Monthly Archives: August 2009

Hail cannons, lightning rods, elephant repellents, and Texas schools

hail cannon

“What’s the white powder you put on your lawn every week, neighbor?”
“Elephant repellent…works pretty well, doesn’t it?”

I just heard about the hail cannon… a 20-foot tube/sound chamber that makes a huge bang every four seconds, supposedly disrupting hail formation in the sky above. Costs 50,000 bucks…and of course you need a radar system to detect suspicious clouds, and additional cannons every 750 feet or so, and a computer system to control it all, plus the expendables, maintenance, etc…
hail-cannon old
These monstrosities were invented a couple hundred years ago, and are better suited to defending castles a la Monty Python than to preventing hail…there is no scientific basis for them, and no proof that they do anything but enrich those who manufacture and market them. Billy Mays wouldn’t even have touched them. Yet there is an active and even thriving hail cannon industry, in the US and abroad.

A comment:
Anti-science forces in our society, paid for by large multinational corporations interested in preserving profits, have succeeded in slowing our response to tobacco toxicity and global warming/climate change. Smaller business ventures (and politicians and religions) have also traded on ignorance, fear, superstition, and the psychology of uncommon events to “sell” us costly, irrational and often dangerous “products” which supposedly “prevent” rare but calamitous events. The lightning rod immediately comes to mind: a simple yet costly device, somewhat dangerous to install and maintain, which is completely unnecessary for most homes, would likely not work anyway, and may even attract lightning. Yet, the “prudent” sucker purchaser can rightly claim that since the installation of this item, no lightning has struck his home, wrongly attributing that to the rods. In logic, post hoc, ergo propter hoc. If lightning does strike, inevitably some problem will be found with the installation or maintenance, excusing the failure, and reinforcing the need to “upgrade” to an even more expensive product. See Herman Melville, The Lightning Rod Man”:

“Of life-and-death use. But my workman was heedless. In fitting the rod at top to the steeple, he allowed a part of the metal to graze the tin sheeting. Hence the accident. Not my fault, but his.

The propagation of ignorance, as opposed to the dissemination of knowledge, is today a burgeoning activity and a profitable industry. At Stanford University, Prof. Robert Proctor has dubbed it “agnotology” and made it the subject of his research:

A prime example of the deliberate production of ignorance cited by Proctor is the tobacco industry’s conspiracy to manufacture doubt about the cancer risks of tobacco use. Under the banner of science, the industry produced research about everything except tobacco hazards to exploit public uncertainty. Some of the root causes for culturally-induced ignorance are media neglect, corporate or governmental secrecy and suppression, document destruction, and myriad forms of inherent or avoidable culturopolitical selectivity, inattention, and forgetfulness.

How do Texas schools fit in? it seems that Texas may allow their high school students to accumulate 4 credits in sports, out of the 26 required for graduation. This would be a 100% increase from the previous athletic allowance of 2 credits. Yeah, that should help.


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The Chicago Cubs: a dirty bomb

The Cubs, not satisified with three moderately crazy and dysfunctional folks (manager/hot-head Lou Pinella, 136-million-dollar big bat dingbat Alfonso Soriano, and Gatorade machine abuser. pitcher Carlos Zambrano), managed to add another one this year, in the person of outfielder race-card-player Milton Bradley. And of course they disposed of good, sane players like jack-of-all-trades Mark DeRosa. Not to mention booting Jason Marquis, key to the Rockies’ surge, in exchange for the forgettable (and forgotten) Luis Vizcaino.

Now, having cratered in the NL Central and wild-card races, the Cubs are going into full meltdown mode, at a time when the team has been sold and the front office is in flux. The team is trying to dump players and salaries via the waiver wire aka “yard sale” approach. Soriano says they’re out of the hunt, Zambrano wants to be traded, and Bradley is probably gonna get showered with flying objects/liquids/epithets in right field. Pinella is in charge (?) and he thinks he’ll be given another contract? The nitwit GM terrorist who masterminded this radioactive suitcase probably wants a raise.
This is gonna be good. Not since the ’68 Democratic Convention has Chicago held my interest to this degree. Cub fans should finally rise up and boycott. Enough is a freakin nuff.

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Ted Kennedy, a great US senator, RIP


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TIME Magazine tells the “Food, Inc.” story in print

obese-televisionInteresting to see mainsteam media like TIME take on the corporate food/ag giants.

…pigs fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he’ll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around.
hidden prices are the creeping erosion of our fertile farmland, cages for egg-laying chickens so packed that the birds can’t even raise their wings and the scary rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria among farm animals. Add to the price tag the acceleration of global warming — our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy.

And perhaps worst of all, our food is increasingly bad for us, even dangerous. A series of recalls involving contaminated foods this year — including an outbreak of salmonella from tainted peanuts that killed at least eight people and sickened 600 — has consumers rightly worried about the safety of their meals.

some interesting data:

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit. With the backing of the government, farmers are producing more calories — some 500 more per person per day since the 1970s — but too many are unhealthy calories. Given that, it’s no surprise we’re so fat; it simply costs too much to be thin.

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Texas Republicans want textbooks rewritten to exclude liberals

newt.gingrichJust when you thought “conservatives” couldn’t get any crazier, Texans prove you wrong. Oh, and in case you misapprehend what’s going on here, what will happen to the old books, you know, the ones with real history in them?????

AUSTIN — Texas high school students would learn about such significant individuals and milestones of conservative politics as Newt Gingrich and the rise of the Moral Majority — but nothing about liberals — under the first draft of new standards for public school history textbooks.

And the side that got left out is very unhappy.

As it stands, students would get “one-sided, right wing ideology,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the House Mexican American Caucus.

“We ought to be focusing on historical significance and historical figures. It’s important that whatever course they take, that it portray a complete view of our history and not a jaded view to suit one’s partisan agenda or one’s partisan philosophy,” he said.

The standards, which the board will decide next spring, will influence new history, civics and geography textbooks.

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Over 100 deaths in US among locked-up immigrants

Do I remember

…….Nah…..let ‘em rot in cells. Don’t let em see a doctor.


An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C. forced the Department of Homeland Security on Monday to reveal 11 previously undisclosed deaths at its immigrant detention facilities, the group said in a media advisory.

“In April, in response to the ACLU lawsuit which was filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), DHS officials released what they called a comprehensive list of all deaths in detention that included a total of 90 individuals,” the ACLU said. “With today’s announcement, the government has now admitted to a total of 104 in-custody deaths since fiscal year 2003.”

In a FOIA request submitted by the ACLU to DHS in 2007, the ACLU sought information about whether ICE – or any independent monitoring agency – adequately tracks deaths of immigration detainees, who are often housed in county jails around the country alongside criminal detainees, or in one of numerous immigration detention facilities managed by private prison companies.

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Who’s behind the healthcare protests? Follow the money.

moneyA couple more entries into the field:

Conservatives for Patients’ Rights is led by health care entrepreneur Rick Scott, the co-founder of Solantic urgent care walk-in centers, which he’s spread across Florida and is looking to expand…Scott left his job as CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospitals during a federal Medicare fraud probe in 1997 that led to a historic $1.7 billion settlement.

Earlier this year, Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), an anti-health care reform group led by the disgraced former CEO of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Rick Scott, began running a commercial attacking the British health care system. The TV ad runs through “tragic stories” of British citizens who it portrays as being against government-run health care such as the National Health Service (NHS).Now, the Daily Mail is reporting that two of the women featured in the commercial say they were “duped” into appearing in CPR’s ad campaign:

Furious Kate Spall and Katie Brickell claim that their views on the NHS have been misrepresented by a free market campaign group opposed to Mr Obama’s reforms in a bid to discredit the UK system. [...]

Ms Spall and Ms Brickell both agreed to appear in a documentary on healthcare reform. But neither knew that the footage would be used as part of a TV advertising campaign carried on US networks.

The Daily Mail article goes on to note that both Spall and Brickell actually support government-run health care and were advocating for reforms within the NHS, not for its abolition.

FreedomWorks, which has been advocating against the overhaul but has not launched TV ads, is chaired by Dick Armey, the former Republican majority leader of the House of Representatives from Texas.

But also noteworthy are the group’s other backers and board members. They include billionaire flat-tax proponent and former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes; Richard J. Stephenson, who founded Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which offers alternative as well as standard therapies, sometimes not covered by insurance; and Frank M. Sands, Sr., chief executive officer of an investment management firm whose offerings include a Healthcare Leaders portfolio.

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Afghanistan: We’ve punished the Taliban enough, I think.

afghan_girls_classIt was al-Qaeda, not the Taliban nor Afghanistan that attacked us. We didn’t go there to change their religion, or wipe out poppy fields, or make them a democracy. Neither NATO, the US, Russia, nor an Afghan “central government,” elected or otherwise, can control the mountainous areas adjoining Pakistan. Even the military admits that.

“These (outposts) are costly and dangerous and not doing much to bring security to the people or connect the people to their government,” said a U.S. official who’s familiar with the region. “The terrain is too rugged, the infrastructure and especially roads do not exist and couldn’t be built on short order, and the population is too low and too dispersed.”

American commanders had hoped that sending more troops to the border area, coupled with a new Pakistani drive against the militants on its side of the border, could deprive al Qaida and the Taliban of a sanctuary and end infiltration from Pakistan.

However, two senior U.S. officials said, there’s no sign that the Pakistani military is prepared to move against the militants, and as one of them put it: “There’s no point swinging a hammer if there’s no anvil there.”

Mr. President: Declare that we’ve punished the Taliban and decimated al-Qaeda, and that we’ll be watching Afghanistan closely for al-Qaeda activity.

And leave.

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Whole Foods and John Mackey can suck it

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, wrote a guest editorial for the Wall Street Journal opposing health care reform. If you can believe it, the title is:
The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare
Basic features of this “plan:”

• Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).

In the event that you’re not paying attention, what Mackey wants is for employers to pay less, and employees to pay more, into the health care system. Seriously.

• Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.

Those of you who were foolishly hoping that MackeyCare would at least prohibit insurance companies from declining care for pre-existing conditions are a bit disappointed now, aren’t you? So not only does Mackey want employers to pay less and employees to pay more, he wants the insurance companies to be able to provide less.

• Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

except….doctors don’t pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

but you already knew Mackey was a liar, if you look at the some of the crap he’s selling at Whole Foods.

Mackey short: I’m not rich enough, gimme some more tax breaks, buy foods from me at inflated prices, and everybody should just donate to charity. Those people who’ve lost their insurance from being fired, or had their insurance cancelled because of a pre existing condition, or just plain can’t afford $5,000 a year per person, can suck it.

Well, John Mackey can suck it.

Whole Foods was a pioneer in organic food retail. Good for them. But what got you here, won’t get you there.
Now there are lots of organic options. And many of them much more socially conscious than Whole Foods. Let me direct you to this compilation of Whole Foods many regressive policies.
Mackey himself has a very dubious history of sock-puppetry on the internet, acting in unethical fashion to manipulate the stock market.

Whole Foods and their CEO/founder are just another greedy, regressive company that just happened to sell a trendy product. The operate under the usual monopoly tenets: High prices, low wages, and low standards. Mackey doesn’t mention that he’s telling his managers to cut back full-time workers to 70%, so he doesn’t have to pay benefits for the other 30%.

And now he’s trying to deprive the country of a much needed healthcare reform.

Not with my money.

Farmers’ markets, Safeway, Krogers, Trader Joes, there are lots of alternatives.


p.s. Lanny Davis, you can suck it, too.


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Chris Matthews puts gun-toting teabagger on Hardball

teabaggers' idea of a debater

teabaggers' idea of a debater


Matthews and MSNBC put the lunatic on the air! One right wing lunatic already has called for acts of violence against proponents of health care reform, and here another showed up at a health care reform rally armed with a gun! And Matthews and company decide to put him on TV. The man is not an expert on health care or any other political issue- and how many thousands of legitimate experts never have been and never will be invited to appear on Matthews’ show? The man has done absolutely nothing to suggest that his opinion has any value at all. But he carried a gun to a rally at which the president would be speaking, which is the only reason anyone not misfortunate enough to know him personally now knows he exists. And for Matthews and MSNBC, that alone made him worth elevating into a much wider public consciousness. Even as low as our expectations are, with Matthews, this is truly mind-boggling. Because having set such a standard for what it takes to get invited to appear on television, what do Matthews and MSNBC think will happen inside the addled minds of others who hate this president, who own guns, and who think it would be really neat to be on national television?
Matthews and MSNBC understand what they are doing. They’re not simply wallowing in the most acrid depths of the foulest reeking human sewage, in hope of improving their show’s deservedly dismal ratings; they’re encouraging people who are desperate for attention to seek it in the most dangerous possible ways. This man brought a gun. To a health care rally. Where the president was speaking! And rather than concluding that what such a person truly needs is access to quality mental health care, Matthews and MSNBC decided, instead, to reward his lunacy by literally putting him in the spotlight. So he could be seen and heard. As he wants to be seen and heard. As an example for others with similar qualifications and similar psychological issues who also desperately want to be seen and heard.

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