Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Petition President Elect Trump to Act on Climate Change

Climate Change Map

Scientific American has just published An Open Letter from Scientists to President-Elect Trump on Climate Change. So far, it's been signed by more than 800 earth scientists and energy experts, all of whom either have or are pursuing PhDs, and all of whom are American or work in the U.S. Along with the letter, there's a public petition that you can go sign:

change.org - Tell Trump To #ActOnClimate

For reference, here's the opening of the letter.

To President-elect Trump

We, the undersigned, urge you to take immediate and sustained action against human-caused climate change. We write as concerned individuals, united in recognizing that the science is unequivocal and America must respond.

Climate change threatens America's economy, national security, and public health and safety1-4. Some communities are already experiencing its impacts, with low-income and minority groups disproportionately affected.

At this crucial juncture in human history, countries look to the United States to pick up the mantle of leadership: to take steps to strengthen, not weaken, this nation's efforts to tackle this crisis. With the eyes of the world upon us, and amidst uncertainty and concern about how your administration will address this issue, we ask that you begin by taking the following steps upon taking office...

It goes on to list six concrete steps with further explanation than what I'm quoting here:

  1. Make America a clean energy leader.
  2. Reduce carbon pollution and America's dependence on fossil fuels.
  3. Enhance America's climate preparedness and resilience.
  4. Publicly acknowledge that climate change is a real, human-caused, and urgent threat.
  5. Protect scientific integrity in policymaking.
  6. Uphold America's commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

If you care about the planet's future and the future for our children, go sign the petition.

Image Source: Scientific American

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Trump Roundup - 2

Donald TrumpTwo weeks ago when I wrote my first Friday Trump Roundup, I said I wasn't sure if I was going to make it a regular feature or not. Well, I think I'm going to make it a semi-regular feature - not necessarily every Friday, but at least once a month. I didn't posted anything last Friday because of Thanksgiving, and I'd much rather enjoy my time off with my family than post stuff about Trump on this blog. But I still feel the same way I did when I wrote that entry two weeks ago - I don't want to become obsessed with Trump and spend all my free time writing about him, but he has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him to try to minimize the damage. So, I'll compromise by posting links and excerpts from stuff other people have written, to help draw attention to Trump's actions. Granted, right now it's still a lot of speculation given that he hasn't been sworn in, yet, but his cabinet picks and other actions since winning the election haven't done much to ease my worries of the damage he could cause.

And, since I anticipate posting quite a bit about Trump in the coming 4 years, I've created a sub-category to Politics, Trump, where you can go to read all my Trump related posts. I've already added everything I've already written about him from before the election to now.

Anyway, on to this week's links:


Nature - Trump's pick for US health secretary has pushed to cut science spending

"He [Tom Price] has taken few public positions on science, but has consistently pushed to cut overall federal spending. Last year, he voted against a bill that would overhaul FDA regulations and provide US$8.75 billion in mandatory funding to the NIH over five years." "Price has also pushed to repeal the Public Health and Prevention Fund (PHPF), a roughly $1 billion to $2 billion fund provided yearly to the CDC to support public-health programmes." "And Price has also consistently opposed embryonic stem cell research, saying in 2009 that Obama's executive order to permit such research would 'force taxpayers to subsidize research that will destroy human embryos'." "He has also supported numerous efforts to defund the reproductive non-profit healthcare group Planned Parenthood..."


Nature - Tracking the Trump transition, agency by agency
"Nature's list of the key issues and appointments facing US government science agencies." A lot of concerns over Trump's potential direction with the NIH, FDA, CDC, EPA, DOE, USGS, NASA, and the NSF.


Bad Astronomy - Trump's Plan to Eliminate NASA Climate Research Is Ill-Informed and Dangerous

"In an interview with the Guardian, Bob Walker, a senior Trump adviser, said that Trump will eliminate NASA's Earth science research. This is the mission directorate of NASA that, among other important issues, studies climate change. / In other words, Trump and his team want to stop NASA from studying climate change."


Bad Astronomy - Follow-Up: More on Trump's Catastrophic Plan to Gut NASA's Earth Science

"We need to arm ourselves against the barrage of weaponized denial we'll be facing for the next four years. Trump himself, and his proxies as well, have no trouble at all just bare-faced lying to the American public. We must stand ready to fight against this. Whether it's the racism, the xenophobia, the misogyny, or the attacks on science, it is no exaggeration to say that our culture, our country, and even our very existence depend on us."


Friendly Atheist - Anti-Vaxxers Are Thrilled to Finally Have an Ally in the White House

"One of the many ways in which President-elect Donald Trump has already shown signs of being a disaster for the science community is how he talks about vaccines. Not only did his foundation once give $10,000 to Jenny McCarthy's anti-vaccination organization, he has consistently perpetuated the lie that vaccines lead to autism, a conspiracy that has never been confirmed with evidence and which has been firmly discredited by experts."


Vox - It turns out we should have taken Trump literally as well as seriously: He's really doing what he said.
"Life is inherently unpredictable. And Trump is more unpredictable than your average politician. But the best information about how he will govern is still the literal text of his formal proposals. It's true that this is a bad way to understand what his supporters like about him, but it's the best way to understand what he will do."


Vox - 11 things we learned from Donald Trump's meeting with the New York Times
"Because Trump can be so inconsistent, of course, it's not a great idea to assume that this -- or anything he told the Times -- is set in stone. But ultimately, the Times meeting was less useful for what Trump thought he was saying than as another display of some of his most deep-seated character traits: a total disinterest in self-reflection, an ideological flexibility that can be indistinguishable from (or a cover for) ignorance, a morality defined by success. Trump's willing to "move on" from some of the things he did to win the election, but those appear to be too deeply ingrained to cast off."


Vox - The Carrier deal shows a big problem with Trump's approach to the presidency
"But a series of Carrier-like deals doesn't add up to a viable economic agenda. For one thing, these deals are way too small. There are 150 million workers in the United States, and the US economy needs to create about 200,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. Trump would have to negotiate dozens of Carrier-sized deals every week to have a serious impact on job growth -- and so far he's announced only two deals in three weeks." "What Trump needs is a policy -- a consistent set of rules for how the government will treat companies employing US workers. Maybe that means manufacturing tax breaks or higher tariffs or interest rate cuts or stronger "buy American" provisions for US procurement. Or maybe none of these are good ideas and Trump should accept that there's no good way to prevent some jobs from going overseas. But only by focusing on an overall strategy, rather than obsessing over the decisions of particular companies, can you make intelligent decisions about an economy as large as the United States."


Politico - WSJ editorial board comes out against Trump's Carrier deal ( I'm only linking to Politico because the actual WSJ editorial is behind a paywall))
"The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, a reliable bastion of free-market conservatism, isn't cheering the Carrier deal that Donald Trump is touting as his first major political victory since becoming president-elect. / In an editorial published Thursday evening, the Journal argued that Trump's method to convince the manufacturer to keep some 1,000 jobs in Indiana instead of moving them to Mexico -- what it described as an "arm-twisting" -- in the long run will lead to a loss of jobs."


Vox - Trump's call to ban flag-burning isn't about patriotism. It's about silencing dissent.
"His statement can easily be interpreted as yet another inflammatory and distracting Trump tweet -- there have been many, after all. But Trump's calls for punishing flag-burners hinges on more substantial themes behind his political rise: an intolerance for dissenting voices and critique, and a willingness to turn a blind eye to certain inalienable rights afforded by the US Constitution."


Washington Post - Trump turning away intelligence briefers since election win
"President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month, a frequency that is notably lower -- at least so far -- than that of his predecessors, current and former U.S. officials said." "But others have interpreted Trump's limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues and was dismissive of U.S. intelligence agencies' capabilities and findings during the campaign."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Bible Blogging - Isaiah 1 to 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleOkay. It's been a long time since I've done one of these Friday Bible Blogging posts. But, now that the election's over and there's not as much pressure to write about politics (not that it did any good, anyway), I can get back into my old habits.

Wow, have I really let this series fall by the wayside. It's been over a year since the last entry, and my entries had already grown pretty sporadic before that. In my defense, there were just a whole bunch of events that screwed up what had become my routine for completing these entries, and once that routine was broken, it was hard to get back into it. On top of that is the issue of motivation. And on top of that is the fact that every time I did sit down to read Isaiah, it was just a little too much content - not so much Isaiah itself, but the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB). To be honest, I've actually read the first 10 chapters of Isaiah at least three or four times now. But my goal for these posts is to also read the NOAB footnotes before writing a post, and because Isaiah has so many footnotes, it seems like I never quite got around to reading all of them. And so, I've been hung up on Isaiah for a long time now. So, I figure there's nothing to do but just trudge through it, even if this post isn't quite as good as I'd like it to be. At least I'll be making progress again. I mean, I'm 4 years into this project and not even halfway done, when it should have only taken 2 1/2 years to finish up completely. Hopefully I can finish before another 4 years pass.

Isaiah marks the first of the Prophetic books. Like normal, the NOAB had a nice introduction to these books, how they came about, who might have written them, etc. Like most books of the Bible, most of the Prophetic books aren't the result of a single author, sitting down at a specific time to write them. While some may have begun as a record of a prophet's oral pronouncements, or even as written works by a prophet, the books we have now are the results of generations worth of editing. Here's one thing the NOAB wrote about this development:

The complex activity of preserving and developing the prophetic oracle collections reflects a conviction that prophet's words were not only significant of for the circumstance in which they were originally pronounced but potentially relevant for later ones as well. At the same time, the freedom with which later generations could rework the prophetic oracles indicates that prophets' words did not at first possess the kind of fixed authority that is later associated with the concept of "scripture."

The NOAB also pointed out the changing roles of the prophets over time. The earliest actually seem primitive - "itinerant holy men and women who were revered for their special religious powers and who might be consulted for a variety of private inquiries, from locating lost property (1 Sam 9.1-10) to learning whether a sick child would live or die (1 Kings 14.1-18)." As time went on, they became more politically influential - pronouncing on the fitness of kings, and then becoming advisors to kings as royal power was consolidated. The NOAB does note an apparent shift in the nature of prophecy in the eighth century, becoming more public speakers as opposed to private advisers, but that it's hard to know how much of this shift is due to the prophets in general changing, or just a bias in the prophetic books that happened to be preserved.

When it comes to Isaiah, the NOAB notes several sources who contributed to writing it. The core comes from its namesake, Isaiah ben Amoz, who witnessed the Assyrian invasions of Israel and Juda (742 - 701 BCE). Next came a revision by an anonymous author now commonly referred to as Second Isaiah, probably writing during the reign of King Josiah of Juda (640 - 609 BCE) to reflect his reforms. Next came a series of revisions by multiple authors during the Babylonian collapse and rise of King Cyrus of Persia in the sixth century BCE, when the Jews were authorized to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. And a final series of revisions by more authors came in fifth and fourth centuries reflecting further theological changes. So, the book was composed over a couple centuries of major political upheaval, mostly between Assyriah, Babylon, and Egypt, with Israel and Judah caught in the middle.


Isaiah, Chapter 1

The opening message of Isaiah isn't such a bad one for the Bible. It's about how just going through the motions of sacrifice isn't good enough for God.

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

So, what shoud they do?

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

Like I said, not bad for the Bible. It's focused on actually helping people, not simply following sacrificial rituals (or the even worse parts about genocides and slaughters). Although, as the NOAB notes, this isn't to imply that sacrifices are no longer important to God. It's that he's turning his back on Israel for all the evil they've done, and not accepting any more sacrifices until they straighten up their acts. Of course, it wouldn't be the Bible if it didn't resort to violence, and God straightening up their acts by force.

Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies,
and avenge myself on my foes!
I will turn my hand against you...

Granted, the rest of the passage does go on to say that this will be for the ultimate redemption of Israel.


Isaiah, Chapter 2

This chapter is all about the restoration of Jerusalem, and a coming glorious period for the whole world, with Jerusalem at the center.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord's house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and hsall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.

I suppose this would have been comforting during the turmoil of the time.

This chapter also gives one of the more famous passages from the Bible:

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall no lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.


Isaiah, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is back to doom and gloom, with the punishment that's to come before the coming glory described in the previous chapter.

This passage caught my eye:

My people - children are their oppressors,
and women rule over them.

Because there's nothing worse than having women as leaders.

This next passage caught my eye, as well, for how fashion was so much different in that culture. I mean, we're so used to classic European paintings depicting the Old Testament, that we sometimes forget what the culture was actually like.

On that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; the head-dresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose-rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the garments of gauze, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.

There was also a kind of disturbingly misogynistic passage.

the Lord will afflict with scabs
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.


Isaiah, Chapter 4

Chapter 4 finishes up with the doom & gloom, talking about 'seven women' wanting to all marry one man just to be "called by your name; / take away our disgrace." Again, it's weird to think of women's role in that culture, being relegated to such inferior roles where they needed a husband to be respectable.

But after that, the chapter moved on to the restored Zion, recalling imagery of the pillar of smoke and fire from previous books.


Isaiah, Chapter 5

Chapter 5 was long, and back to the doom and gloom - about how bad the people were, and how God was going to punish them. Honestly, I don't really feel like quoting any of it, because this book is already getting a bit boring with just repeating over and over the same themes.


Isaiah, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 was a vision from Isaiah, and this part actually got somewhat interesting.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.

So, like much of the Old Testament, God is presented as very anthropomorphic, actually wearing a robe. I also snickered at the mention of the Seraphs covering their 'feet', knowing what that's a euphemism for.

The very next passage was another very famous one, a version of which I heard just about every week growing up as a Catholic.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.

After Isaiah said that he knew he was unfit to speak with the Lord, one of the seraphs took a live coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah's lips. According to the NOAB, "The cleansing of Isaiah's mouth with a hot coal from the altar presupposes the mouth purification rituals of oracular priests in ancient Mesopotamia so that they could speak on behalf of their gods."

God's pronouncements in the vision were chilling. First, God said he was going to intentionally make the people so that they wouldn't understand what was going on.

Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand."
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.

After Isaiah put up a feeble protest (nothing like previous heroes from the Bible who bargained with God to try to save their people), God said it would last "until cities lie waste / without inhabitant, / and houses without people, / and the land is utterly desolate." And if the destruction wasn't complete, "Even if a tenth part remains in it, / it will be burned again..."


Isaiah, Chapter 7

Chapter 7 touched on some of the alliances going on at the time, with Israel and Judah teaming with different nations, and how this war was all going to play out according to the Lord's plan (hint - lots of destruction).

One passage from this chapter is very famous among Christians. After Ahaz refused to ask for a sign from God and "put the Lord to the test", Isaiah responded:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman* is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

The NOAB indicates the 'young woman' (not 'virgin') was probably either the wife of Isaiah or of King Ahaz. Of course, from there the chapter went on to further describe this boy, and how he would grow up before this war was settled, along with the consequences of the war.

He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

This wasn't a prophecy about a coming messiah, and really only makes sense that way if you read it completely out of context.

One last passage from this chapter:

On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River--with the king of Assyria--the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well.

Snicker - God's going to shave their 'feet'.


Isaiah, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 continued this story. Frankly, it got a bit confusing to follow at points, becoming a little hard to distinguish in some places whether the child being referred to was Maher-shalal-hash-baz, son of the prophetess, or Immanuel, the prophesied boy from the previous chapter. Even the NOAB noted that "The narrative abruptly shifts to Isaiah's first-person account concerning the birth of his son..."

Then it was more prophecies of bad things happening to the unfaithful, along with commands to be good and follow the Lord.


Isaiah, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 included another passage that I'm willing to bet Christians take as a prophecy of the Messiah, even if it fits in with the story being told about the then current war.

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

But mostly, this chapter was all about the destruction caused by God against his people. This passage really stood out to me.

So the Lord raised adversaries* against them,
and stirred up their enemies,
the Arameans in the east and the Philistines in the west,
and they devoured Israel with open mouth.
For all this, his anger has not turned away;
his hand is stretched out still.

It just seems odd, at least from the point of view of trying to look at believing in God. I mean, here you have the all powerful creator of the universe, who can do anything at all, and his method of punishment is to get this other group of people to go after his chosen people. But in the end, it's a wash. I mean, if you're an Aramean, half the time God's rewarding you so that he can use you to punish the Israelites. And the other half, he's rewarding the Israelites so that they can punish you. And vice versa - as an Israelite, half the time you're being punished, and half the time you're being rewarded. I mean, if God was real, you'd be no better off believing in him as an Israelite or worshipping a different god as an Aramean - you'd still end up being punished or rewarded the same amount. (Now, from the point of view of normal people trying to explain why things beyond their control are happening...)


Isaiah, Chapter 10

More destruction. More evil doers. God does say that "he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria", for daring to think he had anything to do with his own victories on the battlefield, rather than realizing that God had given him those victories.

Shall the axe vaunt itself over the one who wields it,
or the saw magnify itself against the one who handles it?

There's also a little mention of restoring Zion once all the destruction is over.

---

Okay, so this may not have been my best review, but at least I'm back to writing in this series. I'm not too excited about this book, though. I've already read the next 10 chapters (though not the NOAB footnotes), and it's much more of the same. It's not a particularly exciting book of the Bible.


New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday Trump Roundup

Donald TrumpI don't know if I'm going to try to turn this into a regular feature or not, but with a president as potentially disastrous as Trump heading to the White House, I feel that it's the responsibility of everybody to keep the pressure up to not let him wreck the country. At the same time, I don't want to become obsessed with him, myself, and spend all my free time writing about him instead of other, more interesting topics. So, I'm going to provide a set of links to what other people have written recently, along with short excerpts from those articles. Today is mostly about science, though I couldn't help throwing in a few other articles.

Scientific American - The Trump Taboo at COP 22
"With a climate skeptic transitioning the EPA and Donald Trump in the White House for the next four or eight year, there is an intense fear of failure to act quickly and strongly enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the accepted safe temperature rise before catastrophic consequences. That fear is valid."

Scientific American - Dan Rather: Now, More Than Ever, We Must Stand Up for Science
"The Trump administration is outlining policies that put our response to climate change in deep jeopardy and threaten to change the fundamental direction of science in the U.S."

Scientific American - Election Aftermath: The Value of Compassion and Reason
"The results of Tuesday's vote suggest that people no longer care about these virtues, but we must remember that they are essential American values" "As Americans have enigmatically rewarded Trump for his proven disdain of minorities and women, civil liberties and scientific fact, what can we do to avoid a complete collapse of empathy, compassion--and reason--over the next four years, one which could have serious ramifications for everyone's future?"

Scientific American - What Will Trump's Space Program Look Like?
"The most partisan aspect of NASA's budget has been funding for Earth Sciences. Attacks from the right have slowed the government's overall ability to monitor and understand our changing climate. The Trump Administration will almost certainly request much smaller budgets for Earth Sciences, and those cuts are likely to be supported by the House and Senate. Comparative planetary climate studies, green technologies, environmentally efficient aeronautics, and funding to projects in Blue States (the few that remain) are all at risk."

Scientific American - Yes, Trump Is Scary, but Don't Lose Faith in Progress
"In spite of occasional backward lurches, like Trump's election, humanity should keep getting healthier, wealthier, more peaceful and more free." "Trump embodies a paradox of democracy. We are free to elect someone who can do us great harm. But American democracy has proved resilient. We have survived terrible Presidents, like Richard Nixon, and George Bush. We will survive Trump, too, as long as we don't succumb to irrational fear, anger and despair, the very emotions that have fueled his rise. Then we will continue our long, perilous trek toward paradise."

Nature - What scientists should focus on -- and fear -- under Trump
"Nine experts reflect on where researchers should direct their efforts during the next US administration." "Trump's success is the crescendo of a long devaluation of the Enlightenment idea that facts are the rightful basis of action. Reason itself is under fire. This mistrust of expertise is a serious threat to the sciences and the humanities."

Nature - Reality must trump rhetoric after US election shock
"In an Editorial last month, this journal argued that Trump was unsuitable for office. His contrary approach to evidence, disrespect for those he disagrees with, and toxic attitudes to women and other groups have no place in a modern democracy. His election gives Trump the chance to prove the many people who shared that view mistaken. And that, we know for sure, is one thing Trump relishes. For those who opposed him, now is not the time to turn away from politics. There can be no normalizing or forgetting the malignant words and attitudes that Trump used on the campaign trail. But it is time to engage and to address the issues in a constructive manner."

IFL Science - Beijing Confirms That Climate Change Is Not A Chinese Hoax After All
"Speaking at the UN climate change meeting in Morocco this week, China's vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin confirmed that this particular conspiracy theory is as absurd as everyone else already knew it was. He then proceeded to give Trump a history lesson." "Trump's comments about climate change being a Chinese hoax are arguably some of his most infamous and ludicrous. Sadly, despite the fact that he's taken every possible position on everything ever, there are two things he seems consistent on - placing an anti-abortion judge on the Supreme Court, and actively destroying the environment."

Barrier Breaker - Don't tell us to hug the smirking deplorables
"He got into office by being a bully. That's the clear and inconvenient truth. I realize that it's uncomfortable. I realize that this is a time when, more than ever, you may want to have a Kum-Bah-Yah moment and pretend that there are warm feelings of unity here. I realize that anger and depression is uncomfortable. I realize that the fight has grown wearisome. I realize that you might be exhausted and just want to go along to get along. / But the fact is that if you do that now, you are teaching this country that when a bully bullies you and your friends, apologize to the bully. Hug the bully. And if your friends are seriously hurt and wounded in the worst ways possible by the bully, force them to hug the smirking bully, too."

Daylight Atheism - The America I Thought I Knew
"Given the evidence, I'm forced to accept that the America I thought I knew - that land of decency, of moral enlightenment and stubbornly slow progress - doesn't exist, and perhaps never did. There's a wide and deep streak of sadism in our society, and in this election, it found a way to express itself. America has chosen to become a much crueler nation, and hundreds of millions of people will be living with the consequences for years if not decades."

The Gaytheist Manifesto - LGBTQ Progress Trump Can Undo on Day One
"While we know that Trump may not have rolling back LGBTQ rights and protections as a top priority, we do have a Republican majority. We do know that the current Republican platform is extremely hostile to LGBTQ people, and that several members of his top staff are vehemently anti-LGBTQ. It remains to be seen whether or not Trump will sign whatever awful things Congress is sure to send his way, but there is most definitely damage he could do on day one, should he choose to do so. / According to The Center for American Progress, there are 8 executive orders President Obama has signed that Donald Trump could undo if he wanted to."

---

For completeness, here are a few of the entries I've written about Trump recently.

Image Source: Google+

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review - Future Humans

Scott Solomon, a friend of mine who happens to be an evolutionary biologist, has just released his first book, Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution. If that name sounds familiar, it's because I mentioned the book a few months ago in the entry, New Book - Future Humans. Now, as I wrote then, I did read and comment on one of the draft manuscripts for Scott, so I may not be the most impartial of reviewers. But I still liked the book very much and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in ongoing human evolution.

I can't sum it up much better than the description from the publisher's site:

In this intriguing book, evolutionary biologist Scott Solomon draws on the explosion of discoveries in recent years to examine the future evolution of our species. Combining knowledge of our past with current trends, Solomon offers convincing evidence that evolutionary forces still affect us today. But how will modernization--including longer lifespans, changing diets, global travel, and widespread use of medicine and contraceptives--affect our evolutionary future?

Solomon presents an entertaining and accessible review of the latest research on human evolution in modern times, drawing on fields from genomics to medicine and the study of our microbiome. Surprising insights, on topics ranging from the rise of online dating and Cesarean sections to the spread of diseases such as HIV and Ebola, suggest that we are entering a new phase in human evolutionary history--one that makes the future less predictable and more interesting than ever before.

The book is well grounded in evidence. In fact, most of it is about actually observed human evolution, both in our very recent past just prior to the industrial revolution, as well as what can be gleaned in modern industrial societies. Of course, that makes the speculation far less sensationalistic than doe-eyed anime characters or web-footed aqua-people, but you probably won't lose any bets going along with Scott's reasonable inferences.

There were many good passages I could quote from the book, but here's one that I especially liked.

At it's core, evolution is about babies. Forget survival of the fittest - the only reason survival is important in evolution is because you cannot reproduce when you're dead. Ultimately, selection favors whatever traits result in making the most babies, grandbabies, and so on.

Scott went on to explain how natural selection has shifted in modern societies. When the vast, vast majority of people survive into adulthood, it becomes changes to fertility that will have the greatest effect on evolution. And that's exactly what many researchers have found - women having children earlier and entering menopause later, increasing their reproductive years and hence their number of offspring. Of course, the researchers have to use statistical methods to try to tease out cultural and environmental influences from genetic ones, but it really does seem as if these are hereditable, genetic changes. And that's just one of the many lessons I learned from the book.

There's a review in New Scientist some might find useful, Future Humans: Just how far can our evolution go?. You can also read an early version of one of the chapters as an article in Nautilus magazine, The Rhythm of the Tide, describing his trip to Ile aux Coudres, an isolated island in Quebec, to discuss what researchers there had discovered of recent evolution in the island's population.

On a personal note, I can say that it's a very different experience reading a draft as a reviewer vs. reading the completed book for pleasure. There's a bit of stress in reviewing the book, intentionally being critical, and trying to find flaws that could be improved. It was much more relaxing reading the book once it was done, and just enjoying it. (I should add that I reviewed it as a member of his target audience, not an expert in the field. I may like to write a bit about evolution on this blog, but I'm no biologist.)

The book was very interesting. It may be a little advanced for an evolutionary naïf, but if you paid attention in your high school biology class and remember the lessons, you'll probably find this book pretty informative. I definitely recommend it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Reflections on the Polls

Questioning the Polls

A lot's been made since the election about how wrong the pollsters got it. And while most of the polls were wrong, I think the magnitude of their error is being overhyped. This election has also reinforced my respect for FiveThirtyEight.

On the day before the election, I made a comment about the polls. Here's what I wrote:

On an election related note, while I've been following 538 like probably everybody else, I've also started checking out some of the other election 'prophets', and 538 seems like an outlier this year. I hope so, but hope doesn't change reality. It'll be interesting to see how things play out tomorrow and which predictions were the most accurate.

I also included a table of different sites and their predictions:

Site Chance Clinton Wins Chance Dems Win Senate
538 69.4% 49.2%
PredictWise 89% 67%
Huffington Post 98.1% 66%
Princeton Election Consortium >99% 79%

I also wrote that, "I'll still be biting my nails until the official results start coming in." Well, history now shows that I had reason to be biting my nails.

PredictWise, Huffington Post, and the Princeton Election Consortium were certainly way over confident in their predictions. But 538, while getting the prediction wrong, was more reasonable in their odds. Granted, their confidence in a Clinton win did increase slightly up until the election, but on Tuesday morning, they were still giving Clinton only a 71.4% chance of winning, and Trump a 28.6% chance of winning. And while that was certainly still in favor of Clinton, it wasn't overwhelmingly in her favor, and a win for Trump wasn't unthinkable. Just a few days before the election, Nate Silver emphasized this in the article, Trump Is Just A Normal Polling Error Behind Clinton.

538 also has a few post-mortem articles examining the polling errors this year, including The Polls Missed Trump. We Asked Pollsters Why. In the end, it looks like the polls missed by about 4 points, on average. Only being off by 4-points in gauging public opinion isn't a huge error, but in a close race like this one, it is enough to mean the difference between winning and losing.

They also quote Barbara Carvalho, who made a point about the number of quality polls being conducted.

Pollsters, and the media companies whose dwindling budgets have left them commissioning fewer polls, have to decide where to go from here. "Traditional methods are not in crisis, just expensive," said Barbara Carvalho of Marist College, whose final poll of the race showed Clinton leading by 1 point, in line with her current lead. "Few want to pay for scientific polling."

So, I disagree with the many commentators who have claimed that the polls were wildly off. They were off, but not by an unprecedented amount. The problem is that people put too much confidence in the polls, including some of the pollsters themselves. I would have thought that wouldn't have been an issue after the mid terms two years ago, but I can almost guarantee that people won't be over-confident based on the polls next time around.

Image Source: FiveThirtyEight, with a little Photoshopping by me

Thursday, November 10, 2016

'Coping' with Trump's Election

Test Anxiety, from http://cms.colum.edu/psychobabble/features/Back when I was in college, before a particularly stressful test or final, I used to help relieve some of the stress by asking myself, 'What's the worst that can happen?' Even if I bombed the test, it probably wouldn't have dropped my overall grade for the class below a C, and even if I bombed so hard that I failed the class as a whole, I'd still be able to retake the class. Hell, even if I bombed every test from then on out in college, I still had my health, and still lived in the USA in the modern day where I could be pretty sure I wouldn't starve to death like if I'd lived in some other time period or in a developing country. The exercise was always comforting because the consequences were never that bad.

Since Trump has won the election, I've briefly let myself go down that same kind of train of thought, and let me tell you, it's not reassuring. I've already written extensively about Trump's lack of qualifications and major faults. The worst that can happen due to his Presidency, with a Republican controlled House and Senate to rubber stamp his proposals, is very, very bad - trade wars, another great recession, pulling out of the Paris agreement and reversing positive action on climate change, a right-wing Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, nuclear proliferation, escalated military action leading to war, even nuclear war.

I know, things don't usually turn out as bad as our worst fears. But it's complacency to pretend that they never do. I don't even have to Godwin myself. Just think back about a decade to the Iraq War - a poorly justified war with a commander in chief who had no good overall strategy, which led to a civil war that caused hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq, and left a power vaccuum that gave rise to ISIS.

So, I've tried to quit wondering 'What's the worst that could happen under Trump', because it is terrifying. He's been elected, and there's nothing that can be done about it now, and nothing I can do personally to change his actions. So, I'm taking a more fatalistic approach. Trump may cause a disaster, but me staying awake at night worrying about it isn't going to change anything. Que será, será. At least, I'll keep trying to tell myself that until that knot in the pit of my stomach goes away and I can finally get a good night's sleep*.




*No, that's not poetic license. Just ask my wife who has to deal with the tossing and turning and the light from my iPhone at 3 am.

For anyone interested, you can read my more immediate reaction here, 2016's Depressing Election Results. I'll also repeat the link to my thorough analysis of Trump, Donald Trump Unfit to Be President - Vote for Hillary Clinton.

And as long as I'm still talking about the election, here are a few more good links that, if not perfect reflections of my thoughts on the matter, are still pretty close. I also included an excerpt from each one.

  • Bad Astronomy - A Dark Day "These are dark times, and for the first time in my life I seriously fear for the future of my country. Even when George W. Bush was elected I didn't feel this as deeply as I do now. Trump is a monster."
     
  • Pharyngula - What happened? "It's tempting to say we'll get through this and have a better day in 2020. The lesson I've learned is that we won't: that I lived through them doesn't mean that others didn't suffer and die. Reagan presided over the deaths by negligence of so many gay people; he laid a foundation of racism and contempt for government that we still have to deal with. Bush wrecked our foreign policy and killed thousands of our own and hundreds of thousands of others -- don't dismiss that by announcing that you survived his reign. Who knows what chaos Trump will sow, but people will be hurt. They will be hurt right now. Black people are being murdered by the police, immigrants are being oppressed right now, and we do not have the luxury of waiting the new regime out. It is not consolation to say that the pain will be selective and that the survivors will survive."
     
  • Dispatches from the Culture Wars - Welcome to Nov. 9th. We're Screwed. "But then again, we're all screwed. In addition to the feelings I listed above, I am also ashamed, deeply ashamed, that this country just elected a megalomaniacal, racist, misogynist, narcissistic, sociopathic sexual predator as its president. I never thought that would happen. I was certain that it wouldn't. I didn't think more than 40% of the country would vote for such a grotesque excuse for a human being. I was wrong. For once, I wasn't cynical enough about this country."
     
  • Love, Joy, Feminism - Tomorrow We Fight "Last night, my daughter lost her innocence. She had thought we lived in a world of possibilities, a world where a woman could be president and her young immigrant friends could share in the American Dream. Today that world has changed. Today she lives in a country that elected Donald Trump."
     
  • Daylight Atheism - The Morning After "The next few years are going to be an utter disaster. The Affordable Care Act and every other achievement of Obama's presidency will be wiped away. The Supreme Court will swing hard to the right for decades. The religious right will get everything they ever wanted. Climate change is never going to be stopped in time now. And all of that pales at the thought of a vindictive egomaniac with the nuclear launch codes."


Yesterday I said I'd give myself a day or two to mourn this tragedy. Today is day two, so tomorrow is back to the grind. I expect to write more, a LOT more, about Trump's presidency (holy f*ck does that sound horrible), but I'll try to keep future posts constructive, and not just lamenting the tragedy that I expect his presidency to be.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

2016's Depressing Election Results

Sad Uncle SamToday is a sad, sad day in American history. As a people, we have elected by far the worst presidential candidate in the modern era, and quite probably in all of U.S. history. As I've written several times now, Donald Trump is a proto-fascist demagogue with no relevant skills for the position, a frightening lack of foreign policy knowledge, a poor track record in business, an abysmal history of scandal and alleged criminal conduct, a complete lack of regard for truth and honesty, and a demeanor wholly unbefitting of the oval office, on top of his bigotry against many minority groups. But he was elected fairly. John Wayne may have said, "I didn't vote for him but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job," and while I do sincerely hope that, I fully expect Trump to be very, very bad for this country. My principal hope is that he's not as disastrous as I fear he will be, or maybe that he actually will be convicted of one of his many alleged crimes and be impeached, though that would still leave us with Mike Pence, who is only a decent candidate in comparison to Trump.

And the Republicans maintained control of the House and Senate on top of winning the presidency. We will now have the deck stacked fully in favor of Republicans, at a time when the party has become increasingly extremist. This is not the responsible Republican party of Eisenhower or Reagan (even if they had some bad policies). This is the Tea Party Republican party of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Not only will they have near free reign in passing their legislation, Trump will be free to nominate extremely partisan right-wing Supreme Court justices. Let's hope that Scalia and Thomas are the only two justices he gets to replace, or we may see extremely important decisions like Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges get turned back.

Statewide in Texas, things didn't turn out much better. Granted, as I wrote previously, I voted for Republicans in several races because they were the most qualified. But even in races where there were better qualified Democrats running in opposition, the Republicans won nearly every statewide race. Our State Board of Education, which has a history of Republican extremism, didn't pick up any moderates.

If there's a silver lining in any of this, it's that it looks like Clinton is going to win the popular vote. It may not make any difference in the election, but at least we can say that more Americans supported her than Trump.

Watching CNN last night, I saw Van Jones make some very moving comments on the nature of these results. Everybody should watch this video (or read about it on The Daily Beast). "People have talked about a miracle. I'm hearing about a nightmare." "How do I explain this to my children?"

Here's one more story that reflects the way I feel right now:
The New Yorker - An American Tragedy

I know some people are saying that America has survived worse before, but that's faint consolation for the people who will be affected by Trump's dangerous policies. We survived a Civil War, but hundreds of thousands of people died in the process, with countless more injured. We survived the Great Depression, but with over a decade worth of suffering. We survived George Bush, but with another economic recession, thousands of U.S. soldiers killed, and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Sure, the U.S. as a nation will survive Donald Trump, but how many people will suffer or die because of him?

I am disappointed, disheartened, appalled, and anxious for our nation's future. But what's done is done, and there's no changing the election results, now. I may give myself a day or two to mourn this tragedy, but I will then move on, and continue to fight the good fight and do what I think is best for the people of this nation. I will not let the bigotry and fear-mongering of Trump define who we are. We may not have demonstrated it yesterday, but we are better than that.

Uncle Sam Image Source: FairEconomy.org

---

BTW, here are two links to entries I wrote before the election, the first my warning about electing Trump, and the second a summary of & my endorsements for the Texas SBOE races:

Monday, November 7, 2016

XKCD Endorses Hillary Clinton

For the most part, XKCD steers clear of politics. Randal Monroe did endorse Obama on his blog back in 2008, but I can't recall ever having seen a political endorsement in the comic itself. Until now, that is (click to go to original):

I'm With Her

It seems like lots of people who normally stay out of politics are speaking up this election in an effort to keep Trump out of the office.

On an election related note, while I've been following 538 like probably everybody else, I've also started checking out some of the other election 'prophets', and 538 seems like an outlier this year. I hope so, but hope doesn't change reality. It'll be interesting to see how things play out tomorrow and which predictions were the most accurate. Here's a short summary of different sites and their odds on both the presidency and the Democrats taking control of the Senate.

Site Chance Clinton Wins Chance Dems Win Senate
538 69.4% 49.2%
PredictWise 89% 67%
Huffington Post 98.1% 66%
Princeton Election Consortium >99% 79%

I'll still be biting my nails until the official results start coming in.

Get Out and Vote, 2016

I Voted Today
Image Source: WPClipArt.com

This year, I didn't wait around for election Tuesday like normal. I went to the polls for early voting on Friday, the first time I've done so (and for the record, it's the longest line I've ever had to wait in to vote - 45 minutes vs. my normal 5 minutes). So, I've completed my civic duty, and all I can do now is wait to see how the election turns out. Well, I suppose I could go making tons of posts on Facebook, or making more entries on this blog, but I think I've already written as much as I can expect to be read.

If you follow this blog at all, you'll know I lean liberal. I had an entire series critiquing the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. But, I've always said that I evaluate each candidate independently, and have never voted a straight party ticket. This year was no exception. Granted, with as conservative as this area of Texas is, there were plenty of 'races' that weren't races at all - a Republican was the only candidate running. But even in races where there was competition (national congressman, railroad commissioner, state justices & judges, county commissioners, city mayor, and local school district trustees), I looked at each candidate individually, not just their party affiliation.

I actually surprised myself somewhat, voting for more Republicans than any other party - and not just because of all the uncontested races. Other than the president, in the races where there was competition and where I could determine party affiliation (it wasn't listed on the ballot for some of the local races, even if candidates themselves identified with a party), my votes went to 6 Republicans, 4 Democrats, 1 Green Party candidate, and 1 Libertarian. For one thing, many of the philosophical differences between the parties just don't play out at certain levels of government, especially considering that candidates aren't slaves to their party's platforms. And, like I've written many times before, relevant experience to a job is important. So, even if all other things being equal I might prefer a well-qualified Democrat to a well-qualified Republican, a well-qualified anybody is better than an unqualified candidate. Given the relative weakness of the Democratic party in Texas, they just didn't put up good candidates for all of the races.

I've written a few political entries leading up to this election. So, go check these out:

I really can't stress that last one enough. Donald Trump is manifestly and absolutely unfit to be President of the U.S. Even if you normally vote Republican, vote for somebody else for President besides Trump, preferably Clinton to give Trump the least chance of winning. And I'm not just saying that to try to sway you to vote Democratic because I'm a Democrat. I practice what I preach. Like I wrote above, I actually voted for more Republicans this election because in most races I could vote for, the Republicans were the more qualified candidates (and technically, I'm an independent, even if I do lean liberal). But when it comes to President, the choice is clear. Hillary Clinton may not be perfect, but she's experienced, competent, level-headed, and would do an admirable job as president. Donald Trump is a proto-fascist demagogue with no relevant skills for the position, a frightening lack of foreign policy knowledge, a poor track record in business, an abysmal history of scandal and alleged criminal conduct, a complete lack of regard for truth and honesty, and a demeanor wholly unbefitting of the oval office. He would be a disaster for the country.

Finally, here are some useful resources for voting in Texas:

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