The heart-warming Poon/Tang case

It’s actually called that. This is the case of a wedding photographer who was sued by the groom, who was a bad lawyer, and it was informative to me in a couple of ways. I did not know that the occupation of wedding photographer was so hazardous — apparently, some people are really demanding and finicky about the little details around their wedding (sometimes, it seems, more so than they are about the marriage), and they’ll go after the photographer if the pictures are not sufficiently flattering. I wouldn’t know about that; at our wedding, we had some people with polaroid cameras wandering around informally. The pictures aren’t so great, but the marriage has been wonderful.

The threatening letter from the lawyer has to be seen to be believed. Here are some excerpts:

blusteringletter

I’ve received a few blustering extortion letters from attack-dog lawyers, but never anything as unprofessional and openly vicious as this thing — they usually try to keep the threats veiled and only vaguely unsettling. This jackhole just freely cranked it up to 11, to attempt to intimidate the photographer into settling.

But go read the whole thing. It has a happy ending with the lawyer having to go before the bar and defend himself. Some days, the bad guys lose.

I’m already sick of politics

At least Charles Pierce is an oasis of sensible punditry. The violence this weekend in Nevada by Sanders supporters has me exasperated in the same way he is.

That being said, this whole mess was over four freaking delegates, and the Sanders people should know better than to conclude what has been a brilliant and important campaign by turning it into an extended temper tantrum.

I voted for Bernie Sanders. I even wrote about why I did here at this very shebeen. But if anybody thinks that, somehow, he is having the nomination “stolen” from him, they are idiots.

I understand what’s going on. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a catastrophe: as Pierce puts it, she’s been trying to “grease the skids” for Clinton, a maneuver that was as unnecessary as it was divisive. Clinton has a solid lead, she’s 99.9% certain to get the nomination, and all Schultz has accomplished is to fuel a feeling that the electoral process is rigged. And now some Sanders supporters are rightfully outraged at the betrayal of the process, and becoming irrationally unhinged over a trivial number of nominees.

There are also people calling for Sanders to step out of the race. I don’t think he should; I want him pushing back every step of the way. But at the same time, he needs to slap down these idiots.

Also, if anyone needs to get out of this election, it’s Schultz. Don’t even talk about booting Bernie Sanders until Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets the heave-ho.

Screwed-up priorities of the privileged

mckinney-football-stadium

I’ve written before about the obscenity of the football stadium in Allen, Texas — it’s a $60 million shrine to sports at a public high school. But they managed to persuade the property owners in the area to pay higher taxes to fund it, so it’s difficult to say it was wrong. Stupid, for sure, wasteful, definitely, but not illegal in any way.

But now McKinney, Texas has authorized the construction of a $62.8 million stadium. This is a disease. It may not be criminal, but it’s an immoral waste of resources. We’re talking about schools sinking that much money into temples to brain damage.

The kicker? The new stadium is going to be built 4 fucking miles from the Allen stadium.

Meanwhile, I get chided for disrespectfully referring to generic “sportsball”. I promise to mock sportsball more often. America desperately needs a major priority readjustment in many areas.

Jebus, but this is going to be an ugly political season

I agree that many “Bernie Bros” are obnoxious. I am also disappointed that Sanders has not spoken out enough against the bad behavior of some of his fans (but I’d still rather see a real progressive push back against the conservative Democrats). However, if we’re going to complain about noxious fans on one side, we also have to call out worse behavior from the anti-Bernie fanatics. Like this appalling meme.

DO NOT DO THIS!

DO NOT DO THIS!

That is a recipe for a chlorine bomb, not glowsticks. It would likely kill or do lasting harm to anyone making it, and also harm anyone around them.

Here’s another recipe. Take standard partisan political fervor. Add a few amoral morons who like the trolling behavior they learned on 4chan. Mix together and watch enlightenment grow.

Oh, I didn’t mean to write “enlightenment”. I meant “stupidity”.

Kristof was worse than even I thought

I thought his claim that college faculty need to stop discriminating against conservatives was bogus. As it turns out, somebody actually looked up the sociological research he cited, and found that he misrepresented it. They even contacted the authors of the work to get their opinion, and they thought he got their work all wrong.

Nicholas Kristof fundamentally misread and misrepresented the research that he cited, a study by sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons. Because Kristof provided references and links to the paper he cited,, we can read for ourselves what conclusions the study’s authors drew from their survey of American university professors from a range of types of institutions, 2-year colleges, liberal arts colleges, religious institutions, and elite doctoral-granting universities alike.

Kristof linked to an older, unpublished version of the paper, one peer-reviewed study from the paper is readily available to anyone with a JStor account (like NY Public Library users, including presumably Kristof) and large sections of the book that Neil Gross published with Harvard University Press out of this data, Why are Professors Liberal and Why do Conservatives Care, are available online. The study authors could have been contacted for a quote. Kristof consulted none of these sources, relying instead on his shoddy reading of a complex, rich and important study. He missed their main point.

I said that college faculty tend to be more conservative than is assumed, and that the only way you can claim they’re all radical is if you’ve fallaciously inverted the meaning of the words “radical” and “conservative”. Good to see I was right.

The study authors are more sanguine, noting that the image of uniform liberalism among university professors beliefs is wrong, saying that especially in elite doctoral granting institutions, “That there is more heterogeneity of political opinion among the professoriate” than previous studies found. Almost half, 46.6% classify themselves as moderate. There are more conservatives on campus, 19.2% (again about 1-in-5), than the scary Marxist numbers Kristof quotes out of context.

If you think college faculty need to hire more Tea Party wackos and Glenn-Beck-style conspiracy theorists, you’re not asking for diversity — you’re asking for lunacy.

If you think college faculty are liberal, it’s only because American politics has twisted your perspective

Nicholas Kristof is horrified to learn that there aren’t many academic conservatives in some disciplines. Only somewhere between 2% and 11% (depending on the discipline, and the study) of university faculty identify as Republicans.

Yancey, the black sociologist, who now teaches at the University of North Texas, conducted a survey in which up to 30 percent of academics said that they would be less likely to support a job seeker if they knew that the person was a Republican.

The discrimination becomes worse if the applicant is an evangelical Christian. According to Yancey’s study, 59 percent of anthropologists and 53 percent of English professors would be less likely to hire someone they found out was an evangelical.

Well, the thing is, we don’t ask about political or religious affiliation in job interviews, so that’s rather irrelevant. It just doesn’t come up. If a geologist or a biologist, for example, was a fiscal conservative who went to church every Sunday and thought marriage should always be between a man and a woman, I’d still be able to vote for their appointment, as long as they weren’t going to teach that the earth was 6000 years old or that climate change is fake in geology class, or that homosexuality was an abomination unto the Lord in physiology.

But here’s the deal: if I knew someone was a Republican evangelical, I would be less likely to recommend them for hiring. It’s not because of a bias on my part, but a bias on their part. It’s thanks to crank magnetism.

If you are one of those things, you are much more likely to believe in creationism, or conspiracy theories, or so-called ‘scientific racism’, or any of a number of other destructive and thoroughly debunked ideas. If you show up for an interview with sober, sensible attitudes and are able to clearly explain the established ideas in your discipline, no problem. But if you show up and let slip a bunch of babble about your wackadoodle theories, we’re going to prefer another candidate. These loons are self-winnowing, which reduces the frequency of self-professed conservatives in the applicant pool.

What Kristof misses is that faculty tend to be — and he would be shocked to hear it — conservative, in the sense that we’re not interested in bringing in a radical weirdo. We’ve got jobs to do. We’ve got a multi-year curriculum to teach. We really don’t want some wild-eyed nut throwing batty ideas at our students that we’ll have to un-teach in the next semester. (You think I’m some demented atheist fanatic on the blog? My courses are actually very straightforward and conventional.)

Kristof also overlooks something else. Democrat and Republican are not synonyms for liberal goofball and conservative. Quite the opposite: Democrats are the American conservative party, while Republicans have become increasingly fringey and bizarre and extreme over my lifetime. Hillary Clinton is conservative. Donald Trump is a kook. When you use the Democrat and Republican labels as proxies for how staid and mainstream a party is, you’ve got it exactly backwards if you think a shortage of Republican faculty is a measure of how radical a university is.

There’s also the usual stench of a persecution complex in Kristof’s essay.

“I am the equivalent of someone who was gay in Mississippi in 1950,” a conservative professor is quoted as saying in “Passing on the Right,” a new book about right-wing faculty members by Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr.

Jebus. Being gay in Mississippi in 1950 (or 2016) meant you were at risk of abuse and murder. Being a Christian Republican anywhere in the US today means you are part of the dominant culture; you do not ever get to pretend to be a persecuted martyr because you didn’t get a job offer at that liberal arts college. Get in line with all the atheist Democrats who are also struggling to get a job in academia.

When you make that kind of comparison, there’s only one reasonable response: fuck you, privileged douchebag. No wonder people don’t want to hire you.

Nature abhors a Trump

What does the scientific establishment, as represented by the journal Nature, think of Trump? I think you can guess.

Science advocates worry that Trump’s broader anti-immigration stance could pose a threat to US research dominance. Roughly 5% of all students in the United States hail from other countries — including more than 380,000 people studying science, engineering, technology or mathematics. “We’ve always been a nation which has welcomed scientific brainpower from other countries,” says Mary Woolley, president of Research!America, a science-advocacy group in Alexandria, Virginia. “We don’t want that to turn around now.”

Scientific issues have scarcely been mentioned on the campaign trail so far. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front runner, has pledged to boost support for research into Alzheimer’s disease, and has pushed back against Trump’s anti-immigration and anti-Muslim stance. When she was a senator, Clinton backed health and research-related bills, and as first lady to former president Bill Clinton, she advocated for research on women’s health.

Trump is a wealthy real-estate mogul with no political legacy to mine for clues as to his scientific opinions. In the course of the campaign, he has linked autism to childhood vaccines, and dismissed climate change. (It’s called weather, he said.) In October, conservative radio host Michael Savage suggested on air that if elected, Trump should appoint him as head of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Well, you know you’d get common sense if that were the case, that I can tell you, Trump replied, during the light-hearted conversation. Because I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible.

It’s terrible? Trump keeps shrinking his constituency. He’s alienated women, minorities, and now educated people. All he’s got left are ignorant, angry white guys. How is he going to win the election?

Also, the lack of discussion of scientific issues is a problem. Science and engineering are important drivers of technological advancement, so even if all you care about is the economy those should be significant topics of conversation; if nothing else, climate change ought to be a major concern. Where is our Science Debate? We haven’t had a candidate for high office this stupid since Ronald Reagan Dan Quayle George W Sarah Palin — aww, heck, since any Republican. It ought to be great blood sport.