Yearly Archives: 2017

Science marches on – challenging chaos and supersistion

Tami Carlow and Kristen Swanson at the rainy Science March

Tami Carlow and Kristen Swanson at the rainy Science March

Tami Carlow said, “Rain will not stop Kristen Swanson and I from marching for Science in Washington, D.C.”

Tami is a gardener with undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology, concentrating in entomology.  “Ever since I was little, I was fascinated by insects.”  Tami has published papers on the flightless weevil (Eisonyx Crassipes) and parasitic wasps on the backs of dragon flies.  Little wonder that she was a taxonomist, studying weevils at the Natural History museum in DC.  Also little wonder that she would join the Science March on Washington this past Saturday.

 

 

Science March on Washington

Science March on Washington

Kristen K. Swanson, of Lovettsville, is an artist but her technique requires some craft at science.  Kristen takes a soft lump of stoneware clay, thrown on a potter’s wheel (if not made from clay slabs), shapes the clay by hand, paints or “carves” designs on the clay body, and fires the clay twice, the second time at 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Kristen received her Bachelor of fine Arts in Ceramic Art in 1998 from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

Tami and Kristen joined thousands in Washington DC on Earth Day and many others in 600 cities on 6 continents including research scientists in Antarctica.

There are many instances to insist on science as your guide this year.  The Science March itself was inspired by the Women’s March, and has been characterized by the slogan, “There is no Planet B.” Continue reading

Killing innocents

Jail_barsWe struggle with the question of how to kill those convicted of killing others.

Arkansas apparently is struggling to win the indoor record for killing the most on death row in the shortest period of time, 8 persons in 10 days.

Some people on death row are saved by the bell.

Eight men on death row in Arkansas have been saved by midazolam – at least for awhile.

The current death cocktail requires that the person be put asleep with midazolam so that he is not awake when two other drugs suffocate and kill him.

So what’s the hold up?

Midazolam doesn’t always work.

A federal judge, Kristine Baker, wrote an 101 page decision concerned that the drug doesn’t work, thus stopping the executions.

Our society is in a bad place when we talk about how we kill inmates instead of whether we should at all.

Arkansas is so anxious to kill they intend to appeal the judge’s ruling.

There are plenty of good reasons not to execute anyone.

The best reason is that the so-called judicial system doesn’t get it right; it convicts innocents.

Damien Echols was convicted as a teenager in Arkansas with two friends for murdering three boys.  They suspected he was part of a satanic cult.  He spent about two decades on death row waiting for his execution.  DNA proved he did not commit the crime.

Some people believe that if Virginia had better-paid criminal defense lawyers with more administrative and investigative resources, it would have a better criminal justice system.

That’s just not the case. Continue reading

Fight for your rights – or lose them!

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – lost to Americans?

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – lost to Americans?

Mr. Donald Trump is hell bent on resisting individual rights and freedoms.

Mr. Trump would isolate us from the world with a wall.

Mr. Trump leans on local police forces to extend federal police powers into our local communities on the claimed need to rid the nation of immigrants.

Mr. Trump suffers from a too sensitive egg-shell-thin temperament and an itchy finger for tweet lies and a growing urge to war clumsily and unconstitutionally in the mid-East.

Regrettably, we have a government of plutocrats and warmongers who pretend empathy but prefer misery.

It’s quite a dystopic picture but to many overseas and here, this is America.

No longer is our nation perceived as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

On January 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt praised how our citizens had “forgotten points of the compass.”

Mr. Trump insists our citizens are not all equal and thus does he divide the nation.

President Roosevelt said this nation was bound to resist “any attempt to lock us in behind an ancient Chinese wall.”

Mr. Trump is obsessively bound to build a multi-billion dollar wall to lock in our southern border and keep “those people” out from the south and across the Atlantic.

President Roosevelt condemned “one-way international law.”  Mr. Trump, on the other hand just committed an act of war in Syria in defiance of UN protocols, State Department utterances, and absent any congressional declaration of war.  China charges Mr. Trump did this because his popularity is falling like a stone and he wants to prove he’s independent of Russia.

President Roosevelt insisted our armed forces drew their strength from the “unshakeable belief in the manner of life which they are defending.”  Mr. Trump has relentlessly run down this nation’s finest qualities and persists since his election in compromising and destroying what many at home and abroad believed was best about our nation.

Mr. Trump has contravened President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: Continue reading

Truth

Some mistake shadows for truth

Some mistake shadows for truth

We do not need to read the philosophy of Wittgenstein or Socrates to know what is true or false.

But perhaps we need to review what goes awry in human psychology when a person with a seemingly right functioning mind defies what is known to be transparently true and argues instead for what is patently false.

Some clearly suffer an impaired cognitive function when their operative principle is that they wouldn’t see it — if they didn’t already believe it.

Plato devised an allegory of citizens in a cave, locked in position, looking forward, seeing only the reflected shadows before them on a wall projected by unseen actors behind them; shadows were their reality.

Others know very well what is true but they lie as a means to an unworthy end.

Daily, more of our family, friends and neighbors indulge a vacation from what’s true in order to persuade others that something is true that they know to be false.

When I was young, I read a book, titled, “You can trust the communists to be communists.”

This meant that “truth,” as defined for the communists, was whatever was necessary to manipulate the public.

The study of rhetoric to deceive and manipulate a people originated with the sophists of ancient Greece.  Socrates spoke against their machinations, insisting they caused social instability.  We are presently challenged with instability in our government and our policies because of these same rhetorical pirouettes, and we must succeed where Socrates failed lest our nation sip the deadly hemlock that took Socrates.

George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

We are not yet “in [that] time of universal deceit” but deceit has intrusively implicated itself in our public dialogue and its disabling effects are manifest.

Some optimists say our nation has survived worse.

Sir Francis Bacon warned that our minds are wired to deceive us and we should “[b]eware the fallacies into which undisciplined thinkers most easily fall” for these fallacies are “the real distorting prisms of human nature” and the worst may be the assumption that there is “more order than exists in chaotic nature.”

The fallacy of inductive thinking is the notion that because something happened in the past that it will happen in the future; this fallacy is explored exhaustively in a marvelous book, the Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Continue reading

We are not helping addicts!

[John P. Flannery was a federal drug prosecutor in the Southern District of NY,  and served on various drug task forces since.]

[John P. Flannery was a federal drug prosecutor in the Southern District of NY,
and served on various drug task forces since.]

We say we want to fight drug addiction in this nation and in the communities where we live but we are not helping the addicts.

There is a frenzy among elected and appointed officials, blathering on at press conferences, oh so concerned, seeking to discourage drug use and addiction, including street heroin and prescription drugs.

But law enforcement is not going after the drug kingpins, instead it’s chasing and arresting the low hanging fruit that are the persons, the addicts, they say they want to help.

Our law enforcement officials are going after the drug stats that bring funds into sheriff’s offices and police stations around the nation, and they get these numbers by arresting those who may rightly be considered the victims of the drug trade, the addicts that these chest-beating officials insist they want to help.

If you go after drug lords, they fight back.  An officer can get hurt doing that.  I’ve known brave men and women from the DEA, however, who did just that, went undercover, risked life and limb, and broke up drug rings that saved many from addiction.

On the other hand, if you go after the victims of the drug trade to make a criminal case, you’ve got an easy mark, with little or no personal risk as an officer.

In the 70s when we called this a “war” on drugs, and believed we’d some day win “the war,” I prosecuted drug lords who brought 600 pounds of heroin from France, and mobsters who brought many millions of dollars of heroin from Thailand.  Other members of our “junk” unit worked similar cases.  While the drug trade persists these many years later, we seem to have gotten worse at fighting – what one DEA agent called – the white death.

Too often these days, our enforcement policies are awfully close to criminalizing an individual’s status as addict, a health problem.  We prosecute an addict as a criminal, whom we insist to the papers and the general public, this is a person who can’t help himself, and this is a person who commits other petty offenses including small quantity hand to hand drug buys to afford his fix.

The Supreme Court, in Robinson v. California, 370 US 660, 666, 82 S. Ct. 1417, 1420, 8th Ed 2d 758 (1962), found it to be a “cruel and unusual punishment”, a violation of the 8th Amendment, to make it a crime to be an addict:

“A State may not punish a person for being ‘mentally ill, or a leper or . . . . afflicted with a venereal disease’, or for being addicted to narcotics.”  Id.

The Court said “To inflict punishment for having a disease is to treat the individual as a diseased thing rather than as a sick human being.”

In Robinson, the crime of addiction was a misdemeanor, and so the punishment was not as severe as what we do to some addicts these days when we “save them” only to “prosecute them” for felonies.

The Robinson Court said the fact “[t]hat the punishment is not severe, ‘in the abstract,’ is irrelevant”.  It is the disproportion between the conduct and the penalty.  “Even one day in prison,” the Court said, “would be cruel and unusual punishment for the ‘crime’ of having a common cold.” Id., at 667, 82 S. Ct. at 142.

I know well a young man in the area, who was an addict, suffered an overdose, passed out, would have died, and been lost to friend and family alike had he not been brought back to consciousness by the drug, Narcan.

This young man was taken to the hospital where he was observed by the attending physician and nurses to assure that he would survive.

(Even after receiving the drug Narcan, there is no guarantee that the patient will survive.)

But lo and behold, a law enforcement officer stationed himself in the young man’s emergency room after he was admitted.

Another officer entered the emergency room and remained continuously with the young man, sitting bedside, asking him questions within an hour of the young man’s overdose, within minutes of the young man’s partially remembered glimpse into the mid-distance between life and death.

The officer told the young man, he didn’t want to prosecute the young man – as if the young man could possibly understand what the officer meant.

The officer asked him “to cooperate,” tell what he knew, and he wouldn’t be prosecuted.

It would be fair to say the young man didn’t have his mind about him. The young man told the officer what he knew of the small quantities he used and where he got them and who he traded small amounts with in order to sustain his addiction.

At the end of this, the law enforcement officer found his “cooperation” unsatisfactory and sought to prosecute him for the felony of trafficking in drugs.

There you have it, what we really mean by helping addicts.

We don’t.

“Envision” – end of rural?

Lovettsville in Loudoun’s Rural Area

Lovettsville in Loudoun’s Rural Area

Loudoun County, self-described as one of the richest and most splendid counties in America, has set upon producing a “new” comprehensive plan, titled, “Envision Loudoun,” and, to that end, sought to obtain the opinions of the community in what were called, “listening and learning sessions,” to determine what that plan should look like for the County including its rural area.

David Truman, a political scientist, wrote that public hearings and input sessions may be to inform the governing body or they may just be methods to expel political energy while disregarding the will of the people.

Focusing on Western Loudoun, the comments from listening, learning and postings in this ongoing process include thousands of published comments (in small 10 pica type) to preserve Western Loudoun and to stop the development that is underway; this is a sample of the comments:

  • “Stop the urban sprawl and protect Western Loudoun.”
  • “Maintain two distinct areas, rural west, urban east.”
  • “Keep the West rural.”
  • “Stop growth.”
  • “Contributing to this is the county caving in to developers’ desires…”
  • “Economic development should not be a higher purpose than livability – property rights matter.”
  • “Rural roads should be left unpaved.  If people move to the rural area it should be for the aesthetics of the area.”
  • “Protect culture of western Loudoun established over last 250 years.”
  • “Protect stone fences throughout western Loudoun, along historic roadways in western Loudoun County, e.g., Beaverdam Creek Historic Roadway.”
  • “Maintain open spaces.”
  • “Preserve current agriculture [and] farms.”
  • “Historic villages aren’t meant to support traffic.”
  • “No big box stores [in] Western Loudoun.”
  • “Love Western Loudoun as it is, keep open space, horse farms, fight development pressure/housing development.”
  • “Stop the residential development.”

At the same time, the public’s opinions were released, there was a separate “Foundation Report” that purported to represent the findings of the “listening” and “learning.”

It described how “Loudoun County has evolved from a collection of rural villages” and from when it was “primarily an agricultural community.”

Rather than cite the will of the residents in the County, and in Western Loudoun, the Report says there is a “growing market demand for new types of development and community amenities.” Continue reading

TRUMPCARELESS! Sad!

Mr. Donald Trump and Speaker Ryan

Mr. Donald Trump and Speaker Ryan

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump promised in September 2015 on 60 Minutes that when he got rid of Obamacare, “I am going to take care of everybody.  Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

Yet there’s Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plan in the House of Representatives that won’t cover everyone – and Ryan is just fine with that – as are many members of the Republican caucus fine including Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock – no matter that Ryan is prepared to leave millions behind without health coverage who have been covered under Obamacare.

Asked how many would lose coverage, Speaker Ryan said on CBS’s Face the Nation, “I can’t answer that question.”

Incidentally, Mr. Trump is lobbying Congress to support Speaker Ryan’s plan, to calm the fears of Republican members with a conscience.

Vice President Pence said they need the support of every Republican Member to pass the measure in the House.

Some will die without the health care coverage guaranteed by Obamacare.

Others will find health care unaffordable and do without and suffer for it.

For example, Lovettsville’s Eden Reck, 10 years old, reportedly has had 40 hospitalizations in her life, because of life-threatening genetic conditions.  Obamacare assures her family that she will continue to be treated.  The lifetime cap eliminated by Obamacare means her three siblings will now be at risk for the $1 Million lifetime cap she might exhaust for her care alone. Continue reading

Trump tap tweet – “SAD!”

The latest Trump pants on fire lie

The latest Trump pants on fire lie

Misdirection is the first considered refuge of a cornered politician or a guilty suspect.

Of course, some politicians and suspects have a core character that draws the line at lying once caught – and they face the music.

Mr. Trump is not, however, “that guy” who confesses to chopping down the cherry tree.

Mr. Trump charged President Obama wasn’t born in the United States without any evidence.

Mr. Trump claimed he would have won the popular vote last year if there hadn’t been voter fraud without any evidence of fraud.

Mr. Trump claimed to have had the biggest electoral vote since 1984 when President Obama bested Mr. Trump’s electoral total in both of Mr. Obama’s elections.

Mr. Trump lies about things big and small.

Afterwards, he walks his lies back, when the lies have had the desired effect that Mr. Trump contemplated, to gain tribute for himself (often) or, to misdirect public attention from his own misconduct (an almost daily occurrence now).

It is little wonder that Mr. Trump has surrounded himself with cabinet members and oval office staff who have trouble “recalling” their contacts with the Russians during or since the presidential election. Continue reading

The escape from freedom

Mr. Donald Trump and Mr. Steve Bannon, the despotic duo.

Mr. Donald Trump and Mr. Steve Bannon, the despotic duo.

Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm wrote in 1941 how individual freedom may invite feelings of isolation, powerlessness, and hopelessness, so strongly that one sacrifices individual freedom for authority and submission, to avoid the uncertainty of freedom, at the cost of independent thought.

Virginia Senator James Webb charged that there exists a compensation chasm between what largesse the billionaire “job creators” harvest and how much the “workers” earn.

This greed has created isolation and hopelessness among many working Americans.

Ironically, a Billionaire, realtor Donald Trump, gave “workers” hope though Mr. Trump has  appointed no one since his inauguration to represent the workers.

Mr. Trump’s program “guarantees” that America will be first, will reconsider our nation’s relationship with its long-time NATO allies, will build a wall along the Mexican border, encourage nation states to join the exclusive nuclear club, and will favor Russian President Vladimir Putin, who overran and occupied Crimea with military force.

Mr. Trump is indisputably authoritarian, surrounded by radical right wing acolytes, all in a rush to rule, and to overrun any one critical of his chaotic impulses.

By way of example, Mr. Trump late one Friday night executed a Muslim ban against documented immigrants from seven mostly Muslim states who had already been “extremely vetted.”

Mr. Trump broke his sworn oath of office to uphold the constitution as confirmed by several federal courts, finding his executive order was unconstitutional; Mr. Trump bragged he’d appeal; he has not. Continue reading

Traitor Trump

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold

Mr. Donald Trump was for leaks before he was against them.

Mr. Trump is strong in the truth because so little of what he says is true – and we all cherish what is rare.

Mr. Trump “won” an election by suppressing the truth and now he hopes to give flight to his lies by suppressing the press that would tell the truth about his lies.

Mr. Trump favored leaks in his public bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they compromised former Secretary Hillary Clinton.

It’s a different “story,” however, when the leaks uncover how Mr. Trump’s adviser, Michael Flynn, may have been undermining the Obama Administration’s sanctions against Mr. Putin’s Russia for interfering in our nation’s presidential election.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates found the taped conversation that Michael Flynn had with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December “highly significant” and “potentially illegal” because Mr. Flynn discussed the Obama sanctions against Russia. Continue reading