Enter your email address to subscribe to Irregular Times and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 311 other subscribers

Irregular Times Newsletters

Click here to subscribe to any or all of our six topical e-mail newsletters:
  1. Social Movement Actions,
  2. Credulity and Faith,
  3. Election News,
  4. This Week in Congress,
  5. Tech Dispatch and
  6. our latest Political Stickers and Such

Contact Us

We can be contacted via retorts@irregulartimes.com

The Mystery of the Red Eggs

Autumn is near, and so, animals are beginning to prepare for the coming winter. This morning, while looking out the window, I saw something stuck on the outside pane. Looking closer, I saw two patches of tiny red dots, each smaller than the holes in a window screen.

I presume these are eggs. I presume that these are insect eggs, but I’m not sure.

Can anyone, an entomologist, perhaps, solve this mystery, and identify these small objects?

mysterious red eggs

Middle School Kids: Stuck in a Home School Rut? Try a bit of Code.Org

Every day, it seems more and more kids in the crucial middle school years are in the middle of a home schooling situation. Are you one of those kids? Maybe it’s because your parents are so zealous that they don’t want you to hear about ideas outside the family religion. Maybe it’s because you left your public school for a private school that made promises that it couldn’t keep, leaving you in the lurch. Maybe you were in the middle of an awful bullying situation. Maybe you’ve just decided that you’d like to learn independently for a while.

No matter what brought you to a home schooling situation, the reality shared by middle-school-aged kids I know is that home schooling can get really, really boring if it just replicates the same old subjects from traditional public schools. A home school situation best avoids boredom when it stretches for something a little bit different… a little bit geeky.

If you are a desperately bored middle schooler who’s being taught at home, suggest code.org to your parents. Code.org is a completely free non-profit system of interlocking online lessons designed to teach young people how to program computers.

Middle-schoolers, start with the first hour of code:

The first hour feels like a video game, because it uses the “Angry Birds” graphics and sounds to guide kids like you through 20 levels of puzzles with logic “blocks” that are stitched together to make an algorithm (a set of rules that a computer can understand). The obvious goal is to guide the classic red angry bird to the classic green pig. The hidden goal is to teach the fundamental basics of code without scaring a wary middle schooler away:

Hour of Code: Angry Birds teach Kids how to write code

Over time, using a system that even the Ivy Leagues use, graphic logic blocks give way to underlying Javascript code and, before you know it, you’re programming a computer.

If you like what you’ve learned in that first hour of code, ask your parents to check out plans for a K-8 introductory course (about 20 hours of work). If that looks good, there are more advanced middle-school curricula for science-focused programming and math-based programming. And hey, if you’re a pretty smart middle schooler, you might even try out the Exploring Computer Science course, a year-long experience that works with the related Scratch block system.

Good luck, kid. I’ll leave you with a tip: if you really want to sell your parents on the experience, get them to work play through the hour of code themselves.

Fight For The Future, Slowly With Cats

On Wednesday, I’ll be writing an article for Irregular Times, but I’ll be doing it slowly. Every couple of minutes, I’ll get up to grab a cup of coffee, or take a walk around the block, or take a nap. Thus shall you know my power!

Would that work?

Battle For The Net is coordinating an example of this kind of activism. They’re orchestrating an Internet slowdown, which, though it won’t actually slow down the Internet, will simulate what a relative slowdown might look like when Net Neutrality rules are abandoned, allowing Internet Service Providers to give preferential high-speed access to big corporate web sites that pay enormous access fees.

“Cable companies would have the power to discriminate against online content and applications — they could pick winners and losers, shake sites down for fees, block content for political reasons, and make it easier for Internet users to view content the cable companies own,” explains Fight For The Future.

Taking part in the Internet Slowdown protest will be sites like Kickstarter, Foursquare, WordPress, Vimeo, reddit, Mozilla, Cheezburger… Hold on. Cheezburger? As in I Can Haz Cheezburger, the site that delivers Internet memes such as cats and bananas?!?

Is a slowdown of cute kitty memes what will motivate netizens into action? If so, is that a good thing?

internet slowdown cat

Congress Gets Back To Work-Ish

house of representatives askewBefore yesterday, the last time the U.S. House of Representatives took a roll call vote, it was the first day of August. Since then the Republican members of the House have been traveling across their districts to give loud, angry speeches about how President Barack Obama isn’t doing enough to confront the serious problems of our times.

So, when, after a month and a week of summer vacation, the congressional Republicans finally came back to work in on Capitol Hill, we finally had the chance to see what kind of decisive action the GOP would take if it had control of the White House again. We did see action from the House Republicans… of a sort.

Yesterday, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives arranged for the passage of three bills:

– H R 5089, to rename a post office in Mulberry, Florida
– H R 5019, to rename a post office in Rochester, New York
– H R 4283, to provide for lawnmowers, weed trimmers, chainsaws, electrical generators, water pumps and batteries for a place near Smith Gulch, Idaho where people like to go fishing sometimes.

Is that the best the Republicans can do to show us that they are a political party prepared to take action?

Voting for President: All About Limiting the Damage?

Since Peregrin Wood explained this Spring why he would no longer support a run by Bernie Sanders for President of the United States in 2016, I’ve been thinking about whether I agree and why. Peregrin felt that Sanders went one step too far by voting to confirm David Barron to a prominent position in the federal judiciary. Barron, you see, wrote the legal opinion asserting that the U.S. government can kill its citizens without proof, without trial, indeed even without arrest.

I agree wholeheartedly with Peregrin that this move by Barron makes the relationship between the U.S. Government and its citizens tyrannical. I agree wholeheartedly that Senator Sanders’ vote to confirm Barron is worthy of condemnation. However, I just haven’t been able to take that last step with Peregrin and condemn a Sanders for President candidacy on that basis.

My thoughts on the subject are not settled, but I find myself gravitating toward the following points:

1. The presidency does not attract saints. Rather, it attracts people who have a desire for power. To run for the White House, you’ve got to be egotistical enough to think either that you really are the best choice to wield the power of that office, or unethical enough not to care that someone else could wield power more responsibly than you. In short, anyone who runs for President is likely a major-league asshole, and anyone who takes hold of the presidency is likely to take actions reflecting that fact.

2. The way that the political system is currently set up, power-mad assholes who make promises to other power-mad assholes with money are most likely to make it through the presidential election process, simply because running for president has become an big-budget industrialized business and those who attract the most money tend to win.

3. Given this, the ideal course of action for citizens as a group would be to change the system so that presidential power is more effectively distributed to other offices (dissuading the most power-hungry of aspirants) and so that elections are not so dependent on fundraising.

4. Until that ideal is achieved, voting for the least assholic of the assholes is a reasonable course of action for an individual citizen.

5. Bernie Sanders is a possible presidential aspirant, so we can presumptively classify him as an egotistical ass, but look at his record and it’s hard for a liberal to deny that he’s the least assholic of the assholes. Given the alternatives — staying home and voting for a bigger jerk — it’s reasonable to vote for Sanders.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?

Plant It Forward

There are many things going wrong in the world, and we write about a good deal of them here at Irregular Times. However, it’s important from time to time to give simple recognition to some of the positive efforts that people are making things a bit better in the world.

plant it forwardAmong these is the Plant It Forward campaign by Trees For The Future. The Plant It Forward program seeks to address environmental degradation and rural poverty by helping communities to plant small forest gardens. These gardens increase environmental sustainability in small-scale agriculture, and provide economic income to the people who serve as their stewards. Trees For The Future explains in its 2014 Plan Of Action, “planting trees lessens pressure on forests by enabling families to become self-sufficient in producing what they need from trees.” The organization is working with people in 16 countries to plant four and a half million seedlings this year alone.

Earth Conscious Optics is providing matching funds to donations made to the Plant It Forward campaign. Charity Navigator notes that 58.1 percent of donations go into the Trees For The Future programs themselves. So, with matching funds available, all of your donation to the group will go to help people transition to from eco-degrading monocultures to forest gardens in economically struggling communities.

Human Trafficking On Twitter

I’m not an expert on social media marketing – and few of those who say they are actually are. Still, I feel confident in declaring that the technique that I witnessed this morning is about 180 degrees in reverse of what effective social media marketing would look like.

An account called WebTraffickers promised to provide me with “human traffic”.

Human trafficking on Twitter? I don’t think that means what you think it means, WebTraffickers.

human traffic on twitter

September Is National Hold On I’ll Get Ready In A Minute Month

Did you know that this month is National Preparedness Month? September has been National Preparedness Month for 11 years now, and still, every year, the United States has been caught unprepared to actually celebrate National Preparedness Month on time, year after year.

national not ready yet month

We’ve noted, in years past, that National Preparedness Month, hosted by Ready.gov, is largely ignored, even by the federal government itself. Year after year, Congress passes a resolution urging Americans to get ready for National Preparedness Month, but pass that resolution only when September is more than halfway over, giving American no time to get prepared to observe the occasion.

In 2004, a resolution recognizing September as National Preparedness Month was introduced on September 23, but was never passed at all.
In 2005, to make up for the previous year’s failure of Congress to recognize National Preparedness Month, Congress passed a resolution recognizing September as National Preparedness Month ahead of time, in July. PREPARED!
In 2006, Congress sank back into unpreparedness, failing to introduce any legislation to recognize National Preparedness Month.
In 2007, Congress introduced a resolution to recognize September as National Preparedness Month, on September 24, but failed even to bring the resolution up to a vote. The resolution was directed to the House Committee on Homeland Security, which wasn’t prepared to deal with it, and so allowed the resolution to die, unattended to.
In 2008, a resolution recognizing September as National Preparedness Month was passed on September 27.
In 2009, a resolution recognizing September as National Preparedness Month was passed on October 1.
In 2010, Congress passed a resolution recognizing September as National Preparedness Month on September 15.
In 2011, Congress forgot to introduce any resolution recognizing September as National Preparedness Month.
In 2012, a resolution recognizing September as National Preparedness Month was passed on September 22.
In 2013, Congress forgot to introduce a resolution recognizing September as National Preparedness Month.

So there you have it: So far, Congress has introduced a resolution for National Preparedness Month in time for people to prepare only once. All the other years, Congress was unready. As of today, September 7, no congressional resolution for 2014 recognizing September as National Preparedness Month has yet been introduced at all.

What are the consequences for the serial unpreparedness? In 2008, American soldiers had been occupying Iraq for years and years, but still, we were told, Iraq was unready to take care of itself and have true sovereignty. Now, in 2014, American soldiers are going back to Iraq to fight in a new war there, because, it seems, all those years of Americans fighting and dying in Iraq failed to prepare Iraq to be a free and independent country.

So, if American soldiers fighting in Iraq didn’t enable Iraq to be prepared to live in peace and freedom before, how will American soldiers fighting in Iraq prepare Iraq to live in peace and freedom this time? The Obama Administration isn’t prepared to say, but it is prepared to drag the United States to the gates of Hell.

Barack Obama and Joseph Biden have brushed off an old foreign policy, and have it ready to go. It’s called: Yeehaw!

The Spiny Sac Cucumber

This summer, I have watched a vine grow up and over a holly bush outside my office window. At first, it was a small presence in the canopy, but within two weeks after I first noticed it, the vine had nearly covered the entire top of the bush. A few days afterwards, I cut the vine at the base, and pulled it out of the holly so that it would not kill the bush by cutting off its access to sunlight.

Along the vine, I found fruits like the one you see below, between one and three inches long, covered with long spines.

wild cucumber echinocystis lobata

This is Echinocystis lobata, a member of the spiny sac genus of the cucumber family. It is commonly known as wild cucumber, but it is not the same species as the domesticated, garden variety cucumber. In fact, its fruits are not edible at all, although the tender leaves and shoots are. It is said by many that the flowers of Echinocystis lobata have a lovely fragrance, though I never smelled anything coming from the plant, even when walking just a few feet from it.

According to Plants For A Future asserts that the root of this species of wild cucumber can be made into a bitter tea that treats headache, along with a variety of other ailments, and has aphrodisiac qualities. Of course, the site also offers a disclaimer that it doesn’t intend to offer any medical advice, so a substantial dose of skepticism is called for.

Prairie Moon sells seeds for Echinocystis lobata, but if you know other gardeners, ask them if they have some growing in their gardens or yards already. Wildlife often spread the seeds naturally, and seeds gathered from a few plants in the wild are likely to possess more genetic diversity than those sold by a nursery.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service states that Echinocystis lobata can be “invasive”, but it’s a native plant across almost the entire United States, so that’s a rather subjective judgment. When farmers plant vast fields of soybeans and corn, and some vines of wild cucumber pop up in the fields, which plant is really the invader?

As it Becomes Clear Nobody Wants Smith, We Need Smith Quietly Removes Follower Count

“We Need Smith is a movement to support new leaders and new ideas from outside the broken Washington system.”

A movement? From outside the broken Washington system? So says the the Facebook page for the political corporation called We Need Smith.

Anyone who bothers to look a little behind the scenes will quickly figure out that the “outside the broken Washington system” part is baloney. We Need Smith is the construction of three insiders from the conservative political marketing circuit.

As for the “movement” part, well, a movement needs to move. Since I last checked 16 days ago, We Need Smith’s Facebook account has not gained a single new “like.” Over on Twitter over the same period, We Need Smith’s followership has fallen by 42 people.

On the home page of its website, We Need Smith used to feature a count of its “Smiths” — basically, people who had signed up for the website’s e-mail list:

We Need Smith home page screen capture with subscriber count

But over the last 16 days, only 4 people have added their names to the list of “Smiths.” These anemic responses come despite prominent coverage of the We Need Smith “movement” on TV, in newspapers and in the blogosphere. You can’t hide your follower counts on Facebook or Twitter, but you can make a change to your own website:

We Need Smith Hides the Pathetically Low Number of Actual People Who think We Need Smith is a Good Idea

No more embarrassing counts. All that’s left is the statement “you’re not alone.” That is true. There is that guy in Hoboken.

A Democrat Who Actually Speaks Up For Progressive Ideas

In Arizona, Republican politicians have been working overtime this year to provoke people into voting with their fears. They’ve been whipping up anti-immigrant mobs with wild accusations that foreign children are bringing Ebola across the border with Mexico. They’ve even chased down school buses, shouting at the children within, to find an example of an infected little miscreant.

One congressional candidate in Arizona isn’t willing to go along with this vile campaign of scapegoating. While the Republican Party of Arizona follows a policy of fury, James Woods, the Democratic candidate in Arizona’s 5th congressional district, unapologetically speaks out for a progressive vision in which the desire to live in the United States isn’t treated as a reprehensible thing.

“Immigration policy must reflect the reality that we live in a culture dependent on the work and worth of immigrants and their families. I support an immediate end to the criminalization of immigration. Deportations for minor crimes must be brought to a full stop,” Woods writes. “We need a restorative approach that reflects the tremendous value immigrants and their families bring to our communities. We need to stop tearing families apart with punitive deportations. If we wish to live in a free and open society, we must have immigration policies that are equally free and open. Without this, we cannot claim to be a beacon of liberty and we lose moral credibility with the world community.”

James Woods wants the government to help people – something the Republican Party regards as a shameful idea. “I have a vision for an America in which government is a Progressive instrument of the people used to empower all of us to live in safety and happiness, Woods says. “To succeed, we must ensure equality of opportunity for everyone. When anyone is denied full inclusion in social and civic life, it degrades our economy and takes a terrible toll on our communities. I support policies that safeguard equal treatment, protection and opportunity for everyone.”

If only more Democratic politicians would speak with this kind of clarity, progressives might actually come to trust the Democratic Party again.