This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Archive for the category “education”

Fine, Let’s Play That Whole “It Might Have Been A Bomb” Game For a Second

Edouard Moyse, In case your blood pressure this morning isn’t quite high enough, or you need a good reason to drink a case of bourbon and decide the world sucks (again), I got your back: the cops in Irving, Texas arrested a fourteen year-old student for making a clock and bringing it to school.  It is, of course, a pure coincidence that the kid in question bears the name Ahmed Mohamed and an appropriately brown appearance to go with it; and it is also a pure coincidence — stop being so paranoid! — that, as Wonkette points out, Irving is a town whose mayor previously threw a hissy fit over a Muslim mediation service, and a neighboring town recently held a Mohammed cartoon contest.  The suspected terrorist was badgered by teachers and the principal (who threatened to expel the young criminal unless he wrote a confession that the clock was a bomb, even though it wasn’t), interrogated by cops and finally led away in handcuffs, because as the police spokesman put it, the kid didn’t provide “a broader explanation”. A broader explanation, that is, for the bewildering act of constructing a clock and showing it off to his teachers and classmates.  And wingnut America breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we are safe and free. Read more…

Myths And Illusions: The Myth of Paracelsus’ Scientific Contributions

A page from "Rosarium Philosophorum", an anonymous 16-century alchemical treatiseI want to begin this post beating up on Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, with a brief digression. As a student of the Middle Ages and Renaissance during my undergraduate days (as well as an Ancient History buff), I noticed an interesting phenomenon. When we talk about the store of knowledge humanity has acquired over the course of its existence, something is deemed to have been “discovered” only when (1) it’s explicitly attested to in writing (2) by a man (3) who has a name. Knowledge possessed and applied by women, or by illiterate societies, or by anonymous people is deemed to not exist; and women themselves, as well as “natives”, are matter-of-factly treated as passive objects of study, rather than human beings capable of possessing and using information. Thus, you might hear Hippocrates credited with “discovering” the early symptoms of pregnancy – even though midwifery existed as a recognized profession for at least 1,500 years before him, and papyri with instructions on how to calculate gestational age date to about that far back. (Sometimes the credit is given to Imhotep, instead.) Read more…

Myths and Illusions: The Myth of True Genius

Ivan Aivazovsky, "Pushkin's Farewell to Sea" (1877)Today’s entry into the pantheon of modern Myths and Illusions: True Genius.

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On Academic Trigger Warnings

Auguste Toulmouche, "Dans La Bibliothèque" (1872)
TRIGGER WARNING: This post may upset you. If you are one of those people who believe that a mere difference of opinion, or an opinion that suggests, however remotely, something negative about your personal choices is tantamount to“shaming” and an all-out personal attack, click away now. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Read more…

The Cruel And The Dumb Inherit The Earth, Apparently.

William Hogarth, "The Four Stages of Cruelty, Stage I" (1751)To begin with an aside, I confess I don’t care whose feefees I’m hurting when I say this: fratboys are the worst. THE. WORST. This is not a compliment. If any member of the “culture” reading this DOES regard it is a compliment, that would only be proving my point. To any predictable objections to the effect whether I shouldn’t be ranking the Nazis or Islamic terrorists as the worst, I reply with an immortal quote from The Big Lebowski: “Say what you want about National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos.” Frat “ethos”, such as it is, revolves getting shitfaced, destruction of property, humiliation, sex crimes, inflicting suffering, and occasionally killing people and animals for the hell of it — for the lulz. So yes, the label “the worst” is entirely apt here. I cannot believe universities and taxpayers shell out money to subsidize this nonsense.

This story from last week is sad and horrible — all the more so because this is precisely the kind of stuff that fratboys find funny, nay, heroic. If you are too lazy to click on the link, here is the summary: some pledges from a Mississippi university broke into a zoo at night supposedly to take a picture of a flamingo for a scavenger hunt. (That’s the frat’s official story, anyway, and it’s TOTES believable — I mean, you would have to break into a zoo at night to take a picture of one of the animals, right?) Moving right along, instead of just taking a picture, these freaks went ahead and kidnapped a flamingo. The bird was found in the morning several miles away with massive internal injuries and a broken leg. Its mate back at the zoo was also found to have severe internal injuries, including ruptured organs. Both birds had to be euthanized. The apparent leader of this worthy exploit, Devin Nottis, was arrested on felony charges after bragging about it on Twitter. Read more…

The Long 1950’s … Behind the Iron Curtain

Yuri Pimenov, "A Wedding on Tomorrow's Street" (1962)As someone who grew up in a totalitarian Communist state, nothing infuriates me more than the incessant conservative droning-on about progressives being “communist”, “socialist” and “Stalinist”. People who say these things use such words as mere slurs, not much different than calling someone an asswipe, and of course, they betray both a profound ignorance of history and a great deal of contempt for it. But more than that, they’ve got it completely backwards. Truth is, American conservatives have remarkably a lot in common with Russian communists: the same obsession with ideological purity, the same irrational intolerance towards loyal dissent, the same prioritizing of ideology over practicality, the same preparedness to sacrifice liberties, human dignity and lives for the sake of ideological totems, the same clash-of-civilizations thinking, the same pretensions at worldwide cultural and political hegemony. And of course, the modern American conservative and the Russian communist of the bygone era share a deep and abiding dislike of people having unauthorized sex in pursuit of “instant gratification”.

Enter Congress’ resident comedian, Rep. Louie Gohmert, because of course he doth enter, for how could he not? After all, it’s only been a few hours since the last eruption of stupid from the right-wingers, and we haven’t heard from Gohmert in, like, days. With a name that sounds like a practical joke and every word coming out of his mouth worthy of an Onion editorial, he provides an endless parade of stupidity and ignorance, which is probably why he was elected in the first place. His latest installment revolves around the idea that teaching school children about human biology and reproductive health would turn us into the USSR. Read more…

Shocked, But Not Surprised: The Sandy Hook Massacre

Vasily Vereshchagin, "The Apotheosis of War" (1871)I’ve been having real difficulty trying to write something about the Sandy Hook massacre. The circumstances of what happened are terrifying for anyone to contemplate, but when you have a small child, like I do, the horror hits home in a way that’s hard to describe. Mostly, I’ve found that I don’t know what to say, except to repeat that I am horrified, and that only leads me to the dark but inevitable conclusion that there is no way to completely prevent this kind of thing from happening, so we can live happily on autopilot. That said, I really don’t know how anyone can deny with a straight face that Adam Lanza would have had a much, much harder time killing all those people and all those kids if he didn’t have access to firearms designed for the maximum efficiency of killing.

My writer’s block broke when I saw this shit: a prominent Tea-Partier blaming the massacre on the existence of public schools, teachers’ unions, government bureaucracy, and most astoundingly, sex in movies and on television. I had no doubt, of course, that some reactionary, hypocritical nincompoop was going to write something like that sooner or later, but actually seeing the words on the screen changed my despair to anger. Bottom line, while almost everything that’s been offered so far as a reason for Adam Lanza’s actions is speculation and conjecture, one thing is certain: we have a culture that inspires a thirst for blood in a fairly significant number of individuals, some of whom go so far as to kill a bunch of people (whilst others, like Judson Phillips there, contend themselves with vicarious thrills).

So what is this “culture of violence”? Read more…

On Academic Navel-Gazing

When I was a senior in college, I received an assignment from one of my professors to write an open-ended essay on the topic of “Who Am I?” I don’t know why the professor did it. The “Who Am I?” nonsense had nothing to do with the subject of the class. But he was a young fella and liked to do things unconventionally; perhaps this was his way of thinking outside the box. Whatever the reason, the assignment irritated me a great deal.

In the course of my academic career up to that point, there had been a number of occasions when I had to write a wistful essay (or alternatively, a humorous one) on the subject of Who I Am. I had always hated that topic for the self-congratulatory fakery it invites. And on that particular occasion, in my senior year, I decided to write the professor a letter protesting the topic, and submit it in lieu of the required essay.

This weekend, while clearing out some old papers, I came across a draft of that letter. Here is what I wrote (first couple of paragraphs omitted): Read more…

More Silliness In the Battle Between Street Smarts and Book Smarts

Forbes continues the tradition among conservative, business-oriented publications, of questioning the value of college education with a feel-good piece by David DiSalvo entitled 10 Smart Things I’ve Learned From People Who Never Went to College. What follows the introduction is a list of ten platitudes, my favorite of which is that you shouldn’t allow bullies to intimidate you. (Pro tip: Don’t allow murderers to murder you, either.) What’s puzzling here is that for the life of me, I can’t understand what any of this stuff has to do with having or not having a college education. Colleges teach academic subjects, not matters of common knowledge about one’s daily living; and I doubt the implied strawman, who believes that anything about anything is only to be learned in college or from the college-educated, actually exists. DiSalvo might as well have mentioned how someone without a college education taught him to look both ways before crossing the street. Or opined on how knowing how to make spaghetti is no less important than trigonometry. Read more…

What’s Ailing American Law Schools

Last week, I learned that my law school is one of about a dozen sued in a class action for fraud in representing their graduates’ employment prospects. More law schools are expected to be named as defendants in the near future.

I am not sure how I feel about the lawsuit. If anyone is to blame for the totally erroneous perception of how well lawyers make out, it’s Hollywood (and, to a larger extent, popular culture itself). Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good reasons to go into law; it’s just that getting rich isn’t one of them. Even so-called “superlawyers” earn far less than specialists of comparable caliber in other traditionally lucrative fields (such as finance). White-shoe law firms, for their part, pay relatively well, but they are a cut-throat environment, and they treat associates like serfs. The overwhelming majority of lawyers, however, have modest incomes — at least relative to the effort and expense of acquiring legal education. Starting salaries for most are ridiculously low, hours are long, and career advancement proceeds at a snail’s pace. That, coupled with the crushing debt of student loans, means that most law school graduates look at a decade or more of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Read more…

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