ending an era

The final Space Shuttle mission, sts-135, successfully launched and currently flies above. For me, and perhaps most people younger who cared to notice space exploration, the space shuttle has been the definition of “space shot”. Actually, the vast majority of manned space launches of any sort have been Space Shuttle launches.

I’ve got mixed feelings. First, the Shuttle is a mix of aging (read: tested) and cutting edge (read: we just figured out how to the make the tools required) technologies. But at the end of the day, the Shuttle is no safer, statistically, than Apollo. About 2% of the launches end in catastrophic failure, and about 4% of the astronauts who suit up die as a result. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Shuttle was put on NASA’s plate during the Nixon administration, that it was allegedly “designed by committee” (read: the engineers sucked at basic tact and barely got along), that the fraction of parts thrown away each launch would label any airplane as “more disposable than a paper airplane”, and that it’s been described as being a flying u-haul even after considering the aerodynamics. Actually the phrase “flying brick” is more often used when describing its aerodynamics.

Yet even with all of its drawbacks, it was a flying success. The sheer volume of launches was astounding, even if ratcheted far, far down from original expectations. The science it carried out convinced many people (including hardened astronomers) that manned space exploration offers advantages unlike anything else.

And for more than a few young space geeks, the spaceshuttle program symbolized hope that shomehowhumankind is going to survive for a while… perhaps long enough to make it off this rock while we still have a chance. A chance to watch a big machine propel itself off the very planet at a deafening volume while creating an incredible amount of steam.

We all know the score. Being a test pilot is usually considered one of the most 10 dangerous professions anytime some group decides to list them based on some criteria. All astronauts are test pilots, handling things like flying themselves to the launch site as just part of the package.

Of course, our astronauts are all out of a job, so they’ll be going back to being engineers or piloting next decade’s war planes or whatever.

Monday ~ July 11, 2011 by b

Posted in General | No Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

tornado alleyway

Recently my home dodged a tornado by perhaps 100-200 ft.

I wasn’t home at the time, so I didn’t see the twister. I came back later that day, early enough to see some of the damage in my neighborhood, but late enough that I did some work clearing the front yard after dark.

I grew up in a town that sees hurricanes blow through every few years. I’ve walked outside in the calm after a hurricane to see half the trees on my street down, smashing plenty of cars and houses along their way. Trees are very heavy and moving fast when they collide with things. You could hit one with a truck and it wouldn’t topple over. On one instance, I saw a tree bisecting a volvo, with the underside resting on the asphalt. Hurricanes spawn tornadoes. Most of the storm was below the threshold for a minor hurricane, some shingles and things that could be caught in unusually strong gusts.

When driving home, I passed what used to be a trailer park. Instead of trailers, there was a group of emergency services vehicles with lights on. In case it’s not obvious, never stay in a trailer or car during a tornado warning. Never. Lying face down in a ditch is far safer.

Tornadoes have unusual damage. This time, the top of one tree was sheared off just higher than the level of nearby (intact) telephone poles. A tree 30 ft away was missing one side of its top, and the other was fine. The branches weren’t all broken in the same direction. A house down the street had damage like a missing chimney, and the trees in that side of that yard were blown down in several directions. A telephone pole was pointed almost directly at the side of the house with the outline of a chimney, as if the wind had changed 180 degrees in a few feet. At a nearby construction site, sheet metal was bent around the metal frame like saran wrap and twistie-ties. A tornado is like a blender inside-out, with a debris field as blades.

This storm system was barely starting as I left on an hour-long drive south. Within 2 hours it was half-over.

Thursday ~ April 28, 2011 by b

Posted in General | 6,330 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

veganwasm

From time to time, vegans decide that they’re going to pick back up the habit of eating meat. While I don’t condone or personally understand the reason, I understand that someone else has them. Trust me, I’ve heard a lot of them.

So, yeah I used to be vegetarian, too. I was pescetarian during parts of the earlier veg years. I used to be laco-ovo.

I used to be a meat eater.

There. Now I’ve done it. I’ve thrown the gauntlet down. Like the vast majority of veggies, I used to habitually eat meat and then I stopped as a conscious decision. It’s amazingly like saying I used to smoke, especially if one is southern. Yet if I stand outside with friends having a cigarette, it would be bizarre to hear someone say they used to be an ex-smoker… and then try to give logical, rational arguments for sucking down cigarettes every few hours again.

Thursday ~ April 7, 2011 by b

Posted in veg | 6,206 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

dinner story

We sat down at the table, assuming our usual places.

Dave (the redneck of the group) took a seat at the end, and looked thru the menu. Mary ordered a chef’s salad. John asked about the specials; he always liked the “freshest” dish, and claimed that the chef would promote “freshest” rather than “stock he’s trying to get rid of”.

We’d filed in past a group of protesting Humanitarians coming in.

“Self-righteous pricks. What gives them any right to tell me what to eat anyway? It’s my body.” mumbled Dave, with an over-emphasis on common sense.

“They always kinda give me the creeps” said Mary. “Can’t they just go protest somewhere else?”

“Hey now, they’re just speaking their conscience,” I chided. “I actually agree with their ideas, just not their methods.”

Dave made noises like a crying child loudly, that mutated into a loud snore. Then he stopped and deftly proclaimed “I’m just kidding you, GT. We all respect your opinion.”

Mary relayed a story to me, an explanation that all of the feeder-babies would never have had good homes. That they got better treatment on the farm, perhaps even more attention. That they couldn’t survive in the wild because they’d been raised in captivity. That they were all slaughtered humanely. That Green Babies were available for anyone really concerned about farm conditions and not just gathering followers and donations. I had answers to these questions that ae well-known and obvious to most humanitarians, but I didn’t bother presenting them. This wasn’t a debate, however much it pretended to be one. It was about the carnivores feeling good about their actions despite having a humanitarian in their ranks. I was a prop, not a participant.

Dave mumbled about how it wasn’t right to avoid eating babies. “They’ve got all the good nutrients. It’s natural to eat them.” also “Besides, GT, we ate at that humanitarian restaurant last Friday, so it’s all good. We’re just taking turns and it’s only fair that you come here more. There’s more of us”. Dave was very proud of this logic and became angry when it was questioned. Then he made gagging motions and complained about the taste of tofu.

So I ordered a salad, no cheese, no dressing. I fully expected the waiter to simply move the smokey-toe flavored bbq sauce to the side, not realizing that it was made with smoked toes. I don’t even eat toes; I’m just that hardcore.

Jane gave an exasperated sigh. “I don’t see how you live without cheese. I mean, I understand how theoretically it’s not nice to the mother to take the breast milk, but it’s not like she needs it anymore.” she added “I just don’t buy that it supports the babiest industry”. Jane dabbled in lacto-ovo Humanitarianism but never really was a radical who went all the way. “But I’m not like Dave; he’s just gross”. She helpfully finished off her point with “Besides, I can’t live without cheese”. I avoided pointing out that most mammals weaned long before puberty with little harm. Best to avoid disturbing anyone while they eat; they just get mad and ignore any logical points.

Meanwhile, Dave ordered a newborn riblet with a side of fried brains and some sticky fingers w/ dipping sauce as an app. He calmly asked me for the 406th time how I’m Humanitarian but still pro-choice. It was a total contradiction in his world that most humanitarians in this country are pro-choice.

As we continued on with lunch, I eventually steered the conversation away from discussion of humanitarianism.

Thursday ~ March 10, 2011 by b

Posted in advocacy,dining,humor,veg | 2,547 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

in praise of the comment box

The comment box has long been a mainstay of American political discourse, one that is quickly leaving us. We should find a substitute for in, in the digital world we’re building. I brook no nostalgia about some pieces of dead trees nailed to form a slotted box, to accepted yet more slivers of dead tree conveying an opinion. It served (very roughly) a purpose similar to public mailboxes.

A place where one is entitled to exercise free speech without proof of identity.

The right to vote is not the right to bitch. Voting is anonymous, and everyone doing it has exactly the same voice… regardless of how they yell away from the polling center. It’s never about fine-grained choice, and no one really knows why anyone else made their choice. It’s like underwear in the free speech world. Everyone has it in their own style, yet inform very few people about it. Fewer want it seen or published, regardless of how common their type might be.

In the world outside courthouses, we can say what we want. Regardless of whether we must give it to them, others may demand to know our identity before they will take us seriously. It can be damning evidence to not sign one’s name beside one’s cause. It might be considered weak or at least inexcusably impolite, perhaps a sign that one is not speaking truthfully with conviction. So the generally-admitted right to bitch may have one large caveat. Free speech places few demands upon the audience, by itself. That’s why we have far more than just the right to free speech when addressing our government.

Signing our name to our complaint might be a very bad idea, however.

It’s pointless to requiring a signed complaint of whistleblowers: we’ve learned that the people we want making complaints won’t do so when it seems unsafe for them. We want people making complaints to have common sense. We want the logical people who have a heart to be changing things. As a result, anonymity may be the only power that a specific complainant possesses. It may be the only power they can usefully wield.

We know this and it’s woven into our society. There’s the ever-present suggestion box. Or the notion that one doesn’t need to give up their identity to return things. Or standardized tests that are graded without looking at someone’s name or identifying information. Or the fact that race is an optional requirement (nevermind that opting out labels one as a white male, a different discussion) on many forms. Or that so few things require a picture ID, even though nearly every adult citizen possesses a government-issued picture ID. Or that cash is always accepted, and accepted without identification for most things. Or that we consider it an encroachment of our rights (even if justified) to surrender our ID to government officials.

The basic right to free speech does not include giving up one’s identity, as a matter of course. That’s to protect the speaker, and allows the speaker to effectively voice complaints about government and society without punishment. It’s how citizens enforce the right to free speech when it is jeopardized.

On the internet, in general, it is not very difficult for a technically knowledgeable person to discover someone’s identity (or at least specific location down to the keyboard). The internet uses the equivalent of postcards with a return address to send all messages, only the government does not guarantee their sanctity as well as the postal service protects first-class mail. There are many instances documented of government intrusion, it’s not just a conspiracy theory.

But that information must be sought out. It does not exist as a license plate that other laymen on the internet can peruse as they see fit. Just like in the physical world where people must trust others to allow their rights to continue. The pollster handing out ballots reads names, even if there are watchful eyes… but it’s questionable whether ID is required so much as a way to prevent double-voting. Collusion would negate the right to an anonymous vote. It’s been alleged to happen in nearly every US Presidential election. The suggestion box and physical bulletin board could be monitored, and we know that. The business could ask to see an ID when not legally required. Our participation in society might require we “voluntarily” give up some identifying information.

There are many places where we give up our identity, the most immediately obvious being facebook. Sure, one can not give up one’s identity, but it’s against Facebook’s terms of usage. The Same with services like Twitter and Disqus (which exists solely for that purpose). Anything said while logged into one of those sites (including on other sites) is tagged with our identity. The suggestion box on the internet usually requires the equivalent of a picture ID. Imagine forking over an ID before going to customer service to make a simple complaint like “hey, your AC is broken”. Annoying, right? Now imagine need to do so before posting to college corkboards or to even discuss a company with other people. Kinda more than just annoying, it gets directly in the way of freely voicing an opinion without fear of retribution. Imagine not being able to talk about the news or protesting a business’ practices without giving them your ID. Kinda squelches out any chance that you might do so, to most people. With good reason.

The bill of rights exists to protect us from government. But the principles it applies come from American society. The idea of everyone contributing to volunteer efforts as they see fit. The right to speak in public while ignoring people who say to shut up. Some might say no one has a right to tell someone else to shut up, when looking around society outside government. We have the legally protected right to not be discriminated against based on race, religion, etc. at a public business. Leaders are expected to step down and be replaced periodically. We have the right to peacefully defend ourselves, with restrictions no different when they are about government. The press shouldn’t be restricted by bias from above; doing so is considered corrupt and perhaps fraudulent. No one can tell an adult they can’t drink in their own home, as the rule not exception. We have exceptions to all of these. I’d argue that the fact we consider them ‘exceptions’ shows us the general rule prevails most of the time. Most rights have some limits and exceptions.

The first response objections I usually get in return are telling: the right to vote is no long relavent, for some reason. Perhaps because the right to vote is purely held once a year or so, inside a box that the government invents for citizens as the limits of their acceptable opinion. As if a democracy somehow lives without a constant, living, influence. It exists and understands the will of the people, regardless of their understanding or level of acknowledged participation.

Monday ~ March 7, 2011 by b

Posted in General | 5,962 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

fair & balanced… teamed up with knowledgeable & aware…

From Fox News:

The vice president post was empty when Mubarak tapped Suleiman for the job after the protests began. Suleiman would stand to take over as interim leader of Egypt in some of the proposals reportedly being considered for an expedited political transition.

Fox News’ senior administration source expressed surprise that news of the assassination attempt was just now breaking, “because he is the transition plan … or at least one of them for the Egyptians.”

Because no one looking to sow chaos would ever assassinate a leader in Egypt right now. Just like the incredibly unpopular (or popular, if you like secret police) head of Egyptian intelligence wouldn’t encounter any resistance after the announcement that he’s about to assume power.

Friday ~ February 4, 2011 by b

Posted in poli | 6,202 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

lol

I need more funnies here. I know, because I’ve got about 400 articles I’ll never publish out of their being too serious.

So, this gem from CNN:

Hey, did you know that before “LOL” came to mean “laughing out loud,” it was code for “little old lady” in the medical world? Well, unless you’re a doc alerting your compatriots to the arrival of a particularly ornery blue-haired broad, never should you stir your vocal cords to utter the phrase “LOL.”

Why? Because you’re not actually laughing.

Friday ~ September 17, 2010 by b

Posted in humor | 6,811 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

minor sniping

It’s interesting to me that taking even a skeptical stance on using animals – a stance that is the actual stance of many vegans – it’s interesting that one finds all sorts of places where people assume animals are objects to be used in the same way that religious figures can assume total authority on human morality. It’s not that they have no point. Even I can see that animal testing has potential benefits. But all kinds of really disturbing things our society rejects also have potential benefits. Like experimenting on humans in ways that damage them, even if the humans are rewarded.

Which bring me to the FDA panel review of a new, somewhat controversial weight loss drug. Now, I can see how some are very leery of trying such a drug themselves, when people like me won’t even test it on non-humans. Granted, the tests would look radically different, with the kinder and simpler human tests giving far better and more accurate results. That’s basically called the fancy field of statistical analysis, and it’s the gold standard for testing drugs. Animal testing is generally the backwoods cousin of science that the US government (uniquely in the west) mandates for drug approval. As a hint: the US doesn’t lead the forefront in getting new, effective drugs to market safely.

Here’s an interesting snippet:

Panelists also said they wanted to see more research on lorcaserin’s possible links to cancer. The drug caused a sevenfold increase in mammary tumors in laboratory rats. While the doses were far higher than human doses, experts said they were uncomfortable not knowing how to translate the findings to the human population.

The FDA’s own panel on drug acceptance does not feel comfortable with the results of animal testing, and wants to see clinical trials with humans first. Basically, rats don’t have a metabolism that overweight humans have. Which sounds right, because even skinny humans don’t have the metabolism and lose or gain weight the same way as an overweight human with heart trouble.

Tuesday ~ September 7, 2010 by b

Posted in General | No Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

phee update

So, P the cat developed a limp a while back, and went on painkillers 24.7 . I’m not sure he was entirely comfortable being in that state 24/7, but he wasn’t limping.

This leads to an operation to fix a loose kneecap (luxating patella). Basically he was walking with his kneecap on the side of his knee. Fortunately this is much less horrifying in cats, which seem a bit like the loose skin in ability to get away from predators. Also P has a high pain tolerance, which made if difficult to tell exactly what was broken & how. They fix it by basically tightening up the joint – shorten the ligament, deepen the groove where the ligament fits into the tibia, and make the bones line up more like a healthy knee. After all that, they had to go back in for something that was only apparent in the post-surgical x-rays.

After all that, in recovery he walked out of his crate and across the exam room without any sign of injury..

Thursday ~ September 2, 2010 by b

Posted in cat | 6,913 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

whining & dining

I have a passive-aggressive rant. It’s just a response to being told I’m picky without cause, something every vegan occasionally hears. It’s not the end of the world, and I should know better than shooting from the hip in response. But it’s still annoying as hell.

To start off being fair, vegans have a reputation for being picky eaters. When I am told this, I point out that I’ll eat almost anything I consider edible food. “Almost” due to broccoli, seitan, and nearly all faux meat.

Here’s the deal about being (really) vegetarian… it’s not “won’t eat anything with parents” or even “won’t eat anything that can look back. It’s about not calling a dead rotting corpse “food”. Yes, rotting. That’s how steak becomes “tender”, it’s beginning to resemble something on the side of the road attracting flies. It’s about not violating the prime directive of human ethics: don’t kill unnecessarily.

Show me a meat-eater who has concerns which are that strong against eating an apple or a potato, who has legitimate ethics (i.e. can discuss them without sounding like a froot loop with conjectures like “animals aren’t conscious”), who’s body will entirely reject vegetables… and you’ll have someone who simply is not human. We all eat vegetables or we’d die young of scurvy (assuming we lived long enough). Vegetarians don’t include meat in our diet, anymore than bullets or something that came from my cat’s litter box.

Thursday ~ September 2, 2010 by b

Posted in veg | 6,051 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

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