Saturday, February 11, 2012

One last thing

I have something to say, and THEN the blog will probably go quiet.

It's 2012, and we're discussing the legality of contraception? Really, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich (who clearly used it when cheating with his future second wife on his first, and his future third wife on his second), and Rush Limbaugh (who has had 4 wives and has no children. Someone's using Birth Control there.)?

Look: Griswold v. CT decided this in 1965 and Eisenstadt v. Baird decided this AGAIN in 1972 so the oddly-dressed unsexed virgin men on my television machine can kindly shut all of the entire f*ck up. Kindly.

Thank you.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


I started this blog in 2003, and I was angry. Very angry.

I am still angry. So very, very angry. Nothing has really changed, from the time I started this blog in opposition to the Bush Administration's plans to invade Iraq to now. A Party Change in the White House, which I've welcomed. But much else? We'll really have to see.

I am so angry I don't even know how to properly express it.

And to be honest, I've neglected this space for others. Twitter. Daily Kos.

I'm not entirely certain yet, but I think I'll be closing down this space for the time being. I express my anger in strange ways. And in other ways---mainly Twitter. You can find me there, if you want.

My longtime blog friend Sean-Paul Kelly has turned his place over to other management. I didn't get that successful (and I'm ok with that). I may return to this space, for those who read it. Otherwise, you all know where to find me. And if not, I'm not hard to find.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How To Cause An Earthquake, And Other Assorted Ramblings

It’s been known for quite some time that human activities can induce seismicity. Dams create lakes behind them that can weigh down the crust (as can flooded quarries) Mines can collapse. Gas and oil extraction can do the same. Geothermal energy projects induce seismicity as well. This isn’t exactly controversial, and hasn’t been for several decades. On nature’s side, heavy rainfall can induce earthquakes as well.

Since natural gas extraction has lately become a serious environmental and partisan political issue, and big earthquakes worldwide have made big news over the last two years, I thought I’d write a brief review about what’s known, and what’s not.

First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this diary out by taking a scientific stand, and explicitly spelling out my stance on the phenomenon in relation to a series of moderate quakes that have rattled and caused significant damage to areas east of the Rockies over the last couple years. I wouldn’t want to be accused of being a shill for the gas companies, be questioned about my motives because of my employer (those who know me know who I work for, and my employer is rather incensed by the extra work and significant damage the drillers are doing to infrastructure in my state), and so on. This is a bit of meta but I think it needs saying, since the behavior is rather infamous here on a variety of controversial scientific issues. Genetically modified food is one of those, although we’re not talking about that here. On the other hand, what do you folks think corn/maize is? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

To put it simply: I like proof. Good old fashioned peer-reviewed Proof. It's sexy. This sort of proof is what we use for climate change and the ongoing disaster that has become. Pointing to a bunch of somewhat related studies (or more commonly, other blog posts commenting on university press releases) and then going “see?” isn’t proof to me. It’s a hypothesis, sure, and an entirely reasonable one given the research, but until it’s investigated and researched for the specific subject at hand, it isn’t proof. I also know, from all available evidence, that hydrofracking for natural gas extraction is a very bad thing from just about every environmental angle I can think of (even the earthquake one).

Are the recent earthquakes in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Colorado induced by oil and gas extraction activities? I very much lean toward no for all three based on available evidence , although a weak case for the August quake in Colorado I think can be made. In Virginia it’s a quake that occurred in a region that’s hosted infrequent large (and possibly, very large) earthquakes in the past several millennia, although I do think a (rather weak) case can be made that it was partially induced by events begun in 1971 relating to the creation of Lake Anna, which is nearby. In Oklahoma I have a bunch of ideas ranging from natural seismicity to induced seismicity to the recent uptick is a prelude to a much larger sequence of quakes, even if they don’t occur for several decades. This has likely happened in Oklahoma before, but when it did, no one who wrote down history was living there. For all three, I still submit that they’d have happened anyway at their magnitudes with or without human influence which hasn’t been absolutely proven, and I doubt was involved. All three occurred in areas that are seismically active relative to their surrounding areas.

But how would humans induce an earthquake?


Reservoir induced seismicity is well known, and has been both highly damaging and deadly worldwide.

In the 1940s, as Lake Mead filled, a series of quakes began, rattling nerves in the new and growing city of Las Vegas. Some were large, compared to what had been experienced in the local region to that point. Eventually, seismologists tied the rising lake to the quakes which incidentally, still occur today. It got deadly after that: an M6.5 earthquake in Koyna, India, in 1967 killed 180 people. (Seismicity still continues in that region to this date).

How does this happen? While the exact mechanism isn’t fully understood, it works like this: Water is heavy. Very heavy. It can weigh down the crust, deforming it, and increasing pressure on the ground below. Locally it can influence whatever regional stress field exists. Water can also force its way underground beneath a reservoir (or, a flooded quarry). Much like hydrofracking, the water creates fractures. If the water finds itself a fault that happens to both be 1. Stuck and 2. Oriented to the regional strain field, the fault can rupture. This is fairly well observed, all over the world.
In 1994 a fairly sizable earthquake for the region (M4.6, with an M4 foreshock) struck near Reading, PA. As it occurred two evenings prior to Northridge, it eventually got forgotten in the news. However research determined that a quarry in the area had ceased production, and flooded. When the quarry was abandoned and flooded, the strain in the local area changed suddenly enough to produce an earthquake on one of the many buried faults that riddle the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Well, series of earthquakes—the sequence began in 1993 and is apparently still ongoing. Minor quakes still shake the Reading suburbs.
I’ve read an argument that this is precisely what happened in Virginia. Lake Anna sits right in the middle of the Central Virginia Seismic Zone, and was filled in 1971. A retired geophysicist feels it was the causative agent behind August’s quake. I think a case can be made with further research, but I sincerely doubt it.

However this isn’t something you should expect with all dams, quarries, and reservoirs. A fault loaded to rupture already needs to be there.
This is the short version. A wealth of information can be found via Google Scholar, and a variety of websites on the internet.

Perhaps one of the best papers on the subject that I’ve found is “On the Nature of Reservoir-induced Seismicity” by Pradeep Talwani.


It’s been more or less conclusively proven that these activities can induce seismicity.
In the early 1960s, at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a program to dispose of waste fluid began. The fluid was injected down very deep wells drilled deep into the earth. What could go wrong, the Army thought.

Now, earthquakes had rattled the Front Range in Colorado in the past. A fairly significant one struck in 1882, its magnitude assessed at probably 6.6. A fault in Colorado has been recently identified (PDF). But these probably weren’t exactly known in the 1960s. Human beings have a habit of forgetting and losing their awareness of hazards over time.

At any rate, the ground started rumbling.
(PDF) It built to a point in 1966 and 1967, where three earthquakes over M5 caused some damage in and around Denver. After that, injection ceased. Then, the earthquakes more or less ceased. Further investigation proved that the injection activated a fault, which then ruptured. Would it have done so without our help? Perhaps, or perhaps not.

This is what happened near Guy, Arkansas. The region had been active before, a swarm rattled a nearby area in 2001, so when the quakes started again in 2010, that’s what people thought was going on. However, once injection ceased, so did (for the most part) the earthquakes. Arkansas has placed a moratorium on waste fluid disposal in wells. I assume the fluid is now going to sewage treatment plants, like it is in Pennsylvania, and that is a whole other kettle of fish.
It’s also occurred in Ohio and other places.

Basically, it works like this: You have your well. Your well is drilled perhaps 2, 3, even 4 kilometers into the earth’s crust. Unknown (or perhaps known, if one assumes a level of dishonesty on the part of the geophysicists who work for energy companies) to you, there’s a buried fault there, right under or adjacent to your disposal well. The fault, of course, has no noticeable surface expression, especially if you’re east of the Rocky Mountains. You pump the waste fluid from your gas/oil extraction operation into this well. It has to be disposed of somehow. The fluid works its way into the fault, lubricating it. In most cases, nothing happens, but this fault happens to be under strain, close to rupture geologically speaking, and aligned to the regional compressive stress field. And, it does. And it doesn’t stop until you stop injecting fluid down the well. When you do, most stop right away, although the seismicity may linger for a time after that.

You can also modify this for similar processes used for geothermal energy. The Geysers in northern California is infamous and After a series of quakes in Basel, Switzerland, a geothermal plant was shut down after it was linked to them. It’s not just the oil and gas industry that can induce seismicity. The very green geothermal industry can too. But it’s more or less the same here too, as it is in seismicity generated by other human activities. You have to have a fault right under your well, or very close to it, and it has to be a fault that’s already stressed just about to the point of failure. Conditions have to be just right (well, wrong, if it’s a populated area) for a quake of size to happen. This is the short version, of course: this site, one of many, has a lot more primary source information.

I want to go back to something I mentioned at the beginning of the diary, as to an idea I’ve kicked around since the earthquakes in Oklahoma began this weekend. Dr. Seth Stein of Northwestern University, in Chicago, and his team have developed a series of intriguing theories to help explain why earthquakes occur in the middle of continental plates/. The USGS has created a seismic hazard map, which it is in the process of updating, that I feel isn’t entirely accurate. Scattered across the eastern and Midwestern part of the nation are various little zones where seismicity is elevated compared to surrounding regions. Central Virginia is one of those areas. Charleston, South Carolina is another. A region centered at New Madrid, MO is the most famous. Another is located in central Connecticut at Moodus. We don’t entirely understand why these regions are the way they are---some may be related to exceptionally ancient rifting, others are related to post-glacial rebound and others on ancient continental collisions. Various pieces of continents attached themselves to what is now the eastern third of the US, and perhaps they’re not all knit neatly together. All of this is being pushed, generally, westward. Dr. Stein hypothesizes that these little patches of elevated seismicity are actually aftershocks of much larger quakes, and that large quakes can migrate all over the place—zones can turn on and off over time. We sort of see this happening in China.

For Oklahoma (and perhaps elsewhere) I’ve come up with a few hypotheses:
1. The earthquakes are entirely natural
2. They’re induced entirely by human activity
3. They’re natural, but indicative (warning) of a coming, larger and more significant quake i.e., the Wilzetta Fault (PDF), which appears to be the culprit, has turned itself on, perhaps due to stress transfer from the New Madrid quakes that occurred to its east 200 years ago.
4. Hypothesis 3, but the threat mitigated somewhat, because the strain was partially released due to hypothesis 2.

I guess we won’t know. I lean toward hypothesis one based on all available evidence (and there's none at this point that points the blame at nothing but the Earth itself), but hypothesis 3 is interesting too. It's not like Oklahoma is aseismic.

This is by far an incredibly cursory review of what I know, and what science knows. Now I didn’t spend this time to disprove my point, which is I think the quakes mentioned at the beginning of the diary were natural. I wrote all of this to show how it could be proven otherwise, and done so scientifically (which rather is the only proof I’ll really accept). I’m in no way saying gas drillers should keep fracking. I absolutely think they should stop.Their danger to water supplies is documented. Their damage to roads is well known to transportation departments all over the place. I also think that if they're inducing quakes to occur, this has to be investigated and proved.

In short, prove it first before you blame the drillers. This isn't out of concern for the drillers. It's out of concern for the scientific process.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banned Book Week!

It's Banned Book week! Here's the list of the 100 most challenged books---the one's I've read are in bold, per these rules.

It occurs to me my home school district, Upper Darby, actually assigned a lot of these. For a district that was more or less run by Republicans, this might be a surprise, but it was suburban Philadelphia, after all. Very few fundies. This is a good thing.

Also interesting that the Joy of Sex isn't on this list (and yes, I've read that one too) but the Joy of Gay Sex is.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Seismologists responsible for the deaths earthquakes cause? Really?

crossposted from Daily Kos

Yep, that headline is not hyperbolic. It's an actual case ongoing in Italy right now. It's also outrageous.

L'Aquilla is a city located in central Italy. It is the capital of the Abruzzo region. It also sits in a region that is seismically active. All of Italy is, as it sits astride the boundary between Europe (well, Eurasia) and Africa, giving the nation its famous volcanoes such as Etna and Vesuvius, and earthquakes that have long rattled and destroyed cities for as long as we humans have been building them.

L'Aquilla was no different. An earthquake hit the place in December of 1315. Another one hit in January of 1349, during the height of the Black Death. A 1703 quake utterly flattened the place, as did another one in the summer of 1786. So it's not like the hazard was unknown. Perhaps, somewhat forgotten, as we've seen in recent quakes all over the world, the quake you expect and plan for may not be the one you get (see, Tohoku, both Christchurch/Canterbury quakes, and Port-au-Prince).

When 2009 rolled around, something odd happened in the Abruzzo region. A laboratory technician detected elevated levels of radon burping up from the ground, went on television, and stated a major quake was coming for the area. Now, it's well established that sometimes, radon emissions can sometimes portend a future quake. There is some evidence of this fact, and in fact, elevated radon was detected before March's megaquake off of Northeast Japan. But more often than not, this does not lead to much of anything. Indeed, I live over a formation that farts up radon on a regular basis all over my state, and we almost never have earthquakes (which doesn't mean they haven't happened, or don't happen, or won't happen. The written historical record is too short to really know what the largest quake Pennsylvania can have, and that's a topic for another time.)

Says Chris Rowan (from the linked article above):
I’m not pointing this out because I think that proposed precursors such as radon emissions and EM signals are not worth studying: there is enough evidence to suggest that some of these signals are indeed related in some way to tectonic processes in the subsurface. However, studies like this are often reported as a definitive step towards the holy grail: reliable, timely warnings of imminent seismic activity. The abundance of false positives is a clear indication that things are nowhere near this clear cut. When your ‘precursor’ signal is only associated with an earthquake one time in ten, or even one time in four, you’ve obviously still got a lot of work to do. Perhaps one day there will be some theoretical or technical breakthrough that allows us to distinguish real precursors from the noise. But until that day, whenever you read a story that describes some phenomenon that preceded a large earthquake, and dangles the carrot of true earthquake prediction, don’t just look at the headline event. Check for false positives.

Radon emissions, among other things, were also detected prior to Loma Prieta (also known as the San Francisco Quake of 1989, although technically, its epicenter was closer to Santa Cruz).

Like Rowan, I'm not saying this is an area of potential research to be ignored, however.

Back to Italy. Essentially what happened is the technician went on tv, scared a bunch of people that a disaster was imminent within a short timeframe, and was reported to police. Italian geophysicists then stated that earthquakes can't be predicted with precision (true) and that people shouldn't worry too much, beyond having their normal disaster plans ready. Preparedness never hurt anyone, don'tcha know.

In addition, a series of smaller quakes had rattled the region, and nerves. We know now they were foreshocks, but foreshocks cannot be identified as such until after the fact.

The earth had other ideas. Within the week, in fact.

At 3:32AM (local time) on the 6th of April, 2009, an M6.3 quake ripped through the region along a normal fault trending NW-SE. Its hypocenter was only 5.9 miles beneath the surface of the Earth, thus making it a very shallow earthquake. As we've seen time and time again, most recently with Spain's M5.3 near Lorca, even a moderate earthquake like this one can be catastrophic when close to the surface, even in nations well acquainted with seismic hazard (again, see Christchurch).

The quake rattled all of Central Italy, swaying buildings in Rome and Naples. It devastated L'Aquilla, and killed 309 people.

L'Aquilla had considerable medieval building stock, but it was modern buildings that suffered the most. A hospital wing and dorm collapsed. Aftershocks caused even more collapses. Modern buildings, in a nation well acquainted with seismic activity, should not just collapse. We'll get to that. But unreinforced masonry, buildings known to be deadly in an earthquake, proliferated in L'Aquilla and after the quake the streets were full of masonry debris.

Fast forward to today.

A judge has decided that those geophysicists who met and stated there wasn't much to worry about should be charged with the deaths of those 309 people. This is where it gets queasy for me, and for anyone who respects science and how it works. From the nature article:

The seven were on a committee that had been tasked with assessing the risk associated with recent increases in seismic activity in the area. Following a committee meeting just a week before the quake, some members of the group assured the public that they were in no danger.

In the aftermath of the quake, which killed 309 people, many citizens said that these reassurances were the reason they did not take precautionary measures, such as leaving their homes. As a consequence, the public prosecutor of L'Aquila pressed manslaughter charges against all the participants in the meeting, on the grounds that they had falsely reassured the public (see Italy puts seismology in the dock). After several delays, the public prosecutor Fabio Picuti and the defendants' lawyers appeared this week before Giuseppe Gargarella, the judge for preliminary hearings, who had to decide whether to dismiss the case or proceed with a trial.

Note the area in bold. People, living in a nation that rattles from the top of the boot to the heel on a regular basis, did not take any real precautions. In addition, could they? It's fairly clear reading the damage reports that modern buildings failed as badly as the ancient ones did, if not worse.

Another take away quote:
Boschi has said in interviews that he feels "devastated" by the ruling, and that he expected the case to be dismissed. He notes that there are hundreds of seismic shocks every year in Italy: "If we were to alert the population every time we would probably be indicted for unjustified alarm," he said. He also denied ever having reassured the population or downplayed the risk. "There is no document whatsoever proving I did something like that," he says, adding that the main cause of the tragedy was the poor building standards in the area. "I hope the trial will better clarify what role the seismologists really had in this story".

At any rate the trial begins in September.

A guilty verdict, I believe, would be a chilling effect across a wide swatch of science, not just seismology. For one thing, radon emissions do not (often don't) result in large quakes afterwards. If we warned regions every time someone's radon detector went nuts, people would stop listening, in addition to the chaos such a warning would cause. And we already know what happens when people don't listen to warnings. In the Midwest, until recently, tornado sirens sounded for an entire area, instead of just targeting the area of town the tornado was actually going to hit. I suspect this may be part of the reason Joplin's death toll is so abnormally high, as every story I've read has stated that people heard the warnings for up to 20 minutes before the tornado scythed through the city. On the East and Gulf Coasts people ignore hurricane warnings, because the storms weakened or veered off at the last moment. This is especially true in areas that have not seen intense hurricanes for many decades, like New England (the last major storm was Bob in 1991, the last intense storm before that was Carol in 1954). This is a part of human psychology that can't exactly be helped, without constant education.

And it could cascade. What if the Japanese decide to sue their seismologists? A consensus over whether the fault that broke in March could produce an M9 (the last probable one occurring in the year 869) was slow to build, and the Japanese have always focused on the region southwest of Honshu. Or anywhere else, where infrequent, high risk hazards occur. We can't just charge the scientists for something that is largely not within their control, especially with earthquakes since they cannot be predicted, and only forecast under the fuzziest of conditions, with any real precision or accuracy.

If found guilty, the scientists go to jail for up to 12 years. We shall see what happens.

The Radon paper, incidentally, can be found here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Twitch List

I've developed, over the last few years, an actual physical twitch to words and phrases that are overused and/or hypocritical. They include corporate-speak and blog-talk. without further build-up here's a sample:

black swan
overton window
"family values" (those who espouse this loudly usually don't have any)
"truth to power"
calendar as a verb
agenda as a verb
solution as a verb
noun as a verb
"lifestyle choice" (Christianity: lifestyle choice. Gay: no, that's biological)

and so on.

What's on your twitch list?

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010



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Monday, July 26, 2010

yeah, no.

Here's how it works, to that small subset of wingnuts that failed High School Civics. Freedom of Religion means all religions. All of them. All. End note.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

The Shorter Sharron Angle

"it's your own fault you were raped by your brother and it was God's Plan anyway that you carry the child to term, so make lemonade."

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Haven't paid much Attention

I haven't given this place much attention in awhile so I'm surprised there's comments on old posts here. At any rate, watch this space.

Oh, and here's one of the most interesting blogs out there by Canadian Randy McDonald.

A Bit More Detail

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Friday, November 6, 2009

On that Peculiar American Religion

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Maine, on Tuesday, became the 31st state to deny their neighbors civil rights. The No on One Campaign was excellent, as I followed it. They had commercials with families. They had an education program. They were everything the Prop 8 people in California were not. We should have won. But we didn't. There's a common thread here in Maine and in 30 other states where votes to deny or remove civil rights have occured. It's the only thread between states as culturally disparte as California and Alabama. That thread is "American-style" Christianity, the kind you see on TV. They may be a minority within their religion, but they've taken over. They're the public face, and they're a poison on our nation.

It is obvious to me now that the short-to-medium term trend is obviously not in the favor of equality. The other side, whose only commonality is Christianity, a faith they've perverted, is only a handful of states shy from being able to possibly get their Federal Constitutional Amendment (should they retake the House in '10, another reason why its imperative they do not). This angers me; a dull, burning sullen anger. Like a red dwarf star. See, they burn almost forever, a dull, red, sullen fire. On occasion they flare angrily and that's what I did on Wednesday morning. I made some pretty cruel comments on Twitter and quite frankly I think I earned the right to them. I don't apologize. I stand by them, even though they were made in extreme anger and hurt.

In state after state churches have raised funds to deny civil rights to their neighbors. I recall in 2004 after the election, a particulary ugly and vicious year for civil rights, reading an article in the New York Times about an Oklahoma man whose neighbors did just that. Oh, they knew he was gay. They even supported his "lifestyle." But they, in large numbers repeated across the many states that year that had such votes, chose to say "you're not good enough to have basic human dignity." And yes, I'm aware that sentence has my particular spin on the situation.

See, at this stage of the game I find it nearly impossible to believe that every person in this country doesn't know at least one gay man or woman. Has at least one person in their family who isn't straight. I just find that this has to be a statistical impossibility. I have a friend here in the Harrisburg area who is a hairdresser in the small conservative town where he's lived his entire life. He's quite open (and given his age in his mid-40s, you'd have to be pretty oblivious to not figure it out), but if a referendum on his civil rights ever came up, his neighbors would vote in masse to deny them to him because their churches would tell them to do so. I know this because I've read articles from the people at Townhall who love their gay hairdressers and interior designers but don't want them to have civil rights. Or, I hear the ladies on the bus who love HGTV but don't want those men and women to have any civil rights either. I feel the same about my own neighbors in the small conservative town that I live in now. I'm sure they think my boyfriend and I are lovely people; in fact I know they do, but they'd vote against us if such a vote (and it keeps threatening to pop up) comes to Pennsylvania. And they'd do so because their churches would tell them to do so.

I saw this coming at 17 and made most of my breaks with Christianity then. We were Baptist, of the African-American branch. There were some liberal Baptists there; in fact our church's pastors were one of many who ministered to President Clinton. But we still had the things we Kossacks excoriate the Fundamentalists for. Indeed, it was many years into adulthood before I stopped feeling guilty about that thing Jocelyn Elders got fired for. 17 happens to be when I admitted what I had known since I was 12 and there was no squaring that circle with what I was forcefed in Sunday School. How my boyfriend does it is totally beyond me. Plus, since the age of 10 or so God never made much sense given the vastness of the universe. The break was natural but I still enjoyed some of the rituals. Then, the cultural conservatives started with their Culture Wars (or maybe I just became more aware of them) and I made more breaks. I ceased coming home for Easter Dinner (that was the first.) I stopped saying "under God" during the Pledge (the second.) I reject Christmas (both secular and religious, and that's the third). And now I'm totally done and I'm not sad about it at all. But others are and I deeply feel for their pain.

But what makes me the most sad is what happened? Christianity is supposed to help the least of those. It's not supposed to go out and deny the rights and dignity of its neighbors (and yes, I'm aware of Christian history. Well aware.) Perhaps I'm looking at it through the wrong lens.

Christian Europe seems to have moved beyond this. Obiviously there are nations in Europe who also won't extend equality to all their citizens but I was heartened to learn of the Church of Sweeden's decision to perform and 'sanctify' same-sex marriages after that nation legalized it. Of course Europeans, despite the fact that some of them actually do live in nations that can be classified as Christian nations because they have state churches, are generally somewhat more secular then we are in the United States. I can't help but wonder if the several hundred years of bloodletting in Europe, a tradition largely unknown on that scale here in North America, is why they seem so open to fairness and equality.

But I have to still wonder. The church my grandmother grew up in is not the same now. She once told me she told off her pastor for his loud and obnoxious attacks on the Da Vinci Code. For my grandmother to do this was amazing to me because she's quite shy. See her faith is more of the teachings of Jesus and not trying to one-up another in the culture war, which will be loudly underway as the holiday season approaches. I think it all went wrong 30 years ago, when the Christian Right rose to power. They don't care about the things like being a good samaritan, or just being damn nice, or whatever. Their idea of faith is faithiness. It's fake. Indeed, in the paper here this morning there's an article about our Catholic Church (so instrumental at hating equality in Maine) getting autistic children to connect with their "faith." link. Not help them survive in the world. Just connect with "faith."

Like a friend of mine who waited tables. Sundays, she hated. The after-church crowd was more into their "faith" then helping the least among them. Tipping just didn't happen with that group. I hear this is not an uncommon thing.

Or how it's more important to say Merry Christmas and demand the poor clerk on the other side of the register say it too then taking a bunch of gifts to Toys for Tots or the Salvation Army.

Or how getting saved is awesome and anyone who isn't, no matter how good a person they are, is evil incarnate.

Or how it's more important to deny the civil rights of your neighbors then it is to feed our growing homeless population.

Or find any and every issue they can and fracture the American population into deep polarization at others and themselves. I see that polarization here every day on this site. Blaming Obama for the loss in Maine, or blaming California's black portion of the electorate for that loss gives them exactly what they want. And that's Christian? I don't recall that during the Sunday School forcefeedings.

This is the public face of Christianity in the United States in 2010; a deeply shallow, venal, vapid faith. I know fully there are many, many people in the US who do not feel this way and who fully exercise a great use of their faith. Who volunteer at soup kitchens and give to the poor. But they are screamed down on television, in the newspapers, and elsewhere. That needs to change.

People will probably get defensive at this diary because I fully have become an atheist and that's their right and opinion. But it's also my opinion that it's about time for Christianity in this nation to be retaken from those who have poisoned it. I certainly would love for all religion to simply vanish but we'd find some new thing to hate on, I suspect. If it's going to be around, it should be used for good.

Let's call it the Third Reformation, where Christianity finally decides it's going to respect humanity despite whatever reservations it may have regarding things it finds repugnant. It's time for America's liberal Christians to retake the faith. I'll never come back, but I'll support the efforts.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mild Irking Frustration

After yet another quarter of my report being held up at the last minute I'm wondering about the joys of self-employment.

I think it'd be cool to sell solar panels and windmills. Not that I know anything about starting a business, or running a business. And, beyond the minimal research I've done, not enough to convincingly sell a solar panel system (or install one) beyond the "ZOMG THIS IS SO AWESOME!" which it is (I mean, really, selling electricity BACK to the utility? That's just hotness.)

So, perhaps, over the next couple years, I'll sock away cash and do a lot of homework on the subjects. I like where I work currently, don't get me wrong, but self-employment has an allure to it.

And President Obama might fix the one big reason I don't do it: health care.

Friday, January 30, 2009

test post

Just a test post from my blackberry. I really should be asleep but I can't. I'm too restless.

But it is a good restless.