Archive for October 2009

Sprucing up the old website…

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

It’s time for some winter cleaning.  As we put down the storm windows, find the shovels and ice melt, pack away the summer clothes, and get the winter ones out, my website was feeling a little abandoned.  So real soon now there will be a few changes.

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Turn back your clocks…

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Time is a strange thing.  As we turn back our clocks this weekend, I would like to dwell on how politics affects time.  We mostly talk about it the other way round, that is, time affecting politics, which we call history.  If you consider time to be immutable, like the flowing of the Styx, then you haven’t lived in Massachusetts.

First, what’s this business about jumping ahead one hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall?  If it seems completely arbitrary, you’re correct-it is.  It has been defined via a political process and we all know politicians shouldn’t meddle with science.  They could say, of course, that I shouldn’t meddle with politics.  This relation isn’t transitive, though.  Politicians can’t do much besides politics; that’s why they gravitate towards politics.  As a scientist, I can do a lot of things, some better than others-even write (I’m not an engineer).

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Healthcare versus Pentagon spending…

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Congress has an unusual set of priorities, even if we take away how much they sell-out to the lobbyists.  Of course, the sleaze-bags doing the lobbying compete against each other, and the biggest sleaze-bags of all represent what Ike warned us about, the military-industrial complex.  Still, from an idealistic point of view, namely, that a democratic government should serve its citizens, the priorities, measured against the metric of budget expenditures, seem entirely lopsided.

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Planets, planets, everywhere…

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

A recent announcement made about thirty-two extra-solar planets brings the total to more than four hundred, if I’m not mistaken.  The discovery was made with the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Search) spectrograph at the European Southern Observation in La Silla, Chile.  This spectrograph can detect differences in radial velocity of only a few meters per second.

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Bright and dark nostalgic thoughts…

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Sometimes we baby boomers become nostalgic during the few free moments available to us as we try to keep working long enough to build that 201(k) back up to a 401(k).  I caught part of a PBS American Masters special on Joan Baez a few days back and it started the nostalgic thoughts percolating.

First, Joan: Doesn’t she still look and sound great?  I saw her live in concert back in 1967 and thought she was the cat’s meow back then (like many of my generation, I was heavily into folk music at the time as well as peaceful protests against the Vietnam War).  Joan has aged gracefully and her voice, while lacking the original range, is even richer.  In a large part she was the vocal instrument that poet-songwriters like Dylan, Donovan, and others played on, but I always thought she was best doing the old traditional ballads.

Hearing her talk and sing was a wonderful experience, but that same PBS show also led to dark thoughts, reminding me of a time when our country was in an insane war.  Our protests were mostly peaceful, but draft cards were burned and people went to jail.  Today Afghanistan is yet another insane war, but there are no draftees, a fact which dampens the protests considerably as otherwise good people shrug their shoulders and say about the dead and the maimed, “Well, they volunteered.”  Others of us wonder if there is a better way.

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The sagacity of the Europeans

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

In previous posts the European example has been held up as a model for health care.  If you have problems with the s-word, then consider that both France and Germany let private firms run their healthcare system, albeit under strict government control.  European healthcare systems seem to work in general.  There are always exceptional cases (few and far between compared to our haphazard US system).

Europe also has us beat on the energy crisis.  While still dependent on oil to some extent, they have embraced nuclear technology.  They are developing a mix of technologies to meet their energy problems and will evolve it over time just as we must, but by declaring one of the options taboo puts into doubt our chances of ever coming up with a sane policy.

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“…the opportunity for real reform has already passed.”

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

This is a direct quote from Simon Johnson, former Chief Economist to IMF and currently professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.  As you may know from previous posts, Simon is one of my heroes.  The quote is from Bill Moyers’ PBS show and represents an interview of Simon Johnson and Marcy Kaptur, representative from Toledo, Ohio.

I have been very negative recently about the chances for reform of our healthcare system.  Let me say that I’m equally negative about the chances for our financial system.  This interview explains why – I don’t see the need to embellish or offer radically different opinions.  The present administration seems to be no different than the previous administration in the sense that wealth is being transferred from the middle class to the rich class in this country at an alarming rate.

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Review of P. D. LaFleur’s Disturbing the Peace…

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

(The following is a book review of P. D. LaFleur’s Disturbing the Peace (RGI Press, ISBN 978-0-9792597-2-2))

The reluctant assassin is not uncommon in suspense literature.  We have Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, Forsyth’s Cat Shannon, and a host of others that for whatever reason have fallen into an unusual trade that they don’t particularly like but are exceptionally good at.  They are often tragic characters that cross the stage of the novel like some modern Hamlet, avatars for our sense of adventure and conquistadors of our emotions.  Now we have Emilio Fortino, if that’s his true name, a cultured man that likes music, wine, and growing olives in his villa in Italy.  He is an enigma and P. D. LaFleur allows him to remain one.

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Thrill kills…

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Today we were greeted with the news that four Mt. Vernon, NH high school students picked a house at random, entered, and with a machete brutally murdered the woman living there and seriously injured her daughter.  Some time ago two high school students brutally murdered two Dartmouth College professors.  Then there was the case of “wilding” in Central Park, NYC, where a gang of students attacked a jogger.  On and on…the list seems endless.

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Mercedes Sosa

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Mercedes Sosa has died.  For five decades her rich contralto gave song to the pain and suffering of the poor and downtrodden in Latin America.  Her anthems of protest moved the common man and angered members of the military juntas, especially in Argentina.  Her standing ovation received in Carnegie Hall in 1987 proved that she was an international figure of epic proportions.

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