No heroes, ever

Through my drug-induced haze, I’ve been following the rising tide of revulsion at Richard Feynman’s personal behavior. It’s been sad and distressing; he was pretty much an opportunistic cad with women. What’s also been disturbing is the denial by people who should know better — Feynman was completely open about it in his published memoir. Face it, accept it, get over it. If you’re making excuses for him, we’re laughing at you. I was amused at this illustration of the problem:

Being a great physicist does not make you a great human being. Everyone is a mosaic of different properties, and there is no automatic correlation of saintliness in all dimensions. And most importantly, being really good at physics or any other intellectual endeavor is not an excuse for being a reprehensible asshole.

It was a portrait of a delusion

Holly Hobby Lobby explains what she was thinking with that picture of her holding a bible and a rifle in front of a flag.

“I expected less backlash with this than I did the first one because the picture is, like, America’s founding principles,” Fischer opined to Fox News on Wednesday.

Hold it right there. Guns and God are what you get out of the Enlightenment principles that inspired America’s founders? That’s rather missing the point.

“That’s all that’s in the picture. And I really didn’t think it would cause the uproar that it has.”

What uproar? Pointing out, on media like blogs and twitter that parading about with a Bible and a gun isn’t exactly progressive, and exactly mirrors the attitude of the worst of the Abrahamic fundamentalists (heck, it is modern Abrahamic fundamentalism) isn’t exactly a riot. What I saw was a great deal of amusement on the left at the juxtaposition of Christian and Islamic ‘freedom fighter’, and most of the outrage came from the right, where they were howling in denial and insisting that they weren’t the same, because Muslims were gun-toting barbarians with a false god, while Holly was a white human being married to an American soldier. Totes different.

Fisher said that she posted the photo because there was a “growing intolerance among the left, and conservatives are becoming more and more afraid to speak up.”

In my culture, martyrdom is folly and a martyr complex, where no sacrifice is made but one pretends to be oppressed, is contemptible and stupid. Here, let me quell your fears.

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox News (hell, Holly was being interviewed on Fox), World Net Daily, Ann Coulter, the Family Research Council, Dinesh D’Souza, Sean Hannity, Sunday morning television punditry, Alex Jones, Michael Savage, Sarah Palin, Clear Channel, Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family, Phyllis Schlafly, and the entirety of the Republican Party.

Conservatives aren’t afraid to speak up, because they sure won’t shut up. Everywhere I go, the Far Right Noise Machine is squawking nonstop.

Meanwhile, you probably think President Obama is a far left socialist/communist radical. He’s actually a centrist apparatchik who is less obstructive and destructive than the screaming idiots on the right.

You can complain when President Bernie Sanders is in office. Until then, your fears of socialism running the country are groundless. (And even then, a hypothetical Sanders presidency would be an even greater slog against the right-wing no-bots than the current one.)

Now you won’t have to go see the next Star Wars movie

All the good stuff is right here in this clip.

The release version will just have added wooden dialog, hackneyed characters, and some cheesy plot you won’t care about.

Oh, and since it’s J.J. Abrams, there’ll be lots of lens flare slathered on.

Hey! I just saved you ten bucks! You should go to the donation link on the left and give it to FtB!

Terrible disease rips through BBC staff

The news out of the UK is grim. Various voices in the media are falling silent, victims of an affliction called “reason”. The staff have been told that false impartiality, which allows kooks to air their views side-by-side with legitimate experts, must stop.

BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views’

The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’

They specifically mention anti-vaccine kooks, climate change denialists, and GMO hysterics, but I imagine it applies to creationists, flat-earthers, and people who claim to be able to square circles. For the BBC, this disease is going to sweep through them like a high fever requiring a bit of bed rest — they’re going to have to kick interviews with James Delingpole or Christopher Monckton to the curb.

But if Reason proves infectious and jumps the Atlantic, sweeping through American newsrooms, the effects could be devastating. We have no natural immunity. Our media revels in crankery of all kinds. Imagine this rule enforced on the executives of the History Channel: we’d have 24 hours of dead air. What if Fox News came down with it? It’d be like the Zombie Apocalypse there. Roger Ailes would have to be hospitalized; Fox & Friends would be populated with stunned, broken, speechless idiots staring teary-eyed and mute at one other; Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t be able to vent gas and would eventually explode. The Sunday morning pundit shows across all the networks would be destroyed. Imagine if they had to face the fact that Dick Cheney was disastrously wrong and simply not a respectable source to be consulted on foreign affairs?

Oh, the humanity.

I will not call on you to demand Anthony Cumia be fired

Anthony Cumia of the Opie & Anthony show has a long history of public awfulness. He’s a sexist pig and a creep.

But I don’t think you should call Sirius XM and complain.

His latest episode was a flamingly racist tirade against a black woman (only he didn’t restrain himself to merely call her a “black woman”). He wanted to shoot her because she slapped his camera away when he was taking creepshots.

He’s an appalling human being. But why bother demanding his dismissal?

Many media outlets are howling about his violent racist fantasies. He’s scum.

But he’s just the erupting pimple of the problem. The real issue is that somewhere in the corporate headquarters for Sirius XM, there is a nest of verminous, amoral, soulless corporate drones who saw a racist misogynist loudmouth as a pile of dollar signs. Fire Anthony Cumia, they’ll still be there. Fire Cumia, his audience of sympathetic racist misogynist cowards will still be there. Treating the repugnant excrescences without digging deep to the root of the disease is not enough.

If you want to do anything, cancel your Sirius XM account. Not conditionally, not if they don’t fire Cumia, but just plainly and simply cut them off. Punish the executives. Do you know anyone who listens to that Opie & Anthony crap? Repudiate them, publicly and unabashedly. Let them know that they are also terrible human beings for giving an audience to racists.

Firing Anthony Cumia is just the icing on the cake. Demand more.

Nothing ever changes

It’s disgraceful how people are getting distracted by games and wasting their time and the time of others. We must end all frivolity. Beginning with crossword puzzles in the 1920s.

Everywhere, at any hour of the day, people can be seen quite shamelessly poring over the checker-board diagrams, cudgelling their brains for a four-letter word meaning "molten rock" or a six-letter word meaning "idler," or what not: in trains and trams, or omnibuses, in subways, in private offices and counting-rooms, in factories and homes, and even – although as yet rarely – with hymnals for camouflage, in church.

Oh, I remember my shiftless grandmother, who’d work the fruit season in Yakima picking apples and then spend the winter working at the cannery in Seattle, and as a widow had to raise 6 kids and later a horde of grandchildren, and who in the evening would spend hours unwinding with stacks and stacks of crossword puzzles. She should have gotten another job, I guess.

I also get a hint of an attitude from the article that they were really concerned that the proles had interests beyond working.

Of course, the newspapers themselves had by now got in on the act, publishing crosswords and by some accounts relying on the puzzles for newsstand sales. Hypocrisy, following scaremongering and berating the British public for not toiling every hour God sends. Who’d have thought it from the press?

Of course, now the concern is that they might be enjoying sex.

So that’s mental illness

Read this account of a man slipping away into madness. It’s not about melodrama or violence, but about an ordinary person drifting towards paranoia, cutting off all contact with his family, and acquiring strange obsessions in place of normal human relationships. It’s harrowing and tragic.

The story also points out the social and legal difficulties in handling these cases. The man is clean and presentable, he can engage coherently for periods of time, and he will tell you that he is not sick — which means everyone is helpless to deal with his problems, and for good reason.

Once, the man’s family might have handled the situation by having him involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution. For decades, it was a routine and simple procedure: If a doctor agreed that the patient had a mental illness, he could be institutionalized even against his will.

The problem was that it was a process with few safeguards, and during much of the 20th century, all kinds of people who didn’t belong — from free-thinking women to gay people, minorities and rebellious children — wound up locked in hospitals where abuse was common and conditions were often bleak.

So the system changed, with one catalyst being a 1975 Supreme Court ruling that effectively restricted involuntary commitment to instances when a person becomes a “danger to self or others,” a phrase that now appears in one form or another in state laws across the country.

Keep that in mind next time someone declares that labeling someone “mentally ill” is a good response to a problem.

Hobby Lobby won

Of course they did: in a court packed with Catholics and their twisted views on reproduction, it would have been a surprise if they decided otherwise. So now, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have a right to dictate how you manage your health care, and the corporation’s religious convictions (they can have them, apparently) trump yours.

You’re all boycotting Hobby Lobby, right? And if you work there, try to get out.


We now have the underlying truth about the decision.

thesame

Whatever happened to informed consent?

Facebook has been experimenting on us, and getting scientific publications out of us. They took advantage of their large numbers of users to do a study on more than half a million subjects on how positive and negative messages affect attitude. I was surprised — I know I could never get approval for such a project (if I were a psychologist, that is). But apparently they had IRB approval.

Did an institutional review board—an independent ethics committee that vets research that involves humans—approve the experiment?

Yes, according to Susan Fiske, the Princeton University psychology professor who edited the study for publication. 

“I was concerned,” Fiske told The Atlantic, “until I queried the authors and they said their local institutional review board had approved it—and apparently on the grounds that Facebook apparently manipulates people’s News Feeds all the time.”

Wait. I thought one simple, basic criterion was this: do the subjects know that they are in an experiment? Did they voluntarily sign up to be tested? You don’t have to spell out exactly what they’re being tested for, but they do have to understand that they are entering an artificial situation in which they are going to have some sort of evaluation done.

Oh, yeah, the APA says something like that.

When psychologists conduct research or provide assessment, therapy, counseling, or consulting services in person or via electronic transmission or other forms of communication, they obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals using language that is reasonably understandable to that person or persons except when conducting such activities without consent is mandated by law or governmental regulation or as otherwise provided in this Ethics Code.

I’m pretty sure that when I signed up for facebook, it was to be part of social media, to interact with other people who had also signed up for the service. I don’t remember agreeing to be a guinea pig for whatever manipulations the company wanted to carry out.

But then, maybe I’m just naive. Maybe we signed over our rights and privacy to the corporations when we were five years old and joined the Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Club.

Also notice that the APA rules do have an exception. Here it is:

Psychologists may dispense with informed consent only (1) where research would not reasonably be assumed to create distress or harm and involves (a) the study of normal educational practices, curricula, or classroom management methods conducted in educational settings; (b) only anonymous questionnaires, naturalistic observations, or archival research for which disclosure of responses would not place participants at risk of criminal or civil liability or damage their financial standing, employability, or reputation, and confidentiality is protected; or (c) the study of factors related to job or organization effectiveness conducted in organizational settings for which there is no risk to participants’ employability, and confidentiality is protected or (2) where otherwise permitted by law or federal or institutional regulations.

I’d have to argue that the facebook study does not meet the exception, because it was not purely observational: they manipulated the news items that their users saw. They can’t simultaneously argue that their tinkering with facebook users’ stimuli showed an effect on attitudes, and that their tinkering did not affect their subjects. That, to me, is the key problem — not that they’re analyzing users’ interactions, but that they’re now reaching out to attempt to modify what users do.