Friday, September 30, 2011

Albino Squirrel

This beautiful albino squirrel was rescued after being injured by other squirrels in England. She will be cared for and will live the rest of her life in a squirrel sanctuary.

Class Warfare

It was amusing to hear the Republicans start screaming about "class warfare" when President Obama released the details of his jobs plan recently. The plan, of course, includes the so-called "Buffett Rule" which would require the obscenely extremely wealthy to pay a minimum tax rate on all of their income, to ensure that they pay at least the same rate as those of more modest means.

This morning Buffett gave an interview that many on the right have misinterpreted as indicated that he disagrees with the Obama jobs plan. What he actually did was decline to make a comment on the jobs package as a whole, which he hasn't studied in depth. But he clearly stood by the idea, which he has endorsed before, that huge amounts of investment income should be taxed at a higher rate, to ensure that wealthy investors pay at least the same tax rate as their secretaries.

In that same interview this morning, Buffett made a statement that has been conveniently ignored by conservatives: "Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically." He goes on to point out that since 1992, the average income of the 400 wealthiest Americans has more than quintupled, while the percentage of income that those same 400 pay in taxes has dropped from 29  to 21 percent.

Buffett has, of course, been ostracized as a traitor by many of his peers among the super-rich. Yesterday Rick Perry criticized him for being out of touch, saying that Buffett doesn't "have an understanding about what's going on out there in the real world."  I prefer to see Mr. Buffett as a courageous, patriotic American who has placed the interests of his country as a whole before his own purely financial interests.

Class warfare is real. It has been going on for years now as a campaign waged by the super-rich and their lackeys in government, against the workers, the unemployed, the elderly, the immigrants, the disadvantaged of America. So far, the super-rich have won. Hopefully, the war is not over.

Karen's New Painting For Sale On eBay

You can purchase this painting and other awesome art and jewelry at Karen's eBay Store.

Tightrope (2011)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cute Video of a Squirrel Eating a Lemon

Just what we've always wanted to see...

Squirrell Facts: Feeding Squirrels

With Squirrel Awareness Month just two days away, many people must be thinking about feeding their squirrel friends. A couple of things to keep in mind when you are offering food to squirrels in the park, in your yard, or wherever you might find them:

Squirrels love peanuts. Most people know this. If you are going to offer peanuts or any other nutty snack, it is best to give unsalted nuts. Too much salt can be harmful to squirrels.

In warm weather, squirrels are most active in the two or three hours after sunrise, and the two hours before dusk. This is the best time to find squirrels for feeding.

If you want to try to feed a squirrel directly by hand, do so at your own risk. This is how almost all squirrel bites occur. Squirrels are not aggressive, but their eyes are located high and on the sides of the head, giving them a wide field of vision but not great vision directly in front of them. Also, they are constantly on the lookout for predators. So locating and taking food is mostly based on smell and touch. And a finger doesn't feel that much different from a shelled nut. So be careful!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Acorn

As most people know, the acorn is the nut of the various oaks and closely related trees. It is familiar to us as the hard-shelled nuts topped with a rough cupule, which litter the ground in fall and winter.

A Bunch of Acorns

Acorns are one of the most important foods for many species of squirrels, including the eastern gray squirrel. They gather and hide acorns in a behavior known as scatter hoarding. The squirrels are able to remember the locations of a remarkable number of acorns, and also use their keen sense of smell to locate the nuts. When a squirrel finds an acorn, she will always put it in her mouth to get some of her saliva on it. This makes it easier for her to locate it by its smell. It is said that a squirrel can locate an acorn that is buried through its sense of smell, even under a thick layer of snow. Squirrels also use their sense of smell to detect which acorns have been infested with insects.

Other animals also eat acorns, including birds such as blue jays, woodpeckers, pigeons and some ducks; deer, bears, pigs; and other rodents such as mice.

Some human societies, including some Native Americans and Koreans, have a tradition of using acorns in food. However, this is not particularly widespread, as many species of acorns contain highly acidic tannins which make them bitter and unpalatable. The tannins can be removed with processing, but can still make the acorn a lot of trouble for use as a food source. Animals such as squirrels that eat acorns have evolved the ability to metabolize tannins better than humans.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Save the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel

In 2008 the Bush administration removed the West Virginia northern flying squirrel from the endangered species list. Recently a federal court restored endangered status to the species, but the Obama administration has appealed this ruling. Please help by signing a petition to Save the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Squirrel Facts: A Victory for the Squirrels?

A planned housing development in Scotland may be put on hold because a red squirrel, which is endangered in the region, was found living on the site. The red squirrel's numbers have been declining in the British Isles for decades because of the introduction of the larger North American eastern gray squirrel. A survey of the development site, where fifteen homes are planned, found a single red squirrel, but the presence of several dreys indicate that there may be more of the squirrels present that were not seen.

The developer is planning to fight to carry on with his housing project. Some conservatives in the area are outraged that this "progress" could be halted by one small animal. But fortunately, there are also many who will fight for the squirrels. After all, their homes are already on this land, and it would be a tragedy if this species disappeared because they had nowhere left to go.

Hypocrisy of the Week

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that the death penalty is intended to "affirm the value and sanctity of every single human life." Uhhhhh... what?

Seriously, I guess that makes about as much sense as some of the other conservative positions, such as

  • the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits a large portion of the population from getting married;
  • invading, occupying, and imposing the United States' dominance over other countries in order to spread freedom and democracy;
  • prohibiting information about birth control from being taught in "abstinence only" sex education curricula to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates;
  • insisting on teaching creationism in science classes to improve public education;
  • and, of course, cutting taxes for the wealthy to reduce the budget deficit.
Is it any wonder that the whole world sometimes seems to be upside-down?

Disclaimer regarding content-based advertising

When I took a look at this blog a few minutes ago, I saw that there is an advertisement on the right side of the page for the Ron Paul presidential campaign. While I have decided to allow Google to place advertisements on this blog, I want to emphasize that the appearance of an ad here does not and never will imply endorsement of its contents.

I also noticed an ad at the bottom of the page for a certain Trapper Dan's Wildlife and Pest Control, advertising squirrel removal, located in the Raleigh/Durham NC area. I visited Trapper Dan's website, and while I certainly don't endorse anything having to do with squirrel removal or control, they do promise that their methods are humane.

Texans I Am Not Ashamed Of II: Willie Nelson

Almost everybody is familiar with Willie Nelson's (born 1933 in Abbott, TX) enormous contributions to the music world. He was one of the founders of the "outlaw country" movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, along with Waylon Jennings (another Texan who I am not ashamed of!), Kris Kristofferson, and other great performers who rebelled against the Nashville country music establishment. His album Red Headed Stranger from 1975 is widely regarded as one of the greatest country albums ever made. And he continues to record and tour actively well into his 70s.

But Willie Nelson has also been an outspoken and active advocate for numerous progressive causes during his long career. Probably the two that he is most well known for are the annual Farm Aid concerts that he started in 1985 with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, to raise money and awareness for the struggle of American family farmers, and his advocacy for reform of restrictive marijuana laws through his position as co-chair of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2010 Nelson also created the Tea Pot Party, with the slogan "tax it, regulate it, and legalize it!"

Nelson also has been active in environmental causes and animal welfare. In the 1980s he was one of several celebrities who recorded commercials for the anti-littering "Don't Mess With Texas" advertising campaign. He and his wife Annie have advocated for and invested in the production and use of clean burning bio-diesel fuels made from soybean oil for use in long-distance trucking. He also has worked closely with the Animal Welfare Institute for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, and has campaigned against cruel living conditions for dairy cattle.

In both the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Elections, Nelson campaigned actively for progressive Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich. He even filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kucinich in 2008, against the Texas Democratic Party, when the party refused to allow Kucinich on the ballot in the Texas Democratic primary.

Willie Nelson has enjoyed a long career in country music. Just as importantly, he has sought to make a positive difference for American society and for the world. He is truly a Texan who I am not ashamed of.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Drey

The familiar squirrel nest of twigs in the upper branches of a tree is called a drey.

It is usually about the size of a soccer ball, and the inside is lined with dry grass, shredded bark, moss, feathers, or other available materials. A single squirrel may have several dreys, and if one becomes infested with fleas or other vermin, she will abandon it and quickly build another.

The squirrel's summer drey can be quite flimsy. In the winter, she will build a sturdier, thicker drey lodged on a large branch close to the tree trunk, or she may move into a cozy nest in a hollow trunk.

Don't forget, October is Squirrel Awareness Month!

Cross-Section View of Drey

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Troy Davis may be dying even as I write this

Seven of nine witnesses who implicated him recanted.
Several of those witnesses said they were pressured by the police to implicate Troy Davis.
Another man has confessed to the murder.
There is no physical evidence linking Troy Davis to the murder.
No murder weapon has been found.
A Republican former US Attorney General has said the penalty should be overturned.
So has a former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.
And the Pope. And Bishop Desmond Tutu.

I am more disgusted than I can express in words.
The death penalty degrades and humiliates the United States in the eyes of most of the world.

Texans I Am Not Ashamed Of I: Barbara Jordan

The United States Post Office has recently released a new Forever stamp honoring Barbara Jordan, part of its Black Heritage series. This seems like a good occasion to make Congresswoman Jordan the first in this series of posts on progressive Texans past and present.

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) was an attorney, educator, and politician from Houston, Texas. A skilled orator and debater in high school, she attended law school at Boston University before returning to Texas to practice law. She became involved in politics while campaigning for the Democratic Party in the 1960 election, and in 1966 became the first African American woman ever elected to the Texas Senate.

In 1972 Jordan was elected to the US House of Representatives, becoming the first black woman to serve in Congress from the South. In Congress, she focused on civil rights and improving the lives of the poor and disenfranchised. In 1974 Jordan participated in the televised hearings on the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, which for the first time gave her national exposure. 

Two years later, Barbara Jordan became the first African American woman to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. It was this speech that gave her a reputation as one of the finest, most moving speakers of her time.

In 1979 Barbara Jordan retired from Congress, and took a teaching position at the University of Texas, where she remained until her death in 1996. She remained active in progressive politics, serving on committees and as an ethics adviser to Governor Ann Richards.

Barbara Jordan's life and career was truly groundbreaking. She was an outspoken advocate for civil rights and social welfare at a time when political participation by blacks, especially in the south, was still a rarity. She was a leader for progressive reform both through her words and her actions. She was truly a Texan who I am proud of.

You can learn more about Barbara Jordan at, where I did much of the research for this post.

Squirrel Facts: Squirrel Awareness Month

Next month, October, is Squirrel Awareness Month. Seriously, this is a real observation, and you can read about it here.

So be thinking of what you can do for the squirrels in your area. A few ideas off the top of my head:

  • You can get squirrel feeders and treats for your yard at any home improvement store (Lowe's, etc.), many WalMarts, and many places online.
  • If you can afford it, donate to nonprofit organizations that work to preserve wildlife habitats, such as the World Wildlife Fund, or the Sierra Club. These are only two of many, and since squirrels of all kinds are part of complex ecosystems, anything you do to help wildlife helps squirrels.
  • Encourage your city or town to set aside land for parks and natural areas, and then use those parks. Enjoy natural spaces and encourage others to do so.

Coming Attractions

I have taken a little time off from this blog to think about what direction I want to take it, and have come up with two new series that I will be introducing:

The first will be called "Squirrel Facts," and the title is pretty much self-explanatory. I will be blogging about interesting facts about squirrels (duh!).

The second will be called "Texans I Am Not Ashamed Of." As a Texan now transplanted in North Carolina, I am tired of being embarrassed by the ridiculous, reactionary stereotypes of Texans that keep appearing in the media and in government positions: Rick Perry, George W Bush, Sandy the Squirrel (who is offensive both to reasonable, intelligent Texans and to squirrels!)... you get the picture. So I will profile a series of progressive Texans who have worked to contribute to society in positive ways.

Look for both of these series to start  in the next day.

Sandy Cheeks: Offensive Stereotype
of Texans and Squirrels

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Unemployment

I haven't been in much of a mood to post anything here in the last couple of days. On the positive side, I attended a truly excellent session on resume writing at ProNet Charlotte the other day. But on the down side, financial issues have been putting me in a depressed mood.

That's always a problem with long term unemployment. Every positive, every cause for hope or optimism, seems to be canceled out by another problem or crisis. Every carefully prepared application and resume you send out seems to disappear without a trace. Every unemployment check is spent as soon as you get it. And every time you turn on the news there's more negative stories about the economy and the unemployment rate.

Depression among the long-term unemployed has to be a chronic and serious problem. And to make matters worse, it can be extremely difficult to get assistance with medical expenses. It was five months after I lost my job and insurance before I and my wife were able to get into a sliding scale program to help with doctor visits and medications. And my nineteen year old son, because he works part-time while he is going to college, is still ineligible to be covered by the sliding scale. This is an issue that I think needs to be addressed by our lawmakers, although I seriously doubt that will happen.

Although I sometimes get really sick of people telling me that I just need to keep a positive attitude and don't give up, that's really all that I can do.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Issues on which I agree with Rick Perry

Believe it or not, after watching the two recent GOP debates, there are a couple of places where I agree with Perry. I find the possibility that he might be elected president horrific, of course, but I find myself on his side in two areas in which the other Republican candidates have attacked him.

The first is on the issue of giving in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who are pursuing their educations at Texas colleges and universities. This issue has also been controversial in North Carolina. Many of the immigrants who are in the United States illegally are among the hardest working people among us, doing some of the most backbreaking and unpleasant work for little pay and usually no benefits. What many on the right seem not to comprehend is that if we summarily eject those immigrants from the country, as most of them advocate, the effect on the US economy would be devastating, particularly in areas such as farming and food production. Undocumented immigrants are here, they will continue to be here, they are productive and contributing members of our society, they pay taxes (no matter what the right wants us to believe), and if they and their children want to improve their lives, get an education, and contribute to society at a higher level, then I believe that this should be encouraged, not prohibited.

The second issue is that of the vaccinations for the HPV virus for which Rick Perry issued an executive order in Texas. The order called for girls at the age of twelve to be vaccinated unless their parents opted out of the program. Other candidates have criticized Perry for this order, especially Michele Bachmann, who accused Perry of forcing the vaccinations on "innocent little girls" against their and their parents' wishes as a favor to the pharmaceutical company, Merck, that marketed the vaccine. This program is controversial among Republicans because the HPV virus is usually transmitted through sexual activity. The virus is a leading cause of cervical cancer, one of the most deadly forms of cancer since it is often undetected in its early stages.

While Bachmann and other conservatives see Perry's executive order as an invasion of parental rights, they should consider the catastrophic effects of cervical cancer that these girls could face later in their lives. Since the vaccination is no more invasive or risky than the other vaccines that are routinely given to almost all children, it should not be any more controversial than those other vaccinations.

As I have made clear, I am thoroughly and utterly opposed to Rick Perry's candidacy. It is almost painful for me to support his positions on anything. However, given the attention that has been focused on these two issues, I felt that I wanted to throw in my two cents on them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Anniversary

Over the past few days I have resisted the urge to dwell on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 2001 attacks. There is a cynical part of me that can't help feeling that observations like today's are arbitrary, that we should move on, that while a moment of silence might be called for, that the media specials and endless commentary insisting that we relive the tragedy are needless overkill. But as I set here in Starbuck's on Sunday morning a little before eight in the morning, I find myself trying to sort out in my own mind the meaning of the 9-11 attacks. Everybody seems to agree that this was one of the pivotal days in American history. We hear endless talk about how the world changed on that day.

But what really is the significance of 9-11? How have our lives really changed? I have a few thoughts on that.

There are some all-too-obvious answers. Superficial inconveniences have crept into our lives as our society has become more conscious of security in public places. Anyone who travels regularly by air knows how much the experience of flying has changed: the ever more complex security routine, the removal of shoes and emptying of pockets, the increasingly invasive scanners and pat-downs and restrictions on what you can carry on the plane.

More importantly, America has gotten used to war. We are so used to war, in fact, that many of us, particularly those who don't have family fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, are hardly conscious of the fact that our country is still engaged in two ongoing conflicts. The news media no longer pays much attention to these wars, hardly ever mentioning the American casualties that still occur regularly. How many people in this country are aware that just last month, in August of this year, 69 Americans were killed in Afghanistan? And thousands more young men and women are returning home from combat bearing physical and emotional scars that they will carry for the rest of their lives. Whether or not you agree with the reasons for these wars, their long-term impact on countless human lives, in America and in the Middle East, has to be obvious.

In the days and weeks after the attacks, public displays of patriotism become popular as the American people banded together in a show of solidarity. I'm sure that everyone can remember the flags that were flying everywhere, the "Power of Pride" bumperstickers on so many cars and SUVs, Toby Keith singing about putting a boot in someone's ass.

But at the same time, much of the country also experienced a period of personal and spiritual reflection that could have brought about a greater spirit of compassion, unity, and selflessness. This path, if it had been followed, could have led well beyond the superficial displays of patriotism that were so popular. Everywhere it seemed there was talk of focusing on what really matters in life, working together, helping those less fortunate, paying less attention to material gain and more attention to family and community and serving a greater good. If this spirit had taken hold, if America had really found a renewed sense of giving and compassion, then this would have been the ultimate victory over the terrorists who attacked our country, a more meaningful victory than could be won on any battlefield.

But that spirit didn't last. It faded and frayed with time, just like the flags that were left out too long.

Today, millions of Americans will pause and reflect on the September 11 attacks. We will think about the lives that were lost in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on the four airplanes. We will think about those who have died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan since the attacks. We will reflect on the human costs of terrorism. All of this is good and appropriate. But I hope that we will also think about and reflect on our own lives, and what they mean; about what we value, what is really important to us, what our country could have been and can still be.

ProNet Charlotte

I mentioned the other day that I was attending an orientation at ProNet Charlotte, a nonprofit service to assist displaced professionals in their search for employment. After attending the orientation session, I have to say that I am impressed with what they have to offer, and very hopeful that they will help me in my job search. Here is a video about this innovative service.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mass Transit is Good For Our Cities

A few years back, Charlotte had an ambitious plan to incorporate light rail into its mass transit system. One light rail line, the Lynx Blue Line, was completed a couple of years ago, before the economy collapsed. Unfortunately, it seems like the remaining lines that were planned have been stalled, and I have to wonder if they will ever be built.

I took the Lynx Blue Line from the park-and-ride facility at its southern terminus to downtown Charlotte today. Local detractors, those people who are against spending "their" tax money for just about anything, will claim that light rail is a waste of dollars, and doesn't make any difference in reducing smog or traffic congestion. From what I could see, the large three-level parking deck at the light rail station was almost completely full--this is hundreds of cars at just one of the seven park-and-ride lots, cars that would otherwise have been driving the twelve miles into the crowded center city. Multiply this times five days per work week, plus probably a slightly lesser number on weekends. And when there are sports or entertainment events downtown the trains are packed--I know because I used to take the light rail regularly to and from my job.

It's obvious to me that light rail is a benefit to a big and busy city, especially one that is spread out like Charlotte. We have become far too dependent on our cars and the fossil fuels that they require. It's just a shame that in hard economic times, it's worthwhile projects like the light rail that seem to get cut first.

The Lynx Blue Line at the South Boulevard and I485

Job Search Assistance

I recently found out about a nonprofit group called ProNet Charlotte. Their purpose is to provide tools, resources, counseling and networking resources for out-of-work professionals seeking employment in the Charlotte area. I will be attending an orientation meeting this afternoon, and have also signed up for a resume coaching session next Tuesday. Reviewing the web site, it looks like this group has a wealth of resources, and I'm looking forward to getting started. I only wish that I had learned about them sooner!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rick Perry and the Death Penalty

I'm not sure what bothered me more in the GOP debate last night: the creepy round of applause that followed Brian Williams' mention of the 234 executions that Rick Perry has overseen during his terms as Governor of Texas; or Perry's answer to the question regarding whether he ever struggles with the decision to execute a human being.

“I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place,” was Perry's response. I find this an utterly disturbing statement from a man who is in a position to determine the life or death of so many people. And if he realizes his ambition to become President of the United States, this is likely the same attitude with which he would approach the decision of whether or not to use American military force.

Decisiveness and self-confidence are certainly qualities that we want to see in our political leaders. However, these qualities have to be balanced with a measure of introspection, thoughtfulness, and reflection. Based on his performance last night's debate, it seems that Perry lacks these tempering qualities. That can be a very dangerous shortcoming in a president.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Didn't we settle this already?

I was at the grocery store this afternoon and saw this staring at me in the checkout line...

I consider myself reasonably well-educated and informed, but I realize that there are people out there who, sad to say, will see this and actually believe that this is a real news story. And while I am as much an advocate of the free press as anyone, and more so than many people, I have to wonder if there shouldn't be some means of prosecuting the publishers and writers who print crap like this that is based on deliberate and blatant lies, that takes advantage of the ignorance of a population that has been cynically misled and used by corporate elites like the Koch brothers, to push their right-wing agenda under the guise of the allegedly "populist" tea party movement.

I know that the first impulse for many people is to ridicule anyone who is ignorant enough to purchase and believe this kind of story. To me, the people who are truly worthy of our ridicule and our contempt is those who publish these magazines, who encourage and capitalize on the ignorance of these readers, rather than using their platform as publishers and writers to educate and enlighten the public. There are plenty of real scandals going on in government and business that are much more shocking and important than the phony allegations of a handful of right-wing conspiracy theorists.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What Labor Day Means

According to the website of the US Department of Labor, Labor Day
is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
The holiday was created by labor union organizers, and was first celebrated on September 5, 1882 under the direction of the Central Labor Union in New York City. In 1887 Oregon became the first state to officially recognize the Labor Day holiday; The United States Congress officially recognizing the observance of Labor Day in 1894.

Considering the role that labor unions played in the establishment and history of Labor Day, it is ironic that this holiday is still observed in a country that has become an increasingly hostile environment for organized labor. When we see conservative politicians such as Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin advancing their careers through union-busting, denying public workers of benefits that have been earned through years of labor, all to satisfy the greed of their corporate crony benefactors. When "right to work" has become a cynical code word for "anti-organized labor," when the Republicans' answer to rising unemployment and underemployment is to insist on ever deeper slashes to safety net programs and ever lower taxes paid by the wealthy. It's not surprising that the true meaning of Labor Day has been all but lost, and the holiday has become just another excuse to take a day off from work... at least for those who have a job to take a day off from.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

This is Officially the Cutest Picture Ever Taken

Courtesy of Goats on Stuff...

What I Hate About Being Unemployed

Always worrying about not having enough money to pay rent and bills.
Not having health insurance.
Filling out job applications and sending out resumes that seem to disappear into a bottomless black hole.
Having to borrow money from my mother.
Having to borrow money from my son.
Trying to keep up my self-esteem and convince myself that it is not my fault that I lost my job.
Trying to keep up my self-esteem and convince myself that it is not my fault that I haven't found a new job yet.
Having to explain to bill collectors and utility companies that I can't pay them now because I'm unemployed.
Listening to politicians pretend that they understand or care about what the jobless are going through.
Almost never having more that a quarter tank of gas in the car.
Reading the news when every day there is another story about how crappy the economy is, and how high the unemployment rate is, and how it's not going to get better any time soon.
The red tape that I have to deal with for unemployment benefits and assistance programs.
Feeling guilty when I even think about doing anything that is fun, or that costs a few dollars.
The tape that holds my broken glasses together, and wondering how that will look when I actually do get a job interview.

Squirrel Video!

I found this video of two very smart squirrels, one negotiating an obstacle course and the other raiding a vending machine.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Rick Perry: Complicit in the Execution of an Innocent Man?

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in the Texas death chamber in February 2004 for the 1992 arson that caused the deaths of his three young daughters. Shortly before Willingham's execution, Governor Rick Perry was presented with a report that raised serious questions about the arson investigation, and presented convincing evidence that the fire was not arson at all, and that Willingham was innocent of the crime. Governor Perry refused to consider this evidence and allowed the execution to go through.

Since the execution, Rick Perry has used his power a Governor to block the work of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which has recently attempted to further review the overwhelming scientific evidence that Willingham was not guilty, and that in fact the fire was a tragic accident. The details can be read here, in an outstanding article by Jason Linkins in the Huffington Post.

Perry's suppression of the work of this committee is disturbing, not only because he is preventing the likely exoneration of an innocent man who was wrongly put to death, but because this case has far-reaching implications on the ethics of the use of capital punishment itself. If the evidence shows that Cameron Todd Willingham was not guilty, then his death calls into serious question the morality of the use of the death penalty, and provides a strong argument for its abolition.

Furthermore, the efforts of Governor Perry to suppress the evidence of Willingham's guilt, and the fact that Perry was presented with and ignored this evidence before the execution when he had a chance to stop or at least postpone it, has to call into serious question the conscience of a man who has a serious chance of becoming the next president of the United States.

It is worth noting that Rick Perry, in his time as Governor of Texas, has overseen 234 executions to date, by far the most of any Governor, even topping his predecessor, George W Bush, by more than 80. The Willingham case is certainly not the only among Perry's executions that has been controversial. This June, Milton Mathis was put to death in Texas despite strong evidence that he was mentally impaired. Back in 2001, Perry had vetoed a bill passed by the Texas legislature that would have prohibited the execution of anyone who was mentally retarded.

I have long opposed the death penalty under any circumstances, both on ethical and practical grounds. I believe that deliberately killing another human being is morally wrong. I also believe that the death penalty is inherently flawed in that inevitably mistakes will be made, that the imperfection of the judicial process will lead unavoidably to innocent people being put to death.

But it seems to me that even those who advocate capital punishment should be disturbed by Rick Perry's seemingly callous disregard for evidence that, had he paid attention to it, could have prevented the execution of a man who was most likely innocent of the crime for which he was put to death; and by Perry's subsequent transparent attempts to prevent further review of that evidence.

Again, this is a man who may well be our next President. Think about that.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Once Again, Obama Caves In To the Right

President Obama ordered the EPA today to withdraw a proposal that would have tightened government smog standards. I can't say this comes as any surprise, as the Republicans in Congress had opposed the regulation, saying that it would have cost billions of dollars for businesses to comply. It was all but inevitable that Obama would bow down again to the right in the spirit of "compromise," as he has so many times before.

As a resident of one of the most polluted cities in the United States, I say, what about the cost to the people who are forced to breathe the polluted air, what about the medical costs that are incurred as a result, and the costs in lost productivity resulting from missed days at work? My wife suffers from asthma, and breathing the filthy summer air here in Charlotte causes her untold additional misery. Does her health and comfort rate so far below the monetary costs that would be paid by major corporations to clean up their acts?

Possibly the biggest irony is that if the smog regulations had been allowed to go forward, the money spent by the polluting corporations to comply with the rules would have been money spent on jobs... jobs producing the necessary equipment, doing the equipment upgrades and testing to make sure that the standards were being followed, researching and developing new clean air technologies. Isn't this what we really need right now?

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

After one year and twenty days of unemployment, and hundreds of job applications that disappear into what seems like a giant black hole, yesterday I got my first actual job interview scheduled. Whether or not I get this job, it is encouraging to at least be noticed by a potential employer, and to think that maybe in the long run persistence will pay off.

There is certainly reason enough out there for long-term unemployed Americans such as me not to be encouraged. The White House budget office is now projecting the unemployment rate to remain at or above 9 percent through the next year. Of course, the official unemployment rate is just the tip of the iceberg, as it does not account for an ever-increasing number of workers who become so discouraged that they simply stop looking for work and drop out of the labor force. Next week President Obama will introduce his program for jobs creation. He will have the opportunity to propose bold steps to relieve this crisis, to get Americans back to work, earning paychecks and stimulating the economy. Or he could go his usual route, play it safe and propose modest steps in hopes of reaching a compromise with the Republicans. I hope he will go with the first option, but I'm not holding my breath.