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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Enough is enough.


No more hand-wringing, prayers, platitudes without action.

A brief history lesson. The assault weapons ban had been signed into law in 1994. Former Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan had written personal letters to the U.S. House of Representatives (where it faced the stiffest resistance) urging lawmakers to pass the ban. It had been challenged in court on constitutional grounds and every challenge failed. The problem was, the ban had been weakened during negotiations and contained a sunset provision causing the ban to expire after ten years. When bill expired many tried to reinstate the ban but those efforts were defeated. I suggest the lawmakers who defeated the bill to reinstate the assault weapons ban deserve to hear from their constituents specifically and American citizens in general. I am given to understand these folks love to hear from Americans in regard to their job performance. 

It might pay to keep in mind, in poll after poll, we are in the majority. Those who want thoughtful gun control are in the majority.


Below is a list of representatives who voted against the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban: 

Member
Party
State
Lamar Alexander
R
TN

Kelly Ayotte
R
NH

John Barrasso
R
WY

Max Baucus
D
MT

Mark Begich
D
AK

Michael Bennet
D
CO

Roy Blunt
R
MO

John Boozman
R
AR

Richard M. Burr
R
NC

Saxby Chambliss
R
GA

Daniel Coats
R
IN

Tom Coburn
R
OK

Thad Cochran
R
MS

Susan Collins
R
ME

Bob Corker
R
TN

John Cornyn
R
TX

Michael D. Crapo
R
ID



Ted Cruz
R
TX

Joe Donnelly
D
IN

Michael B. Enzi
R
WY

Deb Fischer
R
NE

Jeff Flake
R
AZ

Lindsey Graham
R
SC

Charles E. Grassley
R
IA

Kay Hagan
D
NC

Orrin G. Hatch
R
UT

Martin Heinrich
D
NM

Heidi Heitkamp
D
ND

Dean Heller
R
NV

John Hoeven
R
ND

James M. Inhofe
R
OK



Johnny Isakson
R
GA

Mike Johanns
R
NE

Tim Johnson
D
SD

Ron Johnson
R
WI

Angus King
I
ME

Mary L. Landrieu
D
LA

Mike Lee
R
UT

Joe Manchin III
D
WV

John McCain
R
AZ

Mitch McConnell
R
KY

Jerry Moran
R
KS

Lisa Murkowski
R
AK

Rand Paul
R
KY

Rob Portman
R
OH



Mark Pryor
D
AR

Jim Risch
R
ID

Pat Roberts
R
KS

Marco Rubio
R
FL

Tim Scott
R
SC

Jeff Sessions
R
AL

Richard C. Shelby
R
AL

Jon Tester
D
MT

John Thune
R
SD

Patrick J. Toomey
R
PA

Mark Udall
D
CO

Tom Udall
D


NM

David Vitter
R
LA

Mark Warner
D
VA

Roger Wicker
R

MS

Monday, May 2, 2016

Prejudice, Race, and Science

I thought if might be helpful to provide a link for those who have not had occasion to read as much about the so-called "race" issue (or as I prefer, the prejudice issue). According to the scholar Duana Fullwilley and most others in the field of genetics research, "There is no genetic basis for race.”

To put it another way, the ideas we hold about race are human inventions. We made this up to explain things as best we could with scant knowledge. This can be a bit tricky to wrap ones head around as most of us have grown up in a society that has programmed us to believe the exact opposite.

To be clear, nobody in their right mind is denying the existence of prejudice or bad behavior based on the color of a person's skin. Also, no scientist denies cultural differences. What the scientists are telling us is, there are groups of people whose ancestors came primarily from certain areas but this does not make them a distinct group on a genetic level. Our differences merely reflect the fact that people adapted to places with differing conditions, such as levels of solar radiation. Obviously the people whose ancestors came from very sunny places near the equator needed more melanin to protect their skin from an over abundance of sunlight. Also, people in the far north would begin to lack vitamin D if they failed to adapt to the lower light conditions in their region.

For those who are new to this line of thinking, all this may sound like a mere technicality. Nothing could be further from the truth. The evidence now clearly shows there is no foundation to  automatically attribute either positive or negative social traits to groups of people (we once called races of people). Therefore differences in skin color, hair texture, etc. have no deeper meaning. The old expression people's color is only skin deep, turns out to be exactly right.

The implications of this information are huge and will not be absorbed by the general public for some time. However, I feel it is incumbent upon those who do understand, to plant the seeds of this knowledge in a compassionate way. One thing that will help move the change forward is to leave the old language behind. In short, one can’t easily “play the race card” (for good or ill) when people understand there is no race card. I understand this will not be easy. Everywhere we look the old ideas and the old language persist. Often even educated people who really should know better are mired in old habits. My assertion is, we should derive hope from the fact that in my lifetime social convention has changed dramatically. In my youth it was common for many Americans to  openly use slurs against various groups with impunity. We have not made those words disappear but now there is often a social cost to such language. Also, whether it was a result of, or coincidental with, the advancement of civil rights may be debatable but the change is undeniable. 


For myself, I will talk about the struggle. I will talk about tolerance. I will talk about justice. But when I do, I will use terms like prejudice and tolerance, equality and inequality. For me it is not merely semantics. It is not about being a liberal or progressive. These terms are based upon a clearer view of the world made possible by the scholarship of our best and brightest. Furthermore, using these terms will make it more difficult to think of the world in terms of us and them. In the end, there is only us.  The evidence points clearly in one direction. There is only the human race and its members. Each one of those humans is capable of being more or less tolerant, more or less kind, more or less inclusive.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Supreme Court Nomination and Hearings

My brain has been reeling at the profound arrogance and willful truculence of the Republican U.S. Senators in their obstruction of the Supreme Court Nomination and Confirmation process.

I recently received an email from AFSCME (public employees trade union). They are calling for demonstrations at the offices of our local obstructionist Senator Toomey. While I could not agree more with the intent, I was disappointed in the same old paradigm. We strongly disagree with the actions of our representatives and then we go chanting in the street. Sure, these demonstrations have occasionally had some positive effect throughout history. More often, it seems to me that they were largely a feel good exercise for the protestors. While any protest/demonstration will be noticed by a Senator (or the staff at the local office), protests are ephemeral. They persist for a few hours and fade into memory- often taking any uncomfortable feeling with them.

On the other hand, if a Senator’s office had a line of people outside the door each and every morning waiting patiently to address the staff members with their concerns, this would be a persistent “challenge”. What if, every local office of every obstructionist Senator had a line of people from the time they opened until the time they closed, each one calmly determined to state their desire for that Senator to do his or her job?


Given that the nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice is one of the most important and significant events in our Democratic Republic, I suggest easily rivaling the election of a President, could something like this be organized? Should it be? Is there a better idea?

Monday, February 29, 2016

Parental Controls Mac

Parental Controls

Disclaimer. This is advice that is intended to be helpful. You may find it helpful. If not, remember it was free. Kudos are solicited. Complaints are not.

The first thing to note is- there is no perfect system. We are basically talking about security here and I can assure you that the smartest people at the highest levels have not achieved perfect security. Make no mistake, in the high level security circles as well as personal information security, it is a classic example of an arms race. At the top level, whatever the security people do to batten down the hatches, the bad guys are testing that system and looking for ways around it. Now, I am a parent and a grandparent and I love them all. However, if you imagine that children/teenagers are not testing the systems and trying to find ways around them, you are probably not a parent. If you doubt my assertion, I invite you to open Youtube and perform a search for how to bypass parental controls. I guarantee you will be presented with any number of instructive video choices. Kids make these for other kids. Welcome to a future where, unless you were a computer science major, you very likely know less than your children.

This leads my to my first security measure. It has two parts. One, talk frankly with your child about online dangers and things you do and do not approve of them viewing. Part two, as the parent of a minor child and  the provider of things like computers, cell phones etc., parents have a right to access those devices and view what the child has been doing. Children need to understand that the parent is responsible for their behavior and safety and they will enjoy only a limited privacy. Children should provide passwords for all their devices, including smart phones and tablets, to parents. Each parent will approach things as they see fit. I told mine that I had no interest in reading every tweet, text, etc. but I would perform a general scan from time to time. Meaning I would scroll through and look for key words, inappropriate images etc. Often the understanding that a parent can at any time access the device is sufficient.

This is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. The parent should have the only administrator account on the computer. The child should have a restricted account. Now, here is the key. When the parent is not using the computer he/she needs to log out of their administrator account and the password for that account should never be known to the child!!!! Most of us simply walk away when we are done. Get in the habit of logging off. At minimum, you can set your computer to sleep after a couple of minutes and require your password to wake up. If a child gains access to an administrator account, the child can easily bypass all your efforts. Whatever you think the child knows about computers, you are probably wrong. It is very likely that the child not only knows more than you, but knows more than you think he/she knows!

Regarding a Mac desktop or laptop to which your child has access. First look at this link: https://support.apple.com/kb/PH18571?locale=en_US

This will provide the basics. There are software products you can buy for Mac and PC. NetNanny seems to hold the lead as far as price and features.

If a parent has serious concerns that the child may be doing something dangerous or illegal, you may consider a keystroke logger program. I won’t get into the whole thing here. Basically it allows the administrator to know what someone has been up to even if they erase files. My suggestion is, this is a last resort.

If you have further concerns or need Mac help, I can be reached at: johnforest@icloud.com



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Wahabbism

For those who do not already know, the fundamentalist sect of Islam know as Wahabbi, is the dominate religious order in Saudi Arabia. The powerful mullahs there are a major influence on culture and justice in that country. Is it a coincidence that they share much in common with Daesh?

http://theconversation.com/we-need-to-talk-about-how-islamic-state-interprets-islam-51142

Climate Assessments, Presidential candidates and the Paris talks

Some of our best and brightest people work at the Pentagon. A number of these dedicated folks are tasked with a single mission. Their mission is to analyze threats to the United States of America. The people in these positions are human and we may assume, have their own personal beliefs. However, in their professional lives, no kudos are awarded for advancing ideas based upon political, personal, or religious ideology. The only thing that counts is thoughtful research and evidence based analysis that is open to challenge by other experts. So, one might be given to wonder, what does this group say, if anything, regarding the whole climate change hullabaloo? 

“Global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems — such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions — that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.”

So, let us take a moment and break this down. First we notice that the assessment was not couched in maybe's and possibly's. This is more surprising than one might imagine. Let us stop to consider. Every contributor/signer on to this statement if very bright, very well educated, ambitious, competitive, and likely has considerable ego. In a conference room full of those people, how many times do these folks arrive at a definitive opinion without qualifications or parsing of words? With the personalities and high stakes involved, we may reasonably infer the answer to be, not often.

It is also worth noting how they arrive at such an opinion. When they were researching the topic,  from where did they obtain solid evidence? I'm suggesting they familiarized themselves with the data from climate scientists, among others. Did they look in any credible dissent among the climate scientists? With their jobs on the line as well as the safety and security of our nation, we can safely assume they did not leave any stone unturned. If they had looked over the climate science data and had felt that it failed to provide adequate confidence, would they have decided to plow forward and make such a strong statement as the one above? Not likely. 

What else might we reasonably infer? The random thoughts and half-baked opinions of people including, but not limited to, the Republican candidates for U.S. President entered in to their assessments, not at all.  Furthermore, did the policy wonks weigh the likelihood of Jesus imminent return and how to factor that idea into their assessment? Perhaps some will wish to take a deep breath here, maybe put on the kettle? A calming cup of tea might be just the thing while absorbing this news. And the answer is- not only no, but hell no! Okay, sure, this does not prove JC won't be returning soon. We are agreed on that. The bare facts are, when making plans/choices about the down-to-earth business here on planet Earth, the people who know the most factor in such considerations, not at all.

It is about time to wrap this puppy but before we do, let's make a couple more quick but important inferences.

What might we say if the assessments of our most knowledgeable and qualified people are directly at odds with what many of our elected leaders are spouting? Many would consider this a sobering, or outright frightening, problem. What if large powerful media outlets were observed to be shamelessly devoted either to the blunting/distorting of the facts or flat out lying? What if such media outlets had millions of viewers whose entire view of the world arrived through the broadcasts of these media outlets? Oh, mercy me. That couldn't be a good thing.
Finally, no discussion of these topics would be complete without mentioning modern Western style Capitalism and its corrupting, greed-driven, monolithic influence on, well, almost everything. For the geeks who thought I had forgotten, I should mention the bastard son of the aforementioned Capitalism, the military-industrial complex. For those who love mysteries and detective stories, remember the old adage, follow the money.

And, so, here we are. We know the players and the assessment. Now for the extra credit portion. Name one person who is willing to predict the current climate talks in Paris will result in the requisite global policy changes adequately addressing our current situation. Caveats: the person named must be an acknowledged expert verifiably familiar with the evidence on the scientific and political fronts.

Name one.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dandelions in November

Dandelions in November

Spring and fall are having a brief fling.
Thickly buttered dandelions and dry oak leaves cavort
on an impossibly green November hillside.
They can afford to be indiscreet
as they bask in the sly glow of a low slung sun.
For this is, perhaps, the last warm day
of a season within a season.

The boundaries of the permissible are curtains thrown back.
In this fingersnap moment,
some may step out of themselves,
even claim to be more than they are.
There is a small window for these small indiscretions.
But, the truth is, few will notice and fewer speak of it.
It is chalked up as late autumn madness
and barely noticed among the final rustling leaves.

By this point, many here have raised their collars.
Only the rebellious root themselves
to begrudge what surely follows.
They bravely, or vainly,
choose to hold the last catnap warmth in little fists
before the darkling year turns her cold shoulder.