News and Opinion Based on Facts

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Obama to name Julia Pierson as new Secret Service director

Just when I begin to wonder if Obama is drifting too far to the right, he does something like this.
He is an enigma.

by Scott Wilson,
March 26th 2013 5:25 PM

President Obama will appoint Julia Pierson, a veteran U.S. Secret Service agent and senior official, as the first female director of the agency, White House officials said Tuesday.

Pierson, 53, began her career in the Secret Service as an agent in Miami three decades ago. She serves as the service's chief of staff.

She does not need Senate confirmation for the post, which White House officials said would be announced Tuesday afternoon.

Obama's selection of Pierson comes after an extraordinarily difficult year at the service, and amid calls that the next director make internal changes at the agency whose masculine culture was exposed during an overseas trip last year.

In April, in preparing for Obama's visit to Cartagena, Colombia, for a summit of the hemisphere's leaders, several Secret Service agents brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms, where an argument ensued.

In all, 13 agents and officers were involved in a scandal that shadowed the president's summit and exposed a culture within the service of macho behavior while on the road with the president's protective detail.

The Secret Service's principal responsibilities are protecting the president and investigating counterfeiting and fraud.

The service's director for most of the past seven years, Mark Sullivan, announced his retirement last month after apologizing for the scandal.

In a statement Tuesday about Pierson's impending appointment, Sullivan said:

"I have known and worked with Julie for close to thirty years. She was an excellent Assistant Director and Chief of Staff, demonstrating sound judgment, leadership, character, and commitment to our Country, the men and women of the U.S. Secret Service and those we serve and protect. This is a historic and exciting time for the Secret Service and I know Julie will do an outstanding job."

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.

Original Page:

Shared from Pocket

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Silicon Valley Reportedly Full of Stoners

by Kristen Gwynne
Another major marijuana stereotype just got blown totally out of the water -- this time the idea that consuming cannabis is for unemployed slacker types. In fact, pot is wildly popular in one of America's economic centers, Silicon Valley. According to a new report in Bloomberg's Businessweek, the "physical toll" of computer coding has made Silicon Valley workers key consumers in the medical marijuana industry.

In San Jose, which Businessweek dubs the "Bay Area capital of medical marijuana," 106 medicinal marijuana dispensaries span the city's 177 square miles, more than adequately serving its 967,000 residents. One of those dispensaries, Pallative Health Center, told Businessweek that tech workers make up an estimated 40 percent of clients. 

"We're seeing people from some semiconductors, lots of engineers, lots of programmers," Ernie Arreola, 38, the assistant manager, told Businessweek, which noted, "That makes sense, because the shop is an easy shot from some of the area's biggest employers—Cisco Systems, Google, Adobe Systems, Apple, EBay—and a short drive from dozens more. Also, people in Silicon Valley do like their pot."

One medical marijuana executive told Businessweek that marijuana-infused chocolate toffee is a favorite among tech workers, who he says represents about 15 percent of customers. "It does not give the high or intoxicated feeling that you would typically get from a lot of medical cannabis," Doug Chloupek, CEO of MedMar Healing Center, told Businessweek. "Those who are coding for 15 hours a day with cramping hands, that is the product that allows them to have mental clarity and still get pain relief." 

But while Silicon Valley employees are getting stoned in a culture that embraces marijuana use, Businessweek notes policies forbidding drug use and possession at Cisco and Adobe, though neither company screens new employees for drug use. Maybe that's because, as Silicon Valley CEO Mark Johnson told Businessweek, "Pot is an extremely functional drug. Coders can code on it, writers can write on it."

Still, as Galen Moore notes at the Boston Business Journal,  weed isn't the only drug popular in Silicon Valley:

Some commenters also challenge Businessweek's assertion that marijuana culture is "raging" in Silicon Valley. It may be news to Businessweek, but the reality has always been that people from all ends of the social spectrum use drugs, pot especially. Not everybody, however, is arrested for it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

There is Beauty In Science And In Reality: An Atheist’s Perspective

Because the Pope's resigning, I thought it would be onlyfitting to "come out" as an atheist, publicly. Here's my own story.

When I was a little girl, I was baptized in the Catholic religion. Because I was the first of two children, I was not baptized as an infant as most Catholics are, but for some reason my mother and father waited until I was around 2 or 3 to baptize me, until a sibling was born, and baptized us together.

I vividly remember the baptism. (I have very long memories going very far back in childhood, and this one stands out particularly, as I did not like church.) When the priest poured water over my head, I remember thinking how strange the ceremony was, and how little sense 'church' made, but I was still too young to articulate what about it bothered me.

When I was 6 or so I was given a beautiful, pastel colored Bible, a version called "Precious Moments," by my aunt. It had illustrations of children with big puppy dog eyes and puppies and kittens inset at random locations through the bible; the leaves were colored gold on the sides. The book was stunningly beautiful. I was a voracious reader at the time and immediately tried to read it. I found it dull going, but managed to get through the first few books of the Bible. The creation story wasn't bad- but it didn't make much sense either. When I got to the story of Lot (who sleeps with his daughters after they get him drunk) and Abraham sleeping with his sister, and Cain sleeping with his sister, I began to feel sick. So much incest! And then there was the senseless violence. God decides that everyone has been bad, and decides to wipe the earth with a flood to show how powerful he is, and let only a few survive? But then he's repentant, and so he puts a rainbow in the sky to say, "Oh, sorry. I won't do that again." Where was the logic in that? "God" came across as a vindictive, vengeful jerk, quite a lot of the time. I sat there puzzling. Then he advocated stoning people. Without a jury trial, on hearsay evidence. Quite often, indeed, in the old Testament.

So THIS was the beautiful, purple hued, guilt sided, illustrated book that  was handed to a 6-year-old child to be read? I closed it and decided it was bunk. Luckily my father, possibly sensing my discontent, also handed me an alternative book right around the same time. It had pictures of mammals and it talked about evolution.

My father had also been born into the Catholic Church and had even gone so far as to study to become a priest for 2 years. However, he met a beautiful girl and decided to drop out of seminary, which is the special type of school they educate priests-to-be in. That, as well as the discrimination against women becoming priests, is yet another reason the Catholic Church should really reconsider that celibacy clause. Most healthy adults, if faced with the prospect of celibacy as a job requirement, would tend to go the route my father went. It is normal and physically healthy to have an interest in sex, between adult partners, above the age of consent. Celibacy, however, is not normal, very few humans are truly asexual or identify as such. The others are simply repressed, and the way it's implemented in the Catholic Church, it has disastrous consequences.

The Catholic Church's ancient celibacy requirement has resulted in the abuse of literally thousands upon thousands of children by priests in dozens of countries; they simply transfer the offending priests from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and very few of them ever face criminal trial for the offenses. It wrecks the lives of whole families; sometimes the victims commit suicide, or go on to lead lives of shame, guilt, and can never fully recover. Child abuse is a cycle that perpetuates onto the next generation. It's kept secret because the victims never talk about it.

If you want to see exactly the details of how the Vatican plays this scenario out, a grand jury investigation in Philadelphia finally decided to investigate, and what they dug up was mind-blowing. Read the report here:  It goes into graphic detail about how priests in the area of Philadelphia were able to abuse children for years without being held accountable; when the church realized who was doing what, they literally just took the priest and transferred him to another state, sometimes to another country, where he would continue to offend other children, but there would be less of a paper trail. I have never been able to read it without feeling literally sick to my stomach.

Back in my childhood, though, this cycle of abuse was kept quiet. Nobody spoke up about the abuse, because an abuser's first tactic to keep a victim quiet is to threaten, and to tell the abused child that no one will believe him if he speaks up. And these abusers had the power of the Catholic Church behind them. They could be threatened with something called "excommunication" if the church wasn't pleased (excommunication is the formal process by which the church kicks you out and shuns you.) Their form of intimidation works in so many cases children stay silent for years. This is why when one person speaks up so many others finally find the courage to step forward. I urge you if you have been a victim, come forward. You will be giving a voice to so many others who might never have had the courage to do so otherwise.

Getting back to my father, however, he was a normal man, with a strong sense of right and wrong. As he studied at seminary in the early 1960s, he decided that celibacy was not a good system which he could live with, so he left and stopped studying to be a priest. He loved the long hours he could dedicate to research of science and math, because he was deeply interested in science and math and read a great deal about the two subjects. Although he considered religion very personal, as he learned more about evolution, he also decided it must be true. He wasn't quite ready to give up on the Catholic Church entirely, but he gave me the book about evolution because he considered evolution was too important to ignore. .

To this day I still I have vivid memories of one of the pictures I liked best in the book. It showed an artist's rendering of an ancestor of the whale, back when it had been a land-dwelling creature and before it had gone into the ocean. It talked about how all creatures were related, interconnected over many millions of years. There were also pictures of prehistoric humans, hairy creatures holding rocks and trying to make fire. (For what it's worth, keep in mind this book was written in the 1970s and is now badly outdated. But it had the general concepts right.)

"Aha," I thought, "This book makes so much more sense than the other beautiful, but disturbing one." From then on I was a staunch atheist, although I went to church, I would pass the time by mentally trying to improve the church, most of these "improvements" being things like adding an alligator pit in front of the altar of the church, and a rope for people to swing over it when they went to get their wafer at mass.

As the weeks passed, I added other imaginary obstacles between the church benches and the altar; one, I remember vividly, involved a trampoline, where church members would have to vault in order to reach the priest. Vault too high, and I'd picture church members getting stuck in the ceiling (which was decorated with the most absurd looking little cherubs, half-naked, floating around with bows and arrows.) From the best I could tell they were trying to sink their arrow into another cherub's behind, which again led me to question the motives behind both the artistry of the work in general. I suspect repression was written deep within the walls of that church.

When I had to attend sessions where I learned about church teachings and church dogma, I literally stared at the clock. The nuns who taught the classes could come down very harsh on you if they caught you not paying attention to the point of slapping rulers across your knuckles if they felt you were not paying proper attention, but I became expert at faking paying attention while my attention wandered elsewhere. I also learned to make fun of Catholic church dogma in my mind while they were teaching it. To this day I credit my highly developed sense of humor to those wasted hours in CCD (which is Catholic code for indoctrination classes.)

When I got older, in my teen years, I became seriously, gravely ill, from an immune system disease, systemic lupus. I'm just going to openly address it here because I know this statement will be fodder for those who wish to take me down in comments. I can hear them now. "You probably got ill because of your lack of faith in God."

Religious people love to make this sort of accusation, especially to people who profess to have no faith.

My answer is, "No." In fact it was quite the opposite. I did not become ill because I "lost the grace of God" or "stopped believing." No, my illness had a very real, much more physical cause. My abuse was at the hands of physical caretakers, namely my biological mother, who was supposed to be my best ally, and who herself professed strong faith in God.

My father, who'd taught me so much about evolution, science, and math, became physically ill with terminal stage 4 cancer and was given about 6 months to live by his doctor when I was a young teenager. My mother fell to taking care of him and all the duties of the rest of the household, but for some reason decided to blame all her stress and misgivings on me; partly because she is mentally ill; she needed someone to blame, and someone to abuse. She'd do things like locking me out of the house on a cold winter's night without shoes or a jacket; I would sometimes sleep in the snow. I went through periods of extreme starvation, neglect, and physical and emotional stress. I will not go into the exact details of how that happened on this post. That comes into another part of my story. But the point is that she, the main abuser, fervently and ardently embraced "religion" in her active, day-to-day life; as the main abuser, in fact, repeatedly developed a habit of telling me, after she would slap my face, that she expected me to go to hell and burn there. God, she repeatedly said, was on her side. As such, she could not be wrong, ever. She was justified in whatever she did, whatever or however horrible the offense. God condoned it, because in her mind, God condoned and approved of her. This sort of thinking is common in the Religious right. Abuse, no matter how severe of children, is recognized as necessary, and those who physically beat children often do so by backing it up with Biblical verses about how the Bible says it is all right to beat children. There are even books published which espouse these horrible claims. You can read summaries of some of them here. The author of one of them is the founder of "Focus On The Family."'discipline'_guides

Unfortunately in my case, I now require very expensive medications and go into the hospital regularly because of the many complications that resulted from the stress induced illness. They think that perhaps genetics might play a factor in lupus, but they also now think stress is a major factor in autoimmune diseases.

I never physically retaliated against my mother. I had then, as I do now, a deep abhorrence of violence. Unfortunately. In retrospect I think that if I had, she might have backed down. But as a result, I developed a severe, chronic case of systemic lupus. After so many years of exposure to stress, intermittent periods of cold and freezing temperatures, I began to be repeatedly hospitalized and to get more and more ill. My lupus became so severe that the doctors thought at times that I might die. Lupus as a disease is irreversible, and at this point, it is degenerative. I get so weak due to infection sometimes it's just literally touch and go.

I have come close to death on what I think are 3 occasions. They tell me that a 4th was close enough to count, but quite honestly, I never felt enough pain to really rank it up there, so I just count 3.

However, I never "saw Jesus" or a "tunnel of light" or had any religious conversion at any time when I have been so seriously ill; I can tell you, however, that when the body is very ill, the brain does calm itself down and you very much mentally surrender to the prospect of death, so that it is not traumatizing. I suspect this is a natural, innate function of the brain to prepare any dying creature for the inevitable end. We can take comfort in knowing that many of the creatures we see on nature documentaries who are dying a natural death may suffer, but as the brain shuts down, they do not suffer long. The way the brain processes shock and trauma usually ensures this; I have felt it myself in some of my most scary moments. I am lucky to be alive in the days of modern medicine, so that although I have faced quite traumatic brushes with death, (for example, one year I had MRSA, and the treatment for it gave me an allergic reaction, which triggered a severe, life threatening lupus flare in me, so at the same time I was fighting the MRSA, the awful lupus flare, and the allergic reaction.) For those who are not aware, lupus flares are when the immune system becomes over-reactive in response to a perceived threat, real or imaginary, and then tries to attack the individual's own body.

I was not responding well to antibiotics for MRSA, the lupus medication was shutting down the immune system further, and for one awful weekend, it looked like the end of the road. My doctor later admitted that he did not think I would pull through. While I can say that I never gave up fighting, mentally, I understood that my odds of survival at that moment were not very good. So this comes down to the basic question: was I tempted to have a religious conversion in the hopes that it would somehow extend my life? I know this will surprise many, but actually, the answer is no. I did not, and never have requested the services of a priest, chaplain, or other counselor in the hospital. Well, apart from a visiting service dog. I do love a hug from a puppy. But then a puppy never tries to convert you.

I find the thought of a finite existence, one which does not have to be prolonged into an imaginary afterlife, comforting. Nothing lasts forever, nor should anything. Yet in our plastic saturated society, we find so many instances of things which look like they 'should' last forever, that perhaps the new backlash against understanding decay, death, and the inevitable passing of time and evolution's part in the natural order of things is part of our new bright and shiny world.

If you are tempted to think of possibilities outside the realm of your existence, then instead of looking towards religion and a fantasy kingdom filled with angels, I urge you again to look towards science; get into physics, start learning and reading about the possibilities of multiple universes. We may never be able to explore them or contact them or even to actually verify their existences, but thinking about them, and that copies of you might actually exist in some of them right now- and that loved ones you have lost might still be living in some of them (which is plausible, depending on which theory you're currently exploring). There could be hundreds of thousands- millions, even. Trillions? Who knows. Of course, many of these multiple universes might have completely different physics than the universe we live in; some so radically different that no planets may have formed in them. But some may be remarkably similar to our own. A great author to read on this topic is Brian Greene. His books are good for reading even if you don't have a science background or just want to know a little more. Read his book on multiple universes here:

If you want to know more about evolution, check out this book by Richard Dawkins:

And above all take comfort in the fact that you are here right now. The simple fact that you are reading this means you are here, right now, and you don't have to worry about what happens after your death. After all, you won't be there. It's enough to appreciate the beauty of the now and the beauty of this world; science, evolution, and understanding what we have is truly enough for a lifetime; it has always puzzled me since I was a child as to why we would need to make up more. Especially when the arguments over the 'more' can cause so many wars, misunderstandings, anger, hatred, and above all, child abuse. This to me is the worst thing of all. The fact that the Catholic Church actively shelters pedophiles is revolting to me and I have no shame about writing this, even where I to be 'ex-communicated' for it. What would I care about the Catholic Church's version of heaven when it It as an institution it has hurt so many children? It is time it ended the practice of celibacy and faced up to what it has done over the years. They have opposed the use of condoms in Africa, allowing the spread of HIV and AIDS; as well as the huge population booms which has allowed the population on the planet to read 7 billion people. The church still pushes a "no birth control" agenda, as unbelievable as it can seem in this day and age. It still subverts women and refuses to allow them to be placed in positions of authority, implying that a woman should have no control over her body or a political structure. You may recall that recently the medical institution in Ireland caused the death of a woman by denying her an abortion as she miscarried her baby over several days. The medical community told her they were sorry, but it was "a Catholic Country, and that there was nothing they could do."

Because I'm chronically ill, people often tell me, "I'll pray for you." I'm not offended by this; indeed, prayer, and "good thoughts" are a kind way of being empathetic to others; I think we should consciously try to be empathetic but we need to understand that we can do this without invoking a magical being in the sky. If someone you know named J's father is sick, you can do it by just thinking, "I hope J's father gets better." It's not wrong to hope and to think positive emotions; indeed, thinking positively can help the brain very much and there's a lot of evidence thinking this way is much healthier for you than thinking negatively. Empathy is a way forward for us as a society; however, it does not need to be connected to religion at all. Not in the slightest.

However, magical thinking is harmful; and we need more than anything in the world right now to focus on science and what science can do for us as a society.

The majority of people elected to congress are people who come from a religious background. Trying to run for Congress when you're openly atheist and pro-science is almost impossible. That's part of why it's nearly impossible to get science friendly legislation like climate change action passed. We've now cut into the NASA budget substantially and we will see decreasing returns from the technology developed as a result. It's time for the world to focus on moving forward as a society and this means moving into the light, and putting science forward. Reality, and taking action about our future, are really empowering. Working to make a better tomorrow is such an amazing thing, that if we all actually did it, and did it now, we'd have nothing to fear about, nothing to bemoan, and we could stop making these ridiculous "end times" prophecies that always seem to spring from the religious mentality.

The best thing you can ever do for a child is to get them interested in science early on. The worst thing you can ever do for a child is to indoctrinate them with fear. Instead, empower them! Encourage them and equip them with the tools to explore their world, the world of science, and then choose their own path. If they, of their own accord, come back to religion, so be it. But I would lay some bets on the fact that many would not. Children are naturally curious. If given freedom to explore they will come up with so many creative ideas it can blow your mind at times. Support them in this quest. is doing their part to make this happen. Support and share them as much as possible, and get the word out.

I respect your right to your own belief, but remember: that respect extends to you so long as you do these things:

1. Embrace human rights as part of your belief system, do no harm to others.

2. Do not reject scientific fact. I expect that you, even if you are not an atheist, will embrace and not find evolution challenging to accept, (the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old, and we know this for a fact.) Science can't proceed without acceptance of basic geologic evidence.

3. You personally, as an empathetic human, should find the struggle for the rights of GLBTQ individuals as important to you as your own, because when someone else's civil rights are violated, it should be as much of a red flag to you as when your own rights are violated.

Also, know that the term "militant atheist" is a misnomer and an unfair one. When have you ever heard of an atheist army taking to the streets to kill others who refuse to embrace atheism? It's a personal attack by the other side, and don't let it confuse you. I wrote this deeply personal account to encourage those who are sitting on the fence, thinking it over; to take the time you need, but also to know that over here it's not so bad. Those who are actually militant take up arms and kill others to force those into their belief systems; and that happens in religious doctrine. Atheists simply use logic and reason to explain point of view to others.

Comments are disabled as this is a deeply personal story of my own experience, and I can see this devolving into flames quite rapidly. I will, however ask that those of you who will take offense at this piece really and truly this entire grand jury report: ( ) Really. Read the whole thing. I challenge you to read every single word and still think the Catholic Church is a legitimate institution.

One thing to keep in mind: You are right now, creating your own reality and destiny based on the thoughts and ideas you're willing to embrace. You are choosing, actively, how to respond, positively or negatively to this post. Please set aside those preconceived notions and open the mind- because the best things yet to be are the things that are out there, waiting to be discovered.  I argue that they are lying here in the fields of scientific discovery, and we as a society are largely ignoring them because so many of us spend 1/7th of our time in church. What if we spent all that time studying science? How much more could we learn? And that, I think, is one of the most fascinating mysteries the universe has to discover. The mystery of its unlocked secrets. They're out there. Just waiting for you to open a book, log onto the internet, start doing some research, and there you go. What you discover could be the next big thing, the next big life changing invention. It doesn't always take a degree. It takes an open mind, and diligence along the way. We would not be where we are if some of the world's greatest thinkers had not dared to challenge the might of the Catholic Church in the past 600 years. Galileo, Copernicus, Thomas Hobbes…. Don't be afraid to follow where they've lead.

First published on Monica's Blog