New student registration day!

It’s another new student registration day, and I get to spend a big chunk of it as an advisor. I hope there are no tears this time, unlike last time.

Yeah, tears. This is an incredibly stressful event for the students. There are two things that promote breakdowns during registration.

  • Uncertainty. Some students come in not knowing what to expect, or thinking this is like a greased chute that will give them a job when they slide out of the end. My favorite are the students who are shocked when you tell them they are going to sign up for about 15 credits this term, which is about 4 classes, and they have no frame of reference. Is that a little or a lot? Why am I signing up for chemistry, isn’t there like a pre-med class I can just take and be done with all this? Why do I need to take a history class, I want to be a dentist!

    They don’t quite get that they’re signing on to a voyage of adventure, and they’re going to be completely different people at the end of four years. Or maybe they do. They freak out and are afraid they’ll make a mistake. I just want to tell them that of course they’ll make mistakes, this is a system to help you recover from error — it’s 4 years of dynamic equilibrium in which you learn and adjust. That doesn’t help the ones who want a stable, certain, plodding path.

    (Parents don’t help here. They’re so happy that they’re investing in turning their little girl into a doctor at the end, but she might come out the other end an art historian or statistician, and happier for it. Let ’em find the their true love in the world of the mind!)

  • High school. This is the big one. Most of high schools do a fine job, but the number one shock to some students is coming here expecting to emerge with a STEM career, and we discover their schools let them coast and they don’t even have basic algebra mastered. We give incoming students a math placement test, and we know…we know they’re going to flunk out of first year general chemistry if we let them take it (we don’t). We have a remedial path that involves summer school, stuffing their first year with the general education distribution requirements, and a catch-up senior year that’s nothing but solid science courses (can you imagine taking 3 lab course in a semester? I wouldn’t want to), and students are sometimes very upset about that.

    I do wonder what the administrators at those high schools are thinking. At the very least, shouldn’t all their graduates be able to read a novel, write a coherent 5 page essay, know a little bit about their country’s place in the world, and solve a simple algebraic formula? All of their students, not just the ones looking at STEM careers. We’re not asking a lot when we say a high school diploma ought to mean something, but apparently some students and some schools take a laissez fair approach to education, and our Republican overlords like to encourage that.

    I try to let the students know I’m there to help them, and I have a plan that’ll put them right on track, but that’s like criticism, dude, and now it’s panic attack time.

But now I have to put on my positive attitude and brace myself to go in. Let’s hope all the students today are eager and enthusiastic and well-prepared, and that none of the general chemistry lab sections they need to take are not closed. We’ll get through this. I promise I won’t cry, at least not until I get home.

The Resistance won’t prevail by being “nice”

The Washington Post claims that “Liberal hostility toward Trump aides could galvanize the GOP base”, and implies that we all ought to be more like Mr Rogers.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican who is close with President Trump, was accosted by liberal activists on Friday night as she watched a documentary called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Ironically the film highlights Fred Rogers’s teachings of love and kindness, but Bondi had to be escorted from the theater in Tampa by police as partisans screamed at her.

Fred Rogers was a wonderful guy, and I would be delighted if American society were as civil as The Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Unfortunately, our King Friday XIII is planning pogroms, Queen Sara Saturday is sneering at anyone who cares, and Princess Tuesday made $82 million last year off her crony capitalist connections. If any hint of our reality were expressed in his puppet village, I’d like to think that Mr Rogers would be slapping the fuck out of those rotten puppets and burning the whole neighborhood to the ground.

“Kind” and “weak” are not synonyms. These are times when kindness needs to get off its butt, stand in a line, and fight back.

Also, see previous post.

Radiolab lets me down

I’m at the gym this morning, and I put on a podcast, as one does, and chose to start Radiolab’s series on reproduction and human development. Just my sort of thing, I thought.

And oh my god it is awful.

To personalize it and appeal to the masses, it resorts to rampant anthropomorphization and mischaracterization of the environment. Germ cells start out in the allantois, which is a “wasteland”. They migrate “pugnaciously” to the embryo proper, “looking for” the genital ridge, which is like a “cathedral” filled with somatic cells that are like “monks”, who then “care for” the germ line. They ask deep questions, like “does the cell know where it’s going?”, and no one says no, that’s a stupid question, it’s a single cell with no cognitive abilities at all. And it goes on and on.

I only listened to the end of that episode because I could not believe how much misinformation was being spread in order to make developmental biology ‘entertaining’. I’m not going to listen to the rest of the series, because I can’t afford to smash my phone.

If you must listen, there is a tiny bit of factual information in there, but it’s all been slathered in the goop of humanizing individual cells, and it is totally detestable in the way it tries to make happy cartoon people of developmental processes. Not recommended at all. Listen with extreme caution and skepticism.

Sully discovers appeasement

Although he insists that he hasn’t.

Only his solution to that problem of white nationalism is to surrender and give them what they want.

So give him his fucking wall. He won the election. He is owed this. It may never be completed; it may not work, as hoped. But it is now the only way to reassure a critical mass of Americans that mass immigration is under control, and the only way to make any progress under this president. And until the white working and middle classes are reassured, we will get nowhere. Don’t give it to him for nothing, of course. It should come with a full path to citizenship for all DACA immigrants, as in the proposed deal in January that Trump first liked and then reneged on, under Miller’s toxic influence. But it should also go bigger: a legislative fix for Flores; massive new funding for detention facilities, humane family-friendly housing, and, above all, much more money for the immigration legal system, now completely overwhelmed by asylum cases. If Democrats can show they want to deal with the humanitarian problem as a whole, and are willing to compromise on the wall, they’ll be in a much stronger position going forward than in the recent past.

He is not “owed” anything. Trump has a big job to do, running the country, which he is not doing — if anything he owes us, especially since he and his family and his cronies see their position of power as an opportunity to enrich themselves. He is supposed to be engaged in public service, and that is most definitely not what he is doing.

Isn’t Sullivan remarkably cavalier about throwing tens of billions of dollars on a wall that won’t work, throwing it away as a sop to the masses? Why not instead spend billions of dollars on improving educational opportunities for immigrants, helping them to integrate better into the culture here, for instance? Because that won’t appease that “critical mass of Americans” who’ve been encouraged by the propaganda machines of Trump and Fox News to settle for nothing less than punching down hard on the brown people.

And to think that once you give the bigots the great big wall they’re shrieking for, they’ll calm down and decide they’ve gone far enough is ludicrous — it betrays a total failure to understand how humans work. Give them a victory, and their cultlike devotion to Maximum Leader will increase, and they’ll demand more. Can you imagine Trump saying a nice “thank you” for his beautiful wall, then sitting back, reading the Constitution, and deciding to buckle down to the paperwork and minutiae of his job? No. He’ll start looking for another cause he can use to inflame his base, and win cheers for him and rage against the Democrats at future rallies. Sullivan is a man utterly clueless about human nature, who then engages in stupid punditry about human nature. He is blinded by his biases.

And then there’s this cack-handed nonsense.

What that says to me is that Sullivan sees conservativism as nothing more than a nicer word for fascism. Fine with me; I agree. Massive demographic change is happening, it always has, and the question is…will you resist until you break and die, or do you adapt and become something new? Deny reality, or grow and change? This has been the story of human history for thousands of years, and conservatives have always opposed, often violently, the inevitable change that is always going to overwhelm them. It’s that transition from old guard defending the status quo to the status quo fighting to oppress change that marks the shift from conservative to fascist, nothing more.

But here’s the bit where I started to see red.

If all this sounds like appeasing a bigot, I understand. But better to see it, I think, as a way to address the legitimate concerns, fears, and worries of a large number of Americans who feel like strangers in their own land, and whose emotional response to that has been to empower the white nationalist right.

It was one little word.

“legitimate.”

legitimate concerns, fears, and worries.”

What fucking LEGITIMATE concerns are you talking about? The anti-immigrant hysteria fomented by the Right? The lies about how “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists”? Shall we discuss lies about how Germany is experiencing a crime wave committed by immigrants, when the German crime rate is the lowest it’s been in decades? Shall we have another White House photo op in which victims of crime by immigrants can misrepresent the threat? (I’d like to see the photo op in which Trump greets the families of people murdered by the police — it would be larger, but too many of those families would be black and would make the Republicans uncomfortable).

I feel like a stranger in my own land. I was brought up in a country that educated me to think that there were these important American ideals, like liberty and equality, that we were a nation of immigrants, this great melting pot where we welcomed the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, that Americans fought and died to bring freedom to others. These were all lies. This country was built on the backs of slaves over the corpses of the native peoples, and we fought wars to open markets so that we could exploit others.

Revealing that reality is what drives those Americans to be concerned, afraid, and worried — they want to pull the blanket back over their heads, and if that requires more death and persecution and children thrown into cages, so be it. Those are not the Americans I want to make happy, though. Those are the comfortable burghers who need to be dragged into the public square and confronted with the fruits of their labors.

And what about the people who are fleeing to America? They aren’t criminals. They tend to be families who are trying to escape desperate, intolerable conditions in their home countries — conditions that are often a consequence of meddling and disruption by a certain Northern nation that prefers weak client states that serve its economic need. Read about the actual makeup of these migrants from people who study them. These migrants are the victims of gang violence, and are people with a fucking legitimate need to move to new opportunities, even to a country where official policy hates them and where they will be beaten and imprisoned and separated from their children.

For Central American residents, control of these gangs over their neighborhood likely means a weekly or monthly extortion payment simply for the right to operate a business or live in their territory. The price for failing to provide this money is death. All it takes is a neighbor or nearby shopkeeper to be gunned down for failing to pay the adequate fees, and it becomes clear that the only options are pay or flee. Parents may also send their children to the United States or take them north as the gangs try to recruit them into their activities: Boys of eleven years old (or younger) may be recruited as lookouts and teenage girls may be eyed for becoming the members’ “girlfriends.” Older women who date or at one point dated a gang member can become trapped and unable to escape the violence, with partner-violence a driving migratory factor for many women.

While the gang activities and gender-based violence can empty out neighborhoods, they are not the only factors driving outward migration from these cities. Across the region’s larger cities, LGBT migrants are fleeing discrimination and violence. At a recent trip to a migrant shelter in southern Mexico, I listened as the shelter’s director recounted the story of a father and teenage son who had fled Guatemala City only a few weeks prior: the father was afraid that his son would be killed for coming out as gay. It is not an idle threat. Since 2009, 264 LGBT people in Honduras have been murdered. The La 72 shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco even has a building in the shelter dedicated to providing specialized housing for LGBT migrants.

Our policy seems to be to stem the trickle of migration by making the US even more cruel and inhospitable than a Central American neighborhood dominated by MS-13 or Barrio-18, or by building walls so the “wretched refuse” die in the deserts outside our nonexistent Golden Door.

The very concept of “illegal immigration” is racist, white supremacist, and bigoted. Borders are artificial constructs used to maintain power imbalances, and what is undemocratic is refusing to acknowledge the needs and rights of whole groups of people on the basis of what side of an imaginary line they were born on. We use a racist notion of “legitimacy” to argue who lives, who dies, who suffers, who profits.

We should embrace and welcome people who see our country as a beacon, as representative of idealistic values we’re not particularly good at acting on, because maybe they’ll help change us to better be what we claim we are. Between the people in power who actually are fascists, and the media mouthpieces who make excuses for and enable the fascists, we need more people who are willing to stand up for equality and fairness and against oppression and brutality.

If only more cops were like Sam Vimes

I was reading this article ranking fictional cops, and I was wondering why, because I hadn’t heard of most of them, and then I hit the testimonial to Sam Vimes. Yes, this is why it was worth reading.

Sam Vimes believes that his role is to protect the powerless from the powerful, and to annoy rich people. And he does those things consistently, and works hard to keep the Ankh-Morpork police force more or less in line with that role. He’s not perfect, but we’re not supposed to think he can be, because Terry Pratchett is too awesome for that.

Sam motherfucking Vimes though. When the revolution came, he was on the barricades. Awesomely, through the power of time travel, HE WAS ON THE BARRICADES TWICE. Sam Vimes, fresh-faced young copper, joins an uprising as a young man, SEES THE REVOLUTION FAIL and then, as an older man thrown back into that era through time travel he JOINS THE REVOLUTION A SECOND TIME EVEN THOUGH HE KNOWS IT FAILED AND HELPS TO MAKE SURE IT SUCCEEDS. He BEATS UP A GOVERNMENTAL TORTURER AND BURNS DOWN THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE SECRET POLICE. He once showed up where two armies were squaring off to go to war and ARRESTED BOTH ARMIES FOR CONSPIRACY TO CAUSE A BREACH OF THE PEACE. SAM. VIMES.

Unfortunately, this had to come from a fantasy novel, because a cop who is not a thug in the service of the rich and powerful, and who has a deep moral commitment to protecting the poor and underprivileged, is a creature that can only exist in a world that is flat and resting on the backs of elephants riding a flying turtle.