The great groaning suffering of the dreaded Job Search

The load is back on my shoulders: we advertised for a tenure track job opening a while back, and this is the week we’re reviewing all the applications — that great mass of applications. That’s what I was doing yesterday, that’s what I’m doing today.

I just want to thank all those applicants who didn’t read the job description. We are a liberal arts university, and the ad emphasized teaching, because that’s what we do, and yet so many applicants wrote fantastic great treatises on their research, talking about all the fabulous high tech gear they use, and their letters of recommendation write glowingly of their amazing commitment to research, nothing but research. We can read them admiringly and appreciate the really cool stuff they’re doing, and place their application respectfully on the honorable pile of file folders that we never need to look at again. It’s a tall stack. Good luck at the R1 universities to which you’ve also sent applications!

There are also applicants that talk enthusiastically about their teaching and how their research can be carried out at an undergraduate university, and we reverently set those aside in a much smaller stack that will be opened repeatedly in the next few days, and that we’ll probably quickly narrow down to a dozen or so and we’ll moan in despair that we can’t hire them all right now, and then we’ll argue bitterly over which ones we’ll invite to a phone interview, and then we’ll agonize more over the few we’ll get to invite to campus, and then we’ll decide which one will be offered the position in a knife fight between their faculty advocates in the Ring Of Death out back, and then our first choice will probably turn us down and we’ll wallow in despond, drooling out rivers of tears that, given that this is Morris, will freeze into crystalline shards that will festoon the building to mock us until spring.

Aren’t job searches fun for both the applicant and the search committee?

I have bad news for everyone

There’s all this talk about how horrible 2016 has been: celebrities dying all over the place, an evil orange dorkwad getting elected to the presidency, etc., etc., etc. But I hate to break it to you, but there’s nothing magical about arbitrary date boundaries — there is no wicked juju over this particular revolution about the sun. It’s just a combination of chance, the large number of boomer celebrities, and a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy — we’re now in the habit of announcing “oh god it’s 2016 again” at every minor bit of bad news.

What that means, unfortunately, is that the bad news will continue to roll out, even after the mystical boondoggle of 1 January 2017. Nothing will change. Different celebrities will die. The sneering orange sphincter will continue to make horrible political decisions. This is simply the new normal. Get used to it. There will be no transition to a less depressing state. There is no hope.

How to lie about a science paper

J. Andrew Armour is a Canadian physiologist who has published quite a few papers on the regulation of the heart — a very complex subject. There are hormonal and external neuronal controls, and a specific tracery of internal neurons and neuron-like fibers that generate patterned muscle contractions. And muscle, of course, is itself called an excitable tissue because it has electrical properties that are essential for its function. There is a lot of cool stuff going on in cardiac research.

So, in 1991, Armour published on Intrinsic Cardiac Neurons in the Journal of Cardiac Electrophysiology. It’s solid work that summarizes these complex interactions, and explains how the heart has its own independent and relatively sophisticated independent electrical properties.

Physiological evidence indicates that afferent neurons, local circuit neurons, as well as efferent sympathetic and efferent parasympathetic neurons, are located in the mammalian intrinsic cardiac nervous system. Complex interneuronal interactions can occur between these neurons, as well as between such neurons and other intrathoracic and central nervous system neurons. A variety of neurochemicals have been proposed to be involved in such interneuronal interactions. Thus the electrophysiologic properties and synaptology of intrinsic cardiac neurons may be more varied than has been appreciated accounting, at least in part, for the variety of neuronal responses that in situ intrinsic cardiac neurons are capable of displaying. The various interactions that occur between intrinsic cardiac neurons and other intrathoracic neurons, as well as between neurons in all intrathoracic ganglia and the central nervous system, will have to be characterized in order to clarify the role of the autonomic nervous system regulating the heart throughout each cardiac cycle.

This is not revolutionary. It had all been pretty well known for decades, although Armour did a fine job of synthesizing all the pieces of the story.

In 2007, he also published a review of the importance of understanding cardiac circuitry, Potential clinical relevance of the ‘little brain’ on the mammalian heart, in Experimental Physiology. Again, this is good, useful, substantive stuff.

It is hypothetized that the heart possesses a nervous system intrinsic to it that represents the final relay station for the co-ordination of regional cardiac indices. This ‘little brain’ on the heart is comprised of spatially distributed sensory (afferent), interconnecting (local circuit) and motor (adrenergic and cholinergic efferent) neurones that communicate with others in intrathoracic extracardiac ganglia, all under the tonic influence of central neuronal command and circulating catecholamines. Neurones residing from the level of the heart to the insular cortex form temporally dependent reflexes that control overlapping, spatially determined cardiac indices. The emergent properties that most of its components display depend primarily on sensory transduction of the cardiovascular milieu. It is further hypothesized that the stochastic nature of such neuronal interactions represents a stabilizing feature that matches cardiac output to normal corporal blood flow demands. Thus, with regard to cardiac disease states, one must consider not only cardiac myocyte dysfunction but also the fact that components within this neuroaxis may interact abnormally to alter myocyte function. This review emphasizes the stochastic behaviour displayed by most peripheral cardiac neurones, which appears to be a consequence of their predominant cardiac chemosensory inputs, as well as their complex functional interconnectivity. Despite our limited understanding of the whole, current data indicate that the emergent properties displayed by most neurones comprising the cardiac neuroaxis will have to be taken into consideration when contemplating the targeting of its individual components if predictable, long-term therapeutic benefits are to accrue.

Here’s a diagram from that paper that might give you a visual depiction of what he’s talking about. It will look familiar to everyone who has taken a college level physiology course.


Now just take a moment and think about this. Here’s a piece of credible, robust science. How would an ignorant wackaloon interpret the story? Just close your eyes and let your imagination run riot for a while. Maybe you’ll come up with a wacky enough story that will make you rich. Or maybe you’ll come up with what you think is a crazy idea, but someone has already beaten you to it and published it.

After you’ve thought about a minute, you can go on and read the story of Gregg Braden. If you’ve got a loonier interpretation than he does, maybe you too can make good money on the New Age circuit!

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Fidel Castro is dead, and I don’t care

He was a repressive tyrant and terrible gerontocrat who fought against the previous repressive tyrant and the malign influence of US capitalism. That he’s dead just means one less dictator in the world, and unfortunately there’s a long line of them waiting to take over everywhere.

I might care more if his absence made a difference for the people of Cuba, but his brother is already holding the reins of power.

I share Jeff Shallit’s opinion. He murdered thousands of dissidents. He gathered up gay people and put them in labor camps. He was dictator for life, and passed power to his brother, who is the new dictator. You can point to a few good things he did for Cubans, I’m not denying that, but in general, he was a tyrannical monster who seized power for himself and never let it go.

Facebook has become a scourge on the world

People are starting to wake up to the fact that as Facebook made changes to monetize social interactions, they have royally screwed up and instead incentivized lies. The NY Times reports on the fake news sites that have been blossoming all over the place. It’s crystal clear what drives them: money.

Jobless and with graduation looming, a computer science student at the premier university in the nation of Georgia decided early this year that money could be made from America’s voracious appetite for passionately partisan political news. He set up a website, posted gushing stories about Hillary Clinton and waited for ad sales to soar.

“I don’t know why, but it did not work,” said the student, Beqa Latsabidze, 22, who was savvy enough to change course when he realized what did drive traffic: laudatory stories about Donald J. Trump that mixed real — and completely fake — news in a stew of anti-Clinton fervor.

More than 6,000 miles away in Vancouver, a Canadian who runs a satirical website, John Egan, had made a similar observation. Mr. Egan’s site, The Burrard Street Journal, offers sendups of the news, not fake news, and he is not trying to fool anyone. But he, too, discovered that writing about Mr. Trump was a “gold mine.” His traffic soared and his work, notably a story that President Obama would move to Canada if Mr. Trump won, was plundered by Mr. Latsabidze and other internet entrepreneurs for their own websites.

“It’s all Trump,” Mr. Egan said by telephone. “People go nuts for it.”

These guys have discovered that peddling bullshit to the gullible is profitable. There are no checks on them at all; in particular, they seem to be completely unhindered by scruples. We have a name for such people: con artists.

NPR also has a story on fake news sites. This phony is painfully disingenuous.

And as the stories spread, Coler makes money from the ads on his websites. He wouldn’t give exact figures, but he says stories about other fake-news proprietors making between $10,000 and $30,000 a month apply to him. Coler fits into a pattern of other faux news sites that make good money, especially by targeting Trump supporters.

However, Coler insists this is not about money. It’s about showing how easily fake news spreads. And fake news spread wide and far before the election. When I pointed out to Coler that the money gave him a lot of incentive to keep doing it regardless of the impact, he admitted that was “correct.”

Oh, he’s so altruistic — he’s just trying to do good and expose the fake news industry, while profiting mightily from it and not doing a goddamn thing to expose it at all. He did nothing to point out the fraudulence of his stories or to reveal the extent of their spread, waiting instead for a conventional news source to call attention to what he’d been doing.

Another thing in that NYT story, another false excuse I’ve lost patience for. It’s “satire”.

“I don’t call it fake news; I call it satire,” he said. He avoids sex and violence because they violate Facebook rules, he said, but he sees nothing wrong otherwise with providing readers with what they want.

NO IT’S NOT. Here’s a basic dictionary definition of satire.

the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Note the key phrase up there: you’re supposed to use it to “expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices”. Cheerleading for the alt-right or Donald Trump doesn’t count; like that Coler asshole, it only counts as satire if you’re using it to rebuke ideas you find disagreeable. They aren’t. They’re using lies to promote views they agree with or find profitable.

And how can lies be profitable? Blame Facebook. Here’s the story of a fellow who got banned from Facebook for criticizing the alt-right.

As I noted the last time this happened, unfortunately this is the risk you take when you sign on to Facebook and other social media sites. You don’t control the platform. Hell, you can’t even talk to the those who run the platform. And the size of it makes any attempt at real-time moderation by the platform managers a complete joke. Neither Facebook nor Twitter has made any real effort to prevent harassment, bullying, or any of the other more unfortunate aspects of social media. And Facebook has made no effort whatsoever to prevent abuse of their system and they’ve made it impossible for the victims to do anything about it. They are in fact complicit and they are very likely to become more so in the future.

My ban from the platform is the result of Facebook’s lousy architecture, which lets bullies and harassers abuse Facebook’s automated system – a system that was supposedly put in place to make Facebook safer – and I have absolutely no recourse for protest or appeal.

Let’s be honest here. Facebook and Twitter have no motivation to clean up their act: that they are paying out ad revenue to neo-Nazi propaganda is a consequence of the fact that that crap is popular. Rejecting bullying or fascism does not make them money, while providing an outlet for them does.

And now I’m torn. I feel like I should shut down my facebook account, but a) I use it for the good stuff it provides as a social medium to keep in touch with my scattered family, and b) if all the liberals leave, it will become an even worse playground for trolls and scum. What are you all going to do?

I’m still not on the Professor Watch List

I was feeling neglected, so then I looked on the list for my fellow Minnesota liberal radicals. I was disappointed again.

There’s only one Minnesota professor on the list, Wayne Bendickson. He must be some kind of screaming fanatic if he’s so much more dangerous than me.

Wayne Bendickson is a Professor in Native American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Bendickson requires all of his students to pick a topic from a list, that includes ‘why Native American mascots should be banned from sports,’ and explain in the assignment why it is important. A counter-argument is not allowed and free thought is rejected.

They cite a source that says he required his students to take controversial stances on Native Americans issues. I don’t see anything “controversial” about having students explain why the Washington Redskins are demeaning and insulting to people — and to ask students to take a position that they disagree with (and shame on them if they do) and consider the reasoning behind it is perfectly fair.

And again, I have to take exception to the misuse of “free thought” again. It does not mean “anything goes, say all the stupid stuff you want”. It means to think outside the box of convention. Demanding that students question the standard public dogma is free thought!

Oh, and here’s the official U of M listing for Bendickson.

Sisoka Duta, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is a Dakota Language Teaching Specialist at the University of Minnesota. His undergraduate work focused on Dakota language, culture and history. Following graduation, he worked with two fluent Dakota/Lakota speakers for four years to improve his language skills. Prior to his current position, he taught Dakota language for three years at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Sisoka Duta is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton nation of South Dakota but was raised in the Twin Cities. He did not grow up speaking Dakota so he recognizes the need to acknowledge the first speakers of the language and to continue improving his own skills, so he can pass these on to his students. He sees himself as student of Dakota language and lifeways not a cultural or spiritual leader. He teaches Beginning Dakota 1121 & 1122 and Intermediate Dakota 3123 & 3124.

Why would a student taking a Dakota language class be at all interested in defending racist sports team? That suggests a great deal of contempt for a class they’re taking.

We may have to expand the War on Christmas

Shocking news:

Parents, though, are being urged to re-consider the ethics of the great Santa Claus lie. In an article published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, two psychologists have raised the spectre of children’s moral compass being permanently thrown off-kilter by what is normally considered a magical part of the Christmas tradition.

The darker reality, the authors suggest, is that lying to children, even about something fun and frivolous, could undermine their trust in their parents and leave them open to “abject disappointment” when they eventually discover that magic is not real.

My first thought: does this also apply to parents who lie to their children about gods and prayers? They make it sound so dire.

Kathy McKay, a clinical psychologist at the University of New England, Australia and co-author, said: “The Santa myth is such an involved lie, such a long-lasting one, between parents and children, that if a relationship is vulnerable, this may be the final straw. If parents can lie so convincingly and over such a long time, what else can they lie about?”

Levelling with your children so close to the big event may put a bit of a dampener on festivities, but parents must sometimes take the long view, according to McKay. “There is potential for children to be harmed in these lies,” she said.

Exactly what atheists have been saying all along. Jesus. Heaven. Hell. Blood redemption. Resurrections. All harmful lies. Stop lying to your kids now!