The Past Isn’t Dead – It Isn’t Even Past

Two Harvard University researchers announced Friday that they have found a second parchment manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence in a tiny records office in southern England. bostonglobe.com

This news gives me a bit of a thrill. History is fascinating and important. Sometimes it puts America in a good light and sometimes not.

I recently listened to a panel discussion on Book TV by three authors who have written about terrible crimes wrought on Native Americans by the American government and people in the 1800s – the word genocide applies. Meticulously documented using contemporary written sources, this horror was no secret at the time. The atrocities have slipped from our national consciousness.

Every nation and people have horrors in their past. Whether we “should” teach the bad as well as the good depends.

  • Why do we study history?
  • Why teach it in school? At what age and in what detail?
  • How should good and evil be balanced?
  • How should we portray people from a different era, with different beliefs?

These aren’t simple questions. I might add a question about beloved tales. George Washington chopping down the cherry tree is not true, but it’s a lovely story many of us learned and want to share with today’s children. Should we? Some citizen committees who review textbooks have said yes.

There are more important historical issue: Continue reading

Americans Battle Over Coverage and Ignore Real Healthcare Problems – this is pitiful

I ran across two interesting articles on FiveThirtyEight related to health care. It’s good to understand the history of our weird hybrid system and important to know the facts – but depressing.

[A Department of Health and Human Services

Congress argues over a band aid on America's health care

As one of my favorite science fiction franchises says, the answer doesn’t make any sense unless you know precisely what the question is.

report says] health insurance marketplaces set up by Obamacare were relatively stable in 2016. Contrary to the “death-spiral” narrative, the CMS report found that the mix of healthy and sick people buying insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces in 2016 was surprisingly similar to those who enrolled in 2015.

That doesn’t mean the marketplaces are working for everyone. There are millions of people who don’t qualify for subsidies, face high prices in the private market and likely haven’t enrolled in insurance as a result. That’s a problem that needs solving, but it’s a different problem than the marketplaces being in a death spiral.

The agony of repeal and replace is unnecessary – the current political agony and future individuals’ agony if the CBO’s estimate of who loses health care is roughly correct. A bipartisan effort to repair the dysfunctional parts of the Affordable Care Act (drop Obama’s name and maybe the Red Team will feel better) could succeed. Especially if followed by an honest effort to tackle the nation’s real problem – rocketing health care costs. Continue reading

This Should be an Expression :)

International Potato Center - yes, there is one!We’ve posted several times on GMOs (genetically modified organisms, usually in the context of food crops) and this meme captures part of the arguement for GMOs perfectly. Let’s make “being a firefighter in a very slow truck” a new expression. Write down this meme so we’ll remember where it came from. Choose one of our GMO posts from here.

Thanks to a facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/cipotato/

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Climate Change

Photo by John Englart (flickr.com)

Photo by John Englart (flickr.com)

My Facebook feed has been abuzz lately with postings from a Progressive friend about climate change. As one might expect, the view from that side of the political street is not looking good.  One particular article put forward the ultra-gloomy contention that human-caused global warming is likely irreversible and most of the world will soon become unfit for human habitation even if we exceed the most ambitious goals proposed in the Paris Accords to curb our carbon emissions.  The crux of the authors’ hypothesis is that present CO2 levels are already so high that vast areas of permafrost in the sub-Arctic are starting to melt.  Permafrost contains huge amounts of methane, a gas with almost ten times the heat retentive capacity of CO2.  Release of even a small portion of this entrained methane will cause a warming feedback loop which will raise global temperatures at an exponential rate, melting more permafrost and releasing more methane.  The result?  Catastrophic warming that may very soon and very quickly progress beyond our ability to slow it down, let alone reverse it.

As is usually the case with climate change literature, the dire outline of the scientific problem is followed by a proposed political solution.  Our slim chance of survival, say the authors, hangs on humanity  suddenly acquiring the wisdom to reject the nationalist, capitalist economic/political model that has landed us in this frying pan and put Big Government in control of, well, everything.  The Ship of State needs to make a sharp turn, and we mean right now!

Hmm!  Putting aside the obvious inconvenience that ships, especially the State variety, are seldom capable of sharp turns no matter how urgent the need, what exactly would this course correction look like?  A possible answer comes from another Facebook post, from the same source.  It linked to a group calling itself The Climate Mobilization.  Their stated goal: To transition the US to 100% renewable energy within the next 10 years, by whatever means necessary.  I paid a visit to their website for a look at these  “means” and found they are right out of the Radical’s Handbook; boycotting and blockading businesses and whole industries, general strikes, massive protests and other “non-violent interventions”.  Their timetable warns of their intention to “escalate until we win!”  Does this sound like anarchy itching to be unleashed?  I thought the idea was to turn the Ship, not sink it. Continue reading

Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Update

320px-Rocky_Flats_refuge_003The Rocky Flats Homesteaders (Rocky Flats retirees) July 2017 news letter provided an informative discussion of what is going on with the Refuge. Sadly, the Fish and Wildlife Service has put a hold on developing the visitor center for the Refuge. Anti-Rocky Flats activists have filed a lawsuit alleging the center “…violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

The activists continue to protest the place despite the fact the Plant has been closed for over a decade. And they have a financial interest in their protests. That’s proven by the fact they are seeking to recover costs and attorney’s fees in their lawsuits.

Let’s Try Something Else.

No-major-partyTired!  That was all I could feel the day the Senate released its plan to replace Obamacare.  Not only had Senate Republicans formulated their bill in virtual secrecy, they had somehow seen fit to leave out nearly every free market cost control idea that they had promised to include.  No negotiation on Medicare drug prices.  No interstate competition for insurers.  Nothing to force hospitals to publicize their price structures.  No tort reform to protect doctors and hospitals from spurious lawsuits.  Nothing but a mildly saner version of the House’s previous work; in short, nothing to make their newly acquired blue-collar voters happy or to actually make the Affordable Care Act affordable, either for the country or its citizens.

It was as if Congress had determined to live down to its single-digit popularity rating.  After facing for months the stiff and steady verbal breeze coming from Senators Warren and Sanders, et. al. about how the only real solution to the healthcare conundrum was complete capitulation to Big Government and Bigger Debt, I had hoped the GOP would counter with a remotely defensible alternative.  Nope.  All they did was infuriate half the nation and disappoint the other half.

And so it goes. Democrats and Republicans, apparently dedicated only to the preservation of their respective tribes, each more  interested in blaming the other for the woes befalling the Republic than in fixing them.  The political landscape has become a living civil war battle site; one army led by a clinically demented megalomaniac seemingly devoid of empathy and the other rendered virtually leaderless as its sclerotic old guard struggles against semi-anarchic newbloods for whom no amount of empathy is enough.  As the war of words escalates with every rant and tweet, the temptation among the general populace to hunker down and disengage becomes stronger. Does anybody really want either of these two crews of zealots running things?

Continue reading

GMOs – Why It’s Not an Argument We Can Solve With Facts

tomato_plant.svg.medI once read that, if two scientists have a disagreement, it’s easy to solve. They get more facts. And if they can’t get more facts, they happily have a beer together – friends until more facts arrive.

We’ve posted a number of commentaries about GMOs (genetically modified Organisms) on this site. There’s a new documentary that tries to address GMOs from a factual, scientific perspective. They even have Neil DeGrasse Tyson as the film’s narrator. (To which I say – why would an astrophysicist know anything about GMOs? I’m not sure that helps.) But as this article explains, they will fail to change anyone’s mind.

Even if you took the time to painstakingly verify all the claims and counter-claims, most people aren’t interested in listening or changing their minds based on the evidence… In reality, it ought to have admitted that what [GMOs are] facing is an ideologically charged debate that, like climate change, is increasingly immune to facts.

What about Monsanto?
For many people, the GMO debate isn’t over science. It’s over big tone-deaf uncaring corporations (bad guys) who send lawyers to public meetings vs friendly boutique farmers and consumers (good guys) who shake hands at farmers’ markets. Monsanto often fell into the stereotype, trying to side-step local concerns and throw their political weight around. It didn’t help than one of the first GMO crops to get publicity was a soybean that could be sprayed with Roundup. Great – allowing more poisons to be used on food. I continue to think that if the first major GMO had been Golden Rice the conversation would be different. Too late now.

GMO opponents can’t be dismissed. They use a piece of heuristic reasoning that often serves well: I listen to people like me who had time to investigate. Given how big the world is and how much effort it takes to research any significant topic, this is inevitable. I use the trick myself. And given the history of Big Tobacco’s assault on science, having the title doctor in front of someone’s name is no guarantee they can be trusted. The battle of the experts has become standard in law and the media.

So what are we going to do? About GMOs? Climate change? Contraception – gun violence – immigration – healthcare? This list is long. It will be a long sad slog back to a place where we can all find someone to trust.

It must start with a renewed dedication to facts. And with so many people rewarded for their BS this won’t be easy. But we’ve got to do it. Some people are trying. What ideas do you have?

We’re technical folk on this site and search for facts, so if you’re interested, more of our GMO posts are here.