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More Penetrating Insights From Richard Dawkins, SUPERGENIUS

[ 204 ] November 24, 2015 |


You may recall Richard Dawkins from such original, deeply important thoughts as “Ahmed Mohamed did not invent the concept of timepieces.” The world’s most important public intellectual — just ask him! — would like to expand on that:

So, not only is a Mohamed guilty of “hoax” based on Richard Dawkins’s fervid imagining of what Mohamed claimed to have done, Mohamed is comparable to a murderer, because he and the murderer share the same faith. Dawkins is the best spokesman for atheism a religious person could dream of.


Heat Stress as Global Health Crisis

[ 5 ] November 24, 2015 |


With climate change leading to the warming of the planet, we need to start thinking about heat stress as a major global health problem that deserves serious attention. This story on Central American sugar workers should alarm you and move you to thinking about these issues more carefully.

Protecting agricultural workers from heat exposure is more problematic. Back in El Salvador, supply chain NGO Solidaridad has been piloting a project at sugar cane mill El Angel with partner La Isla Foundation to see if new tools and cutting methods, as well as better working conditions (providing shade and water, and enforcing breaks), can help improve health and productivity. Sven Sielhorst, global sugar cane programme manager for Solidaridad, says: “We need strong partners to make sure that these improved work practices get broadly adopted in Central America and any other region where this disease occurs.”

Trabanino is calling on employers to take a lead on reducing workers’ exposure to heat stress both now and in the future. “Small changes in working conditions can have a big impact,” he argues, adding that “prevention [of heat-related illnesses] is not only cheaper, it’s far easier than treatment.”

Of course, given the sugar industry’s long indifference toward its workers (not to mention history of just working slaves to death), the less than robust believe in workers’ rights in nations like El Salvador, and the utter and complete indifference of American and European food companies who buy the sugar (or the vast majority of American companies for that matter) to the conditions of their supply chain, I’d say the chances of seriously protecting Central American sugar workers from dying of heat stroke seems remote. We could do something by demanding the Corporate Responsibility Act I lay out in Out of Sight that would make corporations legally accountable for those supply chains. Sadly, that is not happening anytime soon.

Academic Job Applications

[ 69 ] November 24, 2015 |


Above: And should include no more

This post is probably only of interest to academics, but then that probably describes half the readership. Increasingly, universities are asking for ridiculous amounts of material for job applications. It needs to stop. It’s unfair to the job applicants, who are already subject to all sorts of unfair and exploitative practices, most egregiously having to spend over $1000 to go to a big conference for what is often a single first-round interview. David Perry calls for a simplified application process:

California State University-Channel Islands is hiring a premodern European historian. The online job ad requires all the usual documents: CV, cover letter, teaching statement, and syllabi examples. Midway through the application process, however, surprises lurk.

First, there’s a spot to upload a writing sample, even though no writing sample is required. The university wants scanned teaching evaluations, but allows only up to 2 megabytes of data. Worst of all, as a candidate works through the online application, nine mini-essay questions with text boxes pop up with no warning. If you want to be considered as a candidate for this job — one of a relatively small number of positions open for a pre-1848 Europeanist — you’d better get writing.

We all know the supply of Ph.D.s looking for full-time work vastly outstrips the available pool of full-time jobs, and academia is struggling for solutions to that macro problem. But one thing we could do: Make the process of locating, applying for, and tracking jobs far more humane. I’ve already advocated that we put an end to costly in-person first-round interviews, move the date on which governing boards vote on an appointment to earlier in the hiring cycle, and formalize the hiring of adjuncts in order to treat them like the professionals they are.

The Cal State job ad points to yet another solvable problem: hyperspecificity in the application requirements.

Mind you, this is all for a 4-4 job that won’t pay you enough to live decently in southern California. Certainly not enough to own a home. What are the essays they make candidates answer?

What do you think about the CSUCI mission statement?

If you are a new Ph.D., briefly describe the topic, significance, and publication plans of your dissertation.

If you are not a new Ph.D., describe your current research project(s), significance, and plans for publication.

Please list those courses you would like to teach at CSUCI in the future.

What makes you a good candidate to work at a young university with plans for rapid growth?

Please explain how your career exemplifies the teacher-scholar model.

Describe one innovative idea that you implemented that enhanced student learning or success, and why you think it was so successful.

Please describe your experience with and commitment to interdisciplinarity including what it means to you.

Please describe your commitment to working with diverse populations, including how you would define “diversity.”

This is totally ridiculous. First, there’s no good reason to ask these questions. Second, the search committee is highly unlikely to read the answer. For a premodern Europe job like this, Perry suggests perhaps 300 applicants. That seems reasonable. That means 2700 short essays for the search committee, which probably consists of 3 people, to read. You know what the chances of them reading those 2700 essays are? 0%. Maybe when they cut it to a short list they would get to it. But it’s not actually possible to read 2700 essays, in addition to all the other material requested. This does nothing more than exploit people already desperate for work in an extreme buyers’ market. CSU-Channel Islands should be ashamed.

Factual Accuracy is For Evil Liberals

[ 136 ] November 24, 2015 |

In Texas, this is just a worker.

Texas gonna Texas:

Top Texas education officials rejected Wednesday letting university experts fact-check textbooks approved for use in public-school classrooms statewide, instead reaffirming a vetting system that has helped spark years of ideological battles over how potentially thorny lessons in history and science are taught.

The Board of Education approves textbooks in the nation’s second-largest state and stood by its vetting process — despite a Houston-area mother recently complaining that a world geography book used by her son’s ninth grade class referred to African slaves as “workers.” The publisher, McGraw-Hill Education, apologized and moved to make immediate edits.

Republican board member Thomas Ratliff had proposed bringing in academics to check textbooks only for factual errors, but his measure failed 8-7 after lengthy discussion.

We all know that factual accuracy is for libtards and America-haters. Assertions about the awesomeness of America not backed up with facts is the education our children will need, at least if they are going to be good shock troops in the Trump Youth.

Posner v. The Arbitrary Abortion Obstacle Course

[ 56 ] November 24, 2015 |


The Wisconsin statute seeking to shut down a majority of the state’s abortion clinics for no legitimate reason is exactly the kind of law you’d like to sic Richard Posner (who memorably eviscerated the asserted constitutionality of bans of “partial birth” abortion) on. Fortunately, Posner was on the panel that heard the appeal, and the results are outstanding:

The fixing of such a short deadline for obtaining admitting privileges, a deadline likely to deny many women the right to an abortion for a period of months while the abortion doctors tried to obtain those privileges, could be justified consistently with the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence only if there were reason to believe that the health of women who have abortions is endangered if their abortion doctors don’t have admitting privileges. The district court correctly found that there is no reason to believe that. A woman who experiences complications from an abortion (either while still at the clinic where the abortion was performed or at home afterward) will go to the nearest hospital which will treat her regardless of whether her abortion doctor has admitting privileges.


As it happens, complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous-a fact that further attenuates the need for abortion doctors to have admitting privileges.


The state presented no other evidence of complications from abortions in Wisconsin that were not handled adequately by the hospitals in the state. And no documentation of a medical need for requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges had been presented to the Wisconsin legislature when it was deliberating on the bill that became the statute challenged in this case. The only medical evi-dence that had been submitted to the legislature had come from a doctor representing the Wisconsin Medical Society- and she opposed requiring that abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges. The only testimony presented to the legislature that admitting privileges are important to continuity of care was presented by a representative of Wisconsin Right to Life who happens not to be a doctor.


It’s also true, though according to the cases just quoted irrelevant, that a 90-mile trip is no big deal for persons who own a car or can afford an Amtrak or Greyhound ticket. But more than 50 percent of Wisconsin women seeking abortions have incomes below the federal poverty line and many of them live in Milwaukee (and some north or west of that city and so even farther away from Chicago). For them a round trip to Chicago, and finding a place to stay overnight in Chi-cago should they not feel up to an immediate return to Wis-consin after the abortion, may be prohibitively expensive. The State of Wisconsin is not offering to pick up the tab, or any part of it. These women may also be unable to take the time required for the round trip away from their work or the care of their children. The evidence at trial, credited by the district judge, was that 18 to 24 percent of women who would need to travel to Chicago or the surrounding area for an abortion would be unable to make the trip.


But what makes no sense is to abridge the constitutional right to an abortion on the basis of spurious contentions regarding women’s health-and the abridgment challenged in this case would actually endanger women’s health. It would do that by reducing the number of abortion doctors in Wisconsin, thereby increasing the waiting time for obtaining an abortion, and that increase would in turn compel some women to defer abortion to the second trimester of their pregnancy-which the studies we cited earlier find to be riskier than a first-trimester abortion. For abortions performed in the first trimester the rate of major complications is 0.05-0.06 percent (that is, between five one-hundredths of 1 percent and six one-hundredths of 1 percent). It is 1.3 per-cent for second-trimester abortions-between 22 and 26 times higher.


Opponents of abortion reveal their true objectives when they procure legislation limited to a medical procedure- abortion-that rarely produces a medical emergency. A number of other medical procedures are far more dangerous to the patient than abortion, yet their providers are not re-quired to obtain admitting privileges anywhere, let alone within 30 miles of where the procedure is performed.


But a statute that curtails the constitutional right to an abortion, such as the Wisconsin and Texas statutes, cannot survive challenge without evidence that the curtailment is justifiable by reference to the benefits conferred by the statute. The statute may not be irrational, yet may still impose an undue burden-a burden excessive in relation to the aims of the statute and the benefits likely to be conferred by it- and if so it is unconstitutional.

The evidence of benefits that was presented to the Texas legislature and discussed by the Fifth Circuit was weak; in our case it’s nonexistent. The principal witness for the State of Wisconsin, Dr. Thorp, mentioned earlier, testified that the But he could not substantiate that proposition and admitted that both rates are very low. His expert report states that there are “increased risks of death for women electing [abortion] compared to child-birth,” but the studies he cited measured long-term mortality rates rather than death resulting from an abortion, and also failed to control for socioeconomic status, marital status, or a variety of other factors relevant to longevity. [cites omitted] In contrast, the plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Laube tendered a more apt study which concluded that the risk of death associated with childbirth is 14 times higher than that associated with abortion. [cite omitted]

Dr. Thorp acknowledged that the number of abortion providers is declining, but attributed this (again without substantiation) not to harassment but to our society’s “progressing in its recognition of what constitutes human life.” And he agreed as we noted earlier that admitting privileges are no more necessary for abortion than for other outpatient surgical procedures. Neither Thorp nor any other witness for the defendants was able to cite a case in which a woman who had a complication from an abortion wasn’t properly treated for it because her abortion doctor lacked admitting privileges. The evidence was heavily weighted against the defendants. We do not agree with the Fifth Circuit that evidence is irrelevant in a constitutional case concerning abortion.

TL;DR: if statutory requirements that make abortion far less accessible, placing a disproportionate burden on the poorest women, while having no relationship to a legitimate state interest do not constitute an “undue burden,” the term has no meaning.

To reiterate, if laws like the Wisconsin law are upheld by the Supreme Court, Roe has been overruled.

I Will Send an Su-24 Fencer to Remind You of My Love

[ 224 ] November 24, 2015 |
Sukhoi Su-24 inflight Mishin-2.jpg

“Sukhoi Su-24 inflight Mishin-2” by Alexander Mishin – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Well, shit.

The Turkish military has reportedly shot down a Russian military aircraft on the border with Syria.

Russia’s defence ministry said an Su-24 had crashed on Syrian territory after being hit by fire from the ground.

But Turkish military officials said Turkish F-16s had shot down the plane after repeatedly warning its two crew they were violating Turkish airspace.

The crew ejected before the jet crashed in Latakia province, but Syrian rebels said at least one was dead.

You kinda wish that the Turks would chill out just a touch, but then you kind of wish that the Russians would stop violating Turkish airspace (slipping in and out with some regularity) with their transponders off, while bombing Turkey’s friends in Syria.

Could get ugly. Stay tuned.

…Guardian live updates are pretty good.

…I should have a Bloggingheads up later today on the issue.

…How does an air intercept work?

…This has come up a couple times in comments; the Russian aircraft did not transit Turkey in order to carry out attacks. The Russians have had about three dozen fighter and attack aircraft in Syria since last month.

Corporate Inversions

[ 39 ] November 23, 2015 |


Another giant corporate merger so that American corporations can escape American taxes:

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said on Monday that it had struck a $160 billion deal, including debt, to merge with Allergan, the maker of Botox, in one of the biggest takeovers in the health care industry.

The agreement would also be the biggest deal in what has been a banner year for mergers, driven in part by consolidation in the health care and pharmaceutical sectors. Merger and acquisition activity worldwide surpassed $4 trillion as of Thursday, for only the second time since Thomson Reuters began keeping records in 1980.

The deal is the latest — and the largest — to be aimed at helping an American company lower its taxes by reincorporating overseas, a practice known as a corporate inversion.

President Obama has called inversions “unpatriotic.” His administration has tried to crack down on the strategy this year, with the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service announcing additional rules last week meant to further restrict the practice. The United States government has already lost billions of dollars in tax revenue from inversions, particularly in recent years.

Of course, corporations don’t care about patriotism unless they can wring profit from it. Their only loyalty is to cash. Democrats have introduced bills to stop corporate inversions, but of course they have gone nowhere in a Republican Congress ready to serve as the lapdog of industry. This Economist piece is flawed but gets at the two major issues. First, we have a relatively high corporate tax rate that nobody pays because of the endless loopholes. Those loopholes should be closed and perhaps a lower overall rate is a reasonable compromise if they are in fact closed. Second, the U.S. attempts to tax all corporate profit regardless of what country it was generated in. Other nations don’t do that, incentivizing American companies to limit their ties with the U.S. The problem here isn’t a mean American taxation system, it’s a matter of enforcement, as well as other nations not taxing corporations enough, which admittedly we can do nothing about.

Perhaps this Pfizer deal will move the needle on this issue a bit, but I doubt it.

The Deep Thoughts of Scott Adams, SUPERGENIUS

[ 125 ] November 23, 2015 |


Beth alluded to this below, but I cannot resist making fun of Scott Adams’s complaints about how women rule the world:

When we get home, access to sex is strictly controlled by the woman.

Um, as Beth’s linkee observes, “Er, dude, that’s how sex works. Both sex partners have to agree to it, otherwise it’s rape. And men have veto power when it comes to sex just like women do.” But this is just standard-issue “you buy her a Big Mac with fries and she WON’T EVEN PUT OUT” misogynist whining. Things proceed to get more idiosyncratically sexist:

If the woman has additional preferences in terms of temperature, beverages, and whatnot, the man generally complies.

If women always get their way on temperature, I’m pretty sure it’s news to them. But at least temperature is a common good that affects both people in a room and is subject to negotiation and compromise. The thing about how women always get their way with beverages, though, is really weird. In my understanding, it is entirely possible for people to consume a particular beverage while — at the same time, even! — someone else consumes a different beverage. Also, I may be unique in this regard, but I must say that while people are guests in my home, I try to accommodate their beverage requests irrespective of their gender or whether I am interested in having sex with them. How can I ever escape the iron grip of the matriarchy?

If I fall in love and want to propose, I am expected to do so on my knees, to set the tone for the rest of the marriage.

Um, yeah, not really. I have even heard rumors that some agreements to marry involve mutual discussion, and in some vanishingly rare cases may involve proposals by women.

This pretty much speaks for itself:

So if you are wondering how men become cold-blooded killers, it isn’t religion that is doing it. If you put me in that situation, I can say with confidence I would sign up for suicide bomb duty. And I’m not even a believer. Men like hugging better than they like killing. But if you take away my access to hugging, I will probably start killing, just to feel something. I’m designed that way. I’m a normal boy. And I make no apology for it.

I find the causal logic here both unpersuasive and highly disturbing. Although perhaps America’s epidemic of firearm violence is really the product of uppity women who will not even let men dictate their beverage choices.

Crazylinks: Monday Edition

[ 49 ] November 23, 2015 |

  • Scott Adams is not a normal boy.
  • Lana Del Rey is a new conservative icon. No, really.  Aside from this being the usual bonkers conservative culture war crap, this column is also horribly written. I confess I’m used to men masturbating over their own writing but I’m pretty sure Stephanie Edelman needed a cigarette after writing dreck like this: “They scream and clap and gaze transfixed when Lana graces the stage, a David Lynch-like vision of loveliness, and haunting in her incarnation of Americana nostalgia.” Now, while admit that Lynch has a certain je ne sais quoi, I’m not sure I’d want to look like him if I were a female-presenting woman.
  • MST3K is back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • You want dino erotica? Well, I don’t have it! But I do have a Chuck Tingler erotica title generator, which is possibly better!


Today in Reasonable Conservatives

[ 5 ] November 23, 2015 |


Remember when Mitch Daniels, Reasonable Conservative, was a thing when pundits were talking about Republican presidential candidates? Those were good times. Well, Daniels is now president of Purdue. There have been a lot of racist incidents during his presidency:

Last December, more than 150 Purdue students marched to Daniels’ office in a “Purdue Can’t Breathe” rally. The year before, hundreds of students chanted, “Mitch, let’s face it/It’s time to deal with racists.”

Students of colors have told stories about others on campus hurling racial epithets at them and even physically assaulting them. There were also more high-profile incidents, like when someone scrawled the N-word across a picture of Dr. Cornell Bell, a prominent African American academic and advocate for minority students, or when the words “white supremacy” were written in the Black Cultural Center. Two anonymous Twitter accounts dedicated to mocking Asian students at Purdue also elicited protests. In 2012, the FBI announced that Purdue had reported the second largest number of hate crimes on campus, including five incidents of racial bias in one year.

The 2013 protests demanded the administration take specific actions to improve the culture on campus, including doubling the number of minority faculty and students in the next years, requiring racial sensitivity workshops for faculty, and creating a zero-tolerance policy that results in expulsion for racist acts. The 2014 rally followed up with more demands, saying Daniels was too slow to act.

So his response to the protests at Yale and Missouri? Congratulations on his own great leadership.

With that kind of leadership, maybe Daniels should write a book about how his brand of leaderocity and leadertude can inspire a whole generation of leadership studies students! Because being a university president is nothing but an exercise in self-promotion and justifying your own actions to make yourself look good.

Oh White People

[ 104 ] November 23, 2015 |


My god….

In a new poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on Tuesday, a whopping 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. And an even bigger share of Americans — 53 percent — told pollsters American culture and “way of life” have mostly changed for the worse since 1950.

First, there are some real and large differences in the way that different groups of Americans answered those two questions up above. Half of white Americans — including 60 percent of the white working class — told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of black Americans agreed. White Americans feel put-upon and mistreated — and large shares of non-white Americans do not seem to have any knowledge of the challenges that white Americans say they face.

This is the base of the Trump voter and rise of proto-fascism in the United States in the last few years. White people frankly want a return to their romanticized vision of the white dominant past in ways that would not look unfamiliar to supporters of Hitler and Mussolini. Race has always been a zero-sum game for many American whites and periodically large numbers of whites enter into a period of full-fledged racial hysteria, even if to the rational community who can look at any number of metrics, this makes no sense. I will however say that the numbers of the white working class are particularly important because the economic insecurity of an outsourced and automated economy, the effects of which are swept under the rug by the many proponents of unrestricted globalization, are very real. I have said for a long time that if you want a stable society you have to have good paying jobs. Without those jobs, racial and religious prejudice becomes even more powerful than it usually is. That is part of what we are seeing in this recent rise of proto-fascism. It’s scary and should make us rethink a lot about the society we want to build before it’s too late.

Battery Recycling and Toxicity

[ 8 ] November 23, 2015 |


One does not want to live around a lead battery recycling facility:

In the wake of a growing lead pollution investigation in neighborhoods around the now shuttered Exide Technologies plant in Vernon, state toxics regulators have ordered a second lead battery recycler in nearby Industry to test soil outside its property for lead contamination.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has given Quemetco, Inc. until the end of the month to submit a schedule for testing, beginning with a half-mile radius around the facility at 720 S. Seventh St. Each day, the plant processes up to 1.2 million pounds of scrap and lead.

As with Exide, testing may eventually stretch up to a mile away from the plant if initial findings indicate the possibility of wider spread contamination.

Dot Lofstrom, a division chief overseeing cleanup programs at DTSC, said the soil testing around Quemetco comes in part because of growing pollution concerns around Exide. In August, her agency announced lead dust from the Exide may have fouled as many 10,000 homes.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t really get into the demographics of the neighborhood. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t a poor neighborhood of color.

This also gets to the point that while we think recycling is a great thing, it’s very much a out of sight-out of mind thing and in fact the wages of recycling are really nasty for both workers and nearby residents.

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