Wait, you can actually destroy someone on the interwebs?

Do you find yourself deeply annoyed by those headlines on Facebook and social media sites that declare that this politician or that scientist DESTROYED their opponent in a debate? It never happens. I’ve been in debates where the consensus is that I ‘won’, or was most informative, or was most difficult to refute, but the opposition usually has some rationalization to salvage their position. You can’t literally ANNIHILATE someone with an argument.

Or can you?

Neil deGrasse Tyson was accused of belittling a 9 year old girl who asked him a question, and one of those conservative talk-radio blowhards, Neal Larsen, made a big deal out of how awful Tyson was. Unfortunately for Larsen, his information came from one of those even more annoying “satirical” news sites (which is another of my pet peeves — I block people who cite those abominations). Larsen was loudly ridiculed for his gullibility.

And then…a miracle! Larsen didn’t give up his radio show, but he has resigned from writing a newspaper column over the exposure.

Larson acknowledged the error in his final op-ed, adding that he apologized to deGrasse Tyson for his mistake. But he also complained about the amount of attention his failed attack received.

“For those in the national spotlight, this is probably old hat, but I wasn’t equipped to handle the influx, logistically or emotionally,” Larson wrote. “If anyone had sent a kind word or more gentle and constructive criticism, I apologize because I probably missed it in the onslaught of hate.”

Aww, poor man. If only someone had given him a cookie, he might have been inspired to soldier on and produce even more bullshit like this, below:

However, Larson will continue broadcasting his radio show. Daily Kos pointed out that he has used it to argue, among other things, that Donald Trump is suited for the presidency because of his “alpha-male” personality, and that the choice of mascot for Washington D.C.’s NFL team is better than “a screaming Black Lives Matter activist, or a finger-snapping drag queen.”

Still, Tyson did manage to shut down a little bit of vileness. Larsen is still babbling on the radio, but he’s not poisoning newspapers anymore, which is a bit of progress.

So maybe Tyson didn’t DESTROY him, but I think we can at least say he was DECIMATED.

Very blue

Sam Harris has recently taken it upon himself to write a speech for Hillary to give, apparently to reassure the neo-cons that she will be sufficiently aggressive in the Middle East to satisfy their blood-thirst. I already think Clinton is too militaristic, so adding Harris’s odious ideas to the mix would make her even more right wing than I can stand. Perhaps David Duke will next write a speech for her on appropriate race relations?

Iris has edited and made additions to his speech to make it a little more humane and sensible (hey, if he is arrogant enough to tell Hillary Clinton what to say, turnabout is fair play). All of her changes and additions are in blue.

It sure takes a lot of blue ink to make Harris palatable. How about if we skip the middle man and make Iris Clinton’s official speechwriter?

Y’all might want to read Sincere Kirabo’s take on Harris’s racism podcast. Are you surprised that Harris made himself look worse?

Harris only regards overt forms of racism as indication of “true” racism. This is why he demarcates racism in such a way (27:04-27:14) that categorizes racists as being “a tiny minority in our society at this point” and the remaining white population as “people of goodwill, and people of moral enlightenment.” He continued to prop up this belief by alleging whites who voted for Obama (27:32) have “cancelled their personal racism” and by using terms (27:38; 30:40) like “real racist.”

Of course this kind of rhetoric is music to the ears of all those who firmly believe intent trumps the presence of attitudes and behaviors ingrained through exposure to our cultural environment. Harris treats the widespread nature of implicit racism as innocuous and demands we reserve the label of “racist” for card-carrying Klansmen, though many of them would also deny being racist. Because, somehow, the adverse influence of racism that effects employment, housing, education, legislation, racial profiling, and mass incarceration are rendered null and void because many who are complicit with or involved in these processes are well-meaning.

Even Rush Limbaugh is aware that people are laughing at him

His latest conspiracy theory: the Left is infiltrating farming with lesbians. I know, that’s ridiculous, and I must be getting this from one of those fake news sites, or the Onion, or something. So I had to triple and quadruple and septuple check that this wasn’t some made-up story. But I knew it had to be true when that unimpeachable source, World Net Daily, confirmed it. Here’s a bit from his radio program.

You sit in there and laugh. Okay, go ahead and laugh at it, but I’m telling you what they’re doing. They are trying to bust up one of the last geographically conservative regions in the country; that’s rural America. Rural America happens to be largely conservative. Rural America is made up of self-reliant, rugged individualist types. They happen to be big believers in the Second Amendment. So here comes the Obama Regime with a bunch of federal money and they’re waving it around, and all you gotta do to get it is be a lesbian and want to be a farmer and they’ll set you up. I’m like you; I never before in my life knew that lesbians wanted to be farmers. I never knew that lesbians wanted to get behind the horse and the plow and start burrowing.

Horse and plow? Burrowing? The lesbian farmers are all looking at you funny for just that, Rush.

I have some information for Rush: Lesbians are people. Some of them might want to farm. Some of them live in rural America. Some of them might want to be scientists, or zookeepers, or bankers, or mothers.

Also, it’s not nice to assume that everyone in rural America is as bigoted as you are, Rush.

Australia has anti-science nuts, too

We Americans like to think we’ve got the greatest everything, including the greatest science denialists. Who can forget Sarah Palin’s rage against mere fruit fly research? And now we’ve got Donald Trump, irate about his hair spray.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen Donald Trump lower, again and again, the bar for political discourse. All the while, though, he’s been lowering the scientific bar, too. In May, for instance, while speaking to an audience of West Virginia coal miners, Trump complained that regulations designed to protect the ozone layer had compromised the quality of his hair spray. Those regulations, he continued, were misguided, because hair spray is used mainly indoors, and so can have no effect on the atmosphere outside. No wonder Hillary Clinton felt the need to include, in her nomination speech, the phrase “I believe in science.”

And it’s not just hairspray: there is a legion of scientific issues on which Trump is ignorant and wrong.

Just to be fair, though, I’ll remind everyone that Democrats have sometimes gone down this road: I remember Proxmire and his Golden Fleece award, in which he railed against science he didn’t understand, and then there’s Tom Harkin, throwing away money on quackery.

But now Australia is getting in on the game, in a very Proxmirish move.


Oh, yeah, how dare they study philosophy, history, psychology, or sociology. We must ridicule what we don’t understand.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is suffering one of their frequent relapses into frothy-mouthed panic about government wastage on research grants. Poking at layabout academics for ‘wasting’ tax dollars on seemingly frivolous projects reminds me of nothing more than the schoolyard bully who secretly knows he peaked in year 9. Today, the Tele flattered me by holding up one of my own projects for ridicule, ironically illustrating their point that rusted-on ideology, and patronage provide the most direct route possible to mediocrity.

Don’t academics understand that the only thing we’re supposed to do is cure cancer? It’s a zero-sum game, and every study of medieval history or Renaissance art or the psychology of gender or goddamn fruit flies means another metastasizing tumor and horrible slow death.

So the solution is to demand that the Australian Research Council present grant proposals for review to the beery patrons of local pubs. Yeah, that’ll steer research funds appropriately.

Ray Hadley picked up the Telegraph’s baton in an interview with the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, demanding that the ARC justify its funding decision in the front bar of a Western Sydney or North Brisbane pub.

Yes, after the forlorn cries for better funding of research rang through Science Week last week, and as the ARC sits in Canberra to decide the outcomes of this year’s biggest schemes, the pro-ignorance side of the culture wars has decided to play their favourite game. Their attempts to paint researchers as out-of-touch layabouts draining the public purse are, if you read the comments on Blair’s blog, playing well with the patrons of those very pubs.

Uh-oh. Nobody tell Trump about this idea to put bars in charge of NIH/NSF/NASA. He’d probably think it was a terrific plan. So would his fanatical followers.

Good news, my fellow aristocrats of the Higher Education Cartel!

If you’re like me, you’re neck-deep in preparation for the new academic year right now. I’m meeting with advisees this morning, and have lab stuff to order and more tweaking of my syllabus to do.

Relax! Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has an answer for us all. Pop a VHS cassette into the tape player and let that do the teaching for you!

We’ve got the internet — you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying different lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel. So again, we need destructive technology for our higher education system, he said.
Johnson added, One of the examples I always used — if you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’s Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas.

Ooooh, I’m in a higher education cartel? I had no idea. I thought it was more of a syndicate, or mob, or gang. It does not surprise me, though, that a Republican wants to destroy our mafia.

His idea of just acting as a proctor for a series of videos intrigues me, though — it sure would be a lot less work than reading all those papers and textbooks, distilling them down into presentations, and trying to draw out students into interacting with you and the material. I use short video segments to illustrate concepts already — but nowadays we go to online digital sources rather than these mysterious “tapes” — but hey, if I could just show videos for the class hour for a couple of weeks, that would definitely take a load off my back.

Although…I did once have a class that was taught that way, back in junior high school. It was our health course, “taught” by the PE coach, who basically knew nothing about the subject, but could run a film strip or an 8mm projector (Mr Johnson is truly with it — he could have recommended even older technologies) just fine. The thing is, it was a terrible, crappy course, and I learned nothing, other than that the instructor was an ignorant dumbass.

But maybe the technology is greatly improved. Burns’ series is well done, and students would learn some things from it.

Is there also a video series that teaches how to compare and assess multiple sources? I wouldn’t want students to think there is only one true story about the Civil War.

Is there a video for every possible question my students might ask? You never know what might pop into their heads, and the instructor has to be prepared to answer…or at least, explain how to find the answer.

When a student shows up at my office with a question about some complicated figure in a paper, is there a tape I can show them? I hate just sitting there, looking blank, and being able to shuffle through a gigantic stack of tapes at least gives me something useful to do.

I mentioned I’m have an advising meeting soon. Is there tape for that?

Currently, Ron Johnson is stuck in a difficult re-election campaign. Does he have a tape that explains how to win? Maybe he should sit down and watch it a couple of times.

While he’s doing that, every citizen in his electorate who knows anything about teaching — which definitely does not include Ron Johnson — will be voting for Russ Feingold, so at least he’s made that decision even easier.

I want to see a documentary about the Middle Ages in which all the recreators are swans now

Indignant conservatives who insist on “accuracy” in television shows make me laugh. Apparently, the BBC has some show about Margaret of Anjou in which the title character is played by Sophie Okonedo, who is of Nigerian ancestry. Some people can’t get past the skin color to see the role the actor is playing.


You know, the BBC doesn’t have a time machine in order to pull in the original Margaret of Anjou to play the role, so anyone they can bring in is going to look different than the real person. If they had a white person playing her, would they pick over the shape of her nose, if it wasn’t identical? Nigel Farage is white, would he have been a better choice as an actor?

But here’s something even funnier: a medieval historian who wrote a thesis on the manuscript Mr Wood cited as the authority on how Margaret ought to look weighed in.

Hi @CllrChrisWood that’s a lovely medieval image you have there. It’s from a manuscript that claims M of Anjou was descended from a swan

I must insist on true historical accuracy in all future documentaries, and apparently a significant fraction of British royalty must be portrayed as part bird.

Also as part French. Margaret of Anjou was born in France (well, Lorraine), and was of the French house of Anjou-Valois. A UKIPper defending the accuracy of a television show is going to have to insist on hiring French actors, I guess.

The biggest crime in America: unregulated capitalism

Our priorities are all screwed up. The wrong people are in jail.

In dollar terms, what group of Americans steals the most from their fellow citizens each year?

The answer might surprise you: It’s employers, many of whom are committing what’s known as wage theft. It’s not just about underpaying workers. They’re not paying workers what they’re legally owed for the labor they put in.

It takes different forms: not paying workers the federal, state, or local minimum wage; not paying them overtime; or just monkeying around with job titles to avoid regulations.

No one knows exactly how big a problem wage theft is, but in 2012 federal and state agencies recovered $933 million for victims of wage theft. By comparison, all the property taken in all the robberies of all types in 2012, solved or unsolved, amounted to a little under $341 million.

One of the nice things about stealing that much money is that you can buy off people to cover your criminality. Also, we have these ideological fanatics — Libertarians and Republicans and Conservatives — who will leap to the defense of the Invisible Hand’s right to pick pockets.

Wonderful news about our criminal justice system


The Department of Justice will stop contracting with private prisons, the department announced Thursday morning. The decision comes a week after the DOJ inspector general released a damning report on the safety, security, and oversight of private prisons, which incarcerate 12 percent of federal inmates.

Now if we could just end the drug “war” and demilitarize the police…

The lying must be contagious


You’d think Rudy Giuliani would have 9/11/2001 seared into his brain, since he shrieks about it so much. But here’s Giuliani, stumping for Trump:

Under those eight years, before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States. They all started when Clinton and Obama got into office.

He must also trust that the Trump fans are friggin’ idiots, too.

You don’t believe Giuliani could possibly have said that? Here it is, at 57 seconds into this clip. Most remarkably, before he made that claim, he listed specific attacks by radical islamic terrorists, in 2001 and 1993.

Maybe he thinks Obama has been in office for 23 years?