Regaining the trust in facts or why life exists – a New Year’s Rhapsody.

As a child I was taught to respect the truth, that there is a right and a wrong answer to everything. It was my mother’s prerogative to teach a child good manners. So it is a surprise that I find myself in a world where facts and opinions are becoming confused and where people claim that there is an opposing truths to everything, that nothing is settled including scientific facts about the world. I did become a biochemist precisely because I expected to find the answers to right and wrong, in particular evolution versus creationism, in a verifiable fashion. Boy was I wrong when it comes to people accepting facts. Everyone seems to cherry pick there own facts (making them opinions) to support their own view of the world. The argument always goes along the line of things not being settled since there is always some occurrence or testimony that is in support of one’s own take of an issue.

So what is going on? I am concerned here about both political and medical information, facts and opinions. Both politics (see several previous posts about Trump) and medicine are complex entities that usually defy simple explanations, although ‘solutions’ can be suggested through sound-bites and slogans. It boggles the mind when people call sugar a toxin or carbon dioxide a pollutant, when they challenge the usefulness of vaccines, because their side effects are now more obvious than when they were introduced to fight infectious diseases, or when conservationists declare organisms invasive species, when brought in by humans and which do spectacularly well in their new habitats, usually at the expense of native species. Yet sugar, carbon dioxide, and all species are integral parts of local and global ecosystem. Nature always undergoes changes and the examples I listed are part of homeostatic systems (an ecosystem, the human body, a plant), not systems at true equilibrium*, but in temporary stability while constantly dependent on input of energy and building blocks and shedding excess energy and waste molecules. Life is not at equilibrium, but can be threatened by an excess of anything, be this added sugars in our processed foods, elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and the oceans, or novel organisms in a stable ecosystem. If life where at equilibrium and if there were such a thing as the perfect ecosystem (or perfect food, perfect political system), evolution would have stopped a very long time ago, and likely life would never have come into existence and the planet Earth were in peaceful chemical equilibrium. But this is not what happened.

(* an isolated system that does not change in its size, temperature and composition)

Good-by 2016

We will remember 2016 as the year that prepared us for the year when long held assumptions are being challenged and our world views are being tested.

Take nothing for granted. goodby

2017 will be the year when trickle down economic theory will finally be unmasked for the fraud that it is, thanks to one man who does not and will not distinguish fact from fiction, where the merit of a policy is judged not by how it benefits America, but the Presidents personal wallet, where enemies and friends are not defined by long standing national differences and common goals, but by who can better stroke the President’s ego. The latter explains why Trump sees Russia’s President as Americas best friend, not our intelligence services, where trade tariffs make goods cheaper, where closing borders creates jobs, where lowering taxes for the rich increases wages for the workers, where bringing back coal mining and steel manufacturing will bring us above average GDP growth, and where rescinding health insurance for millions of Americans will lower health care costs.

We are entering a dreamland of sorts where political, economic and technological experience is discounted and social benefits privatized to benefit shareholders, where gut instincts trump careful analysis and hucksterism is the law of the land.

Welcome 2017. Teach as the ropes of Trumpism. Happy New Year.

The Dichotomy of the American Mind

Americans are divided. A red America and a blue America, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. This is a deeply embedded mindset in the American psyche. The two party system is the most prominent reflection of this thinking that there must be only two sides to a coin, two solutions to a problem, two outcomes to an event. We think of the world as good or evil, free or enslaved, we espouse ‘winner takes all’ or ‘all are winners’. There seems nothing in-between, It is the dichotomy of the American mind.

Janus coin from Roman time showing two headsIf for a moment, we could free ourselves from this image of either/or, we could appreciate the minutiae of our differences and highlight the variety we experience every day. Instead of pressing our mind into a political straight jacket, we should listen to nuances that are ever present in our lives. This is particularly important in the current climate of the post election period, where feelings are hurt and fear and exuberance of the future are ever present.

What can we do? America appears divided because this is the filter we are viewing it through. But Americans are not divided. Blue and Red, they have many common interests, often want different ways to solve problems, their hopes and fears intersect and overlap. And when we take a step back and evaluate our lives, we realize that most things are working well, that America indeed is not splintered and on the verge of chaos, that the country is not broken and that it is in no need of ‘being taken back’.

Economic Populism (minus free market)

Trump is a populist after all. Cutting a sweat-heart deal with a multi billion corporation in Indiana from moving fewer jobs to Mexico is popular – among everyone, it seems, and it’s like a miracle that the GOP, whose mantra is ‘free market knows best’ is praising the deal. It demonstrates that conservatives are not shying away from Big Government and meddling in the free market when it serves their populist base.

Had Obama cut the deal, he would be accused of favoring one company over another (remember Solyndra, the wunderkind of renewable energy companies?) and called an imperial President. When Trump plays favoritism (it’s called crony capitalism), he is an imperial President (not even sworn into office yet). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Reflections on American Thanksgiving beyond the Big Bird

America celebrates Thanksgiving as an extraordinary event of kindness from indigenous Americans toward struggling and starving European settlers. The America of today, the result of this ‘first immigration’, is the result of forced and often illegal entry onto the continent and into lands of the indigenous people and now established nation states. Immigration is again one of the major topics, a divisive topic of American politics. It is ‘illegal’ immigrants, or undocumented immigrants that are loathed by many who are the descendants of earlier immigrants, forefathers (and mothers) who were themselves loathed upon their arrival. Loathed for who they were, not for what they wanted to be and become.

Economic studies show that accepting and integrating undocumented workers and their children fully into the economy by giving them legal access to work and education would benefit the nations bottom line (1). And unlike the demand of deportation of millions of long term residents, a mere 30 years ago under Reagan and Bush 41, a humane solution has been devised – the immigration and diversification lottery system to grant ‘green cards’ to undocumented Irish family members, who got the lion share of 30% of all visas assigned by the ‘lottery’ system. The rest went to immigrants from other countries with known low immigration numbers. This excluded and still excludes immigrants from Mexico, India, China, Canada and Great Britain (except Northern Ireland) from the lottery pool. I am myself a beneficiary of this lottery system and people using it do not come here to get welfare, but to better their life through work and often find political freedom and economic opportunities, the very things so many people in so many countries are denied to have.

So I support and call for a decent amnesty program to accept those undocumented immigrants with a track record of work, education and paying taxes. I reject the use of fake ‘breaking the law’ arguments to promote rounding up and deporting millions of people. I reject the call for religious based registries of Muslim immigrants and visitors, I reject the outcome of having families torn apart, where young people often born here or brought here by their parents at a very young age to be force back you a country where they have never lived.

(1) How an Illegal-Immigrant Crackdown Could Hit U.S. Economic Growth A new study puts the economic contribution of the U.S.’s illegal workers at 3% of private-sector GDP (from the Wall Street Journal, Nov 22, 2016)