Contributors

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Hurricane Florence: A Perfect Storm of Republican Environmental Disasters

Hurricane Florence has been over for a week, but its aftereffects are still hammering the Carolinas, making it the perfect storm to showcase what a disaster Republican environmental policy is.

Anthropogenic global warming didn't exactly "cause" the hurricane, but higher air and water temperatures caused by the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants and automobiles added fuel to the hurricane's fire, making it much more destructive than it would have been without mankind's influence.

Storms that would have dropped 20 inches of rain in the past now drop 30, because the CO2-warmed atmosphere can hold that much more water. Hurricanes like Florence and Harvey, which hammered Texas last year, now drop upwards of 20 cubic miles of water.

During the storm the "old reliable" nuclear power plant that Republicans are always praising had to shut down. This power plant is similar in design to the ones in Fukushima that got hit by the tsunami and partially melted down, releasing radiation into the ground water and ocean.

On Friday floodwaters breached a dam near a natural-gas fired power plant, forcing it to shut down for lack of cooling water. The floodwaters washed toxic arsenic-laced coal ash out of the basins it was stored in since the power plant was converted from coal years ago, poisoning the river.

North Carolina is home to hundreds of gigantic hog and chicken operations. Many of these were inundated by Florence, resulting in the deaths of 3.4 million chickens and 5,500 hogs, according to preliminary estimates.

Worse still, the lagoons containing toxic pig and chicken manure were flooded and all that raw waste entered the rivers. Of course, there are cities downstream from these coal ash basins and hog manure lagoons that draw their drinking water from the rivers that are now poisoned by all this crap.

Yeah, hurricanes make solar panels and wind turbines shut down. But those energy sources don't need cooling water and don't have toxic waste products that warm the atmosphere (causing more extreme storms), kill millions of fish and poison drinking water supplies.

Florence was not the first hurricane to wreak this kind of destruction. It was basically a repeat of Hurricane Matthew, which hit the area in 2106. Back then millions of farm animals died, and feces and coal ash got into the drinking water, and the houses of people who live too close to the ocean were flooded.

But nothing changed. The people who live in the flood-prone areas of North Carolina rebuilt their houses and farms and businesses -- often with government money -- in exactly the same place, and now those houses have been flooded again.

Why don't they learn? Simple answer: Republicans. North Carolina Republicans actually passed a law in 2012 that demands local governments ignore the reality of climate change and the attendant sea level rise, which make the hurricanes so much more destructive.

This stupidity not only makes our federal taxes go up, it drives up our home owner's insurance. The same companies that pay to rebuild the houses of those idiots who want their barrier island dream houses also insure houses across the country, and we're paying for their idiocy.

It's sad that homes and businesses are destroyed by hurricanes. But the oceans are getting higher because the polar ice caps are melting, and the air and water are warmer, and warm water expands, making these 1,000-year storm surge events happen every couple of years.

The reality is that these homes and businesses can't stay where they are. No amount of Republican magical thinking is going to change the laws of physics.

When are the people who live and work there going to wake up and hold Republicans responsible for lying to them and continuing to push -- to this day -- the very policies that caused them to lose their homes and businesses?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Still Politically Ill

I peaked in to Kevin Baker's site for the first time in a while. I was sad to see that he has been ill. I wish him a speedy recovery and longevity.

He does seem well enough to continue to spout complete and utter nonsense, though. Check out this gem.

And where does that money go? Not into infrastructure, not into the classroom, certainly not into the pockets of teachers, no matter how good or bad they are, but into the pockets of an ever-expanding army of bureaucrats that "administrate" or monitor students for things like political correctness and diversity and tolerance. Like all government programs, failure means 'throw more money at it.

I showed this to my fellow teachers and, after all the laughing had stopped. we wondered where the diversity monitors were in our classrooms. Would that be next to the invisible SPED support? Or maybe next to the VHS machine?

Kevin, you don't know what the fuck you are talking about when it comes to education. Next time you want to open your mouth about it, consult the experts and stop trying to shove your dogma into a square hole. You might be surprised that the best solutions out there are the ones with which you agree.

Your straw man is made from the thinnest of hay.

Thank You, Gum Humpers




















A sign of the times...

Yet, the tide has turned. I'm looking forward to taking away the guns of every asshole who caused this bullshit.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Why Kids Can't Read

A few years ago I started learning to use a complex 3D graphics application, but there wasn't a lot of written documentation.

There were, however, a lot of how-to videos on YouTube, but these are extremely tedious to watch. The authors usually spend 15 minutes telling you how to do something that should only take a minute or two, once you know the trick.

Nearly every person who makes an instructional video fills it with the same basic start-up information, their helpful hints, their pet peeves, their verbal tics and other time-wasting drivel completely unrelated to the task at hand.

And that's the problem with video: you can't effectively skim it or use text searches. So whenever I found a written tutorial I was relieved because I could skip right to the part that I needed to know. Instructional videos are such a huge waste of time.

Written tutorials are also easier to use. You can look at them side-by-side with what you're working on and proceed point-by-point without having to constantly stop and start the video, or back up the video, or try to understand the video author's accent.

But on more than one occasion I found comments about these excellent written tutorials saying, essentially, "I hate this! Make a video instead!"

Why? It baffled me that someone would actually prefer a video. I had always supposed that people made videos because they were easier to crank out. Rather than thinking through what you want to say, doing screen caps, typing it all in, editing it and proofreading it, with a video you just sit there and yak (and yak and yak) while you demonstrate what you're trying to teach.

But today, after seeing this story on an NPR website, I finally understand the real problem: American kids can't read any more. Now, this was a radio program, so it was audio. I dreaded having to listen to the whole thing. Audio has all the same problems as video: you can't skim or search it. But I just wanted to find out actual reason for why kids these days can't read.

Fortunately for me, the script of the radio program was included, so I could skip to the important part. And the reason kids can't read today is that reading teachers don't teach phonics. That is, they don't dwell on the fact that the letters of the English alphabet have a phonetic correspondence to the sounds you make when you speak.

In the last few decades most reading teachers have used a touchy-feely "whole language" approach, rather than what they considered the staid and rote phonetic method.

But writing systems, for most part, are phonetic. That is, they encode sounds as symbols, which you decode by pronouncing the sounds the symbols represent.

Not all writing systems work this way. Chinese and Japanese use pictograms or ideographs to represent words. Japanese actually has three writing systems: two are phonetic syllabaries (katakana and hiragana), and one is ideographic (kanji).

Proponents of whole language aren't completely off base. As readers of English become more adroit the phonetic component of writing becomes less important. They start to recognize entire words and the sounds never enter their minds. Reading in this sophisticated fashion allows people to read at hundreds of words per minute, and some people can read even faster than that.

At this point a written word becomes a concept, like a Chinese pictogram.

It is this realization, I believe, that convinced educators (incorrectly) back in the day that phonics were unnecessary, boring and detrimental. They thought they could let kids skip the tedious part of reading -- converting symbols to sounds -- and progress directly to the sophisticated method that the most adept readers use.

Contributing to the denigration of phonics is the fact that English doesn't have a truly phonetic writing system. It's a Germanic language that has been infiltrated by thousands of French, Latin and Greek words over a millennium.

Also, the pronunciations of native English words have changed drastically over the centuries, so that the spellings of many words have little to do with the current pronunciations: enough, through, friend, four, says, etc.

Foreign loan words from French, Latin and Greek have their own pronunciation rules, and even grammatical rules, such as for plurals: alumnus -- alumni, millennium -- millennia, crisis -- crises, and so on.

Other languages don't have this problem to the same degree as English. The vast majority of European languages (German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Czech, Polish, etc.), are much more phonetic than English. They use different -- though consistent -- sets of rules for pronunciation, which makes Americans think those languages aren't phonetic.

I have studied several other languages (German, Russian, French, Japanese) and the only way for me to grasp them was to learn the phonology of the languages and the intrinsic link to their writing systems (with Japanese, it's the kana, not the kanji).

I can read German, French and Russian with a fair degree of fluency, but I'm totally lost with Japanese. I didn't study it as long, and I didn't learn the kanji so I'm totally illiterate in the language. The problem is that there are tens of thousands of kanji, and there are no shortcuts for learning them. You have to memorize them all by rote. When I realized that, I gave up on Japanese: TLDR. (I've also forgotten most of the kana: there are more than 140.)

Memorizing kanji takes years and years. Worse, if you don't use them on a daily basis, you immediately start forgetting them. My wife's Japanese teacher had lived in the United States for decades and had forgotten the lesser-used kanji. A highly educated Japanese-born professor had devolved to a high-school level reading vocabulary.

The crazy thing is that he still knows the words those kanji represent: he just can't read them or write the kanji anymore. He can still spell the words out with kana -- he'll just look illiterate if anyone else sees what he's written.

This is why the "whole language" approach for teaching kids to read has failed. Yes, advanced readers can instantly link a sequence of characters to a word without sounding out the letters. But only after seeing it over and over, the same way a Japanese person learns kanji.

There are thousands upon thousands of common English words: too many for kids to memorize. It's far easier to learn the 26 letters of the English alphabet and several dozen pronunciation rules, and several more dozen exceptions to those rules.

And phonics works. According to the APM story, after teachers in Bethlehem, PA received training in the science of reading (basically, phonics), the reading proficiency of their students doubled within two years.

Once kids learn the basic rules they can decode most any text. They may not know the exact meaning of every word right off the bat, but nine times out of ten they'll be able to get the gist of mystery words from context.

And unlike the characterization some whole language proponents have hit phonics with, it isn't just a rote method: it is a problem-solving technique. It teaches kids how to break down a problem (a written word) into its component parts (the letters) and come up with an answer (the pronunciation).

This isn't the first time this "reading war" has flared up. In the 1950s a teacher named Rudolf Flesch found a 12-year-old boy who couldn't even sound out the word "kid." This prompted him to write the book Why Johnny Can't Read.

The book inspired Theodore Geisel to write The Cat in the Hat, proving that books using the principles of phonics don't have to be boring.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Bring Back Al Franken

Saturday, September 08, 2018

How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?

Remember back when we had an articulate and sane president? It's only been a couple of years but still it was nice to see 44 completely fucking own 45 in the speech below. Even better, he called out the Republicans with this corker of a line.

Got a lot of good Republican friends here in Illinois, but over the past few decades, the politics of division, resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party.

Yep. Exactly. He went on...

This Congress has championed the unwinding of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence over our politics, systematically attacked voting rights to make it harder for young people, and minorities and the poor to vote. Handed out tax cuts without regard to deficits. Slashed the safety net wherever it could, cast dozens of votes to take away health insurance from ordinary Americans, embraced wild conspiracy theories like those surrounding Benghazi. Or my birth certificate. Rejected science. Rejected facts on things like climate change. Embraced a rising absolutism from a willingness to default on America’s debt by not paying our bills, to a refusal to even meet, much less consider, a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court because he happened to be nominated by a Democratic president. 

None of this is conservative. I don’t mean to pretend I’m channeling Abraham Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party. It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical.

Double yep. Here is the best line of the whole speech.

How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?

The simple fact that Trump and his minions can't say this shows how far fucking gone they are.

Here is the full transcript of the speech.

Here is the video.


The score?

Obama 1,000,000, Trump/Republicans  0

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Politically Incorrect Round 2

Donald Trump made his pitch to voters by claiming that he was "politically incorrect." By that, he and most conservatives mean that they like to insult and demean people based on their gender, ethnicity or physical disability.

Like, say, Trump opening his presidential campaign by claiming Mexicans are rapists, constantly calling women fat pigs, his Megyn Kelly "blood coming out of her wherever" comment, or his mocking of reporter Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a congenital joint condition.

That isn't being political incorrect. That's just childish, rude and uncivil behavior.

But now that Trump is in office, he's constantly clamoring for real political correctness.

Take Colin Kaepernick and hundreds of football players who kneel during the national anthem. They are politically incorrect. Trump wants them fired for not toeing the party line, the very definition of political correctness.

Take those demonstrators protesting Brett Kavanaugh's nomination that Trump is constantly calling "a disgrace" (I assume Trump means the protesters, not the nomination -- but who knows?). They are politically incorrect.

Take the four or five books about the political situation in the White House that Trump claims are "fake news," and whose authors he is threatening to sue for libel. Those books are politically incorrect.

A libel suit is a completely idle threat, because A) Trump is a public figure, and B) if he actually went to court the defense would get to call witnesses, including Trump himself, and they would all have to testify under oath. Which Trump is incapable of doing because a) he is a pathological liar, and b) his senility-addled memory is so corroded that his only answers would be "I don't remember."

Take that editorial written by a White House senior staffer for the New York Times, which says that Trump has to constantly be handled behind his back to prevent the country from bumbling into nuclear catastrophe from his incompetence.

That's politically incorrect in the most literal sense: the entire White House staff is forced to directly work against the petty whims of a president who is intentionally trying to drive the country into chaos.

"Politically correct" came into common usage in the early 1900s in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, who demanded political correctness from party members: comply or die.

Trump and his conservative enablers want to enforce that sort of real political correctness on America by trying to bully them into saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays," by harassing, threatening, attacking and trying to silence the press, constantly attacking gay and transgendered people, and by sacrificing women on the altar of anti-abortion politics by literally forcing them to bear children against their will. It's like Nazi Germany's eugenics program in reverse.

"Politically incorrect" gained wide currency when Bill Maher hosted a show by that name on Comedy Central in 1993. Maher, one of Trump's biggest critics, has since moved his gig to HBO and renamed it Real Time with Bill Maher.

If only Trump had misappropriated Maher's politics, not just his catch phrase . . . .

Monday, September 03, 2018

Too Damn Old

If there's one thing we should have learned about the election of Donald Trump (and Ronald Reagan), it's that there should be a mandatory retirement age for presidents.

Reagan, famously, was suffering from Alzheimer's even before he left office at the age of 77. Trump, at only 72, is clearly suffering from some sort of cognitive deficit (probably Alzheimer's, which his father died of).

So it's ridiculous when we read articles like this one, saying that John Kerry "is not ruling out" a presidential run.

John Kerry would be 77 on inauguration day in 2021. That's too old. According to the Social Security Administration, the life expectancy of a 77-year-old man is 9.9 years. Seems okay, right? Until you realize that the last 10 years of your life are the most precarious, filled with heart attacks, strokes, atherosclerosis, cancer, blindness, deafness, dementia and broken bones that occur in rapid succession until one of them kills you.

To make things worse, John Kerry lost the last time he ran, and he was never a charismatic candidate to begin with. He got the nomination because it was basically "his turn." Other elderly potential candidates aren't much better off.

Bernie Sanders would be 79, with a life expectancy of 8.8 years. At that age, there's a 5.3% chance of him dying in his first year, a 5.9% chance in the second, a 6.5% chance in the third and a 7.2% chance in the fourth year.

That's too damn old. Sanders would spend every single day of his presidency dealing with serious health issues.

Elizabeth Warren would be 71. As a woman her life expectancy would be 15.7 years. She's probably still too old, but based on the numbers, it's a reasonable risk. But at that age a woman's bones are usually very brittle: a fall coming down the stairs of Air Force One could literally kill her.

And it's not just death and dementia that are the issue. Yes, the elderly have a great deal of experience. But they also have difficulty assimilating new information, have slow reaction times, do not handle stress well, and suffer from diminished hearing and vision.

The elderly cannot even get a good night's sleep, and drugs that induce sleep only make things worse, as was highlighted when George H. W. Bush was discovered using Halcion.

A sleep-deprived septuagenarian should not have their finger on the nuclear button.

Therefore, the Constitution should be amended to put a mandatory retirement age on the president and members of the Supreme Court. The age of 70 seems like a good number.

It's unlikely that such an amendment will never happen, though Trump may be the impetus we needed to get it passed. So voters and parties should simply reject elderly candidates out of hand.

Lest you complain about age discrimination, the Constitution is fine with age limits on office holders: members of the House must be at least 25, senators must be at least 30 and the president must be at least 35. The Founders deemed people younger than those ages not competent to be president.

Before the advent of modern medicine retirement age wasn't really an issue: if you weren't physically and mentally fit to be president, you just died. But medical treatment has extended the human life span beyond the age at which one is competent to be president.

If you can be too young to be president, you can certainly be too old.

One could argue that a candidate who passes a rigorous physical and mental examination should be able to serve longer. The problem with this is that there are no real standards for what is required of a president.

The Montreal Cognitive Assessement administered to Donald Trump proved he could copy a cube, name a camel, rhino and lion, and knew what time 11:10 is. Wow. He's a stable genius!

When I was younger I thought the idea of mandatory retirement was wrong. But now that I'm 61 and have more elderly friends, I know first-hand that no 75-year-old is fit to be president, and certainly no 80-year-old is. I have known many septuagenarians -- some of them stronger and fitter than myself -- and six months later they were dead from a stroke or a heart attack.

People at that age should be out golfing, or puttering in the garden or bouncing grandchildren on their knee. Not setting trade policy, or trying to run a war in Afghanistan. Or having Twitter beefs with NFL players.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

The Puppeteer


Saturday, September 01, 2018

Trump Supporter Kills Liberal

The last installment of Sacha Baron Cohen's amazing Showtime series, "Who Is America?" aired its final episode last Sunday and it was fucking brilliant. Check out what he got Trump supporters to do.
















Yes, that's right, the are fingercuffing a Trump doll in the hopes of looking liberal enough to infiltrate left wing terrorist cells. Later in the segment, Cohen tells the guy on the right to press a button to kill one of the liberals they tagged and the asshole does it.

As I've said many, many times, Trump supporters want to kill liberals. That's how much hate and anger these people have inside of them.

Good thing Gitmo is still open. We're going to need it:)