Adult Onset Atheist

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Shackleton and Ebell

Though “official winter” waits on the rapidly approaching winter solstice the cold winds that bite through clothes to deliver the season’s messages insist that winter has arrived on the sagebrush landscape of the Utah high desert. We even got a load of that white stuff that makes it so hard to drive when it is on the roads, and, no, I don’t just mean Utah drivers…. With winter also comes the annual crop of climate change deniers confusing weather and climate so that they can state there is "clear evidence" that the planet is not warming. This year the claims resonate with the voices of potential cabinet post appointments the incoming POTUS is suggesting.

Half of our planet is seasonally warming now. The wobble that slants the sun’s rays in the northern hemisphere, where most of the habitable landmass exists, brings summer to the southern hemisphere. The equinox that brought night to the arctic, and halted the annual melting season for sea ice in the arctic sea, brought daylight to Antarctica, and began the season of melting to the band of water surrounding that continent. Shortly after the long Antarctic dawn a significant anomaly in southern sea ice levels was first observed; the sea ice levels dropped to historic lows, and have continued at record low levels as the Antarctic melting season approaches its halfway point. The anomaly is really striking. Sea ice coverage is now around two million square kilometers less than has been observed at the same point in the melt cycle in recent years. That is a lot of missing ice.

Until last year the recent Antarctic sea ice coverage data has been trending at record high levels. Temperatures were increasing dramatically in Antarctica so, since higher temperatures should melt ice faster, increased sea ice was counter-intuitive. I like anomalies so I wrote a blog post about it in July of 2014. I postulated that the increased sea ice was actually driven by the higher temperatures and increased melting as lower-density meltwater would freeze faster at higher atmospheric temperatures than the bulk higher-salt seawater it floated on. There have now been several papers postulating the same thing. However, I am much cooler for coming up with the idea simply by doing an inventory of my belly-button lint and waving my hands around; I avoided any reliance on authoritative observational data(aka reality) or pesky modeling. Though I should note that the fact that the melt-water enhanced sea ice coverage hypothesis can be easily derived from introspection just shows how it is also an intuitively natural explanation, and that lends it some elegance.

Any discussion of a major data set in climate science runs afoul of poor reporting and deliberate obfuscation. Just last month Tom Edinburgh and Jonathan Day teased Antarctic sea-ice extent data out of the century-old logbooks from the Scott and Shackleton expeditions. Who would not find this information interesting; the scientists who collected this data literally died while in the field collecting it! Most data sets are not so melodramatic; I have rarely encountered an Excell spreadsheet that has brought a flush of pride in being human to my eyes, and so it is exciting to see papers like the Day and Edinburgh “The Cryosphere” paper. Now picture the record high maximum sea ice extent coupled with a human-interest driven estimate of little sea ice difference in 100 years, and, well, you have the fuel climate denial runs on. Day himself wrote clarification articles trying to point out that his presentation of the Scott- Shackleton data did nothing to disprove global climate change, and I wonder if he was surprised that his words of clarification were not important to the denier crowd.

“Previous studies have concluded, the Antactic and Greenland ice sheets are probably thickening rather than melting” -- Myron Ebell

Climate change deniers come in several flavors. The most common these days is the “it is warming but people are not causing it”flavor. The POTUS has put Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in as transition lead, and therefore most likely post-transition head of, the EPA. Myron is a “little or no warming” denier. Michael Shnayerson called CEI “one of the brightest stars in its constellation of climate skeptics” in a 2007 Vanity Fair article about Myron. It appears as if Trump has enlisted Myron as another general, like Betsy DeVos who I wrote about in an earlier post, in his war on science; Myron will apparently handle the global climate change front.

Temperatures in the arctic can swing in a matter of hours by an order of magnitude more than the values given for warming as a result of global climate change. Bizarre föhn winds can even raise temperatures to well above freezing in the Antarctic winter; on July 14th 2010 one such wind was observed to spike temperatures at a monitoring station from around minus twenty-seven (Fahrenheit) to plus fifty degrees (a total shift of 77oF or almost 43oC) in a few hours. Despite the fact that “the place that’s warmed the most was the Antarctic Peninsula”, (John Turner, a researcher with the British Antarctic Survey) even that large increase (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or just about 3 degrees Celsius) is swamped by the Antarctic’s wild short-term weather phenomena.

So how can a source of confusing information as large as the continent of Antarctica provide something useful to talk about? I, like many of you who read this blog, like ambiguity, but hate obfuscation; mysteries are interesting, but murkiness is not. I believe Antarctica presents us with a game of honest mysteries played for truly terrifying stakes. Likely levels of melt of just the West Antarctic ice sheet could raise the level of the sea by 3.2 meters (like 10 feet). Does this melting take a hundred years, or much less? There are other scary contributors to potential sea level rise, like the Greenland ice sheet, but Antarctica is the major player, so it is very worth looking at. The stakes of such a huge rise in sea level include, of course: displacing hundreds of millions of people, destabilizing all of human civilization, diseases and famines, decline of humanity, and yada...yada...yada; you get the picture I’m sure.

So what does this interesting potential shift in melting patterns for Antarctica bode for the future of humanity?  I’m not sure of course, but it is probably not good. One of the ways in which the water goes from on the land, where it does not make the seas rise, into the sea, where it does, is by the fracturing of glaciers flowing into the sea. In Antarctica many of those glaciers are held in place by large floating ice shelves. Some of these ice shelves, like Larsen A and B, have been collapsing in recent years, and more are expected to follow. The glaciers the collapsing ice shelves release could rapidly (not weeks, but maybe decades) cause the sea levels to measurably rise.

I –for one- am kinda interested in the rate of progression of phenomena that could cause the collapse of civilization. There are all sorts of great questions. Unfortunately, as part of the war on science, parts of NASA that examine earth-based phenomena, like global climate change, may not be adequately funded by the incoming administration.  This could prevent us from adequately understanding what is going on on our planet. 

I do think I can authoritatively state, at least as far as rising sea levels are concerned, that one can put off stockpiling popcorn and ammunition until it goes on sale over the northern hemisphere summer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Calvin and DeVos

In a show of uncharacteristic clarity the POTUS-elect posed in public beside Betsy DeVos as he unambiguously presented her as his pick for Education Secretary. Though I applauded the casting off of vague innuendo as the official form of executive communication I am a bit confused as to what DeVos brings to the post of Education Secretary. She will only be able to throw lavish parties in her 22,000 square foot waterfront home in Holland Michigan if the more inebriated guests take Uber home as it purportedly only has three bedrooms. The confusion morphs into concern when I examined where she was coming from as the position most consistent with her views and background is that of a general in a potential war on science.

She certainly carries a carpetbag full of potential conflicts. She is daughter-in-law of the Amway billionaires whose multi-level-marketing empire was built on the backs of a cult-like following. The far-right-wing foundation named after her father and mother “the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation” has donated considerable sums to organizations that teach that homosexuality can be cured. The Family Research Council co-founded by her father Edgar, James Dobson, and George Rekers (among others) actively pushed a rather heinous highly-homophobic social agenda; it is interesting, if tangential, to note that Rekers was removed from the FRC after being spotted on a 10 day vacation with a male prostitute from “”. Betsy’s brother Erik Prince is the creator of the controversy-studded security contractor Blackwater. It appears as if the more one digs the more controversy wells up around Betsy.

You would think that those would be enough encumbering controversies to recuse Becky from federal service even if there was a large campaign contribution obscuring the vetting process. Becky is actively involved in some of these questionable sources of ickyness; she is a guiding control to the foundation named for her parents, and would have been a likely deciding voice when it pumped large sums of money into California’s Prop 8 and Florida's Amendment 2 in 2008 since her father passed away in 1995.

Betsy’s controversial entanglements would make for an interesting blog post in and of themselves, but they might obscure aspects of her relationship to education that could be more informative towards the agenda she may be working in her new job (she does still need Senate confirmation). Several mainstream media outlets have described her as a proponent of school vouchers (she is), or a proponent of charter schools (she is that also). Though I fall on the opposite side of the fence on these two issues I recognize that there is a spectrum of proponents, and that we can learn a bunch about Betsy’s spot on that spectrum by finding out what she might mean by “school” and what those schools might do with vouchers.

"Just imagine if each student in these school systems was given a scholarship for this amount of money – allowing them and their family to choose the public or private school of their choice." --President Elect Donald J. Trump from a speech transcript he had on his website

Betsy herself had a highly religious school experience. Through High School she attended Holland Christian Schools which is a private Pre-K through 12 school system in Michigan. The HCS teaches bible classes and is “united by a common mission to equip minds and nurture hearts to transform the world for Jesus Christ”. The current banner for the HCS website features a line of 8 smiling middle-school-looking kids of whom two are African-American; this is a greater percentage than Michigan’s state-wide 14.2% African-American percentage, but far greater than the 0.7% African-American percentage suggested for HCS middle school by Zillow. The less-posed pictures of the HCS student body suggest that Betsy may have spent all of her pre-college education is an almost exclusively white highly religious setting.
"I would like to see the ideas of intelligent design -- that many scientists are now suggesting is a very viable alternative theory -- that that theory and others that would be considered credible would expose our students to more ideas, not less." -- Dick DeVos (Betsy's Husband) Republican candidate for Michigan governor in 2006

HCS operate under the iron fist of their controlling board. This is similar to many charter schools, and is often given as a reason why charter schools can be better than public schools. In December of 2014, just days after HCS middle school principle Mark Van Dyke’s mother passed away, he and Troy Stahl (High School Principal) were let go for undisclosed reasons. HCS superintendent Dan Meeser said there were no criminal activities and no students were involved so it suggests that the problem may likely have been in the form of words or ideas.

Evolutionism is more than a scientific theory. It is a worldview, an answer to the essential questions of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. Consequently, evolutionism functions as a quasireligious perspective, a worldview that is in fact anti-Christian. – CRC Synod 1991 Report 28 Committee on Creation and Science p 392

Betsy went on to graduate from Calvin College where words and ideas have a much more transparent impact on the employment of its professors. Tenured professor John Schneider was terminated for suggesting, in a tediously theological scientific paper, that Adam and Eve “may” not have been historical humans. Just before fall term in 2009 the Calvin College Board of trustees sent out a memo to all employees that said that faculty were prohibited from teaching, writing about, or advocating on behalf of homosexuality or homosexual issues such as same-sex marriage; presumably they saw this as a issue in other colleges and wanted to nip that problem in the bud.

The Church confesses that both general and special revelation, each in its own unique way, address us with full divine authority. We affirm, therefore, that the whole of life must be lived in obedience to God and in subjection to his Word, that faith and life must be of one piece. This is true as much of science as it is of personal relationships, business practices, or politics. We reject any view of the Christian faith which limits its scope or any view of science which in principle excludes from its practice the influence of faith and the light of Scripture. On the contrary, we actively encourage the kind of Christian scholarship which challenges the secular assumptions of the academic mainstream by advocating the integration of Christian faith and learning. -- CRC Synod 1991 Report 28 Committee on Creation and Science Declaration A page 409

Calvin College is named after the same 16th-century Protestant Reformer that motivates the Westboro Baptist Church to call themselves “Calvinists”. The Calvinists of Calvin College are the equally backward, but far less flamboyant, Evangelical Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Members of the CRC live in a separate but equal world which they would love to fund with vouchers and unmonitored privatization. It is highly likely that, as Education secretary, Betsy will attempt to funnel tax dollars into centers for religious indoctrination. Education dollars are a huge source of public funds, and funneling them into churches which are also highly motivated to meddle in politics, like the CRC, could facilitate some scary long-lasting changes.

The CRC theological studies have repeatedly declared that true understanding of the world must be in accordance with biblical scripture, and that supporting biblical scripture is a test by which truth is measured. Although Betsy claims membership in a "non-denominational" mega church led by a slightly more mainstream pastor who is the son of the late Moral Majority leader Ed Dobson, her Calvinist roots still hold her to positions she nurtures by tending to them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. Education is just one front in the developing executive branch war on science, but it is an important one, and a war on science is a war on Atheists.

'Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.' -- George Orwell from 1984

'The New Religious Freedom is the freedom to teach that two plus two can make five. If that is granted, all else follows.' -- AOA

I am not sure what my less rabid Trump supporting friends have to say about all this. Is it enough that we will probably not find out if there is a private email server in Trump Tower, or will they just go silent like all those voters who overwhelmingly voted for Bush over John Kerry in 2004?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Emperor has no clothes and a funny hair pattern on his back

It is truly amazing that Donald J. Trump president-elect of the United States of America won less than 50% of the vote (46.28% with still a few votes to count) in Utah. This means that he beat the Democratic challenger by the slimmest majority (who at 27.72% of the vote only lost by 1.7 to 1) in decades. Trump would have won by a larger majority had not a third candidate -Evan McMullin- taken away 189154 of Trump’s votes to win 20.89% of the vote. However, even if Evan’s votes had gone to Trump the Donald would only have a 2.4 to 1 majority; still the slimmest Utah margin for a republican presidential candidate in decades.

The early results looked like they might be even more shocking as Evan had over 27% of the votes with 87% of the votes counted; a result that a Yahoo search still brings up. Back in late October polls had Evan leading Trump and Hillary. Evan was flying high and then crashed and burned.

Just as October was drawing to a close William Daniel Johnson (notable Mormon activist and chairman of the American Freedom Party) paid for a couple hundred thousand robo-calls attacking Evan, and Evan's numbers plummeted. I was told, by some of the same people that had originally suggested to me the possibility of voting for Evan, the specifics of the attack calls, and these specifics were confirmed by newspaper stories. Gone were the glowing descriptions that had begun shortly after he announced his presidential bid on August 8th; details of Evan’s Mormon mission in Brazil, his degree from BYU, and hints at bravery during his still classified work for the CIA. Instead they were talking about how his mother had “ left his father to become a lesbian”, and how Evan was “obviously a homosexual since he had been a bachelor for 40 years”; all of the people who changed their tune (to me) about Evan stated they were planning on voting for Trump. The new anti-Evan spiels had a staleness to them like parroted positions sometimes do.

Trump’s relationship with anti-gay crusaders predated the robo-calls on his behalf by Willie Johnson, or his choosing Michael Pence as his running mate. Roy Cohn was a famous New-York and DC lawyer who fought directly against legislation for gay rights, and, as lead counsel for the McCarthy witch hunts helped craft the “Lavender menace” scare that justified the persecution of gays as the committee scorched the earth eradicating the “red menace” of suspected communists. In a 1952 interview Joe McCarthy boasted about removing 145 sexual deviants (Gays) from government employment because perverts like them were morally unfit security risks. Donald was Roy’s apprentice, and many who knew both suggest that the strength of their bond is displayed as much in the Donald’s aggressively brash style of discourse as in his words of distinct praise for his former mentor. Roy died of AIDS in 1986, and a panel of the AIDS quilt was dedicated to him; it read: “Roy Cohn – Bully, Coward, Victim”. According to Peter Fraser, Roy’s lover at the end of his life, Roy contracted the HIV virus from one or several of his many male lovers. In addition to being a homophobic homosexual it has been suggested that Roy was also an anti-Semitic Jew.


Shocked analysts have been stumbling over themselves since last Tuesday trying to explain why so many Americans could vote against their own self-interest and elect Trump. There is a large minority of LGBT individuals who supported Trump in this election. Despite being a minority of their demographic the Trump-supporting LGBT people are interesting because they voted against a self-interest that may include the fundamental ability to legally exist in the open in addition to a desire to be treated equally once they left the closet. I was treated to all sorts of pretzel logic to justify Trump support by some LGBT people. One of my favorite was that electing Trump would “put Pence into the largely symbolic position of vice president instead of allowing him to wield more dangerous power as a state governor”.

About one in five LGBT people, a notoriously difficult demographic to get mainstream information about, especially from exit polls, may have voted for Trump. This looks to be close to within the margin of error to the number of LGBT people that appear to have voted Republican in the last several elections. There are a few exit polls that suggested that a number of of Trump-supporting LGBT voters changed their mind at the last minute and did not support him with their votes, but whatever the most precise numbers it is clear that an awful lot of LGBT people voted for Trump. 

The stone-cold-crazy voting bloc, as I suggested before, could have both elected Trump in this election and confused the polls. Almost every demographic has people plastering their cars with stickers proclaiming the allegiance to “” or questioning Obama’s birth status. Some even go so far as to write paranoid declarations of impending alien invasion , the cover-up of WTC 7, or chemtrails all over their cars in big white letters; I find the idea of chemtrails particularly amusing. This crazy block is distributed throughout all other demographics in the American electorate, but they do not, as many will want to contend, make up the majority of those that eventually did end up voting for trump in any demographic other than the one they define. What I mean is that in every demographic there were people who thought about what was best for the country and themselves, and came up with the idea that they should vote for Trump.

Trump has picked Steve Bannon as his chief stratagist. This is a powerful position, and it puts into the spotlight both Bannon’s Brietbart News agency and all the poser demagogues who work there. Amongst these is the man that would be the face of LGBT Trump support; an English bleached blond self-titled “Dangerous Faggot” by the name of Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo had the distinction, in July of 2016, of being one of the few non ISIL members permanently banned from Twitter for allegedly making disgusting racist/sexist/possibly homophobic attacks in 140 characters or less. Milo was an early passenger on the Trump train, and his (late 2015 to early 2016)  “Dangerous Faggot” speaking tour would often draw feminist or Black Lives Matter protestors whose protests would be shouted down by chants of “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” by others in the audience. In a perverted way Milo has become an important face for LGBT activism, and if LGBT concerns are given a seat at the table in the Trump administration it should come as no surprise if Milo is sitting in that chair.

Trump said little that was substantial on the campaign trail. He even lapsed into disjoint sentence fragments at times so some of the ephemeral stuff he dished out was incomprehensible as well. This allowed the actively delusional to hear whatever they wanted to hear in what he said.

What can be expected from a Trump presidency? There are real clues in who he has begun staffing his transition team with. These appointments, which are still being revealed, are being carefully, and more responsibly, analyzed by many other analysts. Sam Harris described the transition team as:

A clown car of ideologues and incompetence with a couple of religious maniacs thrown in. – Sam Harris from his 12 November 2016 podcast “Waking Up With Sam Harris #51 - The Most Powerful Clown

Amongst this menagerie are people like Kris Kobach, and the Vice President elect Mike Pence, both of whom support the effectiveness of “gay conversion therapy”. Though there may be a push for re-education of white males with college degrees there has not yet been open discussion of shoving electrical cords in our ears and zapping us whenever we react positively to David Bowie or Tilda Swinton. LGBT Trump supporters may literally have been voting against the open existence of their demographic. Perhaps they were channeling their inner Roy Cohn?

To be perfectly honest I do not personally think that there is a pathway to re-criminalization of homosexuality even if members of rapidly forming Trump administration may want it. However, that desire to eliminate openly gay people from the fabric of American culture is a clue that bad things that can be done might be attempted. With a GOP majority in the House and Senate, and a few Supreme Court justices thrown in, there is a distinct possibility that bad things that are attempted will be successful.

My favorite candidate on the Utah ballot won about as much of the popular vote as Evan. Misty K. Snow contested a seat in the US Senate held by Mike Lee. She had a wonderful platform whose main plank –the fact that she was not Mike Lee- earned her my wholehearted support.


Misty was not the perfect candidate. She had about as much experience in politics as our new president-elect, and significantly less education. I listened to her single debate against Lee and was irritated by her conciliatory and deferential tone. I wanted someone who would go after Lee tooth and nail. It was literally impossible for a Democrat –especially a woman- to defeat Tea-Party darling Mike Lee, but I wished that she could have taken a bigger bite out of him as he used wandering trivial patronizing metaphors as stand ins for opinions or answers in the debate. Instead of ripping out his jugular and leaving him bleeding on the stage she was cordial and polite; I wanted blood.

There are certainly places for being “nice”. One could reasonably argue that it is good to be “nice” almost everywhere, but there have to be “nice” ways of eviscerating people who represent the worst in society. There is way too much “nice” in Utah amongst those caused harm by the culture here and the religion that encourages and protects some of the more hurtful parts of that culture.

Sometime recently passed was apparently the one year anniversary of the LDS church’s decision to make apostates of people who are connected by family ties to people in same-sex marriages. Normally the process of getting your name removed from Mormon church records is involved, and my immediate reaction to the Church manufacturing new groups of apostates is to imagine them mailing “get out of jail free” cards to unsuspecting members.

Instead of shouting “YAY!” many Mormon LGBT wring their hands and suggest the church rethink its position.  I ask you: why don’t people simply point out that LDS magic underwear is decidedly unsexy and everything else in the church is based on wacky stupid ideas? There is no shortage of good reasons to want to become an apostate to the LDS church. If the premises of something are stupid then what does it make you sound like when you testify that they are true? The opinions about LGBT issues by the LDS church should not matter because the LDS church itself should not matter.

There appears to be a barrage of art that is, in part, concerned with reconciling the LDS stance on LGBT people with their “right” to be Mormon. There were endless articles, a bunch of films, a play called “Facing East”, and a documentary film about gay missionaries called “Latter Day Glory” is currently being filmed. It might be interesting to see film footage showing people the gay missionaries converted during their mission telling their former mentors that they were going to suffer some kind of eternal damnation because they were gay. I realize that there is some sort of special “Mormons don’t believe in Hell” slippery pseudo explanation, and that the “Latter Day Glory” film will probably be saccharine with niceties for currently believing LGBT Mormons, but I want the disillusioned masses of fence-sitting Mormons to rise up and shed some metaphorical blood, or at least say something like: “The Emperor has no clothes and a funny hair pattern on his back”.