The end is nigh! (not really)

There is a giant space rock hurtling towards Earth! It is predicted to miss, and usually I’d trust the math and physics, but given the Bayesian priors of our experiences the last few years, I would not be surprised if they forgot to carry the 3.

Anyway, the Virtual Telescope Project will be showing it live, in about an hour. You might want to watch it, just in case.

Unfortunately, the stupid asteroid scheduled its closest approach for when I’ll be in class. I guess I’ll have to watch it after the fact, I hope.

MLK saw the problem in 1963

We’re under the rule of a minority, selected for their wealth and willingness to support the wishes of the super-wealthy, and we’re not a democracy any more.

You know this is true. Conservatives have been a drag on progress for as long as I’ve been alive, there are so many policies (decriminalize weed, gay marriage, UBI, abortion rights, etc., etc., etc.) that have wide support in the electorate, yet somehow they always get quashed by our Elected Representatives who aren’t so much elected as bought, and who only represent a narrow slice of the republic. The filibuster is one of those tools of oppression that they use freely.

Unfortunately, other tools are voter suppression and gerrymandering, so the filibuster might be moot after a few more elections.

(via Mike the Mad Biologist)

Feeling rather doomy, but the spider did cheer me up

Sweet dreams.

I didn’t have any such dreams — I could barely sleep last night. Today classes resume, and what I feel is mainly dread, as if this were the day of my execution. We shouldn’t be teaching in-person right now, for one thing. For another, I’m completely revising my approach to the class, because I have to be flexible to changing circumstances, and I have to be prepared to teach students who may have to periodically go into isolation. That means I have to write all new lectures, all semester long. For one more, I have lost all confidence in the university as a place I can trust to support me or my students.

And now I’m tired.

Right now I’m just writing on the walls of my jail cell…and being melodramatic. Everything will be fine, I tell myself, and it probably will be. It’s just going to be hard to get out there and act (teaching is show biz, you know) cheerful and enthusiastic while not feeling that way at all.

The perversion of MLK’s legacy

Today, the Republicans who oppose voting rights for black Americans are all piously praising and quoting Martin Luther King Jr. Follow the thread below to see a long list of hypocrites:

Or you can just read this comic to see it all distilled down.

How are we supposed to quell this feeling of nausea whenever I see, hear, or smell a Republican?

Teachers who won’t heed basic health requirements deserve to be fired

The public school district in Willmar had to put 11 employees on leave when they refused to comply with some simple rules.

The policy gave staff three options:

  1. Provide proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  2. Wear a mask at work beginning Jan. 10 and submit to weekly COVID-19 testing beginning Feb. 9.
  3. Meet with Human Resources about possible medical or religious exemptions.

They had so many outs! I rather resent the last one — praying does not deter a virus — but they couldn’t even meet those minimal requirements.

The shocking bit, though, is that some of them were teachers.

“There were eleven staff members placed on leave on Tuesday. Some of them were teachers, others were hourly employees,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff Holm wrote in an email to Bring Me The News, noting that the employees placed on leave “opted not to comply with any of the options.”

Holm said that the school board approved the policy to begin Jan. 10 and that employees were give “ample notice” of their three options. Holm added that the district was warned about possible “substantial financial penalties for non-compliant employees.”

It’s been reported elsewhere that one employee refused to leave and was escorted out of the building by a supervisor, but Holm confirmed to BMTN that the employee who was “escorted” out had requested that of their supervisor.

The 11 who have been placed on leave represent a tiny fraction of the district’s estimated 800 employees.

Don’t put these people on leave, fire them. The silver lining here is that this rule has exposed a tiny group of intransigent incompetents who don’t deserve to be employed as educators.

Willmar, by the way, is about an hour’s drive from where I live, and while it’s still rural, it’s not filled with yokels — Ridgewater Community College has a campus there.

Katherine Kersten is still alive?

Happy Martin Luther King Day! Or, more accurately, Racism-Is-Over-Because-We-Named-It-After-A-Black-Man Day! Here in the Great White North, our big state newspaper honored the man by publishing a column by Katherine Kersten, claiming that ethnic studies programs at a university are an extremist boot camp.

You probably don’t know who Katherine Kersten is. When I first moved to Minnesota and started reading the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which is generally a good paper, two aching sores regularly leapt out at me. One was James Lileks, the whitest white man in America, who also seemed to be sending most of his columns from his cozy middle-class cottage in 1950 via a time machine (I could think of so many better uses of a time machine…), and the other was notorious racist conservative Katherine Kersten. Everyone knew she was a pretentious conservative of the William Buckley stamp, the Star-Tribune knew about her biases, the Star-Tribune regularly got protest letters about her, but the Star-Tribune regularly published her hateful opinions. I don’t know what was up with that, her presence seemed very Midwestern, like the paper’s dreadful great-aunt that they had to invite to every Thanksgiving, even though we knew she was going to bring her stale, tasteless hot dish that no one would eat because, as she would constantly tell us, she’d added a bit of mail-order cough syrup and chopped almonds because they were full of laetrile to keep the cancer away.

I used to write about her every once in a while. She complained about atheists, because obviously we have no sense of right or wrong. She was always complaining about the university, because we had all these diversity programs (I imagine that right now she’s fuming over Critical Race Theory, but I don’t know, because I stopped reading her). Oh boy, did she complain about the Muslims in Minnesota. Yet, despite constantly presenting herself as the voice of the oppressed white people of the country, she also complained about the universities cultivating a culture of victimhood.

Oh well. I guess it’s good to have a reminder that racism is not over, because the Star-Tribune couldn’t even be bothered to ask their in-house Archie Bunker to shut her bigoted yap for a few days, and because the Star-Tribune doesn’t seem to have a problem with keeping a racist turd like Kersten on their payroll.

Thanks I hate it

There was a time when I could walk into a classroom, plug my laptop into a cable to the video projector, and run my Keynote/Powerpoint presentation with a minimum of fuss. No more.

Since I have classes in two days, I went into my classroom to test out all the technology. The old ways no longer work. Instead, I have to log in to the classroom projector and tell it which input to use. Then I have to log in to zoom twice, once to get on my university account, then again to link up to zoom. Then I have to use an iPad at the front of the room to inform it to let zoom know I’m doing a lecture. I fire up my presentation software, tell zoom which window I’m using, and then I’m off! No, not quite. When I start, I have to click on a button on the iPad to let it know to start recording, at which time it asks for my email address.

Then, finally, I can turn to the students, hoping that the signals are all properly configured and we’ll be able to do some genetics.

Once the hour is up, I click on a “stop recording” button, at which time zoom plays with all the data and sends it to me by email, where I can download the images from my presentation (which I already have, in higher quality), the output from an awkwardly placed camera on the ceiling, and a horrible muddy audio recording that sounds like something broadcast from beneath the sea.

I’m going to contact the IT department this week and see if they can’t show me something simple and elegant that doesn’t require me to show up 15 minutes before class starts to jump through stupid digital hoops in order to do my job. I have little hope that that will happen.

I could just show up to class with my own video projector and a GoPro and be up and running in two minutes, with everything functioning more reliably. I am strongly tempted to do just that.

I’m also prepared to just throw out all the tech and teach naked with a whiteboard and a black dry erase marker. It might be easier.

I guess men need rules and structure to contain their barbarisms

Remember the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, that field station where the boys ran wild and made life miserable for women scientists working there? Nature recently published a bit of a follow-up. It sounds like not much has changed. The Smithsonian is going to form a task force (they haven’t done it yet), and now they’ve finally put locks on all the bedroom doors. I’m not seeing any mention of changes to the culture of hard partying that was rife at the station, nothing but a recognition that people at remote field stations drink a lot.

The dynamics of an island-based research institute where people live, work and socialize together complicates efforts to protect researchers, Tewksbury says. “Strong power imbalances, coupled with close, informal working environments, large age differentials and alcohol all increase the risk of abuses of power and sexual harassment,” he says. “The two main venues where that wicked cocktail is mixed up are field research stations and conferences.”

“It would be a mistake to say [sexual misconduct] is a problem with STRI per se,” Crofoot says. “Assault, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions are a common thing at field stations. There’s a need for institutions to recognize that they can’t continue to ignore these problems.”

You know, these stations are work places. Most such places have rules about getting drunk at work, and age differentials are common. If, at the end of a long day of classes, I brought out a couple of bottles of tequila and started flirting with students, I would be fired so hard, and would lose the respect of my peers, and would probably be hauled away by campus police, not to mention getting kicked in the crotch by some 20 year old student athlete. Why are field stations being given a pass on “Assault, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions”? This dichotomy in how we treat professionals working in different environments is intolerable. I understand the privilege and responsibility of having a position at a university, why should being employed to work in a field station be any different?

But Crofoot is right. These are problems everywhere. It’s just that when people get away from oversight in a place with a “boys will be boys” attitude, some of them run amuck. Why, here in more civilized parts of academia, everyone knows you’re supposed to sneak around when taking advantage of your underlings.

Like the president of the University of Michigan did.

The University of Michigan Board of Regents has unanimously fired school President Mark Schlissel for cause following an investigation into a relationship with a subordinate, the board announced Saturday evening.

In a letter to Schlissel posted on the school website, the board spelled out its concerns and said his conduct was “particularly egregious considering your knowledge of and involvement in addressing incidents of harassment by University of Michigan personnel, and your declared commitment to work to ‘free’ the University community of sexual harassment or other improper conduct.”

He was exposed by a long history of suggestive emails between himself and the woman employee. He also had a history of talking big about stopping sexual harassment, while also promoting a system of reporting that disadvantaged victims trying to get justice.

Also, email? Does anyone really think the campus email system is a secure way to discuss your criminal activities?

I hope she’s on “suicide” watch

Ghislaine Maxwell has decided to unclench and is no longer going to fight to keep the names of 8 “clients” confidential. Her lawyers announced they will stand back and let investigators dig.

While she’s relaxing her grip, there’s at least 8 men who are clenching right now. And a bunch more who are sweating at the thought that maybe she’s going to be talking some more.