Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rick Santorum's Google Problem

Republican ex-Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum has a Google problem. He apparently has aspirations to run for US President, but if you Google his last name you get this, "Santorum: The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex." Pretty gross! This is the first hit you will get on Google for his name.

This is no accident. Earlier this decade Santorum made some pretty rude comments about gays. He compared gay sex to bestiality and he supported sodomy laws among other things. He basically believes that consenting adults don't have a right to privacy in regards to their sex life. This pissed off the gay community, in particular Dan Savage, a columnist that I like. In his column, Savage Love, Savage challenged his readers to come up with a definition for the word santorum and the above definition is what they came up with. Now anytime anyone links to it and clicks on it after they search for Santorum, it is appears at the top of the Google search. The Google algorithm is a secret but it certainly involves the frequency of associated links and the number of times someone clicks on it after the search results are displayed. I don't know exactly how to game the Google algorithm, but whatever I can do to keep someone like Santorum away from the White House, I will do it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Teller Ede, Big Science and Operation Chariot

One of my favorite axioms is the one about the hammer and the nail: if your only tool is a hammer then you will tend to perceive every problem as if it were a nail. This is why our congress that is mainly made up of lawyers, think they can solve all our problems by passing laws. Legislation is their hammer. So if you were a nuclear scientist and one of the creators of the hydrogen bomb, the H Bomb could be your hammer and you might have this crazy idea to drop it on Alaska to solve our energy crisis!

It is one of the craziest ideas I have ever heard. Teller Ede (called Edward Teller by some) wanted to drop an H bomb in the north-west coast of Alaska, about of mile off shore of the village of Point Hope, to open up a harbor for the drilling of oil and mining. He was one of the scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project and the H Bomb. In the late 1950's he was a member of Operation Plowshares which was a US government project to try to find new ways to use nuclear energy to solve everyday problems, peaceful uses for nuclear explosions. Under its umbrella, Operation Chariot was formed. It gained support quickly by attracting Alaskan politicians, university presidents, newspaper editors and church groups. All of them were obviously extremely ignorant of the nuclear fallout that such a blast would cause. The opposition to this madness started from a small group of natives, the Iñupiaq people, who gained traction when they got the attention of such national groups as the Sierra Club.

Ede was also a huge advocate of another whacky idea: SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative). He is so notorious that he is one of the people that inspired the Dr. Strangelove from the film of the same name.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lincoln and the Black Man

During the 2008 presidential election a lot was said about the similarities between Barrack Obama and Abraham Lincoln. Most of them are pretty silly. They did both serve in the Illinois State House of Representatives before they were members of the US congress, but Obama ascended to the US Senate while Lincoln was a member of the US House of Representatives. Both of them only served one term before they became President. Their rapid rise to the presidency can probably be attributed their oratory skills. That is probably where the similarities end. For Obama's sake, I hope he gets to spend his latter years as an ex-President and does so for a very long time (something that Lincoln never got to do).

A lot has been said about Obama being the first black president, but Lincoln has a few firsts as well. Lincoln was the first and only president that had no declared religion. He occasionally attended church and referred to God and the Bible often in speeches, but had no declared religion. Like many of the Founding Fathers before him, he was a deist. God for him was a distant faceless entity that had no affect on mankind's daily affairs. He probably wouldn't get elected today for this reason alone.

He was also the first president to have free black men meet with him as President. He met with Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas as equals. Prior to that point, the only blacks that had ever been in the White House were slaves. One of Lincoln's pet project was trying to help freed slaves relocate to Panama. He had secured land in a section of Panama called Chiriquí, but it fell through because the slaves didn't want it. They were Americans and wanted to stay.

Lincoln didn't support the full citizenship of black men. He later changed his mind during the Civil War when he saw how hard some of the black soldiers were working and how affective they were as soldiers. He was inspire so he changed his mind and believed that black soldiers and educated blacks should be accepted as citizens and be allowed to vote. You really have to wonder how different the Reconstruction would have been if Lincoln would have survived.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Alan Parsons and the Recording of Time

I recently listened to a call-in show where the guest was the famous sound engineer Alan Parsons. None of callers asked him about his amazing work with the Beatles, Al Stewart or the Hollies, none of them asked about this most recent project or his old band, The Alan Parsons Project. Every single caller wanted to know about his work with Pink Floyd and their masterpiece, The Dark Side of the Moon.

You cannot listen to The Dark Side of the Moon without having awe for the achievement in sound engineering especially considering the technology that was used to record it. There was no Garage Band or any other type of sound mixing software back in 1973. This was all done with tape machines. The song "Time" begins with a bunch of clocks ticking with a Roger Waters bass riff and then their alarms all go off. He recorded this by wheeling one of his tape machines into a clock store near Abbey Road studios. He asked the store manager if he could to stop all the clocks and record each of them individually, first the tic-toc and then the alarm. Then back in the studio, he superimposed the clocks onto each using multiple tape machines, one on record and the rest on play.

The next time I play with Garage Band on my Mac, I will be thinking of Mr. Parsons. I was in awe of him before I heard this, now I can place him among the legends. If Billy Preston can be called the Fifth Beatle, I have no problem calling Mr. Parsons the Fifth Floyd.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Keeley Cure for Alcoholism

Late 19th Century America history is one of my favorite eras, it was a time when we, as a nation, was really trying to figure things out. The ideas, social movements and inventions of the times range from amazing and wonderful to downright wacky. What I find very amusing is that some of the greatest minds of the time, some of my favorite people in history embraced some of these wacky ideas. Walt Whitman, my favorite poet, was a big proponent of phrenology (predicting one's future by reading the bumps on one's head). Charles Dickens believed in spontaneous human combustion so much that he actually had a minor character (Krook) in one of his novels, Bleak House, spontaneously burn to death without any apparent reason.

I am reading Erik Larsen's The Devil in the White City which is a non-fiction telling of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and the events building up to it. It is fascinating not only for the historical story of Daniel Burnham (the main architect but also the grandfather my local jazz dj here in Vermont) but also the gruesome story of serial killer H.H. Holmes who used the chaos of the Fair, the largest peaceful gathering of humans up that point in history, to hide his activity.

In the book, one of the characters is sent away to deal with his alcoholism. The euphemism of the day is being "sent to Dwight." The Keeley Institute was in Dwight, Illinois and it was the home of the Keeley Cure. At the peak of its popularity, there was around 200 of these facilities in America and Europe. Unlike AA, they encouraged you to drink at these facilities while they administered a potion that would cure you of the disease of alcoholism. The potion was mostly gold chloride a compound of gold and chlorine. The last Keeley Institute went out of business in 1965.

However quackish the Keeley Cure seems, it was influential in two ways. It treated alcoholism as a disease and it created a retreat where patients could be away from the rest of the world, two practices that continue into the 21st Century.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why S.987 Failed ... Republican Hypocrites

I have blogged in the past about hypocrites, I have to say that there aren't many more aspects of politics that frustrate me more. If these occurrences were not so frustrating and sad, they'd be funny. They are at least entertaining.

The Tea Party's adoption of Any Rand as their favorite philosopher makes sense. If you read any of her novels, like "Atlas Shrugged" or "The Fountainhead," it is clear that her philosophy of individualism (or Objectivism) fits right into their world view of small government. Here's the entertaining part: at the end of her life she took government money to combat her cancer. A new book published this year, An Oral History of Any Rand, reveals that late in her life she let medicare (aka big government) pay her medical bills. She was a life-long smoker, so her cancer was her doing, yet she made claims for medical bills under the name Ann O'Connor to keep it secret. So she is not only a perfect symbol of the Tea Party philosophy but also, the perfect symbol of their hypocrisy. It is not much of a philosophy when you abandon it when no one is looking.

This particular story resonated with me today when I heard that the bill S.987 was passed unanimously in the Senate but was voted down in the House (mostly by Republicans). Why, oh why, would something that every Senator, including the Republicans, pass but then get voted against in the House? The full name of S.987 is The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. It basically is a law that amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to required the State Department to report on the human rights practices of other countries. The new law would force the State Dept. to include child marriage into their reporting. Why did the Congressman vote against it? Just hours before the vote in the House, so-called Pro-Life groups passed a memo claiming that the law would allow for the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. Subsequently our so-called Family Values party changed their votes to Nay and killed the bill. Please note, this is not an appropriations bill. There is no money involved in it. If you read through the bill there is no mention of abortions or funding whatsoever.

Here is something that is in the bill:
"According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 60,000,000 girls in developing countries now ages 20 through 24 were married under the age of 18, and if present trends continue more than 100,000,000 more girls in developing countries will be married as children over the next decade, according to the Population Council."

In some countries, girls at the age of eight are forced into marriage. Ronald Reagan once referred to our country as "a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere." I really wonder sometime what he'd think of today's Republican party.