Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Whenever a natural disaster hits my heart goes out to the victims.  And considering recent events, my heart has been going out a lot recently.  To the victims of flooding in Houston, to the victims of hurricane force winds in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean, and to the victims of the Earthquakes in Mexico.

During trying times like these I often find myself wishing that I could do more.  But realistically what could I do when I live 3,000 miles away from the affected areas.  Short of donating money or gathering supplies there’s little recourse that I have.  It’s not like I can just pick up a shovel and start clearing debris.  But what if I could?

When a disaster hits I often hear that it could take months or years for the affected area to recover.  Some of these Caribbean islands that were devastated by back to back hits from hurricanes might never recover.  But what are these recovery time estimates based on? How long it would physically take to rebuild even if you had all the manpower and resources you needed?  Or a more realistic estimate based upon depleted resources and limited local manpower?

You may remember that Extreme Home Makeover TV show that was hosted by Ty Pennington.  With hundreds of people working around the clock, they could build an entire home in less than a week.  Wouldn’t it be possible then that if we literally had hundreds of thousands of people working around the clock that we could do an Extreme Home Makeover on an entire island or an entire town?  Couldn’t we get Puerto Rico or Mexico City back up and running in less than a month, instead of the years it will take according to the latest estimates?

Perhaps, but the issue is that manpower of that magnitude doesn’t exist.  The people in the affected area can’t really help that much themselves.  They might be injured, mourning the loss of a loved one, dealing with property damage, or physically depleted by a lack of local resources.  Military personnel, local law enforcement, aid workers, and a few church groups that have been bused in, are often left to do the heavy lifting.  But we can do better than that.  And we ought to.

What I’m envisioning then is a national program that will allow for people to volunteer to join disaster relief efforts.  Interested citizens could sign up for either one week, two week, or one month long deployments, and could rank their desired locations in order of preference.  Similar to Jury Duty, your employer would have to give you paid time off in order to complete your civic duty.  We could even gather students from high schools and colleges around the country, giving these young men and women credits to put towards their degrees in exchange for their volunteerism.

With an army of millions of paid volunteers at our disposal we could ensure that areas affected by natural disasters get back on their feet in no time at all.  Don’t we owe them that much? Or I suppose that we could just keep insulting them via Twitter instead.  That seems to be working out well so far.

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Is treating disaster volunteerism like Jury Duty the Greatest Idea Ever?


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This is next level awesome.

Last week in New York City, Comedy Central, and specifically the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, sponsored a comedic pop-up installation, the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library.  The installation, modeled after the libraries that every President since FDR has been honored with, mocks Trump in every possible way.

It’s a fitting tribute to a President who deftly used the micro blogging platform to rise to power.  Although, deftly may not be the right word to use since it’s clear that Trump is often flying by the seat of his pants, tweeting out insults at 3 am and using misspelled words like Covfefe that he later claims weren’t misspelled at all. It shouldn’t be surprising though that I can’t find the right word to use.  After all, I’m not Trump.  I don’t use the best words.

The museum, which only lasted for a few days, was located a block away from Trump Tower, and featured the Gone But Not Forgotten memorial that paid homage to infamous deleted tweets.  There was also a fake bank vault housing Trump’s mysterious tax returns and a replica of the Oval Office complete with a golden toilet.

But don’t worry.  If you missed out on all the fun you can still check it out.

According to CNN:

“If you didn’t get a chance this weekend to pop over to the pop-up ‘Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library’ in New York City, Comedy Central has you covered.  The network created a 3D, interactive virtual tour you can take now that the exhibit has closed.”

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Is the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I absolutely love living in Arizona.  There’s nothing better than hiking through beautiful mountains on the way to a waterfall, reading in a public space, riding a bike along the Green Belt, or attending Spring Training baseball games.  And yet, if it wasn’t for the invention of the air conditioner, I wouldn’t be able to live here.

We take the inventions that make modern life possible for granted but without them we would be lost.  The phones in our pockets.  The TVs in our living rooms.  The cars in our driveways.  The food in our bellies.  It’s all made possible, one way or another, by science.  Forged in the fires of experimentation, trial and error, and peer review, today’s scientific research is tomorrow’s technology.  It’s not always easy.  Often it’s incredibly hard.  But in the end, it’s always worth it.

And yet, recently, science has come under attack.  The Trump Administration wants the United States to invest in fossil fuels and leave the Paris Agreement that’s leading the charge against Climate Change.  Federal programs designed to protect the environment are being defunded.  Scientists are being banned from discussing their findings publicly or from even sharing their results with their colleagues.  Ignorance is winning out.

It’s worth noting though that it’s always darkest before the dawn.  Today at the March For Science in Phoenix I saw the light start to shine through.  I saw thousands of people uniting for a cause that they believe in.  People of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, all religions came together in the name of science.  And they were joined on Earth Day by millions of other people in cities all across the world.

Standing in that crowd, among my peers, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps.  Looking at all the witty signs, hearing all the enthusiastic conversations, seeing the look of hope and optimism on everyone’s face, it was impossible to feel anything other than pure, unbridled inspiration.  Ignorance may be winning out right now but in the long run science is going to win out.  Yesterday, that’s something that I hoped would happen.  Today, it’s something that I know is going to happen.

Now the question becomes: where do we go from here.  Now that we’ve taken a stand, what comes next?  As the organizers of the Phoenix March For Science stated on their website, this rally is just the start of the fight, not the end:

“Science is often an arduous process, but it is also thrilling. A universal human curiosity and dogged persistence is the greatest hope for the future. This movement cannot and will not end with a march. Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with marches worldwide and a teach-in at the National Mall, but it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels – from local schools to federal agencies – throughout the world.”

I couldn’t agree more.  This is just the beginning.  Just like the Earth and all life on it, our fight will continue to evolve to deal with any challenges that come forward.  We’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that a culture of innovation continues to win out over a culture of ignorance.

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The March For Science in Phoenix was truly inspirational.

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One of the calls to action that I made the other day in my post about the Resist Movement was that everyone, regardless of whether you identify as a Republican or Democrat or Independent, should strive to get more involved in politics so that we can elect better representatives and put pressure on those already in office to talk some sense into Trump.  Well, now there’s a quick and easy way for us to do just that thanks to a new app that thoroughly streamlines the political process.

The app is known as Countable, presumably short for accountable, although a more fitting name would have been Pester, because pestering your local representative is exactly what you’ll be doing.  First, the app connects to your Facebook profile in order to determine where you live and who your elected representatives are.  It then shows you what’s on their agenda, informs you about the issue, and enables you to contact them to give your opinion.

As Wired describes:

“[Countable] shows you the next piece of legislation your representatives are expected to vote on, with a short summary of the bill and a list of pros and cons. You can click ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to automatically send an e-mail to your representatives, or you can ‘skip’ it. You can also click on the bill’s name to pull up more details, including voting activity, costs, links to media coverage, and the full text of the bill.”

In addition, the app also keep tracks of voting records so that you can follow along and see if your representatives are actually voting the way that you want them to.  If they’re not, you’ll know that the time has come to vote someone else into office.

The gripe about politics that we hear most often is that it’s too hard to get involved.  The most common refrain of all is: if you want more people to vote, make it easier to vote.  Similarly, if you want more people to get involved in applying pressure to politicians, make it easier to apply pressure.  Countable does that, and much more.

What’s great about this app is how easy it is to use, not just for voters, but for government officials as well as it doesn’t require them to do anything differently.  There’s no special software to download or install.  No change to existing protocols.  The only difference is the volume of feedback that they’ll now be receiving.

The time has come to RESIST!  And we now have an app that makes it easy to do just that.  No.  More.  Excuses.

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Is Countable the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,024 – RESIST!

It used to be that organized crime operated in the shadows.  The Dark Web, an invite only second version of the Internet, was frequented by hackers, human traffickers, sex offenders, and weapons dealers.  Now the tables have turned with reputable scientists operating in the shadows, carrying on their important work through rogue social media accounts in light of a government ban on communicating with the public.  First we had alternative facts.  Now we have alternative Twitter handles.  Welcome to our Orwellian present where the Dystopian future predicted by science fiction is now our reality.

As frustrating/infuriating/maddening Trump’s executive actions have been so far, it’s encouraging to know that people aren’t taking this assault to our pillars of democracy lying down.  On the heels of an overwhelmingly successful Women’s March, there are now further protests planned including a Scientists March designed to counter Trump’s communications ban.

The ban, designed to prevent scientists from speaking out against the Dakota Access Pipeline project, has already spurred the creation of alternative social media accounts.  Such as the alternative twitter account for the National Park Service (@altusnatparkservice) which exclaimed: “You can take our official Twitter account but you’ll never take our free time!”

In addition to taking to social media, some scientists are also planning far more drastic actions, such as running for public office.  There’s even a newly formed organization, called 314 action in honor of Pi, which is designed to help aspiring scientists turned politicians connect with donors and raise awareness for their campaigns.

Ideally there should be a separation of science and state the way there’s a separation of church and state.  But since that’s not happening and politicians like President Trump are meddling in scientific affairs, there’s a real need now for scientists to get actively involved in politics as well in order to fight back.  To protect their right to freely publish their unbiased findings to the public.  To protect their right to peer review.  To protect the sanctity of the data that they have already collected so that it can’t be destroyed by a government that disagrees with the results.  Which is exactly what almost happened last week.

It may sound like the plot of a Tom Clancy novel, but last week while references to climate change were being taken down from the White House website, climate change scientists were busy downloading their data onto European servers so that it couldn’t be deleted.  That is a drastic action to undertake at the 11th hour.  The kind of action that you only take when you realize that an all-out war against science and the truth is actively being waged.

A similar war is already taking place with journalists finding themselves firmly on the front lines, desperately trying to protect their reputations as Trump continuously undermines their credibility with claims that they are spreading fake news.  Now scientists find themselves on the front lines of a second front, desperately trying to restore balance to the Force as Darth President tries to silence them.

As these ideological wars continue, I fear what may be lost in the process.  Consider if you will, the case of famed Soviet engineer, inventor, and science fiction writer, Genrich Altshuller, who was imprisoned by Joseph Stalin and forced to slave away for several years in a prison camp where he faced countless hours of torture.  How many scientific breakthroughs were lost to history because Altshuller and his fellow scientists were imprisoned or murdered by those who feared opposing points of view?  How many will be lost to history if Trump and his supporters continue to silence the voices of our modern day scientists?

The time has come to put aside politics.  To put aside our personal opinions and biases.  The time has come to solely deal only in facts.  For this is no longer about being a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent.  This is now about protecting our future from those who wish to rob us, and our children, and our children’s children, of it.  Standing on the sidelines isn’t going to cut it.  Idly sitting by and hoping that others will take action for us isn’t going to cut it.  Every single one of us needs to step up and do what’s right.  We need to volunteer at the grassroots level to get better alternatives elected at the mid term elections.  We need to call our local lawmakers and put pressure on the congressional members of the GOP to oppose Trump.  We need to speak up whenever we see injustice happening in our local community.  And above all else we need to stand with our scientists and journalists and support their noble endeavor.

These are scary times and they’re only going to get scarier if we do nothing.  For evil to prevail all that is needed is for good men to do nothing.  We can’t let that happen.  We won’t. The time has come to RESIST!

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Science is under attack.  The time has come to RESIST!


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#980 – Onwards

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has exposed a harrowing truth: that there’s a lot more hate in the world than we’d care to admit.  Racism, sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia aren’t new phenomenon though.  It’s just that they’ve boiled to the surface seemingly more than ever before as their practitioners now feel emboldened by their President elect’s mandate of hate.

Thankfully, not everyone is fueled by hatred or willing to turn the other check in the face of it.  In addition to the fifty million plus people who voted for Hillary Clinton, the visibly angry youth who took to the streets to protest the election results the night after, and those who continue to put pressure on the Electoral College to do the right thing, there’s also a new wave of people who feel empowered in their own right.  People who have been motivated by this shocking turn of events to take it upon themselves to get more involved in the fight for social justice.  People who have publicly stated that they want to get more involved in their local communities.  People who have stated their desire to run for office themselves.  People who have been getting involved at the grassroots level, calling upon their local representatives to do more.  In fact, there’s now an official movement that has been started known as Onwards that’s going to explore specific ways for people to make a difference.  If you want to join the movement you can sign up at: https://www.onwards.world/

The man behind the movement?  Dex Torricke-Barton, a now former Space X executive who quit his dream job to tackle an issue that he felt was even more important than helping to turn our race into a true two planet species: fighting hatred on the front lines right here on Planet Earth.  Or as he put it himself: “The only reason to quit my dream job was to go and fight a nightmare.”

And you know what?  He’s right.  Building a better future won’t matter if the present derails us before we can get there.  We need to be more compassionate, more tolerant of each other, more inclusive, more willing to work together.  If we can’t do that then we won’t have anyone capable and willing to work on our rockets in the future because we’ll all be too busy fighting each other.

As the told the Huffington Post, “’What happened on Tuesday is not just about campaigning deficiencies or media failures,’ he said. “There is a growing gulf in understanding, empathy and policy; between coastal elites and communities left behind by globalization, between those who seek greater diversity and those who are fearful of it, between the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in a changing world.’”

What Torricke-Barton wants to do is shorten that gulf.  To bring us closer together.  How exactly will he do that? Well, that remains to be seen.  It could be a small gesture akin to the Kindness Project in San Francisco which has facilitated strangers leaving random notes of kindness to one another.  Or it could be something on a much larger scale.

You may think that it would be hard to judge such a nebulous idea without knowing what exactly it is or what kind of impact it will have but that’s actually not the case.  The really big idea here is that of taking a stand against injustice and it points to a larger trend: the creation of an entire cottage industry centered around social justice.  In a future where the majority of jobs may be automated it very well could be that the future of work will involve more human-centric tasks.  Like actually being nice to one another.  Onwards could very be at the forefront of that.  At the very least they’ll have been one of the first ones to try.

I sincerely hope that Onwards catches on and becomes the Next Big Thing because it is abundantly clear that we need all the help that we can get in the fight against Donald Trump and his mandate of hate.  The cast of Hamilton can’t do it all on their own.

Onwards and upwards then to a better future!  Hopefully…

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Dex Torricke-Barton has quit Space X to start Onwards.  Will it become the Greatest Idea Ever?  Only time will tell.

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Shock.  Anger.  Disgust.  Disdain.  I know how you’re feeling.  And I know what you’re thinking: how the hell did this happen?!

You can blame our celebrity culture if you want.  Or the media.  Or the pundits and prognosticators who steered us wrong.  You can blame the DNC, the FBI, or even the Kremlin.  But the truth of the matter is that we have no one to blame but ourselves.

So how do we fix things now that Orange is the New Black?  Now that 11/9 is the second worst day in American history after 9/11?  Well, it’s not going to be easy.

President Obama stated during a recent interview with Bill Maher that he was confident that if he could just sit down with each and every American that the chances were high that they could see eye to eye on most issues.  The problem was cutting through all the noise to deliver the signal.  Cutting through all the sound bites from TV, all the media overhype and sensationalism, all of the hateful rhetoric being spewed in their immediate vicinity by their friends and family.  Essentially, how do you break down the walls someone puts up around themselves to deliver a message that putting up a wall along our border with Mexico is a bad idea?  There’s no real good way to do that and that’s partially why you wind up with someone like Donald Trump rising to power.  The electoral college system didn’t fail us.  Our education system did.  There were far too many people who just didn’t fully grasp the full consequences of their choices.

That’s really a scary thought.  Here’s an even scarier one: every four years we hand over our fate to an electorate that we’re assuming are going to put a reasonable amount of preparation into deciding who to vote for.  But what if that’s simply not the case?  I have a friend who told me that one of the reasons why he voted for Trump was because he liked some of his likely picks for cabinet including former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.  When I pushed back on this rationale he was unaware of how bat shit crazy and unhinged Giuliani had become recently.  This is sound logic gone awry.  How many other millions of people voted based on misconceptions fueled by insularly group think?  How many other people were heavily influenced by attack ads spewing outright lies?  How many other people voted without having all the facts?  Presidential election aside just think about the rest of the ballot when you go to vote.  All of the judges and justices up for election.  All of the local officials.  All of the propositions.  How many people put serious thought into every name on the ballot?  When you consider how much is at stake and comparatively how little we prepare for these decisions it’s absolutely staggering.  Maybe you watched one of the debates.  Maybe you watched all of them or maybe even none of them. Either way your votes count all the same.  46.9% percent of eligible voters didn’t even vote.  Of those who did how many fully understood what was really going on? One tenth of one percent?  Donald Trump didn’t even know what to do on Election Day.  He was caught peeking at Melania’s ballot.

All in all, I find it hard to believe that there really are 50 million hateful people in America.  I think the vast majority of them are just a little bit misguided.  Perhaps they agree with some of Trump’s policies but disagree with the way he goes about it.  Perhaps they just chose the lesser of two evils believing that Hillary’s misgivings were even worse.  Perhaps they just wanted to upend the political system and bring in a Washington outsider.  There are lots of legitimate reasons to vote for the idea of someone like Trump.  But there are absolutely zero legitimate reasons to actually vote for Trump the man.  He’s a misogynistic, racist, bigot who is a pathological liar and who isn’t even a good businessman.  And yet a man like that is now our President.

The night after the election millions of people across the country took to the streets to protest the shocking result.  Venting publicly is generally the sign of a healthy democracy but in this case it doesn’t mean much.  Complaining about Trump now isn’t going to get us anywhere.  What we’re better off doing is figuring out how to make this work.  And, more importantly, what we can do to ensure that it never happens again.  With that in mind I’d like to propose that we undertake an initiative to better educate the populace.  Forget about Trump University.  What we really need right now is Real World University.  This would be much more than just an ordinary school though.  It won’t even be an accredited standalone institution.  Rather, what it would be is a widespread movement to ensure that people in all walks of life are given the proper tools to succeed in life.  Tools like empathy and critical thinking.

If you think about it our current approach to education is out of date.  There’s no point to memorizing the names of state capitals when we can just Google that information on the off chance that we might ever even need to know it.  The time we spend learning about social studies would be much better spent learning about different customs and cultures.  Spend more time with Anthropology now and you’ll spend less time apologizing later on in life.  Or take Math for example.  Instead of learning about the Pythagorean theorem which, I can guarantee you’ll never need to know, you can instead learn how to calculate sales tax, balance a checkbook, manage a stock portfolio, or pay your taxes.  You know, useful real world shit.  I mean, I have a Bachelor’s degree from a major university and yet I’m still a bachelor, partly because I have no useful skills.  Need an extra person for bar trivia?  I’m your guy!  Need help changing a tire or assembling some furniture?  You might want to call a task rabbit for that.

Real World University would do a lot more than teach people how to assemble Ikea furniture though.  It will teach them how to act.  You wouldn’t have a scene unfold like you did the other day at a middle school in Michigan where Hispanic children were group bullied by an entire class chanting “build that wall”.  Thanks to the Real World University curriculum bigotry like that would have gotten stamped out in elementary school.  I generally believe that people are inherently good.  We’re all just a product of our environments and life experiences.  Monkey see, monkey do mentality run rampant.  So what you need to do if you want to empower an entire society to make smart choices is to create an environment that produces smart people.  Not book smart people.  That’s the approach that we have now.  But, rather, street smart people.  The kind of people who know CPR, who know how to eat right and take care of their bodies, who are skilled in the art of negotiating and in conflict resolution if the need ever arises.  The kind of people who are thoughtful, well-rounded, worldly, and open-minded.  Leaders, role models, and pillars of their community.

This may all sound like a science fiction fantasy.  The idea of a society that micro manages all of its citizens to ensure that everyone knows how to thrive not just survive.  But I believe that it will be far easier to pull off in actuality than you might think.  Put together a curriculum.  Teach it at charter schools.  Offer it as an elective in college.  Offer continuing education certificates to millennials looking to jazz up their resumes.  Have corporate HR departments participate.  Throw together an advice giving app.  Publish a free newsletter on a monthly basis.  On special occasions, like a general election, put together useful materials that actually break down all the issues and give backgrounds on each candidate.   Rinse.  Wash.  Repeat.

To put this in perspective, the other day I saw a contest on Facebook put on by a radio station calling for people to come up with the best movie title to describe the election.  The obvious choice: Armageddon.  My choice?  Love Actually.  Because in the end I hoped that what would win out over hate was Love, Actually.  After the election results came out though there was a more fitting movie title that came to mind: Total Recall.  That’s not going to happen though.  Assuming the Electoral College voters uphold their sworn oaths Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States of America.  And we have no one to blame but ourselves.  There is hope for the future though.  And it starts with education.  Namely Real World University.

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Real World University might have prevented the unthinkable from happening.

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