Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The notion of "self esteem" is the notion that somehow feeling good about yourself means a damned thing other than that you feel good about yourself.
Back when I was teaching in an inner city school in Houston, the central office sent down one of those damned "self esteem" curriculums. I looked around at my classroom, and threw it in the trash. Because if you wanted those kids to feel good about themselves, what was needed wasn't "self esteem". What was needed was clean, safe housing with enough beds for all the kids so kids didn't have to sleep three to a bed. What was needed was a living wage so that these kids' parents didn't have to work 16 hours a day just to keep a vermin-ridden roof over their head and could, like, actually raise their kids rather than being a distant presence only seen during rare weekend periods when one parent wasn't working. What was needed was competent teachers and adequate schooling rather than newbie teachers right out of teacher colleges who didn't have the foggiest notion how to talk to black kids in the ghetto much less teach them. What they needed was hope for the future, hope that they certainly weren't gonna get from a Texas legislature busily cutting children's health care and raising college tuitions, hope they certainly weren't gonna get from a Republican administration in Washington D.C. that was busily gutting the Pell Grant program for sending poor kids to college. What they saw was a dismal dreary present today and the same dismal, dreary future that their parents had, regardless of what they tried to do with their lives, and justifiably they weren't too happy about that.
But noooo, these kids problems weren't all that. These kids' problems were... low self esteem. So the message we teachers were supposed to impart was: Don't worry, be happy.
Now, the whole notion of "self esteem" is a strange one. I'd say a queer one, but then the gay rights activists would get outraged and stuff, so anyhow. Science is about things that are measurable. But who has ever seen a "self esteem"? So the floggers of the whole "don't worry, be happy" thingy created test instruments full of questions like, "I feel good about myself", and "I feel capable", and then defined "self esteem" as scoring high on that test. The problem then becomes the same damned thing that my professor in Social Sciences Research 501 taught me in grad school: Correlation is not causation.
For example, there is a correlation between umbrellas and rain. If you see a lot of umbrellas, it is likely to either be currently raining, or to start raining shortly. But this doesn't mean that umbrellas cause rain, any more than summer causes drownings. The actual cause of rain is something else entirely.
Similarly, the self esteem gurus with their tests discovered that well-off suburban kids who answered "1" (Agree Strongly)_ on "I feel good about myself" scored higher on academic benchmarks than my inner city kids who answered "5" (Disagree strongly) on that question. Duh. Why the fuck should my inner city kids have felt good about themselves? They were stuck in a horrible mess not of their own making, and every avenue for getting out of that shithole was being systematically taken away from them by Republican assholes whose attitude was "I got mine, and fuck everybody else", why should they have felt good about themselves? But the self esteem gurus then used this test to say, "high self esteem causes better school performance!"
Anyhow, that was the status quo for many years after I left teaching. Teachers were supposed to "foster self esteem" in their students. So finally -- finally --Baumeister et. al. did the research. They actually performed an experiment, as vs. a correlational study. The difference is that an experiment changes something. In this experiment, they taught kids to feel good about themselves (i.e. have high self-esteem). If you teach kids to feel good about themselves ("have high esteem"), do they actually perform better in school? Well, the answer, of course, is NO. In fact, for some kids it actually hurt their performance. After all, if you're already a perfect and wonderful person, what do you need all this schoolwork junk for?
So in the end, science backs up my gut feel from over a decade ago and shows that "self esteem" turns out to be meaningless. Folks feel good about themselves and their lives if they are in a good situation accomplishing things of worth, and feel bad about themselves and their lives if they're in a bad situation accomplishing nothing of worth. Kids who make good grades feel good about themselves because they make good grades, not the other way around. In other words, "self esteem" is effect, not cause. Other than in the special case of "learned helplessness", the whole concept of "self esteem" turns out to have no practical application.
On the other hand, for our rulers, the message "don't worry, be happy!" does make some sense, I suppose. Contented sheep, after all, are easier to fleece. But whether we're talking about low-achieving kids in school or fat people or whatever, "pumping up their self esteem" isn't the path to take in order to get better performance out of them. Rather, taking direct action to provide them better education, better nutritional and exercise choices, etc. while providing incentives to actually engage in those better choices is what needs to be done.
But that's practical advice. And everybody knows that what counts is how happy you are, not whether you are in fact smart or healthy or whatever. Alrighty, then!
The most endearing, frustrating, and horrifying attribute of the human race is the search for easy answers to complex problems. Whether it is the easy answer of "kill the Jews" for the complex problem of Germany's poor economy in the 1920's, or the easy answer of "kill the abortion doctors" for the complex problem of abortion, or the easy answer of "conquer their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" for the complex problem of maniacs running airplanes into skyscrapers, Mankind will never stop searching for the winning lottery ticket in the answer sweepstakes.
But sometimes there aren't any easy answers. Sometimes there aren't even any answers at all. Why did my father have so much sorrow in his life, and such a horrifying end? Why do some men turn to lives of violence and hate? What is going to happen to me in the near future? The easy answer, "it was God's will", is just that -- an easy answer. The universe is infinite, and the notion that we meat animals with our limited grey meat brains are capable of comprehending more than the tiniest part of the infinite is so staggering an act of hubris that it is a wonder that the Creator does not just strike us all down with a blazing series of lightning bolts.
Back to thinking bloggers. This is It may be a blog by a sloppy dog lover, but that's okay, this cat lover reads it anyhow. Why Now gives a nice perspective on the news. And then, hmm... ah yes. I suspect I need to narrow down a representative of that mighty supervillain The Gay Agenda for the final candidate, but which one? A distressing number of blogs on my right margin are created by The Gay Agenda with his evil gay ray gun of gayness that, like, shoots out of television screens and TURNS OUR CHILDREN GAY !!! OH THE HORROR!. Shall it be Mustang Bobby? 42? Hmm...
But there are, unfortunately, several bloggers who have fallen prey to the easy answers fallacy who have fallen off the list of thinking bloggers. There is one ornery old coot who goes around snorting "Who cares, it's all monkeys." Yes dear. And you're a monkey too. What's your point? More distressing is a blogger who is a co-blogger of mine at another site who is much more thoughtful person, except he is always falling for easy answers too. Autism on the rise? Easy answer: It's the vaccines! The 9/11 attacks were awefully convenient for the Bush Administration? The towers were brought down by explosives! Early-onset Alzheimer's runs in the family? Here's some magic herbs that'll stop Alzheimers! Sadly, his once-vibrant blog has become almost unreadable as his quest for easy answers to complex reality removes all skepticism and willingness to consider alternative points of view.
Which reminds me of another young man. This youngster has fallen for easy answers also. He spouts the easy answers given to him by his elders, generally in the form of a simple statement that over-simplifies a complex issue and a scattering of Bible verses that "support" that simple statement, yet refuses to consider the wonder that is the Infinite. He, too, has fallen prey to the fallacy that there are easy answers to life. In his case, the easy answer is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, at which point everything becomes simple and you do not need to consider the complexities of the Infinite any longer, you simply act as a soldier of Christ bringing a scattering of simple statements issued by your elders ("the Truth") to the rest of the population. But the Infinity that is the Creator is far vaster than the contents of any book written in human language. The notion that the bags of water and meat called "humanity" could begin to comprehend more than a tiny portion of the Infinite is such an absurd notion that it doesn't survive the giggle test. One day this young man will find out that reality cannot be encompassed by easy answers. One day this young man will discover that what he thought was "The Truth" is just a small part of the Infinite, and that the faith that he professes encompasses only a small part of the infinity that is the Creator. Then what? I don't know. What, you thought I had easy answers too?
One of the more interesting myths to seep into American culture is the myth of the noble savage. In this myth, Native Americans prior to the coming of white people were noble and dignified and lived in harmony with nature. James Finimore Cooper was an early propagator of this myth, and throughout the 19th century it alternated with the myth of the Native American as bloodthirsty savage until finally, after the last Indian was moved to a reservation, it became the predominant myth regarding Native Americans.
Over the past 40 years the Greenies in the environmental movement siezed upon this myth and used it as an anti-technology screed. See, they say. It isn't necessary to have all these nasty dirty machines, you can live a noble life just fine in harmony with nature.
The only problem is: It simply isn't true.
"Native Americans lived in harmony with nature"... bah. What a bunch of drivel. Native Americans drove the proto-horse and mammoths of the Americas into extinction. Using only stone adzes and pottery bowls Native Americans turned the Rio Salado valley into a salt-ridden desert that took hundreds years to recover to the point where agriculture was possible again (the Hohokum culture disintegrated once no longer able to raise enough food for survival). The Anastazi did much the same over in New Mexico. Native American cultures were continually at war against each other, to the point where, when they had a common enemy, they refused to unite and drive said common enemy into the sea, indeed the only way that Spanish could defeat the Aztecs with the few thousand men at their disposal was by enlisting the neighboring tribes to go to war with the Aztecs at the same time. As for technology, the Native Americans eagerly embraced as much technology as they were capable of absorbing given their lack of education, rapidly adopting the horse and stirrup to the point where when American settlers encountered the Plains Indians they assumed that the Plains Indians had always been nomadic tribesmen (they had previously been sedentary agriculturalists), embracing whiskey and wool blankets to the point where they were used to destroy Native American cultures by giving them smallpox-infected blankets and all the whiskey they could drink, and Native Americans could never get enough guns.
All in all, the only difference between the Native Americans and us is that they didn't have a Scientific Revolution. If they'd had the capability, they would have despoiled the Earth just as much as we're doing. If you really believe that nonsense about Native Americans being such "stewards" of the Earth, I suggest you go to any Native American reservation. There's enough trash and junk lying around to make that stereotypical TV Indian cry. The backside of the Hopi mesas has centuries of trash just piled up where they just shove their trash off the edge of the mesa. The Navaho stripped all the grass covering off their reservation by running so many sheep that they turned high plains grassland into utter desolate desert. Some of this is just poverty, of course -- impoverished people generally aren't concerned about making their homes look nice, they're concerned about survival. But the same was true 500 years ago before the "White Man" came on the scene too.
Too many people have bought too much Greenie propaganda. The fact of the matter is that technological civilization is the only civilization, ever, in human history, that has ever given even one thought to ecology and preservation. Technological civilization is the only civilization, ever, in human history, that has ever had any understanding of the impact of human behavior upon the planet, or the luxury in terms of economic resources to actually start reducing some of those impacts. And furthermore, technological civilization is the only civilization, ever, in human history, that has ever made any attempts to restore that which human behavior has despoiled.
The only way we could go back to living the way the pre-contact Native Americans lived would be to kill off 99% of the world's population, none of whom would go lightly and all of whom would swiftly destroy all the trees and topsoil on their way down (see: Haiti). We'd also kill off all technology at the same time, and it'd never come back -- there simply are no longer the easily-exploitable resources that allowed the Industrial Revolution. We'd live as ignorant tribesmen with no knowledge of anything other than what's immediately necessary for survival in our short, nasty, and brutish lives -- forever. No more art. No more science. No more literature. All of that requires resources and leisure time which would no longer exist. All there would be would be survival. Just survival. Forever.
Yes, my cat. A fluffy innocent kitty that had done nothing wrong except jump up on my computer desk and walk in front of my computer screen and mew pitiably to be petted, as cats are wont to do when their human is not properly worshipping them. But I was too busy, too inconsiderate, too, too... HUMAN... and I yelled at the cat instead, calling him bad names for getting in my way while I was trying to work on my computer. I even picked him up and set him down behind my chair! Sob! Can you ever forgive me? I have damaged my poor kitty for life. Oh I feel so ASHAMED...
-- Badtux the Abashed Penguin
My poor innocent victim asks, "Why, daddy? Why?"...
Vonnegut was one of many Americans of the WWII generation who objected to what their country has becoming, bemoaning in his last book that the America he grew up in and loved was dead, that he was now a man without a country, marooned in a foreign land of dead dreams and lies that occupied the same general geographical area as what was once America but had now turned into a mean and vicious place where hope was dead and dreams were tiny little things, pale shades of dreams, a new car or a a few cents an hour raise at your job or hoping you don't get fired tomorrow or don't get sick in this new and meaner America where if you don't have health insurance, you die if you get sick. In his final years, clearly ill and dying, he still made the rounds of the talk shows to thump his book and make his point to national audiences.
And no one listened. Because he was, after all, a man without a country, a man whose dream, the American dream of a better place with liberty and justice for all where no child need go to sleep hungry or cold, is dead and gone and replaced with the dream of a boot stamping upon a human face, forever. A dream where we stamp upon the untermenschen, those who are not like us, those who are poor, those who are children and therefore helpless, those who have done nothing but exist and breathe the same air as us. The dream of a vicious, mad people who will die, in the end, but whose possession of the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet will undoubtedly take the rest of the world with them.
When dreams become nightmares, there is no place for people like Kurt Vonnegut to remind us of an older America, a better America, an America which may not have been perfect by any means but where people were not afraid to dream of a better America and a better world. It is perhaps fitting that Kurt Vonnegut checked out only hours after news of this award in his honor. How better to crack a huge joke upon the people of Indianapolis and elsewhere?
Old people these days. They're just no good. Whatever happened to just stayin' home and bakin' cookies and bouncing the grandbabies on your knees and shit? Nowdays old farts are robbin' banks and gettin' 21 innocent people killed while doing a campaign op while runnin' fer President and such. And they're even pirating music, sometimes even after they're dead. Now, you know what this penguin thinks of baby boomers (what have baby boomers born after 1950 ever accomplished, other than scoring a ton of hash during the early 70's and managing to ruin America's economy with their unwarranted sense of self-entitlement?), but sheesh. If this is what old farts are like 'nowdays, I ain't so sure I like old people either. Why, soon 'nuff, we're gonna have to build yet more prisons to house their wrinkled old butts. Ick!
Black or white. Good or evil. Liberal or conservative. If you ain't wit us you agin' us. Ever notice that some monkeys seperate the world into two different poles and sort everything into those two poles, without ever acknowledging any shades of gray? It must be sad to have such a bipolar disorder, where you see only two poles - "us" and "them". As a black and white and yellow penguin in a world of monochromic monkeys, I can only express puzzlement at the inability of monochromic monkeys to see anything that is both black and white. Instead, they only see the color that they want to see, at which point this penguin becomes a white penguin for those who want to see white, and a black penguin for those who want to see black. Or a "liberal" penguin for those who want to see "liberal", or a "conservative" penguin for those who want to see "conservative". Sad, really. How odd, these monkeys that can see only one color at a time, and never revel in the black and white and yellow and green extravagance of the universe!
Sorry, as a typical American I have the attention span of a ferret oh look shiny toys! shiny things! Boyohboyohboyohboy! Oh wait! There's a washed out music producer on trial for murder having a bad hair day! Whoa boy howdy a penguin has to have priorities, y'know?
The two most impressive things about this alarm clock:
It got a PhD for its inventor, Gauri Nanda (it was his PhD project), and
It won an igNobel Prize in Economics (after all, anybody chasing their alarm clock around is unlikely to be late to work due to oversleeping, and thus is going to be more productive!).
As for me, I have three alarm clocks -- one that beeps at me, and two that bat at my arms and face with their paws and yowl at the top of their lungs that it's time to feed them -- so I'll pass on young Nanda's invention... still, impressive. Way impressive.
Uhm, yeah. Hasn't anybody ever told the Brazil police that blue-grey really, really does NOT go with green and yellow? The Brazil police need to get those Queer Eye guys to come in and give them a fashion makeover, sheesh! Although I must admit that the jaunty beret certainly gives this fine example of Brazil police-dom a rather dashing look, wot? But what's with the motorcycle helmet worn by the cop in the background? Quite unfashionable, that!
I hate to see what will happen if they get any more desperate. 30 Iraqis dead, 3 Americans dead in one bombing attack? But hey, I'm sure a school got painted somewhere today in Iraq, why isn't the liberal media covering that!?
Remember, Republican Jesus* says, "Suffer the little children, for they are worthless after being born." Republican Jesus says, "Begrudge the poor your money, for the poor are just untermenschen and should be exterminated anyhow." Republican Jesus drives the biggest baddest Cadillac Escalade around to attend anti-abortion ralleys, then goes home to a house that's four times as large as ordinary people's houses to prepare his next speech saying how everybody needs to give Republican Jesus more money while poor people in New Orleans are evicted from their homes after their original homes were destroyed because Republican Jesus has spent the past seventy years preaching that the government should not spend Republican Jesus's money on those levees to make them safe. Republican Jesus loves life, as long as life is unborn. The moment that squalling little pupae makes it out of that woman's glory hole, though, it's every child for itself. Remember: Republican Jesus says selfishness is good, greed is the only moral value, and the only life worth anything is unborn life.
And people just LURRRRVE that Republican Jesus. They can't get enough of him. He's not some wimp Jesus preaching about caring for others. He's not some pussy Jesus saying that we should provide basic universal health care to all Americans because, well, it's the right thing to do, to save people's lives by providing basic health care to all (nevermind the economic arguments for universal healthcare, the very fact that we even have to talk about the economic arguments shows just where Republican Jesus's priorities lie). No, Republican Jesus is the kind of Jesus that a lot of people prefer to worship. Like them, he's shallow, greedy, venal, narcissistic, self-interested, loves money, and otherwise an expression of modern American values.
So remember, boys and girls, let's all give a hip hip hoorah for Republican Jesus and the Republican Culture of Life that he represents. Republican culture of Life: Offer void after birth. Batteries not included. Offer may not be combined with any other offer. Have a happy day, sucker!
Anybody who is still teaching in an American classroom in this day and age is woefully underpaid given the risks they're taking and the amount of work they're putting out. I'm making four times more money now than I made when I was teaching... and I'll tell you one thing, I worked twice as hard as a teacher, not to mention being physically threatened with violence more than once. (Which doesn't work on me, my Cajun comes up, but still... ).
I got tired of dealing with rude, violent, disrespectful people every day... and those were the parents and my principal. Good riddance to all of them. A pity about the kids, but shit, if their parents gave a fuck, teachers would make six figure salaries in the first place. I don't feel bad at all about the fact th at now an English teacher is "teaching" the Algebra and Geometry classes I once taught. We get the school system we want -- and deserve.
The most qualified candidate currently in the race for President is a fat man with bad hair who has a penchant for getting speeding tickets and who loves to eat. And who, BTW, would probably bring most of the Western states with him and thus guarantee the Presidency to the Democratic Party (15,000 votes in Nevada and 100,000 votes in Colorado would have made Kerry President). F**k the South. John Edwards couldn't win his own home state of North Carolina in 2004, the chances of any Democratic "Southern strategy" working is nil. Anybody in the South with any brains has already left. (Case in point: ME). The South will be solid Republican for the foreseeable future. It's time to pursue a Western Strategy, and this candidate has been very successful at that, completely trouncing the Republican candidate in his last race for governor with 67% of the vote despite the fact that Bush won his state in that very same election.
Sadly, though, I doubt that Bill Richardson has a chance. As the election of George W. Bush proves, being smart and qualified means nothing in politics today. It's all about appearances and superficiality. A fat man with bad hair will win the Presidency sometime after hell freezes over...
He won an Oscar last night for his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Well, technically the director and producers won the Oscar, but as the director said when handing the statue to Al, "It's his film."
This was a big win for Al because the competition for best documentary was stiff this year. There was a *ton* of good documentaries in 2006. Also nominated this year for best documentary were "Deliver Us from Evil," about a pedophile priest, "Jesus Camp," about brainwashing children into being Jesus freaks, and two films about the war in Iraq — "My Country, My Country" and "Iraq in Fragments." All of these are smart and important films. So Al and his director and producers should feel really proud of themselves right now.
I think Al would make a great President. He's smart, he's thoughtful, he's dedicated to public service, and he's already been elected President once (in 2000). He came out against the Iraq war early and has never backed off. Alas, it isn't to be. As Al himself has noted, he just isn't good at politics in the modern era of attack dog politics. He's just too nice a guy to be able to cope with the junkyard dogs of the reich wing noise machine. Of course, he did win once...
By now you've read more than you want to read about the sickening way in which the military and VA are treating the veterans of Oil War II. You've read about the horrible conditions. About how they deliberately give soldiers low disability ratings to deprive them of benefits, forcing them to appeal and appeal to get what they're owed by the nation that threw them into an unnecessary war and now refuses to care for them. About how veterans with severe problems related to the war, such as suicidal depression at all they did and all that happened to them and their fellow soldiers, are turned away from the VA hospitals.
I don't think there is any more I can add to that. "Support our troops" has to mean more than yellow ribbon magnets, but, sadly, I doubt it does. So I will instead post a poem:
He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.
About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
-- In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.
There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. He wonders why ...
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts.
That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?
The next two are part of the big load of 50% off books that came in from the Science Fiction Book Club last week...
Charles Stross, Glasshouse -- A good cyberpunkish novel that doesn't quite match its ambitions but still hits a solid double in the baseball of science fiction. This one works on multiple levels, and while it's not as mind-blowingly good as Singularity Sky, it's still a fine read for those who like quality science fiction.
Neal Asher, Brass Man -- Utterly unintelligible unless you've read the previous novels in the Gridlinked series. Even if you have (and I have), it is a fairly mediocre space opera with hints of cyberpunk. Not recommended.
The Boondocks Complete First Season, Uncut and Uncensored (3 DVD set): Holy crap! This shit is GOOD! Aaron Mcgruder is an equal opportunity (but very profane!) skewerer of the inanities of our culture. There's a couple of stupid episodes but for the most part Mcgruder hits it out of the ballpark, whether he has a resurrected Martin Luther King Jr. trying to preach to a church full of B.E.T. black trash and finally throwing up his hands in exasperation and dropping the "N" word left and right then puts his hat on and moves to Canada, or has rich white men and women reacting to his wanna-be black revolutionary kid protagonist in much the same way as Joe Biden reacts to Obama, "Gosh, you're just so ARTICULATE!". Having taught at black schools and thus experienced first hand the various parts of black culture that Mcgruder skewers, I applaud him for saying things I can't say without being called a racist bigot. And being white and thus the subject of many more of Mcgruder's sword thrusts, all I can say is "ouch!". As for Mcgruder's skewering of big business and the incestuous relationship between big business and government, all I can do is applaud...
More to follow, after I finish cursing SOB chickenhawks and get my breath back...
"Keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce."
-- Molly Ivins, 1944-2007
"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
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