows the answer, and if they think they do then our species should just stop thinking so hard and take our place in the geologic record. Jurassic Park was on television last week and all I could think about was how much respect I had lost for Michael Crichton when I read State of Fear. This book is a fictional account of envronmentalists/terrorists who attempt to fool the world into believing in global warming by orchestrating storms and laser induced sea level rising. I lost even more respect when I heard he met George w. Bush in 2005 to council him on the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." When Jurassic Park came out in theaters I was too young to appreciate reading and I ate that movie up, every bit of it. The animatronics, the acting, the story, I loved it all. What I was not aware of was the ripples of philosophical fear a story like this would send through the consciousness of the general populous. "Scientists will destroy humanity with their insatiable fervor and lust for power and control over god's creation!" Michael Crichton may be in Mensa but he knows not what he does. He erodes the promise of the enlightenment and the general consensus that the United States was founded on. The idea that improvement of the human condition is perpetually possible. He would relegate us to a happy status quo where complacency is celebrated. A world where the scientific method is distrusted is a world where children can be denied vaccines and denied exposure to the education required for them to contribute to progress. Laws can not change the conscience of the people, but voices, keyboards, and pens can.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Proposition 8 - The Musical

Jack Black sings "Besides, your nation was built on separation of church and state." Read the letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1802 that coins the phrase "wall of separation" providing a keystone for the supreme court when interpretting the establishment clause of the first amendment.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sustainable Toys for Girls and Boys

In 1509 Leonardo Da Vinci constructed one of the first wind-up toys in recoded history, a moving lion made as a greeting muse for Louis XII. Taking an old idea and placing it in a newly appreciated context has helped Sprig, a toy company, launch a craze for their particular brand of children's toys. The toys light up and play back audio, but only when they are powered by the user through the action of the wheels. The little faceless people that come with the sets have little USB ports so they can "tell their story" when plugged in to any of the vehicles. The electricity is stored in capacitors to the delight of Dr. Faraday.

My question is; when will we see large scale toys that utilize capacitors for adults. I know that the pump action flashlight and other small scale hand crank electronic goods are out there, but I am talking about the stationary bikes that power whole cafés. Like the retro 80's Pepsi bar we were promised by Steven Spielberg in Back to the Future II. Where is all the human powered technology? While we are on the topic of human powered things, I want to describe a simple science experiment that had a big impact on how I look at compact fluorescent bulbs. I saw this on "little shop of physics" a show on public access cable here in Fort Collins with host Brian Jones, a physics professor at CSU. He was using a dual hand crank (think bike pedals) to charge a capacitor that then provided electricity to bulbs with decreasing Watt requirements. Beginning with the 150 watt bulb it took 30-45 seconds of rigorous cranking to get the bulb to flicker. As he moved down the line the 100W bulb took about 20 seconds and the 50W took 15. Then he switched the electrodes to a fluorescent bulb and ONE crank lit the bulb at full brightness for about 5 seconds. When you walk through your living room aglow in the middle of a long winter's night then think about all the people cranking it would take to power the old bulbs compared to the fluorescent, it makes the switch to CFL's mean something. Since I switched to these I have had a few stop working. This is not good as each bulb contains some mercury. The concern over mercury in these bulbs is a valid one, but if you live near a participating ACE hardware store you can recycle them there.

Disclosure statement:
I am not selling toys, I have no affiliation with Sprig Toys other than living in Fort Collins, CO where they are headquartered.

Read more about Sprig toys here, here, and here.

Different Drummer Workshop is another manufacturer of lead-free alternative toys beautiful in their simplicity.