« October 2016 | Main | December 2016 »

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. [Update - I did decide to make this a semi-regular feature. Future installments can be found in my Trump Archives.]

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:

Friday, November 4, 2016

Understanding Evolution - Origin of Limbs

This entry is part of a collection on Understanding Evolution. For other entries in this collection, follow that link.

I recently came across and answered a question on Quora that reveals a misunderstanding I've seen before over evolution. The question was If theory of evolution is true, why aren't there more semi-evolved species with hands coming out of their skulls or other half-baked monstrosities?. It seems to be that some people think that evolution works by creating partially complete versions of what will later be a fully fledged feature of an organism. Obviously, that's not the case. So I figured it might help to explain how a trait like our limbs actually did evolve.

Evolution doesn't have any foresight or planning. Every organism that has ever lived is both the end result of all the evolutionary history leading up to it, and a transitional form to whatever it's future descendants might look like (assuming its lineage doesn't go extinct).

In contrast to what that Quora question implied, evolution doesn't work like this:

Not How Evolution Works
(not how evolution works)

Evolution didn't provide us with a partial arm in anticipation of a fully developed arm down the road. We didn't sprout a bicep, then a forearm, and finally a hand to complete our limbs. Genetics just doesn't work that way. If an organism doesn't have any limbs to begin with, it's not going to create a monstrosity with a partial human limb. Evolution only works incrementally, and every step has to be functional, or else the organism won't survive to reproduce.

So, if our ancient ancestors didn't have limbs, but we do now, how did it happen? What were the types of changes that were small enough to be possible through genetic mutation, but useful enough to benefit those organisms?

First of all, our ancient ancestors looked something like this:

MetaSpriggina Reconstruction & Fossil
(source: New fossil find pinpoints the origin of jaws in vertebrates)

Just to be clear, it's very unlikely that that's actually our direct ancestor. It's probably a cousin of our direct ancestor. So, it's more like our great-great-great aunt/uncle. But, just like you're more similar to your human aunts and uncles than to unrelated strangers, our ancestors were probably pretty similar to that creature. And of course, you can go back and find even simpler ancestors that are more ancient, but I didn't want to go through our entire evolutionary history for this entry.

So, that critter is a very early chordate. It's got some of the same features we do - eyes, a brain, a 'spinal' cord, etc. But it's also missing some of the features we have now - a jaw, bones, and most notably for this discussion, limbs. So, what could those first rudiments of limbs have looked like? Probably something like this:

Hypothetical evolution of paired fins and their skeletal supports
(source: Origin and Comparative Anatomy of the Pectoral Limb: Anthony F. DePalma MD, FACS)

Now, I'm going to be completely honest. That picture is informed speculation based on studying modern animals, genetics, and embryology, since no fossils have been found preserving that type of soft tissue, but it should be clear how skin folds leading to fins would have been a pretty small mutation that would have benefitted our swimming ancestors. From that creature in the top of the image, it's also a small step to then split up those now existing fins into several independent fins - giving those organsims more freedom in how to use those fins.

Once our ancestors had simple fins, then it was a series of small incremental steps to get to more complex fins, like shown in this next picture:

Diagrams illustrating hypothetical evolution of the extremities of diapnoan (I), ganoid (H) and elasmobranch (G) from a fin fold supported by a series of similar radial cartilages.
(source: Origin and Comparative Anatomy of the Pectoral Limb: Anthony F. DePalma MD, FACS)

I like this one because it also shows the branching nature of evolution. It wasn't just primitive fins in a straight line to our direct ancestors. As those populations split up, each newly independent population took its own evolutionary path, each finding different strategies for modifying fins. In one particular lineage (L), it created a fin with fairly robust bones.

Now, that lineage kept on splitting, too. Some populations remained in aquatic habitats, so that today you can still find coelocanths which have fins with robust bones like that. But some of the populations became increasingly specialized for amphibious habitats, and eventually some populations even became specialized for fully terrestrial habitats. Take a look at this next picture:

Tetrapod Limb Development
(source: Berkeley - The origin of tetrapods)

Like the caveat I gave above, most likely none of those organisms are direct ancestors of any of the others, but the oldest ones are similar to the actual direct ancestors (they're all known animals from fossil remains). And you can see how each newer organism and newer limb is only a slight change from the previous one, as well as how each organism has a fully developed limb that serves it quite well.

And remember, as populations split off and each go their own evolutionary way, they can all develop their own independent adaptations and ways of using different features. So, from those early tetrapods, different lineages have modified those limbs in remarkably different directions, but all showing the underlying similarity:

Similarity of Vertebrate Limbs
(source: Pinterest)

It's not just limbs. That's how virtually all features have developed over the course of evolution. You've probably seen octopuses and squids, and know that they have pretty complex eyes, with an iris, cornea, lens, retina, etc. But since we know evolution is true, it must follow that even something as complex as that eye must have evolved through small, incremental changes, with each new change being beneficial. And in fact, we actually do have a pretty good idea how it happened:

Stages of eye complexity in mollusks
(source: Evergreen Comparative Physiology of Vision - Cephalopods)

Note that those intermediate steps are found in existing animals. They're not just hypothetically a type of eye that could exist. They're types of eyes that we know, for sure, exist and are used by different species of animals.

So, just to recap, evolution doesn't have foresight or a plan. For that matter, it's not a conscious entity at all, even if anthropomorphizing sometimes helps to explain it. Evolution only works through small incremental changes, and each of the changes has to be beneficial if the organisms are going to survive and pass those changes on to future generations. Every organism alive, past and present, is in a sense the end result of all the evolutionary history leading up to it. But in another sense, as long as they don't go extinct, evolution never stops, so every organism is also a transitional form to whatever its descendants might be.


Here are two links with more info on vertebrate limb evolution. I already linked to the first one up above, but I wanted to make sure to call it out as being especially informative.

Want to learn more about evolution? Find more at Understanding Evolution.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Texas State Board of Education Election, 2016

TEA LogoAlthough the presidential race is receiving most of the attention for this year's election, there are other races, as well. Here in Texas, several seats on the State Board of Education are up for the vote. I've written about the SBOE many times. To quote myself from a few years ago, "An extreme right-wing faction has pulled some sleazy and dishonest stunts over the past few years, from last minute back door dealings that not all board members were privy to, to trying to inject creationism into science, to trying to change history standards to some alternative reality." While all members of that faction have been Republicans, not all Republicans have been members of that faction. So, make sure you check who's actually running in your district, and don't necessarily just vote for the party.

To see which SBOE district you're in (as well as other state districts), you can look it up on the Texas website, Who Represents Me?

While the right-wing faction has been reduced from its peak strength a few years ago, that hasn't stopped them from embroiling the SBOE in controversy. Here are two articles from this past September over the board's handling of science standards, Star Telegram - State Board of Education targets evolution and NCSE - Shenanigans in Texas, and another from two years ago over their approval of questionable history books, New York Times - Texas Approves Disputed History Texts for Schools.

The Texas Feedom Network and iVoterGuide both sent out surveys to all of the candidates (oddly, the iVoterGuide survey included questions about a whole host of issues unrelated to education). Only some of the candidates responded, and usually only to one survey or the other. You can find the candidates answers to those surveys, as well as the TFN's official endorsements, through the links below.

Here's a summary of who's running, along with my own personal endorsements. If I could find their personal websites, I linked through their name. If they're sitting board members, I marked their name with an asterisk (*), and also added a link to their official SBOE page.

District 1

D - Georgina Perez
G - Hugo Noyola Jr.

Endorsement: Georgina Perez, I guess

Neither candidate responded to TFN or iVoterGuide, so it's hard to see exactly where they stand on the issues. Perez at least has a website, showing at least that level of commitment to campaigning. She also has some decent endorsements, including the American Federation of Teachers.

District 5

D - Rebecca Bell-Metereau
R - Ken Mercer* (SBOE)
L - Ricardo Perkins

Endorsement: Rebecca Bell-Metereau

Per the TFN survey, Perkins disagreed with teaching students about the scientific consensus over anthropogenic global warming. He also supports school vouchers. The iVoterGuide question is a little poorly worded, but he seems to agree that biology textbooks should "teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution".

Mercer has been a part of the extreme right wing faction for years, now, doing plenty of damage to our children's education. Per the iVoterGuide survey, Mercer disagrees with comprehensive sex ed, thnks the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools, and thinks Intelligent Design should be taught in science classes.

District 6

D - R. Dakota Carter
R - Donna Bahorich* (SBOE)
L - Whitney Bilyeu
G - Laura Palmer

Endorsement: R. Dakota Carter

Bahorich, despite being on the SBOE, and in conflict with the Texas Constitution, doesn't believe "It is the government's responsibility to be sure children are properly educated." She's also opposed to comprehensive sex ed, opposed to properly teaching evolution and wants to see Intelligent Design taught along with it, and wants to see the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools. She was also part of the recent conflict over AP History standards.

Neither Bilyeu nor Palmer responded to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys.

District 8

R - Barbara Cargill* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Write-in

Cargill is part of the extreme right wing faction that has caused so much trouble in the past, including trying to put creationists on the panel to review biology standards.

District 9

D - Amanda M. Rudolph
R - Keven M. Ellis
L - Anastasia Wilford

Endorsement: Amanda M. Rudolph

Per the TFN survey, Ellis is opposed to teaching the separation of church and state, is opposed to teaching the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming, and wouldn't take a position on teaching creationism and Intelligent Design in science class.

Wilford didn't respond to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys.

District 10

D - Judy Jennings
R - Tom Maynard* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Judy Jennings

Maynard is opposed to comprehensive sex ed, was neutral on whether biology textbooks should "teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution", believed that Intelligent Design should be taught, and thought the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools. However, unlike most of the Republicans running, he at least thinks it's the government's responsibility to ensure that children are properly educated.

District 14

R - Sue Melton-Malone* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Sue Melton-Malone

Melton-Malone didn't respond to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys, but she has been a support of sound science education in the past (NCSE - Texas Creationists Beware: The Posse's Comin').

District 15

R - Marty Rowley* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Write-in

Rowley is against comprehensive sex-ed, is in favor of biology textbooks teaching "both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution", is in favor of teaching intelligent design, and thinks the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools.

I'll add that it's especially frustrating to me that no one is running against Rowley, since he represents my district.

Previous SBOE Entries:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Donald Trump Unfit to Be President - Vote for Hillary Clinton

Trump vs. Clinton

The election is a week away, and Donald Trump is gaining in the polls. Please, fellow Americans, come to your senses and don't cast a single vote for this man. Cast your vote for the only candidate with a realistic chance of defeating him, Hillary Clinton. While she may not be perfect, she's experienced, competent, level-headed, and far, far more truthful than Trump.

Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president. He 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.


What Others Have Said

As the Atlantic put it in their endorsement of Clinton (only their third presidential endorsement in their 159 year history):

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America's nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.

To quote the Foreign Policy Journal's endorsement of Clinton (their first presidential endorsement in their entire 50 year history):

Beyond this, however, in the areas in which we at FP specialize, he has repeatedly demonstrated his ignorance of the most basic facts of international affairs, let alone the nuances so crucial to the responsibilities of diplomacy inherent in the U.S. president's daily responsibilities. Trump has not only promoted the leadership of a tyrant and menace like Vladimir Putin, but he has welcomed Russian meddling in the current U.S. election. He has alternatively forgiven then defended Russia's invasion of Crimea and employed advisors with close ties to the Russian president and his cronies. Trump has spoken so cavalierly about the use of nuclear weapons, including a repeated willingness to use them against terrorists, that it has become clear he understands little if anything about America's nuclear policies -- not to mention the moral, legal, and human consequences of such actions. He has embraced the use of torture and the violation of international law against it. He has suggested he would ignore America's treaty obligations and would only conditionally support allies in need. He has repeatedly insulted Mexico and proposed policies that would inflame and damage one of America's most vital trading relationships with that country.

They go on for several more paragraphs listing the disqualifying qualities and actions of Trump, then add their endorsement for Clinton:

Fortunately, not only is Trump opposed by a worthy candidate, but his opponent is, on foreign-policy and national security issues -- all of the areas we cover here at FP -- one of the best qualified candidates this country has produced since World War II. As first lady, New York senator, and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton regularly distinguished herself by her intelligence, dogged work ethic, ability to work across the political aisle, and leadership on difficult issues. She has devoted her entire life to public service and has been a powerful and effective advocate for women, children, and those in need at home and abroad. Whether you agree with all the policy stances of her campaign or not, impartial eyes will conclude that her proposals on climate change, combating terrorism, and human rights are thoughtful and comprehensive -- and ultimately worthy of consideration.

Trump is the worst presidential candidate in modern history, possibly in all of U.S. history. Even publications that don't normally endorse any candidate, or who normally endorse conservative candidates, have come out in support of Clinton, or at the very least in opposition to Trump. An unprecedented number of high ranking Republicans have broken ranks to either endorse Clinton, or dis-endorse Trump. Even if you normally vote Republican, please don't let party loyalty blind you to the danger Trump presents to the nation and the world.

Climate Change

Climate change is perhaps the biggest issue facing the world right now (at the very least hugely important). Trump has said that he thinks climate change is a hoax, and that he would undo the Paris agreement. That's a truly awful position, with negative effects in our own lifetimes, but absolutely disastrous effects for our children. We need to take responsibility and take action now, not bury our heads in the sand and ignore the problem. (more info: N.Y. Times - For Clinton and Trump, There's Little Debating a Climate Change Divide and Trump's Stance on the Paris Climate Agreement is Criticized by 375 Scientists).

I'm not going to use this entry itself to go into the evidence for climate change, other than to provide a few links:

Honesty and Integrity

Trump is unprecedented in the amount he lies during campaigning. Here's a recent article, One Chart Addresses a Misconception About Hillary Clinton, which reprinted a graphic where someone had compiled various candidates' statements from Politifact and graphed them, as shown below.

Who Lies More: A Comparison: Politifact, an independent fact-checking website, has graded more than 50 statements since 2007 from each of these candidates.  Here is how they rank.
More than 3/4 of Trump's claims have been rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire. Less than 10% of his statements have been either True or Mostly True. And some of his lies, no matter how many times he gets called out on them, he continues to just repeat over and over (e.g. opposing the Iraq War, seeing Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks, etc.). Compare that to Clinton, who was rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire less than 30% of the time, and True or Mostly True more than half the time - actually the second most honest out of the politicians they compared. Here's another article discussing Trump's brazen lying, Washington Post - All of Donald Trump's Four-Pinocchio ratings, in one place, which opened with the line, "There's never been a presidential candidate like Donald Trump -- someone so cavalier about the facts and so unwilling to ever admit error, even in the face of overwhelming evidence."

And those articles were written before Trump starting going full-bore into conspiracy theories of rigged elections and global cabals working with international banks to undermine U.S. sovereignty (though he was already well into conspiracy theory territory with his earlier birther nonsense). Trump appears to be a man who will say or do anything to try to gain power. (more info: Vox - It's time to acknowledge reality: Donald Trump talks like an anti-Semite)

Sexual Assault & Alleged Child Sex Trafficking

Too many people have tried to dismiss Trump's deplorable comments in the Access Hollywood tape as mere 'locker room talk'. Using crude language may be 'locker room talk'. Bragging about hookups may be 'locker room talk'. Bragging about sexual assault is NOT 'locker room talk'. It's bragging about a crime.

And now that so many women are coming forward accusing Trump of sexual assault, it's even harder to dismiss those comments. I've seen far too many people try to defend Trump by accusing these women of lying. But it's not as if it's only one or two women. It's multiple women, and these alleged actions fit with statements Trump has made in the past. And with so many people now accusing the victims of lying, is it any wonder why these women were so reluctant to come forward earlier (related: Rolling Stone - It's No Mystery Why Trump's Accusers Waited to Come Forward and Vox - 6 people went on the record to back up a reporter who says Trump assaulted her)?

Even more shocking and disgusting is an article that came out last week in the Daily Beast, Inside Donald Trump's One-Stop Parties: Attendees Recall Cocaine and Very Young Models. Personally, the cocaine portion of that doesn't bother me much (and an interviewee claims Trump didn't do any coke, himself). It's the underage girls that's disgusting.

But did he have sex with his female party guests? "So, he's a man with a woman," Lucchesi says vaguely. How old were they? "A lot of girls, 14, look 24. That's as juicy as I can get. I never asked how old they were; I just partook. I did partake in activities that would be controversial, too."

Other Scandals and Alleged Criminal Activity

Trump's list of scandals and alleged criminal activity is almost too long to list. For a primer, here's an article from The Atlantic, The Atlantic - The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet. Here's another from the Washington Post, discussing both the amount of scandal in Trump's past, and the uneven coverage the media gives to Clinton's scandals vs. Trump's, Trump's history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?.

Here's a brief summary of just some of these accusations (the articles list a lot more), along with a few sources in addition to the two articles above:

  • History of destroying records pertinent to court cases (Newsweek - Donald Trump's Companies Destroyed Emails in Defiance of Court Orders)
  • Racial housing discrimination
  • Mafia ties (including inviting mob associates onto his yacht and giving mob associates special favors at his casino)
  • Fraud with Trump University
  • Bribing politicians to escape prosecution over the Trump University fraud (The Atlantic - Was Trump Fibbing About Buying Politicians Then or Now?)
  • Hiring illegal Polish immigrants for a construction site, then paying them a pittance and threatening them with deportation when they asked for more money
  • Long record of workers and contractors that he's stiffed over the years
  • Trafficking illegal immigrants to work as models (he might actually get criminally investigated over that one)
  • Illegal loan from his father and other violations of gambling regulations
  • The Trump Foundation improperly spending funds (and not really being financed by Trump)
  • Illegal business dealings in Cuba violating the trade embargo

The list goes on. For another perspective, consider Jon Oliver's take. You can read highlights on Vox, John Oliver: Clinton's scandals may upset you, but "you should then be f*cking outraged by Trump's", or watch the clip below.

As Oliver stated in reference to Clinton, "We've spent several frustrating weeks trolling through all the innuendo and exaggeration surrounding her email and foundation scandals. And the worst thing you can say is they both look bad, but the harder you actually look, the less you actually find." Whereas in reference to Trump, he said, "He is ethically compromised to an almost unprecedented degree." To put them in comparison, he said, "This campaign has been dominated by scandals, but it is dangerous to think that there is an equal number on both sides. And you can be irritated by some of Hillary's ― that is understandable ― but you should then be f*cking outraged by Trump's."

Racism, Xenophobia, and War Crimes

Those scandals above don't even count some of the outlandish and disgusting things Trump has said while campaigning.

And that's just a sampling of things he's said.

Income Taxes

Regarding Trump's taxes, the main issue isn't how much or little he's paid, but the fact that he's refusing to release his tax returns, breaking with precedent going back to Nixon, and then lying about the reason. The IRS has said that Trump is free to release his returns even while he is under audit. We usually demand transparency in our politicians, but here's a candidate opting for opacity before he's even been elected. What is he hiding? (more info: Fortune - 5 Things You Need to Know About Donald Trump's Tax Returns)

Threat to Global Economy

The Economist, hardly a liberal rag, keeps a monthly list of the top 10 threats to the global economy. For the past several months, they've included the possibility of a Trump presidency in that list. Currently, they rank him as dangerous to the world economy as 'The rising threat of jihadi terrorism destabilises the global economy'. Their latest analysis, updated October 19th, warns of a potential "trade war", that "His militaristic tendencies towards the Middle East (and proposed ban on all Muslim travel to the US) would be a potent recruitment tool for jihadi groups", "his vocal scepticism towards NATO would weaken efforts to contain Russia's expansionist tendencies", and that "even more alarmingly, his stated indifference towards nuclear proliferation in Asia raises the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the world's most heavily populated continent". (more info - The Economist - 'President Trump' as big a threat as jihadi terror to global economy - EIU and The Economist Global Forecasting Service - Global risk)

Business Experience

One of Trump's main claimed qualifications for the presidency is that he's a successful businessman. There are two sides to this - does success in business translate to politics? And how successful is Trump, anyway?

Business experience doesn't necessarily translate to governing. Here's an article from U.S. News & World Report, Businessman in Chief? It notes that past presidents with business experience include both Bushes, Herbert Hoover, Warren G. Harding, Jimmy Carter, Andrew Johnson and Calvin Coolidge, and then quotes history professor, Peter Kastor, stating, that "they all struggled in one way or another." It quoted another professor, Bruce Mirnoff, "Historically, those people who have been in business have not done very well. The people who have been our best presidents have mainly been the much despised career politicians like FDR." The article then went on to explain why the skills needed to be successful in business don't necessarily translate to being successful in politics or government. To be thorough, it did note that if you blur the lines between businessman and politician, for example Washington's and Jefferson's experiences as planters, that those politicians have been able to successfully use their managerial skills in the White House. But the larger point is that based on the actual history of men who have been presidents, "Being a successful businessman is not necessarily indicative of being a successful president."

In truth, Trump's busienss record is actually rather spotty, and in his early career he relied heavily on the wealth and reputation of his father. To quote Michael d'Antonio who wrote a biography of Trump, "I think he's very good at real estate, I don't think he's very good at other things. He tried to run an airline and failed at that. He tried to run casinos and failed four times. That's not evidence of brilliance when it comes to operating a complex business." (more info: Washington Post - The myth and the reality of Donald Trump's business empire)

Here's an article that goes into much more depth, Quora - William Murphy's Answer to Why do people forget that Donald Trump is a successful businessman?.

Basically, Trump got lucky. With $20 million worth of capital thanks to his father, he invested in N.Y. real estate at a time when prices happened to be low. He was losing money on all his properties, but when the market boomed in the '80s, he was able to borrow against the value of those properties. When the bubble burst in the late '80s, his huge debts and negative cash flow forced him into bankruptcy, but he had managed to separate his business from his personal wealth, so he didn't lose his own money. He went on to declare bankruptcy 5 more times over the next 20 years - always leaving his investors holding the bag while protecting himself. And it's not as if he's even made brilliant or savvy investments for himself - the S&P 500 grew 4 ½ times more than Trump's wealth since 1987. He'd be worth more if he'd simply invested in index funds.

If Trump manages to become President and tries to run the country the same way he's run his businesses, he'll be damn sure to protect his own personal wealth, while we the taxpayers will be left footing the bill for the mess he leaves. We're just now recovering from the recession left behind by the Bush administration. I don't particularly want to go through all that again.

Constitutional Rights

Trump doesn't seem to be a fan of Constitutional rights. In the third debate, he came out in opposition to the Fourth Amendment, supporting Stop and Frisk, even after it's been ruled unconstitutional (not to mention that policy's disregard for the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause). And even that's after Stop and Frisk was shown to be ineffective, when crime rates continued to drop in NYC even after Stop and Frisk was discontinued. So he's supporting a discriminatory, unconstitutional policy, that doesn't even accomplish what it's supposed to. (more info: Vox - Trump wants to recreate New York's unconstitutional, ineffective stop-and-frisk program)

Trump's threats and rhetoric against the press have led to increased security of the press at his rallies to protect them from increasingly agitated crowds who have confronted and shouted threats at the press. To quote a New York Times article, Partisan Crowds at Trump Rallies Menace and Frighten News Media, it's gotten so bad that "the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit group often focused on defending press freedoms in war-torn and totalitarian countries, made a rare statement regarding American elections. 'Donald Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values,' Sandra Mims Rowe, the chairwoman for the group, said in a statement Thursday night, announcing that the group had 'passed a resolution declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to C.P.J.'s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.' "

Building a Wall

Trump's position on securing the border is ludicrous. The centerpiece of his border security plan is to build a wall, and have Mexico pay for it. Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal, hardly known for liberal bias, pointing out the many problems with this plan, Some Big Holes in Trump's Wall. Here are a couple more articles describing the follies of this proposal, BBC - How realistic is Donald Trump's Mexico wall? and Brookings Institute - Donald Trump's plan to build a wall is really dangerous. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "the anti-immigrant movement's leading think tank", and in other articles as having "never found any aspect of immigration that it liked", has an article, Border Fencing: One Tool among Many, describing why a fence along the whole U.S. - Mexico border isn't a practical approach to border security.

It's not a serious proposal at all, and just further emphasizes Trump's ignorance on foreign policy issues. (See also the Foreign Policy Journal link already mentioned above for a much more thorough assessment of his foreign policy inadequacies.)

Tax Plan

Trump's tax plan is massive tax cuts for the wealthy, in the hopes that this will increase GDP growth so 'bigley' that the government won't have problems raising tax revenues without having to raise tax rates. But this plan, like so many other of Trump's proposals, would be disastrous. I'm actually going to go into a little more detail on this than some of the other sections of this entry, so skip ahead if you're not particularly interested.

Here's an article in the Atlantic, Tax Cuts Don't Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds. Here's one figure from the article:

Economic Growth Plotted with Tax Hikes and Cuts

As the article is quick to point out, even though the correlations in this figure are tax hikes prior to periods of economic growth and tax cuts prior to periods of economic decline, they don't prove that the correlation is causation. But they do demonstrate that the opposite is not true either - tax cuts don't automatically improve the economy, and tax hikes don't automatically harm it.

Here's another article, this one from NPR, FACT CHECK: Do Tax Cuts Grow The Economy? They also make the point that it's complicated. They state that well defined tax plans can boost the economy, but that the devil's in the details. For example, "According to a 2012 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (referenced by the New York Times' David Leonhardt in a 2012 column), top marginal tax rates and economic growth have not appeared correlated over the past 60 years." They also made the point that tax cuts to lower income individuals can create more of a boost than tax cuts to wealthy individuals, because lower income people are more likely to go out and spend their extra money. It's a myth that the wealthy will pour their tax savings back into the economy through investment. If there's anything that trickle-down economics has achieved, it's the growing wealth and income inequality in the nation as the wealthy have consolidated their wealth. Here's a graph from the Pacific Standard article, The IMF Confirms That 'Trickle-Down' Economics Is, Indeed, a Joke showing how trickle-down economics has disproportionately benefited the wealthy (there are plenty of other sources, as well, such as Slate - The Shocking Rise of Wealth Inequality: Is it Worse Than We Thought?). That article also cites an IMF study confirming that tax cuts to lower income individuals improve GDP growth more than tax cuts to the wealthy, and that tax cuts to the wealthy can even hurt GDP growth.

U.S. Distribution of Average Income Growth During Expansion
The NPR article also points out that tax cuts come at a cost to revenue - one that's not made up for by any potential growth they might cause. "In that Chicago survey of economists, 71 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that tax cuts would lead to higher revenue in the next five years. Meanwhile, zero percent agreed that cutting taxes would raise revenue in the next five years." In reference to Trump's plan in particular, they cited an estimate by the Tax Foundation, a "a right-leaning tax policy think tank in Washington, D.C." The Tax Foundation found that "Trump's plan, by this math, cuts revenue by $10 trillion over 10 years."

If you're really concerned with trying to balance the budget and reduce the deficit and debt (which we all should be), Trump's tax plan would be a disaster. The cuts to revenue would cripple our nation's ability to pay its bills, causing the deficit and debt to skyrocket. I know nobody particularly likes to pay taxes, but as former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society". We have to be adults about it and recognize that the necessary services and infrastructure that government provide come at a cost that all responsible citizens should help pay for.

And if you want to get into the history of tax rates on the wealthy and on businesses, right now we're at historic lows. Here are two graphs from Wikipedia. The top marginal tax rate right now is 40% - not the absolute lowest it's been in the past century, but not too far off. Compare that to what it was just subsequent to WWII - over 90%, which didn't seem to put a damper on Post-World War II economic expansion. Even throughout the '60s and '70s, the top marginal tax rate was 70%. And take a look at the effective corporate tax rates. We're at historic lows there, as well.

Historical Marginal Tax Rate for Highest and Lowest Wage Earners
U.S. Effective Corporate Tax Rate 1947-2011
Here's another graph to put spending and revenue in perspective. It shows total federal income as a percentage of GDP, along with total federal spending (data from USGovernmentRevenue.com and USGovernmentSpending.com). Yes, in 2009, spending peaked while revenues hit their lowest. But that's just what you expect from a recession - the tax base is lower, so revenue goes down, while welfare and stimulus spending increase. And in this past recession, the spending was compounded by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But now that the economy is recovering, look at those trends. Total spending is decreasing, while revenues are coming back up to historical levels. Spending is still a little high compared to what it's been in the past, so we do need to take a hard look at cutting unnecessary spending, but there's no need to do anything drastic. If we're going to be responsible about it, balancing the budget needs to be a combination of spending cuts and maintaining revenue at required levels, not some pie in the sky fantasy about unrealistic economic growth.
Federal Revenue and Spending, 1940-2015

Clinton's E-mail Scandal

I know that some people plan to vote for Trump not because they particularly like him, but because they don't like Clinton, and the email scandal seems to be one of the big reasons. The email scandal has plagued Clinton this entire campaign, and now it appears that it may be the issue costing her the most support as election day draws near. It is a legitimate scandal, but it also highlights how harshly Clinton gets treated compared to other politicians. Not that it excuses her behavior, but compare how the press has responded to Clinton's use of a private email server and subsequent deletion of emails to the Bush administration's use of a private email server and subsequent deletion of emails - millions of emails, in fact: Media Matters - FLASHBACK: When Millions Of Lost Bush White House Emails (From Private Accounts) Triggered A Media Shrug.

The supposedly 'liberal media' spent a day or two and little ink covering the Bush administration email scandal (a Fox co-host even went so far as to say, "I mean, deleted e-mails, who cares?"), then goes crazy over pretty much the same thing when it's Hillary Clinton. Like I said, it doesn't excuse her actions, and I honestly would have liked to have seen far more coverage on the Bush administration, but it is indicative of lopsided coverage.

Even when the FBI thoroughly investigated the matter of her emails previously, and Comey recommended that the case be closed without charges, some people didn't drop the e-mail issue, and continued insisting that Clinton must have committed a crime. Now, a new possible source of emails have been found, but the FBI doesn't even know what's on them. They're investigating to be thorough, not because they have any smoking gun. In fact, when Comey sent the letter to Congress on Friday (possibly in violation of the Hatch Act), the FBI didn't even yet have a warrant, and had absolutely no idea what was contained in these new Anthony Weiner emails. They certainly do not have any known significant evidence of her wrong doing. (more info: FBI has obtained warrant to search newly discovered emails potentially relevant to Clinton probe.)

I think it's pretty safe to say, though, that even if this new batch of emails doesn't change anything with the investigation (which is what I fully expect to be the case), there will still be people claiming that Clinton should be charged with something, even after the FBI makes their recommendations. But that shouldn't be the case. The previous FBI investigation cleared her, and as of right now, there's no reason to think that there will be incriminating evidence in this new investigation.

[Update 2016-11-08: The FBI has finished looking through these latest e-mails, and found nothing to change their previous conclusions, as reported by CNN in FBI clears Clinton -- again. But, just as I suspected, this hasn't put the matter to rest like it should have. Trump himself claimed, "You can't review 650,000 emails in eight days. You can't do it, folks. Hillary Clinton is guilty," and many of his supporters seem to be echoing similar sentiments. Of course, as explained in the Wired article, Yes, Donald Trump, the FBI Can Vet 650,000 Emails in Eight Days, the FBI certainly does have the resources and technology to do this. But it seems like no matter how many investigations clear Clinton, there's a certain group of people who will refuse to accept the findings, and go on to new accusations or conspiracy theories about why she must be guilty. It's a mindset discussed in another article, Clinton's critics know she's guilty, they're just trying to decide what she's guilty of: The Prime Directive driving bad Clinton coverage. Don't be one of those people. Clinton has been thoroughly investigated over the email issue, and the FBI has found nothing to charge her over.]


Outside of the e-mail scandal, Benghazi seems to be what I see brought up the most in opposition to Clinton. But it really seems like a mostly manufactured controversy. There have already been 10 congressional committees, 33 public hearings, 4 public hearings, and 13 reports investigating what happened in Benghazi (source), none of which found any major wrongdoing on Clinton's part. Shouldn't that be enough already?

To borrow from something I wrote previously, here's one of the better discussions of Benghazi I've read, Christopher Knox's Quora Answer to Why is Hillary Clinton blamed for Benghazi attacks? Is she responsible for the security failure and the deaths?. It really covers the whole thing quite well, putting the attack into perspective without trivializing it. Here's one of the more interesting graphs he used.

Attacks on U.S. Diplomatic Targets

Again, this isn't to trivialize what happened, nor say that Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration didn't make any mistakes in Benghazi. I'm just saying to keep it in perspective. Attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets are, unfortunately, a reality. There were 13 similar attacks under the Bush administration without anywhere near the uproar this attack has caused (not to mention the vastly more deadly 9/11 attacks on American soil). This incident has already been investigated extensively, without finding any egregious mistakes. And while the nation should try to learn from each of these attacks to improve safety in the future, it seems wildly out of proportion to spend so much time and expend so much effort on this one attack, in particular. It seems much more like a witch hunt than a sincere effort to learn any lessons. It's time to quit politicizing this attack, take what legitimate lessons could be learned from it, and try to minimize the risk of similar attacks in the future.


I'll admit that Clinton wasn't my top pick at the start of the primary season. But at this point, it's not even a close contest as to who is the better option. Donald Trump is unhinged, uninformed, incompetent, racist, and a compulsive liar. He would make a horrible, horrible president, and would be a disaster for both the U.S. and the rest of the world. This man absolutely must not become the next President of the United States. To quote from The Atlantic one final time:

If Hillary Clinton were facing Mitt Romney, or John McCain, or George W. Bush, or, for that matter, any of the leading candidates Trump vanquished in the Republican primaries, we would not have contemplated making this endorsement. We believe in American democracy, in which individuals from various parties of different ideological stripes can advance their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters--the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box--should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.

« October 2016 | Main | December 2016 »