July 31 – National Avocado Day

Posted on July 31, 2018

What's your favorite berry?

A lot of people might answer "strawberries!" or "raspberries!" But they should be answering with a question:

Do you mean "berry" as a food or a botanical classification?

Because, botanically speaking, neither strawberries or raspberries are actually berries!

(Strawberries are "aggregate accessory fruits," and raspberries are "aggregate fruits made of many drupelets.")

One of the few food berries that is also a berry in botanical terms is the blueberry.

Plus, a lot of foods that are NOT called berries - even including some that are not considered fruits - are in fact kinds of berries. That would include such varied items as bananas, grapes, pumpkins, and today's special food, avocados.

So...what IS a berry?

In botany berries are fleshy fruits that have no stone; in order to be considered a berry, a fruit must have been produced from a single flower that contained one ovary.

Not in botany, but in just ordinary food names, a berry is any small edible fruit without a pit or stone. So...still not a cherry, even though it's small and edible.

Are you wondering...? I know I'm wondering...!!!

Wait, the definition is that a berry has no stone - but avocados are famous for having those big seeds in the center!

Well, it turns out that drupes, like peaches and plums and cherries, have "stones" that are multi-layered hard centers with a woody outer covering and, inside, a seed. The avocado's seed is...just a seed.

Do you like avocado? Do you like guacamole? Then today's your day!!

Check out these recipes.

Chipotle is apparently giving out free guacamole today!

July 30 – Anniversary of a Constitution-Breaking Motto!?!

Posted on July 30, 2018

There's this little thing in the United States Constitution called the First Amendment. Among other things, it clearly states,  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Congress cannot pass a law creating a national religion.

Congress cannot pass a law that Americans must practice X religion.

Congress cannot pass a law that Americans cannot practice Y religion.

Congress cannot pass a law ordering religious celebrations - nor prohibiting them...ordering religious classes for children - nor prohibiting them...ordering attendance at church - nor prohibiting it.

Clear 'nuff, right?

You'd think. But there are plenty of people in the United States who seem to think that the First Amendment doesn't actually apply to THEIR religion, because (they think) it's the RIGHT religion. Someone once explained to me, "I don't want teachers telling kids that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammed is the messenger of Allah." I pointed out that "Allah" means "God" in Arabic - it's not a name for some particular exotic god. But that didn't stop the person from steamrolling over me and the Constitution by saying, "But it's a different thing for the teacher to acknowledge God and Jesus. Because, you know, that's not really religion, it's just truth."

And if everyone has an attitude like that, it's a bunch of people over here saying "my religion is right; your religion is wrong, nyah nyah!" And a bunch of people over there saying the exact same thing back to the first bunch.

The people who wrote the Constitution had seen and heard plenty of that sort of religious bickering. They knew that the history of Europe and the Middle East had been written in a LOT of bloody wars over whose religion was right. They knew that many or most countries, at the time, had state religions - in other words, religions that were buttressed by the country's government and laws and schools. They didn't want that for the new country they were creating.

Hence the First Amendment.

But thousands of people, over the course of U.S. history, have still managed to believe that the U.S. is "a Christian country" and have agitated for displays and songs and prayers and textbooks that go along with their own particular brand of Christianity. 

Even though those displays and songs and prayers and textbooks are unconstitutional because they favor and promote a particular religious view. 

I could give so so so so so so many examples: 

The words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance" in 1954.

A Rhode Island town erected a Nativity scene (or creche) on public grounds at Christmas time, in the 1980s.

Abpve is a Nativity scene erected in Texas.
But on public land. Just think how you'd
feel walking past this to go to school if you
were Jewish or Muslim!
A similar Nativity scene set up outside of the
Michigan Capitol building prompted some 
folks to set up other competing displays.

Below, a Menorah for Judaism, a pagan display for Saturnalia,
a memorial for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and a snake display 
for the Satanic Temple.

Courts have ruled that, if you allow one religion
to make a holiday display, you must accept holiday displays
from ALL religions!

A Ten Commandments Monument was installed on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol in 2012 (but had to be removed in 2015).

My own public school board has mid-meeting prayers that resemble a church service, starting almost a decade ago and still happening despite court orders to stop! 

These unconstitutional practices should be ended, and these unconstitutional public displays and monuments should be removed.

And now, for today's historical anniversary...

On this date in 1956 U.S. President Eisenhower signed into law the adoption of an unconstitutional motto!

Ever since 1782, the de facto motto of the U.S. was E pluribis unum, which is Latin for "Out of many, one." That's an excellent motto for the nation. Back when the nation was

new, separate and quite different states banded together into one nation. Nowadays, we can clearly see that many, many, many different people from different places and cultures and religious traditions have come together to make one nation.

E pluribis unum was never officially adopted as the motto but appeared on the Great Seal of the United States and on coins.

"In God We Trust" is not as old but is still pretty old. Back in 1864, this motto was used on a 2-cent coin. Before that, way back in 1812, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem named "Defense of Fort McHenry." In the fourth stanza of that song appear the words, "And this be our motto: In God is our Trust." That poem eventually became the national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner."

Still, it wasn't until the 1950s that Congress made "In God We Trust" THE one and only official U.S. motto - AND ordered that the motto appear on all currency. 

Since then, Congress has reaffirmed commitment to this motto several times, a huge majority of Americans are fine with the motto appearing on their money, and several states have ordered the motto to be displayed in a prominent place in schools and libraries and such.

The problem is, of course, that this motto really does take a stand on religion:

1) "God" is a religious figure - or maybe a religious idea. 

2) Some religions don't include belief in a god. 

3) Some religions have many gods - and the singular "God" in the motto leaves them out.

4) Some people do not believe in or practice any religion, and many non-religious people don't believe that there is a god. 

All of the people who either don't believe in any god or believe in gods, plural, are left out of the "we" in the motto. In other words, it is not an inclusive motto. That makes it a bad motto!

Some people are stamping "E Pluribus Unum - Federal endorsement
of a deity or religion violates the U.S. Constitution" over the Constitution-

breaking motto.

And it doesn't matter if most of the people in the country are fine with the motto, and it doesn't even matter if the Supreme Court rules that the motto does not trample on the First Amendment. Because taking a stance on a religious issue like, "Are there zero gods, one god, or many gods?" IS supporting and favoring some religious views over others. I am confident that the Supreme Court will eventually "discover" this truth to be self-evident.

July 29 – Global Tiger Day

Posted on July 29, 2018

They're the largest of all the cat species.

They're pretty solitary...and territorial.

And they live in some of the most crowded places on Earth, India, Bangladesh, and other Southeast Asian nations. 

That last bit puts tigers on a collision course with humans.

Sometimes we feel pretty judgy about humans who push wild animals close to extinction. I mean, how many lion trophies does someone need to have? (I'd say zero.) 

But try to put yourself into the shoes of someone who lives near tigers. Naturally, that someone does not want to be attacked and killed and does not want to lose loved ones - especially children - to a tiger attack. 

Actually, despite the fact that some people in South and Southeast Asia die from tiger attacks every year, tiger attacks are rare. They are often the result of a person surprising a mom with her cubs, say, or a person crouching down to collect firewood and being mistaken for a prey animal. But some tigers who are desperate - perhaps their habitat has shrunk, or a particular tiger has an injury that makes it hard to hunt - some desperate tigers do deliberately attack humans.

Tigers are dangerous creatures...BUT...
...As a species...it is tigers who are in danger!

Of the nine subspecies of tigers on Earth a century ago, three have become extinct. That doesn't sound so so so bad - but experts point out that populations of tigers in the wild have decreased by 95%! In 2006, a dramatic dip in worldwide numbers of tigers caused environmentalists to say that all wild tigers would be extinct within a decade.

But when people act, things can improve. India, especially, went to work to save the tigers, and they have had some success with growing their populations of tigers. Check out some of these charts:

Tigers are endangered because their habitat has been gobbled up by people, or fragmented so that they cannot get from one bit of their hunting grounds to another bit. And because they are hunted - actually, these days, poached (because they are now protected by law). And because they are sometimes killed in retaliation when they kill a person or an animal people care about (livestock, pets). And because of climate change!

To learn more about the gorgeous but endangered tiger subspecies, check out Bioexplorer, Defenders of Wildlife, and National Geographic.