Wednesday, July 16, 2014

About half of kids' learning ability is in their DNA, study says

About half of kids' learning ability is in their DNA, study says
Students who excel at math also excel at reading thanks to "generalist genes," scientists say.
Julia Rosen
LA Times
July 11, 2014

You may think you’re better at reading than you are at math (or vice versa), but new research suggests you’re probably equally good (or bad) at both. The reason: The genes that determine a person’s ability to tackle one subject influence their aptitude at the other, accounting for about half of a person’s overall ability.
The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, used nearly 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to tease apart the effects of genetic inheritance and environmental variables on math and reading ability. Twin studies provide a clever way of assessing the balance of nature versus nurture.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

CHE cafe (Cheap Healthy Eats) at UCSD serves an important function--but UCSD seems to care more about profit

Collective member Davide Carpano is surprised the university doesn’t want to support the alcohol free zone at the CHE, given what he calls “rampant alcohol abuse on campuses nationwide.” 

The Battle To Save CHE Café
By Angela Carone
Aired 7/11/14 on KPBS News

The CHE Café, a UCSD underground music venue as well as a hotbed for progressive politics for over three decades, may have to close because university officials say it's unsafe. The student volunteers who run the CHE are putting up a fight.
The battle to save the CHE Café, an all-ages, underground music venue and vegetarian restaurant on the edge of the UC San Diego campus, has been underway for months. Some might say for years.
“This is something the university has done before,” explained Davide Carpano, one of the student volunteers who helps run the CHE through a collective. He’s referring to the university’s latest effort to close the CHE (which stands for Cheap Healthy Eats). Administration officials say the building is in need of a fire sprinkler system — to the tune of $700,000 — and is unsafe. They've sent the collective an eviction notice.
“We actually have an article from the 1980s, where the university used the exact same pretexts and the exact same inflated numbers,” said Carpano.
On a campus known for cutting edge research and modern architecture, the CHE Café feels like something out of the 1960s, though the venue dates to 1980. Its small wooden building is covered in murals, some of them by well-known muralists, featuring activists like Che Guevara and Angela Davis.
Music fans, especially of punk and hardcore, have flocked to the CHE over the years to see bands they couldn’t see elsewhere. Green Day played there before they became famous. So did Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.
Davide Carpano and Rene Vera are volunteers who help run the CHE Cafe, which may close later this year.
“It’s been a place where students who don’t really fit in with the dominant culture on campus can come and create their own community around types of music that aren’t listened to on campus, and types of activism that aren’t appreciated on campus,” said Carpano.
He said university officials have never liked what the CHE stands for, so there’s always some renewed effort to shut it down.
The CHE collective insists the fire sprinkler system was only recommended, not mandatory. The UCSD Fire Marshall would not comment for this story.
The collective has been fighting back, most notably by filing a lawsuit on Monday against the university, their landlord, for breach of contract. They also filed and won a restraining order against the university so they can stay in the building until the lawsuit is resolved. They plan to continue booking shows until September.
Money to pay for the fire sprinkler system would normally come from student fees. Sammy Chang chaired the student board that decides how student fees should be spent. He says only a small portion of UCSD students go to the CHE Café, so even though it has this unique history on campus, it’s not a priority. “We’re still obligated to the students who pay the fee who don’t really fully understand all of the CHE’s traditions and what the CHE Café is,” explained Chang. “Only 2 percent of the students even use the CHE Café,” he added. That's based on a survey conducted by the university.
Chang said most students use the spacious Price Center, where there are restaurants and lounges. In the face of budget deficits, he said they have to put the money where the most students are.
Andrea Carter, the lawyer representing the CHE’s fight to stay open, said this is about the university opting to make a profit. The CHE’s rent is low ($80 a month) and Carter said the university could make more money by renting the land to a private vendor.
“The social spaces that the university now seems to prefer are ones that are privately operated, profit-driven and not dedicated to providing practical education opportunities,” said Carter.
She sees the recent decision to allow a Starbucks on campus as emblematic of the trend.
The CHE Café, however, has not been a model tenant. They are close to $4,000 behind in rent and utilities. In years past, they’ve let their insurance payments lapse and lost their non-profit status for not filing tax forms.
Representatives for the collective admit keeping up with the rent was tough because they focused on paying a hefty insurance bill. They say they’ve never been a priority at the university, despite operating a historic building that was once the student center and the heart of campus.
“Overall this space has not been given the maintenance it deserves over the last 34 years,” said Rene Vera, another CHE cooperative member. “If they would just put $10,000 into it every couple of years, or maybe a $50,000 renovation, this would all be fixed right now and it wouldn’t be this big lump sum come due.”
Those fighting to save the CHE Café have nostalgia on their side. Music lovers, like Charles Henry Peckham, insist the music scene at the CHE is rare. “There’s not anything like the CHE that I have ever seen and I’ve been going to shows for a long time,” said the Cal State East Bay grad.
Collective member Davide Carpano is surprised the university doesn’t want to support the alcohol free zone at the CHE, given what he calls “rampant alcohol abuse on campuses nationwide.”

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Skyline Church's Pastor Jim Garlow wants you to know that he's not afraid of gays and liberals

If repeating a statement over and over again were a guarantee that the statement is true, then I would have to believe that Jim Garlow does not fear gays and liberals.  He certainly goes on at length insisting that he has no such fear.   But I suspect that the reason Garlow invited liberals to speak at his church was to exploit them for his own purposes.  I doubt that he wants his flock to seriously entertain the notion that God might be okay with homosexuality.

Skyline Pastor Reacts to Daily Beast Critic: We Fear Only God

Skyline Church, the Rancho San Diego megachurch known for hosting conservative speakers such as Glenn Beck and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was harshly judged this week by a former Episcopal bishop famed for defending gay marriage, including his own.

The Right Rev. Gene Robinson. Image via Wikimedia Commons
The Right Rev. Gene Robinson. Image via Wikimedia Commons
In a column for The Daily Beast, the Right. Rev. Gene Robinson wrote about attending a Sunday service at Skyline and finding a mood that turned dark. “In between the uplifting songs, the message is: They’re coming to get us. One by one, the speakers lay out the parameters of the siege under which Christians live, attacked by liberal and godless forces on every side.”
In a piece headlined “Even After Hobby Lobby, the Religious Right is Still Terrified,” Robinson wrote:
Every message, action and gesture seems calculated to ratchet up the anxiety of those who are listening. And then it’s over. Just like that.
I honestly don’t know how typical such a service is among evangelicals, bent on making people fearful, but if you left that service feeling hopeful, at peace with God, and eager to help the poor and needy, then you weren’t paying attention.
Now a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, Robinson concluded his 1,100-word column posted Sunday with this:
“Anti-gay sentiment is waning in American society, and with that forward progress, conservative churches will see a loss of credibility and a diminished effectiveness of their fear-mongering. That is as it should be. Neither the church nor the state is served by it.”
On Tuesday, Skyline senior pastor Jim Garlow responded.
Answering a Times of San Diego request for comment, Garlow said: “We did not know the writer was in the audience on that Sunday morning service. We did invite him to a Sunday night service.”
Here is Garlow’s full response to Robinson, which he termed “my thoughts.”...

by Eugene Robinson
Daily Beast
July 6, 2014
Conservative evangelicals have internalized a besiegement narrative that doesn’t change even when they win political victories. But fear has no place in a properly Christian worldview.
There is nothing intimidating about the building, other than its sheer size and the many millions of dollars it took to build it. In fact, it is one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever been. This conservative, evangelical megachurch, just outside San Diego, is a hive of activity on a Sunday morning. Upon entering, I’m drawn into the sophisticated café that makes Starbucks look like a 10-year-old’s sidewalk lemonade stand. I get my latte and am assured that I am welcome to take it with me to my seat in the church. I find a seat, which is plush and comfortable, and sure enough, there’s a cup holder for my coffee.
I am struck by the starkness of the worship space: no windows, all black, no cross or stained glass, and not a single sign that this is a place of worship. A drum trap set is the only thing on the massive stage. It’s hard to tell, really, when the service starts; it just seems to grow organically, with additional people coming onto the stage over the course of 15 minutes, everyone dressed in jeans and comfortable clothing. The sense of expectation grows minute by minute.
The crowd gathering in the congregation is old and young. Some members are alone, some coupled, and lots of families, with kids in tow. And virtually all white. Everyone seems excited to be here. When things actually begin, it is as professional as any Broadway show, with fantastic music by a small band, and everyone is singing. Although there is a brief prayer early on, the service seems oddly devoid of any mention of God, much less Jesus. And within the first 10 minutes, the head minister announces that the time has come for what we’ve all been waiting for: the collection, the chance to give for the work and ministry of this place. And everyone cheers. That’s right, cheers! Wild applause, enthusiastic delight at the chance to contribute to the ministry.
If you left that service feeling hopeful, at peace with God, and eager to help the poor and needy, then you weren’t paying attention.
But soon, the mood turns dark.  In between the uplifting songs, the message is: they’re coming to get us. One by one, the speakers lay out the parameters of the siege under which Christians live, attacked by liberal and godless forces on every side. An African-American minister from New York describes a change in policy in New York City to disallow churches to hold services in public schools, and his message is, “Beware. What’s happening in New York is headed your way! Get ready!”
The sermon is delivered by a guest preacher, whose main point seems to be the evils of feminism and sexual immorality. In the 40-minute “sermon,” there is hardly a mention of the Divine.  “God” shows up about 30 minutes in, and Jesus is mentioned only once, at the last minute. The senior pastor delivers an additional message, imploring those present to return that evening for a debate about homosexuality (the reason I’m there—and to their credit, both sides are being represented). His explicit message is, “Come tonight! I cannot prepare you for the onslaught of immorality and anti-Christian fervor if you don’t come! There is a battle underway for your souls, and I intend to outfit you for a holy war!” Every message, action and gesture seems calculated to ratchet up the anxiety of those who are listening. And then it’s over. Just like that.
I honestly don’t know how typical such a service is among evangelicals, bent on making people fearful, but if you left that service feeling hopeful, at peace with God, and eager to help the poor and needy, then you weren’t paying attention. It is no wonder to me that many conservative, Christian people are fearful, and believe that there is a war on religion (especially Christians) in this country. After all, it is drummed into them every week...

Pastor’s Crucible: His Son’s Same-Sex Marriage

The Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister, was defrocked after officiating at the wedding of his son Tim. Credit Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

Father and son had always been close, from the moment Tim Schaefer was born, six weeks premature, with blood poisoning, a weak heart and lungs, and a doctor who thought he would not make it through the night.
His father, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister, thought of his eldest son as a miracle child, saved by some combination of medicine and prayer, saved for something special.
“We couldn’t even touch him; he was in an incubator, and we had to reach in with latex gloves through those holes in the sides,” Mr. Schaefer said. “I begged God to please save his life.”
Their bond was such that, years later, facing a choice between upholding his church’s teaching and affirming his son’s sexual orientation, Frank chose to endanger his own career by officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding. The actions that followed — a rebellion in his congregation, a church trial, a defrocking and then, last month, a reinstatement — have made the Schaefers symbols of the conundrum facing much of American Christianity: How does religious doctrine on homosexuality respond to the longings for spirituality and community from congregants and family members who are gay?...

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Comedy vs. anti-science: 10 amazing videos that show how humor can make a difference

Comedy vs. anti-science: 10 amazing videos that show how humor can make a difference

From Colbert and Oliver to Sarah Silverman and Louis CK, comedians are torching anti-science activists with aplomb  

Click HERE to see VIDEOS


Comedy vs. anti-science: 10 amazing videos that show how humor <em>can</em> make a differenceJon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Stephen Colbert (Credit: AP/Brad Barket/Jack Plunkett/Dave Allocca)
In the latest version of America’s long-running culture wars, conservatives (and even some liberals) have zeroed in what once might have seemed like an unlikely target. While all the usual suspects still find themselves in reactionary cross hairs — Hollywood, “lamestream”-media elites and the LGBT community to name a few — another group, the scientific establishment, has emerged as one of the most polarizing institutions in American political culture.
Climate change, vaccination and evolution — each of these are things that the scientific establishment overwhelmingly agrees on. But the anti-intellectual fury of climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and creationists is such that any empirical consensus gets overshadowed.
For better or worse, comedy has emerged as one of the most visible platforms for laying bare the insanity of anti-science reactionaries. Jon Stewart and his “Daily Show” correspondents, for example, have been scrutinizing such people for years, while John Oliver has emerged in recent months as a veritable pro-science powerhouse. Stephen Colbert has interviewed Neil deGrasse Tyson at least 10 times!
There’s never been a shortage of qualified experts to debunk anti-science, but few have generated the kind of heat that comedians have of late. Perhaps is the viral-friendly nature of social media, or the intrinsic advantage that satire enjoys over the cut-and-dried recitation of facts. Whatever the case, let’s take a lesson from these witty minds. Below are 10 sterling examples of comedy as an antidote to science-denialism.

1) John Oliver takes on climate skeptics

Many comedians have done a bang-up job showing that climate deniers are ridiculous, but nobody has done it better than John Oliver. On his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver hosts a statistically accurate mock debate between Bill Nye and climate skeptics.

2) Samantha Bee destroys anti-vaxx nuts

When celebrities give anti-vaccination hysteria a platform — and, as a result, we get outbreaks of measles and whooping cough — it feels like the nation is crawling backward. Despite the fact that research has conclusively shown that vaccinations are not linked to autism, many still refuse to vaccinate their kids. In this clip, Samantha Bee takes anti-vaxxers to task for their dangerous campaign.


3) Stephen Colbert mocks creationism

Creationists believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and that humans roamed the world with dinosaurs. (Spoiler: Scientist Clair Patterson found that the Earth is actually 4.5 billion years old, and humans evolved long after dinosaurs became extinct.) Though it sounds ridiculous, a recent Gallup Poll found that 42 percent of Americans believe in a creationist human origin. The most problematic issue is when their views infiltrate the education of children. Stephen Colbert proves this point in the great interview below:

4) John Oliver destroys Dr. Oz’s “cure-alls”

In June of 2014, TV personality and physician Dr. Oz testified at a congressional hearing that his “miracle” cure-alls “don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact.” Following this admission, John Oliver took him to task over his false science, and taking advantage of doctor-patient trust.

5) Lewis Black throws fossils at creationists

“I would love to have the faith to believe that [creation] took place in seven days,” Lewis Black says in the hilarious clip below. “But I have thoughts. And that can really fuck up the faith thing.”...

Are you wearing leather shoes? Then shut up: Joan Rivers can dish it out, but she can't take it

Sadly, I fear that Joan Rivers might be right when she says, "I'm sure I say the same things your viewers say to their friends sitting next to them on the couch." But that just proves how idiotic people can be.

When I was a child I loved Joan Rivers. I thought she was so pretty and funny. But she's been making me cry, not laugh, for a few years now.

Leather shoes? Seriously? The cows are already butchered, so why not use their skin for shoes? That's a bit different from killing wild animals ONLY for their pelts.

Joan Rivers Walks Out on CNN Interview
Joan Rivers Walks Out on CNN Interview, Video
Her catchphrase is "Can we talk?" – but Joan Rivers was not in a chatty mood during an interview with CNN's Fredericka Whitfield on Saturday. She walked out.

The comedian was promoting her new book, Diary of a Mad Diva, when she took offense at Whitfield's statement that her Fashion Police show was "mean."

"It's not mean," Rivers, 81, insisted. "I tell the truth. I'm sure I say the same things your viewers say to their friends sitting next to them on the couch."

She seemed to get more unsettled as Whitfield asked her about the jokes she makes about topics that might seem "off-limits" – Casey Anthony and Princess Diana – in her book. "Life is very tough, and if you can make a joke to make something easier, and funny, do it," Rivers responded.

When Whitfield mentioned the fact that Rivers is wearing a fur coat on the cover of her book, Rivers got even angrier.

"This whole interview is becoming a defensive interview," Rivers fumed. "Are you wearing leather shoes? Then shut up."

"I'm going," Rivers declared, pulling out her earpiece. "All you've done is negative … I've made people laugh for 50 years. I am put on earth to make people laugh."

Standing up to leave, she told Whitfield, "You are not the one to interview a person who does humor. Sorry."

Whitfield explained after the interview that she thought Rivers was joking the whole time and wondered if it was a stunt, but told viewers that off-camera Rivers was still wearing her microphone and "dropped some rather unflattering four-letter words. So, yeah, she was serious."

Friday, July 04, 2014

Everybody loves a child molester? Why are so many people such bad judges of character?

UK kids' TV star Rolf Harris jailed for child abuse
By Costas Pitas
Jul 4, 2014
(Reuters) - Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris, a household name in his native Australia and adopted home Britain, was jailed for almost six years on Friday for repeatedly abusing young girls during decades as a beloved host of children's television.
Handing down the sentence, Judge Nigel Sweeney said the 84-year-old host of shows like "Rolf Harris Cartoon Time" had shown no remorse for the harm he had done to his victims.
Harris was found guilty earlier this week of 12 counts of assaulting four girls, some as young as seven or eight, between 1968 and 1986.
It was the second conviction in a long-running investigation into sex abuse by British celebrities that has led to soul searching in the country, revealing that some of its most prominent stars of the 1970s and 1980s were serial pedophiles who evaded detection for decades.
"It is clear from the evidence that what you did has had a significant adverse effect on each victim," the judge told Harris, detailing how one woman had battled with alcoholism as a direct result of his abuse.
"You have shown no remorse for your crimes at all."
An artist and musician who first earned fame in the 1950s with the top 10 hit novelty song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", Harris went on to present prime-time TV shows mostly aimed at children during five decades at the pinnacle of show business. In 2005 he painted Queen Elizabeth's portrait.
Harris was the biggest name to go on trial since British police launched "Operation Yewtree" to investigate celebrity child abuse, following revelations that late BBC TV host Jimmy Savile had been a prolific child abuser.
Harris sat motionless as the judge read out the sentence at a packed courtroom at London's Southwark Crown Court. He was later led from the dock, wearing a grey suit, white shirt and multi-colored tie.
During the trial, the prosecution had portrayed the bearded, bespectacled entertainer as a predator who groomed and abused one woman for her entire teenage and young-adult life.
The London court was told he first assaulted the woman when she got out of the shower aged 13, and then repeatedly abused her until she was 28 years old.
Police launched Operation Yewtree in the wake of the disclosures that Savile, who died in 2011 at 84, had managed to escape detection while abusing hundreds of children over the course of decades as one of Britain's best known celebrities, using his fame to gain access to victims and deflect suspicion.
Since then, a dozen ageing British media luminaries have been the target of investigations over decades-old child abuse allegations.
The country's most well known publicist, Max Clifford, was found guilty in May of indecently assaulting teenage girls some 30 years ago as part of the investigation.
(Writing by Kate Holton; Editing by Peter Graff)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

We are a corporate theocracy now: The Christian right seeks cultural and political domination

We are a corporate theocracy now: The Christian right seeks cultural and political domination
Christian right's plan is simple: Dominate courts, state legislatures, and push their twisted morality on all of us

We are a corporate theocracy now: The Christian right seeks cultural and political dominationClarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia (Credit: AP/Randy Snyder/Reuters/Brendan McDermid)
“If fascism comes to America, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be “wrapped up in the flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution,” [claimed] a 1936 issue of The Christian Century. Nobel Laureate recipient Sinclair Lewis put it even more succinctly when he warned, “It [fascism] would come wrapped in the flag and whistling the Star Spangled Banner.”
No one who has followed the rise of the Christian Right in national politics over the course of the past three decades should be surprised by Monday’s Supreme Court decision to grant corporations religious personhood. It was as predictable as Pat Robertson saying something stupid about gay sex. The hyper religious conservatives on the bench of the nation’s high court, all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents, see the federal government as being controlled by ‘secular humanists’ who wish to make war against the purity of the Christian belief system. Like the 89 million Americans who count themselves as evangelicals, they seek total cultural and political domination.
Not only is the Christian Right the most politically agitated and reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party, but it is also emboldened like no other time in their warped history. With recent efforts to legalize discrimination against gay Americans defeated, the Hobby Lobby case against the Affordable Care Act has reenergized the theocratic wing of the GOP base — the wing that is now the party’s fuselage. Throw red meat to their holier than thou rationalizations and they won’t care what big business does to this great nation. They care for one thing – turning America into a theocratic regime. Don’t be fooled by the flag-waving and the obnoxious hyper-masculine jingoistic platitudes; the Christian Right does not love America unconditionally. They love America on the condition that representatives they help get elected are carrying out their political agenda.
There is no conspiracy theory here. Their strategy is evidently clear and unashamedly boasted. Their strategy is to control state and federal legislatures, and the courts – in  a way that says, “We don’t care what the American people want. We write the laws, and those laws will not reflect the wishes of the center majority, but instead will cater only for the theological cranks within our ranks.”...

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What if a Muslim Company Used the 'Hobby Lobby' Decision to Impose Its Values on White Christians?

What if a Muslim Company Used the 'Hobby Lobby' Decision to Impose Its Values on White Christians?
Daily Kos
Jun 30, 2014 
The slide towards American theocracy was nudged one more step forward by today's Supreme Court decision in support of the "freedom" of corporations with "religious" beliefs to restrict the rights of their employees. In essence, religious "beliefs" trump the obligations, rights, and responsibilities that come with being members of the polity and a broader political community.
The NY Times details the logic of the theocrats as:
The 5-to-4 decision, which applied to two companies owned by Christian families, opened the door to challenges from other corporations to many laws that may be said to violate their religious liberty. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court’s five more conservative justices, said a federal religious-freedom law applied to for-profit corporations controlled by religious families. He added that the requirement that the companies provide contraception coverage imposed a substantial burden on the companies’ religious liberty. He said the government could provide the coverage in other ways.
The dissent offers up this chilling observation:
On that point, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said the court’s decision “is bound to have untoward effects” in other settings. “The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood,” Justice Ginsburg wrote, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.”
The corporateocracy and the 1 percent are using the tricks, smoke, and mirrors of "religious faith" to expand their power and protections from civil authority and the social compact. The tactic is Orwellian and dystopian.
Alas, if corporations are indeed "people"--an insult to the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution which was put in place to protect the rights of newly freed black slaves--then their behavior is sociopathic. The sociopath will lie, dissemble, and exploit others for his or her own gain because that is their essential nature...