Perhaps a hint at why right-wingers hate academia.

Yesterday I read about a new study—I cannot read the actual paper itself of course because it is behind a fucking paywall—that examined non-academic characteristics of a sample of incoming freshman to see which factors might predict their success or failure at college. High school grades are the single best predictor of college grades, but they still only account for about 20 percent of the difference between students’ ending up with good or bad college GPAs. The new research focused on outliers: the “thrivers” and “divers” who did much better or much worse in college, respectively, than would be expected based on their high school grades. Continue reading

GUEST POST: No supermen.

Please enjoy once again the beautifully expressed thoughts of my friend Ian. (Posted with permission.)

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We often quickly forget – perhaps because history focuses on the individual, rather than the conditions of a culture and society at any point in time and space – that no singular individual has themselves actually threatened the stability of of a country, or single handedly destroyed the moral and ethical fabric of a government.

This has never occurred in all of human history. We have no “supermen.”

Instead it has always been the hundreds of millions that stand behind a demagogue, and willingly do his bidding; willingly imprison, marginalize, institutionally enslave and murder the innocent.

Mobs of psychopaths; throngs of the fearful that turn as quickly as the undead into mindless monsters that violently consume anyone unwilling to submit to their narrow and bigoted view of existence; vast gangs of greedy, self-righteous insanely uneducated or willfully cognitively dissonant and yet mindful monsters that would be kings…. So many angry and poisonous weeds growing and choking out the splendor of human kindness…

It has never been just one man,… And if your only goal is preventing one man from becoming president while ignoring the hordes at his back….

I feel sad for you and the day you realize how short-sighted you were.

Fascism doesn’t knock at the door… It is a disease that you can’t see until half the body politik is coughing up blood.

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#muschniwogdowis of the day: Syria.

Today’s report in Most US Citizens Have No Idea What Our Government Does Or Who It Serves (#muschniwogdowis) follows.

The United States violated its ceasefire commitments with Russia, flew four military aircraft and a drone out of Iraq and bombed the shit out of a fragile Syrian Arab Army position at Deir ez-Zor, killing over 60 soldiers and injuring more than 100 others. Earlier in the day, Syria announced the arrival at the base of 1,000 additional soldiers to help liberate the surrounding region from ISIS control. A statement from US Central Command said “U.S. surveillance had been ‘tracking’ an Islamic State fighting position ‘for a significant amount of time before the strike.'” [<- o.O] An anonymous US official from the Department of Defense said the US strike “appears to be an intelligence failure.”

Whoops?

150,000 civilians (still) live in the Deir ez-Zor region, which has been held under ISIS control. While the Syrians and Russians have been hitting ISIS targets in the region for some time, the US had done absolutely nothing about that until yesterday.

For a…slightly different view, let’s hear what Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin had to say:

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Nine Eleven.

I wasn’t going to write anything today about September 11, 2001. I haven’t done so for the last few years, and before that I never said much about it anyway.

But just so you know: I watched the towers burn and then fall that day. I helped my work colleagues evacuate 30 Rockefeller Center that morning, when we still weren’t sure how many hijacked planes were still flying or what landmarks they might still target. I breathed the acrid, yellow air that hung over Manhattan for days. I brought flowers and candles to my local fire station in Hell’s Kitchen, and I wrote sad and grateful messages in a big book they kept there on the sidewalk.

From a high floor at 30 Rock, I heard bagpipes day after day after day after day. The funerals at St. Patrick’s cathedral—so, so many goddamn funerals— could only be seen from the north side of the building, but it seemed no matter where you were, you could always hear those bagpipes. I still recall those days vividly whenever I hear bagpipes.

I find this subject very, very difficult to write about, talk about or think about, and I’m pretty sure I know why. It’s that I am still processing the events of that day, and the wars, opportunistic power grabs and unconscionable greed unleashed over the last fifteen years. It was and still is traumatic.

But it’s a different kind of trauma than any I’ve every experienced, before or since. All of the others were strictly personal. September 11, 2001, and my government’s actions since that day, have profoundly affected not just me, but my city, my country and much of the world. And I have come to realize that the way I am dealing with the grief, the rage, the insights and revelations that come later whether you want them to or not, is much the same: I make art. I make a life. I write.

It is not lost on me that when I write about abortion rights and feminism and rape and abuse, I am also saying something about my own life. And when I write about politics, war, religious conservatives and conservative Democrats, I am also saying something about September 11, 2001.

If I have learned anything on my journey that I can share with you, it’s this: find joy in your day. Today and every day. Bring joy to others where you can. Otherwise, the terrorists really do win.

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Justice is the only worship.
Love is the only priest.

Ignorance is the only slavery.
Happiness is the only good.
The time to be happy is now,
The place to be happy is here,
The way to be happy is to make others so.
Robert Green Ingersoll

peacesign

PEACE.

Gangs of New York.

Over at The Nation, Simon Davis-Cohen has a piece up that will surprise no one who follows #blacklivesmatter. What’s new here, at least to me, is not the NYPD’s over-the-top militarization, or the disproportionate targeting of communities of color for aggressive over-policing. It’s not even that in the United States of La-La-Land, the criminal justice system does not work the way we whites think it does, the way were propagandized to believe it does. It’s that as the system’s tactics morph, new and different harms continue to befall these communities in unexpected—and unexpectedly devastating—ways. With apologies to our cephalopod friends for the unfair comparison, the tentacles of state violence are constantly shape-shifting without reason, compassion or constraint.

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Grave dancing! Phyllis Schlafly edition.

Phyllis Schlafly is dead. Whoo-hoo!

Yes I know, I know. I am a terrible person and you should definitely stay far, far away from me and especially my blog. It’s true that I was actually a bit sad when Scalia kicked the bucket, but that was only because I would forever be denied the number one experience on my bucket list: mooning that fucker.

But Schlafly? I feel nothing but unadulterated joy in her passing. #sorrynotsorry

I cannot wait until Dick Cheney’s day comes. I might throw a goddamn parade!

Jeezus is just not selling me on this one.

I take tremendous pride in my half-assed, semi-regular attempts to extract $82 billion worth of benefits per year from the Religion-Industrial-Complex on behalf of atheist U.S. taxpayers. I find this a worthwhile endeavor not only as a retort to the appalling injustice of $82 billion in yearly taxpayer subsidies to the R-I-C, but also because I thoroughly enjoy mocking one particular church sign in the small town in Northern Maryland where my mother lives. Granted, it may not provide the full $82 billion in amusement value. But we have to start somewhere, people.

Today’s church sign does not disappoint.

churchsignprescool

THE BEST THINGS IN
LIFE AREN’T THINGS
PRESCOOL
ENROLLING NOW

TRINITY WORSHIP 9&11

Now let me underscore here that literacy privilege is A Thing, and generally speaking we should not mock those who do not have it. Earth is home to an astonishing number of amazing and interesting people whose ideas are well worth engaging, even if spelling and grammar are not their personal forte. This could be true for any number of reasons that come to mind readily enough: learning disabilities; neurocognitive effects of injury, illness or environmental toxins; poor nutrition; mental illness, including trauma from homelessness or abuse; and of course late exposure to non-native English. But here in these exceptional United States we have another problem. My friend CaitieCat explains:

Particularly in a US context, where educational options are very strongly influenced by class (and race, in an intertwined manner), riding the xenophobes for misspelling ‘illegals’ as ‘illeagles’, or “Muslim” as “muslin”, what we’re saying is, “You should have been smart enough to get yourself born to the right kind of parents, who’d give you access to the best education, who were educated themselves enough to teach you ‘proper’ English, and who were rich enough to make sure you never had to work after school instead of studying!”

So yeah, let’s not do that. Tempting as it may be to go after the low-hanging fruit, we can and we damn well should mock xenophobes for being racist and conservative and terrible entitled assholes. This way, the splash damage splatters all over racists and conservatives and terrible entitled assholes, not shitty spellers. Really, that’s the very least of our problems with these humans.

With all that said, if you accept (tax-free!) tuition money to indoctrinate educate 3- and 4-year old kids, and your curriculum explicitly states “Our students are exposed to structured centers enhancing emergent literacy skills (reading & writing),” WE GET TO FUCKING MOCK YOU FOR SPELLING PRESCHOOL WRONG.

Have a nice day.

Ask Iris: How is Sam Harris wrong? Part 1.

A friend and Loyal Reader™ forwarded me a recent screed by Sam Harris. He asked if I would be willing to indulge him in letting him know what in it, if anything, I think is “objectionable, disagree with or find otherwise ill-advised.” Harris’s post, entitled “What Hillary Clinton Should Say about Islam and the ‘War on Terror,’” is written in the form of a proposed speech that he would like for the Democratic nominee for president to give before the November election. “Its purpose,” Harris says, “is to prevent a swing toward Trump by voters who find Clinton’s political correctness on the topic of Islam and jihadism a cause for concern.”

I did a debunking of Harris almost two years ago on this very topic. It was a tedious exercise, mainly because like all right-wing conservatives and reactionaries, he bases his irrational, evidence-free, simplistic, black-&-white views and arguments, such as they are, on falsehoods and factual inaccuracies that are a cakewalk to disprove. The task was all the more unbearable because I’ve always found Harris an unoriginal and uninteresting thinker and a witless and dull writer, so much so that I’m genuinely amazed he is not a regular op-ed columnist for the New York Times.

That said, he is certainly an incendiary polemicist. Or he tries to be anyway, but for me he comes off as smug and comically uninformed as any ordinary Fox News host. Except for a few items that popped up in my feeds, Harris had largely dropped off my radar. Those sure were a couple of doozies, though. Last year he made his jaw-dropping claim that far-right fabulist and then-presidential candidate Ben Carson is “one of the best people” on the subject of Islam and terrorism, even as Carson’s “own advisers admit [he] struggles with grasping basic facts surrounding international conflicts.” Before that, Noam Chomsky—who is the farthest thing from an unoriginal and uninteresting thinker or a witless and dull writer—ate him for lunch. Oh, and then there was that one time I made a bobblehead of Sam Harris for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

harrisbobblehead

Researching for today’s post, however, I came across many more Harris grotesqueries that I was fortunate enough to miss, ignore or block from memory: support for racial profiling, torture, preemptive nuclear war, demanding that the US government admit that it is and ought to be “at war with Islam” and that “The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”

Sensible fascists. Jeezus.

A decade ago, Harris wrote that Muslim immigrants to Europe exploit the Western values of their host countries by “demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques.” He is inexplicably unaware that, in accordance with his much-touted “Western values,” his fellow US citizens not only demand “tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques churches“—and also happens to be the foundational principle upon which US “civilization” is and has always been based—they fucking receive it. He’s also unaware that immigrant populations assimilate to their host culture within a few generations—well, at least if they’re treated decently, for instance by having their host country not declare war on their religion or its presidential candidates threatening and demonizing them.

I honestly don’t know why I am undertaking this task again. Maybe because I find it troubling that anyone but a Fox News viewer would take the guy seriously on this issue, when conducting a cursory investigation into the facts and evidence for yourself will reveal how completely and utterly wrong he is about a unique nexus between Islamic religious ideas and terrorism (and misogyny), as well as how unethical, irrational, irresponsible and dangerous it is to promote such falsehoods. Maybe I’m doing this because I have some unhealthy masochistic tendencies I really should bring up in therapy. Maybe it’s because I like honoring the 1940s-era pianist and comedian Oscar Levant who said, “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

Well, regardless, now I’ve gone and done it. My comments and edits to Harris’s latest…whatever it is are in blue.

SPOILER ALERT: Sam Harris is still wanking all over the same, tired hobbyhorse. He has learned nothing. And he likely never will.

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All Olympians Are Great Athletes; A Few, However, Are Not Yet Good Role Models for Rational Decision-Making

Introduction

The Olympics have been amazing. We are smitten with wonder, admiration and respect for the beyond-belief levels of sustained brutal training, laser focus and genius-level skills exhibited by those who rose to Olympian heights, let alone scaled the summits—called podiums. And then there are people like Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and other Superpersons, who no way could have been born on this planet. Something is going on here, and I hope Donald Trump will soon be asking pointed questions, raising suspicions about these Promethean heroes and heroines who infiltrated themselves amongst talented but still mere mortals.

Speaking of Michael Phelps, let me raise a question: What’s with those circular bruises? A little investigating reveals that Michael The Great might invest too much credulity in New Age, alternative/integrative/traditional Chinese medicine BS.

Cupping is a fad involving the flow of one’s vital life force via the suction of heated glass bowls applied to the skin. Holy hocus pocus. How come American or other Olympic officials indulged athletes flaunting their cups on prime time world TV? Such appearances were inadvertent ads for pseudoscience. The exposure of cupping marks on winners bestowed an air of legitimacy on baseless and potentially harmful treatments—all of it beamed into the consciousness of impressionable children and gullible adults. C’est dommage.

As for cupping, this silliness has no medical or scientific basis—and it can be quite dangerous, often leading to burns and infections.

Olympian Gullibility

Did you observe the indicators of woo woo at the Games? No, I’m not referring to the many signs of the cross before or after races (is that a good luck charm or a request for outside assistance from a deity?). I’m referring to interviewees who claimed, I am so blessed (as opposed to their rivals who did not get blessed?), the fingers in the air pointing to a deity in the sky (influencing events, doing favors?), other indications that competitors give credence to homeopathy, acupuncture, kinesiology tape and yes, cupping.

What ever happened to the rabbit’s foot?

Cupping?

Basically, cupping entails having someone stick heated suction cups or glass bulbs on the  skin. Olympians said they cupped to ease soreness in order to swim or run faster, jump higher, stay cooler, align their chakras and qi, and/or do whatever they wanted cupping to do for them. But, of course, they had to believe, that is, have faith, just like in religion.

In addition to the ancient Chinese, it seems some North American Indians engaged in cupping, as did Egyptians more than a thousand years before we got to AD 1. It was part of bloodletting at one time, which might now be seen as another form of alternative medicine that might make a comeback, if a movie star or Dr. Oz or Deepak recommend it.

You can find gruesome photos of what cupping might do for you if you allow a quack to suck poisons or toxins from your body by cupping you. Medical doctors consider some of the marks on a 60 year-old Chinese man in a well-publicized case to be third-degree burns. Such wounds usually become infected and possibly septic.

Consider what physician skeptic/debunker David Gorski wrote on “The Science Blog” on July 1, 2016:

Cupping is nothing more than an ancient medical practice based on a prescientific understanding of the body and disease, much like bloodletting and treatments based on the ‘Four Humors.’ it’s all risk for no benefit. It has no place in modern medicine, or at least shouldn’t. After all, we don’t still believe in the four humors that Hippocrates and ancient ‘Western’ medicine invoked for many hundreds of years. TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) is based on much the same concepts, just with different names, substituting, for example, the ‘Five Elements’ for the ‘Four Humors’ and attributing disease to imbalances in them, just as ancient Western physicians attributed disease to imbalances in the ‘Four Humors.’ Yet ‘integrative medicine’ rejects one and embraces the other when it should be rejecting them both.

All Hail the Olympians, Anyway

Cupping and other superstitions aside, there is nothing but wonder and appreciation in my view for the magnificent performances shown by nearly all competitors (Hope Solo? Maybe not so much). Olympians are indeed amazing, even more so if not extraterrestrials, after all. Maybe those who inadvertently promoted medical silliness will use their platforms in the future to promote evidence-based medicine, scientific acumen and skeptical inquiry, and maybe even REAL wellness.

May you be well, choose wisely, enjoy the quest and die healthy, but not until you’re good and ready.