Tuesday’s Quotes – May 16, 2017 – Moderation

“We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”

Alexander Hamilton, Constitutional Convention,  June 1787

It seemed like a good time to dust this quote off. Our government was created as a Democratic Republic primarily try to minimize the impact of extremist views, which are a risk in a true democracy, and to thereby protect the rights of those in the minority. It seems like out polarization keeps getting worse – what we need, and do not have, is both a president and a congress that are willing to work together – dare I say compromise – to unify the country, in stead of actively promoting the divisions.

Alexander Hamilton image from http://www.biography.com/people/alexander-hamilton-9326481

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.

 

Happy Birthday, Henry Clay

“The Constitution of the United States was made not merely for the generation that then existed, but for posterity—unlimited, undefined, endless, perpetual posterity.”

— Henry Clay

Henry Clay, lawyer, career politician, and Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams, was born on this day in 1777. Clay passed away in 1852, and remained politically active until the end of his life. Although he was a committed hawk early in his life – in fact, he was strongly in favor of going to war with Great Britain in 1812 – by 1847 he said this in a speech opposing the Mexican-American War:

“War unhinges society, disturbs its peaceful and regular industry, and scatters poisonous seeds of disease and immorality, which continue to germinate and diffuse their baneful influence long after it has ceased. Dazzling by its glitter, pomp and pageantry, it begets a spirit of wild adventure and romantic enterprise, and often disqualifies those who embark in it, after their return from the bloody fields of battle, from engaging in the industrious and peaceful vocations of life.”

An astute politician – quite capable of, and occasionally reviled for, back room bartering to secure his own position – he was instrumental in pulling together several critical deals (often in partnership with Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun), including the Compromise Tariff of 1833, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and other agreements intended to head off confrontations about slavery. He has been nicknamed the “Great Compromiser”.

During the course of his long career in politics, he served Kentucky in its state house, as well as in the US House of Representatives – where he served as Speaker of the House prior to his appointment as Secretary of State – as well as its Senator from 1849 until his death in 1852. In 1957, the US Sentate namely him as one of the 5 greatest senators. That esteemed list included his contemporaries, Webster and Calhoun, as well as Robert LaFollett and Robert Taft.

There is a disturbing sense of dejavu in in this quote of Clay’s from an 1829 speech – it’s disturbing how little people, and politics, ever change through the centuries:

“The arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim; denounces it; and excites the public odium and the public hatred, to conceal its own abuses and encroachments.”

And how clearly true in our current political climate.

Tuesday’s Quotes – March 28, 2017 – Gorky

“The good qualities in our soul are most successfully and forcefully awakened by the power of art. Just as science is the intellect of the world, art is its soul.”
― Maxim Gorky, Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture, and the Bolsheviks, 1917-1918

Maxim Gorky, Russian journalist, playwright, was born on March 28, 1868. He was an anti-tsarist, Marxist, one-one time friend of Lenin, who grew frustrated by the repressiveness of the Soviet regime. He was nominated five times for the Nobel prize in Literature (1918, 1923, 1928 (twice), 1933) – but the prize eluded him (as it did his compatriots Anton Chekov and Leo Tolstoy), and he died in 1936 in Moscow.

I found this quote to be particularly apt right now, with the emphasis on cost winning out over the less tangible benefits of the arts to humanity (of course, science seems to be losing to cost as well at the moment…).

Image of Maxim Gorky borrowed from Brittanica.com