Thursday, November 20, 2014

Our Home in 4K Video


Here we have a marvelous, high definition video of the Earth from space over four cycles of day and night. It was taken in May, 2011 by the  geosynchronous Electro-L weather  satellite.

I find myself in awe. The real Earth, the place we live, just seems so beautiful, so full of color, so alive.  It looks vibrant and alive. It doesn't look fragile, not at all... but what you can't see from 23,000 miles in space are the planet's 7.26 billion human residents. What you can't see are the relentless demands we humans put on the Earth's finite fresh water, forest, and  living ocean resources.  What you can't see is just how badly we humans have shredded the planet's living fabric.





When I look at this video, I want to nurture and protect this place. I want to stop people from abusing it.

This Earth is the only home we have...


Here is the link to a gorgeous view of planet Earth... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ybh11kcDhfM#t=73
 


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Slut Shamers Need To Get A Life


Slut shaming is the principle way that modern society represses self-expression in girls and women.  If a female doesn't conform to a conservative line on behavior and appearance in public, she is labeled a slut, which translates to brazenly oversexed and immoral.   

First of all, who gets to decide what constitutes being oversexed and immoral?  Conformity is a cultural construct that has been used for centuries to repress women.  It began eleven thousand or so years ago, when humans traded the stone-age, hunter-gatherer nomadic way for living in permanent communities dependent on agriculture for survival.  The move to settlements also gave rapid rise to a male aggression/dominance paradigm that has shaped human societies ever since.  

Women have been subjugated and treated as little more than vessels for child bearing ever since.  Women who dared step out of the very dark shadow looming over them were given a scarlet label, or even worse, brutally made into fearsome example by being burned alive at the stake.

In modern, developed societies women have shaken off most of the limits that prevented them from achieving their full potential in earlier times.  These days, women's voices are loud and clear. They have demanded equal treatment and, for the most part, they are getting it. Some battles, like equal pay for equal work and reproductive choice, are still being waged, so the fight continues.

One area where younger people, and young females in particular, remain in conflict with older people is in how they express themselves by appearance and personal behavior. Female sexuality is a powerful force that has been almost entirely repressed since the invention of the wheel.  Not anymore. We live now in an era awash in sexual expression.  Forty percent of the traffic on the internet is sexual in nature, much of it extremely so.

Young girls born into the age of the internet and cellphones are now getting peer pressure to engage in 'sexting', where the private exchange of sexually provocative images is the norm. This is a broad form of sexual expression that is far beyond anything seen in previous eras. 

Religious conservatives and traditionalists are apoplectic about the rise of female power and sexual expression.  They lament the passing of the female modesty that was once the norm, and they are quick to apply the 'slut' label to any girl who choses to express herself overtly, by what she wears and how she behaves.

Here's a bit of information I'd like to share with anyone who dares condemn another person, because they function outside of a cultural straightjacket.  We humans are hardwired to be interested in sex. It is how we are made. The brain sends us strong bio-chemical signals in response to sexual stimuli. That's what nature intended. 

That's not to say that freedom includes license to behave any way one likes. Some judgment is required. But it's not young people who are open in their sexual expression that need to change so much as it is older people, who are quick to apply ugly labels.

Bottom line. Being sexual is normal for men and for women.  Every person, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, has a right to own their sexuality, and express it as they wish, without fear of attracting a 'scarlet' label.

There's been a lot of hoopla lately about the privately taken and shared nude photos of celebrities being stolen by internet hackers, who then put those images out on the net for public consumption.  Who deserves to be castigated? Should it be a celebrity, whose privacy has been violated, or the internet trolls who stole the images and 'exposed' them without permission?   The answer seems clear enough to me.

Through the ages,  sex workers have been the subject of ridicule and scorn.  Many of them choose to express themselves through that career choice.  Should they be condemned for doing so?  Or should they be accepted for who they are, within a framework of  public policy that regulates their work to protect them from exploitation and violence, with law enforcement focused on stopping the  exploitation of adults, and particularly children, who are forced into sexual servitude?  The answer to this also seems clear to me. Europe, to a large extent, is already taking this tolerant approach. 

I love women who are comfortable expressing their sexual power. As a man, I believe it's entirely normal to think that  way.  That doesn't mean that men should behave like alley cats when they see an attractive woman walking down the street.   It's okay to appreciate a woman, without ceding complete control to one's limbic brain.

I've wanted to express myself on this issue for some time.  Just today, I ran across a video produced by Hannah Whitton, a  young  girl from London in the U.K., who does a lovely job of putting slut shamers in their place.

Here is a link to Hannah Whitton's  wonderful video repudiating the social phenomenon known as slut shaming...  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3bQLq9QGA4


Monday, November 17, 2014

Sordid Tales of Selfishness


I detest the 'I got mine, so fuck you' attitude reflected in self-absorbed, money-driven sociopathy.

Most people who have multi-million dollar bank accounts didn't get that way from being smarter, or working harder than everybody else. More than a few were born into good fortune. Some got rich from nurturing a great idea. The guys at Google come to mind. But, most of those people who have become part of the top one percent over the last forty or so years did it by being takers....ruthlessly determined to use every advantage to elevate themselves... stepping on anyone or anything in the way, without regard to consequences.

I want to be clear. Being rich doesn't make you evil. There are many wealthy people who are deeply compassionate, and are open in their concern for nature and their fellow human residents of Earth,  Having a big bank account is not a bad thing,  Unfortunately, too many, way too many of the one percenters  are all about themselves. They share a worldview characterized by callous indifference, even outright hostility to those they dismiss as the rabble.

The article below comes from the AlterNet website.  I feel sorry for the kind of people it describes.  Being selfish is not pretty. I'm not suggesting that taking nothing at all is a good example either. We are all born with the right to do as Spock espouses, 'To live long, and prosper'.  Being prosperous doesn't include the right to harm the biosphere and roll over other people.

I believe that joy comes to those who find ways to nurture and give back, when fortune smiles on them. You don't have to be religious to agree that 'it is better to give, than to receive'.

___________________________


Four Sordid Tales of Selfishness of the Super-Rich

 by Paul Buchheit          
 
AlterNet, November 16, 2014  |  
If the mainstream media made the effort to analyze and report the facts, the whole country would know about a level of selfishness that has spiraled out of control since the economists of the Reagan era convinced the wealthiest Americans that greed is good for everyone. Here are four extreme examples of that selfishness.

1. Ebola's Not Worth the Money If Only Africans Get Infected

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr. Margaret Chan recently stated [3]: "Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago. Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure? Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay."

So we turn to philanthropy. But rich donors don't compensate for the flaws of capitalism. The Gates Foundation, among others, may appear noble and praiseworthy for all its charitable giving, but Dr. Chan noted [4] that "My budget [is] highly earmarked, so it is driven by what I call donor interests." Little of that 'earmarking' is toward diseases of the poor. A study in The Lancet [5] of medical products registered in 2000-11 revealed that "Only four new chemical entities were approved for neglected diseases (three for malaria, one for diarrhoeal disease), accounting for 1% of the 336 new chemical entities approved during the study period."

A related problem with philanthropy is summarized [6] by Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy: "Wealthy people tend to give to colleges, art museums, opera and hospitals very generously...Food banks depend more on lower income Americans."

The Chronicle of Philanthropy [7] confirmed that Americans with annual earnings under $100,000 increased their post-recession giving by 4.5 percent. Americans who earned over $200,000 reduced their giving by 4.6 percent over the same time period.

2. Going To Their Graves Without Paying What They Owe

Charles Koch, who is very much alive, said "I want my fair share - and that's all of it."

His dream is coming true. $30 trillion [8] has been taken since the recession [9], most of it financial gains [10], almost all of it [11] by the richest 1%, one-hundred thousand of whom made an estimated $18 million [12] each in three years, and most of whom are so rich that they can let their portfolios sit nearly tax-free until they die, at which point an almost non-existent estate tax ensures nearly tax-free [13] fortunes for their fortunate sons and daughters (only about one out of a thousand [14] estates are taxed).

Yet these are the people who benefit most from national security, infrastructure, tax laws, and patent and copyright laws. They're protected by police who stop and frisk and harass and arrest anyone who threatens the status quo of their wealthy society. But they don't want to pay for all the benefits, even after they're dead.

3. Inventing Rules That Take Money from the Poor

A collection of contrived laws and policies effectively transfer money from the middle class to the rulemakers:

---Capital Gains [15]: Pay less for just owning stocks

---Carried Interest [16]: The astonishing claim that hedge fund profits are not regular income

---Payroll Tax [17]: Multi-millionaires pay a tiny percentage compared to middle-income earners

---Roth IRAs [18]: A tax loophole [19] for the 20% of Americans who own 95 percent [20] of the financial wealth

---Derivatives [21]: Risky financial instruments are the first to be paid off in a bank collapse

---Bankruptcies [22]: Businesses can get out of debt, students can't

4. Treating Less Fortunate People As If They Don't Exist

Compelling research [23] by Paul Piff [24] and his colleagues has demonstrated that the accumulation of wealth leads to a sense of entitlement and qualities of narcissism. For example, rich people are more likely to flout traffic laws, to take items of value from others, and to cheat when necessary to win a prize or position.

At a higher level, irrefutable data [25] has been accumulated [26] to confirm [27] the relentless flow of money [28] away from our most vulnerable citizens:

Children: One out of every five American children lives in poverty [29], and for black children under the age of six it's nearly one out of TWO [30]. Almost half of food stamp recipients [31] are children. Worldwide, 76 million children [32] are living in poverty in the developed world, and hundreds of millions more in the developing world.

The Elderly: Three-quarters [33] of Americans approaching retirement in 2010 had an average of less than $30,000 [34] to support them in their retirement years.

The Homeless: According to The Nation [35], there are now more homeless people in New York City than at any time since the 1970s, and the number of homeless schoolchildren is at an all-time high.

The Sick and Disabled: Over 200 recent studies [36] have confirmed a link between financial stress and sickness. In just 20 years America's ranking among developed countries dropped [37] on nearly every major health measure.


Privileged people, oblivious to the realities beneath their lofty positions, talk about struggling Americans getting "comfortable" [38] in poverty, using food stamps to buy expensive food [38], and resting in the "hammock" [39] of the safety net. Perhaps delusion helps them to rationalize their selfishness. 

 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Top 0.1 Precent Has More Wealth Than Bottom 90 Precent


This post comes from an article on the Mother Jones  blog by Inae Oh.

It's a reflection of what is fundamentally wrong in America.  Less than 160,000 families have more money than the other 316 million of us combined.    Stunning, shameful, incredibly corrosive to our economy and our democracy:.. those are some words I would choose to describe this circumstance.

Economics is pretty simple at its most basic.  Markets are a place where sellers come to deal with people who have the need to buy at least the necessities among all those things for sale. But, when the vast majority of people are no longer able to participate in that marketplace, because they have almost nothing to exchange for even basic needs like  food, shelter, and healthcare; when that happens,  the entire idea of a marketplace is undermined.    Sad to say, that is exactly what is wrong with America's today.  In effect, our economy is trapped in a malaise caused a tiny fraction of us owning all the wealth. 

All of the political power in America has fallen into the hands of big bankers, bloated corporations, and the super-rich.  Until that changes,  nine out of ten of us will continue to get the very short end of the stick.
_________________

From Inae Oh's Mother Jones blog piece...

While a complex web of factors have contributed to the rise in income inequality in America, a new research paper says most of the blame can be largely placed in the immense growth experienced by the top tenth of the richest 1 percent of Americans in recent years. From the report:

The rise of wealth inequality is almost entirely due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth share, from 7% in 1979 to 22% in 2012, a level almost as high as in 1929. The bottom 90% wealth share first increased up to the mid-1980s and then steadily declined. The increase in wealth concentration is due to the surge of top incomes combined with an increase in saving rate inequality.
So, who are the 0.1 percent among us? According to Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the paper's researchers, the elite group is a small one, roughly composed of 160,000 families with assets exceeding $20 million, but their grip on America's wealth distribution is about to surpass the bottom 90 percent for the first time in more than half a century.  Today's 0.1 percent also tend to be younger than the top incomers of the 1960's, despite the fact the country as a whole has been living longer—proving once again, that there has truly never been a more opportune time to be rich in America:



Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Rosetta Comet Landing


 An amazing thing happened on November 12, 2014.  Humans managed to land a spacecraft on a comet moving through space at 80,000 mph at a distance of 300 million miles from Earth.

The first part of this truly monumental technical achievement came this past August with the European Space Agency's successful rendezvous with a  comet  known as  67 P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Not only did Rosetta rendezvous with this comet, it put itself into orbit around  the 2.4 mile wide celestial object. [ see my blog from August 7, 2014 ]

It got even better on November 12th  when the Rosetta comet orbiter released it's Philae lander vehicle. After a seven hour free fall descent, Philae successfully touched down on the  67 P Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet's surface. 

I believe this comet rendezvous and landing must be counted as one of the greatest human achievements of all time. If we are capable of pulling off technical feats as unlikely as this,  I have to ask myself, 'why can't we thoughtfully address and solve global scale challenges like climate change right here on Earth?  

Here is a link to the European Space Agency website for the Rosetta Mission...  http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta/Highlights/Postcards_from_Rosetta



Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Mid-Term Elections - Last Gasp of Obstructionism Before Genuine Renewal?


This past week, common sense got whacked in the national mid-term elections.  Around the country, citizens who voted put Republicans firmly in power in both houses of the United States Congress. Republicans also took firm control of state legislatures around the country. How could this happen, given the narrow interests that Republicans support and the abject obstruction they represent on most important issues? 

The biggest reason for this political debacle is the corrosive influence of corporate power and money on our election process.  The conservative majority on our Supreme Court opened the floodgates on legalized bribery with their 'Citizens United' decision on campaign finance.  Corporations and billionaires  are able to buy the politicians and public policy they want by pouring essentially limitless amounts of money into our elections. Our system is rigged to serve the interests of the rich and powerful.

By a wide margin, the Republican Party is the principle conduit for the corruption of our politics. But the Democrats are only marginally better.  Both parties are up to their ears in a system built on moneyed influence.   The vast majority of politicians that are attracted to elective office these days are unprincipled opportunists lining up to feed at the 'dirty money' trough. 

A big part of the problem lies with citizens who don't vote.  Only about a third of the electorate voted in this mid-term election.  Most of those non-voters were registered Democrats or Independents. Some of their failure to vote can be attributed to indifference, but many citizens are just fed up with the open influence peddling that has replaced honest discourse in our system of governance.   Right or wrong, they register their displeasure by dropping out of the voting process.

Republicans don't have that problem. They cater to a handful of single issue voting blocks, who come out to support conservative politicians. I'm talking about gun extremists, anti-abortion zealots, anti-gay evangelicals, and people who have an aversion to taxation of any kind.  Only about twenty percent of registered voters make up the Republican base. They tend to be older, whiter, and male. No matter. They can be counted on to vote.  What amazes me is how many of these misguided souls are poor. For them, a vote for a Republican is ultimately always a vote against their own interests.  Because the Republican Party is a corporatist party.  They really don 't care about their base. They support the bases'  narrow issues, so the base will keep showing up with their votes on election day. The actual constituents  Republican represent are Wall Street bankers, self-absorbed billionaires, and corporatists that are focused on profit to the exclusion of all else.

So, here we are. Republicans, who have successfully obstructed and thwarted most of President Barack Obama's progressive agenda for the past six years, are now the majority in both houses of Congress.   They will continue to obstruct meaningful climate legislation, and they will continue to try to derail the affordable care act, the President's single most important legislative achievement.

Moreover, they will leverage their majority to push legislation that will 'amnesty' billions of dollars of corporate profits that have been hiding in plain sight for years in foreign banks to avoid being taxed.  They will squeeze the life out of the regulatory process by denying operating funds to the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies, whose job it is to protect the public from bad corporate behavior.  They will look for reasons to funnel more  and more government money to military contractors, despite the fact that the Untied States already spends more on its military than all of the rest of the world combined.

The Republican majority will not do anything to help the middle class. They will not raise the minimum wage, or support job creation programs. They will aggressively resist any initiative that does not serve the interests of  their big money enablers. They will deny the most basic science, when it doesn't fit their political agenda.  Forget about meaningful action on climate change. Forget about reproductive choice. Forget about any kind of useful environmental legislation. The Republican game is more tax breaks for billionaires,  more subsidies for dirty energy, more cuts to anything that helps the middle class. 

The next two years are looking pretty bleak. Even before this last election, the American Congress only registered a 15% approval rating among voters.  The level of public discontent has never been higher, and it can only get worse. 

I see a silver lining in this unfortunate set of political circumstances .  We elect our governments  to protect us against foreign enemies, to maintain law and order, to nurture a healthy economy, to look out for the well being of all citizens.  That's a tall order for Republicans, whose stated goal is to 'drown government in a bathtub'.  Until the next election, Republicans will be in the lead. If they perform as they have over the past few decades, they will fail miserably in their responsibility. Despite their expertise in shifting blame, they will find it difficult to avoid being tagged with the ineptitude that will surely be reflected in their lack of achievement for anyone other than Wall Street, billionaires, and craven corporatists.

By 2016, the public disgust with the corporate plutocracy that has displaced democracy in America will likely be at a fever pitch.  In the next two years, I expect Republicans to thoroughly discredit themselves. 

Echoes of the coming public backlash can be seen in some of the state-level initiatives that passed in this most recent election.  In Wisconsin, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Florida, dozens of communities had initiatives on the ballot calling for a Constitutional amendment that eliminates 'Corporate Personhood' and repudiates 'Money being treated as Speech'.  These political referendums all passed by as much as 70% of the voters, including many that characterize themselves as conservatives.

I am convinced that Move to Amend [ www.movetoamend.org }  is the .key to restoring true  democracy in America.   Its Constitutional agenda would take away citizen rights and 'personhood' status from corporations. It would affirm that corporations are nothing more than state chartered legal fictions that, by law, must be accountable to the people for their actions.  The Move to Amend Constitutional Amendment also says that money is property, not a form of speech. Having boatloads of money should not include the right to use it to buy politicians and pervert the American political process.   What we see every time Move to Amend finds its way onto a local ballot, is that voters sign on with their overwhelming support.

The most important response to America's political malfeasance over the next two years is to expand awareness of the Move to Amend agenda.   As a citizen, I believe serving that end is the most important thing I can do.

We cannot count on politicians to deliver the fundamental political change we need. It must come from the grassroots.  'We, the people' must step up and demand the brand of governance the founders of our nation intended, free of corporate dominance; and free of moneyed influence.   We must become the change we wish for.




Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Animator's Reflections


I just ran cross an article by Jessica Goldstein on the Think Progress website. The link is http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/11/05/3589604/meet-the-animator-sidewalk/

The article is about Celia Bullwinkel, a  talented NYC based animator, and Sidewalk, a beautifully rendered video she just released that reflects a woman's life in four minutes.   I am impressed with Ms. Bullwinkel's worldview as reflected in Goldstein's piece for Think Progress.  How fortunate we are to have artist's that are able to so effectively express themselves through their talents.




 
Here is a link to Celia Bullwinkel's Sidewalk...https://vimeo.com/106272915