August 03, 2013

#SciAm has a #MOOC-ed up fail

The August Scientific American has what must be its worst special section since the one it ran a few years ago about electric cars. That one was a journalistic ethics failure on multiple counts. First, it was sponsored entirely and only by General Motors. Second (what a shock!) it tried to claim that GM's hybrid car, the Chevy Volt, was a full electric.

I blogged about that, including the "refusing to accept there's a problem" comments of Scientific American's blogging managing editor/SEO guru Bora Zivkovic, here.

The new #fail? A breathless touting of massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

Most of the stuff in there is either written by, or influenced by, Obama/Democratic neoliberals like Arne Duncan (he has a piece himself) or Silicon Valley-type neolibs like Salman Khan of Khan Academy fame and a senior Google executive, Peter Norvig, director of research. The Democrat-Silicon Valley pair-up is exactly the type of stuff that makes a Yevgeny Morozov barf.

I've blogged a bit before about how MOOCs in the US are likely to be a nonstarter, other than to enrich the bottom lines of university chancellors and presidents who will see them as an opportunity to replace yet more professors with adjunct faculty.

But, going for the feel-good angle, much of the section talks about the bloessings MOOCs will bring to India, or even to sub-Saharan African.

Well, lemme see.

First, you have to have adequate electricity to power your online device.

Second, you must have an online device.

Third, to adequately watch video, you must have an online device big enough for adequate video viewing. No smartphone or smaller sized tablet.

Fourth, you have to have the money to pay for all of this.

Until Google, Microsoft, or Apple address all four of these, who's going to be attending MOOCs in Uganda?

But, that's not all.

The biggie is ....

What will the content of these MOOCs be? Will it be purely "utilitarian" education, designed to make the workers work better, and perhaps be better consuming budding hypercapitalists? Or will there be a Ugandan or Indian version of a humanities and liberal arts education?

C'mon, you already know the answer to that one. Because a Peter Norwig ain't writing about how engaging a MOOC can be for his health.

Instead, it's the "personalization" of Net 2.0, about how you can "individualize" everything.

Wrong. State U., with an adjunct overseeing 700 ppl in a MOOC, ain't individualizing anything. And certainly, no Western(ized) company in Uganda is doing anything like that.

You want a "personlized" MOOC? Pull your wallet out a second time.

File this as another in my "dark side of the Internet" dispatches.

===

But this is far from the only problem.

Rather, stuff like this reflects a deeper decline in Scientific American.

Twenty years ago, it was still a semi-technical magazine with in-depth articles about science first, technology second. It was kind of like Science News, but in long-form journalism style.

By 10 years ago, it had lost a fair amount of that.

And today? Pure pop science. And perhaps not even on the same level as Discover.

The special section, as far as the science/technology divide, is 100 percent on the technology side.

But, even that's not the real problem.

Rather, the special section is first and foremost a public policy section. True, it's public policy as reflecting advances in technology and their potential to change this area of public policy. But, it's first and foremost a public policy special section.

Honestly? Between that fact and the exact political positioning?

This belongs in the New Republic.

#GnuAtheism + #BlockBot = gnu levels of censorship from #FTB & #FTBullies

Now, as a good journalist, I'm using the word "censorship" in its nontechnical level. Gnu Atheists aren't governments, and can block online whomever they want. That's their right.

That said, when they spread the idea to widely used social media, and try to get them to follow their lead, as does the Block Bot app for Twitter, then we have a problem. And, it's even more of a problem if Twitter doesn't investigate how legitimate these blocks are, because the app also, as I understand it, reports the blocked person to Twitter, with possible warnings, or even Twitter account deletion.

That's why, although Twitter harassment of outspoken women is simply not acceptable, the idea of a Block Bot isn't, either. Now, to riff on Georg Cantor and levels of infinity, sexual harassment is Aleph One, while the Block Bot is only Aleph Null. But, it's still bad enough. Certainly not what we now have. I've seen other people intolerant of free speech and the exchange of ideas get one email account of mine shit-canned, and another threatened. More specific to this, Gnu Atheist Greg Laden, a male peon of Stephanie Zvan, the nth-wave feminist who has falsely claimed I'm stalking her online, threatened to "ban me from the Internet."

To fight intolerance with intolerance doesn't work. And, given the history of the people mentioned above, P.Z. Myers and others, I wouldn't trust Gnu Atheists anywhere near the tolerance meter.

And, speaking of P.Z. and Stephanie, with BlockBot, yeah, that worries me, per this blog post of hers. Can you picture people like that trying to get Twitter accounts deleted?

Or, Greta Christina, with her penchant for seeing every issue as a hammer on which to wield her particular variety of Atheism Plus "everything is sexism" vitriol, does a head fake (shock me) of pretending to answer Engelhart's Salon piece linked at top, then engaging in a massive fail.

And, I now find out — as a result of pointing out things like this — that I'm a bigger, and more popular/unpopular burr to Gnu Atheists than I knew. My Twitter account is on Level 3 block from James Billingham (Twitter handle ool0n), the British Gnu who helped invent the app.

How did I, and others, like Barbara Drescher and Jeremy Stangroom, who I know, respectively, a fair bit and a little bit, online, get there? Here's how:
 The short answer is anyone that a blocker defines as block list worthy. The general rule is if you are the type that would find yourself banned on a blog on Freethoughtblogs.com, Skepchick.org or from the A+ forum then you will likely end up in the list…
There you go.

As for me specifically? Disagreeing with Zvan over Julian Assange's rape case in Sweden, namely the reopening of a closed case and whether Sweden had international geopolitical reasons to do so, started it all. (And Sweden did have such reasons, as I detail in this blog post.. It "cooperated" with the CIA on several "renditions" of alleged Mooslim terrorists.) The disagreement led eventually to comments like the following, documented on this blog post of mine about nth-wave feminists and Freethought Blogs denizens attacking the Center for Inquiry's Ron Lindsay:
Well, Steve Snyder/SocraticGadfly, since no one else can be assed to step up and say this, no matter how much me being harassed "pisses them off", no matter how much they'll stand up for JT, fuck off, you putrid, obsessive, pointless, sexist smear of slime. It is not anything but vilely anti-social to spend two and half years after a woman tells you that rape allegations need to be taken seriously popping up any time she and the man on whose blog you were schooled are mentioned together to say that this woman is controlling this man's behavior by having sex with him.
There's even worse on her own blog, like this.

Add in that I've been accused of cyberstalking her and other things, and you get the gist of what the "game" is. For the record, I'd be scared of actually cyberstalking her, and doubly scared of stalking her in real life. I'm afraid she'd attack me.

And, the "banned from blog"? That goes to further show that most Gnus aren't interested in actual dialogue, or, in even respectful terms, having their positions challenged.

Meanwhile, Tim Farley tells us more about just what's wrong with it. I've got some selected quotes, to which I will add my own analysis.

Problem 1:
The first sentence (of the above quote from Block Bot's website) is circular and the rest of it defers to guidelines which it does not link. It’s not clear there’s any enforceable standard here at all.  It’s clear as mud.

The core problem here is this tool was developed for specific needs of a very specific community (namely, those who identify with “Atheism+”). Therefore the operators of the bot assume knowledge or attitudes on behalf of the user base that may not be held by the average Twitter user.
Bingo.

So, what if fundamentalist Christians re-engineer Block Bot for their purposes? Will Billingham, Myers, Zvan, Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson and others suddenly cry wolf? Or, a more accurate metaphor, cry wolf while crying crocodile tears?

Obviously, they wouldn't have a leg to stand on, but they would bitch and moan, to be sure.

Problem 2, Farley says, is lack of transparency as to who's authorized to create/add to block lists, at what level, etc.

Not that anybody who's involved with creating the lists is likely to listen to me, Travis Roy, Drescher, Stangroom or others who are on Level 3 blocking. In fact, our queries, let alone complaints would probably be taken as signs of troublemaking and justification to boot us up to Level 2.

But, per Farley, we wouldn't even know to whom to complain or whom to query in the first place. And, there might eventually be a scrum between one person wanting to unblock us, another who wanted to keep us at Level 3, a third who wanted to move us up a level, etc.

Problem 3, he says, is that there's no audit of actions to block, paper trails, etc. This follows on problem 2. If somebody promises to unblock someone, how does the person asking for relief know that they actually were unblocked? Or, when someone is blocked, how much documentation is saved for what led to that decision.

Problem 4 is what the levels are about. Farley again quotes from the website:
Level 1 is sparsely populated with “worst of the worst” trolls, plus impersonators and stalkers. Level 2 (which we recommend for general use) includes those in Level 1, plus a wider selection of deeply unpleasant people. Level 3 goes beyond The Block Bot’s main purpose, and expands the list to include those who aren’t straight out haters, but can be tedious and obnoxious.
Fortunately, I'm just Level 3, but from the user's guide, it's made clear that people can be bumped up. In other words, it's kind of like me, playing fantasy baseball, and flagging a fantasy free agent for possible future pick-up, even if I don't want to immediately pull the trigger. However, in this case, I have no control over the trigger-pulling. A better analogy might be a person being put on the most basic level of a National Security Agency or Transportation Security Administration watch list. The idea there is: "We're watching you, and we're waiting to see if you screw up.

Farley has the details of the lists, from the website:
→ Level 1 blocking: this blocks only the worst of the worst. These are the really nasty ones.
Both “sides” across the Deep Rifts™ will hopefully agree these need to be blocked.
Accounts that spam extremely abusive messages to people with the intent only of hurting them with not a hint of “disagreement”.
D0x’ers who want to drop information on fellow atheists in order to scare them off the internet or have real life effects on their well-being.
Stalkers that create sock-accounts to inject themselves into your time line to get a response from you or imposters pretending to be you.
→ Level 2 blocking: these are the abusive subset of anti-feminists, MRAs, or all-round assholes who think nothing of tweeting their much loved photoshopped pictures, memes and other wonderful media directly into your timeline to get attention (Listen to Meee!!1!).
This level also includes the “parody” accounts, if you have better things to do with your life than “disagree” on Twitter with a parody of yourself that seems to have suffered a frontal lobotomy.
Level 2 blocking includes all members of level 1.
→ Level 3 blocking: these are the merely annoying and irritating Twitterers who trot out the A+ arguments to avoid at a moment’s notice, and show no signs of giving them up until you pry them from their cold, dead hands.
Given that is not a practical option, how about blocking them and avoiding tedious exchanges?
This is the 100% frozen peach option… These from time to time leap to level 1/2 so why take the risk?
Level 3 blocking includes all members of levels 1 and 2.

Again, you see how Level 3 is explained.

First, under Level 1, about what the "Deep Rifts" are. That's Gnus, Atheist Plusers and other fundamentalist atheists vs. people like me, who prefer the phrase "secular humanist" because of people like them.

That said, I agree that truly abusive people, the stalkers, publishers of personal information, etc., should not only be blocked but reported to Twitter. But, you don't need a bot for that, and you don't need to create levels 2 and 3.

As for Level 2? Wanting to block parody Twitter accounts reinforces what I've said about Gnu Atheists: They have no sense of humor.

As for Level 3? Wanting to block Twitter accounts that point out where your thinking is wrong shows that you truly don't appreciate or support free thought, and the free exchange of ideas, even if you blog at a place called Freethought Blogs.

Anyway, the "frozen peach" will actually mean, "dueling blocking." Or now, in the case of PZ's latest possible nuttery, dueling reporting of blogs to their ISPs for alleged terms of service violations.

Then, there's the related Problem 6, where Farley notes that the definition of troll, semi-troll, troublesome, etc., is ginned up by Gnu Atheists, specifically the subset known as Atheism Plusers.

Folks, for people who aren't actually abusive, if you want to be closed-minded, there's a simple option: Don't read. Don't click the link for the URL. Don't "follow" the Twitter account.

And, for other people who, like me, are on the more reasonable, and lower-key, side of  Deep Rifts™? Don't stoop to their level. Don't be like a Paula Kirby. There's no need to engage in name-calling.

And, as they come into my mind, I'll have additional thoughts below the fold.

And, I wound up grouping some of those thoughts into a new blog post, as new allegations of sexual harassment or abuse crossed the transom.

August 02, 2013

Skeptical about GMOs, yet accepting of climate change?

A new column in The Guardian, by Alice Bell, asks if that's possible. I say yes, even as another blog of many, from a GMO defender who says all Green types are anti-science on this issue, gets out the bashing club.

I "love" how everybody who has concerns about the politics and economics of GMOs in some way can be called anti-GMO. I also love that, just because some scientific studies that did have axes to grind have been refuted, it's assumed that there's no more legitimate scientific questions to be asked.

In other words, not every scientific question everybody asks about GMOs is an anti-GMO question. And, people like me also don’t like getting stereotyped over this issue. Call me an anti-GMOer-as-currently-marketed, if you insist on a label.

Some of us do, also, have legitimate science-related questions without believing in "Frankenfoods." I think questions about "degree of separation" of the source of the gene and the target food is a legitimate matter. I think the question of whether food allergies can "transfer" is legitimate, as some research indicates this is possible. And, given that "one gene = one protein" is dead, questions about "gene context" and also about epigenetics are legitimate. These may turn out to not be of huge concern, but some of them may still be of mild, or moderate, concern.

And, let's not trot out the claim the other way around that "we've been manipulating plants for millennia." Because, before GMOs, those manipulations were only within that genus, or often, within a species. But, such changes weren't done at higher biological levels than that of genus.


This all said, I know that nothing I say toutting a reasonable and principled skepticism on this issue can convince some pro-GMOers who want to pose as noble defenders of science and think the case is settled. Well, from what we know and have tested, the case is settled.

But, that cuts both ways.

As I've said before, Monsanto was warned by scientists that RoundupReady genetic engineering would promote Roundup resistance among weeds. And, what happened? It did!

So, Monsanto is doing new genetic engineering for resistance to other herbicides. And here's where the politics and economics come into the picture. New GMOs means new patents, even as the patent expiration clock ticks on old ones.

And, please, folks, don't accuse me of being conspiracy minded.

DuPont willingly got behind the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs in part because it had patents expiring and stood to make big bucks on new compounds. And, sadly, we find that some of those compounds are worrisome greenhouse gases.

Half-dead RINOs plea to take climate change seriously

What do William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman all have in common?

A dry sense of humor?

A missing sense of history?

Needing a clue?

Oh, I forgot. They're all former Republican heads of the Environmental Protection Agency.

And, to many in today's Republican Party, they're Grade-A RINOs. Republicans In Name Only.

Now, Whitman actually ran the EPA in the 21st century. But, the rest have been out of political power so long, they are half-dead RINOs, pun richly intended.

Ruckelshaus is still trading off Saturday Night Massacre schtick. Lee Thomas might make a good guess on "What's My Line," as a Reagan official who's environmentally to the left of James Watt. Reilly? His patrician GOP caring is about as dead as Poppy Bush is. Whitman? Pop py's son, no patrician carer, fired her because she would have been too good a fit in his old man's administration.

So, why do four irrelevant, self-delusional RINOs think that most of today's GOPers are going to listen to them about climate change? After all, carbon dioxide is exactly what got Whitman fired by Shrub. But yet, they plead away at The Old Gray Lady.

None will get invited to a state or national GOP convention as long as they draw breath.

The Religious Right, in large part, either believes the Old Man simply won't let earth get harmed (you forget about Noah?) or that Jeebus will come back in time, like the cavalry over the hill (you forget that he said he himself doesn't know when he'll be back?).

The Koch Bros' daddy traded with Stalin. It's all about the bucks, and the bucks right now. Apres moi, le deluge.

And, that's true of most Republicans in positions of power today.

What should #Cardinals have done at trade deadline?

Losing four out of five to the Pittsburgh Pirates, plus having catcher Yadier Molina now on the 15-day disabled list, with St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz saying manager Mike Matheny (a former catcher, no less) overworked him, makes this more interesting yet.

Every Cardinals fan knows that the team is weakest at shortstop, where Pete Kozma's 2012 postseason heroics aside, he has little bat, and the Cardinals don't have any immediate options below him. So, without the benefit of hindsight on Molina's knee, that's the place to look at.

Alexei Ramirez was an earlier focus, but it seems like the White Sox overpriced him, and I wouldn't overvalue him, anyway

Elvis Andrus has backslid offensively this year, and the Rangers probably wanted too much. Plus, his contract is an albatross. I'm not paying $15M a year for him for the rest of the decade.

Erick Aybar from the Angels was more intriguing. Relatively cheap, Kozma's equal with the glove, and a moderate (more than modest, I think) upgrade with the bat. He's certainly the best of these three trade options offensively. And, until this year, I would have put him in roughly the same defensive category as Ramirez, but his range has slumped this year.

I woudn't have thought of Aybar until this weekend and the Angels' "openness" was mentioned. He's definitely the best financial option, signed for a reasonable number of years at a relatively low price. He's two years younger than Ramirez, and signed for one more year than him at approximately the same price per year.

That gives the Cards another year of cost control and another year to look for who it can develop, or to possibly even extend Aybar another year or two.

Meanwhile, the Cards reportedly kicked the tires on him. I say kick away. I'm not offering one of the top young-gun starters, but maybe another. I'd start with Carlos Martinez, then graduate from there. (The Angels likely wouldn't nibble on John Gast, even as part of a package.) I'd hope the Haloes wouldn't have asked for Michael Wacha, but that's a bridge to be crossed when it pops up. (I think Wacha has more topside than Martinez.)

Meanwhile, Bernie and I are engaged in an exchange on Twitter about this.

He wouldn't have offered any of the Cards' younger pitchers for Aybar. I acknowledged to him that his range has slumped this year, but mentioned all the positives. Range had been Kozma's equivalent before this year, he's a definite upgrade with the bat, he's relatively young, and he's got a favorable contract.

It would have been a bit of risk, but maybe change of scenery is all he needs. And, I mean, he was a Gold Glover just two years ago.

I don't know what the Angels were asking, and I wouldn't have done this as a straight up. I'd want a draft pick to have come back with Aybar, or international draft slotting, or both. But, any reasonable deal was worth considering.

And, he might have added a bit of speed to the lineup.

Not that I totally disagree, or totally agree, with Earl Weaver's ideas about small ball in general, but the Cards have only about 30 stolen bases on the year, and that may be part of what hurt them against the Pirates. They're horrible on double plays. Of course, not all of those are due to lack of speed. There's been a couple of DPs on bad baserunning ideas on fly balls, just as there's been a lot of poor baserunning outs on the bases after outfield hits. Hello again, Matheny; that's your baby.

And, as ESPN notes, the (lack of) speed kills elsewhere:
That team speed spread shows up in the defensive numbers as well. The Pirates are third in the majors with 48 Defensive Runs Saved (entering Wednesday's action) while the Cardinals rank 26th at minus-33. Holliday, who botched a fly ball into a home run on Tuesday, has been the biggest liability at -11 runs, but center fielder Jon Jay also grades poorly at -10. 
And, with Beltran both getting older, and a free-agent to be, the Birds could be facing a major OF overhaul sooner rather than later. It may be time to trade Holliday in the offseason, presumably to an AL team. And some Birds fans will probably need to stop the love affair with Jay (and David Freese).

But, I disagree with Bernie in saying you'd rule out having one of the young guns as part of an Aybar deal period.

That's part of a larger disagreement we're having.

He says the playoffs are a crapshoot of sorts. Yes, the 2011 World Series winners know that. But, the 1-game wild card has made the playoffs a lot more of a crapshoot for not winning a division. That's why the Red Sox chased Jake Peavy. And, the Atlanta Braves, victims of the Cards in that WC game last year, know that, too. Until the wild-card round goes to 2-of-3, it's important indeed to avoid that. There's a lot more randomness in a one-game play-in. That includes hitting the wrong spot on the pitching rotation, funny bounces of the ball, bad calls by umpires (we remember that, pop-fliers) and more.

And, speaking of pitching rotations, not playing in that wild card game lets a team best adjust its rotation for the first full round of playoffs, get a bit of rest, etc.

In fact, in the big picture, I predict that the 1-game wild card play-in will reduce the crapshoot nature of MLB playoffs. I think a wild-card team will be LESS likely to win the World Series in the future due to the issues above.

And, I'm not the only Cards fan, or baseball fan in general, thinking this way. Other sports friends think he overrates the degree of crapshooting in general, while underrating the degree of crapshooting of a 1-game wild card play-in. And, that's not even addressing the rotation realignment and other issues division winners now get.

August 01, 2013

Food deserts, food semideserts, outside the urban world

Many a reader has heard about food deserts. Many a poorer person in a poorer part of a major city has personal experience with them.

Food deserts, for the unfamiliar, are areas that aren't served by full-blown grocery stores. The best available is an overblown convenience store, particular short on fresh fruits and vegetables, and generally on the slim side on less-processed foods in particular, and higher-nutriment, higher-fiber foods in general.

But, there's a problem or two.

One is the idea that every area not a food desert is a food oasis. And that's simply not true. Hence the second phrase in the headline: "Food semideserts." Like the semidesert of West Texas. In short, food deserts should not be viewed as one end of a polarity, versus food oases. It's a continuum of some sort.

The second is the idea, hinted at in the mainstream media, because many of its practitioners of journalism have no experience outside of big city life (whether said experience in the big city includes any time in rundown areas or not), that areas slim on options on commercial grocers are all in urban areas.

That, too, is simply not true.

Without going into details, I live in a medium-rural-density county in east central Texas. It's less than 20,000. The county seat and main site is a shade under 6,000. It's aging, and losing population. It's adjacent to a county with a city of more than 100,000, in a county of 250,000. But, this particular city and county have yet to attract many would-be exurbanites. A lot of the infrastructure in the city is bad. And, it was let get bad too long ago to be easily upgraded to even so-so level.

So, the population continues to decline. Old white retirees don't buy a lot of food. Not-so-old blacks generally have less money for better food. And the newer-arrived among Hispanics often have even less.

Said county isn't alone. I could name you or find you others at least somewhat similar in eastern to central Texas. And, given that this is the more "Southern" part of Texas, I have no doubt that there's plenty of similar counties from here to South Carolina. North to Oklahoma and northeast to Arkansas.

But, back to this county.

We have one full-blown grocery store here in the county seat. One of the two dollar stores has a small refrigerated area. WallyWorld has a modest refrigerated area, in a non Supercenter without a full grocery. The second town in the county has a small, independent grocery.

And that's it.

Now, the full-blown grocery here is part of a chain that covers most the state. It has multiple stores in that county-over small-city metro area. The biggest has half an aisle, both sides, of bulk foods. Weekend cooking demonstrations. Etc., etc.

So, I live in what's not a food desert, but is a food semidesert.

And, yes, here too, prices are higher at the same chain's grocery in the semidesert than the city. And, that's not just for fruits and vegetables. (In fact, they're often priced the same here, just with much less selection.) Rather, it's things like crackers, potato chips, and other house brand stuff.

And, so, at least some level of deprivation from quality grocery shopping goes far beyond urban ghetto and semi-ghetto areas.

But, since, as noted above, major media have little experience with rural areas, they don't even know to think or ask about some of these issues. Also, since rural areas continue to be in decline, it's not an area of major interest for them.

Hillary nails some of the problems with Dear Leader


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of course, being one of two neoliberals in a pod with President Barack Obama, doesn't nail anywhere near ALL of his problems. Left unmentioned is no single-payer national health care. Or the NSA's spying program. Or the Catfood Commission and related "entitlement reform." Or any of a number of other things.

But, in this piece from Tiger Beat on the Potomac, she does nail a few (and Congressional Dems get one other). Her prescient observations from the 2008 campaign include his Preznit Kumbaya schtick and his inability to work with Congress.

And, Congressional Dems?

One anonymity-granted Democratic Senator calls him, for his lecturing tendencies to his own party, "The Professor."

Sounds about right.

And, not a tenured, teaching-savvy, constitutional law professor. Rather, say, someone in about his second year at the assistant professor level, who's still a know-it-all and also doesn't have a good teaching style.

For better AND for worse, being POTUS requires being a politician. And, his self-love for the mellifluousness of his own voice aside, Dear Leader just ain't that good of a politician.

And, on this, and the specific critiques, he's not likely to change that much. House Republicans may do him the favor of shooting themselves in the collective foot that badly that some of the non-change may not matter. Even then, though, in part because of his lack of political skills and in part because of his self-centeredness, he may cost the Democratic Party a puncher's chance of regaining the House in 2014.

July 31, 2013

And, what if more atheists are men?

Salon recently wondered why there aren't more women atheists. To which Gnu Atheist (but not a full-blown nth-wave feminist) Ophelia Benson said: Not true, at least not in terms of atheist "names" and leaders.

However, I'll not only take Salon's plaint at face value for the sake of discussion, I'll actually somewhat support it, at least in terms of rank-and-file atheists in the US and stipulate male-heavy atheism. That said, so does ARIS, which is the gold standard of religious-rated research. It finds a 60-40 split toward males. Some other polling and research puts the split higher, as high as 70-30.

This actually should NOT be surprising, nor should it be surprising that the gap is likely not closing, especially given the modern Amercan Gnu Atheist.

It seems clear to me that this person is, to generalize a bit, exhibiting in many cases a typical Type A male behavior, perhaps even such behavior on steroids.

Look at the late Christopher Hitchens, who explicitly adopted the label anti-theist, indicating not just that he disbelieved in god, but wanted to oppose god should a fundamentalist version of the stereotypical Western type of deity exist.

Albert Camus nailed this type of atheist more than 60 years ago in The Rebel. Camus, reflecting in part on his own initial move to atheism, called the rebel not an atheist but a blasphemer.

And, from silly Internet cartoons on up, or on down, isn't that what we see?

The younger Gnu Atheist as James Dean, Blasphemer without a Cause, just past the cusp of juvenility but with mental veins still coursing with adolescence and testosterone?

No, it's not because women have traditionally needed the structure of religious charity when abandoned by husbands, I don't think. Besides, that doesn't explain why atheists, at least in the US, still skew male today.

No, it's the ultimate rebellion against the ultimate father figure. And, the old, old village idiot atheism was simply a more louche version of Camus' Promethean would-be absurdist rebel.

True, nth-wave feminists in the Atheism Plus kiddie pool seem to be growing, but, that's in part a slice of larger sociological trends, IMO, of more American younger women wanting to be like men.

Why?

Beyond, or setting aside, the sexually joking "Vive la difference," and also setting aside the just-so stories of much of evolutionary psychology, at times, it's right to say, there are some differences, and in some cases, women shouldn't want to be like men.

That higher rebelliousness leads to higher suicide rates, higher death from accidents, and other problems.

Beyond that, the male of H. sapiens, without me setting women on a pedestal, can be a boor at times.

There are times I don't want to be a man.

So, without saying that greater numbers of women could "domesticate" modern American atheism, I am saying they could ameliorate it by not trying to be like stereotypical male Gnu Atheists.

To the degree Sam Harris is right in rejecting the word "atheist" as an other-definition rather than a self-definition, there's no need to rebel in general.

So, as long as American atheism, especially Gnu Atheism, defines itself in a Hitchensesque antitheist way (and remember what a bad boy poseur he liked to be in general), it's going to be more male, nth-wave feminists aside.

Many non-Atheism Plus women may also decry patriarchy in society, but you don't see them fleeing to atheism. Maybe women are more collectivist and less individualist, on average, than men. So, if they're not ready to leave a religious-like structure, they become Unitarians. Or they find something New Agey. Or, not wanting to be rebels, or deliberate individualists, at least, they don't become open atheists.

To the degree there are, on average, legitimate psychological differences between the sexes, things like this may drive the split.

Meanwhile, Greta Christina, with her penchant for seeing every issue as a hammer on which to wield her particular variety of Atheism Plus vitriol, does a head fake (shock me) of pretending to answer Engelhart's Salon piece linked at top, then engaging in a massive fail.

And, for the likes of her or Stephanie Zvan, I'm not even going to plead any equality bona fides. Because, of course, they're unacceptable.

That's why, although Twitter harassment of outspoken women is simply not acceptable, the idea of a Block Bot isn't, either. I've seen other people intolerant of free speech and the exchange of ideas get one email account of mine shit-canned, another threatened, and Zvan's peon, Greg Laden, threaten to "ban me from the Internet."

To fight intolerance with intolerance doesn't work. And, given the history of the people mentioned above, P.Z. Myers and others, I wouldn't trust Gnu Atheists anywhere near the tolerance meter.

And, speaking of P.Z. and Stephanie, with BlockBot, yeah, that worries me, per this blog post of hers. Can you picture people like that trying to get Twitter accounts deleted?

And, I now find out that I'm a bigger, and more popular/unpopular burr to Gnu Atheists than I knew. My Twitter account is on Level 3 block from Twitterer ool0n, the British Gnu who helped invent the app.

How did I, and others, like Barbara Drescher and Jeremy Stangroon, who I know, respectively, a fair bit and a little bit, online, get there? Here's how:
 The short answer is anyone that a blocker defines as block list worthy. The general rule is if you are the type that would find yourself banned on a blog on Freethoughtblogs.com, Skepchick.org or from the A+ forum then you will likely end up in the list…
There you go.

And, the "banned from blog"? That goes to further show that most Gnus aren't interested in actual dialogue, or, in even respectful terms, having their positions challenged.

Meanwhile, Tim Farley tells us more about just what's wrong with it.And, I'll have a post upcoming which focuses specifically on this.

And, that post is now done, right here.

#SciAm has a culturo-centric fail on music

A recent blog post at Scientific American talked about the "sad" feeling of minor keys vs. the "happy" feeling of major keys, and how the author wanted to do some more specific investigation of this issue.

Several historically or culturally relevant items were missing from the piece, though.

That includes, but is not limited to:

1. The major and minor scales of modern Western music (more on that below) did not become the only two regularly used scales until the Renaissance, and even then, not really so until the later part of the Renaissance.

2. They evolved from two of the several church modes of the medieval modal system, which in turn had involved from older classical Greek modal scales.

3. Even when the Western musical world focused on the major and minor scales, they didn't all sound the same until the adoption of even or mean tuning in the 1700s, pushed by people like Johann Sebastian Bach in his two volumes of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

Before then, instruments generally had to be tuned to sound best in one or two major or minor keys. Keys that were harmonically "distant" from them had certain intervals that basically sounded ... bad at least. Perfect fourths and fifths, in the most distant keys, might instead sound halfway like the infamous "devil's tritone," the augmented fourth or diminished fifth.

4. Since Debussy's work with whole-tone scales in the late 19th century, followed by Arnold Schoenberg's serialism, Western classical music has become more loosely connected to the major-minor system.

5. Much non-Western traditional music is based on non-12 tone scales. These include India's classical 22-tone scale, the pentatonic scale of stereotypical East Asian music and more.

6. Some modern Western music has also rejected 12-tone scales, not just the major/minor system within 12-tone scales. Harry Partch is known for his work with microtonal music.

7. The author doesn't ask whether cultural beliefs about happy/sad and major/minor influence our perceptions, nor about how our mental states at the moment might fuse with these cultural beliefs.

Basically, the post (I'm not going to bother hunting up the link) came off sounding like someone halfway through grad school in science program but without a single class in music theory or history spouting forth personal ideas on happy/sad and major/minor, plus tapping into modern pop Western musical preconceptions.

Will #Cardinals land Erick Aybar

Every Cardinals fan knows that the team is weakest at shortstop, where Pete Kozma's 2012 postseason heroics aside, he has little bat, and the Cardinals don't have any immediate options below him.

And, since the allegedly strong-gloved Kozma has made two errors in this week, one wonders if they're still buyers at shortstop, and, even with a great team overall, how much they should be.

Alexei Ramirez was an earlier focus, but it seems like the White Sox have overpriced him, and I wouldn't overvalue him, anyway. So, who else is out there that could be aseems one of three only "likely" or even "possible"?

Elvis Andrus has backslid offensively this year, and the Rangers probably want too much. Plus, his contract is an albatross. I'm not paying $15M a year for him for the rest of the decade.

Erick Aybar from the Angels is more intriguing. Relatively cheap, Kozma's equal with the glove, and a moderate (more than modest, I think) upgrade with the bat. He's certainly the best of these three trade options offensively. And, until this year, I would have put him in roughly the same defensive category as Ramirez, but his range has slumped this year.

I woudn't have thought of Aybar until this weekend and the Angels' "openness" was mentioned. He's definitely the best financial option, signed for a reasonable number of years at a relatively low price. He's two years younger than Ramirez, and signed for one more year than him at approximately the same price per year.

That gives the Cards another year of cost control and another year to look for who it can develop, or to possibly even extend Aybar another year or two.

Meanwhile, the Cards are reportedly kicking the tires on him. I say kick away. I'm not offering one of the top young-gun starters, but maybe another. I'd start with Carlos Martinez, then graduate from there. (The Angels likely wouldn't nibble on John Gast, even as part of a package.) I'd hope the Haloes wouldn't ask for Michael Wacha, but that's a bridge to be crossed when it pops up.

And, it now appears that, at least on pre-waiver trade deadline, the answer is no.

(Oh, and other Cardinal blogs, whether writing entirely about them or just in part? You can't be that baseball-deep if you just say "the Cards should trade for Player X" without discussing who they should or should not offer in return.)

Rick Perry and Texas transportation trauma


As Texas political watchers of all stripes know, we're now headed to a third special session of the 83rd Texas Legislature. The last time that happened? I believe it was in 2005, when Gov. Tricky Ricky Perry had a unanimous vote against his initial proposal for school finance reform, or "reform," in the first special.

That's why Gov. Helmethair pretending to be the voice of reason on transportation issues is such a laugh. He hasn't been the voice of reason since he jumped in bed with Cintas and Zachry over the Trans-Texas Corridor. Ahh, who could forget that.

Well, certainly not tea party types. It's arguable that, three years or so before the election of Barack Obama as president, tea partyism got its start right here in Tejas over the TTC.

Xenophobia over a foreign country? Check. (Warranted not as a foreign company, just a big privatizing one.)

Paranoia about big government? Check, but again, warranted, given the rampant, roughshod powers of eminent domain Tricky Ricky was proposing.

Paranoia about major spending? Check, but not warranted.

That said, there's plenty of blame, almost all Republican, to spread on this issue.

Texas' gas tax hasn't been raised in 20 years, right? Well, if math is correct, the GOP has controlled the governor's mansion for the last 18 of those, the lieutenant governor's slot for the last 14, and a majority of both houses for the last 12. Ditto on the fact that the state's gas tax isn't totally dedicated to roads.

Texas' general refusal to engage in long-term state indebtedness for road projects? That one's a mix of Republicans and conservative Democrats. Anything that would disturb Big Oil is a no-no.

That, in turn leads back to the current situation, namely the refusal to consider tapping the Rainy Day Fund. (Tea partyers' stance on this in the Lege spells difficulty for the water projects constitutional amendment in the fall.)

This stars with Tricky Ricky, who refused to entertain the idea for education two years ago. It's exacerbated by Comptroller Susan Combs' willfully bad accounting then.

That said, this is a chance for Dems to insist that an ever-more-urbanizing Texas put more money into light rail and other urban transportation alternatives to building more pavement. Tricky Ricky simply can't get a decent bill passed without them.

Tea partiers will not trust Perry on transportation issues, period, given the TTC past. And, there's enough people who fall into this category, especially in the Texas House, that I don't think there's any chance a bill moves without Democratic support, and a decent amount of it. Dems are in the driver's seat; will they know how to properly work the gears?

And, given that this is not about a social conservative measure, when are Dems going to start hammering Perry for wasting $800K for each special?

July 30, 2013

#Cardinals make small pre-deadline move

The Birds have traded LOOGY Marc Rzepczynski for a lower-level shortstop with promise, Juan Herrera of the Tribe's farm system.

 Rzep, a minor hero of the Cardinals' 2001 drive to the postseason, had basically lost it this year. He'd been optioned to Memphis, of course, then showed in the last week that his AAA time had all been for naught.

Herrera's still at the A level, so, no, he's not taking Pete Kozma's job.

Since the allegedly strong-gloved Kozma has made two errors in this week, one wonders if they're still buyers at shortstop. Alexei Ramirez seems one of three only "likelies" or even "possibles,"and I wouldn't overvalue him.

Elvis Andrus has backslid offensively this year, and the Rangers probably want too much.

Erick Aybar from the Angels is more intriguing. Relatively cheap, Kozma's equal with the glove, and a moderate (more than modest, I think) upgrade with the bat. He's certainly the best of these three trade options offensively. And, until this year, I would have put him in roughly the same defensive category as Ramirez, but his range has slumped this year.

I woudn't have thought of Aybar until this weekend and the Angels' "openness" was mentioned. He's definitely the best financial option, signed for a reasonable number of years at a relatively low price. Andrus' contract looks more and more like an albatross.

Meanwhile, the Cards are reportedly kicking the tires on him. I say kick away. I'm not offering one of the top young-gun starters, but maybe another.

Jimmy Rollins has already exercised his no-trade rights, so he's out.

Herrera is not listed as a top-30 prospect by the Indians. So, he's not likely to get a 40-man invite next spring, though he could the year after that.

On the Cards' side, as a friend of mine noted, this means the team is comfortable with Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate, at opposite ends of the age scale, doing the LOOGY work.

On the Indians' side, it shows a team desperate for anything in the LOOGY world; a look at the Cleveland lineup tells you why.

There's still almost 24 hours left, but it could be that this is it.

And, there's no need to panic if the team doesn't make more trades. The Cards still have more depth than the Pirates, and the Reds just seem to be missing some sort of spark right now.