Are we real?


An interesting idea has reached the blackboards of scientists that would normally stay on the blackboards of philosophers. Simply put, are we real people in a real universe, or might we just be characters in a large computer simulation? This follows the reasoning presented in a BBC article earlier this month. Well, what if the universe was made small enough relative to its creator to fit into one of the ‘test tubes’ in the lab, or was able to be represented as bits in a massive “universal computer game?” As a scientist, all I am qualified to ask is the following: how can we start a scientific discussion on the topic? Philosopher Nick Bostrom suggests that there are only three possibilities. The first option is that intelligent civilizations will not ever conduct experiments such as constructing our entire universe in a ‘video game.’ This is because before they get sufficiently powerful to do so they are instead destroyed by war, … Continue reading →

Source: Are we real?

2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 9


These are the responses of the 2016 Presidential candidates to the fourth of the twenty questions posed to them earlier.

I posted the responses to Question #1 at (concerning innovation) at “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 1”.

The responses to Question #2 (concerning research) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 2″.

The responses to Question #3 (concerning climate change) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 3″.

The responses to Question #4 (concerning biodiversity) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 4″.

The responses to Question #5 (concerning the Internet) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 5″.

The responses to Question #6 (concerning mental health) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 6″.

The responses to Question #7 (concerning energy) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 7″.

The responses to Question #8 (concerning science and mathematics education) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 8″.

I hope that you will take the time to look at these responses and offer your own thoughts.  My own thoughts and analysis are at the end of the post.

  • Public Health

Public health efforts like smoking cessation, drunk driving laws, vaccination, and water fluoridation have improved health and productivity and save millions of lives. How would you improve federal research and our public health system to better protect Americans from emerging diseases and other public health threats, such as antibiotic resistant superbugs?

Hillary Clinton (D)

America has witnessed enormous successes with some of its major public health initiatives, such as smoking cessation and water fluoridation. Yet, we have a long way to go to strengthen the public health system to provide adequate protection for our communities. Recent events like lead contamination in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, development of antibiotic resistant microbes, uncontrolled spread of Aedes mosquitos that spread tropical diseases like Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya, the growth of opiate addiction, and the continuing need to address HIV make clear the shortcomings of our public health system and the urgent need for improvements.

But despite these threats, we are not investing in public health preparedness and emergency response the way we should to keep our families and communities safe. A 2015 study found that spending on public health had fallen more than nine percent since 2008. And uncertain long-term budgets leave our public health agencies dependent on emergency appropriations—meaning that when Congress fails to step up, communities are left without the resources they need, vaccines languish in development, and more people get sick.

That is why as President, I will create a Public Health Rapid Response Fund, with consistent, year-to-year budgets, to better enable the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local public health departments, hospital systems, and other federal agencies to quickly and aggressively respond to major public health crises and pandemics. I will also ensure that our government has strong leadership and is organized to better support and work with people on the ground facing public health challenges.

In addition, we need to do more to boost our preparedness for biological threats and bioweapons; to support research for new diagnostic tests, therapeutic treatments, and vaccines for emerging diseases; to build capacity in public health departments; to train the next cadre of public health professionals and ensure that public health and environmental health practices are standard to the educations of medical students; and to provide resources for states and local governments to plan for complex, multi-faceted public health threats, like the impacts of climate change, and build more resilient communities.

Donald Trump (R)

The implication of the question is that one must provide more resources to research and public health enterprises to make sure we stay ahead of potential health risks. In a time of limited resources, one must ensure that the nation is getting the greatest bang for the buck. We cannot simply throw money at these institutions and assume that the nation will be well served. What we ought to focus on is assessing where we need to be as a nation and then applying resources to those areas where we need the most work. Our efforts to support research and public health initiatives will have to be balanced with other demands for scarce resources. Working with Congress—the people’s representatives—my administration will work to establish national priorities and then we will work to make sure that adequate resources are assigned to achieve our goals.

Jill Stein (G)

A “Medicare for All” single payer healthcare system would place health as the bottom line rather than industry profits, which is fundamental for improving public health.

A “Medicare for All” system would:

  • allow health data to be aggregated on a population-wide scale (much of it is currently held in secret as proprietary information by private companies like health insurers) so that trends and outbreaks could be monitored.
  • permit assessment of the health needs of the entire population to be determined so that priorities could be set based on areas of need and funds could be given to institutions that would focus on solutions to priority areas.
  • drive public policy to pursue a greater public health and preventative approach because having a healthier population would save money.
  • cover every person living in the United States and would remove financial barriers to care. This means that people with infectious diseases and other conditions that impact the population would have access to care when they need it.

My Thoughts

Trump’s non-answer answer makes an interesting comment about limited resources.  The implication of what the answer that he provided is that we will continue to spend massive amounts of money in areas such as military and security.  This answer shows that, no matter what rhetoric he offers, he doesn’t care about the people, choosing to say/indicate/imply that we have to get by with less.

Stein’s answer is a little better than Trump’s simply because she recognizes the need for health care in this country.  But it doesn’t address the question.  Perhaps her plan is buried in the details but that is not evident in the answer.

As in previous answers, Clinton provides a very comprehensive answer.  But I wonder the funds will come from and if she is willing to cut the military and security budget to fund her proposals.

Blame the Methodists


Here are some thoughts regarding communion.

A Grace-Filled Life

Here is a bit of trivia for you–Methodist minister Thomas Bramwell Welch developed non-alcoholic grape juice in 1869. You can read all about it in this article from Christianity Today.

As a Lutheran, I do not understand providing grape juice for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. That’s not what our Lord used when He instituted the meal on the Thursday before His death. But Welch was trying to address a problem of his day and inadvertently created other issues at the same time.

In my congregations, those who have had issues with wine have usually found ways to deal with it without the wine not being used for communion. Most times, they were able to receive the wine because they understood that the wine had been brought together with the blood of Christ and the bread joined with the body of Christ to give us a powerful meal for the…

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Patriotic Citizenship at its Best


From a colleague (posted with his permission20884151-road-in-the-beautiful-garden-stock-photo-garden-landscape


Tom Morris (www.TomVMorris.com)

A few years ago, after 9-11, when everyone was debating patriotism and what it is, I wrote a little essay called “The Everyday Patriot: How to be a Great American Now” and privately printed it for friends and clients. One of the main themes was that patriotism isn’t about nationalism or xenophobic jingoism. It’s not an us-versus-them mentality. It’s not essentially a polarized form of thinking and feeling at all. Not at its best. It’s rather a matter of cultivating the garden we’re in, for the greater good of all. And it’s about voting every day—with our time, attention, energy, and thoughtfulness. That allows us to vote better when the ballot box is available.

Citizenship isn’t the remote, airy abstraction that it’s come to be for most of us. It’s an essentially participatory role. We’re not supposed to be on the sidelines, appraising those on the field and either cheering in support or booing. We’re supposed to be on the field of action ourselves, engaged in the big game.

Consider what’s going on in Charlotte right now. Patriots don’t riot against their neighbors. Engaged citizens find a way to make their voices heard without ripping up their own gardens and destroying their own communities. But we’ve forgotten our duties. If we think of government at all, it’s either as a drain on our resources or an institution we can call on for help. But in a democracy, we all are the government at its most fundamental level. That’s the most basic truth of self-government. That’s why I pick up litter when I’m out on a walk. The little things add up. It’s also why I write a representative when I think action needs to be taken. And I don’t do nearly enough. Most of us don’t. We need to cultivate the garden more.

So today, perhaps let yourself dwell on that image. Our garden needs tending. Just remember the old adage: Great gardeners live in beautiful places because they make them so. And go vote every day.

2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 8


These are the responses of the 2016 Presidential candidates to the fourth of the twenty questions posed to them earlier.

I posted the responses to Question #1 at (concerning innovation) at “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 1”.

The responses to Question #2 (concerning research) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 2″.

The responses to Question #3 (concerning climate change) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 3″.

The responses to Question #4 (concerning biodiversity) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 4″.

The responses to Question #5 (concerning the Internet) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 5″.

The responses to Question #6 (concerning mental health) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 6″.

The responses to Question #7 (concerning energy) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 7″.

I hope that you will take the time to look at these responses and offer your own thoughts.  My own thoughts and analysis are at the end of the post.

  • Education

American students have fallen in many international rankings of science and math performance, and the public in general is being faced with an expanding array of major policy challenges that are heavily influenced by complex science. How would your administration work to ensure all students including women and minorities are prepared to address 21st century challenges and, further, that the public has an adequate level of STEM literacy in an age dominated by complex science and technology?

Hillary Clinton (D)

In 2020, estimates show there will be 1.4 million computer-science related jobs in the United States, but current projections show we only have 400,000 computer science graduates to fill them. Less than one in five high school students has ever taken a computer science course; only seven percent of our country’s high schools offer Advanced Placement courses in computer science; and less than 40 percent of high school graduates have taken a physics course. We must do more to provide our students and workforce with the skills they need to get hired and advance in their careers.

Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science by the time they graduate high school. I support the Obama Administration’s “Computer Science for All” initiative. And I will take steps to increase investment and scale instruction and lesson programs that help improve student achievement or increase college enrollment and completion in computer science fields. These steps will help prepare the diverse tech workforce of tomorrow. At the same time, we need to expand the pool of computer science teachers so that we train an additional 50,000 CS teachers in the next decade.

Strong STEM programming in every public school is critical to our nation’s success and to reducing economic and social inequality. But today, less than 40 percent of high school graduates have taken a physics course, and the lack of STEM programming is even more pronounced in schools with high concentrations of students of color. We will support states, cities, and charters in developing innovative schools, like Denver’s School of Science and Technology and the Science Leadership Academy of Philadelphia, which have demonstrated success at engaging underrepresented populations in science and technology.

Beyond high school, we need to do more support the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions that train a large share of scientists and engineers of color. In addition to making it possible for every student to attend a four-year public college or university debt-free, we will create a special fund to support low-cost, modest-endowment HBCUs, HSIs, and MSIs. And we need to make sure that a four-year degree is not the only pathway to a middle-class life, including in technology and engineering careers, by supporting high-quality apprenticeship programs and training.

Donald Trump (R)

There are a host of STEM programs already in existence. What the federal government should do is to make sure that educational opportunities are available for everyone. This means we must allow market influences to bring better, higher quality educational circumstances to more children. Our cities are a case-study in what not to do in that we do not have choice options for those who need access to better educational situations. Our top-down-one-size-fits-all approach to education is failing and is actually damaging educational outcomes for our children. If we are serious about changing the direction of our educational standing, we must change our educational models and allow the greatest possible number of options for educating our children. The management of our public education institutions should be done at the state and local level, not at the Department of Education. Until more choices are provided in our cities, those who tout their concern about educational outcomes cannot be taken seriously.

Jill Stein (G)

Education is critically important to the future of our world. Here is how we will ensure that our students receive the best education possible:

  • Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university.
  • Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude and eliminate economic barriers to higher education.
  • Protect our public school systems from privatization.
  • Replace Common Core with curriculum developed by educators, not corporations, with input from parents and communities.
  • Restore arts, music and recreation to school curriculums.
  • Ensure racially inclusive, sensitive and relevant curriculums.
  • Recognize poverty as the key obstacle to learning. Ensure that kids come to school ready to learn: healthy, nourished, secure and free from violence.
  • Increase federal funding of public schools to equalize public school funding.

My thoughts

Trump’s answer reflects the business model of conservatives and is a plan of economic discrimination.  His term of choice is, in my opinion, “code” for charter schools.  Charter schools are attempts by conservative to justify the economic discrimination that currently dominates our educational process.

Trump’s answer also shows his usual lack of knowledge.  The Department of Education doesn’t really do all that he and conservatives in general think it does (such as forcing Common Core on the schools – Common Core was created by the states in cooperation without Federal government involvement).  In the end, his answer, which really does not address the topic, suggests continuing and expanding the present situation, which will make things worse.

His argument that the present system doesn’t work is partially true but the solution is not more fragmentation as he suggests but rather making sure that every student has the same opportunity (which is not necessarily the case at this time).

The thing that surprises me the most about Stein’s answer is that she doesn’t address the need for increased science and mathematics support.  This is surprising because of her own background.  In fact, her answers really didn’t address the question.

Her statement about Common Core shows a lack of knowledge about how it was created or, perhaps, even it is.  Granted, there needs to be greater input from parents and the community but if the goal of Common Core is the development of a set of skills that all students will have, this transcends community boundaries.  I am also wondering what parents can input into curriculum discussions that are beneficial and not ideologically driven.

There is also a bias in her comments about Common Core that is also reflected in her previous answers that, to me anyway, borders on conspiratorial.

There is nothing wrong about bringing back arts, music, and recreation but where is the money coming from and how does that apply to the question?  I agree in principle with the comment about tuition-free education but how does that apply to pre-college education?

Clinton put, in my opinion, a little more into computer science than was practical.  I say that because while there probably is a demand for more tech support, what is needed is an understanding of how to use computers and technology.  Our model right now does little to support creativity and innovation.

Also, there is no indication that any of the candidates noted the lack of funds for paying teachers, especially STEM teachers.  Admittedly this is a bias on my part, because of my own background, but if you want to improve the process you have to make sure that you have the best possible people and that you are paying them appropriately.  If you want a market-based approach, you have to pay STEM teachers a bit more than normal (and that will shake up the teacher unions, I know).

2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 7


These are the responses of the 2016 Presidential candidates to the fourth of the twenty questions posed to them earlier.

I posted the responses to Question #1 at (concerning innovation) at “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 1”.

The responses to Question #2 (concerning research) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 2″.

The responses to Question #3 (concerning climate change) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 3″.

The responses to Question #4 (concerning biodiversity) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 4″.

The responses to Question #5 (concerning the Internet) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 5″.

The responses to Question #6 (concerning mental health) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 6″.

I hope that you will take the time to look at these responses and offer your own thoughts.  My own thoughts and analysis are at the end of the post.

  • Energy

Strategic management of the US energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?

Strategic management of the US energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?

Hillary Clinton (D)

The next decade is not only critical to meeting the climate challenge, but offers a tremendous opportunity to ensure America becomes a 21st century clean energy superpower. I reject the notion that we as a country are forced to choose between our economy, our environment, and our security. The truth is that with a smart energy policy we can advance all three simultaneously. I will set the following bold, national goals – and get to work on Day 1, implementing my plan to achieve them within ten years of taking office:

  • Generate half of our electricity from clean sources, with half a billion solar panels installed by the end of my first term.
  • Cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals and offices by a third and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.
  • Reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.

My plan will deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference—without relying on climate deniers in Congress to pass new legislation. This includes:

  • Defending, implementing, and extending smart pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan and standards for cars, trucks, and appliances that are already helping clean our air, save families’ money, and fight climate change.
  • Launching a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to partner with states, cities, and rural communities to cut carbon pollution and expand clean energy, including for low-income families.
  • Investing in clean energy infrastructure, innovation, manufacturing and workforce development to make the U.S. economy more competitive and create good-paying jobs and careers.
  • Ensuring the fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible and that areas too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.
  • Reforming leasing and expand clean energy production on public lands and waters tenfold within a decade.
  • Cutting the billions of wasteful tax subsidies oil and gas companies have enjoyed for too long and invest in clean energy.
  • Cutting methane emissions across the economy and put in place strong standards for reducing leaks from both new and existing sources.
  • Revitalizing coal communities by supporting locally driven priorities and make them an engine of U.S. economic growth in the 21st century, as they have been for generations.

Donald Trump (R)

It should be the goal of the American people and their government to achieve energy independence as soon as possible. Energy independence means exploring and developing every possible energy source including wind, solar, nuclear and bio-fuels. A thriving market system will allow consumers to determine the best sources of energy for future consumption. Further, with the United States, Canada and Mexico as the key energy producers in the world, we will live in a safer, more productive and more prosperous world.

Jill Stein (G)

Our Green New Deal plan prioritizes a rapid transition to 100% clean renewable energy. Our energy strategy will also include:

  • Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right.
  • Redirect research funds from fossil fuels into renewable energy and conservation. Build a nationwide smart electricity grid that can pool and store power from a diversity of renewable sources, giving the nation clean, democratically-controlled energy.
  • End destructive energy extraction and associated infrastructure: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, natural gas pipelines, and uranium mines. Halt any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas, and phase out all fossil fuel power plants. Phase out nuclear power and end nuclear subsidies. End all subsidies for fossil fuels and impose a greenhouse gas fee / tax to charge polluters for the damage they have created.

My thoughts

Continuing the trend, Trump’s answer is no answer at all.  He offers nothing in the way of how the goal of energy independence can be achieved.  Stein’s answer depends a lot on timing.  While I agree in principle with the concept of removing fossil fuels from the picture, it requires more than simply developing alternative energy sources.  This would require, among other things, the development of transportation networks that do not require fossil-based fuels.  I don’t believe that the infrastructure for her plan exists.

I give Clinton credit – she recognizes the need for the development of multiple alternative energy plans while phasing out the present reliance on fossil fuels.  In addition, she noted that need for more efficient use of fossil fuels.

This question is perhaps the most important of all the questions simply because of the impact energy and energy resources have on policy and life.