Have to run to class soon, but feel as if I should drop in my two cents on the politics of the Land to the South (i.e. US), since everyone is yapping about it.
I'm definitely not a fan of politics, and will not dedicate excessive keystrokes to the subject. It's all a sticky tangle of lies, self-interest masked by a false concern for the electorate, more lies, even more lies, and (with appologies to slime moulds), filthy slime. Republicans are abysmal, but the Democrats aren't far behind. Obama is what we call in Russian "проходимец" -- someone who slithers his way around any situation, usually in a dirty cheating kind of way. I won't even think about the alternative -- not a healthy way to start one's morning.
So in a way I could just say I don't care, and move on with life. Like your average exemplary citizen of a democratic society. But on the other hand... I'm innately selfish (and so are you), so there's certain issues that mean a lot to me, even to the point where I'm compelled to follow at least a little bit of the foul political sewage. One of those issues, for me, is science.
Back around the 60's, US used to be an amazing place for science and engineering. There was good science education in the compulsory school system, good universities, plenty of funding, and most imporantly, a pretty decent rapport between science and the public. People respected what science brought, and had great interest in it. Same thing on the other side of the sea in the USSR: good education, good science fuding, good public interest. Scientific advancement thrived. Religiosity was kept aside in the quiet, letting people do their jobs safe from bullshit ideologies, for the most part.
Then something happened. The public stopped caring much about science. Scientists became viewed as something of pure evil. Science education plummeted. Religion triumphed. Education eroded away further yet. We get creationists. Research funding is on a steady decline. Despite the ever-growing gap of knowledge we see before us (each scientific advancement reveals more and more of how much remains unknown), work in the field is made more and more difficult.
People feel some obscure right to impale others with their oft ill-founded moral convictions. "I believe abortion/gay marriage/stem cell research/atheism/cracker desecration is bad, therefore no one should be allowed to do it." They start demanding the government to achieve their goal of submitting everyone around the, to their own personal beliefs. They start infiltrating the government. Then we get Louisiana, with an approved stealthy creationist bill to pressure science. There's many of them. They have power. REAL power. They have money.
They have infectious memeplexes on their side.
At least the Democrats are a little itty tiny bit potentially more liberal than the Republicans, and the general agreement in the scientific community is that Obama might cut NSF funding a little bit less than his competitor. If the Republicans return to helm yet again, more money will be dumped into the pointless stupid war in Iraq in the midst of a recession at home, and science will be assaulted both in schools, and in the budget. As soon-to-be grad student, post-doc, etc within the next 15 years, with the possibility of starting my own lab eventually, some day... I'm worried. As a human who sees the dangers of dogmatic faith devoid of any self-correcting mechanism, I'm frightened.
Fundamentalism is not funny. Any sort of it -- be it nationalism, political dogma, religion, some school of philosophy -- is dangerous and degrading to the collective human intellect. Yes they say amusing things, but I can't read them without feeling a mixture of fear and sadness. We find them funny -- they believe they're right. And they have power.
I've heard somewhere that the 21st century will be an era of fundamentalist conflict, both in the Christian and Muslim worlds, and also in terms of nationalism. With the vastly overgrown human population that exceeds the carrying capacity (at least that of psychological sanity), the world is growing more and more competitive and desparate. When people are desparate and threatened, they form tightly-knit groups of similar kin. Religions pray on that -- that's how the memeplexes thrive. Some clever people surface and use these factions to their own advantage, abusing the frightened people convived in their superiority. You get violence, be it ethnic or sectarian tension...or something bigger.
If those people were not united by a conviction of superiority, they would probably be substantially less receptive to arms. If the people were less threatened and desparate, they would be unwilling to fight. One doesn't need much to feel unwilling to fight -- a home, a family, some food...and general political stability. Wealth is irrelevant. We have too many destitute wanderers furious at their past. That is a volatile environment -- not to be ignored. But solving this problem requires long-term thinking -- something capitalism, at least in its Western execution, fails at. One only cares about a couple financial quarters ahead, few bother with looking beyond that.
I think a new political party is in order down south. The Rationalists. Definitely would be a hit... (not). Ah well. Time to work on counter-memeplexes to the creotard filth...
The botanical world just got a bit less colorful - Hugh Iltis RIP
3 hours ago in The Phytophactor