Jon Stewart on Ferguson….and Fox’s response

You are tired of hearing about “racism”? Well, some of us are tried of the racism to begin with.

This is one of his best episodes, ever.

Yes, she shooting victim was not a virtuous citizen. But there is enough to suggest that she was shot while he wasn’t a threat and there is overwhelming evidence that black males are not treated fairly by law enforcement (on the whole).

August 27, 2014 Posted by | racism, ranting, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Obama Derangement Syndrome

Ok, the airline shoot down was a horrible thing; we need to let the facts come in. It was shot down (BUK?) and we need to know: Russian Military? Rebel forces with Russian equipment? guessed it; our wingnuts are all over President Obama.

Here, they attempt to compare President Reagan’s response to USSR Air Force fighters shooting down a Korean Air Lines plane to the current President Obama response.

Uh, wingnuts:

1. President Reagan’s address was on September 5, 1983, and the shoot down was on September 1, 1983.

2. The Korean plane was shot down by official Soviet fighter jets; we still don’t know the details of TODAY’s shootdown (who, with what?)

Also, some are jumping on President Obama for…eating lunch and doing other duties?

These people have forfeited the right to be taken seriously; they are a joke.

By the way: I note that they don’t mention the US shooting down an Iranian Airliner while President Reagan was still in office.

July 18, 2014 Posted by | ranting, social/political, world events | | Leave a comment

Hobby Lobby SCOTUS case: if you are a liberal and didn’t vote for Gore in 2000: STFU

Elections have consequences. Here are two of them: Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

So, in 2016: the election matters. Republicans and Democrats are NOT the same. Period.

June 30, 2014 Posted by | political/social, ranting | Leave a comment

But it is all natural, 100 percent organic and GMO free!

(I know, redundant)



So why don’t you make a salad of it, or perhaps rub it all over yourself?


Seriously, this is why this “natural = good, GMO = bad” stuff cracks me up. Plants evolved so as to make it more likely that they reproduce at higher rates; they didn’t evolve for our benefit.

June 28, 2014 Posted by | ranting, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

I am a bad liberal…..

I am a bad liberal for many reasons.

1. I think that the fears about GMOs are way overblown; there is no evidence that GMO food is bad for you or that “organic” is better for you.

2. I am not a big fan of NPR and their shows such as Prairie Home Companion, What Do You Know, Wait, wait, don’t tell me, Cartalk, etc.

3. I don’t like watching soccer:


4. I think that personal responsibility is a good thing (e. g., having only the number of kids you can afford to have, etc.)

5. I think that George Will made some reasonable “statistical” points in his article and a good point about the murkiness of a sexual assault charge (though his claim about survivors of sexual assault having a coveted status was stupid and probably turned people off right at the start). Mr. Will is no intellectual giant, but the people calling for his firing aren’t either.

6. I don’t nod my head and agree with XXXXX activists right away; I like to weigh their opinions and arguments first.

7. I have contempt for woo-woo of all types…


8. I find Unitarian Churches only slightly less annoying than other churches.

9. I see little good about Islamic Republics; I find the behavior of many of them to be backwards and barbaric.

10. I refuse to “reason by slogan” (e. g. “war on xxxx”, “fat shaming”, “slut shaming”, “bullying”, blah blah blah…)

11. I find activists, on the whole, to have more passion for than knowledge about their area.

12. I value “knowing what you are talking about” more highly than how passionate someone believes something.

13. I think that getting the best public policy is a constrained optimization problem; e. g. I might want, say, single payer insurance but that wasn’t going to happen. We were lucky to even get the ACA.

14. I back politicians that can actually win on a national level: you might clamor for a Sanders-Warren ticket but not me. I’d rather elect someone that will get 30-40 percent of what I want than to go down with all flags flying with someone who espouses 90 percent of what I want.

15. I don’t see the mundane as “awesome”; to me, “awesome” implies an outlier type quality to a performance.

16. I like boxing and football. I did both (former at the PE class level) and would do so again.

17. I view women to be like men in this regard: they are flawed human beings trying to get along in the world. They are not better than men…nor are they worse.

18. I am not a feminist and have no desire to be to be thought of as one. Yes, women should be treated fairly and are often not (I agree with about 80-90 percent of what is in this book)

June 17, 2014 Posted by | ranting, social/political | , | Leave a comment

On knowing what you are talking about….

First: this is how some discussions about religion appear to me. Comments to the effect of “I don’t see how it could be otherwise” are not convincing.


When people talk about raising the retirement age, remember that there is a big spread in “years lived after 65″ between wealthier white collar workers and poorer blue collar ones.

See here:

I was pleased to see this article by Annie Lowrey documenting the growing disparity in life expectancy between the haves and the have-nots. It’s kind of frustrating, however, that this is apparently coming as news not just to many readers but to many policymakers and pundits. Many of us have been trying for years to get this point across — to point out that when people call for raising the Social Security and Medicare ages, they’re basically saying that janitors must keep working because corporate lawyers are living longer. Yet it never seems to sink in.

Maybe this article will change that. But my guess is that in a week or two we will once again hear a supposed wise man saying that we need to raise the retirement age to 67 because of higher life expectancy, unaware that (a) life expectancy hasn’t risen much for half of workers (b) we’ve already raised the retirement age to 67.

Ms. Lowrey’s article is here.

Here is one of my pet peeves: all too often, a non-specialist will attempt to claim that the mainstream view/theory in a different profession is wrong because it doesn’t make sense to them. Here Larry Moran takes on a chemistry professor’s (at Rice University, no less) claim that evolutionary theory is flawed. Professor Moran concludes:

I suppose I’m going to be labeled as one of those evil “Darwinists” who won’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with me about evolution.1

I’m actually not. I just don’t like stupid people who think they are experts in evolution when they have never bothered to learn about it. Here’s my advice to graduate students in organic chemistry: if you want to know about evolution then take a course or read a textbook. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t understand a subject. Just don’t assume your own ignorance means that all the experts in the subject are wrong too.

It isn’t just “experts at a different field” though. Right now, we are hearing more and more from people who think that vaccines are bad and contain lots of harmful chemicals. One scientist had enough and made an epic drunken rant:


No, this is not a partisan issue; there are plenty of liberal anti-vaccination types out there, and they are a disgrace.

March 16, 2014 Posted by | creationism, economy, evolution, ranting, religion, science, social/political, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Memes and massive online open courses and education for the masses

A description of the massive online open courses movement can be seen here. I’ve read where some have said that somehow this was supposed to be a threat to conventional higher education.


Yes, I think that the MOOC is a good thing; it makes a ton of good, valuable resources available to those who want supplemental work or to those who are, say geographically isolated.
But there are some factors that I don’t see discussed that often.

1. Learning some types of material is hard. I’ve taught college mathematics for upwards of 20 years. The students almost always THINK that they know the material better than they actually know it; I find this out when I grade their examinations. How are they going to learn the stuff if they don’t have the “pass the test” incentive? Yes, I know that some of these MOOCs have a online exam at the end (multiple choice) that is machine graded, but only a tiny percentage of people get to them.

Learning is hard and time consuming.

2. Prerequisites: many might find, say, some of the counter intuitive conclusions of quantum mechanics interesting. But how many are going to be disciplined enough to learn the math to learn this area properly? How many are even capable of learning the mathematics properly?

Here is a hint:


Yes, I know that this is nonsense; there is nothing to “solve” here; this is the Fourier function representation formula. And yes, given a function f you need to know how to solve for a_n, b_n to even begin a proper undergraduate quantum mechanics course.

So if you don’t know this already, are you going to spend the years necessary learning enough mathematics?

So. I think that this massive open online stuff is good, it isn’t going to benefit a high percentage of the population. It IS a boon to a tiny percentage of outliers though.


Yep, when you see some internet arguments about subjects such as the constitutionality of a given law, whether a given GMO is safe, climate change, evolution, fracking, etc., well, people think that providing a link to an “activist” website or their having half-digested a couple of pop-books on the subject (IF that) qualifies them as an expert, or at least gives them an opinion that is worth taking seriously.

Psst: it doesn’t.

And, of course, it is ALWAYS someone else who is “stoopid”


Yes, I’ve seen the unmodified version of this meme (modification is in red) posted on many people’s walls, including the walls of woo-woos and those who really haven’t accomplished all that much. I know that the National Academy of Science isn’t in my future, and I don’t have any members on my friends list.

I have lots of blind spots and, if I have an advantage on most, it is that I know that there is a huge gap between me and the truly genius level people AND I understand that what “makes sense to me” might well be false, or at best, incomplete. But the Dunning-Kruger effect is strong in many.

January 19, 2014 Posted by | education, ranting, social/political | , | Leave a comment



January 18, 2014 Posted by | ranting | , | Leave a comment

Channeling my inner Republican

Yes, I am a liberal because I accept science (and I strongly disagree with the rabid anti-GMO woos) and because I think that some social programs actually stimulate the economy (e. g. businesses hire more when they have more customers).

But I have some sympathy with those who say things like Don’t Have Kids if You Can’t Afford Them!

It is YOUR job to support your kids. Yes, I know; sometimes people ARE responsible and are then hit with illnesses, accidents, lay-offs, etc. THAT is what safety nets are for.

But all too many are indigent (or poor) prior to having kids, sometimes on purpose. And no, I am NOT just talking about “other people”, “them”, “people who look differently than I do”, etc.

September 14, 2013 Posted by | ranting, Republican, social/political | | Leave a comment

Apology to Ann Coulter (and unfair attacks on Kathleen Parker)

No, I haven’t gone crazy. I still think that Ann Coulter’s column (which you can read here) is dumb.

But on my Daily Kos diary I did take this quote out of context (and issued a correction when alert readers told me that I could have taken it out of context):

Perhaps, someday, blacks will win the right to be treated like volitional human beings. But not yet

Initially, I read this sentence as Coulter saying that blacks didn’t deserve to be treated as volitional human beings (“volitional” as in being able to think rationally for themselves). But when I reread the article I see that she probably meant that “the media and political/social leaders should be treating blacks as volitional human beings but aren’t as yet”.

Yes, it is still a dumb quote; I still see no reason at all that Trayvon Martin should have been profiled. He was minding his own business and people have the right to do that. But it isn’t an inherently racist quote.

My apologies to Ann Coulter.

Kathleen Parker
I winced when I read this:

Screen shot 2013-07-18 at 10.20.15 AM

From here.

I invite you to read the entire Parker article, which contains this:

This is not to justify what subsequently transpired between Zimmerman and Martin but to cast a dispassionate eye on reality. And no, just because a few black youths caused trouble doesn’t mean all black youths should be viewed suspiciously. This is so obvious a truth that it shouldn’t need saying and yet, if we are honest, we know that human nature includes the accumulation of evolved biases based on experience and survival. In the courtroom, it’s called profiling. In the real world, it’s called common sense.

No, this isn’t “justifying” profiling, but what this admits is that human beings appear to be hardwired to take mental shortcuts (heuristics) which rely on (often faulty) inductive reasoning: “gee, black men have caused these these recent break ins and we see black guys arrested on television, so this black guy is more likely to be a criminal than, say, a similarly dressed white or Asian guy”.

And yes, people often call such heuristics “common sense”. But, too many times, “common sense” is often a matter of “knowing what isn’t so”, and I think that Ms. Parker was commenting on that.

I should also say this: I could believe (at first) that Ann Coulter meant what she said in a mean spirited, racist manner because I have little respect for her. But I have to concede that I was almost certainly wrong in how I took that sentence.

On the other hand, I immediately thought “Parker couldn’t have meant that; she is too smart to have said what the headline claims” because I see her as smart and principled. So I went ahead and read her column with an open mind.

I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to those that I perceive to be intelligent and principled; you might call that a type of Bayesian reasoning. ;-)

July 18, 2013 Posted by | racism, ranting, social/political | , , | Leave a comment


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