Immigration is a science issue

The March for Science happens this next Saturday. I don’t typically participate in protests, but if you’re interested there are hundreds of them occurring throughout the world. The March for Science website explains why they organize:

Science, scientists, and evidence-based policymaking are under attack. Budget cuts, censorship of researchers, disappearing datasets, and threats to dismantle government agencies harm us all, putting our health, food, air, water, climate, and jobs at risk. It is time for people who support science to take a public stand and be counted.

I’m surprised by an omission from this agenda: immigration policy. Immigration is very obviously a science issue. My advisor is an immigrant. 1/3 to 1/2 of the students and postdocs in my research group have been immigrants. The same is true of my class. The effect is so large, you hardly need statistics to show it.

Nonetheless, some statistics…

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Meanderings on violent protest

Recently, there was a protest at UC Berkeley, which led the loathsome Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos to cancel his talk. Some of you may have figured out by now, this is a local story to me. I saw the protest myself.

Well, I only really walked by the protest on my way home. There were maybe a hundred people at 5 pm, but UC Berkeley says it later grew to 1,500. Protestors were chanting “No Milo! No Trump!” There was someone holding a giant dove. I took a flyer, which was produced by–and then being anti-social I went home and played video games.

Photo of someone holding a giant dove made of cloth and sticks. Another person holds a red flag that says RESIST.Somebody managed to capture the dove. This photo is on the edge of the crowd so it doesn’t tell you how big it was. From Chicago Suntimes, who credits it to Ben Margot/Associated Press.

It was later I heard from Facebook that the protest had turned violent, and the university cancelled the talk. I heard that protestors attacked police, set a portable generator on fire, and then broke a bunch of windows nearby.  There were few minor injuries.

Among my friends, many expressed sympathy for the protest, or were at the protest, but they condemned the violence. They were keen to highlight this particular part of the UC Berkeley statement:

The violence was instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest.

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No words

I am so pissed off by the immigration ban, and all the circumstances surrounding it.  I feel as if the most pessimistic predictions about a Trump presidency are coming to fruition, and the truly morbid ones sound realistic.  Are we currently witnessing the rise of the American Hitler?  The fall of the US?  Is this the prelude to WWIII, this time with nuclear weapons?  Does anything else matter?

When I set out to write a post, I usually start with a potentially contentious point, and build arguments in favor or against it.  But in this situation, there is no contentious thesis, and no one to argue with.  This is unacceptable, and I can’t think of what else to say about it.  I don’t think I could bear to turn it into yet another thesis and essay.  Blogging simply isn’t the right tool to address this problem.

I have a draft, entirely unwritten, where I talk about the value of low-priority activism.  For example, atheist activism is still valuable even though religion isn’t the root of all evil.  Feminism is still important even if not everything can be blamed on the patriarchy.  It’s okay to fight for a thing that is not the most important thing.  Anyway we don’t even know what the most important thing is.  You get the general idea.

I still stand by this thesis, but just this moment I’m not feeling it.  Because right now we do know what the most important thing is, and that is to stop Trump.

What is meaning?

PZ Myers has an interesting post discussing the motivations of people who join ISIS, and which attributes similar motivations to the alt-right. In short, it’s about people “who feel a lack of significance in their lives”, people “who felt culturally homeless”. People start “from vague dissatisfaction, and desire for social status and sexual success” and become radicalized.

For the most part, I feel powerless to do anything about the radicalization of men. The world is big and incomprehensible–and also I live in California. So the reader may forgive me if I turn this more introspective.

What even is this desire for “significance”? I feel that we in the atheist community have been discussing it for years, usually in the context of discussing the appeal of religion, and calling for the atheist community to fill the void that religion has left. If PZ is correct, some of those atheists went on to fulfill that need by joining the alt-right. But for all that discussion of “meaning”, I don’t think I understand it. I don’t know if this is something I feel myself.
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A scandal per week: Trump headlines from the past year

Brought to you by Google’s time-range search function. Note that many links include autoplay videos.

January 1-7: Trump: Clinton, Obama ‘created ISIS’

January 8-14: Donald Trump: NFL ‘football has become soft like our country has become soft’

January 15-21: Donald Trump Quotes Scripture, Sort of, at Liberty University Speech

January 22-28: Trump: I could ‘shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters’

January 29-February 4: Trump: I Would ‘Strongly Consider’ Appointing Judges To Overturn Same-Sex Marriage

February 5-11: Trump puts a price on his wall: It would cost Mexico $8 billion

February 12-18: Donald Trump on 9/11: “You Will Find Out Who Really Knocked Down The World Trade Center”

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On judging people of the past

A bold statement: People of the past should almost always be judged by today’s standards. This results in thinking of a lot of historical figures as horrible people. So yeah, I’ll say it: most historical figures were horrible people. Some of them were horrible because their surrounding culture was horrible, and others were just plain horrible.

My basic reasoning: Moral judgment isn’t for people of the past. The people of the past are dead, and their actions are already foregone conclusions. Moral judgement is for people of the present. I do not wish for people of the present to valorize or emulate people of the past just because they were great by the standards of their own time. I strive for the perpetual improvement of humankind, not the stagnation of virtue. [Read more…]


I don’t really want to talk about the election, but I don’t feel I could talk about anything else.

In my “optimistic” scenario, Donald Trump will merely be incredibly corrupt. And Republicans will also get their way on a bunch of things, like killing the ACA, eroding reproductive rights, blocking immigration, and getting their choice of supreme court justices.  And the market will do badly in the year I’m supposed to graduate.  But at least Donald Trump won’t destroy the Pax Americana, declare himself president for life, start a nuclear war, or recreate the Japanese internment camps.

I have talked to some people who are even more optimistic, believing that Trump will result in backlash and make way for a truly progressive party.  I don’t think that’s how it works.  Politics are more of a random walk than an oscillator.

More likely that this will lead to years of internal conflict among liberals, with some wanting a “truly progressive” candidate and others wanting anyone who will make the hurt stop.  It’s kind of like how people thought 9/11 would unite the country but it ended up doing precisely the opposite.

In more positive news, look at the California election results.  Not everything is going the way I voted, but the most important ones did.  Prop 53 (voter approval required for certain budgeting) is failing.  Prop 57 (makes parole easier to get) is passing.  Prop 60 (condoms required in porn) is failing.  Marijuana will be legalized.  However, it looks like the death penalty will remain.

I feel done with blogging about politics and current events.  For a little while, I’d like to write about things that are completely unrelated.