Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tillerson Embarassment

Those of us concerned with climate change are especially concerned with the nomination of former Exxon chief Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State. Well, Rex Tillerson was just confirmed by the US Senate.

Donald Trump is the least liked president ever for this point in a term. And, Rex Tillerson is now the least liked Secretary of State, with a 56-43 vote approving his appointment.

Most of the time a SOC gets close to 100% confirming votes. This is, in fact, true of most cabinet positions most of the time. Once you know a certain nominee is going to win, you just join in, for the purposes of unity etc. etc.

The Norms of Society and Presidential Executive Orders UPDATE

A brief update: This morning, Senate Republicans set aside the rules that say that both parties must be present, with at least one member, for a committee vote to advance a Presidential nominee for a cabinet appointment.

In other words, as outlined below, our system is based not only on enforceable laws but also on rules that only work if everyone involves agrees to not be the bully on the playground who ignores the rules. The Republicans are the bully on the playground.

The system requires honest actor playing by agreed on rules. So, without the honest actor, you get this. This fits perfectly with Trump’s overall approach.

Democracy is not threatened by this sort of thing. Democracy was tossed out the window a while back when this sort of thing became possible, and normal. Whatever we see now that looks like democracy is vestigial.

Original Post:

The title of this post is based closely on the title of a statement posted by my friend Stephan Lewandowsky, representing the Psychonomic Society.

The post is the official statement by this scientific society responding to President Trump’s recent activities, and it begins,

Last Friday was Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz Death Camp by Soviet troops in 1945. U.S. President Trump marked the occasion with a statement, although it omitted any specific mention of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

On the same day, Trump also signed an executive order that banned citizens of 7 mainly Islamic countries from entering the United States.

This order—at least initially—also applied to legal permanent residents of the U.S. (“Green card” holders), thus barring them from re-entry to their country of residence after a visit abroad, as well as to dual nationals if one of their citizenships is from one of those 7 countries.

I’m going to use this as a starting point to discuss the most important thing you need to know about the situation in the United States right now.

You know most resources are limited. We can cook along ignoring this for long periods of time, ignoring a particular resource’s limitations, until one day something goes awry and that particular resource suddenly matters more and of it, we have less. So a competitive framework develops and then things happen.

It is the business of the rich and powerful to manipulate the world around them in such a way that when such a limitation occurs, they profit. Candidate Trump mentioned this a while back. A housing crisis is a good thing for a real estate developer. This is not because it is inherently good; a housing crisis can put a real estate developer out of business. But the developer who is positioned to exploit such a crisis, or any kind of economic or resource crisis, is in a good position when thing go badly for everyone else.

One of the long term goals of many powerful entities is to maintain working classes, or other lower classes of servitude, in order to have cheap labor and a market. This has been done in many ways, in many places, at many times. Much of our social history is about this. Many wars have been fought over this, and many social, cultural, and economic revolutions have occurred because of this.

And every now and then, a holocaust happens because of this. This is, in part, because of what I’ll term as Mischa’s Law. Mischa Penn is a friend and colleague who has studied race and racism across all its manifestations as represented in literature, but focusing on the Nazi Holocaust and the holocaust of Native Americans. Mishca’s Law is hard to understand, difficult to believe, enrages many when they hear it, and is often set aside as lunatic raving. Unless, of course, you take Mischa’s class on race and racism, get a few weeks into it, know enough about it. Then, he gives you the thing, the thing I call “Mischa’s Law” (he doesn’t call it that) and you go, “Oh, wait, of course, that’s totally true.” And then you get really depressed for a while, hate Mischa for a while, hate his class. Then, later, ten years later, a life time after you’ve taken the class, and you’ve graduated and moved on to other things, Misha’s Law is the only thing you remember from all the classes you took at the U, and you still know it is true.

The fundamentals are always in place for Mischa’s Law to take effect. Competition, limited resources, different social classes or groups, a limited number of individuals in power, etc. But we, in America, have lived in a society where checks and balances kept one ideology (including, sadly, my own!) from taking over for very long, and there is a certain amount of redistribution of wealth and power.

But over recent years, the rich and powerful have convinced the working class that the main way we distribute wealth, through taxes, is a bad thing, so that’s mostly over. Social welfare has become a dirty word. The rich are richer, the powerful more powerful, and those with little power now have almost no power at all. But we still had a governmental system of checks and balances, so that was good.

But then the system of checks and balances got broken. In fact, the entire system of government got broken. Did you notice this? What happened is, about half the elected officials in government stopped doing the number one thing they were supposed to do, and this ruined everything.

What was that one thing? This: play by the rules.

Playing by the rules requires both knowing the rules and then making an honest attempt to respect them. Not knowing the rules is widespread in our society. I’m sure the elected officials know the rules they are breaking, but increasingly, I think, the average person who votes for them has no clue what the rules are or how important it is that they be observed.

Imagine the following situation. You go to baseball games regularly, to see your team play. Let’s make this slightly more realistic and assume this is a Little League team.

One day a big scary kid who is a bully gets up to bat. The pitcher winds up, throws the ball. Strike one. It happens again. Strike two. One more time. Strike three.

But instead of leaving the batter’s box, the big bully kid says, “I’m not out, pitch it again.” The following several moments involve a bit of embarrassment, the coaches come out, some kids are yelling at the bully, one parent hits another parent, and finally, it settles down, but the game is ruined and everyone goes home.

Next game, same thing happens, but this time nobody wants a scene, so they let the pitcher pitch the ball until the bully hits a single. Then the game continues. But the next game, there are a few bullies, not just one, demanding that the rules be ignored for them, and some other players decide to ignore other rules as well, and pretty soon, there is nothing like baseball happening.

You see what happened here? I’m going to guess that you don’t quite see the key point yet. The reason you leave the plate and go back to the dugout when you get three strikes is NOT because of the properties of matter, gravity, magnetic attraction, the unstoppable flow of water or a strong wind. You are not blown, washed, pulled, pushed, or dropped by any force back into the dugout when you get three strikes. You go back into the dugout because you got three strikes, the rules say you are out, right?

No. Still not right. You go back into the dugout because you got three strikes, the rules say you are out, AND THEN YOU FOLLOW THE RULES.

The Republican party, about half the elected officials, have unilaterally decided, in state houses across the country and in the Federal government, to stop following the rules.

A few years ago, in the Minnesota State House, a Republican representative made the clear and bold statement that he represented only the voters in his district who voted for him, and not the other citizens. He was resoundingly condemned for doing this, and he backed off and stopped talking like that. But over time, in state houses across the country, and in congressional districts, this increasingly became the norm, for Republicans. The rule is, of course, that once elected you represent all the people of your district. But more and more Republicans decided that this rule did not apply to them. They only represent those who voted for them. Now, this is normal in the Republican Party, and the first Republican President to be elected after this change said during his first news conference after his election, prior to his inaugural, that blue states would suffer and red states would benefit from his presidency.

I’ll give you another quick example. In one of Minnesota’s legislative chambers, the chair, who is from the leading party, has the right to silence any legislature who gets up to speak if the topic being discussed is not related to the matter at hand on the floor. So, the legislature is debating a proposed law about bicycles. The Democrats are in charge. A Republican gets up and insists on talking about his horoscope. The Democratic chair of the chamber says something like, “Your remarks are not relevant to the matter at hand, sit down and be quiet.” Good rule.

Last time the Republicans were in charge in that Minnesota chamber, they did this to every single Democrat who stood to say anything about anything, including and especially the matter at hand. The Republicans disregarded the actual rule (that the chair can silence a member who is off topic) and misused the power (that the chair can silence any member) to their benefit.

Tump is not following the rules, the Republicans in Congress are not acting like a “check” on Trump, and we have seen government officials in the Executive branch, apparently, ignoring court orders.

Trump’s executive orders over the last few days have been an overreach of power. For example, in its initial and badly executed form, his “extreme vetting” plan removed the rights of green card holders. Two different court orders neutered at least parts of this executive order temporarily, but it is reported that some officials, working for the Executive branches, ignored the court order. Since these are basically cops ignoring an order from a judge, and judges don’t have a police force, there isn’t much that can be done about that. Cops are supposed to follow the orders of judges. That’s the rule. The only way the rule works is if the rule is followed. There is no other force that makes the rule work.

Trump’s apparent abrogation of previous decisions on major pipeline projects was done without reference of any kind to the regulatory process that had already been completed. Regulations are acted on by the Executive branch, but they come from laws passed by Congress, and the whole judiciary is involved whenever someone has a case that there is something amiss. Trump’s executive orders and memoranda related to the pipeline ignore all the different branches of government, departments, process, and rules of governing.

It would appear that Trump had brought together the two major changes in rule observation that have developed over the last 20 years in this country. First, like the average citizen (of all political stripes) he is ignorant of how anything works. Second, like the bully that stands by the batter’s box, he shall not observe any rule that he does happen to find out about.

You see, for a United States President to become a dictator, he has to do only one thing: Stop following the rules. The US Court System, the Congress, and the Executive exist in a system of checks and balances, and that is supposed to keep everybody, well, in check. And balanced. But the Executive is the branch of government with multiple police and security forces, an Army, a Navy, an Air Force, Marines, and a Coast Guard. There is a rule that only the Coast Guard can carry out military-esque activities on US soil. But there is a mechanism for putting that rule aside. The President puts the rule aside. That’s it.

We live in a world of limited resources, and a pre-existing system of inequity, class, and ethnic categorization that allows the powerful to exploit and control most everyone else. We live in a country in which a single individual can take over the government by getting elected president then ignoring the rules, whether or not he formally declares himself in charge of everything. There is no mechanism to stop this from happening. There are all sorts of rules in place to stop it, such as the political parties putting up qualified candidates, the electors making sure they elect a qualified candidate, the Congress certifying the election of qualified candidates. But those things did not happen, and we now have a man who by all indications intends to dictate, not lead, dictate not rule, dictate not represent. There is no indication of any kind whatsoever that we do NOT have an incipient dictatorship as our form of government right now, and there are strong indications that this is where Trump is going.

And this is where Mischa’s Law becomes a thing.

“Racism, left unchecked, will eventually lead to holocaust.”

The checks, they have been neutralized.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

It sounds a lot like two hands clapping, but quieter, because you can only do it by slapping your thumb against a couple of your other fingers and not to hard. This, of course, leaves open another important philosophical question. Is a thumb a finger?

A while back my friend Massimo Pigliucci took Neil deGrasse Tyson to task for, among other things, equating philosophy with asking the question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” That was a dig, of course, made in the context of suggesting that philosophy had no real utility, and that the real thinking was all about science, not philosophy. This seems to be a difficulty NdGT has, this thing with philosophy. I believe that when Neil was a child, in the crib, a philosopher came along and scared him. He does not remember this event, but ever since then, he’s had this idea that philosophy is a bad thing, a worthless enterprise. (Until recently, anyway, see below.)

And that would be of little consequence were it not for the fact that approximately 23.41% of people who are not scientists (or philosophers) who also love science believe whatever Neil deGrasse Tyson says. Much of what he says is, of course, wonderful and insightful and even inspiring. But, he is not always correct, and he is sometimes abysmally wrong. For example, when he says that GMO agriculture is exactly the same as traditional agriculture because we’ve been manipulating genes for thousand of years, he belies a misunderstanding of genes, plants, history, and GMO technology. We have been manipulating traits for thousands of years, not genes, and GMO technology allows us to move genes between organisms that we can not interbreed in the agricultural setting, thus providing potential opportunities heretofore unimagined. Equating GMO technology to prior traditional agriculture, in asking what can come of it, is like equating space travel to horse and buggy travel. Yes, there is a link, no, they are not the same.

By the way, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” is not a question of philosophy. It is a K?an. A K?an is a question or statement posed as part of Zen practice designed to challenge a student or to represent a salient belief. Many are references to well known stories. Collectively they form the basis for meditation. They may be other things. I’m not an expert on that. What they are not, however, is philosophy.

A Zen K?an is a touchstone to Zen thought and belief. A philosophical question is one engendering enquiry about meaning, value, knowledge, reality, etc. but typically one that is not subject to direct scientific interrogation.

It is quite possible for a question or subject to shift between the scientific and philosophical realm (though not always retaining relevance). For example, the question “what am I really seeing when I look at something” was addressed by early philosophers such as Plato, and later became a matter of scientific inquiry. The founder of Anthropology, Franz Boas started out as a physical scientist looking into an aspect of this question (with sea water) but there were all these interesting Indians around and he shifted focus. Eventually physicists got on to explaining what happens when light illuminates something and we see it. Recently, I asked some physicists about the difference between light bouncing, reflecting, off a mirror like surface vs. any other sort of object, and I’m pretty sure we ran into the philosophical realm when the question came up, “is a photon that reflects the same photon after reflection?” It turns out that physicists can’t agree and/or don’t know, and then they seem to get a little embarrassed, then they claim it is a philosophical question. Probably not a very interesting one.

Philosophers may ask about meaning. A behavioral neurobiologist may also explore meaning, and actually pin down what meaning is physically without having a clue what meaning actually means. Meanwhile, a semiotician may come to understand meaning as a process and even a non-physical entity that can be measured and described, which makes that meaning not very philosophical because it is being directly observed scientifically, but a semiotician is a kind of philosopher, usually, and they don’t give up on their subject matters so easily. The field of “linguistics” sits astride philosophy and science in such as way that we, fortunately, don’t have to ask if a given question is philosophical or scientific so often. One might ask if the determination of a question being philosophical vs. scientific is itself a philosophical or scientific question. I’m pretty sure, though, if you do that, you’ve got a Zen K?an on your hands!

Anyway, this topic got Mike Haubrich and me thinking, a while back, that it would be a good idea to scientifically address philosophy, or get into some of the philosophy of science, to amplify Massimo Pigliucci’s comment born of his critique of NdGT:

I hope you can see, dear Neil, that it isn’t just that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, but also that there is more active, vigorous, interesting, and intellectually respectable philosophy to be explored than you and some of your colleagues have been able to dream of so far. Please, keep that in mind the next time someone asks you about it. Or ask them to give me a call.

To which Neil replied:

“I generally reply to things if, and only if, they are writing about something that I judge to be untrue about me, or that they have misunderstood about what I have said. Neither is the case with you.”

How very Zen of everybody.

Anyway, we address and update the question of science and philosophy, and what they may mean to each other, by interviewing philosopher Dan Fincke on Ikonokast. Dan is well known to many of the readers of this blog as an outspoken and active member of the Atheist community, with ties to the science and skeptics community. This is one of those interviews where I ask about three questions and the interviewee gives us a lot of great stuff, well sorted out and well said. You will not want to miss this interview. Check it out!

Can you be forgiven for committing a horrible crime if you have a brain tumor?

Asking for a friend…

But seriously, this is a real question. For example, several years ago, Herbert Weinstein tossed his wife out the window of their Manhattan apartment, after killing her, following an argument. He was well known to be a non violent person, and there was really no good reason for him to murder his wife this way. But, it turns out, his prefrontal cortical region was compromised by a very large cyst. Weinstein was one of the first in recent decades to use an insanity style defense connected to neuro-imaging or other neurobiology showing a demonstrable, physical, brain problems.

The obverse is obvious, and somewhat ominous. If a person can commit a serious crime and then be shown to have done so because of something we can see pretty easily inside their brain, then couldn’t, even shouldn’t, we be scanning brains to identify people who might also throw Mrs. Weinstein out the window?

More pragmatically, what about the link between damage to brains in sports or war, and behavior, treatment, and the simple problem of helping people who got messed up because we like to watch them smash into each other on the gladiator’s field, or we wish them to defend our nation on an actual battle field?

Author Kevin Davis notes:

Among the growing number of cases involving neuroscientific evidence are those that involve combat veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq as defendants. The attorney for Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who was charged with killing 17 civilians in Afghanistan, has said his client suffered a traumatic brain injury.

So many veterans are winding up in the courts that the National Veterans Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, created The Attorney’s Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court, which covers traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

By the way, do you know who Melissa Fitzgerald is? She played Carol Fitzpatrick (aka “Carol”) on The West Wing — CJ’s assistant. Go to The West Wing Weekly podcast, find episode 1.10, and listen to an interview with her about veteran law and veteran’s courts.

Anyway, Kevin Davis, quoted above, is coming out with a book called The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America’s Courtrooms, which covers this topic in some detail. In particular, he uses the Weinstein murder case as the context for a detailed exploration of neuroscience and criminal justice.

Shortly after Weinstein was arrested, an MRI revealed a cyst the size of an orange on his brain’s frontal lobe, the part of the brain that governs judgment and impulse control. Weinstein’s lawyer seized on that discovery, arguing that the cyst had impaired Weinstein’s judgment and that he should not be held criminally responsible for the murder. It was the first case in the United States in which a judge allowed a scan showing a defendant’s brain activity to be admitted as evidence to support a claim of innocence.

The Weinstein case marked the dawn of a new era in America’s courtrooms, raising complex and often troubling questions about how we define responsibility and free will, how we view the purpose of punishment, and how strongly we are willing to bring scientific evidence to bear on moral questions. Davis brings to light not only the intricacies of the Weinstein case but also the broader history linking brain injuries and aberrant behavior, from the bizarre stories of Phineas Gage and Charles Whitman, perpetrator of the 1966 Texas Tower massacre, to the role that brain damage may play in violence carried out by football players and troubled veterans of America’s twenty-first century wars. The Weinstein case opened the door for a novel defense that continues to transform the legal system: Criminal lawyers are increasingly turning to neuroscience and introducing the effects of brain injuries—whether caused by trauma or by tumors, cancer, or drug or alcohol abuse—and arguing that such damage should be considered in determining guilt or innocence, the death penalty or years behind bars. As he takes stock of the past, present and future of neuroscience in the courts, Davis offers a powerful account of its potential and its hazards.

The book is coming out in late February, but you can preorder it here.

The Lady in the Statue Has Died: RIP Mary

Mary Tyler Moore has always had a certain amount of grace, and just now, she had the grace to wait until a reasonable time after the spate of celebrity deaths that captivated the Internet for weeks to pass on to the great Newsroom In The Sky.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 3.10.56 PMShe played Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show, but we all know she was REALLY playing Jackie Kennedy if Jackie Kennedy was married to a Comedian in New Rochelle, NY, instead of a President.

Later, she played Mary Richards in the Mary Tyler Moore show, at a time when a lot of people were acting in TV shows named after the actor, not the character. Or did I dream that?

She was in a bunch of other stuff too.

Anyway, Mary died at the age of 80.

Here in Minnesota, she is known as “The Lady in the Statue” by all the Millennials who know the statue but not her work.

Scratch Programming For Kids, By The Cards

Last October I reviewed Scratch Programming Playground, by Al Sweigart.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 2.38.32 PMYou will recall that Scratch is a programming language that uses drag and drop elements to construct a program.

Individual objecgts, including “sprites” that can move around on the screen, as well as static graphic elements, sounds, etc. get their own code, and this code can be set up to start under various conditions, such as when something touches something, or the user hits a certain key, etc.

This allows for the development of very simple but fun programs, and vey complicated ones as well.

Scratch is normally implemented on an MIT web page, though it can be installed on a computer for local use. Increasingly, specialized versions of Scratch are being used for robotics. I have predicted that Scratch will for the basis of the programming language that will give normal humans access to the Internet of Things.

The image on the right is a segment of code for an implementation of Pac-Man on Scratch.

This programming code applies to a sprite that looks like the yellow Pac-Man thingie. The entire block runs when a certain (“start”) signal is received, causing the sprite to point in a certain direction and go to a certain location, to start the game.

The next block is repeated “forever” (not really, but until the program is terminated or the loop exited on purpose).

Then the various “if” blocks determine what happens. If Pac-Man’s red part (a little dot out in front of itself) touches anything black, which basically means clear runway to move along, then it moves forward. Then, a series of if blocks pick up signals form the game player’s arrow keys, causing Pac-Man to change direction. The controls basic movement of the Pac-Man sprite around the board.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 2.45.35 PMElsewhere in the code, the Pac-Man eating monsters are controlled, and one of those uses the code shown here on the right. Once the game starts, this monster (“Pinky”) moves to a starting point, then for the entire game glides in the direction of Pac-Man until it is killed.

That gives you an idea. For more of that, and information about the book I recommend you use to learn Scratch, I mean, give to your kid to learn scratch, go here.

And now I have something else for you.

Scratch Coding Cards: Creative Coding Activities for Kids is a collection of cards that you, er, your kids, can use to learn Scratch programming. This is rated for kids 8 or above, but I think they can be easily used by younger kids, with a modest amount of adult help.

The cards come in sets that go together meaningfully, and they are color coded. For example, there is a set of “Let’s Dance Cards.” This includes coding examples addressing sequencing, music, taking turns, leaving a trail, etc.

The front of each card gives a visual indication of what the result is going to look like, and the back has the code. This is typically further divided (on the back) in to three parts: Get ready (what you need to have, know, etc.), the code itself (like the code blocks shown above, but generally very little bits at a time), and a “try it” prompt or a helpful tip of some kind.

There are sections or racing, hide and seek, story telling, and other projects.

At first I was wondering why they don’t just make this into a book, but then I remembered that kids like to play with things that are explicitly not books. Also, the cards to not have to stay together or in order. Indeed, you can take cards from different project groups and put them together to create new programming projects, to some extent.

Scratch Coding Cards: Creative Coding Activities for Kids is a fun addition to one’s set of programming tools. If you gave a kid a book on Scratch for one holiday or birthday, this may be a good followup next time around a few months later.

Judith Curry Is In With The Koch Brothers

I’m only just digesting this, but it appears that Judith Curry, climate scientist turned anti-climate change activist (more or less) has joined the Koch Brothers front group “Cause of Action“.

How do we know this? Because she has filed an Amicus Brief (2017.01.25 Mot. for Leave to File, Nos. 14-cv-101 14-cv-126 (D.C.))( on behalf of the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute in the case of Mann vs. Those Guys, with council at Cause of Action Institute.

Go read the brief. It is pretty nasty.

Also related, this: 2017.01.25 Br. of Amicus Dr. Judith A. Curry Nos. 14-cv-101 14-cv-126 (D.C.).

Have at it.

Natural Resources Committee Democrats Respond to Trump’s Advancement of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines

This is a press release from the Natural Resources Committee Democrats, US House of Representatives concerning President Trump’s decision and actions to push ahead with two highly controversial petroleum pipeline projects.

These projects had previously been stopped because they did not meet environmental standards, or because they violated tribal agreements. It is still quite possible that these reasons still matter, and that President Trump cant’ simply wish the projects back into existence. Or maybe he can. It remains to be determined.

Here is the statement:

Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva and key members of the Committee released the following statement today on the announcement that President Donald Trump will advance the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines through executive order. Grijalva – who published a Feb. 27, 2014, New York Times op-ed opposing the Keystone pipeline and who met with leaders at the Standing Rock Sioux camp opposed to Dakota Access early last year – has been a leading advocate for due process and environmental justice in pipeline construction. He held a Capitol Hill forum with Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) on Sept. 22, 2016, to highlight the damage often done to Native American sovereignty, health and environmental quality when pipelines are rubber-stamped.

“Even for a president who mistakes his own whims for the rule of law and corporate profits for the public interest, these orders are irresponsible,” said Grijalva. “These pipelines are being approved because President Trump wants to make polluter corporations happy, not because they’re good for the country. If either of these pipelines is finalized, the damage to water quality, public health, and eventually our climate will be on his hands. Approving the Dakota Access project in particular violates Native American sovereignty, treaty rights and federal trust responsibility which the Obama administration rightly recognized when it decided the pipeline needed further review.”

“Advancing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines ignores years of environmental studies and opposition from local residents and landowners,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.). “Instead of investing in polluting fossil fuels, we should be supporting clean, renewable energy projects that will create jobs and help our nation reduce carbon emissions.”

“Today’s actions are short-sighted with so many questions still remaining as to the risks these pipelines pose to water quality, public health, and the environment,” said Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.). “As the new Ranking Member of the Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Subcommittee, I am especially concerned with the threat the Dakota Access Pipeline poses to Native American sovereignty given the lack of input from tribal leaders whose lands stand to be severely impacted. President Trump should have allowed the thorough review process initiated by the Obama administration to be completed before rushing through this decision.”

“Just days after being sworn in, Mr. Trump has already shown he is ignoring scientists and the community in an effort to serve the big oil industry,” said Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.). This is a complete disregard for the environment and for Native American rights to water, their land, but above all, to be treated with dignity and respect.”

One order directs all federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to expedite approval of the easement to complete construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Moving forward Ranking Member Grijalva will continue to maintain strong oversight of the Dakota Access Pipeline to ensure that any further action taken by the Trump administration protects water quality, tribal sovereignty and does not turn American energy infrastructure projects into super highways that carry oil from Canada to China.


Why is the US Government turning back to petroleum when clean energy means JOBS JOBS JOBS?

The solar energy field now produces the larest share of jobs in US Power generation. There are 374,000 jobs i Solar right now, compared to fewer than 190,00 in coal, gas, and oil.

This corresponds to shifts in the amount of electricity produced by these various sources, as indicated in the Department of Energy graph shown above.

The biggest states for this job growth are California followed distantly by Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.

Given current trends inside the beltway, I expect the Department of Energy to make this report disappear so 2017 US Energy and Jobs Report_0.

Palpable History: Dictator’s Voice, Dictator’s Words

It is a good idea to occassionally experience history. This helps us understand ourselves, and our possible futures, better. Much of this is done through reading excellent texts. For example, I’m currently reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin’s objective is to contextualize Lincoln by looking at him in the broader context of the individuals that ran against him for the Republican nomination, and whom he later added to his cabinet. Goodwin succeeds, at several points, in placing the reader in a time or place of great import. Watching the very young Abraham Lincoln lower himself onto a log (he was out cutting firewood), his face buried in his hands and tears streaming from between his fingers, and not leaving that spot or position for hours after learning of the death of his mother. Or the layout and use patterns of Lincoln’s office in the White House, where he occupied a corner desk, and various members of his cabinet and military came and went with urgent messages, and made vitally important decisions, until the end of the day when Lincoln would sit down for a long read. That sort of thing.

So here, I’m going to invite you to do something a little strange. I’ve got here an audio recording of Adolf Hitler having a normal conversation (about extraordinary things) with a fancy dude by the name of Mannerheim, during a visit to Mannerheim at the time of his birthday. Wikipedia has the story on the audio recording. Here, it is presented as a YouTube video so you can follow who is speaking, and what is being said.

The reason to listen to this for a few minutes (no need to listen to the whole thing, though if you know anything about WW II, it may become captivating after a while) is because Hitler almost always screamed at his audience, and this is him speaking in a normal voice. I want to pair this audio experience with a linguistic but read experience. After listening to the audio recording with Mannerheim, read through the transcript of Hitler’s only other known “conversational” bit of significance.

There is a recording of that as well. It is a speech but one in which he speaks normally for much of the time. The point here, though, is not to listen to it to get the voice experience (but that is interesting) but to read his words. To hear how he formulates his statements, how he describes his situation. How he aggrandizes himself in the face of failure, how he belittles his enemy. How he schizophrenically moves between the gigantic and the modest, how he moves around his own goal posts as needed to make himself look big league smart.

Below you’ll find the two videos and the text. If either video vanishes (they do sometimes) you can easily relocate one on YouTube

The Mannerheim Recording:

The text of Hitler’s Stalingrad Speech:

If we follow our enemies’ propaganda, then I must say that is to be compared with “Rejoicing towards Heaven, depressed until Death”‘ The slightest success anywhere, and they literally turn somersaults in joy. They have already destroyed us, and then the page turns and again they are cast down and depressed. I did not want to attack in the center, not only because Stalin knew I would. I provide one such example. If you read the Russian telegrams every day since June 22nd, they say the following each day: “Fighting of unimportant character”. Or maybe of important character. “We have shot down three times as many German planes. The amount of sunken tonnage is already greater than the entire naval tonnage, of all the German tonnage from before.” They have so many of us missing that this amounts to more divisions than we can ever muster. But, above all, they are always fighting in the same place. “Here and there”, they say modestly, “after fourteen days we have evacuated the city.” But, in general, since June 22nd they have been fighting in the same place. Always successful, we are constantly being beaten back. And in this continued retreat we have slowly come to the Caucasus.

I should say that for our enemies, and not for your soldiers, that the speed at which our soldiers have now traversed territory is gigantic. And what has transcribed this past year is vast and historically unique. Now, I do not always do things just as others want them done. I consider what the other probably believe and then do the opposite on principle. So, if I did not want to attack in the center, not only because Mr. Stalin probably believed I would, but because I didn’t care about it at all. But I wanted to come to the Volga, to a specific place and a specific city. it happened to have Stalin’s name, but that’s not why I went there. It could have had another name.

But, now this is a very important point. Because from here comes 30 millions tons of traffic, including about nine millions tons of oil shipments. From there the wheat pours in from these enormous territories of the Ukraine and from the Kuban region then to be transported north. From here comes magnesium ore. A gigantic terminal is there and I wanted to take it. But, as you know, we are modest. That is to say that we have it now. Only a few small pockets of resistance are left. Some would say “Why not fight onwards?” Because I don’t want a second Verdun! I would rather hold this with small combat patrols! Time does not matter, no ships are coming up the Volga! That is the important point.

Hitler’s Speech, 8 November, 1942:

A response to Trump’s gag order on scientists

From, in response to Trump gag orders on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

“President Trump and his administration have ignored scientific reality, and now they’re trying to hide it.

“Merely five days into Donald Trump’s presidency, the administration is silencing the agencies tasked with protecting our environment, our health, and our food supply. This gag order sets a dangerous precedent and is sending a chilling message to civil servants throughout the country.

“We knew the Trump administration would go beyond President George W. Bush’s administration in attacking science and suppressing research, but we didn’t know it would happen so fast and so egregiously. Suppressing public servant scientists from communicating with the American public is a dangerous move that sets us on a path where policy decisions are divorced from reality.

“Scientists at the agencies should know that we have their backs. They have a right to speak freely and duty to share their research publicly. Even if the Trump administration doesn’t respect science, the American public does.”

By the way, not all elements in the Trump administration are walking in lockstep. Check out this rogue national park that, for a while, was speaking its mind.

Will Claims Of Voter Fraud Lead To Voter Suppression?

It is generally felt that Trump’s claims of voter fraud, especially, apparently, by illegal aliens — Or some kind of alien, not sure — could be a prelude, or excuse for some kind of widespread voter suppression campaign. In any event, these repeated claims were once thought of as an odd and embarassing bit of yammering by the President elect, but now they have become a keystone of the White House’s current activism, foregrounded by the hapless Sean Spicer, who appears to not believe the claims himself.

From NBC:

The White House doubled down on President Donald Trump’s widely debunked claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election, costing Trump the popular vote.

“The President does believe that,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday, just one day after pledging to tell the public “the facts as I know them.”…

When pressed for evidence, Spicer said “the president has believed that for a while based on studies and information he has.” Spicer also cited a 2008 Pew study that he said showed 14 percent of people who voted were not citizens.

Those figures appear to come from two different studies.

A 2012 Pew report found millions of invalid voter registrations due to people moving or dying.

But the author of that report, David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, tweeted back in late November that this isn’t voter fraud….

The second study was a highly criticized work by Old Dominion University professors who found 14 percent of non-citizens said saying they were registered to vote. The study was based on a sample of a few hundred respondents.

During the campaign season, one of the authors said the Trump campaign was exaggerating the study’s findings.

Check out this rather astounding bit of news reporting on CNN:

They’re coming for him.

Trump’s orders = two steps back on climate change

The science is clear: Human caused global warming is happening and is serious. Building and expanding infrastructure to make it easier to burn fossil fuels is a very bad idea. The Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline were two such projects, and in recent years, the environmental community, politicians, and others managed to stop these projects.

Today, President Trump signed an executive order that brings these projects back to life and moves them forward.

From Rhea Suh, president of the National Resources Defense Council:

“It’s appalling that Trump wants to throw open our borders to big polluters. Eliminating the national interest determination process, used by both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades, cedes control of our borders to multinational corporations to jam through cross-border infrastructure projects. And it completely shuts out public engagement in decisions that affect our communities, air, water and climate.

“These unprecedented actions could also pave the way for approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline—a project vehemently opposed by the U.S. tribes whose land its crosses and waters it could pollute. Equally troubling, they also revive the Keystone XL pipeline— a tar sands project that would lock our country into, for a generation or more, massive development of among the dirtiest fuels of our past. They pose a grave threat to our water, communities and climate. We will use every tool available to help ensure that they are not built.”

From Climate Hawks Vote:

Climate hawks fought one White House over the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and we won. We’re going to fight the next one. And we’re going to keep on fighting until we clear the American skies of the fossil-fueled stormfront of Trumpism – and we will, ultimately, prevail.

In the wake of Trump’s election, thousands of our members pledged resistance, including peaceful civil disobedience if necessary. We’re now calling on all Americans — including political candidates and elected officials — to pledge to resist these climate-destroying pipelines.

From Price Of Oil:

Today, President Trump will be signing executive orders reportedly to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. In response, David Turnbull, Campaigns Director at Oil Change International released the following statement:

“Both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines will never be completed, no matter what President Trump and his oil-soaked cabinet try to do. Trump’s first days in office saw massive opposition, marking the beginning of four years of resistance to his dangerous policies. We stopped Keystone XL and Dakota Access before and we’ll do it again. These are fights Trump and his bullies won’t win.”

It appears that this isn’t just hippie punching by Trump, but rather, a shrewd business deal for someone. According to DeSmogBlog:

As DeSmog has reported, Donald Trump’s top presidential campaign energy aide Harold Hamm stands to profit if both pipelines go through.

Hamm, the founder and CEO of Continental Resources who sat in the VIP box at Trump’s inauguration and was a major Trump campaign donor, would see his company’s oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale flow through both lines.

Trump has suggested that these projects would produce tens of thousands of jobs. This is only true in Alt-Universe. In Real-Universe, they will only produce a few dozen jobs long term. In fact, making the movement of a commodity more efficient, which pipeline builder argue pipelines do, reduces the number of jobs to move that commodity, by definition.