Suing Scientists?

In this day and age when much of society cherry picks scientific findings only so much to support particular opinions, some scientists feel vulnerable and concerned about their own liability.

On April 6, 2009, L’Aquila, Italy experienced a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that lasted 28-seconds. The temblor killed 300 people and seriously injured thousands of others.

Months before the earthquake, there had been several low magnitude tremors so the town’s residents were worried enough to hire a team of quake experts to analyze the geological evidence and data. The team was instructed to advise the government about how the authorities might respond.

A member of the Italian Serious Risks Commission, Enzo Boschi, stated that there was little chance of a major earthquake similar to a devastating quake that took place in 1703. He did give a disclaimer that the possibility of a serious event could not be definitively excluded. At the end of the study and conference, the Italian government statement said a major earthquake in the L’Aquila vicinity was improbable.

In an unofficial television interview, an hydrologist, Bernardo De Bernardinis, made this claim: “…the scientific community tells me there is no danger because there is an ongoing discharge of energy” that accompanies seismic disturbances. The problem with that statement is that the actual science does not agree with De Bernardienis claim. There is no evidence that seismic activity releases energy that translates into future earthquake events.

Due to the impression of De Bernardinis’ expertise, the lack of any fact-checking and the proximity of the broadcast interview, L’Aquila residents believed that the statement represented the findings of the special meeting of experts.

Shortly thereafter, the disastrous earthquake struck L’Aquila and the Italian public was stunned and outraged. The popular opinion was that the team of scientists were inaccurate and had failed to give an appropriate earthquake forecast to the area’s residents. In the aftermath, De Bernadinis and the six geologists of the team were arrested and charged with manslaughter. Their trials found all of them guilty and sentenced each of them to six-year prison terms. The basis for the convictions was that the superficial analysis was a major factor in the death and injury toll.

The world’s scientific community became very concerned about the Italian scientists being sent to prison. It is well-known that there are no accepted scientific techniques nor methods to accurately predict earthquakes. In a letter to then Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, the American Association for the Advancement of Science warned the Italian government about the dangers of the verdict and conviction. The association was worried that subjecting scientists to prison terms “for adhering to accepted scientific practices may have a chilling effect on researchers….” The danger of such punishments would discourage future researchers in areas of important public safety and needs.

In fact, one seismologist, Aubreya Adams from Washington University at Saint Louis, Missouri said the precedents of the convictions could “discourage people from actually trying to address that problem in the future.” The idea that scientists might be convicted for failing to predict earthquakes is unwise and dangerous because there is still no foolproof way to scientifically predict temblors. How can sending anyone to prison for not doing something that is impossible to do even just?

In November of 2014, the geologists were cleared of the manslaughter charges. Although the scientists were released from prison, the seismology community will likely be much more careful about their public statements. The legal situation puts in doubt whether scientists will feel free to comment about hazards or their belief about lack of risk regarding unpredictable natural events.

Part of the problem is the general public’s lack of knowledge regarding the scientific method. Better, more accurate education about how science works and increases knowledge is sorely lacking in schools these days. Students need to be encouraged, not discouraged to study science and how to use the scientific method. Their studies and research will likely benefit civilization in the future.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Carl Sagan. “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

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Thoughts About Integrity

Today’s commentary will be an act of walking on eggshells and being careful to not be too judgmental. This is made trickier due to the amount of criminality and lack of character that takes place in full view of the public these days. As a society, it seems that we are much more willing to give integrity of our political and religious leaders a pass on character just so long as they agree with our goals and objectives. In other words, it doesn’t matter that they have sold their souls.

I was attracted to this quote by Abraham Lincoln. “If the great American people will only keep their temper on both sides of the line, the troubles will come to an end, and the question which now distracts the country will be settled just as surely as all other difficulties of like character which have originated in this government have been adjusted.”

Then, in the nineteenth century, the United States faced one of its most fundamental existential crises. History may well judge our present times in a similar manner. Will we sacrifice the ideals of our country on the altar of ideology or will we weather the storm and retain our constitutional democratic republic?

The lack of true character and integrity quickly eats away at the foundation in the same way battery acid crumbles concrete into sand. We find the benchmark qualities of advancing human rights, liberty for all, and progress in all matters being eaten away and disrespected. This recent loss of national character will be difficult to recover from, if at all.

In the meantime, we have been lied to in big ways and in small ways in our interpersonal relationships. It’s the manner in which we recover our wits and continue along our way that determines whether our integrity is weakened or strengthened. In turn, our collective character is reflected in our  overall national character.

We have become accustomed to the telling of lies. We give our supreme leaders the permission to lie as long as they enable our ideological agendas. In doing so, we forget the truism that says one lie destroys an entire reputation of integrity. Dwight Eisenhower once said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

Rereading the above paragraph and pondering it is worthwhile. It whets the appetite for reestablishing leadership that truly values integrity and advocates for every citizen, not just the powerful few.

We instinctively understand the great value of good character and pristine integrity. The great sages have espoused this value for ages. I cannot express this thought any better than has the spiritual teacher Don Miguel Ruiz. “Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Mark Twain. “A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”

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Friendly And Caring

My old guru once taught that without a sense of friendliness and caring there is no sense of community. This is true from interpersonal relationships to international relationships and every relationship in between. I like to pause my life to ponder this observation.

If we not only think of friendliness and caring on an intellectual level, but sincerely practice it, we become the best versions of ourselves. I like to contemplate about the lives of people who live their lives in friendly, caring ways. There are perhaps one or two who come to mind who are the epitome of friendliness and caring.

One of them is Carlos, who spent a year with our family as a foreign exchange student from Mexico City. He bent over backwards in his efforts to integrate into our family, the school, and the community. He loved to talk about friendship and service to humanity. In fact those have always been his favorite topics.

After he parted from our family, we kept in touch with Carlos. We weren’t surprised when he was accepted into medical school, then worked hard to become a physician. Through the decades, he has continued with a successful practice in Mexico City and has no immediate plans to retire. Carlos says he plans to remain involved in his neighborhood after retirement because there are so many people he has befriended.

That’s just the way he is. He cares about the little details in the world, about the environment, about the animals, about people, and about the quality of life. He has always been mature about these things. Whenever I think of Carlos, I think of a thoughtful, honest, genuine, friendly, caring man. These are the best guiding principles to practice in order to live the best life possible. Knowing that there are people like Carlos walking the Earth, means that it is possible for others to have a life like that.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”–Margaret Mead

In today’s culture of selfishness, arrogance, and dishonesty, it’s good to know that there are thousands of people like Carlos living among us. As Margaret Mead said, these people are those who not only change the world for the better, they inspire the rest of us to strive to become better, too. The life-affirming, loving, caring, forgiving nature of these people shows us anybody can always become more friendly, caring, and compassionate.

Back in 1969, when Carlos lived with us, we shared my bedroom together. It was then, that I experienced the joy of having an older brother. I relaxed my status as my siblings’ oldest brother and became a “middle-child” for awhile. Having such a compassionate, peaceful person like Carlos to emulate was a beautiful experience. Our heart to heart late night conversations were some of the most meaningful interactions of my life.

Carlos likes to say, “There is no shame in being a bleeding-heart man and there should be much shame in being a cold-hearted man.” He still thinks there is some glimmer of hope for the most egotistical, hard-hearted people. This point sometimes manifests in my own life. On those rare occasions when someone “accuses” me of being a bleeding-heart liberal, I thank them for noticing.

I can thank Carlos and friends like him for being loving examples of people we need more of in this world. Although I have a long ways to go to be like them, they give me real hope to keep moving in the right direction.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer H. Jackson Brown, Junior. “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.”

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A Splash Of Orange …Floral Friday

My friend Jorge is a thoughtful, spur-of-the-moment kind of guy. This week, he brought a batch of orange miniature roses as a surprise, for no special reason at all. He knows I’m somewhat partial to the color orange and I enjoy miniature roses. After savoring the bunch, I wanted to use them in some projects.

I have two small Chinese porcelain vases covered in finely woven bamboo with panda motif. I filled the containers with bamboo palm frond trimmings and added a trio of the miniature roses.

A vintage fan-shaped rack for test tubes has been sitting in storage for a year or so. Yes, it uses actual laboratory glass test tubes. Why not place small bunches of miniature blooms inside each little tube? It’s the perfect accessory for anybody decorating their den in Victorian laboratory style for Halloween.

The pewter vase holds an avant garde splash of shapes, textures, and colors. The miniature roses add the necessary touch of warmth.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer Charles Budowski. “We are like roses that have never bothered to bloom when we should have bloomed and it is as if the Sun has become disgusted with waiting.”

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It’s Spirit Day

Many people do not know that the third Thursday of October is Spirit Day. Many people who do know about Spirit Day, don’t understand the reason we have it. Spirit Day began in Canada in response to bullying-related suicides of gay students. Brittany McMillan was one of the teen activists who came up with the idea as a way to support LGBT students in her school.

The commemoration spread across Canada, then to the United States, and eventually to other nations, as well. Today, LGBT youth and their allies wear a purple article of clothing as a way to show solidarity against bullying and oppression. The day also honors LGBT victims of bullying related suicide.

The motivation behind Spirit Day is expressed succinctly by something educator Randi Weingarten once said. “You can’t be against bullying without actually doing something about it.”

In our hearts, everyone aches for liberty, opportunity, and justice. We all want to be treated with dignity and respect, this is true, all across the spectrum of humanity. Nobody deserves the hatred that fuels corruption, cruelty, and oppression–the fuel behind bullying.

While Spirit Day is focused primarily towards the LGBT community, it is not limited to that one culture. There are psychological limits to the amount of disappointment, oppression, and oppression any individual can handle. The line between wanting to live and wanting to die grows weaker under constant bullying. So we can include victims of bullies regardless of their identification, be they gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin, religious, non-religious, or age.

Much has been said about bullies and why they behave so negatively towards people who don’t belong to their social group. We understand that bullies are insecure about who they are, their own sexuality, their low self-confidence, and so forth. They focus their lack into harming others. That said, this knowledge is little comfort to a person who is under siege by a bully or a pack of bullies. Young people are especially vulnerable to this type of abuse.

Bullying related suicide is no small matter in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the average annual figure is around 4,000 bullying related suicides.

Bullying is a heartless, cruel form of behavior and it’s never the right thing to do. Nobody deserves to be oppressed and bullied. This needs to be made clear at every level of society. Hence, we have Spirit Day. Observing this commemoration in a meaningful way shows that we stand up against all forms of bullying. The targets of bullies and their allies can show their true friendship and courage by openly celebrating Spirit Day.

All children and adults deserve to live lives free from harassment and bullying. Today is the day to dedicate ourselves to this ideal.

Have a meaningful Spirit Day.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes John F. Kennedy. “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”

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Information Overload

The morning began with the constant rumble of distant thunder. The sound was somewhat soothing, so I drifted back to sleep for a few minutes. Then I woke up again because the thundershower had arrived overhead. It was making quite a racket with the lightning flickering like a strobe-light.

I climbed out of bed and switched on the weather-radio in order to find out if any severe storms were in the area. While the robotized voice announced the forecast, I brought up the area radar map on my tablet in order to see the extent of any frontal boundaries and the storm patterns. At the same time I booted up the laptop in order to do some writing. Instead, I distracted myself further by checking out yet another weather map.

I hadn’t been out of bed for even ten-minutes, yet there were three devices spewing out information. The coffee wasn’t even ready yet. What a crazy way to start the day.

Thankfully, the storms turned out to be non-serious and the front passed through the county rather quickly. I switched off the weather radio, and plugged the tablet into an outlet to charge. The house became silent again and I poured a cup of coffee. The resulting mental quietude felt refreshing.

We encounter a vast amount of messages, news updates, social media each day. Most of this information is stuff we really do not want or need. Theologian/lawyer James E. Faust once said, “More information is generated in a single day than we can absorb in a lifetime.” He was right. We are bombarded with so much data that we cannot meaningfully process very much of it.

It seems like the world has been transformed into one great big drama queen. Some of the information is very important, some of it is temporarily important, and most of it is not at all important. The trouble is, it’s becoming more difficult to sort and categorize it. If one is not careful, a person can easily become engulfed and overwhelmed in this constant tsunami of urgent information.

With the tidal wave of data in mind, I’ll try and keep this blog post short so as not to contribute too much to the daily tidal wave. I’m writing today in order to remind everyone to remember mindfulness and the importance of discernment. To quickly determine what is necessary and what is fluff, is a beautiful virtue to cultivate. It’s also necessary to practice it daily because our ability to discern can easily become subjugated under the onslaught of information overload.

What makes us unique human beings is our inner dialogue about our experiences. When we’re assaulted by broadcasting, news channels, political propaganda, increasing amounts of advertising, warnings about war, mass-murders, the unstable economy, and celebrity gossip we crowd out the meaningful mental discourse that we need and crave. All the chatter and splash often causes us to react negatively. It’s easy to become anxious, fearful and distracted from the business of living our own lives.

Living from crisis to crisis is a recipe for ill-health as individuals and as a society. When discernment is thrown under the bus, it is easy for one and all to make snap judgments and unwise decisions. Information overwhelm kills democracy. For the sake of personal and world peace, we must practice the skill of discernment.

It is discernment that separates mere information from meaningful wisdom.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer/activist Jerry Mander. “[T]he problem was too much information. The population was being inundated with conflicting versions of increasingly complex events. People were giving up on understanding anything. The glut of information was dulling awareness, not aiding it. Overload. It encouraged passivity, not involvement.”

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Global Cat Day

Just the other day I stopped by to visit my sister. By default, this also turned into a social call with her cats. You cannot visit my sister, without encountering her older female grey tabby Sunshine and her younger tom tuxedo Random Kitty.

In many respects, the two cats are polar opposites. Sunshine is old and skinny while Random Kitty is young and chunky. Sunshine is possessive and territorial while Random is outgoing and crosses boundaries. Sunshine is laid-back and Random is hyper. Sunshine hates Random Kitty but Random wants to befriend Sunshine. Sunshine is the bully and Random has to bide his time.

I like both of them, but since they’re not my cats I can have a favorite. It happens to be Random Kitty. This is revealed by the fact that I take far more photographs of Random than of any other creature on Earth. If my landlord allowed pets on the premises, I would beg my sister to let me adopt Random Kitty.

The events calendar says today is Global Cat Day. Of course the first cat that comes to mind is Random Kitty. The second cat is Sunshine. There’s a third cat as well. The third cat is an orange tabby that sometimes stops by my house before I write this daily blog.

I don’t know his actual name, but I call him Orange and he responds. Most mornings I sit on the front step with my coffee and Orange ambles to me and jumps onto my lap. I pet him for a minute or so, then I offer him some cat treats. Afterwards he indifferently walks away. Orange is not a stray because his coat is beautiful and he wears a flea collar.

The main quality about these felines is that just observing them makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In fact, I’m a real sucker for cat and kitten videos on YouTube. Even though pets are prohibited at my rented home, I can still enjoy other people’s cats as de facto pets.

I agree with zoologist/author Desmond Morris’ opinion, “Artists like cats; soldiers like dogs.” Naturally there are exceptions, but my artistic side is cat-like and elusive, not dog-like and worshipful. The cat-like creativity comes to me when it needs vital attention. So, my artistic side is mercurial and unpredictable but in the end is loyal to my nature.

One of my friends who dabbles in astrology says that my affinity for cats is strong because my Sun sign is Leo the Lion. Although I don’t believe in astrology, part of me wishes it was true. It’s fun to think that I might have the soul of a lion. I just hope it’s not the lion character from “The Wizard of Oz”. Of course, people who were born under any twelve of the Sun Signs can feel love for cats.

The cartoonist creator of “Garfield” Jim Davis says, “Cats are anthropomorphised in art because they are so laid-back that you automatically attribute human thoughts and feelings to them.” This seems true to me, too. Each cat I’ve known has had wildly different personalities. It’s a fact that Orange, Sunshine, and Random Kitty behave differently than each other and towards me. The strangest thing about these three cats, is that Orange is the only one that will curl up on my lap. My sister’s cats don’t.

One thing is certain. There will probably always be at least one cat in my life.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the philosophical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. “When my cats aren’t happy, I’m not happy. Not because I care about their mood, but because I know they’re just sitting there thinking up ways to get even.”

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