Friday, September 09, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Michele Bachmann's Direct Line to God

Following the East Coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's response was as follows:

“I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians,” Bachmann said to supporters. “We've had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here? Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending.' ”
It must be great to have a direct line to God. It's strange, though, that God always seems to tell subscribers to the hotline exactly what they want to hear.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ignorance is even more blissful if you're sure you know

We at the institute want to draw attention to a notable victory in the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans.

A just-released Gallup poll finds that 96 percent of Americans believe that they know "something" or "a great deal" about global warming and climate change.

Contrast that 96 percent figure with the results of a Yale University study last year that found that 92 percent of Americans would receive a C, D or F on what they actually know about climate change. Fifty-two percent would flat-out fail.

For example, 55 percent don't know that carbon dioxide traps heat being radiated from the Earth's surface, 43 percent don't know what the greenhouse effect refers to, and 75 percent have never heard of ocean acidification or coral bleaching.

It's a great example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive defect that blinds people to their own deficiencies.

From a PR point of view, it's an accomplishment to convince people of your message--yet after all, that's what they get paid to do. But it's a work of art to convince people of a lie and also make them think they really know the truth.

Too bad there's no Oscar, Emmy or Nobel Prize for the dedicated people who have pulled this off!

Nobel Medal          Credit Chris Campbell/Creative Commons

High fives all around!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time for a New National Holiday -- Creation Day!

With Rick Perry's Day of Prayer and endorsement of the teaching of creationism in Texas schools, Michele Bachmann's links to Dominionism, and the Republican presidential candidates' near-universal rejection of climate science (what's with Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman?), we thought it was time to pass on this timely proposal from The Committee for Creation Day:

August 23, 2011

The Committee for Creation Day
Washington, DC

“Creation Day: An Idea Whose Time Has Come”

Dear Senators

and Representatives

and presidential candidates
BACHMANN, PERRY [and others],

First, we at The Committee for Creation Day want to congratulate those of you who have earned a Defenders of Liberty rating from the American Conservative Union. Your 100 percent advocacy of conservative values represents a remarkable intellectual, moral and political achievement, and is greatly appreciated.

Given your proven support for Christian values, we want to bring to your attention a proposal that we believe can help unify all right-thinking citizens behind God’s plan for the United States—Creation Day, a new national holiday.

As you know, in 1654 the great scholar Archbishop James Ussher calculated that God initiated Creation during the night preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C.

What could be more important than officially recognizing that awesome moment, especially during these crucial and difficult times?

--Making Creation Day a national holiday would provide further proof that the United States is a nation founded on Christian principles and relying on God’s grace and guidance for its success.

--Federal recognition of Creation Day would provide invaluable support for the state-by-state, school-board- by-school-board battle to provide public school students with a balanced understanding of the scientific theory of intelligent design versus godless evolution, and balanced access to the truth about Creation compared to scientific theories claiming that the universe is billions of years old.

--Official establishment of Creation Day would bring some much-needed joy into these difficult years of economic crises, droughts, floods and other catastrophes that herald the End of Days. Environmentalists have their Earth Day. Why shouldn’t the rest of us have the right to unite in celebration of the Universe’s Birthday?

We understand that there may be some technical problems with the date of October 23. It falls right between Columbus Day, October 10, and Veterans Day, November 11. Some might think that having three Federal holidays in a month would be excessive. However, given the current insolvency of the government, not to mention our shared desire to cut government down to its lowest possible level, the more time Federal employees have off the better. We’re sure that, like the FAA employees who continued to work without pay during the recent debt ceiling crisis, other Federal employees will be happy to be furloughed without pay should October 23 fall on a weekday. Or perhaps Columbus Day and/or Veterans Day could be moved to some other dates, for example to March and April, which lack Federal holidays, or simply cancelled. After all, the discovery of America and even recognition of our brave veterans pale in importance to officially recognizing the Day It All Began.

We feel that it is worth noting that if making Creation Day a national holiday could be accomplished this year, then the very first celebration would fall on Tuesday, October 23, 2012. That's exactly two weeks before the general election. Enough said.

We think that we can accurately note that we represent tens of millions of voters, not to mention potential donors who are in a position to support Godly politicians generously, who would appreciate and applaud your advocacy for, and, God willing, creation of this new and vitally important national holiday.

Help us Ussher in a new, God-fearing era in America.


The Committee for Creation Day

How much do you know about the state of the nation?

We're constantly exposed to one version or another of the idea of American exceptionalism. The politicians and advertisers remind us over and over again that the U.S. is number one, the richest country in the world, the most powerful, the shining “city on a hill” prophesied by our Puritan founders.

If you’re curious to see how well your knowledge about how the U.S. is doing matches what the statistics say, and if the U.S. still merits that number one spot, take this 20-item quiz.

 1. Among the 23 richest countries (measured by GDP per person), where does the U.S. rank in 
 terms of life expectancy (1 = highest life expectancy, 23 = lowest)?                                                _____                                                               
             2. Among the 23 richest countries, where does the U.S. rank in terms of income
inequality (1 = lowest ratio between top and bottom 20%; 23 = highest ratio)?                                  ____

3. Among the 21 richest countries for which data are available, where does the
U.S. rank on a health-and-social-problems scale that combines measures of
trust, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, infant mortality, life expectancy,
obesity, children’s educational performance, teenage births, homicides, rates of
imprisonment, and social mobility (1 = fewest problems, 21 = most problems)?                                    _____

4. Among the 22 richest countries for which data are available, where does the U.S.
Rank on the UNICEF index of child wellbeing, a combination of 40 measures of
children’s health and wellbeing (1 = healthiest for children, 22 = least healthy)?                                     _____

5. Of the 21 richest countries for which data are available, where does the U.S.
rank in terms of the percent of GDP spent on foreign aid (1 = highest, 21 =lowest)?                           _____

6. Of the 12 rich countries for which data are available, where does the U.S. rank
In terms of the percent of the population who have been mentally ill in
The past 12 months (1 = lowest percentage, 12 = highest percentage)?                                                ____

7. Of 22 rich countries for which data are available, where does the U.S. rank in
terms of the United Nations index of illegal drug use (1 = least use, 22 = most use)?                          _____

 8. Among the 23 richest countries, where does the U.S. rank in terms of infant deaths
per 1000 live births (1 = lowest infant death rate, 23 = highest infant death rate)?                                 _____

 9.  Among the 21 rich countries for which data are available, where does the U.S. rank
In terms of the percent of people who are obese—body mass index over 30—
(1 = lowest percentage of obese citizens, 21 = highest percentage of obesity)?                                     _____

10.  Among the 19 rich countries for which data are available, where does the U.S.
rank in terms of the percentage of children who are overweight (1 = lowest
percentage of overweight children, 19 = highest percentage of overweight children)?                            _____

11. Among 22 rich countries for which data are available, how do U.S. 15-year-olds
Rank on an international test of math and reading skills (1 = highest, 22 = lowest)?                           _____

12. Among 21 rich countries for which data are available, where does the U.S. rank
In terms of the number of births among teens aged 15-19 (1 = lowest teen birth
rate, 21 = highest teen birth rate)?                                                                                                       _____
13.   Among the 23 richest countries, where does the U.S. rank in terms of homicides
per million people (1 = lowest homicide rate, 23 = highest)?                                                                 _____

14.   Among the 22 rich countries for which statistics are available, where does the U.S.
Rank in terms of the number of people in prison per 100,000 citizens 
(1 = lowest rate of imprisonment, 22 = highest)?                                                                                  _____
15.  Among the 11 rich countries for which data is available, where does the U.S. rank in
terms of social mobility, measured by how different a son’s income at 30 is from his
father’s income when the son was born (1 = high mobility, 11 =low mobility)?                                      _____

16.   Among 21 rich countries for which data are available, where does the U.S. rate
In terms of the percentage of children living with a single parent (1 = lowest
percentage, 21 = highest percentage)?                                                                                                 _____

17.   Among the 22 richest nations for which statistics are available, where does the
U.S. rank in terms of the number of patents issued per 1,000,000 citizens
(1 = highest number of patents per capita, 22 = lowest number per capita)?                                         _____

18.   Among the 11 rich nations for which statistics are available, where does the U.S.
rank in terms of the proportion of waste that gets recycled (1 = highest proportion
of waste recycled, 11 = lowest proportion of waste recycled)?                                                            _____

19.    Among the 23 richest countries, where does the U.S. rank in terms of carbon
dioxide emissions per person (1 = lowest per capita CO2, 23 = highest per capita)?                         _____

20.   Among the 25 richest countries, where does the U.S. rank in terms of the percentage
of children living in relative poverty--defined as below a country’s median income—
(1 = lowest percentage of children in relative poverty, 25 = highest percentage)?                                  _____

You'll find the correct answers below. 

These statistics (except for # 20, which come from UNICEF) are taken from the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson. They lay out the case for the idea that, among rich, developed countries, it's not the amount of wealth but the degree of equality or inequality that makes the difference between a physically and mentally healthy, happy, well functioning and secure society and the opposite. They find that, among rich countries, those with high levels of income equality, such as the Scandinavian countries and Japan, do well on these measures of individual and social well being, while those with high levels of inequality, such as the U.S. and the U.K., do poorly. They think there is a cause-and-effect relationship between inequality and social problems, and that the most direct way to address this wide range of issues is to take steps to return the U.S. to a more equitable society.

 Correct answers:
1.  20/23 (4th lowest in life expectancy)
 2.  22/23 (2nd highest in income inequality)
3. 21/21 (highest level of health and social problems)
 4. 19/22 (4th lowest on child wellbeing)
5.  20/21 (2nd lowest percent spent on foreign aid)
 6. 12/12 (highest prevalence of mental illness)
 7. 19/22 (4th highest in illegal drug use)
8. 23/23 (highest infant death rate)
 9. 21/21 (highest level of adult obesity)
10.  19/19 (highest percentage of overweight children)
11.   17/22 (6th lowest math and reading skills at age 15)
12.   21/21 (highest teen birth rate)
13.  23/23 (highest homicide rate)
14.   22/22 (highest imprisonment rate)
15.   11/11 (lowest social mobility)
16.   20/21 (In a three-way tie for the highest level of children in single-parent homes)
17.   19/22 (4th lowest number of patents per 1,000,000 population)
18.   9/11 (3rd lowest proportion of waste recycled)
19.   22/23 (2nd highest per capita CO2 emissions)
20.   25/25 (highest percentage of children in relative poverty)

Friday, July 29, 2011

                                                           Empires of Illusion

A quirky, but striking piece of public art, leavened with a twist of Central European humor, marks a downtown street corner in the Slovakian capital city of Bratislava.

One comes across it suddenly, a life-sized bronze figure in a hard hat or helmet, head resting on hands, partly emerged from a man-hole in the middle of the sidewalk.  A peeper peeking under womens’ skirts?   A political satire on working life in this former Communist land, reflecting the old bargain that “we’ll pretend to work and you’ll pretend to pay us?  A modern philosophical reference to Plato’s Cave?  A playful reminder of the largely invisible underworld of pipes, sewers, power lines and workers it takes to sustain civilization?  Perhaps just an artistic prank designed to add a distinctive flavor and draw tourism to this newly-independent, lesser-known half of the former Czechoslovak state?

Or is it, as I’m now thinking, a larger comment about the world of illusion in which we all live, and our only partly-successful efforts to pull ourselves out of individual or collective states of unconsciousness into the clear light of day or reason?  Nearby Vienna, only a few miles up-river, after-all, was Freud’s hometown.

Often it takes a piece of absurdist art like this—or a view of staggeringly absurd political theatre like Communism in its dotage or Washington in its current debt-limit manifestation—to stop people in their tracks and cause them to reflect on where we are and what we have become. 

Like the statue in the sidewalk, we’re in constant danger of being ignored, trampled or even swept away in the crowded rush of unfolding events and ever more manipulated images surrounding us.  But look more closely at his pose and what he might have to say to us.  A thoughtful, even faraway look and the curve of a curious smile animate his face.  His left forefinger is slightly raised, as if to draw attention to a point or object he wants to discuss that has just come to mind. 

This is definitely not Rodin’s Thinker, fully emerged, naked, alone and lost in profound thought on his rock, but perhaps an equally recognizable human reference.  The anonymous individual, only partly visible or realized, taking time out to reflect, think, and most notably, engage in an ongoing dialogue both with unseen colleagues and with those of us willing to stop and listen.

Les Adler
for the institute

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fire threatens the Arctic tundra for the first time in 11,000 years

As reported in the 24 July, 2011 issue of Nature, a research team studied the aftermath of a large, unprecedented wildfire that scorched Alaskan tundra in 2007. Tundra fires, in which the carbon-rich soil actually burns, have been small and infrequent for the last 11,000 years. This fire, however, released a huge amount of carbon into the atmosphere, as much as the entire tundra biome, which stretches across the far north of Alaska, Canada and Eurasia, stores in a year.

You can read more about this fire and its implications for climate change in the Arctic and globally at Suite101.
You can access the abstract of the original Nature article here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Last year a team of researchers managed to decode two-thirds of the Neanderthal genome. They also found that  contemporary non-Africans share more genetic markers with Neanderthals than contemporary Africans do. Their conclusion was that early modern humans interbred with Neanderthals, and that a few percent of the genes of all non-Africans come from Neanderthal ancestors.

A new, independent study, looking at one particular X-chromosome marker, confirms that finding. You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Declining winter snowpack across the western U.S. threatens the water supply of 70 million people

Writing in Science, a multidisciplinary team of researchers reports that the snowpack in the Yellowstone watershed, the northern Rocky Mountains, and the southern Rocky mountains, are all declining rapidly. They connect this with rising temperatures across the region stemming from human-caused climate change. If the decline continues, they say, it has serious implications for people, farmers, ranchers and industries across the western United States.

You can read more about this at:

Or you can find the original article at:

Robert Adler
for the Institute

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Debt Debate

On July 4, 2011, Riley McGowen, a 20 year old student at NG State University, was flying home from vacationing at his uncle’s ranch when he experience a life-changing epiphany. 

As a new member of the Young Republicans at NG State, he had recently signed a pledge to support the proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The amendment simply stated:
        The Government of the United States of America 
       shall, by spending no more than it receives in
       revenues, balance its budget every year.

Riley was a double major (Economics and Political Science) at NG State, and he was proud to support a Constitutional Amendment that required the Federal Government to display the same fiscal responsibility its own citizens were.  In fact, Riley had signed an accompanying petition that was to be sent to every US Senator and Representative as well as all senior members of the President’s administration stating the obvious:

Dear _____________:

For too long, the United States Government has served as a poor example to the rest of the country. While its citizens, families, organizations and businesses do not accumulate increasing amounts of debt by borrowing money, the Federal Government continues to spend far more each year than it takes in in revenues. This must stop. The United States must be held accountable, just as all persons and private enterprises within its borders are.
                                   Riley McGowen
                                   Young Republicans
                                   NG State University

Riley had engaged in heated arguments with his classmates who opposed the proposed Amendment, but he knew that given the unswerving support from the Republican leaders in Congress that he would win the debate.  America, like all Americans, had to balance its budget each and every year.

Members of the campus’ Young Democrats had countered by asking, “Does that mean that your uncle will no longer be able to take special tax deductions for the corporate jet he uses to fly you across the country all the time?”

Riley was outraged, “How dare you touch those tax provisions that are written into law.  Take them away and my uncle’s petroleum exploration company could not create the jobs America needs.”

But Riley was taunted further.  “Does your uncle’s company balance its budget each year?”

“Certainly.  Its shareholders and bondholders wouldn’t allow it to do otherwise.  Haven’t you taken a business class yet?”

However, Riley couldn’t seem to get away from the barrage of questions. “Aren't the shareholders and bondholders exactly the people the company is borrowing from?”

“You might say that,” responded Riley.  “But whoever invested in the company gets bonds or shares of stocks in return—so the company’s Annual Statement shows that its accounts are balanced.”

“So all you’re asking is that the US Government also issue bonds to whomever it borrows money from?”

“Hey dude, it does.”

“We’re getting nowhere fast,” interjected another Young Democrat.  “What we need to know from Riley is . . . Riley, you tell us.  Do you support the Amendment because the Federal Government is not balancing its books each year like American families have to?”

“Now, that’s the right question,” replied Riley.

“What about students (you excepted) who have to take out student loans to go to college?  Aren’t they accumulating debt—just like the Federal Government?”

“They are,” Riley responded.  “And they better be able to pay back those loans.”

“But you aren’t going to make all of us balance our budgets each year by not going into debt, are you?” asked one Democrat.

“My single mom has a car and she didn’t pay cash,” said another Young Democrat.  “Does that mean she’s making the same mistake the Federal Government and your uncle’s business are?”

“Doesn’t everybody pay cash for their car?” Riley asked.

“My parents say they own our home, but I know they took out a mortgage to buy it,” said another Young Democrat.

“It’s like I know all these people and businesses are in debt.  It’s just that the Federal Government has to balance its budget so it won’t go further into debt,” Riley responded.

“Since your Republican leadership is basing its arguments concerning a balanced budget Amendment on the idea that all the rest of us have to balance our budgets—does that mean all the rest of us will have to balance our budgets, and I don’t mean by borrowing money, each year?”

“Hey,” said another Young Democrat.  “If you’re advocating that when the Amendment goes into effect and the US Government can no longer borrow money to balance its budget, and you’re saying that all of us will have to live up to the example we are already supposedly setting for the government—that means I won’t be able to go into debt to continue my education.”

“And I won’t be able to borrow to buy a house,” said another. 

“To live up to the ideals you are setting up for the Federal Government, we will need to have a cash only economy—or if anyone borrows from anyone else, they have to pay back the money by the end of the year to balance their household budgets,” said another Democrat, summing up the group’s argument.

The epiphany young Riley McGowen had that July 4, 2011 as he was flying home in his uncle’s tax subsidized private jet was that as soon as he landed he was going to reregister as a Democrat.
After all, while the US Federal debt stands at about $14.5 trillion, US citizens owe around $16 trillion of mortgage, consumer, credit card and student loan debt.  Riley realized that just like households and businesses, the goal shouldn’t be to eliminate all debt but by limiting our military ventures and tax loopholes, borrow wisely and keep it to a minimum.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Human activities emit far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that volcanoes do

A new study in Eos, published by the American Geophysical Union, shows that human activities currently pump 135 times more CO2 into Earth's atmosphere than volcanoes do in an average year. In fact, our yearly production of CO2 equals that of one or two supereruptions like the one that created Yellowstone two million years ago, every year.You can read the details on Suite101.

Robert Adler
for the institute

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Dark Side of Happiness

Recent research documents something that has been noted before--that countries whose citizens consider themselves particularly happy paradoxically often have high rates of suicide. An international team of social scientists traced this surprising correlation in statistics from western nations, and independently within the 50 states of the US. The researchers' explanation, based on their findings and on other work on how potent interpersonal comparisons can be, is that unhappy people who see others around them as much happier may feel the pangs of unhappiness much more acutely. The worst place for a deeply depressed person to be, it appears, is among happy peers.

You can read more about this study on Suite101 at this URL.

Robert Adler

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It takes a thief

If it takes a thief to catch a thief, perhaps it takes a PR expert to catch others at work to create and fuel the well-funded and so-far successful campaign to bamboozle the public about climate change.

James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore, with the respected Vancouver PR firm Hoggan & Associates, have done the spadework and present it in the form of a well researched, fact-based page-turner. In Climate Cover-Up they unveil, name-by-name and dollar-by-dollar the coal, oil and other deep pockets behind the cover-up, and the spin doctors, well-paid mouthpieces, and willing politicos who have convinced much of the public that there is a scientific controversy about climate change, and have successfully blocked national and international action to protect the planet for the last two decades. You can read my full review of Climate Cover-Up on Suite101.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A new archaeological excavation in central Texas provides a trove of artifacts proving that humans lived in North America 15,500 years ago, driving a particularly solid nail into the coffin of the "Clovis-first" hypothesis. Details on Suite101, "Hunter-gatherers Roamed across North America 15,500 Years Ago."

REA for the institute

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to Monitor US Radiation Exposure Yourself

As the plume of radioactive debris from the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors approaches the U.S., there are resources besides official reports that will let ordinary citizens track radiation levels.

You'll find a map with nine or ten active monitoring sites across the U.S. here:
This site updates automatically every three minutes. Note that its readings are in counts per minute, or CPM.

I've been tracking the readings on this site from British Columbia, Washington, California and Arizona since March 14, 2011, before any radiation from Japan would have made it to the West Coast. As of noon on March 17, the readings from the four sites have averaged 23.6 counts per minute with a standard deviation of 1.76 counts per minute. The author of this site says that "it would be unusual for those levels to exceed 130 CPM," and sets this as the alert level. This should provide a baseline for readings on and after Friday March 18, when the plume is predicted to reach the U.S.

I've located another site with fifteen active monitors here:
This site updates every fifteen minutes. Please note that its readings are in micro Roentgens per hour, and so differ from those of the first network. A note on this network's webpage says that typical readings across the U.S. range from 5 to 28 micro Roentgens per hour, with a standard deviation of around four.

Both networks take pains to point out that readings from a given monitor can vary widely over time, due to the random nature of radioactivity.

I, for one, feel a bit more comfortable knowing that I have two independent sources of information apart from whatever reports government agencies chose to release.

Robert Adler
for the institute

Monday, March 14, 2011

Denial runs deep

Zerospinzone co-founder Les Adler has published an essay on denial on the blog of the Whitman Institute that is well worth reading. He provides a historical and linguistic analysis of the powerful river of climate change denial that is being fomented and exploited by special interests, most notably the fossil fuel industry. His conclusion is that the presentation of facts and reasoned arguments will not be sufficient but that instead, ". . . attention also must be paid to the slow and careful psychological work of bringing unconscious fears and feelings to consciousness in order to promote creative change."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Science is not a four-letter word

Zerospinzone co-founder Lou Miller takes Senator James Inhofe and other climate change deniers to task for demeaning climate science and science in general at a time when the U.S. is more in need than ever of home-grown scientists and scientific expertise. His critique appears in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat of 1/28/10.