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Loosing the leopards

March 24, 2017

Many undocumented immigrants have long roots and established business connections here in the US. South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg describes Roberto Beristain, owner of a popular Indiana steak house:

..the tenderness of his wife’s love for him, the innocence of his four American children (especially the teenage daughters who are now being taunted at school over his case), the loyalty of his 20 employees, and the pride and affection of his gathered friends and acquaintances as they rally to show their support.

Beristain now is detained and about to be deported under Trump’s more aggressive treatment of undocumented immigrants. His wife Helen explains her vote for Trump, by remembering that he “did say the good people would not be deported, the good people would be checked.” Right. “I didn’t expect a leopard to eat my husband’s face,” says woman who voted for the Leopards Eating Faces Party.

Of course, only a few long-time undocumented immigrants are business owners. Most will be economically contributing. Almost all will have family. A few, indeed, will be criminals. But the nativism that brought Trump to power is not driven by any kind of rational calculation.

US healthcare

March 22, 2017

I suspect Edward Tufte would approve this graph, showing how much the US healthcare system underperforms the other developed nations. Spain, a multiethnic nation that is poorer than the US, does far better. Its trajectory is enough to make one believe in pork, olives, squid, and wine. The complexities of navigating US healthcare are frustrating, financially perilous, and risky to health.

Climate and health

March 21, 2017

I like winter sailboat races at night. And even here in Corpus Christi, there are midwinter mights cool enough to put the crew in foulies. I’ve never liked being cold. But, some resarch suggests a health benefit to some exposure to cold: it increases the activity of brown fat, which both lessens obesity and increases responsiveness to insulin. I doubt it makes up for driving through slush.


March 20, 2017

A common response I hear, when discussing past waves of immigration into the US, is that those immigrants were different: better mannered, harder working, less violent, quicker to assimilate. All of which is malarkey, the cheery-toned myth-making that comes from a Disney version of history. Italian immigrants included bomb-throwing anarchists. The Irish were responsible for the most violent riot to strike NYC. Those immigrants of yesteryear included many who were desperate and clannish, and some who carried radical political ideas and were prone to violence. The rhetoric and passions against them was not far from what you hear today. Catholicism was viewed as a largely foreign religion incompatible with American democracy. That argument still was common in the 1960s. When you watch Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny speak on immigration, with the nativist Trump standing by, keep in mind that the benefits we enjoy today from immigration past came despite the pains and troubles and needless deaths that those immigrants sometimes caused. There is no group of people that is pure.

“All we’re doing is literally reading off what other stations .. have reported”

March 17, 2017

That headline quote was said by Sean Spicer, in defense of Trump’s lies about Obama wiretapping his campaign. It would be useless for anyone to point out that the White House press office is not a media station, and that the White House has direct and inside information on what the government has done unavailable to any media.

Paul Ryan says the Senate intelligence committee has “not seen any evidence that there was a wiretap or a (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court order against Trump Tower or somebody in Trump Tower.” Neither has the House.

The Trump administration has apologized to Britain after Spicer repeated a Fox News claim that GCHQ did the wiretapping for Obama. Prime Minister May’s spokesperson says, “We’ve made clear to the US administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored. We’ve received assurances that these allegations won’t be repeated.”

Needless to say, this is not normal. Well, yes, it is normal that Fox News broadcasts liars like Judge Andrew Napolitano. It is not normal for a US president to so behave, and to turn the White House press office into a rumor mill, for which lies it then has to apologize to our allies. Shame on this nation.

Not so simulated

March 16, 2017

Sabine Hossenfelder takes issue with Nick Bostrom’s argument that we might live in a simulated universe, based on the difficulty of simulating the current laws of physics. Bostrom’s core argument is that our descendants a) will have almost unimaginable computing resources, b) so vast that the simulation of universes such as our own is possible, c) they will create such simulations, so d) our own universe might be one such. Hossenfelder is criticizing b). I find c) quite speculative. Bostrom handwaves what human (or transhuman) effort might be required to reach that goal. Just because there is the computing power to do something doesn’t mean it is a practical or desirable exercise.

Secularization and its discontents

March 15, 2017

Peter Breinart writes an insightful article on how secularization is affecting the shape of today’s political camps. An important point he makes is that, on both the left and the right, the religious are divided between those who regularly attend church and those who don’t. That divide reflects how well they are doing economically and socially, how likely they are to follow a politics of greivance, and what prejudices they expose:

According to PRRI, white Republicans who seldom or never attend religious services are 19 points less likely than white Republicans who attend at least once a week to say that the American dream “still holds true.” But non-churchgoing conservatives didn’t flock to Trump only because he articulated their despair. He also articulated their resentments. For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.

Some researchers see a rise in hate crimes this past year.

Pakistan, sadly and unsurprisingly, still punishes blasphemers. And everyone who writes secularly is a blasphemer.