National Science Day, Anyone?

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Well, Nobel season has come to an end with the U.S. receiving its usual slew of Nobel laureates. Eight American scientists (Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, Jack W. Szostak, Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle, George E. Smith, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz were honored with Nobels in four areas of science. Throw in the dismal science of economics and you’ve got two more members of Team Nobel USA (Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson). And, well, memory is foggy on this, but I think another prominent American got a Nobel for something or other besides science or literature. Altogether, of the 11 Nobels awarded for science and economics, 10 went to Americans.

So where have all the balloons and national whoo-hoos been?

Oh, that’s right. This is only the Nobel prizes we’re talking about here—certainly nothing as important as winning gold medals at an international athletic competition. I mean, somebody shot-puts a foot farther or luges .0003 seconds faster, that has a big impact on our lives. Meanwhile, three obscure U.S. scientists pick up a Nobel in physiology/medicine “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase”? I mean, who cares about telomeres and enzyme telomerase? Except, of course, maybe for the fact the seminal work these scientists conducted over the last several decades is telling science why cells, after so many cell divisions, start screwing up their self-replication, leading to little minor maladies like cancer. And aging. And because of the work of these three scientists, Science (with a big capital S) is getting really, really close to curing the big C. And taking a whack at prolonging the even bigger and even more inevitable “A”—adding, in the process, perhaps decades to the human life span.

Like I say, big whoop!

And who can blame the media and talking heads for focusing instead for the last two weeks on that other American who won a Nobel for working toward Peace?  Or on not winning an Olympic bid? Now those are big, human-species-shaping events. Those Nobel science geeks? Let them be happy with a presidential pat on the back and a 10-second blurb on CNN.

If you want to know why I’m banking on India to be the big, global power by the end of this century, just consider: India celebrates National Science Day every Feb. 28, in memory of an Indian physicist who won a Nobel Prize 79 YEARS AGO!!! India—INDIA!—which has won eight Nobels total, has a National Science Day, recognizing that the future of India as a great power rests upon its rising mastery of science and technology. The U.S., with more than 300 hundred Nobel winners—more than three times the total of any other nation (and more than the total of most other nations combined)—does not. Yes, we we used to have a rinky-dink National Science Week that garnered about as much attention outside of high school and college science departments as National Peach Melba Day (Jan. 13) does outside of Georgia. But a day honoring the hundreds of American Nobel prize winners who have transformed this nation and the world? Please. I mean, where could we fit one in anyway, with our national calendar already chock-a-block full of must-celebrate days like National Buffet Day (Jan. 2) and National Bicarbonate of Soda Day (Dec. 30).

If you want to understand why America is rapidly becoming a post-scientific/scientifically illiterate culture in which PM infomercial flim-flam artists and AM talk show flakes compete with Nobel prize winning scientists for the public’s attention and trust (and, alas, increasingly win), reflect on this: If you don’t celebrate, elevate and commemorate science—if you don’t even bother to meaningfully nationally praise those American scientists who have earned the respect of the world—don’t be surprised when the public disparages and disputes them instead.

Maybe that’s why fewer Americans (less than 40 percent) accept the scientific theory of evolution than in any other industrial country in the world. Yeah, evolution’s just another scientific theory, so what? I mean, just because evolution theory is the very foundation of pretty much all the earth-shattering—and life-altering—work in biology and physiology for the last century, like the research in cell development that three Americans just got a Nobel prize for, someone should believe in it? Please—that is so empirically rational. Maybe our public diminishing of science is why only 53 percent of Americans know how many days it takes for Earth to go around the sun? Or that only 59 percent of Americans know that The Flintstones is fantasy and that man and dinosaur never cohabitated.

If President Obama wants to do something for making up to the world for getting a Nobel prize many argue he didn’t deserve (but everyone should recognize he didn’t ask for), maybe he should work with Congress and proclaim a National American Nobel Prize Winner’s Day. And follow it up with a National Science Appreciation Day. Make the latter a real, day-off holiday. Maybe that would get Americans to pay attention to the endeavor that has set them apart from and above all the other nations of the world since the days scientists like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson dominated American culture and politics. Maybe a National Nobel and National Science Day would help Americans remember and reclaim their heritage as a scientific culture born of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.

Oh, and restoring public funding of applied scientific research to its 1980s level might be a good idea, too. You know, in lieu of sending flowers or e-cards on that new National Science Day.

Something’s got to be done. If we become any more post-scientific in our culture and scientifically illiterate in our national debate we’ll soon start to stop winning those Nobel prizes. And then the sun will really set on the American dream.


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Barack Obama’s 1st Joint Address: A Chronology

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From the Secret Service Report, POTUS, February 23, 2009

8:00p– Dresses in White House private residence, putting on pants both legs at one time

8:30p– Passes on car.  Elects instead to walk across the reflecting pool to the Capitol building.

8:50p– Enters Capitol Building.  Two doves briefly alight on his shoulder and a stream of brilliant sunlight through parted clouds shines upon him.  Which is all the more remarkable because it is night.

9:03p– Is announced to the joint session by the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms.  Nancy Pelosi swoons for the first time.

9:04p– Works his way through the crowd of lesser mortals – Congressmen, Senators, Justices, Admirals, Generals and the miscellaneous powerful.  Gives a manly handshake and hand-on-the-shoulder to the men folk and a suave peck to the ladies.  The men feel gypped.

9:06p– Greet Justices of the Supreme Court. Stops to lay hands on Associate Justice Anton Scalia who,  as touched, immediately experiences the terror  felt by all the wildlife he shot on hunting trips with Dick Cheney.  Scalia leaves the Chamber shortly afterwards, shaken, and begins writing a new opinion reversing  District of Columbia v. Heller.

9:08–Ascends the dais.  Nancy Pelosi swoons for the second time.  Shakes hands with VP Joe Biden (who, unfortunately, continues to wear his Gagworks hand buzzer) and Speaker Pelosi (who swoons for the third and fourth times.)

9:09p–Lays out agenda for American economic salvation.  Highlights includes plans to trim the national debt by replacing the Federal student hot lunch program with a Presidential loaves and fishes plan in which he will feed all students in America from one basket.

10:05p– Finishes speech and exits chamber to thunderous ovation. Nancy Pelosi swoons for the fifth time.  

10:15p–Walks back to the White House. Along the way parts the waters of the Tidal Basin to allow currents of bipartisanship to freely flow.

10:45p–Reaches White House.  Stops off in the kitchen and make cheese sandwich. Discovers mixing the Bleu de Gex  and Garstang Blue Lancashire cheese molds produces a cure for cancer.  Plans for morning announcement, right after securing permanent peace settlement in the Middle East.

10:46p– Nancy Pelosi swoons for the sixth time.

Funny thing, that.  At least half of the above probably happened.

Wilsonian

What is it with San Diego politicians who build their early civic careers based on outreach and understanding to the regions large Hispanic community, including those who are, shall we say, legal-status challenged but then, when the bug of national attention bites them, become rabidly anti-illegal?

Why do they, at least if they are of the Republican persuasion, tend to get the Wilson flu?

That would be the Pete Wilson flu (scientific name: Influenza I-Love-Hispanics-Unless-There-Are-More-Votes-To-Be-Gained-From-White Xenophobes Wilsonious variant 1996). Back in the day, Wilson was “Mister community outreach personalized,” “Mister Mayor of America’s Finest Ethnically Diverse City” and later US Senator from California who received large backing from the state’s Hispanic community.” But then he got the Presidential flu bug and suffered delusions that immigrant bashing was his surest route to the 1996 GOP nomination.

OK, illegal immigrant bashing. But I’d bet my last dollar that the large majority of those who are the most fired up over “illegal immigration”—the kind who like to sit in lawn chairs tailgating by the border they watch with army surplus binoculars—would, if given a helpful dose of truth serum, admit they’d be really happy if all those foreigners from points south were shown the national emergency exit. Yes, Rick Roberts—and most of your listeners—I mean you.

Boy, that worked out well.

And then there’s Brian Bilbray, erstwhile congressman from the 50th Congressional, a district he’s spent less actual time living in than D.C. Back in the day, when he was a South Bay poll representing the most ethnically diverse area of greater San Diego as a member of the city council and later mayor of Imperial Beach and then on the County Board of Supervisors, Bilbray was a moderate bordering on progressive on most issues,, including illegal immigration. Same when he ran and won his race to represent the 49th Congressional. Then he got voted out of Congress largely over his Clinton impeachment vote. One successful carpetbagging run to succeed Randy “the Dukester” in the more conservative (and far whiter) 50th Congressional District and, viola, Mister Moderate is now one of the harshest anti-illegal immigrant voices to be heard.

Last April Bilbray co-sponsored former California Attorney General cum Congressman Dan “The Man Who Was So Inept He Lost to Gray Davis” Lungren’s bill to essentially strip 14th Amendment protections – including the birthright of citizenship—from the children of illegal immigrants born in the US. Lungren said he thought this legislative attempt to circumvent the constitution would pass constitutional muster because there are already exemptions to the 14th Amendment in regards to the children of foreign diplomats born on American shores. Except that exemption is there under standards of international law affection diplomacy and national sovereignty, not immigration status. Congress can’t trump the constitution without an amendment.

And this guy was the top law enforcer in California?

Today Bilbray cosponsored legislation to punish cities that adopt “sanctuary” status for illegal immigrants and, more importantly, elevates the violation of legal immigration to a felony offense. Nice one. If the proposed legislation has any meaning, I look forward to Congressman Bilbray next sponsoring legislation to appropriate monies to increase the size of out Border Patrol, INS and Federal Prisons by the 500% to 1000% that would be necessary to enforce such a law. Maybe we can start building big, concentrated holding facilities for these new felons out in the desert somewhere? How delightfully police state-ish!

But, of course, Bilbray is not serious with this bill, which has about as much change of moving through Congress as a resolution to put George W. Bush’s face on Mount Rushmore. And that’s not just because Democrats would block it. Conservative (read John Birch vintage) Republicans running in ultra-conservative Congressional Districts (in California, pretty much any district east of I-5…) don’t want to see any meaningful resolution of the immigration issue, either. It is such a red-meat, code-word issue to motivate white conservatives to the polls that no thinking GOP-right stalwart would want to take it off the table.

Bilbray’s proposed bill is elections are a’comin’ demagoguery, pure and simple. Like the flag protections amendment (to wit, amend the Constitution that protects free speech to prohibit the burning of a symbol of American values like free speech as an expression of said free speech), the Congressional term limits amendment and, probably, the “hey, ain’t mothers swell!” amendment that will be offered up in Congress between now and November, 2008.

Gee, I wonder if Brian ever hangs out in his old hood, anymore? If he does, I’m sure the folks around the South Bay can barely recognize him.