Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Party Of Non-science

      If you have been following my blog, you know that I am not very happy with President Obama's approach to solving the country's problems. But at least his activities are grounded in reality – I do not believe they are based on a disbelief of modern science. I cannot say the same about any of his Republican rivals, and that has me concerned.
     The recent hurricane has people asking the question: Was Irene a result of global warming? And the answer has two parts: (1) No one knows, and (2) That's the wrong question. It is impossible for anyone to say whether a particular phenomenon is a result of global warming; hurricanes have been around since long before global warming began.
     The proper question is: Should we expect more such catastrophic phenomena as a result of global warming? And the answer is: Absolutely, including not only hurricanes, but also extremes of temperature, droughts, floods and tornados.
     As the glaciers melt, the water level in the oceans rises – as a result, any oceanic surge caused by a meteorological phenomenon, e.g., a hurricane or a tsunami, will cause flooding further inland. In addition, the primary energy source of a hurricane is water vapor; as the oceans warm, more water vapor will be created which will lead to stronger hurricanes.
     A study released in January, 2009, concluded that, “Human-induced global warming is real, according to a recent U.S. survey based on the opinions of 3,146 scientists. However there remain divisions between climatologists and scientists from other areas of earth sciences as to the extent of human responsibility.
     “The strongest consensus on the causes of global warming came from climatologists who are active in climate research, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role... Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in human involvement.”
     "The petroleum geologist response is not too surprising, but the meteorologists' is very interesting," said Peter Doran, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the survey's authors. "Most members of the public think meteorologists know climate, but most of them actually study very short-term phenomena."
     However, Doran was not surprised by the near-unanimous agreement by climatologists."They're the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you're likely to believe in global warming and humankind's contribution to it.”
     Compare that with recent statements on the subject by the current front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination:

     Mitt Romney (06/04/2011) “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course,’’ Romney said. “But I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that … so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.’’
     Mitt Romney (08/24/2011) “Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is,” Romney said, as reported by Reuters. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans...What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to,” he added. Blogger: Waffles anyone?
     Rick Perry (08/17/2011) "I think we're seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. He said some want billions or trillions of taxpayer dollars spent to address the issue, but he added: "I don't think from my perspective that I want to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question." (It's true the theory is being questioned, but not the way Perry means it – more and more climatologists are questioning whether forecasts of dire consequences are strong enough.)
     Perry's home state of Texas releases more heat-trapping pollution carbon dioxide – the chief greenhouse gas – than any other state in the country, according to government data.

     Recently, 97% of biologists surveyed replied that there was no controversy within the field between intelligent design and evolution. Neither intelligent design nor creationism has any scientific support.
     But biology is not the only science dependent upon evolutionary theory for its success. If evolution is not factual, radioisotope decay rates are not constant, and the entire theory of nuclear physics crumbles. A collapse such as that would destroy all of physics, followed by chemistry, biology, geology, palaeontology, thermodynamics and cosmology. What do our candidates have to say about that?

     Mitt Romney (While governor of Massachusetts.) “In my opinion, the science class is where to teach evolution, or if there are other scientific thoughts that need to be discussed...If we’re going to talk about more philosophical matters, like why it was created, and was there an intelligent designer behind it, that’s for the religion class or philosophy class or social studies class.”
     Mitt Romney (05/11/2007) “I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe...And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”
     He was asked: “Is that intelligent design?”
     “I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.” Blogger: More waffles?
     Rick Perry (08/18/2011) In response to a question from a little boy in New Hampshire, "I hear your mom was asking about evolution...That's a theory that is out there - and it's got some gaps in it."
     Perry then told the boy: "In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution. I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."

     State education experts told the Texas Tribune that Perry is not quite right about what's taught in the Lone Star state's public schools. David Bradley, a conservative member of the Texas Board of Education, told the Tribune that nothing prevents a teacher from talking about creationism but "it is not specifically in the Texas curriculum."
     Other Republican runners are equally hostile to evolution - Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul support the teaching of creationism.

     It appears the Republican Party candidates, and by inference, the Party itself, has decided to disbelieve the well established underpinnings of modern science. How many science-illiterate students can we graduate before the competitive edge of the United States disappears? Can we afford to regress to the 19th century? It could happen if these throwbacks get control of the educational purse strings.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We Need A Singable National Anthem

      An article in this morning's newspaper is headlined “Mennonite college drops U.S. anthem.” The article goes on to state that Goshen college in Indiana is dropping the national anthem in favor of “America The Beautiful.”
     The school had never played “The Star Spangled Banner” before sporting events until last year, saying the image of bombs bursting in air was too violent for a college whose motto is “Healing the World, Peace by Peace.” At that time the college opted for an instrumental version of the song, with a review after one year.
     The year is up, the “Star Spangled Banner” is out and “America, The Beautiful” is in at Goshen.
     Of course, this decision is not very popular with many people, who consider it unpatriotic.
     But I don't understand why this is so. Regardless of the song played primarily at sporting events, I still love my country; I see no reason why it cannot have an anthem with beautiful words, and a melody in a singable range.
     Some of you may remember that I wrote about this subject on January 28, 2010. I am taking the liberty of repeating that posting here:
     Congress adopted “The Star Spangled Banner” as our national anthem in 1931, although it had been recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889. For most of the 19th century, “Hail Columbia” was used at official government functions, and “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee” was also used prior to 1931.
     Originally a poem written by Francis Scott Key after viewing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, “The Star Spangled Banner” was later fitted to the melody of a drinking song written for The Anacreon, a men’s social club in London. The following are the words to the first of six verses comprising the Anacreontic Song:
To Anacreon* in Heav'n, where he sat in full Glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That He their Inspirer and Patron wou'd be;
When this Answer arriv'd from the jolly old Grecian,
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I'll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot,
And, besides, I'll instruct you like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine.”
     In my opinion, Congress chose the wrong song, and I know I am not alone in this. An octave and a half in range, there is no key in which to write it that is comfortable for most singers. If it is in a decent range for the sopranos, the basses can easily hurt themselves on the high notes, and if it’s OK for the basses, the sopranos have to be suffering from laryngitis to hit the low notes.
     One song that has been suggested as being “better” is “God Bless America.” There are several reasons why this is not a good choice, but the primary one is that it does not fit the definition: Anthem, n. a song, as of praise, devotion, or patriotism. (Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary.)
     “God Bless America” does not fit that definition - it is more of a prayer than an anthem. Besides, what is the meaning of the phrase “…and guide her, through the night with a light from above?”
     My personal choice is “America, The Beautiful.” It fits the definition, it is a reverent poem of praise set to beautiful music, and above all, it is easy to sing. It’s range is only a ninth, four notes shorter than the “Star Spangled Banner.”
     But that’s just my opinion.

*Anacreon (Greek Ἀνακρέων) (570 BC – 488 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, notable for his drinking songs and hymns.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Difference Between “Old” And “Age”

     I recently attended the 65th reunion of my high school class. It was a simple affair – it consisted of a buffet lunch, looking at old pictures, and drifting around the room greeting people we had not seen for many years.
     But we didn't need a special program. It was surprising how quickly and clearly memories of long forgotten events came flashing back upon hearing a key word or two. Most were good memories, although there were occasional recalls of events that perhaps would have been better left in the hidden section of the mind. I do not think anyone deliberately mentioned any forgettable event – they arose as a byproduct of some more pleasant discussion.
     In some cases it was not even necessary to say anything to bring back a memory. I was introduced to one lady who turned out to be a flame which was extinguished at graduation. (I almost said an old flame, but with post-youths such as I am, I hesitate to use the term “old” when referring to anyone my age or younger.) Anyway, she is still a nice looking lady, although definitely no longer my type if she ever was, but it was nice to see her again.
     Some recalled events brought back that fleeting feeling of immortality which teenagers seem to have in excessive amounts, even though at our present age we would frown on that type of hijinks. These were events that illustrate perfectly the saying that middle age is the time when one's narrow waist and broad mind change places (fortunately).
     During the get-together I came to the realization that, even though all of us were retired, and had all come through the same boom times and recessions, Republican and Democratic administrations, wars and peace, etc., I was looking at two almost mutually exclusive types of post-youths. (By this time you may have guessed that I hate the term “senior citizen.”)
     Type one reads the news, gets excited about parties (wine and cheese as well as political), travels, emails and “friends” on Facebook; in other words, type one enjoys reaping the fruits of all those years of labor.
     Type two sits in the house watching the Game Show Network or reruns of I Love Lucy and Texaco Star Theater featuring Milton Berle. It is as if type two individuals are just sitting around waiting to die.
     I realize there are some of us who, although unable to participate in the passing stream of events for physical reasons, have no choice but to sit quietly while life passes them by, and for those I truly feel sorry. But I feel even sorrier for those who could actively participate in life, but choose not to.
     I have come to the conclusion that “age” refers to how long one has walked the earth; “old” is a state of mind. There is no connection between the two.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Government Regulations And Common Sense

     I live in a retirement community, which has, as a part of its facilities, a Healthcare Center for those elderly people who need 24/7 nursing care. As such, the Center is subject to state standards of operation.
     Government inspectors come in, sometimes without warning, to assure that the required standards are being met. Such a drop-in occasion occurred on a recent Saturday morning.
     Because no such center is perfect, our center received some deficiency tags; it is my understanding that the average inspection turns up an average of eight such tags. Here are a few of the deficiencies for which our Center got tagged:
  1. The inspectors were at our premises for four days. During that time they spotted three flies in the building. A tag was issued for a pest control deficiency.
  2. One patient arrived at the facility on Friday afternoon, the day before the inspector showed up at 9:00 am. The patient brought with her a small container of artificial tears, an over-the-counter medication which she needed because of a dry eye problem. She had the container on the table next to her bed. A tag was issued because she had a medication that the doctor had not prescribed.
  3. Four patients were seated at a table waiting for lunch to be served. The meal came for three of them, but the forth had to wait a few minutes for his meal. A tag was issued for the lack of dignity which he suffered.
     I realize that standards are necessary for nursing facilities, but it seems to me that there are enough sub-standard situations which actually affect the comfort, safety and well-being of patients, without nit-picking such as this. Am I wrong?
     According to Wikipedia, a spoonerism is an error in speech or a deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched.
     Distortion of Construction – There Are Only Seven Jokes.

      “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

News Flash: Obama Has Switched To The GOP

     Not officially, of course, but the recent actions of the Great Comproloser certainly mirror those of his “loyal opposition.” In spite of Dick Cheney's remark that “deficits don't matter,” the Republican strategy for insuring that Obama is a one term president consists of carping about, what else? The deficit. (Cheney would probably not be conservative enough to run for office as a Republican in 2011.) And it might work, but Obama should know better than to join them.
     But the problem is not the deficit, it's jobs, jobs, jobs.
     On August 5, 2011, Standard and Poors lowered the Federal Credit Rating from AAA to AA+, a rating that most businesses would love to have. Expectations were that the government would have to pay a higher rate of interest in order to borrow money through T-bills, Treasury Bonds, etc. One week later, August 12, interest rates on government securities were at an all time low. Lenders still consider Uncle Sam the worlds safest debtor.
     The reason given for S & P's action was that the bickering between Congress and the President over cutting expenditures gave the impression that the government was incapable of controlling costs. So a compromise was fashioned which guaranteed that if the various branches could not come to some sort of agreement, costs would be cut using an ax rather than a scalpel. I predict that they are going to need the ax.
     Now I will let you in on a secret, or more likely a subliminally known fact, which no one wants to acknowledge: just as there is no free lunch, there is no free government funding cut. Someone always, always pays. If education is cut, kids pay immediately through a smaller number of available courses and larger class sizes, and eventually everyone pays because of an under-educated work force. If fire and police and air traffic personnel are axed, everyone is less safe at home, in the streets and in the air. If highway construction and maintenance are reduced, expect more potholes and other dangerous conditions. (In Pennsylvania alone, of the 25,000 state-owned bridges, 6,000 are considered structurally deficient. Some day soon someone is going to drop into the river.) If health care expenditures are cut, a smaller number of people have access to medical attention and more people die due to untreated conditions. I could go on, but you get the idea.
     The government should be taking advantage of today's historically low interest rates to create jobs by upgrading and building highways, power grids and other public utilities, airports, railroads, national parks and conservation projects. It does not take a huge stretch of the imagination to understand that working people buy products, which creates more demand, which leads to more working people.
     Recessions are not cured by cost cutting – they are cured by prosperity. The great depression of the 1930s might still be with us if that greatest of all stimuli, WWII, had not come along.
     This does not mean that prudent cost cutting is out of order. Here are a few possibilities:
     The tax code should be rewritten to set fair rates, and to eliminate loopholes and credits for businesses that send jobs overseas. Profits should be taxed where they are earned instead of where “corporate headquarters,” in some cases only a post office box, is located.
     Megafarms, those with annual profits in the millions of dollars, should not receive subsidies.
     Stock traders should pay a small tax per share traded, say, a quarter of a cent, in order to correct the artificially high stock market value, which today is set by high frequency traders. It would cost the trader of 10,000 shares a mere $25, but the HFT who trades ten million shares per day would pay $25,000. At a profit of .02 per share, such a trader would be forced to compete instead of running rough-shod over the market.
     Cutting the Pentagon budget is also under consideration in the Congress. As to be expected, the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, is claiming that we would not be able to adequately defend the country with less resources. That would be more believable if we were not already spending as much on defense as are the next twenty countries of the world combined. In addition, considerable money could be saved if we were to limit our wars to countries which present a danger to the U.S.
     The so-called entitlements need to be tweaked to provide for future recipients. (I don't understand why “entitlements” are a bone of contention – it's not as if the people receiving them had not paid for them.)
     The suggestions listed here are only a beginning – I am sure that many more projects and savings can be found. In any case, we need a real leader who can bring them to fruition. I cannot think of a single such person in either party.
     Not so in English. Obviously, the wrong word order can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
This characteristic of the language is a source of jokes for Category 5, Distortion of construction.
     Distortion of Construction – There Are Only Seven Jokes.

      “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

You Don't Have To Pay Your Bills ...

     … if you are the United States of America. At least that's some many members of Congress seem to think. That's what the recent Debt Ceiling debacle was all about.
     The U.S. does not borrow money to pay current expenses – it borrows money to pay items for which it is already obligated. If Congress wants to cut expenses, it should do so by curtailing spending through the budget process - not by refusing to pay bond-holders, government contractors and Social Security recipients, any more than an individual should just refuse to pay his mortgage or utilities.
     The standoff was not a matter of the two sides being unable to reach an agreement; the idea that there was a disagreement was invalid from the start. It was similar to the case of a firefighter who lights fires because he likes to extinguish them.
     Columnist Donald Kaul has come up with a good analogy:

     The commentators who say that the two sides were for so long "unable to come to an agreement" are laughable.
     It's as though your unpleasant neighbor has come to your door and said: "Give me your dog."
     "No," you say. "I like my dog."
     "If you don't give me your dog I will shoot him," the neighbor says.
     "You can't do that. It would be wrong," you say.
     At which point the neighbor shoots your dog. You take him to court to seek justice and the judge says, "It seems to me your dog is dead because you two couldn't reach an agreement."

      What is this Debt Ceiling? In 1917, as the U.S. entered World War I, Congress authorized the Treasury to issue long-term bonds to finance the war, but in order to convince the public that our representatives were keeping an eye on things, they placed a limit on the amount of debt that the government could issue. It has been routinely raised many times since then.
     The question is: What good is it? What does it accomplish? And the answer is: Nothing. Why bother. If you create the obligation, pay it. If you don't want to pay it, don't make the obligation. It may be that too much is being spent, but you need to curtail the expenses – not abandon the obligation to pay them. Control them through the budget – not through an artificial limit.
     That appears to be pretty simple, but our representatives don't seem to understand it.
     Unfortunately there are many more horses' asses than there are horses, but why do we keep electing them?
     In some languages the subject of a sentence is indicated by its ending. If words are written out of their normal sequence, the reader can still make sense of the sentence. For example, in such a language, if I write “man bites dog” when I really mean to write “dog bites man,” the reader still understands what I mean to say because the ending of “dog” indicates that it is the subject, not the object, of the sentence.
     Distortion of Construction – There Are Only Seven Jokes

      “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Recession Guaranteed

      Our Congressional economic experts have finally agreed on a compromise that will enable them to raise the government's debt ceiling. That's good news, right?
      Well, yes and no. Yes, because the nation will be able to keep its promises to creditors, and no, because they have just guaranteed that the longest recession since WWII will continue.
     The agreement cuts government spending by more than $2 trillion over the next decade. The exact targets of the slashing ax are yet to be established, but supposedly all expenses are on the table.
     If Congress cannot agree on the exact items to be cut by the end of 2011, spending cuts of $1.2 trillion across much of the federal budget, including the Pentagon, domestic agency budgets and farm subsidies, will be triggered. Many federal benefits programs, however, would not be hit by this contingency, including Social Security, Medicaid, veterans' benefits, and federal retirement benefits.
     A reduction in Federal spending means that jobs are going to be cut; whether it will be Federal employees directly, or employees of Federal contractors and subcontractors, people are going to be thrown out of work.
     A portion of the savings is expected to be obtained by winding down the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Adding hundreds of thousands of service people to the domestic labor market, which is already losing tens of thousands of jobs each month because of the normal increase in population, will only compound the problem.
     Subsidies to the states will be cut, leading to more job losses. Highways and other Federal and State construction projects will be canceled. Given the makeup of the current Congress, the healthcare system will be a big casualty.
     However, if you are dependent upon the financial world for a living, your disruptions, if any, will be temporary and minimal. Read the series, “The recession is over for some people...” dated February 16 through March 18, 2011, in this blog to find out why.
     Although Category four is probably home to some non-ethnic jokes, I couldn’t find any. Because I promised an example for every category, I submit the following with my sincerest apologies:
     Distortion of Pronunciation – There Are Only Seven Jokes.

There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are 

available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.