John McCain’s last chance for honor

He’s screwed it up so many times before. He likes to pretend he’s a “maverick”, but somehow he’s always supported the conservative status quo, and has always betrayed any sense of principle. This is the man who took on Sarah Palin as his running mate in a failed attempt at the presidency. He is just generally a screw-up.

And now he’s mortally ill with cancer. Heroically, he’s flying back to Washington DC to cast a vote on a health care bill that no one has seen, that no one will be allowed to see, that given Mitch McConnell’s history of promoting selfish, evil tax-cuts-for-the-rich bills under the guise of “health care” is certainly pure poison.

We don’t know how McCain is going to vote.

He’s voting with zero information, so he ought to reject it out of hand, as all the senators should. There’s a principle at stake here, but given what I’ve seen of McCain, I think that means he’ll run away from responsibility, vote yes, and then allow the sycophants to tell him how brave he was to leave his cancer treatments to vote to deny millions of people cancer treatments.

He’s got one chance to go out on a high note. It won’t change his legacy, but he’ll exhibit one tiny scrap of conscience.

I expect he’ll fuck it up. He’s John McCain.

Never trust a boy scout

It’s a corrupt organization. They don’t allow atheists to participate (my boys were briefly in the scouts, but they couldn’t say anything about their beliefs, and had to do all the religious oaths; Margaret Downey has been fighting this for years), and they only allowed gay and transgender boys in recently, while still prohibiting gay scout leaders. It’s a conservative organization that typically works to instill regressive values — with a few exceptions — and so we shouldn’t be surprised that the boys clapped and cheered, while their leaders capered and grinned, at Trump’s speech to a boy scout jamboree.

That speech is something else. It’s pure madness. It’s the kind of speech a Caligula would give: self-serving, obsessive, focused on slights to his majesty, derisive of the previous administration. He wants to encourage loyalty, but he still can’t resist the temptation to encourage them to boo the previous president and his opposition in the last election. He is still going over and over the size of the crowd over and over, the legitimacy of his election, and “fake news”. And he ends by telling them they’ll be allowed to say “Merry Christmas” again, as if this has ever been prohibited. There was no good message in it, unless you count that bizarre anecdote about a rich man losing his ‘momentum’ a moral message. It’s a speech that tells us much about Donald Trump, none of it good.

But he still has the devout support of the Christian Evangelical community!


Jebus. Read George W. Bush’s speech to the boy scouts in 2005, and compare. W was a disgrace as a president, and yet look how far we’ve fallen with Trump.

Roger Waters…Wednesday!

The day after tomorrow I’ll be sitting in the nosebleed seats for Roger Waters Us + Them tour. I love the guy’s music, and he’s got the right sensibility for the era, as reported for his Chicago event.

It’s also very political, and that’s something that should surprise absolutely nobody. Waters has never been a stranger to controversy, and his recent political views (especially those involving the Israel-Palestine conflict), have certainly been turning all the right and wrong heads across the world. But he sounds revitalized again, and if you couldn’t tell from all the rage and angst that radiates from his latest record, Is This the Life We Really Want?, then he makes that pretty clear with the Us + Them Tour. Unlike his recent reprisal of The Wall, which toured the world for the better part of the early 2010s, Waters sounds less like he’s dusting off older material and more like he’s rewriting them for a new era. And in a world that’s as savage and dour as ours right now, we’re also singing louder than ever.

Anyone else going?

Teachers, leave them kids alone

On my home planet, everyone learns basic algebra. Earth seems to be different.

People are actually discussing whether to remove algebra requirements from community college curricula. They don’t seem to be discussing the elimination of basic reading and writing skills, at least not yet. It seems to me, though, that passing algebra ought to be a really low hurdle to leap, but apparently it isn’t.

Algebra is one of the biggest hurdles to getting a high school or college degree — particularly for students of color and first-generation undergrads.

It is also the single most failed course in community colleges across the country. So if you’re not a STEM major (science, technology, engineering, math), why even study algebra?

I was a first generation undergrad. I didn’t take algebra in college…because I took it in high school. If you were on the college track, you took it early, because in your junior or senior year you’d take trigonometry/pre-calc. If you were an advanced math student (I wasn’t), you got calculus done right there in public school. 16 year olds can learn algebra. It really isn’t that daunting.

“Why even study algebra?” is a stupid question. If you’re not a history major, why study history? If you’re not an English major, why do you need to learn to write good? If you’re an American, why bother learning a foreign language? Algebra is a kind of minimum standard for elementary numeracy.

This interview with Eloy Ortiz Oakley is appalling in many ways.

You are facing pressure to increase graduation rates — only 48 percent graduate from California community colleges with an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year institution within six years. As we’ve said, passing college algebra is a major barrier to graduation. But is this the easy way out? Just strike the algebra requirement to increase graduation rates instead of teaching math more effectively?

I hear that a lot and unfortunately nothing could be farther from the truth. Somewhere along the lines, since the 1950s, we decided that the only measure of a student’s ability to reason or to do some sort of quantitative measure is algebra. What we’re saying is we want as rigorous a course as possible to determine a student’s ability to succeed, but it should be relevant to their course of study. There are other math courses that we could introduce that tell us a lot more about our students.

No one decided that it was the only measure. People looked at the progression of math concepts that were taught — algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus — and set the standard on the most introductory of the math skills. Students who come into college not knowing algebra are totally screwed if they want to enter any STEM field, but even if they’re doing a non-STEM major, I’d argue that everyone ought to have that minimal level of math literacy.

I don’t see the problem here. If “relevance to their course of study” is the standard, I could see biology majors insisting that they don’t need to know psychology or literature (they’d be wrong). A college degree should not be a narrow certificate that says you’ve been exposed to a thin slice of knowledge, but here we are, arguing that it’s all about getting a job.

A lot of students in California community colleges are hoping to prepare for a four-year college. What are you hearing from the four-year institutions? Are they at ease with you dropping the requirement? Or would they then make the students take the same algebra course they’re not taking at community college?

This question is being raised at all levels of higher education — the university level as well as the community college level. There’s a great body of research that’s informing this discussion, much of it coming from some of our top universities, like the Dana Center at the University of Texas, or the Carnegie Foundation. So there’s a lot of research behind this and I think more and more of our public and private university partners are delving into this question of what is the right level of math depending on which major a student is pursuing.

Look. We get transfer students from community colleges at my university all the time. They do not and should not get a free pass on courses that our full four year students have to take — we don’t set standards arbitrarily. They need to take certain lower level courses because they’ll need those skills in upper level courses. If the community colleges set lower standards, it just means that they’ll have wasted two years as the four year colleges tell all those students entering in their third year that sorry, you have to go back and take all these courses your CC decided were unnecessary.

In a perfect world, students would learn algebra in high school; students who struggled or were not mature enough to engage in disciplined learning (which is a real problem) would attend a CC to get the prep they missed in high school, and the four year colleges would be able to assume a basic skill set on all entering students. If CCs are going to punt, what next? Do we just get unprepared students who enter college with 60 credits of unchallenging courses that do not prepare them all for the major curriculum?

And there are people writing about concepts of numeracy that may be different from what people have been teaching all this time. Do you have in mind a curriculum that would be more useful than intermediate algebra?

We are piloting different math pathways within our community colleges. We’re working with our university partners at CSU and the UC, trying to ensure that we can align these courses to best prepare our students to succeed in majors. And if you think about it, you think about the use of statistics not only for a social science major but for every U.S. citizen. This is a skill that we should have all of our students have with them because this affects them in their daily life.

I kind of agree with this — I would like to see more statistics-literacy in the general public. But this is a proposal to increase the amount of math students should know, and I don’t know how you teach statistics to students who can’t comprehend algebra. Again, there seems to be a relevance argument lurking here — if statistics awareness is good for every U.S. citizen, how can you suggest that art majors have no need of algebra? I want to see some minimal expectations for numeracy and literacy, and we don’t get there by trying to second-guess whether a student will ever find a particular fundamental skill “useful”. You just don’t know.

It’s another fermented fish sauce!

It’s amazing how often these ingredients come up in human cuisine. I have a couple of bottles of Asian fish sauces in my cupboard, it was a key element in Roman foods as garum, and what they all have in common is that they are made by taking large quantities of whole small fish and letting them ferment and liquefy into a spicy umami-rich sauce. Now I learn that Worcestershire sauce is also made by letting anchovies decay. I shouldn’t be surprised.

Although the story about how the original mixture that was made and tested is troubling. It tasted terrible, so they put the bottle away in the basement, and then years later, someone came along and decided to taste it again? When I find old leftovers I forgot in the refrigerator a few weeks before, I’m not tempted in the slightest. Maybe the problem is that I didn’t neglect them long enough, and I should let them a bit more tang, festering in the dark for a couple of years.

Dumb and dumber

Oh, crap. It’s Sunday morning, and all I need is a sermon from dumbshit Jim Carrey. It’s nice that he’s working with former prison inmates, but the most help he seems to providing is dollops of platitudes, while promoting a pernicious and ugly Christian doctrine.

Ultimately, I believe that suffering leads to salvation. In fact, it’s the only way.

No. Ten thousand times no. This is the gospel of Mother Teresa, and it does not lead to salvation — it leads to the veneration of poverty and misery and pain and death. This is why Christianity is a death cult (although, in the case of the prosperity gospel, some splinters of it are transforming themselves into a money cult, which isn’t any better).

Suffering is not a blessing. We should not look on human beings in pain and console ourselves with the thought that the more despair they experience, the more likely they are to find Jesus. We should look on that pain and do what we can to end it.

So yes, it’s good that Carrey is trying to do something to help the needy, but praising their suffering is not the way. Would he also praise cancer for bringing people closer to his god?

Probably. Because he’s a dumbshit.

This is not an accurate description of my Democratic party

Inaccurate. The Democrats would sit down, scribble up some half-assed slogan, and then they’d take a half-day off at the beach.

It is correct in illustrating the white guys ignoring the brown person with objections, though.

(Note also: if they had just gotten their asses kicked in an election, they’d also ignore the brown person and take a half-day off at the beach, so this is kind of a universally applicable cartoon.)

I AM OUT OF CONTROL

Ken Ham says so.

MEDIA AND BLOGGERS OUT OF CONTROL RE: ARK

You may have read media reports and blogs that have misrepresented and/or lied about AiG’s dealings with local officials who have imposed a new city tax that places almost the entire tax burden on our ministry. Here is what we are sharing with the media when they ask us about the matter:

“Because the new ordinance passed by the City of Williamstown essentially singled out the Ark Encounter to shoulder nearly all the burden for additional safety services that will benefit the entire community and not just the Ark, and because of the ordinance’s wording concerning exemptions to the safety fee, we needed to keep our options open to protect the organization for the future. We have always said we want to pay our fair share for safety services, and believed we had made a highly reasonable counter proposal to the city council.

“It has always been our desire to be a partner in helping to grow the economy of a community that welcomed us so kindly. We are saddened that the city council did not extend the courtesy of discussing this ordinance with us before passing it and taking it public, and was not willing to negotiate further.
“We are thankful that even with over a million Ark guests who have come to Williamstown in just over a year, the number of calls from the Ark Encounter for emergency services has been quite small.”–Mark Looy, CCO

Wait. We liars have been saying that AiG didn’t want to pay the taxes imposed by Williamstown, and that they shuffled ownership of the Big Gay Wooden Box to a religious non-profit to avoid those taxes. Nothing in that comment rebuts those claims. They’re calling “tax shenanigans” keep our options open, and they’re basically admitting that they got exasperated with the Williamstown requirements and acted to protect their own interests without regard for the tax laws. So we were right! We weren’t lying!

I’m also not impressed with the objection that darn it, this safety fee will benefit the whole community rather than just AiG. I would also like to point out that the fee is to pay for safety infrastructure rather than paying out on a case by case basis, so it’s irrelevant that they’ve only needed it a few times in the past. It’s like how Republicans don’t understand what insurance is.