Damn the Inconvenient Science

The recent commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy by the President was remarkable for many reasons.  At a time when so many difficult international challenges cause concern for our national security, why would he choose to focus on climate change?

New England and PEI 2009 (104)

Yes, climate changes, it always has and it always will!  But the President’s speech presented deeply flawed arguments based on absurd assumptions.  Does the President believe that humans can somehow control global climate or even prevent the climate from changing?  Does he believe that the climate that existed at some arbitrary time in the past was superior to the climate we experience today?  Does he believe that changes to the climate in the future will necessarily make circumstances worse for humans and all life?  Why would he use this occasion to sound this particular alarm, and expose his profound ignorance of this matter at the same time?

Others with unassailable scientific credentials disentangled the Presidents claims and warnings in his speech.  One writer identified 24 specific statements about climate in the speech that were known to be untrue or at best highly debatable.  This President, like most of the other 42 men who preceded him in office, does not claim to be a scientist.  It is obvious, therefore, that he’s listening to his political advisors, and he’s pandering to his base.  Damn the inconvenient science anyway.

It is difficult to comprehend the complexity of the construct known as climate.  The sun is a primary driver of atmospheric dynamics.  Trying to describe some hypothetical average weather for a specific region or for the entire planet is a fool’s mission.  Our sun is a variable star.  Our distance and orientation to the sun is always changing in pseudo-cycles related to seasons, glaciations, and ice ages.  The Earth itself is another important driver of changes in the atmosphere because of the heat from nuclear fission in the core, mantle, and crust that ultimately reaches the oceans, continents, and the atmosphere.  And yes, it is definitely true that human activities change climate.  Average weather conditions around and in modern developed areas are distinctly different than when the land was an untouched forest, desert, marsh, grassland, tidal basin, barrier island, or mountain valley. For thousands of years, we have modified local weather conditions where we live and produce the fruits of our diverse cultures.   All life changes the environment and the atmosphere in profound ways, not just human life.

Trying to predict how average atmospheric conditions will change in the future is not possible because our scientific understanding is not sophisticated enough.  Seemingly chaotic events unknown to us could change everything, overnight, over decades, over centuries and over the millennia.  For proof of this, just take a look at climate change in the past, in the historical as well as in the geological record.

This entire debate can be elucidated by a very simple equation.

C = A + N

Climate change (C) is necessarily the sum of anthropogenic (A) and natural (N) causes.  There are two unknowns on the right side of the equation.  Science has not determined the extent to which our human activities cause climate change, and no scientist can say how the average weather conditions of the earth or a region might have changed, if humans were not present.

The President and his political advisors argue that (A) is greater than (N), significantly greater.  They assert that using carbon based energy sources in modern societies is the cause.  They also assume that limiting the use of those energy sources will reduce (A), and consequently (C), to near zero.  Furthermore, they believe that (A) is bad and (N) is good.  Ironically, (N) is known to have catastrophic consequences for humanity, while (A) is usually manageable.  Finally, they justify the cost of reducing (A) without comparing that to the cost of adapting to (C).   According to most economists who have studied these issues, the President’s plans require enormous costs with differentially negative impact on the poor and especially those that live in underdeveloped areas of the world.  The benefits of the President’s plans are negligible and likely immeasurable, except perhaps to the bank accounts of the political action committees and candidates that appeal to extreme environmentalist causes and organizations.

Graduates of the Coast Guard Academy do have an important, even vital, responsibility to protect our national security.  I hope they consider their future challenges in a more rational manner than was presented to them during their commencement ceremony.

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Religious Freedom

cropped-img_06471.jpgThe United States Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion.  The Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993, which passed Congress with nearly unanimous bipartisan support before being signed into law by President Clinton, endorses this constitutional guarantee.  The vast majority of states have similar laws and court rulings further securing this natural liberty.  Religious freedom is one of the founding principles of our representative republic.

Why would some national media outlets and networks, among others, criticize the State of Indiana for recently enacting such a law?  I can think of only three possible explanations: 1) they are ignorant of the law and the Constitution; 2) the editorial predisposition of these news organization is in opposition to the free exercise of religion; and 3) Indiana enjoys conservative leadership and a possible aspirant for the presidency in 2016.

For most of us, our beliefs provide a moral framework for greater civility.  Tolerance of our differences, be they religious, ethnic, gender, skin pigmentation, and even our transient judgements about the daily happenings in our lives, certifies our continuing viability as a people and as a sovereign nation.  Stifling the free exercise and expression of diverse religious beliefs is not religious tolerance.

Contrary to the failed arguments of the politically and ideologically motivated talking heads, the free exercise of religion does not give license to criminal or civil violations.  No matter what your religious or irreligious motivations, you are not allowed to break the law, and this includes laws regarding discrimination.

Historically, nations dominated by a single national religion tended toward tyrannical rule.  Nations with two or few competing religions often descended into chaos and civil war.  Ironically, the multi-ethnic, multi-religion character of the United States results in greater tolerance of diverse religious perspectives.  Maintaining that tolerance is vital to our prosperity.  We should do everything in our power to keep governments out of our personal and spiritual lives.

Whatever your religion, I hope you have a wonderful day on this glorious Palm Sunday, 2015.

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Unintended Consequences

new-germanwings-airbus_300dpiToday, the world is trying to comprehend why a commercial pilot would intentionally fly an airplane into the side of a mountain.  Undoubtedly, there will be suggestions for preventing such tragedies in the future.  Ironically, it appears this horrific occurrence at least partially resulted from previous efforts to make air travel safer.  What can we learn from this?

Many years ago, an old friend in the higher education world told me about a library at a large urban college that realized that significant numbers of books were missing from the collection every year.  Students would check them out and lose them or just not return them.  Other books would disappear without a trace and were assumed to be stolen.  The chief librarian reported over two hundred books per year on average would be lost, just from those that were stolen.  In order to put an end to this unacceptable circumstance, extra security personnel were hired, and cameras and other technology were installed to catch the thieves.  The outcome was amazing as they reduced the number of lost or stolen books by nearly 50 percent, a savings of almost ten thousand dollars in the first year alone.  They were proud of their success, until the college budget officer calculated the cost of their solution.  It was obvious the bean counter and the librarian had different priorities.

The story is illustrative of the mistakes we make when we don’t carefully consider the consequences of our good intentions.  In other words, we don’t understand or agree upon our goals, and we fail to do a risk/benefit analysis.  In this case, the librarian wanted to stop book theft, while the budget administrator wanted to reduce costs, both worthy goals, but neither were achieved.  An optimal solution would have eliminated the theft of books while also reducing the operating cost of the library.

In an airplane, locking the cabin door does keep people with bad intentions from gaining access.  Unfortunately, it also stops the well-intentioned from preventing tragedies.

Sometimes we are guilty of knee-jerk reactions to our daily frustrations, grabbing onto the first solution that comes along, or just doing something and hoping for the best.  In my experience, legislative bodies, bureaucracies, and well-meaning activists are most often guilty of this, with unfortunate outcomes for the rest of us.

Congress seeks compromise solutions to seemingly important problems.  Then they describe their actions in ways that benefit them politically, ignoring the unintended consequences.

The EPA, the FDA, and the FCC, among many others, introduce regulations that appear to solve or prevent certain problems, but in time they commonly make matters worse and more expensive.

Highly motivated activists often suffer from mass delusions, fervently committing to their causes.  The worst offenders try to silence the opposition by various tactics including character assassination or worse.  They give little consideration to the logic of their intentions.

How safe can we make air travel?  How clean can we make our air?  What global climate do we want to make?  Can we make the Internet better through regulation by the government?  Are more people benefiting from affordable health care?  Can we deport 10 million illegal immigrants?  What energy sources make sense for modern life on our blue planet?

We are inundated with examples where the cure is worse than the malady.  Sometimes, we cure the uninfected while killing the victim.  We just shake our heads and go on with our lives.  Our folly is self-correcting after all.  Even if the correction is not in the best interest of humanity.  Oh!  Why else would we act?

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A Blessed Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!  Laurie and Norm in Destin - 20141030This is my favorite holiday because it reminds us of our many blessings.  The greatest of these being the many friends and family members who enrich our lives on this day and throughout the year.  Laurie and I wish each of you a most blessed Thanksgiving.  May God Bless You and Yours!

Most of us are unaware of the history of this Thanksgiving Holiday in our country.  With the help of Wikipedia, I gathered the earliest statements and proclamations which established this tradition.  I hope you enjoy reading these as much I do.

In the fall of 1621 following a successful harvest, William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony wrote.

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

On the same occasion, Edward Winslow added this statement published in Mourt’s Relation.

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

During the Revolutionary War in 1777, The Continental Congress offered The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving which was drafted by Samuel Adams.

For as much as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please God through the Merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, Independence and Peace: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.

In November of 1782, the following proclamation was signed by John Hanson, the President of the Continental Congress, and Charles Thomson, its Secretary.  There were several such “national days of prayer, humiliation, and thanksgiving” during this period and into the terms of George Washington and John Adams.

By the United States in Congress assembled, PROCLAMATION.

It being the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the giver of all good, for His gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner, to give Him praise for His goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of His Providence in their behalf; therefore, the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of Divine goodness to these States in the course of the important conflict, in which they have been so long engaged, – the present happy and promising state of public affairs, and the events of the war in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils which is so necessary to the success of the public cause, – the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them, – the success of the arms of the United States and those of their allies, – and the acknowledgment of their Independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States; Do hereby recommend it to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe and request the several states to interpose their authority, in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the TWENTY-EIGHTH DAY OF NOVEMBER next as a day of SOLEMN THANKSGIVING to GOD for all His mercies; and they do further recommend to all ranks to testify their gratitude to God for His goodness by a cheerful obedience to His laws and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

Done in Congress at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.

The very first Thanksgiving Day designated by the newly established government of the United States of American was declared on October 3, 1789, by President George Washington.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Presidents Washington and Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1795, 1798, and 1799, but there were no such declaration while Thomas Jefferson served as President.  President James Madison proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1814 at the conclusion of the War of 1812.

President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November 1863. The proclamation was written by Secretary of State William Seward.  The establishment of an annual day of thanksgiving should be credited to Sarah Josepha Hale who wrote a series of editorials on the subject.  She is the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.  Because of her campaign and this proclamation issued by President Lincoln, our Thanksgiving Holiday has been celebrated every year since 1863.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”

Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863.

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Whose Anger is Justified?

Ferguson RiotsIf you watched the news these last few days, you were likely bombarded with images of violence in the streets of Ferguson, as well as in New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Chicago among others.  You saw some people filled with rage, and you watched as they acted out their emotions by burning buildings, looting, turning over cars, and expressing their feelings in unfortunate ways.

If you turned on the sound, you heard commentators, government officials, experts, and members of the general public expressing their opinions about the cause of the violence and the state of the nation.  If you changed channels, turned the dial, or opened different websites, you witnessed an amazing range of perspectives.

What justifies rage?  Why do we let our emotions overtake our reasoning?  Don’t look for answers here.  I am just an observer like most of you. I confess to feeling deep emotions and even anger at the images and opinions I see and hear.

Instead of trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong, try to understand what is happening.  Try to empathize with the families, the members of the grand jury, the witnesses, the authorities, the peaceful protesters, the local business owners, and the media.  Try to grasp what motivates those committing all sorts of despicable and violent acts right in front of our eyes?  Understanding their actions is a struggle, perhaps an impossibility.  I am incapable of putting myself in their shoes, of seeing the world as they see it.

What angers me?  It is seeing human beings act irrationally, whether they are torching a police car because they hate the police, or behind a microphone making statements that are obviously untrue.  Irrational behavior takes many forms, but when the intentions are malicious and self-serving, and when the consequences are harmful to others, something must be done and rational leaders must come forward.

In the last few days, I’ve seen incredible examples of emotional hijacking where people let their emotions shut down their brains.  They seem to act like animals, but even that is not fair because animals rarely act in ways that are contrary to their own interests.  My dog would never intentionally poop in her own bed.

Irrational behavior is dangerous!  Its manifestations spread exponentially, like a chain reaction.  A word elicits a frown, which causes a scowl, which results in a punch, which leads to a death, which motivates a riot which leads to more death and destruction which ultimately destroys a society.   In this sequence, there are times when thoughtful people can and must intervene to prevent the escalation.  Ideally, they must act as soon as there is a frown, and before the first scowl.  If they allow the punch, it may be too late.

The people of Ferguson started down this path of destruction within minutes of the death of one of their own.  For some, their grievances find origins unrelated to this or any current events.  They are long-simmering.  This present insult opened old scars and brought many sympathizers, as well as those who wished to exploit this tragedy for their own harmful purposes.

What can be done now?

  1. The agitators, hooligans, and thugs must be arrested and dealt with through the criminal justice system.  There should be zero tolerance of their destructive behaviors in our society.  As long as these people remain to incite and enrage the mobs, chaos will continue.
  2. Thoughtful and credible people within the community need to take charge.  They should gather their fellow citizens together, listen to their grievances, and work together to find solutions.  Through this participative process the community can heal and forge a constructive vision for its future.  A critical mass of people in the town has to invest in such a positive outcome.
  3. The community must work together to assist those who have been harmed by this unfortunate episode.  They may not realize it now, but if they do trust in each other and commit to finding solutions, a renaissance for Ferguson is possible.

The media needs to change its approach.  Sensationalizing cherry-picked tragedies distorts our perspective.  In a society of over 300 million people, there will be bad news, every day of the year.  The networks and the mass media publications have a responsibility to provide perspective and to help their readers and watchers to understand what happened and why.  It is not enough to just horrify us and look for people to blame.  We need adults reporting the news to us.  Each network, every publication, and even colleges of journalism should take a look at themselves and ask what they can do to improve society, not just sensationalize its failings.  We the people need to turn off and refuse to buy their distortions.  Only the fittest will survive, but we the consumers define which is the fittest.

Ironically, we learn as a society.  These terrible experiences get our attention, unlike a thousand normal days.  I remain optimistic about the future of our country.

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The POTUS and the Null Set

White HouseImmigration is a good thing!  My wife and her family came to this country through the legal process and became U.S. Citizens.  In my family, we have English, German, Hispanic, and Irish relatives, among others, who immigrated to this country only one or a few generations removed.

Our country was founded by immigrants!  Even the indigenous peoples who met the European explorers migrated to our hemisphere from other lands on the other side of the world.  All modern humans are the descendants of migratory people.

Our immigration laws and policies are not working.  According to the media, political leaders, and government officials, there are millions of people here illegally.  Obviously, this is not supposed to happen.

What do we do about this?

Enter the President of the United States who says he’s tired of waiting for Congress to take action.  He appeared on a number of television networks last night in prime time and announced an executive action ostensibly to solve the problem for about five million people.   In order to be included under his order, immigrants must satisfy at least four criteria.

  1. They must be parents of U.S. Citizens.
  2. They must have been in the United States for a minimum of five years.
  3. They must pass a background check to determine if they have committed any crimes.
  4. They must pay all back taxes owed on earnings while in the United States.

This is an amazing set of conditions.  On first reading they may appear entirely reasonable and even compassionate.  On further analysis, I’m wondering if anyone could possibly satisfy all four criteria.  Could anyone prove it beyond reasonable doubt?

Under the current interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, anyone born in our country is a citizen, even if the child’s parents are not.  A large number of children become U.S. Citizens in this way every year.  Some of their parents are here legally, migrant farm workers and others on student visas or with green cards for example.  The President’s order does not apply to these parents who have legal documents authorizing them to be here.   So the plan only deals with the subset of parents of U.S. citizens who are here without documentation.  How will they prove they’ve been here five years?  Would they have to prove they never left the United States, even for a few days or even a couple of hours?  Why not four years? Or three years?  Or ten years?  Only parents of U.S. Citizens without any immigration documentation who can somehow prove they have been here at least five years are eligible to come forward for consideration.

A criminal background check determines whether a person has committed a crime.  If it is known that these parents of U.S. citizens entered the country and stayed for at least five years without proper authorization, then they violated immigration laws and possibly other laws as well.  Unless they are pardoned, they cannot pass a background check.

If someone resided in our country for at least five years and was gainfully employed, they should have paid income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes.  Under the President’s plan, these parents of U.S. Citizens, who are here illegally, who somehow pass criminal background checks, and who owe back taxes, would then be required to pay those taxes before satisfying the requirements of his executive order.  How will we know how much they owe?  Did they work under false documentation and identification?  If so, this should disqualify them?

Well there you have it, a null set.  No one need apply, because no one could possibly satisfy all these requirements.  The President apparently violated the Constitution and his oath of office issuing an executive order that pertains to no one.  He managed to irritate more than half the country, while taunting the very constituents he hoped would applaud his actions.  Furthermore, he created a bureaucratic nightmare guaranteed to frustrate large numbers of legal and illegal immigrants.

I need a drink.

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A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

Tis but thy name that is my enemy

Thank you William for bringing Juliet to life so she could speak such profound truth.  What difference does it make what a thing is called?  The smell is that of a rose, even if it is called rafflesia or perhaps eastern skunk cabbage.  Such errors in nomenclature do not alter the truth, a rose is still a rose.

We cringe, especially when the error comes from a person of influence or authority. If a distinguished botanist should name that rose a dandelion, we would surely roll our eyes, but we would set a child straight without a smidgen of acrimony. It is, after all, a teachable moment.

Why would a botanist call a rose a dandelion? Why would a chemist call carbon dioxide carbon? Why would a world leader call a vital component of our atmosphere a pollutant? The truth endures, words succumb. Consider the source and the motive.

Carbon is not the same as carbon dioxide, but today there are headlines in almost every major newspaper announcing that China and the United States have agreed to cut carbon emissions. In fact, very little carbon is emitted in the United States. On the other hand China does emit great quantities of carbon in the form of soot. The agreement has very little to do with soot. It is about carbon dioxide.

To a chemist or a biologist, referring to carbon dioxide as carbon or carbon pollution is crazy. Why don’t they call it oxygen?  Carbon dioxide molecules are mostly oxygen, about 73 percent. That surely would be confusing, but calling it carbon is just as illogical, if not as confusing. Is it deception? Do they believe we will more likely go along with their schemes, if they call it a dandelion?

Why do we call carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas when it has nothing to do with greenhouses or the greenhouse effect? A greenhouse heats because warming air cannot escape.  In the atmosphere, molecules of water, and to a much lesser extent carbon dioxide, absorb infra-red, converting molecular vibrations into increased translational motion which is what we call temperature.

Why do they call it carbon pollution? It is not carbon and it is not a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is a natural, even vital component of the atmosphere. Without it, plants would die and animals would soon thereafter starve to death.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in our environment is quite variable. On top of the Hawaiian volcano, Mauna Loa, air that has been collected, purified, and dried to remove all water vapor has an average carbon dioxide concentration of about 395 ppm, although this varies with the seasons. In an airplane cabin, the concentration may be above 1200 ppm, because of all the people breathing. Plant nursery owners pump carbon dioxide into their greenhouses to accelerate plant production. The atmosphere above the ice in Antarctica during the recent glacial period contained less than 200 ppm carbon dioxide. There are daily and seasonal cycles of carbon dioxide concentration in the air, as well as geographical influences. Plants and certain geochemical processes remove it from the atmosphere, animals and other geochemical processes add it back. The oceans of the world contain most of the world’s carbon dioxide and much of this originates from the oceanic crust and the mantle beneath it. Some of the carbon dioxide dissolved in the global oceans escapes into the atmosphere as the water is warmed by the sun and other forcings. Additional carbon dioxide in the oceans combines with calcium and other minerals to form carbonates.  Has anyone asked why we should try to manage the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere?  What concentration would you like?

So, please!  A rose is not a dandelion and carbon dioxide is neither carbon nor a pollutant. Stop trying to deceive us.

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On Being Offended

Two PigsIf I call you a Pig-Skirted-Hog-Mistress, you might be offended. But I have every right under the U.S. Constitution to call you that and any other name I choose.  How we react when we feel offended by verbal abuse hurled in our direction, is completely up to us.  Freedom of speech is a guaranteed right, but freedom from offense is not.

Sometimes we forget that we’re in charge.  We forget that feelings are emotions, and we can decide how we respond. For some weird reason, I sometimes find myself calling my dog Chicken-Lips, but she doesn’t seem to mind, in fact she wags her tail in apparent delight. She chooses not to be offended by any of the silly names I call her.   If someone calls me a jerk, that does not mean I’m a jerk, it might not even mean the person thinks I’m a jerk.  How I react is up to me.  I might laugh, but whatever my reaction, it is mine and I own it.  If my anger takes over, it’s because I lack control of my anger.

Calling someone a jerk is allowed under our laws, but punching someone in the face is not. Children are less likely to have learned this lesson.  Adults are supposed to have matured, which means their brains have developed constructive strategies for dealing with their experiences and their emotions.  Our actions should follow reason, no matter how justified our emotional response.

Back in the 1960’s a misguided do-gooder, who was actually a law professor, petitioned the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) under its Fairness Doctrine to require broadcasters to provide balanced programming whenever addressing controversial issues. In responding to this petition, the FCC commissioners thought they could avoid offending people by controlling what was allowed to be said over the public airways.  It took about two decades for the courts and common sense to rectify the harm from this absurd attempt to control speech.  There is an excellent opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal today by Robert Corn-Revere, Free-Speech Foes Call an Audible: Bringing the FCC into the ‘Redskins’ debate is an invitation for First Amendment mischief, providing some historical perspective and explaining why such inclinations to control speech are dangerous and also unconstitutional.

I fail to comprehend why someone would feel offended when they hear the word Redskins spoken on the radio or television, or even if they are in the stadium.  It is an irrational response.  No one in the audience is being called by that name.  We would expect that everyone associated with the team is proud to be considered one of the Redskins.

There is nothing inherently derogatory about red skin, white skin, black skin, purple skin, green skin, or brown skin.  They are just rather inaccurate descriptions of various skin colors.  Are some colors good and others bad?  In this case, it actually refers to the red paint that brave warriors put on before going to battle, not to the color of their natural skin.  Seems like a good name for a football team entering an athletic contest.   Ironically, the team colors are burgundy and a yellowish hue.  Perhaps they should change the team name to the Burgundy Integuments.

If someone is offended by Redskins, perhaps someone else is offended by Cowboys.  (See my most recent post on Reactions at DocStephens.org)   How about the Cleveland Indians, who are mistakenly named after a sub-continent half-way around the world.  Should we cease calling Oklahoma by its name when we find out it means “red person.”  How about the Hoosiers of the Indiana University?  Isn’t it about time we corrected that Columbian blunder, and surely, Hoosiers can’t be a good thing.

Some people seem to find joy in being offended. I consider it a character flaw.  Why should I allow anyone to control my emotions or my reactions?  For God’s sake, keep the FCC and the government out of this and similar issues.  If you can’t stand hearing the word Redskin when watching a football game, change the channel and go see a psychiatrist.

Oops!  I hope I didn’t offend anyone.

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The NFL: Protecting Endemic Peoples and Ungulates

It’s disgusting, and we need to do something about it immediately! The most surprising aspect of this controversy is how long we’ve endured this offense without anyone taking action.  This is why I am so delighted that the FCC and U.S. Patent Office are finally considering various interventions.  Thank the deity who shall not be named in a secular forum.

The FCC does not believe certain words should be uttered in prime time broadcasts because they deride and denigrate whole groups of people, adversely influencing impressionable young persons as well as others of certain sensitivities.  As George Will shared in his Washington Post Column on October 15, 2014:

 . . . The FCC petition argues that broadcasting the word . . . is akin to broadcasting obscenity and pornography, is hate speech and an ethnic slur that keep[s] alive the spirit of inhumanity, subjugation and genocide and may cause violence. . . . Besides, it is a nuisance, defined as something annoying.

First of all, they aren’t boys, they are definitely men. Referring to grown adult men as boys is just unacceptable.  Additionally, men are males, not females.  It is beyond ridiculous that grown men should be compared to female Bovinae, one of ten genera of medium to large-sized Ungulates.

Cow in a Field of DandelionsEveryone on the team and indeed everyone in this second largest of our states should be highly offended.  They should demand immediate action on the part of the FCC and the U.S. Patent Office. Obviously, the National Football League is incapable of acting responsibly in this matter.

Please, contact your Congressperson now!  We need an Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting all annoyances whether intentional or otherwise.  There is no legitimate justification for offending another person in an enlightened society.

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Education and Happiness: Reminiscing on a Saturday Morning

A long time ago, at least a thousand years it seems, I taught environmental science classes for first and second year college students. Most of these students were undecided about their majors and their futures, but quite sure neither would be in a field of science.  Mathphobia was a common affliction, and avoidance was a common behavior.  The realm of mathematics was entered with a certain degree of stealth, kind of a sneak attack.  This was one of the most popular science courses for these students, at least partly because very little mathematics was required, and also because the subject matter was relevant to their lives.

Environmental science is considered an interdisciplinary field of study like earth science, astronomy, meteorology, and oceanography, among many others.  Introductory college courses such as these play an important role in the curriculum, because the big ideas of science and mathematics can be presented through the application of relevant course content.  A student could learn quite a bit of biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics, and it could be relatively painless.  I say “relatively” because I just remembered one of my favorite complaints from a student.

That’s not fair, Dr. Stephens, your teaching us stuff we don’t already know.

It was a branch campus and we had a very small science department, consequently, many of the students also enrolled in other courses I taught. Some went on to study more advanced science and mathematics.  A few even pursued careers in related fields, but recruiting science majors was not my goal.

Everyone who earns a college education should understand basic principles of and about science and mathematics, but it is even more important that they learn how to learn. In my opinion, the most critical outcome of a college education, or education at any level, is the drive or motivation to learn and to keep learning for the rest of our lives.  I also hope educated people are humbled as they grow, to respect all they do not know, and to appreciate what others with different knowledge, skills, and experience may offer.  In fact, one reason for seeking a formal education it to protect us from our own ignorance, as well as the ignorance of others.  The more we experience in life, the more we realize how much there is yet to be discovered, and the more we may question what we learn or experience.

The good life is about learning.  It turns out we are happiest when we are striving for greater competence and seeking greater challenges.  My goal as a teacher was to help my students appreciate this important idea.

Happiness-Competence-Challenge - Graph

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