Religious “Liberties” is a Sham

Candice eetimesRecently we have seen a movement to create “Religious Liberty” laws and a Federal Executive Order that are pitched as a protection of individual and group religious groups rights to “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

They are a sham.  Their real aim is to circumvent both the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and anti-discrimination efforts, most notably those laws protecting LGBT people.

The laws and edict are designed to force government to fund religions that discriminate against others who aren’t living up to their religious edicts.  For example, they require that State and Local government to fund private adoption agencies who use “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny government funded services to same sex married couples, unmarried people, and transsexuals (married or not).  Another example is that they require both private and public schools to fund religious based campus organizations that discriminate against LGBT people nullifying those schools’ and even States’ anti-discrimination rules and laws, under penalty of losing their Federal funding.

Proponents of these so called “liberties” laws claim this is to protect the right to believe and worship as they chose.  BOLLOCKS !

No one has lost the right to believe, or worship as they chose when a law disallows FUNDING for a group that discriminates against others. But when the government denies funding to an institution for DEFENDING the rights of people against discrimination, or of nullifying anti-discrimination laws by requiring funding of religious based organizations, that is a form of both discrimination and of establishing the power of religion to demand funding from taxpayers in the face of that institution, local government, or State’s “sincerely held beliefs / values” of non-discrimination. Thus in essence, this is not about religious “liberty”… but about bigoted people’s ability to use government power in the name of religion as means to empower themselves and their religion over others.

True religious liberty doesn’t demand this power. True religious liberty in history demanded that government NOT allow this kind of power. Historically, in many of the colonies, and then the States, said polities had laws that demanded that everyone had to tithe to the government sanctioned (both meanings of the word intended) church, no way around it even if others attended another church or no church at all. Some colonies and townships even fined people if they didn’t attend said church. When the authors of the Bill of Rights wrote about Freedom of Religion, that is exactly what they were talking about, the power of the government to force monetary support for a religion that they themselves didn’t believe in and were often mistreated by.

Today, these so called “Religious Liberty” laws are a de facto means of using the power of the government to demand that monies, specifically public taxes be used to empower churches that mistreat others in the same (but sneaky) way that the Bill of Rights was meant to disallow forever.

Fight for our Bill of Rights. Don’t be fooled.

Video Review: Star Trek: Picard

With only two episodes released, it may be early to give a serious review but there are things I feel I can comment upon.

First, Wow… this is so much better than Discovery!

Some things I like, it expands the canon rather than messing with it.  The dialog feels better.  What violence exists moves the plot rather than the other way around.  In just two episodes, we have been introduced to both the longer term plot and to interesting characters, with the promise of more to come.

But there are some silly tropes that I reacted very negatively to.

First is the horrendously dumb visual trope of transparent displays.  As a display technologist and inventor, this just bugs me and I’ve explained why before, but the second episode really demonstrated why its so dumb.  In one scene we have a double agent spy master with open windows viewing a video call on a transparently projected virtual screen with an incredibly low contrast because one can see the brightly lit view of the sunny view outside the window competing with the image on the screen.  Please, please, can we dump this dumb trope?  It’s as dated as silver lame clothing as a SciFi movie trope.

Next is the anachronistic presence of a mid-20th Century lamp shade in a Star Fleet office.  What would a spy master’s minimalist office decor be doing with such lamp shades in the late 24th Century?  Design usually follows function and technology. The modern lamp shade is a late 19th Century invention that came about because of the introduction of bright filament incandescent light bulbs.  Yes, we saw lots of such lamps and shades in Picard’s home.  But then, he is an antiquarian living in a home filled with antiques.  They made sense there.  But not elsewhere

What also didn’t work for me is Picard’s vineyard.  Amazing how much France looks like California’s wine country, complete with dry wild oats between the rows and a California live oak visible in the distance.  Perhaps I’m the only one who even noticed, but it pulled me right out of the story seeing my local wine country being used as a set for France.

Finally, why antagonize the SciFi reading audience with Picard, who is one to read Shakespeare, who refered to Azimov’s robot series as “the classics”, saying that he didn’t “get” science fiction?

Magnetic Misalignment In Aviation

Screenshot_2018-06-15-13-57-18I’m a Flight Instructor (CFI, CFII, MEI).  I love teaching my students.  But there is topic that is a growing concern in navigation; magnetic field changes.

The magnetic compass was perhaps the earliest navigation instrument to be installed in an aircraft; And why not, it had been successfully employed in nautical navigation for centuries.  It is self contained and self powered.  However, it has several drawbacks in an airplane.  First, it is only points to the magnetic heading when one is in straight and level flight.  Start a turn and it leads or lags one’s actual heading.  (This is compensated by using a gyro stabilized directional instrument that is periodically aligned with the compass when in straight and level flight.)  The compass also has errors because of electronics and magnetic metals in the aircraft which the pilot has to compensate For another, it doesn’t actually point to “north”, but to “magnetic north”.  And even that isn’t actually pointing to the north magnetic pole as the Earth’s magnetic field isn’t a simple bar magnet.  Global and local distortions exist.  So, the pilot depends upon geomagnetic surveys that are updated periodically.

And therein lies the rub.  That magnetic field is changing, shifting, faster than ever.  Aviation maps are updated several times a year, but there are other references that are updated much less infrequently.  This leads to different “magnetic north” references that can be very confusing to the pilot.

First up, land based radio navigation aids, particularly the Very high frequency Omnibearing Range or “VOR”.  These radio stations transmit “light house” like rotating radio beams whose relative timing (phase) compared to reference signal tells instruments in the cockpit of an aircraft what the bearing is from the station.  But, since the system was put into place with the assumption that airplanes all had compasses as their one and only reliable directional instrument, those stations were all aligned and calibrated to the local magnetic field.  This is a problem.

The rapidly shifting magnetic field has left many VOR stations no longer aligned.  As instructor, I have had to supplement my students navigation instruction on how to use the VOR ‘magnetic bearings’ as idiosyncratic, independent references that only roughly correspond to the magnetic bearing indicated by their compass.  Fixing this problem would be simple, provide a magnetic flux compass on every VOR and it would ALWAYS remain aligned.  However, this would cost money and the FAA has other plans.

The FAA is shutting down most of the VOR stations, leaving only a minimum network of stations as a back-up to GPS navigation.  But here’s the fun part; those GPS units also report direction of flight and bearing to waypoints and airports using magnetic reference!  The GPS system suffers from the same shifts in magnetic fields as the compass vs. the calibration date of the on-board GPS data base.  That magnetic data base is only updated very infrequently, unlike the data base for the location of waypoints and airports which is defined by latitude and longitude.

The mismatch between the VOR and GPS system can be very noticable in flight, often by several degrees.  Yet another thing I have to teach my students is how to keep these in mind and not get confused.  This difference can lead to very different locations in airspace for what is nominally the same point.  For example, not far from my home base of Santa Rosa / Sonoma County / Charles M. Shultz Airport (Shultz was the creator of the Peanuts comic strip) is SNUPY, an intersection (a point in airspace) that is defined by the intersection of two VOR radials (magnetic bearings) from two stations and is also in the GPS database.  But those two points, which by definition should be identical, are actually a bit over a mile apart.  I’ve never been able to get a straight answer from the FAA which is right.

Research suggests that the rapid shifts and reduced strength of the Earth’s magnetic will continue.  Thus, problems with navigation will continue.  However, their is a very simple solution provided by the increasing sophistication and decreasing cost of avionics.  The “glass cockpit” (named from the use of glass substrates found in Liquid Crystal Displays, LCD) can be driven by differential GPS receivers that detect heading & track, displayed as true, with no need for reference to the Earth’s magnetic field.  All our maps, instrument procedure charts, everything would be with respect to true north, no matter the location, vastly simplifying navigation, reducing pilot workload, and reducing training requirements, increasing aviation safety, and lower costs by eliminating the need to update charts as the magnetic field shifts.

This is a plea to the FAA and ICAO, please update our navigation philosophy.  Its time to switch from magnetic to true.  Its time to have a TRUE 21st Century navigation doctrine.

New Energy Economy

candicecoverSometimes, public policy gets it backwards.

Recently, there has been a growing movement to ban the manufacture of new housing that uses “gas” for heating or cooking so as to reduce green house gas emissions.  While a laudable goal, it is missing a key point about our new energy economy with its growing installation of renewable electricity.

You may be thinking, what is she getting at?  Is she crazy?

Stop and think for a moment about where we are generating the most electricity from wind and solar, where we need electricity, and when.  One of the key problems of wind and solar is that it is intermittent.  We need a way to store it.  We also need a way to transmit it from where it is most abundant to where is most needed, when needed.  The current electrical grid has severe losses moving energy across continents.  And we still don’t have a good way to store the energy until needed.

But there is a very good way that we could do so with very little investment and we can do it progressively, without major disruptions to our present systems.  I’m speaking of energy storage and transport as hydrogen gas mixed with our current natural gas pipelines.  Over time, as more hydrogen is created from excess wind and solar generation, more hydrogen will displace the natural gas in the pipelines and our homes.  The conversion will be gradual and cost effective.  We already have the pipelines.

Far from banning the use of gas in new housing, they should be designed to use mixed gas in anticipation of clean burning hydrogen.

Bad Science Journalism(tm)

candicecoverAdding to the generally poor science literacy, Bad Science Journalism™ distorts the public understanding of modern science.  It is not just because the journalists themselves aren’t science literate, it is because the very format required by the media requires that the story be badly represented.

It starts with the headline.  It must be ‘click-bait’.  A headline that reads, “New Study Adds Subtle Nuance to Well Established Theory” is not acceptable, even if it is the most accurate possible.  Instead, it must read, “Shocking New Study Overturns Decades Old Theory”, even if it is very far from the truth.  Even worse, the headline may read, “Study Shows Scientists Were Wrong”; which plays into the anti-science myth that science gets things wrong all too often; So why trust any science?

Another requirement of Bad Science Journalism™ is that there must always be a practical purpose to the study, usually one that the Average Person™, can relate to, always.  Science for knowledge sake, with no clear direction where or if such research will lead to anything that the Average Person™ will benefit from, is absolutely forbidden.  To this end, there will always be a paragraph or two, perhaps with a quote from somebody that has no connection to the research, making the most tenuous and labored claim such as, “This may someday lead to a cure for cancer.”

Some of the blame for Bad Science Journalism™ is the laziness of the journalists, the time pressure to push out more copy, and the perverse incentives found in research institutes to create sensationalized stories.  Many universities and institutes rely on grants and donations to fund basic science.  They have professional public relations departments who produce publish ready copy for use by overworked journalists.  The more mentions of pioneering research that they can into press, the more donations and grants they will receive.  Educating the public on the actual import of a given study is not one of their priorities.

This problem needs to be addressed by more than bloggers with pet peeves.  All those who care about science education must hold those responsible to account.  Start by not clicking on obviously hyped headlines.

Further Reading:

Seriously Sad State of Science Education

Examples of Bad Science Journalism™:’s-climate-last-15-million-years-wrong/20190920#.XYqIQohlA1J

Do We “Own” Our DNA?

Candice eetimesIn some parts of the world today, such as present day Alabama, a man may rape a woman, then claim parental rights to the resulting fetus and possibly a resulting child.  If the latest attempt at outlawing reproductive choice (outlawing abortion, even in the event of rape), a man could legally rape women to have to as many children as he physically can before he is rightfully incarcerated… and then to every one of those women’s deep horror they would be forced to carry the child to term and watch as their rapist demands and is granted equal parental rights to the child.

Sounds like something out of a bad historical novel or a dystopian made for internet video series.  But, this tableau is real, and historically, has deep connections to a concept that I will argue should be abandoned.

First, the concept actually starts with a seemingly valid moral position from our prescientific and pre-modern-medical reality.  Once upon a time, most pregnancies could not be reliably prevented nor safely aborted.  If a couple had sex, it could and often did result in pregnancy.  So, given that it took the two of them to create the pregnancy, they both could and “should” be held responsible for the upbringing of the child, at least in decent societies.  This lead to the notion that with responsibilities also came privileges, on both sides, the parents and the child.  Such notions included parental authority and rights of inheritance.  All well and good for a pre-industrial society.

But there were ugly downsides as well.  When men had power and privilege not shared with women, men could deny paternity, either through lies, or through law.  Then… ah… then came paternity suits.

Another problem occured with adoption.  This one hit me personally, as I adopted a child.  But my family failed to acknowledge her.  They all coo, dote on, and brag about their other grandchildren, but my daughter doesn’t count, ’cause she’s not their “blood”.  And how many times do adopted mothers get asked about the child’s “real” mother?

These old social rules are based on a mystical concept called “blood” relation.  In modern times, we might call this “genetic” relatedness.  However, with our modern understanding of genetics this may not make scientific sense as a moral or legal guide.

How related are you to any other human?  If we look at the full genetic code… all humans are related to any other random human by 99.9%.  Yes, that’s right, we share 99.9% of our genome with the rest of humanity.  Further, almost every single gene you have in your body is found in thousands to millions, even billions, of other people unless you have a brand new, never before seen mutation, in which case that single mutation isn’t shared.  Lucky you, big deal.  So, do you “own” your DNA?  Or is it a shared resource with all of humanity?

How can it be said that we “own” our DNA if we share it with all of humanity.  How can it be said that we “own” a child just because some of that shared human inheritance came through us?  What does it matter that there may be an infinitely small percentage of the total that is more similar between two people than with the rest of humanity?  Not much.  Seen in this light the concept of “blood” relation is nearly meaningless.

There has been some concern that our present laws have not treated men fairly given the changes in custom and medical technology.  After all, if a woman has the full right to choose not to carry a child to term or not while a man has no right to demand termination, why should he be responsible if she chooses to carry the child.  Indeed, justice would be on their side, as this asymmetrical power of choice and responsibility is inequitable.  However, that does NOT warrant giving men equal say over a woman’s body, to deny her the right to choose, nor the right to her child, as some patriarchal men’s rights activists demand.  It says that we need a new form of measurement of parental rights and responsibility, one that is not dependent upon genetic relatedness or “blood”.

Parental Equity

Rather than using genetic relatedness as a measurement of parental rights and responsibility, we can and should use a measure of how much responsibility a given individual, whether genetically related or not, has provided in the past.

Consider that having chosen to carry a child to term using her own financial and social capital, a woman giving birth has risked her health and put in nine months of “sweat equity” into providing for the life of a newborn infant.  She has a great deal of parental equity.  Now compare that to the few minutes of sexual intercourse and the pleasure of orgasm that the man who impregnated her provided before disappearing from her and the child’s life.  Should these two people have the same parental rights?  Under the old “blood” view, yes.  With our new understanding, absolutely not.  Nor does he shoulder any responsibility.  After all, she chose to carry the child to term where she could have chosen not to.  Modern access to multiple methods of birth control, up to and including abortion, give a woman nearly full control of her body independent of a man’s choice.  Men also have a choice.  They may choose voluntary sterilization or use condoms.  Under the old rules, if a condom failed, he was on the hook so to speak.  But not under the new rules as she had equal responsibility for choosing to use effective birth control.

Let’s add a twist to the above situation.  The man wants nothing to do with the child, not having chosen to be a parent and she agrees.  But years later his parents find out about the child and want to be grandparents, demanding parental rights as such.  The mother, having no social or emotional ties to these older strangers, no desire to know or acknowledge these grandparents, contests.  She loses in court, because “blood”.  This situation has actually happened.  Under this new concept of parental equity, there are no rights granted by “blood”.  These grandparents have no parental equity and thus no rights to establish a relationship with the child against the mother’s wishes.

Now consider a married heterosexual couple who have both dreamed of being parents, they have children.  Both have provided financial and social capital during the woman’s pregnancy and subsequently.  Clearly she has earned parental equity.  But so has he.  Further, the children have rights of access to the parents, both emotionally and financially.

Consider yet another real world situation created with modern reproductive medical technology.  A married gay male couple decide to have a child together using surrogacy.  They don’t want to have any arguments about whose sperm to use so they direct the clinic to use, mix, both men’s sperm so that random chance decides.  They two contract with an an anonymous egg donor.  The gestational surrogate is paid a handsome sum and all of her medical and living expenses are paid during the pregnancy.  Under the old rule, she has no genetic (“blood”) connection with the resulting child.  The child is delivered into the arms of the waiting men.  They raise the child as their own… until disaster strikes and one is killed in an accident.  The homophobic parents of the dead man demand a paternity test to prove that they have genetic “blood” rights to the child and the other dad does not.  Who wins?  Under the old patriarchy, it all comes down to the result of the paternity (grandpaternity?) test.  Under the new rule, no test is undertaken, as it would be meaningless.  Both dads are equally their child’s parents and the grandparents, having contributed NOTHING to the wellbeing of the child in the past have no hold on that child.  The surviving man has full parental rights with none shared with the grandparents.

Now let’s look a VERY real world situation created with modern reproductive medical technology.  A married gay male couple, one a native born US citizen, the other a new green card holder, decide to have a child together using surrogacy.  They don’t want to have any arguments about whose sperm to use so they direct the clinic to use, mix, both men’s sperm so that random chance decides.  They two contract with an an anonymous egg donor.  The gestational surrogate in Canada is paid a handsome sum and all of her medical and living expenses are paid during the pregnancy.  Under the old rule, she has no genetic (“blood”) connection with the resulting child.  The child is delivered into the arms of the waiting men.  The couple takes the child to the US embassy which then demands a paternity test, because the child was “born out of wedlock” and only if the child is the “blood” relation of the US citizen will they grant the child US citizenship and a passport.  The law is both homophobically discriminating against a gay couple but also using the old “blood” superstition as a marker of parental connection.

Now let’s consider the case of a lesbian couple who meet and marry.  One of the partners has an infant when they meet.  Together, they raise the child for several years until disaster strikes with the birth mother killed.  The birth mother’s parents, the child’s grandparents, who have been close and have provided both financial and emotional support to the family, including childcare on numerous occasions, now want full custody and claim “blood” parental rights.  Who wins?  In the old days, these women’s relationship would have been ignored and the grandparents given full and sole custody.  In this case, everyone has some parental equity.  But the married partner has more, having been the day to day co-mom, genetic relations or no.  Everyone has a right to continued connections with the child and the child has rights to them.

We do not “own” our DNA.  We jointly share temporary custody of it with all of humanity.  We do not “own” our children and grandchildren, we earn our rights to be caring parents and grandparents.  And that goes double for those that we adopt !

And finally, NO, men do NOT get to force women to carry a rapists child, or any child for that matter.  NO, a rapist does NOT have parental rights under any circumstances!

Further External Reading:

When Your Rapist Demands Custody


Pondering: A Guest Essay by Phillip Alvelda

Today I am publishing an essay by Phillip Alvelda.  He was the CEO of MicroDisplay Corp. a start-up that I joined as employee #13 in 1997.

Pondering by Phillip Alvelda

Pondering how to close what seems to be a rapidly widening empathy gap here in the U.S. and globally.

I used to just be resigned to the fact that many of my white friends who had never felt, or experienced discrimination directed at themselves seem incapable of seeing or recognizing implicit, or even explicit, bias directed at others. I didn’t used to think of these people as mean or racist…just oblivious through lack of direct experience.

But now, with a nation inflamed by our own government inciting and validating hatred and bigotry, with brown asylum seekers and children dying in mass US internment camps, and LGBTQ and women’s’ rights under mounting assault, the discrimination has literally turned lethal. And the empathy gap is enabling these crimes against humanity to continue and grow in the US now, just like the silent majority in Weimar Germany allowed the Jewish genocide to advance.

I’ve come to see supporters of this corrupt and criminal administration as increasingly complicit in the ongoing crimes. It is no longer just a matter of not seeing discrimination that doesn’t impact your family directly.

Trump supporters and anyone who supports any of his Republican enablers must now find some way to look past the growing reports of discrimination, minority voter suppression and gerrymandering, hate crimes, repression, the roll back of women’s and LGBTQ rights, a measurable biased justice system, mass internment camps, and now even the murder of the weak and vulnerable kidnapped children that commit no crime other than to follow our own ancestors to seek freedom and opportunity in the US….. This growing mass of willfully blind conservatives have abandoned fair morality, and are direct enablers of evil.

We are now in an era I never thought to see in the US, when government manufactured propaganda is purposely driving the dehumanization of women, LGBTQ people, and people of color. The US empathy gap is widening rapidly. How can we fight these dark divisive forces and narrow the gap, when our polarized society can’t even agree on measurable objective realities like the climate crisis?

Otherwise, I fear the U.S. is on a path to dissolve into at least two countries, divided along a border between those states who value empathy and seek an inclusive and pluralistic future society, and those who seek to retreat to tribal protectionism of historical rights for a shrinking privileged majority.

That this struggle rises now really baffles me. Consider the world’s obviously increasing wealth and abundance, with declining poverty and starvation and increasing access to virtually unlimited renewable energy. The need for tribal dominance to horde resources is dissapearing. The need for borders to protect resources that are no longer scarce, is vanishing.

Just imagine if all of our military and arms spending, all of the money we spend enforcing borders and limiting access to food and medicine and energy and education were instead directed towards sharing this abundance!

Pluralism and empathy are clearly the answer. How can we get more people to realize this despite the onslaught of vitriol and tribal Incitement from the likes of Fox News?