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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The End and Beginning: Life in a Post-Obama World

We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning — signifying renewal, as well as change.--John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961

JFK's Inauguration Speech. (Photo from
In the current situation, and following Barack Obama's eloquent, elegant, and deeply meaningful Farewell address last night, it seems appropriate today to tweak those words a bit:

We observe today not a celebration of freedom, but a victory of party--symbolizing an end to civility and democracy, as well as a beginning--signifying reversal, as well as demise.--Lynne M. Hinkey, in my paraphrasing of Kennedy's speech.

I've been succumbing to the temptation to follow Timothy Leary's advice and "turn on, tune in, and drop out." In my case, the turning on involved a lot of wine, the tuning in focused on the news (not the fiction fed to gullible folks via Breitbart, Fox, and other propaganda sources but the real news, found through due diligence, investigation, and critical thinking, that takes some effort), and the  dropping out of the echo chamber of Facebook.
Timothy Leary at UC Berkely (Photo from

Last night, hearing Obama's inspiring words recounting his feats (made more remarkable because they were achieved despite an obstructionist GOP Congress doing all they could to bring the country to its knees), and urging us all to stay engaged, I started to rethink my dropping out. Obama reminded us of George Washington's words to "be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen."

Those words resonated with me, with my beliefs, my life, with all I've worked for throughout my life: to continuously improve this great nation. My small piece of that very large picture has been in the realm of marine science and science literacy, whether in community outreach and extension programs, science communication, training coastal resource management professionals, or instructing the next generation, my mission has focused on ensuring the development or use of critical thinking skills, finding and evidence-based information derived from rigorous scientific process rather that opinion pulled out of someone's ass because it;s comfortable, easy, or benefits some person or company's bottom line.

It's not much, but it's what I can do. Now, more than ever, we all have to do our parts, small as they may be. (Given the global implications of our science literacy or our science ignorance with regard to climate change, food security, energy independence and renewables, maintaining academic and scientific integrity and rigor in STEM fields isn't small at all, is it?)

Kennedy's speech is primarily remembered for the line, "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." Despite my revision above, much of Kennedy's Inauguration Speech is as instructive and relevant today as it was fifty-six years ago. It's worth a thorough read, worth a reminder. Worth reiterating this notice:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage — and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world...

Perhaps Russia had in mind these words from Kennedy when they chose to interfere in our elections, promulgating fake news stories and feeding them to the gullible folks at Breitbart to be passed on to their equally gullible readers: United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do — for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

In the words of Abbie Hoffman, "The only way to support a revolution is to create your own." My revolution is a commitment to sound, solid science education, to ensuring critical thinking skills. I will provide my students with a secure foundation for reasoning, demonstrating and demanding not only the questioning of information, but also helping them to develop the research skills that will enable them to find and evaluate factual, relevant information. I refuse to surrender to ignorance, to legitimizing opinion over evidence.

Abbie Hoffman (photo from

Obama reminded me that turning on, tuning in, and dropping out aren't what's needed, especially now. "Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime..."

I am sincerely grateful to this president, our president, Barack Hussein Obama, for reminding me that my responsibility to this country and to democracy is not to recoil in horror and hide when it's threatened by the overwhelming, blatant ignorance as it now is. My responsibility--all of our responsibility and what's demanded of each of us as good citizens of this country, now more than ever is to 
Show up. Dive in. Persevere.

Barack H. Obama II, 44th President of the USA. (Photo from