December 4, 2014 archive

“People Don’t Even Know”

Chris Rock

For all the current conversation about income inequality, class is still sort of the elephant in the room.

Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets. If the average person could see the Virgin Airlines first-class lounge1, they’d go, “What? What? This is food, and it’s free, and they … what? Massage? Are you kidding me?”

Obama’s been faulted for not showing anger in public, and for not speaking in simple, declarative Bushisms. Of course, the moment he does do that, he’s accused of being an angry black man.

There’s an advantage that Bush had that Obama doesn’t have. People thinking you’re dumb is an advantage. Obama started as a genius. It’s like, What? I’ve got to keep doing that? That’s hard to do! So it’s not that Obama’s disappointing. It’s just his best album might have been his first album.

What has Obama done wrong?

When Obama first got elected, he should have let it all just drop.

Let what drop?

Just let the country flatline. Let the auto industry die. Don’t bail anybody out. In sports, that’s what any new GM does. They make sure that the catastrophe is on the old management and then they clean up. They don’t try to save old management’s mistakes.

That’s clever. You let it all go to hell.

Let it all go to hell knowing good and well this is on them. That way you can implement. You hire your own coach. You get your own players. He could have got way more done. You know, we’ve all been on planes that had tremendous turbulence, but we forget all about it. Now, if you live through a plane crash, you’ll never forget that. Maybe Obama should have let the plane crash. You get credit for bringing somebody back from the dead. You don’t really get credit for helping a sick person by administering antibiotics.

What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?

I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.

Well, that would be much more revealing.

Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

Right. It’s ridiculous.

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Gaius Publius

Five hundred billionaires, 15,000 people all averaging $2,800,000 per year, and every group below them averages a tenth or less in earnings. Look at that list above, and notice the bottom bullet. Everyone from the top 2% through the top 10% averages less than $200,000 per year – 1/120th of our lucky 15,000.

Why point this out? Because people have no idea what life for the 15,000 is actually like, much less life for someone in the David Koch class. When we think of the wealthy, we imagine MacMansions blown big; we conjure pictures we’ve seen from wealthier neighborhoods, and we just … scale up a bit. We see monster Cadillac SUVs and say, “Ah, the very rich.” People who live like us, but with more stuff.

Our image of the very very rich – MacMansions, only scaled up; nice cars, only pricier; like us, but with more toys – is very very wrong. It’s also one reason we haven’t had a class revolt since the New Deal era.

Except even he (Chris Rock) doesn’t scale up enough. These people never ride first class because they never fly commercial. He rides first class; they own airplanes. They don’t own homes, they own estates – so many of them in fact that not one is “home” in the normal sense. Now extend that – for most of these people, not one country is home either.



The Breakfast Club (Plagiarize)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgFor me the creepiest thing about James Watson is not his views on race, but that this egotistical asshole has any shred of credibility at all for a career based on the theft of the ideas and work of others.

This is not uncommon in Elite Academia where Senior Professors rarely teach and routinely steal the results of their Assistants to publish under their own name but Watson deserves a special place in hell for using unpublished data from Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling, co-researchers at the Medical Research Council, without her consent, using Maurice Wilkins (who worked in the same lab) as a spy.

More than that in his book The Double Helix, published after Franklin’s death, Watson slanders her and denigrates her work, making it appear that she was nothing more than Wilkins’ assistant and too dumb to interpret her own results when the double helical nature of the DNA molecule was in fact her original suggestion, simply because she was a woman and “intimidated” him (meaning probably she turned down his sexual advances).

So it’s no surprise at all that this sexist pig turns out to also be an unreconstructed racist of the Charles Murray type and after he revealed himself in 2007 started to lose the luster and lucrative Board positions and speaking fees he had enjoyed, and is practically reduced to pauperhood having (as he does) to subsist on his meagre high 6 figure tenured Professor’s salary.

So what is a poor undeserving Nobel Prize winner to do when they’re strapped for cash like that and really, really want a David Hockney which would be just perfect over the living room couch?

Why pawn it of course.  They’re made of real gold you know, but like Super Bowl Rings are more valuable than the materials because of the rarity.  Unlike Super Bowl Rings they are seldom sold before the death of the recipient so this one is expected to fetch between $2.5 and $3.5 million which will be just about enough for that Hockney behind the divan.  But be of good cheer, munificently he’s pledged that any excess will go to his alma mater, that factory of greedy fascists and patently and transparently false theories to justify the prejudices of Plutocrats, the University of Chicago.

He may have unravelled DNA, but James Watson deserves to be shunned

Adam Rutherford, The Guardian

Monday 1 December 2014 05.41 EST

Watson has said that he is “not a racist in a conventional way”. But he told the Sunday Times in 2007 that while people may like to think that all races are born with equal intelligence, those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. Call me old-fashioned, but that sounds like bog-standard, run-of-the-mill racism to me.

And this current whinge bemoans a new poverty born of his pariah status. Apart “from my academic income”, he says, Watson is condemned to a miserly wage that prevents him from buying a David Hockney painting.

His comments reveal a pernicious character entirely unrelated to his scientific greatness, but that is longstanding and not new. Watson is rightly venerated for being half of the pair, along with Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA, and for leading the Human Genome Project. The story of the unveiling of the double helix is messy and complex, just like all biology. It has been pored over and studied and embellished and mythologised. But simply, the race was won by Crick and Watson, and in April 1953 they revealed to the world the iconic double helix. The key evidence, however, Photo 51, was produced by Rosalind Franklin and Ray Gosling, at King’s College London. Franklin’s skill at the technique known as X-ray crystallography was profound, and was indubitably essential to the discovery. Crick and Watson acquired the photo without her knowledge.

The first account of the story of DNA was by Watson himself, and reveals his character. Honest Jim is what he wanted to call the book that was published as The Double Helix in 1968. It is a classic of nonfiction writing, and deservedly so. It is brilliant and racy and gossipy, and full of questionable truths.

He patronisingly refers to Franklin as “Rosy” throughout, despite there being no evidence that anyone else ever did. Here’s a sample of how he described her in the first few pages: “Though her features were strong, she was not unattractive, and might have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes. This she did not.”

James Watson’s sense of entitlement, and misunderstandings of science that need to be countered.

By Janet D. Stemwedel, Scientific American

December 1, 2014

Positioning James Watson as a very special scientist who deserves special treatment above and beyond the recognition of the Nobel committee feeds the problematic narrative of scientific knowledge as an achievement of great men (and yes, in this narrative, it is usually great men who are recognized). This narrative ignores the fundamentally social nature of scientific knowledge-building and the fact that objectivity is the result of teamwork.

Of course, it’s even more galling to have James Watson portrayed (including by himself) as an exceptional hero of science rather than as part of a knowledge-building community given the role of Rosalind Franklin’s work in determining the structure of DNA – and given Watson’s apparent contempt for Franklin, rather than regard for her as a member of the knowledge-building team, in The Double Helix.

Indeed, part of the danger of the hero narrative is that scientists themselves may start to believe it. They can come to see themselves as individuals possessing more powers of objectivity than other humans (thus fundamentally misunderstanding where objectivity comes from), with privileged access to truth, with insights that don’t need to be rigorously tested or supported with empirical evidence. (Watson’s 2007 claims about race fit in this territory.)

Scientists making authoritative claims beyond what science can support is a bigger problem. To the extent that the public also buys into the hero narrative of science, that public is likely to take what Nobel Prize winners say as authoritative, even in the absence of good empirical evidence. Here Watson keeps company with William Shockley and his claims on race, Kary Mullis and his claims on HIV, and Linus Pauling and his advocacy of mega-doses of vitamin C. Some may argue that non-scientists need to be more careful consumers of scientific claims, but it would surely help if scientists themselves would recognize the limits of their own expertise and refrain from overselling either their claims or their individual knowledge-building power.

Where Watson’s claims about race are concerned, the harm of positioning him as an exceptional scientist goes further than reinforcing a common misunderstanding of where scientific knowledge comes from. These views, asserted authoritatively by a Nobel Prize winner, give cover to people who want to believe that their racist views are justified by scientific knowledge.

However, especially for people in the groups that James Watson has claimed are genetically inferior, asserting that Watson’s massive scientific achievement trumps his problematic claims about race can be alienating. His scientific achievement doesn’t magically remove the malign effects of the statements he has made from a very large soapbox, using his authority as a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Ignoring those malign effects, or urging people to ignore them because of the scientific achievement which gave him that big soapbox, sounds an awful lot like saying that including the whole James Watson package in science is more important than including black people as scientific practitioners or science fans.

The hero narrative gives James Watson’s claims more power than they deserve. The hero narrative also makes urgent the need to deem James Watson’s “foibles” forgivable so we can appreciate his contribution to knowledge. None of this is helpful to the practice of science. None of it helps non-scientists engage more responsibly with scientific claims or scientific practitioners.

Holding James Watson to account for his claims, holding him responsible for scientific standards of evidence, doesn’t render him an unperson. Indeed, it amounts to treating him as a person engaged in the scientific knowledge-building project, as well as a person sharing a world with the rest of us.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

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On This Day In History December 4

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 4 is the 338th day of the year (339th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 27 days remaining until the end of the year

On this day in 1783, future President George Washington, then commanding general of the Continental Army, summons his military officers to Fraunces Tavern in New York City to inform them that he will be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life.

Washington had led the army through six long years of war against the British before the American forces finally prevailed at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. There, Washington received the formal surrender of British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, effectively ending the Revolutionary War, although it took almost two more years to conclude a peace treaty and slightly longer for all British troops to leave New York.

Fraunces Tavern is a tavern, restaurant and museum housed in a conjectural reconstruction of a building that played a prominent role in pre-Revolution and Revolution history. The building, located at 54 Pearl Street at the corner of Broad Street, has been owned by Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York Inc. since 1904, which claims it is Manhattan’s oldest surviving building. The building is a tourist site and a part of the American Whiskey Trail and the New York Freedom Trail.

Revolution history

In August 1775, Americans took possession of cannons from the artillery battery at the southern point of Manhattan and fired on the HMS Asia. The British ship retaliated by firing a 32-gun broadside on the city, sending a cannonball through the roof of the building.

When the war was all but won, the building was the site of “British-American Board of Inquiry” meetings, which negotiated to ensure to American leaders that no “American property” (meaning former slaves who were emancipated by the British for their military service) be allowed to leave with British troops. Board members reviewed the evidence and testimonies that were given by freed slaves every Wednesday from April to November 1783, and British representatives were successful in ensuring that almost all of the loyalist blacks of New York maintained their liberty.

After British troops evacuated New York, the tavern hosted an elaborate “turtle feast” dinner on December 4, 1783 in the building’s Long Room for U.S. Gen. George Washington where he bade farewell to his officers of the Continental Army by saying “[w]ith a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

The building housed some offices of the Confederation Congress as the nation struggled under the Articles of Confederation. With the establishment of the U.S. Constitution and the inauguration of Washington as president in 1789, the departments of Foreign Affairs, Treasury and War located offices at the building. The offices were vacated when the location of the U.S. capital moved on December 6, 1790 from New York to Philadelphia.

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TDS/TCR (What the heck is a Foo?)


I have a dream

California Burning

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