Tuesday, May 13, 2014


You know, it's a source of immense sadness to me that the very foundations of western civilization are being weakened, doubted, and in some cases ignored in the rush to maintain short-term standards of prosperity and private ease.  So much could be said here.  I woke up this morning to a new story about Antarctica, the all-important glaciers, the fact that the main ice mass is not only melting rapidly, but melting faster than anyone had predicted.   A week or so ago, a major NON-PARTISAN report came out that made clear how much of our present weather instability has to do with climactic change -- not just in the future, but now.  We have done so much damage with fossil fuels and plain greed that a large part of it is irreversible.  Even if we stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, the situation will get worse before it gets better, and never again be what it has been in the past.   It's just plain too late to reverse the process.  

Here is what saddens me.  Bad enough that people all over the world will die as a result of partisan bickering, greed, and plain ignorance (some of it cultivated by bought-and-paid-for media).  But the real issue is fact-based science.  Since at least the 16th century, civilizations have risen and flourished on foundations of fact -- the search for fact, applications of the scientific method, and the growth of knowledge by means of that method.  It's how we claim to know things for certain.  All knowledge carries with it the possibility of degrees of error.  We say that evidence preponderates -- is in one direction and not another -- and then we build on what we have learned, refine experiments, keep looking at evidence, testing our propositions, and so on.  That's how things change.  That's how we got the internet, satellites,  increased crop yields, vaccinations, modern medicine, all of modern mathematics and physics and astronomy, all plastics, every hybridized tomato.  The laptop I'm using right now.  The paint on the wall -- and the fact that the paint is no longer toxic.

But now, we learn from the political right wing that all "facts" are really fictions, cooked up by liberals to win arguments.  People actually stand up in public and lie about plain evidence and plain fact.  They tell their constituents that it's all a liberal fantasy or maybe a liberal lie.  That scientists merely "portray" things -- that's Rubio's idiotic word.  That we can run a huge pipeline down the middle of the nation, smack over a major aquifer, adding yet more carbon to a saturated atmosphere, heedless of the need to put all of our resources into research and analysis so that we can SURVIVE as a race into the next century. That we can stand up in the United States Senate, as the chameleon Marco Rubio has just done, and call the whole thing a hoax.  His line was:  "I don't believe the science."  

Now what does that mean?  Is he a scientist?   Does he have reasons for not "believing"?  Does he have alternative explanations that are equally fact-based?  Are we thrown back on theological explanations for the world of nature, as if the Age of Reason didn't happen?  Do we have to put up with cholera epidemics too?

Suppose I were to say, "I don't believe that molecules are made from atoms."  Suppose I said that in public.  Suppose, too, that somebody said, "What do you think they're made of?"  I could say nothing (Rubio's choice).  I could imagine that opinion was a substitute for fact.  Or I could try something like this:  "In my observations, molecules were made of sand, droplets of water, and peanut butter."  I then would be obliged to show evidence from experiments.   If I couldn't do that, who would you believe?

We are literally thrown back into the Middle Ages.  We sent people to the moon based, not on "opinion" or "belief," not even on absolutely perfect evidence, but on evidence that carried a very small possibility of error.  That's what we do.  That's what we always have done, and it has worked out just fine.  I am typing on a computer, which was not conjured up out of someone's "belief." 

And then there are the people who want us to think it's really a "natural" shift in global weather.  The scientific community can show them that this is untrue.  ALL of the natural cycles follow very different cycles than this one.  But, again, you have to believe that learning is not some kind of plot.

I usually avoid saying this kind of thing.  But it's time to call it for what it is.  A handful of grossly selfish billionaires are holding the United States government hostage.  They have also bought off the Congress of the United States.  There is also evidence of this.  Americans just stay home. We have been told by lots of people that we don't really have to pay attention, that it won't affect us  in our lifetimes, that we don't REALLY have to top buying SUVs and the fuel that goes into them, that we can penalize people (as Oklahoma just did) for putting solar panels on their rooftops  because the oil industry might lose some money.  Why is it okay for oil companies to kill us all?

This is not hyperbole. We can doubt the interpretation of facts.  But we cannot begin to doubt the merits of the scientific method, of facticity.  And we cannot misunderstand how RIGHTS work in American law.   In western political thought, and certainly in legal thought, people can claim rights for as long as those claims do not impinge upon other people's equally valid rights.  We are now in this position.  The Koch Brothers and all of the others allied with them are exercising rights (and getting conservative courts to say they have First Amendment rights, for god's sake -- a result that would  make Thomas Jefferson and George Mason and James Madison spin in their graves) that will end up compromising the health and welfare of all of us, and eventually of the human race.

But why bother.  People won't even vote the bastards out of office.  It is more than high time for people who call themselves "leaders" to stand in the wind, to tell the truth, to tell the Koch Brothers that they should stand down.  They have earned enough money.  Right now, we need COURAGE and a public prepared to stand in the wind as well.  



  1. Well said, Sandra, and courageous as well. You are always thought-provoking. I am sure that is what has made you such a beloved, well-regarded and highly awarded teacher. Brava.

  2. We need cooperation, not competition. Liberals and conservatives both have it wrong. The conservatives are correct when they say you can't keep feeding the pigeons and expect not to have pigeons. The liberals are correct when they say you have to pay people a living wage. Calvin was correct when he said that people need to have a work ethic which generates self-respecy and self-esteem (I am very liberally paraphrasing). So why does our tax code keep people dependent on that head-of-household tax credit year after year? Just raise the minimum wage and eliminate the head of household tax credit/redistribution of wealth. People will seek to maximize their income within their own boundaries. If prices go up, so be it - people will choose the items with most economic value. Why do CEOs make 2000 times the salary of the lowest paid worker in the company? At that point it is ego, not economic necessity. If we used our muscles instead of our machines we would be happier and healthier, and the planet would not suffer as much. We use the machines because it increases the profit margin. I knit on a machine instead of hand-knitting because I can make more/faster. Should I stop using the electronic machine and revert to only non-electric punchcard machines to limit my effect on global warming?

  3. I'm not sure I see the logic here -- but I'm tired today. Machines are a problem only if we rely on them and make dirty machines. Computers don't run on coal. You don't solve social and economic disparities by assuming that the playing field is even and removing all help. But I suspect we will have to agree to disagree. Hippie communes failed for good reasons. svb