It’s Science; Use Your Goddamned Brains!

A Real Crime, with Bill Maher

Bill Maher has just had a long sit-down with a prominent anti-vaxxer. During the interview, he made it clear, as he has a number of times before, that he was inclined to take these claims seriously as a general part of his “skepticism” of western medicine, made no attempt to question or rebut any of the obviously questionable claims presented by his guest, and implied that there was some shadowy movement making it “courageous” even to speak on the subject. It’s not really a surprise to see him openly supporting quackery, as he’s done it before, but it is a perfect example of how, when it comes to science, “liberals” are just as bad as “conservatives”. In either case, when it agrees with their politics or other ideology, “the science is settled”. When it disagrees, It’s a “corporate/government/illuminati/whatever conspiracy!”

Listen, people, here’s the thing. It’s good to be skeptical, but you have to understand what that means. “Skeptical” means not accepting things until there is significant, solid evidence in support of them, but then also accepting them if/when they finally pass that test! If you only have the first part, you aren’t skeptical, you’re a denier, and while you are welcome to believe anything you want, believing bullshit is a sure path to pain and suffering.

Science works. When there are literally thousands of peer-reviewed studies/experiments carried out by unrelated groups of researchers that mutually confirm each other, you can be pretty damned sure they are correct. Of course nothing is ever 100% certain in science, but by the same token, one unconfirmed study that supports your position does not Trump mountains of strong evidence. [see what I did there?]

Just fucking stop it.

  • Vaccines work, and are safe. They aren’t a “big pharma” conspiracy.
  • The global climate is warming, and our carbon emissions are helping it do so. The Illuminati haven’t subverted millions of researchers worldwide.
  • GMOs are safe and effective, and their technology is literally safer than hybridization, which we’ve used for at least 10,000 years as a species. The lizard people aren’t behind it.
  • The Earth is round. The Rothschilds haven’t been tricking billions of people with fish-eye lenses for thousands of years.
  • Evolution is actually how life on earth unfolded. The Devil didn’t bury dinosaur bones in rocks and then trick millions of scientists by changing the radiologic content of the rocks to make them look old.
  • Alternative medicine, if it has been scientifically confirmed to work, is called FOR FUCK’S SAKE MEDICINE! If it has been tested and shown to work no better than placebo, or has never been tested, it’s an alternative TO medicine, not alternative medicine. Homeopathy is fucking water, prayer doesn’t work, your body has multiple systems in place that more or less guarantee you are at the correct pH, and if you have a properly working liver and kidneys, you are already as “detoxed” as you will ever be. If you insist on an alternative to medicine, I will happily provide you with bloodletting services for free, so don’t waste your money! (Can you cause blood-loss via blunt-force trauma? No matter, I don’t need any more evidence to support my position that if I hit you with this bat enough times you’ll bleed than I do for the claim that letting your blood out will cure you.)

Come on now. You travel in jets, cars, and trains. You use electricity. You’re reading this on the internet, for pity’s sake. You know full well that science works. You don’t get to pick and choose!

Posted in For Facebook, Geeky, General, Personal, Philosophical, Political, Rational, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

First World Hipster Problems: “Farm Fresh Eggs”

So my wife brought home some “organic” eggs from the local farmer’s market. I had my doubts…

My first concern was the somewhat suspicious handwritten admonition to “Rinse Thoroughly In Warm Water Before Use”. My second concern was more of a wry observation: they cost twice as much as regular eggs, but were so small that they held half as much food. Since we had other eggs in the fridge, I decided to ignore them for a bit, and stacked the other eggs on top of them…

Today, I needed eggs to service the clamoring demands of my two young children for hard-boiled eggs, and these suspicious eggs were all we had left, so I had no choice but to use them. While preparing to “rinse” them, I discovered the reason for the admonition in that most of them had streaks of chicken poop on them. In the end, I didn’t rinse them, I washed them with detergent!

Then, I tossed them into my egg-steamer, set to a shorter time than recommended for hard-boiled eggs to account for their diminutive size. After a quick ice bath, I had produced apparently fine, if tiny, hard boiled eggs. So I fed them to my kids! Then, after devouring eight eggs between them, they demanded more…

I repeated the process with the remaining three eggs (one having spun wobbly on the counter, which gave me concerns it might be bad). Because there was an odd number, there was no way to fairly (according to my 5-year-old) divide them, so Daddy had to eat one. So, kids happily munching away, Daddy took a bite. This was a mistake…

As it turns out from my subsequent internet research, I had won the lottery with a fertilized egg. What I knew at the time was that the dark red spot I discovered in what was left of the yolk had what looked like veins in it, and the flavour in my mouth was so utterly repugnant that I will not describe it, in case my readers might want to enjoy a meal ever again…

I won’t describe the next two minutes either, as I refuse to ever think of them again, but in case you were wondering, mozzarella will not wipe the flavor of a hard-boiled fertilized egg from your mouth. Neither will coca-cola, or smoked gouda. No, if you want to remove this particular brand of horror from your mouth, it seems dill pickles is your go-to solution. I wish I had no reason to know this…

In future, I will be instituting a “No tiny, incredibly expensive, vomitously nauseating eggs” policy with respect to my food peparation procedures. YMMV…

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A One Issue Voter

“Nice car you’ve got there. It would be a shame if something was to ‘happen’ to it…”

I am an intentional citizen of the city of Troy, NY. I love it here, and recommend it to others regularly, but my city has a lot of problems. The biggest one is how unwelcoming our city government is to its own citizens.

A perennial example of this is “street cleaning”. Our city government either has a severe obsessive disorder about cleanliness, or uses street cleaning as an excuse to squeeze hundreds of thousands of extra tax dollars out of citizens’ wallets without having to raise taxes. I’ll let you decide which…

On some streets, like ours, you may never park on the street on one particular day every week. On others, they only clean a few times a year, so signs pop up on the curb 24 hours(ish) ahead of time to tell you you can’t park in front of your own house the next day. In the first case, most people are aware if the issue, so they only run afoul of the rules every year or so when they forget what day it is or have some personal emergency that takes them away on the wrong night. In the second case, given that many people don’t drive their car every day, or gasp go on vacation from time to time, they net a lot more.

This regularly results in scads of cars being not just ticketed, but stolen and held for ransom by a local towing company. The ticket is “only” $50, but in order to get your car back, you have to walk or taxi miles into the bad part of town and show up with $200 cash or a credit card to buy back your own car. My understanding is that the city gets a cut of this action, as well.

Understand, I don’t blame the towing company on this, as they are doing a job, and they do it more or less reasonably. For their part, they honk their horns loudly for a while before starting to tow you, and will let you escape if you happen to hear them and come out immediately. If you catch them after they have hooked you up, but before they leave, they will let you buy your car back on the spot for only $40. I don’t know if the city gets a cut of this.

“At least he’s honest!”

And so I find myself, again, dealing with my city’s “cleaning obsession”, already $40 down and with a $50 bill hanging over my head, because my wife left my truck on the street for fifteen fucking minutes while we got my daughter ready for day-care. This happens to my family every year or so. Life happens, and humans make mistakes. Just tallying in my mind, in the thirty years I’ve lived in Troy, I or a member of my household have been towed from in front of my own house about 22 times. Guestimating based on recollection of “saves” like today versus actual tows, that’s roughly $4500 that the city has stolen from my family under the auspices of “cleaning streets” that really weren’t dirty in the first place!

We pay too much for taxes, our city government is dominated by a gaggle of “Republicans” and a gaggle of “Democrats” whose most mutually distinct features are generally only who they hung out with in High School, and who they like or dislike, and our zoning laws are obscenely complex and vaguely written. I hate these things, but at least no one’s lying about them or sneaking up on me in the early morning to surprise me with them. Government is always a pain to its citizens, but this dishonest “we’re just trying to provide you services” nickel-and-dime bullshit is too much! This isn’t really about cars at all, it’s about the principle of government, however rapacious, at least being honest about how it’s taking our money.

I’m sick of it!

As of this moment, I am a “single issue voter” for the purposes of city elections! I will officially vote for ANYONE who makes a “hold-me-to-it” campaign promise to put an end to stealing our fucking cars in order to extort unlegislated taxes from our citizens. I don’t care who you are:

  • Republican? Fine, I’ll tell my foreign friends to steer clear until you’re out of office. Just stop stealing our cars!
  • Democrat? Fine, I’ll let parts of my house fall apart and demand a reassessment before you can raise my taxes again. Just stop stealing our cars!
  • Green/Working families? Whatever, I know you’re a Democrat anyway. Just stop stealing our cars!
  • Conservative/Independence/etc? Whatever, I know you’re a Republican anyway. Just stop stealing our cars!

To make it succinct, at this point, I would vote for Satan himself, revived from Christian mythology replete with horns, brimstone, and pitchfork, if he would guarantee that his first act in office would be to put an end to this conniving bullshit, and STOP. FUCKING. STEALING. OUR. FUCKING. CARS.

Enough, already!

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USA Dance is an organization in shambles, but we could still save our local chapter!

Hi folks,

Before I begin, I would like to point out that I’m presenting this as an open letter to the Board of Directors for the Capital District chapter of USA Dance (3014),  its chapter membership, and our entire local dance community.  It is very long, but, I feel, very important, and ends with an idea that might help Capital USA Dance immensely!

I have been a member of USA Dance for 25 years.  I served on the local chapter’s steering committee and on every elected Board of Directors for 20 years, the last five of those as president of the chapter.  I have always been, and will always be, a strong supporter of Capital USA Dance.  It provides a powerful resource and unbiased community linchpin for all our local dancers.

It is therefore with regret that I must tell you that I did not renew my membership in USA Dance this year, and will not do so until such time as the national organization completely changes leadership and direction, and supports its own chapters and the US ballroom dance community in general.  This comes as the result of a decade or more of progressively more restrictive and stupid actions on the part of the national organization and its parent organization, the World Dancesport Federation (WDSF).

As many current and former members of the board will remember, I have expressed concerns about the national organization for well over a decade.  While too many to list in their entirety, these are some highlights:

  • Joining WDSF as a way to move US dancesport into the Olympics, at the expense of making significant and not entirely welcome changes to the organizations rules and structure, with almost yearly changes afterward.
  • At the behest of the WDSF, starting a feud with the NDCA , the US’ other major ballroom dance organization (and who belongs to the WDC, the WDSF’s competitor) by disallowing USA Dance (then USABDA) competitors from USA Dance competitions should they choose to take part in an NDCA event.  This was later revoked, but the damage was done, and eventually the cooperative agreement that USA Dance had had with the NDCA for decades previously was eradicated.
  • Ever decreasing flexibility from the national organization in how chapters might be run and structured, along with ambiguously written and usually unnecessary new rules.
  • Elimination of the individual chapters’ already paltry shares of membership dues with the stated purpose of “reinvesting” those funds into a poorly designed, incompetently run “website system” that would provide websites for every chapter, regardless of whether they wanted or needed new websites.
  • Peremptory messages and calls to chapter officers demanding that the chapter utterly change it’s website and social media presences to conform to a new ‘branding’ standard with complete disregard for the fact that our chapter had been building its online brand carefully and consistently over more than 15 years, and all of that work would be lost.
  • Complete disarray in the leadership of the national organization, starting with the election and resignation of a mostly new governing council under intimations of financial impropriety, continuing through an effective “palace coup” where an appointed nominating committee for national elections only allowed voting on a slate basically consisting of its own members and those who initially appointed them, sweeping away yet another governing council, and the forced dissolution by the GC of the New York City chapter over allegations of financial impropriety, after which no investigation was conducted and the chapter was left without even provisional leadership for half a year.
  • Ceding of the American Style Syllabi to the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance, a British organization with no particular expertise in American Style ballroom and a history of its devotees putting down American Style as “inferior”/”sloppy”/etc…
  • Complete failure to produce the quarterly “American Dancer” newsletter, even after declaring that they were moving to digital distribution to keep costs down.

For me, the final straw came last week.  You see, after all the US organization was forced to do to conform to WDSF standards in order to “get us in the Olympics”, the WDSF has spent the last two years focusing most of its available resources on promoting Break-dancing as a competitive sport (https://www.worlddancesport.org/Media/Press/Release), and is now touting its success in bringing “Breaking” to the 2024 Olympics (https://www.worlddancesport.org/Media/Press/Release/201903_IOC_Executive_Board_gives_thumbs_up_for_Breaking_at_Paris_2024-2922).  As for it’s abandonment of even International Style ballroom in this regard, the WDSF president, in his “President’s Report 2019” (https://www.worlddancesport.org/Document/465982295585/E-Booklet_2019_AGM.pdf ), called Standard and Latin “niche traditional disciplines” that must be “repackaged” to be “more universally relatable” before they have any hope of inclusion.  He makes no mention of why the organization has spent two years devoting all it’s resources to a sport it doesn’t even have recognized jurisdiction over rather than actually DOING the repackaging he feels is necessary!

I guess we finally won?

I have watched Capital USA Dance struggle valiantly against the roadblocks and willful neglect of the national organization for the last decade, and I have real concerns about the viability of the chapter if this continues, especially in the realm of membership.  If you were not aware, most of our local competitors no longer even attend most USA Dance competitions, and many do not maintain their memberships.  This trend is occurring among both competitors and social members across the country, and threatens the continued existence of many chapters.  A number of chapters have broken away from national completely and set themselves up as separate non-profit entities in an effort to retain membership dues and win back lapsed members.

While I would not suggest such drastic measures for Capital USA Dance, I do have a suggestion:

Why not institute a “local dancer” membership for the chapter, for those like myself, who refuse to support the national organization until they change course?  It could still garner the local benefits of membership, like event discounts and the chapter newsletter, while lacking voting rights and other national-controlled programs, but would be money paid directly to the chapter, rather than national.  Given that a national membership gets those benefits while not contributing to the financial resources of the chapter, this would seem to be a huge win for the chapter, even if this membership had a significantly lower cost than national membership (perhaps $10-15?)!

Should national question this status, it could be sold to them as a way to keep wayward members at least somewhat in the fold, especially on pointing out that they themselves are doing literally nothing to help keep the chapter afloat, while the chapter provides them with thousands of dollars each year in membership dues. 

If this idea were successful, and I strongly suspect it would be, it would serve as a stinging rebuke to national from all who feel as I do about their actions while massively increasing the chapter’s income.

I appreciate your time and attention, reading through my massive screed, and I hope you will consider my proposal.

Thank you,

Blaise

Posted in Ballroom, For Facebook, Personal, Uncategorized | 1 Response

Primary Schools: Reputation is everything, and I just don’t give a shit any more…

Pressure Cooker

Our five-year-old is going to school. In the fall, he will be a kindergartner. You wouldn’t think this would be a big fuss. After all, it’s just kindergarten, right? No one ever missed out on going to the best college because of a bad choice in kindergartens, right??? That’s certainly what I thought, until we started preparing to send our son to kindergarten!

Because, you see, colleges care about what high school you went to, and high schools (if they are charter or private) care about what elementary school you went to, and elementary schools (if they are charter or private) care about what kindergarten you went to. And there’s the problem. If you live somewhere that the public schools perform significantly below average, and you really don’t want to uproot your family to get better public schools, your only choice is the private/charter schools who perform better, and they have opinions about your child’s previous schools.

So we started shopping. Our finalists were a charter school that performs very well and is “free” (i.e. covered by our taxes), and a private school that does even better and sounds more interesting, but costs $13,000 a year on top of our taxes. Suddenly, “next best” started to sound more attractive than “best”, so we asked around. We heard nothing but glowing reviews. Everyone we talked to loved what the charter school was doing. It seemed like we’d be fools not so send our son.

The next challenge was the waiting list. It’s a lottery to get in, and the only special consideration is given to siblings of those already attending and the children of employees. We resigned ourselves to fate, with public school as our backup plan. But then, an opportunity presented itself. The school was hiring, and my wife was looking for a job, and we had a friend who had a friend who might be able to ensure an interview was given…

This was actually a golden opportunity. All my wife had to do was ace an interview or two, and all our problems were solved in one fell swoop. She would finally have a real teaching gig with a 90% decrease in commute time, the boy would get moved to the head of the line for acceptance, and they could even commute together. Needless to say, she got the job, as discussed at length in my previous article, so we were in.

After our son was accepted to the charter school, we started getting mail and emails from them. To be honest, the tone of these communications was a bit peremptory, full of “parents will”s and “students must”s. At first we assumed that given the high opinion others has expressed of them, they had developed their own high opinion of themselves, but after my wife had been working for the school for a couple of weeks, she had begun to observe a certain martinet-like prickliness in the school’s culture. This was my first concern about the school, but it seemed pretty minor in the grand scheme, given their stats.

Then the time came for our son’s kindergarten orientation. This turned out to be a completely surreal, almost cult-like experience. First, we received a reminder email about a week before the event. It gave us the “requirements” for attendance. We needed to bring the expected stack of documents to satisfy residency, medical, and general government nosiness requirements. It ended with a bizarre diatribe about how the school’s philosophy was that if you were not 15 minutes early, you were late, and that anyone not in the correct room and signed in on time would be ejected and expected to reschedule with the school immediately or face de-registration!

Once we signed in, our son was separated from us by one of the teachers for “evaluation”. This made me vaguely uneasy, but seemed reasonable. Then we were told that parents needed to go to a meeting in another room. We were almost immediately intercepted by another teacher who “offered” to take our two-year-old daughter off our hands for the duration, since we “really needed to pay attention”. Alarm bells were beginning to ring for me, but my wife calmed we down, and we proceeded as asked.

In the meeting room, we were given “classwork” to complete before the meeting started. Afterward, we were shown a powerpoint presentation about the school’s performance, philosophy, and regulations. This included a lengthy speech about what kind of parents “aren’t a good fit” for the school (spoiler: If you have an opinion about how your child should be taught, you aren’t a good fit!). My unease with the situation had begun to grow…

We were told that our kindergartner would be assigned 45 minutes of parent-assisted homework a night, in addition to a required 20 minute reading assignment. They also informed us that the school year was going to start on August 15th instead of the 26th, run later than the regular school district, and that the school day was going to start a half-hour earlier and end 45 minutes to an hour later. This was problematic, as we had finally found a really great summer camp program for our son and this start date was going to cut off the last two weeks of a seven week program. I also expressed concern to the principal over how a child was to find any family time when the school started so early that children needed a 7PM bedtime and parents worked until at least 5PM (6PM for me in particular), but they needed to eat dinner and do an hour-plus of schoolwork every night. Her response was to the effect of, “Yes, some of our families find home-life scheduling a challenge…”. I suddenly felt like I was talking to some incompetent middle manager from corporate America, telling me “That does seem like a problem. I want daily reports until the situation improves.”

Then we were shown a weird video of a school assembly where children from K-through-4th were being lead through a mind-numbing series of chants and recitations that sounded like excerpts from Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book of Educational Philosophy. At this point, the alarm bells in my head were beginning to turn into a full-blown anxiety attack.

At some point during all this, I came to the realization that they were using the same creepy crowd-control tactics on us parents that my wife had relayed as those she was expected to use on students at her own job with the school. They were literally talking down to grown adults like they were eight-year-olds, “Glow”ing people (aka “attaboy!”) who were following the rules and reproving those who spoke to each other, looked at their phones, or persistently asked questions that weren’t really being answered (It is left as an exercise to the reader to determine which category I fell into).

Then there were the workbooks. Each family was given a binder full of “life’s work” for their student. This was homework to be completed by the student before they started school. It was a requirement, we were told, that our child be able to complete all of the assigned work before starting kindergarten to ensure that he would not have any trouble keeping up, which might require extra classes or homework to rectify. It had to be fifty pages long!

Let me stop, at this point, to review all the things currently feeding my feelings of dread about this process. We were sending our kindergartner into a clearly high-pressure/high-stress environment where he would be required to wear a uniform and sit quietly in “poses” all day long, for at least an hour more than regular kids in the same grade. He was effectively going to have no home-playtime on weekdays, and limited recess opportunities at school. He would be attending daily “rallies” that looked and felt like creepy evangelist church services, where he would learn to sing and chant slogans in unison with a crowd. He was was going to lose 30% of his summer camp experience and spend what was left of his summer doing homework with his parents. On top of all that, he was going to have to wear a uniform which was indistinguishable, I shit you not, from the awful, tone-deaf, this-is-what-cool-young-people-dress-like-in-their-spare-time-right clothes handed out by corporate “motivators” on “team-building” retreats.

After the parent indoctrination orientation was over, both our children were returned to us apparently safe and happy, with glowing reports on how bright and talented they both were, and what fine additions they might make to the school… I got us out of there as fast as we could, and nearly hyperventilated in the car driving home. Slowly, over the course of hours, we convinced ourselves that the school’s performance spoke for itself, and that while they were a little weird, maybe we should try it for a year, and just see if it wasn’t really as insane and cult-like an environment as it seemed. I was still anxious, but my wife calmed me down and made me see reason (I thought!).

In the three weeks following the orientation, I continued to do research, and made some troubling discoveries. I found several people online who described having posted negative reviews of the school and having had their posts scrubbed from review and social media sites via “reported content” mechanisms. Several of the few I could find, now having a better idea where to look, were horrifying. They contained words like “military”, “exhausted”, and “miserable”. One of them disappeared within a week of my having found it. I assume the rest are gone by now.

Over that same three weeks, the events described in my previous article transpired. After my wife’s experience with the toxic, unreasonable, and frankly psychotic-seeming behavior of the people running the school, we had had enough. In a discussion that lasted for approximately eight seconds (Me: Holy shit, they really are as fucked up as they seem! How can we put our child into that psychotic pressure-cooker?!?!? Her: We can’t.), we decided that our son would be going to public kindergarten with his friends from the neighborhood after all.

My wife turned in the papers withdrawing him from the school and registering for public school around 12 PM the next day. Within five minutes, I received an email from the school telling me that our son’s “application for admission has been rejected”, and if you read nothing else about what kind of a place it is, you could just read the last two sentences to tell you all you need to know!

Our son will be going to public kindergarten. He will have a full summer of fun and actual “life’s work”, like learning to boat and swim and play soccer and hike in the woods, and such. If he needs tutoring to look good on standardized tests in a few years because of it, SO. FUCKING. BE. IT.

Posted in Family, For Facebook, General, Personal, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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