How the Trump Administration Harms People I Know

A few news cycles ago, everyone was discussing the Trump administration's cruel policy of separating migrant children from their parents (and then losing track of them, which cannot be anyone's ideal of efficient government).  This is a serious issue which deserved significant press coverage.  And a major campaign promise by Trump, to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US, has resulted in a controversial executive order that was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional (even though I'm sure many of the Justices would have struck down a similarly tainted domestic policy had the government not said it was related to "national security".)

However, in this post I want to talk about some more minor ways in which Trump's anti-immigration policies have hurt people I care about.  None of these people have suffered anything as extreme as the asylum-seeking families detained at the border.  But I think it is still important to talk about the lesser ways in which anti-immigrant policies hurt people, especially when I can speak from the experience of people I know personally.

There is a tendency for controversial, hot-button issues to soak up all the public attention.  Because of this, the public debate surrounding immigration usually focusses on illegal immigrants.  But the people I am going to talk about are legal immigrants, whom the government welcomed in, and is now treating badly.

(I will therefore not be discussing specifically the Iranian physicists negatively affected by the so-called "Muslim ban", even though I do know some individuals who have likely been negatively affected.  In my experience, none of the Iranians living in the US support the Iranian regime.)

As a fairly privileged upper-middle class person, it's fairly rare for political issues to affect me directly, except insofar as they contribute to my tax bill, and to the government grant monies that have sometimes paid my salary.  I have strong opinions about many of the issues involved, but as far as my life was concerned, the Obama administration was not much different from the Bush administration, except that it changed which news stories I read about on the internet.  So when people I actually know have their lives derailed by politics, I start paying attention!

The information below was obtained by conversations with the victims of these policies.  I assume their information is largely accurate, but I have not tried to check it with independent research.

I. Graduating Students

As you might expect, Stanford University accepts many bright graduate students.  This year, several of the High Energy students have defended their Ph.D.'s and graduated.  They had applied for prestigious postdoc positions starting this Fall, and were accepted.  These are some of the brightest students in the whole world, and they want to contribute their intellectual talent to our nation.

Unfortunately, because some of them are foreigners, from scary countries like China and Canada, rather than US citizens, they are required to get work visas.  In previous administrations, that involved some annoying requirements, such as a rule that you had to go back to your home country and apply from there.  The Trump administration, however, currently has a backlog of around 6 months processing all visas in this category.  Hence they have been unable to start their new jobs yet, even though the academic year started months ago.  During this time, they are:

- forbidden from gaining any income in the United States,
- unable to leave the country or return home, for fear of not being readmitted to the USA, and making their application less likely to be accepted.  (Despite the fact that they are here legally due to their previous visa.)
- advised against moving to their new location for fear of being held to be "working" for their new employer
- advised against doing research (which for us theorists is literally just "thinking/talking about physics") for the same reasons.

Graduate students are not very likely to be sitting on an enormous stash of savings, so this is obviously a serious issue for these students.  Imagine if the government told you that you are forbidden to work, and on top of that threatened you with dire consequences if you wanted to move back in with your parents, or move to any other country that did allow you to work for them.  I reckon you would be pretty upset.

So why didn't they just apply for their visa 6 months in advance?  Well, because any application submitted more than 3 months in advance is automatically rejected as being filed to early.  So yes, the Trump Administration is, by underhanded delay tactics, imposing a Catch-22 that makes it literally impossible for these students to start their new job at the beginning of the new academic year.

Since there are statutory quotas for the total number of people admitted, I'm not sure this foot-dragging will even have the effect of lowering the number of foreign workers in the USA.  It is just being jerks for no good reason, to the international people that we were going to hire anyway.

II. A Recent Faculty Hire

What about people higher up the academic ladder?  I was just hearing last night from a condensed matter theorist around my age, who was recently hired for a tenure-track position at a top UC school in his field.  (While there is some subjective element to this judgement, and he is a friend of mine, on almost any view we are talking about one of the top 10 most promising people in his subfield in the whole world.  That's how good you have to be to be hired at a place like that.)

While he is allowed to work, the backlog for him getting a Green Card (permanent residency) is currently 20 years!  Bear in mind, his employment already puts him in the highest priority category you can possibly get by virtue of employment.  (He could only do better if he was marrying a US Citizen or was a religious worker.)

Why so long?  Well, in its infinite wisdom, the government has decided there should be an equal number of spots for immigrants from every country, irrespective of the population of the country.  As if they were voting on Senators.  So people from India or China have difficulties, whereas somebody from a small Pacific island nation somewhere has no problems.  This is obviously stupid, but past administrations have remedied this by reassigning unused spots from countries like Liechtenstein to the nationalities with higher demand, while still staying under the total national quota.  Well, they aren't doing that any more.

So this guy, one of the most talented physicists in the world, with a permanent academic appointment, needs to wait two decades (or more likely, until a Democrat retakes the White House) just to be able to be a permanent resident.  In the meantime:

- he is ineligible for many grants
- he cannot return to India to visit his family, without having to go through an extensive, 3 month background check on return (and possibly being denied re-entry).
- his brother wanted to visit him but was denied a tourist visa (due to his age bracket and being from India; however his parents were able to visit him).

III. What God Says

The Bible teaches that we are to treat foreigners fairly and not to oppress or harass them.  This is a major theme in Old Testament, starting with the Torah:

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.  (Ex 23:9, cf. 22:21)

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  I am the Lord your God.  (Lev 19:33-34)

The Law required foreigners to be given full access to justice:

Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.  (Deut 24:17-18)

The Levites shall recite to all the people of Israel in a loud voice...

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”  (Deut 27:14,19)

This included provision for refugees escaping from oppression in other countries:

If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master.  Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.  (Deut 23:15-16)

and for both private and public welfare systems for those who fell down on their luck:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.  (Lev 19:9-10, cf. 23:22)

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time.  Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.  When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again.  Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.  That is why I command you to do this.  (Deut 24:19-22)

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns,so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  (Deut 14:28-29, cf. 26:12)

as well as a commandment making it illegal to discriminate against immigrants:

You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.  (Lev 24:22)

 For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, they must do exactly as you do.  The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.  You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.  (Num 14:6)

although this general principle presumably did not take precedence over other Torah commandments which explicitly treated foreigners differently in specific respects, e.g. the rule against charging interest in Deut 23:19-20 applied only to fellow Jews, not to foreigners.

Of course, the message of welcoming strangers continues with the Prophets and the New Testament, but this is enough to make my point.

IV My Own Opinion

Now I am well aware that the United States of America is not a theocracy like ancient Israel, and that there are plenty of laws in the Torah which it would be inappropriate to enforce (or even follow) in modern day conditions.  But as a Christian, I believe that there are ethical principles to be found in the Bible which I ought to pay attention to.  Charity towards foreigners is one such ethical principle, and it is flouted by so-called Christian "conservatives" who idolatrously say "America First!" instead of putting God first.

Not that I accept for a minute that the immigrants I know are bad for America.  Our scientific preeminence requires us to recruit top talent from around the entire world, to stay on top.  I oppose trying to reserve academic positions for Americans for the same reason I'm not a fan of affirmative action, because I believe that it's best for jobs to be filled by a merit based system without regard to extraneous factors.  If that means that we get a lot of Indian and Chinese people, good for them!  A bunch of geniuses are coming from all over the world wanting to work for us, and somehow that's a bad thing?  It's not like you can just hire some random guy who lost his auto manufacturing or coal mining job.

There is also an enormous humanitarian good to be gained by allowing more people into developed First World countries.  However, I do not believe that the US should have completely open borders.  First, because I think there are valid national security reasons to keep terrorists and other undesirable criminals out.  Secondly, because there may be a maximum rate of immigrants that we can accept without overburdening our society or culture.

Still, there has never been a wealthier society than ours, capable of meeting more people's needs.  Nor has there been any society with a stronger track record of assimilating immigrants successfully.  And pretty much all economists on either side of the political aisle agree that protectionism in trade is bad for both countries.  It's almost a mathematical theorem.

But even if you believe differently than me about these broader issues, it's not like the policy makes sense for any of the academic people I mentioned above.   If the government had legitimate national security concerns about any of them (which would be frankly absurd, given the people in question), they shouldn't have let them into the country in the first place.  There's no way that it's in our national interest to let people into the country, lavish our educational resources on them, and (eventually) decide they can stay, but jerk them around the whole time, and make the process a bureaucratic nightmare.

Posted in Ethics, Politics | 26 Comments

The Image of God

Imagine an art historian whose life work is to study Picasso paintings.  She analyses the minute flecks of paint on each work, to determine their composition.  She also goes to conferences where people divide the paintings into different eras, and tries to see if her results can be related to their discoveries.

However, she doesn't believe Picasso actually existed.  Nor do most of her colleagues.  A few of them do, but it is considered somewhat gauche to mention it in talks or official publications.

It's a bit like this whenever a scientist doesn't believe in God.  The work may have technical expertise, even brilliance, but it misses the forest for the trees.  It is blind to the biggest, most important result of all.

I don't mean to imply that Atheism is as implausible as Picasso-denial would be.  The philosophical arguments for the existence of God require careful contemplation, and some thoughtful individuals have resisted them as (in their opinion) fallacious.  Indeed, most scientists don't give the question careful thought at all.  But as somebody who is convinced God exists, the final outcome still seems (regardless of how understandable it may be) a little bit comic or absurd.  You may not believe in God, but you carefully study his laws and decrees.  Look up from your work, contemplate the ocean or hills, and ask your heart where all this beauty came from!

There is yet another respect in which God haunts Science, as its inspiration and origin.  We can also look at the scientist as a human being.  Without the human mind, Nature would of course still exist, but Science (which is just the careful study of Nature by beings with minds) would not.

Jews and Christians believe that all human beings — no exceptions! — are created in the image of God.  It is because we have a likeness to the Creator, that we are capable of both Science (understanding God's creation) and Art (making our own creations).  So scientists who don't believe in God aren't just blind to what's in front of them, they are also blind to their own true self, to the spiritual power that enables them to work on a calculation or a measurement.  But, their work still reflects God's glory, even though they don't recognize it.

Now God is invisible.  As the Creator, God precedes Nature and transcends it.  Divinity has no physical form, and the human mind cannot comprehend it.  To make a graven image of any animal or person, and worship that as if it were divine, is regarded in the Bible as idolatry, a serious sin.  Yet this same book insists from its very first chapter that God created men and women in his own image!

The human animal may be a rather Picasso-esque, surreal representation of the uncreated, bodiless, singular Power that set the stars in the sky and binds quarks into nuclei; yet it is the representation that is given to us, as a handle to reach out and touch the divine.  We are not God, but we are like God; and by serving our neighbor we also serve the one who made him.

And although none of us yet fully live up to our potential as icons or paintings of God, we have the promise that the Master Artist is working on us, striving forcefully to make us that perfect image (if only we allow ourselves to be worked on).  We are all broken in many ways, and that definitely includes me!  But the same God who patiently waited billions of years to make our world — who brought forth the evolution of single cells, sponges, fish, dinosaurs, and (in these last days) birds — is also working to redeem each of us, and the human family as a whole.  That is why Christ came to earth, on a daring rescue mission: to put us back in touch with the source of the whole universe.

This is far more exciting and interesting than the shallow sentiments that most moderns try to console themselves with.  As St. Dorothy Sayers observed, "There was never anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy, nothing so sane and so thrilling."  In that respect it is, again, like the best moments of scientific discovery.

Posted in Theology | 15 Comments

Peace Prayer

This prayer is on my mind today.  It is often wrongly attributed to St. Francis, but is clearly modern.

When something like this is repeated by enough different people, it can start to sound like a cliché, but none of these requests are trivial-minded!  The only real flaw with the structure is that it focusses on the word "me" far too often for a prayer that is supposed to be about "self-forgetting".  Nevertheless, there is some real spiritual beauty here that is worth meditating on:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

Lord, may it be so!  And as every Eastern Orthodox priest recites during the liturgy: "Forgive those who hate us, and those that love us."  Amen.

Posted in Blog, Poetry, Theology | 6 Comments

Science and Sin: Random Links

Even though I haven't been blogging much recently, I've still been accumulating a large number of links, far too many for one sitting.  I've noticed that they all seem to mostly belong to two categories: Science or Sin.  So that tells you which things I find interesting.  Here they are:

♦  This tool will tell you immediately whether your email address has been compromised by any known data breaches.

♦  "Molecular Dynamics" is the name of computer simulations to describe the behavior of atoms in motion.  Instead of reading the rest of the links, you should try out this online Interactive MD simulator.  (The name is a bit of a misnomer, since in this case there are no molecules, just `atoms' interacting with a force law which is attractive when the atoms are a bit close, but repulsive when they get very close.)  Despite the fact that it has only 2 space dimensions, there is still a clear distinction between solid, liquid, and gas phases (except above the critical point, where the atoms are too crowded for there to be a sharp distinction between liquid and gas).  See if you can adjust the pressure and temperature so that solid, liquid, and gas phases all simultaneously coexist!

♦  Galileo: the first science publicist?

♦  Although the Catholic Church may have had some temporary hangups about Heliocentrism, it seems the Church has never had any problems with String Theory.  In 1277, the Bishop of Paris condemned as heretical the propositions that God "could not make more than three dimensions of space simultaneously" and that God "could not make several universes".  To be clear, it's OK not to believe in extra dimensions or universes, but if you think they couldn't have existed, then you are telling God what he can and can't do, and that puts you in the same geometrically-misguided camp as the Spherical Heretics.

♦  Haven't checked how good it is, but here's some interesting looking online math and science tutorials at brilliant.org.

♦  Apparently scientists found (in an asteroid) some diamonds which could only have been formed in a planet bigger than Mercury but smaller than Mars.  Of which there are currently none in our Solar System.  But one of the things I learned in Graduate Mechanics (see also #3 here) is that the Solar System is surprisingly unstable over periods of many millions of years.  You might think that the small gravitational effects of planets on each other would be more or less random.  But if any two of the orbits happen to synch up into a small whole-number ratio (e.g. 3:2) then these small effects happen in a consistent way each cycle.  Sometimes they accumulate, causing large changes to the system (e.g. a planet may be ejected from the Solar System).

♦  Around 49 million years ago, a bunch of freshwater Azolla fern blooms sank down to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and sequestered about 80% of the CO2, causing the planet to shift from a "greenhouse Earth state, hot enough for turtles and palm trees to prosper at the poles, to the icehouse Earth it has been since."

In other news, we are now dumping large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.  Every time you take a breath, you are getting about 40% more CO2 in your lungs than people got before the Industrial Revolution.  (By the way, there's a name for the political philosophy that we shouldn't allow random large changes to the world because of the risk of unintended consequences.  It's called conservativism.)  Here's one good solution.  Sometimes, my fellow conservatives, we need to allow a small change to prevent an even bigger change.  :-)

♦  ...or I guess we could try to stop supervolcanos instead.

♦  This is not really a political blog, but I hope nobody thinks I don't condemn all the bad things just because I don't talk about them much.  I continue to believe that we should not have elected President Trump, that as citizens we ought to speak respectfully about the President (no matter who fills the office), and that one of the things we should respectfully say is that he's done some incompetent and immoral things.  As one little example of the latter, consider the pardon of Joe Arpaio several months ago.  (The guy who wrote the editorial is some kind of socialist, but facts is facts.)  On the whole, I'm pleasantly surprised by how little he's been able to implement his specific political agenda, but I would prefer to have a President who doesn't systematically undermine his own Cabinet members whenever they try to do anything useful.

♦  If we don't like judges reinterpreting the Constitution, then there's a case for reforming Article V to make it easier for people to change it when there is enough popular consensus.

♦  Since the US justice system is almost entirely based on plea bargains, it's worth knowing that there are countries like Germany that manage to avoid it entirely.  Not sure it is possible with our judicial system though.

♦  What is the most effective means of dealing with people with reprehensible political opinions?  Is it punching Nazis, like Captain America?  Is it mockery?  How about something with a proven track record—befriending people who think they hate you?  The last link is about St. Daryl Davis, a black musician who talks to KKK members, and has numerous KKK robes in his closet given to him by people who he convinced to leave the organization.

♦  People often assume that people mostly only believe in religions because they were raised in them.  They also often assume (perhaps because of their social circles) that deconversion from religion is common while conversion is quite rare.  Actually, both events are quite frequent.  In the USA, the statistics seem to say that religiously unaffiliated people are actually more likely to convert to a religion, than religious people are to become unaffiliated:

"Paradoxically, the unaffiliated have gained the most members in the process of religious change despite having one of the lowest retention rates of all religious groups. Indeed, most people who were raised unaffiliated now belong to a religious group.  Nearly four-in-ten of those raised unaffiliated have become Protestant (including 22% who now belong to evangelical denominations), 6% have become Catholic and 9% are now associated with other faiths."  (page 2 of Pew link)

Of course "unaffiliated" is not necessarily the same thing as atheist (although probably most "unaffiliated" households at least do not provide strong social pressure to believe in God or any particular religion.)

♦  James Mellaart (1925-2012) was one of the great archaeologists of the 20th century (or so it seemed); he made several major finds but had a tendency to be involved in controversy over the acquisition of artifacts.  But recently it was revealed that he engaged in a course of systematic fraud that casts doubt on his entire career.  This is the guy who popularized the idea of a prehistoric Mother Goddess religion, although this had been disconfirmed by scholarship long before the discovery of his wrongdoing.

♦  Also from St. Brandon Watson's blog, one of the best answers I've ever seen to the rather silly Argument from Lots of Space that some atheists use.

♦  A radio debate between St. Luke Barnes (whose book I mentioned here and here) and Sean Carroll, about whether Naturalism or Theism best explains the universe.

♦  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Cosmology is pretty good as these things go.

♦  Stanford researchers on the analogue of dark matter in biology: 99 percent of the microbes inside of you are unknown to Science.

♦  Speaking of Stanford, it seems that St. Jane Stanford — the cofounder and architectural designer of The Leland Stanford Jr. University, named after her scholarly son who died at the age of 15 before he could attend college — was murdered, quite possibly by the first President of the University (whom she intended to fire, before her sudden death by strychnine poisoning).  Fun fact, when this story was told to me at a dinner party, two other people shared accounts of academic poisoning scandals, e.g. the time Oppenheimer tried to poison his tutor at Cambridge (but he changed his mind before it was too late).

♦  Passing from the 6th commandment "Thou shalt not murder", to the 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath (including allowing your servants to rest): Just-in-Time Scheduling is the oppressive practice of telling part-time workers at the last minute what their hours are, based on obscure computer algorithms.  Without of course paying them for the hours they had to set aside for work, but didn't end up being assigned to.  This makes it difficult for workers in the retail industry to regularly attend church, attend to children, or indeed have any kind of outside life.

This is bad and it should stop.  "You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns" (Deut 24:15).  If anyone reading this happens to be complicit, then "Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty" (James 5:4).  So repent from your wicked deeds, turn to the Lord and seek forgiveness!

♦  Apparently the literary trope of intimidating the natives by predicting an eclipse you just happen to know is scheduled to occur soon, actually happened once, although the instigator was a crackpot who didn't know how to calculate the radius of the Earth correctly, and was incidentally a tyrannical oppressor himself...

♦  An interesting article by Catholic apologist St. Jimmy Akin on whether the Exodus happened (readers can compare to my own take here).  Fun quote:

If you read the military records left by Egyptian pharaohs, guess what! They never lost a battle! (Though we do sometimes read about them “winning” battles progressively closer and closer to home as their armies were forced to retreat.)

♦  A nice review of St. David Bentley Hart’s new translation of the New Testament.  It's pretty cool but one thing it is definitely not is letting the New Testament speak for itself apart from an agenda, since Hart is very opinionated about a few very specific topics.

One notable eccentricity is he bends over backwards to translate in a way which allows for (but does not require) belief in universal salvation, generally by translating αἰώνιος as something like "in the Age" where other translations say "eternal".

Less defensibly, St. Hart (who is Eastern Orthodox) also claims that the Protestant belief in salvation apart from works has no basis in the text, and fights against it by translating ἔργα (which is a fairly generic term for doings or deeds) throughout St. Paul's letters as "observances" rather than "works".  E.g. Hart translates Gal 2:16 as "A human being is vindicated not by observances of the Law but by the faithfulness of the Anointed One Jesus" (click on the link to compare to other translations).  Hart claims that St. Paul "rejected only the notion that one might be `shown righteous' by `works' of the Mosaic Law—that is, ritual `observances' like circumcision and keeping kosher" (from the Preface).

However, the `Jewish rituals' interpretation of ἔργα (works) and νόμος (law)—while within the possible scope of meaning in certain contexts—fails to make sense of several key passages in Romans.  For example, in Romans 2:14, when the Gentiles are a "law to themselves", this clearly refers to their conscience rather than to Jewish ritual.  Or in 4:6, when St. Paul writes that "David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works" (NIV), is it really plausible that King David's song about forgiveness is about the blessing of not having to obey Jewish ritual law anymore?  Isn't it more likely about him being forgiven for an ethical breach, like maybe sleeping with Bathsheba and murdering her husband?  Or in 7:7, the "law" which Paul says he was condemned by is "Do not covet", which highlights an ethical problem, not a ceremonial one!

Inconsistently, St. Hart retains the traditional translations of ἔργα as "works" and πίστις as "faith" in the famous passage in James 2:24 which says that "a human being is made righteous by works, and not by faith alone"!  However, this apparent contradiction is to be resolved theologically, I do not believe that a translator should put his thumb on the scale by rendering the exact same contrasting pair of words differently in these verses, to support a preferred theological agenda.  (Less importantly, it seems that if he is going to write "Logos" in the opening of John, it would have been nice to also use it in passages like James 1:18, "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth..." where λόγος seems to have a similarly expansive meaning.)

♦  Is Critical Thinking Epistemically Responsible?
Yes, Critical Thinking Is Epistemically Responsible!

♦  Teaching people lists of fallacies is insufficient for critical thinking, because almost all supposed "fallacies" become legitimate arguments in certain circumstances, and only careful thinkers can tell the difference.

♦  On being an informed media consumer, with reference to the mythology from Genesis of the Tower of Babel.  The final conclusion is a bit exaggerated, but makes an interesting point.

♦  One more reason to engage in critical thinking: the mindless, uncritical use of a single statistical method throughout the social and medical sciences.

♦  But the education grant world is even worse.  Where worse means not just being incapable of distinguishing between succeeding at one's goal and the strategy you choose to implement it, but also horribly racist things like assuming children must be in greater need of "help" just because they are black and poor, and therefore putting them in remedial math classes (without ever checking their math ability) where they aren't taught appropriately.

♦  If you'd like to send money to a good cause where rational people actually check to make sure that it is highly effective at helping people, then please consider the charities endorsed by GiveWell, a nonprofit that does just this.  Not surprisingly, the best bang for the buck is spending money in 3rd world countries, usually for public health.

(GiveWell only rates secular charities.  If you want to give effectively to Christian evangelism then I personally recommend either Wycliffe Bible Translators or the Jesus Film.)

Posted in Links | 18 Comments

Crossing the Ocean

For the last several months I've been very busy with job interviews and I haven't had much time to actually think about Physics, let alone blog about it.  Sorry to everyone whose comments I've neglected in the meantime, but I hope you were having fun discussing among yourselves...

That brings us to a major life announcement.  Last week I've accepted a Lectureship at the University of Cambridge!  (Yes, the one in England.)  Needless to say, I was shocked, humbled, and flattered (all at once) when I heard I would be getting an offer a few weeks ago.  So starting Jan 1st, 2019 (Lord willing and the visa come) I'll be a faculty member at the 4th oldest University in the world (after Bologna, Paris, and Oxford)*.  Nicole and I are very excited!  Until this new job begins, I remain at Stanford.

The faculty job ranks in the UK go like this: Lecturer → Reader → Professor.  This is roughly equivalent to Assistant Professor → Associate Professor → Full Professor in the USA, but unfortunately it means you can't call me "professor" yet while anyone from the UK is listening.  That includes here on the internet, sorry.

In another shocking twist of convention (and I'm sure it won't be the last) Theoretical Physics is considered a subcategory of Maths in the UK (note the Britishised spelling, which gives the term its own local colour).  Specifically I'll be at DAMTP.  Apparently the Physics Department does something else, I guess they're the folks who interact with the actual physical world?

The good news is, it seems I don't have to worry about getting tenure.  Technically there's a 5 year probationary period before I'd get appointed to retirement age, but apparently no one in Maths has ever been denied in living memory.  (Although you never know, I could always be the first—everyone's always said I'm exceptional.)  Except for a few big names, the universities in the US like to reassure their junior hires that their tenure rates are in the high nineties.  But there's a big difference between marrying a spouse who's 95% likely to be faithful, and one who is virtually certain to be—it's nice not to have to worry about it!

Cambridge has 31 affiliated colleges (like Baskin-Robbins and flavours), each with their own heraldic scarf colors.  The Lectures and Exams are set by the University Teaching Officers, while the College Fellows tutor the students in the material in groups of 1-3 students.  Unlike Oxford, membership in a college is optional for University faculty, and many people in math and science don't.  But I think it would be cool (I mean, brilliant!) to dine with people working in completely different fields.  And while I'd like to believe I'll do a good job lecturing, my talents shine best in a one-on-one setting, where I can adapt my approach to each student.  So I'll definitely apply to join a college, but I don't know which one yet.  We'll just have to see what their Sorting Hat has to say about it.

Obviously, I'm sad not to be able to see Stephen Hawking after I arrive.  I was introduced to him a few years ago at a conference lunch in Brussels, but he was completely non-responsive at the time (he was eating).  But he did come to my talk the next day.  Now he has departed on a far more significant journey than my crossing to England will be...  I hope he is now at peace, and pray that he will find mercy and full healing when the Lord returns.  (Same goes for Joe Polchinski, a colleague from Santa Barbara who died a couple months ago of brain cancer.)  There are, however, lots of other superb gravitational theorists at Cambridge who are still among the earthly living, and I look forward to working with them.

* Disclaimer: History is always more fractaline than the simple narratives whenever you look at it closely, and this claim is no exception.  I went to Wikipedia to check it, and of course there are disputes about what counts as a University and what counts as its founding date.  It's really old, let's leave it at that.  (Needless to say, the views in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cambridge University.)

Posted in Blog, Education | 16 Comments