What Donald Trump’s presidency means for science

The funny thing about the US elections is that so many people outside the country pay attention to it. There is, on second look, a good reason for this: decisions the United States takes on several issues will not only affect other countries, but will soon be mimicked by other governments as well — especially in infrequently trodden legal areas like technology. But one universal effect the US presidency has on the world is in science. Being as networked as it is, and having come far from the isolated, individual–driven field that it once was, developments in science are bound to be deeply affected by the decisions of whoever is calling shots at the White House.

Donald Trump, may have a lot to say about his business acumen, but his knowledge of science is not flaunted as often. What the reason behind this is, is best left to the imagination. In fact, Mr Trump’s biggest argument for his tryst with science is ludicrous. He has often spoken about how his family has stellar genes that somehow impart genius. “It’s in my blood. I’m smart. Great marks. Like really smart.” The man in question is John G. Trump, a former MIT professor who was undoubtedly smart. Donald Trump is his nephew, but, as the GOP frontrunner says, his own father was “the same level as [his] uncle”. And this intelligence, Mr Trump assumes, simply extends to all members of the Trump family. “Good genes,” he declares, “very good genes.” Science, for what it is worth, is yet to establish any credible relationship between genes and genius.

All said an done, Mr Trump’s grasp on issues like global warming — which he calls a “very expensive form of tax” — leave much to be desired. He once even labelled the Environmental Protection Agency as the “laughing stock of the world”. It would not be far–fetched to expect him to undo everything done towards climate change, during his term as president. And education is not far off: his uncle, John G. Trump’s, alma mater, MIT, which receives1 considerable federal government funding, will see severe cuts if Mr Trump becomes president. As will all other educational institutions who have been advised by the billionaire to “be local and locally managed”. So much for global learning.

If one expects it to stop at that, they would be disappointed: on national television last year, Mr Trump went on to claim that vaccines are related to autism. (Also, “autism has become epidemic… it has gotten totally out of control”, he says and goes on to compare vaccines meant for babies to those meant for horses.) He once also had to be taught, by fellow republican, Marco Rubio, (once again on national television) the meaning of a nuclear triad, because, to Mr Trump, “nuclear, is just the power, the devastation is very important”. If the quotable, billionaire presidential candidate has a poor handle on biology, genealogy and the life sciences, his grasp of physics is infinitely more slippery. He has been known to use it as little more than a synonym for “clever thing beyond my comprehension”. Consider, for instance, his fuzzy speech involving the word fifty-three and four republican candidates while there were, in fact, only three: “when I don’t get over fifty, we have four people. Right? We have four people. Do you understand that? So when I get fifty-three. As an example, I get fifty-three, and that’s an amazing achievement when you can get over fifty percent”.

Said the good Mr Trump, “I have to explain to these people… They don’t understand basic physics, basic mathematics, basic — whatever you want to call it.”

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Earlier this year a group of coders released libraries on Github for a new scripting language they called TrumpScript, which even comes with a toupeé adorning its logo. In short, the language is designed to behave like Donald Trump. It is a nerdy and satirical take at the Republican frontrunner, with such things as no floating point numbers being allowed and only integers, because “America never does anything halfway”, and the entire language being case insensitive, and disallowing numbers lesser than a million because “the small stuff is inconsequential to us”. If this seems entirely like a joke, it is not: back in 2009, Mr Trump spent a while suing journalist Timothy L. O’Brien for $5bn for calling him a millionaire instead of a billionaire. (The judge dismissed the case.) At other times, Mr Trump is busy labelling people either as a “loser” or a “winner” on his Twitter stream. But this is not the only brush the presidential hopeful has had with technology, and his campaign has not been on the good side of technology companies, magazines and enthusiasts alike. For example, even as he was calling a boycott of Apple products and some time later got caught tweeting from his iPhone, the hacktivist collective, Anonymous, was busy releasing his social security number to the public and then setting the stage for a larger attack on 1st April when they promised to “dismantle his campaign” for all its inconsistencies and intolerances.

If Donald Trump is good at one thing, it is the science of selling, of convincing people to buy something (or buy into it) and he is convincing America to make him president. This is not unlike the BJP’s victory in the last national election in India. Mr Trump uses simple language that everyone can grasp, something that was recently picked apart with great care by the founder of Nerd Writer, Evan Paschal. However, the importance of having a president who can understand science cannot be underestimated: if social science attempts to keep societies in order, science is what ensures their advancement and helps them survive. So here is a man who has said, done and intends to do numerous things other politicians would not even dream of, including, but not limited to, elaborate plans to expel Muslims from the US, build walls to put out Mexicans (the Chinese did that around 200BC, remember?)2, spurt flippant racist outbursts, oversell his own alleged attractiveness, and display a remarkable lack of scientific knowledge. In that light, I doubt Mr Trump is a candidate even his late uncle, John, would consider supporting.

The soft bigotry of low expectations

I will throw this out there, so never blame me if it seems sudden or unplanned. As I sit here at my desk, a strange mass of words comes to me: the soft bigotry of low expectations.

What does it mean? Often, what we hear in our minds is nothing more than what we have once heard aurally. I set out to find the origin of this — almost weird — phrase, and I managed to track it down to a little speech that the former U.S. president, George W. Bush, had delivered at a National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) convention.

So what did Mr Bush — or his speechwriter — mean by this? He was speaking in reference to the education system and these words gave rise to several opinions, all based on similar lines.

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What Dmitry Medvedev can teach you about photography

A very common cry about photography is that it can be hard. In truth, many are unwilling to accept that, while photography takes just as much care and thought as any other art form, it is actually a lot easier.

Why the complaint, then? It is because most people do not find time to take out their cameras and make photographs. I have spoken to one too many about this, and I often use a similar story to narrate the importance of this — or the futility of their reasoning, that they cannot find time. That is how this article came about.

Meet Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev

You may know him, you may like him, hate him or have never heard of him. Mr Medvedev is a busy man. A very busy man.

He does some interesting things like talk to world leaders, point his camera at anybody and anything he damn well pleases, and he probably even has an army of bodyguards around him every time he goes out to shoot. Sometimes he can be just another tourist…

Photo courtesy: Ria Novosti / Reuters

or he can be found sharing burgers with Obama, because, you know, burgers are great and all…

This man is an all-round good guy who is one of the few people in his field today that I actually find extremely interesting. If you have not caught on so far, the man is none other than Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s ex-President and current Prime Minister.

Medvedev, the photographer

What many people do not know (and by that I mean you, dear photographer without time to make photographs) is that Mr Medvedev is a big photography-buff and a photographer by hobby. Yes, he runs a nation and finds time to photograph things too.

That is one of the reasons I admire the man. It is one thing that he can own a Nikon, a Canon, a Leica, a Samsung Galaxy Tab (yeah, mine!) about a million dollars worth of accessories, as well as sell a photograph for 1.7 million: [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="956"]<img alt="" src="http://artdaily.com/imagenes/2010/01/17/Medvedev-2.jpg" width="956" height="640" /> Mr Medvedev's1.7m auctioned photograph of the Kremlin. Photo courtesy: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP Photos[/caption]

But he also spends time talking to photographers, taking tips from them and his photographer-friends. He also enjoys spending time with his computer, toying with his photographs. And he runs a nation: even if he is second to Putin, he still is above 143 million other Russians.

Looking through his gallery, one thing is clear: Mr Medvedev has a good eye. Sometimes he churns out really great photographs that are very easy to connect with. I particularly like this church photograph he made:

 

Other times, he messes things up with Photoshop, but that is OK too. We rarely get to see purple/yellow sunsets these days.

Photo courtesy: Dmitry Medvedev

And all this carefree, adventurous approaches to his work is precisely what makes this man seem like such fun to be around. (This side of him is probably costing him backers for the next election, but that is talk for another day.)

On photography

Some time back Mr Medvedev even took time off to speak about his passion:

Photography’s real meaning, the Prime Minister says, is capturing “the special… moments already gone and never to be returned”. He says he got into photography about 35 years ago while at Pioneers Palace with his Smena 8M, then the cheapest Soviet camera with perhaps the poorest optics where he had to “judge the exposure, the light, the contrast”.

He likes to photograph nature, architecture and people. He shows his new digital M9 in the video and says it’s quite a good camera and that “photographers have praised it”

Learning

Of course Mr Medvedev probably travels to more places more frequently than you and I. He can, perhaps bring the Ferrari motor show to his doorstep rather than visit Italy; or he can go fishing with Prime Minister Putin and then decide to do some underwater photography; or he can say things like, “Hm, I wonder how the pyramids are looking today… Well, you’ll never know until you see them” and then proceed to fly to Cairo for lunch.

But all that is besides the point. As a former lawyer and current politician, he surely has a lot on his plate: healthcare reforms, a public image, media hounds, upcoming elections, the Winter Olympics this year and more. But all I want you to take away from this article is that if Russia’s Prime Minister can find time to make photographs, so can you and I.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

~ To my mother–the best in the world! ~

Sometimes it’s March, sometimes it’s April and sometimes it’s May. Which ever it is, each year, one of these months have the honour of hosting Mother’s Day all over the world. This year, today, May the 8th is the day dedicated entirely to mothers, who were, are and always will be there for us. Wishing them and treating them royally at least on this one day is the least we can do for them. And, to be brutally frank, we can never do enough: one can never get even, ever. Continue…