Don’t you just love reading myths about yourself?

I get a good chuckle over them. Like this claim that I am bitter about not being one of the Four Horsemen.

That’s practically an article of faith among the slymier trolls. It says they don’t know anything about me, but are colossally good at projection.

I would first point out the curious fact that I’m not and never have been an administrator of any atheist organization (I’ve fallen into the role of maintaining a blog host for a rag-tag squad of diverse writers here at FtB, but go ahead, ask them how much “administration” and “leading” I do), nor have I been on the board of any organization. I haven’t even tried to acquire any kind of leadership position, ever. Nor has anyone tried to recruit me to such a position — I think it’s been clear to every responsible person on the internet or the atheist movement that maybe I’m a little too independent (or disorganized) to be a good choice to be given any power at all.

I’m OK with that, too. I think of myself primarily as a teacher and a biologist, and I’m in my dream job right now. I haven’t even put myself up for promotion to full professor because I mainly see that as a position that would saddle me with more administrative responsibilities…although that may have to change, since I’m getting pressure from my university to fill out the paperwork and do my share of more committee work.

So this clown’s first mistake is to think I have any ambition to fill that role.

His second mistake, though, is a far more common one, and one that I consider destructive to the movement. The “Four Horsemen” were nothing but hot air. It was the equivalent of a Google hangout, with four friends getting together and filming themselves while talking. It is not an appointed position. You can’t join it now. It was four people who were already popular who hung out one afternoon, made a video, gave it a snappy title, and sold it. It’s simply perverse to think I’m upset that I wasn’t rewarded with an opportunity to shoot the breeze with some other guys, one of whom I never even liked.

What’s bad about this argument is that it has become canon that the Four Horsemen were some kind of sacred institution within atheism, something with more weight than a casual conversation.There was so much anguish expressed after Hitchens died — who now will sit in his throne? We must have a fourth horseman! It was fucking weird. It got even weirder when Sam Harris decided Ayaan Hirsi Ali ought to be crowned. There was no crown, no throne, no authority here! I said that at the time, and I say it now, the peculiar coronation of the Four Horsemen is a sign that even atheists are susceptible to symbols and myths and religious thinking, and the worst are the ones eager for authoritarianism.

Shorter answer: we never had an atheist tetrarchy, and it’s silly to think I aspired to become part of a non-existent, imaginary leadership. It’s flattering that some people think I was close enough to want to join that club, but honestly, I was also close enough to see how empty the title was, and to have a realistic view of its meaning. Which was nonexistent, except in the minds of people who desire some kind of intellectual domination.

Confirming what we already knew

Congress had a hearing on white nationalism and social media — and the social media commentary was immediately overrun with Nazis. Is anyone surprised? I tried to imagine a swarm of alt-right Nazi fuckwits trying to exercise some restraint, and I knew it was impossible and that they’d rush right in to shoot themselves in the foot, the thigh, the head.

Speaking of unsurprising outcomes, the Tucker Carlson show has been bleeding advertisers, but they aren’t quite all gone. If you’re interested, here’s a list of the die-hards still trickling money into his program.

  • PODS or Portable on Demand Storage – a moving and storage company founded in 1998 and based in Florida.
  • Reputation Defender – an online reputation management company, founded in 2006.
  • Roman – a men’s health company, founded in 2017 and based in New York City.
  • My Pillow USA – a pillow manufacturing company, founded in 2004 and based in Minnesota.
  • Nutrisystem – a commercial provider of weight loss products and services, founded in 1972 and based in Pennsylvania.
  • Sandals Resorts – an operator of resorts for couples in the Caribbean, founded in 1981 and is part of parent company Sandals Resorts International.
  • Ark Encounter – a creationist Noah’s Ark theme park in Kentucky that was opened in 2016.
  • DealDash – bidding fee auction site, founded in 2009 with its headquarters in Finland and the U.S.
  • American Petroleum Institute – a trade association for the oil and natural gas industry, founded in 1919 and based in Washington D.C.
  • OxiClean – a product line of household cleaning items, introduced in 1997.
  • MintMobile – a provider of wireless phone services.

Those sure are some top-tier brands there. Some of the viewers and many of the guests could use some “online reputation management” after appearing there. MyPillow is owned by a reactionary dingbat…I’ll never own one of his pillows, and it’s really weird that you can get rich selling a pillow when you can buy them for a few bucks at Target. Of course the American Petroleum Institute loves Carlson.

I was most amused, though, that the anti-science organization Answers in Genesis is happily plugging away on Fox News, and no one on Fox News has any qualms about promoting creationism. That’s also unsurprising, they’re into making America great again by rolling back time to the 18th century.

I almost felt pity for evolutionary psychology

I detest evolutionary psychology. I consider it to be bad evolutionary biology, bad psychology, and just plain bad science. But there is something I detest even more, and that’s when evolutionary psychologists try to confidently explain why I dislike evolutionary psychology, and get everything wrong. Today I stumbled across a masterpiece of the genre, which on top of every other problem, is incredibly badly written to the point of incoherence.

It’s titled “Four Reasons why Evolutionary Psychology is Controversial”, by Bernard Crespi. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t even consider the idea that maybe it’s just wrong. He charges off with a bunch of assertions about why some people dislike it, and misses the mark most of the time.

Evolutionary psychology, like sociobiology or Marxism, has become associated with controversy. Why should it, and why has it? Yes, debates about evolution totter endlessly along, and psychology remains a discipline that sometimes seems orphaned by both humanities and the hard sciences.

So evolution is “controversial”?; but it isn’t, not among scientists. Likewise, psychology isn’t controversial. It’s a real science tackling some of the most complex phenomena we know of, human behavior. There are healthy debates about specifics and methodology and even some general principles, but this doesn’t mean they’re “controversial” as a whole.

Why should combining psychology and evolution ignite a confabulation of loathing, fear, and scientific vitriol?

This is what I mean by incoherence. He’s just said evolution is controversial, and psychology is controversial, and now asks, why should combining two controversial things be controversial? His thesis is a mess. I would say instead that the question is about why forcing two different & valid disciplines together would produce an unpopular mish-mash, but that’s not where he’s going. Among other things, he’s going to express contempt for psychology, and argue that the virtue of evolution is its extreme reductionism. Ick.

Four reasons, by my reckoning.

Yes, he’s got four bad reasons. Let’s go through them.

First, not only do we (here, a royal ‘we’ of evolutionary biologists like myself) expect very many people to not understand evolution, because it is too simple and mechanistic for our meaning-laden world;

Wait. That’s just wrong. People who do understand evolution will tell you that it’s complex, subtle, and mathematical; there are a few core ideas that Darwin came up with that you can pick up by reading a 160 year old book, but it has become rather more sophisticated since the Origin. But now he’s going to begin by giving us a cartoon version of evolution that is simple, and wrong.

we also predict that people should reject evolution because one of its core provisos is that people, you and me, should generally behave so as to maximize their relative fitness.

But…but…that’s not true. Much of human behavior is irrational. We have drives that often lead us to do stupid things that compromise our fitness. Isn’t that one of the important ideas of modern economics?

Maybe one of the reasons that people reject Crespi’s version of evolution is that it is trivially falsified.

Competition, survival, reproduction, of the fittest? Not me, you? For shame.

Someone explain to me what he’s trying to say here.

Evolutionary theory indeed predicts that we should each believe, or at least rationalize, ourselves to be mutualistic, altruistic, and moral nearly to a fault, because that is one of the best ways to get the edge on, or into, our competitors, be they individuals or other groups1.

As a counterexample…Donald Trump. While he may certainly believe that he is a saint, his behavior is not mutualistic, altruistic, or moral. I really don’t understand how Crespi expects to make an assertion without evidence, of a claim that we can trivially counter, and expect us to be persuaded.

So are you a believer now?

No.

Evolution is controversial because its very existence seems to attack our core beliefs about our own goodness, and the biggest questions regarding human purpose.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Yes, I can accept this one sentence, because materialistic, secular ideas about human origins do undermine social and religious conventions, and strip humanity of an external source of purpose. But the statement about core beliefs about our own goodness is just weird, living in a culture where the dominant religious traditions all claim that we are inherently hellbound sinners, that our nature is evil, requiring divine intervention to save us. Also, he’s just going to abandon this point and plummet forward.

Second, psychology purports to study the brain, but can it do so scientifically, like other disciplines?

Psychology studies behavior, not the brain, although there are interdisciplinary scientists who study the physiological mechanisms underlying behavior. So ok, why is it questionable whether psychology is a science?

Will generating questionnaires, and treating humans in modern, novel environments like lab rats, illuminate the inner-workings of the most complicated known structure in our universe?

“Generating questionnaires”, which is not the only technique psychologists have at their disposal, is simply one mechanism for observing human behavior. Putting humans in novel environments is an experimental method. So psychology uses both observation and experiment, key parts of the scientific method, so what’s the complaint here?

The hard sciences are hard because they are reductionistic – they infer mechanisms, processes, parts that, combined together, explain the workings of whole systems.

Reductionism, especially the kind of naive reductionism Crespi seems to be advocating, is not the be-all and end-all of a science — not evolutionary biology and not psychology. There is a place for synthesis and emergent behavior in both disciplines.

They conduct controlled, predictive experiments.

Like psychology does?

They have conceptual frameworks built from math and data, not fashion.

Like psychology does?

Look, “hard” and “soft” sciences are colloquial buzzwords that do not reflect the actual methodology of the labeled disciplines. I know too many psychologists, so-called soft scientists, who apply more mathematical and statistical rigor to their work than I, a “hard scientist”, do. I get away with it because I work with simpler phenomena that have a higher degree of reproducibility, and fewer confounding variables. So far the only thing Crespi is saying is that he has an irrational bias against psychology.

So armed, they ratchet forward, fact by incontrovertible fact. ‘Soft’ disciplines are soft because they reject reduction, and indeed often claim post-modern relativity for all.

That’s pure nonsense. Most psychology studies are strong examples of reduction, attempts to simplify and quantify complex phenomena by reducing variables. His statement that they “claim post-modern relativity” is garbage, another common buzzword thrown about by lazy incompetents. Citation fucking needed.

Psychology is a soft science because it cannot reduce – there is no place to go except neuroscience, which would swallow it up with nary a belch, given the chance.

I come from a background in neuroscience — in biology, we do a lot of work on single cells, or small manageable networks of cells. Psychologists are looking at a whole different level of behavior. This assertion is assuming that complex, higher-level behavior is derivable from the biophysics of individual cells. It is not.

Evolutionary biology is historical but also reductionist, in that it specifies the precise set of processes whereby all phenotypes have come to be, and change, and it tells us how to discover what functions they serve.

Say what? With few exceptions, we don’t have the “precise set of processes” — we have general models with predictive power. We certainly don’t know how all phenotypes have come to be, or what functions every phenotype serves. This is kind of a charitable panglossian optimism that he refuses to apply to any other discipline, and that also plays right into the hands of creationists. But now we get into the revealing stuff.

As such, it illuminates all domains of science, from genetic sequence through to human behavior – or at least would, if allowed to by academic practitioners. Psychology is controversial because it is a soft science trying to answer the hardest of question, how the brain works. It can’t.

“If allowed to by academic practitioners” — there’s a reason that the majority of academics do not accept this smug reductionist view that you can explain behavior with genes — it’s false. We can’t.

Psychology is the study of mind and behavior. It tries to answer questions appropriate to its purview. To bring up a question not within its purview and criticize it for failing to answer it is dishonest and deceptive.

Third, evolutionary psychology was forged in a crucible of polemic, as specific schools of thought, such as the school of highly-modular fitness-increasing brain functions developed by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. These researchers staked out strong claims, trained talented students, and attacked intellectually-neighboring tribes.

Yes, they invited controversy by modeling the evolution of the brain in ways that they could not support with evidence, and postulating structures (“modules”) that were poorly defined and lacking in actual support. That’s the primary problem, not that their students were evangelical about it all.

Adopting one side of polarized viewpoints, and sticking to it, remains a highly-effective route to scientific notoriety, even though in almost all such fierce academic battles both sides are partially correct, and both partially wrong.

“They were just doing it for the clicks.” I’ve seen that argument before. Also this weird claim that both sides are equally wrong and the truth lies in the middle. Bleh.

We are a deeply tribal species, and we love observing, or joining in, a good scrap. In this case, though, an entire emerging, integrative field has become conflated with extreme views of how the mind thinks, which has made for inviting targets but distracted from the much more general usefulness of evolutionary thinking.

Yeah, why can’t everyone just use the methods of evolutionary biology to answer their questions? No matter what they are. Also, precisely what is this emerging field integrating? I would think it’s evolutionary biology plus psychology, but we already know Crespi despises psychology. Why would you praise a field for fusing with a discipline you detest?

Will psychology eventually be torn asunder, like anthropology has been into post-modern, anti-evolutionary ‘culturalists’ versus mainstream but human-centric and evolution-minded biologists? Will economics? One can only hope.

So. Much. Bad. Writing.

And so much right-wing buzzwording. “Post-modern” is always a good insult for people who don’t understand it, and no, I don’t see cultural anthropology as abandoning evolution. What about economics?

“One can only hope” … what? Is he saying that tearing disciplines asunder is a desirable outcome?

Fourth, ‘psyche’ indeed means ‘soul’, and for psychologists, the hostile tribes of evolutionary biology threaten to steal it away, and subsume their discipline in its mechanistic, reductionist embrace.

Whut?

He’s making an argument from etymology? Because “psychology” is called “psychology” does not imply that all psychologists therefore believe in souls.

The irony here is that if there is any discipline that has no soul – that is, no unifying conceptual framework – it is psychology, which has flitted from one arbitrary, more or less imaginary construct to the next since Wilhelm Wundt began treating introspection as data.

Now we redefine “soul”. Jeez, but Crespi is annoyingly tendentious.

Of course psychology has produced deeply fascinating insights over its many years. Of course we need a top-down approach to understanding how the brain works, to meet neuroscience inexorably burrowing up from the bottom. But don’t we need a mind-set that recognizes that the brain and mind have evolved, like finches and opposable thumbs?

Yes, psychology has a niche and works well within it. However, there is nothing in psychology that implies that the brain has not evolved.

Any discipline would fight like hell to defend its very existence, or at least resist radical transformation at the hands of competitors. Controversy indeed often leads to scientific revolution, with casualties on both sides.

Where is this nonsense coming from? The existence of psychology is not imperiled by evolution, or by knowledge about the material structure of the brain, so this is a purely imaginary conflict. All the psychologists I know have been fairly materialistic and see biology of the brain as complementary to their work.

So let’s wrap all this tangled trash with Crespi’s grand conclusion.

Evolutionary psychology is like evolutionary anything: it is founded on a way of thinking about how the world works, how it has come to be, and how to understand it. It works by telling us what hypotheses to test, what data to collect, and how to interpret our results. The fires of controversy over this emerging field have generated both heat and light, but better understanding of their sources will, I think, help us to control the flames and put them to better use.

I’m trying to wade through his metaphor. He seems to be equating evolutionary psychology with evolutionary biology (they aren’t the same at all), and that the controversies over evolutionary psychology are interfering with its assimilation of psychology (boo, hiss). To summarize his four incoherent arguments for why EP is controversial:

  1. Evolution is simple, reductionist, and predicts humans are altruistic, therefore it is good.
  2. Psychology isn’t synonymous with neurobiology, therefore it is soft and bad. Psychology just plain sucks.
  3. Evolutionary psychology is controversial, which makes it popular.
  4. Psychology sucks, part 2, because it has no soul, and evolutionary biology steals souls, and besides, psychology doesn’t recognize that the brain evolved.

This is simply bad logic.

I don’t think psychology should just accept the dominion of evolutionary psychology, because EP is wrong — it’s a purely adaptationist paradigm built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology. EP can’t possibly test assumptions about the evolution of the human mind over the last 100,000 years by facile observations of Western middle-class college students. Especially not when it’s defenders don’t understand evolution at all, and reduce everything to blind adaptationism.

But then, this article by Crespi is so awful that I can imagine all the evolutionary psychologists begging for him not to help them anymore.

Wildly exaggerating dinosaur technology as a recipe for attention

It’s happening again. I’m seeing the idea of dinosaurs being resurrected in the lab in the news again. It happens all the time. I saw it in 2009; in 2013, they were predicting it would happen within 5 years (what year is it now?). Ever since, there are these frequent outbursts of “scientists say they can recreate living dinosaurs!”,
over and over and over and over again. They always say “scientists”, plural, but if you plow through that deluge of articles, it always turns out to be one scientist, singular, and that scientist is Jack Horner. One man is constantly making this claim, usually with references to Jurassic Park so that credulous reporters will understand it.

Let’s stop, OK?

In theory, we may someday be able to genetically modify extant organisms to give them attributes associated with dinosaurs — sharp teeth, long claws, long tail, etc. — but they will not be recreating dinosaurs. They would be creating organisms of no practical utility and only the most tenuous connection to dinosaurs. They would be big ugly variations on modern birds, which could nominally be called “dinosaurs”, but we don’t need Frankenstein’s lab to do that…just go look up emus and ostriches.

Horner’s skills are in paleontology. Doing this would require expertise in genetics, molecular biology, and development. He doesn’t have that. He just keeps getting up in front of journalists and lay audiences and announcing that can do that. I think he has just enough smarts that he recognizes an eventual possibility, but not enough knowledge to appreciate how difficult what he wants is.

He’s a perfect example of the cocky ol’ white man confidently declaring that something will be done, while not knowing how to do it, and the press throws all skepticism and concern for evidence to the winds because, well, how can you doubt the credibility of a successful white man? If anyone else said this (and no one else is), they would be dismissed as a crackpot.

But hey, he’s got a reference: a 1990 science fiction novel by a Luddite whose primary point was that science was overrated and technology was evil. That’s pretty much it.

If you think Horner is prescient and wise, I’ll just remind you that, in his late 60s, he married a 19 year old undergraduate student (which did not produce so much as a reprimand from his university, surprisingly. Or not.)

I repeat: making a monster chicken might be possible with a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of molecular/genetic expertise. There is no motivation to do so, no big initiative to make it happen, no cutting edge team of biotechnologists working away in a secret lab to “recreate” dinosaurs. There is one old guy making extravagant claims to gullible audiences.

Stop treating this as news, please.

The new generation of sexbots aren’t as enticing as I expected

If you think this is horrifying…

…wait until you see the closeup.

The glowing red light and the strange peristaltic motions of the device are really disturbing. But you can buy this machine right now for $5000, I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to know.

1) Apparatus Introduction

It merges modern digital technology, automatic control technology and simulation technologies, with semen collection and premature ejaculation desensitization training function.

2) Apparatus Features

(1)The device can simulate the environment of women’s vagina which makes the patient feel comfortable in the process of collecting semen.

(2)Provide a full range of visual, auditory and olfaction stimulation

Wait, what? OLFACTION, too?

(3)Exclusive semen-collection sheath can eliminate contamination of semen

(4)All-round isolation measures to prevent cross-infection

(5)All-round air bags make semen-collection true experience.

Air bags. In case it crashes, I guess.

(6)Good human-machine interface and easy to operate

(7)Support SD CARD,USD external expansion

3) Therapeutic Functions

1. Ejaculation therapy

It can simulate vaginal environment, and through massage, twitching, sucking, vibration, etc., act upon the human penis, which can make semen collection be fast and safe. So it is the best clinical collection equipment of semen.

2. Premature ejaculation desensitization training

The strong currents impact and rub the glans penis repeatedly in order to reduce the excitability of nerve endings so as to passivate the nerve of glans penis, sulcus coronarius, and the surface of the penis, and regulate the sex nerve center in order to minimize nerve sensitivity, improve ejaculatory threshold to treat premature ejaculation.

3.Sex-psychological evaluation:

Sexual psychologicalevaluation, with the international general psychological questionnaire to understand the real performance of sexuality activity,so as to provide reference for effective treatment.

4) Technical Parameters

1,Massage frequency: 0—1.5Hz

2,Motion frequency: 0—2.5Hz

3,Motion journey:30-50mm

4,The adjustable range of sperm-collecting barrel walls:10-30mm

5,Cavity with constant temperatures<36°C

6,The illumination of glow is more than 800lux

7, LCD multimedia acoustic image system

So…vaginas are supposed to glow at 800 lux? You learn something every day.

I bet this machine never says “no”, either.

Minnesota is drunk. And it’s a mean drunk.

The snow from our brutal winter is mostly melted. The birds are singing. The spiders are beginning to stir. I’m eager with anticipation for my new adventure of doing actual field work, which has not been my usual thing, but novelty is welcome. I’m meeting with a team of students to sketch out our approach next week. So I’m weirdly all about working outdoors for a change.

Then I wake up to this evil nonsense from the weather service this morning.

…BLIZZARD WARNING IN EFFECT FROM 7 PM WEDNESDAY TO 7 AM CDT FRIDAY… * WHAT…BLIZZARD CONDITIONS EXPECTED. TOTAL SNOW ACCUMULATIONS OF 12 TO 20 INCHES EXPECTED. WINDS GUSTING AS HIGH AS 50 MPH. * WHERE…PORTIONS OF CENTRAL, SOUTHWEST AND WEST CENTRAL MINNESOTA. * WHEN…FROM 7 PM WEDNESDAY TO 7 AM CDT FRIDAY. * ADDITIONAL DETAILS…TRAVEL COULD BE VERY DIFFICULT TO IMPOSSIBLE. AREAS OF BLOWING SNOW COULD SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE VISIBILITY. THE HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS COULD IMPACT THE MORNING OR EVENING COMMUTE. GUSTY WINDS COULD BRING DOWN TREE BRANCHES. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A BLIZZARD WARNING MEANS SEVERE WINTER WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED OR OCCURRING. FALLING AND BLOWING SNOW WITH STRONG WINDS AND POOR VISIBILITIES ARE LIKELY. THIS WILL LEAD TO WHITEOUT CONDITIONS, MAKING TRAVEL EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. DO NOT TRAVEL. IF YOU MUST TRAVEL, HAVE A WINTER SURVIVAL KIT WITH YOU. IF YOU GET STRANDED, STAY WITH YOUR VEHICLE. THE LATEST ROAD CONDITIONS FOR MINNESOTA CAN BE FOUND AT 511MN.ORG AND FOR WISCONSIN AT 511WI.GOV, OR BY CALLING 5 1 1 IN EITHER STATE. &&

More Information
…ANOTHER POTENTIALLY HISTORIC MID APRIL WINTER STORM WEDNESDAY NIGHT THROUGH THURSDAY NIGHT… .A BLIZZARD WARNING IS IN EFFECT NORTHWEST OF A LINE FROM REDWOOD FALLS TO SAINT CLOUD. A WINTER STORM WATCH IS IN EFFECT FOR MOST OF THE REST OF CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN MINNESOTA AND WESTERN WISCONSIN. A POTENTIALLY HISTORIC WINTER STORM IS EXPECTED STARTING WEDNESDAY EVENING LASTING INTO EARLY FRIDAY MORNING. CONFIDENCE IS HIGH THAT A BAND OF HEAVY SNOW WILL REACH CENTRAL AND WESTERN MINNESOTA WEDNESDAY EVENING AND CONTINUE THROUGH THURSDAY, TAPERING OFF IN INTENSITY GRADUALLY THURSDAY NIGHT. SNOWFALL RATES OF 1 TO 2 INCHES PER HOUR WILL BE POSSIBLE AT TIMES. PERIODS OF MIXED PRECIPITATION IN THE FORM OF RAIN, SNOW, AND SLEET ARE EXPECTED ALONG AND SOUTH OF A LINE FROM NEW ULM, TO THE TWIN CITIES METRO, TO RICE LAKE, WISCONSIN. THERE IS STILL CONSIDERABLE UNCERTAINTY WHERE THIS TRANSITION ZONE WILL SET UP. A TIGHTER GRADIENT IN SNOWFALL TOTALS THAN CURRENTLY FORECAST SHOULD BE EXPECTED ALONG THIS ZONE. WINDS WILL INCREASE WEDNESDAY NIGHT WITH GUSTS OF 45 TO 55 MPH BY THURSDAY. THIS WILL LEAD TO WIDESPREAD BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW AND BLIZZARD CONDITIONS ACROSS WEST CENTRAL MINNESOTA. TRAVEL COULD BECOME NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE IN THIS AREA BY THURSDAY.

It’s April, Minnesota. What do you think you’re doing?

I thought CNBC was supposed to be slightly “liberal”

Some people think so. But then I ran across this article: This simple tipping trick could save you over $400 a year. Before you click the link, guess what the “simple trick” is.

It’s the stunning insight of “tip less”. In order to justify two dozen paragraphs, a video, and a fancy info-graphic, though, they have to justify it with some cheesy detailed rigamarole about how instead of shifting the decimal point in your bill one to the left and doubling it to get 20%, you should know the sales tax rate in the state, look at the tax on your bill, and use that to calculate the tip.

The second group uses the information provided to them on their bill to double the tax (8.875 percent in a place like New York City) and arrive at a tip close to 18 percent. In a state like Maryland where tax is 6 percent, they triple the tax instead.

It’s math, therefore it is correct. Never mind that you’re simply stiffing the staff a few bucks and then inventing a secret formula to rationalize it.

And then they have a bar graph to illustrate how much you’d save by tipping less, and went out to Times Square to interview people and ask if they were supportive of their “trick”. I hope the nerd who slapped that stupidity together feels really dirty right now.

Their earthshaking conclusion: less money tipped is more money saved. No shit, Sherlock. I am forced to conclude that CNBC is simply stupid, not liberal at all.

Schools and privilege

Can we stand to hear any more horror stories from the college admissions scandal? Of course we can, because it’s ongoing and universities aren’t doing anything substantial to fix the underlying problem (a major part of that is the college athletics loophole, which, when any university admits that it is corrupting the educational mission of the college and shuts the whole nonsense down, will cause me to faint.)

But it’s the parents who are pissing us off right now. Such causual greed, such arrogant assumption of privilege.

The word entitlement—even in its full, splendid range of meanings—doesn’t begin to cover the attitudes on display. Devin Sloane is the CEO of a Los Angeles company that deals in wastewater management. Through Singer, he allegedly bribed USC to get his son admitted as a water-polo player. But a guidance counselor at his school learned of the scheme and contacted USC—the boy did not play the sport; something was clearly awry. Singer smoothed it over, but the whole incident enraged Sloane: “The more I think about this, it is outrageous! They have no business or legal right considering all the students privacy issues to be calling and challenging/question [my son’s] application,” he wrote to Singer.

How dare they notice that he lied about his participation in water polo!

But the college counselor at the girls’ high school had always doubted that the first girl rowed crew; when the second one got into the same school for the same reason, she realized that something suspicious was going on. She confronted the girl.

The counselor was acting honorably. Loughlin and Giannulli—if the affidavit is to be believed—were in the midst of a criminal operation. Yet instead of hanging his head in shame, Giannulli apparently roared onto the high-school campus apoplectic. Singer got a panicked email from his USC contact: “I just want to make sure that, you know, I don’t want the … parents getting angry and creating any type of disturbance at the school … I just don’t want anybody going into … [the daughter’s high school] you know, yelling at counselors. That’ll shut everything—that’ll shut everything down.”

How dare they notice that she lied about her participation in crew!

That’s the thing. These parents are indignant about being confronted with their lies — they have a right to lie, cheat, and bribe their children’s way into the prestigious school of their choice, and what will the kids learn? That learning and knowledge are irrelevant, that their presence in a school is a status symbol, one that doesn’t need to be earned but only paid for.

Rich people. Up against the wall, assholes.

But wait…are middle class white people, you know, the ones who are happy to see their kids go on the state school, blameless? You want to see more poison, look to privileged parent associations. They can get ugly, too. Here’s what happened when a public school proposed to broaden the school boundaries and let in those other kids, the poor ones, the brown ones. The parents freaked out.

The Thursday night meeting at Quince Orchard High School in North Potomac, attended by about 50 people, included questions of what would happen if students from schools with poor academic performance were moved into schools with higher achievement.

“They won’t be able to keep up and they won’t study,” one parent said.

Other parents said white families are being punished for “working hard and doing well and choosing to live in a certain community.”

If they can’t keep up, they will do poorly. But how does that detract from your child’s performance? I went through school with a range of my peers, some smarter and more disciplined than me, others were slackers. It did not harm me. And why assume they will be unable to keep up? Maybe new opportunities, better teachers and facilities will inspire them to excel.

Somehow, I think that’s their real fear, that if they don’t keep those others down, they might prove themselves the equal of their little darlings.

I don’t see how having a more representative student body punishes anyone. And why do you think you’re working harder than people in a poorer community? My experience has been that the opposite is true. I grew up with a father who was often working two jobs to make ends meet, so that assertion is BS.

“If Montgomery County was paying my taxes, then they could do that. But they’re not, so I have a right to go to my local school,” one parent said. “I made a decision to live where I live and pay the price I pay based on that school. They want to change everything and you can’t pull the rug out from under our feet. That’s wrong. Actually, it’s criminal and they will all be voted out.”

That’s the attitude of the Loughlins and Giannullis. An education is not a right, it’s something that the privileged deserve and anyone else should be begging for scraps. Yes, you should have a good school in your neighborhood for your children, and so should those kids in other neighborhoods. How can you justify depriving one child to meet the needs of another? Just because you’re wealthier?

Capitalism poisons everything.

Making the rounds

I’m seeing this pop up all over the place lately, so I might as well echo it. This is great writing by Charles Pierce.

This video should be the only news from now until Election Day, and probably beyond that, all the way to the next Election Day in 2020 as well.

This video captures perfectly where we are as a nation at this moment in history. It shows with startling clarity the end result of civic disengagement and democratic apathy. It shows without question that we have allowed our republic to fall into the hands of a sociopath whose feeling for his fellow human beings can be measured against a poker chip. It shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the better angels of our nation have been sold out to anger, and greed, and stone hatred. It shows precisely the depths to which our fellow citizens will follow this bag of old and rancid sins. Some of those citizens know better. Some of them don’t. All of them are dangerous blockheads.

Look at the man behind the seal of the President of the United States, mocking the recollections of a survivor of sexual assault. In my life, I have watched John Kennedy talk on television about missiles in Cuba. I saw Lyndon Johnson look Richard Russell squarely in the eye and and say, “And we shall overcome.” I saw Richard Nixon resign and Gerald Ford tell the Congress that our long national nightmare was over. I saw Jimmy Carter talk about malaise and Ronald Reagan talk about a shining city on a hill. I saw George H.W. Bush deliver the eulogy for the Soviet bloc, and Bill Clinton comfort the survivors of Timothy McVeigh’s madness in Oklahoma City. I saw George W. Bush struggle to make sense of it all on September 11, 2001, and I saw Barack Obama sing “Amazing Grace” in the wounded sanctuary of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

These were the presidents of my lifetime. These were not perfect men. They were not perfect presidents, god knows. Not one of them was that. But they approached the job, and they took to the podium, with all the gravitas they could muster as appropriate to the job. They tried, at least, to reach for something in the presidency that was beyond their grasp as ordinary human beings. They were not all ennobled by the attempt, but they tried nonetheless.

And comes now this hopeless, vicious buffoon, and the audience of equally hopeless and vicious buffoons who laughed and cheered when he made sport of a woman whose lasting memory of the trauma she suffered is the laughter of the perpetrators. Now he comes, a man swathed in scandal, with no interest beyond what he can put in his pocket and what he can put over on a universe of suckers, and he does something like this while occupying an office that we gave him, and while endowed with a public trust that he dishonors every day he wakes up in the White House.

The scion of a multigenerational criminal enterprise, the parameters of which we are only now beginning to comprehend. A vessel for all the worst elements of the American condition. And a cheap, soulless bully besides.

We have had good presidents and bad—a Buchanan is followed by a Lincoln who is followed by an Andrew Johnson, and so forth. But we never have had such a cheap counterfeit of a president* as currently occupies the office. We have had presidents who have been the worthy targets of scalding scorn, but James Callender went after giants. We never have had a president* so completely deserving of scorn and yet so small in the office that it almost seems a waste of time and energy to summon up the requisite contempt.

Watch him make fun of the woman again. Watch how a republic dies in the empty eyes of an empty man who feels nothing but his own imaginary greatness, and who cannot find in himself the decency simply to shut the fuck up even when it is in his best interest to do so. Presidents don’t have to be heroes to be good presidents. They just have to realize that their humanity is our common humanity, and that their political commonwealth is our political commonwealth, too.

Watch him again, behind the seal of the President of the United States. Isn’t he a funny man? Isn’t what happened to that lady hilarious? Watch the assembled morons cheer. This is the only story now.

There’s nothing we can do, short of a revolution, to remove that buffoon from office. Not even his vast incompetence is addressable in our political protocols, which is a huge oversight.

That’s quite a headline

Dr Gary Kohls is extraordinarily angry about a deep injustice that he writes about in a column for the Duluth Reader, but it might take a while for you to figure out what it is. It’s certainly not in the headline: Lessons from Martin Niemoller for Justice-seeking Activists that are Currently Being Oppressed by Government, Corporate or the Mainstream Media Powers-That-Be America has been Taken Over by Anti-democratic Forces that are Inside Both Government and Industry – and Your Movement Could be Their Next Target. It starts with the usual quote from Martin Niemoller, about Nazis. Then it has a long quote from The Invisible Government, an 1963 book about stealthy government agencies, like the CIA. Then it has a third long quote from a book titled Greed, Inc., about sociopathic corporations. OK, I get it: there’s an evil, Nazi-like cabal of capitalist corporations and secret spy organizations planning to…what? That’s what it takes a while to figure out.

It turns out that this wicked camarilla is out to … vaccinate children. His strategy in this article is to constantly associate vaccines with Nazis, to the point where it becomes a parody of itself.

The Godfather of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels (loyal Hitlerite and Nazi Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment), didn’t have an internet to spread his propaganda, but he had the planet’s newest technology – the radio – and he had his brownshirt thugs who were energized and mobilized by the many Nazi rallies and the even more frequent radio broadcasts that got the fascist message across.

It was on Hitler’s orders that these brownshirts burned every book that had been written by anti-fascist intellectuals (communists, socialists, liberals) throughout history. Brownshirt thugs later gleefully smashed every liberal printing press in Germany and imprisoned every liberal newspaper editor and journalist, thus accomplishing even more efficiently what the tyrannical powers-that-be are all trying to do in our supposedly democratic society.

Authoritarian entities inside wealthy, powerful and influential Big Corporations like the pharmaceutical corporations put a lot of money and strategizing effort into silencing pro-justice activists that pose threats to their profits, even when the activists have unbiased science on their side.

Two perfect examples that I am personally involved in are the world-wide anti-over-vaccination movement and the opposition to the experimental copper mining planned for the lakes area of northeast Minnesota. The efforts to silence the truth-tellers in those two movements will soon be applied to other resistance movements that are happening simultaneously.

OK, I can sympathize with his stance in opposition to allowing mining interests to rip into the Boundary Waters, one of the natural treasures of this state. I don’t think, though, that they’ve got an army of brownshirts imprisoning liberals and burning canoeing guidebooks.

I also don’t think that doctors following tested, safe vaccination protocols are at all equivalent to concentration camp guards. You want to convince the public that anti-vaxxers are nuts? This is how you convince the public that anti-vaxxers are nuts.

Then he closes his argument with 17 mostly irrelevant quotes from various people like Robert F. Kennedy and Joseph Goebbels. All right, Gary G. Kohls, MD. You’ve persuaded me. You’re a kook. Also a bad, lazy writer who pads his columns with extensive over-quoting.