Inauguration Speech

I had low expectations for this speech, but it was worse than I expected. Full of nonsense. The idea that people in Nebraska see the same sky as people in Detroit shows that the man has never looked up at night in either place. His vision of the country is the darkest I have heard from any President. He talks of bringing jobs back to this country, but he clearly has no comprehension of economics. We are below 5% unemployment. It does not get better than that. Twenty million people stand to lose their health insurance under Trump and the Republicans. Not a single word about this issue appeared in his speech.

The Trump Hitler Nexus

The Albany Times Union printed a column by Harry Rosenfeld “Trump’s Rise Mirrors 30s Hitler.” He makes the point quite well, citing numerous “congruities” between Hitler’s statements and those of Donald Trump. As readers of this blog know, I was on this comparison quite a long time ago.

Here we are with Trump almost in office. The talk yesterday in the press was about Trump’s plans to create a registry for muslims. What form will this take? Despite all their propaganda, the Nazis were not slow to realize that you cannot tell a person’s religion or even racial background just by looking at them. To identify Jews, they resorted to forcing them to wear a standardized Star of David on their clothing. What will be the modern-day equivalent of this for the muslims? A bar code on their credit cards, their social security or medicare cards, their green cards?

Don’t tell me it cannot happen here. It can.

A Quick Primer on Climate Change

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents a consensus of scientific assessments of a wide body of evidence. Some of the key elements that people need to understand are as follows:

  1. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. This means that it absorbs radiation from the sun and dissipates the energy by moving more energetically. This movement is what we feel as temperature.
  2. The concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from 285 ppm to over 400 ppm since the beginning of the 20th century. Climate models of increasing accuracy have estimated the effect of this on temperature and produced estimates of increases of several centigrade degrees. These models accurately describe past temperatures, and they agree that in the future the temperature will continue to rise, by anywhere from 2 to 5 centigrade degrees by the year 2100.
  3. The increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere arises from combustion of fossil fuel. Scientists know this because they have done the math. The amount burned so far accounts for the increase in the concentration of the gas in the atmosphere. Another piece of evidence is that the extra carbon bears the signature of fossil fuels, in that it has less of the isotope carbon-14. This isotope is constantly produced in the upper atmosphere by irradiation of nitrogen gas. Plants pick this up and ultimately pass it along to animals and other organisms. When organisms die, the spontaneous breakdown of carbon-14 is not compensated by any further uptake of new carbon-14, so the amount of carbon-14 declines in their remains. Coal, gas, and petroleum are the remains of organisms long dead, and thus thoroughly depleted in carbon-14. So what do we expect to happen over the course of decades of burning this material? We expect the relative amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere to decline. That is exactly what is happening, and furthermore the decrease agrees with the amounts of petroleum gas and coal that we have burned.
  4. Worldwide temperatures have increased by about one centigrade degree since the beginning of the 20th century, and in places the temperature rises have been considerably greater. The effects of this have been manifold: glaciers have melted, sea ice has decreased, tropical marine ecosystems have migrated away from the equator toward the poles, and the ocean itself has gotten warmer as it equilibrates with the air. There are many additional signs of the effects of increased global temperature cited in the IPCC report.
  5. The character of a biome, that is the organisms that live in a given area, is determined by temperature and rainfall. As temperatures rise worldwide, whole biomes will be affected. The response will be largely an increased number of extinctions, because, despite evolution’s tendency to favor the emergence of more adaptive forms, this emergence is generally not rapid, even for a single species, much less so for the large collections of species that make up a biome such as a tropical rain forest or a temperate deciduous forest like the one I live in. Evidence indicates that when there is an extinction like this that is spread over the whole planet, it takes about 10 million years for evolution to restore the original level of biodiversity. The new organisms will not just re-create the old ones. They will be very different for a host of reasons. The world of that distant era will be unrecognizable to us and possibly inconsistent with our survival, just as the world of today is different from that of the dinosaurs.


How Do We Know What is Established by Science?

What does it mean when we say that something is scientifically well established? Scientists who seek to learn something new do not know what others are studying at a given moment. They thus work with some degree of urgency, because others might discover the answer to the question they are exploring, and publish it first, getting the credit for it. Being second to publish an important finding is like kissing your sister. Nice, but not a thrill, for most. There is another force at work though, and that is the need to get it right the first time. If your evidence is poor, or poorly interpreted, and you manage to publish it, you are at considerable risk of somebody else publishing a correction. This is like getting spanked in front of house guests. Embarrassing, mortifying even. People have been known to change fields or get out of science altogether. Now and then there are frauds who deliberately publish false results. They are quickly detected and debunked by other scientists who are only too eager to show them up. Most often such people are unable to find work in science after that. What does not cause problems is if somebody discovers something new that causes a revision in current theory. This is the point of scientific inquiry.

The December 11 Albany Times Union ran an article about various comments Donald Trump has made on climate change. Most recently he said nobody knows if climate change is real. At a rally he asked for a show of hands to see how many believed in climate change. Another time he claimed he jokingly called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Other reports say he is about to name a climate change denier from Oklahoma as head of the EPA.

This shows not only Mr. Trump’s ignorance but also that of a large part of the public. Sadly, many people do not understand science and technology, even though their lives depend on these endeavors. We all drive cars, use electricity, and most of us get our annual flu shots, all of which depend absolutely on science and technology. People act as if they believe in science and technology, even if they say that they do not, or are they not sure, or that “nobody really knows.”

People with an investment in outmoded ideas on evolution or climate change are apt to say – “Oh, that is just a theory.” This exploits a simple error of language, where a single word can have two quite different meanings. In layman’s language a theory is a hunch, even an unlikely hunch. But in science a theory is a collection of well tested ideas that explains a large body of information, such as evolution, or gravity, electromagnetic radiation, or climate change. It is extremely unlikely that any scientist, let alone a lawyer or a politician, could come up with a scientifically credible refutation of any of these theories.


Trump’s Disastrous Election

About all the intelligent people on earth were shocked by Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton. People are trying to make sense of it in retrospect; we’ll see what comes out of the analysis.

My own feeling is that we are heading into a dark future. Trump really is a vile person, based on his public statements, and he knows almost nothing about government, based also on the lack of substance behind his public remarks.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Missed Most of the VP Debate

I have to confess I missed most of the debate between Kaine and Pence last night. I had in part a legitimate excuse, because it was a Tuesday night and my wife and I had a rehearsal to attend about 40 minutes’ drive from home. However, on the way back, she tuned in NPR to listen. Only a few seconds was enough to exasperate me, because Kaine, Pence, and the moderator were all talking at once. For me, especially due to severe hearing loss, this is an extremely frustrating experience. But even for fully hearing people I am sure it is unpleasant at the very least, and almost certainly confusing.

When we got home, the debate was still on, and I tried to watch if for a bit. The tendency to talk simultaneously was still there, the interruptions by one candidate or the other making it impossible for either one to get his entire argument across. And then, Pence was particularly annoying with his tendency to run on, overextending any reasonable time limit. Still, I hung in there until the moderator asked them to tell how their faith influenced them. This was the limit. I went upstairs to prepare for bed.

My wife reported back that Kaine had won the debate, largely because Pence could offer no real defense to Kaine’s questions about his tacit support for some of Donald Trump’s more egregious statements. I was glad to hear that of course – nobody should vote for Trump. But I was not sorry to bail out on the religious discussion.

To my mind asking a candidate about his faith in such a setting ignores a fundamental fact about our government: it is secular. The Founding Fathers knew the history of Europe only too well: the centuries of warfare between Protestants and Catholics being foremost in their minds. They reasoned that the problem stemmed from the attempt to force one religion or the other on one whole country or province, with government endorsing one religion or the other. So the Founding Fathers laid down the law in the Constitution that no religious test should be applied to anyone seeking office. This implied, surely, that also in private life no person should be persecuted by the government for his beliefs.

Of course, in reality there has been religious discrimination in this country. Jews, Muslims, and Catholics have in the past been effectively barred from public office. But over time the Constitution, and the general moral progress of our culture, have granted, gradually, full religious liberty as far as public office is concerned. Prejudice by some believers against other religions persists privately, but it is to be hoped that ultimately this will subside.

Under this understanding of the Constitution, the attempt by some to impose their religious views on others should be condemned. So, if for example you have religious grounds for opposing capital punishment, you have every right to use any argument to try to outlaw it, but you do not have the right to prevent legal executions or impose unilateral sanctions on those who carry them out. Similarly, if you are opposed to abortion on religious grounds, you have every right to offer any argument to persuade people not to have them, or to try to regulate them, but you do not have the right to block access to clinics or to shoot doctors who work there.

This is not the place I choose to argue about the substance of either of those two issues, which I know came up in the debate. But the general perspective, that religion should not be a test of political eligibility and that the law holds sway over personal religious opinion, seems to me the only one consistent with our Constitution.




A Vocabulary for the 2016 Election

Here are a few words, whose meaning people might like to reflect upon.

1. Narcissim

– ˈnärsəˌsizəm/
noun: narcissism
1. excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.
synonyms: vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-centeredness, self-regard, egotism, egoism
“his emotional development was hindered by his mother’s narcissism”
antonyms: modesty

o Psychology
extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
o Psychoanalysis
self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.
Example: Donald Trump, Hitler, Stalin, Joseph Mengele, Marylyn Manson, OJ Simpson, Paris Hilton
2. Bigot

: a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)
Example: Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler, Henry Ford, Ian Paisley
3. Ignoramus

a person who does not know much : an ignorant or stupid person
Example: Donald Trump, George W. Bush, to cite two. Actually there are not many famous ignoramuses according to my internet search…maybe there is a reason, such as nobody usually pays attention to  ignoramuses?
4. Default

noun: default; plural noun: defaults
1. 1.
failure to fulfill an obligation, especially to repay a loan or appear in a court of law.
“it will have to restructure its debts to avoid default”
synonyms: nonpayment, failure to pay, bad debt
“the incidence of defaults on loans”
Example – Repeated recourse to the bankruptcy law to avoid paying the full amount of debts, as in Donald Trump’s behavior in Atlantic City. Or simply devaluating the dollar, as suggested by Trump to deal with debt owed to foreign investors
5. Reckless

adjective: reckless
1. (of a person or their actions) without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.
“reckless driving”
synonyms: rash, careless, thoughtless, heedless, unheeding, hasty, overhasty, precipitate, precipitous, impetuous, impulsive, daredevil, devil-may-care; More

Example – the idea suggested by Donald Trump that we encourage other countries to acquire nuclear weapons so that they can defend themselves instead of depending on us.


An Independent Defense of Hillary

One of the things that has puzzled me over the years is the extent to which Republicans have attacked and vilified Hillary Clinton. They seem to think that persistent mudslinging will eventually stain her character. Now it turns out that an independent analysis has documented just what happened. In the 1990s William Safire wrote a column attacking Hillary for telling lies and suborning perjury in connection with a decade-old business venture called Whitewater. Formal investigations followed. It turns out that there was not a shred of truth in any of these charges. Safire never retracted his claims, and instead, despite having been disproved, they became a right-wing mantra. A second point, based on an analysis of polling trends, shows that whenever Hillary announced a plan to run for office, her poll numbers declined. When she succeeded to the office, however, her poll numbers went up. What explains this? It is pretty simple: misogyny. The idea of a woman seeking power is unpopular with a significant number of men. Fortunately, when the woman does a good job, at least some have the good grace to admit it. In essence, that is it. Here is a link to the article.

The claim that Hillary is a liar and not to be trusted is itself nothing but a Republican lie.

Hillary Speaks

She gave one of the best speeches I have every heard tonight in Brooklyn. In a conversational tone, yet speaking to millions, she talked of American values and pointed out how woefully short of living up to them Donald Trump is. She spoke about the power of working together. She rightly spoke of the influence of her own mother and how great it would have been if she could have witnessed the nomination of her daughter to be President by the Democratic Party. She rightly told us that Trump’s slogan “Make American Great Again” was code for “Let’s Go Backwards.” It was  brilliant.


Hillary Wins Nomination

The AP polled all superdelegates- Democrats in public office for the most part- and discovered that the number committed to Hillary has gone up. This, and her new delegates from Puerto Rico, put her over the top.

New Jersey will make it even bigger; there is no way she will be denied unless there is some unprecedented massive change of heart among Democratic leaders. Not likely given Sanders’ limited time as a Democrat.

Create a free website or blog at