Articles

Visiting a Muslim country, facing your “fear”

Terry - United Arab Emirates

A much younger version of myself, still hanging on to my old heavy-metal days and the long flowing hair. I couldn’t have looked, or acted, more differently than the local population when I spent a month in the United Arab Emirates. It didn’t matter. I was always treated with respect and warmth. People are people. We all want the same things in life.

20 years ago today I landed in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, to do a month’s worth of work in a cooperative exchange with the UAE government. I was young(er), had long flowing hair about a foot long in the back, and had never been overseas before. I was probably the definition of a hippie, obnoxious, clueless American overseas.

During my trip I also visited Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, all countries that are overwhelmingly Muslim. Despite looking and acting MUCH different than the locals, I was treated with kindness, respect, and warmth throughout my trip. The people I dealt with were wonderful, warm, funny…in other words, they were normal human beings trying to live out their lives the best way they knew how. Not once did I feel threatened. Not once did I feel scared. At every opportunity, when I needed help making my way through a day in a strange land, a helping hand was offered.

These are the same people being targeted over the last month. These are the people so many Americans are scared of. They’re not criminals. They’re not terrorists. They’re people who may look a little different than you, may believe in different things than you. They want the same things you want in life…family…health…and happiness.

Put a human face on those you may be suspicious of. Put yourself in THEIR shoes. You may find you have a hell of a lot more in common than you realize.

Abu Dhabi - 7 EmiratesRub Al Khali Desert - United Arab EmiratesUnited Arab Emirates - CamelRub Al Khali Desert - United Arab Emirates

How much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Ssshhhhh….it’s classified

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide from pre-industrialization until today. We’ve gone from a baseline of 280 ppm to 404 ppm today, a level of atmospheric CO2 not seen in over 600,000 years. It’s irrefutable evidence of the impact man has had on the atmosphere and our climate. And now…evidently under the Trump administration, the level of atmospheric CO2 is classified information.

Science is in the news again!  Front page of the Washington Post, New York Times, and other major media outlets!! No, we haven’t discovered extraterrestrial life.  No, we haven’t found a cure for cancer.  In fact, there haven’t really been any earth-shaking research results published  No, the science-related stories that are capturing the front pages of major newspapers are those related to the muzzling of scientists in the federal government under the Trump Administration, after only 5 days.

It started on the 2nd day of the Trump administration.  Information on climate change was deleted from all White House website pages on Saturday, along with other issues that evidently aren’t important any more, such as civil rights.  Who needs to worry about civil rights, when we’re headed back to how it “should” be, with hairy old white men in charge of everything?  It’s all good!  In place of the climate change and LGBT information?  Melania Trump’s jewelry line. Yes, that’s right, a sales pitch for Melania’s jewelry literally is more important to the new administration than climate change or civil rights, and occupies space on the White House website.

Science and environmental research and reporting in the federal government was immediately under attack on other fronts as well.  This week Trump issued an executive order freezing all research grants and contracts at the EPA. All contract and grant awards, as well as all “task orders and work assignments”, are to be “temporarily suspended, effective immediately”.  It’s clearly the first step in dismantling regulatory activity at the EPA, with the Trump administration believing that regulation hinders business activity.  “Regulation”…you know…making sure you and your family don’t DIE or get sick just by breathing, drinking, and eating.  Minor little things like that get in the way of rich people making even more money, and we simply can’t have that.

Other federal agencies were instructed to halt “external communication”.  The Department of Health and Human Services has been instructed not to communicate “with any public officials”.  EPA was told to halt all press releases, blogs, or social media posts.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture was told to stop releasing any “public-facing documents”.  In other words, federal agencies have been instructed by the Trump administration to stop communicating with the public, to stop releasing results of the work that is done with taxpayer dollars.

Social media posts and press releases are a primary means by which federal agencies communicate with the public, and some bold renegade Feds today pushed the envelope on what’s now “allowed” in the Trump administration.  I say “push the envelope”, when in fact, all they did was do what they’ve done since social media became popular…they DARED to report scientific fact, without any inherent political message.  Badlands National Park in South Dakota sent out a series of tweets earlier today, simply providing the facts on what’s happening with our atmosphere and climate change.  Here’s a sampling of their tweets from the day:

National Park Service - Badlands Tweets

Pretty innocuous stuff, and pretty much the same kind of science information that’s tossed out on social media by many federal science agencies.  The response to DARING to state how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere? After a few hours, all climate-related tweets on the Badlands site were deleted, without explanation. Was there some violation of federal policy with the release of this mundane, extremely well-known, and well-verified data? As this story from Salon.com notes,the following rule of thumb generally applies to the disclosure of information by federal employees:

A public employee is allowed to speak publicly or share information with the media, if that information is not considered a government secret or classified information.

Evidently stating how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere is now a “government secret” or “classified information”.

The public clearly has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.  There were several reported cases of the Bush administration editing climate-related research results, changing phrasing or eliminating certain results to downplay the expected impact of climate change. While the Bush administration was openly criticized for their attempts to downplay climate-change impacts, those interventions were in fact relatively infrequent.  Science research in the federal government, including climate-change research, has generally been considered public domain information, and attempts to muzzle or modify research results have been few and far between.

The actions of the Trump administration in just the first 5 days are a warning shot across the bow for scientists in general, a warning that science is now subject to the same vagaries of politics as is the rest of the federal government.

Why “Alex” > “Olivia” > “Nate” — Health care in America

Three Happy Children

Three happy children, “Alex’, “Olivia”, and “Nate”, living in a world where Alex will receive better health care than Olivia, and Nate will receive the worst health care of all 3, all because of their socioeconomic status.

We’re two weeks into a new Congress that smells blood in the water.  Other than a flurry of legislation designed to limit transparency and ethics oversight (always a great sign when that’s their first thought when they arrive in Washington), the major focus has been the dismantlement of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act, ACA).  What is abundantly clear is that those voting to “repeal and replace” the ACA, without having ANY idea of what they might eventually replace it with, are oblivious to the impacts of the law on real Americans.  What follows is a NOT so hypothetical story of three children, “Alex”, “Olivia”, and “Nate”, and what health care policy in the United States means to them.

Alex, Olivia, and Nate are all young teenagers or pre-teens.  Each has Type-1 diabetes, the auto-immune version where their own misguided immune system has attacked and destroyed the islet cells in their pancreas’ that make insulin.  For the rest of their lives, they will be dependent upon insulin injections.  It’s a life fraught with risk. If you don’t control your blood sugars well, you’ll have frequent hyperglycemia events (high blood sugar). Over time, that will contribute to kidney disease, eye disease, cardio-pulmonary disease, and peripheral nerve damage. If you’re extremely vigilant and try to control your blood sugars very tightly, you’re more likely to have hypoglycemic events (low blood sugar), a dangerous condition that can cause seizure, coma, and even death.  Long-term blood sugar control is measured with a patient’s “A1C”, a hemoglobin-based measure from your blood.  A “normal” A1C is less than 6.5. The higher a diabetic’s A1C is, the worse their long-term blood sugar control, and the higher their risk for complications.

There’s little doubt the ACA is a god-send to Type-1 diabetics like these Alex, Olivia, and Nate.  No longer can they be refused insurance coverage for their pre-existing condition.  Diabetes is an expensive, life-long disease, but thanks to the ACA, they will no longer be subject to lifetime maximum payouts from insurance companies.  For parents helping them transition to an adult life and the responsibility for their own health insurance, the ACA allows parents to cover children on their insurance until they turn 26.  Things are much better with the ACA, but even with the ACA, we’ve got a long way to go in providing equitable health care in the United States.  With that as background, here is the not-so-hypothetical story of Alex, Olivia, and Nate and their battle with Type-1 diabetes…and the American health care system.

“Alex”

Alex is a young teenager who was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at a very young age.  His family would be considered  upper-middle class. Alex’s family has a very good, comprehensive health care plan, with insurance provided through one of Alex’s parents. Alex has had access to some of the best care a young diabetic can have. For over 10 years, Alex has had an insulin pump, a small device that holds a reservoir of insulin.  His pump automatically provides a steady stream of insulin all day long (the “basal” insulin), just as the body normally does, to try to keep blood sugars stable. His pump also makes it easy to administer insulin at meals.  He simply estimates how many carbs he’s eating, enters that number in the pump, and the pump provides the proper amount of insulin required to process the sugars in that meal. Alex checks his blood sugar very often (8-10 times a day), but was still occasionally experiencing both hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic events.  In addition to his pump, his family pursued a “continuous glucose sensor” (CGM), another medical device that automatically checks his blood sugars every 5 minutes.  The CGM even has a cell phone app, where his parents are alerted on their cell phones if his blood sugars need attention. He no longer faces the dangerous “nighttime lows”, a hypoglycemic event that may occur at night when a patient is asleep and less able to respond. If Alex’s blood sugars start to drop anywhere close to dangerous levels, an alarm will alert both him and his parents that action is needed.  Alex’s A1C levels have typically been right around 7.0, just a bit above that of a “normal” person.  With the new CGM, it’s likely that will go down even further.  Alex’s care is expensive.  The insulin pump and the CGM both costs thousands of dollars, as do the yearly supplies that support those devices.  Along with the costs of insulin, doctor visits each month, and other supplies, Alex’s health care costs without insurance would be in the 10s of thousands of dollars per year.  Even with what’s considered quite good insurance, his parents pay a lot out of pocket each year for the pump, CGM, and supplies. They can afford it, however, and Alex’s long-term prognosis and risk of complications is much lower than Olivia’s or Nate’s.

“Olivia”

Olivia is a pre-teen who has had diabetes for about 5 years.  Her family would be considered middle-class, perhaps lower middle class. Olivia’s family has a health care option through a parent’s employer, with coverage that isn’t nearly as good as what is provided by Alex’s insurance. Olivia’s family would like a better insurance plan, but their income is high enough that they’re not eligible for subsidies under the ACA that might enable them to “shop around” and find better insurance.  Olivia’s insurer covers only part of the costs of an insulin pump, and does not cover costs for a CGM.  Olivia’s family cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs that would be required to get an insulin pump, so Olivia does not have an insulin pump, or a CGM.  Her insulin control relies on frequent injections, with a daily “long-acting” insulin that is meant to mimic the basal insulin (the steady, day-long drip) provided by Alex’s pump, and “short-acting” insulin that is given with every meal.  Olivia doesn’t like needles, but as a young diabetic, she’s learned to tolerate them. Olivia knows Alex, and marvels at his pump, which frees Alex from the 4-6 daily injections that Olivia gets.  Olivia checks her blood sugar as frequently as Alex, 8-10 times per day, which helps keep her blood sugars under control.  She can respond when blood sugars are low or high, but it means another injection (for high blood sugars).  Without a CGM, she’s more subject to unnoticed hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic events.  Unlike Alex, who “feels” when his blood sugar is low, Olivia has no such physical feelings or warning signs when her blood sugars go low.  She recently was hospitalized after a severe, nighttime hypoglycemic event, when extremely low blood sugar results in seizure and a short period of unconciousness.  With her diligence in checking blood sugars, however, those events are minimized. Her A1C is significantly higher than Alex’s, usually around 8.0 to 8.5.  Compared to Alex, she’s thus not only at risk of unnoticed high or low blood sugar events, she’s also more likely to develop longer-term complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, or eye disease.

“Nate”

Nate is a teenager who was diagnosed with diabetes about 10 years ago.  He lives in a single-family home, a good home with a very loving mother, but paying the bills is a struggle.  The only health insurance available to Nate’s family prior to the ACA was a “catastrophic care” policy with very high deductibles and much poorer coverage than either Alex or Olivia receive.   After Nate was diagnosed, the economic struggles meant pinching pennies on health care. It even meant pinching pennies on the administration of insulin. At difficult times, Nate’s family would avoid carbohydrate-laden meals, in order to save money on the amount of insulin needed to treat Nate. Visits to the endocrinologist were few and far between, as Nate’s mother couldn’t afford them.  Nate’s blood sugar control was very poor prior to the ACA, with A1C’s typically over 10.  Under the ACA, subsidies are available, including both tax credits and cost sharing subsidies, that ensure a plan on the ACA marketplace can’t cost more than 9.5% of a family’s income. After the ACA, Nate’s mother enrolled in a marketplace plan and obtained a health care plan that was much better than the poor health care option provided through her employer.  However, Nate’s insurance is similar to Olivia’s, in that only partial costs of an insulin pump would be covered, and a CGM is not covered.  Nate’s mother cannot come close to paying the out-of-pocket costs that would be required for an insulin pump. Nate relies on shots much like Olivia does.  Nate’s mother is extremely thankful for the availability of ACA coverage, as without it, even the cost of insulin would have been very difficult for her to pay under her employer’s poor, catastrophic coverage insurance.  However, the family still struggles with everyday costs, including costs of health care. With the only available, affordable ACA plan, coverage is worse than either Olivia’s or Alex’s.  Nate’s situation has improved, but his family is still forced to make extremely difficult healthcare decisions, regarding both health care and other, every-day expenses.  With another sibling with asthma and other problems, covering health expenses is difficult even with the ACA and tax credits.  Visits to the doctor are fewer for Nate’s family than for Olivia’s and Alex’s. Blood sugar control has improved for Nate with the better insurance from the ACA, particularly as the family doesn’t feel the need to “scrimp” on insulin, yet Nate still has A1C levels that approach 10 at times.  Nate is at substantially higher risk of long-term complications than either Alex or Olivia.

Comparing Alex, Olivia, and Nate

Alex > Olivia > Nate.  That’s the situation in today’s health care system, where your level of care is directly related to your ability to pay.  With Type-1 diabetes, blood sugar control is LIFE.  There are tools available that assist a Type-1 diabetic in maintaining blood sugar control, but those tools are of no use if a family can’t afford them.

In all likelihood…Alex will outlive Olivia.  Olivia will outlive Nate.  It’s as simple as that, when blood sugar control is the key to a long, happy life for a diabetic.  Particularly a type-1.  It has NOTHING to do with the love of a family, or the desire to keep blood sugars under control.  The parents of Alex, Olivia, and Nate all love their children very much, and would do anything to keep them as healthy as possible.  It simply boils down to economics. Even if insurance provides some access to advanced treatment options, that’s useless if the family can’t afford co-payments or other fees required to get those advanced options.

The ACA is far from perfect, but also a much, much better situation than we had prior to the ACA. The ACA is a step in the right direction, but more is needed. Instead, we’re heading backwards.  The split between the “haves” and the “have nots” has never been more evident in the United States, and as the not-so-hypothetical case of Alex, Olivia, and Nate shows, that divide is also still clearly evident in how we dispense our health care.

In the News – Week of January 1st, 2017

A new year, a new set of nature and science news pieces for the week…

Black-tailed Prairie Dog - Cynomys ludovicianus

A “varmint”, a Black-tailed Prairie Dog. I have on several occasions run into “sportsmen” in South Dakota who are lined up at the edge of a prairie dog town, picking them off one by one with rifles. Killing for the sake of killing…and doing twice the intended harm, given the lead that’s ingested by predators when they eat the carcasses.

Ammunition choice in shooting “varmints” — There have been many occasions on my birding trips to the central part of the state where I come across a sight that makes me sick to my stomach.  I’ll drive past a prairie dog town, and see multiple hunters lined up along a fence line, crouched and in a shooting position, picking off prairie dogs for “fun”.  That’s it…there’s no other purpose to it, other than killing for the sake of killing.  The prairie dogs that are killed aren’t used for anything, they’re simply left to rot.  Unfortunately, “sportsmen” who feel this sick need to kill for the sake of killing end up doing even more harm to animal communities.  By leaving the dead bodies, it provides an avenue for predators to consume the dead prairie dogs, and ingest the lead in the ammunition that was used to kill them.  Lead poisoning is a major cause of mortality for many raptor species, and is THE leading cause of California Condor mortality. A simple solution, as this article points out, would be to use ammunition that’s free of lead.  Even that common-sense approach though, one that still allows redneck hunters to kill prairie dogs and other “varmints”, is hated by hunting groups, as they claim that lead alternatives in ammunition don’t perform as well as lead shot and bullets.  Given what I have come across over the years on all my birding excursions, I’ve had a major downturn overall in my attitudes towards hunting…and particularly…hunters.  Stories like this don’t help my perceptions of hunters.

Cheetah numbers down to 7,100 worldwide — Over the last century, cheetah numbers worldwide have dropped from 100,000, to only 7,100 today.  Think about that…in a world with nearly 7 billion human beings, for an iconic, well-known predator such as the cheetah, there are only several thousand left. As with most species’ declines, habitat loss is behind the cheetah’s loss in population.  They range over huge territories, and there simply aren’t “huge territories” available in most parts of their range any more.  Throw in targeted persecution, such as the shooting of cheetahs by poachers and farmers, and this story estimates cheetahs could be extinct in the wild in 20-40 years.

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle

Is this the face of Earth’s largest animal migrations? This is a Goldenrod Soldier Beetle from here in South Dakota, and I admit I have no idea if these “migrate” as with some beetles mentioned in this story. By sheer mass, however, this story points out that insect migration likely dwarfs any other migration on the planet.

Biggest migration of land animals on the planet — When you think of what creature may make up the largest migration of any land animal on the planet, in terms of sheer mass, what species do you think of? Or group of species?  When you say “migration”, most people probably think of birds first, and there certainly are mass migrations of birds that are so heavy that weather radar is being increasingly used as a tool to study those migrations. In terms of sheer mass, perhaps some people think of large caribou migrations.  However, as this study notes, one overlooked migration likely has all of these beat…insect migration.  This study notes that around 3.5 trillion arthropods migrate over southern Great Britain each year, accounting approximately 8 times the mass of bird migrations in the same area.  Some winged insects are well-known for their migratory talents, such as the Monarch Butterfly in North America.  But as this study notes, there all sorts of winged and even non-winged creatures that migrate through the atmosphere.

What the heck is a “species” anyway? — People are funny.  We have this intrinsic need to categorize things, put them in neat little bins that help our minds process realty.  Birders sometimes take that to an extreme, with “life lists” that are often incredibly detailed, with “big day” lists (how many species you see in one day), “big years”, “state lists that detail bird species seen within the confines of state boundaries, and more.  What gets bird listers in a tizzy?  Just what IS a species!  The American Ornithological Union and American Birding Association are always making tweaks to their “official” lists of species that have been found in North America.  Just watch birders heads collectively explode if the AOU or ABA does decide to split Red Crossbills into up to six distinct species…life lists will be substantially increased!!  Even with the science of DNA-based splits, it’s still not a precise science in determining what’s a unique species.  As with many things, we’re categorizing things into unique thematic categories, when the phenomena you’re measuring is actually a continuous variable with no definite boundaries.

One, maybe two new comets moving through — Speaking of birders and their lists, I have a friend at work who is a birder, and someone who has a life list.  He also has another, more unusual life list posted on his bulletin board in his office…his “comet life list”!  He’s about to get one, and maybe two new ones for his list.  Comet C/2106 U1 was recently discovered by the “NEOWISE” project, and is potentially visible with binoculars right now, through about January 14th. It would appear in the southeastern sky just before sunrise.  An object called 2016 WF9 was also discovered by NEOWISE, and it will come close to Earth’s orbit in late February.  It’s estimated to be 0.5 to 1.0 km in diameter.  Note the designation “object”, because it’s not clear whether this object is an asteroid or comet (related to the previous story, in that the categorization of what’s a “comet” and what’s an “asteroid” can be fuzzy).

Bird Dropping Moth - Caterpillar - Ponometia

A caterpillar of Ponometia…the “Bird Dropping Moth”. Should a new species of “shit moth” be discovered, I would suggest it be named after Trump, in the same manner that several creatures have been named after Obama in recent years.

Nine creatures named for President Obama — Over the last few years, no less than 9 different creatures have had scientific names that honor Barack Obama.  Multiple fish, a lizard, bird, etc…all have scientific names such as “Nystalus obamai” (A Western Striated Puffbird, in this case). Once Trump leaves office in 4 years (or in a perfect world, once he’s impeached after a year or so), I wonder what creatures will be named after him?  I have many, many classes of creatures where new discoveries should consider his name. There are the Onychophora phylum of worms known for excreting slime. There are the Annelidas…leaches…which would be a wonder creature to name after him.  There’s a moth called Ponometia, and it’s associated caterpillar, that would be good.  Their common name is the “Bug-dropping Moth”.  Naming him after shit would be a perfect way to “honor” him once he leaves office.

Where you’re most likely to get struck by lightning — We had a very unusual Christmas day in South Dakota.  I believe it was 4 years ago when we were absolutely smothered in snow, getting close to 2 feet on Christmas.  We’ve had Christmas’s where the temperature never got above zero.  And then there was this Christmas where we had…a thunderstorm?  In late December? In South Dakota?  We set a record for most rainfall on Christmas Day, getting over an inch in most areas, and the lightning and thunder was the first time that’s ever occurred here on Christmas (or late December for that matter).  I could go into global warming here, but no, the point is the story in the above link.  Standing outside on Christmas Day in South Dakota normally isn’t a high-risk endeavor, in terms of being struck by lightning.  So where are the most active areas on earth for lightning?  Thanks to a satellite called the Tropical Rainfall Monitoring Mission, we now know.  The winner…a Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela.  Over each one square kilometer in the area, one could expect over 230 lightning strikes per year.  The lake is surrounded by mountains, and nearly every night, cool airflow from the mountains hits the warm waters and air above the lake and produces thunderstorms.

Western Meadowlark - Sturna neglecta

A Western Meadowlark, taken with a temp of -10° near Presho, South Dakota, in the winter of 2003-2004. I have a billion Meadowlark photos, but specifically remember this one because it was so rare to SEE one in the heart of winter. Now? They’re everywhere.

Bird migration changing with climate — As I noted in a previous post, I went birding to the central part of the state last week, and was amazed at how many Western Meadowlarks were around.  15 years ago, it was rare to spot one in winter in that part of the state.  Now…I saw hundreds, all across the region.  Global warming? It’s hard to ignore signs like that.  As this story describes, many birds are changing their migration patterns as the climate changes. Many are arriving on the summer breeding grounds much earlier than they used to.  There are also some species where migrations have become shorter, or perhaps such as the case of the Western Meadowlarks, where they’ve simply stopped moving south for the winter.

China bans ivory trade and purchase — A rare bit of good conservation news.  This last week, China announced that they will ban the sale and trade of ivory by the end of 2017. China was by far the largest market for legally sold ivory, with ivory selling for over $1,000 a kilogram.  The Great Elephant Census recently published noted that elephant populations world-wide plummeted by 30% in just the last 7 years (!!!!!), and incredible population decline for such a short time period.  With the shutting of the largest legal ivory market, it’s hoped that poaching pressures will decline.  However, it’s hard to guess what will happen with ivory trade, and if much of this will simply move to the black market.

Well we are “South” Dakota…

Confederate Flag

A new flag at a house on my way home! My guess is it’s been a month since I’ve been by, so this is something that’s popped up since the election. THIS is the kind of behavior that I guess is now normalized, thanks to our election of an openly bigoted pig of a man as President.

I work at a facility that’s outside of Sioux Falls in the middle of nowhere, which gives me the somewhat unique opportunity to drive gravel roads to and from work if I so wish.  I have several different roads I can take, but today took a gravel road I haven’t taken for probably a month.  I found a new feature on the road!  Joe White Trash Redneck decided to add a second flag to his flag pole…a Confederate Flag.

We ARE “South” Dakota I guess, and unlike those liberal heathens up in North Dakota, there are clearly many of South Dakotans that still harbor old-time convictions.  Who am I kidding…there are white trash rednecks like this all over the country, and lily-white South Dakota is no exception.  The difference is that unlike the South, here we wrap our bigotry and racism in good ol’ fashioned Midwestern “niceness”.

I’ve lived in Nebraska or South Dakota nearly all my life, save for a couple of years spent in Washington D.C. just after college.  I know what people are like, and I’ve always known the “nice Midwesterner” label was a farce.  People are people, and I certainly didn’t notice any difference in “niceness” in D.C. vs. here.  People certainly drive like assholes EVERYWHERE, whether you’re on the jam-packed freeways around D.C. or on the roads around Sioux Falls!  Any pride South Dakotans or other Midwesterners may take in their civility melts away quickly when you peek just under the surface.  Conservative values that dominate here are remarkably similar to conservative values in the deep South, where people may wrap themselves in a cloak of piety and religious belief, but that cloak is simply a cover for some very deep-rooted bigotry and racism.

Is it good or bad that the Trump election normalizes this kind of behavior?  What does it say that a house I’ve passed countless times in the past 23 years never had a Confederate flag flying, yet within a month of Trump being elected, it proudly flies next to the American flag?

Insecure white (trash/redneck/losers) have certainly gotten payback after 8 years of a (gasp!) black president, and with the choice of Trump, people are seemingly becoming much less shy about showing their true colors.

A casual dinner with EPA friends…

I was in Minneapolis for a couple of days, and before driving home last night, had dinner with a couple of friends from the Environmental Protection Agency.  It was a typical, light-hearted dinner, and every one was in a good mood.  In a good mood, that is, until one of the EPA folks go a text message from a friend. “Have you seen who your new boss is!?!?!?”, was the simple and short text.

We looked online for news about the Trump administration naming a new EPA head, and our collective hearts sank.  Scott Pruitt, the Attorney General of Oklahoma, was named the new incoming EPA chief. Scott Pruitt doesn’t believe in climate change.  Perhaps that’s not a deal-killer for the EPA head, because despite all the ridiculous garbage being spewed out of Trump’s mouth about the EPA, the vast majority of their work has very little to do with climate change.

However, Scott Pruitt is also an avowed critic of the EPA, and is currently actively SUING the EPA for what he deems to be “unnecessary and burdensome” regulation that gets in way of business activity.  Or to be more direct, gets in the way of MONEY, because as the incoming administration has made painfully obvious through Trumpt’s cabinet choices and stated policiy positions is that corporate America and MONEY is the only thing that matters.

The man is a lawyer, not a scientist…that gives you a good idea of the Trump administration’s views on the role of science in Federal government.  Not only is Pruitt actively suing the EPA (the very agency he now will lead! No conflict of interest there!), but he also has been very active in suing the Obama administration’s immigration laws, as well as Obamacare.  He’s an ally of the oil and gas industry, going to the defense of companies such as Exxon Mobil when they’ve come under scrutiny for their environmental practices.  He’s fought clean water laws, trying to limit Federal authority in limiting mercury, arsenic, and other toxins from contaminating the water supply.  In 2014, he purportedly wrote an op/ed piece for the New  York Times that criticized the EPA’s stance on pollution from natural gas drilling…and later it was found that the material in “his” piece was actually written by a representative of Devon Energy, one of the largest oil and gas producers in his state of Oklahoma.

In short, it’s like giving a fox keys to the hen house.  It literally would be extremely difficult to choose a WORSE person to head the EPA.

American “Christianity” (or lack thereof)

Coexist

A great idea, different religions, people with different beliefs, living in harmony. It might actually even work…if people would actually practice what they preach, and follow the actual teachings of their religion.

Yes, I’m an atheist.  A 100%, dyed-in-the-wool, god-denying atheist. I DO respect the right of people to believe whatever the hell they want to believe.  I will NEVER give anybody grief for following the true doctrines of Islam, Christianity, or any other religion.  While I don’t believe at all in the underlying premise of religion, of some omnipotent, invisible, all-powerful god overseeing the universe, the basic tenets of the major religions are, overall, honorable and good.  Teaching love, understanding, CARING for your fellow man…the world would be a truly wonderful place if the primary doctrines of these religions were actually followed. Given the overall “good” that nearly all religious belief teaches, I could easily overcome my certainty that there is no god, could easily overcome my cynicism on how much energy is spent on religious activity, and even SUPPORT these religions, in terms of what they’re supposed to be trying to accomplish.  I COULD respect religion and religious followers more, except for one tiny issue…

The actual doctrines of these religions seem to mean very little to their followers.

I’m not going to talk about Islam. The teachings of Islam are primarily the same as those of Christianity.  Yes, there clearly is a very small minority of Muslims who have twisted the teachings of Islam into an agenda of hate and intolerance.  Guess what America…they’re not alone.  Christianity has also become perverted in the U.S., primarily due to the forces of fear, hatred, and ignorance.

I was raised a Lutheran.  I went to church with my family every Sunday.  I hated it…primarily because I had to get out of bed early every Sunday morning!  Despite that, overall it helped shape who I am.  It taught me tolerance. It taught to love my fellow man.  It taught me how to be good to people.  As I grew up, as I started viewing the world through an objective lens, through the eyes of a scientist, the underlying belief in any “god” quickly faded away.  But the primary belief system has stayed with me.

The simple mantra of “practice what you preach” clearly comes into play this week with the election.  During the entire campaign, Donald Trump played on the fears and hatred of Americans.  He reveled in racism, stoking fear of Muslims, stoking fear of ANY immigrant, whipping up anger towards ANY group with a different skin color or religious belief.  He talked about a return to waterboarding and other torture techniques.  He’s a man on his 3rd wife, with documented affairs during the marriages of each. He’s a man who speaks of women as playthings, who openly said in an interview that  he doesn’t respect women.  He’s a man accused of assault by a number of women. He’s a man who has been sued over 3,000 times, is known for purposely stiffing contractors who have done work for him, and is currently involved in a fraud trial for Trump University.

In short…he’s not the most “Christian” of candidates!! Instead, you can make a very strong case that throughout American history, Donald Trump is the most corrupt, least “Christian” candidate that has ever received a major party nomination, much less won the presidency.  Did that cost him at the voting booth?  Did it cost him support among those with strong religious beliefs?

Not in the least.  With the possible exception of Utah, where a sizable chunk of principled Mormon voters refused to support him, Trump received very similar levels of support from evangelicals as have all past Republican candidates. For the past 30 years, Republicans have tried to cast themselves as the party most associated with Christian belief.  I understand the one issue, abortion.  I’m as liberal as liberal can be, and will always support a woman’s right to choose, to manage her own body, but even for me, abortion is a queasy issue.  I could possibly understand all the evangelical support for Trump, IF abortion were the driving issue.  However, there was very little discussion of abortion during the election, and it’s QUITE clear what actually drove Trump’s victory.

Racism.  Fear. Hatred.

What happened to those strong Christian beliefs? What happened to the actual TEACHINGS of Christianity in this election?  What happened to love, tolerance, helping your fellow man?  Instead, the overwhelmingly white “Christian” electorate that voted in Donald Trump erupted with anti-immigrant hate, “Build that wall!!” chants, violence towards non-whites at Trump campaign rallies.  We’ve seen ugly racial epithets and images, with an even more pronounced spike this week after the election.  We’ve seen groups like the KKK and alt-right actively back and endorse Trump, dreaming of a return to a “white” America.  We’ve seen vast support to end Obamacare, an effort that would result in 22 million Americans immediately losing health care coverage.  Ironically, despite all the hate in the campaign, we’ve also seen a rather hypocritical push by these same supporters to increase the role of Christianity in American life (while simultaneously trying to suppress Muslim influence).

In short…there’s VERY little of Trump’s campaign that jives with a Christian lifestyle.  How do “Christian” Americans reconcile their (supposed) religious belief with their actual actions?  Clearly they can’t.  You can’t claim a Christian heritage, yet actively support racism. You can’t claim a Christian heritage, yet value money and selfish greed over helping your fellow man.  You can’t claim a Christian heritage, yet base your lifestyle on the fear and HATRED of others.

I have a very difficult time with the entire idea of religious belief, not only because of my stance as an atheist, but because of the incredible hypocrisy from many self-proclaimed Christians in the U.S. I may be an atheist, but if there should actually be a God, I can guarantee you that in his/her eyes, I would be considered FAR more of a “Christian” than the vast majority of self-identified Christians in this country.

 

Climate Change Research under Orange Hitler

Fire World

What the hell. Let’s just torch this sucker now, Might as well, with Orange Hitler completely dismissing the possibility of climate change, and appointing energy businessmen to oversee our nation’s ecosystems and resources.

I can’t even say the fucking name right now. It’s like freakin’ Voldemort in Harry Potter, “he-who-shall-not-be-named”.  So for the time being (perhaps for four years), I’ll be referring to “him” as “Orange Hitler”.

I’ve avoided the news as best I could today.  My heart just can’t take it.  First and foremost on my mind is my son, and the fate of Obamacare.  Pre-existing condition rules, carrying insurance from job to job, covering a child on your insurance until they’re 26, ENSURING you have access to health care…all pretty damned important for a father when your child has Type-1 diabetes.  I hadn’t allowed myself to think how Orange Hitler would affect the environment and climate change.

Gulp.  Now I know.  ONE FUCKING DAY IN as president-elect (throwing up in mouth right now), and announced likely Cabinet members include:

  • Newt Gingrcih – Secretary of State.  We’ll see if he’s as “diplomatic” (aka, an asshole) as he was as Speaker of the  House
  • Rudy Guiliani – Attorney General. Good.  Fucking; God.  This man, among all others in the campaign, distinguished himself for his bullshit rhetoric.  Given how much of that we got during the campaign, that’s saying something.
  • Chris Christie – Commerce Secretary — Are you fucking kidding me?  Is he just picking EVERY scandal-ridden scumbag on the planet to fill his cabinet?
  • Reince Priebus – Chief of Staff — Ah, so THAT’S why this piece of crap stuck with Trump throughout the campaign, as RNC head. Now he gets his reward.  And it was Hillary that was getting accused of “pay-for-play”, all for the Clinton Foundation that did incredible charity work, and all without a shred of evidence.

 

It’s already so sad that climate science in the U.S. is looked down upon by so many. Half of America (and our president elect) are so vociferously anti-science. 1-day in as president-elect, and we have the following:

1) The head of Lucas Oil is the guy likely to lead the Dept of Interior, which manages federal lands, and is where USGS and other agencies are. A 74-year old business man with a focus on oil extraction…he’ll be in charge of national parks and other lands.

2) The head of the EPA is another business person, someone who is best known for leading climate-change denying work.

3) 1 day in, and a Trump administration has announced they are going to implement a hiring freeze on all Federal employees. The goal…squeeze down size of government by just letting employees get old, wither, and die, without replacing them. That is a huge impact, as without young scientists continually brought into the fold, you lose innovation and new perspectives.

4) A “de-emphasis” of climate-related science. What else can you say here?  Let’s just stick our heads in the sand and IGNORE the greatest human-caused environmental catastrophe on the planet.

Under Bush, it was a dark period in that not only was climate change work “de-emphasized”, but for all those scientists working in the federal government, their work was often subject to ‘review’ by political appointees, with edits or publication restrictions if the results of the work didn’t agree with the anti-climate-change politics.

 

It’s the entire planet that suffers.  Climate change advances under Obama are going out the door.  And those who suffer the most will be future generations.

A scientific explanation for men being assholes…

Asshole Men - Trump, Putin, Kim Jung-Un

Biologically, humans aren’t the only species where men are assholes. Kim Jung-un, Trump, Putin…it’s in your genes to aggressive, maniacal assholes. 🙂

A new study came out this week on Chimpanzees, examining dominance and social pecking order of female Chimpanzees, and comparing dominance strategies against males.  Social dominance for Chimpanzees is established in males by conflict.  Male Chimpanzees will actively challenge other males, with successful challenges leading to a rise in the social pecking order.  Aggressiveness and conflict…that’s what establishes your “rank”.

Females on the other hand were found to literally never establish dominance through conflict.  Instead, the study found female Chimpanzees have social pecking orders established right as they mature. After that, their pecking order is set, with the only moves up in the pecking order occurring when older or more dominant females die.  In short, females “wait their turn”, and dominance is established with time and experience, without conflict.

There certainly appears to be a lesson here! I can’t read the news any more without an eye-rolling moment, and quite often it’s related to chest-thumping and conflict that, frankly, usually just seems like it’s conflict-for-the-sake-of-conflict.  And 99% of the time, it’s my own sex that’s responsible.  As this study shows, it’s not just humans!  There’s a biologic component to aggressiveness (and may I say, stupidity) among men! (and hey, this is all coming FROM a guy…)

As is ALWAYS the case, science explains everything.  The Chimpanzee study is a great example of why we end up with men like Trump, Putin, Kim Jung-un, etc.  🙂

Speaking of an anti-fact culture…

When I first started blogging, on a blog where I’ve now removed all content, much of the focus was on politics. It got to be too much.  It’s absolutely disgusting what happens on blogs online, with the insults, intimidation, and pure HATRED that becomes apparent.  Because of that, I stopped talking about politics, and rebooted my blog to focus on science, birds, and photography.

I’m going to break with my “no politics” pledge for one post, and one post only.   This is just too much to ignore, especially given my last post about Americans and their turn against science…against FACT.  That same attitude is pervasive in this election. It all started back in the 1990s.  You had a zealous Congressional contingent at the same time that right-wing talk radio started spewing hate.  Started spewing conspiracies.  Started spewing lies.  Suddenly the sole purpose of the “opposition” Congress was to investigate and oppose, rather than legislate.

We’ve had 20 years of the same mentality.  The next election now is the ONLY thing that matters, and every political decision is made solely on that basis.  Legislative accomplishment?  Virtually absent, save for the few, short periods when one party controlled both the White House and Congress.

This mentality, based on hate, based on conspiracy, has COMPLETELY warped what is important in an election.  Those conspiracy theories? A completely IGNORANT American public now treats them as fact, rather than pure, politically motivated pipe dreams. The Clintons murdered Vince Foster!  Obama is a Muslim, born in Kenya!! Hillary was personally responsible for Benghazi (and evidently every other negative thing that’s ever occurred on the planet).  Never mind that none of these have any evidence!  Never mind that millions in taxpayer dollars have been wasted on pointless investigations, witch-hunts that have turned up exactly…nothing.

Yet an ignorant American public still believes THESE are the issues that matter the most.  They still believe these are REAL events, REAL controversies, rather than politically manufactured bullshit.  Just as my previous post on the anti-science movement in the U.S., politics has become a fact-free zone.

The result?   You’ve got a true pig of a human being in Trump, a racist, a misogynist, an ignorant, lying, self-serving blowhard who has one quality that has gotten him where he’s at…he’s been smart enough to tap into the ignorance and hatred of those who have been spoon-fed bullshit for 20 years.  Incredibly vulgar tapes where Trump sounds like a 19-year frat boy, rather than the potential President of the United States?  No worries to these folks!  In the world of hate in which they live, fact-free conspiracy theories are more important that the character and ability of “their” candidate to actually lead.

The fact that a man like Trump was actually nominated as a candidate of a major party, the fact that he’s a month away from potentially winning the presidency, DESPITE proving himself to truly be one of the most DEPLORABLE men on the planet, is just a natural outcome from 20-years of hate, 20-years of conspiracy-theory, 20-years of ignorance.

I’m flabbergasted. The fact that half of America evidently thinks this kind of man is fit to be President makes me frankly ashamed of my fellow Americans.  We’ve devolved into a country where hatred, bigotry, and misogyny are evidently accepted, and it makes me sick.

Like I said…a one-time political post.  Back to birds, science, and photography.

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