Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Arizona Immigration Law

This past weekend I attended a birthday party at City Park in Fort Collins.  Families from all walks of life had set up BBQ's all around the covered picnic tables and grills maintained by the City of Fort Collins. After we had finished grilling up our burgers, hot dogs, turkey dogs, and smart dogs the coals were still burning bright. A family man eager to get his BBQ chicken on the grill was patiently waiting for our spot. We told him to jump on our grill as it was all ready and we were done. This man was large, smiley, and very talkative. He was proud to say he was Native American and eager to ask our opinion on the new immigration bill that had just past last week in Arizona. Honestly I had not heard the details of the bill. As he described how the State of Arizona would begin to check "reasonably suspicious" persons for their documents proving legitimate residency, I agreed with him that this is patently draconian and - as he put it - Gestapo-like. He went on to say however that he is in favor of cracking down on immigrants who take advantage of the system and said that he knew of several cases in which Mexican women came to Colorado having several children, and collecting food stamps, (this I see nothing wrong with) BUT, the problem arises when the father of the children gets a job doing construction in the US somewhere and sends back large sums of money to his wife completely tax-free. This is a classic case of double dipping and it is not just illegal immigrants who participate in this kind of thievery. I was proud to share space with such a wise man. A man willing to talk about the issue without seeing just one side. I agree with him on many planes. Yes these Arizona laws are gestapo-like, barbaric, and divisive, But, how can we help all people become more socially responsible and cooperate via useful democracy, rather than hiding-out. Fear, I think has a lot to do with it. Because American law-makers have been so unwelcomeing to immigrants from Mexico they have fostered a climate of resentment, fear, and frustration, where people act, not at the round table of democracy, but hiding in the wings taking what they can to survive. It brings shame to me that a country where my ancestors could freely come, prosper, AND PARTICIPATE, seems like such a far-fetched idea for modern immigrants. We are after all a nation of immigrants!

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why I don't watch television

This beautiful Sunday morning as I ate my breakfast and sipped coffee I thought I would do something different and turn on my television. I pay for the service through Comcast (mainly so I can get high speed internet) so I thought I'd use it for a change. The first thing that came on was a televangelist telling me to "sew my financial seed of $1,000 - Pick up up the phone! If you are involved in a real estate transaction God will favor you if you plant your seed of $1,000 today!" Then the schmuck went on to tell a story of a woman who was trying to refinance her house for 3 years and suddenly, when she pleaded with her husband to "plant their seed of $1,000" to this particular T.V. preacher the bank magically called within 24 hours and told her she could refinance. What a crock of shit!

If that was not bad enough, when I flipped the channel on came Kevin Trudeau - certified snake oil salesman, back on the airways selling his lies. My father, bless his heart, actually bought this freaking book - Natural Cures THEY Don't Want You to Know About and gave a copy to me. YUCK! This was years ago and, in retrospect, I am oddly thankful for the lesson because this kind of quackery is the whole reason I went into science. I am a scientist not a medical doctor, I do not work for a drug company I am not part of this proverbial THEY. I am a skeptic and a free thinker and when I see old people being swindled out of their savings by charlatans like Kevin Trudeau, or Tammy Faye i get MAD! For years my father has subscribed to a "newsletter" from Dr. Julian Whitaker, the only difference between him and Kevin is that he has refrained from the kind of brazen showmanship Kevin has engaged in, which has kept him from being thrown in jail like Treaudeu. Here is Jon Stossel of 20/20 telling the story of this robber. This clip was made in 2007 - now in 2010 this guy is STILL spouting his false message all over the airways, still suckering the paranoid elderly and sick into buying his lies. It is a catch-22 for me here as I am all for free speech, but preying on the vulnerable, preying on the sick and elderly is WRONG! On this Sunday morning I have had my rejuvenation. I am inspired to use MY free speech to combat idiots like Kevin Trudeau. I challenge him to hold himself to the same basic standards as the "greedy" drug companies and funnel  at least some of the millions he makes back into actually researching his claims. That is a lot more difficult than buying more airtime and pretending you are on CNN to sell dead trees printed with false hope and lies. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Free Speech: South Park Censored

This story has a special place in my heart as it echoes the origin story of Tom Paine's Ghost. Since Comedy Central will be bleeping it out let me reiterate Jon's eloquent language. "To anyone who is threatening death in the name of religion or politics... GO FUCK YOURSELF"

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Post with the Most: the entries so far

The 2010 Post with the Most blogging contest continues. So far there have been 9 entries submitted. If you write, read, paint, or perform in any way this is an opportunity to showcase your work. Contests like these  help connect and expose you to others interested in pushing citizen generated content into a rich new context. The contest has received some encouraging support from elsewhere in the blogosphere, including Abbas at 3QD and Bora at a blog around the clock.

Here are the entries so far...

Interview with Joanne Manaster by Bora Zivkovic
Four Green Technologies That Could Change The World by Beth Buczynski
Green Years' Resolution by Steffany Boldrini
The Powerful Healing Power of Affirmations by Rena Reese
You'll either get this or you won't by Ivor Tymchak
Monday Musing: the greatest of all time by Abbas Raza
A Natural History of my instrument: by Alicia Jo Rabins
A Natural History of My Mishearing: by Ed Skoog
Natural Histories Project: by Sean Hill
Please submit your own entry by posting a link in the comments below. For more details on the criteria for posts visit the original competition announcement here. In a nutshell, we are looking for entries using at least 3 different forms of media. These forms include, but are not limited to - text, static images, audio, video, and any other medium, even those not yet known to the world.

Thank you for visiting,
may your day be filled with free thought.

Competition brought to you by - Chico bags - reusable compact shopping bags via Aidel's Vice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I get e-mail too!

T. G. Dobzhansky, a prominant evolutionary biologist once said...

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" 

Recently, I received a request from a Tom Paine's Ghost reader to answer some questions about public perceptions of evolution. The questions, along with my responses follow.

Reader: How is evolution relevant to the lives of everyday people?

TPG: I will here talk about medicine, childhood obesity, and sex.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe first topic that springs to mind when I think about this question is antibiotics. Most people reading this will have, at one point in their life, been prescribed an antibiotic. The more people understand evolution the more likely they'll be to use medicine in a more effective manner. Rather than a doctor saying "take these pills twice a day everyday because I TOLD YOU SO" people who understand the underlying REASON they should take their entire course of prescribed medication will be more likely to do so. This in turn leads to a more aware and educated public who have the concerns of both society AND themselves in mind as they make health care decisions.

For people already fearful of pharmaceutical companies and medical doctors, it might be easy to misinterpret what I just said in the last few sentences to mean this..."understanding evolution will help people take more antibiotics"  THAT IS NOT WHAT I AM SAYING. If fact, understanding evolution, and specifically the rapid evolution of asexual, gene swapping bacteria would make a person less likely to go ask for an antibiotic straight away.  BUT, in the case that an antibiotic is in fact needed, that person would be more likely to use that medicine in a more effective manner. 

Understanding evolution by natural selection does not mean individuals must succumb to the brutality of nature. Quite the opposite is true.  Understanding evolution gives us the ability to reason our way out of the stone age and into an ever-updated age of enlightenment.

The next topic that comes to mind is obesity.  Obesity is becoming a worldwide epidemic. It has become such a rampant scourge that children born in the United States today will be the first generation of Americans whose life expectancy will actually be shorter than their parents’ life expectancy. This is the first time mortality rate will have gone up since the industrial revolution.  As the gap between third and first world narrows more and more people become obese. The reasons starving people still exist on earth is another topic based in politics an economics, and one Frances Moore Lappe addresses quite well. But here I am focused on evolution literally going haywire when it comes to the pre-loaded sweetness software that comes standard with nearly all homo sapiens operating systems.     Why does simple sugar taste "good" or sweet - to most people? In the context of evolution this question has an answer.  Sweet foods taste sweet because they have a lot of calories.  Organisms that had an intrinsic desire to taste sweet things could survive and reproduce. Those unable and perhaps unwilling to seek out the nutrition they needed went extinct and therefore most humans now like the taste of sweet things. Why is fruit sweet and crushed seed bitter?  For that answer one must take the evolutionary perspective of the plant in question. The plant wants It is beneficial for the mother plant if the seeds are transported, therefore incentive has evolved for hungry animals to ingest the seed. The incentive being a coating of sugary goodness - the fleshy part of most fruit. But if that animal happened to have the unfortunate accident of being born with a stomach enzyme that would destroy the seed's hard shell, then that animal would probably not live to pass its faulty genes on to the next generation.  This is so because many plants have evolved to contain toxins in their seeds (IE apple seeds have cyanide inside them). This makes sense, because if every time an animal ate the fruit from a plant it destroyed the seeds, then that plant would not survive to prosper on down through the generations. But, if the plant had these toxins it would assure that only friendly animal stomachs transported their seeds to new planting grounds. Going back to obesity, the problem of rampant obesity arises in many cultures because calories become so easy to get and in such massive quantities that this, once useful, survival mechanism turns into a health hazard. 

Though there are many more human-centered topics an understanding of evolution would help us cope with I'll limit myself to three. The last being sex.  I said before that understanding evolution does not mean we must all succumb to the brutality of nature.  This is a funny argument in the daunting topic of human sexual interactions.  As gross as this rhyme sounds, the "urge to merge" as my father so disgustingly put human inclination towards sex,  is known to be built into the wiring of most human brains.  Why do humans desire sex? Why do men cheat on their wives? Why do women cheat on their husbands? Why do people stay faithful to one another? - I'm not arguing that a cheating man or woman can plead - "evolution made me do it" but I am saying that evolution - "survival" - does play a big role.  Just like humans have learned that eating food off the ground is not very healthy or safe, we've also learned that sleeping around is not very healthy or safe. Though evolution might make our brains want sex our reasoning brains tell us no (most of the time), or at least give us the insight to use birth control of some sort.  There are several methods society uses to try and curb rampant sexual hedonism. Religions try by bringing in fear of eternal damnation, but understanding evolution gives a less fear-mongering lesson in why the monogamous mating strategy might be a good idea.  Here I will digress a bit into my observations of society. I acknowledge that classic nuclear families (where man and wife stay together for their entire lives) do exist and I am happy to see those scenarios, but I also observe that it the real world many couples split even after having children.  I'm not making a value judgment here but I am saying that society might become less judgmental of alternative family structures if the tendencies and behaviors built into all organisms were understood and appreciated more widely. 

Reader: Is evolution important for the public to understand? If so, why?

TPG: In my opinion, yes, it is extremely important for the public to understand evolution. I think this because of the atrocities history has seen come out of the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of evolution, namely world war II and the holocaust. A most egregious misinterpretation of evolution is the fallacy that evolution has a goal. There is no such thing as "highly evolved" only highly adapted. People have, since the publication of On the Origin of Species tended to take the human-centered view intrinsic to most religious belief systems and apply it to the understanding of evolution. This type of misplaced certainty lead to the eugenics movement - technology misapplied in the most horrific way imaginable.  The observation that organisms evolve via natural selection because of descent with modification does not mean humans are at the top of some scheme to get to an evolutionary apex. With this more sophisticated understanding of evolution one can easily see that some bacteria are far more adapted to their environments when compared to homo sapiens.  In terms of survivability  some extremeophile bacteria are  far more likely to survive an extinction level event such as the disaster that lead to the annihilation of the dinosaurs.

It has taken hundreds of years for the concept that earth is NOT the center of the universe to be accepted. So the relatively nascent notion of evolution by natural selection (and its blind eye to human accomplishments) is only beginning to be comprehended and appreciated by the global population here in the year 2010. Sadly, in the United States acceptance of evolution is disturbingly low and could be playing a role in our rapidly declining position in the world regarding science math and engineering skills.  Even more sad is the fact that leadership at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a members of the National Science Board (NSB) - do NOT think data collected about the public understanding of evolution are real "indicators" of our national average understanding of  science in general. 

Reader: Natural selection, or survival of the fittest as Herbert Spencer coined it, is often thought of as a ruthless force where the strong survive and the weak are left to die. Can natural selection favor qualities like cooperation and altruism, as Dawkins and others have proposed?

TPG: Of course evolution can favor cooperation and altruism. I use the fact that these characteristics exist at all to prove that evolution CAN favor them. These concepts can be further refined and understood as "reciprocal altruism"   Here I refer to the later chapters of Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins does a nice job using game theory to explain how reciprocal altruism beats out other strategies and becomes a sustainable system with all other factors remaining the same, food supply, territory, etc. etc.  But I will repeat myself.. Understanding evolution by natural selection does not mean individuals must succumb to the brutality of nature, quite the opposite is true. 

Reader: What is the relationship between evolutionary theory and the origin of life? Are they separate fields and topics, or is there relevant overlap?

TPG: In short, I see no overlap between these two areas of study. In my understanding, the process of evolution and abiogenisis (literally the origin of the first life form) have nothing to do with one another. From logic this is easy to see.  Put it like this - if there is a rule like 1+1 = 2  was that rule true before any person ever existed to think of the number 1 in the first place?  It's like that.  The concept and rules of evolution are true no matter if we were having this conversation 4.5 billion years ago or two days from now.  Observing how evolution works that is biology, that is chemistry, that is geology etc etc.

Miller, J. (2006). SCIENCE COMMUNICATION: Public Acceptance of Evolution Science, 313 (5788), 765-766 DOI: 10.1126/science.1126746

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hey Colorado: Stop Backdoor Taxation!

by Kristopher Hite

Though this blog has brought me a lot of good things - Publication, Publicity, and (perceived) Participation in democracy - one thing it has never brought me is money. This is a fact I'm totally OK with because I love writing and posting my thoughts here.  Lord knows I've tried to monetize this site in the past. But never once have I received a paycheck from any affiliate program in which I've enrolled: Amazon, Adsense, Powell's Books, Share-a-sale etc.

But now, even if I did have a breakthrough insight that rocked the internet and was dugg, facebooked, and tweeted all over the planet I would not be able to make a dime because the State of Colorado has decided to continue their campaign of backdoor taxation.  Rather than just being honest with people and saying

"Hey Colorado residents, there are more of you now and y'all need more things like roads, schools, fire departments etc.  Therefore, we need to increase your taxes a smidge."

NO, the state does not do this, they just keep adding on all these taxes to the little things that everyday people get hit with the hardest.  Example:  car registration.  It costs me over $100 to register my car here every 12 months.  In New York, where I grew up, you paid $60 every 3 years.  Sure the State of Colorado appears to be light on taxation (Property tax is 7-10 times lower here than in New York) but in reality the backdoor tax practices the state uses hurts lower and middle class people DISPROPORTIONATELY. 

So why I'm I complaining about this here?  Here is a copy of the e-mail I just received from Powell's Books telling my that my Powell's Partnership is terminated because of Colorado's new tax law.

"Dear Powell's Partner:

It is with great regret that we are terminating your participation in the Powell's Book, Inc. Partnership Program. We are doing this because the recent change to Colorado's tax code - HB 10-1193 - is too burdensome to continue to profitably work with our Colorado-based partners.

These new sales tax regulations do not require Powell's Books to collect sales tax. Rather they mandate that we send a letter to all Colorado residents who purchase from or our partners informing them of their sales tax obligation. Likewise, the law requires to send a similar letter to the state of Colorado informing the state of the tax burden of each Colorado resident who is a or partner customer. The complication and expense of performing these actions makes participation with our Colorado partners unprofitable for a business of our size.

We encourage you to contact your elected officials to encourage them to repeal this regulation. If Colorado repeals the law or changes it to allow online retailers to collect sales tax in a way that is not so burdensome, we will happily reinstate you into our Partnership Program.

Your account has been closed as of April 2, 2010, and we will no longer pay commissions for customers you refer to after that date. All qualifying commissions earned prior to April 2, 2010, will be processed and a check will be sent to you in accordance with our regular payment schedule. Based on your account closure date of April 2, any final payments will be paid by April 30, 2010.

Thank you for participating in the Powell's Partnership Program. If regulations change in the state of Colorado, we hope to do business with you again.


The Powell's Partnership Program Team"

See all the little book covers on the right sidebar of this page?  Those used to link to the Powell's sites selling each book, if a web surfer was to buy a book from Powell's after clicking on one of those images I would have received a 7% commission. No more.

So what, who cares, why are you still reading this?

BECAUSE these backdoor taxes hurt low income people and simply benefit the wealthy content guardians of dead-tree yesteryear.  Historical power centers have remained and stagnated into stinking corruption  for centuries because those in power, without fail, end up taxing those who can not afford to defend themselves. Well with the light of the internet, my keyboard and fingers, I hold a giant middle finger up at the law makers that passed HB 10-1193.  As my Grandmother would say, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME on YOU!