Friday, October 7, 2016

Survival of the republic, dangers of democracy, hope of the future.

Just because a candidate is popular with a large plurality, majority, or even an overwhelming majority of voters doesn't mean that candidate is the right one for the job. In 1972 Nixon won with 47,168,710 votes to McGovern's 29,173,222, a 60.7% to 37.5% super majority of nearly 2:1, and a staggering Electoral vote majority of 520 to 17. McGovern only won Massachusetts and DC. Yet 2 years later Nixon resigned in disgrace, thus avoiding impeachment by the House and his likely removal from office by the Senate. So a vast majority of voters were terribly wrong about Nixon. I was one of them - that was my first election I could vote in, and our state was very "red." 
Think long and hard before you vote. There are consequences if a majority of us get it wrong. (Think Germany, 1934. While Hitler wasn't elected, he was VERY popular!)

This isn't deciding whether to order fries or onion rings, and that's part of my point. The other point is that people can be wrong, in great numbers, as I stated, but there is more to this equation: Our constitution was set up to, in part, prevent the "tyranny of the majority", which is why I will always support efforts to maintain our republican form of government and oppose efforts to change to a "pure democracy." The House is set up to represent a limited number of people, so, for instance in Colorado, Boulder County's district is sure to send a Democrat to Washington and El Paso County's district is sure to send a Republican, and so it goes across the states. Denver can't dominate those votes, or all our Representatives would be Democrat. But the Senate is set up so that little Wyoming, Delaware, and Nebraska have as much say as Texas, New York, and California, otherwise the more populous states could take what they want from the smaller states; and make no mistake, they would if they could! So back to the presidential race, we must think carefully about who to vote for for president, but we must think about the House and Senate candidates with equal seriousness. The country probably runs best when there are disagreements between the houses of Congress and the President. Compromise is not a bad thing. It often happens that polls will find that people will vote for both party's candidates, one for President, another for house or senate. Another plus is, terms are of limited length. A lot of people who voted for Bush or Obama the first time didn't vote for the same person the second. We can replace a Representative after 2 years, and a Senator after 6. We often don't, but it does happen. G.H.W only served one term, but his son served two. McCain's reelection is not guaranteed this year, even though Arizonans seem to like him and respect him. Yet Colorado's District 5 Representative, who is disliked by a large number of people, can't lose, no matter how hard the Democrats try, because this district is so very Republican. Usually, the Democrats don't waste much time trying here. Yet our Democrat Senator is likely to win reelection, because his Republican opponent is not very strong, nor strongly supported. 

There is the additional issue of assertions made on Facebook and Twitter and etc. "The sky is really green" becomes #greensky and an online movement that supports the unsupportable is born. I am not so cynical as to lose hope, though, in part because of the many young people I've had the privilege to know as a teacher, many of whom have or will become participants in our society and will, in their own way, continue moving us toward greater sanity. They are far more self-aware and aware-of and inclined to do something about issues that concern them than we are led to believe in our meme-driven Facebook discourse. So are they also far more tolerant than their elders of those who are different from them, whose experiences and views might illuminate life beyond what they themselves have known, and accepting of the power of love: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Thus, hope lives.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The "Taming" of the American West

This is in response to a discussion about the Oregon Trail on a Smithsonian page that took a turn when someone noted the "theft" of the western lands from the original inhabitants.
...and one person said they had understood that the natives of the plains and westward did not practice "ownership" of the land...

My response:

They had historic claim to being the occupiers of an area, and they fought with other tribes over hunting grounds and such. Ownership of land as such was not familiar to them. They also moved around some as climate changed and made one place more desirable than another, and so got into it with those who had already been there before them. The best book I know of to help one understand what happened 150 years or so ago to the Lakota is "Crazy Horse - The Strange Man of the Oglalas" by Mari Sandoz. She interviewed Lakota who knew him and his contemporaries, and people who heard stories from their parents who knew him and even fought with him. Before the numbers of white emigrants became too large, they were rather tolerant of those traveling the Oregon Trail, but Americans were fulfilling their "Manifest Destiny" and conquest was the norm in the world, (and appears to still be so) and so conflict was inevitable. For the most part, individuals were not the aggressors, but when communities were formed and especially when the Army became involved the natives became the enemy, and we know the rest of that story. I grew up where the primary inhabitants for centuries were one Plains Indian tribe or another, where buffalo were in such great numbers before whites took over that they could be felt shaking the ground before they were seen. The coming of Americans had the effect of completely changing the west, for better or worse, but certainly permanently. I, therefore, benefited from the vanquishing of the Lakota, but had nothing to do with that action, but I can regret many of the specifics of what happened. Stay at Ft. Robinson State Park, and you can stand where Crazy Horse was murdered (yes, that is the correct term), and you're not that far from Wounded Knee, which is a stain on our history, yet you can also go into town and shop next to a member of the Lakota, like I went to school with some. The past forms our present, but I am no more responsible for the actions of my people 150 years ago than I am for my Viking ancestors who terrorized western Europe 1000 years ago. But I can feel for the modern Lakota who are still on a reservation and have a hard time getting by, and support efforts to recognize our checkered history and rectify some things with the descendants of those who were wronged in the past.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"The Science" is rarely "settled" but Politicians lie as a matter of course.

This political cartoon claims to sum up the science of climate change, but what it sums up is the politics of climate change debate from a climate-change-denial point of view:
Done properly, science is rarely "settled." Research of climate change is ongoing and will be, probably, for the foreseeable future, because as new data is analyzed and old data reanalyzed with new tools, new information is revealed.

Climate change was proven to be a real phenomenon over 100 years ago by a climate researcher named Ellsworth Huntington. He did not prove global warming, nor was that his intent, but his evidence, gathered worldwide, showed that within human history and prehistory climate had changed and forced human migrations, as well as other effects. Over the course of the last century many researchers joined that field, including me, for a time. 

One thing that has been known for some time is that we are in an "interglacial period." Research shows that as long as there is a continental mass covering one pole, currently Antarctica over the South Pole, there have been recurring ice ages separated by warmer periods. The question is "what drives the changes from global ice age to global warming and back again?" The science of tree-ring research, which I was involved with, began with the hypothesis that sunspot cycles appear to coincide with temperature changes and might be a causal factor. To date that causal relationship has not been confirmed, and Tree-ring scientists aren't lying that it is. Science is rarely that narrowly focused. Other data show the possibility of other relationships that are then researched. 

One line of research has shown that fossil fuel use frees carbon that was trapped in the earth's crust for millions of years, and freed carbon combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas. Climate researchers use weather data recorded for some time, and tree-rings are able to store data of their growth as it relates to precipitation and temperatures, and other methods of determining past climate have been developed. So now, a link has been discovered between the advent of the industrial age and subsequent warming. There is now sufficient data to support that link, strongly. Within the climate research community there is still debate only about the extent, duration, severity, and time of onset of the life changing effects. 

Scientists, however, are no longer in control of the public discourse, because of politics, so the scientific finding of a link between human activity and global warming is a political "football". The politicians co-opt whatever they can to bring attention to themselves for the purpose of making a career out of their time in office, and whether they are using "science" or "family values" or "ecological disaster" to help themselves, make no mistake: they care little for the truth. 
The news media are more than happy to jump in and fan the flames, because that's how they make their living. 

The "actual climate change pronouncements by scientists" are, by and large, pronouncements by politicians and news and pundits, most of whom have a bias for something other than science, such as the bias for the energy industry by politicians from oil and natural gas and coal states. This isn't intrinsically bad, but must be accounted for in public discourse. What is inexcusable is lies about scientific research, which industry is known for. See: the tobacco industry. See: Volkswagen regarding their vehicle emissions compliance.

"Science", done correctly, is investigation of hypotheses, (and on toward confirmation or rejection of those hypotheses) and cares little about political results. Scientists, of course, are human and may say things like this cartoon presents, even falsely, but that doesn't mean all of science is untrustworthy. The Spanish Inquisition doesn't nullify the primary message of Christianity; Richard Nixon's failure did not negate the Republican Party's tenets. It is not a falsification of science that there are changes in the conclusions drawn from one study to the next, because scientific discovery is not static. People thought the Earth was the center of the universe, then scientists found out it isn't. "Doctors" thought disease was caused by unbalanced bodily "humours", then scientists discovered bacteria and viruses. 

Science done correctly is messy, uncertain, changeable. Politicians and news purveyors want absolutes, and that's really not science. Eco-warriors and energy corporations also want "their" truth accepted for opposite reasons, and for opposite results. Meanwhile, one disproven study (one!) connects autism and vaccines and some people are sure the science is "settled" in that case. Why trouble with science when a celebrity "knows the truth?" 

Another politicization of science is the substitution of "climate change" for "global warming," instead of substituting "human-caused global warming" (aka, anthropogenic global warming) because that's what we're really talking about. It's been done in part because "global warming" sometimes doesn't look global in particular locations. Many know about the "Medieval Warm Period" from about 950 to 1250 A.D. What is not so well known is that while glaciers around the world have yielded evidence of retreating during that time, one area in the Andes Mountain Range had glaciers that advanced. Why? Most likely, the warm period resulted in increased snowfall over those watersheds, which causes glaciers to advance, if temperatures are fairly similar to before. So in addition to a general warming that changed Europe geopolitically and ethnically (see "Vikings") there may have been increased rainfall in some places, in contrast to the known decrease in rainfall that accompanied the increase in temperatures in the American Southwest, which caused a change in the dynamics of the ancient peoples who had lived there for so long. You can thank this period for Mesa Verde, so to speak.

As previously stated, climate change is proven and irrefutable. You can even stand in Central Park and see outcroppings with gouges left by ice sheets thousands of years ago. Likewise, "interglacial period global warming" is real, or there would still be ice sheets on top of Manhattan and Omaha. The debate is about man's role in the now measurable acceleration of global warming. Make no mistake, we are warmer, measurably, than our Grandparents were when they were kids at the turn of the 20th century, warmer than their Grandparents were, and especially warmer than their Grandparents were. There is also the need to separate "weather" and "climate." One extra hot summer does not confirm warming, as one extra frigid winter does not refute it. Even a difference over 100 years does not prove or disprove, which is why scientists are drilling ice cores in Greenland and the Antarctic, and seafloor cores around the globe. It's why many geologists specialize in looking for indicators of past climate in rocks and in fossils - to look even further back.

The climate record, along with modern remote sensing (NASA's satellite data over several decades), and even observations that we in the general public can make with our own eyes (visit Glacier National Park and see for yourself the extraordinary reduction in size of the glaciers for which the park is named in one century). All of these together require serious scientific investigation into the effects on the human population, and to determine if there is anything we can and must do to slow or stop it. There will be another ice age soon enough, in a geological time frame, but we won't have to worry about that for uncountable generations. In the meantime, rising sea levels will be moving a lot of people inland around the world. There is no way to fake the increases in flooding disasters that are videoed and reported many American coastal communities. They're not getting any better.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Anti-Public Education could ruin the USA.

The "reform" movement has become an anti-public education movement, and some people are swayed to think that there is now a need to put kids in private and "charter" schools instead. The school district I used to work for even had 3 or 4 of them on the school board for a term (thankfully, it was not a majority). They are not "reformers" - any good teacher can talk to you for hours about what needs reforming in education - they are, instead, destroyers. 
They want your tax dollars to support private, especially secular, education. To do so, they have to make public education worse, less effective, so destroying collective bargaining and thus reducing pay and job security makes it harder to attract good people. (Ooooh! Collective bargaining! Unions - hissss! Charter schools don't have collective bargaining and their principals may get paid the same or less than an experienced public school teacher). 
The longer this exists, the less effective teachers and support personnel will be. This self-fulfilling worsening of public schools will make it possible to elect more legislators who will gladly support private education with taxes required of you. What is never discussed is that, because of the "equal protection" guaranteed by the Constitution, the wealthy will be subsidized to send their children to schools most would not be able to afford even then; every Christian denomination, with their infinite variety of Bible interpretations, will be subsidized by your tax dollars and still take the tuition of their adherents; Morman, Muslim, Buddhist, Rastafarian, Wiccan, Communist, Atheist, 'ad infinitum', schools will be subsidized by your taxes and also collect tuition from their adherents. Some of these schools might even teach extremist hatred for the USA and the west. To children. With the help of your taxes.
Yet the vast majority of our leaders, good and bad, were educated in public schools, starting with Herbert Hoover. Some of the most disliked leaders, at least by many (FDR, for example) were educated in private schools, or tutored at home. Expensive, exclusive, private schools.
     But, we went to the Moon thanks to public education! Most of the great Universities in this country are LAND GRANT Universities (Google it, you'll be amazed at the foresight of some politicians a long time ago!)
     Many people are convinced by conspiracies, an increasing number thanks to the internet. Where are they on the ongoing attempts to destroy public education?
A lot of people want their children to be taught things in public school that are secular in nature: Creationism, no evolution or geologic time,etc. Fine, teach that in your private schools, but you have no rights to my tax dollars, any more than an extremist Imam has the right to my tax dollars to subsidize teaching the evils of the Great Satan, the USA.
It's not about taxes, it's about the future of this country!