Digital Chum - Virtual fish guts and other nonsense

September, 2010:

About Science

Two things are certain about science.  It does not stand still for long,and it is never boring.  Oh, among some poor souls, including evenintellectuals in fields of high scholarship, science is frequentlymisperceived.  Many see it as only a body of facts, promulgated fromon high in must, unintelligible textbooks, a collection of unchangingprecepts defended with authoritarian vigor.  Others view it as nothingbut a cold, dry narrow, plodding, rule-bound process — the scientificmethod: hidebound, linear, and left brained.

These people are the victims of their own stereotypes.  They aredestined to view the world of science with a set of blinders.  Theyknow nothing of the tumult, cacophony, rambunctiousness, andtendentiousness of the actual scientific process, let alone thecreativity, passion, and joy of discovery.  And they are likely toknow little of the continual procession of new insights and discoveriesthat every day, in some way, change our view (if not theirs) of thenatural world.

Kendrick Frazier, “The Year in Science: An Overview”
1988 Yearbook of Science and the Future
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

My three questions for candidates

People have different ways of selecting a candidate in any given elections, sometimes changing their selection method from election to election depending on current events. Some focus on a candidate’s position on the big issue of the day, some on a plethora of smaller issues, some one the tone of campaign ads, some on a specific hot-button issue, some on the candidate’s political party, some on what their chosen party tells them to do.

My approach is generally to focus on a few main questions (three in this example). Sometimes it’s hard to find the candidates’ answers to the questions and sometimes the candidates will hedge when answering, but to me, the answers to these questions say much more about the candidates than just their positions on the issues at hand.

Question #1: What is the candidate’s position on abortion?

This one has many shades of gray (funding, age limits, accessibility, notification, etc), but the focus of my question is on the candidate’s position about the morality of abortion. Should a woman have the right to choose whether or not to get an abortion? Usually, candidates will be fairly black and white on this issue.

Why this question?
It reveals something important about the basis for a candidate’s policy decisions. There is no argument that 100% opposes abortion (that I have heard or that anyone I know has heard) that is not based on religion. This is not to say that some of the arguments about limiting abortion are not valid for other reasons, but a strict, 100% opposition… it’s all about religion.

Why is it important?
Someone who has a strict anti-choice viewpoint bases their decision on religious dogma. I’m looking for a candidate who bases their decisions on rational thinking and objective reasoning. Basing decisions on 2,000 year old dogma doesn’t meet that criteria.

Question #2: What is the candidate’s position on climate science?

I want to clarify that this is not a question about any particular legislative proposals on how to handle global warming. This is a question specifically concerning the candidate’s view about the current state of climate science and, by association, whether they think global warming is occurring or not.

Why this question?
This question reveals an important aspect of the candidate’s objectivity and ability to independently analyze information. The evidence gathered by the world’s climate scientists overwhelmingly points to the fact that our planet is warming and shows an extremely high probability of it being accelerated by human activities. While the manner of dealing with the problem can be honestly and objectively debated, denying the existence of global warming is the intellectual equivalent of covering your ears and yelling “La! La! La! I can’t hear you!”

Why is it important?
Science education in much of the country is in a horrible state of insufficiency and the last thing we need is the country’s leaders making public statements discrediting good science in an attempt to score political points. Denial of global warming is ideologically-based and indicates that the candidate is more concerned with political or religious ideology than with objective reality and good science.

Question #3: What is the candidate’s position on the separation of church and state.

Prayer in public schools? Crèches in the courthouse lobby? Teaching creationism/intelligent design in public schools? Beginning government meetings with prayer? Proselytizing in the military? Religion-based discrimination? These issues are all ones of religious intrusion into what should Constitutionally be secular government activities.

Why this question?
This is another test of the candidate’s objectivity. Our Constitution has strict rules preventing government intrusion into religion and ensuring the free exercise of religion (and a non-preferential treatment of religion). A candidate’s response to this question reveals his thinking about religion and our government… and whether or not he actually supports the Constitution or if he only says he does.

Why is it important?
The religious right has become a disturbingly strong influence in this country, particularly in the Republican Party and the Tea Party. Despite their calls for following the Constitution, this issue reveals that their support of the Constitution only goes as far as their religious beliefs. The path they have chosen is one that leads to a theocracy and that’s about as anti-American as you can get. Any candidate who doesn’t strongly support an uncompromising separation of church and state is supporting that theocratic path.

There are other criteria that I use to select candidates as well as the ones above, but the above three questions serve as a good litmus test for candidate selection. I’ve only given brief summaries for the reasons behind each of the questions, but in each question, there’s a strong focus on finding out which candidates support good science and rational thinking, not necessarily by looking at many small issues, but by examining the overall intellectual and philosophical tendencies of a candidate. It establishes a foundation for further inquiry into each candidate’s positions, but if a candidate can’t provide that solid foundation based on a few simple questions, it seems silly to support them on issues that are, essentially, built upon that foundation.

If a candidate can’t leave religious dogma out of their decision-making process, doesn’t support solid science, and doesn’t support the Constitution, why should they get my support?

…or anyone’s support, for that matter.

And therein lies the problem

Tea Party Sign - Listing the Federal Government as a dependentThe Tea Party movement is all the rage in the media these days and, depending on the source, it’s either a long-overdue raising of voices by fiscally responsible, small-government Constitution supporters or it’s a ludicrous outcry of misinformed, ultra-right-wing, white Christians.

The problem, it seems, is that the Tea Party seems to be a bit of both. This charge is almost always vehemently denied, usually by those of the latter group who fancy themselves part of the former. The differences show up fairly clearly when various Tea Party leaders are interviewed.

For instance, Toby Marie Walker, the cofounder and president of the Waco Tea Party, said the following when asked about the issues on which they focus:

Well, we focus around three main issues; constitutionally limited government, free markets and fiscal responsibility. A litmus test that we use is about taxes or spending, and we focus on those issues because that’s what we were founded under.

It’s hard to argue with that. That’s the kind of Tea Party that I can support wholeheartedly and it’s what I’d always loved about the Republican Party in the past (somewhat distant past, sadly). If that were the main message of the Tea Party, then you could call me Mr. Lipton.

However, let’s take a look at the focal points of another Tea Party leader. Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association in Mississippi, says the following when asked what issues he presses. First, his more nebulous response:

Well, the American Family Association, part of why we got involved in this is we believe the country needs not only to be called back to constitutional government, not only back to physical responsibility, but also to the same cultural and social values that were embraced by the founders.

When asked about those “cultural and social values,” Mr. Fischer elaborates this way:

They said that the first of the inalienable rights that was granted to us by the creator is the right to life. So we believe sanctity of life has got to be central to any genuinely conservative movement, belief in a creator and to defending natural marriage and resisting the homosexual agenda.

So Mr. Fischer has an outwardly religion-based focus. Ms. Walker has a strong fiscal-policy-based focus. From what I’ve seen and read, neither of these two positions are uncommon in the Tea Party. Just looking at images of signs from any Tea Party rally will give plenty of examples of both sides; sometimes to the extreme of both sides.

Tea Party Sign - Seriously?Despite some claims that the Tea Party is not a religious movement, it seems that the preponderance of evidence points to its being decidedly, though not necessarily essentially, religious… specifically Christian… sometimes Mormon. Even those who focus on the issue of fiscal responsibility tend to lean toward the notion of “restoring family values,” which is almost always code for “imposing Christian values,” something for which there is no concrete definition, varying widely from sect to sect.

Fischer represents the religious aspect of the Tea Party perfectly, if not mildly in the above interview. Based on some of the signs at Tea Party events, many supporters are far more fervent in their belief that the United States should be a theocracy. Of course, they’ll deny they do want a theocracy. Instead, as Rob Boston of Americans United says, they want to see…

…a flock of “Christian statesmen” who will “align the public policy of the United States with the will of God.”

…which, of course, would be a theocracy.

While the Tea Party represents the laudable ideas of fiscal responsibility, small government, and adherence to the Constitution, it is tainted by the incessantly vociferous bigotry of the religious right and their need to entwine their twisted values around our secular government. While those like Ms. Walker work to keep the message focused on the economy and criticism of government spending, people like Mr. Fischer undercut that message with their insistence on mixing (Christian) church and state, ironically contradicting the very Constitution they so vehemently espouse.

And therein lies the problem.

Our cats are not spoiled

Our cats love to hang out on the window sills, especially when the windows are open. They bird-watch and chatter at squirrels or just sniff the air, looking all relaxed and happy. I often thought it would be nice if they could go outside in a controlled area just to get a better view and find more sun.

So… since I had some free time the past four months (*cough*), I decided that I would create just such an area for the cats… a cat veranda, if you will. It was an adventure.

The base I first made the base out of some scrap wood we had in the garage. I was going to make the enclosure frame out of wood too, but upon further consideration, 3/4″ PVC pipe seemed like it would be easier… and easier means faster means I’ll actually finish the project. That was easily decided.

Planning a moderately elaborate “box” made out of PVC is not as easy as one might initially believe. Most hardware stores don’t carry three-point “corner” pieces in the plumbing department. They exist, but they’re not common, so I had to plan odd corners and convoluted joints using right angle elbows and Ts… both of which add about 3/4″ to the length of the pipe… and I was using sometimes six pieces in a single run.

The decidedly sketchy plans My plans were sketchy at best, but I muddled through the measurements with a cup of coffee, a pencil, and a now overused eraser. I’ve decided that PVC math is hard and I don’t want to do it anymore. It turned out that I had everything right except for one end, which had corner posts about two inches short… an easy fix.

So I figured out what I needed (more or less) and headed to Lowe’s (like Home Depot, but blue), plans in my pocket, to make the purchase. Easy in. Easy out. As an added bonus, I was able to fit the five 10-foot sticks of PVC in my Mercury Montego with all the doors and windows closed.

Are you kidding me?! Three feet short?! So now I had all my stuff and it was time to start chopping up the PVC into the needed lengths. I broke out the chop saw and went to work (measure twice, cut once). Everything was going great until I neared the very end and (insert many colorful expletives here) I realized that I need three more feet of PVC. Three feet! I ran around the house looking for some extra lying around, but of course all I could find was 1/2″ and 1″… no 3/4″. I was going to make a mental note about something related to it, but the thought got drowned out in the continued profanity.

This time I went to Home Depot (it’s 1/4 mile closer) and grabbed another 10-foot stick of 3/4″ PVC.

It's like Lincoln logs!... without the fun! Okay… all set. Good to go. Time to start putting this puppy together. My plans were weighted down so they wouldn’t blow away because if I lost them, this project would have been over. I wasn’t going to do that &$%!*# PVC math again. I had about 53′ of cut PVC, 30 Ts, and 10 elbows. I had cleaner and glue, too, but I wasn’t sure if I needed it (or wanted it… it’s a bit unforgiving).

The assembled PVC frame! Things went pretty well during the assembly. I made a few changes on the fly (and they actually worked out). It all stayed together fairly well without the glue. A wooden mallet helped with that.

So the frame was complete, but it certainly wouldn’t keep a cat contained… not even a lazy one. So it was time to add the wire. I got 1″x1″ fencing wire, cut it to fit each section, and zip tied it into place. A few cuts and scrapes later and it actually looked like an enclosure.

Point of note… I used to make rabbit hutches and sell them when I was in high school, so I’ve worked with cage wire a lot (not chicken wire, but the good stuff). If anyone offers you the opportunity to work with 1″x1″ wire or 1″x2″ wire or pretty much anything similar… don’t.

All wired up and nowhere to go. So I had my cage. I had my base. Now I had to assemble the whole kit and kaboodle into a working unit that could be inhabited by cats. Sadly, I hadn’t really thought it through this far… at least not definitively. It had to rest against a dual kitchen window… and somehow not fall over, collapse, rip down the siding, destroy the screens, or demolish the window frame. Plus it had to somehow link to the inside of the house… you know, so the cats could actually go into it?

Whose crazy idea was this?!

Mounting the base (yeah, I said it!) Okay… so I figured it wasn’t going to hang off the window all by itself, so I made slots to hold legs, put four legs under it, added a lip to sit on the edge of the window frame, and used the interior window panel (that I made but didn’t photograph) to hold it all into place… sort of like a window air conditioning unit. I stand by that design, but I’ll withhold final judgment until after the next windstorm.

All that was left was to attach the enclosure and toss in some cats. Easier said than done (on both counts).

Ready for cats! I attached the enclosure using more trusty zip ties and some eye hooks. I didn’t photograph that in detail because, frankly, it’s embarrassing. However, it did work and I’m assuming it’s all still in place, though I can’t see it while sitting in front of my computer.

Next came the cat test! Lori shoved Houdini through the door, which was pretty easy because he didn’t fight it. He took to it right away, checking it all out and hopping up on the platform.

Peanut wasn’t too happy about getting shoved through the door, but she checked it out and decided that, at least for now (without the sun beating down on her), the couch was a more desirable choice.

Sophie loved it and hung out there for a good half hour until she realized that we’d eaten dinner and she hadn’t gotten any.

Chexie didn’t get to try it because Peanut hates her. I’ll have to make a special one for her.

Here they are checking it out.

Houdini Peanut Sophie viewed from inside the house

So… all done. The cats had better appreciate it or we’re getting rid of them and getting new cats that do.

I’m going to go bandage up my hands now.

Bug’s Demo Reel

To help my niece sell her thoroughbred horse, Bug, I created this demo reel of her riding and jumping him so prospective buyers could see him before they made the drive out to meet him.

I shot it using a Kodak Playsport and a Kodak Zi8.