Tuesday, November 21, 2017

At Least Climate Change Doesn't Cause Earthquakes... Right?


Climate change doesn't cause hurricanes, but it can increase the frequency and ferocity of them.  Climate change doesn't cause droughts, but it can increase the severity and persistence of them.  Climate change doesn't cause earthquakes, either.
Or does it?
A geophysicist, Chris Milliner of NASA's JPL at CalTech, noted that when 53 inches of rain fell on Huston during hurricane Harvey, the town sank by 2 cm. Those 53" represented 33 trillion gallons of water.  Water weighs 8.34 lbs per gallon.  Do the math.  That's 137 billion, 610 million tons.  No wonder Houston sank.[1]
Okay, and then when the water receded, Houston rose back up again.  That's a good thing, right?  Well, it depends on how fault-ridden the bedrock under Houston is.  Turns out Houston is not a seismically active region, so there were no significant earthquakes detected.
A book by Bill McGuire titled Waking the Giant discusses the effects of climate change on the Earth's crust. [2] At the end of the last ice age, 20,000 years ago, kilometers thick sheets of ice covered much of North America and Europe, sea levels were 425 feet lower, and the average global temperature was 11°F cooler.  Then the rapid melting of ice caps and filling of ocean basins shifted the distribution of enormous weight on the crust of the Earth.  This caused earthquakes, volcanoes, underwater landslides, and tsunamis.  But not all of the glaciers melted and the global temperature stabilized.  Until humans discovered coal and the Industrial Age began.  We are now on track, with human-caused rapid global warming, to see these things resume.
California is a different story than Houston.  According to Warren Cornwall of Reuters, shifting water weight can trigger small earthquakes in California.[3]  During the driest time of year, late summer and early fall, the weight of water in California is minimal.  Then come the rains.  Reservoirs begin to fill.  Ground water is replenished.  And the weight of water on California's network of criss-crossing geologic faults increases.  This causes a pattern of increased frequency of earthquakes during certain times of year.
As the climate changes, oceans warm, storms pick up more water and become much more violent, and unprecedented volumes of water weigh down on California's faults.  Earthquakes are going to be the result.
As if that isn't a dire enough prediction, we may even see some new volcanoes![4]

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

On Health Insurance

There are a lot of things wrong with Obamacare, but Republicans and Democrats disagree on what exactly to do to fix it.  In my opinion, poor people should have the Gold plans.  Rich people can get by just fine with the Bronze plans.

Outrageous you say?  Hmm, let's take a look.  Buying insurance is taking a gamble on the future and hoping you lose.  Because to not lose, you have to suffer a loss, pay your deductible and, take the insurance payment and start over.

Take earthquake insurance for example.  These policies are priced based on replacement cost and how big a deductible you have.  We have earthquake insurance (we live in California!) and our deductible is $30,000.  Someone else who lives in Beverly Hills would have a lot higher replacement cost than we do, and would therefore have a much higher deductible.  If our house is destroyed in an earthquake, we can rebuild our house for $30 large.  We could handle that.  If a really wealthy person's house is destroyed, they might have a $200,000 deductible, but they could prob'ly handle that.

Someone who lives in Los Banos might have a house that wouldn't cost as much to rebuild, so maybe their deductible would only be $20K.  But wait.  There is still the matter of the premium which might, for this person, only be a few hundred a year, but there might not be room in their budge for that.  Plus, they absolutely couldn't afford the $20 large deductible.  So if an earthquake takes their home, they're out on the street.

Now consider health insurance.  In the examples above, let's say the Beverly Hills homeowner, the Los Banos homeowner, and I are all the same age and in the same good state of health.  Beverly Hills can afford a Gold Plan with almost no co-pay and a $1000 deductible.  I can afford a Silver, with a larger co-pay and $5000 for a deductible.  And the Los Banos resident has to settle for a Bronze, which has much lower premiums, but high co-pays and maybe a $10,000 deductible.   

In a good year, none of us use up our deductible because we don't have to see the doctor that much.  Beverly Hills's co-pay is very low -- no problem.  Mine is medium -- I can handle it.  Los Banos's is pretty high.  Los Banos hesitates before going to see his doctor because it's gonna mean skipping a meal or paying only the minimum on the credit card (and incurring more finance charge).  But he finds a way to deal with it, especially if it's his kid that needs the doctor.

But suppose the three of us have a bad year and need surgery.  We go into the hospital and we have our surgery.  The cost is $100,000 for each of us.  Beverly Hills doesn't have a high-end body with luxury organs, his premiums are not based on a higher replacement cost for his organs.  I need the same surgery and my cost is the same as his.  Los Banos also needs the same surgery and incurs the same charges. 

Beverly Hills pays his $1000 deductible and gets on with his life.  I pay my $5000 deductible and get on with my life.  Los Banos can't pay his $10,000 deductible and he and his family are bankrupt in one fell swoop.

The Bronze plans for poorer people should be the $1000 deductible plans with the little or no co-pays and cost the same as they do now.  The Gold plans should have the $10K deductibles and the high co-pays, and cost the same as they do now.  That's how you fix Obamacare.
 
This was inspired by the Summer 2017 Issue of UU World Magazine

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Nevertheless, We Persisted

The 45th president praises and reaches out to authoritarian dictators Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Recip Tayyid Erdogan, and Rodrigo Duterte.  And then shares highly classified information with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Authoritarianism and treason.

The Kushers profit in China off the Trump name and presidency, and meet with Russian bank officials secretly.  45 himself hangs onto his businesses.  Conflict of interest.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt fires scientists from the scientific review board and replaces them with fossil fuel industry representatives.  Then all the climate change documents disappear from the EPA website.  Climate denial.

Attorney General Jeff (What Me Worry?) Sessions, in spite of recusing himself, suggests 45 fire James Comey who is investigating the Trump-Russia connection.  Then advises law enforcement to charge drug offenders with the most serious charge available in order to trigger the harshest maximum sentences.  Racism and cronyism.

Health Secretary Tom Price praises the House (mis-named) American Health Care Act saying it will increase patients' access to health care, when the CBO and the AMA assert the opposite.  Healthcare only for the rich and the well.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke supports the Keystone Pipeline, opposes carbon emission regulation, "reviews" our National Monuments.  Exploitation of public lands.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, laughs with him about Jim Comey's firing, and walks off without answering reporters' questions.  Profits before people.

Education Secretary Bestsy DeVos wants taxpayers to pay for private schools even if they discriminate.  Anti-public education and more racism.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signs a law threatening sheriffs with jail if they do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, when every major police chief in the state opposed the bill.  Anti-immigrant nationalism.

House of Representatives candidate Greg Gianforte violently attacks a reporter and gets a hundred thousand dollars in donations when news of it breaks.  Hatred for and mistrust of the Press.

Above and around all this, more and more of the White House gang is being implicated with Russian spies and money launderers, the latest being 45's son-in-law Jared Kushner, the highest-ranking, most influential presidential family member ever in history!  Nepotism.

Despair rules.  Hopelessness reigns.  Futility wins.  The energy to keep fighting fades.  He is not my president.  This is not even my country anymore.  It doesn't matter what is right and just and fair.  The only things that happen are those that the people in power want to happen.  And they got in power by cheating, lying, misleading, and deceiving... with the help of a nefarious foreign dictator named Putin.  Will of the people -- will of the majority -- be damned.

You can curse me for this nihilistic soliloquy, but this is where I seem to be right now. 

Or...  Maybe I just need to rest a bit, catch my breath, take five, go to coffee.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Sip of coffee.  (Sip of scotch?)  Close the eyes a moment.  Breathe!
 
......

Okay, I feel a little better now.  I remember Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and Representative John Lewis, and labor activists Cesar Chavez and Joe Hill.  No one will remember my name, but they'll remember Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye and Carl Sagan.  King and Lewis and Chavez and Hill and Tyson and Nye and Sagan weren't and aren't alone.  There were many, many thousands behind them.  Maybe I can be one of those nameless thousands that persisted!

Okay, I'm ready to go hit it again.  Write letters and op eds.  Call my Congressones.  Knock on doors.  Phone bank.  Table.  All those good, empowering, difference-making verbs.  The odds may be against us.  We may be out-numbered.  We may be out-gunned....

Nevertheless, we persisted!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Notes on the American Health Care Act of 2017


Definition of terms.

Democrats: people who are progressives, young and old, wealthy and poor, male and female, white and other shades, religious and non-religious, straight and of other sexual orientations.

Republicans: people who are conservatives, young and old, wealthy and poor, male and female, white and other shades, religious and non-religious, straight and of other sexual orientations.

Repugnicans: people who are white, rich, radical christian supremacists who consider themselves better and more American than anybody else.

Congratulations Repugnicans!  You've made "American" a dirty word. 
 
The "repeal and replace Obamacare" bill is legislation built on moral depravity.  Six weeks ago a less egregious bill failed to even come to a vote, largely because the Freedom Caucus of far-right Repugnicans refused to vote for it.  So.... the House leadership got busy and made the bill more deplorable to please those white radical christian supremacist representatives.  And the bill passed with just ONE VOTE over the 216 needed... 217 to 213.  Only 22 Republicans broke ranks.  All the Democrats opposed it.

What would have changed if the House had waited for the Congressional Budget Office to make its report on what the bill would cost?  What would have changed if there'd been time for those representatives to read the bill?  Isn't that what they blamed Democrats for doing when Obamacare passed?  Willful ignorance... the hallmark of Repugnican governance.  

Features of the AHCA:
1. It slashes funding for Medicaid. 
2. Premiums and deductibles will rise.
3. States can opt out of pre-existing conditions coverage at the same price.
4. States can opt out of "essential services" requirements coverage at the same price.
5. It includes a $600 BILLION tax cut for those making $200,000/year, $250,000/year for married couples.  The "individual mandate" has been removed.  No tax credits if you make more than $75K ($150K for families).
6. Hospitals that have been getting more paying customers due to the ACA, and took reduced medicare payments as a trade-off, now will still have those reduced medicare payments but with fewer customers who can afford to pay their bills.  More hospitals will close down, especially those that have been struggling in poor and rural areas.

Call the Senate switchboard operator at (202) 224-3121 and tell your Senator that you strongly oppose this bill. We have to flood Congress with calls in the coming days to ensure this legislation is defeated. Calls are the single most effective way to make a difference.





 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Critical Thinking and the Religious Right

"Critical thinking" is the objective analysis and evaluation of a statement or issue in order to form a judgment of its verity.

Franklin Graham is telling his flock that God showed up on Election Day and that is why Donald Trump won.  God wanted him to be His man, His "Cyrus", to lead this country.  (See Isaiah 45.5)  His flock believes that and praises God with joyful song... and vitriolic condemnation of those godless, atheistic progressives who voted against him.  Objective analysis?  That's liberal egghead talk meant to divert one's attention from the real issue of God making America a great Christian nation again.  Judgment of its verity?  Well, Franklin Graham said it and he has the mind and heart of God.  And if you doubt it, well, you're a doubting Thomas and unless you fall on your knees and intone "My Lord and my God!" you will languish in unbelief.  That's in John 20.28.

But the next verse is where we have the Biblical condemnation of thinking critically: John 20.29: "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

Believing without seeing is a blessing.  Believing it when you see it, that's critical thinking.  So if you're a critical thinker, you're at best a backslidden Christian and at worst a godless atheist.  So critical thinking has no place in Christianity.

But wait!  There is a long, long history of critically thinking Christian apologists dating from Paul himself, through Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to C S Lewis, Alister McGrath, and others still alive today.  Are these guys "godless atheists"?  Apologetics is a systematic set of reasoned arguments in justification of a religious doctrine or a scientific theory.  Read the Epistles of St Paul, St Augustine's City of God, St Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica, C S Lewis's Mere Christianity, and/or Alister McGrath's trilogy A Scientific Theology.  Critical thinking itself is really not godless or even progressive.  But listening to evangelicals today, you'd think it is.

There is a video of Gina Rodriguez's interview with President Obama that was taped November 3, 2016 in which she says, "Many of the millennials, dreamers, undocumented, citizens -- I call them "citizens" because they contribute to this country -- are fearful of voting.  So if I vote, will Immigration know where I live?  Will they come for my family and deport us?"

Obama answers, "Not true.  And the reason is, first of all, when you vote, you are a citizen yourself.  And there is not a situation where the voting rolls are somehow transferred over and people start investigating..."

It was clumsily worded, but critical thinking will let you know that the President of the United States would not on television encourage "illegals" to vote.  What he was saying was, first of all, if you are voting, then that is proof you are a citizen, and citizens will not be deported.  Then he went on to say that your voting record is totally confidential and no one is going to give all the addresses of all the Latina and Latino citizens to Immigration to come and hunt down your possibly undocumented friends and family.

Critical thinking will let you realize that if you're undocumented, you can't even register to vote, let alone actually vote.  You need proof of citizenship to register.  You need to be registered to vote.

On the other hand, if you want to smear President Obama and rile up your conservative Christian followers, you'll skip the critical thinking part, hope your audience doesn't know how to use it, and claim that the President made this shocking statement that illegals can safely vote without being followed up on and deported.

Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.  Blessed are they who just take Franklin Graham's word for it and don't analyze or evaluate.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Body Autonomy

Body autonomy.  The idea that the inhabitor of a body has the final say over what uses are made of their body.  You can't even touch someone who doesn't want you to touch them.  If you do, you can be charged with assault.

So what if my kidneys fail and I need a kidney transplant to live.  But the only compatible donors refuse to donate a kidney to me.  I cannot make them.  I have no right to something that is part of their body.  But I'm going to die if I don't get their kidney.

The Pro-Life stance would be they must give me a kidney so that I may live.  But the Pro-Life stance would lose in a court of law.

So an unborn child will die if the mother doesn't continue to provide life support until the fetus is viable.  But, according to the principle of body autonomy, no one can tell that mother that she has to continue to provide life support.

The Pro-Life stance is that she must provide life support until the child is born.  But today, the Pro-Life stance lost in the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

North Carolina's New "Bathroom Law"

North Carolina's new "Bathroom Law", passed in a hurry, blocks cities and local governments from passing antidiscrimination measures that could protect gay and transgender people.  In late February, Charlotte NC passed an ordinance expanding state antidiscrimination laws so that LGBT people would also be granted protection in places of "public accommodation".  The new state law repealed that ordinance, saying no city or local government could amend or expand state law.  It also bans cities and local governments from increasing the minimum wage beyond the state minimum wage.

Now, most conservatives are upset with the federal sex-same marriage law because they consider it "overreach" by higher government.  They say the definition of marriage should be left to state and local governments.  Yet, they don't see North Carolina's state law as overreaching and nullifying city and local government laws.  This seems like hypocrisy at first, until you realize that state Republicans' purpose was not to reserve their own political power, but rather just to hurt LGBT people. 
The new law solves no problem.  There was never a problem with transgender people using the bathroom designed for the sex they identify as.  No one has been raped in a women's rest room by a transgender person who identifies as a woman.  No one's little girl ever shared a bathroom with a "grown adult man" who would like to molest a little girl.
On the other hand, plenty of little boys have been molested in men's bathrooms by "grown adult men" who like to molest little boys.  The law does nothing to stop that.  But that's beside the point.
I think the bottom line is this.  Most North Carolina Republicans think of themselves as Christians, and therefore think that homosexuality is a sin.  And that's fine.  They are perfectly free to think that.  But not all Christians think that.  And for that matter, more than a quarter of Americans are not even Christians.  I'm one of those followers of Jesus that thinks if we're going to ignore the Levitical laws against eating shrimp (Leviticus 11.9-12) or wearing a shirt made of a cotton-polyester blend (Leviticus 19.19), then we can ignore the Levitical law that says a man lying with a man is an abomination (Leviticus 18.22).
The Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin are believing the Bible, but they have no right to punish people who don't believe that way.  In fact, the same Bible that these Christians believe to be the inerrant Word of God says, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12.19).  Romans is one of the books that really makes a big point about homosexuality being worthy of death.  But humans need to keep their hands off each other because "vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord".