Academic failures in elementary humanity

Here’s the deal: I am paid to teach, which means I have a professional relationship with my students, and it’s an ongoing relationship that typically extends over four years. My job is to educate them in those domains of biology I specialize in. The administrators here have an expectation that I will show up, be prepared, behave professionally, and engage with students at a level beyond lecturing at them: I advise them on professional opportunities, I write recommendations, I try to help with small crises that might derail their progress.

I do not have sex with them or beat them up. This should be obvious, right? Those kinds of behaviors would be antithetical to my university’s mission and my obligations.

This seems to be a poorly understood concept at the University of Sussex. Dr Lee Salter was a lecturer there. He was convicted of viciously beating his girlfriend (warning: graphic photos of a battered, bloody woman at that link), a woman he met as a student.

This is where it gets into some difficult boundaries. She was a former student, she is an adult, and this was a consensual relationship. That part, you can’t prohibit…but it’s a bit skeevy, and says that you should be keeping an eye on the guy to make sure he is not preying on students.

The part where he batters her bloody was not consensual. That part immediately moves the relationship from slightly creepy (but maybe it was “true love”!) into flagrant criminality. That’s where you’ve revealed that this wasn’t a healthy relationship between two adults, but an abusive relationship with a man who thinks he’s the boss.

Gail Gray, chief executive of RISE, Brighton and Hove’s specialist domestic abuse service, said: “This is not a romantic ‘Educating Rita’ scenario. This is about a man who has abused and exploited his position of power and authority to perpetrate domestic abuse.”

So far, so tawdry. But what is appalling is that the administrators at this university were completely aware of his behavior, and continued to allow him to teach students, despite the clear violation of university policies.

During the 10 month period between his arrest and conviction, Salter continued to teach, the university has admitted, while Ms Smith said she remained so traumatised she was afraid to leave the house.

This is despite regulations laid out on the university’s own website which say “staff and students are subject to disciplinary procedures that, amongst other things, proscribe violent behaviour”.

The policy reads: “The University will take disciplinary action in accordance with its procedures against anyone who behaves in a violent manner including, should it be necessary, the immediate exclusion of the perpetrator from the campus.”

“The University may also seek injunctions to exclude the perpetrators of violence form University premises in order to protect staff and students from further violent incidents.”

These problems will continue to arise as long as the awareness that domestic violence is unacceptable fails to be understood at all levels. Too often, having something written in a policy handbook is a cover-your-ass move to forestall actually doing something about it.

What should have happened is that the university administration should have said, “You’re going on a trial for beating up a former student? You’re not going into a classroom until this is resolved, and are on academic leave.”

His colleagues should have said, “Nope, we’re not working with you until this is cleared up.”

And the students at the university should have been made aware of the charges, so that they wouldn’t sign up for a course and then discover it’s being taught by an accused violent abuser. There’s an element of coercion there — students must take certain courses at certain times to graduate on schedule, so the entire university has to take responsibility for the professoriate, for their safety.

We also discover that this wasn’t unusual for Salter.

Described by Ms Smith as a manipulative and cruel man”, Salter alluded to her of having previous relationships with former students. She said he attended his court sentencing accompanied by another young student from the University of Brighton.

The court heard that Salter’s relationship with that student would be “closely monitored” as part of his sentencing.

Jebus. This is a guy with a thing for young students. He’s a predator. He should not be employed by any educational institution, because he brings disrepute to the entire profession.

Yet the University of Sussex kept him on the job until only recently? I didn’t know that lecturers in media and film were such a rare commodity that they had to be retained at all cost (I know science professors aren’t; if I were tossed out for good cause there’d be a long line of applicants ready to step right into my shoes.)

Zika and political obstructionism

Maki Naro has a very good overview of the Zika virus in comic form.

naro-zika-2c

naro-zika-3a

The effects of the virus are actually easy to understand: mild, flu-like symptoms in adults, but a significant chance of debilitating brain damage to developing fetuses. You don’t want to get Zika because it’s unpleasant and nasty, but your fetus must be protected from it because it’s devastating.

Unfortunately, the USA has a dysfunctional congress that can’t respond to serious problems anymore. An effort to dedicate money (to the tune of almost two billion dollars) to preventing the spread of the disease was killed because Republicans loaded it with irrelevant, poisonous addenda — baggage to snipe at Planned Parenthood (an organization that is vital to putting together a response) or to allow Confederate flags to fly, for instance.

But especially unfortunately, diseases that cause birth defects are a vector for the pro-life-at-any-cost fanatics to gallop in and wreck any process with their delusional antics. We are supposed to love that tiny slug of human fetal tissue so much that we’ll defy any attempt to combat a virus that will poison its nervous system, and don’t you dare think about abortions. A fetal slug with a deformed, shriveled brain is still to be regarded as a full human person!

If you think I’m making this up, listen to Marco Rubio.

Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties. So I get it.

I’m not pretending to you that that’s an easy question you asked me. But I’m pro-life. And I’m strongly pro-life. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life.

No, he doesn’t get it. He’s lying.

He also doesn’t believe in protecting life, because he’s also in favor of the death penalty, and in fact thinks the big problem with capital punishment is that we don’t shuffle the condemned into the death machine fast enough.

zikacuts

Meanwhile, Donald Trump thinks we have Zika under control, and is praising Florida governor Rick Scott for how he’s handling it. His little PR helpers are arguing for inaction because birth defects are nothing new.

The United States has been paralyzed by the Republican virus. They know nothing, they do nothing, and they actively interfere with necessary responses to problems. We need to do something about that. Never vote for any Republican, ever.

You could try taking Slate’s challenge, but my challenge is just as impossible

Slate is challenging people to diagram this sentence from Donald Trump:

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

I’m not really interested in dissecting the parts of speech and their relationships to one another as I am in answering a different question about the content: WTF is he talking about? This is going beyond word salad to a garbage salad that has been consumed and excreted and is now swirling around at the sewage treatment plant.

Stop teabagging science, Scott Adams

teabag

Scott Adams, the cartoonist and professional self-promoter, is undermining his brand and marketing himself poorly, again. He is complaining about the DNC in ways that demonstrate that he’s an insecure man and profoundly ignorant.

It’s all about the men, don’t you know.

But if you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men. Men get to watch it all at home, in homes designed and built mostly by men, thanks to the technology that was designed and built mostly by men. I mention that as context, not opinion.

Don’t thank technology, guy. Thank sociology for the fact that men build and design things, while women and minorities are relegated to serving the dominant white men, and thereby have their roles diminished. Being the beneficiary of a long history of discrimination does not make you a better person. If you actually worked with women, rather than sitting alone drawing cartoons designed to prove your point, you’d know that they are just as capable as men.

But it takes a special kind of wanker to see other people getting their due and think that acknowledging other people’s achievements somehow diminishes your own. Scott Adams must be fun at children’s birthday parties; he probably goes around reminding the kids that he has birthday parties, too, and he’s had more of them and they’re better than this stupid party.

I’m especially peeved at Adams’ continuing abuse of science, though. This is not science.

I watched singer Alicia Keys perform her song Superwoman at the convention and experienced a sinking feeling. I’m fairly certain my testosterone levels dropped as I watched, and that’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. Science says men’s testosterone levels rise when they experience victory, and drop when they experience the opposite. I watched Keys tell the world that women are the answer to our problems. True or not, men were probably not feeling successful and victorious during her act.

Apparently, we men are terribly hormonal, and dependent on our testicles to appreciate happiness. Unfortunately, Adams has taken a tiny grain of scientific evidence and mangled it into something unrecognizable.

First, we have to appreciate the fact that testosterone levels fluctuate a lot. There is circadian and seasonal variation, and also individual variation in testosterone levels.

Male   Female  
Age: T Level (ng/dL): Age: T Level (ng/dL):
0-5 months 75-400 0-5 months 20-80
6 mos.-9 yrs. <7-20 6 mos.-9 yrs. <7-20
10-11 yrs. <7-130 10-11 yrs. <7-44
12-13 yrs. <7-800 12-16 yrs. <7-75
14 yrs. <7-1,200 17-18 yrs. 20-75
15-16 yrs. 100-1,200 19+ yrs. 8-60
17-18 yrs. 300-1,200    
19+ yrs. 240-950    
Avg. Adult Male 270-1,070 Avg. Adult Female 15-70
30+ yrs. -1% per year    

I almost certainly have much lower levels of testosterone now than I did when I was 20, but I don’t know, because I’ve never had them measured. Scott Adams did not have his testosterone levels measured, either, but he felt free to claim a nonexistent measurement validated his perception of how science works. Also, despite likely declines in my testosterone over the years, I’m happier and more secure and confident now than I was in my 20s; it’s almost as if environmental circumstances have a greater effect on the cognitive perception of my life.

But also, Adams left out a significant point in those scientific studies, as explained in this paper: Effects of victory and defeat on testosterone and cortisol response to competition: evidence for same response patterns in men and women.

In this study, we report evidence from sport competition that is consistent with the biosocial model of status and dominance. Results show that testosterone levels rise and drop following victory and defeat in badminton players of both sexes, although at lower circulating levels in women. After losing the match, peak cortisol levels are observed in both sexes and correlational analyses indicate that defeat leads to rises in cortisol as well as to drops in testosterone, the percent change in hormone levels being almost identical in both sexes. In conclusion, results show the same pattern of hormonal responses to victory and defeat in men and women.

So, if he were correct (he’s not), then all across America men were experiencing a decline in testosterone, while women’s testosterone levels were rising. Since women outnumber men, that translates into a net gain in American T levels!

Please also note that these hormonal effects are not about “happiness”, but about dominance. I know that to the normal clueless guy dominance is equated with happiness, but it’s simply not true — mammalian hierarchical behavior also increases stress, so it’s not as simple as testosterone being the happy chemical. Testosterone also drives feelings we don’t regard as “happy”.

Throughout vertebrate phylogeny, testosterone has motivated animals to obtain and maintain social dominance-a fact suggesting that unconscious primordial brain mechanisms are involved in social dominance. In humans, however, the prevailing view is that the neocortex is in control of primordial drives, and testosterone is thought to promote social dominance via conscious feelings of superiority, indefatigability, strength, and anger. Here we show that testosterone administration in humans prolongs dominant staring into the eyes of threatening faces that are viewed outside of awareness, without affecting consciously experienced feelings. These findings reveal that testosterone motivates social dominance in humans in much the same ways that it does in other vertebrates: involuntarily, automatically, and unconsciously.

So maybe watching Alicia Keys also made American men less angry and less arrogant…if the song had the purported effect on testosterone levels, which, I emphasize again, was not measured. Personally, I did not feel threatened or diminished by a woman singing a song, so I don’t have any reason to think my testosterone levels were affected at all…but then, I should not deny Scott Adams his perception of the experience. Maybe he felt totally crushed and defeated by a woman musician and his balls actually shriveled.

The song might have had other positive effects.

Elevated levels of testosterone have repeatedly been associated with antisocial behavior, but the psychobiological mechanisms underlying this effect are unknown. However, testosterone is evidently capable of altering the processing of facial threat, and facial signals of fear and anger serve sociality through their higher-level empathy-provoking and socially corrective properties. We investigated the hypothesis that testosterone predisposes people to antisocial behavior by reducing conscious recognition of facial threat. In a within-subjects design, testosterone (0.5 mg) or placebo was administered to 16 female volunteers. Afterward, a task with morphed stimuli indexed their sensitivity for consciously recognizing the facial expressions of threat (disgust, fear, and anger) and nonthreat (surprise, sadness, and happiness). Testosterone induced a significant reduction in the conscious recognition of facial threat overall. Separate analyses for the three categories of threat faces indicated that this effect was reliable for angry facial expressions exclusively. This testosterone-induced impairment in the conscious detection of the socially corrective facial signal of anger may predispose individuals to antisocial behavior.

So maybe the hypothetical reduction in men’s testosterone levels made them less angry, more sensitive to the social cues of their loved ones, and less antisocial? These sound like good results that are not at all in conflict with happiness!

If the Scott Adams Castration Effect* were real, that would argue that maybe we ought to be broadcasting Alicia Keys everywhere. Maybe more Beyoncé is the path to World Peace.


*The Scott Adams Castration Effect is what I’m calling the fearful sensation of diminishment that some men experience when faced with strong women. The poor man. He’s got it bad.

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I am descended from Iowans

I’m not afraid to hide from the truth. I am descended from a Myers clan that lived in Iowa during the 19th century. My great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War even, was in the Vicksburg campaign, and ended up in New Orleans, where he was a casualty — of malaria, I suspect — and was discharged to return back to Iowa, where shortly after the war he lost the farm, and the family drifted west to wash up on the shores of the Pacific ocean, eventually.

So I happen to know that Iowa was a Northern state, whose citizens fought on the side of the Union.

So why does Steve King have a traitor’s flag on his desk?

Steve-King-Confederate-Flag-3

I’m afraid that the answer must be that the Iowa gene pool was so greatly diminished by the departure of my family that only fools were left behind to elect even bigger fools to represent them…fools with no understanding or respect for their state’s history.

Yeah, that’s got to be the answer.

Gibbering madness

Please, for the love of gods, someone confiscate Sarah Palin’s thesaurus. I just read her rambling mess of a post about black people and hyphens and it made me want to hork up my liver. If I had any students who wrote like this I’d have to buy red ink by the bucket. This woman simply cannot write or speak without jingo and cliches.

#‎BlackLivesMatter is a Farce and Hyphenating America Destroys Us

Our prayers are with the fallen on that Thin Blue Line in Dallas. America lost heroes last night as men in uniform did their unfathomably courageous job running into danger to protect others from it. Honorable first responders deserve our utmost respect and support.

Shame on our culture’s influencers who would stir contention and division that could lead to evil such as that in Dallas. Shame on politicians and pundits giving credence to thugs rioting against police officers and the rule of law in the name of “peaceful protests.” It is a farce. #BlackLivesMatter is a farce.

Media: quit claiming the rioters are “peaceful” as they stomp on our flag, shout “death to cops!” and celebrate violence. It is sick. You perpetuate a perverted message evil men thrive on to intimidate and warp malleable minds that would believe one race matters more than another. Blood is on your complicit hands when you naively or purposefully refuse to tell of this movement’s truth.

Black Lives Matter? Yes – more than BLM “protestors” can grasp, as evidenced by their self-destructive provocateurism. Doesn’t it go without saying that Native lives matter, too? And Asian; and Eskimo; and Hispanic; and Indian… and every other race comprised of people who see clearly the agenda at play to weaken America through disunity.

Get fed up and stand up if you’re sick of being called racist when proclaiming EVERY LIFE MATTERS, black as much as white and every skin tone in between. Every innocent life – at every stage of life – on the side of good over evil, matters. Why let the damaging false narrative prevail if you know it is a lie?! Speak up! Join me in refusing to go willingly with society trying to crown deceptive political correctness the victor.

Self-descriptions that put any race in front of being an American are now used to further divide our nation. It’s time to acknowledge you’re either an American under our system of equality, law and order – and traditional patriotic spirit – or you’re not. Knock off the hyphenation of who we are. And knock off the shoulder chip if you’ve let “leaders” burden you with it through their example that sadly capitalizes on division for untoward purposes. That chip is crushing the people’s hope. My youngest daughter recently confirmed the sensibility in this when she stated, “It would be sad to call myself an “Eskimo-American” instead of just a proud American like everyone else.”

Seeing partial footage of this week’s victims’ tragic deaths at the hands of police officers is mind-boggling. It’s nauseating. Granted, early reports rarely encapsulate all the facts of individual cases, but my heart is with victims’ families as I sympathize with anyone defenseless in these situations. More so, I empathize if we find out any cop involved was in the wrong, for I abhor bad cops. I abhor police union leadership that regularly protects bad cops and discredits citizens voicing concern over bad actors in authority. I’ve been there. Many of you know my own experience with well-publicized, constant, frightening encounters and threats to my family to “bring us down” via a badge and gun. We suffered an exhausting era knowing we were defenseless against a bad cop, his union, and a gleefully politicized media never reporting the truth. Threats that included the promise we’d be pulled over for whatever reason, destroyed, and “any judge will believe the badge over the citizen.” The decade-long situation nearly devastated us. Political opponents still get off on all the situation cost us. So believe me, my personal experience won’t let me throw a blanket of blind approval over all law enforcement and those in authority. Still, last night’s disgusting acts that snuffed out officers’ lives is exponentially worse than any one bad cop, his union bosses, and the media’s verbose attempts to intimidate and falsely accuse.

So if we’re to take sides, I side with the Thin Blue Line. To side with our public servants trying to keep law and order amidst political agendas that clearly oppose that virtue is how the good guys win again. It’s the only way to ensure our best days will be ahead of us. Join me. Do not let today’s agenda redefine what it means to be an American. Do not sit still for it to fundamentally transform America.

God created us equally, and not with a spirit of fear. We’re given the spirit of POWER, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) Use it.

My translation:

Love the police without question.

Black people are evil.

Hyphens crush hope. Her daughter thinks it would be sad to admit to being a Yupik-American.

Cops are wonderful except the ones who break up the wild parties at the Palin house. But black people are worse than even unions.

Bible quote.

4.6 million people like Palin’s words, including 35 of my facebook friends, which includes one relative. Please go away, you horrible creatures.

As for the rest of you…please fundamentally transform America. It needs it.

I get email

A guy named David Shakespeare has a complaint.

I wonder sometimes! I wonder why this website has ads that fill up the lower window of your webpage

To pay for the server, and give a few bucks to the writers, obviously. You might also notice that there’s a link up on the top left of the page that says GET FTB AD-FREE. You don’t get to complain about the ads when we have an option to support the network while ditching all the ads.

Also, I don’t particularly like the ads either.

that show huge breasts, busty celebs, and loaded sexual innuendo

Oh, really? I get ads that say Easiest Way to “Remove” Wrinkles, 1 Fruit That “Destroys” Diabetes, New 20/20 Vision Breakthrough Leaves Optometrists Speechless, and Watch: Alzheimer’s Reversal “Cocktail” Changing Lives. I think the ad company has noticed that I’m ancient and wizened. What is it inferring about you?

But here’s a hot tip: at the bottom right of that block of ads, there’s a little note that says “Paid content” with a question mark. If you click on that, you’ll get an option to show only “family-friendly” ads! Don’t say I never did nothin’ for you. You have the power to make those huge breasts transform into ads for wrinkle cream.

Actually, I blame you for the ads. Because David Shakespeare is not pulling his weight to support a site he clearly reads, we’ve got to run ads to keep the lights on. (It’s OK if you can’t afford or would rather not pay for a subscription…but then, you don’t get to complain that we have ads.)

—all this—all the while demonizing Richard Carrier

What “demonizing”? I rather regret that we couldn’t get to the bottom of those accusations — but he quit when all we’d done is start an inquiry.

for lude behavior via accusation!

We were not inquiring into lude behavior. There were accusations of harassment. That’s serious, and we weren’t going to just pretend that nothing happened.

What’s the world coming too?! My goodness,

OK, Ward Cleaver, the disingenuousness is already getting old. Grow up.

and the double standard,

What double standard? No one here is opposed to sexual behavior. We’re concerned about sexual behavior without consent.

along with the ‘so-called’ contempt of Carrier over the accusers…

You’re not making any sense now. I also don’t have contempt for Carrier, but quite like him personally, and respect his work…but if we’re getting concerns about problematic behavior, we’re not going to sweep it under the rug.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty? Double standards on both ends of this argument.

First, this was not a legal proceeding; nobody had dragged him into court. Secondly, we hadn’t assumed guilt at all — we were in the process of investigating some troubling accusations. If this were a court case (and it wasn’t), you’re arguing that you can’t even try someone with due process because that’s a violation of the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Golly gee willikers, David Shakespeare! You’re a foolish little troll. Now fuck off.

I get a lot of snide, ignorant notes like this, all making the same complaints. I’m beginning to suspect there’s a troll factory somewhere that stamps stupid ideas into the heads of dull, unimaginative people.

Taylor Swift’s vulva and the worst Christian ever?

Holy crap. You think you’ve plumbed the depths of the Internet, and then you find a Christian making sandwich sculptures of her daughters’ crotches and sneering at Taylor Swift’s labia.

Taylor Swift hasn’t had any nude photos published, has she, so how does she know? And what’s wrong with the sandwich on the left? This is weird, ignorant body shaming and using anatomy as a proxy for piety.

She sucked me in. I had to look at this woman’s web site: An Elegant Life by Jennifer: Spreading Positivity through Jesus Christ. You may be thinking that her sandwich art is neither elegant nor positive, and this is pretty repellent stuff. But that’s because you haven’t read the other stuff she writes.

It’s worse.

[Read more…]

I don’t give a damn about your gun specs

Here’s a sure-fire way to annoy me: write and explain to me how I got the details of some stupid gun wrong. Har, har, it’s semi-automatic, not fully automatic. Don’t you know nothin’? It’s 7.62mm, not 7.63mm. The muzzle velocity is…

Just stop right there, go find a nice quiet place, and masturbate happily to your copy of Guns & Ammo. I’m not interested.

Henceforth, the official name of all guns and rifles and whatever fine distinction in the title you want to give them is irrelevant: they are all called Shooty McShootface. You can announce that their purpose is to shoot clay targets, or Bambi, or to look fine on your mantlepiece — I don’t care about that. Their purpose is to kill people. Got that? They are devices to hurl small pieces of metal at lethal velocities that are intentionally aimed at human beings to do them harm.

Your obsession with them is sick.


At least Samantha Bee knows how I feel.

Except…a plague of boils? That’s letting the NRA off easy.