Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Second Amendment

Lots of facts and opinion are floating around the cyberwaves re: guns, gun-control, and the Second Amendment following the recent mass shooting in Florida. Notice that the guns are called assault rifles or semi-automatics, but not weapons of mass destruction, even though the gunman killed 17  and seriously wounded others.

The Constitution:  “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” is often quoted in the defense of gun ownership, but it’s always the second part of the Second Amendment, never the first. Now, an amendment to the 2nd Amendment has been proposed that would ban discrimination. The National Dyslexia Society has claimed the right to arm bears and no discrimination would be allowed. Black bears, brown bears, and white bears shall be equal under under the law. 

Other groups want to ban discrimination in the nature of the weapon. All kinds of weapons would be allowed: muzzle loaded rifles, semi- automatic assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns, cruise missiles, and anti-tank guns with depleted uranium shells. Only ICBMs with nuclear explosives are forbidden as being in the domain of the gods. Some gun-control freaks have objected to assault rifles with high capacity magazines that can fire off up to 32 rounds without reloading. But, suppose you were attacked by a herd of mastodons or even a pair of angry wooly rhinos.
Some gun entrepreneurs have been taking free enterprise to a shameful  extreme, only a week after the school shooting in Florida by sending out a mass e-mailing, inviting respondents to”Qualify to carry concealed — new loophole for US residents to carry a gun legally. Qualify in minutes. Get your concealed carry license before they take away your rights.”

Maybe Australia did it right. In 1996, there was a terrible mass shooting in Port Arthur Tasmania. In response, the Prime Minister drafted the National Firearms Agreement that established a Registry of all guns and a straight-out ban on semi-automatic assault rifles. Another part of the Agreement mandated a buy-back program of all banned guns. The results were remarkable— suicides declined by 57% and homicides by 42%. Nearby South Korea, Japan, and New Zealand have seen only the rarest case of a mass shooting. New Zealand police are not routinely armed — They say it would destroy the trust between the police and the people. These nations still look for ways such as comprehensive national registries to diminish the chances for a mass shooting ever to occur. In the US they look for loopholes.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Gadfly Plays Archaeologist The Earliest History of Homo sapiens — A Thesis

Homo sapiens, a gracile creature, first appeared on Planet Earth about 200,000 years ago. He/She were not well suited for survival. Neither strong, nor fleet a-foot, no rapier canines or sharp claws, humans were poor hunters and not so good at gathering either. For the first 100,000 years, human populations grew agonizingly slowly. At some points, according to geneticists studying m-DNA, they were down to 5,000 breeding females, a recipe for extinction. 

The one saving grace was the high level of cooperation among the females, both in gathering plant-foods and in caring for children, who matured very slowly. OK, they had fire, too — a help. At about 90,000 to 70,000 BP, the men started to copy the females and formed hunting parties instead of only hunting in ones and twos. They became more successful and brought in more and larger prey. The meat was cooked slowly over a campfire, and the amount of nicotinamide (vitamin D3) in the diet increased sharply. Brain changes occurred, leading to a high level of conceptual thinking. It was a whole new ball game, and some empathy was thrown in for good measure. The time was the Upper Paleolithic Era, when our genome became established.

But in the Bronze Age, only 5,000 years ago, a question arose and became more insistent recently. We began to ask if man was violent by nature? We were hunters, after all. That’s ipso facto violence, isn’t it? A look at the archaeological record of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods says otherwise. Two evolutionary anthropologists reviewed 400 widely scattered excavation sites, including 2900 skeletons, dated to that time. There were only five or six injuries that could be interpreted as involving human violence. 

The Thesis asks: Our Genetic Heritage: Are We Wired For Violence & War OR For Cooperation & Caring?  The Thesis Answers: Cooperation.

A book is almost complete — nine chapters — and is being sent to publishers. Chapter 5 is the last chapter being completed: Peace Heroes. It starts with ancient Sumerian and Egyptian times — Urukagina and Hatshepsut, Gadfly will offer a brief summary of a long list  of Peace Heroes right into the 21st century. We all should be familiar with them.  They carry our genetic and cultural heritage of peace. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Peace Heroes Series


The first Peace Hero of Sumerian times was Urukagina, the last of the nine rulers of the Lagash Dynasty. Under the previous rulers Lagash was ridden with corruption, conflict of interest in officials, and arbitrary violence.   Urukagina was known as a social reformer who brought honesty to government by eliminating bribes among inspectors, tax collectors, and judges, and bringing equality and freedom to his people. The “Praise Poem of Urukagina” lists the various reforms of this ensi of Lagash and Girsu and represents the first written law code. The years of his leadership, 2380 to 2360, brought peace and justice to Lagash and set an example for other cities. We may count Urukagina as a true Peace Hero.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

2 1/2 Minutes to Midnight — Part II

A previous Gadfly blog post addressed the matter of nuclear weapons and the carelessness of mankind in losing not just a few of the Doomsday Bombs. It also told of the depravity of governments in using the possession of the Bomb for political purposes. Part II now looks at the same ubiquity of human error re: civilian nuclear power plants.  

Pennsylvania has a special place in the annals of “Atoms for Peace.”  The very first commercial nuclear power plant in the US was brought on-line in 1957 at Shippenport on the shores of Lake Erie [as if Lake Erie were not polluted enough already]. Another nuclear power plant was built in 1974 on Three Mile Island in the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. A PA poet told the story:
    When he said,
“This is how
    the sun works,
these are the rules that stars

    follow,” we
honored him
    but asked, “What
use to us unless we
      can coerce
the beads to
    dance and leap,
to play the First Fury?”

Too soon afterward, 1979 to be exact, Reactor Two of the TMI plant began to melt down, releasing significant radioactive emissions. “Significant” translates to a real increase in cancers over the following years in people downwind of radioactive emissions. Another first for PA.

Then in 1986, to assuage any jealousy of the US being first, the Russian nuclear power plant at Chernobyl (Reactor #4) suffered two explosions, followed by fires and a complete meltdown. Radioactivity spread wildly — not just 50 million curies, as reported by the IAEA, but 10 billion curies of radioactivity that spread around the entire Northern Hemisphere. In Ukraine, Belarus, and eastern Russia, the proportion of healthy births before 1986 was 80%. After the disaster, they fell to 20%!

A  book published in 2010, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, reviewed over 5,000 scientific papers, most written in Slavic languages and never before translated into English. The authors report increased pathology of every organ system of many people in eastern and western Europe and Scandinavia. In the US and Canada, fallout reached us nine days later. The Mesopotamian gods: Enlil, the god of wind, and Adad, the god of storms, don’t stop at man-made boundary walls. In the US, four years later, 25% of all imported food was found to be contaminated.

We made it out of the 20th century without another major meltdown. But in 2011, Mother Nature showed us who’s in charge with an earthquake and a tsunami to add to human ill-judgement and arrogance. The result was the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

In the US, there are some 100 nuclear power plants — all aging. President Obama wanted more, and so did James Hansen, the environmental scientist. But, Wall Street, the Big Banks, and the Insurance Industry are all more guided by the bottom line than by politics. They all thought that renewables were less risky, faster, and cheaper. Pennsylvania has finally shown some good sense — the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant will be closed for good in 2019. Maine, however, beat us to the draw. The nuclear plant at the picturesque town of Wiscasset was closed  in 1992. 

The Gadfly Revelry & Research Team, not renowned for advocating the joys of Capitalism, used the logic of fun and common sense. They wrote: “You want to split the atom to make the heat to boil water for steam to drive turbines to make electricity?? Why not use technology that employs sun and wind and tides — all of which are cheaper, and require far less time to build? Maybe Nature is telling us something.”

The original 100+ nuclear power plants in the US were commissioned for 40 years. Most all of them were or are in the process of renewing their license to operate, despite their aging. Some are in the midst of a second renewal. The NRC, acting more like an agent for the nuclear industry than a regulatory agency that protects the public from radioactive disasters, both large and small, renews the licenses routinely. They were not even ashamed that they renewed licenses for three plants that later closed. Meanwhile, the radioactive “spent” fuel rods have to be stored on site, both at the plants that still operate and those that have been closed. Yes, Wiscasset still has radioactive waste stored in casks at the closed site.

When will they/we ever learn?

The War Against Cancer

The War Against Cancer has been going on since it was officially declared by President Nixon in 1971. Billions of dollars in research funding, given largely to Big Pharma to test out various drugs in cancer killing combinations were spent. Also, more tests and imaging studies were devised to find more cases of cancer to treat. And, the War goes on. I suppose it’s better than spending the money for the arms industry to provide us with more bombs and (somewhat) depleted uranium tank shells for the International War on Terror. 

In a previous Gadfly essay, I proposed that we attack the cause of epidemic of cancer, and even suggested a likely candidate — the chemical laden environment since WW II. No one in the research community has questioned the wildly increased incidence of breast and, especially, prostate cancer since the fifties, but neither has anyone suggested that the cause of the increase was the soup of artificial chemicals we live in. There seems to be a gentlemen’s agreement not to point fingers, especially at the agriculture industry.

This past summer I met Fouad, an Egyptian born researcher who has worked on prostate cancer for his whole professional life. Fouad is acknowledged as a principal research scientist at his institute in Scotland and the world over. He says that the farmers of Scotland who were exposed to high levels of pesticides and herbicides had the highest incidence of prostate cancer in the general population. Logic, of course, would have it that anything that is toxic to bugs and weeds is at least somewhat toxic to humans.

Add to my observations at City Hospital and to Fouad’s research, the experiences of the Vietnam veterans who came back from Agent Orange and settled in California. They were part of the back-to-the-land movement of the sixties and early seventies, but those knowledgeable about the herbicide and its effects on themselves and their comrades would not touch any farming that was not organic. They became the spearhead of the explosion of the organic farming movement. They worked not for temporary yield per acre, but for regeneration of the soil and sustainable farming.

Meanwhile, the chemical industry wasn’t  satisfied with selling pesticides and herbicides to family farmers who might question the toxic effect of the chemicals on themselves and their families. Neither did the public relations campaigns popularize the various uses of the chemicals. “Miracles through Chemistry” didn’t happen often. Nor was “Quick Henry, the Flit” without problems as DDT produced too-fragile eagle egg shells and an endangered eagle population.

So, the chemical industry encouraged large monocrop farms, often with corporate ownership. Anything less would be un-American or, at least, anti-capitalist. The number of man-made chemicals in the environment increased to the hundreds of thousands. A blood test would reveal dozens of such chemicals in our blood and, assumedly, in our tissues and organs, including our brains. Is it any wonder that Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise, as is dementia and memory loss. What will become of the Baby Boomer generation, already too sedentary?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dear Donald: Growing Older Won’t Be Elegant

Dear Donald:
As we become older — may I remind you that you are a senior citizen now — we become medically more vulnerable. We get more cancer, more heart attacks, more strokes, more diabetes, more osteoporosis … and our immune system weakens. Practically every organ of our bodies performs worsely.

Your own diet is rich in fast foods and poor in vegetables. You are (in)famously known to favor: Big Macs, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Diet Coke.  You make no effort to avoid genetically engineered foods (GMOs), and I haven’t heard that you’re continuing Michelle Obama’s tradition of planting an organic garden in the South Lawn of the White House.

As to exercise, I regret to inform you that riding around in a golf cart is not aerobic. Even swinging a golf club as many times, as it’s been reported in the press, as you need for 18 holes, is not marathonic.

Re: the third leg of the the Wellness Triad — some sort of relaxation procedure — would you consider devoting a half hour a day to meditation? Writing tweets in the small hours of the night doesn’t count, not even if you use up all 140 characters.

Another matter you will come up against as President is the intense bureaucracy of the federal government. Either four or eight years in the White House are enough to rapidly age anyone. Look at Barack Obama — gray before his time, which everyone can see despite his close-cropped haircut. And, Bill Clinton: white haired, and a cardiac patient for good measure. Only Ronald Reagan seemed to avoid the aging process with frequent naps [some at meetings in the Oval Office]. But, he did not escape a considerable degree of Alzheimer’s at the end of his two terms. Is that why Melania, our present First Lady, lived in the penthouse of Trump Tower in NYC until public pressures built for her to move to the White House (mid-June)? The Donald is known to like his women young and pretty.

There is yet another uniquely Trump factor that you must consider. It can be summed up in an aphorism of philosopher Gadfly Zeeks: “The more things you own, the more that things own you.” Especially you, whose hotels and casinos go bankrupt with some regularity. Just wait till rising sea levels make your shoreline championship golf courses into giant water traps — you’ll have to provide launches instead of golf carts to get around. You can rationalize you way out of that by thinking that the novelty will attract more golfers, but Wall Street won’t buy it.
You may think you have the finest health insurance that money can buy, but you must have some awareness that it’s medical care that you’ve bought. Health needs a healthy life style, which requires some effort on your part: good nutrition, effective exercise, and a little meditation. That is as important  as medical care,

In Ancient Mesopotamia during the Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages, the kings of the early cities would avow  immortality by claiming to be half half god and half human. Gadfly will close with a relevant poem.  Do you see any parallels, Mr. Trump?

Ancient Mesopotamia

When Enlil was
     the god of wind 
     and Ea brought 
forth sweet water,

Ishtar offered
     mace and sword to 
     the kings she knew
who could not rest

until tribute
     arrived from four 
     quarters of the 
world, kings who sought

the company 
     of gods, yet knew
     that soon enough
Nergal would call.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

It’s 2 1/2 Minutes to Midnight, Part I

The famous Doomsday Clock was the idea of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It’s now 2 1/2 minutes to Midnight. The Atomic Scientists — some of them worked on the Manhattan Project — have set the Clock 1/2 minute closer to the extinction of people. Also: polar bears, orangutans, and the EPA. 

Are they worried about Global Heating and Climate Chaos reaching the Point of No Return? Perhaps — the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are now above 400 ppm for the first time in many millennia. But, the major concern of the Atomic Scientists is nuclear radiation. Lately, they’ve been reminded of the fallibility of mankind re: 1) nuclear weapons and 2) nuclear power plants.

First, the bombs and missiles. Nowadays, the nuclear weapons of US and Russia add up to  about 1400; France, UK, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel together have another several hundred. Poor North Korea has only about 5. Lowering the total by even 5 would matter.

So, how crazy (stupid?) is it for the US not to negotiate a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War, when Kim Jong Un has said several times that he will undo his nation’s nuclear program the moment a treaty is signed?  You mean there’s only a cease fire between the US and North Korea all these decades?  Of course, we must be officially at war to make “overflights” of North Korea with B2, nuclear-capable bombers?  That’s just politics??

Whom else are we targeting with our nuclear missiles? Not Russia now that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are friends and have business together. Not China — Walmart would never agree to that. Did anyone suggest dismantling the US nuclear arsenal? 

     Perhaps the Atomic Scientists read some of President Trump’s tweets with no semblance to reality, posted in the small hours of the night,. 
    Perhaps they read the recent reports that a diver may have discovered a nuclear bomb lost off British Columbia in 1950. It was reportedly marked with the identification M IV. The diver was scared to death it might go off if he touched it. He came to the surface and called the Mounties who called in the Royal Navy.

The Atomic Scientists were also aware there have been more than 32 other “significant incidents and accidents” with nuclear bombs, six never recovered. Several were well known to the public at the time they were lost. The short list includes: 
    The day in 1958 that two planes collided off Savannah, GA — one carrying an H-Bomb. The B47 was damaged badly and decided to drop its Bomb into the sea near the Savannah River. Search teams were quietly sent to cordon off Wassaw Sound. They searched underwater, from the surface, and from the air, but couldn’t find the Bomb or the plutonium trigger. Two months later, the search was suddenly called off — the teams had to be sent to South Carolina where another B47 accidentally dropped its H-Bomb. 200 lbs of TNT (part of its trigger) exploded on impact, scattering radioactive debris across the landscape. Fortunately, the core of the bomb didn’t detonate. The Air Force sheepishly requested one replacement bomb. The Savannah bomb is still missing. 
      In 1961, a B-52, carrying 2 nuclear bombs, exploded and crashed near Goldsboro NC, ejecting its H-Bombs. One landed in a swamp and broke apart without blowing up; the other deployed its parachute and landed tangled in a tree. Incredibly (or not so), 5 of the 6 fuses inserted to prevent an unintended detonation failed. [Sometimes, failure can be good.]
    In 1966, near Palomares, Spain, a B 52, carrying 4 H-Bombs, crashed while trying to refuel midair. One bomb hit the ground and was recovered smashed up a bit; the TNT of two exploded, scattering radioactive debris everywhere; and one landed off shore in almost 3,000 feet of water. A mini-submarine located it several months later. Whether it was ever recovered depends on whom you ask. That “significant incident” on foreign territory, not under the authority of the CIA, could not be hushed up and remains in the folklore of the villagers of Palomares.
    Two years later, a B-52 carrying four H-Bombs caught fire and crashed in Greenland (Danish territory) near Thule Air Force base. The TNT of the plane’s 4 bombs exploded strewing radioactive uranium, tritium, and plutonium across the ice.
    Also in 1968, the nuclear attack Submarine, Scorpion, carrying two nuclear torpedoes, sank in 9,800 feet of water near the Azores. Both (torpedoes) are still there.   

    Several extra nuclear bomb "accidents" of US origin have also occurred. A bunch of  nuclear military catastrophes of the Soviet Union have added to the total. Now, we must include radiation on the list of man-made environmental dangers in the world.

    The US government has so many incidents and “accidents” with nuclear weapons that it had to create a file — they call it Broken Arrow.

   A few years ago, I published a cartoon showing a building with many towers and transmitters. Nearby, an ICBM had just been sent off to a target. A voice from the building says, “Lunch? I thought you said Launch.” 

    That’s just the military side of the madness. Next issue of the Sylvanian, Gadfly sets its satirical eye on the civilian side. Watch this space for Part II.