Walmart is smarter and more responsible than my university

It’s true. Walmart and Disney are requiring vaccinations.

“The pandemic is not over, and the delta variant has led to an increase in infection rates across much of the U.S.,” Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in a memo Friday. “We have made the decision to require all campus office associates and all market, regional and divisional associates who work in multiple facilities to be vaccinated by Oct. 4, unless they have an approved exception.”

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota is half-assing it.

The university is not requiring vaccinations. The reason? “The state of Minnesota’s law concerning requiring vaccination has a broad exemption clause that includes people willing to provide a notarized statement that they have conscientiously held beliefs against vaccination.” Right. All you have to do is say you don’t believe in vaccinations in front of a notary, and you’re exempt. It’s not as if we could say that’s fine, no jab, no classes…oh, wait, we could.

They also say, “As the situation evolves, a mandate may be considered.” OK then, the situation has evolved, consider it. Consider it right fucking now.

They’ve also dropped the face-mask requirement. “If you are fully vaccinated, no masks are required in any University building, venue, or outdoors.” But if you’re not vaccinated, “the University expects you to wear a mask indoors”. Can we ask if students are vaccinated? No, of course not.

No one (other than myself and a few others) are wearing masks on campus. Classes start in less than a month — perhaps more importantly, student parties and the bar scene start up in less than a month, with a significant fraction of the student body unvaccinated and flaunting the perceived immortality of youth. Yet if you poll the students, they’ve got concerns.

I’ve got concerns. I’ve been told I must teach an in-person class in the fall; I’ve asked the university administration if I can at least require masks in my classes, and have only heard silence.

I’ve written to both the president of the University of Minnesota warning them that they’re failing to meet their responsibilities, and to the chancellor of my campus to let them know that they’re compromising the safety of students and staff. There has been no response.

I’m just saying, if you send your child to the university, and they come down with a serious, debilitating illness (or worse), and you’ve got a lawyer looking for witnesses who told the university administrators in advance that their policies were inadequate and dangerous, well, you’ve got my name. But let’s all hope it doesn’t come to that.

Please stop dithering, CDC and everyone

It’s driving me nuts. We are in a serious pandemic, and authorities everywhere are acting as if the best strategy is to pretend we’re already back to normal, full speed ahead, don’t deviate from the pretense that everything is just dandy. Yet…

The delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox, according to an internal federal health document that argues officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.”

Public schools are opening in a few weeks, as is my university. No one is acknowledging that the war has changed. Instead, we’re all planning to march right into the maw of the pandemic.

My prediction: they’re all going to be frantically backpedaling by October. I fully expect my school to shut down in-person classes by the middle of the semester.

I could be wrong, and I would be very happy if I were — we could have a gentle, delightful Fall with brightly colored leaves and soft snows and a world that embraces love and peace, and all the homeless would be given homes, and all the sick cared for, the QAnoners could all wake and look at each other and say “What are we doing?” and go home to their families, and peace could reign across all the lands. Sure. It could happen. But only if we struggle to make it all happen. And that’s what I’m not seeing, a will to change and do what needs to be done.

The CDC isn’t helping, either. They keep dithering. Recommendations change at the first breeze of new data, and change back a few weeks later. There is a difference between being responsive to new information, and being too quick to accept new suggestions in the face of uncertainty; it’s also important to build the public trust with consistent messages.

The document strikes an urgent note, revealing the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.

It cites a combination of recently obtained, still-unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people infected with delta have measurable viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant.

Right. So the appropriate message from the very beginning should have been conservative, assuming the worst and establishing a consistent policy. I want to hear the words, “It wasn’t as bad as we feared, now that we’ve got solid evidence from three months of hard science we can think about easing some restrictions,” rather than “Oh, I guess we shouldn’t have told everyone to have orgies, you’ve all got three months to live.”

Be decisive for a change. I wrote to my university president urging her to take a stronger stand, but I’ll make another bold prediction: she’ll dither. It’s all the rage.

Important qualifier to the CDC’s “ebola” comment:

You know, it’s becoming really obvious that the CDC is very bad at science communication, at a time when we need the science communicated effectively.

Waking up to haze and smoke again

The first odd thought to cross my mind was that I hope my fellow cissies haven’t been up to shenanigans again. With big chunks of the western US and Canada, which are populated with idiots (just like the rest of the world), you never know when someone may have decided to celebrate the identification of bits of differentiating tissue in an embryo by setting off explosives in tinder-dry terrain. You know, like the El Dorado Fire last year.

The fire started from a gender reveal party, authorities said last September. The couple used a smoke bomb, Anderson said.

A firefighter died in that conflagration, but you know, it was important that a sacrifice be made to the genitals of the fetus. I don’t quite get it; when we were having kids in the 1980s, we generally didn’t care whether we had a boy or a girl, and if we were asked, we just used our tongue and teeth and lips and vocal cords to make complex sounds associated with statements about bodies. I don’t think we ever set anything on fire over it. Especially since the consequences of igniting the landscape are so dire.

Refugio and Angela Jimenez are charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, four counts of recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures, and 22 misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing fire to property of another, Anderson said. They pleaded not guilty to charges, he said. The prosecution requested a $50,000 bail, but the couple was released on their own recognizance.

“Not guilty”? I’d be really interested to hear the reasoning behind that one. The people who lost their homes and the family of the firefighter who died might also be curious.

The conflagration, which authorities call the El Dorado Fire, started in the park of the same name on September 5, 2020, near Yucaipa, California, according to officials. It burned 22,680 acres, and killed Charlie Edward Morton, who worked with the San Bernardino National Forest for 14 years. Five homes and 15 structures were destroyed; four residences were damaged. The wildfire also resulted in 13 injuries. Two firefighters were hurt, Anderson said.

Behold, our philosophical overlord wanna-bes

I don’t even know who most of these smug pasty-faced motherfuckers are.

Except for Nick Bostrom, the second from the left. He’s a philosophical dingleberry who is far more widely known than he deserves, simply because he has wacky ideas that appeal to filthy rich libertarians, Dark Enlightenment cockroaches, and transhumanists who dream of the day they can have their heads permanently grafted up their colons. Phil Torres seems to be making a useful career of dissecting “rationalists”, though, and has written up a good exposé.

For a long time, I’ve noticed that anything associated with Bostrom is pure poison — he is a wicked con artist who is great at coming up with bad ideas that serve the self-interest of wealthy, privileged elites. It’s a great racket. It used to be you had to invent a religion, but Bostrom…wait, no, his schemes actually are a novel technocratic religion.

This has roots in the work of philosopher Nick Bostrom, who coined the term “existential risk” in 2002 and, three years later, founded the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) based at the University of Oxford, which has received large sums of money from both Tallinn and Musk. Over the past decade, “longtermism” has become one of the main ideas promoted by the “Effective Altruism” (EA) movement, which generated controversy in the past for encouraging young people to work for Wall Street and petrochemical companies in order to donate part of their income to charity, an idea called “earn to give.” According to the longtermist Benjamin Todd, formerly at Oxford University, “longtermism might well turn out to be one of the most important discoveries of effective altruism so far.”

Longtermism should not be confused with “long-term thinking.” It goes way beyond the observation that our society is dangerously myopic, and that we should care about future generations no less than present ones. At the heart of this worldview, as delineated by Bostrom, is the idea that what matters most is for “Earth-originating intelligent life” to fulfill its potential in the cosmos. What exactly is “our potential”? As I have noted elsewhere, it involves subjugating nature, maximizing economic productivity, replacing humanity with a superior “posthuman” species, colonizing the universe, and ultimately creating an unfathomably huge population of conscious beings living what Bostrom describes as “rich and happy lives” inside high-resolution computer simulations.

It’s all about future potential. If killing a beggar in the street means that maybe, hypothetically two scions of an Oxford don might be able to each buy a second yacht in the future, then murder away! The net benefit to the economy, and therefore all of human happiness (which is, of course, entirely a product of a healthy economy) is greater for the loss of a parasite and the enhancement of the capitalist class. Never mind that the benefits are entirely imaginary and work to the advantage of nonexistent people, or that we could also imagine that beggar has the potential to cure all diseases given the opportunity, no, just fantasize a benefit for someone you like, and all harm is justified.

This is the kind of thinking that spawned Roko’s Basilisk, you know.

Anyway, billionaires love these guys. That ought to be enough to tell you that they are literally evil.

I blame Canada

In addition to being hot and humid (but less so than it was yesterday), the whole of Morris is hazy and smells of burning wood. Canada is on fire! Also, Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, and Idaho. Minnesota, at least, is not on fire, we’re just downwind from the conflagration. I woke up this morning wondering if the house was on fire, but no, stepping outside was enough to show me that this is a shared misery.

So how are all you Westerners holding up? I half-expect to see screaming citizens wreathed in flames to come staggering across the Dakota border.

I remember Anita Bryant!

She was an attractive pop-singer in the 1970s who became the face of intolerant homophobia. I don’t remember any of her songs, but I sure remember how much she was a running joke among the kinds of liberal hippies I hung out with.

(Oh, right, the “your watch is on backwards” thing. You see, back in the Old Days, we wore timepieces called “watches” on our wrist, and most normal people wore them with the face on the dorsal side, so you’d hold your arm straight out to see the time; some people wore them with the face on the ventral side, so you’d bend your wrist back when you wanted to know what time it is. This is a difficult difference to grasp for people who may not know what a watch is.)

But really, I did not know anyone who didn’t think Anita Bryant was a creepy fanatic. She had her fans, obviously, but she was equivalent of a TERF nowadays — yeah, she has her following, she was promoting awful laws, but we were sure she was on the wrong side of history. It’s nice to see that confirmed.

She’s an old lady of 81 now, still just as rigid in her thinking (definitely not a cool grandma), and still a committed homophobe. It’s satisfying to know that she lived long enough to see her granddaughter, Sarah Green, come out to her face.

Toward the end, Green talks about her relationship with Bryant, who was a doting grandmother; Green says she once thought Bryant didn’t really hate LGBTQ+ people, but she started to look at her grandmother differently when Green realized as a teen that she herself was gay.

She had no intention of coming out to Bryant, but she was spurred to do so on her 21st birthday. Bryant sang “Happy Birthday” to her granddaughter on the phone and told her that if she had faith, the right man would come along. “And I just snapped and was like, ‘I hope that he doesn’t come along, because I’m gay, and I don’t want a man to come along,’” Green recalls.

Bryant responded by telling Green that homosexuality is a delusion invented by the devil and that her granddaughter should focus on loving God, because that would make her realize she’s straight.

“It’s very hard to argue with someone who thinks that an integral part of your identity is just an evil delusion,” Green says.

And now Sarah Green has had the joy of announcing her engagement to another young woman!

Bryant knows Sarah is engaged to a woman, said Robert Green Jr., Sarah Green’s father and Bryant’s son, says on the podcast. When he told his mother, he notes, “All at once, her eyes widened, her smile opened, and out came the oddest sound: ‘Oh.’ Instead of taking Sarah as she is, my mom has chosen to pray that Sarah will eventually conform to my mom’s idea of what God wants Sarah to be.”

Sarah Green says she doesn’t hate Bryant but feels sorry for her. “I just kind of feel bad for her,” she says. “And I think as much as she hopes that I will figure things out and come back to God, I kind of hope that she’ll figure things out.”

That’s even better than a pie in the face.

(Also cool: “four young homosexuals from Minneapolis” were responsible.)

The kind of strength we need

Simone Biles dropped out of the Olympics. The terrible, awful, loud scumbags of the right, like Piers Morgan, spluttered in outrage.

…Piers Morgan—the former British TV host who has repeatedly mocked Meghan Markle for saying she contemplated suicide and was a victim of racism—jumped at the chance to criticize Biles.

“Are ‘mental health issues’ now the go-to excuse for any poor performance in elite sport? What a joke,” he tweeted. “Just admit you did badly, made mistakes, and will strive to do better next time. Kids need strong role models not this nonsense.”

Or we could go to Charlie Kirk:

You’re representing your nation, you selfish sociopath, the 27-year-old community college dropout huffed. You know who has the gold medal? Russia! I have to look at the 4’11” Olympians chewing on their gold medals smirking at the Americans. I’m not okay with that!

Oh, we can’t let the Russians win! The Russians wouldn’t let such nonsense hamper their competitive drive. Remember Elena Mukhina?

Elena Vyacheslavovna Mukhina (Russian: Елена Вячеславовна Мухина; first name sometimes rendered “Yelena”, last name sometimes rendered “Muchina”; June 1, 1960 – December 22, 2006) was a Soviet gymnast who won the all-around title at the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, France. Her career was on the rise, and she was widely touted as the next great gymnastics star until 1979, when a broken leg left her out of several competitions, and the recovery from that injury, combined with pressure to master a dangerous and difficult tumbling move (the Thomas salto) caused her to break her neck two weeks before the opening of the 1980 Summer Olympics, leaving her permanently quadriplegic.

Americans aren’t any better. We thought Béla Károlyi was a hero for forcing Kerri Strug to compete while injured.

In the time interval between Strug’s two vaults, she asked, “Do we need this?” Károlyi [her coach] replied, “Kerri, we need you to go one more time. We need you one more time for the gold. You can do it, you better do it.” Strug thus limped slightly to the end of the runway to make her second attempt. She landed the vault briefly on both feet, almost instantly hopping onto only her good foot, saluting the judges. She then collapsed onto her knees and needed assistance off the landing platform, to which sportscaster John Tesh commented, “Kerri Strug is hurt! She is hurt badly.” The completed vault received a score of 9.712, mathematically guaranteeing the Americans the gold medal, though while it was not known at the time with Roza Galieva of Russia having not yet completed her floor routine, the Americans would still have won the gold by a margin of 0.309 points had Strug not performed a second vault. Károlyi carried her onto the medals podium to join her team, after which she was treated at a hospital for a third-degree lateral sprain and tendon damage. Due to her injury, she was unable to compete in the individual all-around competition and event finals, despite having qualified for both; so Moceanu was chosen to take her place in the all-around, Dawes took her place in the floor final, and Miller took her place in the vault final.

The Olympics has a history of valorizing suffering in the name of national honor, and of granting bullying, authoritarian coaches power over young women, as if that is a good and normal thing to do. Meanwhile, her former coach, Larry Nassar, is in the news for failing to pay the restitution and penalties he owes.

Nassar has been accused of sexual abuse by more than 330 girls and women — including Olympians Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.

The internal review of the FBI’s handling of the initial allegations against Nassar was launched in 2018, shortly after Nassar was sentenced to a 60-year term for possessing and receiving child pornography, and a state court sentence of 40 to 175 years for assaulting girls.

It’s telling that the right-wing gasbags are the ones whining about a young woman exercising her autonomy. It’s what they do.

You go, Simone Biles. Standing up to the authoritarian right shows how strong you are.

Too hot, too much running around

Yikes. This weather. I spent the day with my daughter and granddaughter at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and before we left this morning, we closed all the windows in the house, you know, for security reasons. When I got home, it was like an E-Z Bake Oven in here. It was also raining. I opened everything up and got fans going, but here it is midnight and I am cooked. I can’t sleep through this, and I was feeling nauseous anyway — not a good sign, one of the symptoms of potential heat stroke — so I got up and doused myself with cold water to try and cool down. Did you know cold showers don’t help you sleep, either?

Oh, well, it was a good day with Iliana. Here are the favorite things Iliana found at the museum, to give you a taste of what a 3-year old likes.

  • Dinosaurs, of course. Lots of mounted skeletons — I think this may have been when the sheer size of things sunk in.
  • Quetzalcoatlus. Boy, those things were big. There’s a life-sized model of one standing in a corner, and Iliana liked running around between its limbs. It was like a huge tent.
  • Tiny chairs. This is an odd one: there’s a display on perspective and scale that consists of just an oversized chair, a normal chair, and a tiny little chair. As it turns out, the tiny chair was exactly her size. She just wanted to sit in it. We had to go back to that exhibit a couple of times.
  • Musical stairs. There are a couple of flights of stairs equipped with sensors, and each step plays a different tone. She made her grandfather go up and down that one several times.
  • Rocks. I told her I’d get her something from the gift shop. She browsed and settled on this display of polished colored rocks with little bags, and you could fill a bag with rocks of your choice for just $5. Cheap! So she left the museum clutching her precious bag of colored stones. I asked if she was going to be a geologist when she grows up, and she said “Yes, I am!” with great certainty. I’m not sure if she knows what a geologist is, though.

And then I came home to roast.

The bell tolls

It just struck once, with a sound of ominous doom. I have completed the syllabus for one of my Fall courses, Cell Biology. It’s coming. It looms before me. I cannot escape it.

Although, some good news: I’m postponing the second knell for a day. I’ll finish up the syllabus for Fundamentals of Genetics, Evolution, and Development on Thursday, because tomorrow I am meeting my granddaughter at the Science Museum of Minnesota so she can lead me through the exhibits and explain them all to me. See? I’m not in a panic yet. I’m storing up the panic for next week.