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Archive for November 2011

the simple argument: we need water.

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Sometimes the most important way to understand a problem is also the simplest. In that light, here’s a problem. The world has a fixed water supply and we are not using it well. The availability of clean water is becoming more and more limited for many reasons, of which a major part is energy use. Make the problem simple:

The greatest use of freshwater in the U.S. is to cool electric power plants, comprising 41 percent of the total. Most is withdrawn from lakes and rivers. Of today’s two main power production options — coal and gas — gas uses less than half the water, emits almost no air pollution, and releases less than half the carbon dioxide of coal. Wind power, which is expanding quickly across the U.S., uses no water and produces no emissions.  By reducing demand, energy efficiency also cuts water use and CO2 emissions.

That’s a problem, and it cannot be argued. It is complicated severely by the reality of climate change. But even if one does not accept climate science, this is still a major, global, human, environmental and social problem. Providing water for the current human population, let alone the generations that will (hopefully) thrive on the planet for next several millenia, requires actual changes at every level, including moving toward energy sources that are not water intensive, i.e. coal, nuclear, and gas.

This is as simple as environmental concern can get: We need water.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 30, 2011 at 12:06

Tim Pawlenty, Not Important

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Here in Minnesota, we don’t mind keeping a low profile. It’s kind of our way. But there are limits to how low a profile we prefer. To wit: GQ has named former MN Governor and once GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty as 2011’s least influential person alive. Says GQ about T-Paw:

Every election season produces a number of hilariously pointless candidates who have no chance of winning. Some of them have value as novelty items. Look! It’s Alan Keyes, the token black Republican! And over there! It’s David Duke! He’s a racist! These are the fun, fringy candidates. The Sharpton Sector, if you will. Then there are folks like Pawlenty, who fail to register even as novelties. T-Paw (as he calls himself) spent much of 2011 as a six-foot-tall paperweight, an aggressively forgettable fellow perfectly suited to the role of debate filler. The $1 million he spent to lose the Iowa straw poll might as well have been burned in front of a group of orphans.

To be perfectly honest, this isn’t a terrible position for a politician to be in, this November 2011, gearing up for the political madhouse that will be 2012. Not that, given another cycle, Pawlenty could have mustered anything other than that general ‘that guy?’

Others who made the list include: Hosni Mubarek, January Jones, Hank Williams, Jr, Harold Camping, Paul Reiser, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tila Tequila’s Twitter feed, Marcus Bachmann (blech), you get the picture. Quite a distinguished list of non-accomplishment, there.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 29, 2011 at 14:17

Posted in Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty

Why the Internet is awesome: Rhys Morgan and the Burzynski Clinic

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Sometimes I hate the internet. Some days, it’s just a space filled with nonsense and bilge.

And then there are days like today, where you do a quick morning round up, and end up learning something new and being inspired. That happened to me this morning, when I found a courageous young man standing up for sound science. It is a worthy story, and I thought I’d share the path.

On the morning blog routine is Bad Astronomer, where I read the post “‘Alternative’ cancer clinic threatens to sue high school blogger.” The story is about a 17-year old British high-school student named Rhys Morgan. Morgan suffers from Crohn’ Disease, and keeps a blog about his life, health, and treatment, among other things. One of those things is the Burzynski Clinic, a cancer treatment center in Texas that apparently offers very expensive cancer treatments that are not based on sound medical research. I’d never heard of it.

So Morgan posted about this place. He wrote a post in August titled The Burzynski Clinic, and cataloged the criticisms of the treatment, called antineoplaston treatment. Among them are: it has been in clinical trials for 30+ years, has no FDA approved treatments, and has been called “scientific nonsense” by the Allegheny Cancer Center in Pennsylvania. Morgan also points out the tragedy of taking money from desperate people in need of hope, even as he understands that attacking the Clinic could take away more hope. It’s an excellent piece, handling sensitive but critically important issues, written by a young man who can speak to the difficulty of illness.

Needless to say, this was not taken to kindly by the Burzynski Clinic. As Rhys Morgan chronicles in his latest post, Threats from the Burzynski Clinic. Read that one. It’s long, but worth it. In it, Morgan copies the exchanges between himself and a representative of the clinic, who is threatening to sue Morgan for libel.  The exchange is remarkable if for no other reason than the tactics. It begins with a cease-and-desist and ends with the clinic’s threats attached to a photo of Morgan’s home from Google Maps.The ‘lawyer’ acts as though he is God, and that any opposition, especially from a high-school student, deserves to be ridiculed, bullied, and belittled.

But still, this is a threat of legal action, from a successful, if scientifically sketchy, cancer clinic. I was actually inspired (something that doesn’t happen often on the internet) by reading the back and forth. Morgan holds his ground, acts responsibly, and stands up for science and the law. Kudos to this young man, and shame on the Burzynski Clinic for their bullying, brutish behavior.

As a final note to the greatness of the inter-webs, I googled this story to see what else there was to read about Rhys Morgan. I found this story by BoingBoing, where they discuss other threatening claims from the clinic.

The BoingBoing article ends with a warning to the Clinic about an online feedback loop in which any attempt to remove content from the internet only generates publicity, and leads to the explosive reproduction, sharing and the spread of that content. Today, TRC and all the others picking up this story are proof that it works.

The effect is named after Barbara Streisand, who attempted to have a photo of her home removed from the internet. To show the true impact of this loop, there is a wikipedia page titled: the Streisand Effect. It features prominently the photo of Barbara Streisand’s home.

*NOTE: I’m not particularly interested in people’s opinions on alternative medicine. Like anti-vax and other scientific ‘controversies’, it’s an argument that cannot move in any direction, and thus is not particularly enlightening. Please save your anecdotes for another blog.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 29, 2011 at 11:33

another affirmation of the I: The Catholic Church changes the Nicene Creed

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I have long been a supporter, for my part, of the Catholic Church. At least, symbolically. The Church is The Church, and has represented the best and the worst of Western Humanity.  And though I am no believer, I take heart and put stock in much of the Christian Church. Maybe that’s why I have been so critical of it lately; I just can’t thrust it off completely. Merton has left a footprint deep in my soul. But it’s getting pretty close.

Last night, I heard the story of how the Catholic Church unrolled its linguistic changes to the Mass. The language we use to express our beliefs, religious or not, is of the utmost importance. We communicate through the tools we have, and changes from the Vatican handed down to the Catholic body should be taken seriously by that body. (see all the changes here)

But I’m not Catholic, and most of these changes are of no interest to me. I do not care, for example, if during the Penitential Act, the words “Lord, show us your mercy and love” are changed to “Show us, O Lord, your mercy.” There is one change made, though, that seems highly significant. And, to me, as someone who looks back fondly to the Church at times, is very sad.

The word “We” has been removed from the Nicene Creed and supplanted with the dreaded word: “I”. Thus it is that We no longer believe in One God, the Father, Almighty. Now, rather, I believe in One God, the Father Almighty. It just doesn’t mean the same thing.

We is what Church is, isn’t it? It is what the Church meant for me, anyway. In a real way, does not the gathering of the congregation mean We? Does not speaking out loud, together, mean We affirm as one, together, that which we believe? It is We that held me tightly to church for many years, well beyond the point when the content lost its importance. And it is the We that makes me, in those times that I do, miss it.

I’m sure there are arguments for why this occurred, and if I were to have this out with someone within the Church there are probably myriad reasons to support the change. But as on-looker, as an outsider, I don’t know those reasons. And to individuals who made such choices my little response is inconsequential. A criticism from a person who criticizes Christianity regularly. Big whoop. Still, I’m saddened.

And so with the Vatican’s removal of We from the Nicene Creed and the move to affirm the I, there accumulates one more simple, significant step in the direction of a new We that has come to mean more to TRC than the old.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 28, 2011 at 12:01

illegal immigration, a ramble

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I read this from the editorial board at the NY Times, and it has me frustrated again. TRC has no original ideas on how to resolve the complex immigration issues facing the US, other than to say that laws such as that in Alabama or Arizona are not the answer. The standard to which we should begin this debate, it seems, should be one of human decency and respect, but our laws are to deport. And marrying those concepts is impossible.

The place to start, or one of the places, is to finally put to bed the misconceptions. One of the biggest and most frustrating of which may be the political argument that if state or federal governments can get the illegal immigrants out of the United States, those jobs would be freed up for unemployed Americans. Because illegal immigration represents law-breakers stealing American Jobs. It’s just not true. Most Americans, unemployed or not, don’t want to pick food in the fields.

The Times puts it this way: “For all of the talk about clearing the way for unemployed Americans, there is no evidence that Alabamians in any significant numbers are rushing to fill the gap left by missing farm laborers and other low-wage immigrant workers.”

Here’s a farmer’s take on the same issue:

Tomato farmer Wayne Smith said he has never been able to keep a staff of American workers in his 25 years of farming.
“People in Alabama are not going to do this,” said Smith, who grows about 75 acres of tomatoes in the northeast part of the state. “They’d work one day and then just wouldn’t show up again.”
At his farm, field workers get $2 for every 25-pound box of tomatoes they fill. Skilled pickers can make anywhere from $200 to $300 a day, he said.
A crew of four Hispanics can earn about $150 each by picking 250-300 boxes of tomatoes in a day, said Jerry Spencer, of Grow Alabama, which purchases and sells locally owned produce. A crew of 25 Americans recently picked 200 boxes — giving them each $24 for the day.

This is not to argue that Americans can’t do these jobs, or that they shouldn’t be allowed to work them if they want to. Of course they should. It is just to say: it seems most Americans do not want to do the work that is currently done by illegal labor. Repeatedly, reporting that covers this issue shows that once illegal workers are deported, the jobs gap remains and the costs of lost labor are felt elsewhere.

Perhaps a new economic reality is settling in, and the next decades will be hard, and work will be scarce, and the paradigm towards day-labor will shift. That’s possible. But it isn’t the case right now. We should just stop pretending that the reality is any different than it is.

This is just one problem caused by the immigration debate the US is currently having. There are many, many others, such as: is there any practical way to deport 11 million people? what is the moral responsibility of separating families and care-givers and lovers? what are the costs of deportation to local communities in taxes, real-estate, etc? when did white European immigrants win the right to expel brown-skinned immigrants, not just legally but ethically?

The current immigration debate is based on one idea and one idea only: if you are here illegally, you broke the law, and thus you should be held accountable. That’s true. Unfortunately, this idea creates a bipolar argument: Deport 11 million aliens vs. Amnesty for everyone. Neither of these solutions is likely, preferable, or right.  There are human questions involved in every corner of the immigration conversation, making murky waters of our clearly outlined political arguments.

The costs of laws like that in Alabama or Arizona are too high to pay. TRC, for one doesn’t want to live in a nation where the idea of “show me your papers” becomes the day to day reality for millions of individuals in this country, legal or illegal. It smells of history everyone should want to avoid.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 28, 2011 at 11:04

Herman Cain would really prefer it if you were a Christian

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TRC is no fan of Herman Cain. We have already detailed why no one should vote for him and his fear of Muslims. The man embodies religious bigotry.

And he doesn’t even seem to mind letting people know. Here is Cain’s latest, from a speech at the Holy Land Experience (a Christian theme park whose exhibits include Jerusalem Street Market, Centurion Treats, and Pilate’s Judgment Hall).

Anyway. In this speech, Herman Cain discussed his cancer treatment:

He did have a slight worry at one point during the chemotherapy process when he discovered that one of the surgeon’s name was “Dr. Abdallah.”
“I said to his physician assistant, I said, ‘That sounds foreign–not that I had anything against foreign doctors–but it sounded too foreign,” Cain tells the audience. “She said, ‘He’s from Lebanon.’ Oh, Lebanon! My mind immediately started thinking, wait a minute, maybe his religious persuasion is different than mine! She could see the look on my face and she said, ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Cain, he’s a Christian from Lebanon.'”
“Hallelujah!” Cain says. “Thank God!”

God Forbid you encounter someone who is a) foreign, or b) of a different religious persuasion. I assume you are aware that were you to be elected president, you would be in regular contact with people who are not Christian, and not American?

He went on to conclude: “They don’t like the fact that I’m not afraid to say God Almighty Jesus Christ!”

Trust me. That’s not why we don’t like you. We don’t like you because you are a judgmental, self-righteous xenophobe.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 23, 2011 at 13:24

Posted in herman cain, religion

a Thanksgiving post

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Here’s some sincerity for your holiday season. Thanksgiving is probably the best holiday. Granted, it is not TRC’s favorite, but overall it likely is the best. Because the only purpose of this holiday is to get together with loved ones, eat, relax, be grateful, eat, that’s it. There’s no silliness. Just be happy for the life you have, and enjoy the company of loved ones.

With that, here are a few things that TRC is grateful for on this 2011 Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful for my wife, Mrs. TRC. That she is alive and well and happy (I hope). This is the first year I’ve had to consider such a thing.
I’m thankful for the friends and family of TRC. That we’ve had another year together.
I’m thankful that my life, day to day, is lived in peace.
For my job, in my field, doing something I care about.
For the continued to desire to learn and grow. To shift from being certain about things that I knew, to doubting those things for the sake of further knowledge, which hopefully will one day I will doubt just as sincerely, as the cycle continues. Which is to say, I’m thankful for science, and for the arts, for new knowledge, and for books that force their readers into the muck.
I’m very, very thankful for the system of the US government, for three separate, but equal branches. Especially this year.
I’m thankful for President Obama, despite all the reasons to be upset. Which I am. But I’m glad he’s our president. I’m thankful that he has been a strong leader for the US, that he carefully and thoughtfully executes his military leadership, and wants to bring home our deployed military.
That David Foster Wallace and Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote Infinite Jest and Team of Rivals, respectfully. The best books I read of late, and boy were they good ones.
For living in Minnesota, for having trees and woods and rivers and lakes and the Boundary Waters at such close call, while living in a city I love for its size, its history, and its beauty.
And finally, for being fortunate enough in my life to be able to give thanks for such things.

Too many people cannot be thankful for any of these reasons. Too many people have suffered, starved, been fired, lost their loved ones, gone to war, fought in war, died in war. Too many people do not get the luxury to read 1000 page books and dissect US history, or bonkers fiction like DFW, or to sit and doubt and pick apart their beliefs for the good of one’s spiritual life, to enjoy the woods, to camp or canoe. Too many people are struggling to live. Which I hope not to forget, as I am eating my turkey tomorrow.

Above all, I am thankful for the things that I take for granted, and hope to always be mindful, and grateful, for those things.

Happy T-Day.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 23, 2011 at 09:47

Posted in Personal Entry