As Memorial Day weekend begins…

Memorial Day has become the sales and barbecue extravaganza that kicks off the summer season here in the US.

And it has also, erroneously, but with good intent, become a day for much ‘support our troops’ and ‘honor our veterans’ rhetoric. But that’s not what it was established to be. It was established immediately after the US Civil War, and was originally called Decoration Day. The purpose, then as now, was to honor our war dead  – and up until the time of World War I, the southern US states did not use that designated date to honor their own Civil War dead – they chose their own separate dates (& some of them still have separate dates to honor those killed in the Civil War). After WWI, the purpose was intentionally changed to honor all American soldiers that were killed in any war, anywhere. Far too high a number. And sadly, one that keeps on increasing as men of power continue their own quests to maintain – and extend – their power. War, for the kings and presidents, has never been for any ideal – that’s only what the young men, and women, sent out to battle are led to believe.

We should all enjoy the holiday – because we are here, and we can – but we should also never lose sight of what it really means, either.

Pax.

In “Flanders Fields”  John F. Prescott

Image from “McCRAE, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 24, 2015, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mccrae_john_14E.html.

For what it’s worth…

As I was commenting on the EPA website in regard to the rolling back of the regulations that have been protecting our air and water since the Nixon administration, I was reminded of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt about the dangers of allowing corporations to do whatever they want to for the sake of profit. I’ve used it before, and fear that I’ll have to repeat it again as the current administration, and our congress, allows profit to overcome sensibility.

“To permit every lawless capitalist, every law-defying corporation, to take any action, no matter how iniquitous, in the effort to secure an improper profit and to build up privilege, would be ruinous to the Republic and would mark the abandonment of the effort to secure in the industrial world the spirit of democratic fair dealing.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, December 8, 1908

Just some food for thought as we wrap up another politically overwhelming week.

Pax.

Photo of the Rio Grande Gorge, taken July 2015, in northern New Mexico – an area now at risk as the interior department looks to potentially eliminate or reduce the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, along with 20+ other National Monuments under the terms of  President Trump’s April 26th Executive Order.

Tuesday’s Quotes – May 9, 2017 – On opinions & thought

“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

— John F. Kennedy

I’ve been increasingly dismayed at how many people espouse extremely strong positions based on something akin to ether. In conversation, it often becomes obvious that those strongly held opinions are at odds with what the speaker really thinks about the topic. Although this phenomena is certainly not new – the desire to follow a path laid by others is innate to us humans because joining together is how we survive – but our world has become more crowded with information, accurate or not, and everyone’s opinions (even mine – isn’t that the point of this blog?), that we frequently do not take the time to think the things that we are hearing through. Ironic that in the information age, many of us seem reluctant to look into a claim before we allow ourselves to react, or before we help to spread it via social media. I’ve even seen things posted by people who I know would never have shared an article had they read it – because the article itself was opposition to the headline. And these are not isolated incidents, not are they limited to individuals of any one political persuasion (or even nationality), or any particular age group. The spanning of generations reinforces my own, anecdotally based, opinion that this is not an educational issue, or a matter of upbringing. I think it is a by-product of having too much available to take in – it is just easier to let someone else tell us what the truth is than to reason it out for ourselves.

So, I’m taking this opportunity, once again, to share the 10 Commandments of Logic:

IMG_0595

JFK photo from insidegov.com

Originally posted May 19, 2015.

Tuesday’s Quotes – May 2, 2017 –

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”

— James Madison

Our founders understood science, technology, and the acquisition of knowledge to be critical to our country’s survival.  All of them supported public education, under the premise that only an educated populace could safeguard our liberty and prevent us from falling into tyranny.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that one of the things that Congress has the power to do is to ‘promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts‘. They were given that power to encourage technological growth an innovation by protecting the rights of those that did the work. It was, in fact, the basis for Copyright law, and Patents. And it should not be lost that Thomas Jefferson considered himself a scientist first and foremost, and even the military leader that brought us to victory, George Washington, said, in his first address to Congress:

There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.

We seem to have lost sight of that somewhere along the way. Our future depends upon resetting our bearings.

Photo of the US Capitol, Washington DC circa 2014.

 

 

 

When nerds unite

I’m deeply introverted with a profound need for a large buffer of personal space, but I had the good fortune to spend my day on Saturday at the March for Science in Washington, D.C. with several thousand other people – although rainy and not particularly warm, the vibe was overwhelmingly positive. Will it accomplish anything? Time will tell. And like all things, it will require continuing effort to keep the momentum going. But, to those who refer to it as a protest – it very much wasn’t – it was a promotion of science, critical thinking, evidence based policy making. Political? Perhaps – but scientific research often relies on public funding for public benefit, and public health, and environmental, policies are science based – politics cannot be ignored. And unfortunately, we have a entered a disturbing time where neither our legislative or executive branches seem to have much respect for, or use for science. Were some of the signs overtly political? Yes, but definitely not the majority. The speakers included a mix of Earth Day activism, but the message was overwhelmingly pro-science and pro-critical thinking.

It is critical to the planet, to other species, and to us humans that our long national descent into willful ignorance reaches its end. Honestly, this march was long-overdue. We have long been descending into the abyss, and something should have been done by those most qualified years ago. Perhaps that would have preventive things from reaching this point. Hopefully, this will serve as a wake-up call that we can’t sit around waiting for someone else to fix things. That the scientific conclusions cannot be left to speak for themselves when people, especially those responsible for policy, are actively refusing to to consider those conclusions as valid because the conclusions run counter to what they want them to be.

On Earth Day, even as the EPA is being gutted and environmental protections being rolled back, President Trump issued an Earth Day message that proclaimed his commitment to protect the environment despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, and stated that economic growth is beneficial to the environment. Even Richard Nixon was pragmatic enough to recognize that environmental regulation is necessary, and a number of businesses agree. Personally, I do not want to see a return to the pre-EPA state of the environment, and yet that is the path the we are heading down as a nation. The high levels of lead in the water in Flint are a direct consequence of letting politics and economics rule over environmental concerns.

It is past time to act, but hopefully it is not too late.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall

Here are a few of the pictures that I took at the march.

 

On ignorance and evil

As I prepare for our annual trip to Georgia to visit our in-laws, with many weighty personal, professional, an newsworthy things on my mind, I’ve decided to share this post from April 5, 2016 because the thoughts contained in the two quotes still seem so meaningful right now.

Enjoy the weekend.

“The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness or true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.”

― Albert Camus, The Plague

I’ve mentioned before that I have long had a love-hate relationship with Albert Camus. Like many, I was forced to read “The Stranger” while in high school – a book I found to be bleak and disturbing, but admittedly, it stuck with me through the years – so it did keep me thinking. Generally regarded as an existentialist by others, he did not see himself as one – although it is hard not to read “The Stranger”, and much of his other writing, as anything but Existentialism.

Born in Algeria in 1913, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature at the young age of 43, died far too young in an automobile accident in 1960 – Camus was a journalist, novelist, playwright, philosopher. Always a pacifist, he’d been many things politically over the years, but always in opposition to tyranny in all forms – yet conflicted over the growing unrest in his native Algeria, where his mother still lived. Long strongly outspoken on tyranny –  when in Occupied Paris during WWII, over Stalin’s ever-expanding empire in Easter Europe – he was mostly silent on the situation in Algeria. Understandable given his concerns about his mother, but it garnered him much criticism.

This particular quote seems appropriate to me in our current political climate.

And for some reason that brought to mind, this quote from Charles Darwin:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Albert Camus, photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson – borrowed from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.