What The Results of Schooling Look Like in Practice

I’m sure we all have examples. The flip-flop on the importance of The Memo provides a very real current one, as clear as Winston Smith feeding the Memory Hole. Up until The Memo’s release, we were told by all the usual suspects that releasing such delicate classified information would be the End of the World as We Know It, a dastardly betrayal of our internal spies.

Then, upon release, The Memo became a nothingburger.

We have always been at war with Eastasia. How can millions of people be wrong?

A few years back, when the IRS’s treasonous perfidy came to light, I saw first hand, as K remarked, “everything we expect from years of government training.” In failing to approve tax exempt status of groups that would oppose the current administration, the IRS hamstrung any grassroot efforts of Obama’s opponents. That’s treason, however you dress it up.

On the day the news escaped into the wild despite the best efforts of the press to ignore it, my lovely niece, a lawyer with multiple degrees from elite universities, looked a little baffled. Then, the press  nothingburgered it. And the next day she assured me it was no big deal, had been completely overblown.

A lawyer said this.

She just needed to wait to hear what the cool kids were saying, and that became the reasonable, right position. Shoving news from a few hours or minutes earlier down the chute to history’s incinerator is, frankly, a small, a very small price to pay to maintain one’s membership in good standing with all the Right People. The trick is that, with 16 or more years of training, the knee jerk reaction, the jettisoning everything needed to maintain the consensual hallucination, is so well ingrained that the process stands no chance of rising to consciousness. Like the children of alcoholics, the well schooled have learned thoroughly that the price of contradicting daddy’s version of events cannot possibly be worth the trouble. The little kids learn from the older ones to shut up and get in line, even if mommy’s story makes no sense and contradicts the evidence of their eyes. It’s a basic survival technique.

Peace, after this fashion, is way more important than the truth. What is truth, anyway? These victims are almost blameless. As with most of us in some way or another when it comes to our besetting faults, it would take a miracle to make them see themselves.

Image result for miracle max
Good luck storming the castle!

Which brings us to the theological point of all this: Christ says He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are to defend small ‘t’ truth in the name of big ‘T’ Truth. For the devil is the father of lies. We are not asked, usually, to swallow the big lie that is death all at once. Rather, we are inured, one little bite at a time, until we will swallow the manifest contradictions and hypocrisy of our betters without a hiccup. We develop the unhingeable jaws of the snake, our maws stretching wide such that, after proper training, we can swallow things unimaginable to the observer, things way bigger than our heads.

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Science!: One *Million* Dollars!

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

H. L. Mencken

(WordPress formatting Hell – unlocked!)

We will not here pile on to the current avalanche precipitated by political news proving Mencken’s point. Instead, let’s do Science!

I’d never heard of these folks before, just saw the headline and had to take it on. This is who they say they are:

About The Western Journal 

The Western Journal is a news company that drives positive cultural change by equipping readers with truth. Every day, WesternJournal.com publishes conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family writers and broadcasters.

As Americans — and indeed, readers around the world — continue to lose trust in traditional newspapers and broadcast networks and their claims of objectivity and impartiality, The Western Journal is rapidly filling the gap as a trusted source of news and information. The Western Journal is staffed by an experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts who both recognize the stories that matter to everyday readers and provide a truthful and unfiltered view of current events.

Now, I would often give a pass to stories of the quality of the one we’ll be discussing below, not because such are not egregious examples of the Mencken quotation above, but rather because they are Legion and comparatively harmless. Not absolutely harmless, because they perpetuate the mindless Pavlovian expectation that we salivate ooh and aah at impressive sounding numbers and speculations passed off as facts as long as they’re associated, however tenuously, with Science!

The headline to the article, NASA Admits Valuable Asteroid Would Crash Entire Economy, Still Sending Retrieval Rocket, is so egregiously stupid that it’s hard not to laugh. The “experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts” have got to be kidding, right? NASA, collective bureaucratic feet no doubt to the fire, admit to the truth they’d been hiding: that an asteroid of all but immeasurable value would “crash entire economy” somehow – but they are nefariously sending a “retrieval rocket” nonetheless – unless, I suppose, we, the faithful readers of the Western Journal somehow can stop them! At this point, I think we need to appeal to the imperial senate to send Jedi to break the trade embargo. Or something. It’s only prudent.

But the ‘About’ quoted above says either ‘no, they’re serious’ or ‘deep meta-humor going on here’,  and I’m not quite buying the meta humor angle. One supposes there’s also the ‘false flag’ angle, where somebody’s goal is to discredit “conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family” people by claiming to be on their side, then repeating Science! so stupid that only the appallingly ignorant would fall for it. Tempting to believe, but that’s a little hard to buy, as I’ve seen worse in, oh, Scientific American. So:

“NASA admits” – admits?

“valuable asteroid” – ya know, there are supposedly diamond stars out there, too – do we refer to them as ‘valuable stars’? Without, oh, factoring in the effectively infinite retrieval costs? Just curious. Now, an article on how technology is even now driving down retrieval costs for asteroids to some level where either they can be economically redirected to some more convenient orbit or mining operations could be set up on the asteroid in its current orbit AND we’ve got some plausible ideas on how we get stuff from the asteroid to the surface of the earth economically and safely – well, I’d eagerly read that article.

This is not that article.

“would crash entire economy”  – sure! Movies have been made on that topic – a 130 mile diameter asteroid could crash a lot more than just the economy! Perhaps the word ‘crash’ is infelicitous in this context?

“still sending retrieval rocket” – the nerve! Don’t those NASA people even watch the show?The scene: the dedicated and “experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts” have gotten NASA dead to rights, but just as they admit this asteroid they’ll be retrieving is a real threat to destroy The Economy, they cackle maniacally and declare: “and we’re sending the retrieval rocket anyway! MUAHAHAHA!”This is point where I’d like to say some headline writer got out of hand, the real article isn’t nearly this bad.But it is:

NASA has officially set a date for a trip to an asteroid that is so valuable it could collapse the world’s economy.

The mission is set to launch in the summer of 2022, and is planned to arrive at the main asteroid belt where the asteroid is located in the year 2026.

The asteroid named “16 Psyche” measures about 130 miles in diameter and is made entirely of nickel and iron.

Psyche is worth approximately $10,000 quadrillion, according to Daily Star. To put that in perspective, the world’s economy is currently worth $73.7 trillion dollars.

And so on. So: NASA is somehow going to ‘retrieve’ a 130 mile diameter chunk of nickle and iron from the asteroid belt, which, last I checked, is over a hundred million miles away at the closest. This chunk of nickle and iron is worth the staggering sum of $10,000 quadrillion, which is, let’s see, pulling out the calculator here, A LOT!!!

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Luke: Listen, if you were to rescue her, the reward would be…more than you can imagine.  Han: I don’t know. I can imagine quite a bit.

I recently watched a little video about traditional African iron smelting. The team made the video to capture the techniques before the last people who knew how to smelt iron from ore died off. They mention in passing that about 60 years ago, a ship was driven aground and abandoned on the shore, and the Africans, being not stupid, started right in stripping the wreck and stopped smelting their own iron. Then, Japanese and Chinese showed up, and would sell them all the iron they could use. So, rather than draft the entire village to work their behinds off digging and hauling ore, chopping down a small forest for charcoal, hauling clay and water to build a furnace, then burning, pounding, fanning and sweating for hours on end all to get enough iron to make a couple hoes, hoes they could swap a piglet for – they stopped. Economics and all that.

Iron and nickel are quite valuable – when you have to make them yourself. Thanks to the miracle of the free market system, you don’t. You just buy them from companies that, through applied science and a couple centuries of effort, are willing to sell you nickel for under $5 a pound and iron for much less than that.But if you take those numbers, apply them to however much iron and nickel you calculate a 130 mile diameter sphere would hold, and – WOW! One *million* dollars! Or, it might as well be, given how well readers of the Western Journal (including me) are able to imagine $10,000,000,000,000.

Let us assume – dangerous, I know – that somehow NASA retrieves this asteroid so that the there’s so much nickel and iron on earth that it is effectively all but free. This will destroy the economy – how? Like how gravel pits have destroyed the economy? You know that virtually all you’re paying for when you buy gravel is the equipment and manpower needed to get it out of the ground, sorted and delivered. The rock ain’t worth much.

Unless all my money was in mineral rights to iron and nickel mines, I fail to see how this could possibly be a bad thing.The remainder of the article is untethered speculation, some by NASA scientists, among which are the idea that you could corner markets or solve all the world’s metal needs for ever. You need to squint a bit and cock your head just right to get anything like the click-bait headline out of it.Followed some of the links in the article to other equally confidence-inspiring sources, until the interesting stuff came up: it is not assumed that this asteroid is only iron and nickel, but rather that, as a possible planetary core (mentioned without comment in the Western Journal article) it would be rich in rare and valuable metals. That’s the interest: getting stuff that’s really rare and valuable on earth. What exactly ‘retrieve’ means wasn’t spelled out, but one would assume samples, if anything.

This introduction to the Western Journal has made it a trusted source for goofball click bait headlines. Science, not so much.

Chicago & the FBI

I can’t shake this, but I also lack time to do the level of research to even make it a good working theory. So take this as the speculation it most certainly is:

Bathhouse John Coughlin.jpg
‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin, Alderman for 46 years. Good Irish boy, threw a hell of a party. Hey, what’s a little prostitution, gambling and racketeering among Paddies? It’s not like it’s your sons and daughters having their lives destroye – oh.

When looking at the history of Chicago for the last century or so, one thing is clear: it has been run by the Mob. Much of the time, such as under ‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin in the early 20th century or Fred Roti in latter part, the Mob’s running of the city was quite overt – these men were both well-known criminals and elected officials, and you crossed them at your very real peril.

Other times, the Chicago Outfit has been more subtle – not a lot more subtle, but at least the guys in charge weren’t widely known to be made men. But any way you slice it, Chicago politics has been Mob politics for generations now.

And it still seems to be. I’ve looked in vain for the reform moment, the point where somebody cleaned house, threw people in jail, and made a fresh start. Nope. When Fred Roti, a made man dying of cancer, was ‘caught’ by somebody wearing a wire – a wire that, oddly enough, never caught anybody else doing anything illegal – he went to jail in 1993 without too big a fuss, and left a ‘legacy’ of having launched the careers of dozens of current and former Chicago politicians.

At what point, then, did political control of Chicago pass from criminal hands? It never did seems to be the only viable answer.

I have friends and acquaintances who are proud Chicagoans. They seem to more or less consciously make the self-fulfilling assumption that all politicians are crooks. Certainly, nothing in their immediate experiences would prove them wrong. Therefore, all that really matters is that the crooks keep enough of a lid on their criminal activities so that it can plausibly be maintained that it isn’t *that* bad, and keep the pork rolling to the constituents.

You think this is too harsh, maybe? Consider the Boston Southies, who treated Whitey Bulger as a hero because a) he was one of them; and b) he sometimes played Robin Hood and threw around a little cash. His willingness to support his brother Billy Bulger’s political career was standing up for his brother, like any good Southie would do. Only when he was tried for murder as an old man did it seem to dawn on people that the guys getting murdered and the families left behind were most often ones of them, too. It might even have been them getting murdered or left widowed. But, like retractions in the New York Times, their changes of heart were relatively muted.

Coughlin and his partner and fellow alderman Michael ‘Hinky Dink’ Kenna were generally thought very kindly of by the people of Chicago. True, under their management the perhaps less lovable but vastly more, shall we say, efficient Italians took charge –  Johnny Torrio & Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, who in turn more or less handed off much of the leadership duties to the Roti clan.  Fred, the youngest Roti, seems to have handed off leadership to a committee. I suspect Rahm Emmanuel runs it now, or at least is the designated figurehead (although Rahm’s intelligence and ego would appear to make him a poor choice as a figurehead. Unlike a certain former president, who would seem to have the perfect skill set for the job. But I digress.)

Business as usual, in other words.

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Hinky Dink Kenna and a younger, more dapper Coughlin.

Back to Chicago. So, as I said, the only viable theory about Chicago politics is that it remains in the hands of the heirs of Fred Roti, his hitman father Bruno ‘the Bomber’ Roti, Al Capone,  Johnny Torrio, Big Jim Colosimo, Coughlin and Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna.

The Untouchables famously got Al Capone. While the Mob works hard and with considerable success at making sure it has control of local law enforcement, the FBI has, as in the case of Capone, proven on occasion more difficult. The FBI got Roti, but under conditions that make it pretty clear Fred was taking one for the team. I’m pretty sure – and here’s where I should stop and do some research, but I just don’t have time right now – that the FBI has been deeply involved in the endless stream of Chicago politicians and mobsters (but I repeat myself) who have been caught and convicted.

So here’s my little conspiracy theory: one of the goals of the Obama presidency was to reign in the FBI. Not that Obama himself would get involved in this – he seems to be the Warren G. Harding of this age, except without Harding’s self-awareness – but he brought essentially his entire team with him from Chicago to the White House. In that team were certainly people that the likes of Roti knew they could work with, as it were. A key guy here, an informant there, a guy in position to put the brakes on over there – and, voila! While you may not be able to stop the rank and file agents from doing their jobs, you can make sure nothing much comes of it.

All this is brought to mind, of course, by the items in the news describing how, shockingly, a number of people in the FBI seems to have their loyalties first to Obama and then Clinton, and only second, if at all, to their duties. This is exactly what I would have expected, and is one of the reasons for the clear panic that seems to have gripped many in Washington with the election of Trump. I’m guessing – and here, again, is mere speculation – that there’s a lot of agents with a lot of dirt, starting just below the head honchos.

I suppose we’ll see. Or, if the Outfit is still at the top of its game, maybe we won’t.

On Sacrificing Children to Educational Abstractions

One view I run across from time to time holds that all parents are morally obliged to send their children to public schools for the greater good. Googling produces:

If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person (From Slate, you’ll be stunned to learn)

There’s a Simple Solution to the Public Schools Crisis ban private schools! (Gawker – likewise shocking.)

Why not ban private schools? From some education blog doing its part to normalize the concept. Warren Buffet is a fan, bringing to mind a quotation from the otherwise forgettable I Robot movie:

Let’s complete our sources with the Huffington Post:  Warren Buffett Is Right: It’s Time to Ban Private Schools Well, that should about settle it. When such luminous examples of enlightenment and right thinking come thundering together like a herd of cliff-bound buffalo, what is a mere mortal to do but agree?

A smarter dumb person might refer such thinkers to the 1925 Supreme Court case  Pierce v. Society of Sisters, in which the Court stated that

Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska,262 U.S. 390, we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control: as often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the State. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

(Aside: interesting to note how the Wikipedia essay and a few other sources I looked at – they possibly all came from some one common source – ignored, or all but ignored, the passage above and its implications, but focused instead on how the court determined this law unconstitutionally put legitimate businesses – schools – out of business without cause or compensation. So, let’s talk money instead of the rights of parents and children? Hmmm.)

But we only like legal precedent when it backs up what we already favor – it is only to be ignored when it doesn’t. So I suppose this is unconvincing, and we must now rehash the ancient, ancient history of 90 years ago, when people were much less sophisticated and enlightened than they are now.

All this came to mind while reading a rather preposterous essay at something called the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal which, to be fair, seems to have its heart in the right place. The essay, A Letter to Conservatives: You Need College and College Definitely Needs You, applies roughly the same logic the above thinkers cooked up for k-12 public schools to public colleges and universities.

You can read it, if that floats your boat. Lots to talk about. Here, I’ll confine myself to just one little thing, something that often infects postmodern popular thinking when its pretending to be fair and is the unspoken crux of this pro state colleges and universities argument:(1) that, simply because the positions can and have been separated along a pre-existing political conservative/liberal axis, they must each be treated as equals, having equal weight and deserving of equal respect.

The thing is, state colleges and universities are not the voting booth, where we have an opportunity free from coercion to express our political beliefs by picking candidates and laws we like. Even more important, we spend maybe a few hours of our lives each year on voting, and even then only if we want to. Colleges and universities, especially if you don’t live at home, are all but 24/7 with comparatively rare and temporary escapes, for as long as you attend them. You won’t merely be harangued for a few minutes while you gut your way through the opposite side’s arguments in the voter’s pamphlet. Nope – teachers will harangue you in class, pester you with homework, grade you on how well you can regurgitate their views and otherwise force-feed you their positions.

And the college student is typically 18 to 22 or so, which is by no stretch a mature adult. These days, at least.

What if, say, one side is happy to argue with and make space for the other, while the other side attempts to exclude and silence their opponents? Forget the political associations for a moment. This isn’t traditional Republicans and Democrats here, who have (had?) some incentive to work together at least some of the time. This is between ideologues who believe their end is so wonderful as to justify any means, that the individual is nothing and the collective everything, who believe rights accrue to people only insofar as they are true believers, and even then only so long as those rights don’t interfere with the goal – and people who reject all those claims. The latter position welcomes argument; the former sees rational discussion as something dangerous to be shouted down, and those who insist on it to be vilified.

So, pretending like subjecting your kid to Marxists is just another learning experience, like a field trip to the sea shore, and at any rate is comparable to subjecting them to classical liberal education is mind-blowingly clueless, at best.

For example:

What about indoctrination by leftist professors? The lack of viewpoint diversity in the academy is definitely a problem. It frustrates me to see how ideologically-biased the social sciences and humanities in particular have become. Academia has long leaned left, but, as has been revealed in a number of recent surveys, this is increasingly the case. In some disciplines, it is easier to find a Marxist than a Republican. Classical liberalism is giving way to left-wing fundamentalism.

As a result, you feel like the college campus is not a welcoming place for your kind. But do you like the safe space movement on many college campuses you keep hearing about? Well, conservatives don’t need safe spaces either.

Your sons and daughters should go to college and take the full range of classes, even ones from Marxist sociologists. They will learn something. In fact, if your children share your conservative views, they will receive a better education than the progressive students who are getting their beliefs reinforced, not challenged. Your children’s thinking on important issues will become more nuanced and sophisticated.

Education is about expanding knowledge and being exposed to new ideas, not affirming existing beliefs. Plus, many college courses have little or nothing to do with political or social ideology.

Note how little concern is shown for the intellectual (or moral) fate of the already liberal kids being indoctrinated by Marxists – and learning not to argue and to condemn as hopelessly benighted any who are so unenlightened as to disagree. That’s presumed to be just dandy, except insofar as they won’t get quite as good an education as those conservative kids who take those same classes and – it is presumed – are immune to all the social and psychological pressure to conform such classes bring to bear. Mom and dad are presumed to have never taken such classes or heard of Stockholm Syndrome.

Anyway: a parent’s first loyalty and duty are to his kids, not the public schools nor the state control such schools represent. The Supreme Court has made that the law of the land! You’re not letting anyone down, and certainly not your kid, by refusing to send them to a public school, or state college or university.

(My kids were told they could go to any college they wanted, but if they wanted my financial help, it needed to be on the Newman List.)

  1. In the articles linked above, there is no pretense at withholding judgement: those who disagree – conservatives and other on the Wrong Side of History, one can safely conclude from who the publishers are – are dismissed with a sneer. Only the last essay, which is attempting to reason with conservatives, doesn’t do that – but it doesn’t sneer at the Liberal position, either.

Science! Time Spent with Children

I think this qualifies as Science! because lots of people will decide it’s true and look at you funny (at best) if you disagree:

Parents now spend twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago. Except in France. From the Economist.

There are pretty charts showing time spent with children by mothers and fathers across decades and cultures, from 1965 to 2012. Also work University education into the mix. Nice smooth curves, too – that’s the way progress works, after all, it just smoothly moves us into a better future without any hiccups.

OK, let’s count the ways this is nonsense:

1. What does time spent with their children mean? Does it mean the same thing in France in 1965 as in the US in 1992 as in Japan in 2012? From family to family? How would you know this? Am I spending time with my children if the family sits down together for dinner? What if the TV is on at the same time? Does an hour at dinner with wine, conversation and manners count the same as an hour during which people come and go, watch TV or work on homework at the same time? And on and on. This issue alone renders the entire exercise meaningless.

2. What does University educated mean? Same thing in the US in 1965 as in Italy in 2012? How would we know? Is it self reported? Barber college count?

3. Methodology consistent across time and space? Double-blind observation on thousands of subjects validated against clearly defined categories?  (Not likely.) Or a variety of surveys relying on self-reporting by self-selected (those willing to take the survey) subjects? Or what? Because if you measure one group one way and another another way, all bets are off.

4. Self reporting biases: Are they dealt with somehow? Because I’d bet they’re in there. Do French parent feel like spending too much time with their kids makes them old-fashioned or otherwise looked down on by their peers? Did Danes come to some sudden realization after 1965 that the parenting methods of Lief Erikson lead to lopping off heads and slaughtering monks, which had lamentably gone out of fashion, so they switched it up? Or what?

And then you combine these issues, and you get more problems. Dads in the US, for example, have certainly been shamed into spending time with kids in traditional motherly ways since 1965. Having kids hang around while you chop wood or fix the Chevy – does that count? As much as changing their diapers or fixing them dinner?

I, for one, will be very skeptical of claims that modern moms and dads find more time to be with their kids than people in the bad old days. Getting horribly cynical here: They’re clearly taking time out from looking for husband #3 or drinking in the hookup bars with their buddies to arrange their days around custody schedules. Or maybe custody schedules are the sole drivers, here? I spend more net time with the kids and step kids because I’m stuck with one set while my spouse is visiting the other set? Does time spent in court or with lawyers count?

Seriously: nothing can or should be made of fluff like this. Therefore, one should expect to be accused of being anti-science if one rejects it.

Science! Zombie Ants & Rain

1. As readers of this blog no doubt recall, I have a deep and abiding interest in Nature, especially when it’s behaving in a blood-curdling, utterly horrifying way, such that it would make a slasher movie writer blanch. For purely scientific reasons, of course. Check here and here to whet your purely scientific curiosity.

Off hand, I don’t know what unspeakable horrors the innocent-looking carpenter ants have committed to deserve this, but check this out:

“How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants’ Bodies to Control Their Minds.” As in:

Attacks of the Brain-Controlling Parasites | WIRED
This is a dead carpenter ant clinging to a leaf. That thing on its head is the fruiting body of a fungus. Said fungus infected the ant, took over its body, had it climb up high enough to maximize fungal growth and spore dispersion. Over an ant trail. It then converted ant-flesh to fungus and released its spores. The cycle repeats.

The subheading piles on thus: “The infamous parasite’s methods are more complex and more sinister than anyone suspected.”

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I’m sure you’ve discovered my deep and abiding interest in ants.

Okee-dokee, then. So Nature has produced, via, one supposes, the tender ministrations of Natural Selection, funguses that infect ants’ – oh, let’s just go there, cut to the chase – YOUR body, paralyze your mind so that you are reduced to a mute witness to your own long, horrid and painful destruction, causes you to shamble about for its own purposes – then devours you from the inside out, reducing your soft, Western-raised flesh to its own offspring – and then causes your body to sprout hideous protrusions to release them so that they may do the same to your loved ones. Got that?

More or less. I may have extrapolated a little. You  probably have nothing to worry about. For now. Sleep tight.

Here’s how the folks at the Atlantic put it:

When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.

For the sake of brevity, we will let pass the question of if ants have minds in any meaningful sense (It is part of the modern project to insist that minds and brains are the same thing. The insistence is instantiated via pretending there isn’t any question.). The reason these poor ants are back in the news (how are they ever off the news, BTW? Why aren’t there 24×7 cable and YouTube channels devoted to this? Has Capitalism let me down *again*?!?) is that there also exists in Nature the kind of researchers who will a) devote their lives to the study of this fungus; b) gather infected ant bodies in the jungle; c) cut these bodies up into 50-micron thick slices; and d) study said slices under electron microscopes until they have some idea exactly how the fungus works its evil magic.

Turns out:

Whenever Hughes or anyone else discusses the zombie-ant fungus, they always talk about it as a single entity, which corrupts and subverts a host. But you could also think of the fungus as a colony, much like the ants it targets. Individual microscopic cells begin life alone but eventually come to cooperate, fusing into a superorganism. Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger creature.

But surprisingly, they can do that without ever physically touching the brain itself. Hughes’s team found that fungal cells infiltrate the ant’s entire body, including its head, but they leave its brain untouched. There are other parasites that manipulate their hosts without destroying their brains, says Kelly Weinersmithfrom Rice University. For example, one flatworm forms a carpet-like layer over the brain of the California killifish, leaving the brain intact while forcing the fish to behave erratically and draw the attention of birds—the flatworm’s next host. “But manipulation of ants by Ophiocordyceps is so exquisitely precise that it is perhaps surprising that the fungus doesn’t invade the brain of its host,” Weinersmith says.

In retrospect, that makes sense. “If such parasites were merely invading and destroying neuronal tissue, I don’t think the manipulated behaviors that we observe would be as compelling as they are,” says Charissa de Bekker from the University of Central Florida. “Something much more intricate must be going on.” She notes that the fungus secretes a wide range of chemicals that could influence the brain from afar.

So what we have here is a hostile takeover of a uniquely malevolent kind. Enemy forces invading a host’s body and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the brain from afar. Hughes thinks the fungus might also exert more direct control over the ant’s muscles, literally controlling them “as a puppeteer controls as a marionette doll.” Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. Hughes suspects that the fungus takes over. It effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.

(Note how we switch back to talking about brains without even pumping the breaks? That’s how moderns ‘win’ arguments – by pretending they don’t exist. But I digress…)

This article is so judgemental! The fungus is not ‘sinister’ or ‘malevolent’ or any other of the many harsh terms applied to it by the Atlantic writer. It’s just doing it’s thing – to ants we’d promptly wash away with bleach and rags if they set foot in our houses. Yet, here we are, all high and mighty! It’s stuff like this that separates the *real* nature lovers from squeamish posers!

Image result for captain picard
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Doctor, the sperm whale on Earth devours millions of cuttlefish as it roams the oceans. It is not evil; it is feeding. The same may be true of the Entity.
Dr. Kila Marr: That would be small comfort for those who have died to feed it. We’re not talking about cuttlefish; we’re talking about people!
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I would argue that the Crystalline Entity has as much right to be here as we do. 
Dr. Kila Marr:  Well then, step the hell right up to the front of the lunch line, Captain Cuttlefish! Don’t let me and my unevolved survival instincts slow you down. (mumbles: Pompous ass…)*

*may not be the canonical version of that dialogue. But it should be.

2. Finally got some rain. Over an inch and a half in the last 24 hours, which in California nearly qualifies as a epic storm. All in, for the season we’re a couple inches into our supposed average of around 17 inches. Good start.

For my part, I’m predicting another 1862 event, as discussed briefly here by Michael Flynn. Why? Well, why not? First, I heard somewhere that weather years, just like daily weather, tend to travel in packs – the best predictor of tomorrow’s weather is today’s weather; the best predictor of next year’s weather is this year’s weather. If it’s cold and rainy today, it’s more than likely to be cold and rainy tomorrow, and so on.

Thus, since the 2016-2017 California rainy season was EPIC! I’m going with predicting the 2017-2018 season will be MEGA EPIC!! Why let the Bible-thumper End Times dudes have all the fun? Seriously, let’s hope not, as California’s infrastructure, especially the dams, irrigation canals, water systems and aging levees (you knew California has a LOT of levees, right? No?) are in no way ready for it, and would probably be destroyed. So, no, let’s not – except I want to be on record having predicted it, just in case. Consistency, hobgoblins, and all that.

How it works: every few hundred years, the educated guesses go, that whole atmospheric river thing starts dipping into its major stash of steroids, and you get, using the 1861-1862 season for example, 43 straight days of pounding rain spread across the entire state. You get 250% of the snowpack, and many feet of rain on the western slopes of the Sierra. The Central Valley, into which ALL the rivers coming out of the western slopes of the Sierra drain, and which, in turn drains ONLY out the Sacramento River Delta into San Francisco Bay, turns into a giant lake. Over the century and a half since 1862, miles and miles of levees have been built in the delta, turning hundreds of square miles of wetlands into farmland – much of which is below river level, and all of which is below flood level.

Meanwhile, many urban water systems have been built along the river and delta – the one my house gets its water from, for example – that, should the river flood and the old, poorly maintained levees break, would be washed away, clogged up, or, when the flood water recedes, flooded with the salt water that is what makes up the bulk of the San Francisco Bay Estuary and which is currently held back from reaching the drinking water supply by those same levees. And SoCal gets a huge portion of its water via aqueducts that are fed, ultimately, from the dams in the Sierra – which are not likely to survive a megastorm.

Ugly. Just like the drivers this morning who honked at me, first because I did not close the two car length gap that opened up on the light change with sufficient alacrity, second because I had the temerity to change lanes into the space the honker had let open up in front of him – the nerve! Californians do not, alas, respond well to the traffic jams these early storm inevitably create.

The Fluidity of Blame

So, as they say, grab some popcorn. We all have front-row seats to Pandora’s box’s grand opening: Once the smallest cracks in the raw political power of the big shots in entertainment (and elsewhere – we’ll get to that) began to show, people who’d been silenced for years began to spill their stories of ‘sexual misconduct’ a catch-all term for any sexual activities that have yet to be normalized.

Not sure what it means to say that all that’s coming out now is what everybody already knew – I’d have to assume everybody except proper law enforcement agencies? Or are they in on this, too? (Sadly, one could easily imagine it. Think of the pressure that could be brought to bear on the Hollywood or even LA Chief of Police by a bunch of famous millionaires. The kind of people who throw political fundraisers for the right kinds of politicians. The kind of people who’ve made a lot of money off Kevin Spacey flicks. Not hard to imagine some aspiring actress or crew member being advised by the police to, in so many words, shut up and take the money. Not saying this is what happened, just that it’s not hard to imagine.)

Now this catharsis, if that’s what it is, has spread to other areas. Apart from his fine last name, I know nothing of this Judge Moore person, except that the Democrats of both parties loathe him and that, one month before the election that would put him into Congress allegations of sexual misconduct from 30 to 40 years ago have been raised. Reactions have ranged from ‘he should step down immediately’ all the way to ‘he should step down immediately if the accusations are true’.

Judge Moore has vehemently denied the allegations and pointed out the very convenient political timing and the fact that these women have had decades to make their accusations but did not. Unfortunately for him, the Hollywood situation appears to take the wind out of that last point. In Hollywood, the story goes, a climate of fear prevailed that only now (magically?) has been breached. Decades of silence in the face of such institutional intimidation is understandable and even to be expected. That no case (that I’ve heard of) has been made that Moore was part of such an institutional reign of terror seems to be missed.

I’m in no position to judge the believability of Moore’s accusers. Neither is anyone else, really – that’s what trials are for. That’s also the point: there will be no trial, or, at the very least, no trail before the elections. The accusers have no chance to make their case; Moore has no chance to clear his name. As I’ve said, I have no opinion on any of these folks, don’t know them from Adam and Eve. The situation, however, stinks.

What I wanted to address here today is strategy, and how the political divide is also of necessity a strategic divide. Moore takes the classic position: he denies the accusations. Politically, he forces people to either say: Moore is tainted, he must step down *even if* he’s innocent (that last part is optional – his enemies want him out, and don’t care if massive injustice is committed doing it) OR accusations are cheap, a man is innocent until proven guilty, and the timing of all this is very questionable at best and pure political character assassination at worst. Moore should carry on.

In other words, Moore’s strategy is to rely on personal responsibility – he either did stuff, or he didn’t. If he did, throw the book at him; if he didn’t, throw it at his accusers. In the meantime, stay the course and get into Congress. If the accusations prove true, you can throw him out. Moore seems confident (but of course he would have to to follow this strategy) that he will be exonerated.

But the other side is not playing that game. Weinstein, who never really denied the accusations, instead headed for 6 whole days of therapy somewhere out of reach of US law enforcement, to be cured of his sickness. Based on the miraculous cure Weinstein reported, Spacey, after the most tepid of excuses, headed for the same clinic. I expect similar scenarios – call it the Polanski Option – to play out over time.

Various articles have been published on the culture of Hollywood and even the culture of the 70s (Weinstein’s own personal absolution) to explain why these men behaved as they did. It’s the culture! Don’t blame *me*! I’m another victim here, just like the adolescents I sodomized!

These criminals are sick, you see, and not to be held responsible, or at least not completely responsible, for their actions. The culture the poor innocents were raised in made them that way! You don’t want to beat up on sick people who threatened, bullied and raped your daughters and sons – that would be mean! Instead, we need to fix the culture! Recalibrate the power dynamic! That’s the only real solution.

One is tempted to point out that Judge Moore’s approach is that of a man who hopes to be proven innocent. Whether he’s innocent or not, he would at least have to believe that the legal evidence against him is not overwhelming.  Weinstein, Spacy and the growing bandwagon of famous perps would only pursue the strategy they do if they knew the evidence was overwhelmingly against them. The day in court where their victims presented their evidence would likely be the last day they walked free for a long, long, time.

Here, Critical Theory in all its evil glory intersects with reality: if all unhappiness is the result of power dynamics, and if all rights result from how well one conforms themselves to true consciousness – how woke you are – then the only thing that matters is achieving and spreading enlightenment. Actions can only be judged by how well they further the Revolution. The individual is nothing, the collective is all, as Trotsky and other true believers have pointed out.

So, just as Stalin’s slaughter of millions of unarmed men, women and children cannot be judged evil in itself, but must be weighed against the glory of his ultimate goal – the dawning of the Workers’ Paradise – so Weinstein’s crimes – weaknesses, really – are more than offset by the good he does promoting Progressive causes – that old Workers’ Paradise, again.  (Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, as Walter Durante, a non-egg, pointed out.)

So: I predict Weinstein will get a full or partial pass by a distressingly large number of people. Not much of a prediction, since it’s already happening. And that Judge Moore will be held in contempt even if he’s totally exonerated. Again, not much of a prediction, since there’s already an unquenchable hatred for the guy in many hearts.

One last point, one often evidently forgotten or forcibly suppressed: A system of law and justice only works when personal responsibility is conclusively assumed, where one can say if A murdered B, A is guilty of murder. If class determines blame, then all that needs to be done is to show membership in an innocent class – and repent from membership in any guilty classes (ah, the joys of intersectionality!). So, if Weinstein, Spacey et al can prove they’re on the Right Side of History ™ and grovel enough for being rich, white and male – well, all will be right as rain! Judge Moore, on the other hand, is white, male, heterosexual – the list of blame and evil goes on and on – and unrepentant. No mere facts could ever absolve him.

Image result for this little rat is guilty
This little rat is guilty!

We’ve reached the Cliffs of Insanity.