Making a better world = Separating Sheep from Goats

Ellis Island

The parable of the sheep and goats – to me, one of the defining Biblical passages describing the underlying principles of Christ’s teachings. (with the Sermon on the Mount being the other major one).

As I have written before:

Whether it is the New Commandment to love one another, the Second Great Commandment to love our neighbors, turning the other cheek in response to evil, or how to love one’s enemies, His teachings show a path that breaks cycles of violence that often reverberate during times of change and strife.

This parable catalogs some of the actions that can be taken by those following his teachings – the sheep. It details how they separate themselves by how they treat others.

Seeing a person in difficulty, having compassion and acting to remedy that difficulty is one of the defining teachings that Christ provided.

They are about how to treat other humans, how compassion is required. Empathy and sympathy are what constantly drive successful societies and simply slow down cultures doomed to failure.

Time for us all to be separated – so many goats and so few sheep. From Matthew 25:

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Obama’s dingo policy goes over like lead balloon

 Canis lupus dingo

Following Backlash, White House Realizes Guy Who Opposed Obama’s Own Patent Reform Plan Shouldn’t Lead The Patent Office
[Via Techdirt]

A little over a week ago, it came out that President Obama was on the verge of appointing a former pharmaceutical industry exec, who had spent years fighting against the very kind of patent reform that President Obama supported, to be head of the USPTO. It was a little odd how the news came out — as it seemed to be clearly “leaked” to a few folks in the press that Phil Johnson was likely to be the nominee. However, the move was pretty quickly condemned, and now the same folks are saying that the White House has changed its mind, and will not offer the position to Johnson.

At the very least, that suggests that the “leak” of his name was something of a trial balloon, to see how it would go over — and the vocal rejection (including by big patent reform supporter Senator Chuck Schumer) made the White House realize that it would be in for a pretty angry fight over the nomination. Hopefully, the next nominee isn’t someone who has vocally fought against the President’s own position on patent reform…[More]

So here is one time that he appears to listen. Nice to see a distributed approach succeed over the normal authoritarian.

I did love the comment that stated this sort of policy: “Let’s hire the dingo as our babysitter” Maybe the new tools of distributed democracy will make this policy much less likely.

Business and Politics cut the pubic out in order to create secret treaties

 Riot police blocking the way to the parliament building on Sunday night

Water Cannons Turned On Peaceful TTIP Protestors In Brussels As Public Barred From Negotiations
[Via Techdirt]

The TAFTA/TTIP negotiations remain almost totally lacking in real transparency, with little information about what exactly is happening behind closed doors being released to the public — and most of that coming from the EU side. This has naturally forced those excluded from the inner circle to speculate about what might be going on — and, inevitably, to fear the worst. According to the US Ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner, and the EU Commissioner responsible for TTIP, Karel De Gucht, that’s unacceptable:

The ambassador and commissioner agreed that NGOs and civil society organisations were spreading disinformation about TTIP through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. De Gucht said that a number of campaigners were “spreading rumours on false grounds.”

Gardner added: “There’s a void [in information]. The void is being filled more and more by social media.”

[More]

So the oligarchs cut the public out of discussions while they create secret treaties, releasing little information. Then complain about how rumors are running around.”If only the public knew the facts that we won’t let them have.”

And when the people protest the lack of transparency, police use heavy-handed approaches to squelch the protests.

We will see this happen again and again as totalitarian hierarchies try to retain their power.

I hate to say it but Princess Leia was right.


FCC, authoritarian hierachies and distriibuted democracy

Server grill with blue light

FCC votes for Internet “fast lanes” but could change its mind later
[Via Ars Technica]

The Federal Communications Commission today voted in favor of a preliminary proposal to allow Internet “fast lanes” while asking the public for comment on whether the commission should change the proposal before enacting final rules later this year. The order was approved 3-2, with two Republican commissioners dissenting.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) concerns “network neutrality,” the concept that Internet service providers should treat all Internet traffic equally, even if it comes from a competitor. But the rules, while preventing ISPs from blocking content outright, would allow ISPs to charge third-party Web services for a faster path to consumers, or a “fast lane.”

The FCC’s prior net neutrality rules issued in 2010 were largely struck down in court, and there is already speculation that the new proposed rules could be threatened in court as well.

[More]

This is an example of the battle being fought between the plutocrats and the populace. Can the monopolies that provide internet access get their wish and create a multiple lane internet where only the rich oligarchs gets fast transmission?

Can people mobilize to prevent this? 

It seems to me that the FCC is actually looking to help the distributed approach. They simply made a proposal and asked for more comment.There is lots of time for the people, and their legislators, to route around this.

The telling comment from the FCC commisioner was this:

If the network operator slowed the speed below that which the consumer bought it would be commercially unreasonable and therefore prohibited. If a network operator blocked access to lawful content it would violate our no-blocking rule and be commercially unreasonable and therefore be doubly prohibited.

When content provided by a firm such as Netflix reaches a network provider it would be commercially unreasonable to charge the content provider to use that bandwidth for which the consumer had already paid, and therefore prohibited. When a consumer purchases specified network capacity from an Internet provider, he or she is buying open capacity, not capacity a network provider can prioritize for their own purposes.

This would mean the consumer chooses the lane to be in, not the ISP. 

And, the real landmine in the proposal is whether to call an ISP a telecommunications service. Providing common carrier aspects to the INternet, making it more a utility, is really where we should go.

So there appear to be some real aspects of this proposal that might make sense. And they have provided time for distributed democracy to forcefully reply.

Looks like this could be an interesting battle in this generation’s fight. A big step up from the unfocussed anarchy of Occupy Wall Street and the too-focussed actions of the Tea Party.

Both groups initially started activating distributed democratic approaches to push back against the authoritarian hierarchies. OWS fell back because it really had no effective call to action. The Tea Party has been mostly co-opted or marginalized by the same oligarchs running things.

Neither was able to break out across factions to provide useful tools and approaches against their foe – the authoritarian hierarchies holding progress back.

The battle for net neutrality might just provide such a spark, an issue to cut fully across political factions and support distributed approaches to be effectively used.

Maybe.

The rules of our plutocratic overlords

 Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southamption

Straczynski: “The New Aristocracy”
[Via Boing Boing]

Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski has posted a brilliant, inflammatory set of “rules of the new aristocracy: “We are the New Aristocracy because we were born into it. We got our money the old fashioned, Medieval way: our parents gave it to us. We were born into the wealth that we stole from you and your family over the last fifty years.”

It doesn’t matter how much an education costs, doesn’t matter if your kids can’t afford to go to college or come out with massive debt, we will always be able to send our kids to university. And because a lot of our income is derived from tax incentives and taxpayer-financed bailouts your taxes are sending our kids to school. But you do not have the right to any of our money to send your kid to school.

If you or your kids want to start a business, you will find that because we’ve sucked all the money out of the economy, there is simply no available cash around to help you finance your startup. (Unless you want to go to your friends online at sites like Indiegogo, and isn’t that just cute?) We just cut our kids a check and tell them to go have fun.

Your kids are born with a glass ceiling above which they will almost certainly never have the opportunity to rise. Our kids are born with a marble floor beneath which they will never be allowed to fall.

If you accidentally provide incorrect information on your tax return, you could lose your house, your possessions, and your livelihood. We lie all the time on our tax information and none of us ever have to deal with this. We squirrel away trillions of dollars in overseas accounts and do all we can to ensure that your money never leaves our control because we’ll doubtless need to scoop out more of it soon.

You live in a Company Town; we pay you to work for us, while making sure that we own all the stores in town that sell our goods, the doctors offices where you go in town, the restaurants where you eat, and that we charge you just enough to make sure that at the end of the week you don’t have any leftover money to squirrel away, so you can never leave the company town, can never get ahead, and can never risk criticizing the company town. You work for us. We own the town where you live. We own you.

[More]

Nicely done.

Saw Oliver interview Alexander last night. Better than most ‘serious’ ones

Former NSA head Keith Alexander interviewed by John Oliver
[Via Boing Boing]

 
On “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” a new HBO show starring the former Daily Show contributor, an interview with General Keith Alexander. There are a number of really weird and interesting thing about this interview with the former head of the US National Security Administration, one of which is that it was a hell of a lot more hard-hitting than an earlier interview with Alexander by “60 Minutes.”

Alexander: I am the biggest advocate of freedom of the networks, the internet. If we could come up with a way of segregating all the terrorist communications, it would really help us, and civil liberties and privacy….There was a great statement by someone, all the bad guys need to be on this section of the internet and they only operate over here, and all good people operate over here.

Oliver: You mean Pinterest?

And the other is this.

“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”–Twitter, Facebook.

[More]

Not only was Oliver more adversarial than ‘real’ journalists, Alexander was a great sport (he knew what he was getting into) and answered quite well. He gave a nice argument that they should be trusted because of their training. Oliver replied that that only assumes everyone is a ethical as Alexander. Oliver knows that is not the case.

Worth watching.

Going to prison for life because of a stillborn birth – what women face

 Prison corridor with cells inside Alcatraz main building san francisco califfornia

A Young Mother In Mississippi Could Face Life In Prison For Giving Birth To A Stillborn Child
[Via Think Progress]

Under a controversial law in Mississippi that allows the state to prosecute women for causing harm to a fetus, Rennie Gibbs could be sentenced to life in prison because her daughter never took a breath.

As ProPublica reports, Gibbs was just 16 years old when she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl, who she named Samiya, back in 2006. Samiya was born premature, and medical records indicate that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. But, since Samiya’s autopsy turned up traces of cocaine, Gibbs was indicted by a grand jury for “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” causing the death. If Gibbs receives the maximum sentence, she’ll spend the rest of her life behind bars.

Gibbs’ case is an example of a dangerous trend that’s certainly not specific to Mississippi. Across the country, there have been hundreds of documented cases of fetal harm laws being used to criminalize pregnant women. This is partly due to the proliferation of state-level abortion restrictions — since there are so many complicated regulations stipulating how women may legally end a pregnancy, that’s created a world in which miscarriages can fall under increased scrutiny, and desperate women can face charges for resorting to illegal abortions. But it’s largely due to persistent issues with this country’s War on Drugs.

[More]

Even though there are studies that show that cocaine has no effect on births, we see states routinely act like a crime has been committed.

The government as midwife should be an anathema to most Americans. Apparently not.

We destroy ourselves when we lose the ability to support scientific research

 Lab Bench

World’s Oldest Direct Measure Of Atmospheric CO2 May Lose Its Funding
[Via Think Progress]

The oldest and most well-known direct measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide is in danger of losing its funding, according to USA Today.

The Keeling Curve is run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, and was started by scientist Charles David Keeling in 1958. Since then it’s grown from a single measurement taken near the top of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii to 13 different measuring sites spread across the globe. It’s the longest-running record of direct instrumental readings of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Other records trace back hundreds of thousands of years, but rely on indirect measurements using data from ice cores and the like.

[More]

How a once proud nation destroys itself – refusing to provide needed support for scientific research. The selfishness of a decaying society, its inward turning, has historically heralded it coming collapse.

The stupid and frankly worthless budget battles of the last few years have been devastating to our ability to support basic scientific research. Not only is the scientific infrastructure being tremendously damaged, as seen here, but we ae destroying the seed corn of American innovation – research scientists.

We are spending less on research than we did 13 years ago. We account for only 45% of the global biomedical research budget, down from over 50% just 7 years ago. Two-thirds of research scientists are receiving less money than they were in 2010. We have lost reagents that cannot be replaced and had to euthanize animals that took years and millions to produce.

A new brain drain may be in the offing, as about 20% of American researchers say they contemplate moving elsewhere to continue their work.

One great thing about America in the past has been its ability to reverse this trend.

Unfortunately, I do not see anything like that happening yet. One side would rather toss the baby out with the bath water. All to the detriment of us all.

 

Change is Coming – listen to Peter, Paul and Mary

The times certainly are changing.

From 1965.

And from 1995

The lyrics have never been more appropriate,particularly the one about Senators and Congressmen.

 

Come gather ’round people 
Wherever you roam 
And admit that the waters 
Around you have grown 
And accept it that soon 
You’ll be drenched to the bone 

If your time to you 
Is worth savin’ 
Then you better start swimmin’ 
Or you’ll sink like a stone 
For the times they are a-changin’. 

Come writers and critics 
Who prophesize with your pen 
And keep your eyes wide 
The chance won’t come again 
And don’t speak too soon 
For the wheel’s still in spin 

And there’s no tellin’ who 
That it’s namin’ 
For the loser now 
Will be later to win 
For the times they are a-changin’. 

Come senators, congressmen 
Please heed the call 
Don’t stand in the doorway 
Don’t block up the hall 
For he that gets hurt 
Will be he who has stalled 

There’s a battle outside 
And it is ragin’ 
It’ll soon shake your windows 
And rattle your walls 
For the times they are a-changin’. 

Come mothers and fathers 
Throughout the land 
And don’t criticize 
What you can’t understand 
Your sons and your daughters 
Are beyond your command 

Your old road is 
Rapidly agin’ 
Please get out of the new one 
If you can’t lend your hand 
For the times they are a-changin’. 

 

Come gather ’round peopleWherever you roamAnd admit that the watersAround you have grownAnd accept it that soonYou’ll be drenched to the boneIf your time to youIs worth savin’Then you better start swimmin’Or you’ll sink like a stoneFor the times they are a-changin’.
Come writers and criticsWho prophesize with your penAnd keep your eyes wideThe chance won’t come againAnd don’t speak too soonFor the wheel’s still in spinAnd there’s no tellin’ whoThat it’s namin’For the loser nowWill be later to winFor the times they are a-changin’.
Come senators, congressmenPlease heed the callDon’t stand in the doorwayDon’t block up the hallFor he that gets hurtWill be he who has stalledThere’s a battle outsideAnd it is ragin’It’ll soon shake your windowsAnd rattle your wallsFor the times they are a-changin’.
Come mothers and fathersThroughout the landAnd don’t criticizeWhat you can’t understandYour sons and your daughtersAre beyond your commandYour old road isRapidly agin’Please get out of the new oneIf you can’t lend your handFor the times they are a-changin’.
The line it is drawnThe curse it is castThe slow one nowWill later be fastAs the present nowWill later be pastThe order isRapidly fadin’And the first one nowWill later be lastFor the times they are a-changin’.

 

They hate Tim Cook because he cares about us

 empathy

Tim Cook to Apple Investors: Drop Dead
[Via NCPPR]

Tim Cook to Apple Investors: Drop Dead

Apple CEO Tim Cook tells Investors Who Care More About Return on Investment than Climate Change: Your Money is No Longer Welcome

As Board Member Al Gore Cheers the Tech Giant’s Dedication to Environmental Activism, Investors Left to Wonder Just How Much Shareholder Value is Being Destroyed in Efforts to Combat “Climate Change”

Free-Market Activist Presents Shareholder Resolution to Computer Giant Apple Calling for Consumer Transparency on Environmental Issues; Company Balks

[More]

Sociopaths. They hurt us all. This group fails to understand that part of Apple’s success is caring about the world its customers live it. It wants to sell them devices that make that world better.

So trying to make the world better by decreasing pollution— in ways that actually also make money for Apple—is a direct ROI. Or it should be to these guys. But they seem to be suffering from some psychiatric disorder.

An anti-social one.

Yes, they do not want Apple spending money on environmental stuff, such as reducing toxic emissions or polluting water supplies, when that money should go to shareholders. Some quotes:

“The company’s CEO fervently wants investors who care more about return on investments than reducing CO2 emissions to no longer invest in Apple. Maybe they should take him up on that advice.” …

…After today’s meeting, investors can be certain that Apple is wasting untold amounts of shareholder money to combat so-called climate change. The only remaining question is: how much?”…

…”Apple’s actions, from hiring of President Obama’s former head of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson, to its investments in supposedly 100 percent renewable data centers, to Cook’s antics at today’s meeting, appear to be geared more towards combating so-called climate change rather than developing new and innovative phones and computers.”

Sociopaths. They got GE to buckle here but not Apple. Here is how this was described by another attendee:

What ensued was the only time I can recall seeing Tim Cook angry, and he categorically rejected the worldview behind the NCPPR’s advocacy. He said that there are many things Apple does because they are right and just, and that a return on investment (ROI) was not the primary consideration on such issues.

“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,” he said, “I don’t consider the bloody ROI.” He said that the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple is a leader.

As evidenced by the use of “bloody” in his response—the closest thing to public profanity I’ve ever seen from Mr. Cook–it was clear that he was quite angry. His body language changed, his face contracted, and he spoke in rapid fire sentences compared to the usual metered and controlled way he speaks.

He didn’t stop there, however, as he looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

We would all be better off if they did sell their stock. They lack an understanding of why Apple is so successful.

As do many sociopaths from Wall Street. As I wrote earlier— Apple is successful because it has created a family that includes its own customers.

So, Apple makes the world we live in better and we buy stuff from it because of that. By helping save the environment (even if that help does nothing) it shows that it wants to improve where we live. And sell us products that also make our life better.

They are both part of the same thing, as far as Apple is concerned.

Even if climate change was not happening, it would still be useful marketing, because it shows Apple cares about our world. Don’t those sociopaths get it? 

Nope because of the actual defects in sociopaths—they show a lack of remorse, a lack of shame, and, tellingly a lack of empathy.

Sociopaths, lacking the empathy and sympathy described by Adam Smith in his book on Moral Sentiments. These are not the moral men he expected to be running capital markets.

They are bandits, enriching themselves at the detriment of the rest of us. It is not normal for them to be the ones running our capital markets.

We need them all to sell all their stock.We need to move the sociopaths to other jobs.

Then perhaps we can begin the road back to normalcy.

Clarence Darrow called it

 Bonfire

Something is the Matter With Kansas
[Via Booman Tribune]

Kansas State Representative Keith Esau has introduced a bill that would eliminate no-fault divorce in the Sunflower State. He has some interesting ideason matrimony:

“No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it,” Esau told The Wichita Eagle on Friday. “It would be my hope that they could work out their incompatibilities and learn to work together on things.”

…Esau disputed the suggestion that bill was an example of government overreach. He said the state gives benefits to married couples, such as tax breaks, so couples shouldn’t enter into the institution of marriage lightly.

Moreover, he said, the state has a vested interest in supporting “strong families,” and divorce undermines that.

“I think we’ve made divorce way too easy in this country,” he said. “If we really want to respect marriage it needs to be a commitment that people work at and don’t find arbitrary reasons to give up.”

Of course, one of the immediate effects of this law would be that couples seeking a divorce would have to face-off in court and point fingers at each other. Either that, or one of them would have to accept the blame for their failed relationship.

[More]

Kansas seems to be leading a political movement backwards to the middle ages. We have fought this anti-Amerfican sentiment most of the last century as explicitly stated by Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial:

Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy and need feeding. Always feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers; tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.

Ignorance and fanaticism, couple with fear, make for very dangerous political movements. 

History has shown that they always lose. Always. They just do a tremendous amount of damage, killing millions as they lose.

Bill Nye continues scientific offensive against deniers

 Bill Nye visits Goddard Space Flight Center

Bill Nye schools Marsha Blackburn on climate: Stop denying and start leading 
[Via | The Raw Story]

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” implored Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Sunday to stop wasting time by denying that the climate was changing and to start leading the charge to do something about it.

Nye began his debate with Blackburn on NBC’s Meet the Press by applauding President Barack Obama’s call to create a $1 billion fund to prepare for climate change.

“What I’ve always said, we need to do everything all at once,” Nye explained. “And this is an opportunity for the United States to innovate, to be the world leader in new technologies.”

[More]

First it was the outstanding debate on creationism, where Nye did a great job.

Now he continues the scientific offensive on the Sunday morning shows. And he is even better. He just demonstrated how lacking in rhetorical skills so many of our congress critters are. 

Most can only spout the latest talking points with not ability to actually understand or discuss them to any depth.

Nye is a trained engineer and head of the Planetary society. So trying to belittle him by simply saying he is an ‘actor’ while the denier is an important member of Congress simply does not stand.

The thing that became obvious is that Nye has learned a lot of great rhetorical tools from his time on TV, which he is using to great effect. 

Most scientists only use the facts and are either oblivious to other approaches or disdain them, often to their detriment.

Every one in marketing knows that facts alone does not sell a product.There are a variety of ways to convince people that have nothing to do with facts.

Facts alone do not win debates. And stylistic rhetorical tools (seen in just about every courtroom drama) often do.

But when those tools are used in the service of facts, there can only be one winner.

So, when Blackburn states

“When you look at the fact that we have gone from 320 parts per million — 0.032 to 0.040 — 400 parts per million [carbon dioxide in the atmosphere], you realize it’s very slight” 

,implying that 80 parts per million is such a small number that it is insignificant, Nye nails her innumeracy.

“When you asserted, Congresswoman, 320 to 400 parts per million is insignificant, my goodness. That’s 30 percent! I mean, that’s an enormous change. And it’s changing the world. And that’s just over the last few decades.”

(Yes, it is actually 25% but it was live and the point is valid.)

Yet, he tells her that she needs to lead, not deny. He was attacking her denialism, not her personally.

“I encourage the congresswoman to really look at the facts. You are a leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”

Although he did provide substantial evidence for why she might not look at the facts or want to lead.

Will Italy ever admit that DNA contamination is a likely event?

Block Gavel

Kercher trial: How does DNA contamination occur?
[Via BBC News | Science/Nature | World Edition]

The Kercher trial highlights concerns over DNA

[More]

We can detect such small levels of DNA now that contamination in the lab becomes very likely. It is already known that proper procedure was not followed at the scene.

The data are all consistent with contamination, at east beyond a reasonable dobt to me.

u

Will that ever happen in Italy, whose court system has never seemed to be interested in justice?

America could easily lead in space once again

 space

America and the Emergent Space Powers

[Via BillMoyers.com]

The following is an excerpt from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.


I was born the same week NASA was founded. A few other people were born that same year: Madonna (the second one, not the first), Michael Jackson, Prince, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sharon Stone. That was the year the Barbie doll was patented and the movie The Blob appeared. And it was the first year the Goddard Memorial Dinner was held: 1958.

I study the universe. It’s the second oldest profession. People have been looking up for a long time. But as an academic, it puts me a little bit outside the “club.” Yes, I’ve spent quality time in the aerospace community, with my service on two presidential commissions, but at heart I’m an academic. Being an academic means I don’t wield power over person, place or thing. I don’t command armies; I don’t lead labor unions. All I have is the power of thought.

Space Chronicles Book Cover

Spring 2001, there I was, minding my own business amid the manicured lawns of the Princeton University campus — and the phone rang. It was the White House, telling me they wanted me to join a commission to study the health of the aerospace industry. Me? I don’t know how to fly an airplane. At first I was indifferent. Then I read up on the aerospace industry and realized that it had lost half a million jobs in the previous fourteen years. Something bad was going on there.

The commission’s first meeting was to be at the end of September. And then came 9/11. I live — then and now — four blocks from Ground Zero. My front windows are right there. I was supposed to go to Princeton that morning, but I had some overdue writing to finish, so I stayed home. One plane goes in; another plane goes in. At that point, how indifferent could I be? I had just lost my backyard to two airplanes. Duty called. I was a changed person: not only had the nation been attacked, so had my backyard.

I distinctly remember walking into the first meeting. There were 11 other commissioners, in a room filled with testosterone. Everybody occupied space. There was General this, and Secretary of the Navy that and Member of Congress this. It’s not as though I have no testosterone, but it’s Bronx testosterone. It’s the kind where, if you get into a fight on the street, you kick the guy’s butt. This I-build-missile-systems testosterone is a whole other kind. Even the women on the commission had it. One had a Southern accent perfectly tuned to say, “Kiss my ass.” Another one was chief aerospace analyst for Morgan Stanley; having spent her life as a Navy brat, she had the industry by the gonads.

On that commission, we went around the world to see what was influencing the situation here in America. We visited China before they put a man in space. I had in my head the stereotype of everybody riding bicycles, but everybody was driving Audis and Mercedes Benzes and Volkswagens. Then I went home and looked at the labels on all my stuff; half of it was already being made in China. Lots of our money is going there.

[More]

Read the whole thing. What is infuriating is taking the innovative work we can do, the frontier busting approaches us the US, and making them an MBA-driven, commodity.

Space does not pay for itself directly. It pays for just about everything indirectly. Tyson knows it.

Large groups of Americans do not acknowledge evolution

 Chromosome Fusion

US acceptance of evolution holds steady overall, drops among Republicans
[Via Ars Technica]

Yesterday, Pew Research Center released the results of a poll of US residents that asked about their acceptance of the theory of evolution. In keeping with past surveys, this one found that a completely uncontroversial idea within the scientific community—modern organisms are the result of evolution—is rejected by a third of the US public. While that fraction has held steady over time, the survey found that the political divide over evolution has grown over the past four years, with Republicans now even more likely to reject the idea than they were before.

In the poll, people were asked whether they thought that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, or if we and other creatures had evolved over time. To make sure that mentioning humans didn’t make things overly personal, Pew also asked a subset of questions just about other animals; this didn’t make any difference in responses.

Acceptance of evolution was higher in younger people and those who had graduated college, as had been found in previous polling. Among the 60 percent of Americans who do accept the theory, a bit over half ascribed it solely to natural causes—32 percent of the total. 25 percent of all adults believed in some form of theistic evolution, where a deity or deities guided the process, possibly in a way that’s indistinguishable from the random mutations that have been observed. That figure’s a bit higher in most religious groups, and a bit lower among the unaffiliated.

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This post is not meant to pick on a particular group. This poll raises real questions regarding a substantial increase in denialism. There is nothing obvious in the poll itself to explain the results. The poll itself cannot be easily dismissed. It presents a large change in views which opens up the question “Why?”

Most Americans do acknowledge evolution. In answer to the question ” Have humans evolved over time?”  60% said yes.

What is disconcerting is a group that refused to acknowledge evolution; who answered in the affirmative to the question “Have humans existed in their present form since the beginning?”

Not unexpectedly, White, evangelical Protestants said yes to that question. 64% of them refuse to acknowledge evolution. But denying evolution is not purely a religious thing, as both Catholics and mainline, white Protestants actually acknowledge evolution at higher rates than Americans as a whole (68% and 78% respectively).

What is unexpected is that denying evolution appears to be a political thing. Only 43% of Republicans acknowledge evolution. A majority refuses to acknowledge evolution. Democrats and Independents acknowledge evolution at high rates.

gop

In 2009,  a majority of Republicans acknowledged evolution (54%). It was lower than Democrats and Independents (64% and 67%, respectively) but still a majority. A ten point gap but still a majority.

In 2013, while the values for Democrats and Independents stayed about the same, we now have much less than 50% of Republicans acknowledging evolution. In fact, more Republicans now believe in Special Creation than acknowledge evolution. There is now a 24 point gap between Republicans and other Americans.

This is well outside any sort of error rate in the poll. The results are really a political thing.

Why the big change? According to the poll:

Differences in the racial and ethnic composition of Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution. Indeed, the partisan differences remain even when taking these other characteristics into account.

So we do not know. I’m trying to track down the actual demographics of the survey. When you start splitting out subgroups like this, the errors go up because it uses a smaller number of people. So perhaps this is just an outlier. 

However, since the Democrat and Independent numbers are within the error from 2009, this sort of systematic error is not likely to be present. Pew usually runs very good polls, watching out for systematic errors.

This is not to bash Republicans. A significant number do acknowledge evolution. I wonder why the change?

So what has happened in the last 4 years to cause such a plummet in the basic acknowledgement of scientific fact by so many Republicans? Remember 43% do acknowledge evolution. Why did almost 10% of Republicans change their views in the last 4 years?

It is disconcerting. I’d like it to be a fluke but I see no evidence for that, yet.

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