Monday, October 3, 2016

IF I WERE A TERRORIST - An explanation for the book manuscript

If I were a terrorist
An explanation for the existence of this document that’s going to be posted over the next few months, chapter by chapter, on this blog.

John Janovy, Jr.

About ten years ago I started working on a book entitled “If I Were a Terrorist” (IIWAT). At the time, it seemed like my country was working overtime to destroy itself from within, using a combination of right-wing nonsense, dumbed-down “news,” scientific illiteracy, and a willingness to be talked into military adventures by a President who was not very smart and not well educated. My agent declined to pursue this project with me, which I thought was not a very wise decision on her part, but at the time, a number of other projects and obligations—next edition of “Foundations of Parasitology,” my last two finishing doctoral students, preparations for retirement, etc.—started to interfere with “Terror.” Nothing that has happened in the past decade, however, has convinced me that IIWAT was a bad idea; indeed, if anything, national and international events have convinced me that this book has become increasingly relevant, especially with the nomination of Donald Trump by the Republican Party, and eight years of a Republican congress working overtime, but in the end unsuccessfully, to ensure that Barack Obama fails in his job. As an aside that decade was also the second decade of the GOP smear and fear campaign against Hillary Clinton, a person imminently qualified for high office.

As you might suspect, pretty much every day of that past decade I’ve also asked myself: what can a single individual do to make this world a better place, a more rational and humane place, in which we can all live? In general, the correct answer is “nothing,” but that answer doesn’t prevent people, individuals, from trying. We all have our tools and resources to apply to this task. Some of us run for public office, others write letters to the editor, a bunch of us take to social media, a few contribute to our favorite candidates and/or charities, and some just pray. My own choice is to write, using my words, given that my profession for the past fifty years—a biological scientist at a large public university—demanded daily use of words to express ideas, convince people to give me money, and convey whatever wisdom a typical biologist has to thousands of undergraduates, some of whom will end up as physicians treating members of their former teachers’ families. So words and the underlying ideas are all that I, as an individual, have to apply to this monumental job of making this world a better place for all to live.

For those who might read the next few posts on this blog, including some of my Oklahoma friends and relatives who hate Hillary Clinton with an unbridled passion, you should know that I am a registered Republican and a fairly conservative person. I chose to fulfill my military obligations at the time (1958-1966) through advanced ROTC, field artillery officer’s school, jump school, and years of reserve meetings. I voted for Richard Nixon, twice, and Barry Goldwater, once. I have no problem with responsible gun ownership, although in my mind, “responsible” does not include leaving loaded pistols lying around in a house occupied by toddlers. However, I also believe that a society, e.g., the city in which I live, needs adequate support for police, fire and rescue department, adequate sewer and water systems, decent schools, decent libraries, nice parks, and safe streets. So I don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes to provide all citizens with those basic requirements. But I also try to be a rational person. When I vote for a school board candidate, for example, I will NOT mark my ballot for a scientifically illiterate creationist or someone who home schools their own children while professing to work for the benefit of children in public schools.

I’m also a professional biologist with a long record of hard science publication and award-winning instruction. The fact that I’m a biologist makes me view certain social issues through a scientist’s eyes. A big part of that view is quantitative. As a result, I do not believe for one second that gay marriage will damage this country in any way, especially compared to a growing earnings gap between the top and bottom segments of society. I do not believe anyone should be allowed to discriminate against another citizen of this nation, be that citizen gay, straight, bi- or trans, or of any ethnic background, gender, age, or national origin. On the other hand, I believe it’s important to ensure that law enforcement has the tools to find dangerous individuals, whatever their motivations, and capture them before they wreak havoc on innocent people. I understand that this law enforcement job can be in conflict with a non-discrimination ideal, and I simply do not know how to resolve that conflict. I believe, however, that it’s very easy to convince large numbers of people to give up their personal freedoms in the name of security.

As a biologist, I also believe that easy, affordable, access to all kinds of birth control, even when “affordable” means free to low-income women, is a necessary obligation of our government. Half of the members of our species are not free, in the American Dream sense of the word, when the result of sex, the burden of pregnancy, is so unevenly distributed without such access. I agree completely with Hillary Clinton’s comment a few years ago that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare; it’s the “rare” part that is achievable with easy access to affordable birth control. I do not shop at Hobby Lobby unless I convince myself that whatever I need, usually picture frames, cannot be found elsewhere. Needless to say, I do not believe that the moral posturing of Mike Pence, vice presidential candidate, is of benefit to this country; like many men in power, he’s simply using whatever power he has to allay his personal fear of women who are as free as he is, biologically, professionally, and socially. The GOP posturing with respect to Planned Parenthood is, in my view, seriously misplaced and damaging to a large segment, actually half, of the American population, and that includes the babes hanging around Donald Trump whether they realize it or not.

A generation ago, the litmus test for basic scientific literacy was evolution. The Genesis story is superb mythology, and like other important myths, tells us a lesson about behavior, attitudes, and approaches to life, whether you accept that lesson or not. The creation story in Genesis is, however, just a myth, on a par with a long list of other creation myths from various cultures. Those myths together reveal a long struggle of humans to explain why they are on Earth, and virtually all of them antedate science by millennia. There is a staggering amount of evidence that Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and that a long parade of life forms have occupied this planet for at least 3 billion years. Nowadays, even though there are plenty of Biblical literalists among us, climate change has taken over as the litmus test for scientific literacy. There is a massive amount of evidence that Earth’s climate is warming steadily and by the time a child born today reaches retirement age, that warming will likely cause major ecological issues in agriculture. The causes of this warming may be open to discussion, but the fact of warming is undeniable. Climate change deniers, and there are plenty in public office, are scientifically illiterate. If candidate Trump’s alleged comments on climate change reflect his true educational level in this area, he is too scientifically illiterate to hold public office in the United States, a nation heavily dependent on science and technology. Remember: scientific illiteracy in public officials is a public health hazard. Write it a hundred times on the chalk board. Elected officials do not need to be scientists; they need to be literate enough not to surround themselves with similarly illiterate people for whom scientific data and discoveries are always subject to whim, belief, and desire. Scientific observations and discoveries tend to be true whether you believe them or not, and climate change is one of those discoveries. Like an acquaintance of mine once remarked about global warming: “The Canadians don’t believe it’s happening; the Americans think they can do something about it; and, both are wrong.” My advice: don’t buy any coastal real estate.  

The manuscript for If I Were a Terrorist is somewhat dated, partly because so much of it was written ten or twelve years ago, but mainly because I’ve been occupied with other writing projects. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the right-wing craziness has started flowing with such force that it’s almost impossible for a single writer to keep up with it, especially given the reliability of various “news” sources. So I started keeping a file of “you can’t make this stuff up” sayings by various prominent people, especially Republicans, but didn’t put an item in that file unless the source seemed trustworthy: The New York Times, The New Yorker, Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, etc. When I get to the end of the first draft of this whole book, I’ll try to go back and update it, unless, of course, by that time we’ve elected a pathologically insecure, under-educated, scientifically-illiterate, narcissistic bully and allowed him to put his middle finger on the nuclear trigger. Trust me: academia is filled with these kinds of people and based on my personal experience with them, you never, ever, put them in charge of anything, even a committee responsible for some inconsequential task. Why not? Because they’ll screw up the job. These kinds of people simply cannot see beyond their own desires, and their own security, in order to deal with the mission.

If I can post these chapters at the rate of once a week, great; if not, I’ll keep posting them as they get to the first draft stages. Feel free to copy these postings and send to your friends, but I also expect to be credited (copyright, © John Janovy, Jr., 2016). See below for a table of contents.



John Janovy, Jr.

1. Why I Wrote This Book
2. Evolution: The Most Effective Weapon
3. Women: The Most Feared of All Natural Disasters
4. Energy: The Achilles Heel
5. The Human Factor: The Individual vs. The Mob
6. Hero Worship: Stupidity in High Places
7. Fear: The Mother of Fundamentalism
8. Distractions
9. American Vulnerability
10. The Ultimate Fate of the United States of America
11. Solutions and Options
I. Evolutionary Principles Summarized
II. How to study evolution
III. Sources and Resources

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